Rey fidgets with the zipper of her fitted hoodie as she waits for Kylo to return. It had been a relief to retreat to the shower after they fucked, knowing he would surely be doing the same in his own quarters. Evidently he had taken his time in leaving, though; she’d emerged from the cleansing cascade to find clothes laid out for her on the bed.
The ruby access bracelet was conspicuously absent. He doesn't want Rey wandering off — and her heart surges with agonized delight.
“Mistress Rey—” Threepio announces suddenly, making her start with alarm, and she jumps again a moment later as the door hisses open to admit Kylo.
Rey freezes as his Stygian gaze finds her. She hardly even notices him walking toward her, he's simply there beside her as though he never left.
His dark brow knits in disapproval as he surveys her top to toe. He hadn't left the hoodie for her, but what's underneath makes Rey feel squirmy. "Are you cold?"
She shakes her head, inwardly cursing the instinctive movement the next second. It would've been easy enough to lie, offer him not even words but a simple nod — but even then he could've read the deception on her heat-blotched cheeks.
"Then take it off."
Rey's fingers tremble so hard that the zipper snags twice on its way down. Yet the hoodie shrugs off her shoulders readily enough, and she tosses the traitorous garment on the bed.
His steely expression is unchanged. "You're self-conscious."
"Of course I am!" She gestures to the shirt's front hem, framing her bare stomach like a proscenium. "Where's the rest of it?"
" Master ," Kylo prompts, his voice dangerously soft.
The reminder sends a thrill of fear through Rey, tempering her outrage. "This is incredibly short in the front, Master ."
"Isn’t that the style?”
Rey scowls at him, fighting the urge to fuss with the place the tank's dangling edge tickles her ribcage. "It's uncomfortable."
Kylo's mouth tightens in a grim smirk. "Good."
Of course. He's been so kind to her, she's almost managed to forget how sadistic he can be.
The gemstone cuff he gave her yesterday is hooked around his black-gloved forefinger — and as he holds it up, some of the tension in Rey's frame eases. But he moves past her to set the delicately-wrought thing on her nightstand. "You won't need this where we're going."
Something about how Kylo says the words makes Rey think he's taking her outside, and her gut knots with renewed force. Then he extends his hand to her, and she doesn't have time to think, only obey.
His glove is cool to the touch, frigid compared to his skin against hers a few minutes ago, and Rey's mind whirs as he leads her out into the hallway. Their attire provides contradictory clues as to where he's taking her; if they're going outside, why her midriff-baring tank, shredded leggings, and light sneakers? If they're headed somewhere else indoors, why his casual, long-sleeved tee and the gloves?
A few tortuous turnings later Rey finds herself blinking at the penthouse apartment’s front door. She remembers what's outside from when she first came here the other night — a chilly black alcove home only to the elevator and emergency stairwell doors — but still Kylo stops, his grip on her fingers tightening as though he's scared she'll bolt.
"A few rules for when we're beyond this door."
So they are going outside. Rey tries to hold herself as still as stone, but something of her commingled dread-desire must escape because Kylo’s stormy glower deepens. "I don't want you to call me Master in public, so it'll have to be Sir until we're alone again."
"Yes, Sir— I mean Mas — I mean—"
"Master in private, Sir in public," Kylo repeats firmly. "And my guards won't help you escape from me even if you slip up, so don't try anything cute. In fact…" He pauses a moment, and it feels like her heartbeat stops with him. "...for today I don't want you to speak at all, except if you or someone else is in danger, or if I grant you explicit permission."
Rey's lips pop open to deliver a tart reply, but then she clamps her jaw shut, stifling herself. Does Kylo prefer his women seen and not heard? Surely not — he demands her communication too often for that to be true.
It must be about control. Isn't everything with him?
Kylo fiddles with her training collar, and Rey feels a faint click. When he withdraws it's different somehow — and her free hand instinctively flies to the hollow of her throat. The chainmaille necklace and gem at its center are just as her fingertips recall, but the metal loop that should be dangling beneath the sparkling red crystal is gone.
"I hid the ring," Kylo explains. "Don't want that catching on anything. I should’ve done it earlier.
"So that part hanging out would be unsafe, but the rest of it is just, what, fine? "
Kylo hooks one gloved finger under the rich Byzantine chain, and as he gives it a tug Rey feels the thing give. The metal coil is stretchy, if reluctantly so, as though some metamaterial links are woven in among the metal.
"Did you think I'd leave you in something unsafe, Rey?" he murmurs, wrapping his gloved fingers around her neck and tightening just enough that she forgets the collar altogether. She loathes the way her sex responds to his touch, cramping with renewed need. Can't it remember, as she does, the way he had her writhing and whining on his cock less than an hour ago?
"The only thing allowed to hurt you from now on is me," Kylo growls.
His full, crooked lips are so close to Rey's that she thinks he's going to kiss her — and she aches for him as he turns away, leaving her wanting.
Fuck , he's like frostbite, ice and fire all at once. Rey grits her teeth, trying to banish the awareness of how slick her sex has suddenly become. The black boy-short panties Kylo picked out for her aren't designed to handle this level of flooding.
"Door, Threepio. And secure it behind us."
"Yes, Master Kylo," the house AI system chirrups, a light beside the door winking bronze as it replies. “Leave it to me!”
The elevator arrives promptly, and Kylo presses a button marked LL3 . They're not going outside, then — and she sighs a little at the thought.
Rey's neck prickles with awareness, and she looks up at Kylo to find him already watching her. "You're still uncomfortable."
She glares at him and flings her arms out in the universal gesture of with this, obviously .
Kylo chuckles, and his dark gaze drifts lower, toward her exposed skin. “ I’m certainly enjoying the view.”
It's a maddening response. Rey would never be caught dead in anything this midriff-baring at home, let alone in KoR Technology's lavish headquarters. But just before she can break Kylo's injunction against speaking, the elevator slows, and the doors part to admit a besuited, redheaded man in his late fifties.
The stranger only looks up from his phone as he crosses the threshold, and he freezes practically midstep as he sees Kylo. "Mr. Ren."
Kylo inclines his head, utterly unruffled. "Mr. Canady. Please."
There must be some taboo against joining Kylo, because even though the interloper moves forward to join them he looks nervous. He even has to press the G button a couple of times to get its crimson ring to glow in acknowledgement.
Rey automatically steps aside and forward to allow the man more room, and then Kylo is towering over her like a twilight shadow. The dark man's so tall he's practically a giraffe — and he easily wraps one arm about her half-naked waist to bring her flush with him as the elevator doors close, sealing them all in together.
Kylo steadies her as the sleek chamber begins to drop again, using her momentary lapse in balance as an excuse to bring his lips close to the shell of her ear.
"He wants you," he rumbles, softly enough that Rey can feel the words more than hear them.
She wants to glare at Kylo, but he's holding her too close for that. A furious blush heats her cheeks as she watches the other man, Mr. Canady. He's glued to his phone again, conspicuously so, as though he's trying to physically stare his way into whatever feed he's scrolling.
Then his pale iris flicks to the corner of his eye — only for a few moments, but it's damning. He wasn't glancing at Kylo's face or even Rey's; he was looking lower, checking out the plane of her exposed abs.
Kylo's raven-dark hair tickles the side of her neck as he nuzzles closer. "I'm not the only one who wants you, Rey," he breathes. "I'm just the only one who gets to have you."
He splays his hand possessively over Rey's bared skin — and the pale-eyed man in the suit must notice, because he coughs and fidgets, twisting his chin away from them as though fighting the urge to openly stare.
Kylo straightens and withdraws from Rey as the elevator hums to a stop. The doors part to reveal the skyscraper's palatial north lobby, and poor flustered Mr. Canady is only too happy to hurry on his way.
Rey practically sprinted through this place when she came to rescue Finn the other night, and now she's transfixed by the immense window partitioning the lobby from the rest of the world. It's dark outside — so dark that for a jarring second she thinks it's evening rather than mid-morning. But no, it's simply overcast, the Seattle streets enveloped in their familiar stole of rain and fog. Even from here she can feel the cool mist alighting on her skin like moonlit dragonflies.
There's nothing physically stopping her from sprinting the other way now, following the distracted Mr. Canady to the revolving door set in the window-wall like a portal. Kylo's heat has faded from her spine, and he surely wouldn't risk a public scene trying to hold her back.
The doors slamming shut return Rey to herself; it's only as she gasps that she realizes she'd been holding her breath. It's not that she'd wanted to cut and run — she'd been afraid some part of her would try.
"Good girl," Kylo murmurs as he moves to stand beside her. He doesn't take her hand again as the elevator plummets though its chasm, but she can feel him watching her. "Have you figured out where we're going?"
Rey had been too distracted by this blasted shirt to wonder, but her mind whirs to life again now. All she has to go on is the fact that their destination appears to be the basement, and their attire: casual garments that are lightweight and breathable. The bra he'd laid out for her had seemed a peculiar choice, tighter and more demure than most of what she'd seen in the preselected wardrobe. As she'd donned it she'd had vague, snarky thoughts about whether KoR Tech had entered the lingerie market (if so, rather unsuccessful, it would seem), but perhaps the attire had actually been meant for performance.
But now that she’s figured it out, does Kylo actually want an answer, or is this a test of his command for muteness? Rey looks up at him, trying to beseech him with her eyes, and thank fuck he seems to understand: “Tell me."
"These—" She gestures to her shirt and artfully ragged leggings, kicking one lightweight shoe for effect. "—they're workout clothes."
Kylo's full lips twist in that smirk that makes molten metal pour through her belly. "The bra gave it away."
She can feel her own smile bloom in response to his — but anything she could say in response vanishes as the elevator alights and the LL3 light above the door winks to life.
Kylo's expression fades to his typical dull glower as the doors part before an antechamber like the one in his penthouse, but walled with patterned glass. The sub-lobby opens to corridors in either side, but dead ahead of them lies the real prize: an athletic facility unlike any Rey's ever seen.
She trails the dark man out of the elevator, too overwhelmed to know where to look first. The facility is spacious and high-ceilinged, each area nearly sectioned off from the others. As they approach the entryway Rey can pick out multipurpose weight machines, a climbing wall, and an array of nearly-empty sparring rings. A curious azure glow ripples against the far wall — glossy black, of course, like all the other boundaries of this place — but Rey doesn't have time to find the source before the glittering silver words inscribed over the gym's entryway catch her eye: MENS SANA IN CORPORE SANO .
"A sound body in a sound mind," Kylo translates, reading her gaze. He holds the door open to usher her through, and the aromas of sweat and something unfamiliar but not unpleasant — a chemical cleaner, perhaps — roll over her in a cool rush.
Rey's skin prickles to gooseflesh at the tomblike air, and she clenches her jaw to keep her teeth from chattering with nervousness. Unkar's junkyard had been a jungle gym of sorts, but it was nothing like the obstacle course-style elements that lie ahead of her now: monkey bars suspended high over thick mats, labyrinths of climbing ropes and salmon ladders. It's a veritable warrior's gym — and she's so bug-eyed with excitement gazing all aeound that she nearly slams into Kylo as he stops beside a warped wall.
A tall, slender woman saunters over to the starting line. Her face is beaded with sweat, yet somehow her jaw-length mahogany curls look pinup-flawless. Her bloodred lips curve in a grin as she catches sight of Kylo. "Be just a moment, I've got a spot of business to wrap up."
"Give it up already, Elthree," a man lounging behind her guffaws. "You're gonna owe me triple, just save yourself the effort and pay up."
"Save yourself the effort and pipe down," the woman mutters, scuffing her sneakers against the white marker as she lines up. Her lithe frame coils like a watch spring and then she's off, streaking up the curved wall in defiance of both gravity and common sense. For one dreamlike moment she's floating, arms outstretched toward the heavens — then her fingers slam down on the upper platform and she heaves herself aloft, rolling to her feet.
"Looks like the time and effort were worth it, eh?" Flush with victory, the woman trots down a ladder back to ground level and tugs a phone from a thigh pocket in her workout pants. "That's right, darling, come to mummy," she coos to the phone as she thumbs it on and bumps it against that of her grudging opponent. Both screens blink simultaneously, and the woman's expression becomes peaceably smug. "Pleasure as always."
"Yeah, yeah, y'damn hustler," the burly man grumbles before stomping off.
Elthree sticks out her tongue at his receding back, then turns to Kylo. "Mr. Ren! Brought a friend to witness today's arse-kicking, have we?"
The dark man ignores her jovial air. Maybe he’s just used to it. "Elthree, this is my new technical associate Rey. I'd like you to show her the ropes."
"You mean—?" Elthree indicates the maze of climbing ropes behind and above them before realizing: "Oh, you mean, y'know … figuratively."
Kylo merely nods, and the tall woman sheepishly guffaws for a few moments.
"Gotcha. Well then, let's see what we're working with."
Rey nearly protests as the brunette woman looks her over, but a stern glance from Kylo is enough to remind her of his rules. She quashes the impulse, skin tingling with excitement and mortification as she realizes how close she came to inadvertently disobeying.
"What sort of physical skill level are you at, generally speaking?" Elthree asks, her hazel gaze dancing over Rey with laserlike focus.
"Let's say beginner, to be on the safe side," Kylo says smoothly.
The lanky woman smiles uncertainly. "Sorry, does she not speak for herself?"
Kylo's dark eyes burn into Rey; he’s enjoying her discomfort immensely, by the look of him. "She's feeling shy today."
"New workplace jitters and all that, gotcha," Elthree says — but there's something in her luminous eyes that makes Rey think she knows what's really going on. Or suspects, anyway. "How often's she looking to train?"
"Let's go with a weekly schedule and take it from there. I'll email you the details."
Weekly? Rey's stomach flips with something she doesn't dare name. How long does Kylo actually think she'll be here with him?
"All right, then," Elthree says, and the two shake hands. Rey can easily imagine the other woman in some back-room card game, drinking whiskey neat and smoking a cigar with old gangsters. "From the looks of you two I'm guessing she wants to start straightaway?"
"If you're not busy."
Elthree winks at Rey. "I'm sure I can squeeze her in."
* * *
" Oof! "
The breath gushes from Rey's lungs as her rubber-banding arms surrender and she crashes into the mat face-first.
Elthree's beside her in a moment. "Good lord, I said stop short of your limit , not smash into it like a runaway trolley ."
Rey rolls over end up into a sitting position on the purportedly squishy mat, trying to clear her head. Evidently its makers hadn't considered that future users might swan-dive into it from a failed push-up attempt.
Her lanky trainer squints at her face, examining her for damage even as Rey tries to swat her away. Her dignity is bruised, nothing more. "Careful, you. You're gonna have Mr. Ren thinking I've been tossing you around — when from what I hear, that's the sort of thing he likes to do." Elthree looks pointedly at Kylo, then back at Rey. "You can tell me, entre nous . Just between us girls."
Rey slits her eyes in her best attempt at a death glare. Elthree has been teasing her about Kylo practically from the moment he walked off — and forbidden from speaking as she is, there's no way to defend herself.
Or Kylo, for that matter.
"One hears the most fascinating things about our Mr. Ren,” Elthree drawls as she sits beside Rey and turns her mischievous gaze toward Kylo. He's on the far side of the gym, in a sparring ring with not one but two adversaries. She already knew he was the kind of man to have two of everything, but this really is too much.
Kylo moves between his fighting partners — a young man and woman perhaps a little older than herself — like a dancer, keeping them comfortably at bay as he moves back and forth between them. He weaves through the ring like a dark ribbon, never still, always finding some hidden advantage that seems unfathomable to Rey.
"You're not really his technical associate or whatsit, are you?" Elthree asks as they watch Kylo. "Because I've seen a lot of his employees come and go, and he's never brought any of them here. The corporate gym, maybe, I wouldn't know about that — but here?" Elthree shakes her head.
Rey could roll her eyes at the irony, if not for the nauseating fear that rolls through her like a thunderhead. After all she's done to quash potential clapbacks to Elthree’s ribbing, it's Kylo's own behavior that's brought them to the brink of discovery. And their first time out of his apartment together, no less!
Rey snatches up her water bottle and takes a swig. Not only is she thirsty as hell, she doesn't want her voice to sound shaky from disuse and beg more questions. "I am."
Elthree does a double-take. "She speaks! I was beginning to wonder if this was some Little Voice kind of thing where if someone turned out the light you'd do a thousand perfect push-ups, beat me up for taking the piss, and then sing at me."
Rey giggles along with her, and takes a moment to fix her ponytail, drunkenly askew after the exertions of the past two hours. She's not quite sure whether to believe all Elthree's talk about being a self-made millionaire, but for the way she's been putting Rey through her paces, Rey could indeed believe she's a former member of the SAS.
"So you are his technical assistant thingey, then? You just … don't like talking? Social anxiety?"
"Interesting," Elthree murmurs, just as one of Kylo's opponents lands a blow that knocks him to one knee.
It's bad enough that she's broken Kylo's prohibition and spoken once, so she frowns at Elthree, querying.
"It's just that he hardly ever gives up a hit — ever . Not to the Praetorian twins," the dark-haired woman says softly, jutting her chin to indicate Kylo, "and that's the third time I've seen it happen today."
Elthree arches one manicured eyebrow, and Rey can't stop the incriminating blush from flooding her cheeks.
She forces her gaze away — but now Kylo's watching her, too, his obsidian gaze calling out to her from clear across the gym. He waves away the hand proffered by the fighter who took him down, but then the trio draw together, chatting amiably as he rises.
"Don't suppose a technical assistant would know why he's been so far off his game?"
Rey shrugs, worried and wondering whether it's a bad day, her presence, or something else altogether that's affecting Kylo.
The sallow man's sparring partners break away from him, heading off to doors that Rey now knows lead to locker rooms. A few moments later a klaxon blatts through the gym, and Elthree slaps her palms against her knees before hauling herself to her feet. "That's it for me, then. Good work today — and don’t break anything tonight!"
With a final knowing grin, the other woman follows Kylo's companions toward the locker rooms. And it's not just her; Rey finds that the gym's few guests are all flowing toward the locker room doors in a consensus of movement. All except Kylo, who's heading the other way.
She stands just in time as he joins her. His skin is beaded with perspiration, and the healthy sheen looks good on him. No wonder he's in such good shape, if he stays fit like that . "What did you think of Elthree?"
"I'm exhausted, Master," Rey admits slowly, relieved when he doesn't upbraid her for talking. "She's tough."
"One of the best in the world," Kylo agrees with a nod.
"Was she really in the SAS?"
"Anyone you find within these walls has an interesting story of how they got here."
"But she doesn’t work for you."
Kylo gives a faint whiff that might be a laugh. "Hilary? No. She's more mercenary than that."
" Hilary? " Rey gapes after the lanky woman as she disappears beyond the closing locker room door, utterly humiliated. "I thought her name was Elthree."
Now Kylo does chuckle. "That's her nickname, because she hangs around here so much."
The slamming of the locker room doors makes Rey jump. The yawning facility looks even bigger now that she and Kylo are alone together — and she sways backward as he fixes her in his infernal gaze. "Did you speak to her?"
"Once," Rey admits. Kylo's brow creases with disapproval, and she hurries to add: "She was starting to think I didn't actually work for you, Master."
"I see." He considers this. "Do you think I should punish you for that transgression?"
"You probably will."
"That's not what I asked."
Rey scowls up at Kylo. As ever, he's completely composed, betraying no hint of what he's thinking. "No. You told me to speak up if there was danger so I- I—"
"You considered Elthree's doubt a threat?"
"It was more than that," she begins hotly.
"You don't need to defend yourself Rey. I believe you."
The tirade she'd been about to launch off on dies in her throat. Finn always takes such convincing to prove she's right about anything … is that why she's so quick to raise her hackles like this?
"You acted to protect our contract. And I—"
His movement toward her is too fast; after hours of Elthree goading and challenging her, it's instinctive to flinch away.
Kylo’s expression hardens to marble, but he slowly holds out his hand. She’s afraid he means to punish her anyway, but he only leads her toward the back of the gymnasium, where the strange blue lights play against the glossy wall.
"Master, please, I really don't think I can—"
"We're done working out, pet. This is for fun."
"You have a strange idea of fun," Rey mutters under her breath, trying to ignore the way the word pet sends a thrill through her nerves.
"What was that?"
Her pulse slams in her neck. "You have a strange idea of fun, Master ."
"That's what I thought I heard," he rumbles — and as Rey finally sees what's in the sunken, glass-walled chamber running along the back of the gym, her steps slow with terror.
Not just a shallow lap pool either, the kind one might find in another office building. This pool may be narrower by half than any Rey's seen in movies or on TV, but one end is a deeper azure hue then the other, and a tile marker at its terminus reads 9FT .
"Nine feet," she gasps, almost drowning in the mere thought.
Kylo jerks one shoulder upward in a halfhearted shrug. "I would have preferred twelve."
Twelve feet. Unthinkable.
The dour man steps toward the door set into the glass wall — no wonder she hadn't noticed it from further away! — but her feet are molded to the ground, as though her lightweight sneakers have suddenly been filled with lead.
Kylo moves back to her side, refusing to let go of her hand despite her reticence. "What is it?"
"I can't go in there."
"Of course you can. The gym's empty, there's no one stopping—"
"I can't swim!"
The words echo through the gym — or maybe it only feels that way to Rey. After the last few hours her blood is up, and Kylo's cocky insistence isn't helping matters. The humiliation is simply too much.
"That's all right," Kylo tells her.
"It's not all right ! Not all of us grew up with a silver spoon jammed up our arse," Rey snarls. This is why she hates rich people: because of the way they can make her feel small without even meaning to.
"What I mean is, you don't need to know how to swim. I'll swim for both of us. "
She gapes at him. "You can't be serious."
Fucking Kylo was terrifying enough. Becoming his submissive trainee in exchange for Finn's freedom even more so, but this … this is a different kind of danger.
Kylo's dark, serious eyes catch hers and there's that electric connection between them again, the sense of millions of amps pouring through every nerve in her body. "Come with me, Rey, one step at a time. I've kept you safe until now. Trust me at least one step further."
And fuck, she wants to trust him — but the idea of being buried under all that water and not knowing how to get out of it if and when she panics is daunting.
"One step," Kylo urges her quietly, and takes one pace backward, toward the camouflaged door to the pool chamber.
Rey rolls her eyes at the dark man and takes one step forward to meet him.
"That was the easy part!"
"Maybe," Kylo says. "But if you trusted me that far, what's one more step? You have even more reason to trust me now."
Rey can't think of a decent argument — and she finds herself drawing gradually nearer, through the door to the pool room and down the stairs to the deck one step at a time.
Kylo strips her out of her shoes, leggings, and shirt before leading her to a freestanding shower head at the shallow end of the pool deck. The pounding torrent soothes her, washing away the sweat that's starting to dry — but the pool itself stretches out before her like a dragon's tongue, poised to swallow her if she founders in its watery embrace.
"Show me," Rey tells Kylo after he strips to his undershorts and rinses down, too. Maybe it's because he sees her trembling that he doesn't correct her for not asking nicely or calling him Master , but simply nods.
She hunches in a ball, knees to chest, as he splashes into the shallow end and launches off swimming. His lane is directly ahead of her, and she watches his muscular arms rising and falling like clockwork, his gait smooth and steady. His coal-dark hair streams backward from his face with the current, and she watches him rotate evenly every few paces as he breathes.
Rey's in awe. It's as natural to him as walking.
Kylo pulls up just short of the wall and stands in the shallow end, raking his hair back from his face. To his credit, he's not even breathing very hard. "Do you believe me?"
She nods shakily.
His lithe fingers close about her ankles and he slowly draws them forward toward the pool's edge. "Just let your feet dangle."
Rey obeys his soft command, scooting her hips forward just far enough to dip her legs in up to the knee. Her feet look strange and shimmering in the water, as though they belong to someone else, some mer-Rey who has nightmares about getting trapped on dry land.
"Not so bad, is it?" Kylo asks gently, and she shakes her head. "Try standing up."
Again he eases her forward, steadying her as she slips into the pool and finds her footing. The pool floor feels like sandpaper under her bare soles, but the water's warmth is as much of a siren as Kylo himself.
He takes her wrists and twines them about his neck. "Hold me, Rey."
There it is again, that beautiful way he says her name, an avalanche and a whisper in the same breath. He pulls her close and his body is even more welcoming than the water, threatening to make her evaporate into the very air. His heartbeat is fast but sure, and she clings to him as he eases backward.
A whimper escapes Rey lips as Kylo sinks down into the water, drawing her down with him. "Just don't let go," he murmurs — and before Rey can move he spins in her embrace and launches forward, dragging her toward the deep end of the pool.
Kylo's broad, muscular back is beneath her, carrying her — and this time he keeps his head above water as he swims, kicking his legs like a frog's. Rey's breaths are short with fear, but her daymares of falling into the depths begin to quiet as Kylo keeps their bodies gliding forward, bearing them aloft with every powerful stroke.
It feels like flying.
Even before she's ready the chasm looms below them, darker water rippling with menace. The lane lines writhe far below them like snakes, slumbering now but ever poised to strike.
"Careful," Kylo warns her as he touches the wall at the 9FT tile and pivots, pushing off back toward the shallow end.
All too soon they're back in safe harbor, and Kylo unslings her from his neck like a baby koala. Rey's stunned that he still doesn't seem exhausted, or even really put out at all by carrying her along with him.
"Like I told you," he pants, dashing water over his face and gathering her against his chest again. "No actual swimming required. And I wanted to share that with you.”
His face is so close to hers, and she wants to kiss him — but then his pronouncement about emotional entanglements bubbles to the surface of her mind, and the beautiful moment pops.
The tears are there, but they're locked deep inside her, blocking any words that could explain the sick feeling now creeping through her body like poison. She thought she'd cried all this out last night when Kaytoo comforted her … so where has this renewed surge of grief come from?
"What is it?" She hasn't moved, but Kylo's voice has a harsher edge now. Does he know something is wrong?
How can he?
His arms tighten about her, but it's not enough. She's shaking hard now, she's too far gone. He could crack her ribs and it still wouldn't be hard enough.
The air outside the pool feels warm, humid, but it only reaches her from a distance. Even Kylo's fiery heat can't even touch her, cocooned as she is within her own body.
"Tell me what you need," Kylo rasps. There's rushing in her ears — is she about to pass out? No, it's the water streaming from their bodies; he's carrying her to the shower to warm up. That won't help, though. Her flesh isn't cold, it just feels that way.
How can she reach out to this impossibly handsome man who's holding her so carefully, when he can't be there for her the only way she's ever known to hope for? She's never had real love in her life, so it seems unfair to expect anything like that now. But after last night's pronouncements, Rey has whiplash.
If this isn't love, why does it feel like it should be?
"I pushed you too hard." Kylo's features contort with a gathering storm. " I was trying to show you—"
"Hurt me," she whispers through wooden lips.
Kylo breaks off, narrowing his eyes at her as though he's not sure he's heard her correctly — or at all. She'll have to speak in a language he can understand. The language they share, even if it isn't love.
"Hurt me, Master. Please."
Kylo's face steels with resolve — and suddenly the mask of tenderness falls away to reveal not the person she's spent the last few minutes with but Kylo the sadist, Kylo the cruel, the cold-eyed man who'd blackmailed her into staying with him to keep the OSF at bay. He cradles her with one arm, but moves his free hand to her neck — and as he wraps his slim fingers around her throat it feels better than any embrace.
"Tell me how," Kylo growls, all traces of humanity scourged away by the black fire that burns in his soul. " Now , Rey."
But she doesn't know how to ask for what she needs. She's never had anyone to ask for this kind of thing before.
Kylo grunts with effort as he heaves Rey to her feet and drags her to a lacquered wooden bench that runs along the near side of the pool chamber. He drops her to her knees and sits, hauling her over his lap so that his thighs dig into her belly. Everything is agonizing — and she writhes in anguish as he yanks her panties down to her mid-thighs.
The first stinging slap to her ass makes the indrawn breath burst from her throat in a dull rasp. The next makes her gasp, and by the third she's properly whimpering.
The darkness in Rey comes awake at the jarring impacts, and she twines her arm about Kylo's leg to steady herself. His harsh touch unlocks something buried so deep within her that she can't touch it. Not alone.
She moans as Kylo lands another solid smack on her ass cheek. Warmth blossoms across her skin like a sunburn, aching and tingling all at once. Her backside sparkles with agony, and as he strikes her again each pinprick of lingering pain that he hits explodes with renewed force.
" Ahhh! "
Rey's guttural cry reverberates through the pool room, and Kylo grunts in satisfaction. "You need this, don't you? Say it for me."
He spanks her again, more cruelly now, as though he's truly enjoying himself.
"Say it for me, Rey," the dark-eyed man demands somewhere above the small of her back. " Say it! "
It's the first time she's ever heard him raise his voice — and as his shout fills her ears and he strikes her again, she surrenders her will to his: "I-I need it, Master."
"I need it, I need it, Master, please!" Rey's since as Kylo's palm crashes against the swell of her rump.
"What do you need?"
"Pain," Rey gasps. Tears squeeze out of the corners of her eyes, stinging and running upward along her temples.
"And who do you need it from?" Kylo demands harshly. His hand collides with her ass again and she shrieks with beautiful misery. "I can do this all day… Tell me, who do you need pain from? "
"You, Master," Rey whimpers in relief. "I need your pain, Master Kylo."
"You're goddamn right you do." His voice is that dangerous quiet again, like a basilisk's song just before it strikes. He hauls Rey back to her knees catching her by the throat and forces her face up toward his — but she refuses to meet his matchless gaze. "Look at me, Rey. Don't make me tell you twice."
Rey lifts her eyes to Kylo's, unable to quench the tide of fiery tears that floods down her cheeks as he stares at her. He's glorious, his slicked-back hair making his angular features all the more intense.
"Yes," he croons, tilting her chin to and fro as he examines her tearstained face. Rey hasn't cried in front of anyone like this, not in a decade at least — but she's powerless to stem the army of droplets welling up from the place inside herself that hurts so much.
"M-Master, please…" Rey clutches feebly at his wrist, both trying to escape and afraid he'll let her go.
"You're beautiful like this. Truly naked. And only I get to see it." Kylo caresses her drenched locks, pushing stray tendrils back from her temples. Then he ever-so-slightly tightens his grip on her neck, just for a moment, but it's enough to remind her. "Had enough?"
"Yes, Master Kylo," Rey weeps, the dull throb in her arse cheeks pleading with her to stop. At least for now.
Kylo wraps his arms around Rey and lifts her up into his lap, cradling her sideways against his chest. Rey's vision shivers with a veil of tears, but she can feel the blazing heat of Kylo's skin again.
His body shakes in time with the sound of flapping, and he pulls a towel around her, drawing her flush with him underneath it.
"It's okay," Kylo says gruffly. Is this the first time anyone's gone to pieces on him like this? Probably not, if his life is such a tower of darkness. Still, he seems awkward in caressing her back, as though she's cracked and melting, and he’s afraid he might shatter her.
Is Ben Solo still in there somewhere, the sad-eyed boy neglected and untouched by those who should've held him dearest? The idea is unbearable — and before Rey can even think about what she's doing she's flinging her arms around Kylo's neck, hugging him so fiercely that his stubble scrapes her temple raw.
He goes rigid.
The thought that he's going to push her away only makes Rey cling tighter. She tries to memorize every sensation before he casts her off — but then his frame relaxes a little, muscles uncoiling, and he wraps his other arm around her too, cradling her completely.
"It's all right, Rey," Kylo murmurs, the reverberations of his voice soothing her like a lullaby. "Cry all you need to, I’ll be here."
It may not be love, but somehow it's what Rey needs after so much wasting away in solitude — and she sobs into her dark-eyed master until she's spent, and passes into a dreamless daze between waking and sleeping.