“This is very important, girl. You mustn’t look him in the eyes. Ever.”
Rey clings to the clay pitcher she’s been given just a little tighter— the oil inside sloshing just a bit with the force of her trembling.
“I need you to tell me if you understand,” the steward is saying. “I was told you can speak.”
Rey opens her mouth and manages a hoarse, “I understand.”
The man with hair like fire, blows out a sigh of relief. “Good. I would hate to lose another Beta so quickly.”
She feels cold dread like a second skin— touching every part of her and seeping deep inside.
“Just do as we told you,” the steward— Armitage, she thinks he’s called— is telling her pointedly, “and you’ll be just fine.”
Rey manages a shaky nod as he opens the door to the baths and motions her inside.
The room is thick with steam and a lingering fragrance of some floral haze. The gauzy material that is belted around her with a silk sash clings to her rapidly moistening skin— the red linen so thin she knows the dusky peaks of her nipples are on full display.
She tries her very best not to dwell on that fact.
The largest of the baths rests in the center of the room— beset in large stone tiles that continues to fill from spouts from every corner. Petals float on the steaming water, and sunlight dances over the rippling surface of the glittering pool from filtered light that drifts in from above.
She clutches the pitcher a little tighter— careful not to spill the rich oil inside.
He won’t hurt you, they assured her. Just don’t speak unless he tells you to. Don’t look at him. Do exactly as he asks, and you will be fine.
She plays this on repeat as she moves to the center of the room on trembling legs. Her bare feet are cool against the chilled stone tiles.
She can’t help but marvel a little at the wide bath— such a luxury she’s never seen in the desert. She sets the pitcher at the edge as she falls to her knees there— unable to resist letting her fingers break the surface of the water.
A spare petal clings to the back of her hand, and she plucks it between her fingers as she brings it close to her nose to inhale. She has to close her eyes against the heady scent— a fragrance unlike anything she’s ever experienced.
“What are you doing?”
Hot coals rake into her belly as she scrambles away from the edge to fall prostrate on the floor. Her heart thuds against her ribs because is this a punishable offense? Will she lose her life on the very first day?
Her eyes train to the ground as her hands lay flat in front of her on the stone. She feels his approach— sees his bare feet (so large), and his eyes peering down on her are like a tangible weight in the way they press into her skin.
“I asked you a question, Beta.”
His voice is so low she can feel it deep inside. It settles into her chest to carve out a place there— and despite the fear that clings to her bones there is a warmth that blooms that she doesn’t understand.
She isn’t sure whether or not she is allowed to speak.
“I don’t like to repeat myself. Do not make me.”
“Forgive me, Alpha. I have never seen a bath like this before.”
There is quiet from above as he considers, and for a moment she wonders if he will simply punish her before she is allowed to finish her task.
She wonders if he will even let her leave this room.
“On with it, then.”
He turns on his heel, and she allows herself to finally look at him, lifting her head from the floor slowly.
He’s so much larger than she could have imagined.
She’s heard the stories of him— there isn’t a single person from the deserts of Jakku to the towers of Coruscant that hasn’t.
The man who murdered his own mentor. Who in one night took control of the entire First Order. The man who holds the entire West Kingdom in the palm of his hand.
When his men had entered Plutt’s camp in search of Betas to work in his stronghold— Rey had tried to hide herself away. Better to be a scavenger than a slave, she thought.
But Plutt had other plans. She’d been bound in the back of a caravan before the sun had set.
That was four days ago.
Only four days to learn everything she could and couldn’t do when Kylo returned from his latest conquest.
But he’s here now.
In fact, as her eyes rove over the wide expanse of his back— the smattering of moles and the array of scars that litter his pale skin— she finds herself thinking just how very here he is. She’s never seen such a large man.
How does he remain so fair in this climate?
He turns slowly, eyeing her still kneeling on the floor with a curious expression— and she is unable to look away. A jagged scar runs from high above one deep brown eye all the way over his cheek to tuck under his jaw.
His mouth is set in a tight line— but she’s too busy noticing the strange softness there that contradicts the hardness of everything else, to notice.
“Are you just going to remain on the floor?”
She remembers herself then, scrambling to her feet and reaching for the pitcher with shaking hands. She gives an apologetic bow of her head as she begins to pour the oil in the steaming water.
She catches his movements from the corner of her eyes— he’s removing his skirt. Her palms ache from the tightness of her own grip.
She tells herself not to look as he crosses the stone. As he steps into the bath— but curiosity wins out, and a flick of her eyes causes her cheeks to heat because he is nothing like the men of the desert.
He slowly sinks into the water— the petals clinging to the bare skin of his chest as he eases as deep as he can go to let his arms spread out over the rim.
Then he simply watches her.
She is forced to avert her gaze.
“Save some of that oil.”
She ceases her pouring— drawing it back when there is only a small amount left— forced to glance his way again in question.
“Come here, Beta.”
Every step is difficult— as if her legs are made of stone themselves. He motions that she sit behind him, and she remains there on her knees for several seconds as she wonders what he might want.
“Your hands. Use them.”
She is confused at first as to what he could possibly mean— but after a sharp look from below and rolling of his shoulders, she realizes he wants her to touch him. She remembers his words about saving the oil, and she dips her hands into the pitcher to coat them with the slick liquid.
The first press of her fingertips into his skin is tentative, soft, even— terror still coursing through her at being so close to Kylo Ren. She lets her hands wander over the wide expanse of his back that is available to her, and it is only when he quietly urges her to use more force that she allows herself to explore further.
Her hands move over his shoulders with a little more pressure— tracing unconsciously over the little nicks and jagged edges that cause her to wonder where he got them all.
He makes some noise when her palms flatten over his chest to draw back upwards with a steady rhythm— and she is assaulted then by some scent she can’t place. It tickles her nostrils in a way she’s not familiar with. Something like a spice she can’t name that is warmed by the desert sun.
It is gone just as quickly as it comes, leaving her more confused.
“You are new.”
It’s not a question she feels— so she doesn’t treat it like one.
More silence the only thing to be heard is the slight sounds of the shifting water. Sweat clings to her temples— her hair sticking to the skin there, and the rising scent of the bath threatens to leave her dizzy.
Not to mention the wide expanse of firm skin she’s currently using her hands on.
In all her life, Rey has never touched another person like this. Certainly not a man. Certainly not an Alpha.
They are so rare, after all.
There is something about him that sets him apart from the Betas she’s known. An air of command that makes one want to follow. It is difficult to be around.
She can’t help but be a little bolder with her touches. Not in a way that begs for him to touch her in return— because such a thing is unheard of— but only in a way that she might remember it later. Her heart races as she continues to rub a slow pattern over his shoulders and down his chest. She feels that warmth again in her chest that she can’t name.
She finds up close that the scar that curls under his jaw extends lower down his chest, and she can’t help but let a finger trace it. She wonders how he got it. She wonders—
A sudden snatch of her wrist pulls her from her musings.
His hand— just as large as the rest of him— wraps around the delicate bend of her wrist so tight it is near painful. She cries out with the surprise of it. He stares at it for a very long time— as if searching for something— and Rey sucks in a shaky breath as her fear wars with that foreign warmth that blooms deep.
That scent is back.
Prickling her senses and only worsening the sheen of sweat that coats her skin. What is that?
He pulls her wrist close— bringing it just under his nose. He lets it drift over her skin there, inhaling deeply with a tight expression.
“Where did you come from?”
She finds words incredibly difficult— with the way he’s touching her. “F-from the desert. Jakku.”
“What? N-no, Alpha, I—” Another sharp inhale against her skin that makes her catch her breath. “I was— I—” She chokes a little when she feels something hot and wet against her wrist that differentiates greatly from the sticky moisture that already clings to her from the steam. “Ah. A scavenger. I am just a scavenger. From a southern outpost.”
She sees the way his chest rises and falls with effort. Sees how tense his jaw is. He turns to look at her— and his eyes, his eyes—
Don’t look him in the eyes.
But it’s too late, because now she can’t look away.
The umber depths burn bright like amber now. They ensnare her— hold her— and she would do anything. Anything he asked. She waits for it. For his command— she wants it all. She wants—
He suddenly flings her wrist away as if it’s burned him. “Get out.”
She comes to as if snapping out of a trance, blinking away her confusion and the thick sense of dizzying misdirection. “I’m sorry, I—”
His eyes snap to her face once more, still burning. “I said, get out.”
She feels the demand like a flood— washing over her to fill up her entire being as if she is drowning in it. She scrambles to her feet uselessly, tripping a little as she hurries from the room.
She is terrified someone will come for her, when they learn of her indiscretion. That they will take her away— or worse.
She doesn’t slow until she is locked away in the room she shares with two other Betas, blissfully empty. She shuts the door behind her with more force than necessary— her heart still hammering in her chest and his voice still nestled deep in her thoughts.
She holds out her wrist as she runs a finger there— trying to see what he saw. Feeling the warm wet of what was surely his tongue as it seared into her skin.
She isn’t sure what just happened.
She’s not sure she wants to.
She doesn’t know Kaydel well, so she is nervous to reveal what happened.
No one came for her after the incident with the bath. Not until dinner— and they said nothing of what occurred. Had Kylo kept it to himself?
It is only after they’ve eaten their meal and are tucked away in their room that she works up the courage to seek help. She leaves out the more damning details— seeking only clarifying information.
“A brothel?” Kaydel frowns as if thinking. “Why do you ask?”
Rey shuffles nervously. “I heard it mentioned in passing.”
“The guards, no doubt,” Kaydel tuts. “Pigs. A brothel is where most of the Omegas end up.”
Kaydel nods. “I doubt you’ve ever come across one in Jakku. So rare, now. Not as rare as Alphas, mind you, but still.”
“Why do they end up there?”
“Well, without an Alpha… there is little option for them. Now, Alphas are waning by the day. Even faster, with Kylo’s crusade. It’s as if he wants to be the last one.”
Rey rubs at her wrist unconsciously. Why would Kylo think she came from a brothel?
Kaydel cocks her head when she notices Rey’s distress. “Is something wrong?”
She takes a steadying breath, terrified to reveal but not knowing what else to do. “S-Someone asked me today if I came from a brothel.”
Kaydel’s eyes widen. “But you’re a Beta!”
“I know.” Rey nods furiously. “I know. I didn’t understand it either.”
Kaydel looks around nervously before pulling Rey in closer. “Maybe you picked up a scent from the journey in. Have you bathed properly since coming here?”
Rey shakes her head. “With little more than cloth and bucket.”
“The bath is open for Betas after dark. Just be sure not to use the large one reserved for Kylo. Maybe a thorough wash will help rinse it away.”
Rey hadn’t considered the possibility that she might have picked up a scent by accident. As a Beta, she knows so very little of the affair of scents. She feels the knot in her chest loosen at such a reasonable explanation.
“Thank you, Kaydel. I will be sure to do that.”
“Don’t worry, Rey,” Kaydel assures. “I’m sure it’s nothing.”
Rey thanks her for her help, and tells herself that it was just a mistake. Even as Kylo’s eyes and his voice and his tongue lingers at the back of her mind.
That night, Rey scrubs more furiously than she has in her entire life.