“If that jerk slurps his coffee one more time, I’m going to dump it over his head,” Rose warned darkly, giving said guy a dirty look across the tiny campus coffee shop.
Rey bit back a snort, knowing that she always talked a big game but the second a customer walked over to the counter, she was all sunshiny smiles and perky compliance. Fierce as long as the person doesn’t actually hear her.
And sure enough, when the noisy drinker made his way up to ask for a refill, sweatpants and hoodie looking nearly as worn and tired as he did, Rose poured more coffee into his mug with a huge grin that nearly sparkled in the light.
“Asshole,” she muttered under her breath as he walked away and Rey had to disguise her laugh with a loud cough.
Rose gave her a sly smile, eyes suddenly focusing on something over her shoulder. “Oh, it’s past seven! You should have left fifteen minutes ago.”
God, she wished. Her feet were aching from her shift this morning and she hadn’t slept well the night before. Not the mention the pulsing pressure behind her eyes that promised a headache later tonight, no doubt when she was trying to fall asleep.
“I’m actually closing with you tonight. Paige is letting me pick up a few extra hours this week.”
From the frown on her face, Rose was going to give her sister a talking to later. But in her defense, Rey had to argue with her manager for twenty minutes before finally getting her to agree. Paige, though typically a gentle, soft spoken person, was surprisingly tough and unwavering when she thought she knew best.
“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” she questioned, fixing her with the famous mom stare. “You already worked this morning and I know you haven’t finished your peer review for creative writing.”
Rey hated to admit that she was right but damn it, she was right. But, this unimportant thing called rent was waiting to be paid and she’d spent her grocery money on textbooks last week.
“Yes, thank you, mother,” she teased lightly. “For your information, I’m over halfway done with my review…” Pausing to combat Rose’s stare with a pleading look, she continued, “but, I was hoping I could work on it between customers?”
Sighing in a fond sort of way, a sound Rey was getting used to hearing, Rose gestured towards the empty corner table that was closest to the counter. “Of course. It’s always dead this time of night anyway. I might join you just so I don’t die of boredom.”
Laughing, Rey washed her hands quickly and went to grab her bag.
The next two hours went by quickly and she managed to finish editing the unbearably boring paper one of her classmates submitted, almost nodding off several times. But, the coffee shop was nearly empty the whole night, only the occasional straggler stumbling in for a dose of liquid caffeine to make it through a study session, so she finished with enough time to help Rose clean up and close.
As they were locking up, her phone vibrated in her pocket and she worked it out, thinking that it might be Finn asking her to grab him something on the way home. But as her screen lit up her face in the dark doorway, she saw it was an email notification instead and her heart skipped a beat. She’d been hoping for this all week.
“What?” Rose questioned, stuffing the keys into her purse.
Rey hadn’t even realized she was grinning. “Oh, nothing.”
“Are you texting a guy?”
Nearly choking, she shook her head. “Really? You think I’d be talking to a guy and not tell you?”
Rose shrugged and together, they walked down the narrow, light lined path. “I don’t know, you’re always peeking at your phone and getting this secretive little smile. And you’re the queen of deflection every time I ask, always changing the subject or suddenly becoming incredibly busy and scurrying off.”
When Rey laughed, the sound was loud in the dark and mostly empty campus. “You’re imagining things. As much as I’d love to discuss your conspiracy theories, I’m going home. See you tomorrow!” She took a right turn, heading towards the main road that cut through the campus.
“You’re doing it again!” her friend called after her, but her tone was playful.
She loved Rose to death and knew that she meant well but there were some things that she just liked to keep to herself.
Like the fact that she had a secret online writing life.
Snorting, Rey shook her head at how over dramatic that sounded. It really wasn’t that bad or anything that needed to be kept secret. But once she told her friends that she wrote stories online, they’d all want to read them and gush over them and pressure her into trying to get published, despite the fact that her writing wasn’t all that good.
A part of her hated that she didn’t share her new hobby with her friends, that she wasn’t sure how they’d feel about it. She wished she was more confident but this was still a new and fragile thing for her. It had taken a lot of guts and internal pep talks just to get herself to post for strangers online. She didn’t have it in her right now to share with the people she knew in real life, the few people she had whose opinions actually mattered to her. Besides, that little voice in her whispered; what if they actually hated it?
No, she was better off keeping this hobby to herself, as she had for the last six months.
Exiting the campus, she hurried down the dark street, wanting nothing more than to go home and relax for the rest of the night. With her homework done, she was free to do what she liked, at least before she had to go to bed early for her next shift in the morning.
Luckily, the apartment that she shared with Finn, her best friend, was only a few blocks away from the college. Wonderfully convenient but they definitely paid for it when rent was due every month.
She hurried up the steps, jiggling her key in the sticky lock, before finally getting the front door open. Finn poked his head out of the living room at the sound of her coming in, looking slightly disheveled.
“Hey,” he called as Rey toed off her shoes and shrugged out of her jacket, sticking it on the hook by the door. “You’re home late, long day?”
“You have no idea,” she groaned, internally dying a little at the thought of having to do it all over again in the morning. Crossing the hallway to make a beeline for the kitchen, a sudden movement caught her eye as she passed the living room entrance. Finn’s boyfriend Poe, looking sheepish and red cheeked, was sprawled across the couch. That explained the rumpled clothing then.
“I’ll just grab some food and give you guys some privacy,” she told Finn, tossing a wave at his curly haired boyfriend.
He started to protest but she didn’t mind. She loved them but sometimes, after a long day, spending time with both of their loud personalities was too exhausting. Especially when she knew they were just waiting for her to go to her room so they could have some time alone.
Which, she told herself firmly, was more than fair. This was technically Finn’s place and although she paid rent, he let her live with him out of the kindness of his heart. Even knowing that she’d use up all the hot water in the mornings. That was true friendship right there, and she owed him one.
And besides, tonight she was happy to have an excuse to go hide in her room.
Grabbing a container of leftover spaghetti out of the fridge, she headed to her bedroom, not bothering to heat it up since she preferred it cold.
“Have a good night,” she called over her shoulder, hearing muffled answers as she closed her door firmly.
Sighing with relief at finally being home, Rey changed out of her clothes and into a giant, baggy shirt that had once belonged to Finn. Spaghetti in one hand, she extracted her laptop from her bag with the other, and plopped down onto her bed.
Though she was in a hurry, excited jitters dancing around in her stomach, she had to take a second and close her eyes at the overwhelming relief of being off of her aching feet.
Shifting her laptop onto her legs and booting it up, she shoved a bite of cold spaghetti into her mouth, nearly moaning as her stomach gurgled with joy. God, she had been starving. She’d forgotten her lunch today but no way was she going to pay for a meal from any of the on-campus food spots. Paying for that would be equal to half a week of food from the grocery store.
The second her laptop turned on, she was clicking the browser button and opening up her bookmarks. At the top of the list was The Darkness Between Stars , her favorite story she was currently following online.
She knew it was silly, but seeing the notification on her phone earlier of a new chapter being posted genuinely made her giddy. This story, this writing, this author, whatever it was, it spoke to her. It had burrowed its way into her heart and dug its claws in, refusing to leave.
As the new chapter opened, Rey settled back against her pillows, eyes glued on the screen as she shoved pasta into her mouth, occasionally missing and poking herself with her fork.
Twenty minutes later, she set aside the empty, sauce smeared container and fork, letting out a huge breath. That chapter… it was amazing, just as she had expected. She scrolled back up to the top, finding the author’s name, even though she knew it already.
Every single word that he wrote was pure perfection. Rey had never even considered herself a fan of sci-fi works, but when she joined a writing group on a whim last month, everyone raved about it so much that she’d given it a chance. And never looked back.
Opening up the writing group Discord server, she quickly typed out a message into her group chat with two of her friends.
Omg did you guys read the TDBS update?
She could see that her two friends were online and sure enough, their responses starting popping up a few seconds later.
Of course I did
What took you so long?
It was meh.
Is that why you were screaming about it from across the house?
I seem to recall tears in your eyes
I hate you.
Rey laughed out loud. Phasma and Hux had been dating for a few years now and their dynamic was a constant source of amusement. It was clear that Phasma loved giving her poor boyfriend a hard time and it was also clear that he loved it. Speaking of which…
Uh, Hux… what happened to your name?
Do you want to guess?
I’ll give you a hint. She’s a tall, blonde terror who seems to think it’s funny to sneak on my computer while I’m at work…
Whoever this mystery woman is, I like her
In the two months that Rey had been on here, Phasma had changed his name over a dozen times, each one somehow better than the last.
Okay, back on topic… that chapter killed me.
You say that about every chapter
I’m sorry but you’re a huge fangirl for this story
But yes, it was amazing
Ha! I knew you’d like it! You love anything badass and when the knight killed his master, my jaw dropped. So. Bad. Ass.
It was true. Her jaw had dropped wide open, spaghetti almost falling out mid bite. After over thirty chapters of the main character, a self proclaimed villain who only went by “The Knight”, doing his evil master’s bidding, he broke free of his control and killed him. It was one of the single most satisfying things that Rey had ever had the pleasure of reading.
I did not see that coming
Oh shut it
You freaked out just like us
You just don’t want to admit it because you don’t like KyloRen
That is not true… I just think he’s an ass.
Rey shifted in surprise. Almost everyone in here knew about KyloRen, since his story was almost always leading in popularity and ratings. He was actually a member of this Discord group, though he usually only hopped in to post an update and never really talked with anyone. She’d always watched him when he did, trying to work up the courage to say something and never doing it.
But she had never realized that Hux knew him.
You’ve talked to him?
Poor Kira is going to have a heart attack
She’s been crushing on Kylo big time
I tried to talk to him once. I offered writing advice and he ignored me. Obviously, he thought that he knew better.
And that explained Hux’s distaste of the author. Though he had grown on Rey over the last couple on months, there was no denying that he was a bit of a writing snob. He was the sort of person who pointed out every tiny typo or word choice issue in his comments and called it “constructive criticism”. Phasma fondly called it “insufferably dickish”.
First of all, I don’t have a crush. I’ve never even talked to him, I just admire his writing.
And secondly, I don’t think that makes him an ass. Maybe he just didn’t agree with your advice?
Well, at the very least, he could have said something. I don’t appreciate being ignored.
Awh, poor boo got his feelings hurt
I certainly did not. He’s the one who missed out on some valuable feedback.
Laughing, Rey shook her head. But, what he said was making her worry a bit. The last few chapters, she had been thinking about sending a message to KyloRen, just to tell him how much she was enjoying his story. Nothing meant more to her than hearing from the few readers she had, so it felt wrong to not say something to him. But, would it bother her if he didn’t respond? She personally always took the time to reply to every comment and loved chatting about her stories with her readers. But maybe he didn’t feel the same. Or maybe he simply got too many messages to even bother responding to them all.
She chewed on her bottom lip, considering. They had never spoken before so even if he didn’t respond or hated her message, it wouldn’t really change anything. But, there was a chance that it could mean something to an author who had given her a story that touched her heart. She owed him enough to say something.
Making up her mind, she typed out a quick goodnight to the still bickering couple, then opened up a new message to send to KyloRen. It didn’t look like he was currently online but she wanted to send it now while she was feeling brave.
Her message took only a few minutes to write, then she spent another ten scanning it for any errors and fretting over if she was being too enthusiastic or presumptuous by sharing her opinion. Before she chickened out, she pressed send, immediately tossing her laptop to side as if it burned to the touch.
It only took a few seconds of staring at the ceiling before she muttered a curse under her breath and snatched it back up, scanning desperately to see if he had responded yet.
But it was just her lonely message, taunting her.
Hey! I just read the latest chapter of The Darkness Between Stars, and wanted to say how much I enjoy your story. It’s been my favorite for a while and this chapter was beyond amazing. The Knight is such a meaningful character to me. His name, his ambiguity, it makes him feel like he could be any of us, and killing his master and breaking free of his control could represent anything we seek to conquer or defeat. I just find it so impressive how well you put such depth and symbolism into a story that is also an awesome sci-fi adventure. So thank you for that. And, for the record, I will always firmly view The Knight as a hero, no matter what anyone else says.
After staring at KyloRen’s offline status for far too long, she huffed at herself, feeling silly. For all she knew, it was three in the morning for him and he was fast asleep.
She tucked her laptop away for the night, swapping over to her phone and wiggling under her comforter.
An hour later, yawning and blinking from the bright light of her phone screen burning into her tired eyes, she gave up on trying to write this new scene. It just wasn’t coming to her, each word feeling like she was taking a solid minute to extract it from her brain, only to plop it into the paragraph gracelessly.
Tossing her phone onto her bedside table, she snuggled down into her pillows, feeling the exhaustion of the day settling on her like a heavy blanket.
Just when she closed her eyes, ready to blissfully slip into sleep, her phone booped innocently.
Her heart jolted. It was the Discord notification sound and she had all turned off except for messages. It was probably just Phasma though and she really should ignore it and go to sleep…
Rey rolled over and swiped her phone up, unlocking the screen with nervous fingers. There, beneath her message was a response from KyloRen, which she scanned quickly, her heart pounding out a furious beat in her chest.
Hello, Kira. Thank you for your kind words, I’m glad to hear that you’re enjoying the story so far. I have to admit that I’m surprised by your message, as most people view The Knight as an irredeemable villain. I’m curious as to what made you view him as a hero? Thanks again, always happy to hear good feedback.
Rey had to bite her lip to stop herself from shrieking in excitement. He responded. Holy hell, her inspiration and favorite author responded to her dorky message. Disbelief and excitement collided inside of her and she firmly reminded herself that he was just a normal person. Probably some dad or professor who wrote in his off time and was a huge sci-fi nerd.
Thank you for the response! I’ve actually gotten in several arguments with friends over whether The Knight is a villain or hero. I seem to be the only person thinking the latter but I’m okay with that. Though I do get teased that it’s just because I’m a girl with a thing for bad guys haha. I just think that he is trying really hard to be a bad guy but he’s got a good heart hiding in there. He’s lonely and sad and had a tragic life but I think that a small part of him wants something more. He just thinks that he’s doomed to be a product of evil, due to his history. But you’ve hidden a few little hints that I think point towards a redemption.
A huge part of her wanted to laugh at the fact that she was telling the author about his own story and knew that if she was wrong, she’d look like an idiot. But she’d read all of the published chapters multiple times and she knew in her heart that The Knight was going to be redeemed. Phasma and Hux both thought that she was crazy but it was weirdly important to her that she was right.
If a character destined for evil could make something good of his life, shouldn’t anyone be able to?
And The Knight killing his master just made her feel inspired. Ready to conquer all the obstacles in her way and break free of her own personal fears and worries. A character who evoked that sort of reaction from her surely couldn’t be a villain in the end. Could they?
He responded almost immediately, to her delight.
Hmmm, interesting. Of course, I can’t tell you if you’re wrong or right but I appreciate you fighting so hard to defend him.
And that was it. That was all he had to say.
Reading the message twice more, Rey felt a grin spread across her face. She was right, she was so right. The Knight was totally getting his redemption and she was going to rub it in everyone’s face.
Don’t worry, I won’t tell everyone that I’m right. I’ll save the gloating for later
Hang on. I certainly did not say that you’re right.
You didn’t have to. I believe in you to give him the story that he deserves.
She waited a few minutes but he didn’t respond. Chewing her nail, she worried that she might have offended him. But honestly, that was a concern for the morning, when her brain was actually wanting to work.
So, she forced herself to set her phone back down, roll over, and close her eyes.
Rey stifled a yawn behind her hand as Professor Skywalker droned on about the importance of imagery in creative writing. It wasn’t that he was boring, Creative Writing was her favorite class this semester and he was her favorite professor, but she’d been up since six this morning to squeeze in an opening shift before classes.
From the seat next to her, Rose gave her a concerned look, but she just shrugged. Truth was, she’d had a hard time falling asleep after sending that last message, worrying that she had upset Kylo with her teasing comment. He still hadn’t replied... What if she made him feel pressured?
She debated apologizing a few times but decided against potentially embarrassing herself even further. Of course, she got the opportunity to speak with her favorite author and managed to fuck it up.
“Now,” Professor Skywalker said sharply, yanking back her attention. “I’ll be handing back your peer edited papers, which were turned in this morning. I’ve looked them over and assigned my own grade, which I’ll reveal tomorrow. For now, see what was suggested and make your own changes per the feedback you’ve received.”
He straightened his brown jacket, picking up a stack of papers from his giant wooden desk and making his way around the classroom.
“Remember,” he called out, pausing to stroke his graying beard as his blue eyes scanned the room. “The goal is always improving so keep an open mind.”
When he reached Rey, he handed over her paper with an expressionless look that instantly made her nervous. They were supposed to write something that was a good demonstration of imagery and she thought that hers had been fine, but maybe her peer editor had ripped it apart.
And sure enough, her neatly typed paragraphs were covered in red slashes and messy scribbles. She skimmed them quickly, feeling herself frown at the notes left all over her paper. Critiques, words suggestions, comments on her word choice and whether her imagery was effective or not. Her peer editor had gone all out, holding nothing back.
She knew who had edited it even before she saw his name signed at the end.
Her eyes went to where he was sitting across the classroom, head slightly down as he looked over his own paper. Tall, broad shouldered, and dark haired, he was practically the golden boy of this college. Professor Skywalker's nephew, which explained the look he gave her, and his mother was a titan in the publishing industry.
Class had only been going on for over a week and the only thing that Rey had learned about Ben Solo was that he was rather quiet.
Probably because he thought he was too good to talk to anyone, she thought snidely, then instantly felt bad. It wasn’t his fault that his family was famous, but she could only imagine the entitlement that came with having everything handed to you in life. At least his uncle didn’t give him blatant favoritism in class.
“How bad is yours?” Rose asked, leaning across the aisle.
Rey pulled her eyes away from Ben, focusing on her friend instead. “Pretty bad. Ben Solo tore it apart, surprise, surprise.”
She frowned sympathetically. “At least he bothered. Mine hardly touched the thing.”
“Well, you can have Ben next time,” Rey grumbled, scowling at her paper. “See how you like it.”
She took the time to actually read over the first page, surprised at how polite most of his comments were. The red ink made them look severe at first glance but he was actually quite nice though most of them, almost tentative in his suggestions. Helpful suggestions, at that.
Not at all what she had expected.
A little tendril of shame curled in her stomach at her immediate assumption that he would be rude. She had never even spoken to him before.
Setting her paper aside, she slipped her phone from her bag, planning on pulling up the original document so she could make edits. She had a sneaking suspicion that Professor Skywalker was going to have them resubmit with changes.
But, when she checked her phone, there was a message waiting for her from KyloRen. She must have missed it on her way to class.
So, just to confirm, you think that The Knight deserves a redemption story? It doesn’t remotely concern you that you’re alone in that sentiment? Or, you know, all of the terrible things that he’s done?
A little thrill went through Rey at the fact that he had even bothered to respond.
Sure, he’s done a few terrible things but who doesn’t have regrets in their lives? And I blame most of it on his master. He was a product of his environment and just as much of a victim as the people he hurt. I can’t believe that you would go through all of the trouble of humanizing him and showing that he still has some good bits inside, if you weren’t going to redeem him.
That would just be mean
“Now,” Professor Skywalker said from the front of the room, and she shoved her phone away guiltily, aware that Rose was watching her curiously. “As some of you might have guessed-”
A loud pinging noise rang across the room, cutting him off, immediately followed by another one. He slowly turned and arched an unamused eyebrow at the source of the sound.
Even from across the room, Rey could see Ben turn red, a bright flush spreading across his face as everyone looked at him.
“Sorry,” he muttered, pulling his phone out of his pocket.
His uncle watched in silence as he fiddled with his phone and tucked it away, only turning away once Ben had finished. She thought it was a little unnecessarily mean to prolong his embarrassment him like that, and felt her own face become hot on his behalf.
“As I was saying,” he continued pointedly, “I will expect a revised version of your paper by tomorrow. Since that should take you no time, we will also be starting a new project that will take up the rest of the week. Partner up and come see me for your assignment.”
The room burst into quiet chatter as people paired off, the excitement in the room palpable. Rey and Rose immediately looked at each other, grinning as their eyes met.
“Let’s go grab our project first, so we don’t have to wait in line,” she told Rose, tugging her towards the front of the room where their professor was perched on the edge of his desk.
As they made their way up, she noticed Ben was still seated at his desk, wide shoulders stiff looking. He wasn’t talking to anyone, no friend or partner in sight.
“Ms.Tico and Ms.Kenobi, why am I not surprised?” Their professor gave them a knowing smile, his blue eyes warm. “Here’s your project, let me know if you have any questions.”
Rey took the paper, hardly paying attention as she glanced over her shoulder at Ben again. “Can we have a third partner?” she blurted out.
Professor Skywalker followed her gaze and got a peculiar look on his face, an almost bitter twist to his mouth. “While your compassion is admirable, I wouldn’t bother. He probably doesn’t think he needs help with this project anyways.”
She gaped at him for a second, his comment stunning her. Part of her wanted to think that he was trying to warn her away from a bad situation, knowing his nephew obviously better than she did. But the cool, disdainful way he said it grated on her. It was completely unprofessional and a little… mean .
“Well,” she countered, just as cooly, “I couldn’t help but notice that the classroom has an uneven number. So it’s not like he has much of a choice, does he?”
He studied her, something shifting behind his blue eyes, like a shadow beneath the surface of a lake. “Of course,” he finally said. “If you’d like a third person in your group, I’ll allow it.”
That was all she needed to hear, turning away and making her way towards Ben’s lonely figure.
“Uh, what are you doing?” Rose whispered, following right next to her. “You were just complaining about him.”
“I know, I just-“ She paused. What exactly? She felt bad for him? She wanted to make up for her unfair assumption earlier? It didn’t really matter so she just shook her head and continued forward.
Ben lifted his head as she approached and she was struck by just how dark his eyes were. Nothing like his uncle’s bright blue, they were a deep brown, set into a pale face that was surprisingly handsome in an interesting way. His features really shouldn’t look good together but they just worked.
“Hi,” she said a bit awkwardly. “We haven’t met yet. I’m Rey and this is Rose.”
Rose gave a little wave, a confused crinkle still between her eyebrows.
“We were just wondering if you wanted to join our group for the project? There are uneven numbers.”
Strangely, another flush was painting his cheekbones. Had she embarrassed him by pointing out that he didn’t have a partner?
“My uncle won’t give you a better grade just because I’m in the group,” he finally responded, his voice deep and quiet.
Rey felt her neck prickle and knew that Professor Skywalker was watching them.
“That’s not it at all,” she said firmly, crossing her arms. “We just thought you might want someone to work with.”
He studied her silently for a second, almost like he was searching for something. His eyes flicked over her shoulder briefly, mouth down turning the smallest amount.
“I’m good, thank you.” Ben looked back down at his paper in a determined sort of way.
Rose looked at Rey and shrugged. “Are you sure?” she asked tentatively.
He barely glanced back up before slowly turning to the next page of his paper. “I said no, thank you.” Though his tone was polite, irritation rose up in her. They were just being thoughtful but he was dismissing them like he couldn’t care less. He couldn’t even be bothered to look at them when he was talking.
“Fine,” Rey bit out. If he wanted to work alone, what did she care?
She marched back to her desk, pointedly not looking towards Professor Skywalker, and it was only once she sat down that she realized she had crumpled the paper in her hand into a wrinkled mess.