"Why don't…you…just…give up?" demanded Rey. Her breath was coming in gasps, her side hitched, and dust stung in her eyes as she held her opponent at bay. The planet she'd found herself on was depressingly free of vegetation and prone to dust-storms, and she'd already forgotten its name.
Kylo Ren lowered his blade to within an inch of her nose, eyes focused with a ferocious intensity on her face. She could smell the ozone in the air, almost taste the searing heat of the crackling scarlet saber. "Don't…count on it," he growled, the strain in his voice evident.
Rey pushed him away and gulped in air, bringing her saber back up to guard as he stumbled backward against the cliff-face they were pinned against. The reassuring hum of her blade, clear and bright as a summer sky, sang in her right ear. "You really don't know—when to quit, do you?" she panted, chest heaving.
He got his footing and glared back at her. She sensed his emotions through the Force—rarely unveiled to her, or indeed to anyone else—anger, and frustration, and pain. "No," he said shortly, and charged her with his blade.
Rey waited until the last second, then easily side-stepped his onslaught. He had no grace, no finesse to his movement, and it was very simple for her to power off her saber, duck, lean, grasp his wrist, twist it sharply (forcing his fingers to spring open and drop the saber) and use his own momentum to slam him against the cliff-face, his left arm pinned behind his back.
"Yield," she panted, forcing herself forward with all her strength to keep him there.
He roared in anger and shook her off, calling his own saber back to his palm with the Force—
—and the hilt slapped into Rey's hand as she caught it in midair.
Kylo lurched forward, grabbed her by the arm and tried to yank the saber out of her hand. She yelled in indignation and a bit of pain as they wrangled, then brought her head back, braced herself, and slammed her forehead into his.
Stunned, he staggered back with a muffled oath, and Rey, forgetting her saber, and indeed, his saber, brought up her knee and planted it squarely in his gut. While he bent double from that, she yanked him up by his hair and pushed him against the cliff-face again, then punched him hard in the mouth and again in the nose. Blood spurted from his lip and he spat, red dribbling down his chin. "I said yield!"
He yelped in pain and struggled, but her hands gripped his tunic fast and there was no escaping her desperate grip. "Yield," he panted, one hand up. "I yield."
Rey let go of him and stepped back, slightly nonplussed. She hadn't actually expected him to yield at all; now he was bleeding all down his front and looked woozy as he slid to his seat against the rock.
"I'm going to take you to the Resistance," she informed him. "They'll know what to do."
He raised his head and spit another glob of dark blood into the dust at his side. "You may want to check your comlink before you make plans."
Rey snatched the thing out of her pocket and groaned. It had shattered in the scuffle, leaving her with no communication.
"And I think," he continued, squinting past her, "shelter might be an important next step."
She turned to follow his sight, and paled at the enormous wall of billowing dust, mere klicks away. "Oh, kriff. There's no shelter out here."
"My shuttle." Kylo got to his feet, and his knees gave out, leaving him half-crouched in the dust.
"I'm not going to your shuttle—what's the matter with you?" Rey tucked both sabers into her belt and backed away slightly. If this was a trick, she had absolutely no qualms about kicking him in the face while he was conveniently down.
He inhaled, and it sounded wheezy. "Shuttle's the only option unless you like coughing up mud for days. I'm not partial to it, but you're from Jakku, so maybe you evolved dust-flaps, as unlikely as that is."
Rey reached out with the Force to probe at his mind, and she didn't detect an ounce of deceit. But he could be hiding it from you, said her brain. Mostly she sensed an overwhelming amount of pain and a small tinge of humiliation at having been beaten for the third time in combat. "How far's the shuttle?" she heard herself ask.
"Not far. Quarter-klick down the cliff." He got to his feet again and groaned, one hand clutching at his side, then delivered a few sharp blows to his own chest, eyes gone sharp and focused. "Let's go."
She looked back at the approaching dust storm, and then at the man in black, leaning on the rock.
"I can't communicate with the First Order any more than you can with your precious Resistance," he snapped. "The dust storm is knocking out our comms. Either follow me or stay out here and suffocate." Without another word, he began to limp down the cliff path in short, sharp steps that suggested quite a lot of pain.
Rey weighed her options, remembered she still had both sabers, and started walking after him.
The Upsilon-class shuttle was sitting at the foot of the cliff and a short walk away. Both huge black wings loomed up over the cabin like some bird of prey, and Rey had barely made it inside before Kylo Ren slammed the gangplank shut and it began to close with her still on it.
"Hey," she said, irritated, and rushed to the top, blinking as the white interior lights glimmered on and illuminated the passenger compartment.
He wasn't listening. He stiffly walked over to a wall, leaning on the arms of a nearby seat, and slammed his fist down on the latch, opening a compartment and dragging out a med-kit with his back to her as she stood awkwardly in the middle of the floor. The last time she'd been here, she'd been unconscious. It was a very odd feeling.
Outside, she heard pattering against the hull of the ship, and thanked her stars that they'd at least made it before the storm hit.
Kylo Ren undid the fastenings on his cape, letting it fall to the floor. His back hunched as he fumbled with his belt, then his tunic and gloves.
Rey flushed and turned her back. "Where's the crew?" she asked.
He didn't seem to be in a mood for conversation. She heard the soft fwump as his tunic hit the ground, and a soft hiss of air through teeth.
She peeked over her shoulder and stared in shock.
Kylo's back was laced in scars. Raised white ridges, discolored patches, twin burn scars on his lower back, several puckered marks high up on the back of his shoulder—some old and faded, some new and pink.
She'd seen some of him, so long ago when the Force was pulling them inexorably together. She'd seen him and been flustered on Ahch-To, the expanse of skin untouched by sunshine for years almost pallid in comparison to hers. But she hadn't seen him like this, in bright light, and certainly not the rest of his body.
Her thoughts were interrupted by another noise of stifled pain from Kylo Ren and one shaking hand dropping the med-kit onto the floor. He let out a strangled curse she'd never heard and swayed to the right slightly.
"Sit down," she said sharply, and hurried over to him, bending to pick up the scattered contents of the kit. "I couldn't possibly have hurt you that much. What—"
He sat heavily in one of the wide, low seats, his left hand clamped on the armrest, and she saw the sweat on his lip, the way his face was almost gray in pain, the blood staining his chin and nose and lips—and the twisted joint of his left shoulder, just visible beneath the thick muscle.
"Did—did I do that?" Rey gaped.
"Yes," he said shortly. "You used the Force to assist you in twisting my arm, probably by mistake." He inhaled steadily through his nose. "This is why you need a teacher."
"I don’t need you as a teacher," she said, bristling. "I can set joints. I learned how on Jakku."
"Don't," he said sharply as she made to reach for his arm, and twisted around to shield his shoulder from her like a wounded animal.
"I'm not going to hurt you," Rey said. "I'm going to fix it. I didn't mean to."
"As if you care whether or not I'm harmed," he said, sounding quite brittle.
"Well, if I did something wrong I tend to want to fix it," she snapped. "Stop being a baby and let me have a look at it. If it's not fixed, you're going to have even worse swelling and you might lose your arm."
He glared at her through a lock of wayward dark hair, considered that for a moment, and lifted his other shoulder in a shrug, turning toward her and leaning forward so she had a good angle at which to work. "If you break my arm—"
"I'm not going to break your arm," she insisted. "Might do you some good, though. No, I'm joking. Stop looking at me like that. Hold still."
Her fingers delicately traced up and over the joint, from armpit to back. Yes, she'd managed to yank the arm from the socket and it was now positioned…to the front. And slightly down. Lovely. Rey frowned as she let her hands trace his skin. It was a rare week on Jakku that didn't see someone limping into Plutt's with a twisted ankle or shoulder from a mishap in the scrapyards, and she'd assisted plenty of times in setting joints—but she'd never actually done it herself.
"All right," she said, trying to think. "You need to lie on the floor."
"I am not lying on the floor," he said, almost angrily.
"Look," she said. "If I'm going to set this I need you to lie on the floor so your weight isn't on your shoulder, and I'm going to put my foot into your armpit and you're going to relax so there's no stress on the joint, and then I'm going to pull you by the arm until your joint pops back in. Are we clear?"
Kylo gave her an even, long look. "Fine." He stood up and wobbled slightly, brushing off any help, and gingerly lay down on the floor of the shuttle, his enormous frame taking up most of the surface area.
Rey sat down at his left hip and tugged her boot off. "All right. The waiting's the worst part." She wedged her foot solidly into his armpit, and he wrinkled his nose.
"Your feet stink," he said.
"Yeah, well, you're no field of flowers either," she told him, and took hold of his wrist. He instantly tensed at the touch, jaw tight with pain, and she rolled her eyes. "You need to relax. One nice pull and it'll all be over, but you could tear something important if you're wound up like you are right now."
He took a deep, even breath and glared up into the overhead lights, the blood on his face dark; then slowly his body relaxed as he focused, and he closed his eyes. She could sense his mind, just the surface of his thoughts as he forced himself to relax. He was thinking about a lake, the quiet expanse of a field somewhere—
Rey grasped his forearm and with a solid yank and a sickening squelch, his shoulder slid back into place.
Kylo's eyes flew open and he jerked upright, bringing his face within inches of crashing into hers. He looked down and tried the joint. "It doesn't hurt anymore," he said.
"It's going to," she said, and stood up, slightly discomfited by being so close to him. "Sit down and I'll get the blood off your face."
He got up slowly and sat back down in his seat, leaning slightly away as she pulled a bacta wipe out of its flimsiplast package, sat on the armrest, and dabbed at his upper lip. Her thumb brushed the scar on his cheek as she worked, and she fought a slight tremor through her core.
It's just a scar. And you gave it to him. Stop acting like an idiot.
Kylo Ren regarded her with a steady gaze as she cleaned the rest of the blood off his chin and tossed the wipe aside.
Wait. He can read me. Or can't he? Isn't that just with the probe thing, or—right?
"Incorrect," he said casually. "Again. You need a teacher."
Rey felt heat flood her face. "I do not," she said, and wished she could fling herself into the dust storm outside.
He smirked around his swollen lip and reached for a cold pack, cracking it and holding it to his nose. "As you wish. It'll make my job easier."
"And what exactly is your job?" She crossed her arms, glaring down at him from her perch.
"Officially, it's destroying the Resistance. And you. But unofficially, I don't see why we can't come to an agreement." He took the pack away from his face and gave her a slow, cool look.
"And exactly what sort of agreement did you have in mind?" Rey lifted an eyebrow. "One of those, I have to promise to never use my powers against you and your ilk, stay on a planet forever, out of the way, kind of things?"
"Mmm, no," he said, replacing the pack. "As convenient as that offer is, it's a little…dry, don't you think? Not very appealing."
"And what would you consider appealing?" she snapped.
"I think you know," he said smoothly, setting the pack aside. "My offer still stands, should you wish to change your mind."
"That's idiotic," Rey said. "I beat you every single time we fight. How do you know I won't kill you while you're off your guard?"
"For the same reason you haven't killed me right now." He spread his arms out and gave her a knowing look. "Here I am. You had every chance to kill me in this shuttle. You have transportation at your fingers—if you know how to fly this shuttle. You could have been clear of the planet right now, presenting my body to my dear mother and winning this war. But you didn't. You set my arm straight and wiped blood off my face and had a few very interesting thoughts about my—"
"Shut. Up," Rey said through her teeth. "I don't—I don't murder people off their guard. It's not fair."
"Fairness is an imaginary rule we pretend the universe plays by," he said. "Perhaps it's just as well for me you haven't learned that yet." Kylo spread his knees apart slightly and leaned back, eyes shut. She noticed the dark circles under his eyes, the faint shade of stubble on his chin. "Go on. Right here." He tapped his chest, just to the left of the scar she had carved down his shoulder and right pectoral muscle. "Press the hilt of your saber there and ignite it, if you really want to kill me."
He grabbed her hand and trapped it there, between his hand and his chest. "There," he said. "You feel it. A heartbeat. As real as your own. Go on. Strike me down, if you can."
Rey's fingers convulsed under his, her blunt nails digging into his chest. "Let go of me."
"We have been playing this game too long," he hissed, his hand like a vise. "You and I, chasing each other around the galaxy like a moss-cat and a mouse. End it."
Rey found her other hand and pressed it against his good shoulder, using it as leverage to yank her other hand out of his grip. "I'm not going to kill you!" she snapped. "I'm not a—not a Sith, I don't take advantage of people like that—"
"No?" He clapped his hand on hers and leaned forward, so close they could have kissed, and his eyes were angry and—hurt? "Then how do you take advantage of people? By pretending to find them appealing, maybe? Thinking about them so loudly any Force-sensitive person within twenty klicks could sense it? Pretending—embarrassment, pretending—"
"That," hissed Rey, "was not on purpose!" She leaned back, desperately trying to clear her head.
"Oh, don't lie to me," he said, his voice low and even. "Even now you're cringing away from me. We both know you hate me. Why bother thinking otherwise unless you knew I would hear it and hoped to manipulate—"
Rey's temper flared hot and bright. "Oh, kriff you," she snapped, and leaned back in, pressing her mouth to his. Faintly, she tasted the iron tang of blood across his soft lips, but persisted, her free hand finding the puckered scar on his right shoulder and tracing the lines.
He let go of her instantly and let her do it, whether out of shock or some other emotion she didn't know, and when she pulled back he was staring at her, lips parted and eyes wide.
"You just—kissed me—"
"I," she said roughly, "have never in my life tried to lie to someone by thinking, and I'm not about to start today."
Kylo closed his eyes. Both his hands were clenched into fists, as if he was afraid to touch her. "The—your thoughts about the—my—"
"Yes. They don't—bother you?" He looked incredulous.
"A bit…the opposite of that." She felt a hot blush spread across her face again. "Erm, they... turn me on a bit, actually."
"They—" Kylo cut himself off, staring at her blankly. "Really?"
"Yes. Shut up." Rey pulled back, mortified, but he caught at her hands gently.
"You can touch them, if you want," he said, and let go of her. "I don't bite." Rey hesitated, her fingers hovering above his skin. "Go on. Touch them." He was watching her, eyes bright and focused on her every move.
Rey let her fingers brush across his face. He sucked in air slightly, not expecting it there, and kept his eyes on her as she traced the marks she had left on his skin, faded to a thin, fine scar. The tips of her fingers traveled down to his jawline, then lower, to his throat, and she felt him shiver slightly under her touch.
Slowly, she brushed across his collarbones, his chest; then turned her attention to the burn-scar on his right bicep. "Starkiller," she said softly, remembering.
"You'll be pleased to know you're not completely responsible for every mark on me," he said. "Unless perhaps you enjoy the idea of leaving them there."
Heat flooded Rey's whole body and she delicately shifted her weight. Kylo Ren lifted an eyebrow and said nothing. "Shut up," she said again, flustered.
"Oh, you do," he said. Blood was welling from his split lip again, and his tongue flicked out to swipe it clean. "I see."
"I am going to sit," she said, "on the floor. Over there. By myself. When the dust storm is over, I'm using your bloody comlink to hail the Resistance, and after that I'm going to sit on the ground until they get here. What you do is up to you."
"Pity. And after I surrendered, too." Kylo leaned back a little and reached across his chest, tenderly massaging his shoulder. "Dust storms here last quite a while. Maybe even an hour."
"Is that so," she said, her mouth gone quite dry.
"I can't help but notice for all your talk of sitting over there—" he indicated the floor with a jerk of his head—"you're still planted on the arm of my seat."
"Imagine that," Rey said.
"I don't suppose you have any ideas as to what we could possibly do to entertain ourselves for the next hour. Or two." He tilted his head back and gave her a long, searching look.
"I have a few ideas," she said. "Don't worry, none of them will be particularly taxing on you."
"Ah," he said, and closed his eyes as she bent down and pressed her mouth to his scarred shoulder, tongue tracing down both sides of his insensate flesh. "Oh." It was a particularly strange feeling, and not one he wholly disliked. "Rey. This—" Her tongue dipped lower and he fought to not jerk forward. "This is going to be taxing if you keep—"
"Just don't move. It's not hard." Her eyes glittered up at him, half-teasing, half intent, and she slipped off the arm of the seat and knelt between his thighs, her hot mouth dipping ever lower.
Kylo gripped the arms of his chair and closed his eyes, begging the Force to not let the dust storm end for at least another two hours.
Well, he could get creative. Maybe three.
"Rey," he gasped.
"Mmm," she said, her mouth occupied somewhere above his waistband and below his ribs, the solid weight of her firmly pressed against his thighs. "You're injured. Stop moving."
He tilted his head back and surrendered to her. Twice in one day. At her mercy. This can't go on. This is—her mouth was doing something else, and he lost his track of thought utterly, small noises escaping his throat he had no idea he was capable of making.
Outside, dust hissed against the solid black hull of the shuttle as the light faded.
It seemed it was going to be a very long storm.