The antique clock wakes Rey up at 9:00 AM on the dot.
She sits up so sharply in her camp bed that she almost topples it over, swinging her bare legs onto the cool, warped floors of the greenhouse’s little potting shed. The friendly smells of dirt and plants waft in the air, and Rey runs her hand against a rusted out watering can as she stretches her arms over her head.
Watery green light filters in through the vine-covered windows, and past the cheerfully rustling leaves she can just see the slightly-crumbly, slightly-faded glory of Alderaan House at the top of the hill. It is sundrenched and beautiful, its tall windows glinting in the morning light like they’re winking at her. She can hear scores of rooks and robins calling to each other from their nests in the house’s stone roof. It’s a little ecosystem, and Rey has managed to carve herself a place in it all.
She throws on a tank top at a random from her backpack, not caring that the stripes clash with the bright blue of her bike shorts. It’s not like anyone’s going to see her.
She shoves her feet in her shoes, grabs her laundry in her free hand, and pushes on the stubborn greenhouse door until it breaks free of the swollen threshold and hits the side of the tiny potting house with a bang.
Fresh air, free and clear, fills her lungs. Rey draws in a deep breath.
“Come on, feet,” she murmurs, her mind already full of projects.
The drew soaks through her sneakers as she walks up to the house, grinning, because today’s the day she’s finally going to get the fireplace working. Not that she really needs a fire. It’s early summer and the nights are warm and sweet. But the fireplace is a grand old thing, the kind with animals carved into the mantle, and she wants to see it shine again.
The lions and bear carvings might have creeped her out once, but like so many of the house’s other oddities, frm the squeaking stairs, the aging portraits of severely-cheekboned dead people, the overall air of neglect and abandonment, Rey feels at home among them.
Never mind what people say about its last occupant.
Rey jogs up the stone steps to the back door, the one that leads into the kitchen instead of the back patio, and hangs her laundry on the balustrade. The hinges no longer squeak, and she enters the tomb-like silence of the main house with a familiar shiver of pleasure.
Despite the stillness, the kitchen is flooded with light from lattice glass windows that have warped and distorted with time. At night, their spindly fragility is a little unsettling, but in daylight the room is bright and open. The tile counters gleam, the grout freshly scrubbed.
She’d done her earliest projects in the kitchen since that was the first room she’d allowed herself to use when she came here.
She’d justified it by telling herself that, if she were going to break and enter, she would make up for it by fixing the leaky sink, scrubbing the grout, and re-caulking the window frames. Which had then turned into a small crusade of repairing other oddities of the house’s interior. All minor stuff, and nothing she hadn’t done back when she was still living with Plutt, but it had been almost addictive to see the kitchen come back to life.
And of course, the bathroom just off the kitchen had been a necessity. Who knew that fixing a tap could be so satisfying?
Rey grabs the kettle from where she’d left it the night before, turning on the farmhouse sink and filling it up. She pulls her packet of tea from her pocket as the water starts to boil, and grabs the enamel camping mug that is her favorite.
It’s quiet in the house, aside from the ticking of the grandfather clock. Figuring out how to get that thing going was one of Rey’s earliest projects, but in the end it had only needed a little winding and a good dusting to be ticking merrily on its way.
Granted, she never figured out how to change the time, but she doesn’t mind that the time is wrong. Time seems to move differently in the grand old house anyway, so who cares if the clock says it’s three thirty?
The water boils. Rey has her tea and gets to work.
The reading room fireplace is a mess of soot and ash, and Rey thinks grumpily that whoever last made a fire here did not clean up after themselves. She collects out the ashes into a trash bag for what feels like a small eternity and then rubs the whole hearth down with vinegar and water until the pale stone gleams.
It takes her an absurdly long time, but eventually she emerges, soot-soaked and grinning, to stand in the clean hearth with a flashlight in her hand.
Against the dark wood framing the mantle and the faded burgundy drapes that shield the bookshelves from the sunlight, the fireplace looks almost like bone.
She points the beam of light up the chimney and tries to decide if it would be safe to light a fire in here or not. She guesses it probably is. Not that she knows anything about fancy houses, but she has absent day dreams of lighting fires here in the winter and-
She stops herself.
She won’t be here that long. She’s only crashing here for a few weeks until the missing persons report has time to go stale. Then she’ll get a real job and… figure it out. Finn says he’ll vouch for her at the supermarket.
She shakes her head, getting dust into her eyes. It stings like hell.
“Right,” she says, turning to the portrait of Ben Solo on the wall as if in accusation as she scrubs soot out of her tear duct. “I bet it was you who made all this mess.”
His portrait looks back, blandly handsome and bored. A stray beam of light ghosts across the portrait, illuminating the faintest outline of a scar on his temple that she’d never noticed before. A chill runs up her back.
Rey clicks her flashlight off and scurries out of the room, wondering what sort of family has portraits painted, anyway.
Ten minutes later, she’s standing on the back patio in just her bra and bike shorts, letting the lukewarm water from the hose rinse the soot and dirt off her body. She scrubs at her skin with one hand and holds the hose with the other, pausing only to rinse off her laundry in the stream.
She’s got no fear of being seen, at least.
The house is remote, set almost half a mile back from the road by a dense forest of fragrant pines and climbing vines that obscure the view of any nosy passers-by. Plus, the whole property is fenced in, and even without that, the tragedy that befell the house’s previous owner keeps even the teenagers away.
Poor Leia Organa, they all say. Lost her son and her husband in one day. Must’ve been a shock. But with a grandfather like Anakin Skywalker, what could anyone really expect?
It’s gossip. She knows it’s gossip. But still. The portrait of the family, still and dark at the top of the grand marble staircase, makes Rey feel a kind of sweet, sympathetic sadness. The house is beautiful. It doesn’t deserve to be a place of fear.
The once-splendid gardens, the library full of worn books, the kitchen stocked with hand painted mugs, and the sunny studio full of half-finished paintings speaks to a family that was happy here, once.
The hose water turns cold on her skin and Rey bends down to cut the stream, her mind moving on to the comforting thought of a late afternoon meal instead. She pulls a clean tank top on, goosebumps running down her skin as the sun warms the water on her body.
The sun is hovering above the tree line at the edge of the sprawling back lawn, the pine trees swaying gently in the wind. Rey is humming to herself as she butters a sandwich, wiping the tarnishing steel butter knife off on the back of her hand.
It was a good day. She’ll need to go into town tomorrow to pick a few odds and ends. Some zip-ties for a makeshift repair on the chandelier, some new laces for her work boots, a plinth to finally level off that doorframe.
She reaches for the jar of pickles and struggles with it for a minute, twisting hard and allowing herself to wish there was someone else here to help her with this. Just for an instant.
But she’s alone, and that’s a good thing. And anyway, she’s almost got the god damn pickle jar open by herself when she hears the distant but very distinct sound of a key turning in front door.
It’s strange how instantly she recognizes the sound of it, considering that no one has unlocked that door in years.
Two things occur to her in quick, painful succession.
One, the only person with a key to Alderaan House is supposed to have died six months ago.
Two, she probably should have listened to crazy Maz when she insisted that Ben Solo survived that plane crash.
Rey sets the jar down on the countertop, quickly wiping her hands on her jeans and turning to the kitchen’s side door as she scrambles to think of a plan. The enormous lattice windows will give away her position long before she can make it back to the greenhouse. So, best plan is probably to sneak out around the side of the house and make for the road that way.
Her hand is reaching for the handle when she hears it.
“Wasn’t expecting a houseguest,” says a rich throaty voice from the kitchen door.
Every hair on Rey’s body stands on end. She never even heard him coming.
She turns slowly around, feeling a little like she’s about to pass out. She meets a set of wide, brown eyes set in a pale, aristocratic face. His lips part and he’s looking at her with a slightly skeptical, amused expression that she recognizes instantly.
No doubt, 100%, this is late Ben Solo. Ben Solo whose house she is currently squatting in. And he's decidedly not dead.
He’s tall, dressed in a button down and pants, and resting a hand on the arched doorway that leads back to the main hall. He’s exactly right for a house like this. Architectural and piercing with a direct gaze and expensive, careworn clothes. She needs to say something, do something, but all her brain is giving her is that he’s just the same as his house. Which isn’t helpful. Like, at all.
She’s going to have to play really dumb for this to work.
“Welcome back,” she says breathlessly. “I wasn’t expecting you, either.”
Her heart skitters in her chest, because what the hell is she doing? She should just bolt, just run into the night, not pretend that she belongs here. But her hand on the door just won’t move, pinned to the spot as she is by his eye contact.
He blinks as the silence stretches. “Who the hell are you?” he murmurs. His voice is low and expressive.
“I’ve been looking after your house,” Rey blurts, gesturing at the lofty kitchen.
His arched brow is slightly accusatory, which, all things considered, she definitely doesn’t deserve. She’s repaired the cabinets in this room herself, never mind the dusting.
If he didn’t want his house to have fallen into disrepair, he shouldn’t have left it to rot for years.
“And who hired you to do this, exactly? Not Hux, I’m sure,” he murmurs, shifting the messenger bag on his broad shoulders. It looks heavy, and even from where she stands she can see it’s full of papers and various electronic gadgets that make Rey’s fingers itch.
An image of a portrait of a beautiful woman and a young boy with dark eyes flashes in her mind’s eye. The plaque beneath it comes to mind, and it’s as good as anything else.
She blurts, “Leia Organa. She hired me.”
His lips part, and he draws in a shallow breath, looking more startled by this than he did at finding her in his kitchen.
She wonders for a second if she’s just made a massive misstep, because he takes a step forward, eyes narrowed. Rey takes a step back, blinking as the fading light from the window strikes her face. He lifts a hand, pointing right at her chest with his lips parted like he’s about to rip her to pieces. She flinches and he stops, his eyes drifting down to her neck.
Rey’s hand flutters up to her throat, trying to cover the bruise there. When she looked at it this morning it had been an ugly yellow color, and she’d been pleased because it was healing. Now she wishes she’d thought to wear a scarf.
Then again, she hadn’t thought a dead man would be coming around to look at her. She suddenly remembers her strange outfit and feels exposed and vulnerable in a way that is familiar to her. And unpleasant.
“My mother hired you?” he murmurs, his eyes still on her neck. His finger hovers a few inches away from it, like he’s tracing it through the air. It’s… intimate. Rey steps back again until she bumps into the countertop.
“Yes, your mother,” Rey says. “The house needed seeing to, so…”
He acts like he hasn’t heard her. He drops his hand, finally looking into her eyes. “That must’ve hurt.”
“Sorry, I fell-” she starts. For a crazy second, she almost tells him the truth. Actually, I broke into your mansion because I needed a place to lay low and thought you were too dead to ever find out about it.
“You got a name?” he growls, cutting her off.
“My name's Rey,” she says, because that's the truth, at least. Then, too late, it occurs to her that she probably should have lied.
“Right,” he says. And then with no preamble, he unshoulders his bag and sets it squarely on her shoulder. Rey staggers under the weight of it and he just stands there, watching her with this sort of pleased expression on his face.
He gives her a small, half-formed smile and says, “Since you work for my family, take this to my room, will you?”
Rey is suddenly very pissed. She’s his fake-groundskeeper, not his fake servant.
She bites her cheek to stop the smart retort from slipping out. She nods, brushing past him, already cursing Ben Solo for having the absolute audacity not to have actually died. She’d just gotten settled, and now she’s going to have to move again? Damn him.
“And Rey,” he murmurs. She turns, gritting her teeth, feeling the faint brush of panic on her tongue. He smiles at her. “Don’t fall this time.”
“I’ll try,” she grinds out, and his smile widens a little bit, kind of smug, and oh hell no.
She turns woodenly and leaves the suddenly too-hot kitchen, feeling his eyes on her back the whole time.
The upstairs of Alderaan house is lined in faded red carpet, the wood paneled walls muffling the sound of her feet as she shuffles down to the very end of the hallway. She stops just outside the room that she always thought must have been his.
Back when Ben Solo was person she thought of in past tense.
She opens the door and sets the satchel down on the full size bed, glancing around the room and its soccer posters, ceiling-high bookshelves, and messy desk covered in stacks of composition notebooks. She’s only been in here once, too creeped out to linger.
The bed kicks up dust as the heavy bag settles, and Rey gingerly lifts the top flap of his book bag to see a few stuffed manila envelopes crammed in next to three tablets and what looks like a stack of passports.
Rey, who has never had even one passport, wonders if this is a normal thing for someone to have. Maybe if you’re rich, you get a bunch? She doesn’t flip through him, deciding she’s taken enough risks today.
She turns her back on the room and almost runs away from it.
She trots down the grand staircase, her eyes resting again on that damned family portrait hanging so it overlooks the entryway. There he is, Ben Solo, their town’s biggest urban legend. The Organa-Solos, a family of beautiful, tragic assholes.
She wonders if she should leave now or if she can risk grabbing her things from around the house without him noticing. The figures in the portrait stare moodily back and offer her no answers.
“Rey,” he calls, his deep voice echoing around the two story entryway. “Come in here.”
She walks into the kitchen, her heart pounding, dead sure he’s going to call her out. Her heart is in her throat when she emerges in the sunny kitchen she has spent hours making coffee, reading, and learning how to cook in. Her heart kind of breaks at the idea of leaving it.
His back is to her, and he looks out of place in the marble and iron grandeur of the kitchen. The windows above the sink frame the dark height of him, and he’s so backlit by the setting sun that he’s almost a shadow. He turns, and in his hand is the pickle jar she’d been trying to open.
“Yours?” he says, holding it out to her.
She takes it, careful not to brush his fingers with hers.
The lid is loose. He’s opened it for her.
“I hate pickles,” he says dismissively. “You’ll need to go to the store. I need actual food.”
Rey, who has been living on the cheapest food she can finds, grits her teeth. “I’m not your housekeeper.”
“Well, you’ve been living in and taking care of the place. Keeping house, you might say.”
“I haven’t been sleeping in here,” she blurts, kind of defensive that he thinks she’d do something like that. Because that’s apparently where she draws the line.
“Then why is your stuff everywhere?”
He points at one of Rey’s paperbacks, open at the big butcher-block island.
“I just come in to use the kitchen,” Rey mutters. “And the bathroom.”
He flexes his arms. “And the study, and the foyer, and the back patio, and the library.”
Rey bites her lip, a little chastened. “Well, yeah, but only to do repairs.”
He reaches behind him and pulls out her flashlight.
“Snooping?” he accuses.
Rey bristles. “No.”
Which is a damn lie, but still. She has her pride.
“And where have you been sleeping, if not in the house?” he presses. He looks grouchy, and Rey likes this a little better than the smugness.
Rey points out the window to the overgrown, emerald carpet of the back lawn. He follows her finger to the little shed attached to the absurdly overgrown greenhouse full of weeds and dead plants. Rey has been slowly slowly pulling the greenhouse into some semblance of order.
She was growing daisies to lay at Ben Solo’s graveside in their small town’s plot. Now that she’s facing the grown up and very much alive Ben Solo whose tomb she’d planned to decorate, the idea is almost funny.
“In the greenhouse,” she finishes, a little lamely.
“That building isn’t even insulated,” he says, glowering at her like this is even worse.
“It has a roof. It’s fine.”
More than fine. Better than where she’d come from. The summer is warm enough that she sleeps with the windows open most days, but she sort of wants him to think she’s stoic and tough, so she doesn’t clarify. He’s probably never even been camping.
“There are six bedrooms in this house,” he mutters. It’s not quite an offer.
“Well, I didn’t want to intrude.”
Another truth. Also, she’d fallen asleep at the kitchen table once and had a vivid dream about a boy with dark hair and chocolate eyes staring down at her. She hadn’t wanted to sleep in the house after that.
He crosses his arms again. “Fine. I’ll allow you to stay in the greenhouse on the condition that you run into town and get us some actual food.”
Rey’s about to protest but his car keys are suddenly flying through the air. Rey flinches, instinctively throwing up her hands to protect her head as she ducks. The keys skid to a harmless stop at her feet, and Rey bends to grab them without looking at him.
When she stands, he’s looking at her with that look of focused scrutiny on his face that she recognizes from the first instant they sized each other up.
She thinks he’s going to say something to address the enormous elephant in the room, because he has to at this point, doesn’t he?
But all he says is, “Get good food.”
And this time he hands her the wad of bills.
At the grocery store, Rey shoves what feels like a thousand dollars at Finn. He is staring at her haul of organic what-nots with widened eyes, a question forming on his lips. Rey puts both hands on the metal of the checkout lane, leaning over to speak right in her friend’s ear.
“He’s alive,” she whispers. “Ben Solo came home.”
Rey shakes her head.
“He thinks I’m his, like, maidservant or something!” Rey hisses.
Finn’s frown deepens.
“He died in that plane crash. He has a cemetery plot, Rey. Everyone was talking, you remember all the stuff in the newspapers-”
“I don’t know what to tell you,” Rey blurts, throwing her hands up in a fit of pique. “He’s back and he’s ordering me around. And I can’t tell him no because I told him I worked for him.”
Finn makes a thoughtful noise as he helps Rey bag the groceries.
“Maybe he’s an imposter,” Finn says, eyeing her avocado skeptically.
“It would be appropriate,” Finn says, laughing a little.
“No, it’s definitely the real Ben Solo,” Rey says, glancing around the mostly store. “I’ve seen his photos all over the house.”
“You want to crash at my place?”
Rey shakes her head. “Your apartment is small enough for just you. I couldn’t do that.”
Finn reaches across the counter to press his hand over hers. “Better that than sharing space with a dead guy.”
Rey snorts a laugh and squeezes his hand back. But she has to swallow the lump in her throat before she can reply.
“Yeah. You’re right. Okay, just for a few days?”
Finn nods. “Of course. See you tonight?”
Rey nods, feeling kind of numb at the idea of burning yet another bridge.
“I’ll give him my fake notice tonight, I guess,” she mutters.
There’s a dull ache in her chest. She doesn’t want to leave the old house with its crumbling grandeur and dark hallways and flickering light bulbs. She wants to stay, but its owner has returned, and it’s just not going to go the way she wants it to.
They finish bagging the groceries and Finn turns to her with his serious expression on his face.
“Take care, okay? Those Organa-Solos have some skeletons in their closet.”
Rey picks up the grocery bags and shakes her head.
“I’m just worried he’s going to try and make me to clean them.”
When she returns with her arms full of groceries, he’s lounging in the study. She knows it’s a study because it matches every stereotype of every study she’s ever seen. Thick carpet, enormous fireplace, and a mahogany desk the size of a small country.
He’s lounging, all dark haired and moody, on one of the faded red velvet couches with a book open on his chest. Specifically, her copy of Jane Eyre.
Rey grips her paper bags full of food, glaring at him.
He’s looking at her, not smiling, just staring.
“You came back,” he says blandly. “What’s for dinner?”
Rey clears her throat. “Whatever you want to make. I’m going to work in gardens.”
He sets her book down on the coffee table, kicking up a little dust in the process. He sits up, all animated and alive.
“No,” he declares. “You’re cooking me dinner.”
Rey drops the bags on the floor, the cans at the bottom making a horrible metallic thud against the creaking parquet floors.
“I’m not your housekeeper,” she snaps. “I only helped with the groceries because I thought you were dead, and I felt sorry for you.”
He is unfazed. “Temper, temper.”
Rey considers lifting a can of beans and hurling it at his head. It’s totally irrational. It’s his stupid house, he has every right to order her around.
Regulating her tone, she says, “Look, here are your groceries. I’ll be outside if you need anything… arboreal,” she says, setting the change on the little mahogany table next to the door. It’s more money that she’s ever had to her name, and she wonders if he realized that he’d handed her something like 800 dollars to buy 70 bucks worth of groceries.
“Do you like grilled cheese?” he says, his tone serious.
“Everyone like grilled cheese,” she can’t help but reply.
“Perfect. Grill us some,” he says, getting to his feet with surprising agility for someone as… large as he is.
Rey bites back a groan, but he’s already walking right at her, stooping to pick up the bags like they weigh nothing. He breezes past her, and in the closeness she catches a scent of something kind of spicy and expensive that is right at home in the leather and wood of the study.
Feeling helpless and grouchy, she follows him to the kitchen. He’s set the groceries down on the island and is walking purposefully towards a cupboard.
“How’d you end up a groundskeeper, anyway?” he says, withdrawing a cast iron pan that is coated in rust. He looks at it questioningly, like it has something to tell him.
Rey ignores him and reaches for the non-stick skillet she’d cleaned and left on the stovetop this morning.
Rey thinks about Jane Eyre.
“I advertised,” she says. She’s trying to sound casual, but it comes out blunt, almost rude. “Like, in the newspaper,” Rey adds, grabbing bread and cheese and butter from the little fridge under the counter.
“And my mother answered?” he says. His tone is guarded, and he leans against the wall opposite from her, shifting the heavy cast iron pan experimentally from hand to hand.
“Yes,” Rey says, on unsteady footing now because she knows nothing about Leia Organa outside of what she looks like. Knowing this family, who knows if she’s even alive. But he hadn’t immediately thrown her out, so the lady must be alive.
Rey turns her gaze back to the task of cooking.
“Where have you, uh, been? Your mother didn’t say.”
He sits down on her favorite stool.
“That’s a secret,” he says coolly.
Rey turns on the gas, flicks her lighter, and watches the comforting ring of blue light spread out like a halo around the burner.
“Classified?” Rey guesses, glancing back at him. He’s watching her, his shirt sleeves riding up and his hair pushed back behind his ears. He’s handsome. He’s staring.
But his tone is blasé. “Oh, absolutely. What about you?”
Rey snorts. “Yeah. Same. Big secret.”
There’s a pause.
“What’s your last name?” he says. She hears a metallic click as he unlocks his phone, and Rey freezes.
“Smith,” she blurts. Which is a damn lie, but everything about her name and identity were made up by the court system anyway, so it’s not like she’s breaking anything that wasn’t already broken.
Another silence. The grilled cheeses start to sizzle.
“Smith,” he repeats, skeptically.
“What’s your name?” Rey counters, glaring back at him. “You have a lot of passports, so I wasn’t sure.”
He blinks. Frowns. “Little snoop.”
Rey flips the grilled cheese over, her back to him again. Forcing herself to keep her voice neutral and calm, she says, “Well, you have a gravestone in town, so I was a little skeptical of who you actually are.”
There’s another of those loaded moments of silence, and suddenly he laughs. He’s laughing hard and way too loud for a room full of metal and glass surfaces, and it’s so booming it’s like the entire house is laughing with him in the echoes. Rey turns, grilled cheese forgotten as gapes at him.
He pounds a hand on the table and gasps, “Hux actually did it, the asshole. Oh I’m going to kill him.”
But he doesn’t sound angry. He sounds totally thrilled at the idea.
Nervous, Rey adds, “There was an announcement in the paper-“
Then he’s laughing again, kicking his head back. Rey stares in wonder. Who knew that dead men could laugh?
When he finally calms down, he rubs his eyes and sits back, still grinning.
“Well if that’s how it is, I really am dead. That asshole never does anything halfway. I’m sure he had me legally declared dead,” he says, almost fondly.
He ducks his head, picking up what is undoubtedly the nicest cell phone Rey’s ever seen, and typing furiously.
“Um,” Rey starts. She’s totally lost.
“Grilled cheese, Rey,” he prompts without looking up at her.
She glances back at where their dinner is burning. She curses, scrambling for a plate and killing the gas.
Once they’re plated, she hands one to him, wary of this insane man with the beautiful hair.
“So,” Rey starts. “You’re going to have to explain some stuff to me, Mr. Solo.”
He sets his phone down and picks up the grilled cheese.
“Call me Kylo Ren,” he says. His eyes glint like he’s still laughing on the inside, though she can’t fathom why.
“Sorry?” Rey says, bewildered.
He grins. “Ben Solo is legally dead. I just checked. So I may as well use my favorite alias. That’ll piss Hux off, since he has to make me a new one.”
“Should you be… telling me this?” Rey murmurs, bewildered.
His grin is a little feral. “I’m not worried about you, Rey. You’ve got something to lose, just like me.”
“Is that a threat?” Rey says, bristling. She knows about threats.
He frowns, shoving his phone in his pocket.
“No, sorry, I just meant-”
“Look, I don’t know what is going on, but you can’t just-”
He holds his hands up as if in surrender, still holding the grilled cheese. Butter drips down his fingers. Rey glowers at him, confused. Angry.
Knowing it’s irrational, all she can think is that this guy is coming back here and ruining everything, and to make it worse, he’s being so weird about it. Laughing? Who laughs at being declared legally dead?
It means something to die. The twinkle in his eye fades as they lock eyes.
“Rey,” he says, a single strong syllable. “I’m sorry. I’m being a jerk.”
“Yeah,” Rey says, still angry but placated, a little. She leans back against the tile counter, picking up her slightly burnt grilled cheese and biting into it. It occurs to her that a guy like him is probably used to eating with a fork and knife, but before she can offer him one he’s biting into his own sandwich.
“S’good,” he says, over a mouthful. It’s just American cheese and plain bread with butter and pepper, but he’s right, it is good. Rey’s hackles relax. Just slightly.
He leans forward, the chair creaking under his weight as his eyes find hers again.
“I’m not threatening you. I just meant you… clearly have something going on, and I doubt you’re going to go and snitch on me. I’m a pretty good judge of character,” he says, taking another bite. “And I’m just not worried about you giving away my secret.”
It’s not clear to her whether he means that as a compliment or not.
“Are you in the witness protection program?” Rey blurts, deciding she just has to say it.
His answering smile is a little too pleased for her taste.
“Yeah, Rey. I’m in the witness protection program.”
And there’s a note in his voice that makes her think that he’s lying, but really, what other option is there for how he’d he’d be dead but not… actually. And it’s not like she can really give him any grief for lying.
“Okay,” Rey says slowly, feeling an idea start to grow in her mind. There’s a chance this could work. She might not have to bolt into the night.
“So we’ll just… leave each other alone, I guess?” he says, his smirk fading. “I’m only home for a few weeks before I have to leave again. I could use a little help around the house, since I can’t go into town.”
“Because you’re dead,” Rey confirms. The hope from before trembles in her chest. She can stay. She can stay.
“Correct,” he says, nodding briskly. His posture is perfect.
“So I’ll look out for your secret, and you, Kylo Ren, won’t send me away,” Rey confirms.
He nods. “And I wouldn’t mind if next time, you didn’t burn the dinner.”
From her greenhouse, Rey glares up at the no-longer-abandoned Alderaan House, feeling a quiet sort of hope warring with her grouchiness.
There’s a light on in the study, and Rey pictures what it must look like in there with just the table lamp on. Warm and cozy, with the clock on the mantle ticking out a cheerful and irregular beat into the silence. Sometimes, the house will shift a little and the floorboards will creak and the wind will howl.
Kylo Ren is probably in there now, looking at the fireplace she’d spent the morning cleaning. She’d been thinking about him, feeling sorry for him.
Rey tries not to feel jealous of him for owning a house like this. She should be grateful. After all, she’s still here and not sleeping on Finn’s couch feeling dejected and miserable. And he said he would leave, so maybe once he’s gone he won’t mind if she just stays. Doubtful, but she can dream, right?
She flicks off the kerosene lamp on the workbench, fluffing the pillow on her camp bed and trying to put Ben Solo, or Kylo Ren, or whatever the hell he wants to call himself, out of her damn mind.
Before she lies down for the night, she gives the house one last look. There is smoke coming from the chimney. He has lit a fire in her hearth. Bastard.