Covert Military Research Facility - 90 miles from Coruscant
The escape was not Rey’s idea. Escape to what? She’d never known anything else.
It was Armie who told her she had to leave, so she guessed he was the one who saved her life. She hadn’t wanted to split up, but he wouldn’t listen. He thought since he was the oldest, he deserved to be the one who called the shots. She never even got a chance to thank him.
Takodana forest, normally quiet and peaceful, was interrupted by the hum of helicopters circling over head and dozens of ATV’s navigating between the trees. The noise scared the local wildlife. Rey wanted to watch them, curious as what species they were and how they survived on their own, but there was no time. She had to move.
Armie instructed them to meet him at the center of the forest, where the rocks dipped into the earth, creating a shallow ravine. They’d leveraged the space during past training missions so everyone was aware of the location. Everyone but the troopers who were hunting them down like dogs.
Rey raced barefoot across the ground, ignoring the cuts and scrapes the terrain inflicted on her as she made her way to the rendezvous point.
When she reached the trench, she paused until one by one, her brothers and sisters all peeked up at her. She breathed a sigh of relief and joined them. Mashra helped her climb down. Rey held her sister’s hand while they waited for the rest of the X-wing squad to appear.
Overhead, helicopters circled; their searchlights trying to penetrate the dense foliage. Rey ignored them, too concerned with her siblings’ safety.
After several tense moments, Ivano appeared, the last of their group. She welcomed him, giving him a hug, while Armie positioned himself at the front.
Silently, he signaled for them to break off into pairs, each set taking a different spot along the perimeter to escape. The plan was to meet up a mile down the road from the lab, where Finn would be waiting for them in a supply van.
But nothing went according to plan.
“I’ve ordered a full review, sir. It’s obvious they had assistance. When I find out who was behind this, heads will roll,” Captain Phasma informed Snoke.
“Just find them,” he growled. “All of them.”
“Yes, sir.” She gave a curt nod and left to attend to her troops.
“What if they make it outside the wire?” Mitaka questioned, scanning the forest for signs of movement.
Snoke sighed. He opened his comms. “Capture them if you can,” he ordered Captain Canady. “If any make it to the perimeter, you are to terminate on sight. Authorization code: Order 66.”
The soldiers — or as Rey referred to them Stormtroopers, because their marching sounded like a storm rolling in — got Armie first. He drew their attention away, while she and Mashra ran towards the barrier. Rey watched as they tasered him, driving their pronged weapons into his sides until the electrocution caused him to collapse. His eyes glazed over as he convulsed.
“Rey, come on.” Mashra tugged on her hand, pulling her away from the horrific sight.
Together they made a break for it. They were faster than typical humans, but even they couldn’t outrun an ATV. She heard the Stormtroopers from Captain Phasma’s division closing in on them. The FN Corps was an elite tactical team. When issues arose with the X-wing squad, they were the ones brought in to deal with it. Rey hated them.
“We’re not going to make it,” Mashra announced, glancing around.
Rey hated to admit that her sister was right. She could hear the ATV’s closing in. They wouldn’t be able to breach the perimeter before the Stormtroopers intercepted them. Gazing up, she found an answer.
“Climb,” Rey ordered Mashra.
“You first.” Mashra gave her a leg up, helping spring her up into the branches, out of sight.
“Now you,” Rey urged.
Her sister crouched down, preparing to jump, when the first FN Corps member entered the clearing. His rifle was configured to deliver a killing shot. Mashra froze. Rey stifled a cry. She was forced to watch her sibling march several paces away from the tree. The soldier commed his superior.
“Captain, I’ve caught one.”
Within minutes, Captain Phasma and the rest of her division surrounded Mashra. Each of them had their rifles aimed at her. For several moments, no one moved. Rey didn’t even breathe.
Then a Jeep broke through the forest. The custom black vehicle was one she recognized, just as she recognized the man who stepped out of it.
Snoke curled his lip in disgust when he laid eyes on Mashra. “Who helped you?” he snarled.
Her sister spat on his boots.
Snoke lowered his gaze. When he straightened up, he was armed with a handgun.
A single shot rang out into the night.
Rey felt it in her gut, as if the bullet pierced her stomach instead of Mashra.
“Get rid of this mess,” Snoke ordered the troops.
“Sir,” Phasma appeared at Snoke’s side. “We have seven captured, three wounded and on their way to the infirmary, one killed, and one still unaccounted for.”
Rey watched from her hiding place as Snoke turned on his captain. His beady black eyes narrowed into slits. “You have a problem if that one gets outside.”
“With all due respect, sir, it’s the middle of the night and there isn’t a town for miles. How far can one child get?”
Snoke chuckled, the sound as cruel and dry as the rest of him. “Do as I command, Captain Phasma, and find them. Now.”
Rey waited as the troops disassembled, breaking off into different directions, the same way she and her siblings had done earlier. She didn’t move an inch until they were gone and the roar of the ATV’s had gone silent. Then, and only then, did she shimmy down from the treetop.
When she reached the meeting location, Finn was pacing by the supply van.
He ran to her, enveloping her in a tight hug. She grabbed him back, equally relieved to see him unharmed.
“Where are the others?” he asked, as he drew back.
She couldn’t answer.
Finn took her tears as the answer he needed. He helped her into the back of the van. Once she was settled, he climbed into the driver’s seat. The closest city was ninety miles away. Finn put the vehicle in drive.
They had a long way to go.
7 Years Later - Chandrila
Rey’s eyes snapped open and she bolted up in bed. Her clothes were soaked through with sweat. Frantically, she checked her surroundings to figure out where she was. Only once Rey confirmed she was in her apartment, did she relax.
But only slightly.
She could still smell the cold, sterile air of the facility. She could taste the blood from where she’d bit down too hard on the inside of her cheek. She could feel their eyes on her, watching her to see if she had developed into the weapon they designed her to be. All the hairs on her arms were standing on end and she felt jittery, as though she had consumed far too much caffeine.
The flashes came then, not nightmares. Memories.
She saw herself reporting to the First Order’s medical bay — small and scared. She saw herself crowded into a room with the others, each made to strip down and receive vaccinations...or what they had told her were vaccinations. It had been the first of many lies they fed her.
Another flash whitened out her vision. This time, she saw herself older, more confident.
Snoke was there. He was scanning the initiates in the chamber. Each was strapped down to a hard, unforgiving steel examination table, including Rey. He paused at her side, staring into her hazel eyes. She felt as though he was peering into her mind. Could he see her indecision? Could he see her fear? For a split second, she was positive he could see her apprehension. He blinked and continued walking. One of the doctors, a nervous man named, Mitaka, followed behind, scribbling away on his clipboard.
“I want her placed in X-wing,” Snoke demanded.
“The X-series, sir?”
“Yes! Must I repeat every order I issue you, Mitaka?”
“No. No, sir.”
Another blinding light. Another memory.
Rey was in the barracks. The First Order compound was massive. The X-wing quarters were on the third story with a window overlooking Takodana forest.
She was nestled up in the windowsill, her petite form fitting in the narrow space easily. Her knees were tucked up against her chest and her arms were hugging them as close as possible.
“Rey,” a hissed whisper got her attention.
Glancing down, she spotted Mashra, another member of the X-series squad.
They’d been bred to have a wolf pack mentality. Their genetic make-up was supplemented with hours upon hours of education, brainwashing them to behave as one organism. They were trained to always engage as a cohesive unit, working towards a common goal. The current objective was bedtime.
Rey didn’t want to be a mindless drone controlled by her superiors. She wanted to be free.
“Get down from there. If anyone spots you, they’ll put you in solitary again,” her sister reminded her.
Rey lowered her legs, turning away from the window when her trained eyes spotted movement below. Whipping her head back around, she stared down at the grounds. No one was supposed to be out this late. No one was supposed to be beyond the fence either.
Was it a training mission?
Curious, she scanned the treeline again, looking past the chain link fence lined with barbed wire for movement. The forest was still. She held her breath, knowing she had seen someone. Then, after another minute had ticked past, she saw them.
There were seven or so individuals, dressed in all black. For a normal human, it would have been near impossible to make them out in the moonless night, but Rey had never been considered normal. Special. Gifted. Elite. That’s what Snoke called her.
They were taller than her, probably adults. Was this a special assault mission to further their training?
She watched as one attached a device to the fence. Seconds later, the device exploded, blowing open a gaping hole in the barrier. The perimeter alarm blared, deafening within the cement confines of her chamber.
Not a sanctioned mission then.
Unconsciously, she pressed herself against the window, trying to get a closer look. What were they doing?
“Rey!” Mashra warned her, but Rey barely heard her. “Rey, someone’s coming!”
She continued staring, watching in awe as members of the squad came towards the facility, weapons at the ready. First Order officers raced by the barracks on their way to deal with the situation, while Stormtroopers flooded the yard, prepared to fight against the incoming attack.
Fire reigned, lighting up the night. She continued to watch, transfixed until a gloved hand yanked her down from the window.
She blinked several times, clearing her vision. She didn’t want to remember. She didn’t want to think of who she'd lost that evening. Grimacing, she padded barefoot to the bathroom, stripping down before turning on the shower.
It was the same routine every morning. No matter how many nights she spent beyond the perimeter, the First Order still had a hold over her. The horrors she’d been subjected to were inescapable.
Sleep never came easily, a byproduct of how she’d been made. The perfect soldier didn’t need sleep. They only needed their next mission. Except there were no more missions. Not for her.
Sometimes it seemed like it happened to someone else, like maybe it was a story she heard. The hardest part was knowing she was the only one left. Of course, if any of her siblings had made it, they’d be living a half-life, just like her. She was constantly looking over her shoulder, checking to see if the ghosts of her past were following her. She was always on the run, always moving onto the next place, putting more and more distance between herself and the First Order.
Gripping the sink basin, Rey forced herself to inhale slowly through her nose, attempting to calm her rapidly beating heart.
In. Out. In. Out. In. Out.
Her hands shook as she pulled herself away from the sink, carefully avoiding the mirror. She didn’t want to see the unnatural way her pupils were dilated, thanks to her feline DNA.
Stepping under the spray, she tilted her head backward, allowing the scalding hot water to cover her, drowning out the sound of her drumming heartbeat. Rey closed her eyes, sinking into the feeling of the burn. It was a distraction from the pain of her past.
A past she couldn’t outrun, no matter how hard she tried.
She slammed her palm against the shower wall, frustration overwhelming her fear. They’d never have her again. She’d keep running for as long as she needed until the First Order either gave up or she died fighting like Armie. No matter what happened, Rey refused to go back there.
Her eyes opened and she went to work massaging shampoo into her shoulder-length chestnut locks. As her fingers carded through her hair, her thoughts drifted away from her memories. She began making a list of things she needed to buy to keep the fridge stocked. By the time the water ran cold, she confined her memories to the back of her mind.
Rey dried off and tied the towel around herself before exiting the bathroom.
“You’re up early,” Finn commented from where he sat at their kitchen counter. A paper was laid out before him, next to a steaming mug of coffee. “Want some?”
“No thanks,” she responded.
Finn shrugged and left her to duck into her room.
Unlike her, Finn had been born outside of the facility to a family he’d never know and brought to the First Order to be trained. The objective of his programming was simple: duty, discipline, teamwork, and, above all, obedience. The brainwashing techniques hadn’t overwhelmed Finn’s good nature. Stormtroopers were meant to follow orders without question, yet when Armie decided they needed to break out, Finn offered up his intel and gave them hope.
After the escape, her former guard became her sole companion. They’d lived together on the run for the past six years, often posing as newlyweds just starting out or foster siblings. Rey preferred the latter. It was closer to the truth. Finn tried to keep up as her training partner, though she surpassed him in every way. His skills were no match for her biology. Still, sparring with him was better than not sparring at all.
They’d been living in Chandrila for a few months now. It was a large city, easy to get to and even easier to hide in.
Finn worked as a freelance photographer, specializing in shooting special events such as weddings and corporate launch parties. The benefit of his occupation was that each engagement was temporary so when they left for the next city, no one missed him.
When Rey had suggested applying to be an armed security guard, he rolled his eyes and informed her that it was too big of a risk. They couldn’t let anyone know about them or where they’d come from, so he chose a career out of his element to avoid suspicion and keep them under the First Order’s radar.
Rey helped him from time to time. Usually on larger jobs, Finn needed a hand with his equipment. They had to work hard to keep up the facade that they were normal, or in Rey’s case, human, but it got her out of the apartment and put a few extra dollars in their pockets.
Money was essential for living on the run. Chandrila was merely one of many cities they’d been to ever since the escape. They never stayed in one spot long, the threat of being discovered always looming over them. It was a constant motivator, as well as a reminder of how different she was from everyone else. The people around her were normal, free from the burden she felt weighing her down. Rey longed for that kind of simplicity.
The sole silver lining to their transient lifestyle was that they never stayed anywhere long enough to put down roots. Rey had an excuse to avoid socializing with anyone and it kept people from knowing her. Some days that bothered Rey but on days like today, when her memories were strong and harder to ignore, she was grateful no one else had to get tangled up in her mess. Her conscience was already full from dragging Finn into it.
“You’re going to be late again,” he chided as she strolled out of her room, freshly changed.
Rey shrugged. “Does it matter? We’re only going to be here for a few more weeks.”
Finn sighed and turned his attention back to the paper. “We can’t stay here. You know that.”
“I'm well aware.”
“You can pick the next city,” he offered, trying to lighten the mood.
“They’re all the same in the end,” Rey replied. “People who I can never know, stores I can never go inside, and the same diet.” She eyed the towers of instant soup and ramen lining their kitchen counter.
Finn flushed, embarrassed, rubbing the back of his neck. “We have to save up for the next move,” he explained. “I have an interview to photograph a brunch this weekend. If I get it, we’ll be able to eat actual food for a change. It would give me a great reference so I can try to get a better job in the next city. Then we can eat well all the time. You deserve that.”
“I’m sorry,” Rey apologized. “I’m sorry. I’m not trying to pick a fight. I’m just tired. I didn’t sleep well last night.”
“You don’t sleep,” Finn replied, quirking a brow. She stared at her feet, embarrassed for bringing it up. “Flashbacks again?” he surmised.
“Don’t worry about it,” she said quickly, her tone sharper than she intended. Thinking of her sister was painful but not nearly as painful as the person Rey had lost before the escape. She didn’t think about him. She couldn’t. What she felt when she remembered that night threatened to tear her apart at the seams.
Finn rose from his seat, coming to her side to give her a hug. Rey backed away and he froze. “She would be proud of you,” he told her, gently.
“She should be here,” Rey stated, wrapping her arms around herself to will away the ghosts. “It’s my fault she’s not.”
“Don’t say that,” Finn demanded. “Don’t even think that. The only person whose fault it is had their finger on the trigger.”
Rey knew. Of all the horrors from the First Order she remembered, it was Snoke's face she saw the most. His mangled, pale skin and those beady eyes would haunt her for the rest of her days. Suppressing a shiver, she stepped towards the door. “Gotta blaze. If I don’t show up on time, Plutt will hound me all day.”
“Why do you insist on working there?” Finn questioned as he returned to his coffee.
“We need money,” Rey replied honestly.
A flash of disappointment crossed her friend’s face. He regretted not being able to support them on his own. Rey almost wished she hadn’t said anything.
“See you tonight.” He gave her a half-hearted wave.
Rey left the rundown apartment building, exiting through the west stairwell out onto a side street.
Chandrila was a magnificent city full of modern skyscrapers and expansive parks to break up the monochromatic landscape of metallic structures. The glamorous downtown hid the fact that other, lesser-known areas of the city weren’t maintained with the same fervor. The section Rey and Finn lived in was a step up from the slums of Jakku, where they’d been prior but not by much.
She was pleased he’d finally agreed she could get a job. Though she knew it was only because he wanted her to stop stealing. She scoffed to herself.
Where was the fun in that?
Pushing open the shop door, Rey entered to find the proprietor, Unkar Plutt passed out behind the counter. His stained shirt had a fresh blemish from his breakfast burrito.
Rey pushed down the urge to pinch her nose. The stench of the shop assaulted her sensitive sense of smell. Usually, she wore a bandana around her neck to hide her mark as well as cover her nose from offending scents. She’d been so affected by her memories that she’d forgotten the accessory when getting dressed.
She hurried into the back room where her work was laid out for her. Broken cell phones, outdated laptops, and other electronics littered the worn desk. It was garbage but as for a career, it would do.
Ignoring the snores from the front, Rey got to work fixing the pieces.
She only wished there was someone out there that could fix her.
Across the city, a formidable man dressed in all black sat in his office. He glared at the report displayed on his screen. If his information was correct — and it always was — the base was still in operation.
His fists clenched and he felt the characteristic rage of his designation threatening to burst forth. Ever since he’d been there, his emotions controlled him instead of the other way around. Years of therapy hadn’t helped and despite Dr. Kalonia’s best efforts, there was no way to reverse the effects.
Ben Solo was a monster.
But he was a monster who would burn his creator to the ground.
I'm just gonna leave this here and go...
Like she anticipated, Finn nailed his interview. For the first weekend since they’d come to the city, Rey would be joining him to help with an all-day photoshoot. The client wanted everything covered from the event, which kicked off in the morning. They were looking for candid event shots, a high-end photo booth element, and personal pictures that she planned on using for future collateral. Apparently, Finn’s latest client was a big deal.
They had dressed up — Finn in navy slacks with a charcoal gray button-down and Rey in dark jeans, a cream-colored blouse, and a navy blazer blazer. Next to her leather jacket, a product of one of her late night jaunts about the city, her blazer was the most expensive piece in her closet. She didn’t have much occasion to wear it, since she worked for Plutt, but today it came in handy.
As it turned out, calling Finn's client a big deal was accurate. Finn’s client was Senator Leia Organa, one of the most influential and well-known politicians in the country. When they arrived on location, Finn whistled at the sight in front of them. Rey found it difficult to not be impressed.
The Organa Estate was a sweeping oasis in the center of Chandrila’s steel jungle. It was a gated mansion, separated from the towering structures and chaotic noise of the rest of the city by its stone walls.
Rey eyed the barrier, her brain instantly calculating the necessary speed of her sprint and height of her jump to scale it. She may have left the First Order but their strenuous training remained. Her learned behavior was instinctual. It gave her the ability to survive away from their ruthless control.
“Hey.” Finn’s hand rested on her shoulder. “You okay?”
“Of course,” she replied.
“It isn’t that time of year, is it?” he asked, a hint of worry in his tone.
She swallowed, fighting to keep her annoyance at bay. Finn wasn’t trying to pry. Rey knew that, but she wished he wouldn’t ask. She couldn’t give him an answer. Due to her poor diet, her estrus cycle wasn't predictable. It didn't come every quarter like a regular cycle demanded.
When it first happened, Rey was fifteen and neither she nor Finn understood what was going on. She’d spent the next week curled up in bed, crying out in pain from abdominal cramps, sweating through her clothes, and feeling restless. It wasn’t until afterwards that Finn researched her symptoms and they reached a conclusion about what happened.
Rey had never been so embarrassed. She didn’t want to talk about it with him. Not now. Not ever.
“Let’s go,” she told him, brushing past him. “These delegates won’t photograph themselves.”
Senator Organa was hosting a charity brunch to raise money for an advanced medicine wing at Chandrila Hospital. Healthcare was one of the pillars of her campaign. She was going to have Finn photograph the event and take photos of all the attendees for her promotional material. The goal was to raise a majority of the necessary funds to build the wing from this brunch and a handful of other upcoming events.
Rey wasn’t interested in charity or the senator’s platform, but when her eyes caught ‘STEM cell research facility,’ she paused. She turned her attention to the information pamphlets, interested in learning more about the Senator’s involvement.
Bioengineering was how Snoke made Rey. She wondered if he had a test tube labeled with her genetic profile somewhere in his lab, a trophy of his greatest triumph and simultaneously a reminder of his epic failure. She hoped when he thought of her, it was the latter. She didn’t want him to be proud of her. She wanted him to suffer.
The hospital wing plans were advanced, though not nearly as developed as the First Order facility where she’d been born. Still, the idea of having a research center so close made Rey uncomfortable. There were times when she could still feel the sharp pinch of a needle through her skin or was overwhelmed by the suffocating scent of an alcohol swab.
Rey hadn’t stepped foot inside a medical center since the escape. She had no plans to change that any time soon.
“It’s amazing what bullshit these politicians claim to be supporting nowadays, isn’t it?” a voice asked.
Rey glanced up to see a man wearing a fancy suit paired with a roguish smirk. “Han Solo,” the man offered her his hand in greeting.
“Kira,” she replied. After the escape, she and Finn had agreed on fake names to help avoid suspicion. When they were out in public, he went by John and she went by Kira.
Snoke had never believed in names. He claimed it humanized them. Rey wished it was that simple.
“You look a little lost,” Han commented.
It wasn’t until he spoke that she realized she’d lost Finn in the fray. She straightened up, gazing around but her roommate was nowhere to be seen.
“I’m supposed to be helping my friend set-up for the photos,” she explained.
“Ah, I think I can help with that. Come on, I’ll sneak you through the kitchen.”
Rey followed the man, unsure why he was being kind to her. Clearly, she wasn’t here to rub elbows with Chandrila’s elite like he was. The upper-class ignored the poverty in their city, sweeping the issue under the rug the same way they hid their slums behind their sparkling architecture marvels.
However, Han didn’t seem to be the typical high-brow gentleman she’d seen strolling around the parks. He appeared to be mocking the entire event, a unique stance for someone who was part of the wealthy community.
“My wife is all about these shindigs,” he grumbled, leading her through the crowd. “Personally, I think it would be easier to call up the rich bimbos, ask for a donation and be done with it. Than I wouldn't have to dress in this monkey suit, but what do I know?”
Rey laughed. He certainly wasn’t afraid to share his opinion.
“At least there’s an open bar,” he remarked, opening the kitchen door to lead her out into the backyard.
Yard wasn’t exactly the word Rey would describe it. An elaborate garden stretched out from the rear patio, reaching out in all directions until it met the barrier walls. There were at least a dozen different types of flowers, perfectly trimmed hedges that stood taller than her, and an ornate white gazebo in the center of it all. It was a lush marvel of landscaping.
“I didn’t know there was this much green in the whole city,” Rey commented, entranced by the sprawling landscape.
She didn’t catch the way Han’s smirk fell or how his eyes softened.
He cleared his throat, resuming his former demeanor. “Here we are.” Han pointed to where Finn was taking his camera out of the case off to the left.
Her roommate spotted her and gave her a relieved wave. Rey adjusted the strap of her shoulder bag. “Thank you.”
“If you get lost again, just ask someone where the bar is. That’s where you’ll find me,” Han told her with a wink. “Good luck, kid.” He patted her shoulder and sauntered back inside.
Rey followed the steps down to join Finn.
“I was wondering where you were,” he said as she began to take out the various flashes.
She shrugged. “I ran into that guy inside and we got to talking.”
Finn stared at her in disbelief. “Rey, don’t you know who that was.”
Her roommate nodded. “Yeah, but you know who he’s married to, right?”
Rey rolled her eyes with a sigh. “Some rich bitch.”
“The Senator,” Finn corrected. “As in, Senator Organa. As in, the woman who hired us.”
She blinked. “So?”
Finn shook his head, busying himself with getting set-up. “So, landing a job like this means getting references for other jobs in the future. It means a steady paycheck. It means we can finally afford a decent meal for a change.”
“I could just steal something,” Rey suggested. She pointed to herself. “Genetically-engineered pick-pocket, right here.”
“No, it’s too risky,” Finn refused. “Did you forget what happened in Dar-Qar?”
Rey huffed in annoyance, shifting away from him. She hated when he acted like a protective brother instead of a supportive friend. After all, he was only a few months older than her. What did he know?
They worked in silence, Rey radiating with irritation while Finn passive-aggressively forced her to assist. Once their spot was prepared, she went off in search of water. Working under the sun would produce beautiful pictures but it also increased her risk of dehydration.
When the scientists mixed up their cocktail, they’d added several animal species to Rey’s genetic make-up. They were all prominent predators — an eagle for vision and stealth, a tiger for strength and speed, a wolf for hearing and unity.
The technical term for what they’d made her into was a manticore. A creature of mythology, it had the body of a lion, the head of a human, and the tail of a snake. They’d dubbed her the next stage of evolution, a superior being. Rey considered herself a hodge-podge at best, a monster at worst.
There were gifts to her construction — agility, endurance, and analytical skills. But along with her gifts, there were also drawbacks. Dehydration was a minor one. It was easy to prevent and simple to remedy. Going into heat once a year wasn’t preventable and there was no way to stop it. It was humiliating. Her seizure disorder, on the other hand, was an entirely different matter.
Somewhere between the gene splicing and DNA enhancements, the First Order crossed wires. Her brain didn’t produce enough serotonin to support her body. When her levels fell too low, it resulted in a seizure. Yet another problem for her to deal with, another thing she couldn’t outrun.
Tryptophan supplemented her need. The tablets were inexpensive but with the amount she took daily to prevent a seizure, it was costly. Her need for the pills was what had driven her to start stealing in the first place. Finn didn’t approve. They’d gotten into several fights about it over the years. Rey always won.
Her anger at Finn snowballed into the inordinate resentment she felt for the First Order. She was a monster but they were the sadists who’d made her. If it wasn’t for Finn, Rey would have gone back and dealt with them.
Just thinking about it made her want to steal one of the luxury vehicles parked out front and—
“Miss?” A hand latched onto her arm.
Rey instantly spun around, fist ready to fly.
“Ah, ah, ah.” Another hand covered hers, guiding her clenched hand away. Rey blinked, her vision clearing as she took in the kind eyes of Han Solo.
“Sorry,” Rey sheepishly apologized to the startled brunch attendee. The timid man muttered something about her being crazy under his breath and hurried away.
Han merely chuckled and patted her on the back. “Leave you alone for five minutes and you’re already causing trouble,” he tutted.
“I was looking for bottles of water,” she explained.
“Dangerous stuff,” he teased.
Han guided her through the crowd and away from the unsuspecting man she had nearly struck. They passed through a wide hallway to the sunroom, where the buffet table was set up. He paused in the doorway, as a petite but fierce-looking woman locked gazes with them.
“Nothing is quite as dangerous as incurring the wrath of my wife.”
“It’s fine. I shouldn’t be in here anyway. I need to be outside to help John,” Rey apologized.
“Don’t worry about the Princess,” Han told her. “She’s all bark and no bite, at least where you’re concerned.” He winked and Rey felt marginally better. There was something comforting about his presence.
She hadn’t spent much time with humans, apart from Finn. There was the sweet Asian mechanic who worked at the garage near Plutt’s. She offered Rey a wave each morning and sometimes said hi, but that didn’t really count.
“You don’t look much like a photographer,” Han commented, his gaze on her hands.
Rey blushed, realizing she hadn’t scrubbed off the grease stains from yesterday. There were still dark marks under her nails and a smudge on her wrist. She quickly tugged her blazer down, attempting to hide it.
He chuckled. “There’s nothing wrong with hard work. I prefer to be hands-on, myself. She likes to be in here hosting parties and talking politics. Me? I’d rather be out in the hangar working on my plane.”
“You have your own plane?” Rey asked, wide-eyed with interest. She had never worked on something as large as plane before. The prospect was exciting.
At Plutt’s pawn shop, she tinkered with everything from cellphones and laptops to air conditioners and motorcycles, one of which she had her eye on. Once she had enough money saved up, she planned on buying it. She already had a hiding place picked out for it in the junkyard behind her apartment.
“Sure do,” Han answered. “Won it in a poker match against a fellow pilot and smuggler.”
“Must have been one hell of a hand,” she returned.
Han smirked. “It was.”
They entered the kitchen and Han retrieved a few bottles of water from the stainless steel fridge. “If you finish up early, stop on by. I’ll probably be laying low in there.” He paused, running his fingers around the collar of his shirt. “Can’t take much more of this monkey suit.”
Rey laughed. “Alright.” She gave him a wave and took the water out to Finn.
A handful of people were gathered around the photographer, including the Senator herself. Rey took a deep breath and plastered a smile on her face.
“Here she is,” Finn announced as she sidled up to him. Han’s wife scrutinized Rey, expression unreadable. “Kira, this is Senator Organa, our host,” he introduced her to the imposing woman. “Senator, this is my assistant, Kira.”
“Nice to meet you,” Rey said, offering her hand to the government official.
“It’s a pleasure to meet you, as well,” Leia responded smoothly. “I hope my husband wasn’t boring you.”
“Not at all. He was telling me about his plane.”
The Senator scoffed. “I hate that blasted thing. He gets grease all over—.” Her words fell away the second she spotted the grease caked under Rey’s fingernails.
“I fix things for a living,” Rey explained with a shrug. “Grease comes with the territory.”
“I didn’t mean any offense,” Leia quickly apologized.
Rey held up her hand. She didn’t care for false modesty or pity. She enjoyed her work, just not where she did it. “It pays the bills,” she offered the Senator as a way to escape the awkwardness. “And helping John is a bonus.”
“His portfolio was extensive. You two certainly travel a lot,” Leia remarked, conversationally.
“We go where the work takes us,” Finn informed the Senator. “Now, I was thinking of starting here under the archway. We can capture the light better if we begin in the next half hour or so and then we can move further into the gardens, if that works.”
While he proposed his game plan to Leia, Rey tuned out their conversation. It wasn’t nearly as interesting as Han’s offer to show her his plane. She hoped the Senator wouldn’t keep them too late.
Ben stared down at the gardens, watching his mother parade around with her supporters. He snorted. She looked ridiculous. He didn’t know why she insisted on operating behind this front. If any of her so-called friends knew what she was capable of, it would turn their hair white. Leia Organa wasn’t just a Senator, she was the leader of the Resistance.
Named a terrorist organization by the same government she served under, his mother had been using her ties in the capital to identify a weakness within the First Order.
Her network of rebels operated out of sight of the city officials who filled the backyard. They were under the impression they were here for brunch, supporting the creation of a new hospital wing, but in reality, the entire event was a diversion.
Dameron and his squad were about to complete a charge on the First Order base. Ben had requested to take the lead but his mother refused. She wanted him present at the charity function to avoid suspicion. She believed one scandal was enough for their family.
As if what had happened to him could be classified as a scandal. Inhumane torture was a more accurate term.
And one he’d use to refer to the ridiculous snob-hobbing going on downstairs.
He knew he couldn’t put off making an appearance any longer. If he remained cooped up in his room, his mother would drag him out by his ear like she did when he was a child. Ben didn’t need an embarrassment of that magnitude hitting the papers. Dameron would never let him live it down.
With a sigh, he turned away from the window, missing the girl who came out of the kitchen to join his mother.
Rey held her hand up, blocking out the sun beating down on her. They’d been outside for hours, snapping pictures of Chandrila’s finest and dishing out compliments to fluff their egos.
It was all a charade, one she despised but as Finn pointed out, this photo gig was sure to get him references. The paycheck was more than she made in a month. So Rey forced herself to smile and nod, acting as though she was interested in what the attendees were saying.
The morning transitioned into the afternoon. Three empty bottles of water littered the ground by her feet. She focused on adjusting the reflector instead of thinking about the fact her hands were trembling intermittently.
Finn noticed the stiffness of her posture. He announced that they were taking a ten minute break.
“Go inside and get some water,” he told her, then, lowering his voice, he asked, “Did you bring your pills?”
Rey nodded. She never went anywhere without an emergency bottle of tryptophan.
“Take a couple of those too. Just to be safe,” Finn suggested.
Snatching her backpack off the ground, Rey made a beeline for the house.
Her senses were overstimulated. It happened when she was in a public setting for too long. Her enhanced hearing, vision, and sense of smell became overwhelmed. When she worked in Plutt’s shop, she kept a bandana secured over her nose and mouth and wore earplugs. She couldn’t do that during jobs with Finn. At least not jobs where the Senator was involved.
As she climbed the patio steps, Rey could still smell the sickeningly sweet stench of perfume from the last portrait shot. She pinched the bridge of her nose and ducked her head down. The second she took her eyes off her path, a man knocked into her.
“Excuse you,” she muttered under her breath in annoyance.
She didn’t bother to see if he’d heard her, too preoccupied with getting inside. Had she glanced over her shoulder, Rey would have seen a pair of striking chocolate eyes tracking her movements.
Following Han’s path from earlier, she navigated herself to the kitchen for water and then to the nearest bathroom. It was occupied.
With a heavy sigh, Rey scanned the mansion. Most of the attendees were outside. The only people still in the house were the caterers. They didn’t seem the least bit bothered by her presence. She snagged some leftovers, surprised to find she enjoyed the senator’s selections. Then again, anything was better than the cheap noodles she’d been living off of for months.
Hunger satisfied, Rey snuck upstairs in search of a vacant bathroom. Tryptophan wasn’t a drug, nor was it illegal. Regardless, Rey always felt the need to hide her dependency, ashamed of her condition. It wasn’t her fault that she’d been designed with a critical flaw.
She found an available washroom on the second floor. Making sure to lock the door, Rey unzipped her bag, and retrieved her medication. She tilted her head back, tossing a handful of pills in her mouth before chasing it with water. For good measure, Rey drained the remainder of the bottle. Replenished, she freshened herself up and exited the room.
As she made her way to the staircase, something caught her eye.
Rey paused by the manor study, her gaze fixated on the helmet displayed in the center of the room. It was military, probably from World War II if she had to guess. Along the side, a name was inscribed.
Anakin ‘Vader’ Skywalker.
Whoever the hell that was.
The name didn’t mean anything to her but obviously the helmet was important. Given its placement in the study, Rey suspected she could pawn it for at least $800. It wouldn’t be enough to buy her motorcycle, but it would help ease the strain on living expenses.
Finn had warned her about D’Qar, a time when her attempts to dig them out of debt had backfired, but that was over and done with. She’d proven herself just as capable of taking care of him as he was of taking care of her.
Laughter from outside reminded her of where she was and where she was meant to be. She still had a job to do. Descending the stairs, Rey noted where the cameras were located and the type of locking mechanism on the entryways.
Her mind was made up. Her roommate wasn't the only one who could land a huge payday. She’d come back to the Organa household.
Who knew we had so many Dark Angel stans in the reylo fandom? This is awesome!
Night was Rey’s favorite part of the day.
In the dark, she could pretend she was normal. Like the lies politicians told their voters to conceal their motivations, shadows hid the truth. For a short time, she could forget about where she’d come from. She could forget the fact that she hadn’t been born; she’d been made. At night, Rey could be whoever she wanted, regardless of how she’d come into existence.
Sometimes, she wandered aimlessly around the park, trying to get lost along the narrow winding paths. It never happened. Her tracker instincts kept her from going astray. Still, it was fun to imagine a life where she could live carefree, taking an afternoon stroll and sipping an expensive latte.
There were the nights when she explored Main Street. She only ever ventured into the city center when the crowds had dissipated and the roaring noise of streaming advertisements were placed on mute. Rey couldn’t stomach going during the day. The overstimulation was difficult to manage for a long period of time. It was a non-stop assault on all five senses, which usually resulted in her emptying a full bottle of tryptophan.
When she didn’t go to the park or Main Street, Rey could be found in one of the many dive bars along the city’s outskirts. They were the most lucrative arenas for finding something to pawn. Between the gambling, drinking, and the humans with loose morales, Rey was able to earn money. If she was lucky, it was a misplaced piece of jewelry. On harder evenings, it was only a lost cell phone. Anything was better than nothing. Every little bit she could scrape up helped Finn.
If he knew she spent her evenings scavenging around the city, Finn didn’t remark on it. She certainly wasn’t going to bring it up and risk another fight, since he was still upset about D’Qar.
Rey clenched her jaw. It hadn’t been her fault. Some stupid flyboy had hit on her at the bar, following her around all night like a lost puppy. She hinted that she wasn’t interested, but the guy only tried harder. He droned on and on about how he was one of the best pilots the world had ever seen and how he’d just been promoted to Commander.
Having had enough, Rey pocketed her winnings and left. He followed her out. Apparently, Commander Moron couldn’t take no for an answer. He trailed her to the next bar where she ran the same scheme.
In her opinion, what she did wasn’t a scam. She wasn’t tricking anyone. She was merely using her genetic talents to earn their money. It was their problem if they couldn’t resist gambling. Humans tended to underestimate her. Why did she have to pay for their mistake? If anything, she was teaching them a valuable lesson.
The pilot hadn’t shared her sentiment. When he noticed she was running the same game, he’d pulled her aside. At first, Rey played coy, not wanting to draw attention to their disagreement, but when he blocked her from the exit, the predator in her took control. It was never a good idea to corner a wild animal.
In a split second, she had slammed him against the bar, one arm pinned between the counter and his chest and his other locked behind his back.
“Two million years of human evolution and this is what we get,” she whispered in his ear. “Morons like you.” With a shove, she released him and stepped back. “Don’t follow me.”
Of course, he hadn’t listened. Rey watched him from the roof of the bar as he searched the streets for where she’d gone. Afraid he’d report her to the media, she returned home and immediately began packing. By morning, she and Finn were on their way to Jakku.
He had agreed with her that they needed to leave to avoid any unnecessary attention, but Finn hadn’t been happy about the impromptu move. Months later, he was still annoyed about it. He blamed Rey for her lack of judgement.
Rey sighed. She didn’t like being at odds with her only friend. She also didn’t like being wrong.
A midnight ride would help her mood.
Jimmying open the back door to gain entry, she slipped into the pawnshop. The motorcycle — soon to be her motorcycle — was sitting by the garage door. Opening it would surely wake Plutt, even if he was in a drunken stupor. Rey tapped the kickstand up and quietly rolled the bike out the door. She didn’t bother to lock up. She’d be back before sunrise.
Besides, no one stole from Unkar Plutt. Well, no one, except her.
Riding out of the city was effortless at night. There was little to no traffic at the late hour, which was one of the reasons Rey was glad she didn’t need to sleep the way humans did. She had more time to live if she was able to run around at night. Sometimes she wondered what the humans were doing wasting so many precious hours lying in bed. Then she was reminded how if they were all built like her, night wouldn’t be so peaceful. Another reason why it was her favorite time of day.
Before she reached the outer wall of the mansion, Rey killed the engine. The chance of someone being awake at this hour was slim, but she wasn’t taking any chances. As wrong as it was to steal, she had no plans to scare anyone or harm them. She only wanted her meal ticket. And if there was anything left over to put in her motorcycle fund, well then that was just an added perk of pulling the job.
The gate was locked, as she had anticipated it would be. It was of little consequence. Rey leaned the bike against the wall and scanned the barrier. It was about ten feet — hardly a match for her. She took a couple of steps back, eyeing the top. Then, she sprinted forward, at the last second, leaping over the barrier and landing gracefully on the balls of her feet on the opposite side.
Piece of cake.
Smirking to herself, she proceeded across the yard toward her target. There was no security patrolling the grounds. Though she hadn’t seen any evidence indicating it earlier, Rey expected at least a pair of Dobermans or a perimeter guard. Neither was present.
Either the Organa-Solo’s were a very trusting family or they were fools. She decided they had to be the former. Leia didn’t strike her as the type to underestimate a threat.
When Rey had been packing up the photography equipment earlier, she’d noticed a balcony on the second story of the house. If she used the garage roof for a start, Rey knew she’d be able to make it.
Curiosity tempted her to peek inside the garage. She hadn’t gotten a chance to check out Han’s plane. A pang of guilt hit her. She didn’t have anything against the man. He’d been kind to her, but she needed to eat and so did Finn. Besides, Han and his wife had plenty of money. They probably wouldn’t even miss the helmet.
So what she was doing wasn’t that bad, right?
Rey sprinted across the garage roof and sprang onto the balcony. Paused in a crouch, she held her breath, waiting for the sound of an alarm or the occupants of the room to wake. When neither instance occurred, Rey climbed onto the banister and hoisted herself up.
She crept across the rooftop, knees bent to keep herself as low to the ground as possible. The brand of security system the Organa mansion was outfitted with was high-end. That meant motion sensors, biometric locks, and cameras. Her best bet to avoiding all of it was finding the control room or knocking out the power. An outage would raise an alarm for anyone who was a night owl like her, so she opted for the former solution.
Luckily, they didn't have a guard dog, though if they had, Rey would have easily conquered it. Animals weren’t as obtuse as humans. They understood hierarchy and wouldn’t dare to challenge an Alpha.
She found a skylight over a vacant room. Kneeling over it, Rey reached into her jacket, pulling out her lock-pick set. Her fingers plucked out the appropriate pieces and she rapidly undid the lock on the window’s latch.
With the sensor disabled, Rey slipped inside. She landed like a cat, light on her feet and prepared to bolt. The house remained quiet, a stark contrast to the noisy event which had taken place mere hours before.
Rey snuck over to the door, peering out into the darkened hallway. The soft sounds of music played from somewhere downstairs and the thrum of electronics filled the air. Other than that, the manor was silent.
Carefully, she made her way around, pausing briefly to peek into each room, trying to locate where the security system was housed. She hadn’t seen it earlier. The Senator probably kept it in her office where she could always be in control.
As she searched, Rey pocketed smaller items that should easily pawn at Plutt’s. A coin collection here, a bronze sculpture there.
The mansion was larger than she originally thought. Winding hallways and a third level kept her searching until she passed the helmet. Pursuing her lips, Rey made the snap decision to grab the item. She’d deal with the cameras afterward. As she tossed the helmet into her backpack, a floorboard creaked.
A bear of a man loomed in the corridor, his frame nearly blocking out all the light. If he thought she’d be intimidated by that, she wasn’t. Rey could see in the dark just as well as she could see in the light. Another DNA enhancement courtesy of the First Order. What she was concerned about was his weapon. He held a gun with both hands, aimed directly at her.
Rey slowly knelt down, depositing her backpack on the floor to keep it out of the way. She couldn’t risk damaging her goods.
It had been a while since she’d had some real action. This was going to be fun.
The instant she moved, a shot rang out. Rey dodged it with ease, racing forward faster than the gun could discharge. She kicked off the side wall, propelling herself toward the guard to land a kick to his abdomen. He huffed, staggering back but her stroke wasn’t enough to push him over.
He was tall for a human. Due to his shaggy facial hair, Rey couldn’t assess his age. Not that it mattered. If he was standing in her way, she’d deal with him.
She launched herself at him, whipping around his upper body. Rey latched on, using her thin limbs to lock around his bulky form, slowly choking the air from his lungs. The guard struggled. He attempted to smash her against the nearest wall but Rey twisted around, using his own force against him so he knocked himself out.
The guard sunk to the floor, unconscious but otherwise unharmed.
Smirking, she sauntered over to her backpack.
“Hold it right there!”
She froze, hands up in the air, facing away from the newcomer.
Who had a voice deep and dangerous like thunder, especially considering it was paired with a sinful scent. It was quite possibly the most delicious thing she’d ever smelled. It was a blend of leather, vanilla, and musk — all male musk, so potent that Rey felt a tad heady.
“Chewie?” the man called into the guest bedroom.
Rey waited, knowing there would be no response. The man called his security guard once more. Chewie didn’t move.
“If he’s a side of beef, he’s fine but maybe give him a minute,” she suggested.
The man’s dark chocolate eyes flickered to her face, then to her backpack. “You’re a thief?” he questioned.
He was handsome in a unique way. Maybe she could use that to her advantage. Humans tended to be driven by desire and Rey knew she’d been created with that in mind. It was like camouflage.
“I steal things in order to sell them for money. It’s called commerce,” she explained with a wink.
“It’s illegal,” he deadpanned.
Okay, so not the reaction she’d been fishing for.
“Girl’s gotta make a living,” she shrugged indifferently. If this guy wouldn’t bite, she’d deal with him the same way she’d dealt with the other guard.
His eyes narrowed. He was not amused by her candor.
“Right, well, you’ll forgive me for not believing you.” He approached her, the gun still in his hand. “You can explain your story to the police when they get here.”
Rey backed away. “I’d love to stay and chat but I’ve gotta blaze.”
She spun on her heel and took off for the skylight. Like his partner, this guard had a broad build and strong legs but he was no match for her. No human was. She doubted he’d even be able to reach the room before she was across the lawn and out of sight. Let him explain that story to the police.
Solid heat struck her from behind and then he was tackling her to the ground.
The first guard was barely a warm-up compared to this man. He was strong, quick, and well trained. Rey figured he had to be ex-military. It was commendable but she’d fought worse. Brushing off her arrogance for labeling him as easy prey, she prepared to show him exactly who he was messing with.
Rey pressed her palms into the ground, pushing down hard enough to send her attacker flying off. She straightened up, turning to face the new threat.
Her opponent, a man who was similar in stature to the guard, though he didn’t have any facial hair, glared at her. The gun shook in his grip yet he didn’t aim it at her. He merely stared, waiting for her to make the first move.
Rey charged at him, using the same tactic she had employed when she took out his guard.
The bigger they are, the harder they fall.
Only he didn’t.
He barely stumbled. Rey blinked, bewildered. What was going on?
Her pause gave him an opening. He trapped her between his broad arms, shoving her up against the wall so he could search her for weapons. Rey would have laughed if she wasn’t preoccupied with determining what exactly she’d gone up against. Suddenly, the lack of security on the grounds made sense.
This man — whoever he was — was more volatile than a pair of Dobermans. He was a beast.
A beast she needed to tame.
Using a sultry tone, Rey asked: "Do you always come on this strong?”
“Only when I meet someone I have to know everything about,” he responded, the words hot as they fell across the side of her face.
Rey felt dizzy under the weight of him, surrounded by his intoxicating scent. She was so affected by it that she failed to notice where his hand was. He pulled her hair back, exposing the mark on her neck, the brand signifying what she was.
“Now I think I know pretty much everything.”
Rey’s eyes snapped open. She slammed her head back, catching his nose. He roared in agony but didn’t roll off of her. She drove her elbow into his ribs, forcing her way out from under him. Frantically, she glanced around, spotting an open door leading into an office with a large bay window.
It would have to do.
Leaving her backpack behind, Rey ran to the window. The man’s shouts were drowned out by the sound of shattering glass as she dove through the window.
When her feet hit the ground, two stories down, Rey glanced up to find him staring at her in awe. For a moment they were frozen like that, eyes locked on one another in a silent contest that resulted in a stalemate. The second he blinked, Rey raced to the gate.
With another impressive leap, she scaled the fence and disappeared from his sight.
Usually, her time alone in the evenings was fun, a chance to be free. Tonight was not one of those nights. She’d wasted gas, lost a fight, and came home empty-handed. Tonight just plain sucked.
Ben slammed his palm against the window frame, glowering at the shards of glass scattered about the floor.
He’d underestimated the girl. It was clear from the way she fought that she was trained but he hadn’t expected a member of X-wing to be moonlighting as a cat burglar. Considering how close the Resistance was to their end goal with the First Order, her appearance in his home couldn’t be a coincidence.
The sound of a motorcycle roaring to life had him racing downstairs and out the front door. Gravel kicked up, forcing him to cover his face. By the time he dropped his shield, all he managed to make out were the last three digits on her license plate. It was a long-shot. Chances were the bike wasn’t registered but he memorized the numbers anyway.
When Ben returned to his office to run the plate, Dameron was standing in his office. “What happened in here?” he asked curiously.
“Thief,” Ben replied, indifferent.
He crossed the room to take a seat behind his computer screen. With a few clicks, Ben pulled up the security feed. He studied the film until he caught an image of her face.
She was young, her youthfulness only enhanced by the freckles decorating her cheekbones. She looked soft and innocent. It was part of her construct. She was made to be alluring. Like a deadly viper, her outward appearance was camouflage for the danger she concealed.
Had it not been for his own rigorous training, Ben knew he would have been no match for her. She wasn’t human. But then again, neither was he.
“Are we trying to identify the perp or your new girlfriend?” Dameron quipped with a smirk.
Ben’s eyes narrowed. “If I just got my ass handed to me by Holdo, I’d be inclined to mind my own business,” he sneered.
“Girlfriend,” Dameron determined out loud. “When you find her, make sure to take her a present.”
“She seems like the type who would play hard to get,” Dameron stated with a strange expression on his face.
“How would you know?”
The commander shrugged. “She looks like a girl I met once. Easy on the eyes, but not easy to impress.”
“Must have really knocked you down a peg,” Ben said with a smirk. He knew how Dameron was around women. And men. He referred to himself as an equal-opportunity lover.
“Chocolates, wine, flowers,” Dameron suggested, ignoring Ben’s dig as he began sweeping up the broken glass. “Ladies love that stuff. It makes you look charming so she agrees to go on a date with you.”
“I’m not asking her—.”
“Why not?” Dameron interrupted.
“She just tried to steal my grandfather’s helmet!”
The Resistance pilot’s face lit up as he cheered, “Perfect! I’ve always hated that creepy old thing anyway.”
“Dameron,” Ben growled in warning.
“It takes care of the gift issue. You don’t have to guess if she’s a milk or dark chocolate kinda girl. Just give her the helmet.”
Ben pinched the bridge of his nose and sighed in frustration. “I’d have to find her first.”
Dameron straightened up. “Move aside, Solo. I’ve got this.”
So many of you called this little robbery meet-cute moment! You can run, Rey but you can't hide...
The second Rey slipped through her bedroom window, Finn appeared, demanding an explanation.“Where the hell were you?”
“I went out,” Rey answered with a noncommittal shrug.
“You can’t keep pulling stunts like this,” her roommate argued. “What happens if you come across the First Order? What are you going to do then, Rey? Huh?”
“I’ll handle it,” she snapped.
The cuts on her hands and neck stung from where the window's glass sliced her, but her wounds didn’t sting as badly as her pride. Pride which Finn bruised even further by questioning her. As if she didn’t know what she was up against. As if she hadn’t lived every day since the escape looking over her shoulder.
“I know you’re bored living like this,” Finn interrupted her internal brooding. “I can’t imagine how frustrating it is for someone like you—.”
Her eyes narrowed. “Someone like me?”
Finn sighed, leaning back against the door frame. “Don’t be like that. You know what I mean.”
“What you mean is someone not like you. Someone who isn’t human?” she challenged furiously.
“Get out,” she hissed.
“This is my room and I’m asking you to leave.” Her request left no room for negotiation.
Finn stared at her for a moment, stunned by her unbridled rage. Once he recognized the fight was lost, he exited with a muttered sorry.
Rey listened to him enter his room, waiting until the rhythm of his heartbeat slowed to resting. Only after she was sure he was asleep, did she creep into the bathroom to remove the shards of glass from her body. One interrogation was enough for the evening. She didn’t need a lecture on safety too.
She plucked the jagged pieces out with tweezers, while her mind drifted back to the man with the intense eyes. There was something intriguing about him. His scent was alluring but her interest in him went beyond that. He felt familiar, like a memory she couldn’t quite place. Not that it mattered. It didn’t change the fact that he recognized the meaning behind her tattoo.
He was dangerous.
The X-wing program was highly classified information. All the medical personnel and guards signed a series of NDA’s and other agreements before being permitted to work on the base. Those who left or terminated their employment contracts typically found themselves at the bottom of Nymeve Lake or suffered cardiac arrest.
Snoke didn’t like loose ends. They threatened his control and to a man like Snoke, control was power. There wasn’t a single commodity on Earth he valued more.
Which was why he had gifted each of his subjects with superior skills.
They all were recipients of their own customized genetic cocktail, complete with life-threatening side effects and unpredictable enhancements. The only way to identify those enhancements was through rigorous training and time.
When she was first brought into the program, Snoke referred to Rey as the runt of the litter. It wasn’t meant as a compliment. His constant criticism made her work harder, her need for his approval outweighing her need for food or rest.
She had been a child and she craved what all children craved. Love and affection. Home. A place to belong. Snoke gave her none of those things.
But Rey learned that her weaknesses weren’t flaws.
What she lacked in size, Rey made up for in stamina and speed. Against larger opponents, she was able to use her agility to give her an upper hand in combat.
She’d gotten good and then she’d gotten better. Rey improved by leaps and bounds until she could beat each of her siblings, including Armie. She could still remember Snoke’s pleased grin when she slammed her brother into the mat. That expression still haunted her dreams.
Rey was a superior soldier, built for combat and trained to secure a victory. Which left her with two questions.
Who was the guy protecting the Organa estate?
And how had he overpowered her?
She ripped out the final shard of glass, wincing as the red-stained piece fell into the sink. Rey reached into the medicine cabinet for hydrogen peroxide.
Her escape route had been reckless. She could almost hear Snoke’s sneer, chiding her lack of preparation. Frustrated, Rey slammed the medicine cabinet shut.
Whoever the man at Organa mansion was, he was a liability, one she’d have to take care of.
Ben Solo glared at the pilot. He was livid. After hours of scouring databases in search of the girl’s identify, Dameron came up empty-handed and Ben recognized that he needed caffeine to keep from murdering the man. Just as the sun rose, he had a thought.
Shoving the pilot aside, Ben pulled up Kaydel’s files on the charity brunch. His mother’s assistant kept meticulous notes. Sure enough, he located a vendor list for the event. He printed out a copy.
“Kira Kenobi,” Poe read the name out loud. “She’s a photography assistant?”
“I figure that was how our visitor was able to case the mansion,” Ben replied, taking the sheet out of Poe’s hands. “If she was here during the day, she could have taken note of the security system, the camera placements, and where the helmet was displayed.”
“What’s a First Order operative doing stealing historical artifacts?” the pilot asked skeptically.
“I don’t know,” Ben said, his eyes lingering on his computer screen. “But I intend to find out.”
There was no contact information for a Kira Kenobi, but there was a number listed for the photographer, John Curtis. Ben dialed, drumming his fingers impatiently along his desk while he waited for the man to pick up.
“Hello, this is John.”
“Mr. Curtis, this is Ben Solo from Senator Organa’s benefit,” he introduced himself.
There was a pause before John responded. “Good morning, Mr. Solo. I hope everything with the brunch went well.”
“It did, thank you,” Ben confirmed. Dameron leaned on the edge of his desk, eagerly gesturing for him to continue. “Actually, my mother was so impressed with your work, she wanted to see if you’d be available for another event we are hosting later this month. It’s on the larger scale, so you’d need to bring your assistant — Kira, was it? — along as well.”
“Of course,” John immediately agreed. “Thank you for the opportunity, Mr. Solo.”
“I was checking out vendor information and I didn’t see a number listed for Ms. Kenobi. Do you happen to have it handy?”
“Kira is my roommate,” John answered. “I’ll deliver the message to her. When did you say your event was again?”
Ben pursed his lips. “Please forgive me, something’s just come up. I’ll have to call you back.”
He hung up before John could reply.
“What happened?” Dameron questioned.
“He’s in on it,” Ben told the pilot.
“So what do we do now?”
Ben watched the security footage cycling through. The girl didn’t speak to many people, besides the delegates she helped photograph. They wouldn’t remember someone from the staff. Then he saw her in the kitchen. Ben grinned.
The guests wouldn’t remember her but his father would.
“Where are you going?” Dameron asked, following him out of the room.
“This doesn’t concern you,” Ben told him.
“If it wasn’t for me, you wouldn’t even have her name,” the pilot argued.
“I was the one who pulled the vendor list,” Ben reminded him, stubbornly.
“And you were the one who let her slip right through your fingers,” Dameron shot back.
Ben clenched his jaw, his hands balling into fists at his side. He didn’t need to be reminded of his failure.
He’d spent the better part of the evening reliving the moment over and over again. The way she dived through the glass in a burst of glittering shards and unmatched determination was unlike anything Ben had seen before. Ben had to remind himself that she was part of the X-wing program. Jumping through a second-story window was child’s play for someone like her.
He’d seen the exercises Snoke demanded his creations to complete on a daily basis. Taking a header off a building tested more than their physical abilities; it pushed their mental limitations until their fear was eradicated.
Ben closed his eyes, pinching the bridge of his nose as he tried to escape his memories of the facility. It had been years since he lived trapped beyond the wire barrier, housed in cold concrete but he could still smell the bleach on his sheets.
Sometimes, when his mind was feeling particularly cruel, he could almost feel her hand in his, like the brush of a ghost, soft and fleeting. But when he opened his eyes she was never there. She was gone.
Eventually, he’d learn to accept it.
“Solo?” Dameron’s voice drew him back to the present.
“I’m going to visit the hangar,” he announced. “Don’t follow me.”
Takodana was a biker bar on the edge of Chandrila which catered to those passing through the city. It had a reputation for being a den of murderers, traitors and thieves. To Rey, it was just a place to hang and have a good time.
“Hey Emmie,” she greeted the ancient bartender as she strolled in.
“Rey,” the bronze-skinned woman greeted her with a curt nod. “It’s past closing time.”
“I’m not here to drink,” Rey clarified.
Emmie smiled knowingly. “She’s in the back.”
Rey jogged up the steps to the owner’s office. If there was one person in Chandrila who could give her answers, it would be Maz Kanata. The bar owner was known as the Pirate Queen for her ruthless ability to uncover intelligence.
“Come in,” the woman called before Rey could even knock.
How does she do that?
“Rey.” Maz stood up from her desk, smiling from behind her thick spectacles. Rey came around to hug her. “What can I do for you, child?”
“I need information.”
Maz was one of the only people who knew her real name. Finn didn’t trust her but Rey did. Her instincts never steered her wrong. Besides, it was nice to be able to talk to someone other than her roommate.
“You’ve come to the right place,” Maz said with a laugh, flexing her fingers before she sat behind her monitor. “What caught your eye this time?”
Rey absently traced her finger across a photo of Maz as the woman began typing up a search algorithm. Maz hadn’t always been a bar owner. Though the details of her past were murky, one thing was clear. She was an adventurer. In the picture Rey held, Maz wore a vest full of ammunition and sported a semi-automatic rifle.
“There is a guy who works at the Organa Estate,” Rey answered. “I need details on him.”
Maz’s typing came to a halt. “And what are you doing getting mixed up with that lot?” the bar owner inquired.
“Does it matter?” Rey asked, turning around to face her.
“On what you intend to do with the information I provide,” Maz clarified, staring at Rey over the top of her glasses expectantly.
“Fine.” Rey sighed and slumped into the chair across from the bar owner. “I tried to lift something last night and got caught. The guy saw my tattoo. He seemed to know what it meant.”
Maz made a humming sound and nodded. “What did this man look like?”
Rey described his strong jawline, intense gaze, and dark hair. She did not mention the fact that he smelled like sin or that she’d been so distracted by his scent that she’d been caught.
Maz’s eyes lit up with amusement. “You’re talking about Ben.”
The bar owner nodded. “Ben Solo. He’s Han and Leia’s son. The reason he knows what your tattoo means is because he—.” Maz was cut off by an alert on her computer. “Speak of the devil,” she murmured, her attention focused on the screen’s image.
“What is it?” Rey asked.
“Company. You best get going,” the woman warned her. “Unless you want to get caught again.” She exited the office, making sure to shut the door behind her.
Rey wasted no time in hoisting herself up into the air vent. She shimmied along the shaft until she heard Maz’s booming welcome.
Rey froze. She slid forward to the next opening, peering down at the pair of visitors as they stepped into Maz’s watering hole.
“Hey, Maz,” Han waved sheepishly.
Rey grinned. He looked different in his loose long-sleeve t-shirt and a brown leather jacket. The relaxed style fit him far better than the tux from the charity gala had.
Aside him stood his son, the man who had attacked her only hours earlier. Rey kept her gaze on him as if he could glance up and notice her at any moment.
“I assume you need something,” Maz surmised, crossing her arms over her chest.
“Why do you say that?” Han questioned with a roguish grin.
“Because I’m closed,” Maz answered. “Or can’t you read? The hours are posted outside.”
“Maybe I just wanted to stop by,” Han suggested. “You know? For old time’s sake.”
Rey watched as Maz’s eyes narrowed in disbelief. Han cursed under his breath, running a hand through his hair. “Okay, okay,” he relented. “We need an address for a girl.”
“A girl?” Maz straightened up, instantly connecting the dots. Rey held her breath. “What girl?”
“This one,” the man — Ben — handed her a printout.
Rey had been right. He was dangerous. Determined and dangerous. She had to get out of here.
Quietly, she slid forward through the air shaft, pulling her body through the slim metal shoot towards the kitchen area. As she moved, Rey tried not to be distracted by the muffled echoes of Maz’s conversation with the Solo men.
She thought she heard her alias mentioned but before she could hone in on the conversation her cell rang.
Asking his father for help was not something Ben planned to make a habit of. Han thought they were playing twenty questions. Since they left the property, his father had already questioned what he planned to do with Kira, how she got away from him, and — Ben’s personal favorite — why he cared if she stole the helmet.
“It’s not like you knew the man,” Han remarked. “If you did, you wouldn’t think so highly of him. He was a cold-hearted, mindless military drone. All he cared about was following his orders. He didn’t care about his family or anything else.”
Ben fixed his gaze on the road, ignoring his father’s tirade. The subject of his grandfather, Anakin Skywalker, was a point they disagreed on constantly. As he drove them out of the city, Ben tuned out Han, his focus shifting to Kira.
There was something familiar about her. The way she moved was efficient, effortless from her years of training and yet there was a hesitancy in her motions. It was as if she hadn’t expected him to be there, as if she didn’t even know he existed.
The more he thought about it, the more Ben realized her actions didn’t make sense. At least not for a First Order soldier. Had she escaped?
No. He’d been the only one the Resistance smuggled out that night.
His hands tightened on the wheel as he remembered how he’d screamed at his mother until Harter was forced to sedate him. He still hadn’t forgiven her for that.
“She’s pretty,” Han commented.
Ben snapped his gaze to his father. “What?”
“Your girl. Kira,” Han clarified. “She’s pretty. I can see why you don’t want to let her go.”
“That’s not what this is,” he argued.
“Let me tell you something, Ben,” his father told him, pointing a finger. “You can lie to Poe and you can lie to me, but know this. Women always find out the truth. Always.”
“Whatever,” he scoffed. “Just tell me where to turn.”
They passed the remainder of the car ride in silence, the quiet only broken when Han offered directions. When Ben pulled his Silencer into the gravel parking lot of Takodana, he groaned inwardly.
He should have known his father would drag him out to a seedy bar. The majority of Han’s contacts were criminals or at the very least the type to flirt with the law. Ben was sure this guy wouldn’t be any different.
Except it wasn’t a guy they met with but a petite elderly woman.
As he shared with her everything he knew about the girl, alias Kira Kenobi, a cell phone rang near the kitchen. Ben glanced around but there was no one in the bar. Hadn’t Maz mentioned she was closed?
He caught her flinch. His eyes narrowed.
“She’s here, isn’t she?”
The woman’s steely eyes confirmed his suspicions. Ben tore across the room, jumping the bar, and bursting into the kitchen.
“Ooi!” a slim bronze-skinned woman snapped at him from where her arms were buried in soapy water.
“The girl, where is she?” he demanded.
“She’s gone, boy. Better luck next time.”
With a growl, Ben darted past her, searching for where Kira had gone. The air vent above the exit was kicked open, the metal grate swaying on its hinges.
He came out into an alley just in time to see her climbing the fire escape.
Ben leaped into the air, grabbing her around her waist and dragging her to the ground. They landed in a tangle of limbs and a slew of curses.
“Let go!” she hissed, clawing at him like a feral cat.
They wrestled on the ground, evenly matched despite their size difference. Ben thought he had her until she flipped them around, slamming his shoulders into the dirt. Wiping her hands clean, she straightened up, leaning him lying there.
“That’s two to me,” she noted smugly. “Wanna try for best of five next time?”
“There won’t be a next time,” he grunted, standing up. “You’re coming with me.”
“Nah,” she drawled. “I have a prior commitment. Can’t be late.”
“Right,” he chuckled in a disbelieving tone.
The girl smirked up at him, her eyes alight with a fire he hadn’t seen the prior evening. He knew she was dangerous. He was slipping under her spectacular blend of skill mixed with a clever mind and a seductive voice.
Then there was her scent.
He’d been too distracted to notice it last night but being close to her now, it was stronger and unavoidable. She smelled like a blend of fresh-squeezed oranges, vanilla, and something heady. The scent was like his own personally crafted aphrodisiac.
“You can’t con a con, sweetheart,” he grinned, feigning confidence. “I know what you are.”
She hummed, her eyes following her fingers as she traced a line up his chest to his chin, where she cupped his face gently. “Maybe not.” She closed her eyes leaning forward. He was pulled towards her, not by the force of her grip but by an unnamed sensation in his core.
“Or maybe you’re wrong.” The girl stepped back with a wide smile.
Ben glanced down, noticing the handcuffs before he recognized the cold metal against his flesh. She had bound him to a fire escape he’d pulled her off of.
“See ya around,” she said with a mock salute. “Ben.”
With a wave, she sauntered out of the alley, wearing a smug smile as a mark of her victory. He watched her go, too bewitched to be angry. Under his belt an uncomfortable pressure had him straining against the stiff fabric of his jeans.
He’d been right. She was definitely dangerous.
She always had been.
With his free hand, he reached into his pocket to retrieve his phone. It rang only once before the pilot picked up.
“Hey Solo! Miss me?”
“I need you to meet me behind Takodana.”
“What? Why? I thought Han went with you.”
“He’s not involved with this,” Ben snapped.
“Involved with what exactly? Did your girlfriend shoot you down?” Dameron teased.
“Just get here. And make sure to bring your handcuff keys.”
“Damn, she got you good” the pilot commented before bursting into laughter. Ben could hear him rummaging about on the other end, no doubt gathering up his keys to retrieve him. “I thought you were unbeatable, Solo. Isn’t that what Snoke—”
“Eeesh, alright. I’m on my way,” he announced. “I thought it was just one girl.”
“It was,” Ben confirmed, the corners of his mouth twitching.
“What kind of girl gets the drop on you, huh?”
The best kind, he thought to himself, smiling as he pictured the hazel color of her eyes. He’d only known one person with eyes like that. And he wouldn’t lose her again.
She didn’t recognize him but he knew her. He knew everything, including her name.
“Until next time...Rey.”
Keep those theories coming. I love hearing all your thoughts!
Rey couldn’t control the rapid beating of her heart.
There was something familiar about Ben, something buried just beneath the surface. Like the remnants of a dream, she could see the shape of it, but there were no finer details to give her a solid, clear definition. When she reached for the answer, it slipped through her fingers like wisps of smoke, disappearing all together.
Frustrated, she failed to notice her employer waiting for her inside the shop.
“You’re late,” Plutt snapped gruffly.
“Sorry, I overslept,” Rey lied.
“I thought you didn’t sleep,” he grumbled, watching her head to the back room with his beady eyes.
She shrugged. “Guess I needed to catch up.”
He followed her, caging her in by blocking the doorway with his girth. She dug into her pocket, retrieving the bandana she normally wore to block his stench.
“If you want to catch up, you can stay late and close up,” Plutt ordered.
“Fine,” Rey agreed.
With Plutt gone, it would be easier to slip out with the motorcycle. She needed to go back to Takodana and finish her conversation with Maz. The Pirate Queen knew about the mystery surrounding Ben Solo, a mystery that Rey intended to solve.
“Did someone come in to test ride that motorcycle?” Plutt questioned.
“Nope.” She tried to move past him, but he didn’t budge from his spot in between the door frame.
“Then why did you move it?” he inquired pithily.
“I didn’t,” Rey lied.
“No?” he roared.
“I said no, didn’t I?” she challenged him with a sharp tone and a glare.
“Then what is this?” Plutt demanded, as he stomped over to his computer screen.
He turned the monitor around and pressed play. An image of Rey rolling the bike out of the shop played in black and white. Her eyes widened. When had he installed surveillance cameras? When she started, they had all been decoys to discourage theft.
“Teedo thought there was something fishy about you,” Plutt murmured. “Guess he was right.”
“I took it for a test run to make sure it was still functioning,” she attempted to cover her tracks. It was one of her better excuses.
“If you want the bike, girl, you have to pay for it,” Plutt grumbled. “And paying for it requires money, which you don’t have. I’m docking your pay. If you want to joyride, do it on your own time.” Rey scowled at him. “Don’t like it? There’s the door,” he said pointing to the front of the shop. “Good luck finding another job.”
“I don’t know how to break this to you, Plutt, but I’m always looking for another job,” Rey retorted with annoyance.
He backhanded her, hard enough that her head snapped to the side. She spat blood onto the floor. Rey clenched her fists at her side, wishing she could beat him within an inch of his life. Technically, she could, but any violence on her part would only put a larger target on her back and any trouble she could get into would lead the First Order to her. Her and Finn. She couldn’t risk it.
“Clean it up,” Plutt yelled. “I’m going down to the bar.”
“Like I’m shocked to hear you say that.”
He pointed a swollen finger at her. “Don’t sass me, girl,” he warned. “I’m running a business here. This ain’t a charity.” With that, he left, slamming the door in his wake.
Rey stared at the drops of blood on the floor. Her mind went back to another time she’d seen crimson paint the ground.
She’d snuck out of training during the circuit change. When Rey passed Dr. Mitaka, she snagged his ID badge. He’d been too busy documenting their progress on his tablet to notice. With the laminated card in hand, she slipped through the corridors. At the sound of boots approaching, she ducked into a stroage room. Once the Stormtrooper passed, she continued on her way.
Kylo was scheduled to be in the courtyard training with the FN Corps, Captain Phasma’s most elite soldiers. If she was ever going to beat him, Rey needed to see what she was up against.
She crept down to the ground floor and swiped Mitaka’s badge to gain access to the yard.
What she saw on the other side of the door could only be described as carnage. Kylo moved like an animal, acting solely on instinct. And his instinct was to fight.
All twelve of the FN Corps members were in varying states of defeat. More than half were sprawled on the ground, unmoving. Rey wasn’t sure if they were dead or merely unconscious. Their full-body armor kept her from discerning the difference. The rest were huffing loudly, attempting to breathe before they were defending themselves from Kylo’s follow-up attack.
Off to the side, Captain Phasma stood silent, with her hands folded behind her back. She held her military stance as she scrutinized each move her soldiers made.
A shift of movement from the roof caught Rey’s attention and she spotted a sniper lying across the overhang. His gun was pointed at Kylo.
“No!” She sprung forward, the impulse to protect him overpowering her.
Kylo’s eyes snapped to her face. Then he was charging.
One of the Stormtroopers got to her first. He grabbed her arm, trying to drag her out of the courtyard.
It was a fatal mistake.
Kylo tore the man away from her before ripping his helmet off and grabbing the man’s head between his massive hands. Rey watched stunned as he snapped the soldier’s neck in one abrupt motion. The Stormtrooper collapsed to the ground between them.
She raised her eyes from the body to her friend, unsure of the thundering of her pulse in her ears was due to fear or something else.
Slowly, Rey stood, reaching out a hand to cradle his face.
That was when the sniper struck.
The tranquilizer dart struck Kylo in the neck, causing him to let out a savage roar. He twisted away from her. His hands cupped his neck, fingers desperately clawing to remove the dart.
Phasma’s remaining corps converged on him. Finn held her back while his brothers beat Kylo down. Rey screamed for them to stop, but her cries fell on deaf ears. The last thing she saw before Finn carried her back inside was Kylo’s blood on the stone ground.
That was the last time she saw him. The next morning, Snoke announced he was gone and ordered her to put it out of her mind.
Rey shook her head, clearing the memory away. She couldn't think about that now — couldn’t think of him. She went to reach for her backpack only to realize she hadn't brought it. She’d left it behind last night.
She needed her pills. She’d already gone too long without a dose.
The chime of the bell alerted Rey to the shop’s newcomer before she spoke.
“Are you alright?”
Rey warily glanced up but when she saw who had entered the shop, she relaxed. It was the mechanic from next door.
“I have a first aid kit, if you need it,” the petite black-haired girl offered.
“I’ll be fine by tomorrow,” Rey informed her.
It was true. Given the increased number of STEM cells in her blood, Rey’s regeneration was accelerated which meant she healed quicker than the average human. She might have a split lip today but within twelve hours, there wouldn’t be a single scratch on her.
“I’m Rose,” the girl introduced herself.
“I’ve been meaning to stop by but your boss is kind of...," she trailed off uneasily.
“An ass?” Rey suggested with a smirk.
Rose smiled. “Yeah.” She pursed her lips, then asked, “Do you know anything about carburetors?”
“What do you need done?” Rey inquired.
“A new one is too expensive but I don’t have the skills to rebuild the existing one,” the mechanic admitted.
“I do,” Rey told her. “When do you need it by?”
“Uh, tomorrow,” Rose confessed, her cheeks tinged pink. “We can pay you!” She immediately added. “Is $300 fair?”
“Perfect,” Rey replied. She might not have gotten the helmet, but $300 was more than Plutt paid her in a week. And Finn would be pleased to know she earned the money through an honest day’s work. “Bring it over. I can have it ready for you by closing time.”
“Sure. No problem,” Rey confirmed.
“Thanks!” Rose exclaimed, hugging her.
Rey froze. She'd could count the number of times she'd been hugged on one hand. Snoke didn't believe in physical contact unless it was part of training.
“Oh. Sorry, sorry,” Rose apologized, backing away. “My sister, Paige, is always telling me not to do things like that.”
“No, it’s fine. It’s just...new,” Rey revealed.
“You know,” Rose started gently, “if you ever need a place to crash or just hang low for a while, Paige and I live in the apartment above the garage. You’re more than welcome to stop by.”
Rey felt her throat tighten. The stranger’s kindness was another new development. Like her hug, Rose radiated warmth and comfort. Rey found herself wishing she had approached the girl sooner.
“Thank you,” she replied with genuine gratitude.
“I’ll bring over what I have,” Rose announced, giving Rey a wave as she headed out.
The introduction had been so uplifting Rey almost forgot about the red stain on the floor. With a sigh, she went to fetch a rag.
Back to reality.
“Would you quit it?” Ben snarled at Dameron.
“I’m sorry,” the man managed between his outbursts of laughter. “She’s like ninety pounds and you’re—.” He paused to compose himself. “You’re supposed to be this genetically enhanced super-soldier."
So is she, Ben wanted to reply but he didn’t.
He wasn’t prepared to reveal Rey’s true identity. The moment his mother found out a member of the X-wing had been living unchecked out in society, she’d quarantine the girl. Ben wouldn't let that happen. He wanted to talk to her and find out what happened that night.
How had she survived?
He suspected John — if that even was his real name — was involved but he wasn’t sure how deep. Clearly, the man knew about Rey’s designation though it was less clear if he understood how her condition affected her.
Was John getting her enough tryptophan to offset her seizures? Was he keeping her hydrated? Did he feed her well? She looked scrawny compared to the last time Ben had seen her almost a decade ago. Back when he’d gone by a different name. The alias Snoke assigned him. Subject Code Name: Kylo Ren.
He climbed up the side of the building, using the bars on the windows as a foothold to push him up and over the edge until he was securely on the rooftop.
In the silvery glow of the moon, he made out a single figure sitting on the opposite ledge, head tilted back as she admired the starry sky.
“What are you doing up here?” Kylo asked.
Rey glanced over her shoulder at him, a bright grin decorating her face. “Waiting for you. Took you long enough,” she teased.
It had become somewhat of a game between them. During the day they weren’t permitted to co-mingle. Their training was handled separately, Rey with the X-series and Kylo working one-on-one with Captain Phasma and the FN Corps. After dinner in the mess, they were sent to the barracks to sleep but neither Rey nor Kylo ever did. Their chemical make-ups were similar in that way.
“I saw you in the yard,” he remarked, taking a seat next to her. “You’re getting better.”
She smiled at him. “Maybe one day I’ll be good enough to beat you.”
He chuckled. “Yeah, maybe, but I doubt it.” Kylo leaned over, knocking his shoulder into hers.
Rey swatted him playfully, shaking her head. A moment later her face fell and she sighed. “Snoke said I’m a disappointment. He claims I was designed to be the best, given all the superior instincts of a predator and something else, something truly special.” She rolled her eyes with a huff, trying to play off her dismay. “Whatever that means.”
“Don’t let him get in your head,” Kylo cautioned, wrapping his arm around her shoulders. “He’s a bitter old man, hiding in the shadows.”
“Like the boogeyman?”
Kylo drew back. “Where did you hear that?”
Rey shrugged. “I heard that new Stormtrooper say it when he was emptying trash.”
“You shouldn’t be talking to him,” Kylo reminded her, unsure why it irritated him. Rey may have been designed to serve the dark but her personality was all light. She made friends with everyone.
Unlike her siblings, Rey wasn’t afraid of him. Towering a full head taller than her, Kylo tended to intimate the others. Not Rey. She’d strolled right up to him in mess and asked him why his ears were so big. After his initial shock wore off, he mumbled some made-up excuse. Rey sat down aside him, digging into her lunch. They’d been friends ever since.
Friends were supposed to look out for one another, which was what Kylo convinced himself he was doing by telling her to avoid the Stormtrooper. FN-2187 was a rule-breaker, constantly getting reprimanded by Captain Phasma. Rey was already under Snoke’s scrutiny. She didn’t need additional reprimands because of her willingness to talk to the staff.
“He’s nice,” she commented, swinging her legs back and forth over the edge of the roof.
Kylo felt a surge of burning anger erupt in his chest. His nostrils flared and his hands clenched around the lip of the overhang. FN-2187 wasn’t nice. He was a nuisance.
“How did your training go today?” Rey questioned, unaware of his change in demeanor.
He forced himself to calm down by taking deep breaths in and out through his mouth. If he didn’t get himself under control, she’d notice the spike in his scent.
“I got a point against Phasma,” he finally answered.
“Really?” Rey asked excitedly. “That’s great!” She slipped her little hand over his, squeezing it.
“Yeah.” He grinned at where their hands were joined. “Yeah, it is.”
“Earth to Ben. Is anyone home?”
“Huh?” He turned to face Dameron who was staring at him with a perplexed expression. It was then Ben realized they were back at the Organa Estate.
“You okay, buddy?”
“I’m fine,” he grumbled, shoving open the door of Poe’s orange and white sports car.
They’d left Han with Maz. He’d been too distracted by catching up with his friend to ask his son why he was leaving or why Poe showed up. Typical Han. Always charging in guns blazing but with very little substance.
“What’s your next move?” Poe inquired.
“She had to have a buyer,” Ben speculated out loud. If Rey had been on her own this entire time, she’d need money to keep her condition a secret. It made sense why she’d target the mansion. There were dozens of pieces worth thousands of dollars, many which would fit into her backpack.
Ben stilled. Her backpack. In his rush to get answers, he’d forgotten about the sack she’d left behind. He bounded upstairs, taking the steps two or three at a time, Poe calling after him. Ben ignored him.
Barreling into his office, he went to the corner where he’d deposited the black bag. He opened the compartments, searching the items inside until he came out with a white plastic bottle.
Any lingering doubts he may have had about Rey vanished the second he read the label. They were quickly replaced with concern. She was without her supplements. Glancing at his watch, he noted that it had already been several hours. If this was her only bottle, she missed her morning dose. He had to find her.
“What is it?” Poe asked, slightly out of breath.
“What pawn shops deal in less than legal acquisitions?” Ben questioned back.
“A pawn shop?” the pilot repeated.
Ben groaned. He didn’t have time to catch up the other man. Moving to his desk, Ben ran a search of less reputable locations in the city, before cross-referencing their locations against the manor and Takodana. Only one place came up.
Plutt’s Pawn on West Jakku.
It was nearing lunchtime and Rey couldn’t stop thinking about Rose’s offer. She was sure whatever the Tico sisters were enjoying tasted better than the flavorless meal she’d brought. Despite the rumble of her stomach, Rey continued working, not wanting to show up at the garage empty-handed. She’d promised Rose a refurbished carburetor and that was what the girl was going to get.
In truth, building the component was fun for Rey. She’d always been mechanically inclined. Rey wasn’t sure if it was part of her DNA or her training but machines spoke to her. She’d never encountered a problem she couldn’t fix. Carburetors weren’t terribly difficult. It was merely a matter of using the right parts.
She was putting the finishing touches on the fuel inlet when the shop door opened. Putting the carburetor down, Rey wiped her hands on her jeans and stood up. She’d deal with the customer, then pop over to the garage to deliver the part.
“Good morning, how can I—?” Her greeting fell off her lips as Ben Solo stepped inside. He wasn’t alone. The pilot from D’Qar was with him. Rey tensed, glaring. “You,” she bit out.
“Hey there.” The cocksure moron winked at her.
Rey glanced between him and Ben, trying to understand the nature of their partnership.
“Dameron, go wait in the car,” Ben requested.
“Nah,” the pilot declined, strolling around the shop leisurely. “I think I’ll stay for the show.”
Rey bristled as she lowered her weight to prepare for an attack. She’d underestimated Ben last night. She wouldn’t make the same mistake twice.
He approached her, revealing her black backpack. She stiffened wondering if he’d taken a peek at the contents. He unzipped the top compartment, pulling out a heavy object from inside.
“I brought you a present,” he told her, before setting the helmet down on the counter.
Rey glowered at him in suspicion. That was not what she’d been expecting. “Am I supposed to be grateful?”
“That wouldn’t be inappropriate,” he returned with a grin.
She opened her mouth to reject his so-called gift when the pilot’s cell rang. He muttered an apology and stepped outside to take the call, leaving them alone in the pawn shop.
“I apologize for Dameron. He tends to butt-in where he isn’t wanted,” Ben explained.
“Whatever. I’m not passing judgement on you and your boy-toy,” Rey mumbled. He made a choking sound and she snickered. “I think that’s three to me,” she said with a laugh.
“Right,” he replied, running a hand through his hair. “Listen, if I made you uncomfortable by coming here—.”
“Yes,” Rey cut him off.
“That wasn’t my intention,” Ben told her. “But I needed to see you again...Rey.”
Her eyes widened. “Who are you?”
“You know who I am,” Ben replied calmly. “You just don’t remember.” He held his hair away from his ears. “Don’t know how you could forget these.”
Rey furrowed her brow in confusion. Was this some sort of joke?
“Snoke must have done a real number on you after I left,” he remarked, rounding the corner to join her behind the counter.
She vaulted over the glass display, not giving him the opportunity to trap her in the corner. He continued to pursue her. His eyes were wild and intense, the way they had been before.
Just thinking about that man made her blood run cold. Rey’s heart rate increased and her stomach rolled. She clutched the countertop, dots dancing across her vision. A muscle in her neck twitched, signaling an oncoming episode but she ignored it. If her backpack was here, that meant her pills were here. She’d remedy the Ben Solo situation and then she’d remedy her own.
“I don’t know what kind of game you’re playing here, but I’m not interested. Get out,” she snapped.
“Did they brainwash you? Did he submit you to his demented version of psychotherapy?” Ben demanded, furiously. “How can you not see it?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” she shouted, getting behind the counter. She needed to put distance between them.
“You don’t know, or you don’t want to know?” he argued.
“Stop it,” Rey warned, glaring at him.
Ben had no business speaking like that, not after what she’d lost. Not after who she’d lost.
“He’ll never let you go. You’d have to die first. That’s the only way his kids are ever set free.”
“Stop it,” she repeated.
Anger was boiling inside of her. The more he kept harping on the subject, the clearer Kylo’s face was. She could see him smiling at her, holding her hand when she couldn’t sleep at night, and even sneaking her in some of his dinner from the mess hall. He’d been her best friend. And Snoke destroyed him.
“He never appreciated you,” Ben remarked. “He wanted a loyal dog. He never wanted you to have a mind of your own. That day in the courtyard, you destroyed all his plans. You went against your training and showed compassion. Don’t forget that. Don’t forget who you are.”
Rey didn’t realize she had come out from behind the counter until she was kicking him to the floor. Pure rage burned through her, heightening her senses until her vision narrowed and her target was all she could see.
He tried to grab her wrist, but she swatted him away, landing another kick. Ben grunted. He blocked her next strike, twisting away so he was out of range. Rey kept advancing on him.
“You don’t know anything!” she cried. “Snoke took everything from me. I’ll never forget that. Never.”
Her pulse thundered in her ears, louder than his shouts for her to stop and overpowering her other senses. She didn’t feel the tingle at the back of her neck until it was too late.
The seizure hit Rey hard. Her lack of tryptophan and irritated state making the episode one of the worst she’d ever faced. Her legs gave out. She landed roughly on her knees and palms, gasping for breath.
She curled around herself as the force of the seizure rocked through her. Sweat beaded on her brow. Her tongue felt swollen and dry. Her skin was tight and overheated. Her ears were ringing and all she could smell was Plutt’s putrid scent.
Until a hand pressed to her forehead.
Then all she could smell was him.
His scent filled her nostrils, erasing everything else. Leather. Vanilla. Musk. Concern. It overwhelmed her to the point that her other senses seemed to dull in comparison.
Her eyes flickered open. Her vision was blurry but she finally saw the truth. Solid and clear.
She didn’t know if he heard her before she fell unconscious.
Insert Cliffhanger here....
“Dameron! Get in here now!” Ben bellowed.
The pilot charged into the shop, his eyes bulging when he took in the sight of Ben crouched over Rey who was convulsing violently. “What did you do?”
“She’s having a seizure,” Ben growled. “I need you to help me turn her over onto her side so she can breathe.” Dameron knelt on the ground, reaching for Rey’s ankles. “Gently,” Ben directed sharply.
“Alright, man. Calm down. I got her.”
“No.” Ben’s nostrils flared. “I got her.”
“Yeah, yeah, whatever,” Dameron agreed.
Together, they carefully shifted Rey onto her right side, facing Ben. She jerked a few more times before her body stilled. Ben held his breath, counting the seconds until a full minute passed.
“Okay,” he said with a sigh. “It’s over.”
“Why isn’t she waking up?” Dameron demanded, looking frazzled.
“She’s been without her meds too long,” Ben answered. “I need to get her back to the estate. Harter can hook her up to an IV.”
Dameron opened his mouth to speak when the shop door burst open. “Solo? Poe? What are you— What the hell?”
Paige Tico stood at the entrance, hands on her hips, eyes narrowed into slits as she waited for them to explain themselves.
Ben watched the pilot’s face contort into an uncomfortable expression. “Hey, Paige.”
She rolled her eyes, ignoring him and turning her full attention to Ben. “Is she dead?”
“No,” Ben hissed, instantly feeling sick at the thought of losing Rey all over again.
Of course, she would assume it was his fault. Like Dameron, Tico had been trained under his mother. She subscribed to Leia’s ideals and held her in high regard.
“She’s sick,” he explained. It wasn’t exactly true but he didn’t have time to provide details on Rey’s situation. They needed to get her somewhere safe.
“I’ll pull the car around,” Dameron offered as he stood up.
He exited past his fellow Resistance member, wincing when she punched him in the arm. Ben arched a brow but didn’t ask. Whatever was going on between them was their business. He didn’t want to know.
“The man who owns this shop doesn’t seem the type to offer time off,” Ben remarked.
“He’s a pig,” Tico remarked with a disgusted expression. “If you need to speak to him, you’ll find him on the corner at Teedo’s bar.”
“Maybe later,” Ben muttered.
“You know, when Rose came by this morning she said she saw him hit her,” Tico told him.
“What?” Ben snarled.
He felt the rate of his pulse increase, rage causing his skin to flush. That worthless excuse for a man wasn’t ever going to lay a hand on Rey again. Ben would tear his arms off if he dared to try.
“Just thought you’d want to know,” Tico commented. “Rose and I have been keeping an eye on her. We were considering recruiting her but if she’s ill—.”
“She’s not,” Ben cut Tico off. “She’s...” He tilted Rey’s head, tenderly stroking her hair back to reveal the First Order insignia tattooed on her neck.
Tico’s face fell. “Shit. Does Poe know? Does Leia?”
“No,” he snarled. “And you are not going to tell them.”
“She’s not dangerous,” he insisted.
“But, she’s one of them,” Tico returned skeptically.
“She was never one of them,” Ben replied.
He watched as his words sunk in. Tico’s lips parted. “Rey. Your Rey.”
“My Rey,” he confirmed with a nod.
“Shit. Well, that changes everything,” she said. “What do you need me to do?”
Ben outlined his plan, asking Tico to cover up Rey’s absence as long as she could until he could deal with Plutt. By keeping Dameron and his mother out of the loop, they were on borrowed time and working with limited resources.
“She’s not a part of this,” Tico persisted. “I don’t want her mixed up with the First Order.”
“I understand,” he replied, gazing down at Rey’s unconscious form. “Call me if you run into any problems.”
Ben watched her leave then gathered Rey up in his arms. “I’ve got you,” he whispered against the crown of her head. “I'm here now and I’m not going anywhere.”
“They are going to put you in solitary again,” Mashra warned her.
Rey didn’t respond. She was too busy watching the tree line, hoping against hope to catch a glimpse of the same unit who somehow managed to breach their perimeter.
Her sister called her name. She continued to ignore her.
“He’s not coming back, Rey,” Mashra told her. “He’s dead. Snoke said—.”
“Snoke doesn’t know anything,” Rey spat over her shoulder.
Mashra’s eyes widened for a split second before she resigned herself to her bed. Rey turned back to the window, wrapping her arms around her legs to hug herself.
It was a lie.
It had to be.
Rey opened her eyes. Her vision was blurry until she blinked away the after-effects of her seizure. Slowly, shapes became defined and she recognized she wasn’t at Plutt’s. She also wasn’t alone.
“Where—?” She winced. Her throat felt like sandpaper.
“Here.” Kylo — Ben? She wasn’t sure who he was anymore — handed her a glass of water.
Rey guzzled it down, grateful for the relief the cool liquid instantly brought.
“How are you feeling?” he asked as she handed the empty container over.
“Fine,” she rasped, wiping the back of her hand across her mouth. “Where are we?”
“The manor,” he answered. “You had another seizure. I got the Doc to give you a concentrated dose of—.”
Rey flinched, noticing the needle jutting out of her arm. “Get it out,” she hissed.
His hand closed over her own, preventing her from clawing at the needle. “Calm down,” he urged. “I know you don’t like them but you were unconscious. I had no other choice. I needed to get your levels up to the appropriate level.”
She clenched her jaw, mulling over his argument. “What doctor?”
“We have one on-call. She knows about our...situation.”
“And you trust her?” Rey questioned skeptically.
“She has no reason to hurt you,” he informed her, his hand still on hers.
“That’s not an answer,” she retorted, yanking out of his grasp.
“So, what do I call you now? Kylo or Ben?” she inquired, picking at the sheets to avoid looking at him.
All the years she’d spent hoping he was alive, all the time she spent consoling herself when she couldn’t find him and he’d been here the entire time, living in this luxurious house, surrounded by more amenities than she could name. Had he even cared or was it all an act? Another manipulation to serve as part of Snoke’s training?
“I know this must be confusing for you. I didn’t recognize you at first, either. It’s been a long time,” he admitted. Then, quieter. “Your scent is different.”
She shrugged, keeping her gaze on the bed. “Living on the run is expensive. We can’t afford much.”
“Finn and I,” Rey clarified. “He got me out. He didn’t forget me.”
She felt her jab strike him. The tension in the room shifted and Rey heard him inhale sharply. His musk went from sinful to sour.
“I told you to stay away from him,” he growled.
“You were dead!” she shouted, angrily.
“I wasn’t!” he insisted, matching her fury.
“I saw you die! I broke the rules. I snuck into your training because I was foolish enough to think I could get the upper hand. When I saw the sniper, I thought they meant to kill you. I acted impulsively and they took it out on you. They dragged me away and the last thing I saw was you fall.” Her voice broke at the end.
Rey felt her throat swell and her eyes burn. She fisted the sheets, attempting to get her emotions under control. The reason she never thought of him was because of how hard it was. It felt like opening up a wound that never properly healed, one that still festered and boiled.
“The next day, Snoke threw me in solitary and told me it was my fault, that if I hadn’t interfered you’d still be alive. He said you died because of me.” She swallowed thickly, pushing the tears back.
“After that night, if I even put a toe out of line, he threw your death in my face. He forced me to remember it. He used you against me. You were a way to control me,” she confessed. “And it worked. It wasn't until I forced myself to forget that I could move on.”
The laugh that escaped her was harsher than she intended. “But it was all a lie.”
“Rey, they knocked me out,” he explained hastily. “That was all. While I was confined to the med bay, the Resistance showed up. They smuggled me out.”
“They’d been planning it for a while,” he revealed. “They had someone on the inside, a mole who got them the access codes to the lab but Phasma intercepted them. I begged them to go back for you. If I’d been able to move, I would have fought to get to you.”
Her head swam. The Resistance was responsible for the assault on the First Order base. They’d saved Kylo — Ben, his real name was Ben.
He had a real name. A real life.
He wasn’t like her, at least not completely. In the beginning, he’d been born, not made. Ben had a family, one who loved him enough to storm the facility and save him. He had a place to belong in this world. There had been a time when she believed that place was with her. It was another lie, one she’d told herself.
Not that any of that mattered now. It only served to heighten the betrayal she felt.
Rey couldn’t stop herself from asking, “Why didn’t you come back for me?”
“I did,” he declared. “We led an assault on the facility three years later but you were already gone. The reports said...,” he paused and cleared his throat. “They recorded you as dead on arrival following an escape attempt. Cause of death was listed as a gunshot wound to the chest.”
She searched his face for any trace of a lie. There weren’t any. Her anger dissipated.
“It was Mashra,” she said quietly. “She saved my life.”
He moved closer but didn’t touch her. “I’m sorry.”
“It was a long time ago,” Rey muttered, trying to brush it off.
“Did any of the others—.”
“No. They were all captured and taken back for reconditioning,” she cut him off sharply. She paused before she added, softer. “It would have been a mercy to shoot them.”
Ben nodded solemnly. On this point, they agreed.
“Rey,” he said her name as his hand reached hers. “You know — you have to know — if I had been able, I would have come for you. Please tell me you understand that.”
The Kylo she knew, the friend who made the cold cement walls seem less daunting and soothed her loneliness, wouldn’t have left her. She’d seen the fierce protectiveness in his eyes that day in the courtyard. That man would have burned the facility to ash to save her.
“I understand,” Rey answered.
He released a long exhale as if he’d been holding his breath while she deliberated.
Hesitantly, he slid his hand over the top of hers.
She didn’t retreat.
The gesture reminded her of who they’d been to each other once. Those people were gone, specters from their past lives lingering on the edge of her memories. The heat of his skin reminded her of who he was now.
“I’ve never seen you with your hair up,” he commented.
“I don’t like people asking me about my tattoo,” she explained. “It feels too much like a cattle brand, a mark of their power over me.”
“They don’t own you.”
“I considered slicing it off,” she remarked casually.
“It would leave a scar,” Ben replied.
“Yeah,” she said with a tired laugh.
“You could cover it up,” he suggested.
Rey glanced up at him as he pulled his hair away to reveal his own mark, overlaid with the symbol for the Resistance. She shifted closer so she could run her fingers over the design. The skin was slightly raised. It wouldn’t have been noticeable if her senses weren’t heightened.
“Who did it?” she asked.
“I’m not Resistance,” Rey pointed out as she withdrew her hand.
“You could be,” Ben told her. “We could end this. Together.”
It was what she wanted — what she’d always wanted — a life with Ben.
There’d been a connection between them since the first day she met him in mess. She’d felt it intertwine them together that day. When he’d disappeared, it was as though the thread had been cut off. Like an amputee, there were phantom sensations so strong that she was convinced he had somehow survived. As he sat beside her, very much alive, Rey recognized her instincts had been correct.
The lie still stung. Even though it hadn’t been his fault, the outcome remained the same. Rey had gone through life mourning her closest companion, struggling to let go of her past. To find out she’d been laboring under a misconception filled her with questions and left her in a state of uncertainty.
She didn’t know where they went from here but she did know that they couldn’t go anywhere as long as the First Order was a threat.
“Together,” Rey agreed.
Ben fought to keep his breathing even as he dragged the needle across Rey’s flesh. The black ink blossomed alongside the exiting First Order Mark. She remained as still as a statue, barely breathing with her eyes focused ahead of her.
After hearing what Chewie did for him, Rey agreed to let Ben cover up her tattoo. He’d brought her out to the hangar. Han kept the equipment in the spare office. It had the best light.
Since she wasn’t a member of the Resistance, Rey selected a different design. She chose a winged symbol with a star seated along the center because it reminded her of a Phoenix.
“A creature of myth, just like me,” Rey told him when she sat down.
She hadn’t flinched when he wiped her skin clean with alcohol, even though he was sure the potent smell burned her nostrils just as it burned his. As if that wasn’t enough, the sterile gloves he wore dampened his smell and hindered his ability to feel her. Now all he could feel was the annoying rubber. Having heightened senses wasn’t always a gift.
The design wasn’t difficult to draw. In order to cover her existing mark, Ben had to increase its size. As he followed his guide with the tip of the tattoo gun, he watched Rey closely for signs of pain or discomfort.
Her anger was understandable. Had their roles been reversed, he would have been equally conflicted.
There hadn’t been a day that passed since that night that Ben hadn’t thought of her or wondered what would have happened if Phasma hadn’t stopped the Resistance from freeing all of the subjects.
Would Rey have stayed at the manor and lived with him? Would she be fighting alongside Poe and Paige, hanging on Leia’s every word? Or would she have broken out of this prison too?
“Your thoughts are loud,” she observed.
“Sorry,” Ben muttered.
“Normally, you smell like leather and vanilla but right now you smell like burnt coffee, acidic and bitter,” she informed him. “You’re upset.”
“I don’t like when you’re mad at me,” he replied simply.
Her shoulder blades tensed.
“Sorry,” Ben apologized, worried he’d hurt her. He withdrew the gun, checking the outline.
Rey turned around in the chair. “I’m not mad at you,” she clarified. “I mean, yes, okay, I’m mad, but it’s not your fault. It’s just...,” she trailed off, licking her lips as she attempted to find the words. “I don’t know you anymore.”
“You know me better than anyone,” Ben confessed. “You always did.”
“I knew Kylo,” Rey insisted. “I don’t know Ben Solo.”
“Then let’s change that.” He peeled off the glove on his free hand and held it out to her. “I’m Ben.”
She cocked her head, her eyebrows raising in uncertainly. There was a pause before she placed her hand in his.
He smiled at her, comforted by the feel of her skin against his.
When she turned around, he continued with her tattoo in silence. If he leaned a little closer, trying to catch her scent, well it was only because he was trying to familiarize himself with his new friend.
Special thanks to PandaCapuccino for the beautiful artwork of the tattooing scene.
“Where have you been?” Finn demanded the instant she entered the apartment.
“None of your business,” Rey replied agitatedly, shouldering past him to get to her room. She was glad she’d insisted on returning alone. Ben’s presence would have only made things more difficult.
“Rey, about the other night —.”
“You don’t have to worry about me,” she snapped over her shoulder.
She froze long enough for Finn to envelop her in a hug. Her anger at him instantly subsided.
“I was worried about you. I thought something had happened” Finn said, his voice muffled by her hair. He didn’t let her go and she didn’t dare try to escape his embrace.
They’d fought in the past but not like the other night. She’d never issued him an order before. It crossed a line. Regardless, he didn’t appear mad. If anything, Finn was relieved. The tension ebbed, leaving an awkward sensation in its place. Rey crept forward as though she was walking on eggshells.
“I got held up,” she answered vaguely.
Finn leaned back, his face a mixture of concern and speculation. “Did Plutt make you work overnight?”
“No.” She shook her head. “No, nothing like that.” Finn wasn’t aware of how Plutt did business. If he knew, he would have never let her work in the pawnshop. “I went to see Maz.”
“Rey,” he groaned, stepping back with a roll of his eyes. “That woman is bat-shit crazy. Why do you insist on visiting her? She could be keeping tabs on you, reporting back to the First Order.”
“Maz is not a First Order informant, Finn,” Rey replied with a scowl.
“You don’t know that,” he countered.
“She knows something,” Rey insisted.
His eyes widened. “About you? We got to pack up. If we catch the afternoon bus, we can be in Crait by the morning and from there we can hop a train to Endor or Scarif. They won’t be able to follow us.”
“It’s not like that.” Rey tried to calm him down. “She knows about the First Order. She knows what they did it to Ben.”
“Ben Solo,” she clarified.
“Senator Organa’s son? What does he have to do with the First Order?” Finn questioned.
Rey pulled her hair back, turning her bare neck to him. She heard his sharp inhale. When she faced him, he was staring at her in disbelief.
No one had touched her neck since the First Order officials had held her down and tattooed her against her will. Offering her flesh to Ben had been the ultimate act of submission, a rarity for an alpha.
She cleared her throat, allowing her hair to fall back in place.
“Do you remember Kylo Ren?”
“Absolutely not!” Leia slammed her palms down on her desk to punctuate her statement.
Ben clenched his fists, agitated with her antics. His jaw was set firmly and his eyes were darkening with each passing minute of the strenuous interaction with his mother. She never listened to him.
“This girl, whoever she is, can’t be your Rey,” Leia advised. “The First Order knows we are planning a follow-up attack. They are looking for a way to distract us from our objective, buy themselves enough time to wipe us out once and for all. This girl is merely a Trojan horse. If we let her in, she’ll destroy everything we’ve worked for.”
“You mean everything you’ve worked for,” Ben pointed out angrily.
“Snoke is a master manipulator, Ben. He knew about the connection you had with Rey. He wants to control you,” his mother persisted. “Don’t let him.”
“It is Rey,” Ben declared.
“How can you be certain?” Leia inquired, bracing her weight on her hands as she leaned forward over her desk.
“Her scent,” he replied.
His mother scoffed, skeptically. “Her scent?”
“The boy sees more, feels more, Princess. You’ve seen what he can do since we brought him home,” Han spoke up. “If he says he can smell that it’s her, I believe him. Besides,” Han said with a smirk. “I talked to the girl. She’s a good egg.”
“Because you’re such a great judge of character?” Leia questioned sarcastically.
“Of course,” Han responded with a wink.
“So that mess with the Hutt Syndicate was what? A misunderstanding?” she challenged with an arched brow.
“What you call a mess, Princess, the rest of us call the cost of doing business,” Han answered.
“This is not a mess,” she responded tersely. “This is a ruse.”
“It’s her!” Ben shouted, standing up. “Why is that so hard for you to believe?”
“Why is it so easy for you?” Leia countered.
“Because I love her!”
Leia bristled, Han dropped his whiskey, and Ben froze. He’d never admitted it before. It startled him as much as it did his parents. For a tense moment, the room was silent and still.
The General was the first to speak. “Ben.” Her tone was softer this time as if all the fight had been knocked out of her by his revelation. “We have the vials. If the girl is who she claims she is, all we need to do is take a blood sample and run it against—.”
“No,” he seethed. “You’re not touching her.”
“Ben —” His father stood.
“No,” he repeated, firmer the second time. “Neither of you understand. What happened to us there — what was done to us — was painful. We were viewed as experiments, not people. Everything associated with that time — the needles, the vials, the blood — it serves as a reminder of our humanity being stripped away, of them making us less than what we are. I won’t make Rey go through that.”
“Ben, it’s the only way we can confirm her story and keep the Resistance protected.”
“And who has been keeping her protected?” he queried. “Not you and certainly not your precious Resistance. You left her there to die.”
“Kid, you know we tried to get her out. We tried to get them all out,” Han reminded him.
“You could have tried harder.”
Han placed his arm around Ben’s shoulders. “Kid,” he implored.
Ben jerked away and stormed out of his mother’s office.
Agitation bristled along Rey’s skin. Her fists were clenched at her sides and her shoulders were rigid as she walked through Chandrila.
Her talk with Finn hadn’t gone the way she’d hoped. He’d never liked Kylo. Once she revealed Ben Solo was Kylo Ren his distaste grew exponentially. He was convinced she couldn’t trust him. The more she tried to explain, the more irrational Finn became.
“He’ll take you back to the First Order. He’s Snoke’s puppet,” Finn argued.
“Ben was never under Snoke’s control,” Rey snapped angrily.
“You don’t know that. You didn’t see the way they conditioned him. Didn’t you ever wonder why he was trained alone?” Finn queried.
“Because Snoke manipulated him until he became a weapon. He wasn’t made to be the way I was,” Rey pointed out.
“He’s a monster, Rey. He’s not like you. No one is. You were bred to be something else, something more.”
Her brow furrowed in confusion. “What do you mean?”
Finn shook his head, his lips pursing into a thin line. “We have to leave,” he announced. “I’ll get a pair of bus tickets and we will take the next trip out of the city.”
“I’m not going anywhere,” Rey refused.
He couldn’t stop her and he knew it.
She gathered up some extra clothes, a bottle of tryptophan from her secret stash, and a clean bandana. She tied it on, covering the lower half of her face. There was something Rey had to take care of before she met up with Ben.
She had a promise to keep, which was why she returned to Plutt’s pawn shop.
“Look what the cat dragged in,” her overweight boss crooned. “And where the hell have you been?”
“Not here,” she answered, strolling past him to the back room. She plucked the carburetor off the desk and sauntered out the way she came.
She ignored Plutt, opening the door to leave.
“I’m talking to you, girl,” he snarled, his hand slamming the door shut. His putrid scent permeated her bandana and filled her nostrils. He was too close. “You don’t walk out on me, you hear?”
Rey turned on her heel, freezing him with her gaze. “I hear.”
Plutt took an unsteady step backward. “Y-you work for me. The deal is you s-show up on time or you’re f-fired.”
“New deal,” she told him as she approached, cornering him like prey. “I don’t show up. I don’t work for you. You never touch me again. And...” she trailed off, watching his eyes bulge in fear. “I’m taking my bike.”
“T-hat ain’t yours,” he started to argue.
She fixed him with a glare. “You’ve been underpaying me for months. I’m taking the bike. Any questions?”
“N-no. No questions,” Plutt said, shaking his head.
Rey sauntered away, untying the bandana from around her face. She didn’t need it anymore.
“This is perfect! Thank you so much,” Rose gushed, throwing her arms around Rey and nearly dropping the carburetor.
“A promise is a promise,” Rey responded.
Rose grinned and immediately went to place the part in the vehicle. While she worked, Rey glanced around. “Your sister isn’t in?”
“Nah. She’s visiting her boyfriend,” Rose revealed before making a gagging sound.
Rey laughed. “That bad, huh?”
“Poe is okay, I guess. He just seems a bit flighty,” Rose responded, her voice muffled from her position under the hood.
“Poe?” Rey scoffed. Rose had to be joking.
“There!” The mechanic smiled while she wiped her hands clean on a fresh rag. “All set for pickup.”
“You’re fast,” Rey observed.
“Likewise,” Rose replied. Her smile fell away and her expression became somber. “Rey?”
“Yeah?” she answered warily.
“You seem...different.” Rose paused. “I get a feeling something is going on, something you’re dealing with that maybe you don’t want people to know about.”
Rey laughed and focused on the tools lining Rose’s workbench. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I can handle it,” Rose insisted. “I’m not as naive as I look.”
“It’s nothing, Rose,” Rey tried to convince her.
“What about this mysterious condition of yours? And the guy who carried you out of the pawnshop?”
“What guy?” Rey rolled her eyes even though she knew exactly who Rose was referring to.
“I’m asking you!” Rose poked her in the shoulder to accentuate her point. She stood there, waiting with her arms crossed over her chest, staring at Rey.
“Alright,” Rey relented quietly. “What if I told you I was a genetically-enhanced soldier who escaped from a covert military base?”
Rose’s eyes widened. Then she burst out laughing.
Relief poured over Rey, along with a hint of disappointment.
“Fine! Fine!” Rose waved her off, wiping tears from her eyes. “You don’t have to tell me. Just know, if you need a friend, I’m here for you. I’ve got your back.”
Rey smiled. This time she initiated the hug.
Ben tapped his foot impatiently against the barstool, his pulse racing from his increased anxiety. Where was she?
“She’ll be here,” Maz reassured him as she placed a shot of whiskey in front of him. “Have a drink and sit down. You’re making me nervous.”
He slammed back the liquor, ignoring the burn as the alcohol rolled down the back of his throat.
Maz poured him another before leaving the bottle on her way to the kitchen.
Rey had agreed to meet him at Takodana five minutes ago. With each second that ticked by, Ben grew more frenzied. He kept hearing Paige in his mind, asking him if she was dead and his mother shouting that Rey wasn’t really Rey. The memories howled like a violent storm threatening to tear him down.
“That good, huh?”
He jolted, glancing over his shoulder to find Rey smiling at him from where she stood leaning over the second-story railing.
“You’re here,” he said with a relieved sigh.
Her brow creased. “I said I would be.”
Ben ran a hand through his hair. “Right.” He cleared his throat. Gesturing to the empty barstool next to him, he invited her down. “Join me?”
She climbed on top of the railing before leaping down, landing like a cat — so light on her feet her impact was nearly inaudible.
“Show off,” he grumbled, feigning annoyance.
Rey shoved his shoulder as she took the seat next to him. “That’s the pot calling the kettle black, isn’t it?” she retorted with a smirk.
Ben poured another shot. Rey snatched it up before he could get her a glass of her own. “Hey!”
“What?” She laughed. “It’s not like we don’t share the same germs.” She stuck out her tongue before throwing back the amber liquid.
“Little thief,” he grumbled.
Rey shrugged and poured herself another shot.
“I take it your talk with FN-2187 didn’t go well,” Ben remarked.
“He remembers you,” she stated. Ben snorted. “He doesn’t like you either.”
“At least we’re on the same page then,” he replied.
“Where are we going to train?” Rey asked.
“My family has a cabin just outside the city lines. No one goes there anymore and it’s hidden from the road so we won’t be seen,” Ben explained. “My dad and Chewie used to use it for hunting, which was their way of saying drinking.”
“Won’t the Resistance be hunting me down for running away with you?”
“I told my dad we would be there,” Ben revealed. When Rey arched a brow at him, he added, “He was on your side.”
She flashed him a smile. “I knew I liked Han.”
“Yeah, yeah,” Ben muttered. “We should get going if we want to make it to the cabin before dark. Do you have everything you need? Clothes, pills?”
“Just because you’re older doesn’t mean you get to boss me around,” Rey snarked, shoving her shoulder into his side as she stood up.
“That’s exactly what it means,” Ben returned with a smirk.
“Oh,” she said with a laugh. “I’m going to enjoy tossing you on your ass.”
“You think you can take me, little Rey?”
“I don’t think. I know.”
Training with Ben was unlike training with her siblings at the First Order. First, he didn’t bark orders at her from the sidelines the way Snoke had. Second, when he got a point against her, he didn’t scream at her. He might goad her into retaliation or tease her about her improper footing but he never was malicious. And he always demonstrated how she could improve.
Last — and most importantly — he didn’t hurt her.
Even if Ben landed a strike, he held back. When humans learned a new weapon, they started out with replicas made of wood or plastic to avoid injuring themselves or causing a lethal blow. For Ben and Rey, they were weapons. There was no safety setting. Yet, somehow he found a way to control his strength.
They’d been at the cabin for a week. Despite leaving the base years after him, it was evident Ben hadn’t given up his daily routine the way she had. He was just as fast and efficient as she remembered. He never wasted more energy than was necessary and he always thought ahead. He was a beast.
Watching him reminded Rey of how things had been before the escape, before the Resistance infiltrated the base, and before she’d been old enough to understand her feelings for Ben.
It would have been easier to remain ignorant.
With each passing day, it was harder to deny the pull. Ben was attractive. There was no denying that. He was what every alpha was supposed to be — powerful, protective, possessive. It triggered the carnal side of her.
But it was his compassion that triggered something else — the part of her that Snoke had no control over.
Perhaps it was a sliver of humanity, or maybe it was her soul. No matter what she called it, it was her. The real her that wasn’t defined by her designation or her chemical make-up. It was the part of her that could feel.
And she felt a lot.
When he insisted on cooking for her, she couldn’t help peering around him to see each step of his process. He’d brought food with him from the manor, enough to hold them over for the week. Most of the stuff was fresh meat and produce, all luxuries she’d never been able to afford. After she cleaned her plate, he’d pile more on, insisting she eat it all.
Ben always let her take a shower first and never badgered her if she used up all the hot water. At night, when neither of them could sleep, they’d talk about the barracks and how cold their cells had been. They talked about the lost years, how they’d continued, each living the best way they could following the news of the other’s death.
Any lingering anger she felt, those last tendrils of doubt, evaporated until all that remained was her full trust. Trust and something else — something born out of that real place. It was overwhelming and confusing.
Ben’s voice drew her back to the present.
“That time was better,” he commented, praising her adaptability. “You’re becoming less predictable.”
She scoffed. “I’m not predictable.”
“You are,” he said with a chuckle.
“I’ll show you predictable.”
Rey charged at him, eyes narrowing as she approached. Ben dropped his weight, preparing to meet her head-on. He expected her to snap out a front kick or try to land a hook. He didn’t anticipate that she would complete a somersault above him.
As her body propelled over his head, her hands came down, brushing along his shoulder blades to steady herself as she flipped around to kick out his knees.
Ben pitched forward, using the momentum of his fall to roll out of her reach. Rey followed close behind.
When he attempted to stand up, she threw a roundhouse kick, forcing him to stay crouched down on the ground.
“Do you surrender?” she asked.
“I don’t surrender.”
His hand whipped out, latching onto her ankle and tugging her off-balance. Rey twisted out of his grip, kicking out her opposite leg. It swung over his head, barely missing him. She saw his hair flatten where her calves skimmed across the top.
“Not bad,” he teased.
“You too.” Rey winked.
“You still haven’t put me on my ass,” he pointed out.
“Eager, aren’t we?” she retorted.
“Just waiting for you to deliver on your promise,” Ben countered as he stood.
“Want me to cuff you again?” she offered.
His expression changed to something dark and predatory but when he lunged for her, Rey grabbed his arm, taking it with her as she rolled over his back. Ben ended up with his face in the dirt.
Clapping echoed in the clearing. “I’m glad someone finally knocked some sense into you.”
Rey snapped her attention to the cabin, where Han was leaning against the back door, smirking like a scoundrel.
“You’re late,” Ben muttered, brushing himself off as he stood.
“Your mother’s getting suspicious,” Han replied tersely. “She’s got Dameron and Tico tailing me.”
Ben rolled his eyes in annoyance but Rey could smell his fear overpowering his irritation. He caught her eye.
“I’ll go check the perimeter,” he told her, too quiet for Han to hear.
Rey nodded but Ben didn’t move. He was staring at her as if he was unsure whether or not to leave her alone with his father. His pupils were dilated and his lips were parted.
They’d been training for hours but she’d never seen him out of breath before. There was sweat beaded across his brow and a flush to his skin. Did he have a fever?
She reached up, brushing his hair out of his face to press her fingertips to his temple. He was hot to the touch.
“I brought food,” Han suddenly announced, causing her to withdraw.
Rey’s stomach grumbled in response. The noise appeared to break Ben out of whatever frame he’d fallen into.
“Get something to eat. I’ll be back soon,” Ben told her.
She watched him until he disappeared into the woods to walk the property line. With a sigh, Rey followed Han inside.
As she helped him unpack the groceries, her mind worried about Ben. What if he was sick? She’d never seen a member of the X-wing unit fall ill. Though, she imagined if they had, Snoke would have killed them on the spot. He didn’t tolerate weakness.
A shiver passed through her at the thought.
She busied herself with unloading the rest of the supplies, stocking the pantry. Her skin dimpled with goosebumps and then a chill swept through her. For a moment, all the sound seemed to be sucked out of the cabin. Rey blinked, her vision switching between clear and hazy.
“You okay, kid?”
Rey jumped. She wasn’t an easy person to sneak up on but when the seizures hit, it was difficult to tell which way was up.
That’s all it is, she told herself. Just another seizure.
She quickly retrieved her tryptophan from the counter and tossed back a handful of her tablets. “I will be.”
“Milk works too,” Han said, reaching around her to grab the carton out of his bag. “I can bring more next week if you want. Whatever you need.”
“Thanks.” This time her smile was genuine.
“You know,” Han scratched the back of his neck. “Ben mentioned you were working for Plutt. He’s a mean piece of work, that one.”
“I’ve been through worse,” Rey replied flatly.
Han didn’t let her poker face deter him.“He hit you?”
She shrugged noncommittally.
“It’s hard to imagine a genetically-enhanced killing machine like yourself putting up with that,” Han commented. He wasn’t one to beat around the bush.
“I was trying to fit in,” Rey explained. “I wanted to be like everyone else, just another regular person.”
“Newsflash, kid, regular people don’t deserve to be abused either.”
Rey pursed her lips and shifted her gaze to the floor. A tremor ran up her spine until it exploded behind her eyes, like a firecracker going off in her head. She winced and gripped onto the kitchen counter as she lost her balance.
“You okay?” Han questioned, walking over to her.
She felt warmth where he placed his hand on her shoulder but it was nothing compared to the heat of her own skin. Rey felt like she was burning up. A cramp tore through her abdomen, making her hiss as she tried to breathe. These seizures were stronger than normal.
“I’m not feeling well,” she managed to reply.
“Let me call Harter. She’ll —.”
“She’ll what? Stab me with a needle again? Tell the Resistance where we are?” Rey asked with narrowed eyes. “No thanks.”
Han stood by her side, his eyes flickering from her shaking form to the intercom on the wall. He’d known her for less than a week and already he showed more empathy for her situation than her creator.
She laughed. Empathy had never been high on Snoke’s priority list. It wasn’t useful in battle.
“I’m supposed to be a revved-up girl but the truth is, I’m a lemon,” Rey admitted.
Han smirked. “Car metaphors? I knew I liked you, kid.”
Or tried to.
The next round hit her harder than normal, causing her to slump over. Han caught her before she hit the floor.
This was wrong. Everything was wrong.
“What do I do?” he asked frantically.
“Ben,” she answered, voice hoarse. “I need Ben.”
Guess what happens next...
Ben slammed his palm against the nearest tree, rage boiling over from his deeply-rooted primal instinct to protect his girl. The anger wasn’t a new sensation but this time it was potent. It flooded his system like a poison, red hot and vicious. The fury overwhelmed him until he could barely see straight.
In his mind, he saw himself walking away. He’d left her there. The decision festered in his mind like an infected wound. Instinct demanded that he return to defend Rey but the same instinct roared at him to ensure her safety by checking the perimeter.
He was at war with himself.
His emotions were a mess. For the first time since he was liberated from the First Order, he felt unstable.
Ben pinched the collar of his shirt, tugging it open. He’d worked himself up to the point he was feeling feverish. He needed to pull himself together, if not for his own sake, then for Rey’s.
She’d grown up since their days sneaking out of the barracks. Her sunshine demeanor had a sour bite to it, a sign of how life on the run had hardened her. Regardless, she was the same. Still dangerous and still beautiful.
As he walked the property line, the confession from his mother’s office echoed in his mind.
Rey was the first person he chose to love. He loved his parents, of course, but loving Rey was a decision he made for himself, not one born of obligation or social constructs.
He wasn’t sure when he first realized it. Maybe it was when she commented on the size of his ears or after their first all-nighter talking on the roof. In hindsight, the date and time of his revelation didn’t matter. The result was the same.
Ben loved her.
He’d always loved her it was just a different kind of love now. Ben still wanted to keep her safe, make sure she was well-fed, and spend the entire evening speaking with her. None of that had changed.
But his feelings had grown beyond protective instincts. What he felt now was borderline possessive. Ben recognized how irrational he’d been at the pawnshop when Rey fell unconscious. It was similar to the chaos presently wreaking havoc on his system.
And he was helpless to stop it.
He wanted to blame it on his fear of losing her again but deep down he knew the real reason was far worse.
That was when he smelled them.
His head snapped in the direction of Dameron and Tico’s location. His nostrils flared as he honed in on their exact position. They were less than a mile out. Too far to have discovered the cabin but closer than he expected anyone to be.
If they found Rey at the cabin, they’d take her to the Resistance. They’d deliver her to his mother who would subject her to testing.
A low growl rumbled forth from his chest. He noticed his fists were clenched at his sides as he lumbered towards the trespassers. He had to neutralize all threats. He’d get rid of them first, then his father. Somehow he knew that it would be the only way for him to relax.
Ben raced through the woods, keeping low to leverage the shade as camouflage. He needed to lead Tico and Dameron away from the cabin. If he revealed himself, they’d ask questions. He’d have to turn them around without being seen.
He could hear the tires of Dameron’s vehicle and the murmur of their voices as they approached. Ben didn’t have time to think about an acceptable deterrent. He relied on instinct.
His focus settled on a tree positioned at the edge of the driveway. Han had four-wheel drive. He could go around.
With a violent shove, Ben rammed into the trunk at full force. The tree groaned in protest. The dirt around the base shifted but its roots kept it firmly planted in the ground. Ben huffed. Jaw set, he backed up and ran at the tree again.
This time, the ground opened up and the trunk tilted towards the driveway before falling back into place.
With each passing second, Rey’s safety was put at risk. It made him mad with worry, clouding his judgment and humbling his thoughts. Panic took hold. He had almost lost her once and he refused to lose her again. Ben charged at the tree one final time.
The massive trunk lurched forward before landing with a crash, effectively covering the driveway. There was no way Dameron and Tico would be able to get around it.
Hastily, Ben swept up his tracks, tossing leaves and other natural debris around the fallen tree. Once he was satisfied with his efforts, he headed towards the cabin.
“Ben!” He found his father several yards from the front porch, hunched over, panting hard. “Ben, it’s Rey. She needs you.”
“Where is she?”
“Go back to the manor. I’ve got this,” Ben ordered.
His father spoke again but he didn’t hear anything else Han said after that. All he could hear was his pulse hammering away as he hurried to her side.
Han had managed to move her to the couch. In between bouts of painful cramps, Rey convinced him to search for Ben. Once he was outside, she locked herself in the bathroom.
There was no denying what was happening. What started like a seizure was rapidly escalating into something far worse. Something she was too embarrassed to admit to either Han or Ben.
That left her two options — stay locked up in the bathroom for the next couple of days or run away. Considering how her legs were trembling, she didn’t think she’d get too far. Which was even more embarrassing.
It was all because they spiced up her genetic cocktail with feline DNA.
If the ferocity of her symptoms was any indication, Rey figured it was a big cat — a tiger or maybe a lion. She could jump over a fifty-foot fence laced with razor wire or take out a 250lb. linebacker without breaking a sweat. It made her a lethal soldier, but it also made her a victim of her biology.
It was a Catch-22.
But if she could make it through the next thirty-six hours, Rey would be fine. She could go back to sparring with Ben and preparing to take down the First Order as planned.
Rey had waited seven years to avenge her sister. She didn’t want to wait anymore — not when she had a real chance at destroying them.
She hissed as another cramp hit her.
For the first time since she’d walked out of her apartment, she regretted not leaving town with Finn. At least if she’d left, Ben wouldn’t have to see her like this. He wouldn’t know that two or three times a year she turned into a hormone-crazed teenager, clawing at the walls for some action. She didn’t want him to see her at her worst.
If she was going to be out of control and vulnerable, Rey wanted it to be with Ben on her own terms. If things were going to happen between them, she wanted it to be their choice, not the chemicals Between them.
She sucked in a breath. If she smelled him now — his intoxicating blend of vanilla and leather — she wouldn’t be able to stop herself.
“Rey? Are you in there?” Ben knocked on the bathroom door.
“Uh...just a second.”
She inhaled deeply. It was a mistake. The instant his scent filled her nostrils, her carefully constructed excuses for keeping the door locked crumbled. Her willpower was strong but it wasn’t impenetrable.
Rey flipped the lock and the door swung open.
Ben nearly ripped it off its hinges to get to her. “Rey.”
She managed to catch a glimpse of him before he pounced. His hair was disheveled, his pale skin was flushed, and his chest was rising and falling erratically. His pupils were blown wide, causing his eyes to appear completely black. It was those alluring eyes that kept her from stopping his advance.
When his wide hands grabbed her by the hips, Rey’s breath left her lungs with a surprised whoosh. Then he was burying his face in the crook of her neck.
His breath was hot where it brushed over her skin. He felt like a furnace, emitting an intense warmth that she could feel even in her delirious state. Rey was torn between snuggling up against his chest or leaning away to tear her clothes off.
As if he’d heard her thoughts, Ben released her momentarily to strip off his shirt. Cold air rushed at her. His absence was felt by every nerve in her shaking body. But the reprieve was brief. Before the displaced garment hit the floor, he was upon her.
“Yeah?” His voice was muffled by the position of his lips on the column of her throat.
Rey’s brain was clouded with a carnal desire to continue what Ben had started. She fought herself, attempting to focus.
The words felt like sandpaper grating her tongue as she spat them out. Her instincts rallied in retaliation. Every fiber of her being wanted to take the sentiment back as soon as it left her lips.
But Rey stood firm.
“I’ll take you upstairs,” he offered, misinterpreting her comment. “You can head up awhile and I’ll tell Han to—.”
“No,” she responded a bit sharper than she meant to. He stepped back as if she’d struck him. “No,” Rey tried again in a softer tone. “It’s not the place. It’s me. This isn’t...it’s not right.”
“Not right?” he repeated, both confused and dejected.
Rey recognized the hurt in his expression. “Ben.” She cupped his face in both her hands. The vulnerability in his face caused something to flutter in her stomach. She tampered her desire, focusing on what he needed. “It’s my heat. That’s all this is.”
“Heat?” he questioned as if the term was unfamiliar.
“Like a cat,” she confirmed with a nod. “The best thing for me to do is get out of here. Get some fresh air. Alone.”
He ran a hand through his hair. His eyes were still slightly glazed over when he asked, “Where will you go?”
“I’m going to put 600cc’s of raw power between my legs,” Rey told him determinedly. “I’ve got to clear my head.”
She meant her motorcycle. She had ever intention of walking outside, hopping on the magnificent machine, and driving into Chandrila to stay with Rose.
But that plan went out the window a second later when Ben’s pupils dilated and his full lips parted.
Suddenly, having those lips pressed against her — anywhere against her — was her sole mission.
Rey jumped into his arms, nearly tackling him to the ground due to his surprise. A second later, he was spinning them around, trapping her between himself and the wall. His plush lips skimmed along the lines of her collarbone to the dip between her breasts.
She scraped her nails down his bare back, envisioning the raised red lines she was leaving to mark him as hers. That’s what he was.
Undeniably and ultimately hers.
“Rey,” Ben moaned as he tugged her shirt down.
Yes. Yes. Yes, her hazy mind chanted.
There was a pleasing thrill in the fact he could rip every shred of clothing from her body in seconds. It was almost as satisfying as the knowledge that once she was bare, the heat would subside slightly.
Slightly but not entirely.
The only way her heat could be extinguished was by giving in. It would be easy, so easy, especially given the fervor of Ben’s attention. All she had to do was sit back and let it happen.
What was she still holding onto?
Let go, her inner voice suggested.
But that voice wasn’t the real her. It was the soldier Snoke had created, an animal bred to follow and serve.
Rey didn’t follow. She was an alpha. Alphas fought for dominance, for a right to lead.
And she would fight this.
“Ben.” She pressed her forehead to his and closed her eyes. She couldn’t stand to see the look on his face. She didn’t want to see the judgment there. Or worse, the revulsion. “This isn’t — I mean, I want to but,” she trailed off to bite her lower lip. “But not like this.”
When he said her name like that she couldn’t help herself. She glanced up to meet his gaze. There was no judgment, no aversion to her condition. There was only acceptance and understanding.
“I hate that this happens to me,” she told him, unable to keep all her pent-up emotions contained. It came pouring out of her as if the dam had finally broke. “It’s happened before but I’ve never…I've never done anything before. I just deal with the pain and—.”
“You don’t have to.” Ben gently brushed her hair from her face. “It’s okay.”
“No, it’s not. I hate how it makes me feel. I hate how it controls my life. This,” she gestured between them, “this isn’t me. It’s something the First Order cooked up in their genetic cocktail of me. It makes me feel like no matter what I do or how far I run, I’ll never be free of them. Never.”
“It’s alright,” Ben reassured her. He hugged her tight, rubbing soothing circles into her back. She leaned into his embrace, savoring his warmth and his scent, not because her biology dictated it.
Because she wanted to. Not the First Order. Not Snoke.
Following Rey out of the bathroom was one of the most difficult things Ben Solo had ever done. With the exception of being forced to leave her behind, he was unable to come up with a comparable experience.
His inner alpha raged, convinced he’d done something wrong to make her want to leave. Ben’s mind thrashed wildly against the accusations. The demeaning tone sounded more like Snoke than he cared to admit.
Rey must have noticed because she took hold of his hand.
“I’m going back to the city,” she announced.
“To FN-2187?” he queried tersely.
“No,” she replied with a shake of her head. “To a friend’s house. She doesn’t know about my condition but she’s the safest person to be around right now.”
“Can I ask her name? In case, I need to hunt her down afterward?”
Rey grinned. It sated the beast within to see her happy. “Her name is Rose. Rose Tico,” Rey revealed.
The beast’s contentment vanished.
Paige’s younger sister wasn’t part of the Resistance but sending Rey there was tempting fate. If Paige found a First Order soldier in her home, she wouldn’t hesitate to report it to Leia, especially if that soldier was near her little sister. Paige was fiercely protective of Rose.
“I’d prefer you go back to your apartment,” Ben tried to reason with Rey.
Her brow furrowed. “Why?”
“FN-2187 knows your condition. He’ll stand guard while you’re...incapacitated,” Ben explained.
Telling her to seek assistance from the Stormtrooper was the most difficult thing he’d ever done.
“Finn left,” Rey confessed. “He didn’t think it was safe for us to stay here, given your involvement with the First Order.”
Ben’s hands balled into fists. His arms shook while he restrained himself from punching a hole through the wall. How could her friend leave her like that? Hadn’t he been with her for the past seven years? Hadn’t their time together meant anything? It was exactly what Ben had warned Rey about. FN-2187 had a problem with loyalty.
“How well do you know this Rose Tico?”
“She’s fine, Ben,” Rey told him flatly.
“I’m sure she is,” he replied, “but she’s not like us, Rey. She may not understand.”
“She doesn’t have to,” Rey argued. “She's my friend. She’ll take care of me and once this is over, I’ll be back and we can—”
He pressed a finger to her lips, silencing her.
“Give me her address,” he suggested. “That way if something goes wrong, I can be there to get you out.”
“Ben, nothing is going to happen.”
She was testing his patience and his willpower all in one go. If he couldn’t be with her, he couldn’t protect her. She needed to give him something — some small sense of peace — in order for him to let her go.
Rey held out her hand and he deposited his phone in her open palm. She entered the details for Rose before giving it back. “Here.”
“Thank you.” He saw her legs quiver. “Are you going to be alright to drive?”
“I’ll be fine,” she promised with a wink. “I’m a big girl. I tie my own boots and everything.”
“I’ll be there to pick you up as soon as you text me,” Ben promised, fighting every instinct as he let her go. “Just say the word and I’ll come for you.”
“I’ll be waiting,” Rey replied, offering him a small smile in return. She turned to climb onto her bike, then paused. “Thank you for understanding how important this is to me.”
He reached for her but stopped himself before he touched her. “We’re together now. We have all the time we need.”
Ben watched her as she shot off down the driveway, speeding further and further away from the cabin. He stood at the edge of the property until the motorcycle vanished from sight and even then, he could still smell her — sweet as honey and just as tempting.
“Are you sure?” Leia Organa questioned Doctor Harter as both women stared at the results.
The Resistance medical bay was quiet except for the two hunched over the computer screen.
“It’s a perfect match,” Harter confirmed. “Ben was right. It’s Rey.”
“Run it again,” the General demanded, walking away.
“Leia,” the doctor said with a sigh. “I’ve already run it three times. The girl is Rey. She’s alive.”
Leia Organa shook her head, unable to accept her unintended betrayal. Ben had been correct about Rey’s identity which meant he was also right about the Resistance leaving her to die.
It was an unintended complication which shortened their mission that night. A mole had given up their position and Leia had had to make a call — save the children in the barracks or her only son. In the end, her maternal instincts won out. She’d abandoned the others to get Ben out. And he hated her for it.
She could live with that — had lived with it until now. With Rey back, it was harder to forget that night. Leia could no longer ignore the choice she’d made.
“How did you even get this?” Dr. Kalonia asked, interrupting her thoughts.
“Paige,” Leia revealed. “She found a bloody rag at the place the girl worked at.”
“Hmmm, there was something odd about her blood, though it could be a fluke since it’s not fresh.”
Leia spun around, eyes narrowing as she focused on the screen. “What is it?”
“All of the other subjects who were created in the lab were sterile,” Harter explained. “Snoke didn’t want any complications if they were called into action.”
“So?” Leia asked.
She’d read the files. She knew all about the training the children had been subjected to, the testing they had had to endure, and the vicious side-effects that plagued them every day of their lives. Snoke was a monster.
“So,” Dr. Kalonia began as she pulled up details on Rey’s blood work. “The girl isn’t infertile. She’s capable of carrying a baby to term and, if I’m reading these indicators correctly, she’s able to pass her genetic traits on to her children.”
“Let me see that.” Leia shoved Harter aside to review the indicators for herself.
She checked them once, then twice, and finally a third time. The results were as the doctor claimed. Rey was not only able to carry a child, but she was also able to have a child who shared her unique gifts.
“So that means—?”
“Yep,” Harter replied with a grin. “You always said you wanted grandchildren.”
I know, I know. I'm such a tease. But stay tuned, I promise an update is coming!
The ride into Chandrila took Rey less than an hour, which was about as long as she could go without her vision dancing from the pain. Screaming worked as a distraction, especially when her cries were drowned out by the roar of the motorcycle’s engine.
The further Rey drove from Ben, the clearer her head became but with that clarity came a heavy heart. Denying him — and herself — was challenging. She hadn’t even let him kiss her properly.
It had nothing to do with Ben and everything to do with her maker. Rey didn’t want their first time to be tainted by the First Order. Snoke may have wielded control over her skills and education but there was no way she was letting him manipulate her feelings. He wouldn’t tarnish her relationship with Ben the way he’d ruined everything else about her life.
She could wait. In a few days, her heat would pass, she’d return to training and together, they’d bring down the First Order. Once Snoke was gone, Rey would be free — free to go where she wanted, love who she wanted, be who she wanted. She could finally live her own life.
Just another one of the masses. Unidentifiable. Mediocre. Normal.
She could be human.
“Thanks for letting me crash here, Rose,” Rey said with a smile as she shucked off her backpack.
“Hey, what are friends for?” the petite girl replied with a grin.
“You’re sure it’s okay with your sister that I stay over?” Rey asked.
Rose shrugged. “Paige is hardly ever here. Between work and going to visit Poe, she doesn’t have much time for me. It’s nice to have company. At least now I won’t have to eat dinner alone.”
Rey opened her mouth to assure Rose she wouldn’t be alone but was cut off by another painful cramp. Dinner would have to wait.
“Hey, let's get you to bed.” Rose looped her arm around Rey and guided her into the second bedroom. “This is Paige’s room but since she’s never here, I figured you could use it. She has the better mattress anyway.”
“Thanks, Rose,” Rey told her friend.
“Just rest,” Rose advised. She closed the door with a soft click, leaving Rey alone as the sky darkened and turned to night.
Staring out the window, her thoughts went to Ben. Wherever he was, she hoped he was safe.
“So, let me get this straight,” Dameron began, pinching the bridge of his nose while Ben paced. “You’re experiencing extreme horniness and —.”
“The technical term is rut,” Ben interrupted agitatedly.
“Whatever,” Poe said with a disinterested shake of his head. “And Rey is experiencing the female version of this —.”
“Heat,” Ben confirmed.
“Right.” Poe paused. He shook his head again. “I’m sorry, man, I don’t get it.”
“What don’t you get?” Ben snarled as he continued to pace, haphazardly running a hand through his hair.
“Why you’re here,” Poe clarified. “If you love her and she loves you, what’s the problem?”
Ben froze, gritting his teeth. “I haven’t told her how I feel,” he admitted softly.
“What? Why the hell not?”
“I was going to!” he argued, irritatedly. “It was just never the right time.”
Poe snorted. “And when is a good time?”
“Not now!” he shouted.
“Obviously.” The pilot rolled his eyes, unaffected by Ben’s outburst.
He inhaled deeply, reminding himself to be calm. The irritation he felt was heightened due to his high testosterone levels. It was a side-effect of his rut and one he needed to constantly remind himself about. Ben couldn’t let his baser instincts dictate how he reacted. It would only prove to Rey that he was incapable of being a good mate.
He shook his head. Where had that come from? They weren’t animals. At least not completely.
Ben guzzled a bottle of water while he went back to pacing.
When he’d returned to the cabin, his cell rang. Seeing his mother’s name displayed on the caller ID, he’d ignored it. Ten missed calls later, he finally gave in and picked up.
“Where are you?” she demanded.
“Nice try,” he responded tersely. “You have ten seconds before I hang up.”
“I need you to come home,” she ordered. “Now. It’s important.”
He moved his thumb across the screen to disconnect the call when she said, “Ben, it’s about Rey.”
“What? What about Rey?”
“Come home. We need to talk,” she told him. Then she hung up.
Han was waiting for him outside. They’d driven back to the manor, pulling into the garage as night covered the sky in only blackness.
While he waited for his mother to finish her Resistance responsibility’s, Ben hid out in his room. That’s where Dameron found him, tossing furniture around as a stress-reliever.
Despite the destruction, the pilot hadn’t left. He remained sitting on the edge of Ben’s window, watching him with a mixture of amusement and curiosity.
“By the way, where is Rey?” Dameron questioned.
Ben turned toward him, teeth bared. “She’s safe. That’s all you need to know.”
The pilot whistled. “You have it bad.”
“I don’t have anything,” Ben grumbled.
“Right,” Poe said with a chuckle. “Because you let her go.”
“You wouldn’t understand, Dameron. All your rendezvous is fleeting.”
There was a flicker of something in Poe’s eyes before he laughed off Ben’s callous comment. “Are you ever going to tell her or are you going to wait for the opportune moment the rest of your days?” he asked, suddenly sounding serious.
“When this,” Ben gestured to himself, “is over, I’ll tell her. I want it to be genuine, not the product of some chemical reaction.”
Poe snorted. “I hate to break it to you, Solo, but that’s what love is. A chemical reaction.”
Ben mulled over his friend’s comment, considering how attraction worked for average humans. There was science behind the elements of physical attraction but the concept of actual love was harder to pin down. He wondered if Harter has any research on the subject. Before he could comm her, his mother burst in.
“You said it was important,” he grumbled.
Leia’s eyes narrowed.
“And that’s my cue,” Poe announced loudly. He jumped off the window sill and exited the room, making sure to shut the door behind him.
“I don’t know why you’re taking this out on me,” his mother groused. “I’m not the enemy here.”
“Really?” he sneered. “You were tracking Dad.”
“Can you blame me?” she shot back. “You were locked up for years in that place, Ben and even after you came back, you never really came back. You constantly locked yourself in your room. You stopped coming to dinner with us. Then, all of a sudden, this girl pops up out of nowhere and you run off with her without considering the consequences.”
“If she’s working for Snoke or not,” Leia explained exasperatedly.
“She’s not,” he snarled. “She almost died getting out. How could you think she’d be in league with him?”
“Because she’s not like you, Ben. She never was,” Leia answered tentatively.
“Yeah, I know. She’s from the X-wing series. She was created in the lab and born through a surrogate instead of a real mother. Big deal. She’s not her parents just like I’m not mine,” he argued.
“That’s not what I mean,” his mother said with a sigh. “Harter found something unique in her blood panel.”
Ben growled. He overturned a bookshelf with one wipe of his hand. It crashed to the floor, sending novels and magazines all over. “Where did you get her blood? What did you do to her?”
“Nothing. I swear,” Leia reassured him, holding up her hands to pacify him. “I didn’t touch her.”
“Then how did you get her blood? Explain,” he demanded.
“Paige brought us a sample from the pawnshop. We ran it in the lab to confirm the girl’s story. You were right. She is Rey,” Leia confirmed.
“I told you,” he muttered, unimpressed.
“You did but I was also right. She may be Rey but she’s still a threat.”
His mother handed him a piece of paper in response. Ben scanned the report, reviewing the characteristics displayed. Everything was typical for an X-wing solider: heightened reflexes, quicker healing, universal donor. The list went on. There was only one anomaly and it was a big one.
“Is this real?” he asked, peering over the top of the sheet at Leia. She nodded. “Do you know why?”
“What reason could Snoke have for this? He doesn’t believe in family or attachments,” Ben pointed out.
“The only thing Harter and I could come up with was an insurance policy,” Leia admitted.
“Insurance policy?” Ben questioned, confused.
“Snoke is always one step ahead. He always has an exit strategy. In case anything ever happened to the lab and they had to destroy their research, Rey has all the genetic markers they would need to breed a new generation of soldiers...naturally and without suspicion,” Leia revealed.
Ben’s eyes widened. His unease at being separated from Rey increased ten-fold.
“I have to go,” he declared, making for the door.
“No!” His mother grabbed his arm, either ignorant of how easily he could shove her aside or too stubborn to care.
“She needs me!”
“No. The best thing you can do for Rey right now is help us,” Leia insisted. “When we attack the First Order, we’ll take down their databases and get rid of the paper trail that documents her genetic make-up. If we can destroy it, the only people who will know about her differentiator will be the head doctor and Snoke.”
“I’ll kill him,” Ben swore.
“He needs to be tried,” Leia claimed. “That’s justice.”
“There is no justice for that man,” Ben replied angrily.
“Ben, if you murder Snoke in cold blood, you’re no better than him,” his mother explained. “Having the ability to show compassion makes us human. Don’t let him define your path for you. Choose your own.”
“I choose to protect what I love,” he told her.
“There is more than one way to protect Rey,”
Leia responded, taking his hand in both of hers. “You were groomed to fight, to take by force but that path ends in bloodshed and remorse. Find another way. Together.”
His mother nodded. “You’ve chosen her. If you stand together, you can forge a balance between your instincts and who you are as people — a new future. And,” she paused, “if you let us, the Resistance can help you secure that future.”
Ben felt a warmth spread through his chest, different from the feverish heat he’d been suffering under. This sensation came from a sacred place deep inside, one he’d hadn’t felt in years.
He wrapped his arms around Leia’s much smaller form. “Thank you.”
It was the longest, most painful three days of her life. By the end of her cycle, Rey was exhausted and irritated but alive.
Rose was amazing, never once judging her for her insatiable appetite or her curt responses. She even spent an afternoon teaching Rey how to play Scrabble. The one point she did question was Rey’s in-depth knowledge of medical terms.
“If I knew as much as you did, I wouldn’t be slaving away in the shop,” Rose had commented.
Rey managed to shrug it off, stating that she’d overheard it from her roommate. It wasn’t entirely a lie.
As promised, and mere minutes after she texted, Ben arrived to pick her up.
But he wasn’t alone.
Senator Organa was with him.
“Rey, it’s nice to see you again,” Leia greeted her.
“You didn’t tell me your boyfriend was the senator’s son!” Rose cried.
Rey’s attention snapped to Ben’s face but he didn’t seem the least bit upset by Rose’s terminology.
“And you must be Rose,” Leia turned her smile onto Rey’s friend. “I know your sister through Mr. Dameron.”
“She knows my name!” Rose gushed to Rey, who offered her a supportive smile in return, despite her internal suspicions regarding Leia’s motives.
“I don’t mean to impose, Rose, but I was wondering if I could have a word with Rey in private?” the Senator requested.
“Of course,” Rose agreed, immediately leading them into the garage and to the office. “Don’t mind me. I’ll just be out here fixing this Impala.”
“Thank you,” Leia replied gratefully. Once the sound of tools permeated the awkward silence that had settled between the two women, she cleared her throat. “I’m sure you’re wondering why I’m here.”
“Took the words right out of my mouth,” Rey confirmed.
“I’ll be blunt, the Resistance needs Ben. His knowledge of the compound and the inner workings of the facility are key elements we didn’t have access to the last time we attacked.”
“And you need me to convince him to work for you?” Rey surmised.
“Actually, no,” Leia corrected. “He’s already agreed. The last person I need to convince to join our cause is you, Rey.”
She snorted and rolled her eyes. “Seriously? You didn’t seem too keen on me seventy-two hours ago. What changed?”
Rey glared at the senator. “What happened? Is he okay?”
“He’s fine,” Leia reassured her. “In fact, he’s better than fine. And I have you to thank for that.”
“Things with my son and I haven’t been the same since we brought him home. I’m sure you can appreciate that.” Leia paused as Rey nodded. “As angry as he was with Han and I for what happened, the person he blamed the most was himself. When you resurfaced, he realized he’d been given a second chance. He’s committed to a future...with you.”
Rey felt a surge of warmth blossom in her chest and extend to the top of her head. It left a pleasant tingling sensation in its wake as if butterflies were skirting across her skin.
Her heat had ended sometime during the night, which meant Ben’s rut probably ended around the same time. Yet, he’d still brought Leia here. What she’d felt at the cabin — what she still felt now — was real. It was all real.
“I want that too,” she confessed.
“Good,” Leia said, grinning. “I’m glad we’re all on the same page. With your help from the communications bay in the manor, we can make sure our strike —.”
“Communications Bay?” Rey questioned. “You mean, I’m not going with you?”
The senator’s face filled with fear before she composed herself. It was a brief misstep but it was one Rey caught.
“Why not? What’s going on?”
Leia cleared her throat, looking unsure for the first time since Rey had met her. “I think Ben should be present for this.”
She called her son into the office. He took a seat aside Rey, instantly grabbing her hand.
Rey stared at him for a moment before shifting her gaze to Leia. “Someone tell me.”
“Do you remember the day I came to the pawnshop?” Ben began. Rey nodded. “Tico, erm, Paige told me that Plutt struck you.” Rey nodded again, feeling his hand heat up as he gripped her tighter. “There was blood and she took it back to the Resistance to examine.”
“That’s how we confirmed your identity and discovered your true purpose,” Leia finished for her son.
“What are you talking about?”
“Rey,” Ben said softly and she felt her heart skip a beat. So it was that bad, huh? “You’re not like the others.” Isn’t that what Finn had told her before he left the city? “Snoke created you for a unique purpose, so you could help him rebuild.”
“Rebuild?” she asked, not understanding.
He ran his free hand through his hair, chewing on the inside of his mouth, nervously. “You’re fertile.”
She blinked. Once. Twice.
Then it hit her.
Jumping to her feet, she felt her fury ignite hotter than the heat that had tried to overpower her and more potent than the rage she’d felt when she’d watched Mashra fall in the snow. She paced the length of the room, clenching and unclenching her fists while Leia and Ben watched helplessly from the sidelines.
“I’m going to rip his throat out and let him choke on his own blood,” she vowed.
“Rey, sweetheart,” Ben stood, trying to coax her to sit down.
“He’s the reason for all of this,” she insisted, furiously. “He’s why we had to hide our friendship. He’s why we were separated at the facility. He’s why you thought I was dead and vice versa and now this! I’m going to take him out if it’s the last thing I do!”
“And you will,” Leia said supportively, straightening up. “The Resistance will help you.”
“I don’t need your people. I was born for this,” Rey replied.
“As true as that may seem, you can’t take on an entire military base by yourself. You’re strong, not invincible,” the senator reasoned.
“And what can you do?” Rey challenged.
“We can get you in, unseen and undetected,” Leia promised, ignoring the look her son threw at her. “I assume you can take it from there.”
“And what are you looking for from me?” Rey queried. “Demolish the lab, destroy their research, kill —”
“Snoke has to be brought in alive,” the Senator cut her off.
“He’s mine,” Rey snarled.
“You can have him once he stands trial,” Leia conceded. “I doubt his superior would let him live after such a disaster anyway.”
“His superior?” Ben questioned.
“Sheev Palpatine,” Leia revealed.
Rey and Ben stared at one another stunned. “What does the President have to do with this?”
Leia deadpanned. “He’s the one who ordered the project.”
Rey agreed to Leia’s plan on a few conditions. First, her siblings were not to be treated as hostiles. She wanted them safely pulled out of the fight and brought back to the manor. Secondly, Snoke would be dealt with her way once he stood trial against Palpatine. And finally, after the president was voted out of office and sentenced, she and Ben were no longer under any obligation to the Resistance. They were free to come and go as they pleased.
Leia honored Rey’s requests and Ben watched as the two most important women in his life shook. He was so impressed by his girl that he didn’t realize the noise from the garage had stopped.
It wasn’t until they opened the door to leave that Ben became aware of how quiet it was. He immediately paused, body tensing for an attack but the only person who stood before him was Rose Tico.
“You’re Resistance?” she asked breathlessly.
Rey moved to step around him. At the sight of the wrench in Rose’s hand, Ben placed his arm in front of her protectively. She brushed past him, ignoring the weapon.
“Rose, I tried to tell you,” Rey admitted quietly.
Tico’s younger sister stared at her in surprise. Her brows knitted together in confusion and then she was shaking her head and backing away. “It’s not possible.”
Rey pursed her lips, then raced past Rose to leap over the car the mechanic had been repairing. When she landed without making a sound, Rose dropped her wrench to the floor.
Ben saw the pain strike his girl before Rose could finish her sentence. Rey turned away, shoulders stiff. He went to her, ignoring his mother who launched into her recruitment speech or Rose’s conflicted glances between them all.
“Rey, she didn’t mean—.”
“She did,” Rey interrupted.
“She’s in shock,” Ben tried again.
“I should have never come here. I should have found an abandoned warehouse and hid out there or gone to Maz’s or something. Anything would have been better than this. Now she knows. Her life will never be the same. She’ll either join the Resistance because she wants to or out of the need to keep herself safe. I took away her freedom, Ben. Just like Snoke did to us. That’s on me. One hundred percent.”
“Rey, her sister has been in the Resistance since —.”
“What? Paige knows about you guys?”
They both spun around to find Rose staring at them with wide, curious eyes.
“Your sister has been part of my organization since your parents died,” Leia answered, coming up behind all of them. “We were the ones to lease the garage for her and set you both up with work in the city. She’s an excellent asset and we needed her close.”
Rose’s lips parted in surprise. Ben recognized her expression. He’d felt it before, a mixture of betrayal, confusion, surprise, and awe. It was pretty much par for the course where his mother was concerned. She had that effect on people.
“Poe?” Rose questioned.
“Works for me,” Leia confirmed.
Rose blinked, stunned. “And you,” she addressed Rey next. “You told me the truth and I...” She trailed off as her cheeks reddened. “I laughed at you. Oh God, Rey, I’m so sorry.”
Ben noticed the way Rey’s body language relaxed. When she spoke, her voice was strong and calm. “I didn’t want to lie to you, Rose. I don’t have many friends.”
“I’m sorry,” Rose apologized. “This is just a lot to take in. I never thought — I mean, I always thought STEM cells and all that was more of a healing thing not a full-blown, let’s create a human —”
“Not human,” Rey grumbled bitterly.
“Of course you are!” Rose insisted, grabbing both of her hands. “Rey, look at me. You are human. Just because some assholes cooked you up in a lab doesn’t mean you aren’t a person like the rest of us.” Rey scoffed. “Okay, not like the rest of us. So you’re a natural badass. But that doesn’t mean you’re not human.”
“Actually, that’s exactly what it means,” Rey told her.
“No,” Rose rejected her statement. “You’re a person and like any other person, you deserve to live your life. If these bastards are trying to find you and take you back there, I want to help. I’m your friend and I don’t want to lose you.”
Rey’s eyes were watery when she glanced up from the floor to face Rose. “You do?”
“Yeah.” Rose withdrew her taser. “If even one of them comes close, I’ll zap his ass!”
Rey laughed and leaned down to hug Rose. “Thank you.”
And now comes the time to kick-ass!
The next two weeks were a flurry of activity. For the first time since his days at the First Order, Ben wanted to sleep. His mind and body were exhausted from the hours of training and the countless strategy sessions with his mother. His only comfort was the fact that Rey was at his side through all of it.
Their target was the DNA Lab. If there was a weak point, it was there. Losing all their research and any new embryos would ruin the covert organization. An attack geared to destroy their greatest assets would lead to a standoff between Snoke and Palpatine.
And while they were pointing fingers at one another, Leia could take her case public and bury them, once and for all.
“Are you ready for this?” she asked him.
They were sitting on the roof of the manor with a perfect view of Chandrila. Though their eyes were focused on the array of lights dotting the skyline, their thoughts were far away.
“Some nights when I was walking around the city, I would think about the fact that everyone has problems,” Rey told him when he didn’t answer. “Maybe not a covert government organization chasing them down, but you know, problems. Eventually, I’d get to the point where I started to feel slightly better. I’d think about how even if I was a normal human girl, I’d have problems like paying rent and jerks like Plutt. It sounds stupid, but it got me through.”
“You’re not regular,” Ben insisted. “You could never be regular.”
She stared at him, hands clasped together, holding her legs up to her chest. “You’re extraordinary. You’re brave and caring and smart. You’ve never shied away from a challenge, in fact, that’s where you thrive,” Ben informed her. “You shouldn’t want to be normal. You should want to be yourself.”
He reached over and tucked a strand of hair behind her ear. Her cheeks reddened and she glanced down at the rooftop.
“For years, I’ve been running and now it’s here. Everything is about to change,” Rey said quietly.
“I’ve thought about this every day since I left. Now that the time is finally here, I’m not sure how to feel,” Ben revealed. “I’ve spent so much time and energy planning on how to take Snoke out. Once he’s gone, what will be left?”
“Everything,” she answered as she slid her hand across the rooftop and over his own. “It’s time for the First Order to end. If we want to have lives, we have to take this war home.”
“It’s not our home,” he retorted, squeezing her hand. “It never was.”
“You’re calmer,” Rey observed. “You haven’t once told me to stand down or asked me to stay behind.”
“Would it do any good?” he inquired.
“No,” she said with a laugh. “But thanks for not making it harder for me. It’s hard to amp myself up for this when your mother keeps throwing around terms like ‘Death Watch’.”
“I know better than to try and stop you from doing what you think is right,” Ben admitted.
“You know why I have to do this, right?” Rey asked, her tone suddenly serious. “We’re never going to be any kind of anything if it keeps on like this.”
“One way or another,” Rey began as she leaned her head against his shoulder, “after tomorrow the world is going to be a different place for both of us.”
“Everything is going to be alright,” Ben promised, looping his arm around her. “Because whatever happens tomorrow, we’ll be together.”
“Together,” Rey echoed.
They remained like that until the sun came up. Neither one wanted to break the peaceful lull they’d fallen into by voicing their underlying fear that this could be the last time they were just that.
After breakfast, they gathered in the hangar to confirm their resources and finalize their plan of attack.
While Rose worked with Leia on the comms, Han and Chewie were outfitting the Falcon for duty. They would be patrolling from above to scope out any incoming reinforcements or ground forces converging on the Resistance team.
Paige and Poe were reviewing the strategy with the group, which consisted of roughly thirty members. Rey and Ben sat on Han’s workbench at the back. She’d situated herself close enough to him that she could feel his breath as it entered and exited his massive form. It had a calming effect on Rey. His proximity kept her mind from spiraling into dangerous territory.
If she thought too long about what would happen if their plan failed, she would lose her nerve. She couldn’t go back there— wouldn’t go back there. Sometimes she could still hear the sound of the military convoys as they scoured the campus for her and her siblings that fateful night.
Wait a second.
She could hear the wheels now. Rey leaped off the workbench, racing for the hangar doors. She was yanking them closed when the van came to a halt in front of her.
“Sorry, I’m late to the party. Does this count as an apology gift?” a voice asked from the driver’s seat of the van.
“Finn!” Rey couldn’t stop herself from running into her friend’s arms. “You came back.”
“I wasn’t about to leave you to fight them on your own,” he replied as he embraced her.
Han was already surveying the vehicle. “With a few modifications, this will be the perfect comm base,” he answered.
Ben was the next to speak. “FN-2187.” He held out his hand.
Finn eyed Ben cautiously before his gaze flickered today Rey. She gave him an encouraging smile. Her roommate sighed and shook Ben’s hand. “You can call me, Finn.”
“Finn,” Ben repeated. “I’m Ben.”
There was a pause as the two stared at each other, hands still locked together. Their grip was far tighter than necessary. Rey held her breath waiting to jump in.
Finally, Finn backed down. “Nice to meet you, Ben.”
Poe muttered something that sounded like ‘yeah, right’ under his breath and Paige was staring at her explosives as if they were the most interesting things in the world. The other recruits all busied themselves with reviewing the battle plan.
It was clear the two wouldn’t ever be friends but if they could restrain themselves from killing each other, they could fight together.
“Come on,” Rey said, leading Finn inside. “Let me introduce you to everyone.”
As she took him around, Rey could feel Ben’s eyes on her back. There was a weight to his gaze, heavy with uncertainty and laced with a protective edge. So when she caught the sparks flying between Rose and Finn, she stepped back and returned to Ben’s side.
“He’s a good man, you know,” she told him.
“I know he kept you safe all these years,” Ben admitted. Then, with a sigh, he added, “I’m not sure what bothers me more — that he spent all that time with you or that he was the one to get you out.”
“Hey.” Rey interlaced her fingers with his. “Finn’s my friend but you, Ben, you were my first friend and you’re my first love. You’re always going to be the one I choose.”
“Love?” he repeated, eyes widening.
“Yeah.” Rey smiled up at him. “Of course, I love you, you idiot. I’ve always loved you. It’s just...,” she trailed off and shrugged.
“It’s different now,” he finished for her, understanding. He cupped her face with his free hand.
“Yeah.” She nodded in agreement, leaning into his touch.
“Rey, I —.”
“What’s your poison?” Paige interrupted them by gesturing for them to join her at the ammunitions table.
“I’ll take the Dreadnought. It can only carry forty-rounds but it packs one hell of a punch,” Poe replied confidently. Ben rolled his eyes. “What about you, Tico?”
“I prefer the Mandalorian grenades. They have a fragmentation pattern explosion.” She glanced at Ben. “Solo?”
“I’m taking the MegaCaliber Six,” he informed her.
“And you?” Paige turned her attention to Rey.
“I’m taking a different approach,” she said with a smirk. She sauntered over to where she had stashed her prize.
Rey had spent the better part of the last week painting her motorcycle for the assault. Han had assisted her, knowing exactly what she needed. The matte black wouldn’t reflect any natural or artificial light, helping to keep the vehicle hidden in the dark of the night. With the adjustments she’d made to the engine and the muffler, it was a much quieter ride. She’d enhanced it to what Han dubbed ‘stealth-mode’ status.
“What are you going to do? Pull a John McClain and blow them out of the sky with that thing?” Poe questioned skeptically.
“I’m the distraction,” Rey returned.
“By doing what? Are you going to ride up to the gate, unarmed, and face down the whole First Order?” Poe scoffed, unconvinced.
“That’s exactly what I’m going to do.”
Poe sputtered in disbelief. Rey glanced at Han who was trying to cover up his chuckle with a cough and Ben who was smirking.
“All these years, they wanted to bring me back,” she stated evenly. “We’re about to give them a homecoming they’ll never forget.”
Rose let out a proud cheer, which prompted Paige to join in until everyone in the hangar was beaming at Rey. But not a single person stared at her with the same level of awe as Ben.
There was so much they’d been denied in their short lives, so much left unsaid between them. She vowed to rectify that once Snoke was dealt with. When the First Order was reduced to a pile of burning rubble, Rey would be reborn from the ashes. Like her Phoenix tattoo, she would begin again. A new life, a new love, and a new purpose.
She was ready to take her first steps.
Ben knelt in the soft ground covered in pine needles next to Rey, as he spoke to the squadron.
“After Rey breaks through the front gate, Tico and Dameron’s groups will proceed through the service corridor before splitting up. Tico, your team’s objective is to set charges around the main and auxiliary power generators. Dameron, your group will take the east air shaft down to the basement and commandeer control of the lab,” he instructed.
“I’m in!” Rose cried, interrupting their review.
She leaned out of FN-2187’s van to smile brilliantly at her sister. Ben noticed the way Tico’s eyes narrowed. She wasn’t pleased that her baby sister had joined them in the mission. Thankfully, her anger was directed at his mother and not him or Rey.
“I’m copying loops of each camera feed,” Rose announced proudly.
“Er...what?” Dameron questioned.
“It means that I’ve accessed their internal surveillance system so we’ll be able to see you but they won’t. They’ll never know you’re coming,” she said with a wink.
“We can monitor you from here and steer you around any obstacles,” FN-2187 added when Dameron didn’t respond.
“Thanks,” Rey grinned at the two. She tapped her earpiece. “Han? Are you there?”
Ben heard white noise before his father’s voice answered. “We’re here, kid. Clear skies all around. Couldn’t ask for a better night for flying.”
“We rendezvous here by midnight,” Ben declared, drawing everyone’s attention back to the mission. “Any questions?”
“What do we do about the others like you?” Tico asked.
“They are coming with us,” Rey insisted instantly.
Ben felt his stomach churn. She was so sure her brothers and sisters were still there. In a way, they were but they weren’t the siblings she’d grown up with.
From his mother’s intel, Ben had learned that Snoke increased their conditioning. It was unlikely they even remembered Rey. He chewed the inside of his cheek, wondering whether or not to tell her before she headed down to the gate.
“Here are your clearance badges,” FN-2187 handed out the laminated tags to each of the Resistance members on the assault squadron.
While he did that, Ben pulled Rey aside. Her eyes flickered from his hand on her arm to his face but there was no fury there, only concern.
“I’d kiss you, but I have to keep focused,” she told him.
“Just promise me you’ll be there to stand with me when the time comes.”
“I will,” she vowed and with that said, she disappeared into the shadows.
The last sound he heard was the roar of her motorcycle as she took off in the night.
Rey glared at the gates, encased in barbed wire and electrified. Like her, the facility was well guarded, wrapped in defensive measures, and nearly impenetrable. Nearly but not entirely.
This is for Mashra.
She reeved her engine and shot off like a rocket, aiming her bike at the center padlock. The soldiers at the fence opened fire, running to cut her off. Seconds before impact, Rey pushed all her weight off the motorcycle to leap over the fence.
The vehicle exploded into a fiery blaze, stunning the guards and providing her the distraction she needed to take them each out. Carefully, she removed each of their weapons from their grips and opened the gate.
The Resistance came charging in, Paige and Poe at the front, directing their separate groups to the entrance, while Ben collected the discarded weapons.
He offered her one of the automatics.
Rey shook her head. “No thanks.”
The first generator exploded on the west side of the compound, signaling them to act.
“Ready?” Ben asked, loading his gun.
They walked through the fire, side by side, to confront their maker.
Ben crouched low as he approached Snoke’s office. The closer he got to the room the harder it was to ignore the feeling of dread sitting in his gut. He could feel the weight of his past sitting heavily upon his chest.
Then the memories came.
He saw himself as a boy being brought before Snoke. He heard the echo of the slap when the old man callously back-handed him for disobeying his orders. He felt the pinch where the needle pierced his skin from Mitaka’s experimentations.
Ben’s stomach roiled. The ghosts of his past would haunt him for the remainder of his days if he didn’t kill them. It was time for the First Order to end.
“Are you okay, Rey?” he asked over his shoulder.
If he was feeling the eerie impact of the facility, he suspected she was too.
“I’m fine,” she replied but there was a vulnerability to her voice.
He pressed onward, his gun at the ready. “Dad?”
“Are we clear?” Ben inquired.
“There’s nothing on the ground, as far as I can see,” Han confirmed.
“Rose?” Ben questioned.
“The hallway isn’t vacant. You shouldn’t have any trouble getting through,” she confirmed.
“Good,” he replied. He glanced back at Rey who nodded. “We’re going in.”
With a slight tremor in his hand, he opened the door. It creaked as it swung on its hinders. Cautiously, Ben stepped inside the darkened room.
The lights switched on, causing him to wince momentarily. When his vision cleared, Snoke was sneering at him from his desk chair.
“What have you done, Kylo Ren?”
Rey stiffened. Ben aimed his gun at Snoke’s heart. Just one twitch of his finger and it would all be over.
That was when the second generator blew.
He paused and it was that hesitation which caused Snoke to cackle in glee.
“You seem pleased,” Ben observed, adjusting his hold on his weapon.
“It’s gratifying watching you take hold of your destiny,” Snoke responded. “I always feared you had too much of your father’s heart, young Solo, but now I see the beast within has taken control. You are ready.”
“And you’re twisted,” Rey snarled.
Snoke’s attention snapped to her. His eyes gleamed with mirth and it made her skin crawl. “Of course, you, Rey, were my greatest achievement. It’s such a shame you have such a noble heart. I’ll make sure to improve upon that next time.”
“There won’t be a next time, asshole,” Rey replied as she charged at him.
Snoke merely sat in his chair with the same happy expression on his face. Rey didn’t understand how he could be so calm until she was struck out of the air. She tumbled to the ground, rolling into the wall. When she picked up her head, she saw her brother.
“Stay down,” he ordered.
Her lips pulled up into a smile. He was alive. He was here. He was—
—pointing a gun at Ben.
“Armitage, what are you doing?”
“Protecting you,” he answered. “The way I always have.”
“You aren’t protecting her now,” Ben snarled. “You’re just a rabid cur looking for a pat on the back from his master.”
“I have no master,” Armitage snapped. “I know what’s best for her. She should have never left. It’s your fault she’s confused.”
Rey felt all the air leave the room.
She should have never left.
He couldn’t possibly mean it. The escape had been his idea. He’d given his life so she could run — so they could all run. What had happened to him?
“You!” Rey seethed, turning her anger on Snoke. “You did this!”
She clenched her fists at the sight of him. Her jaw was set tight and her eyes flared with anger. She took a step toward him but her brother stepped between them.
“Get out of my way.”
“I don’t understand you, Rey,” he commented as he began to circle her. “We are worth more than them — we are more than them.”
“No, we aren’t.”
“Yes, we are,” he insisted, his voice rising slightly with his determination, “We have evolved beyond humanity and their meager lives. We are faster, stronger, far superior. We are gods!”
She shook her head, her eyes trained on him, waiting for him to attack. At her side, Ben was tense. His gun was pointed at Snoke but his attention was solely on her. Rey motioned for him to stand down. She wouldn’t risk his life. This was between her and her brother.
“We are not gods, Armitage. We’re monsters.”
He lowered his gaze, contemplating her words. “I had such high hopes for you, Rey. I thought you’d stay at my side, my equal in all this.” When he raised his head to lock eyes with her, she saw his intent. “But you disappoint me.”
Armitage lunged at her, grabbing for her arms to upset her balance and put her down. Rey slammed her hands against his shoulders, jarring his limbs so his hold was loose enough to break out of.
He latched onto her forearms, trying to toss her to the side and into the wall. Rey used his surge of energy against him, allowing herself to be thrown until she twisted out of his grasp at the last second and used the wall as leverage to somersault over his head.
“You haven’t forgotten your training,” he remarked.
“Old habits die hard.”
“You should have stayed here with me. You abandoned us,” he snarled bitterly. “And for what? For Kylo Ren?”
“There never was a us, Armitage.” Rey avoided his next attack, trying to reason with him. “Snoke is manipulating you. He’s brainwashed you into believing there was something between us. It’s not real.”
“Finish her!” Snoke shouted from his chair.
“You’re my brother. You tried to get us out of here. You saved my life,” she pleaded, tears burning at the edges of her eyes. “Please don’t make me do this.”
“I’m not your brother. You were supposed to be mine!”
Armitage dove for her, tackling her to the floor. Rey landed on her back, all the air escaping her lungs. His face scanned hers and she recognized that her brother truly was lost. His eyes held no semblance of compassion. They were hard and cold like ice. She locked her legs around his torso and wrenched him to the side, roughly changing their position.
“Snap out of it!” She cried, slapping him across the face.
He let out a howl and shoved her back off of him. Rey leaped to her feet, preparing herself for another strike.
There was nothing left of the Armitage she had grown up with. The brother she had known — the one who had held her hand and protected her from the doctors — was gone. Just like Mashra, the First Order had taken him from her.
Rey didn’t have time to mourn her loss.
“Target is primed and ready to go,” Dameron announced over the comms. “We’re pulling out.”
Rey glanced over at him and their gazes locked. Ben tapped his wrist where his watch sat.
Five minutes and counting.
The bombs were set. They had precious little time to get clear of the blast before it took over the entire facility.
“Go,” she ordered Ben. “I’ll take care of this.”
“I’m not leaving you,” he responded, shaking his head stubbornly.
“That’s exactly what you’re going to do,” Armitage returned, firing off a shot.
Rey’s scream triggered an immediate response from her brother, who slammed an elbow into her ribs. She stumbled back a step, caught off-guard, too worried about Ben, to prepare herself for the incoming attack.
Armitage wrapped his pale fingers around her throat, lifting her off the ground by her neck. “If I ever hear you say his name again, it will be the last time you speak. Understand, Rey?”
She shook her head, struggling against his grip, trying to kick him. He shoved her into the nearest wall, knocking her head back.
“Say ‘I understand,’ Rey,” he demanded mockingly.
Narrowing her eyes, she glared at him.
And kicked off the wall, pinning him to the floor. “I understand,” she growled.
Cocking her arm back, Rey snapped out a punch, rendering her brother unconscious. Armitage’s head lulled to the side, a trickle of blood running out of his mouth where his teeth had clacked together. She left him there, crossing the room to where Ben had fallen.
He was face down, curled around his midsection, where she assumed he’d been hit. Her throat tightened and her eyes burned. She’d already lost her brother. She couldn’t lose him too.
She felt the cold metal of a gun barrel pressed to her temple.
“Stand up, slowly,” Snoke ordered. Rey straighter up, hesitantly lifting her arms in surrender. “It should have been you who got shot down in the snow. Not Mashra,” he grumbled. “Her blood is on your hands.”
“Funny,” Rey said with a snort. “My hands weren’t the ones on the trigger.”
“I may have killed her but it was your fault. If you hadn’t—.”
“You killed her?” Armitage roared, interrupting Snoke’s excuse. “You told me Ren killed her! You said he came back here with the Resistance and stole Rey. You liar!” He tore across the room, rage coursing through his veins. She was ripped free of Snoke’s grasp a second before she heard his gunfire a single shot.
Rey froze, eyes pinched shut. For a moment, time stood still. The absence of pain was what made her open her eyes to find her brother on the floor with blood seeping through the front of his uniform. His eyes were glazed over and his skin had already taken on a sickly quality to it. She couldn’t hear his heartbeat.
“Armitage.” His name came out in a choked sob.
“What a waste,” Snoke mumbled, grabbing her by the arm and placing his gun to her temple again. “Sentiment,” he scoffed. “You all have it. I’ll make sure to change that in the new round.”
“I don’t think so.” Rey ducked just as Ben decked Snoke. His gun discharged into the wall before Ben snatched it out of his grip. “You’re going down with the ship,” Ben announced. He produced the same pair of handcuffs Rey had used on him in the alleyway at Takodana and latched Snoke to his office door.
“You can’t leave me here!” the man cried indignantly. “Ren! Ren!”
“You said you wanted me to take hold of my destiny,” Ben responded. He glanced at Rey, smiling as he took her hand. “I am.”
“Ben! Rey!” Han shouted over the comms, startling them both. “Get out of there. Now!”
“Together?” Rey asked.
Ben grabbed her hand and lead her through the sterile corridors to the exit.
“We are clear,” he announced, the second her feet hit the yard. “Blow it!”
The entire building rumbled as the fire swept through the halls and air shafts to explode out windows and vents. It was like watching a volcano erupt into the sky. Brilliant reds and oranges decorated the night, burning through the shadows until the entire forest was bathed in the blaze’s glow.
Rey had never seen fireworks, but she doubted she’d ever seen a more beautiful sight.
Only the epilogue left now. You all know what that means....
“Do you have enough water?”
“How about fruit?”
“Should I grab more granola bars?”
He snapped his attention to the flushed woman standing in the doorway. No matter how many times he looked at her, he always found himself shocked she was his. Rey, his beautiful, clever little thief.
“Sorry,” Ben quickly apologized. “I just want to make sure everything is perfect.”
“I’m with you. That means it’s perfect,” Rey told him as she slipped her hand into his. “Besides,” she trailed off with a wink. “We’ve had three months to practice.”
His anxiousness ebbed with her joke. She always knew what to say to calm him down.
In the months following the First Order’s fall, they’d had ample opportunities to explore their future together and to explore one another.
The first time they’d disappeared for an entire weekend, hiding out in Varykino, at his grandmother’s summer home. They needed to get away from Poe’s annoying questions, Finn’s protective comments, and Leia’s needling. If Ben had thought living at the manor was bad before, it was nothing compared to how it was now.
He wasn’t sure who was worse — his mother for badgering him to produce a grandchild, Paige for yelling at all of them about Rose joining the Resistance, Poe, who kept asking about the specifics of rut and heat, or Han, who was constantly tossing boxes of condoms in his room. They were terrible. Each and every one of them.
Which was exactly why he was taking Rey away for the next week. It would be the first time they were experiencing their heat and rut, respectively, since the fall of the First Order. Without the threat of Snoke looming over them, they were able to be them.
Just Ben and Rey.
Ben had been eagerly awaiting this day. It was when Rey’s final wall would come down, one final hurdle for his girl to overcome on her path to being herself. And he was going to help her through the experience.
It was natural to be nervous. Even though they’d already been together, this time it would be different. Rey was naturally insatiable. Rey under the effects of her best was sure to be a challenge in stamina. That’s where his rut came in.
And all the granola bars he’d packed.
“We already have everything we need,” Rey reassured him, squeezing his hand. “Let’s go.”
He followed her out, his nerves settling the longer she held his hand.
It was suffocatingly hot. Rey wiped the back of her hand across her forehead, biting back a curse. She loved Ben — loved his thoughtfulness, his attention to detail, and, above all else, his compassion. But right now she wanted to be eighty miles away from the manor, shacked up with her handsome boyfriend.
Yet, here they were, still packing.
She pinched the bridge of her nose to keep his scent from invading her nostrils. Rey reminded herself that everything she was feeling was a product of her heat. If this was the worst thing they had to fight about, they were lucky.
That thought put things in perspective.
Since the night they blew up the First Order, the landscape of her life had changed dramatically. Rey had moved into the manor with Ben. She’d gone from an orphan on the run to a member of one of the most prestigious families in the country.
Unofficially, of course.
Ben hadn’t proposed yet; though she had an inkling he intended to do it soon. She’d caught him sneaking around a couple of times and Leia was not at all shy about her thoughts on their future. In between Supreme Court hearings regarding President Palpatine’s ejection from office (made harder by the fact Snoke had died in the explosion), Senator Organa was relentless in her pursuit to, quote, have grandchildren before she died.
Though they hadn’t started off on the best of terms, Rey had grown fond of Leia over the past few months. Whereas before she could brush off the Senator’s not-so-subtle hints, now Rey felt guilty as if she’d done something wrong.
According to her heat hormones, she had.
Because they were still at the manor while Ben grabbed one more case of water to load into the back of Han’s truck.
They were going back to the cabin — back to where it all began — so they could take care of their unfinished business.
Or they were...if Ben ever stopped worrying about her long enough to actually do something about it. If he didn’t act soon, she was going to slam him up against the side of the vehicle, unbuckle his pants, and—
“Okay, all set,” he announced, putting the tailgate up.
He jumped into the driver’s seat, looping his arm across the back of her headrest.
And just like that, Rey’s anger subsided into a happy purr of contentment.
Driving to the cabin proved to be increasingly difficult. With every mile he got them further away from the pressures of the manor, Ben lost a little more of his calm.
He wasn’t the only one.
Rey sat in the passenger seat with her knee hopping up and down while she chewed on her lower lip. There was a fine sheen of sweat along her brow from the heat that the cool, crisp fall air couldn’t alleviate.
“Almost there, sweetheart,” he promised, pressing his foot down on the gas pedal.
She didn’t respond, just continued to stare out the window, her leg jiggling nervously.
Ben felt a pang of guilt for causing her such pain. He’d been single-threaded in his concern regarding her comfort. He’d lost sight of what this time away was about.
He sped through the next ten miles, barely taking the time to turn off the engine before he was sweeping Rey out of the truck and carrying her inside the cabin.
When Ben kicked open the door, Rey laughed against his neck in short, hot puffs of air. The sensation did little to quell his inner alpha. His rut was taking hold and as it did it shifted his perspective from comforting to devouring.
“Go upstairs,” he ordered, dropping her on her feet, so he could lock the door. “When I get up there, you better be ready for me.”
Rey shot him a sultry smirk. “Kylo,” she purred. “I’ve been ready.”
God, this woman would be the end of him.
She raced up the steps to the bedroom and Ben shook his head to clear away the haze of his impending rut. He needed to ensure they wouldn’t be disturbed. Carefully, he checked each door, window, and even the chimney to confirm they were secure. Then, and only then, did Ben follow Rey.
He found her standing in the bathroom, dabbing her face with a cold washcloth.
Ben snaked his arm around her waist, surprising her as he dragged her backward until her back was flush to his chest. “That’s not going to help, my little thief,” he said, his words cascading along the side of her face.
Rey dropped the rag in the sink. “So, what are you waiting for?” she quipped, staring at him in the vanity mirror with a teasing challenge in her eyes.
He hummed before lightly nipping her earlobe. “I think we’ve both waited long enough.”
She slumped against him with a soft sigh, eyes fluttering closed. Her body was on fire, the heat burning through the thin layers of fabric separating them. Ripples of pleasure and an intense possessiveness coursed through Ben. He tried to hold back his responding groan but failed.
“Take these off,” he directed, gently tugging on her tank and jeans.
Rey spun around to face him. She grabbed the lower hem of her cami, dragging up over her body to discard it on the floor. With a devil’s smile, she stared directly into Ben’s eyes while unhooking her bra. She dropped it to the floor to join the shirt.
When Rey reached down to unbutton her jeans, Ben grabbed her wrist with lightning-fast reflexes. He snatched her up, carrying her half-naked body into the bedroom to deposit her on top of the mattress.
Pinching the zipper of her jeans between his thumb and forefinger, Ben yanked down. Rey tilted her head back with another sigh as he ripped the offending material off her form.
“This is lovely,” he commented as he traced the material of the lacy thong she wore. “But it’s in my way.”
Rey propped herself up on her elbows to watch him tear the satin fabric away. She kept her eyes on him the entire time. Her skin was flushed pink and her pupils were blown wide with her desire. Ben had never seen a more arousing sight.
“Are you going to join me?” she cooed, inching further back on the bed.
“Are you going to let me this time?” he teased in response.
Rey’s eyes narrowed and her parted lips snapped shut. The next second she was on him, tackling and twisting until she had him pinned beneath her.
She cupped him through his jeans. Ben squeezed his eyes shut, suppressing an animalistic groan.
“You made me wait a long time, Ben,” Rey reminded him.
“I want to take care of you,” was his strained response.
“Then do it, Alpha,” she said, rolling her hips. “Take care of me.”
It was clear she had struck a nerve. No sooner did the words leave her mouth than Ben was flipping her onto her back so he could shuck off his clothes.
“You belong to me, Alpha,” he returned, eyes dark and intense.
He loomed over her, one hand clasped onto both of her wrists, as he settled between her thighs using his other hand to hold her hips down. Rey felt the delicious tingle of anticipation stir low in her belly. This is what she wanted — to catch her mate and be caught in return.
The thing about being an alpha was that she needed to prove herself to Ben her at the same time needed him to prove himself to her. It was a complicated line to walk but she found satisfaction in his heated gaze, reminding her of how much they’d both sacrificed for this moment.
It was time to let go.
“I’m yours,” she promised. “And you’re mine.”
“Always,” Ben vowed.
Then he thrust in, burying himself fully inside her. Rey cried out, overwhelmed by the feel of him. It was everything she needed and yet, at the same time, not enough.
A whine escaped her throat, her hips undulating against his, seeking more — more friction, more force, more of Ben.
He released her wrists, taking hold of her hips and driving into her. Rey’s body jerked from his frantic motions. Moans and other lewd, guttural sounds filled the cabin as they fell into a rhythm, moving as one.
Her face was covered in sweat, the intensity with which he thrust into her bringing her closer to the brink of release. Rey lifted her legs, smiling when Ben guided them up to hook around his waist. The new angle allowed him to reach deeper, hitting that tantalizing spot within.
Rey screamed his name, muscles spanning around him as she fell over the edge. Ben continued canting against her until he stiffened and let out a roar. For a moment, he was still, hovering just above her, cradling her face in his hands. Then with a gentle kiss, he rolled off and collapsed next to Rey.
The two drifted off, exhausted and spent.
One Year Later…
Rey’s eyes snapped open and she bolted out of bed. She rushed, barefoot and bleary-eyed, into the nursery to find her husband cradling their son. It was his cries, not her nightmares, that had woken her.
“He’s fine,” Ben assured her. "I think he missed his mama.”
Carefully, he handed Logan to Rey.
She smiled at their child, who had her tanned skin and Ben’s soft, raven hair. He was the most precious thing in the world to her, the embodiment of all the good that had come from their efforts against the First Order. Logan was also a product of her first heat with Ben. His birth had marked a milestone in Rey’s life, one that spoke of the bright future she could have, one that was filled with love and hope.
Logan sputtered and she quickly grabbed a blanket before he covered her shoulder in spit-up.
“He’s going to be trouble, just like his mother,” Ben remarked, brushing his son’s hair back as he gazed at him with proud eyes.
“The last time I checked, you weren’t exactly innocent, Kylo,” she returned.
“I never said I was,” he replied, holding his hands up in mock surrender, “but I also never tried to rip-off a family heirloom.”
Rey sighed. “For the last time, I didn’t know it was your grandfather’s World War II helmet!”
Ben chuckled. “I know.” He kissed the crown of her head, guiding her back to their bedroom so she could sit down while she fed their son.
In the dimly lit room of their Chandrila home, with her child in her arms and her husband at her side, Rey accepted that her life would never be normal.
Her life was going to be better.
Until next time, Reylo-fam