There were moments in life that were considered a gamble, and then there were moments in life that could be considered to be so reckless and possibly idiotic that it astounded everyone if they succeeded. Rey infiltrating Starkiller Base was one of the latter moments, and there were, according to Threepio, thousands of odds against her. In fact, in her recollection, there were six-thousand eight-hundred and twenty-six odds to her singular one (“Give or take!” Threepio had added optimistically), and that didn’t make her feel very confident.
After Starkiller base had met its very timely demise, it hadn’t taken long for the First Order to move on to their next project, with the very unoriginal name of Starkiller II. As brilliant as the designers of all the machines and weaponry were, naming things clearly wasn’t a skill they had graduated the Academy with. Since a good portion of the former base’s workforce had either been vaporized, horrifically maimed or otherwise injured, or promptly quit, it wasn’t long before there was a call for new employees. Unlike the first time, the First Order hadn’t been subtle, seeing as how despite their own defeat, the galaxy was still reeling from the destruction of the Hosnian system, and thus a little more inclined to follow orders. That, and the First Order paid well. Really well.
It had taken some plotting and finagling, but the Resistance had managed to find an open position with little question, particularly in mechanical engineering. Then, of all the people they could have possibly selected from their rosters, Rey was chosen.
General Organa had been fairly straightforward about the assignment, despite Rey’s protests that surely someone was more qualified, or at least less likely to be arrested and tortured.
“On the contrary,” the General had said. She was standing in her office, datapad in one hand, and her sixth cup of caf in the other. Her seventh one was being brewed as she was speaking. “We’ve reviewed your qualifications, Rey. You’re brilliant when in comes to mechanics, and you’re more than capable of defending yourself. I wouldn’t pick anyone less qualified, believe me. I have total faith in you.”
And that was that. Rey wasn’t going to tell the General ‘no’, because hardly anyone did that (that, and she wouldn’t hear the end of it from Poe). A meeting was called to discuss the finer points of the plot, and Rey managed to retain this much:
She was already guaranteed a job on Starkiller II as a mechanical engineer. She would be dropped off on Abregado-rae, a planet famous for its rough spaceport, where she would then be picked up by a First Order vehicle along with others on the planet. They would certainly do any number of scans on her, but the Resistance already had plans for that so that her identity would remain concealed. Then, she would go to Starkiller II and start her employment. From there, the plot had two distinct parts. She would gather intel in any way she could, through meetings with overseers and through hands-on experience. She would also attempt to discreetly sabotage the base, hopefully making it easier for any future attacks to succeed.
It sounded much easier than it was going to be.
The Resistance’s plan for concealment was amazingly complex. In its basic form, she simply had her hair dyed auburn and was given a pair of specialized contact lenses that concealed her eye color perfectly, changing brown to hazel. The more complex bits were things like changing her fingerprints with sheer, translucent sheets that adhered to her fingertips, and giving her a tin of capsules that she was to take if subjected to any DNA tests.
Her new identity was Lyra, a young engineer from Corellia. It was easy enough to adopt the accent, which Finn and Poe helped her with. The hard part was changing her mannerisms, trying to seem less like Rey from Jakku and more like Lyra, more sure of herself and less prone to her old habits. Lyra didn’t scarf food like it was going to be taken away from her, and she was quicker to laugh and joke. Rey could at least retain her independence, as General Organa was quick to remind her that Corellians were infamous for their need to work alone.
By the time the droids and other Resistance personnel were done with her, Rey finally looked in a mirror and found that she hardly recognized the girl looking back at her.
As much as anyone could have attempted to educate her, nothing was quite the same as being dropped into the thick of it. Abregado-rae had been like something out of a smuggler’s story, although she had very little time to wax poetic about its distinct septic scent or the fact that at least eight people had all tried to sell her things of various legality. From the unmarked Resistance freighter to the First Order recruiting office, it really had been a polluted whirlwind that left her feeling appropriately winded.
The recruiter certainly had his hands full when she arrived, as she was one of thirteen new recruits all unceremoniously shoved into a tiny, overheated office with no reprieve saved for a window cracked just a fraction. Rey legitimately had to shove her way to his desk when he called her number, and it was probably sheer fortune that he was too overworked to ask her any fine details about her life. It came down to three very easy questions.
“You ever been convicted of a felony?”
“Do you promise henceforth to swear complete loyalty to the Fir-- Oh, forget it. I’ve asked this a million times. Promise not to screw up?”
“Great. Next transport arrives in a half hour. Next!”
And that was it. Rey tagged along behind a shuffling group of recruits, heading back to the port. There was already some kind of First Order assemblage at the dock, presumably to take the hordes of new employees to the base multiple times a day. Mostly, the three Stormtroopers and two officers looked horrifically bored. They didn’t seem the least interested in processing her identification. One of the officers just gave it a quick once-over before handing it back to her with a nod before he yawned and motioned for the person behind her to come forth.
It was too easy, and Rey was ready for someone to jump out and say they had been observing her the entire time and that she was under arrest. No one did, and instead, she was crammed into a packed transporter when the time came. It wasn’t heartbreaking to leave Abregado-rae, but it certainly gave her the feeling that it was something like the point of no return. At least in the spaceport, she had the option to turn around. Once she was on Starkiller II, there wasn’t much chance of escape.
Her fellow employees didn’t seem to mind. Once the transport took off, Rey took a moment to shuffle herself into an unassuming corner and observe. The first thing she noticed was that most of them were human, or at least humanoid. There were very few individuals of other species, and even they looked uncomfortable. There was a purple-skinned twi’lek, a short red-colored bothan, and a very green humanoid with ridged scales instead of hair. The three of them looked horribly out of place and seemed dismally aware of that.
There was a very limited amount of conversation on the transporter to distract her, at least until an overhead speaker gave a tinny chime , directing their attention. Along the walls, screens lit up, all showing the image of the first Starkiller, or possibly the second one. Either way, it was a projected image of a bisected planet that Rey was familiar with. A spritely, overly-cheerful female voice narrated.
“Welcome to one of the single greatest initiatives in the galaxy’s history! You, our brave and talented workforce, are putting in a monumental and glorious effort to create Starkiller II!” The projection showed the rotating planet, and Rey settled on the idea that there was virtually no difference between the first planet at the second.
The narration went on as predicted. Plenty of extolling the multitude of virtues of the First Order (Rey cleverly disguised her snort of indignation as a sneeze), regaling the valiant battle fought over the first Starkiller, eloquently cursing the “foolish and simple-minded Resistance”, and happily cheering on the complete and total destruction of the existing Republic. There were a few interesting details thrown in (“And General Hux nobly rescued an entire platoon of young Stormtroopers while the Base burned around them!”) as well as some that had Rey rolling her eyes so hard that she swore she could see her own neurons (“A well-placed shot straight to the Resistance headquarters! It practically halved their numbers!”), but it still wasn’t enough to rile and rally the employees, who just looked on apathetically.
What was more of interest was the technical details. From what Rey gathered between the projection and the intel from the Resistance, upon docking, they would be organized into teams. Each team would be given a supervisor, and a location on the planet chosen to serve as Starkiller II. These teams would work in shifts, longer than those of command, typically between six and eight hours. They would bunk nearby in assigned dormitories with others of similar profession, and would be given limited clearance otherwise. General Organa’s information packet said that only those with high-level managerial assignments would be given better clearance, but that even the supervisors were limited. That would make it a little more difficult to function the way Rey had hoped.
The holovid said as much, and Rey was left stewing in thoughtful disgruntlement when it ended. At most, she was going to have to be creative. Gaining clearance was the best thing she could do, but it wasn’t very plausible. Either she would somehow have to rapidly rise through the ranks in a very short amount of time, or remain at her current rank and acquire means of clearance. That meant stealing (not impossible, exactly, but not recommended) or... befriending someone.
Rey cast a grim look at the employees, noticing traits that she had seen on Jakku, typically from ex-criminals (or not ex at all) and fugitives. There were tethers on ankles, wrists, and necks, and tattoos that served as something like badges of honors from some of the galaxy’s most notorious prisons. Rey supposed that being asked if she had a history of felonies was a very light question, or the First Order had a workforce rehabilitation program with a lot of leeway.
In short, making friends was going to be a challenge.
Starkiller II was, as expected, freezing. Rey could feel it even once she entered the hangar. She knew it had something to do with cooling mechanisms, but she also held the opinion that theoretically, they could build Starkiller II out of any planet in the galaxy and build a halfway decent cooling system if their engineers were half as savvy as they had liked to claim. For that matter, a water planet could have been better than an ice one.
Everything had the shine of newness to it, as well as the smell. The hangar itself was enormous, about as tall as the biggest part of a ship like the Inflictor. There were still crews milling about, fusing and welding with flurries of bright white sparks raining down onto the shiny black floor. Officers heels clicked smartly and Stormtroopers tailed behind in loose formation. There were other similar transport ships docked, as well as a few TIE fighters.
Her group was roughly herded into some kind of organization, headed by a young officer with her hair pulled back into a tight bun, her countenance severe. She might have been intimidating if she wasn’t the height of Rey’s shoulder.
“My name is Lieutenant Alkane,” she said, and her voice was tiny and shrill, and Rey made a passing comparison between her voice and BB-8’s adorable chirping. It almost made her smile if she didn’t think Alkane wouldn’t appreciate that. “When your identification is called, you will meet with your unit’s supervisor and take further direction from them. Is this understood?”
There was a general murmur, and the lieutenant cleared her throat, stood up straight, and clicked her heels together. Then she did a very impressive about-face and marched away, taking three small steps for every one loping step of the Stormtroopers beside her.
“Number 395712! To sanitation!” a voice called, and the group’s attention turned toward a few bored-looking humans wearing gray-green work clothes and bright orange vests. At the call, one of the humans from Rey’s group came forward.
One by one, they were separated and moved into their units. Then, “Number 820551! To engineering!”
Rey stepped forward and walked up to her supervisor, a woman that might have been Rey’s age, if not younger. Her hair was black, cut short save for one side that was angled almost geometrically along the line of her jaw. Her eyes were gray and wide, and her tan skin was marked with a bridge of freckles crossing her nose. To Rey’s relief, she smiled and held out a hand.
“Hey there! Name’s Kaisa, supervisor for Level 6 engineering. Pleased to meet you.”
Kaisa’s grip was strong and warm, and it made Rey feel a bit more at ease.
“Number 491629! To engineering!”
“Woah, we’re busy,” Kaisa remarked, letting go of Rey’s hand.
Rey turned to see the next person in her group, and instantly felt as if someone had electrocuted her.
The man who came up might not have been so assuming under different circumstances. Rey didn’t recognize him as anyone on her transport, but that didn’t mean she didn’t recognize him at all. His hair was blond and messy, and his eyes were partially hidden behind large-frame wire glasses. He wore the same outfit as Kaisa, complete with a vest, and a nametag reading Matt in Aurebesh. Those features were about the extent of the difference. Otherwise, he was definitely Kylo Ren. She couldn’t feel him in the Force, but she was capping her presence as well. His appearance was unmistakable, and she nearly jumped out of her skin at the sight of him.
On the other hand, he looked completely unperturbed. Actually, he looked constipated, so perhaps he did look a bit perturbed.
Kaisa gave him a once-over and frowned thoughtfully. “Transfer?”
“Yes,” he said, his voice a low, unhappy rumble.
Rey was gaping at him, puzzling over his appearance. This was Kylo Ren, her enemy, her declared nemesis, still baring the remnants of a scar across his face from where she had slashed him on the last Starkiller, and he was... No, she didn’t even have a word for what she was seeing. She even pondered over the thought that maybe Kylo Ren just had some sort of doppelganger out there, blond and bespectacled and just as tall as him and-- Nope, it was him. There was a tiny ridge of black under his hairline behind his ear. It was Kylo Ren.
He seemed to feel her staring at him, as he turned to look at over, eyes narrowed. “Yeah?”
He didn’t recognize her. Rey didn’t know how to feel about that.
“Oh, uh,” she started, already attempting to settle into the persona of Lyra. It was difficult, considering that not even months before, she had all but tried to decimate him. Now she was considering shaking his hand and being polite. “I’m Lyra,” she said, stubbornly keeping both hands at her sides.
“That’s... great,” he replied stiffly, and he turned away from her.
So he was rude. That wasn’t so much of a surprise.
But he was here. What did that mean? Was her cover blown? No, he would have probably been a bit more forward with her if it was. She couldn’t imagine he would take kindly to meeting the girl that hacked him up with his own grandfather’s lightsaber and promptly left him for dead. Was he hiding from the First Order as well? Somehow she doubted it, but her mind was supplying very few possibilities for him being there otherwise.
Above all, she was going to have to work around him, especially if they were in the same unit. If there was a deity out there, Rey might have prayed that they worked opposite shifts.
They worked the same shift. Of course they did.
Level 6 Engineer Corps was stationed near the equator of the planet. Their current objective was installing and maintaining radar beacons, working along a line of latitude. Their dormitories were part of a tiny, dismal outpost, suggesting that the First Order had sent out for employees before they even had proper housing for them.
They worked in rotating shifts, on an alternating schedule. Rey’s schedule, for instance, had three alternating days of working on the beacons continually. The other three interspersing days had her on a relief schedule, giving breaks to others throughout the day. She had one day off, which more accurately was a day for sleeping a little extra and listening to pre-recorded propaganda messages while being given the option of reading Order-approved literature.
Her workdays, however, matched Kylo Ren’s. Both of them began work at night, a few hours after sunset. It was a miserable experience, to the point that Rey had begun to pine for Jakku whenever the temperature dropped to mindblowing levels of freezing. She quickly learned that working in teams was best, as it was easier to huddle up with other people for warmth.
It was also how she learned that Kylo Ren radiated heat like a torch. That revelation was a complete accident, and one she never intended to stumble upon.
It had happened when a blizzard had come through, leaving the Level 6 Engineer Corps’ night shift a big, miserable, shivering mess. For some forsaken reason, they had been left to work on a large beacon cresting a hill, directly in the path of the worst of the wind. It was almost unanimously decided on that all twelve workers should work on the same beacon (to speed up the process, of course) while being huddled together. Kaisa was quick to approve this method, presumably out of empathy.
Rey hadn’t been paying attention to who she was next to. She had split her focus between the wires in her hands and thinking warm thoughts, something she thought she would never allow herself to do. Halfway through imagining doing a very impressive stomping sort of dance on Unkar Plutt’s bloated face, she felt oddly warm. At first, she thought that her imagination really had worked overtime, until something more firm was pressed up against her arm, and she really did feel warm.
She turned her head just enough to see the dim floodlights reflecting off ‘Matt’s’ lenses, the rest of his face hidden behind an issued scarf.
Rey tried to wash the memory out, but without bias, she had ended up hovering closer to him like some sort of sun-seeking lizard.
Fourteen days into her employment, she actually spoke to him. It started off as a test, as even after two weeks, she was still contemplating if he was really Kylo Ren or not. Maybe the hair thing was a hallucination of some kind, and maybe there really were multiple people out there of that height and build, with that distinctive nose and rounded ears, with moles and freckles fitting the exact same constellation-like pattern that Rey had fought to forget. Maybe Matt was legitimate, and Kylo Ren was off doing what ever it was he did, presumably killing people and being a pain in the everything.
So, she decided to experiment, perhaps to divine meaning out of his appearance while it seemed certain he didn’t know who she was. It was a quick conversation, spoken over a plate of nutritious paste that had all the aesthetics of happabore mucus, complete with gray coloring and familiar texture.
“So,” she started, very eloquently.
He glanced up at her, halfway through mixing the mucus-lookalike with his spork.
“Where are you from?” she asked, trying to keep her voice casual and steady.
He eyed her, uncertain. “Not here,” he said.
“That could be anywhere.”
Was it going to be like talking to a duracrete wall? Probably. Still, it could never be said she wasn’t persistent.
“Did you always work in engineering?” she asked, keeping her tone light.
Definitely duracrete. Still, it gave her a little wiggle room. “You know, the beacons we’re using a very similar to those used on former star destroyers. Isn’t that interesting? They still use a slow sweep mode rather than a frequency-agile one. I wonder why they didn’t update them, since everything is so state of the art. What do you think?”
He didn’t meet her eyes, instead scooping up some of the gray mush and dropping it back on the plate with an audible plop. “It’s interesting,” he said stiffly, and she noticed his grip on the spork was a little tight.
The man knew how to fight and thrash and use the Force. He didn’t know a thing about radar technology, apparently.
“Have you worked on ships before?” she asked, twisting her spork in the mush.
She watched the corner of his mouth quirk. “A little,” he said.
“You know, I worked on a Corellian freighter not that long ago. Lots of work with sensors and navigation systems. You familiar with Corellian ships?”
A pause, almost one hundred percent hesitation. Then, “Not really.”
“I mean, you know what they say! ‘A CEC ship will keep going until it hits something’! It’s really true, though. Those things operate for years.”
“I wouldn’t know,” he replied, and then promptly dropped his spork into the paste before he stood up. “Nice talking to you,” he said, and it sounded scripted, forced.
He left without another word, and Rey couldn’t tell if it was a victory in her favor or not. She considered it a victory, as he didn’t take his tray with him. She scooped the extra paste onto her tray and dug in, already considering her next move.
“It’s freezing! Aren’t you cold?”
“You ever live in a place like this?”
“Warmer, then? Probably a Core world, I bet.”
“Oh, so it was a Core world. Not Coruscant. Maybe... Hm...”
“I hope it wasn’t Hosnian Prime. Terrible what happened, don’t you think?”
“It wasn’t Hosnian Prime, was it?”
“Are you going to tell me?”
Several more days went by, filled with unrelenting cold and what seemed like a blizzard that never truly went away, not unlike the divine sandstorm on Jakku. In that time, they had built twenty beacons, all solidly crafted, and their weaknesses stored away in Rey’s mind. Also in that time, she had managed to bond with Kaisa, earning her a little more insight into the base’s construction.
“It’s not too different from the one before,” Kaisa said in a break between shift changes while they sat in the lounge. Rey was shouldering on her vest and tightening straps while Kaisa paged through another edition of Starkiller Update now with features like ARE YOU GETTING ENOUGH PROTEIN POWDER? and WHAT CLOTHING REGULATION MEANS FOR YOU! Kaisa sighed and flipped another page. “The main difference is the construction of the oscillators. Even then, someone up the chain of command seems to think that you can’t fix perfection, even if perfection blew up into a billion tiny pieces.”
That gave Rey a thought. She finished adjusting her straps and started braiding her hair into something work-safe. “Speaking of chain of command, do any of them ever come down here?”
Kaisa snorted and set the magazine aside. “Hardly. There’s literally millions of us, and more coming every day. They don’t have time to come down and mingle with the commoners.”
Rey lifted an eyebrow. “What about Kylo Ren?”
“What about him?”
“Does he ever come down and mingle?”
Another snort. “Bet me he would. We’re lucky if General Hux even blinks in our direction. The last time I saw any of the Knights of Ren, it was in a really weird dream I had where they were in a twi’lek dance line.”
That was about all Rey had to work with. After three weeks of working at Level 6, she still didn’t have the faintest idea why Kylo Ren was working with her. He showed no signs of knowing who she was, or any signs that he knew that she knew who he was. It was all very confusing, and it was starting to get her nervous. She had a mission to do, and she didn’t know what to do with the information she had. On one hand, she had technical information galore and more to glean from Kaisa and potential management. On the other hand, Kylo Ren sometimes worked shoulder-to-shoulder with her, and she was sitting prime on the opportunity to get things out of him without the threat of death.
The only problem there was that he was still as talkative as duracrete, and just as entertaining to be around.
Blame on being Lyra, but Rey felt like a change in tactics was in order, and it was something that was going to require her to be less like herself and more like a Corellian engineer.
She was in luck, if luck involved working with a murderer one-on-one. A radio beacon needed maintenance, a two person job. Kaisa had been quick to assign Rey to it, and chose ‘Matt’ randomly. They made it out to the beacon, a tall cross beamed structure poking out from the trees, and started working in the tiny compartment housing the controls. It was warm, at least, but also very cramped.
‘Matt’ worked slowly, gritting his teeth as he accidentally matched the wrong wires, causing the unit to shriek indignantly like he had personally offended it. It took three times of this before he finally snarled at the wires and looked as if he was ready to just rip all of them out.
“Hey, let me see that,” Rey said, taking them from him. It took seconds for her to match them correctly, and she was rewarded with a cheery beep from the unit. Rey looked back at ‘Matt’ who looked extraordinarily grumpy. “Not that big of a deal,” she said, hardly sounding reassuring. “You’ll get the hang of it.”
“I know what I’m doing,” he retorted, grabbing a pair of pliers from their shared toolbox.
“Is that why you have the wrong pliers?”
She reached down and grabbed another set of needlenose pliers, handing them to him. “Use these until you find something better.”
He wasn’t much happier with that, angrily twisting a wire with the pliers until it threatened to snap.
“You’re gonna break it, Matt,” Rey said, far more amused than she intended.
“I know what I’m doing,” he repeated sharply.
“Speaking of,” she said, pulling out the electrical tape. “You never did tell me what you did before this. Before your transfer, at least.”
He grumbled something unintelligible before he set the pliers down. “I was on Level 2,” he said.
Another grumble, sounding affirmative.
She raised her eyebrows before taking the wire from him and wrapping its loose end in tape. “Did they demote you?”
“No. I just got transferred. I worked with...” He trailed off, waving his right hand through the air like it was going to summon a thought. Rey looked at him expectantly, and he sighed. “I worked under Kylo Ren.”
There it was. Rey had to suppress a smile. “Really? Sounds important.”
“What did you do? I mean, it must have been something big if you worked under him.”
“That’s classified,” he replied. “But it was important.”
She resisted the urge to grin, and distracted herself with adjusting a switch. She didn’t mind that he had put his hands in his lap. It was probably better that way, as he was less at risk of destroying the whole thing out of sheer incompetence. “What’s he like?” she asked, and promptly bit down on her bottom lip to keep from laughing.
“Incredible,” he said instantly. “Very powerful. You don’t want to make him mad.”
“Oh, I bet.”
He went on like she hadn’t said anything. “He’s ridiculously strong, way stronger than anyone else on the Base.”
“Did you see him? Without the mask, that is.”
He hesitated and then nodded. “Yeah.”
“He’s good-looking, in an odd way.”
She had to fight another laugh. “Odd?”
“It’s hard to describe.”
Rey put the finishing touches on the unit, which lit up brilliantly once the switch was back in place. “You’ll have to tell me someday,” she said lightly, putting everything back in the toolbox.
She didn’t notice him looking her over before he finally looked away, pretending like the lights on the box were very interesting.”Yeah, eventually.”
He talked to her more after that, or at least he was more receptive to the idea of talking to her. In turn, Rey found it was far easier to speak to him as ‘Matt’ rather than Kylo Ren. After a few days of light conversation, it eventually felt like they were Matt and Lyra rather than Kylo Ren and Rey. At one point, he actually started asking about her, for once.
Their breakfast was the same assortment of biscuit made from hard meal and some kind of pinkish-gray meat substitute that tasted like salty sawdust. Rey prodded at hers until it started to fall apart, but never the one to turn food down, she dutifully ate it. ‘Matt’ sat across from her, pulverizing his meal block to dust.
“You said you’re from Corellia, right?” he asked.
That took her by surprise, and it only occurred to her after a few seconds that she should respond. “Yeah,” she finally said, setting her spork down.
“And you worked on ships.”
He paused before he cleared his throat. “Do you have family there?”
Still surprised, she shook her head. “Not anymore. I’ve been on my own for awhile.”
He hummed thoughtfully, and for the first time in awhile, he made eye contact with her. “Are they...”
That was a lot coming from him, but she took it regardless. “Yeah, pretty bad.”
The next day, when she woke up after the sun went down, she was surprised to see something poking out from under her pillow. When she pulled it out, it was a flimsi, folded in half, with a crudely drawn frowning stick figure on the front.
SORRY, it read.
She opened it, finding another roughly-drawn picture of something that might have been a flower, but might have also been an onion. It was hard to tell.
LYRA, I’M SORRY THAT YOUR FAMILY IS DEAD.
Well, it was the thought that counted.
“He’s more handsome than General Hux.”
“And more muscular.”
“I wouldn’t let him catch you saying that.”
“He doesn’t work out as often as Kylo Ren does. He barely knows how to fire a blaster.”
“And what about you?”
“...I know how to fire a blaster, and I work out.”
“You know, if I didn’t know better, I’d think Matt likes you,” Kaisa said, peering at Rey over the top of her datapad. Great Sith Leaders didn’t seem like the most interesting literature, but it was better than a few of the alternatives.
Rey was halfway through her second cup of caf, trying to work warmth back into her system after another day of working on the beacons in a blizzard. She inhaled part of her beverage the second Kaisa said it, and had to spend the better part of a minute trying to cough her way back into a normal breathing pattern before she managed to sputter out a strained, “What?”
Kaisa had a peculiar, knowing smile on her face. “Matt, right? Our radar tech?”
“I know who Matt is.”
“Yeah, and I think he’s got a thing for you.”
She had to set her caf down before she was tempted to try to breathe it in again. “How do you figure?” she asked. It certainly wasn’t something she wanted to hear.
“Seeing as how you’re pretty much the only person he’s willing to talk to, that’s a pretty good start,” Kaisa replied, crossing one leg over the other. “I mean, I’m his supervisor and I’m lucky if I can get three words out of him in a day.”
“So he talks to me. That doesn’t mean he likes me.”
“You must not date much.”
“No, I mean, you haven’t noticed the way people look at you?” Kaisa had completely abandoned her datapad and was now looking at Rey intently, expecting a serious answer.
Rey could feel something like a blush crawling onto her face. It was a feeling she wasn’t accustomed to, and certainly not pleased with. She had a mission, damnit! This was no time to get flustered over anyone, let alone the man she had sworn to hate for all eternity. “No,” she ground out.
Kaisa gave her a look that was somehow sympathetic. “Oh man, you really haven’t noticed,” she said, and then feigned a dreamy sigh. “A young lady, yet to get swept up in a whirlwind romance with the incompetent radar technician of her dreams! This is a thing holodramas are made of!”
Rey very badly wanted to chuck her half-full cup of caf at Kaisa’s head, but settled for glaring daggers and making the other woman laugh in a half-cackle.
“Oh, come on, Lyra. Give the poor guy a chance.”
No. No, no, and also NO, Rey thought.
Wait a minute. You give him that edge and you might get something out of him. This could really work out! a traitorous part of her supplied. Very traitorous. That part of her mind needed to be shunned and banished.
“Maybe,” she ended up saying, and she had to fight the large temptation of going outside and laying face down in the snow until she could live with herself again.
Naturally, she started to notice him changing when he was around her. He did talk more, just like Kaisa said. He also looked at her directly more often, and handed things to her when she was just a hair too short to reach, and helped her whenever she asked, and--
He liked her.
Well, correction. He liked Lyra. He still had no idea who she was in reality.
Lyra came across as a talkative firebrand, knowledgeable in mechanical engineering, Corellian in nearly all respects. It wasn’t that Rey didn’t think that she was personally unlikable, but she could see the appeal of being someone like Lyra. She could also use that to her advantage with Kylo Ren, if she wanted.
But for some reason beyond her, it also felt a little disappointing. The second she thought that, she pushed it so far out of her mind that it might as well have been a thought on Dagobah.
Six weeks into her employment, and Rey finally had time to herself to do some small-time maintenance on a beacon. It would take the better part of two hours, but it left her alone with her own mind.
Her mission was going well. She had plenty of information to feed back to the Resistance, about the construction of the base, its operations, its personnel and their hierarchy, and its potential future. She had a fairly good map in her head, and if the Resistance could get its hands on some schematics, she would be able to navigate through them with little problem. Really, all she needed was the clearance to get into some higher-level areas and she would be set.
But she had made it personal. If the Resistance destroyed Starkiller II, it could potentially take out people like Kaisa and all the other people Rey had worked with. That didn’t seem fair. She wondered if she could somehow get Kaisa to defect, to convince her that she would have more freedom on D’Qar, and wouldn’t have to stay on a frozen planet and be under the authority of people who didn’t care about her. She would certainly ask when the time came, but it still left her feeling a little sad.
And then... Kylo Ren. He had put an unexpected dent in her armor. The moment she thought about him, she had to shake the thought off. She had to tell herself that he had done some truly atrocious things, that he was unforgivable, that he was a monster. But it was far harder to apply those things to ‘Matt’, and that took a whole new round of self-coaching to get past the fact that he wasn’t Matt, and that both of them were charading. Once she left Starkiller II for good, it would be back to business, and they would still try to kill each other. Nothing would change.
She decided to focus on her mission at hand rather than the unforeseen difficulties. There wasn’t much time left to complete the mission, and she couldn’t afford to be distracted. Anything she could glean from Kylo Ren would just have to be a bonus, as she wasn’t going to attempt to get any closer.
That, she was certain of.
Until he kissed her.
A quick rewind, for sake of context. Halfway through her sixth week, after she had decided on forgetting that Matt had a thing for her, that Kaisa was just going to have to cheer on nothing, she had settled on figuring out a way to get into a manager’s good graces. It had taken a lot of mental plotting, consisting of her laying on her bunk and imagining stealing rank cylinders or key cards, or maybe a Stormtrooper’s uniform. Then, she had thought of using the mind trick, but decided against it since it would be a dead giveaway to anyone with any sort of Force sensitivity.
Her irritability with all her mental dead ends eventually showed, as she stormed off from a nearby beacon repair job in a huff after someone had crossed the wrong wires again and left the unit all but dead in the snow. She marched back to the dorm, her boots leaving a heavy streak in the snow behind her, and she barely registered someone following her.
The warmth of the dorm didn’t do much, and she stood in the lounge, shivering and dripping with melting snow, trying to swallow down her frustration. Behind her, the door opened with a blast of icy wind, and Rey was about ready to wheel around and give her tagalong an earful.
Kylo stood there, awkward and dripping and generally looking like he’d rather be anywhere but there.
She blinked once, twice, and then sighed and lowered her head. “Sorry, I’ll go back out.”
“No, I was just going to ask if...” He somehow managed to look more awkward in the span of a few seconds. He scratched at the back of his neck, where the wig went over his hair. “I mean, I’m... sorry? I probably screwed something up.”
The fact he of all people was saying that was one of the strangest things she had ever heard, and not something she expected to hear in her lifetime. He must have taken her surprise as offense, as he dropped his head and frowned.
“I mean, okay, I’m not that good at being a radar technician, and you’re much better at this than me, and Kylo Ren should have hired you to work for someone as awesome as him--”
“Matt,” she cut him off, shaking her head. “It’s fine. Just got a little overwhelmed. I’ll be okay.”
For being as large of a man as he was, he did an excellent job of looking completely helpless. “Oh,” was all he said.
“Thank you, though,” Rey replied, managing something like a smile. It probably looked strained and delightfully fake, but she wasn’t much in the mood to care. “For the compliment, at least.”
“I, uh... You’re welcome?”
“You didn’t have to follow me, though. I was going to come back.”
“I wasn’t sure,” he said honestly. “I can’t re--” He stopped himself cold, eyes widening behind his glasses. There was some kind of inward mental stumble to correct himself, and he seemed to fail that.
Read your mind is what he was going to say. She couldn’t hear it in his own mind so much as she could feel him say it.
“It’s fine,” she said, waving him off. “Just head back and I’ll catch up in a few minutes.”
He didn’t move to leave immediately, instead standing awkwardly between her and the door. He certainly looked like he wanted to say something, but thought better of it.
In fact, he didn’t seem to think better of anything beyond that point.
Within seconds, he crossed the space between them until he was standing in front of her, almost a full head taller than her. It was all done so quickly that she reeled a little bit at the quickness of the action. Even moreso, she had no idea what to think when he craned his head down, down further, until he was looking at her with half-lidded eyes behind his ridiculous glasses. She might have laughed, or really done anything other than what she was about to do, but like a faulty machine, her mind just shut down any other responsible, common sense-filled part of her.
He kissed her, and she kissed him back.
Repeat, for clarity: Kylo Ren kissed her, and she kissed Kylo Ren back.
Oh, there were about five thousand things wrong with that one simple action. They were all very well-defined, and could have been separated categorically or by letter, and then cleanly sourced if she needed any reason not to kiss him back, or to put her arms behind his neck, or to let him hold her by the waist as he pulled her in closer. But her mental filing system did a very lovely dive straight into the pits of forgetfulness, and any reason she could have had faded away like fog in the sunlight. At that point, she didn’t care who he was or what he did or why he did anything. She was temporarily more concerned with the fact that he was a remarkably good kisser, even though she didn’t have the room or experience to be subjective, and that he was very warm, she could feel the bridge of his nose against her cheek if he leaned in far enough, that his lips were very pliable and soft, that he smelled kind of great, and that she happily could have kissed him for a solid week without much complaint.
Then, reason came back from its short vacation from the abyss and rammed into her brain so hard that she got a bit of whiplash.
She was making out with Kylo kriffin’ Ren. She was pretending to be someone else, kissing her enemy, feeling the ridge of the scar she had put on him against her own face. Nothing in the galaxy could have been more wrong, and the realization was enough to make her reel back hard enough that she caught the edge of an end table with the back of her knees and winced. Kylo looked at her in confusion, and she tried her best to ignore the flush in his cheeks, the damn near obscene red that his lips were and the shine they had when the light caught them right, and the way his chest heaved like he was trying to catch his breath after a run.
“I...” She tried to speak, but her words came out in a weak croak. “I can’t...”
He looked confused, maybe a little bit hurt if her eyes didn’t completely deceive her. She could have said something typical like ‘it’s not you, it’s me’, but it was definitely him. She had watched the man skewer his own father, and then she had kissed him like he was the only source of oxygen she had. The whole damn situation was just a massive pile of madness.
“Lyra,” he started, and that was about all she could take. He didn’t know who she was, and he certainly wouldn’t have tried to kiss her if he did know. That just sealed it.
“Just go back,” she said stiffly, clenching her hands on the edge of the table. “I’m fine. I’ll be okay.”
To his credit, he obeyed, albeit reluctantly. He left, going back out into the maelstrom of snow and ice and everything else she had learned that she didn’t like. And once she was alone, she felt the very distinct urge to scream and kick something. She nudged the corner of the table with her boot, and it wasn’t very satisfying.
She wasn’t fine, and she definitely wasn’t going to be okay. It was bad enough that she was certain that if she was more professional, someone who actually did espionage and all that for a living, her mission would definitely be considered compromised. She couldn’t focus on how to complete her mission successfully, so much as she was more willing and able to not only focus on, but repeat in perfect clarity the kiss between her and the one person she wanted more than anything to see on the business end of a lightsaber.
To be fair, he had kept his distance since then, but it hadn’t helped. She kept thinking about it in alternating formats of wanting to lay him flat in the snow and stomp on his bewigged head, and otherwise kissing him senseless and reliving the moment that she realized that any other kiss she would ever experience would have to fight to live up to that particular one. It wasn’t helpful, and his self-imposed short distance exile was doing nothing other than just making her want to talk to him more.
Worse yet, Kaisa caught on within days. Of course she would have. As a supervisor, hardly anything escaped her.
“Oh, come on, girl!” she had exclaimed, downing her fifth cup of caf for the night. Two people had called off sick and Kaisa, bless her, was making up for it. She was starting to vibrate a little, and it was getting alarming.
Rey frowned and threaded her fingers through her hair, a nervous habit she had picked up when she started wearing her hair down more. “Well, what was I supposed to do?” she asked, more to the floor than her supervisor.
“Kiss him more, obviously! You said it yourself! If he’s an awesome kisser, don’t let that go to waste!”
Easy for her to say. She hadn’t kissed someone who should have been serving eighty life sentences in a prison colony. Or kissed someone that she should have, by all rights, sliced very neatly in half. It was a weird situation, to say the least.
“At least try to talk to him,” Kaisa went on, apparently a little frustrated on top of seconds away from hyperventilating through sheer power of energy beverages. “You know, just clear the air if you’re not going to make out with him again. It’s not that hard. I mean, maybe he is, but--”
“You’ve seen his shoe size! You can’t tell me you haven’t thought about it.”
“Not until now. Thanks for that.”
This time, Kaisa absolutely did cackle.
Like it or not, her supervisor was right. Against all mental and moral opposition, they had to talk. What they were going to talk about, she didn’t know. It’s not like she could fling herself at him and say, “Hey, remember the girl that totally trounced you on the first Starkiller? That’s me!” That would just end in all kinds of bad. But she couldn’t let him pine for her (or what ever he was doing) on the assumption that she was who she said she was. Not that she cared that it wasn’t fair to him (maybe a little), but it didn’t sit right with her.
She at least had to make it known that they couldn’t kiss again, out of moral obligation, or professionalism, or the fact that she was going to have to haul herself back to the Resistance base all but advertising the fact that they had kissed. It wasn’t that she was bad at keeping secrets, but this was one of those things that would otherwise burrow into her brain and pester her for years to come. She would have to look people like Finn in the face with the thought that she had willingly kissed the very man that just about eviscerated him from behind. That wasn’t going to bode well.
Clear the air, Kaisa had said. Easier said than done.
It took almost a full week to muster up the courage to face him directly, and most of her time before that point had been spent either working with glorious intensity or acting out their future conversation in her head. There were a lot of ways it could go, and most of them weren’t so good.
There were outcomes like him flying at her in a rage, complete with lightsaber. Others had him stony-faced and simmering in anger, but otherwise being fairly civil. More than one had him kissing her again, and she had to shove those possibilities back down in the mental trash compactor where they belonged. All in all, she realistically had no idea how he would react. She also didn’t know what she was going to say, and so before they spoke again, she put all of her trust in the Force to guide her, the way Luke Skywalker might have done. (Unbeknownst to her, using him as an example for what to do on the subject of kissing someone wasn’t the best idea, but ignorance is bliss.)
When all was said and done, she finally walked up to him after their shift ended one night and they were shouldering off winter coats and peeling soaked gloves off their hands. Rey sidled up to him, flexing her fingers to try to get feeling back into them while ignoring the persistent itchy sensation of heat coming back to her legs.
“So, uh, Matt,” she started. The Force still wasn’t helping her verbal elegance.
He was trying his best to toe off his boots, thoroughly soaked through. Rey forced herself to divert her attention from the size of his feet. Her mental image of Kaisa was cackling.
He glanced up at her over the rim of his glasses and gave her a slight ‘hm’ of acknowledgment.
“Can we talk? Maybe?”
His boot came off with a went thunk, and an alarming amount of water spilled out of it. He didn’t pay any attention to it, instead standing up straight and looking down at her, all bespectacled and bewigged and not something she could take particularly seriously. “Yeah, if you want,” he said, and he sounded unsure.
Well, she was about as unsure as he was. “It’s about... the other day.”
“When I kissed you.”
He was very forward, and she supposed she could have been grateful that he didn’t mince words. “Yeah, when you kissed me.” She took in a deep breath. “Listen, it’s not that I didn’t like it, but I don’t think we really can... I mean, I don’t know how to say this without sounding like a jerk.”
“You don’t sound like a jerk.”
“Thanks. But it’s just that, I don’t think we know each other as well as we think? That makes it sort of hard to... connect, I guess.”
He frowned. “We’ve known each other for two months,” he said.
“Yeah, and it’s not that I don’t like you, but I think that maybe we’re...” Okay, she was getting nowhere fast. He was forward, and now it was her turn to be. Rey leaned forward and lowered her voice so that only he could hear her. “I know you’re Kylo Ren.”
His eyes widened, and if Rey could have predicted some of the events that would happen in her life, Kylo Ren spluttering like a bewildered teenager was not among them. “What?” he managed. He actually somehow sounded scandalized.
Rey rolled her eyes. “Okay, like ninety-nine point nine percent sure you’re Kylo Ren,” she said.
“How did you--”
“The hair, for starters. I mean, you could have picked a better wig.”
His hand went to his hair immediately, tugging on the cheap blond material. “I thought it was good,” he said, sounding sullen. Then he shook his head, managing to spray her with water. “But how do you know me? We haven’t met before, have we?”
Unwillingly, her eyes went to the scar on her face, and she cleared her throat. It was certainly a sink or swim moment, and Rey had never been particularly good at swimming. His eyes followed her line of sight, and then slowly, very slowly, his eyes widened as he traced his fingers over his scar. “Oh.”
Both of them stood there, soaked to the bone, dripping very impressive puddles on the tile, facing each other as... Well, not enemies. It was a weird situation, and one that Rey hadn’t really prepared herself for.
Actually, she had. But the one outcome she had stifled ended up being the realistic one.
She nodded. “Yeah.”
“And you pretended to be--”
“For two months?”
He might have been impressed, but it was hard to tell since it looked more like he was halfway through a battle against a sneeze. “And I...”
“You kissed me. Yep.”
There were a lot of things he could have said, and countless more things he could have done. He could have Force shoved her against a wall so hard that her skull would have had a hard time keeping itself in one piece. If his lightsaber was close at hand, she could have been very neatly skewered on it. He could have yelled at her, for a more tame option. The possibilities were endless, but she wasn’t prepared for him to raise his eyebrows like he was appraising her, and she was even less prepared for him to say, “You look good with red hair.”
Her mind stuttered to a stop like it was a bad engine. “Huh?”
He made a vague motion with his right hand, roughly in the vicinity of her head. “Your hair,” he said, and-- was he blushing? No, that had to be a trick of the light, because there was no way that Kylo Ren could blush in her immediate presence. Maybe blush with rage, but not because he thought she looked good with auburn hair.
Well, she’d been through weirder situations. Off the top of her head, she couldn’t think of what they were, but she was certain she’d been through them.
“Thank you, I think?” she said. What else was she supposed to say? It wasn’t like they could just throw down in the middle of the tiny dormitory common room. That could get destructive. But for that matter, she didn’t know what they were going to do from that point on.
He seemed to think the same thing, as his voice was stiffer. “How much longer are you here?”
“A few more weeks,” she replied, just as stiff and tense.
“Are you sabotaging the base?”
“You’re going to ruin everything again.”
Then, quieter, “Did you like it?”
No, that was definitely a blush. The tips of his ears were a pretty bright contrast against the badly-dyed blond. “The kiss,” he said, and it was almost a whisper.
Since they were so far maintaining a good attempt at being honest, there wasn’t much stopping her from going all the way. “Yeah,” she replied, already fidgeting with the ends of her braid.
They stood in drippy silence before he spoke again, and she noticed with alarm that he was walking up to her, a pretty firm echo of where he stood when he kissed her last time. “So you have a few more weeks,” he said.
He might have smiled. She was pretty sure he did, and that wasn’t a trick of the light. “We can go back to trying to kill each other afterwards,” he said. And then he kissed her again.
Rey didn’t have a mental catalogue of kisses, seeing as how she had been kissed only the smallest handful of times, and Kylo Ren had already taken up the majority of slots. But the way he kissed her was enough to make her toes curl in her boots, her socks soaked through. Not that she cared, since she kissed him back with just as much fervor, yanking him down to her height so she could get a decent angle.
Behind them, Kaisa cheered.
They had five more weeks until she went back to the Resistance base. That was a good five weeks of making out in every darkened corner of the dorm, every cramped utility tower room, and behind every beacon large enough to conceal them. For five more weeks, they were allowed to be Matt and Lyra, and it was awesome.
“You seem awfully calm about letting me help destroy the base.”
“Yeah, well, it was Hux’s idea.”
“You’re okay with making him mad?”
“More than okay.”
“And what does Kylo Ren think of all this?”
“He’s okay with it, too.”
“You know, I keep thinking that you were right. He’s pretty good looking, in an odd way.”
“I don’t have to explain it to you?”
“No. Well, maybe a little. You ever see him with his shirt off?”
“He’s got an eight pack. He’s shredded.”
“Hmm. Really? I mean, he didn’t seem too muscular last time I saw him. I think I’m going to have to form my own opinion. Not that I don’t trust yours, Matt.”
“I think he’d be fine with that.”