Kylo Ren stared at the scratched patch of paint on the wall across the hospital room. It was a discoloured spot of pale green in a sea of ivory, rising up from another time to taint the present.
It was only about the size of a coin: a small scratch that no one else seemed to notice, but he did. The room had been quiet for an hour, the first silence that he could remember in years, but the damned spot was starting to scream at him over the dull buzz of the overhead lights. His dark head tilted as he felt himself getting drawn into the green. The edges slowly started to blur as he focused on the infuriating blemish, spreading and growing in a way that paint couldn’t. The colour started to spill over its confines and bled strings of disruption across the blank expanse that filled his vision. It thrummed with his pulse, seemingly want to draw him in to touch it.
He blinked hard and glared, finally swimming up from numbness back to rage. Someone scratched the damned wall and hadn’t bothered to fix it.
People who were free to do whatever they wanted never worried about taking care of what they had.
“Why’re you looking at the wall?”
The tiny voice in the bed next to him broke his trance and the expanse of the web contracted in a snap, leaving only the obscure and unnoticeable green dot.
He forced his face to be neutral when he looked down at Rey’s wide, yet tired, brown eyes. She yawned and looked from him to the wall, before meeting his eyes again.
That morning the police had told him she was about four years old. That morning, they were wrapped in blankets and put in the back of an ambulance. That morning, for the first time in seven years, he left the horrors of his captivity. That morning, he heard the sounds of their captor choke out his last hateful breath as he beat him to death.
That morning, they were free.
Looking into her eyes made it all wash over him again and he took a shaky breath before finally answering.
She yawned again and took his hand. “Why?”
He settled into the bed next to her and traced her hospital bracelet with his free hand. The flimsy plastic band sat loosely over the now-hardened cast for her broken arm. Hours ago he’d raged at the nurses about the name on that band. They put Jane Doe, even though he insisted that her name was Rey. He only stopped fighting when he saw the tears in her eyes and took a slow step back to drop his head and let the nurses win.
Shrugging, he let the bracelet go. “It’s too quiet.”
Her small face was solemn. “No screaming.”
He didn’t want her to cry again. It hurt too much. The entire day had been overwhelming. The ecstasy of being free rapidly faded into disillusionment of basically being in another prison. This one wasn’t haunted by an abusive murderer, but instead guarded by police, doctors, and social workers.
He had forgotten how many people there were in the world and now it seemed like they were meeting them all at once.
Kylo didn’t want to believe he’d been gone for seven years. That would make him fourteen — half of his life had been stolen from him and all of Rey’s life had been spent in that hell. Even in the clean and hushed hospital room, he could still feel the pressure and pain well in his chest at how fucking unfair everything was. But just the brief spark of selfishness on his part pulled the corner of his mouth into a frown. He’d only been able to save her. He had let the other kids down and now they were the only ones left.
Even in the big world that they’d escaped into, everything still felt so small.
He felt weak in both of them.
“You need to sleep,” he said, lowering his voice. “It’s late.”
He used to hold her in the dirty corner of the sleeping room and could always talk her to sleep. He'd tell her stories that he could remember from his past and she'd smile brightly before cuddling closer and finally resting. He would spend the rest of those nights resisting sleep to keep watch on the door. Anytime one of the others moved or cried, he was worried that the terror would come down on them again. She used to be covered in dirt and blood. He could still almost taste it when he inhaled the scent of her hair.
“But you’re not sleeping,” Rey answered, even as her eyelids started to drift shut. They’d had to reset her arm before putting on the cast. The doctors had looked on in horror as she didn’t flinch at any of the needles or prodding. He would have smiled if he’d felt anything in that moment. She'd been like that the entire day, even when he'd scooped her up from the floor and made his break for the door. But there was no reason to smile at the carnage he'd left behind in that crimson-stained horror compound.
He'd fought so hard not to react around her. Now, all he could feel was a growing need to scream or cry. The feeling to run started to crawl up his throat; he never should have flagged down that stranger on the lonely dirt road. He should have just kept running. The only mistake he hadn't made that day was killing Snoke, a man whose cruelty sunk below horror and existed in a space of hollow evil. He would suck in the screams and turn them into a vicious energy to consume more blood, tears, and torn flesh. Just the flash of the man's dying eyes in his head made his urge to flee grow. Otherwise, he would break everything in the room. His hands started to quiver as he pulled away.
“I need to go ask the nurses something,” he replied. “You’re safe here and I’ll be right back.”
He’d fought to stick by her side the entire day, but he was too restless to stay in that room. Rey had insisted that they leave the lights on and it was hurting his eyes. The buzz from the lights was angrily scratching at his ears as well.
And that damned spot was staring back at him from the corner of his eye.
Rey seemed to shrug and accept it. She trusted him too deeply and knew that he’d return.
“Be back soon, Kylo.”
Her words were soft and sleepy as he eased himself off of the high hospital bed. It was hers but he didn’t want her to sleep alone. His bed was empty across the room. The police had questioned them late into the evening, he guessed. He remembered the sting of the sunshine on his face. It wasn't the first time he'd felt the sun and breathed in the grassy tones of fresh air, but it was the first breath he took without fearing being shot in the back for stepping out of line. He'd grabbed Rey tighter and achingly moved down the driveway into the future. The sharp stones stung his bare and bleeding feet but he still ran even though the old man was dead.
The memories were getting jumbled now because all he could think about was running right back into hell, her in tow.
As his bare feet hit the cool floor, he had to take a long, deep breath to steady himself. He had forgotten what linoleum felt like after walking on dirt and wood for seven years. It was smooth and slippery and too clean. Any spec of dirt seemed to dig into his skin as he walked quietly across the room. Real pain came from something one couldn't see, not the open would of being violated and destroyed from the inside out.
He slipped on the slippers they’d given him and took one last glance at Rey before pushing the door open.
His hand stilled after it swung open an inch.
He could freely open a door.
There was a lock, clearly, but it was just a single lock. It wasn’t rows of rusty and heavy padlocks.
He could just get up and go out into the hallway.
His hand fell back and the door slid from his hand. The door scratched at the floor, loosely swinging back into place. He could hear his own breathing again when it slid to the frame. Just looking at the floor outside made his heartbeat quicken. He took a slow step back and just stared at the large window in the centre of the pale orange door. It wasn’t blocked; he could clearly see out.
People had come in and out of that room all evening and he couldn't do it.
Frustration took over and he quickly pushed his way out of the room, violently hitting the door. He would force himself to get used to this for Rey. She had no idea what the outside world looked like. He had to make it through his own fears to prevent the darkness from getting to her.
A tired-looking police officer sat in a chair outside their room. They were being watched once again. Even as he narrowed his eyes, the cop sat up a little and quirked his head at him.
Kylo felt his legs stiffen again and he dropped his head.
“Something the matter?” The officer asked.
His mouth wouldn’t work and the slippers were too small for his feet.
He took a ragged breath, hearing his back teeth clack together as he steadied his jaw.
“Needtogoforwalk.” It all came out as one hasty word. Exhaling sharply out of his nose, he met the man’s eyes just to prove to himself that he could do it. “I need to take a walk. Can I go to the nurse’s station?”
The officer looked confused but then nodded. “Sure. Do you know where it is?”
“Yes,” he answered quickly. Then he paused, still making himself look at the other man. “Rey is asleep.”
“Want me to check on her?”
He shook his head instantly. “No, no. She’s still not used to other people.”
The officer, still with his puzzled expression, nodded. Kylo snapped his eyes away and started down the hall to the nurses.
He didn’t really need to go there. He just wanted to go somewhere.
His feet slowed as he neared the first corner. He still kept waiting for Snoke to jump around every wall and drag him back into the darkness.
Kylo again looked at his uncomfortable slippers as the brightness from his hallway clashed with the dim lighting around the corner.
Pursing his lips, he forced himself to get through the area and continue towards the station.
Snoke was dead. He couldn’t come back for him. He’d killed him. He had finally been strong enough to stand up to him and…
“Do you need something?”
He blinked and realized that he’d reached where he had wanted to go. His body had worked even when his mind didn’t.
But there had already been too many questions today and he wanted to snap at the voice that greeted him. He swallowed it and shook his head.
The young nurse sat up and looked at him with gentle eyes. He still didn’t want to know what time it was, but with the lack of running feet and quickly exchanged words, he knew it was night. The station had a brightly toned desk with small toys sitting on a soft-pink countertop. The nurse was wearing magenta. He surprised himself by remembering the names to colours he hadn’t seen in years.
“Can I have some juice?” He needed to ask something to avoid looking stupid. The nurse was looking at him like he was a broken idiot. His excuse was bullshit, but at least it was something.
She smiled brightly, setting her book down. “Of course. You can wait right here.”
She disappeared into a side room, leaving him alone in the large, empty space. The lights were dimmed in the waiting area on the other side of the station. There were no visitors. It was late at night. The world was asleep, still forgetting that they existed.
Except for some.
He eyed the distant door that led to the elevators and thought again about running.
He’d made a mistake with one of the police earlier. She was a pushy detective that had threatened to keep him from Rey until he told her who he was. He had hated her and her awful blonde hair the second she had pushed her way into the room and now that hatred again cracked through his mind.
He told them his real name. His parents were coming.
But he’d been Kylo Ren now for as long as he was Ben Solo.
Narrowing his eyes at the door, he slowly clenched his hand into a fist.
The quick return of the nurse made him jump back and stumble. He didn't think it was that bad but her hand came to her mouth and she apologized. He still stared wildly at her as he fought to get his heart under control.
“I’m so sorry,” she said. “Here’s some apple juice. The next time you need something, you can use the call button in your room, okay?”
He saw his hands shake as he took the cool bottle. Avoiding touching her hand was the hardest part.
Retreating without another word, he heard Snoke’s voice in his head as he took furious strides back to their room. He was worthless; he was damaged; his parents clearly didn’t want him because he was weak and stupid enough to be caught in the first place.
He ignored the police officer and entered his room again.
Rey was still asleep.
He wanted to scream, but instead let his hand tighten around the bottle. He couldn’t wake her up.
The juice was too sweet as he took two long clunks. He winced at the taste and then closed the lid before tossing it onto his empty bed. As gently as he could, he crawled back into bed with Rey. She whimpered and pulled him closer as he lifted the light sheet over them both.
Forcing his eyes closed, he felt the gentle rhythm of her heartbeat against his chest.
She had been the reason he survived the last four years. Before Snoke brought her into the compound, he was a numb body, existing just for another beating, assault or the other brutalities that he could dream up from his rotten mind. Snoke took Rey out of a rage at him and his unwillingness to respond to his torment. The grizzled old man had ripped off one of Kylo’s fingernails and he’d hardly reacted. He'd hardly flinched as the wrinkled hand brought the pliers down onto the next finger. There was pain, he remembered dully, but he didn’t really feel it. It was another drop into the void. He didn't realize why Snoke had pushed him aside and left suddenly. When he stumbled back to the others, they were mostly grateful that he'd taken the brunt of the anger again. He'd stared at them and nodded before sitting down and letting his eyes blur until he must have fallen asleep. The next day, an infant appeared and Kylo knew that it was his fault. Another child had been taken because of him; that hadn't happened before, when he'd obeyed and cried and screamed. Snoke had just taken children at whim before but that was a message. He had to behave, but he also had to get her out of there.
It took him four years, but he’d done it.
But what was he supposed to do now?
The thought kept him awake until exhaustion finally started to pull him down into an uncomfortable sleep. This wasn't huddled in a corner until his shoulders grew stiff. This wasn't stealing minutes on a floor that was tainted with the scent of blood. This was a place where they should be and feel safe. He should be happy. Instead, he didn't know where that feeling came from anymore. He knew how it looked: he saw it on the face of the police and the doctors and everyone else that had paraded in and out of their room in the last hours. He also knew how it looked every time that Rey looked at him. But for some reason, he couldn't find his happiness in the dark swirls of his mind as he reached for rest that his body desperately needed.
His first free sleep in years would be spent in a hospital bed, protecting a young girl who had ended up where she was because of him and his mistakes. Hugging Rey closer to him as he finally started to drift off, his last thoughts were about why his parents never did the same for him.
Kylo deals with the dawn of the first day of freedom and reconnecting with people who he thought had forgotten him: his parents, and his best childhood friend.
I am finally feeling better again and getting back into writing! More chapters are coming here and to my other things. I can’t tell you guys how much I missed writing here. I really hope that I can keep working through the stuff that is bringing me down and give you guys more! Thanks for the comments so far! I am actually writing this on my iPad with a Bluetooth keyboard that keeps switching languages between French, English, and Swedish so sorry if some of the punctuation gets wonky...
They were watched while they ate breakfast. A woman with pursed pale lips and sharp eyes kept her distance, but Kylo felt her gaze like a needle underneath his skin. It prodded him every time she exhaled. That meant she was going to speak and all he wanted was silence.
A nurse had checked on them early that morning, just after dawn, and he sank into an instant foul mood at the reactions of the adults around him. Everyone was questioning them. No one was really helping them.
After showering and dressing in the soft pyjamas given to them to wander around in, they crawled back into bed and managed to fall asleep again.
Then, the meal had been wheeled in and he had reacted without thinking. It had taken only one or two breaths and he was moving. The two hospital staff had gawked at him as he had pulled sleeping Rey off the bed to the corner, to shield her from an attack that wasn’t coming. It was only when Rey smelled the food that she gently tapped him out of his panicked stupor.
His hands loosened and he realized that his knuckles were tinged white.
How was he supposed to be normal? He needed to get them out of there and he was still acting like everyone was going to hurt them.
He had finally stood up and instantly looked at his feet.
That was when the woman trailed in and started making notes as they sat together on the bed. They’d slept there that night like that because Rey had cried lightly when he had left her for a few minutes to stare at the mirror and understand what he was now. It was the memory of his own hazy eyes that made him look up and look around him again. He heard her underlining something on her stacks of paper as he started helping Rey rather than instantly digging into his food. The doctors had told him that despite how tall and strong he was—and he knew he was strong because he’d killed Snoke—he was underweight. He’d eat eventually, when everything being served to them stopped tasting so overwhelmingly saccharine.
The woman shifted and he was drawn from his memories back into the room and her prickly presence.
“Why aren’t you eating?” She asked again.
He squinted at her. “Not hungry.”
Rey was happily picking up the sticky pancakes that he was cutting up for her. She didn’t question where the food came from or who the woman was, at least not openly. Whenever they were alone, they would talk. It was a relief not to whisper and to hear her voice and how perfect she spoke. Whenever Snoke was out, he’d try to teach her terms and concepts that he remembered; she had to go to school when they got out and couldn’t look stupid like he did when he was a child. Now, however, at the dawn of the first full day of freedom, she would revert back to the silent language that all of the children had developed over the years whenever there was someone else in the room. Communicating by blinking was quite often the only way to get through some nights without being punished. They had tried using hand signals or touches, but Snoke would figure them out. He never caught on to the blinking. Or maybe he had and just ignored it for the bigger plans that he had for them.
The idiot across from him hadn’t figured it out either. And he hoped that she never would.
She was some sort of therapist or psychologist. He hadn’t been listening when she came in behind the breakfast trays. He knew that there would be more names and faces throughout the day and had woken up in an awful mood because of it. His adrenaline still hadn’t faded from his earlier instincts to protect Rey. Just looking at the food made his stomach harden.
He finally gave up and picked up a single grape, glaring at the woman as he popped it into his mouth.
She scribbled something down and he clenched his teeth.
“Are the pancakes good, Rey?” She asked, focusing on her again. Look for the weaker one, as Snoke would say. “What do they taste like?”
Rey quirked her head and turned to him first, asking what she should say. He blinked back, giving her the simplest answer.
He was smart enough to know that they would have to be there a long time. The whispers between the police and the doctors had already led him down that path. They had to act like they weren’t broken, even though he knew better in the back of his mind. Rey had never been outside and he was stubbornly ignoring the fact that every distant sound from the hallway made him twitch or jump.
Rey turned to the woman and shrugged. “Sweet. I like them.”
“That’s good. What else is sweet?”
“Juice. Fruit.” Rey returned to eating after her answer. He started cutting up his portion for her and let her enjoy the treat. He had to keep himself from snapping the flimsy cutlery as he edged through the soft cakes. The nanny used to make pancakes every Sunday for him. Tasting them now would bring back even more memories that he didn’t want to have.
“Candy is also sweet,” the woman said. “Maybe we can have some candy later.”
Rey didn’t answer the baited question. Kylo could tell that the woman was waiting for them to answer something about the compound or their captor. She knew full well that Rey had never had candy before and it cemented his resentment towards the leading questions that the woman posed and her in general.
It was strange to hate someone new. But it was also freeing.
He could hate again.
She stopped her questioning after a while and turned to flipping through papers and forms, checking off random boxes and sighing whenever she caught Kylo’s eyes boring into her. Eventually, she gave up and left them alone.
The next face was one of the detectives from last night. She reintroduced herself as Phasma and sat down on the now-vacated chair. Kylo’s shoulders stiffened at her reappearance.
“We’re going to go to the playroom, if you’d like, now that you’re done your breakfast,” she said, her voice light but Kylo could see that they didn’t have an option. “We have many more questions for you, but it’s a good idea for you to relax first.”
“Will there be other children there?” He asked. Then, he dropped his head and added a second part, pressed by her eyes. “I’ve heard them,” he said, looking back at her again.
Phasma tilted her blonde head and pursed her lips before speaking. “Would you like other children to be there?”
This was another trick. He was being given a choice. “Maybe later.”
“That sounds good. Would you like to come with me?”
He didn’t. But he went anyway.
They passed by now-opened doors to other rooms. There were curious eyes following them and their entourage of uniformed police officers. He had to keep his head down to avoid catching a face that reminded him of someone who would still be alive if he wasn’t so stupid.
The sun shone brightly in the playroom. Rey’s hand tightened in his at the sight of toys, playground equipment, and a television set mounted to the wall. She looked up at him and almost blinked too rapidly for him to catch what she meant. He finally gave her a small smile, the first one that felt real, and nodded.
She gently took her hand from his and strode confidently up to the plastic bin of dolls and play clothes. He lulled by the door before following after, sitting on a low plastic slide to watch her. The police lurked by the doorway, but he focused on Rey. She could finally play.
He made her a doll when she was three. He’d pulled out and saved clumps of his hair, combining them with scraps of forgotten and ripped cloth he’d pocketed. It was small enough to hide in one of the holes they’d scratched into one of the walls.
She cherished it.
And had named it Kylo.
Snoke found it, burnt it, and tossed the hot ashes in her face.
The vision made him shudder and he caught Phasma’s frown. That made him lower himself from the red, plastic slide down onto the carpeted floor. Rey had sorted out the dolls and clothes into neat piles and was counting them, awkwardly moving her broken arm as she completed her task.
“There are too many,” she frowned. “Why too many?”
He picked up one of the soft, fabric dolls and tried to come up with an answer. “The children here are sick. They need things to help them feel better.”
“Doesn’t, um,” he watched Rey work out the word and caught the line of frustration that creased her forehead, “medicines do that?”
He wanted to smile but the eyes of the police made him only quirk his lips slightly. It hurt not to be proud of her. “That’s for their bodies. This is for…everything else.”
She nodded and reached for the doll in his hand. “It’s still too many.”
Kylo watched Rey dressing and redressing the dolls for a few minutes before he noticed how the police officers, detective Phasma included, kept looking through the open door and into the hallway, before glancing down at their phones. The small bricks in their hands intrigued him. He vaguely remembered how his mother would let him watch videos or play games on her device. But he also saw her speaking on it, barking orders or rolling her eyes at something. But that one had been small. When did they get so big?
That’s when he heard the distant echo of his mother’s voice.
When Rey’s head lifted, he knew it wasn’t just in his head.
He reached for her and she instantly went into his arms. Anytime he moved with determination, it only meant bad things. Even though the police were watching him, he spurned their gazes and went to sit in the large chair in the corner. He had Rey in his lap and his eyes on the door. He didn’t want to be sitting on the floor when he saw them again.
The clattering of shoes and nearing of voices drummed on his ears. They seemed to match his rapid heartbeat, filling up his senses until he could only hear his own breathing. White clouded the corners of his eyes as he stared at the floor, willing himself to disappear into it.
He didn’t look up. It was his father’s voice. A shiver coursed through his body and he sunk down further into the chair.
“Ben? We’re here. Oh my God, we can’t believe it. You’re here. You’re safe.”
Now his mother’s voice joined the first.
He heard them step forward and he turned his head to the side and shut his eyes.
If they were there, he’d have to leave with them.
None of this should be happening. He could take care of everything. He already had and always would.
He heard the detective clear her throat. “They’ve been through a lot. Give them time.”
“Who’s the girl? We heard about her, but have you found her parents?” His father spoke and he hugged Rey closer.
“She’s mine,” Kylo finally shouted. “She doesn’t have any parents.”
Phasma sighed heavily. “We should go talk somewhere else…”
“No!” He snapped, finally turning to look at them as Rey squirmed in his lap. His stomach turned as he looked at his parents.
They weren’t the same; they were supposed to be the same. Strands of grey arched through their hair and he saw lines that he didn’t remember. He didn’t know them. He wasn’t leaving with strangers. He swallowed and shook off his stare. “Talk to us. Don’t just talk about us.”
Phasma licked her lips and then nodded, after glancing between his parents. “It’s…it’s like this, Mr. and Mrs. Solo. Like we told you before your flight, there is still so much to go through. They are still decompressing and we have to get full statements once they’re ready. And that might take a while. We are working with the FBI. They’ve been looking for this guy for a long, long time.”
His mother took a deep breath, which grated on his nerves, and then nodded. “We won’t hide anything from him. He’s our son. And we just want him to come home. That’s all we’ve wanted for so long.”
He sucked in air through his teeth and nuzzled Rey’s neck. He wasn’t going home with them. He was going to find a way out, get a job, a place to live, and they’d be fine. He would be a better parent than they ever were to him. He wasn’t going to forget important things. He wasn’t going to let Rey get taken in an open parking lot and forget about her.
Phasma looked at Kylo, meeting his eyes with a glance that he didn’t expect. She actually looked at him like she wanted him to hear what she was going to say. He pushed the feeling down, but knew that he wouldn’t forget it.
“We need you to talk to us, Ben. And we want it to be on your terms, but you need to give us something. Your parents have travelled a long way to be here for you. Believe us when we say that they’ve missed you and never stopped looking for you.” Phasma’s voice was firm, but not threatening.
His lip trembled and he bit down hard to keep from responding. He had to think. “I want a phone.”
“Can he have a phone? He can have mine.” His father spoke again and rage swept across his eyes as the old man dug his hand into his pocket.
“I want my own phone. I haven’t had anything that has just been mine for seven fucking years. I…I will talk. If I get a phone.” He dropped his head again and breathed in heavily against Rey’s shoulder. She was murmuring lightly to him and he cursed himself for speaking so harshly. He pressed a gentle kiss on the back of her neck and looked up again. “Rey needs the washroom. We can talk later.”
He placed his charge on the floor and then stood himself, noticing how he came up to his father’s shoulders. Forcing his eyes down, he gathered Rey up again and started to cross the floor. His head forward and his strides determined, he fought to keep his dizziness from knocking him to the floor. His mother’s perfume, his father’s cologne…the colour of their eyes. All of it pressed on his senses.
Cutting through the small group, no one stopped him.
Once they were in the private washroom of their room, he could finally exhale. Rey gently pushed away and out of his arms when he slid to the floor. Taking long, slow breaths, he found a water stain to study. Colour finally tinted the walls again, bleeding through the black and white tones that had been his vision since he brushed past his family.
“Kylo,” Rey demanded. “You lied.”
“I had to lie,” he answered, pulling his knees up to his chest and resting his head on them. “I’m sorry I made the lie about you.”
“Who’re they? Those people?” Rey lowered her high-pitched voice into a whisper, kneeling next to him. She put her hand on his bare foot. He didn’t want to wear those awful slippers again.
He didn’t want to show weakness around her, but she was the only one who saw it. It wasn’t fair. Yet, a part of him wanted her to know that it was okay to feel bad, angry, and sad. Life shouldn’t be fake happy. Rey had to be normal; she couldn’t be like him.
“They’re my mom and dad.” He looked at her and his vision started to blur. Tears stung his eyes and he dug his fingers into the corners of his eyes to try to hold them back.
She stared at him, her mouth sagging open. “Why?”
He felt heat rise to his cheeks. “To…take us home.”
“Are my mom and dad…where are them?”
“They. It’s they, not them, angel.” He finally let one of his hands drop to take hers. Their hands folded together and, for once, they didn’t have ragged and torn fingernails that were caked with dirt. They were clean and their hands were healing. “You’re my angel, right Rey?”
She grinned broadly, awkwardly leaning forward to wipe at his eye. “I came to Earth to save you. Then you saved me.”
“Yeah,” he managed to say with a light smile. “We don’t know where your parents are. But the police will find them.”
“Can I stay with you until then?” Her eyes suddenly twitched in panic. “With your…mom and dad?”
He nodded, his own worry settling in his temples again. “Yes. And if they won’t let us, I’ll save you again.”
Rey swallowed and nodded, her small head bobbing up and down. “Kylo…can I go play again?”
Blinking, he sat back, resting his head against the tiled wall. It was slightly warm from their shower that morning. He remembered the piercing look from the nurse as he took Rey to clean and dress her without her help. The same questioning eyes followed him when he helped her to the toilet later. Then he made the scene at breakfast.
Maybe it was better that Rey learnt that she could be away from him.
She’d just be a few metres away, he told himself. They weren’t going to take her away.
And if he did, he’d hurt them. Just like he hurt Snoke.
He finally looked up at her with a gentle smile. She grinned back, so it must have looked real.
“Go. We can go wherever we want now.”
She giggled and threw her arms around him, sloppily kissing his cheek before reaching for the heavy hospital door. He had to push himself to his feet to help her; her casted arm still made her weak. He'd have to wait until that was healed, at least. She gave him one last grin and skipped out into the hall.
He watched her go and sank back down to his knees. Weakly, he crawled back into the washroom and locked the door.
A sob rose up from his chest, exiting his mouth like a trapped demon. He sounded like a little boy, like the tortured cries from the older children as Snoke tortured and violated and then murdered them. He was crying their tears. He scratched at his cheeks, forcing on pain so he’d have a real reason to weep. The ache stretched on, burning his throat as he gasped for air. Forcing his hand into a fist, he punched the floor. The first time, he felt nothing. The second and third time, a slight tingle spread up to his wrist. Finally, the fourth and fifth time brought blood and the true, releasing sensation of pain.
Sitting up, he looked at his torn and reddened knuckles.
Snoke’s gapping mouth flashed across his eyes and he looked away, catching the bottom of the small mirror at child height.
He slowly stood, looking into the taller mirror.
Scraggly, raven-coloured hair. An awkward face and jaw. Ivory skin, now patched with red. His ears peaked out from his too-large head, mocking him from between his curls.
He could only meet his eyes for a second before looking away.
Maybe it was better that they find Rey’s parents.
She had to look at him all the time. She needed someone better.
Slamming his hand against the faucet, he forced his injured hand under the water. Hissing at the warmth, his heart finally calmed. He wrapped a towel around his hand and shook off his doubt from a moment ago. Rey was his. She wasn’t going anywhere. She was his.
Unlocking the door, he decided he would sleep for a while until Rey got bored and returned to him.
A small white box was resting on his bed.
The note on top said ‘Love, mom and dad.’
He tossed the note in the trash and slid open the box. A gold-toned phone fell into his hand. It looked more like one of the few hand-held video game devices that he had as a kid. It was light, but the screen was massive. Fumbling to turn it on, it finally sprung to life. The white screen and black logo grounded him. It was his. He had another thing that was his.
Reaching into his memory, he pressed the key that brought up the dial pad. He knew only three phone numbers by heart: his grandmother’s, his father’s office, and his best friend.
He went with the last one.
Kylo had only bothered to memorize the area code because of an awful vacation that they had taken the summer before he was taken. They went to Hawaii and he hated the sun. His father taught him about long-distance charges when they got the hotel bill. He didn’t care then and he didn’t care now.
When the number started to ring, his voice crept down into his throat and tried to flee into his stomach.
A familiar female voice answered. “Hello?”
He couldn’t speak. He couldn’t make a sound. But he wasn’t about to fail at this so he forced out something.
“Hi, who’s this?”
“Is Armie there?” The words weren’t bunched together, but felt as much. His teeth clenched down as he waited for her answer.
“Armitage? He’s at school. Who is this?” She sounded annoyed. He spent so much time at the Hux family’s home that he thought that she would recognize his voice. He guessed that since he didn’t look like himself, he didn’t sound like it either.
“It’s…” he paused, sucking on the back of his teeth. “Ben.”
He heard a low gasp. “Ben Solo?”
“Oh my God, Ben, we prayed for you. We prayed for you for so long. Are your parents there? Did you call them? Where are you? I haven't seen anything on the news...” She started weeping and he needed to roll his eyes. Why did she care? Prayer did nothing. She should have been out looking for him, not wasting time with an imaginary god for idiots.
“They’re here. Can…can I call Armitage later?”
Every word sounded dumb on his lips. The words only echoed in his ears. It was like she wasn’t real, just another daydream that he had when he was recovering from being beaten and chained in a room without sunlight. He once again questioned if this was a dream; if it weren’t for the weight of the phone in his hand and the scattered loose threads of the bedspread beneath him, this place could have been another fantasy. He ran his hand more rapidly against the bed, rubbing small circles until his palm felt slightly numbed.
“Ben, call him. You can call him at school. I’ll give you his number. I think…oh my God, Ben, you’re alive. Oh my God, he’s going to be so happy. I will…I’ll call the school so he can leave class. Here’s his number, are you ready?” Her voice was sloppy, drooping over every word. So at least he wasn’t the only one who couldn’t speak.
She rattled off the number. He locked it into his head. She emphasized the area code again causing him to grunt likely.
“Ben, where are you?”
He silently looked at the phone.
He hadn’t wanted to ask.
“It came up on call display, sweetheart. You’re in California.”
The realization washed over him first as a gentle wave, then as a pulsing wind that pushed him further into his reality. California was across the country from Connecticut. How had he gotten there? Is that why no one could find him?
“I know,” he lied. “Can I have the number again?”
She gave it again.
He hung up without saying goodbye and quickly put the number up on the screen. He looked at it until the numbers started to blur.
He waited ten minutes.
The phone screen went black and he panicked, quickly hitting the middle button again. It sprung to life and he stared again at what he wanted to do.
He just needed to know that he was missed by someone who he trusted.
He could trust Armitage. They had a sleepover the weekend before he left his life and talked about their plans for the summer. They were going to the same baseball camp for the first time. He needed to apologize for not keeping that promise.
He finally hit dial after another five minutes.
The phone rang once and an out-of-breath voice that he didn’t recognize answered. It took him a moment to realize it was his friend. He hadn’t spoken to him in seven years.
“It’s me,” he finally said, answering the hurried hello that he strained to comprehend.
A long and confused sigh was his response. “Who? What?”
Armitage, who still didn’t sound like he should but it had to be him and Kylo had just forgotten everything about the boy who he used to know, let out a choked cry. Kylo let the sound travel down his body until the hairs on his arms rose. Someone actually missed him. Someone loved him.
“Is it really you? I…I got to leave class. Mrs Holdo just said that I was getting a call and it was emergency and it was so weird and I didn’t know what was going on and now…holy shit, man, you…you are alive. I don’t even know…” his friend’s voice trailed off as he started to weep. When his voice broke, he heard the echoes of the boy that he remembered. Once again he swallowed his own tears and cleared his throat.
“It’s me. Yeah, I…I have so much to tell you.” He listened to his friend cry, but then an odd hardness washed over him. “I need to go now. My parents are…here. I will call you later.”
“Yeah, sure. Please. I need to go to class, I guess.” Armitage chuckled through his tears. Kylo could almost picture the spray of built-up saliva from his mouth. “I can’t wait for you to come home. I missed you so much.”
He heard the words, but swallowed his instant response of I miss you too. Hux couldn’t know about how hard he cried about his friend. He couldn’t know how many times he hoped that he would be kidnapped too. It was only when Rey came that the sensation of permanently piling feelings into the empty hole of his absence was finally quelled.
“I will be home soon.”
Then he hung up.
The phone buzzed oddly in his hand a minute later.
Good to hear from you, bro. Everyone here is freaking out.
Kylo didn’t know why the sentence seemed to echo into a void as he stared at it.
He was still looking at the now blank screen when Rey returned, with his parents in tow.
If yesterday was the longest day, then today was already competing to surpass it.
Kylo found a piece of escape in the thing he had been denied most: solitude and sunlight. They let them outside, into a seemingly hidden and private garden behind one of the back entrances to the hospital. It had been a fight to get there. He had grit his teeth as his parents protested and the nurses fussed over Rey; she needed to wear a facemask and she couldn’t go near the fountain because of her arm. They let her breathe in the sick air of the hospital and had no idea about the mould, dirt, and grime of their former prison. But, suddenly, the outside air was too dangerous. He finally agreed if it meant they could go outside and be alone. They could watch from the door, but they had to be alone.
He bargained for it, telling them he wouldn’t eat or answer anymore questions if they didn’t give them some space.
Sitting beside the small bubbling fountain, he let out a long sigh. It drained from his body into the warm air, mixing with the scent of blooming flowers and drifting blades of grass. It was early in the afternoon and the sun split through the shadows into the small courtyard. There were traces of cigarette butts by the entrance and he felt his mind slipping into the annoyance of how wasteful people were. Just after they had sat down, one nurse, who he didn’t recognize, slipped out and slammed the door open, making them both jump. He lit a cigarette and Kylo narrowed his eyes. He didn’t let the man out of his sight until he went back inside. That’s when Kylo could relax.
He wanted things to be normal and couldn’t figure out how to put the pieces back together. All of the edges had been worn off.
Rey looked up from her investigation of the water fountain. He heard her head move with the swish of the paper, breaking through the other sounds and the lingering turmoil of the earlier morning and awkward lunch.
Detective Phasma had been whispering to other police officers when he sat too close to Rey again, to help her eat. His mother and father didn’t seem to notice or care; they instead asked what Rey’s favourite colour was.
He was almost satisfied when Rey had said black and both of their faces cringed in unison.
“So much water.”
Her voice now was soothing, combining with the gentle rhythm of the lapping water. It didn’t echo like it did inside the sterile halls of the hospital. He had yearned for so long just to be able to hear something outside of scratched and scarred walls. There was stillness in nature that didn’t exist in confinement.
Rey didn’t seem to have an opinion, other than it was wonderful to be free.
Every second of freedom for her had been adventure that he was taking her on, keeping her safe. It had meant food and hugs, the power to have conversations without needing to blink or whisper, and new inventions and sights. She looked at everything with wide eyes, amazed in the fantasy world she now had access to; however, she still knew that when Kylo reached for her, it meant danger. He couldn’t let her think that everyone in the world was out to help her.
That’s what got him in trouble. That’s what broke him.
The delicate chirping of birds brought him back to the sunshine and he looked down at Rey.
He could see her smirk from behind her mask as her chinks wrinkled.
She splashed lightly at the water, watching it shimmer. “I like being clean.”
“Yeah, it’s nice,” he said, managing a small smile. “I’m…sorry for being angry before.”
He’d shouted at the doctors, the nurses, the detectives, and his parents. He used words that he didn’t want her to learn, but just had to. He had killed to be uncontrolled and at every turn he was being watched and prodded. If he didn’t lash out, his insides would turn to stone.
And if they took Rey from him, the last part of him would crumble and become dust.
She tilted her head. She looked so covered, her arm in a cast and her face obscured by the green and flimsy mask. The pyjamas still looked oversized and swallowed up her undersized body. Even in his darkness, he found happiness in the fact that she ate so much. Discovering cookies was a joy for her. He didn’t look at the plate in the same way when it was offered to them, but he ate one after she gave him a long look. Those eyes were the same ones that he had seen when he refused to tell her what had happened in the basement, after he had trudged upstairs on legs that could hardly function. In those darkest hours, his eyes were dry but his lips were quivering. Still, he’d still curl up to her in their little corner and she’d pick the blood out of his hair and hum lightly until they heard the heavy footfalls that meant silence until the storm had passed. Three sets of feet would go down into the basement; it was always only two that came up.
Until the last time when only one set did and those had been his.
As the fountain bubbled, he could still hear those footsteps and sucked in a quick breath as the memory shuddered through his body.
“You’re not angry. That’s normal,” Rey finally said.
The words cut through his tattered feelings so deep that he had to look away. He pretended to glare at the grove of trees at the edge of the yard. There was a parking lot on the other side, just peaking through the heavy brush. He’d already seen the photographers and strangers lurking there earlier. Upstairs, his father had looked out the window and glared, muttering to himself before calling over his mother. She’d simply just shut the curtains. Then, she wouldn’t answer his question about what was happening and he’d locked himself in the washroom with Rey until she apologized and said that it was the media. She mentioned that the police wanted to have a press conference and he turned his anger towards Phasma. The other woman had the decency to say that it might not be a good idea.
He’d left his phone in the room. Armitage had sent him messages, telling him about how there were pictures of him in the news. People were pretending to know what had happened to him and the police were spreading stories. When his friend asked about the little girl, he turned the phone off and hid it in a drawer.
He didn’t know what to say to him.
And, now, he didn’t know what to say to Rey.
She knew the difference between good and bad, he had made sure of that. What was happening to them was bad. Protecting one another was good. He couldn’t do much more than that.
But was anger what she thought was normal for him? He hugged her and told her that he loved her. He was gentle and as kind as he could manage. Blinking back tears, he let the thought tumble around his head as he turned back to the soft circles of water, swirling in the fountain. Rey dipped her hand in and giggled and he smiled at her, dropping his fingers into the cool pool. He had to smile more, if only around her.
But the thought of smiling still made him ache. Crying did the same; they were both showing weakness when they wept. The only thing that he wanted to feel was anger and hurt, he wanted to let it burn through him until it sparked and travelled to that damned compound and let it torch the ruins of his childhood.
They both jolted as the outer door opened, hard metal cracking through the air. Instead of a smoker, it was a man in a dark grey suit and bright green tie. His shoulders were broad, but he was older than the nurses. He locked eyes on Kylo and a satisfied look crossed his bearded face. He was tall, taller than his father. Silver streaked through his beard and hair. His suit looked slightly wrinkled – it wasn’t like the crisp suits that Han wore in the morning on the way to work or the stylish outfits that his mother wore at dinner parties. It looked more like the late-evening state of their clothes, showing the wear of talking to too many people and doing too much of anything that would keep them out of the house and away from their awful son.
Standing from the cool fountain bricks, Kylo eyed the man. Rey sat still, but edged closer to him.
“Hello,” the man said, taking the three steps down to the ground in sturdy, quick motions. “I’ve been looking for you.”
“We can’t leave. It isn’t hard,” Kylo replied, raising his chin. He felt Rey move to stand beside him, forgetting the wonders of the water for a moment to hop down onto the ground. His feet were bare and hers were in a pair of shoes that his mother had bought her. It enraged him that she had bought her pink shoes when Rey had clearly said that her favourite colour was black.
“That’s not what I meant.” The man was closer now, feet crunching against the gravel. But he looked at them in a different way than the other adults. He stood a few metres away, stopped, and then took a slow step back. “May I speak with you? It’s been a long day.”
“Are you another cop?” Kylo asked, tiredly. He had stopped caring about being polite, but didn’t snap. Rey was there. He had to remember that. “We’ve talked. You should know everything now. You’re telling it to everybody else.”
The man looked quickly at his black shoes, then back up to them. He was carrying a black satchel, held loosely in his large hand. His eyes were kind, but Kylo could also see the creases and the darkness under them. But the space that he left between them made Kylo dare to sit down on the fountain’s edge again. The man gave him a small nod and approached them both. He sat down, still at a comfortable distance. Rey looked at the man, her forehead creasing, before Kylo gently pulled her closer, helping her up onto the ledge again.
The sound on the streaming water settled over them as Kylo eyed the stranger.
“I should introduce myself. I’m Supervisory Special Agent Jinn, from the FBI. We’re like the police for the police, helping them with very serious crimes,” the man explained, mainly looking at Rey. He paused and his eyes drifted up to Kylo and, if he didn’t know better, he would have sworn he saw the man’s eyes shimmer. “I’ve been looking for you for as long as you’ve been gone, Kylo. I want to apologize for never getting to you sooner.”
The man’s voice was deep and Kylo thought he heard sincerity in the words. His blue eyes flicked from Kylo to Rey and he took a deep and tired breath. “And I’m sorry to you too, Rey. I never knew that I was looking for you too.”
Kylo nudged Rey. She first looked at him, then at the agent.
“Are you police too?” Her voice was curious rather than weak. He’d heard the doctors remarking that she was very advanced for coming out of the situation, but they were worried about the over stimulation she was getting. Too many things would happen and she couldn’t sort them out in her head. She needed to ask more questions, Kylo decided. She needed to figure out her own pace.
He knew her better than the doctors and she could do anything.
“Yes, yes I am. This is my case. It turns out, we were looking in the wrong place. And I’m very, very sorry for that.” Jinn briefly looked down at his hands, setting the satchel on the ground before placing both of his large hands on his legs. Kylo watched as the man wiped his palms against his trousers and frowned inwardly.
“Why?” Rey’s voice broke his concentration again and he was thankful for it.
Jinn bit his lip at Rey’s question. “Terrible, unimaginable things happened to you. And I can’t undo them. Time doesn’t work that way. But me feeling bad doesn’t fix anything, right?”
Rey scratched her head. She pulled at the mask, looking up at Kylo. He shrugged and she slipped off the paper; the agent didn’t react. They could have entire conversations in mere looks and that gave him release. Adults always talked, and there were too many questions. Rey was his harbour in this maelstrom. He watched her take in a deep and long breath, sucking in the fresh air. The smile that she gave him when she turned made him realize that his heart was still beating and he’d always have her. The painful memories of the stabs from the stones on the driveway leading away from Snoke were dwarfed by the beaming grin she gave him at the sensation of the sun and warmth on her face. They would fade, but her light would never dissipate, if he could help it.
Still, she turned back to Jinn with a question on her mind. “We hurt but you feel bad?”
Kylo would have called what he felt pride, but he tried to resist it. He couldn’t think that everything that Rey did was his doing. He’d done what he could and would have to keep working at it. The second they left with Han and Leia, he’d be looking for ways to get him and Rey away from them. They were useless parents, but he still needed them for a while. The best solution was to force himself to play along. He’d go home, he’d be with Armitage again. He’d ask him for money or how to get it. He must know. He was always the best at coming up with plans and organizing things.
He played out his intentions as the agent delicately spoke with Rey. He was telling her about how he’d been finding clues and following leads. The soothing sound of the man’s voice lulled him into his fantasy. He thought about how he’d have to finish school first. He could do it. He’d be out of school by the time that Rey was eight. He’d have to give her a real childhood after that. She needed birthday parties with friends, and a yard to play in, and a dog…
His ears slowly tuned back in on what the agent was saying as his imagination threatened to fade into the sunlight. But still, his perfect life lingered in his mind as the words filtered into his mental images. Who was with you at the house, Rey? He had pictured the apartment he’d get at first – it would be like Uncle Luke’s but without the hollow emptiness that his home gave off. They’d have to get that at first in order to save money. When did he hurt you the most? There would be a small kitchen with a solid table for two in the corner. He’d help Rey with her homework – he wouldn’t make someone else do it. He’d make dinner after work from real things; it wouldn’t just come from something in the freezer on weeknights and save the fancier things for guests at party that only showed off the surface of how things should look. They would make it on their own. When was Kylo hurt the most? He wouldn’t cry at night and he’d never be weak in front of her. He wouldn’t let her hurt. She would be allowed to cry. That’s what girls were allowed to do. Boys shouldn’t be filled with tears that they didn’t know what to do with.
But even in his imagination, what Jinn was saying to Rey continued to break through the fog of his mind. The fountain bubbled and the words faded back into reality, the now: The last boy, what was his name?
He knew about the others. He caught the end of what Rey was saying, how she didn’t know, and shook his head.
“Angel, you remember him. He had dark hair and gave you the stone,” he spoke as the sunlight warmed his shoulders. He still pictured himself in his imaginary kitchen, as an adult and a whole person.
When he finally turned his full attention back to the two sets of eyes looking at him, he realized that he said the wrong thing.
He’d been weak again, lost in fantasy. He’d spoke instead of blinking.
Snoke was right about him.
He’d never escape that.
But Jinn didn’t move for his bag. Instead, he leaned back and stretched his arms out and seemed to be enjoying the sunshine.
“We are going to have a hard conversation, but let’s not rush it. I think that you two have earned some time in the sun.”
Kylo looked at the man with guarded amazement, and just nodded.
A rustle from the bushes made all three turn. Kylo heard the snap of a camera and was on his feet, ready to charge barefoot across the grass. Jinn stood too and frowned in the direction of the interlopers rather than Kylo’s twisted fists.
“I guess there’s no escape anywhere,” the other man mumbled.
Rey tugged at Kylo’s hand and he let his fists release. “They never cared. Why now.”
He heard Jinn chuckle lowly. “I think that you’re going to be amazed by how much this country has cared about you. If you’re comfortable, we can talk here. They want me to bring you to the office, but I don’t really like following the rules. We would like to show you some things that might help you. And the others.”
Kylo slowly turned to look up at the agent, his suspicions crawling up his spine to escape from his mouth: “We don’t know who you are.”
“Right,” Jinn said and the quickly produced a badge and ID. Kylo pretended to know what all of the information meant. He looked at it like he’d seen on television, and then handed it back with a quick shake of his head. “Great. Let’s sit down and talk a little. If you want to.”
Kylo slowly sat down and took a deep breath. Rey climbed up onto his lap and he hugged her waist. This man knew the other half of the story, which was one he didn’t want to hear from his parents. They still looked at him with glossy eyes so what they would say would be coloured by their own mistakes. But the only way to get his answers was to be willingly interrogated again. He felt his pulse start to quicken. He had been able to keep things from the other police, but the way that this man looked at them told him that he wouldn’t be as easily fooled.
He was in trouble.
It was as if Jinn could hear his thoughts and he shook his head. “I just want to hear your story, Kylo. You don’t have to worry.”
But he did. He dropped his forehead against Rey’s small shoulder and shrugged. “What if I don’t want to tell you anything?”
He watched as the agent reached into his bag to pull out a recorder. It was small and silver and reminded him of the phone he’d hid in his hospital room. He placed it on the edge of the fountain and gently pressed a button. The device beeped to life and Kylo sucked in a breath.
“Then I can answer your questions instead,” he said, lightly. “But to be fair, for every question you ask, I get to ask one of my own.”
“Rey gets to ask questions too. So, two questions.” Kylo shoved his selfishness aside and hugged her a little as he spoke. “Then you can ask something, I guess.”
“Fair is fair.”
He nudged Rey a little and she squeezed his hand in agreement.
“Have you found Rey’s parents?” Kylo asked, bluntly.
Jinn’s face was unreadable until he sighed. “We are still looking. Remember when they took the swab of your mouth, Rey? We’re looking for something called DNA; that will help us find your parents. It’s like a plan for how you were made. It will match your mom and dad. It will take a while to search everywhere on our computers. But this is where answering one of my questions will help us all. Kylo, which house did he bring her to? This one, or the one in Colorado?”
Kylo swallowed, his mouth suddenly dry. “We were in Colorado before?”
Nodding, Jinn reached for his satchel again. “I’m going to show you some things now, just to prove to you that I’m not a liar. I know that you hate liars.”
Kylo didn’t react. He just waited for Jinn to show him the pictures.
He just wanted to know what he remembered was real. It all couldn’t have been the blur that he wanted to think that it was.
He showed him what looked like a nice house, in a nice neighbourhood. Jinn then handed him the next picture: the basement. Swallowing the urge to throw up, Kylo quickly nodded.
“She wasn’t there. She was only here, at the last place. We were only in that house for a little while.” He dropped his head. “He’d…he could…I mean…only six kids died there. He only took me to this place.”
Nodding, Jinn put the pictures away, only to produce another one.
“This,” Jinn paused to hand him the picture. “Was where you were in Connecticut.”
Kylo kept his hand straight, denying his body the relief of shaking, as he took the sheet. It was just the outside of a rundown house. It looked small and falling apart. But it had been so big. The day he was brought there, he thought that the house had been huge. He stared at it and then shook his head.
“Why didn’t you ever find me then?” He asked, willing his voice to be firm. Yet, the hurt was starting to creep up his throat. He held Rey closer to keep himself in the moment.
Jinn briefly closed his eyes and then leaned forward to rest his elbows on his thighs. “We missed you by two weeks.”
His vision tilted and his body went rigid.
Instantly, Rey turned in his arms to hug him. Rage blossomed in his chest and she did what she always had. She pulled her small arms around him and nuzzled his neck.
But he couldn’t take his eyes off of the agent.
His life had been stolen from him because they’d been too late.
He let the picture drop into the dirt and wrapped his arms around Rey. He stood from the fountain and marched towards the door to the hospital, but stopped short. He dropped to his knees and lightly started whispering to her that he was okay, he wasn’t angry at her, he was going to be okay. Her arms gradually loosened and she sat back onto the ground.
He met her eyes and blinked the next part to her. Need to talk to him. Don’t be afraid.
Not afraid. She answered. Can I play?
Yes. But stay near me.
He stood, leaving her to follow after him. Pausing, he frowned. He must have taught her that word. She needed to know how to play. Shaking his head, he bit his lip and sat down with hard eyes on the agent as Rey dawdled towards the other side of the fountain. Her head was towards the water, but he knew her eyes were still on him.
“Why couldn’t you find us?” He asked. “There were six kids there. Didn’t anyone hear anything?”
Jinn licked his lips. “It was very…remote. But I want you to know that we never stopped looking.”
“You missed us in Connecticut and Colorado. You weren’t looking hard enough.” Kylo rubbed his eyes and sat back. “You can ask a question now.”
“Who else was there, in Connecticut? The first house.”
He was at least asking the right questions. Kylo sighed, bringing his legs up to tuck under his chin.
“I don’t know their real names. We all got new names. We could never say our real names,” he mumbled. “But when he took me, there was an older boy that helped him. Cassian. He…he died.”
Jinn nodded and pulled out another picture. “I think this is who you’re talking about. His real name was Erik Carter. He disappeared when he was ten and we think that he was about fifteen when he died. We found him with the others there. We could identify three of the bodies, but we haven’t been able to figure out who the other four are. We need you to help us with that, give us clues about when they were there.”
Kylo just stared at the picture of the boy he had briefly known as Cassian. He was younger in the picture, but it was him. The same eyes that he remembered fading into death were locked into an eternal gaze of the photograph. He had been the one to trick him out of his father’s car. He had been the one to convince him that his father didn’t care about him and he needed to come with him to play a game. Kylo remembered being angry that Han was taking so long. They had been waiting in the empty parking lot of the baseball diamond for forever; everyone else was gone and Kylo had felt embarrassed that his father always needed to talk to someone, somewhere all the time.
He shook out of the memory of being helped into the back of Snoke’s van. But the moist, dismal smell of the interior followed him. One of the corners of the hospital’s stairwell had shaken the scent loose from his mind and now it was trailing him everywhere.
“Four?” He choked out, shifting his weight. “So we were…eight?”
Kylo dropped his head. “I only knew five other kids when I was there. He…he said that there couldn’t be more than six.”
He trailed off, letting his eyes blur. He had made seven, so there was someone else there already dead before Snoke had taken him. At first, he wasn’t afraid of Snoke. He was tired and wanted to go back to his room to play Nintendo at home. That was the first time he saw Snoke’s rage and Kylo saw the terror in the eyes of the other six children in the empty living room. The windows were boarded up and it was hard to breathe. Kylo complained about that and Snoke had slowly stood from the single chair in the corner. Wordlessly, his hand went out to Cassian. He was the tallest and stood infront of the others. Kylo didn’t know who they were and they were dirty and smelled weird. He didn’t want to be there anymore and had yelled at him for being a weirdo.
Cassian’s eyes were locked on his; Kylo was ignoring the warning to shut up.
Snoke took a knife from his belt.
He made Kylo come closer, saying that he couldn’t hear him.
Cassian stood between them, suddenly snapping that Kylo would behave. He was new. He’d work with him to be better.
Something warm splashed on his face a second later. Cassian dropped to the ground, clutching at his throat. Kylo remembered wondering why there was red syrup on the floor, all of it coming from Cassian’s neck. He was looking down, hearing him gurgle and saw tears streaming down his face.
He was hurting; the strange man had hurt him.
It was blood. There was blood seeping onto the floor. Snoke’s arm then shot out, grabbing Kylo’s arm. He forced the knife into his hand and told him to end the other boy’s suffering.
Kylo didn’t know what that meant.
He had to learn quickly after that; listening to Snoke was the only way.
He had to wear the other boy’s blood for weeks until it finally flaked away.
The agent cleared his throat and his eyes fluttered at the sound.
“Listen, Kylo, this isn’t a normal thing that you went though. I’m not speaking as a police officer right now, but as a human being. You didn’t do anything wrong by surviving, okay? We know that. Everyone here is on your side. The fact that you’re alive made us realize that there isn’t always emptiness at the end of a hunt for darkness. We have you and Rey. We can’t undo the cruelty to the others, but we can help find where they came from.”
“I don’t think I know,” Kylo said through gritted teeth. “I’m just…bad at this.”
“No, you’re not,” Jinn said. “And I’ll help you, I promise.”
“Why?” He asked, feeling his annoyance at himself start to grow. “It’s like everyone wants me to be normal and I haven’t been normal in seven years. I want Rey to be normal and I’m trying my best, but I know it’s not good enough. I don’t think you can help me because I couldn’t help anyone else out, just Rey. I don’t need your help, but she does…and they do too.”
Jinn’s face was neutral, but Kylo could see a hidden smile in the way that his eyes wrinkled. “I told you that you weren’t bad at this. That’s why I’m on your side. Helping the others find their way home will help so many families. I know why you’re angry at your parents right now, and you are allowed to feel that way, no matter what the others say. But other parents will never know what happened to their children. They don’t get to be mad at their parents again. You can be mad, happy, and everything else for them. But you can also help me, Kylo, and I can do what I can to help you in return.”
After glancing over at Rey, who was sitting in the grass and carefully plucking blades one by one to study them, he looked back at the agent. “Everyone else keeps calling me Ben. Why are you actually listening to me about what I want?”
Shrugging, Jinn swept his eyes over to Rey. He then reached down to pause the recorder and Kylo felt a jolt of panic. “I’m going to tell you something that I think that you both should hear.”
Still processing the gesture, Kylo acted before he could over think it. He just had to tap the stone of the fountain lightly to bring Rey to her feet and over to him. She frowned as she looked between the two men. Jinn shifted closer and leaned towards them. It was clear to Kylo that a secret was coming.
He probably didn’t want to hear it.
“I read about what happened at the house here and what you did, Kylo. It was unbelievably brave and that shows you’re a stronger person than you’re thinking right now. But what happened is making the others nervous. What I want is that you both stay together — healing only comes from building the bond that you have and letting it grow healthier. I can do what I can to make that happen, that you all go home as a family. But you have to at least pretend, for now, that you’re feeling better. I know you’re not, they know you’re not, but they need to see something called progress. Sometimes what can start as pretending will feel more real over time. Do you understand?” Jinn’s voice was serious, but steady.
A rigidness spread through his arms; the agent didn’t know how good he was at pretending.
Jinn didn’t seem to notice how his posture changed and clicked the recorder back to life. “I think that it’s something we can work on, all of us, to help you learn to be Ben again.”
“Yeah,” Kylo forced out the word, the agent’s earlier words settling into his chest. “I can do that.”
“Good. I think that’s enough for now. Let’s go inside and speak with the others for a while,” he said, before clicking off the recorder and stowing it in his bag.
Kylo didn’t follow for a few moments, returning his eyes to the water. His arm twitched and he had to force himself from slamming his fist against the surface, wanting to disturb the delicate waves with his own power.
His shoulders were low as he walked beside Rey to follow the agent inside. His mind was still drifting between fantasy and memory as he left nature to return to his new prison.
Again, apologies for the lack of updates on everything. April went by in the blink of an eye and I'm still buried in work. Hugs and thanks for all of the comments and kudos on this and everything else! May will be another crazy month of teaching, research, a conference...I'm exhausted in advance but miss writing so it will be hard to keep away from things that bring me joy. :)
They were building a scooter. A new therapist had shown up that morning with the plans and the large box and said that they were going to do it together.
She said to call her Maz.
Kylo didn’t understand the point of building something and reluctantly sat on the carpeted floor of the therapy room. Rey sat down next to him and looked at the stranger with a puzzled look on her face, but he could see her hidden excitement in constructing something new. She was wiggling her fingers, eager to take on the challenge. The woman was older with large, thick glasses. She wasn’t exactly smiling; her mouth was quirked into a friendly look. Kylo picked up the piece of paper and levelled a look at her.
“I don’t get it,” he said, tossing the paper back down. “We won’t be able to use it. We’re stuck here.”
“We’re going to work together,” she replied. “It’s part of healing and getting better — working in a group, talking about what happened, while doing something constructive. Maybe it will make you feel better, maybe it won’t. But it’s worth trying because I’ve seen it help other children like you work through something traumatic. You agree that what you went through wasn’t normal, right?”
“Normal? Of course it’s not normal,” he shot back. I had to kill someone. I bashed his head in and then choked him until he died. But he was a bad man and was going to hurt Rey, he thought to himself. He sat silent for a moment, flexing his hands until he noticed her watching. He stuck his hands in his lap and lifted his chin. “We were in a house of death. We never thought we’d get out. And now we’re stuck here. It’s not normal to be trapped everywhere.”
“See? It’s not normal to feel things like that,” Maz replied, opening the toolbox beside her. “Let’s get started. You can answer my questions if you think it will help you. Or, we can just build something fun.”
It didn’t look like fun, Kylo thought as he rolled his eyes. He was getting tired of the therapy room. They were either there or in the playroom, or their room. Even going to the cafeteria was becoming difficult; there would be reporters lurking there, so they ate in their room. But the therapy room had an odd smell; it was clean, but there was a dryness in the air that made him uneasy. Most of his thoughts that morning had been about the press conference he was going to be forced to do in the afternoon. He didn’t want to do it, but Agent Jinn had convinced him it would help him to get out and go home: that’s all he wanted. He needed to leave California behind him and finally agreed. He'd known the agent less than a day and it was a release to put his trust in someone who could affect things. His parents were just moping around, looking at him constantly and expecting him to change.
Still, the therapist was staring at him. He slowly reached for two pieces of long, thin pipe and looked down at the paper. The steps were easy enough to follow; he wasn’t stupid. He still didn’t understand why they needed to build the thing, but pushed down his annoyance to let it turn into numbness.
“Do you have any questions, Rey?” Maz turned her attention to Rey as he fiddled with the first two parts. “How are you feeling today?”
He handed Rey the two pieces of pipe he was screwing together. She turned her focus to him as he showed her what he was doing. She quickly followed his instructions, carefully holding one of the pieces with her broken arm and continuing to turn the other piece. He looked forward to getting her real things to build and fix. Thoughts about the future, and the lingering words from the FBI agent, kept him from snapping at the annoying routine they were falling into.
They were healthy. The doctors had given them both painkillers at the start. Rey needed more vitamins, but their bodies were finally healing. They were talking about resetting his broken wrist and broken ankle. The lingering broken rib, which he didn't even feel anymore, would continue to heal by itself. They found tiny scars on his skin—thin as spider webbing in parts, thick as repeated slices from a blade on others—but reasoned that they would fade with time and care. His broken bones were bigger problems. He was starting to notice how stiff his wrist was in the docile environment. The day that it happened was years ago, but it still shone in his mind. Snoke had grabbed his hand and struck him with a hammer to hear him scream and to test a new idea he had come up with in his twisted mind. Without thinking, he started wringing his arm as Rey continued to tighten the two metal rods together.
“I feel…I don’t know,” Rey finally answered, finished her task. “What’s next?”
Maz nodded and sat back, shifting her hands to rest behind her. “Next is the base. Can you do it?”
“I can do anything with Kylo,” Rey answered, her face brightening. “He stopped Snoke. He’s going to teach me how to read.”
Maz smiled and sat up again, reaching for a medium-sized bag of metal, a mixture of pieces, nuts, and bolts. “How would you feel if you went to live somewhere without him?”
Rey’s face fell. “Are they going to do that?”
Rey’s head snapped to him and she blinked rapidly. I don’t want to go anywhere without you.
You’re not going to. Jinn promised. He quickly answered, gently putting his arm on her shoulder. The touch calmed her and she exhaled, turning back to Maz.
“I’d be scared,” she carefully said. “He’s my family. I love him. You don’t leave love.”
“No, no you don’t,” Maz replied, nodding. She handed the bag to Kylo, who had set his eyes on her with a growing hatred. “What does it mean to love someone?”
The question made him drop his head for a second, then he looked to Rey. For once, she didn’t look to him for the answer.
“You kill for them. You save them. I got saved by Kylo and I saved him.” Rey was lifting her chin, mirroring his posture. “I want to kill Snoke. He hurted us.”
“Snoke’s gone. Would you hurt anyone that hurt Kylo?”
“Yes,” Rey said, looking back down at the pipes in her hand. “I want to hurt Snoke cause he made everyone dead.”
“Tell me about your other friends, Rey, the other children,” Maz asked with a calm tone that kept pushing Kylo towards the edge.
He put his energy into opening the bag and spilling its content on the floor. He pulled Rey onto his lap and she sorted the pieces into small piles. She needed to be focused on something else. They’d asked him about the others and he knew what she felt and thought, but also wanted to know how she’d explain it to someone else. He’d have to be prepared when he took her to school; teachers asked so many stupid questions and never stopped if they didn’t get the answer that they wanted. He remembered saying that his parents didn’t love him when they were late in picking him up. His teacher would frown and tell him that’s not what he meant. Why would he say it if he didn’t mean it?
“I liked Tallie. She was my friend.” Rey was still sorting as she talked. “I didn’t want her to be gone.”
Kylo cleared his throat, needing to release the growing itch under his skin. “The day it all happened was the worst day. I told Agent Jinn about this, but I guess you want to know too because you won't listen to him. I think that Snoke knew something was happening. Agent Jinn told me that they were getting closer to finding him, like they almost did before. I think the FBI are better than normal police — they were actually looking for us.
“We woke up that morning and Snoke was already in the basement. Something was wrong. He was never down there so early. He hated being awake during the day. We could eat during the day. We could sleep and talk. He gave us food so we wouldn’t die before he could kill us.” He was helping Rey build the base for the scooter as he spoke, letting his larger hands help her smaller ones fit the nuts and bolts together, following the plans. Maz was watching them and he had to ignore it. “But that morning, he was going nuts. I mean, he’d go nuts all the time, but this was fucking insane. He was going to have to move somewhere new again, I think. He didn’t want to because he really liked that place. It had a giant basement with these barrels.”
Maz was nodding. “Was Tallie put in a barrel?”
Rey looked up. “Kylo had to put her in one. He said she’s in heaven so she needs to be safe so she’d go there. Can I go to heaven so I can play with her?”
“I think you’ll be very, very old when you go to heaven, Rey. Older than I am. And you’ll get to have that life because Kylo got you out.” Maz’s tone was even and she wasn’t writing anything done. It made Kylo worried. There were too many unknowns when something unexpected happened.
He watched her eyes as they drifted from Rey and how she was assembling the parts, back to him. He felt her expectations start to press on him and he continued.
“I…Snoke grabbed Tallie first. She was almost my age, maybe? I don’t know. Her stomach started hurting and she made a mess with blood. It made Snoke really mad. She couldn’t go with him, he said. It was stupid that Tallie made a mess. She was sleeping with us, in our spot. I thought that he wouldn’t hurt her if she was with us.” He frowned at the memory. “He took her and made me come with him. I knew what he was going to do if he brought me.”
He paused, picking up a random nut and bolt. He slowly started twisting the hexagon onto the notched spike as he spoke. “I knew he wasn’t going to stop. He was packing up to leave and finished with us.”
“That must have been hard when you went upstairs to the others.” Maz’s voice almost sounded like she cared. Kylo just looked at his hands.
He didn’t want to speak more after that. He let Maz ask Rey questions and instead focused on the task of finishing the thing. If they were done, they could go. He handed Rey pieces and she worked with them as she answered the questions. They weren’t painful questions, yet they still wore down his energy. It was like he was too angry to be mad that someone was intruding on what they had lived through and shared; all of the thoughts were getting clogged at the same spot and couldn't spread to his mind. The memories were heavy, erupting into nightmares at night and conjured by scents. Talking about them just made them real and harder to forget.
He watched as Rey’s hands slowed on her progress at one question.
Did Snoke ever touch your private area?
Rey held the pieces firmly in her hand and lifted her head. At first, he wondered if she understood what the question meant; her next actions told him that she clearly comprehended what the therapist was asking. She let the metal pieces drop, got herself to her feet, and looked at Maz with rigid temerity: her hands balled into fists and she dropped her chin.
He finally saw Maz flinch at the tone from the small girl; Rey’s answer was firm and wasn’t open to be questioned.
But it was also a partial lie.
The tense tableau of Rey staring down at Maz was finally broken when he stood up too.
“We’re done. He never touched her like that. When can we go home?” He put his hand on Rey’s shoulder and she turned to hug his leg, rubbing her face against the soft fabric of his trousers.
“Soon.” Maz managed a small smile as she stood. “I think that you two did a great job. You’re a good team. And I think that you’re both really brave.”
“Lady,” Kylo huffed. “It’s not brave to just survive.”
The door opened behind them and he gave her one last glance over his shoulder as he turned to go. She was still looking down at the finished scooter that they had somehow managed to build while shedding bits of darkness into the arid room.
His mother was sitting on their bed when they finally got back. They must have been early because she looked up with tired and tear-filled eyes when the nurse let them inside. Seeing his mother with her guard down made him pause for a moment. She was so old. She wore clothes like his grandmother. Her blouses at home were always colourful; now, they were just white. They were plain. He never thought of his mother as someone like that before.
“Well?” Her face suddenly changed when she stood up, her mask returning. “Does it feel like progress?”
“It doesn’t feel like anything,” he said with a shrug. “We’re tired. If that means anything.”
He glanced around the rest of the empty room and raised an eyebrow.
Leia nodded. “Your father had to go home, but he’ll be back.”
His stomach soured at the thought of Han returning home for business. Leia shook her head as the feeling spread up to twist his face into a deep frown.
“He’s fixing up the room for Rey.”
Rey’s head shot from Leia to look at him. He looked down at her as the hairs on his arms rose.
“She can stay with us?” The question left his lips in a bare whisper.
Leia looked at him with a careful smile. “Sit down. Agent Jinn had to deal with something, but he wanted me to tell you what happened to Rey’s parents.”
With slow caution, they moved to the bed. He helped Rey up and then she was in his lap again. She was always warm and comforting, even when the world crumbled around them.
“This is just what he said, and you can ask him later if you don’t believe me. They narrowed down the time when Rey was taken. You said she was just a baby and they started there. You’ve done such a good job, Ben. You’re helping everyone.” His mother’s voice was gentle, but she emphasized the last part, much to his irritation.
“Are they…where are they?” Rey asked. She didn’t care about the rest of what Leia was saying. He could feel her heart fluttering at the mention of her family. Maz’s earlier words must have still been rattling around in her head.
“Sweetie, they’ve passed away. They were living a hard life, but they weren’t bad people.”
“Of course they were bad,” he snapped. “They let their child disappear and didn’t find her.”
He locked eyes with Leia and saw the flash of hurt in her eyes. He wanted to press harder on the wound, to rip up her heart more. Their lives had always been too full for him. He was always in the way. He needed them too much; what was wrong with that?
“But I think the main thing we have to think about is that Rey can stay with us,” Leia said, her voice not breaking. “We should know soon when we can all go home and be a family.”
He didn’t react outwardly, but inside a spark blossomed in his chest.
The world wasn’t just going to be police and hospitals forever.
But he didn’t say that he felt hope to his mother.
“Can you go away now?” His voice was flat and Leia closed her eyes before nodding.
“I’ll come get you for lunch. Have a good nap, sweethearts.” Leia looked at him with clear brown eyes, but he still knew that he’d found the right point to push on to get his way.
Finally alone, he stretched out and yawned. Rey sat still on the bed, fiddling with a loose thread on her pants. Her eyes weren’t really focused on anything and it made the earlier conversation even more damaging.
“Nobody has to know what really happened,” he said, stroking her back in gentle circles. His hand looked enormous against her slender form. “You don’t need to talk to everyone about everything. Talk to me about it.”
She sniffled and nodded, turning to snuggle up beside him. Her head rested on his chest and he heard her take a shaky breath.
“Am I bad too, Kylo?”
“I never looked for my family.”
Shutting his eyes, his own words blasted him in the chest.
“You didn’t have to look for them. I’m your family and you found me instead.”
He felt her nod and closed his eyes, worried that tears would fall if he didn’t.
“If you were gone, I’d look for you.” Rey’s voice was small, heavy with sleep.
“I’d look for you forever,” was what he managed to answer, following her into unconsciousness. "I won't ever leave you."
But the words followed him into sleep and his dreams.
They were older, but still the same. Rey’s eyes set in an adult face, large and brown and filled with rage. She was yelling at Uncle Luke — but how could she know him? They were in his house, but the walls were blurred and shifting, phasing in and out of his vision. It was a blur of his childhood home and his childhood prison, walls shifting from the soft lilac that he’d helped pick out to the rotten, wooden pillars of Snoke’s torture chamber. He focused on Luke and couldn’t hear what he was saying, but felt clear panic at the hazy words.
He was taking Rey away.
He was dangerous and always had been.
When a strong hand gripped his shoulder, he shook awake. His head hurt as his eyes shot open to see Agent Jinn looking down at him. He threw his arms around the other man’s neck, hugging him as the dream echoed in his head. He heard himself whimper and gripped Jinn’s shirt, burrowing his head against his strong form.
“It’s okay, Kylo. It was just a dream.” The soft, soothing words broke the rhythm of his gasping sobs.
Rey stirred at the movement and sat up. He could feel her move to hug his side as he took deep breaths, taking in the agent's cologne.
He felt frozen, surrounded by caring arms, not willing to give up the sensation for the chaotic gloom that was everything else.
“I just want to go home,” he mumbled.
Jinn lightly pulled back and looked at them both with quiet sympathy.
“You’re going to get through this, I promise,” he paused to look from Kylo to Rey. “Both of you.”
“But why is it so hard and unfair? Why do I want to hurt everyone? Why am I always mad? Why doesn’t anything feel good?” He spat the words out, wiping at his eyes with his free arm. The other was around Rey, holding her tighter as his emotions spilled out.
“You’re not supposed to feel good right away. It doesn’t work that way. If there was a switch that would turn everything bad to good, I swear that I would flip it for you. But that’s like your dream, the one that just made you cry out in your sleep. It’s not reality. No one will ever know what you went through, but we’re trying. And I want to keep trying to make things feel good again.” His words were soothing and Kylo lifted his head towards him. “This is just the start. There’s a long, long story left for you both to write.”
Even as he let the words comfort him, he realized that the other man wouldn’t be there forever. The bitter thought helped ebb his tears as he shook his head. He gripped the bed sheet before releasing it.
At least someone understood.
Or at least pretended to.
He slowly looked from Jinn to his mother, who was lurking of the doorway with the same expression of pain as before. He felt his mouth twitch. He had hardly touched her and now he was throwing himself at an authority figure. After briefly meeting her eyes, he looked away.
“We’re going to be okay,” he leaned over to whisper to Rey. “He’s going to help us.”
Nodding, she hugged him lightly.
He couldn’t linger for much longer. Rey needed lunch and he had to prove to Agent Jinn that he could perform at the press conference.
The despair remained, but at least the future was a little less blurry. Rey was going to stay with him, and that’s what mattered. He would deal with his own emotions when he was home and not surrounded by people asking questions that he didn’t want to answer.
“Here, I got this for you.”
Kylo looked away from staring at his face in the mirror to the figure in the open washroom doorway. He was already tired and angry and didn’t like the intrusion, but the familiar voice set his shoulders at ease.
Agent Jinn stood there, a sweatshirt in his outreached hand. “I didn’t think that you’d want to wear pyjamas.”
Kylo licked his lips and ran his hand through his hair, pretending that he wasn’t trying to figure out if he wasn’t ugly or not. It took only a moment to turn so he hoped that the agent didn’t see the dampness at the corners of his eyes. To make up for it, he took the shirt and unfolded it, forcing his delight at the gift. It was what he actually felt, but wasn’t sure how he wanted to react normally. “It says FBI.”
Jinn winked, buying his charade. “It looks more official when you’re sitting beside me.”
Kylo gripped the shirt and nodded thanks. He had some idea about why he was given the shirt; Jinn wanted him to trust him and feel comfortable. The idea of just sitting in front of the media — which was all he had to do, he didn’t have to talk—made his stomach turn.
He stood there for another awkward moment before pulling the shirt over his light shirt. It was a little too big, so he looked back to Jinn with a shrug. The other man just gave him a light smirk and turned back to his mother and Rey. Kylo knew that they were there but kept his head down, afraid to see Rey’s eyes as he put on the shirt.
“We don’t know if it will help, but we’re going to show a picture of Rey. There might be someone that recognizes her or her parent’s names. We’re still looking to see if she has grandparents or other family,” he spoke with firmness and turned to glance at him. “We just want to make sure that this is can be a permanent arrangement.”
He didn’t want to know her real name — it was clear that he would know it soon, but to him, she would always be Rey.
No one was saying anything so Kylo tilted his head. “I don’t want anyone to find her.”
A strange silence that he didn’t expect settled over the room. He finally looked at Rey and she looked at him with bright and happy eyes. When he turned his head in the other direction, he found a different reaction.
Jinn’s mouth firmed into a line. “Why don’t we ask Rey what she wants?”
He could only blink in response, nodding meekly. He needed Agent Jinn to like him and protect him. If he could help get Rey home with him, he might be able to help him in the future. Looking down at the gold letters on the sweater, he tilted his head. If he was an FBI agent, then he could help other kids in trouble, as well as punish evil. He could help protect them from being trapped in a den of evil and terror. No one else would have to die except for murders. No one else would ever be taught how to kill. Only he would do the killing.
From where she sat on the bed, Rey was looking at him with a question in her eyes as he phased back into the conversation.
He shook his head. She had to answer for herself, at least in front of the agent.
She turned away, gazing up at the taller man. “Okay.”
Kylo saw the agent’s face quirk for a fraction of a second. It was a brief look that could have been easily missed, but his eyes caught it, trained after too many years of looking for the slightest change. His hands clenched in a burst of panic; what was he supposed to do? He had been stuck for so long in a situation that he had understood so deeply that it his feelings were glued to the musty floors he had been forced to walk. Jinn was not Snoke; he was there to help them. The desperate urge to have someone on his side clashed with his pure lack of control. He had survived for so long knowing how Snoke could and would act, erratic as it was.
His shoulders slumped and he rubbed his arm. “Can we go now?”
Jinn nodded lightly. “Mrs. Solo, can you stay with Rey while we’re downstairs?”
Leia sighed, looking from her son back to Rey. Kylo avoided her eyes but still felt them on him. “He wouldn’t want me there anyway.”
Whose fault is that? He wanted to snap. Instead, he clenched his hand into a fist and glared. The tension that was building in his body would hopefully leave his body once he was away from her. Part of him was still torn with how often he left Rey alone with other people. The nurses and therapists, the cops and the agents, and his parents were the only adults they were meeting. His thoughts kept returning to getting away and tried to push them out of his mind. He could be patient. He had to be patient.
He followed Jinn out into the hall. After dully greeting Detective Phasma, he started fiddling with the sleeves of the sweater. He only half listened to the officers as they spoke, joined by an older short-haired woman in a suit. She kept glancing at him and he met her eyes, forcing her to turn away. Whoever she was, he didn’t care to know. Just get this over with, he told himself as they rode the elevator downstairs. Say hi to Armie, and get back to Rey.
His thoughts returned to that morning. He’d finally turned on his phone again that morning. His eyes had blurred at the string of texts from Armie. He stubbornly tried to read through them, eventually giving up and just sending a short message that he was going to wave at his friend at the press conference. He shut the phone off and hid it away again.
He had always been good at reading and writing; it had been one of the few things he had excelled at in school and that had just led to teasing and bullying. When he arrived, he had been the youngest in the house and was quickly cast into Snoke’s insanity, complete with pages of ravings he’d typed out on an ancient typewriter. The typewriter was one of the few items that followed them to new places, he slowly realized as he pieced his memories together and tried to follow the timeline that Jinn had told him about. The other was a tomb that was drug around with them: a Bible. Once in a while, a newspaper would appear. Even just the slightest glimpse into the outside world, or the world that his imagination created from words on a page, gave him a glimmer of hope that he’d have the strength to escape and still make a life for himself. When Snoke realized that he could read, he’d put him to typing some of his extended rants.
There is power through pain, suffering. If he missed a word in the rambling dialogue or misspelled something, Snoke would grab his arm and press a lit cigarette against his skin. The smell of harsh tobacco against burnt flesh was what he thought of now when he just imagined a typewriter. Kylo would have to look deep into the monster’s black eyes to know if he should scream or not. Sometimes, he still guessed wrong.
What they did to me, what they still say to me, all of it will end in darkness. I will silence them all. The screams will drown it out. Kylo never figured out who they were. Snoke would mutter to himself constantly, scratching patterns into the wall with a dull blade. It must have been the police, he assumed after the first few years.
There is no death, just black nothing. They’ve shown me. Now I have to show the others.
The words, clear on the page, glimmered before his eyes as the elevator door dinged and he jolted from the memory. A firm hand on his shoulder brought him back to what he was walking into. Dull murmurs of many voices from down the hall made him gulp a quick mouth of air. They heard it, even though he tried to hide it. He was being worn down by freedom, growing lazy under buzzing and constant lights. Maybe there were some truths in darkness and his grip on them was loosening.
“Even if they ask you questions directly, don’t answer them,” Jinn said, whispering only to him. “I will take care out it.”
“What if I do want to answer?” He replied, too quickly again. He stilled his face and finished his thought. “If I can?”
Jinn glanced at Phasma and Kylo’s fist clenched in the sleeve of the shirt.
“Just ask me first. Okay?”
He nodded, still conflicted about easily falling under someone else’s command. They talked about that in therapy with Maz. He hadn’t responded, but she somehow understood how he was able to give tendrils of trust to the adults around him, especially regarding Rey. He understood that he needed to cooperate, but the days had worn him down. He was growing less vigilant as he was constantly prodded with questions; even though they were phrased in kind and gentle tones, they were starting to split him open wider than any of Snoke’s blades.
He hadn’t seen the grand entrance to the hospital when they were brought there just over a week ago. It had been blurs of hallways, needles, blankets, EMTs, nurses, doctors, and police. Now, he caught a glimpse of the high, glass ceiling and atrium that would greet normal visitors through the small window on the door. He could see the reflections of green, high above him. They hadn’t been allowed to even peak at the area on their explorations. He understood why. Mixed with the green were blurs of human beings. If he believed in heaven, it was what he’d think it would have looked like: green meshing with blue, unseen and blurred faces. It would just be shapes without consequences.
Jinn and Phasma were talking to the strange woman and he hadn’t been listening, staring up into the empty hopes of nothing. He refocused his ears, still keeping his head up.
“…he’s fine, really,” Jinn was saying. “The Bureau’s psychologist is working with him. There’s progress. He can handle it.”
The annoying woman huffed and he rolled his eyes to himself. “He is distant from his parents and won’t even respond to his name, George. I know that there’s trauma there, but in all of our previous cases like this…”
“That’s not his name,” Kylo called, head still facing the window. He took a deep breath and turned, eyeing the woman. “I saw his badge. That’s not his name.”
He focused on her, but flicked his eyes quickly to Jinn. He was sure that he saw a brief look of pride there.
“You’re right, Kylo. My given name is Quinton, but other people call me George. It’s my middle name,” Jinn said. Kylo didn’t look at him, still focused on the look of growing annoyance on the woman’s sour face.
“So, it’s okay to use a different name if you feel better about it?” He answered Jinn but was still staring at the frowning woman.
“Yes, of course. I still know my name, and so do you.”
“I’m not stupid. I know my name,” he said. “I just don’t want it anymore.”
The woman took a deep breath and looked at the others. “This only proves my point.”
“I don’t think so.” Jinn’s voice was firm and Kylo turned his eyes to him. He felt his shoulders relax at the sound of the other man’s voice. “Go out there and see if they’re ready, Monica.”
Monica straightened her jacket and gave him one last look before exiting the hallway into the atrium. He felt a small victory in that moment, like some of the power was finally his. He’d seen her name badge — she was also in the FBI. She must have been afraid of him. Straightening, he finally felt a taste of balance. It was the same feeling that rushed through him when he first gained control of Snoke and gripped his hands around the old man’s neck, squeezing until he heard a sickly crack.
He took the feeling with him as Jinn guided him through the door. He felt Phasma following close behind him, like they both were guarding him. He heard Monica’s distant voice as they crossed the tile towards the table. His eyes blurred at the faces and flashes made him lose his initial jolt of confidence.
He wanted to stop walking, he wanted to run.
There were too many people.
Too many eyes. Too much judgement.
He faltered, eyes darting to find something secure to cling onto. The table, clad in a deep blue cover, was covered in microphones. Scattered water bottles glimmered in the sunlight, wavering like a mirage. A quick glance at the back wall only showed his face as a child. It was a boy he didn’t recognize. It was the face of a child who had died with the others. Dead and buried, rotting and decayed.
His hands were limp at his side, until he felt Jinn’s firm hand grasping his.
The world paused for him. There was no sound anymore. He felt safe.
He took a deep breath and was guided to the table.
Jinn’s hand left his after a final squeeze, taking his seat at the table. He sat down with Phasma beside him. She fixed her jacket and sat up straighter. He felt her cool eyes on them both as she settled her hands on the table, folding them on the fabric. Focusing on the blue cloth on the table, he tucked his hands under his legs.
“Good afternoon and thank you for coming. I know you have many questions, but we’re finally going to answer some of them now. I’m Supervisory Special Agent George Jinn. I’ve been working closely with Detective Denise Phasma from the Arcadia Police Department, who has been heading the investigation on that end. This has been a case that I’ve been following for years and I’m,” Jinn paused, briefly running his thumb down the corner of his mouth, “I’m satisfied that it’s over. Today, I’m sitting with Ben Solo, who survived the mass murderer, Edison Snoke. We’re here today to answer your questions about our still-ongoing investigation. As well as we can. To a limit.”
There was brief chuckle from the audience. He needed to see how many people were there.
He dared to look up, lifting his hand to wave lightly. It was for Armie, he told himself, as he felt his arm turn to stone as he lifted it. He needed his friend to know that it was really him. He had died and been reformed into this awkward and, apparently, broken person. He had to know that he was still him, despite his ears sticking out and his hair looking wild. It had been longer. It would have been longer if Snoke hadn’t had an idea months ago — it must have been months ago but to him it felt like weeks — that all hair was bad and evil. That idea died quickly and all of their hair grew back and Snoke decided that he didn’t feel any different. The only heads that did not grow new hair were the ones that wouldn’t let him shave them bald.
He saw two skulls that day, flushed into dull light with their owners still crying to live.
Flesh is only loosely bound to bone.
It was all so temporary.
It was just red blotches against white.
That’s all they were.
He had missed half of the questions by the time he came out of his mind.
He had heard his name — his former name — about a dozen times.
Along with a question about an accomplice.
Looking up at the ceiling, he tried to focus on the blurs, the blues and greens. It was all too much, everything was too much…control was slipping through his grasp at the press of eyes all around him.
A warm hand grasped his knee.
Phasma was talking; Jinn wasn’t.
He snapped his head to the older man and wished that he shared the language that he and Rey had developed. There were too many lights and the voices were overwhelming him. He tried to say that in his eyes and to his surprise, Jinn squeezed his knee lightly.
He wanted to believe that it meant: It will be okay.
He finally fully heard the brunt of questions after Phasma answered something about the house that they were kept in. It was a rush of voices that he had a hard time following. Monica finally raised her voice from her position in front of the table and pointed to one of the faces in the crowd. He hadn’t noticed her before and was still trying to figure out what she was doing there.
“Can Ben answer a question? I want to know if…”
“Ben has been through so much, as we said, before this press conference…”
He cleared his throat and leaned forward. “I can answer.”
He had cut her off again. The sound from the press made him sit up straighter and ignore how stupid he looked. His hair was too awkward and his ears matched it. Out of the corner of his eyes, he saw the picture on the big screen behind him change to his second-grade picture again.
That boy was dead, but he had to speak for him.
Monica cleared her throat. “Okay, what is your question?”
The reporter stood up again and he locked eyes with him. He was trying to figure out why he was there, but gave up because of the light. He couldn’t focus.
“Ben, do you feel like a hero for what you did?”
He felt the eyes of Phasma and Jinn on him as he took a deep breath.
“I, um,” he started, then paused as dozens of flashes erupted from the crowd, “I guess I survived. I stopped him. I don’t think that makes me a hero.”
The reporter nodded and seemed satisfied, sitting down and nodding to the people around him.
They were talking about him, right in front of him. How can you be a reporter and ask such a stupid question? Heroes protected and saved people, even he knew that.
“But what do you know anyway?” He asked, annoyed at how lightly the reporter had taken the entire situation. “He was killing everyone. He was hurting us, brutalizing us. Who can be a hero in something like that? How stupid are you? Do you know what real pain is?”
The room hushed. The sound of shifting broke the silence and it pressed on his growing rage.
These were the evil people that Snoke ranted about. They were the dull forces that drove the world in its monotonous rhythm that was inescapable.
He shot up from his chair and heard it squeak against the tile. “Do you know what it’s like to watch your friends die? To watch children die? Do you know what it’s like to know that you can’t stop it without hurting someone? Do you? Do you?”
“Ben, that’s enough…” Jinn started saying.
Kylo just stood up straighter, his glare shooting from the audience to the agent. He jutted his chin up and bit his lip, feeling his heartbeat quickening.
Freedom was just another prison, desperate to break him again.
After a final glare at the reporters, he turned and fled down the hallway that had brought him to the meeting. His feet kept him moving as sobs bubbled up his throat. Angrily, he wiped at his eyes as he blindly stumbled across the hospital’s ground floor. He wanted to go outside and get away but couldn’t find the route to the garden again. Growling to himself, he finally found a back, emergency staircase and made it up one flight before falling to his knees. He’d messed everything up again. He was so wrong. His parents should just take Rey and go home. He was never going to get better. Nothing felt like it should.
Pulling his legs up under his chin, he cried. He hated his tears and each one made him want to feel something other than exhausted and mournful. He needed pain; it was the only thing that would put things right.
Turning, he punched the concrete and clung to the sensation that stung throughout his hand.
The door clanged open and he buried his head in his knees.
“Kylo, it’s okay.”
He felt Jinn kneel down next to him and drape an arm over his shoulder. He numbly leaned into the agent, mumbling an apology.
“Why isn’t everything better? Why can’t I do this?” He gripped his hands tighter together, annoyed at the weakness in his voice.
“It takes time to heal, like I told you. It takes time to let others help you. You can’t do this all by yourself. I’m here, your parents are here, and the doctors are trying to help you. They told you about the anti-depressants. I know you don’t want to take them, but they will help you work through this.” Jinn was rubbing small circles on his back, speaking in even tones.
He had resisted taking most of his medicine. He took the ones that would help his body heal; he didn’t want them to mess with his head.
But maybe Jinn was right.
He was so empty. The only light was Rey and he couldn’t take care of her properly if he felt this way.
“Okay,” came the reply.
He was guided back to his room and collapsed on the bed. Rey pulled away from his mother and crawled up next to him.
If things weren’t better here, they probably wouldn’t be better at home.
But as he held her, he still wanted to try.
It took another three weeks before they were released.
By the end of it, Kylo didn’t care that they were leaving. Time was jumbled now that he had new routines that rested in another sort of anxiety.
Rey would always want the light on and his mother would always close the blinds. For that part, he was back to never knowing what time it was.
Kylo didn’t think that torture could go beyond cutting, burning, and fear. Now he was trying to reason through a fourth category that wasn’t quite making sense, even though it was something he would never talk about with anyone.
The morning before they were supposed to leave, he tried to organize his racing thoughts. He knew it wasn’t really morning because the hall lights were still dimmed. He took to counting the tiles on the ceiling and awaiting the part of the day he dreaded: actually being alive.
Nothing was getting better, it was only getting more routine.
He’d wake up everyday and only get up to eat breakfast because Rey was frowning at him. Her look would turn darker when he would only pick at his food. He was never hungry. He just felt like the world was static. Despite what the doctors said, he didn’t feel like the pills were working. He’d either want to sleep all of the time, or too exhausted to rest. His eyes were itchy and his heart would start racing. The lights were still filling his ears with nerves and he started to hate the texture of his bed sheets. He’d get in trouble for wandering the halls at night and snapping at the night nurses. That would lead to a long conversation with either Maz or Phasma.
Turning over restlessly, he watched the light rise and fall of Rey’s chest as she slept in the next bed. The gentle rhythm made his eyes lose focus and he drifted off into memory instead of sleep.
His thoughts returned to the worst part about being there and the idea of being send home: Agent Jinn had been called away a week before they were supposed to leave the hospital. That day, he’d come by their room and Kylo had his spirits lifted for the first time in a while; he’d thought he’d been there to celebrate that they were going to go home soon. But the investigation had to be connected more to the additional evidence that they had found in Colorado. Their last conversation had driven Kylo to tears of frustration, he remembered with embarrassment and then the sting of betrayal. He was being abandoned and left to do everything himself. Jinn had given him a firm hug and he clung to him, not wanting him to leave.
The last thing that he gave him was a leather-bound notebook and elegant calligraphy set, engraved with the words fidelity, bravery, and integrity. It was the motto for the FBI, he had said.
His blue eyes shimmered as he looked down at Kylo, telling him to follow the words and that they’d talk soon.
Then he left.
Kylo still hadn’t opened the book or used the pens in the week between his departure and time when they were supposed to be finalizing going home. They were tucked in the drawer, along with his phone.
Three possessions, that’s all he had.
Rey had received a small backpack with a teddy bear. That part made him smile and then wince in his sleeplessness. She kept the bear perfectly clean and was cautious when she hugged it, always insisting that he help her wash her hands before she picked him up. He knew he was letting his emotions show when she carefully snuggled the bear up to him on the bed, before climbing in. After her tiny hands had nudged it close enough to rest on his chest, she would finally hug them both tightly and murmur how much she loved them both. It partly lifted his fog to know that there was something else she could love. She slept with it in her bed and hid it under her pillow during the day, tucking it in with her clumsy yet careful hands. The nurses, or whoever made the beds, would try to put it on top of the sheets and he would watch the dread in Rey’s eyes when she saw that it had been moved.
She’d stop at the edge of the bed after coming in from the playroom. She’d plant both of her feet on the ground and swallow a whimper. He could still hear it echo in his mind as he watched her sleep; it always brought any positives he’d felt happen during the day crashing down.
No one understood.
Since he couldn’t sleep through the night, Rey had started sleeping in her own bed after cuddling with him until she was drowsy. Maz said that it was important that they allow some distance so they didn’t retain the total codependency that they shared.
What did that even mean? In his exhaustion, he actually rolled his eyes at himself as he shifted to look at the ceiling. He could only guess what the adults meant instead of actually asking. But why should he show weakness? If they were saying these things to him then he should know what they meant. He wasn’t stupid. He guessed that it all meant that Rey shouldn’t be too close to him.
And he hated it. It was stupid that the adults were pushing them apart. Didn’t Maz see that she had the bear?
Time seemed to slow down during the week after Jinn left; that’s when it all really went wrong but none of it was his fault. Staring blankly at the ceiling, he felt the aggravation at himself for being so weak. He would always glance at his drawer, wanting to write down how many nurses moved Rey’s bear and how often his mother frowned. He still kept the drawer shut. It would take him thirty seconds to pack so what was the point.
And after how badly things went at the press conference, he didn’t want to talk to Armie.
Everything back home was another nightmare. And since he couldn’t sleep, that meant it was real. No matter how many times Maz told him to think about the future and envision it, that just wasn't happening.
Han was still back in Connecticut. The thought of his father made him punch the rigid hospital bed. Kylo had never asked for an explanation, but Leia would tell him anyway what it was about: there was work (like always), there were changes to the house for Rey (why would that have to happen? She would be in his room), there were meetings with the lawyer (who needs a lawyer? Snoke was dead), the dog hated the kennel (at least Chewie was still alive). He’d let his eyes slowly fall closed and then open with emptiness as she spoke, at least that’s what he did as he thought about her excuses. He had always hated how his parents would argue when he was younger, but what burned his memories most was seeing them happy when they thought he wasn’t around.
His mind couldn’t let him go and he fell into one of the few memories that weren’t about Snoke.
He’d snuck downstairs during a dinner party once, long ago, and saw them laughing and sharing a kiss and a hug. His father looked over his shoulder and caught him peering down from between the bars on upstairs landing to wink at him.
He must have been four years old.
His father had been his hero up until that point.
But after that, he felt like there was no one to love him. His parents loved each other. There was no one for just him to love.
Now he had Rey.
He wanted so badly for Agent Jinn to come back, he thought as he tore himself from the recollection. In one of his other sleepless wanderings, he looked too long out the far window down at the courtyard and started imagining something other than darkness. He thought about what would happen if Jinn could take them home. The agent had his job; police were supposed to be married to their work. So, he’d work but he would have the rest of his caring to share with them. And Kylo could take care of Rey as she grew up. He wouldn’t have to deal with what he was slowly realizing would happen: Rey was so affectionate and needed to share her heart. She was going to love Han and Leia.
And he’d be alone again.
In that moment, even though he knew they would be leaving the next morning, he gripped into the bed sheets and silently screamed. Why wasn’t this working? He was more agitated than he had been before, but he also fell into nothing easier. He had to hide the swings in his moods from the doctors, who were pressing him to show improvements. Not bothering to learn their names, he enjoyed their displeasure when he acted like he didn’t recognize them. But that didn’t mean he didn’t know what they really wanted.
Rubbing his face, he admitted to himself what he had done and knew it was the only way to survive. Like with Snoke, he learned their patterns and what they expected from him. It took him three weeks rather than a year this time. He was older and smarter now. He took the pills and made them think that he was improving. He’d sit in therapy and actually talked, knowing now that Maz had connections to Jinn, but still held back most of his true, deeper feelings.
The worst part about therapy was when Rey wasn’t there and his mother was instead. The last few sessions, she’d make noises or roll her eyes and he’d have to restrain himself from reacting. He was supposed to care about his mother. He was supposed to do so many things, but it just felt hollow when he tried. Snoke always hated when the girls got too old. They’d smell or scream or make a mess. It had confused him for too long about why Snoke would take the older girls for a night. He was stupid as a kid for far too long. He knew that what felt wrong was wrong but he never understood girls until he was nine and the girl renamed to Ashoka explained everything to him.
Snoke was doing something more to them.
It never really hit him how much that threat of violation would build his true hatred until Rey arrived and got big enough for Snoke to start eyeing her.
All of the sounds his mother would make would drag up those feelings. He was almost thankful to have his mother to focus on because there was no way he’d talk about any of this openly. It was something to deal with later.
He’d drive his nails into his leg and glare at her for a fraction of a second before dropping to a neutral expression. Then, he’d answer the question calmly, but felt his inner hatred start to gnaw at him.
He’d have to go home with them.
But he’d already decided they weren’t a family anymore.
That thought carried him through the routine of the morning: he ate a reluctant breakfast to make Rey happy, he went to the therapist and said what he needed to say, then the doctor came and said that they were being discharged early the next morning.
It all rolled off of him into the pit of blackness that he always felt lurking behind him.
And the day stretched on until he just let the emptiness crawl into the places that he couldn’t reach. He used exhaustion as an excuse as he just followed orders. He hadn't slept. He didn't want to eat. He just followed everyone around until Rey was dragging him towards the playroom and he remembered what was supposed to happen.
They were having a small party before they left early the next morning.
Even as he sat down in the chair in the corner, he saw how the other children greeted Rey with excitement and ignored him. He didn’t want to be there but he had to for Rey; she had been talking about it all day; he'd just forgotten in the fog of his mind. The rest of the chronically ill children came and each gave her a small hug in the beginning.
Then everything descended into pure annoyance. He slumped in the chair in the corner and let himself zone out as Rey happily spoke with each child, calling them by name and saying how she hoped that they wouldn’t be gone soon.
Pulling out his phone, he aimlessly swiped back and forth on the screen. It was the first time in weeks that he had it with him and he felt more numb just holding it in his hands again.
He didn’t even have Agent Jinn’s phone number.
“Do you have games?”
A small voice broke his concentration. A tiny bald boy, who he vaguely recognized from elsewhere in the hospital, stood by his feet, tilting his head at him.
He shrugged. “No.” Why was that important?
The boy squinted at him. “You’re Rey’s brother right?”
Shutting his eyes, he took a deep breath and then gave a small nod. He had heard that question from newer nurses and he was trying to get used to pushing it to the back of his mind. “Sort of.”
“Can I get a game for her for the plane?” The boy reached out his sickly hand for the phone and Kylo gave it to him in a fit of exhaustion. The large phone seemed to grow in the boy’s slight and pale hands.
The boy rolled his eyes. “You’re not even on Wi-Fi.”
He watched as a six year old navigated his device with quick clicks. He called over a nurse and she briefly looked at Kylo before giving him the password. The boy kept the phone until there was a small tone.
“It’s a real fun game,” he said, thrusting the phone back in his direction. “Bye.”
Kylo stared at the phone as the boy ran off to the others, joining the giggling throng of ten other kids.
Looking down at the screen, he eyed the tiny Wi-Fi connection in the corner. It was more distracting than the neon-coloured game app in the other corner. He shut the phone down before the compulsion fully took hold to search for Snoke online. He shoved the phone in his pocket and crossed his arms, letting out a long sigh.
Rey’s head snapped up in his direction. She quirked her head, looking up from her group of friends on the playroom carpet. In that look, he was torn back to seeing her huddled in the corner with the other smaller children only a few months ago. He smelled the mould and the dirt and the fear in her eyes was identical: she knew he was afraid no matter how well he tried to hide it. She seemed frozen, waiting for him to say something.
It’s fine, he blinked. Tired.
The room was filled with small voices, giggling and passing toys around. The small boy who’d handled his phone was sitting next to Rey and looked up at him with a bright look in his eyes. Kylo knew that the boy was clearly dying; he’d been watching the nurses from his spot in the playroom when they forced him to come there.
He smiled lightly at her. Okay.
Forcing himself from his chair he wandered over to Rey and knelt behind her on the floor.
She reached back and put her hand on his.
He let that touch guide him into nothingness to drown out the stares from the other children.
He didn’t say anything until it was finally time to leave.
Kylo’s jaw ached by the time they arrived at the airport. He had forced himself to keep his mouth shut to stop from shouting at his mother.
She was driving slowly on purpose. It was like she wanted them to miss their flight. All of the words she had said about missing him and loving him were just lies. His father’s absence was all he needed to confirm the same thing about him.
Rey was sleeping next to him in the backseat, her head resting on his lap. The sun was just starting to rise and he watched the sky start to redden. He thought about waking her up as he stroked her hair. She had never seen a real sunrise before.
“Are you going to want breakfast before we get on the plane?” His mother’s voice broke his thoughts again.
He shrugged, trying to keep his annoyance under control. “Rey will be hungry.”
“What about you?”
“I’m not hungry.”
She sighed. “The doctors need you to eat more, Ben.”
He was silent, his eyes focusing on the passing scenery. Buildings, trees, streetlights. There were no people. It felt good not to see anyone at that moment.
“Fine. I’ll eat something when we get there,” he replied, his voice low. “If we get three.”
He could hear his mother counting backwards to herself before she spoke again. “We’re almost there.”
The car was silent again and he basked in it. Rey stirred when they finally reached the airport. He pulled up both of their hoods when they left the car. Phasma was worried about reporters; she hadn’t told him, but had spoke to Leia about it when they thought that he wasn’t listening. It meant taking an early flight, but it probably wouldn’t be enough.
“Just wait here. I’m going to finish returning the car,” Leia said, looking mostly at Rey as she spoke. Rey nodded, but her eyes were darting all over the expanse of the parking lot.
Leia finally looked at him. He saw the pain in her eyes and frowned. She really didn’t want him anymore. The feeling hadn’t come to him overnight. Even during therapy, Maz would ask constantly about his parents. He knew that it meant they were concerned about why he didn’t want to be around them. Even with the medication, he still didn’t feel like they actually cared about him. They cared about Rey and that was important. He clung to that as he continued to fake through appointments.
Now, standing in a silent parking lot, holding Rey’s hand, the full dread of going home settled in his chest.
“I’m hungry,” Rey said, squeezing his hand. “Where’s home?”
He looked down at her and tilted his head. “We’re at the airport. We’re taking a plane to Han and Leia’s.”
“Maz asked me something dumb.” Rey pouted and shook her head. “Am I supposed to call them mom and dad?”
He sighed. Maz had even brought that up with him and for once he spoke honestly with her. “I don’t.”
He heard Leia’s shoes clacking across the pavement and shifted to watch her approach.
“We’re all done. Get your things and we’ll get going.” She looked pleased with herself and it annoyed Kylo. How hard is it to return a car?
Leia had bought him a small leather satchel for the trip. Rey had her backpack. He was determined to not have more things than what could fit into those bags. The plan to leave was always lurking in the back of his mind. It would still come to him when he couldn’t sleep, which was often.
In the long walk into the terminal, he kept Rey close. The glass and metal made everything appear like it wasn’t real, like it was just surfaces with nothing behind them. They kept walking by people hurrying with giant luggage; each one looked exhausted or annoyed, typing angrily on their phones. He kept following his mother and bit the inside of his cheek. They were fully dependent on her. She had all of their information. No one trusted him. He could have done this on his own, but no one had given him what he needed to know.
His mother stopped, gazing up at the massive information board. Rey’s hand tightened in his. More people were arriving, streaming past them in every direction. She shifted closer, grabbing onto his leg until he lifted her up.
Leia was still scratching her head and he groaned.
“It’s this way.” He gestured to the left.
Leia glanced over her shoulder. It was like she was questioning how he could know.
He rolled his eyes. “I saw the piece of paper in the car. With the flight number.”
Leia gave him a guilty smile. “I guess I should have told you instead of…”
“Yeah, you should have.”
He turned and started walking towards the check-in desk. He heard her behind him with her obnoxiously loud shoes. Rey tugged on his sweater and he slowed his pace, letting her catch up.
Anxiety was pressing on his lungs when he saw the line. He shifted his weight and glared at the two dozen people ahead of them.
Leia gently touched his arm. He was too exhausted to jump at her touch.
“We can use the priority lane,” she said, lightly. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you that either.”
He exhaled and trailed behind her up to the desk that had no line.
The clerk smiled at them and then went through all of their information. He tuned out her voice, it was too high pitched and oozed of fakeness. Her smile was too big and her make-up was too thick. She looked like a doll.
“…all right, your gate is B14. Have a nice flight.”
He watched his mother thank the woman and he had to follow her again. His feet felt heavy in the new shoes that his mother had made him put on earlier that morning. There was so many voices and noise around him and he tried to narrow his focus on her voice to keep himself from shutting down. She was telling Rey about how they’d go through security next and how there would be people there, but no one would hurt her. Rey was quiet, not wanting to get down from Kylo’s arms. She still nodded, even though she clung to him. They were sharing their nervousness. No amount of doctors and nurses could fix them; they would have to do it themselves.
The airport was an endless hallway, fake light mixing with real from above. He hugged her tightly as the security line came into view. He’d flown before, he kept repeating to himself. It was about having patience. He remembered squirming as a child, bored with long lines and people pushing him. Now, he kept his focus on just standing still and waiting.
Someone behind them bumped him and he spun, locking eyes with him. It was just a kid, he couldn’t have been much older than he was. The other boy’s eyes widened when he caught Kylo’s glare.
“I’m sorry,” he quickly said. “My bag fell over…”
Kylo just turned without saying anything, fixing his eyes on a stray thread on the back of his mother’s jacket. Her hair was starting to spill out of her carefully braided buns. Tilting his head, he watched her reach into her bag for their tickets and saw the three passports follow with them.
“Where did you get that?” He asked. They were almost at the front of the line, but the sight of the documents pressed on the already open wound from earlier.
“Oh, Agent Jinn was able to fix the paperwork for us. Don’t you remember when they took your picture a few weeks ago?” She tried to sound like it wasn’t something important, but it was. There were too many things happening behind his back.
He just looked at her blankly. “What does Rey’s say?”
They were finally at the front of the line and his mother just shook her head. “I’ll show you on the plane. Not right now.”
His eyes blazed as she turned away from him to put her bag in the small plastic bin. He watched it start to roll down and was thankful to have Rey in his arms. His hands clenched around her and she let out a little squeak.
“Sorry, love. You have to get down now anyway.”
Her sneakers hit the floor and she stumbled and his rage turned to panic. She shoved his clumsy hands away and picked herself up, casting a look his way.
“I can do it, Kylo.”
She sounded just like he did. It made him smile, despite the stress from having everyone behind them in line starting to shuffle. He shut them out; Rey deserved to take the time that she needed. He took Rey’s small backpack, containing only her bear. She didn’t question why he needed it. “You need to wait to follow me, okay? Just wait and then listen to the guards.”
Rey firmed her lip and nodded, gliding her eyes across the crowd ahead of them. She spotted Leia and finally looked up at him with a more confident turn of her chin.
“Sir, you’re next,” one of the guards said, pointing at his and Rey’s bags. He put them on the belt and watched as the guard scooped up the two bags and put them in a bin. Embarrassment burnt his cheeks as he walked towards the metal detector.
Nothing happened as he walked through. He looked up and around.
“Keep moving, you’re fine.” The guard on the other side spoke to him, waving him forward.
His feet felt heavy but he managed a strong stride forward before turning to wait for Rey.
Framed in the huge detector, with a crowd milling behind her, he saw how small Rey looked in the world. She pulled down the hood on the white hoodie and looked from one guard to the other as he was motioning for her to come towards him. She walked through and didn’t look afraid, filling up the space around her with a confidence that he didn’t know that she had.
Nothing beeped and she gave the guard a grin. He stood at the end of the band and she strode up to him and grabbed both of their bags, standing on her toes to reach them.
She turned and gave him a little frown. Okay?
Okay. He blinked back, taking her hand.
Leia was looking at them both, smiling, as Rey navigated by a man struggling to put his belt back on. Kylo had just ignored him and Rey had stepped carefully aside.
“You handled that like a pro,” Leia said, still smiling. “Good job, Rey.”
Rey didn’t answer. She just nodded.
“I think that you’ve earned some breakfast.” Leia was already leading the way towards the gate. Kylo was still lost in the image of Rey looking both small and vulnerable and filling up the space at the same time.
Soon, she wouldn’t need him anymore.
The thought clung to his heels as he shuffled into the line behind his mother. He stopped listening as Leia read the options. It was all fast food. Rey’s eyes would grow wide at every suggestion and she tugged on his hand for help.
“The sausage is good,” he finally said.
“Okay, then three of those. With the hash browns. And two orange juices and a coffee,” Leia turned to speak with the clerk. Kylo narrowed his eyes.
“I want a coffee too.”
Leia couldn’t hold back her sigh. “That’s not good for you and you know it.”
Frowning, he shook his head. “Then I want to buy one myself.”
Leia’s mouth was set in a firm line as she looked at him. He watched as her look softened as she studied his face. She finally nodded and turned away, wiping at her eyes as she paid the cashier. Rey had been watching everything and tugged at his hand again.
Leia loves you. Her eyes blinked quickly, forming a word that they normally only shared about each other.
I wasn’t mean. He answered, then thought. Was I?
Rey shrugged. You’re you.
But was I mean?
She was struggling with her answer and looked from Leia’s back, then to him. A little.
He watched as their orders were placed on the tray and his mother turned. He tried to give her a small smile; even though it felt forced, he watched her face brighten again.
As they were sitting down, he turned to Rey again. Tell me when I’m mean.
Rey nodded and then turned to her food, happily switching from one mode to another. He looked down at the small wrapped package in front of him and did his best to hold back the heavy exhale at the smell of the food. Feeling his mother’s eyes on him, he peeled open the wrapper and took off the top bun. He reluctantly started eating the half sandwich.
“This used to be Ben’s favourite when he was your age, Rey,” Leia spoke up. “Every Sunday, this would be breakfast. We’d have to get up early and then we would eat in this park…”
“Can we go there?” Rey asked, after sipping at her orange juice. “After the plane?”
Leia’s grin spread across her face. “Rey, we’ll do anything that you want. We need to go shopping for clothes and see what you like.”
Kylo watched them talking as a memory from his previous life snaked its way into his head. A conversation between his parents. How his mother always wanted a daughter.
He’d fought and killed his way out of a hellhole. His skin had been burnt, cut, scratched, and bruised. He knew the smell, taste, and feel of death. The way that flesh would rot and sink into bone was one of the constant dark shadows that kept him company when he wasn’t angry. The pills had brought those thoughts out more, nagging on him not to be mad or sad but just relive what had happened in Snoke’s prison. Maz would ask him about his dreams and he’d tell her as little as possible, only mentioning that they were dark. She would sit back, take off her glasses, and told him to start making up a different story before he went to sleep. How he needed to imagine going back to school and seeing his friends. It burned him inside to admit that she was right. Really, seeing Armie and doing something normal were the only positive daydreams that he could come up with. That and doing things with Rey and watching her grow up normally. He’d stop his parents from leaving her alone, or at least make sure that she wasn’t alone. She would never be alone like he was.
Leia looked at the table and then motioned that it was time to go. He saw that the sun was filling the sky now. It was early, but at least it was light out. The pilots could fly the plane better and they wouldn’t crash and die.
Rey let go of his hand to grip her backpack straps, giving him a self-assured smile as they followed Leia towards the gate. Her footsteps slowed by a coffee stand. She turned and handed him $5.
“Buy yourself your coffee, sweetheart.”
He took the bill. Rey followed him up and then turned to keep speaking to Leia.
He stood and looked at the menu, frowning at how many things there were to read. Shaking his head, he finally looked at the clerk.
“I, um,” he paused, feeling himself getting red in the face. “A small coffee.”
“No problem. $3.55 please,” the clerk smiled at him, despite his embarrassment at not even being able to order something in under a minute.
She handed him the foam mug and he blinked at it.
“Is there something wrong?”
He felt the weight of the cup and how it fit in his hand. “I just…I never bought a coffee before.”
“It’s early. We all need our caffeine, right?” The girl was pretty. Her brown hair framed her thin face and her eyes were almost a kiwi-coloured green. She must have been something like twenty but he felt a little pleased with himself as she smiled brightly at him.
“Yeah, right.” He picked up his mug and sipped at it. He gave her one last look before turning back to tell Rey about how he actually felt happy about doing something normal.
But instead of his mother and Rey, there was an angry looking businessman standing behind him in the line.
He was alone.
He darted out of the line as the man shoved him. He took two steps to the side and could only hear his own heart beating. It thundered in his ears as he walked backwards until his back hit a wall. There were people streaming past him, not caring about the panicked look on his face. He could feel his warm breath on his lips as he exhaled; the feeling got faster and faster as tightened his grip on the paper cup in his hands.
He was left behind again.
There were too many people with too many secrets wandering around.
All he could hear was his own heart and his breathing. The sounds matched the distinct rhythm he darkly remembered from climbing the stairs down to Snoke’s basement for what he thought would be his death.
Desperation finally forced his mouth open. “Mom!”
He scanned the crowd, searching for any sign of her.
After the second shout, he finally saw a greying head emerge from a door. A washroom.
He had only been half listening. But Rey needed to go to the washroom.
Leia had heard him and hurried over with Rey springing ahead to hug him. She had heard him and his fear. She could see how he looked.
“Oh, Ben, I’m sorry, I thought you heard me, but we…” Leia was rambling and he instantly shook his head and ran his hand through his hair. It was damp with sweat. He heard his mother continue to talk and then shook his head again.
“It’s fine.” He kept his voice low. “I’m sorry for yelling.”
He ran his hand through Rey’s hair and took a long sip of coffee. It was bitter and tasted awful, but he didn’t stop. Leia finally quit trying to make an apology and reached out to rub his arm.
“You can always call for me, Ben. I didn’t mean to…”
“I know you didn’t,” he interjected. “Can we just go now?”
Leia kept her face neutral. “Sure. We should be boarding soon.”
Rey held his hand the entire way to the gate. She kept trying to meet his eyes but he tried to make it look like he was distracted by all of the people around them. There was always some old man that would remind him of Snoke at every gate that they went by. The sunken eyes and baldhead just brought him back to where they had been, and where he still felt like he was.
When they finally sat down, his cup was empty and he was feeling the opposite of energized. Rey climbed onto his lap as Leia went up to talk to the gate workers. He watched how the determination set in her face; even though he couldn’t hear what they were saying, he could tell that it was something for them.
“Were you scared before?” Rey snuggled against his chin. “We thought you knew. Leia said…”
He kissed her forehead. There were no lies. He could never lie to her. “I was. I wasn’t listening. I was…it wasn’t thinking. That’s why you always need to listen. I don’t want you to be afraid.”
Rey nodded, her small hand reaching up wrap her hand into one of his curls. His hair was too long but he never wanted her to stop doing what she wanted to. “I won’t. Sorry you were scared.”
“It’s okay now.” He was finally feeling tired and having Rey in his arms put him closer to actually sleeping than he had felt for weeks. “We’re going home soon.”
“Will I be scared on the plane?” Rey was sounding tired too. Her head was drooping on his chest.
“Maybe. You won’t know until we’re on it. But I’ll be there. It will be okay.” He took a deep breath. “When I was…worried before, everything was okay when I saw you again. We’ll always have each other. Things are less scary when you share them.”
Rey nodded. “Like when we were at Snoke’s. Everyone shares. So it hurts less.”
“Yeah, angel. Just like that.” He said as Rey yawned and put her head back down on his chest. Her breathing slowed down and he felt her fall asleep.
Leia finally came back and sat beside him. “We’ll be boarding soon.”
He didn’t even have the energy to snap back at her. “Good.”
His room was the exact same.
He’d spent years feeling the memory of the place start to fade and blur, tainted by skinned knees on dirt floors. Some of the other kids would cry and whine for their old homes, bringing up their rooms and their families. They would always want to go back; he just wanted to get out. But still, the memories clung on, leeching away his strength. It was clear in the beginning — then it had been beaten into a fraction of a remembrance that had to be tucked away in a corner of his mind that hadn’t been touched by darkness.
If he didn’t think about it, then maybe it would be okay to never be there again.
But as he sat down on his bed, which had been too big when he’d left but now looked small, he felt like he hadn’t been gone for all of those years. He took a deep breath as the emotions rolled over him. Even when he’d opened up the back door and came up the mudroom to the kitchen, it hadn’t felt real. He only had Rey’s hand in his as he took deep breaths and crept into his brightly lit house. Only it wasn’t anymore. It had been his parents’ before he was born and only his for such a short period of time. But everything was where it more or less should be. When his parents decided that he should be alone — and why should they get to decide — that he could take the tentative steps into his room. There was no one else there. It was only the four of them. But they were still telling him what to do. Rey was chatting with his mother, looking at her room across the hall. He heard her. He wasn’t afraid for her. The new fear that rose up was being overwhelmed by his lingering nostalgia. It was more like being away for a weekend or a sleepover. The echoes of screams and ripped edges of pain were still there, lurking, except now, they were sandwiched between his life before and what he was now. Running his hand along the bedspread was like having the sunlight warm his face when he’d pulled Rey outside; parts of him that he thought could no longer feel were still intact, but muffled.
It was a sensation that Kylo never expected.
He wanted to be more confused. He wanted to be more angry that nothing had changed. He wanted to be more enraged that Rey was somewhere else without him.
Instead, he just felt empty.
At the same time, the void was hazy. He stared at the wall of his bedroom, an annoying acorn print that he never liked, and tried to figure out if he was there or not.
On the plane, he’d almost decided that he was a ghost. It would have been easier if this were some version of the afterlife. He was already dead. He might as well accept it. He was crammed into a barrel in the basement alongside all those he'd let die.
His face was blank, but inwardly he felt a faint spark of hope at seeing the book he’d left on the nightstand still sitting there, waiting for him.
Maybe he wasn’t dead after all.
How could he be dead if he hadn’t finished reading that book?
He reached out, brushing the cover. It was a silly story about a dog trying to find his way home. It wasn’t his first chapter book. This book had been one from his grandmother so it was different from the others that his parents had decided for him. He had wanted to finish it before baseball camp.
It was still there.
He wasn’t dead.
His father cleared his throat from the doorway and he pushed the sensation down, frowning as he turned.
Han looked uncomfortable, shifting from where he stood.
The last time he’d seen him like that flashed in his mind. It was an argument about how he hated math homework, and how he couldn’t get anywhere without math.
As he looked into his father’s grey eyes, he realized that he needed a lock for his door.
“We’re going to get you a new bed. But you need to settle in first and then we’ll pick something out. It’ll be something that you like instead of, well, whatever we would have chosen,” Han said, trying to lean casually against the door. His hands gave him away. He had shoved one into the pocket of his jeans and the other was motioning aimlessly. “I’ve already looked at beds and none of them were you, son.”
Han had been nervous the entire drive from the airport. Kylo had been silent, actually more content to be exhausted than anything else. No one on the plane had recognized them. Rey had looked at everyone with determination, studying them for him. His lingering anger at himself for calling out for his mother had left him distracted, dwelling on how useless he had felt in the moment of panic. It couldn’t happen again. He numbly let Rey show her strength, looking for dangers that he was too weary to evaluate and judge. Kylo had felt his helplessness rise as Rey’s own exhaustion took hold. She was fighting tears by the time the other passengers had finally taken their seats.
He had to remind himself that she was allowed to cry.
He couldn’t. But she could.
Especially in the real world.
People were loud and took up too much space. Looking at his father now, all he saw were their faces again as memories from the plan took hold. Even as his eyes grew heavy and his thoughts ebbed from anger to emptiness, he managed to pay some attention to the world that he’d have to help guide Rey through when they reached the other side. These people weren’t all dangerous in the ways that they were used to. Most didn’t look at one another as they passed by, ignoring anyone who needed help with luggage and instead focusing on their phones or steadfastly looking anywhere else. The others had faces flushed with annoyance at having to wait for anyone or anything.
They were sitting at the front of the plane.
He saw everyone.
And now he was seeing that same emotion briefly flash on his father’s face when he didn’t respond.
He saw the dust rise in the late afternoon air as his father exhaled.
He let the moment stand, enjoying the rising tension as he kept his eyes locked on Han’s. His father never gave up an argument and would try to bargain his way through anything. He would start talking without knowing what to say when his mouth first began moving, however in the end he usually won over whoever he was trying to swindle or charm.
But there were no words that he could use on Kylo at that moment.
When Han finally broke eye contact for a brief second to glance out the window, Kylo nodded.
“It’s fine,” he said, “I guess. For now.”
Han turned and left and Kylo sighed, the air leaving his lungs with the slow satisfaction of giving his father what he deserved.
He heard Rey’s footsteps and managed to smile, wiping the blank look from his face when she walked gingerly into his room.
Rey tilted her head and smirked at him. Her hand reached for his as she stepped to the edge of his bed.
“I need to…an ask,” she started, pausing to take in his room. “Why two?”
Kylo shook his head. “It’s not my idea. I’d change it if I…were allowed to.”
Rey frowned and he helped her up to sit on the edge of the bed. She should be asleep. She had dozed lightly on the plane, curled up on his lap. He had allowed himself a few moments of sleep that were constantly interrupted by the sounds of breathing all around him.
Tight, dark spaces and deep breaths were an eerie constant that he realized he’d never be able to outrun.
“Are we free now? In our house?” Rey took in his room before settling her eyes on him. “I don’t want two.”
“I’ll find a way. I won’t let them make all of the decisions.” He hugged her to him and heard a pair of footfalls descend the stairs to the lower level. The shouldn't have two rooms, but here they were. There would always be someone deciding how he should be. Until they could get out of there. But then what? Would it always be running, the second he felt uncomfortable or panicked?
Rey nodded, snuggling closer to him. “I’m hungry.”
“Dinner is soon,” he said, stifling a yawn. Having Rey’s warm body next to him brought his exhaustion to the surface. The heaviness of the layers of his mind rose in his chest and he couldn’t resist the pull towards sleep. He didn’t need to ask Rey as he shifted to stretch out on the bedspread. His feet were almost at the edge; he ignored his father’s words as Rey settled next to him.
“I don’t understand.” Rey’s head rested on his shoulder and her small hand gripped his shirt. “Today's strange.”
“I know,” he replied. “I don’t feel like I’ve ever been gone from this place. It’s all the same, except for me. I don’t fit anymore.”
He rubbed her back as he closed his eyes. The memories came as a rush: The knob was the same to the backdoor, but he didn’t have any problems reaching it. His feet had firmly hit the floor of the backseat of his father’s silver truck like they'd never done before. The railing up to the kitchen from the mudroom of the back entrance couldn’t have been moved, but it felt so much lower and awkwardly placed.
His toe brushed the edge of his bedframe and squeezed his eyes shut, willing the tears not to come.
“You don’t fit ‘cause we’re two now,” Rey mumbled, letting sleep win over her questions. “Need to make it bigger.”
“Yeah,” he answered, kissing the top of her head. “We will have to do that.”
He woke up when he felt Rey stir at the sound of his mother’s voice softly calling from the doorway. He would always find Rey before her.
“Wake up, kids. Dinner’s ready. And we have a few of guests we’d like you to meet.” Leia’s words were clear yet still echoed dully in his ears. “You know them, Ben. It’s nothing to be worried about.” But he’d heard the familiar creaks in the hallway from the landing to his room. He didn’t realize he’d been awake for longer than he grasped until he had counted back all of the sounds in his mind.
The light flicked on as he sat up.
He didn’t remember turning it off.
They had watched them sleep.
He bit back the annoyance and tried to put it into what he’d heard from the therapists. They were supposed to find routine. It was all about adjusting. That word had come to the forefront during their last few weeks at the hospital. Doing the same things over and over again was supposed to help them. Yet, at the same time, he was floundering in it. He mostly blamed the pills. He would take them, trying to trust Agent Jinn, despite his lack of contact. He hated the pills. They were supposed to make him better and he still felt like this.
Sitting up, he wiped at his eyes. Rey was already awake, but not moving. It was like any other wake up back at their torture chamber: Snoke would storm in and scream at them, or would hiss at them without words. Should he tell his mother about this? Should she know? Waking them up like they were normal was what they were supposed to do. But, he couldn’t. This wasn’t the hospital with its controls. Here, they were at their assumed home. They had rooms now; it wasn’t just a bit of floor to curl up on and wake up afraid of what was to come. And still, his mother awoke them with a rapid knock on the door and an intrusion into his space.
There were lines that he needed to draw.
Maybe he could do that now.
“Are you okay?” He managed to ask, shifting off of his bed. He narrowed his eyes at another change. There was a stack of books at his desk. Tilting his head, he watched Rey get up and stretch, her tiny arms hardly reaching up towards the ceiling. Her broken arm had long healed, but a brace was still there, keeping her together. He saw it peaking out from beneath the awkward pajamas they’d slipped her into
She wasn’t wearing that before.
They couldn’t touch Rey without her wanting it. Were they stupid? Were they evil? How could they do this do her?
Still, he focused on the books, trying to keep the rage at bay: chemistry, biology, English, calculus, history. Between each subject were extended study guides. How did they get there? He didn’t remember them from before. It was another act of betrayal. His parents were acting in favour of what they wanted rather than what would work. Sure, he wanted to study. He wanted to finish school and move away. Part of that thought made him look up at the mirror across his room and then quickly turned away. No, they shouldn’t just be guessing what he wanted to do.
He longed to call Agent Jinn and hear if this was something that he’d thought up and told his parents to do. It would make sense then. It would all fall into place. Someone at the FBI knew more than his big-talking, minimal action parents.
Rey was running her hands over her clothes, breathing in quick gulps of air. Someone else had touched her. With all his parents talked to their therapists, they clearly heard nothing.
“I wouldn’t have let them do it if I’d been awake,” he mumbled, stepping away from the bed. “They’ve moved around things here too. This wasn’t how it was supposed to be.”
Rey looked at her legs, her tiny hands still tracing up and down the strange fabric. “I…I don’t…ugh.”
She gave up turning to him and blinking quickly how she felt. No one should touch her if she wasn’t awake. No one should be in her room or his room if the door was shut. She didn’t know the word privacy, but she knew space. She knew that there were places where others could and could not be.
“What will make it better?” He finally asked, aloud.
She sighed, tilting her head. A tiny smirk broke her serious features. “Food.”
“Then let’s go. You can yell at them about the pajama things. Leia just does what she thinks will work. And it doesn’t,” he said, reaching for her hand.
For once, she frowned before slowly rising up from the bed. He scooped her up into his arms and kissed her cheek. It was all he could do. He was tired and locked off from his emotions; he blamed most of that on the stupid pills he’d been taken. Agent Jinn had promised that they’d helped him feel better but why hadn’t it made anything right? Instead, he’d just felt tired or stunned. He’d either tumble through panic, or he had slid through something that should have been overwhelming.
Now, instead of wanting to yell or fight against his parents, he had only blankly looked at the books, at the way someone had changed Rey without telling them. Annoyance was there, sure, but the blind anger he was used to feeling since the taste of freedom had faded.
He wasn’t sharp.
He couldn’t protect them and that’s all he had left.
He shut the door to his room behind him, hugging her closer as they neared the top of the staircase. Kylo searched his mind at the voices that he heard and his slow pause made Rey hug him tighter.
One was familiar; he’d only heard it a few weeks ago.
Armie was here.
When they emerged from the protection of the hall, he felt too many eyes on him. Briefly, he pushed his face against Rey’s neck and then sighed, too curious not to see the face of a friend who he thought he’d never see again.
To his surprise, there were two other people at the table, other than Han and Leia.
His voice felt soft, lost in the past, as he took in the faces at the table. The teenager, with shocking red hair and a wide-eyed look on his face, must have been Armie. He’d changed. He was almost a grown up. His jaw was firming and his hair was nicely combed. Kylo’s feet stilled and he hugged Rey closer. People weren’t supposed to change.
Still, Breha and Bail Organa were rising to meet them at the end of the staircase, shifting from the light of the kitchen table to the darkness of the hallway.
“Darling,” Breha said, tears springing to her eyes. “You’re home.”
Kylo took a deep and cautious breath. “Rey doesn’t know you. You need to…introduce yourselves. If she’s okay with it, I mean.”
Armie still lurked in the background, shifting closer to Leia and Han. Kylo, in the back of his mind, filed away how he was suddenly taller than is childhood friend. But maybe that was because of the staircase.
Rey hugged him tighter and he slowly sat down at the top step. Breha and Bail, with their expressive eyes and neatly pressed clothes, slowed at the bottom of the staircase.
“Hello, Rey,” Bail said, resting his hand on the railing. “We’re Ben’s grandparents. We’d like to eat dinner with you. If that’s okay with you, and you’re hungry.”
Rey lifted her head, eyeing the dark-eyed main. The moment drew on as she studied everyone downstairs, Armie included. She finally sucked in a deep breath and then turned back to Kylo.
Her eyes were pleading for him to ask who had undressed and redressed her. He softly answered that he’d do it once they were downstairs. With a guarded look, she accepted and he stepped down the final few steps. A hateful look took over as he eyed his parents.
“No one can take off her clothes if she’s not awake,” he said, ignoring the looks from his friend and family. “You don’t know what we’ve been through.”
Leia, to her credit, stood up and nodded. “It will never happen again. She just looked so…”
“And don’t go into our rooms. Ever.” He lifted his chin, firm eyes shifting from his mother to his father.
Han licked his lips. He saw Armie shifting uncomfortably at his side until Han finally nodded. “We won’t. Come and eat. We’re going to…do what you…we’re going to make sure you get what you need from now on.”
That wasn’t an answer. His eyes burned, but his mind couldn’t find the same rage that he should feel at the betrayal. He was defending Rey only because she couldn’t do it herself. All of this made him just want to go back to sleep.
But, inside, he knew he couldn’t show weakness. With one final kiss to Rey’s forehead, he set her down and he lifted his head to the people around the table.
Armie was the only face that he could focus on.
Until the Organas took his attention away from the boy with the lingering features of his friend, but the body of a teenager, back to his love. Was that how he looked?
Dropping to his knees, he settled beside Rey as Breha slowly neared them.
“Hello, Rey. I’m Ben’s grandma,” she smiled, her brown eyes crinkling in the faint summer sunset steaming in from the front windows. “You must be wondering how I know you.”
Rey shrugged and pursed her lips. “But…not mine?”
Breha, reaching out for Bail, frowned and then shook her head. “We can be yours too, if you want to. You’re welcome in this family, dear.”
Rey’s forehead creased, trying to work through all of the new information. A pang of guilt crawled through his body. How do you explain grandparents when parents were never really established? He wasn’t sure anymore what he’d told her or what the others had told her. He wanted to keep his head down but there were too many eyes on him. All of them were familiar and he couldn’t avoid them. Weakly, he met Armie’s eyes. In the brief look, he knew that he was the same friend he’d left behind at seven years old. At the edges of his gaze, he was still the same friend, his only friend, who’d helped him at baseball and listen to his strange stories in the backyard as he dreamed about flying away into space. He watched as Rey slowly eyed all of the adults in the room, her hands curling into fists.
“I…can I eat and…make answers?” She asked the entire room in a voice that only he knew that she could possess. “Answer questions, I mean. I’m not dumb.” The ability to process everything that was happening shouldn’t be something that she was capable of and yet, here she stood, looking forward to eating and getting it all over with.
With her gentle eyes, his grandmother stepped back, his grandfather following. “Well, we hope you like lasagna.”
As if Rey knew what it was. He still half hugged her and stood close the table. He gingerly looked at his friend to apologize as Rey found her seat and the other strange, younger, face at the table.
“He’s my best friend,” Kylo said, empty confidence quickly draining away. “I hope that you still are.”
Armie looked to Leia and then quickly back to him. “You look so different. But yeah…I never stopped missing you.”
“I missed you too,” he mumbled, slouching down.
The table was set, like it always was for family dinners. He’d sat in this seat so many times, eating breakfast, lunch or dinner. But something was missing under his feet.
Han and Leia had sat down at either end of the table. Han bit his lip and lifted his greying eyebrows.
“He…passed away, son. He was an old dog. But you know what? He was always looking for you. Everywhere we’d go, whenever we’d get home, he’d go straight to your room. He died beside your bed. He wanted you to come back and now you’re here.” The pain in Han’s voice almost shook him. Almost.
“You couldn’t even tell me that my dog died? And then you lied about it?”
The bitter tone settled around the table until Armie cleared his throat.
“My parents got divorced. I was alone a lot. I used to take Chewie for walks. I took care of him for you. Don’t worry,” his friend said, sitting up straighter.
He met the other boy’s face and the treachery shuddered loose. “Thank you.”
After a long, extended silence, his mother nudged a serving spoon in his direction. He nodded, realizing how hungry Rey must be. He quickly filled up her plate, taking only a small portion compared to her. She eyed the garlic bread with an expression of unbridled excitement. She took a bite and grinned at him.
“It’s good,” she giggled. “How much can I eat?”
“All of it, sweetheart. All of it,” he replied, instantly handing her his piece.
Rey ate and he picked at his food, listening to the adults talk. They were trying to discuss mundane things, but his head perked up at the talk of lawyers and police. His mother noticed and she nodded at him. Armie mirrored his motion as he sat up, clearly curious about what had happened to his friend.
He didn’t know what he’d done.
He hadn’t just materialized from space.
“…but the law in California, Leia, you can’t deal with that with a family lawyer?” Bail had his elbows on the table. He took a long drink of red wine. Kylo quirked his head at the man; he never drank before, as far as he knew. But he only had dumb kid memories.
“We’re getting help, Bail, and since they were taken across state lines, it’s not just California that we’re dealing with,” Leia answered, firmly, before taking a drink from her own glass.
He looked up at Armie, quirked his eyebrow, and lifted his water glass. The other boy smirked and mirrored him.
Across the table from one another, they clinked their glasses.
Breha cleared her throat. “So, kids, what do you want to do first, now that you’re home? Do you want to meet with lawyers, like these boring people are talking about?”
Rey was flicking at a tomato on her plate. “Can I see a horse?”
“A horse? Oh, we’ll take you to the pony ride at the fair!” Breha was ignoring the guarded looks from around the table.
Kylo leaned over to Rey, wanting to remind everyone about where they’d come from. “Tell her about who told you about horses.”
Rey nodded, then quickly looked at her lap. “A girl came one day. She kept crying and Snoke smashed her. He smashed her real hard. She was on our floor and Kylo took care of her. She told me about her horse. He was white and really pretty and big. Then she went away. He killed her ‘cause she was crying.”
This time, the silence was deeper and more cutting. He heard the shifting of feet and the sounds of wine glasses meeting lips.
“We’re going to take you to a horse, Rey,” Han said, sitting up and clearing his throat. “And it will blow your mind.”
“I’d like that,” she said before lifting her head.
Leia stood from the table, starting to gather the plates. “Why don’t you kids go upstairs and play. We’ll call you when grandma and grandpa are leaving. If it’s okay with you?”
Kylo was already standing, reaching to scoop Rey into his arms. Then, he paused. “No dessert?”
Leia, her hands filled with dishes, gave him a broad grin. “Armitage, grab what you brought. You can eat them in B-…Kylo’s room.”
The other boy nodded, only pausing slightly, before reaching for a plate of brownies on the counter. The three were heading up the stairs before his friend whispered a question about his name.
“I…um…I can’t be Ben anymore,” he finally answered as he closed the door. “I can’t tell you everything that happened, but I’m…I don’t even know. The therapists try to tell me what to do and say and think and I’m…I don’t know.”
Rey was sitting on the bed, munching on a brownie. “You’re Kylo. I’ve only known Kylo.”
Armie shuffled his feet and then sat down on the floor beside the bed. He looked from his friend to the television on the cabinet across from the bed. “Han made me set up some games. Can we play and talk? I’m…I also hated my name. Everyone calls me Hux now. At least, everyone who understands.”
The tension in Kylo’s shoulders loosened and he nodded. He grabbed a brownie from the plate resting on the bed and watched as Armie, no Hux, turned on a gaming system. His friend handed him a controller and he finally felt more at home.
“Wow,” he said. “It looks like a movie.”
Hux glanced over and smiled. “You don’t even know, man. You don’t even know.”
He sat back, watching Hux start playing, declining to try at first.
“I hang out here a lot, since my parents split up.”
Kylo nodded, glancing up at Rey on the bed. Her eyes were glued to the screen, amazed at rush of lush graphics and a very real world of a man cutting through a forest with a sword.
“I’m sorry,” he managed to say.
Hux paused the game and looked at him with wide eyes. “Don’t say sorry. I read what happened to you guys and it sounded…I don’t even get most of what happened. I saw the press conference, but they cut out the part when you...yeah...from the clips so nobody really remembers that, don’t worry. How are you still alive? A divorce won’t kill someone. A crazy fucker does.”
Blankly, Kylo stared at the images, stilled on the screen. “He…he…I can’t even believe that we’re alive. This doesn’t feel real. They’re making me take these stupid pills and there have been too many doctors. I don’t even know who I am anymore.”
After a short sigh, Hux started the game again, letting the dull music kill the silence. “They made me see doctors too. And take pills. My grades were sucking and I didn’t want to do anything. Dad was gone and he hated mom. Who does that? They’re supposed to be in love and then he’s just leaving?”
Slowly, Kylo nodded. “Thing’s aren’t supposed to change.”
Rey tapped his shoulder. “Sleepy. I’m sleepy.”
He nodded and stood. “We need to brush your teeth.”
Scooping her up, he heard Hux clattering his teeth. “You should say goodbye to your grandparents. My stupid therapist is trying to teach me to think about others and how they feel good…or something.”
Rey, in his arms, shook her head. “Will they feel better? If we do?”
Hux looked up at her and smiled. “They want to get to know you. They’re nice. They bought you guys this.”
His head was cloudy as he emerged from his room. He saw the adults at the table, drinking coffee. Both Breha and Leia looked tired, eyes still lingeringly red. He cleared his throat at the top of the stairs.
“Rey’s going to bed. She wanted to say goodnight,” he said before Rey nudged him. “We wanted to say goodnight. Can Hux stay over?”
Leia looked up and then nodded. “We’ll call his mom. But I’m sure it’s okay.”
He brought Rey down to the last step and sat down again. Breha and Bail stood, looming over them.
“Goodnight, Rey,” Bail said, extending his hand. “It was wonderful to meet you. We’ll see you tomorrow, and also see what we can do about that horse.”
Breha seemed to be holding herself back after Rey had shook his grandfather’s hand. “You’re a wonderful girl. We’ll be here for you, we promise.”
Rey sat on the step, looking at them, until she nodded to herself and turned to climb the stairs again. Kylo looked at them both, briefly shook his head, and then followed her.
“Adults suck,” he said, the second they were inside his room again with the door shut. “They just keep doing things that they think are right.”
Hux laughed lightly. “At least they don’t change.”
“I’ll be right back,” Kylo replied. “I need to make sure Rey is okay.”
Rey was looking between the two and had a thoughtful look on her face as they left for the washroom. He wasn’t surprised to find a small pink toothbrush and children’s toothpaste waiting for them. He handed her the brush as he sat on the edge of the tub. She had quickly gotten a hand of how to brush her teeth since their escape. He’d taught her, even though the nurse’s had tried.
“I like him,” Rey said, foam spilling over the edge of her mouth. He laughed, an actual laugh, as he reached to help her up to spit and rinse her mouth.
“He won’t go away, I promise.” His voice was still light as he looked at their reflection in the vanity. This part of routine he could handle.
Back in his room, he settled Rey onto his bed. Under the covers, he kissed her forehead. She played with his hair and giggled as her eyes drifted shut.
“Who is she?” Hux finally asked, quietly, after she’d fallen asleep.
“She’s Rey,” he replied, settling beside his friend. “I want to try playing now.”
Nodding, his friend quickly exited the game. “Okay, we’ll do the companion mode. We help each other.”
“I was watching you.” Kylo took the controller and settled into the game. “This is…weird.”
“So weird,” Hux answered. “You know, we had a memorial for you at school. You were just gone. I didn’t think that you were dead, but they made us talk to all these counselors and shit. And it was so dumb. They made us plant a tree for you and I thought it was the stupidest shit. If you were dead, why would you care about a tree?”
Kylo was fumbling through the game, but Hux was there to clear up anything he didn’t finish. They worked through the quests and he gradually learned the path and the point of what they were doing. There was a treasure at the end. Despite the advanced graphics, it was the same thing they’d played as kids.
“What happened to the tree?”
“It died,” Hux said, a low giggle starting in his throat. “It died so fast.”
“Of course it would die.” He turned to grin. “But I’m not dead.”
Hux sighed and then paused the game, thrusting the controller aside. “I still don’t believe that you called me.”
“You could have told me that you’d be here,” he answered, cautiously. “The stupid doctors keep talking about trust and I’m…everyone is the enemy to me right now. My parents, they put Rey in those pajamas. They shouldn’t have done that. Snoke would always….”
His voice trailed off.
He took a deep breath. “I shouldn’t have said his name.”
His bottom lip started to quiver and he felt lost. He didn’t want to cry, he couldn’t cry. But, it was still there. What if he’d taken Armie too? What if he’d been forced to help end his friend’s life? What if he’d been help to carry his body and dump him into a barrel? What if Snoke had done to Rey what he had threatened to do?
A whimper escaped his mouth and Hux reached his arm behind his shoulder, pulling him closer.
“Sometimes the doctors are right. Sometimes, you can cry.”
He still bit back the tears, shaking his head. “He killed everyone. If you looked at him the wrong way, he’d kill you. He ripped my fingernails out. He cut up my arms until I couldn’t feel anything. He broke my arm and would burn me until I screamed and he would just laugh. He took the girls and would…”
Hux just held him. He was like one of the others in their space. He could talk to him. He wasn’t just an ideal filled adult.
Finally, the dam burst and he wept. He cried, shakily into his friend’s shoulder. He grabbed onto him, feeling arms settle around him as he did.
“It’s okay, Kylo. You’re safe now. Really safe.”
Shaking his head, Kylo sat up, a hiccup escaping his mouth. “But why do I feel like this? Like things can’t stop? I feel tired, then I feel angry, but then I can’t get angry?”
Hux just nodded. “What pills are they giving you?”
He quirked his had. “I don’t know. I’m too…there’s too much to do and I didn’t ask. I don’t want to take them.”
Slowly, Hux shook his head and then sat closer to him. “When my parents broke up, two years ago, they put me on these pills that just made me feel awful. They didn’t help. I started tricking them. You just pretend to take them. You shove one off to the corner of your mouth, swallow the water and then spit it out. I didn’t need them anyway. It’s like you said, adults just think what they want. I’m okay now. And you’ll be okay. I see my dad once a month, but I have my mom and your parents. And our friends.”
Kylo frowned. “They’re not really my friends. They haven’t seen me in…forever.”
“No, no. They really want to see you. We’re having a party, for year end, at Paige’s, next week. I’ll add you to the group chat.” Hux sat up and let out a happy sigh. “Paige has a little sister, Rose. Maybe she can be Rey’s friend.”
“Why do you care about Rey?” He asked, wiping away the last of the tears from this nose.
“She’s…like your sister. I want her to be happy too. Or at least, um, normal?”
Looking up at the frozen television, Kylo nodded. “We’d like that.”
A careful knock broke their tableau and he sighed before grunting a response.
“Armie, your mother is here to drop off your things for the night,” Han said, looking at how close they were. Kylo shifted away, glaring.
“Thanks, Mr Solo,” Hux answered, standing up. “Do you want to say hey to my mom?”
He shook his head. “Tell her thanks from me.”
Alone, Kylo quickly moved to change. He noticed how half of his closet was filled with newly purchased clothes, still with the tag, while others were still what he’d left behind. There was always change, but in some places, no change. With frustration, he grabbed a pair of pants and a t-shirt. They fit. He eyed himself in the mirror and let his shoulders sag. He was too tall and too thin. Rey needed food more than him.
Hux returned, a bag slung over his shoulder. “She says hi.”
“I guess she at least looks the same?” he asked, sitting on his bed, beside Rey.
Hux moved to turn off the television and gaming system, before opening his sleeping bag. He spread it out and Kylo frowned. He grabbed a pillow from his overfull bed and handed it to him.
Hux changed quickly and Kylo turned away to study Rey instead. Just looking at another half-clad body brought him back to the death house and the smell and ache of pain. When Hux cleared his throat he turned back.
“Do you still play baseball?” he asked.
Hux laughed lightly as he laid himself down onto the floor. “No. Soccer. You’re going to be good at it. And hey, I’ll help you with school too. We can study everyday.”
Kylo shoved himself under the covers and shrugged. “You want me back in school?”
Nodding, Hux sat up, resting his head on his hand as Kylo looked down at him. “I helped Han with the books. You can have my notes from last year. My dad thinks that I suck at school but I know a lot more than he thinks. My dad…I miss him…but…”
“He shouldn’t tell you that you can’t do something,” Kylo replied, finally putting his head down. The emotions still bubbling in his chest, he let out a thought he wanted to keep secret, but his mouth wouldn’t let him. “Are you really still my friend?”
“Yeah, of course,” Hux’s response was quick and then he paused. “When I came to your house, after you were gone, it was like everything didn’t make sense. I thought you’d be home the next day or something, but it kept going on and on. Your mom and dad…they were so sad. I didn’t think that they’d ever be okay again. Like, I’d come here and walk Chewie and they would still just look the same. Everyday, it was like their hurt got bigger. I know that I’ll never know what happened to you, but I am your friend. You’re a hero. I couldn’t have survived.”
Kylo met his eyes, realizing that tears were threatening to rise again. Thankfully, a soft knock came at his door.
“Come in,” Hux called, after Kylo waited too long, lost in thought.
“Everyone settling in here?” Han asked, poking his head through the door. “Rey’s not in her room?”
“She’s fine here,” Kylo’s voice felt hollow as he answered.
“That’s…okay. Just brush your teeth and go to bed. We love you, Ben.” The last statement disappeared with the closing door.
“Do you believe him?” Hux asked, sitting up.
“I don’t know,” Kylo answered. “I want to figure it out, and I just can’t.”
After forcing themselves up to brush their teeth, accompanied by playful shoving and comparing who was taller, they went back to his room. Hux sighed, looking up at him with a small grin.
“Maybe you, me and Rey can figure it out.”
“I hope so,” he replied, before reaching up to turn off the lamp beside his bed. "Goodnight."
For once, darkness wasn’t so empty.
Kylo tries to navigate the world, still struggling with the past.
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
Kylo woke up to someone shoving him. He jerked back, ready to reach for Rey and take the beating. Grunting, he gripped his hands across his face and held his breath.
Instead of Snoke, Hux stood there with wide eyes beside his bed.
“You were…sorry. I guess you shouldn’t wake up someone who’s having a nightmare but…” his friend started rambling out of embarrassment, but Kylo just sat up and shook his head. He took a deep breath and tried to calm his heart. He couldn’t remember the dream that he had just escaped from, but the lingering fear had left a bead of sweat rolling down his back.
Gazing around the familiar, yet achingly uncomfortable room, he sighed. “No, this is just how I wake up.”
Ignoring Hux’s curious gaze, he glanced at the clock. 6 a.m. Groaning, he flopped back down. With a huff of frustration, Hux slowly sat down on the floor and looked at him with tired eyes. He leaned back against his closet, causing the slatted door to rattle. It was strange to be in a place where such a simple sound could make so much noise. Even after the weeks in the hospital, Kylo still strained his ears for the faintest gasps or strangled screams. Instead, there was just silence, broken only by Hux drumming his hand on the floor.
“Guess it wasn’t a dream,” Hux mumbled. “Guess you’re really home.”
He was fully awake now, sore but well rested. His body was always tense, the lingering breaks and wounds were healed by now. Yet, some of them didn’t quite agree with how he moved and slept. Turning, he reached out and rested his hand on Rey’s chest. At least her body wouldn’t suffer the long-term pains that he carried. He had felt her wake up in his panic, but now she was breathing steadily again, back to sleep. She was adjusting easier. Rubbing her pyjamas, he tried not to think about how long it would take for her to sleep in her own room. But at least he could sleep last night with her by his side.
“Guess I’m not dead,” he whispered, taking a quick glance at Rey’s face. Her cheeks were fuller. She looked younger now than she’d ever done. When she was an infant, after the moment Snoke had forced her into his arms and threatened to kill them both if she cried too much, Kylo had felt a new, if only, reason to live. He had to keep her alive and get out. There were few kindnesses that Snoke had showed them, yet Rey’s arrival had given him a new purpose as well: he wanted to see if an infant could survive there. Looking at Rey now, with her almost chubby cheeks, he fumbled internally to understand the darker future that he’d stopped. All of the older girls had suffered terribly, but still what he did to the boys…what did he want?
“I, um…” Hux started. “I didn’t get a chance to tell you last night…”
“What?” His head snapped away, broken from the hazy vision of the dark stairs down to the basement.
Hux was still tired, his head lagging to one side. His messy red hair was sticking out over his forehead. He wasn’t looking at him, but his eyes finally lifted when Kylo shifted on the bed.
Hux looked guilty as he spoke. “They got you guys a new dog. It wasn’t for you like, for a present, but they got it like a month before everything happened. I wasn’t supposed to tell you but…but they were supposed to give it to you last night, but there were too many reporters and…”
Narrowing his eyes, Kylo leaned forward. The urge to intimidate Hux was too tempting and he felt a blossom of joy grow in his chest as Hux leaned back, cornered under the intense gaze.
“Rey gets to name it.” The words came easily as he lowered his voice.
He glared for a few unbroken moments until he smirked and Hux lost the fear in his eyes. He broke out into boyish giggles and Kylo actually grinned fully. Rey woke up, rubbing her eyes as she looked at them.
She slowly focused on him and laughed, her smile warming the room with the sun filtering in between the blinds. “You’re happy.”
With a brief smile to Hux, he turned. “Not really. We just made a joke.”
“You’re not happy…at home?” Her face dropped and she looked at him with deep confusion. He wasn’t happy yesterday. He wasn’t overjoyed the entire way home. Despite what he’d promised her, he’d just been a disappointment.
He faltered in his answer, struggling to find what to say to her. He had said so many things over the years that they mingled with the internal promises that he had made to her in his head.
There was a sudden pressure at his feet. Hux sat at the edge of the bed, folding his legs so he could sit between them, but at a distance.
“Rey, I um,” Hux paused to look at his hands then back at her again, “I just know a few kids your age. I’m kinda glad my parents didn’t have more kids because they…yeah…um…I think that Kylo and me, we are best friends. Sometimes, we can joke and stuff. He will laugh, but he won’t be really happy. Like, there were a few times when I was really upset about my parents’ divorce and my other friends would make a joke and I’d laugh, but everything after, everything would just be…sucky.”
Rey turned her head. “Kylo says that. The kids at the hospital say that. I don’t know what it means.”
Kylo frowned, watching how Hux and his angel interacted. She knew that he wouldn’t be going away. It wasn’t like any of the other kids. In the peace of this house, despite the edges haunted by lies, she could have her real life.
Rey then scrunched her face, unable to hold a lie for long. “I say it too. So I think I know what it means.”
Hux just kept his face neutral. “Exactly. Sometimes you just say things until someone tells you it’s wrong. When I was little, like you, I always tried to be like other kids I thought were cool. It’s not wrong if someone else does it too, right?”
Rey, puzzled, let out a long exhale through her nose and sat up. “Nope. I need to pee.”
She was up and off the bed before Kylo could move to follow her. She stopped at the door and quickly turned to look at him. His heart was already beating faster so he was glad that she could take care of herself. He gave her a quick tilt of his head, telling her just to call for him and he’d be there.
She left the door half open and he heard her soft feet pad down the hall. Her steps were steady, only pausing once before the dull thud of the washroom door shutting let him relax. Hearing none of it, Hux sighed and ran his hand on the blanket.
“How do you guys do that?” He asked, his breaking voice low.
“We had to learn how to talk without words. But I still taught her to talk. She had to talk to the other kids so she’d figure out the outside. I had to get her out,” Kylo said, ending with a shrug. Trusting his friend had come so easily, why stop now?
Hux bit his lip and nodded. “This is still so weird.”
Kylo could only bob his head and wait for Rey to return. The sun was steady through the window and he was breathing. This was life now.
His pills were laid out for him beside his breakfast plate. He caught Hux’s eyes across the table and he raised his eyebrows, quickly, before looking down at his toast. Rey had already swallowed her medication down, followed by a good clunk of chocolate milk. She was tracing her finger down her slice of Nutella on toast before Leia turned to calmly explain not to play with her food, not because it was wrong, but because it made a mess. Han was reading the newspaper, sipping on a cup of coffee. He had felt a brief pang of relief to see coffee sitting beside his plate before he was reminded of the pills.
He took the first two. One was a vitamin. One was a painkiller. He still needed those.
Those two went down with orange juice.
The last one, the evil one, he put in his mouth and tucked up under his lip. Leia was busy with Rey, Han was muttering about the baseball prospects. Only Hux was watching him.
But he knew his parents were still watching him out of the corner of their eyes.
The pill was in and he drank the juice.
He waited a few minutes, glaring at his breakfast as the pressure under his lip started to build.
“It’s just peanut butter,” Leia finally said, sitting across from him. “Would you like something else?”
Tilting his head, he took a long look at her. Narrowing his eyes, he focused on her hairline; her eyes were too dangerous this early in the day. He finally shook his head no and she sighed, standing to retrieve more coffee. That’s when he took the chance to spit the pill into a napkin.
If he could do this every morning, he’d finally be able to fix the hollow parts of him, he hoped.
“Hux told us about the dog,” he blurted out, trying to distract everyone from what he’d just done. “When do we get it?”
His friend sputtered into his juice. “You didn’t have to tell them!”
Rey’s ears had perked up. “A dog?”
With a low groan, his father let the paper fall onto the table. With devilish eyebrows, Kylo sipped his coffee and met Han’s eyes.
“You just lost dog-walking privileges for life, Armitage.”
He was sure that Hux was just pretending to be angry when he mouthed asshole in his direction.
Leia had her arms folded and was leaning against the counter. “We haven’t had time to pick him up from the kennel, but Luke will be getting him for us and bringing him by tonight.”
Rey was still digesting what was being discussed around her. He was mainly focused on the fact that his parents had kept another thing from him. Even worse, they had left the dog alone with strangers. Setting aside the bitterness in his mouth, he tried to concentrate on Rey. She looked at Kylo with wild eyes and he quickly grinned at her. You’ll love having a dog.
“Start thinking of a name, kids. He’s going to need one,” Han said. “Armitage doesn’t get a vote.”
Luke showed up that evening, complaining about the drive and the news vans parked outside the house. Hux had reluctantly went home that afternoon, but reminded him of the party at Paige’s before he left.
He was happy to have a distraction by the time that Luke arrived.
His uncle had grown a beard. His hair looked grayer and his eyes seemed tired. He looked at them both with curious eyes before he set the juvenile Irish Setter on the ground.
It wasn’t exactly the puppy that he had in his mind, but it yipped and wagged its tail and ran straight to Rey, who held her ground and grinned when she kneeled down. The dog, still small and filled with energy but not a puppy, licked her face in between happy yips. Then it turned and scratched underneath its chin before turning back to Rey.
She started petting the dog, running her hands through its fur. At first, he’d thought that she’d be afraid. Instead, she happily accepted the new pet into her life. She looked at Kylo with a joy that he’d never expected. A pang of jealously rattled in his chest as she kissed the dog on the side of his muzzle. He licked her again and then trotted over to Han and gave him the same greeting. Leia sat on the landing of the stairs, talking over the event with Luke. He could still feel his uncle’s eyes on him as the two spoke. The dog walked up to everyone, but him.
“He’s got mumps,” Rey said, running her hand through the dog’s fur. “He’s all mumpy.”
“Do you mean lumpy?” Luke asked, smirking.
Rey looked up, met his eyes with a slight frown, then nodded and returned to petting the dog.
So they named the dog Lumpy.
Kylo didn’t want to go to the party, but there wasn’t much keeping him in that house. He was afraid to leave it, but it was that fear and Rey that kept him from exploring more of the world. The new dog hated him and his parents had still lied about the old dog. He wanted to demand more independence for his parents willingly deceiving him, despite how uncomfortable he felt out in the open. Moreover, he was achingly jealous of how the dog loved to follow Rey around and how much she enjoyed hugging him. Now, he had Rey and the dog in his bed. He didn’t exactly mind; Chewie would always sleep at his feet. They would have to sneak the dog for walks, which he only reluctantly went on so Rey could get enjoy the fresh air. Luke would quite often drive them to the dog park to avoid the news crew. They were still there, and he had watched his father give a statement on the front lawn one day. A man in a suit stood at his side; Kylo guessed that he was a lawyer.
His mother and father still had to use the back door to enter the house and he would watch the reporters lurking outside of their home with an sense of satisfaction that made him question himself. Why did he want them to hurt? Why did it feel good to hear his father mumbling about those ‘fucking vultures’ whenever he came home? All he wanted for so long was stability and now the taste of chaos made him crave more. Even when the reporters followed them to the dog park, forcing them to drive to one an hour away, his fear was overridden by the grim dismay of being hounded.
Maybe that’s why he agreed to go with Hux to the party. They had left, after Leia had looked at them with eyes that bore the absent hurt of a dull blade twisting in a wound that was just starting to heal. But Rey had just looked at him with pride and curiosity as he tucked her into bed, his bed, shortly before he dared to leave his house. Lumpy wagged his tail at her side. He reached down to pet the dog for one of the few times since he’d come barrelling into their lives. For once, he wasn’t met with a growl.
There were other changes too. They were only good if they were with Rey. Rey had helped him pick out the clothes he’d wear that night. Between buying things for the dog, they’d been shopping for themselves. The mall was just as aggravating as he remembered it. People were slow and plodding, taking up time and space. The stores were either too bright or too noisy. He hated trying on clothes because everything was either too short or too big. But Rey had frowned every time he’d grumbled. She had told him to go with Hux. She had looked at him with eyes that sang that she wanted to be there with him, but understood why she couldn’t.
It was a big kid thing.
That didn’t change.
Even on the outside, they were still separated by the decade between them. It was only in their world, in that prison, that they were one.
Armitage tapped his arm and he shook himself out of the memory of putting Rey into bed. It was still his room, but the lights were left on. That made it more of her room than the space across the hall. In his daze, he accepted Hux’s touch.
Since they had been back, she had only played in that room, deciding which toys she liked and disliked. Legos were on the pile of like, while dolls were tossed to the side. He had sat with Rey during her ‘experiments’, as they called them in their wordless speech, and watched as she stripped each doll of her clothes and tossed them aside. She looked at the dolls intently, asking him if they were gone. He told her that they’d never been there, so she didn’t have to worry. Still, she would stare at the faces for minutes that felt endless. Finally, she’d put the dolls aside, all of them faced down. The days were like this, shopping, eating, playing with the dog in the backyard, and learning what Rey liked, but the nights were still spent with him. They’d read in his bed and he’d help her change into her pyjamas.
It wouldn’t take long for Han and Leia to do something about it.
He had already heard them talking.
They had already insisted that Rey take baths by herself in the evenings. He could shower in the morning. The least they could do was be open about why any of that made them uncomfortable. He couldn’t understand the problem. He knew that they were hiding their suspicious gazes and kept their conversations behind closed doors. They didn’t understand that he’d learnt how to spy through a pure need to keep breathing. How to hear through walls and understand whispers, dwarfed by distant screams, would help him know who was alive, dead, and what Snoke’s mood was. This wasn’t spying from the banisters and seeing stolen glances and embraces. This was about survival.
He knew what they thought of him and it rang clear why they wanted him out for the evening. Luke had started staying in the basement guest room and had spent the time since he’d arrived in their house. He didn’t want to talk to his uncle, but he couldn’t avoid him during dinner. Even the walks in the dog park gave him moments when he could be alone, but dinner was a trap. The looks between the adults told him how messed up he was.
He would never be normal, no matter what they said and did.
He’d always hear silence in the house at bedtime, knowing that they were all downstairs and listening. They wanted to make sure that he wasn’t hurting Rey behind their backs, in the deep and painful way that was the focus of all therapists. The sexual side of Snoke’s abuse was something that he thought about, but couldn’t figure out how to sort it on the list of agony. The girls always got it worse. That was the thing he kept telling himself.
All the girls, but Rey.
He’d made sure of that.
“Are you okay?” Armie’s voice was still unfamiliar to him but he was getting used to it. They had hung out almost everyday since they came home. Kylo had taken his advice and used it since that first morning at he breakfast table. He wanted to clear the cotton from his mind. He was tired of everything feeling hollow or too much. The words from others still floated to him and he needed to focus on how to react, but he hoped that in time he’d begin to feel again. He wouldn’t call Agent Jinn a liar, because he wasn’t. The doctors were the liars and they had fooled him too.
Walking under the streetlights, blocks from his house, he thought again about how his friend had changed. He almost wondered how he sounded, but he pushed the feeling away as they trudged under the dim streetlights.
Paige’s house was three blocks away. At first, the thought of going to a party — a real teenage party — had brought him out of the fog that had filled his head since being back in the world. Now, getting closer, he was being pulled back into going anywhere but to that house. The week without being on that evil pill had finally brought back his emotions, but in a better way. His nervousness was now more focused; now, he could finally clearly see what was happening around him. He was afraid for a reason. He questioned how they could still be his friend if they knew what he’d done the last seven years. He had avoided looking up anything about the case, but there must be stories out there about them. The reporters were there for a reason.
There would always be blood on his hands. No party could undo that.
“Yeah, I’m okay,” he mumbled. He finally pulled down his hood, taking in the warm summer air. He ran a quick hand through his hair and wondered if his mother would let him go alone to get it cut. “Just strange to go anywhere.”
Armie smirked. He’d been patient to a near breaking point the last week. But they had still reconnected and got to know one another. Armie, or Hux or whatever, would come over with a bright smile and kind words to Leia. After she’d disappeared to do whatever she did in her office on the main floor, his mood would sour, instantly ranting about how unfair his father was. He was always angry that his father didn’t want to spend any time with him, even thought they lived in the same town. Kylo could listen, but struggled to understand why he felt nothing about his friend’s rage. When they were alone, the tide would change again. This was the Hux he preferred; he could get along with someone trying to get him interested in some comic or television show that was unfamiliar to him. At least he could probably watch or read it and decide himself if he liked it.
“I know you’ll get used to it. We are just going to hang out. It was Paige’s idea before you get worried that it was you mom.” Hux had his hands in his pockets, his eyes briefly turned away from him.
He managed to huff in response, hoping it sounded positive. “If it’s anything fun, then it wouldn’t be her idea.”
It wasn’t Leia’s idea. She had insisted that he bring his phone. It weighed heavily in his jacket, reminding him that his only rescue would come in the form of people he didn’t trust.
“Exactly!” Armitage grabbed his shoulder and grinned. “It can be like this all summer. When you get a bike we can...”
“I don’t want to go too far,” he said, sharply. When he realized his tone, he frowned. “I don’t...I...”
He let the thought trail off and his friend squeezed his shoulder again,
“That’s cool. We can just play games at your place. So Rey can be there, right?”
“Yeah. She’ll like that.”
Armitage nodded and let his arm fall away when Kylo held his eyes too long on his arm. “Your mom wants me to go to therapy with you.”
His feet felt heavy and he cast a dark gaze as he and stopped walking, exhaling at the thought. He shuffled on the loose gravel on the sidewalk, filling the silence of the suburbs at night. There was nothing but the two of them, a distant garage door opening, and the crickets in the early evening of a dawning summer.
“I said no,” Armitage replied in an instant. “Not unless you want me too.”
Kylo shoved his hands into the pockets of his jacket. The tight fabric still didn’t sit right, but at least it was black. “I need to…” he paused and looked up at the sky again, “…think about it. Therapy sucks. They keep telling me what to do and what to think.”
Armitage tilted his head, frowning. “Then you’re really going to hate school.”
He smirked slightly. “I need school. I don’t need therapists.”
They stood in silence for a few seconds, shoes still grinding into the gravel of a darkened driveway. He really wanted Armitage to understand, but still kept things from him. When he told him about Agent Jinn he realized that he had trusted too much. He would have to keep that part to himself from now on. He still wished that he had the agent’s number. Kylo knew that he would find it one day, once he actually dared to open up the laptop that sat on his desk. Right now, he preferred to live in the idea that Agent Jinn would come by the house and say that there was some mistake. He and Rey could go and live with him. Maybe he liked dogs too…
“Come on, we are going to be late.” Hux’s voice broke his thoughts. That was another thing he should have gotten used to by now. Everyone was always talking, not just begging or screaming. It was strange to crave a silence that was never really peaceful.
He sighed and started following his friend again.
The Tico house was smaller than both his and Hux’s houses, but it wasn’t bad or anything. In his distant memory, he thought it had been bigger. But it had a porch. And Paige was waiting there. Her dark hair was pulled into pigtails and she was wearing jean shorts and a white tank top. She tilted her head as she noticed that they were nearing her home.
“I thought you guys got lost or something,” she said, grinning. “We are in the basement. Mom doesn’t want Rose to wake up. Um, hi Ben. Maybe you don’t remember me but…”
He stopped at the base of the steps, hands still in his jacket pockets. He met her eyes and tried to look pleasant. “I remember you Paige. Your mom made those ginger cookies.”
Paige’s face lit up. “I knew you would remember me! I’m so glad that you’re back, oh my God, you don’t even know…”
He let her fade off into chatter as she smiled. She flipped her hair and he watched her fold her arms across her chest. She still looked like the girl that he knew but she had changed even more than Hux had. It was harder to find the face that he knew in her half-grown body. Her light top hardly covered her stomach. She should be freezing in the early summer air. He could easily follow Hux’s eyes towards her torso; instead of being enticed like he was, Kylo instead thought of the poor girl who he’d seen stripped naked on Snoke’s basement floor. She must have been the same age, echoes of a child in a half-grown body. Instead of Paige’s long, clean locks, this girl had hair matted to her face, caked with blood and snot. She had screamed and pleaded and scratched at Snoke’s face as he bit at her cheek. Detached, he had stood in the corner, trying to think of anything but being there in the low light that only meant oncoming death.
The scent of the room would always change when someone was about to die. The air was sharper somehow, more bitter.
The screams echoed in his ears as the other two stood there, laughing about something.
Hux cleared his throat and he managed to nod his head. They followed Paige around, down towards a back door. Kylo eyed it and felt Paige at his side.
“There’s a private entrance. We used to rent it out. Then, it was for when I got home late from practice. Dad still wants me to be a dancer but it’s not working out. Now it’s just where we hang out. Is that okay?” She sounded too concerned about how he was doing. She was constantly fiddling with her hair as they walked up to the door.
He heard voices and music behind it.
If he could be seven years old again, this would be everything he’d dreamed of when he thought about being a teenager. He had always longed to be older, to be taller and faster, and to be able to do whatever he wanted to. Technically, they had snuck out of his house tonight. It wasn’t from his parents, but from another annoying force that he couldn’t control yet bitterly enjoyed. As he breathed in the fresh night air, he quietly wished again that he hadn’t died with Snoke. He wanted to reach for Ben and not be Kylo, but that boy was dead. Instead, he had to perform in his shell. But the wreckage that he navigated wasn’t as broken as everyone thought. He thought about Rey, tucked safely in a bed back at home, a happy dog at her feet. He’d made that happen. He could get through a couple of awkward hours before fleeing. At least no one would kill him on the way out.
Paige gave him a long look with a pained smile on her face as she opened the door, still talking to Hux about how Holdo hadn’t given her the right grade in homeroom and how she was so glad to be out of her class…
He let it all wash over him as he stepped into the low light of the rear stairwell.
A grouping of faces that he once knew sat along the opposite wall as their feet creaked against every step. Each one seemed to freeze when he walked in, dipping his head as he let his eyes adjust and his anxious heart calm. The rapid hammering of his heart had started the moment the door had opened.
“Holy shit,” a boy with a familiar face said. “You’re really here.”
Hux shot quick eyes to him and then back to the boy. “Yeah, Doph, I’m here. Calm down.”
Pausing at the end of the stairs, Kylo took in the people in the room. He had to know who was there, where the exits were, and where the clear threat was. Snoke had, once, forced him into the basement while blindfolded. He had stamped on the floor and tossed dirt in his face, screaming at him to know where he was and what he was holding without sight. Just having his eyes opened lifted him from that space. Now, in another basement, he just saw a bunch of kids, Doph Mikita among them. Kel and Elia Tehar sat up a little from the tattered sofa to look at him. He recognized the siblings at once. But the final blonde head of Liza Tharen made him still his face, preventing the dawning frown.
Liza, the elementary school classmate who had always followed him around.
Liza, who would steal his pencils.
Liza, whose tank top was even shorter than Paige’s.
He narrowed his eyes at her and then turned back to the others, the dread causing his hands to curl into fists.
“I have a problem with basements,” he managed to say.
Doph nodded. “Yeah, um, I saw that on the news. When you…freaked out…”
Taking a deep breath, he took the final steps in two firm strides. He took off his jacket and tossed it in the corner. He was tired and annoyed, already feeling Liza’s eyes on him. The space was small, but not cramped. Feeling enclosed anyway, he sat on the floor, beside a beanbag chair across from the others. He watched Hux settle into it and held back a smirk. It reminded him of Rey and Lumpy. The brief note of joy was swept away just as quickly as it came when he felt Paige settle beside him.
“So, everyone is here now. And now more talking about our friend here. He’s not a freak, so stop it you guys.” She lifted her head and nodded to herself. “What were you guys talking about before we got here? Was it Holdo’s stupid hair?”
The tension was finally broken by light laughter. Still, he didn’t let himself relax.
His T-shirt itched as he watched the others start talking about the last year at school. The last year had been spent, missing his birthday, Christmas, and everything else, being threatened by death unless he did what he was told. He could hear his heart beat in his head as he looked around the room. But still, no one was asking him anything. No one wanted to know. As the realization took hold, he scratched his eyebrow and then lifted his chin.
“Is this supposed to be fun?”
Paige, still sitting beside him, touched his leg. He tensed and she carefully took her hand aside. “We’re just talking…”
“No, I…” his breath caught in his throat and he sighed. “I don’t think I know how to have fun.”
The admission made his chin drop. Feeling his cheeks warm, he rang his hand around his wrist.
“We can play a game! Oh, mom made snacks. Get a game, guys, I’ll be right back.”
The second Paige had jogged up the other staircase, his other exit point, he watched as the others rolled their eyes. He was doing everything wrong. He couldn’t figure out what to say or what he had to do.
“Her mom will come down,” Kel said, finally breaking the silence. “She’s going to want to hug you. She was down before, already talking about that.”
“I don’t do that,” he answered. He smoothed his hair back and shook his head. “Why does everyone always want to touch me? I don’t get it.”
“We just want to know that you’re here, Ben,” Liza said, sitting up straighter and jutting out her chest.
“Kylo,” Hux added.
“Huh?” Doph asked, after sipping on his pop bottle. Where did he get that? Kylo spotted the table in the corner. If Doph had one, that meant he could get a drink, right? They were in the open and not locked away. He felt a brief spike of panic when several pairs of eyes watched him amble up to the drinks. He grabbed a bottle of coke and silence followed. The others started chatting about something else and he he let out a satisfied breath. Twisting off the top, he took a tentative sip, feeling the bubbles fluttering against his tongue. He’d tuned out the conversation fully and studied the strange landscape painting on the wall behind the table. A lake at night, the moon reflecting on the surface, while a lone man stood at the end of a pier. The only tones were a range of blues.
“Just…call him that, okay?” Hux pressed the issue as he leaned against the table, trying to get closer to see the man’s face.
The inner door opened and in came Mrs Tico, bearing a tray. Turning, he straightened his shoulders as she looked at him with bright eyes. She wanted to touch him. He didn’t want her near him.
“Ben, we prayed for you. Everyday. Now, you’re here! I…I talked to your mother. Everything okay?” She hadn’t aged in the seven years since he’d last seen her. She still looked the same, no lines on her face to distract him. But then he remembered the summer holidays that Paige always complained about when they were younger. His mother preferred colder vacation spots, without the heat of the sun. There was always water, but no sun.
“Thanks, yeah,” he huffed out, biting back the rest. She set the tray on the table and he backed away from her when she came closer.
She looked him up and down, from his misfitting jeans to his white T-shirt. Her gaze riled up a knot of discomfort in his stomach. The others were still chatting, but he knew that they were still listening. She smiled lightly at him when he awkwardly extended his hand. Grinning, she shook it. When she finally left, he closed his eyes and let his shoulders slouch.
Paige waited until the door to the upstairs snapped shut and then grinned. “So. A game!”
She grabbed some card game from the pile stacked on a bookcase in the corner and he waited until she sat down at her former spot before he placed himself between her and Hux. The others shifted off of the sofa, putting their elbows on the coffee table. Liza’s eyes were still intently focused on him. They passed out the cards and he shook his head, intent on just watching. It seemed like an easy game, but he just wanted to sit and listen, trying to gauge if the game was worth learning. The others seemed to accept his silence as they laughed and joked through the first round. He smiled lightly when Hux won. It might be worth playing, but he still declined as Hux started dealing the next round.
There was instant panic when Paige got up after her turn; but she was back in less than a minute, placing a bowl of chips between them.
As the others were looking at their hands, Kel’s voice cautiously asked, “Was the guy that took you really crazy?”
The game paused in an instant and he heard Hux sigh, setting his cards down firmly on the table.
“We’re not going to talk about that.” He felt Hux shifting closer to him as he spoke.
He just stared blankly at Kel. “He was insane.”
“I heard that he killed like fifty kids,” Elia added.
Shrugging, he looked at his hands. “Something like that. I don’t know.”
“People are making videos about you. Like, tons of people online,” Doph said. “If you made a channel you’d get so many…”
“I haven’t looked up anything about it. I just talk to the FBI and the cops. They tell me some stuff.” He wanted to lift his head, but he was waiting until his hands stopped shaking.
Paige finally knocked on the coffee table. “No more talking about it. We promise, Ben. We’ll listen to whatever you want to talk about but we won’t ask about it.”
Kylo looked up and saw everyone nodding. Managing to quirk his lips in response, he nodded.
So they kept playing and he kept sipping on his coke.
Paige won and she grinned brightly, shifting to sit at the end of the table to deal out the next round. Everyone looked relaxed and comfortable but he could only feel the urge to be alert press on his mind.
There was no one between him and Liza now. She had kept looking at him, not saying anything. She’d laugh with the others and kept picking up and setting down cards, but all he could feel was her pale blue eyes on him. She kept inching closer to him and he kept trying to make more space between them. Stretching out, she rested her hands at her sides, close enough to almost touch him. Her intense eyes and curious hand had made him want to leave long ago.
And no one noticed.
He had learned for so long how to observe everything and everyone around him. The others were either eating, drinking, or chatting, all while playing a game that he thought was easy, yet didn’t want to play.
The only reaction he caught was Hux glancing at him. At least he had one person in the room that would let him react if he needed to.
“Where’s the washroom?” He asked, looking directly at Paige.
“Oh,” she sat up and smirked. “It’s across from the stairs, the next door after the guest bedroom. It smells like feet in there. Dad won’t let mom put anything in there to make it better.”
Kylo let his face settle into what he thought was a neutral expression but he still saw Paige smile brightly at the response. That was usually the reaction he expected from the nurses when he expressed an emotion. He was always trying to put himself in other people’s thoughts, to find their way of thinking. Most people smiled when they were nervous. He was making his friends nervous by not sharing more. But Liza was smiling for another reason.
He easily found the washroom and shut the door. He went there more to escape the itch that Liza’s presence was sending across his body. Sliding down against the wall, he stared at the simple cupboard below the sink in the softly toned room. It was a typical washroom for a basement of a house built in probably the 1970s. He remembered how their basement looked before they renovated it a few years before he was taken. It was small, with a glassed-in shower in the corner. Fake flowers sat in a silver vase on the edge of the sink, beside a bar of pale green soap. The handle on the door to the cupboard was shiny. He reached out and frowned — it wasn’t metal but plastic, but it looked gold. It was still fake and not real. He tapped his nail against the material and his frown deepened.
The lightbulb in the ancient glass light fixture flickered and he jolted.
Darkness had come in a flash, but it still made his body go rigid.
There were voices in the next room but they bled off into silence. A ringing settled into his ears as the nothingness bled off. His chest felt tight and he reached up and locked the door. Colours faded off in the small washroom, replaced by a murky haze. He blinked hard, trying to clear his eyes. The sounds behind the door became clearer. He heard the young voices talking and then suddenly stopped again. The screams started from a low rumble to a thundering and endless tempo and he cupped his hands over his ears. Pulling his knees closer to his body, he shuddered. He was killing them. They were all suffering the vicious punishment of a man without feeling. The walls blurred again, darkening. He’d helped that man. He’d willingly killed in order to survive. He had to, for Rey. She never got to be innocent in that space.
Frustrated, he pulled his hands away. The floor felt gritty and dirty, rough against his hands. He could feel the pieces of rotten wood mixed with the cold earth.
The room swayed, replaced by the corner of the basement, Snoke’s basement. His eyes couldn’t focus at the sight of the darkened, hateful place.
Gritting his teeth, he let his head sag against the wall. His breathing became ragged, trapped in his chest. He was trapped there. The deep stench of death burned his nose; nothing was clean and everything was tainted. The walls were rotten and water stained. The mould was sour against the wall. The scents filled his nose and the surroundings were blurred yet familiar. The tears in his eyes distorted everything. It was all real. The reality was more vivid, pressing on his mind.
He rolled into a wave of despair, knowing that he hadn’t escaped. He was there. The ground was real. The smells were real. He was still under Snoke’s power. Tears stung his eyes and he dropped his head.
None of it had been real. He had hurt and killed Rey. He’d imagined it all. The cops, the hospital, Agent Jinn, and coming home. He’d dreamt it all, out of some insane part of his mind. Whimpering, he looked out into the darkness as the tears warmed his cheeks as he choked back a tortured sob.
A whisper of a glimmer caught his eye. It was a faint golden tone, shining in the distance of his basement hell.
With an unsteady hand, he reached out.
And he felt the hard, fake plastic of the cupboard fixture.
Blinking hard, he focused on his grip. The visage faded, piece by piece, into the serene lite blue of the Tico’s guest bathroom.
None of it had been real. He angrily stood and turned on the water, viciously splashing his face. He had believed his own twisted mind and had been drawn back into the darkness. He had to be stronger than this. He had to stop being so afraid of everything.
Turning off the water, he met his own eyes in the mirror. His reflection told him he was there, but he didn’t believe it. He turned away instantly, angry at the sadness that shone in his brown eyes.
When he opened the door, his heart dropped again. Liza was leaning against the wall and gave him a small smile when his feet finally agreed with his mind and he stepped out of the room.
“I don’t think it matters what everyone says. You were really brave to save that girl.” Liza smiled lightly at him, her hand twirling a strand of her blonde hair. “Wait, are you okay?”
He felt his cheeks warm, knowing that his eyes still bore the evidence of tears. He shook his head and Liza stepped closer. She pulled him into an awkward hug. His body still tense, he couldn’t resist her. When she stepped away he shook his head again.
“Her name is Rey.” His reply was wooden. He could still hear the others laughing and talking around the corner. They were alone there, in the shadowed hallway.
“I, um, really missed you,” Liza said, taking another step closer to him. “I’m glad you came tonight. Maybe we can talk more another time. I'm going away to camp but we have the summer, right?”
He was frozen where he stood, anxiety and terror still lingering in his veins from what he saw in the washroom. He felt Liza touch his hand and he just stared at her.
“We were never really friends.” His voice was flat, just wanting her to move away. “You didn’t invite me to your birthday party.”
Liza frowned and then her mouth shifted to a quick smile. The problem was being worked out in her head. He finally heard her laugh lightly as the memory clicked. “I was six. My parents picked who could come. I wanted you there. Just believe me. I wanted to invite the whole class but mom wouldn’t let me.”
He didn’t trust her. He wanted to move away but she stepped closer.
“You’re my hero, Ben. You were so brave. You’re so famous now and it’s because of something awful, but you’re just…I like you. I wanted to come tonight to talk to you and get to know you.” Her voice had the air of fake kindness that cut into him instantly. This was the tone that nurses, doctors, and therapists took when they were trying to pull him out of a spiral. They were idiots, and so was Liza. They tried to treat him like a child, tricking him into how he should feel. He was in control and needed to be. They couldn’t take that from him.
Liza’s hand felt like the dirt of Snoke’s death chamber and he couldn’t move. She squeezed his hand and his thoughts were empty. Her lips were shiny, covered in a glossy pink shimmer.
She stepped closer and tilted her head. “I’m really sorry about the birthday thing. Maybe I can make it up to you?”
She shifted on her feet, bringing their mouths in line, and kissed him.
The world greyed out; her lips met his in only a whisper, but the pressure was enough to wake him up. He was finally broken from his fear. With two firm arms, he struck out and shoved her away, knocking her hard against the wall. He couldn’t hear anything. He was moving before he could find the trail of a thought in his head. His mind could only latch onto the clearest exit and he took the stairs in three strides, ignoring the blurred faces that he caught in his peripheral vision.
When he’d finally escaped into the night air, Kylo was instantly set on going home. He screamed, letting out every feeling from the violation. He didn’t care about the uncomfortable jacket that he’d left on the floor of Paige’s basement because this was all her fault. He screamed again, letting the betrayal settle into his perception. No one had told him that she would be there. He didn’t want Liza anywhere near him. He didn’t want her to touch him. And now, he was left feeling like he wanted to crawl all the way home to feel something other than the painful itch that she had sent down his body.
Hux was right behind him and he turned to his friend and exhaled angrily. He didn’t know how long he had been standing there.
“You didn’t say anything about that!” He snapped as he took two long strides from the house. Hux followed, stuttering out an apology, while also asking what had happened.
He was halfway down the driveway when he heard two other pairs of feet. He turned with furious eyes to see Paige with Liza not that far behind her.
“Ben, I’m sorry, don’t go, I…” Liza started, but he silenced her with a glare. She slowly turned and went back inside, her feet dragging in the gravel. Paige’s shoulders were low when he looked at her again.
“I…I’m sorry. It’s not your fault,” he managed to say to her. It was a lie, but her face was so sad. But she still didn’t respect him. Her feelings weighed him down and he would have to force them out of his mind on the walk home.
“I don’t know what just happened, but if she was dumb, then it is my fault.” Paige shrugged and looked around. “If you need a ride home…”
She had his jacket in her hand. Hux took it so he didn’t have to go back.
He wanted to get that girl and what she had done to him out of his mind.
Storming to the end of the way, Hux finally slowed and handed him the coat. Kylo had felt cold the second he’d left the house, but now he was almost freezing. He tried to smile at his friend but realized it fell flat by the look he got in return.
“You should go back,” he said. “I’m sorry I…fucked everything up.”
“What happened? All we heard was…”
He levelled a harsh glare at his friend. “She kissed me. She didn’t even ask if it was something that I wanted.”
Hux’s eyes widened and then he tucked his hands in his pockets. “She’s been talking about you a lot.”
“Why didn’t you tell me she’d be here? I never liked her.”
“I thought that…” Hux trailed off. “I don’t know. I’m sorry.”
He started walking and heard Hux struggle to keep up with him.
Hux tilted his head and then frowned when he finally caught up to him. “No. No. If you didn’t want her to kiss you then…yeah…no, we needed to leave. Come on. Let’s go home. Fuck them.”
He took long and angry strides towards his house and only had to stop when he saw the news vans looming in the distance. Groaning, he stomped his foot, grinding against the pebbles that littered the pavement. Hux had stopped a few steps behind him and sucked in a breath through his nose. He gestured towards the alley and Kylo followed.
“It’s not that I didn’t want her to kiss me,” Kylo started as they walked down the empty, yet well lit, alleyway. “I just…don’t like…anyone touching me. Unless I want them to.”
“It’s okay,” Hux said, quickly. “Liza was just too much. She’s missed you. We all missed you.”
“I didn’t miss her. She doesn’t know anything about what we went through.” The visions from the washroom still shook in the corners of his mind as he spoke. The floor had felt real, the smells had been real. It grated on his mind, still twisting despite the freshness of the night air. “She doesn’t know anything about pain. She doesn’t know anything about what it’s like to watch your friends die and then have to stuff them into barrels because if you don’t then you might die!” He had started talking and didn’t realize that he was shouting at the end. They were behind Hux’s house and Kylo couldn’t look at him anymore. Turning away, he lifted his head up at the sky. The stars were clear and bright, shining down in the vision of freedom that he’d always pictured but no longer believed could be true.
Hux took two careful steps around him, taking deep breaths. “I’m…I’m sorry. You can talk to me about this. They don’t have to know.”
“You don’t want to know,” he said, then sighed. “This will never get better. I’m…I don’t know what to do anymore.”
Frowning, Hux looked at his feet and then up at the sky. “Could you see the sky in California? The stars? I’ve never been there.”
Lifting his head again, Kylo took in the clear night’s sky. The stars swept out from the horizon, filling a field of black with glittering pinpricks of distant light. Dropping his hands, he bit his lip to hold back his tears. He knew that most of those stars were long dead; they were gone, burnt out long ago. His father would show him the stars when he was much younger, explaining to him plainly how the universe worked. There was no forever. Everything died. There was either an explosion, killing everything in a spectacle or a descent into blackness that enveloped everything into the throws of death, or a dull whimper that still destroyed everything. It all meant death and destruction, without the promise of a forever. Maybe Snoke was right to try to live forever from the blood of young people. Being so close to death would make him unafraid of dying.
Clutching at his wrist, he dug his nails into his skin as the spike of anger arched through him. Liza and her twisting hand and sickly sweet lip gloss was pushed from his mind as he took in the silent alley and the sky above him. He wiped at his mouth again and let his eyes go unfocused on the glitter left on his sleeve.
“No,” he finally said. “We weren’t allowed to go outside.”
Hux, fumbling with his words, opened and closed his mouth quickly. He shut his eyes, pressing them tightly together. Frowning deeply, he shook his head and then stamped his foot in the dirt. The next words sent up a jolt of electricity into the still night air. “I just don’t know what you want! Everyone at school thinks that Liza is hot and you…you just push her away and I…if she did that to me I…what’s wrong with you?!”
The shout went out into the sky. Kylo just blinked in response.
He couldn’t find words. Instead he just scratched at his wrists.
Hux turned away and let out a frustrated exhale, running his hand over his face. Their steps on the gravel, tracing small and separate circles, kept the night from being completely silent. Hux turned to face him and he could see the frustrated tears in his eyes. Kylo drew his feet together and straightened his shoulders, ready for a fight. He’d seen Snoke’s tears before. He knew that they could be a trick or a trap, to try to get him to comply and then stab him in the leg, crippling him for a month.
Instead, Hux just dropped to the ground, his face hitting his jacket as he wrapped his hands around his knees.
Frozen, Kylo looked first to the stars and then to his friend.
“Do you not want to be my friend anymore?” His voice was small and low, but he forced the question out of his stubborn mouth.
Hux looked up, narrowed his eyes, and then wiped at his face. “No, that’s…that’s not the point. I don’t want to leave you alone. I really don’t. But maybe if I went back then they…”
“Wouldn’t hate me?”
A light smirk crossed Hux’s face. He shook his head and then smoothed his hair. “Yeah, that. And I really like Paige and she doesn’t like me…”
“She will,” he gulped out. He could only picture Hux on Snoke’s basement floor, begging to live, as a knife is held to his throat. His tears wouldn’t be from some teenage angst. They would be from real terror. “She likes you.”
Hux just shrugged. “No one likes me.”
Kylo let his arms drop. He wanted Hux to go back and have fun. He had fallen easily into the game and conversation. And he had ruined it all by reacting like he did. He wanted him to keep going with his life and forget that he was dropped back onto the planet. But he also didn’t want to lose him.
“Go back, they’ll still be there. I’ll…text you when I’m inside and with Rey.” He wanted to reach out to his friend but his hand fell away when he took a step closer. He chewed on the inside of his cheek, needing the intimate distraction of pain.
“You don’t need a fucking babysitter.” Hux forced out a laugh. “Just don’t…I’m scared for you all the time. It’s better than not knowing where you are or what’s happening to you, way better. But now, I feel worried about how you’re doing when we don’t talk. You’re either sad or angry and I want to make you feel better. But I can’t figure out how. I really didn’t mean to yell. It was dumb. I just don’t want you to leave again.”
Kylo quirked his head. He wanted to leave, yes, but he couldn’t. Not for a few, long years. Maybe when he could drive, he’d make a plan. He studied his friend and tried to weed through the words to understand exactly what he meant. Hux had other friends. It didn’t make sense that he’d be so concerned about someone who he hadn’t seen for seven years. Still, like with Rey, he wanted to find words to comfort him. But, unlike Rey, Hux wouldn’t know that he would be lying. “For the first time in a long time, I’m safe and okay. Go and tell…our friends…that it’s fine.”
Pushing himself off the ground, Hux looked up at him. He wiped at his eyes and ran another hand through his hair. He fidgeted in place before finally nodding. “Just text me, okay?”
After jerking his head, Kylo watched his friend dust off his pants and give him one last look before turning and jogging down the alleyway. He heard the brief stop in the tempo before he turned and disappeared, leaving the alleyway.
Finally alone, he looked up at the sky again.
Like a meteor crashing to Earth, he’d pulled everyone into the crater that was him. He dully looked at his house and let out a breath and crept painfully from his throat.
He could run away now. He could save everyone from the continued pain of his existence. In the dark, alone, he could cry. He entered the back gate to his house and waited until it snapped shut before he let out a choked gasp. Crying openly was one thing, but wanting to carve up the backyard with his eyes was another. Stumbling to sit beside the detached garage, he looked at the dimly lit kitchen window.
This place was home.
It was always supposed to be home.
But his heart told him something else.
Hux’s words stung. But they weren’t anything that he hadn’t thought about before. His anger and his fear were warranted. He wanted to let Hux in on his thoughts but a tight, invisible band kept it from spilling out of his chest and through his mouth. He had to protect him too.
If the river were closer, he would have thrown himself into it.
Instead, he walked up to the back door of his house and unlocked it. He slipped inside and quickly relatched the door. His eyes wouldn’t stop leaking so he rubbed at them, hoping whoever he met up the stairs would just think it was allergies.
He had been inside for seven years, after all.
When he finally dared to climb the steps up to the kitchen, his frown deepened when he saw his father there, still reading the same newspaper from that morning.
“You weren’t out as late as I thought,” Han said, setting the paper down. “Have fun?”
He shifted his weight and shrugged. He was hungry and thirsty. His eyes locked on the fridge before he pursed his lips. Stiffly, he sat at the table, toying with the frayed edges of an olive-coloured placemat.
He could feel his father’s eyes on him as he tried to keep his focus on anything but the fridge. Finally, but slowly, Han stood. He took the few short steps to the refrigerator and cleared his throat, getting his attention. He opened up the doors, letting a low light into the darkened kitchen.
“You know I hate how your mom buys too much. There’s juice in here. You want it?”
Kylo kept looking forward, still trying to work through his numbness. He wouldn’t be able to sleep if words and feelings kept haunting him.
His father held up the juice bottle. Glancing up, he absently nodded.
“You can take any of this, son. Here and the pantry. We told Rey that tonight and she looked at us like we were freaks.” Han rounded the expanse of the kitchen and opened the cupboard. He put a glass of apple juice near him and he drank it down quickly, trying to escape the conversation. It didn’t work. Instead, his glass was refilled.
“We had…we never got real food.” He was still thinking about Armitage’s words in the alley and kept mumbling. “What am I supposed to do?”
He could hear his father breathe as he sat down. The scratching sound of him straightening his shirt made him lift his head. He had stubbornly hoped that if he didn’t look, he wouldn’t have to deal with wherever this conversation was going. Lowly and briefly, he met his father’s eyes before both looked away.
“We are going to figure it out. Just…remember that none of this is your fault. And I know you hate doctors. I hate them too. Remember when I broke my foot? Yeah. I know that you don’t think that we’re trying, but we are. I lost you for seven years. I can wait until you’re ready to find who you are now. But I’ll still love you, kid. Hell, let me know when you want to take a drive. Your mother would hate it and I’d love it,” his father said, his voice breaking.
He lifted his dark eyes from his focus on the empty glass on the table to the older man. “I…”
Dozens of thoughts pressed on him. He wanted to tell his father about Liza, about Hux, about everything. How he didn’t trust the doctors. How he didn’t believe the medicine was working so that’s why he stopped taking it. And how he really wanted to go for a drive, just the two of them. But his tongue felt heavy, flashing back to the dusty parking lot from seven years ago. The confessions died and he could only end his thought with a nod. Escaping the kitchen, he fled to fled to his room.
Lumpy lifted his head as he shut the door. Frustrated, he opened it just a bit so the dog could leave. Rey stirred and sat up at the noise. A colouring book rested on her lap and a red crayon. She didn’t have that when he left her. He smiled as he looked at her, still drawn into how round and full her face was. She was normal. He had helped her be normal.
Still full of sleep, she handed him the paper. It was filled with a red swirl, harder and harder with every circle.
Rey shifted, finding another spot to sleep. “My brain is…that.”
Sucking in his reaction, Kylo put the paper on his desk, shifting his weight as he stood at the edge of the bed. Rey was looking at him with tired eyes; they kept drifting shut as she looked at him, still willing herself to be awake as he looked at her. “We can draw other things tomorrow.”
Rey mumbled something and then fell asleep. He took in the delicate way that she slept and let the evening’s disappointment wash away. He’d always have this to come home to, no matter what happened.
He let the moment pass and took a long look at Rey before pulling off his t-shirt and pants. He wanted to put on pyjamas but his body was empty, both too hot and too cold to even think about putting on extra clothing. He crawled into bed in his boxers and Rey snuggled against him, her breath warm against his chest as she woke up for a brief moment.
The tranquility of her soft body against him was quickly shattered. His phone buzzed, annoying him from the floor, still trapped in his pants. Grunting, he carefully set Rey down on the mattress and shifting to snag the device from his pocket. The screen sprang to life and he narrowed his eyes at the message.
I’m so sorry about tonite. I didn’t mean to make you leave.
He didn’t know the number, but guessed that it was Liza, feebly trying to apologize. Wanting to hate her, he glared at the words. She had no right to say that she cared about him. He ignored it and sent Hux a short text instead, telling him that he was home and fine — and that whomever just texted him should stop.
The short response that followed was positive, assuring him that it wouldn’t happen again.
Sitting on the bed, his phone in his hand, he sighed. Every day was exhausting. He couldn’t even close his eyes without being drawn into darkness. Turning to set his phone on the nightstand, he saw the notebook he’d received from Agent Jinn. Reminded of Rey’s drawing, he shrugged to himself. If he could sketch something more positive, he could show her in the morning how to get her thoughts out. That was more important than the constant turmoil that pressed on his mind.
Opening the book, he frowned when a business card tumbled out. The heaviness of the entire week was lifted when he spotted the name as he studied the small white square. Flipping the card, he felt his hand shake. In a few neat strokes, Agent Jinn had written his number and a short note to him.
Whatever you need, I’ll always answer /QGJ.
This would have to be enough. He had to show Rey how to grow up, but he’d need help from someone who understood.
He had to get better for her. He had to stop the intrusive memories and even more oppressive friends. That was what mattered most.
She was going to be normal. No matter how he felt, she was the future that he had to leave behind.
So sorry for delaying this update - I know that it's long and I thought about splitting this into two chapters BUT as the end of this 'act', I thought that it was okay to make it a little bit longer and introduce some new characters. The next chapter will be after a time jump of two years (about). The semester will be starting soon but my goal is to update all of my WIPs before hell begins but that is a lofty goal with so much teaching ahead of me (as well as how generally crappy I feel nowadays - seriously, compared to last summer I have no energy. Don't get old, kids.) I always love feedback and it really keeps me writing so feel free to leave a comment! And if you're about to start another semester at uni, just know that there are instructors out there slowly pushing out fanfic too.
A middle act of thoughts and feelings from the first year and a half of being in the world.
I have the next act (hopefully not more than five chapters, but we'll see) planned out and mostly written. But the semester is starting next week so posting will be gradual. The next 'act' will also include Rey's perspective, but will still mostly focus on Kylo since this really is his story. Thanks so much for all of the kudos and comments! I'm worried about a crucial aspect of the next act - I guess you'll see when I update the tags... Peace and love!
Time was sometimes that Kylo felt in hours or days. But it could also pull him along through weeks or months. He would spend an afternoon helping Rey learn to read and time would finally stop when she would put the right sounds and syllables together. There could be slowness in those moments of shared smiles and the hint of change towards something brighter.
He was being dragged along by time but Rey lived in every moment, even the ones that were spent in tears after a nightmare or in frustration and not knowing a word or idea. But her friends, Paige’s sister among them, didn’t care and taught her made-up words. His jaw ached from how hard he had held his mouth shut to give her those silly little moments.
Hours, days, weeks.
The first summer crawled by, peppered with different forms of touches and space: his father, resting his hand on his shoulder, when they’d practice driving; his mother, wiping something off of his cheek without seeing the alarm in his eyes. When the calendar told them it was time to make the journey to meet with Maz, he refused to go. It took three days of talking to Agent Jinn to convince him that it was the right thing to do, for Rey. She could never feel afraid of talking to anyone. And she missed Maz. He could see the confusion turning into clumsy resolve as his stubbornness starting sewing seeds, which he couldn’t let sprout.
It would have to be enough.
Time both moved faster and slower with everything finally being married to that fucking calendar.
But there were a few things he could do to stop being carried along the stream. He wouldn’t back down from being in the correct grade for his age. Snoke wouldn’t take that from him. Studying meant pushing down his impulsiveness and rediscovering the patience that Snoke’s hell had taught him. He would lock himself in his closet, daring his body to feel panic. It was easy to slip into the state that made him focus on details and remembering. How to learn patterns and how they fit in places. Hux’s notes were useless and he had almost said that to him out of anger at how his friend couldn’t see that himself.
Punishing himself, he was good at that too.
So he studied. He hated using the computer at first, but made himself to get used to the white screen and fragile keyboard. His hands worked best filling up notebooks with a real pen. He’d sketch or write with Rey and then scribble black ink onto pure pages until his looping handwriting sealed his ideas into permanence.
He’d write letters to Agent Jinn, telling him what he was learning and asking him what he should focus on for the future. Texting and calling were almost too temporary. Sending and receiving letters sent pieces of himself across the country.
And then school started.
The reporters were gone and he could leave the front door of his house.
And then it was Halloween, then Thanksgiving and Christmas.
And he got to celebrate all of them, despite having been in constant fights and arguments at school. But he kept studying and trying to ignore anyone who called him a murderer.
They weren’t lying.
He’d float in a bubble as time blew him along, sending him drifting at times into nothing.
Their birthdays were in the spring. He knew that his parents had Rey’s real information somewhere in the house, but they thought it was best if they celebrated on the same day.
They were so lazy.
Rey’s preschool friends filled the house. He and Hux snuck a beer in the backyard and both decided that they didn’t like it. Kylo had let his friend do something he thought was rebellious, even though his parents knew what they were doing. Any punishments were cautious and explained to them with words rather than actions. He had smiled at Hux and accepted a gift of a new wallet as the children screamed and played in the background. His head had been on the other side of those sounds when they walked to Paige’s. He'd sat with the others until he couldn’t see the reality of the basement anymore.
Liza gave him a notebook and he threw it away when he got home.
Memories were both solid in their tastes, smells and touches, but also empty of real feelings.
The teasing had faded away into background noise. His body didn’t ache anymore and he would have to find other ways to feel pain.
He missed it.
On the first anniversary of their escape, he spent three hours on the phone with Agent Jinn, a rope around his neck in the woods, far away from his family and Rey. He wept and wanted to chase the darkness and let it carry him instead of time.
If he hadn’t cared so much about Rey and her future, he would already been bones. No one believed him when he told everyone that he was already dead, but just hadn’t died yet.
He didn’t say anything about it when he came home.
And then everything started again.
Hours, days, and weeks.
In late July, he had to tell Rey why she should be sad when his grandfather died. Bail’s cancer had come hard and fast, or at least that’s what his mother had said. It was the first time that they saw a dead body in a casket. Rey’s eyes were wide and only cried when Leia did. She didn’t know how to be sad about this, even though they were the two people in the church that knew what sadness really was. It wasn’t a sudden or temporary feeling. It was a lingering fog that was always there, but only appeared to others when the warmth descended into cold. They only saw it when it was tangible to them, when they decided to feel it.
But they knew it was always there, waiting for them.
The book about them, by some useless journalist, came out the week after.
And the week before school started, after a month of unanswered texts and cancelled or abrupt and awkward encounters, Hux said he didn’t want to be his friend anymore and went to live with his dad.
Time punished him more than Snoke ever could.
About to turn sixteen, Kylo finds solutions to his high school suffering. See the tags for warnings.
spoiler: i know nothing about american high school wrestling.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The thrill of winning a match made Kylo’s blood hum as the referee raised his hand. It wasn’t exactly getting the deciding point that made satisfaction spread across his chest. It meant that someone other than him had lost. He’d feel dejected and angry with himself for losing so easily. The smell of sweat and the wrestling mat blossomed from his skin as the sound from the gym finally returned to his ears. The other boy looked down at the mat and bit his lip before finally looking at him again. He wanted sympathy. Kylo knew that he looked irritated because the other boy just winced and looked away. To him, his look was empty. The victory was over and he just wanted to disappear from the ring.
Rey hated when he did things like this, how he looked at that boy. She had tagged along to one meet with his parents and wouldn’t let him escape or give excuses. She was almost six and her world wasn’t just him anymore. One of the few times he actually opened his mind more than a crack to Maz was when he realized that Rey had more friends than he did. Her days were for school and friends, but the evenings were for their time together to find any tendrils of Snoke and try to quiet them.
Well, he’d help her.
He had other ways to focus his pain. Wrestling was one of them. Another was knowing that someone else, someone who had failed, had to feel the coldness of his eyes.
He’d be feeling bad the rest of the night. Right now, it was that boy’s turn.
It was the third meet of the spring season. February was cold and dark, but next month meant his birthday and finally being able to drive on his own. Han would let him drive to practice, but would always be in the car with him. Road trips meant being away from Rey, but also time to be alone.
The team hated him. And Coach Canady had stopped trying to prevent most of the cruelty. The pranks that didn’t cause real harm were the ones that actually hurt the most. That he would talk to Rey or Paige about. When he was really low, he’d talk to Liza. She’d change the subject after only a few words, telling him that she’d talk to them for him, and he’d go back to ignoring her.
Kylo had decided that there was nothing but pain in the world and not enough people knew how to deal with it. After his grandfather died and Hux decided to turn his back on him, he saw sadness on one side and hate on the other. His mother would have tears in her eyes because of a song or a picture, while Hux’s mother would sit on her porch with her arms folded. Pain could sometimes me useful and they didn’t realize it. He’d tell Rey that he didn’t like hurting others, but he knew he did. It was a real feeling that he tried to resist. Still, it was there, tempting him. Snoke’s words wouldn’t fully escape him. Hurting others meant that they actually felt something and they were real. It was like the pain felt by the mothers in his life.
His teammates still teased him, but only to a point now. If it weren’t for their pride, he probably wouldn’t even be on the team any longer. If living with a murderer for seven years had taught him anything, it was how to hurt without leaving a mark when he wanted to.
The cheer from his side was more for someone from their school moving forward in the tournament rather than anything he had done personally.
“Good work,” Canady said as Kylo moved to sit with the others. Everyone else but him was showered and had lost long ago. Good, he smirked to himself, spitting his mouth guard into his hand.
He’d wanted to text Agent Jinn. He wanted to tell someone that he was in the quarterfinals tomorrow for his weight class. A brief spike of embarrassment reminded him that he had barely made weight. The smell of the cafeteria turned his stomach everyday. He’d sit with Paige and Liza after they got their food, chewing on a sandwich only because he had to.
He also ate it because Rey made it.
She loved food and the kitchen. He’d force himself to stand there and help her, hiding his rigid movements with clumsiness. Every Sunday was spent making muffins or brownies, or figuring out what they wanted for dinner that week. They’d watch videos on his phone and he’d do the hard things. He ate because he was hungry and it was easier to deal with that sensation when it was Rey doing all of the steps.
He still tossed his pill every morning, until it just wasn’t there anymore.
He couldn’t hide anything.
And his parents wanted someone else to deal with it at the next therapy session.
Watching the next weight class, he swept his hair back and followed the hands and quick movements. The jerking turns and agile hands made teenage boys look less awkward, not like the group that sat next to him. Next year, if he could finally eat normally, he’d be in that group. He was tall enough. Just not bulky enough.
“Oh, he’s good. Look at that. Kylo, how do you do that? That one move, you know, that one?” Poe Dameron slid in next to him and started nattering. Kylo just shut his eyes and ignored him.
Other than helping Rey through the world, wrestling had become his sole passion for the past year other than hating himself. Soccer hadn’t worked out for him. The lingering pain from his broken ankle started to show after half a season. He could run and jump, but being out on the field for so long had always left him limping and swirling with panic that he would always be broken. He had been too slow and had easily been frustrated by not winning and not being where he needed to be. Hux had been disappointed, but they’d signed up for wrestling in the spring. It had been fun—actual fun, not just something that he lied about—and he had quickly and easily put on muscle through training. He loved feeling stronger, filling out his lanky body.
But then everything went to hell when summer ended.
Now, in the afterglow of Christmas break, he was good at two things: wrestling and not having friends.
Most of it was Liza’s fault.
If it weren’t for her, he’d still have Hux.
Despite the shaky start, he’d settled in easily to the routines of listening, learning, and following whatever their teachers said. When he was finally left mostly alone, after the fourth or fifth fight, he was allowed to fade into the background to the other students. He had to graduate. He had to get away. He had managed to pour much of his sadness into studying, then the rest of it went to wrestling. Happiness was meant for Rey. He’d go with his parents and drop off Rey, pretending to be happy with the day, and then let his mood sour on the drive over to the other school. His mother had reluctantly accepted his grim face because he was fifteen and had no control. His father knew just as well what he wanted. They weren’t bad parents. They really weren’t. But he’d tell everyone but Rey that they were. The aftermath of the book about him had pushed him even further into a corner. It wasn’t because he didn’t want to be there; it was more like he wanted to be somewhere else that didn’t exist.
Next month, though, he could do all of these things himself. He’d get his license and could take Rey to school. He could take her to the park. They would be able to go anywhere. At school, he would park in the far corner so he’d know exactly who had fucked with his car.
He couldn’t get into any more fights.
Well, at least not at school.
Straightening, he left the bench for the locker room. He snatched up his bag from the pile of their stuff by the door. There were always piles of things and it still made him suck in a breath. There was too much stuff everywhere. No one knew how to live with nothing. He wanted to be alone, but that wasn’t possible. Another aggravation. He gripped the sweatband on his wrist and decided that he would just change and shower at the hotel. He’d let the sweat burrow under his skin, finding every scar and cut. Then he’d scrub himself until the itch was gone. The rest of team gawked at him as he disappeared. At least they had a reason, thanks to him, to be there the next day. That should mean something. But he was used to it by now.
Since Hux quit, everyone had hated him.
And he deserved it.
Apparently, he was a girlfriend stealer. None of it was true, but he just let the rumours take over. It was almost better than the evil whispers that had swirled before about being a murderer. He’d take a lie over the truth because it changed the tone of the taunts.
Liza wanted to be his girlfriend, but he said no. So, she settled for being his friend. But friend was a loose term that he never used for her around others. She’d lurk by his locker and twirl her hair, or ask to work with him on a project. Hux’s eyes would burn into them across the classroom. Paige had followed, and so did the others when they felt like it. Doph picked his lunch table based on the colour of his shirt. He’d sit with Hux when he was wearing red. If it was blue, he’d be with the girls and Kylo, pretending that nothing had happened.
Hux, who had always felt alone, lashed out at him in silence. His face was set in a permanent frown whenever they passed by one another in the hallway.
Everything seemed to happen in slow blows and hidden whispers.
The locker room was half empty. Boys from other teams were laughing about something in the far corner, half naked and red faced from the shower. He had counted how long it would take him to change and moved to the furthest corner from the others. Every article of clothing would be switched with another and he’d put on decent smelling cologne. The other boys wore things that made him gag. It was more about covering up the smell of not showering for him.
When the distant laughter started again, he changed with practiced efficiency.
He could only look with lingering animosity at the showers as he towelled off his hair. He smelled. He was dirty.
But they couldn’t see him.
Letting the towel rest over his head, he heard the locker room door open and close. Even in an unfamiliar school, he still knew that sound. It never changed. Every door needed to be fixed in some way that adults could never put in proper order. They missed details because they were always tired. He had argued with his teachers about how it really felt to be tired — to be too afraid to eat or sleep for days on end — and they would have to hold back what they really wanted to say. He could win those fights with words.
“You’re the murder kid, aren’t you?” A strange voice asked. Black sneakers and red socks owned the voice and he really didn’t want to learn the face.
He left the towel on his head, glaring into the shadow cast onto his legs.
“Hey, fuck off leave him alone. Wait, didn’t he beat you earlier? Go fuck off.”
Dameron. His voice was grating and made him drop his head. He couldn’t even hear the other boys leave the room.
He’d only been at their school for a full month and Kylo had already decided that he had no other purpose on the planet other than to annoy him.
“Hey, what’s up?”
“Nothing.” His reply was short and finally made him move, standing to toss his things together. “Are we going now?”
“Yeah in like…yeah soon.” Dameron was looking at him with a half grin.
He narrowed his eyes, waiting for the other boy to back away and leave. But he didn’t. “Do you want something?”
“I told coach I could room with you. He didn’t say no.”
Dameron was a year below him, only still fourteen. Or at least he thought that's how old he was. But they had one class together — physics. Kylo still couldn’t wrap his mind around how someone so stupid could be taking such a high-level course. He wouldn’t stop talking, but would still do well on exams and tests. He’d always sit with the girls and they seemed to like the constant garbage that came out of his mouth. “Why did you do that.”
“Last time, no one roomed with you. I took one for the team. Hey, you’re our only hope tomorrow. Better than staying with coach.” Poe was studying his shoes, kicking at a ball of tape that was affixed to the floor. It was nearly pressed flat and no one had bothered to pick it up.
They had got there late. Normally things like this would have been solved hours ago and he wouldn’t have been trapped in this conversation. The roads had been bad. They hadn’t been able to stop at the hotel before going straight to the tournament. The change in that routine had put him in the right space to vent his aggression. But this change couldn’t end with him striking a teammate, especially the youngest one.
Finally putting his bag on his shoulder, he shook his head. “What are you doing? No one wants to room with me.”
“Maybe I do.” Dameron shrugged, cockiness in his grin. “See you outside.”
Kylo had to fake his confidence. Around most people, he knew that he fooled them. But this boy, this idiot, he carried himself like he didn’t realize how hard it was for others to be in the world.
Rubbing his eyes, Kylo grunted to himself before punching his bag.
He should be happier about winning.
And now it had been turned to dust by a smirking asshole.
It kept snowing after dinner.
He adjusted his headphones and let the blur of snow match the pace of the music. Each swipe of the wipers hit a beat and he smiled to himself.
Rey had loved the snow. The first time that it snowed, the three of them and the dog had run outside and he had laughed until his stomach hurt. Hux had flakes in his hair, making his skin look even paler. Lumpy chased Rey, barking into the chill of the air.
The memory made his stomach hurt and he turned up his music.
Hux hated him. When he moved in with his dad, he set their friendship into ashes. He could see dark flakes mix with the white as they drove, knowing that no one saw them but him.
He didn’t even fucking like Liza.
Pulling up to the hotel, he took one last look at Poe in the van before they all piled out, a group of anxious teenage boys. He felt like the only one in control, even though he was still working through the puzzle of why Poe would want to room with him.
Normally, he was alone.
None of this made sense.
The younger boy dogged after him as the keys were dispersed and, of course, they were in the room farthest from the others, closest to coach.
“That’s good, right? It means he likes us.” Poe’s overly positive voice made him grip the keycard tighter.
“Not really,” he mumbled, watching the others easily run from them. They were alone in the lobby and his shoulders sagged for a brief second.
“Yeah, just tired. From the drive. Being roomed next to coach means that we’re losers. Or that the others will probably come and fuck with us. That’s what that means,” Kylo said, finally righting himself. “Why did you want to room with me? You knew this.”
Poe seemed to shrug it off. The curls on his dark head framed his face in a way that his hair never did. “Of course I know that the guys talk shit, but it’s not your fault. And just so you know, I always told them not to do the shit that they did last road trip. That was awful. I still feel bad.”
He looked at the shorter boy blankly. “Just make sure that the door is locked.”
They trailed after the others and caught the look from coach as they entered their room. Kylo just wanted to go to sleep, after he called Rey. She had wanted to be there for this tournament, so close to qualifying for state, but her extra tutoring had kept her from him. She was good in almost everything in school, except for working with others consistently. Teachers always tossed around that word; they bashed it into the ground until he didn’t even think about it anymore. She hated group projects and would either be silent or take over from the others. She’d work too quickly and wanted extra things to do. The last meeting at her school was raging in the back of his mind as he opened the door. He tossed his bag on the first bed and frowned when Poe instantly bounced onto the same bed, jostling his things.
“That’s mine.” His voice was deep and annoyed, too tired to deal with his over-energetic roommate.
“What? You’re going to shower. I just want to test them both.”
He gritted his teeth. “They’re the same.”
The beds looked identical. There was nothing to compare or argue.
“Nah. They’re not.” Poe stretched out his hands, pressing the mattress until it squeaked under his weight. He still didn’t move, but he nodded. “Okay, this one’s yours.”
Normally, he liked showering. It was a place where he could be numb and do what he wanted. But now, he wasn’t alone or with coach, who would just go sit in the bar and give him space. Poe looked like he would be awake for a while, longer than he wanted to be conscious. Reaching for his bag, he snapped his head towards the other boy as he sat up to move closer.
He stepped back, snatching up a smaller bag that was buried in his mess of black clothes. He exhaled at the near contact from the other boy. “Don’t touch my stuff.”
They never really trained that much together. Kylo thrived on the control that practice and tournaments gave him. His body accepted touches there but here, alone, he needed to make himself calm down.
Poe was oblivious.
“Cool. Wouldn’t think about it.” He locked eyes with him and then finally nodded and pushed himself off towards the other bed.
There was always a new problem whenever he left the house.
Poe was trying to turn on the television when Kylo could finally escape to the washroom. The door locking made him finally feel safe and his heart settled. The joy of having his bag and its contents in his hand, the weight same as always, made him find his centre. He wasn’t torn about whether or not he enjoyed hurting others; his mind wasn’t wrapped up about glares from Hux. He wasn’t dwelling on why Rey would sometimes stop talking for a week. There was just the rush of oncoming numbness.
He took off his wristband and he studied his skin. His left wrist was neatly ordered, the thin cuts only something that he could see. Each line was his release. Every small slice meant another day of surviving. During his monthly meetings with Maz, he’d wear his jacket the entire time. His body would be covered and he felt both more adult and secretly revelled in fooling her.
The meetings were becoming easier now that he had his small moments of relief.
He tossed his dirty clothes into a corner and tuned on the shower. When it was finally warm enough, he took out his razor and grabbed his soap and shampoo and turned to his routine.
The older cuts were the easiest to widen. Cutting a new and still-forming scar would be painful, but not rewarding. The true goal to pain was waiting until a scar was healed, thick and fat with old tissue.
Snoke had taught him that.
Setting the bottles on the tiled floor, he closed the shower door and sat down. The water was warm and the steam made breathing easier. He traced the scars, counting them. Each one of them meant that this was his own body. Snoke’s scars were embarrassing. These were just secrets.
Finding the right spot, the razor split open the old diagonal cut, setting white skin apart and opening his blood to the air. It had to be a deep cut this time to get to what he wanted. Pressing harder, his hand quivered and he sucked in his breath and drank down the sharp sting when the warm water finally mixed with the beads of blood. With another slice, he turned the beads into the shape that he wanted. This was his reward for winning. His muscles ached and his mind would keep him from sleeping, but he could have this.
Lifting the blade, he cocked his head at the drop of blood that lingered on the edge.
He could never let Rey see the cuts. He’d never do it at home. She couldn’t copy him with this.
He poked at the cut, sad that the brief spike of pain had come and gone so quickly.
The steps for showering kept him from fully mourning the end. He’d catch a hint of blood on the tiles. The stream was a fine shade of pink against his skin. Washing it all away, he settled into the awkward aftermath of cleaning it all up. It never bled for that long, toilet paper sopping up the pathetic scratch until it was more or less dry. It wasn’t a real wound compared to what he’d endured. Flushing the toilet paper he reached for something that wasn’t there.
He realized that he’d forgotten his pyjamas in his bag.
He should have been used to doing everything wrong. Hux hated him because he kept missing things. Liza refused to hate him or leave him alone. Paige would listen, but could only hear so much. He had stopped telling her about why he didn’t want to stay later, after the girls had gone to bed. He would give Rey one last hug, when she was safely tucked into Rose’s bed, and go home alone.
Realizing how long he’d been gone, he met his eyes in the mirror. He wasn’t a coward. He couldn’t delay any longer. He needed to call her so she could go to sleep. She needed him. And he wanted to hear her voice. It would make the embarrassment of leaving the washroom with only the towel around his waist bearable.
Reaching for the door, he caught himself making another mistake. At least his leather bracelet was in this bag. Tightening the clasp, he nodded to himself.
Poe was sitting on the other bed, flipping through channels rapidly. Satisfied that his unwanted roommate was distracted, he dug through his bag and found the pair of black sweat pants that he wore for pyjamas. Dameron had changed too, he saw with a quick glance to make sure he wasn’t looking. But the other boy was only pretending not to look at him when he slid the pants on under the towel.
“There’s this. We can watch this,” Poe said, gesturing at the television. It was some talk show. Kylo didn’t care.
“I need to make a call,” Kylo said, prepared to argue for Poe to leave the room. He was still holding the damp towel and felt a slight jolt when he spotted blood against the bleached white. Turning the cloth in his hands he tossed the thing onto the floor in the corner, determined to forget about it for a while. He’d take care of it later.
Instead, the other boy just nodded. The television was silenced in one click. He grabbed his headphones and phone, gave him a light smirk, and left.
The room was quiet. His breathing was the only sound as it overtook the rhythmic hum of the heater by the window.
Frowning at his phone, he could only shake his head. He rubbed his wrist and felt a headache start to spread across his temples. He’d be sixteen soon. And in two years, eighteen. He would finally be a real adult soon. The fights and sneers of school would be over and him and Rey could have their own place.
Dialling home, he started pacing the room.
His mother answered and he sighed.
“Put Rey on the phone.”
“You could at least say hello.” She almost sounded like she enjoyed annoying him. At least his father had taught him how to drive. His mother just worried about whether his jacket was warm enough or his bed was comfortable. She never saw the real things.
He stopped in the middle of the room, looking out the window. He spotted Poe out in the snow. The flakes had turned from storm to bits of fluff, swirling in the light of the parking lot. And he was out there without a jacket.
“Hello. Now put Rey on the phone.”
“How did you do? At least tell me that.” He could hear his mother sitting down. He pressed on his wrist, still feeling the dull sting of the razor’s ghost against his skin.
“Better than everyone else.”
His mother chuckled. “All I needed to know. Here’s our girl.”
“When will you be home?” Rey must have been tired. The tone of her voice was never this whiny unless she was exhausted.
“Tomorrow evening. It’s not that much longer.” He played with the fringe on the edge of the blanket on his bed, wondering when the last time it had been properly cleaned. There was a deep must that clung to the grey threads. “We got here late. And I have a roommate. He won’t shut up.”
“He’s probably just nervous. Make him smile at least once. That’ll make me happy, Kylo. Rose was sick today so I couldn’t do anything.” Rey sighed. “And it’s not the same on the phone. Come home.”
“Tomorrow,” he repeated. “Remember to finish your drawing, okay? I really like this one. And I think I found a new recipe for us to try. I didn’t have much to do in the car but think about you. I’m tired too. And yeah, the phone sucks. But I love you.”
“Love you too.” Rey yawned. He knew that she wanted to say more. The picture was of what she wanted to be when she grew up and she’d just managed to draw him. She hadn’t figured out what she could be to him when she was an adult. “Bye.”
He hung up and sat on the bed.
He’d have to have a long conversation with her when he got back. They were never anything annoying or too difficult. There was something easy about knowing what she shouldn’t do as she got older, since he was mired in making those mistakes.
He was writing her a letter when Poe came back, grinning and covered in snow.
“It’s actually really nice out there if you want to take a walk or something.” He kicked off his shoes and shook off the snow. Kylo watched him cross the room to rest them by the heater. He put his soaking socks next to them. His sharp eyes caught the holes on the heels.
“No.” He kept writing, focusing on putting words for Rey into form rather than just imbalanced feelings.
“What are you doing?”
His eyes narrowed into the harshest glare that he could manage when he snapped his head up at the other boy.
But instead of intimidation shining back in Poe’s eyes, the other boy just smirked at him.
“You’ll have to do better than that to make me flinch,” he said. “Goodnight, I guess.”
His headphones back on his head, the other boy crawled into bed, leaving him to turn off the main light. Annoyed, he stalked across the room to slam his hand against the light switch.
Returning to his bed, in the darkened room, his writing was forgotten for a moment.
No one new had bothered to try to get close to him. Even the kids who were obsessed with gore or heavy metal music had lost interest in him after a few weeks. Some of them would still say hi to him, especially if they had gone to elementary school together. Everyone knew who he was and thought that they knew what he’d been through.
The damned book had meant that reporters had called and dropped by again. Slamming doors and calls to lawyers were about all his parents could do. Agent Jinn had even sounded furious when the book claimed to use FBI sources. Maybe whomever he fired would leave a spot for him to get a job there one day.
But the book described how the other children died, and even though it missed most of the real story and aching details, he was still pushed to the centre with blood on his hands.
The other boys thought that he’d strangle them in their sleep. That’s what they said right to his face.
When he turned on his bedside lamp, he put his notebook aside and took one last look at Poe. He didn’t want to sleep, dreading that some cruel prank would inevitably come. Rolling his eyes at himself, he took quick strides to reach the door again.
It was locked.
He actually had listened to him and put the security lock on without him hearing it.
Tilting his head at the gesture, he felt his lip quiver. If he woke up the next morning and all of his things were still there, he’d decide whether or not to be hopeful about the situation.
Hey everyone, thanks for reading! The comments on the last chapter kept me going through a rough night. One of my cats is at the animal hospital right now. It's his kidneys (he's only six) so they don't know what exactly is wrong and won't know until tomorrow.
To say the least, I'm so afraid we're going to have to put him down. Plus, with my workload for the rest of this week and next week, I'm just going to go 'fuck it' and pull the tigger on the start of the next act even though I haven't really combed out some of the mistakes for this one. A chapter from Rey's POV will be coming when things are less...messed up. Hug your kitties for me because I can't hug mine.
Rey tries to figure out how Kylo can have a new friend, and still not forget her.
Everyone! Thanks for the concern about my poor furbaby. He's still not home. He'll hopefully be home tomorrow. There might be an infection and they're still giving him fluids. We know that it's his kidneys and we'll only have him for a few more years. He's only six so it feels very unfair that he won't get a longer life, especially since he's a rescue cat. Kinda wish that healthcare was free for animals in Sweden too...but INSURE YOUR PETS!
Anyway, here's a chapter from Rey's perspective. Love your comments and kudos. *hugs*
Rey had been waiting all afternoon for Kylo to get back. She had started waiting in the morning, after waiting all day yesterday. Waiting, waiting, waiting. Staring up at the ceiling of Kylo’s room, she let her eyes blur until she could see spots, and then blinked them away. Lifting her head to check the clock, she frowned. Only five minutes had gone by. At least at night she could sleep. The daytime just meant more time waiting. She'd already taken a nap and that had just made her head thick and confused. Why was time so slow when Kylo was away?
Lying on Kylo’s bed, she returned to what she had been doing before. She lifted her arms above her head and pushed to rotate her shoulders. She tried again to roll her shoulders while holding her arms still. She’d shoved Kylo’s pillows off the bed and had to remind herself to pick them up off the floor before Leia did it for her. She was good at doing chores and cleaning up her messes, Kylo's too. No one had to do it for her. But she could do it for him.
Her shoulder started to hurt and she smirked to herself and pressed a little harder.
Someone softly knocked from the doorway. She sat up to look at Han, his arms folded. “What are you doing, kiddo?”
“I’m doing a thing,” she answered. “It’s something to do.”
“But what is it?”
Han took two steps into the room and stopped. She could see him better, but Han seemed to think that she’d tell Kylo he’d been in his room. Of course she wouldn’t say anything, even though it was Kylo’s room. She wasn’t quite big enough to make the bed herself so she had to ask for Leia’s help. Even then, Leia only did it after Rey told her Kylo wouldn’t be mad about other people being in his space.
It was her space too, so she could have mom and dad there.
But now, dad was looking at her with raised eyebrows. His eyes were always kind and she liked his hugs in the morning. He’d also give her an extra pop-tart, even when she didn’t ask for one. And it would be strawberry. Dad meant jokes and treats and driving too fast until she squealed with laughter. Other kids would have been afraid, but she knew he’d never let anything hurt her. She still had a hard time when she thought about how he let Kylo get taken. He wasn’t mean. He was nice.
He loved them. How could he let that happen? The thought still bothered her, even after so much time had passed since they got home.
“Okay, I’ll show you,” she flopped back down on the mattress and extended her arms. “I’m trying to do a thing, a thing that Snoke did to Anja. He took her arms and pulled them really hard and they popped out of her body.”
She wasn’t looking up, and she couldn’t hear Han sigh, so his reaction remained a mystery to her. There was just silence. “Can I ask why you’re doing that?”
“I need to see how it hurt,” she replied, rolling her shoulders again, looking for the ache from before. “Because if I know how much it hurt, then I’ll make sure someone remembers Anja. How she felt will happen again. She was nice to me. I was really small, but she tried to help Kylo take care of me.”
It was something that she and Kylo had discussed for a while. It wasn’t her idea, but it was her brain’s idea. It had put a dream in her head that she’d one day forget all of the others, that the other kids would be really gone forever. She woke up and started looking for her notebook and pens, telling Kylo that she had to draw them all, to make sure that they wouldn’t disappear from her head. And she had to know how they felt before they died. Kylo looked more sad than usual when he left the bed to get his computer. His head was down and his hands were slow to open the laptop. When he finally looked at her clearly, she knew that he shared the same fear. He had too many new people to remember too. They sat there until morning and he let her look through the pictures and stories about the other children. He showed her the memorial story, where all of the families posted about the children who were no longer there, but were still remembered. It made her feel better. Then he showed her another story. He tried to make the computer go faster, but she still saw her own face; it was blurry and taken from a distance. But it was there. And then she saw what he wanted her to see.
There were still four without names and real pictures. The others had drawings done by the police.
Anja was one of them. Her in real life wasn’t there.
Han slowly sat on the bed. She lifted her head and realized that she probably shouldn’t have been that honest. But she wanted to be. She saw how Kylo walked around without someone to talk to because he didn’t want to explain what he was thinking or why it was in his head. Most Sundays, he’d just sleep until the late afternoon. Every day of Christmas break, he just wanted to stay in bed. She wouldn’t have to pout or do anything to get him up, despite how much she wanted him to be around. He needed to sleep if he was tired but it was so lonely without him. But he’d always get out of bed when she finally asked.
“You know I’m not mad, Rey. You can always tell me these things. And, if you trust me, I think I can tell you why I understand,” he said. “You trust me?”
“’Course.” She smiled. “You’re Kylo’s dad.”
“Technically,” he said, leaning forward to rest his elbow on the bed. “I’m your dad too. I’ve just got a piece of paper that says that though.”
She knew other people, normal people living normal lives in the real world, could get sad and feel pain. She mostly knew because Kylo told her that they did up until she started going to school and she could see it for herself in the other faces that filled her class. It still wasn’t real school yet. The first one was pre-school. The other children were crying and asking for their moms and dads. She walked up to her teacher and asked her whom she should miss if she didn’t have a mom and dad. She just had a Kylo, a Han, and a Leia. And a dog.
Another teacher came and they went and sat in another room. Rey had been thankful for that. They’d been to the school several times before the first day. At first, there had been three other kids there. One was named Rose. She knew Rose because she was Paige’s sister. She waved at her and they sat at a table and coloured for a while and played a game that was too easy for her. Kylo had been allowed to watch but she couldn’t talk to him, although they still talked. He mostly just texted Hux or read a book, but he was always there. She felt safe. Then, the next time, there were ten children. Rose was still there, but Kylo wasn’t allowed to be there. She had heard him yelling at her teacher outside of the room and his face was hard when he came to say goodbye. She hated when he wore his mask. He told her that he wasn’t mad; he was just worried about her.
This was before they spent so much time apart.
Kylo would have to go to school. He couldn’t spend all of his time with her.
The third time was when they met all of the other children and their parents the night before school would start. It would only be two days a week, but Kylo would have to go to school everyday.
Rey knew that Kylo hated it more than she did.
And that’s what she told this other teacher on the first day. The woman wasn’t that old. She wasn’t old enough to be a mom. But she didn’t look confused and said to her that she had a mom, a dad, and a brother. Rey remembered frowning and shaking her head. The people at the hospital called Kylo her brother too. But he wasn’t. Not really. Paige was Rose’s sister because they had the same mom and dad. Her mom and dad were dead.
The teacher still didn’t get mad at her when she explained those things. Instead, she nodded.
She said that some families were different. But if Han and Leia loved her, took care of her, and made her feel like their house was her house, she could call them mom and dad. She didn’t have to forget her real parents, because they’d always live in her heart, but she had a new mom and dad who she could love and miss, just like the other kids.
And then Rey went back to the other children and tried to explain to Rose what the teacher had told her. Rose looked at her and tilted her head. So, why not?
That night, when she told Kylo about her day, he looked at her with a growing frown. His face would start off neutral and then would fall. The teacher is right. But it’s your decision. You know why I don’t want to call them mom and dad, but I don’t want that to stop you. You need to love more people, Rey. You can love them if they give you the right reasons to do it. You can’t care about everyone, but some people need to be cared about more than they think they deserve. Kylo, when he was talking to himself more than to her, would sometimes speak more like an adult than how the others treated her. When he was tired or sad, he’d sometimes treat her like a little kid. Those were only rare flashes on bad days.
If she could be big tomorrow, she would be. It sucked when everyone felt like they had to tell her how things worked and how to feel.
She realized she had been quiet too long when Han reached out to tap her foot. Smiling, she shook her head at the playful touch.
“I know, dad.” She looked at his face and saw the pieces that Kylo got from him. It made her miss him more. “But it’s not just the piece of paper. You’re my dad because I love you.”
She liked saying those words. She liked seeing how happy it made Han. She said it to Leia one time when they were alone, walking Lumpy in the park. Leia had pointed at a place where she used to take Kylo to play. The smile on her face had slowly turned to sorrow until Rey reached for her hand and told her that she loved her.
“And I love you too. So that’s why I understand why you need to do your…remembering. We’ve talked about this, about other things. We want you to be a normal kid, but you’ve got a bunch of horrible stuff in your head that we can’t pull out and erase. I’d do it in a second if I could, but I’m not a miracle worker.” Han reached for her foot again, pinching her big toe so she giggled. “And I’d do it in a fraction of a second for Ben. But that doesn’t mean I love him more.”
“I know. He’s got…he’s got everything. I just have a piece.” Her grin faded. “I wish I had more for him.”
“You’ve said that before. And I still believe you. Even though I’ve told you that it doesn’t work that way. But you know, just keep getting him to talk more. And keep getting him to bring his friends around.” Han said, gently. “You want to take the dog for a walk? Maybe he’ll get here quicker if we do something else than lay around.”
Rey nodded and hopped off the bed. She picked up the pillows and put them back before turning to Han. He was looking around the room and shaking his head. To distract him, she took the few steps towards him to wrap her arms around his legs. His hand rested on her head and she sighed.
There were always more conversations when she spent so much time waiting.
Kylo finally got home after dinner. He was mumbling to himself when she ran to the back entrance to peer down at him. He’d always be taller, but she could sometimes look higher than he could. A real smile crossed his face when he looked up at her. He was shaking the snow from his boots. He’d left his jacket on the floor and she smirked at him. Taking the few steps down to the entrance, she picked up the soft black coat. She hugged it a little, making sure it felt better; the jacket was probably sad that it had been tossed down without care. Kylo’s smile faltered and then he nodded and properly hung up the coat beside hers.
“It was snowing. That’s why I’m late,” he said. His cheeks were flushed though. He’d been outside. He probably was pacing outside of Hux’s old house, looking into the window and imagining that he was there. Rey knew because she did it too.
“It’s okay. I helped make dinner. And we took Lumpy to the far away park. He chased a squirrel and I saw the squirrel go up the tree to his house. I don’t think that the squirrel was really scared. There were a lot of other dogs in the park.” She always talked too much after dinner. Mom and dad would let her talk and ask her real questions. They really cared about her story about the squirrel’s house and his family. She could see it all and tried to describe it as well as she could.
Kylo smirked again and hugged her. “I missed you too.”
His plate was on the counter and she stamped her foot a little when he didn’t bother to warm it up or take it to the table. He started eating standing over the counter. There was a hint of annoyance when he looked at her, so it was clear he was tired. She’d helped make the rice and Leia had let her turn over the pieces of chicken in the pan. Plus, she got to choose which vegetable to make.
Waiting for the microwave to beep, Kylo studied his socks. Rey climbed onto her chair and kicked her legs, waiting for him to say what he was thinking about. He’d always focus on something when he was waiting to find certain words.
“I think I made a new friend,” he said. “But I haven’t decided if I want to be his friend.”
“Why wouldn’t you want to be his friend?” Her heart lifted instantly at the word. Kylo didn’t admit he was lonely after Hux moved away. He’d tell her that she was enough. But she still couldn’t talk about things like they could. “Are you being…in your head?”
The microwave beeped. The plate slid out of the microwave with heavy scraping. Kylo sat down and started to move the food around his plate. He only started eating when she started telling him about the steps she took to help make it. She wanted to be good at cooking so when they moved away and left, she’d be a good cook and could take care of him. Maybe if she made the food taste better, he’d want to eat more.
Although wrestling took him away from her, she noticed that he started eating more before going away. He’d eat and check the scale. He’d even have snacks with her. She didn’t think that he liked ice cream until he told her how good mint chocolate chip tasted. She thought it tasted funny, like her mouth was tingling too much, but she decided that it was her favourite too.
“He’s annoying.” Kylo finally spoke after he was done eating. She looked at the plate and decided that it was enough. “He talks too much. It’s hard to think when he’s talking so much. And he wanted to room with me. There’s something wrong with him.”
She was thinking about her answer when Kylo stood. He filled two glasses of water and gave her one. He leaned against the counter again, sipping at his glass.
“Maybe he just wants to be your friend. Like when I met Finn. He was shy and I started talking to him so he wouldn’t be afraid of being new,” she replied, remembering the first day Finn was in class in November. He seemed so worried that no one would like him because he’d just moved there. Rey liked that he was new; he wouldn’t know anything about her and she’d be able to have a new start.
Kylo sighed and nodded. “Poe’s new too. I didn’t really talk with him until yesterday. That was probably mean. But he already has other friends.”
“Maybe he wants more?”
“He would,” Kylo scoffed. He set his glass in the sink and stretched his arms, groaning as he moved. “Where are Han and Leia?”
Rey lifted her shoulders. “Upstairs. They wanted us to talk before you told them about the thing.”
Nodding, Kylo rubbed his eyes. They’d given them space. It seemed like Kylo didn’t like it when his parents showed him kindness or understanding. He turned to her and extended his arm, telling her that it was time for them to go upstairs.
Han and Leia were watching television and reading. She liked their room. It was big and tidy, but had so many things to look at and study. There was love there, for both of them. There were so many bookshelves and pictures. Her favourite was a picture taken on her first Christmas. Kylo looked like he was almost smiling, kneeling beside her by the tree. Her cheeks reddened at the memory of not understanding what was happening and why there were so many people around. Why there was so much food. Why there were presents under a tree for no reason other than it was someone else’s birthday.
Then she ruined it all by telling everyone in school after the break that there was no Santa Claus.
She didn’t like the idea of an outsider, who knew who she was and what she wanted, coming into the house and leaving strange packages for her.
Santa Claus was scary, not friendly. The other kids cried and she had to sit with the other teacher and tell her why she felt that way. It wasn’t like talking to Maz. She knew why Kylo was angry at adults, but it was good to look into the eyes of an adult trying to make her feel a certain way and understand why he walked around in constant suspicion of everyone around them.
But soon he’d be like them. What would happen then? She was still listening to everyone talk, but her brain was giving her the strange thoughts again.
Kylo was standing by the doorway with his arms folded, telling them about how he’d finished third, but at the next meet, he would probably win. He knew what he did wrong and how to fix it in practice in the next weeks. She watched his eyes as he retold the match. They would dart from side to side, remembering what had happened. She liked it when he had those kind of memories, the better ones. He had done the best out of everyone at his school, on his team. He should feel good. But instead, he was just in his head, replaying the events so he would do better the next time.
And Rey knew that he probably wouldn’t—her stomach starting to hurt at the thought—and then he’d be even angrier with himself.
The thought wouldn’t leave her head as they got ready for bed, mixing in with her worries about what was going to happen. Kylo was going to get his license. They had gone to look at cars a few weeks ago and he’d grabbed her hand tightly when he saw one that he liked. This was part of it. This was just going to get bigger. She watched as Kylo tossed his clothes towards the basket and she didn’t want to pick them up. His pyjamas were just black shorts; he had the ones that she’d picked out for him, but he wouldn’t wear the lighter colours. She thought he’d look good in purple. He didn’t, apparently. She still thought about it, even though she promised him that she wouldn’t. He did so much for her; they could disagree.
She brushed her teeth and Kylo sat on the edge of the bathtub, telling her about his biology lesson from last week. He’d figured out the problem and no one else got it. It was something about cells and how they divided, and then what happened. It was something with a word that she didn’t know, but he felt certain about. It sounded important and she tried to listen. But she was more interested in how he moved. He would tell her that he wasn’t bragging, but he was. Rey watched as he made small motions with his hands when he spoke about the rest of his class. He’d flick his fingers when it came to Liza. Then, when he’d talk about Paige, he’d rest his hand on his cheek and lean into his hand.
“What about your new friend?” She asked, spitting into the sink and then lifting her head from the sink to look in the mirror. Perched on the small footstool, she looked over at him.
His hand was still, resting on his bare knees. “What do you mean?”
“Was he there?”
He shook his head. “He’s a grade below me. I only have one class with him.”
She was watching his hands and they slowly clenched together.
“What’s his name?” Rey asked, still trying to work through what Kylo meant with his actions. They were in between a Liza and a Paige story. It was something closer to a Hux reaction. He wanted to be his friend and didn’t know how.
“Poe.” Kylo answered, then stood and folded his arms. “And I know how to be friends with him.”
He left before she could answer, stalking off with his eyes held forward. She had to watch his stiff shoulders exit the small washroom and leave for his room. Her own breathing made her nervous when the room was suddenly quiet. She must have been blinking her thoughts. Her own heartbeat thundered to life in her ears and she bit her lip to remember that she was really there, in the house. She so rarely made him so mad that he would show it. Hopping down from the stool she took the few paces towards his room and stopped.
If Kylo got a new friend, he’d be gone more often.
He’d want to spend time with him and do boy things. It wouldn’t be like with Paige and Rose. They’d play loud video games until they made her head hurt. Television was okay. Computers and the phone she could watch. But only for so long. There were too many pictures and stories to make sense of. It was supposed to be real, but it wasn’t. Kylo had told her about it before, how people liked to watch things that were fake in order to feel emotions that could be real. They knew that everything was written down and filmed or created by someone else to make them have those sensations in their hearts because they still liked feeling a certain way. He made it make sense.
But now, he was making her feel alone. Now, he was pushing her into the dark place.
The dark place was where Snoke could hurt her. There, she was trapped and Kylo couldn’t get to her. The door was locked and she could hear him tapping to her outside of the door. He couldn’t scream and demand to get her out. He could only tell her it would be okay. But now it wasn’t.
Standing in the hallway, she dropped her head, whimpering. She hated crying. It only meant that her feelings were real, but also in another place that was outside of her body. Her feet were touching the cool wood floor. Her eyes could see the white paint on the walls. But her head was stuck with Snoke. And she couldn’t get away.
Kylo’s strong arms came around her, pulling her towards him. “I didn’t mean to leave, love. I’m sorry. I was…I was there too. In my head. I don’t…I’m sorry.”
She hugged him back and nodded.
He picked her up and hugged her closer, holding her until she felt the other real again, not the fake real. She was there, with him. Snoke wasn’t there. He was dead. Mom and dad were still watching television down the hallway. She could hear it. But they weren’t her real mom and dad. She felt Kylo carry her to bed and she didn’t want to let go when he put her down. Maybe if she held on harder, pulled him close enough, then they could fix it. If she thought hard enough about it, she’d have her real mom and dad. If they lived in her heart, she could make them real.
“I want to make them real too,” Kylo said, pulling her into his arms on the bed. “But if we did, they’d take you away from me. And I wouldn’t be okay without you.”
“But you’re not okay.” Her mouth was stringy with spit and she cried. “You’re not supposed to get mad at me. I was just asking a question.”
“I know, I know.” He cradled her closer and she felt her own tears on his skin. “I wasn’t mad at you. I’m never mad at you. Even if I act like it, I’m not.”
Rey nodded and she breathed in against his chest. He smelt like trees. It was a nice smell, but it still wasn’t his normal scent. How Kylo smelled was softer, like being outside after being stuck in school all day. He didn’t need to cover it up. She didn’t want him to. But he wanted to. So she needed to let him.
“I’m sorry I was away for so long,” he finally said.
“I’m sorry I cried.”
She felt his shoulders lift. “You can always cry, Rey. Especially if I made a mistake.”
Rey turned her head, looking up at him. He was looking more like an adult everyday, more like dad. His face was still soft, but his cheekbones were sharper. When he leaned back, she could see the lines of his jaw, cast in shadow. She knew that he hated his nose, but she liked it. Even though the break was caused by Snoke, it still looked perfect on his face. The rest of his body was changing too. She was just getting taller and better at doing everything that made her stronger. Climbing during recess was fun; she was faster than everyone else. The tallest swing set didn’t scare her and she found the right spots to make her way to the top. While her legs were dangling over the edge, she grinned down at her panicked teachers. But Kylo was stronger, bigger and had more muscles. Before, he was just thin. Now, everything she saw had come through training. And eating, when she made him.
She ran her hand down his stomach. It was firm, with delicate ridges. “You’re still my hero.”
“And you’re still the light that came to save me,” he smiled as he spoke. “Rey, can I have a new friend? I won’t if it will make you worried that I’ll be away.”
He shouldn’t have to ask her that. She never asked when she made a new friend. Her conversation with Han echoed in her mind and she forced herself to nod. “Yeah. I’ll be okay. I have Rose and Finn and mom and dad. And Lumpy. We can’t…be together forever.”
Shaking his head, he kissed her forehead gently. “I’m not leaving for college tomorrow. And you’ll come with me when I do.”
“What about my friends?” She asked. And the realization finally clicked in her head.
For a long time, since they were in the real world, they hadn’t had just each other. This wasn’t forever. No matter what he said, the world would keep growing. She cared about other people and he needed to care about more people too.
“We’ll figure it out,” he said. “It’ll be okay.”
She leaned into him and closed her eyes. She wanted to sleep and her head felt heavy instantly. It would always be nice to sleep without worrying that someone would be gone in the morning.
She felt Kylo move off the bed and turn off the ceiling lamp. The light was washed away until he clicked on the lamp on his side and the panic died in her chest.
He lifted her up and she let him put her under the covers, swimming in the fall of sleep. Cuddling next to him, her head on his shoulder, she yawned.
“Goodnight,” he said, pressing his lips against her forehead again.
She nodded, not having the energy to speak.
But she decided that, for a while, she’d only talk to Kylo.
Maybe she could stop having friends and it would just be them if she were silent.
wish me luck teaching tomorrow, fam. i need to get from the neolithic revolution to the middle ages in 90 minutes and i want to die. thanks again for reading. i spent a half an hour lurking in a burger king to try to understand teenage boys. i still don't understand anything.
Dance class was mostly hearing the same things said repeatedly. And the only one that would listen was Rey. He’d watch her put her feet together and frown when the others wouldn’t do the same. It was just a bunch of loud kids screaming and not keeping in formation. There was no order. Kylo exhaled through his nose and leaned back, resting against the mat on the floor. He heard Paige sigh beside him and met her eyes when her dark head lay down beside him. Their backpacks were sitting at their feet as they waited.
“Rey’s still not talking.” She was telling him something that he already knew. But she was overreacting. Everyone was. It had only been a few days. She had been quiet before. It would be fine soon. He didn’t spend hours thinking about her silence because it was something that she wanted to do. Why would he stop it?
He wanted to reach out for Paige’s hand when it brushed his, but he stopped himself. She was slim, her taut stomach peaking out from the edges of her shirt. The shape of her lips set off the rest of her angled face. That was what told him how fragile she was; it reminded him of Rey, how her soft spots were also the most attractive parts. She had started dancing again and her body was so thin. He couldn’t touch her without hurting her.
“I know. She told me…” he paused and glanced up. Rey was still smiling and was the best dancer of the group. She would lift her head to the instructor, then hold her pose, and not get distracted by someone else giggling or falling on their ass. “It’s not a big deal.”
Paige swatted at his stomach. “It’s such a big deal if she’s only talking to you. It’s your birthdays soon. How am I supposed to plan something if she won’t tell me what she wants.”
He shrugged. “She’ll tell me and then I’ll tell you. It’s not that hard.”
She rolled her eyes. “Okay, then tell me what you want. You hate little kids parties. You hate being here. So tell me, what’s the plan?”
Sitting up on his elbows, he looked at her with sharp eyes, questioning why she had thought so much about it. “Rey just wants her, Rose and Finn, and some other kids. The blonde girl there, I think. She wants pizza and to watch a movie. I don’t really care about anything else but getting my license.”
“But it’s your sixteenth birthday, Kylo. God, how are you being selfish without actually being selfish?” Paige sounded more annoyed than she needed to be. He checked his watch to make sure that they really needed to be there another hour. It was for Rey so his glance was quick, making sure she didn’t see him getting bored.
“I’m not…” he started, then let out a long sigh, clenching and unclenching his hand. “Do you know Poe Dameron?”
“Poe? Yeah, he’s a total suck up to all the teachers. And he really wants to eat lunch with us. He keeps moving closer, sitting with people he doesn’t know. Don’t you talk to him at practice?” Paige flipped her hair, sitting up to wave at her sister.
Kylo fell easily into his own head. At practice that week, only a few days after rooming together, Poe had asked to pair with him. It didn’t make sense at first—he was smaller and weaker and didn’t have most of the basic stuff down. That’s why he lost so easily. When Kylo realized why he wanted to room with him, and it was all about getting better at the sport, he started to back down on his idea of him actually wanting to be his friend. He was out for himself, like everyone else.
“I don’t really talk at practice. But he does.” He sighed and shut his eyes. “All the time.”
Paige touched his arm, making him look at her. “Then let him come and sit with us at lunch. He’s probably asked you. Don’t be a dummy. Kylo, you see so many things that we all miss. You’re trying to make me decide for you. And I don’t like it. I never like it.”
Poe had. He had been packing up his bag after practice, looking forward to showering at home when Poe had walked up to him, just a towel around his waist and asked him after a long explanation about how he wanted to room with him again on the next trip. It had sent his mind down the usual road of doubt. It was frustrating when someone would tell him what they wanted, but he didn’t understand what they were really out after.
The image of a fading bruise along Poe’s ribs made him also wonder if he’d done that when he’d thrown him hard against the mat. But the bruise wasn’t new. It wouldn’t have been so black if it had been him.
“Sorry. I’m…I keep thinking about Hux.” His words were true, but he said what he didn’t mean. “Maybe we can just hang out at my house. I’ll ask Poe to come. The kids can play games and draw and Rey will be happy. And we can just…”
“What? Watch them? Kylo, you’re bored right now. She won’t be happy if you’re bored at your own birthday.” Paige’s face was getting red with frustration. “We should celebrate. You’ll get your license and we should do something special. Rey is happy when you’re happy.”
He looked up at her and frowned slightly. It only made Paige roll her eyes.
“Okay, so I’ll tell you what to do. Your birthday is on a Friday. I know that you’ll take your driver’s after school. So we do something then. Something that’s just for you. We can hang out at my place and play games. And then on the Saturday, we make it all about Rey and the kids. Maybe have a sleepover at your place after or something. It’s not for like two weeks so you can freak out about it now and get used to the idea by then.” She was doing what she said, telling him exactly what he wanted. He’d made that happen. “God, Kylo, sometimes you’re so frustrating.”
He knew he was. But it didn’t stop him amongst his peers. Paige’s hair fell around her eyes and she actually smirked at him when she turned to look at him again, the anger fading from her face.
“But that’s what you want, right?”
“Yes,” he answered.
The instructor started calling for the girls in the background. And Paige nodded, saying that she’d fix it for him.
The only thing he forgot was that he didn’t want Liza to be there.
He threw himself into his father’s arms without restraint when the test giver, a heavy and ancient woman, told him that he’d passed. Kylo felt his father’s embrace encircle him, hugging him tighter, and wanted to ruin the moment. He wanted to tell him that this just meant that he was getting away. He was one step closer to leaving.
But he held his tongue and parted, seeing the shining look of pride in Han’s eyes.
He couldn’t hurt him just then.
“…and then we packed up and left Florida. It was like, bam, goodbye sunshine and the beach, hello stupid Connecticut. Mom had a job. Dad wanted to get away from the people he’d loaned money from. He’s such a fucking asshole. Then they made me change schools this year. Because he’s such a fucking asshole.” Poe’s story had gone on for too long, but he’d actually been listening, not imagining some dark scenario out of nothing.
Kylo sat beside him on the couch, accepting the intrusion of having feet on his lap as Poe stretched out to look at the girls. The card game had ended long ago in favour of talking and listening to music that he hated. Kylo didn’t want to say anything, but it was good to let the others talk.
They had drifted from school to movies, then to music. Then, finally, Paige lifted her shoulders and asked why Poe had moved there. It broke the question that they had all been thinking about. It took him several detours to get to the answer, but when he heard it, he started to feel a bit more at ease. The clearer people were to him, the easier it would be to build on the friendship, or whatever it was.
Liza pursed her lips and let her chin fall forward. She was wearing a new bra and he could see it peaking out from under her tank top. It was a shade of pink, almost salmon. Paige, at least, could put on a bra without wanting to show it off to everyone. “You could have said you just didn’t want to. I say that to my dad all the time.”
“Yeah, well, I can’t do that. Maybe you’re a daddy’s girl. Ever think about that?” Poe sat up a little and levelled a look at her. Kylo caught the tone of his voice and agreed with his defensive reaction.
Liza firmed her mouth. “I’m totally not.”
“You are,” Kylo added. He thought about Liza’s room, the few times he’d stepped foot into it before leaving for the openness of the living room. She had too many things: posters, electronics, childish stuffed animals. She clung to her childhood and he wanted to rip it all up so she’d be on his level.
“Oh, shut up. You get whatever you ask for too. So just…shut up.” She flipped her hair and stood. Kylo didn’t watch her leave for the washroom, but knew that the other two did.
“Wow, she’s such a bitch,” Poe said, openly. He reached for the soda that Paige’s mom had bought them. She had offered them something stronger earlier, but all of them had exchanged looks of pure embarrassment at the offer. Kylo had just stared blankly before realizing that the other three were too afraid to say what they really wanted. There had been sparkling wine at his house when everyone had arrived, shared by everyone except Rey, even though he knew it had hardly anything in there to get them drunk. He’d checked the bottle. Paige had looked at her glass like she was sad to be told to grow up and only sipped at it in slow gestures. He did the same, but more so because he hated the smell.
But it had been what he wanted.
They were in the backyard of his home on a cool March evening and they raised their glasses to what he did and had done on his own. It wasn’t about fighting demons or killing murderers; it had been about studying and practicing. He did what sixteen year olds should do. Rey had hugged him and told him she was so happy for him without saying anything. It had been around the others so he understood her silence.
And Poe had smiled at him, breaking the awkwardness that he’d felt since he arrived.
It was harder than he thought to get his phone number. He’d always duck away after practice, saying something smart and then leaving before Kylo could ask. On the last road trip, he finally found the words and asked him if he wanted to come the following week. Poe had only smirked at him, making him regret his decision.
Then he said that he had already bought him a present.
He didn’t want anything. At least Liza knew that now. There was no awkwardly wrapped gift waiting for him there of some motion of love and longing. Instead, he had the small gift from Poe, tucked away into his pocket. He’d given it to him privately, a wry smile on his face in a moment alone before leaving for Paige’s.
The only present he wanted would come from Rey the next day, at her party. Or maybe at breakfast. She wouldn’t be able to wait that long. The joys of birthdays were slowly becoming some of her favourite emotions to explore.
“Shut up, she’s my best friend,” Paige said, reaching for her own drink. But her hand paused and she pursed her lips. “But she can get a little bitchy.”
He tilted his head at Paige at the words. He was used to catching these types of things when it was about him, but not other people. As the thought took over he recalled how Paige and Liza would talk around him. Since Hux left the group, who did Paige have? As much as it pained him, who did Liza have? The twisted dynamics only smacked him in the face when Poe jerked his foot away and he realized that he’d been drawing small circles against the skin of his ankle.
His cheeks burned and he dropped his head. Paige said that she needed to check on Liza and left the room. That’s when Poe kicked him lightly.
“It’s okay. You were just thinking.” Poe’s eyes were telling the truth. He could feel it, or at least he hoped that his mind wasn’t fooling him into seeing what he wanted. “I don’t mind.”
Then he stretched his feet out onto his lap again and smiled at him, sending his mind onto the brink of touching his deeper thoughts. He was invading his space and he should have pushed him away, yet his anxiety about his group of friends and where he was prevented him from bringing up a reaction. Being steps underground made him still feel like he couldn’t breathe most of the time. There was too much darkness below ground. Paige’s basement was filled with life but he could still see the way things could go if people made different choices. Things could always be connected; no one walked through life untouched by others.
Paige danced back into the room, looking more apprehensive than she usually did. She finished her awkward spin and her shoulders slumped. “So, um, Liza wants to go. But she’s staying here. So I don’t want to kick you out but…Kylo, she’s being weird. Like, weirder than usual. And I can’t deal with so much weirdness. Maybe she’ll be okay in a bit.”
Poe gave him a look. It was like the ones that he would get from Rey.
And he realized that it was time to go.
He was starting to feel less awkward around Poe. They had really only been alone in the hotel room, but that wasn’t anywhere familiar to begin with; it had the illusion of being a place he’d been before but that was part of the illusion. Their teammates and coach were there. It wasn’t taking the path to his house that he’d followed so many times before, but with other people.
“Hey, are you worried about her?” Poe asked, in between kicking at stones on their path. The grass had a faint tinge of white; it hadn’t snowed but it was colder than it had been that afternoon.
It was always easy to fall into old memories. He saw an echo of Hux’s shadow on the ground before he lifted his head to look at Poe, reminding him that he was there now. Not in the before.
“Paige will be fine. I’ll talk to her tomorrow. Or maybe tonight.”
Poe paused and then kept walking. “I meant Liza.”
“I don’t care about her,” he said, knowing that his voice was sharp. “And don’t look at me like that.”
Poe nudged him. “Like what?”
“You know what I mean.” He wanted him to stop. He wanted to be alone in that moment. There were too many things to sort out and piece together. That’s why he hated being around too many people. Even with just three others, he’d have to always put together what he did wrong and what he’d probably do wrong again.
It was easier with just him and Rey.
Just thinking about her made his head drop again. He stopped walking and looked up at the night’s sky. For once, Poe was silent. He tried to find the right star patterns, but his head was too twisted. Nothing settled. There were too many things swirling.
Poe’s arms hung loosely at his slide. “Hey, I can just go home. You want to be alone and I’m coming back tomorrow. I probably upset them. I was talking shit about my dad and it pissed me off.”
Kylo lifted his hand and shook his head. “You can’t walk home. And it’s too late to ask for a ride. Just shut up.”
Poe bit his lip and dipped his head. “You’re thinking?”
“I’m always thinking.” It was a half lie. Most of the time, he was just drifting in and out of where he was, where he wanted to be, and back to a place he never wanted to return to but still did time and time again.
The remark made Poe smile and start walking again. He’d guessed right with that remark when it came to what he was expected to say.
They neared the corner to his house and his mouth felt loose. “The first time I was at Paige’s house, Hux and I walked back this way. And there were these reporters outside. We had to sneak around back.”
He looked at the street. It looked so similar, like it was in his mind. He could see the ghosts of the news vans in the haunted corners. But he kept talking, comforted by the strange presence of his new friend. “We got into a fight in the alley. He yelled at me. I…I asked him if he still wanted to be my friend and he said he did. He was a fucking liar.”
The last part he yelled. He didn’t hear it until he saw Poe’s eyes.
“I don’t really know the guy but…yeah. He…if he lied, then fuck him.” Poe seemed to recover quickly, looking back up the street as he shuffled his shoes in the lingering crystals on the pavement. “I don’t want to wake up Rey. But you really need to talk and you never want to talk. So I don’t know what to do right now. You keep so much in your head. Paige told me. Liza even told me. We’re friends now so I can say this shit. I guess.”
“You guess?” He tried to seem taller, to glare down at the boy who hadn’t even turned fifteen yet.
Still, there was a daring smirk on that face. “Yeah, and I think I’ve guessed right.”
He looked down at his feet, daring to open his thoughts to Poe. “Liza kissed me that night.”
“Wait, what?” Poe’s mouth quirked into a smile and then it quickly faded. “It doesn’t look like you’re too happy about it.”
Folding his arms, Kylo was torn between wanting to shut up and to keep talking, to run or stay where he was. He’d let Poe invade his personal space so it felt right to let him into his thoughts. He could see his house, but he didn’t want to be there either. Still, Rey was there. Frustrated, he sat down on one of his neighbour’s lawns. Mrs Sebulba wouldn’t mind. She would walk around in the middle of winter in just a housecoat and call him by his father’s name. He’d just blame it on him if she woke up.
The grass was cold and stiff when he rubbed his eyes. He saw Poe shifting his weight from side to side. Then, he nodded and sat down next to him, resting a hand on his shoulder. He almost looked at him with surprise when a flinch did not follow.
“When was this? Like right after you got home?” The hand was then quickly withdrawn when he eyed it before nodding. That was close enough. “That’s…pretty fucked.”
“Yeah. Pretty fucked.” He closed his eyes and exhaled, his breath warming his hands. “That was when everyone was obsessed with me. Now, I’m sort of glad that they’ve kind of forgot about it. I mean, I haven’t. Rey hasn’t. My parents haven’t. But…yeah.”
Poe was looking up at the streetlight, before turning back to him. “So, I have this cousin. And I promise that this is leading to something, so don’t tell me to shut up. He’s like five years older than me or something. It’s dad’s side of the family so… I don’t want to call them trash, but they are. But I liked him when I was a kid. He’d play baseball with me and let me use his computer. Anyway, right before we moved, he killed three people in a drive-by. One was just a little kid, someone’s baby. It felt like…knowing that someone could just kill other people because he wanted to, and how easy it is, it was hard to feel safe again. That guy that took you, that motherfucker, had parents. He was somehow born and decided to destroy other people’s lives. All I’m saying is that, I probably don’t understand a tenth of what happened to you. But I get how it feels to always think that you’re not safe and anyone can turn into what we’re afraid of. And that it’s possible those things could be inside you too.”
There was something real in those words, despite how he wanted to argue that he didn’t understand what he was experiencing at all. That’s how he felt at the beginning of the story, but at the end, Poe had done what he’d promised. He had a point. And he got there the long way. He’d only heard second-hand information. He wasn’t Hux, who’d heard too much. He wasn’t Paige, who he was afraid of hurting. He just wanted to be his friend.
The sincerity in his eyes cracked something inside of him.
“I killed him. Someone must have told you that. I strangled him and it felt…good. He had made me hurt other kids and was going to kill Rey. The FBI had started to figure out where he was. I don’t think he was going to kill me, but I’m probably wrong. I feel like I’m dead all of the time. I think sometimes that he thought that he had me under control somehow. And that’s how I got him. That’s not in that stupid book, but the part about me killing him is there.” Tired, Kylo flopped down onto the grass and tried to focus on the stars in order to keep talking. Poe’s head rested beside his, following his eyes upwards. “Maybe everyone is right. Maybe I will kill someone else some day.”
“But only if they deserve it?”
He glanced over, meeting the other boy’s eyes under the streetlamp. “That’s…exactly. But isn’t that wrong too? The doctors try to get me to talk about this shit and then they won’t get it.”
“Nah, they’re making it more complicated. It’s like in class. You get a problem, there’s a formula, and you solve it. Easy, right? But if you sit and think about it too much, you think it might be another formula and you get the wrong answer. That’s what they’re doing. And they’re giving you the wrong answers.” Kylo didn’t actually agree but nodded lightly when Poe finished his stretched metaphor.
He heard a car approaching and it forced him to sit up. The car slowed, then kept driving. He brushed the cold out of his jeans and looked over at Poe. “I don’t really talk about this.”
“Yeah, makes sense why you don’t. Everyone’s obsessed with themselves and hearing that someone else has had it worse pisses everyone off. Suddenly your own shitty life isn’t the shittiest.” Poe sat up too and stood, reaching down to him.
He eyed the hand and thought about the gesture rather than the words. It was easier to zone out into that abyss than admit that Poe was right.
Gripping the offered hand, he got to his feet. Looking down at Poe, he lifted his lips into a light smile. “I used to hate you.”
“Yeah, I know.” Poe grinned. “But I got under your skin. Because I don’t give up.”
They walked in silence back to his house.
And he had to hold his tongue to prevent himself from saying that he probably should.
Rey blinked awake when two sets of feet enter Kylo’s room. It was late, but not that late. Still, it was late enough to make her stomach hurt and her eyes feel sandy. She sat up and scratched away the unpleasant sensation, trying to force herself to be awake.
She remembered Poe. He was the boy that Kylo had been so worried about. When she’d met him that day, she couldn’t really understand the problem. He had softly curled hair and expressive brown eyes. She guessed he was cute. His eyebrows could shift in a second, catching her in a look that made her feel safe. She liked him the moment that she saw him.
And he was the first person she talked to other than Kylo.
Poe had come into the kitchen when she was looking for scissors to cut the wrapping paper for Kylo’s gift. Leia had given her twenty dollars to buy a frame for the picture she’d drawn at the mall that day. She’d gotten help putting the work in the frame, but then the phone rang and everything started to get rushed. If she didn’t get it done now, it would never be finished. It was a really good picture too. There were no gaps in the colours. She could hear everyone else outside, but she needed to do it in that moment when Kylo was distracted.
Hey, sweat pea. What’s going on? Poe had asked, opening the fridge. She had quirked her head and looked up from the drawer where the scissors usually were. He took out a milk carton and poured himself a glass. He didn’t even ask.
She bit her lip, determined not to talk to anyone. She didn’t talk to her teachers or mom and dad. Just Kylo. Then she saw how the milk beaded on Poe’s mouth and giggled.
I need help with Kylo’s present, she said. Can you help me? I’m not good at wrapping things. I never got to do it before that many times.
Poe grinned and nodded, leaving his glass beside the sink. Yeah, sure. Let’s do it.
Upstairs, in her room and not Kylo’s, Poe showed her how to rip paper without scissors. He folded the sheet and winked at her before tearing it along the edge of her desk. He made it look easy. He had a real smile, one that she wanted to see more of. When he handed her the paper and she got to try, she felt like the next day would be even better with him there. He looked at the picture with a bright look on his face. He told her it was something he thought Kylo would like. And when the picture was wrapped, it looked perfect.
And now he was lurking awkwardly in the same doorway with Kylo, looking like they both had secrets. Poe was gripping his backpack, shifting from side to side.
“It’s really late,” she mumbled, looking at the two of them with a frown. She always tried to hold back when she felt like this. Just the sound of her own voice when she was this exhausted made her feel small and not six years old ye. She was just a baby, a small kid who couldn’t go anywhere. This was why she hated talking most of the time; other times, it came from selfish reasons that she could never keep.
Her friends had only come around her more, wanting to help her in school. Rose would still sit with her and try to guess what she wanted. Finn would run and get any toy or activity that she looked at. There was a pile of paint kits on their table by the end of the first morning. She’d been mad at first, but couldn’t stay that way. Tomorrow, she’d talk. Tomorrow would be her party and she didn’t want to hate anything on her birthday.
The idea of being born was still something that she couldn’t quite understand. She knew she’d been smaller and had gotten bigger. Kylo was growing all of the time and she couldn’t stop it. She knew she’d been born to save Kylo, but there were other reasons she was alive now. Her friends needed her and so did mom and dad. But the world was too big and she was too small. At school sometimes she could turn invisible and float outside of her body. It was a good power to have when started to see Snoke lurking in doorways or in the back of her classroom. He wasn’t really there, but she still didn’t want him to see her.
“Shit, Kylo, I have to get up really early tomorrow I should just go…” Poe started to say.
Her mind drifted but she was sure that she heard Kylo say it was okay to sleep in their bed. She weakly lifted her head and nodded. Both boys broke from their annoying conversation and silently stared back at her.
It was 10 p.m. and her birthday party was tomorrow. She had been happy that Kylo got his license and wanted to spend time with his friends, but it had meant too much time alone to think. She had checked the tape on the package several times during the day, making sure it was like it was the previous time that she looked at it. She wanted to feel good the next day. There were few times that she could not deal with Kylo being nervous. It would be better if they both slept right now and he stopped thinking about it.
“You can sleep here. There’s a sleeping bag,” she said to Poe, her mind cloudy. “Everybody just needs to sleep.”
Poe looked at her and his smile made her grin again. “Sure thing, sweet pea. Be right there.”
Kylo was focused on brushing his teeth with Poe standing beside him. Looking at him in the mirror, watching him mush his toothbrush with a heavy hand against his teeth, he’d rather have been in the hotel room.
Poe leaned forward and rinsed his mouth. “Everything okay?”
Kylo just shook his head. “She talked to you.”
“Yeah. I was there.”
Poe stared back at him in the mirror. “Don’t be a dick right now. You said that she wasn’t talking. Now she’s talking. That’s good right? She talked to me earlier today too. So is there something wrong about that?” Poe asked. He looked sincere with the question, not like he was about to mock him.
“No, but she won’t talk to her teachers. But she’s talking to you. She just hates her voice right now,” he said, stepping back, suddenly realizing how bare he was. It had been too quick to change in his room. He had put on his normal sleep clothes: just his shorts. But Poe was mostly fully clothed, probably having forgot his pyjamas. “It’s been going on for a couple of weeks. She can only talk to me. Everyone is freaking out, but she’ll be okay. She has friends and likes school. She just doesn’t want to talk right now.”
“That’s a little…strange. But I guess if she’ll be fine, then who cares what everyone thinks. She can do what she wants.” Poe wasn’t looking at him. He was looking at the holes in his socks again.
He realized he felt mostly strange because this wasn’t a hotel room. This was his home.
And Poe wasn’t Hux.
Rey was curled up into one corner of the bed and they had another shared look.
“I can totally sleep downstairs,” Poe said in a whisper, leaning closer.
“No,” he answered. He wasn’t sure why he wanted to test Poe but he was tired of his boasts and bravado during the day and the odd softness and openness he’d shown that night. He opened his closet and retrieved the old sleeping bag from the top shelf. There wasn’t any dust, but he expected there to be. Handing it to Poe, he shrugged and sat on the bed, touching Rey’s leg through the blanket. She mumbled turned away, shifting to the other edge of the bed, away from him.
Poe still stood near the doorway and turned off the light, letting him turn on his lamp.
“She doesn’t like the lights off?” He asked, his voice dropping to a whisper. “Um, do you want to talk for a bit?”
He shifted under the sheets and tossed a pillow down on the floor. “Yeah, if you want.”
Biting his lip, Poe stripped down to his boxers and spread out the sleeping bag. There was always a thrill to make someone else uncomfortable. Part of him still wanted Poe to back off and not want to be his friend. He was daring him to turn around and leave, to not want to deal with his shit anymore. Hux left. Poe could leave too.
Instead he just sat up and shrugged at him, motioning around the room. “I…like your house. Your parents must be loaded.
Lying down, he shut his eyes at the comment. Rey was facing away from them, but he still dropped his voice. “I don’t know. They’re buying me the car that I want. But I don’t really want anything that they can buy. They know that too.”
The thought continued to pound in the back of his mind: this wasn’t talking in the hotel room. This wasn’t training in the gym with the others. They were having a conversation in his bedroom.
“Guess that’s why you didn’t bother to ask them if I could stay over.” Poe’s smirk was enough to make him smile too.
“The girls were supposed to come over tomorrow evening. It was something Paige planned, but probably won’t happen now.” He rested against his pillow, looking directly into Poe’s eyes. “I’m sorry that I didn’t open your present yet. You shouldn’t have got me anything.”
“Want to know what it is?” Poe had trouble keeping secrets. Kylo knew that he should be more guarded. But he couldn’t. “Okay, I’ll tell you. You always wear that armband, the bracelet. I got my grandma to send me one. It’s really nice and handmade. I think she made it herself. I saw somewhere that it was your birthday and I thought I’d give it to you on the next road trip or something. So I guess I got lucky and I get to hang out with you here rather than sleeping on the couch at home.”
Kylo narrowed his eyes. “I don’t like gifts. But thanks.”
“Yeah, don’t mention it. And don’t feel like you have to get me anything. My birthday is next month. Maybe we can just go to a movie or something.” Poe’s eyes looked serious for a moment and the tension only passed when Kylo nodded. “Good. Goodness. Maybe we’ll take Rey too. I don’t really care which movie we watch. Kid shit still makes me laugh.”
“She’d like that. She’s getting better with movies,” he said. “If she’s talking to you, I think that she’d really like that.”
Poe nodded and closed his eyes for a second before opening them again. “I’m sorry for that story before. No matter how shitty I feel and how fucked up my life is, I don’t have a drop in the bucket compared to you and Rey. It’s all…I think I talk so much just to…”
“Not hear yourself think,” Kylo said quickly, to finish the sentence. “I do that with my parents. And sometimes with Rey. She knows I’m doing it to distract myself. She’s six and I feel like I’m too much for her.”
“Hey, but now you have me, right?” Poe looked at him with desperation that he tried to hide behind a joking grin. He had the same loneliness that he saw from Hux. It drew him in, downwards, into wanting to accept him. He’d already started and he rarely gave up finishing something that was in motion, despite knowing the outcome.
“Yeah. Goodnight.” He closed his eyes and rolled over.
He heard Poe sigh and then the sound of the sleeping bag rustle. “Yeah, night.”
A nightmare woke her. It was about being sucked down into blood until she started choking. Bubbles popped against her face. The smell was real. The slickness of the liquid pulled her down deeper until she couldn’t breathe. It had been happening more and more. Rey could wake herself without screaming, but it was still heavy to force herself to move and not rouse Kylo. He hadn’t been sleeping well lately. He’d been worried about his driver’s exam, even though he’d say that he knew he would pass. Sighing, she didn’t bother to open her eyes. She turned over, rolling around until she found arms and cuddled into them.
Poe woke him up at five thirty. He stood there, arms folded across his chest and eyes shifting. Kylo wanted to ask if he’d had another nightmare, but he was sure he hadn’t this time. But that wasn’t it: he needed to get to work. Shaking off the sleep, he gently slid Rey off of his chest and got up, despite how his body resisted it.
“What?” He asked, mouth and head still struggling with being awake.
Poe was already dressed, and nodded in quick jerks. His eyes dropped a little and he scratched at his eyebrow. “Yeah, I um. Yeah. And I have to get there before six. And I didn’t want to wake you up until now…can you ask your dad or something?”
He didn’t need to ask his dad; the warm thought blossomed and pulled him fully out of sleep. Shaking his head, he smirked a little. Poe’s mouth quirked with confusion as he shoved by him to pull on his jeans. No, he didn’t need his dad, because he knew where the keys were. He grabbed his t-shirt and motioned for Poe to head downstairs. No one else was up yet, but he saw the bags of groceries waiting for the day on the counter.
They had slipped their shoes back on and he had the keys to his father’s car in his hands when the backdoor opened. Han stood there, squinting at them, Lumpy’s leash in his hand. The dog barked, his tail wagging, as he spotted them.
“Where’re you two off to so early?” Han blocked the door and Kylo straightened his shoulders.
“Poe has to go to work. I’m taking the car.” He felt Poe tense behind him but ignored it for now.
Han slowly stepped back, letting them leave. He was waiting for him to remind him that there were still rules that he had to follow for the next few months. It had been in the study guide and they both knew them.
Still, he let them go.
“Hey, look I appreciate it but…” Poe started as he opened the door to the garage.
Kylo just shrugged him off. His father’s car was between them as the gears and winches to the garage door grinded to life. The dim light of the spring morning spilled in and he opened the driver’s door. After tapping the roof of the car, Poe got in. They backed out and he was finally driving for the first time without his parents. He could go anywhere, but he would come back.
“You could probably get away with anything with your parents, but the police might stop us.” Poe’s seatbelt clicked and he quickly mirrored the action. “That might help, but they still might.”
“They won’t.” He faked confidence, but let a real grin spread across his face. “It’s too early.”
It was a longer drive than he thought, but the streets were empty. Poe was clutching his backpack the entire time but in a quick glance, he saw the grip start to loosen as they neared a grocery store on the other side of town. When he had parked, he looked over and frowned.
“You didn’t have to be nervous,” he said, confused by how quiet his friend had been.
“Nah, I didn’t. But I do need you to not tell anyone about this.” Poe was looking at the dashboard, his face in a deep frown. He looked up and his eyes firmed. “I’m serious, Kylo.”
“It’s…” He trailed off and shook his head. “It’s fine. Don’t worry.”
Finally, the apprehension faded from his face. “Great. I’ll see you tonight then.”
The door slammed shut and Kylo kept his eyes forward, stopping himself from watching the other boy run inside. He was staring at nothing, eyes unfocused. While he normally sought out a feeling of numbness, the one that washed over him now wasn’t as pleasant.
Another car pulling up beside him forced him into action and he started the car again. At least now he was annoyed at an intrusion and not just the wasteland of his uncertain mind.
He drove home with less caution now, speeding a little on empty stretches, trying to untangle what had happened. The look on Poe’s face told him he was embarrassed to show him that part of his life. He was a freshman; he could get a job if he wanted one. Rolling his eyes at himself, he sighed at how slow he had been to put the pieces together. He didn’t want to have a job; he had to get one. He clenched the steering wheel at the thought as he pulled into the back alley.
No wonder Poe thought he could get anything that he wanted. It was true for things that could be bought, like shoes, a car, a phone, but what he really wanted would always be out of his reach. His parents couldn’t buy back seven years of his life, lost to torture and confinement. He sat in the car, neatly parked in the garage, and let the frustrating idea take hold. He couldn’t shake the growing bitterness at how he was still encountering unfairness in the world and discrepancies between how he knew the world worked and how he thought it should. It was slowly being forced down his throat and he didn’t want to accept it. Maz would always push him into thinking about empathy and how he dealt with others. He already had enough inside of him, he thought. Rey had to feel for others but he just had to survive and try to predict how they wanted him to react.
His father was waiting for him on the back porch with two mugs of coffee.
“It didn’t have time to get cold,” Han said as Kylo’s boots made the back steps creak. “How’d it go?”
Shrugging, he accepted the cup, too wound up in his mind to argue. “Fine. I know I shouldn’t have done that, but…I didn’t think you’d be awake. And it really didn’t take long.”
Han’s mouth was set in a soft line. “No. No it didn’t. But even when you have your own car, it’s not really legal to drive around with your friends. And I hate saying this to you, because you know it’s a law.”
“It’s a stupid one.” He sipped at his coffee and then frowned. “And I won’t.”
He was lying, but his father still clapped his shoulder. Clearing his throat, Han took a heavy step away to lean against the railing. “I had to get a job at his age too. I get why you were helping him out.”
He stood in the silence, watching the steam rise from his mug. An ache that he was well accustomed to by now spread in his stomach: someone was being wronged and he couldn’t do anything about it. Maz was wrong; he felt too much and that’s why he desperately wanted to push those thoughts away. It was a feeling that was easy to hide when he was at school, surrounded by people who either ignored him or hated him. He didn’t care what most of them thought about him on good days. Right now, he was too disoriented to dredge up how he felt on bad days.
But the feeling still cracked through, mingling with his residual confusion and anger at the gray areas of the world. He clenched his teeth. Fighting down rage wasn’t something he could do today. It would be a day filled with too many people and too many situations he could be trapped in. The thought made it even hard to press down the feelings. His hand gripped his cup and if he’d been alone, he’d have thrown it across the yard.
“I need to shower before breakfast,” he finally said, shaking hands resting the mug and the keys on the railing.
His father gave him a soft look, one that he hadn’t seen in too many years.
They parted with a nod and Kylo cursed his resolve to never cut himself at home.
Can’t come. I’m beyond sorry. I’ll tell you on Monday.
I can’t really text more or call you. But I WILL tell you on Monday.
Kylo didn’t reply.
Rey was watching herself from outside of her body. She was floating above everyone, feeling happy that her friends were there. She was almost too afraid to come down and ruin it by telling them she had been watching from above. Kaydel had showed up a half an hour late, pouting. She whined to her when her mother left that her socks didn’t match. Rose told her that she thought her socks still matched, even though they weren’t the same pattern. Finn didn’t get why it was a problem. Rey had just smiled and said that she was glad they were all there.
No one reacted, except for everyone who was older than five or six. She hadn’t talked during breakfast. She had hummed a little as she put syrup on her pancakes and sung random sounds during her bath, but everything else had been about meeting eyes and making motions.
Paige had came by with Rose for lunch, before everyone else came. Paige smiled at Kylo, but then said that Liza wasn’t coming; that made Rey glad. She didn’t have a problem with Liza, but she knew that Kylo didn’t always want to deal with her. He was waiting for Poe and so was she. She was glad that Kylo had a new friend, almost a best friend again. She guessed that Rose was her best friend, mostly because Finn didn’t know he wanted to be better friends with. It was so annoying that he couldn’t make up his mind about such a simple thing: it didn’t matter. Most people didn’t have a favourite person. She did, but Rey knew that everything about her was drastically different than her friends. It wasn’t a bad thing, but was made up of tiny wrongs that piled up over time.The first time that she went swimming, she realized how apparent her scars were. It had been a warm day, the first summer of their freedom. Kylo hadn’t wanted to take his t-shirt off. He had ducked his head and held her hand as they walked to the edge of the pool. She was used to Kylo being brave, but faced with a pool of screaming children and teenagers, he shied away. It was like back at the hospital, when she started seeing the seams in his armour. He had been afraid before, but this fear wasn’t from terror. Then she looked down at her own legs and saw the lines and marks and stepped back. He noticed her movements and quickly took off his shirt and took her hand. We are how we are. Don’t ever feel bad because I do.
Kylo really did understand when he’d made a mistake and was worried that it would make her feel different than others.
But he didn’t believe it himself. He just stopped caring. Or at least he said he did.
Rey knew what he cared about. And also knew when he was lying.
The entire morning, leading up to the arrival of her friends and Paige, had been spread out with small lies or at least smaller lies. They were the lies that she could tell when she had to sit at a dinner with food that she’d never had before. She wanted to try it, but when she did, she had to look at the people around her and pretended that she liked it. It took a few tries to learn that if she said that she liked something, then it would be served again. People, especially adults, only tried to make others happy. It wasn’t their fault that she didn’t understand what they meant.
Those thoughts were rolling over her as she watched herself play with her friends. Paige was sitting on the big couch, telling them what to do with their felt figures. Rey knew that Paige wanted to be a teacher and that it would be great if Paige could teach her class when she got older. Paige had smiled, but shook her head; there was no way she would be teaching junior high or high school. They were supposed to cut out forms and make them into people. Somehow, everyone had a problem with that. Most of the problems had started when Rey took all of the black and had to start cutting off pieces of the others.
She watched herself happily helping the others until Kylo threw his phone across the room. It hit the kitchen island with a violent crack and she was pulled back down into her body.
He didn’t look at anyone before he left, escaping into the cold of the back porch.
Paige’s expressive face followed her eyes. “I guess we should ignore him? That’s what I do.”
Rey shrugged and put her felt figure to the side. “He will want to apologize. I can’t let him wait that long.”
Paige’s cheeks were red when she met Rey’s eyes again. “Maybe I sometimes make him wait too long.”
“It’s okay.” Lifting her shoulders, Rey couldn’t see anything wrong with that. “He’s not a kid. I'll be right back.”
Rey ignored her friends and picked up Kylo’s phone from the floor. The screen still looked okay. She hit the button and made sure that it wasn’t cracked. The last year he’d broken three phones by being careless or openly violent. He really did care, but sometimes he needed to explode. Rey would rather it be with a phone than with someone else.
The phone in her small hand, she opened the door to the porch. Kylo was sitting on the small bench, his arms folded.
“It’s not broken this time,” she said, handing it towards him with firm hands.
He looked at it and let it fall to the ground. “I don’t want it right now.”
She looked down at the phone then back at him. She quirked her head and her frown deepened.
“I’m not trying to ruin your birthday. I’ll be…better in a few minutes.” He rubbed his eyes and ran his hand through his hair. It was thick and black and Rey loved touching it at night. But right now, it looked like it caused Kylo pain. She hated it when he was only in his head. It was one of the few places that she could not draw him out from. He stopped making sense. The more that he grew up, the more that Kylo saw of the world, the more the gap widened. He had a hard time explaining it to her when it came to things like school and friends.
“Poe’s not coming?” The thought struck her and she blurted out the words before she could take them back.
Kylo’s look was narrowed and dark when he looked at her. “I told him things about what happened to us. And now he’s not coming. That probably means he hates us and will be like Hux on Monday. I can’t…Maybe I should stop looking for best friends. You’re probably right. Boys are dumb.”
Just hearing him saying those words made Rey laugh. “Boys are dumb. But you’re not supposed to say that. He’s not mean, Kylo. And he’s not lying. I like him.”
He pursed his lips. “I like him too. That’s what makes this hard.”
Rey felt warmth blossom in her chest. Kylo wanted to be friends with Poe. He actually wanted something. She had wanted to see Kylo smile, his real smile, when she gave him his present later on that day. But right now, she just wanted him to calm down and be back with the others. He hated people, but he didn’t hate kids.
“What did he say?” She asked, shifting her weight from side to side.
Kylo looked at her and then frowned at the garage. “That we’d talk on Monday.”
“Then don’t think the worst,” she grinned, hugging him on the swing. “Come inside, please.”
His arm fell around her and she sighed into his half hug. “I’ll be in soon.”
Pulling away, she picked up his phone again and put it in his hands. He didn’t drop it this time.
She sat back down and looked at her cut out, thinking about how much easier things would be for everyone if she could fix things for Kylo. She thought again about how she wanted to make things better in the past for all of them. Her birthday party would have been bigger, with so many children that would never have been made gone or end up forgotten. It would have made Kylo a different person if Snoke had never hurt him and made him do bad things. He’d be softer with everyone, not just with her.
Leia leaned over and looked at him. “Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, stop asking,” he said through gritted teeth. He kept his eye forward, staring off through the windshield. “When can I get my car?”
His mother gave him a neutral look. He couldn’t break through what her eyes meant and it frustrated him more. It happened only occasionally as he watched her get better hiding being hurt or insulted by him. She would close off those parts, trying to love what he was now rather than what he should be. She was wrong to do that. “Well, we’ll see.”
“That’s not an answer.” He almost wanted to pout as he rested his head on the window.
Their car was parked far from the entrance of the school. Leia slowly turned to look at him as she put the car in gear, getting closer to the main door. Of course, she’d do that. Of course she’d pressure him into acting out. He hadn’t ruined Rey’s birthday. He had come inside again and tried to listen to what Paige was telling him but his thoughts really were elsewhere. Even at night, when Rey was telling him which parts of the day were her favourite, he could only manage short nods before he forced himself to listen to her and actively show her that she was loved.
That’s when she gave him the present she’d made for him and told him that Poe helped her wrap it.
“Fine. I don’t care,” he spat out and left the car.
Hardly anyone was there that early. He was glad to be in the space before the school was filled with distracted and vapid people. He’d already swore to put Poe out of his mind as he climbed the front steps and made his way to their wing of the school. The corridors were broad but would feel smaller in only a half an hour. He preferred to not feel trapped. He could make it through the entire day not feeling like he was drowning if he could just forget Poe Dameron and whatever lie he was going to tell him now.
And of course he was there.
Poe lifted his head as he heard him take even steps down the corridor. He paused, exhaled, and kept walking. Ignoring him now would be
“Hey,” he said, standing. “I told you I’d be here.”
“Yeah, you did.” He didn’t want to look at him. It was all a game. It was all to get him into some sort of prank or something that would end in hurt. “What are you doing here?”
Poe scoffed and took a step back. That’s when Kylo finally looked at him. Poe’s tongue nervously ran up and down a split that was still bright red and fresh. A dull mark shone out to him from under his left eye. Kylo was shaken into curiosity, finally stopping to really study him and the injuries.
“Yeah, I couldn’t be there and I feel like shit. I got…it was like this, some idiot left a freezer door open when I was trying to restock some stuff. I walked into it. I had to go to the hospital and my parents were pissed. I wanted to come. I really wanted to. How was it?” Poe was trying to distract him and he couldn’t buy into it.
“It was okay. Paige made a game. I hated it.” He held back: I don’t believe you.
He watched as Poe looked down and then back up at him again. “Yeah, you would. But really, I hope you’re not mad.”
He was. He was furious. But his eyes could only focus on the wound on Poe’s face. Letting his eye close in on him, he finally nodded. Rey might have been right. She was usually right.
“I’ll see you in class,” he mumbled as he grabbed his first-period books.
“Okay,” Poe said, still looking at him. “See you later.”
He just wanted to go home. There was nothing left for him there today. There would have to be a tomorrow but it would still be horrible. Music helped. People weren’t helping right now. The last week had been too many words and feelings and he wanted nothing but emptiness.
Out of the corner of his eye, he caught heads turning and mouths opening to yell. Over the shrill tones of his music, he slowly turned his head. It only took the brief glance to make his shoulders straighten; he was snapped out of his numbness. Bryce had Poe pinned up against a locker, spitting words at him that he couldn’t hear. Poe was nattering back, just as quickly, pushing at the other boy’s hands to let him go. It had only been a week since his birthday, but it had been hard for him to forgive Poe instantly. He was working on it, mostly filling up pages in one of his journals.
It was easy to forgive someone when they were being threatened.
With quick hands, he yanked down his headphones. “Hey!”
Bryce’s blond head snapped towards him. “Fuck off, faggot.”
His shoulders firmed and he narrowed his eyes. He was moving without thinking and pushed the senior off of his friend. It was a flurry of hands and clumsiness, mostly on the other boy’s part. Poe was talking, but he only heard dull noises around him. He knew that the others were yelling, but they blurred out.
He only saw the fight that he was in.
It had been too long.
He breathed it in and locked eyes with the dumber, but bigger, boy. He still felt like a kid, but Bryce was graduating that spring; he was an adult. He shouldn’t be going after his friend. It made his hands twitch and his blood start to run hot. Everything started to blur out and the space turned dark. Red tinged on the corner of his eyes and he almost grinned. He saw fear in Bryce’s eyes and he had his moment to strike.
Gripping Bryce’s shirt, he shoved him hard against the locker. Bryce was taller and bigger, but he didn’t see any of that as he glared at him. Bryce pushed back, trying to punch him.
Kylo just smirked to himself and stepped out of his reach. Bryce’s face was red as his hands tried to grab at him, to push him down, to get him on the ground. He’d seen how the other boy fought. He knew he’d stumble and wasn’t certain of his own body.
It only took two steps to grab him and smash his face against the locker.
Kylo only had to use one hand, but he could hear the other boy cry out as his nose met hard metal with a wet crunch. He grabbed him again and saw blood and heard screams. Once more he brought flesh against the unforgiving surface.
A firm hand gripped his arm and he stepped away, leaving Bryce to fall to the ground, grabbing at his nose.
Holdo stood there. He’d heard her voice earlier, but it hadn’t mattered.
She was talking but he didn’t hear her.
As the world faded back into focus, he saw the panic on Poe’s face. He caught a look from Paige over his shoulder, her hands covering her mouth. Liza was holding her books against her chest, her mouth agape. The rest of the students were just blurred faces in a crowd around them.
“Ben, stop.” The principal's voice was firm. “What happened?”
He dropped his head and didn’t have an answer.
Poe wouldn’t stop taking his fries. He’d finally been able to go off of school grounds for lunch after the two weeks of ‘detention’, and that bastard kept taking his food.
“No, you’re wrong. How are you guys ahead of me? It’s like this, symbolism is everything in English,” Poe started to lecture Liza and Paige, across them in the booth. His plate was still half full, most of his fries drowned in ketchup. But he wouldn’t stop taking his fries from Kylo’s plate.
Annoyed, Kylo shoved a handful of what was left into his mouth. He still wasn’t listening to a lecture from a freshman, but he had been forced to eat the rest of his lunch. Poe caught his annoyed glare and smirked, leaning in closer to try to grab another one. He felt his leg press against his as he tried to reach passed him to get at his food.
The girls giggled.
The soft music in the diner filtered through his ears. The leather of the booth squeaked as Poe shifted his weight, intending to strike again at the remains of his lunch. Kylo sat back, letting Poe take a fry. He folded his arms behind his head, grinning at his stolen victory. His lip had healed long ago, but when he smiled, Kylo could still catch the hint of it.
Even when things were normal, he’d always be reminded of the darkness that most people hid. He wrapped himself in his, bearing its heavy weight in everything that he did.
But for a few minutes, he felt it lift. He was in high school, with friends. He was finally allowed to go out to eat wherever he wanted.
Things were almost how they were supposed to be.
i'm almost caught up on work, guys. i still have so much proofreading and research and teaching ahead of me but...here we are. thanks sooo much for the comments and kudos - you guys don't know how much they mean to me. we're back on board the pain train for this chapter and then the next. we're finally catching up to nearly 50+ pages that i have written for this. it's all downhill from here, fam. Please excuse the typos, I'm really tired but I'll go back and fix them at some point I promise!
If Rey weren’t Rey, she would have almost forgotten what it was like when Kylo had a bad day. Rose didn’t understand when Paige had a bad day; she’d just whine that her sister didn’t want to play with her. But to Rey, she called them bad days, but the word didn’t really match some of the times that she’d seen or felt the last almost two years. Colours were deeper than words; they filled her head the moment she stepped back into the house and the world swirled with tones of red and black.
She had spent the weekend at grandma’s. She’d been sick for their birthday and Leia had promised her a sleepover when they had a free day from school. A long weekend usually meant being bored, wanting to do more homework or play more games or do anything. But a weekend with grandma would mean different and new things. It would mean being away from Kylo, but he had been having a good week so she thought he could have some time to himself too to spend alone with his friends. That was a good enough present for Rey, to give him the space that he wanted.
When she was about to leave with Han on Friday afternoon, Kylo had been smirking on his phone. He was sitting on the couch rather than hiding in his room. His feet were on the coffee table and he was stretched out, letting himself almost hang off the sofa. He wasn’t wearing black for once; he was wearing a blue shirt; it rid up his back, showing off his sides as he rolled over. He shifted easily over to the couch as Rey watched him from the doorway. Han just let her watch him. He was watching him too.
It had been a week filled with Kylo smiling and hope fluttered in shimmering butterflies across her eyes before she left.
Sometimes time felt jumbled to Rey. Things smashed into other things. Sometimes she’d be at school and then she’d be at home with Kylo. Sometimes she’d be with Rose and Finn on the playground, and then back at Snoke’s. Driving with Han the few hours it took to grandma’s, she let the feelings overlap until the days were all the same. It was like going outside of her body; she could go outside of time too. Maz told her not to do that, but sometimes it was too tempting to escape.
Rey knew he’d been in a fight in school a couple of weeks ago and it had made her upset. She had cried and pouted at him, having trouble understanding why he always went back to old habits, no matter how much they hurt her. She never wanted to be disappointed in him, but she hated seeing Han and Leia have to deal with punishing him. They didn’t like it because they didn’t want to lose him; they would go over the countless books and papers, trying to come up with the right way for Kylo to deal with what had happened, but also still feel safe and trust them. Rey didn’t always agree with them. She thought the rules were a little silly because Kylo knew right from wrong. But her faith in him had been shaken by how he’d started lying about how he felt on her birthday, keeping things from her. He’d made it up to her and told her everything that night, and it was clear he felt bad about hiding himself from her on such a special day.
She still didn’t understand why birthdays were special, but guessed that she’d start believing it the next year and it would be the new truth.
He had promised her with sincerity that he wasn’t just acting out at school to hurt someone just to feel something. He was defending his friend. It was the right thing to do, even though it was wrong. She had seen panic in his eyes as he told her that and he quickly added that he probably should have tried to talk the other boy out of the fight. That part made Rey smile and told him that she never wanted to hurt anyone either, but if someone was hurting her friends, she would have to really think about it.
But he took his two-week punishment—no car until detention was over—and didn’t complain. He’d mope, sure, lying on her bed as she did her homework on the floor, and stare at her out of boredom. He just wanted to spend time with her, he said. And she believed him.
And then he just seemed to turn it around, to force himself to not stand so straight and gaze off into nothing.
They drove in his car; it wasn’t a new car, but it was just used and he liked it. He didn’t want anything new. Or at least he didn’t need anything new. And even though Han was there, she was so happy to be the first person that Kylo drove with on his own. She wanted to reach for his hand but remembered to sit back and hold her seatbelt. They didn’t have to go anywhere, they just had to drive.
It was like the stories he’d tell when she was even smaller. How good freedom would feel when they could decide for themselves. On some of his darker days, he’d hold her and talk about how good it would be just to leave and forget everyone there. After grandpa died and Hux left, that’s when those conversations were the worst.
Now he had access to that freedom. And he could go anywhere and leave her behind forever.
Was there really a forever? When the thought struck her in Kylo’s car, Han was pointing out something in the distance and Kylo was following his hand to squint through the spring sunlight.
With his features washed out, he was back to looking softer and younger. It was suddenly the same face that would lull her to sleep with fantastic stories of hope or just simple touches that told her that he cared. Even when he was hurt and broken, bleeding and holding back tears to not draw attention to them, he would put his heart out to her to keep her safe. The times that he was truly blinded by agony were the times that she’d been hurt. When Snoke would lock him in the closet and force him to hear her scream.
He’d do that to force Kylo to do the really bad things. The things that made him cry and scream now when he thought she couldn’t hear him.
There were ways that Kylo had been hurt that she thought she understood because she felt them too. She’d been there, in the same place. The memories were getting distant but the pain still cut through her when she dreamed and when she was tired and couldn’t keep the darkness away. Still, she’d never be able to really forget them or let them go. Dead hearts followed her everywhere, memories of faces no one would ever see again. But now that he was thinking differently, being more adult, she wasn’t sure that they felt the same way anymore.
Then he had a good week. He wanted to drive to school, but still rode with her in mom’s car: that made her stomach buzz with happiness. He’d smile at her and was happy again when she got home from school. He was texting more, actually using his phone rather than letting it sit forgotten on his bed as it buzzed for hours. He’d go out, spend time with his friends. He’d go to practice and come home and show her some move he’d perfected. The final tournament before state was coming and he really felt ready. Poe hung out at their place, doing homework and playing video games after practice and after Kylo showered. When they were alone, just her and Poe, he’d ask her what she liked and what she liked the most about school. He’d give her a big hug every time that she saw him, lifting her up into his arms. He was smaller than Kylo but his energy would make up for the height.
She felt like she could leave him. She wanted to be a little selfish, and also spend time with grandma. Grandma meant flowers and pictures of kittens. Grandma meant a new sweater and watching the fish in the aquarium. They lived their whole lives not knowing there was someone taking care of them. She’d watch the smaller, bright blue ones follow her fingers as she made them dance from outside the tank. They were hungry but only knew that she was a blur that meant food.
She left on Friday and was back late on Sunday.
And Kylo was having a bad day that sucked the happy stories she had brought with her. It had taken only a weekend and he had just vanished into himself. Had there been another fight at practice? No, he wasn’t in trouble. Did he lose a friend? No, Leia said. Poe had spent the night on Saturday and it had been a nice and normal evening.
But Sunday morning, after he’d left, Kylo just decided that nothing was right anymore.
He’d screamed at his mother, not holding anything back. Leia just stared at the kitchen island, telling her the truth because that’s what she asked for. She needed to figure it out, to unravel what happened. The world was unfair and he was never going to be happy and normal. Nothing was ever going to be right. Then he locked himself in his room and wouldn’t answer to anyone.
Not even Rey when she got home and carefully knocked on the door, tapping out her usual pattern of love and hope.
He didn’t answer.
“Kylo? Are you okay?” She asked, her voice as tiny as she could make it so it would slip under the door.
Finally, after too many minutes, she heard him settle on the other side of the door. He tapped his response. Died a long time ago.
“But that wasn’t this you. That was the other you.” She could hear Han and Leia standing at the bottom of the stairs, still talking and filled with worry. “I saved you, ‘member.”
Can’t I just have a bad day?
The taps were slow, like his hands were having a hard time keeping still enough to make sense.
“Everyone can have a bad day. Even you,” she tried to sound more adult, more like a teenager or something. It didn’t fit right in her mouth. She was still just a kid, too small in the big world to lift him up anymore. “Can I come in? I’m really tired.”
She heard him stand up and open the door. His eyes were red and his face was pale. He looked down at where she was crouched and then slowly turned away to move towards the bed.
What happened? She blinked as she closed the door.
He blinked rapidly in return. Nothing happened. I got too happy and I think I broke.
Broke? He wasn’t broken. Nothing could break Kylo.
He pulled the sleeves on his sweater down rolling the cuffs over his hands. Just broke.
Rey rubbed at her eyes and stepped towards the bed. He didn’t pull away, but he didn’t reach for her either. He crossed his arms and leaned forward, dropping his head against his folded arms.
His phone buzzed and he ignored it. She frowned at him and reached for it, small thumbs typing in his code.
R U ok?
“Don’t tell him I’m upset,” Kylo mumbled. “I just haven’t answered him.”
Rey quickly scrolled through the other messages. Other than the thirty unanswered texts, everything before that looked normal. Stupid messages from Poe, serious answers from Kylo. Talking about rooming together one last time and how next season would be better.
Frowning, Rey typed a response. Rey just got home. Was asleep. Down day.
The reply came instantly. K. Give her a hug from me. Seeya tomorrow.
“Did something happen?” She asked, setting the phone back down on the nightstand. “Are you mad at him?”
“Nothing happened.” He sat up and looked at her. “We hung out. He complained about having to have a job because his dad is a piece of shit. He doesn’t even have a bed at home, Rey. It’s so unfair that we have so much and he’s…working while we just…get to be kids again.”
She quirked her head. Even though she understood, she needed him to answer. No more lies. “That made you mad?”
“Of course it made me mad! A guy jumped him at school for no reason. Rey, what if I didn’t want to be his friend? Who would have stood up for him?” Kylo was keeping his voice low but in her head, she heard him yelling, screaming it into the void.
She escaped into it, tuning out the room and putting them there, in that space. It wasn’t Snoke’s basement; it was a place in between escape and reality. It made her feel safe and she could only see him.
“Someone would have,” she said, stepping closer. “Kids aren’t always mean.”
He shook his head. “High school is mean, Rey. It will be different for you because you’re nice and by then, you’ll be even nicer. And you’ll be pretty. That will help.”
“Kylo, do you think I’m pretty now?”
Even as the reds and blacks swirled around him, he smirked at her. His face softened and he finally stopped to look at her with real eyes, not the fake ones that he sometimes wore. “You’re beautiful. Rey, I want you to grow up and not have to deal with all this. I’m ruining it.”
She forced herself out of her head, to be back with him in the room. “I love you. No matter what.”
He closed his eyes and sighed. “Love you too. I should…go downstairs and apologize, right?”
“Only if you mean it,” Rey’s voice was firm. “Please, Kylo. Say the real words.”
“Yeah.” He shook his head, still playing with the sleeves of his sweater. “I get mad and just…forget that I’m allowed to be happy.”
Kylo reached out and took her hand and she squeezed it, smiling.
He dropped his head and left his room. She waited until she heard the voices fading into the kitchen to grab his phone.
“Hey, Ky, what’s up?” Poe’s voice was sleepy, but he answered after three rings.
“It’s Rey,” she said, keeping her voice quiet.
“Hey sweet pea, how was your grandma’s?”
“It was good. Is Kylo mad at you?” She felt dumb asking it, but Kylo’s lies from before wouldn’t leave her.
“Don’t think he is. I was bugging him about Paige and how she likes him but won’t say it. How Liza is a total bitch for not leaving him alone. He got quiet so I stopped. Nothing big. No fights. He seemed, like, happy when I left. It’s nice to see him like that, you know?” Poe was sitting up and seemed to have left the room to go outside. She could hear the sound of wind chimes and tried to put herself there. It was easier to talk on the phone if she knew where a person was. “Do you think he’s worried that I won’t be his friend anymore after the next road trip? Is that why he’s…whatever…sad?”
Boys didn’t like talking about feelings. But Kylo and Poe were all about feelings.
“What do you mean?” If there hadn’t been an argument, then Kylo had gone into fantasy, building up something that wasn’t really there. It was like Snoke’s shadow in the hallways at school; no one else could see it, but it was still real to her. Kylo’s fantasies were true to him too.
“He’s probably worried that we won’t be friends anymore after the next road tip. He should go to state and probably will but there’s no way I’m getting to state.” Poe said, and she could hear the grin in his voice.
“Why not?” She was smiling at the phone, comfortable in Kylo’s with nothing but the contact and the conversation. “You’re good too, right?”
He laughed. “Nope. I’m fucking awful.”
“I think he…made up something bad in his head. It made him sad.” She knew that Kylo wouldn’t talk forever downstairs. She had to be quicker.
“Okay, yeah. I’ll…look I’ve got work all this week to even have enough money to go on this trip. Make sure he knows I’m not ditching him on purpose or anything.” She thought Poe could hear the panic in her voice, despite how she tried to hold it back. “Tell him goodnight for me, okay?”
She hung up and put the phone back where it was.
She heard the shower running shortly after.
So she quickly went downstairs to see how mom and dad were doing.
She already knew they’d let her miss school the next day.
Poe was supposed to come over for dinner the night before leaving for the tournament.
He was late.
The hours dragged on and on and Rey was tired of everyone else waiting like he wasn’t coming.
Kylo had been pacing around, glaring at the walls, until he finally met her eyes and he nodded and knew that he should put his energy into something else.
She knew he’d be there. When she heard his shoes on the porch, she ran to meet him at the back door. Kylo was already up in his room, writing in his journal instead of impatiently scowling at everything. He was more or less back to normal now, the maelstrom of Sunday forgotten. Monday had been a quiet day spent on the couch, eating snacks and not doing anything. Mom and dad took the day off work, but stayed away unless they needed something. There was no feelings chart. There were no long conversations. They were just a family.
“This is the good door,” she smiled. “This door is for our real friends.”
He dipped his head and stepped inside. “Yeah, Ky told me. Hey, I forgot my backpack. We’ll need to get it tomorrow morning. I’ve got all my stuff there…and I forgot it. Like a fucking dumbass.”
Rey was used to hearing Kylo sound sad and angry at himself, but most other people kept their pain from her. Not Poe, though. Normally, he would drown it out by talking too much. He gave so much away in his silences. He was sitting in their back entrance; he’d flopped down and closed the door behind him with his foot. Lumpy came down to investigate, and was looking down at them from the kitchen. Poe was touching his arms, looking like it had been too cold to be without a jacket. With a firm frown, Rey shook her head. They weren’t her real mom and dad, but mom and dad still made sure that she went anywhere with what she needed. She grabbed one of Han’s old fleeces from the hook and handed it to him. It wasn’t the one he used to walk the dog on cold mornings, but the one that he’d promised to give away to charity but never did.
“We have too much,” she said. “It’s okay.”
“No, I…” Poe started and then stopped. He looked smaller, more like another kid, as they sat in the back entrance. He still pulled on the oversized sweater and then frowned. “Is he mad?”
Rey matched his look. “Why would he be mad?” They’d talked about this. Kylo was looking forward to going away.
She reached for Poe’s hand, forcing him from the floor and into the light of the kitchen. He gave Lumpy a nice and thorough pet and greeting. That’s when Rey noticed the bruise under Poe’s eye. It was small and would fade quickly, but it was still there; it looked like everything that she’d seen before on her own body. The tiny marks that other people thought they could hide on others. The echoes of death drew her down as she watched him move, suddenly worried about what he could and couldn’t do. It was making her body hurt with thoughts. He was taller and she couldn’t take care of him.
Rey opened the fridge to distract herself. “Your plate is here, we saved it for you.”
“Thanks, sweet pea, I’m….” he trailed off. He looked around the empty kitchen and bit his lip. “Hey, why are you guys so nice to me?”
She smirked and shrugged. “Kylo is your best friend. I want to help him stay that way.”
Poe had to help her put the plate in the microwave and waited patiently as her hands, which were still too tiny and weak, to grate more cheese on top once it was warm.
He was Kylo’s best friend. She had to take care of him, no matter how small she was.
He ate with only a fork, which was weird to Rey since he always at normally at dinners before, as a slow stream of adults filled their space: which was even weirder, since there were only two of them. They were pretending not to listen, but they were. Han came down first, mumbling something about resetting the Wi-Fi because nothing was working like it should. He only looked at Poe and nodded before fiddling with the small white box at the top of the pantry. Leia trailed after him when he started swearing at the modem. Poe could only look at her and grin as he ate the last of his lasagne.
Leaning her head against her hand, she smiled. He looked so happy to be there, despite her fake-but-still-real parents bickering in the background, down the steps towards the basement where the box was. She knew how to fix it but didn’t say anything. Kylo had already said that it shouldn’t be there.
“I helped make it.” Rey felt like she was boasting, but she wasn’t. “I cut the onions and fried them. And then I did the hamburger meet and put in the spices. We followed all the steps. It goes sauce, cheese, then the noodles, then the meat. I might have messed up some of the layers, but everybody said it was good. Even Kylo.”
“It’s good. Do you like cooking?” He looked tired and the usual smile in his voice was hidden behind a wall that she’d only rarely felt from him before.
When he’d finished, he reached out to her and she took his hand maybe too quickly. He hadn’t even asked for something to drink. And they had milk.
“He’s writing something,” Rey said, trying to make it not sound like an excuse. “He’s been…he was waiting for you but couldn’t wait anymore.”
Poe looked from his empty plate back to her. “I get it, yeah. He’s probably worried about tomorrow too. He’ll do good. I’m going to fucking suck, like always.”
His head snapped up as Leia climbed the stairs from the basement. “You can swear, sweetheart. And you’re probably not as awful as you think.”
“No, I’m really bad. I’d quit if I could, but then Ky would think it’s something personal and not talk to me for a month.” Poe was smiling but Rey knew that it wasn’t a real joke.
Leia shook her head and took his plate. Rey jolted, realizing that it was something she should have done. But Leia just shook her head and put the empty dish and fork in the dishwasher. “He let’s you call him that?”
Poe shrugged. “He doesn’t argue about it. I guess.”
Finally, she heard Kylo’s feet on the stairs. He looked at them both and his reaction was clear to her but probably hidden for everyone else. He was both pleased that his friend was there, but also satisfied that he had been able to wait without bothering anyone. Not saying anything, he sat down beside her and nodded, mostly to himself.
“You didn’t have to walk here,” he said at last.
Poe tried to shrug off the comment, especially with Leia standing there. “Nah, I took the bus most of the way. It’s really fine, Mrs Solo. You feed me and let me hang out here. He’s worried about nothing.”
Rey knew why it bothered Kylo so much. Going anywhere, meeting strangers along the way, was something he didn’t want anyone to do alone. He thought he was fine on his own and he could defend himself now. Others who were smaller or weaker, however, he’d focus on how many things could go wrong. The first time that she took Lumpy for a walk on her own, he looked at her with quiet betrayal that she put herself in any sort of danger. It was just to the corner and back. And she knew that mom was watching her the entire time. It was like Kylo didn’t trust anyone but himself, still.
And it was frustrating.
But she could deal with it. For him.
Author's note: READ THE CHAPTER NOTES FOR WARNINGS.
Thanks everyone for the comments and kudos so far. This chapter has given me anxiety about posting it. Again, check the End Notes for the warnings (since they're a bit spoilery, I put them at the end).
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Kylo wasn’t mad about losing. He could deal with that. It was the bitter atmosphere in the van that made him seethe. He’d pushed those negative emotions out of his head in between this trip and the last; there had been so much that had happened in between and now it meant nothing. He’d lost and everyone was disappointed in him. The season was over and he’d been dominated, getting bad draw after bad draw, hardly scoring points and getting pinned because he wasn’t focused. Getting to the hotel, he didn’t even wait for the others. Storming off, he kicked hard at a crushed coke can across the parking lot. He was lucky even to be allowed on the trip after what happened at school, but he might as well hadn’t gone at all.
Taking angry and deep breaths, he looked up at the sky and swore under his breath. The others were watching him but he didn’t care. They were the problem for never listening to him.
He heard shuffling feet and turned to see Poe, holding both of their bags. He could go from looking cocky to pouting in an instant. During the last few weeks, his first impressions had been inverted, but they still remained in the back of his mind like a reminder of how people treated him in the beginning. He probably cared too much. In his heated anger, he thought that he should just stop caring about him once and for all. To stop coming by his house and being around him, since he was such a loser who couldn’t do anything that made him into a real person. He caught a glimpse of the rest of the team glaring at him in the distance and snorted.
“You can go for a walk. Coach says it’s okay.” His expression showed concern and he knew that his friend was worried about him. Still, he wouldn’t say it when others—especially the team—could hear it. “We’re in room 204.”
Poe looked at him for long enough to make him take a warning step forward. Finally turning towards the hotel, Kylo waiting until he was inside before sitting down on the low concrete traffic barrier. The chill of the late April evening started to settle against his bare arms and he shuttered. Normally, being alone was enough to calm him down. He would be able to think clearly, going over why everyone was wrong. Most often, he’d call Rey. He checked his phone and his annoyance spiked at the time. Leia wouldn’t let her talk this late. There was always someone in his way. Even if she didn’t have school the next day, there would be some dumb thing they were forcing her to do. They were still trying to get her to decide whether she liked gymnastics or dancing. She liked both and didn’t see why she couldn’t do both. His parents didn’t understand that Rey wanted to do everything.
He heard the gravel rustle and quickly looked up. It was just a man standing outside the hotel, smoking.
Poe had worn him down. He actually missed him and his never-ending chatter. Poe, being over excited over an easy win. Poe, trying to cheer him up when he wanted to feel empty. Poe, who wouldn’t bug him to eat, but would instead steal his food until he was forced to do something about it.
Stamping his foot in the dirt, he forced himself to stand.
God damn him.
He had to knock on the door and was forced to wait five minutes before Poe answered. He had a towel on his head.
“I’m sorry, I was in the shower. Do you have my room service?”
“Shut the fuck up,” he countered, pushing by him. He sat down heavily on his bed, taking off his shoes and tossing them into the corner. Poe was busy rehanging the towel, still chucking to himself about his joke.
“It wasn’t your fault, you know. You got a bad draw, a couple of them,” Poe said, scratching his head. “And it’s also not your fault that our school sucks so hard.”
“I don’t hate school. I hate the people there.” He settled against the headboard of the hard hotel bed. It wasn’t anything that he hadn’t heard before. Poe sat next to him and pursed his lips and then nodded a little. The television looked dusty, showing their distorted reflection back at him.
He was starting to regret coming back at all if Poe was just going to try to cheer him up the entire time. Instead, his companion fell quiet. It was easier to accept how close he was sitting if he was silent. There was no quick quip or annoying response. He let him have his silence.
And he wasn’t alone in it.
They’d had these moments before. He shouldn’t be surprised by them anymore, but his mind was too full to find familiarity in its clear form. But this was the last road trip of the season with state now out of sight. They were friends now, but Kylo was expecting the trust that he’d put in him to evaporate with the season over. Promises could be broken and they probably would.
Rey was right. This had why he had been thrown into rage. This was probably going to end tonight and it had been building in his mind since then.
Exhaling, Poe pulled his legs up and settled his chin on his knees. He was shorter and always tried to make up for it by taking on larger kids. That explained the fight with Bryce. Kylo was embracing being taller than most of the other boys at school, even the seniors. It was just aggravating not being stronger than most of them.
“I wish we were in more of the same classes. But hey, things got better after you beat the shit out of that guy.” He grinned and then it faded away. “It still sucks that you got detention and he got nothing.”
“He got a broken nose,” he said. “And I’ll break it again.”
Thinking again about taking on the older boy, Kylo felt a spike of dark pride. He was careful to pick his battles and that had been one that he had taken on fully, accepting the consequences. The truth was still making his neck itch. After the constant fights and scuffles when he started school again almost two years ago, most of them caused by his misunderstanding something or the need to quell his constant craving for aggression, the school finally comprehended that he didn’t react to having privileges taken away. Holdo instead had made him write out and describe the events, rewriting them until he could fully explain the emotions behind them. He’d sit in her office, going over the texts until he felt calm. Since then, instead of starting a fight, he mostly stuck to writing out elaborate scenarios from both his perspective, and whoever had angered him. The wrestling team helped even more.
He only made a few exceptions. That asshole had been one of them. Poe had gotten himself into that mess but there was no way, as long as he was breathing, that one of his friends was going to be hurt. Rey understood that and her caring had made it easier to wait to get his car and freedom again. And then he screwed it all up by not being able to deal with his apprehensive fear. Taking a quick glance, he caught Poe’s eyes. There had been so much writing and it was only when he stopped that the thoughts got stuck in his head.
He didn’t tell Poe that he had also started a new notebook. About him.
“Everyone says that you’re hard to talk to, but they’re totally wrong. I mean, at first, I didn’t think I’d get you to talk to me, but now I’m glad I did. You talk when you need to. You don’t just talk to hear yourself speak.” Poe was looking at him intently, like he was disclosing something that he didn’t already know.
“You mean I’m not like you,” he answered flatly, before smirking.
“You’re an asshole, fuck you.” Poe shoved him, grinning wildly. “Are you…are you going to go to that spring dance thing? We can hang out instead if you’re not going.”
He rolled his eyes. Poe was just like him, asking questions that he already knew the answers to. Still, he gave into it. “Liza keeps asking me. I told her that I’d go only if I could go with Paige and she went with someone else. You take Liza if you want. Hux would hate it.”
Just saying his former friend’s name made him shudder as he tried to block the pang of emotion from fully coming through.
“But you wouldn’t care?” Poe answered. “I mean, she’s cute. Not my type, but cute. Still a total bitch to you and me, so she’ll just say no and do that nose thing she does. The pig nose.”
He almost laughed at the impression. But he kept his face neutral, only briefly closing his eyes.
“You’re around her enough. She keeps trying to touch me even though she knows I hate it.” He lifted his shoulders. “She wants to be my girlfriend. She doesn’t ask about it anymore, but she talks to Paige about it. Paige feels bad and tells me. I try not to think about it.”
“You don’t like her?”
They’d had this conversation before. The one that made him shut down. He wanted to keep talking this time, to not hold back. The last week had been climbing over humps in his head, to understand when he should and shouldn’t give into other people’s concerns. Rey was right.
“She’s an okay friend, I guess. A half friend. She…sometimes she talks too much but when she actually listens, it’s something I like. She’s always happy in the morning, happy to see me. Since Hux ditched me, she’s usually the first person to meet me at school. Well, before I started hanging out with you. But I know what she’s doing. So it’s easier to keep saying I don’t want a girlfriend. I’d rather be alone, but my parents and Rey would be worried. Rey is friends with Paige’s sister. We hang out more with them and Liza is just…there. It’s gotten easier to avoid her since we became friends.”
Poe put his head down for a moment, then stretched out his legs. There was another hole in one of his socks. Poe caught him looking and quickly pulled off the offending articles of clothing and tossed them aside. He wiggled his toes for a moment, taunting him. His smile slowly faded, however, and he looked at him quickly before turning away.
“Why would you stay friends with her if she kissed you without asking? Without giving you the chance to say no, back off. This has been bothering me for a while,” Poe’s voice turned bitter, his eyes fixed on the opposite wall. “I would have ditched her after that. So hard. I might have even spread nasty rumours about her too and then felt bad about doing it. She stole something from you and wanted to get into your pants and wouldn’t even let you say no.”
“I don’t know.” He shook his head. “It was just something that happened. I’m not as mad anymore.”
“But you’re still mad?”
He let his head drop. “You saw me tonight. You know what happened last week. I’m mad about everything.”
“You’re not…I mean, yeah I guess you are. But it’s not your fault. I don’t want to repeat myself, but I’m so right about this. What happened to you was fucked up, especially if you can’t really talk to anyone about it. And Hux’s dad is wrong. It was that crazy fucker who was a psycho. You’re just…I don’t know. It’s like you were spit out of a volcano and are still cooling off.” Poe’s eyes were darting around as he spoke, but finally fixed on his bare feet. “My dad just thinks you’re weird.”
“My dad…I finally made him happy when he taught me how to drive. Getting my license was the first real thing we could do together. I could have got a better car, if I had wanted one.” He sighed, remembering the look on Han’s face every time they were out in the car. He wasn’t really teaching him. He was just desperate to spend time with him. “Driving with him was…nice. And I didn’t even thank him.”
“Maybe your dad can teach me. My old man isn’t doing shit to help me.” Poe was still staring at his feet, his head lowered. “My mom keeps threatening to divorce him, every time he unloads on her or me. She packs a bag and leaves for a week, but always comes back. And I have to go to school with a busted lip and act like it never happened. No matter what I do, I’m a fuck up in his eyes.”
Wincing, Kylo nodded. “Is that why he made you change schools?”
Poe shrugged, but then finally shook his head in agreement. “He didn’t like the people I was hanging out with. That and rent was ‘too fucking expensive’ at our old place. Now we just live in a cheaper, shittier dump. He never throws anything out. I think we have like fourteen broken vacuum cleaners in the garage. Why did he fucking bring those? I had to throw out a bunch of my shit and he brought the fucking vacuum cleaners.”
Poe was trying to make a joke, but he couldn’t let the moment escape him. His eyes had been too quick in the shower earlier and he couldn’t forget the pain that was clearly inflicted on his friend from someone older and stronger.
“I’ve seen the bruises,” Kylo said, killing the long pause that had filled the room. The lingering mark under Poe’s eye had made him nervous the entire time they’d been together. “Was that him?”
A rising anger had taken hold of him then, remembering the how Poe had moved gingerly and at half-speed during practice weeks ago, then stepped off the mat entirely. He claimed he hurt his ankle. But he’d been hurt again. Taking the bus to his house and forgetting his things just made the thoughts lock into place.
“He got pissed when your mom called a while and he realized that he’d have to stop wailing on my face. Still doesn’t stop him, but he forgets when he’s drunk. When he’s not, well…Stupid fucker doesn’t think that anyone will see me without my shirt off.” Poe suddenly laughed, then let his head sag back against the headboard. “Did you…see anything else?”
He raised an eyebrow in response. But his eyes had caught it, even if his mind hadn’t.
Slowly, the other boy lifted his shirt. The newer bruises had faded to a sickly green, but they were still there. Kylo had to lean forward to see what Poe was pointing at, but then he saw them. Fine and neat white lines traced along the side of his chest, along his ribs.
With a grim look on his face, Poe dropped his shirt. “I thought no one would notice them if I did it there. It sucks at the beach, but I just tell anyone that asks that it was a cat. I don’t even have a cat. Yeah, um…” There was a long pause as Poe fiddled with the hem of his shirt. There was a pain there that Kylo had only caught glimpses of before. If he hadn’t been so focused on his own docked agony, he might have been more aware. “Things got…bad for a while.”
Tracing the leather bracelet on his left hand, Kylo nodded. It was the one he’d received for his birthday, the one from Poe. Silently, he undid the clasp. His hands were trembling as he lifted his wrist. The newest cut was still scabbing over, but it matched the other dozen scars that stained his skin. This one had been deeper though, less diagonal and more…proper.
He’d promised himself never to do it at home, and he’d breached that perimeter with too much ease. It was something he could do again. Something that he wanted to do again, desperately. Now, stuck in this room, he wanted to flee into his misery, pressed on by revealing something he didn’t want to tell anyone, but still did.
He let his hand drop and moved to return his wrist to the comfort of the band. Poe’s hand stopped him.
“I want…I mean…maybe we can be the type of friends that talk about this stuff more often. We already do, but maybe more? I never told you before but I…I’m afraid too, about how I think.” His hand was warm, even though it was only a light touch.
Managing a nod, Kylo bit his lip. He could talk to Rey, she understood. But he was realizing that everything that was happening in his head was too much for her. He never wanted her to stop talking to him. He didn’t want to scare her either. He would always tell Hux the essence of his feelings and memories; but towards the end of their friendship, he pulled back even more. His other friends liked to pretend that nothing happened so they wouldn’t have to deal with it. Paige tried her best, but her strategy was to try to tell him what normal thoughts should be and how to get there. The therapists would try to get him to open up, but he was exhausted from the constant tricks.
There was space for him here.
“I think I’d like that.” He wasn’t sure he said the words, but they came out anyway.
“Really?” Poe quirked his mouth into a grin. “That’s greatness.”
“Not really. Not for you.” He managed to half smile in return, stealing some of Poe’s energy for his own. “You’ve heard my nightmares.”
“Yeah, I think you kicked me once,” Poe teased.
Kylo looked at him flatly. “You were on the other bed. I can’t kick that far.”
“You have really long legs! I swear. Or maybe I was walking by the bed. When I go for my night walks. The ones where I walk around the room and watch you sleeping.” Poe was smiling at him, the pain pushed away for now.
Shoving his friend, Kylo finally laughed. “If you were watching me sleep, you deserved to get kicked.”
Poe sat up on his knees to face him and pushed him back. “I have to watch you sleep so I can avoid getting kicked.”
Despite how annoying the joke was, Kylo returned Poe’s grin with one of his own. He would have been totally exhausted if the quiet moments of the evening hadn’t snuck up on them. There would always be the fear of rejection and hurt keeping him from fully giving away his soul, but he could start here now, truly. The silence stretched on and he closed his eyes, finally glad that the screams now only haunted his dreams.
He felt Poe rest his hand on his shoulders and he opened his eyes, giving him a look of irritation. Poe licked his lips and flicked his eyes from his hand to his lips, then finally his eyes. He slowly pulled his hand away and sat up, but was still inching closer.
There was a nervous energy in his gaze that made him uneasy, but still curious. His friend’s brown eyes were warm but were also searching for a reaction. He leaned forward, putting a warm hand on his leg. Kylo couldn’t feel his own heartbeat; the steady thudding in his chest came directly from the palm resting on his thigh. The encounter with Liza flashed in his mind, keeping him locked in place as Poe gradually leaned forward. With his face only a breath away, he paused, waiting for him to pull away or hit him.
“Can I….okay.” Poe whispered, then closed the gap between them to press their lips together.
It was a light kiss and he hardly felt the pressure. There was just the delicate and warm sensation of lips and the lingering scent of Poe’s cologne. His lips were still soft and a curl of hair brushed his forehead. Kylo felt Poe’s hand tighten against his leg, making him sit up and inhale through his nose. The noise made Poe lean back, instantly taking on a mask of anxiety.
It was a stupid question. But instead of saying anything, he reached out and pulled Poe back towards him, kissing him again. Kylo pressed hard, mashing their mouths together and yanking Poe closer to grip his back. But the warmth of the awkward kisses cracked memories that he had wanted to keep locked away. The physical contact made him actually react. He’d never thought that much about sex for a reason that he wanted to keep from his waking mind; it was an annoying background noise that the other boys were obsessed with. Them and Liza. But now, kissing Poe, his body was lifted into something akin to joy. He felt the other boy’s mouth open and he dipped his tongue inside. The sensation hit him instantly and he groaned, letting a need that he’d never felt before grip him.
Poe jerked back. “Is this…okay?”
The feeling was fleeting, broken by the question.
“Shut up,” he snapped, before shoving the other boy away. He put his head in his hands and pressed on his eyes, trying to will the warmth spreading up his body to stop. Poe scrambled away to the other side of the room. When Kylo looked up, he saw tears shining in the other boy’s expressive eyes.
“I didn’t mean…shit…I thought…” he rambled, glancing quickly at the door, knowing that he needed to run. “I’m so fucking sorry.”
Kylo moved off the bed and Poe tensed, backing into a corner. His hands were up defensively as Kylo moved closer.
He knew he looked angry because the feeling was the easiest thing to latch on to. Anger and fear. Anything that felt that good could never end the way that he wanted. He’d miss something or misunderstand something. He should hit Poe. He should scream at him never to come close to him again. To fuck off and die. He wanted to admonish him for opening the locked box of feelings he’d kept hidden away in the back of his mind. Sex was only punishment and it shouldn’t bring out any positive reactions. This was just the way that it had to be.
But the dejected look that rolled over Poe’s face made him lower his raised fist.
Maybe there was another way.
“Can I…” The question trailed off from Kylo’s weak mouth and he bit his lip, hard. As gently as he could, he reached out to brush his hand against Poe’s.
“What? Beat the shit out of me for being a queer?” Poe was frozen, turning to words to try to defend himself. He looked down at Kylo’s hand and then met his eyes again, bewilderment overtaking dread.
“No.” This time he took Poe’s hand and squeezed it lightly. It was a different feeling than training. There was a softness there now, one that took away his focus. He leaned closer, breathing in to try to get back to his thoughts.
“What’s…what are you doing?” Poe’s voice was confused and there were still edges of hurt and fear there.
He had only rotten instinct at that point. He so rarely trusted his body in situations that he didn’t control. His arms he could trust, his legs he could depend on; but the rest was a space in between. His body was the thing that could be broken, but would heal in all the wrong places. Snoke had taught him that. His mind was the thing that could never be beaten, but it couldn’t be trusted either. But the ultimate betrayer right now was his body.
Taking Poe’s hand, he set it on his hip. He kept his unsteady hand there and with both terror and want, he stepped closer.
Poe lifted his other hand. It was also shaking, but firmed as he rested it on his cheek. Kylo leaned into the touch, too afraid to turn away but also not knowing what to do next.
“I don’t know what’s happening,” he finally said. He was looking into Poe’s eyes and saw the same hint of hazel that swept through Rey’s.
He didn’t know which was more wrong, but he leaned down to press his lips against his friend’s and pulled him closer, suddenly aching for the contact that part of him also wanted to flee. He tried to deepen the kiss again, searching for the same sensation as before. It didn’t take him long to find it, elevated by the connection. Poe ran his hands through his hair. His short nails grazed against his scalp. He’d never realized that touches could mean more than just care or hate. The third emotion was making him hard, a feeling that normally caused him dread, but Poe’s tongue was in his mouth and he felt a hand caress the front of his jeans.
That made him pull back, sucking in a dull gasp.
“Shit, sorry,” Poe’s shaky hand again settled on his waist. “Tell me what to do. Just…tell me. Tell me what I did wrong so I can make it better.”
Kylo could only shake his head and motion towards the bed.
Licking his lips, his friend nodded, his eyes darting back and forth. “Yeah, yeah, okay.”
Poe guided him towards the bed, even though his legs felt too stubborn to move. He let himself be dumbly dragged to his bed. He sat on the edge and Poe, also not wanting to give up the contact, clasped his hand.
“Look, Ky, I really like you. I should have told you that before I did anything. I’m sorry, I fucked that up. I know you and I know…just shit. I’m so sorry. You don’t know how much I like you. I don’t have words for it. They just come out all jumbled. And I just kissed you and…” Poe took a deep breath when Kylo squeezed his hand, trying to tell him to calm down. “Do you like me back?”
He didn’t want the pause to drag on too long, but his thoughts weren’t coming into place. The room was louder now and he could hear Poe’s breathing over his own. The light was buzzing. Someone opened a door in the hallway and then slammed it shut. He couldn’t think over the noise. Still, in his confusion, his body was still humming. Torn between his two halves, he just put his head on Poe’s shoulder.
“Sorry, I was selfish. Are you okay?” Poe said as he rested his head against his in return. He dropped his voice into a whisper. They were alone, but the gentle tone of the other voice made him relax. It was only a fraction of his anxiety, but it was enough to get words out of his mouth.
“Why would you like me?” He sounded pathetic. He sounded needy, like Rey when she was tired and upset with him. Poe had delicate curls and a sweet smile. Meanwhile, he had awkward ears and a mop of hair, moles and scars. He was pale to the other boy’s natural toned skin. Poe was handsome. He was just tall and awkward, but most of all damaged. There was nothing perfect about him. But holding Poe’s hand and feeling of his leg against his made him feel an inch above nothing. Poe wasn’t fragile like Rey. He didn’t have to worry about hurting him. He tried to tell himself that as the other boy started to speak.
“It’s actually easy. You’re smart, you’re funny. When you smile, I mean, I can count how many times you’ve really smiled the last month on two hands, but when you do…I can’t stop thinking about you. The rest of the day, I’m lost. Cold-shower lost.” Poe paused, prying their hands apart, only to reach around to drape his arm around his back. He pulled him closer before pressing a light kiss on his forehead. This must be how Rey felt every night. There was someone who cared for him, holding and caring for him.
He pushed down his rising anger at himself and shook his head. “How can you feel that way? About me?”
“I just do, Ky.” Poe hugged him closer. “I just do.”
Poe had to know. The locked box had been opened and he couldn’t close it again without releasing some of the toxic memories inside.
“You can’t like me,” he finally said, pulling away, refusing to let the words spill out. He wanted to stand from the bed but Poe held firm, forcing him to sit down. Glaring at him, Kylo only saw acceptance when he sat back down. “You don’t know what happened to me. Most of those things in the book and the documentaries were wrong because they didn’t go far enough. I’m too fucked up. You need to stop liking me. I’m telling you, right now, just stop it.”
“Tell me.” Poe looked at him defiantly. “I’m here. And I want to know. Ky, I won’t judge you. I just want to know what happened. You can’t just keep all of this in your head forever and come out the other side being normal.”
The word made him drop his head. That was all he wanted at this point. But it was something that he could never be.
Carefully, Poe leaned forward to kiss him again. Like the first time, it was warm and enticing. But, most of all, gentle.
Pulling away, Poe gestured towards the bed. Kylo hesitated before crawling up beside him. Resting his head against the younger boy’s chest, Kylo just shook his head. Their legs were mismatched in length when Kylo sought out somewhere else to look. He should have also said how awkward he was and how they didn’t match physically. But then he realized he was just trying to distract himself. There was someone here who wanted to listen, who might be able to understand—someone who wasn’t six years old who he didn’t want to destroy with the darkness inside him.
“I don’t want anyone to know.”
Poe hugged him. It was a gesture that he had avoided for so long, but now accepted. “Well, I’m not just anyone.”
Sucking in a dry breath, Kylo set his head down and started talking in a low voice. “I was seven when he took me. I didn’t know what was happening. It was exciting at first, like running away. It was something I always thought about. You know, just leaving everything that’s annoying you and everyone who’s ignoring you? Then he killed someone right in front of me. I knew what death was, but I didn’t think that it was real. This wasn’t like a movie. The boy who died, he was bleeding and crying and he did it to save me. I didn’t want to be there anymore, locked in that weird house. But I couldn’t get away. I never thought that a room could make you afraid before. I was just a kid and I knew he wanted to kill me. But he wanted something else too.” He was determined to say everything without stopping, and he had to fight through the cracks in his voice. He couldn’t cry. Poe couldn’t see him cry. “There was still a dying body on the floor. It smelled like…like dry leaves. I could feel the other kids watching me. They weren’t crying. I couldn’t figure out why they weren’t afraid too. He had made me stab him. He put the knife in my hand and he was still warm. It was so…soft. Smooth. He was so…warm. His eyes were open. He was watching me stab him.
“Then I remember footsteps. And he closed the door to the upstairs. There were so many doors and all of them were awful, but just not broken enough. The other kids had run away. Snoke…I wasn’t afraid of him until I really looked at him. The other kids hadn’t been crying so I thought still, like a moron, that all of it could have been something fake and not real. But then I looked at him and realized I would never get out of there alive. His teeth were rotten. It was like he didn’t have lips and his skin was melted. I can still see every wrinkle, every line, when I close my eyes. When he looked at me, I couldn’t move. I had the knife and I didn’t do anything. I hate myself for not stabbing him. I hate myself for what I let him do to me. I was still wearing my baseball uniform. I remember the way his hands felt when he touched my arm…”
His own words faded away into the darkness that he had tried to keep buried. Snoke had stroked his arm and he felt the tattered scratch of a hangnail trail down his skin again. The touch quickly turned to a harsh hand, gripping his arm. Under the bruising pressure, he couldn’t pull away. His lungs weren’t working and his legs were frozen. His hand was stiff and the knife clattered to the floor when Snoke tossed him onto the rotten sofa against the wall. The springs squeaked and poked at his body, jabbing him in the back. There was dust hanging in the air, only visible between the gaps in the slats that blocked the windows. He was on the sofa and Snoke pressed his knee down on his chest. You’re a stupid boy. And now you will learn how stupid you really are. The words couldn’t even make him scream. The pressure on his chest stopped him from breathing. Snoke’s hands ripped open his shirt and he could gulp down air when the old man finally stepped off him. He remembered gasping no when he reached for his pants.
He was in the wasteland of his mind when the now, the reality, shook him. Poe was holding him. Poe had kissed him. And now he was resting his face against his friend’s soaking wet t-shirt.
“You can keep going.” Poe’s voice echoed through his memory, lifting him out of the nightmare of Snoke’s hands on his body. “You can also stop. It’s up to you. But I want you to keep going. I care about you so much. I’m listening, really. I’m here.”
He blinked hard, willing the hotel room to come into his vision. He never wanted to return to that couch. But Poe had taken him there and then brought him back.
“He raped me. He wanted me to scream and cry, to hold me down as he shoved his fingers inside me. I was bleeding, I felt it. There was blood all over my legs and he didn’t stop. Every time he moved, he’d hiss and drool, dragging his hands all over my body. Every finger felt different and I could count every new scratch. I didn’t even fight him. I let it happen. I could have bit him. I could have kicked him. But I didn’t do anything. He made me look at him. My blood was on his hands and shoved his fingers in my mouth until I gagged and fucking looked at him. He was hard and I had no idea what that even looked like then. It looked like a monster coming out of his body. And he…held me down. And raped me and I never thought it would stop. The way it kept going made it slow down time and I was trapped there, only living in that place forever. There was nothing that happened before and nothing would ever happen but that. He was holding my throat and was inside me. Nothing ever hurt like that before. It burnt. My legs wouldn’t work. It felt like my guts were falling out as he was fucking me. I could smell his breath and his…come…when he bit my mouth. I was just seven. That’s not supposed to happen.” He sobbed, his stubbornness finally broken from only shedding silent tears. “And when I looked away, I could only see a boy who had died for me.”
He was waiting for Poe to push him away, to scream at him for being dirty and weak, but instead he pulled him closer. The tears came warm and heavy then and he wept, feeling Poe’s sobs join his own.
“That’s why you can’t like me,” he mumbled. “I’m useless and disgusting. There’s nothing good in me because no matter what I do, I let him fuck me.”
“Kylo, no. Fucking no.” Poe’s hand was soft as it rested against his cheek. He forced him to meet his eyes. “You said it yourself. You were seven. You had just watched him kill someone, killed a kid. You didn’t let him do anything. He hurt you. He hurt you in the worst way. None of that was your fault.”
“But I still didn’t fight back.” His voice was hardly a whisper. “I couldn’t fight back for seven years.”
“It doesn’t matter how long it takes. You still killed him. You didn’t let him kill you or Rey. You got her out. You got yourself out. You survived.” Poe took his hand and brought it to his lips, pressing a light kiss on the tips of his fingers. “And now you’ve told me. I can be there to help you. I know people you can talk to. They’re not doctors, but you can talk to them. You’re not alone anymore. I really promise, Kylo, I still like you.”
Kylo had closed his eyes, still being drawn back into his mind. At the final words, he looked at Poe again. “Why.”
“A person doesn’t have to be perfect for you to like them,” Poe answered in an instant. “And I’m not trying to fix you or trick you or whatever you’re thinking right now. I just want to get you a couple of notches closer to normal. You know, like you want.”
Rey’s arms weren’t as strong as Poe’s, but her hugs were sweeter. Still, he leaned into the other boy’s embrace and felt safe. Letting out a long sigh, one that came from his toes and left his mouth, he wanted to shake his head. Instead, he leaned closer and kissed him. The salt from their tears tainted the kiss. He tried to push it away, reaching again for the warmth of intimacy to overtake the emptiness that had swept over him at his confession.
After returning the kiss, Poe pulled away, resting his forehead against his. “You believe me?”
“I want to.” Kylo’s voice felt hollow, but he meant it.
The room was quiet again and Poe smiled at him. “Let’s go to bed, okay? We can talk tomorrow after we get home. I think you’re done talking right now, right?”
He nodded and felt his companion give him a parting kiss before leaving the bed. Not wanting to move, he curled up against a pillow and studied the wall. The wallpaper was peeling in the corner. The pattern was faded and didn’t line up. He finally found a seam along the wall and watched it start to grow before his eyes, spreading out to swallow the room. Longing to dive into the abyss, his trance was only broken when he felt a toothbrush shoved into his hand.
Poe made him get up. He felt like Rey when she was having an empty day. He was guided in his motions to finish the night. Brushing his teeth, washing his face. Poe even ran a comb roughly through his tousled hair. He wouldn’t even let his mother do this for him. Managing to smile at him, he avoided the mirror as he wandered back into their room.
He looked dumbly at the two beds. His spirit was lifted when Poe, only in a pair of pyjama pants, turned down the covers on his bed. The other bed sat untouched.
He silently stripped down to his boxers and turned out the light.
Climbing into bed beside a warm body that was much closer to his own size, but still small enough to make him feel secure, he hoped that sleep would come easily that night.
Warnings for graphic depiction of a past rape and...
...teenage boys kissing.