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Salt in the Blood

Chapter Text

 

 

 

Summer, Ireland, circa 993 A.D.

 

 

 

The waters were wide, and cold, and dark.

 

Rey would run to the water’s edge and dip her toes in anyway. The water burned her feet and turned them puce, numbing them until - if she looked away - it felt as though she didn’t have them anymore. If there was a rare warm day, she would strip off and wade up to her chest. The water was never warm, and never had been. Her body would smart for hours afterwards, but she loved it. She liked the weightlessness of the water, and how light it felt to not be able to feel the sandy bottom beneath her toes. She would fill her lungs with cold air and dive down into the gloom, and surface with stinging eyes.

 

The bay was wide, and cold, and bright, its pale sand held flush against the dark water by the seawall. In front of it, along the pier, the currachs rocked and creaked, swaying on the waves, tied down so that they didn’t float away.  Hung along the wall were the men’s nets, and beneath them stood their píce iasc, with barbed points to spear the giant toothless sharks that floated slowly in the shallows, their mouths open like caverns.

 

Behind the wall were the roundhouses – little round stone huts with fairies’ caps of thatched grass. They had to be stone, Rey knew, because the wind would tear them from the ground in the storms. It howled through the eaves at night like a banshee at her door, and rattled the currachs against the pier like beasts in the water.

 

Beyond the houses were the fields – onions grew there, and cabbages and parsnips – and the cows. The sheep roamed there, and the cows, and the fat snuffling pigs were fenced off in their dirty pen.

 

The village was so little – ten smoking roundhouses, dotted at odd lines with one another, as though they had been thrown up in a race against time -  that Rey could yank on her shoes and race around its circumference without losing her breath. The air was sharp and cold and burned the nose, but the thick stench of the fishnets burned worse, and the stink of the skinned sharks hanging beyond the houses burned ranker still.

 

Inside the houses was dark and smoky. There was a hearth in each one - a smaller cousin of the communal pit outside – but Rey didn’t light hers when she woke up. The hut felt oddly warm – summer-warm, she realised excitedly – and there was faint warm light filtering in through the hide door.

 

She stooped as she came out of her dark little hut in the lightest shift she owned, the hard thatch grazing the top of her head. She leaned on the stone, pulled on her shoes – salt-leather boots that kept her toes warm and her soles safe from jabbing stones – tied the leather thongs, and stood. The sun hadn’t risen yet, but the sky was pale and blue, promising precious heat, and the air was soft and good. There was a figure hunched at the firepit that twisted around to look at her when they heard footsteps on the pebbles.

 

“What are you doing?” she asked, though she could see. Finn was scraping two flints together, hunched over a handful of grass.

 

“Fire,” was all he said. His little dog was sat beside him, wiry and white and patched with russet. He bounded over to Rey when she clicked her tongue at him, jumping up on its hind legs to scrape at her knees and pant at her. She scratched him behind the ears, and said to Finn, "I'm going swimming today.”

 

 "Are you?” He had dug the old ashes out of the pit, Rey saw, and dumped them at the side. Next to them was a pile of cut logs. Rey had seen the other men chopping the summer wood, and had gone over afterwards to smell the fresh-cut wood. It was her favourite smell after the smell of roast meat, and the smell of the water.

 

 "After I eat."

 

 "The water will still be cold." Finn was stout and broad and brown-eyed, and he and Rey were friends. His tongue stuck out of the corner of his mouth in concentration as he scraped, scraped, scraped ... spark! Little orange specks of fire leapt from the flints to the tinder, and the brown grass caught flame. Finn blew on it frantically, putting his face close to the flames. Fascinated by the blowing, his dog yelped and made to investigate, but Rey held him back for fear that he’d stamp out the flames in his excitement, and cause Finn to have to start all over again.

 

Finn dumped more grass on top, and it was enveloped in flame. “Pass me a log, quick,” he exclaimed, between blows, and holding the dog back under one arm – it attacked her neck with its tongue – Rey hefted a thick log from the pile and put it into his outstretched hand. He put on more grass, watched it catch fire, and then waited until the first log had begun to smoulder before adding another. The dog slipped out from under Rey’s arm and went to lean against Finn’s side. He sat back on his haunches and sighed, turning to look at Rey.

 

“The water will always be cold.” She watched the dog, smiling. “But at least I won’t freeze when I come out of it. The sun will dry me.”

 

“I’m going spearing today,” Finn told her.

 

“Are you?”

 

“With the others. And… and Hux.”

 

Rey grimaced. Hux was loud and red-haired and pugnacious, but he was strong. The village needed Hux; he could heft a whole net of fish onto his back, and thrust his spear into a shark’s eye from a hundred yards. The rest of the men loved him, and they all carried on in their rough, loud way together, thinking they were the Fíanna.

 

Finn was strong, too, but he was quiet, and Hux would outshout anyone if he felt as though he wasn’t being held in high enough regard. He often teased her for having parents, for living alone, for not being married, and for waiting – Mamaí and Daidí aren’t coming back, Rey, you lump” – and got away with it, because no one would dare answer back.

 

Except for Rey – and Phasma.

 

Phasma would – and had – slapped Hux, more times than Rey could count. She was widowed, and her husband had hated Hux as well. He often gave Hux a nose to match his hair, and Rey was sure that Hux was pleased when Phasma’s husband had died. He didn’t expect Phasma to take her husband’s place. Rey and the others would watch in delight as the big blonde woman raised her hand and cracked a slap across Hux’s face with such force it sent him flying backwards onto his arse. Phasma made the decisions, to Hux’s disgust, and the village needed her, too. She owned thirty cows, and all of the pigs.

 

“Go, then. Don’t let Hux topple you in. He would, you know,” Rey added.

 

Finn had been thrown into by Hux before, Rey knew, ‘accidentally’, especially when there was a shark in the water. The big shallow-swimmers had no teeth and would barely bat an eye at anyone in the water, but their great open mouths looked like to swallow a man whole, and they would swim past with their jaws gaping, so close they could be touched. Hux had never been in the black water with a shark before. Rey wondered if he would be so quick to shove someone else in again if he were to face the beasts in the open water.

 

She pushed her brown braid back over her shoulder. Its tied end bumped against the small of her back.

 

“He’s a cunt.

 

“Try and shove him in today. See how he likes being swallowed up by a shark.”

 

“No, he’d kill me. Properly kill me.” Finn sighed and stood. “I’m starving.”

 

“You’re far from starving,” someone said. Phasma emerged from her hut, hauling a tray of food like she did every morning. Behind her, Rose followed, arms full of pots. Rey watched as Finn gazed at Rose, eyes going glassy.

 

The rest emerged when they smelled the food and heard Phasma calling; she spitted three fat hares, cut bread, and stood up and roared, “BIA! TAR AMACH, TÁ BIA ANSEO!” Rey had bread with butter and honey – a summer treat - scooped from the big jar with a spoon, and a hot haunch of rabbit. The older men ate together some ways away from the fire, and drank their vile mead, loud and stupid. Rey counted them; Dainín, Niall, Padraig, Bran, Peadar, Ciarán, Séan, Ruan, and foul Hux. Nine big, stupid idiots.

 

Rey hated mead; it was so much sweeter than honey, and made her stomach roil. She always told Phasma that she liked honey on bread, not in cups. She glared over at red Hux, slurping his mead as though it was water. Rey drank the summer ale instead, and ate her rabbit with her legs crossed beneath her. Rose sat beside her and Finn and Phasma. The rest of the women chatted amongst themselves, eyeing the men. Rey counted them, too; Neasa, Róisín, Siobhán, Sinéad, and Ailis, and their children. None of the children ate with their fathers. Rey wondered why. She was sure that she would, had she a father to begin with.

 

“Are you off out on the water today, Finn?” Phasma asked, horn cup halfway to her lips.

 

He nodded, mouth full of bread. Phasma sniffed. “He throws you in, and you ring his bell for him, do you hear me?”

 

Finn nodded again, eyes downcast. Rey watched him. He won’t, she thought, but Phasma will. Rey poked him with her foot and smiled encouragingly when he looked up. Finn’s dog pounced on Rose’s lap, tore her rabbit from her hand, and darted away towards the water. Finn gave Rose his leg of rabbit as an apology, and she went bright red, making Rey laugh, and making Rose go even redder.

 

Rey helped Phasma carry the pots back when they had broken their fast – Rose lingered at the firepit, trying to coax some semblance of conversation out of Finn – and raced down to the beach, tapping Finn on the top of his head as she passed him. The men were gathering their nets and their shark spears at the wall, and Rey tried to slip past without them seeing her.

 

“Hey, lump!” she heard a familiar voice leer as she went past the wall. “Still looking for Mamaí?

 

“Piss off, Hux,” she snapped, without looking. The men exploded in raucous jibes, spears rattling, as she descended the dune and went down towards the water.

 

“Check the water, Rey, they might be floating around somewhere.” They howled with laughter, shoving and slapping one another’s backs, as they filled the creaking currachs. Rey stopped at the water’s edge and sat, hugging her knees to her chest, until they were on the water. She dared look, and saw Finn in a currach with Peadar, rowing at the edge of the group. They exchanged a glance, and she raised her arm to wave goodbye. The waves were calm, and the weather was good, but her stomach clenched whenever any of the men went out on the water.

 

Except Hux. He can drown, or be swallowed up by a shark, or eaten by a water-horse for all I care.

 

When the currachs had disappeared around the headland, Rey took off her shift and waded in. Behind her, she heard one of the women shout, “Hón álainn, Rey!”, and it made her giggle. She turned around to make a rude gesture and saw them sitting together with their war-board, preparing a game. Phasma was leading one of the heifers down from the field, and the children were kicking a pig’s bladder about on the sand-grass.

 

Rey went deeper, ignoring how the icy water stung. Her pale body was all gooseflesh despite the warmth of the day, her nipples taut and red. She focused on her feet until she couldn’t see them, lost in the gloom, and stood still a moment, watching as the sun, rising now, began to paint the headland. She could feel it on her face and her shoulders, if she leaned back. The water was still bitterly cold. She just had to stand and bear it for a moment.

 

 The gulls shrieked overhead, and the water lapped at Rey’s skin. She could feel her braid floating in the water, pulled softly back and forth by the gentle waves. She brought it around her shoulders, sucked in a great breath of air so that her chest swelled, and pushed down into the salt.

 

The sound was so muffled in the grey-green gloom. She could still hear, faintly, the gulls screaming above, but the sound of the water, dragging and rolling and collapsing in on itself around, below, and above her blocked out everything else. Rey dragged her hands along the sandy bottom, fingering the slimy kelp. She pulled a piece out from its root, unleashing a cloud of sand into the already murky water. Her eyes stung even worse, then, from the sand, and she moved her hands about, trying to dispel it. She squeezed her eyes shut, cheeks bulging. It was nearly time to resurface.

 

Rey brought her feet down to the bottom, so as to push herself up like a dolphin. A strand of seaweed brushed her ankle, startling her, and her eyes snapped open in the stinging murk. She heard herself shriek, the sound almost quiet in the gloom, mouth opening to fill with salt.

 

There were eyes in the water; unmoving, and completely still.

 

Rey thrashed backwards away from it, screaming and choking. Her shrieks created bubbles, obscuring the space between her and … it. Naked, she kicked and struggled, desperately trying to find a foothold on the sand while trying to get away. An ancient kind of panic had come over her; a desperate panic as old as the world, the frantic, clawing panic of prey; of a deer, a seal, a rabbit – of Rey.

 

Her right foot found the sand, and she kicked down on it so hard that pain shot up her right leg. She flattened her hands scrabbled helplessly at nothing in the water, pushing desperately downwards. In her head, something screamed get out, out, out, out, OUT, OUT, OUT, OUT –

 

Her head broke the surface and she spewed water, still struggling. Gasping and sobbing, now, she tried desperately to bring herself back to the sand. She saw the women standing up, Phasma dropping whatever she had in her hands. She screamed, “CABHAIR LIOM!”, and Phasma started running.

 

                A cold hand wrapped around her ankle and pulled. She was still screaming when she went under again.

 

                Rey was facing the seafloor, but she kicked and kicked and kicked, bawling bubbles as her lungs filled. Another hand caught her other foot, and turned her over, spinning her in the sunless water so that she was facing the surface. Rey’s fists flew out, trying to grab something, anything, and she pulled herself upwards so that she was facing it.

 

 A strangled cry tore from her burning throat. Her kicking legs were throwing masses of sands between her and it, but she saw long, pale fingers wrapped around her ankles like iron shackles. Deathly-white shoulders. A cloud of dark hair -

 

Brown eyes were staring at her.

 

She could hear, somewhere, shouting, splashing, over her own drowning screams. The brown eyes flickered upwards.

 

REY! REEEYY!”

 

The eyes narrowed, the iron hands loosened, and it was gone. The splashing came closer, and warm hands hooked suddenly beneath her arms, and hauled her up. She broke the surface shrieking still.

 

“Rey! Rey!” She could hear the desperate cries of the other women. The cold air hit her, and she filled her lungs with it. Her eyes stung, and she couldn’t see. “REY!” Someone slapped her across the face. “Rey, it’s alright, you’re alright. Get her up, lift her up.” She felt herself being hauled up into the arms of someone strong – Phasma.

 

Spluttering, Rey gasped, “Phasma – Phasma – the – the- ”                                            

 

Phasma shook her. Rey blinked and coughed and blinked again. Phasma’s face became evident, eyes wide and frightened. “What happened? Rey, what happened?”

 

“There was a – a – a- ” Rey burst into tears. “A what?” Phasma exclaimed. They were walking, Rey realised. Phasma jostled her as she took long, frantic strides towards the sand.

 

“There was – there was something in there,” Rey howled, “there was something – someone in the water, there was someone in the water!”

 

They lay her on the wet sand. It was cold and coarse against her back, her rear, her thighs. The sun had risen. The women were shouting, prodding at her, sitting her up.

 

“There’s no one in the water, is there?”

 

“Get her dress, quickly!”

 

“She almost drowned!”

 

“Is she alright?”

 

“Get a sheet!”

 

She was wrapped in something warm and hefted up again. She opened her eyes, blinked, and fainted.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

                                                                                                                   Kylo in the water

 

Warning: I know I put a Violence tag up there, but this is violent. Fantasy violent, but still. Someone gets fucking eaten.

 

 

The waters here were getting warm under the sun. In the deep, it was grey and green, murky with sand and silt. Shoals of silvery fish lingered here, but shot away in a panic when they sensed he was near. The water turned jade when the sun shone, even at that depth, and turned his white skin gold. He often slept there, in a forest of kelp, the way he had when he was a foal.

 

                He wasn’t sleeping well. He was so hungry it hurt.

 

                He could smell them. He only wanted one, for now, though he would have taken them all if they came. He could smell their blood and their fat and their meat; it made him feel as though his throat had been torn out.

 

                It felt wrong to be in such pain in such a place. Itwas so still here, even this far north, leagues upon leagues away from the frigid grey islands of his birth, where the wind tore at his skin and the humans tasted of salt, screaming in lilted tongues. Here, the water was so cool, so sweet, it almost made him forget how hungry he was.

 

                But not quite.

 

                He was so hungry he had even had tried to eat a shark – brindle and huge and toothless - a month ago, or perhaps two. Maybe even three – he had lost count. He hadn’t even had to chase it; he simply came up alongside it, caught hold of its tail, and drowned it in their open air. The shark had been so foul - all pale, salty meat and white gristle – that he’d spat it all back up and kicked the creature off of the rock he’d pulled it onto in disgust. He sat and watched its torn carcass float for a moment, and then sink.

 

                Kylo had been here before, long ago, but he didn’t remember when. Since coming back, he had watched the village for a week or more. He had almost gotten one – almost. He had watched the men go into their boats first, so desperate he almost went after them. He could have glided silently alongside them, tipped one of the boats over, and stolen one away. Instead, he watched them leave, stomach rumbling. There were too many of them.

 

He smelled her before he saw her, hurrying down the sand, smelling of honey and dog and flowers. She had come into the water bare, and dove down deep like she was looking for the end. Stomach growling, he had tried to take her, but she saw him, and she fought. She had brown eyes, and long brown hair in a braid down her back, and her hips were round and pale.

 

                Humans never saw him in the water, in his sea-skin, with his great webbed hands and his scales and his mouth of snarling teeth. They never fought in the water either; they just screamed, soundless, wordless, until their lungs filled with water, and floated up towards the surface.

 

They saw him when he pushed out of his sea-skin and became a big, hulking beast, with hooves and great cavernous nostrils. Horses. The humans loved horses – he’d seen them, bartering a lifetime’s worth of cow and coin for just one of the creatures - and they would come to him, cooing, stroking his cheeks, his shoulders. Some hauled themselves onto his back. Their hands became welded, stuck, and they would pull and pull and pull, but it was always too late. He’d drag them down into the depths, and rip them open.

 

                The humans saw him when he was like them, too; he himself human, almost, with long pale limbs and thick dark hair to his shoulders. He had never properly seen himself. Reflections in water were never still, ever-moving. He didn’t know what colour his eyes were, and never would.

 

                He supposed they found his face appealing; it was easy to get tempt them to come closer in his man-skin. His man-voice was gentle. He would say the things he had heard them say to each other, though their tongue was different to his, and difficult to get his mouth around, all guttural snarls and long vowels. The women would blush, eyes darting all over him. Even the men went red despite themselves, and stepped closer, eyes shimmering, tongues darting out to wet dry lips. To take them, man or woman, wasn't so easy in his man-skin; he was big and broad and towered over them, but they fought him, the women especially. They clawed at his face and pulled so hard on his hair he was sure they were like to rip it out. He dragged them all to the shallows, just below the surface, and held them there until they stopped struggling. If he was angry, he’d maul them. It was messy, and dangerous. Anyone could see in the shallows.

 

                The girl had seen. She had seen, and he'd caught her by the ankles and dragged. The girl had kicked and swam the other way and shrieked like the ban sidhe, splashing enough that the others came running. He had to let go, and twisted in the water so that he could reach the depths, and wait again. When the big one came to carry the girl, he rose to the surface, nose and mouth beneath the water, and watched. She looked dead, head lolling, but he could smell the life in her; loud and golden, like the sun.

 

                                                                         --------------------------------------

 

                He lay on the rocks past the headland, on top of the cove where he slept during storms, where all he could see for miles was the grey water, and dozed in the sun. The rocks were shale, smooth and warm under his back. He had been lying there for long enough that his hair was dry, and his skin was salt-soft, when he smelled them.

 

                He jolted awake, eyes flying open.

 

                Men.

 

                Kylo heard them before he saw them, laughing and joking above the creaking of their little boats. He shot into the water before they appeared around the edge of the rocks, and watched them from below as he willed his gills open. He inhaled, and the water filled his lungs, cold and sweet. One, two, three, four. Four boats for … He inhaled again. Nine.

 

                Nine chances to make the twisting hunger go away. Kylo went closer.

 

                They smelled of fire and meat and fish. Their nets were full. He went closer again, then closer still, so close he could have reached up and shoved, and the boat would have capsized. He could reach out and grab an ankle and -

 

                He could hear them. “That Phasma bitch’ll get what’s coming to her,” one said, voice deadened by the water, “that stupid cunt. Next time she touches me, I’ll break her hands.” That one smelled of anger. He had smelled him in the village. The men had been gone for almost a day.

 

                “Phasma’s not so bad,” another said hesitantly. That one smelled of fear. An oar pierced the water in front of him suddenly, missing his nose by inches. Startled, Kylo jerked backwards, clipping the hull with his foot.

 

                They cursed. “What was that?” Their oars clattered to the bottom, and the boat above Kylo creaked and dipped downwards as one of its passengers stood up. He allowed himself to sink lower, keeping his eyes on them, willing them to fall in. The other boats stopped, and they dipped, too.

 

                They were all standing. His mouth was tingling. Fall in. Just one. Fall in. He was so hungry he was envisioning it; a weak, helpless land-man plunging into the sea, so easily seized and pulled down and eaten

 

                “Fuck off, Hux, I mean it.” One of the boats rocked dangerously. Kylo tensed, eyes wide. Please.

 

                There was laughter. “What are you afraid of, soft boy? There aren’t any sharks.” He snorted. “None that you can see, anyway.” The shadow of someone else in the next boat leaned forwards.

 

                “I mean it, Hux,” the other snapped, louder now. The men jeered loudly, and the little boat tilted even further. The kelpie’s pupils dilated so widely they eclipsed the brown. A shoal of silvery fish emerged from the gloom, and turned back in panic when they saw him.

 

                “What are you going to do, Finn, eh? Tell on me to Phasma? God knows you’ve been suckling at her tit for long enough.” Someone leaned across between the two boats and the first one shook again. “Go on, take a dip. I reckon the water’s warm enough.”

 

                “Tip me in that water and I’ll ring your bell for you,” the first one snarled. Kylo came closer once more. He could almost taste it. One missed step, one moment of unbalance -

 

                “There it is again!” someone exclaimed, as he passed beneath a canoe on the far side.

 

                Something else pierced the water behind him. He twisted, and blanched when a glint of metal caught his eye. Then another, and another, and another. Kylo squinted, and then took a sharp gulp of water. Spears. The barbed iron flashed wickedly, shining, teasing, mocking, as they jabbed their spears into the water.

 

“Seal?” one of the men suggested, voice dulling as Kylo pulled away, dodging narrowly the edge of a barb as it passed by his leg on the way down.

 

“Probably smelled the fish. Come on, let’s get back. I’m hungry,” the one that stank red with anger, with tenacity, announced.

 

Hungry?

 

Kylo let out a hiss of frustration, bubbles rising to the surface. His fists stung, aching to hit something. He couldn’t, though; he was suspended in open water, his gills opening and closing in raging breaths. The men replaced their spears with oars, and began to row again. The canoes started to move once more.

 

He closed his eyes for a moment and let his gills work the cool water in and out of his lungs, trying to settle the fury boiling in his chest. He would go back, he decided, to the little village past the headland, and wait. He twisted in the water and brought himself to the surface.

 

Kylo would go back, and he would have one of them. He didn’t care which.

 

He stayed at the cove – he ate two crabs, tearing their shells from their flesh - until the sun moved halfway across the sky, until he was sure the men had passed the headland, and followed their scent back to the inlet. The water was sweet in the bay, but still smelled of the girl’s screeching fear. It made his stomach growl obnoxiously. Smoke was rising from their fire. For one bizarre moment, Kylo wanted to go and look at it. He hadn’t seen fire since – since -

 

He shook the thought from his head and dared to go closer, even going as far as the shale outcrop by the stone pier. He lingered there for a moment, counting the canoes. One, two, three, four. They were moored and creaking. Kylo’s eyes found the seawall, up against which were propped the barbed spears. He made a low sound above the water, and went under, following the lines of the shale until he could see the hulls of the canoes once more. Behind them, he waited, entirely submerged save for his eyes, to watch the houses. There were women there, playing with children, sitting in little groups on the sand-grass. The men were there, too, sparring with sticks and poking at a fire. Kylo recognised the big woman, the blonde, the one that had come and carried the girl away, sitting outside of one of the stone huts with a basket between her legs, attacking turnips with a knife.

 

The girl wasn’t there. Kylo lifted his head and sniffed the air. He couldn’t smell her. Perhaps she was dead. He didn’t care.

 

The sky was dark and cast over with stars when one finally – finally – emerged alone. Kylo watched a figure come past the dunes, dragging a net. He sniffed. It was the angry one, the one that had almost tipped the canoe. Hux. His hair was as red as hellfire.

 

Kylo swam silently beneath the pier and towards the sand, not a hundred yards from where the red man was standing.

 

The rest were tucked away, safe in their huts. Kylo could hear them, murmuring to each other, laughing, drinking. The water level dropped, and dropped, and dropped, until he was bare to the air, knee-deep in salt.

 

He stepped out of the water and onto the sand, coarse and wet. The air bit at him, at his long bare limbs. It felt odd to walk after days of weightlessness. He had to take a moment to steady himself, so as not to stumble on legs unused to land. His man-skin was tall and wide, and cast a vague moonshadow in the dim light. Kylo flexed his hands to outstretch long fingers. He kept his eyes on Hux.

 

The red man was folding his net in half, and flinging it over the seawall to hang with the rest, his back to Kylo. Kylo began to walk. He took long, silent strides, the waves breaking ever-so-gently behind him. The smell was getting stronger, closer. His stomach snarled. The sand was drier the further up the beach he went, shifting cold and silky beneath his feet. It was an odd feeling; the muscles in his legs tautened and released, his feet the same as they bore his great bulk. He tended to forget, often, how big he was.

 

The thought made him smile as he came, silently, to the seawall, and cut off Hux’s surprised cry with a big hand around his throat. The fishing net fell to the pier, and then over into the water. The man’s skin was warm, and his throat pulsed, thick with blood. Hux choked, clawing silently at Kylo’s arm, eyes bulging.

 

The beast shushed him. “Don’t be afraid,” he murmured, sickly sweet, dark eyes burning into Hux’s blue. He didn’t loosen his hold. Hux’s hand left his arm and reached towards the wall, towards the spears. Kylo kicked them across the pier out of Hux’s reach, and thrust him so hard against the stone he gurgled even in the chokehold.

 

Hux wasn’t hard to pull across the sand, or drag into the water’s edge. His solid bulk left a great gouged rut in the sand, a sidhe path to Hux’s fate. Kylo’s feet sank into the sand under both his weight and Hux’s. Kylo grunted, hauling him forwards. Hux was half-conscious, dribbling, but gasped like a newborn when Kylo threw him, headfirst, into the shallow water, back arching up from the cold shock. He didn’t have the chance to take a second breath.

 

Kylo was too hungry to pull him completely under, too desperate. He was up to his waist and Hux was howling bubbles. It was so dark there, in the shallows in the night, that the wretch could not rightly see as Kylo’s jaw unhinged and blunt human teeth became yellow serrations jutting over black lips, as scales spread across his arms and his legs in coal and silver and teal, the colours of the seabed. He tore Hux’s linen aside and tore out his throat.

 

The taste of iron and fat and offal filled his mouth, though the fated wretch was still howling soundlessly somehow, lungs overflowing with water and with blood. He did not stop eating, using both jaws and hands to tear chunks from Hux. He could taste material; something dry and inedible and offensive to his tongue, torn and shoved into his mouth along with the flesh.

 

He was peaceably numb. Each movement was slowed, like a dream. The meat settled in his stomach, hot and bloody, but it growled with hunger still. He let his body do it for him.

 

He reached bone, wrenched it out of the flesh, and lifted it to his mouth to break it. He chewed, watching the wretch, now motionless and full of salt. There was blood all around him now; a murky red cloud bloomed about his waist, carrying stray shreds of sinew with it. He listened to the pleasant cracks as the pearly bone gave way beneath his teeth, revealing the marrow. He didn't know what colour the marrow was; he had never waited long enough to look, and even his strong eyes struggled in the night.

 

Kylo didn’t know how long he stayed there, tearing Hux to pieces, but eventually – finally – it seemed to be over. His body let him stop when it was unclear as to which part of the carcass was which. He was covered in blood, stained black-red from his chin to his stomach, hair matted crimson, his hands so ruined with it he looked as though he was wearing gloves.

 

He pulled himself onto the sand and collapsed. He was full for the first time in what felt like one hundred years. His eyelids were so heavy. He was vaguely aware of the waves pushing what could have been Hux’s ribcage up into the sand beside him, his half-ruined skull.

 

Kylo wanted to stay, and sleep, but he knew that he couldn’t. He could barely lift his head up off of the sand, and thought, perhaps, he was dreaming when he heard light footsteps in the sand, and screaming, and –

 

                The girl.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

 

Rey had fainted in Phasma’s arms, and was shaken awake and force-fed a cup of hot beer before being put to bed, swaddled in furs. Her dreams were black and wild, and though she only dreamt of brown eyes and big, pale hands, she awoke gasping for air, drenched in icy sweat, as though she was drowning again. Her head ached for lack of water.

 

                Finn sat on the floor beside her cot, waiting. When her eyes snapped open again, she saw that he had lit a fire in the hearth. The hut was warm, though she still shivered under the furs. “Rey,” he exclaimed.

 

                “What-” She felt as though she had been asleep for a thousand years. “How long have I been here?”

 

                “Two days. Are you alright?”

 

                Two days? She couldn’t hear the faint shrieks of seagulls through the stone, the delighted giggles of the children on the sand. “Is it night?”

 

                He nodded, hesitating with a cup in his hand, “What happened to you?”

 

                “I’m – I’m …” Someone was in the water. “There was -” Someone had dressed her in an unbelted shift, she realised, tugging at the neckline. Someone else had loosened and brushed her hair.

 

                “Here.” He pushed a cup at her, and instead of necking it down as she always would, she sipped at it. “Tell me, Rey.”

               

                Rey stilled, eyes stinging.

 

                “What, Rey?” His voice was soft, but it was as though he was shouting. Her eyes welled up, clouding her sight.

 

                She whispered, “There was someone in the water, Finn.”

 

He went quiet. Great fat tears began to slide down Rey’s cheeks. She forced herself to look at the fire, trying to burn the brown eyes from her mind. Finn sighed, brow furrowing. “Rey …”

 

                “There was, Finn,” she said through her teeth. The room was smoky, and dim, though the fire was growing. He took the cup from her when she thrust it at him.

 

                “Phasma said you got caught in the currents and nearly drowned. I think that’s what happened, Rey. I think you’re in shock. You just need to rest.”

 

                “I don’t want to rest,” Rey told him, crying freely now. “Why don’t you believe me? You won’t even listen.” Her nose was going to get snotty, and her cheeks were burning pink, but she didn’t care. She propped herself up on her elbows. “There was someone in the water. I saw them. I saw eyes in the water, Finn, and when I tried to get away they – it - something grabbed me by the ankles and pulled me in. If Phasma hadn’t been there, it would have drowned me.”

 

                “It,” Finn repeated. His dark eyes were very serious, his sloped shoulders hunched as he bent his head to look her in the eyes. “What was it?”

 

                Rey shook her head, sniffling. “It had hands, and hair, and – and brown eyes; brown eyes just like you’d see on anyone. I don’t know what else it could have been.”

 

                “Maybe it was seaweed,” he suggested unhelpfully, “maybe your ankle got caught in seaweed, and you panicked, and -”

 

                “Something grabbed me.” Rey’s voice went high and angry, very suddenly. The tears felt as though they were boiling on her skin. “Something pulled me under the water. I can swim, Finn. You know that. I’m the best swimmer out of everyone, even Hux. I know the difference between a bit of kelp and a fucking hand, Finn!”

 

 He looked at her, wounded. “I know you’ve had a fright, but that doesn’t mean you have to shout at me.”

 

Rey gazed at him, and then slumped, defeated. Satisfied, perhaps, that she wouldn’t continue to pester him, Finn twisted on the stool to reach the pitcher behind him, to fill her cup with water again, though it was still half full.

 

Rey wiped her eyes roughly and pulled aside the furs to stretch her legs out properly. Her muscles were tender from the frantic kicking, the struggling. She kicked off the thick layers, and froze. When Finn turned back, the horn cups clattered to the floor, spreading water across the stone, like an ocean all of Rey’s own.

 

Her ankles were black with bruises. There were four vivid dark stripes up each ankle – the fingers, Rey realised in horror – the colour of split berries, violet-coal-and-blue. It looked as though she had painted herself in soot. She flexed her toes despite herself, so afraid she could move nothing else.

 

“I’m getting Phasma,” Finn gasped, clambering to his feet, but Rey reached out and grabbed his wrists as hard as whatever it was had taken hold of her ankles in the water.

 

Don’t,” she hissed, “don’t, you can’t.” She struggled to get up, slapping away Finn’s hands when he tried to stop her. “Get me my boots.”

 

He gave them to her, reluctant, but protested, “We have to tell Phasma, Rey, and she’ll send Hux out after whatever it was.”

 

“No.” She pulled on the boots and laced them firmly about the bottom of her calves, hiding the purple. “You say a word to Phasma or Hux or anyone, and I’ll never speak to you again, Finn.”

 

“Rey-”

 

Gan fhocail!”

 

She could hear Finn’s little dog barking outside, curious at the commotion. “Why?”

 

Grunting, she stood, and then leaned against the wall as her head reeled. She squeezed her eyes shut and waited for the world to stop spinning. “Rey, what are you going to do?” she heard Finn ask. “Rey!”

 

She turned to face him. “Are you coming with me or not?”

 

Where? Rey, what are you doing?”

 

Rey ducked out of the doorway, stepping in the water Finn had spilled, and out into the night. Finn followed, and the little dog yelped and bounded after them. Rey heard him hissing at it to shut up.

 

The village was very still, and quiet. The sky was lit by the moon, black and cast over with stars, and the salty air moved gently, slowly, across Rey’s face, and through her hair. “Rey,” Finn growled under his breath.

 

“Come on.” They went across the sand-grass towards the wall, taking care not to lose their footing and tumble down the dunes in the dark. The coarse grass scraped and poked her legs under her shift, loose pockets of sand almost giving way beneath her feet. Finn went ahead of her when they came to the wall, squinting in the dark. The waves lapped gently against the pier. Finn’s dog pissed against the wall.

 

“What’s that?” Finn went towards the pier’s edge, squinting into the water. There was something floating there, vague and unknown in the night. Her heart began to hammer. Rey could see the shark-spears, strewn across the pier instead of stood carefully against the wall. She seized one, and gave one to Finn. He angled it into the water, gripping the end tightly, and hooked the barb underneath something.

 

“Is that … a net?”

 

                Finn dragged it up onto the pier. It was soaked and heavy, but empty. Rey saw him raise his head and look over at the wall, counting under his breath. “Haon, dó, trí, ceathair, cúig, sé, seacht, ocht …” He looked at Rey, then, confused. “This is Hux’s net.”

 

                “Why was it in the water?”

 

                Finn pulled the net to the wall. Rey helped him; she hooked her hands around the wet twine and helped him throw it up over edge to dry. “We should go back now,” he said uneasily, shooing his dog away as it tried to gnaw on the hanging nets.

 

                Rey hefted the shark-spear from her right hand, to her left, and then back to her right again. “No.”

 

                “What are you going to do?”

 

                “I’m going to go down to the water, and – and- ”

 

                “And what?” Finn hissed, catching her by the arm as she tried to go past him. “Go looking for whatever – whatever did that to you? If it did that to do you in broad daylight, with people there, imagine what it will do to us with no one else around. We have to tell Phasma, Rey.” He spoke as though he didn’t quite believe what was coming out of his mouth.

 

                Rey pulled her arm out of his grip and pointed the spear at Finn’s face. It trembled in her hand. He stared at its barbed point, inches from his nose. “Keep your voice down,” she said lowly, “do you understand?”

 

                He nodded.

 

                “We’re going to go down to the water. Do you understand?” she repeated.

 

                He nodded again, but didn’t take his eyes off of the blade. “Rey,” he said weakly.

 

                Rey pulled it away from him, and crossed the pier to the sand. She heard him curse, and fall into step beside her, far more wary than she. The dog ran ahead, yipping, and suddenly tumbled headfirst into the sand.

 

                There was a rut in the sand, as though someone had dug a path, that disappeared into the tide. The dog had tripped over it. It stood and shook itself, covering Finn and Rey in sand, and kept running. Rey faltered, but didn’t pause, though Finn hesitated again, gripping his shark-spear. She whipped around. “Come on, Finn!” Rey exclaimed, voice louder now that they were away from the huts. He was looking at something behind her, bewildered, his brown knit in a frown.

               

                She followed his gaze to the almost indiscernible shape of something motionless in the tide. The water came up around it, and then retreated, and then came back.

 

                “What is it?” Finn whispered.

 

                Rey didn’t move. The dog raced ahead, straight towards the thing in the tide. Finn went after it, crying out, “No, don’t!” She felt the tide touch her boots. The water was black jet, its foam grey, and though she had loved the sea since she was a girl, something made it feel like a threat. She could feel the hairs on the back of her neck standing up, hackles rising like a dog. There was an odd humming, she thought, behind her ears.

 

                Something was there. She could feel it.

 

                “Finn,” she called urgently, now the one calling him, “Finn, come-”

 

                She trailed off when she saw him stagger backwards. “Finn?” She watched him as he retched, and was sick on the sand. “Finn!” The dog was snarling, grizzling, pulling at whatever it was in the tide. She came closer, steps light and hesitant, and heard herself shriek.

 

                The moonlight cast it black and red, the torn mess of tendons and broken bones and ripped tissue, bloody against the tide. Every time the water retreated, it brought with it a bold streak of blood, staining the dark sand darker. Half a mangled face remained, its hair matted with blood, its single remaining blue eye staring up at the sky.

 

                The dog stopped pulling, and tore the eye from its socket in its quest to chew at the bone. The eye bounced and split on the sand like a rotten egg. The water Rey had drunk came rushing up again as bile, burning her throat like salt, and splattered across the sand. “It’s Hux,” Finn sobbed, “oh, God, it’s Hux.” He vomited again, falling to his knees.

 

                Rey could feel her heart hammering, her head spinning. “How – how …” She turned her head to look blearily at the water. “It’s there,” she wept, “whatever it is, Finn – it – it – it-“ Rey seized the shark-spear and got to her feet, crying great racking sobs. She smacked the water with the blade of the spear.

 

                “Come out!” she screamed. “COME OUT!” Snot dribbled from her nose, and her throat burned ever more from the acid of her own stomach.

 

She began to wade into the water. Finn cried, “Don’t!” but she could barely hear him. The humming grew louder. The water went past her knees, then her hips. “Rey!” There was true agony in his voice. Rey thrust the spear into the water, mindless; once, twice, a third time, shuddering with heaving sobs. With her free hand she beat the waves, smashing her fist into like a madman, soaking herself.

 

Frightened, weak, she heard Finn call hoarsely, “Rey.” The humming stopped,

 

The waves pulled softly at her, making her gently sway. Panting, weeping, she let her arms fall to her sides, still gripping the shark spear.

 

“What are we going to do?” Her voice was barely more than a whisper. She turned to look at him, the water sloshing about her hips. He was on all fours, still retching, huffing, crying. The dog was still tearing at the corpse. It didn’t feel real.

 

Finn lifted his head to look at her, face grey in the moonlight, chest heaving. “Rey-“ he choked, and something hit her so hard between the shoulders it sent her sprawling face-first into the wet sand with a slap. She heard Finn shout in terror, his little dog barking. The sand was coarse and wet on her face, pain exploding across her back and through her chest. Her ears hummed louder than ever before.

 

Something bayed behind her, like a hound having its neck broken.    

Chapter Text

 

 

 

The Beast

 

               Kylo could have killed her there and then. He could have broken every bone in her body. He could have pulled her – and the one with her – into the deep with him and mangled them until they were nothing but red in the water.

 

                But he couldn’t. His eyes were heavy, and his body ached with fatigue.

 

                Her screams had awoken him as he lay, descending rapidly into dark, silent slumber, in the kelp, his limbs buried in the sand to keep him still. It was so warm, so quiet, soothed by the rolling of the water, and the girl’s shrieking pierced his veil of dormancy.

 

                “COME OUT!” he had heard, dulled by the water, “COME OUT!” He opened his eyes in the blackness, and turned his head in the direction of the noise.

 

                She knew, somehow, that he was there. Kylo’s ears began to hum, making his bleary vison blearier still. He very nearly closed his eyes and let himself fall back into deep repose, but there came a sudden sting of sharp iron in the water. Spear. Kylo jolted upwards, pulling his heavy limbs out of the sand. If she came close enough, if she found him, his body would not be fit to evade her.

 

                The girl beat the water with her fists, with the blade. The thrashing rang hard in his ears; they hummed. The rank stench of terror and stomach bile attacked Kylo’s nose. There was a new smell there – someone oddly familiar, someone frightened. Kylo dug his hands into the kelp and tried to drag himself upwards, huffing with the effort, gills aching.

 

                The closer he got, the louder the humming grew, until his head felt as though it was full of raging wasps. He tried to shake it from his head, but it grew louder still. Each motion made his muscles ache, his head pound.

 

                His body screamed in protest when he reached her, hidden still, just below the inky surface. She wasn’t bare this time; her white feet were laced up in boots, and her dress floated in the murk. The thrashing stopped, and he heard her sob something incoherent; the humming drowned out her words. She twisted, her boots stirring up the sand.

 

                In one last burst of exertion, Kylo pushed his shoulders out of the water, inhaling sharply at the night air on his skin. The air in his gills fought with the air in his lungs, two airways struggling to breathe. Even so, Kylo did not will them closed. Tonight, she would look on his face.

 

                He stood, dripping water, willing his legs to keep him upright.

 

                The other one – a boy, as green as grass – sucked in his breath. “Rey-“

 

Kylo didn’t give her a chance to turn. He thrust her forwards so that she hit the sand. The wasps droned, frenzied, striking off each inch of his skull.

               

                The boy cried out, and went for his spear. Kylo rucked out a snarl from deep in his chest and warned him, “Don’t be brave.”

 

                At his words, the boy made a weak noise, eyes as wide and as round as eggs. He lifted his blade even so, trembling, angling it up over his shoulder the way Kylo had seen the men do in their rickety little canoes.

 

                He wants to be brave. Exhausted as he was, the green boy’s pitiful determination made the Kylo smile.

 

               Panting, Kylo closed the space between them in three long strides. He wrapped his hand around the boy’s soft green throat, lifting him clean off of the ground so that he choked for breath. The foul spear hit the sand with a muted thud. The boy scrabbled at the hand around his neck, the way Hux had, the way they all did. He remembered him then, suddenly; the one that had almost fallen. Another one that got away.

 

                Kylo’s arm ached with the weight of the boy. His knees felt close to giving, his head close to exploding.

 

               “Finn!”

 

               Pain pierced his side - something cold thrust deep into his hot blood -  so sharp and so icy that he dropped the green boy and buckled. He hit the sand with such force that it knocked the breath from his struggling lungs, scraping his skin. The wasps raged, humming, stinging, beating their wings harder than ever before.

 

              He smelled the girl again, in the dark.

Chapter Text

 

(Credit: Tumblr: @artllama. Amazing)

The Girl

 

Beyond the field of snuffling pale pigs and precious cows sat the forest, thick and green and as old as the sky. Through it lay an Bhearú, the river of Berbha, and alongside it the sole-beaten path leading to the house of God, squat and stony in the meadow at the woodland’s edge.

 

                Every seven days, ar Dé Domhnach, the Sabbath, the villagers would pack bread and walk three miles through the woods to pray. The women would pause along the river and throw flowers, praying to Cliodna for good men at their sides and for children in their bellies. The men tossed pebbles and slag iron, and prayed to the Morrigan for strength and for wealth.

 

                Rey prayed to both, throwing daisies and rocks in both hands.

 

                None of the villagers ever told the little priest at the chapel about praying to the old gods. Father Tomás was small and balding with kind blue eyes, shorter than even Rose, and sat with sinners on the chapel’s tiny garden wall. “It’s no good confessing your sins in a little dark room,” he always said, “because they’re trapped in there with you. Better to repent in the open air, and then your soul will be clean.”

 

Rey wondered if her soul was clean. Thou shalt not kill, the Ten Commandments ruled. It was a sin to kill, to harm, to maim, but Rey had seen animals butchered, sharks harpooned and skinned, rabbits struck with arrows and roasted over flames. It was a sin, she supposed, to kill one’s own kind.

 

When she lifted her head from the sand, her back burning, she could see Finn’s legs, kicking like a hanged man – suffocating. What held him there was not, she knew, her own kind.

 

Its form was monstrous. It breached six and a half feet, she was sure, far bigger than Hux was – had been – thick muscle standing out boldly beneath death-white skin. It had long, powerful limbs, starkly bare under the light of the moon, covered with dark, ugly scales. Finn choked and clawed like a drowning rat, held up off the ground as though he weighed no more than a child.

 

Its white flesh offered no resistance as she gashed it with the pike above its hip. Finn hit the ground, sobbing, and the beast’s back bowed. Its knees buckled, and it fell forwards. The beast didn’t cry out or howl in pain. It clenched its jaw, pressed its forehead to the sand, and pushed itself onto its side. There were, she saw in horror, gills, stark and moving, on its thick pale throat. Blood – black in the night – began to pool beneath it, soaking the sand.

 

Clutching his throat, Finn cried a hoarse cry as Rey lifted the spear above her and brought it down hard, intending to shove it through the beast’s heart. A big, pale hand shot out and grasped the pike, stopping her short. It had its great paw wrapped around the ash handle, just above the blade, and Rey watched its white knuckles turn whiter still. The wood cracked and splintered.

                She dropped the ruined spear and staggered back, waiting for it to lurch up and seize her.

                It let its head fall back onto the sand, and … sighed. Its great dark eyes closed, and it went still.

                They watched it for a long time, shaking. It did not move. Finn got unsteadily to his hands and knees. “Is it … dead?” he whispered. His pike lay on the ground beside him. She held her hand out for it, and reluctantly, he pressed the handle into her palm. Rey, very carefully, prodded the beast’s chest with the blunt end of Finn’s spear. Black eyes snapped open.

 

                The beast snarled at her, jaw unhinging. Its lips pulled back over foul, jagged teeth, breath cold and rank like rotten seaweed. She pulled back from it, heels sinking into the sand.

               

                Rey remembered a picture from the illuminated bible in the sacristy at the chapel beyond the woods. Father Tomás had been given it, he said, by a monk from across the sea, from Iona. It was set upon the bookstand in the sacristy, and the little priest had allowed all of the children in to look at it after the adults had said their prayers. Its pages were painted with dragons and saints and maidens, in colours that Rey had never seen before. The priest’s acolyte, Aodh, had told her the names; crimson, titian, sienna, viridian, cerulean, fuchsia. There was even gold and silver, real pieces of its, laid thinly on the calfskin pages with a miniscule brush made from the tail of a pine marten.

 

                There were spare pages, Aodh said, and so whoever illustrated the book had filled them with pictures of animals, and wrote about them alongside the vibrant colours. There were monsters amongst the birds and the wolves; monsters that came from dark waters, with teeth like knives.

 

                Rey pulled the spear back before the beast could break that one, too. It hissed like a cat, watching through half-lidded eyes as she angled the blade at it. There was something wrong with it, something other than the wound. Its eyes kept closing, its limbs were limp, its breathing slow and laboured.

 

                “What are you?” Her voice was scratchy, forced.

 

                In front of them, the tide was coming in. It drew itself further and further up the beach with every soft wave. The moon shone ever-strong. Finn’s face was grey in its light.

 

                “Are you dying?” she whispered. It made a low, harsh sound, huffing it up from deep in its chest. It took her a moment to realise that it was laughing at her.

 

                “Not dying,” the beast rasped, “just tired.”

 

                Hearing it speak made her want to run. Its voice was so human – deep and throaty, like a man’s – and yet its face, its form, was so foul, so wrong. She forced herself to stay where she was, crouching, blade angled at its throat.

 

                “Tired,” she repeated. Her head spun.

 

                Finn insisted, “We need to kill it.” He tried to snatch the spear from Rey’s hand, but she jabbed him in the belly with the butt of it. It caught him off-balance, and he fell on his arse with an oof!

 

                Rey stayed crouched, watching. It took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, wide chest rising and falling. The humming began again.

“Finn,” she said, “I think it’s … I think it is tired.”

 

“Then kill it,” he exclaimed, sitting up, holding his stomach. “You saw what it did to Hux, Rey, it ate him-“

 

Rey shifted so that she was kneeling, the coarse grains scraping her knees beneath her wet shift. “You were in the water.” When it didn’t respond, she prodded it hard with the butt of the pike. It hissed again, air tearing through its teeth. “You tried to drown me-“

 

“But you squealed like a pig until someone came to drag you out,” it wheezed. “And then you came back to squeal again, and woke me.”

 

They stared at it. “Woke you?” Finn deadpanned.

 

The beast lifted a long arm to point towards the water. “In there.” Its voice was no more than a hoarse breath. “I was asleep.”

 

She looked at Finn. His lower lip quivered as he watched the beast, rubbing his throat. “Leave me,” it told Rey. “I need to sleep.”

 

“Here?” She rolled the spear in her hands.

 

It opened one eye and gave her a venomous look. “I’d move if I could.”

 

“The others will see you. They’ll see what you did. They have pikes, too, they’ll spear you like a shark,” Rey threatened, voice trembling.

 

“The tide is coming in,” it wheezed. “It’ll cover me soon.”

 

No,” Finn protested. “You’re not staying here. You can fuck off back to whatever hell-hole you crawled out of.” He looked at Rey desperately, eyes flickering between her and the spear. She gripped it tight, lest he try to snatch it again.

 

It had torn Hux to shreds, Rey knew. She had screamed and been ill, but only for the sight of the mutilated remains, the smell of death. She was frightened of it, but it could barely move. It was weak. It was at her mercy.

 

“We have to move it,” she heard herself say. Her ears hummed.

 

What?”

 

“We can’t leave it here, like you said.”

 

Finn spluttered, unable to find the words. “Get the currach,” she told him, “bring it here, into the water.”

 

“Why won’t you just kill it?” Finn cried.

 

I don’t know. What are we supposed to do with a dead one?” she snapped.

 

“I don’t care,” he bit back, “burn it, throw it into the sea-“

 

“-and make a fire, and have everyone else come out to warm their fucking fingers on it? Is that it? Or suppose it washes up tomorrow, or the day after? What then?” She saw him falter. They glared at one another for a long time, and Rey set her jaw, jutting out her chin, refusing to break gaze with him. Finn cursed at her – “aiteann!” – and went. She watched him shoo his little dog back to the roundhouses, casting pebbles at it when it hesitated.

 

It was as though it was dead, Rey thought. They dragged and pulled it across the sand into the water, each taking a long, cold arm, though it was so heavy their feet sank into the ground. The scales were coarse and spiny beneath Rey’s hand as she gripped its thick wrist in one hand and held the spear in the other.

 

The currach groaned with the weight of it, sinking below its hull. Finn strained at the oars, grunting, pushing and pulling so hard that Rey, sitting at the bow of the little boat, was sure they would break in the water.

 

She watched its chest as Finn pulled them through the water. It moved, but its breaths were shallow. Rey was cold in her shift, fingers numb.

 

As they passed the towering headland, with its dark caves that had lain half-submerged since the birth of the world, it jolted awake with a gasp, making both Rey and Finn cry out in shock. Its chest began to heave. “Here,” it breathed. A pale hand gripped the side of the currach.

 

Finn slowed, trying to conceal the terror in his face. The little boat rocked gently in the dark water. In the caves, the lapping of the sea echoed and bounced. Rey flexed her fingers around the spear, and watched it as it pulled itself over the side and disappeared into the murk, splashing them with salt.

 

Finn stared at her, shaking. She opened her mouth to say something, but found that she couldn’t speak. The little boat creaked and swayed.

 

The humming in her ears died.

Chapter Text

 

                Finn didn’t speak to her as he rowed the little creaking currach back around the headland. It was almost dawn, violet sky streaked with salmon. Gulls were beginning to cry.

 

Rey didn’t speak either, pulling her knees up against her chest.

 

The others found Hux not long after they had returned, moored the currach, and disappeared into their huts. Rey could hear the women screaming, the men shouting, trying to keep the children off of the sands.

 

They buried what was left of him, wrapped in linens, past the cows and the pigs and up the grassy hill, where Rey often saw young foxes playing, rolling and tumbling in the grass. Phasma’s husband was buried there, too, beneath the great oak where they had wed, long before Rey was born.

 

Niall and Ruan dug the grave under the early morning sun, faces greyly solemn. Rey knew that it was less in mourning for Hux and more in fear of the months to come. She knew that the others were fearful, too. Summer would end, and winter stores would deplete. Rey felt something heavy settle low in her stomach and a chill come over her, despite the warmth of the day.

 

Hux’s grave was smaller than a child’s, barely a foot deep, and was marked by a hunk of sparkling granite so heavy the men could scarcely move it. They puffed and strained, dragging it through the grass with a sheet tucked under its middle. Rey saw Phasma close her eyes at the grim sight. Salted meat and hard bread would only last for so long.

 

Father Tómas, sent for by long-legged Padraig, who had raced down the forest path to the chapel, gave the last prayers. Rey bowed her head and clasped her hands as Niall put the blood-soaked linen down into the hole. “Requiem aeternam dona eis, Domine,” the little priest said, shaking holy water from a skin about his waist.

 

Et lux perpetua luceat eis,” the villagers murmured in unison. She saw Finn, hands clasped, his lips unmoving.

 

                “Fidelium animae, per misericordiam Dei, requiescant in pace.” Bees flew around them, alighting on the daisies, the buttercups. “Sileamus putant amissum fratrem nostrum.”

 

                They were silent for a moment, but the meadow was alive. One of the children gurgled, and was shushed by its mother. A cow from the field below mooed, and the sheep bleated amongst themselves. The grass rustled in the breeze. A bee shot past Rey’s ear.

 

                “Amen,” Father Tomás said.

 

                “Amen,” Rey mumbled, and made the sign of the cross. They filled in the tiny grave and marked it. Father Tomás lingered a while, talking to the women. Rey sat with Finn’s little dog and watched as Phasma began to walk up the hill towards the tree, hands full of daisies. Her ankles ached, and she was sure that her back was bruised, but she clicked her tongue at the dog and followed the woman through the grass.

 

                Phasma’s husband had died when Rey was small. She remembered a big, ruddy man with gentle eyes and a beard the colour of red rye that, when he smiled, had a tooth missing at the back of his mouth. He was kind, and gave sweets to the children, and would carry them about on his back as though he was a horse, mock-neighing and snorting to make the squeal with delight. Though he and Phasma were of a height and weight with one another, he would lift her into his arms as though she weighed no more than a maid and kiss her, and smack her behind when she bent over.

 

                He loved her, though, more than anything. He would take the ox and the cart to market with their two sons – they were gone now, gone west to Anglia to become monks – and return with, for Phasma, a new linen-board, or a string of glass beads, or a tame magpie on its own perch. He had a fine voice and would sing to her as he braided her hair. His clumsy man’s hands were too big and too blunt to do it properly, and he often left her long flaxen hair full of knots, but she would laugh. Rey often watched them together at the water’s edge, hands entwined.

 

                He died of a fever, in a time since lost. Rey watched as Finn’s little dog raced ahead to greet Phasma, yipping, as they reached the top of the hill.

 

                The oak cast such shade over the ground that the air beneath it was tangibly cooler than beyond its reach. Phasma was kneeling, bunching the daisies together. She looked up when she saw Rey. Her cheeks were wet. Rey sat on the grass, damp in the shade. Phasma wiped her nose. Neither of them spoke. The leaves whispered above them.

 

“Ten years, God rest him,” she said eventually, trying to smile, though Rey saw how her mouth turned down in the corners. “I miss that great lummox.” Finn’s dog nosed under her arm and leaned against her, making her laugh despite her tears.

 

“I loved him so much, Rey. My Aengus.” She scratched the dog beneath the chin, lip trembling. “He was so good to me, even before we were married. Once, he came to our house, when I still lived with Mother and Father, in the middle of the night, with a pony. He said it was an early gift. My father chased him up the path, halfway back here. I was only your age.”

 

Fresh, fat tears streamed down her pink face. “The good ones are always taken first,” she uttered, voice cracking. “And shits like Hux stay until you start needing them.”

 

Rey stared at her. “Don’t look at me like that,” Phasma blubbered. “Hux was a vile little shit. There’s no way around it. He’s probably pissing himself laughing in hell at us now, at how he’s left us.” She turned her head to gaze down the hill. “Those lads are capable, but it’s not enough. The women can plough and milk and shear, and Rose can hunt, but none of us can go a-spearing or a-fishing, not the way Hux could.”

 

“We could try.”

 

Phasma shook her head. “We’re not made for that sort of thing, my love.” She wiped her eyes. “One of the girls needs to marry now, before the winter, to a man that knows the waters. A net a month isn’t enough, but that’s what those men will bring in.”

 

Rey thought of the bulging nets of mackerel that Hux would bring in, the twine stretched to splitting, and the great brindle sharks that dwarfed them all. She wanted to cry.

 

 

 -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

The villagers put Hux’s death down to greysharks; smaller, far rarer than the gentle shallow-swimmers, but tenfold more deadly. They asked aloud why he had been in the water in the first place, so late at night. Rey had gone still and stony.

 

When they returned, they divided his possessions; Phasma, an bean-taoiseach, got his ten heifers, and Sinéad, his sister, got his coin, his fishing-net, and his currach. She didn’t touch the coins, nor the net or the boat. The women washed Hux’s remaining clothes and threw them over the wall to dry. Sinéad went to her hut and stayed there, weeping. Finn lit the fire, and wouldn’t look at Rey when she came near.

 

Rey went instead to the pier, sat, and wept alongside the swaying currachs. She cried not for Hux, not for Aengus, but for those left alive, the children. Summer was always short and fleeting, while winter was long and harsh. They needed the fish – mackerel and cod and herring – for winter, for the early, crisp weeks of spring. Without it, they would go hungry, and if the crops failed or the animals passed, they’d starve.

 

She cursed the beast, the unknown man-creature that had gutted Hux like a fish. It, she thought scornfully, would not starve. She wished it would. She wished it would die in the cave and float out to sea, and be torn to pieces by the shrieking gulls.

 

Rey paused. The beast.

 

She looked at Hux’s currach, the strongest of the four, with oars of hardy ash, creaking on the water. The water was calm again, shimmering and grey. Rey made a careful decision.

 

She went back, and took her meat-knife from beneath her cot. She wrapped an apple and a wedge of cheese and half a loaf of bread in a cloth, and swaddled that in her white sheepskin. On the way back down, she snatched one of the shark-spears, and jumped to pull a pair of britches and a cambric shirt from the top of the wall. She stole a length of twine-rope from the stone moor. The spear clattered to the bottom of the boat when she threw it in.

 

Some of the others were still at the grave, she saw, peering behind the wall. Some were at the fire. Rose had brought a heifer down from the field to milk, and the children were crowded around it. Finn was sitting at the fire still. He lifted his head and saw her behind the wall.

 

Rey bolted, clambering into the currach as quickly as she could. It rocked dangerously as she sat, hard, on the seat, put the sheepskin bundle at the bow, and fumbled with the oars. She had never touched an oar in her life, and was shocked as how much weight one had to put behind it.

 

Her arms burned by the time the currach was out of sight. The water swelled beneath her, though the water was not rough, and she was frightfully aware that, around her and beneath her, there was nothing but open sea. Her breath came quick and rapid, her heart pounding like a hammer.

 

She knew the way. That was all she could hang onto. She knew the way.

 

 -----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

                Even with the thing in the currach, it had taken Finn less than an hour to get past the headland. It took Rey two. Her arms were cramping terribly, the muscles between her legs and hips seizing up because of the awkward, unfamiliar position.

 

                The caves, black and blue and dangerous inside, loomed against the side of the headland. Rey’s eyes began to hum again. She relaxed the oars and searched for rock, for a place to moor. She got close enough to the rocks to reach out and touch them, and looped the rope through the mooring hook. She tied the rope around her waist, and climbed out, boots slipping on the slimy rocks.

 

                The currach pulled gently in the water, very nearly making her slip again. She thanked God, silently, that the waters were still. Above her, splitting the sky, was a sparkling jagged ceiling that had dripped since the birth of the world and would drip until its end. Rey pulled the currach along the green-tinged rocks, half-climbing, half-walking, using the spear as a walking-stick, until she was inside.

 

                The cave stank of rotten seaweed, of salt and ancient damp, but it shone. Piercing the ceiling was a blowhole the size of an ox, through which the high storm waves would crash out onto the headland above, a great grass whale. Along the cave’s edges there were more rocks – they were almost walkways, leading to some hidden secret above the water – and loose rocks sitting atop of those, carried in by the waves; small enough for her to lift, but heavy enough to ground the currach and keep it front floating away, stranding her.

 

Rey lifted three of the wet rocks and pinned them to the rope. When setting the last one down, she caught her finger painfully between it and the second, and cried out in frustration, pulling it free. It throbbed as she held it up to the light. She took the sheepskin bundle out of the currach with her good hand.

 

As she reached in, something splashed, and thwacked the currach from below, pushing it upwards. Rey fell back hard against the cave wall, gasping. Her spear fell, clattering down the rocks and into the sea.

 

The rocks were cold and wet beneath her, heels slipping on the seaweed. “I know you’re there,” she called, voice high and trembling. Her meat knife was pitifully small and blunt compared to the spear in her helpless hands. “I heard you!”

 

Rey was met with only silence, save for the swash of the ocean against the ancient stone.

 

"I didn’t come all the way out here for nothing!” she shouted. Her voice rang around the cavern. “I know you’re here!”

 

There another splash. “Do you have something against sound sleepers?” a familiar voice echoed, dangerously close, but she couldn’t see where from.

 

“Where – where are you?”

 

The voice came from below.

 

"I'm here."

 

A huge, pale hand slapped her lost spear onto the wet rock, and a face rose from the gloom, pulling itself up onto the narrow ledge on which she sat with the other paw. The wall felt very cold against her back.

 

It wasn’t the beast, but it was. Its face was entirely different, and yet the same; all sharp planes and keen angles, rounded ears, wet black hair slick on its head like a seal. Its eyes were slanted and brown and deep-set, with thick lashes that brushed its high, sharp cheekbones, its nose long and bridged.

 

It held the wet spear up to her, its lower half still submerged.

 

"What do you want?”

 

Rey took it, shivering. “You're in my debt.”

 

It smiled at her.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

                                                              

 

 

 

                There had once been a time, south across the grey water, that Kylo had run amongst the menhirs with other foals, whose faces he could not remember. It was long ago, long before the fair-haired northerners had come and burned the villages of the Gauls. Kylo remembered being long-limbed and gangly, and as awkward as a fawn, his too-wide shoulders not quite fitting into his frame. His voice had been hoarse and broken with adolescence, his raven’s-beak nose and full mouth too big for his long face.

 

                He had been too young yet to flutter his eyelashes and smile, and have the unsuspecting Gauls come to him blindly. He had to rely on his foal-skin to eat. The Men came then, gentle and unaware and so trusting, as Kylo tottered on four awkward legs on the pebbles, whickering softly until they came close enough for him to take. The waves in Breizh were high and relentless, and often broke the men before he did. The Gaul foals came, too; the foals of Men, children. They saw a little black horse and came running, squealing in delight when Kylo leapt and raced. They stopped squealing, and started shrieking instead, when he pulled them into the water.

 

                They came willing to him, but never willingly to the water.

 

                This one, Kylo thought, had. He looked up at her, young and doe-eyed, with long brown hair that trailed down her back. Her face was pinched. She was sore. Kylo could smell it.

 

                His hands were splayed out against the rock, one pressing her lost pike against the stone to keep it in place. When she leaned forwards to take it back, he inhaled, and there in his nose was the ropy red smell of strain, of burning muscles set alight.

 

                He could smell her fear, too, dark and sticky and loathsome to the back of the throat, like tar. She took her pike and settled it in her little rough hands, waiting until she had it where she needed it – its barbed blade in line perfectly in line with his jugular – before she spoke.

 

                “You’re in my debt.”

 

                Kylo smiled, fluttering his eyelashes so that her cheeks warmed, and her neck went pink.

 

                It would have been so easy. He eyed her flushed neck. There wouldn’t even have to be a struggle; she’d come willingly into the water, same as she’d wandered into the cave like a lamb into the wolf’s den. Kylo didn’t realise that he was leaning forward until he felt a sharp pressure at the base of his throat.

 

                The little bint had the tip of her spear pressed at the sensitive juncture between his collarbones, eyes hard. “Back,” she snapped, fear palpable. “That’s close enough.”

 

                Kylo let himself sink a little lower, blade dragging up to below his jaw. The iron gave a grating shing against the rock as he pushed it away. “Get to the point, morsel.”

 

                Her eyes tightened at the word, and she gave the pike a little shove. “You killed Hux,” she told him, as though he could forget the taste. “Because you killed Hux, we won’t have food for the winter. You need to right your wrong.” Her voice shook. She was so frightened, and yet here she sat.

 

                Kylo pushed back into the water, and floated on his back in silence. She exclaimed, “I saved you –“

 

                “From what? Sunburn?” He tilted his head back so that his face went beneath the surface, and then lifted it again, dripping.

 

                The Girl gritted her teeth, the way she had when she was beating him with the butt of her harpoon. “We’ll starve.” The tendons in her pretty neck stood out, making Kylo want to slaver. “We won’t survive the winter. We’ll all die, every last one of us.”

                “And what would you have me do?”

 

                She stuttered. “I would have you do the honourable thing!”

 

                The honourable thing. He pushed himself up on the ledge by his arms very suddenly. “And what might that be?”

 

                The Girl pressed herself harder against the wall, eyes welling up in terror. Her hand, gripping the spear, shook so much that she dropped it to her lap. Kylo tilted his head to the side. “Oh, I see,” he seethed, nose inches from hers. She smelled so appealing, under the tar, he could have sunk his teeth into her there and then. “You want me to play fisherman.”

 

                A tear fell down her cheek and slid down her neck. Kylo watched it, wanting to slaver. “Yes,” she whispered, “I want you to pay your debt.”

 

                “My debt,” Kylo murmured. His eyes moved up the side of her face along her delicate jaw, her blotchy cheeks, her wet eyes, lashes spiky with tears. She smelled of raw honey - torn straight from the hive and eaten while raging bees impaled the skin with tiny sabres – and raw meat. His full belly gurgled curiously.

 

                “If I pay this … debt …” He leaned even closer, so close he could feel her shallow breaths on his face. Her cheeks glittered as more tears fell. “Then you have to give me something.”

 

                Her wet eyes went to his, and suddenly they were full of rage. “I’m not giving you anything,” she spat.

 

                Kylo snorted. “Don’t flatter yourself, titbit,” he crooned, mouth close to her ear. The water was sliding off of his skin and onto her shift. “You know I can take anything I want. If I wanted that, I’d have had it already.”

 

                She shuddered, but didn’t break gaze with him. “I’ll bring you fish,” he told her, “mackerel and herring and shallowshark, as much as you like.” He trailed off, running his tongue over his bottom teeth. Her chest rose and fell with quick breaths that she tried to slow, inhaling slowly through her flaring nostrils. “But we both have to eat, do we not?”

 

                The Girl’s clear brown eyes went wide when she grasped what he was suggesting. “No,” she hissed, “no, never.

 

                Kylo rucked a guttural growl up from deep in his chest. “Then starve.”

 

He let himself slide back into the water. As he arched his back and spread his arms to descend deeper, towards the stony depths, he heard her now-familiar cry from above the surface.

 

Wait!” he heard, and then a racking sob. “Please, wait-“

 

When he came back to the surface, she was standing. “Please,” she managed, “just … I’ll do it. But you have to swear.

 

“I swear.” Words are words.

 

“On God,” she demanded through her teeth.

 

“On God,” Kylo repeated, though he didn’t know which one she meant.

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

                                                                         

 

 

                                                                                    

 

There was a dark place beyond the chapel woods and the meadows, Rey knew; a dense forest shrouded in shadows where the men went, in summer, to hunt for boar. The forest was thick with wolves and summer bears. Finn had gone, once, and told Rey that deep within the woods walked red deer ten feet tall. Its hooves, he said, made the ground shake, and it could fell twenty trees with one swing of its great antlers. She remembered begging the men to take her, when she was twelve and barely flowered, all scraped knees and damp hair from the water, and they’d laughed at her.

 

It’s braver to walk into a cave with a flesh-eater than it is to kill a fleeing wolf, she told herself.

 

The beast had asked her for her name. She had given it, and asked for his. Kylo, he had told her. It was a foreign name, strange to her ear and her tongue. It felt wrong to give him a name and a face, to make him seem any less than what he was.

 

Rey gave him the clothes and the food and left. He pulled her little boat out of the cavern when it lodged itself awkwardly and got stuck, big pale hands wrapped around the mooring rope. He disappeared under the water with it, and Rey gripped the sides as she felt the boat move, faster than it ever would by oar alone. After the dim light in the cavern, the sun blinded her.

 

“Be awake at dawn,” Rey told him, voice hard, as he emerged. “Be dressed.”

 

“No.” He piled the wet rope back into the currach with a thump. “I’ll come to you.”

 

She stared at him, eel-wet and shining in the sun, appalled. “No, you-“

 

“I will come to you,” Kylo interrupted her, enunciating each word very carefully, as though Rey was a simpleton.

 

Rey flexed her fingers around the oar, tense.

 

“Fine,” she ceded, not wanting to give him any reason to withdraw his aid. “Come at dawn. Wait by the pier.” She gritted her teeth. “If I find you near the beach, I’ll kill you.”

 

He smirked, gave the currach a push towards to the west, and he was gone. Her body ached, and her mind whirled.

 

She cried all the way back.

 

 --------------------------------------------------------------

 

Finn was waiting on the pier when she returned, his tunic loose, the legs of his britches rolled up to the knees so that he could dangle his feet in the water. It made Rey nervous. She imagined a white hand wrapping around Finn’s ankle and – no.

 

The others she couldn’t see, standing up carefully. “Are you talking to me now?” she spat accusatorily, throwing the mooring rope at him. He caught it and darkened, pulling it hard so that the currach jerked and she had to throw out her arms to keep her balance.

 

“Where did you go?” he asked, tying the rope around the mooring hook, though it was plain on his face that he knew.

 

 “Around the headland,” she muttered, leaning her arms on the pier to get out. The currach clacked against the others, bobbing up and down.

 

“You went to the cave.”

 

Rey took her sheepskin out of the boat. She hadn’t needed it after all, and wouldn’t; the sun was strong in the sky. She could see gnats chasing one another across the surface of the water. “Did anyone know I was gone?”

 

“Why did you go to the cave, Rey?”

 

“Phasma will be looking for me.” She tried to push past him, but he locked shoulders with her. “Move, Finn-“

 

“You went to look for that … that thing.” His jaw was taut in anger, face set in a scowl.

 

“It’s none of your pissing business where I went.”

 

“I saw the way it looked at you,” Finn sneered. “Like it didn’t know whether it wanted you on your back or in its belly. Is that why you went?”

 

Rey slapped him so hard her fingers stung. Above them, the gulls cried their gulped cries. She left him standing at the pier.

 

Phasma hadn’t noticed she had gone, sitting in front of her little house on her milking-stool. She was watching Dainín at the fire, eyes red. She had, Rey saw, Aengus’ sharking coat in her lap, hands bunched in the old shark-leather. Rey went to sit beside her.

 

Finn’s little dog raced across the sand-grass without its master, tongue waving, chasing Rossa and Naoise, Siobhán and Dainín’s red-headed, giggling twin boys. Dainín watched his boys run for a moment, pausing, before setting alight a handful of tinder.

 

Phasma stroked the sharking coat with the same gentle reverence that had she stroked Aengus’ ruddy face.

 

“He hated Hux, you know,” she said after a moment. “But he wasn’t proud. He never denied how strong he was. When word gets across the bay to Carraigdorcha, but they’ll say that Hux couldn’t spear a shallowshark to save his life.” She sniffed, looking out at the water.

 

                “Carraigdorcha?”

 

                Phasma nodded. “Peadar and Niall went across not long ago.”

 

                Something heavy settled in Rey’s stomach. To get to Carraigdorcha, they’d have to row the currachs past the caves. She made the sign of the cross against the inside of her wrist, for all the good it would do.

 

                A tear slid down Phasma’s face. She was afraid, too.

 

                When Phasma broke, it made Rey feel as though her world was falling quite to pieces. “Do you remember when we had the bad winter?” Rey asked her, trying to make her smile. “And you were scared that we’d run out of herring?”

 

                Phasma looked down at her, and she continued: “Aengus knew you were frightened, and so got up at dawn and went out on the water without anyone knowing, and he caught a shallowshark so big, he had to tie it to a rock and come back and wake the men to help him pull it in.”

 

                The woman smiled faintly, though her lip began to tremble. “I saw him leaving. It was supposed to be a surprise, he told me,” Rey went on, leaning her head against Phasma’s knee. “He said that he wanted you to be the first one to see it, and promised me not to tell. If I kept it secret, he said he’d take me hunting for sharks when I was old enough.” She stroked the sharkskin, tough with age. “I never told, did I?”

 

                “No,” Phasma agreed. “Is that why you went off in Hux’s currach this morning? Because you wanted to catch a shallowshark all by yourself?”

 

                Rey faltered, mouth opening and closing like a fish. “Oh, Rey,” Phasma sighed. “You’ll break my heart.”

 

                Rey took a moment to compose herself. “I wanted to help.” It wasn’t strictly a lie. “Rose hunts rabbits. Ailis shoots birds out of the sky with stones. Why can’t I-“

 

                “Rey.” Phasma’s voice was stern. “Don’t.”

 

                “I could be good at it, if only you’d let me try.”

 

                “We’ve been over this a thousand times, pup. It’s not for us to do. Especially not you. You’re too small. You’d perish if one of those things even clipped your boat.”

 

                “I can swim, and I’m nineteen-“

 

                “Rey.

 

                That was when Rey knew to stop. In her head, she roared at Phasma. I had the beast that ate Hux in my boat, and he had his rank teeth an inch from my throat while you were still mourning the red bastard!

 

                Instead, she held her tongue. Dainín turned to look at her, having heard the exchange, and nodded. Dainín was nearing forty, and had always been kind to her. She nodded back. Things would be very different from then on, she was sure of it.

 

                Rose came back not long after, flanked by lanky Padraig, a brace of rabbits and a single marten hanging from her belt. Rey watched, desperately envious, as she unhooked them and came to show them to her and Phasma. She could fire an arrow and could hit a target well enough, but Rose’s eyes were something else.

 

                Once, during a harsh winter, a lone wolf had smelled their salted fish on the wind, and had loped into the village in search of food. It was grey and thin, with hungry yellow eyes. Rose had sent a pheasant-fletched arrow between its eyes with a twang before it could take another step.

 

                It was hard to hate Rose. She was sixteen, and had soft eyes and always smiled. She often brought Rey martens for their pelts. They were friends, too. Ruan was Rose’s only parent – her mother had died birthing her – and he had taught her to hunt, though Rose would often tell Rey that she wished she had known her mother. Rey would have been happy with only one parent, and a quiver of arrows.

 

                “Look how big they are,” Phasma exclaimed, not wanting Rose to see her upset. Rey reached out to touch them. They were big; fat and brown and still-warm, promising tender haunches.

 

                Rose gave her the warm marten. “It’s so dark,” Rey gasped, running her fingers over its brown pelt. “Oh, I wish I had a hundred of them.”

 

                “I wish there were a hundred of them. That’s the first one I’ve seen in ages. Shall I skin it for you?”

 

                Rey sat with her by the fire as she skinned it, and plucked the pheasant in return.

                “What’s the matter with Finn?” Rose asked her, voice low. She nicked the marten’s belly and let its innards fall into a bowl for the dogs. “He’s all … quiet.”

 

                Rey didn’t look away from the bird. “Finn’s always quiet.”

 

                “Quieter than he always is. I said hello to him this morning, and he just grunted at me.”

 

                “Give him a smack,” Rey suggested, “that might teach him some manners.”

 

                They snickered. “I didn’t want Padraig to come with me. Hunting, I mean.” Rose began to skin the marten, peeling its fine fur back. “Da thinks I’ll get eaten by wolves if I go alone. As if Padraig would stop wolves. I said to Da, ‘There’s far more to be afraid of outside the forest than in it’.”

 

                She’s not wrong, Rey thought, glancing at the water.

 

                “I still can’t believe Hux is dead,” Rose babbled – Rose was a babbler; she could go from one topic to another, and another, and then another – without very much grief in her voice. “Greysharks. I’ve never seen one. Is it true that they rip out your guts before they eat you?”

 

                Rey had to stifle a shudder. “Not greysharks, no.”

 

                “Oh. Well. I want Finn to stop being such a hound.” And off she went, babbling. It was peaceful enough to listen to. Rey could nod and murmur at the right times, and still be just on the cusp of her own mind enough to delve into her subconscious while appearing to listen.

 

                That night, she dreamt of a dark horse. Its mane and tail were seaweed, and its eyes were like sorrel. Rey watched it whinnying in fear as it struggled in the water, but couldn’t move an inch to save it. It went under, and then there were brown eyes in the water.

 

                She awoke in a cold sweat, panting. People were talking outside, children laughing, Finn’s little dog yapping. She went out, and ate rabbit and bread-and-honey with Rose next to the fire. Rose gave her the marten pelt, and it was dry and soft.

 

The rabbit leg was half-finished when a cry went up from across the water. Rey’s head snapped up. The men were returning in their currach. There was something wrong.

 

QUICK!” she heard Niall roar. She didn’t understand. Dainín and Padraig raced past her. Phasma held Aengus’ coat tight against her chest, sucking in a sharp breath. “God have mercy,” she whispered. Rey squinted at the boat as they moored it.

 

No. No, no, no.

 

They hauled, with difficulty, a great shape out of the currach and onto the pier. No. Rey’s feet took off running without her permission. No, no, no, no.

 

The stones jabbed and cut her bare feet, and the sand was hot and scalding, but she kept running towards them. No, no, no, get away, NO-

 

Wet and clothed and larger than any of them, the bastard lay on the pier, half-drowned. When the men weren’t looking, he opened his bastard eyes and winked at her.

 

Chapter Text

                                                                                                                                                                                

 

                  It was, Kylo found, pitifully easy to fool a human.

 

                He could smell two Men, not long after the Girl – Rey, she had said, my name is Rey – had gone. They smelled of blood, and of the village. Kylo burst forth from the water, inhaling deeply, pulled himself onto the ledge, and put on the clothes, tearing the sleeve of the shirt in his haste. They had belonged to Hux, the red man – he could smell it, even under harsh lye – and just about fit. It felt odd – uncomfortable, almost - to wear clothes again after so long in the sea. The linen clung close about his skin.

 

                Kylo left the cave without breaking the surface – the water changed from black to green, and he knew he was out – and put a distance between himself and the currach.

 

                It was so very easy to will his gills open, pull water into his lungs, and close them again. He let himself float, motionless, face-down in the water, and within seconds, he heard one of them cry, “Fuck!”

 

                “Wha – shit!”

 

                “Is he alive? Quick, lift him up-“

 

                They struggled. He was twice their size, easily, and they almost capsized their little boat trying to pull him in. Kylo stayed deathly still, and made a bargain with himself as they puffed and grunted. If this boat tips, you take them both, and you never need see that little louskenn again.

 

                To his dismay – and, somewhere, relief – they pulled him up. One of them slapped him across the face. Kylo wanted to bite his hand off, but instead he spewed up the seawater he had held in his lungs, coughed like a wretch plagued, and mumbled in Breton. “Pelec’h se me?”

 

                “Hey, hey!” One of them, a stocky red-faced boy barely older than the Girl, slapped him again. “You’re alright, lad, you’re going to be fine – here, look at me!” Another slap. I’ll tear your fucking hand off your wrist. “Don’t close your eyes, stay awake for me- “

 

                “Where’d he come from?” the other asked, a tall man with blonde curls and a hooked nose. “I don’t see a boat. Cúnús mór, an ea? Quick, row, Niall, or he’ll die off before we get back.”

 

                “Where’s that accent from, boyo?” the red-faced one asked him as he set to rowing, the way one did when one was trying to keep another conscious. “You’re not from around here, are you?”

 

                “Land’s End,” he told them, keeping his voice short and his breath shallow.

 

                “He’s a Gaul,” one told the other.

 

                “What are you doing in these waters?” the one with curls asked him.

 

                “Sharks,” Kylo breathed, “shark-hunting … my … my spear …

 

                They responded in the way that he wanted them to; they exchanged a glance, mouths open.

 

                The currach swelled beneath them, the sun blindingly bright in Kylo’s eyes.

 

                “What’s your name, boyo?” the red-faced one inquired.

 

                He told them. “Aye, he’s foreign all right,” the one with curls said, as though Kylo wasn’t there. “Where’s Land’s End?”

 

                “Cornwall, isn’t it?”

 

                “Don’t be a fucking fool. Didn’t you hear him? No one in Cornwall sounds like that. I’d say he’s a Gaul, a Breton. The women are going to fawn over him.”

               

That satisfied him, though not for the reason that the men may have thought.

 

                The Girl’s anger, when he opened his eyes on the pier and winked, was rank and red and stinging. The other men were running for blankets, for the women to come help, for hot sharp liquor to make him gasp. She dropped to her knees, picked up his arm as though she meant to check his pulse, and sank her fingernails so deep into the skin on the inside of his forearm that she drew blood.

 

                Kylo wanted to reach up and snap her neck. Instead, he drew a sharp breath, and hissed, “I’ll kill you.”

 

                “Not if I kill you first.”

 

When Niall turned back to call to the others, to ask where they could put him, she didn’t take her eyes from his as she spoke.

 

                “With me,” Rey said, jaw clenched. “Put him with me. I’ll look after him.”

 

                The men followed the Girl. They helped him across the sand, past the fires – the women stared, and the children hid behind their mother’s skirts – and towards several odd little structures, round stone huts with thatched, cap-like roofs. The doorways were so small he almost had to get on his hands and knees, and inside he had to stoop like some kind of hunchback.

 

                All he could smell was meat, and the Girl’s scarlet fury. She bristled with violence.

 

                Rey pointed to a cot that, for his size, may as well have been made for a child. “It’s alright,” she told the two men from the boat, who had come in with him. “I’ll look after him.”

 

                “You’ll need poitín, Rey, for his chest, his breathing’s fucked.” The one called Niall helped him onto the cot. “You’re alright, you’ll be fine.”

 

                “I have plenty. He needs rest.” The smell of her fury grew stronger.

 

                In the hut, the floor was all rushes and furs. It was dark, and smoke filled his lungs from the fire, red and orange and all the colours he felt as though he was seeing for the first time. As soon as the men had gone, she pulled the burlap over the doorway.

 

She went to the shelf without a word. Kylo opened his mouth to speak. She whipped around and cracked him across the face with a horn jug.

 

She brought it down, like a seagull’s pebble on eggs, into his nose so hard it cracked in half upon impact, bits of horn flying across the little hut. Pain exploded in his head. Blood spurted from both nostrils.

 

                Kylo’s hand shot out to grab her by her pretty neck, but she had her pathetic little knife, and she rammed it into the back of his palm so that when he pulled his hand back, the knife came with it. He ripped the knife out, the cut sealing, lurched off of the cot, and backhanded her so that she fell on her arse. She seized an iron pot from in front of the fire and hurled it at him. It hit him in the foreheadwater droplets flying from his wet hair - and fell on his foot.

 

                This they did almost entirely in silence, their gritted teeth stifling grunts of pain so as not to bring the others running. As he hunched under the low ceiling, she caught hold of his neck, kneeing him hard in the stomach, and dragged him down to the floor as his knees buckled. Kylo dropped his weight onto her very suddenly, crushing her between his bulk and the floor. By the time he managed to flatten her knees and get on top of her, struggling to keep her arms still, those blood from his nose dripping onto her face, she had the little knife in her hand again.

 

                That little bitch.

 

There was an intense struggle; she tried to ram the meat-knife into his throat, and he tried to stop her. She got so close, just barely grazing the skin of his neck with the point of the blade. “Give it up,” Kylo hissed at her in his own vernacular, showing her his teeth. She called him a cunt in her ugly mother tongue, one side of her face bright red where he’d slapped her, and tried again.

 

When she couldn’t, she bunched her little fists and started shoving. She’s trying to push me into the fire, he realised, feeling the heat on his back, and let his jaw unhinge to snarl.

 

Rey headbutted him in the nose. Her face was covered in his blood. It did nothing to move him, but it made his head ring, and he saw her go for the throat again. When he flung his head back to avoid the blade once more, she reached up and drew a thin bloody line down his face with it, from above his eye, to down his cheek, and halfway down his chest.

 

When Kylo finally got his hand around her throat, the burlap flew open. It was the boy, the little green bastard that had sobbed like a babe when he’d held him in the air. He stood for a moment and stared, before his lip pulled back over his teeth and he flew at Kylo with about, Kylo thought, as much power as a lamb.

 

Kylo pulled up away from Rey and stopped the boy short with a fist to the mouth, striking him so hard he sprayed Kylo with spit and crashed into the cot, snapping it in half.

 

                Something hit Kylo in the back of the head with a loud clang, and everything went dark.

 

----------------------------------------------------------

 

 

                He dreamt of Land’s End, of thrashing grey waves, of a faceless woman with brown hair curled up into buns around her ears. She was like him, born of the water, and he called her mammig.

 

----------------------------------------------------------

 

 

                 Voices pierced the blackness. He could feel himself lying on something soft, something tight around his arms, pinning them to his sides. His face felt wet. There was woodsmoke in his lungs. Even for whatever restrained him, he couldn’t will his body to move. The darkness pressed down on him, as though his mind was awake, but his body yet slumbered.

 

                “He had a fit,” he heard Rey say, somewhere in the dark. “He started jerking and shaking and couldn’t stop. The blood started from his nose, and he shook so much he broke the cot. He almost cracked his head open. I tried to hold him still, and Finn thought he was attacking me.”

 

                “Aye, the salt’ll do that,” a familiar voice answered her. Kylo recognised it as belonging to the man from the boat with the beak-nose and the yellow curls. “Fits and bleeding. Some whiskey and some rest, and it should pass.”

 

                “Where did he say he was from, Peadar?” another woman asked. Kylo inhaled in the black, but he didn’t recognise the smell.

 

                “Land’s End. He has a queer accent. He’s a Breton, I’d say.”

 

                “What’s a Breton doing this far north?”

 

                “Sharking, he said.”

 

                There was a pause. “Sharking?”

 

                “I know. Big fucker, ain’t he? I reckon he could split a shallowshark in two from fifty yards. Look at the arms on him.”

 

                “He’s queer-looking,” the woman murmured. “I’ve never seen a face like that in my life.”

 

                “You should have seen the cow-eyes Sinéad and Ailis were giving him when we brought him in.”

 

                “Rest him, Rey,” the woman said. “Whiskey and water, and try to keep him as still as you can if he starts to fit again. Put a stick between his teeth or he’ll gnash them to bits. And Finn-“ Her voice turned stern. “Keep your hands to yourself. He’s weak, and he may well stay once he’s strong enough. We need all the help we can get.”

 

                Kylo heard the burlap swish as it was closed. There was silence for a moment, and then Rey spoke.

 

                “Fuck.

 

                “What happened?” the green boy – Finn – demanded. “What did you do, Rey?”

 

                “I … I …. “ She was stammering, unable to find the words. “I went to the cave, to ask him to help us. I thought he would, but he said he’d help us only if I – if I –“

 

                Finn inhaled sharply. “No,” Rey exclaimed, “no, not that. No, he wanted … people.

 

                “People,” Finn repeated. “People, as in …” He made a sound of disgust. “… fuck.

 

                “I’m not doing it.” Rey paused. “You knew that, didn’t you? I’d never-“

 

                “No. No, I know.”

 

                “I told him to come at dawn, and that we’d go looking for sharks. But … he must have made Peadar and Niall think he was half-drowned.”

 

                “You were going to go out on the water with that, after what it did to you?”

 

                “He didn’t touch me in the cave. He wanted to, I could see it, but he didn’t. He just … spoke. He looks so … human.” Rey’s voice came closer. “He changed himself.”

 

                “That’s what demons do, they change shape. Don’t go so close to it.”

 

                “I don’t think he’s a demon.”

 

                “He,” Finn scoffed.

 

                “He told me his name is Kylo.

 

                “It has a name?”

 

                “I know, and who could have given him a name, only a mother?”

 

                Neither of them spoke for a moment. Kylo tried to struggle against the blackness, but his body wouldn’t move. “What are you going to do?” the green boy asked.

 

                “I’m going to wait until he wakes up and tell him that he can do one.”

 

                “No. No, you can’t. Rey, we have to kill it this time. We let it go once and it came back.” She didn’t reply. “Rey.

 

                “Peadar said they’d wait until he was well, and then see if he’d go sharking with them.”

 

                “Aye, he’d shark with them all right, but then he’d fucking eat them, too.”

 

                “I don’t know what to do. Peadar was right, he’s huge. He could catch so many, Finn, sharks and fish and whales, when the season comes.”

 

                “And then what? Have it catch a winter’s worth of salt cod and then call the whole thing off? It’s evil, but it’s not stupid, Rey. Phasma’s going to try and make it plant a babe in one of the girls. You should have heard her outside, talking to them. They wouldn’t stop harping on about how big it is, how fine-looking it is. It’s disgusting. It killed Hux.

 

                Rey made a low noise. “You can stop pretending you give a damn about Hux. We needed him, but that doesn’t mean he wasn’t a cruel shit.”

 

                “It doesn’t mean he deserved to die.”

 

                “Hux deserved to die the moment he said his first words,” Rey said, “just … not like that. I wouldn’t wish that on anyone.”

 

                “Speak for yourself.”

 

                “Finn.

 

                “We need to do something, Rey. It’s dangerous. This is the second time it’s been laid in front of you, helpless, and you’ve done nothing. It wants you to give it people to kill.

 

                “I know.”

 

                “Its face,” Finn said, “is it going to heal, like the rest?”

 

                “I don’t know. I cut his hand, and that sealed up, but there’s a mark.”

 

                Kylo felt the boy shudder. “It’s wrong. I thought that it was … that it was trying to rape-“

 

                As if. Kylo would have snorted if he could. “Finn,” Rey said sharply. “Enough.”

 

                “What are we going to do?”

 

                “We are doing nothing. This has nothing to do with you.”

 

                “Nothing to do w- Rey! I saw it when it was-“

 

                “I am going to let him go sharking with the men.” Her voice was hard. “Eight of them, with spears; he won’t try anything.”

 

                “It’ll be on the water, it’s that thing’s home!”

 

                “No. No, he won’t do a thing. Because he still thinks I’m going to give him someone to rip apart.”

 

                “And what will you do when it finds out that you lied?”

 

                “I don’t know yet.”

 

                There was a very pregnant pause. Kylo smelt fear flood the boy. “It’s going to kill you, Rey,” he mumbled, and the burlap rustled as he left.

 

                When his body finally gave in, and his eyes fluttered open, the girl was sitting by the fire, her back to him. Kylo didn’t speak. He watched her for a moment, soft hair loose down her back. The side of her face that he could see was still pink from his hand. He became very aware of a dulling, throbbing pain in the back of his head.

 

                He wanted to say something. He wanted to throw her into the fire. Instead, he closed his eyes again, and slept.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter Text

“Kylo,” she called, “come here.”

 

                His arms were full of scallop shells and sopping, slippery kelp. He ran to her with it, little legs racing, while trying to keep his treasure pressed to his chest. He left a trail of seaweed behind him.

 

                Kylo stopped short several steps when he saw the man standing beside his mother.

 

                They both watched him expectantly for a moment. Kylo sniffed the air. The man smelled of leaves and soil, and water without salt. He smiled at him and dropped to his haunches. “You remember me, don’t you?” he asked.

 

                Violently, Kylo shook his head, black locks like a colt’s falling into his eyes. When he lifted a hand to brush them away, his shells fell to the sand. The man moved to retrieve them for him, and a snarl rucked up Kylo’s chest and into his throat. He spat it out like a swarm of angry wasps.

 

                The man staggered back. His mother pulled back her teeth and hissed; a warning.

 

                “Don’t, Leia, it’s alright,” the man said. “He doesn’t know me, that’s all.”

 

                He came closer, very slowly. Kylo watched him, little foal-fists clenched around a length of slimy kelp. The man kept his eyes on Kylo’s as he bent down – slowly – and picked up one of the shells. His hand trembled ever so slightly as he extended it to him, never looking away.

 

                Kylo sank his teeth into the man’s hand.

 

-----------------------------------

 

                He awoke violently hungry.

 

Kylo found that he couldn’t move. He looked down, and saw that someone - Rey - had tied thin net-rope around his arms and his legs. She was kneeling at the fire, but turned when she heard him grunting in frustration.

 

                “Lie down. Stop it – stop,” she growled, shoving him in the chest as he strained against the ties. “Stop squirming.” There was a fair breeze blowing outside, despite the sun he could see shining through the apertures in the thatch above him. “Stop it.” She knelt beside him, a bowl and a cloth in her hands. “There’s dried blood all over you. You’re filthy.” Kylo could feel it, tight and uncomfortable across his face.

 

When she dipped the cloth into water and went to wipe his face, Kylo tried to bite her, snapping his jaws shut an inch from her fingers. “Stop it. I need to get it off. Don’t, you vile thing – if you bite me, I’ll ram this cloth down your throat. Stop.”

 

                Rey slapped him. “Stay still,” she ordered, and Kylo went to bite her again, lurching up. The twines split as he did so, fraying as he forced himself outwards. He could feel his body responding to the feeling of constraint, and hunger, too. It had been several days, and he knew, now, that her words had not been of truth.

“Rey?” someone called from outside. “How is he?”

 

                “Fine,” Rey growled pointedly, giving Kylo a look.

 

                “Can I come in?”

 

                “Do.” Rey jabbed him hard in the side and hissed, “Stay still.” Grudgingly, he let her dab at his face, just as the burlap opened, letting the sun in for a moment – Kylo’s eyes registered dust and ash in the air before it blinded him – and the man with the curls from the boat ducked in, blinking in the relative darkness of the hut, the one Kylo knew now as Peadar.

 

                “Still tied up?” Peadar faltered when he saw the blood. “Did he fit again?”

 

                “No, but I didn’t want to start poking and prodding him when he was asleep. I thought it’d start him off fitting if I did.” Rey murmured, wiping the wet cloth across his cheek.

 

                Peadar came to kneel beside her. He could have been twenty-five, Kylo reckoned, and his flaxen curls were all windswept. “You were in some state when we pulled you in there yesterday. We didn’t think you’d make it.”

 

                “Lucky I did,” Kylo said. Rey pressed hard on his face with the cloth – a warning.

 

                “Listen,” Peadar began, “I don’t know if you remember, but … yesterday, you said you’d come up from Land’s End for … that you’d been sharking.”

 

                Kylo nodded, watching him. “I’ll be blunt; we’re in bother. We had a man killed by greysharks not three days ago, and he was like Fionn Mac Cumhaill with a spear. Without him, it’s not likely we’ll have enough food for the winter.” His eyes travelled the length of Kylo’s frame. “And – now don’t think me insolent – but you’re the biggest fecker I’ve ever laid my eyes on. I’d say you could split a shark like a log if you tried.”

 

                Rey watched Kylo’s face, eyes daring him to speak out of turn. “What are you saying?” Kylo asked the man, turning his head to the side to look at him.

 

                Peadar grimaced, as though the mere idea of asking for aid pained him. “I’m saying you’re a godsend, a chara. We need all the help we can get for the winter stores, and with Hux gone … it’s half a miracle that you washed up when you did.” He watched Kylo’s face and blurted, “It wouldn’t be for nothing, mind – there are four unmarried girls here, all maids, and you could have your pick of any of them. They’re fine girls, too; Ailis and Rose hunt, and Neasa sings lovely, and Rey can swim like a fish and find kelpglass on the seafloor, can’t you, Rey?” He looked at her with all the benignity in the world, without a smidgen of self-awareness. The brazenness of it almost made Kylo splutter with laughter. If Peadar had said the same about a female of Kylo’s ilk – and in front of her, no less - she would have broken his neck and had his throat out in front of him before he could spit.

 

                Kylo felt Rey bristle, the red rage seeping from behind a wall of honed, but fragile, restraint. “Aye,” she said stiffly.

 

                “You see?” Peadar asked.

 

                Kylo held his gaze for a moment, dark eyes on blue, making the man flounder. “Alright,” he said eventually. “I’ll help you.”

 

                Visibly, Peadar struggled to contain his joy. He stammered, “You won’t regret it, I swear. I’m going to tell the lads, I won’t be long.” To Kylo’s surprise, he bent down and embraced him bodily, kissing him on the forehead like a mother to her child. Then, he squeezed Rey against him, kissed her forehead, and raced out of the hut, very nearly scalping himself on the thatch in the process.

 

                Rey didn’t speak, but kept wiping his face with the cloth. Kylo’s eyes never left hers.

 

                “What’s kelpglass?” he grunted.

 

                “Seaglass,” she answered, not looking at him.

 

                Kylo considered this a moment. “What’s seaglass?”

 

                “Glass you find in the sea.”

 

                 “What does it look like?”

 

                “Glass,” she told him, and spoke no more.

 

                When his face was free of blood, Rey untied him, and he emerged, desperate for the smell of the water after the hot, tight dustiness of the hut. She followed, but didn’t speak to him, going straight to the fire and sitting beside a soft-eyed girl that smelled of rabbits.

 

                A woman that Kylo supposed was tall for a landstrider approached him. She had pale hair in a braid down to the backs of her knees, eyes like summer water, a pile of leather in one hand, and one of the shark-pikes in the other. Kylo’s body reacted automatically to the sight of the blade, but he forced himself to stay where he was. “So you’re the strainséir from Land’s End.” She was taller, he could see, than most of the men, but the top of her blonde head still came only to his jaw. She looked him up and down. “Is fear breá leat. Are you wed?”

 

                Wed? He knew the word, had heard it, but couldn’t remember what it meant. Cautiously, he shook his head, and she smiled. “Good. You spoke to Peadar?”

 

“I did.”

 

                “And he told you what happened to Hux?”

 

                Inwardly, Kylo could have laughed. He kept his face straight. “He did.”

 

                “Then you understand the mess we’re in, our predicament. During the spring and the summer and the autumn, we can hunt, but come winter we need the sharks and the fish, or we’ll die. Hux was a fine hunter, but the greysharks tore him to pieces.”

 

                Her eyes were red, as though she had been weeping. “If you were able to hunt sharks in Brittany,” she emphasised, “you’ll be able to hunt them here. The waters here are so still in the summer you could walk on them.”

 

                She extended the leather to him, and he took it. “This belonged to my husband,” she said. “He was big, like you. The coat should fit.” She eyed him again. “Though it might be a little short. And this …” The woman held out the pike. “This was his spear. He caught more sharks than I can count with this. When you go out on the water after midday, take it with you. I keep it sharp.”

 

                Before he could respond, she said, “We’d never ask you to do this for nothing. You’ll take a wife, at the end of the summer.”

 

                Kylo’s eyes went to Rey. Why? he wondered. The woman followed his gaze, and made a low sound. “You’ll have trouble with her. She’ll fight you every step of the way to the church. But it’s your choice.”

 

                “Trouble?” Kylo asked, semi-sarcastically, pulling on the coat. It was sharkskin, he could smell it, and tough with age. It fit, but barely. Whoever it belonged to before, Kylo surmised, must have been broad of body, but not long.

 

                The woman grimaced. “Fire within is good, but she has too much of it. It wouldn’t matter, but she’s young yet, and no man is going to want a wife with a temper like a kelpie.”

 

                Kylo paused. Kelpie. He had heard that word before, too, but he couldn’t remember where, or what it meant. “A what?” There were laces on the front of the coat that he hadn’t a clue what to do with.

 

                The woman frowned. “Water-beasts, in the rivers.”

 

                “I’ve never heard of them.”

 

                “You’re lucky. They’re the Devil’s creatures.” She pushed the pike into his hand. “Watch the waters, outlander,” she said, patting his shoulder, and walked away.

               

                He watched her go. She had about her shoulders a dark sheepskin, the same as the one Rey had. The trouble could be torn out of her, the little bitch. Trouble. She certainly was. She was still sitting with her back to him. Kylo watched her brush a strand of hair behind her ear, and felt his mouth watering. Rey had broken their bargain. He would have to take matters into his own hands once more.

 

                He huffed, looking down at the laces of the coat. They required far more than a simple knot to be fastened. How to do anything with them was beyond him, but he tried.

 

                There were three women sitting together not far from where he was stood, peeling turnips. He could hear their tittering, smell the unpleasant bland neeps. Kylo leaned the pike against the wall of the little hut and pulled at the laces, growing irritated very quickly.

 

                "He's so tall," one murmured. "He has such long arms."

 

                "And long legs," another spluttered, "all three of them."

 

                "Don't!"

 

                "Peadar said he's from Brittany, from Gaul. He said he has a queer accent."

 

                "He has a queer face, too, but I'd have him. He's beautiful-looking."

 

                "You could. Any of us could. Just think - at the end of the summer, Peadar says he's to marry one of us. Imagine. He'd leave you raw -"

 

                "-and I'd thank him for it." One sucked in a sharp breath.

 

                "What's he doing?"

 

                "I don't think they have sharking coats in Gaul. Do they?"

 

                "Is he …? Oh! Oh, I'm going to go and help him. Give me your looking-glass. Is there anything on my face?" Kylo heard one scramble up.

 

                He didn't lift his gaze. Let her come to you. He listened as her steps came closer, her breathing quickening.

 

                When she came to him, she cleared her throat. Kylo deigned to raise his eyes to look at her. She was stout and fine with wispy golden-brown curls down her back and pink cheeks, coloured even darker from his gaze. He could feel her eyes raking up and down his body, lingering too long on his throat, his shoulders, his hands.

 

`               As soon as he was looking at her, she came right up to him. “Hold this,” she said, put something hard and cold, like glass, into his hand, and started fiddling with the laces. Taken aback, Kylo froze.

 

                “They’re tricky, aren’t they?” she asked. She had pale wisps of hair purposefully curled in front of each ear. “Don’t you have these where you come from?”

 

                She was blushing so intensely Kylo could smell the heat off of her. “No,” he said, “not where I come from.”

 

                “They’re right fiddly.” Her plump fingers worked the laces with expert precision, looping and knotting the leather through the eyelets of the coat. “But practice makes perfect. I always tie my brother’s coat. Men’s hands are too big to tie little knots like this.”

 

                Her brother. He looked at her, and then realised. Peadar. The resemblance was strong. They shared the same eyes, the same hair. She was pretty.

 

                “I’m Ailis,” she said. Kylo opened his mouth to reply but she cut him off. “I know your name. Caro, isn’t it?”

 

                “Kylo,” he corrected her.

 

                “Kylo,” she repeated. “That’s a Gaul name, then? What does it mean?”

 

                “I don’t know.” Kylo didn’t know that names could have meanings.

 

                “My name means God’s covenant, after John the Baptist’s mother. I could make you a new sharking coat, if you’d like,” she offered. Her eyes kept going between his own eyes and his lips. “One to fit properly, I mean. You’re a bit big for this one.”

 

                “Maybe,” Kylo allowed. She went fiercely red, trying to hide a smile.

 

                “Have you a wife in Brittany?” she asked.

 

                Kylo shook his head, though he suspected that it wouldn’t matter. Peadar and the other woman had told him that he’d marry before the end of the summer without even scant regard for prior commitments. Not, Kylo thought, that he would have had any.

 

                “Maybe … maybe you’ll marry one of the girls here.” She tugged the laces through the last few sets of eyelets, knotting and looping with such practice that she barely had to look at them.

 

                “Maybe,” he said again, and afforded her a smile. The flush spread down to her ample chest, filling out the front of her shift.

 

                Her, he decided. Rey can tell all the lies in the world. This one will do just fine.

 

                Behind Ailis, Rey was looking at him. She looked away abruptly when their eyes met. Kylo almost scoffed. His head still ached from the impact of the pot.

 

                “Now,” Ailis announced, “all done.” Kylo flexed his shoulders as she stepped back to appraise him. It was a tight fit, but the aged leather wouldn’t snap, and it would grow more comfortable as it stretched. The laces were done up in what Kylo considered an unnecessarily intricate fashion. He wondered if that was part of their mating game.

 

                “How will I undo it?” he asked her, smiling and fluttering his eyelashes so that her face glowed with concupiscence.

 

                “Oh.” She swallowed deeply, breath quickening. “I’ll do it for you.”

 

                They were interrupted, then, by the girl’s brother. The resemblance was remarkable, side by side. “Well!” he greeted them. “You’ve met Ailis, then. Ailis hunts, you know, she can strike a bird out of the sky from three hundred yards-“

 

                “Peadar!” she exclaimed, though her bright face and beaming mouth said that she was anything but displeased.

 

                “She can, honestly, I’ve seen her,” Peadar told Kylo.

 

                Pink with pleasure, Ailis smiled up at him. She was pretty, and wide of hip. There was no doubt in his mind that she’d be good at other things besides hunting, given time.

 

                “Maybe you’ll take me out sharking with you one day,” she said, eyes shining. Peadar spluttered with laughter, but Kylo didn’t see him. He had turned around to retrieve the shark-pike, and he gave it to the girl.

 

                “Come today,” Kylo said, without a trace of jest on his face. If she falls in, then - They both stared at him. She was looking between him and the pike as though he’d handed her shit on a stick. Kylo didn’t understand.

 

                “I – I’m going to going and finish these turnips,” she said, giving it back to him. She put a hand on the back of his neck and brought his head down to kiss him on the cheek. “Good luck,” she whispered – her lips were warm, and she smelled sweeter up close - and practically danced away. Kylo could see the rest of the women nearly soiling themselves with excitement as she went back to them, flapping and squawking like gulls over a cod.

 

                Peadar put a hand on his shoulder. “You – you were only messing, weren’t you?”

 

                Kylo looked down at him, brow furrowing in a frown. “Women don’t go out hunting for sharks,” Peadar told him.

 

                “Why not?”

 

                “Because … because …” Peadar seemed lost for words. “Because they can’t! It’s not right.”

 

                “Why not?” Kylo asked again. He still didn’t understand.

 

                “Because they can’t,” Peadar repeated. “A woman’s place isn’t on the water.”

 

                Again, Kylo had to remind himself not to splutter with laughter at the thought of Peadar saying the same to a female of his kind. “I don’t understand.”

 

                “No,” Peadar agreed. “Well, you’re foreign. It’s not your fault.”

 

                The man brought him down the sand and towards the wall where he had caught Hux by the throat and choked him half-dead. As they went past the fire, Peadar stopped to introduce Kylo to the rabbit-girl sitting beside Rey, and Rey herself turned further away from him and wouldn’t look at him, glaring intently at the fire.

 

                The rabbit-girl got up, a dead dark creature in her arms and blood on her hands. Kylo watched in distaste as it flopped over sideways, head lolling. It wasn’t a rabbit. He had never seen one before.

 

                “Rose, this is Kylo – he’s a Gaul,” Peadar introduced him brazenly. “Rose hunts as well.”

 

                “I do,” she said proudly, eyeing him, though with nowhere near the amount of lust that the other girls had. Shame. “Rabbits and martens and foxes, deer when I can find them – even wolves, sometimes. Do you hunt?”

 

                Like you wouldn’t believe. “I hunt sharks,” he told her, though he was still looking at the limp animal in her arms. “Do you like it?” she asked, mistaking his gaze for interest. “I love martens. Their fur’s so warm.” She gave his coat a poke. “I could line the inside of this for you, if you want, and it’d be warm.”

 

                “We’re off out today,” Peadar told her. “We’re going to the end of the headland for sharks.”

 

                “Grey or shallow?”

 

                “Either. You’d wanna be careful around them greysharks, though, wouldn’t you? It was one of those fuckers that ate Hux.”

 

                Kylo saw Rey stiffen, shoulders hunching. His body told him to move, to lunge, to bite - and he tried to ignore it. He would not allow her any inkling that he knew.

 

                They left them. Kylo could feel, even through the boots, his feet sinking deep into the sand under his weight. He could see others at the seawall; the rest of the men, laughing and joking with their spears, reaching up and fetching nets off the top of the wall. He recognised the younger boy from the boat, the one they called Niall, and several other men he didn’t know.

 

                One of them was bent over an upturned currach on the sand, fiddling with its hull. He turned when he heard them come, and Kylo’s eyes fell on the face of the green bastard, Rey’s pet. His lip was split and swollen from Kylo’s fist. The boy’s nostrils flared and he glared, but said nothing. Have you ever gotten between a shark and a seal? Kylo wanted to ask him. It's almost the same, except the shark can strangle you first.

 

                Peader went about introducing Kylo to the men. One, clearly the eldest of the lot, came to shake his hand. He could have been forty, with thinning red hair and laugh-lines about his mouth. “Dainín,” he said, smiling, “I’m the boatbuilder. Fáilte, a chara. By God, but you’re a big fucker, aren’t you? Are you all like that down in Gaul?”

 

                The rest of my kind are, Kylo thought, hefting his pike from one hand to the other, and you wouldn’t stand a chance.

 

                “Give us a second to ready these,” Dainín said, as two of the others upturned the rest of the boats. “Just making sure the hulls are sturdy. Shallowsharks don’t half bang into you, eh?”

 

                Kylo smiled and nodded as though he knew what in the world the man was talking about. He watched them as they careened the hulls, patching them with leather and muck. He found himself still holding the girl’s glass. He lifted it up to look at it in the light, and caught sight of his own face.

 

                His eyes were brown.

 

 

Chapter Text

                                                         

                                                        

                                                 

 

 

 

                Rey watched him as he smiled, blinking his great soft eyes at Ailis, her body so close to his Rey could have been sick.

 

                Five miles north, up the forest road, lay Baile na Fia, a hunting hamlet whose inhabitants often came south to sell their meat and buy fish. One, a cocksure, well-favoured man by name of Poe, was an appalling flirt; he would ride down on his pretty dun mare, his saddlebags full of trinkets. He'd trade Phasma a butchered stag for half a sack of mackerel, and then he'd bring gifts for the girls. Ailis, the fool, had once mistaken the gift of a glass-bead necklace for the beginning of courtship. She had enthused for a month about wedding dresses and babies, deaf to Phasma's gentle warnings and Rose's abrupt bouts of laughter. She had wept herself sick when she saw Poe giving Neasa a chunk of amber on a leather thong on his next visit. Rey had laughed, but now the memory made her feel ill. She watched as Ailis kissed him, lips lingering too-long on his cheek.

 

                Rey liked Poe; he made her laugh with his wit and his honeyed words, and she had adored how he would scoff in Hux's face when the red bastard tried to cow him. Poe brought her, once, a piece of seaglass on braided white yarn, to be worn around the neck. "Keeps the kelpies away," he had said, winking.

 

                Rey never wore it for fear of losing it, and kept it instead in a tiny cracked butter-urn on the rickety shelf in her roundhouse. She stared at Kylo. Is that what he is? A kelpie? Kelpies lived in rivers, in ponds, in mountain tarns, and they were as nymphs and horses. Not that; that foul, jagged-jawed monstrosity that howled and bayed like a dying wolf.

 

                She kept her back to him when Peadar brought him to the fire to introduce him to Rose. Rose, ever the amiable one, smiled and showed him her dead marten, but didn’t giggle and coo the way the rest were. When Peadar led him down to the seawall, Rose said to Rey, “I think Peadar wants to fuck him, too.”

 

                Rey couldn’t help but smile. “Probably.”

 

                She watched as Rose skinned the marten, and then threw its naked carcass into the bowl for the dog. Kelpie. She remembered the page in Father Tomás’ precious illuminated Bible, the painted creature with teeth like knives, but couldn’t remember the name, carefully painted in black Latin above it.

 

“Let’s go to see Aodh and Father Tomás,” Rey suggested suddenly. “We can bring salt cod for them and – and you’re sure to come across rabbits on the way.” She was vaguely aware that her voice sounded high and frantic, and she was; she wanted away from the village, even just for half a day.

 

                Rose appraised her for a moment, frowning. “You’re sure?” She set down her skinning-knife. “You always go swimming when the men have gone.”

 

                “I know. I just … please, Rose?” There was desperation on her face, she was sure. “Phasma would never let me go alone.”

 

                “Why do you want to go?”

 

                “Because … because …” Because if I have to look at that murderous snake again, I’ll kill him. “Because just think – they’re surrounded by wolves out there, and – and maybe you’ll see one of those deer, Rose, the ones Finn told us about-“

 

                “Oh.” Rose’s face went flush with excitement. “I forgot about those.” Rey watched, satisfied, as she gathered her pheasant arrows. “Go and fetch Finn,” Rose told her, sliding the arrows into her quiver, “or else Phasma won’t let us go.”

 

                Rey went. She refused to look at Kylo – out of the corner of her eye, she saw him turn his head before she had even come into earshot – and when Finn saw her, he came willingly. His lip was swollen and purpled from the beast’s great fist.

 

                Rose fastened her quiver about her shoulders, and seized her oiled bow. Finn had his woodaxe, made keen by the whetstone. After a moment of hesitation, Rey seized Hux’s shark pike from where she had hidden it in the thatch. She half-filled an empty flour-sack with seven salted mackerel, kissed Phasma goodbye – “be careful!” - and set off after them.

 

                Finn’s little dog raced ahead as they walked, chasing starlings and running after the scent of rabbits. The light streamed through the trees overhead and dappled everything in buttery gold, turning the forest all the colours of kelp and seafoam and seamróg. Rey used the butt of the pike as a walking-stick. Rose’s arrows thrummed through the air as she fired them at rabbits that weren’t as well hidden as they thought themselves to be.

 

                Finn fell into step beside Rey as Rose jogged ahead in search of martens. The dog ran after her, yapping.

 

                “Your lip,” was all Rey said, sighing.

 

                “I know.”

 

                “I’m sorry.”

 

                “What are you sorry for?”

 

                His tone made her flinch. “I don’t know.”

 

                “If it hadn’t gotten up to whack me, you mightn’t have been able to hit it with the pot. We’d both be dead.”

 

                “Mm.”

 

                “Did you see it today? With Ailis?”

 

                “I saw. She’s always like that.”

 

                Finn took his axe from his hook, shifted it from hand to hand, and put it back. “I’m afraid of it,” he admitted.

 

                “I am, too.”

 

                “You fought it, though.”

 

                “I’m still afraid of him.” Rey looked at him, all bruised and weary. “That’s why I fought him.”

 

                Finn didn’t answer. They walked the rest of the way in silence, not stopping to throw flowers into the river, though Rey made a careful promise in her mind, and hoped that they would hear.

 

 

-------------------------------------------

 

                Aodh was pulling turnips in the garden when they emerged from the wood path, with Father Tomás hoeing furrows in the new-fallowed soil. Rose waved to him, and he stood, lanky in his acolyte’s garb. “Beannacht leat,” the priest called, smiling at them.

 

                Rey gave him the mackerel, wrapped tight in the sack so that its oils didn’t leak. “Might I speak with you, Father?

 

                Taken aback by the abruptness, the priest paused, but smiled. “Ar ndóigh, is féidir leat.” He was tiny, wrinkled and brown and balding, like an ancient, liver-spotted little elf.

 

                He took the mackerel, and she followed him up the grass to the church. Finn whispered, “What’s wrong?”

 

                “Nothing,” she told him. It was plain on his face that didn’t believe her, but he pursed his lips.

 

                A man robed in dark wool that Rey had never seen before was standing in the pasture, stroking the red cow’s head as she pulled at the turnips in her trough. The church’s black cat curled about his ankles, mewling, but shot towards Rey when it saw her coming.

 

                “Hello, piscín,” she murmured, lifting it up. The cat purred, rubbing its face against her hands, and settled in her arms. The man turned his head to look at her. He was middle-aged, with a grizzled beard and grey hair that might once have been brown. His face was weathered, and he scowled at nothing in particular.

 

                “Dia duit,” Rey said.

 

                He looked her over. “Dia is Mhuire duit,” he returned, though he did not smile. His accent was queer and northern.

               

                “Father Luke came to us for a period of rest, from Alba,” Tomás said kindly. “The abbot at Iona thought that it would be best for him to spend some time in the woodlands. Sea air brings health, but forest air brings contentment.”

 

                Father Luke looked as though he was about to spit, but said nothing. The breeze blew his greying hair into his face, and he raised an arm to brush it away. His right sleeve fell away, bunching at his elbow, and Rey saw that, instead of a hand, he had only a dark stump where it should have been.

 

                When he saw her looking, he tore the sleeve down to hide the stump, and presented his back with a grunt. Rose touched her arm and smiled before following Finn into the church, her head bowed. Rey went with Father Tomás to the wall of sinners, looking out over the meadow.

 

                “Sit, child,” Father Tomás beseeched her, hauling himself up onto the stone wall. Rey put the cat down and did the same, stones scratching her through the thin summer shift. Her feet barely reached the grass.

 

                “He seems sad,” she said, referring to Father Luke. Father Tomás very nearly grimaced, his face full of pity.

 

                “He seems so, yes. I hope that his stay here will rectify that.”

 

                Rey asked tentatively, “What happened to his hand?”

 

                “A wild hound bit him as a young novice in Iona. The wound wouldn’t heal, and festered. It would have killed him had the others not taken the hand from him.”

 

                Christ. “You came to speak,” Tomás reminded her. “Speak, then, and speak freely.”

 

                Rey hesitated and fiddled with the buttercup, running her thumb over its delicate petals. The little priest said gently, “I can’t help you if you don’t tell me what ails you.” The cat leapt onto the wall and climbed onto Rey’s lap.

 

                The breeze blew a strand of hair across her face. “That book that was given to you from Iona,” she said carefully, tucking it back behind her ear. Father Tomás watched expectantly. “There’s a page near the end, with a drawing of a – of a monster.”

 

                “Cén leathanach, mo pháiste?” he asked. “There are a great many monsters drawn into that book.”

 

                “The water-beast with vile teeth and scales, but a man’s face, almost. I don’t know what it says.” She felt herself go red, curling her fingers in the cat’s fur. “I can’t read.”

 

                “Ah.” He folded his hands on his lap. “An capaill-uisce.

 

                “Yes.”

 

                “Does the picture frighten you? You needn’t look on it if it puts fear into you.”

 

                “No, it’s not that.” Rey looked down at her feet, wrestling with her own mind. “I think – I think that … that I’ve seen one.”

 

                There was silence for a moment, save for the rustling of leaves, of birdsong, the cat’s purring. The rushing of the stream over rocks was deafeningly quiet compared to the sound of the sea. When the priest said nothing, Rey looked at him. His wrinkled elven face betrayed nothing of his inner thoughts.

 

                “You think you’ve seen a water-horse,” he repeated.

 

                She nodded. Thoughtfully, he turned his head to look into the meadow. “Do you see, there?” he asked, pointing towards the ring of stones, half-hidden in the tall grass and the wildflowers. “An dún sidhe?

 

                The stories about the dún sidhe were plenty. Rey had, as a child, gazed in delight at the silver bells tied onto the trees at the beginning of the path into the woods, ringing whenever the wind blew. “To keep the faeries happy, a leanbh,” Aengus always said, lifting her up to see. “The bells are their songs. You mustn’t touch them, and you mustn’t ever go into a faerie ring, Rey, do you hear me?”

 

                “Why not?” she had asked, pulling gently at his fiery beard.

 

                He had considered this a moment. “Would you like it if, all of a sudden, a crowd of faerie people came swarming into our wee house, and made themselves at home, without asking first?”

 

                She had shaken her head furiously. “That’s why, a leanbh,” Aengus told her. “That’s the faeries’ home.”

 

                “Can’t we ask to come in?”

 

                Aengus had smiled, back tooth missing. “You can ask, but I can’t promise you they’ll answer.”

 

                “I see it,” Rey said now.

 

                “The faerie folk made the dún sidhe to keep themselves safe from our kind, to maintain the boundaries between this world and Tir na nÓg.” He saw her brow furrow, and chuckled. “Don’t worry, páiste. Some men of the cloth may damn all talk of the old ways, but to do so is a sin in itself. The faerie folk made us as we are, just as God shaped us as we were brought forth.”

 

                The grass swayed, flowers moving gently in the breeze. Rey didn’t look away from the faerie fort. “The faerie folk want little to do with us, Rey, until it benefits them,” Father Tomás went on. “Their ways are foreign and divine. But sometimes, they need the help of Man. It is, I should think, the same as with the water-horse.”

 

                Rey didn’t understand, and told him as much.

 

                “Where did you see the creature?” the priest asked her.

 

                Careful, now. “In the water, in front of the seawall in Dún Canann.”

 

                “What did it look like?”

 

                “Like a man, except …” She hesitated again. “Its teeth …”

 

                “As they are in the drawings?”

 

                She nodded. The priest clasped his hands once more.

 

                “The faerie folk often come to us in their time of need, though we may not know it is them that come. They may come as a famine, stealing our food when they go hungry, or they may come as death, stealing those who they consider may be of use to them. The water-horse wants little to do with Men, but has its own times of need, and takes from us in those times, though in far more literal a fashion than the faerie folk.”

 

                “They kill people,” Rey said, before she could stop herself. Her hands went still in the cat’s fur, and it turned around and mewed obnoxiously at her.

 

                Father Tomás didn’t answer for a moment. The cat, irritated with the lack of attention, went from Rey’s lap to his, and curled up there. “How came you by the beast?” he asked her.

 

                Rey inhaled slowly through her nose, and exhaled through her mouth; once, twice, a third time. “It was in the water,” was all she could say.

 

                “And you believe that you know what it is?”

 

                Rey looked at him, nodding.

 

                He watched her. “Child,” he said, “go into the sacristy, and look over the pages you spoke of. Allow yourself to be entirely sure.”

 

                She stood up. “You won’t tell anyo-“

 

                “What is said on the wall of confession is dust,” Father Tomás reminded her. “This you know.”

 

                “I didn’t confess.”

 

                He smiled ever so slightly, elf-eyes twinkling. “Go and look at the book.”

 

                “Wait.” She stayed still. “If it was – if it was what I think – then surely its sins-“

 

                “All of God’s creatures can be forgiven, child.”

 

                She went.

 

                Candles were lit along the altar, making the air thick with the smell of beeswax. Tallow torches illuminated the dark sconces. Rey kept to the shadows, behind the pews. Finn and Rose sat, shoulders together, near the front, whispering to one another, heads too close to be murmuring in prayer. The door to the sacristy was open, lit inside.

 

                “But I don’t understand,” Rey heard Rose murmur.

 

                “It’s just … what happened to Hux. It shook me.”

 

                “Oh.”

               

                “I’m sorry.”

 

                Rey disappeared into the sacristy before she could catch Rose’s response. The room was tall and narrow and deathly silent, its high window the only light alongside the beeswax candles, dripping, on the bookstand. Her steps bounced off of the stone walls as she went towards it.

 

                The Bible was open on the stand. Rey squinted at the page, running her fingers along the calfskin. How many calves died to be blotted with ink and drawn on? The writing, she felt, would have been undecipherable even if she had been literate. Each letter seemed to drag into the next. A brightly-coloured Virgin cradled Christ at her breast alongside the writing.

 

                Carefully, she turned the pages, passing over Daniel and the lion, over Mary Magdalene, over the Sea of Galilee. She felt as though she had been turning the pages for hours when she finally came to it.

 

                The beast glared up at her, teeth bared. Rey stared back. She ran a finger beneath the letters as though she could read them. The beast’s skin was grey, scaled with black, its teeth long and yellow. Beside it lay a diagram of a plain horse, a dark pony, with seaweed in place of its mane. An capaill-uisce. There was beast, and there was horse. There was no man.

 

                She wished, then, that she could read. All she could do was look between the beast and the horse. She saw Kylo’s face in her mind’s eye, the slanted dark eyes, the full mouth, the hawk’s-beak nose-

 

                But he’s human to look at him, and-

 

                The door creaked loudly behind her, and someone cleared their throat. Rey jumped, whipping around. Father Luke stood beneath the arch of the sacristy door, hood around his shoulders. “You startled me, Father,” she said, leaning on the Bible stand.

 

                “My apologies.” His eyes went towards the book as he stepped in. “I was going to read for evensong, but …”

 

                “Oh, by all means. I’m going to go and say goodbye to Father Tomás and Aodh. Good evening, Father.” She bowed her head and went past him. She heard him step close to the book, pause, and inhale sharply.

 

                Rey had her hand on the door-handle, when behind her, the old priest said abruptly, “Wait.”

 

                She turned. He pointed at the page of the book that she had been looking at with the stump of his right arm. “Do you read, girl?”

 

                Rey pinkened. “No, Father.” She couldn’t take her eyes off of what was left of his arm. It looked as though it had been hacked at, chewed, torn, stitched terribly-

 

                “Just looking at the pictures, then,” he presumed, almost mockingly.

 

                “I was,” she agreed. “They’re beautiful.”

 

                He held her gaze a moment. “Where do you come from, girl?”

 

                “Dún Canann, Father, not three miles through the woods.”

 

                “Didn’t your mother teach you to read?”

 

                Rey stiffened. “I haven’t ever had a mother to teach me, Father.”

 

Father Luke didn’t ask why, or how, or whether she had a father. He used his remaining hand to trace a line down the page, forefinger passing over the neck of the creature. “This page, here,” he said, voice hard. “This says, ‘in tenebris bestia ex mari.’ Do you know what that means, girl?”

 

                “No, Father.”

 

                He huffed, as if to say I thought as much. “It means ‘the dark beast of the sea’. Equus mari, the water-horse. Your kind call them an capaill-uisce, the kelpie, do you not?”

 

                Rey watched him. His eyes were like chips of ice in his old, grizzled face. “We do,” she allowed. “But they don’t come from the sea. They come from rivers.”

 

                “They come from wherever there’s enough water for them to sink their foul forms into,” Father Luke said, lip curling. “Have you ever seen one, girl? A water-horse?”

 

                The air in the sacristy felt cold all of a sudden. Father Luke’s icy eyes bore into hers. “I’ve never seen one, Father,” Rey told him.

 

                He didn’t look away. “Do you think me stupid, girl? Do you think me deaf?”

 

                She didn’t know what to say. He heard. The man scowled, suddenly thwacking the page of monsters with his stump. The noise echoed around the stone room and rang hard in Rey’s ears.

 

                “You don’t know what you’re messing around with, girl,” he uttered cruelly. “Tomás is a soft coward. Those things, those beasts –“ Luke spat on the floor, making Rey inhale sharply. “They could never be redeemed. They’re beyond God’s reach. They’re demons.”

 

                Rey’s voice shook. “I don’t know what you’re talking abou-“

 

                “Oh, give it up, girl!” the priest bellowed. “You’re a fool if you think I didn’t hear you, on the wall like a sinner. Tomás would never disclose confessions, no, of course, but he doesn’t have to. You’ve not got a clue what kind of black hell-magic you’re messing with, and nor does he. Nor does anyone.”

 

                He held up the stump of his right arm. “What did that soft fool Tomás tell you?” he asked her. “How did he tell you I lost this hand?”

 

                Rey could feel her lip trembling. It was as though there was ice in her veins and lead in her feet, locking her in place between the chapel and the sacristy. “He-he said that you were bitten by a hound,” she quavered, “and that the wound wouldn’t heal and began to rot.”

 

                Luke gave a harsh, emotionless bark of laughter. “He did, did he?” He looked down at the book again. “But we both know that’s a thin lie, don’t we?”

 

                She stared at him, fists clenched.

 

                “This hand,” Luke seethed, teeth gritted, “went down the neck of a kelpie.” He spat the word out like it was something rancid on his tongue. “A big, dark bastard twice the size of any man. It had teeth like a bear, and scaly skin like a trout’s belly. It bit off this hand, and would have had the rest of me, too, only for I sank a paring-knife into its bastard skull.” The stump was dark and shiny and long-healed. “I was twenty-three. Do you know what I did, girl?”

 

                Rey didn’t have the chance to respond before he burst out, “I was crippled more by the look of the thing than by the hand it stole. The minute this stump was healed, I took a fence-post and made it sharp as a blade. I went out in the water and I waited. The one that took my hand had a mate, a foul bitch with hair like hell and a beastly babe at her teat, and she came up, looking. I sent the fence post through her chest, and I crushed the spawn’s head under my boot.”

 

                Rey stifled a shudder. Luke hit the book again, this time with his splayed, remaining palm. “I burnt them until they were nothing but black ash, and threw them back into the sea where they came from. Then I hunted the rest that I could find, tore them limb from limb the way they do to God’s children. They’re all the Devil’s beasts, but the ones that come from the sea are the foulest of the lot.”

 

                Luke covered the stump of his right arm with his sleeve, glaring at her, so vexed his lip twitched. “They called me mad, in Iona. They said I was afflicted with madness, that I was mindsick. They sent me here for ‘rest and reflection’,” he scorned, “but I’m no fool. Abbott Macleod is waiting for me to die across the sea.” He closed the book, hand trembling with fury, and then looked at her again.

 

                Don’t break. Don’t break. He doesn’t know. He’s mad, he’s mad.

 

                “I’ve seen them,” the grizzled old man grunted, “and they made me a cripple for my troubles. You’ve seen them, too, but you’re still all in one piece. You’d best tell me where you saw it if you want to stay that way.”

 

                When Rey’s mouth fell open in horror, the priest barked out another lifeless laugh. “Don’t be soft, girl. I’m an old man. I don’t run around crippling fool girls like you, as much as it might knock some sense into you.”

 

                “I didn’t see anything,” Rey repeated, trying to keep her voice steady. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

 

                The man looked at her for a long time, icy eyes dark with frustration. Then – tiredness.. He sighed, like an old dog taking its last breath and lying down to die. “Fool girl,” he muttered. “They’re not spirits. They’re not faerie folk. They breathe, and they eat, and they won’t fade away when you mumble a fae spell.”

 

                Rey’s hand shook on the doorknob. “Suit yourself,” Luke growled, weary. “But don’t come back sobbing for God to give you your hands back when the beast takes them from you. Or worse. Now go on, get out.”

 

                She didn’t have to be told twice. She slammed the door behind her and ran.

 

               

 

Chapter Text

From left to right: Séan, Ciarán, Bran

Cont: Peadar, Dainín, Padraig

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Cont: Ruan, Finn, Kylo

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Cont: Rey, Ailis, Phasma, Rose

 

From the woodlands: Father Tomás, Aodh, Father Luke, Poe

 

 

 

 

 

                “He didn’t mean it, Han – he was frightened, and-“

 

                “It’s fine. No, don’t, it’s fine-“

 

                “It’s bleeding!”

 

                “I said it’s fine. He doesn’t know me. I shouldn’t have gotten so close.”

 

                “I don’t know what’s wrong with him. He should be … he should be like you.

 

                “We both knew that he’d be one or the other. Stop fussing, it’s fine.”

 

                “Maybe – maybe if we took him inland, took him to the woods, the rivers, then he’d change, he’d be gentler-“

 

-------------------------------------------------------------- 

 

                His body didn’t want to listen anymore, not once he felt the swell of the water beneath him. It wanted to launch itself off the edge of the currach and disappear into the depths, taking one of the men with him. Kylo offered to row, to keep his hands busy. Niall, the skinny youth with red cheeks, looked at Kylo’s thick arms, and gladly gave up the oars.

 

                The shining sun had disappeared behind a sudden mass of grey clouds, soft and odd in the blue sky. The shade made the water almost black. The other rowers puffed, red-faced. He tried to focus on Niall’s back as the boy bent over, wrapping yarn around the handles of the shark-spears.

 

                “What did you hunt down in Gaul, fathach?” the oldest one, Dainín, asked him, leaning on the side of the currach as Peadar rowed.

 

                You. “Sharks,” Kylo answered him.

 

                He laughed. He had a chipped tooth. “No, I know that. I meant what kind of shark. Shallow, grey – or are they different where you come from?”

 

                “There are blue sharks. Fast, and thin. Hard to spear.”

 

                “Did you get many?”

 

                “Every time I went out,” Kylo told him, knowing it was what he wanted to hear. The man’s eyes lit up.

 

                “You’ll have no trouble with these bastards, then. Shallowsharks, I mean. Siorc báis. They’re as slow as old men, and you could reach in and stroke them like a dog.”

 

                “It’s the grey ones you’d want to watch out for,” another said, from the other boat. He was short and stocky with dark hair shaved close to his scalp. Ciarán. “It was one of them that killed Hux.” Séan, surely his brother – the two were so alike Kylo found himself relying on smell to discern them – huffed, hands tight about the oars.

 

                Kylo was too hungry to feel like laughing, but he would have. “Aye,” Peadar grunted, a flaxen curl falling across his forehead. “You should have seen him, Gallach. It tore him apart. All that was left of him was half his face and some backbone. He was a state.”

 

                The memory made Kylo salivate. He swallowed deeply. “Aye, that he was,” Dainín agreed, running a hand across the water. “Still, we gave him a good send-off, didn’t we?”

 

                Kylo had seen these send-offs before, watching from below the water as the humans dropped their dead in holes or set them alight. “Are we rowing out past Ahch-To?” Ruan asked Dainín. That one was big, with a thick bushy beard. He was the father, Kylo realised, of the rabbit-girl, the one that had gotten up and smiled and shown him the dead thing, while Rey sat with her back to him, reeking of fury.

 

                Rey. He had seen her leave, pike in hand, the rabbit-girl and the green boy at her sides. They had disappeared up the field, along the path that the men said was the way through the forest.

 

                “No, stay near the headland. If there are greysharks around, I don’t want to risk being out in shite water. Look for slicks in the water, lads.”

 

                A dark, pungent smell overcame Kylo’s nose. It stank of salt and pale meat and made him remember being sick. Shark, His rumbling stomach churned despite itself. He turned his head to the east. There. In the distance, along the horizon, the clouds were darkening. The smell was coming closer. One. No, two. No – one. A big one.

 

                “We’re going the wrong way,” he found himself saying.

 

                “The wrong way?” Dainín asked.

 

                “That way,” Kylo said, jerking his head in the direction of the smell. The men exchanged looks. One said, “It can’t hurt to look.”

 

                The shark was coming towards them. They were upon it with minutes. Kylo didn’t see it at first, not until Niall stood up and exclaimed, “There it is!” A great dark shape passed beneath the currachs. They always did this, Kylo knew; he had often watched, from a distance, as the big dumb beasts came curiously to look at men in their boats, unwittingly swimming right into their own grisly fates.

 

                We’re not that different.

 

                “Fucking hell, he must be half dog!” Peadar cried delightedly. “How did you know it was there?”

 

                “Luck,” Kylo mumbled, but the rest dropped their oars and clambered to the sides of the currachs to look at the creature.

 

                The cumbersome shark was twice the length and width of a single currach, brindle-grey and mottled. Its fin sliced slowly through the water, its great mouth open wide, peacefully gliding along. It came to the currachs and slowed. Kylo could see its eye flickering about, taking them in, before it disappeared beneath the currach, and came out the other side.

 

                Kylo stood, currach creaking with his weight, and looked down at the laces of the coat. Niall, ever eager, said, “I’ll do it.”

 

                The boy took longer to do it than the girl, though he focused all of his attention on it, tongue sticking out of his mouth in concentration.

 

“Here, what are you at, beithíoch? Are you getting in?” Dainín asked him. “You’ll never throw a pike if you’re in the water.”

 

                Fuck off. His stomach ached for meat, but his skin ached for the saltwater. “It’s how I’ve always done it.”

 

                “Leave him off, I say,” Ruan called, “he’s gotten us this far.”

 

                Dainín turned back to look at him. “Where do you strike it?” Kylo asked him, waiting for the boy to finish with the laces. The shark was moving so slowly that he wondered why Rey had said they’d struggle to catch it.

 

                “In the gill.” That’s why. When Dainín saw Kylo’s face, he frowned, offended. “No? What would you have us do?”

 

                “Get it in the neck,” Kylo told him. “They escape, don’t they, when you get them in the gills?”

 

                The man went pink. “Not always.

 

                “They swim like old men, you said it yourself.” Kylo pointed at the beast, happily swimming along beneath the boats. “You could go right up and kiss them, but if you get underneath them, they’re not getting away, and even if they do, they’re not getting far.”

 

                Niall pulled the laces free, and Kylo let the coat slide off. He found himself folding it – why? – and placing it down carefully, but pulled the shirt

 

                “Beir é seo,” he heard Niall say, holding out the pike. He didn’t get the chance to take it before there was an almighty splash, and the beast breached the water, not twenty feet from the currachs. It crashed back down into the depths so hard it soaked them all with salt, the swell from its impact rocking the little boats dangerously.

 

                Kylo caught the side of the boat, watching as it resumed its peaceful gait. The men were laughing, wiping water from their eyes. He didn’t know that they could breach; their lofty bodies were too bulky and their movements too slow to even suggest that they had the strength to launch themselves clean out of the water. “Beulke,” he growled, snatching the pike up from the hull.

 

                “Don’t blue sharks jump, Gallach?

 

                “Not where I come from.”

 

                “These ones do,” Peadar called. “Trying to show us how big it is. As if we couldn’t tell.”

 

                “Are you really going to get in with it?” Niall asked him. He couldn’t have been more than fifteen, all red cheeks and broken voice. It irritated Kylo to no end. “And catch it in the neck?”

 

                “And how do you suppose you’re going to get up close enough to do that?” Dainín asked him.

 

                “Watch,” Kylo said, and went over the side.

               

The water was so cold and so good on his skin that he half-considered discarding the pike and disappearing. Don’t. He had to force himself to keep his jaw hinged, but dared open his gills under the water where the men couldn’t see. The pressure of the water against his man-lungs was odd, and the pike was an unusual weight in his hand. He blinked, allowing his eyes to adjust to the darkening gloom, and watched as the shark turned, ever so slowly, and came back around the side of the currachs.

 

                Kylo waited until it went past him, its fishy pale eye considering him as it swayed its great tail. He even reached out his hand and brushed it along the beast’s side. Its skin was as rough as granite. Its gills pulsed, inhaling and exhaling, like his did.

 

                “What the hell is he doing?” he heard one of the men exclaim, voice deadened by the water.

 

                “He’s fucking touching it,” someone else spluttered.

 

                “Bloody Gauls.”

 

                The shark turned away from him and went beneath another currach. Kylo went after it, kicking his legs and staying parallel beneath the ancient creature’s pale belly. He hefted the pike into his right hand. The shark, alarmed at his awkward position, swung its tail around in an effort to get away.

 

                Kylo dug a hand into its side fin to steady himself. The creature truly thrashed then, panicked, and Kylo heard the men cry out as its great tail struck a currach. Behind him, there was a splash. A familiar smell reached him.

 

                His stomach roared, throat aching for blood. One fell in. He turned his head to look, closing his gills, and saw Niall in the water, legs kicking like a seal as he tried to make his way back up to the surface.

 

                It’d be so easy. You’d never have to see her again. Just grab him and disappear.

 

                His mouth began to water, and he saw Rey’s face in his mind, eyes full of tears.

 

                Kylo turned his back on the boy, gripped the thrashing shark, and shoved the pike up into its soft underjaw with such force that it went clean through the beast’s head – it made a satisfying crunch as it thrust through the gristle – and broke free of the water. The shark thrashed weakly for a split second, and then slumped. Around him, red clouded the water. He heard Niall break the surface, take a great gasping breath, and exclaim, “Did you see that?”

 

                “Is that the pike?”

 

                He got it from underneath!”

 

                “He what?”

 

                “He went under the fucking thing and rammed the spear right up into its head! He had it by the fins!”

 

                When he felt the dead beast begin to loll, and sink, Kylo started to pull, trying not to break the pike off in its flesh. “Get a rope around it before he drowns, you dogs!” Dainín cried. Then there were three of them in the water at once, cheeks bulging with air. Ciarán squinted in the salt, pulling a rope tight around the shark’s tail, while Bran snapped another sharp around its midriff. They were calm in the water, he saw, for all their human clumsiness. Their bodies moved easily, backs arching and hands holding with sure grips, though with nowhere the dexterity and ease of his own movements. Bran motioned for him to pull out the pike, hands slow in the water, and he did. Red blinded him for a moment, the blood rank and salty, and he took hold of one of the ropes as he went back up, pulling it with far more force than they ever could.

 

                When his head broke the surface, he heard, “Look at the size of it!”

 

                They made it unnecessarily complicated for themselves, Kylo found, to drag the thing back to shore. They pulled the ropes from the sides of their boats, feet uneven. Their currachs rocked dangerously, and they fell in more than once. Every time one of them ended up in the water, Kylo found it increasingly difficult not to respond. Halfway back, Kylo leaned on the side of the boat and said, frustrated, “It’s easier to push in the water. Pull – not too hard – and I’ll push it.”

 

                They did so, and they found it far more beneficial to do it his way. Kylo went beneath it, shoving, only coming up for ‘air’ for their comfort; if he stayed down for too long, one always asked nervously, “Is he alright?” It wasn’t very long before his kicking legs hit sand, and they were passing over the shelf.

 

                The women were far more excited over a dead shark than anyone, he felt, ought to have been. As soon as he was on his feet, hauling the shark singlehandedly up the sand, he heard ecstatic squealing. “Phasma!” one of them exclaimed. “Phasma, look!”

 

                The big blonde woman – Phasma, he supposed – was sitting outside one of the little houses, knife and turnip in hand, but stood when she saw him. Kylo let go of the rope for a moment and reached into the currach to retrieve the big sharkskin coat.

 

                She came down the dunes, hiking her shift up around her ankles. Kylo watched her. Ailis came running, too, squealing. The slim woman with twin boys laughed as Dainín lifted her off of the ground and swung her around. Every single one came down; men, women, children - they touched the shark and embraced one another and watched Kylo from a distance.

 

                Phasma stopped short several feet in front of him. She touched the shark, rubbing its cold rough flesh. "That's got to be twenty feet," she said, as though she could quite scarcely believe it.

 

                Kylo gave her the coat. She took it and hugged it close against her chest. "I don't want to ruin it," he told her. "We don't hunt with coats where I come from."

 

                There were tears in her eyes. "Bless you," she whispered.

 

                 He nodded. His eyes went behind her, searching. He couldn’t smell Rey, or the green boy, or the rabbit-girl.

 

                "He did it by himself!" Kylo heard Peadar exclaim. "He went in with it and speared it through the head! Took him half a minute! Less, maybe!”

 

                Ailis ran at him, squawking, and jumped. He caught her – but only just – and she threw her arms around his neck, squeezing so tightly Kylo thought she was like to choke him. Part of him wanted to drop her on her behind, and part of him wanted to rip out her throat. It became difficult, then, when she pulled back and kissed him all over his face.

 

                “You’re so brave,” Ailis exclaimed, face pink with excitement, as though Phasma wasn’t still standing there. “Isn’t he so brave, Phasma?” She kept looking down, eyes practically glued to his bare chest, pressing herself flush against him. She curled her fingers in his dark hair.

 

                Beyond the wall, he saw the rabbit girl emerge from the woodland path, bow in hand. Rey appeared behind her, and the boy behind her. Her face was pale and wan, but as soon as she saw him, blood flushed her cheeks.

 

                Fucking hell.

 

                Kylo dropped Ailis without a word, letting go of her thighs so that she hit the sand. The girl had good balance, and landed on her feet, but still stared up at him, wounded. He thought he heard Phasma snort as she walked away, holding the coat as though it were a newborn babe.

 

                Rey went across the grass and disappeared into her little house, followed by the boy, but the rabbit-girl sprinted down the dunes, another brace of dead creatures handing from her belt. Her father, the big one with the beard, stood up and held out his arms, and she ran into them.

 

                In his mind’s eye, he saw Rey running down the beach instead of into the roundhouse, and right into his arms.

 

 

 

Chapter Text

                                                                      

                                                                      

                                                                                                                                             

                                                                      

 

 

                 “When you hunt sharks,” Rey wondered, “do they bite?”

 

                “Shallowsharks have no teeth, pet,” Aengus said, skinning the rabbit with the ease of one who had skinned hundreds.

 

                “Then how do they chew their food?”

 

                “They swallow it whole, I should think.”

 

                Rey watched as he pulled the wet pelt free of the rabbit and spitted the carcass. Her nose wrinkled. “What do they eat?”

 

                “Fish, I’d say.”

 

                “Oh.”

 

                Aengus put the spitted rabbit over the fire and shook the pelt. “Or maybe they eat cailíní who do nothing but ask questions all day.”

 

                She giggled, and he smiled, leaning up to hang the pelt on the rack, and then sitting down again. What do faeries eat?” she asked, listening to the tinkling of the silver bells on the rowans. “Do they eat little food?”

 

                “Aye, tiny loaves of bread, and tiny rabbits, and tiny cakes if they’re good.”

 

                “What about tiny sharks?”

 

                Aengus laughed, leaning back. “They have minnows instead,” he told her. “They have wee spears made from needles, and they go hunting in puddles on currachs made of cobnut shells.” He nudged her, chuckling. “That’s why Phasma’s needles go missing all the time.”

 

                “Do the faeries take them?” Her eyes sparkled at the thought. “Could we see them?”

 

                “What did I tell you about faeries, Rey?”

 

                Rey’s face fell. “That we’re to leave them alone,” she repeated.

 

                “That’s right.”

 

                “But what if we saw them? Without looking? What if we found them by accident?”

 

                Aengus considered this. “I think they’d have to consult with their faerie king and queen first. They’d have to decide whether or not to steal you away to Tir na nÓg and make you into a faerie as well.”

 

                Rey squealed in delight, clapping her hands. “Would they?” she exclaimed. “Would they really?”

 

                “They might.” He turned the rabbit on its spit, the skin beginning to crisp and blister. “But don’t go looking, just in case.”

 

                She watched him for a moment. “Aengus,” she began, “if those sharks have no teeth, what bit you there?” She reached out to touch the great torn scar on his forearm as the sleeve of his tunic fell back, healed but ugly, holding memories of chunks of flesh gouged from their place.

 

                He tensed, moving his arm away. “Go and play, pet.”

 

                “But-“

 

                “Rey,” he said firmly, voice sterner. “Go on.”

 

 

 

                She saw the shark before she saw Kylo; enormous and dark and bleeding all over the sand. Then she saw Ailis, clinging to Kylo, arms about his neck. Rey felt something odd and churlish rise up within her, but stalked off to the hut before she could explore it any further. Finn came with her, and Rose dashed down to greet her father, her rabbits banging against her leg as she ran.

 

                “They got one,” Finn said, surprised, once they were alone. “I didn’t think they would.” He watched her as she threw down her pike and went to sit on her cot – Dainín had fixed it for her – eyes wary.

 

                “What’s wrong?”

 

                She rested her head on her hand. “I told Father Tomás.”

 

                Finn spluttered, “What?”

 

                “Not – not about him. Just … just that I saw one.”

 

                “Saw a what, Rey?”

 

                It felt strange to say it. “A water-horse.

 

                Finn looked at her for a long time before he spoke. “A water-horse,” he echoed, throat tense. Rey saw his fists clench, tendons standing out in his neck. “Rey-“

 

                “It’s in Father Tomás’ Bible.” She pulled her braid around her shoulder and began to unravel it. “In the back. There’s pages about things called manticores and chimeras and … and … kelpies.” Her eyes went to the cracked butter-urn where she kept Poe’s seaglass pendant. Didn’t do much good, did it?

 

                He came and sat on the cot beside her. Rey’s fingers worked over the braid as she looked at the floor. “Is that … is that what he is?” Finn asked, voice barely a whisper, though they were alone. He glanced at the door, almost as if he expected Kylo to burst in at any moment.

 

                “I think he might be. But…”

 

                “But what?”

 

                She sighed. “That priest, the sour-faced one from Alba – he heard me talking to Father Tomás.”

 

                “And?”

 

                Rey shook out her hair and let it fall loose and heavy down her front. “He heard me, and … he knows.” She held out her arm. “He only has one hand. He told me that the other one was bitten off by … by …”

 

                “By a kelpie?”

 

                Rey nodded. Finn turned away from her, inhaling deeply through his nose, brow furrowed in worry. He rested his hands on his knees. “Oh, Jesus,” he muttered. “Oh, Jesus, Rey, we’re so fucked.

                “We are not fucked. It’s fine. The abbot in his parish sent him here to die because he thinks he’s mad. He told me he’s killed them, though. Kelpies. Lots of them.”

 

                Finn’s head snapped up, “Then – then maybe he could kill this-“

 

                “Finn,” Rey said sharply. “Don’t.”

 

                “But he’s-“

 

                “Are you blind, or just stupid?” she asked. “Didn’t you see the size of that thing out there? I’ll bet you anything his nose led them to it, and I’ll bet you anything that without him, they’d have been out there for days and would have come back with half a net of minnows and sore arses. We are not killing anyone.

 

                They sat in silence for a moment. Rey fiddled with the ends of her hair.

 

                “What did you say to Rose in the church?” she inquired mildly.

 

                He made a face. “I think I told her I didn’t want to … to …”

 

                “Ah.”

 

                “I feel awful for it, but I can’t lie to her.”

 

                “The next time we go to market, you should tell Poe. He’ll be glad.”

 

                Finn’s cheeks flushed darker, but he just nodded.

 

                “I want to see him,” he mumbled. He went and knelt at the firepit so that he wouldn’t have to look at her, striking the flints until they caught fire in the unlit tinder. “I want to go to Baile na Fia and see him. He was right.”

 

                “About?” Rey prompted.

 

                Finn watched as the flames began to swallow the dry grass, smoking upwards. “He said, when he was here last, that the whole … thing with Rose was just a flight of fancy. He said I’d come running soon enough, and he’d be waiting.”

 

                Poe had flirted with every girl in Dún Canann – even Phasma, who hadn’t been able to hide her smile – but he liked Finn the best. Poe could have been ten years his senior, and yet, Rey felt, they were more suited to one another than any girl from here to Land’s End.

 

                She watched him, bent over the flames. “It’s alright-“

 

                “No, it isn’t.” Finn reached over and took a log from the careful pile beside the pit. “I’ll have to marry a woman, and have children. And Poe will just be some whore on the side. It’s not fair.”

 

                “You could play the law at its own game.”

 

                “How?”

 

                Rey shrugged. “Marry a woman, and pretend to be impotent.” The look of hurt pride he gave her was enough to make her splutter with laughter. “What? Then there’ll be a divorce, and no woman will want anything to do with you ever again, and you can run away with Poe and live like hermits in the forest.”

 

                He dumped the log on the fire, sparks flying out at the impact. “He kissed me the last time he was here.”

 

                Rey had never been kissed before, not properly. She leaned forward. “Did he?”

 

                Finn sat back, crossing his legs beneath him. “He took me behind the wall, just as it got dark.” When he didn’t continue, Rey reached out and poked him with her foot.

 

                “Abair liom!”

 

                “What’s there to tell?”

 

                “Finn,” she said, “I’ve never had a kiss. This is probably the closest I’ll get to a good one in a long time. Tell me.”

 

                “Well-“ He twiddled his fingers. “I mean – it was a kiss. He grabbed me by the front of my shirt and kissed me, and his tongue … it was …”

 

                “Did you like it?”

 

                “Of course I liked it.”

 

                “What did he do with his tongue?”

 

                He looked almost sheepish as he said, “… put it – put it in my mouth.”

 

                Rey almost squealed despite herself, giggling. “Finn,” she exclaimed. “You’re so lucky.” She pulled off her boots and curled up on the cot, pulling the great sheepskin over herself. “Can men … lay together?”

 

                He stared at her. “I think so.”

 

                “How?”

 

                “I don’t know. But I think they can.”

 

                “You’ll have to find out.”

 

                He couldn’t help but smile. Rey smiled back, and sighed. “We’re in a right mess,” she murmured.

 

                “I know. I’m queer and you’re warding a kelpie.”

 

                Rey looked at the fire as it grew, licking around the bottom of the log before it finally gained enough strength to climb the sides and swallow it entirely; a hot, hungry red mouth.

 

                “Poe gave me a necklace, the last time he was here. Seaglass on white wool. He said it was to keep the kelpies away.”

               

                Finn snorted. “Tell him you want a new one. Tell him this one didn’t work a bit.”

 

                Rey propped herself up on her elbows. “Maybe, in a few days, we can take some of the heifers to market. The shark’s big enough that we can afford to sell a few. We can take a few heifers and the two black lambs, and we can go to see Poe.” He looked up at her, and she reached out to take his hand. “It’ll be alright,” she promised. “You’ll have to compromise, somewhere, but it’ll be alright. Promise me you won’t worry.”

                “I won’t.” He squeezed her hand.

 

                “Promise me,” she insisted.

 

                He rolled his eyes, though he smiled again. “I promise.”

 

                Finn left her not long after, citing fatigue as the reason. Rey was tired, too. The walk and the panic of Father Luke’s confrontation had drained her. Her stomach rumbled, but she didn’t want to have to face him, face Kylo, and the shark. The bargain.

 

                She lay on her side, watching the fire. The flames flickered and curled, wrapping around one another, dancing across the smouldering log. In the heat, her ankles itched, her tender back throbbing. It was not long before her eyes began to close of their own accord.

 

               The fire spat and crackled.

 

 ----------------------------------------------------

 

                     When she reached out to touch the horse, it snorted, jerking its head back. Don’t, she heard.

 

 ----------------------------------------------------

 

                    He kissed her bruised ankles, closing his big pale hands around them as though he meant to bruise them again. When he grazed his teeth along the inside of her calf, Rey’s breath hitched above the water, and the sharp teeth became a tongue, sliding over the yellowing bruises. The water lapped around her waist, half-submerged. His hands slid up her calves, her thighs, and settled at her hips, long fingers pressing into the flesh. Rey’s hands found his, curling around thick wrists. The waves were violent, crashing viciously off the rocks, flying upwards and foaming like hounds’ mouths. The sound echoed and ricocheted around the cave, amplified the noise tenfold. It made Rey’s ears ring.

 

                The rocks were cold and jagged and slippery against her back. Rey was sure that she would have slid right off and into the sea, but he kept her firmly in place, even as he broke free of the water to look at her.

 

                He was so beautiful. Rey had never seen hair so black, or so thick, though it was soaked now, dripping with saltwater. She had never seen such dark eyes, nor such shell-pink lips. His face was all angles, long nose and sharp cheeks. His size, she thought, had perhaps once frightened her. Rey didn’t remember. She found herself looking upon his great bulk with softer eyes now, gaze travelling down broad shoulders and wide chest and thick arms.

 

                It was cold. Each wave that hit the rocks around them soaked her with freezing salt, raining down on them both, though they may as well have stroked him for all the impact it did. It was cold, and yet Rey was burning.

 

                It hurt, she found, when he pressed into her, broad chest heaving, but she didn’t make a sound. She made herself look at him, resting her forehead against his, trying to ascertain a slippery hold on his sea-slick skin. He was warm – burning, too, almost – under her hands, and his breath was as hot as a horse’s as he buried his face against the curve of her throat and bit her.

 

                She gasped, voice ringing against the sky-old walls, and then whimpered as the teeth once more became a gentle tongue, laving over where he’d bitten her like a wordless apology, kissing the marked skin. She felt him move, once, twice, and a third time, before it became some kind of rhythm; a pattern that Rey’s body knew though she had never felt it before.

 

                It was not long before he bit her again, and made a sound that Rey knew was as ancient and as unconscious as a cry of pain. He did not kiss the mark that he left.

 

                Rey caught hold of his hand before he disappeared into the sea, slipping. She was crying, and she didn’t know why. He kissed the kelpglass around her neck, and let go of her hand. “I’ll come back, sweetheart. I promise.” And he was gone.

 

                She sat there for an immeasurable amount of time, letting the waves crash over her. She could still feel what he had done within her.

 

                A seal appeared in the water, bobbing up and down on the rough waves. It stared at her with wet black eyes, and barked.

 

 

                                                                    

 

 

Chapter Text

                                                                       

I thought that I should begin by telling you all that I sat up this morning, enormous mug of tea in hand, put on Whitney Houston's 'I Wanna Dance with Somebody', and spent about two hours planning the next 43 chapters. There will be even more after that, but 43 (up to Chapter 56) was as far as I got before I had to go to class. I sat and planned the titles of chapters and brief synopses so that instead of sitting and taking ages to devise a chapter, there are tons of them practically ready to go. I can assure that you're all going to PISS yourselves with excitement. They are, if I do say so myself, fucking fantastic.

Maz comes into it. Rey figures out who she is. The dead come back to life. Journeys south happen. Mad sex. Like, CRAZY sex.

However, I won't be starting the new chapters until Saturday evening GMT at least, because I have to resit an essay for one of my classes, and then resit another exam that I didn't do so great in. I've been given the opportunity to do these BOTH at home because of the kindness of my tutors, instead of having to go to a special centre and cause hassle for everyone involved. I want to do really well in both of these assignments because I've been treated so well in regards to the repeat, and so I'll be spending most of today and tomorrow doing them.

Do not lose faith: I am, as you all know, a very fast writer. I can bang out a 4,000 word essay on Neanderthal replacement in Europe in an hour and a half. And, considering that so many chapters are PLANNED now, it'll be that much faster.

I just wanted to let you all know, because regular updates are my thing, and this is the longest I've gone without updating, and I feel like an ass, but it can't be helped.

On a lighter note, I'm going to start doing my art again, particularly illustration-style art for what I'm writing.

As a gift for my lack of updates, I'm going to post the chapter names below this chunk of text, and you guys can go wild in the comments. Drop theories like mixtapes!

 

  • 14. To the Begging I Will Go: (Kylo)
  • 15. Redder A Beast Than Ever I Saw: (Rey)
  • 16. Dreams of Freshwater (Kylo): 
  • 17. You Ride the Black Horse (Rey):
  • 18. Keeps the Kelpies Away (Kylo): .
  • 19. Etain and Midir (Rey): 
  • 20. Caught One-Handed (Kylo): 
  • 21. Born of the Depths (Rey):
  • 22. I’ll Come Back (Kylo): 
  • 23. As Old as the Sun: (Rey): 
  • 24. The Most Delicate of Situations (Kylo):
  • 25. Where the Land Meets the Sea (Rey): 
  • 26, These Weary Whaling Grounds (Kylo): 
  • 27. Women on the Water (Rey): 
  • 28. Touch the Sky (Kylo):
  • 29. Seithe na Rón (Rey): 
  • 30. The Shoulders of the World: (Kylo): 
  • 31. If Larks Could Laugh (Rey): 
  • 32. God Above, Fear Within (Kylo):
  • 33. At Peace (Rey): 
  • 34. Let Me Look After You (Kylo): 
  • 35. Handfasting (Rey): 
  • 36. Sceólang (Kylo): 
  • 37. A Broken Oar (Rey): 
  • 38. Who Am I? (Kylo): 
  • 39. No Man's Daughter (Rey): 
  • 40. The Isle of Hides (Rey): 
  • 41. It Has Always Been Her (Kylo):
  • 42. All that Ever Was (Rey): 
  • 43. A Stór Mo Chroí (Kylo): 
  • 44. Idir Ann Is Idir As (Rey): 
  • 45. Foals in the Waves (Kylo): 
  • 46. Fallow-Herbs for Lovesickness (Rey): 
  • 47. A Dress Made of Bluebells (Kylo): 
  • 48. Across the Stars and Through the Seas (Rey): 
  • 49. Up on High Wood (Kylo): 
  • 50. Squalling like a Pup (Rey): 
  • 51. Tír na nÓg (Kylo): 
  • 52. Neeps and Leeks (Rey): 
  • 53. Cobnut Shells (Kylo): 
  • 54. I Just Know (Rey): 
  • 55. Penn an Wlas (Kylo): 
  • 56. This Wild Land (Rey): 
  • 57. And Throw Away the Key (Kylo):
  • 58. As the Fíanna Did (Rey): 

      Have fun!

      Breeanna xoxox

 

Chapter Text

 

They pulled the shark to the pier and gutted it, slicing it from the pike mark in its neck to almost the end of its tail. The stench made Kylo nauseous, and so he held his breath, watching with a tense throat as the beast’s innards spilled out of it and all over the pier. His eyes kept going towards Rey’s little house.

 

                What was that? The thought – no, the image – had been so appallingly intrusive, thrust into his mind so suddenly that he knew that he had not idly come up with it himself. He relived it a moment; Rey, running, her hair flying out behind her, jumping into his arms – he could feel the impact as her body hit his, feel the heat of her, as though she had burnt herself onto him.

 

                He didn’t understand, and that frustrated him. He focused on the dead shark, leaning back as Dainín slid the knife beneath and pulled off the skin. The twins – little red-haired things with freckled faces – were lingering at the wall, watching.

 

                “Da,” one called, “can we help?”

 

                “Oh, fucking hell,” the man muttered, low, so that the children didn’t hear them. “I told them I’d play íomaint with them. I forgot we were off out on the water.” He craned his neck to look at them, and said loudly, “Go and help your Mam with the mussels, and I’ll come and play with ye in a while.”

               

                “But, Da, we want to see the shark.”

 

                “Don’t come near it, Naoise, it stinks like hell. You can fetch me my shark-knife if you want to help, it’s on the wall.” Dainín turned, hands all bloody.

 

                The one Kylo supposed was called Naoise stared at the knives lined up on the wall. “Which one, Da?”

 

                “The one with the red leather on the handle.”

 

                “There’s loads with red, Da.”

 

                “I’ll get it,” Kylo found himself saying.

 

                “Good man. Mind the blade, it’s sharp.”

 

                Kylo stepped over the shark’s tail and crossed the pier. The sky was darkening, and the air smelled of rain. The boys stared at him as he approached, as though he had two heads. They watched him as he bent down and examined the knives. He heard them whispering.

 

                “You ask him.”

 

                “No, you ask him.”

 

                “No, you!”

 

                One cleared their throat as he picked up the shark-knife, holding it by the blade the way he’d seen the men do. Kylo turned to look at them. He was sure he looked a sight; hands bloodied, splattered with shark’s gore, damp from the water.

 

                “Are you a giant?” the one whose name he didn’t know asked cautiously. Brave, Kylo thought.

 

                “Don’t be bothering him, Rossa,” Kylo heard Dainín call.

 

                Kylo looked up at Rey’s little house, and then back at the children. They gazed up at him with eyes full of fearful curiosity. They were, Kylo could tell, the kind of children that were bathed every evening by their mother, but always ended up with their freckled faces were smeared with muck, their little knees grazed, their red curls full of grime.

 

                “Why?” he asked. “Are you afraid of giants?”

 

                Rossa jutted out his chin and glared up at him. “No,” he huffed, “I’m not afraid of anything. I was just asking.

 

                “Giants isn’t even real, anyway,” Naoise muttered, pride bruised.

 

                “No? What would you say if I told you that I was a giant?”

 

                He was sure, to them, that he was; he stood very nearly two feet taller than even the tallest of the men.

 

                “Are you?”

 

                “Maybe,” Kylo allowed, taking the knife back to Dainín. The twins followed him, clambering over the pier. As he reached over the shark, leaning his hand on its rough slick side, to give Dainín the knife, the man smiled, thankful. Kylo found himself smiling back.

 

                “Maybe’s a stupid answer. Are you a giant or not?”

 

                Kylo watched them both. “Are you sure you’re not afraid of giants?”

 

                “No,” they insisted in unison, indignant. Dainín chuckled to himself.

 

                “Then it shouldn’t matter.”

 

                “Mam says that giants eat children,” Naoise told him, chewing a puck lower lip, eyes wary. He fiddled with the front of his shirt. “Do you eat children?”

 

                “Only sometimes.”

 

                The twins gaped. Dainín laughed, then, watching them. “You’d better behave then, hadn’t you?” he asked. “You’d better eat your neeps and wash your face when your Mam tells you, or else Kylo’ll swallow you up.” The thought made Kylo’s stomach growl so violently it hurt. He thought about the girl, about Ailis, about blood and bone, but saw Rey’s face again, and shook the thought violently from his mind.

 

                Why?

 

                It was evening before the shark was nothing but odd bones and sinew. When Dainín carried the remainder of the meat up the sand to the houses, and the rest of the men cleaned the pier with harsh reed brushes and carried away their knives.

 

                Ailis’ brother was the last one to leave the pier, lingering. “Are you coming, fathach?” Peadar asked him, brushing curls out of his eyes.

 

                “I’ll stay a while, I think.”

 

                The man nodded. “Only I thought Ailis wanted to –“ When Kylo looked at him, he conceded, “Nevermind. Tomorrow, then?”

 

                He left him alone. Kylo went to the water’s edge, but didn’t get in. Instead, he dropped to the sand, and watched the burgeoning tide as it crept up slowly around him.

                The greying sky was thick with clouds, promising cool rain after the heat of the past days. Under it, the water was blackening, the way it had been the day he had first seen her in the water, pale legs kicking in the gloom as though she had been born there.

 

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

                “He’s not like me. He’s saltborn to the bone, and you know it. This was a mistake. There’s danger in him, Leia. He’s not made for the rivers. He belongs –“

 

                “He is your son –“

 

                “He’s my son, but he doesn’t belong with me. He belongs at Land’s End, with or without you.”

 

                “Han – Han, he’s just a boy!”

 

                “And that boy is going to grow, and he’s going to grow big. Then he’ll grow far more dangerous than you or I could ever handle. You need to take him home. He’ll go mad if you keep him here.”

 

                “Don’t you love your own son? Don’t you want to help him, help him to learn to be gentler?”

 

                “Don’t you dare accuse me of not loving my son – of course I love him. But he doesn’t know how to be gentle. He’s wild, wilder than you or any of the others. And those visions, those fits-

 

                “He’s different. He can’t help what he sees.”

 

                “That’s what I’m trying to tell you, fool woman, if you’d listen. He’s not like the others at all.”

 

                “Haven’t you thought that perhaps it’s a gift? Or can’t you pull your head that far out of your rear? He’s strong, he’s so strong, Han, and he can see these things-

 

                “Wild things, mad things. I don’t know what they mean, but they’re not right. Don’t you think I’ve heard him tell you? Human-girls and sharks and seals. It’s this place that’s doing it to him. He doesn’t belong here, Leia, how many times do I have to say it?”

 

                “You’re ashamed of him.”

 

                “What? No-“

 

                “You’re ashamed of him because he’s not like you. You’re ashamed of him because he doesn’t play games with Men and show off for them. You’re ashamed because he hunts.”

 

                “Don’t be so ridiculous.”

 

                “Fine. Stay here and get yourself killed. Speak ill of your son because he’s strong. But don’t dare come near him again, do you hear me, Han?”

 

                “But-“

 

                “Leave him be. If he’s so wild, just leave him be.”

 

-------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

                It took him a moment to realise that she was there, sitting a safe distance away, very real and very human. Her long hair was loose, and she fiddled with the ends, tide coming up around her bare white feet. Her ankles were black and blue, he realised, from his hands. He clenched them into fists, and didn’t speak.

 

                Nor did Rey. They sat in silence. Kylo watched the water, feeling as though his throat had been torn out. The sun lingered in the middle of the sky, suspended halfway between east and west, glowing even through the grey, like embers in ashes.

 

                “I know what you are.” She crossed her legs beneath her. “You’re not stupid. Surely you knew I’d never – I’d never …” She trailed off, digging ruts in the wet sand with her fingers. “I couldn’t.

 

                Kylo didn’t respond. I knew. “I know you’re hungry,” she went on, trying to sound firm. “I know it hurts. But you can’t hurt anyone here.” When he turned his head to look at her, she inhaled deeply and told him, voice weakening, “I won’t let you hurt anyone here.”

               

                They looked at one another for a moment. Her eyes were wide and wet and tired. The tide had come right up around his legs, around his wrists where he had his palms flat on the sand. The seafoam dragged and lingered on his skin.

 

                “Deer,” she said, “there are deer in the forest, twice your height. They’re so tame you could reach out and touch them. You can have as many of them as you want, I’ll even take you to them.” She turned her gaze towards the water. “Just … please. Please don’t hurt anyone.”

 

                Kylo waited until her breathing had steadied before he spoke. “What’s kelpglass?” he asked her again.

 

                Rey tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. “Seaglass.”

 

                “What’s seaglass?”

 

                She almost smiled. “Glass you find in the sea.” She reached into her shift and took out a dark stone, hung about her neck on white string. She pulled it over her head and held it out to him. When he took it, his hand touched hers, and he felt something shimmer in the air.

                

                It was the same stone that Ailis had put into his hand, the same stone he had seen his eyes in. When he lifted it, the setting sun shone through it, and it glowed green. Jade dappled his face.

 

                "A friend gave it to me. He said it keeps the kelpies away."

 

                 Kylo looked at her, stone hard in his hand, warm from the heat of her skin. "What's kelpies?" he asked. 

 

                 "I think -" She swallowed, hugging her knees against her chest as though she was cold. "I think that's what you are."

 

                Kylo turned away from her, and watched the water.

 

               

 

 

 

Chapter Text

                                     

 

 

               She didn’t ask him where he wanted to sleep that night, wary of him in his hunger. She left him when the tide came up around her thighs, soaking the ends of her shift. He didn’t move, sitting as still as a rock, facing the place where the black sea met the darkening sky.

 

                Her feet sank into the wet sand as she walked.

 

                Rey’s hips felt heavy when she lay on her cot, not-quite-pain settling low in her stomach, plucking insistently. She stared up at the thatch ceiling, pulling her sheepskin over herself, and cursed. Fuck it. Fuck it, fuck it, fuck it all to hell. She had felt it only once before in her life.

 

                She had been sixteen, in the middle of Bealtaine, at market with Phasma and Rose. The day was grey but hot, the air thick and close, making her feel as though her nose was stuffed with wool. Phasma had gone to trade a heifer for a sow, and Rose went to peruse the apothecarist’s stall for oils for her bow. Rey had gone with her, stopping along the way to pat the head of a bleating black goat hobbled beside a rack of glass beads.

 

                Beyond the rows of bottles and jars lay the smithy, where big men worked iron day and night, bringing great hammers down so hard on scalding almost-blades that sparks flew in all directions. As Rose lifted the jars and peered into them, arguing with the lanky girl overseeing the stall, Rey’s eyes went to the forge.

 

                One of the men was as big as a bear. He had a black beard and braided hair almost as long as hers, shot through with a single strand of silver. There was thick coarse hair on his arms and his chest and, Rey was sure, elsewhere beneath his clothes. One thick brow was cleft in twain by an old, pale scar. He had great bulging arms, a thick waist, and grey eyes the colour of the sea.

 

                The memory felt weak; not in what it contained, but in what it meant. The memory of the man at the forge felt pale compared to the dream, dreamt in almost-day while the rest of the world moved around her.

 

 

 

                “Take it and get rid of it. Burn it if you have to.”

 

                “It won’t burn, Phasma! You can’t destroy it.”

 

                “Then take it and put it somewhere it’ll never be found.”

 

                “I’ll hide it in the roof.”

 

                “No! Aengus, don’t you dare – I don’t want it anywhere where she can find it. Take it out in your boat and fling it up into a tree on one of the islands, or throw it into the water, or – or – I don’t care!  Just get it away.”

 

                “I – I’ll take it out to Ahch-To. I’ll bury it on Ahch-To.”

 

                “Take a vest-box and lock it up tight. I want it gone. I never want to see it again; do you hear me?”

 

                “You won’t see it again. Neither will she.”

 

  ---------------------------------------------------------------

 

                They walked in utter silence, though there were hundreds of things that Rey could have said. She pulled her sheepskin close about her shoulders – the dawn was cool, and it was cooler still in the shade of the woods, promising rain. The dimmed sun meant that the woods were darkened, casting shadows through the trees, blackening hollows as dark as a bear’s mouth. Songbirds called to one another, twittering incessantly, and carrion crows cawed like omens from the treetops.

 

                How hard, she wondered, would it be to find the deer? Finn said the forest was thick with them, and he never lied, but a forest thick with deer meant a forest thick with wolves, too.

 

                Wolves. She hoped to God that they didn’t see any, and that none saw them. She dared glance sideways at Kylo, big and clothed and towering. The scar she had given him was starkly apparent against his face, livid and red. Rey faltered. In the dream, he’d had no scar. His face had been pale and unblemished, gentler, almost. He strode on now with heavy dark eyes, a hard mouth, like an irritable unfed hound. She wondered if he had ever seen a wolf, and wanted to ask, but stayed her tongue.

 

                Lorcan huffed and leaned against her shoulder as he plodded along, very nearly crushing her foot beneath a hoof and poking her in the eye with a long ear at the same time. “Don’t,” Rey grumbled, gently pushing him away. “Walk, Lorcan.”

 

                The ass snorted and jerked his head. Rey twisted the rope around her hand and stroked his shaggy brown neck. He was enormous, but he was soft and dumb, and not as short-tempered and as like to buck and bite as the other asses were. Rey sighed. If Lorcan saw a wolf, he’d bolt quicker than shit out of a duck’s arse. She hoped she would be able to seize her pike from the saddlehook before he did.

 

                She’d brought him because she remembered how weak Kylo had been, after he’d eaten Hux alive. Let me sleep, he’d breathed, barely able to move. Lorcan was the biggest of the asses in the field, and, fortunately for Rey’s fingers, the gentlest. He could take any weight on his back and would walk until he dropped. Rey had his saddlebags full to the brim with apples from the tree and parsnips yanked hastily from the ground before the dawn. He would carry Kylo, she was determined, if the kelpie could not carry himself.

 

                There was a shimmer in the air as they passed by a fallen oak.

 

  ---------------------------------------------------------------

 

                “It’s done.”

 

                “It’s buried?”

 

                “Aye. Put it out of your head now. Focus on the child.”

 

                “How could they leave her like that? How could they abandon a babe so little?”

 

                “They’re not like us, Phasma.”

 

 ---------------------------------------------------------------

 

                Lorcan’s hot moist breath against her ear brought her back. Rey blinked. Where did that come from? The ass made a low sound, trying to turn his head to get at the saddlebags. Rey fed him an apple, head reeling. Kylo was still there, silent.

 

                Rey looked at him. He looked almost in pain, face drawn, brow furrowed in a frown. “Does it hurt very badly?” she dared ask. He nodded. Rey felt for her kelpglass, still hung about her neck. About as helpful as a dead horse.

 

                As they walked, Rey counted six fat rabbits – Rose would have caught every last one – and caught sight of a fox’s bushy tail as it darted back into its den. Rose would have caught that, too, she was sure, and would have given Rey its thick red pelt to wear. She touched her sheepskin. It had belonged to Aengus, but he rarely wore it – men liked to pretend that they were never cold, even when their fingers were blue - and when he died, Phasma gave it to Rey to abate her grief. It was, Rey reckoned, better to sob into a sheepskin at night than to cry into the open air. A stoat shot across the path, brown with a white belly, startling them all. Lorcan brayed in fright, but Rey thrust an apple at him before he could rear and kick her.

 

                “What’s wrong with it?” she heard Kylo ask.

 

                “He’s a big baby.” She kissed the donkey’s cheek. “He’s afraid of everything.”

 

                “Why did you bring it?”

 

                Rey turned to look at him, taking care to step over a protruding root. “In case you can’t walk, after…” She trailed off, but it was plain on his face that he understood.

 

                They came to the stream not long after. Rey brought him to the deepest part, shadowed by a leaning sycamore, making the depth ambiguous. She had never been in, but Finn had told her it went up to his neck. Lorcan pulled towards the water to drink, and Rey let him. She leaned against his side as he drank noisily, watching Kylo as he came down the bank, watching the rushing water.

 

                A tiny shoal of almost-translucent minnows was lingering at the surface of the green, but dispersed in horror when Kylo stepped in. She watched as he sniffed the air.

 

                “Can you smell them?”

 

                “Smell what?”

 

                “Deer.”

               

                “I don’t know what deer smell like.”

 

                Rey hobbled Lorcan a safe distance away, tying his rope tight around a curved branch. He nibbled at ferns, and she unstrapped her pike and the saddlebag. She broke the apples into little pieces and left a careful trail from Lorcan all the way back to the stream.

 

                He was in the water when she returned, his shirt discarded on the riverbank. She could not help but watch the muscles move in his back as he waded deeper. “I left out apples,” she told him, shifting her pike from hand to hand. He turned to look at her and tensed when he saw the sharp spear, dark eyes blackening further. “This is how Rose hunts them. They’ll always come to the water, but the apples make them come faster.” The sun didn’t reach the stream the way it reached the sea, and so when Kylo bent underneath a fallen log to get to the darkest part of the river, he sank in up to his neck in the dark water as it rushed around him.

 

                The sight sent a shock of fear through her, fear as ancient as the trees. She gripped her pike and settled where she could see him, curled into the great hollow of an oak standing sentinel over the river. She could see only his eyes now, his nose, taking in the air. One of the apples she had saved for herself, and bit into it.

 

                The air rang.

 

  ---------------------------------------------------------------

 

                “She’s seeing things again.”

 

                “Oh, Jesus.”

 

                “Seals, she keeps saying, and a giant in the water.”

 

                “Surely she can’t know. There’s no way that she could have ever found out. Unless …”

 

                “Don’t look at me like that.”

 

                “You’re always telling her faerie-stories and legends. Perhaps – perhaps it was a slip of the tongue, and –“

 

                “Do you think I’m stupid?”

 

                “I think you ought not to be filling her head with legends. It’s dangerous for her.”

 

                “She’s a child, Phasma.”

 

                “She’s not just any child!”

 

  ---------------------------------------------------------------

 

                When Rey came to, there was a deer inches from her face.

 

                She forced herself not to cry out in fright, stifling the sound. The beast sniffed softly, crushed apple around its mouth, great soft eyes on the half-eaten apple in her hand. It was shaggy and red, crowned with a head of antlers as wide as Rey was long,

 

                She held the apple out very carefully. It huffed in her face and took it, coming back once it was eaten to look for more.

 

                Rey dared to lift a hand to touch it. They were as tame as she had told Kylo, but it still jumped when she touched its nose. She pushed its head away gently, but it pushed back, sniffing her. It was gentle, snuffling its black nose along her bent knees. Rey felt a sudden sadness that it was to die.

 

                It stepped back when it was sure she had hidden no more food on her person, turning its head towards the river. Rey couldn’t see Kylo, not even beneath the fallen log. She sat up suddenly, and the sound of her boots on the gravel made the deer step away from her, wary.

 

               The deer looked at her, considering, before it took several cautious steps towards the water. It kept rolling its eye to take her in as it bent its head. As its pink tongue flickered out to touch the surface of the river, two pale arms shot out of the water, and wrapped around its neck.

 

               A flock of birds flew from the trees above them. Rey heard herself whimper in shock.

 

                There was a brief and very violent struggle. The stag was strong, pulling and yanking and jerking frantically in the opposite direction. It swung its great head, very nearly pulling Kylo clean out of the stream. Its cloven hooves pawed the gravel as it tried desperately to pull itself out of his grip, to stay on land. Its forehooves raked down Kylo’s chest. It bleated in horror, and swung its head hard. Suddenly, there was a sickening, muted crunch as Kylo snapped its neck between his arms and against his chest. The deer fell hard and limp on the riverside, dusty with summer heat, antlers cracking under the impact of its fall.

 

                Kylo grabbed it by the hindlegs, pulled it into the water – its antlers gouged ruts in the gravel - and growled at her, “Go.”

               

                She sat, staring at him. The sharp red lines – gills – were painfully evident at the sides of his throat, the dark scales along his arms. His face was very nearly the same.

 

                “I’m staying,” she insisted, mouth dry. His chest heaved, mouth slavered – and yet his eyes, the same, were full of hunger so terrible it pained him. He held the dead deer’s legs as though Rey was like to snatch it from him, knuckles white from the force of his grip. The rushing water made the deer’s broken neck loll.

 

                “Go, Rey.” It was the first time he had ever said her name, voice oddly human despite the terror of his skin.

 

                Her voice shook. “I’m not afraid.”

 

                The water was not deep enough for Kylo to hide both himself and the dead beast beneath it. Rey could see, and shook, when he sank his teeth into the deer’s throat, and yanked his head back, bringing with it a mouthful of dripping sinew. Tendons and strings of gore hung down his chin, his neck, splattering blood all down his front. Steam rose high into the air.

 

                The water ran red for a long time.

 

                Her stomach churned, but she would not look away. He tore it, quite literally, limb from limb, ripping slender legs away from the body with the ease of a child pulling the wings from a fly’s back. The sound was repulsive, the wet tearing of hot flesh, the nauseating squelch of blood. He pulled streaming slabs of flesh from the carcass and ate – no, wolfed, devoured – them, ripping the meat between his hands, snapping whole bones between nightmarish teeth. Rey swallowed the compulsion to vomit as Kylo shoved an entire hand into the cavity of the deer’s chest and pulled forth a heart.

 

                Rey didn’t know how long it took, but he ate it entirely. There was nothing left but bloody bone. He had even snapped the antlers, tearing the marrow from within, and casting them aside. Rey watched them float, carried downstream by the rush of the water. Though she wanted to run – desperately wanted to flee – she forced herself to stand and go to the stream’s edge.

 

                He was breathing heavily, covered in gore. He was on his hands and knees in the water, too desperate to bring the beast into the deeper pool where he had hidden.

 

                Rey held out a trembling hand, and he hissed at her, though she could see the fatigue in him now, taking swift effect.

 

                “You won’t hurt me,” she quavered. The rushing of the water was almost deafening. “You can hiss and spit all you like. I know you won’t hurt me.”

 

                 Kylo lifted his head to look at her. His eyes were hard and brown and tired. Rey watched the horrible teeth retract, the gills close, the scales sink into the pale skin and disappear beneath the flesh.

 

                A wet, bloody hand took hers.

               

Chapter Text

                                                               

 

 

 

                He remembered taking her hand. He remembered hearing the ass huff and snort, and remembered hearing Rey murmur, “Hush, it’s alright.” He wasn’t sure if she was talking to him or the beast. He remembered a hand brushing gently over his face, and then sleep took him.

 

 

                “You should never have done it in front of him like that,” Leia said reproachfully. “He’s not like us, you know. He doesn’t hunt Men.”

 

                “He’s soft,” was all Kylo could say, scowling. The river water was soft, too, and loud. It irritated him. It was barely deep enough to hide in without clipping one’s hand or foot off some rock or other. He watched minnows dart around in it, shooting away when he drew a line through the water. The riverbank was soft, mucky against his belly. Leia sat beside him. She poked his back, making him hiss half-heartedly.

 

“I know he’s soft. He’s soft and he’s stupid and he plays games with Men like they’re his kind. But he’s your father. You ought not to be so sour to him.”

 

“If he’s so soft, why did you go with him?”

 

“Because I loved him.”

 

Kylo fell silent. Leia sighed, watching as he drew figure-eights in the water. “He doesn’t understand us, ebeul. He thinks we’re wrong for the way we are, for what we hunt. You need to understand that. It frightens him.” She reached down to stroke his hair, and he leaned into her hand. “You need to be good, do you hear me? You need to behave. They’re all frightened of you, all the streamborns. You need to show them that you’re better than that.”

 

“Better than what?” Kylo grumbled. He wanted to go home. Freshwater made his skin feel slimy, and the wolves fought him viciously and tasted of soil in the absence of salt.

 

Leia sat back and said sternly, “Better than ripping a wolf to shreds in front of your father to make him sick.”

 

“I didn’t do it to make him sick. I did it because I was hungry.”

 

“Your father doesn’t know hunger the way we do, ebeul.

 

Kylo rested his head on his arms, watching as the minnows came back, feeding carefully at the surface, sucking pondscum with their tiny mouths. A damselfly flitted past his face, wings all ablur, and alighted on a trembling reed.

 

“What did you see last night?” Leia asked him.

 

“The girl again.” The damselfly shook her wings and they shimmered in the sun.

 

“Does it frighten you to see the things you see?”

 

“Not anymore. Han said I’m mad.”

 

“He was wrong to say that. It’s a gift, the things you see. The others in Land’s End think so, too.”

 

Kylo turned his head to look at her. “Mammig,” he began tentatively, “why do I see them?”

 

She was silent for a moment. Kylo watched her. The careful buns she had twisted her hair into were coming loose.

 

“It’s a gift, ebeul. The gods have seen fit to give you sight beyond your eyes.”

 

“And what about the plac’h?”

 

“What do you see of her?”

 

Kylo turned his attention back to the stream. The damselfly stretched her wings, the reed rocking dangerously. “I see her swimming in the sea. But not the sea that we know. A different sea, far away. She doesn’t speak like us. I don’t understand her when she speaks.” He propped himself up on his elbows and frowned at his distorted, ever-moving reflection.

 

“Is that all?”

 

“Sometimes she smiles, and sometimes she cries. Sometimes there’s a big man with her, with a red beard, and sometimes a woman with yellow hair. There’s a seal, sometimes, in the water with her. When I see her on land, there’s a dog. Last night, there was a wolf.” He propped himself up on his elbows and frowned at his distorted, ever-moving reflection. “The wolf always howls.”

 

“Wolves howl, do they not?”

 

“But it howls at me. It’s red, and snaps and makes to bite me.” Kylo sighed, black locks falling into his face. “I’m not mad, am I?”

 

Leia told him, “You have lagadsklaer, my darling. You’re not mad. The things that you see will be important, one day. You must remember them; do you hear me? Even if you forget everything else, you must always remember what you have seen.”

 

“I will, mammig.

 

 

His eyes flew open, and he pulled in a great wheezing breath. Mammig. Han. Lagadsklaer. Plac’h.

 

Rey.

 

He could feel the heat from the fire, the fur beneath him, over him. He could see the thatch ceiling, the roofbeams, the hanging pots. She had, somehow, brought him back.

 

“Kylo?” There were hands on him all of a sudden.

 

“You,” he heard himself gasp, “I saw you.” His hands found hers and held tight, hard enough to bruise again. “In Land’s End – I saw you-“

 

She stared down at him, doe-eyed, perplexed. “You were in the water – the seal –“ He could barely form the words, his mother tongue threatening to take over in his shock.

 

“Stop – stop it,” she exclaimed, trying to keep him still. “Look at me – look at me. It’s alright. Hush.”

 

She pulled one of her own hands very gently from his and brought it up to cup his face. Disoriented, Kylo blinked, panting. The old visions whirled in his head.

 

“Look at me,” Rey said again, voice almost stern. “Calm down.”

 

Her hand was warm around his cheek, his chin. Her hair, half-pulled back into a braid, hung over his face, tickling his skin. She was warm, her body was warm, as she knelt beside him on the rushes, and she smelled soft and clean and good.

 

She smells like the sea.

 

“I saw you,” he told her.

 

“Where?”

 

“In Land’s End.”

 

She blanched, as though she knew. “When?”

 

“I don’t know. It was a long time ago, long before you were born, but – but-“

 

“Hush,” was all she said, stroking his cheek with her thumb. The fire spat loudly, making Kylo jump. “It’s just the fire.” Her thumb went to beneath his eyes, to the violet shadows there. “You need to rest for longer, at least until the morning.”

 

“Is it night?”

 

She nodded. “Tomorrow, you tell me. Do you understand? You tell me everything.”

 

“I will.”

 

“Do you swear?”

 

“I swear,” he told her.

 

“On God,” Rey beseeched him, face glowing.

 

“On God,” he repeated, and he knew now which ones she meant.

 

 

“What’s her name?” Leia asked. “The girl you’ve seen?”

 

Kylo rolled onto his back. “She doesn’t have a name.”

 

“Everyone has a name, ebeul.

 

“Well, she doesn’t.”

 

Kylo stared up at the understory, the sun beating down through the canopy. “And her tongue,” Leia went on, “do you know what it is?”

 

He shook his head. “No. It’s odd, like coughing. But I know it, even if I can’t understand it.”

 

“You’ll come to understand.”

 

“Will I?”

 

“You’re young yet, ebeul. You’ll grow older, bigger, and then one day you’ll understand. The clearsight was in you from birth, and you will learn.”

 

“Do you have it, mammig?”

She pulled her hair out of its ties and let it spill down her back. “Mine isn’t as strong as yours. But I saw your father, long before I found him, and I saw you, long before you were ever seeded.” Kylo watched as she leaned forward. “The sight is powered by force – by the force within you. And, one day, your children will see as well.”

 

A crow shot across the canopy above him. “Where does it come from, mammig? The sight?”

 

“It comes from all around us. The trees, the water – the sight comes from everything.”

 

“Is that why Han is weak?” Kylo asked, sitting up. “Because he’s from the river, but we’re from the sea? Is that why he doesn’t have the sight?”

 

“I don’t know, ebeul.” She twisted a strand of hair around her finger. “Much of your father is lost on me, I’m afraid.”

 

“I don’t like it here, mammig.

 

Leia sighed. “I know you don’t, darling. Nor do I. But we should stay a while longer, don’t you think?”

 

“No,” Kylo exclaimed. “Han doesn’t want us here.”

 

“I know, ebeul.

 

Kylo lay in silence for a long time. The river was so loud.

 

Mammig,” he murmured, “does he truly hate us?”

 

She opened her mouth as though she meant to speak. Kylo turned his head towards her, eyes wide. Leia exhaled slowly, face grim, defeated.

 

“Come, ebeul. It’s time to go home.”

 

 

Rey woke him at dawn, and the pain was gone. Once more, he reckoned, in the coming days, and he would be free for another hundred years.

 

He sat, cross-legged, watching as she ate and washed her face. “Turn around,” she ordered him, when it came time to take off the white shift she wore to sleep. He did, but didn’t understand why. Rey said from behind him, “You swore to me last night that you’d tell me everything.” He could hear the slip and rustle of the linen on her skin.

 

“I know.”

 

“Go on, then.”

 

“You didn’t tell me what you wanted to know.”

 

“You said you saw me.”

 

“I did.”

 

“How?”

 

Kylo stared at the stone wall, the thatch. “I don’t know. I just … did.”

 

They went to the water’s edge, sitting in the same place that they had the previous night, though Rey sat significantly closer, more comfortable. After a moment of silence, she asked, “Did you see it with your eyes, though there was nothing there?”

 

Kylo looked at her. “How …” He trailed off.

 

The tide was receding sharply. It had left, Kylo could see, seashells all across the sand, pearly-white and pink. He resisted the urge to gather them all. Rey reached out and took one, wiping it dry with the hem of her skirt. It was a scallop’s shell, big enough to cover her entire palm. She was, Kylo could see, still wearing the green glass about her neck.

 

“That glass,” he said. “You said it keeps … kelpies away. Is that –“ He could barely speak. “You said that – that’s what I am.”

 

The sky began to spit. Rey’s eyes never left his. “I don’t know what you are,” she told him. “You don’t know what you are. The kelpie, in the book, it’s a monster. It has green skin and hard scales and red eyes. That’s not what you are. It – it can change itself into a horse, for God’s sake. You can’t do that, either!”

 

Kylo’s brows pulled together in a frown. Rey stared at him, realising. “No,” she breathed. “You can’t, can you?”

 

It’ll frighten her. “I can.”

 

“I – I –“ It was her turn to stutter. “How?

 

“I don’t know.”

 

“Why do you – why do you need to …” Her eyes went wide. “Oh.” She fingered the pendant, and murmured almost to herself, “Water-horse.

 

He had heard that term before, from the mouths of shouting Men, jabbing their spears into the rivers in his own tongue. Marc’h dour. The memory sent chills down his spine. He stifled a shudder.

 

“I want to see,” Rey was saying. “I want you to show me.”

 

“Show you what?”

 

“The … the horse.

 

Voices were coming from beyond the wall, of the Men rising early. “Not here,” he insisted.

 

“No, I know.” Her eyes went to the headland, a causeway forming in the low tide. “We can go across the rocks, to Cuan Eascann, and you can show me there.”

 

“Now?”

 

She held out her hand. “Now.”

 

He took it. Something in his mind told him that he would have gone to the ends of the earth.

Chapter Text

                                                                      

                                                                      

Rey took off her boots to walk in the wet, tided sand, shoving them into the pocket of her skirt and hiking it up so that it didn’t drag. It felt odd to walk past the headland, to walk where always there was high water. The sand was almost too wet to walk on, and Rey found herself holding onto the rocks to stay upright.

 

                “Does it hurt?”

 

                “Does what hurt?”

 

                “To … to change.

 

                “No.”

 

                Rey considered this. Surely it must. “What does it feel like?”

 

                Kylo was silent a moment. He dwarfed her utterly, feet almost curling beneath the bulk of the weight they had to bear. Where she walked directly at his side, his mass shut out what little sun the grey sky deigned to allow them.

 

                “Like taking off a wet shirt,” he said finally. “A wet shirt you’ve had on all day. That’s what it feels like.”

 

                The thought of it seemed so normal, too mundane a feeling to accompany such an astonishing change. She dared look at him as they walked, to observe him properly. His hair was impossibly black, almost curling in the moist air, and his eyelashes were long and thick and straight, brushing his high cheeks when he blinked.

 

                She twisted the pike in her hands. “I’m frightened to see it.”

 

                Kylo turned his eyes on her. “But I still want to,” she went on. “I’m just … frightened.”

 

                “Why are you frightened?”

 

                “Because you have no reason to stay now, and …”

 

                For a moment, he almost looked offended. Rey let her pike drag, leaving behind them a long line in the sand, a path home.

 

                “I have more reason than you think,” he said, not looking at her. Her stomach flipped.

 

                Neither of them spoke until they crossed from runny wet sand to pebbles, rounding the little headland. Cuan Eascann – Rey didn’t know why there was a name for such a tiny place – was a little inlet, so small that one could stand at the western point and call to someone at the east, and not have to repeat oneself.

 

                The spitting rain had stopped, but the grey remained, threatening to spit again. The bare beach took the backwash of the sea, and was covered all in stones and shells, the likes of which were rarely seen in Dún Canann. Kylo bent down, she saw, and picked up a chunk of beaten quartz the size of Rey’s head. It shimmered even in the clouded sun. She found a flat rock to sit where the sand was wide and bare, her back to the cut shale cliffs, feet dangling.

 

                When Kylo turned to face her, she clutched at her pendant without meaning to.

 

                “I won’t do it if you scream like last time,” he threatened, seeing her face. It would have made her laugh, if her heart hadn’t been hammering against her breastbone so hard she thought it was like to bore through. She had seen him change once, from beast to man, had seen the scales sink deep into his flesh, the teeth pull back into his jaw. The thought of seeing it again – and worse – terrified her.

 

                She forced herself to look.

 

                “I won’t scream.”

 

                Kylo studied her for a moment, and then pulled his shirt off over his head. Rey gripped her hand hard around Poe’s seaglass, its blunt edges digging into her palm. Her eyes followed the round lines of his hips, the almost-thickness of his waist. His chest and his shoulders, stretching the shirt when he wore it, were thick and heavy. The scar that she had given him, she saw, came now his cheek, his throat, all the way down below his collarbone. Rey found herself noting things; the faint ridges where his hipbones should have been, hidden beneath bulk, the black hair on his arms and leading down his lower belly-

 

Oh. Rey felt the bastard plucking again, deep in her own stomach. She averted her eyes, though he hadn’t asked her to, despite the fact that she’d seen him – albeit in the skin of a beast – bare before. Her hands trembled around her spear.

 

There was the oddest sound in the air, and his body began to change.

 

His chest split in two, and his wide shoulders fell away from him, His face sank into his skull. His back stretched and tore, and hands and feet became fists, then hooves. His hair grew before her eyes, coarse and curly. The sand sank below the new weight, the new form. It was horrific. Rey couldn’t breathe, nor could she look away, not until it was done.

 

Christ have mercy, she thought.

 

The new eyes watched her, the new hooves pawing the sand. The new skin was as black as jet, thick with beast’s bulk, and the new nostrils flared, snorting hot breath into the cool air.

 

It’s not possible. It can’t be. But it was. This skin was foreign, unknown to his former, but it was him. The gulls shrieked overhead, as though they were screaming in horror at what they had witnessed from the sanctity of the skies.

 

 -------------------------------------------

 

“I saw a pony,” she told Aengus. “A black pony. He let me pet him.”

 

“Don’t be going near horses you don’t know, pet,” he said, almost absentmindedly, gutting the mackerel with repulsive ease.

 

“No, I saw it. Without my eyes.”

 

Aengus paused with the knife in mid-air. “You what?”

 

“There was a pony on the beach, but I didn’t see it with my eyes. Like the seals. He was friendly. He let me ride him.”

 

“Rey-“

 

“He said he’d keep me safe. He said he wouldn’t ever let me fall.”

 

  -------------------------------------------

 

The hammering of her heart slowed. Its nose was velvety soft against her hands when it bent its great head to snuffle at them. Rey stared up at it, and with big dark eyes, it stared back. It was a horse, living and breathing and warm. She dared reach up to touch it.

 

 It brought its head close to her hand, and she ran her fingers through the tangled coarse waves, half-expecting it to disappear on the wind. Instead, it pressed his neck against her palm and turned its head to the side to get a better look at her.

 

Rey looked into the dark eye considering her. It blinked, its lashes an inch long.

 

“Is it real?” she dared ask, though the heat under her hands told her that it was. “Is it you?

 

It nickered softly, butting its head against her shoulder. Its breath was hot and wet. It – he – was as big as an aurochs, and stocky, like a warhorse, like the great beasts Rey had seen ridden through the village by big men on their way to kiss Sitrygg's boots in Dublin.

 

Rey lifted a hand to pet his long face, running her palms down his hard muzzle. She came to grasp, with a shock, that she feared the horse far less than she feared Kylo himself. Horses were testy creatures, but dumb, innocent, and often gentle, always soothed with apples and carrots. Rey stroked his shaggy chin, and he put the weight of his head on her shoulder. She understood now, why it was so easy for him. A gentle, snuffling horse could bring before it those that a striking face and wide shoulders might not so easily attract.

 

Kylo pushed his nose into her stomach, making her stagger back, and let himself drop so that his knees folded beneath his great bulk, hitting the sand with a sigh.

 

He jerked his head towards his rear and snorted. Rey didn’t move. Kylo grunted and jerked his head again, watching her expectantly.

 

She couldn’t quite believe it.

 

“I’m not getting on your back,” she told him. He opened his mouth and whinnied, high and loud.

 

No.

 

Kylo huffed. Rey watched him, and took a step closer.

 

“I thought – I thought that you could – that you could drag things under. I thought that your skin was –“

 

He interrupted her with another grunt, swinging his long face from side to side. She didn’t know if he was telling her that she was wrong, or telling her to ride him. Rey knelt beside him. Even lying down, the beast had to gaze down his nose at his. His coat was soft, shining dully even under the grey.

 

When she lifted her hand to touch his flickering ears, he jerked his head away, and she heard, Don’t.

 

Rey stopped, hand frozen in mid-air.

 

Don’t touch my ears. It makes my head ring.

 

She didn’t take her eyes off of his. Cautiously, she pressed the tips of her fingers to his round, hard cheek.

 

“Did you – did you speak?” she breathed.

 

Couldn’t you hear me?

 

“Mother of God,” Rey whispered.

 

The horse leaned his head against her fingers. Are you still frightened?

 

She didn’t know what to say. The voice was his, and yet it came from within Rey, from her mind. Rey pinched herself, wondering if she would jolt awake there and then.

 

“I can hear you,” she said. She sounded, even to herself, far-away.

 

I thought you were just pretending that you couldn’t.

 

“How – how are you doing that?”

 

I don’t know. He jerked his head towards his rear again. Climb on.

 

“What? No, I-“ She shook her head. “I don’t understand.”

 

You don’t need to understand.

 

“You said you’d tell me everything.”

 

I said I’d tell you everything. I didn’t say you’d understand everything. Kylo slipped his nose beneath her arm and pushed her sideways, towards his back. At least you didn’t scream.

 

She went to glare, but there was nothing to glare at. The horse blinked dumbly at her. You are frightened, he surmised.

 

“No, I’m not. But I’ve never even ridden a – a horse, let alone …”

 

A horse? Kylo suggested, and she could hear him laughing.

 

“There’s no bridle, no saddle. I’ll fall and break my neck.”

 

You won't.

 

"I will."

 

 Rey. He nickered softly. I won't let you fall.

 

“You will."

 

 I'll keep you safe, I promise.

 

 Rey watched him. "How?"

 

 Hold my neck. I won't move fast if you don't want me to.

 

 He was warm, though it was awkward to sit atop his back in her dress. She would rather have had a pair of britches, a man's shirt, to be comfortable in. She eyed his clothes, discarded by the rock. Her skirt bunched beneath her.

 

  Rey gasped and gripped his mane hard as he lurched to his feet. That hurts, she heard, and the horse grunted.

 

  The ground seemed dangerously far away, and all too likely to come up and slap her if she lost her balance. Rey looked at the rocks, the hard stones, and sat hunched, clinging to the beast's neck, heart pounding.

 

"I thought you were supposed to have sticky skin," she said against his coarse mane.

 

Only when I'm hungry.

 

“Are you still hungry now?”

 

No. He began to walk, and Rey felt every step beneath her. She could scarcely believe it. Luke had called it black hell-magic.

 

“Is this … magic?”

 

I don’t know.

 

Nor did Rey. She dared straighten her back, though she felt dangerously elevated, The sky had not yet brought rain, but seemed like to, and air was cooler now, but the heat of the horse almost made her sweat. Kylo broke into a trot. The force of it hurt her rear, but she forced herself to stay upright. Not so bad, is it? she heard, and he was laughing again.

 

“Fuck you,” she snapped, “I’ve only ever ridden donkeys before, not great dirty plough-horses that don’t know when to shut up.

 

Calm down, and she could almost feel him rolling his eyes. You’re not going to fall. I said I wouldn’t let you fall.

 

Rey huffed.

 

Kylo turned his head to the side, coming to an abrupt halt, nearly sending her flying over his head. When have I ever broken a promise to you?

 

“When you pretended to be a drowned man.”

 

That wasn’t a promise, fool.

 

“You swore on God, you absolute shit.

 

I swore on your God I’d help you, and I did. I swore I’d show you everything, and I am. Most people like horses, you know.

 

“Aye, horses, not – not –“

 

Not what? Kylo challenged her.

 

“Not water-horses.

 

You wanted to see everything. You saw everything. You got what you asked for. He turned back and cantered up the sand, making Rey squeal and cling hard to his neck. He picked up his clothes between his teeth, nosing Rey’s pike out of the way, and went back down, bringing them right to the water’s edge. There, he dropped his clothes, just out of the tide’s reach, and snorted.

 

“Don’t you dare,” Rey exclaimed.

 

Tail flicking, the horse stepped into the tide.

 

 Wet foam, the colour of long-dead grass, dragged around his fetlocks; off-white scum staining his forelegs. Rey inhaled slowly. The air was pregnant with the redolence of salt and rotting kelp. “I’m getting off,” she announced, and hesitated, not sure which way to move.

 

She heard Kylo laughing. “Don’t laugh at me,” she snapped. He took another step into the tide, and then another. Get off if you’re getting off.

 

“I can’t, you gobshite. Lie down again.” She stared at the sea, old stories whirling in her head. “I’m not going in the water with you.”

 

I’m not going to hurt you.

 

Rey huffed.

 

The horse turned its head to the side. If you truly thought I’d hurt you, you wouldn’t be up there. You wouldn’t have come here.

 

Rey inhaled sharply. She clung to his withers and gingerly slid off, still tumbling and falling on her arse in the wet sand when she found that her feet did not reach it. Kylo snorted, turning his head to nose at her.

 

She scrambled up. “Is it true,” she bit out, “that there are others like you? Other kelpies.”

 

Of course there are others.

 

Where?” Rey asked, eyes darting towards the sea as though she expected to see another. Kylo huffed.

 

I don’t smell any others here. I’m the only one. But there are more.

 

She watched him. “When will you eat again?”

 

A few days. A week at most.

 

Rey’s stomach clenched, remembering. Kylo butted his nose against her arm. I told you not to look, to go. You chose to stay.

 

“I wasn’t afraid.”

 

You were afraid, and you’re afraid now, too.

 

She didn’t take her eyes from his, reaching out to stroke his muzzle. It didn’t feel connected to him in any way; when she was touching the horse, she was touching only the horse, and not him. “You said you saw me.”

 

I did. Without my eyes.

 

There was a memory at the back of her mind, but Rey couldn’t find it. It felt like dragging a great chunk of kelpglass up from the seabed; no matter how she heaved, she couldn’t bring it to the surface to see it. It just kept sinking.

 

“I want you to change back now,” Rey told him. “We have to go. The others will be looking.” The sun was just beginning to show itself beyond the grey in the sky.

 

I’ll change back at the headland. I want to stay this way for a little longer. Kylo dropped to his knees again. I’ll carry you back, if you’ll let me.

 

Rey hesitated. I won’t let you fall, he reminded her, and it was then that she knew she had seen him before.

Chapter Text

                                           

                                            

 

 

 

                A day passed, then two, and then three. Kylo pretended he didn’t see Ailis’ wounded cow-eyes more times than he could count. He did as the men did out of mere curiosity; he pulled his hair back into a half-knot and found that liked he the practicality of it, and he cleaned his teeth with salt and linen, though his teeth were good and strong from chewing kelp.

 

                He had been taken aback when Phasma, a child in her arms, had called his name from the wall and tossed something at him. He’d caught it deftly in his hand, and it had clinked. “For the shark. A job well done,” Phasma had told him, smiling. “Dia linn.

 

                “Thank you,” Kylo had said. “What’s it for?”

 

                The woman had frowned. “Don’t you have money in Gaul?”

 

                Kylo wasn’t very sure of what Men did in Gaul but eat and sleep and scream in the water. “Not like this.”

 

                “Oh. Barter, is it? Well, take it to market with you whenever you next go. Get yourself a cow, build your shares.”

 

                Kylo didn’t care much for cows, but Rey had told him that they were important.

 

                Rey took him to the fields on the third day, early in the morning, to show him the beasts. It was warmer now, the sun returning, the sky a daring pale blue, promising heat. Bees darted around the grass, landing on flowers that Kylo knew but had no name for. “What are these called?” he asked Rey, plucking from the ground a yellow one with no discernible centre, and multitudes of tiny petals like fangs.

 

                “Lion’s tooth,” she said. “They make good wine.”

 

                Kylo took another, smaller with pale, thin violet blooms and a vivid orange centre. Before he could ask, Rey told him, “Sea aster. You only find these on the coast.” She bent down, picked up one of the leaves, and ate it. “They’re nice. Only eat the leaves, though. The flowers are vile.”

 

                Kylo ate the flower. It was as bitter as sea-moss and made him splutter. Rey laughed. Her cheeks were pink, the flush spreading over the bridge of her freckled nose. The hollow between her collarbones was shimmering and beaded with sweat. He felt a heavy sweetness near his heart, a feeling he had never known and had no name for.

 

They passed grazing sheep pulling on the grass, woolly pale things that stared and baaed nervously at him. There were young ones, too, babies, racing on awkward legs alongside them. He could see a black cat reclining in the sun, just beyond the white bull’s pen.

 

She took him to the rest of the pens. Kylo gazed at shaggy red milk-cows and huge snuffling pigs. The ass from the forest was there, in a pen with three others, and put his dumb head against Kylo’s hand when he stroked him, nuzzling his face as though he knew.

 

Indignant bleating made Kylo turn. Rey was struggling to keep a black goat – a big one – between her knees as she closed the wicker-and-wood gate keeping the rest in. They approached the opening, maaing mindlessly. When she leaned back to shove the gate closed, the sheep shot away from her. Kylo lunged forward – the sheep bleated in terror – and caught it by the hind legs, its hooves scraping his palms as it kicked. It was a heavy, solid thing, but he hefted it upwards onto his shoulders the way he’d seen the men do, hands sinking into the coarse wool, holding forelegs in his right hand and hindlegs in his left once it was up to keep it still. It didn’t struggle, but it bellowed, making the rest maa back mournfully.

 

“Serr da c'henou,” Kylo told them irritably, and the one on his shoulders bleated right in his ear. Rey was laughing again.

 

“That’s a yearling,” she exclaimed. “I’d drop dead if I tried to carry that.”

 

He flexed his shoulders beneath the bleating beast. “It’s not heavy.”

 

“Will you be able to carry it like that for three miles?”

 

“Why?”

 

“Because we have to sell the red heifer and those two black sheep today. Their wool is as thick as we can let it get.”

 

He watched her. “We?”

 

“Well.” She leaned on the fence. “Phasma asked me to ask you.”

 

                “Oh.”

 

                “You don’t have to come.”

 

                “I want to go,” he told her. With you, he didn’t add. She went even pinker.

 

                “Good,” she said. Kylo thought that it was, very much so.

 

 

------------------------------------------------------

 

 

The forest was streamed with sun by the time they left. Finn sat with the other black goat at the back of the cart, leaning against the sacks of shark and grain, scowling at Kylo. The heifer was hobbled to the cart’s hooks, plodding along peacefully. The kelpie ignored Finn entirely, and fell into step with the front, watching as Rey gave the reins a little swish as Lorcan eyed the ferns at the side of the path. “He has a name, you know,” Rey had complained, when Kylo had grumbled. “Piss off, beast,” as it tried to nuzzle him again.

 

She hadn’t worn her green bodice or her apron, favouring comfort to take the reins, and wore a new linen shift instead, belted only at the waist with a brown length of leather to hold her purse. Its neckline was loose and airy about her shoulders, and he could see the outline of her breasts when the sun shone through, the soft pouch of her stomach. Her hair was loose and shiny down her back save for a careful pair of braids keeping the strands out of her face, twisting into a knot like a rose at the back of her head.

 

“This town that we’re going to is a Norse town,” Rey was saying. He lifted his eyes from her midriff to her face. “Quite a few of the townspeople are Northmen. You won’t be able to understand them, so – just don’t speak, I suppose.”

               

                Kylo gave her an odd look and she rolled her eyes. “You know what I mean. Norse will be much harder for you to get your mouth around.”

 

                “Do you speak it?”

 

                “Norse? A bit. You have to, or else they try to con you out of coin.” She smiled. “Not that the sheep are worth an awful lot, but anyway; we shouldn’t be too long. The heifer’ll fetch a decent amount, because she’s pretty.”

               

Kylo reached behind his head and put a hand onto the goat’s back to steady it as he stretched his shoulders. It was calm now, happy to be carried, grunting softly every so often when Kylo shifted beneath it.  

 

“Have you ever been in a town?” she asked him, and he shook his head.

 

“Ah. You’ll like it,” Rey assured him. “Poe runs the beerhouse there. Poe’s a Northman, you know,” she added. “He’s going to buy the sharkmeat and the grain from us.”

 

“Oh.” The significance of it was lost on him. “What’s a beerhouse?”

 

Finn snorted from behind them, and Kylo wanted to lift the goat and fire it at his stupid green head. “It’s a tavern. Men go there to get drunk,” Rey said, and turned her head to look at Finn with a face like fire. Finn huffed and shifted away from them so that he was facing the heifer.

 

Rey kept talking, and the air rang.

 

 -------------------------------------------------------

 

 

                “There was a man with only one hand,” Kylo recounted, sitting cross-legged on the sand. Leia watched him. “In long clothes with a hood. He was angry.”

 

                “And?” she prompted.

 

                “He had eyes like ice. He was angry at the girl, and then he was angry at me. I don’t know why. He didn’t speak.”

 

                Leia brushed his dark hair away from his face. “Is there anything else?”

 

                He nodded. “Glass beads, like the ones Men wear. Green glass.”

 

 

-------------------------------------------------------------

               

                Rey was still talking when he came back from it, eyes on the path ahead. Kylo blinked. The goat maaed in his ear.

 

                “-and then the crows went up in price, all because that fool man lost his eye. But it doesn’t matter. I’m not going to buy one. I want a raven instead.”

 

                “Why?” he found himself asking. He had seen ravens before, back in Gaul, huge black things that sat hunched on tree branches and spoke to him.

 

                She considered this a moment, brushing her hair back over her shoulder, resplendent and soft in the sun. She’s beautiful, something insisted within Kylo. “Because they talk,” she decided. “I wanted a hound, but we can’t afford one. I’d rather have a beast that I can talk to rather than a dog, anyway. Though a dog would be nice.”

 

                It didn’t take long before they came free of the forest, and down a dirt track that led, Kylo could see, to a smoking mass of buildings at the riverside, protected by timber-post walls. On the river floated long, moored boats of wood, with beast’s heads and careful sails rolled up against the masts. Kylo had seen their ilk before, long ago. It was so very easy to grab an ankle from the side of one of those boats – the body would hit the deck hard – and disappear into the water with it.

 

                Two big men with iron on their chests pushed the gate open for them. “Dia duit, Rey,” one said, and the other stared at Kylo.

 

                The smoke was thicker within, rising from pot-fires and braziers and sconces. The timber walls were high, higher than any Kylo had ever seen, sharp at their points, extending beyond wooden walkways.

 

                Rey hobbled the donkey and the cart beside a row of others. There were men with bows and quivers of arrows – just like the rabbit-girl had – up on the walkways. “People are going to gawk at you,” Rey warned him, lifting the sack of fish off of the back of the cart. “Just ignore them. They’ve never seen anyone as big as you.”

 

She was right, again. They stared. Kylo tried not to notice the looks he got from the layfolk, some apprehensive, some curious. One girl, walking past with a toddler on her hip and a dark wolfish dog on a rope, openly gawped at him when the child pointed a fat hand and exclaimed, “Fathach!”

 

                Smoke and steam was rising from beyond the stalls, and Kylo could smell steaming hot iron, like he had in the villages of the Gauls. “What’s there?” he asked, but before she could answer him, someone called, “It’s been long enough!”

 

                A man, stout and stocky, was leaning out of the doorway of one of the noisier edifices, grinning, a cloth tucked into the waist of his britches. He had a strong nose and dark curls, and Finn ran at him. “Poe Dameron, you’re alive!” he laughed, jumping almost into the man’s arms, burying his face in the dark curls.

 

                “What happened to your face?” the man exclaimed, pulling back to look at him, touching his bruised mouth with careful fingers.

 

                “Tripped and hit a rock,” Finn said, voice bright despite his previous sullenness. His dark eyes shone, and never left the man’s face once. “I haven’t seen you in so long.”

 

                “Where else would I be, only letting drunkards get drunker? Come here, Rey.” He lifted her up and kissed her cheeks, and then saw Kylo, eyes going wide.

               

                “Poe, this is Kylo,” Rey said, putting a hand on his forearm. Watching her touch the man made something hot and pugnacious flicker deep within Kylo’s chest. “He’s the one that caught all this shark.”

 

                Poe appraised him. He had a pleasant face and a shadowed jaw. “Jesus, Rey, you caught a big one, didn’t you?” He reached up and pulled Kylo into a tight embrace, not minding how the goat bleated. He smelt of beer and grain. “Where are you from, jǫtunn?”

 

                “Land’s End, in Gaul.”

 

                “A Gaul?”

 

                “Kylo’s sharking boat was wrecked,” Rey told him. “He nearly drowned.”

 

                Poe looked him over again, reaching up once more to stroke the goat’s chin. “I’d well believe it. I bet you’d sink like a lump of lead. Are you going to stick around?”

 

                “I might,” Kylo told him. The goat protested loudly, and Poe threw back his head and laughed so that Kylo could see the horseshoe of his upper teeth. “Well, you’re welcome here, outlander,” he told Kylo, slapping him on the chest. “God knows they could do with someone like you.”

 

 He embraced Finn again and kissed his cheeks, too, though his lips lingered too long on the boy’s skin to disguise itself as platonic affection. “Give me an hour or so. Finn can help me ready the room,” Poe said to Rey, beaming. A look passed between Finn and Rey, and she smiled.

 

                Rey gave him the other goat to carry. Kylo found that it was rather comfortable to take one in each arm, though they protested miserably. People moved right out of the way when they saw Kylo, a giant amongst men with a bleating goat under each arm, and so Rey could lead the heifer down the lane without stopping.

 

                The layfolk gawked. Kylo ignored them and looked at the stalls instead.

 

                “We’ll come back,” Rey called to him over the noise of the throng. “We’ll flog these, and we’ll come back. I want to show you the crows in their cages.”

 

                He followed her. To the ends of the earth, something told him.

 

                She took him down the lane, and up another. It was close here; the buildings were bigger and far sturdier than any of the buildings he had ever seen at a distance in Land’s End. They shut out the sky above them when the lanes were narrow. Kylo felt as though they were about to swallow him up.

 

                The lane led out to another building with a long patch of land. Upon it, penned in, cows and sheep and goats grazed, more than Kylo had ever seen. The building was of timber, and had a strange creature carved in wood above its doorway. A man with greasy yellow hair and a beard was splitting logs with an axe outside of it, but turned when he heard them coming.

 

This one - the that Rey wanted to sell the beasts to, Kylo assumed - was not of this land, just as Kylo wasn’t. As soon as he opened his mouth, and addressed Rey by name, Kylo knew. “Heilsa, Rey,” he greeted her, leaning his axe against the wall, his accent thick and cloying. His beard was long and braided, held in place by a silver bead with the face of a wolf.

 

                There was an exchange between them in a tongue completely foreign to Kylo’s ear. The man – a Northman, Kylo supposed - inspected the heifer, pushed her red fur out of her eyes, examined her teeth, and nodded. He came to look at the goats Kylo held, and looked in their ears and opened their mouths, chuckling when they bleated angrily.

 

                He looked Kylo himself up and down, nodded, pressed a finger against the middle of his chest, and asked Rey a clear question, in response to which she said, quite sternly, “Nei.” It was close enough to his own tongue that he knew she was telling the Northman no. The Northman asked her something else, and she shook her head. Kylo caught the word ‘brezkr’ in the flurry of dense vowels that she returned with.

 

                “Ah,” the Northman said. “Einn brezkr.” His eyes raked up and down Kylo’s body once more, lingering on his shoulders and his arms. His pale, watery gaze made Kylo uneasy. He resisted the urge to snarl.

 

                The Northman gave Rey a handful of coins. She looked at them, and then made a face at him, brows pulling together in a deep scowl. He held her gaze a moment. Rey never looked away. The Northman grumbled in his own tongue. “Fordǽða kona,” he muttered, and dug in his own purse for more.

 

                She gave him the heifer on her rope and told Kylo to put the goats over the fence. He did – one fell on its side, bleating furiously. The Northman said something else, voice lower, and Kylo heard Rey make an incredulous noise.

 

                They went back down the lane they had come. Within the buildings, Kylo could smell and hear Men; drinking, laughing, fucking, even.

 

                “What did he say?” Kylo asked tentatively. They stepped to the side to let a short woman lead a white pony down the lane.

 

                “He asked me if you were for sale,” Rey told him. “And I said no.”

 

                “Sale?”

 

                “The Northmen deal in thralls where they come from. There are thrall markets in Dublin.” She looped the rope. “He wanted you because you’re big. He’d have had you breaking your back working in the fields for nothing, and he could, because he’d own you.”

 

The idea of being owned made Kylo unusually uncomfortable. “Then he tried to fob me off with half of what the heifer and the goats were worth. He called me a witch.” She smiled. Kylo felt another surge of almost-anger. “Einar’s not so bad, though.”

 

“Why did he call you a witch?”

 

“The Northmen can’t add up their coins, and so their women do it for them. The men think that looking after money is so hard it’s like witchcraft.” Rey rolled her eyes and Kylo thought that his heart might burst at the sight.

 

                She took him back to the long, bustling street. He stood a head-and-a-half taller than most of the layfolk. They moved aside for him, but not for Rey. Rey ended up taking his hand, flushing pink right down to her chest, and they made space quick enough then. The layfolk seemed to know her well. People greeted her as they walked past, and some called from stalls, both in her own tongue and the northern one.

 

                Rey showed him crows and rooks and magpies in wicker cages, stacked on top of one another, presided over by an old man in a brown cowl with only a dark scar where his left eye should have been. He knew Rey, and she knew him, and he took one of the rooks from its cage and let it alight on her shoulder. It had a pale face and a dark beak, its bright beady eyes on Kylo as it nipped affectionately at Rey’s cheek.

 

                “Who’s this, then?” the old man asked, squinting up at Kylo.

 

                “This is Kylo,” Rey told him, stroking the rook’s plumy chest. “He’s a shark-hunter from Gaul.” The more she said it, the easier the falsehood seemed to slip off her tongue. Kylo half-believed it himself.

 

                “Gaul, is it? Well. You’re a big bastard, aren’t you?”

 

                They passed stalls groaning with huge mauve-white turnips with the earth still clinging to their spidery roots, long fresh-cut leeks, fat purple carrots, and cabbages the size of his head with great knobbly green leaves. There was one with sacks of apples - some blood-red and some tart green – and sacks bursting with berries; gooseberries, raspberries, strawberries, even odd dark ones that Kylo didn’t know. Another sported wooden boxes of ice upon which silvery fish and rugged oysters and brindle limpets lay. There were great speckled pike-fish that Kylo knew came from the rivers, and piles of trout and pink-tinged salmon. There was, Kylo saw, even a barrel full to the brim with water, and within lobsters and crabs crawled over one another. The tall man with dark brows over the fish stall reached in and took one out to show Rey when she stopped to greet him. It snapped its serrated pincers shut in her face, but she laughed. Kylo wanted to twist its claws off. The sharp, salty stench of the fish reminded him of home.

 

                “Dia duit, Rey,” one woman called, leaning on a stall hung with what looked like hundreds upon hundreds of pieces of jewellery. “Cén chaoi a bhfuil tú?” She looked Kylo up and down like an ox for sale but didn’t ask who he was. She was short and dark-haired with a hooked nose.

 

                They spoke only for a moment. Kylo saw, as Rey carried on down the lane, a string of green glass beads hanging from a nail on the top of the stall, the colour of the deep dark sea.

 

                He let Rey walk ahead, hanging back. The woman smiled up at him, short and dark-haired, with a hooked nose and breasts nearly spilling out of her bodice.

 

                “Pretty, aren’t they?” she asked. “Kelpglass, they are. You can take a closer look if you like.”

 

                Kylo lifted the beads and held them up to the light. They glowed green in the sun. “They keep the kelpies away,” he heard the woman say. “You’re not from around here, are you?”

 

                Rey had disappeared into the throng. “I’m from Gaul.”

 

                “How’d you end up here?” Her eyes travelled the length of his forearms, bare from his rolled-up sleeves.

               

                He didn’t want to get into it with another one of the Men. “Just a fishing accident.”

 

                “Ah.” She turned her gaze back onto the beads. “They’d make a fine gift for a lady, if you had one.” She looked him up and down once more. “… do you?”

 

                He shook his head, and her eyes brightened. Kelpglass. The beads were cut and polished and smooth to the touch. Keeps the kelpies away.

 

                The woman showed him the rest of the beads. He tried to remember the names; carnelian, jasper, turquoise, sunstone, moonstone, starstone-

 

                Kylo didn’t ask how much, because he didn’t know how he’d even begin to make sense of the coins. He took the heaviest one he could feel – silver and embossed with a crude X – and held it out to her. He could see on her face that she was about to roll her eyes, and so he leaned on the stall, eyes soft.

 

“You’re mad,” she said, but she was smiling, cheeks growing warm.

 

                “You’d take pity on a poor foreigner, wouldn’t you?” Kylo asked, voice gentle. She swallowed deeply.

 

                “Just this once,” the woman managed. She took the coin, and hesitated before she put it in her purse. “You live down in Dún Canann, do you?”

 

                “For the time being,” Kylo allowed. He put the kelpglass beads in his pocket, a cool weight through the linen. She tucked her hair behind her ears, clearing her throat. “Might be that I’ll see you again, then,” she dared, “if you’re so nearby.”

 

                “Maybe.”

 

---------------------------------------------------

 

 

                Finn was flushed and beaming when they found him, fetching the sacks from the back of the still cart. The one they called Poe was leaning on the wall of the noisy house, fumbling with a purse, but called to Rey when he saw her, “Come and do these coins for me, Rey, I can hardly tell them apart.”

 

                “Fool Northmen,” she said, but she was laughing, and took the coins from him. “Seven pieces a sack, isn’t it?”

 

                “You’re killing me,” he told her. “What about friends’ rates?”

 

                “Sorry.” She counted the coins, grinning. “You ought to be paying me. We had to heft those two bloody black goats to Einar’s field, just the two of us.”

 

                Poe looked at Kylo, smirking. “I daresay you could manage it, eh, jǫtunn?”

 

                There was a frustrated bray. The ass was huffing and pawing, agitated. Rey went to calm it, and Poe leaned towards him. “You be good to her, Breton,” he said, without reason or explanation.

 

                Kylo didn’t rightly know how to respond. “I will,” he found himself saying.

 

                “You’d better.”

 

                I will, something in his mind repeated. I will. The beads were heavy in his pocket, and warm now against his skin, the same as her hands were.

 

 

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                                                          Manip art by @o0scarborough-fair0o (Tumblr)

 

Finn wouldn’t tell her on the way back, fearful that Kylo would hear, and so she had to wait. She spent the journey home looking back at him as he sat, flushed and dishevelled, smiling to himself.

 

                “Tell me,” she insisted, as soon as they had put Lorcan back in the field and stored the cart and watched as Kylo had stalked off down to the sand with Peadar on his heels. “Finn, tell me!” The animals bleated around them, bees buzzing as lazily as they had that morning. Rey propped herself up against Lorcan’s fence and fed him grass, waiting.

 

                Finn sat on the grass in front of her, making a face of discomfort. Rey’s eyes bulged. “We – we fucked.

 

                Finn never swore, and the crudeness of the word made her laugh. “You did what?”

 

                “We fucked. Poe, he – he put me on his bed, and – and –“ He pulled at aster leaves and ate them, grinning like a fool. “Look at my neck.” When he moved the collar of his shirt, Rey could see dark marks like burgeoning bruises. “He did that, with his mouth.”

 

                Fascinated, Rey stared. “How?”

 

                “He – he sucked the skin like a leech until it bruised, and bit it and –“ Finn trailed off, eyes wide as though he could hardly believe it himself. “As soon as you left, he dragged me up the stairs in front of everyone in the beerhouse.”

 

                Lorcan snuffled her ear, and she pulled another handful of grass to feed him. The sun shone straight and warm. The smell of the grass was thick and sweet.

 

                “Did it hurt?”

 

                “Yes. Obviously. But it went away. I – I liked it. He said that he’s going to come down to see me in the week before Lughnasa, and that we’ll do it again.”

 

                Rey hid her envy. “You’re so lucky.” Privately, she thought to herself that she found it appallingly unfair that men could not fall pregnant. The law said that such intimacies out of wedlock were just and good, but women seemed to often fall foul of the unsteadiness of the impulse of men and bore bastard children for their troubles.

 

                Finn chewed at more aster. “How did it find the town?” he asked, and the brightness went out of both their faces.

 

                “He,” she warned him.

 

                “I don’t care. It. He. Whatever.”

 

                “There’s good in him, you know.”

 

                “I’ll bet, right up until he gets hungry again.”

 

                Part of her would have taken it to the grave. The other said, “I’ll have you know I took him to the forest the other day.”

 

                “And did what?” Finn eyed her.

 

                “He ate a deer.”

 

                “What?”

 

                “That’s right. He ate a deer, Finn, twice the size of any of us. I saw him. He dragged it into the river and ate it and-“

 

                “Hold on.” Finn held up a hand to stop her. “You saw him?”

 

                She swallowed. Finn stared at her. “You watched him eat a deer,” he stated, aster leaf halfway to his mouth. “Why?

 

                Rey didn’t know what to say but the truth. “Because I’d rather he ripped a deer to shreds than one of us, alright? That’s why. I’d rather he took as many deer as he liked than have anyone hurt.”

 

                Neither of them spoke for a moment. Finn ate another leaf, head resting on his hand. “Does this mean, then,” he began, “that he doesn’t have to ever-“

 

                “I don’t know what it means.” She didn’t mention the visions, the thoughts of her in Land’s End centuries before she had ever come to be. “But I know that it worked.

 

                “Jesus, Rey,” Finn muttered.

 

                She sighed at him. “Let’s not do this now,” she said. “Look- you and Poe have just done – whatever you did. Don’t worry your head about this. Let’s go and eat. Just forget about this bollocks for today.”

 

                They did. Rey fried mackerel in the pan on her own little hearth, and they ate it with new bread and butter and turnips. He told her in detail, then, as they sat on the floor with it – Finn sat on a cushion - what Poe had done to him. He told her that what he felt, Poe told him, anyone could feel, even women.

 

                “What do you mean, ‘even women’?” Rey fed Finn’s little dog her fishtail.

 

                “Poe said that men who lay with women don’t know how to do it properly. He said they just do what they think is right, and half the time women end up hating it because the only thing they end up with is a pregnant belly.”

 

                Rey shuddered at the thought. “But Poe’s laid with women before.” Finn seemed to dislike the thought. “He said there are things you can do to make it happen without laying with them.

 

                Rey clutched her plate. “Like what?” Finn held out his own fishtail for the dog.

 

                “He didn’t say.” Rey’s face fell. “I know. It’s not really fair. I suppose to find out you’d need to find a man that wasn’t going to lay with you.”

 

                “I’d have a better chance of finding Niamh’s white horse.”

 

                Finn made a sympathetic sound, but she was happy for him. One of us, at least, has what we want.

 

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                She lay on her cot that evening and found that she could not sleep. She had not seen Kylo since the afternoon, loping down to the sand with Peadar following him, not even went she went out at sunset to look. He was nowhere to be seen, and it panicked her.

 

                Rey shifted, and felt something hard at the base of her skull. She wriggled, frowning in the dim light. She reached behind her head, beneath the down-cushion and the fur, and her fingers found something cold and smooth and hard.

 

                When she lifted it, it glowed sea-green in the vague light of the dying fire. Kylo.

 

                She didn’t know what the beads meant, clicking softly against one another on their sheepsgut string when she clasped them about her neck; did it mean that he was gone? Had he left them as a parting gift, a wordless farewell – Rey sat up, panicking.

 

                “He can’t,” she whimpered to herself, aloud, “he can’t, he can’t.

 

                The other roundhouses were silent. She could, vaguely, hear one of the men snoring. A sheep, still awake, bleated sleepily from up in the field. The sand was dry and soft against her feet as she ran. She had never run quite so fast in her life, kicking up clouds as she raced down the beach, almost falling more than once. She passed the seawall, and her hammering heart beat harder.

               

He was in the water up to his shoulders, starkly dark against moon-white skin, facing south. He turned before she was even within earshot, sniffing the air. His eyes went immediately to the seaglass beads around her neck, black in the absence of clear light.

 

                She remembered a fleeting vision from long ago, of a giant in the sea. It had frightened her. Now, she didn’t want to be anywhere else. She wouldn’t have left him, not for anything.

 

                He spoke first. “Do you like it?” he asked. Rey came right to the water’s edge, from dry sand to wet, not minding how the tide rose up around her ankles and wet the hem of her shift.

 

“I love it. It’s beautiful,” she told him. “It’s the most beautiful thing I’ve ever seen. I hardly want to take it off at all.”

 

                A fox shrieked in the night, beyond the wall. He looked at her, eyes black.

 

                “I thought you had gone,” Rey dared tell him.

 

                “Why?”

 

                “I don’t know.” The water pulled the hem of her shift back and forth.

 

                “I’m not leaving you,” Kylo said plainly.

               

The night was dark and clear. The stars were bright and strong, pulsing, as though Fionn Mac Cumhaill had taken handfuls of them and dashed them across the sky. The scar on the kelpie’s face paled in the light of the moon.

 

“When I was little,” Rey began, “I used to sit out here at night, and wait for my parents to come back.” She smiled sadly. “It was silly, really. But I’d always wait, just hoping that maybe somebody would come back for me.”

 

The water lapped at his chest, still as a rock. Rey’s eyes followed the thick lines of his shoulders, his neck.

 

“I couldn’t have asked for more from Phasma and Aengus. They raised me, they kept me safe, but … they never hid it from me that I wasn’t theirs. They always said that my parents might come back for me one day.”

 

                Rey felt the beads around her neck, warm now from her skin but cool against her fingertip. Kylo never took his eyes off her, his face betraying nothing of the thoughts within.

 

                “Whoever they were, they’re gone. They didn’t want me. And I don’t want to know them. I have Phasma and Rose and Finn.” Rey hesitated, hands going to her skirts. “And I’ve – somehow – I’ve always had you.”

 

                He didn’t move or speak, waiting for her to go on, but Rey saw him falter as he blinked, jaw going taut.

 

                “I saw you,” she told him, “when I was little. All the time. I saw you. I saw you when you were young and when you were as you are now, and when you were a horse. I called you the Boy and the Giant. I saw you every single day, but then, when Aengus died, the visions stopped. I stopped seeing, and I forgot I’d even been able.” She filled her lungs with sea air. “Until you found me. When you found me, I started to see again.”

 

                His full mouth parted, as though he was going to say something. A big hand lifted out of the water.

 

                “Come here,” was all he said, unmoving.

 

                Her hands shook as she undid the careful laces at her chest. He had seen her bare before, the morning he had tried to drown her, but this, she knew, was utterly different. The night air gave her gooseflesh, nipples taut and red. The linen whispered against her skin as she shrugged it down her shoulders, and let it drop at her feet. She lifted it and cast it behind her, out of the water’s way.

 

                Each step into the water – closer to him – was cold, but the chill soon surpassed itself, and the sea felt almost warm. Her breath quickened, heart pounded. The water came to Kylo’s shoulders but would have gone over her head. She found herself treading water. Rey held out her hand, and without hesitation, he took it. His palm was wet and warm and stone-rough when he curled his thick fingers around hers. Moments like these were as thin as spring ice, as fragile as the seaglass around her neck.

 

                He pulled her forwards and brought her up flush against him, one great arm holding her in place against his front. Rey inhaled sharply through her nose, aware that there was nothing around her now but Kylo and the water. He was warm and solid against her, chest slick against her breasts. It sent something hot to the pit of her belly, plucking insistently.         

 

She clung to him, immovable as a rock, eyes locked in silence. The waves lapped gently against them, rolling and breaking softly against one another; almost, it seemed, on purpose, to keep the pair of them where they stood. Kylo lifted her hand very slowly and placed it on his wide chest.

 

His skin was hot and soft from the salt. Rey splayed her fingers to feel the throb of his heart, trembling. Through the chill of the water, she could feel the heat from him.

 

                “I don’t know why we saw one another,” she whispered, head close to his, “but it wasn’t for nothing. Something made you come you north. Something made you let me go when you could have killed me.”

 

Rey could feel tears welling up in her eyes and sniffed hard to keep them there. “When Hux came of age, he ruined everything for me. He made my life hell, and no one could do a thing because we needed him. Before you came, I had never felt so alone in all my life.”

 

Kylo’s hand tightened around the small of her back. “You’re not alone.”

 

“Neither are you,” she insisted. “Something brought you to me.” To keep herself steady, Rey curled her legs around his, slick skin sliding across slick skin. Kylo made a low noise, deep in his chest. Rey watched, trembling, as he took her free hand, lifted it to his face, and pressed his lips against her wet knuckles. The touch sent something piercing and deep up her arm, hot saltwater in her veins. She inhaled sharply. His breath was hot on her fingers.

 

                Of her own accord now, Rey touched him, tracing with a gentle forefinger the line of the scar she had lain across his face. “Something brought you to me,” she repeated, voice nothing but a breath on the wind. Kylo’s eyes were black pools, so soft and so deep Rey could have drowned in them. It would, she thought, be a death that she would accept, and be grateful.

 

                He kissed her fingers as she touched his face, never looking away from her once. “Nothing’s going to take me away,” he told her, lifting her further up against him so that her arms went around his neck, her legs around his waist. Kylo held her thighs, her rear, to keep her in place, helped by the sea.

 

                Rey closed her eyes and felt his teeth grazing her jaw, and then felt him kiss the hollow beneath her ear, laving with his tongue where his teeth had touched. Rey was acutely aware of her shaky, broken breaths, and tried to steady them, but her body would not obey. Kylo nipped her earlobe, his hot breath in the shell of her ear sending delicious sharpness down her spine. She tilted her head back, hair half-suspended on the surface of the water, and let him press wet kisses up her throat towards her chin. He lingered a moment on the beads of seaglass, and then took her mouth with his own.

 

                Her core felt hot and slicker than her skin in the water. Her legs trembled around his hips, unused to the openness, stomach fluttering against the solid bulk of his own. Kylo’s mouth was hot, wet, smiling around her unpractised lips. He nipped at her soft lower lip, at her chin, and she curled her hands into his thick dark hair.

 

              Rey shifted her own hips against, once, twice, a third time. There are things you can do to make it happen. She kissed Kylo’s cheek, his jaw, his winsome ear, and opened her eyes. The sea lay behind them, over his shoulder, blacker than black. It should have frightened her, the nothingness of it.

 

             “Are you frightened?” she whispered, nosing against his ear.

 

             “Never," he breathed. "Are you?"

 

             "I was."

 

             Kylo pulled back to look at her. "And now?"

 

             Rey kissed his pink mouth. She wasn't frightened.

 

 

                                                          

 

                                                          

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He had felt this before, countless times – this deep burning in his stomach - but he knew that it could have been centuries since he felt it last; centuries since his body allowed him to think of anything other than blood in the water.

 

The last time, he knew had been different, in Land’s End. There was an odd veil of memory over it, like cloudy water, but Kylo remembered that she had been like him, saltborn, with tangled dark hair and a scar up her neck where someone had tried to take her throat out. Kylo had gotten rather sick of watching her on the rocks, swinging her legs, staring at him, so he had reached up and grabbed her ankle and pulled her right in with him.

 

It had been rough and urgent. She had giggled, but had bitten his face before long, and clawed her blunt nails down his wide back. Kylo had dug his teeth into her shoulder. He’d bruised her hips purple beneath his hands. Her foal was born some months after; a dark-mopped boy, with his mother’s grey eyes, but with ears just like his. The boy would snarl at him, once he could walk. Kylo liked that. It meant that the boy was strong.

 

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The boy snapped his teeth shut, growling. Kylo chuckled, sitting on the sand so that he was eye-level with the child. He was a sturdy little thing, black foal’s locks falling into his wide dark eyes.

 

“Don’t,” his mother hissed, when the boy showed Kylo his blunt little teeth.

 

“Leave him. He’s strong.” Kylo showed the child his own teeth, snarling playfully. “Aren’t you strong, boy?”

 

The boy snarled right back, nostrils flaring. He had sandy palms and a cut on his lip, the mark of another foal’s fist. Kylo caught hold of his chin in a big hand. “Stay still,” he growled, and the child tried to kick him, squirming. “Have you been fighting?”

 

“Of course he’s been fighting. The mare rolled her eyes. “Scrapping over scallop-shells and crabs. He’s his father’s son, is he not?”

 

“Then let him fight.” Kylo let go of the boy, but not before the child tried to nip him on the arm. “It’ll bleed the freshwater out of him.”

 

The boy pulled away and went back to his pile of shells. “There’s no freshwater in my son,” the mare said in disgust. “He’s saltborn to the bone.” She reached out and stroked the boy’s hair, and he leaned against her hand, though he didn’t take his eyes off the shells.

 

Kylo huffed. “You’d think that, wouldn’t you?”

 

“Why are you here, Kylo?” the mare asked him.

 

“To see my son.”

 

“After gods only know how long inland?” She made a face. “What were you doing there?”

 

“Seeing my own father. Waste of time.”

 

 

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Kylo had blinked away the mist of the requiem and focused his attention on her. She’d stared up at him, soft doe-eyes fluttering.

“We can’t,” Rey had breathed, pushing him away when he had put her on her back and pressed his hips against the backs of her soft white thighs. “We can’t, I can’t.” Kylo had paused, looming over her, painfully hard in his sea-soaked britches. “I can’t get with child,” she told him, glancing fearfully down at the obvious bulge. There was a sudden fear on her face, a panic that Kylo would never know.

 

“You can’t?”

 

                “No.” She sat up. “We can’t-“ She had broken off with a squeal when he hefted her onto his lap. “What are you doing? I said-

 

                Kylo stilled. “Not that. It’s not that. I won’t hurt you.” He put a hand on her thigh, pushing them apart. “Do you trust me?”

 

                “This won’t-“ She had gasped when he had touched her there, finally. “I won’t – I won’t get with child, will I?”

 

                Kylo had to stifle a laugh. “No, you won’t.”

 

She wasn’t like him. The bodies of Men – and Women, too, he supposed - could not withstand force, could not withstand lust-bites and grips so forceful they bruised the skin. It hurt them, badly, and could kill them if they were weak enough. Kylo knew that he had to be careful with her. Her skin was hot, face flushed red. Kylo had her on his lap on the furs on the floor – the cot would have broken under their weight - his belly against her back, one hand between her thighs and the other on her breast.

 

This he had done before, too. Some of the mares in Land’s End grew tired of bearing foals and ate wild carrot-flower to bring it off if they fell pregnant. Some couldn’t stand the bitter taste or the pain of the miscarriage, and simply abstained entirely. Kylo found ways of making it work - with his hands and even his tongue – and found that they liked it very much; some liked it even more than they liked being fucked.

 

                “That’s it, good girl.” Rey shifted in his lap, whimpering. “Easy, Rey.” Her rear against his groin made him want to huff and growl and bite her, but he suppressed the urge.

               

                It was dark still, warm in the little roundhouse. The stone was warm against Kylo’s back. The fire barely glowed, but the moon shone through the chinks in the thatch, bright white on their skin. Rey huffed into the night, squirming. Her skin was fire-dry, but her hair was still half-damp. Kylo nosed against it, circling the pad of his forefinger over the sensitive little pearl of flesh that made her breath hitch and her hips buck. He could tell from the way her body responded that she had hardly known it was there, and if she had, she had not known what it was for or what to even begin to do with it.

 

                Rey’s chest rose and fell rapidly. She panted, pressing her cheek against his chest, eyes squeezed shut, teeth gritted as though she was in pain. Kylo’s hand went to her soft belly, and he felt the telltale twitch of the muscles there. Almost. Rey made a broken sound, flinching as the muscles pulled, almost ready to-

 

                “What – what’s – Kylo-“

 

                He shushed her, painfully aware of the others in their huts. “What’s happening?” Rey wailed, and he put his hand over her mouth. Her eyes went wide, and she began to buck.

 

                “It’s alright,” he murmured in her ear. “Don’t panic. It won’t hurt.”

 

                Her back arched right up, and Kylo’s hand muffled the noise she made. The sound of her keening vibrated up his arm and went straight to his groin. Her anger was red, her fear was black, but her pleasure was lilac, sweet and heady. He had been responsible for many a first experience, but something shifted within him. His heart felt too full for his chest, so full of something sweet and heavy that he could hardly breathe.

 

                Kylo expected her to sleep, to slide into unconsciousness straightaway, but she didn’t. She stood on shaking legs – Kylo grumbled in protest, holding onto her hips - and went to reawaken the embers in the hearth. She pulled a fur around herself as she knelt, striking flints.

 

                “You saw something,” she said, more of a statement than a question. When the tinder caught fire, it illuminated her face. She was damp with sweat, shimmering in the warm light. “You were on top of me, and you saw something.”

 

                Kylo rolled onto his side. “I think I did.”

 

                “What was it?”

 

                The memory was fleeting, like a dream that one remembered for moments, and then forgot almost entirely. “I don’t remember properly. It’s foggy.” Kylo extended a long arm. “Come back.”

 

                “We’ll both freeze if I don’t light this,” she said, but she smiled at him, face glowing with pleasure. She waited until the fire had engulfed the third handful of tinder, and then placed a log carefully into the flames.

 

                “Where did you learn to do that?” Rey asked him, standing up. The rushes had left thin red marks on her knees and shins. Kylo wanted to kiss them away.

 

                “Do what?”

               

                “What you did. With your fingers.”

 

                “I didn’t learn it anywhere. I just can.” Kylo reached out and took a handful of the fur. Rey stepped back, giggling. “Come here. Let me look at you.” He managed to snatch the fur away from her, leaving her bare, and wrapped both arms around her rear, nibbling at her belly. Rey squealed in delight and slapped his shoulders.

 

                She ended up on top of him, big hands curving around soft pale hips. “What do you call it,” she began, “when … that happens? What you did?”

 

                He truly did not know – he had never known a name for it - and told her as much.

 

                She drew shapes across his chest. “There should be a name for it,” Rey decided. “It’s too … important to not have a name.”

 

                “Did you like it?” Kylo asked, nosing against her throat. The smell of her like this was very nearly too much to bear. Flat-tongued, Kylo licked a line across the place where her pulse was strongest. Rey trembled, leaning into it.

 

“Haven’t you ever done it yourself?” Kylo asked her, kissing where he had licked.

 

Myself?” She looked at him as though he had three heads. “I can’t.” She paused. “Can I?”

 

“Of course you can.”

 

“How?”

Kylo put her on her back and showed her how to do it herself. He had to put his hand over her mouth again.

 

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                She made him swear, as they dressed, that he’d keep what they had done a secret. Kylo stuttered, shirt pulled halfway down his chest. “Why?”

 

                “Because,” Rey said, belting her dress, “I said so. I don’t want them to know. Especially not Phasma. She’s been going on about how you’re to take a wife at the end of the summer, and all that dogshit. It’ll set her off, and she’ll start harping on about babies and handfasting and – ugh.”

 

                Kylo wasn’t sure he liked that. He wanted to make a fuss of her, show her off. After what she had told him last night, that the red bastard Hux had made her life hell – and that the other bastards hadn’t helped – he wanted it to be very clear that it wasn’t to happen again.

 

                The day was good and warm. The rest, they said, were going hunting for mussels – “even the women,” Rey muttered, rolling her eyes and making him smile – and Ailis came running with her net as soon as she saw him, offering to show him how to find the shells, pretending as though Rey wasn’t there.

 

                The girl fluttered her eyelashes and smiled and blushed, twiddling her net. “It’s not hard,” she said, eyes darting downwards. Kylo could have laughed. “I’ll show you how.”

 

                “Rey!” he heard one of the men call. Stocky dark Ciarán was leaning on the seawall. The rest of the men were readying their mussel-nets, thinner and with denser mesh than those for fish. “Are you going diving for scallops?”

 

                “Where are you lot going?”

 

                “Cuan Eascann. The rocks’ll be riddled with mussels at this tide.”

 

                “You could have told me earlier,” Rey grumbled, “I’ve just gotten dressed.”

 

                “Right, well.” He cleared his throat. “You stay, if you want. Or come with us. It’s up to you. You’re coming with us, Kylo, aren’t you?”

 

                “Rey can show me how to dive for scallops,” Kylo announced, without a moment’s hesitation, and Rey looked up at him, pink. Ailis’ face fell. The men didn’t protest, but it was plain on their faces that once they were out of sight, they would bemoan the loss of their prize Breton. It made Kylo’s hackles rise.

 

                “Go with them,” Rey hissed, when Ailis stalked away sulking. “I don’t need looking after.”

 

                “I don’t care. I’m staying.”

 

                “Why?” She pulled off her boots and fired them at the doorway of her little house.

 

                “Because I said so,” he mocked her, flicking her on the chin, and she slapped his hand away, though he saw her smile.

 

                Kylo sat on a firelog, and Rey on a stool, and he watched her braid her hair tight for the water.  “I want to see you swim,” he told her. The rest brought an ass down from the field to carry their mussels home for them, and set off together, soon disappearing around the tided headland.

 

                She beamed. “I do,” Kylo insisted. He wanted her on his lap; he wanted to spoil her, nip at her neck, kiss her face- only she wouldn’t have it. Instead, he watched her strong little fingers pull her hair into the sturdy pattern, almost like magic. When he reached out to touch her hair, Rey batted his hand away.

 

                “You keep your hands to yourself until we’re in the water, you beast,” she told him, trying to hide her smile. Kylo couldn’t help but smile back.

 

                He had been watching her for what felt like hours when she lifted her head, and her eyes went wide.

 

                “What?”

 

                She stared past him. Kylo shifted to look. Past Phasma at her hut, past the fire, at the arched trees to the forest path was an old man Kylo had not seen before, robed in dark wool, a hood around his shoulders, hair grey and beard shot through with silver. Something shimmered in Kylo’s mind, but he couldn’t reach it.

 

                “That’s one of the priests from the church. He - he knows about you,” Rey managed, voice low.

 

                Kylo looked at her. “What?”

 

                “The day you went sharking. I told one of the other priests in confession that I had seen a – a water-horse.” She never took her eyes off of the man. “He heard.”

 

                Kylo exclaimed, “Why would you-“

 

                “I was frightened. I thought you’d hurt someone.”

 

                Kylo watched the man. He was old, leaning on a staff of ash. He nodded and smiled when the others spoke to him, even bending down to pinch the cheek of one of the twins. There was a basketful of herbs on his back. When he reached back to unstrap it, one of his long sleeves rode up, and Kylo saw that he was missing his right hand. Rey made a low sound.

 

                “That’s the priest?” Kylo repeated.

 

                “That’s one of them. Luke.”

 

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

 

                “Because – because –“ She couldn’t find the words. “Because I just didn’t, alright? But he knows. He knows about your kind. He told me that one of them bit his hand off. He’s killed them.”

 

                Kylo’s eyes went towards the man’s stump. “He’s what?”

 

                “But he doesn’t know that you can – that you can look like us. I think.”

 

                Fuck. Luke surveyed the length of the strand, eyes searching. The water was still and clear, betraying nothing.

 

                “I don’t understand,” Kylo told her, “what’s he doing here?”

 

                “He’s from Alba. His abbot sent him here because he’s mad.”

 

                Kylo didn’t ask what Alba or an abbot was. Rey swallowed as the priest’s eyes fell on them, darkening. She made to get up. “Sit down,” Kylo said, not pulling his gaze from the priest’s face. “Sit, Rey, and don’t speak. I’ll deal with this.”

 

                Oh, she hated being told what to do; Kylo could smell it, the anger radiating out from her beneath the black-tar fear, but she sat, fists clenched. He sat beside her. “Promise me you won’t speak?” She nodded, mouth set in a hard line, glaring up at him. He could have kissed that mouth, half a hundred times there and then.

 

                The mad priest made his way over to them once he had spoken to Phasma and blessed babies and given the women bottles of holy water, eyes as pale and as hard as chips of ice in his face, leaning on his staff for support. Kylo felt Rey tense. He looked them over, eyes lingering on Kylo. His staff dug deep into the sand, robes dragging.

 

                “Dia duit,” he said, voice hard, when he reached them.

 

                “Dia is Mhuire duit.” Rey’s voice trembled. Kylo said nothing, but his lip curled. Luke eyed him before he said to Rey, tersely, “I would speak with you.” He glared at Kylo, and added, “Alone.”

 

                She stood, and Kylo caught her by the hip. “Sit down,” he told her, without looking away from the priest, and she did. The anger raged out of her.

 

                The old priest watched them, leaning on his staff. His lip twitched. “You went and found yourself a sharp-tongued man to protect you from the water-horse, then.” The icy eyes went to Rey. “Clever girl.”

 

                “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Rey said tightly. Kylo squeezed her hip to quieten her.

 

                Luke scoffed at Rey. Kylo could have knocked his jaw west. “Where do you hail from, outlander?” he asked Kylo. “Your accent is queer.”

 

                “None of your pissing business.”

 

                “You’re a long way from home, wherever you’re from. Iberia? Gaul? Macedonia?” His tone turned mocking, foul, sharp enough to make Kylo feel rage push up through his chest. “Or is your tongue just too big for your mouth?”

 

                Kylo bristled. He knew this feeling, this ripe, angry, pins-and-needles sensation shooting up his arms, his throat, making him stifle the impulse to strike and snarl and bite.

               

                The priest almost smiled. “We’re both foreign to this land. That much I know. Though not to its beasts, perhaps.” He gazed at the water a moment. “Has your girl told you, then? She saw a water-horse, and now she’s pretending she hasn’t. Have you ever seen one of the creatures, outlander?”

 

                Kylo’s hand tightened on Rey’s knee. “I haven’t a clue what you’re talking about.”

 

                “How fortunate for you.” The icy eyes narrowed. “Though when one’s woman says she’s seen a monster – no matter how she protests that she hasn’t – one would think that one might do one’s duty by her and go out and slay the beast that frightened her into silence.”

 

                “One would think,” Kylo enunciated, anger seeping dangerously thick into his voice, “that you’d do your duty by the cloth and stop trying to put the fear of your God into blameless girls.”

 

                The priest glowered, face flushing puce. “Blameless. How dare you presume to tell me what my duty is, you heathen-

 

                Kylo got to his feet. Once he was up, Luke was not quite so quick to spit insults, eyes taking in Kylo’s full bulk. Over the priest’s head, outside of her roundhouse, Kylo saw Phasma stop with her needle half-threaded and stare over at the exchange.

 

                “You don’t frighten me, famhair,” the priest snapped. “I’ve seen things that you couldn’t imagine in your blackest dreams. It’ll take far more than a big outlander to shake me.” He cast his cold eyes over Rey, scowling.

               

                “Don’t look so afeard, girl,” he said scornfully. “I’m not stupid. I said nothing, to no one. Not even to your bean-taoiseach. I’ve been kind to you for that. You ought to repay that kindness. Speak.

 

                She refused, lip quivering.

 

                “Take your herbs and piss off out of it, priest,” Kylo found himself telling the man. His eyes had gone dark and testy, the anger only barely contained, pressing at the back of his breastbone like storm waves behind a seawall.

 

                Luke’s knuckles went white where he was gripping the staff. He looked at Rey again. “Fool girl,” he growled. “You’re only making it harder on yourself.”

 

                Rey spat on the sand at his feet. Kylo had seen wars started over this, over spitting at another’s feet, swords drawn and horses ridden into battle. The priest drew himself up, eyes bulging. “Insolent bitch,” he muttered. “You’ll be the death of those around you, do you know that? You’ll be the ruin of this village, and for what?”

 

                “Go.” Kylo would not tell him again.

 

                Luke ignored him, taking a step towards Rey. Kylo wanted to launch him across the sand with a flat hand to the chest, but Phasma was watching, brow furrowed in concern. “You’ll tell me,” he warned her, “one way or another. Not today, like I thought, but you will tell me where it is. I have ways of making fool girls talk. None of them are pleasant.”

 

                Kylo stopped him from coming any closer to her with a hard fist to the shoulder, not striking, but warning. The man’s proximity to Rey sent sharpness down his spine, making his jaw twitch, desperate to snap and bite. “Get – back,” he said through his teeth, having to force himself not to snarl. His body wanted to rip and tear, to fight, and trying to suppress it almost hurt.

 

                Luke didn’t move. He repeated over Kylo’s elbow to Rey, “You will tell me where it is, girl, and there won't be a man around to protect you when you do.” He struck Kylo’s arm off with his staff, and walked slowly away, as though the exchange had never taken place. When he passed Phasma, he said, “Slán, bean-taoiseach,” and disappeared up the forest path. He didn’t look back.

 

                It took every ounce of strength in every sinew of Kylo’s being not to race after him, and maul him to blood and bone.

 

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                Phasma was concerned, full of questions; why did he come to you? What did he say? Why did you spit at him? Why did Kylo put his hands on him? Why did he look so angry?

 

                Rey answered only with, “The man’s mad. The abbot in Iona sent him here to die.”

 

                Phasma’s eyes went to Kylo then, as though questioning the truth. Kylo swallowed – swallowing rage, Rey knew – and he said tightly, “That’s right. He’s mad.”

 

                 Kylo, she could see, still bristled even when the beach was empty, everyone having either gone around the headland for mussels or up to the fields to milk the cows with Phasma. Rey dragged one of the mussel-nets to the water’s edge and pulled off her dress, trembling not from cold, but from fear, from fury. The water was cool on her feet as it came up around her ankles.

 

                “Why did you have to do that?” she growled, shaking fingers fumbling with the belt. “You could have let him have his stupid speech and I could have told him I saw it somewhere in the river, and he would have left. Now he’s going to come back.”

 

                “What would you have me do?” Kylo snapped back. “Let him talk to you like-“

 

                “I’d have you let me deal with it, you shit.

 

                He did that thing with his mouth, clenching his teeth and pressing his lips together. “How?” he demanded. The morning’s coquettishness had melted quite away.

 

                “I don’t know. I’ll figure something out.” Rey was naked now, and so angry with him she could have cried. She was, she realised with a shock, angrier with him now that she had been when he’d played the drowned man. “Now fuck off. I’m going to dive for these bloody things on my own.” She turned away from him. The sea breeze blew cool and crisp, cutting through the thick warm air like a salty blade.

 

                Kylo growled behind her, deep and furious. “You’re not going anywhere until you tell me just what it is you’re planning on doing.” She heard him pull off his shirt.

 

                Rey scoffed, wading deeper. “Just you try and stop me, water-horse.” She spat the word out impulsively, like an expletive, and was struck immediately with a pang of guilt and shame. She kept walking, shoulders hard and tense, but didn’t move quickly enough to avoid him.

 

She shrieked when he, without warning, hefted her over his shoulder and waded into the water with her. “Get the fuck off me,” she exclaimed, slapping his back. Her flat palms turned into fists and she beat his back as hard as she could. “Put me down!”

 

                “Is this it, then?” he asked, slapping her rear so that she squawked in anger. “You’d have me make you whimper like a pup all night, but as soon as I even try to help you, you turn back into a spiteful little louskenn that doesn’t know what she’s on about.

 

                “I’ll rock your fucking jaw-“

 

                “You asked me to stay,” Kylo grunted, interrupting her, coming to a halt when he was knee-deep, arm tight around the backs of her knees. Rey punched him hard in the small of his back to no avail, suspended above the water, a helpless seal caught in a fishing-net. “You went on about your fits and your clearsight, and how you saw me. Something brought me to you, you said. I’m not going to stand there like a fool and let some kozh druzh priest spit threats at you just because you want to do everything on your own.”

 

                “I can deal with some mad old priest on my own. I can deal with everything on my own. I’d deal with the fucking sharks on my own if Phasma weren’t so bloody tight and stupid. Put me down!” She struggled hard, and managed to slide out of his grip, but he caught her again by both wrists and held on. Rey slipped one of her hands out of his grip, slapped him hard in the face, and disappeared into the water with the net before he could grab her again.

 

                It made her want to cry. All of the tenderness that had been there the night before remained no longer. She scanned the seafloor, half-heartedly searching for shells, only stopping when he she saw the pale shape of her alongside her in the water.

 

                She wished she could have told him to fuck off there in the salt. Rey was viciously jealous of the dark red slits at both sides of his throat, moving faintly in the green water. She had to rise up for air too regularly for her liking – though her capacity to go without it far surpassed anyone she had ever known – and did so now, inhaling sharp and fast.

 

                Kylo burst forth, dripping, and huffed, “You’re impossible.” His cheek was red where she’d slapped him, lashes long and spiky from the water.

 

                “Christ have mercy.” Rey wiped the salt from her eyes and tried to stay afloat, legs and arms going hard like a frog’s. “You’re impossible. You couldn’t have just let me talk, could you? No, of course not. You had to act like the rest of them.” She glared at him, old injustices swimming in her head. “Because of course I wouldn’t be able.”

 

                Kylo looked as though he was about to spit. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

 

                “I know exactly what I’m talking about. God, you’re all the same, aren’t you? Men. Man or beast or fucking water-horse, you’re all the same!”

 

                They glared at one another for a moment, bobbing like seals in the water. Rey didn’t think she had ever been quite so appalled when she saw the corners of Kylo’s mouth twitch.

 

                “Don’t you dare.”

 

                He snorted, trying to hold it in, pressing his lips together. “Stop,” Rey ordered him. “Don’t you dare laugh. Don’t.

 

                Kylo spluttered. Rey’s hands tingled with the urge to slap his other cheek, slap the almost-smile off his face. He was laughing at her. “You-you horse-faced cock,” she exploded. “Don’t you dare laugh at me. I will smack that grin off your face. Kylo!”

 

That did it. Kylo roared with laughter, so wide Rey could see the sharp horseshoe-shape of his upper teeth when he threw his head back.

 

“No, no, come here. Don’t, Rey, come here.” She made to swim away from him, but warm slick arms wrapped around her waist and brought her back. Rey resisted the urge to lash him across the head with the net and let herself be pulled flush against his warm solid front.

 

When she glowered at him, he bit his lip to suppress the laughter. “You’re horrid,” she told him flatly. Kylo went to nip gently at her neck and she let him at first, but shoved him hard in the chest as soon as his teeth touched her skin. He groaned, “I didn’t mean to frighten you.”

 

You didn’t. Luke did. “Get off.”

 

Rey.

 

“I need to-“

 

“Listen to me.”

His forehead was against hers then, chest against her breasts. “Let me help you,” he said. “I can go after that priest and I can get rid of him.”

 

The thought seemed perfect at first. The complications, however, arose rapidly in Rey’s mind, and then more guilt; Luke was foul and made threats that seemed all to likely to become reality, but he had not hurt her yet.

 

“I don’t need your help,” she said.

 

Rey,” Kylo exclaimed.

 

“I don’t,” she insisted. “I need you to catch sharks and fish until summer ends. I don’t need you to do anything else. That’s all.”

 

He looked hurt. There came more guilt, dull and aching in her gut. Kylo repeated, “That’s all?”

 

“I don’t know what you want me to say.”

 

His arms loosened but did not let go. Kylo closed his eyes for a moment, and then opened them again. “I want you to say that you weren’t filling my head with shit last night.”

 

“I wasn’t.” Rey sighed. “No. I wasn’t. I just-“

 

“What?”

 

She said, “I didn’t mean it.”

 

He watched her. “I know.”

 

Rey bit her lip, wondering why she had been so foul to him. Luke. She shook the thought from her head. “I really do need to do this, though,” she told him, lifting the net, water-heavy now.

 

“Then show me how. Let me help you.

 

She couldn’t berate him for it in the water, once they dove down. I don’t need help, she wanted to whine, glaring meaningfully, and Kylo laughed again, clouds of bubbles rising from his mouth.

 

                Rey showed him how to find them, pushing aside the seagrass and the kelp to search for the pretty ridged shells, wedged into the sand. The kelp rose higher the deeper they went, a slimy green forest beneath the sea. Kylo jumped back like a spooked horse when one of the shells began to swim, tiny puffs of air forced from between the rims of its shell propelling it away. Rey snatched it before it could escape, shoved it into the net, and held the neck of the net tight so that no more could evade them.

 

                Kylo’s hands were so big he could hold ten shells in each. He would dump them into the net, disappear into the kelp, and return almost instantly with handfuls more. Some of the scallops got away, frantically puffing along in the green water, and, hands full, Kylo would try to seize them between his teeth like a dog snapping at bees in the air.

 

                She watched how he moved, enormous but lithe; graceful, almost. The muscles in his back shifted delightfully as he arched, twisted; thick, milk-pale shoulders rippling, as big as a bear. His hair framed his face like some black saint’s halo, eyes ever-dark even in the rare jade light beneath the surface.

 

                Rey rose for air, net so full it was dragging. She felt a hand on hers, another hand pushing the net up, and Kylo’s face broke the surface of the water, too.

 

                The water made him happy, she realised. His dark eyes went the colour of heartwood in the straight warm sun, and he smiled at her. This skin, this man-skin-with-gills, was beautiful. He had the whitest crooked teeth she had ever seen. The sullenness she had come to know from him only persisted when he was forced to stay on land for too long.

 

                It was this skin, this face, free of hunger and of pain, that she wanted to see. Not the scaled and shark-toothed starving giant, slavering in agony, blood stark and red against death-white skin.

                She kissed him just under the water, in case someone saw, mouth filling with salt from his lungs. When she broke the surface again to spit it all out, Kylo kissed her bruised ankles beneath, big hands curling around her calves, as he had in the dream.

 

                Rey wouldn’t let him carry the net for her, but he took it anyway, heaving it into low tide where its shells clacked against one another and it wouldn’t be washed away. He pulled her back into the water with him. He nipped at her neck as he kicked them deeper, kissing where his teeth had touched, arms tight about her waist. Rey wished she could breathe so that she could tell him off, kiss him properly in the water.

 

                Rey wrapped her legs around the backs of his thighs, weightless in the gloom. Kylo pulled back to look at her and smiled again. He was at home here, Rey realised, though his true home was far, far away.

 

                Her mind lingered on Luke, on his brief and chilling visit. You will tell me. It made her stomach clench. She filled her lungs with air and followed Kylo down, faster now that the net wasn’t dragging. It was so quiet here, down in the green depths, that she could almost have forgotten. She had seen little of the old man but sharp words and gritted teeth, but something told her that he was capable of far more damage than that. He had, she conceded, half-bragged about killing what Rey considered to be almost a child and its mother.

 

                She watched Kylo as he searched amongst the kelp for something. A child and its mother. Surely, she thought, Kylo had, once, had a mother. Everything had a mother. The wildest wolves and the biggest bears in the world all began as cubs. It was not easy for her to picture Kylo as a child. Children could be monstrous, but not truly, not literally. She imagined a sturdy, sullen boy with wide dark eyes and sharp little needle teeth.

 

                Kylo came back to her with a piece of sunstone, smoothed and rounded by the force of the sea. Her lungs were getting tight, but she took it, kicking her way up to the surface with it, back to shore, back to the net, full almost to bursting.

 

                “What do you do with these?” Kylo asked, poking the net. Rey watched his gills close as she put on her dress again, four faint white lines in the skin.

 

                “We eat them.” She belted the dress and put the stone in her pocket.

 

                “You eat them?” Kylo reached into the net and took one out. Rey watched in horror as he ate the entire thing, shell and all.

 

                “Don’t!” she exclaimed. When he didn’t choke or splutter, and when his mouth didn’t bleed from the sharp edges of the shell, she hesitated. He cracked the scallop between his teeth and swallowed. “Jesus. You could eat anything, couldn’t you?”

 

                He mock-bit at her ear, and it made her laugh.

                She showed him, both of them sitting on the sand outside of the houses with a bucket of saltwater, how to use a stout flat knife to split the shells – “carefully!” – and take the scallop itself out unharmed. The scallops were dense and pearly, and Rey told him to put them in the saltwater to keep them fresh. She ate some of them as she split the shells, the pale mollusc thick between her teeth.

 

                It was oddly quiet, though it was a bright afternoon. The others wouldn’t return from Cuan Eascann until sunset at least, and Phasma had, she was sure, gone up to the fields with the children too young to gather mussels. Rey’s thoughts went to last night, what he had done to her with only his hands, the stars she had seen at the back of her eyes, the heat between her legs-

 

               "I didn’t think your kind could eat anything without putting it over a fire first,” Kylo said. His giant hands were too big for the little knife, but he was careful, though Rey could have cracked and split five shells in the time it took him to split one.

 

                “Meat, you mean. We can eat shell-food just fine.” She held out a fat white scallop to him, but he was looking intently at an empty shell. “What?” When the shell fell from his hand, Rey stood.

 

                His eyes glazed over. He was Seeing. She dropped her knife and went to kneel in front of him. “Look at me,” she said, taking his face in her hands. He looked, unblinking, but did not see her. “Kylo, look at me.”

 

                It was not long before his eyelashes fluttered. He pulled in the air sharply as though he had been drowning. “Oh,” he gasped.

 

                “Are you alright? What did you see?”

 

                Big hands came to wrap around her wrists. “Shells.”

 

                Rey faltered. “You saw shells?”

 

                He nodded, blinking. “Shells, and – and –“ He frowned, face twisting in confusion, then fear-

 

                What, Kylo?”

 

                He panted, voice trembling, “My son.”

                

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WARNINGThere are quite a few flashbacks in this chapter. It, for creative reasons, has a very fast pace. If you have questions I'll be happy to answer them, but PLEASE do not start getting snooty in the comments or I'll just delete them. If you DM me with questions, the same applies.

 

 

 

                Tadig,” the boy called, “look at my shells.”

 

                Kylo turned his head to the side. He’d piled them up into three little stacks, balancing precariously atop of one another.

 

                “Be careful, they’re going to fall-“ They collapsed onto the wet sand before he could finish his sentence.

 

                “Oh,” the boy said glumly, sitting back. “They fell.

 

                “I see them, ebeul. It’s alright. Stack them up again.” The sun was good and hot on his skin.

 

                The boy huffed, and instead sprawled himself across Kylo’s chest where he lay, half-dozing, on the sand. “Tadig,” he said, shaking him. A little hand patted his cheek.

 

                Kylo opened a single eye to look at him. “Tadig, I’m hungry,” the child told him.

 

                He was a clever little thing, and could play happily with Kylo or his mother or other foals, but his hunger was like Kylo’s; sore and immediate and came with no warning. It had a vicious habit of overtaking all other thoughts. Kylo took him to the rockpools where the children of Men played, where Kylo himself had hunted as a foal. They submerged themselves at the rocky edge, the boy jittery with excitement, little chest heaving with heavy breaths.

 

                There were often one or two, squealing and chasing one another across the pools, but today there was only one. His son had his wide eyes fixed on it; a redheaded boy with a faceful of freckles, alone at the nearest pool, dangling his feet. Kylo sniffed the air. This child of Men was alone.

 

                His son huffed, sniffing, a little pup’s growl rising from his chest. “Easy,” Kylo warned him, watching as the boy’s needle-teeth began to show. “Stay in your skin.”

 

                “I’m hungry.

 

                “Then it’s time for you do it yourself, ebeul. Be careful. If you go out with your teeth, you’ll frighten him away.”

 

                “If he runs away, will you catch him for me, tadig?”

 

                Kylo nodded. “Go on,” he murmured, and the boy climbed over the slippery rocks, little hands scrabbling for purchase.

 

                There was a struggle, but Kylo’s son – strong, sturdy – won. The redheaded boy screamed and shrieked like bloody hell, clawing the wet rocks, but he was a child of Men, and would never be strong enough. Slavering, bloodied, Kylo’s son exclaimed, “Look, tadig!”

 

                Over the screams of the child, Kylo said, smiling, “Good boy, Ben.”

 

 

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                Rey hadn’t been angry, not when she saw that as soon as he blinked and came back from the Sight, the hunger was upon him again. The pain this time was excruciating, radiating out from his core to his limbs, tearing hot and angry up his throat. The last hunt of his hunger was always the most painful, the most urgent.

 

                Rey knew immediately. “I want to go with you,” she demanded, watching as he stood up, staring at the shells.

 

                “No,” was all he said.

 

                “How will you get back?” she demanded. “You won’t be able to-“

 

Kylo pulled back his lips and snarled at her, regretting it instantly. She looked at him for a moment, shivering, and then disappeared into her little house, red with rage.

 

                Kylo went after her, ducking hard beneath the doorway. “Get out,” she hissed.

 

                “Rey, I didn’t mean to-“

 

                “Get out,” she repeated, hand going for one of the iron pots hanging from the rafters. The sight of them still made Kylo’s head throb. “Go – just go. If you’re still like this afterwards, don’t bother coming back.”

 

                Kylo held out a shaking hand, trembling with pain. “I’m going to come back.”

 

                She slapped his hand away, and went to sit on her cot, fists clenched. Kylo dropped to his knees in front of her, rushes hard even through his britches, and took her hands hard in his. “I will come back,” he repeated, in so much pain he could hardly bear it. “Rey, look at me.” He took her face in his hand and made her look at him. “Please.”

 

                “Go,” she said for the third time, eyes welling up. “This had better be the last time. I don’t ever want to see you again if it isn’t.”

 

                Kylo put his head in her lap, and felt her angry hands soften as they curled into his hair. “It will be. I swear. I’ll come back, sweetheart, I promise,” he whispered against the linen of her dress. Her hands went tight in his hair. He had to leave her, then, and she cried.

 

                It was easy to slip past Phasma and the children in the field, push into his horse-skin, and disappear into the forest gloom. It was fastest this way, four long legs pushing hard beneath him, muscles bunching and rolling, hard hooves on the uneven ground. He diverged from the path, following his nose to the smell of the river. Over the sound of his pounding hooves and his hammering heart, the air began to shimmer.

 

 

---------------------------------------

 

 

                “I’m pregnant,” Mina told him, crunching tart gooseberries between her teeth.

 

                “Good.” He hadn’t known – her stolen britches and shirt made it hard to tell – but it made sense. One of the other males had tried to bring her sunstone not three days past and she had clouted him in the nose with it.

 

                “Good,” she agreed, and leaned back. “Your mother says it’s a boy because I’m carrying low. I prayed for a girl. Girls are stronger than boys.” She glared at him as though it was his fault. Perhaps it was.

 

                “I know.” Kylo wrapped an arm around his knee and took a gooseberry when she held one out to him. “Does it hurt?”

 

                “To be pregnant? I don’t know. I’ve never been pregnant before. I suppose it will soon.”

 

                “What are you going to call him?”

 

                “I haven’t decided yet,” she said, chewing, and touched her stomach. “He’s going to start to kick soon. He’ll be strong like you.” Mina eyed him, her scarred neck stark against the white of her skin. “I won’t be able to hunt when I get too heavy. You’re going to bring me food. You were the one that caused this.”

 

                 “If that’s what you want.”

 

                “It isn’t. It’s what I need. I was going to eat wild-carrot, but your mother that said it’s too late, that it’d kill me. I suppose it’s time, anyway, for me to have a foal. Even if it is yours.”

                “It’s probably time for me, too.”

 

                Mina snorted. “Kylo, don’t be such a knob. There were probably half a hundred of your little bat-eared wretches running up and down Land’s End before you even grew into your cock.”

 

                There was a pause. Kylo took another berry when she gave it to him. “You should call him Ben.”

 

----------------------------------------

 

                He found the river easily enough, launching himself over the fallen log and tearing out of his skin in mid-air. He hit the water with hands and feet, sinking as deep as he could go, and waiting. His gills throbbed, pulling the odd soft freshwater in and out of his salt-accustomed lungs.

 

                Kylo’s head spun. Mina. Ben. He had known – he knew he had always known – but the memories had always been in deep water, too heavy to drag up and too dark to squint at in the gloom.

 

                Part of him wondered if he would have the strength to push just a little further, past the river and along the path to the church they had passed on the way to the town. The priest would be there, the northerner; smaller than a deer and infinitely less satisfying, Kylo was sure, but it was food, and it would stop him from frightening Rey ever again.

 

                When he tried to lift himself out of the water, his body wouldn’t let him. There was a new smell in his nose, fur and rank breath. Wolf.

 

---------------------------------------------------------

 

                “Kylo, don’t!” Leia exclaimed. Kylo tore at the creature, ripping it as easily as he had seen it rip rabbits and deer. The wolf was bigger than him and struggled viciously, but stopped when Kylo pulled its chest apart, splattering himself with hot dark blood. Leia put a hand over her mouth. Han staggered back, falling onto the riverbank at the other side.

 

                Kylo heard Han say, “What did I tell you?” before he began to be sick, spewing all over the riverbank. Kylo lifted his head, mouth dripping with gore, and watched him for a moment. Leia glared across the water at Kylo with a face like thunder.

 

---------------------------------------------------------

 

                 Kylo wasn’t sure how long it took, but the smell grew stronger, and he hardly noticed when a great grey shape slid down the bank on lean legs. A bloodstained snout sniffed at the water, and hard yellow eyes met his. It growled.

 

             He caught it by the scruff of the neck like Men did with pups, pulling it in. The wolf didn’t try to get away like the deer had; it attacked him, going straight for the jugular. The snarling in its chest was oddly similar to his own. The wolf fought and bit him, teeth ravaging just-healed gashes over and over until Kylo could find good enough a grip around its shaggy grey neck to snap it. He buried his face in grey fur, sank his teeth in, and hot blood filled his mouth. His eyes went cloudy as he pulled it to pieces, sight shifting between this world and the one he had once known.

 

                The wolf’s flesh was stringy, all muscle and no fat. The water ran red, the sound of it deafening in his ringing ears.

 

--------------------------------------------------

 

                The Men were weak, feeble, but they had their pikes and their blades now, and there were seven of them. Kylo killed three of them, breaking necks and ripping out throats, and Mina killed two. Leia hefted a shrieking Ben into her arms.

 

                It took only one of them to kill Mina, thrusting the blade of his pike into her eye and out through the back of her head.

 

                Ben screamed behind him, agonised. “Mammig,” he howled, and Kylo could see tears streaming down his little face, salt on the rain. “Go!” Kylo bellowed at Leia. “Take him and go, now!”

 

                “But the storm!”

 

                “Go!”

 

                Leia could barely restrain Ben. She had to bodily drag him up the sand towards the river-lands. Ben shrieked and howled and struggled, sobbing, calling for his mother. He clawed at Leia’s arms and left bloody lines, pulling so hard against her grip that Kylo was sure he’d break it. Lightning flashed, illuminating his screaming face.

 

                  Mina lay dead. When the lightning flashed again, Kylo could see the blood pooling about her head, the pike protruding from her left eye. One of the remaining Men tried to chase after Ben and Leia, racing up the sand with an axe in hand, and Kylo caught him by the hair.

 

                 He twisted in Kylo’s grip and sank the axe into his side. Kylo roared, pulling so hard he ripped the scalp from the skull. When the man dropped to the sand, he brought his axe with him, leaving a gaping foul wound in Kylo’s side. Red ran down his skin.

 

                The last one – the one to kill Mina - was brave. He pulled his pike from her dead eye and jabbed it at Kylo, backing him into the rocks. Kylo could feel the gashes on his arms and chest bleeding still, stinging, not quite sealed. The pain in his side was unbearable.

 

                The rain lashed Kylo’s face, wind howling in his ears. He couldn’t smell the others; they had gone, too, either having fled into the wild waves or escaped to the trees. Kylo looked desperately at the water.

 

                “It’s over, diaoul,” the Man thundered. Kylo’s head felt light, vision clouding. He backed him further across the rocks, feet slipping. “This is it. You’re no more, you and your kind, do you hear me?”

 

                He couldn’t speak. Blood streamed down his legs, his chest. He thought of Ben, of Leia, of Mina lying dead.

 

               When the Man thrust the pike at him, Kylo caught it, just above the blade, inches from his stomach. The Man stared up at him. The next lightning flash bounced off of the iron. Waves crashed hard against the rocks, each echoing boom sending up a wall of white spray that rained down on them both.

 

                Kylo pulled it out of his grip, turned it around, and sent it with a grisly crunch through his eye. The Man tumbled off of the rocks into the writhing water, disappearing into the foam. Kylo couldn’t stop himself from falling backwards then, knees giving out beneath him. The ground came up to hit him – there was a crack – and the sky went red. The rocks swallowed him whole, and in his head, it turned dark.

 

------------------------------

                               

                He sat up, gasping for breath. He looked down at the wolf, blood streaming down his chin, and sobbed. The carcass of the wolf, fur matted red, began to move downstream – it got as far as the steppes of pebbles beneath the fallen tree and was lodged there - and Kylo didn’t lift a finger to stop it. He wept until his jaw ached and his head pounded, and his throat burned raw. Some part of him knew that he had not cried in a very long time. The feeling was so alien, so intensely unknown to him that it almost felt as if it was the first time anyone had ever sobbed like this.

 

                The storm. He had lost everything in an instant; his mother, his son, his Sight. He could see now. His mind swarmed with recollections as sharp and as clear as seaglass. Mammig. Ben. Mina. Han. Penn an Wlas.

 

                It could have been hours, or days, or even weeks that he was sitting there, waist deep in rushing water. Kylo didn’t know. He just sat and cried, great heaving sobs that racked through him like waves on rocks. It had been so long, he knew, and there was no doubt in his mind that they were dead, all of them.

 

                There were other things, other echoes of a life long since lost, that he could feel but could not see. He didn’t care. He didn’t want to see them. He wanted nothing of it, of the Sight, not anymore.  He realised with a shock that he was full, properly this time. He looked with tear-blurred eyes at the carcass of the wolf, almost fully stripped of everything he could possibly take from it.

 

                He wanted Rey.

 

Chapter Text

                                                                   

                                                                   

                                                                   

                                                                   

                                                                   

 

                Rey sat still for a long time after Kylo had left, crying silently. His son. She cried for that, cried for the pain on his face, cried for whatever – or whoever – would meet their end between his teeth this time. He had told her in bed last night that, once he had eaten three times, it would last for one hundred years. She cried for that, too, half in sadness and half in relief; she’d be dead before Kylo would feel hunger again.

 

                She imagined, again, a little boy with rounded ears and a mop of almost-curls, black as night. To have a son meant that the son had to have a mother. Rey wondered who she was. Was she like Kylo - a water…. mare? - or was she Rey’s kind, or something else entirely?

 

                “Rey?” Someone poked at the burlap over the doorway. Rose. Rey stayed silent for a moment, considering. “Rey?”

 

                “Come in,” Rey said, hastily wiping her eyes on her sleeve. Rose was short, but still had to duck low to come in, nearly stumbling into the cold firepit and getting a faceful of ash. She steadied herself, straightened up, and eyed Rey cautiously.

 

                “Are you crying?”

 

                “No.”

 

                “You are.”Rose sat beside her, cot creaking. Her shiny dark hair was pulled back into a horse’s tail at the nape of her neck, and she smelled of cow and hay. “Why are you crying?”

 

                “I’m not crying, Rose.”

 

                “You are.” Rose observed her, and then glanced around the hut. “Where’s Kylo?” She looked at the furs on the floor, as though she expected him to materialise there.

 

                “I don’t know.” Rey sniffed hard. “Around, somewhere.”

 

                “Huh.” Rose reached into the pocket of her apron. “When are you going to tell Phasma that you and him are fucking?”

 

                Rey lifted her head to stare at her. Rose smirked that crooked smirk of hers, dark eyes twinkling wickedly. “I got you something,” she said, pulling from her pocket a little linen bag.

 

                “We are not-

 

                “Rey,” Rose interrupted her plaintively. “Don’t shit me, alright? If I was nursing that back to health, I’d fuck him, too.” She untied the bag. “Also, you might want to go and battle tongues somewhere else besides the water. You know, the water that’s directly in front of the houses.”

 

                Rey felt a flush spread across her cheeks and down her chest. Rose watched her, amused. “Listen. I got you this.” She held the untied bag up to Rey’s nose, and she smelled wet soil. When she looked, it was a pile of seeds, dry and pungent.

 

                “Bishop’s lace,” Rose announced. “Fallow-herbs.” She let Rey take the bag. “I figured you’d need some.”

 

                Rey had only heard of fallow-herbs but had never seen them. Ailis and the others whispered about them in secret; the seeds of bishop’s lace, left out to dry and then ground up and brewed with water to keep an toircheas at bay. The Church forbade the consumption of the seeds, calling them a sin against God’s will, a gateway to lechery and debauchery of the foulest kind. Whores used them, Rey was told, but she knew well that far more women than whores alone took advantage of the seeds to carry on with lovers while they were unmarried, so as not to bear bastards and bring shame.

 

Rose had lain with people before, Rey knew. She had been sworn to secrecy, and always wondered how Rose managed to stay fallow. She had suspected it was the seeds – though Phasma forbade them - but never asked. She lifted the bag to her nose and sniffed it again. It smelled like a new carrot, cut in half.

 

                “Boil it with water and then drink it after you lay together,” Rose advised. “Don’t leave it any more than an hour or so, because then you really will be fucked.”

               

                Rey stared down at the little bag, the pile of herbs that smelled of wet soil. It baffled her how something so small could prevent something so momentous, something so potentially disastrous. “How does it work?” she asked.

 

                “Haven’t a clue. It’s like magic. And, better yet,” Rose said, crossing her legs, “you can drink this stuff for years and then come off it, and within the month you could be pregnant if you want to. It doesn’t make you barren at all.”

 

                Rey touched her stomach gingerly, imagining it swelling big and firm with child; Kylo’s child. “Oh,” was all she could manage. Rose made a low sound, watching her do it with an alarmed expression.

               

                “Bollocks,” she said, “you didn’t fuck him already, did you?”

 

                “No.” Rey shook her head violently.No, I told him – I told him that we couldn’t.”

               

                “And he was alright with it?”

 

                “He didn’t care. We did … other things.” Rey’s face, she was sure, was about to burst into flames.

 

                Rose smiled, patting her knee. “Well, good. There’s far too many men that’d say ‘oh, it’ll be fine’ and then leave you with a bastard in your belly. At least now you can actually fuck him. It’ll be fun. He’s a beast.”

 

                The day was warm, but the inside of the hut was made cooler by the lack of flames in the hearth. Rey twiddled with the end of her braid, still damp from the water. “Will it hurt?” she asked Rose plaintively. “Will it hurt when he – when he-“

               

                “It shouldn’t for very long. Although …” Rose eyed her, brows pulling together. “I mean, he is huge, Rey, and you’re only little. I can only imagine what he’s hiding in those britches.” She sounded almost wistful.

               

                Rey grimaced. “Rose!”

 

                “I’m just saying! Would you rather I lied to you? You’re lucky in a way, you know. Giant men are always gentler than short ones.”

 

                “How do you figure that?”

 

                Rose shrugged, grinning. “The shorter ones feel like they have to overcompensate. Your Breton, I am very sure, won’t have to compensate for a thing.

 

                She laughed then, spluttering loudly. Rey couldn’t help but laugh, too. “Seriously, though,” Rose giggled, “if you want to do this properly, do not tell Phasma, and tell Kylo to keep his gob shut when he’s with the rest of the lads, too. Phasma would steal away the fallow-herbs and handfast you both and have you pregnant quicker than you could shit. If you keep this quiet, you’ll have the rest of the summer to enjoy it.”

 

                “I know.” Rey trembled at the thought. A whole summer of what Kylo did – and more! She got up and went to the shelf. Her fingers passed over Kylo’s beads, Poe’s pendant. “Do you want a drink?”

 

                They drank ale from the corked horn bottles, Rose leaning against the cot while Rey tried to light the fire, stopping intermittently to neck the ale out of the cup as though it was water. It was weak, though, and wouldn’t inebriate her. “What does it actually feel like?” Rey asked her, over her embarrassment by now. She struck the flints hard and cursed when a spark leapt onto the delicate skin of her freckled chest.

 

                “Full,” Rose told her, sipping at her cup. “You feel full. It’s good,” she insisted, when Rey looked at her doubtfully. “It is, Rey, honestly. You can even feel it in your stomach sometimes, if they’re big enough.”

 

                “Oh, fucking hell.”

 

                “Not in a bad way. Just kind of …” Rose gestured vaguely at her lower belly. “It’s like moon-pains, but without the pain.” When Rey looked blank, she laughed. “Just … don’t worry about it. I’m fairly sure your big Breton will know what he’s doing.”

 

                “I hope so.” Rey bent her head and blew on the tinder as it finally began to smoke. The flames licked at the dry grass, alight for only moments before crackling black and smoking out. She put a log on top of them.

 

                “I mean, can you imagine if he didn’t? A great lump like that, a virgin?”

 

                Rey sat back and reached for her cup. “It’d be odd,” she admitted. “But I really don’t think he is.”

 

                There was silence for a moment, broken only by the burgeoning crackle of the fire. “That day we went to the church,” Rose began. “Finn, er … Finn told me to get lost.”

 

                “What?”

 

                “Not get lost, but that he wasn’t interested.” She sipped more ale. “It was shit.”

 

                “Fuck,” Rey said, though she had known. “I’m sorry.”

 

                “Bah.” Rose waved it off, though her face said she cared more than she let on. “Don’t be. I’ll get over it, I hope. Maybe another giant Gaul will wash up before summer is over.”

 

                They went outside when they heard the others return. Their nets dragged heavy and fat with blue-black mussels, fresh and closed tight, promising salty orange meat within. Dainín lifted her up in the air and kissed her cheeks when he saw the pile of scallops in the bucket and the mountain still in the net. “You’re a like a wee seal, Rey,” he said. The twins came running, their own little nets dragging with mussels, too.

 

                The women boiled the mussels in a great black pot over the fire. Rey gave Rose the flat shell-knife and they picked up where Kylo had left off so that they could not be roped into chopping onions and celery and leeks for the mussel stew. Rose could skin and gut a rabbit in less than a minute, and her dexterity was not lost on the scallops. Most of the others gathered around the fire.

 

                “I’m starved,” Rose grumbled, eating a raw scallop. “But I know that if I go anywhere near that pot, someone’ll throw a knife and a turnip at me and tell me to get to it.”

 

                Peadar interrupted their conversation, coming awkwardly up the sand. Well,” he greeted them, almost sheepish, pushing flaxen curls out of his face. His britches were rolled up to the knees, and his shins were all cut when he’d climbed the rocks for the mussels.

 

                “Well,” they said in unison.

 

                “You’d swear you were half fish or something,” he told Rey, eyeing the pile of scallops.

 

                Rey waited without a word, watching him, knife halfway between the two shells in her hand. “Listen,” he said, rubbing the back of his head, “is the Gaul around? Only I wanted to ask him about Ailis.”

 

                Rey felt the same sharp and red rush of jealousy that she had felt coming back from the church, watching Ailis in Kylo’s arms like a desperate little pup. “Why?” she asked, trying to keep her tone neutral, innocent. “Is something wrong?” From the corner of her eye, she saw Rose smirk approvingly.

 

                “Eh, not really. It’s just that, you know, they’ve spoken a few times, and Ailis is awfully taken with him.”

 

                Rose said, “Ailis’d be taken with a goat if it had a bulge in its britches.”

 

                Rey spluttered with laughter. “Fuck off, Rose,” Peadar said, uneasy. Rose stuck her tongue out at him. “She’s just … devoted. You know what Ailis is like. All she wants is a husband and a few babes to keep her happy.”

 

                “She wanted Poe to keep her happy, too, and look how that turned out,” Rose told him plainly. “She wept like a banshee for about a week.”

 

                “Rose,” Peader complained. He turned his eyes on Rey, clearly uncomfortable. “Rey, you’ll help her, won’t you? You’ll put in a good word with Kylo for her? You and Ailis have always been friends.”

 

                “Peadar,” Rey exclaimed. “Ailis used to put crabs in my hair and call me a shit. We’ve never been friends.”

 

                “Please, Rey-“

 

                “Look.” She split the scallop and held it out to him. He took it and ate it, stressed. “If you want Kylo and Ailis to have anything, you ought to say it to him yourself. It’d be better coming from you. After all, what kind of man wants to be told what to do?”

 

                Rose snorted, and Peadar glared at her. “Ailis is nearly twenty-four,” Peadar grumbled, “and she isn’t married-“

 

                “Because she’s a fucking handful –“

 

                “Rose!”

 

                “She is!”

 

                Peadar closed his eyes and opened them again. “She isn’t married,” he went on, voice hard, “because she doesn’t speak Norse, so that means she can’t marry a Northman, and there aren’t many of our kind around here that can handle a woman so … so …”

 

                “Annoying?” Rose suggested.

 

                “Passionate?” Rey proposed.

 

                “Passionate, that’s it. She’s passionate. And some men find it too much. I think.”

 

                “I think you should say it to Kylo yourself,” Rey told him, marvelling at how well she could contain the roars of laughter she wanted to let out. “I can sow the seeds, but you need to water them – do you understand?”

 

                “I think so.”

 

                “What do you think you’ll say to him?”

 

                “God, I don’t know. It’s just that we promised Ma before she died that Ailis’d be married before she was twenty. And now, well-“

               

                “All in good time,” Rose chuckled, mocking. “Better late than never.”

 

                When Peadar stalked away, face creased in worry, Rose threw back her head and brayed like a donkey. “You!” she exclaimed, poking a spluttering Rey with her foot. “What are you going to say?”

 

                “I haven’t got a clue.” She cracked the shell open and cut her thumb shallowly, cursing. Blood ran down her palm.

 

 

--------------------------------------------

 

 

                He returned that evening, before the sun had gone below the horizon. Rey was back in the roundhouse, stirring scallops into the potful of mussel-soup Phasma had given her to boil the way she liked it. The fire licked at the bottom of the hanging pot, one hundred red tongues on the iron. Rey stirred, throbbing thumb bandaged carefully, watching how the chopped green onions floated and sank and reappeared, the celery softening, the mussels still in their shells clicking gently against one another, the rings of leek wilting in the heat.

 

                She had been crying again, all thoughts of her laughter with Rose gone. The fire made her pink face pinker still. Kylo had not been in her life for very long, but he was imprinted there, as big and as powerful a part of her as the sea and the sky. When he was gone, she felt odd and empty. She was even more miserable now, thinking of the pain he was in, the fear on his face.

 

                The precious seeds sat on the shelf, nestled carefully beside Kylo’s seaglass. Rey kept looking at them. It didn’t seem at all possible that they did what Rose said they could do. It seemed far too good to be true. Although, Rey wondered, perhaps their effectiveness, their sinful influence, was the very reason that the Church – and Phasma – forbade them in the first place.

 

                The half-open burlap was pushed aside – Rey had left it that way for the smell of the summer air – and he stooped to come in, the great bulk of him blocking out the golden light that had illuminated the entire hut, speckling the air with gold dust.

 

                She didn’t look at him, a tear sliding off the bridge of her nose and into the pot, like a spell bound in salt.

 

                He closed the space between them slowly, taking careful steps, head bowed so as not to knock it on the beams above. Rey’s arm stilled, ceasing its stirring, when Kylo reached out, carefully taking her bandaged hand in his. Rey’s hands – or so she thought them to be – were strong, but they looked impossibly small beside Kylo’s, like a child’s.

 

                “What happened?” he asked. His voice was hoarse, as though he had been crying, too.

 

                “My shell knife slipped.” She still didn’t look at him. Another hand came under her chin and turned her face towards his.

 

                “It’s done.” His eyes were red and impossibly tired, but his face was flushed with ruddy health, the almost-black of his irises heartwood-brown. Rey watched as he kissed her bandaged thumb very gently. “That’s it, now, for a long time.”

 

                She managed a soft, “…when?”

 

                “A long time,” he repeated. “A hundred years. Longer, maybe.”

 

                Rey nodded, daring to lean her head against his rough warm palm. Kylo curled his fingers around her cheek. “I didn’t mean to snap at you,” he told her, and his eyes were so soft Rey could have started crying all over again.

 

                “I know you didn’t.”

 

                “I shouldn’t have done it. I’m sorry. It just … it comes on so fast.”

 

                “Your son,” Rey said, “where is he?”

 

                Kylo’s brows pulled together in a grimace. “He’s dead.”

 

                A cold shock of sadness went up her arm, through her chest, down her spine. “Oh, God-“

 

                “Don’t,” was all he said. “It’s in the past, it’s done.”

 

                The soup began to bubble, quietly at first, and then loudly. Rey’s stomach followed suit, growling obnoxiously.

 

                He was exhausted – Rey could see it on his face – but stayed awake to watch her. He had tried to wash away most of the blood, the gore of whatever – whoever – he had eaten, but some remained, drying on his neck, his chest, staining his hands black-red. His shirt was saturated with it. Rey helped him take it off, and threw it immediately into the fire, making him jump. Sparks rose rapidly upwards, and the burning blood made the hut smell of iron.

 

                “I’d never get the blood out of that,” she told him. “I have new ones here somewhere." She poked at the burning shirt with a stick. "What did you eat?"

                 

                Kylo closed his eyes. "A wolf."

 

               "A wolf?"

 

               "It fought more than the deer did," he breathed. There were vague faint marks across his neck and shoulders that hadn't been there when he had left. They made Rey shudder, and she kissed her fingers and pressed them there, as though making them better.

 

                She cleaned his face and his neck and his hands with water from the well as he lay on his back on his makeshift bed, dozing in the heat. “I have something to tell you,” she said, wringing the cloth.

 

                He made a low sound.

 

                Rey rubbed the damp cloth over his fast one last time for good measure. “I’ll be able to lay with you now.”

 

                Kylo’s eyes fluttered but didn’t open. Rey swept the cloth across the expanse of his broad chest, heartbeat picking up. “Rose gave me these … seeds,” she ventured carefully. “She said that if I boil them with water and drink them after … after I lay with someone, that it’ll stop me from quickening.”

 

                She threw the cloth into the bowl and focused on him. He was so tired, she knew, from the heaviness of his eyelids, the slow pace of his breaths, but –

 

                “Kylo?”

 

                He was asleep. When she shook him gently, the only response he gave was a soft snore. Rey smiled, combing through his dark hair with her fingers, brushing it out onto the pale fur behind his head like a halo.

 

                She had two bowls of soup and several slices of bread – including the heel – before she went to bed, bringing her sheepskin across the hut and climbing in beside Kylo, nestling carefully against his side so as not to wake him.

 

               She pulled the sheepskin over them both. When she pressed her cheek against the hot bare skin of his chest, arm thrown over his belly, she felt a big hand curling around the small of her back, sliding beneath her arm and holding her firm against his side.

 

               Something stirred within her, a warm pulse between her legs, and she closed her eyes.

 

               

 

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                 Everything felt so impossibly good when he finally awoke. The lingering woodsmoke in his nostrils was good, air in his lungs was good, the shafts of grey dawn light through the thatch were good, the fur on his skin was good. Even stretching was extraordinarily pleasurable, he found, as he arched his back and stretched his arms above his head, spine giving a satisfying click in several different places.

 

                Kylo found himself impossibly content. Hungers were horrid; how he hated them and the way they made him foul and sullen and beastly. The hunger had made him stiff, too familiar with his beast-skin, too easily provoked to snap and bite. This, though – this warmth and this new strength made him feel like a colt again, loose-limbed and tender. He had a hundred years or more, now, and he had Rey, and the things he could show her –

 

                He felt around, eyes half-closed still, on the furs beside him. His hand came across sleep-warm, bare skin. Kylo rolled over and pressed his belly against her side, yawning so widely that his jaw popped, too. He nosed against her salt-honey-and-fire hair and huffed softly.

 

              She was awake. She opened her eyes and squirmed in his arms when she felt him move, and he soon discovered why; beneath the sheepskin, her night-dress had ridden up around her tummy as she’d slept, seeking now to expose her legs, her hips, the tawny thatch of hair at the apex of her thighs. She tried to pull the dress down over herself and made a breathless sound when he held her still, hand flat on her thigh.

 

             “Let me see you,” Kylo murmured, voice low with sleep. He ran a hand down her abdomen, and-

 

             “No.” She flicked his hands away from her tummy and pulled the dress right down, only happy when she was sure she was fully covered. Kylo grumbled softly in her ear – he had seen her naked what felt like half a hundred times by now - but she pushed him away and rolled onto her side to look at him. Kylo bit at the air lazily, as though he meant to nip her. Rey pulled back from him before he could and gazed at his face, apprehensive. “You look different,” she said, but her tone was pleased.

 

                “I feel different.”

 

                “Do you feel … better?” Rey asked him, touching gently the new flushed heat of his cheeks.

 

                “Much better.” He felt warm, too, and full, and coltish. He wanted to squeeze her against him, kiss the freckles across her face, nibble her neck until she squealed in delight, touch her and touch her and touch her- “Don’t!” she gasped, though she leaned against him, when he slid a hand up the back of her night-dress, hand grasping the entirety of a soft buttock. “Kylo, don’t.” She slapped his hand away and it felt like a caress across the back of his palm. He wondered why she would not let him touch her, wondered what was wrong, what had changed.

 

                He gave her an odd look when she tried to snuggle against him even so, as though she was unsure whether she wanted to be touched or not. She lay on her back again, head turned towards him, long hair spread all across the furs behind her. Her lips were so pink and parted ever so slightly. Kylo made a low sound at her. Even if she wouldn’t let him nuzzle or kiss or nip her, he would look at her as much as he liked.

 

                “I have something to tell you,” she said eventually, voice careful.

 

                “Mm?”

 

                “I tried to tell you last night, but you fell asleep.”

 

                He waited for her to go on. She tucked a stray strand of hair behind her ear. “Rose gave me something, yesterday. She said it would help me.”

 

                When he dared bend his head, red tongue flicking out to slide over a flushed nipple, rosy and taut even through the night-dress, Rey pushed him away again. He didn’t persist, but watched with widening eyes as she sat up and got out of the makeshift bed, wondering if he’d frightened her.

 

                She went to the shelf – Kylo blanched at the recollection of having the jug split across his face – and turned around again, something small and white in her hands. She hesitated, watching him, and Kylo made the gentlest sound he could muster, keening softly at her and holding out an arm so that she might come back.

 

                Rey came back, carefully nestling back against him, and pulled forth a little linen bag, knotted at the top to keep its contents safe. She picked at the knot to loosen it. Once open, she held it up to Kylo’s nose. He sniffed. It was crisp and earthy, vaguely familiar. He had to almost bury his nose in the bag to understand, snuffling like a dog, squinting. The bag was full of tiny seeds, oval-shaped and ridged and brown, with delicate white spines.

 

               His eyes went wide. “Oh.” Wild-carrot. Barren seeds.

 

              He didn’t know the word for them in her tongue. She said, almost shyly, “It’s to stop me from … quickening. It works. Rose uses it sometimes. But I have to take it after I …” She trailed off, not taking her eyes off of the little bag. “Rose said that even if you take it for years, you can still have children when you stop.”

 

              Her doe-eyes were wide and soft, nervous. He wanted, very much, to mate her there and then. He was quite certain that she wanted to mate him, too – she had showed him the seeds, after all - but he couldn’t be entirely sure; her eyes were frightened, her hands trembling as she lifted the bag for him to smell again. He would normally wait, he knew, for her to come to him, but his kind were different to hers. Mares were raised knowing the varied purposes of their bodies – and of males’ bodies, too – but Rey’s kind hid it from themselves, and for what? The vague approval of their All-God. It almost made him snort.

 

                Kylo recalled mares’ fingers stroking across his belly, his chest, as he lay on the sand, and the outright question, “Are you going to lay me or not, den bras?” He had liked that. The mares would come to him, come to the others, on their own terms. They decided. The Men did it all wrong, Kylo was adamant, with their sins and their All-God. Mating was not a sin – any god that said otherwise was false and foolish and undeserving of their place – and did not require the birth of a child every time when such things existed that could centre fornication on pleasure alone. Kylo huffed again, through his nose, at the idea of Rey being almost a woman grown and never having experienced a single thing.

 

                Some males – very few – thought too much of themselves and tried forcing their attentions on mares. Kylo had seen it happen. The mares would tear the haughty bastards’ throats out before they could try it a second time, cursing at them and spitting on their corpses. It happened rarely with Kylo’s kind, but with Rey’s kind it seemed almost as if this unwanted forcing of attention had replaced entirely its rightful counterpart.

 

Kylo found it absurd that anyone could would ever dream of trying to mate with an unwilling partner. It made no sense; mating was good and tempestuous and wildly, deeply satisfying, but only when both sides willed it. Kylo could not imagine mating with someone that did not utterly want him as much as he wanted them.

 

                He didn’t want to think about anyone else now, only her. Only Rey, with her barren-seeds. “These aren’t allowed for anything but decoration,” she was murmuring. “I’m not supposed to use these for what – for what I want to use them for.” Her brows pulled together. “But I’m going to.”

 

                “When?” he dared put to her.

 

                The nearness of their bodies suddenly seemed to dawn on her, the prominence of her breasts and the dark shape of her mound beneath the thin night-dress, and she didn’t answer. She went very pink, squeezing her thighs together.

 

                “Tonight,” she decided. Kylo nodded. He would have much preferred to have her now, but Men seemed to hold some fascination with only fucking at night, where they could see little. If he could have his way, Kylo would have had her out into the open air, but he knew that Men grew cold easily without their clothes, and to have her shivering and uncomfortable would not do.

 

                Her voice went haughty. “You’ll have to show me, then, whatever it is I’m supposed to do.”

 

                Kylo traced a slow line from her knee, up her middle – taking care to brush over her breast – up her soft throat, and finished by taking her face in his hand. She pushed her palm against the back of his hand, as though she wasn’t sure whether she wanted to hold it or push that away, too.

 

                “Why don’t you want me to touch you?” He let go of her, frowning. “I won’t hurt you.”

 

                Rey looked up at him. “I thought you might,” she said. “I thought that if I let you touch me that that you might want to do it … now.

 

                “I do,” he yawned. “But I won’t do anything until you want to as well.”

 

                She stared as though the concept was quite alien to her. Kylo slid a careful hand beneath her and pulled gently. After a moment of hesitation – of searching his face to be sure - she went willingly atop of him, settling with her belly against his.

 

                “Will it hurt me?” she whispered.

 

                “Not very much.” He propped his head up on his hand, something hot pooling deep in his belly. “It shouldn’t hurt for more than a few seconds.”

 

                “Will you … will you make it good?” She spoke like she was bargaining for a quick and painless death, chest rising and falling, eyes full of nervous fear.

 

                Will I make it good? This would not do. He would not touch her when she was frightened, desperate for only a little pain, pleading for him to give her some pleasure, at least- He felt almost wounded. “I’m not going to do anything,” he told her, “unless you want me to.” He would not mate her when she was afraid.

 

                “I don’t know what I want,” she said, voice getting haughty again in her embarrassment. “I suppose you expect me to know.”

 

                He threw back his head and laughed at her pugnacious little face, making her go scarlet. “I know you don’t know, and I’ll show you things, to see if you like them. Only if you want me to show you.”

 

                “Well, I – I – I suppose, then – I do want you to. Like you did before.”

 

                He slid a hand beneath her and pulled gently, and she went willingly atop of him, settling with her belly against his. Kylo settled his hands at her shoulder-blades; safe, firm, roaming nowhere in case he startled her again.

 

                “I know what it’s called now,” she began shyly, “when … when that happened. Rose told me.”

 

                “Oh?”

 

                “Coming, she said.” She whispered the word as though it was a secret to be kept.

 

                “Coming,” he mocked her, stroking her hair. “You say it like it’s a bad thing.” He kissed her lips and she let him, pressing her chest hard against his.

 

                “Will you do it again for me?” she asked. “Just once, maybe?”

 

                Kylo scoffed. “Rey,” he said, “I’ll do it ten times. You can do it more than once, you know.”

 

                “Can you?” Her wide eyes went wider. Kylo swept his thumb across her cheek, smiling. Oh, the things he’d teach her-

 

                “Yes.” He eyed her. “Haven’t you done it by yourself again?”

 

                “No. I didn’t – I wasn’t – I wanted you to do it.” Crimson, she hid her face in his neck. Kylo drew figure eights on her back.

 

                “There’s something else I have to tell you,” he heard her say, voice muffled, breath hot against his throat. “About Ailis.”

 

                Kylo groaned dramatically and she clamped a hand over his mouth, sitting up abruptly to hiss, “Quiet!”

 

                He huffed, licking her palm so that she trembled and let go. He caught her wrist before she could pull her hand away entirely. “Tell me, then.” He kissed the delicate inside of her wrist very gently, waiting.

 

                She stared at his mouth with fascinated eyes. “Peadar wanted me to ask you about her. To put in a good word for her.”

 

                He grumbled, kissing her palm. “He thinks there’s something between you both,” Rey continued, voice hitching as Kylo took her forefinger into his mouth and sucked, laving his tongue over the digit and grazing his teeth against it very gently. She swallowed.

 

                 “There isn’t … is there?” Her finger went tense in his mouth.

 

                Kylo rolled his eyes at her, taking a second finger. “Ah,” she said. “And – and you don’t want there to be anything … between you and her, do you?”

 

                He said around her fingers, “Only a brick wall.”

 

                Rey flushed scarlet with pleasure, cautiously exploring the soft inside of his mouth, running her fingertips along his tongue, the hard edge of his teeth.

 

                “Tonight, then?” she repeated, trembling though he only had her fingers in his mouth, a hand on his thigh.

 

                He pulled her fingers away and agreed, “Tonight.”

 

                He followed his land-girl – indeed he thought of her as his now, and he hers - outside, ducking low beneath the doorway, both of them dressed and neatened. Rey had her good mantle about her shoulders, something dark and smooth like fox-fur. They watched as the grey sky lightened half-heartedly on the horizon. The water was wilder today. There was a cool bite to the air, a promise of wind and rain. Songbirds twittered in the trees beyond, and Kylo could hear crows cawing irritably. The rest of the village was deathly silent. A cow mooed from up above in the field, and a woodpigeon chittered and cooed. Kylo stretched again, still deliciously half-tired, arms extended downwards this time, and slapped her rear through her day-dress. Her peals of laughter woke a child, who in turn woke its mother, and soon everyone was awake.

 

                They were separated, woefully, before long; the men were building a new currach to replace one whose holey hull was beyond repair and called him down to bend planks with his thick arms. Rey was roped into sewing, and he could tell that it was painfully boring from the look on her face.

 

                The men were fascinated when they saw how he could arch the wooden planks, arms straining. “What the fuck do they eat down in Gaul to make themselves that big?” Ciarán asked, staring in wonder.

 

                “Meat,” Dainín surmised. “Has to be.” 

 

                He listened to the men complain about the ruined currach. “Fucking bitemarks is what they were, not shipworm. Bitemarks. Like a fucking seal had come up and took a chunk out of the leather,” Bran grumbled, stripping the ruined boat of its remaining skins.

 

                Dainín harrumphed. “The last thing we need around here are seals. They’ll smell the nets, and come for fish, and then greysharks will smell them.

 

                “Phasma goes mad whenever there are seals around,” Bran told Kylo, nudging him. “She can’t stand the things. I don’t think they’re so bad. But Phasma hates them.”

 

                “Once,” Dainín told him, “there was a big black one right there on the beach, right up by the wall, just barking up at the houses. Phasma tore the pike out of my hand and went down after it like she meant to kill it.”

 

                “Did she?” Kylo asked, half-interested.

 

                “No, Aengus stopped her. You know about Aengus, don’t you? Phasma’s husband, like. He died about ten years back of a fever.”

 

                “I’ve heard about him.”

 

                Bran used his knife to slice a ruined sheet of leather off the currach. Its edges were torn and ragged like something truly had bitten it. Kylo watched idly. “Well, anyway,” Dainín went on, “he pulled her back and grabbed the pike off her and they had a slanging match in their house that went on for half the night. That woman cannot fucking stand seals.”

 

                “I don’t blame her sometimes,” Ciarán muttered. He held up the skeleton of the hull and showed them. Dainín whistled through his teeth, Bran cursed. Kylo didn’t know what he was supposed to be looking at.

 

                Footsteps approached, half-crunching on the wet sand and pebbles. Kylo glanced up. It was the curly-haired youth, Peadar.

 

                He greeted the men, and they greeted him back. He came to a halt a safe distance away from Kylo and said, “Did Rey speak to you about Ailis?”

               

Kylo lifted his head to look at him, brushing thick locks out of his eyes. “What?”

 

                He had never seen anyone look so determined in his life, jaw clenched, mouth set in a line, chin jutting. “Ailis,” Peadar repeated, “Rey spoke to you about her?”

 

                Kylo sat back on his haunches. Even on his knees, Peadar seemed in awe of him, of his size. “What of it?”

 

                “Well, what did she say?”

 

                “She said that your sister isn’t married, and that I’m welcome to her if I want her.” As if. Rey was watching him from where she sat, out of earshot but tense nonetheless.  

 

                “And?” Peadar prompted, wide eyes hopeful. Kylo heard a giggle, and his eyes went behind Peadar. Ailis and the other twittering nuisances lingered by the wall like a flock of carrions.

 

                “And,” Kylo said, “I don’t.”

 

                The younger man’s face fell, brows pulling together. “You don’t? But – why?”

 

                Kylo got to his feet with a grunt. “Don’t worry about it,” he advised him, stretching so that his arms popped. “You don’t want your feelings hurt.”

 

                Nostrils flared. “I think I can handle it.”

 

                Gods, fuck off.  Kylo sighed, resting the plank under his arm. “You need to let this one die, alright? Let it go. Look around. How many men are walking unmarried around this village, and up in the town, too?”

 

                “You –“ He sounded as though he was going to spit. “You and her, you spoke, you-“

 

                “I’ve spoken to plenty of women in my time, pup, it doesn’t mean I wanted to marry them.”

 

                “But – that day you caught the shark, you were holding her-“

 

                “Peadar,” Dainín called, watching warily from where he sat with the hull-planks. “Leave it, now.” Ciarán stood to bring Peadar away, but he wrestled out of his grip, blue eyes bright with sudden anger.

 

                “No – no!” He glowered at Kylo, fists clenched as though he meant to fight him. “No, I won’t fucking leave it. You can’t do that – you can’t lead her on like that!”

 

                Incredulously, Kylo spluttered, “I don’t think it’s too hard for her to think she’s being led on, pup.”

 

                Dainín did not cut in to disagree with him, lips twitching, and stocky Ciarán hid a guilty smile of his own. “Come on now, let’s go,” he told Peadar, giving him a push, but his hands were slapped away. Peadar’s gaze never left Kylo.

 

                Kylo rolled his eyes at the brave fool. “I haven’t got time for this, pup. Go and bother someone else.” He made turn around, to bring Seán the bent plank.

 

                Peadar’s hand shot out and caught him by the arm, fingers digging into the crook of his elbow. Everyone around them fell silent. Even the girls stopped giggling and stared, air ripe with threat. From the corner of his eye, he saw Rey rise from where she sat.

 

                Kylo turned his head and looked at the hand on his arm for a moment, pressing his lips together. Peadar looked at it, too, as though he couldn’t quite believe what he had done. The kelpie considered this a moment. His body told him to drop the plank, pull his arm back, and crack Peadar in the face so hard his nose went inwards under the force of his clenched fist.

 

                He wanted to. Gods, he wanted to. Shit.

 

                “I’d take that hand away if I were you,” Kylo told Peadar instead, voice dangerously soft. “Or you’re going to lose it.”

 

                And he’d do it, he was sure he would; it’d be like crushing a cobnut shell in his fist. The boy – indeed Kylo thought of him as a boy, barely off the tit, and already trying his luck with someone twice his size – swallowed deeply.

 

                Trembling, Peadar dared, “You led her on.”

 

                Kylo bent his head so that their noses were inches apart. Though his hunger was over, his beast-skin lingered within him, making his jaw twitch, desperate to bare his teeth. “Your sister’d be led on by a dog if it had blue eyes.”

 

                Peadar inhaled sharply. He balled his hands into fists, and it seemed almost as though he was like to try to strike Kylo. Ciarán pulled him away bodily before he could. “Come on, now, that’s enough. Come on, Peadar.” The boy was so vexed he hardly moved as he was brought away, wrought with anger.

 

                Once they were out of earshot, Dainín began to snort. The others did, too. “A dog with blue eyes,” Bran spluttered, laughing so widely that Kylo could see his iron tooth. Seán leaned on the skeleton of the new currach, reaching out to take the plank from Kylo, and brayed like an ass.

 

                “You got out of that one quick,” Dainín told him, shearing a curl of wood from the short plank under his hand. “She can kill a pheasant with a pebble, but all the pheasants in the world aren’t worth that kind of hassle, let me tell you.”

 

                “She even tried it on with Hux, once,” Bran added. Kylo stilled for a moment, and sat down again. He hadn’t thought of Hux in what felt like a long time. It felt as though he had watched himself do what he did.

 

                “Bah.” The older man sheared the wood again. “Hux had no interest in her. In any women. He used to have eyes for that dark Norse lad with the curls what runs the beerhouse in Baile na Fia, don’t you remember, Bran? The one that brings trinkets and shite down here. What’s that dark lad’s name again?”

 

                “Poe,” Bran answered him, digging nails out of the old wood with the head of a hammer so that it’d be fit to burn. “He had no interest in Hux, neither. I reckon that’s what made Hux such a shit.”

 

                A crow flew over their heads and alighted on the pier-post, peering at them. Seán snorted. “Hux was a shit because he just was. I know plenty of men like that and none of them are as bad as Hux ever was. I reckon he was just cursed to be a cunt.”

 

                “No cure for that, is there?” Dainín asked, grinning, and they all guffawed.

 

                It was almost peaceful, bending planks until they arched and giving them to Seán to fill with rivets. The men were happy to talk amongst themselves – they talked as much as they complained that the women did – occasionally stopping to ask Kylo questions about Gaul, or sharks, or to hand him another plank to bend, marvelling at how he did it.

 

                They broke their pattern an hour or so later; Bran went to fetch ale and Seán to fetch bread. Kylo took the opportunity to go and find Rey, citing hunger as the excuse.

 

                The rabbit-girl was sitting alone now, butchering a turnip as though it was someone she hated. Kylo found Rey in her little house, tidying the furs. She had her back to him, leaning over the fire with a spoon in her hand, and turned her head when he cleared his throat.

 

                “What happened with Peadar?” was all she asked him.

 

                “He got brave.” Kylo came up behind her and pressed himself against her rear, shifting his hips against her arse and thighs so that she huffed.

 

                “Get off, you,” she scolded him, but she was smiling, and discarded the spoon at the side of the pot in favour of reaching up to kiss him. “Did he ask about Ailis?”

 

                Kylo refused, kissing her hands playfully instead. “He did. I told him where to go. He wanted to know why, and I told him that, too. He didn’t like it much.”

 

                “Because she clings like a fucking starfish,” Rey said wryly, touching his chest. He lifted her up into his arms.

 

                “I want you to cling like a starfish,” he growled into her neck, nipping playfully, and she giggled, tilting her head back. “I want you to be loud.” He let his teeth sink a little deeper then usual to show that he was gravely serious.

 

                He leaned her against the wall and kissed her. She clenched her fingers in his hair for a moment, and then commanded, “Put me down.”

 

                He did, wondering what was wrong, and then saw her face, her pink cheeks, the brown of her eyes eclipsed almost entirely by the black of its centre. “I’m going to go back out to Rose,” she said breathlessly, smoothing her dress – Kylo could have died as her hands slid over her hips. “Go and finish your currach. I’ll see you at dusk.”

               

                He snatched one last kiss before they had to part again. He watched as Rey and Rose sat outside of the little roundhouses – Rose grinned at him - pretending to peel turnips when it was obvious even at this distance that they were discussing the situation at length. He loved that- if Rose knew things about mating, let her tell Rey, let her share important things, and vice versa. Kylo rather thought that this was the way it should be, not this vile spreading of feigned sins and false gods. Rey was far too beautiful to be restrained by such foolish rules.

 

                Kylo considered all the ways he would have her tonight; on her back, so that he could see her face, kiss her, catch a pink nipple between his teeth - or maybe from behind, so he might look on her hindquarters, and perhaps smack with the flat of his hand a pretty, freckled buttock. He was quite sure it was too early, too soon, for Rey to sit atop of his belly and ride him, but he would teach her when she was willing to learn.

 

                He bent another plank of ash when one of the men brought it to him, waiting for the sun to fall into the sea.

 

               

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                        Okay, so --- I've been gone for a fair few days (almost a week, actually) and that's because A. I've been busy with schoolwork, etc. My archaeology essay deadline coincided with my history project, so I've been trying to get those done before the deadline as I have this weird pet hate for submitting stuff on the day of the deadline - and B. I needed a frigging break, guys. 

                         I love you all, especially the die-hard kelpie fans that have been here since chapter one, but I needed a fucking break. I did too much in too little time because my mind was buzzing with ideas, lost a ton of sleep, broke out because of it. I've since discovered a simple yet ingenious way of solving the mind-swarm of imagination; record on a voice memo the ideas, and go the fuck to sleep. That's what I've been doing for the last few days. 

                         I know that you're all probably going to be super excited for a new chapter, and I'm really sorry that I haven't delivered today. I will, however, release a smidgen of information to satisfy at least some of the yearning to know what's going to happen once I get my ass back on track.

 

                        1. In the next chapter, pray for Rey's vagina. Just ... she's going to need it. 

                        2. Ben is alive.

                        3. Kylo has a pleasant transformation.

                        4. Again, pray for the vagina. 

                        5. Phasma has been keeping some serious secrets ...

 

                        I would write the next chapter tonight, but I was actually asked out for sushi this Valentine's Day (I KNOWWWW) and so that'll be the focus today. If everything goes well with the essays, the next chapter should be up on Friday evening/Saturday morning. Again, I really am sorry for the lengthy hiatus (I hate being away from writing, too) and hopefully everyone enjoys the next chapter, which as I said, will be a smutfest, and we all need to pray for Rey's vagina. If anyone wants to discuss fanart, theories, or just chat, my Instagram is @borkaeology and my Tumblr is @hagenshall.

 

                       Happy waiting!

                       Breeanna xxx

                       

Chapter Text

                                                      

                                                      

 

                Rey dipped her antler comb in clean water and combed the salt from her hair, sitting by the fire to do it so that she didn’t come away with a damp head. Her heart fluttered in her chest, a songbird’s wings beating beneath the linen. The things Rose had told her swirled in her head. They frightened her far more than they should have.

 

                She felt almost ill. This was all very unfair. Why, she wondered, did she find it almost impossible to view in a fair light? Why did she anticipate nothing but pain, despite Rose’s reassurances? Why was it that men could look forward to such intimacies with unbridled excitement, and not have to be fearful of pain?

 

                Rey knew that he didn’t want her to be frightened or in pain. This knowledge did little to comfort her or ease the pounding of her heart. He was a giant, truly – Bran was the tallest and yet the top of his head did not even pass Kylo’s shoulders – and, the night he had taken her onto his lap and shown her stars, she had seen how large he was, even through his britches.

 

                “It gets … bigger,” Rose had tried to explain. “When they want to do it, it grows, gets harder.” Rey had stared at her in disgust. She wasn’t disgusted now, combing her hair - just afraid. Rey could take pain in its vilest forms with gritted teeth, including any kind of pain within her, in that most secret and unknown of places, but if it was Kylo causing that pain – she was sure that she wouldn’t be able to bear it.

 

                They had caused one another pain before, when she had stabbed him between his ribs with her spear, when he had made to drown her, when she drew the dark scar down his face as he pinned her to the rushes of this very house. This was different. He might not, she surmised, be able to help but cause her pain.

 

                Another part of her could hardly wait a moment longer for him to return.

 

                When Rey had asked what on earth she was supposed to do, Rose had replied, “You just know.” You just know. Rey wasn’t sure what that meant. She put the comb back in its box, placed carefully a damp log onto the fire, and doused her pink cheeks with water. It didn’t help. She found herself on her cot, legs swinging, eyes lost in the flames.

               

                The winds had grown stronger as night began to fall, and with them came rain. The men had pulled the currachs in onto the sand so that the waves did not steal them away and smash them upon the rocks. Rey pulled her wicker wind-door from beneath her bed – she misliked using it during the summers, for it made the house uncomfortably stuffy, but if the winds continued to blow, the hide across the doorway would be torn clean away – and went to fasten it carefully to the door hooks.

 

                It was dark outside, sky made darker by the clouds, thick with rain. The wind blew fiercely. Rey’s hair was flung out behind her so roughly it felt as though someone was pulling it. The rain lashed her face. She knelt at the doorway and tied it firm, giving it a careful shake to make sure that it would not come loose from its hooks.

 

                The men were still down at the wall. Rey heard them calling to one another, Kylo’s thunderous voice amongst them. Rain spattered her face. Hearing him sent a fresh jolt of panicked anticipation through her, twisting her insides into knots. Her eyes went to the little bag on the shelf inside, packed carefully beside the beads.

 

                He came back to her when the sky was black entirely, pausing curiously at the new door, working out its mechanism by himself. Rey was on her cot again, legs swinging. Her heart raced when she saw him. His hair was wild and wind-swept, face wet. Behind him, rain lashed the sand. She could hear the thrashing of the sea beyond.

 

                She had planned to undress and wait on their makeshift bed – Rose had said, “Lie there naked and he’ll love it!” - but could scarcely bring herself to move He would undress her, she realised, as his eyes went to the collar of her shift, concealing her breasts.

 

                The fire whispered and cracked at the sudden rush of wind. “Close the door,” Rey said, voice remarkably steady despite the turmoil within, and he did.

 

                When she held her hand out to him, she thought that he might come to kneel before her at her cot. He hefted her up instead, lifting her into his arms, and carried her across the rushes to the furs at the other side of the fire, his head bent so that he did not knock it on the rafter-beams.

 

                She was soon naked once more. He did not kiss her or embrace her; he simply pulled her shift over her head and cast it aside. Rey did not make a move to undress him. She was far too terrified for that. Body tense, she let him lie her on the furs – she resisted the urge to swathe herself in them for protection – utterly bare. He didn’t speak, nor did he make to take his clothes off. He just looked at her, black eyes raking up and down the length of her, lingering on her lips, her breasts.

 

                The wind howled. Rey could smell the rain against the stone. She felt helplessly small next to him. He lifted her legs so that he might kneel where they had lain, bending them at the knees. Kylo touched her then, warm palms learning the curves of her soft rear, moving up between her thighs, and parting them firmly. Rey whimpered at the sudden vulnerability, the exposure, and fought against it, legs clamping shut. Kylo didn’t try to stop her, but his hands went tense around her thighs where she had pushed them together again.

 

                The giant watched her, brows knit in a frown, waiting. Rey’s chest rose and fell rapidly. Her limbs felt weak. Kylo’s jaw flexed, but he waited even so, going as still as stone above her.

 

                He won’t hurt you. Stop being such a fool. He won’t hurt you. She flushed scarlet from her hairline all the way down to her breasts. The strange throbbing began to ache between her legs.

 

                Stiffly, she lowered her thighs, letting the heat of his palms guide them open. Kylo made a satisfied sound, observing her sex with eyes so dark even the light of the fire did not reach them. Carefully, he stroked his fingers across the puff of dark hair on her mound. Rey didn’t know why she was so hesitant; he had touched her here before, twice, their bodies intertwined on this very floor.

 

                It had been dark, darker than it was now, and he hadn’t seen, Rey surmised. He had sat her on his lap and felt with his hands. He could see now. From the set of his jaw, the depth of his gaze, she wondered if he liked what he could see, if the sight of her sex pleased him.

 

Kylo murmured a single foreign word. His mother tongue was softer than hers. Rey wanted to ask him what he meant but could scarcely speak for fear. He was impossibly big, she saw, eyes dragging over the hard ridge in his britches. A sharp stab of panic went through her, but the throbbing in her cunt grew hotter at the sight.

 

The wind blew strong, whistling through the eaves. Rey could hear the waves crashing harder now, booming like the roars of angry giants on the rocks, and was glad for the seawall to keep them safe from the wild sea.

 

His other hand slid down her thighs to the apex of them both, and his thick fingers parted her, revealing the sibylline pink folds. Kylo pursued the small, exquisitely firm nub that she had come to know existed, coaxing it gently from beneath its protective hood of flesh with the rasp of a callused fingertip. A soft whine tore from her throat, hips writhing, and her eyes went wide when he moved back, rolling onto his belly.

 

His breath was hot against her inner thighs, hands squeezing her rear and then sliding up around her hips. Rey stifled the urge to kick in panic at the nearness of his face to her sex. “What are you doing?”

 

                Kylo’s eyes flickered up to hers, considering. He bent his head between her legs, and without breaking gaze, licked her there.

 

                Rey’s entire body jolted, hips coming up out of his hands, and she bit her fist to keep from crying out. The wind would have masked the noise, she was sure, but she did it anyway. Kylo laughed, kissing the inside of her thighs, hand coming up to stroke across her belly.

 

                “What did you – Kylo-“

 

                He did it again, tongue a slick heat between her legs, and then settled there to keep doing it, shoulders hunched. She felt his tongue searching, and then felt it sliding over the precious nub of flesh he had touched with his fingers. She couldn’t quite believe it. Each stroke sent something searing and molten to a place deep in her belly.

 

                Was this what Kylo’s kind considered normal? Rey could scarcely imagine creatures of such an ilk possessing knowledge of such exquisite pleasures. There were thousands of questions she wanted to ask him – where did you learn this? Why do you do it? Do you like it? – but could hardly breathe to ask.

 

                The way he held her, the passionate furrow of his dark brows, made Rey wonder if perhaps he did like it, that it pleased him in some way. Rey dared peek at him. His eyes had not left her face, black with an unknown lust. She canted her hips ever so slightly. Kylo growled, and so she did it again. Meaty hands went tight around her arse, so tight she was sure it would bruise.

 

                Almost in retaliation, Kylo began to suck. Rey’s soft whines became broken sounds of shock. The contact was far too much, stingingly beautiful and direct, and she writhed in his grasp, not quite certain whether she was trying to get away or not. When she felt the hard edge of his teeth grazing ever-so-softly against that most raw and sensitive of places, she swallowed a desperate cry, hand flying out to grip his hair.

 

                It was happening again – what Kylo had done with his fingers – but now it was with his tongue. Rey wondered what kind of wild otherworldly magic this was.

 

She could feel it. The heat from the fire made her flushed body blaze. She felt swollen, pulsing, impossibly wet - slick as a seal’s back - and Kylo was lapping at her hard with no sign that he might stop. Her stomach was beginning to twitch, her cunt to clench. She balled her fist in his hair, hard enough to hurt, and he growled against her nub, the noise resonating there within her. There was so much to feel.

 

                She pulled hard on his hair when she began to teeter on the edge, and the bastard withdrew. Rey could have cried. Instead, she made a petulant sound at him, earning her a sharp nip to the inside of her thigh, and a kiss to the knee. Her head fell back, eyes closing. She had not ever thought of her knees as particularly sensitive, but his lips on them sent tense jolts of intense heat up her thighs and deep into her core. Kylo seemed to notice, and kissed the other one, nipping the grazed skin.

 

                Those damnable fingers dragged through her folds and found the soft, slippery entrance to the inside of her body. It was almost unknown to her, too small and unreachable to have any significance, but she felt the pad of a thick finger circle the opening and settle there, pressing ever so slightly.

 

                This is it, she thought. He’s going to – to - in there.

 

                He glanced down, weighing, measuring. Rey felt him press a little harder, spreading the slick moisture. A thick fingertip entered the tiny opening. Kylo murmured a soft Breton reassurance when she tensed in fear.

 

                Rey found her hips undulating before long, entirely of their own accord, as Kylo’s finger went further and further in. It wasn’t quite painful, but she wasn’t sure that she liked it all that much. It stung ever so slightly. She suspected that once he was finished doing this, what he would do next would sting even more.

 

                He rested his head against her bent knee, focused. Her inner walls clenched around his big forefinger as he began to circle it within. Rey’s breath hitched. It was a sensation most odd. He was watching her face, brows furrowed in concentration.

 

                The pad of his finger, she felt, pressed firmly against the front – she could feel the pressure in her belly – of the tight passage within. “Here?” Kylo asked, thick fingertip nudging a place inside her she hadn't known existed either, and her wild, helpless gasp gave him his answer.

 

                He looked half-pleased and half-mad, black windswept locks mussed even further askew by her hands. His eyes were so black now, as he added a second finger – Rey panted at the new intrusion – and worked her open, all the while peppering kisses up and down her belly, her thighs.

 

                When he sat up to pull his rain-damp shirt off over his head, leaning back on his knees, Rey touched herself there, terrified at what she might feel beneath her fingertips – she felt different between her legs, empty now that his fingers had withdrawn. Before she could properly feel, he caught her hands in his and lifted them above her head, pinning them into the fur.

 

                Rey struggled half-heartedly against him. “Let go.

 

                “Don’t touch,” he warned her.

 

                Anger surged. “Get off-

 

                “Don’t touch,” Kylo repeated, voice harder. Rey pulled a wrist free, and Kylo scowled, bending down to finally kiss her. She let him. He was fire-warm and tasted of salt, tongue hot and lubricious. He caught her lower lip between sharp teeth and pulled. Rey moaned, hooking her leg around the back of his clothed knee. She could feel the hard ridge of him against her thigh, and tried to pull her other wrist out of his grasp.

 

                Kylo grumbled and sat back on his knees. Rey watched as his hands went to the laces of his straining britches. When they did not so easily come undone, he uttered what she was sure was an expletive in his own tongue and made to rip them apart.

 

                “Don’t!”

 

She sat up, and Kylo went still. Carefully, she edged herself closer to him, furs soft against her bare behind. Her heart, she was sure, had never beat quite so quickly, nor so violently.

 

                When her trembling fingers brushed across the bulge, trapped behind the wool, Kylo’s nostrils flared and he leaned his hips into her touch. Rey very nearly snatched her hand away. It was hot, and as rigid as iron.

 

                She felt his hand under her chin as she fumbled with the laces but wouldn’t look at him until they were loose. Kylo bent his head to kiss her again, moving her so that he might have room. Boots and britches alike were kicked off, cast away somewhere in the dark, away from the reaches of the fire’s glow.

 

                Gods have mercy.

 

                Rey took in the sheer size of him as he knelt there, broad palms beneath her knees. He was broad-hipped and wide-waisted. The dark hair on his arms, his thighs, leading down his belly, was thick and coarse. The flickering flames danced across the flushed gleam of his shoulders, the heave of his chest, impossibly wide. He was not lean and sinewy, like the bodies of the men she had seen before, but huge, body dense with imposing bulk; the like of which Rey knew from beasts like bulls.

 

                Like stallions, she thought, and her gaze dropped to his groin. She inhaled slowly. Kylo’s lashes brushed his cheeks, and he did not move, letting her look. Her heart jolted when her eyes found the jut of his cock, thick and stiff, underhewn by a thatch of coarse hair as black as pitch. It was big – Rey could have sworn it was pulsing, like something living – veined and red, swollen. He shifted his weight onto his other knee and it jerked when he moved, twitching at intervals.

 

                Rey asked, voice barely more than a whisper, “Does it hurt?”

 

                He shook his head but eyed her with a hunger she was beginning to know. Rey reached up and touched it, body moving before her mind gave it permission. It was heavy in her hand, soft like antler-velvet, but so hot and red and alive. Kylo made a gruff, intense sound, and put her on her back once more.

 

                One meaty hand pressed down against the inside of a soft thigh, and the other brought his jutting cock to her opening, pressing slowly within.

 

                Rey could not have prevented her sharp intake of breath, her unthinking whimper of distress. He was big – a blind man could have seen that – but her body could never know the true measure of him until he was inside of her. It was thick and searing hot, so rigidly hard that she felt bruised by the inexorable advance of it. Rey’s hips undulated of their own according, desperately trying to ease her clasp of him.

 

                It stung. Rose had said it would not hurt for long. Rey didn’t know how long she meant. It did hurt, but not unbearably so, and having him to look at as he pushed in inch by inch made it easier. The rough pad of his thumb came up and stroked lazily across her sensitive nub, and she felt her body give way for a moment. Kylo pushed his hips forwards, and he was seated hard to the hilt all in one sharp, stinging moment. He grunted, low and deep in his chest, and it made Rey want to move despite herself.

 

                He was too big and it did hurt. Rey, however, had not expected any less. This was what the fear had been for, this discomfort in this most unknown of places.

 

                “Am I bleeding?” she whispered.

 

                The kelpie shook his head but looked twice to make sure. Kylo’s eyes did not leave her face once she sighed, relieved. His hips rocked once, and the swollen head of his shaft nudged that place within her. It felt twice as sensitive, as raw, as it had been when it had touched it with the pad of his fingertips. Rey shuddered, stifling a cry, body clenching under the lash of sweet, sharp--

 

She liked it, even if the pain was still strong and stinging. Kylo smiled and did it again. The sensation set off miniscule flames, sparks, in every inch of her body. “Good?” he asked. Rey clenched her fists in the furs at either side of her, nodding.

 

Kylo dropped, holding himself up above her on hirsute arms as thick as tree trunks, huge hands flat and tense at either side of her. Rey pushed her hair away from her damp forehead, strands sticking to the pink skin, and wrapped her hands around his thick wrists. Her body was sheened with sweat from the heat of the roundhouse.

 

He did not move again, bending his head to nose against her cheek, and Rey wondered if this was it. Surely not, she thought. When his hips had moved – and when hers had moved back – there had been a deep desperation in his eyes, a want for more.

 

Rey stroked a shaking hand across his hair, his jaw, and caught his mouth with hers. He was tense, letting her kiss him. Rey searched for his tongue with her own and he made a low sound, hips moving. She gasped into his mouth, and felt her body stretch and finally relax around him. The stinging, the feeling of intrusion, began to subside. Her body fluttered to welcome him.

 

She was no longer frightened, she realised very quickly. The fear went away when the initial discomfort – pain in its weakest form – had begun to dissipate. Rey could feel the tension deep within him, rolling off of his bones, the difficulty of staying slow and staying still.

 

                He was waiting. I can smell it, he’d said in Cuan Eascann, when you’re frightened. Rey wondered if this meant that he could smell when she was in pain, too. The tendons in his neck stood out, the thick lines of muscle starkly tense beneath the flesh of his forearms at either side of her. Rey tangled her fingers in hair so dark it swallowed the light. In response, Kylo made a low sound, and pushed his hips firmer against hers.

 

She felt full and warm. “It’s not sore anymore,” she told him, breathless.

 

Kylo moved as soon as the words left her mouth. He knelt between her legs, his weight pushing him deep into the furs. He remained within her and hefted her bottom up onto his lap. One great hand gripped her hip and the other rested on her belly. Rey huffed. He was so big she was sure she could feel the jut of his cock there beneath where his hand was lain.

 

Rey dared inch her hips up into his, bringing him deeper. Kylo’s nostrils flared. He made a dark marine sound, grunting in pleasure. Rey watched in awe. His back arched ever so slightly, broad hips pressing firmly against the backs of her thighs. The hot stretch of him was still apparent within her, still a vague burn of discomfort. She would bear it, she decided, though she had never felt quite so exposed, so vulnerable. She was almost entirely at Kylo’s mercy.

 

His hand went to her breast, brushing over a hardened nipple, and settled in the middle of her chest over her heart. The wound-spring tension of his limbs and hips and the heaving of his chest told her that he was beyond speech, but his eyes spoke for him. Her cunt throbbed violently.

 

“You won’t hurt me,” Rey heard herself, barely audible over the sound of her hammering heart, the rushing of blood in her ears. Kylo huffed hard through his nose, breath ghosting hot over her bare body. Rey felt her cunt clench hard around him at the sudden heat. She hadn’t mean to do it, but Kylo made another deep sound in response, hand going from her chest to her wrist. He bent over her, and as he had done the night in the sea, lifted her hand to press it, palm flat, over his own heart.

 

She trembled. The thud-thump of his big horse’s heart was good and strong beneath her fingers. Rey splayed them, hand burning with the heat of his skin. He was drawn as tight as a bowstring. Kylo spoke only a single word, voice hoarse as though he had only just learned how to use it properly.

 

Yours.

 

“Yours,” she echoed back to him. She wrapped her arms around his middle and pulled so that he pressed his solid belly against hers, pushing her deep into the fur.

 

Kylo wasn’t gentle with her. It simply wasn’t in his nature. Beyond making certain that he wasn’t hurting her – and once she had made him aware that it wasn’t painful – Rey knew that to his kind, such gentle tenderness probably seemed futile. Her body – and she – did not care one bit.  He wasn’t hurting her anymore, and when he did it was pain only in the form of his sharp teeth biting at the juncture of her throat and shoulder, at her nipples, at her chin and her lower lip when she kissed him.

 

Rey liked Kylo on top of her, so heavy he could have crushed the breath from her lungs, except he didn’t. She curled her arms around his neck, fingers in salt-coarse hair, and dared to bite him the way he bit her, nipping cautiously at the shell of his ear.

 

It shocked her when Kylo pulled his head free and snarled at her, showing her his salt-strong teeth. His face was close to hers, and the snarl was followed by a forceful kiss, a sharp nip to the chin, and she realised that he hadn’t meant it to frighten her. He was playing.

 

It made her gasp in delight, and Kylo snapped again, the growls low and warning, teasing. The sound rumbled through him and into her, reverberating between their chests. His body never stopped pushing into hers, against that unknown place within that made her clench and whimper.

 

Kylo loomed above her, face flushed with concentration. Rey lifted her hand and stroked his reddened face. “Be good,” she breathed, “you’ll be good for me, won’t you?” He growled and bit her hand in response, leaning against it, as if to say that he certainly would not be good for her.

 

There was so much of him she could feel it in her belly, pressing deep and low, like moon-pains without the agonising knots. His rhythm was sharp and steady, the force of his thrusts lifting her almost entirely off of the ground. His bulk rubbed – unknowingly, perhaps – against her burning, exposed nub, and Rey buried her face in his shoulder to muffle her cry.

 

The wind swept hard above and around them, past the stone and sand. Kylo smelled of the sea, tasted of salt and smoke, her tongue swiping out to taste the sweat on his damp skin. Sharp little sparks, red as blood, cracked and exploded behind her eyes. She was sure that he could hear her thundering heart. Under the weight of him, Rey could barely drag in enough air. It felt as though she was underwater. Her lungs strained – her entire body strained – and with a thin keen, she bit him hard, harder than he had ever bitten her, sinking her teeth into the hollow beneath his ear.

 

She heard his answering growl, and his big body flexed, a guttural sound rattling in his throat. Like a bear he set his sharp teeth into the juncture of her neck and shoulder, gripping the sensitive cord that ran there, and his hips plunged so hard she could have shrieked.

 

He grazed his teeth down her shoulder and abruptly withdrew – Rey cried out at the sudden emptiness, the dull ache as she clenched around nothing. Kylo lifted her bodily and dropped her on her hands and knees, dragging her hard back against him. He meant to take her from behind, she realised, like a beast.

 

The penetration was just as shocking, just as full. The only thing that hurt now was the ruthless press of his hand on her hips, her back, pressing hard enough to bruise the skin. This pain let up when he dropped against her, belly against her back, hands at either side of her once more so that he did not crush her. His previous pace had not been rough, she realised. This was rough, this relentless pounding, and she would not have stopped him for the world.

 

He bit her properly, laving hard over each mark, teeth at her throat, her ear – but it did not hurt her. It sent sharp cataclysms down her spine, back arching to push her rear deeper against him.

 

Kylo was grunting with pleasure, panting hard, the sounds deep and harsh. They resonated through her when he kissed roughly her throat or bit her, and Rey pressed her mouth into her own arm to stifle the noises that stole up her throat.

 

She’d had no reason to be frightened. He wasn’t gentle, not a bit, but he wasn’t hurting her, he wasn’t making her whimper in pain. He was doing this because this was all he knew, the only way he knew to show her such things.

 

Rey could feel her body being drawn ever tighter, a skin over a drum. Everything within began to gather, concentrating, pushing. Kylo felt it, she was sure, as he hammered hard into her belly, grunts growing louder even as he deadened them against her skin.

Rey broke apart in desperate upheaval when Kylo’s hand went between her legs, rubbing rough circles. She cried into the fur, squeezing and clenching, and felt Kylo rise off her back, pressing hard into the backs of her thighs. One thrust, then two, then three, and-

 

                He gritted his teeth, she heard, as he groaned aloud, and she felt him twitch inside her – only dimly aware of the convulsions - pulsing as strongly as she had, and there was a flood of something thick and hot in her belly. Her own contractions went on and on, uncontrolled and unknown, frightening and shattering her.

 

Whoever had been the first to feel this from Kylo – the mother of his son, perhaps, or maybe even others before her – Rey was bitterly jealous of them. She was bitterly jealous of the first woman to ever have been rutted by him, the first woman to ever feel his teeth sink into her flesh, to ever feel him stutter and go still, grunting into the night.

 

Kylo rolled onto his back and brought her with him, sprawling her across his damp, heaving chest. She could scarcely move. His heart hammered against her ear. Rey did not budge an inch until the beat slowed, Kylo’s hand carding through her hair. Her arms felt like butter, but she used them to lift herself and face him.

 

She stroked a single line down his face, tracing the scar she had given him. Between her legs, she could still feel what he had done to her, feel his seed.

 

Kylo purred, leaning against her hand. His eyes were tired now, soft and brown with satisfaction. Rey watched, fascinated. She moved the fingertips of her other hand to his throat, and the purring resonated there.

 

“You’re so lovely,” she whispered. Kylo rumbled, eyes closing. He shifted his head ever so slightly to press a lazy kiss to the middle of her palm. Rey curled a strand of coal-dark hair around her finger. She went to kiss him, and he broke off with a great yawn, tilting his head back. Rey heard his jaw click as it flexed.

 

He moaned irritably when she made to get up to boil water for the seeds, big hands trying to pull her back. “I have to,” she insisted, but made a satisfied noise when he nipped slowly at her neck, teeth grazing, lips soft. She kissed his scar, kissed the tip of his big nose, and pulled away from him, nude and warm. The fire was still bright.

 

Kylo watched, eyes half-lidded, as she set the full pot on the spit, flames licking at its base. Rey liked his eyes on her, smiling quietly to herself. He watched, waited, and then made an irritated keening sound, getting up and coming to seize her.

 

Rey would not go, giggling, and so Kylo sat cross-legged on the rushes and set her on his lap. His thighs were big and hard beneath her bottom, chest hot against her back. Her head easily pillowed against his shoulder. One hand stroked her belly, and the other went between her legs. She went rigid, watching as he lifted it, forefinger coated in white.

 

“Suck,” was all he said, and she did, sucking as eagerly on his finger as he had on hers that morning. She tasted salt and iron on her tongue, bitter but not unpleasant. Kylo grunted in approval, bringing her head back to bite at her neck. The water began to bubble. Rey pulled herself out of his grip, squealing in delight when he caught her ankle.

Stop. I have to drink this, now- pass me the seeds and a cup.”

 

He did, unsteady on fuck-tired limbs, tossing them across the fire in their little bag so that they landed in her lap. “Don’t throw them,” she chastised him, and he rolled his eyes at her, withholding the horn cup until she let him rest in his lap, hair spilling over her naked thigh.

 

The seeds turned the hot water sludge-brown and made it smell of boiled carrots. Rey looked into the steaming cup, apprehensive. Kylo sniffed the air and reached up for it. Rey let him try it first, though the thought made her laugh. His face, twisting in disgust when he sipped carefully, made her laugh harder.

 

“Nice?” she mocked him, taking the cup. He scowled at her but watched with soft eyes as she drank it herself, shuddering at the oily, bitter taste. “Oof. That’s vile.” She forced herself to neck the entire thing, leaving only the softened seeds at the bottom of the horn cup.

 

It was very strange that something so small and insignificant could stay something as momentous as pregnancy. She touched her belly, considering, and had a brief moment of panic at the thought of the seeds failing.

 

Kylo saw her expression shift, and he held her hand. Rey looked at him. “What if – what if it doesn’t work?” she asked. “What if I-“

 

“It will.” His eyes were knowing. “It’ll work. You drank it straightaway, didn’t you? The only times it doesn’t work is when you leave it for days afterwards.”

 

“Are you sure?”

 

He assured her that he was, carrying her back to their makeshift bed, and she did not protest. She slept, sore and satisfied, head nestled on the kelpie’s chest. The winds raged on, urging the waves up, up, up, and then bringing them crashing down, sending white spray up towards the heavens.

 

 

Chapter Text

 

                It was, he thought, sublime.

 

                Rey was hurting, she said. She said it hurt between her legs, against the inside of her thighs where they had been held firmly apart. She said her nipples were tender and sore from where he’d nipped, her neck and shoulders the same. She told him after the third time he mounted her that night that it would be a time before she could do it again. Kylo understood. He was sore, too; his loins throbbed from friction and his lower back ached from the relentless tilt of his hips as they thrust. But it was awfully pleasing to lie there in the most delicious kind of pain, knowing that it would not be long before it subsided, and they could do it all over again.

 

                They were to bathe, Rey insisted, touching his hair, tangled from the gales and her pulling hands. Kylo wondered what she meant – unless she intended for them both to stalk down to the water and bathe in full view of anyone who cared to wake up early – and would not let her up just yet, languid and loose-limbed. He wanted to hold her, his sweet sturdy little thing, his kazeg – his, his, his, his, his, his, his.

 

                And he was hers.

 

                She let him keep her there, nude only for the fire-glow, and he kissed her all over her face. He was tired, and it was beautiful, worlds away from the deathly fatigue that followed eating. It was soft and light. He pillowed his head against her breasts, marred with faint pink love-marks, and blinked slowly up at her, eyes half-lidded. He didn’t want to stop looking at her. Rey stroked his hair, his shoulders, the nape of his neck.

 

                “Go to sleep if you’re tired,” she said, the tip of a forefinger circling in the shell of a rounded ear. Kylo mumbled something that he intended to be “don’t want to” and she laughed, smiling down at him.

 

                “Look at you,” Rey whispered. “You’re so beautiful.” Kylo felt the sweetness again, near his heart, though it was so strong now, pulsing heavy through his veins. Rey cupped his cheek and he began to purr again, throat rumbling. He hadn’t made this sound in a very long time. He didn’t remember the last time, but he knew that it was long ago.

 

                Soeuzhus, he thought, struggling to keep his eyes open as he looked at her. She had eyes like a seal, deep and dark and as perpetual as the sea. She smelled like it, too, but sweeter, half-land and half-water, spring in his nostrils. Kylo lifted his heavy head to kiss her, mouth hot and wet, and she sighed, licking back into his mouth as though it was something sweet. He growled, though the sound was tired and half-hearted.

 

                Rey giggled. “Your scruffy face is tickling me,” she murmured against his mouth. Kylo sucked her plush lower lip into his mouth and released it with a pop. Rey made a soft oh sound, and she busied her mouth with his again.

 

When his teeth grazed her chin, she gasped, “We ought to shave it off. Maybe when we bathe …” Kylo moaned in protest, burying his face in her chest. He never wanted to move again. He would stay here with her, motionless, until the roundhouse crumbled around them, and the waves came up to swallow them both, and they would be one in the sea forever more.

 

                “Kylo …”

 

                “Muh.

 

                “Everyone will see us if we leave it till morning, a stór.

 

                Kylo didn’t care a bit for the others. In fact, he would have liked them to see, to make very clear that she was his. But they were both cleanly creatures, and the wind blew still. He did not want her to be cold, and so he obliged.

 

“This,” she said, tapping his chin, his upper lip. “You need to sit very still or the blade will cut you.”

 

“The what?”

 

Rey boiled water, rummaged in her chest, found clean linens and a sharp blade. She rubbed a chunk of something white in wet hands and scrubbed white bubbles into his face – “milk-soap,” she told him – as he sat obediently as a long-suffering dog. He discovered that Men sheared their faces with sharp iron instead of flint and sat tense as she did it with her knife. Kylo misliked the iron so close to his skin, and the cold sting of it right against his flesh made his eyes go wide, jaw itching to open and snap. He had to remind himself, over and over, that it was Rey, and that she wouldn’t hurt him. Not on purpose, he tacked on as an afterthought, wincing when the knife nicked the underside of his jaw.

 

Rey told him, when his face was smooth and patted dry, that she wanted to fill a tub – she pointed to the surface holding her cups, her jugs, and Kylo realised that it was overturned and hollow – with scalding water and get in it. She put the cups on the floor and pulled the great wooden tub upright, smacking Kylo’s hands away when he tried to help her.

 

“I can do it myself!”

 

“It’s too heavy,” he growled, and smacked her rear so that she let go, laughing. Rey had him drag it, rolling over the rushes, to just in front of her cot. Its edge came to her hip and Kylo’s waist, but it would fit them both if they sat close.

 

She sent him out into the dark morning with the bucket, for water from the well. He went completely nude, wind tangling his hair even more, no matter how she insisted he at least put on his britches – “no one’s going to see, don’t fuss at me.” – and had to go and return three times, soaked with rain, before they had enough. Then it was a matter of heating the water and filling the tub with it, so hot the roundhouse was thick with steam soon enough. Rey sat and waited for it to cool slightly, just enough that it wasn’t too uncomfortable to sit in. There was enough water to surpass her waist in the tub, and Kylo’s bulk would push the level of it higher still.

 

“Why do you have to heat it?” Kylo asked, head low so that he didn’t choke on the steam.

 

She looked at him. “What do you mean? To bathe in it, of course.”

 

“Why does it have to be hot? It’ll hurt.”

 

“It doesn’t hurt, silly.”

 

He knelt suspiciously beside the tub and watching as the steam rose from the surface. He warily dipped a finger into the water and recoiled instantly as it burnt him, hissing, knocking over the empty cup on the floor.

 

“Don’t! Of course it’ll hurt if you touch it right away. You have to leave it a minute.” She held out her arms to him and he went willingly to her, grumbling.

 

“But why does it have to be hot?” he asked again.

 

“Because it feels nice.”

 

He didn’t understand. Rey lifted his hand to kiss his scalded fingertip. “Your hair,” she said, looking at the tangles. “It could do with a trim.” He huffed at her, nipping her hand for what felt like the hundredth time, and she laughed.

 

She was a dragon, he decided, watching in disbelief as she stepped into the hot water with little more than a sharp exhale to show him that it didn’t hurt. From the way her feet and calves turned livid pink, he was not sure he quite believed her.

 

“You sit here,” she said, pointing to one end, its inner slope tilted specifically for the back of someone wide, and he did, reluctantly. It did hurt – like hell – but she giggled as he hissed and cursed at her in his own tongue, staying standing until he was seated fully, scalding water up to his waist.

 

Kylo remembered being very young – so young he could not even catch a child of Men with his mother’s grasping hands to help him – and being washed in the rockpools constantly, scrubbed all over with handfuls of knobbly seaweed, and rinsed and scrubbed and rinsed again. He had misliked it greatly and made clear his discontent. Ben had behaved and sat quietly when Kylo or Mina took him there, occupying himself with sea-snails or little crabs or his beloved sea-shells until he was clean.

 

                The water there was icy-cool against the skin. Here, it was like dark fire he was sitting in, swallowing him up.

 

                He allowed himself to sink deep enough that the water covered his nose and mouth, and let his gills open. The tub was tight against his shoulders. It was odd – the water was too warm in his gills – but not uncomfortable. Rey sat down and saw them, stark and fluttering, and started with a shock. Kylo let her touch them very gently, trilling softly beneath the water.

 

                Rey paused at this new sound, and Kylo made it again, the noise coming sweet from the back of his throat. “What does it mean?” she murmured, hand curling about the gills on the left side of his throat.

 

                It was a mating sound and meant lots of things. It meant stones and flowers gathered carefully and carried to a mate. It meant blood and steaming meat, bones snapping between teeth, food shared beneath the light of the moon. It meant kisses and bites and hushed whispers in the shells of ears. Kylo didn’t know how to tell her this. There were no words for the sound, in his tongue or hers and or any that could be spoken aloud.

 

He lifted his head above the water and said, “It means you’re leaning on my neck.” She laughed and retrieved her comb, and he was happy to lie there and watch her as she combed her own hair first. He’d tell her, one day, when he knew how to find the words and piece them together to make sense of the sound.

 

Her hair was well-brushed and the comb fell through it easily. She used the jug to wet it, and the sight of her dripping water made Kylo huff, bubbles rising from his nose. It was quick and efficient, a force of habit – wet, lather, rinse – though he would have liked to see her take longer. When she bid him sit up, he refused at first, pulling her down into the water with him and tickling her until she squeaked.

 

                “Don’t,” she exclaimed, skin pretty-pink now that the water had cooled marginally, strands of long hair sticking to her like kelp. Kylo nipped at a freckled cheek, baring his teeth at her, and he could see in her eyes that finally, finally, it no longer frightened her. It wasn’t intended to frighten her; it was as gentle as Kylo supposed Men intended to be when they jostled one another, chased one another in jest.

 

                If she had been like him, she might have growled back, but she smiled instead, and Kylo found himself so happy he could have burst.

 

When he let her up, she combed the salt from his wet hair and soaped it carefully. Kylo was languid and warm, leaning against the side of the tub with closed eyes, head resting on folded arms, facing the fire. Steam rose from his slick skin. His hair was thick and salt-coarse when dry, but he could tell that once she rinsed away the pale suds, it would be sleek and glinting black, curling around his face – exactly the way it had been inland in Breizh, scrubbed with pondweed and soft water. Those had been an odd few years; at least, the ones that he could remember.

 

                Rey wet the comb and ran it through his hair as she rinsed. It took a little while to unpick the tangles, tear the knots away – Kylo grunted, grumbling when he felt the sharp tugs, and she kissed his shoulder in apology – but eventually, the comb slid through the slick locks with ease.

 

She told him just how loathe she was to cut his hair - such beautiful hair, she said, and how she wished he would grow it long so that she might braid it down his back, weave it through with sea-aster – but explained that when the ends split and grew scraggly, hair’s growth slowed.

 

“I won’t cut very much,” she told him. “Just a little. You don’t mind, do you?”

 

He told her he didn’t. He’d grow his hair down to the ground if it pleased her, and if she wanted to shear him like a sheep, he’d let her do that, too.

 

                Rey made the fire blaze with more logs. How long they lingered there beside it he didn’t know – once Kylo had thrust out the water onto the sand, despite Rey’s giggling protests, and turned over the tub for her so that she might stack her cups on it again – combing and combing until his wet hair dried. He lay on his back and dozed, the air warm in his lungs. The fur was so soft against his soap-clean skin he could have luxuriated across it, stretching and lazing like a cat. Instead, he stayed still for her.

 

                “Will you be angry with me when I get it tangled again?”

 

                “No.” The comb pulled softly through his hair, the prongs gentle on his scalp. “No, I won’t be angry. I’ll brush all the tangles away.”

 

                “You’re always angry with me.”

 

                “I know. I shouldn’t be, really.”

 

                “No,” Kylo agreed, eyes fluttering open. When he smiled up at her, she smiled back.

 

                “Though you give me reason enough,” Rey added, and the combing stopped. It was so pleasant that Kylo almost uttered a noise at the abrupt end to it, but her hands came back, and he felt the shing of the little iron shears in the air. How clever the Men were, Kylo thought, to make blades just for their hair.

 

                He felt her spread his hair out in a careful halo behind his head, combing with her fingers now. “The soap made it so shiny,” she murmured, “feel.” Kylo touched his hair and found it oddly silky, river-water soft.

 

She made a careful measurement between thumb and forefinger and held her hand above his head to show him. “This much,” she told him, “that’s all. Then your hair will grow.”

 

                Kylo did not move as she sheared away the dead ends of his hair. He listened to her breaths, to the pace of her heart. The fire spat and he did not jump, too tired to react. He had never been so warm or so limp in all his life. The wind was weakening, but the chill it had brought remained. Kylo could smell the cold even through the stone, and was glad for the fire to keep Rey from shivering.

 

                “Kylo,” he heard her begin, far away.

 

                “Hmm?” Snip, snip, snip.

 

Thunder rumbled overhead, further away now. A wave crashed hard on the rocks beyond, loud even through the stone, and Kylo looked at the wall as though he could see right through it and down to the water. The sound sent an age-old shock through him, and he remembered the crack of the back of his skull on the rocks, Ben’s agonised screams.

 

“Do you miss it?” Rey asked, and then clarified, “Home, I mean.”

 

                Kylo shuddered. “Sometimes.”

 

                Always, he should have said.

 

                “And … and your son?”

 

                Kylo went tense. By the time he had remembered home, it was too late, and he was hers. He couldn’t leave.

 

                Though what would you leave for? something within asked. Ben is dead. Leia is dead. Mina is dead. The others will have fled across the sea or into the riverlands. They’re all gone. Rey opened her mouth to speak, but he rather suspected that the look on his face deterred her from pressing further.

 

                He didn’t look away from the wall until the snip, snip, snip had stopped. “It’s done.” Fingers combed through his hair and then urged him upwards to sit. Kylo felt the shorn length of his hair curiously. It came to the nape of his neck instead of his shoulders when he pulled it straight and bounced back into waves at his jaw when he released it. He watched her go to the shelf and pull from between two jars a shard of something reflective.

 

                Rey sat in his lap, and he curled both arms about her, nosing against her freckled shoulder. The flickering firelight bounced off of what she held in her hand. Kylo recognised it as green kelpglass. Rey held it up to his face. He inhaled slowly, lifting his head from her shoulder to look properly.

 

                Kylo looked so young he hardly recognised himself. He looked like a colt, like Ben, all sea-dark curls and wide eyes framed with thick dark lashes. The scar Rey had given him went from forehead to chest and he touched it, carefully, hand trailing up to touch his smooth face. Black curls shone softly in the warm light. He had not looked so very young since looking miserably at his rippling, unsteady reflection in his father’s river, hungry and fatigued and furious, hundreds of years ago.

 

                The long-lashed brown eyes blinked back at him. He put his head back against her shoulder, nuzzling into her neck.

 

                “Ben,” Kylo mumbled against her skin, “my son was called Ben.”

 

                She hesitated for a moment. He heard her swallow, inhale deeply. Her fingers combed through his springy curls. “Tell me,” Rey said, “about him. About your home.”

 

He did. He told her about the sea in Brittany, the great waves that crashed so violently against the rocks that they could have been roaring giants from the sea; he told her about the sky, sometimes searing blue and sometimes thick with silver clouds; he told her about the others, the wild males that clashed, fists flying, and the wilder females; the children, how happy they were and how they played, scrapping and sprawling across the sand, their peals of laughter like bells. He told her about Ben and his piles of shells, and how his eyes would shine when Kylo brought him more.

 

                “Ben,” Rey echoed, kissing the tip of his big nose. “What did he look like?”

 

                “Like me.” She had put the kelpglass down on the floor, but the image of his own face was burnt into his mind. “Almost exactly. But his eyes were grey, and he was skinnier, like his mother.”

 

                Rey shifted in his lap. “Is she … like you?”

 

                Kylo swallowed. “She was.”

 

                “Oh. I’m sorry-“

 

                “Don’t be.”

 

                “How did she-“ Rey faltered.

 

                “Men came and killed her,” he said, voice a little harder.

 

                “And – Ben?”

 

                “Him, too,” Kylo told her, though it was only one possibility out of many.

 

                Rey hesitated a moment. “What was her name?”

 

                He said, “Mina,” and it sounded odd to say it aloud. He felt a smile tug at the corners of his lips. “She hated me.”

 

                “She hated you?”

 

                He pulled her tighter against him. “She used to beat the shit out of me, when she didn’t want to lay me. I’d laugh and it’d only make her angrier.”

 

                She cupped his face in both hands. “Why did she beat you?”

 

                Ben’s tantrums were wild, but never unprovoked, and always short-lived. He fought with other foals – often he earned himself a cut lip or bruised cheek, but left the other foals with worse – or lost his temper with Kylo or Mina or Leia. Mina would show him her teeth, and he would show his back, but admit defeat. Leia handled his tantrums with a stern, steady glower, staring at him until he stopped snarling and kicking. Kylo would roll with him in the sand until the shrieking became squealing laughter, until scratches became clinging hands. Mina reprimanded him for this, often with blunt slaps rather than words. Kylo’s laughter only succeeded in angering her further.

               

                “Ben threw foul tantrums. He’d kick and cry something awful, and it used to kill me, so I’d tickle him until he stopped. Mina hated it. She said he’d grow up spoilt.”

 

“I’d like to have met them,” she said, and then paused as though she had realised what she had said. Kylo blanched at the thought. Mina would had torn her limb from limb to feed Ben, and Ben would have ripped out her throat before she had even begun to bleed.

 

Kylo slept with his head on her chest, and before long it was morning. He asked her outright if she held anything against sleep – this was the third time that they had slept alongside one another and she had woken him by climbing across him. He wondered why she would not stay - he wanted to stay in bed with her all day – and then remembered the futile things that Men did, stupid things that meant they had to get up and move and do. It made Kylo’s eyes roll, watching her dress.

 

“Get dressed,” she chastised him, though she was laughing at his petulant pout. Kylo refused, sprawling nude across the furs and insisting that she return to him. When she wouldn’t, he rolled and crouched, threatening to pounce on her. Before he could, the storm-door rattled.

 

“Rey?”

 

Kylo froze, utterly naked three yards from the door. “Rey?” they asked again – a man – and shook the door. Rey went between it and Kylo.

 

“I’m getting dressed, Ciarán!” She kicked a boot at the door.

 

“Fuck. Sorry. Er - is the Gaul awake?”

 

“He will be if you keep bellowing.”

 

“Will you wake him?” Ciarán called from the other side of the door, and then added, “If you wouldn’t mind. We’re off out on the water again today.”

 

“I’ll wake him when I’m dressed.”

 

“Right. Er – make sure he eats, won’t you?”

 

“Are you going to feed me?” Kylo teased her when Ciarán was gone. He lunged at her and wrapped both arms around her thighs. “Are you?” She smacked his head, giggling, when he bit at the soft skin of her hips through her dress.

 

“I’m not feeding you anything, you animal,” she squealed, and he dragged her back onto the floor with him, squeezing.

 

“I wouldn’t say that.” His hand went between her legs. She kicked at him, face pink, and he rolled her onto her back.

 

Kylo! Don’t you dare!”

 

But he dared even so, and she let him. He did not relish the idea of being forced to be around the Men and their dull idiocy. This, however, was precious. He did not intend to give it up.

 

Chapter Text

                                                        

                                                        

                                                        

 

 

 

The breadth of him, the solid bulk of his body against hers, the bounce of his shimmering dark curls when he moved his head between her legs – it made Rey want to keep him there forever, never once letting him go.

 

                She tried to stay silent. They were beside the door – she hadn’t even gotten so far as past the fire when he rolled and dropped her – and Rey’s dress was hiked up around her waist. Kylo lapped eagerly at her, rumbling. Rey could hear people talking, children racing past, goats bleating. A sharking day was always busy, and yet here in the roundhouse time stood still.

 

                “Kylo,” she breathed, “Kylo, I’m – oh-

 

                 Her back began to arch. She covered her own mouth and squeezed her eyes shut, legs shaking, and when Kylo pulled away, he made that noise again; the wildest, gentlest sound she had ever heard. Rey thought, as Kylo kissed his way up to her lips, that she knew it, somehow; not from memory, but knew it as something that should be known, as innate and inborn as tears.

 

                “Keep me here,” he muttered against her mouth, biting softly, “don’t send me out with them.”

 

                She could taste herself on his tongue. “You have to go.”

 

                He growled, and she clenched her hands in dark tresses, silky but never entirely tamed. She wouldn’t have had it any other way. She didn’t want to let him go. She wanted to run away with him into the water, above and below, never quite one only for the salt in his blood and the air in her lungs.

 

                Darkly, Kylo said, “I don’t have to go,” as though he could see right into her mind.

 

                “You do.” Rey kissed him even so. The rushes pressed uncomfortably into her back as he put his weight on her, big pale arms at either side to keep her in place. She was hurting still from last night, but would have had him half a hundred times again there on the floor-

 

                Kylo conceded with a huff, sitting up. Rey looked at him as he knelt between her legs, slanted dark eyes soft, and big hands brought her dress back down about her calves. “You’re right,” he told her. “I do have to. I made a promise, didn’t I? I swore. On God.”

 

                “Not your God, though.” She chewed at her lip, in two minds. Kylo stood and lifted her to her feet.

 

                “Not mine,” he agreed. “But that’s not the point.”

 

                Rey fastened her dress and put on her boots as Kylo dressed. Her body felt tender and disjointed from the handling she had been give – thought the feeling was not at all unpleasant – and she stretched to alleviate it, joints popping and cracking. She didn’t lace her boots too tightly – she could feel the warmth of the day after the storm through the eaves – and made sure that her dress was loose about her shoulders. She combed her hair and braided it from the base of her skull all the way down to her rear. To please him, she put on her string of kelpglass beads, cool over her collarbones and at the base of her throat.

 

                He was watching her, and she dared preen, cheeks flushing pink. Kylo groaned, lifting her so that his hands supported her thighs about his waist. It felt odd to be fully-clothed against one another, but she clasped her arms about his neck and sighed down at him.

 

                “Ma braventez,” he murmured, kissing both warm cheeks. She knew these words by now – he had uttered them half a hundred times through the night, their bodies joined – as Gaul for beauty, my beauty. She had never before liked the idea of being someone’s, but this was entirely different.

 

                “You have to go,” she repeated, nose against his, “but you can make me another promise, if you’d like.”

 

                Kylo’s hot breath ghosted across her mouth as he spoke. “What might that be?”

 

                “You can take me riding afterwards.” He gave her a crooked white grin. “Not that. I mean – the horse. You can take me riding that way, properly. In the woods, like a proper horse. Anyone we met along the way would think you were just some old plough-horse.”

 

                “I’ll do that,” he said, “and I’ll teach you to ride me properly, too.”

 

                Rey reddened. “And I can make you a better promise than that,” Kylo added.

 

                “What?”

 

                “You can come with me, today. You can spear one of those ugly sharks.”

 

                “Me?” She stared at him. “Don’t be a fool, Kylo, I’d never be allowed.”

 

                “Of course you’d be allowed. I’d allow you.”

 

                “Aye, and what about the men?”

 

                “What about them? Do you think they’ll say no to me?” he asked incredulously, nosing the underside of her jaw and nipping softly. “Hardly. And if they do, well-“

 

                “Well what?” she demanded, pulling back to look at him. He laughed at her. “Well what, Kylo?

 

                “Well, then they can choke,” he declared. “You’re coming and that’s it. I know you’ve always wanted to, and now’s your chance. And if any of them say a word to you I’ll-“

               

                “You’ll nothing. Stop that, now. Don’t laugh at me.”

               

                Kylo showed her the edges of his teeth, growling, and they ended up on the floor again, giggling like children. “You’re going to dirty my dress, you horrible beast,” Rey squealed, trying to escape his grasping hands. She felt teeth at her chest and exclaimed, “Don’t!” His laughter filled the room, and he rolled onto his back, bringing her with him.

 

                “Please,” he said, “come with me. I won’t let anything happen to you.”

 

                Rey flicked his nose and he made to bite her fingers. “That’s not what I’m worried about.”

               

                “What are you worried about?” Kylo took a forefinger between his teeth and sucked gently. For something so seemingly mundane, it felt incredibly pleasant, sending odd tingles up her spine.

 

                “Phasma.” Always. She’ll lose her head.

 

                “Fuck her,” Kylo said bluntly around her finger.

 

                “Kylo.

 

                “What? Fuck her. She can’t tell you what to do, you’re not a child.”

 

                Rey sighed. “You don’t know her.”

 

                “I don’t care. I don’t have to know her. Don’t you want to come?”

 

                “Of course I want to. I just … well, I don’t know how to hunt sharks. The men will make a fool of me.”

 

                His dark eyes flashed with something sinister, something that Rey had seen before and did not care to see again. “They won’t.” That was a promise, hard and unyielding. It was a promise Rey knew he’d keep, and that frightened her.

 

                The men would go along with him, she was sure of it – even the hardiest of men would blanch at the sight of him, scarred and hulking – and they’d pretend she wasn’t there and carry on in their rough way. Certainly, they would bitch like old hags afterwards about women on the water, but she wouldn’t be there to hear it. That wasn’t what she was afraid of. It was Phasma that concerned her. She’d put two and two together and give them an ultimatum; marriage or complete separation.

 

                It often struck her the circumstances that she was in. He was not human. He was something wild and ancient, so far-flung from her kind that their very ways were wrong to him, and though here she lay with her head close to his, the marks of his teeth starkly apparently on hidden skin, they had once hated one another.

 

 Although, Rey thought, they shared a Sight that went beyond seeing. Perhaps their differences were not quite so vast after all. Rey let him make his promise, on the condition that she would only go if Phasma was otherwise occupied. She missed the water and its openness, even if the last time she had been out on it she had been shivering with cold and terrified he’d kill her. That seemed so long ago now, as he blinked up at her, as docile and as beautiful as a síog-coille.

 

Phasma was nowhere to be found when they emerged. Inquiries into her whereabouts had the others tell them that she was gone to town with two asses and ten sacks of turnips to sell to Poe at the beerhouse. Rose was skinning some dead beast, but waved when she saw them. Rey could already see the men gathering by the wall, rearing to go. Her heart began to hammer.

 

Their eyes were instantly derisive, but they didn’t pay her much attention until Kylo brought her to the currachs. “Where are you off to?” Seán asked, nudging her jovially, but male concern pervaded his face. Kylo huffed at the contact, and said, “She’s coming with us.”

 

It was as though he had cursed. The men paused, staring, nets falling limp, brows furrowed in incredulous frowns. Finn watched from the wall, spears in hand. Dainín looked up from an overturned currach. “You what?”

 

“She’s coming with us,” Kylo repeated, and held out his hand to help her into the currach. Dainín came between them before he could, and Rey saw Kylo’s face darken, lip curling. Don’t, she thought.

 

“She certainly is not. What the hell are you on about?” Dainín asked him, demanding though his nose barely came to Kylo’s breastbone and the Breton outsized him greatly. “Women don’t fish.”

 

“She saved my life,” Kylo said. “I was fitting like a madman and without her I’d have bled out through the nose. Debts are there to be repaid.”

 

                “Aye, but-“ Dainín turned to look at her, scowling. “What’s she going to do? Sit and watch? It’s too dangerous to bring her out. Look, I know you’re foreign, but-“

 

                “What would you have me do?”

 

                “I don’t know. Phasma would butcher us all if anything happened to Rey.” He spoke as though she wasn’t there. Rey wanted to spit at his feet and call him a pig, but she stayed by Kylo, exchanging glances with a confused Finn.

 

                Kylo thrust piled rope into Dainín’s arms and told him, “Nothing’s going to happen to her. She’ll do as I tell her, and she’ll be fine.” It was plain on the man’s face that he was more concerned with Rey’s presence as a threat to his own than he was for her safety, but Kylo’s bulk forced him to concede.

 

                It was the most uncomfortable half hour of Rey’s life. The men grumbled and muttered – directed most certainly at her – and she tried to ignore them. The water glittered as it swelled under the high sun, though it was hours yet till noon, cobalt and silver and jade. The smell of the sea lifted her dampened spirits. She dared peek at Kylo, obligingly rowing in a currach with rosy-cheeked Niall. There were three boats between them, but he smiled and she went pink herself. Finn kept trying to catch her eyes, though she could barely meet it.

 

                It was not long before the men were carrying on in their rough way again, jostling and laughing. Finn waited until they were loud enough for him to hiss, “What are you doing?” unheard. His fists clenched, knuckling paling around the oars. “You and – and him?

 

                “No,” she spat, shifting in the seat. “I asked.”

 

                “Don’t give me that, Rey, I know that look. Phasma’s going to skin you both alive. This is dangerous.”

 

                “Don’t start.”

 

                “Rey-

 

                She wasn’t listening. Her ear caught a snippet of conversation from across the currachs – Kylo, and Dainín.

 

                “… don’t think me ignorant, fathach, but a woman …

 

                “I find it ignorant enough.”

 

                “They’re not made for the water, Gaul.”

 

                She heard Kylo suck in a breath. “According to who?”

 

                “Accor – what? According to … to … it’s just the way of things, the right way. Now I don’t know if it’s different where you come from, but here … do women go off out on the water in Gaul, do they?”

 

                There was a pause. “Something like that.”

 

                Dainín lowered his voice. “Is it … her? If it’s Rey you’re trying to impress, this won’t matter a damn. Women don’t care for the water, I promise you, fathach. She’d be happier with a new pair of boots, or a nanny-goat. This will only end up with her getting soaked to the skin and starting off in tears.”

 

                Ignorant pig, she thought, and watched as Kylo leaned across between the two currachs, face dark. Dainín blanched, and so did Rey. Before Kylo could speak, Niall got unsteadily to his feet and cried out, “Look!”

 

                Rey turned, expecting a shark. The men exclaimed and pointed. She wasn’t sure what she was looking at, and then her eyes fell on a pale shape bobbing up and down in the water. It huffed and rumbled, and she realised that she was looking at a single, solitary seal.

 

                Just like in the dream.

 

                Finn latched his oars to leaned and get a better look at it. Some called, “Look, it’s a wee seal!”

 

                “That’s the first seal I’ve seen round here in a long time.”

 

                “It’s only small, too, would you look!” It was, grey and mottled like a pup just beginning to grow large.

 

                The seal sniffed the air and barked, and the men – great hulking beasts, as rough and uncouth as anything – cooed like women over babes, making delighted sounds when it ducked its head and began to come near. Not once did it take its eyes from Rey, gravitating around the currach in which she sat with Finn. It sniffed at the other boats and the men cautiously, daring to near them. It barked again, huffing, nostrils opening and closing wetly.

 

                “I’ve half a mind to take the skin home to the wife.”

 

                “You could line a cradle with it, I’d say – pup-skin is as soft as anything.”

 

                “You’d nearly forgive them for chewing the arse out of the boats, wouldn’t you?” Ciarán asked, watching as the seal twirled in the water. “Sweetest things, and not a bit afraid.”

 

                “No, not a bit. Usually they fuck off as soon as they smell the boats.”

 

                It warily flinched away from their hands when they reached to touch it, eyes going wide. Something Rey noticed about seals was that some of them had almost human eyes, with as much depth of emotion as her own. It stole back to Finn’s currach, gazing up at her, and barked. She leaned on the edge, staring down at it. Its clawed flippers came in against its chest and then fleshed out, over and over, keeping it afloat. It barked again, and its breath was rank and fishy, hot on her face. Even so, she did not move, daring to reach out to touch it.

 

                The seal sniffed her hand, rumbling, and splashed onto its back, presenting its underside to be petted. The men laughed, enthusing, and Rey stroked its soft, mottled belly. It was all blubber, fat and healthy beneath her fingers. She leaned forward even more, sweeping her hand up over its chest.

 

The seal made the oddest sound, halfway between a whine and a bark, and twisted so that she was touching its whiskered face. The bristles pricked her palms. A rough, greyish tongue came out and swept up her wrist. Its teeth were serrated and concave to tear and rip. The seal’s eyes were wide and wet, dark as the water. Something shimmered in the air, and she felt the boat lurch beneath her. There was a crash, and she heard Finn and Kylo shout-

 

---------------------------------------------

 

                “She’s so small. I don’t know how they could leave a babe so small.”

 

                “Put it out of your head for now.”

 

                “She’s barely weaned, Aengus. What if-”

 

`               “Don’t worry your head about what-ifs, woman, for Christ’s sake. Focus on the child.”

 

                “What if she remembers? What if she grows up and she remembers that she was left, cast away like rubbish? What then? What do we tell her?”

 

                “We tell her nothing. The skin is gone, six feet under out in the middle of the sea. She’ll never find it, and she’ll never remember, Phasma, I promise. She’s too small.”

 

                “Aye, that’s the right of it, isn’t it? Too small to remember, but small enough to be abandoned. I swear on my life, if ever I see another seal for as long as I live, I’ll flay it alive. I’ll club it to death. God help any bastard selkie that comes here again.”

 

--------------------------------------

 

                Rey!”

 

                She was under, then, lost in the grey-blue, frantic voices above her. The seal was there still, whiskers brushing her face, clawed flippers gentle on her arms. Bubbles rose upwards. Her arms flailed and her lungs burned, but she knew where she was. She looked at the seal and it pressed its bristly nose against her cheek, huffing bubbles. It blinked its great dark eyes at her. She realised with a shock that she wasn’t afraid.

 

                She felt hands pressing hard on the soles of her feet, pushing her up, up, up, but she kicked away from them and turned in the water. Kylo clasped her face in his hands, hair a dark halo about his face. She saw the pale shape of the seal shoot away at the sight of him, disappearing into the gloom, and very nearly went after it.

 

                I’m fine, she mouthed through the salt instead, and he didn’t look convinced. His gills were open, moving quickly, as though he were panting. His eyes were wide in shock. I’m fine.

 

                Kylo touched her eyelid, and then her chest. A question. Rey nodded. Yes. Yes. I was Seeing.

 

                The men were shouting when she broke the surface, but she refused their outstretched hands. “It’s fine,” she insisted, pushing her hair out of her face, “no, it’s fine, I’m fine.” She felt the hand sweeping up her leg as he broke the surface, too, and he was beautiful with his wet dark locks curling around overlarge ears. The men stared in concern, some with indignance.

 

                “Did you fall in?” Kylo, gills closed, took her hands in his and she kicked her legs to stay afloat.

 

                “I was petting the seal and I leaned in too far,” she said, jittery with excitement. “It followed me under, I think, but I might have scared it away.” It felt odd and unusual to be in the water with him in full view of the reproachful men, but Kylo barely looked at them.

 

                “Get back in the currach, Rey,” Dainín growled, anything but amused. “You’re lucky it’s a warm day or you’d catch your death.”

 

                “I’m fine here,” she dared, and she saw him suck in a breath, though a quick glance at Kylo stopped him from persisting.

                

                Kylo urged her back into the currach. It was not long before they came across what they were looking for, and even Rey was shocked at the size of it in the water, enormous and dark and swaying sluggishly. Kylo's nose had led them to it, she was sure - she had watched as he had discreetly took in the air, nostrils flaring. The men clambered to their feet, pikes at the ready, watching Kylo, but he simply came to the edge of Finn's boat, pike in hand, and held his hand out to Rey.

                   

                 "Come," he said when she stared at him, and she did. The men protested loudly, asking why, but the splash and the depth of the water soon muffled them. They sank, Kylo's arms about her, and she kissed him quickly so they would not see. The beast spotted them, circled, and came around, so slow Rey was sure she could have out-swam it. 

 

                 When Kylo moved towards it, it jolted to the side, sending a ripple up to the surface where it rocked the currachs. The men swore and cursed, clinging. The beast turned and rounded on Rey, cavernous mouth open wide, but she did not move to avoid it. It brushed past her, curved its tail, and circled her.

                   

                Kylo was smiling, she saw, over the edge of the shark's great tail. The shark did not jerk away from her as it did Kylo. It even slowed to consider her, rolling its pale eyes and turning to curl around her, curious. It was an ugly beast but even uglier up close, toothless mouth closing as it watched her, but she touched it even so, and was shocked at the coarse scrape of its skin beneath her fingers. She could hear the men, agitated.

 

                “She’s going to fucking drown and it’ll be our heads Phasma will want.”

               

                “I told you we shouldn’t have brought her.”

 

                “Would you have said no to him? Jesus, if he wants to fuck her, let him fuck her – on land. Let him bring her a pony or a dog instead of a fucking shallowshark. Bloody Gauls.”

 

                “What’s she doing? Is it … looking at her?”

 

                “What’s the shark at? Look, it’s curled right around her, look! Not a bit afraid!”

 

                “Watch now,” she heard Dainín mutter, “watch now till she ends up the first fool in the world to be swallowed up by a shark with no teeth.”

               

                Bugger you, she thought, and watched as Kylo hefted the pike between his hands, watching her right back. When he held it out to her, her eyes went wide.

 

                No, she thought, shaking her head hard. No, I won’t be able.

 

                Kylo pushed the blunt end against her palm and let go. She had no choice but to grab it, lest it drop on the shark and frighten it away. She kept shaking her head. I don’t know how. Kylo moved silently, arching beneath the beast and motioning for her to do the same. Her dress was irritating her, billowing heavily against her skin, but she followed him, though soon it would be time to emerge for air.

 

                The behemoth’s pale underbelly loomed above them. It twisted its great head to see where she had gone, stretching out to its full length once more. Kylo came behind her, pressing himself hard against her back and placing his hands over hers, moving them to the top and the end of the spear. He trilled gently in her ear – the bubbles tickled her – and made a careful upwards motion, lifting a single arm and pressing the tip of a finger at the base of the shark’s chin.

 

                Through its head, she realised. But I won’t be strong enough-

 

                His hands clamped over hers before she could finish the thought, and he thrust them both upwards, sending the sharpened point of the pike right through the shark’s skull with a sickening, grisly crunch. Then he kissed the back of her neck and let go, leaving her holding the pike, and there was blood, blood, blood. She heard Kylo break the surface.

 

He left me!

 

                The shark thrashed once – Rey could have screamed for fear of it crushing her – and went limp, tail hanging in the water. Its weight immediately began to press down on her through the pike, and she could have cried. She couldn’t let it go – they’d starve - but she couldn’t hang on. It’d drag her to the bottom and she’d drown. Red clouded her vision, and the sea was crimson.

 

                She heard Kylo say, muffled, “Give me the rope.”

 

                “Oh, we’re fucked. What’s she doing-“

               

                “She killed it. By herself. Give me the rope or she’ll drown, and then you really will be fucked.”

 

                It was a blur, then; she saw the pale shape of him, felt both arms around her waist, urging her to let go, and she did. He pushed her back up to the surface with such force that she broke it to her waist before splashing back in again, and at once the men were shouting over one another.

 

                She realised that her chest was all bloody, staining her shift an ugly pink. A moment of panic took her and she swept her hands over it, only to find that it dissipated in the water. Shark’s blood. Rey gasped, sucking the air in hard, but refused their hands when they tried to help her back in. Dainín’s face was puce with fury. Finn clambered to the edge of the currach, eyes as wide and as white as boiled eggs.

 

                “Quickly, quickly,” he gabbled, reaching in to haul her out. She soaked him all down his front, knocking her knee against the edge of the boat. “What happened? Are you alright?”

                                             

                “I’m fine.” She was fine – wet, shaken, but fine – clambering to find purchase on the currach-seats, wet hair hanging like seaweed. Finn swept his coat around her, and though the heat of the day meant she likely wouldn’t need it, she accepted it gratefully

 

                When they pulled the beast up, Kylo leaned on its side and winked at her. Rey’s face broke into a smile so wide it hurt her face.

 

                I love him.

 

                The thought stayed with her like a searing brand as they roped and tied the shark to the sturdiest currachs, its pale eye staring up at the sky. I love him, she repeated to herself, watching.

 

Kylo stayed in the water, keeping the shark in place. Every so often, he disappeared beneath the water – “he’s pushing it, Rey,” Ruan called unhelpfully when he saw her watching. I know, you stupid dick, she thought. I know more than you ever will.

 

                 Rey knew hundreds of stories about maids snatched away by creatures from the deep, and often they were tales of deterrent to keep girls away from the water. They were tales of terror, meant to incite fear. Rey wondered if any of the maids in these stories had found themselves in the same place as she, entangled with a beast that seemed almost human. She leaned on the far side of the currach, out of the sight of the men, and dangled her hand in. After a moment, long, pale fingers brushed hers, and his face emerged from the water.

 

                He kept his voice low. “Give me a kiss for good luck,” he whispered, and she did, ocean-cool lips salty against her own.

 

                "That Gaul must have lungs like a dogfish," she heard Bran say nervously, and turned to watch as he peered nervously at the roped shark. Kylo disappeared, and Rey turned over to the other side of the currach again. She watched a dark shape shoot beneath the shark. It moved as Kylo's head appeared, and the men breathed their own quiet sighs of relief; not for the kelpie’s welfare, but for their own. That, at least, was understandable. Kylo was a lifeline now, the only thing standing between the village and a starving winter.

 

                She watched him, trying to stifle a smile. The feeling was so odd. Secrets were not common here, and having such a secret – so many secrets - of her very own was unheard of; Kylo, Hux’s death, the seeds, what they had done-

 

The delightful feeling began to dissipate as she realised that it was inevitably going to be time, soon, to breach the subject of the shark and who killed it and what that meant for future sharking days. Dainín was the one to bring it up. They were halfway home, halfway between Ahch-To, its outcrops, and the bay. Rey preferred it that way. The only thing she would be concerned with once home would be avoiding Phasma.

 

                He latched his oars and the others followed suit, wooden beams clacking against the latches, bringing the currachs to a standstill, bobbing softly on the water. The man cleared his throat. "Well," Dainín said, clearly uncomfortable. Kylo leaned on the dead shark and watched him, that deathly blackness evident in his eyes. "I suppose - Rey - you're a fine swimmer, but - this can't happen again … you know that, don't you?"

 

                No. Of course. Stupid. She saw Kylo's face darken, but didn't speak. She looked Dainín in the face. "But I-"

 

                The men looked uncomfortable, too, not meeting her eye and certainly not meeting Kylo's. "Rey," he interrupted, and she could have spit, "Phasma will come for you as much as us, and there's no way in hell I'm getting mixed up in that."

 

                "Hold on," Finn cut him off. He twisted in his seat to look at them all. They peered at him, unused to having him pipe up.

 

"When was the last time you saw a seal come so close like that? Or the last time you saw a shallowshark let itself be petted like a dog without even flinching?" Finn pointed at Rey and she went pink. “Sharks aren’t afraid of her, nor seals. How d’you reckon we’d fare if the Gaul hadn’t washed up when he did? The beast came right up to her.”

 

“What are you saying, boy?” Dainín asked him.

 

Yes, what are you saying, fool? Rey stared at Finn. He stuck out his chin, determined, and told them with clenched fists, “Sharks aren’t afraid of women.”

 

Rey saw Kylo frown, saw the men look at one another. What bollocks, she thought, but the men’s faces had changed. Finn went on, “Don’t you see? That’s one of the biggest sharks we’ve ever caught, a she-shark, and they’re always shit scared of us as soon as they see the spears. But – but Rey went right up to it, spear in its face, and it didn’t move! It’s the same with the seal – it played like a dog with Rey, but as soon as anyone else went near it, it flinched away.”

 

“What rot,” Bran called scornfully.

 

“It’s not rot. Even dumb beasts know when it’s safe. Do you think the Gaul would have been able to spear that shark without it jerking and thrashing to get away like last time? It practically sat on the spear.”

 

“He’s right,” she heard Kylo say, and the men turned to look at him, enormous and pale in the water. Rey didn’t like that they’d give Kylo more esteem than Finn, but Kylo was foreign, older, bigger, more likely to retaliate. His eyes glittered at Rey as he spoke. “Where I’m from we take women out in the boats.”

 

“In Gaul?” Dainín asked.

 

The seagulls screamed overhead, as though giving their say. They circled, eyeing the dead shark. Kylo told him, “Only a woman that can swim well. She goes into the water and the sharks come to be petted like dogs. Otherwise we starve. You didn’t take a woman out the first time, and I didn’t say anything, but I found it odd-“

 

There was muttering amongst the men. Finn looked down at Kylo, and Rey thought she saw the barest glimpse of a nod between them, a twitch of lips.

 

Ciarán pointed out, “You caught a shark just fine by yourself last time, without any woman.”

 

“Aye,” Kylo said, “but it thrashed like hell. One smack of a shallowshark and that’s you done for. Do you want to risk that?”

 

“Phasma would never allow it,” Dainín said tightly. He leaned on the side of the currach, eyeing Kylo. “Especially not Rey. She’d die before she’d let Rey out.”

 

Kylo held out his arms, grinning. “She’s here now.”

 

“You’re playing a dangerous game, Gaul.”

 

“There’s no danger. You let me deal with Phasma.”

 

Women don’t fish,” the man snapped.

 

“No,” Kylo agreed, glancing at Rey, “but this one does.” He took three long strokes towards the currach. “Don’t give her a spear, if it pleases you, and give her a net only for shells, but you’re not blind, old man.” Dainín tightened at the words. “None of you are blind. You saw that shark, and you saw the last one. The beasts aren’t afraid of women.”

 

Any woman?” young Niall asked, blonde curls bouncing.

 

Any woman,” the kelpie told them, sunlight glinting off the deadly edge of his teeth, “but this one can hold her breath.”

 

There was a great deal of harrumphing, grumbling, grousing amongst the men. “You’re saying,” Dainín theorised, “if any woman could swim like Rey-“

 

“Ah-“ Kylo cut him off. “But not just any woman can, can they?”

 

They stared at him for a long time. Rey pulled the coat tight around herself.

 

Dainín sat back in his seat, unlatching his oars. He didn’t take his eyes off Kylo’s face. “Phasma’s going to breathe fire,” he said slowly, “and this is on you, fathach. But –“ He glanced at the other men, hesitating. “If you can convince her – because we’re damned if we try – then we’ll give it a go, on the next sharking day. But only if.”

 

“Consider it done,” Kylo said lazily, floating on his back a moment before dipping under and re-emerging alongside the shark. Rey found it odd to see him without gills in the water, but it was impossible with the men here.

 

If Phasma had gone to town, then she wouldn’t be back by the time they returned to land. Deertown was busy every day but the Sabbath, and even then a few unbelievers lingered, like Poe in his beerhouse. Rey’s stomach flipped with delight. She would watch Kylo and the men butcher the shark, and then they could steal away to the forest, alone-

 

The sun was high still when they returned home, and Rey was hungry, having forgone food in favour of Kylo’s tongue that morning. She thought, perhaps, that it might be alright, as Kylo helped her out of the currach. She could hear the women talking, children squealing as they played. One of the old men, too old to hunt, was playing his wooden flute for Dainín’s twins while they clapped delightedly. Dogs raced across the sand, tumbling and yipping. Someone had brought a cow down for milking.

 

Her stomach flipped when the milker emerged from behind the beast. “Fuck,” she said aloud, and Dainín swore.

 

Phasma stood there a moment, staring, and Rey could feel her taking in her form; wet-haired and sun-freckled, wrapped in Finn’s sharking coat and her drying dress in wet boots. “Shit, Rey,” Finn said, and she gave him his coat.

 

“Go on, go,” she said, when he hesitated. “Go, Finn. You lot, too,” she told the men, and they hesitated at the order.

 

“Leave me out of it, girl,” Dainín said said, holding his hands up as he passed her. “Like I said – convince Phasma, and you convince me.” The men began to untie the shark, eyes going between it and the approaching Phasma. Kylo came up beside her, and stood, unmoving.

 

Phasma was beetroot-red, glowing even beneath her pale hair. Rey could almost feel the slamming of her footsteps in the sand as she approached, and despite herself, she took a step back against Kylo, whose hand came up to rest at the small of her back.

 

Before she even reached them, the woman bellowed, “And just what the fuck do you think you’re doing?” Ailis and the others lingered by the sandgrass, not daring to come closer. Rose pushed past them and slid down the bank.

 

Phasma didn’t give her a chance to respond. She drew herself up right in Rey’s face, breath hot like a bull’s, and exclaimed, “You went out on the water – again – didn’t you?”

 

Rey couldn’t speak. She had only ever seen Phasma so furious once – a seal came up to the seawall, following the smell of fish, or something, it was so long ago – and this outsized it tenfold. Drops of spittle were forming at the corners of her mouth.

 

“You foolish little beast,” Phasma gasped, face so purple Rey was sure she’d drop dead. Rey jolted with each word. “The one thing I asked of you – one thing! – and you ignore it. Look at the state of you, like a drowned rat! Out on the water like some kind of lunatic! How dare you-“

 

Rey felt an unfamiliar surge of red shame rise up in her, colouring her cheeks dark, pricking at her eyes. Always, always, that was the rule. Do what you want – hunt, play, run; but don’t go out on the water, not ever. That was the single rule she had been given, and now she had broken it.

 

Kylo interrupted Phasma, placing a hand on Rey’s shoulder, when she was halfway through her tirade. He said, simply and sharply, “You don’t talk to her like that.” Rey saw, from the corner of her eyes, his jaw clenching hard, and prayed that he would stay calm.

 

The tall woman stopped short, staring up at him. Rey went stiff under his hand. She rather suspected that very few people had ever tried to challenge Phasma before – the only two that she knew of were dead. Kylo flexed his fingers on Rey’s shoulder. Phasma’s eyes went to his hand, to Rey’s face.

 

“You-“ She was sputtering, red with fury. “You brought her out there, didn’t you, you great filthy Gaul bastard-“

 

She threw up her arm and slapped him hard across the face, loud enough that the seagulls on the pier shot away in fear of it. An audible intake of breath rose from everyone surrounding. Though Kylo was strong, Phasma was strong, too, and the force of the slap turned Kylo’s head west. His hand fell away from Rey’s back. Someone’s pike clattered to the stone of the pier. The wailing of the flute stopped, and even the dogs on the sand turned and peered at them. Everything stilled.

 

The gulls screeched, and Rey wondered if they were laughing.

 

Phasma never once looked away from him, chest heaving. He did not move for a moment, head still turned to the side, but his fists clenched. He turned to look at Phasma, closed his eyes, opened them again.

 

Kylo said, “Slap me again, and it’ll be the last time you have a hand to do it with.” His voice was so calm, so low, that it was almost impossible to believe he was saying what he was. Ruddy, Phasma’s eyes went to Rey, her face taut still with anger. Her arm was still raised, and Rey looked at it, suddenly wondering if Phasma meant to strike her, too.

 

Phasma’s hand shot out, aiming for Rey’s wrist – presumably to haul her away – and Kylo’s great paw stopped it, closing hard around Phasma’s fist.

 

“I wouldn’t,” was all he said. “Not if I were you.”

 

Phasma wrenched her hand away, staggering back. She looked between them both, between Kylo’s clenched fist and the hand that had reappeared on Rey’s shoulder. She looked at the nearness between them both, and excruciatingly, she looked at the red marks on Rey’s chest, visible through the now-damp dress. Her nostrils flared.

 

Rey’s heart hammered, but she didn’t dare move to adjust the dress. She expected Phasma to fly at Kylo, beating him with both fists, screeching, but she stayed silent. Phasma hiked her dress up around her ankles, turned on her heel, and stormed away from them both, leaving deep, heavy ruts in the sand. Nobody moved a muscle until she was past the sandgrass, and even then Rey didn’t budge until the storm-door of Phasma’s roundhouse slammed shut.

 

The air was very still. Rey stared at the door, wondering if she had imagined it.

 

Kylo broke the silence this time. “Are you alright?” he asked Rey, aloud and in full view of everyone, taking her hand in his. Rey saw Rose’s eyes bulge, lips spreading in a grin.

 

“I’m fine. I – your face-“

 

His left cheek was brilliant crimson where Phasma had slapped him. Rey reached up to touch it, and she heard Bran say, “Good on you, big man.”

 

                The rest of the men soon joined in, slapping him on the back and the behind the way men did in their rough manner. Some even patted Rey, tapping her gently on the shoulder with light hands. They were congratulating him. Rey felt sick at the idea, and from the expression on Kylo’s face, he wasn’t so keen on it either. She could see that he wanted to stay with her, but the shark had to be butchered or it would soon begin to rot in the heat.

 

                “Come on, fathach,” Dainín said, patting him on the shoulder. “We’ll discuss this when the meat is cut. Rey’s fine, aren’t you?”

 

                She wasn’t fine, but she conceded that she was. Kylo’s lingered by her, even when the rest pulled out their sharking knives and set to work. “I’m alright,” she insisted, and even dared to take his face in her hands. “Go on, go and help them. I’m alright, I swear.”

 

                He kissed her forehead in front of everyone, and went. Rose followed her up to the roundhouse, asking endless questions. As soon as her own door closed behind her, she burst into tears.

Chapter Text

                                                      

                                                      

                                                      

 

                She cried through the night, long after the rabbit-girl had gone, long after the sun had set. Kylo could smell her hunger, hear her stomach growling, and he felt helpless, knowing that he could not feed her the way he could if she were one of his own.

 

The fire was unlit and the stone hut cold and dark, but his eyes were better than those of Men. He pulled a fur tight around her in the absence of his arms, making sure to tuck it tight, and followed his nose around the roundhouse, searching for the food that Men ate. He ducked beneath the gut-line hung from eave to eave with clean clothes. The pot over the fire was empty, scrubbed clean, but he found fat green apples and bread in a covered basket beside the shelf. There was water, too, clean in its jug. He half-filled a cup with water, tore bread, and broke an apple into pieces for her, but she would not drink nor eat. She simply wept, and Kylo had no choice to hold her until the racking sobs quieted.

 

                He could have killed Phasma. His body burned to do it, tear her limb from limb, whenever Rey lifted her face and he saw her bloodshot eyes, blotchy cheeks wet with tears. Her face had stained the front of his shirt damp.

 

                It was senseless. The only thing worth bellyaching about was Rey falling into the water, and even then it should have been short-lived. She was safe. This village of Men was so stupid, with stupid rules that reined them all in – and for what? The other men had protested and scowled; they said scornful things and gave filthy looks; that stupid bitch of a woman had roared at Rey and slapped Kylo and threw a tantrum like a foal, all because Rey sat in a boat on the water. It didn’t make sense, and Kylo’s frustration with it was growing.

 

                His cheek was hot and red and stung still. He said, “Don’t cry,” though he knew it would do no good. The apple pieces had browned by now, but he persisted gently with the water, and was filled with such relief as he had never known when she gave in and agreed to sip at it.

 

                “All of it,” Kylo insisted, and there was a little flash of indignance in her eyes. He felt relief at that, too; he had never seen her so unlike herself in tears, but there she was, fire behind rain. “You have to drink all of it, and you have to eat.”

 

                “Not hungry,” she mumbled, making to turn away from him, but he wouldn’t let her. “Let go.

 

                “You have to eat,” Kylo repeated.

 

                “I don’t want to eat.”

 

                Her eyes could hardly make out his face in the dark, but he could see her, and she didn’t like his words one bit. For all that he tried to warm her against him and beneath furs, she was shivering.

 

                “Where are those stones?”

 

                “What stones?”

 

                “The ones you make fire with.”

 

                “Flints?”

 

                “Whatever – where are they?”

 

                He found them by the hearth and tried to remember how to do it, all the times he had watched her make fire with little more than stone and dry grass. After several minutes of sparks and curses, he felt her hands on his, taking the flints away.

 

                Kylo watched as the burgeoning flames began to illuminate their faces. “Nothing she said was true, you know. You don’t have to be upset.”

 

                “I’m fine.” The fire licked at the tinder and swallowed it up. Rey placed a log on top of it before it could fizzle out, and didn’t shy away from his hand when he placed it on the small of her back. “I’m fine, Kylo.”

 

                She wasn’t, and he told her as much. Rey didn’t like that at all, and resisted when he kissed both of her cheeks and urged her back into bed; onto her own cot this time, not wanting to have her asleep on the floor.

               

                “I don’t want to sleep here,” she insisted, struggling against him. “Kylo, get – I don’t want to sleep here, let me go! I want to sleep with you.

 

                He growled lowly. “You’ll be cold.

 

                Rey smacked his hands away. “I won’t be cold. Let go. I want to sleep with you, now let me up.” When he didn’t, she slapped at his chest and his face until she started off sobbing all over again, and her tears shone upsettingly bright in the fire’s glow.

 

                He could not persuade her to eat that night, but he coaxed her into finishing the water, and she allowed him to undress her so that he might put on her night-gown. He hung the sea-damp shift along the eave-line, and Rey was asleep before long, sniffling in her unconsciousness. Kylo curled around her. As her sleep deepened, her body loosened, and her arms found their way about his middle. She pressed her face against his chest and began to snore softly, drooling down his front.

 

                His own sleep was light. Often he woke through the night to find her shifting position; throwing an arm over his chest, nosing into his neck, pushing a knee inadvertently into his belly. Kylo rolled onto his back – Rey moaned and snored into the crook of his arm – and looked up at the roof-beams, eyeing the chinks in the eaves like little windows to the world.

 

                The night was silent and clear above him. The stars twinkled ever-faintly on an endless black sky. Cool and crisp air met with hot woodsmoke. The tiny stone hut glowed. The fire gave a sharp crack, and Rey shifted, mumbling, but Kylo’s vision was beginning to blur. He let it take him.

 

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                “Seeing my own father. Waste of time.”

 

                Mina harrumphed, cocking a sharply-arched eyebrow at him. “Well, we don’t need you.” She accepted an armful of dark, ridged shells when Ben piled them onto her lap, still turning to glare at Kylo warily. “He’s doing just fine, aren’t you, ebeul?” Her hair was pulled into three fat pitch-dark knots at the back of her head.

 

                Ben didn’t answer her. Kylo watched the boy. “Doesn’t he speak?”

 

                Mina made a scornful sound at him. “Of course he speaks, Kylo. He’s not as stupid as you.” Ben sat on her lap, cradling a closed oyster. He was struggling to prise it open in his little hands. When he gave it to his mother to open, she went to crack it between her teeth for him, but he said loudly in protest, “No! Mine!” as though he thought that she meant to eat it. He snatched it back and set to working at it again, brows furrowed in concentration.

 

                “ You do speak,” Kylo surmised, and the child raised his head. He drew back his bruised lips, bared his teeth, and spat like a wildcat. “Give me that. I’ll open it for you.”

 

                The boy hissed at him, but Kylo held out his hand even so, remembering distinctly how he’d sunk his foal-teeth into the palm of Han’s hand while his mother tried to pull him away. Mina said dryly, “Are you looking to lose a finger?”

 

                “Do you ever get tired of being such a pain?”

 

                A smile twitched at the corner of her lips. Kylo asked her absentmindedly, “Who did your hair?” He had tied three knots into her hair once, before Ben was ever seeded, when she hadn’t been so quick to snap and bite.

 

                Mina reddened and the smile vanished as quickly as it had come. “Piss off.”

 

                “Is it a secret?” He grinned at her. Ben made a frustrated little noise and cast the oyster away from him. It wedged in the sand a yard from Kylo’s foot. When Kylo reached out to retrieve it, Ben snarled, spitting the sound out like a wolf.

 

                “It’s none of your shitting business, you dirty half-breed. Give the boy his shell.”

 

                Leia had taught him to open oysters long ago. His kind rarely bothered with them – they preferred brittle-shelled mussels and limpets torn from rocks – but Leia had a taste for the salty, shimmering globs, and Kylo had inherited it. He braced a thumb on either side of the shell, applied just the right amount of pressure, and there was a gristly crack. The shell popped open, and Kylo held it carefully so as not to spill the precious contents on the sand.

 

                Ben sniffed the air. His eyes darkened when he caught the smell of the oyster, luscious and palatable and fresh. Kylo held the shell out to him.

 

                “You’re going to lose a finger,” the mare warned him.

 

                “Bah.” Kylo never once took his eyes off of Ben. “It’ll be well lost.”

 

                The foal was edging himself off Mina’s lap, growling lowly. He wasn’t near old enough yet to hunt for himself – barely three - but Kylo suspected that the boy made the most fervent of attempts even so. He was the spit from Kylo’s mouth, right down to the ears hidden in dark curls, but his large eyes were sunstone-grey, like his mother’s.

 

                These grey eyes were stormy now. The foal’s feet left little prints in the sand that would be washed quite away with the next tide. Kylo did not move. The boy, he knew, was clever enough to know that if he snatched it and ran, that he’d splatter the oyster all over the sand. He slowly crossed the space between where his mother and Kylo sat, and extended a small hand that trembled as it closed around his prize.

 

                Kylo released the oyster. Ben did not scamper backwards, but stood strangely still, staring at down at him with those pale eyes. Tiny nostrils flared as he sniffed at the oyster, and even as he tilted back his head and swallowed it, their gaze never broke.

 

                Ben moved very quickly then. The empty shell was discarded, and all of a sudden he was piling into Kylo’s lap the rest of the oysters. “Open them,” the foal demanded. Mina spluttered with laughter behind Ben, and Kylo could not help but grin up at his son, much to the child’s chagrin.

 

                “No. I won’t,” Kylo announced, and Ben made an angry sound.

 

                “Open them!” Ben ordered, eyes flashing. Kylo looked at Mina, and the mare rolled her eyes.

 

                “You can stay to open his shells for him,” she conceded, eyeing him. “And after that – well, we’ll see.”

------------------------------------------

 

 

                Kylo managed to persuade her to eat when she awoke that morning. The apple he had broken for her was so brown it was nearly black, but he split another in half for her and ate the browned one himself. Rey watched curiously as he did so, lifting a mackerel from its jar to fry over the fire.

 

                “You’re eating,” she said, eyes still scarlet from the night before. Kylo nodded, chewing. He preferred red apples over green. In the forests in Brittany, apples grew so fat they barely fit in the hand.

 

                “I didn’t know you could eat.”

 

                “Sometimes.” Often he found himself in soft and light hungers – nothing so vile and urgent as a hunger for flesh – that could be sated with seaweed and apples and oysters. “You get … peckish. But there was no point in wasting these.”

 

                “Peckish,” she repeated, and lay the fish down on the pan. Immediately it began to spit, frying in its own oil. “Do you want-?” She trailed off, looking at him.

 

                “I’m fine with apples.”

 

                “Ah.”

 

                The food made her feel better, he could tell. Though outside influences – fucking Phasma – had upset her, hunger had not helped. She ate the fish – fried crisp and salty – with bread spread in butter, sitting crosslegged beside him as he lay on the furs, and fried another once she had eaten the first. She produced from the shelf a little jar that she told him was honey, something plentiful in summer but most precious during the winter.

 

Affectionately, she tried to feed Kylo tidbits, and though he did not hunger, he gave in once he saw that it pleased her. He graciously accepted morsels of mackerel and buttered bread, and sucked obediently on honeyed fingers when she stroked them across his lips, roses blooming in her cheeks.

 

“Are you still taking me riding today?” she asked, as he suckled softly on a nectar-sweet fingertip.

 

“If you want me to.”

 

Rey nodded, pausing to dip a forefinger into the jar and bring it back to his lips. “I’d like you to take me to the river.” Kylo used the flat of his tongue to lick the sweetness from her finger, and she felt her shiver despite herself. Their mouths met, then, and their tongues, Kylo’s grasping hands slipping low on her body.

 

He almost thought she would allow him, but she pulled up and away from him. “Tonight,” she said. Kylo agreed. Tonight. It was better that way; he preferred to have the endlessness of the night alone with her than the brightness of the mornings.

 

He didn’t tell her about what he had seen. It was one of the only visions that was not fleeting, that did not disappear within moments of awakening. It stayed with him, full and solid; his son with armfuls of oysters, Mina with her hair tied in three knots – love-knots.

 

Kylo carded a hand through Rey’s hair as she dressed. He would tie hers into three knots if she would allow him today, and then unravel them in the night so that her hair might flow free as she rode him. The thought sent a jolt of anticipation through him.

 

The rabbit-girl was outside when they emerged, fletching arrows with dark crow’s feathers, watching children play on the sandgrass. She did not notice them – nor did several of the women crowded around piles of garments to be patched and sewn – as they stole over the dunes and up the towards the forest path. Rey had a saddlebag slung over her shoulder, packed with bread and cheese and a skin of water, that she would not allow Kylo to carry for her. Kylo dared bring the flat of his hand down sharp upon a buttock as she raced ahead of him, and when she turned to scold him, he swept her up and over his shoulder, nipping at a soft thigh when she laughed and struggled.

 

The sun pierced the understory. Shafts of brilliant light pierced the forest’s canopy. The thick and heady smell of summer pervaded Kylo’s nostrils like never before; deep bluebell and sweet-pea, hot earth hewn with the stench of iron, leaves broad and alive. Rey insisted that he set her down, voice echoing through the trees.

 

“What if someone comes along?” she asked, poking his back and then pinching his buttock so that he bit hers. “Kylo! Anyone would think you’re stealing me away.”

 

“I am,” he growled, “I’m going to steal you away into the woods and eat you alive.” He set her down anyway, unable to stifle his smile as she giggled.

 

The forest stripped away any hurt that was visible on her, any lingering resentment and any tears that threatened to overflow once more. Kylo’s urge to kick down Phasma’s storm door and steal in blood the price of Rey’s tears had lessened.

 

She picked flowers as they walked, straying off the path in search of blooms most particular, it seemed. Kylo watched as she plucked sweet-pea and daisy and lion’s tooth, shy violets and handfuls of hanging bluebells, all sweet and heady. She picked ugly bracken ferns and stinking piss-blooms, too. Kylo wrinkled his nose at the smell. He walked placidly along beside her, observing as she filled the saddlebag with them until it looked quite as though she was carrying a pixie’s field under her arm.

 

“Why so many?” he asked her.

 

“For the river,” she answered him. Kylo waited for further explanation, for elaboration, but none came. He rather felt that they weren’t needed.

 

She had taken off her boots, and walked barefoot now through a sea of bluebells. She knew the way to the river, he realised, sniffing the air. He could smell the water, free of salt and never-still, but it would be a time yet before they came to it.

 

Kylo waited until she paused to gather more blooms, took off his clothes, and let his body fall apart.

 

He could feel it. He felt his chest disintegrate, felt limbs fall away and twist back, body pulling away and tearing aside his man-skin to make room for the new. It was momentary and brief; one moment, his skin was aflame and under ice all at once, and the next he was whole once more, but – different.

 

Kylo folded his knees beneath him and snorted at her. It was plain that the change shocked her still, for all that she had already seen, but she swept up his clothes and clambered atop of him. It was good to feel her, solid on his back, clinging to his neck, his mane. He had no fear of her hitting the ground. If she even began to fall, he’d tear out of this skin and catch her in man-arms before the ground could touch her. Kylo lurched to his feet and wished that in this skin he could smile.

 

                “You ought to have a saddle,” she told him, holding tightly.

 

                Don’t think about it, Kylo thought. His voice rang through his own head. He could not hear the inner workings of her mind, and hoped desperately that she could not hear his. There was something piercingly foul and hateful about the abruptness of the things his Sight was deigning to show him. He did not intend for her to see them.

 

                He played with her like a foal when they came to the river, jerking his head up and down and trotting in circles, not letting her down. Rey dug her heels into his flanks as she tugged on the mane at his withers. “Put me down!” she demanded, just as she had in the cold cove around the headland, though now she was laughing. When he dropped to his knees and Rey lost her grip and fell off, she was laughing still.

 

                She squealed when he dared lick her, long smooth tongue sliding wet across her face. “Don’t, you awful thing! Kylo!”

 

                Stop yelling. He butted his head against her stomach as she lay in front of him. Someone will think you’re being eaten.

 

                She chuckled, hand on his neck to haul herself up. “You’re horrid.”

 

                Maybe. Kylo whickered against the soft skin of her chest, and an unknown sound cocked an ear to the west.

 

                An ass-drawn cart was passing, its wheels rolling up dust from the dried muck of the path. A red-headed woman held the reins, stomach swollen with child beneath her dress. There were five children – all very young, barely more than infants -  in the back of the cart, all noise and laughter save for one that sat huddled with a hulking grey dog that barked when it saw them. Rey got to her feet, and Kylo lurched upwards, head over her shoulder.

 

                The woman called a greeting to Rey, pulling the cart to a stop. It was plain that Rey did not know her, but she smiled back, though she hung close to Kylo. He rested his great head upon her shoulder, eyeing the newcomers. The children came to the edge of the cart and stared.

 

                “Hot, isn’t it?” the woman called, fanning herself.

 

                “Hot enough,” Rey agreed.

 

                “We’ve just come from Fiodh Ard. We’re on our way back to the town.” The woman eyed her. “Are you on your own? It’s not safe for a girl your age to be on her own in the middle of the woods.” She wasn’t very old, for her kind – she could have been thirty.

 

“Oh, I’m fine.” Rey patted Kylo’s cheek. “I have my horse.”

 

                The woman did what matronly women were wont to do and made a fuss of Rey while she filled waterskins and washed her children’s faces in the stream, climbing down from her cart and instructing her to stay safe – “don’t speak to any men -  take off on that big horse if you see anyone – and for the love of God, get well away if you see wolves.”

 

                The wet-faced children crowded around them. The child with the dog lingered by the wheel of the cart, silent. The woman patted Kylo’s cheek, running firm fingers through the fringe of his mane. “Beautiful beast, isn’t he? Where did you get him? He must have cost you a fair bit.” To Kylo’s surprise, she grasped his upper lip in both hands and pulled it up to examine his teeth. He whinnied indignantly, jerking his head back. Get – the fuck –

 

                Rey came to rest under his neck, flicking him discreetly so that he grumbled and allowed himself to be inspected. “I found him wandering in the bay a few months ago. He’s a bit jumpy.”

 

                “A bit more breaking in and he’ll be a fine plough-horse,” the woman said, satisfied.

 

                Breaking in? Kylo thought, incredulous. Plough-horse? Rey flicked him again, clearing her throat. The solitary child was leaning against the side of the cart, staring at him. It was a young boy-child of six or seven, with a mop of black curls and large dark eyes. It reminded him of his son.

 

                The rest of the children were red-headed and freckled, too, and it was plain that the woman was their mother. “Mam,” one said shyly into her skirts, “Mam, can we pat the pony?”

                “That’s not up to me, love.”

                “Of course you can pet him,” Rey told them, giving Kylo a warning flick.

Kylo allowed himself to be petted and stroked for Rey’s benefit, bending his head to present his muzzle to the little grasping hands. He didn’t jerk away or huff, even when one of the children – a fat toddler of two or three – thrust a finger right into his nostril. He had to stifle a whinny when the same child yanked on the bristles of his velvety nose.

                The dark child didn’t move. He stayed clinging to the dog. The beast was curled protectively around him, watching Kylo with dark, warning eyes.

Rey held her hand out to the boy. “You can stroke him, if you like. He won’t hurt you.” The child didn’t move, though he looked quite as though Rey had slapped him rather than offered her hand. He was pale with lavender circles beneath wet eyes. The woman said, by way of explanation, “Orphan. We found him wandering in the fields by the Norse-town a month past. The northmen were going to make a bedslave of him.”

 

                Kylo felt Rey shudder. Bedslave. He knew that word. Rey had told him, when they went to the town, that the northmen dealt in thralls. There were thralls for harvest, thralls for livestock, and thralls for –

 

                He looked at the boy. He thought of Ben, stifled a shiver, and took a careful step forward.

 

                The child’s eyes bulged and he shot behind the dog, clutching at its fur. Kylo nickered softly, and the woman laughed. “Look, the pony’s coming to say hello,” she said to the child. “He won’t hurt you, look! He only wants to be petted, bless him.”

 

                Kylo made the gentlest sounds his horse-skin would allow, snorting and rumbling. The boy would not approach, and the dog even bared his teeth up at Kylo, growling until the woman said sharply, “Bran! Come here!” and it slunk reluctantly past him, eyes never leaving its boy.

 

                The orphan made a frightened sound when Kylo butted his stomach gently, huffing warm breath over his front, and darted away behind the cart. Kylo watched him run, curls wild as he sprinted, and something shimmered in the air.

 

-------------------------------------

 

               

                “There!” Ben called, pulling on Kylo’s hair. “There, tadig, I see some!”

 

                He was a solid little weight on Kylo’s shoulders. Kylo could see and smell what the boy was focused on – wild cherries in their tree, clusters of heavy hanging garnets peeking from behind veined leaves – but pretended that he couldn’t, making Ben giggle, drumming his feet against Kylo’s chest. “There, tadig, look!” The little kelp-basket that Leia had made for him bounced on his back with every one of his father’s steps.

 

                Kylo held Ben still while he filled the basket with handfuls of fruit, both hands steady about the boy’s middle. They ate them by the river, Kylo pausing at intervals to clean the protesting boy’s face, washing away the red splotches that the cherries left.

 

                “Will you always take me to look for the night-shepherd, tadig?” Ben asked, lips stained crimson. “Always, always?”

 

                “Always, always,” Kylo agreed, and Ben clambered atop of him.

 

                “Promise,” the foal insisted. He put both hands on Kylo’s cheeks, queer little face very grave and serious. “Promise you’ll always take me.”

 

                “I promise, ebeul. Always.”

 

                “Kylo? Kylo-“

 

---------------------------------------

 

 

 

                “Kylo?”

               

                When his eyes came back to him, they were alone. The woman with the cart was gone. Rey held his long face in her hands, stroking a careful hand up and down his muzzle. “Kylo?” she ventured again, face wrought with concern.

 

                Where did they go?

 

                “They carried on to the town. Where did you go? Did you – see?”

 

                I think so. This vision was not veiled with a dark miasma, either; it stayed vivid and apparent behind his eyes, his son with his red-stained mouth like sweet blood. He didn’t allow her to feel that. He kept it quite to himself, and said nothing until they pushed past the ditch that hid them from the path, and his skin had changed again, and he could hold her with hands instead of useless hooves.

 

                “What did you see?”

 

                “I don’t remember.” It hurt to lie to her.

 

                Rey spread the flowers across the untied saddlebag on the riverbank. “Don’t tell anyone that I’m doing this,” she said, half-joking, half-grave. Kylo flopped down beside her.

 

                “I won’t.”

 

                “I just – I don’t want to give anyone another excuse to lose their head.”

 

                He knew that she meant Phasma – louskenn – but said nothing, and nodded. There would have been blood if he could have had his way. Many things would have been different if he could have had his way. If wishes were often granted, Rey would have been like him, sea-wild, and the others wouldn’t exist. Nothing would exist but her. Rey knelt at the stream’s edge, and began to place upon its rushing surface the flowers that she had so carefully picked.

 

                “Why there?” he asked her.

 

                She told him, “Protection.”

 

Kylo thought of home, and the Shepherd of the Night.

 

He remembered watching the mares leave food for him at the boundary between the wood and the sands; apples, seaweed, hunks of bloody meat, bread stolen from Men, circled with a string of shells to keep it safe from animals. Always, always, it would be gone when Kylo returned to check as a foal, and he would gaze into the woods beyond, wondering if perhaps the night-shepherd would appear.

 

                The streamborns – his own father’s kind – were foolish. They did and believed foolish things. They thought themselves beautiful, and reared their foals on beasts alone and the fallacy that the flesh of Men twisted them inside and out, making them as hideous as could be. They fed on the river-beasts. Streamborn foals were warned never to take the flesh of Men, even in the most difficult of hungers. They would starve rather than risk tarnishing their beauty.

 

Kylo had been reared knowing that, somewhere deep within the forests of Land’s End, wandered an old streamborn, as ancient as the world, so ugly from the flesh of Men that he cried out to warn any who dared approach lest they lay eyes on the twisted hideousness of his form. He kept a flock of rabbits and leaned on a staff of the bones of Men. The streamborns spoke of him in hushed and disgusted tones, used him as an example for their foals for what would happen if they ate of Men.

 

Kylo’s kind knew better than that. They knew the night-shepherd as protector of foals, as a waterborn so ancient that often it was speculated he was the very first of either kind, born of the sky rather than the sea or the rivers.

               

                When Ben was born and learned to know him, he would often beg Kylo to take him to search for the night-shepherd and his flock of brown rabbits. Kylo would oblige and carry his son on his shoulders for hours if it pleased him, humouring the boy’s every whim.

 

                Thoughts of Ben saddened him. He remembered so much now; the way that Ben’s little hands would dig into his hair or clasp beneath his chin as he sat on his shoulders – his delighted squeals of laughter when birds flitted over him, his fingers brushing the branches of the trees. Ben could pluck them right out of the air – and often he did – but never hurt them. He could coax them with crumbs to sit upon his little shoulders, proudly showing them to Kylo when the birds pecked softly at his ears.

 

                The beasts of the water feared them, but the forest beasts saw them as the same as his father’s kind; gentle streamborns, only to be feared when attacking. Often Kylo had sat at the boundary, watching as Ben played with a litter of wolf-pups. Their watchful mother, a dark she-wolf with sun-bright eyes, leaned against Kylo’s side like some aloof pet hound.

 

                Kylo lay on his back, watching. The current took the blooms downstream immediately – they shot down the river and over the tiny fall, disappearing. She was murmuring under her breath. Kylo would have liked her to lie against him, head on his chest, but he suspected that this was as important to Rey as leaving food for Bugul Noz was to his kind in Land’s End.

 

Protection. Surely it was not her All-God that she appealed to – it would not be so much of a secret – but he did not presume to ask her. A rook landed on the branch above him and gave a caw, beady black eyes bright in its grey-beaked face.

 

                He glanced at Rey. In the town, she had gazed longingly at tame rooks in wicker cages, placid birds that sat on her shoulders calmly. Kylo lifted a hand and the rook came down in a flurry of dark feathers, alighting on his closed fist with a squawk. Its feet were cold and sharp on the backs of his fingers. Rey turned her head at the noise and went still, hands full of bluebells.

 

                He dared shift his hand and the rook shifted with it, spreading its wings broad. Rey stared. Kylo held out his other hand to motion for her to approach, but as soon as she took a single step, the rook shot away, chittering in fear.

 

                That disquieted him. They were different. Kylo’s count of days would surpass one hundred Men. He would remain the same, strong as Rey aged, wizened, and became weak, and eventually-

 

                No. He shook the thought from his head, swallowing that fear because it made him feel sick. No. Don’t think of that. Don’t.

 

                Every plucked flower had floated downstream. She lingered at the bank of the stream for a moment, breeze pulling softly at the loose strands of her hair. “Sit,” Kylo urged her, holding out both arms, and she did, settling between his legs. He nosed at her neck a moment, relishing her sighs, her giggles, and sat back to study her.

 

                He ran a hand through her hair, seal-soft even after the saltwater. It hung to the base of her back. Kylo carefully, between his fingers, unpicked any tangles that he felt. When he began to separate it into sections, she turned her head.

 

                “Are you braiding it?”

 

                “Sort of. Keep your head still.”

               

                Kylo’s kind knew these motions as well as they knew hunting; three knots, equidistant from one another, tied carefully through the hair down the back of the head.

 

Sky above, sand below, sea beneath.

 

The gods of the saltborn were unnamed. They were wholly palpable. They were tangible and real in every aspect of everything true. There were gods of females, of males, of foals, of elders; gods of the clouds in the sky and the salt in the sea, gods of blood and bone, gods of the hunt, gods of the kicking of a foal in the womb. They were many and they were equal. No god presided over the other, and all were strong.

 

It was the same with Kylo’s kind. Priority was afforded to foals and ended once their years began to slow.

 

The rules of Rey’s All-God made her kind weak with foolish conditions, empowering males and subjugating females, but in reality, it restrained them all in their shitwater misery. This All-God was false. Kylo was sure of it. On their sands he felt nought but godlessness, the pig-headedness of men blackening his Sight.

 

Here, though – deeper inland, it was different. It felt alive, pulsing with an almost-familiar energy that Kylo could smell, good and green and breathing. He could taste it as the river coursed and as the leaves whispered above. It made sense to him that she would come here and place flowers upon the surface of the stream – offerings – but made no sense that it was forbidden for her to do so. He sighed, pausing to bend and kiss her shoulder.

 

“That boy,” Rey was saying. She stroked his knees. “He was so tiny, and they were going to-“ She made a low sound, half disgust and half sadness. “The northmen are so foul. How could someone even think of doing things like that to a little boy?”

 

Kylo didn’t know what to say. His kind slew the rare individual that dared prey on foals; those whose eyes lingered too long, and whose hands soon followed suit. These hands were bitten off, limbs torn clean from the body. He made a similar sound.

 

“Are you almost done?”

 

“Almost.”

 

“What are you doing to it?”

 

“Three knots,” Kylo said, finishing the second and twisting the remaining loose hair to make a third. His hands were big, often too clumsy for delicate work, and tough the memories were thickly veiled, his fingers knew the motions well, and he watched as they worked almost of their own accord. Pull, twist, knot – though he was gentle with her, careful not to tug painfully on her scalp.

 

                “Why three?” she asked, running a hand up and down his leg.

 

                Kylo touched the first knot. “Sky above.” He touched the second. “Sand below.” His finger fell onto the last as he twisted and fixed it in place. “Sea beneath.” His hands came forward and pulled carefully a single curl of hair in front of each temple, the way he had seen the women of her kind do.

 

                “Pretty,” he said, and Rey nestled against him, tilting her head back against his shoulder.

 

                “But why?” she repeated, feeling her hair. Kylo hesitated. They were as old as the mating-sound, with no words in which they could be described. They just were.

 

                “You tie three knots in your mate’s hair,” he said slowly, struggling. “Because – because they’re … yours.

 

                “Is that what I am?” Her eyelashes brushed her freckles cheeks as she blinked, and Kylo touched each delicate eyelid softly. “Your … mate?”

 

                Kylo looked at her for a long time. When he opened his mouth to speak, Rey cut him off with the most forceful of kisses, sending his eyes wide open at the abruptness of it.

 

                Time seemed, then, to flash by in mere seconds; skin-changing once again, carrying her home, sweeping past the rest and avoiding curious gazes. Secrets were no longer secrets, and Kylo would not be challenged. Not now - not ever.

 

                She was his. The All-God could choke.

 

               

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                She was protected, she knew; both by the old, forbidden gods, and by him.

 

                It was bright outside – there were hours yet until evening – but Rey didn’t care. Kylo provided her with a sort of impunity. He had defied the men, defied Phasma, for her. His lack of concern in regard to both had presented him as strong, not to be trifled with or questioned. She hated men like that – Hux – but Kylo’s unquestionable dominance wasn’t foul and unjust. He hadn’t had to fight for it. Everything simply fell into place.

 

                Rey barely had time to hook the storm-door into place behind them when she felt hands on her ankles, her calves, sliding up her legs and taking the hem of her dress with it. Their bodies fell into place like links of a chain. Her only hesitation came when she ended up sitting atop of his belly, hands pressing against his chest.

 

                “What are you doing? Put us right.”

 

                “This is right,” Kylo insisted, hiking her dress up around her waist so that it bunched there. Thick hands came to rest at her hips, her thighs. He patted her as she shifted against him, unsure. “Does it still hurt?”

 

                “No – but-“ She looked down and the rigid length of him pressed against her. His chest was heaving with heavy breaths. “Will it hurt – this way?”

 

                “It won’t. I promise.”

 

                His promise was kept. Her rhythm was erratic at first, irregular – “don’t laugh at me!” – as she gingerly moved unaccustomed hips up and down, leaning hard on his chest for balance. There was still a certain stinging stretch there inside her, a reminder of the inexorable advance of him inside her days before.

 

                “I don’t know how to-“

 

                “You’ve ridden a horse, haven’t you?” Kylo gave her a crooked smile.

 

                In this position the floor felt hard and sore on her knees even through the furs, and so she found herself leaning even harder on Kylo to alleviate it. “Am I hurting you?” she gasped, and he laughed up at her again. She knew she must have looked a sight; her face was burning with effort, loose strands of hair sticking to her damp pink forehead. She understood now why Kylo had panted above her the last time, why his face and chest had flushed scarlet, why his teeth had clenched as he grunted with exertion.

 

                “Here,” Kylo huffed, bending his knees so that his thighs pressed hard into her rear to support her. “Lean back.” She did, and the pressure on her knees disappears. “That’s it, good girl. Move for me, braventez.

 

                The pace quickened without Rey realising, breaths growing heavier and noises of ecstasy stifled harder until all of a sudden Kylo was gripping her hips hard with both hands and arching his body up into hers.

 

                She felt it inside her, hot and liquid, and her vision swam.

 

 

-------------------------------------------------

 

                Kylo rested his head against her round, swollen belly. She could feel his warm breath against her bare skin, and carded her fingers through his tousled dark hair.

 

                She felt something moving inside her. Kylo lifted his eyes to hers, and with impossible shock and wonder spread stark across his face, said, “There’s two.

 

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                It faded when she came back to herself, leaving her only with the distinct memory of Kylo’s voice. Two, two, two. Two what? Her palms pressed hard into his heaving chest, and she could feel it, thick within her. Kylo brought her down against him. Hardly a split second had passed, she realised. The heat of his body and the smell of him – salt and grass and hot sand - pushed the memory quite away. Rey nosed against his bare chest, making a soft noise of content when his thick fingers came to twiddle softly the loose strands of her hair.

 

                His horse’s heart went thump-thud-thump beneath her ear. Her eyelids felt heavy, and she could have slept. Instead Rey lifted her head and told him that she loved him, her own heart hammering with the impulse of it.

 

                Their bodies met again and they whispered it to one another, over and over, small hands clutching dark hair and great paws unravelling three Breton love-knots. Again and again Rey said it to him, and again and again Kylo said it back. They spoke into one another’s mouths, the hollows of one another’s throats. The day was a blur of hot water and low Breton adulations, a tangle of limbs across pale and dark furs spread further along the floor purposely to allow more space.

 

                She thought of the fear-tales of young girls stolen away by dark beasts in the sea, gazing into Kylo’s eyes, as wide and as dark as rabbit-holes.

 

                “If I asked you,” Rey whispered, bare body flush against his, “would you steal me away into the sea?”

 

                The rabbit-holes shimmered, fluttered. “Steal you away?”

 

                “If I wanted to leave here, and disappear – would you come with me?”

 

                A great paw came up to cup her face. “Always.”

 

                “I love you,” she told him.

 

                There was an urge in her, then, to take him and go - not to ride away by hill or by dale, or disappear into the labyrinth of the trees, but to sprint down the sands and disappear into the dark of the water. Salt would be their sky and kelp their trees, bodies free of binds both cloth and law.

 

Kylo rested his head against hers as she envisioned it, as though he could picture it, too.

 

 

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                Rey did not count the days that passed. They numbered less than a week – though perhaps more, she couldn’t be certain – and by the end of them the entirety of Dún Canann knew of the illicit ongoings between Phasma’s daltae and the giant Gaul. Phasma didn’t speak to her or Kylo once. She hardly spoke to anyone at all, and when she did her words were sharp and biting. She seemed oft to take solace most in her milk-cow.

 

                Rey bedded him every night, and after she had taken the fallow-tea, Kylo lay with his head between her breasts, purring like a cat most content as she stroked her fingers through his hair. Often she would sing softly to him as one might sing to a child, crooning gentle songs that she did not remember learning.

 

                The others said nothing. He kissed her openly, bending to press his lips to her forehead as he passed her, arms full of wood or leather or goats to be slaughtered for roasting. The men did not look at her quite so askance when she came near now, though she appeased them by coming under the guise of bringing food for Kylo. That they understood, and allowed, even approved of.

 

On the sixth day, Rey pored over the food for an age, wrapping crusty bread and veined cheese and punnets of inky blackberries in linen and carrying it down the sand to him.

 

                The men were mending their fishing nets and using round stones to sharpen their sharking spears, their skinning knives. The sky was blue but greying, and the air was sea-cool. The waves, higher today, pulled up clouds of off-white foam on the sands, and the hounds chased one another through it, Finn’s little dog among them. The red-headed twins played in the foam, up to their ankles in the mess of the tide.

 

                The other women were making the midday meal in their own houses and the men would go when they were called. Rey didn’t want that; they were wives, with children and handfasting rings. Kylo stood when he saw her. “I thought you might be hungry,” she said, smile pulling hard at the corners of her mouth.

 

                He kissed the tip of her nose and she flushed scarlet. “It’s only bread,” Rey told him, face hot, “and berries, and some cheese.” She was painfully aware of the other men listening; particularly Finn, whose sour expression over his net made it plain that he was disgruntled that she hadn’t told him outright. She caught his eye and mouthed, “Later,” to which his only response was a curled lip and a harsh huff of breath.

 

                Rey even dared to sit with him and watch what he was doing for a moment – using the flat of a whetstone to shing up the edge of a knife – so close their thighs were touching. It seemed boldly intimate, though it felt as though they’d lain with one another half a hundred times by now.

 

                When the men loped up the sands as they were called, Kylo said to her, “They’re so dull.”

 

                She smiled, leaning her cheek against the hard jut of his shoulder. “I know.”

 

                “I wanted to go into the water, but-“ He looked in distaste down at the blade, the whetstone, and cast them aside.

 

                “We should go tonight,” Rey murmured. He slipped an arm about her waist, rested his head against hers.

 

                “We will. Maybe you could make a pet of a seal.” He huffed. “Has she spoken to you yet?” Kylo asked against her temple, and she knew that he meant Phasma.

 

                “No. Not yet.” Rey’s eyes flew to the centre of the hamlet. The old man was playing his flute again, and its airy wails carried on the wind down to them. Kylo squeezed her. “It doesn’t often happen that someone stands up against Phasma.”

 

                “She was wrong to say what she said.”

 

                “And she slapped you.”

 

                “Bah.” He waved it away. Rey stared up at him. “What?”

 

                “She hit your in your face. Aren’t you angry?”

                “What do you mean?”

 

                Men fought with swords and axes and took no care for where the blade fell in war. Fists were different. To strike someone above the neck was to marr their face and humiliate them. Rey reached up and traced guiltily the scar she had left from brow to chest. “Because it marks your face,” she said mournfully.

 

                Kylo kissed her wrist, eyes unsure. Rey sighed. He didn’t understand.

 

                She remembered the only time she had seen Aengus challenge Phasma, seeming to loom quite over her though the two were almost of a height. The memory was faint. She recalled him demanding something, voice raised to heights she had seldom heard it reach. He had wrenched something from her, pulled it away from her, and her voice had risen, too. Their voices rose and rose, and they roared at one another, the sound ringing in Rey’s ears even when she raced away from the roundhouse to avoid it. Siobhán had swept her up and held her close, trying to distract her with a handful of nuts.

 

                Aengus had gone to town that same day. Rey remembered not being allowed to go with him, though she had begged Phasma until she wept, watching as the cart roll up the path. She hadn’t cried out of petulance, but fear. They never raised their voices again – at least, not when she was present – but it stayed with her.

 

Rey had never asked, not even long after Aengus had died, what the argument was about. In the months after his death she lost pounds and pounds of flesh, refusing to eat though the summer had dealt them well. Her throat was raw day and night from weeping, wailing. She had, in those grey and endless months, lost her voice and spoke to no-one, like a widow.

 

                “Weren’t you angry?” Rey asked him. He was beautiful under this grey sky, nose sharp and eyes dark in his face. She touched still the dark scar, finger brushing the thin, turgid ridge of it.

 

                “I was angry that she spoke to you like that.”

 

                “When you grabbed her hand like that – I thought she was going to hit me.

 

                His face darkened. Rey wondered if Phasma would have walked away with her hand if she had hit her, and shuddered at the thought. Kylo inhaled deeply, and his eyes flew up to look at something behind Rey.

 

“Gaul,” came a sharp voice. When Rey turned to see where it had come from, she saw Phasma. Her dress shifted in the wind, strands of pale hair blowing back from her face, but she was stood as stiff and straight as a rock. Her face was stony. “A word,” she said, and then, looking at Rey: “Alone.

 

Rey’s stomach clenched. Alone? What’s she going to say? There was a tense pause, gulls calling from the rocks. She saw, from the corner of her eye, Kylo’s jaw tauten. He patted her thigh, not taking his eyes from Phasma’s. “Go on, reunig.” His voice was gentle even where his face was not. Phasma visibly drew herself up at the contact, eyes darting down to his hand, and her face reddened.

 

Rey did as she was told, not meeting Phasma’s eye as she passed her. Her feet slipped over the dry, shifting sand as she went. The old man was still playing, having attracted an audience of entranced children. Rose was skinning something large by the firepit, blood splattered beneath her stool. There were three men crowded around her, her father among them, and Finn was leaning on a roundhouse wall, heel of bread in hand, watching.

 

She mouthed again, “Later,” and his eyes rolled. She went to Rose and the pool of blood. When she came closer, she realised the reason for the men’s interest. At Rose’s feet lay a half-flayed wolf, runtish and juvenile with pitch-dark fur. Rey’s stomach turned at the sight of its face; its jaw hung slack, yellow teeth plainly visible, and its pale eyes were open wide, staring. A dark, wet hole in the side of its head showed where the arrow had pierced it.

 

Rose saw her. “Look!” she exclaimed. “Look at her, isn’t she beautiful?”

 

                Rey stood and watched, listened. She listened to Rose enthuse about the beast, ignoring the slicing sounds as the skin was peeled wetly from the pink and raw body. When she turned to look down at the pier, Phasma and Kylo were gone. Her stomach turned again, clenching harder now. Where are they?

 

                She prayed, as she looked between the empty bay and the flayed wolf, for them both.

 

 

 

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                Phasma was one of the few of her kind that Kylo had ever encountered not to shy away from him, least of all in as tense a manner as this. She walked with a stiff back and a high head, face as stern and stony as shale.

 

                Kylo found himself the first to speak. They walked past the rocks to the west that rose high and pale grey. He had never been this way before. The place and the smell were unfamiliar. He clutched the shell-net in one hand and shifted it to the other, realising that he had forgotten to leave it behind.

 

                “What do you want?” he asked her plainly. “I’ve been walking behind you like a dog for the last ten minutes.”

 

                “I want,” Phasma said tersely, “you to listen.”

 

                “I’ll listen. I don’t suspect I’ll like it.”

 

                “No,” she agreed. “Likely you won’t.”

 

                What? He had a wild, panicking thought, then; she might bid him sleep elsewhere at night, away from Rey, or leave her-

 

“I – I suppose it was to be expected.” Phasma inhaled slowly, interrupting his thought. “Staying together, in such close quarters – it was bound to happen.”

 

                Relief came cool and slow through Kylo’s chest, like saltwater in his lungs. “It’s more than that.”

 

                She looked up at him. “Well,” she said slowly, “for your sake, I hope that’s true. Rey’s my daughter in all ways but blood. Vile things happen to the men that hurt our daughters, Breton. Our punishments for harming maidens here go beyond law.”

 

                Yours and mine both. He said, “It is true.”

 

                She nodded. She was exceptionally tall, even for her kind, coming almost to his shoulder – a great feat for Men – but her gait was not unseemly. “I knew it would happen,” she said grimly, worlds away from her sternly-veiled enthusiasm weeks ago when he was new to this place. “From the moment I saw how you looked at her, I knew.”

 

                “And you warned me against it.”

 

                “Was I wrong to?” She turned her gaze on him again, eyes stingingly blue. “She’s my daltae, and I love her to death, but it’s a fool woman that believes that her children are without flaw. Surely you know by now that I was right. She has a kelpie’s temper, and she won’t be reined in easily.”

 

                “I see no sense in reining her in.”

 

                The woman harrumphed. “If that’s truly your belief, then see that you don’t stray from it.”

 

                “Where I come from,” Kylo said carefully, “girls like Rey are thought to be the best kind.”

 

                He saw something flash in her eyes, saw the ghost of a smile upon her lips. She fiddled with her apron strings, skirts dragging in the wet sand as they walked.

 

“Will you ever go back?” she asked him after a moment. “To Gaul?”

 

“I don’t know,” he told her. The salt-ripe wind blew his hair across his face and he shoved it back. “One day, maybe.”

 

“Foreigners always ought to see their homeland again at least once before they die.”

 

“But it would mean taking Rey with me.”

 

Phasma faltered, as though she had known but had not quite considered it. “Aye,” she agreed. “It would. But whether she would go willingly or not is another matter, and like you said, you don’t intend to rein her in.”

 

Kylo’s feet sank deep into the sand. The gulls shrieked overhead, and splashes sounded from the water as pale gannets dove beak-first for fish. The tide rolled up about his ankles.

 

“Who are her parents?” he questioned Phasma.

 

Phasma didn’t look at him. “I don’t know. We found her swaddled in blankets in the meadow. Some poor girl probably fell foul of a man and thought that leaving her babe was the kindest thing to do.” She twisted the apron strings around her fingers, let them fall loose, and twisted them again. “Perhaps she knew that someone would take her in. Or perhaps she was leaving her to the wolves.”

 

Rey had told him the same story in nights since past, curled against his chest. She told him that she had never known her mother or her father. “Aengus used to joke with her that she was left by the faeries,” Phasma said, smile twitching at the corners of her lips. Rey had told him that, too.

 

                They strode on in silence for a time, not a word passing between them. The foamy tide stained his feet, his ankles white, and the brisk wind in the bay blew his hair out behind his head. “I suppose,” the woman began, “that I ought to apologise.”

 

                Kylo looked at her askance. She cleared her throat, brow furrowing, clearly unused to offering apology.

 

                “I shouldn’t have struck you. For that I’m sorry. But,” she added, as if to dilute the apology, “you had no business taking Rey out on the water with you. That was wrong.”

 

                Kylo rounded on her, bringing them both to a halt. “Why?” he asked her, the senselessness of it irritating him like sand in the eye. “I don’t – I don’t understand. Why is it so wrong? From the second I set foot here your people have been harping on-“

 

                “It’s our way, Gaul,” Phasma interrupted him, voice hardening. She jutted out her chin and glared up at him, any semblance of apologetic sheepishness washed quite away.

 

                Kylo said bluntly, “Your way is useless. You make things twice as difficult for yourselves.”

 

                “Think that if you will,” Phasma allowed. Her cheeks were reddening, splotches of puce blooming there, but it was not from the cold. “But I didn’t bring you here to talk about our way.”

 

                “No,” he agreed.

 

                “I don’t know much of your land, fathach, but here when a man and a woman share a bond like yours and Rey’s, often one would expect there to be a betrothal.”

 

                He laughed. “She won’t do it.”

 

                “Will you?”

 

                Betrothal? The thought had never appealed to him. Those of his kind that were bonded together shared scars, sunstone, foals. He knew that Men had a litany of rules and conditions for every aspect of their lives, and betrothal particularly so.

 

                He looked at his footprints in the sand, very nearly three times the size of hers. There was another sharp splash as a another gannet shot beak-first into the water. Kylo thought, perhaps, that in the distance he could hear the clicking of porpoises; good meat that had often sufficed for that of Men when the winters were cold, and they huddled, hidden, in their stone houses.

 

                “I’ll do nothing until I have her say,” Kylo said firmly.

 

                Phasma paused, glancing at him. “Gaul must be a strange place.”

 

                For your soft kind, maybe. “Why so?”

 

                “Often men don’t ask for the word of wives.”

 

                The silence fell again, though it was not uncomfortable. The woman looked deep in thought, and when she turned to him once more to speak, her face was full of a resolve that Kylo had never before seen.

 

                “Lughnasa comes in a month,” she told him. “You can remain in Rey’s quarters until then, but after that …” Phasma eyed him, mouth set in a hard line. “If she agrees, you’ll do it.”

 

                Kylo kept to himself that if Rey asked him to drown himself in the open air he would, and nodded instead.

 

                “I needn’t tell you that there is to be no-“ Her eyes raked up and down his frame. “-fornication. I don’t know the way of things in Gaul, but here-“

 

                Kylo drew himself up as though she had insulted his honour, though it took all of his composure not to laugh in her face. “I wouldn’t dream of it.”

 

                “Good.” A pinker blush grew over the angry red. Relief, Kylo knew. “How will you do it?”

 

                “What do you mean?”

 

                “How will you ask her?” she put to him. When Kylo looked blank, she said, “My husband brought me a white pony as a betrothal gift. My father chased him halfway through the woods for it – he was a proud man, he thought a pony for a dowry was an insult – but I accepted even so.”

 

                “What happened to your husband?” Kylo inquired. Rey had told him that the man was dead these past ten years but had never told him or even alluded to the cause of his death. Phasma herself was not old – thirty-five, Kylo gauged, or thirty-six – and Kylo had never heard tell that the dead man had had years enough to perish of old age.

 

                Phasma hesitated a moment, straightening the front of her dress. “He died of a fever.” She looked at him. “One moment he was well, and the next he was gone. Did Rey tell you about him, about my Aengus?”

 

                “Some,” he said. “She didn’t say much.”

 

                The woman nodded, and her fingers came up to twiddle at something around her neck. Kylo recognised it as some beast’s dark claw, bored careful and slung through with a length of gut, hidden beneath the seam of her dress. “He adored her,” she told him. “He loved her more than anything in the world, and she loved him. When he died she wouldn’t eat for weeks, months. She grew so thin I thought she’d die, too.”

 

                She let the claw drop again, though on the outside of her clothes now so that it bounced against her chest as she walked. “That’s why I don’t want her on the water,” Phasma groused. “She’s my only daughter. My sons are far away in Anglia, chaste in monks’ clothes. If you marry her, you can keep her safe. I know that you want her safe, do you not, Gaul?”

 

                He gave her a look, and she laughed, turning her face away. “Aye,” she said, “I don’t need an answer. There’s much of one in the other.”

 

                “I’m sorry,” he said, then added, “about your husband.”

 

                She nodded. “As am I, Gaul.”

 

                And by her face, she was.

 

 

                                                         ---------------------------------------------------

               

                Kylo let Phasma go back around the bay alone, and stripped himself, carrying the net into the water and diving deep. He would bring Rey scallops and mussels and crabs and oysters, and he would tell her. His body moved for him in the water – he hardly had to tell it to – and he followed his nose through the brine, allowing himself to drag through the kelp. He swept over the sand, eyes sharp, and filled the neck with clacking shells; gnarled oysters, barnacled blue mussels, furious crabs that pinched him indignantly.

 

                Would that he could have had her there with him. He longed to have her by his side, unbound by the need for sky-air, and he would hold her and they would sleep, buried in the kelp, until the world was nothing but ocean.

 

                Rey was in her little roundhouse when he returned. He followed the honey-salt smell up the sand, and when he ducked beneath the tiny opening, he found her over the fire, lifting a bread-pot from the coats with well-covered hands.

 

                “What happened?” she asked immediately, setting the pot down on the stove and going to him. Her eyes went to the dripping net, fat with clicking shells and vexed crabs, when he lifted it to show her. “What are those?”

 

                “Yours.” He kissed the side of her face.

 

                “Kylo, tell me what happened.”

 

                He did. He told her as she sat on his lap on the floor, both of them using flat knives to split scallops. Rey put the oysters into the saltwater bucket, tossing the angry crabs in on top of them. Kylo kissed her back as he spoke, words warm against the linen over her skin. The sounds of splitting shell and twisting gristle were loud in the little hut. The mussels were boiling in a pot of pale cream, tumbling over celery and leeks.

 

                “Betrothal,” Rey murmured, putting a fat white scallop into her mouth.

 

                “Mm.” Kylo nosed against her, breathing in her smell. “She was … insistent.”

 

                When he put his hand around her waist, discarding the knife in favour of pressing kisses between her shoulder blades, she wriggled on his lap, as though she wasn’t sure whether she wanted to pull away or push for more. “What?” Kylo murmured, stilling.

                She turned back to look at him. “I can’t believe she apologised.

 

                He smiled up at her. “What’s Lughnasa?”

 

                Rey accepted a soft nip on her chin, then a gentle graze of teeth at her lower lip. “The season of harvest,” she told him. “We eat and we pray, the men show off how they toss their cabers, and then, of course, bloody old women go around matchmaking. There’s plenty of handfasting at Lughnasa.”

               

                “Handfasting,” he echoed.

 

                “Trial marriages,” she told him. “You’re handfasted for a year and a day, and if at the end of it you don’t want to be married anymore, you can walk away.”

 

                “Ah.” He kissed her. “Phasma said that there’s to be no fornication.” He kissed lovingly at the blush that rose on her cheeks, grinning. “What she doesn’t know won’t hurt her.”

 

                “No,” Rey agreed. “As long as it stays that way.”

 

                Rey tore bread and ladled mussel stew into a bowl. She tried to persuade Kylo to eat. He took the oysters from the saltwater bucket, flicking away the furious crabs when they snapped their pincers at him, and tried in turn to persuade her to eat them.

 

                “We don’t eat those very much,” she said, looking warily. “They’re hard to find, and there’s not much of them.”

 

                “You’re missing out.” Kylo prised one open for her. “Try.” She swallowed the briny glob – she wasn’t a fussy eater – and then had another. He lay in her lap as they ate the rest, forgetting entirely her mussel stew and her bread, and Rey stroked rough fingers down his chest.

 

                They went to the water when night had fallen, and they were fully sure that no one stirred yet in the darkness. Kylo felt coltish; giddy, almost, throwing her over his shoulder when she tried to race ahead of him, both of them bare to the cool night. Rey seemed almost not to feel it, body warming against.

 

                He kissed her beneath the surface, the sea hiding them both, and when they rose again, Rey said, “Are you going to do it, then?”

 

                “Do what?” Kylo ducked beneath again to nip softly at her breasts, gills pulling in the sweet water as he did. Rey clutched at his shoulders, head above the surface.

 

                “Handfast me,” she gasped. The waters were wild, and grey, and dark. Kylo did not ever want to leave them.

 

                Or her. Or her.

               

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                              I. Iona

 

 

Macleod said, very simply, “You’re going to Ireland.”

 

                Luke stared at him. The little room was very warm. The old abbot had a housekeeper that kept it that way, a tall Welsh girl of twenty-two that spoke not a word of English or Scots. Macleod had purposely versed himself in Welsh so that he might speak with her, instead of insisting that she learn his tongue as he had every servant before him. He was in love with the girl – it was plain to every novice, monk, and prior in Iona - though at ninety-four he could barely lift his own britches to shit.

 

                The Welsh housekeeper knew that Macleod was quick to grow cold, skin thin over weary, brittle bones. The fire was kept blazing day and night. The lamps burned with seal-fat and glowed perpetually. Luke knew that the abbot was deathly afraid of the dark and what it hid, and so chose to avoid it entirely. Even in dark hallways he carried in shaky hands a brightly lit tallow candle.

 

                “I’m not.”

 

                “You are,” Macleod repeated. His skin seemed to sink over his skull, eye sockets very nearly hollow. “It has been decided.”

 

                Outside, the evening lashed with rain. The ground would soften to unsteady muck, Luke knew, and made it near impossible to walk without losing a shoe. The rain pounded hard on the little window.

 

                “I’ll not set foot in an Irish monastery again for as long as I live-“

 

                “You’re not going to a monastery.” Macleod’s hollow old eyes seemed to shine dully. “You’re going to a parish. The parish of Dún Canann.”

 

                Luke had never heard of it. “Where?”

 

                “It’s in the south, on the coast. A week’s ride from the King’s Bay. You’ll sail there, and ride the rest of the way.”

 

                Luke knew the answer before he asked, but wanted to hear the abbot say it. “Why?”

 

                The abbot adjusted the thick fur of the mantle about his shoulders and didn’t answer. The door opened behind Luke, creaking, and the housekeeper’s heavy footsteps sounded through the little room. Luke heard the clang of the log-bucket by the hearth, and the Welsh girl began to pile upon the flames more logs to keep the fire alive.

 

                “Bronwyn,” the abbot croaked, voice softening. “Rhai gwin, os gwelwch yn dda.

 

                “Wrth gwrs, abad,” the girl replied. Luke’s Welsh was rusty and he didn’t care to improve it. It was bad enough that his own mother tongue would not disappear from his mind.

 

                Bronwyn brought hot clove wine in a jug. Luke observed as Macleod watched her, dull old eyes brightening as he took her in. The girl had straight dark hair to her waist and a crooked nose, an otherwise shapely mouth marred by a knife-scar.

 

                The abbot drank hot wine in the evenings. Luke couldn’t bear the taste of it; sweeter than mead and yet somehow as bitter as the piss-ale of his own people. As the Welsh girl set down a cup for him and filled it, Luke said to the abbott, again, “Why?

 

                The old man did not answer still. He waited until the girl had poured his wine and excused herself in her incoherent rough tongue, and said calmly, “Because the wellbeing of our priests are of utmost importance to this monastery.”

 

                “Bullshit,” Luke replied. Macleod tightened. “I’m not going. I won’t.”

 

                “You are, and you will.” The man reached out and took his cup, skeletal hand shaking. The gaps in his teeth made him slurp the wine. “We’ve have enough disobedience, enough deviance from you-“ He put the cup down hard on the desk before he could spill it, slopping a drop over the side.

 

`               “Why?” Luke asked for the third time.

 

                “I’ve just told you why.”

 

                “Tell me truly, Palpatine. I’ve seen you, hobbling in and out of the council meetings.”

 

                The old man’s lip curled at the utterance of his Christian name. “You know why.”

 

                “I don’t. Tell me.”

 

                Palpatine studied him a moment. “Do you remember, Luke, when you were just a novice? Hm? Fresh out of the wildlands? Half-starved and thin as a rail, barely able to keep water down?”

 

                “I remember well enough.”

 

                “Do you remember how this monastery nursed you back to health and taught you to repent the sins of your birth?”

 

                Luke scowled, silent. “And do you too remember how you came to lose your right hand?” Palpatine persisted, sickly sweet.

 

                Luke said scornfully, “It’s not something that a man lightly forgets.”

 

                Palpatine leant forward, liver-spotted hands flat on the desk. “The parish of Dún Canann is by your precious sea, but far enough inland that you won’t feel compelled to look for what is not there. Forest air, I have heard, is good for the lungs. You must recuperate. A man of your years does not do well to worry himself with fear-tales.” The veins of his hands were uncomfortably fat and apparent, like blue snakes beneath the skin.

 

                Luke was immediately reminded by the blue lines snaking their way in spirals around his skin, hidden beneath layers of wool. He drew back his sleeve and thrust the stump of his arm onto the table. “Do you call this a fear-tale?”

 

                “I call that impudence. I don’t wish to look on it. Take it away.”

 

                “No.” Luke didn’t shift an inch. “I’d have you look on it, Palpatine. You know damn well-“

 

                “Enough!”

 

                Palpatine’s voice rang through the little room, bouncing against the rafters. He glared at Luke. The papery skin beneath his eye twitched once. “Enough,” he repeated, calmer. “There will be no talk of this. The decision has been made. You will go to this parish and convalesce.”

 

                “Why so far?” Luke questioned him, though he knew the answer to that, too. “Why not to a village on the border? Why across the sea?” Because he’s hoping you’ll die before it’s time to return.

 

                “Because you are a man of God. You must do your duties to the Lord, not waste your days hunched over heathen tomes and searching for legends in the water. If you will not serve the Lord justly here, then you will serve Him elsewhere, away from this place.”

 

                He was promptly dismissed. Precisely three days later, Luke and his multitudes of books were carted away like battle cadavers to the coast, where a longship waited, manned by foul northmen. The bow of the boat held the likeness of some great dragon. Luke knew, as he stepped on board, ignoring coarse northern greetings, that the northmen carved their boats as such to frighten away the beasts of the sea. He found himself scoffing at it. Nothing could scare them away.

 

 Six days after that, the great wooden shit-town they called Dublin loomed on the coast at the other side of the sea.

 

                The city barely gave him an inch to breathe, packed with stinking northmen and dark Moors and olive Iberians, horseshit and pigshit and every kind of shit there was. As the boat docked, he leaned over the side and stared down into the water. The beasts were not limited to the northern isles, he knew. It tore him. He had been born by the sea, lived by the sea, loved it with all his old twisted heart and yet hated it, too, for what it held.

 

                Another cart waited. His possessions were piled onto its back, he among them, and the wheels began to turn. Luke watched Dublin – and the sea – disappear behind him, crucifix firmly in hand.

 

 

------------------------------------------------------------------------------

 

 

                Luke didn’t follow the path of the forest when the girl spat at his feet. He crossed the sea of bluebells east, and walked until he found himself beneath a great clutch of oaks, standing sentinel over the beach.

 

                The girl was in the water, floating a net. Beside her was the big foreigner, the queer-faced giant with eyes as black as coal.

 

                They went under and resurfaced. Luke rested on his staff of ash, watching grimly. He saw the red lines at the side of the foreigner’s throat, and though he had seen half a hundred bastard gilled necks, it sent a jolt through him even so.

 

                This he had never seen. Often the beasts could tempt fool girls and boys into the water with a flutter of dark lashes, a soft whisper, even a kiss – but never had he seen one so close, so indifferent to the smell of its prey that it seemed, almost, as though they were as one.

 

                Stupid little fool bitch. That’s why she wouldn’t talk.

 

                It was in Luke to kill the beast then, to race down into the water and fling with precise aim the throwing-knife into its bastard skull. He huffed, and turned on his heel, back towards the church. It would do no good. He was older now. He had to be more careful.

 

                And, Luke knew, the girl was in the way. It sickened him that he understood why.

 

                He ignored Tomás’ gentle greetings when he returned, and ignored the acolyte Aodh’s offers of soup and bread. Instead, Luke surrounded himself with his books. Tomes upon tomes, books both allowed and heretic, bound in leather and bound in cloth, both written by others and filled in by his own hand. It had taken two years to learn how to coherently write with his left hand, when the other was taken. Now it was neater and the print more legible than the scribble of his right had ever been.

 

                He had taken the great illuminated Bible from the stand, citing prayer and respite as his excuse, and pored over it for hours on that single page; the page he had found the girl staring at, transfixed, as though possessed.

 

                His chamber was dark and lit only by a single tallow-candle. He, unlike Palpatine, had no fear of the dark. He knew what was in it and knew how to kill that which endangered him. The gilded borders of the book shimmered softly. Luke sighed, shifting on the hard stool. There would be blood.

 

                The acolyte brought a bath of hot water when he called for it. Luke liked his water hot; scalding hot, hot enough to peel away the skin. Hot water burned away the salt of cursed seas and saw fit to scald clear his memory of icy seawater. Hot water made soap foam and made skin clean, free; free of dirt, free of sin, free of blood.

 

                Luke closed the book. He didn’t want the illustrated face of the monster staring up at him as he bathed.

 

                He disrobed, trying not to look at the spirals in his skin, and stepped into the scalding water. It made him grit his teeth and hiss into the stillness of the chamber as though he was being burnt, but he forced himself to bear it, and sat, enveloping himself in clear fire.

 

                He wished that the heat of the water would burn away the blue in his skin, triskeles and chevrons alike; burn away the memories of starving in the wildlands.

 

                Hell, you’re old,” he said aloud to himself.

               

                Old he was – old enough to have killed countless beasts and still find them in places supposedly peaceful.

 

                When he awoke, the water was cold and the chamber was dark, tallow-candle having melted to its wick. It felt like being in the sea, and so he got straight out, dressing hurriedly so as not to catch a chill.

 

                He would allow himself days, weeks, to prepare. To remember. It seemed years since he had killed the last. This would take time. He got into the bed, pulling over himself furs and linens, and slept.

         

                                                                                                                            II. Beautiful 

                                                                  

 

                The rocks had been good and warm beneath him when the face appeared at the edge of the water. Luke sprang back, scrambling, crying out in shock.

 

                It could have been a man, not yet five-and-twenty, with wet brown curls springing softly in the sun.

 

                “It’s alright, leannan,” the beast insisted, shockingly alluring. Its lashes were black, thick as a forest, brushing beneath its eyes as it blinked. And those eyes! – godlessly green, like rockpools in spring. “I won’t hurt you.”

 

                When the eyes settled on his, Luke felt his body still. He was three-and-twenty but had never felt so young. He was bare to the waist with every inked swirl exposed for all to see.

               

                But there was no one else. It was only him, and the beast.

 

                “These,” the beast purred, lifting a single finger to press very softly against Luke’s stomach. A cold fingertip traced the cerulean spiral. “They’re so pretty.” The rockpool eyes lifted. “Just like you.”

 

                Luke slapped the hand away and ran.

 

                The next day the same happened. He lingered at the rocks, the paring-knife that the monks had given him fisted tight in his hand for protection, and the beast appeared, beaming prettily up at him.

 

                The days passed much the same. It would rise up, leaning its arms on the rocks, and talk. There were faint lines at the sides of its neck that pulsed faintly at odd intervals.

 

                One the last day – the day that it happened - Luke’s heart thudded painfully in his chest. The beast watched, waited, then said softly, “You don’t have to be frightened.” It smiled up at him with pouting, shell-pink lips. “There’s nothing to be afraid of.”

 

                It extended its long, pale fingers to him. Luke took them. “Pretty hands,” the beast said, beaming, and despite himself, Luke leant forward, entranced.

 

                The jaw dropped, and nightmarish teeth tore his hand away.

 

There was blood, blooming about him; the stump, terrible and ragged, bled profusely as he screamed, howling with the pain of it; the beast’s face, running red with blood when Luke thrust his paring-knife between its eyes. Blood – always blood.

 

------------------------------------------

 

                Luke’s eyes fluttered open.

 

                Often he spent his nights dreaming of it. He berated himself for it – “why did you take its hand? Why didn’t you run?” – but knew the reasons behind his stillness; reasons that would have had the cloth of God torn from him and the flesh burnt from his bones while he screamed at a stake.

 

                He had looked at men and women both. He remembered smiling softly at the nuns that would come to deliver linens, and them smiling back graciously, blushing. But always there lingered a semblance of interest in somethin else. Luke had not found it to be particularly disquieting – it was his, and he was him, and that was that – but the fashion in which it was condemned had forced him to hide it well.

 

                With a bear, one saw great yellow teeth and heard the warning roars. Bears were ugly, foul – as were boars and wolves and any other beast that would kill a man. They were dangerous and it was known. No one could mistake their ways for friendliness.

 

                But beautiful ones like the kelpie in the water at the edge of the isle of Iona were the most dangerous, Luke decided, and they all were beautiful, with their strange queer face and their deep eyes, black and green and gold. That, he knew, was what made them the most dangerous beasts of all.

 

                That was what had lured the girl, too. The odd and beautiful face of the foreigner, the kelpie, the water-horse, its wide black eyes as soft and as ancient as a doe’s. Luke’s fists clenched beneath the furs and he glared into the darkness above him. She would not die, he was adamant, while he was still breathing. If he could stop it from happening just once more – that would be enough.

                                          

Chapter Text

                                                              

                                                              

                                                              

                                                             

                                               

                                           

Rey

 

               

                She’d heard the other women talk about being bedded before. They always spoke of pain, discomfort, of irritating partners and sloppy, unpleasant kisses. They likened it to being bedded by slovenly and forceful beasts, and the idea had succeeded in making Rey shudder.

 

                Kylo rutted her in every apparent fashion; on her back, gripping the flesh of her calves; on hands and knees like a hound; flat and helpless on her belly with his hands pinning her in place. He was bigger, stronger, with the endurance of a plough-horse; he could rut her at great speed for as long as it took for him to spill his seed, but sitting atop of him and riding him herself took the wind from Rey’s lungs. They did it even so, and Kylo used his own hips to lift hers so that she might last.

 

It was more difficult to do it - now that Rey was no longer timid of him when they lay together - in her hut. He was a noisy beast, barely muffling angry grunts against her skin, and Rey found that it was increasingly necessary for her to do the same. There were too many listening ears, especially considering the full disclosure of their bond; too many ways to be caught and separated like animals.

 

It had been several six days since he had bedded her last and three since they’d even slept alongside one another – he’d been summoned twice by the men to go back out on the water, and Rey had been occupied with yarn and looms and hours spent searching for wolves with Rose – and it was starkly apparent in Kylo’s eyes that it was not at all to his taste.

 

It wasn’t to Rey’s, either. She was shocked to find herself wanting to bed him, wanting to be the one to initiate the delightful hours spent with their bodies joined. She found herself longing for that thing he did – coming, Rose had said – that began in her belly and then spread out, out, out until everything was pulsing and warm and-

 

She and Rose hadn’t found any wolves. None had approached, and Rose was hesitant to go looking for them, lest a pack appear and surround them. They had come across plush foxes and and silky martens and fat rabbits instead, and Rose’s arrows had made short work of them all.

 

They sat and skinned them. The men were down at the pier, skinning the second shark. The sun glared, the sky searingly blue. Siobhán and the twins played in the shallows, her skirts held about her calves.

 

 Rey’s eyes went between Kylo and the fox in her lap, gutted and half-flayed. Its fur was ever so beautiful, thick and red and tipped with black. She slid the knife between the hide and the exposed bloody flesh beneath, frowning.

 

“Rose.”

 

“Hm?”

 

“How many foxes would it take, do you think, to make a mantle?”

 

Rose peeled the skin back from the first marten. “Depends on who it was for.” She looked at Rey, followed her gaze down to the pier. “Oh. For Kylo? Probably nine or ten.”

 

Ten foxes?” They only had three. Rey looked at the other two, dead and unskinned. “What about wolves?”

 

“Wolves? Oh, I don’t know. Two if they’re big enough. I’m going to make a mantle out of the wolf-skin I found. It was only small, but it should fit.”

 

“Maybe a bear would be better,” Rey said, forgetting herself, and froze.

 

Rose went stiff. “Fuck,” Rey said, “Rose, I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to-“

 

“It’s fine.” There was a wet rip, and Rey threw the skinned marten aside into the bucket with the rest.

 

Rey remembered Paige. She had been seventeen, with inky black hair in a braid down her back. She had been the one to teach Rose to hunt, and before Rose had come properly of age, it had been Paige that would sit and flay the pelts of beasts.

 

She remembered the screaming – Ruan’s roars of grief – when they found Paige and carried her back to the village. Rey was seven and Rose was nine. Aengus had tried to carry her away, shield her from the sight, but she had seen over his shoulder. It didn’t look like Paige – didn’t look like a person – torn and bloody and red, red, red.

 

A bear, they said. Paige had killed wolves the size of ponies, faced off against boars with tusks like knives, but with bears there was a single shot that could be taken, and once that chance had disappeared, so had hope. The bear had mauled her to death. They had never found the bear, no matter how they searched.

 

“I’ll find it,” Rose went on. “One day, I’ll find it.”

 

Rey felt guilty, and yet her mind lingered on other things. I’ll make it up to her.

 

Rey brought food for Kylo at noon – pink ham cured with honey, apples, gooseberries, goat’s cheese, dense bread. She wrapped it in linen and splashed cold water on her face, combing her hair smooth around her shoulders, and was sure to adjust the neckline of her dress so that whoever she bent down in front of could see clearly her breasts beneath.

 

She made quite sure that Kylo could see them, purposely dropping an apple and bending in front of him. His eyes followed her – dark, heavy – and his nostrils flared. “I thought you’d be hungry,” she dared, placing the linen in his arms.

 

                His eyes went from her face to her chest, and then her hips, and back up again. She felt an inexplicable excitement – half sweet fear and half desperation. Lungs thick with summer heat, they stole away to the trees, as giddy as children.

 

The bluebells were crushed beneath her back, but she cared little for them as Kylo loomed above her, face flushed with concentration. Above him, the understory of the trees’ canopy shaded them from the sun. She fussed with his shirt, taking it off over his head so that she might pepper kisses across his chest. He liked this immensely – he purred, leaning into her – but his urgency was strong and clear.

 

After, she thought. Afterwards I’ll kiss him as much as I like and there’s not a thing he can do about it.

 

His teeth were sharper between her legs than ever she had felt them. Her dress was pushed up around her waist, exposing entirely her lower half. Kylo lapped at her furiously, hands gripping her thighs so tightly that they’d bruise. He growled at her whenever she moved, and so she kept doing it, shifting her hips. When she pushed together her thighs at his cheeks, he lifted his head and bared his teeth in warning, and Rey found it so delightful that she even made to pull away from him, rolling onto her knees.

 

Kylo’s hands caught her hips, dragged her back, and he shunted himself in her without warning. Her cry sent a crow away in a flurry of dark feathers. Rey’s knees, she knew, would be stained green from the grass, and the heels of her hands the same.

 

Her body was accustomed to him now, and eager, but that did not make the impact of each thrust any less shocking. He put great force behind each one. Rey braced her palms against the ground.

 

“Why do you do that?” she managed, choking on a moan. “With – oh! – with your mouth?”

 

Kylo growled in response. “Tell me or I’ll make you stop,” Rey threatened, pushing her body back against his even so.

 

“Quiet,” Kylo grunted.

 

She tried to rise. “Tell me.

 

He dropped, forcing her down with all of his weight. His hands covered hers in the grass. His teeth sank into her shoulder and immediately laved over the mark with a wet, hot tongue. His hips never stopped shoving. “Quiet,” came the snarl in her ear.

 

Rey wouldn’t let him kiss her when he put her on her back – she did it on purpose to make his nostrils flare and his teeth show – and looked upon him instead, big and scarred and hulking.

 

                He bucked his hips, huffing hard through his nose, and Rey alternated between grasping at him and grasping the flowers around her, tearing handfuls of bluebells clean from the earth. Each sound bounced off of the trees and fell into place with the twittering of songbirds, the caws of crows, as though it was here that their bodies belonged.

 

                Rey’s dress was hiked higher up around her waist now, and with his teeth Kylo loosened the laces at her breasts. He made a frustrated sound when the dress would not pull down to expose her entire chest, and pulled it off of her entirely. “What if someone sees?” she asked him.

 

                Kylo snorted, wordless. “Let them see,” he grunted, and bent his head to catch a nipple between his teeth.

 

                No-one would. They were half a mile into the woods, deep into the trees away from the path. Kylo sucked, and bit her again, big hands planted hard into the ground at either side of her. Rey could feel her breasts bouncing with the impact of him. His teeth at her nipples were sharp, stingingly direct, but blissful. She dared lift her hands to touch his chest, but gave a hard shove when he made to kiss her, as a reminder.

 

                Kylo snapped in frustration, pushing harder and dropping to his elbows. Nose to his chest, she kissed it, nails dragging down his back as her body coiled tighter and tighter. Her lips even ventured around a nipple as she clung to him, and Kylo made a surprised sound.

 

                “Don’t,” he groaned, head falling forward, but his pace quickened.

 

He could scarcely pull away from her, though, if he intended to keep pace, and Rey clutched at him, mouthing intently at his chest with tongue and teeth. “Rey – you’re going to make me –“

 

“You do it to me,” she gasped.

 

Kylo grunted, eyes closing. Rey buried her face against him, whimpering, and she felt his hand come down between her legs. One stroke of his thumb, two, three, four – and she was gone.

If Rey did not have to hurry home to drink the fallow-tea before she was quickened, she would have lain with him forever in the sea of bluebells, admiring how exquisitely her skin burned and freckled beneath the sun, and how Kylo’s seemed milky-violet among the flowers.

 

“Do you love me?” he asked her, lying at her side. She pulled her shift on over her head.

 

“No,” Rey teased, though it was plain in her eyes that she did. Kylo smiled, crooked teeth salt-white. “Why do you do that? With your mouth?”

 

Kylo lay across her lap. She stroked her fingers through dark curls. “Because you like it,” he said. “Because it tastes good.” He reached up. “Will you let me kiss you?”

 

“No!” She danced out of his way when he made to grab her, and raced in the direction of the path home, giggling. She could hear his pounding footsteps behind her, closer, closer – and then she was swept up, squealing, and kissed and kissed and kissed.

 

                She had to relinquish him to the men again when they returned, but reclaimed him at night, racing him down the sands and into the water.

 

                “Are there people where you come from?” Rey asked delicately, watching as Kylo ducked his head beneath the dark water to wet it. The night was clear, a black wool sky dotted with stars. The moonlight was sharp and white on their skin and cast them ever-paler, turning Rey’s freckles into ink-spatters on new vellum. Starkly apparent on Kylo’s throat were the darkening love-marks he had taught her how to leave with her lips, her teeth, her tongue.

 

                “People?” He had found a length of kelp in the shallows and had torn it from when it was rooted in the sand. He brought it to his mouth to eat it. “There’s always people.”

 

                “You know what I mean. People – villages, towns.”

 

                Kylo nodded, chewing. “There was a village.”

 

                “Did they know about … you?”

 

                He made a face, bringing her deeper into the water with him. The sea coupled with the night air should have made her impossibly cold, but she found it pleasantly cool instead, and did not wish to leave it – or him. “They knew,” he conceded, “but they were afraid.” He paused. “Most of them.”

 

                “Will you ever go back?”

 

                “I don’t know.”

 

                “If you did,” Rey began, “would you – would you take me with you?”

 

                Kylo gave her an odd look, and she regretted asking as soon as the question had left her mouth.

 

                “They’d hurt you,” Kylo told her, abruptly melancholic. “The others. If any are still alive. They wouldn’t understand.”

 

                She rested her head against his chest, floating. His heartbeat was steady beneath her ear.

 

                “Your son,” she murmured, “did he … hunt?”

 

                Kylo nodded, and Rey stifled a shudder at the thought. The image in her mind that she had conjured up of his son – small and sturdy with dark curls and great dark eyes – was placid and soft, like most children. She didn’t dare dream of what it would look like to see the boy hunt the way she had seen Kylo do with the deer.

 

                They spoke at length in regard to handfasting. Kylo didn’t fully understand it, and so Rey was obliged to explain it to him. The more details and conditions that became apparent, however, the more the distaste on Kylo’s face began to show; not, Rey knew, because of the conditions themselves, but because of the complexities of the process as a whole.

 

                “But why?” he asked more than once, frustrated, and Rey had no words to tell him why.

 

                Kylo turned his head to look out at the water, and she clasped her hand in his. “It’s stupid,” she said, and when she saw that he wasn’t listening, she added, “Kylo.

 

                In the distance, there was a faint splash, a familiar chittering. Kylo’s nostrils flared, chest heaving as he searched the air.

 

                “Porpoises,” Rey said.

 

                Kylo turned his head to the west, sniffing. “One. I smell it.”

 

                “I heard it. Is it close?”

 

                “It’s close enough.” He went under for a moment and re-emerged, gills pulsing. “It’s coming closer.” He looked at her, eyes bright with excitement. “Do you want it?”

 

                Rey hesitated, considering. He needed it; that much was plain on his face. It was in his nature. It was the same, she suspected, as taming a half-wolf and keeping it as one’s own; it would be placid at first, satisfied with scraps and meat from its master’s hand, but its urge to hunt would soon push through, and make it snappish and rogue.

 

                She smiled at him. The meat of the porpoise would salt well and the blubber would burn brightly.

 

                “Go on,” she said, stroking his face. Kylo seized her hand and kissed it, and he was gone, cutting deep into the black with barely a sound.

 

                She made her way back to shore, lifted her shift from the ground. When she had shaken away the sand and slipped it back over her head, she gathered Kylo’s clothes and carried them as she walked, knowing well that he would find her when he was done.

 

                The stars pulsed faintly still, no cloud crossing the sky to dampen them. The sand was drier the further up it she walked. A cat – she recognised it as Neasa’s dark tabby – raised its head and watched her as she sat in the sand outside the hut. It stood and stretched, considering, and curled around itself once more.

 

                She shook out his shirt. Hux’s. Kylo was perfectly happy without it. He didn’t feel the cold in the same way that her kind did. He would have been perfectly happy in britches and bare feet – the same way, she knew, as most men of his kind were where he came from; easily removed to twist one’s body into another shape, or to keep dry while their wearer hunted in the water.

 

                It wouldn’t work that way here. Rey didn’t know much about Gaul, but she knew that it wasn’t warm. The others knew, too. Rey tapped her fingers against the first of the shirt, the strained seams at the shoulders. He was so big, she knew, that the weak seams of linen and cambric would not last for long against the bulk of his flesh.

 

                She could dive for kelpglass, she mused, and trade it to Siobhán for a great armful of her flax, or trade Dainín a netful of scallops in exchange for a basket of hackled yarn. She could give Pádraig a handful of heavy silvers and ask him to go to the town for yarn twisted into balls by women with fat purses and land covered in cows. It would take a great deal of linen to cover Kylo’s broad back, but she could manage it; she could use Rose’s loom and weave sheets upon sheets of it, and sew it all carefully together.

 

                The thought of it made her smile. She could make a white shirt, and fine dark woollen britches, boots big enough to fit a giant, and go with Rose into the woods for a wolf to skin for a mantle. They would need a second wolf for a mantle large enough to cross Kylo’s shoulders, and perhaps a third after that, though a bear would be more fitting. He would be one of them, then, almost.

 

                She wasn’t so sure, despite the terror of his kind, that she wanted him to be so. It seemed an insult, a vile theft of his power, like spitting in the face of a god.

 

                A drop of rain fell on her nose. Then one on her forehead, her cheek, in her eyes, until it was pattering down softly, leaving damp dark spots in the dry sand.

 

                She had only known one man to ever kill a bear – Aengus – and Phasma still had its enormous pelt spread across her bed. It was the thickest fur Rey had ever felt, hard to even push one’s fingers through, and when she swept it up and around her shoulders it trailed on the floor. In it she felt strong, like one of the Norse women whose husbands held lands in Dublin. Those women rode on horses as big as Kylo, with great furs thick about their shoulders and crowds of servants to do their bidding.

 

                Rey shrugged the thought off. Perhaps not. She loathed the idea of slaves. She remembered Einar’s raking eyes, burning into Kylo as though he was nothing more than an ox to be sold. He’d be valued, she knew, for his size – and his beauty.

 

                She hadn’t seen many bedslaves sold; slavery was banned from the coasts to the edge of Dublin, but it was the selling and exchange of human wares that was illegal. For a noble to ride through the town with their thralls was not unheard of. There was no middling ground with them; they were either farmer’s thralls, haggard and wretched, thin as rails, or beautiful and well-fed, almost indistinguishable from their rich masters save for the iron collars about their necks. By his very nature Kylo would be expensive; his size and his face would mean silver, gold, livestock.

 

                Rey stood, pulling the clothes into her arms as they fell. The water was free of shape, no telltale shadows within to indicate that Kylo was near. She smiled softly. He would drag it out, she knew, just to make the hunt his own. Neasa’s cat made an intense sound without opening its mouth. Rey turned to look at it. Its hackles rose, its red mouth opened, and it hissed.

 

                She felt the cold blade before she saw it, pressed sharp and threatening against the thinnest point of her throat, and went still.

 

                “You scream,” came the low voice, breath hot in her ear, “and I’ll cut this neck right open. There’s nobody from here to the Hebrides that can stitch it back up for you.”

 

                Luke.

 

                “Where is it?”

 

                Kylo was nowhere to be seen, out in deep dark water where he wouldn’t be able to see her, let alone hear. “Where is it?” Luke hissed, giving the blade a jolt so that it pressed dangerously hard against her skin. Rey’s hands scrabbled uselessly at the grass around her.

 

                She choked, “I don’t know.”

 

                He sighed, as though he was weary of her. Rey’s heart hammered so violently in her chest she thought it was like to come up her throat. Kylo, where are you?

 

                “Walk,” the priest said.

               

               

Luke

 

 

                She walked. Luke knew that it was only the threat of the blade keeping her from screaming. Her breaths were loud and trembling in the near-silence of the woods. They walked, and they walked – Luke made sure to keep her in front of him – until the dust and grass of the path became bluebells, shrunken and closed in anticipation of the moon.

 

                He didn’t know the girl’s years exactly, but she could not have yet been twenty. Too young to die – too young to be ruined, spoiled by a hell-beast.

 

                He had come back in one last attempt to make her talk. One last time, he had promised himself. If she didn’t tell him, he would take matters into his own hands, and they would both suffer for it.

 

                The path had been dry with the heat, and the hem of his robes stirred up little cloud as he walked. Summer was dense in his nostrils. An odd sound stopped him in his tracks – a woman’s giggle, a rough male sound.

 

                Moaning. No, not just moaning – grunting, too. Huffing, panting, heavy breaths, the sound of skin meeting skin.

 

                Luke found himself more taken aback by the sight of their copulation than he had been by the sight of the beast’s stark gills, red against pale skin.

 

                The beast took the girl from behind. It took Luke a moment to realise that there was no force here. She was willing. Every noise was one of ecstasy, of pleasure – there was no fear, no pain. Luke swallowed an urge to be sick. She’s letting it. She’s letting it touch her. Luke turned on his heel and left when they slowed as though to move, lest they spot him, lest the beast get distracted long enough to catch his scent on the dry air. Suffer, then, he thought grimly, and found a spot within the hollow of a tree to wait, and wait, and wait.

 

                Now, a fox shrieked in the night. It startled them both. The girl jumped and tried to bolt, and it was only Luke’s hand shooting out to grab a fistful of her hair that stopped her.

 

                The girl turned from frightened to furious in an instant. She fought him, tried to wrangle his knife from him, his staff, and very nearly succeeded. It was an unequal scuffle; she had two hands and he had one. It was merely chance, merely luck, that Luke managed to avoid a flying fist and backhand her into the ground.

 

                Of course. Of course she fights. She lay with a water-horse. Of course she rages.

 

                “Give it up,” Luke snapped.

 

                “Fuck you,” she said, and spat blood at his feet. He’d cut her lip with the force of the slap. “Kill me if you’re going to kill me, you – you-“ She lunged for a rock to throw and Luke hit her with the staff, clean across the jaw – not hard enough to break, but hard enough to bruise. She fell again, only managing to keep her head from hitting the ground with the force of her palms.

 

                The light of the moon cast the bluebells an odd, deep shade. Luke thought that perhaps he could see still the patch of crushed flowers where the girl and the beast had lain as it had ruined her. The blood was dark against the girl’s skin, the ridges of her knuckles stark beneath white as she gripped a tree root to lift herself. “Stay down,” Luke told held, pointing the staff, “or I’ll bloody the other side of your face. Sit there and don’t move. I don’t kill stupid girls, but I’ll beat them if they ask for it.”

 

                She pressed herself against the moss of a tree, shaking with what could have been fear, fury; Luke couldn’t tell.

 

                “He’ll find you,” she seethed, giving up all pretence, “he’ll find you and he’ll rip you apart, he’ll eat you alive-

 

                Luke sheathed his knife. “I thought that this was a place of God, this land,” he said. “I thought your kind walked the way of the Lord. He looked pointedly at the marks on her chest, visible beneath a the slight-dampness of her dress, and she covered her chest in anger. “I’ve met some fools in my time,” Luke told her, “but you truly surpass them all. Stupid girl.”

 

                “You’ll never touch him,” she said. “Never. Kylo will kill you-“

 

                Luke gave a dry, emotionless snort. “Kylo? You’ve named it, have you? Christ.

 

                “You’re evil. You’re supposed to be a man of God.

 

                “I’m doing God’s work, am I not?” He pulled open his pack and pushed aside tallow, blades, and found strong linen bandages. She shrieked and struggled when he tied her to the tree with a single hand, even going to far as to bang her own head against the bark in her desperation to be free.

 

                “Give up, damn it,” Luke growled, and shoved the pack behind her head so that she couldn’t do it again. It would not do to have her kill herself on his watch. She thrashed and yelled, trying to kick him and even to bite him when he came near, snapping her teeth shut like a dog.

 

                “He’s going to find you!” she screeched.

 

                “You’re going to realise very soon that that’s what I want it to do.” Luke pulled at the ties to ensure that they wouldn’t come loose. “Fool beast will come to save its meat and end up on the end of a blade, just as it should be.”

 

                The girl spat at him. “He’ll bite your other hand off,” she hissed, and he slapped her; harder now, like slapping a biting dog. Her eyes watered but she did not weep.

 

                Instead, she screamed.

 

                She screamed and screamed, even when Luke jabbed her hard with the staff. It was wordless at first, but as he grabbed a fistful of bandages to shove in her mouth, she was shrieking the beast’s name. Even through the gag she screamed still.

 

                Luke resigned himself to it, though he ached to knock her unconscious. The louder she screamed, the sooner the beast would come, and the sooner another abomination would be wiped off of the face of this earth. He sat at the tree alongside the one her had tied her to, and an hour of silence passed.

 

                “I was like you, once,” Luke found himself saying. His voice sounded loud and too-high in the quiet. “Drawn in by a queer pretty face.” He saw, from the corner of her eye, her head turning to look at him. When he met her gaze, her eyes were wet, confused.

 

`               “They’re beautiful. That’s what lost me my hand, and you your maidenhead.”

 

                Her eyes went wide, and filled with fury. She began to struggle against the ties, screams muffled behind the ball of linen in her mouth. Though her speech was incoherent, Luke could practically hear her cursing him, laying upon his name every insult under the sun.

 

                And like a hunter in the night, the beast came.

 

                It was a low and rolling growl, with no apparent master, that brought Luke to his feet. He almost mistook it for a wolf at first, but the girl’s sudden cry told him that it was anything but. The sound did not instil fear in her. She thrashed, yelling behind the gag.

 

                “Come out!” Luke called. A dark shape caught his eye. “Come and claim your lamb!”

 

                Another growl. The snap of a twig. From between the trees the dark shape moved, hulking, and past the shading bough of an oak streamed moonlight, and illuminated its terrible, beautiful face.

 

                The girl screamed, struggling, pulling so hard against the linen that it was like to cut her. The beast’s eyes went to her face. Luke saw it take in the blood, the binds, and it roared.

 

                He hadn’t fully apprehended its size the last time he came face to face with it, when it had seemed almost human in its own form. Six and half feet, perhaps seven – and such terrible beauty, such high cheeks and slanted dark eyes.

 

                The Devil was the Lord’s favourite angel - the most beautiful son of the morning. Luke flexed his fingers around the small-blade, and understood.

 

                His aim was precise. Flick, swing, throw – the blade whistled through the air and lodged itself with a wet crunch in its thigh. The beast’s roar and the girl’s horrified cry were simultaneous. A monstrous hand wrapped around the blade, and with a low groan, it wrenched it clean out of its flesh. Blood spilled down its leg, staining dark and wet the clothes that it wore.

 

Luke snatched up the long-blade and lunged at it.

 

He knew well that it was easier and safer to play the fool and allow them to come near, purring their words and fluttering their lashes until they were close enough for the blade to sink all the way in. Here it was far more complex than that. This one – no matter how it sickened him, sent bile roiling in his stomach – was defending its prey. Like a starving wolf it would go to its death.

 

Luke fought it. It broke each attempt, knocking him backwards. It was only the blade, Luke knew, that kept it at a distance. He was vaguely aware of the girl breaking free of the binds. Its sounds were hellish, like some demon devil wolf, not of this earth.

 

Often it was impossible to outlast them in endurance, unless he faced a juvenile or a pregnant female or one so old it could hardly stand. Thus Luke had learned the weaknesses of their kind. He knew that a solid punch to the gills winded them. He knew that there was a place in the base of their throats at which both passages carrying saltwater met, and when struck there it winded them further. To thrust a blade deep within such a place meant that the beast would choke on its own blood, and Luke intended for this one to do exactly that.

 

The beast knew its own weakness and it knew his intentions, and did not once allow him the merest chance near its chest with the blade. Twice an enormous fist came flying, and twice it caught him in the face, sending him onto his back.

 

Twice he was on his feet again before the beast could reach the girl. Luke snatched up his staff of ash and struck it so violently in the throat that it dropped, wheezing.

 

Luke went for the girl. She shrieked, and the winded beast roared. There was no real intention there; merely feigning an attempt at nearing her at all sent the beast further into its rage, and forgetting itself, it flew at Luke, teeth like knives in a mouth as black as the night around them.

 

     Luke pulled up the blade and took it by surprise, slicing across its chin so that it staggered, faltered. When it bent, he rammed the blade into the hollow of its neck, and sprayed himself with blood. The sound of it falling to its knees wasn't as loud as the slap of its big body as it fell backwards.

 

                The beast choked, hands curling around the knife as though to draw it forth. Red pooled about its hands. The girl's screams rang high and jarring in Luke’s ears. Her shrieking only grew louder when there was a wet crunch, and the beast tore the knife free from its own throat.

 

                Luke did not try to stop the girl when she ran to the beast, falling atop of it. “Kylo – Kylo, no, no, look at me – stay with me, look at me! No!”

 

                It was failing fast. A great, bloody hand grasped weakly at her face, trembled, and fell. “No,” she cried, “no, no, please, no- no!” The beast was unmoving even as she shook it and slapped its face. “No, Kylo, wake up, please, no-

 

                Luke found himself walking forward. His feet moved over the sea of crushed bluebells, the trail of blood from both his own flesh and the beast’s.

 

                She screamed, wordless, as the beast’s lifeless, bloodied head lolled. “Let it die,” he heard himself say, head spinning. “Let it die. It’s a mercy. Let the beast die.”

 

She rose up and flew at Luke, beating him face and body with her fists. She clawed at him as though she was a beast herself, and though she was young, small, her nails dug harsh gouges down his face, fists bruising.

 

                “You killed him,” she shrieked. “He was good, and you-“ She snatched up his quarterstaff from where it lay and struck him hard in the face with it, bringing its carved side up sharp and fast so that it caught him with a thwack. It sent him sprawling, and yet the girl did not retreat.

 

                Her strikes were hard and rapid, as though someone had taught and trained her to fight with speed. Each hit caught him in the face, the chest, beating his hands away when he made to protect himself. What woman, he thought, could have learned to fight this way?

 

                Then he remembered, briefly, women with their skin painted all in blue.

 

                The beating stopped. The girl started to sob once more. He lifted his head, sending pain shooting down his chest and his back, and tasted blood in his mouth. His face felt wet.

 

                She was kneeling beside the dead beast, wailing like a widow. Her body shook with great racking sobs as she wept on its chest. “No,” she bawled, “no, no, no-“

 

                The body would have to be burned. Luke tried to rise, grunting in pain. His left eye was swelling and his head was pounding. No matter, he thought. This had happened a hundred times. They always fought back - any beast would – and he expected no less.

 

                The girl screamed into the night still.

 

 

 

 

Kylo

 

No, Kylo, wake up, please, no-

 

Karentezig, he thought. Ma braventez. Don’t cry. I can’t bear it.

 

He was in pain – hot and ripe and fiery - and couldn’t move. Not a single inch of him could move, and yet every bit of him ached to rise up and take the priest’s limbs from his body. He felt red with rage. Rey’s face, her bruised cheek and her bloody lip, pervaded even the darkness of closed eyes.

 

Am I dead? he wondered. Or still dying? He knew what his body was doing. Healing. This had happened before.

 

Often children of Men were brave, with their own little blades fashioned for them by protective fathers. When he had hunted for Ben, some shrieked and screamed and did not fight. Some drew their little blades, surprising him, and drove them deep into him. Most were easily torn free, and he would watch the wound seal. Some found the places that would make his body break, go cold and then hot – sometimes for mere moments, sometimes for hours – while it mended itself, sinew and flesh knitting together, blood returning and flowing hot. All the while he would be paralysed, at the mercy of his own flesh.

 

Rey’s racking sobs made his chest ache. She lay on him, howling with the pain of grief. Kylo’s chest ached. He wanted to scream. He was not sure how long she lay, wailing, but it could have been a century for all that his head burned as his flesh brought itself together from the inside out. He itched to hold her, to soothe her tears.

 

“It needs burning,” he heard the priest call, voice weak. There were footsteps, coming close, and Rey jerked up.

 

“Don’t touch him!” she shrieked. “Get away from him!” She let go of Kylo entirely. There was a sharp slap, and a thud, a loud curse, and she fell around him again, sobbing.

 

“Leave us alone,” she wept. She curled her arm around his head and held him against her chest. “Just leave us be.” Kylo felt a hot tear fall on his forehead and slide down the bridge of his nose. It lingered a moment, and fell onto his lips. Saltwater. Her heart hammered against his ear.

 

“It’s dead, girl. It’s no use to anyone now. Go home.”

 

He felt Rey lift her head. “The beast is dead,” the priest went on.

 

You killed him!” she screamed, so sudden that she nearly dropped him. “You killed him! Leave us alone!”

 

There was silence. Rey held him tighter, sobbing.

 

“I love you,” she keened in his ear. “Wherever you are, I love you, I’ll always love you.” He felt her lips at his temple, and she kissed him, whimpering.

 

Move, you stupid bastard, he thought. Move, move, move.

 

He pushed the urge through every vein beneath his skin, right to the tips of his fingers, his toes. Move for her.

 

“Go home.” The priest, again. Kylo raged within. “Tell them he left, tell them he went home to his own land. Let this die. It went on for too long.”

 

Kylo felt his fingers twitch. He would have them around the priest’s throat. Half a shallow breath hitched suddenly in his chest, and Rey went utterly still. Kylo’s gills pulsed, even in the open air, and closed again. His eyes fluttered open.

 

She went white. Kylo placed a finger over her lips before she could make a sound and she choked, swallowing a sob, mouth moving wordlessly. Her hands flitted helplessly over his chest, bloodied. Her face crumpled.

 

Ma carwen, he thought, and closed his eyes again, silently moving a hand to clasp around hers.

 

                “What will you do with it, girl?” Luke asked, and he sounded further away now. “Lie here and rot with it? Your people will come searching for you soon enough, and what then? Or suppose the wolves find you before they do? Will you lie here and die with it? Die for a dead beast?”

 

                Rey’s fingers gripped his hard, and she did not speak.

 

                “If I have to kill you to burn that beast, I will,” Luke threatened. “Go home and pray that God has mercy on your soul. Pay penance for what you’ve done.”

 

Kylo moved from under her, head reeling, and rose to unsteady feet. The snarl came very easily from his throat, rucking up and out through his teeth.

 

The priest, hunched over blades with his back turned, went very still.

 

 

The Pict

 

“No, don’t, Kylo, don’t, you can’t-“

 

Luke’s heart sank to the pit of his stomach.

 

He noted, oddly calm, the manner in which the girl scrambled up and tried to pull the beast back, tried to drag him away, and watched equally as calm as she was thrust backwards.

 

It was a blur, then. A giant’s hand wrapped around his throat and hauled him bodily off of the ground, only to slam him hard against the side of one of the mossy sentinels overhead. Once, twice, a third time – and then he saw dreaded teeth, an endless void of a black mouth.

 

Blood ran hot down his front. He could scarcely see. Nearby, the girl screamed.

   

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             She wanted to let Kylo kill him.

 

                She wanted Kylo to take him apart, take his limbs from his body and his head from his neck, but couldn’t. We can’t, we can’t, we can’t. There were too many consequences, too many loose ends to be snipped and tied. Rey had already kept secret the truth of one death. She would not, if she could help it, shoulder another.

 

                Kylo thought otherwise. Rey had to drag him away.

 

She didn’t know how she did it – she didn’t know where the strength came from – but she pulled at him, clinging and holding on even as he roared and thrashed. She wrapped both hands around a thick wrist and dragged, heels digging into the earth. It was like pulling on an aurochs in rut. He was having none of it, and tore his wrist out of her grasp, turning around to snap.

 

                He never dropped Luke once, holding him up by the throat like a doll. The priest’s bloody face was purple. His scrabbling hands were starting to weaken.

 

                Rey hit Kylo so hard in the throat that he staggered, and her hand burst into flames. Luke fell to the ground, choking on the air, and Rey tried to push past Kylo to get to him. The kelpie wouldn’t let her, fully showing his teeth, warning her. His cheek bloomed scarlet under the stark moon.

 

                “He’s going to die, let go!”

 

                Kylo snarled wordlessly, snapping. Rey struggled against his arms, protesting loudly when he pulled her back, pulling and writhing and using everything that she could – heels, elbows, even teeth – to get free.

 

                “They’ll kill us if they find out, you stupid horse, he’s a priest! Let go!”

 

                Luke’s face was bloodied and torn where Kylo had smashed him against the harsh bark of the tree. A deep gash ran from temple to jaw, and there was a shocking wound at his shoulder. Cloth and flesh alike had been torn away, bone snapped and sinew ripped. He bit him. Though the darkness was obscure in itself, there was a wide and dark shadow of blood around the priest.

 

                When she tore free, Luke spat blood on the ground beside him. “Don’t come near me, hell-bitch. Stay back.”

 

                Rey tried to pull aside the front of his bloody robe, to see clearly the damage that Kylo’s teeth had done, and Luke tried feebly to struggle away. Kylo’s warning snarl told him to keep still.

 

                She wondered if her eyes were deceiving her. The moonlight cast odd shadows. Below the torn and ruined flesh, the exposed sinew, she thought that she could see blue, swirling in deep spirals across the skin.

 

                “We need to take him back to the church,” she told Kylo, frantic, and he refused vehemently, growling. “Please, Kylo, I can’t carry him myself-“

 

                “I’d rather feed the wolves,” Luke rasped, and tried to pull away from her.

 

                She ignored him. “Kylo,” Rey said desperately. “Kylo, please don’t do this. We can’t leave him here.”

 

                Kylo would have. It hurt Rey to think it. He would have torn him further, if he could have, and then left him there for the crows to eat. It wasn’t malice, she knew. It was his nature. If Luke had not come for Rey then he would not have suffered Kylo's wrath.

 

                When he conceded, he was not gentle with the dying man, hefting him up as though he was scarcely more than a dead dog to be thrown into a ditch. The priest cursed at him in a tongue Rey had never known before, and seemed to fall asleep.

 

                Neither of them spoke as they walked. It was too dark for Rey to see properly – the thick canopy shaded them from the stark moon - and so she found herself following Kylo’s each step. Several times it seemed as though the priest had died, and Kylo would abruptly stop, and Luke would awaken, coughing blood, not quite there. The caws of ravens and crows above grew apparent, though it was their roosting-time. Kylo’s presence was rousing them. Twice Rey was overcome with nausea and had to stop, leaning against a tree, to be sick. “Don’t put him down,” she warned, when Kylo made to drop Luke and go to her. “Keep walking. I’m fine.”

 

                As her throat burned and her head spun, the bark of the tree felt hot beneath her hand.

  

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                She couldn’t breathe. She was drowning.

 

                His hands were like rocks against her shoulders, pinning her against the shifting sand in the shallows. All she could see was blue and grey before her eyes, copper hair above the water. The edges of her vision were tinted with crimson, now, as a hand moved to her throat and held her there.

 

                Her lungs were full of salt. Her screams were wordless. She clawed at his hands and was weakening, drowning, dying.

 

                In an instant, the hands were gone. There was a roar, and new hands – gentler hands, Phasma’s hands – swept her up out of the water. Someone slapped her back hard – once, twice, a third time – and she felt her lungs empty.

 

                There was a dark spray of blood as a fist met a mouth, somewhere near her. Rey felt it on her face, tasted iron in her mouth. She faced the sky, spewing seawater and bile and blood over herself. Someone above her shook her, weeping.

 

                “They’re demons!” she heard someone screaming. Hux. There was a sharp thwack as their words were cut off with another fist. “They’re monsters!”

 

                “Look at me, Rey, look at me,” Phasma insisted, voice breaking. She could make out pale hair, blue eyes wide with shock. Her vision swam. When her head tilted to the side, she could see two heads of red.

 

                “Aengus!” she heard the same person exclaim. “Aengus, you’ll kill him, don’t!”

 

------------------------

 

 

It did not fade.

 

                When her eyes came back to her, she vomited again. Hux. Demons. Monsters. What? The bark scraped her hand as she gripped it to stand properly. She fell, shakily, back into step with Kylo, his face was so pale – even in the moonlight – that he looked dead.

 

                What demons, and what monsters? Why did Hux try to-

 

                Where the forest had been quite alive with noise, the meadow and the church were utterly silent save for the soft swaying of high grass in the barest breeze. She could see the faerie circle, barely visible beyond the garden walls. She banged on the rectory door with all the strength she could muster, trying to wake Aodh and Father Tomás and anyone that would listen.

 

                Luke’s eyes opened marginally and fell upon the church. The front of his robes was so slick with blood that it shone.

 

Father Tomás’ face drained quite plainly of all colour when he saw them, red with drying blood. He was still in his night-clothes, wooden crucifix swinging about his neck as he came running in slippered feet. His eyes fell on Luke, hanging limply in Kylo’s arms, eyes half-lidded and breath shallow. Aodh came out after him, pulling a cowl over his head, red curls all dishevelled.

 

The old priest didn’t ask questions, and nor did the acolyte, though both hesitated, taking in the scene before them. Tomás eyes lingered on the blood down Kylo’s chin and neck, Rey’s cut and swollen lip. “Lay him in his chamber, quickly,” he ordered, and Kylo did. Luke was fast failing, drifting in and out of consciousness.

 

The chamber was high and narrow and dark. Aodh ran ahead, frantically lighting half-melted tallows on their holders. A glow of orange light illuminated the space, and at once she could see. At one end of the room stood a rickety shelf groaning under the weight of more books than Rey had ever seen, and a desk covered in papers, blotted ink, quills. Near it stood a bath-tub, half-filled. At the other end lay a bed, not much finer than her own, spread with sheets and furs.

 

Tomás pulled away an armful of blankets, and when Kylo lay Luke down on the hay of the mattress, he started to cough.

 

“Is he going to live?” Rey asked desperately.

 

Tomás looked at her, face grey. Aodh brought a box of blades, bandages, jars of something that smelled foul and sharp. “Take her outside,” he said to Kylo. “This isn’t for a woman’s eyes.”

 

There was a choking sound, and Luke spewed dark blood all down his chin. He began to fit, the bed shaking dangerously beneath him. Rey saw the whites of his eyes as they rolled back into his head just before Kylo swept her outside into the darkness.

 

They sat against the wall of the rectory, huddled. Her hands came away wet with blood when she touched the front of her dress, from where she had knelt by Luke, and Kylo’s shirt was red with it.

 

She could hear Tomás and Aodh talking, urgent and hurried. There was a loathsome snap, a crack, and Luke began to scream.

 

The priest’s screams of agony made her head ring. She hid her face in Kylo’s shoulder, ignoring the rusty stench of blood. Where Luke had rammed the blade into his throat remained only a twisted, faint scar, with a twin at the nape of his neck where it had broken free of his skin. Rey shuddered. When she looked at him his face was twisted with pain.

 

“Are you angry with me?” he whispered.

 

She could have cried. “No,” she said. “Not with you, never.”

 

“What did you see?” Kylo asked her.

 

“I don’t – I don’t remember.”

 

“Rey.” His voice cracked. “I saw something – I saw it, too.”

 

She didn’t speak. Her lip throbbed and her jaw ached.

 

“I saw him,” Kylo went on. “I saw Phasma, and her husband. And you-“ He put a big bloody hand over hers. “You were so small-

 

They waited for what felt like hours. Luke’s howls of pain stopped abruptly, at one point, and they both sat up, expecting for someone to emerge and announce his death. No one came. Rey fell into a fitful and broken asleep against Kylo’s chest, nostrils stinging with incense wafting from the chapel.

 

They were woken by a bloodied and wearied Father Tomás. Rey got to her feet so quickly that her head felt light. “Is he-” She could scarcely breathe. “Is he dead?”

 

“He lives,” Tomás said, but his face was wrought with something unsaid. He had a tallow candle in its holder that illuminated all three faces. “I lost count of how many bones we had to set. Rot may well set in, and if the wounds begin to fester …” He trailed off, swallowing deeply. His hands were bloodied to the elbow.

 

Rey put a hand hard on Kylo’s knee so that she didn’t faint.

 

“You should go home. Pray for him,” Tomás said, and as he turned away, added wearily, “and yourselves.”

 

“I want to see him,” Rey said.

 

Tomás turned back to look at her. A refusal was plain on his face, but he studied her a moment.

 

“Go,” he allowed. “But be quick. If he does not improve tonight, then he is not long for this world.”

 

“If he dies,” Rey began, trembling, “will you send word to us?”

 

A bloody hand came out and patted her gently. The wizened little priest nodded. “Goodnight, Rey,” he said, and there was pity in his voice.

 

                Luke was awake, but barely. The air in the chamber stank of blood and sharp, rank woad. Only a single candle was lit now, high in a sconce, and so the light was sparse. He turned his head to the side. He was beaded with sweat and breathing hard, though no fire blazed in the hearth. His eyes went wide.

 

“Get out before I run you out,” he croaked, teeth gritted. “I’m not dead yet.”

 

He was bare to the waist, the great wound at his shoulder dressed with linen and leaf and blue woad. From neck to waistline he was covered in blue spirals. They came to an abrupt end at the old, scarred stump of his right arm

 

Rey had seen marks before, marks that once on the skin could never be washed away. The northmen covered themselves in black wolves and dragons, inked under the skin with ash needles. These were woad-blue, though faded with age.

 

She felt as though she had seen the spirals before, too, but the recognition was heavy and dim.

 

“I should have killed you.The priest’s voice was weak, unbidden. “I still should. I should choke the life from your heretic whore neck.”

 

A low warning sound came from deep in Kylo’s chest. Luke scoffed.

 

“Do you think that you’re the first hell-beast ever to try to kill me?” Luke asked, breath rasping up and down his throat in shallow bubbles. “Do you think I haven’t had to heal from one of your bastard mouths before? This is God’s work, and he’s smiling at me from the gates of Heaven, water-horse.” He coughed and spluttered. “And Satan will gnash his teeth at you from the gates of Hell, one day, when your count of days ends.”

 

                “You’re wrong,” Rey snapped.

 

                “Even at an old man’s deathbed, you’re a fool.” Luke eyed her. He was weakening, icy eyes dulled to slush. “Think of all the countless souls he’s stolen, the maids and babes he’s swallowed whole. You’ll go to Hell with him, you stupid girl,” he told her. “You had a chance. Your kind are soft and stupid. God takes pity on dumb maids that pay penance. But you protected it, fed it, let it defile you. There’s a place in hell for the whores of hell-beasts. Filth.

 

                Kylo bristled, and Rey shoved him back hard as he moved towards the bed. “If I go to Hell, you’re sure to be there, too,” Rey found herself exclaiming, voice trembling. “You killed children-

 

                “Not children,” Luke interrupted, coughing. “Don’t dare call them that. If a wolf killed a babe, would you call the slaying of the wolf murder? They were demon-spawn. It was a mercy. That’s more than they deserved.” He spat over the side of the bed at Kylo’s feet. “She saw what you really are tonight, beast. She’ll cast you back into the sea for what you’ve done.”

 

                Kylo stiffened. Luke lifted his head, grimacing. “And then she does,” he said, “be sure that you disappear. Because I’ll find you if you don’t, and I’ll finish what I started. Your kind are the foulest brutes ever to walk God’s green earth.”

 

                Rey pushed herself back against Kylo – a warning – when he growled.

 

“Do one admirable thing in your unjustly long existence, and fall on a spear, water-horse. That, at least, will be one less demon that this world must contend with. Now get out, both of you. Leave me to die in peace.”

 

                She didn’t properly remember the journey home. She recalled Kylo murmuring softly to her, her head lolling against his chest. She remembered the chorus of dawn songbirds, the croaking caw of a carrion crow, the staccatoed clattering of a magpie. Once, she opened her eyes just a fraction, and all the corvids in the trees above were peering down, calling to Kylo as though they thought him their own.

 

               

                     

                                        

 

 

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                He was born in blood and in salt, just as Leia had seen and known that he would be.

 

                Her son was strong. Leia had broken the other mare’s hand from the pain, screaming, snarling, and when he was brought forth, red with womb-blood, he screamed, too. Kylo, she named him. The black horse, in the old and lost tongue that even the saltborns had forgotten.

 

                And now he was gone.

 

                Every time she looked at Ben’s face, she saw Kylo. They were the same, right down to Ben’s rounded ears and long lashes, though where Kylo’s eyes had been black amber, Ben’s were as pale and as sharp as shale, as his mother’s had been.

 

                They’d hidden, huddled under the rushing river-water, sobbing both, until the storm had calmed and the sky had cleared and the smell of Men had soaked away into the wind. Ben had become almost catatonic, but when they found again the wet and bloodless body of his mother in the sands where the Men had killed her, he screamed with the agony of it. That was a memory that Leia fought hard to shake. The shaking foal had howled over Mina’s corpse like some dying wolf for hours.

 

                He had carried her limp body himself to the boundary, to the tree-hollows where they had played when she was alive, and it was there that she was buried. Blood had run red from Ben’s hands, clawing through the soil, as he dug a hole deep enough to trap a bear. When Han found them and tried to pull him away, Ben reared, snarling as Kylo would have done. The grave was marked with a wolf’s skull, a great hunk of black obsidian, and was shaded cool and dewy by the persimmon tree above.

 

                The saltborns were gone; killed or disappeared down the coast. Leia would not rear Ben in the cold and empty bay where both parents had met their deaths. She took him inland, to the riverlands, and because of her Sight and Ben’s river-blood, they were welcomed by the streamborns at the first southern meander into the forest.

 

                Han’s streamborns were soft, weak, but here they were more accepting of those with salt in their blood than the ones further south. There was one here, golden-haired with a scarred brow, that Leia knew had once hunted for Men. Further south he would have been killed by the others for it, but here amongst those of both bloods, he was safe.

 

                Ben’s years had slowed in the same year that Kylo had disappeared, and he was a tall foal for his age now, black curls bouncing and shimmering in the sun. There was a gentleness in Ben that Leia could, at rare times, see in Kylo, but that his mother had never possessed. The wolves from the boundary of the woods adored him, always returning to linger with their eyes on him as though he was one of their own. Han treated the boy like the son that had never taken to him, as though he was reliving Kylo’s youth with a second chance, repentance for what he had done, and Leia loathed it.

 

                She said nothing. She would not see Ben suffer and grow angry as Kylo had. She would not see him grow and father foals and disappear.

 

                Leia sat on the riverbank and watched the foals play in the river, Ben among them. They were squealing with laughter, draping sopping lily-pads over their heads. Han sat nearby. She had not let him touch her since Kylo’s years as a colt, so enraged with his treatment of his son that she had smashed the sunstone mating-gifts he had brought her once. That was the end of it. The message was clear and had been for hundreds of years.

 

“Don’t you ever wonder why Kylo was the way he was with you?”

 

                “Foul?” Han asked. “Vicious? I always wonder. But I know.”

 

                “And what do you know?”

 

                “I know that it wasn’t my blood that made him that way.”

 

                “It was your words that made him that way.”

 

                “Don’t start, Leia.”

 

                She said, “You drove him back to the bay, you know. He would have stayed if you hadn’t treated him like a beast.”

 

                “He acted like a beast.”

 

                “He was a child. He wanted his father. But that was too difficult for you, wasn’t it? Too much to ask for you to treat him as your equal.”

 

                There was a huff. Leia turned her head and between the trees lingered a lean, grey-eyed old she-wolf. Leia recognised her. She was one of Ben’s. He had seen her from weaning to whelping, to when she bore her own pups. Often she returned to look over him.

 

                The wolf nosed past Leia and loped down the riverbank, skidding on the gravel and mud, and whined at the river’s edge for Ben. As the foal giggled and waded towards it, flinging his arms about its thick grey neck, Leia felt the edges of her vision whiten and drop.

 

                It was but a brief flash, the barest glance that her Sight would allow her, but she saw.

 

                She could see him, as hulking as he had been when she last she had seen him. A dark scar crossed his face – not the marks of teeth, but something sharp and fine. A girl sat in his lap – freckled and fine-boned – head pillowed against the jut of his shoulder. Her son’s eyes were soft.

 

                Leia took their surroundings for the town of the Gauls at first, but the stone was round, the wood and thatch low and pointed. Dogs raced through the sand and children of Men played in the shallows. Kylo bent his head and kissed gently the top of the auburn head, and they were gone.

 

                Her eyes came back to her like the snap of a twig, and the dream was gone.

 

                She heard little pounding feet, and turned her head to see Ben racing up the bank, the wolf on his heels, arms full of river-stones for her and Han.

 

                It was not until days later that she saw him again. One of the streamborns, tall and redheaded, was in her hunger and dragged a she-bear into the river to eat. Leia’s vision blurred as she watched the girl pull forth a mouthful of bloody sinew from the dead beast’s throat, and the scene before her was replaced with another.

 

                She saw Kylo, blood swelling in a dark bloom about his waist, arms tight about a dying stag in a rushing river she did not know. The sun darkened and then she saw the girl, crouched at the gravel at the riverside, hand outstretched to grasp the red of her son’s. The girl was not of their kind. It was plain in her form; too small, too slender. But something around her shimmered, some aura pale and soft, flickering like sea-light in rockpools. For hundreds of years she had thought him dead, unable to find him with her Sight. But now – he was somewhere. Missing, but somewhere.

 

                It was only her relative solitude – far enough away from the rivers that no one else would see – that made her allow the tears to fall and her body to shake with racking sobs. He lives, he lives; my son, he lives.

 

                Ben had a father. And Leia – Leia had a son.

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                Weeks upon weeks swept by. No one, priest or acolyte, came south to the village to bring news of Luke’s death, and so it seemed to Rey that the man had lived.

 

                Lughnasa was nigh upon them. It would be three weeks – less, almost – until it came time to pull free from the earth turnips and leeks and parsnips and cabbage, to open the neck of the white bull for the old gods and pray with wooden crosses to the new. Rey found herself oddly ecstatic – even more than usual – at the idea. Handfasting – often it was an idea that she loathed, but he made it feel different.

 

                Kylo purred into the juncture of her throat and shoulder, heavy and naked on top of her. His hair was warm and damp from hot water under Rey’s hand. The night was crisp and clear. Through the smoke-eave, through the escaping clouds of steam, she could see stars.

 

                The roundhouse was still thick with steam. Rey felt fire-dry under the furs and loose at the joints of her elbows and knees. When she shifted she could feel his seed still within her, the bitter taste of fallow-tea at the back of her throat. Kylo huffed when she moved, nosing at her jaw. He was half-asleep, eyes barely opening, and Rey kissed the top of his head. Kylo made a low noise. The fire was very nearly dead in the hearth, reduced to a few smouldering embers under the ash, and the water in the tub was almost certainly cold by now.

 

                Her own eyes were heavy.

 

                Kylo murmured something, so soft and low that she could not be sure whether it was in his tongue or hers. “Sleep,” Rey murmured. He moved his head and kissed with the barest brush of his lips the underside of her jaw.

 

                “I love you,” she whispered.

               

                When she awoke, she was walking through the water.

 

                Her feet seemed to drag against the salt – it rose up to her ankles – stirring up great clouds of murk in the sandy water.

 

                He was sat on his stool, a bulging net thick with silvery fish at his feet. Some seemed to be still alive, twitching feebly in the weight of the air. He had not changed, not one bit – still he remained big and hulking, barrel-chested against the front of his salt-rough shirt, forearms thick, hands wide and callused, big knuckles covered in copper hair.

 

                The skin on the underside of his left forearm was twisted and shiny, a long-healed scar. The hair on his head was red and wild, tamed back into a half-knot, but his beard was wilder still, as mad as the wind. The breeze was blowing it into his face, and as he lifted a big red hand to brush it away, he saw her.

 

                The world shimmered around her. The sky was searing blue, the sun so white she could scarcely look up, but the air was icy. The bay was long and stark and empty. The sea was flat and still. The animals didn’t even bray in the fields. It was just the two of them, alone.

 

                “Aengus?” she whispered.

 

                He looked up, startled at though he hadn’t seen her. “Oh, Dia duit, pet. I didn’t hear you coming.”

 

                There was a distance between them. The world was icy-cold, but the space between them was warm.

 

                “You’re alive. You’re here,” was all she could manage.

 

                “What? What are you on about?” He gutted the fish into the first bucket with a splat. The rank smell of it reached Rey’s nostrils.

 

                Her feet took her up the sand towards him. It was dappled and wet, as though it had just rained, but the sky was clear. He was murmuring, when she reached him, “I’ve always been here.” His red brows were knit together in a thoughtful frown.

               

                Rey sank to the sand in front of him, knees weak. “How’s that big water-horse of yours?” he asked her.

 

                Something cold ran through her chest. “How – I –“

 

                “He’s a big bastard,” Aengus said, reaching for another fish, and he was chuckling. “I was almost scared you’d both kill each other, but I knew it’d be alright in the end.” He sliced it up the belly, letting its foul innards spill into the bucket with a repulsive splat.

 

                “How do you know?” Rey breathed.

 

                “I’ve always known, pup. You have, too.”

 

                “But you’re dead. You died - a fever, and you – you – I saw you, I saw you dead!”

 

                He gave her a look, grey eyes almost silver in the sun. “Have you found it yet?”

 

                “Found what?”

 

                “Your skin,” he said absent-mindedly.  Rey stared at him. “I thought you might have found it by now. Phasma hid it away and made me promise never to tell, but you’re a clever girl. You’ll find it soon, won’t you?”

 

                Rey could have fainted, she knew, head as light as a feather. “My – my skin?” She felt her arms, her legs, and they were covered in gooseflesh.

 

                “Aye, your skin. You’ll find it. I’m sure you will. You need to do it soon.”

 

                “What skin, Aengus?” she whispered, trembling. He dropped the gutted fish into the bucket and reached into the net for another, cleaning it entirely before he spoke. “I don’t understand.”

 

Aengus cocked an eyebrow at her. “Your skin, Rey. You need to find it. Your water-horse will help you, he has a good nose. He’ll help you sniff it out.”

 

The sun had shifted in the sky, moving to the east, as though she had been sitting there for half a day. Rey repeated, “I don’t understand.” A flock of gulls flew overheard, squawking down at them. A grey-cloaked crow alighted on the roof of the roundhouse behind them, and watched them silently, cocking its head.

 

“You will, pet. But you need to find your skin first.”

 

What skin?”

 

Your skin,” he repeated, as nonchalant as if he’d asked her to pass a blade. “Séithe na rón. Your skin. You’re not like the others – you know that. You’ve always known that. Their skins are their own, and they have but one. You have two.”

 

There was a wet noise from the bucket. When Rey looked, the gutted fish were thrashing in their own blood, bodies hollow and slapping. A gasp she hadn’t meant to give was snatched from her throat. When she lifted her head, his scarred arm was torn open. Blood streamed down his arm, as though whatever had bitten him had come back to reopen the wound. He seemed not to notice, even as Rey cried out. Something wet nosed against her hand, and fur brushed her neck.

 

She fell onto her back when she saw the wolf. It stalked past her, eyes grey in a red face, and curled about Aengus, pink tongue darting out to lick the bloody wound.

 

The tide was coming up about her wrists and ankles, though she was almost at the house. It was rising, rushing, and rising fast. Rey struggled up. “What – how-“

 

“Find your skin, pet,” Aengus said, smiling, and the wolf rested its red head against his shoulder like a hound, mouth crimson with blood. “Everything will settle when you find it. Then you can go south and come north again. Seeded in the south and born in the north.” He held up two fingers. “There’ll be two.” Blood ran down his arm from the open wound, and the wolf bent its head to lick it away.

 

The tide rushed up her thighs, and she could feel hands. The sand was gone, replaced wholly with the rushing grey sea, and it swarmed with pale, grasping fingers. Rey cried out, falling, clawing at the sand, and something sharp sliced through her skin.

 

The hands weren’t hands, she realised in horror. They were clawed flippers, dragging at her skin and pulling her down, down, down. “No!” she screamed, struggling even as the claws dug into her calves and pulled red bloody lines down to her ankles. “No, I don’t want to leave you, please, I can’t-“ The water came up around her waist, the flippers clawing and shredding her dress into ribbons. It cut the linen and then the skin, but instead of blood and bone beneath lay a second skin, wet and dappled. Her flesh split and twisted under the pale claws, pulling down and disappearing into the water.

 

Aengus didn’t move. He watched her with a face as impassive as stone. The wolf sat back on its haunches, raised its nose to the sky, and howled.

                                     

 

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            As the flat, wet paws clawed away her skin, they dragged her down, down. The bay was gone, Aengus was gone. All around her was grey and blue and salt.

 

The waves thrashed and dragged her through the currents, and no matter how she struggled, she felt still the claws raking-raking-raking down her legs. When she threw out her arms to push against the current, it pushed back, tumbling and rolling her, over and over until she screamed, the sound coming out as nothing but a desperate cloud of bubbles.

 

                Her lungs did not burn even so. She took breaths of the water itself. When her face broke the surface, the waves thrusting her upwards, her mouth struggled to readjust. She gasped and wheezed, blinking in the sun, and set her eyes on the bay.

 

                This bay was not her own. She struggled against the waves and realised that it was no bay at all; it was a meander, shaded high and green by yellow-fruited trees standing sentinel over the rushing of a river. Sunlight streamed through, half-blinding her. Rey choked on a mouthful of clear, saltless water, and her feet found the bottom, jabbed hard by pebbles and jagged stones. Minnows nibbled at her legs.

 

                There were children in the shallows in front of her, climbing up and down the riverbank, squealing with laughter and tumbling in the muck. They looked right through her. They were young, four and five and six, and when they dipped below the water and rose up again, at each side of their little necks were three dark gills, pulsing in the air.

 

                The river rode against her, but she was still as stone, unmoving. When she tried to speak, no sound came from her frozen throat.

 

                Some had red hair in long unravelling braids. Some had brown and black - straight and blunt around their shoulders or cut short in shiny curls around their faces. They played in the water, splashing and yelling.

 

                On the riverbank behind them lay a dog, a litter of squirming pups burrowed into her side. The dog – not a dog, another wolf, big and grey – was resting its head on a little hand. Rey’s eyes followed the length of the hand, a freckled arm, and her eyes fell on a boy-child with round pink ears peeking through dark and spilling curls.

 

                His wide eyes were shale and storm. He looked right at her, scrambled to his feet, and exclaimed in a thick and foreign inflection, “Rey!”

 

                He scrambled down the riverbank, little feet sure and steady for all that the gravel slid and shifted. The water around her began to thrash and foam.

 

                Find your skin, she heard. Phasma. Rey. Seal. Shark. Horse. Wolf. Blood. Skin. Skin. Skin.

 

The boy hit the surface of the river – no, the sea now, thrashing and grey - and fell to seafoam, and there he was whisked away on the wind.

 

 

--------------------------------------

 

 

                Rey woke up screaming.

 

                Kylo’s hands were on her face before she even began to stop, holding her still. “Rey,” he exclaimed, urgent. “Rey, look at me – it’s alright – Rey-

 

                She sat up, naked. The fire was dying, but the edges of her vision were red. Her heart hammered in her chest. She felt a black-and-scarlet rush of fury pull up through her and spread through her veins.

 

                Her feet took her without being told. She was vaguely aware of Kylo yanking on britches, making a swipe for her, but she ducked out, very nearly tumbling in the sand. “What are you doing?” she heard. The dry sand shifted hard under her feet, and she very nearly lost her balance as she sprinted unsteadily across it.

 

                She kicked Phasma’s storm-door in – smashing it to the ground with the flat of her foot – and narrowly avoided Kylo’s grasping hands when he tried to snatch her back.

 

                The fire was dying, the tallows unlit or burned out, but there was light enough to see Phasma jerk upwards, hear her gasp in shock. “Stop, stop,” Kylo growled, getting a hold of her, but she pulled herself free. She very nearly knocked her head hard on a hanging pot.

 

                “Rey?” She heard the shing of a blade. “Rey, what on earth-

 

                Phasma sat up.

 

                “Where is it?” Rey gasped, out of breath from the struggle. Phasma’s hair was askew. She pushed it out of her face.

 

                They stared at one another. Phasma’s eyes went between Rey’s bare chest and Kylo’s ha, the marks on Rey’s throat, the dampness of their hair. The heat of the hut only served to make Rey’s skin itch and her anger burn hotter.

 

                “What are you – have you –“ Her face went pink. “You didn’t –

 

                Rey lunged for a butter-jar and smashed it against the wall. Its contents splattered across Phasma’s bed. “Fuck!” Kylo exclaimed. “Rey!”

 

 “Where is it?” she breathed. When no answer came, she overturned the bench, spilling cups and jars and knives all over the floor. A jug of water fell on the dying fire and a great cloud of steam rose with a hiss. She felt Kylo’s hands on her again, wrestling her back before she could seize and break anything else.

 

“Stop it, stop,” he snarled. “Rey, stop-“

 

Phasma wiped a splat of butter from her forehead, getting to her feet. She exploded, “What is wrong with you? Where’s what?

 

Rey pulled herself harsh and sharp out of Kylo’s grasp.

 

My skin,” she snapped. Kylo’s brows knit in a frown. The flash of fright was fleeting – it crossed Phasma’s face for a mere moment – but Rey saw it.

 

“What the hell are you on about?”

 

“Rey, stop, come on,” Kylo insisted, trying to pull her back.

 

Phasma stood up. “What the hell have you been doing?” she exclaimed, face twisted in disgust, as though she had been wronged.

 

“Where is it?” She knew well that she sounded half-crazed, mad as the moon, but could scarcely bring herself to say anything else. “I know you have it. Where is it?”

 

Kylo pulled her back. “She had a nightmare,” he told Phasma, “she’s not-“

 

“Why are you naked?” Phasma demanded. “Why are you – have you been –“ She stared at Kylo. “You promised-“

 

Before another word could be spoken, Rey pulled away from Kylo, caught hold of another clay jar, and hurled it at the wall. This one was bigger, heavier, and smashed hard against the stone. It was full of honey and exploded all over the hut, all over Phasma. “Where is it?” Rey screamed, just before Kylo clapped a great hand over her mouth.

 

She kicked and clawed at him. When his grip loosened, she spit, “He told me that you know. He told me.”

 

Phasma stood stone-still. “Who?” she dared.

 

Aengus,” Rey snarled.

 

The colour drained from Phasma’s pink face. There was butter on her face, honey in her hair. A shard of clay pot had lodged itself in her unravelling braids. She stared at Rey, lips parted, and said nothing.

 

Kylo looked between them, burgeoning confusion growing on his face.

 

“Tell me where it is,” Rey breathed, chest heaving, “or I’ll tear this fucking thing to the ground.”

 

Phasma took a slow breath, stepped back, and sat on the bed. She looked at them both, and Rey watched as her eyes began to shine and well. She felt herself begin to shiver.

 

“Get him out,” Phasma said weakly, eyes on Kylo.

 

“He’s not going anywhere,” Rey griped.

 

By the edge of the hearth were a pile of woollen sheet. Kylo swept one around her, and she scarcely moved or took her eyes from Phasma even as he tucked and swaddled her like a babe.  Phasma’s fists were clenched, and her breaths were heavy, as though she was like to run and throw herself from a rock’s edge and fall down, down, down.

 

                Phasma put her head in her hands.

 

                “Ahch-To,” Rey heard her sob. “It’s on Ahch-To.”

 

                “What’s on Ahch-To?” Kylo growled, as Rey put a hand over her mouth. She collapsed onto the milking-stool. Her head reeled.

 

                Ahch-To, Ahch-To. She would always watch it, shrouded deep in mist and guarded long and wide by jagged rocks that would tear even a light currach’s hull. “What’s over there, Aengus?” she would often ask him, curled against his chest.

 

                “No one knows,” he would say. “It’s a mystery.”

 

                Is it a secret?

 

                He would falter, swallow – why didn’t I see, why didn’t I know? – and stare out at the shadow of the island. “Not really. Well. I suppose so.”

 

                “Phasma said we’re not supposed to keep secrets.

 

                Aengus would clear his throat. “Might be she’s right, pup. Might just be.

 

                “What am I?” Rey whispered now. Her voice sounded far away. “Tell me. Please. I need to know. Please.” She could taste the salt of her own tears, she realised, on her tongue, and lifted a hand to her face to find that she was crying, too.

 

                “I don’t know,” Phasma croaked. “I don’t – I don’t know –“ She was snivelling like a child, now – they both were – face wet and nose running.

 

                “You do know. You do, you do, and Aengus did, too – please.” Sobs racked her body. She leaned her elbows on her knees. “Oh, God, please, you have to tell me.”

 

                Kylo’s eyes were hard and wild, full of uncertainty, even as he knelt before her. Phasma watched them, breaths coming hard.

 

                “We told you,” she began, “that you were left in the field. Didn’t we? Wrapped up snug in a blanket and left on the moss.” She sniffed hard. “We told you that you had a clutch of lavender in one hand and hay in the other. Isn’t that right?”

 

                Rey stared at her.

 

                Phasma’s voice turned hard, then. “They left you in the tide. They didn’t even bring you up to the sand. They left you like a drowned pup in the tide to die.”

 

                Her heart took off like the wings of a wasp. “Who?”

 

                Phasma’s face twisted in grief, in pain. She raked a hand through her hair as though she meant to tear it clean out.

 

                “She wasn’t – she wasn’t like us. Like – like me. She was –“ Phasma’s fist went tight in her hair, and she squeezed her eyes shut. “She was like a seal.

 

                Rey put a hand on Kylo’s so that she didn’t fall to the floor. The eyes of the seal, the day she had stolen out to sea, were starkly apparent behind her eyelids.

 

                “Not – not a seal,” Phasma amended, crying. “But not like us. Her eyes were black, and her skin-“ She looked up at Rey, agonised. “Her skin was hanging by her sides. Half of her was –“

 

                Kylo asked sharply, “What?”

 

                Phasma looked at him as though she had scarcely noticed him at all. “Wrong,” she whispered. “Skin, seal-skin, claws and –“ She broke off with a soft sob.

 

                Kylo’s eyes turned on Rey. Confusion, she saw, and they looked her up and down.

 

                “Reun-gwerin,” he said, voice low.

 

                “What?”

 

                He looked at Phasma. “Reun-gwerin,” he repeated. “Seal-people. White hair, grey skin.”

 

                Her eyes went wide. “How do you-“

 

Kylo let go of Rey entirely, lips parted. He pulled in deep breaths through his nose, staring at her, and his head shook minutely.

 

“How …?” she heard him breathe.

 

                “How could you?” Rey half-hissed, half-wept, turning to Phasma. “How could you do that?” Her head was spinning. Nausea threatened to overcome her, and she swallowed hard.

 

                “Rey-“

 

                “You – bitch,” Rey choked. “All these years and you never said a fucking word.

 

                “How could I have?” Phasma asked her. “What was I supposed to say to you? ‘Your parents were wild beasts that left you in the tides to drown?’ Is that what you’d have me say, is it? That whoever birthed you loved you so little that they could scarcely be bothered to bring you up out of the reach of the water?”

 

                “Something, anything,” Rey cried. “Anything at all.” She drew in a sharp breath. Hux. “Is that – Hux – is that why Hux-“ She saw Phasma’s face fall. “Oh, God.” She put her face in Kylo’s chest, clinging.

 

                “There was nothing we could have done,” Phasma wept.

 

                “You could have told me. You could have told me, and I’d have known why I was being treated the way I was.” She pressed her forehead hard against Kylo’s chest, sobbing so violently that her jaws ached.

 

                “Rey, we couldn’t-“ Phasma didn’t comment on their closeness, and Kylo seemed to care little for whether she did or not, arms tight about her.

 

                “I was a child!” Rey broke in abruptly. It hurt her throat.

 

                For a moment, there was silence. A hollow shod of wood shifted in the hearth.

 

                “I know.” Phasma sniffed hard. “I’m sorry. I know.”

 

                Rey moaned in anguish, heels of her palms hard at her eyes. “You can’t go to it, Rey,” she heard Phasma say, and raised her head. Fat tears rolled down Phasma’s cheeks. “You won’t be the same,” she wept. “You won’t grow, you won’t change ever again. You won’t age. You won’t-“

 

                There was a pause. Rey finished, voice cracking, “-die?”

 

                Phasma swallowed a sob. “I don’t know. Maybe. We can’t know, pup, no one knows.”

 

                Rey looked at Kylo. A hundred years. Maybe more, she remembered, and the ground came up to meet her as she fell.

 

She heard them roar, “Rey!”

 

 

---------------------------------------------------

 

 

 

                “Does it mean that they didn’t want me?” Rey asked him, little hand tight around a thick forefinger. “Because they left me in the field?”

 

                Aengus swept her up onto his shoulders with a grunt – she squealed, clinging tight to red hair – and told her, “We wanted you, pup. That’s all that matters.”

 

                “Will they ever come back?”

 

                He swallowed, shifting his shoulders beneath her. She felt so tall on his shoulders, almost as high as the gulls that screamed down at them. “Aengus,” she said, “Aengus.

 

                “Leave it behind you, pup.”

 

                That meant she was to stop talking about it, there and then. As he walked, she bounced, and dug her fingers into his beard.

 

                “Aengus,” she said again, “why do the seals talk?”

 

---------------------------------------

 

                Behind her eyelids was red-black-pink. They did not open, and her body did not move. Her breaths came shallow in her chest.                                                           

 

                “You!” she heard Phasma exclaim. There were hands on her, two pairs. “You? You bloody-“

 

                There was a snarl. “I’d keep that tongue in your mouth,” came Kylo’s voice from above her, dangerously harsh. “You’re in no place to-“

 

                “You killed him!” Phasma sobbed. “You left him in pieces, you – oh, God!”

 

                She was hefted against a wide chest. “Don’t, don’t – don’t touch her, don’t put your hands on her, you beast!” Phasma cried.

 

                “You lied to her for almost twenty years,” Kylo snapped.

 

                “And you lied to all of us! Christ in heaven, what are you?”

 

                “What is she?”

 

                There was silence, another sob, a harsh sniffing breath.

 

                “We took her inland, up the forest road to Fiodh Ard, to the woodswoman.” Rey heard the creak of the cot as she sat again. “She knew, straightaway. Selkie, she said. Take the skin and hide it away, and it’ll be as though she was like us all along.”

 

                Kylo inhaled sharply.  

 

                “I knew she’d find out,” Phasma moaned. “I knew she would. I just didn’t think – you-“ Rey felt Kylo shift, holding her tighter. His hand gripped the bottom of her knee. “Hux. You ate-“

 

                “I’m putting her to bed.”

 

                “You come right back,” the woman griped. “You owe me the world of gratitude for not screaming and having you run through with twenty pikes, beast.

 

                In the next instant, Rey felt her bed beneath her. She scarcely moved, even when she felt lips at her forehead, heard a soft, “ma carwen”, heard the shift of the door.

 

                A single tear escaped a closed lid. She had never felt quite so empty.

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                He sat and watched her like some faithful old hound. She slept deeply. He had tugged over her head a linen night-gown, careful not to wake her even so, and brought her arms carefully through the sleeves.

 

                Her hair was spread carefully across the pillow, lest she roll and lean on it in the night, hurting her scalp. Kylo traced a soft line down her cheek.

 

                There was a noise behind him as the storm-door opened.

 

                “Fuck off,” Kylo said, without looking away from Rey’s sleeping face.

 

                The door closed, and the stool creaked as she sat.

 

                He turned his head to the side, lip curling. “Get out.

 

There came a sigh, heavy and tear-thick. “I wish that I could have told her. I wish that it had been possible.

 

Phasma stared mournfully at Rey’s sleeping form with regretful eyes. “But she would have had to have been hidden away, kept alone. I couldn’t do that to her. I wanted her to live.

 

                “I’d hardly call it living with that red bastard growling down her neck,” Kylo said, unable to keep the venom from his voice.

 

                “There was nothing that we could have done. Without him we’d have starved.”

 

                He snarled, “Would that you could have.”

 

                “Don’t,” Phasma retorted, face reddening. She leaned forward on the stool.

 

“It was a sacrifice we had to make. Hux knew what she was and the only way we could keep him quiet was by letting him have his own way. It wasn’t so bad, when Aengus was alive. Hux was afraid of him. But when he died …” She trailed off, inhaling slowly as though trying to stifle tears.

 

                “Rey told me that you slapped him for it more often than not.”

 

                “Aye, and what good did it do? Hux had a temper redder than his hair, and every slap only fuelled it hotter. We were lucky, in a way, that he had no eye for women, or-“ She didn’t finish, clenching her jaw so that a tic pulsed in her cheek.

 

                “Or what?”

 

                “Or he’d have forced himself on whoever he wanted. That’s what men like that do. When the power of their law is taken away, they lash out within. The women would have suffered for it. Rey would have suffered for it-”

 

                “Rey did suffer for it,” Kylo snapped. The fire gave a loud crack. He stroked Rey’s loose hair,  spreading it further across the pillow in careful strands.

 

                “I know she fucking well suffered, you fool beast,” Phasma griped abruptly. “I know she suffered. I hate myself every day for it. Is that what you want to hear, Gaul, is it? That every time he opened his mouth to her I wanted to walk right into the sea and drown, rather than see her cry once more?” Her fists clenched. “Is that it? I hate myself for what I had to do, but it was that or have Rey live a life of loneliness, never growing old and watching us die around her.”

 

                Neither of them spoke for a moment. The woman breathed hard, chest heaving. Kylo’s mind swirled with things he could have said; foul things, things that would have made the woman weep and sob, but he kept them inside. The heat of Rey’s skin under his hand was the single thing keeping him whole, keeping his teeth inside his jaw and his snarls inside his throat.

 

                When he looked back at her, her eyes shone with tears, the fire dancing against the stinging blue. “Not a day goes by,” she told him, voice wobbling, “that I don’t wish I’d disappeared with her to some tiny bay somewhere no one would ever find us. I wish I’d never sent Aengus away with her skin. But wishes are soft. What’s done is done. We can only walk on now.”

 

                Kylo watched Rey’s chest rise and fall, breaths so shallow that he wondered if he was imagining them. “On the beach,” he said, never looking away from his kazeg’s face, “on the beach, you said that the punishment for hurting maids went beyond the law.”

 

                Phasma made a scornful sound. “And who do you think makes the laws, water-horse?” she asked him. “Men. Men make the laws. They stick to them as they please, and they decide who is at the mercy of them. A hundred girls have gone to the Earl’s fort after they’ve been raped, but no one listens. Why would the Earl’s men listen, when they think it’s their God-given right to do it? When they do the very same? Laws are law in ink and in words, but unless they’re practiced they’re hardly laws at all.”

 

                Kylo’s stomach roiled at the thought. “I thought that there was no hope for her before you came,” Phasma said. “She’s wild. Men would look at her and like what they see, and then she opens her mouth and you can see them itching to beat it out of her. Most men would beat a girl like Rey half to death just to feel half a man again.”

 

                He relived, briefly, in his mind the very moment that he bent his head to Hux’s throat and closed his jaws around the fragile flesh, bringing back strings of gore, of blood. He wished that he could do it all over again, and again, again, again. “What do your kind do, beast?” Phasma asked him, interrupting his reverie. “What do your kind do to men like that?”

 

                “I’d rather you were able to sleep,” Kylo said coldly. “I don’t want to look at you for the rest of the night.”

 

                She gave a rough, lifeless laugh. “I haven’t slept for many a night now, Gaul.”

 

                Kylo looked at her. There were pansy-dark circles beneath her eyes, lines of age showing on her face. The stinging eyes were brighter, though, than he had ever seen them. She wanted to know, he realised. She wanted something to imagine, to fantasise about the fairness that her kind would never see.

 

                “We take their limbs first,” he said, turning away. “One by one. Slowly. If it’s too quick, it’s a mercy. We heal faster than your kind, and so we leave them, then, in freshwater, so they’re half-drowned.” Kylo sighed, remembering. “They live for days that way.”

 

                Phasma made the laughing sound again, though it was wistful now. “Once I might have called your kind evil,” she admitted. She swept a greying pale braid over her shoulder, watching him, watching Rey. “Flesh-eaters. Monsters. But I could bear the killings if it meant that the women were safe. We’re never safe.

 

                “I’ll do it,” Kylo told her. “I’ll do it to any man that dares again.”

 

                “And I’d let you. But the Earl’s men would ride down here quicker than you could blink and have your head from your body for breaking the law.”

 

                Kylo could not stop the dark noise that rumbled from deep within his chest. “If you think that any of your soft kind could move me an inch, you’re a fool.”

 

                When he lifted a hand to stroke softly at Rey’s cheek, Phasma said, “You made me a promise, Gaul.”

 

                “I didn’t promise shit.”

 

                She made a disgusted sound. “Christ, you really are a beast.”

 

                He gave her a foul look, eyes darkening. She swallowed hard and refused to look away. Kylo spat, “The only beast here is you. She suffered under your fool laws. She doesn’t suffer with me.

 

                “And if you plant a bastard in her belly?” she snapped. Kylo almost winced at the foulness of it. “What then? Are your kind even born? Or are you summoned?”

 

                Kylo wanted to knock her off the stool, roaring. “Born,” he muttered tightly.

 

                “You’re a vile thing, risking that on a girl unwed.”

 

                He rounded on her, cheeks blazing. The hypocrisy made his face hot. “Fuck you,” he snarled, showing her his teeth as he had before, and he saw her eyes go wide. “Don’t dare pretend that you care about her after what you did.”

 

                “You watch your tongue-“

 

                “No. Get out. She needs to sleep.”

 

                Phasma gestured at Rey. “If you were to get Rey with child – God forbid - would it be born as your kind or hers?”

 

                Kylo held Rey closer, watching as her mouth opened slightly and a tiny snore escaped. “I don’t know.”

 

                “Don’t you think that you ought to know, beast? Lest you spoil her?”

 

                He scoffed at her. She said, “There’s someone who can help you both.”

 

                “Who?”

 

                Phasma’s eyes went to Rey, as though making fully sure that she was asleep.

 

                “When we found her, we brought her to a – a wood-witch. We didn’t know what the priests would make of her, what they would say. This witch, she knew. She knew everything.”

 

                “And what did she tell you?”

 

                “She told us that if we hid the skin, everything would be … alright. But she didn’t tell us that Rey could see. I don’t think she even knew.

 

                Phasma bent down and hefted another log onto the fire. They both watched as the flames began to lick at it. “I think,” she began, “I think that that's what you ought to do. Both of you. When you find ... it."

 

                “Where is she from?” Kylo asked Phasma. Rey shifted ever so slightly, opened her mouth, and began to drool on his arm. 

 

                “Christ knows. The sea, like you.”

 

                “I’m from Gaul,” Kylo said evenly. “The sea where?”

 

                “I don’t know. She could have been from anywhere; Cymru or Alba or Mann. The … mother … she stayed only for as long as it took her to drop Rey and take a chunk out of my husband’s arm, and then she was gone.”

 

                Rey moaned softly, pushing her face into Kylo’s hand. Carefully, he adjusted her, gently shifting her head so that it was resting comfortably on the pillow.

 

                “I’ll take her,” Kylo said, “to find it.”

 

                “The skin?”

 

                He nodded. Phasma sighed again, eyes welling up.

 

                “It’s on the very peak of the island. Aengus locked it up tight in a vest-box and stacked it all with rocks.”

 

                “Will I miss it?”

 

                Phasma shook her head.

 

                “When will you go?” she asked him.

 

                “Whenever Rey wills it.”

 

                She made the laughing sound again, lifeless and short. Kylo looked at her. “That’s the worst part of this, you know,” she said.

 

                “What is?”

 

                “You.” She wiped her eyes. “The only man from here to the end of the world that would ask the word of wives, and you’re a blood-beast.”

 

                Kylo turned back down to Rey. A thumb swept across her cheek.

 

               Maybe, he thought. Maybe.

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                There had been a time, long before she had ever flowered, and when had first Seen; the beast would come to her and fold its hooves beneath its belly so that she might lie against its warm side in the sand. It was as big as a warhorse, coat as black as night-water. She had known not it then – she couldn’t have known it – but he was talking to her.

 

                The words were foreign, lilting. She knew now that that voice she had heard was unmistakeably Kylo’s – as a child it was simply a voice amongst a thousand that she found within her Sight – and spoke softly in the tongue that she had come to recognise as Breton. The horse would turn its head and nose at her face, snuffling with a whiskery muzzle. Often it would curl its thick neck about her shoulder, rumbling from deep in its chest. She had never known such heat as she had lying against the horse, cheek pressed against its hot shoulder. Whether her Sight deigned to show her storm or rain or sun above them, to rest against the beast felt always as though there was a fire blazing under its skin and crackling beneath hers.

 

                She could spend hours Seeing him. She could spend hours stroking her child’s hands over the horse’s hard, round cheeks, or twisting braids in the coarse and curling hair of its mane. It would bend its head to let her, nickering softly.

 

                The Sight would break, then; somebody would heft her into their arms and shake her until she saw with her eyes. Rey would be loathe to leave it. The horse would protest, whinnying and pawing the sand, but its face faded, and the blistering heat under its skin was gone all at once. The rest of the day would feel oddly cold, no matter how the sun beat down upon her.

 

Before her eyes opened, she could hear them talking. She could hear birds, too; woodpigeons cooing and gulls screaming in the sky. It was morning.

 

                “… will you … swim?”

 

                “What else?” A hand swept over her forehead, rough and warm.

 

                “Well – I –“ There came a sigh. “Christ, what a mess.”

 

                Kylo grunted, “A mess you made.”

 

                “Watch it, beast. Watch that mouth of yours, or else I’ll open mine and the men will spit you like a pig.”

 

                Rey heard a low growl. “I’m not afraid of you, bastard,” she heard Phasma snap.

 

                Kylo rucked, “You should be.”

 

There was a thick silence. Phasma asked, “Should she?”

 

No! Rey wanted to scream, but didn’t move. Kylo’s hand came away from her face.

 

“If I’d had a mind to do anything, I would have by now.”

 

“You did it to Hux.” Phasma’s voice turned hard, bitter. “Why not her?”

 

                A dark sound rattled up Kylo’s chest and flew out so harshly that Rey heard Phasma step back. The woman scoffed, but there was a tremble in her voice that could scarcely be missed.

 

“If you’re going to go, go before the others wake. Take the big currach and keep her safe.” Rey heard the shift of the rushes under Phasma’s feet. “It’s at the summit. Aengus piled it up with rocks in a mound. You’ll find it if you know what you’re looking for.”

 

                “And when we find it?”

 

                Phasma hesitated. Rey heard her swallow.

 

                “I – I don’t know,” she conceded. “She’ll put it on, and then – after that, I can’t be sure.”

 

                “What will happen to her?”

 

                “She’ll change.”

 

                “Into what?” Kylo’s voice was hardening; frustration, or perhaps impatience.

 

                “I don’t know. The witch, she said – she said she’d tell Rey if she ever came to find it. We hoped she never would.”

 

                The hand was stroking her hair now. Rey felt a thumb rubbing gently at her temple. “This witch,” Kylo said.

 

                “She’s in the woodlands. In Fiodh Ard. I can bring Rey to h-“

 

                Kylo cut her off. “No.”

 

                Another silence. The storm-door creaked, and it was then that Rey knew Phasma was gone.

 

His face was the first thing she laid eyes upon.

 

“Tell me it was a dream,” she whispered. His hand found hers. “Please.”

 

Kylo’s eyes were soft. A tear fell down Rey’s cheek, almost surprising her. She pulled her hand out of his and knuckled her eyes, teeth gritted so that she would not cry.

 

Fuck.

 

“Don’t,” Kylo murmured.

 

She made an agonised sound, pressing harder until it felt as though the sockets of her eyes would surely bruise. Kylo took her hands away. “Don’t,” he said, and she struggled against him. “Don’t, Rey.”

 

“I don’t want this,” she wept. “I don’t want any of this, I can’t-“

 

“Stop it. Look at me.” He pulled her up against him, flats of her forearms hard against his chest. “Look at me, Rey. Stop.

 

                Her face was wet with tears, and her eyes stung.

 

                “Don’t cry. Listen to me.” He swallowed deeply. “We’re … the same.”

 

                “The same?” Rey exclaimed. “What do you mean? What –“ She pulled away from him, stomach full of twisting snakes. She wanted to be sick, to scream and sob. Most of all she wanted to wake up. Kylo pulled her hands apart when she pinched painfully the soft flesh of her forearm between her thumb and forefinger.

 

                “Stop, stop,” he growled. Rey shoved at him, slapping. The heels of her hands hit his chest hard. He caught her wrists in his paws and held her firm. Rey tried to pull one free to slap him. His grip tightened, his nostrils flaring, and he snarled right in her face, sound clawing up from deep in his chest and hitting her face like a swarm of wasps.

 

                Rey headbutted him.

 

                The blood that spurted out of his nose and down his lips did not flow for long, but the sight of it – stark and red against his skin – shook her. It dripped onto her face when he growled and snapped, pulling her underneath him and pinning her wrists to the rushes with both hands. He knelt on her thighs when she tried to kick him. “Give it up,” Kylo hissed. She could see the edges of sharp canines becoming ever-sharper, and cursed her fear, spitting in his face.

 

                The sharpening teeth snapped shut an inch from her face. Another drop of blood fell between her eyes and slid down the bridge of her nose. A low rumbling came from Kylo’s chest even so. She knew that sound, knew the words it meant – calm, still, stopbut she made a low sound, writhing.

 

                “I’ve seen them,” he rasped, voice hoarse from the dropping of his jaw. Kylo dropped to his elbows, the weight of his body holding her still on the furs. She turned her head away from him and felt him huff hot breath against her ear, nuzzling at her.

 

“Where?” she griped. Kylo bit her earlobe.

 

Breizh. Women. Nineteen, twenty of them, maybe more. They were all lying on a rock in the sun, out in the middle of the sea. Reun-gwerin. Seal-people.”

 

“Selkies,” Rey whispered.

 

“They can change. Like us.” He put a hand on his chest. “They can change, and when they do they’re like us, almost. Silver skin, white hair, black eyes.” He grazed his teeth over her cheek, rumbling. She dared look at him. His eyes were black, and he was half-hard against her thigh, despite the anger between them.

 

Rey almost thought he would hammer her, fuck into her without a moment’s consideration, but he sat back and pushed two thick fingers inside her, pulling her leg up over his shoulder and biting at her calf while she writhed.

 

“I should have known,” he growled, fingers curling. Rey pressed her lips together to keep from making a sound. “I should have known you weren’t like them. Too strong.” He pressed hard and she whimpered as the sensation shot sharp into her stomach. “Too wild.”

 

                His thumb circled over her bud insistently. Rey squeezed her eyes shut, and felt his teeth graze her calf, hand tight around her knee. He withdrew his fingers and seated himself inside of her all at once.

 

                The weight of him atop of her and the stretch of him inside her did not suffice to burn the fear from her mind. Even as he brought her to her peak, the pulse of her orgasm urging him to come as well, she was panicking, fearful of what lay out in the sea. Kylo swallowed his groans and she swallowed hers. She wouldn’t let him kiss her until the water was boiled and the seeds were steeped and she was drinking, staying the growth of new life in her belly.

 

                Mournfully, Kylo nuzzled at her throat. Rey sipped the foul tea without flinching. She was used to it by now. She felt his tongue flatten wetly against her neck, and he rumbled again. Rey let him slide both arms about her. He nibbled softly at her throat, her ear, working the soft lobe between his teeth. He was so gentle that she leaned back into him, His hand found her belly, and fell once more between her legs.

 

                “We have to go,” she said, but she let him bring her to orgasm once more.

 

                Her legs were shaking still when she packed bread and apples and cheese into a satchel; when she searched in the chest for a pair of britches she had been roped into mending some months ago and forgotten about; when she brushed her hair and braided it tight. She stumbled over the sand when they had dressed and gathered their things, and Kylo caught her to steady her.

 

                The dawn was grey. No one else was awake. Rey felt like some creature of the night; so often of late had her dealings been confined to dawn and dusk. Phasma was nowhere to be seen.

 

It felt odd to walk in boots and britches and a heavy mantle, like a man, but she would not clamber over wet rocks and salted peaks in a woman’s clothes and make a fool of herself. She repeated this to herself in her head as Kylo took off his clothes at the pier and disappeared into the water, only to re-emerge and pull the mooring-rope of the big currach out of its knot.

 

Rey gathered his clothes and put them into the hull. She placed the pack atop of them. Kylo’s skin changed before her eyes; scales pushing upwards through the pale flesh of his extremities, his tummy, his hips, his jaw. The gills opened and his eyes greyed. He rucked at her softly when she sat, oars under her feet, and the currach lurched forward.

               

                The day was as dark as her mood. Though it was scarcely morning, the sky loomed grey and thick above them, and the air held an odd chill. She huddled under her mantle, watching Kylo’s pale mass arch and twist under the black-grey water.

 

                She had never been to Ahch-To. She wasn’t sure how long it would take. The dark fur tickled her cheek. She felt an odd stripe of jealousy in her chest as Kylo body sliced smoothly through the sea.

 

                That could be you, something told her. That’s where you belong.

 

                “Kylo,” she called, leaning down to touch the surface of the water. She felt something strike the bottom of the currach to halt it, and very nearly fell forward onto her nose as water slopped over the side.

 

                A wet, scaled hand grabbed the side of the currach. It lurched as he lifted himself up. The gills gaped in the open air, fluttering. Rey could see inside them; they were dark and red and frilled, like the belly of a faerie stool. The white of his skin was set through with the dark scales, coal and kelp and the barest shimmer of bronze. The brown irises were softly familiar even against the grey of both sclerae. It felt like an age had passed since she had laid eyes on this skin, this form that had once frightened her so much.

 

                She put her hand over the slick, scaled paw. Kylo chuffed softly, nostrils and gills flaring, and rested his chin on the side of the boat. When she touched his wet face, skin still warm under the initial coolness of the icy sea, he rumbled.

 

                “Will I be like you?” she whispered.

 

                Kylo swallowed, brows in a rut, as though he was trying to find his voice. “Almost,” he said, and his voice was salt-hoarse. He swallowed again. “I think. I don’t know much about them.”

 

                “What do you know?” The currach creaked as Rey leant forward. “Are they … seals?”

 

                “Sometimes,” he said, and Rey felt her breath catch in her throat.

 

                “And …?”

 

                His frown deepened. He doesn’t know. Rey could feel the frustration twisting and knotting through her chest and down her back.

 

                “Will I … swim?”

 

                He nodded. Slick webbed fingers laced through hers. Rey clutched at them.

 

                “I’m scared to find it. I’m scared of what will happen to me. Or what will happen afterwards.”

 

“We could go,” Kylo breathed.

Rey looked at him. The water lapped against his shoulders, against the currach. The dark gills gaped.

“When you find it. We could leave.”

She whispered, “Where?”

Kylo clutched at her. “Anywhere,” he said, and she watched as his cheeks began to flush pink under the pallid white skin. “Anywhere at all.” The boat creaked again as he pulled, and she leaned.

There was a kingfisher beating its blue wings in her chest, she was sure. The thought froze her. Anywhere. She envisaged a world below, in the green and the grey and the black, with him. Kylo’s chest heaved as his gills pulsed. The gulls shrieked, urging her on.

His eyes were urgent, too. The bronze and the grey flickered across her face.

“I – I can’t-

“You can,” Kylo told her. “You can, you can – you’d be able, when you find it, and we’d never have to see anyone else ever again. It’d just be you, and me, and –“ His eyes flew downwards, to her belly.

Rey went still. “…children?” she dared.

He swallowed. “If you wanted them.”

She had thought on this before. Thoughts of Kylo’s dead son Ben would lead to thoughts of whether he wanted more children, and whether she would be the one to bear them. She would end up imagining the faces of children yet to be thought of and seeded and born – Kylo’s children – with freckles and dark eyes and ears peeking from masses of dark curls.

                They’d be like him. Or me. I don’t know. She could scarcely imagine rearing a child in the wilderness.

                Her heart flew into her throat. He wants children. He wants to leave. She could not tell whether he was homesick or simply sick of this place; one way or another, he wanted to take her from it and never return.

                It shook her deep to the core of her body that she wanted to, too. She simply couldn’t. She wasn’t like him. There were friends in Dun Canann, family, crops to be sown and pulled from the earth, pigs to be slaughtered, scallops to be swept from the seabed. There were deer and wolves to be hunted and struck through with arrows, bargains to be made with the Norse, children to be kept from starving.

                She wanted to take his hand and let him pull her over the side; let him pull her down, down, down into the deep, let him twist her in the kelp and keep her there until the death of the world.

                The skin, she reminded herself.

                “Kylo, I – I can’t.

                She watched his face fall and harden as he watched hers, and when he lifted the rope and made to disappear beneath the water she felt sick to her stomach.

                “Wait.” Her voice cracked.

                Kylo turned. “Not yet,” Rey managed, to appease him. “We need to find … it, and to see the witch, and a hundred other fool things.” When his mouth opened to protest, she said, “I know. I know, I know it’s stupid, but I can’t, not yet.”

                The gulls above screamed.

                Kylo came to the edge again and clasped between two scaled paws the hand she dangled over the edge. “Then when?” the water-beast asked her. She felt her cheeks burn as he took in the hesitation on her face. “You wouldn’t want for anything. You’d be safe. Nothing would ever hurt you again, not with me.” He lifted himself ever so slightly, and Rey bent so that he might touch his salt-cool nose to hers.

                “Soon,” she whispered. Kylo’s gills fluttered with his sharp gasp of breath. She wasn’t sure if she was lying to him or not. “Soon, I promise. Not yet. But soon.”

“Swear,” he demanded, breath cold.

“I swear.”

Kylo trilled, nosing at her face. The promise felt cold and warm in her chest all at once.

He swam on.

                Rey huddled under her mantle, shifting in the britches, and found herself eating out of stress. She pulled a heel of bread from the pack and nibbled anxiously, heart thudding. Kylo could surely hear her chewing; he rose several times to stare at her, nostrils flaring as he tasted the air. The currach was passing the jutting headland – she could see Ahch-To looming high and dark in the distance – when it gave a sudden jerk to the west.

                He pulled the currach up onto the rocks, no matter how she protested, and lifted her out of it like a child. There he sat her, and he disappeared back into the water. Rey stared at the place into which he had dived.

                “Kylo!” she exclaimed. No answer came. From where she sat, she could see nothing around her but the rest of the outcrop and Ahch-To, looming dark against the grey sky in the south. She sighed.

                “For fuck’s sake. Kylo!” She kicked the water, waves coming up at her feet. “Fucking hell.”

                She nibbled at the bread even so, waiting. What is he doing?

                Rey took off her boots and waited, eating out of hunger and fear both. The water was icy cold on her toes but she dipped them even so. She was half-considering going in after him, but decided against it. She was dressed in layers. Britches and mantles were not so easy to slip off as a dress.

                His re-emergence startled her. “Why are we here?” she asked him. “We have to go to-“

 

                He spilled a handful of shells into her lap, and then a handful of rocks. They were wet and made a puddle at the base of the hull. Kylo crouched back on his haunches and looked at her expectantly.

                “What are these for?” she asked him.

                “For you.”

                Before she could respond, he was gone again, back into the water. Rey dangled her feet, watching how they turned pink from the cold of it, and examined the things he had brought her. The stones, she saw, were all quartz - clear and pink and smoke – and the shells were large and fanned, heavy with the promise of food. She didn’t have her knife with her and cursed when her fingers didn’t manage to pry them open.

                She finished the bread. As she was brushing the crumbs off of her lap and into the sea, he appeared once more, and slapped something onto the rock as he lifted himself up. Rey realised that he had an entire lobster in his hand, dark and raging and speckled with red, snapping its pincers shut in the hope of catching somewhere delicate. He showed it to her proudly. It made to pinch her.

Rey gasped when Kylo dashed its head hard against the rock, killing it, and twisted it in half. He tore the shell clean from its back and held it out to her. She could see the pinky-white meat of it, almost translucent against the dark chitin.

                “It’s raw,” she said, but took it. Kylo made a face at the notion. “You eat it. Will you open my shells?”

                He did so diligently, splitting them with his thumbs and placing the opened shells upon her lap for her to eat. The raw cockles were salty on her tongue and rubbery between her teeth, but she ate every single one, blushing when Kylo rested his head against her knee to watch, chewing the lobster, eyes soft.

                “I’m frightened,” Rey told him.

                “Of what?”

                “Everything.”

                He rumbled, rubbing his face against her knee. “Why?”

                “Because I’m going to change. And I don’t know how.”

                “Good changes,” Kylo murmured.

                “How do you know?”

                He rumbled, reaching up to touch her throat. He traced three lines on each side with a careful forefinger. Rey trembled.

                “You’ll be like me,” he said, wistful.

                Rey wrapped a hand around his wrist, kissed it. He brought her more rocks, more food – oysters, mussels, periwinkles – and sat patiently until she was ready for more. When sunlight began to whiten the hoary sky, they left the outcrop again for Ahch-To.

                It loomed above the water and jutted out of the grey sea, a vast and jagged hunk of rock. It seemed oddly placed, as though a giant had plucked it from the side of a mountain and discarded it here in the waves when it grew bored of it. The slopes of the island were green-grey-black. They rose to an unimaginable peak, stark against the sky. The peak itself was circled by arcing birds, as though something lay dead at its summit, under the sky.

                Kylo’s face broke the surface. “Up there?” he breathed. The mooring rope curled wet about his scaled arm.

                Rey could scarcely imagine Aengus climbing and climbing and climbing, slipping on godless juts of salt-wet stone. She swallowed deeply, clutching the sides of the currach. There were steps upon steps from the foot to the peak, a path to the heavens.

                She wanted to cry.

                “Up there,” she said, bravely, feeling the pack at her feet. Her heart pounded godlessly in her chest.

              

 

 

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                The currach very nearly caught its hull on the jagged point of one of the basalt outcrops, hiding sentinel beneath the water, guarding Ahch-To. Kylo had let the currach drift, staring up at the clouded peak of the island, and only scarcely caught it when Rey cried out. He disappeared beneath it. Rey felt a thud below her as he aligned his body with the hull and hauled it free.

 

                The waves felt wilder here, black and seamed with bubbles and foam. They rose and slopped over the edges of the boat. It rocked dangerously – Rey gripped the slippery edges hard as the currach drew itself three feet upwards on a sharp swell – and she was very nearly thrown into its foaming mass when Kylo dragged the rope hard, scraping the hull up the stony shore.

 

                Ahch-To glared down at her, dark and imposing. Rey could scarcely take her eyes off of its sharp summit.

 

                He set her on the sand, breathing hard. His slick body wet the front of her clothes. She almost clung to him; held on and begged him to take her home. Her heart hammered in his chest. Rey clutched at his hand, anxious.

 

                Take me home, she almost said. I want to go home, I want to forget.

 

                She said nothing. She steadied herself in the sand and watched him pull damp britches on over wet skin. He didn’t bother with the boots, the shirt. Rey chewed her lip so violently she was sure it would split and bleed.

 

                The wind was strong here, the air cold. Kylo inhaled hard. He likes it.

 

                “Up there?” he asked again, slinging her pack over his shoulder.

 

                “Up there.”

 

                The shore was rocky and uneven. It would have been dangerous if Rey wasn’t light-footed, and Kylo unusually agile for his size. He ended up hauling her halfway even so, despite her protests, climbing from rock to rock with a grown girl slung over his shoulder like a sack of saltfish.

 

                There was a path of steps that began at the foot of the climb, hewn so roughly that they might well have been wind-carved from the birth of the world. Aengus had told her, long ago, that this was the isle of shade and mist, and that the shades used the steps to ascend to the sun and moon and stars and back.

 

                He didn’t put her down, and so she beat his back. “I can walk,” she exclaimed. “Kylo!” She didn’t realise that her ears were ringing until the sound of the waves was drowned out, until the crunch and shift of stones under Kylo’s feet was scarcely more than a whisper. She pulled out of his arms, and she stood.

 

                There. There.

 

                Something icy curled about her wrist, pulled. She inhaled. There. There. It was a cold echo. The waves rose and roared and crashed against the jagged rocks of Ahch-To. There, it lilted. Foll-ow. Th-ere. The-e-e-re.

 

                Her body turned west, away from the foot of the high steps to the summit. Kylo turned back, staring.

 

                “Rey,” he called. “Rey, where are you going?”

 

                It was pulling at her, whatever it was; it was blue and white and shimmering, and as dark as the deep of the sea.

 

                “Can’t you hear it?” she asked him.

 

                “Hear what?”

 

                “The …” She wasn’t sure what to call it. Half a silent sound and half a piercing deafness. “This way, look. Listen.”

 

                Th-ere. Th-e-e-e-re. Foll-ow. R-e-e-ey.

 

                Faeries’ voices, Aengus always said, were high and long and pealing, like bells. Hang the bells and it’ll make them feel at home, he would insist, lifting her high so that she could tie silver bells about rowan branches with lengths of fine ribbon.

 

                Children’s stories, she might have thought once.

 

                “It’s not up there,” she heard herself say. “No, it’s here. This way, it’s here.”

 

                The sand was stony here, and black with basalt. The black rock was demon-dark and porous, like thousands of screaming mouths. Phasma had told her, once, that it was made when the fires of hell opened and spewed out onto the earth. She said that a man from the Island of Garðar told her. Garðar was a vast and unknown isle, far to the north, its black coasts settled by vile northmen.

 

                The mountain’s sides were sharp and high, undercut by the wild sea. Caves, Rey realised; caves that loomed higher and darker than the caves in which she had sought Kylo, when he was nameless and starving. She stepped into the tide.

 

                “Rey – Phasma said-“

 

                “She was wrong.” There. There. The unvoices were pealing, so high that Rey could scarcely hear them. Follow. Foll-ow. Re-ey. Thee-ee-ee-eere.

 

                Her boots began to lag under her, soaked with water. She bent and tore them from her feet. The stones jabbed her soles horribly, but the water was so icy it left her numb from toe to ankle.

 

                The waves lapped at the rockface. Rey waded, unsteady, pushing away his hands when he made to support her. The cavern’s opening was a black sepulchre, its point high and ungodly, hidden somewhere in the jagged mess of the mountain.

 

                There. There. Follow. There. Rey. There. Follow.

 

                The ringing sounded like faerie bells, tinkling high and tinny in the dark reaches of the cavern’s shadow. The sound rattled in the base of her skull. The water rose as she went deeper. The light began to shift, and to dim.

               

                “Rey,” she heard Kylo call – he had stopped, wary – and his echo was so loud in the dark cave that she squeezed her eyes shut. The water sloshed about her legs, her waist.

 

                “Not much farther,” she whispered, sure that he could hear her. She didn’t know where the end of the cavern led to. She was being pulled, by chest and by foot and by skull.

 

                The rocks under her feet grew sharper, and the water colder. She heard Kylo grunt in frustration. She began to use her hands as her eyes began to fail her, lost to the shadows. Wet, slick basalt scraped her fingers.

               

                “What are you doing, fool girl?” Kylo demanded from behind her, reaching out to catch her when she slipped.

 

                “It’s here,” she insisted,

 

                “What is?”

 

                “The skin.”

 

                It became apparent to her, as they scaled wet rocks and avoided narrowly chasms in the cavern’s belly, that Aengus had lied to Phasma. He had come to Ahch-To, no doubt – but the skin wasn’t at the summit. It was here.

                               

                The lies of the dead felt heavy in Rey’s chest. Her hands found rock, misplaced and arranged. It was almost utterly dark. If she squinted, she could make it could.

 

                The ringing was deafening. There! There! Here! Rey! Here!

 

                The rocks were purposely piled, slotted and shifted into place. They were sharp and uneven. They could have been pulled clean from the cavern walls. Every edge threatened to cut and gash. Her eyes started to ache.

 

                She could see Aengus behind her eyes, wet from the tide, hands cut and bloody as he hauled the jagged stone and stacked it like a house. He was red with exertion. His arm was bandaged, and the dressing was sodden and red. The dripping ceiling was incessant. It deafened them both.

 

                Rey shoved at the rocks, pulling them aside. She had to grunt and heave at even the smallest of the pile. Kylo took them in his hands and cast them aside like pebbles. They hit the water below with crashes as loud as bodies. Rocks upon rocks upon rocks; Rey cut her hands and her arms, her own blood flowing even as Kylo’s gashes sealed.

 

                Rey sat back. The ringing stopped. The pealing voices choked away.

 

                It was a huddled lump. She scarcely dared to touch it. Kylo’s ruck of encouragement echoed against the basalt walls.

 

                She lifted it, shaking. It was as fine and as full as though it had just been flayed. The skin was grey and white-blue and dappled all with black.

 

                “Is that it?” he asked her softly.

 

                She stared at it. It was good and fine, but unremarkable. The ringing was all but gone. The only sounds that echoed in the cave were Kylo’s breaths, her own sniffling.

 

                “Clothes,” Kylo said, and she thought she could hear excitement in his voice.

               

                The dank air of the cavern was odd and icy on her skin. She peeled away the mens’ britches, the too-big shirt. Kylo took them, eyes wide.

 

                Gingerly, she pulled it about her shoulders – it slid silky across her skin - and waited, wincing.

 

                The water slopped over an outcrop. Gulls screeched outside. Nothing happened. Rey shifted it and waited again. She wasn’t sure how long she crouched there, bare and clad in nothing

 

                It was a pelt. That was simply it. There was nothing that shook her, nothing to ring in her ears, nothing to tell her that this was hers. She started to cry.

               

                “Fuck it,” she wept. “Fuck it all to Hell. I want to go home.”

 

                “No, stop. Stop.”

               

                “It’s nothing!” she exclaimed. “Look!” She pulled it off and thrust it at him. “It’s a fucking sealskin.”

 

                “Carwen-

 

                She took it back and made a disgusted sound, sobbing messily. It lay across her arms like a dead child. She cried into it, and then into him when he held her.

 

                When Kylo’s arms drew back, and he made a low sound, staring, it took Rey a moment to realise that the sealskin was melting into her flesh.

 

                It was a struggle, then; she thrashed and writhed across the wet rocks, screaming. Kylo tried to pin her still, frantic,

 

                Her skin blistered with heat and prickled with frost all at once. She wanted to claw it off herself, sealskin and flesh and meat until she reached the bone beneath, but she couldn’t throw the sealskin off as she might a cloak. Her nails raked red lines across her skin.

 

               The fire seeped beneath this new skin, beneath her old, until it found bone, and burned ever-hotter within. Ice swept hard about her limbs and fell deep within. She felt in it in her lungs, her throat. It was like choking on snow as her skin crackled and split like a spitted pig. She clawed the rocks, clawed him. She kicked and screeched, anything to take it off, to get it out.

 

               “Kylo,” she screamed, and she fell.

 

                Rey felt the hard swipe of the air cold against her cheek as her burning body keeled – the rocks scraped her leg as she went down - and hit the water. Over the sound of the fire, licking up her throat, her face, she could hear Kylo. He was frantic. She couldn’t see, eyes bleary from pain, but she heard the crash as his big body broke the surface, big hands grasping helplessly at her.

 

                Something was happening. It was melting onto her flesh, like wax from a candle, and sinking beneath her skin. Even in the icy black of the water, she was burning alive. She screamed in the salt, clawing at herself, clawing at him, clawing at nothing. She howled in the salt, choking, as her vision blackened. A scarlet dot appeared at the crest of the backs of her eyelids, like a drop of blood. She watched it spin, sink, darken.

 

                It became a whirlpool, and blackened and blackened until it swallowed her whole.

 

---------------------------------------

 

 

                Don’t you think it’s foolish, though? All those wolves … will they be safe?”

 

                Aengus scoffed.Would a dog be safe amongst other dogs?

               

                “Well. I suppose.”

 

                The night was clear. Rey’s feet were rooted to the sand.

 

                She was still aflame, screaming. Neither Phasma nor Aengus turned to look, as though they could not hear, or see. She could See, though. Her body was burning, and she could scarcely move an inch to save it.

 

                The tide rolled softly in on itself, drawing up and down the wet shore. Aengus trod in it with big bare feet. He had a big arm about Phasma’s shoulder, his sleeve rolled up, and her arm was snug around his waist. Their pace was slow. It was as through they had all the time in the world.

 

                She screeched their names, paralysed. They came to a stop, all of a sudden, and Rey wondered if perhaps they had heard her cries. They turned, stared at her. It took her a moment, fire crackling through her skull, to realise that they were looking through her.

 

                There was something in the tide.

 

                Something whimpered, grizzling. Aengus dashed forward. “Hey!” he exclaimed. “What the fuck do you think you’re- I –“

 

                A head snapped up, silver-white hair so long it dragged through the wet sand. It was pale, spotted, lines thick at its throat. Aengus cursed and Phasma gave a cry of shock. The creature had something clutched against its chest.

               

                There came another cry of distress. A baby. Rey’s throat went tight even as she screamed against the veil between them.  The creature dropped the baby in the tide – it fell to the foam and began to scream in terror at the fall, the cold water - and made to dart away.

 

                Aengus caught it by a long, soot-spotted arm. There was a god-awful hiss, a cry of shock, and Aengus staggered back. The sand was spattered with blood. The drops seemed to fly right through Rey. Aengus’s back hit the sand, arms flung out. The flesh was torn from wrist to elbow, mangled by teeth.

 

                “Wait,” she heard Phasma cry, “wait, wait – no! Come ba – no!”

               

                There was a splash. The baby howled.

 

                Aengus rolled onto his back, and the blood flowed. It fell to the sand. It flowed around Rey’s ankles, around her frozen calves, and up-up-up until she was drowning in it, and all of her sight was red, red, red.

 

------------------------------------

 

Kelpie

 

                 Kylo remembered a time long since lost, nuzzled close against his mother’s breast, when they saw her.

 

                He saw, at first, a pale head in the waves. He thought it to be a seal – a babe, grey and silver – until he saw the eyes, the hair, the hands. She stared back at him. Kylo was a foal, and curious, and so he clambered out of Leia’s lap and raced to the edge of the water. He couldn’t remember his reasoning; perhaps he thought that she wanted to play.

 

               The selkie gave a terrible hiss – her dark lips pulled back over small, barbed white teeth – and she shot away.

 

                He remembered, too, being older – a colt, young and lanky but growing broad in the chest – and leaning both largening hands against a flat of wet basalt, surrounded by seals and women that stroked curiously at the scales on his shoulders and gasped in delight when he sank them back into his skin. It had been snowing; the land was blanketed in untouched white, and the sea was icy.

 

               He remembered the caressing hands on his face, in his hair; remembered the first one to take hold of his chin and kiss him on the mouth. He remembered the noises that flew from his colt’s mouth when they touched him. These recollections were veiled and heavy but returning. Most thinly veiled was the memory of the male, furious and hulking, that caught Kylo in the face with a huge and dappled fist and beat him bloody in the winter waters.

 

                He’d dragged himself back to the snowy shore. His legs had been shaking, but not from the bruises of the male’s fist.

 

               Now, Kylo let his gills open, pulling in cold water. He felt it fill his body and then escape. He saw, on the sides of her silvery neck, the same.

 

                Kylo inhaled sharply. He could feel her hands shaking where they clasped at his chest – clawed hands, the nails black and sure – and could see as her mouth opened and closed like a fish, expelling scarce bubbles. He clutched at her. She didn’t know how to breathe.

 

                Kylo took hold of her and put a hand over her mouth, pinching softly her nostrils so that her eyes went wide. She struggled, and then he saw as the silvery gills fluttered open and began to pull the water in. Her eyes bulged, then, unused to the sensation, but Kylo held her fast. It took a moment for her body to fall limp.

 

                Her hair – once the colour of heartwood, of the darkened pelt of a young fox – was snowy like an elder’s. Her skin was silver-grey, dappled across with dark star-spots. The wide and endless black of her eyes drew him in, his lips ever-so-slightly parted as he looked at her. When he touched her hip, her stomach, her arms, she was silky-soft under the pull of the water. Kylo’s hands wandered, curious.

 

                Rey was breathing heavily with her new lungs, black eyes flickering about them as though there was something she feared in the cramped depths of the cave. A pale jellyfish was puffing near the cave’s bowled floor, and Rey clung close to Kylo when she felt it billowing in the water. Her eyes snapped onto it. She whimpered against him, a single bubble rising from a darkened, flared nostril.

 

                Her nose was seal-like, too, nostrils drawn up towards the round dark eyes, huffing softly as they searched the water. The claws dug into his shoulders as she held him. Kylo trilled at her, nosing the side of this new face. She put her head against his shoulder. Kylo could feel her trembling.

 

                He kicked his legs and carried her.

 

                Kylo heard her wail against his shoulder, fearful, as he pulled her out into the open sea. Her nails were digging deeper into him now. When he made her hold her at arm’s length – he wanted to observe, to take in every inch – she made a frightened sound and clung hard to him, as though she was afraid of falling.

 

                There’s nowhere to fall, he wanted to tell her, but couldn’t speak in the salt. Around them was nothing but grey-green-black; below them the shifting sea-forest; above them the waves, rolling and crashing, growing stronger and stronger.

 

                It was, he decided, rather like whelping a foal to water – except this foal was almost twenty, she was heavy, and clung and scratched and cried – when he held her out, pinning her arms to the side. She made a desperate sound, half-wail and half-hiss, and her teeth were small and white and barbed. Rey struggled, and Kylo let her go.

 

               Selkie

 

                She swiped at the water for a moment, kicking in terror, before she realised that there was nowhere for her to fall.

 

                Rey felt cold. The sides of her throat pulsed – gills – and the water sank deep into her chest, around the caverns of these new lungs, and back out. She could taste salt at the back of her throat.

 

               She had never seen quite so clearly.

 

              She could see every fleck of gold in his blackened eyes, see every pale scar on his chest and his arms that had evaded her eyes before. The scar she had left across his face was ever-dark against the white of his skin. If she focused, she could see the faint throb at the base of his throat as his heart beat in his chest. Within his gills it was crimson-black, pulsing in the salt.

 

             She could smell everything, taste the water around her. She could smell him, she realised. There was salt in her nose, her throat, and on her tongue; the taste and the smell of lavender and seaweed and tree-bark. She could see the shimmer of every scale – pitch and silver and moss – across his shoulders, his arms, his legs.

 

            The harsh influx of senses did little to calm her. Her head felt full of wasps and bees and carrion crows. She was shaking, still, and frightened. She could feel her heartbeat in the water around her. The first thing she did with this new and salt-hoarse voice was hiss, the sound shooting out as a rush of rasped bubbles. Her voice came out a futile warble, muffled and suffocated by the water.

 

            It felt ever so odd to float without sinking, without her land-lungs bursting for breath. Rey reached out with a desperate hand and gasped at the sight of it. Her skin was grey-silver, dappled with soot. Her fingers were flippered, webbed, her nails long and dark. Like a seal.

 

           His hand came out to meet hers. The water was pulling in and out of her throat madly now, and she caught hold of him, clinging to him like a child. Her tears felt hot in the salt. I want to go home, she wanted to scream. I want to get out, I want to get out, I want to go home-

 

           Kylo tried to pull back to look at her, and she wouldn’t let him. She grappled with him, trying to stay as close as she could, and in her struggle, she cut his neck and his back and his chest, long red lines that sent blood clouding into the sea. She started to screech, clawing at him.

 

           Kylo had bruised her before. It felt like a thousand years had passed since her screams rang through the bay, since iron-cold hands caught her ankles and dragged her into the deep. The pain was still just as vivid in her mind’s eye, the fear. Now, the digging of his hands into her arms, her shoulders, burned. She panicked and laid four bloody stripes down the side of his face. A rusty cloud of blood obscured her vision. Their thrashing was stirring up the water, as though it had begun to boil. Rey thrashed wildly, screeching. The sound was too-high in these new ears, so high it made her head ring and her eyes ache.

 

        TakemehometakemehometakemehomeletmegoletmegoletmegoletmegoletmegoletmegoletgoletgoletGO!

 

        His hand caught her throat, covered her gills. She felt pressure at the base of her skull, a heavy blackness, and then felt her body drop into the abyss.

 

---------------------------

 

Rey

 

                 She was in a coffin. The wood of it pinned her arms to her sides, her head to its bottom. The coffin was in a river. The weight of the water pressed down, down, down, and filled her lungs and drowned her and-

 

                 Wheeze.

 

                Her hands found the sides of the tub before her eyes opened. The air barrelled down her throat and into her lungs. She felt the sides of her throat pull shut.

 

                When her eyes found him, bent over the shelf in the dark hut, she gasped. The water sloshed as she moved, and Kylo turned to look at her. Rey blinked. For a moment, he was a scarce shadow in the darkness, but her eyes came to see his face properly when she focused.

 

                “What did you do to me?”

 

                “Put you to sleep.” His voice was gruff and sent a knot of fear into the pit of her stomach. He kept looking at the door.

 

                “Why?”

 

                Kylo looked at her, face unsure. Oh. The lines her claws had cut into him were gone, mostly, but very faint pink stripes remained apparent on his skin. Some dragged from his cheekbone and all the way down his chin. “You fell in the sand.”

 

                “I’m hungry,” she told him. She ached with it. It hurt something in her heart to remember the months of hunger after Aengus’ death. Kylo’s eyes went to the door again.

 

                The tub was half-full of cold water. There was gritty sand gathering at the bottom, and in her hair when she touched it. The back of her head felt tender, and she ached all over.

 

                Her skin felt sore, like she’d been sunburnt. She was glad for the cold water - hot water would have sent pain tearing through her – and sank into it, tentatively breathing in the way she had been taught and almost forgotten. Kylo appeared from above the water, irritated.

 

                “Tar anseo,” she heard him say, voice muffled.

 

                Rey shook her head, turning her face away from him. The tub felt too-small, dark and claustrophobic like a coffin, but she was tired. Hungry. She wanted bread and cheese and fish. She lifted her face above the surface, struggling a moment with the transition of breath from water to air, and looked pointedly at him.

 

                “Tá ocras orm,” she said.

 

                Kylo foamed a chunk of soap, rubbing it hard into the rag, hands as firm as a mother scrubbing a child. When the linen touched her skin, a fearful noise flew from her throat, and her hands moved before she told them to, slapping his arm hard.

 

                It hurt.

 

                “No, don’t!” she exclaimed, shying away. The linen had left a line of fire across her back, as though Kylo had burned her. He dropped it, eyes wide. She curled in on herself, nosing a knee.

 

                “Sore,” she mumbled.

 

                The soreness dwindled when his hand replaced the rag, rubbing soap in soft circles across her back, her shoulders. It felt odd without the fire, but her throat felt salt-sore, and she could scarcely lift her head to ask. Her stomach rumbled.

 

                “Gently,” she whimpered, clinging to his hand when he pressed too hard.

 

                She let him rinse her and lift her and clumsily pat her dry. She let him put her on her furs – she struggled and cried when he tried to put her onto her long-neglected cot – and let him swaddle her like a child.

 

                Rey’s head was too full of wasps to be able to tell what hour of the day it was. It was brighter, in any case. People would be awake, working, eating. “Kylo,” she began, hoarse.

 

                He shushed her, head close. “Who saw us?” she whispered.

 

                His face went stony. Rey’s stomach twisted, bile burning in the back of her throat. Half a hundred faces struck like lightning bolts behind her eyes.

 

               PhasmaRoseRuanPeadarDainínBranCiaránSeánFinnFinnFinnFinnFinnFinnFinnFinnFinnFINNFINNFINNFINNFINN.

 

              Finn.

 

             “Finn?” she dared.

 

             Kylo swallowed hard. Rey drew herself up. “What did you do to him? Kylo, what did you do to him?” He didn’t answer, and Rey beat his chest with her fists. “What did you to do-“

 

           “Nothing.”

 

          “Kylo,” she gasped.

 

          “He saw.” He moved her, drew another fur over her chest, folded one beneath her head. 

 

          He brushed her hair awkwardly with his fingers, nosed her face. A sharp and desperate rap on the storm-door frightened her. Finn didn't wait to be invited in.

 

          When Rey drew back from Kylo, fists tingling where she had beaten his chest, her eyes fell upon him as clear as he had been behind her eyes, face twisted in pain and fear and disgust. She had to blink, knuckle her eyes. Kylo hissed.

 

                Finn said, voice trembling, “What the fuck-

 

                Kylo cut him off. “Get out.”

 

                Finn took a step forward, and then another. His gait was shaky, a sickly newborn fawn. He swallowed plain revulsion when Kylo leaned over Rey, nostrils flaring.

 

                “I saw it carry you back from the pier.” He swallowed again. His dark eyes were welling up. “I thought you were dead. I haven’t seen you in days, I didn’t know where it’d taken you or what it’d done, I – I –“

 

               Rey felt more tears prickle at the corners of her eyes. Finn griped, “It said it’d kill me.”

 

               Kylo rucked heavily; a threat. “Stop it,” Rey breathed. “Stop it, stop.

 

             “What’s gone on?” Finn demanded. The volume of his voice made Kylo’s head snap up, teeth show. “What did it do to you, Rey?” He took in her damp hair, her scratched and reddened arms.

 

             Rey’s voice cracked. “I-“

 

            “Out,” Kylo growled.

 

            “Fuck you,” Finn spat.

 

            Kylo pulled back his jaw and his lip and snarled, teeth nightmarish. “Out.”

 

           “Finn,” Rey said weakly. She felt too hot, too like to faint. “Not now. Later. I’ll come find you, I’ll-“

 

           “No, now!”

 

           His face was stormy, his eyes raincloud-wet. “Now.” He was shaking before her very eyes. “Ever since that washed up, you’ve – you’ve not been the same. Tell me. Now.”

 

          “Out, Kylo snarled. He was almost slavering, eyes blackening as they fell onto Finn’s jugular.

 

          Finn stared them both down a moment.

 

         “Tell me, or I’ll tell the others. I’ll tell them what it is.”

 

         She could scarcely breathe, head lolling against Kylo’s knee.

 

        “You open your mouth,” Kylo rasped at Finn, “and I’ll rip out your tongue.”

 

         Rey fainted, and woke up alone.

 

        The sky had cleared, ever so slightly, rays of yellow shoving through the storm clouds. She wept when she realised her isolation, blubbering into the hide of a dark and shaggy wolf until the fur was sodden with tears. Her breaths were sharp and fast, catching in her throat until she felt as though she was drowning again. Rey clutched at her throat and tried to force the air up and down, in and out, so that she didn’t choke on her own panic.

 

        She wanted him to curl both great arms around her and crush her against his chest, to ground her. Even swaddled tight in furs, she felt as though she was lost at sea, swept out to the open ocean with nothing above her but sky and nothing below her but the dark and the unknown.

 

           Rey scratched at her skin until her arms were red and stinging. She would have scraped them until they bled, but he was there once more and pulling her hands apart so that she couldn’t hurt herself.

 

                “Stop, stop it.” Kylo was wet, hair dripping. There was a handful of shells at his knees, a clutch of fish. His face was stormy.

 

                “Where’s Finn?” she sobbed, when he swept over her the dark wolfskin.

 

                “Stop. Quiet.”

 

                “You hurt him,” she gasped, hysterical.

 

                “Rey,” Kylo said, incensed. “Look at me.

 

                He pinned her wrists above her head and her thighs under his knees and set himself there above her, wet and bare. “Look at me,” he said again.

 

                “I don’t want this,” she wheezed. “I can’t, I can’t. I want to scrub it all out, please, I want it to stop.” She struggled. “It hurts, I want it to stop-“ Rey was too weak to fight him, in too much pain, and so she cried, limp and aching.

 

                “Rey. Reunig. Look at me.”

 

                A drop of saltwater fell from the curls of his hair to her eye, and she blinked it away, stilling.

 

                “It’s done,” Kylo murmured, nosing at her. “You can’t stop it.” Her breath twisted in her chest. She could have screamed.

 

                “You don’t have to want it to stop. This …” His eyes found hers, and he let his body drop so that he was pressed fully against her. He was heavy, and warm. “You need time to learn. It’s been too long without knowing.”

 

                “Knowing what?” she managed.

 

                A thick finger traced the side of her throat. “All of this. You need a teacher. It’s been too long, you’ve forgotten how to be. I can show you. I can show you all of it.”

 

                She started to sob again. “But I won’t be the same.”

 

                “No,” Kylo agreed. “Not in every way.”

 

                “What’s going to happen to me?”

 

                Kylo studied her. His eyes were softer now. She tried to count his eyelashes, so that she might breathe properly.

 

                “I don’t know,” he said. “Not everything. But … this witch –“

 

                They lay in silence until her lungs came back to her.

 

                “When?” Rey dared.

 

                “Not yet.” He rolled onto his back. “You need time. You need to learn. To rest.

 

                She turned her head to look at him again.

 

                “Kylo,” she said, “I’m hungry.

 

                The way the fishbones yielded to her teeth frightened her, and so she gulped water, and slept. She felt him curl around her. His purring trembled through her. She slept. She didn't dream.

               

               

               

 

       

Chapter Text

                               

                               

                              

                              

 

                It took her days to recover. Kylo told the others that she had fallen into the sea trying to pet a seal and had taken a chill.

 

Rey was weak, clammy. She found herself agonisingly nauseous and then started vomiting, retching up pale, rank bile that tasted of kelp and seawater. When the fever took her, she thought that she was surely to die. It seemed that Phasma thought so, too.

 

 When Rey was delirious, raving, soaked with sweat and seeing seals and gods and swirling kelp, Phasma wept at her side. Rey burned and saw wild things, heart racing, but she could hear her, hear Kylo.

 

“She’s going to die,” Phasma sobbed. “She’s going to die, I know she is, Aengus was the same before he passed – oh, God-“ Her hands were cold on Rey’s flesh. Rey’s skin was ablaze.

 

“No.” Kylo wasn’t aggrieved, wasn’t saddened or fearful. His voice was sure. “No, she won’t.”

 

“Then what? What’s happening to her?”

 

“I don’t know.” Rey felt another hand; bigger, rougher, warmer. It laced its fingers with hers. “But it’ll end, soon. Watch.”

 

Rey’s addled mind had forgotten how to piece together fragments of time, and so it could have been days when the fever cooled. She awoke strangely recovered before the dawn, though damp with sweat, and found Kylo asleep on the floor, snoring softly.

 

She watched him. He lay on his belly, stretched out to his full bulk. His head rested on his folded arms. The floor was wet where he was drooling, snoring softly. She crept over on shaky legs and stroked his bare back.

 

It took a great deal of begging, of wheedling, and whining on Rey’s part to convince Kylo to let Finn be alone with her. She found that, succeeding the events of the past days, she could lift the pitch of her voice so high that the dogs outside would bark, and Kylo would snap, irritated. Her voice hurt her own ears. It, amongst other changes, frightened her. 

 

She was still in bed when she sent Kylo to fetch Finn – he grizzled at that, but obeyed – and was sipping water when he returned. Finn was pale. His eyebrow was cut but healing, days old. Rey stared at it, and at Kylo. You did hurt him, she thought.

 

She sat up from her swaddle and showed Finn, when she managed to convince Kylo to leave. It took all of her concentration. Kylo hadn’t begun his teaching yet, and so she struggled. For a moment, she was on fire again, and then thrust into a snowdrift. The backs of her eyes were scarlet, and black, and then blue.

 

When she opened them, Finn was choking on silent words. Rey pushed open her throat so that he could see the gills.

 

Under his skin, Finn was green.

 

“… when?”

 

She found herself oddly calm, the hysteria of the past days dissolved into a flicker of panic whenever something new overcame her. “Always.”

 

Always?” he echoed.

 

“I wasn’t left in the field. That was just a story Phasma and Aengus told everyone. A story they told me.

 

Finn swallowed hard. His eyes didn’t leave her throat. Rey pulled the sealskin back in under her flesh, and his shoulders dropped.

 

“We have to go inland, Kylo and I. To Fiodh Ard.” She pulled a fur back over herself.

 

“Why?”

 

“Phasma brought to a woodswoman there when I was born. A witch. She says that the witch can … help me.”

 

“I’ll come with you as far as the town,” Finn said abruptly. “But – the rest of the way – I-“

 

“I know.”

 

She held out her hand and Finn took it, though his fingers were light and wary around hers.

 

“I’m the same,” she told him. They sat for hours and after a while it seemed as though nothing had changed at all. It was Beltane again and Hux was alive and an oaf and they were eating together in the shade of the hut, and Finn was grizzling about Poe. He told her that he’d gone to the town again, with some of the others, and that Poe had fucked him again but he’d sat on top of him this time, and that something that happened to make his belly twitch and burst into flames.

 

He left when Kylo returned, breaking the spell but casting another, ever brighter. The kelpie grumbled at him as he swept past, pulling back his top lip and flashing his teeth. Rey felt the hiss – meant for Kylo -  rising up out of her chest before she could stop it, and both men turned to stare at her as it rushed through her teeth.

 

Kylo had brought her sweets. She could smell them, over the smell of him; he smelled of horse – he’d been in his horseskin – and he was muddy, hair windswept. “Where did you go?” she asked him, and he dropped in front of her. There was a clutch of linen in his hands that he pushed into her lap. The damp marks of horse-teeth marred the cloth.

 

“Did you steal these?”

 

“Yes.”

 

“From where?” She opened the wrap and found honeyed almonds, boiled sweets like chunks of amber, tiny bilberry tarts small enough to fit in the palm of her hand. One had broken and crumbled.

 

“The town.”

 

Rey pointed to the teeth-marks on the linen. Kylo said, “I hid. They’re so stupid, they didn’t see me. I hid by the donkeys. A whole crowd of foa – children came patting me while their mother bought cakes. I came up behind her and grabbed it and ran.” He seemed proud. “I nearly got caught in the gates, too.”

 

“Suppose you had?”

 

“I don’t know. I didn’t, so –“

 

“The next time I go to town I’ll have my ear bent with people going on about the horse that steals cakes,” she scolded him.

 

“Eat,” Kylo urged her, and when she didn’t he insisted, “Eat, reunig.”

 

She ate, sprawled across his chest. She asked for water from the well and he fetched a great bucket of it. When he returned, he had a face like a whipped rear, and someone was following.

 

Phasma watched awkwardly from the doorway as she drank. Kylo sat beside her and huffed. Rey poked his leg, not taking her eyes away from Phasma’s face. Phasma looked at the half-eaten wrap of sweets and gave Kylo a dirty look.

 

“She needs to eat properly,” she said, as though Rey wasn’t there. Kylo bared his teeth at her and hissed, offended.

 

Phasma said, pale, “Rey, come and eat,” and she did. She had to send Kylo away again – he nosed against her ear and kissed her cheek and stalked down to the pier before anyone could catch him – and Rey sat on the sand a little away from the others, watching as food was cooked by the fire. She had to listen to several people come and ask her if she was alright, was the chill gone, would she like beer – she said yes, yes, and yes. She sipped at it – it was foamy and fresh and stronger than she was used to – and stared at the water.

 

Phasma said, beside her, “I’m sorry.”

 

“I know.”

 

“I should have told you, I know that. I just … I couldn’t. I didn’t know how.”

 

Rey said, “The skin wasn’t on top of the mountain.”

 

Phasma almost smiled. She looked at the bay.

 

“Kylo told me. I suppose … I suppose I’m not surprised. Aengus was never as against it – against telling you – as I was. It was always an old bone between us. When he knew he was dying, he wanted to tell you, too. But you were only small. I thought it was for the best.”

 

Rey finished the soup. “She didn’t want me,” she said. She put the bowl down and leaned on her knees. “Whoever she was. She didn’t want me.”

 

“I don’t know what she wanted, pup.”

 

“Do you think she’s still alive?”

 

Phasma’s face tightened. “I wouldn’t track that path, pup.”

 

Rey nodded. The sand felt warm at her feet.

 

“You know,” Phasma went on, “I always thought that the, uh – the skin, you could … take it off. That’s what all the stories say. The selkie skin, you know?” She shifted uncomfortably when Rey didn’t respond. “I want you to be careful, pup, when you go inland.”

 

“I will.”

 

“I mean it, Rey. This-“ She gestured to her, “-isn’t a suit of armour. It won’t protect you from brigands and wolves and God-knows-what-else –“

 

She felt a flicker of indignance, a red run of anger in the new power she could feel under her skin.

 

“Kylo will.” Rey was shocked at the absolution and the stoniness in her voice.

 

“Yes. Well. See that he does.”

 

The heft of a sudden wave crashed into the outcrops. Phasma said, “You knew, didn’t you?”

 

“About him?” Rey crossed her legs beneath her. “I knew.”

 

“When?”

 

“When I was in the water, after Beltane-“ She watched Phasma’s face go pale.

 

“That was him?”

 

Rey said, “He wasn’t in his right mind. He was starving.”

 

Phasma shuddered. A sand-fly landed on her forehead, and she slapped it away. “Starving,” she muttered. “And you got away. Suppose you hadn’t?”

 

“I didn’t get away. He let me go.”

 

Phasma’s voice rose. “And you were in a fever for nigh three days, if memory serves.”

 

Rey told her, in a small voice, “He didn’t know what he was doing.”

 

“Are there others?” Phasma asked, and then clarified, “Others like him?”

 

“I think so. I mean – I know so. He had a wife and a son, once. A mother, too, and friends and-”

 

“He what?”

 

“A long time ago, in Gaul. They’re dead now.”

 

“Christ in Heaven,” Phasma griped. “A child. Can you imagine that? A child – one of them.

 

Rey had, more than she cared to recall, but stayed quiet.

 

She hadn’t eaten meat in what felt like an age, and so she accepted half a chicken roasted with salt and chives, and a wedge of cheese with fire-warm bread. Kylo was nowhere to be seen. She could hear the men asking amongst themselves, wanting his help to bend ash boughs into bows for the harvest hunt. Rey knew where he was. She watched the waves roll as she ate.

 

She could feel Phasma looking at her. She tried to ignore it.

 

“Is he …” Her voice was low. The others were near them, eating and talking. “Is he in there?”

 

Rey nodded once. She felt Phasma’s disgust. When Siobhan picked up a lone twin and walked towards the others. Phasma turned to her again.

 

“This,” she said, “this can’t go on. You know that, don’t you?”

 

Rey could feel ice in her veins. “What do you mean?”

 

“I mean – you don’t expect this to go on forever, do you?” Phasma stared at her. Rey’s mouth parted in shock.

 

“What the hell is that supposed to mean?”

 

“Rey, he’s … he’s a bea-

 

“And what am I?” Rey hissed. She jabbed her own chest hard with a forefinger, dropping her chicken-bone on the sand. “This is forever. I can’t change this, you said it yourself. This isn’t going away.” She took in Phasma’s hardening face. “You – you want me to forget it, don’t you? You want me to forget him, you utter b-“

 

“You watch it now,” Phasma snapped. “Don’t you think for a second that I’m going to have another miotasach causing hell in this bay.”

 

“Another? Fuck you.”

 

She cried when she was alone, throwing herself onto her cot – dusty from lack of use – and whimpered into the skins. She desperately wanted Kylo to hear or smell or feel, so that he would come back and sweep her up and take her away.

 

She recalled briefly his face, the desperate excitement in his eyes, when she had half-promised to go with him, their laps full of shells in sight of Ahch-To. We’d never have to see anyone else ever again, Kylo had insisted. It’d just be you, and me. You wouldn’t want for anything. You’d be safe. Nothing would ever hurt you again, not with me

 

Rey fell asleep without quite feeling tired and woke up to soft purring in her ear. She turned on her back and faced him. He was damp, bright-eyed, but when he saw the tearstains on her cheeks he made a low sound of concern.

 

Rey didn’t want to speak or explain or cry to him. She pushed him onto the floor - even the rush of her own raw-red strength in the strings of her muscles shocked her - and sat atop of his belly, tearing the laces of his britches in her haste to free him of them. When Kylo huffed and tried to put her on her back, she bent and showed him her teeth.

 

She mounted him as boldly as he had done to her, countless times, and rocked back and forth until everything coiled and twisted and burned inside. Their hearts burst, and it took moments before they were ready for more. Kylo bit at her, and she wondered if he had taken umbrage to her boldness. She decided that she didn’t care, and bit him back. They fought, snapping and nipping, though these bites were soft as kisses.

 

Rey could scarcely put aside in her mind the great bulk of him, how heavy he was and how he took the air out of her lungs when he was on top of her. She let him have his power a moment, the unquestioned strength he was so used to, as he attacked her delicate collarbones with teeth and tongue, and then shoved at him, hard.

 

The red feeling in her arms didn’t dissipate. Kylo jolted back, off-guard, and he went for her once more. Rey slipped out from under him and tried to climb atop of him again. “Stay, stay,” she insisted, pushing down on his chest. It offered a resistance that neither of them were used to.

 

Rey observed him. His chest was heaving and he was slick with sweat, glowing whitely in the bare light. She could feel dust motes in the air and blew them away. She remembered being a child and being utterly convinced that they were tiny flies, or faeries. Kylo reached up with an insistent paw, drawing her face back towards him.

 

                They made love again, the same way. Rey was sure that Kylo had thin red lash-lines all up his back and arms and arse and thighs from the rushes. He would look as though he had been whipped horrible. She put her hands on his big chest and reminded herself to kiss the red marks away, when they were finished. She wasn’t sure when that would be. She didn’t care.

 

                Kylo was happy enough to let her ride him like a placid pony, but there were limits. She saw these limits growing nearer and nearer in his big black doe-eyes. Happy enough, Rey knew, wasn’t good enough. She knew that well and yet she kept moving, never taking her eyes from his. She felt impossibly full of him. He gave a sudden growl that could have come from a bear, and she slapped his tummy so that he threw her onto her back, on the fur.

 

                She came to the realisation – as Kylo nosed her legs apart and nuzzled and suckled at her, big paws tight about her thighs – that this was different. Before it had been good. Much better than good – much better and more ridiculous and more incredible than a little orphaned wretch had any right to understand. Her body was different; not visibly, not yet, but under the skin she was different, and in her head she was different. She was like him, in a way, and so it felt, she supposed, as it should.

 

Rey propped herself up on her elbows instead of lying meek on her back. She was panting. The sealskin hadn’t taken that away; she was still Rey, and so she still whimpered and moaned and breathed hard when the big Gaul lapped at her, making low sounds like a hungry hound. Rey put her weight onto one elbow and reached down to yank his hair, to see what he might do.

 

Kylo didn’t take his face away. He growled, eyes opening, and she felt the sound inside her. She pulled again and Kylo was shunted in her before she could blink a second time.

 

“Stop, stop, get off.”

 

Kylo went still on top of her, pulling back. “Get off,” she said. “Not yet. I want to – get off, lie down. Lie on your back.” She found herself smiling. Kylo smiled back and snapped at her fingers when she mushed his face with her hand, squealing with laughter. “No, Kylo, off. Let me up. Lie on your back.”

 

He didn’t want to be on his back – that was very clear. He keened in protest, pushing back against her hand. Rey knew very well what he wanted; to be inside her, to huff and grunt and thrust, because he was a man and a beast and both. He was something else, too, though. That something made him want to kiss and nuzzle and make her warm, touch her gently without hurting her, hold her on his lap, feed her, tie her hair neatly. Rey gave his chest a push.

 

“Lie on your back. I want to try something.”

 

He studied her for a moment, petulant and frustrated, but did as he was told. Kylo eyed her, finger against the pale of the fur, and those doe-eyes went wide when she sat between his big slack thighs and took a careful, tentative lick of the near-purple head of his cock.

 

Kylo cursed in his own tongue. He tasted of salt, Rey found, and whatever the taste was when she licked at the hollows of his throat and his chest and his belly. It was as big as the rest of him. He smelled good, like the sea and cut wood and man or beast or whatever he was. Rey put her head against his thigh and licked at him from there, taking his cock in her hand and suckling at it like it was something sweet – and it was, almost.

 

He started to keen when it got to be too much. Rey liked that sound – it was very different from his huffing and his grunting and growling, like a big haughty stallion. His keening was soft. It meant please – please stop – I can’t. Or so Rey imagined. She didn’t have time to think. He took hold of her and was rough with her then, heavy against her – so rough that she climaxed without his fingers or her own near her clit. Kylo’s face was flushed and proud. It had been his intent.

 

He bucked, and she felt him twitch, and he groaned into the space between her breasts, lips heavy against the pale skin there.

 

Dousa,” he huffed, teeth gritted. “Reunig-“ He grunted, and she felt his big body go limp. Rey moaned into his warm neck. She felt damp. She didn’t have any proper pet names for him, not yet – he seemed to have multitudes for her, but she excused that with the fact that he knew what he was and what he liked – but she would find and make them, and have hundreds for him.

 

Rey drank two cups of foul tea, just to be safe, when they were done. They lay in their limp pile of a bed and Rey put her head on his big chest and told him about Phasma and what she’d said, and how Rey had cried. She didn’t often like the idea of Kylo being angry at Finn or Phasma or anyone she held dear, but she liked it now, watching rapturously as his jaw clenched and he made an intense sound. She told him about the woodswoman, too, and how long it would take to get to Fiodh Ard and what they would need to bring.

 

“It’s hardly more than a week until Lughnasadh. We won’t be there for longer than that. I hope.

 

“Lughnasadh,” Kylo echoed. The word sounded odd on a Gaulish tongue used to soft vowels. “I remember.”

 

                “What do you remember about it?”

 

His mouth struggled on the word; whether on its form or its memory, Rey didn’t know. “Hand-fasting,” he murmured.

 

She went still. A lock of dark hair fell over Kylo’s forehead as he lifted his head.

 

“And do you want to?” she went on, thawing.

 

“I will,” he said, “but only if you want me to.”

 

Her heart took off in her chest.

 

Handfasting was done on feast days. She had avoided it at Beltane. In towns, Rey knew, wrists were tied together by woven ropes and golden ribbons. She considered this a moment. Their wrists would be bound by kelp and bluebells, by fishing-rope and lengths of sharkskin.

 

“Where you come from,” she began delicately, trying to ignore the flush in her cheeks and the urge to squeal and throw herself at him in delight, “do they-“

 

“No. Not … like that.”

 

“Then how?”

 

Kylo pursed his lips and furrowed his brow. He’s still trying to remember, Rey realised. He squeezed her. Rey pressed the shell of her ear over thump-thud of his heart.

 

“You just … do. You know who you want, and they know, too. And …” He trailed off. She felt him swallow.

 

Rey traced swirling lines across his chest. She circled a pebbled nipple with the tip of her forefinger until it tautened. “And-?” She lifted her head.

 

“Foals. Children,” he corrected himself, and then added, “sometimes.”

 

“Ah.”

 

A big hand cupped her face. She wouldn’t look at him, pressing her cheek against the rough curve of his palm, as though she meant to pull her head away.

 

“You’re frightened.”

 

“No.”

 

Yes,” Kylo insisted. He brought her up closer, eyes searching her face. “You are – why?”

 

“I’m not.

 

“You are.

 

Rey swallowed.

 

“I don’t know,” she began, “if I could.

 

Kylo’s brow knit in a frown. His eyes went from hers, to her stomach, and back up again. “You-“

 

No. Not that. I can, I think. I just …” She shifted, rolling so that the length of his arm cradled her shoulders and she faced the ceiling. “Once I have them, that’s it. That’s all I am – a mother. I can’t do anything else. Stuck inside all day and-“ She found her voice cracking. Kylo’s eyes went wide at the sound, and he clutched at her.

 

“It wouldn’t be, you’d never-“

 

“I don’t want to talk about it anymore,” Rey said abruptly. “Talk about something else.”

 

Kylo watched her, hurt, eyes soft and dark like a kicked dog. He opened his mouth to speak again, but she shot him a look so sharp that he closed it again.

 

“You’re afraid it’ll be like your kind.”

 

It didn’t make sense, what he said, and so she told him to shut up, curling petulantly into his neck. He refused, pulling her face up to look at her. “It isn’t,” he told her. “I’ve seen your kind. Women with six babes they don’t want hanging off of them. I’ve seen it. It’s wrong. It wouldn’t be like that, dousa, I swear it wouldn’t.”

 

“You swear,” she said, accusatorily. “Do you? What do you swear?”

 

“You keep forgetting,” he said, voice getting hard now – Rey wanted to cry again -,”that we aren’t like them. We aren’t stupid.”

 

“What are you trying to say, you big oaf?”

 

She cried before he could answer, and he held her tight against his wide chest. She clung to him, overwhelmed. “I know,” she heard him say, noise deadened by the flesh of him. “I know. It’s alright. Go to sleep.”

 

Chapter Text

               

                                      

                                      

 

 

 

 

                Land’s End was always loud – though not loud in the way that one might properly remember. Kylo found himself recalling the wet granite under his legs, his feet, and watching the white waves rise up and come crashing down hard over him. The water was cold, and he was warm, but the equilibrium reached was sudden and all-encompassing.

 

                It had been a great clash with his own father – a ripping, tearing, snarling fight that had left Han half-dead – that sent him from Land’s End for the first two sun-turns of his son’s life. He didn’t remember very much of it, or why the conflict had begun; he only remembered breaking the skin of Han’s shoulder with his teeth, remembered Han’s hand flying out for a great hunk of stone to bring crashing into the side of Kylo’s head. He remembered big bodies trying to get between them and remembered hearing Damaz roar, “Give it up, stop, stop-He remembered his mother falling foul of a stray swipe and remembered, afterwards, Mina snarling, her lips pulled back over her teeth. She had slapped him hard in the face, Ben whimpering in her arms, and told him to stay away until the badness was resolved. It wasn’t, and Ben was walking and talking when he returned.

 

                He felt a dark and ugly guilt for it, even now. His son was dead, and though the centuries he had spent rectifying his absence had been and passed, the guilt was still strong.

 

                Kylo spent a year or more teaching Ben to know him again, and when the foal was well and aware and sweet-natured, Leia taught him about the river in his blood, and brought him to the sky-caves at Land’s End. There was nothing east nor west nor south of there but sea and sky; truly the end of all land as they knew it.

 

                Leia had Ben on her hip. He was growing – heavy enough that she leaned sideways and plodded with the weight, but small enough to be carried – and he clung to her as she took him up the dark ridge of rock into the cavern. Kylo glided alongside them in the water below. They thought themselves to be alone.

 

                Kylo did not know how old he was. None of his kind truly did. He knew that he had taken a great count of days, but his mother’s was twice as long, and the drawings in the sky-caves ten times as long as that. It was a league west of the lagoon of his youth, a dark and gaping mouth in the great granite bulk of Land’s End. Its opening was high and deep, but the caverns rose to heights greater and depths so far into the sea and the rock that even Kylo had never ventured so deep. Deep within there were great chambers, some jagged and speared with great looming stalactites that dripped ancient, icy water; some with their walls covered in crystals white and green and blue; some with drawings etched deep into the hard sea-stone walls. No matter the height of the chamber, its floor was flooded deep with seawater.

 

                Kylo followed as they climbed the rocks. It was cool, air biting, and smelled of old salt and white crystals. His body slicing through the water scarcely made a sound.

 

                Leia had in her hand a fire-torch, flames fed with the fat of some village wretch, and lifted it high. The vast black wall was illuminated all with gold so suddenly that Kylo had to squint, below them.

 

                “What do they mean, mamm-gozh?” Ben asked. His voice echoed through the cavern.

 

                Kylo watched. Leia’s eyes flickered to the side and fell on the arch of his brows in the water, submerged up to the very bridge of his nose. She smiled, and below the salt, Kylo smiled, too.

 

                Leia said, “When your tadig was born – smaller than even you – we lit fires all up and down the sand, because your tadig can See. We made too much noise and too much light, and the Men came running with their spears and their soft hands. They made to kill us, and we killed them.”

 

                 The drawings here were sharp; long white lines of racing Men on the sand brandishing spears and stone axes and then, further along, the darker lines of his own kind and of horses, ripping and tearing and dragging. The water-lines were dirty blue, and within them lay red lines of ochre, scrubbed into the rock with careful fingertips; the blood, Kylo knew, of Men.

 

                 Ben made a low little sound. Kylo knew it as his own, but a soft foal’s growl, a low huff of distaste. Ben had learned it from him. It seemed as this Leia knew, too; she tucked a curl of dark hair behind Ben’s ear and smiled.

 

                “Why can’t I See?” He shifted in her arms, little face very grave, queer grey eyes very somber.

 

                “Because you’re free, dousa. To See means to be a thrall. It never goes away. You don’t want to be a thrall, do you?”

 

               “No, mamm-gozh.

 

                “Good. Now look.” She laid a forefinger on the image of a dying Man, torn in two by twin colts. “What do you think of them, ebeul?

 

                “They’re stupid. I hate them. Mammig says they’re weak. Like streamborns.” He huffed again, pressing a hand flat to the wall and then curling his fingers into claws, as though he meant to scratch the etching from the rock. “They’re food.

 

                 Leia tightened a little. “Almost, dousa.

 

                  Ben pressed his palm tight to the damp cavern wall.  “These,Leia breathed, reaching up to trace a finger over the darker, more aged etches in the dark granite wall. “These are even older than me, ebeul.” Some she couldn’t reach and pointed to below them. Kylo watched her stretch.

 

                “Old,” Ben giggled.

 

                “Old,” she repeated, poking his ribs so that he squealed. “Older than your tadig, older than me, even older than Mon Mothma.”

 

                Ben leaned on her shoulder and considered this. Kylo came silently to the edge of the rock and lifted himself ever so slightly, observing. Ben stared up at the cave wall as Kylo had done, centuries ago, fascinated.

 

               “Who drew them?” Ben asked Leia. “Was it Men?”

 

                “No. They were like us, almost – but not from the rivers, or the sea.”

 

                “Then where?”

 

                “The sky,” she told him.

 

                “Sky,” he echoed, and copied her as she traced the deep etched lines of a pale horse, back cleanly striped with soot-grey, shrouded in rain.

 

 

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

                Kylo could hear a baby’s snuffling through the thick shroud of sleep. He thought himself to be dreaming of his son still - in another age and time, far from the dark of the sky-caves - and let the dark water of the memory take him.

 

                When his eyes opened, he was in the stone hut, and it was dark. Rey was nowhere to be seen, but the fire crackled and her smell lingered.

 

               There was a baby in his arms, pink and newborn. Kylo stared at it. It wasn’t Ben – even as a babe his head had been a mop as black as jet clawed from the cave wall, eyes as pale as rainclouds. This child’s heavy eyes were sandy dark rockpools, though it was a scarce glimpse.

 

                The babe snuffled against his bare chest, eyes heavy with the weight of its so recent birth. Its hair was tufty and tawny-brown, all askew from where it had been pressed against him. It was a solid, warm little weight, and puce against the pale expanse of Kylo’s breast. He dared touch a fat pink fist, curled against the red face, and felt his heart quicken as four tiny fingers and a tiny thumb, tipped all with sharp little slivers of nail, curled about the thick tip of his forefinger.

 

                Ebeul.

 

                The hut was empty around them, and yet the voice was ever-clear, as though someone had stood at the door and called for him. At first, he thought it might have been Rey, but the voice was thick with a familiar-yet-foreign shade. Kylo clutched the child closer – it snuffled and grizzled, shifting its weak limbs and curling closer into the heat of him – eyes flickering about them both. A sudden growl rose up from his chest, making the child whimper.

               

                Ebeul. Donet annez, ma ebeul.

 

                He saw a face, then, even behind these eyes, and though its apparent form was brief, he knew it in an instant.

 

                “Mammig,” he heard himself choke.

 

                Kylo. Come home. Come home, ebeul. My son. Come home.

 

                The child shrieked, then. The ground opened up, roaring, and swallowed them both whole.

 

 ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

 

                Rey was awake when his eyes came back to him, leaning on his chest. Kylo clutched at her wrists and inhaled hard, feeling quite as though the air in his lungs had been torn clean out. His chest was warm, as though the child had just been plucked away, whisked out the door moments ago.

 

                There was no doubt in his mind that the child had been his, had been Rey’s. Its hair was the same, its eyes; a pup, a foal. But it was a dream – or at least he forced himself to think of it as one – and he knew that telling her would send her further into the rage of which she had not yet walked clear. Kylo swallowed.

               

               He envisaged her big with child and felt a tightness in his chest. She would hate him for it, forever. He wished that he could show her – show her foals and mares and their independence and all of it – but he couldn’t.

 

                “Nothing. Just … old things. Home … water, trees. Nothing that matters.”

 

                Everything that matters, he wanted to roar, and drop to his knees and beg her to come away with him, and be his, his, his – properly.

 

                It was plain on her face that she didn’t believe him, but she said nothing. The others were readying themselves for harvest. There was a crowd of children around the great white bull’s gate, watching as he ate from a full trough. He wondered if they knew as he followed Rey, dressed and neatened, out of the hut. She had to pack, she said, to go along the coast and upwards towards the place she called Fiodh Ard – High-wood. The wood-witch.

 

                He went with Rey as she borrowed a great hide pack from the rabbit girl. It covered half her back and weighed her down, but she dragged it back into the hut and flung it open. “We need to pack,” she said, “food and clothes for a few days – for me, at least. Spare arrows, whetstone, waterskins …” She went to the shelf and checked the little bag, still half-fat with fallow-seeds. Kylo sat on the floor, one knee against his chest. He leaned on it and watched.

 

                Kylo didn’t know anything of this land beyond this barest slip of rocky coastline, the vague path to the town. He didn’t want to know; he wanted, now, to leave, and to take Rey with him. He had grown tired of this place and its people long ago.

 

                He had grown especially tired of Phasma, who he was certain had been the cause of Rey’s tears the night before. He was still bitter from thoughts of the night they had discovered such hidden secrets, from thoughts of Hux and Phasma’s allowance of his treatment of Rey. It made his fists tingle with the urge to hit something.

 

                "I saw it," she said eventually, pulling the forbidden britches from the chest and laying them aside.

 

                "Saw what?"

 

                "Don't play the fool with me," Rey snapped. "The baby. I saw it."

 

                Kylo was silent for a moment. He watched as she fiddled with the straps on the pack and pulled it tight. He could see the shapes of the apples as they bulged against the hide.

 

                “I thou