I was five, and he was six
We rode on horses made of sticks
Rey stared down at the address scrawled on the back of an envelope, looking up her phone again, as she walked down the deserted road, snaking through industrial units and warehouses, shrouded in darkness. Every step she took from the bright street and where she had gotten out the cab, the closed chain link fence signalling the end of her company for the trip.
The cab driver had not seemed to have any second thoughts about dropping her in the middle of nowhere at midnight. Her sneakers crunched on the gravel of the unfinished road, and her eyes darted to and from the windows, empty staring sockets handing over her. Every now and again, she thought she could see a shadow move in the moonlight. She came to the end of the path, and spied a large warehouse squatting across the bottom of the estate, backed flush onto the forest behind. Some of the broken windows were filled with soft, orange light. Gathering her nerve, she approached it slowly, her med kit heavy in her hand, as she gripped her phone hard, the little pin and glowing location finally meeting.
“If you care about your brother, you will come and meet us, he needs medical help”
“What? Who is this? What happened?”
“Finn is hurt.”
“Call an ambulance, I’m just a nurse-“
“Not possible. Either come or don’t”
“Fine, fine, tell me where to go”
The fraught phone call that had started this journey into danger had only been an hour ago, and yet, as she approached the silent building, a door swinging soundlessly open in front of her, a yawning black hole cut through the night, it felt like she had aged a year. A young guy stood in the doorway, holding the heavy, metal back, and gestured her forward with his other hand. He was pale in the moonlight, wearing a black hoodie, and all she could see of his face was a couple of piercings and the beginning of a neck tattoo. She took a deep breath, every instinct she had screaming at her to leave this place, run as fast as she could in the opposite direction, and yet Finn was in there. Finn. She had no choice.
The hallway inside was littered with building materials and rubbish, the walls tagged with bright colours. She started along, skittering to the side as the man who had held the door followed closely behind, but kept his hands to himself. She walked on quickly, making for the orange glow at the end of the hall. The narrow corridor opened out into a cavernous room, surrounded by a metal catwalk above. There were a couple of fires burning in trash cans around, and standing around them, was a whole lot of dark figures. Rey swallowed hard, suddenly overwhelmed by how very far from safety she was. The men looked up as she entered, still dressed in pale blue scrubs, her med kit clutched to her chest. She turned to look at the man just behind her.
“Finn?” she said, and he gestured over to the far wall, where she now saw a low bed, with several people surrounding it. Forgetting her nerves, she practically ran over to it, and saw Finn, laying prone on the dirty mattress. He had his eyes closed, but they slid open at her voice, his strong mahogany brow was beaded with sweat, his mouth in a tense line. She dropped to her knees beside him, reaching for his wrist and feeling his pulse.
“How long has he been like his?” she asked one of the men standing near her, who shrugged in response.
“Did he take something?” she asked again, looking around for someone to answer her. When no response was forthcoming, she swore under her breath, and turned the full brunt of her frustration on the useless observers.
“If you’re not going to tell me anything, why even call? What did he take? Someone with half a brain, tell me” she demanded, standing up now and spinning to face the watchers.
There was silence for a long beat, and then the sound of a few coughs and half hidden laughs, then a long slow whistle.
“I had no idea Finn’s sister was such a little fire ball.” Someone said, stepping closer to her, as Rey regarded him warily.
“And such a pretty little piece too… I can think of a few good uses for that smart mouth” the guy goaded, and Rey bristled, wrapping her arms around her chest defensively.
“Enough” a low voice called over the escalating cat calls, and silence slammed down in its wake. Rey turned toward the source of the authoritative command, and saw a man, surrounded by others, crouching before one of the fires on his haunches, his back to her. Slowly, he rose to an impressive height, straightening long arms and limbs, and pushing back a curtain of dark hair that had fallen over his face, before turning to her. He crossed the space between them slowly, his eyes on her, as the men to either side of her fell away in his presence, including the one who had been propositioning her.
He stopped a little away, and she got the impression that he was wary of towering over her too much, a man so broad and tall he was no doubt used to his physical size being intimidating. He was wearing a leather jacket with a sweater beneath, all in varying tone of black, and dark jeans, with heavy boots on his feet. His hair was long, framing his face with dark waves. His skin seemed to catch the moonlight, pale and freckled, and his features resolved into an interesting and arresting mix, as he emerged fully from the shadows.
“He took Pink.” He said, confirming Rey’s worst fear. Blood draining from her face, she whirled around and knelt back down at Finn’s side, her mind racing.
“Why can’t he go to hospital?” she demanded as she felt his pulse again, and pulled a bottle of water from her bag.
“Do you really need to ask?” that low voice asked. Rey ground her teeth in frustration, feeling the dark-haired man crouch down beside her.
“Anyway, there’s no real treatment for Pink.”
“Thanks for the info. Just watch for seizures and make sure he doesn’t stop breathing” Rey said bitterly, taking Finn’s hands in her own, squeezing his cooling fingers. She felt a tear drip out the corner of her eye, and streak down her face, and turned to see the stranger sitting back on heels watching her, his face unreadable.
“He’s cold” she whispered, taking a space blanket out of the med kit and spreading it over him.
“Why did you call me, when I can’t do anything for him?” she asked suddenly, and the large man looked back to Finn, whose head was moving back and forth gently, as though he were in an active dream or hallucination.
“He’d want you here, just in case… to say goodbye” the man said, and Rey couldn’t stop a sob bursting out at his pragmatic words. He said it with the casualness of someone who was personally acquainted with death, in an intimate way. Someone who expected it, any time, any day.
She sat beside for Finn for hours, as the light slowly lightened into day outside the broken down windows. The men watching had drifted away over time, as well as the dark haired man, a leader of some sort it seemed. No one else bothered her, during her vigil, as she gave Finn sips of water, monitored his heartbeat and kept him warm. She fell asleep, kneeling on the cold floor beside the low bed, her hands around Finn’s, the long shift she had worked before coming in catching up with her.
“Rey?” a familiar voice croaked, pulling her awake and she pushed herself up, Finn’s face being the first, most appreciated sight.
“Oh my god, I thought-“ she trailed off as she pushed herself into his arms. He pulled her close and relaxed on the bed.
“How do you feel?” Rey asked.
“Terrible” he admitted, and Rey pushed herself up, sending Finn’s breath whooshing out under her.
“What were you thinking?? Pink? Do you have a death wish?” she demanded.
“Please, I feel too awful for you to be mad at me too” he complained.
“Who else is mad at you?”
“The guys probably, definitely the boss man” Finn said, and Rey once again pushed herself up and looked at her foster brother and best friend.
“What boss? Finn – you can’t mean… you haven’t been.. working for these guys” she said, barely able to ask, so horrified was she by the prospect. Finn avoided her gaze, in a move she knew too well, and she shot out a hand and grabbed his chin, pulling his face around to hers.
“You have… you’ve been dealing?” she asked, disbelief still colouring every word. With their childhood, it was hardly a leap, but she had thought Finn so far above that life, the one she herself had worked desperately to avoid.
“It’s not that bad, I’m not dealing to kids or anything, it’s more like business to business” Finn said.
“Business to business – listen to yourself. You are telling me you’ve become one of the parasites that sucked the life blood out of so many people we know, communities that we’ve lived in… and it’s not that bad?! You’ve become a soulless, conscience free-” she broke off, her tone ugly with anger and disappointment, as Finn’s eyes focused over her shoulder, and he paled further if possible.
“Rey” he whispered, almost silently, and Rey became aware of a looming presence over her shoulder. She pushed herself up, drawing herself up to her fullest height, and turned to look up at the man who had listened into the end of their conversation.
“Don’t let me stop you, seems like you were just getting started” He said with something close to a smirk, that made her anger spike even higher in her veins. She crossed her arms over her dirty scrubs, the movement pushing her arms against his chest a little.
“Yeah, I was just getting started. I take it you’re the “boss man” figure in this bunch of miscreants?”
“You would be correct”
“Well done on taking a young man, barely out of teens, one who has had to overcome a lifetime of neglect and abuse and exposure to the filthiest, lowest echelons of human existence, and dragging him right back down there.”
“We aren’t the army, we don’t draft” the man said in response.
“Course not, you offer desperate people easy solutions to their problems, and then twist them into tools you can use to carry out your evil doing, and the guilt and shame of that ties them to you forevermore. Right? Of course, everyone works for you out of free will” she spat, and refused to back up when he suddenly leaned down, bring that singular face closer to hers, his dark eyes shining.
“You have a lot of opinions, perhaps you shouldn’t be so eager to express them, given the company you are keeping”
“Unwanted company. Finn and I will be out of your hair as soon as I can convince an Uber to come to this part of town. Then, you won’t have to see me or hear my opinions again.” Rey said, contemptuously looking him over. His mouth quirked up into a smile for a moment and she had the sudden impression of how handsome he would be without the sombre expression she’d seen from him so far.
“Shame, we were just getting to know each other” he said slowly, taking a step back, and running his eyes down her.
“I’m Kylo by the way. And you are-“ he trailed off, watching as she tapped furiously at her phone and ignored him completely.
“I would offer you a lift” she shot him a scathing look, and left the app searching for a driver as she turned to Finn and pulled him upright. He came up cautiously, looking at the man standing over them nervously.
“Look, Ren, I wasn’t my fault, the bag broke, and you know Pink, all it takes is a touch.”
“We’ll talk about it later, just rest for now” Kylo said, bracing himself for impact as Rey spun around again.
“No, you will not talk about it later. This finishes now. Whatever job he was supposed to do or any of that is over.”
“Rey, you don’t understand” she whipped her head to look at Finn.
“You nearly died. I understand completely.” Finn dropped her gaze and let out a long breath.
“What does he need to do to be done with this, done with you?” Rey asked, turning back to Kylo Ren, who was watching her with far too much interest for her to feel comfortable.
“I suppose the first step would be to work off the money he lost destroying the Pink”
“Can’t he just pay you for it?” Kylo raised an eyebrow.
“He could, if he can afford it…”
“How much? Rey said, raising her chin at him, and he resisted the sudden, alien urge to cup it.
“Rey-“ Finn groaned behind her, and she felt her stomach draw in with nerves.
“5k, and I’m doing you a favour, since you’ve been such a delight” Kylo said, watching panic shoot through her hazel eyes before they hardened with resolution.
“Ok, that’s fine. We can get the money” she said, and Kylo knew that she certainly wasn’t talking about Finn.
“And then you’ll leave him alone?” she said, still bravely glaring up at him, and he found himself quite fascinated by that vitriol.
“As you wish” he said, stepping back, and indicating the door, showing them they were free to leave. He watched as Rey put her slight weight under her much larger brother’s, supporting him with sheer strength of will alone it seemed, and started toward the doorway.
“Of course, there is the matter of timing. In these situations, reparations cannot be late. Interest piles up quickly. I’ll need the money immediately” he said, and watched her shoulders scrunch, and then, she slowly turned, and he had the impression she was counting to ten, to prevent herself from coming back and slapping him.
“Define immediately” she snapped, and he admired her straight to business mind-set.
“Tomorrow” he said simply, and watched that proud chin waver in the air, as the little fire ball took the blow. He let the silence drag out as they watched each other, until he judged her ready for his next proposal.
“Of course, if you can’t get the money by then… there are other arrangements that can be made…”
“I can get the money” she said roughly, and he bit off a sting of disappointment that she wouldn’t be forced to make a deal with him, that he wouldn’t have leverage over this intriguing little force of nature. Instead he smiled.
“Good to hear. Tomorrow then” he said, meeting Finn’s desperate eyes, and watching them walk away. He walked to a nearby, shattered window and saw the light outside, falling softly on the pair, as morning painted the sky with pinks and golds, saw it light up her hair, soft brown with caramel threads. An angel of compassion and vengeance in her pale scrubs, drifting gracefully through the wreckage of the damned place all around her. He watched until they were long gone, and the day had brightened into full light. Time to get back to work.
“It would just be an advance, a temporary thing, a one off, I swear” Rey said, as she resisted the urge to bit her fingernails, standing in payroll, stuck in the basement of the hospital in one of the smallest and most depressing rooms she had ever been in, and that was saying something, considering the previous day.
“I’d love to help, hun, but we just don’t do that. If we make an exception for you, then what’s next? You’ll get doctor Organa rolling in here asking for an advance to make her next boat payment or something. I’m sorry, there’s nothing I can do” Shirley, the payroll admin said, looking at Rey apologetically as she filed her nails. Rey dug her fingers into her palms and gave her a lame smile.
“I understand. It’s fine. Honestly” she turned and walked down the dimly lit hall toward the elevator bank, her mind furiously cycling through anyone she could think of who might help. Just one of the wonderful problems of being an orphan tended to be not having even one family member to fall back on in times of crisis, except Finn, who was the very reason that she was in this mess in the first place.
The day came and went, with no sign of Kylo Ren or his lackies. She kept looking over her shoulder in the street, but never saw anything amiss, kept watching Finn, checking where he was going and who with, who his messages were from whenever his phone went off, like a ticking time bomb between them.
After a whole week, she started to relax a little, and they settled into a pattern. She had hounded Finn to apply for the job she had seen going at the hospital for an orderly. The money wasn’t great, but at least he was helping people and she could pull some strings to get him the interview.
All her frustrations with him had arisen again, when he blew off the interview, telling her that he’d gotten a job bartending at a local joint. She hated the unsocial hours and the crowd he’d be around every night, but she figured at least he was taking an interest in something and contributing to rent.
She wasn’t naïve enough to think that Kylo Ren had gotten where he had by forgetting people owed him $5,000, and so, she dutifully began to squirrel money away wherever she could. She clipped coupons, picked up extra shifts and stole Finn’s tip money from his pockets before he woke up after working the bar on busy nights.
Two weeks passed, and Rey checked her stash and was glad to see it was building up. It was her night off, and she felt like she’d aged a hundred years since the day she’d answered her phone and spoken to the man called Kylo Ren.
She was going to Finn’s bar that night, a surprise, because she couldn’t bear to sit home alone on her only night off, and she didn’t know anywhere else to go or anyone else to ask to come with her.
She dressed in black skinny jeans and a black t-shirt, deep v barely even showing a hint of her modest cleavage, topped with her old, beat up leather jacket, and headed out the door, walking the slightly too long distance to save an extra bit. As she approached the bar, she saw a heavily muscled man standing in the doorway, and the sign over the front. First Order. She had never heard of it, though, she was hardly up with the coolest spots to hang out. She flashed her ID to the bouncer, who looked at her expressionlessly, before waving her in. She entered the dimly lit bar, seeing it was much fancier than she had expected. Chrome shone under the red lights, and a long, black polished bar graced the middle, with people milling about on both sides. A spectacular, complicated light feature held centre stage running above the bar and along almost the entire length of the room. It was red and black glass, with white shards of light, it swirled around in abstract spikes. The music thumped low in her stomach as she made her way over the black marble floor. She was a little underdressed, she realised, seeing girls sway past, dressed to the nines in short tight dresses, hair straightened to perfection and half the make up counter on. Rey felt a little conspicuous in her mascara and lip gloss, before deciding to brazen it out, as she usually did. She was just there to see Finn, maybe get some free drinks, and not at all check that he was actually holding down a job.
She approached the bar, and was instantly relieved to see him behind it, dressed in a black collared shirt, pushed to the elbows, and smiling brightly at a customer.
“Looking good!” she exclaimed as she propped her hands on the bar and gave him a wave. The double take he did when he saw her was almost comical, as his expression changed from happy to anxious and then overly casual in the space of a few seconds.
“Rey! You didn’t say you were thinking of coming by” he said.
“I know, I wanted to surprise you”
“By surprise, do you mean check up on me?”
“No, smart ass I don’t. This place looks great, well done” she said truthfully, looking around a little, and jumping when Finn clamped a hand down on her wrist.
“That’s great, thanks. Look, tonight isn’t a great night for visiting, I mean, I’m swamped and can’t hang out” he said in a rush, and she frowned at him.
“I don’t need entertaining, just go on and work and I’ll just be here with my… free drink?” she asked hopefully. Finn just stared at her a long moment, seeming lost for words.
“I just started, I can’t be giving away free drinks…” he said uncertainly, and Rey rolled her eyes.
“How ungentlemanly of you, if a lady asks for a drink, it’s practically a crime to refuse her” a familiar voice spoke just past her shoulder, and she didn’t have to turn to see who it was, his voice, along with that hateful night emblazoned in her memory forever. She stared at Finn instead, as his cheeks heated, and he avoided her gaze. Suddenly it all made sense. They weren’t being hounded for money, because Finn was still working for Kylo Ren and he had been lying to her again. Rey felt so angry at herself for being naïve all over again. At length she turned, and looked up at the man she had been seeing in every tall, dark stranger over the last few weeks, whilst hoping against all hopes that it hadn’t been him.
He smiled a calculatingly at her.
“Rey” his voice almost seemed warm as it stroked her name. She didn’t trust herself to speak. He turned to the bar and gestured another bar tender over.
“What’s your pleasure?” he asked, as Rey stared at the side of his face, her expression mutinous. She turned on her heel, and took a few steps, meaning to leave straight away, and flay Finn alive when he got home. His hand snapped out, fast as a snake, and latched onto her wrist, stilling her. It wasn’t tight, it didn’t hurt, but for some reason seemed an incredible burning weight. She turned back to him, fire in her eyes.
“Please, have a drink with me, let’s meet as civilised parties, concerning your brother’s reparation” he said softly. She pointedly pulled her wrist from his grasp, and he let it go easily. They stared at each other again, and Rey stared to feel like every time she met this guy’s bottomless eyes they were engaging in some sort of contest.
She stepped forward, and looked toward the bar, which he took as agreement, smiling slightly, he stepped aside and ushered her forward, his hand hovering on the small of her back, the heat scorching her with awareness of him.
They sat, and she avoided his eyes in the mirror over the bar, focusing instead on the colourful array of bottles decorating the shelves. She felt the weight of his scrutiny on her, his eyes roaming her face, with alarming detail, and she realised that he was not a person used to being questioned. He was a man used to being obeyed in all things, and not having to explain himself. She turned and looked at him, finding him sitting much closer than she’d thought.
“Well, talk” she said shortly.
“What, no small talk? What would you like to drink?”
“I don’t care” she bit out and he watched her closely, tipping his head to the side in his contemplation.
“No, that’s not right at all. I think you like fruity things, but not too sweet, not too much alcohol either. You don’t like to lose control” he said, and she snorted, she couldn’t help it.
“Do you think you’re some kind of cocktail reader, are you going to see my future in the bottom of a Manhattan, tell me I’m going to meet a tall, dark stranger…”
“Well, it appears that has already happened” he murmured, and ordered from the bartender, sitting back, looking awfully self-satisfied, as he turned to face her, his long legs bracketing hers, perched on the edge of the bar stool, ready to bolt at any moment.
“Relax, no harm will come to you here”
“What about Finn?”
“He came to me… a second time. You know, you really should be more grateful, I don’t bend the rules for everyone” he said, taking her freshly made Manhattan from the bar and offering it to her. She stared at it, and then nodded at him.
“You first” she instructed. He quirked an eyebrow at her, and then obliged, taking a sip.
“If I wanted to poison you with Pink, there are easier ways, not to mention less obvious” he said, offering her the pink cocktail glass back. She took it, and hesitantly raised it to her lips, as he waited. She took a small sip, desperate for the soothing alcohol, glad for the way the cold liquid helped cut through her panic and confusion, still so near the surface.
“I have most of the money together…thank you for the extra time” she said stiffly. He frowned a little at her.
“I didn’t give you extra time, I accepted Finn’s offer, and payment schedule.”
“I don’t want him working here, I don’t want him around any of this” she said, a little fiercely.
“I have already got half the money, if you could just be kind enough to give me another 2 weeks, and I’ll have it all” Kylo let out a long breath, and placed him whiskey glass down on the bar, and steepled his fingers, looking at her over them.
“Rey, can I call you Rey? This is delicate and I don’t want to insult your intelligence, as you are clearly a very capable and intelligent lady, but do you really think after being 2 weeks late with payment, that the initial amount still stands?” he asked, and Rey’s stomach plummeted to her feet.
“How much? How much is it now?”
“More than you have, and more than you can get, unless you are willing to comprise a lot more than begging for a wage advance” he said, and Rey flushed red.
“What makes you think that’s where I was going to get the money?”
“Because, I know how people like you think… In absolutes, in black and white. Your job gives you money, so who do you go to first? But that won’t work this time.” He said, leaning forward a little, he reached out a hand, and she almost flinched, thinking he was going to touch her. Instead he tucked a tendril of hair that had escaped her bun behind her ear, and the sudden intimacy of the gesture stole her words away.
“Unless you have a sugar daddy hidden way somewhere, I’m afraid you can’t buy Finn’s debt with money” he finished gravely. She felt tears threaten, before her anger surged, her familiar fighting response.
“If you’re curious, interest is calculated at 1000 a day.” She could only stare at him, and once again, her body betrayed her, sending a hot, slashing tear down her cheek. The futility of the situation pressing in and making it hard to breath.
“Shh, sweetheart, it’s alright. Don’t be upset, Finn is working it off, and he’ll be fine here” Kylo murmured, watching her cry with a hungry gaze. Gradually his words sank in, and she brushed away the tears from her cheeks.
“You said I couldn’t buy Finn’s debt with money. That implied there was something else… you were interested in” she finished, barely able to get the sentence out, her cheek heating as she heard her own words. She couldn’t meet his gaze, until she felt his fingers, hard and soft at the same time, under her chin, lifting it, so she had no choice but to meet his eyes.
“What else do you have to barter with?” he asked curiously, suddenly apprehensive to hear her answer.
“Nothing. I have nothing else” she replied at length, and once again, disappointment flooded him. Would he have taken her, if she had offered? He liked to think he wouldn’t stoop so low, a line he had never crossed before, but now, looking at her pain, under a thin veil of courage, her face perfectly wrecked, beautiful and heartbroken, he was sure that to have her, he would indeed be exactly that kind of monster.
“Then there is no alternative, I’m afraid” he said softly, and sits back. His withdraw made Rey realise how she had been leaning into him before.
She drained her drink, and stood suddenly.
“We’ll see” she said, waving to Finn, and accepting defeat for now, she shrugged her jacket back on, and turned from the bar and Kylo Ren, pushing through the crowd without a backward glance.