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Of Particular Salience

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CHAPTER ONE

~  S  E  P  T  E  M  B  E  R  ~

THE ARTIST

 

It was an odd notion. To pose nude for a complete and total stranger. To bare her body and soul to a person she’d never met. To expose all her flaws and let it be documented.

 

It was an odd notion. And Finn told her as such.

 

“What sort of demon possessed you to pose nude for some broke-ass artist?”

 

Money, to be perfectly honest. She supposed it was a demon of sorts – it corrupted, possessed and controlled young and old minds alike. But with Finn moving out in the coming months, she needed the extra cash desperately. Rent was already tough, groceries always too expensive and if she had to give up alcohol to save a buck, she’d have to give up her will to live.

 

She never told him that, though. She didn’t want to be selfish and didn’t want him to feel guilty. She’d be a terrible best friend if she told him so truthfully. Instead, she opted the less honest route, spouting out her ‘love’ for art rather than her greed; to hopefully be a part of something bigger than herself one day.

 

Though, given how unremarkable she was, Rey Niima doubted that was very hard at all.

 

“Something on your mind, kid?”

 

Her head snapped up so fast her neck cracked, meeting concerned hazel eyes and full-frowning lips. Rey winced and tentatively shook her head. He pointedly looked at the container sat in front of her, holding last night’s leftover spaghetti (blessedly cooked by Poe since neither she or Finn could cook a decent meal).

 

“It’s been ten minutes and you haven’t made a move to touch your lunch.” Rey avoided Han Solo’s eyes. “Spill it, gummy.”

 

“It’s nothing.” Her boss rolled his eyes and set down his plain ham sandwich with a huff.

 

“Nothing my ass. You’ve been quiet all day." He bit out gruffly. “Usually I can’t get you to shut up for five minutes, let alone a whole day.”

 

She glared at him and, just to prove a point, twirled a heap of pasta ‘round her fork. “Happy?” she said through her mouthful.

 

Han only scoffed before eyeing her warily. “You have a date or somethin’?”

 

Rey let out a short burst of laughter. “What gave you such a ridiculous idea?”

 

“It’s a Friday night and you’re acting odd. Figured you were going out with Teddo again—”

 

“Teedo.” She interrupted stiffly. “And I’m never going there again.”

 

“Thank the Maker for that – he drove a fuckin’ Commodore.” Despite her irritation, she smiled. “What is it then? Come on Gummy, we don’t have all damn day.” He ducked down to look at his watch. “Fifteen more minutes, to be exact.”

 

“Maybe if you didn’t insult me I wouldn’t be so hesitant to tell you.”

 

Han snorted. “Not my fault your gums are bigger than my forehead, sweetheart.” She ignored his comment. “Look, I don’t care if you tell me or not – just don’t bring me down to your level of moodiness. I got a cranky wife at home to worry about, I don’t want to add you to the list too.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“Okay?” His brow furrowed at her sudden compliant nature. “Okay… what is it, women problems? Is that why you won’t say?” He blew out a breath, suddenly very interested with the ceiling of their sitting-room. “Cos’, if it is, y’know…”

 

Rey groaned. She was not having this conversation with her boss. “It’s just this stupid thing I’ve got tomorrow.”

 

 “Well that isn’t vague.” He quipped.

 

“It’s this modelling thing.” She elaborated after shooting him a dirty look. “Some artist’s big project or something. I’m posing for him.”

 

An uncomfortable beat of silence passed between the two.

 

“Do I want to know what exactly this modelling… entails?”

 

“All you need to know is that I’m getting paid and quite well at that.” He nodded, probably gathering enough information to figure out the details on his own.

 

“Right. Well, you’re free to choose how you spend your weekends, I guess.” He paused. “Are you sure you’re comfortable with this, kid?”

 

She’d already asked this of herself. Plenty of times, the question had popped up in her head, mostly at night when sleep seemed to be impossible; each time held a different answer.

 

Oddly enough, she was comfortable. Not because of the neat twenty-per-hour pay rate, or the chance of being a possible masterpiece. No, being naked had never truly phased her.

 

 As a girl, she’d shared showers with the boys and girls in the group homes to conserve hot water – never mind the budding breasts and sprouting hair. As a teenager, when Jakku had been blessed with rainfall, she’d swam naked in the quarry with her friends, all because she couldn’t afford a bathing-suit and didn’t dare chance ruining her knicker sets. As an adult, she’d shared her body with a few men here and there, melding naked flesh together as one; she never insisted on turning off the light.

 

She was born into this cruel world bare. Why should the thought of it be so uncomfortable?

 

“Yes.” She finally answered, after a time, Han’s eyes searching hers for dishonesty. “Surprisingly, I don’t mind all that much.”

 

His eyes narrowed in, “Then what’s the problem?”

 

“Just because I’m comfortable with it doesn’t mean I can’t be nervous about it,” she lied quickly. “That’s all it is, Han – nerves.”

 

It wasn’t that simple and Han’s face said he knew it, too. Rey was never one to put herself down aloud, for fear of seeming like a desperate attention seeker. But when it was just her, left alone to the jagged thoughts inside, she tore herself apart – bit by bit. She criticised her own actions, cringed at the sound of her own voice, cursed the sight of her own body.

 

It was the persistent fear that had her on edge; fear that the artist would take one look at her and turn her away. Fear that Kylo Ren would despise her as much as her own parents did.

 

“Han.” She breathed a silent sigh of relief to finally have his intuitive eyes in some other direction, settling on the large bearded face of his longtime employee at the sound of his rough voice . “Bala-Tik‘s here.” Chewie briefly stuck his scruffy head inside the doorway to grunt out the news, shooting off a beastly grin in her direction before trudging back out.

 

 “Fuckin’ Bala-Tik,” Han grumbled in response, reluctantly pushing himself onto his feet. “If he’s dinged up his shitty Corolla once again, I’ll personally slam his head onto the hood.”

 

Rey snorted, “You’d only ding it up more, old man.”

 

He stopped short of the doorway, fixing her with a hard stare. “When I come back, that container better be empty.” He pointed at her. “I don’t want lousy work because of your lack of sustenance. Eat up quickly; you got the gums for it.”

 

He swiftly exited the room before the flying fork could hit its target. Just for that snide comment, the petty side of Rey decided to pluck up his sandwich, happily choosing to ignore the fork that lay on the ground.

 

~ * ~

 

She decided to walk to the artist’s address rather than bike over, given that it was only thirty minutes away. She needed time to clear her head.

 

Poe had offered to walk with her. Finn had begged to come with her in support. Rey was quick to say no to both. Part of her wished she’d never told them, just to avoid Poe’s endless teasing and Finn’s constant worry. Still, none of their words or threats could compare to Han’s.

 

‘If he lays a hand or a single finger on you, I swear I’ll lay him out.’

 

That was about as reassuring as Han Solo could be, and, although it did nothing to quell her nerves, it still brought a smile to her face.

 

She continued her ambling pace along Takodana’s bustling sidewalks, passing by the busy cafés and restaurants, block after block. It was a cool, crisp morning that had Rey huddling into herself, gripping the straps of her well-worn backpack and making an effort to greet every stranger with a smile.

 

Some were happy to return the gesture; others only sneered.

 

It didn’t bother her either way. She’d always been a morning person, waking up to the rising sun, dressing to its ascent. If she didn’t, it meant a cold and soggy breakfast at the group homes. Early mornings were routine with Rey. For others, however, they were simply a curse.

 

She’d lived with Finn long enough to understand that particular preference. With that though on mind, she wondered if Kylo Ren was a morning person.

 

She’d reached the string of modern townhouses sooner than expected. All too soon, she was gazing up at the dark-brick two-story house that belonged to the artist, black Victorian-esque windows generously placed with a striking front door; dark-wood and sleek, a contrasting white design engraved into the material.

 

Rey’s mouth, on its own accord, fell open at the sight. One tiny glimpse at the building and she knew Kylo Ren was certainly no broke artist.

 

She was itching to see his car, but her eyes skimmed over the empty driveway with disappointment. It was probably some sleek, black beauty tucked away in the garage. She looked up at the house.

 

Rey took in a deep breath, taking two steps at a time leading up to the front-door, gripping onto the straps of her bag as if her life depended on it. Reluctantly, she raised her hand to press the buzzer.

 

She held her breath while waiting.

 

The door opened with a flourish and the first thing she noticed were dark eyes. Dark, unwavering eyes with matching dark circles beneath the pair. The next thing that came into view was his prominent figure, towering over her slightly taller-than-average height and a permanent pout on those pink, lush lips. His nose was protruding, slightly hooked if she looked closely, and his hair nearly came to his broad shoulders in thick waves.

 

He had all the wrong the features. And yet, to Rey, he was immensely attractive. Tall, dark and handsome indeed.

 

“Hello,” she chirped out, pairing it with a bright ‘gummy’ smile, as Han would say. “I’m Rey.”

 

His gaze wandered to her extended arm, continuing down to rake over her hips, thighs, and legs before meeting her eyes once more, “The model?”

 

Her smile faltered slightly as she nodded. She had yet to retrieve her arm. He had yet to shake it.

 

He hummed, cocking his head to the side. A singular thick, dark brow rose as he studied her once more. He snapped back quickly, moving aside to motion her forward.

 

Definitely not a morning person. That or just a loony.

 

“Would you rather I take my shoes off outside?” She watched his lips twitch upwards, ever so slightly. Rey shifted. “So I… I don’t dirty your carpet, or whatever.”

 

He paused. “If you’d like.” She nodded, shucking off the cheap slip-ons and brushing past him quickly. He closed the door behind him.

 

The small foyer was plain but effective; nothing too exuberant or fancy, holding a few fake plants and an expensive-looking candle A dark-timbered buffet table complete by the huge round mirror hanging above. No photos, no art – just the reflection of herself and the artist behind her, a full coat rack to the left and a pair of flip-flops beside the door.

 

She suddenly wondered what his feet looked like.

 

“Is this your first time?” Rey jumped, brows furrowing in confusion.

 

“My first time getting naked?”

 

“Your first-time modelling?” He clarified with twinkling eyes. Oh.

 

Modelling – she’d never really thought of it like that. She was no model; she didn’t have the height, body, or looks for it.

 

“Yes,” she answered slowly. “Is it that obvious?”

 

“Follow me, Miss Niima.” He said instead of confirming her nervous question, turning on his heel to walk into the open archway to her right. She took the opportunity to study him from behind. He was a clear lover of shades over colour, particularly black. He wore a black knit-sweater, clinging to his form – she idly wondered if he worked out – paired with snug-fit black jeans, dishevelled and ripped at the knees. She glanced over his backside quickly, noting he had a rather nice bum before continuing her way down. He wasn’t wearing shoes, but was organised in his choice of black socks.

 

She looked at her own feet, then – mismatched socks in colour, pattern and length.

 

When she looked up from the floor her eyes went wide. His living room was stunning, but it was the black-stone fireplace that took her breath away. Her gaze wandered to the painting above the mantel, various shades of red, white and black with a strange silhouette in the center, to the inviting fluffy white rug in the middle of it all. He had a decent-sized tv tucked away in the corner, with plush charcoal-black armchairs and a dark-grey loveseat, a deep red blanket thrown over top. It was simply gorgeous.

 

“We’ll be working in my studio for today.” She returned her attention to his back, following him through another archway, leading her up the stairs. He had an open bedroom on the second-story, a typical bachelor’s pad – she almost drooled at the sheer size of his bed.

 

He opened another door, revealing a bright small room with the morning sun streaming in. In the corner were two plain desks, paint splattered and worn, an easel, and a stool placed behind. Cupboards and shelves lined the very back of the room and, in the middle of the dark hardwood floors, was a plain white chair.

 

She only took one glimpse to her right where a heap of torn-up canvases piled up in the corner before he spoke.

 

“Would you like a drink before we start?”

 

She would very much like a glass of wine.

 

“Water, please – if you don’t mind.” He nodded and turned to exit the room.

 

“I’ll give you time to prepare.”

 

When he left the room, presumably to fetch her glass of water, she decided that she liked his voice. Dark and rich, warm and inviting – like honey and chocolate.

 

She took one last glance around the room before shrugging off her backpack, placing it behind her. Soon after, her blue jumper followed along with the loose-fitted light wash jeans. She was only down to her knicker set when Kylo returned with the glass. He stopped abruptly.

 

“Leave them on.” He murmured, nodding at the sight of her. “The socks. Leave them on, please.”

 

“Okay.” She responded awkwardly after a few seconds of silence, taking the offered glass and a tentative sip.

 

What an odd request.

 

He nodded, flexing his hands before padding over to the easel and canvas. He set down a mug of water and began prepping for the session, grabbing a cup of brushes and various large bottles of paint that probably cost more than her rent.

 

With twitching hands, she reached behind her and unsnapped the hooks of her plain white bralette, shrugging the straps down her shoulders; the material dropped to the floor and joined the growing pile of fabric.

 

Suddenly, she straightened. “Did you want me to shave?”

 

His dark eyes snapped to hers with the same cocked eyebrow. “Pardon me?”

 

“I was just wondering… it’s just, I haven’t been swimming recently so I haven’t bothered. You know, to shave.” His eyes never left her as she babbled on. “I never thought to ask if you had a preference—”

 

“Why would I ask you to do something with your body?”

 

Rey blinked at the sudden intensity of his voice. Her mouth opened and closed as she tried to formulate a sentence.

 

“Well, you’re paying me.” She blurted out. “To paint me – and, in this case, your preference would only extend to your art.”

 

Kylo cleared his throat. “If I wanted you clean-shaven, Miss Niima, I’d use my imagination. We were given one for a reason.”

 

Oh…

 

She watched his eyes slowly flit back to his previous task, his gaze never dropping below her neck, allowing her the privacy to remove the last bit of fabric from her skin.

 

She took her time in doing so, fiddling with the elastic band of her white cotton knickers. But eventually, after finally pushing the fabric down her thighs, they pooled at her ankles. Rey kicked them to the pile.

 

Suddenly, she was unbound and free; she was naked.

 

“Where do you want me?”

 

“On the chair, side-on and face the windows.” He recited quickly, never looking up from his task. “Would you please cross your legs for me and slump once seated.”

 

“Slump?”

 

“Only slightly.” He said softly.

 

She did as he asked.

 

“Good. That’s perfect.” And then he was looking at her – studying the sag to her awfully small breasts, the rolls to her usually-toned stomach, eyeing each mole, freckle or pimple that lay upon her skin. “If you need a break, all you need to do is ask.” He began quietly. “If, at any time, you feel uncomfortable and wish to pull out, you’re free to do so. Are there any questions before we start?”

 

Rey had a thousand questions she wanted to ask. Why the bad angle, why the socks, why her?

 

Instead, she shook her head and pointedly looked ahead, avoiding Kylo Ren’s heated dark gaze.

 

“Good,” he murmured.

 

It was the last word he spoke that session.

 

An odd notion, indeed.

 

Chapter Text

CHAPTER TWO

~  O  C  T  O  B  E  R  ~

DARK EYES, DARK WORDS

 

“So, what was he like then? This artist?”

 

She frowned in thought, eyes drifting to scan the room. She knew that, sooner or later, Poe and Finn would want answers. She knew that the routine-invitation to Kanata’s was all a ploy to get said answers. There was just one problem, however:

 

She simply didn’t know.

 

To her, he was indescribable. There wasn’t enough time in the universe for Rey to process their unforgettable session – it’d only been a day since and she’d come to understand that. The only thing she knew; Kylo Ren was a freakishly tall, sinfully good-looking, dark-eyed mystery. 

Her eyes drifted back to the table of four, taking in the spooky decorations to match the spookiest month of the year. It was rather fitting when thinking of Kylo Ren.

 

“He was nice.” Rey avoided the intense dark gaze locked onto her and shrugged. “He didn’t really talk much. It’s hard for me to say.”

 

“So he never touched you, then?” Finn spat out frantically. “Never asked you to do something inappropriate or – or made a nasty comment?”

 

Her eyes found Finn’s loving boyfriend and the two shared an eye roll. “Nope. He was completely professional about the whole thing.” Rey took a pull from her Corona before elaborating. “He – he never looked when he didn’t need to, you know? He was very respectful, offering me a drink before we started and made sure I had frequent breaks in-between and was comfortable in my position. He was…just nice.”

 

“And hot, I hope!” Poe slipped in with his trademark ‘million-dollar’ grin, casually throwing an arm around Finn as he settled into the booth. “Imagine that; a dark brooding artist, with good hair and pretty eyes – serving up some Jack Dawson looks.”

 

Rose giggled and turned to fix her with an amused stare. “Did he paint you like one of his French girls?”

 

Rey laughed bitterly. “I wish.” She mumbled. “I bet it isn’t flattering at all – you should’ve heard what he requested.”

 

“What?” Finn’s eyes narrowed in. “What did he request? He didn’t make you do anything inappropriate, did he? He didn’t make you touch yourself--”?”

 

“Oh my god, Finn, draw a breath.” Rose huffed out with an eye-roll. “Let her speak!”

 

“He made me keep my socks on. He made me slump in the chair, undoubtedly showing every flawed part of myself.” Rey hushed out, leaning in to address her friends. “He even made me take-out my hair; you all know what my hair looks like when I take it out of my three buns. It’ll be a sore sight for eyes, that one.”

 

“What? Don’t be ridiculous.” Poe flicked her on the nose. “I’m sure it’s a real beauty.”

 

“Did he show you after you were finished?” Finn asked, gaze still wary. “The painting, I mean.”

                                                                                               

“No, it was unfinished.” Rey hummed, removing her lips from the bottle. “And even if he had offered I’d have likely refused – I never want to see those paintings. Ever. It’s too weird, you know?”

 

“Fucking yes it’s weird. Stripping in front of strangers and letting them paint and display your body to the world will always be too weird. I still can’t believe you’d agree to such a thing.”

 

“I don’t think it’s weird,” Poe interjected quickly, putting a stop to Rey’s snappy retort. “There’s something truly amazing about a naked body – almost like you’re baring your soul to the universe.” He turned to his boyfriend, eyes flicking down to his full lips “Don’t discredit the art, babe – it’s something beautiful to behold.”

 

Rose cleared her throat, eyes flicking between the two. “Well, this just got oddly sexual.”

 

Poe laughed at this. “Take it how you want to, Tico.” He gave Finn a quick peck on the lips before settling his twinkling eyes back on Rey. “You never answered my question before; about Kyle Ron being hot.”

 

Rey bit her lip to keep herself from laughing. “It’s Kylo Ren.” She corrected light-heartedly, idly wondering how the man mentioned would react to the mispronunciation. “And I never got a good look.” She lied. “He was always behind an easel and canvas.”

 

“Really?” Rose questioned. “You didn’t even get a slight glimpse to get a general idea?”

 

“He wore a lot of black.” She scrunched her nose and pointed her beer in Poe’s direction. “And he did have rather nice hair.” With a marble-statue like ass, an intense gaze that could test Mr. Darcy’s and those goddamn lips – pink, like a summer’s afternoon sky. “Scowled a little too much for my liking.”

 

Poe gave her a pointed-look along with a pointed finger. “You better get a proper look next time, Niima.”

 

“Yeah, snap a discreet photo or something.” Rose agreed before raising her glass high in the air. “I’m empty – who’s keen for the next round?”

 

“Only if it’s on you, Tico.” Finn remarked quickly before downing the rest of his Great Northern.

 

“I suppose.” She grumbled out to the group’s delight, who all whooped in agreement as the short feisty lady clambered over Rey like a stealthy cat, right before disappearing over at the bar.

 

“So when’s this next art session of yours?” Poe nodded in her direction.

 

“I don’t know, he said he’d ‘contact me in the upcoming weeks’.” Rey tried to imitate the stiff tone of Kylo Ren but found her vocal range was nowhere near that low. She circled the rim of the bottleneck, idly wondering how his voice was so soothingly deep. “Won’t be for a while, I guess. At least, not until he’s finished the first painting.”

 

“What’s it even for?” Finn questioned with a scowl. “Like, what’s the whole point of this project?”

 

“I never asked.” She didn’t even think to ask, even as she redressed and was ushered out of his house with all the pleasantries involved. She certainly had the time to ask, with all the sitting and the silence. “Something to do with different months, I guess.”

 

“Changing of the seasons?” Poe suggested before shrugging. “I mean, who really cares when you’re nearly getting paid two-hundred bucks—”

 

“—For virtually sitting on my ass.” Rey finished with a sigh. “For eight fuckin’ hours, slumped in an unflattering and uncomfortable position. Wearing fucking ugly socks, tits out and all – oh, and I completely forgot to shave. It’s about as patchy as your beard down there, Dameron.”

 

Poe cackled and took the blow. “Free the nips, Rey! Free the flaps.” Even Finn cracked a grin at this, shaking his head as Poe ran a hand through his scruff. “And, excuse you, my beard is not patchy. I go to a very professional barber for this money-maker.”

 

“It’s looking a little grey.”

 

“Are you saying you have grey, patchy pubes, Niima?”

 

“Why do I love you?” Finn groaned out, pushing himself out of Poe’s embrace. “You’re so uncivilised.”

 

“And devilishly handsome. Charming, too – I quite literally charmed the pants off you.”

 

“Don’t forget modest.” Rey quipped as Finn pushed his lover away, eyes rolling into the back of his head. “You’re just so humble and wise, Poe.”

 

“Don’t worry, Peanut, it comes with age.”

 

“First of all, fuck you. I’m only thirty-six.” Poe scowled, though it did nothing to diminish his stunningly good looks. “Also, you can keep him Rey. I don’t want him anymore.”

 

“Fine by me.” Finn shrugged his response. “Rey’s always been more fun anyway.”

 

“Yay!” Rey cheered with a bright smile and all.

 

“Just kidding, you can’t have him,” Poe said quickly, shoving Finn’s head roughly into his chest, cradling him like a child. “He’s mine, so back off.”

 

“Noooo!” Rey drawled out dramatically. “Who’ll do the dishes?”

 

“You.” Finn deadpanned after escaping Poe’s tight hold. “Like the perfectly-abled adult you are.”

 

 

“Well adulting fucking sucks ass.” Rose appeared again, empty-handed, catching the clipped-end of the conversation. “And you can thank this adult-woman for scoring us free drinks, courtesy of Maz Kanata herself.”

 

She beamed at the group before turning to gesture at the small old lady, barely visible over the tray of drinks she held.

 

“A Bloody Mary to each of you for the bloodiest month of the year.” The short woman boomed, cackling as she all-but slammed the tray on the table with a horsey grin.

 

“Thank you Maz – you’re an absolute angel.” Maz waved away the smooth compliment from Poe. “You’ve really gone all out this year. The place looks great.”

 

“Oh?” The old woman feigned surprise. “It’s just a few cobwebs and skeletons placed here and there, nothing special.”

 

Rey almost laughed at the severe understatement – the place was decked out in LED lighting, jack-o-lanterns, scary wart-faced witches and tasteful skeletons dressed in tuxedos. In a single day, Kanata’s had turned into a bloody haunted house; all due to Maz Kanata’s love for the seasonal holidays. She didn’t doubt that on November 1st, the room would be dressed with tinsel, wreaths and pine-needles – and just because she was cheeky, an unexpectedly-placed mistletoe or two.

 

“The place really does look great, Maz.” Rey agreed. “I try and convince Han to spice up the shop with a little decorating every now and then but he’s too bloody stubborn,” Rey grumbled.

 

“You send that old-fart here and I’ll straighten him up real fast. It’s been too long since he and my husband have dropped in for a beer.” Chewie would have a differing opinion, for sure.

 

Rey chuckled along with the group. “Will do, Maz.”

 

“Alright, kids. Enjoy the freebies while I go charge my other customers.”

 

“Thank you, Maz.” The group chimed happily in sync as she hobbled back to the bar, most likely to converse with all the other regulars.

 

“God, I love that woman,” Rose said in awe, Poe humming in agreement and Finn nodding absently.

 

“To Maz.” Poe suddenly plucked up his Bloody Mary and held it high in the air. “A woman who can run a mean fucking bar.”

 

They wholeheartedly agreed with the statement, whipping up their glasses to sloppily clink them together, a resounding ‘CHEERS!’ following the chime-like sound. This was only the beginning of their night.

 

~ * ~

 

“Who’s KR?” Rey Niima stilled underneath the 2000 Corolla Hatchback with the faulty fuel pipe. “Your damn phone hasn’t stopped dinging for the last two minutes because of this asshole.”

 

Rey Niima smoothly rolled out of her position, resurfacing a whole lot greasier, and found herself staring up at Han Solo clutching her phone with its glimmering-pink case. He looked down at her before his eyes returned to the phone, reclining his head and squinting at the screen.

 

“Free for a session Saturday if you are.” He murmured and scrolled. “Same time, same pay – Christ, kid, are you a prostitute or something.” He joked as she slowly hoisted herself to a sitting position, letting the blood flow back to her head before she proceeded to stand.

 

“Oh, yes. Twenty-an-hour, he pays me.” She chirped, brushing her sticky hands on the back of her pants.

 

“You’re selling yourself short.” He muttered, holding out her phone. “Do me the honour of shutting him up, please.”

 

She laughed and took her phone. “It’s the artist I told you about, remember?” She explained as she took in the home-screen of her phone, filled with texts from Kylo Ren. “The one I’m posing for.”

 

It was mid-October. The man had been eerily absent and silent for close-to-four weeks, until now. Obviously, she’d been an anxious wreck. It was a nice feeling for the tightness in her stomach to lighten.

 

“How could I forget?” Han grumbled, turning away to head back into the break-room, back to the documents and papers he loathed to do.

 

“I assumed you’d forgotten.” She replied, hot on his heels while she unlocked her phone. “You never asked how it went.”

 

“I don’t wanna’ know, Gummy. I don’t wanna’ know any of it.” She hummed, smirking as the man halted and set his hazel eyes on her. “But, just out of curiosity, he never did anything weird or…gross?”

 

She groaned. “No. No, for the thousandth time. He was perfectly professional and respectful about the whole thing.”

 

“Good. Good.” He nodded. “Because I’d hate to break a complete stranger’s legs—”

 

“Oh, fuck off.” She shook her head, ignoring his grin as she bent to type out her reply.

 

Saturday sounds good.

Got any preferences for this one???

 

“You know, this stuff isn’t uncommon. And with something as ‘out there’ as this, it isn’t a strange thought to cross a man’s mind, you know. Anything can happen.” Rey clenched her jaw. “I’m being serious, Gummy. You tell someone if this shit happens, okay?”

 

“You do know I can look after myself, yeah?” She snapped, avoiding the frowning face pointed in her direction. “I’m used to looking after myself.”

 

“I know.” He said softly. “That’s why I worry. Am I not allowed to worry?”

 

She’d been on her own for so long. It was hard to accept that people cared, sometimes – cared enough to ask if she was okay or how she was doing. It was so foreign that there were people she knew that were interested in her wellbeing and cared enough to worry.

 

And it was so easy to shut them out.

 

Her phone pinged in the silence of the break room.

 

“What did I say?” He said lightly, pointing a finger in her direction, the tense atmosphere disappearing just as quickly as it came.

 

No preferences or requests needed.

Just bring yourself.

 

She smiled.

 

Ok see u then :)

 

All in black, probably. She wondered if he’d request she leave her socks on again. Perhaps she’d forgo them, this time – or maybe spend more than two minutes to find a matching pair.

 

“Knock, knock.”

 

Her head snapped up in the direction of the feminine voice. Han’s wife stood in the doorway, looking as gorgeous as ever even with her soft brown hair, greying at the edges, and the wrinkles that began to stretch at the corners of her her eyes; truthfully, it only amplified her graceful nature.. Age simply couldn’t take away beauty from Leia Organa-Solo.

 

“It one o’clock already?” Han questioned, squinting at his wife.

 

She ignored the question, pushing into the room with the plastic bag of takeaway in hand. “He hasn’t been irritating you too much today, has he, Rey?” Han could only gawp as she quickly swooped up all the documents, setting them into a neat pile off to the side – all in under five seconds.

 

“When does he not irritate me?” She gave Rey a warm smile before turning on her husband.

 

“You don’t still call her that horrible name, do you?”

 

“You mean Gummy?” He asked, earning a quick swat on the shoulder.

 

“You be nice,” Leia said sternly. “And you – sit and eat.” Rey was never one to disobey one of her firm orders, taking a seat at the far-end of the table as the middle-aged woman began to lay out the Indian food.

 

“Spicy?” Han whined. “Again?”

 

“Butter chicken is not spicy.” She said in a tired tone. “And it’s high-time you got more cultured. You’re sixty-three years old and you’re fussier than a child. How do you put up with him for eight hours in a row, Rey?”

 

“You married me.” Rey smiled softly at the couple.

 

It was all pretend. Despite her rants, she still happily plated his butter chicken with the Greek-yoghurt dip on the side, choosing the biggest roll of naan bread to place on his plate. And anyone could see the clear, utter devotion Han had for his wife. The bickering was a farce – underneath, there was a love Rey knew was near-impossible to achieve.

 

She never saw such passion in her own future. She was just happy she got to see such a lovely relationship every Tuesday; or, as Leia called it, Takeaway Tuesday. That or, unofficially, the day Han begged his wife to come in and ‘help with the legal-shit.’

 

“So, what were you whining about to poor Rey before I saved her?” Leia smirked at her husband after retrieving Han’s stashed red wine, pouring out three generous mugs.

 

“We were actually talking about Rey, your royal highness,” Han grumbled. “And how that artist-boyfriend of hers won’t fuckin’ stop texting.”

 

“Boyfriend?” Leia cocked an eyebrow.

 

“He’s not my boyfriend, I’ve literally only met him once.” Rey sighed before elaborating. “I’m posing for his upcoming art project; a series of paintings. It’s just a little extra cash on the side sort of thing, you know?”

 

“How lovely. Well he’s lucky to have such an excellent model” She said, smiling softly. “What sort of posing?”

 

Rey flushed and remained silent.

 

“Oh,” Leia said softly. “Right. Well, I used to model for Han all the time, you see, though he was never an artist.” The old woman cocked her head. “Occasionally, if the night’s right, I’ll strike a pose.”

 

Rey cracked a smile, the embarrassment slowly fading away. Leia certainly had a way of brightening the mood, her words carrying a particular warmth that had no rival.

 

“What’s he like, then? Is he handsome?” She leaned in and ignored her husband’s scoff.

 

“Yes. Very handsome.” It was strange to finally admit it aloud – and why she couldn’t do so in front of Poe, Finn and Rose was still a mystery. But she was almost compelled to tell Leia every single little detail; to describe the slight hook to his nose and the light flecks in his dark eyes.

 

“Did you feel vulnerable in that position?”

 

“Weirdly enough, I didn’t.” She admitted quietly. “I felt as if – well, I don’t know how I felt. I still haven’t really come to terms with it all. I just know that it doesn’t… put me off, entirely.”

 

“Do you know if he’ll have a display once finished? A gallery showing of sorts?” She asked, taking a sip from her mug.

 

“I think so. In the advertisement for the project, it mentioned that it was intended to be put on show. But, it’s a series of twelve paintings over twelve months so I couldn’t be one-hundred-percent sure.” She wasn’t sure she wanted to know.

 

“Well, when the time comes around, give us the name of the gallery and we’ll pop around to see—”

 

“Speak for yourself.” Han interrupted.

 

“Oh, come on. Don’t be a wimp.” Leia muttered. “It’d be amazing to see. The art will surely be fantastic if our dear Rey is in it.”

 

“It’s too damn weird. It’d be the same as a father seeing his grown-adult daughter like… like that.” Rey stopped chewing, eyes searching the flushed face of Han Solo.

 

Did he really see her in that way?

 

When she was a little girl, back in Jakku, she’d imagined this way too often. Having an overprotective father who’d do anything to shield his baby girl from the horrors of the world. She’d constantly create this scenario time and time again – anything to take her mind away from the fear of being taken away again; the fear of being tossed around the broken system.

 

Even as an adult, accustomed to the ways of the world, she’d found herself comparing Han Solo to the father she never had. Not once did it ever cross her mind that maybe, just maybe, she was the daughter he’d never had.

 

 But that was a ridiculous thought. A stupid, naïve thought that belonged to the younger, more hopeful Rey. If Han Solo and Leia Organa wanted kids, nothing would’ve stopped them. Even if fertility problems were the case, Rey didn’t doubt they’d adopt or be the rare foster parents that were well-off and also kind souls.

 

To Han Solo, she was just his employee and nothing else. And what sort of person wanted to see their co-worker naked in a series of artwork? He was right – it was too weird. His words only expressed the level of discomfort it’d be if he viewed such work.

 

Leia and Han were their own family. A family she’d never be a part of. And she was okay with that – truly, she was used to being alone.

 

“Top up, anyone?”

 

Rey painted on a smile and held out her mug.

 

~ * ~

 

It was the knickers he requested to stay on rather than the socks. Simple, plain, dull blue knickers. No fancy materials involved, just cotton.

 

He also changed up the setting, opting for the living room rather than his bright studio. She sat perched on her knees, completely straight and upright, focusing on the beautiful red painting. It must’ve been the best couch she’d ever touched, the material instantly molding to her shape as she sunk into it like a fluffy cloud. Her breasts perked upwards, nipples hardening due to the cool autumn weather.

 

She hoped he didn’t notice.

 

“Where are you from?” Startled, Rey looked away from her set position and met the warm and rich dark eyes of Kylo Ren. He never asked a single personal question during their last session. “I know you’re from the Western Reaches but I can’t quite place the accent.”

 

She hesitated. “Jakku.”

 

He cocked an eyebrow. “Jakku.”

 

She was quick to snap her head back in position, eyes back on the painting as he murmured the town.

 

“Did you like it there?” he hummed out, after a time.

 

Rey unintentionally scoffed. “Does anyone?”

 

Never in a million years did she expect to hear an amused snort from Kylo Ren. “I suppose not. Though I’ve never been. You don’t miss it, then?”

 

Not a single fucking bit. “Not really.”

 

“What about your friends and family?”

 

“I suppose.” She didn’t need to look to know that singular, dark eyebrow would be cocked high into his hairline. He didn’t comment on her vague response, however.

 

“It’s okay if you don’t.” His cool voice drifted. “Not everyone has a perfect family – I could write a book on mine.” Not everyone has a family. She bit her lip before she could blurt it out

 

“My father wanted me to carry on the family business.” He continued on bitterly, a sharp edge to his tone that had her body tensing. “Art was my passion, though, but he never could understand. Creativity isn’t practical to him.”

 

Rey tried not to furrow her brow. She didn’t understand where this confession was coming from. She certainly had no idea why someone like him would tell her this.

 

“My mother, on the other hand, doesn’t have a problem with my career choice. It’s academic, teaching young teens about the historic value art has – and cleaning up the mess after they’ve broken out in a clay fight.” He was becoming breathy as he talked, voice loaded and heavy. “Still, she never showed up to my art showings or my presentations. She showed up to my graduation.” His voice rose a little too loud. “Albeit late, but hey – at least she showed up, right?” 

 

She held her breath, turning slightly to glance at the artist.

 

“And my uncle.” He laughed although it held no mirth. “My art was never good enough. Always too bland, too much, or just fucking pathetic.” He shook his head, curls bouncing behind the easel. “God, he was the fussiest nit-pick asshole when it came to my art – fuck.” He muttered suddenly. “Fucking shit, I botched your nipple.”

 

He looked up and met her eyes. And for the first time unrelated to his canvas, his eyes flicked down her figure, no doubt taking in her flushed state.

 

Before she could blink, he was scooting back in his chair, nearly knocking his setup-stand of paints and clumsily standing to his full height. He looked off to side, not meeting her stunned gaze as a large hand ran through his soft-looking hair. “I’m sorry – Christ, I’m sorry for just…” He trailed off, shaking his head. “It’s his birthday today. My Uncle’s.” He clarified awkwardly. “And, as you can probably tell, I don’t really get on well with my family.”

 

“Oh.” She cringed.

 

“We’re having dinner tonight.” He said softly. “To celebrate.”

 

A beat passed. “I get it.” She didn’t; not the slightest clue. “Every family is different.”

 

She’d lived with many different families and knew this to be true. But Kylo Ren seemed well-bred, as awful as that sounds – he grew up in a privileged manner, no doubt. Wealth doesn’t guarantee good parenting, Rey reasoned, but still; he has a family.

 

“Sorry.” He muttered again. “I’m sorry. Let’s just… let’s forget this and get back in position, please? I need to fix this before it sets.”

 

She nodded, turned into position and stayed silent for the last hour of their session. There were no more questions, no more rants and no more mistakes from Kylo Ren. Only the sight of the red painting to keep her focused. He didn't speak again until he announced they were done, allowing her to redress quickly and quietly as he cleaned up around his area.

 

“The money went through alright?” He asked as she shrugged back on her hoodie.

 

“Oh yes. Thank you for that.”

 

Kylo Ren suddenly smiled. Her jaw nearly dropped at the new sight, taking in the rows of perfect pearly-white teeth and the way his dark eyes lightened – and the dimples. “I should be the one thanking you.” He said softly. “Without you, I’d be fucked.”

 

She bowed her head to hide the smile and turned to retrieve her coat from the small entryway room. How did such a filthy word sound so lovely from his mouth? He followed her out. “I’ll contact you once I’m finished with this one. It’s the little details that take so long yet add so much to the painting.” She nodded, shrugging into her old grey peacoat that had seen better days. “I’m sorry to keep you waiting.”

 

Rey shook her head. “It’s fine, honestly.”

 

“Right.” He said awkwardly, rubbing the back of his neck. “I’ll see you next time, Miss Niima.”

 

She smiled and opened the door. She stood still, taking in the heavy droplets of rain that hammered onto the roads and pathways. Fuck. Rey bit her lip, scanning the dark clouds. This wouldn’t let up for a while, it seemed.

 

“Is something the matter?” He asked after a good thirty seconds of her just standing there.

 

“Oh, only just a slight problem.” She admitted. “I actually walked here this morning. Would you mind if I waited here and got an Uber or a taxi or som—”

 

He held a hand to silence her. “No need. I’ll drive you.” She opened her mouth to protest, but he beat her to it. “It’s the least I can do. Truly.”

 

“It’s fine.” She blurted out quickly. “I really don’t mind paying for—”

 

“Follow me, Miss Niima.” His words had such a commanding edge. She was compelled to obey such a tone, just like when Leia ordered her to take a break from work or sit down and eat.

 

She trailed close behind as his tall figure walked back through the living room, into a hallway – she barely got a glimpse at the kitchen – and to the end of the narrow room. They passed the staircase and headed for the door leading to his garage.

 

She nearly cried at the sight once seeing his car. “This is the 2016 Ford TIE Silencer.” Rey muttered in awe, taking in the sleek black coupe model. “Oh my.” She whispered reverently, eyes wide and awe-struck, taking no notice of the way his own gaze curiously searched hers, choosing to hustle down the steps to get a better look instead. “Look at the rims on this beauty. What’s the engine?”

 

“Turbo DOHC 4-cyl.” He recited smoothly, cocking his head to the left while his arms crossed firmly across his oh-so-wide chest. She couldn’t help the ‘gummy’ grin when looking back at him. “With a few modifications, of course. I take it you’re into cars.”

 

“Oh yes.” She chirped as he plucked up a set of keys from the hook next to the door. “I’m actually a mechanic, so it’s sort of required. I'd absolutely love to fix one of these. And, you know, follow up with the test drive. Then fixing cars would be an absolute breeze." There was no doubting this statement -- of course, working at Han’s was already quite easy an enjoyable and Rey truly believe that she wouldn’t rather any other job. But sometimes, test-driving shit-box cars was a disappointment. Getting her hands in this sleek beauty would be a dream.

 

His forehead crinkled at this. “Wow.” He murmured. “Truly?”

 

“Is it so hard to believe that a woman can fix a car—”

 

“That wasn’t what I…” He trailed off and blushed. “Sorry. Your arms are just… you’re very little and skinny.”

 

“And strong.” She said fiercely, turning to glance back at the car. “Fuck me, it’s just so lovely. I bet this cost four-times the amount of my whole life savings.”

 

The car unlocked with a click and she could barely contain her excitement, opening the passenger door. The interior was too good – black leather, the good kind that didn’t stick to sweaty thighs. She was glad to see it was a manual and fantasised about cracking open the sunroof so she could scream out into the world as they flew in the city, rain and all.

 

She buckled up once Kylo closed the door, with him following suit before twisting the key to start the ignition. The car roared to life and she gasped. She watched as he settled into his seat, fiddling with buttons that had the garage door rolling open. He shifted into first gear and rode the clutch out onto the driveway.

 

“Oh my goodness.” She giggled. “It has heated seats.”

 

He smiled softly at her before asking. “Which way am I turning?”

 

“Left.” She said quickly, turning to look out the rain-speckled windows as he smoothly rolled out and shifted into second and third gear. He didn’t play music.

 

“You mentioned something about teaching?” She blurted out when they were stopped at the first set of lights they came across.

 

“Yeah, up at Illenium Catholic College.” Private schooling, she noted. “In the CAPA department – creative and performing arts, sorry. Mostly just the creative side with art classes; I’m not the most gifted performer, I’m afraid, but I also teach English to a tenth-grade class outside of my department. Art is my passion, however.” He paused as if calculating his words. “It’s a fascinating subject. The complete difference of teaching a senior class and a junior class is incredibly amusing.”

 

“Cleaning up clay fights.” She repeated and he hummed in agreement.

 

“Yes. That and constantly having to clean off anatomically-incorrect male genitalia off the desks.” He took off smoothly once the light turned green and continued. “But the seniors are actually interested and invested in the subject. Some of the work they produce is shockingly amazing. They actually inspired me to do this project.”

 

“Really?”

 

“We were studying the ‘Wheel of Emotions’ with my eleventh-grade Seniors. One of my more insightful students pointed out that some of the colours matching certain emotions felt off. I agreed.”

 

She didn't bother asking what the 'Wheel of Emotions' meant.

 

“So this series is all about colour, then?” At his affirming nod, she prodded further. “What’s my body got to do with it then?”

 

He chuckled softly. “That’s a secret.” She frowned. “You’ll see at the showcasing, whenever that may be. I promise to explain it then.”

 

“I don’t know if I’ll even go to that.” She quietly admitted, wringing her hands together.

 

“No?” His brown eyes flicked over in her direction before focusing back on the road.

 

“No – take a right at the light – no, I don’t think I could look at myself like that.”

 

“Why not?”

 

She stuttered. “I-I don’t know, I guess it’s… it’s seeing a bunch of strangers reacting to my body sounds terrifying.” She shook her head at the ridiculous thought. “Seeing all my flaws in, documented onto a canvas. And them seeing it as art? That’s a foreign concept to me, I’m afraid.”

 

“True art-appraisers won’t just see a beautiful naked woman, Miss Niima.” Her eyes widened at this. “They’ll look at it and see a naked soul. Art is about arousing a certain feeling or emotion; carrying a particular message that some may or may not be able to understand. Much like music or films, art can tell a story – or maybe it's just something nice to look at, for certain people. But that isn’t me. And that isn’t what you're modelling for.”

 

She blushed. “I don’t think I’ll ever get that from art, sorry. I’m not the most creative person. I see things from a logical perspective. Believe me when I say, don’t ever let me sing near you.”

 

He laughed. “I’ll make sure you understand by the end. Even if it’s the most difficult task of my life so far.”

 

She smiled. “I hope I don’t disappoint. Take the next left on this street.”

 

They rode out the next few minutes in a comfortable silence, nothing but Rey’s directions and the obscure music Kylo finally switched on (not that it was all that pleasant) to listen to. He parked outside her and Finn’s shabby apartment in half the time it took for her to walk, turning to her with a sheepish smile and a hand, once again, running through the soft dark waves of his hair.

 

“Thank you for this.” The rain hammered down onto the hood of the car. “You really didn’t have to, though—”

 

“Please.” He interrupted quickly. “It’d be rude of me not to offer.”

 

“Well, thank you anyways. I’ll see you next month, I guess.” She hesitated and turned to face him before she opened the door. “Oh, and I hope you have a pleasant dinner with your family tonight. Tell your dad that your new project has you staring at a naked girl for eight hours – that should brighten his view a little, no?” It was a little brash, considering she didn't know his humour, but thankfully it hit the mark.

 

Kylo snorted again, grin brightening his whole expression; his eyes crinkled at the corner and sparkled with a cheerful glint. “I will. I’ll… I’ll mention that she’s very pretty, too.”

 

“Oh, good.” She laughed, refraining from letting out a giddy scream even though she knew he was only playing along with the joke. “Hopefully we can forget about mentioning the hideous socks and the daggy knickers, then.” God, she could never get tired of hearing his warm, deep soft laugh.  “You treat this like the Queen it is, okay?” She joked sternly, tapping the hood before reluctantly opening the door.

 

“Thank you again for today’s session, Miss Niima.”

 

 “Christ, please just call me Rey.” She bent down to properly look him in the eye. “It’s too formal for someone like me.”

 

“Okay, Miss Rey.” She rolled her eyes. “Thank you for the session.”

 

“You’re welcome.” She said stiffly, though she secretly enjoyed the way her name rolled off his tongue. “Goodbye, Mr. Ren.” She cut off his laugh by shutting the door, already half-soaked by the rain as she ran to the door of her building. Somehow, after learning much more about the man, he became so much more of a mystery.

 

It seems she has more of a chance understanding the concept of art over the interesting being that was Kylo Ren.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER THREE

~  N  O  V  E  M  B  E  R  ~

P  A  R  T    O  N  E  

Beautiful, Ugly Things

 

Only one day into the new month and she’d quickly concluded that she was in for a doozy. Rey stated it simply: November is a hellish month designed to make every shitty aspect of my life that much shittier. Perhaps it was the head-spinning hangover,(she blamed Halloween at Kanata’s, Rose and the tequila shots), or the thick-headed prick that demanded she modify his Hilux with illegal parts. Either way, it was enough for her to state a claim.

 

It only took three days for her to realise just how annoyingly right she was.

 

The walls of her apartment had been stripped bare of cheap art prints and no more fake plants lined the windowsills to bask in the sunlight that streamed through. There were fewer mugs, cutlery and bowls in the kitchen cupboards; the tiny lounge-set shoved at the side was missing the Ikea rug underneath the makeshift coffee table she built herself and the ancient-looking tv was no longer hooked up to the Playstation. Instead, it was all to be packed in boxes, secured and taped up for Finn to make the move into Poe’s cushy house the following day.

 

To say November wasn’t her month was a severe understatement.

 

They’d been at it all afternoon, cleaning off the shelves and taking anything that personally belonged to Finn, setting it in a pile and packing it up tight for the big move. They’d been so set on getting it done that she was surprised to see a message from Kylo when pulling out her phone to connect some music to the speaker.

 

I should have the little details done throughout the week and will be free for a session by Saturday.

Are you free?

 

She furrowed her brow while taking in the text. It was awfully early, unlike the last time. And it’d been an hour since the message went through. She hoped he hadn’t changed plans.

 

“I left you two wine glasses from our only good set.” Her eyes snapped to the figure sat directly in front of her. Finn casually nodded to the unusually-thin and deep glasses in his hand. “One for yourself and one for when you have company.” He wiggled his brows at her before gingerly placing them in the padded box.

 

“Company.” She hummed, her attention quickly turning back to her phone. “What company?”

 

I’m free… saturday sounds good :)

Same time???

 

“Oh, stop it.” He retorted. “Don’t act like you aren’t the hottest thing around—”

 

She cut him off with a bubbling laugh, placing a dainty hand on her chest.

 

“It’s true.” His dark eyes went wide. “You’re a size-eight with a bright smile and pretty eyes – honey, you’re the dream. A cute, fiery Peanut.” She bowed her head, shaking it lightly. “Except for your hair. You should really spend more money on products, you know – that or stop putting it in those nasty-ass three buns all the time.”

 

“I like my buns.”

 

“I like the buns on your cute little bum but that’s it.” She smiled widely, opening her mouth and scrunching her nose.

 

Her phone lit up in her palm.

 

Same time, as usual. And before you ask, no I do not  have any preferences for the session.

Nothing else  is required. Just you

 

Just you.

 

Rey absently chewed her lip and contemplated her words, glancing at Finn who continued to load up the boxes. It was awfully warm for the usually crisp autumn weather.

 

So there's absolutely nothing you want me to bring???

no ugly socks then?? how about an ugly hat???

 

His reply came through seconds after she’d hit send.

 

As satisfying as that sounds, I’d rather be able to paint your face  without some contraption covering it.

Unless it’s a tophat. I can always accept a top hat.

 

Did Kylo Ren, the dark mysterious artist himself, just make a joke?

 

Too bad I dont have one :P

 

Her eyes stayed glued to the screen, waiting and waiting for his response. She should’ve put the phone down the second she hit send and continued helping her best friend. But then Kylo Ren’s text came through and her heart all-but stopped at the words he’d sent.

 

Such a shame.

You wearing nothing but a top hat would surely be the next Mona Lisa.

A true masterpiece, indeed.

 

“Who are you texting, Rey?” Before Finn could blink she had locked her phone and pressed the device to her chest – like she was hiding a deep dark secret. His eyes twinkled with a mischievous glint, lips quickly forming into a smirk.

 

Why, she questioned herself in her defensive stance, he doesn’t mean anything by it. There’s nothing to it but a light-hearted joke. You barely know him…

 

“Who are you texting?” Finn repeated, eyes narrowing in on her flushed face. “You smiled, giggled and blushed like a teenager – all in a minute. Who are you texting?”

 

“It’s nothing. Just something Han sent me—”

 

“—Han can barely use a phone. Did you really expect me to believe that?”

 

Rey huffed, looking off to the side. “Why is it so important?”

 

“Why do you need to lie?” Finn snapped back quickly, the sly smile faltering slightly. “I’m your best friend. We tell each other everything.”

 

“We don’t always have to tell each other everything—”

 

“Yes, we do. That’s always been our friendship Rey. You told me that I was your first true friend – that I was the first person you let in; the first person you opened up to. We tell each other everything.” His deep voice steadily raised in the small, confined room – a toxic atmosphere began to brew. “From the beginning, that’s what we’ve done. Who are you texting?”

 

She stubbornly shook her head and began to shove the remaining books into the box, forgoing the neat and orderly style she’d began with.

 

“I shouldn’t even bother asking.” His expression had morphed into a frown in a matter of seconds. “Obviously it’s some douchebag loser you’ve gotten yourself attached to. Some blue-eyed, athletically-built asshole who could charm the pants off you in two seconds flat.” Her mouth dropped. “And, what do you know – two months later he’s stopped returning the calls and shacked up with some other poor girl – it’s always the same with you, Rey.

“There’s one every year. You get attached too fast because they’re nice and attentive for a month. Because they make you feel good even though they don’t bother to learn about your past. They don’t bother to learn anything about you because they don’t care. But why would that matter, right?” He deadpanned sarcastically. “Because maybe if he doesn’t know anything about your former lifestyle then you can act like it didn’t exist?”

 

She stared at her best friend in shock, eyes widening at the sudden attack. “Excuse me?”

 

“Don’t play dumb. You know you do it. You just ignore it, like everything else unpleasant in your life. You put on this perfect façade – this bright, shining smile. Nothing’s wrong; nothing’s broken, right?”

 

“So what you’re basically saying is that, because I have abandonment issues, I shag the first guy who pays attention to me?”

 

“That’s not what I meant—”

 

“Well, that’s how it sounded.” She interrupted quickly, breath coming in quick spurts as her voice levelled. “I’m an orphan and I just crave attention, yeah? The slag who doesn’t have any parents.”

 

“That’s not what I said!” Finn repeated loudly, waving a finger in her direction. “I never once said you acted like a slut – not once. I’m above that kind of behaviour and you know it; don’t put words in my mouth!”

 

She looked up and their eyes locked into position. His brow was heavily furrowed, eyes sharp and squinted. His full lips were set in an unusually thin line and his nostrils flared, like a bull staring down a red target. Any minute and he could stamp his feet and charge at her, full speed ahead.

 

“Enlighten me, then.” She commanded. “Tell me why you just automatically assumed I was texting my ‘rotten-flavour’ of the year, as you put it? It could’ve been a friend or maybe one of the few people in the world that cared about someone as meaningless as me – someone who was interested in me?”

 

A thick lump formed in the back of her throat as the words left her mouth. Kylo Ren was neither of those things. She didn’t know him well enough to call him a friend and he was above her in so many leagues (physically and mentally). She was just the girl he was paying to be apart of his project. And besides, Rey didn’t fancy him so it didn’t matter if he wasn’t interested.

 

Yes, she liked the idea of him – a mature, handsome, financially stable man. Yes, she found him attractive, but nothing beyond that point. They had a mutual understanding.

 

She blinked back the tears and swallowed the lump as her attention turned back to the conversation-at-hand. His twinkling eyes searched hers. “Can you honestly tell me right here, right now, that you believe what you just said? That this person’s a friend. That this person is on-board to learn about Rey Niima unlike the others?”

 

She looked down at her fidgety hands. A minute of thick tension passed in solid silence.

 

“Why are you being so secretive?” Why couldn’t she tell him? Why was it so hard to say she was texting the man paying her to pose for his art project about their next session. He made a few jokes that made her laugh. End of conversation.

 

“Secretive?” She questioned instead, her inner-conscious falling short as a bitter tone retook her voice.

 

“Yes!” He answered loudly. “Yes, you’ve been so fucking secretive lately. You’re always wrapped up in that head of yours. Always too quiet whenever we meet up at Kanata’s.” Finn sneered. “And now you’ve thrown yourself into this ridiculous art-project, throwing all caution to the wind and never stopping to allow a single rational thought to pass.”

 

“What is your obsession on this decision I made concerning my body?” She continued before he could retort. “I’ve had two eight-hour sessions. Both have been completely professional and respectful.” Except for the random family rant shoved in her face. “And I am perfectly comfortable in that setting. Why is that hard for you to accept?”

 

“Because you just throw yourself into things, Rey.” Finn returned hotly. “You’re not used to people advising you to not do something; I get that. But when… when something upsets you or stresses you out, you just repress it so deep into your mind and do stupid, irrational shit to keep it from resurfacing.”

 

“And what caused this ‘irrational’ decision of mine?” She demanded in a scathing tone.  

 

“Me moving out.” He answered immediately. “Because I’m leaving you on your own and you haven’t been on your own for a while now. And anytime someone important in your life is away somewhere, in a different place, you shut down and fear they’re leaving for good.”

 

Rey vehemently shook her head, fists clenching. She stamped down the urge to scream in his face – to shout that he was wrong. That he knew nothing about her or the way her mind worked. But he knew her inside-out. Sometimes she thought Finn knew her better than herself.

 

“This isn’t like that.”

 

“Then what is it, then? What made you agree to an ad about nude modelling after three-seconds of deliberation? How is this not another distraction of yours? Please, convince me otherwise!”

 

“Because I need the money, Finn.” She exploded. “You’re right, I did it because you’re leaving. But it’s not a fucking distraction or a fucking coping method. It’s because my trade doesn’t pay all that well and paying my half has always been a struggle.” Rey shook her head. “I don’t mind getting naked and letting some stranger paint the image. Not when it’s in a safe and respectful environment and I’m earning twenty-an-hour for it.”

 

She couldn’t bare to look at his crestfallen expression as the clock ticked on. She squirmed in the sudden silent atmosphere, hands twitching and silently pleaded for him to just say something.

 

“Why didn’t you tell me?” She couldn’t look up, even at the soft tone to his eerily calm voice. “That you were struggling?”

 

“Because… because, how could I?” She blurted out quickly. “How could I ruin the start of your life with Poe?” She shook her head. “But that doesn’t anymore, does it? Because I just fucking did exactly what I promised not to fucking do.”

 

“But if you’re struggling— Rey, where are you going?”

 

“I need some air.” She answered vaguely as she got up from the floor and turned to walk out the front door. “I just… I need to clear my head.”

 

She plucked up her coat from the hook and hurried out the apartment, never looking back as she skipped plenty of steps on her way down the building. The cold filled her lungs the second after she burst out onto the street. She was quick to shrug her coat on and button it around her body before setting off with no particular destination in mind.

 

Rey didn’t stray from the pavement as the city bustled around her. With her head bowed and hands dug-deep into her coat pockets, she wondered how such a peaceful atmosphere could sour so quickly.

 

“If I had just told him.” She muttered aloud to herself in a hushed tone. She withdrew her hands and clenched them by her shoulders. “Maker, why didn’t I fucking tell him?” The corporate-looking lady gave her a strange look as she passed. Rey didn’t care, though – all she could do was curse at herself for being such a fucking mess.

 

She’d just ruined a huge milestone for her greatest best friend in the whole universe. It should’ve been a happy day, not a another miserable memory to store away and try to forget. To forget how she’d destroyed such a happy occasion for her best friend; Finn, who was her everything. He was the one who convinced her to leave Jakku and move to his tiny two-bedroom apartment in Takodana. He introduced her to Rose and Poe, the family she chose. He always picked her up from the ground and encouraged her to get out and show the world they were ‘missing Rey Niima’.

 

And this is how she repaid him.

 

She sighed and pulled out her phone to check the time.

 

If you don’t want to walk, like usual,  I’m perfectly happy to pick you up.

And don’t even thinks about paying for a fucking cab OR Uber.

 

Kylo’s message finally pushed her over the edge as the tears spilled down her cheeks.

 

“You rotten, selfish bitch.” She cursed at herself loudly, ignoring the stares that came with it.

 

She didn’t deserve Finn. She didn’t deserve anyone. No wonder her parents left her at someone else’s doorstep.

 

 

 

~ * ~

 

 

The move went on without a hitch. Finn, along with everything he owned, was gone. And suddenly, after years of having company, Rey Niima was alone again – naturally.

 

When she’d returned from her miserable walk the night of their heated argument, they’d immediately hugged it out and exchanged profuse apologies. She sobbed into his shoulder, murmuring unintelligible words and how much she’d miss him. To commiserate the sad night, they shared a cheap-sack of boxed wine – drunkenly ignoring what just happened and not daring to bring up the topic again. Despite all this, the atmosphere between the pair was still as frosty as ice.

 

And he still left.

 

She’d almost forgotten how rotten it felt to be alone. But surely enough, the sleepless nights returned to remind her, as well as all the fear, anxiety and the racing mind that just didn’t know when to stop. The ragged appearance also returned; complete with dark bags underneath her eyes, ratty knotted hair for leaving it in buns and a sickly-pale complexion. It earned her a few concerned glances off Han, whose hazel eyes lingered a little too long and Chewie, ever the loveable giant, gave her more hugs than usual. Leia was the worst of them all, though. She took one look at Rey and pierced her very soul. She could see all the questions the fierce woman silently asked – ‘are you okay, how are you feeling, what’s wrong?’

 

She didn’t dare look at her big brown doe eyes the whole time for ‘Take-Away Tuesday’, instead focusing on the plate of Chinese in front of her. She was like Medusa, Leia was – only, one look into those beautiful eyes would have her spilling her guts about everything.

 

Still, the words never came directly out her mouth. She was in the clear zone. Or so she thought.

 

“I told you to call me – Christ, you must be freezing.” She quickly shucked off her shoes and hurried inside for the warmth, avoiding his dark eyes and huddling into herself as Kylo closed the door.

 

It felt like light years just to reach their session. The week had been agonizingly slow. At one point, she thought time had stopped and the world was punishing her for being so selfish with Finn.

 

“I would prefer if my model didn’t die of hypothermia on the way to the session. Seriously, Rey… what were you thinking, walking in weather like this?” He shook his head, arms folded over his broad chest. “Clearly you weren’t thinking at all. I meant it when I said you could call and I’d come and get you—”

 

“I’m not one of your bloody students to lecture, yeah?” She snapped, watching as his eyes widened in shock at the bitter tone to her voice. Only then did she notice the fresh hair-cut, taking in the large ‘dumbo’ ears that slowly turned red. He’d also grew a thinly-trimmed goatee and moustache over the last two weeks. It only added to the attractive character, she thought. Her eyes slowly raked over the rest of him. He opted for a black-wool turtleneck, clinging to every muscle. Usual dark jeans and black socks – all so put-together when she was just… not.

 

“Are you feeling okay, Rey?”

 

Her eyes snapped back to his. He was the last person she expected to ask that. She was the last person she expected to care.

 

Rey swiftly turned her back on him, closed her eyes and felt a familiar prickle to her eyes. “Yes.” She answered hoarsely. “Sorry for snapping at you, I just… I’m fine.”

 

“If you’re not up for this today, that’s perfectly fine.” She reopened her eyes, confronted with her reflection with his tall frame in the background. His wary eyes were oddly familiar. Like they belonged to a person she knew. “I can drive you home right now, if you want to.”

 

Rey shook her head, shrugged off her coat and beanie to hang it on his coat-rack beside the door. “It’s good. I’m fine.”

 

“Are you sure—”

 

“I said I’m fine.” She spat out firmly, a glare pointed in his direction.

 

“Right.” He muttered out. “Um, okay… we’re working in the kitchen today. It’s a, uh... it’s a little odd.”

 

She nodded, bowed her head and stormed through the arch-way, weaving her way out of his living room to turn down the hallway and enter his kitchen. She froze at the sight, jaw dropping and frustration slowly ebbing away as she scanned the room. Sleek black-wood cupboards with pristine-white marble countertops, a gorgeous black and white splashback and a fridge bigger than her whole bathroom. She had to push away the childish urge to climb inside and see if she could fit.

 

“Oh my.” She gasped, spinning to take in every inch of the room – from it’s red, black and white modern-stools to the Victorian-esque wine cabinet that probably cost her yearly-salary.

 

“Is cooking a hobby of yours?”

 

Kind of.” She answered absently, glancing over her shoulder to see him with his usual cocked brow. “I’m more into baking, myself. But I’m rubbish at both.” She smiled up at him sheepishly. “Sounds a bit silly, now that I’ve said it aloud. I just like the process of it all – clears my head.” His eyes seemed softer than usual. “Do you cook?” She certainly hoped so, with a kitchen like this.

 

“I do.” He murmured softly. “I hope I’m not rubbish but I rarely get the chance to cook for anyone.” He cleared his throat. “Perhaps, one night, you could come over and be my judge?”

 

“I’m not a very harsh critic. I eat just about everything and think it’s lovely.” After the slop she was served at some homes, it was hard not to have that outlook on a home cooked meal. “That sounds very nice, though.”

 

She caught his lip twitch before he ungracefully ducked behind his set-up easel with the stand of paints next to him, nearly slipping on the tarp beneath it in the process. She was careful not to giggle at the sight, quickly turning away to hide her smile caused by his sudden clumsiness.

 

Rey gave the kitchen one last long look before she began to shuck off the layers. First the plain white hoodie, then the rainbow knit-sweater, then her lacy baby-pink bralette. She put them in a pile, off to the side before unbuttoning her jeans and dragging them down her thighs, kicking them away and proceeding to do the same with her matching-set knickers.

 

This part didn’t phase her anymore. It was odd to be so perfectly comfortable in this position, especially when it involved her naked with an intense set of eyes continuously raking over her body. Today it was different, however. She didn’t feel like a science-experiment, stripping to be studied. When she’d shucked off the last piece of fabric from her body, she felt as light as a feather – as if all her sins had bounded free, leaving her with a clear mind, body and soul. It was nice after the hellish week she’d had.

 

“Hair up or down?”

 

His eyes flicked to hers as he prepped the paint. “Up. Just like it is, please.” He murmured. “And I’ll have you up on the kitchen counter today.”

 

Rey stiffened. “On the bench?” He made a confirming noise. “You want my bare arse on your kitchen bench.”

 

On his kitchen bench, where he probably ate his breakfast or read the morning news or cooked the occasional meal.

 

“Yes.” He paused for a beat and cleared his throat once more. “I – I want you spread on the kitchen counter, propped up on your elbows. And… and I’d like for you to open your legs, Rey.”

 

Her confidence disappeared just as quickly as it came.

 

“In the kitchen?” She asked in shock, voice cracking.

 

“Yes, in the kitchen.” He cleared his throat, once again. “It’s symbolic, you see – we see a kitchen as a food source; where we store, prepare and occasionally eat our food.” Kylo hummed. “We also regard – depending on the person – a woman’s sex as food.” His eyes flicked up to hers, briefly. “To eat her out, as they say.”

 

Rey’s mind began to spin. Suddenly, certain insecurities that had never plagued her raced around in her head. Whether she had a short or long clit, or a funny-looking labia – what if her vagina, as the boys in high school put it, looked like a bad ham sandwich.

 

And, dear god, did Kylo Ren seriously just say ‘eat her out’? What in the wor--

 

“Rey?” Her eyes snapped to his. “Are you feeling comfortable with this?”

 

“I…” She stuttered, trying to find the words. Instead, she turned away from his gaze and, with a determined spurge of courage, began climbing the counter. “Oh, fuck that’s cold.” She yelped once feeling the cool marble on her backside. When she looked at Kylo, she thought she saw the hint of a smile before he disappeared back behind the canvas.

 

She breathed in deeply, propping herself up with her elbows, thighs clamped shut – ready to fall open. Rey closed her eyes. This wasn’t a big deal – he’d studied her naked body for hours and hours. It wasn’t sexual or romantic, just art. Her heart pounded loudly in her ears.

 

“Rey?”

 

She groaned internally. “Wait, wait. Just give me a minute, please.” She said softly, breathing deeply.

 

“It’s perfectly fine if you don’t want to do this—”

 

She let her legs fall open without a second thought. She watched as Kylo’s eyes went wide before she clamped them shut with a squeak.

 

“I can’t.” She cried out, dropping her head. “If you saw you’d understand why.”

 

“That’s fine, Rey.”

 

“No it’s not. Gosh, I’m so sorry, Kylo.” She muttered. “I’m sorry. It’s just… it’s really ugly – I don’t see how anyone could see this as art.”

 

There was an awfully long pause after she’d said the words that had her squirming on the hard bench.

 

“There isn’t a single ugly thing about you, Rey.” He said softly. “Nothing about you isn’t beautiful. And I don’t care what your vagina looks like – whatever the image, to me it’s worthy enough to be called art. And to be perfectly honest, all vaginas are ugly – they’re fucking ugly, beautiful things; the biggest oxymoron there is.” His gravelly voice had her struggling to breathe. “But it doesn’t matter that they aren’t flawless or a picture-perfect image. They are the instrument to new life. They represent pleasure and pain, in one.

 

“Look around you, Rey. The world is so beautiful; a perfect scenery that doesn’t quite mirror human behaviour. To me, a vagina is like a reverse parallel of that. It isn’t the prettiest sight, but it gives us some of the prettiest things. A stunning piece of captivating real-world art.”

 

She propped herself up, disappointed to see him still hidden behind the easel. “You really see it like that?”

 

“Yes.” He hummed quietly. “Yes, I do.”

 

“Oh.” She breathed out quietly, chewing on her lip as the urge to open her legs steadily increased. Slowly, but surely, she dropped her legs to the side and let them hang off the bench, shuddering as the cool air hit her privates. She closed her eyes, propped herself up and tensed. “Kylo?”

 

“Yes, Rey?”

 

“Distract me, please. Just do anything.”

 

“Tell me something about yourself.” He hushed out. “Something odd or that you keep to yourself, if you’re comfortable.”

 

He was a smart man. The thought process alone was enough to calm her down, muscles slowly easing as she searched her brain to find an answer.

 

“I’m kind of into horoscopes.” She could just see the eyebrow cock – no doubt he thought them to be complete rubbish. “I don’t believe in it.” She added hastily. “It’s all a bunch of bullshit that isn’t relevant to anyone in any way. But they make me laugh and smile. I don’t know why, I just really enjoy reading articles about horoscopes. Like how a certain sign has an air of royalty about them, like a Leo.” She breathed out a soft giggle at the thought. “How ridiculous is that, though? Like, who comes up with it?”

 

“People who earn too much money, I bet.” She rolled her eyes.

 

“Okay, mister cynical. What’s your star sign and let’s see if it matches the dark persona.”

 

“Dark persona?” He looked up and met her gaze, eyes sparkling with mirth. “Where’d you get that—”

 

“All you wear is black, you’re the mysterious artist type and you constantly spread your philosophical view on a variety of topics, such as nude-art and vaginas.” His abrupt laugh brought a smile to her face. “Star sign!”

 

At her quick demand, he snapped into thought. “Uh… I don’t know the dates.”

 

She tutted and snapped her fingers. “Birth date?”

 

“The eighteenth upcoming.”

 

She scowled. “You’re shitting me. You’re a Scorpio.

 

“I don’t really see the shock value—”

 

“Scorpios are strong-willed and mysterious.” She interrupted him and began listing off the traits. “They’re passionate, stubborn and have the right mind to achieve their goals. They’re very assertive and alert in troubling situations. They represent the water element – swift and calm at times, but also violent and rushing.” She shook her head. “Kylo Ren, you’re a fucking Scorpio.”

 

“I thought you said you didn’t believe in it.” He huffed.

 

“Well, I’ve changed my mind now that I’ve found the living definition of a Scorpio, who is in fact, a Scorpio.”

 

“Well, what’s your sign then? Let me be the judge and see if it matches the persona.”

 

She fell silent before answering in a quiet voice. “Well, legally, I’m a Gemini. But there’s a chance I could be a Taurus, too.”

 

“I’m sorry?”

 

“I kind of don’t actually know my real birthday.” Rey dragged out the admission. “They put it down as the 30th of May, but there’s a possibility I was born either a week later or before that. It was just an estimation.”

 

He paused and she fidgeted.

 

“My parents left me on a stranger’s doorstep and disappeared. There was… there was no birth certificate, or a name given, just me in a cardboard box swaddled in a blanket. The assumption is that my mother had me outside a hospital – they were most likely homeless and young. Some people said they were just junkies and lousy drunks.” Her fists clenched at the memory of Unkar Plutt’s slimy smile. “Whoever owned the house found me in the morning and turned me into the system.”

 

“So, you’re an orphan then?” He asked, after a time of silence had passed

 

“Well, technically, there’s no knowing if my biological parents are dead but… yeah, I’m an orphan.”

 

“Oh god.” He suddenly muttered. “Oh, Christ I can’t believe – I whined about my family situation to you, without a second thought and you’re a...

 

“It’s okay.” She blurted out quickly. “It’s really no big deal. Every family situation is different, right?”

 

“Were you adopted out?”

 

“No.” She answered his abrupt question. “I was passed around foster-families and group homes until I turned eighteen.”

 

“Christ.” He muttered once again.

 

“It’s really fine, Kylo.” She began to blabber. “Gemini’s are adaptable and learn quickly, so that helped with all the moving. And, as a Taurus, we’re practical and patient and responsible.” Very patient, considering she waited nineteen years in hope her parents would come back for her. “It fits considering I’m a mixture of both.  I think I always leaned towards Gemini more as kid but, as an adult, I’ve slowly morphed more into a Taurus.” When he didn’t respond, she continued. “Although, I’d like to think I’m not superficial – I’ve never cared about appearances and such. And I’d never betray my best friend, like the Wandering Bull…”

 

She trailed off, mind casually drifting to her and Finn’s argument.

 

“Well, never intentionally anyways.”

 

Her legs began to get stiff and she shifted in the silence.

 

“I guess I can sort of see both signs in you.” He finally spoke and Rey almost sighed out of relief that her annoying word-vomit hadn’t pissed him off. “But it’s still ridiculous. The whole notion of it is ridiculous.”

 

Suddenly, she giggled.

 

“That’s such a Scorpio thing to say.”

 

His pointed glare only made her laugh that much harder.

 

 

 

~ * ~

 

 

Her legs were stiff and aching by the time the eight hours had finished, causing her to hiss as she pulled back on her light-wash jeans.

 

“Sorry.” He said, scrunching up his pretty face. “I know it wasn’t the easiest position to stay in for eight hours. I should’ve offered you more breaks.”

 

“Kylo.” She deadpanned. “It’s fine. At the end of the day, you’re paying me. I don’t mind being a little sore the next day.” She quickly clipped on her bra, throwing back on the layers of shirts before turning to leave the kitchen and retrieve her coat and beanie. “I’ll meet you in the car, yeah?”

 

At his parting nod, she left the room reflecting on what just happened. Every time the conversation dawdled, he asked her another question. And every time, she gave an answer she that she wouldn’t give to some of her closest friends in a million years.

 

Like how she’d never actually been on a real beach (Takodana’s didn’t count since it was all rock and the weather was always rubbish) or how she was slightly afraid of storms – she loved rain, admired thunder and was amazed at the sight of lightning. But, because it was still so foreign to her, the big storms could turn her into a nervous wreck – and told him all about how she met Finn.

 

She smiled the whole time telling it; His car broke down while passing through Jakku, she came across him and fixed his car for free (Unkar would kill her if he knew) and, in return, he treated her to lunch. Months later, he somehow convinced her to move to Takodana. It was the greatest decision she’d ever made.

 

She even told him all about their argument (minus the ‘who are you texting’ and the awkward ‘letting douchebags use her body to repress her past’) and how it was the first time she was truly by herself in years.  

 

For a moment, she feared he’d confirm her own thoughts – that she was a selfish friend and only cared about herself.

 

“It isn’t selfish to want company, Rey.” He said quietly. “I’m sure your upbringing was lonely enough. It’s okay to feel like that.”

 

Her chest felt significantly lighter at his words. It felt good to finally share that with someone, even if it was only Kylo. He didn’t seem to mind, however. He listened to every word she spoke and constantly asked her more and more questions, effectively taking her mind off the fact she had her legs spread open on his kitchen bench and he studied every single detail of her vagina.

 

It was only after hopping into his beautiful car did she realise that the conversation had been all about her. God, maybe she really was a Taurus.

 

“I never asked how your dinner went.” She asked after he turned out of his driveway onto the bustling street. “With your family.”

 

He paused, shifting gears with a clenched jaw. “It was…alright.” He answered slowly. “It was mostly just my mother trying to keep the hostility down. She did all the talking, really.”

 

“Did you tell them about your project?”

 

“Ah, kind of?”

 

“What does that mean, exactly?”

 

“It means that I told them it was a project over two months surrounding my take on the ‘wheel of emotions’.”

 

“So, you didn’t mention me at all? Or that I’m naked in this particular project?”

 

He flushed.

 

“You’re embarrassed.”

 

“I am not.” He whined like a petulant child.

 

“You are so.” She teased lightly. “What’s the big deal – How old are you, like thirty, right?”

 

“Thirty-four.” He mumbled as they were stopped at a red light.

 

“I’m sure your parents think you’ve seen a naked woman by now.”

 

“Rey.”

 

“So they didn’t prompt you any further?” She continued with a smirk.

 

“I said I wanted to keep it a surprise. For the showing.”

 

“And when and where exactly is this showing?”

 

He squirmed. “At my Uncle’s gallery, sometime in August.”

 

“The uncle who says your art is pathetic?”

 

“It’s a set-up for failure.” Kylo scowled as his voice soured, slightly. “He never would’ve offered if my mother hadn’t been there.” He set his intense eyes on her. “And don’t even try and get out of going. I’ll drag you, if I have to.”

 

“Absolutely not.”

 

“You don’t have to look at the paintings if you don’t want to.” He reasoned as the light turned green. “You can just look at everything else.”

 

“But if I’m there, the temptation will be too strong.”

 

A beat passed.

 

“There’s an open bar.”

 

“Okay, I might go.” He snorted. “Well, your parents will be in for quite the surprise, then. Showing up to see a vagina on a canvas.”

 

He scoffed. “I don’t care about their reactions. I don’t care about anyone’s view except yours, really.”

 

“Why?” Rey furrowed her brow. “I’m not artistically inclined in any way, whatsoever.”

 

“Yes, but you already have this idea of how it’s going to look. You have this ignorant view of it all when you haven’t even seen the finished work yet; this view that it’s nothing more than a vagina or a pair of breasts when, in reality, it’s so much more than that.”

 

“Enlighten me, then.”

 

“I will.” He quickly smiled at her before his attention returned to the road. “At the showing.”

 

She groaned and pouted. “I’m not completely ignorant, you know. I mean, clearly, I know nothing about art but I’m interested enough to google what the fuck a ‘wheel of emotions’ is.”

 

It was the only alternative to her restless nights – either that or try to get some sleep while her anxiety was in full force.

 

“And what did you think?”

 

“I see where you’re from about how some colours don’t match. I guess it comes down to how you interpret it.” He hummed in agreement. “But I can’t quite understand how that connects through a naked woman.”

 

“You’ll understand once you see. I promise.” He surprised her by the soft chuckle. “Lucky you’re a Taurus – they’re patient, right?”

 

She only huffed and flipped him off when he turned to meet her gaze.

 

The rest of the drive went by seamlessly as Kylo turned up the radio and they sat in comfortable silence, occasionally bringing up pointless topics in the short fifteen-minute drive.

 

But, all too soon, and he was parked outside her building.

 

“Uh, Rey?”

 

“Yes Kylo?” She asked as she unbuckled the seatbelt.

 

“Um, you mentioned your living situation before and I’ve been thinking about it ever since.” He paused, running a hand through his hair, (she was starting to think it was a nervous tick) “I’ve actually got a colleague in my department who’s trying to rent out her spare bedroom. I… I don’t know how much it’s up for but I can find out for you, if you want?”

 

“Really?”

 

“At the very least, I could organise an interview. I’m sure she’d be happy to give you a tour of the building.” He glanced out the window, scanning the graffiti and the stained pavements. “It’s in a better area than this, so it may be a little pricier.”

 

“Would you really do that for me?” She chirped out and continued at his nod. “That’d be amazing! Gosh, Kylo, I can’t thank you enough.”

 

“Okay.” He nodded, a crooked smile taking over his features. “Well, um… I’ll give you a call after I find out then?”

 

“Sounds good.” She reluctantly opened the car door. “I’ll see you next time.”

 

“Yeah, you too.”

 

“Bye, Kylo.”

 

“Goodbye, Rey.”

 

And then she was back to reality – microwaving boxed mac and cheese, watching a few garbage programmes on the telly while she cracked open a beer. All alone, of course.

 

It only was later that night, when sleep never came and her mind wandered, that she realised the compatibility match between Scorpio and Taurus. They were matched high in every branch; trust, certain values, shared activities and emotion – they were especially ranked high in sexual intimacy, using sex as a way to connect and bringing out the utmost pleasure in their partner.  

 

Rey moaned into her pillow as a pair of dark eyes came to mind.

 

Yep, she was definitely more of a Taurus.

 

Chapter Text

CHAPTER FOUR

~  N  O  V  E  M  B  E  R  ~

P  A  R  T    T  W  O

Lonely Companions

 

 

It wasn’t quite the ideal Saturday night she had in mind. Working in the steamy Vietnamese restaurant, dishing out food and smiles while occasionally avoiding the rowdy runaway child; gruelling work that kept her occupied, constantly making back-and-forth trips to the kitchen while juggling a handful of plates. It was hardly ideal for anyone, she imagined, but Rose was in desperate need, practically begging her to come in after an employee called-in sick. And Rey was never one to refuse a cry for help.

 

Luckily, this wasn’t a ‘new thing’ for the young mechanic. In fact, it’d become quite regular over the last few months –  all because holiday season had descended upon the world, once again. Ever since Rose and her sister had taken over their parents’ business, it became normal for her to pick up a shift at ‘Pho Tico’ when necessary. Tonight, it seemed, was no different.

 

She’d clocked on at five-thirty and immediately thrown herself into the kitchen, bustling around the tiny space to prep the vegetables and sauces while dodging hot pans and sweaty bodies. An hour in, when customers started to flood inside, Rey was pushed out front and forced to do the ‘rounds as families, groups and couples settled into the booths, tables and chairs. The place was absolutely swamped, not a free table in sight as the take-away line only grew in length. There was an abundance of impatient customers, a handful of hysterical children and the occasional rude person or two who walked-out without a hint of notice. It was unrelenting.

 

And yet, despite all the unpleasantness, Rey found the experience to be rather refreshing. The longs days at Han’s shop were often slow, with little-to-no talk and a stereo that only played his music. ‘Pho Tico’, on the other hand, kept her on her toes, pushed her to the limit by dealing with frantic situations and allowed her to socialize with those friendly or drunk enough for a chat. Oddly enough, she found the experience to be quite enjoyable.

 

Still, with that being said, no complaints were made when the busy-nature of the place simmered down to a blessedly quiet levelled pace.

 

“God, what a nightmare.” Rose groaned, frowning down at the mess the large and loud family made before leaving. “How hard is it to keep food on a plate? And look at all this waste…”

 

They were an hour away from closing and the exhaustion had quickly started to settle in.

 

“This is why you should have paper tablecloths – that or the tarp-like material. Not only is it cheaper, but it’s more practical. These stains are never coming out.” Rey began to help gather the dirty dishes, careful not to spill anything as she loaded item after item.

 

“I’ve tried convincing Paige. But she wants this place looking like it has some class and elegance. I don’t particularly see how white tablecloths achieve this.” She trailed her feisty friend back to the humid kitchen, smiling as she passed the staff. “But, whatever – it looks nice, I guess.”

 

“Just because something looks nice doesn’t mean it’s automatically a good thing.” A pair of dark eyes popped to mind as the words flowed from her lips

 

“Right.” Rose agreed. “Like Jessika.”

 

“What?” The girl mentioned perked up at the sound of her name just as they began loading up the deep sink. “Was that an insult?”

 

“Maybe.” She answered vaguely. “Technically, it was a nice insult since I complimented your looks.”

 

Jessika beamed at this. “I suppose it doesn’t matter, then.”

 

“Wow, you aren’t vain at all, are you?” Rey snorted as Jess blew a kiss in the direction of a scowling Rose. “Who’s on dishes tonight – and if any of you even think about saying Rey, I’ll drop your asses. She’s done enough just by coming in.”

 

“Well there goes my suggestion.” Snap Wexley flinched as Rose grabbed a wet tea-towel and whipped it in his direction, a resounding ‘crack’ splitting in the air. A string of low ‘oohs’ followed. “Christ, calm down Tico – it was just a joke.” He quickly retreated, hands held up in surrender. “I did them last night. That excludes me, right?”

 

Rose narrowed her eyes.

 

“Maybe we should just invest in a dishwasher? I mean, how haven’t we already installed one – especially with nights like these.”

 

There was a three-second pause after the decent suggestion left Jessika’s lips.

 

“Alright Pava, step up to the sink.”

 

“What!” She perked up with a scowl. “What about DJ?”

 

The chef himself withdrew from the steaming pan to fix Jessika with a pointed look. Somehow, even with the hairnet, sweaty face and tired eyes, he managed to look intimidating.

 

“He cooks all the food and is automatically excused.” She opened her mouth to continue but Rose was too quick. “And Peet’s been here for eight hours. And dealt with that asshole who cussed the restaurant out. And her shift ends in five minutes—”

 

“—and I’m six-months pregnant.” The woman added tiredly. “With a husband to get home to.”

 

“This is so unfair.”

 

A familiar jingle rang loud and clear, a groan ripping from Rose’s throat at the sad sound. She turned to Rey with pleading eyes.

 

“If you go deal with those assholes and hand out the cute old couple’s food, you’ll be free to go afterwards.”

 

“Or, I could deal with it and she could do the dishes.”

 

Rey was quick to scurry out of the kitchen before she could witness Jessika’s murder. She smiled instead at the faint ‘crack’ that could be heard throughout the store and peered outside of the archway, scanning to find their new customers – or customer, it seemed. They were tucked away in one of the corner booths – a great, big looming figure hunched over, digging through their shoulder satchel bag. Rey watched as the customer pulled out a stack of booklets, along with a single-sheet of paper and a pack of pens.

 

Her brows quirked up, curiosity officially piqued, before she peeled away to fetch a pitcher of water and a couple of glasses (in case the mysterious stranger had company – though it didn’t look promising). She snatched up a menu on her way out, slowly approaching the booth with careful feet. Their head was bent, pen scanning the pages in front of them before occasionally scribbling something down with their red pen. She wondered what he was doing – it was definitely a he with the muscular build he was sure to have underneath those clothes. She approached closer, quickly plastering on her brightest face as she reached the corner of the room. The stranger looked up and Rey halted to a stop.

 

She should’ve recognised that dark, thick hair.

 

“Oh.” She breathed out the involuntary syllable. “Hello.”

 

Never in her life did she expect to see Kylo Ren in sweats – Black, no less, but still sweats. He looked just as startled at idea. “Rey.” He choked out, eyes widening while processing the image before him. “I…I thought you were a mechanic.”

 

“I am. My friend runs the store and she was down a worker.” She shifted on the spot. “And, uh, here I am.”

 

“Oh.” He murmured silently, eyes casting downwards to her handful of items. Before she could blink he was hastily scrambling around, his long arms shoving aside all the papers in front of him to the side. “S- sorry. I’m, uh, grading essays. They’re not due until after Thanksgiving break.” She ducked to hide her smile – it was rather endearing to see Kylo Ren caught of guard. He cleared his throat and settled back into the booth, allowing her to place the jug of water and glasses around the bamboo-placemats. “It’s, uh, good to be organised, you know?

 

She laughed at this. “I’m afraid I don’t. I’m rubbish at organisational skills but I’m sure you already know this with the whole odd socks and knickers, yeah?”

 

“I wouldn’t judge you on what you wear to our sessions, Rey. Especially since you’re only expected to get out of them – well, most of the time.” He hushed out quickly. “And besides, that point is futile considering your matching lace set last week.”

 

They both stiffened after the words set in. Did he watch her strip? The thought sent a shiver down her spine; Kylo Ren, ever-so-respectful, gazing lustfully at her body clad in a flattering knicker set while she gazed at his kitchen. Red patches bloomed in her cheeks. Surely not.

 

“Here,” She muttered, holding out the laminated-sheet menu in his direction. “I’ll come back when you’re ready to order.”

 

“Thank you, Rey.”

 

 She nodded and hurried off into the kitchen, aware that his eyes followed her the whole way. It seems he wasn’t the only one caught of guard. It was odd, really. That she felt more comfortable unclothed in front of the man rather than the alternative. She didn’t have a clue as to why, either, but that still didn’t stop her frantic mind from running in circles. Perhaps he would see a different side to her out of their shared sessions – that he’d see the broken girl within; the girl that yearned to be accepted and loved, the girl that (occasionally) still stupidly hoped her parents would come back for her. Unbound, free and naked, she had let him in and explored a completely different side of herself that was unknown to her. A Rey that blindly trusted a man – no, a stranger – and shared the things she kept close to her chest. It was almost like he was her therapist with all the mopey sessions and advice he continued to share with her. And, eventually, the sessions would come to a stop and Rey would be okay to continue on, fearless. They’d part and never see each other again.

 

Ah. So it was a simple reminder that this would all come to an end, then. They weren’t meant to see each other outside his house. Because this wasn’t a lasting relationship (if you could even call it that).

 

Her stomach churned at the thought.

 

Despite this, however, she still put on her best face and served the sweet couple their food, staying to happily listen to the tales about their grandchildren, pride pouring from their beaming faces. Rey idly wondered if her real parents would be proud to see who she was today. She doubted it – she was just a high school dropout who took up a low-pay trade and now has to resort to posing nude and pop-up shifts to afford rent. Yeah, her parents would be real proud.

 

One last aching smile sent the couple’s way and she dragged her feet back to Kylo’s booth. “You ready to order, yet?”

 

“Forgive me, but I don’t usually venture into Vietnamese cuisine. I’m a little stuck.” She nodded and turned to leave. “Wait. I was just… if you were the one ordering, what would you get?”

 

Her eyes lit up. “Oh, that’s easy. The seafood claypot would be my pick. I’m a sucker for spicy food and prawns – Kriff, who doesn’t love prawns.”

 

“Prawns?”

 

“Shrimp.” She clarified with a smile. “I always forget the different names you lot have for everything.” His lips quirked upwards at her extensive eye roll. “Anywho, it’s got a bit of a kick and it’s only an entrée – but that fills me up plenty. If you’re not into it, the star dish here is the Pho Tai. It’s pretty mild, unfortunately, but holds a lot of flavour.” His eyes crinkled at the edges, warmer and light than usual. “Anything take your fancy or do you need more options, sir?”

 

He chuckled a deep rumble that heaved his chest, and shook his head. “Why not both?”

 

“Both?” Her eyebrows shot up. “Someone’s hungry tonight!”

 

“Quite literally a starving artist.” He quipped, earning an ugly giggle from her throat. “Something’s got to fuel me on to read this garbage. And you said yourself the claypot was only an entrée.”

 

“Yes, but a filling entrée.”

 

“You’re tiny. I bet you take three bites and claim you’re full.”

 

Her eyes narrowed. “I’m not tiny. I’m 5’7, thank you very much. I believe they consider that average for a woman.”

 

“Oh, you’re a woman?” She gasped in mock horror and, surprising herself, whacked him hard with her notepad. He only laughed. “I’m only kidding. I’ve seen enough to know you’re a woman.”

 

She pursed her lips, despite her rosy cheeks, and scribbled down his order. “Is that all for tonight or would you like any sides with that, sir.”

 

He smirked and looked down to scan the menu once more. “The mixed vegetables – the sauce, though. What exactly is the light brown sauce?”

 

“Hoisin.” His hard features softened at the pleased smile that took over his expression.

 

“Yes, thank you. That sounds lovely.”

 

She nodded and added it to the list. “Any drinks for tonight? There’s not a wide selection but alcohol’s alcohol, right?”

 

“Ah, no thank you. I don’t think it wise to drink and mark.”

 

“It’d make it bearable, no?”

 

“Oh, yes. But some people believe in a ‘code of ethics’ – and I believe myself to be a thorough man. I don’t half-ass things. Nice upselling, though.” He muttered dryly, an amused glint in his eye.

 

“I do try.” She smirked. “Is that all for tonight, sir.”

 

“Yes, thank you Rey.”

 

“Great.” She beamed. “I’ll run this out back. It shouldn’t be too far away now that it’s finally quiet.”

 

“Busy tonight?”

 

“Oh yes.” She moaned. “It was non-stop. And some people are just really rude, you know. I have the utmost respect for those who work in retail, now – never underestimate them.” She sighed and gestured to her notepad. “Luckily, I get to leave after this. It’ll be nice to finally put my feet up.”

 

“Oh.” There was something oddly familiar in his expression – one she wore too often and knew quite well. Surely not. “You’re leaving after this, then?”

 

She nodded and was bewildered to see a frown. Was he really disappointed? That she was leaving? Did he wish for her to stay?

 

“Yeah, I just need to wrap up your order and get it out to kitchen... so, um, I should probably do that.” He nodded faintly. “I’ll see you around, Kylo. Have fun with the marking.”

 

“Uh, you too – I mean… have a good night, Rey.”

 

She couldn’t help the smile at his grimacing expense. It was rather baffling to her – one minute, he conversed so smoothly and the next he was fumbling like he had something to hide. And seeing that side to the usually composed and confident Kylo Ren was definitely refreshing.

 

On her way back to the kitchen she plucked up the leftover dishes from a small group who’d left a nice big tip (Rose would be over the moon) and smiled at Jessika’s crestfallen expression when she added them to the pile.

 

“I’m out of here, guys.” She announced cheerily, handing the sheet listed with Kylo’s order to a flustered DJ. “Enjoy the rest of your night.” They all returned a half-arsed ‘goodbye’ as she dragged herself further outback, stopping by the office to see Rose off before continuing to the tiny, barely functioning break room where she stripped off the spare apron, folded it and propped it on the table.

 

As she finally moved closer to the back entrance, more-than ready for her citywalk home, Rey dug out her phone to see any missed messages. Only, instead of reading the message Finn had sent her eyes, of their own accord, wandered to the corner of her lit-up screen.

 

Saturday, 18 November

 

Her stomach plummeted, stiff-still with her hand locked around the door handle. Rey chewed on her lip, guilt tearing at her mind. She hesitated for a split second before she was all but a blur of movement, flying past the office and zooming out of the kitchen. She was quick to storm over to his booth. Kylo’s neck snapped up from the sheets, eyes widening in shock at her hasty entrance.

 

“It’s your birthday.” She blurted out, gripping onto the straps of her backpack. “It’s your birthday and…” and I completely forgot despite having the conversation a mere week ago, she thought bitterly. “And you’re here, marking essays. Alone.”

 

She watched him swallow. “I went out for lunch with my mother.”

 

“You’re alone, marking essays.” She repeated, plunking herself down in the seat opposite to him. “On your birthday. On a Saturday night.” She shook her head stubbornly. “You should be out with friends and having fun and getting stupidly drunk, or something. But you’re here, marking essays…alone.”

 

“Yes, you’ve said that several times now.” He didn’t meet her set-expression, opting to glare at the table. “I’m thirty-five, Rey – getting stupidly drunk isn’t exactly in my nature. Never was, really.”

 

“But, still. You should be out with friends and celebrating—”

 

“—Did it ever occur to you that maybe I like being alone? That I enjoy solitude and peace?” He snapped, eyes defensively narrowed at her. His tone was biting – one she was oh-so-used to from the likes of Unkar and greedy foster-parents. Rey shrunk under his heated gaze. It was odd to see them so black. “Did you ever wonder that I might prefer this? That, unlike some, I’m not this bubbly, socially-appealing person who thrives in the company of others? Did you ever think that, maybe, I don’t have all that many friends who’d willingly spend time with me?”

 

She opened her mouth and closed it, no doubt looking like an absent-minded goldfish. His voice was so harsh and everything she was used to growing up – but not him. Her eyes suddenly felt thick and heavy, her throat clamped up.

 

“Right.” She choked out, slipping out of the booth. “I’m sorry for bothering you, then.”

 

Maybe she had pushed too far. Everyone had their preferences. And Kylo was a great big mystery; who was she to assume how he liked to spend his nights.

 

“Wait.” He boomed, loud and clear in the quiet nature of the restaurant.

 

She halted in her haste to the front door and, against all better-judgement, turned to face him. He was standing, body tense, clenched fists and those big ‘dumbo’ ears slightly pink. She wrung her hands together and heard the heavy sigh from his lips. “How are you getting home?”

 

Her brows drew close. “I’m walking.” She admitted.

 

“At this time at night?”

 

“I do it all the time.”

 

He snorted. “Was that supposed to make me comfortable with a young woman walking the city-streets late at night?” She shrugged and waited for him to continue. When he didn’t, she huffed and spoke quietly.

 

“I have no other way home and it’s really not that far.” He scoffed. “It’s fine.” Irritation flooded her tone.

 

“What type of man would I be if I let you walk home among leering drunks?”

 

“Just a man who believes this woman can take care of herself.”

 

“I know perfectly-well you’re capable of taking care of yourself Rey. I have no doubts in that matter.” She absently snaked her arms around her chest as he continued. “But that doesn’t mean I can’t worry. And the truth is I wouldn’t be able to just sit here comfortably knowing you’re out in the cold in that ratty jacket walking home after a long, tiring shift.”

 

Her breath escaped her in one giant puff. Rey looked to the side, ignoring the prominent prescience right in front of her. “What would you have me do, then?”

 

The silence seemed to stretch on like a galaxy after her snippy question.

 

“Join me.” That quickly brought her attention back to the mysterious man. “There’s plenty of food to share; the entrée is filling – you said so yourself. And I could drive you home after.” He looked down and raked a hand through his hair. “And since you’re so against my lonely state…you could spend the night with me so I wouldn’t be. Alone, that is.”

 

She wondered if this was a dream (similar to her clinging hope that her parents would return for her). If Rey were to pinch herself, would everything dissolve into a puff of black smoke? Or was this real? Did he really care about her wellbeing that much?

 

“Please?”

 

Her chest felt loaded and heavy at his pleading, desperate tone – or was she just delusional and yearning for something she’d never receive? “Okay.”

 

It took a good three-seconds to connect her mind and body. Oh-so-slowly, she made her way to the booth, tentatively gazing up at his now soft-expression. The smile he wore was one she’d yet to experience; a small, lopsided tilt that had his eyes lighting up with golden hazel-like flecks. Every single part of her felt warm and fuzzy as she took her seat opposite him.

 

Once more, his hand flew into his hair. She wondered if he was as nervous as she was; she wondered if he was questioning why because there was no reason to feel so anxious.

 

“I was going to call you tonight.” He said suddenly, voice level and calm with the low, hum-like rumble she was used to. It was a nice sound, Rey thought.

 

“Oh?” It was all she could muster.

 

“I talked to my colleague the other day. The one looking for a roommate.” He clarified. “She’s interested in meeting you; said she’d like to set-up an interview of sorts to discuss rent prices and show you around. I thought about ringing but then I realised that I was thirty-five and you’re so much younger. I concluded that you’d be out on this Saturday night, like anyone else in their youth. I never expected to run into you.”

 

She frowned. “Ten years is hardly anything, Kylo.”

 

He snorted humorlessly. “Rey, we run in different demographics. We grew up with different cartoons and different bands to idolize. You’re the age of social media and I’m the age of dial-up internet and email. Ten years is quite a lot.”

 

“You may be right. But you’re listing things I never had the luxury to experience in my childhood.”

 

“Right.” He muttered, pinkening slightly. “Sorry.”

 

“It’s alright.” She said softly, glancing up at him through her lashes. “I get to experience it now. And that’s all that matters. I’m discovering a whole new me, one Simpsons episode at a time.”

 

Her heart swelled as his face contorted, scrunching up at this. “You watch that garbage?”

 

She gasped in mock-horror. “What? You can’t talk about different demographics and then ridicule one of the few shows that resonate with every demographic.” He held up his hands, surrendering. “You’re such a Milhouse.”

 

He gaped at her accusation before his laugh echoed in the quiet room. “What?” She smirked and nodded as he ran a hand over his mouth. “Well, if that’s the case then I’m the Milhouse to your Lisa.”

 

She reciprocated the laugh and smiled brightly. “I’m honoured, then.”

 

The easy-natured conversation fizzled as Rose brought out the food. She was clearly confused and busting to ask many questions. She only kept smiling and delivering good customer service, setting down their dishes with a flourish and bidding them a good night. The glare, however, spoke volumes (the first vibration in her pocket was enough for her to know this was not something she’d take lightly).

 

The pho was delicious; noodles perfectly cooked, beef succulent and juicy just the way it was supposed to be and the broth was the type to crave on a cold, November night. The claypot had just the right amount of spice to make her eyes water and the fresh seafood flavour (Rose went to the market crazy-early every morning to get the best of the best) still came through despite the strong taste. Rey almost choked as Kylo gulped down water in such an undignified way that was so unlike him and laughed until her stomach physically hurt at his bright red complexion and sweat-drenched skin. She did warn him, after all.

 

It was a perfect meal for an otherworldly perfect night. One she was glad to share with Kylo.

 

They both silently made an agreement to stay right-up to closing-time, no words exchanged to come to this decision. Like they needed this strange companionship to linger a little longer like they needed oxygen to breathe. It only made everything else that much more confusing. But Rey couldn’t bring herself to care.

 

She was too wrapped up in those dark eyes of his to question anything at this moment in time.

 

“Before. What I said before…about preferring solitude and silence. About enjoying my birthday alone.” He began uneasily, his large body shifting in the seat. “That was a lie. I don’t prefer being alone.” He grit out through clenched teeth, much to her surprise. “I…I tell myself that because it’s easier to accept that way. But it isn’t the truth and I pride myself on honesty – especially with you.

 

“I tell myself that too.” She reluctantly admitted. “I spent years, imagining a whole different life to the one that was real. That my parents were coming back for me – that they were kind and wealthy and would shower me with love and affection when they returned. But that was nothing but a lie; a mere fantasy belonging to a naïve, little girl. I’m not so stupid now. I keep up a guard around others because it’s strange to see people invest time out of their lives to talk to me. I pushed Finn away because I can’t tell the difference between concern and spite.” She looked down at her lap, unable to meet his heavy gaze. “Solitude is a lie – there’s no such thing. Loneliness, for most, isn’t a choice; it’s a curse that I’ve dealt with my whole life. I know exactly what you mean because all I’ve ever known is isolation. And it fucking sucks, Kylo.”

 

There was a certain static that spiked through the air – one that had her meeting his sad eyes once more.

 

“You’re not alone.”

 

Her heart stopped. Her hand twitched a fraction away from his own. Her eyes widened with an annoyingly familiar feeling; hope.

 

“Neither are you.”

 

 It felt natural to take his hand in hers, to brush a thumb over his knuckles. To feel the warmth of his palm against her own. It felt right for his large hand to engulf her own soft, small hand – a bridge of understanding between two lonely companions.

 

And for the first time in her adult life, Rey thought this hopeful feeling could actually lead to something else entirely.

 

 Something to yearn for; something to fear.

Chapter Text

CHAPTER FIVE

~  D  E  C  E  M  B  E  R  ~

P  A  R  T    O  N  E

The Winds Are Changin’

 

As November came to a crashing halt, blessedly rolling into the final month of twenty-seventeen, a certain change to the air had become very apparent to Rey Niima – and it wasn’t just the cool temperature drop. From the moment after Kylo Ren walked her to the door, large hand pressing warmly against the small of her waist, receiving an abnormally long ‘birthday hug’ before departing, it’d quickly become clear that their strictly professional relationship had developed into something so much more; something so close to be called a friendship.

 

And as strange as that sounded, she was quickly warming to the idea of that. A friendship with Kylo Ren.

 

Following November 18th, December brought forth a string of daily texts, involving rants and playful banter, as well as the odd late-night calls when sleep seemed impossible to the pair of them. She’d complain about faulty engines and squeaky brakes and in return he’d recount a conversation between his seventh-grade class, a tale that had her in tears of laughter. It wasn’t all sunshine and rainbows, however, when both delved deep into their troubled childhoods and the long term fears it brought. It was a hard conversation to have with anyone, but Kylo listened to every word she babbled and maybe, just maybe, even cared to listen. It made her feel…less like nothing; it was a wonderful feeling – just as wonderful when the early hours of the morning became too much and his soothing tone, hoarse from the night, would slowly ease her into sleep like a soft lullaby.

 

It was a nice change. One that heralded good things for the new year.

 

“OHMIGOD, OHMIGOD!” Rose screamed, dark curls bouncing as she bobbed on her short legs at the redecorated sight of Kanata’s. “It’s so FESTIVE!”

 

But first came Christmas. The silly, unrealistic resolutions, wants and hopes would come later.

 

“Alright, Tico, calm down.” Finn flinched at her excited flailing fists, quickly taking her by the elbow to guide her dazed form into a booth draped in golden tinsel, a red and green hue present from the overbearing lights.

 

“It’s beautiful.” Poe agreed in awe, eyes flicking to every corner. Blinking lights filled the dim room, brought to life with a huge tree too-tall for the room – draped in glittering ornaments, custom-made baubles with god-awful photos of Maz Kanata’s favoured regulars (The group were delighted to see they’d made it on, despite the terrible photo choice) and needles drooping from the sheer weight of all the tinsel. And right at the top, where a golden star blinked, was the insufferable sight of Han’s smug face.

 

He’d be filthy if he knew – Rey would have to tell him.

 

“She’s done it again.” Finn muttered, shaking his head softly. “Maz is fucking nuts.”

 

The understatement of the year, really. The usual dimly-lit bar was completely transformed into a bright, Christmas-themed wonderland – mannequin Santas and reindeers lined at the windows, staff all wearing funny shirts, (Maz was literally dressed as an elf), and the stage-area littered with white-powder; an artificial snow that had the guitarist whinging to the hard-arsed woman herself. She only demanded they suck it up and start playing some cheesy Christmas tunes.

 

“I love cheap-Fridays.” Rose moaned, eyes still wide with excitement. “We have to get wings – we’re getting wings. It’s my first night off in forever and I’m having some hot, saucy, barbecue wings.”

 

“With a Corona.” Finn agreed, nodding solemnly.

 

“Don’t forget to add the lime.” Rey added, sliding into the booth corner.

 

“I was hoping for a chicken schnitz’, to be perfectly honest—”

 

“We’re getting wings.”

 

“Fine.” Poe glared at Rose. “But you’re paying.”

 

She beamed at this, popping up from the chair and grabbing Poe from his leather jacket. “I’ll happily pay for my wings.” She dragged him and disappeared among the crowded bar.

 

Friday nights at Kanata’s were always a frantic affair – cheap meal deals, friendly service, great (depending on the band) live music and the general thrumming atmosphere and weirdness of it all continuously pulsing throughout the night. Because of this, Rose and Poe wouldn’t be back for a while, leaving Rey and Finn sitting in a slightly uncomfortable silence.

 

“Hi.” He spoke first, his voice a little too high and forced to come off as natural. Rey couldn’t help but smile.

 

“Hey.” She returned. “It’s been a while.”

 

It well and truly had. It seemed their ‘little’ tiff had affected the both of them a lot harder than previously thought. The two calls per week, agreed upon Finn’s moving announcement, had lasted but a week. The usual witty texts involving her daily events went to Kylo instead. And, perhaps worst of all, the regular tagging in funny Facebook and Instagram posts had halted to a complete stop – it was if the two had forgotten all about each other.

 

Rey hadn’t, though; what she did to Finn – how she did it to Finn still replayed heavily in her mind. And, dear God, she had missed him terribly.

 

“Too long.” Finn agreed, their eyes finally connecting across the table; she saw the hesitation in his eyes, the calculation in his mannerisms. “How’s things? You know, with the artist and all – and work. Everything, really… how’s everything?”

 

Her grin widened, and Finn’s hard eyes softened to their warm-tone brown. “Things are good. I mean, a lot better than last month. Han’s a pain, like usual, and Leia’s taken on some super-huge case so her brother comes for ‘take-away Tuesday’ instead.”

 

“Oh yeah? What’s he like?”

 

“A little sarcastic and gruff but it doesn’t compare to Han’s attitude. He’s a weird sort-of bloke but also really nice so I can’t complain.” She bit her lip warily. “Things are good with the artist, too. Just the usual pose and be paid thing, you know. Nothing new there.” She didn’t dare mention that an explicit image of her vagina was heavily featured in the month of November and quickly scrambled to change the subject. “And there’s also a slight chance I could be moving!”

 

“What?” If Finn didn’t look nervous before he sure did now. Rey hated how her words had him guilt-ridden in a mere second.

 

“Some lady’s got a room up for rent down in D’qar. I’m going for an interview tomorrow to check out the place and discuss all the details. Scope out the whole area, you know, as well as meeting her to see if she’s…well, not a complete loony – and before you say anything, I know it’s probably a lot pricier, but I’ll pick up some extra shifts at Pho Tico if I have to. It’s worth it; I’ll have a roommate and it’ll be a sure step-up than our tiny shit-box. Also, closer to the shop. Less of a walk.”

 

Finn took one glance at her wide, gummy smile and frowned. “I’m really, really sorry, Rey.”

 

“Don’t!” She said firmly. “That’s all in the past and we’re here to have a good time.”

 

“Rey—”

 

“Nope. I won’t have any of it tonight; you’ve already apologised enough and, really, it should be me apologising. So shut up and start telling me all about your own life events.”

 

Finn blinked blankly and began to fiddle with his hands, drumming at the table and intertwining his fingers. He scratched at the back of his skull, itched at his clean shaven chin and rubbed at his nose. She’d come to realise them as nervous ticks over the years. Her smile wavered in the long pause.

 

“Oh, me?” He blurted out. “You know I don’t get up to much. I mean it’s mostly just work, snuggling up to BB on the couch, sleep and repeat.” He let out an awkward titter as he finished his statement. “Also, lots and lots of arguments with Poe over the furniture – I mean the rug on his floor is just garbage; when has a white rug ever been a good idea, right? Never is the answer, but you know that cuz’ you’re messier than me and—”

 

“Finn.” She cut though quickly, a furrowed brow matching her concerned tone. “What is it- what’s wrong?”

 

He blanched at her words, eyes flicking across the live-band as his hand returned at the back of his head. “Wh- what do you mean? Nothing’s wrong, everything’s fine – you said so yourself.”

 

“You’re acting weird. Like you’re hiding something from me.” He gave her a stern look at this and she flushed at the sudden memory of their harsh argument. “Okay, let me rephrase – something you want to tell me but can’t because you’re…afraid of my reaction.”

 

“Wow.” He muttered. “You’re very good.”

 

She smirked even though her chest tightened at the possibilities. “Out with it, Trooper. We’re no good at hiding things – it’s explosive.”

 

He sighed, full lips pouting downwards. His eyes swirled with a great bout of mixed emotions.

 

“Come on, Finn. I can handle it – I mean, it can’t be worse than the whole moving thing, yeah?” He didn’t respond, eyes flicking anywhere but her. “Oh, Jesus. Fuck. What is it? If it’s something I need to know, wouldn’t it be better to tell me now instead of leaving it ‘till it’s—”

 

“I’m spending Christmas at Poe’s parents up in Yavin!”

 

The words came out in a tumble, loud and clear over the bustle of the bar. Rey could only stare at her best friend and blink – Finn at Poe’s parents for Christmas? What did that mean for her?

 

“We figured since, you know, we’ve moved in with each other and settled down, we should stay for a week. It’s more than an hour lunch when they’re passing through and I’ll finally be a part of the family, you know?” Finn cleared his throat and finally looked her in the eyes. “You can come, if you want – Poe wouldn’t mind, really, and I’m sure his parents would be happy with it too.”

 

A beat of silence passed. Terrible, agonizingly-slow silence that stretched before them as time ticked on.

 

“Don’t be stupid.” Rey finally bit out, a little too snappish with her tone. At his flinch, she took in a deep breath and continued on with a heavy chest. “I, um… I’ll be fine. This is your thing, Finn. You and Poe are getting really serious and you should feel like you’re a part of his family.”

 

“And you’re a part of mine.” He murmured. “You’re practically my sister so they should probably get to know you too—”

 

“Finn.” She began tersely. “It’s fine. Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine by myself – hell, maybe I could look after BB for you guys? I mean, it’ll give me some company and BB does love snuggles. I’ll even let him sleep in my bed.”

 

“Are you sure—”

 

“Yes, yes. I’m absolutely positive. I’ll be fine – happy, even. Really, Finn.”

 

But even with the reassuring smile and the reaching hand to grasp at his own, her happy charade did nothing to quell the deeply repressed memories of a lonely childhood.

 

The holiday had never been a happy affair growing up – there were no exuberant dinners or any presents underneath a glimmering tree. The group homes were kind enough to hold a Secret Santa for the children and, of course, not all those she fostered with were horrible. But even when she felt included in the festivities there was always that ever-present fear of being moved again. Moved to a family who only cared about the money that came through from the government and would treat her unkindly, even during the ‘happy’ holiday season (the three years with Plutt could attest to this). It was a lacklustre event; overhyped and stupid.

 

And then she grew up.

 

She met Finn and moved to Takodana, experiencing a whole other side to the holiday. Suddenly, Christmas had become the sweet cliché displayed in every single holiday movie. It was warm and fuzzy, like a hot tea on a cold morning; comfortable and cosy, like staying in bed on a rainy day. Even if the food wasn’t perfect or the presents weren’t brilliant and even if she drank a little too much to remember all of it, Christmas was overcooking pork to get the best crackling possible, Christmas was belting out Michael Bublé with Poe failing at harmonizing, Christmas was just…Christmas.

 

Only this year, it wouldn’t be Christmas – not truly. Not alone. Rey would be a small child, yet again, waking up to a silent, cold atmosphere.

 

“I’ll be fine, Finn.” Fine. How many times had she said that now? Four – five times? She’d lost count. “Honest.”

 

And for a while, she felt fine, with Rose and Poe returning to the table bearing beer and hot wings, matching grins and all. Rey could easily repress the news while alcohol slid down her throat and worked its way into her system – she could happily laugh as stories were passed around, always with a drink in hand, be it a Great Northern or a sugary vodka-whatever. And with the help of those special beverages, it didn’t take long to reach the level of not caring – to get up and bust out the silly dance moves with Rose, jumping up and down to the slapping bass of a Red Hot Chili Peppers cover while screaming out the lyrics. She was in her own world, having her own sort of fun; hips moving, legs stumbling and hair messily whipping at her face. Completely free of embarrassment and shame, eager to forget the words that had come straight from her best friend’s mouth; she was determined not to be selfish this time around.

 

She was determined to have a good time.

And she was having a good time.

For a whole two hours, she was bursting with joy – hugging Finn and Poe close to her small frame, blubbering out how much she loved them and Rose.

 

And then she wasn’t.

 

As the hours went by and Kanata’s increased in crowd, Rey began to accept drinks from strangers. A gin and tonic, a mojito, fucking rum – any sort of clashing liquid, paid for with drunken flirting and a subtle hand on the knee; a gesture so unlike her it was baffling. It was only all downhill from there, leading her outside to the pergola to smoke a fag with a stranger (she hated smoking), fumbling her steps in dangerous high-heels and abandoning her natural behaviour by being generally loud and obnoxious.

 

Rey had to rely on the bodies of others just to stand, her vision was off and her head was airy-light and thrumming like a distant buzz of a fly. She was one-hundred-percent drunk – messy drunk. The kind of drunk at that party who everyone watches and pities for the rough morning they’re about to experience. The kind of drunk where you don’t need to remember anything to know it was bad and would cause a lifelong pain of cringing.

 

 She was absolutely fucked. Fucked to the point where everything came rushing up with one single look at Finn and Poe. Dancing, laughing, kissing . . . happy. Together and happy, living their best lives as one.  

 

Her eyes burned hot at the sight, welling with fat tears that spilled over and dribbled down her cheeks. Her chest heaved with sobs – ugly, racking sobs that made breathing difficult; a constant hitch as she laboured with her lungs and cursed at her self to stop crying.

 

She was a silent crier. Soft sniffles and quiet tears.

Rey was never a hyperventilator.

But here she was. Gasping for air.

 

It was an honest wonder she made it to the bathroom, tripping and stumbling as she did so. Her vision blurred with tears but even then, she could see how awful she looked in the mirror, shrugging off the comforting questions the surrounding ladies asked.

 

Rey dragged herself into a cubical, falling onto the toilet and slumping with dead-weight. Her neck fell back, connecting with porcelain, while her legs went limp underneath.

 

She was still sobbing when she pulled up his contact. Still fighting for breath when the call connected, hiccupping out small hitching huffs.

 

“Rey?”

 

She didn’t think his voice would be so…powerful. She was sobbing hysterically in an instant “Rey – what’s wrong?”

 

She couldn’t form the words and only gurgled out unintelligible nonsense.

 

“Rey. I need you to calm down so I can hear, okay sweetheart?”

 

Sweetheart? Only Han called her that when he was worried. No one else.

 

“Rey.” He repeated. “Are you okay? Are you hurt?” He paused. “Did someone hurt you?” She’d never heard such a menacing tone.

 

“No.” She finally croaked out. “No, s’ leaving me. A-lways… leave.” She bit her lip. “He does…n’t want me. No one does…”

 

“Who’s he, Rey? I swear to fucking Christ, if they hurt you—”

 

“Finn. I’s Finn.” She sucked in a trill of breaths, slobbering as she did so, right before launching into an unintelligible explanation. Finn and her always spent Christmas together. Finn was spending Christmas in Yavin without her. Finn was leaving her forever – her first real, true friend. Disappearing, like everyone else in her life.

 

There was no way he understood a lick of it. Still, he persevered.

 

“Okay, sweetheart, I need you to tell me where you are. Can you do that for me?”

 

Her head slumped forward, chin smashing into her chest and she nearly lost her balance perched on the toilet. There was a continuous knocking on the door to her cubicle, gentle voices asking if she was okay and harsher one’s demanding she name the motherfucker who did this so they could fuck him up.

 

She groaned. “I... what?”

 

“Would you like me to pick you up?” He was fully awake now, voice hard and firm – grabbing the attention of her hazy brain.

 

“Yes.” She whimpered.

 

“Where are you? Do you remember the address—”

 

“Kanata’s.” She breathed out, ready to mumble an apology because she couldn’t remember the street name.

 

“Okay, sweetheart, just sit tight. I’ll be there soon; I promise.”

 

She couldn’t move – her whole body felt far too heavy for it. So she did exactly as he said, not moving an inch from her spot in the cubicle. Over time, the crying naturally fizzled to silent, leaking tears. Her eyes felt so raw and irritated that she couldn’t resist the urge to close them.

 

There was an occasional sniffle, a gaggle of high-pitched laughter from the women outside and the distant thumping music that pounded in her head.

 

Something pulled at her consciousness, hands occasionally buzzing around her slim phone. Messages, probably. She should’ve looked but it was so hard to lift her arm for some odd reason.

 

Rey’s stomach began to churn at all the mixed alcohol sitting in her empty stomach.

 

A cry of outrage jolted her up.

 

“Rey?” A deep voice echoed in the bathroom, amidst all the protests.

 

It was enough to drag herself to her feet, unlock the door and spot his tall form amongst the volatile gang of women. In an instant, he was at her side. He didn’t bother supporting her weight – the height difference would’ve made that much too difficult. Instead, he scooped her up in his arms bridal style and barged out of the restroom dressed only in a sweatshirt and sweatpants, barefoot in a pair of white socks.

 

“Oi!”

 

They were just short of leaving the pub, her head buried in his neck and her arms hanging uselessly as Finn spotted the pair with Poe coming in as back-up.

 

“The fuck do you think you’re doing?! Put her down!”

 

Kylo turned and regarded her friends for the first time, a sneer coming to his face as Finn continued.

 

“What did you do to her?” He growled out.

 

“What did I do to her?” He bit back scathingly. “This is your doing. She’s been sobbing in that bathroom, absolutely wasted, for forty minutes because of you. And you’ve only noticed now?”

 

“Listen buddy, I don’t know who you are, but I suggest you put her down—”

 

“Or what?” Kylo said calmly. “You’ll take her home, put her to bed and leave her all by herself a few weeks later. Great friend, you are.”

 

Finn’s eyes flashed with hurt. He masked it quickly for unabashed anger, taking a step forward with clenched fists.

 

“If you think we’ll let her leave with a stranger just so you can take advantage--”

 

“Take advantage?” Kylo growled, hands tightening around her body protectively. “Don’t assume the worst when it’s me she called for help, not you. The only thing I’ll be doing is making sure she doesn’t choke on her own vomit – I actually care for her, unlike some.” His eyes pierced the two of them before he turned on his heel, making out for the door.

 

Kylo turned just before they exited the building, quickly addressing the gaping couple.

 

“Oh. And have a lovely Christmas together.” He spat over his shoulder.

 

Her consciousness slipped the moment the fresh air hit her face, falling into the warm broad shoulder of Kylo Ren.

 

The last thing she could remember was Finn’s horrified expression.

 

~ * ~

 

“Wow.”

 

One word. One syllable. One breathy gasp escaping her throat, eyes taking in the sleek-modern building before her very eyes. She turned to take in the surrounding scenery, gazing up at the intricate details to the buildings around, eyes widening at the sight of green shrubbery; a stark contrast against the metropolitan city streets. Colourful flowers bloomed prettily, shades of pinks, yellows and blues brightening the dreary weather, lining the street-corners and road-islands alongside the trimmed hedges. People dressed in fine winter coats walked the pavement, mother’s in active gear pushing heavy prams as they worked in an early-morning walk.

 

It was all so stunningly gorgeous - a stark difference to her current residential area.

 

Truthfully, it was a wonder she could take in everything after the night she’d just endured. Rey couldn’t remember much, only fragments and clippings of memories; calling Kylo from a toilet cubicle, having him pick her up and a standoff between him and her best friend that ultimately had her waking up next to the sight of a crouched Kylo, desperately trying to avoid dangling his feet over the edge.

 

And if those short flashbacks didn’t physically hurt enough, the memory of Kylo holding back her tangled hair as she spilled her guts in the toilet bowl certainly did. He didn’t complain once, however, and only continued to rub soothing circles on her back. (And, of course, Finn’s terrified wide-eyed expression. She’d never forget that).

 

It was absolutely mortifying. Rey had never felt so embarrassed in her life. Any semblance of a future friendship with Kylo was off the cards from that night alone, surely.

 

Still. Here he was, next to her – watching her awe-struck eyes flick around the city with a soft smile.

 

“Wow.” She repeated softly taking in the fancy design to the café across the street. Rich neutral colours, blending like whipped cream; the pergola scattered with people for their Saturday morning breakfast.

 

 L’imaginaire.

 

“It’s French.” Her gaze shifted to her right, staring up at the soft-expression he wore so rarely. “Means imaginary.” He paused, eyes dropping to meet her own. “L’imaginaire.” He hummed aloud, the rumble of his throat causing heat to bloom upon the apples of her cheeks.

 

There was just something so exquisite about the language – especially when he hushed it so fluently, rough and deep toned.

 

“Looks expensive.” She muttered wistfully as the scent of crisp pastry wafted in the atmosphere. She hadn’t had a lick of food, wary of her unpredictable stomach and distant thudding head. She wouldn’t put Kylo through any more pain – but, god if that pastry didn’t smell heavenly.

 

“It’s a little…indulgent.” He muttered, gracing her with the lopsided close-mouthed smile that gave a certain light to his usual-dark eyes, a golden-fleck shining within them like warm honey. “But it’s worth it. Not only will you taste the finest cakes and pastries Takodana has to offer, but also receive fantastic customer service. The owners are lovely. In fact,” he breathed out, lips widening a fraction more. “They were my first buyer.”

 

“What?” Her brows drew in confusion, eyes questioning his own.

 

“My art.” He clarified softly. “They were my first real buyers.”

 

She wondered what he meant by that; the ‘real’ buyer part with the strange undertone of bitterness that lilted his words. He changed the subject before she could ask, however.

 

“Am I right to assume you’ve taken a liking to the neighbourhood?”

 

“Like I said.” She muttered. “It looks expensive.”

 

“But do you like it?”

 

“Yes.” She moaned. “Yes, of course I like it. It’s so much…cleaner.” He snorted at this as they reached the intercom. “But don’t you think it’s way above my price range?”

 

“No.” He confirmed quickly before he pressed his thumb down hard on one of the buzzers. “Actually, I talked to Phasma about your…situation.”

 

“My situation?” She frowned. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

 

“It means that you won’t necessarily be paying half.” He smiled at her, something he clearly intended to be reassuring, but the familiar warmth that usually spiked in her chest from the sight only seemed to heat her blood. “She’s very well off, I assure you. You’re only paying for the room, not the apartment.”

 

She gaped at him. “Are you serious?”

 

His goofy, crooked grin returned. “Pretty great, right?”

 

The wind picked up with a cool gush, the dead leaves scraping against the pavement as Kylo Ren’s expression twitched in the silence. His brow bone slowly lowered down to his lids at her prolonged pause.

 

“No!”

 

“Pardon me—”

 

“Hello?” A heavy-lilted accent, similar to her own, crackled over the speaker and cut through his surprise.  

 

Kylo stuttered, eyes flicking between her and the intercom. “Uh, yeah – It’s Ren.”

 

“Oh, right. I forgot you were coming.” The woman deadpanned – Rey could hear the eye-roll and would’ve laughed if she wasn’t so pissed. Instead she stood stiffly, arms wrapped around her chest with a firm pursed lip. “I suppose you want to come up.”

 

“That’s usually the point of a roommate interview.”

 

“Oh, I’m interviewing you? I thought it was your girlfriend who was interested in the room?” They both froze at this, Kylo opening his mouth and holding down the button to reply. Nothing came out, his pouty lips opening and smacking together like an absent-minded goldfish.

 

 When it became clear he had no response, she continued dryly. “Are you really just standing there gaping like an idiot? Good God, Ren, get a grip and hurry on up. I don’t have all damn day.”

 

A sudden buzz interrupted the thick tension and the heavy front door clicked. Kylo, red-faced and pouting, swung the door open with a flourish and nervously nodded at her to go ahead.

 

She did so without a single glance given in his direction.

 

“Rey.” He said softly, dropping his hand so the door slammed shut. He followed her quick pace to the opposite-end of the lobby-room, grimacing as she slammed her palm against the elevator button. “I… forgive me my confusion, but why exactly are you so opposed—”

 

“Why am I so opposed?” She drawled out slowly, staring ahead with a steel gaze while waiting for the doors to open. “Oh, I don’t know. Maybe because you discussed my financial situation with a complete stranger—”

 

“Phasma’s not a stranger—”

 

“To you, maybe. She sure as hell is to me—”

 

“She’ll be your roommate. You’ll have to get used to discussing your ‘financial situation’ with her soon enough—”

 

“My roommate?” She spat bitterly, reeling at his near-childish tone and standing on the tips of her toes to hiss the words right into his stubborn face. “It’s not a done-deal, Kylo. She might never be my roommate.”

 

“So you’d prefer to live in that dumpster apartment-building of yours then? You’d choose that? Over this? For a fair price?”

 

Rey could only scowl and scoff at his seething words. He practically growled them out through clenched teeth, bending over to glare right into her hard-set eyes..

 

“No.” She replied honestly. “But I’d rather not have a roommate who pities me because I can barely afford rent. And I’d also rather our private conversations to stay exactly that – private!”

 

“Well, you didn’t exactly have to tell me that, did you?” Her eyes narrowed. “I didn’t ask about your rent situation. Or your friend drama with Flynn or – or your fucking horoscopes.

 

Oh, the absolute nerve of him.

 

“Well, if you weren’t so keen on painting my vagina maybe I wouldn’t have felt the need to be distracted.” She snapped. “I blubber when I’m nervous. And it’s Finn.

 

 

“You didn’t have to do the pose, Rey! I recall myself saying that several times.”

 

“I – I…” She fumbled for words, flush creeping up from her chest to her cheeks. “You’re the one who asked to know something about me that only I know. So, by me telling you something this secretive in confidence, that should give off the impression that it’s a conversation to only stay between the both of us.”

 

With a clenched jaw, he looked away.

 

“I was only trying to do you a favour.”

 

“Well, don’t.” She huffed, ignoring the spurge of guilt that came with the flash of hurt in his dark eyes. “I don’t need favours. I’m fully capable of looking after myself.”

 

“Really?” He grumbled. “I seem to remember something quite contradictory to that statement last night.”

 

“Just shut up, okay!” She yelled. “I’m already embarrassed enough as it is. There’s no need to fucking rub it in, with your perfectly adjusted adult life and expensive lifestyle! Just shut the fuck up!”

 

“Fine.”

 

“Fine.”

 

A beat of silence passed. The seconds ticked by as they turned to face each-other, once more.

 

Their faces were inches apart, their bodies radiating a bubble of warmth. Her eyes wandered down to his pouty mouth as it opened to spill out more bitter nonsense.Only, he was interrupted by a hurried rumble of someone clearing their throat.

 

Both eyes snapped to the sound-source, the elevator doors suddenly spread open with a middle-aged couple standing at the archway. They looked mildly uncomfortable and amused at their loud display – Rey could only cringe at the thought of them hearing a sliver of the heated exchange.

 

“Good morning.” The man muttered with a small smile. “Mind if we pass?”

 

It took about three seconds for the pair to spring apart, wordlessly nodding at the strangers as they continued to grin in mirth. “Thank you.” The woman chimed as they strolled off together, matching stride and all while exiting the building.

 

“Rey—”

 

“Don’t.” She snapped, storming into the elevator leaving him to trail on sullenly behind like a scolded child.

 

The ride up to the eighth floor was a silent affair, filled with worried side-glances and clenched jaws, hands drawn tightly to sides. By the time the elevator doors re-opened, it felt like a whole year had passed.

 

Rey followed his tense-form to the door, stopping at apartment 8B; he raised a fist and rapped three times, a lot harder than necessary; knuckles white from clenching them so tightly. She only quirked an eyebrow at his petulant attitude, a scowl pulling at her lips before the door was wrenched open. And, of course, even Kylo’s friends would be literal giants; tall, beautiful and undeniably intimidating people stuck together, it seemed.

 

She was an actual Goddess. Her remarkable height could never be unappealing with her short yet stylish platinum-blonde pixie-cut, paired with round sapphire eyes, a dusting of freckles and a heart-shaped face. Her bust was small but undoubtedly there, unlike Rey’s own chest, and the hips sensually rounded to inspire anyone’s desire. Her eyes didn’t stay for long, however, instead moving to focus on the tall pasty man hovering behind Kylo’s colleague. And, although he wore an expression of smelling curdled milk, he too was tall, beautiful and very intimidating. Hair ablaze with orange and eyes a deep shade of green with a face like carved marble – he was very classically handsome, a stark difference to Kylo’s unconventional beauty.

 

“Trouble in paradise?” Phasma drawled out dryly with a sparkling gaze that flicked between the two, one cocked eyebrow and all (they could also all seemingly control each eyebrow separately).

 

She could only silently curse her lack-of-ability to hide emotion. But then again, Kylo seemed to have the same problem given how he huffed and pouted like an angsty teen.

 

“Why is he here?” Kylo seethed, eyes connecting dead-on with the fair ginger.

 

“Why are you here?” He returned bitterly in a nasal-like tone.

 

“Now, now.” Phasma said clearly. “This is about me and your… friend, not your petty arguments over art history, okay?” She turned and gave her a slight smile – a small, brief thing but a smile nonetheless. “Shall we begin with introductions?”

 

“Oh.” Rey jumped into action, quickly pushing down the irritated frustration to put forth a bubbly first impression. “I’m Rey.”

 

“Phasma.” The tall lady drawled out with a small, smug smile – she reached down to shake her outstretched hand with a firm grip. “The sour-looking red-head behind me is Armitage—”

 

“Call. Me. Hux.”

 

“Unfortunately, he’s my partner, so you’d have to put up with that a lot.” Phasma ignored his scathing tone. “I’d do as he says, but you look like a brave one. Piss him off, for all I care – I think it’s rather attractive.”

 

“Gross.” Kylo grimaced as Hux’s pale complexion bloomed red.

 

“Sorry Ren.” Phasma’s voice dripped with unapologetic sarcasm. “You’ll have to get used to it if she takes the room. I can’t have you staying over all the time with this attitude.”

 

Rey blinked. “Oh, um… we’re not together. I’m just—we’re just…”

 

“She’s the model for my art project, Phasma.”

 

A minute of silence passed awkwardly. Phasma only nodded, smirking at the two. Hux’s cool gaze flicked between them.

 

“I thought you said she had nice curves.”

 

Kylo radiated a wrath completely new to her and, despite her ongoing annoyance with his actions, she reached across to casually wrap her hand around his thick wrist. His breathing increased to a barely-controlled panting level, skin hot to touch.

 

“You’re kind of a dick, you know?” Rey announced airily, and with one smooth movement she was gripping Kylo’s hand – a squeeze of reassurance that she had this and he needed to trust her.

 

And she did. Rey was used to such comments – she’d gone to high-school, even if she had dropped out after the tenth grade; it was still enough to experience the scathing words of nasty, insecure girls and boys who thought they were funny when remarking upon someone else’s body – and, of course, it still hurt. But she had endure far worse than a petty comment about her curves (or lack-of-curves, it seemed).

 

After a quick beat of uncomfortable silence, with Phasma’s gaze still piercing at their entwined hands and Hux slowly but surely relaxing out of his stiff position with a smirk, he spoke.

 

“So I’ve been told.”

 

“Good.” Kylo finally said eerily calmly. “Now watch your fuckin’ tongue.”

 

“Well then.” Phasma smiled. “Shall we get on with the tour?”

 

And with that, they were invited inside. Coats were shucked off, as well as shoes, before Phasma showed her around the small yet spacious apartment. First there was the kitchen – not quite on the level of Kylo’s, but it was certainly a step-up from her tiny shoebox. She was glad to see the one bathroom actually held a bathtub and the loungeroom didn’t consist of makeshift furniture.

 

It was all so pristine with touches of bright colours here and there – straight out of an interior magazine with its beige colour scheme, slight pops of yellows and blues on the couch-pillows with a light-patterned rug. Abstract pieces of artwork hung from the walls, prints of Picasso (even Rey knew his work) beaming under the light shining through the glass windows. It was undeniably a gorgeous setting, even if was all a little too modern for her taste.

 

The empty room is what had her really excited, though. It was crazy-big; bigger than any room she’d ever had, with plain walls to decorate with photos and memories and maybe even art (it’d certainly impress Kylo). She could invest in a desk and shelves for her small book collection. Perhaps she’d buy a cheap rug from Ikea and make it real homely.

 

 Rey smiled at the thought of living in such luxury, even if it wasn’t a mansion with a pool and a home tennis-court – this was more than she’d ever dared to dream of.

 

“How much?” She asked bluntly, after the tour had commenced. “How much is it to pay an equal half? That includes groceries and necessities too.”

 

Phasma blinked and looked to Kylo.

 

“It’s four-fifty a week, right Phasma?” Rey scoffed at this. That was only fifty more than her own apartment.

 

She’d kill him if he continued this charade up.

 

“Don’t bullshit just to please him – I want this to be fair. And if I can’t pay, then I can’t pay; I’ll find somewhere else and make do there.”

 

“It’s seven-fifty per-week.” Hux spoke truthfully and she had no doubts it had nothing to do with pleasing her, but rather pissing off Kylo instead. And if looks could kill, he’d be buried under the ground from the intensity of Kylo’s dark eyes. He only smirked at the attention, stroking his cat (Millicent, as she’d come to learn. Phasma ranted about the ‘little devil’ for two minutes) with a Dr. Evil grin. “Add an extra thirty-five to forty for groceries.”

 

“Okay.” She nodded, biting her lip.

 

With Han, she earned about nine-twenty a week. She could get a few shifts at Pho Tico which would round her up to one-thousand. And of course, there was the monthly income of $160 from Kylo himself. It was possible – it meant a whole lot less spending money and, even worse, a whole lot less saving money. But it was doable.

 

“Okay.” Rey breathed out once more. “I’m going to need to think about this. Plus, I’ll need to sort out my own lease and all that.”

 

“Of course.” Phasma nodded. “I never expected you to agree straight away.”

 

“Great.” Rey breathed out. “It’s a really great place. I bet someone will snatch it up before I even make a bloody decision.”

 

“Don’t worry. I’ll let them know you’re a top priority.”

 

Rey beamed at this, the dry words from the intimidating woman brightening her morning, if only slightly.

 

They began to discuss the neighbourhood after all the ‘business’ had been dealt with. Rey learned all about the loud neighbour next door and how the whole floor could hear them going at it like animals; she learned about the woman in 8C who had three cats, despite the strict ‘no pets’ rule in the building. Phasma told her about the best bars in the district, which café had the best coffee and which shops to avoid.

 

After an hour of non-stop talking, all the while ignoring the glaring pair of men who occasionally snapped at each other, Rey profusely thanked her potential roommate for all the information and parted off with a much-improved vibe.

 

Kylo, however, was quite the opposite.

 

“Maybe you shouldn’t take the apartment. It’ll save you from seeing that fucking moron’s uptight face.” He slammed his hand against the ground floor, sneering out the words.

 

“Are you finished?” Rey sassed, an eyebrow raising at his sudden temper-tantrum.

 

“Did you not see what he was doing – intentionally going out of his way to be a complete fuckwit. And what he said about you—”

 

“Was harsh. Other than that, thought, I thought he was rather nice.” Rey lied – his sneer said it all, really. “He was honest about the price, unlike some people.”

 

“Really?” He asked. “We’re going there again?”

 

“You’re the one who went there right in front of them.”

 

He sighed heavily, hand draping down his face. “I’m sorry, okay.” He muttered. “I just wanted you to have a good deal because I know this is a struggle for you. I want you to have a good… a good run at life, Rey. I’m sorry if I… overstepped.”

 

“Thank you. For apologising. I’m just so used to making it on my own that it’s easy to mistake help for…coddling, or whatever.” Rey flushed and shuffled her feet. “Also, may I just say that I’m really sorry for everything that happened last night.” She blurted out. “That was…ridiculous and I never should’ve roped you into it.” Rey groaned aloud at this. “And thank you for, you know, staying with me – making sure I didn’t die in my sleep and, god, helping me vomit.”

 

He laughed at this, much to embarrassment.

 

“Anytime.”

 

The doors opened to the lobby and, once again, his hand returned the small of her back. She could really get used to the feeling.

 

“No, really. Thank you, Kylo.” She mumbled. “I think you might be my only friend right now, after everything that happened.”

 

She watched the tips of his ears flush, cheekbones shifting as his jaw clamped tight. “They’re not true friends for leaving you alone—”

 

“No. No, they have their own life and I need to accept that instead of failing at repressing it and having emotional meltdowns. I’m just – I’m not very good at hiding my emotions. For very long, anyways.” She sighed and pushed a tendril of hair behind her ear. “They deserve a Christmas alone together, despite my feelings on the matter.”

 

Kylo made short work of opening the door for her, pulling her into his side as they exited the building.

 

“I’d never leave you alone.”

 

Oh.

 

The sheer intensity of his voice had her lips parting in wonder, head tilting to meet his black gaze. For a moment, she’d forgot how to breathe. A cool gush of wind whipped at their blushing cheeks, coats billowing. With his arm slung around her waist, their bodies unnaturally close together, her heart began to pound like a beating drum against her ribcage.

 

“You should…you should spend Christmas with my family instead.” He said softly. “It’d make it more bearable – I’d really enjoy your company there, in fact. And my parents…well, they may not be too pleased with me but they’d definitely like you.”

 

“I couldn’t possibly intrude.”

 

“You wouldn’t. They’d be overjoyed to have you there, really.” He paused and looked away. “I would, too. Extremely so…” He muttered softly.

 

It sounded wonderful – to be surrounded by a family dinner. And for a moment, she considered saying yes.

 

But part of her knew better. Part of her knew Kylo Ren would disappear as soon as his little art project came to an end. Part of her knew if she showed up to the table and got to know his family, there was no going back – even if they weren’t the best of parents.

 

“I can’t.” The flash of disappointment was enough to send her gaze to the floor. “I don’t – I’m no good with social settings and get really nervous. Family dinners; well, you know my upbringing, so it should be of no surprise that I’m rubbish at it all. And despite what you say, it’s too intimate.”

 

She didn’t deserve it either, after last night. After treating her friends so horribly; sending a three-word text to say she was fine and nothing else to ease their worry.

 

“Okay.” He finally said. “But…if you change your mind, the offer still stands. There will be a plate at that table if you want, Rey.”

 

“Thank you.” Her hand moved up to grasp his fingers with her own, a warmth spreading down her arm at the contact. And the soft smile he granted her made it all the worthwhile.

 

“Now, it’s been a long morning and I’m feeling a little bit peckish.” He smirked, pinkie slowly twining around her own. “You’re not too hungover for a croissant? My treat.”

 

“Of course not.” She smiled back at him, gummy grin and all. “But I’m paying. Don’t even think about arguing on this one, Ren.”

 

“Oh, but it’s what I do best.”

 

Her light, airy laughter rang out like a bell in the morning, his own deep chuckles joining in before he started tugging her in the direction of Limaginaire.  

 

They crossed the busy road, pinkies still linked together as one.



 

Chapter Text

 CHAPTER SIX

~  D  E  C  E  M  B  E  R  ~

P  A  R  T    T  W  O

‘Tis the Season

 

“If another wishy-washy song about some festive spirit bullshit comes on, give Leia my love.” Han paused. “And tell her no funeral.”

 

“I will gladly honour your last request.”

 

Han turned slowly in his seat, giving his old-time friend a long scathing look.

 

“Don’t even think about talking to my wife after I’m gone.”

 

If someone ever told Rey she’d laugh along with famous F1 driver, the one and only Lando Calrissian, she’d quickly call them out on their insanity. And yet, here he was; dazzling grin in place, just like in those YouTube interviews, looking incredibly handsome sprawled out on that patchy beige couch in the corner of the break room (and to think she was becoming used to walking into work and stumbling upon the aging rogue – life was truly a dream, sometimes).

 

“You know I would never insult your memory like that, right?”

 

“Correction:” Luke began dryly beside him, eyes still glued to the paper. “Leia would never insult his memory. Give it up, Lan – she is and never will be interested in you.”

 

Lando opened his mouth to reply but paused as the twinkling song on the radio faded out into yet another bluesy-bells tune about sparkling lights and jolly times. His face spread into a smirk, glimmering eyes settling back on Han’s irritated face. “We’ll see about that.”

 

Her eyes flicked between the two, a slow smirk spreading across her face. “If I keep him away from Leia will you give me the Falcon?”

 

“No. Absolutely not!.” He grumbled, side-eyeing Luke as he got up and happily turned up the radio’s volume. “But, say if I were to perish,” she rolled her eyes at the sheer dramatic value of Han Solo’s words – perish? God, and he said the ‘Skywalkers’ were a bunch of theatre nerds. “You’d definitely be a contender for the Falcon. Though, saving myself from this garbage is not really worth it anymore.” He side-eyed Lando, peering over his glasses with a scowl.

 

Rey was about to make some quip about him turning the damn thing off, but Lando cut in before she could open her mouth.

 

“You almost sound worried there, Solo.”

 

Oh dear.

 

“I’m not worried! Leia would never stoop that low.”

 

A beat of silence passed.

 

“She did with you.”

 

There was a solid three-seconds of silence, the joke taking it’s time to settle in. Once it hit, however, Lando and Rey howled with laughter. Luke’s face slowly morphed into a smug and prideful expression as Han angrily cursed under his breath. When it became clear he wouldn’t reply and the laughter from the quick jab subsided, the three troublemakers shared a look before returning to their previous tasks; Rey to her ham and cheese toastie, Luke to his paper and Lando back to…being Lando.

 

“Han told me something funny the other day; somethin’ about you, Rey.” He paused with a small smile. “Said you’d gotten yourself a boyfriend – which, if I’m being quite honest, you’re too young for; twelve-year-olds should be out playing in the mud, not kissing some brooding artist who doesn’t know when to draw the line at texting.”

 

She immediately stopped chewing, swallowing a thick lump of bread and cheese down her constricting throat and coughed from the effort.

 

“Why do you-” She broke off to quench her hoarse throat with the glass of water beside her, coughing some more. “Why do you keep telling everyone he’s my boyfriend?” It came out in a sputter, almost unintelligible. She cleared her throat hastily before continuing. “He’s not my bloody boyfriend.”

 

“Not your boyfriend? So he just stares at you nude for a whole day – kid has got game, whoever he is.”

 

“Lando—”

 

“We barely even talk!” Rey lied, cutting through Han’s stern tone as her cheeks went red.

 

Her phone pinged the short beat of silence. Everyone stopped. Han looked up from his calculator and the pile of bills. Rey glanced to the vibrating device on the table. Lando and Luke watched on like it was a five-set, six-hour gram-slam tennis match.

 

In an instant, his arm shot out and plucked up the glittery device, her hand slapping down on the table seconds after. He looked down through his reading glasses, squinting as he took in the message while Rey could only sulk and cradle her stinging hand to her chest.

 

“Message from K.R. – that’s him; that’s the kid!” He hushed out to the others before returning to the screen. “Pick you up at six-thirty tonight . . . Is that alright with you?” Han read out slowly, pausing to catch every word carefully. “I’ll bring you a decent coat . . . so you don’t . . . freeze.” Han’s eyebrows slowly rose into his hairline, eyes flicking up to meet her flushed face. “What’s tonight, Rey? Where’s he takin’ you? Some place fancy, I hope – you deserve that.”

 

She stood up, pounced over the table and quickly snatched back her phone from his hands. “It’s nothing.” She grunted out through clenched teeth, furiously tapping away at the keyboard on her phone to tell him she didn’t need a bloody coat; her coat was perfectly fine, thank you very much! “He’s just – we’re just doing our Christmas shopping together. Nothing but moral support for the crowds.”

 

“Christmas shopping.” Lando drawled out slowly. “On a Thursday night?”

 

“The shops are always open late on a Thursday! And Christmas is literally three days away – it makes sense to get it done now rather than battling the Christmas-eve horde.” She also had a session with Kylo that day, but they didn’t need to know that. “It’s a whole other realm!”

 

The three men could only glance at each other, bafflement clear on their matching scrunched-up expressions. Not one of them dared to comment on it, however.

 

“Are you sure that’s all you’re doing?”

 

Rey pursed her lips.

 

“Of course not, Luke.” Lando didn’t even try to hide the laughter in his tone. “He’s bringing her a coat – wants to keep her nice and warm for later.”

 

While the other two men continued to titter at their shared humour, Han only ignored it all with a confused brow and set his concerned frown on her.

 

“What about Finn?” Rey froze at his sudden soft tone. “You always go shopping together – every year, if I remember correctly; always try and outdo each other with the silliest gift.” Han let out an amused snort. “You didn’t shut up about that giant plastic ear for Poe last year. According to Leia, it didn’t work; he still doesn’t listen.”

 

She looked down at her toasted sandwich, appetite quickly disappearing at the mere mention of Finn.

 

“Finn’s up in Yavin. He’s, um . . . he’s visiting Poe’s parents for the holidays. They left yesterday.”

 

They never saw each other off. It was a simple short round of texts; one saying goodbye and the other promising a present when they returned. Since then it had been nothing but radio silence.

She tried not to think about it – the sudden loss of communication between the two was an awful feeling that left her dazed and miserable.

 

“Rey.” She squirmed. “You’re not spending Christmas by yourself, are you?”

 

What would happen if she said yes? Would he even really care?

 

She looked up, eyes widening at the familiar sight. For a split second, Rey thought she was gazing up into Kylo Ren’s eyes. They were so strikingly similar with Han’s dark orbs set so intently on her face, blazing hot in her direction as he waited for her to talk; waited for a reaction.

The crease to his forehead with his brows drawn tightly together, full-lips pulled down into a worried frown. The whole image was a reminder of that sweet, sweet night in Pho Tico; the night Kylo’s eyes never once left her face as they talked of loneliness. It wasn’t perfect, though -- It was a different shade of brown and a different shape of eye. But the similarities were so striking she ought to be creeped out.

 

“I should, um, get back to work.” She stuttered out quickly, jumping up from the chair and hurriedly plucking up the plate before her. “I really need to try and get this Camry finished before Christmas break.”

 

“Wha—Rey!” Han grumbled. “You haven’t finished your food!”

 

“I don’t... I’m not that hungry.” She dumped the plate on the counter beside the sink and turned to rush out of there as soon as she pocketed her phone. “Really, it’s fine.”

 

She didn’t let him get another word in after that, bolting back out into the garage and putting in her earbuds to avoid any more speculation on Kylo and her (non-existent) love life. To escape the guilt that took over whenever anyone mentioned her best friend’s (ex-best friend. At least, that’s how it felt) name.

 

Rey threw herself into a frenzied work, determined to steer clear of the two humiliating conversations. Music exploded into her head while she inspected the loose gaspedal. It only took 10 minutes to adjust the bolts on the throttle cable; head under the hood of the car, raising the cable where it needed to be (not so much that it affected the throttle - just enough to tighten that loose centimeter) and essentially saving the owner a whole lot of frustration in peak-hour traffic.

 

Truthfully, it could’ve easily been fixed by anyone but, of course, Han was never one to refuse a quick, expensive buck (Rey would’ve outright refused and just taken the time to show them how easy it can be fixed). For this reason alone, she decided to check on a few other things; little, simple things that added so much.

 

Like topping up their water, checking the oil and brakes – basically giving them a ‘free’ service to avoid paying an extra sum. For the rest of the day, Rey worked on that shitty 2000-model Toyota Camry, making damn-well sure she was always busy, right up until ‘closing’ time. Although it was all to stay clear of Han and the rest of the boys, the day had been a productive one. And she was utterly exhausted from the effort.

 

“You’re not seriously thinking of walking?”

 

Rey froze in her haste to wrap a deep-burgundy scarf around her neck. Her back was rather sore, feet already cracked and aching, and the wind was howling in a fury.

 

“No.” Han didn’t let her answer. “Come on, Gummy, I’ll give you a lift home. You can have the passenger seat, if you like?”

 

Normally, she’d protest. But life had really caught up with Rey over the past few weeks and she didn’t exactly have the energy to object after so many sleepless nights. Besides, Han’s car was so bloody beautiful it would be a sin to decline.

 

“Fine.” She sighed out, successfully wrapping the scarf around her neck and trying not to read too much into the rare soft smile from Han.

 

They followed him out back after locking up, leading the group right to the sleek silver beauty that was Han’s 1976 Ford Falcon -- with a few modifications, of course. Anytime she laid eyes on the XA-XC coupe model, she’d always get that wondrous awe-struck feeling - like she couldn’t quite believe that a car like this existed. It was car built to be raced in the streets; a car to endorse illegal activity by the sheer thrill of it all.

 

For a moment, all her current dilemmas melted away. Just one look at the precious baby, with it’s pristine beige leather seats and clean-cut image (no eating in the falcon!, Han had screamed many-a-time), had her heart soaring and fingers eagerly gripping onto the passenger-door handle.

 

It was short-lived, though, with Lando instantly bursting into protest, claiming that he called shotgun that very morning and claiming that the Falcon was still his and would always be his, much to Han’s annoyance.

To say it was an interesting car-trip would be an understatement.

 

“Can we turn the radio on?”

 

“No.”

 

A sharp smack of flesh went up in the air, Han quickly batting away Luke’s wandering hand. “Do that again, and I’ll cut it off.”

 

They all sighed.

 

“So.” Han began slowly as they were stopped at a set of lights. “What did you say you were doing for Christmas again?”

 

“Smooth.” Luke commented under his breath as Rey stiffened in the seat, hands grabbing at her grease-stained jeans as Lando snickered.

 

“Han, please.” She whined. “I’d really rather not talk about it.”

 

“You spending it with your boyfriend?” Lando asked. “If I win this ham raffle down at Kanata’s, give me the address and we can all get to know each other over a sandwich.”

 

“I’m not spending Christmas with my boyfriend.” A slight beat of silence had her quickly adding, "And he’s not my boyfriend!”

 

“Whatever you say, button.” Rey tried not to grimace at the nickname; she really did.

 

“If it’s not with this KR, then what are you doing? You’re not spending it alone, are you kid? That’s… kind of tragic.”

 

“Han, I swear to--

 

“Okay, okay.” Han rushed out. “Listen, if that’s what you want – y’know, spending it alone – then I’ll accept that. But it doesn’t make me feel any easier about it; there’s just some days you should never spend alone.”

 

“For you, maybe, but not to me. I’m used to spending Christmas alone, even if the last few have been with company.”

 

“So was I.” Han said softly. “Growing up as an orphan in the fifties didn’t allow for many fun holiday times. And then I grew up and met these assholes, who forced me into spending it with them; and then Luke introduced me to Leia, who always insisted on creating a big affair out of it; setting the table up nice, playing those god-awful songs on repeat, getting a big tree and filling it with gifts and cooking a ridiculous feast that could feed a whole country.” He paused and snorted. “Although, I don’t know why; she’s a garbage cook. Luckily Ben ends up doing the most of it, if only to avoid socialising. But that seems to work out better if you ask me—”

 

“Who’s Ben?”  

 

The silence that seemed to stretch in the car suddenly made her think she’d asked an insensitive question – that she was too nosey, trying put a face to a name that had never crossed his lips.

 

“Right.” Han said sadly. “I guess you wouldn’t know about him since, you know, I try to… you know?” His aimless stuttering trailed off, leaving her even more confused. Unease began to coil in her belly. And Han’s face -- truthfully, she’d never seen him more rattled. She was really starting to regret asking the question

 

“It’s better she doesn’t know – for your own sake, trust me.” Luke sighed out, turning to look at the buildings.

 

“Why?” She began bravely, “What’s so bad about him?”

 

Luke laughed at this. “What isn’t? He’s stubborn with a raging quick temper; treats us like we’re garbage and gets increasingly violent. You’d be sensible to stay away. And yet, Leia just can’t let it go.”

 

“He doesn’t – he’s not violent, Luke.” Han growled. “It was one time. And it was years ago. He’s past that little phase, and even if he wasn’t, how could we ever let go?”

 

“Who is Ben?” Rey asked once more, cutting off Luke’s sure-to-be biting retort. Han’s eyes glossed over as he turned to her once more, face bathed in a red hue from the bright traffic light as the sky steadily darkened.

 

“Ben’s my son.”

 

Her jaw went lose – Han and Leia? A kid? It didn’t make any sense – not once had their child been brought up. She’d been working with Han for almost three years now and…he never once mentioned his son.

 

He never once mentioned having a child. Her eyes pierced hard; how could any parent not mention their kid in three years?

 

Your parents abandoned you, the dark voice crooned inside, what makes him any different?

 

“Don’t give me that look, Rey. Please don’t… it’s difficult to explain. Ben is wild and unpredictable. He’s caused a lot of hurt in our family – especially for Leia. And, even though he’s overcome a lot of his… issues , there’s still a lot of hostility left from it all.” Han shook his head. “From both sides – I’ll admit, I’m not innocent when it comes to snapping at him. I can’t help it when he actively comes in looking for a battle.”

 

“He’s not a pleasant person, Rey. Which is a hard thing to admit for any family member, but it’s the truth. Just be wary.”

 

Luke’s eyes were a terrifying shade of green when she turned to meet his eyes, the car jolting to life once-more. It seemed he harboured a great distaste for his distant nephew. Everything about it was unsettling.

 

“Wary? I don’t understand.” Rey turned back to stare out the windshield. “Why are you telling me all this? I don’t know your son; I didn’t even know he existed until, like, a fucking minute ago!”

 

“Rey.” Han began quickly. “I’m sorry I never told you about my son. It’s just, well - it’s a touchy subject.His knuckles tightened on the wheel, Han exhaling out a tired sigh. “After you rushed out on lunch, we had a little chat. And, well, I guess want you to know all this because I want you to come for Christmas dinner, Rey. We all do.”

 

“We need you to understand in case things go sour.” Luke added quietly. “And, when it comes to Ben, that can happen very quickly.”

 

She still didn’t understand – why wouldn’t Han mention him for three years? Was he truly that ashamed? And was Ben really that awful? She couldn’t imagine being a child of such a couple and treating them like garbage – that went against every fibre of her being.

But, then again, she was only getting one-side of the story. And she knew all about shitty parents…

 

“I know Leia would really love to have you there--”

 

“And me!” Lando interrupted. “We can belt out the songs just to annoy him.”

 

“And it wouldn’t be an issue. All you’d have to do is show up, Rey; have a good time with the Solo’s and friends.” Han paused. “Wouldn’t you prefer that to being alone?”

 

She would. Of course, that sounded like an absolute dream. A real, family Christmas dinner - nothing had sounded more joyous.

 

“Come on Rey. Just say yes.”

 

But she did turn down Kylo’s request. It would hardly be fair if she turned around and agreed to have dinner with Han’s family.

Only, she knew Han and Leia. Rey had no way of personally knowing Kylo’s parents and, truthfully, he hadn’t painted them in the best light.

 

Surely he would understand?

 

“Wouldn’t you like to see me crack on to Leia just to piss this one off?”

 

Her face scrunched up as she snorted, Lando’s smug grin sticking between the two front seats.

 

“Fuck off.” Han grumbled. “And put your damn seatbelt on—”

 

“Okay!” Rey announced loudly. “Okay, I’ll have Christmas dinner with you.”

 

A cheer went throughout the car. “Good. Because I’m not above dragging you and that would’ve got me a scolding from Leia.”

 

Rey laughed and her tight chest slowly loosened as the atmosphere settled back into an easy-going nature – maybe this wasn’t such a bad idea after all? It would be fun, with all the craziness around. This was a good thing.

 

Even if she had to put up with Han’s horrible son…

 

~ * ~

 

She was blushing. A flush of pink that spread from her cheeks down to her chest.

 

Rey racked her brain for excuses, blaming it on the new setting for Kylo’s next painting; lying on his lush rug, coffee-table moved to the side, right in-front of the crackling fireplace. It was just the radiating warmth, she thought, nothing more. But that was a terrible lie, even for her. And it was all because of his stupid, slightly-scratchy sweater.

 

His musky sweater, dwarfing her body in soft fabric – exposing her shoulder and, from her position on the floor, rising to show her bare thighs. It smelt of his natural scent and cologne. It kissed her skin, moulding to her braless chest and, oh god, irritated the fuck out of her ridiculously sensitive nipples. Anytime she moved, Rey would hiss at the relief that went throughout her entire body; she could only hope he didn’t hear her stifled gasps.

 

It wasn’t exactly how she envisioned spending Christmas Eve. It was a torturous experience and in no way was it a festive one. Never in her life had she thought of taking her nipples in-between her thumb and forefinger; never in her life had she desired to roughly pinch at them. But the way Kylo’s jumper draped over her areolas, the way he’d simply shrugged off his form-fitting sweater, undershirt slightly rising to give her a peek of something undeniably divine (he certainly worked out), handing it to cover her bare chest as she stripped . . . Rey had never blushed so much in her life.

 

“It’s too cold.” He’d offered as an explanation, like he hadn’t just done the most sensually-arousing thing Rey had ever seen.

 

He was starting to make a habit of dressing her up - first at the shopping square, where she’d been too cold to object as he draped his heavy-coat around her shoulders (‘if you insist on wearing that thing,’ he’d pointed to her grey peacoat like it was a vicious predator, ‘then take this. Wear it over your coat, if you must; just put it on before you give yourself hypothermia.Your lips are going blue.’), and now this; drowning in his oh-so-warm charcoal sweater. Both intimate actions had affected her greatly -- only, instead of wishing to hug him like she had at the square, Rey’s mind wandered into something more...vulgar (if only she could rip off that stupid, tight undershirt).

 

It wasn’t supposed to be like this. He was the one who should’ve been turned-on, with her naked all the bloody time; that’s how it went in the stories. Rey wasn’t supposed to have stiff nipples poking through his sweater, fully erect. Rey wasn’t supposed to have incredibly dirty thoughts of Kylo joining her on the rug, beside the fire - preferably naked (wouldn’t that be a Christmas treat). His easel didn’t make it any easier, either, facing off to the side. Those darkened glances thrown her way were quickly becoming too much.

 

She’d looked up to the painting above his mantel just to avoid it, after he’d claimed to be done with her face. It was more of a silent session today, unlike the last where she’d babbled for eight-hours straight. It’d been a silent affair while they shopped, too. Unfortunately for Rey, It only made her wicked thoughts that much louder.

 

But that strange, abstract painting, like always, was a welcome distraction. Her eyes flicked over the contrasting colours; red, black and white. They targeted in at the silhouette, swept over the striking slashes like the artist had physically tried to cut the canvas to pieces. It was an angry painting. The rage was there, splashed onto the canvas – it radiated like fire. And . . . and there was something quite off-putting—

 

“Is that a person?” her rushed question came bounding out as her eyes took in the silhouette once more.

 

“I’m sorry?”

 

She looked at him, then, quickly pointing at the gloomy artwork. “There. That thing in the middle – I’ve been trying to make it out for an hour now and . . . is it a person?”

 

“Ah.” He murmured in understanding, earning her curious gaze. “It isn’t quite a person – at least, I don’t see that way. It’s more of a…” He paused, head tilting in thought. “…more of a conscience, I suppose. A masked conscience.”

 

“Masked conscience…” Rey repeated softly, attention snapping back to the eerie painting. She stared long and deep, revealing a whole new sight. “It’s almost robot-like. Like his inner-conscience is controlled by something -- which is strange because, y’know, our conscience is what drives our actions. Good, bad and all that.”

 

When she turned back to face the easel, Kylo looked upon her with hungry eyes. “Exactly.” His hard and heady expression only seemed to increase, eyes gleaming as he continued. “Someone is controlling him; there’s no ability to decide his own actions. His conscience is a robotic-soldier following orders. There is no morality left.”

 

Her breathing hitched. The throbbing heat between her thighs was desperate for relief. She squirmed under his passionate gaze, like she was under a big bright spotlight, and quickly fumbled to change the subject.

 

“It’s very tragic.” She babbled out in a string of words. “A little too grim to hang in your living room, if you ask me. A masked conscious sounds terrifying, to be perfectly honest; a concept unlikely to process over a mug of tea—”

 

She cut herself off, flushing more, at the sound of his deep bark of laughter.  

 

“Please tell me I didn’t just insult your painting?”

 

He knew so much about it. And it had that same portentous quality, matching the one painting he’d showed her in L’imaginaire. It would make sense if it were his work.

 

“No, not mine.” He smiled. “Only my grandfather’s.” She gasped and covered her face.

 

“No.” She moaned out. Somehow, that was worse. “I’m so, so sorry.”

 

“Don’t apologise – art, like music and film, is subjective. We all have different tastes.” Kylo relaxed in his stool, turning to address her head on. “And it is incredibly dark – an ominous piece of art that leaves the appraiser unsettled – can you relax back into position for me, please?”

 

She did as he asked, muttering a quick apology as she sunk back into the rug, watching as he returned to dipping the bristles into a thick paint, white bristles now a dusty shade of pink; his eyes flicked over at her once more before returning to the canvas, wrist gliding in action.

 

“It’s still beautiful.” She said after a time. “I mean, as unnerving as it is, there’s a real – I don’t know how to explain it exactly, but there’s just something there. A feeling or emotion.” he hung on to her every word throughout her rambled spiel. I’m not… well, you know I’m no artist. But this is something else. Like a Greek tragedy painted on a canvas.”

 

There was a prolonged pause before Kylo replied; nothing but the sound of the brush dancing across the canvas.

 

“In the late 1700's, during the art period of romanticism, there was a particularly brilliant artist – Francisco Goya.” Kylo explained softly as he worked, Rey greedily taking in the way his lips moved as he spoke. “He was commissioned by a lot of royal families, often producing a bright and happy style at their request; pleasant paintings of joyful sceneries; peasants living in harmony, strong and abled just like the wealthy. They are, admittedly, stunning artworks.” He paused. Glanced her way. Returned to the painting. “But, later in his life, his work became more… depressing. An illness caused Goya to lose his hearing and, in his deafness, Francisco Goya began to paint the world only as he saw it.  

“In the seclusion of his own home, he began murals of dark paintings, covering his bare walls – the Black Paintings. Grim images of poverty, illness and cannibalism. Traumatic experiences most can’t fathom. They are…awful to look at. And yet, many believe the series of works to be Goya’s best; many believe this to prove that pain breeds the best art.” Their eyes met in an intense stare. “My Grandfather was of that opinion.”

 

Pain breeds the best art.

It was a queasy thought, if true; one that had her mind wondering quickly.

Would the best art really be worth anything if it came from someone so deeply troubled?

 

“He painted that, right after the death of my grandmother.” Kylo continued to explain softly. “That beautiful artwork holding so much hurt in every stroke.”

 

Rey’s brow creased. “That seems so toxic.”

 

“It is.” Kylo agreed. “But, it gathered success. He actively sought out tragedy after that, according to my Uncle.”

 

“Why? What is success over love and happiness?”

 

“Some people can’t quite quench the obsession after a taste of triumph.” He shrugged. “He distanced himself away from his children as inspiration and, in the end, his unfavourable methods worked. It brought forth many more paintings, much like this one – it brought forth an unimaginable wealth to a man who’d struggled with money since his first breath. And what is happiness over wealth to a man who’d already lost so much?” Kylo’s eyes sought out the painting once more. “Still, many say that this is his best work – nothing was ever more painful than losing his muse.”

 

It sounded like a Shakespearean story – one that seemed to continue with Kylo, who held such affliction to his own parents; perhaps he held the same mindset. Perhaps it gave him reason to be so unforgiving with his own family.

 

“Many?” She questioned to rid herself of those dark assumptions. “Was your grandfather famous or something?”

 

Kylo gave her a sheepish smile. “I suppose, yeah. He was very outspoken with his style and his first mentor wrote all about his ‘methods’ in an autobiography – Benjamin Kenobi made sure the whole world knew all about Anakin Vader’s downfall and what caused it.”

 

Rey looked at the painting.

 

“How much is that worth?”

 

He suddenly looked embarrassed. “A six-digit number.” Her jaw dropped.

 

“You’re joking?” He shook his head. “And that’s the original?” He nodded. “How’d you get it – I mean, the only way anyone knows about this painting is if it got sold at some point, yeah?”

 

“Correct.” He murmured. “It was sold for fifty dollars to a greedy collector. And as the years passed, more and more greedy art collectors became interested, and suddenly the price had increased while the value quickly skyrocketed.” His face contorted into a menacing, disturbing grimace and, for a second, she imagined it to be a twisted face painted on the walls of Goya’s home, placed among the other Black Paintings. “My old mentor was the last to have it. And, as a gift, he offered the infamous Vader painting – it was the only reason why I agreed to work with him.”

 

For a moment, her breath left her in one final exhale. A fear settled deep in her chest, stomach dropping at the urge that rose up in her head.

 

“Are you of the same opinion?” Rey asked quietly. “Do you believe pain breeds the best art?”

 

Rey’s heart pounded furiously against her rib cage at the stretching silence, awaiting his answer in an anxious state.  

 

“For a time, yes. And, I admit, when I had so desperately craved to have the same success as my grandfather, I...” He paused and swallowed thickly. “It doesn’t matter what I once thought. I know it’s more complicated than that simplified belief. There’s many factors into what makes the best art -- and like any artform, it differentiates in each artist. ” Her eyes went wide when his head snapped in her direction, eyes darkening to a potent black as they scanned her figure before him oh-so-slowly. “Sometimes, it’s simple; sometimes it comes down to finding those few things that just make everything seem… right.”

 

She froze in her spot, unsure of what to say or how to interpret his heady gaze set so intently on her body. Did Rey dare to believe that she was the cause of such a statement; that she was the subject of his best work? But those questions were so little compared to the strong desire to get up from the floor, sit on his lap and crush her lips to his.

 

Oh, how she longed to fist her hands through his soft hair and kiss him senseless – to be stained with his touch and marked with his tongue when he looked at her like she was … more than just nothing.

 

How Rey Niima longed to just… be with Kylo Ren.

Maker help her, she wanted him – she’d never wanted anything more; it was such a strong desire that, for a moment, it had surpassed the dream of reuniting with her distant parents.

She was gone. Lost in a dream. Utterly submissive to her feelings for the man.

 

She didn’t just want to fuck him to forget herself, like Finn had so politely pointed out as her ‘thing’. She wanted him – every single part of him that listened and cared; to return the favour of listening and caring. Rey dreamed of waking up to him, to see his face first thing in the morning, a daring domestic hope that had her aching all over.

 

“Rey?”

 

One look into those soft eyes was all it took for her heart to swell with an unfamiliar emotion.

 

A daunting feeling that quickly had her fisting the soft rug beneath her. A realisation that had her cheeks heating up, one more time.

 

She fancied the everloving fuck out of Kylo fucking Ren. And nothing had seemed more terrifying than admitting that little fact to herself.

 

~ * ~

 

“You’re very quiet.”

 

She stiffened at his observation. After their little painting talk, she’d shut her mouth and didn’t talk until he’d announced that he was done. ‘

Truthfully, she was too wrapped up in her frantic head to speak. She fancied him… she fancied Kylo Ren.

She should’ve just listened to Finn…

 

“Is it about tomorrow?” He asked quietly. “You know the offer still stands, right?”

 

Rey blushed and looked away to hide her guilt-ridden face.

 

“Actually, um… my boss asked me if I’d like to come over for dinner, earlier in the week.” She paused and could feel his eyes on the back of head. “I said yes.”

 

“Oh, so you’ll have dinner with them but not me?”

 

“Please don’t be angry; I know them all, so it won’t be an uncomfortable setting.” She rushed out. “And don’t think it was because of you; I don’t know your family and, well, with what you’ve told me I’m not exactly sure how nice they would be.”

 

“Rey.” He finally spoke, voice a soft hum - a tone that quickly settled her anxiety. “I’m not mad at you. It was just a joke. Actually, I’m quite relieved to hear you won’t be alone tomorrow.” Kylo breathed out a sigh. “Also, it explains why you were acting so...odd Thursday night. I thought you still might have been angry about the whole apartment thing.”

 

“Oh.” She murmured, cheeks pink as Kylo turned right onto her street and parked at the curb beside her building. “No. I don’t think I could ever stay mad at you for so long.”

 

His smile was blindingly beautiful, a nervous hand running though his thick hair before resting back in his lap.“Have you, um, thought about Phasma yet?”

 

“I have.” He nodded and patiently waited for her to continue. “I think I’ll do it; it’s really quite scary, because I don’t know her much. But the place is gorgeous. And, even if I have to work more at Pho Tico to earn some spending money, it’ll be worth it.”

 

“I could increase your hourly rate if you like—”

 

“I will actually slap you.”

 

He laughed, holding his hands up in surrender. “Alright, alright; easy.” His eyes suddenly widened as she moved to get out of the car, hand jolting out to catch her wrist. “Uh, before you go – I actually have something for you.”

 

She eased back into the seat. “Like a gift?” He nodded. “Kylo.” She moaned. “You shouldn’t have got me a gift – or, at the very least, you should’ve told me so I could return the favour—”

 

“Open the glovebox, Rey.”

 

With a huff, she did as he commanded, eyes instantly narrowing in at the rectangular object wrapped up in reindeer paper. She was slow at grabbing it, turning it in her hands as if she could work it out just with her blind touch.

 

“It’s a book!”

 

He rolled his eyes. “Open it and see then.”

 

Rey grinned wickedly, eyes flashing with a manic glint as she tore into the paper like a predator tore into its prey. The first thing she saw was pink; a pink cover with a pink flower on the front. If she looked closer, the flower almost looked like—”

 

“Loving your Lady Bits.” Rey read aloud, head snapping back to scowl at him. She flipped the thin book over. “50 healthy tips that’ll help you appreciate your special flower – you are such an arse.”

 

She backhanded his shoulder with the cover as he laughed. “What?” He said through his mirth. “It’s educational.”

 

Rey only raised a brow, studying the cover. With a determined huff, she opened the book to a random page and began to read the excerpt.

 

One of the most important steps of learning to appreciate your vagina is to embrace pleasure – to learn the ins and outs, the dos and don’ts and the yes’ and nos’ with your own hand. Masturbation is the key to unlocking your shame and letting it all out; overcoming this will help overcome your initial embarrassment about your lady bits.” She took in his flushed cheeks. “Yes,” She added dryly. “Very educational – I’ll get on that right away.”

 

It was just a joke. But the way his eyes darkened sent a shiver down her spine. The way he was looking at her…

 

“Thank you for the gift. Even if it is a little sexist; you know, because you’re a male, giving me, a woman, an educational book on ‘knowing her ladybits’”

 

It was getting late and the car was still running. He hadn’t looked away.

 

“I thought it was funny.”

 

Rey sucked in a breath, clamping her thighs tightly together.

 

“Y’know, I was planning to make some biscuits for tomorrow.”

 

“Really?” He leaned in closer.

 

“Yeah. I guess I’ll feel bad if I don’t bring anything. But I’m not very good at it.”

 

“Right.”

 

His eyes flicked down to her bottom lip held roughly by her top teeth.

 

“Would you like to come up and help?”

 

The thrum of the car was cut-off in an instant.

 

Chapter Text

CHAPTER SEVEN

~  D  E  C  E  M  B  E  R  ~

P  A  R  T    T  H  R  E  E

To be Jolly

 

For a moment, Rey only felt pure bliss – he wanted to spend more time with her. It was a concept she couldn’t comprehend, her mind in a joyous dazed state as he huddled close next to her figure, at her side with each measured step across the road; a constant warmth behind her as she readily unlocked the building’s heavy door.

And then she reached her actual apartment door.

 

Of course, by now, Rey really shouldn’t have had any room left for embarrassment – the man had studied her body for hours on end, carried her out of a bar like a child, held back her hair while she spewed up her guts and knew all about the insecurities that plagued her conscience. Not to mention, he’d already seen her apartment. But she was drunk, at that time, and hungover the next morning – clearly, she was the messier of the two, so what did it matter if he saw her laundry piled high in a basket, set on the small two-seater couch in the living room, when he was too busy being weighed down by her boneless body? What did it matter if he noticed the dirty dishes that lay in the sink when he was preoccupied with the sound of her retching?

 

It only took her a few minutes after unlocking her door to realise that, for Kylo, it really didn’t matter. Despite her worries, he didn’t seem to care, nor did he make a single comment. Well, not at first, anyways…

 

“Rey.” He said impassively, a straight-face betraying his true feelings. His voice was slightly clouded; muffled from the chunk of biscuit in his mouth. Very slowly, with wide eyes, she watched him chew twice more – two incredibly loud crunches that quickly fired up the nerves deep within her belly.

 

“How is it?” She asked timidly, wringing her hands together.

 

“Rey.” He repeated once more, a thick swallow following shortly after. “I just…I can’t lie to you. I’m really sorry, but this is just—this is garbage.”

 

Her jaw dropped as he tossed the half-eaten choc-chip biscuit back on the counter.

 

“It’s ridiculously hard – like, break your tooth hard – and, to tell you the truth, it’s quite tasteless, too. I don’t really understand—”

 

‘It’s your fault!” She exclaimed. “If you’d just bloody helped, like I asked—”

 

“Well, I was under the impression we were baking here, Rey.” He snarked. “And and pre-mixed, packeted choc chip powder is not baking. Most call that cheating.”

 

“Well, some of us aren’t brilliant at everything – nor do we have irrationally high morals that prevent us from making edible biscuits.”

 

He huffed out a laugh, leaning back into the counter, a small smile quirking his pouty lips upwards. “Why does it matter, Rey? Did they specifically ask you to bring something?” She shook her head with pursed lips, trying not to let her mind wander that the black material stretched across his broad chest had kissed the skin of her torso only hours ago. “So, who cares – and trust me when I say they’d be eternally grateful to not receive these.”

 

She scoffed. “God, you are such an arse.” With a determined glint of fierceness in her glare, Rey plucked up the same biscuit he’d tossed away only moments ago. “You’re probably just being a snobbish wanker, like usual.”

 

Her gaze never left his own as she proudly placed the biscuit between her teeth…

…before promptly spitting it out into her hand. “Gosh, this is rubbish.” Much to her annoyance, Kylo’s usually dignified expression morphed into a whole other sight – his face, scrunching in on itself; mouth wide as he let out a booming outburst of laughter that were so unlike his little huffs and puffs of amused chuckles. “This is your fault. If you’d only helped!”

 

He only laughed harder, hunching in on his large frame. “I just…” A deep breath followed by a trail of uncontrollable barks of laughter. “I don’t understand how you can just … how do you ruin premixed cookies?”

 

With a scowl, she advanced – right hand held high, wet with crumbs that still clung to her hand. He caught her wrist with ease, a smirk playing on his lips as he successfully dragged her to the sink and ran the tap. “You’re worse than my seventh-graders, you know that?”

She sucked in a breath, with his head bent so close to hers as he held her hand under a tap – safely away from the shiny locks atop his head. His cheeks were a rosy red from all that laughing, eyes a warm brown that sparkled with mirth.

 

“I thought it was a mature response.”

 

He hummed, deep from his chest and crooked his neck to the side. “Ah. It’s a shame I was too quick, then.” She pouted at this, an action that had his eyes drawn to her lips, taking in the slight puffed-out movement.

 

Suddenly, he was stepping back – finally letting go, leaving her to quickly dry her hand against the back of her jeans.

 

“Why are you so set on bringing something for this dinner if it’s not asked of you?”

 

“Because it’s the right thing to do.” She mumbled. “I mean, Christmas is a really intimate family celebration and they’ve invited me despite that. And that means a lot to me – they mean a lot to me. And if this is one way I can show my gratitude, then I’d really like to show it. Even if it is a pile of rubbish…”

 

Kylo shifted from foot to foot after she finished.

 

“Fuck,” he groaned out, before muttering some more unintelligible words to himself as he strode to the slim pantry in the corner of her too-small kitchen.

 

“What are you doing?” She perked up, watching him swiftly shuffle through her pantry.

 

“Helping you out, hopefully – flour, cocoa, sugar … sugar. Ah! – Please tell me you have eggs?”

 

“Yes…”

 

“And milk and butter?”

 

“Um, the milk may or may not be on the cusp of expiring—”

 

“It’ll do.” He nodded curtly, bringing over an array of cooking-basics. “Do you have a cake-tin?”

 

“Yes.” She stuttered out, brows drawn together as Kylo spread the materials across her bench before striding to her fridge, yanking open the door and quickly scanning for the butter and milk.

He squinted at the label before smiling. “We’re good.”

 

“Good for what, exactly?”

 

“The best chocolate mud cake recipe known to man.” He smiled down at her. “Well, known to my family – it’s a secret, I’m afraid.”

 

Why are you showing me then?”

 

“I think I can trust you. Also, do you mind if I use that block of chocolate? It’s not the usual amount but it’ll add to the whole flavour.” He smirked at her nod, one large arm grabbing out the item from his standing position (she really needed a bigger kitchen). “I was being a snobby wanker, as you put it, and this is the only way I can think of making it up to you. I can assure it’ll impress – they’ll be the ones showing their gratitude.”

 

“You’re talking a big game here, Kylo.” She teased from her position on her knees, digging for another mixing bowl and a cake-tin in the counter doors. “You better not disappoint.”

She craned her neck to look behind her shoulder, eyebrow-raising as he very quickly flicked his eyes away from her backside to her face – so he can check me out fully clothed but not naked, she thought with heated cheeks.

 

“It’ll only disappoint if I let you do all the work, clearly.” She gaped at his sheepish smile. “Was that too harsh or just too soon?”

 

“Both!”

 

“Never you mind,” Kylo cooed. “I’ll let you stir the batter.”

 

With an exasperated huff, she returned to the counter and gave him quite the heavy stare. “Remind me why I invited you up here?”

 

He breathed out a small chuckle, rolling up the sleeves of that lovely black sweater and – oh god, were those seriously his forearms?

 

“Sorry, sorry,” He didn’t sound it. “I’ll stop now. Perhaps we should order some take-out; we might be here for a while. My treat.”

 

She smiled. “We can halve it. Though, I won’t compromise on pizza.”

 

“Ah, let me guess.” He smirked, eyes flicking to hers briefly before pouring a heap of flour into the plastic bowl. “You’re a pineapple type of girl.”

 

“I can’t afford to be fussy.” She stated simply. “Though, I bet your opinion differs.”

 

“Not terribly.” He shrugged, giving the bowl a shuffle between his large hands to even out the flour. “It’s not horrible on pizza, to be perfectly honest – but I’ve always found the ingredient to belong in more… sensual dishes.” Her eyes widened. “It is, after all, believed to enhance the flavour of—well, it’s an aphrodisiac for many to put it simply. Is that what young women, such as yourself, find so appealing in a Sex on the Beach?”

 

Rey couldn’t contain the eye-roll and determinedly ignored the heat blooming in her cheeks. “I’m pretty sure there’s no pineapple in that particular cocktail.”

 

“Yes, well, it’s some sort of tropical fruit, no? With a whole lot of sugar to rot your teeth.”

 

“What if I said I was more of a beer girl? Not some sugary-sweet syrup drink girl – though, obviously, I do enjoy one or two on occasion.”

 

“Then I’d suggest you crack open that carton of Coronas in the fridge.”

 

Rey beamed at this, hopping off the stool while she let the site for Dominos load up on her phone. In no time at all, she was back on the stool after passing him a bottle, currently admiring his long neck; tilted back, adam’s-apple bobbing with each sip of beer.

 

“Okay, so we’re good for Hawaiian and Meatlovers, yeah?”

 

Kylo hummed as he swiftly cracked an egg, one-handed with no shells falling into the mix, “Sounds perfect.” She quickly put through the order as he cracked one more egg into the mix, pushing it in her direction. “Mix that in and I’ll start on the chocolate.”

 

After a few directions for pots and pans, Kylo set up a saucepan on the stovetop and began to work on melting the chocolate, adding the cocoa, butter and sugar. They steadily worked at their respective tasks, Rey’s arm getting a workout from stirring – bloody Finn for taking the beater.

It was still so odd to see Kylo cramped in her kitchen, eyes set so intently on his progress. The whole look of him, dressed head to toe in black, that ridiculously frustrating sweater – it was a view she’d love to get used to. In a perfect world, he would be here every night; cooking exuberant dishes for her to try, a gesture that would make her whole heart melt.

But that was wishful thinking on her part. And for now, this was just enough to sate those horrible, giddy feelings that had begun to bloom in her chest.

 

It wasn’t long before Kylo had successfully combined the ingredients in her saucepan, a thick chocolatey mix joining her flour and egg mix. She happily handed over the stirring duties, admiring the way his muscles tensed as he whisked the bowl at a frenzied pace. He leaned over the counter, one giant hand clutching the plastic bowl and the other gripping the wooden spoon. Over and over, he methodically folded the thick batter, his eyes cast downward to focus on his task.

For a moment, Rey wished their positions were switched; if only she were the artist and had an excuse to stare at him all day, with his hair falling in thick waves around his face, cheeks flushed from exertion. She couldn’t look away, even as he started to pour the batter into the cake-tin, scraping out the leftovers with the wooden spoon and levelling it into a flat, smooth surface.

 

“Here.” He thrust the spoon in her direction. “What do you think? Am I all talk?”

 

Rey took the spoon with hesitant fingers, a tentative taste following after she very slowly brought the object to her lips. Two seconds in and she was humming around the wood, and the inexperienced child within her came out to play, quickly licking it clean with vigour. She must’ve looked absolutely wild; a wanton woman with no real manners. He should’ve been disgusted – a scowl should’ve been prominent on his handsome features. But when she finally looked up after finishing her treat, all she could do was meet his blackened gaze. His eyes were positively ravenous.

 

She quickly opened her mouth to apologise, stuttering on the ‘I’–

 

“You have chocolate here.” He mumbled, an accompanying gesture to his own mouth.

 

“Oh,” she whispered, cheeks flaring as she roughly wiped her hand over her lips. “Is it gone?”

 

“Not—” Kylo cleared his throat. “Not quite. May I?” he nodded to his own hand.

 

After her confirmation, she watched with wide eyes as he licked the pad of his thumb; with his long arms, it would’ve been easy to just lean over and reach for her face, but still, he walked around to where she sat. Just when she thought she was used to his insanely tall figure, he leaned down to level their faces, and suddenly Rey began to marvel at his height once again.

 

His thumb was hovering over her lips, softly brushing at the corner of her mouth with an unreadable look to his eyes. So gentle and warm. So goddamn arousing. She couldn’t be helped – Rey was touch-starved and this fleeting moment of theirs was enough to force her body upwards, uncontrollably arching into unfamiliar territory. More, her heart pleaded and begged, I need more.

 

Kylo’s whole body came to a complete stop, freezing as if someone had hit the pause button on everything except Rey. But he was blinking and breathing and, Christ, he was toying with those pink, perfect lips.

 

At this point, anyone would think he was caressing her cheek if they chanced a look at the pair. An indulging couple, treating themselves to some intimate gestures of affection. It didn’t help that he’d started moving again, gravitating closer as if they were magnets; hand moving to fully cup her cheek, thumb grazing gentle patterns onto her soft skin; bending his head ever-so-slightly, heady gaze unwavering.

 

Another step closer. Another arm on her skin, lightly gripping onto her shoulder. This was it.

 

He was going to kiss her – on the exact day she’d come to terms with her feelings, too; what were the chances? Only, despite her inner-commision (the mortifying realisation that, yes, she really did fancy the pants off Kylo Ren… quite literally), Rey had thought about this long before those particular feelings had developed. She’d thought about this since their first meeting; how could she not with such gorgeous lips? With such pretty eyes?

Such pretty fucking eyes that had now fluttered to a close, successfully stealing away her breath.

 

She could only follow along, raising her arms – ready and poised to link around his neck when he finally, finally, finally kissed her.

Please, she almost begged inside like a desperate, attention-starved little girl (Rey supposed she had always been that little girl), please, please, please.

 

BZZZZ BZZZZ.

 

The intercom buzzed.

The fucking intercom buzzed.

And Kylo Ren snapped back like an invisible force had physically pushed him away.

 

“The pizza.” Rey muttered, eyes set intently on her feet. “That, um, must be the pizza—”

 

“Yeah.” He breathed out. “That was really quite fast—”

 

Really quick—”

 

“So quick.” He cleared his throat. “I’ll, uh, put this in the oven if you go deal—”

 

“With the pizza. Yes.”

 

“Okay.”

 

“Okay.”

 

They both parted ways with a furious blush.

 

~ * ~

 

Dinner was a quiet affair, with them sitting as far away as possible on her small, two-seater couch. They ate silently, regularly pulled at their beers and watched on as Kevin McCallister battled at being home alone for the holidays. Too fucking real, she thought with another side-glance at Kylo.

 

When she’d joked about that silly gift, he didn’t freeze up like an inexperienced boy. And when he’d studied her body relentlessly, he’d handled it calmly, respectfully and professionally; like it was the most natural thing in the world. But the second they almost kiss—

 

Unless… unless he hadn’t intended to kiss her.

Oh god, she thought in horror.

 Had she conjured it all up in her head? Was it just another one of her silly fantasies that would never come true? Fuck.

 

“I hate this movie.”

 

The growl to his tone broke through her frantic mind, earning a curious look.

 

“It’s – the adults in this are just… It hits a little too close.” He shook his head. “They’re so ignorant about everything.”

 

Rey smiled at his short outburst, grateful for the distraction. “Let me guess: you’ve been left home alone before and had to fend off a bunch of bad blokes out to get you?”

 

He snorted, “Obviously not. But I was once left in a grocery store when I was six. I mean, not quite ‘left’, but I wandered away and got lost amongst the aisles.” Kylo shook his head. “I hid for most of it, under one of the shelves – my father was shouting my name like a deranged psychopath and, well, that was rather humiliating for me.” She giggled. “That’s a very traumatic memory for me, Rey.” She silently giggled. “I even cried.”

 

“I can’t imagine you crying.” It was true. He was a very emotionally-driven person, no doubt – but tears? That seemed impossible for someone so strong and tall and impossibly good-looking.

 

“Really?” He hummed. “Well, I’d appreciate if you didn’t tell anyone – especially Hux or Phasma, since you’ll be seeing them around a lot now – but I’m actually a big secret crier.” Rey truly didn’t know if he was being sarcastic or not.

 

“Oh, right. The whole tortured artist thing? Pain creates the best art – literal tears used as watercolours—”

 

He barked out a laugh. “I don’t use watercolour. And I already said I didn’t believe in that. I’m not my grandfather.”

 

“Yes, but you wanted to be.”

 

He fell quiet.

 

“You’re very observant. And maddeningly good at reading people.”

 

“Really?” She asked, scrunching her nose at the thought. “Truthfully, I feel like I don’t even come close to understanding you.”

 

He fiddled with the neck of his beer. “I feel as if you understand me better than anyone.” He paused. “Because you listen, I suppose. You listen to me prattle on about art history, you listen to me rant about my dysfunctional family and, well, you just generally listen. And I guess, after feeling so ignored, so… alone for years and years, it’s nice to have someone that truly hears what I’m saying. Even if it is nonsense – even if you don’t understand me at all.”

Kylo shifted on the couch, turning to face her and shuffling a fraction closer. “You see, I want to tell you all about my grandmother’s secret recipes – I want to lend you the whole book because, well, it means a lot to me; just as much as that grim painting, hanging above the mantel in my living room.” He shakes his head. “Oddly enough, I connect to the both of them so, so much; my grandparents and their story, alone and together. Despite never having the chance to meet them, never hearing their voices or seeing their faces.” Kylo shook his head roughly and scoffed loudly. “If I even brought up my grandfather’s name to my mother, she’d throw a fit. But with you, Rey… you’d hang on to every word, despite it being quite an odd thing to hear – me connecting to my dead grandparents, feeling closer to them than anyone else in my whole family – and you wouldn’t even comment on it. I want to tell you every meaningless little thing because you listen and you respond … and, correct me if I’m wrong here, because you actually care to hear me talk about those meaningless, little things that don’t matter much at all.”  

 

There was a lengthy pause where Rey could only stare in awe. She’d never heard him sound so… so sure and yet insecure, all at the same time. The smile it brought to her lips was a wide and bright one.

 

“I like listening to you talk,” she admitted sheepishly. “I guess… well, maybe I’m wrong, but I feel like I – we… I feel like we have a connection. Or something, I don’t know.” Rey was quick to take a pull from her beer, willing the blush to go away. “It’s just that…” A huff escaped her chest. “Well, I’ve never been so open about my life to someone. I feel like I could tell you anything. And you feeling the same way is sort of… god, it’s so stupid—”

 

“No,” His hand shot out, dwarfing her own small hand and bringing it down to the couch, entwined fingers resting between the pair. “No, no, I completely understand.” His voice was soft in her ear. “More than you could possibly know. I’ve never been so open about my life to another person – I’ve always been an honest man; I pride myself on it, and some may say I come across too brutal at times. But with you, honesty seems to pour out of me – like I’m bound to tell you everything. Like I said before, Rey, I want to tell you every little thing about me.”

 

“Don’t worry.” He muttered quietly, shifting just a little closer so their hands sat snug between their thighs. “I feel it too.”

 

And god. God. It was simply too much.

The overwhelming affection that coursed through her chest, after those short few words, was too fucking much.

She could only grip his hand a little tighter and pick up another slice of pizza.

 

Their hands didn’t move for the entire time they sat there, making comments about the cult-classic Christmas movie with bellies filled with pizza, right up until the end titles played out, (he was a little too invested in how Kevin heard his father’s voice from so far away, to be perfectly honest), and Bridget Jones’ Diary following.

 

Kylo only cocked a brow at the tv, “This is considered a Christmas movie?” She hummed a yes. “Strange.”

 

“Oh, shut it. It’s a lovely movie.”

 

“I’d consider the text it was adapted from ‘lovely’ but I’m not so certain about this.” She scoffed. “More like an insult, really.”

 

“And I almost forgot you teach a tenth-grade English class.” He chuckled at this. “As an artist, I could forgive you for being an art snob – ironically, I haven’t heard much with that subject. But God forbid someone use cake-mix and modernize an Austen novel—”

 

“You’re never going to let of that go, are you?” He said, the smile so clear in his tone.

 

“Nope.”

 

“Well, I would apologise – but having standards doesn’t really require one.” She could only gape, his smirk prominent on his features as he turned his head to look at his watch to check the time. It unfortunately lead to their hands parting, an action that left her wanting to pout like a petulant child. Rey tried not to show her disappointment.

 

“I better check on this cake.” He mumbled, pushing off the couch and standing to full height. When she moved to leave as well, he quickly shot her a smile. “You stay here and watch your silly rom-com. I’ll do all the hard work.”

 

When he sauntered away, she had the urge to throw a pillow at his head. Only, she was quite distracted with his arse – a feature she’d never really been attracted to in males until Kylo.

 

Rey settled into the couch as Kylo dealt with the cake, ruffling through her pantry for more ingredients (presumably icing-sugar which, to be perfectly honest, Rey often ate by the spoonful) while she grabbed a blanket and curled into its warmth.

She would giggle and laugh at the movie, with the occasional outright-cackle because nothing, nothing, nothing could ever beat this kind of humour.

 

It was another ten minutes or so before Kylo returned once more, plopping himself on the couch while she snuggled under her blanket.

 

“It’s not very big.” She announced softly, nodding to the blank.

 

“Ah,” He mumbled, not moving a muscle. With quite a heavy eye roll, Rey shuffled up close and quickly spread the blanket over his insanely long legs.

The small smile on his lips was enough to make her heart pound.

 

He stayed until the end of the movie. And Rey was adamant she caught him smiling in some scenes, which was enough to earn her a win. By the end, it was safe-to-say they were on the brink of snuggling – perhaps it was the cold, or from being too invested in the movie to notice. Either way, it was quite nice to have his arm wrapped around her, pulled almost flush to his skin for such a long period of time.

 

So nice that she couldn’t help but pull him into a hug, standing on her tip-toes just to link her arms around his strong neck.

 

“The cake is so beautiful, Kylo.” She whispered, unwarranted tears pricking at her at her eyes. How on earth could she be so lucky? For Kylo to spend Christmas Eve at her apartment and do all her work – god, her heart had never felt so full. It was agonising. “Thank you so much!”

 

If she’d had any more beers, she probably would’ve dug in straight away – Han and Lando didn’t deserve such a heavenly treat after so much teasing. The icing glazed over, just begging for a prodding finger.

Looking at it only made her clutch him that much tighter.

 

“It was my pleasure.” He mumbled, arms sliding to clutch her own body close to his. The holiday spirit was certainly giving them some newfound courage. “It would really be a pleasure to cook for you sometime. Dinner and desert, at my own apartment one night. Like I promised, all those weeks ago.”

 

Rey hummed, finally letting go. “That sounds very nice. Though, really, I should be the one offering something since you technically just helped me out.”

 

He smiled crookedly. “Just bring yourself.” He ran a hand through his hair. “You… you wouldn’t happen to be around for New Year's Eve?” A sigh escaped his lips. “I know you’re young and probably wish to go out, not spend the night with some old—”

 

“That sounds perfect.” She chirped brightly.

And it did. So much could happen from that one, perfect night – a happy transition into the new year, with Kylo’s lips finally on her own. God, perhaps more than kiss and, holy mother of God, that was a thought indeed. 

 

“Great.” He muttered, eyes watching her every move as she plucked up his hand. It was easy to bend his wrist slightly and take note of the time. Easy to read that it was a few minutes past 12.

 

She met his gaze once more, accompanied with a cheerfully smile. Very quickly, she rose on her toes to press a chaste kiss to his cheek.

 

“Merry Christmas, Kylo.”

 

His dark gaze softened, a hand reaching out to push back a tendril of hair behind her ear. She'd never expected him to be so bold.

 

“Merry Christmas, Rey.”

 

New Year’s couldn’t come quicker.