Kylo had spotted her three days past, a big, mottled green bitch with skin almost as gnarled as her snaggle teeth. Declothed, her body was left exposed to the elements, sunburned and flash frozen, wind whipped and mud covered, when he had first spotted her he could hardly sex her, save for one identifying feature.
Above the second, swollen knuckle, trapped in place by rabies swell and arthritis, the flashing stone of a diamond engagement ring glittered like a star. And in that moment, holed up high in a tree, waiting for the pod of creatures to pass, he thought of Rey. And his decision was made. Kylo Solo wanted that ring.
Now— excuses made, Rey kissed goodbye, babies mooned over and Kess’ hair sufficiently ruffled— he breaks one of the cardinal rules of New Jacksonville, he enters the mossy green depths of the Oregon forest alone. He wants that ring.
He returns to the point where he had last seen the grouping, numbering only eleven, and is pleased to find their footprints well preserved in a mud puddle, toes pointed due west. The day is clear, sun cast high in the sky, visibility is good. Smiling, his fingers drum eagerly against the barrel of his shotgun. He needs that ring.
He walks and he ponders, wondering how she’ll react. With three children and five years under their belts they must be common law wed by now in the eyes of old world law, but New Jacksonville is beyond any law but its own, even the New California Republic hasn’t yet reached them. If Kylo can help it, it never will.
She’ll be happy, he thinks, initially outraged at his solo mission to find the damned thing, but ultimately happy. Rey keeps a small collection of old world things hidden away in their bedroom closet, DVDs and a cassette tape, an old record player and an assortment large eyed plush toys. Marriage is old world… and it just feels right.
The dreamy smile is wiped from his face when a piercing screech splits through his thoughts like a knife. He spins to the right and finds the pod he’s tracking, can see the gem glittering on the big bitch’s finger. Thirty minutes is excellent time, but now they’re charging him and eleven is too many for one man to take on, even one as unhinged as he.
Cursing under his breath he lurches for the nearest tree, securing a short length of rope around the back and between his hands, using it to leverage himself as he makes for the lowest branches. Just out of reach, the things slam into the trunk of the tree, teeth gnashing and nails curling into the bark like bloody talons. Glancing down he sees one has feathers caught in its teeth, a sign of its last meal, of the continued survival of zombies in this new ecosystem. Apex, even over humans.
Secured in a middling branch, he settles in, content to wait a bit before he chooses to start picking them off. Shotguns are imprecise, and ammunition for the pistol on his hip is a dwindling resource. If left for long enough, zombies will often give in. Sighing, he resigns himself to a few hours of boredom, and looks down on them. Playing the game Rey so often does, he wonders about what their lives had been. It’s a pointless sentimental game, and it hurts more than it helps, but it’s hard not to. Even under all the rot and disfigurement, they look human. Rey swears she heard one speak once, years ago, but Kylo never has, so as far as he’s concerned the humanity only runs skin deep.
Sneering down at them, he wants to spit, but spitting would be stimulation, and stimulation will only keep them chomping at his feet longer. So he grimaces at them and watches as they writhe and bloody themselves against the rough bark of the tree, looking into their clouded eyes. They remind him of glass marbles, cold and dark, and despite the cataracs he feels as though he could gaze into them endlessly… and find nothing. No one’s home. Lights off. Empty.
Eventually he zones out entirely, staring aimlessly at some distant point in the trees, eyes glazed over as he waits for the zombies to quiet and move on. He’s so far gone that he nearly misses the far-off thud-crunch of hooves on forest substrate, but the gecker of a spooked horse snaps him from the reverie and he twists awkwardly in the branch to behold his savior.
It’s Rey, of course. It’s always Rey. He grins, knowing that when she runs them off he’ll be scolded, but she’ll ultimately offer to help him, because she craves adventure even after everything they’ve been through. Rey craves adventure and she loves him, and when he refuses to cease his hunt, she’ll demand to join him.
“Kylo Solo!” She shouts from the back of her spooked mount, “You’re a dead man.” And then she jerks from behind her back the essential tool that he had forgotten, the one thing that is guaranteed to run off even the most virulent of hordes; a Super Soaker. Actually a knock off, generic water gun, but it serves its purpose well.
With fire in her eyes Rey pumps it then releases a torrent of dirty, brownish water onto the oncoming beasts. The moment the first brush of mist ghosts their veiny, grey skin they howl, reeling and collapsing clawing at the dirt as they struggle onto malformed feet. Rey, still seated firmly in the saddle, cocks the brightly colored plastic monstrosity a second time, and unleashes a second wave onto their retreating forms, ten backs rushing for the trees, including his target.
Ten backs. Ten hunks of worthless, rabid meat breaking for the thicket.
Kylo’s heart drops to his stomach. Where’s umber eleven? The world slows as a soft snarl-click echos through the forest around them, and he turns his head in time to see Rey yanked from the saddle. The horse screams and breaks for the trees in the direction of home while Rey wrestles with the screeching zombie in the dirt and leaf litter.
Scrambling at the sight of his Rey pinned to the earth by two hundred-odd pounds of writhing, rabid flesh, Kylo leaps from his branch, rolling on impact with the forest floor. He rises smoothly, unsheathing his hunting knife, but finds that Rey has already freed herself and is now crouched a scant few feet from where the creature screeches and swipes at its face, black-brown blood pouring from a wide gash above its eyes.
He moves to help her, but she assures him, low, “I’ve got this one, babe.” There is darkness in her voice and wildfire in her hazel eyes. Her grip shifts on her bowie knife, its well maintained blade smattered in foul blood, and he notes the magazines duck taped around her forearms. The layered paper gives enough resistance to delay a bite, precious seconds that can save a life. There is a large, irregular chunk taken out of the left one, but he doesn’t have time to look for a breech before Rey shouts and lunges, tackling the creature into the dirt. This time she tops, lithe muscles working beneath clothes stuck to her skin with sweat. The strange arousal that pulses through his veins is familiar. The anxiety even moreso.
Rey, in all her bloodlusting beauty, pins the zombie to the ground with her knees, its limbs flailing uncoordinated and wild. Yellow, rotted teeth gnash at her face, but fail to reach her as small fingers wrap around the papery skin of its throat, forcing the back of its skull hard into the dirt. Poised over it, she raises the knife and positions it neatly in the center of its forehead, just under the wound she has already left.
But she doesn't strike, instead she leans closer, close enough to make Kylo wince, and asks a question; “Can you hear me?”
“Rey…” He warns, inching forward, his own knife pulled free. One wrong move and it will all be over.
“Are you in there?” She says, more forcefully, and he can see her grip tightening on its throat, hear how it begins to rasp and gasp for air. The veins beneath its skin bulge as it spits and blood vessels burst in its jaundiced eyes as it struggles.
“Please.” Her voice is tinged with desperation.
This thing, she only ever does it in front of him. The others would think I’m crazy, she had said to him once, but you know that I am. And he is crazy too, a perfect match.
“Rey,” Kylo soothes, “No one’s home, not this time. Let him go.”
With a rasping sigh she relents. Bowie knife raised, lips curled and eyes vicious, she brings the blade down and straight through the zombie’s glassy left eye. Beneath her it jerks and gargles and quivers for a moment before falling limp. A mess of blood and infected flesh on the forest floor.
Rey stands slowly and turns to face Kylo. He’s already beside her, reaching for her arm, frantic as he peels the magazine away. A bite. It’s been so long since he’s dealt with a fucking bite. And never one on Rey. But it isn’t a bite, a brush of his fingers reveals only shredded paper and beautiful tawny skin. The magazine served its purpose. He should really employ that technique more often.
He sighs and levels her a reproachful look, one she returns with equal intensity.
“You really didn’t think I’d find out, Kylo?” She begins, pressing a finger to his sternum, “Sending me off on some fools errand and leaving the boys with Luke? I was on to you ten minutes after you’d left.”
“I know what I’m doing!” He argues weakly, “You shouldn’t be out here, I had it under control.”
Rey glances to the tree he’d been up and scowls, “I’m here now, so you’re stuck with me.” She sounds a little hurt that he hadn’t brought her in the first place, they do almost everything as a team. She’ll understand when he finds what he’s after, he thinks. “What are you doing out here anyways?”
Kylo swallows and explains as best he can without giving himself away, “That pod you chased off, there’s a female, a big one. I spotted her a few days ago. She’s wearing a diamond ring, big fucking rock, valuable. Next time traders from the republic come through we could swap it for some antibiotics and medical supplies.”
It is a reasonable cover. The elite citizens of the NCR did keep the demand for recovered valuables high, and the settlement’s stores of basic medical supplies had been dwindling concerningly for months. He had exaggerated the size of the stone, but it won’t matter once he’s recovered it.
“Why didn’t you just tell me that?” Rey asks, drawing nearer, her pretty eyes falling to his lips. They always kiss after a fight, sometimes more.
“You would’ve said it wasn’t worth the risk…” A weak excuse. Rey would have agreed, but she would also have insisted on a larger hunting party.
Rey shakes her head and steps away, distancing herself again. She slides her knife neatly back into her belt and replies, “No, I just would have gathered a larger party. How many were in that pod, a dozen? That’s too many, even for the two-- oh.”
“Oh what?” She’s smiling at him knowingly and he shifts, uncomfortable. She can’t know, can she?
“This is some kind of danger date, isn’t it. You planned this whole thing so the two of us could spend a day tracking, alone.” She cocks a hip, hand resting on it, smile spreading into a grin, “Well you’ve got me Solo, I’m all yours.”
His internal sigh of relief is immense, but outwardly he plays the whole ordeal off with characteristic confidence. He smiles back, pretends this was his plan all along.
“But no sex in the woods alright? We don’t need to get caught with our pants literally down, especially not by zombies.”
“Wouldn’t be the first time.” He replies cooly, sliding forward to wrap his arms around her waist. She swats his hands playfully, sliping from his grasp.
“Here,” Reaching into her satchel she produces a second water gun, this one a pistol, smaller but equally effective against a hydrophobic horde. She presses it into his hand then rises to kiss him chastely on the lips, “You forgot yours again, didn’t you?”
He nods and catches her wrist to pull her close before she can skirt away again, “You know it. I was up a tree, wasn’t I?” His smile falls and he presses their foreheads together, “Be careful, alright?”
It’s an unusual and grim reminder of how dire their circumstances are, even with the relative safety of home just a few miles away. But they are always in danger, and never more than when they are alone. He can’t lose her now, not before he asks her to be his wife.
“Only if you are,” she entreats, only half-playful. She knows the fear just as well as he, of losing her other half. They had decided long ago that one cannot exist without the other. It’s fucked, but there are no psychologists in this new world, all they have is each other and this twisted codependent love. It keeps them alive, gives them reason.
Neither of them promise as they break, both too reckless for any sort of guarantee.
“They broke east,” Rey says softly as they break apart. Kylo holsters his new water pistol in his belt, feeling its contents slosh.
“You’ll know her when you see her,” he comments as they begin to track, the trail is obvious, a panicked tear through the leaf litter and underbrush, “She’s the tallest one. And ugly.”
“They’re all ugly.”
“She’s really ugly.”
Rey snorts and they trudge onward.
They remain quiet for a time, enjoying each other’s company, until somewhere not far off they hear the bleat of a dying deer. They freeze, Rey looking to Kylo for further instruction.
“It’s your fool’s errand,” she hisses, reaching for her water gun.
Kylo swallows and motions for her to duck low with him. Crouching, they stalk through the underbrush until they are within sight of the pod feasting on a freshly fallen deer. He can see the steam rising up from its exposed insides, dissipating into the air.
Several of the zombies have already pulled away chunks of flesh and scattered some odd feet away from the kill, feasting like jackals. But the one he wants, the ring bearer, she still gnaws at the doe’s shoulder, glassy eyes forward as she bites bones and severs sinew with her teeth.
Kylo points to her and Rey nods her head in understanding. He motions to the others, hands moving in a way meant to represent dispersal, and she nods again. She gets it, she always does, his other half, the heart beating out of his chest. Disperse and isolate.
Leaning over a few pesky weeds, he presses a gentle kiss to the corner of her mouth. Be careful, it means. Her honey eyes entreat back, Only if you are.
They break. Skillfully they split for opposites sides of the clearing their target inhabits. They’ve done this before, and with practiced ease Kylo slides into position on the northern side, Rey on the southern. He’s seven odd feet from a zombie happily munching on a deer haunch, the wet smack of its swollen lips turns his stomach. He gives his water pistol a few pumps, building pressure in its barrel.
Then Kylo raises his hand, the signal, and they break out into the open, raining streams of water down over the stragglers first. It works like a charm, creatures twisting and shrieking under the spray, they scatter into the trees, kill forgotten in their fear. Amidst the budding chaos the core five abandon their prey and spin to face Rey and Kylo.
Disperse and isolate suddenly seems extremely farfetched. They adapt quickly.
Water gun empty, Kylo tosses it aside in favor of his shotgun, cocking it. He smiles at the familiar weight of it in his hands, the smooth metal of the barrel under his fingertips, the give of the trigger when the pad of a finger brushes it just so. Super soakers can be fun. But Kylo Solo is a killer. This new world is quiet suited to that.
He waits until two of the things are near close enough to touch before he fires, beheading them in an explosion of buckshot and viscera, brains splattered on the tree trunks.
Across the clearing he hears the clearing two distinct pops have his attention drawn to Rey. She too has forgone dispersal in favor of her pretty little Desert Eagle. The weapon fits perfectly in her slim hand, and some thirty feet away from her another two zombies have collapsed to the substrate. This time victim to her deadly aim.
Kylo lets out a sigh of relief. Now only he, Rey, and his target remain. The bitch snarls and snaps, lurching back and forth wildly between them as if suspended in the space, uncommitted to either. They carry a certain animal intelligence, he’ll give them that, and this one seems to recognize that the ground around her feet is littered with the bodies of her peers.
“You want this one, babe?” Rey asks, handgun following the creatures movements with practiced ease.
“Nah,” Kylo smiles, Rey is never more beautiful that when she kills, “she’s all yours, kid.”
The corner of her mouth twitches downward at the familiar tease, but before she can complain the zombie turns on her, as if it understands Rey to be the harbinger of its doom. Her brow furrows in concentration as she lines up her shot, the beast wailing as it charges, teeth gnashing, blue veins pulsing wild beneath its papery skin.
Rey pulls the trigger, and with a loud crack and a spray of viscera, the big bitch that has plagued Kylo for the last four days collapses dead to the forest floor.
“I bet they could hear us from town.” Rey comments dryly as Kylo rushes for the corpse.
He straddles it, facing away from her as he removes the ring. He has to do this quickly, before she catches on. “Maybe,” he replies smoothly, through gritted teeth, “But I hope not, we’d have to justify the waste of ammo.”
He quickly loses any hope of pulling the thing over her swollen second knuckle, so he tugs his hunting knife from his belt and bites the inside of his cheek as he hacks. In three quick movements of breaking bone and slicing sinew he has freed the greenish finger from it’s hand, ringing sliding loose into his palm. The gore hardly phases him, he’s seen far worse over the years. He tosses the finger away.
Rey hums behind him, patient and watchful of the woods around them, “Have you got it yet?”
She sounds impatient. Kylo wipes it on his shirt to clean the black blood off as best he can, then he rises and turns to face her, stomach suddenly in knots. There is no waiting on this, he can’t let the lie live beyond this forest without involving others.
He stares at her for a moment where she stands in a shaft of sunlight, eyes glittering golden, lips parted slightly and brows furrowed in confusion at his sudden intensity. Kylo loves her more than anything, and he wants to give her this old world thing. Even if it means nothing to the rest of the world they inhabit now, it would mean something to them.
Swallowing back his fear he covers the ground between them in two easy strides, Rey takes an uneasy step backward as he falls to one knee on the blood soaked earth.
“Rey…” he begins, holding up the ring between them.
“Kylo what are you—
He hardly hears her, “Marry me.”
She stands speechless for a moment, eyes locked on the ring, still dirty with earth and blood. Beneath the filth a diamond sparkles with old world promise.
“Kylo…” Her voice is small, and he is suddenly filled with a sense of anxiety felt by a million ailing hearts before his own. She’s going to say no. This was stupid, so stupid. A waste of time and energy and precious ammunition.
They’ll be cold towards one another for a few days maybe, then have rough sex in their bed and forget this ever happened. It isn’t like she can leave him, not three kids in. It can’t be the end of the world if the world has already ended.
“It’s old world,” he speaks the plea despite his apparent acceptance of her denial, “I thought—
“You thought right.” She hits her knees in front of him and tugs him into a sudden kiss, open mouthed, fingers in his hair. He almost drops the ring in his shock, then he melts into her embrace. His arms wind around her waist, ring clutched tight in a fist as they kiss heatedly.
When they part, pupils blown and gasping, Rey mutters breathlessly into the milimeters between their lips, “Of course I’ll marry you.”
Kylo grins, joy blossoming in his chest in a way it hasn’t since his sons were born. He hoists her up as he stands, and backs her into a tree, kissing her again, smiling all the while.
“No fucking in the woods!” She half scolds half laughs, tilting her head up and breaking away, but he only takes the opportunity to kiss her cheek and jaw and the column of her throat. She tastes of smoke and sweat. Kylo loves it.
Rey kisses his mouth one more time before she wriggles free, and he reluctantly lets her drop back to her feet, “Luke still has the boys, if we make good time we’ll be home before sundown… we could celebrate as loudly as we want.”
Hard in his pants, Kylo huffs in agreement, “Yea let’s— wait.” The ring is still clutched tightly in his palm.
“What is it?” Her cheeks are flushed, lips suck-swollen from kissing.
“Left hand out,” he kneels again, and he watches as the pinkness in her skin seems to shift from lustful to bashful in nature. She loves it, loves this idea he had. Rey aquieces, splaying her fingers between them.
It fits perfectly, another detail he hadn’t considered until this moment yet shudders with relief at. When she pulls her hand away the stone shimmers dully back at them from her ring finger.
“I’ll clean it when we get home,” she muses absentmindedly, taking a moment to appreciate how it looks on her hand.
Kylo snaps her from her reverie with a playful smack on the ass. He’s stupidly horny. “Come on,” he laughs as she punches his shoulder in swift reprimand, “Let’s go home.”
It’s a promise.