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Crimson Lane

Chapter Text

The Red Light

 

Lost and alone, Rey stumbled through the deluge of rain without an umbrella, her sodden boots sloshing through flooded laneways; one hand shielding her phone as she tried to memorise directions before her battery died. It was down to two per cent now. Not long and she’d be in the worst part of town without any guide her. She clutched her bag and made sure her free hand could reach the pepper spray.

Mustafar. She’d never been here before—never had any reason to. Most people didn’t come down this way unless they had “business”, the type of transactions that take place late at night, in shady corners, behind closed doors. The city’s centre for methadone clinics and brothels.

And yet, even now, the area was showing hints of resurgence. A new set of First Order offices on her right, fast-food restaurants wafting scents of Indian and Thai curries to the pavement. She breathed them in, perhaps after tonight, she might actually afford some take-away. Anything other than beans on toast.

Her phone powered down, the bright glow of her iMap disappearing into blackness.

“Bugger that!”

She took in her surroundings, the road was empty and dark, a scattering of trash cans lined the gutters. One had blown onto the street, its contents sprawled out like an abandoned crime scene.

Terrace houses formed a line along the road, elegant with ornate cast iron lacework. They looked out of place here. Too stylish. Too polished. She began to wonder if she had taken a wrong turn but then she saw them, blazing red lights. A whole line of them, beacons for the shadowy outlines of men who skulked towards them like moths to a flame. 

The Red Light District.

She was in the right place.

Number 12 Crimson Lane was the most upmarket of the brothels. A crisp black building with barred windows and heavy red curtains blocking out light within. Rain poured from its overflowing gutters, leaving storm drains choked with fallen leaves and waste, gurgling by the roadside.

She stalled at the entrance. Shivering, her sleeves pulled down over her hands to keep out the bitter cold. The sound of cars splashing through flooded potholes behind her. Or perhaps they slowed to see her?

Everyone knew what this place was. And now everybody could see what she was. And by tomorrow morning they would be right.

She lifted an unsteady hand to the worn brass handle. It yanked back out of her hands at the same time, revealing a towering woman with pale skin and meticulously styled platinum hair.

“You’re late,” Phasma snapped, gesturing for her to come inside.

“I’m sorry.” Rey followed her inside, trying not to stare at the woman’s rich burgundy velvet dress that cut a line way below her cleavage.

”Have you been drinking?”

“No, of course not,” Rey answered peevishly.

“Good.  Like I said yesterday, there’s no drinking or drugs while you’re on shift.” Phasma sat back at her desk, rifling through her client files. Rey waited for her to speak, her silence making way for the sound of rhythmic rocking from the floor above.

She would be next. It was all she could think about now after avoiding the thought for so long.

She tried to direct her thoughts elsewhere, taking a minute to examine her surroundings. She’d only seen this place in the daytime, but now evening transformed it into a den of seduction. The air was spiced with root chakra incense. The floors were polished mahogany topped with dark leather lounges and plush crimson rugs. The night beyond was hidden by heavy curtains, embroidered with gold against sleek black walls. Above her, a dimly lit chandelier, flickered like candlelight, giving the foyer a mellow warmth.

Rey followed Phasma to her desk, pulling threads of her cream-knit jumper between her thumb and forefinger, a nervous habit. Her shoes squelched from the rain, her jeans sodden and muddy from her walk. Phasma didn’t seem to care, it would all be coming off soon, anyway.

“Have you shaved?”

“Yes. Just before I came.”

“Good, what about lube? We don’t supply it to workers.”

Rey pursed her lips, she knew she’d forgotten something. It didn’t matter, she could go without.

“I’ve got enough.”

“I appreciate you coming in on such short notice,” Phasma said idly. “I know you only interviewed yesterday, but we’re short and I need someone who can look after a client for the whole night. Do you think you can manage that?”

Rey gaped. All night? They had given her the impression that shifts would last around three to four hours, at least at the start, not all—

“I said can you handle it?” Phasma barked, tapping a nail file on the desk.

“Yes.” Rey swallowed the acidic burn of bile creeping up her throat.

Just one month and then she could pay off the first instalment. One month and she could sleep at night without the fear of some loan shark smashing her kneecaps.

No more fear, no more shame. Just freedom. Albeit temporary freedom.

“Can I ask who the client is?”

“He’s one of our regulars, comes in around once a month. No one ever has any trouble with him but he has a list of demands. Here,” she slipped Rey a manilla envelope with the name tag sticking out. Ren, Kylo.

Rey pulled the file towards her, angling it under the lamplight of the desk, trying to appear professional as her hands trembled and she had to remember to breathe.

Name: Kylo Ren
Sex: Male
Age: 32
Height: 6’3.
Preferences: Red and black lace sheer underwear only.

“Is that his real name?”

“What do you think?” Phasma huffed, taking up the emery board and swiping away imaginary rough edges of her manicured nails. “They never use their real name.”

Rey continued.

Special instructions: No eye contact. No kissing. No hugging. No questions.

“Got that?” Phasma eyed her closely.

“Yeah,” Rey closed the file, sliding it back to her. “He sounds… charming.”

“Are you sure you’re up for it?”

“I told you I was yesterday,” she answered. “Nothing’s changed.”

Except everything had changed. The brave woman who walked in these doors full of determination and bravado had flown with the fall of night, leaving her alone in the desert. 

Her mind jolted with a memory. A black demon before her, his gloved hands grasping the sides of her arms. He was hurting her. She blinked away the tears. That night she had gotten away, she had clawed her way out of that room fleeing from the promise of pain. But he was always with her now, a shadow of fear that lingered as long as the debt remained unpaid. 

This job was freedom, she reminded herself. 

But now that it came to it. Now she was about to have her first client… She stiffened. Her insides felt like they were knotting together and she had to remind herself to keep breathing.

“They seem like strange demands,” Rey said at last.

“Look, this guy. He just wants something to fuck. He has a shit job and needs to unwind from it. So keep your mouth shut and your legs open. Got it?”

Rey nodded, blankly.

“And here, I got you these.” Phasma opened a drawer at her desk and tossed a pair of scanty red and black lingerie on the counter. “I’ve put padding in there too but don’t let him see you wearing it. We don’t normally take on girls your size.”

Rey blushed, scooping up the lace bra and panties in her arms, along with a black chiffon robe.

“You’re in room eight. You can get changed up there. It has an en-suite if you need the bathroom. I will send him straight up when he arrives. It shouldn’t be long now.”

Rey nodded again, even more robotically than the last time. She walked up the stairs, they creaked like the ones from her last foster home. The memory of it sent shivers down her spine… locked windows and doors, mouldy bread, the acrid stink of gin and cigarette smoke. Rough hands, pushing her, tugging at her … Anything had to be better than that.

“There’s one more thing,” Phasma said.

Rey froze, wishing Phasma would just let her get on with it.

“Kylo Ren’s boss owns this place so I suggest you don’t do anything to piss him off.”

“Do you mean Mr Snoke?”

“Yes, Snoke.” Phasma forced a smile onto her face, it didn’t sit well there. “Like I said, don’t piss him off. Snoke will want to try you out next week, so it’s best to get some practice in before then.”

“What’s Snoke like?”

Phasma gave a bitter laugh, her voice low.

“He makes Kylo Ren look like fucking Prince Charming.”

Rey turned away, her heart sinking lower into the floor as Phasma called out after her with a sing-song voice. “See you in the morning, Rey!”

 

Chapter Text

The Night Shift

 

The rain was unending. Lashes of it beating against the large-tinted window of the bedroom suite. Rey rested her head against the glass, letting her breath fog the surface, enough for her to doodle idle words on it: Idiot. Whore. Nobody. Nothing.

She had changed into the underwear Phasma had given her, a racy red and black number, made of Chantilly lace and silk satin. It was expensive stuff, making her appear much sexier than she really was. The padding pushed her breasts together, revealing an impressive cleavage that even she envied.

Rey looked down at her backpack, a ragged lump on the floor, worn with use over the years. How she wished she could change back into her cotton briefs and sports bra. A pair of tracksuit pants and sweater wouldn’t go astray either. She pulled the aubergine chiffon robe around her tightly, holding it in place by crossing her arms to hold it in place. 

Outside the rain was luminous and hypnotic as it ricocheted off the street lamps and in the headlights of cars. The surrounding walls rumbled fleetingly, a distant storm circling the edge of the city ominously.

The fireplace was alight, looking more ornamental than practical. Above it was a painting of an endless desert, the straight line horizon broken by windswept dunes. She stared at it lost in thought, feeling a kind of synchronicity with it. The scene felt empty and abandoned, the orange and gold-hued sand stretching out into the lonely expanse, to nowhere and no-one.

It was a stupid print, and didn’t fit the decor of the room, with its king-size bed and black satin sheets, layered in decorative pillows. Then there was that bloody mirror. She scowled at it above the bed. Would she really have to watch herself making the biggest mistake of her life?

She shivered, rubbing her arms to generate warmth. A single flash of sheet lightning illuminated the street below and her heart stopped. In the fleeting light, she had seen a man in black running through the rain; he was tall and dark-haired, and as he disappeared below her vision she heard the door and open and close downstairs.

It was him. Kylo Ren. The colour drained from her face at the thought of what was to come.

One month. She reminded herself. Just one month and you can try another way to pay the money. One month and you will be free.

There was a hint of muffled voices below, drowned out by the escalating moans of ecstasy coming from down the hall.

And then, Footsteps.

She tried to slow her breath, closing her eyes and imagining the ocean, hoping the thunderous beating in her chest would steady and she could stop shaking.

Creak. Step. Creak. Step. Creak. Step.

There was the sound of a hand gripping upon the door handle, and the hairs on her arms rose like a chill had crept down her back.

It was turning.

Her pulse points thumped so heavily inside her she could feel them hammering away inside her body.

Oh God, oh God, oh God. I can’t do this.

She turned, wanting to run. She would have run but a monster of a man filled the doorway.

He was huge, his form blocking out the bright light of the corridor behind him. Rey gaped, her brows pinched together in confusion. He was not… he was not what she expected.

He reminded her of the night. Dark ruffled hair falling wildly around his narrow face, with droplets of rain still clinging to each strand. Dark brooding eyes, piercing and intense. And at last his dark clothes, black pants, and a shirt that clung tight to a firm body.

The only contrast was his skin, pale moon-white, glistening from the rain. He was not beautiful. But there was something sensitive in his face. Or at least she thought so. Until she saw how he looked at her.

His eyes grazed over the entirety of her body hungrily, glancing only momentarily at her face before roving along each edge and curve. The darkness in those eyes deepened as they roved across her. Finally, he looked in the direction of her face, again, but never in her eyes, almost as though he looked past her, through to the black door behind. She knew at once she was nothing to him, just a body ripe for fucking.

“I haven’t had you before.” His voice was low, measured, controlled. “What’s your name?”

Rey hugged her arms closer to her body.

“Desert Flower.”

He laughed, the sound sardonic and cruel.

“I didn’t ask for your fucking stage name. Give me your real name.”

Rey swallowed, hesitating whether to tell him the truth. He stepped forward, and she backed away.

“It’s Rey,” she said quickly. The curtness in her tone seemed to catch him off guard because for a fleeting moment his eyes flashed to hers, cocking his head to the side curiously.

“Come here, Rey.” He beckoned her with a hand as he spoke.

Her back straightened, and she breathed in sharply. She had let no one tell her what to do, and she sure as hell didn’t want to start now.

He stalked forward with one more stride and she forced herself not to back away. She was here to get paid. Fuck him and take home a fat wad of cash to get out of this life.

Mouth shut, legs open.

She moved towards him, eyes fixed on his shoes. He had trailed in mud with them. She wondered if his mother had ever taught him to wipe his feet at the door. When she was less than a metre away, she stopped before him, waiting.

Kylo Ren circled around her, his gaze meticulously studying her like he was critiquing a work of art. She shivered as he paused behind her. He was close to her now, close enough for her to feel the heat radiating from his body. His hot moist breath pressed against her neck with every inhalation, sending shivers down her spine.

A single finger ran down her back, tracing the shape of her, and then two large hands were on her hips, running up and down her sides.

What the hell was she supposed to do? She knew what she was supposed to do with him, but how was she supposed to —

He pressed into the back of her and she could already feel his arousal.

“Take off your underwear.” The whisper came close to her ear, making her jump.

So this was it then?

She untied the sash around her robe and pushed it back from her shoulders, He removed it, warm fingers trailing over her body as he pulled it to the floor.

Next, he  unclasped her bra. The straps dropped by her sides and she pulled it off the rest of the way, letting it drop to the floor in a heap.

At the sight of her naked breasts his breath hitched in his throat, large hands running up her body until he reached her breasts, squeezing them gently.

“Who does Phasma think she’s kidding?”

“She told me to wear the padding,” Rey said. “Sorry, I know they’re not—”

“Forget it,” his voice was abrupt as he pulled her back closer to him. He massaged them firmly before running his fingers down her waist and to her panties. He slipped two fingers beneath the elastic, running them along the edge before tugging them down over her arse. She pulled them down the rest of the way, embarrassed, and exposed.

His face leaned into her again, wet hair brushing against the side of her cheeks as he told her to “get on the bed.

Rey pursed her lips at the order. She did not belong to him—

“Get on the fucking bed!”

Rey gritted her teeth and held tight to her dreams, her first debt paid, college, freedom.

Just one night, she bargained with herself. Just one night. Then don’t come back.

She lay down on the bed. Back flat against the raven sheets. Her eyes stared at the sight of her naked flesh in the mirror above. A slim and muscular body, more practical than sexy, utterly exposed.

He unbuttoned his shirt and then she heard the short zip and drop of his trousers falling to the floor, the buckle hitting the ground with a thud.

Lastly, the rustling of a wrapper. Rey’s stomach tightened at the sound.

She saw his naked body in the reflection of the mirror, prowling over her like a jaguar on the hunt. Noticing the rise and fall of his shoulder blades and the muscles tightening in his arms. They planted themselves and either side of her and she felt his knee push between her legs.

She squeezed her legs together instinctually and froze.

He waited for her to part them. 

When she didn't part them, he pressed his knee down, shoving them apart.

“Stop fighting me,” he said low in her ear, his hair tickling the side of her face again as he spoke. “I’m paying you, remember? Now are we going to do this or not?”

“Just do it,” she replied and spread her legs further apart for him.

The warm tip of him pressed against her and her stomach muscles tightened at the sudden anticipation of what was to happen.

Without another word, he pushed into her.

She cringed, wishing she’d remembered her lubricant. She put her hands on his shoulders, grasping them as she bucked her hips to take his full length.

He breathed with a sigh once he was fully inside her. Seeming to savour the tightness of her grip. Rey inhaled slowly, trying to allow her body adjust to him. It wasn’t working.

And then he began to move.

In, out, in, out.

His dark eyes were coal, staring past her face with ferocious intensity.

In, out, in out.

It burned her. Every thrust. He was too large, and she was too dry.

She moaned, a sorry attempt to play the part in faking her pleasure. That’s what they were all doing, surely? All those women in the rooms beyond her.

“Oh, it’s…” she tried to say something flattering but came up blank

In, out, in, out, harder, faster, in, out.

His body thrust against her, slapping loudly. His eyes, locked on that dark and lifeless place far beyond where she was.

Fuck! The friction was building. He was close to coming now, each thrust releasing an animalistic grunt from his mouth. She couldn’t keep pretending. She wasn’t meant for this. She—

“Stop!”

He froze, arms trembling at her sides. His lips pushed together and she swore she saw a twitch above his cheek.

“What’s the problem?” he asked, his voice was hoarse and strained. 

“It…” she pried the words from her lips.

She couldn't talk to him like this, with him looking above her, completely detached from the fact that she was a human being. Her skin prickled with anger. It was almost like she wasn't even there.

“Look at me!” she said, louder than she meant as she tried to hold back frustrated tears.

His expression darkened and for the first time, his amber-brown eyes met her own.

Those lost, lonely, painful eyes.

His pupils expanded as they locked on her close beneath him, consuming the warm brown hues around them. He was coming back from wherever his mind had imprisoned him, and suddenly he was looking at her with such emotion that she couldn't even face him anymore. This wasn't pleasure or companionship, it wasn't even sex. It was something else, a release of trauma. An outlet.

He was broken. She saw it in his haunted face.

“It hurts too much,” she said, her voice quaking.

And then he ... there was no other way to describe it, the way he looked at her was like an awakening, a rush of something in his eyes. A fleeting thought, there one minute and gone the next. He didn’t wait, sliding out of her, breath shaking and restrained.

As soon as he pulled out, she breathed a sigh of relief, cupping her hand over her vagina. It still burned and she fought hard not to cry, not only for the discomfort but for everything. For what she had done. For what she now was.

She blinked, trying to hide her tears.

“I hurt you,” his voice was soft, different, curious. And is eyes? They were enraptured. Like he had just seen the first dawn of the sun.

Now she was the one who couldn't look at him. 

“It’s okay. We can try again. I just need a moment.”

He moved off her, and she sat, looking at the way his wide chest still heaved, his body just as hard as when he penetrated her.

She got up and walked over to the nightstand that supported a carafe and two cups. She poured two glasses of water out, the pouring of liquid being the only sound in the room.

“Here.” She came back and offered him a glass.

He didn’t take it, and still, his eyes did not leave her.

“If you want, I can get one of the more experienced girls.”

“I don’t want anyone else.” He almost said the words right over the top of hers.

Rey blushed, not because of the compliment— if that was a compliment—but more because the way he was watching her, it made her feel vulnerable and shameful. He was the one paying for it, she shouldn’t feel ashamed.

She returned to the bed, laying back as she had earlier, arms by her side, knees bent, eyes fixed on the mirror above.

“Okay, I’m ready now.”

She waited for the weight of him to press down on her, for the length of him to spear inside her, but nothing. She looked up in time to see the bathroom door close.

She watched for the door to open again, for the toilet to flush, for anything.

Silence.

She crept up to it, pressing her ear to the door. She couldn’t hear much, just the repeating sound of…

Oh … she backed away with hot cheeks. He was finishing without her.

Rey wanted to cry, and she didn’t know why the hell that was. Humiliation, shame, fear, the sudden realisation she was now a prostitute—but one so shit her client was actually paying $400 an hour to jerk-off in the bathroom.

She checked the time. 12.15am. had paid for the whole night.

An hour passed but the door did not open. She slipped into bed, her naked body snuggling into the sheets, pulling the duvet up around her face.

Waiting.

1.30am, 2.00am .

She nestled into the pillow. That was at least one perk, the bedding here was luxurious. Her eyelids lingered closed with every blink.

2.15am, 2.30am...

The bathroom door cracked open, and she heard quiet his quiet footsteps.  Rey didn’t dare look at him, and he didn’t speak. She just held her pillow, eyes half-closed, heart pounding in her chest, waiting for the moment he would turn her over and fuck her again.

He came in next to her and he pulled her close, cradling her waist as he wrapped his arms around her. She felt his cock twitch at the press of her body against his. She waited, and the minutes passed.

“Kylo?” she whispered.

More silence. He was not asleep, she knew this by the fact his fingers were moving against her skin, and then his lips pressed into the back of her neck with a slow kiss.

What was this? Hugging. Kissing. He was breaking all his own bloody rules. She was about to ask, when his fingers tentatively began to draw circles across her abdomen, gradually creeping below her navel. She could hear him breathing, soft but still heavy. The tantilising motion sent a tingling pleasure inside her. Then his hands were between her legs, moving slowly and softly.

Rey gasped with surprise at the gentleness of his strokes, and the panting warm breaths against her ear.  

“You don’t need to...”

She lost her words, the sensation building within overwhelmed her senses. Her breathing came on heavy and harder as she moaned involuntarily at his touch. Each swirl of his touch brought her tighter and tighter—fingers slipping inside, sending more waves through her body.

She tried to be quiet, but the pleasure was building to a point that she was struggling to keep control

Without warning, he flipped her onto her back and lowered his head between her legs.

“What are you doing?” she gasped.

He pulled her legs apart purposely, and the gentle nudge of his tongue rubbed against her insistently.

She moaned at the sensation. No one had ever gone down on her before, and it was...

“I’m going to come!” she told him breathlessly,  arching her back. Euphoric and guilty at the attention he was giving her.

“I’m coming!” she tried to pull his head up towards her but he pressed her further, legs locked open with his hands as his tongue slicked around her centre. He flicked and sucked, building an avalanche with her. Faster and harder he whirled it around her most sensitive places.

Rey had never been one to moan during sex unless she was faking, but oh God … His tongue thrust harder and harder against her. She tried to hold in her cries but she was so close, she arched back higher and higher into the air… it felt…

She cried out, body trembling and shuddering with every wave of release. She lay there limp and panting, his gentle strokes back to running circles around her abdomen. He pulled her close, cradling her once more into the natural curve of his huge frame. She fit well there. More than ever, she could feel his heat beside her, the tip of him wet with arousal.

“Here let me—” she reached for him and he stopped her hand, gripping it at the wrist.

“But what about—”

“Sleep,” he said. “I’m tired.”

“You don’t feel tired,” she whispered, feeling the gentle nudging of his body behind her.

He didn’t answer, but she felt him chuckle.

“I am tired.”

She didn’t press him, opting instead to lay there, stiff and unsure, the erratic throbbing of him behind her and her own body throbbing with the comedown of pleasure.

Eventually, his sharp hot breaths turned into slow, lingering ones and she knew he was asleep.

t was done she supposed. Whatever that was, it was done. She took a deep breath, feeling the emptiness inside her. The only comfort coming from the strong arms wrapped around her, pulling her into sleep.

She placed her hand over his own, closing her eyes, and drifted off to sleep only wondering what the morning would bring.



Chapter Text

Chapter 3

Dreams and promises

 

Rey awoke in the night, disoriented and confused.

An arm curled around her waist. Kylo Ren’s arm. The memory rushed back to her. The hairs on her neck prickled with each slow breath he took, his broad chest rising and falling against her back.

She unfurled his arm from her body and placed it before him. His brows twitched at the movement, her breath caught in her throat and she froze. He did not wake.

Outside, the moon was breaking a path through the dark overcast sky. She crept out of bed, walking towards the window, her naked form silhouetted against the streaming moonlight. The street was empty now, loose sheets of a newspaper flittered along the pavement beneath the bright lamplight. There were no cars other than the few parked by the road and not a single soul wandered the lonely streets. It was eerily quiet, the silence only broken by sudden gusts of winds that moaned in strained cries and churned up the leaves into whirlwinds.

“Don’t go.”

Rey’s heart jolted at the sound of his voice. She turned around to see his ash-white body lit up beneath the waning moon.

“I’m not—” She stopped to look at him. His eyes were racing beneath pale lids, face grimacing and tightening as different expressions chased each other. He was asleep. His fingers twitched, reaching for the spot on the bed that was still warm from her body.

She returned to his side, leaning in close to study him. He was light and darkness. Every feature in contrast to the other. He was all shadows and lines, pointed cheekbones, angled jaw, soft lips, long lashes. His dark hair cascaded across his face parting around his large ears. He was ugly from one angle. Beautiful from the other. But striking and captivating.

“Please,” his voice cracked into a chilling whisper. She shivered at the sound.

“Kylo?” she whispered back, touching his shoulder, but there was no response.

His hand reached forward again, searching the sheets. He looked so alone. It reminded her of all the times she had spent the night cold and lonely, shivering beneath a summer blanket on a winter evening. Tears lashing from her eyes knowing there was no one there to help her, to hold her hand, to save her from her nightmares.

She crept back into bed. Her body folded into the curve of his own and his arm found her again. She felt safe in his hold, momentarily wanted in this world by someone. It was an illusion, of course, a twisted painful lie, but still, at that moment she imagined what it was like to be loved. Her chest heaved unsteadily at the thought, and she allowed herself to drift back to sleep.

Her mind fell into dreams, dark shadows dragging her back into the past, dragging her into a world she’d struggled so hard to leave behind her every day.

She was lying on the floor of the lounge room, one of the many lounge rooms she had called her own for a time. The Moroccan rug was worn, she remembered, patches of it frayed. She pulled at a thread, wishing in her dream she could unravel it and she would fall through the ground into a better place. She pulled and pulled at the thread, a burgundy bind that would not break no matter how hard she yanked. It went on for miles, and she wondered what lay on the end.

Then he was behind her, the man who haunted her dreams almost every night. His face hidden behind a shadow of darkness. He chased her through the rooms of an abandoned house. Always too close.  Always hindering her escape. He grabbed her hair and yanked her back. And now she was on the floor, curled in a ball. 

She jolted awake.

Thump! This time she wasn’t dreaming. Kylo thrashed behind her, arms and legs trapped in their own nightmare. And then a low groan, a guttural noise that chilled her blood. He shot up, his legs kicking over the side of the bed, hands wringing through his hair. Rey reached for his back.

Her fingers made contact, and his breath caught. His skin was hot to touch, glistening with sweat.

“It’s okay.” She sat behind him, touching his shoulder uncertainly. “It was just a nightmare. I have them too.”

He didn’t respond, but his breathing resumed, slower but still unsteady as his shoulders trembled beneath her touch.

“It’s okay,” she said again in a hushed tone, her fingers circling his back in slow caressing turns. There was something painfully raw about the way he sat there, naked in the moonlight the words forming in her chest. Despite the night before, despite everything in this crazy situation. She knew the pain of haunted dreams, she knew what it was like to run away from your past during the day only to have it catch up with you in the night. It never went, not really. She had tried to bury her past, but it never died.

Rey cupped her fingers over his shaking shoulders, and he stilled at her touch, his skin prickled in goosebumps. His hand reached to her own, long fingers covering her.

“You’re not alone.” She didn’t mean to say it, but the words pried themselves from her lips, given a life of their own.

He stood, hand slipping away from hers.

“Go back to sleep.” His words were sharp, a commanding edge that made her think he was used to ordering people about.

“What are you…” Her words drifted away. He was pulling his trousers on in a rush, his shirt, once crumpled on the floor, now sliding onto his back as his fingers moved clumsily to fasten them. “You’re leaving?”

Silence.

“But you still have a couple of hours left,” she said, her eyes and cheeks growing hot as the words left her lips. She wanted nothing more to curl up on a ball on the floor. It was bad enough being paid for having sex with someone, but having them walk out without even… She shuddered. It was so much worse. “We can go again, here let me…”

“I’m done.” He picked up the rest of his belongings and walked out the door, leaving Rey alone in the bed, naked and confused.


There were voices from the foyer. Furtive, pressing, voices exchanged in low hisses. She stood atop the stairs, her hand reaching for the polished mahogany banister, her foot dangling above the step below, toying with the idea of going down.

“Yes, of course, Mr Ren,” Phasma was saying, working hard to placate him, her voice accentuating every word.

More words from him. Inaudible. Sharp. Rude. Rey’s cheeks tingled. What was he saying about her? She took a step lower, rolling the soles of her feet to make sure the steps didn’t creak at the sound. The conversation continued.

“I can assure you I went through the rules. I will book you in with a different girl next month,” she grabbed the planner, tapping her pen against it in a staccato rhythm. “How about Tessa?”

Kylo spoke. His words still rude. Still sharp. Still inaudible. Rey took a breath and another step, straining to listen.

“Yes, it is unacceptable,” Phasma said testily. “It was only her first night. It was wrong of me to pair her with you.”

She stepped again, the slightest creak, as her toes touched the next level, but it wasn’t loud enough to draw their attention.

“What do you mean it was her first night?” His voice was louder now; she could feel the anger in his words. Rey took one more step closer, her last one, she swore to herself. “Is she not a sex worker?”

“She’s just a kid who’s gotten in over her head with debt,” Phasma said with a cruel curl of her lips. Rey bristled at the “kid” reference. She was 22 and had been doing it tough on her own since she was 16. Hardly a fucking kid who had just forgotten to pay off her Visa card. She clutched the railing, stopping herself from doing or saying anything rash. She was on the edge of being fired.

Phasma continued: “Tonight was her first shift. I wanted to her to get practice in before Snoke—”

“No Snoke.” He interrupted her brusquely, raising a hand to silence her.

“Mr Snoke will want to try her out.”

“When is he due to come?”

Rey risked another step closer.

Phasma checked her planner, tapping her finger on a point within the pages. “Friday.”

“Book her with me on Friday,” he blurted in that same commanding tone.

Phasma pursed her lips tightly.“ Mr Snoke will not be happy.”

“I don’t care. Book for the full-night again. No other clients that night.”

Rey swore in her head. The mere thought of going through tonight again was… She didn’t know what it was, perplexing, uncomfortable, confronting and just plain weird.

Phasma sighed. “Very well, booking for Desert Flower. It will cost you though.”

“Are you fucking kidding me? After tonight I shouldn’t have to pay a cent,” Kylo spat, and Rey flushed.

“I said I was sorry about that,” Phasma said and checked the planner once more. “She’s on the next couple of nights. I’ll get her up to speed by Friday.”

“Fine.” Kylo glowered, tossing his credit card at her as though it were nothing. Rey risked one more step, but this time his eyes snapped up at her. She quickly retreated, but it was too late; he had seen her.

“Charge it through to Friday.”

“I beg your pardon?” Phasma asked incredulously.

What? Rey froze, darting her eyes back at him in disbelief.

“Every night through to Friday,” he added, not taking his eyes off her and having no shame to turn them away from her.

“There’s no discount, you know? It’s still $400 an hour.” Rey did the maths in her head. By the end of the week… shit by the end of the week she would have paid off just under half of her debt, or at least the first installment, but that was all she could focus on.

“Fine. I’m out-of-town tomorrow but don’t have her fucking anyone else. Completely block her out,” he said, again with that authoritative tone.

Phasma sighed again, her lips pressing even tighter together. “Fine. She’s off limits. No bookings.”

Rey had made it to the top of the steps now, stopping just out of a view, her heart flipped.

“Now give her a copy of those fucking rules and make sure she can recite them blind by the time I come back,” he said loudly, to both of them Rey suspected.

“Yes, Mr Ren.”

“And Phasma?” He paused. Rey closed her eyes, dreading whatever would come next. “Buy the girl some fucking lube.”




Chapter Text

Uninvited

 

The shower tiles were cold as steel slabs.  Rey leaned into them as she stared at the stark white ceiling, gashed with cracked paint. Scalding water dripped over her skin, making her shoulders and chest flush with a crimson burn.

Grey water pooled at her feet, bubbling with soap. She had lathered herself in it—all over her body, inside her—everywhere.

And yet she’d never felt so filthy.

She turned off the tap and stepped out amidst vapours of steam. Overheated and sluggish, she wrapped a towel around her body, and another folded in a tight cover over her hair. She moved on autopilot, her mind trapped in the events of the night before.

Flashes of ecstasy, smouldering eyes, gentle touches, rough thrusts, and a haunted face, stacked together in a kaleidoscope of sights and sensations.

To be honest, she was still in shock. Last night’s experience had rocked her, from being fucked by that soulless robot, to being held so tenderly and … yeah, that. Whatever that was.

In the kitchen, her phone was ringing.

She peered at it, hesitating to even touch it.

Buzz. Buzz. Buzz. It vibrated loudly on the bench, the name on the caller ID: Phasma — Brothel

She needed to answer that call...

Buzz. Buzz. Buzz.

She picked it up, holding it a fair distance away from her ear and with her bottom lip caught firmly within her teeth, pressed “accept”.

“Hello?”

“Rey, It’s Phasma. I’ve called you three times this morning already. Are you ignoring me?”

“No, of course not. I was in the shower—”

“It doesn’t matter. What time are you coming in today?”

“Coming In?” Rey gulped, quashing down the way her stomach did nauseating somersaults. “I thought you didn’t need me tonight, seeing as—”

“I’m not paying you $200 an hour to sit on your arse at home! There’s plenty else you can do other than sleep with guys. It’s a full house this evening, and we’re booked back to back. I need you in here at 5 pm or don’t bother picking up your paycheque this week.”

A feeling of cold water washed over Rey’s head.

“Are you coming or not, Rey?” Phasma asked.

Rey swallowed and looked at the spring-flower calendar she had bought from the dollar shop.

“Well?” Phasma snapped again.

“Yes, yes,” Rey almost stumbled over her words — just one month —the silent promise was her secret mantra, clinging to her every negative thought and fear.

She could do this. She had to do this. And with a deep breath made one more promise. “I’ll be there.”

 


 

The night passed in a blur.

A gag-inducing, revolting blur of lap-dances, massages with a happy ending, and giving head to guys that made her skin crawl.

Phasma had worked her harder than any of the other girls, a game of Russian roulette that neither of them would back down from.

But there was one thing Phasma hadn’t counted on.

Rey was a survivor. And by God, she would survive this. She hadn’t lived on the street, scavenging meal scraps through her teenage years, just to give up at the first sign of hard work.

So every hour, Rey marched down the stairs, dressed in some ridiculous fetish costume to ask which client would be next. Phasma’s perfectly shaped brow arched at the sight of Rey each time, daring her to give up.

Not a chance .

It was exhausting work, and Rey had spent more than one trip to the toilet dry-heaving in utter misery.

The only clients she could think about without wanting to projectile vomit was the guy who wanted nothing else than to watch her eat pizza. He wasn’t too bad, as long as she didn’t focus on his dopey, slack-jawed expression, and the way his arm straddled between his legs, pumping wildly.

Then there was financial domination Thomas, who’d insisted she tie him up while she robbed him blind by going on a shopping spree courtesy of his credit card. He could come back again.

But mostly, her clients were walk-ins: drunk, bored and horny loners who wanted nothing more than to watch her, suck her, and grind their bodies up against her.

There was only one rule: no penetration.

All ages, all sizes, one after the other, they came through the doors, scouring over the menu before pointing to Rey, and following her up the stairs.

None of them was anything like Kylo Ren.

And whether that was a good or bad thing, Rey had no idea.

All she knew was by Friday night she would be with him again. Most likely pinned beneath him like some kind of limp sex doll.

 


 

Dappled light streamed through naked beech trees into the courtyard of the Taco-dana Restaurant, as serving staff bustled around the tables in their subtle black slacks and white t-shirts, taking orders and placing oversized sombreros on eager children, and the occasional adult.

Kylo Ren shifted uncomfortably in the coal-coloured wicker chair, his knees bumping the table as he tried to stretch his legs underneath it. Snoke had insisted on the restaurant, and they’d travelled half an hour to get here in place of their usual lunch spot.

That alone was enough to put Kylo on edge.

“Comfortable?” Snoke asked with a smirk that created smile-lines beneath his eyes.

“Of course,” Kylo lied. “Why the new place?”

“I like the scenery,” Snoke gazed around the courtyard nonchalantly, but Kylo noted the way his pale blue eyes never stopped searching the faces around him.

“Funny. I never pictured you as a ‘scenery’ guy.”

“I appreciate beauty as much as any man.” Snoke’s lips curled into a sneer. “I dare say as much as you do, Kylo.”

Their eyes met again and Snoke smiled at him. A chill darted through Kylo’s veins. What was this? Snoke turned on his favourites as easy as flicking the lights off, and everybody was expendable. Even him.

“So, how was your evening the other night? Phasma mentioned you came in,” Snoke asked, his words smooth and venomously friendly.

“Fine,” Kylo answered brusquely.

“You had the new girl, didn’t you? I haven’t had the pleasure yet. How was she?”

“Fine, like I said.” Kylo looked away indifferently, but inside his heart was racing.

Snoke laughed. “She must have been more than ‘fine’. By all accounts, you booked her out for the entire week!”

“What of it?”

“It’s just curious. You’ve never shown a preference for any of my girls before.”

“There was no preference. She was nothing special. I have a boring week ahead and—”

Snoke looked up at that, eyes narrowing. “ Boring?

Kylo froze. That was the wrong word to use.

“Have you forgotten what your job is this week?”

“Of course not.” Kylo swallowed down a lump in his throat, drying his sweating hands on his thighs.

“There can be no screw ups on this one, Kylo.”

“There won’t be. San Tekka is due to arrive tomorrow night and everything is prepared,” Kylo said, working hard to keep his voice from wavering. “He’s a dead man.”

“And yet you’ve booked this girl for the same evening.”

“I like to unwind afterwards.”

Snoke stared at him unmoved, those baleful eyes never shifting from him. Kylo could feel them peeling back his layers, cutting deep into his words, his mannerisms, the speed of his breath, and even the rate of his pulse.

Kylo worked to blank any expression from his face. Snoke knew he could find the truth there, in those subtle micro-expressions that always betrayed him.

Snoke laughed, an undulating wave that carried through the courtyard. Light enough for Kylo to relax.

In the periphery of his vision, Kylo noticed a waiter approaching. He didn’t bother looking over at her until the sweet British accent filled the air around him.

“Hi there. My name is Rey and I’ll be your server today, can I start you off with some drinks?”

Fuck! Kylo avoided her gaze, devouring the menu below as if it was some kind of sacred text.

Snoke began. “A black coffee for myself, and my friend here will have…?”

He let his words hang in the air, pulling Kylo into the conversation.

Kylo looked up at her, blank and indifferent.  “Just give me a cup of water, no ice.”

Rey froze at the sight of him, her lips parting in shock. The pen between her fingers slipped to the floor although she didn’t notice.

“Do you need me to repeat it?” Kylo asked, forcing an edge of aggression into his voice.

She flushed, the bloom of colour spreading onto her cheeks, down her neck, and dipping beneath her shirt.  

“Water and a black coffee.” She slid her notebook into the pocket of her slacks. “Got it. I’ll be right back.”

She turned and sped away from them as Kylo watched her go, realising his eyes had lingered on her far too long.

Snoke chuckled as she left.

“What the hell is this?” Kylo asked, turning back to face his boss.

“I just want to make sure you’re not straying again,” Snoke purred, a smile breaking across his face, exposing his yellow-stained teeth, gold fillings glinted in the light.

Kylo’s heart raced, blood rushing through his body like a boiling rapid. “So it was all a test?”

“Do you think you passed?”

“You’re a perverted fuck, you know that?” Kylo spat.

“Stop! it hurts too much!” Snoke cried with a high voice, struggling between fits of laughter. “She played her part well I thought.”

Kylo’s eyes stung, unsure which betrayal was worse, Snoke’s or the girl’s, or the fact he had fallen for it all. Muscles twitched beneath his eye and he bit on the inside of his lip, turning away to hide the emotions fast betraying his features. “I can’t fucking believe this.”

“And what did you do to her? God, I almost vomited when she phoned me. How could you defile yourself in such a way?”

“Shut up.” Kylo gripped the menu, his skin blanching at the knuckles. He’d been fucking played.

He tried to breathe, to meet Snoke’s gaze without hesitation but his vision faltered. Rage, deep within, building, burning, churning like a storm breaking. He squeezed his eyes shut, the motion producing bursts of white light beneath his lids before he opened them again to face him. “What is your point?”

“The point is you are unbalanced. What is it about this girl that makes you so incapable of being a man?” he spat out the last word with utter disgust. “And to think after all these years, she still—”

After all these years? Kylo looked up, his heart stopping.

Yes Kylo, don’t pretend you didn’t know.”

He didn’t. There was something the other night that triggered him, the faintest flicker of a memory, a fleeting feeling of déjà vu the moment those hazel eyes pleaded into his own to stop. It had stunned him, to say the least. But… Fuck!. His hands trembled as he clutched them together.

“Kira,” Kylo said breathlessly, slumping in his chair with defeat.

“She’s changed her name now—obviously,” Snoke leaned back in his chair, fanning his fingers together before his chin like a Machiavellian mastermind. “Turns out there isn’t much she won’t do for a bit of cash.”

After everything he had done this had come back to haunt him. His dark gaze wandered over to the coffee machine, noting the way her palms rubbed at her eyes, the way she clutched the bench where she worked. Her lips were pale and her cheeks sallow. She was exhausted.

“You think she is beautiful?” Snoke asked with a velvet voice.

“Yes,” the word escaped him, hushed and low. It was automatic, forced out of him at a question he couldn’t deny. Maybe not in the traditional sense, but there was a fiery spirit in those embattled eyes that was attractive to him. Not to mention, the way loose strands of hair fell across the sun-kissed brow, her child-like freckles, her athletic body and the way it felt beneath his …

Yes, she was beautiful in his eyes. Far too much so.

“Just think, if you had done as I asked you might have had her much earlier. She could have been your own. I would have gladly gifted her to you. A reward for work well done.”

Kylo was silent, gaze still fixed on her. “Why are you doing this? I’ve given you everything I proved—”

Snoke reached his hand towards him, reaching out in a fatherly gesture, but Kylo just looked at the pale disfigured mass on the table with disgust. “I’m trying to help you son. To show you they all lie. Your parents…  your uncle… this girl… But I will never lie to you. That is my promise.

“I have sensed in you these past few years a loss of purpose. Ever since that night, you have questioned your path, your worth. We are on the cusp of something great together you and I. But I worry your compassion for this girl is part of a larger epidemic.  And with the Santecker job coming up this week, I don’t know if I can trust you any more to pull it off.”

Snoke paused for effect, tucking a serviette beneath his chin. “And if I can’t trust you—”

Snoke glowered in the direction of Rey, holding his sentence unfinished. “You know more than most that things don’t go so well for people when I lose my trust in them.”

“I told you,” Kylo leant forward, his voice in a loud hiss. “I will do what you asked me.”

“I know you will,” Snoke relaxed.

Kylo’s gaze returned to Rey, the gravity of her presence pulling him toward her.

“Oh, and here.” Snoke slipped his right hand into his pocket, searching around for something. “If you doubt me about her. Search for her old name using this. I’m sure you’ll find it very … enlightening.”

 


 

“I think your coffee is done!” Jess Pava laughed, bumping Rey along with her elbow.

“Huh?” Rey jumped, realising she’d been staring into the distance with one hand gripped on the portafilter of the coffee machine and the other holding a full cup of black coffee beneath it. “Oh shit. Sorry, I was lost in thought.”

“Yeah, so I see.” Jess leaned forward, switching off the grinder. “You look terrible, what’s wrong?”

“I’m okay, just a little tired.” Right on cue, Rey’s mouth gaped open in a slow yawn, causing her eyes to water and her shoulders to hunch. “Hey, Jess, how much do you love me?”

“Not much,” Jess deadpanned, as she steamed a jug of milk.

“Is it enough to take table 20?”

“That depends,” Jess drawled as she turned an appraising eye to where Rey pointed. “Ew, creepy bald guy, no thank you.”

Rey sighed resolutely, dying a little inside.

“Wait, hold on!” Jess raised her hand, a mischievous smile lighting up her heart-shaped face. “Look at his friend though. Did someone order tall, dark and mysterious?”

“Not me,” Rey added sharply, leaning back against the counter with arms folded.

“You can’t tell me you wouldn’t want to wake up to next to that in the morning. I mean, look at the size of him. I can only imagine how big his—”

“Oh God, don’t even say it,” Rey cried, the blush on her face blotching all over again. “Trust me when I tell you that guy needs a complete personality reversal and possibly many years of therapy before he is anything close to passable.”  

“And he’s hot as—why are you bailing?”

Rey bit her lip, shoulders slumping at the question. That was one story she was not prepared to share, even with her closest girlfriend. “ Please Jess, I’m begging you. I’ll give you my tips for the day.”

Jess clicked her tongue, pulling the clipboard of table bookings towards her from the counter. “Alastair Snoke. Table for two.”

Rey’s heart plunge into the cold tiled floor.

“What did you say?”

“The guy you were serving, Alastair Snoke. Do you know him?”

“No,” Rey breathed, clutching her stomach as a wave of nausea radiated through her body. “Please Jess, I can’t—”

Jess put a hand on Rey’s shoulder. “Listen, if you can take their order while I settle up some accounts, I will take it from there.”

“Thank you! I owe you, Jess.”

“You owe me an explanation!” Jess said a little too loudly. “Now get over there. Tall, dark and mysterious has been staring at you this whole time.”

 


 

 

Rey’s feet shuffled along burnt orange tiles as she slowly made her way to table 20. Snoke and Kylo were deep in conversation, they hadn’t even noticed her coming towards them.

Snoke leaned across the table like a hook-necked vulture leering towards its prey. Rey shuddered as she came closer to him, his bald head scabbed with skin cancers, crusted and corroded. Her throat closed at the way his yellow-stained fingers scratched along the table towards Kylo.

There was something too unsettling about the image before her, it almost felt … violating in some way. Even more so, when she noticed how Kylo leaned away from him, his face surly and his stormy eyes glued to the floor.

Mr Snoke will want to try her out, Phasma’s words banged in her head. The reality of that statement sent a visceral fear down Rey’s spine. It wasn’t even Snoke’s looks that bothered her so much, or his tall, spindly body draped in a sleazy gold-satin shirt. No, there was something far more menacing beneath the surface. An unspoken thing. Invisible but ever present and unnatural

Not safe. The words spiralled in her mind over and over again. Years surviving alone, having no-one to watch out for her or keep her safe mean she had recognised it almost instantly.  Snoke was a predator.

Had Kylo Ren tried to protect her that night? Was he protecting her still?

She came up to the table and cleared her throat. “Are you ready to order?”

Snoke beamed at her with a crooked smile, carefully watching the reactions of his companion. “I think we both know what we want, don’t we?”

Kylo dragged his head up, right eye twitching as he looked between them. If rage was a tactile thing, she was sure she could have felt it all around him.

“Let me see, I think I’ll have the enchiladas, with extra chilli,” Snoke said.

“Sure,” Rey repeated the order back to him until a rogue yawn escaped her once more. She smiled awkwardly, covering her mouth and apologising.

“Young Rey, late night was it?” Snoke asked.

“You could say that.” Rey jotted down his order, holding her pen so tightly the words came out in a messy scribble. “And you?”

Kylo snapped the menu shut with a loud slap, and this time he looked up at her with resolve. A look exchanged between the two men as Kylo gave his order with a tenuous sneer. “I’ll have a stuffed taco.”

Rey stiffened at the private joke and Snoke chortled. With lips pursed she read back his order, venom lacing every word. “And what kind of meat would you like in your stuffed taco?”

“Ladies choice,” he said lazily, eyes meeting hers again, unblinking.

She met his gaze, head keening to the side as she stared daggers at him. “For you, I’d recommend the crab.”

Snoke laughed out loud, while Kylo simpered in her direction. She felt her face glowing, at their attention, hot tears razored the corners of her eyes. “Is that everything?”

Kylo nodded, but as she turned to leave Snoke’s voice arrested her again.

“Wait, come back here child,” the old man cooed at her, hooking his finger as though to lure her in. Rey hesitated,

“Come here, I said,” his voice was flatter this time, and far deeper. Rey took a slow step closer to Snoke, her shoulder curving forward protectively.

“I’ve changed my mind. I like the idea of that stuffed taco too.”

Rey felt her body shaking, she clasped her hand upon her elbow anchoring it. “Fine, I’ll change your order.”

“Extra hot, remember?”

She nodded slightly and turned away as she felt long fingers sweep across her arse.

“Don’t you touch me again,” she hissed at him, head pounding as blood rushed through her body.

Snoke laughed. “Don’t be angry with me, Rey. You had something there. I was merely trying to clean you up. You want to look pretty for your next customer, don’t you?”

The table moved, a shuddering scrape as though it had been kicked and Rey finally breathed again. She snatched the menu from Snoke, her chin creasing and her breath coming in uneven waves. And then she turned to Kylo, reaching for his menu but it wouldn’t move, his fingers locked around it in a steel grip.

“I’ll take that for you,” she said quietly, but he wasn’t listening. Head bowed, dark curtains of hair falling across his temple and cheeks, and then she noticed his eyes, they had almost changed colour, they were so black and focused. She pulled it away again, and he released it suddenly, causing her to stumble backwards. It was the only thing to break him from his concentration.

She turned away from them and didn’t look back. Throwing the order into the kitchen on the way before bolting out the back doors before anyone could call her back.

 


 

Behind the restaurant, in a gloomy alley bound by faded graffiti-lined walls, Rey sat crouched in a sitting fetal position. She had backed into an alcove, curling her body to fit in the small space, just as she had done as a child on the street.

Her fingers madly tapped onto her phone, searching for any kind of distraction that might stop her head from exploding. She rubbed her eyes, roughly wiping away the hot tears threatening to spill over.

But she wasn’t going to cry, not over them. She wasn’t going to cry over anyone.

The smell of rotting food wafted through the laneway, radiating from the steel bins lining the backside of the restaurant. Rey wrinkled her nose as she continued playing with her phone until the screen went blank.

Damn! Rey rubbed her eyes harder this time. She certainly wasn't going back in there to get her charger, not while he was-- 

Rey jumped as a loud crash bellowed through the narrow alleyway like the sound of metal smashing into the wall.

She sat bolt upright, just in time to see another metal bin fly past her, spewing its contents all over the street. She jumped out, just as a lid flew past her like a frisbee, narrowly missing her shoulder.

“What the hell are you doing?” she shrieked.

Kylo Ren froze, body trembling, muscles twitching, wide-eyed and wild.

Their gaze met in the gloomy shadows and Rey stopped herself from looking away. There was so much intensity in the way he looked at her. She took a step back, shrinking away from him.

“What are you doing back here?” he demanded.

She gaped at the sharp tone in his words. “You better clean that up!” She shouted, pointing to the rubbish spread all over the alleyway.

He glanced at the mess around him, his lips puckering as he considered his answer. Which of course was silence.

“You worked last night?” He changed the subject.

“Phasma wants me to earn my keep.” Rey leaned against the wall, rolling her eyes. “Apparently, there’s plenty of other work to be done that doesn’t involve ... penetration.

Kylo stiffened, his hands clenched into fists at the base of his sleeves. “I’ll fucking kill that bitch.”

“Right,” Rey stretched the word, feeling like she had found some exposed wound that she could irritate. “Let me guess … psychotic tendencies?”

“Anger issues.” Kylo smiled sardonically as he took a step closer, edging on the boundary of her personal space. “No one else was supposed to touch you.”

“I don’t need your protection,” Rey hissed.

“I’m not protecting you. I’m keeping what belongs to me.”

“You’re a monster! Both you and your fucking boss." 

Kylo stared at her, lips parting softly as he took another step closer, forcing her to crane her neck to look at him. His eye twitched again, lips tightening into a thin line.

Bring it on, she thought. “How dare you both come down here and—“

“I didn’t know you worked here,” he snapped at her.

“Well don’t you dare come back here again, ever!” she cried, her voice shrill and unsteady.

Kylo turned away from her robotically, making his way back to the restaurant as though her emotions were nothing. But she wasn’t done yet.

“And another thing. You don’t own me. You don’t own any part of me. If you ever—“

“You’re right!” he spat. “I don’t own you. Snoke does. And once you finish spying for him you can crawl right back to him.”

“What the hell are you talking about?”

“You told him what happened between us the other night,” he hissed, pointing his finger to her chest menacingly. “I know, Rey. I know about the whole fucking thing.”

She gaped, completely blindsided. She had never seen or spoken to Snoke in her life, where was he even getting—

“And you’re wrong about one thing.” He towered over her even closer now, squaring his shoulders and straightening his back so she could take in his full height and mass.

“I own your nights.” He lifted his hand to her face, gently brushing his thumb across her lower lip. “Every fucking one of them.”

She bit him on the thumb, hard enough that he pulled it away with an audible curse. Then she pulled her hand back, torpedoing it to slap him hard across the face but he grabbed her wrist yanking it away from him, leaving himself vulnerable. Suddenly, her knee shot up, sharply hitting him in the groin. Kylo stiffened, a muffled groan come out of his mouth and his eyes watered, but that was all, no buckling over or howling in pain. He only released her, rubbing his hand along his jaw.

Rey braced herself for the repercussions, but she was startled to see him smiling at her.

“What’s so amusing?” she demanded.

“You learned to fight after all,” he said, face blank of expressions. “I wasn’t sure you would.”

Rey looked confused. “What are you talking about?”

“Forget it, I’ll see you tonight, Rey.” Kylo turned to walk away from her, picking up a garbage lid as he went.

“I thought you weren’t coming in until Friday,” she called out after him, voice shaking much more than she wanted it to do.

“Change of plans,” he said, barely turning back to her as he replaced the lid. “And I'm planning on getting my fucking money’s worth this time.”


Chapter Text

Head On

The light above the brothel door remained off, the dim crimson bulb lost against the charcoal walls. Rey rushed to the entrance, head bent as she tapped her dying phone. She had forgotten to plug it in last night and it was almost spent.

The sun had dipped below the city dwellings, dragging the day's warmth away; the light replaced by biting gusts of wind screeching through the streets. She pulled a grey woollen jacket around her shoulder, trying to keep the cold away as the wind buffeted her hair and sent spirals of leaves whirling down the laneway.

A man dressed in a thick grey scarf and brown leather jacket leant against the wall. His hands were cupped to his mouth, blowing warm air into his fingers as though he had been waiting in the cold all afternoon. He had wavy dark hair streaked with silver, a shadow of stubble pricked at his jaw. He looked up at Rey as she came closer, brows raising curiously.

She avoided his gaze and hastened to the door.

“Hey!” he called out after her with an assertive voice.

She buried her head further into her chest, quickening her steps.

“Wait!” His voice trailed close behind her.“Do you work here?”

“The brothel isn’t taking customers until after six.”

“I’m not a customer, I wanted to ask—”

“I can’t help you, sorry.”

She charged to the door, hoping to get away from him but he intercepted her path, bullishly blocking her from going any further.

Unable to get past him without creating a scene, Rey sighed and folded her arms.

“What do you want?” she huffed.

“You’re new here, aren’t you?”

Another sigh, but this time she added a roll of her eyes for good measure. “Yes.”

He smiled, exposing a line of perfect white teeth. He was a good-looking guy. One of those cocky, self-assured types. In other circumstances, she would have considered him handsome, but here outside the brothel, she didn’t care what he looked like, as long as he left her alone.

“I’m a reporter for the Hosnian Herald. I wanted to ask you some questions.”

“No way.” Rey pushed past him, but he remained planted where he was, still blocking her from opening the door. He was determined, she’d give him that.

“Look, I just started here. I can’t give you some sex-worker sob story, or whatever else you’re after.”

“Ha! You’re good.” He pointed to her with a charming smile, his presence exuding a nervous energy and excitement. “I’m not after your story, I want to talk to you about your boss, Alastair Snoke.”

Coldness . It flooded her body, showering her from top to bottom. Her jaw stiffened as her memory flashed of that boney finger, calling her forward, the way he touched her, like he owned her body …

“... and the fact there’s a disturbing number of people who have disappeared after having dealings with him…” Poe rushed his words, as though he knew his time was running out.

Rey lowered her head again and pushed past him, edging him away from the door just enough to force it open.

“... and countless witnesses have accused him of being a violent loan shark who…”

She yanked the door back, forcing the reporter away from her and slammed it shut behind her, locking the deadbolt as she did.

Could this day get any worse? She slumped her back against the door, dragging her hands down her face.

“Is that Poe Dameron still out there hounding everyone?”

Rey searched for the source of the voice, as her eyes adjusted to the dimly-lit foyer. A black head of hair popped up from behind Phasma’s desk. Rey startled, confronted with a short Asian woman wearing pigtails and a bubbly smile.

“Oh God, I thought you were Phasma!” Rey panted as she clasped her hand to her heart.

“I know, we’re so alike. People confuse us all the time,” the girl chided with a laugh. “I’m Rose, Rose Tico—or Rosebud was the terrible name they gave me here, but that was just some sick joke of Snoke’s. You must be Rey.”

Rose held her hand out and Rey gave it a sturdy shake.

“Or Desert Flower was the terrible name they gave me,” Rey said with a sly smile.

“That’s not too bad. It could have been worse,” Rose replied.

Rey took off her jacket and hung it by the coat rack over the door, peeking behind the heavy-set crimson curtains as she did. “So, that Dameron guy out there. Does he come around here often?”

“He’s always digging around for some dirt on Snoke,” Rose shook her head and added in a whisper. “Not that he’ll ever find it. Snoke never does his own dirty work, but you didn’t hear it from me.”

“Who does, then?”

“He calls them his Knights. Some of them are ex-military, others are masters of martial arts. Trained killers either way. We’re not supposed to talk about them. They come here, every now and then. He likes to keep them satiated .

Rey's thoughts immediately flashed to Kylo. He had barely flinched when she had attacked him today, so he knew how to take a punch. And the way he commanded her, confident, like he was used to authority...

“But I thought you would have known about them,” Rose continued. “I mean, you’re sleeping with the master of the Knights of Ren himself.”

“What?” Rey asked, her voice going hollow

“You’re Kylo’s girl, aren’t you?” Rose interrupted her thoughts.

“Uh, I—”

Rose smiled knowingly. “How’s that been for you?”

“Umm…” Rey struggled to find the words to say out loud— infuriating, confusing

“Bad, hey? The others say he’s an emotionless robot. Never gives any of the girls any pleasure. I don’t think he even enjoys it himself, to be honest. I have no idea why he comes here, apart from the fact Snoke expects him too. But honestly, the guy doesn’t even like touching people. If you ask me, he’s a bit fucked in the…” She tapped her temple pointedly with one finger.

Rey nodded. So it wasn’t just her then. But something Rose had said piqued in her mind. He had certainly taken time to take care of her—her cheeks prickled with heat at the thought. Was that unusual then? Had he stuck to the rules with everyone else? She wasn’t sure how she felt about that, flattered, concerned… curious?

“Be careful around him, okay? Snoke didn’t make him Master of the Knights of Ren because of his chivalry.”

“What do you mean?” Rey asked, her voice betrayed with a hoarse whimper.

“He’s dangerous, Rey. He works very closely with Snoke, and that can’t be good for anyone. Just be careful.”

Rey nodded, not feeling comfortable with the conversation anymore. She was about to go upstairs to her room when her phone vibrated, warning she was down to 10 per cent battery life.

“Hey Rose, is there somewhere I can charge my phone? I’m down to one bar.”

“Yeah, come with me.” Rose beckoned her to follow, leading her to a door tucked away in the darkest corner of the room. When they reached the door, Rose hesitated, taking a deep breath and then knocked. “Mr Snoke?”

Rey’s blood froze solid in her veins, as her stomach hardening into rock.

Not Snoke, Please not Snoke.

She waited for his gravelly voice to answer, for those frosty caustic eyes to pin her in their sights, but there was no answer beyond the door.

“There’s a charging station in his office. He isn’t here most of the time,” Rose said.

“And what if he is?”

“Then I suggest you walk the other way,” she said darkly.

Snoke’s office was colder than the rest of the building and far darker. Rose flicked a switch by the door, a red silk lantern fringed with crimson tassels lit up the room in a gentle glow. The room was ostentatious and cluttered, with ornaments from different parts of the world scattered on every surface. A heavy mahogany desk was in the far end of the room, just behind a zebra skin matt. Rey screwed up her nose at it, and even more so at the lion’s bust centred directly on the wall behind. The beast stared at her with hollow eyes and teeth bared, its own blood still stained the fur along the neckline.

“Gross,” Rey muttered, as she took in the glorified self-portraits of Snoke bundled over various animal corpses, hunting rifle in one hand and knife in the other. All of them rare or exotic animals, hollow and broken, bleeding out upon the African grassland. So he loved to slaughter innocent things, she mused. Not surprising.

“I know, right? That’s not even the worst part of this room.” Rose strolled over to a pair of large heavyset cabinet doors against the far right wall of the room. Giving Rey one conspiratory glance, she released the catch holding the doors together with a click.

Rey came closer, curiosity overcoming her more than any true desire to know what lay at the heart of Snoke’s sick fetishes.

Inside was a wall lined with what looked like torture devices to her: handcuffs, whips, chains, knives, dog leashes, ball and chain, face muzzles and belts of leather dotted with steel studs.

“What is this?” Rey whispered, her voice failing her.

“You haven’t had to be with him yet, have you?”

Rey shook her head, swallowing the lump in her throat like it was a piece of coal.

“Keep it that way if you can.” Rose closed the doors quickly. “It’s not … pleasant.”

Rey remained fixed before his personal collection. What the hell she had gotten herself into by agreeing to this job? She should have faked or death or fled the country instead, or ...

“Hey.” Rose placed a hand on her shoulder. “Don’t stress. Phasma is way into that stuff so he usually gets his fix from her. Just keep off his radar.”

Rose bent down beneath the desk, pulling out a handful of different phone charger wires.

“Here, you can plug in here.”

Rey knelt, pulling the charger cord towards her with trembling hands. The vision of the muzzles and knives was still creeping her out. She needed to get out of this. Maybe it was worth facing those men who had threatened her if she didn’t pay her first instalment. They would just beat her, and she could take a beating. What Snoke had planned for her though … she wasn’t sure she’d ever get over that. She tried to think of something else, focussing instead on Rose’s bright smiling eyes. She was like a breath of fresh air in here.

“You seem normal, are you normal?” Rose asked.

Rey laughed, despite herself. “That depends on your definition of ‘normal’, but I guess so?”

“Oh, thank God. Me too. So what got you into the oldest profession in the world?”

“I owe money,” Rey admitted. “Or, I should say my parents owed money. I inherited the debt from them, and now the people they owed it to want it back. I’ve got a month to pay the first instalment.”

“That blows,” Rose said, her head dipped in a show of concern.

Rey turned away, she hated pity. She had travelled through life without it so far and the mere feeling of it pulled her chest tight.

“It is, what it is.” Rey shrugged. “How about you?”

“I have a daughter.” Rose’s fingers toyed with a crescent moon charm around her neck as she spoke. “Well, she’s not technically my daughter. She was my sister Paige’s kid. She was killed in that bomb blast last year down by Resistance headquarters. Did you hear about it?”

Of course Rey had heard about it. July 22, the same day she had handed in her resignation at university. She had been walking home, vision blurred with pooling tears, when the blast had gone off. She had heard it from four blocks away, a shuddering thunder that made her duck for cover. The terrorist attack had killed 120 people and injured countless others. No one had ever claimed responsibility, but police officials suspected a rival political faction.

That day Rey had stared, dumbfounded, by the window of an electronics store, watching the scene play out on a dozen television screens, fire and smoke, body bundles hidden beneath bloody sheets, people crying, wailing their stories to reporters with cut foreheads and red rivulets dried onto their skin. Rey shivered at the memory.

“I’m so sorry,” Rey whispered. The words were inadequate, but she meant every one.

Rose’s eyes misted with sorrow. There was love there, deep, immeasurable love. The kind she could never even hope to experience.

“I’m just trying to do the best by her. I want to be there for her during the day, you know? To make her feel like she’s not alone.” Rose clutched her hands together, as though she were pleading her case.

“I know, Rose,” Rey answered, placing a hand on her shoulder. “You’re doing a wonderful thing for her. She’s lucky to have you. I wish I had a mother that loved me as much.”

Rose stiffened at her touch, lips pressed tightly together while her nostrils quivered. Rose held that pose until at last she broke, a few stray tears running away from her measured composure.

“Gosh darn it, you’ve gone and made me cry, Rey!”

They laughed, the tension and emotion of the day shaking loose.

“Anyway, it’s not all bad. Most of my clients are quite sweet. They just want someone to share with, you know? Loneliness is a bitch.”

Rey nodded, eyes wide with a new appreciation of the woman before her. They had just met, but somehow Rey suspected she would come to love Rose like a sister.

It was then that the door handle rattled and the imposing stature of Phasma glared at them.

“Get out,” she hissed. “What do you think you are doing in here?”

“Nothing, Phasma. I was showing Rey where she could plug in her phone.“

Phasma inhaled a sharp breath through her nose and took a step back, allowing the two girls to exit. They did so in silence, heads downcast in order to avoid their madam’s steely gaze. Phasma returned to her desk and began to sort tonight’s client files.

“Rose, you’ve got a new one tonight, Dathomirian Zabrak.”

“Okay, well that name sounds more than a little creepy.”

Phasma ignored her. “And Rey, Kylo called. He’s going to be late, but when he comes in he’s asked that you warm up with a head job.”

“Ugh! I hate head jobs!” Rose exclaimed. “And since when does Kylo Ren want anything other than a quick fuck?”

Phasma glared at Rose, lips tightening, and Rose backed up with an apologetic smile.

“He’s also asked you to read through the rules again.”

She slipped the well-worn list to Rey, who took the sheet of paper in her hand. He would make her pay tonight. Whatever warped theory he had about her working with Snoke had made him pissed as hell. And then there was the small matter of her kneeing him in the groin today…

“Well?” Phasma asked, her tone clipped.

“No kissing, no hugging, no questions. Got it. “

“And no eye contact,” Phasma added testily. “This is your last chance tonight, you understand? Give him the best damn night of his life or you can find a new brothel.”

“Fine,” Rey said through gritted teeth, and for a moment the women just stared at each other, cobalt against amber, cold steel against fiery determination.

She began to back away, never taking her eyes of the sharpened owl-eye gaze of madam.

“Wait a minute.” Phasma threw her a pink paper bag and Rey caught it instinctually. “He dropped this in for you this afternoon. Make sure you’re wearing it when he comes in.”

“Great,” she muttered under her breath before she turned and marched up the stairs, each foot crashing with a dramatic thump on the step.

When she got to the black door that was her usual room, she yanked the handle down and kicked the door open, throwing her backpack in for good measure.

This fucking, stupid, revolting job. She leant back against the door and bashed the back of her arm hard against it. The movement had stung, but she didn’t care. Pain was good. It gave expression to everything she was feeling. Sure, she had a temper and that spit-fire attitude had gotten her out of a lot of scrapes — and into them. But this feeling was something else, a seething, black rage, reserved in the vault in her mind for the most antagonising moments of her life.

Kylo fucking Ren. Her emotions pulled tight like a bowstring waiting to release. She whacked her elbow against the door again, adding a bang of her head in frustration. The pain cracked through her skull in an easing catharsis.

And that’s when it caught her eye, peering down at her the same way it had two nights ago. That stupid ceiling mirror. But this was something she could focus on, and more than that, it was something she could control. She looked back to it again, lips curling in a growing smile.

 


 

He came to her just before nine. She had been waiting idly, doodling swirls in the rug by the fireplace when she heard the key turn.

The door cracked open, slowly at first, until the outline of Kylo Ren filled the door frame.

He was puffing, hair dishevelled like some stupid goth rock star. Rey had jumped to her feet, arms folded, a specially manufactured scowl she had designed just for this moment. Their eyes met and hers narrowed threateningly. She had meant to look formidable, but then the fact she was standing there in her knickers lessened the effect somewhat.

He smirked at her. Looking as though he’d just won a bet that she was not privy to.

“Hello, Rey.” That voice, that low, intoxicating grow.

She didn’t reply, instead glaring at him as she tightened the line between her brows.

“You look—” He paused for effect, making a point of grazing his eyes along her wiry sun-kissed body. “ Lovely.”

She snorted, ready to hit him with a sharp barb when he started unbuttoning his shirt in a rush.

Rey’s body clenched. He hadn’t even shut the door. Her heart reverberated in her chest, an empty drum pounding away, loud enough that she felt it drumming in her ears. Once he had finished, he pulled his shirt off his shoulders and threw it towards the bed. She followed it with her eyes and felt a small glimmer of triumph when he missed his mark.

And there they were again, standing in the same places. This time he was bare-chested and brazen. His torso heaved with every slow breath and she found herself focussing on the way the lines of his trapezius framed his long neck, the sculpted bumps of his abs and the narrowed-waist, and the small trail of hair that disappeared beneath his belt.

He was ripped. Most girls would have been into that. But not her. She swallowed before pulling her eyes up to his face again. She wasn’t affected by any of it, not his body, not his lips that were far too soft, the gentle line of his jaw, the beauty marks dotted like stardust across his face, or the dark energy that always seemed to radiate from him.

His eyes were ravenous and darker than ever, feasting on her every feature. The underwear he had bought for her to wear was … okay. She had held her breath as she peeked in the bag and was surprised to find a dark ivory bra and panties made of natural cotton with a little bit of lace, and no padding. They were comfortable, simple but elegant. Flattering the natural shape of her body, rather than pushing her into something she wasn’t. She wondered if she was allowed to take them home with her, not that she wanted them, she reminded herself.

Anyway, he clearly liked them, because as he is eyes burned over her body, there was a flicker of movement in his pants, the material tenting below his belt.

Rey looked away indignantly, but her body responded differently; she felt her abdomen tighten and her nipples peak into tight buds, and then there was that feeling in her core, deep within, pulsing and hungry. Traitor! She hissed in her mind.

He strode towards her, that uneven gate noticeable out of the corner of her eye. He was awkward, she thought. Like he’d never gotten used to the size of his body. Those slow heavy steps stopped before her, waiting.

“Look at me.”

She stiffened, raising her chin to glare at him. Ignoring the way the corners of his mouth twitched at her petulant teenage-scowl.

“What about the rules ?” she asked, impertantly.

“I doubt you were ever one to follow rules.”

She rolled her eyes. Who was this guy and how dare he assume he knew anything about—

“Now, when you’re finished acting like an audacious teenager, you can take off your bra.”

She gaped, grappling for an insult to cut him down with.

“Take it off,” he said with a menacing rumble. An order, and a warning.

Rey inhaled, crossing her arms tightly around her chest. Probably not the best idea since it forced a cleavage on her chest that wouldn’t otherwise have been there.

“Go on,” that low voice melted into her.

She pulled her arms back, unclasping the bra from behind and letting it fall off her shoulders.

“Give it to me.” He reached forward.

Rey threw the bra as hard as she could. He snuffled a laugh as he caught it, bringing the delicate material to his face. Breathing in her scent.

He came closer. “Now take off my pants.”

She hesitated, and he dropped his head lower, dark hair falling around his face, his eyes pinned to her, daring her to obey or refuse—either way, he’d win.

Rey came at him, and reached out to unbuckle his belt. She tried to ignore the way his body obviously hungered for her. Once the belt was unclasped, she yanked his trousers to the floor. There was a fleeting flinch on his face but he hid it quickly.

He lowered his voice to a whisper.

“You know what to do, Rey”

Fucking hell.

She felt the blood rushing around her brain, mind roaring with a wave of anger as she stiffly lowered onto her knees. He looked at her from above, waiting patiently with that satisfied smirk looking over her.

“I’m not swallowing.”

The the corner of his mouth twitched in amusement. “We’ll see.”

Rey pushed down the lump in her throat, face to face with his cock, peeking out at her like a moray eel. She took him in her hands, not too gently.

“Easy tiger.”

She glared at him again, and this time his lips parted in a wide smile that flashed uneven teeth. It was a transforming expression, making him look younger, kinder even. An illusion.

“What’s so funny?” she huffed, pulling back from him.

“You,” he said. “You’re shit at this.”

“I haven’t even started yet.”

“You do get what a sex worker does, don’t you?”

“Of course I get it,” she snapped. This was not going well, Phasma would kick her arse onto the street if she could see them now.  She took him again in her hands. “Now hold still, so I can…”

He strained out a laugh and Rey slammed her hands hard against the floor. “What’s the problem?”

“You hate being told what to do. The whole point of this job is to take orders from clients, listen to their sexual desires and then, surprise, give it to them—all the while acting like it’s just what you want, or did you miss the memo?”

“It’s a bit hard to pretend you want it when you’re dealing with a—” she caught herself from releasing the insult.

“What was that, sweetheart?”

Rey groaned. “Would you just let me get this over with already?”

She kneeled closer to him, gently putting both hands on his sides and directing his body closer to her. Softly, her fingers gripped the base of his shaft and she leaned in, the whisper of her breath brushing against him. His cock twitched at her closeness, engorged and hungry. She dipped her head forward, sliding her tongue around him and he groaned at the feel of it.

So, he thought she was shit at this? We’d see about that, she thought.

Rey parted her lips, sliding him into her mouth, taking as much of him as she could. His fingers worked their way into her thick brown waves. She rolled her tongue along him with every thrust. His hands kneaded into her hair, guiding her head as she pushed forward and back against him.

He sighed with a heavy breath.

“Fuck, Rey,” he whispered, voice hoarse and pushed to the edge.

Encouraged by his reaction, she fell into a steady rhythm as he massaged his fingers into her hair, releasing her buns, pulling her harder against him. His breath coming in steady, wanting heaves.

“Slow down, it feels too…”

She ignored him, taking him further into her mouth.

“Rey…” His voice was barely above a whisper, strained with control.

Shit indeed, she thought triumphantly. She built the intensity as he clutched at her harder.

“Rey!” he said more urgently, pulling her back a little, but not enough to stop the act.

“Whaa,” she asked, her voice muffled with him in her mouth.

“What happened to the mirror?”

She shrugged her shoulders, continuing to work on him.

“The mirror above the bed. Where is it?”

She pulled back as his dark eyes consumed her with a wild hunger, just held back from the brink of going mad with it.

“Are you seriously asking me that right now?’

“Forget it.” He cupped her face within his hands, staring at her with a wild yearning in his eyes. “Keep going.”

She parted her lips again and circled around his head, his hands wantingly clutching at her curls, moving her head along the waves of her motion.

“I took it down,” she told him between thrusts. “And I ditched the hidden camera too.”

“You what?” he pulled her head back again.

“I said I pulled down the camera behind the mirror. I didn’t agree to being filmed.”

“There are no cameras in these rooms.”

“What do you call that, then?” Rey pointed to the small coffee table by the fireplace. She had spent a good 45 minutes pulling the overhead mirror down not caring about the consequences in her seething rage. You're probably getting fired tonight anyway, she thought bitterly.

And that’s when she had found the tiny convex glass pointed down at the bed—at her and him. The discovery had made her ropeable. The thought that Kylo could watch them after … But now, it seemed, he was not the one watching and the realisation of that was a thousand times worse.

Kylo pulled away from her, storming over to the table. Rey was amazed he had the  discipline to stop, hanging over the cliff of his own personal pleasure. She didn’t think she would have had the strength, had their roles been reversed.  

“How did you know it was there?” he asked, scooping up the small device within his hands, the wires cascading through his fingers.

“I didn’t,” she pulled herself to stand.

He turned the parts over in his hands (and yes, she had disassembled it too), his whole body seeming to shake as he met her eyes.

“This shouldn't be here…”

“Well, somebody’s watching—and I’ll give you one guess who it is.”

“Yeah.” His voice was muffled.

He turned back to face her, their eyes meeting across the distance of darkness.

“You didn’t tell Snoke anything, did you?”

Rey shook her head and Kylo’s jaw tightened as he faced the moon-stained window, face crossed in shadows. His lips parted, exposing the way his teeth gripped together.

She could almost feel his heat and rage, tactile and visceral. He returned, her own dark sun, smouldering with liquid fire, with a gravity that tied her to his orbit.

Without a word, Rey began to kneel again.

“Stop.” He stepped back from her. “It isn’t necessary. It was—a misunderstanding.”

Rey got to her feet again, eyes brushing over his face once more. Haunted and lost. How could he look so terrifying and vulnerable in the space of a few moments? She got lost in the expressions of his face. Wondering how he’d gotten himself into this twisted mess too. Was there a chance he was a victim, just like her?

A burst of heavy metal music erupted between them and they jumped. Kylo grabbed his pants from the floor, searching through the pockets before he extracted his phone.

“What?” he demanded brusquely, as he walked towards the window with the phone pressed against his ear.

Rey sat back on the bed, trying not to look at his naked form silhouetted against the window. He certainly had no shame about his body, not that he had any reason to. She fidgeted, straining to hear every word.

“No, I told you, I’m not working tonight.”

Kylo began to pull his clothes on while holding the phone against his ear.

“Well, get Hux to do it.”

Another pause. He looked at her, his scowl softening as their eyes met.

The voice on the other end grew loud enough for her to hear muffled yells and Kylo hissed.

“Fine, I’ll be there in a minute.”

He hung up the phone and slipped it back in his pocket. “I have to go.”

“Right, okay,” Rey fumbled the words. He had a habit of leaving her alone here, and for some reason that made her feel—she didn’t know what it made her feel but it was unsettling. “What do you want me to do?”

“Nothing. Relax. Do what you want. I’ll be back later. Then we can—” His cheeks burned as his words trailed off.

“Sure, whatever you want,” she answered in a rush, equally feeling the heat in her cheeks.

His lips experimenting with an uncertain smile, then closed the door behind him, leaving Rey alone.

The room fell silent in his absence, somehow lighter but at the same time colder. She prodded the fire with a poker, embers dancing furiously before her. Rey lost herself in that fire and darkness, her thoughts moving erratically like the smouldering spots of floating flames.

She thought about the baleful look of shame on Kylo Ren’s face, the gentleness of his words and then there was the way he looked at her with simmering desire. No one had ever looked at her like that. In fact, no one had even found her desirable before. It was a strange thing to be wanted, even if it was just in a sexual way.

But was that all it was? There were times when she thought there was something heavier in his gaze, a starvation and depravity of companionship, of touch… of love, of all the things she lay awake at night dreaming of.

She hadn’t pulled him to the brink of ecstasy just because he told her so, or to prove him wrong. There was something far deeper buried beneath her motive that she dare not address, an abyss in her heart that had been longing for so much more than what she had. Despite her words and actions, a sleeping desire had surged in her as she pleasured him.

She wanted to do it. She wanted to see him crest, and peak, and break because of her.

Those thoughts were wrong, stray and wild, she thought. An animalistic desire she had never known before. She pushed it away.

She didn’t want him. Not in that way. Not in any way.

And yet … her eyes lingered on the door, waiting and wondering if he would come charging back in here. She drifted her fingers down to her pants and felt the moisture pooling there.

Indeed her body was a traitor. A wild, unquenchable traitor who did not understand that Kylo was the enemy.

Chapter Text

Chapter 6

Fire

 

The air stunk of wood smoke, earth and soot, as a smoky haze settled low to the ground of Yavin Close. Kylo Ren waited with arms folded and a scowl on his face. Dressed head to toe in black, swallowed by the ink of night. A monster in the shadows.

 

He’d been waiting for an hour now, kicking at a gnarled tree root, twisted and exposed in the dirt like a broken bone. The chill of the night air infiltrated his fingers and toes, forming a damp coldness that burrowed all the way into his bones.

 

It was quiet here, and too perfect. The tree-lined street was in an upper-middle class area, north of the city. Classic suburbia. The kind of place featured in those tidiest town competitions. A picturesque cul-de-sac with clean-cut lawns of dew-filled buffalo grass, family-sized cars and front yards scattered with children’s toys.

 

It was the last place in the world Kylo wanted to do this kind of work. He was comfortable hurting junkies and criminals, but a place like this—-it felt off. People like this were so sheltered from the underbelly of life. In a way, he admired them for it. The innocence, the ignorance, it was a blessing living under such a delusion.

 

He hadn’t minded the cold at first. The cutting bite of the air was refreshing, especially after his run-in with Rey. He had needed more than a cool breeze after that, an arctic swim would have been preferable. Even then… his hands clenched together and released as he thought of her, kneeling before him, mouth open, soft lips touching his—-  

 

Shit. His body tugged with furious hunger, lusty and sex-crazed like a teenager. He repositioned himself, taking a deep and purposeful breath. A quick meditation to drag his thoughts out of the gutter. He let the emptiness of night fill his mind, chasing the silence, holding on to it.

 

Forget her, he willed himself, forget the way her eyes met his with such fierceness, that fiery spirit, hard and resolute, and yet there was softness there, and empathy—She was so much more than he could have hoped.

 

Years ago she had been nothing but a terrified child, a victim of the world and her circumstances. But now she was formidable. Life had chiselled her into something tenacious and strong, and— beautiful.

 

And he had not expected that.

 

He had not expected to think about her all the fucking time, or to spend an insane amount of money just to keep her safe from the others.

 

That first night—he shuddered to remember it. How he had let his hungry eyes feast on her like she was his to take. He had treated her like all the other prostitutes. She was supposed to be an outlet. A place he could thrust those feelings of self-loathing away. That’s the way it worked, it was almost mechanical now. After he’d cracked someone’s skull, or broken an arm, or left them humiliated and crying as they begged for mercy, he could come back to the brothel and just forget. Somehow pounding into those girls, feeling the blood hardening in his cock, focused his mind on the physical and quietened the part that hated what he had become.

 

Sex was a transaction. An affirmation to Snoke that he was the heartless, monster he’d made him into. But after being with Rey—he had wanted more. Needed more. That night he had been drawn into her. She would be the death of him, he was sure of it, but what a sweet death it would be.

 

His phone vibrated on silent in his pocket, and he retreated back beneath the boughs of one of the many century-old camphor laurel trees that lined the street. Melting into the consuming shadows, he pulled the phone close to his face to hide the light.

 

“What is it?”

 

A gravelly voice cracked on the other side of the phone. “Are you in position?”

 

“Yes. There’s no sign of him yet.”

 

“There’s been a change of plans. I want you to take him out.”

 

Kylo’s heart froze in his chest. Snoke had never said anything about killing anybody. “I thought this was a warning.”

 

“It is— to everyone else .”

 

“It’s too risky,” he hissed, hating the desperation in his voice. Snoke would sense it, he would know. “People will start asking questions.”

 

“Dameron has already threatened to go public with an article tomorrow that raises questions about the Resistance bombing last year. He’s been stalking the girls as they go to work, asking questions. These people are leeches, Kylo, they will destroy everything I’ve worked for.”

 

“Is it not enough that we’re taking out his source tomorrow? He’ll have nothing on you after that.”

 

Silence. Kylo swallowed. Above his head, there was a flutter of wings, as a plover bird shot out of the sky, screeching as it dashed away.

 

“My, how comfortable you are questioning my authority these days.”

 

Kylo’s jaw tensed, and adrenaline coursed through his body at the warning in Snoke’s words. He retreated, voice quiet with defeat.

 

“I’m tired. I’ve worked every night this week. I thought I had tonight off.”

 

“Oh, you’re tired ,” Snoke sneered. “Then perhaps you need to arrange your week better if your priorities are getting skewed. Tell you what, I’ll take care of your whore for the rest of the week, and you can focus on your fucking job.”

 

“I spoke out of turn. It’s nothing,” Kylo said, his voice strained and quiet.

 

“That’s right. It’s nothing,” Snoke purred, letting an unsettling silence cut between them.

 

“Have you looked her up yet?”

 

“No.”

 

“When will you do it?”

 

“Tonight. I still have the card you gave me. I haven’t had time today—”

 

“Make sure that you do, before you fall for any more of her nonsense. Who thought my own apprentice could be so gullible for such lewd and shallow charms? It’s a fucking farce, Kylo. The sooner you finish greasing your dick in her, the better off we will all be.”

 

Spittle formed at the edges of Kylo’s mouth and his head pounded. His vision clouded, as though his whole world was ready to burn around him. If Snoke had been here, he might have ripped the skin off his body. This fresh rage was just beginning to surge and peak within him when there was a sound of tyres crushing fallen leaves. Not the kind of car he was expecting for Poe Dameron, the Raddus was notoriously slow and more like a mini-van than a car. He would have thought a Tie or X-wing would have been more of Poe's style.

 

“He’s here.” He backed away, hanging up the phone instantly as he pulled a hood up over his head.

 

A silver Raddus pulled into the driveway, and Kylo stopped breathing. He was well and truly concealed, but even so, Poe could recognise him. They had been childhood friends for a time, racing their billy carts down the steepest streets in Chandrila. They both had a love of speed and danger, with their play dates ending in bloody knees and bruised elbows.

 

There was the sound of car doors opening and closing, followed by muffled voices. He peered out between the darkness of the branches; Poe was chatting to a woman, his wife, he supposed. They held hands as they spoke, soft voices and gentle smiles. Kylo grimaced. The woman had two blond buns on either side of her head, making her look more like a giant bear from this far away. Eventually, she walked into the house, leaving him alone outside.

 

Poe looked out into the street, breathing in the fresh night air as he made his way towards the back door of the van.

 

The door opened quietly, followed by gentle shushing sounds. When Poe turned around, he was carrying a little girl, with dark curly blond hair, slumped in his arms in deep sleep. He gently pushed the hair out of her eyes and placed a kiss on her forehead, before carrying her inside

 

Kylo felt like someone had smashed a cleaver against his chest. It was one thing to take Poe out. As a journalist, he knew what he was risking by chasing this story. But it was another thing to take a father away from his family. The feeling was too raw. Fathers should be with their children. That was something he had learned the hard way. And then there was a chance he might be responsible for killing a child. He’d gotten used to having a certain amount of blood on his hands; there was a line, but he crossed that years ago.

 

“Well, well, well, it seems we got here just in time.”

 

Kylo jumped at the snide voice that came up behind him. Armitage Hux. He gritted his teeth, mouthing a silent curse. Things were about to get a lot more complicated.

 

“Hux,” he growled without turning to face him. “I was wondering when you’d show up.”

 

“You were supposed to wait for me, or did you just happen to forget that critical piece of information?”

 

Kylo turned around slowly; not one, but four knights behind Hux. He tried to hide his surprise at the extra company, folding his arms indifferently and rolling his eyes.

 

“Good, Snoke has given you some babysitters,” Kylo said with a yawn as he looked away from them, hoping it would ease the tightening sensation in his chest. The added company was a sign of distrust, Snoke wanted to make sure he knew if he didn’t finish the job, there were plenty of others who would.

 

“Hang tight, Kylo,” Hux sneered with a plastic smile, eyes narrowing. He dug into his pocket, pulling out a phone that he then held outstretched in front of him.

 

“Is that really necessary?”

 

“You know he likes to watch you work. Now smile for the camera, Kylo.”

 

“Yeah, I know he likes to fucking watch,” he muttered.

 

“Here.” Hux gently handed him a package. “Attach this beneath the driver’s seat, it’s equipped with a GPS signal so we’ll know when Dameron is on the move. The trigger is connected to this burner phone’s sim card.”

 

Kylo took the cellphone, casually slipping it into his pocket.

 

“You’ll have to sync the bomb and the phone when it’s fixed so you can get a notification when the car moves. Once we know he’s driving you can set the trigger remotely, and problem solved.” Hux wiped his hands together. “Do you think you can manage that?”

 

“Yeah, I can manage.” Kylo gently took the brown paper bag from Hux. Inside was a black mass of twisted wires and the whole thing stunk of tar. C-4. Hux wasn’t kidding around. Then he looked at the phone, swiping the screen until he found an app called “Push me Kylo.”

 

“Cute,” Kylo said darkly. The fucking rodent, he’d love to wipe that smug smile off his face right now but the video phone was firmly on his every move now, and the knights watched him closely, hands and feet twitching as though they were waiting for him to lash out.

 

He turned to go, and Hux’s voice trailed after him mirthfully.

 

“Hey, thought I might book your girl on Saturday. I hear she’s as tight as a—”

 

Kylo spun around and grabbed Hux by the neck, dragging the tall but lean man close to him. Hux squealed, as the other knights lunged to separate them.

 

“I will fucking shove this package down your weasel throat if you don’t shut up.”

 

Hux smiled again, ensuring the camera was still firmly capturing the entire thing. It was too late to care, he had the whole thing on live stream. He’d have to deal with the consequences of that little move later.

 

“Tsk, tsk, Kylo. You know our generous leader hates it when we fight.” Hux cooed at him. “Off you go, our Supreme Leader is waiting.”

 

Kylo walked away from him, his skin still prickling with rage and breathing hard. He had to learn to ignore, to tether his rage. It was always his weakness, all they needed to do was make him angry and he was as good as a ticking time bomb. Snoke knew this, and he exploited it.

 

As he approached the silver Raddus, Kylo’s movements became more furtive and smooth, employing all he had learned in years of ninjutsu training under Master Luke. He moved like an alley cat, skulking and silent until he was pressed up against the door of the Raddus. Hux and the knights were all watching him, but at least they had to hang back in the shadows and there was no moon just now.

 

With unsteady fingers, he fixed the bomb beneath the driver’s seat. It was easy to do; Hux had fixed it with a magnetic rod that pulled it into place with a clang. The noise echoed out into the still of night and Kylo ducked down, each breath coming fast and hard in his chest.

 

Then he got out the burner phone and his own. Slyly glancing back to Hux, he quickly swapped the sim cards and synced the trigger to his own phone. By the time sweat began to drip down his forehead, he turned back to Hux. Walking back slowly, holding out the burner phone clearly so Hux could see, his other hand in his pocket.

 

He tried to keep his steps slow and casual. In his pocket, his sweaty palm clutched at his own phone. It was a crude plan, but he’d had to go with it on the fly. Snoke usually withheld instructions to the last minute to avoid planning on Kylo or anyone else's part, but what he failed to anticipate was that Kylo worked best when improvising on the spot. It fed him with adrenaline and pushed away any hesitation he might have experienced, had he planned everything out a week in advance.

 

Hux moved towards him, hand outstretched to take the phone. Kylo had to act fast, but he was much closer than he would have liked. He braced his body for pain and heat, as his thumb slipped over the trigger in his pocket and instantly the world behind him exploded into fire. The force of the explosion torpedoed him face first to the ground, scraping his skin across the ground. He still felt the heat, a resident flash burn that stung his entire body and his nostrils were filled with the scent of burning rubber and petrol.

 

Hux, who had also been catapulted to the ground, charged at him, the knights close behind but Kylo ignored the pain in his body and jumped to his feet.

 

“What the fuck?” he screamed at Hux.

 

The red-headed man stalled his charge, his narrow eyes becoming wide with sudden panic. “You must have set it off!”

 

“You saw me, I had it facing you as I came back. And why the hell would I fucking set it off?” he shouted and added a sharp shove at Hux. “Your faulty device could have killed me.”

 

“I-I don’t understand,” Hux stammered, peering around at the other knights, who were all eyeing him suspiciously. “I tested it only this afternoon.”

 

“I hope you got that on camera, you red-headed Gronk.”

 

Hux narrowed his eyes at him, a visible vein beginning to pop out at his temple. “You—-”

 

Suddenly they heard shouting from down the street. Kylo turned back to see Poe running out to the flaming car, his hands wringing through his hair. “We need to leave, now.”

 

——

 

He cracked the door ajar, spearing shards of light into the hollow darkness. The room was empty and the bed untouched.

 

She was gone. A twinge of panic rushed through Kylo in a rude jolt. He wouldn’t blame her for doing so—she should have gone.

 

But still, the reality of this truth was no less painful. He had hoped… He didn’t know what he hoped, but he had hoped none the less. It was pathetic really, yearning for something so simple. Someone to share thoughts and ideas, to spar with, to touch him. How long had it been since he’d had a friend, since he had anybody?

 

He urged one foot in front of the other, wringing his hands as he went. They were still numb and cold after waiting so long in the bitter night. At least the fire was still aglow, with a crusted black log, charred and singed with flames, but inside the heart still burned. He moved to sit by it, rekindling the warmth within the tips of his fingers—

 

And there she was, ethereal and sleeping soundly on the floor, her hand still clutching a book of short stories. A sheer white robe fanned across her body like a sheet, sinking between the hollow of her thighs and the sculpted lines of her body. A warmth swept through him that had nothing to do with the fire. He squatted down beside her, hands across his knees, studying her features.

 

He dared not make a sound lest she stirred. Here he could watch her without her snide remarks and scowling eyes. He could watch in silence, focus on the way a curling strand of hair now fell across her high cheekbones, her sun kisses, speckled endearingly across her nose and cheeks, the way her lips were soft and parted and the neck was long and exposed beneath her ear. He wondered what it would be like to kiss her there, and the sounds she might make as he pressed her lips in slow, lascivious, wanting kisses.

 

The heat within his body bloomed. God damn, this woman was going to make him go mad. He pushed the thoughts down when she stirred, her hand sliding across the rug as she changed position, and Kylo cocked his head to the side, watching the way her long limbs moved.

 

Her face scrunched in what appeared to be pain and her movements became fast and jolting. Her eyes moved like waves beneath their lids, searching and desperate.

 

“Rey,” he whispered, touching his hand to her shoulder.

 

She swatted it away and he smirked. She was fiery even in sleep.

 

Well, in that case…

 

He slid his arms beneath her back, pulling her close to him. The warmth of her body pressed into his chest and her eyes sleepily fluttered open. Her body went rigid in his arms. A part of him shattered a little at the way she reacted,

 

“Shhh. It’s okay,” he said to her in hushed tones.

 

She closed her eyes again, her arms slipping around his neck as her body relaxed into his hold.

 

“I was having a bad dream,” she said lazily. “He was dragging me into the kitchen. He was going to hurt me.”

 

The meekness of her words struck at him, and he felt an overwhelming need to cocoon her against his body, protecting her from the world outside that was too violent and hateful for something so beautiful.

 

“Who was going to hurt you?” he asked, walking her to the bed, even though her eyes were closed and he wasn’t quite sure she was even awake.

 

“The man in black. He’s the one I dream about. The centre of my nightmares. He never stops hunting me.”

 

Kylo felt something break inside him, a bleak darkness spearing through his heart. He looked down at her placid face, peaceful now that she was in his arms. He reached the bed and placed her in it gently, pulling the blankets up over her body.

 

“He won’t hurt you again.” His words were as gentle as his hands as he caressed a thumb over the line of freckles across her cheeks. But inside him, the promise was hard, and heavy in his chest.

 

He stepped back, watching her fall deeper into sleep, her lips parting as sweet breaths slowed into slumber.

 

She walks in beauty, like the night
of cloudless climes and starry skies

And all that’s best of dark and bright

Meet in her aspect and her eyes;

 

He shook his head. Now he was spouting high-school poetry? Perhaps Snoke was right about him. He was becoming less of a man. Pathetic.

 

He grabbed his laptop from his bag and set it up at the small writing desk along the edge of the wall. He opened it and the screen lit up, casting an iridescent blue light through the room. He darted his head to look at Rey; the light had not woken her. Relieved, he turned back and opened up his Google search engine.

 

The business card Snoke had given him earlier in the day had been burning a hole in his pocket. He thought of it constantly and the secrets it would reveal. It was the reason he had avoided following it up until now.

 

Snoke was right about one thing, he needed to know the truth about her. What had happened before … he was on a slide, he could feel himself falling hard. Of all the weeks she would come bounding into his life, it had to be this one, the week his whole world was to burn and he had to make a decision.

 

He pulled out the card, white on black: First Time Forever, with a website below the text.

 

He took a ragged breath and typed in the words.

 

The screen flashed to life with an elegant cursive script. Below the logo were pictures of young girls in awkward poses, sticking their arses out, pouting their lips, in lacy bras and suspenders. His throat constricted as he began to scroll down the page looking for her. He gave up scrolling and typed in the search bar instead: Kira.

 

Her page sprang up and Kylo leaned back in his chair, feeling like someone had poured cement down his mouth. Her picture was different from the rest, she was smiling widely with two sharply defined dimples. Her hair tied in three buns, the same style she had worn when he had found her all those years ago. She wasn’t posing like the other girls, in fact, there was nothing sexy about the photo. Her bio said she was 18, but the photo looked much younger than that.

 

He read her bio, scrolling past the various bust, waist and arse measurements until he read this section:

 

In Kira’s words: I like huge cok. I want a man to break me in and leave me screaming for more. Come and be my first time and I promise to come all down yur legs.

 

He cringed, at both the sentiment and even more at the terrible grammar and typos. It was almost comical in a way, the contrast between the innocent picture above and the dirty words beneath it. And then he saw something that made his heart grind to a halt.

 

SOLD for $350,000.

 

It wasn’t her first time doing sex work, and she certainly wasn’t broke.

 

This is what Snoke had wanted him to see.

 

Things were not what they seemed. And he had a terrible feeling he knew what this all meant, but he had to know for sure.

 

With trembling fingers, he pulled his phone out and searched for a contact he had sworn never to call. With a shaking breath, he dialled the number and waited.

 

It rang for too long.

 

“Come on, pick up the phone—”

 

There was a click on the other line and that familiar husky voice, a curious accent blend of Mexican and Kenyan.

 

“I told you not to call.”

 

His heart sunk a little at the coldness in her words. How far removed they were from the way she’d doted on him as a child.

 

Kylo cleared his throat.

 

“It’s about Kira.”

 

There was a sharp intake of breath, followed by a long silence.

 

“You promised you would keep away from her.”

 

“I know, and I did,” he said, stung by the accusation in her tone. “But things have changed.”

 

“Mwanaharamu!” she began throwing curses at him. “Kumamako—”

 

“I didn’t go searching for her, Maz!” he spat back at her a little too loudly.

 

He quickly turned Rey; she was still sleeping but he was careful to lower his voice.

 

“She took a job with Snoke.”

 

“God, no,” Maz replied, her voice hoarse with horror. “Is she safe?”

 

“For now.”

 

“You need to get her away from that monster. Damn it, Ben Solo! If you do one good thing in your life you get her away from him. You may choose to follow Snoke on his path to hell but I’ll be damned—”

 

He tuned out; her voice was becoming harder to understand as her native tongue began to fuse with her English. He’d always thought it quite endearing as a child, but now he just needed her to give him answers.

 

“Maz, if you want me to help her, I need you to shut up and listen!”

 

She became quiet, and the only sound from the other end of the line was ragged panting.

 

He looked back at Rey, still sleeping soundly, a soft snore slipping from her lips every now and then, which made her nose crinkle and Kylo’s chest filled with warmth at the cute little gesture.

 

“I need you to tell me everything, Maz.”

Chapter Text

Chapter 7 - The Shadow

 

It was a record. The third consecutive day temperatures had reached over 45 degrees Celsius. A searing, bone-dry fierceness that parched Rey’s mouth and dried her eyes.

It was the worst time to be homeless, without a water supply or reliable shade.

 

Rey skulked through the alleyways of Jakku in worn earth-toned rags. The inhabitants watched her, eyeing the swag she clutched at her side.

 

The streets of Niima were the most run down in Jakku, attracting transients and tramps, the abandoned and abhorred. It was her hunting ground now, but there were still treasures to find if you knew where to look. And dangers too, if you didn’t.

 

She’d left this place ten years ago, but it hadn’t changed. The barren streets, run-down cars, walls of graffiti and pawn shops had shifted over time, but they still felt the same. A mirage of heat waves danced above the cracked and spongy roads, and the dilapidated state of the sewers left a rotting odour rising through the ground grates.

 

It was the last place most people would want to be, but to Rey, it was home.

 

She was just 16 then, gangly armed, skinny and flat-chested. A bag of bones, rubbery sinew and wiry muscles. Easy pickings.

 

But Rey knew these streets like the back of her hand, easily navigating through laneways and leaping across rooftops. The roads were quiet in this part of the region, but she was never alone. There was the feeling she was being watched from the shadows, sized up for the bounty of an attack. She had nothing of value: a spare change of clothes, a comb, some tissues, a toothbrush, a screwdriver and a Swiss Army knife.

 

Her only saving grace was that she was too poor to rob. More trouble than she was worth. So she was bold and reckless, casing up abandoned shacks that might still have food, and learning to squat in forgotten rooms and apartments.

 

Stepping around the broken bottles and flattened piles of cardboard box beds, she rounded the corner to a block of flats. Ex-state housing apartments that had fallen into disrepair. It was a favourite among squatters and drug dealers. A dangerous junkyard to those who didn’t know better.



She stood silently, gazing up at the boarded and smashed windows. It looked smaller than she remembered and dirtier. The fire escapes had become loose and corroded in parts, but it was still functional.

 

This was the reason she was here. She drew a deep breath and took a running leap, reaching out to grab the half-collapsed fire escape. It groaned and shuddered as she made contact, threatening to collapse. But it was holding her weight, and that was all she needed.

 

Rey climbed like a lizard, passing sections where the steps had rusted through. Three floors up, she found what she was looking for.

 

Someone had already broken the window, and it was large enough for her to shimmy inside. She kicked the remaining shards of glass aside with her boot, enjoying the sound of them smashing on the ground below.

 

The stairway had come away from the building here, leaving a good metre distance between herself and the window, with a sheer drop to the concrete below.

 

Hopefully, she would just have to make this jump once.

 

Clutching the scalding metal of the fire escape, she took a big breath and threw herself off the ledge.  

 

Oof. Her chest and abdomen crashed against the exterior wall as she grasped hold of the window frame, pulling her body over the serrated edges of glass and onto the kitchen bench beneath the window.

 

There was a stench of rotting food and mould. Cigarettes and empty bongs lined the kitchen sink, and a thick layer of dust and white powder littered the bench

 

“Gross,” she muttered, as a swarm of cockroaches scattered into the open cupboards and beneath the fridge when she landed on the lino floor.  

 

Home.

 

Her home.

 

Or at least it had been before they had sent her away.

 

***

 

“It’ll be for the best, Kira,” her mother had told her, tucking her hair into three tidy buns.

 

“Don’t cry, scout,” her dad added. “It’s just until we get back on our feet. Then you won’t be so much of a—-”

 

Burden. They didn’t need to say it; she had heard them talking about it last night in their bedroom.

 

She broke down, and then yelled, and then kicked off a juvenile riot of one, throwing papers and placemats at them until, at last, she planted her five-year-old feet on the floor and refused to move until the worker from Children's Services dragged her out to the van.

 

Once she was tightly buckled into her seat in the van, she risked one last look back to the place that had been her only home for five years. To wave, to blow them kisses, and big forgiveness for her outburst.

 

But her parents weren’t there. They didn’t even watch her leave.

 

That was 11 years ago and they never asked her to come back. When she arrived in Jakku, 16 and homeless again, a fellow scavenger had told her the couple died months ago. It hadn’t been the biggest surprise; they were wasting away before her eyes, even as a young child. She wouldn’t be a burden to them any more, she could provide for herself and for them, budget, repair things abandoned and broken.

 

They never gave her the chance. Her eyes stung at the thought. As always, she was alone.

 

“Oh well. That’s nothing new,” she told herself, as she kicked away the shattered glass on grey slate tiles. She would at least make the best of it here. That dodgy fire escape had deterred other squatters. The water still worked, albeit tinged brown. And there was that acrid stink of chemicals that she hoped to air out, but sometimes that smell never left.

 

The only issue was the bed. Someone had gone to town on it, possibly with a machete. The pillow top was shredded, the spring coils bent out of shape and broken in a sea of discoloured stuffing. She sure as hell wasn’t sleeping on the floor with the roach faeces everywhere. Two blocks away, she had spotted a double-sized dog bed on the side of the road; she could use that.

 

The paint was cracked, it had a serious cockroach infestation, and she was pretty sure someone had defecated in the loungeroom.

 

But it would do. It would do nicely.

 

________________________________________________________________

 

That was how the dream started, memories of the past, smells, feelings, emotions. Taking her back to that place she had tried so desperately to make home.

 

But then, the tide always shifted, like darkness preceding a storm. The natural light of her parent’s abandoned apartment bled into night and the nightmare began.

 

Not again! her conscious mind rallied, but she was powerless to stop the images unfurling.

 

She had come back from a day of trading and haggling, body bathed in sweat from the heat and humidity. Too exhausted to take her usual precautions of listening through the walls, or checking the light shadows beneath the door.

 

Rey shoved the door open, grasping the handle and throwing her shoulder against it to loosen the swollen timber. She stumbled in behind it clumsily. The apartment was pitch black and silent, just how she left it. Except—the hairs stood up the back of her neck—somehow the air seemed crisper; a sharp tang of bay rum aftershave, sweat and leather.

 

Rey blinked, squinting her eyes into the dark expanse. Straining to hear any noises that didn‘t belong there, a dripping tap, the street sounds floating in from the kitchen and—breathing.

 

Shit.

 

“Hello?” she asked, her voice shaking as she peered through the darkness. “Is anyone here?”

 

Strong arms, clamped around her from behind and she screamed as she was lifted off the ground. The room erupted with scurrying feet and sharp hisses.

 

“The chair!” A voice hissed. “Tie her to the chair.”

 

She was thrown into a metal chair and pinned against it by multiple unseeing hands. Overhead the light flickered on with an electric buzz and Rey clamped her eyes shut at the sudden glare. The man who had grabbed her from behind kneeled in front of her now, coldly binding her hands and feet with cable ties.

 

“Stop!” she cried. “I‘m just a scavenger. Can‘t you see I don‘t have anything you would want?”

 

“Shut up,” her captor hissed, tightening the cable ties around her hands, while another man appraised her. This one was also masked, but with the slightest hints of fiery hair showing at his collar.

 

“How would you know what we want?” he asked with a British accent, circling around her with his hands clasped before his abdomen.

 

Rey gulped, feeling weak and dizzy from the heat of the day.  She screamed for help though her mouth was hot and dry, and kicked her tattered boots at the black shapes crowding her.

 

They dragged her chair across the loungeroom, the grating metal on tile sound reminding her of scraping fingernails down a blackboard. She struggled, strained; it was no use. They dragged her to the middle of the room, where a single bright bulb hung by a wire, rocking overhead and making shadows dance on the walls.

 

The chair was tilted backward, forcing the white light to clash against her skin. The shadow towered above her, looming beyond the light, his face hidden by a balaclava and his coal-dark eyes melting into the darkness.

 

She stared at him in terror, unable to blink, body rigid as stone. If only she could get free and run from here and out the fire escape. The rotting emergency route to the street wouldn‘t take their weight; she was barely sure that it would hold hers.

 

She must have looked that way because her captor followed her gaze. How long had they been here waiting for her?  Did he even know there was another way out - the only way out, she thought, looking at the silent faceless creatures of darkness guarding the doorway.

 

He took three long strides in her direction and crouched at her feet.

 

She waited for him to speak, but he only cocked his head to the side considering his catch. With the light blaring onto her face, the surrounding men appeared like dark auras hovering on the outskirts of purgatory, waiting and watching their leader.

 

“Who are you?” Rey dared to ask, squinting her hazel eyes with fear—and curiosity.

 

“Last month you came into a sum of money…”

 

“No,” she whimpered, her voice failing her. “I don’t have that.”

 

“Three-hundred-fucking-grand,” one of the other men sneered from the shadows.

 

She shook her head wildly, her lips shaped the word “no”, over and over again.

 

“I know you have it.“ The masked man pounded a gloved hand into his opposite palm, cracking his knuckles with bone-shuddering certainty. She scrunched her face, waiting expectantly for a blow, but it didn‘t come. He paused, searching her face as though he were reading a map - the angles of her cheekbone, along the line of her jaw, focusing on the most minute of details as if to burn them into his memory. And lastly, to her eyes. Considering them with thoughtful curiosity.

 

“Get on with it.” The red-haired man was pacing a circle around them.

 

And then the study was over; the eyes in front of her grew dark and she was filled with foreboding. He stood abruptly, reaching for a metal bar that she would come to know as a Tonfa, an Okinawan weapon. He slapped it warningly against his leather palm.

 

“I know you have the money, and now you‘re going to give it to me.“

 

No, no, no! Her mind fought against the memory in her dream.

 

Why did it drag her here every night?

 

She kicked at him and felt someone poking at her arm, and she batted it away absently.

 

“Get away from me!” she screamed in the dream, but there was nothing she could do to make him stop, until—-

 

She woke.

 

Lifted out of the memory by a pair of powerful arms tucked beneath her knees and back. Her body tightened as though the man from her dreams had manifested before her. Her eyelids fluttered, and she saw the pale jaw, the long, black lashes that brushed shadows on high cheekbones, the hair, thick and dark as the night sky, and those earth brown eyes peering down at her. He held her body a little closer into his chest and a quiet whisper came from his lips.

 

“Shh. It’s okay.”

 

Kylo.

 

Eyes closed, she sleepily slipped her arms around his neck and melted into his hold. Was she still mad at him? She couldn’t remember now that sleep was nipping at her heels. Maybe. But he had saved her from her nightmare. And that was enough.

 

“I was having a bad dream,” she said lazily. “He was going to hurt me.”

 

Kylo’s brow furrowed with concern. How tender his eyes were now. In this half-awake state, his body tight to hers, it warmed her, tucking into a cocoon of midnight.

Safe.

 

“Who was going to hurt you?”

 

“The man in black. He’s the one I dream about. The centre of my nightmares.”

 

The heaviness of sleep was bearing down on her before she saw the pain in his eyes, and she wondered why he looked so sad.

 

She would tell him; it was okay. She was okay. They were just nightmares —

 

The warmth of the bed swallowed her up, and she curled into the pillow. From far away, she could hear a soft promise: “He won’t hurt you again.”

 

How sure those words were. As though it were within his power to speak them.

 

It almost made her believe he could keep her safe from the demons of her dreams.

 

And maybe he could.

 

Chapter Text

The Client

 

A howling scream ripped Rey from her sleep. Faint at first, teasing her out of her slumber, infiltrating her dreams.

 

Her eyes shot open, disorientated as to where she was or what was happening.

 

“No! No! Stop!” a high-pitched voice shattered through the night air.

 

Rose!

 

Rey bolted upright, ready to leap out of bed when a strong hand pressed down on her shoulder.

 

“Stay here.” The voice was deep, so rich and tactile that she could almost feel it brushing against her ear.

 

“No, I want to—” Kylo Ren’s dark shape disappeared out the door. “Help.”

 

The darkness heightened Rey’s senses; she could hear the fan of a laptop working in the corner, see the dim shadows reaching out like fingers across the bedroom.

 

She wouldn’t wait any longer. She wasn’t helpless..

 

Grabbing her robe, she pulled the door open and almost ran straight into Rose.

 

“Oh God, it’s just you,” Rose said, clutching her hand across her heart.

 

“Rose, was that you screaming? What happened?”

 

She didn’t need to answer, Rose’s eyes were red-rimmed and wet, her pink camisole torn in four different places and there were angry scratch marks across her arms.

 

Rey’s jaw tightened and she scrunched her hands to fists, nails digging into her palms.

 

No one hurts Rose. No one.

 

“Who did this to you?”

 

“I don’t know, it was that new guy, Dathomir something.” Rose stifled her cries, hiding them with deep, heaving breaths. “He got really violent out of nowhere. He pulled a knife on me and… there’s something wrong with him.”

 

Her words denegrated into a babbling string of sobs and incoherent words. Rey put a consoling hand upon her shoulder, wrestling with the overwhelming desire to run down the hall and unleash her last seven years of martial arts training on Rose’s client.

 

A loud crash came from down the hall, followed by the sound of shattering glass. Rey’s heart leaped in her chest.

 

Kylo had gone to help Rose. Was he still in there with that psycho?

 

A horrible feeling coiled in her stomach.

 

Why was it so quiet now? What if he was hurt, or worse?

 

She had to go and help him. She could hold her own in a fight. If Kylo was bleeding out at the hands of some crazed madman while she stood there and did nothing—

 

“I’m going to help him.”

 

“No, don’t!” Rose’s voice rose in alarm. “Kylo can handle it, trust me. He’ll roast me alive if I let you go in there.”

 

“But he could be hurt—”

 

Another crash, this time louder and more violent, as a bloodied man with dark hair spilled into the hallway as though he had been spat out. His knees buckled and he threw his arms against the wall to lessen the impact.

 

“Kylo!” Rey gasped, clutching her hands to her mouth in panic. But when the man looked back at them, she saw his teeth were filed into points and his face covered in black, angular tattoos.

 

He pulled himself to stand and hissed at them with a murderous scowl. Rey stepped before Rose, reaching her arm in front of her friend protectively. And then Kylo stepped out, chest heaving. Their eyes met across the distance and Rey could breathe again.

 

“I want my money back!” Dathomir shouted, spitting blood onto the floor.

 

“You’ll get your money back.” Kylo shoved him down the hall. “Now, get the hell out of here.”

 

Dathomir swung around, his hands clenched in a fist as he attempted one last blow at Kylo, but he was too slow as Kylo kicked him in the chest, sending him flying down the stairs and hitting the wall at the bottom with a dull thud.

 

“Phasma! Get this wanker out of here and fucking blacklist him!” Kylo roared down the stairs.

 

Dathomir’s grumbling protests came from below, but soon after, the door slammed shut and he was gone.

 

“You alright?” he asked, looking at Rose, who seemed to have lost the use of her voice, mouth agape and sniffing. She answered with a rushed nod.

 

“I’m sorry, that escalated really quickly,” Rose said, her tears finally subsiding.

 

“It’s okay,” he said stiffly. “Are you finished for tonight?”

 

“I still have two clients left.”

 

Kylo looked away from her in silent thought.

 

“Tell Phasma I said you’re done for tonight.”

 

“It’s okay, I’ll be okay.”

 

“Rose, go home.” Kylo’s voice was so tender and empathetic, Rey had to check the words were coming from him. “Go home to your daughter.

 

“Here.” He reached into his pocket, pulling out some notes and placing them in Rose’s trembling hand. “Take this for a cab ride home, and some extra to cover the loss of your earnings.”

 

Rey could have hugged him; but instead, she stood there at a loss for words, watching as he turned and left them alone, retreating into the darkened room, the glow of his laptop screen lighting up his face.

 

Rose gripped Rey in a hug. “What the hell just happened there?”

 

Rey shrugged. She couldn’t pretend she didn’t know what Rose was talking about. Kylo’s actions had been surprising and gentle, and above all, kind.

 

And kindness was not a word she would have associated with him, ever.

 

 

Once Rose had left, Rey sauntered back into the room.

 

Kylo was sitting at his laptop at the desk by the wall, fingers on the keys.

 

Tap, tap, tap, click. The quiet sounds filled the silence. Rey watched him from the door. He was impassive and focused, as though the act of painting the walls red with another man’s blood was nothing new to him.

 

Who are you? she thought as the door closed quietly behind her. His run-in with Dathomir hadn’t appeared to shake him, not even a little.

 

Job done. Problem removed.

 

Cold.

 

But not entirely heartless.

 

She shivered. The bedroom fire had died out, the muted embers straining through charcoal and ash. She thought back to the first night they had slept together, when he had pulled her into his body as though they made up a taijitu. Two halves of a whole.

 

But what would happen now, would he make her get back on her knees and finish him? That was what she was here for anyway, a fact she sometimes forgot.

 

She sighed; she should go to him. It could be worse. He could be worse. Instead, he was strange … intriguing. Like a black hole, a shadow of darkness, dragging her closer and closer.

 

She took a step, the cool timber of the floor smooth and distracting beneath her feet.

 

He shifted in his chair, back straightening. She had been studying him for far too long.

 

The force of his gravity lured her like a moth to the flame, calling one foot in front of the other. She stopped behind him, close enough to run her fingers across his shoulders and he stiffened, sensing her. With a series of clicks, the browser windows disappeared, fading into black.

 

***

 

A gentle breeze slipped in from the window, shimmying in beneath the curtain. Rey could feel the rapid beating of her pulse and the sound of his breathing, her awareness heightened by the absence of light.

 

She reached out tentatively and put a hand on his shoulder. He breathed in sharply at the touch, almost flinching at the gentle way her fingers skimmed against his skin.

 

His hand closed over her own, and Rey felt like there was a storm inside her, the rumbling of thunder, loud and wanting. How could his touch both ground and elevate her?

 

She took a step closer, feeling like her heart was trapped within a cage, beating hard against the walls of her body, trying to break free.

 

He pulled the palm of her hand against his cheek. It was soft beneath the stubble, long and smoothe

 

And then he —

 

Did he?

 

She was sure she felt the brush of lips at her fingers. They were soft, teasing and tender. And then he released her, hands falling gently by her side, warm with the heat of electricity.

 

“Are you coming to bed?” she asked, hating the way her voice wavered with uncertainty, terrified that beneath the question he would know what she was really asking him: That despite everything, that traitorous body was yearning, clenching to be in his arms, to roll like waves upon the ocean.

 

He turned on her, peering up at her face. The light of the street lamps gave a soft glow to his eyes. There was such a haunting beauty about that face, how could she not have noticed before?

 

“Are you working at the restaurant tomorrow?”

 

She paused nervously. “Yes. ten ‘till three.”

 

“And then you start here at six pm?”

 

“My shift starts at five. They like us to be here to set the room up.”

 

He nodded, contemplating her words. “So where does sleep factor into all of this?”

 

“It doesn’t,” she answered with a sleepy smile. Even hearing the word “sleep” had started her yawning. “But it’s okay, I don’t need to—”

 

He raised a questioning eyebrow. “Get some sleep, Rey.”

 

Then he turned his back on her, returning to his work.

 

Rey hesitated. He was paying for her. She squeezed her lips together, brow furrowing, hating herself for what she was about to do.

 

“You don’t seem to be getting much bang for your buck,” she said at last.

 

“You noticed?” He made an odd sound, almost like a muffled laugh, before he turned around to face her.

 

But Rey was not laughing, or smiling, in fact, she was trying very hard to hide the underlying sting that had been manifesting ever since he pulled away from her on the first night. Perhaps he didn’t desire her. She was small-breasted, with a body she often thought of as boy-like. She wasn’t sexy. God knows why Phasma thought she would be good at this job… but here he was not using her. Not that she wanted to be used in that way, but, like, really?

 

“What’s the matter?” he asked, bemused, almost innocent.

 

Rey rolled her eyes and pouted. Really? Was he going to make her spell this out?

 

“You—” The words failed her.

 

“Yes?”

 

“Do you no—“ Shit, this was awkward.

 

He leaned forward, peering at her from beneath his brows, eyes dark and curious.

 

Rey held her arms stiffly by her side and took a deep breath.

 

“Do you not want me?”

 

Kylo stared back at her; unblinking, his expression unreadable.

 

“Are you asking me if I want to have sex with you?”

 

She wanted to die, bury herself in a hole somewhere and hide there forever. She opened her mouth to speak, but her capacity for language seemed to have fled. So instead, she just nodded.

 

“Err.” He couldn’t even meet her eye.

 

He was stalling.

 

Fuck! He was trying to come up with some excuse, and even in this light, she could see he was blushing at the confrontation.

 

His awkward silence was deafening and Rey shrank back.

 

“Good night, Kylo.” She went to hide under the covers of her bed, but as she turned, he had leapt out of his chair, reaching out to stop her from walking away. When he captured her wrist, he tugged it gently, forcing her back.

 

She was dying, her face burning with a scorned blush that stretched from her cheeks all the way down her chest in giant blooming blotches. Her lashes skimmed her cheeks as she kept her eyes glued to the ground, hiding her humiliation and the fact that she was genuinely upset. It was dumb to care, she shouldn’t care, but it was hard not to.

 

“Rey, look at me.”

 

Did she have to? Couldn’t he just let her slide away and hide for the rest of the evening beneath the covers? A gentle nudge of his thumb lifted her chin and she was forced to see the way he was enraptured by her.

 

His eyes were consumed by the black depth of his pupils, those wide, soft lips parted as he leaned towards her, radiating a primal hunger.

 

Rey struggled to breathe properly, as the briefest touch of a smile formed on his lips.

 

“Of course I want to.”

 

“Then why don’t you?” She looked up at him and swallowed again.

 

“Why don’t I what?” he asked, leaning more into her, his black gaze darker and hungrier than ever before.

 

“Say it!” he growled into her ear, as the pulsing desire threaded through her veins, pumping blood between her legs.

 

She blinked. “Why don’t you have sex with me?” Her soft voice quavered only a little less violently than her knees as his dark eyes narrowed in on her, head tilting, face curious.

 

“I’m waiting,” he answered with that expressionless face.

 

“For what?”

 

“For you to want me to.” His low, rumbling voice echoed into her mind and for a moment in time, he captured her in his gaze, locking her in place.

 

Waiting.

 

She looked away from him, screaming at that wild desirous part of her body that wanted to throw herself at him, to tear off her clothes and lie back on the bed with her legs spread, wet and waiting for the weight of his body to bear down on her, for him to crush her in his embrace, for—

 

What the hell was happening to her?!

 

“Okay,” she whispered softly.

 

“Okay?” he asked, his right eyebrow arching as a nervous tick twitched beneath his eye, reaching his hand to cup around the curve of her waist, smooth and silky beneath the satin robe.

 

“I mean, okay, good night,” she said, flushing profusely as she backed away from him in a rush. “Night, Kylo!”

 

She turned away quickly, her body sliding into bed as though it had turned to liquid. Once in bed, she noticed he had gone back to work, seemingly oblivious whether she was here or not.

 

She watched him for a long while, listening to the melodic tapping of his fingers on the keyboard. She fell asleep like that, watching him work.

 


 

With only a few hours before dawn, Kylo closed his screen and stood, muscles stiff from the hours he had spent researching the past, and paths of the future. As he rounded towards the bed, he was arrested by Rey’s sleeping form.

 

How could she have thought he had not wanted her? He’d never wanted anything more. A soft moan escaped her lips and he was reminded of … things.

 

His body reacted, aching for release.

 

He couldn’t trust himself to be close to her, to feel her body fit snugly into his. Not yet. Not with this overwhelming desire within him.

 

He made a beeline to the bathroom and turned the shower on, soaking beneath the torrid flow of scalding water.

 

Visions of the past, the first time he had pulled her clothes off, touched her, ran his fingers through her hair, into the warmth of her core…

 

He reached out, palm pressed hard against the white tiles, the other hand reaching below. Grasping firmly, he thrust his hips as his hand pumped hard and fast, building the friction to match his desire. The visions of her arching her back as his mouth pressed between her lips, the wanting cries building in crescendo.

 

God how he wanted her, wanted her in every possible way a man could want a woman. His breath came heavy in his lungs, the muscles in his arm tiring sharply as the wave of release shuddered through his body.

 

He collapsed against the wall, panting, throbbing, the water dripping down his hair and face.

 

Eventually, he turned the shower off, staring into the mirror, his face flushed from the effort of his secret endeavours. He breathed in through his nose, filling his chest.

 

He couldn’t touch her. Not now. Not after what Maz had told him. Not until he was sure that she wanted him to.

 

But fuck, he wanted to.

 

If only she knew how much.

 

He slipped in beside her, wrapping his large arms around her body and drawing her into his chest. She didn’t even stir.

 

“Rey?” he whispered and waited, but her only answer was the rise and fall of her chest, the slow soft breaths puffing from her parted lips. He stroked the loose strands of dark hair that had fallen across her cheek, clearing a space to feel the soft warmth of her skin.

 

Perfect.

 

“Life has been cruel to you, Rey,” he whispered, “but not anymore.”

 

 

 

Chapter Text

Shadows of the Past

 

Sunlight beamed through the sheer white curtains and onto Rey of Jakku’s sleeping form. She blinked lazily, eyes heavy after the first hours of dreamless, peaceful sleep that she had enjoyed in a long time. The light speared in beneath her lashes and she felt the warmth of the sun touching her arms and face.

 

Slowly, the shapes of the room took form. The frame of the window, the ornate leather armchair, and the outline for a man sitting in it, his long legs stretched out in front of him on the coffee table, looking out over the busy street below.

 

She smiled at the sight of him, two strongly defined dimples appearing on her cheeks.

 

“Morning!” she said cheerily.

 

Kylo startled at her voice, turning around to face her. In one hand he held a small knife, and in the other, a blood-red apple that he was carefully cutting in perfect mathematical fractions.

 

“Good morning,” he replied, with the slightest smile.

 

He had brushed his hair since last night, the tumultuous waves now tamed and neat. His face was freshly shaven and she could smell hints of shaving cream and moisturiser. It made him appear younger with such a clean cut and she wondered if his skin would feel as soft as it looked now.

 

She did a cat-like stretch, taking a deep yawn and threading her fingers as she raised them over her head. God, it felt good to have a solid couple of hours sleep.

 

“Thanks for letting me lie in. What time is it?”

 

“Five past nine,” he answered frankly, although he didn’t seem to have a watch.

 

“Shit! Shit! Shit!” Rey shrieked and leapt out of bed. “I’m going to be so late.”

 

She ran around manically, collecting her clothes, shimming into her jeans, pulling her work top on—

 

“Where are my shoes?” she cried. “Can you help me find my shoes? Quick! I need to catch the 78 bus to be at work by ten.”

 

She dashed around the room, flinging things out of her way. But Kylo merely watched the streetscape below, distantly slicing and eating his apple.

 

“Hey!” Rey called out to him sharply. “A little help?”

 

He watched her; those dark eyes burrowing into her thoughtfully, as though a great weight was on his mind, but not enough to move him.

 

Rey heaved a sigh of exasperation and continued rampaging through the bedroom.

 

“It’s not your first time, is it?” His words were carefully measured, as though he struggled to control them into something unfeeling.

 

She really didn’t have time for this. “What are you talking about?”

 

“Sex work,” he said surely, and Rey froze in place. “I did some research.”

 

She was falling, or at least it felt like she was, her insides turning to mush as a wave of nausea churned in her stomach.

 

How could he know? She reached out for something to lean against; the floor below seemed distant and unstable, as though she were standing on the ocean’s rolling swell.

 

“Where did you find that out?” she asked, her voice raspy and quiet. It had suddenly become very difficult to swallow.

 

“I did some research on you last night.”

 

Oh God, why wouldn’t the sickness in her gut ease?

 

“Don’t worry, it’s not easy to find unless you know where to look—” he paused—“Kira.”

 

Her heart stopped at the name and her body felt clammy.

 

Screw the shoes. She would catch the bus home barefoot if she had to.

 

“I need to go.” She gathered up the last of her belongings, stuffing them into her bag. She needed to get out of there. She wasn’t ready for this, to face truths long buried.

 

The door! She had to get to the door.

 

“Your parents didn’t want you, did they?” His voice carried after her, just as her fingers reached for the handle.

 

Her world was shattering, layers of lies cracking like the crust of the earth being upheaved. She held onto the last strands of hope. The promises she had rehearsed night after night.

 

“My parents were good people,” she whispered.

 

“They were fucking meth addicts who borrowed too much money to support their habit.” His words were vicious, striking at her like a whip.

 

A sob caught in her throat, and the air deflated from her body, leaving her feeling very small. He walked towards her, his steady, unchanging steps coming closer with purpose.

 

“Please don’t do this.”

 

“They sent you away.” The words were soft, but it didn’t remove their sting.

 

“I was a burden to them.”

 

A single tear dropped down her cheek and onto the floor. She hated to cry in front of him, so she held the others back.

 

“You jumped around from home to home, until you went under the care of an old scrap dealer named Unkar Plutt.”

 

A chill ran up her spine at his name; the air in the room changed, stinking of cigarettes and gin, the smoke so thick it stung her eyes. There were flies in the kitchen, the low murmur of their wings buzzing noisily as they feasted on forgotten food scraps. And there he was at the table, knife in one hand, fork in the other, waiting for her to feed him. That pathetic excuse of a man, with his huge forearms and broken nose. She hated him.

 

Don’t take me back to this place, her mind pleaded. Not to those memories, to that home. But it was too late, she was falling into them, unable to see the light. Kylo’s hands closed around her arms gently, the warmth of them travelling down the length of her arms, pulling her back to the present.

 

He was standing behind her now; she could feel the heat of his breath on her neck. She squeezed her eyes shut, crushing her tears, hiding them from him, from the world.

 

“Rey,” he whispered. “I know he sold you to that fucked-up website where they auction a girl’s virginity. You didn’t even know about it until the deal had closed.”

 

“It was just sex,” she said stoically. “You above all people should know that’s just a commodity.”

 

“Is it?” He turned her around to face him, dipping his face down low to meet her hollow eyes.

 

“It was good money.”

 

“And you got none of it.”

 

She turned away. It was bad enough that Plutt had created a profile for her and sold her off. He hadn’t even told her what to expect of sex, when the foreign businessman showed up at their door. She was 16, unpractised, untouched, and even though the man had been gentle, the experience was still painful. She had watched as he pulled his trousers up at the end, discarding the used condom and straightening his tie. It wasn’t hard: all she needed to do was lie there and be broken.

 

Her eyes stared past Kylo’s broad chest, past the walls, and the building, and the present, to that young girl, weeping, naked, on her blood-stained bed.

 

Her chest was collapsing. She couldn’t hold the wave of emotion back for much longer.

 

Kylo paced, balling his hands into fists. “You were a fucking child and he sold you to the highest bidder!”

 

“I need to sit down.” She moved back to the bed, legs weak and trembling with every step as Kylo continued pacing the room like a caged tiger.

 

Once on the bed, she steadied her palms by her side and calmed her breathing.

 

“I thought I could help them. I knew my parents had gotten in over their heads with debt and someone was after them. I thought if I could just pay it off for them, they would be able to break free of their habit, and then—and then they would want me back.”

 

She took a few more solid breaths, trying to stay strong. “After it happened, Plutt gave me a couple of towels to clean myself up and threw me a 20-dollar-note for my ‘services’. Then he was gone, taking the rest of the money for himself. I left that afternoon. I would rather be living on the street than living as a slave.”

 

“Where is he now?”

 

“I don’t know,” she lied. She didn’t trust the timbre of Kylo’s voice, low and menacing, crazed, as though he might do anything.

 

“If I find—”

 

“It’s done. It’s in the past. Anyway, I’m being paid now, aren’t I?” she added a little bitterly.

 

Kylo flinched, his back straightening.

 

“Sorry,” she said quietly, dropping her head. “That was—”

 

“Don’t be.” He sat beside her. The bed sunk with his weight and Rey felt her body shift closer to him, their arms brushing next to each other. The hair on her arms raised as their bodies touched. For a moment, they just stared ahead in waiting silence.

 

“It’s not your fault, Rey.”

 

His voice was too soft. She had not expected sympathy from him. He was her dickhead client. That was something she could understand. This man who sat beside her: light and darkness, coldness and warmth. He was paying to use her body. That was all.

 

She looked at him. The silence had lingered too long between them. He, too, seemed lost in thought, only breaking from his meditation when her eyes rested on him. Suddenly she felt very aware of her red-rimmed eyes and stuffy nose, she didn’t want him to see her like this.

 

“After that, I lived on the street for a while, scavenging what I could. I tried to find my parents and went as far as finding my old house in a run-down part of Jakku. But I wasn’t the only one looking for them.”

 

Kylo tensed beside her; pointedly looking away.

 

“They had died a few years earlier. Overdose, apparently. They owed a lot of money in the end, even more than before I left. At least a hundred grand. And I found out the hard way that the debt had fallen to me.”

She let her words fall away. He had stopped asking questions now, in fact, he wasn’t even looking at her. But she continued, secretly happy to speak of these things with another person.

 

“Six years ago, when I was squatting there, a gang of masked men came to collect. They were going to break my arms. I don’t know how, but they knew who I was and that I had earned all that money. They demanded payment to settle the debt. When I told them that I didn’t have it, it got nasty. I managed to escape. Then I changed my name and for the next six years I thought I was finally free of it all.”

 

She sighed, remembering the black envelope, no address, no postage stamp, unsealed. She pulled out a letter, typed in capitals. “Kira. First instalment by the 15th of next month or we will finish what was started.”

 

She took a loud breath through tapered lips, trying to keep her composure.

 

“I have no idea how I’m going to pay that debt, Kylo. That’s why I am doing this, I need to get as much money as I can.”

 

Kylo was very still beside her, staring off into the distance. She wasn’t even sure he was still listening to her.

 

“Do you have any idea who your debt is to?” He asked, distantly, jaw clenched.

 

She shook her head. “I just have an account number.”

 

Then something stirred in her, a possibility. “Do you know?”

 

He stood up, walking over to the fireplace and grabbed his keys from the gilded ashtray.

 

“Do you know who is after me?”

 

He put them in his pocket, running his fingers through his hair. Why was his face so pale?

 

“Kylo?” Rey jumped to her feet and he stilled, looking down at her with half-lidded eyes. She came before him and her hand pushed against his chest, stopping the momentum of his movement. He stilled, studying the small hand pressed into his chest, following it back to her body, to her eyes.

 

He stepped closer, pushing his weight against her palm. For a moment his dark eyes were menacing, and wanting. He dipped his head, tilting it as he moved his face closer to hers.

 

“Why aren’t you answering me?” She barely managed the get the words out. The way he was looking at her, the pressure of his body pushing towards her. What was he doing?

 

“Because,” he whispered, bringing his lips to her ears and she felt a million spine-tingling shivers dropping to her toes. He looked around, as if searching for the answer, until his eyes paused on the digital clock by the bed.

 

“I think you just missed your bus.”

 

“Shit!” Rey almost shouted, running to the window just in time to see the red tail-lights of the seventy-eight bus turning right down the hill. “No, no, no! Peavey’s going to kill me!”

 

Kylo tossed his keys in the air, catching them again in one swoop of his hands. “Come on.”

 

“You’re going to drive me to work?” she asked incredulously. “But it’s halfway across town.”

 

“I’m going that way.”

 

“Liar.”

 

He smirked. “Well, now I’m going that way.”

 

“You don’t need to do this.” Rey flushed, looking anywhere but at him. This “arrangement” was safely compartmentalised in the walls of this room; she wasn’t ready to let it out into the real world. Somehow, it felt like crossing a line.

 

“It’s no problem,” he said frankly and opened the door, glancing back at her slyly. “I’m sure you can find a way to pay me back tonight.”

 

Rey folded her arms in mock mutiny. “Why do I get the impression this lift has more strings attached than a marionette?”

 

He laughed. The first time she had seen him do it, and the sound brought a smile to her heart.

 

“No strings. Just a lift and the pleasure of your company, Rey.”

 

She snorted. “Yeah, I’m sure.”

 

He disappeared down the hallway and left Rey alone, gnawing her lip, considering his proposal.

 

This was a very bad idea.

 

A terrible idea.

 

But—

 

“Wait, I’m coming!”

 

 

Chapter Text

Chapter 10 - Drive

 

By night, Crimson Lane was ghostly and grim, lined with blazing red lights. Empty, save for the furtive men and women who skulked in and out the brothel doors.

 

But by morning, the street had lost its sinister edge, the lurking shadows disappeared. The silence transformed into the rumble of buses, revving car engines, and a steady stream of horns blaring from different directions.

 

Kylo held the door open as he waited for Rey. She dashed out, tripping over the frame.

 

“Got your phone?” he asked.

 

“Yeah,” she answered breathlessly.

 

She would never confess it to him, but she’d bolted at lightning speed into Snoke’s office. The chance of being caught in that seedy space with her boss made her stomach churn.

 

“I tried not to keep you waiting.”

 

“Right,” he said, with the hint of a frown. “Freaks you out, does he?”

 

“Oh, I—” You have no idea . “Maybe,” she added with a nervous look to the brothel interior.

 

He nodded, lips tight, those irked micro-expressions firing in little clusters around his face.

 

It was fascinating, she’d never met someone who wore so many emotions blatantly on his features. It must be hard, she thought, to be on show for the world like that.

 

That was one thing, at least, that Rey could do well: bury the truth.

 

“What about you? You work pretty closely with Snoke.”

 

“I do what I have to do,” he said, sounding tired. “Come on, the car’s parked up this way.”

 

They walked along the street side by side. It was strange to be going anywhere with him. Wasn’t it only yesterday she had kneed him in the alley behind the restaurant? And last night she had been on her hands and knees giving him head, baring her teeth. And then, minutes ago, she’d pressed her hand to his chest and held her breath as the rapid beating of his heart drummed beneath her fingertips.

 

What was happening to her?

 

He was fire on water: calescent, erratic, dangerous. And yet, what lay under it all in the dark and unseen? She was achingly curious, a moth to the flame. It would consume her if she wasn’t careful.

 

She meant to glance at him, but her eyes stayed, mesmerised. His body swayed and jolted with that odd clambering gait. On one hand, it made him look tall and awkward, but on the other, there was this rushed determination to it, like a beast on heat, and it was—oh dear God, was it sexy?

 

This was not a good idea.

 

Not a good idea, Rey!

 

“What are you looking at?”

 

She blushed. “Nothing.”

 

“Why are you staring at me?”

 

“You—ugh. You don’t pull any punches, do you?”

 

“I don’t see the point.”

 

Rey shook her head with a scoff. “If you must know, I was looking at the way you walk.”

 

“What about it?”

 

Rey took a deep breath. “It’s a bit ape-like.”

 

“You think I walk like an ape?”

 

“Well, an evolved one, but the genetic markers are there.”

 

He stared at her, bewildered.

 

“Sorry, but you did ask.”

 

Where was this bloody car, in Africa?

 

He released a strained sound, almost like a laugh. Was it a laugh?

 

And now it was her turn to feel scrutinised. He was not subtle, fixing his eyes on her as she walked beside him; studious and unwavering. She sped up, but it didn’t make a difference against his long strides.

 

Why are you looking at me? I’m nothing.

 

“You’re not like most people,” he said, almost sensing her question.

 

“Is that good or bad?”

 

He smiled. Silence.

 

They slowed their pace, now and then passing a secret glance to the other. Rey focused on the little details of the street to take her mind off him: pieces of gum and cigarette butts pummelled into the ground, bins overflowing with pamphlets someone had tossed instead of distributing, and then there was that morning Mustafar smell, a grimy fry-up of pollution, exhaust and stale rubbish.

 

And it wasn’t working. What in God’s name had possessed her to tell him everything back in their room, everything!? She’d never shared her past with anyone. Well, there was Maz, but she would never tell.

 

And how had he known? Had he really found out all he needed to know about her on the internet? That was a terrifying prospect. Even if she dug her way out of this hole, would it always continue to haunt her? In some dark, seedy place on the web, waiting to be exposed to the world, blackmailed or worse?

 

“What’s wrong?” Kylo tilted his head, watching her, troubled.

 

“Nothing.”

 

“Rey?” Since when had he said her name like that, strained, yearning?

 

“How did you find out all that stuff about me?”

 

“Does it matter?” He looked straight ahead, stone-faced.

 

She stopped. “It matters to me.”

 

Kylo turned back to face her. “No one will ever know, Rey. I can promise you that.”

 

“No, you can’t.”

 

He walked to her, face a mixture of apprehension and focus.

 

Why did he presume that he had any power over her past or her future? He was just a client. A random guy she’d been paired up with. There was nothing else to it…

 

But then, there was something in that dogged stride, an air of one who commands, the bleak darkness of his eyes … it tugged at her.

 

You know more than you’re telling me.

 

You know who is after me.

 

It was a crazy thought, but the way he advanced on her made her edge back, struck by how tall, dark and imposing he was. She imagined he could be fearsome if he needed to be, terrifying even, like…like …

 

Doubt crept over his face as he saw her expression and Kylo paused from whatever he had fixed his mind on doing.

 

They looked at each other awkwardly, noticing that something had passed between them, but neither willing to say it.  

 

Rey forced a smile. “So, which car is yours?”

 

The answer was two sharp beeps and a flash of bright orange lights.

 

“An Upsillion, really?” she drawled and shook her head. “Why am I not surprised?”

 

“It’s leased,” he said, defensively.

 

“It would want to be with that price tag.”

 

The sleek, black sports car was low to the ground, with mirror-like mag wheels, a shiny spoiler and tinted windows. Rey knew a little about cars; Unkar Plutt had been a car enthusiast, and with nothing else to read, she resorted to flicking through his collection of car magazines. Not to mention the many hours he forced her into the scrap heap, removing and preparing parts for sale.

 

The Upsillion model, the most recent addition to the First Order Fleet, was a turbocharged, 6000 rpm roadster worth well over a hundred grand. Perfect for racing or fleeing foreign spies with machine guns, pointless for city driving.

 

She folded her arms, making a point of rolling her eyes at his excess.

 

“You’re welcome to walk,” Kylo teased, before going towards the Upsillion with long strides that forced Rey to do a little run beside him.

 

“Don’t get me wrong, it’s a sexy car, just impractical.”

 

“You might not find it impractical when I’m getting your arse to work on time.” He walked over to the passenger door and opened it, waiting. “In or out, Rey? I have things to do."

 

She slipped in without another word. The red and black leather was cold and unyielding as she sank into the chiselled car seat, pulling the belt across her waist.

 

Kylo peered down at her, enjoying the sight of her shifting restlessly in the chair.

 

“Comfortable?” he asked, the hint of a smirk buried beneath his otherwise innocent expression.

 

“No.”

 

“Too bad.”

 

He closed the door. The sounds of the street traffic muffled into near silence as Rey shifted in her seat, the sound of leather creaking beneath her. As Kylo walked around to the driver’s side, she stole a smile at the way his tall, hulking figure cut a striking image from her vantage point.

 

She sensed his disappointment at her reaction to his car. In her mind, guys only bought cars like this for validation, dominance and to get laid, or all of the above, and he was obviously sorted in the “getting laid” department. But it made her wonder, how much of his steel-faced resolve was a facade; what was it really hiding?

 

The door to the driver’s seat opened and Kylo squeezed his huge body into the tiny space. It reminded her of those stupid memes, where cats squeeze into places like vases and bottles. Rey snuffled a laugh. Even though he had pushed the chair back as far as it would go, he was simply too big for a car like this.

 

She looked at the time and sighed. “Bugger, I’m going to be late.”

 

“No, you won’t.” He turned the key, revved the engine, and with the eyes of a devil, said, “Hang on, sweetheart.”

 

Rey raised her eyebrows. “Sweetheart? What are you, my boyfriend now?”

 

Kylo grinned, running his hand through his hair, and then sped up.

 

She grabbed hold of the edge of her seat. “Holy shit, Kylo!”

 

The Upsillion careened out of the parking spot as Kylo negotiated the gears, coaxing from it as much speed and agility as he could.

 

His driving style was … aggressive; charging in front of cars, accelerating to the next one before sweeping into an adjacent lane and repeating it all over again. It would have terrified her, had the car not felt like a natural extension of his consciousness. There was chaos and turbulence, but underneath it all, meticulous control. He never braked too hard or miscalculated a gear shift, every moment calculated down to the microsecond.

 

He was a racer, or he’d grown up around racers, serious enough to lease an Upsillion, but sensible enough not to waste over a hundred grand to buy a new one. There, she had unearthed a single kernel of information about him. She tucked it away close to her heart.

 

He wasn’t joking when he promised to get there fast.

 

Sweetheart  

 

She watched the mosaic of colours and sights roll by. The further they got towards the region of Coruscant, the more the sky dulled into muted shades of grey, a bleak cover without the threat of rain. She put the window down, letting the billowing breeze toy with hair, and closed her eyes as the fresh chill of morning cooled her reddened cheeks. She rested her head back and exhaled with a smile.

 

He braked sharply and she jumped as they came in fast behind a small blue and white Volkswagen beetle.

 

“Sorry,” he mumbled, ears pink, quickly looking away from her. “I miscalculated.”

 

“That’s okay. She rubbed her arm across her chest. Had he been watching her?

 

From that point onward, he kept his gaze on the road ahead, and so did Rey.

 

But she was only human.

 

And the way his hand rode the gear stick was more than a little distracting, each shift forced the evolution of new muscles she hadn’t noticed before, firm tendons shifting under his pale star-speckled skin. The raised veins, snaking up his arm, disappearing beneath the rolled-up sleeve of his shirt and—

 

“What’s wrong?” he asked and Rey jumped, realising she’d been staring at the muscles in his arm for far longer than was appropriate.

 

She stumbled out the first thing that came to mind, “You drive a manual.”

 

“Clearly.”

 

Smart arse. Granted, it wasn’t her smartest observation, but she needed an excuse for staring at him.

 

“Why do you drive a manual?” she asked.

 

“They don’t make cars like this with automatic transmission.”

 

“I know,” she answered, her voice shrill. Since when did her voice sound like that? Why the hell was he making her so flustered? She’d seen the guy naked more often than not.

 

It wasn’t like she was attracted to him. He was striking, in a hulking, dark, mysterious, troubled, shy kind of way.

 

But being with him, out in the “real” world, in his space, was blurring the lines of their arrangement.

 

“In answer to your question, I like the control of a manual.” As if to prove a point, he glided into an adjacent lane between a small gap of cars and then straight into another.

 

She laughed and Kylo glowered at her.

 

“What do you drive, then?”

 

"That would be nothing.”

 

Kylo turned to her, uncomfortable. “I’m sor—”

 

“But what I would drive,” she continued, amused. She was so used to having nothing, it wasn’t a point of embarrassment for her. “Is a YT Model Corellian Falcon.”

 

Ben snorted. “That's a piece of junk!”

 

“And what would you know about it?”

 

He smiled at her knowingly. He seemed to enjoy getting her riled.

 

“I bet you’ve only driven your sleek sports-car boy toys.”

 

“My father had one.” He pulled up at a red light, tapping the wheel impatiently with his thumbs. “He used to race it on the Kessel Run.”

 

Kessel Run racer? Impressive, she thought.

 

“They’re far more trouble than they’re worth. He spent more time repairing it than driving it.”

 

“Well, I bet it will last longer than your Upsillion, if you keep driving it like this.”

 

They pulled up to the lights, and Rey used the pause to rifle through her bag for some makeup. Pulling down the visor mirror, she applied it, mouth open, eyes blinking.

 

The light changed to green, and the tyres squealed as Kylo did one of his signature g-force accelerations. head was flung back against the seat, just avoiding smearing her mascara brushing across her cheeks.

 

“Can you at least keep it steady while I do this?” she snapped at him, ignoring his amused look.

 

“Why do you even bother with that rubbish? You look fine the way you are.”

 

Rey’s mouth went agape. “Was that … was that a compliment?”

 

“Don’t get carried away,” he said with a smirk.

 

“Wow. Perhaps there is a gentleman in there after all,” she teased as he shot her a sarcastic look.

 

The grimy streets of Mustafar changed into tidy roads, with street-side cafes and outdoor sitting areas.

 

Rey wistfully watched the world go by. “So, what did you want to do tonight?” 

 

“Oh, I don’t know, read a book maybe, play a game of Risk.”

 

“What?” Rey looked at him with surprise and noticed his saucy smile. Oh.

 

“What do you think I want to do?”

 

“Right,” she said, blushing. Of course he... Rey shifted in her seat, his gaze burned across her skin, lighting a hungry flame within her. She crossed her legs together as if to remind them she wasn’t interested in him that way.

 

“That’s a shame. I like the idea of global domination,” she said with a teasing smile.

 

“Yeah, me too.”

 

She met his eyes, bright now, his cheek cracked with long dimples.

 

Rey glided her hand up over her heart, resting it there, as she considered how to word a question that had been pressing on her mind.

 

There wasn’t really an easy way to ask it, so...

 

“You should probably tell me what you like.”

 

He raised his eyebrows at her.

 

“You know, sexually, so I can incorporate it into my routine.”

 

“You have a routine?”

 

She laughed. “Can you not make this any more awkward than it is?”

 

“Okay,” he said, running his fingers through his hair again. “I like to be on top.”

 

“No surprise there. So do I.”

 

“You do?”

 

She smirked and turned away from him.

 

“Ah, you do.”

 

“Either way is fine. I’m just teasing you. Seriously though, is there anything you’d like me to do to you?”

 

Kylo squeezed his lips together as his grip tightened around the steering wheel, white-knuckled.

 

“Not particularly. You?”

 

“It doesn’t matter what I like. You’re the one paying…”

 

“But?”

 

She smiled. How did he know?

 

"But, I suppose you could say I liked what you did to me on the first night.”

 

Kylo’s eyes were acerbic. “I was an animal that night.”

 

“Well, yes,” she said, remembering how he prowled over her body, possessive and hungry. “But after that, you were… No-one has ever done that for me before.”

 

“I can do it again if you want?”

 

“I—” The words were lost to her, and she remembered the way he pressed her tight, like a spring coil urging for release. Her body reacted, a well of heat building, rushing blood to her cheeks… and other places.

 

“Um, I”

 

Kylo chuckled. “That look, right there.” He pointed at her. “It’s priceless.”

 

She whacked him and he stifled a groan.

 

Up ahead, the rusted orange of the Taco-dana restaurant came into view.

 

“Well, this is me,” she said and Kylo pulled up out front of the restaurant. “Thanks for the—-“

 

He’d gone. Rey looked around, not sure what was going on when she heard the gentle sound of her door latch releasing as he held the door open, waiting for her.

 

“Well, that’s a first,” she said, standing a little awkwardly. She grabbed her backpack as she got up, but as she swung it on her shoulders, Kylo intercepted it and put it on his own back.

 

“You don’t need to carry my bag,” she muttered, unsure how to deal with someone else looking after her. It was weird, disconcerting somewhat, but also nice.

 

“I’ll walk you in.” 

 

She would have protested, but he had already marched ahead of her, those long strides getting the better of her once more.

 

It was two minutes before opening time, the restaurant filled with empty chairs and empty tables. Rey scanned the surroundings looking for her manager, Edrison Peavey, but he didn’t appear to be here.

 

With a sigh of relief, she turned to Kylo who was waiting with his hands in his pockets, shiny black shoes kicking at the terracotta tiles.

 

“Thanks for the lift.”

 

“Yeah, no worries.” He did a cross between a pout and a pucker, one of those funny little face mannerisms she had noticed him do from time to time. Dropping his eyes to the ground, he worked at uprooting a small weed bursting between the tiles.

 

Rey waited. Expecting him to go.

 

“So, I guess I’ll see you this evening then?” she asked, her attempt to fill the awkward silence.

 

“I’ll be late tonight. Don’t wait up.”

 

“Sure, well, make sure you wake me when you get in.”

 

He nodded and didn’t leave.

 

Rey swallowed, scouring the surroundings, wondering if they were alone or whether Jess or Peavey would jump out at any minute.

 

“Well, I gotta—” she thumbed back to the coffee machine.

 

“Yeah, right, sure.”

 

She nodded with a thin-lipped smile, and with a wave, walked back behind the counter.

 

Once there, She set down the floor mat and rustled in the cupboards, pulling out a fresh bag of coffee beans. When she stood up again to open the bag, he was still standing in the middle of the courtyard, eyeing the exit—but obviously hadn’t made up his mind to leave yet.

 

Rey busied herself behind the counter, focusing on the job at hand with unnatural concentration. From the edges of her vision, she noticed Kylo walking towards her.

 

She stared, clutching her hands to the base of the counter. What was he going to do? 

 

He came opposite her, lowering his head to meet her eyes.

 

“Actually.” He swallowed. “Can I get a coffee?”

 

“Oh,” Rey answered in surprise, and then returned to her usual perky waiter voice. “Sure. Do you want an espresso, double espresso, short macchiato, long macchiato, ristretto, long black, latte or cappuccino?”

 

Kylo stared at her. “They all sound good. Just give me whatever.”

 

Rey gave him a wide smile. There was something about daytime Kylo that was rather endearing.

 

“I’ll make you my special.” She winked.

 

Rey made the coffee as he stood by and watched, glancing up at him from time to time. And there he was still, lips parted, gazing down at her like…God, she wouldn’t dare say what it was like, but her heart beat a little faster and she became even more clumsy and self-conscious.

 

She finished and shaped the textured chocolate powder into a swirling pattern, crafting it like an artist adding their final brushes to a piece of work.

 

“A heart?”

 

“It’s all I know how to do,” Rey chortled, sliding the cup towards him.

 

“Thanks.” Kylo fumbled around in his pocket, pulling out some coins and sliding them across the steel counter.

 

“My treat. It’s the least I can do. Here." She held her palm out to him to return the money, and he stilled, before reaching towards her, cupping his hand over her own. The pads of his fingers gently touched onto her own. Rey's heart jolted at the contact and noticed the same shock had gone through him. The world disapparated into silence, until--

 

“Ugh, I had the worst hook up last night, this guy—”

 

Rey and Kylo both froze as Jess trundled up beside them. Rey snatched her hand away, released from the weight of his gaze and the tenderness of his touch.

 

“Oh. Hello again,” Jess beamed. “What brings you back here?”

 

Kylo stammered for a moment until he said. “Coffee”.

 

“Tell me she hasn’t given you her special, has she?”

 

“There’s nothing wrong with it,” Rey snapped, passing the cup to Kylo. Since when had Jess become the most annoying person on the planet? “Here, try it.”

 

Kylo took it in his hands, his dark eyes darting between them. “I’m sure it’s fine.”

 

"Try it,” Rey insisted; she had meant it to be an invitation, but it sounded like an order.

 

“Yes, try it!” Jess pushed the coffee into his hands.

 

Kylo brought the cup to his lips and took a sip. Almost as soon as it touched his mouth, he grimaced and stifled a cough.

 

“It’s good,” he said with a strained expression.

 

“Yeah, it looks like you’re really enjoying it,” Jess laughed, and Rey kicked her under the table, not quite aiming to maim, but at least giving her the idea of immediate pain and peril.

 

“She puts about ten tablespoons of sugar in it. You’ve probably got six cavities from that single sip.”

 

Rey glared at her. “Are you done? Don’t you have work to do?”

 

Jess ignored her, leaning over the counter.

 

“So…” She stirred the sugar pot suggestively. “How long have you two been dating then?”

 

“We’re not,” Rey said at the same time Kylo volunteered, “Since Tuesday.”

 

“Ah huh,” Jess drawled. “I’ll let you both debate on that point while I unlock the front doors.”

 

With a wink at Rey, Jess left.

 

“Since Tuesday!?” Rey hissed.

 

“Well, I don’t know what you’re telling people. Somehow I doubt it’s that I’m paying to sleep with you.”

 

“Shh!” Rey snapped her head over in Jess’ direction. She hadn’t heard.

 

“Or not sleep with you, as the case may be,” he muttered under his breath.

 

Rey glared at him again as Jess returned, flicking her hair like she was cast in a shampoo commercial.

 

“Figured it out yet?” Jess asked.

 

“Tuesday,” Rey conceded.

 

“I’ve got to go,” Kylo said as he fixed the lid on his coffee. “I’ll see you tonight, Rey.”

 

“Oh, aren’t you even going to give her a goodbye kiss?” Jess pouted. “Don’t hold back on my account.”

 

That was it. Jess was trying to murder her with humiliation. Rey was about to snap at her when Kylo took a step towards her, those burnt-umber eyes dropping to meet hers. Rey gave him a minuscule shake of her head.

 

Surely, he wouldn’t, just because Jess had said…

 

But there he was, in her space, towering over her, leaning. Rey felt like she was spiralling on the downhill of a roller coaster, and then his hands cupped her upper arms, she tilted her face to him.

 

She was close now, she studied his face as he came closer, small collections of moles like clusters of stars, above his eyebrow, on his right cheek. Even as his head reached down to her, he kept his eyes open, always looking into hers, speckles of golden amber and forest green hidden within their darkness. She’d never noticed the lighter colours before, clear and brilliant in the dappled sunlight.

 

Her gaze fell to his lips, full and wide, coming together, coming for her. Her breath caught in her chest and she felt his lips touch her temple, warm and soft, a gentle but sustained kiss above her eyebrow. Rey closed her eyes, savouring the touch of his lips against her skin, the smell of his shampoo, hints of citrus and grapefruit, and the way his hands were large, encasing her arm.

 

It wasn’t enough. She wanted more.

 

She reached for his waist, but in an instant, the kiss was over and he stepped away.

 

“Bye, Rey,” he mumbled, before turning on his heels and leaving her to stand there alone, wanting to steal it back again.

 

“You sly bitch, I can’t believe you didn’t tell me!”

 

She hadn’t even noticed Jess had come up beside her, shouldering her.

 

“Honestly, there’s nothing to tell.”

 

“Yes, I can see that,” Jess smiled. “Nothing to tell at all.”

 


 

Whether it was the sobering clouds looming above, or some other unknown reason, the Taco-dana restaurant remained quiet. Jess and Rey leaned idly against the coffee counter, polishing cutlery and rolling serviettes when Peavey marched up to them, lips pursed, glowering.

 

“I don’t need you both on today. Which one of you wants to take a long lunch?”

 

“I need the money,” Jess piped up before Rey could get in a word in. “I’m getting foils done this weekend.”

 

“I need the money or someone will break my kneecaps,” Rey wanted to say, but instead she sighed and said, “Fine. I’ll go.”

 

“Thanks, Rey!” Jess purred. “You’re the best.”

 

Rey nodded, grabbing her backpack and wandering out into the street. She wasn’t ready to go home, she had no money to go shopping, so she walked, and walked, and walked.

 

Lost in the crowd, beneath the shadows of Coruscant’s skyscrapers, she had meandered all the way to the central building district. The world rushed past, bumping and jostling, everyone’s heads down, on their phones, racing to lunch, rushing to work. Lines of workers dispersed through the crowded Coruscant Mall like an ants' nest before the rain.

 

She passed a couple sitting on a bench, hands intertwined, eyes bright, toothy grins, little laughs, gentle touches. The man was tall, fair-skinned, dark-haired, almost like Kylo—but his face was lighter, there wasn’t the weight or haughtiness of Kylo’s expression. It lacked his depth, the promise of untold mysteries, shadows of darkness, glimmers of light.

 

Rey pushed a curl behind her ear, the one that had a tendency to fall across her temple. Kylo had moved it with a whisper touch before he had kissed her. Not that she was dwelling on it, but if this random couple were throwing themselves at each other in the street, she could hardly not think about her own kiss.

 

It might be nice, she supposed, to have someone touch her like that, to hold her hand, to share private moments in busy streets…play board games, read books.

 

Rey shook her head, wondering when she had turned into such a sap. She moved through the throngs of people, listening to the clip-clop of women’s heels in tailored business suits, the sounds of men on their phones with their baritone voices. She watched the ground as she walked, noting the way her scuffed-up, second-hand flats looked out of place among the many polished-leather, brand names. The wave of people pushed her along, like a piece of debris carried by a raging river. She didn’t mind; there was something comforting about being lost in a crowd of strangers. That was until…

 

“Rey!”

 

Rey turned back, a wall of foreign faces met her. She was sure she had heard …

 

“Peanut!” the voice came again. She got on her tippy-toes, searching for the source, when she noticed a dark-haired, dark-skinned man ploughing through the flow of people.

 

“Finn!” She shot her hand up, waving frantically. They rushed to each other, and Finn caught her, taking her lean body in his arms and wrapping her in a bear hug.

 

“What are you doing here? I haven’t seen you since uni!” His words came out in a rush, all white teeth, plump lips and excited dark eyes.

 

“I had a break from work.” She beamed, not quite believing her best friend had just materialised. “I’ve missed you so much since uni. What have you been up to?”

 

Finn puffed his chest. “I’ve got a job at the Hosnian Herald.”

 

The corners of Rey’s mouth faltered a moment before beaming at Finn, resting her hands on his corduroy jacket and smiling endearingly.

 

“That’s great news, Finn. I knew you would make it.”

 

“Excuse me!” A woman sneered, darting around them.

 

“Here, come this way, I’m meeting up with my editor.” Finn pulled her out of the crowd, dragging her behind him.

 

Finn had made it. He had finished his degree, gotten a job with the most prestigious newspaper in the city. He had done all the things she had wanted to do before her past had caught up with her.

 

The day she quit university to pay off her debt had hit her like a sledgehammer. Perhaps she could come back one day. Her dream wasn’t gone, just delayed, indefinitely. As much as she tried to believe she would get past this too, she had cried in the university bathroom, and in the library, behind the cafeteria, and beneath the grandstand of the sports field until Finn had found her. Promising everything would be okay.

 

She would find a way.

 

Somehow.

 

And yet here she was, still running, still hiding from the darkness that pursued her.

 

When Finn cradled her hand, pulling her to an emptier part of the street, she felt what she had missed out on more than ever. It wasn’t a sentiment she tried to dwell on, but sometimes it betrayed her: it wasn’t fair.

 

“It’s so good to see you, Peanut. Have you kept up your writing?”

 

“Not really.” Rey shrugged. “I’m working at a restaurant on the outskirts of town.”

 

Finn flashed a sallow smile at her. “Are you happy?”

 

“Of course I am.” She buried the truth beneath the lie and was thankful when Finn bought it.

 

“You need to meet my editor, Rey. He’s a legend. We’re working on a huge undercover crime-boss story — oh, look! Here he is.”

 

Finn waved a hand around in the air. “Poe, over here!”

 

Poe. She rubbed her chin, ruminating on the word. Poe, Poe, Poe. Where had she heard that name?

 

Crap!

 

Brown jacket, wavy dark hair streaked with silver, a shadow of stubble pricked at his jaw. When he saw Rey, he looked like he’d just stumbled upon a winning lotto ticket.

 

Rey darted her eyes between Finn and Poe. How could this be happening? Finn was the last person she would ever want to know about what she was doing.

 

Finn slapped a hand on Rey’s shoulder, making her jump and almost drop her phone at the same time.

 

“Poe, this is my good pal, Rey. We studied journalism at university together. This girl—” he pointed to Rey, jabbing her in the arm as he spoke, “—is an absolute natural.”

 

Rey laughed weakly at Finn’s boasting, feeling like the world was washing her away, or wishing that it was.

 

“Rey, is it?” Poe grinned, reaching a strong hand out towards her. “I’m Poe Dameron. Have we met?”

 

“I—I don’t think so,” Rey muttered.

 

She reached for his hand; it felt firm, with writing calluses and blue biro marks near the tips of his fingers. He gave Rey a single shake, almost pulling her off balance, his eyes twinkling with a knowing expression.

 

Finn beamed between both of them with a waiting childish enthusiasm, as though the two great influencers of his life had come together. Poe sucked on his bottom lip, looking back and forth between her and Finn, brows furrowed, formulating.

Rey felt a sense of dread overcome her. Poe Dameron had proven himself to be bullishly persistent.

 

“You know what, Finn? I forgot my dictaphone. Do you think you could duck back to the office to get it?”

 

Damn it. Perhaps she could use this an excuse to leave. Fake a phone call, illness, feign a heart attack; she certainly felt like one was coming.

 

“Oh,” Finn stammered, looking to Rey. “Oh, yeah, yeah, sure thing.”

 

Rey glared at her friend, the whites of her eyes showing, and with a strained smile which, in body language, said please don’t leave me here with him.

 

“Don’t worry about your friend.” Poe gave Rey a friendly pat on the shoulder. “I’ll shout her a coffee while you’re gone.”

 

“You promise you won’t run away? I’ve just found you after all these months and I need a proper catch-up.”

 

“Oh, Rey’s not going anywhere. I’m sure we’ll find something to talk about.” Poe squeezed her shoulder gently, and Rey glued a fake smile on her face for Finn’s benefit.

 

“How about it, Rey? Let’s get to know each other.”

 

Chapter Text

Crimson Lane - Chapter 11 - The Traitor

 

Morning in the city was a deranged cocktail of senses to Kylo: jackhammers pounding, sirens screaming, crying babies, all of it stewing in a pot of pollution and garbage.

He stalked forward, head down with his hands stuffed into his pockets, his path direct; determined. People passed him, bumping against his body while fiddling on their phones, careless and self-absorbed, ignorant of how every touch made him stiffen; hyper-aware.

The product of someone who’d always had to watch their back. And never more so than right now.

Normally, if he had to walk down the street, he did so with a pair of earphones in, tuning out the world around him.

But today, there was no music. He needed to be aware.

The noise of the city dulled into the background, the jolting disarray of sound overwhelmed by a subtle roar, breathless and quiet. Like the wind before a train cuts through a subway tunnel.

Everything fell silent but the roar of his inner monologue: You were the one who chose this path, you, a grovelling, terrified teenager.

And now his road cut deep, a chasm with no escape. He’d tried to claw his way out of it many times, but Snoke had always been one step ahead of the game.

Not any more.

 

Two weeks ago, Kylo Ren waited in Snoke’s office, eyes downcast, hands in pocket, toying nervously with a sleek black cylindrical shaped UBS Drive in his pocket.

“You wanted to see me?”

“Be patient!” Snoke scolded him, hungrily clicking on his mouse, the pink flesh of his tongue coasting across his lips.

“You said it was urgent.”

Snoke glared at him, lips moving, silent and angry.

“Were you on my computer before?”

“No,” Kylo said flatly.

“My settings have changed.” He clicked his mouse in loud tapping motions, annoyed. “That bastard San Tekka has been leaking info to the press again. I thought you were taking care of it.”

“I am. Hux and I have almost tracked him down. We’re close.”

“So you keep saying.”

Snoke clicked on the mouse a few more times, fascinated with whatever was on his screen. “For ex-security, he seems to know a lot about our operation.”

The hairs on the back of Kylo’s neck prickled unsettlingly. “Lor San Tekka may have just been a security guard, but he had the means to access a lot of information.”

Snoke was silent.

Watchful.

Kylo pulled at the collar of his shirt, feeling as if he were being choked.

“Do you think he’s getting his info from someone else?” Kylo asked.

“Possibly.” Snoke shrugged. “What do you think?”

“Unlikely—” he began, then smirked, thinking of a better response, “How much do you trust Hux?”

Snoke’s shoulders moved, a laugh. Kylo was almost ready to breathe a sigh of relief when his boss’s eyes narrowed at him as they flicked between the monitor and him.

“You little fucker!”

Kylo paled, throat closing.

“Did you think I wouldn’t see this?”

Snoke spun his laptop around. The footage was dark and the sound unclear, but there was a clear outline of men wearing black balaclavas. In the middle of the room was an elderly man, blabbering incoherently.

The tallest of the masked assailants took a step towards him and, with lightning speed, kicked him in the loin. The audio bled into weeping screams and Kylo stepped back, turning away. It always made him sick to watch himself work.

“Did I tell you to look away?”

Kylo straightened, his pulse pounding at the base of his neck. “I don’t see what the problem is. You got your money.“

“You call that a Mawashi Geri? You are off-balance. What am I paying you for if you can’t even deliver a simple roundhouse kick?”

“We got the money,” Kylo stressed the point through gritted teeth, balling his fists behind his back.

Snoke rolled his eyes as his lips curled into a sneer.

“It’s not just about the money, son. These vipers need to learn that the First Order owns them. Did he need to go to a hospital?”

No, they had left him bleeding and screaming on the floor. In pain, but not seriously injured.

A failure, in Snoke’s eyes.

“Just what I thought. I have no use for spineless worms who can’t follow orders.”

Kylo nodded, eyes downcast. “Is that all?”

“No.” Snoke stood, his golden robe sweeping around his body in a gesture of grandeur. He glided towards Kylo, slow and smooth as a snake slithers through the grass.

“I have a question for you,” he whispered. “Blonde or brunette?”

“Huh?” Kylo asked, taken aback at the change in conversation.

“What do you like to fuck, blondes or brunettes?”

“I…” he stammered. Some part of him still felt ashamed that he used the girls here. It was— It was not the way he saw his future playing out.

“Which one—” Snoke’s voice rose.

“Brunette.”

“Ha!” Snoke purred. “Interesting. You know, I found a pretty little piece of flesh the other day. Phasma’s going to bring her in. She has no family, is desperate for cash, young. You will like her. Brunette.

“They all do the same job once the lights are off,” Kylo said dryly.

Snoke chuckled to himself, his bony fingers reaching out and squeezing Kylo’s shoulder. “Well, that’s true. I’ll book her in for you. Monday, July 2. Kanjiklub are late with their payment again. I need you to show Tasu Leech we mean business. Smash his kneecap, I don’t care which one. You can have this girl when you’re finished… to unwind.”

“Fine,” Kylo grumbled. “Bring her in.”

“Oh, I will,” he hissed, those icy eyes filling Kylo with a chill that ran straight to his core.

 

***

 

Bring her in.

Those three fateful words. Kylo had said them just to shut Snoke up. But his boss had planned this from the beginning, setting the trap, using Rey as the bait. The question was why, now, after all this time, was Snoke so focused on him? Was it a power play, a lesson to bring him into line, or something bigger and far more dangerous?

And Rey.

Snoke had dragged her into this shit-show. Manipulated and lured her into thinking she could pay off her debt—the one he had forced on her.

Kylo stormed past a metal bin anchored to a pole, battered and dented from years of misuse.

Rey.

He kicked it as hard as he could. The metal crash rang out, scattering loose pieces of rubbish on the ground.

He had to keep Snoke away from her, and time was running out.

Kylo kicked the bin again, this time it dislodged from its anchor, and crashed onto the sidewalk, almost taking out a middle-aged couple in the process. They exchanged knowing looks at each other and mouthed the word ‘drugs’.

If only it was drugs. Then he would have an excuse for being the way he was. Violent. Unbalanced.

He charged down the street, fixated on the passing pavement beneath his feet until he was standing in front of a faded red door.

Kylo hammered on it.

No answer.

Again.

He stopped, knuckles stinging, from the other side there was the sound of rattling keys and... one, two, three: the locks snapped open. The handle turned and the door creaked open, just enough.

A gaunt man with short-cropped white hair, a neat beard and pale blue eyes peered out.

Kylo pushed the door open with his boot and Lor San Tekka took an unsteady step back.

“Look how old you’ve become.”

”Something far worse has happened to you,” Lor replied.

Kylo straightened his spine, glowering. “You know why I’m here.”

 


 

 

“Take a seat.”

 

Rey crossed her arms, gnawing at the inside of her mouth like she was chewing on a bone.

 

This was a bad idea.

 

A very bad Idea.

 

“Come on, Rey. I don’t bite,” Poe said, flashing his dazzling white teeth at her.

 

She studied him warily, noting the way he stood between her and the exit; one hand clutching his briefcase, the other inviting her to sit. Ridiculous smile, glued in place. No doubt he tried to look welcoming, but it was too eager, like she was being lured into a trap.

 

You could still leave. She tried to stay calm. Just turn around and disappear forever.

 

Poe must have sensed her hesitation, because he sat down with a lazy thump, kicking his feet up on the chair opposite, and casually began reading the menu with a bored expression.

 

Eventually, Rey took a measured breath and lowered her body slowly into the booth as Poe watched her subtly, peering out beneath his thick brows. At the far end of the room, a tray crashed to the floor and the sound of breaking glass shattered around her. She jumped, skittery as a wild deer. Heart pounding.

 

“Here.” Poe pushed the menu towards her, his voice placating. “Order whatever you want. My work’s paying.”

 

She supposed she could stay for a bite to eat if he was paying. After all, Rey looked around at the plush velvet seats, vase centrepieces with explosions of colour… and then there were those rich aromas wafting from the kitchen. She closed her eyes and inhaled.

 

A restaurant meal. When would she be lucky enough to score one of those again?

 

“Okay,” she sighed and opened the menu, running her finger down the line of prices.

 

$29, $35, $32…

 

Ah. There it was.

 

“I’ll have that one.” She tapped her finger against the menu.

 

“The lobster?” Poe squinted at his own menu, jaw dropping. “It’s sixty-five dollars!”

 

“Yes, that’s the one.” She nodded decisively. “I’ve not tried it before.”

 

He took her menu back and groaned. “Really? You’ve ordered the most expensive thing on the menu.”

 

Did I ?” Rey teased, a picture of innocence.

 

Poe shook his head, mumbling something about a thirty-dollar limit. It was a small victory, but it was sweet enough.

 

Once the orders were taken, Poe pulled out a dog-eared file and whacked it on the table.

 

“Don’t you use computers at the Hosnian Herald?” she asked.

 

“Cute. You want to be a reporter sweetheart? You watch and learn.”

 

Rey rolled her eyes, but watched anyway, because hell yes, she wanted to be a reporter.

 

Poe placed a notepad filled with messy shorthand strokes on the table, followed by a dictaphone.

 

“I thought you said you left that back at the office?”

 

Did I ?”

 

Rey scowled at him, but that may have been because otherwise she might have smiled. Bloody reporters!

 

“Right, let’s get started.“ Poe bypassed the notepad and pressed ‘record’ on the dictaphone.

 

“So, Rey,” he said, locking his black coffee-coloured eyes on her. “How’s life in the sex industry?”

 

Shit! She shot her hand to turn off the recording device.

 

“You can’t record that!”

 

“For a girl who’s trying to protect her secrets, you’re not very obliging.”

 

“What makes you think I’m trying to hide anything?”

 

“Oh, in that case, I’ll call Finn back and he can take notes. Sorry, my bad.”

 

Rey’s mouth turned to ash, fingernails pushing into her forearms, leaving half-moon pressure marks on her skin. She was stuffed, and could only watch in horror as Poe unlocked his phone, flicking through his contact list.

 

“Wait!”

 

Breathe, Rey! The words were her own, but they had mixed with the gravelly undercurrent of her former Sensei, Master Skywalker. The memory swept her away to a quiet hall with bright, sunlit windows and polished wooden floors.

 

What do you see?” Master Skywalker asked, his voice filtering through her meditation, guiding her.

 

“The man in black,” she whispered. Those quiet moments of self-reflection always wrenched her back to that cesspit of a home, to the night she was attacked. She could never stop seeing him.

 

“You see your enemy?” his voice was calm, a safe harbour in stormy seas.

 

“Yes.”

 

“Never show weakness before your enemy. Stand strong.”

 

And like that, she was back, faced with this smiling, ambitious reporter who thought he could bully her into exposing her story.

 

She stiffened, lifting her eyebrows and meeting his eyes with a level-headed coldness.

 

“Are you blackmailing me, Poe Dameron?”

 

“Blackmail?” Poe looked affronted. “What!? No!”

 

“So, what if I refuse to tell you anything?”

 

“Then you refuse. There’s not much I can do about it.”

 

“You won’t tell Finn what I’m doing?”

 

Poe sighed. “Look, I don’t want your story, Rey. I have no wish to expose you or call you out. I just want you to tell me everything you know about Snoke.

 

Alexander Snoke. Rey shivered. Even the thought of that deceptively frail, hulking creep made her want to disappear forever. “I don’t know anything about Snoke.”

 

Poe nodded, as though he expected as much. Untying the document wallet before of him, he opened the flap and pulled out a stack of newspaper clippings.

 

“Let me enlighten you then.”

 

Terror bombing kills 120

First Order scores multi-million dollar government security contract

Palpatine’s popularity soars amidst vote of no confidence

Resistance battered into submission, Organa-Solo resigns

 

“And my personal favourite.”

 

Reporter targeted in Yavin car bomb

 

Your boss, Alexander Snoke, is behind every single one of these stories.”

 

Rey sifted through the articles as Poe continued to bring more out, scattering them on the table in a messy collage: reports of beatings, stabbings, robbery, blackmail… the list seemed endless.

 

“To the public, he is the revered CEO of the First Order. Fortune magnet. But behind the scenes, he is manipulating the government and crushing anyone who gets in his way.”

 

“What’s his endgame then?” Rey flicked through the pages, amazed at how much Poe had actually pegged against him.

 

“Power.” Poe twisted his cup of water on the table, watching the way the water stayed still regardless. “By bombing the Resistance, he created a sense of panic. Meanwhile, he has a few quiet words to his mate Palpatine, and what do you know? The First Order scores a huge government contract, providing security and weapons to the police force. Suddenly the Imperial government’s rigid military rule starts to look like a pretty good idea, and since Palpatine owes him a couple favours he can start to cash in and make things go the way he wants on a larger scale.”

 

“That seems like a bit of a far stretch for a guy who runs a brothel.”

 

“A brothel and a multi-billion-dollar company. Anyway, the brothel is just a front, essentially; plus, he likes it. The guy’s a complete sexual deviant.”

 

Rey thought back to his special cupboard, the way he had filmed her. Poe sure as hell wasn’t wrong about that.

 

“From Crimson Lane he does all the illegal stuff because he wouldn’t be caught dead doing that at the First Order; it’s under a lot more scrutiny. Also, he can’t fund any underhanded deals through First Order books, so that’s where the loans and drugs come into play. He preys on junkies and anyone else in desperate positions. He finds their weak spot and breaks them through blackmail, loans, threats, addiction, whatever he can to fund his operation.”

 

Rey searched through the clippings, her expression hollow. It was so much bigger than she ever thought.

 

And was this what Kylo Ren was part of? She couldn’t believe it. She wouldn’t.

 

But…

 

And there was a but. A brutal threatening fact that lurked in the shadow of her mind.

 

Her hand strayed across the Resistance bombing articles, Senator Leia Organa-Solo had stepped down after they had lost so many lives, feeling somehow responsible.

 

She picked up the largest article on the Resistance attack:

 

Terror bomb devastates. Beneath the headline was a photograph of broken bodies beneath white sheets that were smeared with blood. From beneath one of them was a child’s hand outstretched, charred and bloody. Lifeless. She had seen images of that hand on the television news that day. It had stayed with her long after.

 

She read beneath the image.

 

There are fears up to 120 are dead today after a mysterious bomb blast crushed Resistance headquarters in the early hours of the morning.

A spokesperson for the Police first response team said the perpetrators designed the bomb to cause maximum damage.

The Imperial government has denied any involvement and has condemned the attack as “despicable”.

It looks to be the end of an already embattled Resistance party, after they suffered a landslide defeat in the last election.

 

Rey glued her eyes to the story, hand trembling.

 

Did Rose know she was working for the man responsible for her sister’s death? Did any of them?

 

“How can you be sure that Snoke is behind all of this?”

 

Poe lowered his head and whispered, “I have a source.”

 

Rey nodded, furrowing her brow. There was a rising feeling of anxiety from deep within. Poe pressed on, leaning forward.

 

“I promise you, once we’re finished with this story, Snoke will be done. We’ll have him on the Resistance bombing and so much more. Rey—”

 

He said her name with a breath of desperation, as though he had come to the point where he would plead his case, but he held back.

 

Rey gnawed at her fingernails, mind racing. If Snoke was behind all this, then did it mean Kylo was the one inflicting the damage?

 

“We need to get him, Rey. This bastard never gets his own hands dirty. He gets his army of trained mercenaries to do it for him — he calls them his Knights.”

 

She nodded, face ashen, the newspaper report on the Resistance bombing trembling in her shaking hands. Her eyes, glued on the pictures of covered bodies. The sound of that explosion, rippling through her brain. The stench, smouldering rubble, singed flesh, sirens, screams, despair. She hadn’t even there, walking two blocks away, but it was close enough.

 

“What do you know about the Knights?” she asked.

 

“There are nine of them, headed up by the guy only known as Kylo Ren.” Poe pried the article from her fingers and slipped it back inside his folder. “No one knows who he is or what he looks like, but from what I understand, he comes around the brothel from time to time—”

 

Her lungs were burning. Why couldn’t she breathe?

 

Poe paused, eyes narrowing in on her. “Rey, do you know who he is?”

 

She opened her mouth, closed it again and looked away.

 

“This is important Rey. If you can identify him—”

 

“No,” she snapped, shaking her head. “I don’t know who it is. I’ve just heard his name mentioned, that’s all.”

 

Poe exhaled, his demeanour slumping into the chair. “That’s a shame. Well, anyway, if you come across that guy, Rey, you run and don’t look back.”

 

She nodded.

 

“I’m sorry,” she murmured and meant it. Sorry that she had lied. That even while she understood Kylo was one of the “bad” guys, deep down she wasn’t ready to believe the worst of him. Perhaps, just perhaps, he was stuck, like she was.

 

But if Kylo was involved in that bombing, she couldn’t…

 

She swallowed. Her body was prickling with feverous heat, like the temperature rise before throwing up.

 

“Do you think he…” She took a drink of water, trying to hide the way she couldn’t stop shaking. “Do you think Kylo Ren was behind the bombing?”

 

Poe stared at her for a beat.

 

Too long.

 

“No. Anything with pyrotechnics is Armitage’s work. Red-headed English guy. A snivelling rat. You’ll know him when you see him. Total psycho. Loves his work.”

 

Rey startled as the waiter slid their meals in front of them without a word. Rey ignored it, even though her stomach was rumbling and the rich smell of the lobster with white sauce was wafting before her.

 

“If you’ve got a source, why do you need me?”

 

“Because I don’t know how much longer I will have him.”

 

Poe cut into the tender flesh of his steak. The juices bled onto the plate, drowning the rest of his food in red.

 

“A guy named Lor San Tekka got in touch with me a month ago. He’s been feeding me information on Snoke. He used to work for him until last year as a security guard. He quit after the attack. His wife, Marianne, worked for Senator Organa. She was one of the first ones found in the wreckage that day, or at least, they found parts of her.”

 

Rey shivered, nausea growing in her gut.

 

“Why on earth would you tell me who your source is?” Rey asked, horrified. She had learnt that much in the university; never, ever reveal your sources.

 

“I’m telling you because I need you to listen out for me. If you hear anything that sounds like they will make a move on San Tekka, I need you to tell me,” Poe said in a hushed voice. “The guy has a USB drive with enough dirt to take down Snoke and the First Order once and for all. But I don’t know…”  He dragged a hand down his face, all of his suave arrogance disappearing in the movement.

 

“I have a bad feeling about it, Rey. Like it’s all too easy. This San Tekka guy’s got a target on his back. He’s the only one with the motive to take down Snoke. It won’t take them long to figure out he’s the leak... if they haven’t already.”

 

Rey thought about it. Something wasn’t right here, and she had good instincts about these things.

 

“So, you have him on the Resistance bombing?” she asked.

 

“That and so much more, I mean, this last Monday, Tasu Leech, who heads up the Kanjiklub crime family, was left beaten within an inch of his life. That was Kylo Ren’s work apparently, according to my source.”

 

Monday. Rey felt the blood rushing from her face. Their first night together.

 

“What else do you have on Kylo Ren?” God, she wished her voice would stop shaking.

 

“We have everything, Rey. Everything he’s been involved in over the last ten years up until last week. Well, everything except his true identity.”

 

Rey played with her food, quiet and thoughtful. There were so many mixed emotions fighting within her. And then a thought struck her.

 

“If San Tekka was just a security guard who quit his job over a year ago, how does he have access to all of this? I mean, these are some of Snoke’s biggest secrets. That doesn’t make any sense to me.”

 

“What are you thinking?”

 

“Well, wouldn’t it indicate there was another source? One that still works for Snoke really closely. Perhaps Lor isn’t your primary source. You said his wife was murdered in the attack, but what if he was just a front-man, who was being fed information from the real source, so he or she can stay in a position of trust.”

 

Poe gawked and then smiled appreciatively. “Well, I’ll be damned, Rey. Finn said you were brilliant.”

 

“I’m far from brilliant—” Blighted, more like.

 

But Poe ignored her. “Tell you what. You help me crack this case and there will be a job for you at the end of all this.”

 

“What, as your coffee assistant?” she scoffed.

 

“As a reporter, if that’s what you want? You ask the right questions, Rey, and you can obviously write, since Finn said your first year was on a scholarship. And you’ve got sass. I like that.”

 

Rey considered his offer. What if, after all of this, she could still have a future… How dangerous could it be?

 

“You’re thinking about it.” Poe leaned in with a hungry smile. “Maybe once this story is done, I could even give you a joint byline with Finn.”

 

A byline. Her jaw dropped, eyes smiling. Could it happen? She almost felt like crying at the possibility.

 

“Poe, I—”

 

“Don’t thank me yet. Because there’s one more thing I need from you.”    

 


 

 

Kylo Ren squeezed into the ornate dining chair, covered in floral upholstery. The cushion of the seat was stained yellow and every time he moved it creaked, threatening imminent collapse.

 

Lor San Tekka’s late sister’s townhouse was a time capsule of 1970s decor, vomited up into the modern day. Vintage brown paper lined the walls and floral drapes with dusty sheer curtains clothed the windows. There were layers of dust upon every surface and it stunk of potpourri.

 

Next to the front door, a stoic grandfather clock stood guard, passing time with resonant beats. It was near midday. Six hours before he would be with Rey. The thought of it made his throat dry, senses alert.

 

She had left things … hopeful.

 

But he couldn’t think of her now.

 

Kylo sat alone at a compact dining table with two regency chairs.

 

The silence of the lounge room forced Kylo to listen to the old man groaning with pain,  accompanied by the sound of an erratic flow of urine splashing into the basin with moans of relief.

 

Fuck old age. He never wanted to be old and weak. Luckily, he figured his time would come sooner rather than later—

 

The toilet flushed and Lor battled to return down the hall, face wincing with every step he took towards the small dining area.

 

Lor smiled weakly. He‘d withered into a shell of a man, with dark circles beneath his eyes, bones protruding against stretched white skin, his hair missing in clumps. And then there was that smell, hidden beneath the layers of potpourri, a stench that hovered like a low cloud blotting out the sun. It was the smell old age, like candle wax and old newspapers; the promise of death. He knew Lor was sick, but he hadn’t realised how close he was to the end.

 

“How have you been?” Kylo asked, ignoring the expressions of pain that fleeted across Lor’s face as he sat.

 

“The doctors say there’s not much time left. The cancer has spread too far. Inoperable, apparently. Let this be a warning, young Solo, to get your prostate checked regularly.”

 

Kylo looked out the window, past dust floating in roads of sunlight. He had known Lor his entire life; the guy was his goddamn Godfather. But even in his old age, Lor had been a beacon of strength, both physical and mental.

 

That had changed after the bomb. After Marianne had died…

 

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Kylo said, refusing to meet his gaze.

 

“Don’t be.” Lor poured a cup of tea for them both.

 

“Is there nothing they can do?”

 

“Why should they do anything?” Lor stirred his tea, spooning out stray tea leaves. “I have been hanging on here by a thread, Ben. I want to go home, I want to be with my wife.”

 

“Let’s get on with this—” Kylo snapped, pulling a USB stick out of his pocket.

 

Lor smiled, eyes distant. “You know, I still remember the day I met her. Marianne was an intern for the Resistance, and I was First Order security.” He laughed. “If looks could kill! Well, let’s say I wouldn’t be around to talk to you.”

 

Kylo flicked him a fake smile, more focussed on the small cylinder of information that could potentially destroy him and everyone else that worked for Snoke, than Lor’s musings of yesteryear.

 

“She was sharp as a tack, outspoken with a fiery temper. You can only imagine how much grief she gave me.”

 

Kylo nodded, a half smile. He could imagine Marianne putting San Tekka in his place, almost like… he saw her in his mind’s eye; hazel eyes, sun-kissed cheeks, dotted with a galaxy of stars…

 

Lor was still talking, but he had stopped listening, although now the old man’s tears fell, simply, without fanfare.: Chronic sadness.

 

He couldn’t imagine that pain. He wouldn’t let that happen to him, to Rey. Not that he loved Rey, or even…

 

He didn’t know. But he sure as hell wouldn’t let anything happen to her.

 

“What’s on your mind, Ben?”

 

Kylo straightened his back against the chair, hesitant to ask, but he had to know.

 

“How did you change her mind about you?”

 

“I didn’t. She fell in love with me despite what I did or the fact I worked for the ‘enemy’. She made me a better man.”

 

“You sold out then.” Kylo took a sip of his tea, dark eyes flashing up at Lor to check his reaction and was not disappointed,

 

Lor glowered, cheeks red, the first glimpse of colour on his grey face.

 

“No, you idiot. She made me want to be better.”

 

“How sweet.” Kylo gave him a wry smile.

 

“Mock all you like. But I know where you came from, before you called yourself Kylo Ren. I know what lies beneath the darkness.”

 

“Anyway.” Kylo rolled his eyes, weaving the small cylindrical shaped USB drive between his fingers. “This has all Snoke’s correspondence leading up to the Resistance bombing, and plenty of dirt afterwards. You need to get this to Poe tonight. I won’t be able to get you another copy, I risked everything just getting this one.”

 

Lor took it from him, appearing to marvel at the size of something so powerful.

 

“This is it, Lor, this drive has everything we need to take Snoke down.”

 

“Everything?”

 

“Video footage, photos, emails, for the last five years, the lot. It will ruin him.”

 

“And what about Kylo Ren? Where does he fit in all of this?”

 

Kylo got up, hands restless as he paced about the room. “I told you, I wasn’t involved in the Resistance bombing—but my hands aren’t clean.” He stopped, meeting Lor’s gaze. “I’m not hiding anything. If the First Order is to burn, Kylo Ren will burn with it.”

 

“Ben—” Lor leaned in, as though he would stand, but that bolt of pain showed in his face again and he clearly thought better of it. “You can still…“

 

“No.”

 

Kylo looked out into the street beyond, face resolute.

 

“It’s time to let the past die. I’m done with all of it. Snoke, the First Order, the Resistance. Everything.”

 

“I still don’t understand why you’re rushing this through now,” Lor said “It was safe when we were just trickling information to the press, pulling back when Snoke got suspicious. If this doesn’t go to plan, we’re both dead men.”

 

Kylo gazed out the window as cars streamed past, colours muted by the lace curtains. On the footpath, children rode their bikes. People. Peace. Life. It went on, regardless of what happened to him, or Lor.

 

“It’s not negotiable. I need to bring him down by Friday.”

 

“But why—”

 

“Because!” Kylo snapped. Because if he didn’t, how could he keep protecting her from Snoke? No. From Friday, that bastard had cleared her bookings for the rest of the week; apart from the odd session with Hux, the rest he had pencilled in for himself.

 

Not a fucking chance.

 

It was the least Kylo could do to make it up to her. For being the one that haunted her nightmares, and terrorised her daydreams. If he couldn’t tell her the truth about that night in Jakku, he would at least do this. To free her. To free them both.

 

“Very well,” Lor conceded. “I will get this to Poe tonight. It’s time we brought this bastard down once and for all.”

 

Kylo gave him a solemn nod and turned, throat dry, blinking. He worked to clear it, trying to hold back the unsettled feeling bubbling in his gut.

 

“There’s one more thing—” Kylo paused as he took a deep breath, forcing himself to look the old man in the eye. “After tonight, you need to leave. Snoke has a hit on you.”

 

“That old bastard’s had a hit on me since I left the First Order.”

 

“But this time—” Kylo clamped his jaw, rolling his lips together. Time was running out for Lor.

 

“Snoke will send you after me.” Lor guessed what he would say. “And Kylo Ren never misses.”

 

Kylo was silent, but his face gave away the truth, it always did.

 

“Maybe it’s time I started missing,” said Kylo.

 

“No.” Lor shook his head. “Not this time. If Snoke discovers you’re the leak, then any chance we had of taking the First Order down is over. You need to protect your position, play the game. It isn’t worth risking everything for—”

 

“I won’t let him find you.”

 

“And if he does? What will you do?”

 

Kylo stared at him, silent.

 

“You will need to do it, Ben.”

 

Kylo looked away, eye’s glassy.

 

“You will do it, won‘t you Ben?”

 

Lor reached forward, grasping his hand around Kylo’s wrist. His grip was firm, even though his end was coming.

 

“We have to see this through, Kylo. Who will be next, your father? Your mother? This girl Snoke’s toying with in front of you? The bastard will never stop until he’s removed everyone you’ve ever cared about.”

 

Kylo pinched the space between his eyes at the sharp pain that was building there, increasing every day.

 

“He wants you Kylo. You’ve always been a prize to him, something he can covet and keep and control. If he can’t have you, he will destroy you.”

 

Kylo fingered the keys in his pocket as he nodded a quiet goodbye.

 

“It’s all right, Ben.” Lor eventually stood again, grasping his shoulder, breaking him out of his reverie. “Whatever happens tonight, it will be all right.”

 

Kylo moved towards the door, silent and dark, a black shadow disappearing into nothingness. He gripped the front door handle, eyeing the moving hands of the grandfather clock. The noon chimes would sound within the minute. But he had an overwhelming urge to leave before the hour struck. He pulled the door open, just as the sound of the low, ominous toll of the clock chimes followed him out. They were like the strike of a death knell, forcing him to a fate he couldn’t escape.

 

The door closed behind him and the cries of the clock chased him into the daylight again. He keeled over, pushing his hands against his knees, trying to breathe, trying to think.

 

But all he could hear was the roar, loud and consuming, tearing at him now.

 

It was a feeling, a warning, that this plan of theirs was all going to hell.

 


 

 

Poe hesitated, scanning the room before continuing, “If things fall through with Lor—”

 

She buried her forehead in her hands, dreading what was coming next.

 

“Rey, this is important. If things fall through with Lor, I need another backup. Someone on the inside who can get close to Snoke and Kylo. Someone who can feed information to us without suspicion.”

 

Rey groaned and pushed her plate away, no longer hungry. “I knew you would ask me this.”

 

“People’s lives are on the line.”

 

She raised her voice. “ My life is on the line!”

 

Restaurant patrons froze, forks hovering mid-air to their mouths, looking at her, silent. She slid deeper into her chair, lowering her chin and rubbing her forehead as though she were pushing away a headache.

 

Poe smirked. “Are you trying to draw attention to us?”

 

“No,” she sulked, poking at the remains on her dinner plate like it were a dead carcass.

 

After a time, the diners resumed their chatter and returned to their lunch. Rey breathed a sigh of relief, careful not to draw more attention to them. There was no guarantee that there wasn’t a spy or friend of Snoke’s lurking around, listening.

 

“Poe, look, you seem like a nice guy. Fighting the good fight and all, but I need this job. If I lose it—”

 

She met his gaze, unflinching and thoughtful. Should she tell him everything? He might know who was holding her ransom with this crippling debt.

 

The scraping of plates, murmuring patrons and gentle jazz faded away, leaving a heavy silence between them.

 

“I owe some money, and someone’s after me to get it back,” she whispered.

 

Poe leaned in; that reporter’s spark shining in his dark, hungry eyes. “Who’s after you?”

 

“I don’t know his name or anything about him. He wore a black mask and black clothes.”

 

“Right,” he drawled, leaning back in his chair. Thinking. “A man in black. Like in The Princess Bride ?”

 

“What?!” she shrieked. “Nothing like the Princess Bride. Have you even watched that movie?”

 

“Hey, I saw the trailer. Twice.”

 

“Well if you’d watched it you’d know he was trying to rescue her the entire time. He was the love interest. Forget it!” she snapped and grabbed her bag, pushing an uneaten dinner roll into the front pocket.

 

“Hold on, hold on! I’m sorry, Rey,” Poe pleaded, hand outstretched, patting the table before her. “Don’t go!”

 

She paused, still clutching her bag, itching to leave.

 

“Please, Rey,” Poe continued, his voice gentle, disarming. “I want to help you.”

 

“You can’t,” she breathed.

 

He took her hand in his own. It felt warm and rough, thick and gentle. “Try me, sunshine.”

 

Rey sighed.

 

“Okay… six years ago.” Her stomach churned at the memory of that time. “I went back to my home in Jakku…”

 

***

 

There she was again. Transported to the deserted apartment building, forgotten by everyone except the resident cockroaches moving in scattered swarms across the kitchen floor.

 

Rey had hauled her dog bed up from the street below, opened the windows, and cleared the cigarettes and beer bongs. Within a week, the chemical haze had disintegrated, and now she almost felt comfortable.

 

Her late parent’s apartment was scorching in summer. Heat rose through every storey, making her little spot like an oven during the night and even more unbearable in the day. The cockroaches dwindled in number but no matter what she did, there were always flies; buzzing and bouncing around the rooms clumsily.

 

But, it was home.

 

The days were easy, filled with scavenging and hunting for treasures she could swap for food. But the nights were something else. The abandoned building had become a hive for squatters; she could hear them through the walls, shouting, fighting, humping. Sometimes, they tried to ransack her room. Banging at the door with broken bottles, asking her to come out. She had bolted the door and hammered planks across the doorframe, barriers to stop them getting in. But there was always the fear it wouldn’t be enough to hold them back.

 

And it wasn’t.

 

***

 

“The chair!” a voice hissed. “Tie her to the chair.”

 

She scrambled, arms and legs flailing. She lashed out with her nails, kicking at whatever flesh she could find, even biting when she had the chance. The fight was short-lived and pathetic; in under a minute, the cold steel of the chair was hard against her back.

 

“Stop!” she cried. “I‘m just a scavenger. Can‘t you see I don‘t have anything?”

 

A man in black towered over her. He was over six feet tall with broad shoulders, and while a balaclava hid his face, she could clearly see his eyes like pieces of coal. Cold and empty.

 

“Quiet,” he hissed, pinning her hands down with his forearms while he tightened cable ties around her wrists.

 

“Last month you came into a sum of money…”

 

“No,” she whimpered. The money she had gotten for selling her body. The money that Unkar Plutt had stolen from her the same day. “I don’t have it!”

 

He came closer, voice calm and deadly. She felt his gaze all over, studying her from top to bottom, assessing her. A wooden club tapped against his leather palm in a slow staccato rhythm.

 

“She’s lying.” Another man stepped out of the shadows, also masked, but with fire-red tendrils of hair poking out from beneath his balaclava. “I just got off the phone with him. She has the money to cover the parent’s debt.”

 

Her assailant stepped forward again, squatting before her, resting his heavy elbows upon her knees. He raised her chin with his club, forcing her to meet his piercing gaze.

 

“I know you have the money.”

 

She shook her head again, but he pressed the club hard against her.

 

“And now you‘re going to give it to me.“

 

She kicked her legs at him, aiming for his groin, but missed, hitting his shin instead. His eyes twitched with pain, and he wrenched her hands forward, almost ripping her from the chair.

 

To fight or take flight? There was no longer a question.

 

She riled. An inferno of heat exploded in Rey’s body. She’d had enough. So far she had been abandoned, abused, taken advantage of and now assaulted. Enough!

 

She drew the saliva from her mouth and spat at him with as much force as she could muster, her spittle landing in his eye.

 

He wiped it away, and she smirked.

 

“I’m not giving you anything!”

 

“We’ll see.” He stood, turning away from her as he tapped a number into his phone, bringing it to his ear.

 

The room fell into silence, the subdued ringer, the only noise in this vacuum of sound. The red-haired man paced in front of her, while the other men anchored around the perimeter fixed their eyes on her like hungry dogs waiting for the kill.

 

“You were right. The parents died of a drug overdose a year ago,” the man in black spoke quietly into the phone. “The girl’s here like you expected. What do you want me to do with her?”

 

Silence.

 

He nodded, covering the mouthpiece to speak to her.

 

“Is your name Kira?”

 

“Piss off,” she hissed.

 

The man gave her a wry smile. “Yeah, it’s Kira.”

 

He walked around the room, murmuring into the phone inaudibly. At one point, he walked straight over her bed on the floor, tripping on it. He kicked it out of his path, and then paused, looking back at her.

 

“You got a dog?”

 

Rey shook her head, brows knitting in confusion until she realised what he was talking about. Her cheeks burned as she looked at the dog bed, her bed.

 

He stared at her, almost like he knew. She didn‘t know where to look, because now he studied her with a gravity that made her even more unsettled than the cold darkness in his eyes.

 

“Right.” He held the phone out to his partner. “He wants to speak with you.”

 

The red-haired man snatched the phone. “Yes, I’m here,” he said with a pompous voice, too grandiose and out-of-place for a common thug. He walked out with the phone, leaving Rey alone with her assailant and his silent disciples.

 

She tried to quiet the threatening thoughts in her mind, her imagination running wild, picturing what a gang of criminals might do to her alone, in her apartment, with no one to help her. She closed her eyes, praying to whatever God was listening to her, to get her out of this alive.

 

When she opened them again, the man in black was right there in front of her, squatting, in her space. She could smell the spicy aroma of his aftershave and see the bags under his eyes.

 

When he kneeled this close to her, the cruellest thing was that those eyes were not un kind—in fact, they were almost sensitive.

 

But there was the lie. For this person was dangerous, a harbinger of all her worst nightmares.

 

“How old are you?” he asked, voice quiet. She would almost have thought him gentle, had he not been holding a weapon at his side.

 

She gathered herself, pushing back the tide of terror threatening to overwhelm her.

 

“I’m s—sixteen.”

 

He turned away, mouth furrowed.

 

He went to speak, but just then the door thumped open and the redhead stormed in with a satiated grin.

 

“What the fuck are you doing?” the man in black shouted, as his companion held out his phone and hit record.

 

“The boss wants to watch you work.”

 

“Turn it off,” he growled.

 

“No can do. He wants you to break her arms, just to see if it will loosen her tongue.”

 

Rey’s blood ran cold, and the world slowed into some terrible horror film. The man in black marched to her, gripping her left arm between the fingers of his black gloves.

 

“Speak,” he ordered, squeezing.

 

Tears welled, burning her eyes, she couldn’t hold them back. It was too much, the fear, the pain…

 

“I can’t—- I don’t…” she stammered.

 

“Tell us where the money is!” The grip on her arm grew tighter, bruising her flesh.

 

Her tears came faster now, hot torrents streaming down her cheeks.

 

It was too much.

 

She could barely see, vision blurred by those hot salty tears, but she could still make out the baton held back and ready to swing against her arm. And then he crushed his fingers around her tighter, so hard she thought her bones would break.

 

“Stop!” she screamed. “Stop, it hurts too much.”

 

He faltered, letting her go. She crouched over as much as her bindings allowed, heaving sobs rushing from her chest, as the men who had watched silently from the edges sniggered.

 

“Please,” she whimpered. “I don’t have the money. I never had it.”

 

The heaving breaths would not subside and she squeezed her eyes shut, waiting for the crack that would splinter her bones.

 

A beat of wind rushed past her and every muscle in her body clenched as she waited for impact. There was a loud crash, followed by a ruckus of yelling and swearing. A wall mirror shattered, shards of it cascading around her.

 

Rey lifted her head, confused. He hadn’t hit her.

 

Another smash, but this time she had seen the moment the man in black had raised a chair above his head, throwing it across the room and smashing a coffee table, destroying a thousand-piece puzzle she had been constructing.

 

“Speak, or it will be your head next!” he roared, with a voice as wild and untamed as a feral beast.

 

“I don’t—” she sobbed, her voice coming in waves of sound and silence. He was going to kill her. This monster would be the last person she would ever see. Even as her tears came, he smashed his club around the room, forcing holes within the wall, destroying pictures, every last thing she had ever owned.

 

Rey watched them all fall in pieces at her feet.

 

“Are you quite finished?” the red-headed man sneered at him, holding the phone up to get a better angle of her attacker.

 

“I’ll make her talk,” the man in black growled.

 

“I knew you wouldn’t be man enough to follow through. Do it.” He turned his rat-shaped eyes intently toward Rey. “If that doesn’t loosen her tongue then she can pay off her debt in the brothel. We can all help her, lads, can’t we?”

 

The men cheered. Rey tried to swallow, but her mouth felt like flint. The only one who hadn’t cajoled was the man in black. But his expression was different, fiercely intent and no less terrifying.

 

Rey’s heart dropped. Was this what her life would be reduced to? To spend her life as a whore, without love, without a home, a slave—

 

She was jolted out of her thoughts as the chair she was tied to was dragged backwards, the sound of metal screeching across the tile floor. All she could do was look back at the surprised eyes of the men who watched her being dragged away.

 

Alone, with this psycho.

 

She squeezed her eyelids shut. Preparing herself for whatever was coming next.

 

“Open your eyes.” His voice was like steel, firm and low, cutting sharp in the scorched air.

 

She did. They were alone in the kitchen.  

 

And he had her knives.

 

Shit. Shit. Shit.

 

A blast of hot wind blew in from the open window as he unrolled a small bundle of Brazilian knives. She had kept those on the bench for cooking. Meticulously, he slid one out, flicking the blade, testing the sharpness by pressing the point through the finger of his glove, making it bleed.

 

He came to her with silent footsteps, sucking the blood from his finger. He pulled her chair in front of the window with a rough jolt.

 

From here she could see the street, five storeys below, empty and black. She thought about screaming.

 

He placed a hand on either side of the armrest, and he peered at her again, biting his lip.

 

“You know I can take whatever I want.”

 

Rey swallowed. Her tears were dry now, courage resurfacing. “That’s no less than I would expect from a monster in a mask.”

 

“A monster?” He stepped back.

 

He lifted his hands, the black leather gloves pulling up the base of his balaclava. Rey’s panic increased tenfold; everyone knew an attacker who was willing to betray their own identity was going to go the whole way.

 

He pulled it up over his chin, revealing a narrow jaw and then…

 

He stopped, before she had seen anything, as if suddenly changing his mind.

 

An ambiguous looked passed between them before he went back to the knives, placing one in each hand.

 

“I never miss,” he said calmly, lifting a filleting knife up for her to see.

 

He flung it at her and it speared past her head, smashing through the windows and clattering onto the dilapidated fire escape outside.

 

Rey shrieked, and he threw another, cutting through the wind beside her ear on the other side. More glass.

 

She had no more words; they were drowned by her sobs. She wanted her mother. Her drugged-up, absent mother. Anyone—anyone else in the world other than him!

 

“You need to learn how to fight,” he said surely.

 

The words surprised her, but only for a moment because then he slammed the wooden baton against one leg of her chair, the force of it flipping her face down against the tiles.

 

She lifted her body, just enough as to splay her hands against the cutting board on the floor. He grabbed her fingers, forcing them flat on the board. She fought against him, trying to clench her fist shut.

 

“Spread them.”

 

She shook her head, tears spilling on the white tiles.

 

“I said spread your fucking fingers!”

 

She obeyed, waiting for the pain of losing them.

 

“Bring her back in here,” the redhead’s voice came from the other room. “Or do I need to come into that fucking roach-infested kitchen?”

 

“Keep still,” the man in black whispered, eyes narrowed, knife poised.

 

“Please!” she cried once more.

 

“Still!” he roared, and she closed her eyes, keeping her fingers as steady as she could.

 

There was the clean-cut sound of a knife slicing downwards and Rey jumped as it landed with a thud.

 

She opened her eyes to see a silver blade wavering between her index and middle finger. And then his feet, perched either side of her, crouched down, breath pressing against her ear, dark wet hair falling onto her cheek.

 

“I suggest you think very hard about what you will do next. You have two minutes.”

 

***

 

“Rey, I—” Poe stammered, his face the colour of curdled milk. “What happened next?”

 

“He left me there,” she said, taking a shaking breath. “As soon as he was gone, I used the knife to cut the ties on my wrists and then my feet. I jumped out to the fire escape before he came back. The bloody thing almost collapsed. I ran and ran. I don’t know if he saw me go. I didn’t look back.”

 

Poe bit his lip, eyebrows knitted, like a thought was building that he wasn’t ready to speak yet.

 

“And then what?”

 

Rey smiled, face wistful, as she remembered the moment Maz had found her curled up behind a dumpster. The barely-there woman with dark skin and large thick glasses crawled down on her hands and knees to get her. She never did ask Maz how she managed to find her there.

 

“A woman named Maz Kanata found me, she has a home…"

 

“…for disadvantaged kids,” Poe finished the sentence, face brightening as he spoke. “Yeah, I know Maz. We go way back.”

 

Rey took a napkin and dabbed at her eyes. Retelling the full story for the first time had felt cathartic. But she was surprised to find her eyes were still wet with tears.

 

“How do you know her?”

 

“I used to work as press secretary with a close friend of hers, Senator Leia Organa-Solo.”

 

“Senator Organa? That’s big time, Poe,” Rey gushed, before blushing at how pathetic it sounded. “She’s practically a hero.”

 

“She’s a good woman. Our families have been friends for years,” he said. “Small world, hey?”

 

Rey nodded, a little more impressed by him.

 

“I thought Maz only took on younger kids though?” Poe asked.

 

“Normally she does,” Rey said. “But I think I looked too pathetic. She was amazing, she put me through school during the day and tutored me at night. On the weekend she arranged private self-defence lessons at Skywalker Academy—”

 

She was rambling, relishing the happy memories that followed. She hadn’t even noticed the way Poe scrunched his face in thought and worry.

 

“Rey, who is your debt to?”

 

She shifted. “I—I don’t know.”

 

“Have you got anything, a business name, email, phone number, anything?” His voice was urgent, pressed.

 

She shook her head, but then remembered. Fishing around in her bag, she grabbed her wallet and pulled out a crumpled-up note

 

“All I have is an account number.” She pushed it across the table. “Do you think you can find out who owns it?”

 

“It’s not much to go on, but maybe.” He pocketed the piece of paper, looking over to the door and eventually behind Rey with a half-smile.

 

Rey started, feeling two warm hands on her shoulders.

 

Finn!

 

She jumped up and gave him a hug, wrapping her arms around him and hiding her face in the crook of his neck. Finn laughed, his broad lips and wide smile settling the fear and worry in her heart.

 

“I missed you too, peanut!” he joked. “Poe, I have no idea where you’ve put your dictaphone, mate.”

 

“Oh.” Poe smiled guiltily and exchanged glances with Rey. He stood, leaving a wad of cash on the table. “Not to worry, I’ll find it somewhere. By the way, your girl’s going to work with us on the Snoke story.”

 

“No, I didn’t say…”

 

Poe stood suddenly, eyes fixed on some point outside.

 

“Poe?” Rey asked, but he was transfixed.

 

“I’ll be goddamned,” Poe said to himself. “It’s Ben.”

 

“Who—”

 

Poe dashed out of the cafe without a word.

 

“Well, that wasn’t weird,” Finn said, grabbing the files and papers Poe had left sprawled all over the table.

 

Rey smiled. “Is he always like that?”  

 

“Pretty much.”

 

Finn pulled her close, beaming with excitement.

 

“Oh my God, peanut! I’m so excited you’re going to work with us.” They walked towards the door, Finn’s arm resting on her shoulders. “I told him you were bloody brilliant. You won’t regret this.”

 

Rey blushed, punching him gently to stop. Up ahead Poe was waving his hands wildly. Then his booming voice made almost every passerby stop and gawk at him as he bellowed, “Ben Solo, over here!”

 

In the distance, a tall, dark-haired man, in a white shirt with sleeves rolled up to the elbows, froze on the footpath.

 

He had his back to her, and even though he looked different, polished and pristine, Rey knew at once.

 

It was him.

 

And that meant she held the most dangerous secret of all.

 

The real identity of Kylo Ren.

 

[ENDS]

Chapter Text

Crimson Lane - Chapter 12 – The Long Dark Night (Part I)

 

In the crowded streets of Coruscant, Kylo Ren tried to disappear. Sleek and silent as the night, smoothly darting between the churning rapids of busy workers. He swept around them, ghost-like, cutting through breaks in the crowd.

 

Invisible.

 

“Ben Solo! Over here!”

 

The voice had come from behind him, ostentatiously loud enough to make the people beside him stop what they were doing and look around.

 

Who the fuck knew his real name?

 

His heart railed against his body and he turned hesitantly. The mall was heaving with workers crowding the path. His gaze followed the walkway ahead to a man wearing a brown leather jacket with dark hair, waving at him.

 

Poe Dameron.

 

Kylo grimaced as a string of images surfaced in his mind: an inferno of flames ripping through the quiet night, Poe’s frantic dash outside his home to see the car spitting and snapping with flames.

 

Kylo had saved his life that night. Not that the imbecile would ever realise.

 

He doesn’t know it was you. Be friendly. Be quick. Kylo forced himself to smile.

 

“Ben, buddy! I haven’t seen you in years.” Poe yanked him into a hug and Kylo’s jaw clenched. He hated this, he always had. Even as a boy, whenever he’d fallen over and scraped his knee, Leia would rush out to embrace him. He would run away from her screaming. Tears running down his face and blood gushing from his knee. It had always embarrassed her that she couldn’t comfort her child the way the other mothers could. But Kylo had to move through the pain. To run away from people, not the other way around. People just complicated things.

 

He pulled back, at the end of his tether.

 

“Where have you been all these years? What are you doing for work now? How are your parents?” Poe said in an excitable rush.

 

Before Kylo could answer, Poe turned the conversation back to himself: his family, his successes. Kylo nodded, glassy-eyed and bored. There was the distinct smell of Indian food and his stomach rumbled. Poe kept chatting as Kylo searched along the row of cafes and restaurants, his gaze pausing on an unusual gnarled tree with low-hanging branches, desolate in the winter sun. Small buds dotted the barren branch, but there was one flower, breaking out of the darkness, unfurling pristine white petals.

 

And that was when he felt it. A shiver that started from his scalp and trickled down his neck. A feeling he got when he was being watched. He stiffened, alert and searching, continuing his monotonous grunts in response to Poe until he saw her —

 

Their eyes met, and her hand covered her mouth in shock.

 

“Hey, these are my friends. I’ll introduce you,” Poe said, and the next minute he was being dragged towards her.

 

Then Kylo noticed the wider scene, a dark hand draped over Rey’s shoulder.

 

The moment Kylo had first seen her, she had been laughing. Then she saw him and her smile disappeared, replaced by an expression that made him feel uncomfortably nervous… like she knew too much.

 

“Rey, Finn, this is my old buddy Ben Solo,” Poe said. “We go way back.”

 

“Solo—as in Senator Organa-Solo?” the man said, Finn, he supposed.

 

Finn, who liked to put his arm around Rey. Finn, who made her laugh. Finn, whose company she was in without being paid.

 

Ex-Senator,” Kylo corrected.

 

“Not for long though,” Poe interjected.

 

Kylo stiffened. “What do you mean?”

 

“She’s back in the fight. Hasn’t she told you?”

 

“No,” he said darkly. “We’re not on speaking terms. I thought the fact that she was almost killed in office and took half the Resistance with her might have taught her to stop chasing such a fool’s errand.”

 

“Is that really what you think?” Rey’s drew him in and when he met her eyes, she was no longer in shock standing tall with her arms folded. Defiant and classically Rey. He would almost think it endearing if he wasn’t in so much trouble.

 

“I think people should know when to quit.”

 

“And I suppose you’re comfortable with the fact that The First Order has earned almost every government arms contract without going to tender.”

 

Easy, Rey. He gave her a half smile, strained as it was.

 

“Anyway,” Finn interrupted loudly. “It’s good to meet you, Solo.”

 

“You too,” Kylo conceded but only because Rey was watching him like a hawk.

 

The shook hands and he flinched at the touch of Finn’s sweaty palms. A classic physiological response to attraction. His eyes were bright, and even as he spoke they flitted to Rey.

 

He can’t stop looking at you, he thought, glancing at Rey. Do you know? Is that how they all look at you? Like you’re the sun after the longest night?

 

Kylo bristled, a vein throbbing in his forehead. He wiped Finn’s sweat on his pants and reached his hand out to her.

 

Waiting.

 

His hand hung in the air, a silent entreaty. Open. She stared at it, pressing her palm against her breastbone as though she were holding her heart in place.

 

And still, she left him waiting.

 

“Nice to meet you,” he said, leaving his hand open, stretching it closer to her. Take it! Please. I need to know you still trust me.

 

She reached out to him uncertainly, filling the empty space in his hand. Her slender fingers felt petite, but strong and calloused. She didn’t look at him but rather at the sight of their hands entwined.    

 

What had Poe been telling her? What did she think of him now?

 

Rey, look at me. His grip tightened, more desperate than aggressive.

 

And this time her hazel eyes met his with gold bursts of colour behind wide pupils, exploding into moss green. It was the first time he’d noticed the palette of colours beneath the midday sun. But while her eyes were brilliant and entrancing, the expression behind them was unreadable, neutral even. She couldn’t be impassive. Not with him.

 

“It’s good to meet you, Ben.” He was drawn in at the sound of his name on her lips. The soft pucker, the way her tongue touched the roof of her mouth. Why did it sound so different coming from her? But then her eyebrows raised questioningly, and she didn’t need to say it. He already knew.

 

He was fucked.

 

And yet, she was still holding his hand. He savoured that connection, the only thing tethering him to the light and to hope that things might get better.

 

His phone rang and he ripped it from his pocket, grip tightening around the frame as he saw the name Snoke on the screen. In a flash, he pulled his hand out of hers and pushed the “hang up” button as though he might have been deactivating a bomb.

 

“Poe, I need to get back to work,” Rey said, poker-faced. “I’ll think about what you said.”

 

Kylo’s eyes snapped to Poe, that jittery excitement palpable on his face. Then she turned and hugged Finn, and he squeezed her just enough to make her giggle. Kylo’s chest tightened at the sight, a seismic panic flooding his system.

 

Lastly, she turned to Kylo, face neutral, and gave him a quick nod. “Ben.”

 

His lips parted, trying to think of something to say that would make her stay, to spend a moment alone with her, but she left too quickly.

 

He watched her walk away, tall, confident and purposeful. Whatever Dameron had told her, he wanted to explain that there was more to the story; that he was working to protect her, that he had always protected her. If only she would come back, he would explain.

 

But she never gave him a chance.

 


 

Crimson Lane

 

Later that day, Kylo Ren glared down at his shaking hands. He couldn’t go in like this. Clenching and unclenching them, almost hypnotically, he watched the knuckles whitening through his skin. He had spent far too long staring at Snoke’s door.

 

He knocked and waited.

 

There was a guttural groan, a pause, and then, “Come in.”

 

Kylo entered, looking to the left and right of the door before he stalked to the centre of the room, stepping on the zebra skin rug, another innocent creature Snoke had destroyed.

 

Snoke was sitting at his mahogany desk, a muted gold silk robe draped around his body, exposing the white of his arms, hairless and dotted with age. His hands clutched at the sides of the desk and there was a rhythm to his breathing that was unnerving.

 

There was something awkward about the position. Kylo looked up at the mounted lion bust behind him, meeting the cold, empty stare of the beast with fixed intensity; anything was better than watching Snoke doing whatever the fuck he was doing.

 

“Hux said you wanted to see me,” Kylo said at last.

 

A crooked smile flitted across Snoke’s lips, and he groaned once more, eyes rolling.

 

“Kylo Ren,” Snoke panted. “Come closer.”

 

Kylo took a cautious step forward, brows pinched.

 

“That’s right—Ah,” Snoke sighed. “You really should…”

 

Snoke shifted, face twitching as though he were trying to catch hold of something in his mind, an invisible target.

 

His long, bony fingers curled around the edges of the desk and his mouth dropped. “Go harder!” He spat the words with a shower of spray forming little pinpricks of saliva on his desk. And then he must have kicked at something underneath, because the table jolted and there was a muffled cry.

 

Rey!

 

Kylo lurched forward, nostrils flaring, heart pounding, and then stopped. Almost as suddenly as he began. It was enough; Snoke had spied the action straight away, it even seemed to add to his enjoyment as his face spasmed and went limp with a sigh.

 

There was a choking and gagging sound from underneath his desk, and Kylo’s entire body trembled as someone awkwardly climbed out, toppling a chair as she extracted herself from beneath the desk.

 

“What’s up, Kylo?” Phasma stretched her body out with a coy smile, thumb wiping her mouth.

 

He’d almost ripped Snoke open right there. He would have done it, cleaved him open if he had to. If he had subjected Rey to his… He couldn’t afford to lose it now. Not yet, not until he had finished this. Kylo turned away, but not before seeing Phasma glide over to the old man and kiss his wrinkled forehead, from the corner of his eye. The vision made his stomach churn.

 

He pointedly ignored them and focussed instead on an amber watermark blotting the ceiling above Snoke’s desk, still trying to ignore the way Phasma sat on his lap and kissed him like the shrivelled up raisin he was, exchanging knowing glances, always looking back to Kylo.

 

Snoke whispered something in Phasma’s ear and she left, brushing past Kylo on the way.

 

“Does Rey swallow it for you, Kylo?” Phasma purred.

 

“Shut up,” he growled at her, eyes still fixed on the stain

 

She laughed at him and gave a casual glance back at Snoke. “Always so serious.”

 

Kylo ignored her, shoving his hands behind his back, clasping them with so much pressure it hurt. The pain grounded him for a moment, helping him to find his centre, even as Snoke’s malevolent laugh rose up. He couldn’t fall apart. Not now. Not yet.

 

“Why so high-strung?”

 

Kylo swallowed, gliding his gaze over Snoke, a benign attempt at looking attentive, but in truth unable to stand the sight of him.

 

“I’ve found San Tekka. He has a holiday let across town, near Naboo. He’s there pretty frequently, according to the landlady.”

 

Snoke leaned forward, lips wet with hunger.

 

“Fix this mess.” He pointed to the crooked desk and fallen chair.

 

Kylo pushed them back into place, heart pounding so loudly in his chest he was sure Snoke would hear.

 

“Well done, Kylo,” he said, but there was something a little off-kilter in his gaze, a sharp glimmer in his eye.

 

Kylo continued, “I can go down there tonight.”

 

“Indeed.” Snoke’s lifeless eyes fixed on him, unblinking. “Luckily, Hux got one up on you. He found his permanent residence in Jakku, not far from the  Niima  outpost.”

 

“Really?” Kylo’s voice was too high.

 

“Yes, on Tuanui street. Hux is there now. Extracting information from him.”

 

“I see.”

 

“You’re upset.”

 

“No.” Kylo’s chin shifted, his right eye twitching.

 

“You are. I would have sent you, Kylo, but no one could find you and you weren’t answering your phone.”

 

“Has—” He swallowed, throat tightening. “Hux got him to talk?”

 

Snoke stared at him, letting the silence settle between them.

 

“He’s found out all he needs. They’re waiting for you now to finish the job.”

 

Snoke paused, narrowing his eyes at Kylo. “Unless you’re having second thoughts about proving yourself worthy of my trust.”

 

“I told you I would do it if you needed me to.”

 

“And I do,” Snoke retorted, his eyes resting on the door. From behind it came the muffled chatter of female voices. “There’s a van waiting out back for you. You and Dom can go there now.”

 

Kylo nodded, lips tight, his dark eyes darting between the door and Snoke.

 

Snoke pulled open the top drawer, carefully pulling out a Glock pistol. “Here, you can use this.” He held it out, levelling the barrel towards Kylo, finger at the trigger.

 

“Pow!” He chuckled as Kylo braced in a sudden rush of fear. “Right between the eyes. Try not to make a mess.”

 

Kylo pulled the gun towards him. It wasn’t the first time he’d held a gun, but it was the first time he would kill someone with one. The gun was suddenly heavier in his hand, the metal cold and rough.

 

He placed it back on the table, unable to bear holding it any longer, pulling gloves from his pocket and putting them on. It was too late for that. He’d wipe the prints later, after he finished the job.

 

“He has cancer,” Kylo said weakly. “I heard it somewhere.”

 

“Do I care?”

 

“I thought, if you didn’t want the attention, we could—”

 

“No, Kylo. If you don’t want attention, then I suggest you get on with your job.” Snoke shuffled over to his cabinet on the wall and opened it with a grand flick of his hands. Taking a step back, Snoke crossed his arms and made a clicking sound with his tongue, scouring over his personal range of playthings, pulling out a dog collar and muzzle.

 

“Honestly, I thought you would be grateful for this opportunity. To take down the man who would threaten everything we have worked for.”

 

We. It was funny how Snoke liked to throw that word around. He couldn’t wait to watch it all burn, the First Order, Snoke. All of it.

 

After snapping at the leash of the dog collar, Snoke narrowed his ice-blue eyes on Kylo.

 

“For Saturday.” He sneered. “Which one would she like?”

 

Kylo looked down at his gloves, at the way the leather creaked. He was trembling.

 

“Well?”

 

“I have no idea.”

 

Snoke chuckled. He reached for Kylo’s shoulder, whispering into his ear, “you know Kylo, when the time comes, I will poke her till she squeals like a pig for slaughter.”

 

His breath stank of expensive aftershave, gin and tobacco. Kylo stared dead ahead, but inside he fought hard to keep every muscle in his body locked in place. He knew, as soon as he lost control, that Snoke would be a dead man.

 

He couldn’t…

 

Breathe.

 

“You do realise, you only have her while I let you, son.”

 

Kylo tightened his jaw, suppressing his rage. “I paid for her.”

 

“And I pay for you!” Snoke shouted. “Remember? If I hadn’t saved you, you’d be rotting in prison with a manslaughter charge. How much would they have on you now, Kylo? Now that I have your fucking face on every single job you’ve ever done for me. I’m telling you, son, they will have nothing on me, and everything on you!”

 

“The minute...” Snoke held out his finger, jabbing Kylo’s chest with it. “The single fucking minute you even hesitate on my orders, you will be in prison and I will drag that girl down here and have her sprawled out on this desk screaming my name—do you hear me?”

 

Kylo’s couldn’t speak, his words trapped deep in his heart. The only control he had was to stand there, steel-faced, fighting every instinct of his body to rip this man apart.

 

Not yet. Not yet.

 

“I said do you hear me!?” Snoke hollered.

 

Kylo dug his fingernails deep into his palm, the edges of his nails slicing into the leather. His body quaked with a decade of rage, built up, behind an internal dam he had created deep inside. One day it would break, one day he would …

 

Not yet.

 

There was a sharp crack across his cheekbone. The pain muted into shock, as Kylo reeled from the realisation that Snoke had struck him with the leash, the buckle tearing the skin down the side of his face. A warm trail of blood ran from his brow to his cheek and he gasped, fighting the urge to reach up and cover his face in defence.

 

“Fuck you, Kylo!” Snoke’s voice rained down in a mist of hot saliva, his eyes watering and red. “You make me do these things to you.”

 

Kylo nodded haltingly. His face was exploding in pain, but he gritted his teeth and blinked away rogue tears.

 

“You must understand, you are the only one I can trust…“

 

Those words, they were poison. He saw that now. Snoke liked to wrap them in a blanket of praise, but they were still lies and manipulation.

 

“You believe me, don’t you?” he asked, the words sweet and pliant.

 

Kylo nodded, gaze burning into the floor before Snoke’s feet.

 

“San Tekka’s a dead man.”

 

“And the girl? You’re too involved with her.”

 

“She’s nothing.”

 

“There now. You won’t stray again,” Snoke cooed, almost to himself. It was Kylo’s one advantage, for whatever deranged reason, Snoke treasured him. He was the rabid cur he could parade around and scare his opponents.

 

Snoke’s face broke into a smile, and a single tear zig-zagged through the broken lines of his face. And then he reached out, touching his thumb to Kylo’s cheek, wiping the blood away.

 

Kylo stiffened. The act of Snoke touching him, intimately, like a father, made his stomach wrench.

 

“No harm done.” Snoke pulled his hand back, surveying the blood on his fingers, bringing them to his mouth, licking each one clean.

 

He was a fucking madman.

 

“Off you go, son,” Snoke said gently, moving back to his computer and turning on the monitor. “As always, I will be watching.”

 


 

 

The first thing Rey noticed when she came in that evening was that Rose wasn’t smiling.

 

And then, like a flick of a switch, she was.

 

The moment between the two expressions was terse, quiet, like the wait between thunder and lightning. Rey had watched her back long enough to know when things weren’t right. The hairs on her forearms seemed to stand on end, and the air felt clearer somehow, charged.

 

“Hey,” Rey said with a smile, casually stepping forward, but still checking every point of the room. “What’s up?”

 

“Not much,” Rose said, a little stiffly. “You’re early.” 

 

“Where’s Phasma?”

 

Then the smile reached Rose’s eyes, crinkling into half-moons. She pointed to the bathroom. “In there.”

 

Almost on cue, there was a loud heave, followed by the sound of liquid sloshing into the toilet bowl, and violent, irate swearing.

 

“She ate something that didn’t agree with her.”

 

Rose put two hands in front of her mouth and imitated what Phasma had just been eating, and mouthing the word “Snoke”.

 

“Oh my God, that’s gross.”

 

Rose shrugged. “Better her than us though, right?”

 

Rey nodded, her gaze dropping to the sheer chiffon robe tied around Rose and the white the feather boa tied around her neck. Phasma’s vomiting, Rose’s underwear--it was a reminder of what they were expected to do. Kylo may not have forced her into anything, but he was just one client, and after Friday she would have to share her body with whoever Phasma booked her with.

 

“What’s up?” Rose asked.

 

Rey smiled and walked towards the desk, taking Rose’s hands in her own. “I wanted to

make sure that you were okay after last night. I’ve been worried  about you.”

 

“Yeah, I’m fine. I’m just glad Kylo was there to intervene.”

 

Rose paused as if waiting for something, her lips in a half smile, dark eyes twinkling.

 

“Maybe he’s not so bad after all?”

 

“Maybe,” Rey answered and pulled out her phone, pretending to read messages that weren’t there.

 

“He’s so different with you.”

 

“Is he?” She didn’t look up, but her voice hitched a note higher than she intended.

 

“You’re sly as a fox Rey, you damn-well know he is,” Rose smiled, whacking her with the end of her feather boa. “He’s seen the light.

 

Rey caught the string of feathers in her hands, pulling one off teasingly. “Keep your damn bird to yourself.”

 

Rose swatted her across the face with the feathers and they snickered. It was just a moment, a glimpse of childish, carefree laughter. Each of them carrying it on until the moment passed, and their laughter turned into smiles and then silence. The break brought Rey grinding back to thoughts of her lunch with Poe and all the things he had told her about Kylo Ren and the First Order.

 

Rey lowered her eyes and toyed with the loose feather, pulling it apart until it was destroyed.

 

“But is that enough?” she mused. “I mean, what about his work for Snoke? Look at what he did to your dickhead client last night. That was nothing to him. The blood, the pain. He hurts people, Rose. Really hurts them.”

 

“And you sell your body for sex.”

 

Rey straightened, frowning. “I don’t have a choice.”

 

“And what makes you think Kylo does?”

 

Rey shook her head, annoyed. “It’s not the same.”

 

“Isn’t it?”

 

Rey rolled her eyes. “Anyway, I need to plug my phone in Snoke’s office. The battery is almost gone.”

 

She turned to go, but Rose yanked her back.

 

“No, don’t!” Rose’s gaze darted to the door warily. “Snoke’s already in there with Kylo.”

 

Snoke. Here. The feel of his disgusting hand touching her, his cabinet of “toys”, the fact he had been watching her and Kylo that first night, that he had seen her naked, moaning and thrusting. She shivered and stepped back.

 

In the waiting silence, she heard voices from behind the door. They were getting louder, angrier.

 

“What have they been talking about?”

 

Rose shifted her gaze to the door and back, her expression returning to the one Rey had first noticed when she had come in earlier.

 

“Um, you.”

 

“What!?”

 

“Just don’t go in there.”

 

A viperous, snarling voice rose from behind the door. 

 

“The single fucking minute you even hesitate on my orders you will be in prison and I will drag that girl down here and have her sprawled out on this desk screaming my name—”

 

“Holy shit, Rey," Rose whispered in her ear. “I think you should go upstairs.”

 

Then, a muffled crack behind the door, a sharp stinging sound that reminded Rey of the way Plutt used to slap the back of her thighs with a belt. The noise made her body jerk back. She couldn’t make out either voice now; they were softer, distorted.

 

“I mean it. Get upstairs and lock the door. I won’t tell them I saw you.”

 

She should go.

 

She should...

 

“Does Snoke always talk to him like that?” Rey asked, voice shaking. It wasn’t fear making it waver like this. It should have been fear, but it wasn’t.

 

Rose nodded. “It’s not been this bad for a while.”

 

The door handle rattled and Rose pulled her back behind the counter until it thundered open, smashing against the wall so hard it chipped the plywood. Rose clasped the table, reaching below for something when Kylo charged out, eyes wild and dark, hair messy, falling across his face like black scars, and from his eye to his cheek there was a gash spilling blood.

 

“What are you looking at?” he barked at them as the girls stood there aghast, mouths open and speechless.

 

He charged towards the desk and in one violent sweep he slashed his arm across the desk. The green study lamp scattered into uneven shards on the floorboards, while papers scattered in the air.

 

That beautiful, haunted face, covered in blood. Rey wanted to ask him what had happened, to demand to know what Snoke had done to him, but even as she opened her mouth to speak, he growled at her.

 

“What are you doing down here?”

 

“I—” Rey glanced at Rose, looking for backup.

 

“Rose. Keys.” Kylo ignored her, planting both hands on the empty desk and leaning over it. “Hurry.”

 

Rose nodded and searched the drawers, pulling out all the room keys. He pulled the ones marked “8” into his pocket, dark eyes flicking to Snoke’s office as if he were waiting for him to appear.

 

“I think that’s all of them,” Rose said quickly. “And here, take the master key too. Just in case.”

 

He nodded, casting a wary eye once to Rey and back to Rose. “Make sure she stays up there.”

 

“Excuse me?” Rey balked at his order.

 

He turned to her and pointed upstairs. “Get up to your room and don’t open the door to anyone!”

 

“No.” Rey crossed her arms and looked him square in the eye.

 

"Will you do what you're fucking told for once?!"

 

“Not until you tell me—”

 

Suddenly, Rey’s world turned upside down and her stomach lurched as Kylo slung her over his shoulder.

 

“No time,” he muttered.

 

“What the hell are you doing? Let go!” she shrieked.

 

But he wouldn’t let go and as the blood rushed to her head, she could do nothing but feel her body tugged up and down as he stormed up the stairs in long awkward strides.

 

“I can’t believe this,” she hissed the words at his arse, the only part of him she could see other than his long, overgrown legs and feet.

 

When he still ignored her, she kicked, hands clamouring over his body to find a spot to grab hold. She grabbed his belt and tried to flip her legs over as Master Skywalker had once taught her. For a moment, Kylo almost toppled, swearing under his breath, and then wrapped his arms tighter around her legs in a vice-like hold.

 

“Keep still,” he hissed at her.

 

“Damn you, Kylo! When you put me down, I’m going to—”

 

“I know, now shut up.”

 

Rey glared at his pants, folding her arms impatiently, as he kicked the door open and threw her onto the bed.

 

She fell onto her back, disappearing within the goose down duvet, grunting and kicking until she could jump to her feet, puffing and ready to explode. Kylo had wisely taken a step back, just out of arm’s reach.

 

“Before you start—” he said in a rush, aware that she was about to throw a verbal onslaught his way.

 

“What the hell is going on?”

 

“You need to stay here.” He marched back to the door, locking it.

 

“You’re not my bloody babysitter—”

 

“I wouldn’t need to be if you didn’t make such stupid decisions.”

 

Oh, that was it! Her face was boiling, that coil of anger ready to spring and lash out.

 

“What—”

 

“What were you doing with Dameron today?” He spoke over the top of her, his voice loud and unyielding.

 

Rey’s mouth opened and closed. She may have done that twice. She wasn’t sure.

 

“That’s none of your business.”

 

Kylo stalked towards her in slow, measured steps, forcing her to sputter out an unprepared answer.

 

 “He’s a friend.”

 

“You have dangerous friends.”

 

“You can say that again,” she said with a pointed pout.

 

There was a flicker at the corner of his lips, fleeting, unwelcome. He cleared it away and settled in front of her, much too close.

 

She was at a disadvantage, forced to look up at him, forced to remember that he was so much larger than her in every way.

 

He continued, “Are you working with Poe?”

 

“I—I don’t have to answer that,” she stammered.

 

A slight move of his jaw, the hint of a tic beneath his left eye, his tells. He got them whenever his emotions were running high. Tendons strained in his neck, a small racing movement at the base, and then she realised, there wasn’t anger there, but something that made his face turn ash-white and his lips tremble. Was it fear?

 

“It’s dangerous, Rey.”

 

“Is that a threat?” 

 

“It’s a warning.”

 

“They’re the same thing.” She paused, chewing on her lips and looking to the side. She looked at the desert painting on the wall, staring at it blankly. “Isn’t that what you do, after all? Hurt people?”

 

She regretted the words almost immediately, even if they were true. How the air drained from his body, his arms falling slack at his sides.

 

“I would never hurt you, Rey.”

 

God, how that quiet voice broke her, driving away that brazen anger into something tender and protective. She looked at his hands, large and pale, awkwardly waiting by his sides. She wanted to slide her fingers into them and weave them together.

 

Why did she always want more?

 

She raised her eyes to his fleetingly, and she saw overwhelming sadness. He shouldn’t care what she thought of him, not like this, like she was something more than an abandoned street rat and a whore.

 

“You know I wouldn’t hurt you, don’t you?”

 

“Yes,” she whispered, hugging her arms around her body. She had to, otherwise she would have reached out to him.

 

A lingering silence filled the space between them like mist on the moors. Rey flicked her eyes up and down at him, catching the way his gaze had moved to her mouth, her shoulders. His lips parted, and his breathing slowed—everything slowed. That space between them, invisible but charged, wanting to close.

 

Rey could feel every beat of her heart as he moved closer, placing a hand on her shoulder, whispering.

 

“Snoke already suspects a traitor. I’m trying to protect you.

 

She nodded again and took a slow breath, hoping it would give her courage.

 

“And who’s protecting you?” She moved her hand to his cheek and he flinched. It was instinctual and it broke her heart. How many times has he hit you? she wondered.

 

“Can I?” Her fingers hovered over his skin.

 

He nodded and she touched him, so much softer than she could have imagined. With a gentle stroke, she wiped the blood away.

 

“You need to patch that up, it will scar.”

 

He caught her hand in his own, and swallowed, almost unsure what to do next, studying her fingers. Then he bent his head and placed a kiss on her wrist.

 

“Kylo,” she whispered, barely audible against the hammering of her heart.

 

It wasn’t enough.

 

Stay with me. Run away with me. We can make it out of here together. All the things she wanted to say, trapped inside.

 

A man’s voice called out to him from the floor below. “Ren, time’s up!”

 

Kylo returned her hand. “I have to go.”

 

He walked away from her.

 

“Wait!”

 

He stopped, not looking back.

 

“Where’s Snoke sending you tonight?” she asked, voice high and slightly desperate.

 

He looked back, brows pinched with a look of consternation. “Why?”

 

“Are you going after—” She stopped herself from saying the words: San Tekka.

 

“Am I going after who?”

 

Rey turned away from him, terrified she would see the answer in his eyes.

 

She tried to walk away, but he stepped forward and grabbed her forearm, pulling her close.

 

“Listen. What you’re doing, it’s too dangerous. I know you want to get out of here, but this is not the way to do it.”

 

“I’m not—”

 

“Snoke wants you,” he said fiercely. “He wants to hurt you... to get to me.”

 

“To get to you?”

 

“Don’t let him in. No matter what he says. Keep your door locked.”

 

Snoke wants me, to get to you. The line rolled over in her mind— 

 

“Promise me.”

 

She faltered; had she really become a tool for Snoke? One he was using to manipulate Kylo? And what would Snoke make him do tonight while he kept Rey’s body as ransom?

 

Would he kill Lor San Tekka?

 

Her mind rushed with questions. Should she warn Poe? It had to be San Tekka. The fight downstairs, the blood, the urgent, fearful pleading in Kylo’s voice.

 

Everything was moving too fast.

 

“Promise me,” he said again, sterner this time.

 

“Okay, okay,” she answered. “I won’t open the door to anyone but you.”

 

“Good.” He put his hand in his pocket and pulled out a piece of paper, neatly folded. “Here, this Is my number. Call me if you need to.”

 

He turned to leave and by the time she had the courage to confront him not to do this, not to go this way, he left, locking the  door behind him.

 

 

Chapter Text

Crimson Lane - Chapter 13 - The Long Dark Night (Part 2)

Rain trickled down the tinted windows of the black Mercedes Vito. Within, Kylo rested his head against the back seat, listening to the gentle roar of rubber tyres on wet bitumen. Gloved fingers threaded and eyes closed. Head bobbing as though he were sleeping.

The van sped from the red-light district of Mustafar. Streetlights beamed onto Kylo’s face, the shadow of rain dancing across his features. The van weaved through the darkness until the lights became sparser and the road rough. T elltale signs they were coming into the rundown region of Jakku.

They came to a stop and Kylo opened his eyes. The door of the van slid open and the smell of musty rain pitted against dry streets flooded the interior.

“Ren,” Dom said, voice quiet. “We’re here. The guys are waiting for you inside.”

Kylo nodded. Dom wasn’t like the others. At five foot seven, he was the smallest of the knights, contracted by Snoke for tech work and driving. He was a gentle soul with a crooked smile and a love of small wonders, bugs mainly. Snoke had busted him hacking into his archives four years ago. Then, he’d been given the same sentence as Kylo: Freedom, at a cost. Now Dom had a string of offences that were far worse: fraud, embezzlement, hacking and sabotage. He couldn’t walk away now, even if he wanted to.

Kylo stepped out into the gutterless street, pulling the collar of his jacket up around his neck as he dashed across the pavement. The road was unnaturally dark and eerily quiet, with wisps of steam rising from the surface.

That familiar blue door was as dark as the ocean floor now, the edges of it cracked and splintered, where Hux and the knights had kicked through the lock.

Kylo reached out, ready to push it open.

“Wait!” Dom held the barrel of the gun, handle outward for Kylo to grasp. “You’ll need this.”

Kylo furrowed his brow, taking it slowly. “Don’t ever hold a gun like that.”

“I trust you, Kylo.”

“You shouldn’t trust anyone here, least of all me.” He took the gun carefully, checking the safety was in place, and slipping it beneath the waistband of his trousers.

He pushed the door again and this time the hinges creaked loudly and with a strained breath, he stepped inside.

Blood.

It was everywhere.

On the floor, on the walls, the stench of it acrid and sweet in the air.

“Holy shit,” Dom whispered behind him.

“You don’t need to come in.”

Dom nodded, backing away, “Yeah, yeah, I’ll wait outside.”

Kylo kept his head straight, staring ahead with half-closed lids.

Drip, drip, drip . The rain was leaking through the hallway light, creating a pool of water on the hall rug. Kylo stepped over it. A gust of wind pushed the door open from behind him, as a draft crept down his back in an icy chill. He turned around.

He was alone. But still, he couldn’t quite shake the feeling something or someone was walking with him.

Ahead, there was a light in the living room, with the shapes of Hux, Kane and Seth, hovering around a central figure.

He froze in place at the sound of Lor’s weary words spilling out.

“I already told you, I’m not working with anyone. It's only ever been me. I used old access codes and--”

“That’s not really true though, is it?” Hux’s weaselling words followed. He turned to his knights. “Gentleman, help him remember.”

LIke a cackle of hyenas, Hux and two of the knights circled around Lor, who was tied up in his dining chair. Kylo set his jaw in place, resolving to show no emotion at the sight of his Godfather bruised and bloodied, the hair of his beard burnt and the skin beneath it raw and glistening. Kylo looked through him, to the wall behind, forcing out the sight of the broken man.

“Well, well, well. So good of you to join us, Ren.” Hux marched to him. The son-of-a-bitch didn’t have a single hair out of place. Meanwhile, the rest of the knights were puffing, knuckles red and splattered with dried blood.

There was an emptiness in the air and inside him. From some far-off place in his consciousness, Kylo could hear the stoic guard of the grandfather clock, bearing witness. Each tick, counting down the seconds San Tekka had to live.

It was too much, and the old man’s head dropped to the side, staring at the floor, pink saliva dripping from his cracked lip.

“Did you get anything?” Kylo asked, trying not to flinch at the sight of Lor's pathetic form.

“Actually, yes.” Hux walked over to the dining table. The one Kylo had sat at mere hours ago. His glass of water, still there, untouched.

“Here.” Hux handed him a small cylinder-shaped USB drive.

Kylo stared at it for far too long. There was no mistaking it. He had hidden and protected that piece of hardware for the last four months, using every moment Snoke had left his laptop unlocked to carefully steal information from it and on to the drive. It had everything he needed to bring Snoke and the First Order to justice once and for all. It was the only way he could make Snoke pay and release everyone else he had trapped in his vicious cycle of crime.

And there Hux held it in the palm of his hand like it was nothing. Without the drive there was no escape, Snoke would always find him and hunt him down. Kylo had tried to run away once, as a teenager… it had not ended well. He still had the scars to prove it. There was no choice but to stay now and continue playing the game, waiting to be caught or killed.

Kylo’s world was crumbling around him; everything he had hoped to put into place was now crashing down like a landslide. He cleared his throat, blinking back the hint of tears.

“What’s on it then?”

“Everything. You, me, Snoke. Every underhanded job the First Order has ever done.”

Kylo nodded, slowly, eyes transfixed on the drive. “It’s a good thing we found it then.” He pocketed the drive but Hux reached out.

“It’s a good thing I found it.” Hux reached out with an open palm, waiting.

“Come now, Kylo. Finders keepers.”

“I’ll take it back to Snoke myself. He’s expecting it”

“You’re right, he is expecting it, which is why he asked me to deliver it personally .”

Kylo pursed his lips, reluctantly placing the drive back in Hux’s waiting palm.

Hux’s fingers closed around it quickly, sliding it into his own trouser pocket.

“You know, there was an awful lot of dirt on you. You should be thankful it didn’t find its way to the press.”

“We all are, I imagine.”

Hux chortled. “Yes, I suppose so.” And then he looked around the room, pulling Kylo aside. “There’s no way San Tekka would have had access to this kind of information. You know what this means?”

“There’s someone else on the inside.”

“One of the girls, perhaps?”

“It’s possible.”

“I’ve been working on him for hours, but the son-of-bitch won’t talk. Maybe you can be more convincing.”

Kylo looked over at Lor thoughtfully. His godfather. The man who had cleaned him up after his first school fight so his mother wouldn’t scold him, the man who was there for them when his father couldn’t be, the man protecting him, even now.

“He’s weak. If he knew anything he would have talked. Anyway, Snoke wants him dead.”

“Hmm,” Hux mused to himself. “It seems like a waste.”

There was a flicker of movement from the dining chair, as Lor coughed himself awake. Kylo nodded his head towards him, indicating that they should be quiet.

“What do I care if he listens to any of it? He’s a dead man anyway.” He turned to Lor, pointing his finger in the shape of a gun. “You hear that, old man? We’re going to blow your fucking brains out. That’s what happens when you cross the First Order.”

“But first--” Hux squatted in front of the man – “you’re going to tell us who you're working for?”

Lor’s mouth opened and closed.

“No one,” he answered hoarsely.

Hux stood, wringing his hands with impatience. “I’m growing tired of your lies!” He nodded to the right and from out of the shadows, one of the knights stepped forward and punched him on the side of the skull.

Lor’s head dropped forward, as a cry of pain escaped lips. Seemingly grasping onto the last threads of strength, Lor turned to Kylo and peered at him with those old blue eyes, with understanding and resolve.

“Tell us!” Hux screeched.

Another blow to the head, this time from Seth Ren. He was a newer member of the fold, one of the few whose lusts for violence and money had lead him to seek a job from Snoke directly. Once the sound of knuckles cracking against bone had subsided, Seth readjusted a bloody ring on his finger and stepped back into the darkness.

Kylo gnawed at the thumb of his glove. A habit he hadn’t done since he was a kid. The

other hand, reached behind his back, feeling the cool, matte handle of the pistol.

“We can do this all night, old man.” Hux gestured for another one of his men to step forward.

“No one.” Lor’s lips mouthed the words. And then he shook his head, raising tear-stained eyes to Kylo.

He had nothing left.

And he would never break.

”Please.” The words came out empty, a breath of air, gasping. But Kylo heard it, deep in his heart, in the dark places of his mind where his nightmares lived and breathed. He would hear that word for the rest of his life.

Kylo shook his head, the motion was barely there, a silent message. He couldn’t do this. He wouldn’t—

Please! ” This time Lor found his voice, desperate and broken.

Kylo squeezed his eyes shut for a pause and when he opened them, Lor’s gaze was reaching out to him. Begging.

Kylo pulled the gun from behind him, levelling the barrel so it was aimed between Lor’s eyes. “Time’s up, traitor.”

“Wait!” Hux jumped out in front of him, gleefully pulling out his phone and setting it to record. “Smile at the camera, maggot.”

“Stop it,” Kylo said between gritted teeth.

“Come on, San Tekka. I want to see a big smile while we put a bullet in your head.”

Kylo’s hands shook; he was so close to grabbing Hux and slamming his face into the window. He breathed again. Centre. Control . He needed to stay in control.

Lor whimpered, forcing a weak smile onto his lips.

“There now,” Hux beamed at him, holding the camera steady.

Kylo pulled the trigger, slowly, inwards…

I’m sorry.

The grandfather clock counted down: Three, two, one.

“No, wait!” Hux shouted, reaching out, but Kylo fired the shot.

And it was over.

Kylo would come to remember two things from that moment. One was the way the bullet drilled so neatly into the front of Lor’s head, ripping through skin, skull and tissue until the back of his head exploded on the floral and lace curtains behind. And second, was the way Lor welcomed death. Not in fear or regret, but like an old friend. His eyes genuinely smiled and there was light in them.

In the end, it wasn’t Kylo he was looking at, but behind him, to something that gave him a purpose to die. And for a long time after it happened, Kylo wondered whether he saw the woman he loved. Whether the prospect of an eternity with her made his death feel like a homecoming.

The gun released a shallow breath of smoke and the room fell silent, filled with the acrid tang of gunpowder. Kylo pocketed the weapon behind him once more, struggling to push it beneath his belt with quaking fingers. The moments, after all, played out like the blur of a nightmare. Hux and the knights spoke enthusiastically, raiding the fridge, emptying Lor’s liquor cabinet and sharing the contents.

“Well done, Ren. I didn’t think you had it in you,” Hux said, an edge of a surprise to his voice. “Snoke will be pleased.”

Kylo nodded, like a puppet on a string.

“Here.” Another knight, he didn’t even see who it was, slapped a bottle of vodka in his hand. “Drink up.”

The next few minutes played out at mixed speed. In some ways the entire world had slowed, the sounds around him pushed into the background, his own thoughts loud and demanding, and the next minute his mind was empty and then there were other people talking, their voices rising and falling, their drinks filling and emptying, laughing as they cleared out any valuables and smashed photos and threw teacups against the brown wallpaper. They were drunk.

Drunk . Kylo opened the bottle, pouring the contents into his mouth, enough that his cheeks were filled and the sharp alcohol dribbled down his chin.

Hux slapped him on the back. Snoke wanted to speak to him, congratulate him on the job. Kylo nodded, answering in monosyllables.

Hux sidled up to him, lips curled in a devious smile. “You know the rules, the one who spills the most blood, cleans it up.”

Kylo swayed, he hadn’t drunk enough to sway, but something in his body was struggling to stay upright. “Fuck off. Do that yourself.”

“No can do.” Hux tapped on his pocket. “I need to get this back to Snoke.”

“This is not your victory,” he hissed a Hux, gripping his fingers into the man’s forearm, aiming to bruise. Hux’s phone beeped with a message and he pulled the phone out, holding it in front of him like some peace offering.

“That’s him now.” Hux checked the message, smiling coyly before turning the screen to show Kylo.

Kylo can clear the evidence. I expect you back here in 20.   

“Tough break, Kylo.” Hux beamed at him. “I’ll see you back at the whore house.”

One by one they left, even Dom, who had come sometime after the gun went off, decided to wait outside, saying he was going to hurt if he had to look at the splatter of brains on the window any longer.

Once they were gone, Kylo sunk down on his knees. Head raised, eyes lowered, forcing himself to see the body, to memorise the way the blood flooded out of his head. He tried to breathe, but his chest caved in on itself and his eyes stung with tears.

There it was. He was a murderer. Whatever the reason, whatever excuses he would tell himself in the dark of night, that much was true and nothing he could do would ever take that away.

He was about to let it all go, to stop fighting the bleeding tears that wanted to stream from his eyes, to roar, and beat his chest, and rip this place apart. He was at the gates, about to let it all spill out when the phone in his pocket began to vibrate on silent.

He pulled it out. Unknown number.

He pressed answer, and waited.

Rey leaned against the window of her room, watching the rain fall softly against the street lights. Had it really only been four days since she’d waited in this very spot for her first client? The mysterious Kylo Ren, who didn’t want her to look, touch or ask questions.

Four days and everything she’d felt about him had changed. Into what, she wasn’t sure. Her world had been shaken and broken, everything falling back into different places, feelings shifted, beliefs challenged. Her own personal earthquake.

She closed her eyes, squeezing them until they blanched with dissipating colours. The creeping fingers of dread taking hold the longer she waited...

Where are you, Kylo?

She shook her head, staring out into the black expanse, studying every shape and movement in the street below. Mindlessly reaching into her pockets and twisting the lining of them until her fingers brushed against the small folded note Kylo had given her.

She pulled it out, unfolding it. There was no name, or note, just a number.

Should she?

She didn’t have much battery left, but there was enough, at least, for this.

She dialled the keypad quickly, in case she changed her mind.

It rang. Twice.

The phone on the other end of the line answered. Silence.

“Kylo?” she asked, cringing at the way her own voice was so weak and uncertain.

There was a beat, and then a rushed, “Rey, are you safe?”

“I’m fine, but I—” She rolled her eyes at her own words. But what, Rey? What exactly is the reason you’re calling?

“Look, It’s not a good time.”

“Kylo,” she whispered into the phone, holding it close. “Please tell me what Snoke is making you do tonight.”

“Rey…” he began cautiously.

“Or just come back. Please, come back.”

“Rey…”

“We can do whatever you want. Anything. Hey, I’ll let you beat me at Risk if you want.”

A laugh, muffled, strained and not altogether genuine, filled with emotion that shouldn’t be there and then silence, again.

Pained, heavy silence.

“Don’t do it,” she pleaded.

Her phone beeped, warning her that she was about to run out of battery. It wasn’t enough time.

“I don’t understand what this thing is between us, Kylo, but it’s more—”

It’s more than professional, than friends, unfettered raw attraction underlying something deep and rich. A connection and longing that was slowly filling the empty places in her heart. She didn’t know how to say it. It was too soon. She didn’t know enough about him, and what she didn’t know certainly shouldn’t make her feel like this.

“It’s more than—” her words failed her.

“I know,” he almost whispered.

Rey closed her eyes and smiled, eyes filling with tears.

“Come back,” she said through a muffled sob. “Please come back to me.”

The sound on the other end dimmed into quiet, in the background she could hear the light tapping of a clock, it’s regular rhythm contrasting against the random pitter-patter of the rain.

“I have to go.” That voice, stronger now, resolved.

“Oh, okay.”

“Bye, Rey.”

“By—” The phone went dead, even as her answer hung in the air.

She stared at the blank screen and saved the contact, “B”.

And then she waited.

On the woolskin rug by the fire, leaning against the window, in the shower, lying in bed, body naked beneath the smooth silk sheets.

Waiting, waiting, waiting.

And then she finally heard a knock at the door.

She leapt out of bed, the sheet draped around her body, bare feet sliding across the cool

wooden slats.

The knock sounded again and she walked faster, heart pounding, hand outstretched to the door handle.

She reached forward, curling her fingers around the cold metal handle and then—

She stopped dead.

Kylo had the keys.

Shit. Shit. Shit.

The silence was louder than ever, only broken by the sound of rain, lashing against the window on whips of wind.

A knock, again. Harder. It made the door rattle, and Rey took a step back, eyes wide.

Again, and then a voice, low and guttural.

“Open the door, Rey.”

She froze. How could she be so stupid? Had he heard her coming to the door?

“Rey,” the voice sterner now, but still laced with the overtone of deceptive kindness. “Open the door now, it’s your boss, Alistair.”

She took another step back. Eyes darting from the window to the door, to the bathroom. Searching for an escape...

“I know you’re in there, little minx,” he crooned. “Open the door, and we can have a chat. Just a talk, nothing else.”

The door handle rattled again, but this time she could hear the sound of keys scratching against the lock.

She stepped backwards, fist to her mouth, heart racing. The door handle shook, being tugged this way and that. Pushed, pulled, and then more keys, scratching against the handle, and low, hissing curses.

She held her breath, eyes closed, listening to the sound. Waiting for the familiar click...

“Open the door your little bitch,” he growled. And this time he kicked at it, the base of the door giving in slightly with every blow.

Rey backed against the far wall, chest heaving with every breath, eyes darting around the room for anything she might use as a weapon.

“Rey,” Snoke sang to her.

“Rey.” His fingers, pawing at the door.

“Do you think you can turn him, pathetic child?”

She closed her eyes, not daring to move.

“I cannot be betrayed.” His voice coiled around her. “I cannot be beaten. I know his mind. I know the darkness in his soul.”

Those words, like poison, how long had he been destroying him, ripping away his humanity, turning him into a weapon for Snoke’s own causes?

She hated him. Hated Snoke more than she had ever hated any man.

And she was not scared of him.

She came closer to the door, head raised, shoulders back.

“You underestimate Ben Solo,” she said firmly. “And me.”

He chuckled, cruel and callous. Rey fought the urge to open it, to face him herself. Skywalker had taught her well. She knew her own strength and Snoke was alone.

“The sad thing is Rey, you don’t even know the half of it. What he’s already done to you.” Lies. He was lying to her. He had to be. “What he’s doing tonight.”

She covered her ears, not wanting to hear.

“He’s a murderer, Rey.”

“You’re a liar.”

“You will see, when he comes home dripping in blood, wanting to fuck you like the whore you are,” he laughed. “You will see.”

Once he was alone, Kylo vomited into the kitchen sink, the sting of vodka burning his throat. Hands shaking, he looked back at Lor, laying on the floor, body relaxed, jaw open, staring at him.

He wanted this.

Murderer, his mind whispered, and an unsettling cold seeped through him.

He begged you to do it.

Kylo took another drink of vodka, heat rising in his lungs as it went down.

He was so sorry. So fucking sorry for all of it. He dropped to his knees, breath heaving, ignoring the way the blood pooled around his legs, the way Lor just stared at him with an empty expression.

There was only one thing left to do now.

He pulled out his phone number and dialled.

After a moment’s pause, a muffled vibration began to sound from within the clock. He trudged over to it, rivulets of blood clinging to his boots, the reek of it clinging to his clothes. Opening the case cabinet, he reached inside and pulled Lor’s phone out.

At least he had time to hide this.

He hung up the call and searched through the message threads until he found one from Poe. They were supposed to meet later tonight, in twenty minutes to be exact.

He had to leave. But first—

He typed a message.

The First Order has taken the USB drive. It had everything on it. Kylo Ren’s here. Not much time. He knows about Rey, he’s going after her. Tell her to run for her own good, she needs to get away from him.

His thumb hovered over the send button. He had to make her run. His plan had failed and she wasn’t safe there, not without him. Not even with him.

She deserved better.

He hit send and almost instantly three little dots started dancing at the bottom of the screen, indicating that a message was being written in response.

Poe : What’s happening? Are you okay?

He didn’t reply, dropping the phone to the side and walking away.

“Hey, Kylo.” Dom was standing in the hall.

Had he seen what he’d just done?

Their eyes met, analytical and silent.

“We should go.”

Kylo nodded, directing one last look back at Lor.

“Stop at the bar on the way home. I need a drink.”

“You and me both,” Dom said, but there was something unsettled behind his smile and Kylo wondered if, despite everything he had done, this final act had blown his entire cover.

Rey waited with her feet planted on the floor as Snoke’s laughter had followed him down the hall. Once she was sure he was truly gone she ran into the bathroom, splashing water on her neck and head, staring back at the colourless face in front of her. The face that was tired of hiding, of being scared. The face of someone who was ready to fight.

She retrieved her phone from beside the bed and dialled Poe’s number.

The phone rang once.

“Poe Dameron.”

“Poe, it’s Rey.”

“Oh my God, Rey, are you—”

“I don’t have any time, my battery is down to 1 percent and I can’t charge it here.”

“Wait, Rey, this is important you need to listen to me—”

“No,” she snapped. “ You listen to me! They’ve gone after San Tekka.”

“I know, I’m going there right away, but Rey—”

“I’ll do it, Poe. I’ll help you bring down Snoke,” she said in a rush.

The phone went dead and she smiled, satisfied that if nothing else, she had gotten this message out safely.

The rain was falling in lashing sheets by the time Kylo returned to number 12. He collapsed out of the van, and would almost have fallen flat on his face, had Dom not steadied him at the last minute. The red lamp above splashed his face with red shadows as he pounded on the door.

“Kylo Ren.” Phasma opened the door with a surly stare. “What’s the emergency?”

He pushed past her and through to the booking diary, scanning the evening’s vacancies.

“Do you mind?”

He grunted in response and she snapped the diary closed.

“What the hell is wrong with you?”

“Are any of the girls available now?”

Phasma looked disdainfully at the blood now smeared on her desk. She pulled a cloth from under the desk and cleaned it up, glaring at him as she did so. “Don’t get fucking blood on the desk. It’s bad for business.”

“Did you hear what I said?”

Phasma raised a solitary eyebrow at him. “You’re pissed.”

“No shit, Sherlock. A girl. Tessa. I don’t care. Any one of them. Someone who knows the rules.”

“Sure,” she said slowly, as if the concept was too difficult for him to understand. “Are you looking to double up?”

Kylo’s entire face furrowed. “No, I just need one.”

“Well, go and fuck Rey, then. That’s what you’re paying her for.”

“Rey?” he asked. She shouldn’t be here. Poe would have warned her by now . “Rey’s gone.”

“What on earth have you taken, Kylo? She’s upstairs, waiting for you.”

Why was she still here? The question carried him up the stairs. Had she not gotten the message? He was going faster now, leaping up the steps in twos, using the railing to propel his body faster. And if she had, and she was still here, then what did that mean?

He pulled out the keys, dropping them on the floor until he found the right one and shakily put it in the lock. With his heart hammering in his chest, he sneaked in and closed it quietly, careful to lock it again.

The room was dark, apart from the soft glow of street lights shining in through the wide windows. She had left the curtains open, and as the light reflected through the glass he could make out her handprint smeared on the window.

A small puff of air leapt from his lungs, something between a laugh and a cry. He followed the path from the window to the bed, where there was a trail of clothes on the floor.

Kylo tilted his head to the side as he stared at Rey’s dark hair flowing freely over the pillow, the white sheets framing the outlines of her body, curving over her waist and hips, stretching out over her left leg, the other peeking out from beneath the sheet, silken smooth. Bare.

There was a sensation of light in his chest, weightless and warm. He stepped forward and her right arm curled over the pillow, hugging it close to her, at the same time the sheet dropped exposing the side of her breast.

Naked.

She was naked.

Blood throbbed at his core and he came closer. This time, the floorboard creaked and she sat upright, clutching the sheet around her body and darting her eyes through the darkness.

“Kylo!” she hissed. “You scared the shit out of—”

He was standing in the streetlight, austere lines of it mixing veins of light and darkness across his body and she bent her knees up to her chest, shuffling back. The whites of her eyes wide and unnerving.

“You’re--you’re covered in blood.”

He looked down at the burgundy stains on his clothes, damply sticking to the hard lines of his body.

“Why are you here?” he sneered, reaching behind his back and pulling out the gun. Without a care, he threw it to the ground and Rey jumped as it slid across the floorboards.

She gasped as it hit the wall. “What are you thinking?” She turned the bed lamp on and glared at him. Her face told him everything he needed to know, that and the tears pooling in the corners of her eyes.

“Why do you have a gun?”

He walked away, ripping the clothes off his body like they were on fire. In the bathroom, he let the water wash over him, watching the way it was stained with bright pools of red. Crimson droplets ran down his body, catching on the hairs of his leg. His breaths became heavy, shaking and constrained, as his hands scratched violently through his hair. He couldn’t stop shaking, even though the water was so hot that it scolded him, even though his chest was flaming with red lashes from the heat.  All he could see was the rivers of blood, flooding around his feet, running eddies of swirling pink spirals.

Tears streamed down his face, silently, and he gasped for air. His mind was exploding, eruptions of pain and regret and hate, the emotions overcame everything else. He needed to explode, to pound it all away. To force the reality back into the locked vault, where he kept all the hateful and cruel things he had inflicted on others. But the door was opening and the demons were escaping. And there was only one way he knew to lock them away again.

He turned the shower off, grabbing a towel that hung on the wall and wiped his face and hair with it. All the while, he advanced on her. She must have seen it in his eyes, in the manner in which he stalked, quiet and purposeful, more like a hunter than a lover.

She edged back, shaking her head.

“You spoke to Poe tonight.”

She refused to meet his eye, looking to the left and onto the door.

“And you’re still here?”

“You practically locked me in here, remember?” she snapped.

“You were always a fighter,” Kylo gave her a half-smile, but it was cold and empty. He reached the edge of the bed and kneeled up on it. “That’s what I love most about you. You never take anything lying down.”

The bed creaked with the weight of his body and his towel dropped. Rey’s lips parted, and her eyes fleetingly dropped below his navel. Her face flushed at the sight, realising how much he must have wanted her.

The weight of her gaze made him jolt and grow, but when she met his gaze again, there was fear there.

She feared the monster, and well she should, for he was a murderer, a violent, black-hearted ghost.

He remembered the sound of his old name on her lips, how his heart flipped and jumped at the way it came so natural and right.

But it was all a lie.

“Turn the light off,” he said quietly.

He had merely forgotten who he was.

“Do it,” Kylo pressed her

She didn’t move.

But tonight had made it all rush back to him.

Ben Solo was dead.

He reached his hand toward the light. The room plunged into darkness.

And Kylo Ren was the villain.

Chapter Text

Crimson Lane - Chapter 14 - The Long Dark Night (Part 3)

He wanted her.

She had always known that. But here, now, as he peered at her through the darkness, she had felt it more than ever.

In the gloomy light, his pale face was pointed and hungry, the messy waves and tattered outline of his hair transforming him into a mythological creature, a beast, half man, half monster. It reminded Rey of their first night together, when he’d charged into the room with one purpose.

The memory made her squirm, the sight of his dark eyes roaming across every inch of her exposed skin, lingering on the curve of her hips and lower…

She shivered, remembering how it felt when those gentle fingers had ghosted over her, becoming firm and urgent, squeezing and possessing —

It had been shameful; the way her blood rushed once she’d realised the power she held over him.

Tonight he had that same look in his eyes.

Rey’s cheeks burned as she watched the way his gaze followed the path of clothes scattered on the floor, a trail of breadcrumbs to the bed. His eyes widened and narrowed in the same beat, roaming over the bed sheet, tilting his head as he followed the line from her toes to her shoulders, framing her naked outline.

Rey had told herself that she liked the slippery feel of the cotton sheets on her bare skin, that she couldn’t sleep with pyjamas strangling her body, that being naked was the only way she could feel comfortable.

Lies!

She damn well knew what it meant. She wanted him too, far too much. Despite everything, she knew about Kylo Ren, she’d forced her mind to silence every fear and misgiving about who he really was. Even blood-stained and wild, she still wanted him to hold and kiss and make love to her.

She would take these feelings to her grave. No one ever need know how the thrilling desire to be lusted after by a creature of darkness had done things to her.

The bed dipped and creaked as he prowled over her, until he was sitting above her on his knees. She tried to wriggle, but in answer his thighs clamped firmly around her, holding her in place.

“What are you doing?” she asked.

He lowered his head, nuzzling hungrily from her ear to the base of her neck. Rey wasn’t one to wear perfume; her natural scent was the raw mix of sweat, city grit and home brand soap. It made her feel self-conscious being so plain. She was sure the other girls must smell—

Oh! Without warning, his lips locked onto to her neck, sucking in a violent, hungry motion. It unleashed the steady beat of her heart into a wild thing and her toes curled.

“You said I was a monster,” he hissed into her ear, left-hand sliding down the side of her body. “Say it again.”

She pushed him back and shook her head, unable to look at anything but the broken crack split down his cheek, still angry and inflamed. She wondered if that scar would stay with him for life.

“I’m not saying it.”

His stone-cold hands curved over her hips, palming across her abdomen with fingers splayed, pressing.

“Say it!”

Rey shook her head, lips pressed in a frown. Where was the gentle soul who’d kissed her wrist so innocently just hours earlier?

Where was the light she had seen in his eyes? Stolen away into the darkness.

The muscles corded in his neck, that tiny flick beneath his eye, ticking away like a time bomb. “I told you to say—”

“No!” Rey shouted.

She was starting to feel sick now, a heavy dread settling in her stomach. She didn’t care what he said or did, she wouldn’t let him fall to the dark, not now. There was still light in him, she had felt it. Her right hand reached up, cupping his cheek, thumb massaging the glistening skin beneath.

“You’re not a monster.”

He chuckled darkly, lips askew and broken into an unnatural smile, his eyes glistening.

“Yes, I am.”

Kylo pulled away, reaching across the bed as he pulled something from the drawer. When he came back, there was a tube of lubricant in his right hand.

Without a word, he unscrewed the lid, the sickly-sweet fragrance filled the air, and all the while he kept his eyes locked on hers, dark and intense.

He leaned forward, arms braced on either side of her head and she felt his cock pressing against her underwear. It took every ounce of resolve she had not to push into him, seeking his warmth between her legs.

Sharp teeth grazed down her neck and he spoke into her ear, the tickling breath making her writhe.

“I need to fuck you.”

She bit her lip, staring at the ceiling, at the pale grey square of gyprock and glue where the mirror had been, fighting her own internal battle whether to give in to the dizzying heat of his breath, grazing her skin, and the pulsing, burning pressure between her legs, or to rise up against it.

His fingers slipped beneath the elastic of her underwear and...

No! She clamped her thighs together, heart pounding. Not like this.

“I need it,” he gritted through clenched teeth, the sound of his voice razor sharp. There was a frenzied urgency to his movements. “And it’s your job.”

Your job . The words cut deep. Just a whore.

His hands slapped together, lathering the lube between his fingers, rubbing it along his cock, gliding his fingertips down from her navel.

“Tell me to stop.” His hand searched between her legs and Rey closed her eyes, her strength of will lapsing as she struggled to focus on anything other than the feeling of his fingers gently tracing patterns between her legs, along the caverns and folds, exploring her. She squirmed, betrayed by the gathering heat electrifying in her core.

“I don’t want to. Not like this,” she said in a rush. She couldn’t, not after what she feared to be true—

His hand stopped circling her, and he exhaled testily, resting his fingers against her clit. If he would only get out of her pants, she could gain some higher ground. She went to move his hand away and he swept his thumb over her once more, it was far too rough - but her fucking body pushed into him like some disobedient child.

“I’ll pay you double.”

“Why were you covered in blood?”

His lips tightened. “Triple.”

“No!”

“Damn it, Rey! I’ll give you whatever you fucking want!” he spat, saliva frothing at the edges of his mouth.

The muscles in his neck hardened and Rey felt the darkness washing over him. The anger had always been there, but now he was going to break.

A muscle feathered in his jaw, and then he pulled his hand away, back from the brink. Rey breathed in relief and quiet frustration.

A roving headlight from a passing car chased the darkness from Kylo’s face and Rey was startled to find lines of tears streaking his cheeks. A warm drop fell from his jaw and onto her breast.

For a fleeting moment, she was reminded of the night Unkar Plutt had sold her, how she had snuck away to the bathroom to stare at her reflection, how the moonlight had ripped across her face in jagged lines. It was the first time she had seen how broken she truly was. It was the same thing she could see now, but in Kylo’s face.

“Ben,” she whispered.

Black, haunted eyes flicked to hers at the sound, as though she had sent an emergency beacon across the stars. She reached her hand to his cheek once more, wiping away a fresh tear, but then his hand closed around her wrist, threading their fingers, lowering her hand back to the bed.

“You shouldn’t call me that.”

“It’s your name,” she whispered, and with a bite of her lip added, “ Ben .”

His lips assaulted her neck with hurried, fevered kisses, sucking her ear lobe in a rhythmic motion, pulling and tugging at the skin until her body reacted, pushing up to meet him.

And how she wanted him, a ravaging fire was burning in her gut, the heat raging down her legs.

Not like this, s he coached herself. Not like this!

She fought the urge, the rising fires raging in her soul, pulling back from him, turning away, panting and heaving in wanting breaths.

Please, Rey.” Kylo’s voice threatened to break, the emotion waiting to spill over. His cheek rested on her own. “Please take this away. I don’t want to feel it. I can’t--”

Her memory stirred.

She was that girl behind the dumpster at school. It was recess. Rey lay on the ground, legs open, some teenage jock fucking her on the hot asphalt. She didn’t bother pretending to like it, and the boy hardly cared. She rested her head on the ground, ignoring the way the gravel pushed against her back, counting the fluffy clouds lazily chugging overhead, growing and merging into different shapes: an umbrella, a rainbow, a crocodile.

Rey watched them, numbed, the physical sensation of sex driving away the pain. It wasn’t the first time she had done it, nor the last, different boys, drunk at parties, passed out in the gutter, in night club alleyways, over and over again.

Fuck it away, fuck away the pain . The motion made her forget.

And she understood, perhaps for the first time. The emptiness. The desire to pack it all away: self-loathing, fear, everything that eats away at your soul in ferocious, hounding bites. Sex was like drinking absinthe, heightening your senses, but dulling others. In those months after losing her virginity, it had tricked her into thinking it would take away the pain.

The barb left, but the constant ache of heartbreak always remained.

Kylo went to move off her, when she reached out and touched his forearm and he went deathly still, waiting.

“Okay,” she said softly.

He looked back at her with a sad expression, not moving.

“It’s okay.” She tucked her thumb through her underpants and shimmied them off. “I know.”

He came back to her, slick fingers spreading the lube through her warmest places, pressing inside, testing her readiness. She had no time to feel embarrassed by how wet she was already and he didn’t say anything. His fingers were rough and functional, no time for pleasure or exploring. He pulled his hand away, wiping the excess moisture on his abdomen. He was in a hurry as he grabbed the condom from the side table, cursing and fingers slipping as he tried to tear it open.

“Let me.” She took it from him, tearing open the wrapper. Without asking, she unfurled it over the length of him with gentle fingers. He watched her as she worked, silent, patient, impassive.

“Thank you,” he said quietly, and Rey returned an uncertain smile at him, unsure if he meant to thank her for putting the condom on, or for what she had agreed to do.

The bed creaked even louder this time as he shifted all his weight on top of her, the rubbery tip of his cock pressing at her entrance, but not pushing inside.

He’s holding back , she thought, noticing the way he looked away from her, grimacing as if faced with some moral dilemma.

“It’s okay. You don’t need to be gentle.”

With brows pinched, he nodded his head and in the next breath he was inside her. She held onto him, clasping her hands over his shoulder blades and with a final fleetings look at her, he turned his face aside and thrust.

Rey jumped at the pressure, even though her body was ready and waiting for him, she still needed time to adjust and mould. He pulled back and thrust again, deeper this time and rougher.

A grunt escaped her as she gritted her teeth.

He stopped at the noise, eyes flashing at her fearfully.

Come on, body . She gave herself a pep-talk. You can take him.

“I’m okay. It’s okay.” She angled her body beneath his and bent her knees up, opening her legs further. “Keep going.”

He pushed inside again, gentler this time, and her fingers curled over his shoulders, massaging his shoulder blades, around his neck, watching as his body rolled into her, each pulse driving harder, every thrust trying to expel some pain, some memory as she took him. She could see it in his face, the way he winced at what should have been pleasure. And just like their first night together, he looked through her, over her, anywhere but at her. He was far away, chest red and breathing hoarse, hammering into her body.

Rey went back to what she knew, blocking everything out but the physical feelings: friction, heat, discomfort, pleasure. She parked her emotions at the back of her mind and focussed on the way he pounded her against the mattress. She clutched at his shoulders, holding on tightly as though she were riding a bucking bull, kicking and thrusting, like he was trying to be free.

Kylo’s arms tensed, trembling with the effort of sex, sweat layering his back. He shifted, changing the motion of his thrusts and Rey’s legs tightened around him, an unplanned pleasure firing in her core. With every breath and thrust she began to gasp. She shouldn’t, not while he was in so much pain, but — she released a muffled cry, clutching to his shoulders, yearning to kiss him, to meet his eyes, to let him know that it felt fucking amazing to have him inside her, but he still refused to look at her. She closed her eyes, trying to shut her mind from the amazing feeling of him rubbing up against her, trying to hold back the orgasm building within.

He fucked her harder and she wrenched her short nails into his skin, the building pleasure forcing more primal reactions. He grunted into her ear, breath coming hard, and she responded, a cry. Animals, they were animals. She shoved her hips against him, clenching her body, chasing that fleeting pleasure. In return, his rutting grunts came loud and fierce and she couldn’t look away. The way his eye twitched, lips parted with panting breaths. She tried to move in sync with him, but he was too fast and erratic. Heat was building inside her as dark hair flung around his face. The thread of pleasure she had tried to chase was gone now, replaced with a motion that was too violent and fast. His skin slapped on hers, rushed heaving breaths, played out against the screeching of the bed mattress.

He was almost there: thrust, thrust, thrust—until his eyes squeezed shut and she felt him release, his body pulsating, exhausted from his hard-won orgasm.

He collapsed on her, pinning her flat against the mattress. It was over, her muscle throbbed, yearning for pleasure, to reach a climax too. She tried to breathe, but the weight of him was crushing her.

“Can you get off me?” She pushed at his shoulders. “You’re too heavy. I can’t breathe.”

He pulled out of her with a slick pop and lay on his back, staring at the ceiling. As the weight rescinded she relaxed, not realising how tense and hard she had been beneath him.

It was empty sex, without love, or passion. She wanted to enjoy it, but this was not—this was something else. This was wrong. She turned to see him, praying for him to look her in the eyes, but he must have felt her silent pleas and in answer, he rolled away on his side.

He doesn’t care.

Rey blinked away rogue tears, staring at his glistening back, at the raw lines she had marked with her nails only moments ago. She couldn’t look away, like he were some accident on the side of the road.

She touched his back gently, and instantly he recoiled, moving further away.

“Kylo?” she whispered, voice breaking dangerously close to tears.

He ignored her.

Rey nodded to herself, chewing on her bottom lip. There it was. He had fucked her just like he had meant to on their first night--like a whore, like a fucking whore.

Hold me. She thought she had whispered it, but the words were trapped in her throat, held hostage by her tears. Please don’t cast me aside like trash .

Almost sensing her thoughts, he sat up on the side of the bed, rolling off his condom.

“I—” Shit . Had she done the wrong thing? She didn’t understand.

Rey reached out to him once more, and again he flinched as though her touch was like a burn to his skin. Without a word, he stood up, forcing her hand to slip away as he walked into the bathroom.

She couldn’t believe this was happening. Rey rolled into a foetal position, hugging her knees.

In the absence of his love or even affection, she came to understand how much she had yearned for it now. She was supposed to be helping him , but suddenly that broken girl behind the bin was looking back at her, the girl who spilled her first blood by a stranger for cash, the girl that nobody loved...

The weight of her past crushed down on top of her. She was the one that needed him to hug her, to tell her everything would be okay. That she was more—she heaved, fighting a losing battle to hold back the waves of emotion.

That she was more than a whore. That to someone, just one person, she was everything .

The first tears slipped quietly onto her pillow, disappearing as they soaked through the cotton.

Don’t let him see, she sniffed quietly, trying to hold it all back.

Without a word, Kylo got back into bed, back to back with her, inches apart.

She didn’t need him to tell her what he’d done tonight. She already knew, she’d seen the blood-stained water rushing down his body in the shower, she’d smelt the sweet copper on his skin.

She’d slept with a murderer.

The bed shook with small, shuddering tremors and she could hear Kylo’s breath rasping unevenly.

Rey turned around, watching the way each breath filled his lungs and deflated. The headlights of the cars on the street below flashed across his back like a roving spotlight, and for the first time, she noticed the tiny silver scars that criss crossed his back, faded bruises and a raw angry welt.

What had happened to him tonight? How had that fucking bastard made him into this?

“Kylo,” she whispered, “do you want to talk about it?”

Rain tapped against the rooftops, spilling over the gutters, spluttering against the window with every wavering gust, but otherwise, the room was quiet.

Rey clutched her heart. The sting of being used. The pain of not being enough to bring him back. It was all too much to bear. She couldn’t hide the sobs any more, they washed over her, hysteric and fast—

And he let her cry. Alone. Heaving, rasping sobs that filled her eyes with too many tears.

 


 

The low, tinny vibration of Kylo’s smartphone sounded from the fireplace, as the blue-tinged luminescent light lit up the wall in a series of flashes. Rey half-sat up as Kylo lunged out of bed, grabbing the phone and pulling it to his ear.

“What the fuck do you want?” His voice was dark, a ferocious growl hissing through gritted teeth.

It was Snoke. It had to be.

The memory of her boss trying to break down the door caused a fresh wave of panic to wash over Rey. She shouldn’t be here. If he were to come back—

“You already know it’s done. I was there when Hux told you.”

Rey edged back against the bedhead, watching his back expanding with the ragged rhythm of his breathing, his neck and shoulders tense. There was a tuft of hair beneath the right pit of his arm, as he held the phone to his ear, the other hand, pulling at the nape of his neck.

“No, I’ve done everything you have asked of me—”

He pulled his hand away from his neck, clutching at the fireplace ledge as though it were the only thing keeping him standing. There was an underlying sharpness in the air and the hairs at the back of Rey’s neck started to tingle, that raw instinct of hers springing awake.

“Leave me alone,” Kylo growled into the phone, the haughty demand losing its edge towards the end. “For one fucking night, just leave me alone!

And like that, the storm had arrived ...

There wasn’t much Rey remembered of her father. For the most part, he was pretty absent, in mind if not body. But there was one aspect of his personality she could remember: rage. It broke like a storm against a seawall. Just subtle hints at first, the speed of his voice, hurried breathing, erratic movements. Before the rage began, Rey had come to feel unexplained energy in the air, tense and silent as she waited on the edge of a dark sky.

And this was what it felt like now.

Kylo stared at his phone; the screen had timed out and now he only looked at a black rectangle, saying nothing. Rey bit her lip, wondering if she should go to him.

Her feet touched the ground, but just as the tips of her toes skimmed the floor, he punched his hand into the desert painting above the wall and she froze. She was too late.

“Kylo?” Her quiet voice echoed out into the empty space, but even as it left her lips, his other hand fisted again and smashed into the wall, cracking through plaster.

Rey jumped. The pain would have wrecked his hand, but Kylo barely seemed to notice. Her feet hovered between the floor and the bed. At last, she tucked herself away into a ball, pulling the plush white duvet over her knees like a little child.

There was a point in rage, when the emotions are too heightened, that the explosion tearing shrapnel through a broken soul had to be released. She knew, from watching her father do this, there was no place to intercede. It had to pass on its own.

Kylo’s storm hit with thunderous blows. Paintings were ripped from the wall; the ashtray hit the ground with a thud, too stubborn to break until Kylo sent it flying against the other wall. Next was the desk, uprooted, thrown, pens and paper scattering on the ground. He moved through the room like an angry tornado, ripping them apart, spitting, kicking, screaming, knuckles spilling with crimson trails. His stuff, her stuff, the glasses of water and crystal carafes, now in tiny shards against the timber floor. And all the time, he clutched the phone in his other hand, keeping it safe.

The phone buzzed with what sounded to Rey like a text. He held it out, barely glancing at it in the first instance, and then did a double take, looking at Rey.

And that was it. He threw it to the ground, stomped on it and pulled up the desk chair, repeatedly smashing the chair over the top of it until there was nothing left but a splintered, broken screen.

Rey’s hand had clutched her heart, tears falling down her face in terror. Not of him, amazingly, Kylo Ren did not scare her, but she knew this place, the utter devastation when another person rapes your soul of who you are, of your hope, your integrity, your strength.

Snoke had broken him tonight, but she wouldn’t let this be the end.

“Ben,” she cried, her voice soft and pleading.

He froze, hands still bleeding. The red and blue lights of a passing patrol car flashed across his body, siren echoing loudly through the room, red and blue. They crossed him and then he fell back into shadow.

“Get out.” His head hung low, looking at the destruction at his feet, and at last to her. “Get out of here.”

She couldn’t move. He advanced on her, not even bothering to tiptoe around the shattered glass and splintered wood.

There was a hurried knock at the door, and Kylo froze.

“Rey! Is everything alright in there? Open the door.”

Their eyes met.

“Everything’s fine, Rose, I—” Rey searched for the words, looking at the utter devastation in front of her, “—tripped.”

“If you’re sure…” Rose answered with obvious unease.

“Yes, we’re all good, Kylo’s just a little—” Rey stumbled at a loss for words  “— wild in the bedroom.”

Kylo covered his face, a muffled sob or laugh escaping from him, and Rey shrugged her shoulders with a strained smile; it seemed so ridiculous that after everything that had just happened she could still find humour in a dark situation, perhaps she’d been pushed over the edge, or maybe she just couldn’t cry anymore, or maybe she had just wanted him to laugh..

“Oh,” Rose gasped in response. “Of course, I’ll leave you to it.”

They heard her footsteps fade away, and Kylo raised his eyebrows at her cynically. “You’re a liar.”

Rey shrugged her shoulders. “Not entirely.”

He half-smiled at her, a faded smile that seemed to speak so many things to her: of his shame, embarrassment, regret.

She held her arms out to him like a mother. “Come here.”

He took one last step towards her, and as though he had lost the strength in his limbs, he slumped to his knees, bowing before her, his head collapsing in her lap.

Rey’s lips parted and she felt a tidal wave of warmth stirring at the sight of him at her feet. She tentatively reached her fingers into his hair, running them through the messy locks, caressing the tip of his ear, over his eyebrow, pushing the hair from his face.

“I’m sorry,” muffled words breathed into her lap, and more than ever, she felt the pull of gravity between them, dragging her down to the floor, to him.

She gave into it, sinking between his open legs.

He couldn’t look at her still, but this time she was here to help him. She reached out to his face and he flinched at her touch, his eyes surprised and curious.

She smiled. Since when had he made her feel like this? When had this twisted, complicated job turned from fear to compassion—to something so much more?

With a gentle swipe of her thumb, she cleared a tear away from his cheek, kissing the shiny emptiness in its place before leaning back again.

He raised his eyes to her in bewilderment.

“Why?” he asked, barely above a whisper.

Her left hand moved gently to the other side of his face, feeling the soft, moist skin beneath it. He tried to turn away from her insistent gaze, but she wouldn’t let him. With gentleness, she raised his head with her hands, just enough to reach the natural light of the moon trying to break through the darkness.

And she knew what she had to do.

Snoke would destroy him with hate, with power, but she would save him with love.

His pupils were like a black sea, searching her face in wonderment, and before he could say another word, before he could pull away from her, and before she could question her action, Rey closed the distance between them and kissed him.

He startled, eyes wide in shock.

“I know it’s against the rules—”

He grabbed her, hands clutched at her waist, pulling her into him, searching her back with swirling, pressing motions, like he couldn’t touch enough of her at once.

His lips parted her own, exploring her, as though he were hungry for nothing but the feel of her lips on his. Ever since she’d seen those wide, full lips, she had wondered, just quietly, what it would be like to kiss him.

Their noses bumped together awkwardly, and she grinned, teeth flashing at him.

“More,” he whispered, pulling her into his embrace again, with roaming hands and desperate kisses. Her heart thundered like the sound of a stampede.

“More,” she pleaded back to him.

He found her hair, fingers massaging her scalp, letting her brown locks slip down around her bare shoulders, tracing his fingers down her neck, caressing her collarbone in soothing, gentle strokes.

They needed to breathe, forced to pull away from each other, gasping for air.

“Rey, why?” He shook his head. “Why would you do that?”

She looked at him, really looked at him, at the sadness and disbelief in his eyes.

“Because I know who you are, Ben Solo,” she whispered, kissing him again, teasingly pulling away as he tried to pull her close again. “And I’m going to help you.”

Chapter Text

Crimson Lane - Chapter 15 - Towards the dawn

Fragments of shattered glass glittered against the polished oak floor, the ferocious lashings of rain dwindling into a soft patter of droplets trickled down the window, and in the middle of a barricade of overturned furniture and scattered debris, Kylo and Rey clutched to one another.

Skin to skin, all tear-streaked cheeks and fervid panting breaths. Lips bruised with the crimson hue of hurried kisses and eyes locked on each other, as though nothing else existed beyond the solitude of their fortress.

“Rey,” Kylo breathed, touching his forehead to hers, fingers caressing her face. “Did you just kiss me?”

Her lips parted in a wide smile, eyelashes wet with tears. He marvelled at the way she anchored him now, the bright sun within his dark universe.

“Was it real? Please tell me it was real!”

She lifted her face to his, those sparkling obsidian pools of her eyes locked on him. “It was real,” she whispered and her lips brushed against him again, smiling.

No one had ever looked at him like that. Like he was worth looking at.

I can’t let you go, Rey. He gently stroked her cheeks with the backs of his knuckles, slipping them through her hair, placing wet, gentle kisses on the top of her cheekbone, the side of her eye, and to her waiting lips. Not now.

She pressed into him and his mind went blank. With rushed, searching fingers he explored every curve of her body. Blood surged between his legs and desire flooded fast behind… He tried to think of the exercises his uncle had taught him in self-discipline and yet he couldn’t stop—

“I don’t deserve it.”

“Shh,” she hushed against his earlobe, as she ran her fingers through his hair. It was driving him crazy, truth be told. “Shut up and kiss me.”

Her body, the way it moved against him, like a river around rock, encompassing. His cock bounded up in irregular jolt pushes. She must have felt it too, because she moaned, pressing her lips harder against his own.

He couldn’t go here again… not after what he’d done to her just moments before… not like this. But fuck, he wanted to.

Breathe . He needed to breathe.

He pulled back, panting, as they stared at each other, chests heaving and hearts pounding. There was a glistening glow in her dark eyes, they were bright and amorous, her lips swollen and red, scratched by the stubble of his shadow.

And then there was a growl, low and unnatural, like the wooden groan of a building collapsing. Rey’s eyes widened as she slapped a hand over her mouth, even still her smile broke past it.

“Was that your stomach?” Kylo asked. Again, like a creature from the hidden deep, the growling began again, louder and angrier than before.

“I’m sorry!” Rey burst out laughing, clutching her abdomen.

Her belly growled once more and Rey slapped her hands over it. “Oh my God, shut up!”

This time she snorted, making her laugh harder, and for the first time, he felt like laughing with her. Like, perhaps he could? Perhaps, with Rey, he could laugh for hours on end.

One day.

When this was all over.

“There’s something alive in there.”

“I’m so hungry. I didn’t have dinner before I came and somehow—” she shot him an accusatory glance— “I seem to have worked up an appetite.”

“Why didn’t you say something? I’ll take you out, you can have whatever you want, wherever you want,” Kylo said in a rush.

“Anything, hey?” Rey smiled mischievously.

This would cost him, but he didn’t care. “Anything.”

“Well—” she traced her finger along his pectoral muscles and he tried to concentrate on her words, rather than the knots that were tying his stomach— “you know that little late night kebab shop on the corner.”

“Except that!”

“You said anything!” she scolded, folding her arms impertinently.

“Rey, that place was shut down for health violations only last week.”

She rolled her eyes at him. “And it opened again just yesterday,” she said testily, as though his ignorance on the matter was a pure insult. “Ahmed says it was all a misunderstanding.”

“Ahmed? You’re buddies with the owner of the rank kebab shop now?”

“Rose introduced me. He’s got four kids, makes a mean kebab and hates pasty goth boys.”

She flashed him a deadly glare and Kylo teased her with a smirk. “Wow. You get grumpy when you’re hungry.”

She rolled her eyes, giving him a not-quite-gentle shove.

“You can talk, you’re fucking grumpy all the time.” He caught her in his arms again, jabbing fingers between her ribs as she kicked and squealed, unable to stop laughing.

“Stop!” she gasped between fits of laughter. “This is important!”

He let go of her, wishing he didn’t have to.

“Now listen, don’t get this wrong. I want a doner kebab with chicken, hummus, tabbouleh, lettuce, tomato, onion, chicken, cheese, garlic and chilli sauce. Got it?”

“There’s no way I’m kissing you after that.”

“We’ll see,” she said with a wink. “I’m going to have a shower. See you soon!”

Rey disappeared behind the bathroom door and like dark magic, the light seemed to fade away with her. He peered at the space where she had just been moments before, listening to the sound of water running, imagining her slipping beneath the water stream, lathering her body with soap...

He had to get out of here, fast.

 

Like a teenager sprung in the act, he pulled on a spare pair of black trousers and v-neck t-shirt from the wardrobe, and was just about out the door when Rey called out to him.

“That didn’t take long,” Kylo said with a smirk. “Want me to wash you down?”

She smiled, but there was a faint wariness about it.

“What’s wrong?”

“Lock the door, okay?”

His eyes narrowed on her. Studying the way her shoulders rounded in, chin dipped.

Something scared her.

“I will.”

She nodded, trying to look satisfied with that answer, but she was struggling. Her eyes darted through the darkened corners of the room and silence stretched around them.

“Did something happen while I was gone?”

“No.” She swallowed, shaking her head. “Do you know if Snoke is still here?”

Kylo stepped forward, skin tingling with heat.

“Did he touch you?”

“No,” she answered quickly. “Nothing happened.”

“Because if he did—” he would fucking tear his arms out of his shoulder sockets, he would pull that trigger and pulverise his crusty head, he would…

“Nothing happened!” she responded firmly. “I’ll see you when you get back.”

But that wasn’t enough.

He stepped forward, his hand outstretched, even though she was too far away to reach it.

“I’ll stay, Rey,” he said quietly. “I will call it in.” Sweetheart was what he wanted to say. Sweetheart. The word came naturally, although he forced himself not to say it.

Rey nodded, shoulders relaxing. “Thank you.”


 

Kylo heard the floorboards creaking before a quiet knock came at the door. He wouldn’t open it straight away, listening instead for what he could hear from the other side.

“Kylo! It’s me, Dom,” whispered a familiar voice and Kylo opened the door.

The tangy smell of garlic and onion wafted into the room and Dom presented him with two large, white bags.

“Delivery for you.”

“I thought you went home?”

“Nah, I just went for a drive. It was a shitty night. I needed to think—-holy shit Kylo, what the hell happened in here?”

Kylo looked behind him at the room that resembled something like an abandoned hotel and a bomb site.

“I—” He had nothing. Dom stopped peering past him, his dark blue eyes fixing on Kylo.

“It’s okay, mate, I know how it is. Hey—” He paused, stumbling on his words. "Ah, I wasn’t sure if I should tell you …”

“What?” Kylo barked. It was a little rude, but he was beyond pleasantries now.

“That reporter guy came around again looking for your girl.”

Fuck, of course he had. “Poe Dameron?”

“Yeah, that was it. I sent him on his way. Snoke would blow his top if he knew I let any reporters in here…”

“Yeah,” Kylo answered, trying to ignore the pointed way Dom was looking at him. The gentle buzz of Dom’s mobile phone vibrated from his pocket, the bright light of the screen lighting up with messages flooding in. Kylo’s expression tightened, his lips pressed into the other, brows lowering. Dom must have seen him use the phone at Lor’s house. But had Dom acted on it?

As if reading his thoughts, Dom looked up and down the hallway, before whispering, “We got each other’s backs, don’t we?”

Kylo blanched, the pounding in his heart wrenched up a notch.

“I like to think so,” he added stiffly.

Dom shifted his gaze one last time, sucking on the inside of his mouth. “You need to be careful with Hux. He’s convinced your girl Rey is the mole.”

Kylo stopped breathing, and almost on cue Rey’s high-pitched voice blared from the bathroom, not always in tune, but happy. This Girl is on Fire, apparently, or at least that was his best guess; she was butchering the lyrics.

“Did he say something?”

“No.”

“Did you see him—”

“Just call it a well-educated hunch, okay?” Dom said.

Kylo nodded as if bracing for something. Rey’s delighted screeching chorus raining down

rained

between them.

“She’s a keeper,” Dom said at last. “Enjoy your dinner.”

The door closed, and for a long couple of minutes, Kylo stared at it, anticipating, calculating, trying to master the next move in this dangerous game.


 

Alone again, Kylo switched on the lights and glowered at the room. He’d really done a number on this place. From the next room, he could hear the muffled lull of the shower stream, the sounds changing in length and rhythm as Rey moved beneath it, still singing.

He had to work quickly. Throwing out the broken glass, Kylo pushed the overturned desk back into place and gathered all the loose papers into their drawers. After that, he began to sweep up the smaller shards of glass, grabbing anything else that didn’t belong broken on the floor as well. The rhythmic motion of the broom pushing forward and backwards grounded him, emptying his thoughts. The gentle sound of the glass shards tinkling together like toasting wine glasses. The movement took him back to another time, in another place, the aftermath of another meltdown ...

The hard plastic of the broom was rubbing against his hands. He looked at his fingers, pale and soft. He rubbed them against his jeans, wondering how long he would be here. A warm summer breeze blew in from the broken window, carrying with it the scent of sunscreen and wildflowers. He wished he was back home, skidding pebbles across the backyard pond, watching the way small imprints in the water spiralled out into much larger ripples, disrupting the surface, distorting it.

Just as he did to everyone around him.

“Tired already, Ben?”

He started, almost dropping his broom. “No, Sir.”

“Get on with it then,” his teacher said, but there was no harshness in his voice, more like the sad resolution to disappointment.

Ben took up his broom, head down, cheeks flushed. “I didn’t mean to put his head through the window.”

“I know, Ben.”

“He just…” his voice was breaking again, he hated when that happened. “He says it every

His voice… again. He

time, always when you’re not looking. Elephant ears, retard, creep, psycho… I fucking hate it.”

There he went again. “Sorry—”

“It’s okay.”

There was a knock at the door, and a middle-aged woman ducked her head around the corner. “The principal wants a word, Mr. Solo.”

His teacher, Mr. Edwardson, stepped forward, hands placating, a gentle smile showing above his trimmed brown beard. “It really isn’t necessary. Ben has assured me it won’t happen again, Marjorie.”

“It doesn’t matter what he promises, Dale. It’s for the police now.”

Ben watched as his teacher’s eyes squeezed shut, his head shaking. Mr. Edwardson had tried to calm him down before the monster had risen up inside, but the rage had come fast and furious. All the calm-down and self-regulation activities he had tried to master over the years had come to nothing. Not when the world turned red and all he could feel was pain and anger.

The rage had washed over him like a tidal surge, yanking the sounds and air out of the room, and in the next minute, he was drowning. Lashing, punching, pushing. It was the worst one he’d had yet.

He had been an easy target for them, he always ways. From his big feet to his bony hands and towering height that seemed to stretch him out like a beanpole. The year in military school before this one had seen his long hair cut and now tugging at his wing-nut ears had turned into a school sport.

He fucking hated it. All of it.

 

* * * 

 

Ben waited outside the principal’s office on an uncomfortable olive cushion chair, watching Marjorie photocopying with her hot pink claws tapping on the lid of the photocopier.

Arms folded, head buried into his chest, his face burned in a scowl. “You know if the wind changes you’ll stay like that?” his mother used to tease him. He wished it would.

A grumbling old hobo came around the corner. Ben watched him beneath his scowling beard, transfixed as the man walked in and plonked himself right next to him.

He smelt like sandalwood, pine and old imperial soap, and his eyes were red-rimmed like he’d weathered too many storms and that scraggly beard made him look like an Ent from Lord of the Rings.

Ben kept his head down, but snuck a glimpse at the older man again. He was about five inches away and staring at him. Ben looked away as a tic in his jaw fluttered.

“How does the other guy look?” the old man asked, gesturing to Ben’s hand wrapped in white gauze. A pool of blood had been growing there.

Ben shrugged, not sure who the hell this guy was.

Principal Mather’s door opened and a weaselly-looking man with wide-circle glasses and a pink complexion pressed his lips into an unsatisfied pout.

“Ben Solo, get in here.”

“What about my parents, sir?”

“They’re busy,” Mathers said. “Luke Skywalker is your witness today.”

“Hey, kid,” the old man winked at him, flashing a wide smile between that crusty old beard.

“My Uncle?” Ben asked, bewildered. His crazy uncle who had been living like a hermit these past fifteen years? The one that his dad liked to joke was a few screws short of a hardware store? That Luke Skywalker?

“Let’s go show this guy not to mess with a Skywalker.” Luke led the way like a man on a mission until he stopped at the door and turned back to him. “But no matter what, we’re going to keep our cool, okay?”

Ben nodded, praying rather than hoping he would do just that.

 

* * *

 

Kylo smirked. Despite everything that followed, he always had to stifle a laugh as he remembered their first meeting. That was the first day he had met his uncle. Luke had gone into that meeting like a tiger shark. Ben had expected to come out of there with at least a police charge and expulsion, but somehow Luke turned the situation around. The first time someone had fought in his corner.

It was nice, not to be alone, at least once.

“You’re telling me this school allows the systematic bullying of a student until he feels so pushed into a corner and overwhelmed that the only thing he can do is snap, and he’s the one expelled for it!?!”

“Mr. Skywalker. I assure you, our school takes bullying most seriously. Hence, why Ben is in so much trouble. I won’t pretend to understand why he lashes out. Perhaps the work is too hard for him and he feels the need to prove himself in other ways.”

“Give me a break!” Luke cried out, slapping his hand to his forehead as his body sank into the chair. “The kid’s got a fucking IQ score of over 140 and you think a general maths class is too challenging for him?”

Ben straightened a little, surprised that his uncle knew anything about him at all.

“He doesn’t concentrate.”

“Because he has these little turds distracting him every two seconds. Move him to a higher grade maths, sit him at the front of the class, and teach him something interesting for once. I mean, what the hell are they teaching you, Ben?”

“Right-angled triangles.”

“Oh my God,” Luke muttered into his hands, and Ben had to stifle a laugh.

“Look, Mr Skywalker. Your nephew is expelled because he can’t be contained in our classrooms. Until he has learnt some semblance of control, he is not welcome back here. We just don’t have the facilities to deal with a—” Mathers paused, looking at Ben like he was trying to find his own semblance of control. “—kid with his needs.”

Ben flushed, wanting to bury himself under the desk. What the hell did he mean, a kid with his “needs”? What kind of “needs” did he have? He shifted in his chair, the heat rising in his body, prickling at his neck, his breathing rapid. What the fuck were they talking about? His hands were shaking, the sting of tears making his eyes hot and bothered. It was coming back again, the monster was waking… scratching his fingers across his scalp, he pulled his head down, squeezing his eyes closed—always different, always broken.

A gentle hand reached out to his shoulder. It was warm and heavy, a weight bearing down on him, grounding him to the earth and a whisper, distant and kind, “Breathe, just breathe through it, Ben.”

That had been the last day of school for him. After that, he had done everything by correspondence during the day and in the night he trained one-on-one with Luke in the dojo.

He thought back fondly on that memory. So much of his past had been twisted into dark roads and bad choices, but this one he could hold on to.

The bathroom door handle turned, and a shard of blinding light speared into the darkness, swirling mists of frangipani and rainforest, the warm humidity of moist air awakening his senses, and then from the light came Rey, patting her damp hair with a towel, dressed in a white t-shirt and some grey tracksuit pants.

He must have been gawking at her, because she stopped, looking down at her clothes, two dimples pinning a sheepish grin to her features.

“I know, it’s daggy,” she said with a shrug of her shoulders. “Do you mind?”

Kylo took a moment to answer. No, he didn’t mind. In fact — in fact , the sight of her like this had taken his breath away. This wasn’t the girl who had been forced to prostitute herself in sexy lace, this was Rey. The girl he could imagine sleeping in with on a Sunday morning, watching movies on on a Friday night, fighting over who got the last piece of pizza. She was real — she was everything he wanted.

“I don’t mind,” he said quietly, looking about the room, searching for something to say. “Here.” He gestured to the cushions and pillows he had scattered on the floor, two plates of kebabs and cold bottles of water, all in front of the fireplace that was now crackling with the rich smell of burning pine. “Take a seat.”

“Romantic.” Rey looked at the set up with a shy, unreadable smile.

They both sat down together, and it wasn’t long before Rey was inhaling her kebab, garlic sauce collecting at the side of her mouth, sprinkles of lettuce falling down onto the bag below.

“Don’t forget to breathe,” Kylo said with a smirk.

“No time to talk,” she mumbled, eating the kebab faster than he could have imagined.

“Oh God, that was good.” Rey stretched her legs out and cupped her belly. “Look, I have a food baby.”

“I think you ate twice your weight in kebab just then.”

“Well that’s not difficult, I weigh less than a feather.”

He laughed. “I hate to tell you, sweetheart, you’re no feather.”

“How dare you!” She threw a piece of chicken at his face and it bounced off his nose. They giggled together until they stopped, and she stared at him.

Kylo chuckled and with a cheeky smile, she took both of his hands and wrapped them around her waist as she leaned back into his chest. Kylo froze for a moment as the motion seemed so natural, and then he relaxed, giving into the forces at work around him. Rey’s hair was still wet, and he breathed in the fragrance of her shampoo.

“Is this okay for you?” She rested her head back on him.

It was just a small thing, but the movement made his heart swell. “Yes, it’s okay,” he whispered, placing a quick kiss on her hair.

They stared into the fire, watching the gold and white flames interweave and flicker against the brittle logs. Kylo squeezed her gently and Rey relaxed, letting her warm weight fall against him.

This moment, he thought, perfect. Rey’s light fingers swirled over the hairs of his arm, tracing his moles and freckles, as though she were mapping them in her mind. The tender touches sent tantalising pulses through his skin and he lowered his head to the crook of her neck, kissing it tenderly.

It seemed wrong now, that he should sit here, holding the most beautiful thing in his life, after the evil things he had done, not just tonight, but so many nights before, back to the key moment he was first faced with Rey.

Kylo squeezed his eyes shut at the thought, kissing the nape of her neck a little more urgently this time, like a desperate prayer. He had told her to run. Why was she still here? Did she know what he had done tonight… what he had done six years ago?

“Rey,” he whispered against her skin, overcome by guilt, pressing his lips against the exposed part of her back, eyes squeezed shut to hide the emotions he forced back inside his heart.

God, please let me just have this one night with her. Just this moment.

“Shh.” She held his forearm tighter against her stomach, pulling the other one over as well and holding them in place. “I know, Ben.”

He pulled her in even tighter, as though no amount of space could be between them.

“You’re beautiful, Rey.”

“Oh, shut up,” she scolded him, moving away from him as she gave his arm a light whack.

“I mean it,” Kylo said with a smile he couldn’t quite contain, as he pulled her back into him. “Get back here.”

She relaxed in his hold again, bringing his hand to her mouth and pecking soft kisses along the back of it and down his fingers. Kylo exhaled, and together they stared into the flickering flames.

Rey broke the silence.

“Does it help?” Her voice was tentative, as though she had been holding on to the question for a long time, unsure whether to air it or pack it away forever.

“What?”

“The sex, does it help?”

Kylo took a slow breath through his nose. “Sometimes,” he said almost wistfully. “Not tonight.”

He paused again.

“Not with you.”

He let the words settle between them, the cracks and snaps of the fireplace the only sound in the silence.

Rey nodded, threading her fingers within his. “After Plutt put me on that website and I—” She paused, as though unable to bring herself to finish the thought. Silently, Kylo promised himself that if he ever came face to face with Plutt, he would make him pay for what he did to her.

“After it happened, I slept around. A lot.” She turned in to him, resting her cheek on his chest, those brilliant hazel eyes misty and vulnerable as she peered up at him. “I don’t know. It was a dark time for me. I thought it took away the pain.”

Her words trailed off, and Kylo stroked her hair, never taking his eyes off hers.

“It never did though,” she continued. “In the end it just made me feel empty, like I was nothing.”

He nodded; he knew too well how it felt. How many times had he used women to push it all away, to heal the void that ripped him apart every second of every day? He couldn’t do it again. Not any of it. Not the violence, or the sex, it finished here. Somehow, he had to let it all go.

“Whatever Snoke makes you do,” she breathed, “it’s not you, Ben.”

“Yes, it is.” His dark words almost snapped at her, cruel and cold. She didn’t know, not really.

If she did, she wouldn‘t still be here.

She turned around to face him this time, her words strong, her expression firm. “No, it isn’t.”

“Rey, if you knew—” he paused, voice trembling. “You wouldn’t—-you would run as far away as you could.”

“Then tell me.” She pressed a kiss on the tip of his cold nose, her face warm. “Tell me how Snoke got to you. Help me understand.”

He shook his head, he couldn’t tell her, not everything…

“Please.”

Kylo let his shoulders slump, resting back on his palms and lowering his eyes. “I’ll tell you some of it Rey, but I won’t tell you everything. Not tonight.”

“Okay,” she said with a small smile. “But some time?”

“Yes,” he said, those night-sky eyes staring off into the fire. “Some time.”

Chapter Text

Crimson Lane - Chapter 16 - Towards the Dawn (Part 2)

Ben’s hand hovered above the handle, hesitating. There were muffled voices behind the door; his mother, father, Luke... They were all in there together; talking about him.

He’d done this years ago, just an eight-year-old boy, curiously listening at the door. That night he’d heard words that had changed everything: “troubled”, “therapy”, “medication”. The sound of his mother weeping, his father’s pacing. It still haunted him, even now. That night he’d cried beneath the duvet; praying and promising to change.

He should never have listened that night.

And now, just sixteen-years-old, he still hadn’t learnt the lesson.

“You’ll be so proud of him, Leia.”

That was Luke, his voice, gentle, and strangely emotional.

Ben pushed his ear against the door, straining to hear.

“I mean it. He’s amazing, Leia. The boy has a gift. He’s an example to the class.”

Ben’s heart clenched at the words, surely they weren’t about him.

“This last year, he’s studied hard every day and commits to his martial arts: Karate, kickboxing, Kung fu , Ninjutsu, he’s taking them in his stride.”

There was an audible sigh of relief and then, “So, the meditation is helping?”

That was his father, Han. He could recognise his voice by that familiar tinge of scepticism. “Hokey religions and ancient weapons,” he used to scoff at their training, much to Luke’s ire.

“And how is he at managing his emotions?” his mother asked.

There was silence for a beat, and then the sound of a chair scraping on the tiles.

“It will take many years for him to be in control. It’s difficult for him, Leia. The boy is so raw. So overwhelmed with his emotions that he struggles to process them. He needs time and peace.”

The room fell quiet again, a heavy silence.

“It’s not a bad thing. Yes, he has a great capacity for anger, but also an equally strong measure to love and protect. He just needs help. Like we all do at times.”

Luke cleared his throat. “Now Ben, if you’re done listening at the door, will you come in please?”

Ben jumped. The door he had been leaning against opened inward, throwing him off balance.

“I was just—” he started mumbling some pathetic excuse, but Luke spoke over him.

 

“I was telling your parents how hard you’ve been working with me this year.”

Ben nodded, too embarrassed to look anyone in the eye, and made a beeline to the fridge. He wasn’t hungry, but he had to do something. He could feel them all watching him. Ben opened the fridge door, drunk from a bottle of orange juice, ending with a loud sigh.

“Oh, Ben!” his mother scolded. “Use a glass.”

“You haven’t been able to improve his manners then?” Han asked with a wry smile.

“I’m not a miracle worker.” Luke came towards him. “I was just telling your parents how hard you’ve been working, and that I—” he paused, exchanging glances with the others. “ We think you’re ready to go in the Kyokushin karate tournament this year.”

Ben choked, eyes stinging as he banged firmly on his chest.

“What?! Are you sure?”

Luke clutched a hand on Ben’s shoulder, studying him as if he were looking at something beyond the surface. “You’re ready, kid.”

Ben’s mouth dropped open, still holding onto the orange juice, not even sure what to do with it now. His father nodded and winked at him, a subtle measure of appreciation and praise that was so hard won. And then Leia rushed at him, throwing her arms around him.

“Mum!” Ben cried out, wriggling out of her hold. He was sixteen now, after all, not four.

“Oh, I know you don’t like it, but just let me have this one.”

Ben gave her a half-smile and returned the hug.

Everything was shifting. He had focus, he had hope, and most of all, he had a chance to prove that could do this.

Kylo chuckled bitterly, elbow resting on his knee and the light of the fire flickering across his face: heat and light, dark and shadow. Rey had sat quietly, hanging off his every word.

And then she beamed at him like she’d just connected crucial pieces of a puzzle.

“You trained with Luke Skywalker?!”

Shit.

He swallowed and nodded. He’d forgotten not to mention that—

“I did too!”

“I know.”

“How do you know?”

Kylo turned away from her, grazing his teeth along his lip. Too close.

“Come on, tell me how you know?” she asked again, but while her face was playful, there was something in her voice that faltered.

Doubt.

Kylo stared at her, for far too long. He could tell her now, have it all out in the open. Maybe, if he explained things from his point of view, she may even understand.

Maybe.

Probably not.

“That day you attacked me in the alley, behind the restaurant...”

“The day I defended myself, you mean?” she said.

“It’s all a matter of perspective. Anyway, that move you pulled was classic Skywalker. I’d know it anywhere.”

“You should have told me!”

“But we were having such a nice conversation,” Ben said, almost relentingly.

Rey laughed and her eyes crinkled into half moons, as those two irresistible dimples appeared, the way they always did when she found something funny.

“Oh, God. Yes! I’d almost forgotten. You were a right bastard!”

“And you were—” He looked her over and rested his eyes on the fire in her hazel eyes glowing dimly, as she awaited his answer. “ Adorable.”

“I was not!” she snorted.

“No,” Kylo pulled her into his chest, hugging her. “You were sexy and adorable, just like you are now.”

He kissed her again and she wriggled beneath him as though she were trying to put up a fight, but couldn’t quite make up her mind to do it. Instead, her lips parted, lithely slipping her tongue between his lips.

Like someone had just lit a fire in his core, Kylo felt the blood rush between his legs and the feeling of pleasure mixed with a sense of fullness. He wrapped his arms around her, pulling her hard against him. The feeling of her breasts pressed against his chest and her legs wrapped around his waist, the warm heat of her sex so tantalisingly close to his own, was driving him crazy.

He pressed his erection into her, groaning as he kissed every inch of skin he could find. How easily she reduced him to this, like he could barely think of anything else apart from having her right there, on the floor if need be.

“We can talk about it later,” he murmured into her ear, grinding against her.  

“Don’t change the subject!” she panted, gasping for breath between their kisses.

“But I like this subject,” he breathed.

She moaned into his hair, encouraging him to continue.

“I want to make love to you,” he whispered.

“Okay,” she sighed.

“Properly this time.”

His fingers searched between her legs, and felt a swell of pride at the warmth and wetness he found there.

He slipped a finger inside her, and then another, growing harder at the feel of her body tightening around him, at the same time his thumb began to stroke her clit.

With ragged breaths and wild moans, she nipped at his ear. “What are you doing to me?”

He smiled devilishly. He would make it up to her now, searching out the places that made her writhe with pleasure, dancing across them gently as she swayed against him, eyes closed and breathing heavy.

“Let me take you to bed,” he groaned in her ear. “I’ll give you everything you want.”

“I—” her words fell away, replaced with a muffled cry as he continued his attention to her.

He loved this. Loved the way her body was like fluid around him, moulding against his own.

Maybe the past didn’t matter. Maybe he could just hide it all away and start something new, with her. After all, she’d been so entwined in his life already.

She cried out again, louder this time as she yanked his hand away. “Too much. I’m coming undone here.”

“That’s the idea,” he went back to kissing her, roving his hands beneath her sweater.

 

“I know what you’re doing.” She returned his kisses, with just as much ferocity.

“Driving you wild?”

“Avoiding. No more,” she said between each brush of his lips. “Not until you’ve finished telling me the whole thing.”

“You’re so close though, let me take you to the end,” he whispered, fingers travelling back down to her pants once more. “Don’t worry sweetheart. I’ll do you one better when we finish too.”

“Stop tempting me!” Her voice was hoarse, almost fading away as he had lifted her top and started pressing kisses against her breast. She jumped back, moving as far away from him as she could, pressing the back of her hand to her cheek like it was on fire.

Kylo grimaced. “Fine, but it doesn’t get any better from here. Are you sure you want to know?”

“You know my history. I want to understand yours.”

Kylo felt his face scrunch up, the way he did as a child when he could sense he was about to lose a game.

“Last chance, I could have you on the bed with my head between your legs right now. If I recall, you quite enjoyed that last time.”

Rey’s lips flickered with a smile, but she reigned it in, the same way she tried to look confident now, despite the fact she was practically blushing from head to toe.

“You can still do that after you’ve finished the story .”

Kylo frowned, doubting they’d be doing anything once they’d finished.

“It won’t change anything, Ben.”

“You say that now...”

“And I’ll say it then, I promise.” She crawled forward, just enough to place her hand in his. “So, you went to the tournament?”  

Kylo sighed. “I went to the tournament, but It didn’t work out.”

“You didn’t win?” she asked, sound so delicately naive that he could have bottled her voice and kept it with him on his march to hell.

“No, I didn’t win.”

* * *

The change rooms reeked of gym socks, piss and disinfectant. Bright lights burned overhead as Ben put on his karate uniform, clear and freshly pressed. His mother must have sprayed it with starch as the material scratched against his skin. Of all the days she would do his laundry, it had to be this one.

He had waited until everyone else had left, not wanting the pressure of getting changed among his competitors and peers.

He had no idea why Luke had allowed him to enter a Kyokushin tournament, it was full-contact, the fights were furious and fast, but perhaps that was the intent.

Kyokushin karate placed a huge emphasis on control and discipline. Luke was challenging him, and so far he’d exceeded his own expectations. Meticulous and controlled, he’d worked through the rounds, gaining wins each time.

Those fleeting two to three-minute fights left him out of breath and red-faced. And he loved it.

There was a burst of sound as a group of people entered the change room. Ben stiffened, even though he couldn’t see them, it still made him feel wary.

At last, he tied his belt, black as the night. It was his most treasured achievement. He’d risen the ranks fast to earn it within two years. He thought back to the way Uncle Luke had tied it, so reverently that first time. It was near midnight on a Thursday, they had trained all day and into the night, after a particularly challenging week. They were alone in the dojo, beyond the arched windows, framed a clear sky of blazing stars, thousands of ancient guardians witnessing the ceremony.

“The tree has reached maturity and has overcome the darkness,” Luke told him reverently.

The darkness , Ben pressed his lips together at the thought. It never really left him. Not really. He was an imposter here, in this hall, with this belt. No one, not even Luke, knew how close he was to losing control at any second.

He had held back in every fight, but the struggle had been real. Anyone of those boys could have walked away from the mat with a broken arm or dislocated shoulder, or worse….

“If it isn’t the freakazoid,” a vapid voice echoed from around the room.

Ben froze, fingers clutching into his palms, counting his breaths.

Ten-nine-eight—

“Overcome the darkness,” he reminded himself, as he looked around the room for the source.

Seven-six-five—

“Did you see his tiny wiener?!”

A boy laughed, followed by another, and another.

Great, a group of losers.

Four-three-two—  

“Do you think he knows how to use it?”

One—

“Maybe, he probably practises on his mother!” There was a cackle of laughter and Ben raced through the corridors to find them.

“Nah, he’s too fucking dumb to pull his zipper down before he cums his pants .”

Ben rounded the corner to see three students huddled together, cramped over and hugging their waists in stitches. He lunged at them, immediately recognising that dick, he’d smashed his head through the glass at school only two years ago. Micah, or Mikah, whatever his stupid name was.

Names were irrelevant, they only sought to humanise people.

“Long time no see.”

“Micah,” he said stiffly, looking through him, rather than at him.

Ben,” Micah purred, making sure he had the attention of his proud posse. “Looks like it is down to you and me in the final.”

“The expression of aggression is an expression of weakness .” Luke’s words, repeating in his mind, as though he were whispering them in his ear.

Walk away. Don’t engage.

Ben bowed, feeling the heat burning in his cheeks, making his ears appear fiery and red. In one instant he was that boy in high school again.

The victim.

Weak.

Ben tried to walk past, but with each step, one of Micah’s friends stepped in his way.

“We’re about to start,” Ben muttered.

He could do this. He wouldn’t rise to the bait. He just had to get out of this room.

“I wouldn’t miss it,” Micah followed closely behind him and then added in a whisper, “Prepare to have your arse handed to you, Solo.”

Micah marched past, waving to his family and friends like he was a celebrity. There was a loud cheer and the screech of girls voices scraped at Ben’s eardrums. His pulse pounded, and his heart felt like it kept stopping and starting again at twice the speed. It made him feel sick.

He followed Micah out into the arena and heard his dad give him an indistinct shout of encouragement. Ben squinted at the bright overhead lights bearing down on him. Inside, his blood was boiling, a furious, torrent of rage and emotion working through his him as he eyed up Micah.

“You alright, Ben?” Luke asked, his gravelly voice barely audible above everything else.

Ben nodded, focussing solely on Micah’s smiling face.

“Stay focussed, Ben.” Luke’s voice moved around untethered and distant.

Micah bowed at him with a wink.

Ben bowed also, with barely a nod of his head.

The referee took a step back and they began.

The fight was messy and bloody, too sloppy and fast; fueled with antagonised testosterone. Ben channelled everything he’d learnt from Luke over the years, but instead of trusting his skills, he focussed on strength, putting too much weight behind his attack moves. It was making him weary.  

Micah danced around him, bouncing on the balls of his feet. His first move was to rush in with a forearm strike, smashing the outside bone of Ben’s arm. Ben retaliated and tried to backfist him, but as if pre-empting his attack, Micah got him on the spin with a foot sweep.

Ben stumbled back.

“Stop trying to hit him hard, you need to outsmart him. Use your reach,” Luke’s voice came from behind him.

They sparred again, both of them throwing and blocking punches until Ben’s vision went black, and a smashing crack broke against his forehead. His eyes grew warm and blurred with blood.

The whistle blew. And Ben scoffed, edging away from the fight. That little shit had gotten him with an illegal punch to the face. Puffed and bloody, and blind with rage, Ben noticed the way the sound drowned away, the flutter of warning before the wave would come and take him.

Micah’s lips moved, smiling, laughing, telling his friends it was “too easy”.

In a heartbeat, Ben yanked Micah by the back of the neck and threw him on the ground, pinning him down with his body as he slammed the base of his hand into his nose, breaking it. He didn’t wait before aiming another punch to Micah’s eye socket, aiming to fracture it, just like he had done to Ben only minutes before.

There was screaming all around him, on the edge of his existence, falling in and out. His name, shouted in panicked frenzied tones, and then the shrill screech of the whistle. A pair of strong arms pulled him off Micah and instinctively Ben shoved his elbow back, connecting with something.

There was an audible gasp, and then a cry.

He couldn’t stop. Not now that the fury was boiling in his blood, all he could feel was heat and hatred at the white hair, blue eyes, flushed cheeks and broad smile, laughing at him. He would smash that smile off Micah’s face and he wouldn’t let anyone stop him.

And no one was.

...

He glanced back. Luke, his mother, father, gone.

No, not gone.

...

He followed the eyes of the crowd, to a small group of people standing by his father. Blood streamed from Han’s face, dazed and near unconscious on the floor, Luke and Leia bent down over him, speaking urgently and holding up fingers to count.

“Dad…” Ben stepped towards him, panicked. No one paid attention to him, not even Micah, who had crawled away on the floor. Men and women in yellow vests crowded around his father, and he watched in horror as they took him away.

“Dad!” he cried out again, unable to see anything of his father now, except for his loose hand dangling beside the stretcher. His mum and Luke, scurrying along beside him.

Fuck , his eyes pricked with tears. This had been a disaster.

He stumbled back, the loudspeaker echoed into the stadium, a mixed droll of male voices.

What the hell had he done?

He fell back, stumbling to the floor, unable to control the tears as he gasped for air, spluttering blood and saliva.

Someone handed him a drink bottle, and beside him appeared a pair of shiny, black business shoes, pressed trousers.

That was odd.

He looked up to see a slim man towering over him with a crooked smile and balding head.

“Who are you?” Ben snapped.

“Straight to the point,” the old man replied. “I like that.”

“Yeah, well. If you’ll excuse me, I need to find my father.”

Ben went to bypass the intruder, but the man squatted down and placed a firm grip on his shoulder. The same way Luke had done so many times, but these fingers were long and slender, like clamped bones; cold and surprisingly firm, like they would never let go.

“Your parents want you to finish the fight. They sent me to check on you.”

Ben paused, studying the man again. From here he could see the way his head was covered in sunspots and crusty skin cancers. Something deep inside Ben’s gut warned him against this man.

Dangerous , the thought whispered at him.

“The fight’s over,” Ben said. “Thanks anyway, though.”

He went to move away once more, but the hand clamped tighter and the smile got broader.

“We both know that little dick had it coming to him,” the man hissed, and while Ben was surprised at this little outburst, he agreed with the sentiment.

“I’ve been watching him. He thinks you’re a simpleton. You’re not wrong to want to beat him. Guys like that need to be beaten. You should never let a bully win, son.”

Son . He didn’t like the sound of that word, the way it slipped so comfortably from the man’s thin lips. But the rest of it, he could get behind that.

“He’s too fast,” Ben said, his heart still racing and for some reason, the thought of going in to fight again was making him breathless with anxiety. “I need to breathe, I can’t calm—”

“Forget that!” the man snapped. “I’ve worked with hundreds of professional fighters, and I can tell you now, Skywalker knows nothing about your true strength. In fact, he’s scared of it!”

Ben paused, checking to see no one else was listening. He’d thought the same thing many times: day after day of frustration, wanting to release his strength and power when all his uncle wanted was to hold him back.

“I can see it.” The man leant in close to whisper. “That raw power inside you, screaming to get out. Let me help you. I can make you reach your true potential. But first—” The man nodded his head to Micah. “You need to get that fucking runt out of the game.”

Micah was staring now. No, not staring as much as gleaming at him. He’d already cleaned the blood off his face, the fleshy pink grazes and tender yellow spots the only sign that he had taken a beating.

“Isn’t it enough to win?” Ben asked, already feeling the fury building in his heart once more.

“Winning will not earn this boy’s respect. You need to command it. Force it from him.”

Ben’s instincts were raising, like fur on the back of a dog about to fight, urging him that this was a very bad idea. But what did instincts understand about respect and the chance to put an end to his taunting, once and for all?

“What you’re suggesting sounds illegal,” Ben said at last.

The man shrugged. “It depends how you do it. There are legal kicks that can be devastating enough when you time it right.”

Ben’s gaze shifted around the room. Where the hell was Luke? Then again—he took another long look, searching the throngs of people coming in and out of the exits. What Luke didn’t know…

“You know I’m right.” The man released his grip with a friendly smile, only now had Ben realised how much his vice hold had hurt him.

“Who are you?” Ben asked, surprised he’d let the conversation go without demanding this information.

A bony hand reached out to meet his own. “Alastair Snoke.”

Ben started.

Alastair Snoke! Holy shit, everyone knew the name, if not the face.

Multi-millionaire and CEO of the First Order. It was rumoured he often hand-picked the best fighters and sponsored their training with very generous pay packets. Perhaps this was what he was doing now?

The break was finishing, and there was the hurried mutter of competitors and instructors exchanging final words before their matches.

Ben straightened a little, finally ready to listen even though his head was pounding and he was still bleeding. “What do you propose?”

“Have you ever done a meia lua de compasso?” Snoke asked.

“The capoeira move? Surely that’s not legal in a tournament.”

“It’s merely a reverse roundhouse kick with a bit of embellishment. Your enemy won’t expect it and the centripetal force makes it extremely powerful. If he comes back from it, follow the move with a swift axe kick.”

Ben had practised the move a couple of times, once with Luke when he’d almost taken his Uncle’s head off. Luke had since banned him from using it ever again, after thoroughly berating him for being “showy”.

He could pull it off, potentially. And Snoke was right, it would never be expected.

“I don’t know…”

“Don’t give in to your weakness. Look!” Snoke tapped at his knuckles, bruised and bloody. “Your skin is your armour, your bones are hard as stone. A kick like that will finish this. Fast as you can. Hard as you can. Mercy is for the weak. Are you weak Ben Solo?”

“No, sir,” Ben stumbled over his words, looking away awkwardly.

“I said are you weak!?”

“No!” He shouted.

“Then go and take this little shit out of the game.”

The whistle blew, and Ben was on his feet again, bouncing quickly, darting around the mat, the crowd cheered, or jeered, he wasn’t sure which one. His head pounded and his insides were awash with worry for his father and all the time he felt the piercing fire of Snoke’s eyes, latching onto him possessively.

“Do it!” Snoke raised his voice above the crowd. “Be a man!”

Micah bowed low, as did Ben.

And then Micah winked at him, as he mouthed the word “psycho.” Kudos to him, he’d managed to do it without anyone else noticing.

Ben looked back at Snoke, at his wraithlike body and eyes dark and hungry. He gave him a nod and the smallest smile.

Micah came at him with full force and speed. Ben spun around, his hands slamming to the mat, as his legs swung out in a reverse roundhouse kick. He would always remember the feel of Micah’s face beneath the sole of his foot, followed by the pounding thump of the boy’s body hitting the ground. By the time Ben repositioned himself, Micah was dazedly trying to clamber to his feet.

“Finish it!” Snoke shouted from the side.

Micah coughed and blood spluttered onto the mat.

He was the weak one. Not Ben.

He had almost gotten to a stand when Ben stepped forward, shooting his right leg up in an axe kick, then brought his heel down fast on the back of Micah’s neck.

Micah smashed to the floor and the auditorium went silent, watching wordlessly as the boy lay still on the mat. There was no whistle this time, or crowds pulling him away. Just the hum of the lights and the slow melodic clapping of one person. Ben looked up to see it was Snoke, and then, to the exits where Luke was standing now by the door, his face white, like he was looking at a monster.

 

Kylo paused, pinching at the unformed tears.

He wasn’t sure how long he’d stared into the fire, lost in the way the glowing embers floated and popped. The firewood was black and broken now, moulding into ash and stone. How easy it was for life to be destroyed? The pull of a trigger, a kick of the leg, blood, no blood, fast, slow.

There was a gentle pressure on his hand, and he was almost surprised to see Rey was still reaching out of him, her fingers moulded with his.

“Are you okay?” she asked.

Kylo pulled himself out of his thoughts, they were dark and magnetic, drawing him in. But Rey was like the sun, the moment he looked upon her, the darkness subsided.

She dipped her head, smiling at him, waiting.

“This part is…” His hand clamped around her own, a lifeline to hope. “You won’t want to stay.”

“Hey.” She placed her hand along the line of his jaw, bringing him to face her. “I’m not going anywhere... ”

 

His mother was crying, dabbing each tear away with her handkerchief. His father was yelling, at no one in particular, Luke maybe, Ben probably, but it seemed to vary. Han’s right eye was no longer swollen from Ben’s hit at the tournament, but the shadow of it was still there, a gothic rainbow of black, brown and mustard green.

And then there was Luke, leaning against the door frame of the dining room, trying to look calm, but Ben could see the way his fingers squeezed white pressure points into his forearms, the worry lines cut above his brows. He was scared shitless. They all were.

Ben sat at the dining table, arms folded, head down. He tried to look penitent, that was what they wanted him to be, but in reality, he was still angry at Micah, at Luke, at all of them for believing him to be someone other than he was. Ben glowered at the family photos on the buffet, picture perfect studio shots, with a smiling boy and his doting parents, each of them placing a hand on his shoulder.

Luke wrung his hands as if giving life to the expression to wash one’s hands of the situation.

“There is no question about it, Leia. They will use all of this evidence against him at court. The tournament footage shows every move was intentional.”

“Of course it was intentional! We were in a tournament for God’s sake,” Ben snapped, still not brazen enough to raise his voice.

Han pressed his palms on the edge of the table, leaning close to Ben. “Do you have any idea how much trouble you’re in? A boy is dead because of you!”

“If you think I fucking care about that loser you’re deluded.”

“Oh my God,” Leia slumped further into her chair, delicate fingers twisting her empty sherry glass, eyes flicking to the bottle next to it wantingly.

“He was a dick!” Okay, he was yelling now. What was the point in holding back? “One less dick in the world. Is that really a bad thing?”

Leia stared at Luke mutely. But his uncle merely shook his head, as if they were speaking on some other plane.

“Yes!” Her hands were in the hair now, voice trembling. “Yes! It is a bad thing. I can’t believe—I don’t—” She looked to Han, seeking solidarity, but he was staring at the floor. She continued, voice breaking now, “Do you have no remorse? You have taken someone’s life!”

“Why should I?” Ben snapped, burning fury in his gaze at every single one of them. “I didn’t think it would have killed him..”

Han scoffed, arms folded and face red. “You didn’t think, no son, you sure as hell didn’t think!”

“What are our options?” Leia asked, looking to Luke for answers.

Luke exhaled, crossing his arms and stood a little straighter as he spoke. The “do not mess with me” expression, Ben knew so well from training.

At last, he said, “Ben needs to take responsibility for his actions.”

“But surely…” Leia began.

“You can’t keep bailing him out, Leia. Not on something like this. You shouldn’t. And they won’t let you anyway.”

Every word coming out of Luke was making him furious. “So, what are you saying? I’m going to jail?”

“If that’s what the court decides.”

“We have lawyers, I’m sure we could…”

“No!” This time it was Han speaking. “Luke’s right. It’s time Ben understood there are consequences to his actions.”

“Consequences?” Ben roared as he lurched out of his seat, ignoring the way it crashed on the floor behind him.

“We took a punt on you Ben, a big one,” Luke said solemnly, having enough gall to look like there were tears in his eyes.

“This is horse shit!” Ben shouted.

“Get out! The voice was quiet and stern. Enough to pull him back from the physical rage, but not the one thundering in his heart.

 

“Don’t tell me to get the fuck out of my own house,” he screamed at Luke.

 

“He didn’t say it. I did!” Leia’s voice was clearer now.

 

Ben looked wildly around seeking someone to help him out of his rage, to anchor him in the sea of fury that was threatening to drown him.

 

“I want you out of this house right now—”

 

“I can’t fucking believe this!”

 

“Now! You can come back when you’re ready to face the consequences of your actions.”

Kylo’s heart was racing, he’d never told the story to anyone before, but even now, every word he spoke made the pain feel just as fresh as all those years ago.

 

As if he had been holding his breath, Kylo released a grunt, the telltale threat he would cry if he didn’t take back control. Gnashing his teeth, and straightening his spine, he tried to breathe through his nose. But still, his eyes pooled at the corners.

 

Weak.

 

He tried not to look at Rey, but in his wild attempt to look anywhere else, he was automatically always drawn back to her. She was breathing hard, cheeks wet with the tidy streaks of dried tears.

 

“Don’t cry,” Ben tried to say it softly.

 

She shook her head. “I’m not.”

 

A single drop ambled down her cheeks, and she blinked it away.

“Did you go looking for Snoke then?”

 

“I didn’t need to. He came after me. As I was roaming aimlessly around the street, he called me up. Told me he’d heard how everything had gone down and that he had an offer to make everything go away.”

 

“I bet he did.” Rey sat back, cross-legged. He started wondering if telling her all of this was a mistake. How much could she take, before she decided he was just too fucked up?

 

“I was terrified, Rey. I know there’s no excuse for it. For any of it. But in the end, I was just a messed up 16-year-old kid.”

 

Rey nodded. A small smile fettered on her lips. Unreadable.

“Keep going.”

Ben waited by the front door of number 12 Crimson Lane, trying not to look at the glaringly obvious red light blazing above him, or the way it bathed his face and hands in a violent red glow. It was after midnight, he’d been walking all evening, and his heels were covered in broken blisters. He just wanted to stop.

 

Pushing the door open, he saw a striking giant of a woman with white-blond hair and a condescending expression.

 

“Well, look at what the cat dragged in.”

 

Ben squared his shoulders. “I want to see Snoke.”

 

Phasma laughed, the sound was low and bitter. “No one sees Snoke.”

 

“I do.” He only stayed long enough for her to roll her eyes, and by the time she was finished, he had forced his way into the office.

 

Inside the room, Alastair Snoke sat like a king on his throne, with a mustard gold robe and amused expression.

 

Ben was taken aback suddenly, he was expecting something different, more professional perhaps. But this was far from professional.

 

“Who the hell are you?” A red-haired man marched up to him as though he was personally assaulted by his presence.

 

“Come, come, Armitage,” Snoke said with a wave of his hand. “This is the one I was telling you about.” He gestured for Ben to come closer and continued talking to the man named Armitage. “So, did they borrow the money?”

 

“The whole hundred grand.”

 

Snoke clapped his hands together, saliva bubbling at the corners of his mouth. “Excellent!”

 

“You’re not going to get it back.”

 

“After all these years, you still don’t understand how this works, do you?”

 

Armitage’s lips tightened in a pressed line, but he said nothing.

 

“What’s more valuable, Kylo Ren?”

 

Ben furrowed his brow, taken aback by the wrong name. “Are you talking to me?” he stammered over the words. “My name is Ben.”

 

“It was Ben. I have a new name for you now. So, let me ask you, Kylo, what’s more valuable, a hundred thousand grand or a life debt?”

 

“The life debt,” Kylo replied.

 

“There!” Snoke nodded, narrowing his eyes at Armitage, as though to press the point like a knife in the chest. “Here.” He pulled out a manila folder from his desk and slid it to Ben. “Tell me what do you see?”

 

Kylo brought the folder close to him, flicking through the pages.

A pair of drug addicts, the father worked casually as a bus driver, but his shifts had been cutting back due to missed work. The woman photographed in the folder had small pock marks and scars over her face and cheeks. She looked pretty far gone in the picture, and he suspected the father was too.

 

And then, on the last page, a picture of a girl, she couldn’t have been older than five or six. Her hair in three buns and sun-kissed in many freckles.

 

And there was the real win. Family, love, it was most people’s weakness.

 

“They have a daughter. She’s not living with them, but still, it’s all leverage.”

 

Armitage scoffed from the shadows, but his eyes were bright and watchful. “So what, we’re bringing kids in now?”

 

Snoke shook his head. “We’ll use her when we need to. Good find, son. For now, I have a better plan.” And then his eyes fixed on Kylo, like two armoured targets, leaning forward, voice low and caressing. “You’re in deep shit my boy. Manslaughter charges, murder with intent perhaps. It’s not good.”

 

Ben’s heart skipped a beat, he was only just sixteen, he couldn’t go to jail for the rest of his life. His life hadn’t even begun yet.

 

“But perhaps...” Snoke paused for effect. “All is not lost. Perhaps you would like it to disappear.”

 

“Is that even possible?”

 

“Anything is possible. If you’re willing to pay the cost.”

 

“Tell us what you will have us do.” Armitage stepped forward, his voice grandiose and pathetic in the same instance.

 

“Go for the hands. Make it so he can no longer work. I don’t care what you do, cut off his fingers, break bones, just make sure he can’t earn...”

 

Kylo swallowed. Shit. This was not what he was looking to do at all. But somehow, the gleam in Snoke’s eye gave him the impression that he would not be walking out of here freely tonight, or anytime soon.

 

“If he can’t work then he won’t pay,” Armitage stated, arms folded.

 

“Exactly. They’ll be desperate. And desperate people will do anything,” Snoke sneered as he turned to Kylo, “So, are you going to help us?”

 

Ben took a step back, eyes flicking between the exit and Snoke.

Would jail be worse than this—selling his soul?

 

“It seems a bit extreme,” Ben stammered, looking to Hux for support, but he received none. He wasn’t quite sure where this pale-faced guy fit in. He was barely older than Ben, but had obviously worked with Snoke for a while. If he had any moral issues with the underhanded side of Snoke’s business, he wasn’t about to show his cards here.

 

“Extreme, you say?” Snoke asked, raising his eyebrows in surprise. “More extreme than killing a young boy in cold blood? Indeed, what is a couple of minor bones to save you from lifetime imprisonment.”

 

Ben was silent.

 

“This is the end of the line for you son. There is no one left to help you.”

 

He hesitated. Snoke was right about one thing, this was the end of the line. If he took a job like this, his family would never take him back. The cost was increasing; family, freedom, morality…

 

“They’ll destroy you in there, son. You won’t last longer than a week,” Snoke continued. “The rich son of a senator. You may as well go in there and shank yourself.”

 

“Okay,” Kylo hissed, feeling heat curling up his neck at being pressured into this. In the end, he could always fake it, or run away. He would think of something…

 

“Excellent.” Snoke tapped the pads of his fingers together with a mercurial smile. “Hux here will video it for me. As soon as the job is done, I’ll make the call and you’ll be free.”

That night, Ben sat alone in one of the upstairs rooms of the brothel, still as stone, as if he was anchored to the bed.

There were papers sprawled at his feet and there was the picture of the freckle-faced girl in his hands. He only moved in micro movements, nostrils flaring, a tic tugging at the skin beneath his eyes, the subtle tremble of ash-white fingers grasping hold of the photo.

She was so young, without a family that loved her, or even knew she existed. He didn’t know why thoughts of her had grabbed hold of him. She was just a girl. But perhaps he took comfort in the fact that there were other people who were alone in this world.

Why could he not look away from the photo? Something about the innocence of her face. The quiet truth that they were both attached to this nightmare somehow.

The apartment had been a slum, with broken windows and exposed needles. No sign that a child had ever lived there or could ever return. The father had begged for more time, the mother was coming down off something and sat slumped in the corner, not really aware of her surroundings.

 

Snoke would give them more time. Years if he wanted, as long as he could keep them on a leash.

God knows what he would make them do over the years.

Or what he would make Ben do.

His phone dinged with a message. It hadn’t stopped ever since he’d left home. Message, call, voicemail, one after the other. Han, Leia, Luke, they’d even gotten his godfather Lor involved.

But he couldn’t go back. He’d made his bed the moment he walked out of that house and now he would lie in it.

He took his clothes off and got in the shower, closing his eyes as the water streamed down his face and over his shoulders.

There was a knock on the bathroom door, and before Ben had even grabbed a towel, a woman stepped into the bathroom. She had long brown hair and wore a sheer, red robe, with a lip ring and rose tattoo swirling across her breast.

Ben stumbled back, swallowing, his erection bounded up at the sight of her.

His cheeks burned and he tried to cover his penis, embarrassed, but at the same time unable to look away from the blush-brown nipples and curvacious waist leading down into rounded hips.

She had no underpants. No anything.

The prostitute smirked, her dark blue eyes running up and down his body too, as she tilted her head, trying to see what he was hiding.

“You must be Ben.”

She advanced on him again.

Was this the surprise Snoke had planned? He had not expected this. He was still a virgin and he sure as hell didn’t want to have his first time with an experienced woman.

“What—What are you doing here?”

Her laughter filled the room, snappy little laughs that reverberated off the bathroom walls. “Perks of the job. You’re a knight now, and Mr Snoke likes to keep his knights satisfied. My name is Tessa.”

She slipped off her sheer robe, not that it was hiding much before anyway. But even still, her naked body bought a new kind of flush to his cheeks and his cock throbbed, aching for release.

She stepped forward again, opening her arms as he dropped his hands, distracted by her nakedness. With a satisfied nod, she took note his size and smiled once more.

“Come here then, big boy,”

Fuck it! So much for a romantic first time with someone that he loved. He was hardly going to turn her down. She ground her body up against his, rubbing her breasts against his chest, kissing his shoulder, neck, and jaw.

She leant up on her tippy toes, those blood red painted lips puckering as she aimed for his lips, but he grabbed her wrists, almost flinching at her touch.

“Don’t touch me!”

She laughed again, hyena-like. It made his blood boil. “What are you frigid or something?”

Blood coursed hot and angry through his veins, the stress and horror of the evening burned into his mind. He needed to explode, to get it rid of it all somehow. It was all too much, keeping it inside; the guilt, the shame, the fucking reality that he had killed a kid and broke a man’s livelihood.

 

Her hand curved around the width of his cock, pumping.

“You like this, don’t you kid?”

He grunted, a nod. Closing his eyes. “Just not all the touching, okay?”

She studied him dubiously, forcing him to look away from her.

“And that,” he almost growled. “That makes me uncomfortable.”

“What!? Me looking at you?”

“Yeah,” he grimaced, she was looking at him like a freak, but he didn’t care. If he was going to do this, he needed to have some ground rules. “Look, get a paper and pen and write this down.”

 

“You serious?” She scoffed at him, but did what he said anyway. “You can give this to all the girls here. No kissing, no touching, no eye contact …”

“Anything else?” Tessa asked with a dramatic eye roll.

“And no questions.”

“Right, no questions.” She wrote with a dramatic tap of her pen. “Just a fuck then.”

Ben nodded, face resolved, eyes dark and heart racing.

“Just a fuck.”

He’d missed things. Lots of details. Too many. As Rey stared up at him, wonderous and a little scared, still freckled, still young compared to him.

 

He hadn’t told her about the girl in the photo.

 

The words had been there, right at the tip of his tongue. Three little words. The picture… It was you. It has always been you.

No. That would lead to more questions and more revelations. Some she may not be so ready to forgive. Was it too much to ask for just one night?

 

Rey hadn’t said a word. Even now, she sat with her legs tucked under her bottom, hands on knees, childlike and innocent.

“Say something,” his voice was thready, shattering around the edges. “ Please .”

Those hazel eyes, wide and dark in the gloominess of the room, wandered through the empty space, buying time, thinking.  

She shivered, the fire had burned down low and Kylo wanted to keep her warm in his arms, but maybe now she wouldn’t want him to touch her.

And why would she?

“So, let me get this right,” she said, her voice sharp-edged and stern.

Kylo’s heart felt like it had dropped to the base of his stomach, disintegrating in acid as she recounted the story in her own words.

“A boy who spent your youth bullying you faces you in the finals at this karate tournament and fractures your eye, and somehow gets away with it. Then, when once you’re  down, Snoke sweeps in and gives you advice to pull this move, which backfires in the worst possible way. Snoke then lures you in, promising to help you, but is really trapping you into a deal you can’t ever leave: work for him or presumably, he will expose everything you’ve done for him, even though he has forced you into each job by blackmailing you for the last.”

She took a breath, “Is that about it?”

Kylo furrowed his brow. “Yeah, I guess so,” he stammered out.

“Bastard!” she spat, lurching to her feet.

He almost laughed at her response, this was the last thing he had expected. Screaming, crying, leaving, hating, anything but… support?

She was storming around the room now, pacing back and forth in front of him.

“He thinks he can fucking manipulate everyone into playing his twisted games. Has no one stood up to him before now?”

“Once,” Kylo said quietly, remembering the broken ribs, the scars burned into his back, from the one time he had tried to leave. “It didn’t go well.”

“Fucking bastard!” she shouted this time, her eyes filling with hot tears. “How can any of us get out of this?”

“Hey,” he caught her as she marched past him once more, she was stiff in his arms, fiery and resistant. He stroked her hair, pulling her close to him. “Hey, it will be okay. To be honest, I thought you would have left after I told you— ”

“No,” she peered up at him, appearing almost angry at the thought.

“I killed someone, Rey,” and his voice broke as he said it.

“Yes, you did a bad hit, but Ben we both know you never meant for that to happen.”

Kylo shook his head, unable to face her.

“It was an accident. Hell, I even sent the odd person to hospital when I was training. It was full contact martial arts, shit happens. Apart from that, you were a fucking child and Snoke took advantage of you. I think you said as much to me once. Anyway, what kind of person do you think I am to run away as soon as you open up to me?”

“I reserve the right to not answer that.”

She narrowed her eyes at him, and with a sudden step forward, playfully drove a punch to his shoulder. He blocked her, unable to hide the smile now. She spun around and tried to foot sweep him, but he preempted her move, pulling her forward and lifting her in her arms in a bridal carry.

“You—” he tapped her gently on the nose— “are asking for trouble.”

“What? I wanted to see how good you are,” she teased.

Her eyes narrowed at him mischievously and all his senses rushing to the pulsing want between his legs. He had her now, trapped in his arms, at his mercy.

She bit her lip, eyes flicking to the bed involuntarily and Kylo raised his eyebrows, following her gaze knowingly.

“I didn’t mean that —” She blushed.

But it was too late, no more talking. No more waiting, he swept her up in his arms, carrying her, almost stumbling along the way as he rushed to the bed awkwardly. Rey laughed as he threw her into the sheets.

“I meant your karate,” she exclaimed through her giggles.

“Sure you did.”

Covering her mouth in a thirsty kiss, he pushed his tongue within her lips as his hands worked around her body, finding the base of her jumper, stroking along the soft skin of her abdomen teasingly.

“What about the no kissing rule!” she gasped, throwing her head back and exposing a long sun-kissed neck as Ben licked along the line of her collar bone.

“Fuck the rules!” his muffled voiced grated against her chest, as his hands search greedily for the elastic of her tracksuit pants, tugging them down, unable to wait any longer. “I’m going down on you.”

He peppered rushed kisses down her abdomen.

“Okay,” Rey gasped, her chest already arching and collapsing with every touch of his fingers and lick of his tongue.

He yanked her underpants off and she squealed with surprise. “Honestly, you don’t need to—”

Her words fell away as he buried his lips between her legs, sweeping his tongue along her with slow, circulating strokes of his tongue. She arched her back in response, and with a breathy moan, she weakly tried to close her legs.

“It’s too much, you’ve done enough,” she said, although he suspected the intent was rather half-hearted, and with an amused smile, he wrapped his arms around her legs, locking them apart.

Her fingers searched down to his head, nails scratching through his hair in some primal motion, she was loud, and he liked it. It pushed him on, to kiss her harder, to lather every cavern and fold with his tongue.

“Rey,” he said between kisses.

“Ye—” she had tried to answer, but was unable to form a complete word.

Kylo smiled broadly, lavishing the way she responded to his touches. “Those rules—”

No answer, a base cry, unrestrained, her legs clenching in his hands, rock hard thigh muscles twitching and surging.

“Rey,” he said again, feeling so hard at the sound of her own pleasure, wanting to drive himself into her and share the magnificence of her body.

“Those rules... they were never meant for you…”

[ends]

 

Chapter Text

Crimson Lane - Chapter 17  - Daybreak

 

The swirling, tightening waves of tension pulled firmer and harder on Rey and her breath came in heaves, fighting the desire to let him break her now or to—

“Stop! Stop! Stop!”

He froze. Their ragged breathing filled the heavy silence.

“I can do better. Tell me what you like.” He looked up from between her legs.

“It’s not that.” She tugged at his shoulders. “Can you come here?”

He nodded, but there was a twinge of hesitation in his movement, concern slicing across his brow. Wiping his mouth, he sidled up next to her, trying to meet her gaze, but falling short.

“Am I doing something wrong?”

“No, not at all. It’s amazing.” She pushed his dishevelled hair away from his face and paused, biting her bottom lip. “But I want more… I want you , Ben.”

Silence strained between them for a beat and then his hot lips smashed into hers, frantic and wanting, warm and soft, as urgency overshadowed gentleness. In the space of a breath, he had clambered on top of her, right arm dashing open the drawer of the bedside table as he searched for a condom.

With a nervous pulse in her belly, she reached her arm out to his, steadying him.

Just you.”

Kylo cocked his head to the side, a fleeting expression of concern pushed away by a restrained smile as his eyes widened.

“Rey?” his voice was low, gently reprimanding, but devilish at the same time.

“Just this once…” She forced herself to meet his gaze.

“It’s risky,” he said.

“It is.”

“I want to.” He pressed against her, the heat of him pulsing by her entrance, even she could feel the way her body called to him like a Siren song. “So much.” He breathed against her ear. “But it’s such a risk.”

“Maybe, you could just pull out?”

His teeth flashed at her, crooked and delightfully imperfect and he let out a short laugh.

“Do you think you could do that?”

“With you?” he asked, arching his eyebrow. “It’d be difficult.”

“Just at the start then?”

Kylo shifted his jaw, that hidden smile tugging at the sides of his mouth. She knew he liked the idea, even if he was the one playing safe.

“Okay,” he breathed into her ear.

“I’ve never done it ‘glove off’ before.”

He placed an innocent kiss on her lips. “Me neither.”

Rey’s muscles tensed and tingled with anticipation as his warm, caressing fingers slid up the side of her body, removing her jumper. She shivered, and he wrapped his arms around her, covering them both beneath the duvet, inside their own little cocoon.

The darkness of his eyes was brightened by the reflecting moonlight outside and she noticed how they scanned her face, taking in every freckle and curve until at last he came to meet her eyes and she lost herself in them. There was something so magical and natural to see him so clearly, staring back at her with wondrous rapture.

“Rey, are you sure this is what you want?”

She nodded. “I want you to make love to me.” She moved her body, wriggling until the tip of him pressed bath-warm and stiff at her entrance. “Ben, I really, really want this.”

One thumb brushed over her cheek to cup her jaw, and the other, so gentle, like he handled some wild and fleeting thing. His eyes never left hers as he pushed inside, slow and smooth, firm and filling.

Rey took a deep breath and braced herself; even though she was ready, there was always a moment of adjustment, but it did not mean displeasure or pain.

“Are you okay? If it’s too—”

“Oh, now you ask me,” she laughed.

His eyebrows pinched together, and he slowed.

“I was joking. Keep going, it’s nice.”

He kissed her again, even as the pressure of his girth and length reached their fill, and he smiled, a low unsteady breath slipping between his lips.

“You feel amazing,” he said.

“So do you.”

Silence; still and perfect, like a cloak of darkness hiding them from the world.

There was no one else now, Ben and her, wrapped together in every way. Disbelieving and wordless.

He rolled against her, and she tried to catch hold of the tender pleasure lapping inside, teasing her, so close to breaking. Always, his eyes on hers. Their bodies dancing closely, slow, swelling, swaying, like waves and wind and motion.

“I’m not going to last long,” Ben said.

“Me neither,” she replied, trying to hold back a subdued moan. “It feels…”

She clutched at him harder, her fingernails scratching the wide planes of his back, feeling the way his sinuous muscles rolled beneath his warm skin, the odd bump slipping under her fingertips, ragged and uneven, scars she supposed.

The yearning, swirling pleasure was driving deeper to her core, but it was different this time, with him inside her, like a wholeness that was missing before. His fingers slid between her legs, pressing tender places that forced her body to clench around him, forcing a primal groan from deep in her throat.

“Rey,” Ben whispered into her ear, his body pushing hard into hers.

“Yes — oh,” she moaned again, she was spinning into that vortex of lustrous pleasure.

“Rey, I…”

He stilled, words spirited away, the silence that finished returned her to the present, like someone had lassoed the moon she was floating away on. She came back into her body, achingly aware of how she needed him to release her. His face was flushed, the words he couldn’t say hanging in the air.

But she heard them.

In that fleeting moment, she felt all the things he couldn’t give voice to. The ones too soon to say, too raw and vulnerable. She saw them in the way he looked at her, like he had just seen all the stars in the sky for the first time, and that to him, this moment was love.

“I know,” she whispered, unashamed by the tears forming at the corners of her eyes. Why shouldn’t she cry? She tried to hold back tears every day of her life, but these weren’t the tears of pain or sadness, but of longing found.

They kissed again, bodies pulsing with fiery tension, trembling on the edge of a precipice they would collapse from together.

The tempo of his thrusts moved faster, his fingers urging her primal moans to their peak. And then the wave crashed over her, muscles unravelling after being wound to the point of breaking. She cried out, wrapping her legs around him, pushing against him as hard as she could while her body clenched and pulsed, another sigh into the sweat-laden trestles of his dark hair, panting and clutching.

“Fuck,” he hissed and pulled out, spilling onto her abdomen.

His chest hovered above her ear, and she could hear his heartbeat strong and thunderous. Arms trembled as they wrapped around her once more, kissing her temple.

They were out of breath, foreheads touching, hearts pounding against one another.

“Did you get out in time?”

“Yeah... just.” He laughed, cradling her face between his hands again, pressing warm passionate kisses against her lips. “That was fucking amazing!”

Rey smiled. Body flushed, skin wet and still drizzling with the evidence of their deed. Outside these doors there were monsters, blackmail and a storm of threats hanging over her.

She knew it was there still: Snoke, her debt, Poe and his newspaper, the parts of the story she feared Ben had hidden from her, but even amid those things, here, now , wrapped in his embrace, basking in the way his eyes peered at her with wonder and passion, she was —

Calm. The world around her softened, gossamer curtains, floating in the cool moonlight where a sliver of air whispered through the window, the street below silent and hollow, and Ben Solo, holding her close, kissing her, hugging her, loving her.

In this moment, she had all she’d ever wanted.

In this moment, she had peace.

 


 

-Six Years Ago -

(In the Winter of 2013, six months after Rey's attack)

 

Sunburnt grass and sea mist, Kylo always remembered the smell; sweaty summers, long days, sunrise over the ocean. It came flooding back to him as he sat slumped against the front wall of Luke’s dojo.

He’d been sitting here for four hours now, first arriving when the stars still blazed in the sky and the pre-dawn temperature was at its coldest.

He’d watched the sun rise above the navy sea, the fleeting beauty enough to make him forget the way his body was stiff and aching, with bruised ribs and his clothes stained with dried blood.

As the world began to wake, gulls circled overhead, screeching their morning chorus and Kylo dipped his head against the wall, hands drooping over his bent knees, shuddering with a jolt every time he slipped into a microsleep.

People began to walk along the road; early morning campers, retirees, young mothers jogging with their prams, all of them flicking a single glance at him before speeding up or moving away. He couldn’t blame them; he hadn’t shaved in a month and God knows what he looked like after last night. He shifted, swearing at the sharp pain on his left side that had only gotten worse since sitting here. One cracked rib, maybe two. And then there were the welts on his back, moist and raw, the coolness of the dojo a balm to the skin.

“You think you can just walk out of here, like you owe me nothing?” Snoke had asked, almost incredulous.

Kylo knew justice would be swift and hard. He’d seen it delivered before. One minute you’re asking to leave, the next, Snoke is standing over you as judge and jury, a handful of knights at the ready to tear you apart.

Once Kylo’s body was hunched on the floor, spitting blood, Snoke came over and placed a firm hand on his shoulder. Showed him everything. Every incriminating, sickening act he had done in Snoke’s name. All of it a brand of horror to his heart.

Ever since that night he had He knew he was deep, he supposed he knew he was trapped, but it wasn’t until that moment where he truly realised how fucked he was.

Which is why he was here at Luke’s dojo.

His right hand fumbled around in his pocket. With a tap and a flick, he lifted a cigarette to his lips, relishing the crisp heat in his chest, watching it dissipate in the wind as he breathed out through his nose.

“I thought you quit.”

Kylo jumped, stubbing the cigarette out as though he’d just been busted smoking in the school toilets. It was muscle memory, the fear of being reprimanded by Luke. Part of him still fell back to the boy who only wanted to impress him.

The other part didn’t give a shit.

He pulled out another cigarette, testing a sly glance at Luke. “What is it to you, anyway?”,

Luke wasn’t even looking at him, those gentle eyes staring out to sea, with long, laboured breaths, meditating and trying to stay calm, he suspected. Kylo ignored him, attempting to light a fresh cigarette and scowling at the universe when his lighter would no longer spark.

He’d actually quit a year and a half ago, but last night was enough to throw anyone off the wagon.

“You look like shit.” Luke gave him the once over. “Whose blood is that on your shirt?”

“Mine.” Kylo glowered.

“Ha!” Luke guffawed with a smirk and searched for his keys.

Kylo had seen him on and off since the night he’d left home. At first, his uncle had pleaded for him to come home, to leave Snoke and not give into the dark world that Snoke was luring him into. He’d long since stopped that; he never asked him to come back or change, but he wasn’t friendly either. If anything, Kylo suspected he was waiting for something to happen.

Like what had happened last night.

The door unlocked and Luke disappeared within, leaving Kylo alone out front, thinking this was the worst bloody decision of his life.

He was just about to leave when Luke popped his head out the door.

“Come in then, I’m not going to wait around all day for you.”

Stepping into the old dojo was like falling into a memory: warm air filled with cedar, sandalwood, an underlying odour of bare feet and sweat, bamboo floorboards polished and perfect. The stark white walls of the dojo were still lined with photos and newspaper clippings, and along the back wall was a pristine cabinet of trophies and medals.

Luke pointed to his office at the end of the corridor, next to the toilets. “You can wait there. I’ve got a class starting in five.”

Luke left, leaving him to meander into the main office alone. The room was dim, with a light layer of dust that danced in misty streaks of light. There were a few dozen trophies and plaques here, less polished and reading “Luke Skywalker, Grand Master”. In between those, there were discoloured squares on the wall or gaps in the trophy cabinet where awards had been removed. He knew exactly which ones were missing.

“Yeah, well, it’s mutual,” Kylo thought bitterly.

The sound of doors opening to the dojo came from the hallway, followed by the gentle padding of bare feet, and then a collected shout, “Hei Sensei!” The class was starting. He was curious, and nostalgic, remembering when life was simpler and happy. It pulled him out of the office and through the corridor, where he passed a staff on the wall, made of perfectly sanded oak. The Bo staff was long and heavy, just the way he liked them. He took it, fingers brushing along the smooth length when the front door banged open.

He peered up, disinterested, but what he saw rammed him in the chest like a captive bolt pistol.

Three buns, freckles, scrawny as a scavenger. The girl. Kira . The one he’d left sobbing and crying on the kitchen floor of that abandoned hell hole only six months ago. She was the line he had crossed, and the reason he had tried to leave last night.

She opened the door again, waving outside, before kicking off her shoes. As she did, her eyes cast over him, deeming him uninteresting enough to ignore and she disappeared behind the double doors to the dojo.

Kylo fell against the side of the wall, sick and stunned by the fact she was here. If she had recognised him at that moment, she didn’t show it; beyond the doors, he could hear the quiet muttering of, “sorry, Master Skywalker”.

Light speared through the double doors, calling to him. He knew he shouldn’t go, he had promised as much… and yet, each foot stepped in front of the other, urged on by some morbid curiosity, or rather… he just needed to know she was okay now.

Peering through the wire mesh windows, there were a dozen students of mixed grading, each of them focussed and controlled while performing the Kata, stepping forward, sideways, arms moving in sweeping, smooth motions, graceful in their slowness, deadly at speed. They moved in unison, the floorboards creaking in a slow song. They were faceless and unremarkable, except for one.

Her outline was framed by the gentle glow of the sun trickling through the sliding screens, diffusing the glaring morning light with a luminous opal-white. He opened the door, stepping past the threshold. Students stopped, gazes flickering to each other. Kylo stole a glance along the wall-length mirror of the dojo. No wonder they had stopped; he was a nightmare in a place of brightness and peace, dressed in black from head to toe, an unkempt beard, hair messy and his t-shirt sticking to his chest in dark stains, reeking with the acerbic tinge of copper and salt.

“I’m sure some of you remember my nephew?”

A smattering of voices, a nod here and there, and silence.

Kylo shifted. He’d hoped to slip in unnoticed.

“We were only discussing moments ago, the difference between Kyokushin and Shokotan.”

Ben felt the skin beneath his eye twitch, and now his attention was on Luke.

“For the most part, we practise Shokotan here, but my students would appreciate seeing a presentation between two Kyokushin black belts. What do you say?”

“I don’t do karate anymore.”

“One never forgets though, do they?” Luke stepped forward, hands fisted, coming at him in lithe, darting movements. Surely, he wasn’t going to…

Kylo shook his head, but it was too late. Luke sent a kick his way, fast and precise; had he hit Kylo in the ribs he would have fallen to his knees, but he missed his target and Kylo bounced back, returning the move with a series of hits, finishing with a strong side kick, connecting with Luke’s hip and sending him stumbling.

Luke chuckled through the pain. “Good.”

They continued a while longer, until Kylo’s brow was lined with sweat and Luke was becoming slow and clumsy. With a wave of Luke’s hand, the exhibition stopped, and he turned to address his students.

“Ben here is probably one of the most talented Koyokshin opponents you will face this side of the country, but what does he lack?”

A girl raised her hand; she was plump, with curly blond hair and her yellow belt. “You both forgot to bow.”

Muffled laughter.

“Very observant, Claire, but that wasn’t quite what I was looking for. Anyone?”

Another hand raised and this time the voice was quiet. Kylo stopped breathing.

“He is sacrificing precision for strength.”

Luke smiled, throwing Kylo a sly glance.

“Why do you think he did that, Kira?”

She flushed again, head lowered, feet shuffling. “It could be his training, but he’s probably just trying to intimidate you into faltering.” She looked up at him now, those hazel eyes like hail storm clouds in the twilight. He’d heard the edge of disgust in her voice.

“Okay, show time’s over. Pair up and spar. Don’t be afraid to go hard today, in honour of our Kyokushin friend here.”

Luke came to face Kylo, who was watching the class spar, but in truth was watching her. Did she suspect?

“You’ve gotten sloppy. Is that what Snoke teaches you then?”

The words only half-filtered through. Beyond Luke, the class was teaming up, with one very obvious exception. He didn’t mean to make that face, the one where his lips curl in like he’d tasted bitter lemons and his dark eyes glared, but he had and Luke knew what it meant.

Luke turned to face Kylo. The class had split into pairs, even trios, their bo staffs slapping against each other in slow, careful movements, except for Kira, who stood alone, hugging her elbow and searching for a partner, when it was obvious no one would spar with her, she began working through the motions of the kata by herself.

“Really, people?” Luke scolded. “Is that the best you can do?”

And then Kylo was before her. Possessed, apparently. He kept being drawn back to her, like he hadn’t finished with her yet… Every night since Snoke had ordered him to hurt her, he had seen the face of that young girl; alone, abandoned and incredibly frightened. All she needed was help, but instead, the predators were lurking at her door.

And he was a predator.

“You need a partner.”

She hesitated, looking to the side and spinning the staff around in her fingers, and she gnawed on her lip in consideration.

Perhaps she recognised him… No, she couldn’t have. He’d had worn a mask, it was dark, there was no way ...

She nodded.

“Okay, when you’re ready.”

She looked at his feet, and then up, and up, and up his body, stopping at his face, eyes narrowing, nostrils flaring, her lips parted, but they were tight and her breathing was heavy, almost like she was about to charge!

And she did, like a wildcat with a cry, she leapt at him with the grace of a cheetah on the hunt, staff spinning wildly before it connected with his own.

Crack! Their bo staffs slammed against each other, forming the shape of a cross guard. They pulled apart, chests heaving.

“Again,” she snapped.

“Okay, on three. One, two—“

This time the only thing that Kylo saw before she got him across the back was a fleeting flick of her brown hair against the crisp white of her Skywalker studio uniform. His instincts kicked in, and as she turned, he shot out his fist in a swift punch to the shoulder.

He heard a strangled “oof”, and she stumbled, rubbing her shoulder.

“Fuck,” he said instead of sorry. Had he really punched her? He took a step towards her, hands placating; the least he could do was apologise. Kira had gone still, clutching her shoulder, eyes downcast.

Guilt tore at him. “Hey, are you—“

He didn’t see it coming. The slice of her leg was like something out of a nature documentary; fast, precise, almost deadly.

Kylo doubled over, clutching his side and groaning. The tender bruising around his ribs exploded into pain and tears stung his eyes, as he breathed through clenched teeth.

“Good hit,” he hissed.

“You were protecting that spot before, when you were fighting with Luke...”

“Right,” he groaned, trying to drag his body up to full height.

“Are you ready to go again?”

“Wait, what?”

Her battle cry sounded so loud that the rest of the class stopped what they were doing and gaped. Kylo would never say he cowered, but his one arm covered his side while the other held his staff aloft, ready to take her oncoming onslaught.

His shoulders, thigh, chest, abdomen, block, block, block. She was ferocious, darting around him, focused on the kill. She was about to aim for his ribs again when Luke intervened between them, meeting her staff with his own with another crack and the room went deathly quiet.

“Kira,” Luke whispered.

She froze, caged between them, those narrowed eyes still fixed on her targeted kill. Kylo couldn’t face her.

Did she know who he was, or was she just… capable ?

If nothing else, he knew she would be okay. She was strong.

She glanced at Luke before slowly moving back to Kylo, weapon still at the ready.

“He’s not your enemy, Kira.” Luke’s voice sounded old and tired as he took her staff in his free hand. “If you look for your demons in everyone, you will surely find them.”

She shook her head, so slight a movement Kylo could have thought she shivered. But Luke stepped closer again, placing a hand on her shoulder. “This man is not your enemy.”

Kylo wasn’t breathing; his chest felt like it would explode.

She knows, she knows, she knows.

At last, she released a catch of breath, shoulders drooping.

“I’m sorry, Master Skywalker,” she mumbled, hardly raising her eyes. “It won’t happen again.”

“It happens every week!”

“She always takes it too far.”

“No wonder no one will spar with her.”

One by one, the students spoke up, each time murmuring agreement.

“I’m sorry,” she said, both to Kylo and the surrounding spectators before she ran out of the dojo doors.

The tension in the room released and his students began to talk at once in petty, accusatory tones.

“Okay people, the drama’s over,” Luke growled at them. “Get yourselves a drink. Don’t mind Kira. She does that to everyone.”

Kylo felt something release in his chest and he wobbled a little, still overwhelmed by the pain in his side.

“She’s had a traumatic background. Got caught up in something bigger than herself, you know how it is. We’ve been trying to help her through it, but it’s been difficult for her.”

The words hit him like a frozen icefall. A traumatic background . He was her traumatic background, the reason why no one would spar with her; why, when presented with a man attacking her, something snapped and she lost herself in that dark place.

He had done that to her. He had destroyed her fucking life!

Kylo nodded.

“She will be okay. She’s smart, resilient, strong. I have no doubt…”

“She should change her name,” Kylo interrupted.

“What?”

“You said she’d gotten caught up in something bigger than herself. These things have a habit of coming back to hunt you. Tell her to change her name.”  

“Like you did?”

“No,” he said lowly. “Not like I did.”

Luke scratched his chin, considering him. “I’ll suggest it to her. Now, what did you want to see me about?”

Kylo dragged his eyes away from the door, his thoughts ripping from the girl who was probably sobbing in the bathroom to what had happened to him last night. Snoke had crossed the line when he’d sent Kylo after Kira. He could cope with beating up criminals and addicts, something in his brain reassured him he was doing them a favour in some twisted way, but a sixteen-year-old girl… he hadn’t signed up for that shit.

“I—” he fumbled, shifting his gaze around wearily. He hated coming to Luke for help, but he knew enough to realise the only way he would be free of Snoke was in a body bag. “I need to get out of this… I—”

...Made a mistake. I made a shitload of mistakes and now I’m too far fucked to come back, but not fucked enough to stay.

That is what he would have said, but instead, the door of the dojo swung open with a smash and a voice so shrill it felt like it pierced his eardrums boomed through the training room.

“Ben Solo!” Maz stormed over to him, each step tapping with the sound of her cane. Her finger pointed to him accusingly and possibly would have gouged his eye out had Luke not been there.

“Maz!” Luke leaned down to give her a hug, but she ignored him, eyes like a huntress, locked on Ben Solo and salivating.

“I told you not to go looking for her.”

Luke was taken aback. “What are you talking about, Maz? Ben?”

“You promised me!”

Ben bristled. “I didn’t know she was here, Maz—”

“You’ve got some hell of a nerve, Solo!”

“I didn’t know—“

“Oh, the nights I’ve had to sit by her bed just so she can damn well sleep. She carries a knife now, everywhere she goes. She even sleeps with it under her pillow. A knife ! Solo!”

Out of the corner of his eye, Kylo noticed the other students shuffle backwards, muttering to each other.

“Maz, I—”

“And you come down here, for what? To traumatise her some more?”

Ben began to panic. Kira would be back soon.

“Will you keep your fucking voice down?”

“Don’t talk to her like that,” Luke scolded. “What are you talking about, Maz?”

“The gang of thugs who attacked Kira.”

“What!?” Luke hissed, glaring at Ben.

“Who do you think led the whole thing? Who dragged her into the kitchen screaming and terrified?”

Luke raked his hands down his face. “God, Ben, tell me it wasn’t you.”

“I didn’t have a choice,” Ben hissed. At that moment, the door pushed open again and Kira appeared, red-eyed and weary.

“She's a sixteen-year-old girl, Ben! What are you now, twenty-four?… I can’t even comprehend in what reality you can justify what you’ve done here.” Luke stopped himself, pausing to breathe. “Just leave here.”

“Wait,” Kylo was desperate now, “I need your help…”

“No, Ben. I help my students learn to overcome their demons. I don’t invite the demons in.”

“But I—“

Luke’s face was dark and resolved, arms folded. Kylo knew that look; there was no coming back for him now.

“You heard him, get out of here and leave Kira alone,” Maz followed up.

Kylo glared at them both, nostrils flaring, blood pressure rising. It was times like this he would have lost his cool, there would have been broken glass and holes in the wall. But at least now, he had learnt to hold it back. Just enough.

“Fuck the both of you!” he shouted as he stormed out the door.

Kira passed him at the door, drinking her water bottle, looking at her phone. From here he could see her scrolling pictures of beaches and islands, eyes incriminatingly red. Then she looked up at him and dropped it.

He didn't pick it up for her.

“Good fucking luck with those two looking out for you.”

“What?” she asked, bending down to get it, tenderly searching the glass to make sure it wasn’t broken.

He passed her and was almost out the door when her voice trailed after him.

“Hey.” She was in the corridor now. He couldn’t even look at her. “Thanks back there. It was nice to have a sparring partner who could at least hold their own.”

He nodded, running his fingers through his hair.

“Well,” she smirked. “Kind of.”

That smirk was the last thing he remembered.

The one he hadn’t connected to her until now.

 

* * *

 

And there she was lying in front of him, bare shoulders, mascara smudged, tangled hair.

Even in her sleep, she smiled at him. Kylo felt a tender yearning wrap around his heart as he watched her. How could he have forgotten her? It was six years ago, she was different now; the shapeless, gangly teenager was a woman with high cheekbones and curves. But it was still her.

If he wanted to justify it, he could argue that she changed her name, that he’d barely looked at her that first night, how his eyes and thoughts only focussed on her body. That for a long time, he had stopped seeing, anyone. Before her, the world moved around him in shapeless forms of muted grey. Push it all away. That’s all he ever did, anything was better than facing what his life had become.

Perhaps if he had tried to see beyond his next fix, beneath the sexy underwear and proud chin, there was a still a scared little girl, one who was equal parts fiery and fearful.

It was six years ago, but now those six years felt like six minutes. He saw the girl, her hands and legs bound, messy buns, tears streaming down her face as she cried for him to stop, that he was hurting her too much.

Kylo swallowed a mouthful of bile at the thought.

And then to the present time, when she was his hooker for the night. A woman he could barely look at, a vessel of his pain, frozen and stiff beneath him as he pounded into her, staring at the bed head as he always had.

“Stop! It hurts too much!” she’d cried out, forcing him to look at her. To see her. It had wrenched him back from that dark place. The memory had hit with the force of a hammer blow. He’d frozen, not knowing what to do.

Did he remember her then? Part of him believed he had, the other part denied it because she had escaped, hadn’t she? He’d ensured that happened; Snoke could never have found her and used her again.

And yet he had, and he did, in the worst possible way.

Kylo had held her into the early hours, kissing her back, pleasuring her body. It was an apology of sorts, a promise he would protect her to the very end. The fact that he had fallen in love —-

A muffled laugh escaped her lips and the skin above her nose wrinkled into lines.

“How long have you been awake?” Kylo asked, grimacing at the thought of how long he’d been staring at her.

“A little while,” she squeezed out. “How long have you been staring at me like a weirdo?”

“A while.” He slipped his palm over the curve of her waist, caressing his fingers against her skin. “You’re beautiful when you’re asleep.”

This made her laugh, a single incredulous outburst as she rolled onto her back and slid across to him, nuzzling her head against his bare shoulder. His spare hand traced the line of her collar bone, to the hollow of her neck.

“Are you working today?” he asked.

“Hmm?” Her nails traced across his shoulder blades. “Not at the restaurant, no.”

“So, you don’t need to run away then?” He shot her a cursory glance, checking for a reaction as his head bobbed down from her neck to her shoulders, to her breast, sweeping his tongue around her nipple and sucking until he heard that telltale moan of pleasure, the slight arch of the back, intake of her breath, her nails scratching harder.

He climbed on top of her, hungry for more, rolling his erect cock against her centre, arms flanked either side of her head. The way she looked at him, the sunlight glistening in her eyes, cheeks flushed, the tan lines separating the weathered colour of her arms from the milky layer normally hidden beneath her clothes. It was perfect. He swept the stray curls threatening to fall across her eyes and her lips pressed together in a peaceful smile.

It was a knife to his chest.

A lie.

She wouldn’t get any peace from him.

He had to tell her.

“What are you proposing?” she asked, trailing her fingers over his abdomen. “I suppose I could squeeze you into my morning if you make it worth my while—-”

Her eyes narrowed, studious with a hint of suspicion. He had stopped moving against her, stopped everything.

Too obvious. Too late.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

It felt like a building had collapsed onto his chest. He was in the dark, scrambling for a way to hope, trapped in the wreckage, in the dark… She’d hate him for it  —

“Ben, you can tell me anything, you know?”

Not this, Rey. Never this.

“Tell me,” she whispered, an uneven arch to her eyebrows, her whole face a little off-kilter.

“There is… something,” he began to choke out the words; they clung in his throat, strangling him.

Her body settled into him, ear to his chest, light fingers twiddling at the few dark hairs by his nipple. “What is it?”

“There… we’ve… we’ve met before.”

He was falling, no , plummeting, to the earth. His heart pounded against the walls of his chest.

“...before Crimson Lane,” the words tumbled out. He couldn’t look at her.

She didn’t say anything, holding onto that long, awkward, thoughtful silence.

Kylo continued, “You were much younger. You’d asked me how I knew you studied with Luke...”

Her eyes widened, slow at first and then —  a moment of recognition; body tense, her smile disappeared into his memory.

“Oh my God,” she whispered.

Kylo froze.

Oh my God!

Her gaze scrambled across his face, as though she were searching for something.

Panic poured through him. “Rey, I know—”

“You!” She sat up, her left arm covering her chest, the other clasped over her mouth.

“It was six years ago…”

“You!” she cried out again.

His throat was closing, and his eyes stung.

“You were at the dojo! Ben—” She grabbed his hands, pulling them into her lap. “Ben, I remember. You looked so different back then, you had a goatee and your hair was much longer, but I remember now, it was you . The only one who would spar with me.”  

His lungs wrung of air, and he was left wordless while she beamed at him.

“I can’t believe I didn’t recognise you,” she gushed at him. “It’s so crazy, because I do remember it so well now. I just, I don’t know, I’ve been asleep. Or at least I was asleep then, I was in such a bad place, Ben. But you , I remember.”

Ben nodded, vision blurry.

“Do you remember me?” she asked.

“Just now,” he lied.

“That’s crazy! Imagine if you would have stayed? We could have become friends. We could have… “ She shook her head, a smile pushing its way onto her face, bright in the morning light. “We could have found each other sooner…”

He nodded. Even now she would give him this; compassion, hope.

“We wouldn’t have been alone, Ben. We would have had each other.”

“Rey,” he whispered, unable to even meet her eyes.

She kissed him, lips salty, cheeks wet. “Ben. You really helped me that day.”

“Don’t.”

“No, really. I know it’s stupid, but somehow you woke me up! Before that day I had just gone through the motions. No one would spar with me, or talk to me in fact, but you — you roused me.”

He would have stopped her, ripped apart that misguided fantasy that he was there to help. The only reason he was there that day was to help his fucking self. The fact that she was there had nothing to do with any of it.

A low, monotone buzz of a telephone started ringing, and she gawked at him a moment. “I thought your phone was broken?”

It rung again.

“Is there an internal phone?” She got up and pulled a phone from out of the desk drawer. “Ha! Who knew?”

He was going to beg her to stop, to wait until he had told her this, but in an instant, she had the receiver in her hand and was saying hello with that sunbeam voice of hers.

She paused, face dropping. “What?”

“Who is it?” Kylo asked.

Rey shook her head, indicating him to be quiet. “No, I didn’t realise.”

Kylo stiffened. There were only so many people who would use this phone. He moved to be with her when she covered the mouthpiece and mouthed the words “ Just Rose.”

“Yeah, of course. Okay. Thanks for the warning. Love ya, Rose.”

She hung up the phone, teeth grazing over her bottom lip.

“Rose said Snoke’s coming in sometime before nine. Phasma said he wants to see us both.”

Kylo looked at the side table clock, at the red numbers subdued in the morning light. “Less than an hour away.”

Rey swallowed. “Do you think we can get out of here? Before he gets back?”

Kylo nodded; he probably wanted to see Snoke even less than she did. Last night was not about to go unpunished. “Let’s grab your things. I’ll drive you home.”

Both of them scrambled around the room, Rey messily shoving her belongings into a backpack, while Kylo worked methodically and precisely, folding clothes, putting them back in the wardrobe. He was finished much sooner than she was, leaning against the fireplace, keys in hand, a half-smile settling his expression into something gentle.

“Godammit, where’s my damn phone?” she shrieked, tearing through the room like a mini tornado, pulling up the duvet and throwing pillows.

He chuckled, and she glared at him. “Don’t you laugh, I’m blaming you entirely.”

“I’m sure,” he said, giving her a dramatic yawn before tapping his finger on his wrist.

“Oh, piss off!” she spat, but her laughter filtered out far too easily, and the expression washed over her face, star-studded dimples and half-moon eyes, and wrinkles above her nose.

He loved her for it, in his way.

She stuck her tongue out at him and returned to her frenzied panic.

And at that moment he made her a promise he hid away for now. His plans had been coming together these last few days; he’d booked the tickets and settled her rent payments. And at some point this morning, he would tell her she need never come back to this. That from tonight, she would be free.

He would tell her all of it, today, this morning, and hope to God she’d try to understand...

 

[ENDS]

Chapter Text

Crimson Lane - Chapter 18 - Reckoning

 

He's like nobody else in the world. When I am with him, it's like I'm split in half. Part of me is on fire, going crazy if I'm not touching him. The other half is calm and peaceful, just perfectly content, knowing he is the one for me.

-Unknown

 

Coruscating sunlight speared through the iron bars of the brothel window as Phasma opened the rich velvet curtains, disturbing swarms of dust left dancing in the dim morning light.

The brothel had a certain smell to it in the morning, a mix of burnt-out incense, disinfectant and sex. The first two odours came and went as the day went on, but the latter was constant, a heady layer of latex, lubricant and body fluids.

She blinked warily against the offending sunlight. She was tired; so damn tired of all of it.

Snoke had left her worn and more than a little bruised last night. Shed worked with him for two solid hours, putting up with the way his fingers trembled with rage each time he yanked her by the hair, that glow of repressed sadistic desire flashing in his cold eyes.

Eventually, the viagra had faded and Snoke’s hatred took a less physical form.

That evening, he’d sat up in bed, still wearing his dull gold robe.

“That fucking little shit thinks he can cross me with that whore!” His wrinkled lips continued to move long after the words finished.

Phasma rolled up her stockings, trying not to let them run beneath her long red nails, careful not to say a word. Snoke continued.

“And that little bitch, you know what I will do to her.”

Phasma nodded, eyelids lowered.

Yes, she knew. She knew all too well.

“And to think I took him in. Treated him as my protégé . He could have had everything, but now—” Snoke paused, catching his breath— “I’ll make sure he has nothing left.”

She nodded again, this time wiping a tissue between her legs.

Snoke’s eyes narrowed at her. “Did I tell you to clean that up?”

Phasma’s hands froze in place, gritting her teeth behind a forced smile. “I can leave it, if you insist.”

Snoke grabbed her blond hair, his iron knuckles grinding into her scalp. “Yes, I want you to leave it. You’re my bitch, you can smell like me all day.”

She lifted her chin, as much as was possible with him pinning her there.

“Certainly, Mr Snoke,” she choked.

He pulled her back to his chest, reaching over her until she could see the hairs of his nose and smell the stench of day-old tobacco on his breath.

“Where are you trying to run away to anyway?”

“I’m not going anywhere,” Phasma replied, her eyes watering the more he dug sharp knuckles into her scalp.

“Good,” he groaned, caressing her cheeks. “Because I have a job for you.”

She fisted the sheets, fighting the instinct to rip herself from his hold. “Yes?”

Snoke let her go and she pulled away from him, careful not to rub her scalp or show any kind of discontentment over his treatment.

“I want you to change the bookings for tonight. Rey is not longer Kylo’s client. Give her to Hux instead.”

“What about Kylo?”

“Fuck Kylo,” Snoke snapped. “He’s finished here.”

“He won’t like to share. He’s grown attached to her.”

“Indeed, he has.” Snoke stroked his chin, the movement too slow and calculating. Phasma shivered. Fear had always been a part of the job, but something in the way Snoke smirked as he stared off into the distance, gave her a terrible sense of premonition.

This was not going to go the way Kylo had planned.

“Hux can have her for two hours. Then book her in with Seth. That sick bastard will enjoy grazing on Kylo’s leftovers.”

Phasma swallowed. “Seth, okay. Is that all?”

“Then me.”

Phasma could barely breathe, she knew what this meant, she pressed her hands together, trying to hide the way they trembled.

“What do you need for it?” Her voice wavered with a sharp inclination at the end. She needed to regain her mask.

“Waist harness, ropes, the usual assortment of knives. Lots of towels, plastic sheets, and don’t forget a body bag. We don’t want that shit getting everywhere like last time.”

A Judas Cradle, she realised, feeling like her body had filled with ice cubes. She was going to throw up. He’d done this once before to the last Master of the Knights of Ren. Before Kylo. Before many of them. To think she had been with Snoke for all these years, but why wouldn’t she be? He had saved her from the streets when she was young, he had been kind to her, favouring her above everyone else. She had privileges and was trusted with secrets. No one else had that.

But Rey… That stupid girl. She was a child.

“What if someone finds out?”

“They won’t, she’s a street rat with no family. Nobody will miss it.”

It. The word was not lost on her. Is that what he thought of her ? How she’d thought she was somehow special. He viewed street trash all the same.

“What’s your problem?” Snoke scoffed. “Don’t tell me you’re going fucking soft now?”

“I don’t understand why you’re going after her. Kylo’s the one who's pissed you off.”

“Kylo!” Snoke roared, coming to stand. “Kylo!” he shouted again, this time forced a pause, calming himself with a shaking breath before speaking quietly. “Kylo was mine. She stole him from me. If you are like my daughter, Phasma, he was my son.”

Phasma stood, wrapping a sage robe around her body. “Either way, he won’t let you anywhere near her.”

“He won’t be alive to stop it.”

“You wouldn’t—” She didn’t care. But this…

This was madness.

Snoke walked to the door, peering back at her with an unbalanced snarl.

“Kylo Ren is not part of our family anymore.”

 


 

“I’ll make you a deal.” The silver flash of Kylo’s car keys caught in the sunlight as Rey eyed them hungrily.

“No.”

She tried not to laugh. “Hear me out.”

Kylo folded his arms in an attempt to look menacing. She knew this look , she had seen it on him more times that not, but now it was endearing.

“First one to the bottom of the steps gets to drive the Upsilion.”

There was a flicker at the corner of Kylo’s mouth and a brightness to his eyes, even though he was clearly trying to remain stern.

“How about I drive the Upsilion, since it is my car.”

“Well,” Rey said, pulling him close by the lapels of his jacket. “ Technically , it’s leased. So it’s not really your car, and…”

She yanked the keys so hard they pulled through his fingers and into her hand. She was ready to run when her whole body jolted back, the solid barrier of his arm wrapping around her waist, her feet dangling a couple of inches from the ground.

“Nice try, sweetheart,” he whispered into her ear as he snatched the keys back from her, tossing her behind him, gently enough that she landed on her feet, but with enough force to give her a moment of unbalance.

In a whirl of black, the door slammed closed in front of her and he was gone. Rey didn’t hesitate. She charged through, catching sight of his tall frame moving down the stairs. She could even hear him laughing as he clomped down every step, and Rey felt a light flitter in her chest at the sound.

“Hey Ben!” she cried out. It was enough to make him pause.

She jumped, slamming roughly against his back and grabbing hold of his shoulders, her legs wrapped around his waist. He stumbled, grabbing hold of the railing with one hand, holding his keys in a death grip, despite Rey’s repeated attempts to pull them free.

“Give it up, Solo!” She laughed, sending nimble fingers scrambling to tickle and jab him, but instead of letting go, he sent his arms back to grab hold of her thighs and ran down the stairs.

Rey shrieked and squealed as he bolted down the stairs, both of them erupting in uncontrollable laughter on the landing.

H released her, and she slid off his back, unable to grab her breath between her laughter.

“You’re crazy, you know that!?” he said, between gasping breaths.

She placed her hands on his shoulders. “Crazy for you, maybe.”

Then her fingers began to slide down his arm, in slow massaging swirls. Kylo groaned and pressed her against the wall.

Maybe , is it?”

Rey shrugged with an irrepressible smile. “Maybe.”

“I’ll give you maybe !” He lowered his head down to kiss her, but instead, she reached up on her tippy-toes, meeting him with an equally passionate kiss.

There was a groan and a cough behind them. They both jumped at the same time, turning around to see Phasma glaring at them. She was dressed in everyday clothes: black slacks, silver knitted jumper and her hair was, as ever, austerely slicked back.

Rey felt her cheeks grow hot at the thought of someone watching them and slipped behind Kylo.

Phasma rolled her eyes as she worked through the planner.

“Snoke will be here soon,” she deadpanned, not even bothering to look up at them.

 “He’s on the highway.”

Rey stiffened, accidentally letting out a degenerate whimper. Phasma’s tired eyes glanced up at her at that moment, and something faltered in her steely gaze and she looked… lost.

Rey’s heart pounded at the thought of Snoke bursting through the door and she began tugging at the back of Kylo’s shirt to go. And still, Phasma was staring. A shiver slipped down Rey’s spine, almost like Phasma knew something… Something bad.

“You alright, Phas?” Ben asked, his voice surprisingly gentle.

Phasma’s lips tightened into a bitter smile. “It’s been a long night.”

“Get some rest, hey,” Kylo said. “You know he never goes more than two nights in a row.”

“Yeah, I know.” Phasma nodded and proceeded to tear a piece of paper out of the planner, holding it out to them. “Kylo. Snoke left you this message.”

Kylo took the paper, opening the scrunched ball and reading it quietly. Once finished, he peered up at Phasma and said a quiet, “thanks.”

“Don’t mention it,” she said, resuming her pose, bent over the planner, moving bookings around.

Rey raised her eyebrows as he returned to her, holding the motley piece of lined paper up for her to see.

Don’t come back.

 


 

Once they were on the street, Kylo threw her the keys.

 “Here, you earned it.”

“You bet I did.” Rey beamed, pulling the lanyard around her neck. “Hey, did you think Phasma seemed a little …”

“Nice?”

Rey stifled a laugh. “Yeah.”

“Snoke works her pretty hard. How would you be?”

In a flash, Rey imagined opening up herself for that decrepit murderer. “It’s horrible.”

Kylo shrugged, as though to say, ‘it’s just how things were here’.

And perhaps it was, but it seemed to Rey no money in the world would ever be worth sleeping with Snoke. She sidled up next to Kylo, his keys heavy around her neck, pressing into her chest uncomfortably.

“What do you think the note meant?”

Kylo looked away from her, hands in his pockets. “It was a warning.”

“From Snoke?”

“Phasma.” He stopped walking, his large frame cutting a divide in the path, people spilled on either side of them; normal people, with normal lives. Worry etched in the pucker of skin between his eyebrows, the way his brows were low and his eyes fixed on the way back to the brothel, gaze bearing through the thick grey walls.

“What is it?”

“If Phasma’s warning us not to come back, she must have a very good reason for it. She doesn’t stick her neck out for anyone.”

Rey too looked back at the gloss red brothel door, tucked within the black walls of the building, innocuous and quaint in the morning sun. The hairs at the back of her neck began to rise, and she couldn’t shake the unsettled way Phasma had looked at her. It was nothing more than paranoia, but still … she couldn’t help shaking the feeling there was something more to it …

They hastened away from the shady path where the brothels of Crimson Lane spilled out onto the street, towards a section where the buildings were lower, allowing sunlight to reach their faces.

Kylo powered through the Autumn leaves, laying thick on the ground. They scattered on the pavement, like the forgotten ashes of summer, clumps of them in rotting piles alongside half-squished cigarette butts and pigeon poo.

Rey lagged behind Kylo, looking at the boarded windows squeezed between trendy open-wall cafes, serving smashed avocado sandwiches and matcha lattes. The whole area was a contradiction unto itself; dark, stagnant alleyways lined with overflowing bins and broken glass, decorated with ornate, iron castwork verandas, and hanging plants in rainbow pots.

At the end of the laneway, a young man with silver hair strummed away on his guitar, singing John Denver ballads, dipping his flat cap whenever someone tossed him a coin, a rushed

 “thank you” between his lines.

Kylo waited for her to catch up. “What are you doing?”

Rey shrugged, as if waking from a dream. “It’s kind of beautiful in a way. Don’t you think?”

“In the way that half the buildings are condemned and the street smells like a proliferation of rats and exhaust fumes?”

She swatted him playfully on the shoulder. “No, in the way it’s never truly one thing.”

A tawny-skinned woman with wiry hair and missing teeth pushed past them, slurring raised words into her mobile phone, “My fucking neighbour and their fucking cat!”

Their eyes met and Kylo wrapped his arm around her waist and, pressing her close to his side as they continued to walk to the car.

Neither said a word and Rey fought hard to hold back the smile that was threatening to make her look like an over-excited school girl. It was such a little thing; the act of walking down the street, arm-in-arm, with another. People did it all the time.

But not her. And being with him like this, amidst the beggars on the corners and Gucci-wearing fashionistas in the cafe, it seemed to her like a snapshot in time that she might look back on one day and remember the moment when she meant something to somebody.

 

Come let me love you,

Let me give my life to you

Let me drown in your laughter

Let me die in your arms

Let me lay down beside you

They strolled past the busker as Kylo left a $50 in his guitar case and Rey squeezed him a little tighter.

“Wow, thank you!” he called out after them and Kylo waved his hand at him, mumbling a simple, “don’t mention it.”

They reached his car and she turned around to face him, removing the keys.

“You can drive.”

He raised a single eyebrow at her.

“That way I can jump out if you start hooning again.”

“You’re something of a smart arse, you know that?”

His warm, slender fingers traced around her waist onto her bottom, sliding his hands into her back pocket and out again. Rey was barely paying attention, Phasma had mentioned that Snoke was on the highway, not more than 20 minutes away.

When she turned back to Kylo, he was holding out the the blank screen of her dead phone.

“I thought you looked everywhere for this?”

“I did!” she argued, trying to grab at it.

“Everywhere, except for your jeans pocket?”

She breathed a sigh of relief. “Thank God, Snoke didn’t have it, or anyone else for that matter.”

“I want to take you to breakfast. How about that new cafe that opened by the bus stop at the bottom of the hill?”

Rey bit her lip, once more, darting her eyes up and down the street.

 “I think we should disappear for a while, don’t you?”

“I’m open to that.” Kylo leaned in to her, his voice thready in the way that threatened to destroy her. “Why don’t you come back to my place?”

Rey felt the weight of his gaze pressing down on her with everything those dark eyes promised. She could imagine “his place”, some skyrise apartment in the centre of town with matching furniture and minimalist decor. Her shoe box of a home wouldn’t hold a candle to it, and yet, that was where she really wanted to bring him, as though letting him in her space was accepting that she was folding him into her life.

Plus, she didn’t want to know how rich he was, she had her suspicions, but wealth was something that had intimidated her after growing up with a lifetime of nothing.

“How about you come to mine instead?” she asked, kissing him on the tip of his long nose. “I desperately want to get out of these clothes.”

“Oh, yes?”

“And into some fresh ones.” She nudged him again and he lowered his head, kissing her chastely.

How she wanted to melt in his arms, to throw caution to the wind and kiss him with the passion that constantly yanked at her. It was not enough, to stand here on the street; hugging, kissing. It would never be enough.

But somebody could be watching, and it wasn’t safe to stay here.

She stiffened in his arms, pulling back with a tense smile. “Can we…?” She nodded her head to the door and Kylo moved to let her in.

She squeezed into the restrictive red leather of the chair, thinking about the last time he had taken her for a drive.

Kylo got into the driver’s seat and slid his hand across her thigh. He turned the engine on, and removed his wandering hand from her thigh to grip the gear stick, muscles tensing in his forearm just the way she liked.

“I’m starting to wish it was an automatic now,” he grumbled.

Rey laughed. “Here, let me.” She slid her hand across his thigh. Beneath the material of his trousers, she could feel the messy swirls of his leg hair, and the hardness of his thigh.

Rock hard . She tracked along the lines of his quadriceps. He must work out, or was it just the physical nature of his work? She grimaced, trying not to think of that last part. As her fingers wandered, the material of his trousers shifted and when she looked up his cheeks and ears were red.

What power she had over him. She moved her fingers again, fascinated, closer now between his legs and the movement came again in bounding pulses.

“Are you quite finished?” Kylo asked at last, though he couldn’t hide the deep darkness that bloomed in his eyes.

Rey felt the blood rise up into her cheeks also, and nodded. “For now.”Then cringed with how forward that sounded. What in God’s name was this man doing to her?

He revved the engine twice and Rey rolled her eyes. But then the engine cut suddenly.

“Get down!” he yelled.

A black Chrysler limousine rounded the corner, moving slowly in their direction, windows so heavily tinted it was like looking into a night without stars.

Rey’s body jolted with a sickening pulse at the realisation that Snoke was looming towards them.

“Quick, get down and I’ll cover you. He can’t see you here.”

Rey yanked her belt off and pushed the seat back as far as it would go, squeezing her body between the glove compartment and the floor. As soon as she was down, her view was obscured by a heavy wool coat that Kylo had thrown over her head, his rushed fingers spreading it over the top of her to make sure every part was covered.

“Fuck, fuck,” he muttered and she could hear the fear in his voice. She only hoped it didn’t show on his face.

She heard the electric window going down and Kylo’s gentle hand patted her head, whispering for her not to say a word.

There was a slow scrunch of tyres pulling up next to them…

And then, silence.

Rey squeezed her eyes shut, skin wet with the humidity of her breath trapped under the heavy coat.

“Where are you going?” Snoke’s voice was low, barely audible above the traffic, but carefully controlled, like he wanted Kylo to strain to hear him.

“Breakfast. I’ll be back in thirty.”

Rey strained to hear them. There was a distant horn blasting from far down the road, the low, breathy sound of busy commuter roads, and lastly the staccato tapping of a pedestrian crossing.

But from Snoke there was nothing.

Just pointed and purposeful silence.

“Do you want me to get you something?” Kylo asked, his voice too unsteady.

“Where’s your whore?”

Rey’s heart pounded harder than ever, sweat trickling down from her hairline. He knows she’s here. She thought of Phasma, the note, the sorry-looking, guarded expression on her face, the closest thing to pity she had ever shown.

“Rey’s back in the room,” Kylo answered quickly. His voice was masked now, devoid of any fear or emotion. “I’m finished with her. Fuck her yourself if you want.”

Rey cringed. She knew he was saying it to get him to leave, but still…

“That’s awfully generous of you?”

“My treat.”

Rey squeezed her eyes shut, trying to unhear his words. The way she was being treated as a commodity, nothing more than a sex toy for them to share. Digging her fingers into her forearms, she pleaded to God that Snoke would leave already.

“Does she know yet?” Snoke asked.

Rey froze at the question, struggling to breathe in her dark cocoon.

Does she know what?

The leather creaked where Kylo was sitting. Uncomfortable . She could picture him, knuckles blanched at the steering wheel, the slightest flicker of anguish ticking beneath his eye.

“She knows,” he answered quietly.

“Huh,” Snoke responded. “And still, she fucks you?”

“I don’t want to rush you, but Rey was about to head out. If you want to catch her before she goes, then you better hurry up.”

“We can’t have that, can we?” Rey could hear the smile in Snoke’s voice, those yellow-tarnished teeth, flashes of gold. A disgusting image of a man. “Very well. Be back here in thirty.”

Finally, the outside noises of the city abruptly fell away into silence as the window wound up again.

The memory of the conversation seemed to disappear into a vacuum, muffled and running away from her as she tried to grasp hold of it, replaying the words in her mind.

What did she know?

Her calves were burning and she was so damn hot, she began to move —

“Not yet,” Kylo hissed.

Rey waited for him to do or say something, but instead, they sat in silence, broken only by the sound of Kylo’s shaking breath — In out, in out, in out .

Does she know?

...

Does she know?

...

Does she?

...

After all this time, has she always known?

The Upsilion engine started again, followed by the ticking of the indicator lever and the car pulled out. Once he had turned a couple of corners and finished along a stretch of road, Kylo let out a relieved sigh.

“It’s safe now.”

Rey threw the jacket off and into the back seat, wiping the mix of condensation and sweat off her face. Slowly, she moved back into her chair, unable to focus on anything other than him. Kylo kept his eyes on the road, expression grim.

She did not return her hand to his thigh.

And still it was so quiet, the air so heavy with words left unsaid. He drove, weaving through traffic, speeding like he had the first time, eyes so focused and fixed on the task at hand.

It all seemed too pointed, too purposeful.

She swallowed, her throat cracked with dryness.

“Kylo?”

He breathed out through his nose, fingers gripping the wheel even tighter than before.

Kylo ?” she said a little louder, this time touching his arm.

He yanked a hard left on the steering wheel and the car swerved, forcing Rey to grasp hold of the roof handle. With a sharp stop, he had pulled into the gutter.

“Ask me,” he said.

Rey’s mouth dropped in shock. Just like that?

He turned to her, eyes red-rimmed and tired. “Ask me anything Rey. I will answer it.”

Anything?

She barely knew what to say.

“No more, secrets. Not with you.” He turned to her again, lips trembling. “ Ask me!

Was it you?

The words surfaced, like a stray whisper rising up in her mind like a poisonous fog. It wasn’t the first time they had come. It wouldn’t be the last, but…

She couldn’t. Not now.

 A single tear crept down her cheek.

“Why me?” Her voice croaked, throat dry as sandpaper.

His hand dropped to her knee, his fingers warm and sweaty, lips parting as he took a deep breath before answering her.

But she stopped him before he could speak. “I mean...”

How could she stop her voice from shaking?

He waited, looking at her as though he were waiting for the axe to fall.

“You could have had any girls, on any of the nights. Yet, you chose me. Every night.” Rey shook her head, as though trying to answer the puzzle in her mind. ”Why was I different? I mean, we didn’t really even sleep together until last night.”

Technically …”

“Don’t avoid the question. There was a reason you chose me. I want to know why.”

 “To keep you safe,” he whispered, blinking quickly.

She raised her eyebrows, sceptically.

“And because I wanted you and couldn’t stand the thought of anyone else being with you.”

She placed a hand over his knee, and he grasped hold of it, caressing it.

“Because this thing, whatever it is we have, has overtaken me…”

She looked out the window, to the crowds of people passing by, going about their lives. A smile was blooming on her lips. She tried to repress it.

“Because you’re so passionate and strong, and …”

She snorted. “Okay, I get the picture.”

“Has anyone ever mentioned you’re terrible at receiving compliments?”

She looked down at her lap, concentrating on the vintage finish of her jeans. It was fading, and the threading was growing thin. She would have to replace them. “Is that the only reason?”

His lips moved; moist and plush.

“Yes,” he said at last.

Rey breathed a sigh of relief.

It wasn’t him. She buried the questions rising up inside her heart, shoving them down like the stray hateful thoughts they were.

She smiled, pushing his hand away. But he stole it within his hand and rushed in to kiss her.

His lips met hers again; gentle, chaste... honest.

He pulled away less than an inch, allowing his thumb to stroke her cheek. “Because I…”

Her heart stopped; waiting, fearing, hoping…

“Don’t say it,” she answered, breathless. “We barely know each other.”

Her eyes filled with tears. He couldn’t.

“Rey,” he whispered, pressing his forehead into her own.

“I don’t deserve it. I’m nobody.”

He kissed a tear, that lopsided half-smile of his, hesitating with the words that held to his lips.

“You’re everything to me.”

She turned away, heart pounding too hard, mind rushing with a thousand thoughts as his lips praised her neck and jaw.

“I’m falling in love with you. I can’t control it.”

“Ben,” she whispered. “It’s too soon.”

She felt the words hot against her face. “I shouldn’t have said—”

“No,” she stopped him short, fingers reaching into his own. “I feel the same.”

Her body gave into his with demanding, desiring, hungry, lascivious kisses. Bodies pressed, fingers searching, pulling, tearing, pulses firing, the rise of lust pulling them closer and harder together, aching for more.

Those rogue questions subsided, like the hint of a mirage disappearing in the morning light.

Was it even there? Had she ever doubted him?

“Let’s go home,” Rey panted, pawing at his chest.

“You don’t need to tell me twice.” Kylo sped out onto the road, window down, the cold air hitting their faces. Without a word, he drove faster than he had ever driven before.

 


 

One, two, three, four, five…

The last one stuck. Rey shoved the key hard into the lock, wriggling it in the secret way only she knew how.

“Will you hurry up and open the door,” Kylo growled, nipping at her neck in a furious rush.

“Give me a minute,” she chided. “There are six locks on this door, and each one needs a special kind of wriggle and pressure to open.”

“Speaking of which…” He gestured to the locks, with a lost look on his face. “Why?”

Rey smiled sheepishly, shrugging her shoulders.

Because she didn’t like to sleep alone, because being anywhere, alone, in the night, brought back memories that left her screaming in her sleep and seeing demons in the day.

But instead...

“I’m protective of my stuff.” The words came out far more off-handed than she intended, how could they not? Considering what lay behind them. “I may not have much, but what I do have, I treasure.”

He nodded and his face distorted into that uncomfortable scowl, the one that looked like he had swallowed something bitter. But he didn’t press the subject and if he suspected she wasn’t telling him the whole truth, he wasn’t going to pursue it now.

“I understand. I’m protective of my things too, but—” he slid a hand beneath her jumper, curling around her back and pulling her close to him— “if I knew you lived in Fort Knox, I would have made you come to mine.”

She stifled a laugh and shoved him back with her arse, an invitation obviously, because he pulled her hips back into his and took her earlobe into his mouth, sucking it between his teeth as he groaned.

A cascade of shivers travelled from Rey’s neck to her toes and she opened that damn door faster than she’d ever done before. The lock clicked and she pushed her shoulder against the door, giving the lower edge a sharp kick where it always jarred.

They spilled through the doorway, arms grappling each other, stumbling against the door frame, and knocking a side table over in a rush of messy kisses.

Their breaths came in heaves, fingers in a flurry of pulling and ripping until they were in their underwear. Rey covered Kylo’s chest in passionate kisses, tongue swirling over every plateau and valley of his torso. She barely breathed, attacking him like their world was about to end.

And who knew, maybe it was? How much longer could they realistically have before something went wrong?

She felt a stone-like weight in her gut at the thought, at the inevitable truth that all of this was racing towards a climax she had no control over.

Kylo pressed her against the wall, grinding his erection against her panties, his crooked fangs grazing across her lips as she wrapped her legs around his waist, squeezing, reciprocating the movement, scratching her nails through his hair as he panted animalistic moans by her ear.

Not enough. Never enough.

“Bed!” she gasped and the world spun around her and she gripped him tighter with her thighs until he threw her on top of it. She tumbled onto the mattress, her head bouncing on the hard base with an “oof”.

Unlike the brothel, her mattress was not plush and pillowy, instead, the bed barely held their weight.

“Careful!” she hissed as he climbed on top of her, the mattress creaking with the pressure of his hands and knees. It reminded her of their first night, how predatory he’d seemed, like a panther stalking its prey.

There was that part of him still. Like his body was just a shell that held back an avalanche of passion and urgency. It was there in the way his eyes bore too intently into hers, the way his fingers held her so tight, just past the point of comfort. A man starved of love and touch. He probably didn’t even know how much his body craved it.

His lips crushed against hers, and the dark, insatiable hunger in his eyes thrilled her. Her silk panties slipped down her legs, and she kicked them away. Out of the corner of her eye they flew past the kitchen and landed in the trash can. It would have made her laugh out loud, but she was too hungry for this to stop.

“Good,” he grunted into her ear and fiddled with her bra until she lost patience and sat up, swatting his hand away and removing it herself.

His eyes widened at the sight of her naked body across from him, unable to hide in the shadow here. He reached his hand out tentatively to her breast, but she caught it and pulled him down.

And then it was her turn, mounted on top of him, the material of his boxer shorts pressing into her, thin and silky, a touch damp.

Not enough.

“Let’s get rid of these.” Kylo’s eyebrows raised and he looked as though he was about to say something when she yanked his boxers down, careful as she moved around his erection, staring up at her; velvety, pink and pulsing. With a devilish glance, she pressed a kiss to the head and it bounded at her touch. She looked up at him through the messy curtains of hair, relishing in the pure ecstasy on his face.

“More?” she purred.

He nodded, the muscles in his neck moving as he swallowed. Her tongue slid around him, tasting of warmth and sex. His flesh prickled in goosebumps as she licked him.

She made him shiver and groan. Pride brought a smile to her face. His desire made her feel powerful, in control of her life, where she’d previously had none.

But then he rolled her over onto her back, clutching hips between his thighs as long, slender fingers searched between her legs, demanding arousal. She writhed and gasped, her eyes closed, focused on the mounting pleasure spiraling out of control within her.

It was too much.

She struggled to move away from his pleasuring strokes, attempting to roll him over. He finally yielded and she straddled her legs over him, stroking his cock with the slick warmth of her body.

“You like to be on top,” he said through a smirk.

“You remembered!”

“Of course I do. And you may remember, so do I—” He tried to pull her down again, but at that moment, she guided him into her, enjoying the width stretching her open. She looked down at his half-lidded eyes, glossy with desire, roaming from her face, down to her breasts, fixating on them with heady pupils, mesmerised as she stretched and stroked him with the rhythm of her dance.

She gave him a squeeze between her legs, and he groaned like a tamed beast.

“Still want it your way?”

He pressed his hands over her breasts, massaging them with a boyish smile.

“I suppose this is okay.”

Pleasure bloomed in her, she felt it curling in fiery blushes across her chest and cheeks. The sensation was calm enough to disarm her and she closed her eyes as if in prayer, losing herself to the feel of him inside her and the light touch of his right hand trailing down the entirety of her abdomen like a gentle vine, toying with the line of her pubic hair.

Rey’s stomach muscles squeezed with anticipation. But he just teased her, never allowing his fingers to wander where she most wanted them.

“Touch me,” she whispered, leaning down to kiss him on the lips. “ Please .”

He did as she asked, worshipping her womanhood with slow and reverent strokes. She felt like a goddess, in her home of light. There were no shaded windows or heavy curtains here; sunlight speared in through every window. There was no hiding in the sun. She leaned over him again, tasting his lips with hers, dipping her tongue beneath the sweet sheets of his. It didn’t take long for the tension to build, with every roll of her body, the muscles burned and beneath her, Kylo was moaning with adoring whispers.

“God, Rey,” he muttered, eyelids closing as a wave of pleasure threatened to toss him into wild release. His firm hand grabbed her arse, pressing her body hard against his.

He tried to resume his attention to her, but Rey smiled every time he got distracted. She thrust fast against him, setting the rhythm with the grip of his hand guiding her speed.

“Shit, Rey, it’s… fuck, I‘m gonna…”

She was ruining him — and she loved it.

He pressed his thumb clumsily against her clit and she chased her orgasm, mindless and needy, mad with desire to bring him to climax.

His hips slapped into her and she gripped hold of his shoulders, on the edge of the precipice and unable to hold back her own cries.

He froze, face concentrating, almost contorted in pain.

“Are you close?” he grunted.

 “Yes,” she cried out, breathy and desperate.

The pressure of his fingers worked harder, clumsier, mindless and almost detrimental in their urgency, but she didn’t need them now, the rush of the orgasm was past the point of no return and her muscles ratcheted tightly until her walls clamped around him, her face pulling with that ultimate tightness, the last barrier before euphoria.

She crashed, her body limp and wet, collapsing on top of him, hardly noticing the way he pulled her beneath him, pounding away the last inch of restraint. With blissful calm, she focused on his face, beautiful in its sweat-glistening yearning, his eyes squeezed tight and lips pressed together as his own tension broke. With a sudden pull back, she felt the familiar warm trickle of his seed spill onto her body and his hot breath heaved into her neck.

She grasped his head, threading her fingers through his thick hair. Even though she still pulsed from her own release, and she was spent and satiated, her body ached to claim him again, already mourning the loss of him inside her.

For a long time, they were silent, speaking in nothing but slowing breaths.

“Ben.” Rey tugged at him. “Are you okay?”

His answer was a low, gurgling moan and she giggled.

“Are you dead?”

“I think so,” he groaned into her neck, his body hot and sweaty, weighing heavy on top of her.

“It’s so fucking hard to pull out of you.”

“Maybe we should slow down next time, you know, use a condom?”

A petulant muffle. “Don’t want to. I like the way you feel.”

She laughed, rolling him off her a little to get out from underneath his overbearing body. “Well, we better start using them or who knows, we’ll have a little Ben running around and you’ll run a mile!”

He moved his head to face her, almost annoyed. “No, I wouldn’t.”

“I was just joking.”

“I will never run from you,” he said, looking at her with such earnest sincerity that Rey had no choice but to believe him.

Her lips toyed with a shy smile. She could have answered “me neither”, or “same”, or anything, but in the glow of their lovemaking, her mind was muddled, foggy and lethargic.

And perhaps there was something stopping her from promising the same. It crept up on her: that toxic smoky shadow, tall shrouded figures, dark voices, violent hands. She held him tighter, eyes squeezed shut, holding onto this moment, the last glow of sunlight slipping beneath the bed of a crimson sky.

Her body was a traitor; she’d discovered that the night they’d first met, but how much more had her mind betrayed her? Gaslighting her with questions, then gouging away the doubt with some overconfident assurance that, no matter what flittering thoughts ate away at her, this one truth remained.

He was not her enemy.

So, why did she fight it now?

“Here.” She grabbed a box of tissues by her bed because that was easier than searching for the answers to her questions. “You made a mess.”

She grabbed some for herself, wiping away the remnants of their lovemaking, trying to change the direction of the thoughts in her mind.

“So, this is my home.” Rey rested her head on the flat of his chest. “What do you think?”

She looked around the room, seeing with fresh eyes the little compensations she had made in poverty. Her furniture; a couple of old pallets, sanded back and painted shabby chic, with recycled bean bag covers in velvet grey, reshaped and sewn into oversized cushions. The walls were bright with splashes of colour, a calendar photo reimagined into a wall print, featuring white sands, aquamarine water and long-tail boats covered in banners of coloured scarves. Another print, this time pulled from a travel brochure, the rainbow mountains of Peru, grossly photoshopped into more vibrant colours. All of them, a little dream, a promise to herself, a vision of what freedom might look like.

His hand disappeared beneath the bed, feeling around.

“The bed’s made of pallets too,” she told him quietly and refusing to meet his eyes. “You can get them for free at the hardware shop.”

His lips pressed onto her forehead and he squeezed her tighter.

“You’re amazing. You made all of this?”

“It’s not that hard. There are videos on YouTube.”

 “Well, I have a confession to make. I can’t make anything.”

“You make money,” she said cheekily. “You don’t need to.”

“What makes you say that?”

“Umm, I don’t know, the car.” She raised her fingers as though she were counting. “The clothes, your accent, the watch, and the fact that you don’t seem to mind paying me an exorbitant hourly rate every night to not have sex.”

 “We’re making up for it now, aren’t we?”

“I hardly consider this a paid visit.”

“Thank God for that. You were close to bankrupting me.”

“Somehow I doubt that.”

“It was a punt, I bought a few too many bitcoins a couple of years ago.”

“And now you’re a gazillionaire?”

“Not quite.” He yawned, stretching his pallid arms out and linking his fingers behind his neck.

 “So, what now?”

“I’m going to jump in the shower. Feel free to grab some breakfast. There’s baked beans and bread in the kitchen.”

“Baked beans,” Kylo muttered. “Breakfast of kings.”

“You bet it is. Make yourself comfortable.”

He snuggled back into the bed, oversized lump that he was, feet dangling off the edge, arms spreadeagled.

 “I’ll wait for you,” he yawned.

Rey grabbed her towel, hanging over the back of a chair and then picked up her jeans, searching through the back pockets until she found her phone. She pressed the home button. Unsurprisingly, it was still dead. On her way to the bathroom, she plugged it in by the bedroom and then left, eager to wash the sweat from her body.

When she looked back at Kylo, his breathing had deepened, blinking slowly. Rey smiled. He was so vulnerable like this, falling asleep like an overtired child. With one last look back, she left him to sleep.

 


 

 

Twenty minutes later, Rey vigorously rubbed her hair with the towel as she looked in the mirror, examining the soft hickey marks running along her neck. She pressed a finger to the largest one; it blanched white at her touch. They weren’t bad enough to cover up, and some could be mistaken for shadows if the light was dim.

She traced her finger idly around them, like stepping stones to her lips. She wondered if he had fared any better. Pulling on her jeans and an off-the-shoulder lemon knit, she ran her fingers through the wet tangles as her phone sprung to life in the next room.

Ding. Ding. Ding. Ding .

The tinny sound played on repeat. Almost running out of the room, she rushed over to silence it, but there was no need. Kylo was fast asleep, oblivious to the chorus of incoming notifications. Flicking it to “do not disturb”, she slipped it into her pocket, ignoring the constant stream of buzzing vibrations. He had curled over on his side now, lips half-buried into the pillow, dark lashes dusting the top of his cheeks. Little puffs of air escaped his lips with every exhale. His hair had fallen across his eyes, causing them to twitch. Her finger glided beneath the lock of hair, brushing it from his eye. She tilted her head, admiring the way he could look both young and old at the same time.

She would have curled up next to him, kissing his shoulder, tracing the few sparse hairs that were on his chest, but her phone was on constant vibrate now, indicating that someone was calling.

Regretfully, she kissed his forehead and left the room.

She had a small balcony, if one could call it that. A small one-by-one metre slab of concrete that the builders forgot to cut away. Around the edges was a lime green railing, cracked and rusted. It came up high, above her belly button, giving the sensation that she was in a cage.

The air outside was surprisingly warm for a mid-Winters day and the sun showered her face with heat and light as she pulled out her phone just as the last ring finished.

Poe Dameron

12 Missed Calls

Twelve? She scrolled down the feed on her lock screen.

Finn

6 Missed Calls

321

You have 8 new voicemails.

And then the messages began arriving.

Poe Dameron

We need to talk. Pronto!

Poe Dameron

it’s important. Pick up your phone.

Poe Dameron

Rey. Where are you?

Finn:

Hey, peanut. You around?

Finn:

Rey?

Finn:

Poe is losing his shit here. Call me. I’m starting to get worried.

One after the other, they came. Rey held the phone out in front of her. A strained feeling at the pit of her stomach squeezed tighter with every new ding.

She had forgotten, or at least pushed aside this part of her life. The mission Poe had tasked her with and what it all meant… the blood. The blood had been all over his hands last night. She hadn’t pressed it. He wouldn’t tell.

She knew, she knew, fuck, she knew what it all meant.

And then her phone rang.

Poe Dameron

Answer / Decline.

Dread trickled down her spine. All she could do was stare at it. Like this was the call that would tear her world apart. Unsure she would even hear him over the pounding of her own heartbeat, she pressed answer and closed her eyes. The brightness of the sun disappeared into a burnt red, light barging through her skin and to her retina.

“Hello?”

“Damn it, Rey!” He was shouting. “Where the hell have you been? Are you safe?”

“I’m f-fine. My phone was out of battery.”

“Shit, Rey. I thought — Look.” He paused, and she heard him taking a steadying breath, but when he spoke it still sounded like his voice was on the verge of breaking apart. “Lor’s dead.”

Rey moved her mouth; no words came out of it. Even though she was outside in the sun, the cracked walls of her apartment building seemed to close around her and the sun changed from something light and life-giving to a blazing flame, bearing down on her. Her body caved in, huddled around the phone.

“A fucking bullet through his brain,” he said, emotion spilling into his words. “They left him lying in his own blood.”

She couldn’t breathe. Her hand reached for the railing, clutching hold, beyond the world seemed to fall away.

“We didn’t even get the USB drive. It’s all lost. The whole fucking story is finished. We’ve got nothing!”

Silence.

“Well, say something!” he shouted. “Did you know about any of this?”

“He’s dead,” she whispered, at last, the words barely forming a sound.

“You need to get out of there Rey. It’s not safe for you.”

She no longer had a heartbeat, in place of it was a bass drum. It boomed with deafening beats; erratic and painful. She felt as though it stopped and started again with a wrench thump. She looked back into her apartment; Kylo was still sleeping. Tears formed in the corner of her eyes. It was all crumbling down.

“Rey, are you there?”

“I’m here.” Her voice wavered, and all the time she saw the blood, imaging it spiralling down the drain of their bathroom, the blood of an innocent man.

“I also ran the account number you’ve been paying your debt into. It’s Snoke’s. He’s been playing you from the start. That’s why he pulled you in. I fucking knew it, Rey. When you told me about the night you were attacked, I knew straight away that was Kylo Ren. It had his signature all over it. I didn’t want to say anything until I was a hundred percent sure…”

The world was collapsing, the street below, spiralling into an endless abyss.

It was him. It was him. It was him. It was him.

Her mind was broken, the words raced around her like stupid circling birds out of some Saturday morning cartoon. If only she could breathe. She clutched her abdomen, pressing on it, trying to force air into her lungs.

“You can’t go back there, Rey. Where are you now? We’ll come and get you.”

It was him. All this time. He knew.

The tears were rising, an overflowing weir, threatening to spill down in a flood of grief.

“Rey? Tell me where you are.”

“I’m here.” She sputtered out the words. “My apartment. Finn knows.”

 “Stay right there. We’ll be there in a couple of minutes. Okay?”

It was him. He had dragged her through her apartment, forced her on the ground, threatening her with steel blades . The thoughts ran through her like a knife down her gut.

Breathe , she needed to breathe.

“Rey. Did you hear me? We’re coming, okay?”

“Yeah, yeah,” she stammered. “Okay.”

Blindly, her finger pressed on “end call” and every sound fell away. With shaking hands, she returned the phone to her pocket and stared out at the horizon. It was broken by the cityscape, like a mouth of cracked teeth, peering into the sky at different heights, grey, worn and rotten. Since when had the city become so bleak? The sky was speckled with pigeons, “rats of the sky” Jess would have called them. Vermin. And always the heat; scalding, irrepressible burning rays, they made her feel sick, the waves of nausea washing over her in sickly waves of hot and cold.

Just needed to breathe.

She forced her lips to open, a strained whisper of breath sucked in, and another, and another, until they were rushing, one racing in after the other. She cupped a hand over her mouth, trying to slow the breathing, trying to see through the tears, and always, Kylo lay, silent and unknowing. She could see him through the glass, the hint of a smile fresh on his lips.

Her lover.

Her murderer.

Her liar.

Her worst nightmare.

Time passed. Slow or fast, she wasn’t sure, but when she looked up again, the sun had crept higher in the sky and there was a fresh breeze blowing in from the east. She blinked the tears away, wiping her face clean. She wrangled her breathing into something passing for normal and prepared to go inside.

 

 


Chapter Text

Crimson Lane - Chapter 19 - From a Certain Point of View

 

 

We are all broken, That's how the light gets in.

Ernest Hemingway

 

The first time Rey’s heart had broken was on the evening her parents had sent her away and never looked back.

 

The second time was when Plutt had sold her virginity. This was a different type of tear, one that sheared through her identity, resculpting it.

 

And the third time was now, when she had allowed herself to be vulnerable, to trust again, and he had betrayed that trust.

 

Rey pushed the balcony doors open and saw the outline of the demon dressed in angel’s clothing. She knew this feeling of heartbreak, the heavy pressure in her chest, metal fingers squeezing and suffocating her heart.

 

But this time, she was different. A new kind of fire brewed in her belly. The bitter scorch of disappointment… and anger.

 

She pulled the balcony door almost closed. Her right hand clutched firmly around the handle, the other pressed against the glass, as though it were the only thing to keep her steady.

 

All she had to do was turn around and leave. He would still be asleep. She could do that. No confrontation. Just a subtle escape.

 

She pulled the door softly and it clicked, at the same time a silent sob clawed its way out of her chest. She squeezed her eyes closed to push it away, but there was no time for tears, she had to leave now before he woke, before he could convince her to stay.

 

Sheets ruffled behind her, and…

 

“Rey?” That voice, so soft and unassuming. Musical and languid, warm and caressing, she felt it all the way to her toes.

 

But she wouldn’t do this.

 

Don’t let him speak, she told herself. Don’t look him in the eye.

 

“Sweetheart. Are you alright?”

 

She heard his sheets stirring once more and she faced him down with an icy glare.

 

“What is it?”

 

Her gaze fell to his collarbone, to the delicate softness of his neck, entwined with ropes of muscle. She wished it were enough not to look into his eyes, but even in the periphery of her vision, she could see the way his face fell, silent and pale, lips stolen of colour, chest still and lifeless.

 

“You know,” he whispered.

 

She edged back against the door, hating the wall of tears building in her eyes. The shape of his body shifted, rising now, coming to her…

 

“Stay back!”

 

He froze.

 

“I can explain…”

 

He edged a step closer, slow and cautious.

 

“Don’t come any closer,” she hissed. “I mean it!”

 

Whatever he saw in her face was enough to stop him. “Please.”

 

Rey shook her head, cursing the tears that slithered down her cheeks in hot rivers of fire. And the gravity of the Earth pulled her to the ground, where she sat clutching her knees.

 

“It was you .” There was no point holding back the tears now. “It was always you .”

 

“Shhh.” The floorboards creaked as he lowered himself next to her.

 

“Do you know what the worst thing is?” she cried. “I knew . I always fucking knew! I just wouldn’t let myself believe it.” She tried to breathe, but the air had become thin, like there wasn’t enough.

 

Kylo’s trembling hand reached out to caress her hair and she pulled away, jumping back to her feet.

 

“Don’t touch me!”

 

“Rey! Please, you need to listen.”

 

He reached for her again, but this time, his slender white fingers were replaced with leather gloves; claws reaching for her.

 

“No!” she gasped, and this time her voice was accompanied by the screech of metal against the lounge room floor, cockroaches scurrying at the sound, gloved hands crushing her wrists, dragging her powerlessly into the kitchen, tied to a chair. She remembered the knives, glistening in the light. The terror she had felt when he had thrown them at her, toying with her life.

 

The memories came rushing back and before she knew it, she was running to the front door.

 

He came at her again, the creature of her nightmares, moving like every motion was a command, his body consuming the space around her.

 

How could she have been so blind?

 

She ran, but his arms gripped around her waist, pulling in an iron hold.

 

“I can’t let you go,” he choked out. “You need to listen.”

 

She kicked her feet out furiously, shoving a sharp elbow into his torso.

 

“Listen to me!” he roared.

 

He was getting angry. Good. She could work with that.

 

She smacked her head back into his with a bone-breaking crack.

 

He held her tighter and she turned her head towards his shoulder, biting hard, her fingers lashing out at his skin like a street cat. It was hardly martial arts. This fight was messy and ferocious. A fight to survive, to get her body and her heart out of her own personal nightmare. He grunted with pain at her attack, and his grip around her waist faltered enough to allow her to sprint across the room.

 

She smashed into the front door, looking back at him as her lungs burned.

 

“I didn’t mean to scare you…” he stammered and she saw fear in those dark eyes. “I need you to hear what I have to say.”

 

A cool breeze touched her bare feet from beneath the door. Freedom was behind her. All she had to do was take it...

 

“The blood on your hands last night…”

 

“It was Lor’s.”

 

“You killed him!” She couldn’t stop crying now.

 

“Yes.”

 

So blunt. Even in this.

 

Kylo didn’t come any closer, his arm rubbed soothingly over his right shoulder where she had bitten him, the other hanging limp, like all his strength had left.

 

Without realising, she had mirrored his position. His gaze darted between her arm and her face and she quickly changed position, realising what she had done.

 

“The night you attacked me,” she began.

 

“It was just a job.”

 

“Just a job?” She gave a cruel laugh. “Do you have any idea what that did to me?!”

 

“Yes.”

 

The flames were coiling up her neck, lines of red marks branded her emotions across her face and all he could say was “yes” ?

 

“I let myself love you… and you… you ruined my life!”

 

The floorboards creaked as he ventured closer.

 

“I said stay where you are!”

 

“If you would only listen…” There were tears running down his cheeks now. How strange it was to see a grown man cry. It was almost enough to make her hesitate.

 

Almost.

 

“Fuck you!” she spat. “You’re a murderer and a liar, and I...” She stopped, her courage failed and there was nothing in its place. At that moment, his marble-like face shattered before her.

 

She had to leave now, another moment seeing him like this, so broken, so lost… it would ruin her.

 

So she left him there, in nothing but a sheet wrapped around his waist—and ran.

 


 

 

Rey ran onto the street, pushing and shoving, finding cracks in the crowd and breaking through them.

 

“Hey!” someone attempted to chastise her. She didn’t look back.

 

The street before her was blurry and distant. She ploughed through it with her phone to her ear, covering the speaker each time an animalistic sob exploded from her.

 

“Yes, I’m crossing the road now,” she shouted, the street sounds making it hard to hear the voice on the other end. “Just wait, I’ll be there in a second.”

 

Rey glanced back at her apartment. Was he watching her leave? Perhaps he was coming after her now. God, she hoped not. The way he’d looked at her… she couldn’t face that again.

 

She stepped onto the road, peering through the steady stream of cars, searching for Finn’s beat-up Honda Civic. It was pulling up on the far side of the road. Without looking, Rey leapt out to meet him.

 

The piercing sound of screeching tyres skidded towards her. She froze, meeting the panicked wide-eyed expression of the driver with her own, squeezing her eyes shut in the last second before impact.

 

She saw Kylo in fleeting visions; tender holds, gentle kisses, crooked teeth and shy smiles. A horn bellowed at her and Rey opened her eyes to see the car had stopped but a foot away.

 

Instinct drew her eyes back to the apartment. Kylo was leaning out a window, his face stricken with horror, and now relief.

 

“Wait!” She could see the words on his lips, but she shook her head.

 

“What the fuck are you doing?” the driver screamed at her, and she held her hand out, mouthing an apology before darting across the road.

 

Finn’s three-door Honda was waiting for her. Rey crouched in behind Poe’s front seat without a word, breathless and shaking as she pulled a loose seat belt across her waist, clumsily securing it.

 

They stared at her, dumbfounded, and as soon as her belt was on, she took a breath and collapsed her head into her hands and wept.

 

“Oh my God!” she cried, barely able to breathe.

 

“Peanut, what...?”

 

“Please drive, I need to get out of here.”

 

Finn and Poe exchange glances.

 

Please, Finn!”

 

The engine started, followed by the indicator, and they were off, away from  him.

 

“What the hell happened back there?” Poe asked.

 

She shook her head, unable to control the heaving sobs overpowering her now.

 

“I just need a minute. I’ll be okay.” She tried to breathe, to bring herself to centre.

 

In. Out. In. Out. She pictured Luke’s dojo, with the morning sunlight streaming onto the bamboo floorboards, the way they were cool beneath her feet and so smooth. And then she saw Kylo Ren there, infiltrating her safe space. She had to think of another place now, one that didn’t remind her of  him.

 

Finn’s go-cart of a car rattled and jolted as they went. He needed new shock absorbers and the petrol indicator still didn’t work, lying limply at empty. Rey looked up to the rear vision mirror, where he watched her, clearly worried.

 

“We’re taking you to the hospital.”

 

“I don’t need a hospital,” she grumbled.

 

“What did they do to you?” Finn pushed again, his eyes on her more than the road before him.

 

Noth-ing. Wait...“ Rey leaned forward, shoving Poe in the shoulder. “Did you tell him?”

 

“Come on, I had to! I thought they’d fucking murdered you.”

 

A deep feeling of shame bloomed in her core. “You promised me!” She wouldn’t cry again. “Finn, I’m so—”

 

“Don’t say a word. It’s okay, I only wish you would have told me sooner, so I could have helped you.”

 

“It doesn’t matter now.” She slumped back into her chair, suddenly overwhelmed with tiredness. 

 

And there it was again, that look between the two of them. A discussion she was not part of, though, by the look in Poe’s face, she knew she was about to be.

 

“Poe...” Finn said in warning.

 

“I know we agreed, but this is too important. She has to have seen him.”

 

“What are you talking about?” Rey asked warily.

 

Poe turned back to her, fierce and determined.

 

“Kylo Ren.”

 

It was a punch to the gut. She tried to look calm, even though he had knocked the wind out of her lungs. “I told you, I haven’t—”

 

“I can’t believe you haven’t seen him. He’s tall, around 6”3’, dark hair—” 

 

“How many times do I have to tell you—”

 

“That’s horse shit, Rey. I know he’s been there. You may not have been with him, but you’ve probably seen him in the corridor or something.” 

 

“Poe!” Finn shouted. “If Rey says she hasn’t seen him, then she hasn’t seen him.”

 

She nodded appreciatively in Finn’s direction.

 

“If she can identify him, we can bring this bastard down. Shit, we can bring down the whole organisation possibly.” He turned back to Rey. “Come on, you must have seen him somewhere; in Snoke’s office, the break room, anywhere…”

 

“I-I don’t know.”

 

There was a twitch at the corner of Poe’s lips, as though he’d heard a lie in her voice.

 

“Don’t hold back on me, Rey.”

 

“I’m not!”

 

“I can tell when people are holding back on me. The hairs on the back of my neck stand up and I know—”

 

“I told you! I don’t know who he is!” She crossed her arms, glaring at him. “Do you think I would protect someone like that—a monster!?”

 

A secret cry tried to break through, and she quickly looked out the window, placing her palms on her face to hide what lay beneath.

 

“I will throw you out on the street right now,” Finn said, deadly calm. “If Rey says she doesn’t know who he is, then she doesn’t know who he is. You’re not pressing her anymore while I’m around. Can’t you see she’s upset enough?” 

 

Rey flashed her gaze up at Finn in the rear vision mirror guiltily and he nodded at her. He really was the nicest person she knew. Well, maybe he and Rose tied on that.

 

Poe glared back at her. “Fine.”

 

But as soon as Finn was preoccupied driving, Poe turned back again and mouthed, ‘we’ll talk about this later.’

 

Rey glared, arms folded and brows creased in a smouldering expression of irritation that was enough to push him back… for now.

 

The car travelled on in silence. All the while Rey thought what Kylo must be doing now, alone in her apartment. Did he feel as broken as she was? She tried not to remember the moment he realised that all was lost, that anything he tried to say would have no power over her. How, in his desperation, he’d grabbed her, as though it was the only thing he knew how to do.

 

Poe’s phone rang and he answered it. “Poe Dameron.”

 

Finn glanced back at her briefly. He was biting his lip. Rey wrangled her mouth into an uneven smile, even if she knew he didn’t buy it.

 

“When did it arrive?” Poe shouted. “Are you sure it’s legit?”

 

There was a muffled sound on the other end. 

 

“Alright, I’ll be there in a minute.”

 

He hung up the phone. “I need to go back to the office. We may have had a major breakthrough on the story.”

 

“What kind of breakthrough?” Finn asked.

 

“A recording. It was pulled from Lor San Tekka’s phone the day he was killed.”

 

“But we don’t have Lor’s phone?”

 

“It came in an anonymous package this morning. I don’t know much more than that, but Kaydel said the implications are huge.” He gestured over to the side of the road. “Here, pull over there. I’ll catch a cab back to the office and call you when I know.”

 

Finn’s expression dropped. “But, what about the interview!?“

 

“Yeah, good luck with that. I’ll let the Senator know there’s been a change of plans and you’re taking it instead.”

 

“But I thought you were going to take the lead on this?”

 

Poe laughed, giving him a friendly whack on the shoulder. “Don’t worry about it. She’ll love you!”

 

The car door slammed shut, and Rey and Finn were left alone in silence. After a moment of staring into the quiet street, Finn turned back to her.

 

“Peanut, get in here.” He gestured for her to take the front seat. As she did, Finn pulled her into his chest, so hard that she could hear his heartbeat racing. She relaxed in his hold, feeling momentarily safe and surrounded with love.

 

When she pulled back from him at last, he touched her cheek, wiping away a stray tear.

 

“We better go.” She sniffed. “You’ve got an interview to go to.”

 

“That’s not until this afternoon. For now, I’m all yours,” he said, gently pushing her hair back behind her ears. It was a familiar gesture, loving and friendly. It made her wonder how her life might have been different the night at a party, when Finn had proclaimed that he’d liked her as so much more than a friend. She’d feigned being far drunker than she was at the declaration and kissed him on the cheek, burying her face in his neck and hoping he’d wouldn’t say such a thing again.

 

He never did. And if he still felt that way, he certainly wasn’t going to bring it up, but something in the longing of his dark eyes made her suspect the hope was still there, and that made her pull back. She felt nervous and uncomfortable, for it was the first time she realised that Ben and her had a bond that she’d never felt with anyone else. Almost like she belonged to him and he belonged to her. To fall into Finn now... relying on his affection for her to soothe her broken heart, was a betrayal to both of them.

 

The realisation came so startingly strong that she could barely breathe, and when Finn kissed her cheek, she jumped.

 

“I’m sorry, I can’t…” she whispered.

 

“It was nothing. I didn’t mean anything by it.”

 

“I know, I know,” she muttered. “I know you didn’t.”

 

She stared ahead. The trees were bare here. Silver skeletons, bright and austere in the streets awash with grey community housing. Finn watched her; she could feel him hesitating in the periphery of her vision.

 

“It’s not you,” she whispered.

 

It’s him.

 

She had to let Kylo go. Not just today, but every day after this. He had to be a memory.

 

“Where do you want to go from here then?”

 

Rey blinked against the glare of the sun. The world was too bright, it stung her eyes, red and tired from tears and sleeplessness.

 

“Rey?”

 

“I don’t know where to go from here.”

 

Finn pressed a hand atop her thigh and she placed her own hand on top of his as she stared into the bleak horizon before them.

 

“We don’t have to go anywhere. We can just… talk, you know, from the beginning.”

 

“The beginning?” Rey squinted at him, as if concentrating on a thought that was fleeing from her. “The beginning…”

 

“Yeah, you can tell me anything.”

 

His hand gently rubbed her thigh and she met his eye, mouth agape. Finn pulled his hand away, as though she was about to scold him, but instead, she caught his hand within her own.

 

“There is somewhere you can take me.”

 

 


 

 

 

They pulled up to a small, red-brick house with stucco chimneys and moss-covered terracotta tiles. Rey wound her window down, peering out into the front yard. Maz’s Home for Disadvantaged Children hadn’t changed a bit. The winter grass of the front yard was worn to the root, scattered with bald patches of soil and toys stretched across the yard like storm debris.

 

It was quiet; the front porch was missing its usual occupant, leaving a worn rocking chair, sitting empty besides an ashtray overflowing with cigarette butts.

 

“What is this place?” Finn asked.

 

Rey smiled, checking the time of the dashboard. “Just wait.”

 

The door burst open and dozens of children scrambled out, running and shouting, the toys now springing to life. And lastly, a slim woman with wide glasses, barely taller than the children she cared for, wandered out.

 

“Rudy, stop hitting your sister. Bella, make sure you share those dolls, they belong to everyone. Matthew, don’t kick the ball over the…”

 

The soccer ball came hurtling over the fence, crashing onto Finn’s windscreen.

 

“Hey!” Finn shouted, but Rey laughed, stepping outside and waving at the older woman.

 

Rey opened the small timber gate and made her way through the front yard.

 

Maz Kanata came to them, her wide, curious eyes fixed on Rey with a pointed perception that stripped Rey bare of every attempt to appear stoic and strong.

 

“Dear child.” Her voice was gentle. That mish-mash of Mexican and Kenyan dialects was music to her ears.

 

Rey threw her arms around the woman.

 

“There, there, child.”

 

“I’ve missed you so much.” She stepped back, indicating to Finn, but Maz had already spied him, tilting her bifocals to scrutinise him.

 

“And who is this then?”

 

“Finn. He’s my best friend from university. Remember? I told you about him.”

 

Maz nodded, staring at Finn in a way that made him take a step back. Maz’s perceptive gaze always made people a little uneasy, but Rey was used to it by now.

 

“You won’t run away if I leave you to watch these children while Rey and I have a little chat, will you?”

 

Finn hesitated. “Watch them? Like, all of them, at once?”

 

Maz nodded. “There now. You are a good lad. Rey always said you were. We won’t be long.”

 

“Bye!” Rey said in a sing-song voice as she waved at Finn, but as he looked back at her in horror she added a silent, “ Sorry!”

 

 


 

 

 

In the lounge room, Rey crouched at Maz’s feet, laying a head upon her lap and losing herself to the tender memories of her old caretaker. How many nights had they sat like this, once all the children were sleeping and Maz could devote the evening to her alone?

 

Rey relaxed in her lap, relishing the touch of Maz’s gentle fingers stroking through her hair, tucking loose strands behind her ear in the waiting silence.

 

“Why didn’t you tell me they’d come looking for the money?” Maz asked.

 

“I don’t know. I thought if I could just put this debt behind me, then Snoke would leave me alone. I’d be free to live my life. But, now…”

 

She squeezed her eyelids together, forcing back tears. 

 

“It was dumb. I know that now. Oh, God, Maz, what am I going to do?”

 

“Dear child.” Maz rested her palm on Rey’s forehead. “You must know you’re not alone in all this.”

 

A warm wave of heat rushed from head to toe and Rey stared ahead, unable to speak.

 

“There’s someone who can help you.”

 

A tear slid down the side of Rey’s nose and she clenched her stomach muscles tightly in a desperate bid to hold her emotions inside.

 

“You know about Ben,” she whispered.

 

“I have known that family my entire life,” Maz said. “He will help you.”

 

Rey pulled back, staring frankly at Maz. “You don’t know what he is.”

 

“I know exactly what he is.”

 

“Then you would never suggest such a thing.”

 

Maz took a slow breath, glancing out the leadlight window to check on Finn. Satisfied, she returned her attention to Rey, tilting her glasses in a way that made her eyes seem unnaturally large.

 

Rey stared back at her, chin in the air and defiant, trying not to be rattled by the way Maz was slowly nodding, the whisper of a smile creeping onto her thin lips, like she’d just discovered a royal flush in her hands and Rey sensed she was about to lose the game.

 

“Do you think it was a coincidence I found you that day on the street?” Maz scolded.

 

Rey gaped, taken aback.

 

“That I took you in and cared for you all those years?”

 

“I—”

 

“That you were given private lessons with Master Skywalker to learn how to fight, to defend yourself against those who were after you? No one gets private lessons from him, Rey, no one.

 

“What are you saying?” Rey asked, both fearing and hoping what the answer was. “You always said it was serendipity. That you just happened to be walking by at the time.”

 

Maz laughed. “I just happened to be walking behind a dumpster two hours away from my home?”

 

Rey’s gaze dropped to the worn Renaissance-style carpet. There was a loose strand sticking out and she tugged at it, unravelling it in a single pull. Maz cleared her throat in reprimand, and Rey tucked it away behind her, blushing.

 

“Are you saying Ben asked you to find me?”

 

“You were just a child. Snoke was going to trap you. You must have been the same age Ben was when Snoke got to him, in a vulnerable position, targeted, with no one else to help. He knew it was too late to save himself, but at least he could save you.”

 

Maz leaned back, looking over Rey’s head, out to the front yard where the children in her care played rambunctiously, and beyond, to a dark night when that fateful phone call had changed everything…

 

* * *

 

The phone had stirred her awake, ringing a full ten times before Maz opened her eyes.

 

She picked it up, her voice old and croaky at such a late hour.

 

“Maz!” an urgent voice hissed from the other end of the phone. She tried to place it; young, familiar… Ben!

 

“I know you’re there. I need your help.”

 

“Have you spoken to your mother yet? She’s worried sick about you.”

 

“Please, Maz... there’s a girl... she needs your help.” He was speaking in a fast and halting way, like a rushed whisper, each word fighting to come faster than the one before it, but stumbling on the way out.

 

Maz held the phone a little tighter, twisting the cord around her free hand as her gaze travelled to the closed double doors beyond the lounge, where her children slept, the disadvantaged outcasts that society had turned its back on.

 

“I’m listening.”

 

“Her parents were drug addicts and they owed over a hundred grand to Snoke. She’s been sleeping on a dog bed in an abandoned apartment lot in Jakku. The parents died last year, so now Snoke has come after her for the money.” He stopped to catch his breath. “She has nothing. You know what he will do to her.”

 

There were voices in the background and the phone muffled into silence.

 

“Ben?” Maz called. “Ben!”

 

After a long silence and more muffled conversations, he came back.

 

“I’m here. I need to be careful. They are watching me.” He stopped speaking again, but this time she could hear him puffing, like he was walking quickly. “Snoke had ordered us to shake her up, but now he wants to bring her into the brothel. I’ve done all I can, but I need you to take her in and protect her.”

 

For a moment, she was reminded of the little boy she knew so well. Perhaps he was still in there, somewhere.

 

“Where is she?”

 

“She escaped, but I saw her running in a laneway by the old Imperial Buildings near Niima Outpost. Her name is Kira. She has three buns in her hair. She’s skinny. Maybe fifteen or sixteen, it was hard to tell.”

 

Maz took it all in. She knew the area well. Many of her children had been found on the streets of Jakku.

 

She waited for Ben to continue, sensing his hesitation.

 

“She’ll be pretty shaken up.”

 

Maz felt the veins chill in her blood. “What did you do to her?”

 

“I had to scare her, they were filming me.” His voice was choked, almost fearful, of what, she wasn’t sure.

 

“What do you mean, ‘scare’ her?”

 

“Are you going to take her in or not?” he snapped.

 

“Do you know how dangerous this is, to bring a girl like that into my house? I look after ‘little’ children, some of them just babies, not teenagers. What if Snoke finds her…”

 

“He can’t!” Ben said, an underlying sense of panic and urgency edging it higher. “She needs to change her name. Get Master Luke to teach her to fight…”

 

“How am I supposed to trust you?” she interrupted him. “It was your choice to work for Snoke, to do those terrible things to people—to scare this poor child, I dread to think what that means.”

 

“Are you going to help or not?”

 

Maz weighed up the risks. For years, her little home of disadvantaged children had flown under the radar. She had twenty others that needed caring and loving. By all standards, she was full.

 

“Please, Maz,” Ben’s voice cracked on the other line. “She’ll be prostituted out if Snoke gets his way. He’ll destroy her.”

 

“Like what he did to you?”

 

Silence.

 

“I will help you on one condition. As long as you work for Snoke, you will have nothing to do with this girl. I won’t tell you who she is or what becomes of her. You are never to call up after her, do you hear me?”

 

After a long pause, he agreed. “I promise.”

 

“I’m not sure your promises mean that much nowadays.” Maz shook her head, forcing herself to stop the diatribe that was waiting to follow. “I’ll find her, Ben. Don’t you worry, I’ll keep her safe.”

 

She heard a sigh from the other end of the line. “Thank you.”

 

“You’ve done a good thing here today, Solo. Let’s hope it’s the start of many more.”

 

* * *

 

Rey stared blankly at Maz, lips parted, still clutching the red string of carpet in her hand.

 

“I don’t know what to say.”

 

“He didn’t tell you?”

 

She shook her head, slowly. What did this mean for her? Her memories, the beliefs she had held onto for so long. Kylo Ren, the man in the mask; villain, not saviour. He was the vision of her nightmares, the reason behind so much of her fear and anguish…

 

And now, he wasn’t?

 

“I was very hard on him, how could I not be after what he did to you? But in the end, he did the right thing. He saved you that night…”

 

Rey stood, wiping her hands on her jeans as she paced around the room. “It doesn’t matter.”

 

“It doesn’t?” Maz raised her eyebrow at her, following her hurried pace with steel-cutting curiosity. “You don’t believe me then?”

 

Rey stopped at the window. Through shades of red and blue stained glass, she could see Finn on the ground, each of the children were jumping on him with hysterical laughter. Finn was telling them to stop but was also laughing himself. It would have made her smile, if her thoughts weren’t hanging on to the details Poe had shared on the phone this morning.

 

To say her heart hadn’t backflipped when Maz had reshaped her memory of the night she was attacked, would be a lie, but that was in the past. And present-day Kylo Ren was still a cold-blooded murderer.

 

Rey hugged her stomach, gnawing away at her thumb nail. “He killed Lor San Tekka.”

 

Silence.

 

Rey turned around to see Maz fumbling for a cigarette and then there was the familiar click of her age-old lighter, the one with the woolly beast on it, whatever that  was supposed to be.

 

“When are you going to give up those cancer sticks?”

 

“When they pry them from my cold, dead hands.”

 

“You’re impossible. You shouldn’t be smoking around the children.”

 

“What children? They are outside, torturing your friend.”

 

The lighter finally caught, and Maz inhaled a long drag before blowing a curling cloud of smoke at the window.

 

“Lor was dying,” she said, rather bluntly, Rey thought. “He didn’t have long left.”

 

“That doesn’t change the fact that he  killed him Maz, in cold blood, shot him in the head. Ben Solo may have tried to save me,” Rey’s voice wavered, and she squeezed her eyes shut, straining for composure again, “but how can I look past this?”

 

“Who said anything about looking past it?“

 

Rey furrowed her brow. Maz was notorious for talking in riddles.

 

“Ask him.”

 

Maz linked her fingers with her own and squeezed them warmly.

 

“This is what I know. Ben loved that old man. Lor was his Godfather and they were very, very close. If he was the one to pull the trigger, there was a damn good reason for it.”

 

Maz pulled Rey to face her, those saucer eyes staring up into her knowingly. How much could she see? Rey’s lip trembled, her cheeks and neck were flaming with colour and even now her hands couldn’t stop shaking.

 

“I know he loves you, child. I heard it in his voice that night, and saw it in his eyes at the dojo.”

 

“He didn’t even know me then. He barely knows me now.”

 

“And yet, he had compassion for you. You must know that going against Snoke on this was such a risk. It was selfless. And selflessness is love.” Maz took another drag of her cigarette. “I hate to think what the repercussions were.”

 

Rey thought of the scars on his back. How many had he earned for her, a stranger?

 

And was he still paying the price for disobeying orders that night? Suddenly, the pieces were all coming together, the fact that Phasma had sought Rey out, offered her this job with no experience, that just by chance she had been paired with Kylo Ren on the first night; none of it was an accident. It was all a game and Snoke was still making him pay.

 

She was Snoke’s weapon. The card he played to make him finally vulnerable. Had he played that card to make him kill Lor? Was he playing it still?

 

“I don’t know what he saw that night, but he found something in you and I know—I know—he will never stop protecting you.”

 

She nodded, finally understanding. “You need to learn how to fight,” he had told her that dreadful night and he had found the means to teach her. She needed a family, and he had found her one.

 

“And you,” Maz’s voice marvelled at her, “ you finally found your belonging.”

 

Rey smiled at her, despite the ache in her heart, it had slipped through, magnetic to the truth.

 

“I’m happy for you, child.”

 

“Thank you, Maz.” Rey clutched Maz in her arms. “Thank you for everything.”

 

 


 

 

“Woah, woah, woah!” Finn shouted between belly-laughs, as each of the children rode on his back as he tried to stand up. “Can’t you control them?”

 

Maz laughed. “When I choose to.”

 

They pulled him down again and Maz clapped her hands. “Bajate, bajate! You’ve had your fun now.”

 

One by one, the children scurried away with quiet giggles. Finn got up, brushing off dirt and grass from his trousers. “Are you done?”

 

Rey nodded. “Are you?”

 

“Get me the hell out of here,” he said between gritted teeth.

 

Rey laughed, longingly watching as the children sat quietly beneath the maple tree, ready for their lunchtime story. A gentle pang tugged at her heart as she walked away from the only place that ever really felt like home to her.

 

They moved past the fence and Finn stumbled for his keys as Rey looked back.

 

Home

 

She watched as Maz dragged a finger beneath each word, spelling them out slowly.

 

Home was not this red-brick federation house with its leaking taps and a cozy fire, home was Maz. For a time, she belonged there and those years were both the most challenging and the happiest of her life.

 

But now, home had become something different, something new. The great unknown beyond the vast horizon. She wasn’t there yet, but she had a sense of it. She slipped her hand into the pocket and found her phone there. She couldn’t even call him since his phone was broken, but she still clutched it like it was the star to her lost ship.

 

“Rey!”

 

She jumped. “What?”

 

“I just asked if you got the answers you need,” Finn asked.

 

“Oh, right. Yeah, I did.” She pulled the phone out of her pocket and glanced at it out of the corner of her eye.

 

There were eight missed calls from an unknown number. Did they belong to him? The number was hidden and there were no voicemails, apart from one which was just silence and breathing until it hung up.

 

She had no number for him.

 

She didn’t know where he lived.

 

The only connection they had was the brothel.

 

The brothel. She gnawed on her lip, toying with the idea of going back there. Tonight was supposed to be their last night together.

 

With a quiet nod, she made the decision to go back, even though she knew Snoke would be there and it was probably dangerous.

 

She would go back.

 

She would go back for Ben.