Chapter 1: Man or Monster?
I'm back from my hiatus with a whole new story. More than half is already written, so it will be updating regularly. Please mind the tags. This fic will deal with some darker themes but will have a lot of sizzle and ultimately a happy ending, similar to Sanguis Sanguinem Meum.
Chapter title from the Sam Tinnesz song, Man or a Monster.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
When you close your eyes, what do you see?
Do you hold the light or is darkness underneath?
In your hands, there's a touch that can heal
But in those same hands, is the power to kill
It was nearly midnight when the roar of a sleek Mercedes-Maybach disrupted the otherwise dull evening. By the time the owner turned off the vehicle, the digits on the clock had advanced. It was the witching hour, or, as some folklore called it, the devil’s hour.
The man, who was dressed in all black, preferred the latter. It was appropriate considering his line of work. With the grace of a panther, he exited the ebony vehicle and strolled into the night. He walked with purpose. No one was foolish enough to cross his path but their eyes followed him warily.
The Jakku District was a hive for the filth of the city. Halfway houses, liquor stores, car lots, and cash advance businesses lined the streets, each promising satisfaction and each ready to relieve customers of their money. Motels like Niima Outpost were a revolving door of villainy and scum, which was why when he strolled into the manager's office, no one batted an eye.
“Which room?” he questioned the quivering man behind the counter.
A key was placed on the countertop between them. His black-gloved hand covered it completely as he slid it back.
“That won’t be necessary.”
The enforcer exited as abruptly as he arrived. He marched along the exterior corridor, the heels of his boots drumming against the cement. To those who watched him, he was seen as the harbinger of death. Apart from his attire, there was the distinct air of death that followed him like a shroud.
Standing outside of the room, there was no hesitation. His knee rose and with a single kick, he broke the door off its hinges.
Inside, the target’s eyes widened in terror. “You!”
“I don’t have it,” the man pleaded, frantically backing away.
For each one of the dark assassin’s strides, his target had to take three steps. The First Order enforcer was massive, a tidal wave of black rolling forth from the shadows to silence his foes. The target never stood a chance.
“Where?” the enforcer snarled, grabbing the man by his throat and lifting him off the floor.
“P-Plutt,” the target rasped. “He has it stashed in his shop.”
The assassin tilted his head as he regarded the sniveling coward in his grasp. Then, with only the force of his hands, he snapped the man’s neck and all was quiet.
Moments later, the Mercedes roared to life and peeled down the street.
Rey dragged her arm across her forehead, clearing the sweat away before it entered her eyes. The harsh fluorescent lights above and the old hand lamp she had hooked to the car’s hood were beginning to give her a headache. Or maybe it was the fact she hadn’t eaten anything since yesterday. It was hard to tell.
Hunger was a familiar sensation. According to Plutt, it was a privilege to eat and scavengers needed to earn their privileges. When she’d been under his care that meant he paid her in food. Since she was no longer covered by the foster system, he was forced to pay her for real. And he never let her forget it. Plutt paid Rey minimum wage no matter how many hours she slaved in his shop. If she commented on it, he was quick to remind her that she was nothing and had nothing without him.
“Girl,” his gruff voice called into the garage.
She didn’t respond, singularly focused on finishing her task.
A calloused hand grabbed her forearm, yanking her away from the vehicle. “Hey.”
“I’m busy,” she snapped, her agitation winning out over common sense.
It was a mistake. Her boss backhanded her without pause.
Unkar Plutt was not a kind man. The only two things that interested him were profit and control. Employing her gave him both.
“You were supposed to have that done three hours ago,” he grumbled.
“And you said it was only the sparkplugs that needed to be replaced,” Rey pointed out, fighting to keep her voice even. “But she needs the works. I just finished replacing the catalytic converter. I still have to do the ignition coil and install a new gas line.”
“Leave it,” Plutt ordered. “I need you to watch the shop.”
Rey bit back a scathing retort. She hated manning the pawnshop next door, especially this late at night. Only creeps came in after midnight and that was saying something given the shop’s address was in Jakku.
“For how long?” she asked. She wasn’t sure why she bothered. Plutt didn’t keep a time table.
“Until Madame Lota’s closes.”
Rey inwardly cringed. Madame Lota’s House of Flowers was a brothel on Plawal Road a few blocks away. If she wasn’t handy as a mechanic, Rey knew that was where she would have ended up. There weren’t many career opportunities for a homeless orphan who graduated from Jakku High. Her lack of options was the sole reason she still worked for Plutt.
“Don’t forget to file these,” Plutt reminded her, dropping a stack of papers on her workbench.
“I’ll be over in a minute,” Rey told her employer.
He muttered something distasteful under his breath and waddled out of the garage.
She waited a moment before sliding under the car. The outdated creeper’s wheels screeched in protest as Rey scanned the underbelly of the vehicle for her stash. Hiding her wages was just one of the many secrets she kept from Plutt.
The other was that she snuck into the crawl space above the garage after hours to sleep. It was warmer than the streets and less crowded than the shelters. Plus, there was no one around to ask questions. While the shelters provided meals and cots, they were also visited by overzealous believers. Rey would rather eat scraps than have to listen to another pointless sermon.
She stuffed the wad of bills into the pocket of her grease-stained jeans. It was time to move her supply. Rey had already scoped out a spot in the attic, between the ductwork and the insulation.
As she rolled out from under the car, she heard a sound like an explosion.
Jumping to her feet, Rey raced over to the pawnshop. She slipped in through the back door, intending to grab the old Louisville slugger from the break room when the first shot was fired. Rey dropped to the ground, keeping her head down.
Gunshots weren’t a foreign noise. Like sirens, they were a constant in the Jakku district, though Rey had never heard one so close. It sounded like thunder, only louder and more infinite.
“Where?” a deep voice demanded.
Her brow creased. She’d never heard such an intimidating timbre before. It made her wonder if she had heard gunfire, or if this mystery man was to blame.
Perhaps it was a bit of both.
Rey maneuvered closer until she was able to peer through the door into the main room. The scene was one she’d pictured before with one key difference: instead of Plutt cowering in fear from the man pointing a gun at him, she had always imagined her boss recoiling from her. It seemed he wouldn’t live long enough for her to get a chance.
She couldn’t see the assailant’s face. He was angled away from her, standing over Plutt while the overweight shop owner babbling incessantly about a deed. Rey had no idea what he was talking about. He dealt in knock-offs and second-rate items. Items with real value, such as property or land rights, didn’t belong with the garbage.
“I know it’s here,” the stranger growled. “Brentin told me...right before I killed him.”
Rey’s eyes widened, clapping a hand over her mouth to stifle a gasp. She didn’t know who Brentin was but she pitied him. If the stranger’s tone was any indication, Rey imagined his death had been unpleasant.
“I don’t have—.”
The stranger, who was dressed in all black, silenced Rey’s boss with one hand around Plutt’s throat. If his tone of voice was intimidating, the sheer size of his hand was unnerving. She watched the leather of his gloves crinkled as he applied pressure to Plutt’s windpipe.
“I—,” her boss started making choking sounds.
The stranger tossed Plutt against one of the display cabinets, smashing the glass panels so they shattered into small, jagged pieces. From Rey’s vantage point, it looked like the sky rained diamonds, only the outcome wasn’t beautiful. It was horrifying. Plutt’s clothes were shredded and his face was streaked with blood.
Rey felt her heart hammering in her chest, yet she couldn’t pull herself away. Despite the danger, she was drawn to the man in black— to his power, to his determination, to his voice. There was a darkness there, unlike anything she’d ever experienced. Even more terrifying, was the fact that his darkness called to her.
Her eyes snapped to the newcomer entering through the front door.
“Hux,” the man— Ren — greeted the redhead, who, Rey noted, was also dressed in black.
“Just shoot him. We can search the place once he’s dead. It would save time,” Hux suggested in a haughty tone.
Ren glared at Plutt, whose wide eyes were fixated on the men standing over him.
“I won’t ask again,” Ren stated. “Where?”
Before Plutt had a chance to finish, he was cut off by a flurry of bullets. Ren pivoted around, still facing away from Rey, to snap at his comrade. “Hux.”
“He was lying,” the redhead said with an unapologetic shrug.
Rey swallowed nervously, unconsciously backing away from the door. Her mind reeled from the brutal murder and the indifference of the men who were responsible. She’d seen violence in Jakku— had been a victim of it on occasion —but this wasn’t the same. This level of savagery was reserved for the worst of monsters.
She had to go. Now.
“I want that deed.”
“So find it,” Hux mumbled. “I’ll be waiting in the—.”
His response was cut off by the clatter of the Louisville slugger hitting the floor. Rey froze, mentally cursing herself as she stared at the bat in disbelief. She’d forgotten it was leaning against the cabinet.
“We aren’t alone,” Ren’s voice ended her momentary paralysis.
She bolted out the rear door just as the pawnshop erupted in a hail of bullets.
Kylo Ren darted after the eavesdropper, his gun holstered at his side. He wouldn’t need it. The little snitch would beg for his life and once he gave up the location of the deed, Kylo would end him.
Bursting into the alleyway, he scanned the dimly-lit street for a sign of where the rat had slunk off to. His answer came in the form of a blood trail. The droplets led him to a pair of dumpsters behind a corner store. A collection of discarded cardboard boxes were propped up, effectively blocking out the street light. A lesser man wouldn’t have noticed, but Kylo was the best. He’d spent years honing his skills. He didn’t miss a thing.
Kylo smirked when he spotted another integral detail: the twenty-foot stone wall behind the dumpsters. There was no escape. The snitch was cornered. He’d get his answer and then he’d get rid of Plutt’s partner.
Full of confidence, he strolled up to the shadowed nook. With the swipe of his hand, Kylo removed the stacks of cardboard to reveal the last obstacle in his path.
It wasn’t an accomplice.
It was a girl.
She was slumped against the side of the dumpster, eyes closed and lips parted. Her breathing was uneven due to the growing red stain on her dirty clothes. She’d caught a bullet on her left side. Kylo couldn’t discern the exact point of entry but without treatment, it wouldn’t matter. The wound would be fatal.
Kylo knelt down, placing two fingers on the pulse point of her neck. Her heartbeat was erratic as her body fought between protecting itself from infection or shutting down her vascular system to lessen the blood loss.
Upon closer inspection, he realized she couldn’t have been more than eighteen years old. She was thin and her lips were chapped, indicating dehydration. There was grease under her fingernails and calloused on her hands.
Runaway, he surmised.
She’d probably been trading labor for food and simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Kylo cursed again. This was a complication, one he hadn’t prepared to deal with. He pulled out his phone, scrolling through his contacts as he considered what to do. With each passing second his options— and hers —became more limited.
“Is she dead?”
He whipped around, glaring up at Hux.
The redhead arched a brow expectantly. “Well, is she?”
Hux aimed his Colt at the girl’s prone form. Kylo rose to his feet, smacking the weapon down, while simultaneously punching Hux in the nose.
“Fuck!” the redhead wheezed.
“You know my rules,” Kylo snarled.
“They’re your rules, Ren, not mine,” Hux spat, pinching his nose to keep the blood from spilling out. “She’s seen too much. That makes her a liability.”
“Maybe if you hadn’t shot up the place like you were in a cheap western, she could have told us where the deed was stashed,” Kylo argued.
“Maybe or maybe she’s just a whore on break from the bordello.”
In the next instant, Kylo had the redhead slammed up against the dumpster. “I don’t recall asking your opinion.”
Hux’s eyes narrowed but he didn’t reply. Kylo held him there for a moment, his grip tightening in a silent threat. Then, as suddenly as he had attacked Hux, he released him. The redhead collapsed to the asphalt, gasping for breath.
Kylo scooped the girl up, wincing at the way her head lolled to the side. She didn’t have much time.
“You’re making a mistake, Ren. When he finds out about this—.”
“Are you going to report me?” Kylo questioned, voice tight.
Hux didn’t answer. He merely continued to glower at Kylo from where he sat cowering on the cold ground.
“That’s what I thought,” Kylo remarked. “Clean yourself up and go back to the shop. Find the deed.”
With his orders given, he took the girl to his Maybach.
It was a fifteen-minute drive to Coruscant General. He hoped she made it.
It was damp and dark. The stench of rotting waste-filled his nostrils, causing him to gag. He drew his knees up to his chest, burying his face in his hands to hide his shame. He knew he had failed. The look on his mentor’s face was all the confirmation he required. The moment he’d seen the disappointment in the older man’s beady eyes, he knew what awaited him.
A leak in the north corner served as the only sound, pitter-pattering rhythmically against the stone like the second hand of a clock. With nothing else to focus on, the noise became maddening. As minutes turned to hours, he felt himself breaking. The solitude was wearing away at him like water on rock. He began to cry.
That was when the shadow fell over him.
“Ah, young Solo, have you learned your lesson?” the raspy old voice questioned.
“Really?” His host leaned closer to the bars, eyes narrowing in suspicion. “And what lesson have you learned?”
“Compassion is a weakness,” he answered his mentor.
“Can I come out now?” he pleaded, wrapping his hands around the bars. “Please? I’ll be good. I promise.”
“I will release you,” the old man promised, “once you truly believe those words.”
With that, Snoke left him in the dark.
Kylo inhaled a shaky breath, gaze flickering to the unconscious girl beside him. For a moment, he contemplated leaving her at the Emergency Room. As he approached the hospital, he’d been plagued by Hux’s threat. The consequences of his actions would not be overlooked by Snoke.
He glanced at his rearview mirror. The chocolate eyes staring back at him weren’t those of the scared child locked away in a cellar. That boy had died, alone and forgotten. What had emerged from the ashes was Kylo Ren, the most feared man in the city, and Snoke’s right hand. He’d killed his past, along with his weakness. Now, he was invincible.
Turning the Mercedes into the hospital driveway, Kylo made his choice.
A couple of EMTs were leaning against the entryway on their break. When they saw him open the passenger side door, both jumped into action. Amidst the yelling for a stretcher and calls for a doctor, Kylo whispered to her.
“Stay with me.”
She was cocooned in darkness, enveloped by an infinite void. There was nothing to see, nothing to hear, nothing to feel. It was neither warm nor cold, neither pleasant or uncomfortable. It simply was.
She couldn’t remember her name or where she was supposed to be. This place, and it’s never-ending expanse of black, was all she knew.
For a time, she drifted, content to float in the undefined realm. Whatever she was meant to do, whomever she was destined to be, none of it mattered anymore. There was no pressure to achieve more, no voice in her head urging her to continue forward. She could rest.
Or so she thought.
The first pinch of pain descended on her like a lightning strike. It hit her squarely in the chest, ripping through her until she was sure it would burn her alive. Her lips parted but no scream came out, no singular cry of agony to ward off the assault. That was when she realized she couldn’t move.
Slowly, Rey came back to herself. She felt the heaviness of her limbs, became aware of the searing pain between her ribs, and tasted the coppery tang of blood in her mouth. She tried to yell for help but her vocal cords didn’t work. Nothing did.
She was alone in the dark.
“Stay with me.”
Rey reached into the inky blackness, searching for the owner of the voice. It was low and vibrated through her like the bass on Ivano’s street racer.
“Stay with me,” the man said again.
She strained herself trying to locate him. The pain increased with her efforts but it was no match for her desperation. Somehow she knew if she could reach him, if she could just touch his fingertips, everything would be alright.
Rey stretched forward, blindly grasping until she saw a thin crack of light, like the first rays of sunshine through Plutt’s roof. She heaved herself toward it.
And tumbled into the unknown.
Kylo Ren had two rules: No women. No kids. As far as he was concerned, the girl lying on the surgical table below was both. His fingers itched for a cigarette, even though he’d quit months ago.
The job was simple; a quick in-and-out scenario. He hadn’t anticipated the deed changing hands. He hadn’t suspected that he’d draw his weapon. Regardless, Kylo was prepared.
He’d tracked the document to Jakku, surprised by the choice to hide it in the poverty-stricken district. Upon further musing, Kylo saw their genius behind the decision. No one would suspect the most valuable property deed in the city was hidden in a section overrun with illegal gambling, drugs, and prostitution. The trifecta of immortality, as he’d heard it called once, didn’t inspire an ounce of confidence. And yet, it remained hidden, a diamond in the rough.
Like the girl.
Kylo’s gaze flickered to her pale form, surrounded by a surgical team. She should have died in his passenger seat. There’d been a pool of blood on the black leather when he hoisted her out of the vehicle. For a figure so slight, she shouldn’t have had a pulse. Even the EMTs were surprised by her resilience. Once they secured her on the stretcher, he’d been forced to let go of her hand. As Kylo watched them prep her, he’d held his breath, waiting for her to slip away.
But she kept fighting.
When the emergency room team got her onto a stretcher and ripped open her shirt to apply the paddles, Kylo noted the way her ribs stuck out. One of the nurses asked about the fresh bruise on her cheek. He hadn’t answered but he could guess the cause.
Men like Plutt were bottom-feeders, slinking through life on their fat bellies, taking what they got and earning nothing for themselves. They were the lowest of the low. If Hux hadn’t killed the man, Kylo would have returned to finish the job.
He retrieved his phone from his pocket, dialing the red-haired man.
“Did you find it?” Kylo demanded, his dark eyes remaining focused on the unconscious girl.
“No,” Hux hissed. “I would have called you if I had.”
With an enraged growl, Kylo ended the call. He wanted that deed. The land, the property, and all that it contained inside was his. It belonged to him. When he took it, that would end the pathetic war between his uncle and the First Order. Luke Skywalker would be nothing more than a washed-up legend. It was what he deserved after—
The shrill cry of medical machines broke his train of thought. Kylo leaned forward, peering through the glass, his heart in his throat.
The room had erupted in chaos, the doctors and nurses all passing tools and bags of blood to one another in a strangely methodical dance. He could barely see the girl anymore. She was blocked from his view by a sea of blue scrubs.
“Sir? Sir, you can’t be in here. The viewing area is for hospital staff only.”
Kylo glanced over his shoulder at the nurse in the doorway. He ignored her, gazing down at the girl. One of the doctors brought the paddles forward. Kylo swallowed thickly.
“I’ll make a generous donation if you leave right now,” he told her without changing his focus.
“Sir, that’s really not—.”
“I’ll give you $10,000.”
“Bribery is a federal offense and—.”
“Okay, is $25,000 enough?” he offered.
In the operating room, the surgical team was still rushing around. Kylo clenched his hands into fists at his side. There was one line he’d never crossed. If the girl died, there was nothing to separate him from total darkness. There would be nothing that differentiated him from Snoke. He’d be a monster.
Kylo couldn’t allow it. He wouldn’t let her die.
“I’m very sorry, sir, but—.”
“Just...I need to know she’s going to make it,” he told the nurse.
She joined him at the window to look down.
“Doctor Aphra and Doctor Kalonia are the best surgeons on staff. You don’t need to worry. She’ll pull through,” the nurse assured him. “It will take about ten days for the skin to heal, but it will take longer for everything else. She’s going to need rehabilitation, therapy, and a support system at home.”
Kylo didn’t respond. He didn’t even breathe. The things the nurse spoke of, the things the girl required, weren’t possible for her. If she didn’t have money to eat, she certainly couldn’t afford the care she needed.
He ran a hand through his hair. In his haste to save her, the last-ditch effort to save what was left of his humanity, Kylo hadn’t bothered to ask if he should. What kind of life was he leaving her with— one full of pain and financial burdens? Was that better than letting her die in the street? He didn’t know the answer.
All he knew was that he couldn’t move. Kylo couldn’t leave her alone and vulnerable, splayed out on the table with no control over her fate. He’d wait in the gallery all night if he had to, but there was no power on earth that would tear him away from her until he knew she’d live.
It was then that her pulse stabilized. The chaos surrounding her quieted and Kylo released the breath he hadn't been aware he was holding. If he believed in a higher power, he would have attributed her sudden change to that. As it was, he’d never been big on the theory of the man upstairs.
“They’ll move her to the critical care unit when they are done. Visiting hours start at eight,” the nurse informed him.
Kylo handed his card to the nurse. “When she wakes up, have someone call this number.”
Kylo nodded in thanks.
He recognized how his mentor would classify his actions: a mistake.
He’d said far too much— done far too much. He was supposed to be a shadow, untouchable and indescribable. This girl— whoever she was —proved the lesson Snoke had tried to drive into him all those years ago.
Compassion was his greatest weakness.
Thank you to the lovely and talented Ria84 for beta-ing this work and listening to all my ideas as I developed the narrative.
Chapter 2: Bullet Holes
Just caught in the wheels of machinery
Fragments to construct a core
Wish I could sleep more easily
Are you the one I've been waiting for?
There was a series of beeping, high-pitched and constant, like the painful prick of a sinus headache coming on. Rey’s brow creased as she groaned, annoyed with the chirping noise. She briefly wondered if Plutt had finally installed an alarm system.
Deciding to ignore the inane sound, she made to roll over and pain shot through her. It was so powerful that her breath caught. Rey’s eyes opened wide.
Harsh white light blinded her for a moment. She tried to block it out with her hand but her limbs felt too heavy to move. Another round of pain caused her to inhale with a hiss. Wincing, Rey blinked a few times, eyes adjusting to the light until she could make out the room.
As the sterile walls and generic furniture came into focus, she became aware of the stench of antibacterial gel and latex gloves. Her heart jolted.
She was in a hospital.
No, no, no, Rey thought frantically as she took in the numerous machines surrounding her bed. An IV jutted out of her right forearm and there were more wires hooked up to her than the car she’d been fixing at Plutt’s.
Rey couldn’t be here. She didn’t have insurance. The thought of the mountain of medical bills she’d surely be served was enough to cause her to blackout.
“Oh, dear, calm down. You’re safe now,” a gentle voice assured her.
She turned to find an elderly nurse entering the room. The woman adjusted the stethoscope on her neck as she came around to Rey’s bedside.
“Let’s check your ticker,” she said, sliding the cold diaphragm beneath Rey’s gown.
Biting her lower lip, Rey tried to ignore how cool the metal felt on her skin.
“Sorry,” the nurse apologized, noticing her discomfort. “I forgot to warm it up first.” She pulled back, drawing the instrument down around her neck. “Your heart sounds strong, which is a good sign,” the nurse reported. “How do you feel?”
“Confused,” Rey admitted.
“Short-term memory loss is common after suffering trauma. What’s the last thing you remember?” the nurse asked.
Rey thought back on the night prior. She had been elbows deep in the metal belly of a car when Plutt interrupted her. Then she’d heard a sound and gone to investigate. When she peeled into the pawnshop, Rey had seen—
She gasped, clapping a hand over her mouth. Her heart rate spiked again.
“Calm down now. You’re alright.” The nurse placed a hand on Rey’s arm, squeezing her. “It’s over. You’re safe,” she promised.
Rey disagreed. After what she’d witnessed, she would never be safe again.
She didn’t know how Plutt got himself tangled up with the First Order, but she knew how the story ended— with him dead and her by extension if the stories were true.
Witnesses were a liability. That’s why the most famous crime syndicate in the city had never lost power. No one ever testified against them. Witnesses, like evidence, disappeared. They couldn’t be touched.
Rey shivered, eyes transfixed on the floor. Whatever Good Samaritan had brought her in had probably thought they were doing her a favor. All they had done was prolong the inevitable. It was only a matter of time before one of the enforcers came for her. Then there’d be no need for the beeping machines. The only thing she’d have a need for was a casket.
“Would you like to try eating something?” the nurse asked.
Even inmates get a final meal, Rey thought ironically.
“Sure,” she answered, not caring if her voice was as flat as her mood.
“I’ll bring you some hot soup to take away that chill,” the nurse offered. “If you need anything, just ring your buzzer there. I’m Maz, by the way.”
Rey managed to give her a weak smile. “Thank you, Maz.”
“Now that you’re up, I’ll call your boyfriend,” Maz added. “Lord knows he was beside himself with worry when they brought you in. I caught him in the gallery watching over you. Had to kick him out.”
“My boyfriend?” Rey repeated, perplexed.
Maz winked at her. “I bet you’ll be right as rain once he comes to visit.” She chuckled to herself and mumbled something about what she’d do if she was twenty years younger.
Rey watched the nurse leave, wondering who on Earth she could mean. Because just as surely as she knew the First Order was coming, Rey knew she didn’t have anyone who cared about her.
Kylo strolled through the manor, following the pristine marble corridor to the room at the end. It wasn’t unusual for him to be summoned to the main house, especially the morning after a hit. No one had acted off when he arrived. Tarkin gave him a nod to let himself inside like usual, barely glancing up for where he stood at his post lighting his third cigarette of the day.
Pryde, another guard inside, barely acknowledged Kylo as he stalked through the empty hallways. His steps thundered against the cold marble, a deep staccato beat that echoed in his mind. It was reminiscent of drumming— the first notes of a villain’s song.
No details were amiss with his arrival, yet, Kylo knew something was different. He could feel the change in the air, like an unseen omen hanging over his head.
It was with that weight bearing down on him that Kylo entered.
The room was lit only by an inch of sunlight that had been permitted to pass through the curtains. It was enough to reveal the elaborate furnishings and the single soul who dwelled within.
“Come closer,” the head of the First Order beckoned from where he was seated behind a large mahogany desk.
The man hadn’t left his estate in many years, resulting in a pale complexion and weak limbs. To those who were unaware of his true power, he would have appeared primed for succession, but Sheev Palpatine was no fool.
He’d created the monster who made Kylo the killer he was. Snoke. The only man who Kylo feared more than Palpatine. Hux would have mocked him for his preference if he was aware, but like a great many things, Kylo kept his thoughts private.
“You requested my presence,” he said.
“Your work on Wexley was superb,” Palpatine applauded him. “I haven’t seen such cunning since the days of your grandfather.”
“Thank you, sir.”
“And your side project,” Palpatine continued. “Have your efforts resulted in anything fruitful?”
“Not yet,” Kylo admitted, “but I’m pursuing a lead. It will be mine.”
“I’m sure it will,” Palpatine agreed with a malicious glint in his eyes. “Unfortunately, it will have to wait. I have a job for you.”
Kylo stood at the edge of the chamber, waiting for his instructions.
“Our last shipment was confiscated at the docks,” Palpatine revealed.
“Resistance?” Kylo surmised.
“Indeed,” Palpatine purred. His tone was not a happy one. “Dameron has thwarted me for the last time. I need you to deal with him the way I dealt with his parents.”
“Of course.” Kylo gave a curt nod and turned to leave.
“And Ren?” Palpatine’s voice has him stopping with his hand on the doorknob. “Could you restrain yourself around Hux? I’m quite displeased with your lack of control.”
Kylo grimaced, the muscles in his back tending as he imagined how restrained he’d be when he spoke to Hux.
“Sir,” he said by way of excusing himself.
With each step he took, the weight eased off of him. Hux had run his mouth but he’d been wise enough not to mention the girl. Had Palpatine been aware of Kylo’s divergence the prior evening, he would have used it as leverage, toying with Kylo like a cat with a mouse. Rey was safe.
“You’re alright, Ben. You’re safe here,” a woman’s voice promised him.
She had a kind smile, warm like the color of her brown hair and eyes. She cupped his face in one hand. He leaned into her, needing the physical reassurance more than her words.
“It was only a bad dream,” the woman told him. “Nothing can hurt you in a dream.”
He didn’t believe her. When she moved to leave, he latched onto her arm, bursting into tears, begging her to stay.
“I have to go now,” she tried to explain. “The meeting is in Endor and if I don’t leave now, I’ll be late.”
“Don’t go,” he begged. It was a selfish need that drove him to ask. Had he known then what would happen, he would have fought harder for her— for both of them.
“Go back to sleep, Ben.”
“I don’t want you to leave. Please don’t,” he pleaded one final time.
“I’ll see you on Friday.”
But by Friday everything had changed.
Vibrations in his pocket interrupted his reverie. He pulled his phone out, not recognizing the number.
“This is Nurse Kanata from Coruscant General. We met last evening,” a voice answered.
He came to a halt. “Yes.”
“Your girlfriend is awake and doing well. Doctor Kalonia believes she will make a full recovery,” Nurse Kanata informed him. “She should be able to return home this afternoon after she gives her statement.”
“Her statement?” he questioned.
“Yes, to the police. It’s the policy for all incoming gunshot victims,” Nurse Kanata explained.
Kylo’s hand clenched into a fist at his side. “Won’t that be upsetting for her?” he asked, tersely.
“Detective Tico has been working with the victims unit for a long time. She won’t push Rey for any information she can’t give.”
“Alright,” Kylo murmured. He hesitated before asking, “When can I see her?”
“She’s awake now,” Nurse Kanata answered.
“I’ll be there in ten,” he replied before hanging up.
His strides were quicker as he exited the manor. He marched to his car with purpose. No sooner had he peeled out of the driveway than he was dialing a contact.
“Phasma? I need a favor.”
Rey hadn’t meant to fall asleep. The soup Maz brought filled her belly, warding off the chill and priming Rey for a nap. One minute she was thinking about how she could use her IV needle to pull a Jason Bourne and the next she was out.
When she came to, the first thing she noticed was that she wasn’t alone. The second, and far more worrisome, detail was that her visitor wasn’t Maz. It was a man clad in only black.
Rey inched her hand towards her call button, feigning sleep.
A deep voice cut her off. “Ah ah ah.” The man wagged a finger at her. Graceful, like a panther, he sauntered over to her bedside and plucked the device out of her reach. “You won’t be needing that,” he informed her smoothly.
“It’s you,” she said, recognizing his voice.
There was the slightest shift of his eyebrows and then he was smirking at her. “So you do remember,” he remarked. “The nurse mentioned she thought you suffered some memory loss.”
Rey felt her breath hitch. She’d made a fatal mistake.
“Are you...,” she paused to swallow, ignoring how her heart monitor was beeping agitatedly. “Are you here to kill me?”
He chuckled. “Why? Do you want me to?”
Rey’s brow furrowed. Was he mocking her? “You’re First Order,” she pointed out. His allegiance was cause enough for what she expected.
“So I must be a killer?” he prompted. The corner of his mouth twitched.
“I saw you at the pawnshop,” Rey persisted, eyes narrowing. “You shot me.”
“Hux shot you,” the man replied tightly.
She scoffed. “Whatever.”
“If I had been the one to shoot, things would have ended very differently. You should be grateful,” he snapped, irritated.
“Look, I don’t care if it was you or your partner who did it. The end result is the same. My boss is dead and I’m here,” Rey said gesturing to her hospital bed. “That’s on you.”
“Which is the reason I’m here,” he explained.
His lips curled in a way that suggested he was amused. His expression reminded her of the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland. The illustrations had always creeped her out but seeing the same grin on this man’s face was terrifying.
“I have a proposition for you,” the man began. “I will pay for your care if you help me in return.”
Rey’s gaze narrowed until all she could see was his face— his stupid, arrogant, unfairly attractive face. “If you’re looking for that, I suggest you go see Madame Lota,” she snarled.
He blinked, surprised by her outburst, but the moment passed and then he returned to his confident smirk. “I have no interest in anything Lota offers,” he clarified. “What I’m interested in is a deed. Plutt had it in his possession when he died. Since my associate,” he emphasized the word for her benefit, “Hux, can’t locate it, I need you.”
“Plutt doesn’t deal in property,” Rey told the man flatly.
He made a humming noise, his inky eyes boring into her. The intensity of his gaze made her fidget nervously. “If that is the case, then I suppose you’ll have to figure out how to pay for your medical bills on your own.”
Rey’s chest tightened. The only thing worse than death at the hand of a First Order associate was debt collectors. At least the First Order operatives were quick.
She glanced up to find the man exiting her room. Her hand shot out. “Wait!”
He paused in the doorway. “Yes?”
“Plutt has a container in the garage. It looks like a tool cabinet but it’s where he stashes all of his valuables,” Rey informed the man. “Check there.”
He grinned. “There. Now was that so hard?” the man asked, returning to his former seat beside her.
Rey stared at him. “Aren’t you going to go look; make sure I’m not lying?”
“Why? Are you?” he questioned.
“No,” she shot back quickly. “But if that deed is as important as it seems, I thought you’d want to get it as soon as possible.”
“I do,” he confirmed. “I don’t like wasting time or resources. You’re going with me.”
“Me?” Rey sputtered.
The man gave her a nod. “Once the hospital discharges you. Until then, sit back and relax, my little runaway.”
She didn’t like his tone or the endearment if that’s what he meant for the term to be. To Rey, it sounded like a jab. “I’m not a runaway,” she snapped.
The man studied her sour expression, perplexed. Either he wasn’t used to being wrong or he didn’t appreciate being told he was. Probably both. “Not a runaway,” he repeated. “And not smart.”
“Who stays in Jakku?” he countered.
“How about a girl who was abandoned by her parents?” Rey seethed.
As soon as the words were out of her mouth, she froze. She didn’t talk about that day— tried not to even think about it —but here she was, throwing it in his face as if it proved something. Her immaturity demonstrated that Plutt was right. She was nothing.
“We have that in common,” the man replied softly. Then, as if he’d only just realized he hadn’t introduced himself, he extended a hand to her. “Kylo Ren.”
“Rey?” he drawled expectantly.
“Just Rey,” she answered, shaking his hand.
Kylo didn’t ask any further questions or comment on her declaration. He sat in the chair, scrolling through his phone unperturbed by the constant beeping of the equipment surrounding them.
She watched him, noting the fluid way he moved. Even the simple gesture of dragging his thumb along the screen possessed poise. He was refined for a murderer, speaking in clear, concise terms and he appeared to know how their conversation would play out before she addressed him. It was intriguing.
Rey recalled the sensation she’d experienced when she saw Kylo interrogate Plutt. She felt the same now, as though an invisible thread was connecting them, as if it was being reeled in, bringing them closer and closer together. Rey didn’t know what to make of it or even what to call it, but she knew to tread carefully. A man as cunning as Kylo Ren couldn’t be trusted.
No matter how good he looked in those jeans.
It wasn’t what Kylo expected to hear. As just as unexpected as her admission, there was the pang of loneliness that accompanied it. He’d felt that pain for years, a cut so deep and so raw that he couldn’t believe he saw it mirrored in her eyes. He brushed the moment off as a coincidence or a trick of the light. She couldn’t possibly understand.
Yet, he found himself sending the picture he’d snapped of her to Phasma. Another favor. Another debt. Still, he was curious. Who was this girl? And why did he feel the need to protect her?
It was ironic that Kylo chose to sit in the hospital with her. His presence alone could make her a target— would have if Hux had run his mouth— but he remained. He could feel her hazel eyes roam his face, lingering unconsciously on his lips before continuing. Kylo resisted the urge to smirk.
He pretended to read through messages on his phone when the truth was he was simply testing her. Kylo wanted to see what the girl would do if he made her uncomfortable. Historically, after several minutes of consistent silence, people felt so awkward they began babbling.
Not this girl.
When she’d had her fill of him, her attention turned to the window. Kylo lifted his eyes, briefly stealing a glance of his own.
The girl— Rey, he reminded himself —was young. A quick peek at her medical records listed her age as undetermined since she’d been unconscious for her admission, but the doctors placed her at nineteen or twenty. Ten years his junior wasn’t ideal. While it kept him from breaking his vow to not harm a child, the same couldn’t be said for his second rule. He’d never been good with women.
Hux would pay for this. It was his reckless actions which had landed Rey here, and, by extension, Kylo. The rabid cur was more trouble than he was worth. This wasn’t the first time he’d ruined Kylo’s strategy but it would be the last. Kylo refused to do any more jobs with the redhead. He preferred to work alone.
His attention snapped to the door, hand poised over the gun tucked in his jeans. A petite, old woman waddled in, her eyes flickering him to him briefly before she approached her patient.
“Doctor Aphra will be by in a bit, but first, you have a visitor,” the nurse informed Rey. “Another visitor,” she amended with a pointed look at Kylo. Her eyes lingered on his tattoo. The First Order insignia was proudly displayed on his neck, serving as both a mark of power and a brand of ownership. The nurse's expression faltered and she busied herself with reviewing the girl's chart.
“A visitor?” Rey’s voice didn’t conceal her confusion or her fear.
“The police need to ask you some questions, remember, sweet thing?” he interjected, giving her a wink.
Her cheeks flushed and Kylo smirked triumphantly.
“Sure,” the girl agreed.
The nurse took Rey's consent and hastily left the room.
“Sweet thing?” Rey grumbled, crossing her arms over her chest.
Kylo shrugged, unbothered. “Boyfriend, remember?” he stated, gesturing himself.
“I have a name,” she insisted.
“Couples tend to have endearments for each other,” he pointed out.
“Don’t they get to pick?”
“I don’t know. Do they?” he questioned, eyebrows raised.
She slumped a bit. “I don’t know. I’ve never been in a relationship,” Rey confessed.
Kylo caught himself before he admitted, Me either. He’d already shared far more with the girl than he intended— more than he’d ever shared with anyone.
“The police inquiry is only a formality,” he explained. “It will be brief. I’ve already spoken to them.”
Her eyes widened. “You did?”
“I have a contact within the department,” Kylo said candidly.
She responded with an eye roll. “Right. First Order.”
“I could have left you in that alley,” he reminded her.
“So why didn’t you?” Rey shot back. “It would have been easier...for both of us.”
“I don’t kill women or children,” he revealed.
“Is that supposed to make me feel better?” she asked.
“That depends. Is it?”
“Not really,” Rey answered flatly.
His response was interrupted when Phasma sauntered into the room. “Miss Doe?”
“Rey,” the girl supplied.
“Rey,” Phasma repeated, whisking by Kylo without a single glance. “I’m Captain Phasma. I’m here to ask you a few questions about last night.”
The girl looked at him, then with a sigh replied, “I don’t really remember what happened. One minute, I was working at the pawnshop and the next thing I know I’m waking up here. The nurse told me, Kyl— my boyfriend brought me in.”
“Blackouts and short-term memory loss are quite common with trauma victims,” Phasma commented as she made notes on her tablet. “Do you remember anything about the assailant? His hair color or his approximate height?”
Kylo watched Rey shift toward him. Her lips parted and he shook his head. As irritated as he was with Hux, police involvement wouldn’t solve the issue of the rogue redhead. That was a problem Kylo would deal with himself.
Rey cleared her throat. “I was in the back room,” she explained. “I didn’t see anything. I just heard voices arguing— my boss and another man— and then the shooting started and I ran.”
“Understood,” Phasma said with a nod. Her face inclined toward the device’s screen. “I have my team working the crime site to identify the culprit.”
“Is my boss here?” Rey asked hesitantly.
Phasma scrolled through her notes. “Ah. Unkar Plutt. DOA. I’m sorry for your loss,” the Captain offered.
“I’m not,” Rey muttered under her breath. She glanced down at her hands, which were twisting in her lap. It allowed Phasma to shoot a look at Kylo. Her blue eyes held a dozen questions, none of which Kylo could answer. “He wasn’t a good man,” Rey explained. “I didn’t wish him dead but I can’t say I’m sad to see him go.”
“Miss Doe— Rey, we do offer other services at the precinct, if you’d want to come down and make a statement, I’m sure—.”
“I think my girlfriend,” Kylo stressed the word as he stood, “just wants to go home.”
Phasma held his gaze for a moment and he knew she’d get her answers. “I can provide an escort,” the captain tried, ignoring the warning in his eyes.
“That won’t be necessary,” he assured her, taking a step closer to Rey’s bedside. “She’s coming home with me.”
“Well,” Phasma spoke slowly, her icy blue eyes never leaving Kylo’s face. “If you think of anything else, here’s my card. My direct line is on there.” She held the piece of paper out toward Rey.
“Thank you.” Kylo tucked it into his jeans. “Pockets,” he offered when both women stared at him.
Rey didn’t question him but if looks could kill, the one Phasma gave him would have put Kylo six feet under.
“I’ll be contacting you to follow up in a couple of days,” Phasma explained. “Until then, get some rest. Gunshot wounds are a bitch to heal but leave awesome scars.”
Rey stared at the blonde, unsure, until Phasma rolled up her sleeve to show off a mark on her forearm that resembled a raised tribal tattoo.
“Looks painful,” Rey remarked.
“It was only a graze,” Phasma answered with a shrug as she rolled her sleeve down. “I like to think of it as a trophy.”
Phasma flashed a rare smile at the girl. “I made it out. The one who gave me this? Not so lucky.”
Slowly, Rey’s lips curled up into a genuine smile. “Thank you, Captain. That helps.”
“I’m glad. Now, remember to call if you think of anything else,” she instructed.
“I will,” Rey promised.
Phasma gave her a nod, shot Kylo one last scathing look, and left.
“She doesn’t like you,” Rey observed the moment Phasma was gone.
“Not many people do,” Kylo admitted with a shrug, sinking into his seat.
“Can’t imagine why,” Rey remarked.
She turned her head to look out the window and that was the last thing either of them said on the matter.
Chapter 3: White Blood
I'm ready to fall, so tired of it all
Down deep in a hole, can't do it alone
I'm ready to climb this mountain inside
Three hours later, when Dr. Aphra finally arrived, Kylo excused himself to the waiting area. The doctor said she needed to discuss a few things with Rey privately. Kylo knew exactly what things the woman was referring to. The doctor wanted to make sure he hadn’t been the one to give Rey her scars. She wasn’t the only one who was suspicious.
He half-expected Phasma to be standing at the entrance when he strolled into the waiting room. The police captain wasn’t among the handful of anxious visitors. She was gone— gone but not satisfied, which meant she’d be back.
Kylo could feel the narrow slip of paper in his pocket as if it were burning through the denim. The sensation was a trick of the mind, merely a warning sign. It happened often for a man of his disposition. Survival meant relying on instincts and learning from past mistakes. Arrogance led to a bullet in the head or a knife in the back. One could never underestimate an opponent.
He knew better than to minimize the police captain. Phasma drove results, hence her generous compensation from the First Order. She was one of the organization’s informants, moonlighting as an upstanding officer when in actuality she profited from the scum she swore to put away. Her judgment made Kylo consider the old adage: Pot calling the kettle black.
The under-the-table dealings Palpatine had with various city officials was the least staggering of his many infractions. Kylo was privy to information regarding his employer that was revolting. The corruption in Coruscant went deeper than a few greased palms. Had Captain Phasma been aware of how far Palpatine’s reach went, Kylo wasn’t sure she would have agreed to their terms. Like him, the Captain had a set of rules. Though she’d never shared them with Kylo, he surmised that domestic violence was one crime Phasma didn’t turn a blind eye to. The way she’d glowered at him was all the proof Kylo needed.
He hoped the girl was a convincing actress. They couldn’t afford any more attention. One nosy nurse was one too many. He’d seen the blame in her weathered gaze.
While Kylo wasn’t responsible for the harm inflicted on Rey, he was at fault. He should have anticipated Hux making a mess of things. It was the redhead’s typical method. He was so eager to prove himself a worthy resource in the organization that he failed to understand the long-term impact of his actions. Snoke referred to Hux as an architect, but Kylo thought that was a load of horse shit. Hux wasn’t a strategist. He was a master manipulator. The redhead told Palpatine and Snoke what they wanted to hear, backing up any claims he made with the success of his men— a success he hadn’t earned.
Hux didn’t enjoy fieldwork. He fancied himself above it. Whereas Kylo preferred to work alone, Hux had his lackeys. The set of men who followed him were— in Kylo’s opinion —as useless as their leader. They were a band of thugs. None of them deserved the honor of working for the First Order and, yet, Snoke permitted them to run free.
Like a pack of feral dogs, they roamed the city, wreaking havoc and exploiting the benefits of their position. Despite his opinion, Kylo didn’t interfere with their antics. Hux, however, didn’t offer him the same courtesy. He insisted on being part of Kylo’s search for the deed, hoping to prove himself to Palpatine. Kylo outright refused but Hux hadn’t listened.
Well, if he wants to play, let’s play, Kylo thought cynically, cracking his knuckles.
He’d slipped a tracker into Hux’s cellphone last night. A few clicks on his own phone’s screen and Kylo knew exactly where Hux was at all times of the day. Let’s see you get the drop on me now, he mused with a low chuckle.
A couple of people glanced up at him, wary eyes scanning his massive build before focusing on anything else in the room.
He settled into the nearest chair, keeping his back to the wall and his peripherals on anything that moved. To an unsuspecting person, Kylo appeared to be a bored man, scrolling through his phone. To anyone of his profession, it would be clear what he was doing: surveillance. He needed to be sure no one and followed him last night.
Palpatine didn’t appear to know about Rey but if anyone else did, it was only a matter of time before the head of the syndicate got wind of the news. Kylo needed to be cautious. Hux’s sudden interest in his orders was only half of the problem. Kylo’s other concern was the girl herself.
Saving her life hadn’t been a choice. The moment he saw her pale, motionless form in the alley, Kylo had acted. There wasn’t anything overly special about Rey, at least, not on the surface. It was her personality that held his interest— that spark of sass and genuine honesty. It was a unique combination, rare and precious, like a desert rose.
His intuition had saved his life countless times. He trusted his gut before all else and it was telling him to protect this girl. At least, Kylo thought it was his gut.
If his actions were discovered, his reasoning wouldn’t hold up to Snoke or Palpatine. They didn’t care for sentiments, too concerned with their chase for ultimate power to be burdened by emotion. They’d never questioned his rules but his guidelines had never interfered with their directives before.
His side project, as Palpatine called it, was only permitted because it benefited the First Order. By taking control of Naboo, the last sector of the city still unclaimed, the organization would extend its reach farther than ever before. Having a foothold in the lake country would solidify their power. There would be nowhere left to run. Everything would be under control of the First Order.
It had never been done before. Crime syndicates came and went. Head bosses were killed by their underbosses. Underbosses were killed by their lieutenants. Those who weren’t in power craved what they didn’t possess. Eventually, that hunger became so overwhelming that it drove them to action. Those actions usually resulted in gunfire and blood. By morning, all that remained was an opportunity for a new organization to swoop in.
Kylo had seen what power did to people. Whether it was a crime syndicate or the government, they all operated the same way. Those at the top held all the cards, while those who worked for them were only a number, merely a body to increase the ranks. Kylo held no misconceptions about what he was.
A gun for hire.
Had any of the visitors in the waiting room known, he was sure they would have found a new place to sit.
Doctor Aphra was a slim woman, a bit shorter than Rey with black hair and cinnamon brown eyes. She had a practical way about her that Rey appreciated. There was no reason to sugar-coat things. They both knew why she was here.
Rey listened to Doctor Aphra explain wound care, paying attention with regards to how to clean it.
“No peroxide,” the doctor cautioned. “That will only slow the healing process. And make sure to always use a sterile bandage,” she instructed, demonstrating how to wrap the gauze around Rey’s side.
“Now,” Doctor Aphra began, setting her supplies down. “There is one last thing I need to review with you before I complete the discharge paperwork.”
“The police already questioned me,” Rey reminded her.
“The police are concerned about their crime scene. I’m concerned about the victim,” the doctor stated straightforwardly. “It’s our policy to screen all at-risk women when they are brought in with injuries that are consistent with domestic violence. Your body tells a story, Rey, and it’s not a nice one.”
“You’ve seen my chart. I live in Jakku,” Rey said flatly.
She didn’t want to lie to Doctor Aphra, or Maz, for that matter, but she couldn’t risk them getting involved with the First Order. Rey refused to drag anyone down with her. Her fate was decided. Theirs was not.
“Jakku has a high rate of domestic abuse, although a majority of it goes unreported,” the doctor informed her. “I understand this is difficult and you’re scared but I promise, we have the resources here who can help you. There are shelters in the city and protective services for women with partners who—.”
“Kylo didn’t do this,” Rey cut her off. Her voice was laced with anger. Doctor Aphra was unfazed. “The story my body tells...I’m guessing all of those wounds are months, if not years old, except for my cheeks, right?” The doctor didn’t respond but Rey continued. “That’s because it was my boss who hurt me, not Kylo. He got me out of there. He saved my life.”
She hadn’t planned on defending him. It wasn’t as if she knew him well enough to owe him that but as Rey spoke, she felt the truth of her words. Just as she didn’t owe him the benefit of her support, he hadn’t owed it to her to save her life.
“Rey, sometimes men do things to keep their partners compliant—.”
“I know what you’re saying and I understand why you think that,” Rey interrupted, “but Kylo has never hurt me, physically or otherwise. I think your efforts could be utilized elsewhere.”
Doctor Aphra’s eyes widened. She pursued her lips, seeming to want to say more but after a moment she sighed and handed Rey a wound care kit. “I’ve printed out all the instructions,” the doctor said. “You’ll be expected to come in after a couple of days for a check-up to make sure you’re healing properly and to ensure there is no sign of infection.”
“I’ll sign your papers and Maz will be in to wheel you out shortly. Take care, Rey.”
The doctor walked out, leaving Rey to ask herself what she’d gotten mixed up in.
“Now, do you remember where you need to report for your first checkup?” Nurse Kanata directed her question at Rey but her eyes were on Kylo.
The girl’s story had pacified her doctor but the nurse was still skeptical. Kylo met her gaze, resolute in his decision. He’d already gone this far.
“The Outpatient Rehab facility,” Rey answered, unaware of their silent battle. She couldn’t see them from her position in the wheelchair— a precaution, Nurse Kanata insisted on. Just like she had insisted on pushing it for Rey, as if Kylo hadn’t offered.
“We will see you there the day after next,” Nurse Kanata confirmed.
Rey glanced over her shoulder with a smile. “Thank you, Maz.”
Kylo watched the nurse pat the girl on the shoulder and counted the steps to the entrance.
When the wheelchair crossed through the automatic doors into the fresh air, Nurse Kanata stopped. “Here we are,” she announced. Kylo ignored the way her posture stiffened. Before she could think of an excuse to keep the girl, he leaned down.
“I’ve got her,” he told the nurse. Then to Rey, he added, “Wait here, sweet thing. I’ll bring the car around.”
He didn’t miss the way her lips parted in shock or the way her cheeks flushed. Turning away to hide his smirk, Kylo sauntered through the parking lot to his Maybach. That never gets old, he thought.
Night had fallen across the city, a cue that he’d wasted his entire day at the hospital. As if he needed another reminder, his phone chimed. Kylo retrieved the device from his pocket as he slid into the driver’s seat.
It wasn’t a question. Kylo glared at the screen, irritated that his mentor was checking up on him and annoyed with himself for not taking care of Dameron earlier.
Kylo Ren: I’ve got it handled.
He dropped his cell into the cup holder. Taking a deep breath, he turned the key in the ignition, enjoying the roar of the engine. The sound momentarily canceled out the ringing in his ears. It was a brief respite but it served its purpose.
Kylo whipped through the parking lot, pulling up to the entrance just as Nurse Kanata handed Rey a slip of paper. He clenched his jaw. Meddling, little...
Without a word, Kylo slipped out of the vehicle, coming around the front to help Rey out of the wheelchair. “Here, I got you,” he said, wrapping his arm around her, careful not to apply pressure to her wound.
The nurse’s eyes were narrowed, watching his movements with a calculating gaze. Kylo glowered back at her while guiding Rey into the passenger’s seat. Once she was situated, he muttered a quick thanks to the nurse and joined the girl.
“She thinks I should stay with friends,” Rey commented as soon as he shut the door.
“Figured,” Kylo grumbled. He shifted gears, maneuvering the car onto the highway.
“She’s doing her job,” Rey pointed out. “It’s not personal.”
“Her job is to ensure you heal,” he countered.
“Not all wounds are physical,” the girl replied.
His gaze flickered to her face, but she had already turned away, watching the city fly by. He adjusted his grip on the steering wheel. The truth of her words hung heavy in the space between them. He started to respond when he caught her yawning. Rey leaned against the seat, eyes heavy.
Kylo planned on taking her to Jakku to find the deed but she wasn’t any good to him if she couldn’t stay awake. Plus, the pawnshop was still considered a crime scene and he doubted Phasma would be extending any favors to him until they spoke. He made a snap decision— his second regarding Rey in as many nights —and turned onto Main Street.
“Where are we going?” Rey asked, straightening up as she noticed their change in trajectory.
“My place,” Kylo answered. He heard her breath catch and grinned. Teasing her was entertaining.
“But I thought—.”
“You’re tired,” he insisted. “And I have work to do.”
She arched a brow. “What kind of work?”
“You don’t want to know."
“I would rather go back to Jakku,” Rey said, acidly.
“I thought you wanted out of that garbage heap?”
“I do,” she agreed. “On my terms.”
“You aren’t really in a position to bargain, sweet thing,” he reminded her.
Her eyebrows knit together as she glared at him. “Don’t call me that.”
Kylo chuckled, amused by her willfulness. “Darling?”
She crossed her arms over her chest.
“Seriously? Do girls really go for that sort of thing?”
“I have a name,” she stated stonily.
“What’s your point?”
“Use it,” Rey snapped.
Kylo rolled into the parking garage with a triumphant smirk. The bickering distracted her from their arrival. It wasn’t until he turned the car off that she realized where they were.
He reached over, hooking one finger under her chin. Her hazel eyes found his as he purred, “Alright...Rey.”
She made a point to not engage with Kylo again. She had let herself be ensnared by him. Rey considered it due to her drowsiness at first, ready to blame her muddled brain, but deep down, she knew the truth. As he led her to an elevator bank at the far end of the parking garage, she kept her gaze on the asphalt. Rey didn’t want to see the grin plastered on his smug face.
Guys like him were self-assured, always strutting around like they owned the city. In his case, it was likely true. The First Order’s reach was vast. For as long as Rey could remember, they’d been the dark cloud hanging over the city, a constant shadow marring the once peaceful metropolis. No one talked about it, at least not in Jakku. While the politicians at City Hall were protected and could do as they pleased, those who didn’t live in affluent neighborhoods weren’t given the luxury of having an opinion. They did what they needed to survive.
“Are you coming?”
Rey glanced up, realizing she’d stalled a few paces behind Kylo. He was standing in the elevator, his broad form enhanced by overhead lights reflecting off the brass interior.
She crammed herself into the corner farthest from him. He didn’t comment on her choice. Kylo merely punched the menu’s top button. The elevator doors closed with a ding. There was a shift under her feet and then Rey felt them rise.
There was no music to cut through the awkward tension, just the dull roar of the motors. Rey counted the number of scuffs on the floor until the elevator jerked to a stop. A chime announced they’d reached their floor before the doors slid open.
Kylo placed a hand on her lower back, guiding her into the corridor. She tried not to think about the fact that his palm covered the span of her torso or how strong it felt. Thoughts like that only led to trouble, and if Rey knew anything, she knew that this man was trouble.
He may have been persuaded not to kill her at present, but there was no guarantee his feelings wouldn’t change once he had the deed in hand. She needed to be careful.
“This is me,” Kylo commented, pausing by a door at the end of the hallway.
Rey noticed there wasn’t a number on it. Her brow creased. How did he write his address without an apartment number? The answer was simple. He didn’t. It was just as well. She couldn’t picture Kylo receiving deliveries unless they were encased in carbon steel.
He unlocked his residence and ushered her inside. “After you, Rey.”
She didn’t appreciate the way he continued to emphasize her name. It was as if he was mocking her. Rey suspected no woman had ever responded to his pet names the way she had. Her objections had spurred him on, which only served to aggravate her further. She refused to let him have the last laugh.
“Thanks, tiger,” Rey said, using the same docile voice she did when a customer came into the shop.
Kylo made a noise in his throat that he attempted to cover up with a cough as she passed over the threshold.
Serves you right, Rey thought, rather pleased with herself. Her victorious smile fell away the second she saw the inside of his place.
When Rey had pictured the home of Kylo Ren, dim lighting, black marble, and dark wood furnishings came to mind. She saw none of those things. Instead, the interior was made up of white walls and ceiling-to-floor windows. From his location on the top floor, Rey had a perfect view of Coruscant. Unconsciously, she walked over, peering out at the skyline.
The jagged spires of churches and the domed roof of City Hall laid beneath her. Skyscrapers stretched well beyond the apartment, fading into the hazy mixture of clouds and nighttime. It was like looking out at another world, a place she’d only seen in her imagination. Jakku’s tallest building had been Madame Lota’s— three floors of sin.
Rey shuddered, wondering if that was where she'd end up. With Plutt dead, her job was gone, along with a safe place to sleep. If Rey didn’t die at the hand of the First Order, she would have an entirely different problem.
“Stop gawking,” her host instructed.
She glanced over her shoulder to find Kylo standing in a narrow hallway off to the side.
He turned on his heel, strolling away from her. “Come on.”
Curious, Rey trailed behind him. Like the first room, the hallway held no personal effects. The walls were bare. It reminded her a bit of the hospital. The place was exceptionally neat, not a single speck of dust in sight. She wondered who the First Order employed for their cleaning services.
“You can stay in here.” Kylo held open a door.
Rey brushed past him. The bedroom matched the rest of his residence. Stark white sheets, one end table with a lamp, and a dresser were the only pieces of furniture inside. It was the bare minimum but Rey didn’t mind. A bed was a luxury she hadn’t experienced in years.
“Thank you,” she said, running a hand over the pillows.
“I’ll be back by morning,” was his gruff response.
Rey stared at him. “You’re leaving?”
“Work,” Kylo reminded her. Then, with a wolfish grin, he added, “I can’t stay on top of you twenty-four-seven, sweet thing.”
She narrowed her eyes. “Don’t.”
“Why?” he quipped. “Will you finish what I started?”
Rey turned away, flipping him off.
He chuckled. “That’s the idea.”
She didn’t reply, recognizing his attempt to rile her up. It was all a game to him. Arrogant son-of-a-bitch.
“See you in the morning,” Kylo said.
Rey heard his heavy footsteps grow softer as he marched out of the apartment. A yawn escaped her as she waited, struggling against the pull to submit. It wasn’t until she saw the Maybach tear out of the garage below that she allowed herself to sink into the mattress. Sleep claimed her immediately.
Chapter 4: Kindly Calm Me Down
When my heart's not pure, would you kill my disease?
And when there's no cure, you are just what I need
When I lose my mind, would you still remind me?
When I'm feeling lost, would you come and find me?
Kylo pressed the pedal to the floor, watching the glowing numbers rise as he accelerated. Though the engine roared, he didn’t hear it. All he could hear— and feel —was the rapid beating of his heart.
His hands flexed before firmly gripping the steering column. The way she’d spoken to him had stirred something within. He’d been grateful when she distracted herself with the view of the city. It had given Kylo a moment to collect himself.
He maneuvered his Maybach through the city, ignoring the street signs just as easily as he ignored everything else. Everything but the girl. Kylo smirked as he recalled how he’d managed to get the final word in. The way she’d bristled at his endearment made him chuckle. At least he was armed with one sure-fire way to get under her skin. Kylo hoped it was enough ammunition to keep the nagging sense of obligation he held for her at bay.
Taking her in had been a risk, one he thought he could handle. Now, he wasn’t certain. Initially, he’d become involved solely to ensure she lived but that had quickly developed into curiosity, which was a far more concerning matter.
Her ability to call him out was both admirable and irritating. She didn’t hold back, nor did she compromise on her opinion. Except for silencing a target, Kylo didn’t enjoy much in the way of other people. Yet, he found himself repeatedly engaging with the girl. He’d spoken more to her in one day than everyone else from the First Order combined in a single month.
He blamed his reaction on the way her expression had changed when she called him tiger. Kylo’s nostrils flared, his knuckles turning white as his grip tightened. That mischievous glint in her hazel eyes awakened a part of him— one he thought had died along with the rest of his humanity.
Rey was dangerous. The girl possessed a power that couldn’t be measured like physical strength. She was stronger than she knew— strong enough to tempt him.
Kylo wrenched the wheel to the left, abruptly turning his vehicle into the warehouse district. He needed to focus. The girl would be gone after tomorrow. Once he had the deed in hand, their agreement would be complete and he would forget about her.
Simple. It would be quick and painless, like slicing off an ear. The corners of his mouth twitched. He’d removed Snap Wexley’s ear that way...right before he killed him.
Wexley was part of the same organization as Kylo’s new target. Poe Dameron and his merry band of rebels were like the mythical hydra. They lurked in the city’s underground only surfacing when they needed something desperately. Afterward, they vanished. If you managed to catch one, another one appeared in his place.
Which was why he’d been tasked with killing Dameron. Removing the head of the Resistance would be fatal, both to the target and the organization as a whole. Poe Dameron wasn’t the type of mark to lay low. Even with the numerous attempts on his life, the man was notoriously arrogant. Palpatine considered him a nuisance. Snoke saw him as a threat.
Kylo thought the man was an idiot.
As such, he was easy to track. The Resistance tended to camp out in abandoned lots along boathouse row, a section of the city on the border of the warehouse district and the riverscape.
Kylo switched off his headlights as he neared the first vacant property. He removed his foot from the gas pedal, letting the vehicle roll slowly along the street. His eyes scanned the broken windows and graffiti-laced walls, searching for a propped door or signs of recent activity.
The forgotten buildings loomed in the night, shells of their former purposes. He could relate. The man he’d become— monster, he reminded himself —was one he barely recognized, at least, not when placed beside the name he’d been given. Both names held power, though the one he’d been born with came with a price he wasn’t willing to pay.
Kylo shoved those thoughts away, blaming the girl for dredging up his past. The scar left from being abandoned was one they shared. Circumstances may have differed between their experiences but the end result was the same. They both had been cast out, rejected from the family they’d been born into.
His lips pressed into a thin line as he recognized his mistake. Rey wasn’t as easy to shake as he’d assumed. Frustrated, Kylo shifted his focus back to Dameron.
He’d stalled long enough. Snoke would expect a report and he’d expected that report to contain two words. Target eliminated. The longer Kylo put off his task, the higher the risk ran of someone coming to check up on him, namely Hux. He didn’t want anyone in the First Order to find out about the girl.
Or how close he was to securing the deed.
His birthright was not something he could hide from the First Order, but he’d be damned if they tried to take it from him. Kylo would take care of Dameron, solidifying his role within the organization and then he’d take control of the property. He’d given everything to his mentor and Palpatine. They could allow him this one indulgence.
The old furniture warehouse on the end of the street had the side door ajar. Kylo tapped the brake. He thought he caught the flicker of a light going out. With a smirk, he continued, parking the Maybach on the next street over.
By the time he scaled the neighboring building with his sniper rifle, Kylo noticed that the door was no longer open. Likewise, there was no sign of any lights coming from inside.
Two can play that game, he mused, securing a pair of specialty eyewear over his face.
Kylo waited for the heat signatures to display. He surmised they were hiding in an underground bunker beneath the floor level of the warehouse. It was difficult to read at first but eventually, he made out six individuals below the surface, two guards on the ground floor, and one scout on the roof.
He scoffed. That was less challenging than his morning workout routine. He’d expected twenty or so rebels to be surrounding Dameron.
So much for loyalty.
There wasn’t anything stopping him from kicking open the door and taking them all on once. He’d done it before— with more targets and less preparation— but he held off. If experience had taught him anything, it was that nothing was ever what it seemed. His uncle had been the first to teach him that lesson.
It proved its value when he heard the click of a trigger being set.
“Hands up. Turn around,” a man’s voice directed.
Kylo chuckled lowly. Removing his night-vision, he stood.
“I said ‘hands up,’” the man reminded him, a slight waver in his voice. Whether he recognized Kylo’s face or was intimidated by his size, it didn’t matter. He was clearly having second thoughts about attempting to sneak up on the enforcer.
As instructed, Kylo raised his hands, folding them behind his head. “What now?”
The man nervously glanced around. “Y-your gun.” He pointed the end of his own weapon in the direction of Kylo’s sniper rifle. “Kick it over to me.”
Kylo’s gaze flickered briefly to his weapon before returning to the quivering man. “I can’t do that.”
His assailant blinked at him, lips parted in confusion. The man shook his head and adjusted the grip on his gun. “Then I’ll have to shoot you.”
“No, see that’s where you’re wrong,” Kylo informed him smoothly. “I’m going to shoot you.”
The man’s eyes widened. A second later, Kylo fired two shots from his backup, claiming the man’s life without hesitation. The scout’s body fell to the rooftop with a heavy thud. Kylo holstered his weapon and returned to his position.
The Resistance was getting desperate if they were bringing on recruits with so little experience. The scout was barely over twenty and his lack of training was evident. Kylo shook his head, thinking how needless it all was. If Dameron had just left well enough alone, none of this would be required. Instead, the arrogant man was still fighting. In the end, he’d lose. It was his choice how much blood was on his hands when he did.
As if to offer up an answer, a shot rang out in the night, grazing the ledge of the roof mere inches from Kylo’s face. He immediately adjusted his scope, locking in on the person who’d fired upon him.
While the rest of his squadron fled, the Resistance leader glared up at Kylo, his gun cocked in warning.
“Who talks first? You talk first? I talk First?” Dameron quipped. Then, with a laugh, he added, “You don’t look like much of a chatterbox.”
Kylo didn’t respond, waiting for the man’s next move. If Dameron was trying to buy his people time to escape, Kylo would let him. He didn’t have an interest in chasing down the rabble. Once he took out their leader, they’d fall back in line.
“The First Order finally caught up to me. Guess I should be impressed,” Dameron went on.
Kylo was growing impatient. He lined up his sight, preparing to take out the man once and for all.
“I know who you are, Kylo Ren, and I hope you know it would break her heart if she could see you now,” Dameron stated evenly. “Next time you check in with your boss, maybe you should ask him what really happened that night.”
Dameron’s free hand went to his jacket and he tugged the zipper down, revealing a signet ring hanging from a chain around his neck.
Kylo stiffened. The 24-carat gold band wound around dual sapphires, connecting the gems as one. The last time he’d seen it, the piece had overwhelmed its owner’s finger. She had insisted on wearing the ring, regardless of the size, proud to display the symbol of her two stars. Kylo knew the ring’s history as well as he knew his own.
It had been his mother’s.
He blinked, suddenly unsteady in his directive. When he opened his eyes, the Resistance— and Dameron —were gone.
“Stay here, Rey. We’ll be back soon,” a woman’s voice promised.
Rey felt herself nod before she watched the two faceless figures drift away from her until they were lost in the crowd. Her hand extended towards them, appearing small and with fewer freckles. She glanced over her shoulder, catching her reflection in a shop window. She was no longer nineteen but a scrawny six-year-old.
She backed away, staring at herself in horror. Rey broke into a run, heading after the figures. No-one stopped to help her. They didn’t even seem aware of her presence. They were all faceless too, a sea of anonymity crowding around her and separating her from her goal. She shoved herself forward, moving toward the light.
Rey knocked into someone, muttering a quick apology. It did no good. The person latched onto her, roughly dragging her down the street in the opposite direction of her parents. His face was one she recognized.
“You belong to me now,” snarled Plutt.
Rey yanked, trying to pry herself free but Plutt held fast. “Let go of me. Let go!” she screamed, kicking out one leg.
She teetered off-balance. He caught her around her waist, lifting Rey up and carrying her to the pawnshop. She struggled harder, shoving her palm upward into his face.
“Fuck!” he hissed but it wasn’t Plutt’s voice anymore. “Rey! Rey, stop it’s me.”
She blinked. Suddenly, Jakku disappeared and Rey found herself surrounded by darkness in an unfamiliar room. Strong arms cradled her, as a deep voice demanded, “Why are you on the floor?”
Confusion clouded her mind and she wrestled with reality. “What?”
“I couldn’t find you,” Kylo snapped. “Then I heard a cry. I thought you might have opened your stitches and passed out.”
Rey’s head was spinning. She blinked a few more times, willing her nightmare away so she could focus on his question. Before she answered his ask, she had one of her own. “Why are you carrying me?”
He scoffed. “You fell out of bed,” Kylo explained.
She glanced at the floor, remembering how she’d crawled into bed and fallen asleep instantly. About an hour later, Rey had woken up. The mattress, though brand new, wasn’t comfortable. It was too mushy, too pliable. She couldn’t find a position that worked with the malleable bed. After years of sleeping on the cold, hard floor of Plutt’s attic, Rey couldn’t rest. So she’d moved to the floor.
“I didn’t fall,” she informed him, pushing against his firm chest and regretting it. It was pure muscle. Rey felt her chest burn. She was grateful for the dark. It hid the evidence of his effect on her.
“Then why are you on the floor?” he asked, seemingly annoyed he had to repeat the question.
“Your mattress is too soft,” Rey pointed out.
There was a tense moment of silence before he huffed, “Fine,” and proceeded to carry her out.
“I can walk,” Rey insisted, wriggling about.
“You can shut up and go to sleep,” Kylo retorted. He muttered something under his breath about doctor's orders before adding, “You’re lucky you didn’t pop a stitch. Bloodstains don't come out of hardwood.”
She opened her mouth to snap at him then abruptly shut it. As they crossed into the living room, the moonlight hit his face and Rey realized he was worried. Kylo Ren, the First Order enforcer, was concerned about her, Rey the Nobody.
He set her down surprisingly gently on the couch.
“If something isn’t comfortable for you, say so. Don’t hide.” From me, hung on the end, unsaid but still felt.
“I thought you wouldn’t be back until morning,” she explained. Truthfully, she hadn’t expected him to care where she slept, let alone how comfortable she was.
“Something unexpected came up,” was his gruff reply.
Rey began to ask him what but reminded herself that it wouldn’t do any good. Kylo wasn’t the type to trust easily and he was even less likely to admit when he was experiencing a problem.
“Here.” He draped an afghan over her.
“Thank you,” Rey responded softly.
It was hard to read his expression in good lighting. With the dim glow from the moon, it was impossible, but Rey heard a difference in his voice. Something was wrong.
She placed her hand over his. “What happened?”
Rey felt him stiffen under her touch. Kylo jerked away a second later, straightening up so that he blocked out all the light.
“Get some rest. Tomorrow we go hunting.”
He left her there, alone in the dark with her questions.
Between discovering that Dameron wore his mother’s signet ring and coming home to an empty bed, he’d nearly lost it. He’d already moved once this year, and while he could afford it, Kylo didn’t want the hassle of brokering another agreement.
The last time he’d seen that ring had been the final night he’d seen his parents alive. He remembered his mother walking out of his room and the way he’d watched his father drive away in the night. He’d begged her to stay. She hadn’t sung to him.
His mother’s lullaby was one of the few surviving mementos of Alderaan. It hadn’t been lost in the accident that destroyed her home. The same could not be said for her parents, who perished in the blaze.
The only other surviving relic was a keepsake chest. It had been passed on to his mother from her mother, an antique that managed to outlive them both. It was the one item Kylo had taken with him when he’d been cast out of his childhood home.
He went to his closet, reaching around until he found the hidden latch in the baseboard. A small compartment opened with a hiss of the spring mechanism to reveal the chest. It was more of a box, no larger than a thick book, but it held things far more valuable than words.
Carefully, Kylo placed the box on his bed. The moonlight reflected off the lacquer coating of the wood, creating a mirror-effect. It made him think of the words to his mother’s lullaby.
Mirrorbright, shines the moon, its glow as soft as an ember
When the moon is mirrorbright, take this time to remember
Those you have loved but are gone
Those who kept you so safe and warm
The mirrorbright moon lets you see
Those who have ceased to be
Mirrorbright shines the moon, as fires die to their embers
Those you loved are with you still—
The moon will help you remember
His hands trembled. The words— her words —hadn’t held meaning when he was a child. He’d only been concerned with the melody, craving the familiar tune to chase away his nightmares so he could sleep.
The years wisened him. The melody Kylo had known as calming now felt like a lie. Paired with the words, the tune took on a different meaning, one of warning— a warning he hadn’t heard in his youth. If he’d known then what he knew now, would he have found a way to stop his parents from leaving?
Kylo closed his eyes with a heavy sigh. The past held no answers. It only served as an anchor, tethering him to the things he couldn’t change and delaying his future. He returned the box to its nook.
Unanswered queries plagued his mind in his weaker moments. His mentor had attempted to free him of the burden but Kylo could never be free, not when he didn’t know why his parents had left or who they insisted on meeting.
Sleep didn’t come that night. When the dawn crept across the city, Kylo met it with a weary gaze.
He sunk into the edge of his bed, running a hand through his hair. Last night’s events had left him with more questions than answers and one staggering realization. Dameron still lived.
Kylo ran his palm across his face. Snoke wouldn’t let that stand. He needed to deal with the Resistance today. His search for the deed would have to wait.
Agitated, he swung open his bedroom door. Kylo was met with a wave of scents, varying from the salty aroma of bacon to the savory hints of grilled tomatoes, and finally the bitterness of freshly brewed coffee. His brow furrowed as he made his way to the kitchen.
The girl was hovering over the stove, a spatula in one hand and a pan in another. She was busy cooking up a huge meal that looked like it could feed his entire floor.
His irritation lessened and, for a moment, Kylo leaned against the doorframe simply watching her work.
Rey muttered to herself, speaking in quick, soft bursts as she worked. She’d covered every inch of his counter with bowls, cutlery, and the contents of his fridge. There didn’t appear to be any strategy to her efforts but she let out a pleased noise when she flipped over an egg successfully.
“What are you doing?”
The girl jumped, knocking the pan away. “Shit!”
Kylo crossed the room in one swipe motion to catch the pan before her hard work ended up on the floor along with the spatula. His maneuvering positioned him behind Rey with a hand on either side of her. He had her pinned. Right where I want you...
“Morning,” he greeted her, voice rumbled with the effects of not having slept.
“Hi,” was her shaky response. He watched the skin along the back of her neck prickle. Rey grabbed a fresh utensil and resumed focusing on breakfast.
“What are you doing?” Kylo asked, amused. She was so easy to toy with.
“What does it look like?” she shot back, flipping another egg.
“I don’t remember having hired you as a cook,” he remarked, ducking his head so his mouth was by her ear.
“It’s a thank-you breakfast,” Rey explained, “for letting me stay here.”
Kylo hummed, leaning in closer. “You’re staying here so I can keep an eye on you. Remember, you still have to uphold your end of the agreement. Until I have that deed in hand, you’re mine, sweet thing.”
Rey’s hands left the stove and she shoved against him, knocking him back a few steps. Kylo let out a huff. She was surprisingly strong for such a slim thing. When he met her gaze, he found Rey glaring at him.
“I told you not to call me that,” she reminded tersely.
“My apartment, my rules,” he said with a smirk.
“Tomorrow you can make your own breakfast,” she returned.
“Fine with me. I usually just have coffee.”’
Her eyes widened and her cheeks burned. “I thought...,” she trailed off with uncertainty, glancing over her shoulder at the meal she’d worked on.
Kylo approached her, reaching around to make a plate. Rey backed away, watching him wordlessly, her expression a mixture of embarrassment and annoyance. He finished with a cup of coffee and moved to the kitchen island to eat.
“There’s more than enough for both of us,” he commented when she didn’t move toward him. “Join me. Please.”
Her eyes narrowed. For a moment he didn’t think she would. Then her stomach growled in protest, resulting in another flush to her freckled skin. Begrudgingly, she sat next to him with a plate piled high of the remaining food.
Kylo peered at her intermittently while they ate, surprised how someone so tiny could ingest so much. Rey ate the way he’d seen a stray dog inhale a discarded, half-eaten burger in the alley behind Mos Eisley.
He found himself wishing Hux hadn’t killed Plutt. Kylo wanted to take the job on himself. He wouldn’t have given the man a quick end. Kylo would have drawn it out, made him regret every sin he’d ever committed, especially those against the girl seated next to him.
She was fiery, stubborn, and surprisingly caring. No one had ever cooked for him before. He’d eaten better, thanks to his resources from the First Order, but Kylo refused to leave a speck of food on his plate. He didn’t care if his food was prepared by a Michelin-star chef or the line-cook at the restaurant on the corner. A meal was a meal.
But this wasn’t a meal.
It was a peace offering.
Chapter 5: Lessons
There's a first time for everything
This is a place that I've never been
I can feel the adrenaline
At a hundred miles an hour
Is this the feeling they sing about?
Put on the brakes but can't slow it down
Rey scrubbed at the dirty dishes that had piled up in her effort to make breakfast. Only a handful of plates could be loaded in the dishwasher. She hadn’t realized how many items were required to cook. Plutt hadn’t been one for fancy meals, which meant with actual food, not something that came packaged or processed beyond recognition. Rey sighed. Next time, she would be careful about how many objects she dirtied.
Next time, she chided herself. There wouldn’t be a next time if they found the deed today. Kylo would take what he wanted. After that, he had no reason to let her live. Any leniency he’d shown over the last twenty-four hours was to protect his investment. She was a means to an end.
Her hands stilled at that thought. Rey was sure she’d seen a change in him this morning. Kylo was self-assured, the way he’d been at the hospital, but there was something underneath his arrogant demeanor— an emotion she couldn’t put a name to.
She mulled over it as she changed her bandage in the bathroom, wincing when the adhesive stuck to her skin, tugging at the edges of her wound. Her first instinct had been to bite down on her lip. She didn’t want to wake Kylo. Her concern surprised her. Why did it matter if she woke him up? He was a murderer, a member of the First Order, and…
…the only person who’d ever cared for her.
Rey was beginning to see the cracks in his facade. Each time he unconsciously let her in, she felt like she was grasping at tendrils of smoke. For a split second, she could close her hand around it but then it was gone. She was left wondering if she’d ever see him for who he truly was.
Last night, he’d been gentle, caring. He called Rey by her name without hesitation. His concern was unexpected, as were his words. Kylo didn’t act like a man who intended to kill her. Instead, he’d been frantic. It was surreal to witness. She’d never heard of anything frightening the famous First Order enforcer.
Rey pursed her lips, watching the bubbles on the water’s surface slowly rock. She could remove them with a single tap. They were beautiful because of how delicate they were— hard to create and easily destroyed. Weren’t all fragile things built that way? Life could be ironic.
“What are you doing?”
She jolted, destroying the focus of her musings. “Nothing,” her instant response came out defensively.
“You don’t have to do that,” Kylo said, eyeing her submerged hands.
“I made the mess. I’m cleaning it up,” Rey explained. Her response hung in the air between them. A flicker of something passed over his features. Before he could speak, she asked, “When are we leaving?”
“We aren’t,” Kylo informed her. “You’re staying here while I take care of business. We’ll resume our search tomorrow.”
Rey stared at him. “I can’t stay here,” she argued.
“I need to get back to Jakku.”
He placed his broad hands on the counter separating them, leaning in to ask, “Why?”
Rey cast her eyes down to the soapy water. She returned to her vigorous scrubbing. “It’s my home.”
He scoffed. “Nice try.”
She bit the inside of her cheek. “I left some things there. I need to get to them before someone else does.”
“Well, you’re in luck. I’m taking you back tomorrow,” Kylo reminded her, straightening up.
“What am I supposed to do all day?” Rey questioned.
“Rest,” Kylo replied smoothly. “You are healing. Your body requires sleep and nourishment.”’
“I don’t like sitting still,” she retorted, annoyed.
“If you push yourself too far, too fast, you could cause permanent damage. Follow the care plan the nurse gave you and you’ll be fine,” he advised. Rey started to protest but he held up a hand. “This is not a negotiation. It’s an order.”
She arched an eyebrow. “Excuse me?”
“A request,” Kylo revised.
“You don’t care if I live or die,” Rey said testily.
He rounded on her so fast that she barely had time to remove her hands from the sink. Suds went flying when he seized her by the wrists. Rey’s eyes went wide as he spun her around, pinning her to the counter.
“You don’t know what I care about,” Kylo growled lowly.
Rey twisted free of his grip. “I know you care about whatever happened last night,” she declared, slapping his hands away. “Enough that you didn’t sleep.”
His lips parted and she caught a brief flicker of surprise in his chocolate eyes. “How would you know?”
“To survive in a place like Jakku, you have to learn and adapt. The only way to do that is to observe, be aware of your surroundings and the people within them,” Rey explained. “You’re not easy to read but last night I recognized what you felt.”
“And what was that?”
“Fear,” she answered. “You’re afraid. Whatever happened last night— whatever you saw —it shattered your resolve.”
He stiffened, eyes hardening as he stared down at her. Kylo took a step forward, closing the space between them. He placed his hands on either side of her, caging her in. There was no escape, no one to call for help. She held her breath, wondering if this was the moment she died. Plutt always warned her that her mouth would get her into trouble. It seemed he had been right.
Rey watched Kylo tilt his head down. She felt his breath wash over her face, hot and heavy the way his hands had felt on her skin. She could feel her pulse racing. Her flesh tingled with anticipation of his next move.
“You know more than most, sweet thing, but you don’t understand how treacherous knowledge can be. Stay here.”
“Stay,” he repeated firmly. He tucked an errant strand of hair behind her ear, his eyes tracking the movement. “I’ll come back for you. I promise.”
An arm slinked around her waist, dragging her forward. She was sure he meant to kiss her but at the last second, he changed course. His lips found a spot on her throat right below her ear. The sensation was unlike anything she’d ever experienced before. Rey felt her body sway as her eyes drifted closed. It was a soft touch, a light caress of full lips along her skin. She shivered, hands resting on his chest to keep herself upright.
Rey heard Kylo inhale slowly as if he was drinking her in. Maybe he was. His scent— a strong cocktail of gun powder, leather, and vanilla —filled her nostrils. It was a strange combination, unique to him, but Rey found herself taking another deep breath to savor it.
The hand on her lower back flexed, long fingers stretching across her ribs. She waited, too unsteady to be the one who pulled away first, but he seemed stuck. He held her there— the moment suspended in time.
They were strangers in the night, living on opposites sides of the city, and bound by misunderstanding. Two figures who had no right to fit together as perfectly as pieces of a puzzle, yet that was how Rey felt. His angular features, at first glance sharp and unyielding, softened for her subtle curves, allowing her to fit against him until their forms melded into one.
It was intimate in a way she didn’t know a moment could be for two people. All at once, Rey felt as if she knew everything and nothing about the man holding her. She had a sense that they were connected in a way she didn’t yet understand. It was like a story she’d heard long ago, one she was familiar with but couldn’t name, just like the emotion hidden in the dark pools of his eyes.
Then, just as quickly as he had clasped onto her wrist, he released her.
“There’s a library one door down from your room. If you get bored, I’m sure you can find something of interest there,” Kylo suggested.
When he stormed out a second later, Rey barely heard him slam the front door over the sound of her thundering heart.
Kylo sat in his Maybach, his hands on the steering wheel and his eyes pinched closed. He’d never lost control like that before. Romantic entanglements didn’t interest him. At best, they were a distraction. At worst, they were a liability— a fact which became more apparent the longer he allowed the girl to linger in his apartment.
He kissed her.
He had shoved her up against his kitchen counter and practically assaulted her. Kylo dropped his head until it rested on top of the steering wheel. What kind of a man did that? The girl was recovering from a gunshot wound and he’d taken advantage of her, like some kind of animal.
Or monster, his brain supplied.
Kylo lifted his head, glaring at his reflection in the rear-view mirror. He hadn’t shot her. He’d committed a far worse sin. Manipulation.
His stomach roiled as he berated himself. She was up there now, probably still shaking like a newborn lamb— scared, unsure, and searching for guidance. He warred with himself, debating whether or not to go back. In the end, he decided it would cause more harm than good. He wasn’t capable of helping anyone. All he was good for was the dark work his boss bid him do.
With a twist of his wrist, he brought the vehicle to life and pulled out of the apartment complex. The only thing he could do for the girl now was provide for her— provide an escape from the city —nothing more.
The life he had chosen was one of solitude. It was a decision made due to necessity and precaution. The fewer commitments he had, the less chance there was of him making a fatal error. Things were as they were meant to be. It was just him and his gun.
A girlfriend or partner increased that risk tenfold. Kylo knew, without a doubt, that if his mentor became apprised of his situation, Rey would be used as leverage. He also knew, if it ever came to that, he’d do what he had to to keep her safe— by whatever means necessary.
She was turning his world upside down. And, what was more, he was letting her.
Kylo needed distance. He shifted gears and tore down the street.
It took Rey exactly ten minutes and forty-three seconds to get the feeling back in her legs. She slumped to the floor, leaning against the cabinets as she waited for her heart rate to normalize.
What was that?
Kylo was gone but she was still struggling to find her composure. Part of her wanted to give in and explore the sensations taking control. Another, more level-headed, part of her demanded she shake it off. Losing control wasn’t an option, especially around this man.
Rey considered leaving. There was enough food and bottled water for her to get by for a few days. She could find a new place to live. Jakku was filled with abandoned shops and other prime squatting locations. It would be easy to slip away while her host was gone.
Only it wasn’t.
Something pulled at her center, urging her to remain. It was as if he’d tethered himself to Rey. She could feel the cord tugging at her belly button, an invisible thread binding her to him. They were linked.
Her mind turned the realization over a few times, wondering if it was due to the fact he’d saved her life or something else, something more primal. The way his eyes had changed was an indication that whatever this was— this unspoken thing between them —he felt it too.
She couldn’t leave. No matter how much her survival instincts revolted against her choice, Rey knew in the end what she would choose.
She’d choose to stay with Kylo Ren because just as she’d chosen him, he’d also chosen her.
“I didn’t expect to see you anytime soon.”
“I need information,” Kylo responded, taking a seat at the bar next to a slim woman clad in a burgundy jumpsuit.
“Information costs,” she replied with a huff.
He slid a folded collection of bills across the counter to her. “You know I’m good for it.”
“What do you want to know?”
“How did Dameron become the leader of the Resistance? The rebels have been fighting for almost forty years. That’s before his time,” Kylo pointed out.
His informant hummed, thoughtfully. “The Resistance, the Rebels, the Alliance...the names we give things in this life only hold power if we give it to them. A leader is only a leader if he has followers,” she explained. “Before the Commander, there was the General, and before her, the Senator.”
“Her?” Kylo questioned.
The woman next to him nodded. “The General wasn’t the first to rise but she is the most memorable. She, like the leader before her, gave her life for the people of this city. Her sacrifice is the source of Dameron’s power. His followers chose him because he fought alongside her.”
“His mother?” Kylo surmised, remembering what Palpatine had said at the manor.
“She did have a son,” his informant offered.
Kylo saw the pieces coming together. Dameron fought because he had a score to settle. He sought vengeance for his mother. It was admirable but foolish. Emotions clouded judgment and there was no emotion more tumultuous than love.
“Do you know where I could find him?” Kylo queried.
“That information costs more than money, Ren. You could fill Nymeve Lake with the blood that’s been shed to protect this secret,” she warned. “Are you willing to pay such a high price for the truth?”
“I don’t have time for riddles, Bliss. Either tell me what I want to know or tell me off. I’ll find Dameron with or without your help,” Kylo returned.
Bliss glared at him. “Then do it without.”
He clenched his fist. That was not the answer he’d been expecting. “You have don’t have any love for the Rebel’s cause. Why protect him?”
“I’m not,” she snarled. “You’re too blinded by your rage to understand what’s in front of you.”
She grabbed her drink and slid off the barstool, sauntering to an empty table in the back.
Kylo seethed. The Coruscant underworld was a collection of scum, each with their own unique personality but Zorrii Bliss was one-of-a-kind. She’d sooner stab you in the chest than give you information if that was what her mood dictated. She was the only person Kylo knew of who was not persuaded by financial gain.
Luckily for him, she wasn’t the only one in this hive of villainy.
He turned his attention to another freelancer, a wicked woman with sharp features and an even sharper tongue. Bazine Netal.
“Ren,” she greeted him with a nod.
“To what do I owe the pleasure?” she asked, draping an arm across the back of her chair so she could admire him.
“I need the location of the Resistance’s underground cell,” Kylo explained.
“You mean their safe house,” she clarified. “Word is you sent them running out of the warehouse district.”
“And yet, Dameron still draws breath,” Netal reminded him.
“He won’t when I’m done with him,” Kylo growled.
Netal didn’t even bat an eyelash. She hummed, bored while looking over her black acrylic nails. “If you’re looking for the rebels, I can’t help you,” she replied. “I don’t make a habit of giving away information to amateurs. I have a reputation to uphold.”
He lunged forward, grabbing her wrist and twisting it so that she was forced up from her seat. Once he secured her compliance, Kylo led her out of the bar and into the rear alleyway.
“You bastard,” she hissed like a feral cat. “What are you going to do? Kill me? You can’t. You don’t kill women.”
“I won’t kill you,” he confirmed, “but I can make you hurt.”
Her eyes widened. He saw realization dawn on Netal, her smug expression morphing into one of fear.
“Tell me what I want to know or I’ll tear off each of these off, starting with this one.” Kylo pinched his fingers around one of her acrylic nails and ripped it free.
Netal howled in pain. It appeared that he’d taken some skin along with her fake nail. He felt no remorse. She was an obstacle standing in his way and he had no time to go around. He needed to plow through.
“Fine! Fine, I’ll tell you what you want to know,” she hissed through gritted teeth. “They are laying low in D’Qar, somewhere along 7th Street.”
“Somewhere?” He poised his hand over her next nail and she began to thrash wildly.
“That’s all I know! I swear!”
Kylo began to pull off another acrylic extension. He wasn’t about to take any chances.
“That’s it!” screamed Netal. “I don’t know anything else!”
“Fine,” he grumbled, releasing her.
She stumbled for a moment before collapsing to the ground and cradling her hand. “You’re a monster,” Netal spat, eyes narrowed in rage.
“Yes, I am.”
The library held more books than Rey imagined could fit in an apartment. It was strange to think of a restless spirit like Kylo Ren sitting here in silence and reading each of them. His intensity seemed uncontainable, stretching far beyond the reach of his novels.
She scanned the titles. They were mostly works of fiction, with the exception of a collection of biographies pertaining to Anakin Skywalker. Some were written in foreign languages. There were a few first editions, stored behind glass but the majority existed within her reach. She selected a paperback whose spine was so worn that Rey couldn’t make out the title. Flipping to the title page, she discovered it was Oliver Twist.
Rey had read the novel in school. The finer details escaped her but she remembered the basic premise. Intrigued, she curled up with the novel, tucking her feet under her as she settled into the nearest chair.
Behind her, the sun rose over Coruscant, circling the city to complete its journey from East to West. Rey didn’t notice the shift in the natural light, too engrossed in the world of Charles Dickens. She turned page after page as the orphan found his way in the world, struggling through setbacks and attempts to trust others. She could relate.
Rey lost herself so deeply in the tale, that she failed to notice how long she’d been sitting in the library. The familiar emptiness of hunger tore her concentration away from the novel and onto a new challenge.
There hadn’t been much in Kylo’s fridge when she cooked breakfast. Rey used up the fresh eggs and produce earlier. The only remaining items were a carton of milk and some kale. It was hardly a meal.
Rey padded barefoot through the apartment, hoping he kept a stack of take-out menus somewhere. She hadn’t found any in the kitchen drawers and Kylo didn’t pin them to the fridge the way Plutt had. Not that area had ever been allowed to order take-out before. She was lucky if she was given her boss’s scraps.
She went to the bathroom first, needing to refresh her bandages. Dr. Aphra had instructed they be changed multiple times a day to ensure the wound didn’t get infected. From there, she walked past another bedroom— his, Rey assumed —before she came across an office. If he kept menus anywhere, she suspected they’d be inside. She hesitated in the doorway.
Plutt hadn’t permitted her inside his office unless it was to clean and even then he kept a watchful eye over her, convinced she’d try to steal something. Rey had no intention of taking anything from Kylo. He’d been generous with her. The least she could do was afford him his privacy.
Rey began to shut the door when she realized the rare opportunity she’d been granted. Kylo’s office could be her only chance to learn more about her host. The information it held could be the difference between her escaping this place with her life or becoming further ensnared by the First Order.
At least, that’s what she told herself as she stepped inside.
Just like all other aspects of the apartment, Kylo’s office was immaculate. There weren’t any crumpled pieces of paper in the wastebasket or a single pen left out on the desk. Every object was carefully positioned due to his preferences.
The far wall housed an impressive acrylic painting of a mansion by a lake. Golden hues contrasted against the refreshingly crisp blues and greens of the waterscape. She absently wondered if the place was one of fantasy or if it existed somewhere beyond the city limits.
There was a leather chair in the corner. It was paired with a dark wood end table where a crystal decanter sat proudly on display. The liquid inside was a lovely amber brown but alcohol didn’t interest her. What was interesting was the fine layer of dust on the glass, suggesting he hadn’t opened it recently. She wondered why.
Rey scanned the shelves behind Kylo’s desk, lined with thick books on law, medicine, and psychology. It would have surprised her if she wasn’t aware of his job. As it was, Rey chose not to think too hard about why he needed books on those subjects.
The rich mahogany wood of his desk was beautiful. Like it’s owner, the piece was broad and well-maintained. She could tell he polished it regularly. There was a clean shine to the surface, so clear that Rey could make out her reflection when she leaned over it.
Gently, she opened each drawer, seeing typical items such as notepads and paper clips and not-so-typical features like the penknife in the middle drawer or the gun holstered under the center portion of the desk. There wasn’t a single take-out menu to be found.
Disheartened, Rey realized that even if she did manage to find a menu, she had no money to purchase anything. Tapping her fingers along the desk, she began to consider the kale. That was when she heard a loud crash from the hallway.
Jumping up, Rey raced out of the apartment to investigate, forgetting Kylo’s warning.
Chapter 6: Where the Light Comes In
We all get lost along the way,
And fight to keep the dark at bay,
I must break, from this spell,
And tear this blindfold to the ground.
D’Qar wasn’t a part of the city Kylo normally ventured to. In his opinion, the area was only a step above Jakku and the warehouse district. It made sense these pests would prefer such lowly living quarters. The Resistance was like a cockroach infestation— they hid in the dark recesses of the city, dodging the well-lit areas and avoiding confrontation until they were caught.
And catch them, he would.
As he steered the Maybach down 7th street, Kylo scanned the storefronts. D’Qar housed the poorer residents of the city. Their sidewalks and alleyways were lined with graffiti promoting the Resistance. They saw Dameron as some sort of Robin Hood hero who would change their lives. The only thing Dameron was capable of changing was how many of his followers died when Kylo brought him in.
There was a Latin restaurant, aptly named The Cantina, situated on the corner. They were proudly flying a Mexican flag as well as an orange and white one that resembled a pair of wings.
It was subtle but Kylo recognized it as a symbol of the Resistance. He parked in the next alley over, ignoring the stares of curious tenants who peered down at him from their fire escapes. They undoubtedly knew who he worked for and if it wasn’t clear by the way he was dressed, it became apparent the second he pulled his gun out of its holster.
His long strides carried him across the macadam to the restaurant. As Kylo entered, he was aware of two things simultaneously. First, everyone inside had stopped moving, stopped talking, probably stopped breathing. Second, Dameron was nowhere in sight.
Kylo strolled up to the bar, nodding to the man behind it, whose name tag read, Wuher.
“Where is he?”
The man stared at him with a perplexed expression. “Sir?”
“Poe Dameron. You have ten seconds,” Kylo warned.
“I’m sorry, sir, I don’t know anyone by that—.”
Without turning his gaze away from the bartender, Kylo outstretched his arm behind him and fired a single shot. The bullet pierced a vase in the front corner of the room, causing the glass to shatter and the patrons to scream.
“He’s not here,” Wuher mumbled.
“But he was,” Kylo surmised.
Wuher nodded. “He and his crew came through the back for some supplies and to clean-up then they went on their way.”
“And which way was that exactly?”
The bartender glanced frantically around as if one of his customers could save him. They were all cowering in fear. Some had even crouched beneath their tables. Kylo smirked. They were like sheep, mindless in the way they succumbed to herd mentality.
“I’m waiting,” he reminded Wuher.
“Kijimi,” the man finally answered.
Kylo arched a brow. The Thieves Quarter was Bliss’s territory. He clenched his jaw. He should have known she’d shelter them. She’d always been soft on Dameron. Enraged, Kylo swiped his arm across the bar top, sending glassware, utensils, and a bottle of wine to the floor.
He glared at the mess, his chest heaving as he considered his next move. Bliss had always been neutral, a free agent who operated on both sides. The First Order has never seen a need to take her out. If she had the information they needed, they could acquire it. Simple. But now...
...now Kylo would open a contract on her himself.
Aggravated, he marched through the debris to leave.
Kylo glanced over his shoulder. Wuher reached under the bar and Kylo whipped around, his gun at the ready. The bartender held up his hands, backing up.
“H-he said to g-give this to you,” Wuher managed to stammer. Warily, he slid a small item across the countertop toward Kylo.
Holstering his weapon, he approached the bar. The gold ring reflected the light from overhead, casting a blinding band across his face for a split second. Another step and the effect was gone. All that was left was the irrefutable proof that Dameron had been in possession of his mother’s signet.
Kylo carefully plucked the piece off the counter, admiring the unique design. As a child, he’d always been fascinated by the ring. His mother had claimed it was a symbol of their bond. Looking at it now, he realized how foolish he’d been to believe her. He pocketed the band and gave Wuher a curt nod.
He was halfway to the entrance when he realized he’d forgotten one final thing. Reaching into his pocket, Kylo retrieved a few bills and added them to the tip jar.
“For the mess,” he explained.
Then he was gone.
She heard the door close behind her but the lock clicking in place didn’t register. Rey’s focus was on the scene in the hallway.
“Now, I’ve done it,” an elderly man chided himself as he bent over a spilled bag of groceries.
Rey hurried over and knelt down next to him. “Here, let me help you.”
The man looked up at her, clearly surprised but offered her his thanks and a warm smile. They worked together, gathering up the contents of his brown paper bag, which had ripped down the middle. Arms loaded with cans and boxes, Rey followed him down the hall to his apartment.
He unlocked his door, propping it open so she could go inside.
“You’re very kind,” he said, leading her into his kitchen.
His unit was laid out exactly like Kylo’s home with one key difference. This man’s apartment had personal effects everywhere. Each shelf was loaded with mementos. The walls were lined with framed photographs of people and places he loved. Rey found herself staring at one where the man stood alongside a trio of younger individuals. They were all beaming happily together somewhere in the desert.
“It’s a lonely existence when you outlive your friends,” he commented, following her gaze.
“That’s the curse of a long life, I’m afraid,” the man told her. “You live to see changes in the world but you have no control over what those changes are. I’ve traveled far and seen so much despair but where there is darkness, there is also light.”
“You mean hope,” Rey remarked.
He nodded. “Indeed.” He extended a hand to her. “I’m Lor San Tekka, but you can call me Lor.”
“Rey,” she offered as she shook his hand.
“Nice to finally meet you, Rey. I haven’t been able to catch you in the hall since you moved in.”
“Oh.” She flushed. “I don’t live here, at least not permanently, I’m staying with—,” a mass-murderer who is kinda-sorta my friend and he kissed me, so there’s that, “—my boyfriend,” Rey settled on their cover story.
“Ah, well isn’t that nice,” Lor said, eyes twinkling.
Rey tried not to think about how nice it had been when Kylo kissed her goodbye. She failed. Turning away from the old man to hide her blush, she spotted the grocery bags sitting on his counter.
“Would you like help putting these away?”
“You aren’t too busy?” he asked. Rey shook her head. “Well, if you don’t mind,” he agreed, joining her at the kitchen counter. “It’s refreshing to see such polite young people.”
“Thanks,” Rey replied, hoping he didn’t meet Kylo until she was back in Jakku. There were a lot of words to describe Kylo Ren but polite wasn’t one of them.
They worked together like an assembly line. Lor sorted through his items and passed them to Rey. He instructed her which shelf each belonged on. She carefully situated the canned goods in the middle of the pantry, the produce in the crisper, and the chocolate in his sacred candy drawer.
“Everyone deserves something sweet every now and then,” he’d said with a wink when he handed her a Hershey kiss.
Rey smiled, happily popping the milk chocolate morsel in her mouth. It melted on her tongue, filling her mouth with the satisfying taste of sugar and cocoa. Unfortunately, it was at that moment that her stomach began to rumble.
Embarrassed, she moved to leave. “I should be getting back.”
Rey had crossed the apartment before she realized she was locked out. She paused at Lor’s door, frozen by the knowledge that she had neither a key to get in or a phone to call Kylo.
“You’re welcome to wait here until your boyfriend gets home from work,” Lor told her, reading her body language. “I was planning on making my famous beef stew for dinner. Do you eat red meat?”
“I’ll eat just about anything,” Rey admitted with a laugh.
Lor smiled. “A woman after my own heart.” He went to the pantry, withdrawing two aprons. “It would go faster with an assistant,” he suggested.
Rey was all too happy to help.
Kijimi, also referred to as the Thieves Quarter, was known for being the place to barter and trade. There were no restrictions and there was no law. Anything could be exchanged as long as both parties were in agreement. Drugs, weapons, and even people were traded.
Kylo kept his distance from the market. While the First Order found no fault in their dealings, his personal opinion differed.
Bliss had a long history with the quarter, one that started when she’d worked as a smuggler. There were rumors that Bliss had only been thirteen when she completed her first drug run. Kylo didn’t put stock in gossip. It rarely yielded any true information.
Whether Bliss was a teenager when she started out didn’t matter. The only thing that mattered to Kylo was where to find her. The answer to that question would be difficult to obtain. Bliss was protected in Kijimi by the thieves' code. The people who lived here were bound to help her, even if that meant forsaking their own lives.
Kylo adjusted his gun in its holster, wandering down the desolate streets. It seemed his arrival had been announced long before his Maybach parked along the main drag.
He caught the shadows dancing at the edge of his vision. The thieves had a code but what they needed was training on how to tail a mark. Their stealth tactics left much to be desired.
One advanced on him from the rear, a flash of silver shining in the sun as they lunged forward with a blade in hand. Kylo side-stepped, leaning back only enough to avoid the strike. The position put him in the prime spot to grab his attacker by the wrist and twist it until the joint snapped. His weapon clattered to the ground as he cried out.
Kylo kicked the blade away as two more sprung from the dark alleyways. One wielded a baton and the other a pistol. The thieves’ in the Quarter had a preference for outdated weapons. It was a sentimental, misguided notion— one he deemed a mistake.
He fired off two shots. That was all he needed. The two assailants fell to the ground next to their friend with the broken wrist. Eyeing the streets warily, Kylo waited for the next wave.
There was a pause in their line-up. Unwilling to wait, Kylo proceeded towards the Thieves Den. The front was a restaurant, but one whispered word gave you entry into the underground bar and if you knew the right people, a network of tunnels that ran all over Coruscant. It was an old building, built to withstand an assault. If the Resistance was hiding out with Bliss, Kylo believed he’d find them there.
There had been a time in his youth when he’d admired the lone sheriff types— the one who stood alone on the street with a hand on his gun and his hip cocked. He’d seen the films where the solitary figure took out dozens of black-clad adversaries with a single round of bullets. It was thrilling and entertaining.
It was also complete bullshit.
It was statistically improbable to kill twelve men with six bullets. Of course, that didn’t stop Kylo from shooting off another round at the first indication of movement above. Instead of the sniper dramatically falling from his perch into a water trough, the man slumped over the edge of his post with a grunt.
Death wasn’t exciting or dramatic. It was merely the end. There was no reason to glorify it.
Kylo was upon the Thieves Den when the remainder of the reinforcements emerged from their scattered hiding places.
“If you stand down, I’ll let you leave with your lives,” he offered.
Their response was immediate. The click of guns being loaded and swish of knives being raised filled the air.
“So be it.”
He dropped to his knees, avoiding the first wave of bullets while simultaneously delivering his own initial blow. Kylo aimed for kneecaps and feet, immobilizing his assailants one by one. The faceless individuals he hit crouched down to his height or stumbled back blindly. He let them flounder, too busy deflecting the next stage.
Resistance member or lowly thief— their allegiance didn’t matter. If their weapon was aimed at Kylo, he took them out.
When he ran out of bullets and didn’t have time to reload, he reached into his ankle holster. Retrieving his blade, Kylo lunged forward, slicing through the stomach of his nearest attacker. Thick droplets of blood splattered onto his leather jacket. His eyes narrowed in rage.
Kylo surged forward, tackling a few to the ground. He spun around, releasing a collection of smaller blades from where they hung inside his jacket. The throwing knives found new homes in five of the remaining attackers’ throats. They were frozen for a moment, as they fought against the inevitable. It provided Kylo the opportunity to reload his gun. By the time their bodies thudded to the ground, he was aiming at the last band.
He cut them down effortlessly. With a sigh, Kylo returned his gun to its holster and ran a hand through his tousled raven hair.
“Such a waste,” he grumbled, finally stepping inside the restaurant.
The interior was bare, which wasn’t surprising considering the entrance he’d made. Kylo completed a brief scan of the area, landing on a tiled wall sconce.
Smirking, he walked over to the wall and yanked on the faux light. Sure enough, there was a hiss as an airlock opened and the wall shifted back several inches to reveal a spiral staircase leading to an underground passageway.
He’d sent the rebels running and they’d made a mistake. Their folly would be his victory.
His boots clanged against the metal steps, echoing along the stone walls. If the Resistance was waiting for his arrival, they were sure to hear him. Stealth was not a tactic he could employ given his explosive efforts aboveground. There was no doubt he’d left carnage in his wake.
Or that there was more to come.
When his feet made contact with the cement floor, Kylo was met with a half dozen Resistance soldiers. He resisted rolling his eyes at their attempt to protect Dameron.
Their loyalty was wasted on the man with graying hair and a cocksure attitude. They could have served the First Order and been rewarded for their fierce devotion. Instead, they’d picked the wrong side. It was a shame.
“Dameron,” Kylo calmed down the passageway, ignoring the Resistance blockade. “You have five seconds to reveal yourself. Either you come out now or I come get you. It makes no difference to me. It’s your people’s lives on the line.”
A few of the soldiers exchanged worried glances.
Kylo counted down in his head. 5...4...3...2—
“If it had to be anyone, I’m glad it was you,” Dameron spoke without an ounce of fear.
He signaled to his squad that they could stand down. All six hesitated, unsure until Bliss stepped out from behind Dameron. She placed her hand on one of their guns, gently guiding it down.
“I’m pleased you’ve finally seen reason,” Kylo remarked.
“I value my people,” Dameron replied. “Would your master say the same for you?”
“I have no master,” Kylo returned.
“No?” quipped Dameron.
“I wouldn’t expect a miscreant like you to understand.”
“Oh, but I do,” Dameron countered. “More than you, at least. I haven’t been blinded by rage and tormented into a malleable shell.”
Kylo’s trigger finger itched to shut the man up. “Whatever you need to tell yourself to sleep at night,” he scoffed. “I gave you a choice last night. Their blood is on your hands.”
“Their choice was their own, just as hers was,” Dameron said calmly as he approached Kylo. “So what now? You’ll take me in and hand me over to Palpatine?”
Kylo raised his gun. “I have orders to terminate you on sight.”
“No!” Bliss rushed forward, obstructing his view.
“Zorii.” Dameron grabbed her, twisting around so she was behind him. “It’s time.”
“Hands up,” Kylo barked at him, ignoring the chivalrous display. He checked Dameron for weapons, in case the man was trying to trick him into a false sense of security, but he was clean.
Kylo forced both Dameron and Bliss into kneeling positions in front of him. The Resistance squadron remained. He glanced up at them, prepared to open fire if they tried to interfere.
“Your behavior is disgraceful,” he said to Bliss, making a tsking sound. “The First Order pays you well, yet you align yourself with these vermin.”
“At least, they haven’t overstepped,” Bliss hissed. “The First Order has violated our rights.”
“I believe you’re the one who is violation of our mutually beneficial agreement,” Kylo returned smoothly. Turning his attention to Dameron, he smirked. “I should thank you for the gift but I won’t. That ring belongs to me.”
“It belongs to Ben Solo,” Dameron challenged.
Kylo backhanded him without pause. “Ben Solo is dead.”
Dameron spat blood onto the floor before raising his head to glare defiantly up at him. “The General believed in Ben Solo and so do I. He’s the only one who can restore the city to what its former glory. What do you think we’ve been fighting for all this time?”
Kylo’s eyes narrowed. “You’re foolish. You’ve placed your hope in a ghost.” Dameron didn’t avert his gaze. “If it’s Ben Solo you wish to see, I will send you to join him.”
He pulled the trigger. A single shot echoed against the bare cement walls, resounding like thunder. It covered up the screams of protest and Bliss’s slew of profanity. When Kylo lowered his weapon, his target was slumped on the ground, a trail of blood leaking from the gaping wound in his head.
He holstered his gun, pleased he could finally deliver his report into Snoke. As he turned to leave, Bliss’s voice caught him. “She’d be disappointed.”
“The General,” Bliss answered, staring at Dameron’s lifeless form.
Kylo scoffed, pulling out a white handkerchief to clean the muzzle of his gun. “What would I care what someone in the Resistance thinks of me?”
“Because,” Bliss stated, glaring up at him, “she was your mother.”
He saw the pin she was holding too late.
The room erupted in an explosion of smoke, attacking his lungs and causing him to lose his visual of Bliss. Kylo bent over, coughing into his leather jacket as the bunker filled with thick white clouds.
Smoke grenades were common Resistance misdirection tools. He’d been too hasty in securing Dameron that he hadn’t bothered to check Bliss for a concealed weapon. It was a rookie mistake and it cost him.
Keeping his head down, he stumbled out through the restaurant. His steps were uneven as he made his way toward the Maybach. Kylo’s vision blurred from the tears he refused to shed and the ringing in his ears was incessant.
He collapsed into the driver’s seat. Sputtering, he reached around for his black duffel bag. Kylo switched out of his jacket and shirt, replacing them with fresh ones. The smoke continued to choke him and he opened the windows to get a lungful of fresh air.
As he sat there gasping, he thought back to the night his parents had left. His mother had mentioned it was important. He’d assumed it had to do with her job in the Senate but she hadn’t worn a pantsuit and heels. That night, she’d worn cargo pants and a Kevlar vest.
For all the good it had done her.
Shaking his head at the bitter thought, Kylo tore out of Kijimi. The only thing darker than his mood was the dusk closing in around the city.
Rey hummed happily around her spoon, enjoying the savory taste of Lor’s homemade beef stew.
Helping out in the kitchen had been just as much fun for her as it had been for him. He shared stories from his youth, tales of travel and old friends. He spoke of places Rey longed to see, his eyes crumbling at the edges when a fond memory surfaced. It was enchanting.
Lor was a master of storytelling. He balanced out the intricate details of each location with a humorous anecdote about the locals or a mishap he had when he first arrived. Rey found herself wrapped up in the adventures almost as deeply as she had been with the tale of Oliver Twist.
It was possible that it had something to do with the food. Without her hunger distracting her, Rey found it easier to relax.
She was listening to Lor regale her about the time he’d helped a Senator and her twin collect documents to build a case against a corrupt bureaucrat in City Hall. Lor was telling her about how they found evidence of witness tampering when they heard a door slam.
The force of the impact had the surrounding walls shaking. Rey knew exactly who had arrived home. His presence was one she could feel, even now, an entire apartment away.
“I should go,” she said as she collected their empty bowls.
“Bad day?” Lor asked, inclining his head towards the hallway.
“You could say that,” Rey replied.
“Don’t worry about these,” Lor shooed her away from the sink. “I can take care of them. You go take care of your man.”
Her cheeks flushed. “I owe you.”
“If you come by once and a while for a visit, we can call it even,” Lor bargained.
Rey beamed. “Deal.”
Lor told her where he hid his spare key, in case she ever found herself locked out again, and told her to drop by whenever she wanted to. Rey promised to help him with whatever he needed, though it felt like a hollow offer since the only way he had to contact her was by knocking on Kylo’s door. She didn’t have the heart to tell her new friend that her current living arrangement was temporary.
Rey let herself out, taking a few shaky steps across the hall to Kylo’s place. She could hear his heavy footsteps on the hardwood as he marched around. There was a curse then the sounds of glass breaking. She cringed.
Bad day, indeed.
Warily, Rey raised her fist to knock.
Before she could make contact, the door swung open. Kylo stood there, his eyebrows rising in surprise.
“I never left,” Rey told him. He tilted his head. “I got locked out,” she added.
His eyes narrowed and his brow creased. “I told you to stay.”
“I’m not a dog,” she snapped defensively. “You can’t just command me to sit around and—.”
He grabbed her by the forearm, dragging her into the apartment and slamming the door behind her. Rey started to struggle against him, concerned he was going to go back on his word.
She had no reason to worry.
Kylo enveloped her in a tight embrace. One arm wove through her arms to pull her close while his free hand cradled the back of her head. Rey froze, waiting for him to explain himself. He didn’t utter a single word.
Slowly, she slipped her arms around him, hugging him in return. Rey felt his chest expand with a deep inhale. Then he was burying his face in her hair, practically crushing her in his hold.
After a moment, she asked, “What happened?”
Her voice broke the spell. He immediately withdrew from her. With a muttered, “It’s nothing,” Kylo stomped off to the shower.
Rey stared after him, wondering why he felt the need to lie to her and, more worrisome, why she cared.
Chapter 7: I Found
We lost a beautiful soul. My friend, @haloren1st was a talented artist in the Reylo fandom who will be sorely missed. My thoughts and prayers go out to her family during this time.
In her memory, people across the fandom are invited to join the #MaytheLightbeWithHal movement. In addition, her family is donating art supplies to children in their local area to honor her passion. If you'd like to do the same in your hometown, I'm sure they'd appreciate the gesture.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
I'll use you as a warning sign
That if you talk enough sense then you'll lose your mind
And I'll use you as a focal point
So I don't lose sight of what I want
Rey woke to the smell of coffee. The scent was much stronger and more robust than the instant Plutt always made in the shop. This was made of freshly ground, expensive beans, probably from Naboo or another luxurious destination.
“Morning,” Kylo greeted her as she roused.
She gave him a wave, not trusting her voice so early in the morning.
He hadn’t spoken much after his shower. The extent of their conversation had been around her taking a shower next and then discussing what she would wear. Kylo had deemed one of his black long-sleeved shirts appropriate, thrusting it at her along with a pair of drawstring pants.
The pants were so big that Rey had to tie the drawstrings around her waist like a belt. It proved to be too uncomfortable to sleep in so after Kylo went to his room, she had discarded them, a fact she was made acutely aware of by the way his gaze lingered on her bare legs.
It had prompted him to sweep up the debris he’d created in his outburst. He confined her to the couch, saying he didn’t want to take her back to the hospital if she cut her foot on the glass. No sooner had he finished then he went to bed.
He cleared his throat, handing her a steaming mug of coffee. “Your clothes are almost done,” Kylo announced. Rey heard the distant rumbling of the dryer unit in the hall closet. “Your checkup is today,” he added as a reminder.
“We’ll stop for breakfast, take care of that, and then I’ll return you to Jakku, as promised,” he decided.
“Okay,” Rey replied softly.
Kylo stared at her for a moment as if he wanted to say more. He didn’t. With a slight shake of his head, he rose from his seat across from her and walked into the kitchen.
Rey watched him go, chewing on her lower lip. A foolish part of her had hoped he’d ask her to stay. She knew it was ridiculous. Kylo was a stranger. There was no reason for him to keep her around. Yet, Rey couldn’t deny the connection she felt to him.
Kylo was one of the most dangerous men in Coruscant— some would argue he was worse than Palpatine —but Rey wasn’t afraid. She’d seen through him last night. Even if the strength of his embrace had caused her pain, Rey hadn’t cried out. She understood he was suffering. Like a wounded animal, he was defensive and sought privacy to tend to his injuries. She’d let him go, hoping he’d come around. He hadn’t.
She sighed before taking a sip of her coffee. Bold flavors danced across her tongue. Rey smiled around the rim of her mug, savoring the next gulp. The burst of bright fruit and smooth chocolate was surprising but welcomed.
She set the cup down on the end table and headed down the hall toward Kylo’s voice. He was standing in front of the dryer with a perplexed expression. “What?”
“When you put your clothes in the washer, did you put everything in?” he asked tentatively.
Kylo abruptly turned away from her. “Perhaps it’s best if you retrieve your garments.”
Brow furrowed, Rey moved over to the dryer to pull out her shirt, jeans, bra, and—
Her cheeks burned as she yanked the last scrap of fabric out of his dryer and slammed the door. Gathering up her items, she made for the bathroom.
“Did you think it wise to parade around my apartment commando, sweet thing?” Kylo called after her.
She glanced at him over her shoulder. He was leaning against the closet with his arms crossed over his chest and a smirk painted on his full lips.
“Stop calling me that!” Rey shouted, slamming the bathroom door behind her.
Even with the door closed, she could hear him chuckling.
Returning to Coruscant General wasn’t Kylo’s idea of a productive morning, but he hadn’t missed how Rey winced at his touch last night. He’d be damned if he fought this hard to keep her alive only to hurt her.
He pulled the Maybach up to the Outpatient entrance, pausing to gaze over at the girl. She’d been silent the entire trip, barely even muttering a thank you for breakfast. Kylo almost felt guilty for teasing her about her panties.
The truth was that between seeing her tanned, toned legs and the tiny shred of material in his dryer, he’d been struggling with keeping his hands off of her. His decision to embarrass her came out of his own need to protect himself. Kylo couldn’t let himself grow more attached to Rey than he already was. It wouldn’t end well...for either of them.
“I don’t know how long this will take,” she finally said.
“I’ll be here,” he responded.
“Alright,” Rey said with a nod. She pushed the door open and left him sitting there, staring after her.
It wasn’t until someone pulled up behind Kylo and honked that he realized she was gone.
Shooting a murderous glare at the impatient elderly man behind him, Kylo pulled into the nearest parking spot. He settled in, intending to wait for Rey’s appointment to conclude.
He lasted less than five minutes. Cursing, Kylo exited his vehicle and stomped into the Outpatient unit.
A slim nurse with glasses peered up at him from the Admissions counter. “Can I help you?”
The woman quirked an eyebrow. “Excuse me?”
“Rey...,” he trailed off realizing there was no last name to provide. “I’m looking for my girlfriend. She was discharged two days ago by Doctor Aphra and I dropped her off here for her checkup. Her name is Rey.”
“Oh.” The woman’s face relaxed into a genuine smile. “Of course. She’s in Exam Room F. It’s at the end of the hall on your left,” she directed him.
Kylo proceeded down the corridor to the exam room. He rapped his knuckles on the door, waiting until he heard a familiar voice beckon him inside.
As he opened the door, he froze. Rey had her back turned to him, her hands reaching around to try and tie the strings of her medics smock closed. It currently hung open, giving him an obstructed view of her back and those damned panties that had caused such a stir.
The prologued silence tipped her off. She glanced up and gave a startled jolt. “Kylo?”
“Here, let me.” He made quick work of the ties, securing them in tight knots that hid her bare skin from view.
Rey faced him, bewildered. “What are you doing here?”
“Didn’t want you running off,” he lied, folding himself into a plastic chair in the corner.
Kylo plucked a magazine on healthy living out of the wall tray. As he paged through it, feigning interest, he ignored the way she watched him with creased eyebrows.
When he didn’t respond, she hoisted herself up onto the exam table. She sat there, twisting her hands in her lap until she couldn’t hold back anymore. “I know you don’t want to tell me what happened,” Rey started hesitantly, “but you need to talk to someone. Maybe call up your partner.”
He lifted his eyes. “My partner?”
“Yeah.” Rey gestured to her head. “You know, the guy with the red hair and the permanent scowl on his face.”
Kylo narrowed his gaze. “Hux is not my partner. He’s a menace. It’s his fault you’re in here.”
Rey’s expression morphed into one of unease. “Oh,” she said softly, her hand unconsciously coming to rest overtop her wound.
He closed his eyes, internally chiding himself. Staying in the car would have been preferable to this. He couldn’t accomplish anything here; he’d only made matters worse.
“Well, then you should talk to another friend,” Rey suggested.
“I don’t have friends,” Kylo informed her, returning to the magazine.
“Not even one?” she asked, surprised.
“As you may recall, not many people like me.”
“I do,” Rey admitted in a quiet voice.
Kylo glanced up; the magazine was forgotten. Her eyes were on the tiled floor and her cheeks were tinged pink. He felt his lips twitch. “What would you tell me...if we were friends?”
She looked over at him, hazel meeting chocolate. For a moment, neither of them moved. Kylo didn’t even breathe. He couldn’t explain these tiny moments where she caught him unaware. It felt as though she captured him somewhere between time and space. There was no practical rationale for how it happened— or how it managed to transfix him each time. All Kylo knew was it kept happening, which led him to believe that this— whatever it was —meant something.
“If we were friends and I saw you the way I did last night, I would have asked you to share with me, which I did,” she reminded him, stubbornly. “If we were friends, you would have told me and I would have tried my best to be there for you.” She paused, pursing her lips. “But we aren’t—.”
Kylo was out of his seat before she could complete her sentence. “Shhhh,” he silenced her. He pressed a finger to her lips, watching how deep the shade of pink turned on her cheeks and how wide her eyes went at his touch. “I don’t have friends because I don’t like them,” he admitted.
She stared at him with a sarcastic expression as if you say, ‘No, really?’
“But I like you,” Kylo confessed. Far more than I should.
Rey sucked in a sharp breath, shifting backward. He looped an arm around her to keep her sitting upright.
“If you ask me again, I will tell you what you want to know,” he promised. Rey relaxed, eyes shining with enthusiasm. Her lips parted as she started to question, but he cut her off. “I will be honest, but, I warn you, you may not like what you hear. My work is....complicated,” he cautioned her.
She wrapped her hand around his wrist, gently guiding his finger away from her mouth so she could speak. “I can handle it,” Rey told him.
There was a level of conviction in her voice that led him to believe her. It made him feel bold. Kylo hooked his finger under her chin, tilting her face up. “You can, can’t you?”
Rey nodded, never breaking eye contact with him. Kylo hummed, pleased by her response and leaned in.
He almost had a taste of her when the knock on the door announced an incoming visitor.
“Rey, I’m so glad— oh! Mr. Ren, I wasn’t expecting you,” Nurse Kanata said, her tone changing.
Gradually, Kylo pivoted around. His body was rigid with tension. The only thing keeping him from pulling out his gun was Rey’s hold. She’d grabbed onto him with both hands as soon as she heard the door. Gently, he removed himself from her grip, stepping around to the side of her.
“Good morning,” he greeted the nosy woman tersely.
“Morning,” Nurse Kanata replied, equally curt. “How are you feeling?” she asked, turning her attention to Rey.
“Food. I mean good. I mean fine!” Rey hastily assured the nurse.
Kylo smirked. At least he wasn’t the only one affected by the moment they had. His amusement wasn’t shared by Nurse Kanata who continued to glare suspiciously at him.
“You’ve been changing out your bandages?” the elderly woman asked as she secured a blood pressure cuff to Rey’s right arm.
“Have you taken anything for the pain?” the nurse inquired.
“I’ve only taken the antibiotics Doctor Aphra prescribed,” Rey answered.
“Any swelling?” Nurse Kanata questioned, watching the needle on the cuff.
“Good.” The nurse placed her stethoscope under the cuff, listening to Rey’s heartbeat. “Deep breath for me.” Kylo watched her chest rose with the inhale. “And out,” directed Nurse Kanata. Rey exhaled. “Good,” the nurse repeated.
There was a sound of Velcro being undone as she removed her tools from Rey’s body.
“What’s the verdict?” Kylo asked impatiently.
“Rey, you’re recovery is going well. You’ll need to come back in five days to have the stitches taken out but after that, you should be good,” Nurse Kanata explained.
“I can return to normal?”
“Not normal,” the nurse cautioned, “but you won’t be at risk for infection.”
“What does that mean?” Kylo demanded. He didn’t like being ignored.
“You mentioned you’re a mechanic, right?” Nurse Kanata questioned, peering through Rey’s chart.
“That’s right,” she confirmed.
“Heavy lifting, chemicals, grease...,” the nurse trailed off with a shake of her head. “You’ll have to go out on short-term disability. You can’t be doing any lifting or vigorous activities for at least two months.”
Rey’s hopeful expression crumpled. “What?”
“I’m sorry,” Nurse Kanata apologized, “but it is better than the alternative.”
“It’s fine,” Kylo tried to convince her, putting a hand on her shoulder. “We’ll figure it out.”
She glanced up at him with watery eyes. “But what about our de—.”
“Don’t worry about that,” he instantly stopped her. “You need to heal.”
She closed her eyes and swallowed back her tears. “Okay,” she agreed timidly.
“I’ll have them get you some more antibiotics and bandages,” Nurse Kanata said, typing away on her tablet. “They have them for you at the front desk when you leave.”
“Thank you, Maz,” Rey replied. She started to get down from the exam table when the nurse held up a hand.
“I’d like a word.” Nurse Kanata stared at Kylo pointedly. “In private.”
He glared at the meddling woman, unwilling to leave. Kylo had never had someone like Rey in his life before. He wasn’t about to let someone stand in his way.
“Kylo, could you go get the car? I’ll be out in a minute,” Rey coaxed.
“Actually, Rey, it’s Mr. Ren I’d like to speak to,” Nurse Kanata clarified.
Keeping his face neutral, he gestured to the door. “After you.” With one final glance back at Rey, he followed the nurse out of the exam room.
Kylo didn’t say a word as they followed the highway to where Jakku was situated on the outskirts of the city. His grip on the steering wheel was tight. His free hand was perched on the gearshift, equally tense, and Rey could see him grinding his teeth.
She bit the inside of her cheek, wondering how he’d react if she asked. The question had plagued her while they went through signing her out of the facility. Even when Kylo reached around her to collect her fresh bandages and medicine, he didn’t utter a word. Rey didn’t know what Maz had said but it had certainly left an impression.
Tentatively, she placed her hand over his. “Kylo?”
He flinched. It was the only indication he’d heard her.
“Something’s bothering you. Do you want to talk about it?”
His gaze flickered to her face briefly.
“Friends talk about their problems. It helps, I think,” Rey went on. “I mean, I’ve never had a friend before, but I think that’s how it’s supposed to go.”
“I’m not good with talking to people,” he admitted.
She gave him a playful smile. “I know.” He sighed and Rey took that as permission to continue. “I bet you weren’t good with a gun the first time you tried to shoot a target but that’s what practice is for.”
“I was,” he insisted.
“An excellent marksman my first time,” Kylo clarified.
“Of course you were,” Rey rolled her eyes. So much for putting things into perspective.
“Regardless, your reasoning is sound,” he told her. “So how do we do this?”
She wrapped her hand around his, careful not to jostle the gear shift. “You tell me why you’re upset and I try to help.”
Kylo glanced over at her before returning his focus to the road. “Nurse Kanata thinks you’re being coerced. She thinks I’m a danger to you.” He paused, sighing. “And she’s right.”
“Why do you think that?” Rey asked, leaning toward him.
“I don’t think. I know,” he returned.
She squeezed his hand. “What do you think you know?”
“I’m toxic. The longer you are around me, the worse it will be for you,” Kylo explained.
“So why didn’t you let me die in that alleyway?” Rey challenged. “You would have saved both of us a lot of trouble.”
His head snapped to the side violently. Rey felt the car jerk but she didn’t look away.
“I don’t kill women.”
“Leaving me to die of blood loss isn’t the same as being the one to pull the trigger,” she countered. “You know that.”
Kylo wrenched the wheel to the right, roughly sliding the car over to the shoulder. He put the Mercedes in park and unfastened his seat belt so he could loom over her. “Is that what you want?” he demanded. “You want me to drop you on the First Order’s doorstep and let Hux finish the job?”
“Go ahead,” Rey dared, glaring at him.
Kylo met her gaze. His dark eyes were full of determination as he attempted to make her back down. Rey recognized his intimidation tactic. She didn’t falter.
After a strained moment, Kylo pulled away with a curse. He placed both hands on the steering wheel, his knuckles turning white as he made a fist around the column. When Kylo released it, he let out a low chuckle.
“Remind me to never play cards with you, sweet thing.”
“Deal,” Rey promised.
Kylo buckled up and guided the car back onto the highway. Once he had the Maybach in gear, he reached across to rest his hand on her thigh.
Rey’s poker face fell.
The pawnshop was just as dingy and disgusting as Kylo remembered. He worked his jaw from where he stood in front of the store, barred by the yellow tape Phasma’s unit had secured around the perimeter.
“Are you sure it’s okay for us to be here?” Rey asked.
“It’s fine,” Kylo assured her brusquely. Rey chewed on her lower lip, unconvinced. “Phasma is compensated well for her efforts. Don’t worry.” He slipped a hand under the tape, holding it up to allow her to duck under. “Ladies, first.”
Rey bent forward, creeping under the plastic tape. Kylo watched the way her jeans tightened, his brain working harder than his jaw. He shoved his carnal desires aside and followed her in.
The floor was covered in glass, bullet casings, and crimson stains. Plutt’s body had been removed but the evidence of his demise remained intact.
Kylo saw Rey shiver as she sidestepped the debris. She navigated around the stains, carefully avoiding stepping on them. He trailed behind her, letting her lead him around back to the adjoining garage.
It was equally outdated with grease-covered tools and unidentifiable grime covering the cabinets. He understood why Nurse Kanata forbid Rey from returning to work.
“If Plutt was hiding your deed, it’s probably in that cabinet,” Rey said, pointing to the cleanest of the bunch.
Kylo strolled over to it, sharply yanking the top drawer open. Nuts and bolts jingled as they spilled over the sides.
“Careful,” Rey warned, hurrying over to help him gather them up.
“I’ve got it,” he insisted, waving her off.
With a huff, she turned her attention to a stack of papers on her workbench. Kylo peered over at Rey, watching the way her shoulders hunched as she tabbed through the files. Her lips were moving, indicating she was talking to herself. He wondered who she was cursing out.
Either Plutt or me, he thought with a chuckle.
Restraining himself, Kylo opened the next drawer. The contents were various pliers, wrenches, and screwdrivers. Annoyed, he flung the next drawer open and then the next. Neither held any valuables. He slammed them both shut, making the cabinet shake.
“Bottom drawer,” Rey called over without glancing up.
Kylo knelt down, noticing, for the first time, the lock on the lower drawer. He was grateful Rey couldn’t see his face. His cheeks were almost as red as Hux’s hair.
It was rare that someone held an advantage over him. His size and strength typically dissuaded anyone from challenging him, even if they did possess useful information. In the case of the girl, she didn’t understand how powerful her knowledge was. Her help could be the difference between him establishing his own path within the First Order or being resigned to serve for the rest of his days. It also meant he’d have a chance at revenge. The deed was the only card Kylo had left to play in his fight against Luke Skywalker.
With measured movements, Kylo removed his penknife from his boot. Picking locks was a skill born of necessity. When Snoke’s training tactics had border-lined on barbaric, Kylo had found a way to survive. He’d slipped free of his confines on more than one occasion. The risk ensured he didn’t starve to death or die of hypothermia the time Snoke had forgotten he’d left Kylo in the cellar.
The knife clicked against the locking mechanisms. Kylo listened carefully for the right sounds until, finally, the spring snapped and the drawer popped open. He pulled it out, setting his sights on the treasures inside.
Rage boiled in his core. Kylo knew Rey’s boss had been a cretin. He hadn’t known the man was also a moron. The items he’d deemed valuable consisted of a coin collection, some jewelry, and antique toys. One by one, Kylo threw them out of the drawer, hoping to find his deed at the bottom.
He straightened up at the waver in her voice. “What is it? What’s wrong?”
“The deed you’re looking for,” Rey started, her eyes transfixed on the file on her hands. “Is it for a place called Varykino?”
Kylo leaped over the rubbish he’d pulled out of the bottom drawer, scrambling over to her. He had to see it for himself.
“How did you—?”
“He hid it between Valiant and Victory,” Rey cut him off with her answer. “I know cars and motorcycles. Varykino isn’t a make or model for either.”
He smirked. “Clever girl.”
Rey held out the folder, holding up a folded work order where Plutt had hidden the deed. He took to from her, scanning the lengthy document.
Sure enough, across the top was the name of his family’s estate, along with the terms of settlement. As suspected, the property was to be remanded to the last living heir, Ben Solo. If Ben Solo did not accept his birthright, the land and all its assets were to be rewarded to the People of Aldeeran, his late mother’s charity.
Kylo swallowed thickly, reading and re-reading the terms of execution. The longer he remained silent, the less victorious he felt. It wasn’t until he heard the clang of metal that he glanced up. Rey was under a junker, trying to pry something free.
“What are you doing?”
“Getting my stash.” She gave another tug and then a small backpack came free. Wearing a triumphant smile, Rey crawled out from under the car.
“Stash?” he asked.
She opened the backpack, revealing a change of clothes, some non-perishables, and a roll of bills. He scoffed. It couldn’t have been more than five hundred dollars, maybe a grand at most.
Rey’s eyes narrowed. “What?”
“That’s your nest egg?” He didn’t hide his disdain.
“Yes,” she said flatly.
“That’s barely enough to get you out of the city, let alone hold you over until you find a new job,” Kylo pointed out. “What was your plan for when Plutt came after you? Because we both know he would have. Men like that don’t let their payday just walk out. He wouldn’t have stopped until you were back here or dead.”
“Why do you care?” Rey sniped. Her face was flushed and her hands were shaking hands. “He’s dead and you got what you came for. You don’t have to worry about me. You kept your promise. You delivered me back here. You’re off the hook. You don’t have to keep up appearances anymore.”
“You don’t owe your fake girlfriend anything,” she clarified bitterly.
It felt like someone snapped a rubber band in his chest. There was a sharp pull, followed by a burning sting. He cast his common sense aside, along with every warning his mentor had ever issued.
Kylo seized the girl by her shoulders, causing her to drop her ratty bag to the floor. “What about this feels fake to you?”
He caught a glimpse of her confused expression before he crashed his lips against hers. It wasn’t soft or romantic the way first kisses were depicted in films. This was rough, demanding, and possessive. Kylo wanted her to feel him— his need, his decision, his truth. He would make sure there was no misunderstanding. She was his.
Rey stiffened, caught off guard. Kylo let his hands slide down her arms, gently rearranging their positioning so he was cupping her chin. Slowly, the girl relaxed. He leaned back just enough to gauge her reaction.
Her lips were swollen and her pupils were blown wide. Kylo saw her intent before she moved but he didn’t stop her. She surged up to her tiptoes, sandwiching his face in between her hands to kiss him back.
He wrapped his arms around Rey, clinging to her the way dying men clung to their final breaths. Maybe it was because that’s what she felt like to Kylo— his last chance to be happy, to be loved, to live. She was everything.
And he’d die before he let her go.
Kylo was wrapped up in the moment so completely that he failed to hear the intruder enter the shop.
“Well, well, well,” a smug voice interrupted. “Isn’t this interesting?”
Chapter 8: Heathens
Why'd you come, you knew you should have stayed
I tried to warn you just to stay away
And now they're outside ready to bust
It looks like you might be one of us
Kylo’s voice was low and menacing. Rey hadn’t ever heard him speak that way before. She felt as though someone had poured a bucket of ice water over her head. The hot burn of arousal was washed away, leaving bewilderment and fear in its tracks.
The woman standing across from them had a wiry form and a frown. Rey suspected she’d be beautiful if she smiled. Thick waves of brown hair framed her face and her green eyes had a stormy blue hue to them. Bliss looked lethal. The danger was confirmed a second later when she raised a Ruger 22.
Kylo grabbed Rey, shoving her behind him instantly. “If this is about Dameron—.”
Bliss cut him off by firing a shot. “You know it is.”
Rey didn’t know who Dameron was, but it was clear what Kylo had done to earn Bliss’s wrath. The cold slap of reality hit her. On the night they met, she’d seen his darkness. Kylo had been upfront with Rey about who he was. Facing the consequences of that was something she wasn’t fully prepared for.
“If you shoot me, you’ll never be free,” Kylo said smoothly. “The First Order will hunt you down, even if it has to tear down Kijimi brick by brick. Your community will be destroyed. Is revenge worth all that?”
Rey peered around his massive form to see Bliss’s reaction. Her eyes darkened before narrowing into slits. “You took something from me. It seems only fitting I return the favor.” She lunged to the side, angling her weapon to find an opening in Kylo’s stance.
But he wasn’t her intended target.
A scream escaped Rey’s lips as Kylo shoved her behind the car. He opened fire on Bliss, keeping himself between her and Rey as he maneuvered backward to kneel by the hood. She read the tension in his muscles and saw how the hairs on the back of his neck were raised. He was worried.
And for good reason.
The garage door was padlocked shut courtesy of the police department. They’d come through the side entrance, which was blocked by their attacker.
Rey wondered if the gunfire would alert the neighbors. Even if it did, she doubted that anyone would call the police. No one in Jakku would interfere in the First Order's business.
Kylo cursed, ducking down as he reloaded his Heckler and Koch. The V9 model was popular with members of crime syndicates. It fetched a good price in the pawnshop, though the gun never remained on the shelf for long. The reinforced frame made it resistant to wear, keeping it looking sleek and ready for use.
The Ruger 22 was an older model. Though not as flashy as the V9, Rey surmised Bliss’s skill level made up for what the gun lacked in appearance. Like her weapon, the woman was designed to kill.
And she was effective. Bliss had them pinned.
The car couldn’t shield them forever and she didn’t want to see what would happen if Kylo ran out of bullets before Bliss. Rey glanced around the garage, desperate to identify a means of escape.
She found it in the form of the rear ventilation shaft. There was only one problem; Kylo was too broad to fit. His shoulders alone were far too wide to pass through.
Rey chewed on her lower lip considering an alternative. Kylo took a risk the night he brought her to the ER. He’d saved her life. The least she could do was return the favor. Mind made up, Rey left her hiding spot and sprinted to the vent.
“Hey!” he snarled over his shoulder, ducking to avoid incoming fire. “Rey, get back here!”
She kept her head down, blindly dodging bullets as she ran. Enraged, Kylo began firing back faster, giving Rey the chance to rip the vent cover off the wall.
The rusted screws gave her no resistance. They clattered to the floor, rolling past her scuffed-up sneakers. She hauled herself up into the opening, freezing when a hail of bullets reigned overhead.
“Go!” shouted Kylo, sounding further away.
Rey glanced back at him. His concentration was solely on Bliss and preventing her from hitting Rey.
Hang on, she thought, shimmying through the ductwork. I’ll be back for you.
The echoes of their firefight sounded around her. The noise was deafening and when Rey heard Kylo swear, she froze, debating whether or not to go back. There was a brief pause before the gunfire started up again. Steeling her resolve, Rey pulled herself to the end of the vent.
She shifted around in the air shaft until she was able to throw her elbow at the vent cover. The flimsy piece of metal fell with a clang into the alleyway. Rey scooted out. She hit the ground running, doubling back through the pawnshop to pick up her weapon of choice.
The bat was still lying on the floor, exactly where it had fallen the night Hux shot up the pawnshop. Rey had cursed the Louisville slugger for giving away her position. Now, she smiled at it, happy it hadn’t been confiscated as evidence by the police.
The wooden instrument felt heavy in her hand— heavy and powerful. It wasn’t a Glock 19 or a Heckler Koch, but it could do a fair amount of damage, especially if she managed to sneak up on Bliss from behind.
Rey took a few practice swings. The weight of the wood helped with her carry-through. It felt strangely exhilarating to be armed. Rey felt the corners of her mouth twitch.
If Plutt could see me now...
She swung harder, picturing his horrified face. He wouldn’t have seen her coming. With another swing, Rey smashed into a stack of old boxes, watching old magazines and newspapers go flying. She imagined the impact wouldn’t feel pleasant for Bliss, but she was willing to incur the woman’s wrath if it gave Kylo the opening he needed to make a break for it.
Gripping the bat towards the middle, Rey darted out of the pawnshop. The fury of bullets had slowed. Like popcorn in the final fifteen seconds of being microwaved, the cadence was steady and moderate. She crept over to the door, scanning the scene inside.
Kylo was squatting at the rear of the car, barely visible from her vantage point. Bliss was directly across from him, reloading. Her back was to Rey, which made the whole scene seem suspicious. It was too easy, almost as if Bliss expected an attack.
She waited, sliding along the wall so she was out of sight just in time to avoid Bliss’s sweeping gaze as she checked her surroundings.
Rey shifted her hands on the baseball bat, deliberating.
Her confidence wavered. She wasn’t part of this story of deception, hidden property deeds, and death-dealing. Rey would have had better odds playing a game of Russian Roulette. With Bliss, one wrong move could cost Rey not only her life but Kylo’s as well.
She swallowed and nervously licked her lips. I can do this, I can do this, she told herself. The words were like a mantra. They freed something inside her and felt unlike anything she’d ever experienced before took hold of her.
Rey tightened her grip on the bat. When she rounded the corner, everything suddenly seemed to happen in slow motion. Bliss raised her arms, aiming through the car windows at Kylo’s chest. Kylo was trying to duck out of range. Neither one of them noticed Rey charging in.
It felt like a dream. She had an out-of-body experience as she wound up, placing most of her weight on her back foot. Then, she was slicing through the air in one single, long swing. The bat collided with Bliss’s forearm and Rey heard a sickening crack.
Time resumed at a normal pace. Bliss’s V9 lay abandoned on the floor, while she shrieked. She advanced on Rey, murder in her eyes. Rey swung again, holding her position so Kylo could get out.
He came to stand behind her, his Heckler and Koch cocked. “Back off,” he ordered. “You’re done.”
“No,” she countered with a dark laugh. “You are. The moment Snoke hears you’ve gone soft, there will be a bounty on your head.”
Kylo scoffed. “Whatever lie you need to tell yourself.”
“I’m not the one lying to myself,” Bliss said, eyeing Rey.
The way the woman stared at her had Rey feeling uneasy. She jabbed the bat at Bliss. “Back up,” she directed the woman. Bliss held up her hands in defeat, following Rey’s instructions.
Rey bent down to pick up the Ruger 22, never taking her eyes off of Bliss as she handed the weapon to Kylo. He tucked the gun into his belt and looped his free arm around her waist. The weight of his hand on her hip was reassuring. She could feel herself beginning to come down from her adrenaline high.
“I can see why he likes you. You’re pretty,” Bliss spoke with a sneer, “for a sand rat.”
Rey flinched as Kylo fired off a shot that landed a quarter of an inch from Bliss’s foot. “I have rules, but say something like that again, and I’ll break them. On second thought,” he purred, inclining his head toward Rey, “I think it would be more satisfying to watch her break your other arm. What do you think, sweet thing?”
Bliss narrowed her eyes at them both. Rey adjusted her grip on the bat, waiting to see if the woman tried anything.
“I suggest you stay clear of us from now on,” Kylo advised. To Rey, he said, “We’re done here.”
Cautiously, they backed out of the garage. It wasn’t until they were in the Maybach, on the way to Kylo’s apartment, that Rey recognized the odd sensation that had taken over her. She felt alert as if something had awakened inside of her.
For the first time in her life, she felt alive.
Kylo stared at the girl. She looked so small and innocent lying on his couch. Curled up in the fetal position under a mound of blankets, Rey seemed more cat than human. A feline was a fitting metaphor considering the claws she’d displayed earlier. He still couldn’t believe it.
She was stubborn, clever, and not easily intimidated but he hadn’t expected her to defend him. The fact she’d come back was staggering. When Kylo watched her disarm Bliss with a Louisville slugger, he’d considered pinching himself. His desire for Rey increased tenfold.
It had been a struggle to keep his distance before. After seeing her fight, Kylo decided he was already in too deep to change course; why fight the current? He’d already taken the plunge when he kissed her. At least he’d have her to think about when he burned for his sins.
Heat filled him, starting in his core and rising through his chest to his face. His skin was flushed and his brow beaded with sweat. Kylo felt disoriented, awkward in his own skin, and edgy. He’d been stumbling over his words— and his feet —since they returned to his apartment.
If it wasn’t for the girl’s presence in his home, Kylo would blame illness for his state. The fever Rey caused was worse because it was incurable.
You’ll be the death of me, he thought, reaching down to brush her hair away from her face. She didn’t rouse and part of him was disappointed. Kylo didn’t understand how he could miss her when she was right next to him.
With a sigh, he left Rey to sleep. His instincts warred against every step that led him further away from her. Kylo had always painted his father the fool. Love had made him soft. Soft meant weak and weak meant dead. That was before he met the girl.
“What’s wrong, Ben?”
He glanced up to find his father leaning against his doorframe. “Avanee Scourous keeps tripping me and making fun of my ears,” he admitted. Ben dragged the sleeve of his shirt across his face, removing the evidence of tears.
“Maybe she likes you,” Han offered, sitting down on the bed next to him.
“What? Ewww,” Ben scooted away, his face pinched in a look of disgust.
His father laughed. “Wait a few more years. You won’t be saying that anymore.”
“Yeah, I will,” Ben insisted.
“I wouldn’t bet on it.”
Ben picked at a place on his comforter. He knew better than to go against his father. Leia called Han a scoundrel at least ten times a day, but it never changed his luck. His father always came out on top.
“Did mom do stuff like that to you?” he asked.
Han chuckled. “Worse.”
“Really?” Ben couldn’t keep the excitement from his voice. He loved when his father told him stories about the time before he was born. They all sounded like fantastic adventures. Ben hoped he’d get to have his own one day.
“The first time I met your mother, she called me names, mocked my job, and even went as far as to say she’d save our ass— erm, skins.”
“Mom swore?” Ben questioned, tickled by the thought of his mother being the one to use foul language.
“Don’t tell her I said that,” Han quickly advised.
His father ran a hand through his hair, a nervous habit Ben had inherited. “She wasn’t impressed by much, me included,” his dad remarked, contemplative. “It would have been easier to walk away but I couldn’t. She got under my skin. Every time she baited next, I rose to the occasion. It wasn’t until later I realized why.”
“Why?” Ben asked, leaning in as he hung on his father’s every word.
“I had gotten under her skin too.”
Ben’s brow furrowed. “I don’t get it.”
“You will,” his father said with a smile. He patted Ben on the back. “The point is, son, that when you find the girl you’re meant to be with, you’ll know.”
His father smiled at him. “She’ll make a mess of things. She’ll drive you crazy and you’ll wish you never met her, but you’ll never be able to walk away.” He winked. “Just be careful, Ben. We Solo men like ‘em with a bit of fire if you know what I mean.”
Han waggled his eyebrows suggestively and nudged him with an elbow. “They may clean up nice, but underneath it all, they are just as wild and—
Ben snapped his attention to the doorway where his mother was standing with her hands on her hips. She shot a disapproving look at them both. She’d obviously heard enough of their conversation.
Han and Ben wore matching somber expressions. It didn’t stop her from launching into a lecture about how to treat women respectfully.
As the memory faded, Kylo closed his bedroom door. His parents hadn’t agreed on much. The free opinions they did share were about important things— how to raise him, who to side with when the Senate prepared a vote, and to protect the people of Corellia the best they could.
Their methods varied. His mother chose to fight with elaborate parties and charity auctions. His father had a different approach, one that wasn’t legal. They both played the game their own way, walking on eggshells as they tried to avoid the land mines buried in the city’s political landscape.
Their approach had worked for a while. Once Palpatine took control of the Senate, his mother’s supporters turned their backs on her. Her power dwindled until she began preparing to be phased out. Kylo wondered if that was when she’d chosen to join the Resistance.
He went to his closet. Kylo retrieved his mother’s chest with care. From his pocket, he withdrew her ring and set it inside. It felt like another piece to a puzzle— a riddle he had yet to solve.
If his parents had been members of the Resistance, Snoke surely would know. Kylo’s mentor was meticulous about information, especially when it pertained to a threat and the Resistance was the First Order’s greatest adversary. If what Bliss said was true and Snoke knew, why had he offered Kylo a place at the table? What had he hoped to gain?
One option stood out among the rest.
Kylo shut the box with a snap, hiding the remnants of his past away along with his memories. He couldn’t be sentimental.
He had work to do.
Knocking woke Rey. With heavy limbs and bleary eyes, she kicked off the layers of blankets she’d cocooned herself with.
“Just a sec,” she called as she stumbled through the living room to the door.
She hoped whoever it was didn’t wake Kylo. They wouldn’t live long enough to come knocking a second time. Though, to be fair, the visitor’s persistence was quickly putting them at the top of Rey’s list. She’d never had the luxury of sleeping in. She wanted to enjoy it while she could and this person was making it impossible with their loud rapping.
Rey pulled the door open, just enough to peer out into the corridor. “Yes?”
“Pha— Sorry, Captain Phasma,” Rey greeted the blonde. She hastily closed the door, undoing the chain lock so she could open it properly. “What are you doing here?”
“I told you I’d be following up,” the police captain reminded Rey.
“But how did you know I would be here?” Rey questioned.
“Because I told her,” a deep voice answered from behind Rey.
She glanced over her shoulder to find Kylo strutting out of the hallway, barefoot and shirtless. Her cheeks burned and she stepped away from the door to allow Phasma inside.
Kylo cut off her retreat, slipping an arm around her waist. “Sleep okay?”
She nodded. “Fine.”
Rey noticed Phasma was watching them, her face an unreadable mask. “Well,” the captain began, “first things first. You have it?” She directed the question at Kylo, who nodded. “And you’re keeping it from Snoke...why?”
“My reasons are my own,” Kylo replied smoothly.
“Fair enough,” Phasma returned. “Shall we discuss this in your office?”
“After you,” Kylo agreed, waving her past.
Phasma strolled confidently down the hall. Rey moved to follow her when Kylo held her back. “Please tell me you’re wearing something underneath my shirt.”
Rey scanned his face, unsure if he was teasing her or tortured by thought. She decided to find out. Wriggling out of his hold, she walked away, pausing to throw a “Maybe,” over her shoulder.
Kylo was instantly at her side. His hands clamped down on her waist as he leaned down. “You shouldn’t toy with me, sweet thing,” he warned.
“And you should put a shirt on,” Rey retorted, hip checking him. He growled but let her go.
She stopped abruptly in the office doorway when she realized there were only two chairs, one of which was already occupied by Phasma.
Kylo moved past Rey, taking her hand as he went. He led her to the opposite side of his desk, dropping into the chair. Rey hesitated at his side, unclear what he expected from her. Did he just want her to stand there? She was about to say she could leave when he tugged on her hand.
He couldn’t be serious.
Rey arched a brow. Kylo smirked. Pursing her lips, she stepped around to sit on his lap. As soon as she settled down, his arm snaked around her waist, adjusting her position so her back was flush to his chest. Rey forced herself not to react. She didn’t want to give him the satisfaction.
If their interaction made Phasma uncomfortable, she kept her opinion to herself. Her expression remained flat as she waited for Kylo to proceed.
“The terms of the deed are clear. Varykino estate and the entire property belongs to me,” he informed the captain.
Rey hadn’t had time to scan the document’s verbiage at the garage but it served as an excellent distraction from Kylo’s proximity. Or it had until he began brushing his thumb up and down lazily, stroking her hipbone through the material of his shirt. She suppressed a shudder and went back to reviewing the deed.
“They belong to Ben Solo,” Rey corrected, pointing to the bold text.
Phasma raised her eyes, amusement and surprise breaking her professional manner. Rey reread the passage about ownership, checking to see if she and misspoke. The way she read the document, it was clearly outlined that the property belonged to someone named Ben Solo.
She glanced over her shoulder at Kylo. His gaze was firmly set on Phasma. “Could you give us a minute?”
“I think I’ll stay,” the captain replied with a cool smile. “It’s been a while since I was able to take in a show.”
Kylo’s eyes narrowed and Rey felt his hand on her hip still.
“What?” she asked expectantly, glancing between the two of them.
“Before I joined the First Order, I had another life. I went by another name,” Kylo told her.
“Ben Solo,” Rey said quietly.
Rey looked over the deed once more, searching for the passage at the end where a series of signatures were executed. Her pulse quickened as realization dawned. She recognized the names on the deed. They were the friends Lor spoke of— Leia Organa, Han Solo, and Luke Skywalker.
She thought of the pictures she’d seen on Lor’s wall. The trio of smiling individuals he’d stood by had been Kylo’s family— Ben’s family. Rey blinked, recalling how he’d told her he’d been abandoned.
Her stomach lurched. Based on what Lor said, his friends had died and he had no reason to lie to Rey. But what reason did Kylo have to lie to her?
The deed — the deed that she helped him find, the deed that he now had.
Rey stiffened as she recalled how viciously she’d attacked Bliss. She’d lost herself in her anger and blindly charged into a world she didn’t understand. She hadn’t stopped to ask who Dameron was or why Bliss was trying to avenge him. Had he been innocent, just another person who got caught in the First Order’s crossfire? Was that why Kylo had killed him?
She knew what he was capable of. He possessed the skills to burn the city to ash if that’s what he wanted. Given his temper, Rey was certain that if he hadn’t found the deed in time to collect, Kylo would have.
Then, an ugly thought popped into her head. Had Kylo been the one to kill his parents?
Her stomach churned unpleasantly and she darted from the room before he could stop her.
Up Next: Kylo confronts Rey on his real name, his past, and something else...
Chapter 9: Kiss Me 'Til It Bleeds
So what do you do now?
You know he's going to take you down
But you're addicted to the sound
And so you hang around
“That went well,” Phasma drawled sarcastically.
Kylo glared at the blonde. “Get out.”
“What are you going to do?” she asked without moving an inch.
“What happens between the girl and I doesn’t concern you,” he returned evenly as he stood.
Slamming his hands on the desk, Kylo leaned toward her. “Excuse me?”
“You’ve never shown an interest in anything besides your work before,” Phasma pointed out. “Then this girl gets caught in your web and suddenly you’re taking her to appointments and letting her live with you.”
“I take responsibility for my actions,” Kylo said, “however horrific they may be.”
“Indeed.” Phasma nodded. “The way I see it, though, you’ve done what you promised. You don’t have any reason to keep her around.”
“So?” he drawled.
“So, what’s your plan?” Phasma questioned, crossing her arms in front of her. “Because we both know you won’t be able to hide her from him for long.”
“If you’re referring to Snoke—.”
“I’m referring to Palpatine,” Phasma clarified. Kylo straightened up, closing his eyes as he pinched the bridge of his nose. “Hux is already suspicious.”
“What did you do?” Kylo snarled.
Phasma glowered at him. “Nothing,” she insisted flatly. “I don’t care about your pissing match with Hux.”
“Then why warn me?”
“I like her spunk,” Phasma confessed. “I don’t want to see anything happen to her.”
“Why?” he pressed, skeptical about her motives. “She’s not one of your assignments.”
“I grew up in Parnassos. If it hadn’t been for Hux, I would be her,” Phasma told him.
He stared. Phasma rarely spoke about her life. Kylo didn’t make a habit of speaking with her at all, except for when he needed something. Parnassos was a desolate town miles away with no industry and no future. If what she said was true, Kylo could see why she felt connected to Rey.
“I will handle it,” Kylo assured her, coming out from behind his desk. “You can show yourself out.”
Phasma eyed him warily. “What do you intend to do?”
“Handle it,” he repeated tersely.
She pursed her lips, then said, “You care. I didn’t expect that.”
Kylo didn’t know how to respond to her observation. When he’d gone through his list of contacts, the least threatening one was Phasma. The sole reason he’d selected her to help with the deed was because of how she’d acted at the hospital. Rey was right. Phasma didn’t like him. Kylo could live with that because Phasma wouldn’t raise a hand— or a weapon— against Rey.
After their run-in with Bliss, he needed to be cautious. Palpatine wasn’t his only problem. The new leader of the Resistance was operating under the misguided notion that she had to avenge Dameron. Sentiment made people unpredictable and sloppy. Neither were traits Kylo enjoyed dealing with.
“If you insist on putting her at risk, you should take precautions,” Phasma said.
“She’s not helpless,” Kylo argued.
“I didn’t say that,” Phasma returned, “but she is wounded. Any action she takes to protect herself— or you —comes with repercussions.”
Kylo didn’t appreciate how quickly the police captain assessed the situation. He also didn’t like admitting the fact that she was right. “What do you suggest?”
“Train her,” Phasma answered without hesitation. “Give her the tools to survive before you throw her to the wolves.”
She cut him off by raising a single hand. “This is uncharted territory for both of you. You aren’t thinking clearly.”
“Don’t presume to tell me how I am—.”
“Did you or did you not choose to bring her into your home?” she queried, knowingly. Kylo held her gaze. “You chose to see to it that she was receiving treatment.” He nodded. “And then you took her with you on a job.”
“It wasn’t a—.”
“The deed to Varykino has been your number one priority for years,” Phasma interrupted, angrily as she stood. She was one of the few people who could stand eye to eye with him. “Whether your directive came down from the First Order or not, the fact remains that you took her with you— without a weapon, without training, and without a clue. She didn’t even know your real name.”
Kylo’s gaze hardened. “That is not my name. It hasn’t been my name for many years now.”
“Call a spade a spade, Ren. You’re Ben Solo, no matter how much you claim otherwise.” Her chin jutted out as she silently dared him to deny it. When he didn’t back down, she smiled and turned her attention to the hallway. “You’ve always been stubborn, but not stupid. Denial will get you killed just as quickly as a knife and if you aren’t careful, you’re going to drag Rey down with you.”
“Get out,” he hissed through his clenched jaw.
“Fine.” Phasma stormed out of the room, the slam of his apartment door confirmation she had finally done as requested.
Sighing, he ran a hand through his hair. His attention shifted from the heated argument with the captain to the girl. Kylo left his office, wandering down the hall to the bathroom.
He tapped his knuckles against the door. “Rey?” There was no answer. Kylo waited for a moment and heard rustling inside. He tried again. “Are you alright, sweet thing?”
There were footsteps and then the door swung open. “I told you not to call me that,” Rey snapped.
Her face was pale and Kylo noticed how she rocked unsteadily on her feet. “What—.”
The word was barely out of his mouth before she shoved both hands against his chest, violently pushing against him. “Did you do it?” Rey demanded, enraged. “Did you kill them?”
Kylo stared at her. “Who?”
He went deathly still, eyes boring into her. “What do you think?”
Rey snarled. “I don’t know what to think. That’s why I’m asking you, Ben.”
Her anger was palpable. If Kylo hadn’t survived years of abuse under Snoke, he would have cringed under her scrutiny. Instead, he advanced on her. “I think you do,” Kylo told her, stepping closer and closer until he had her cornered by the sink basin. “Because if you didn’t, you wouldn’t be here. You would have run away while you had the chance.”
“I’m not afraid of you,” Rey said, her hazel eyes flaring with flecks of burning gold and vibrant emerald.
“Why not? Everyone else is.”
She blinked. When Rey’s eyes opened, the intensity of her gaze had lessened and her lips parted. “You won’t hurt me,” she spoke as if the realization had just hit her.
“But I would murder my parents?” he queried with an arched brow.
Rey swallowed, the noise deafening in the otherwise silent apartment. “I don’t know.”
Kylo seized her by her arms, frustration and desperation clouding his judgment. “You don’t know?” he repeated incredulously.
She stomped on his foot, petulantly. He didn’t withdraw. “No.”
“Why didn’t you tell me your real name?” Rey shot back.
“Kylo Ren is my real name,” he insisted, agitatedly. “I had it legally changed when I turned eighteen.”
“Then you can’t accept Varykino,” she pointed out.
He smirked. “My birth certificate confirms that I am Ben Solo. For my lawyer, the document will serve as sufficient evidence. Any other objections?”
“Yeah,” Rey said with an annoyed tone. “Let go of me.”
Kylo’s lips curled upward. “Oh, sweet thing, there’s no chance of that.” Her eyes narrowed and she moved to knee him. Kylo easily blocked her attempt, grinning wolfishly. “Despite all your protests, I think you enjoy being chased,” he told her. Rey’s eyes widened and she froze. “That’s good,” Kylo added smugly. “Because I love the thrill of the hunt.”
“And what will you do,” Rey asked, “if you catch me?”
“If?” He chuckled. “I believe I already have.”
He released her arms to bend down and hoist her up over his shoulder. She struggled against his fireman’s hold, but he brought that to a swift end by saying, “Settle down. If you pop a stitch, I’ll be forced to tie you up.”
Rey didn’t so much as flinch as he carried out of the bathroom.
With flushed cheeks and a frantic heartbeat, Rey sat on the kitchen counter watching Kylo slice up fresh fruit. Her stomach was still fluttering uneasily, though her apprehension had more to do with the fact he’d called her bluff than her anger at being misled.
He’d brought her into the kitchen and set her down as if this was a normal step in their routine. Rey told herself not to dwell on the feeling. Kylo’s reaction to discovering the deed was gratitude. She was fooling herself if she thought it was anything else.
Captain Phasma had gone. In her absence, there was a trail of lingering questions Rey wanted to ask her host. Before she could launch into the interrogation, Kylo turned around with a plateful of brightly colored fruit.
“Breakfast,” he announced, stabbing a piece of watermelon with a fork and offering it to her.
“I can do that myself,” Rey insisted.
“You could,” he drawled, “but I prefer to keep blood off of my cutlery. After your little outburst in there, I don’t trust you. You might try to stab me with one of my utensils as soon as I turn my back.”
Rey huffed indignantly.
“Don’t act all high and mighty,” he chided playfully. “I saw what you did to Bliss. It was savage.”
She stared at the floor, hearing her pulse grow louder. Her fingers clenched around the counter’s edge. “I was defending you.”
“Just think,” Kylo continued as if he hadn’t heard her, “a few more inches and you would have splintered her skull instead of her arm.”
Rey’s stomach worked itself into knots. “I wasn’t trying to kill her, just disarm.”
Kylo chuckled. “Quite literally.”
He held up his hands. “I only meant that you shouldn’t be passing judgment on others, sweet thing. You’re not as innocent as you pretend to be.”
“I didn’t kill anyone,” Rey stated candidly.
“I’m not like you,” she argued.
Kylo quirked a brow in disbelief. “We’re more alike than you’re willing to admit.”
“Deny it all you want, Rey. The fact remains that you’re a survivor and in a world as ugly as this one that means doing whatever is necessary to get by,” Kylo remarked.
Rey glared at him, unwilling to accept his observation, even if deep down she knew it was true.
He set her breakfast down beside her. “Here,” he said with a sigh. “You need to eat something to get your sugar levels back up.”
He didn’t wait to see if she took it. Kylo turned around to root around in his pantry for a box of cereal.
Rey bit her lower lip, watching him for a moment. Regardless of how betrayed she felt, he’d given her no reason to think he would hurt her. And— even though she wasn’t willing to admit it out loud —Rey didn’t believe he was the one responsible for his parents’ deaths.
In their brief time together, she’d seen his two sides warring with each other. Rey suspected Ben Solo was the man beneath the mask. She wondered which one had kissed her but then decided it didn’t matter. From what she’d seen, Kylo had been mistreated. His wounds mirrored her own. They were kindred spirits.
“Thank you,” she said, picking up the plate.
Kylo didn’t turn to look at her but he muttered a quiet, “You’re welcome.”
His gratitude was seemingly insignificant, a gesture that was as small as a ripple of water. But Rey understood what those two words meant. She felt their impact surge over her like a tidal wave.
She didn’t know how to swim.
Once fed, the girl appeared to calm down. Kylo advised her to rest while he loaded their plates into the dishwasher. She took refuge on the couch, curled up with a book. It wasn’t until he came closer that he realized which one.
Kylo smiled. She had noticed it was his favorite. As the girl turned the page, he took a seat on the opposite side of the couch. The shift of the cushions interrupted her flow and Rey paused to glance up at him.
“You aren’t going into work?”
“I promised to take care of you and that means giving you nourishment and rest,” he explained. “If you’re feeling up to it later, we can go shopping. I’m sure you’d be more comfortable in something other than my old sweatshirt.”
“What about the First Order?” Rey questioned, lowering the novel into her lap.
Kylo stretched and laid his arm across the back of the couch. He lightly ran his knuckles over her shoulder blade. “Even contract killers get days off now and then, sweet thing.”
She huffed, pulling away, and resumed reading. “Don’t call me that.”
“Why not?” Kylo asked. Rey kept shooting down the nickname but he saw the way her cheeks darkened each time. She liked it. And he was going to make her admit it. One way or another.
“I’m not sweet and I’m not a thing,” Rey answered without looking up.
Kylo hummed, stretching so he could reach her. He teasingly brushed his fingers over the curve of her shoulder blade.
Rey stared at him over the top of the book. “Do you need something?”
He shook his head. “No.”
“Then, do you mind? You’re distracting me.”
Kylo grinned. “This?” He traced a single finger down the length of her upper arm. “Why would you find this distracting?”
Rey snapped the book shut, leveling her eyes at him. “You know why.”
He met her gaze. “I want to hear you say it.”
Kylo scoffed. “No?” He shifted toward her and Rey slid back, watching him warily. “People don’t often say no to me,” he commented, plucking Oliver Twist out of her hands.
“Hey! I was reading that,” she snapped as he set it on the coffee table.
“My favorite book?” Kylo questioned, knowingly. Rey’s lips parted and she dropped her gaze to the floor. “What made you select this novel?”
She ignored him.
Kylo grabbed her bare legs and hauled her across the couch. Rey let out an indignant squeak, trying to kick him off. He dodged her and was not dissuaded. With a chuckle, he pulled her into his lap.
Rey braced herself by placing her hands on his shoulder blades. Her skin was flushed all the way down her neck to where the color disappeared underneath the collar of his shirt.
“I’m waiting for an answer, sweet thing,” he said, smoothing his hands down her sides.
“I’ve never read it before,” Rey confessed.
“And you have read every other book in my collection?” Kylo asked skeptically.
She tried to stand up, but he pressed down on her waist, keeping her seated. Her eyes narrowed. “Still mad at me?”
“You could have told me,” Rey insisted.
“I took you with me to retrieve the deed. I let you discover the truth for yourself so you had a choice,” he explained. “And you chose to come back to me.”
Her expression softened. “You saved my life; it seemed only fair.”
Kylo cupped her face in one hand. “Not true. I saved your life because it was my mistake that put you in jeopardy. You didn’t owe it to me to take on Bliss.”
“I had to,” Rey said softly. “I couldn’t abandon you.”
He felt the way her breath hitched from the weight of her admission.
Kylo wanted to tell her that she was the only person who chose to put him first. He wanted to say that he was impressed by how she handled herself against Bliss. He wanted her to understand how badly he needed her to stay.
But he didn’t.
Words were nothing compared to how he felt. It would take too much time to articulate. He’d never been good with sharing his feelings, so he decided to take action.
The space between them disappeared as his lips met hers. She was warm, like a welcoming embrace. He could lose himself in her. She seemed to feel the same. Rey relaxed, sinking into him as if she’d been waiting for this. Her hands moved from gripping his shoulder blades to linking together behind his neck.
Like a dam breaking, he felt an immense outpouring of emotions. There was the initial fear of taking a step into the unknown, followed by elation at her responsiveness, and finally contentment. It was more addictive than the numbness brought on by a long night of drinking. The sensations running through him were powerful, stripping away all pretense.
Rey tilted her head, kissing him back. A spark of heat fired off in his core like the fuse to a stick of dynamite. When she shifted forward, unconsciously rolling her hips, his reaction was explosive. It was as if firecrackers were being lit along his bare skin. Pinpricks tapped an unrecognizable pattern across his flesh, leaving goosebumps in their wake.
He’d denied himself the pleasure of someone’s touch for far too long. The only time someone made contact with Kylo these days was when he was engaged in an attack.
Feeling Rey’s calloused fingers brush along the nape of his neck stirred a carnal response. It was akin to the rush he felt before a fight. A pleasant tingle ran down his spine, his pulse quickened, and all his senses were heightened.
His hands went to her thighs, sliding underneath the bottom of his sweater. They roamed upward, over the thin band of fabric she wore to cover herself. He hooked his thumbs through the ends and caressed the area beneath.
Rey sucked in a breath, pulling away. Kylo opened his eyes to find her pupils blown and her lips swollen. The sight spurred him on.
He skimmed his hands up her torso, careful not to hit her bandages. She keened when he brushed his fingertips across her naked breast. The fact she’d been comfortable enough to walk around his place without a bra inspired a smug comment but he kept it to himself.
Kylo cupped her beneath the black material, loving the way he could feel when her breath hitched. Rey’s eyes closed and she bit her lower lip.
“Let me hear you, sweet thing,” he crooned, dragging his thumb over her nipple.
Despite the way she shuddered against him, Rey stayed silent. He continued his ministrations, applying more pressure as he watched her reaction. When she continued to resist, Kylo nibbled on her earlobe. Rey keened.
“That’s better,” he said, pleased.
She shot him a dirty look. Smirking, Kylo shifted his hands down to her thighs, inching Rey forward so she was sitting directly on top of him. Her eyes widened.
“See what you do to me?” He kissed her again, savoring the taste of her lips on his.
He leaned back, taking in her expression. Her eyes were full of arousal but at the edge was something else. Uncertainty. What she couldn’t say hit him harder than the shock Dameron had delivered.
“Rey, you don’t owe me anything,” he reminded her. “Say the word and we can stop.”
She cradled his face so he would be sure to hear her reply. “I don’t want to stop.”
Kylo inhaled shakily, hoping she didn’t notice. Rey trusted him— wanted him —in a way no one else ever had. She’d told him in her own way. Kylo wasn’t good with words, but he found he didn’t need them. The same way Rey had conveyed her status to him, he communicated back his promise to take care of her. He swept her up and carried her to his bedroom.
Having her in his arms felt different than when they’d been in Jakku. There was no danger, no time limit. In the confines of Kylo’s apartment, neither of them had to be anyone but themselves. Here they were free to explore possibilities. Maybe that was enough for a better man but Kylo wanted more.
He had told himself not to get attached. Kylo didn’t want to entertain the idea of being with Rey when he knew he couldn’t have her. It proved to be a losing battle. He couldn’t deny her. Watching her take care of Bliss was the point of no return. She might as well have signed his death certificate.
Phasma was right. Eventually, Palpatine would become aware of his guest. The First Order boss wouldn’t be pleased that Kylo had tried to hide her. Palpatine would be even more displeased when Hux undoubtedly let slip that Rey was a witness. After that, there would be nothing Kylo could say to protect her. His orders would be clear. Unless he silenced Hux. Permanently.
But there were no objectives tonight.
At least none from the First Order.
Chapter 10: Crossfire
Tell the devil that he can go back from where he came
His fiery arrows drew their beat in vein
And when the hardest part is over we'll be here
And our dreams will break the boundaries of our fears
She was drowning.
A heavy sensation filled her body, tugging her down as if tethered to her core. It was heady, intoxicating in how powerful it felt. She recognized the feeling but didn’t want to name it. Naming it would make it real and reality only had one painful lesson to give: Love was a lie.
As her name fell from his lips the waters parted. She could breathe again.
“Rey,” Kylo repeated, brushing her hair out of her face. She blinked away the haze, focusing on him, letting the sound of his voice pull her from the depths. Her inner demons clawed at her, trying to drag her back under but he held firm. He didn’t let her go.
“Kylo.” Saying his name, cleared her mind of all doubt. She tangled her fingers in his shirt, staring up into his eyes which appeared more amber than bronze in the glow of the morning light.
She helped him peel off each article of clothing, dropping them one by one to the floor. When Rey reached his boxers, he stopped her. Kylo climbed onto the bed, directing her to follow his lead. She crawled up beside him, letting him position her the way he wanted.
He laid against the pillows, hands on her hips as she shuffled forward on her knees between his thighs.
“Time to take this off.” Kylo took the end of his sweatshirt and lifted it over her head. He tossed it somewhere off to the side of the bed, eyes never leaving her face. “I thought you weren’t scared of me.”
“Then why are you shaking?” Kylo asked as he moved one hand to her forearm. He lifted her arm so the underside of her wrist dangled in front of his face. Lowering his head slowly, Kylo pressed his lips to the center of her wrist. Rey’s pulse fluttered and her eyes closed. “Still shaking,” he commented as he set her hand down on his bare chest.
“Really?” he quipped. “I’ll have to change that.”
Rey shifted backward as he suddenly sat up. Kylo smoothed his hands down her chest, cupping her breasts before gripping her sides so he could direct her forward. Rey’s head tilted back as he closed his mouth over one mound. The weight in her core twisted like a tightly wound coil. Heat flared across her skin, adding a pink hue to her golden complexion. When Kylo applied the same treatment to her opposite breast, she let out a breathy sigh.
He was right. She had been given an out but she chose to remain.
The second he leaned back, Rey was on him. One hand cupped the back of his head while the other landed on his neck. She angled him the way she wanted, kissing him hungrily. If Kylo wanted her to believe they were similar, she’d prove it to him. Rey would give as good as she got.
She pressed against him, forcing him to lay down on the mattress. At first, he resisted. His massive hands roamed across her ribs, down her spine, and beneath her panty line. With another resolute push, Rey had Kylo where she wanted him.
“What are you going to do to me, sweet thing?”
“You said you liked the chase. You said you’d catch me,” Rey reminded him. He nodded. “You never considered the fact that I might catch you first.”
Kylo’s eyes gleamed with arousal. He watched earnestly as she worked her panties off, languidly drawing them down over her thighs until she was completely bare. For a moment, he simply stared at her. Kylo viewed her the way avid collectors appraised a rare coin. He saw not only her beauty but her value. Given his expression, her value was high.
“Need you,” was all the warning she got before Kylo flipped their positions.
Rey squeaked as she fell on to the mattress, the crown of her head just clearing the edge. Kylo pulled her closer to the headboard before parting her thighs.
The first pass of his tongue on her lips had her keening but when his nose brushed against her clit, she screamed. He found a rhythm, alternating between sensations as he worked her up. Rey gripped the bedding at her sides, hearing the drag of her nails on the fabric. If she tore the sheets, would Kylo be mad or pleased?
She felt him trace her entrance with his finger next. He pressed a single digit in, slowly at first, and then all at once. If Rey hadn’t been shaking before, she was now. The coil in her core was shuddering with tension. Her legs tensed and her spine tingled. It was too much. She felt as though she was going to break.
“You’re doing so well,” he praised, kissing her inner thigh. Rey tried to shift so his lips found her core. “So eager.”
Kylo hooked his arms around her thighs, holding her in place so he could resume his ministrations. Rey continued to move, searching for more friction. He slid a second finger in. It helped but it still wasn’t enough. She was teetering on the edge, so close yet not quite there. It was blissful torture the way he kept her poised at the precipice.
Then he pressed his lips to her clit. Rey keened, back arching off of the mattress as her vision blurred. She felt the tension in her muscles increase to a painful point and then go lax. Her body collapsed onto the bed, completely spent. Rey felt slightly dizzy as she came down from the high. She had the strangest sensation of floating and was convinced that the only thing holding her down was the weight of Kylo’s arms.
“Beautiful,” he breathed the word against her stomach. His lips felt hot against her skin when he kissed her just beneath her belly button.
Rey tried to speak but words failed her. She sat up, limbs quivering with effort. Kylo steadied her, giving her a moment to collect herself.
When she glanced up, she noticed his eyes were fixated on her ribs. “Your wound,” he whispered. Rey frowned at the layers of gauze covering up the injury.
Before she could tell him it was fine, he grabbed Rey by the waist and hauled her into his lap. With a smug smirk, he said, “I always liked the idea of a woman on top.”
Rey wrapped her fingers around him, leaning forward as she guided him to her entrance. His complacent grin vanished. She watched his eyes close as she sunk down onto him. Rey took him slowly, fighting gravity so she didn’t drop all of her weight onto his hips.
Kylo’s hands lowered to her haunches, drawing her forward in a rocking motion. Rey heard his breathing become uneven and saw the way his chest rose and fell. His gaze was on where they were connected. She couldn’t see but she could feel. Each stroke was an intense mixture of intense pressure and pleasure.
They started slightly out of sync, vying for control. Rey wanted to deliver Kylo a release as powerful as the one he’d given her. She hastened her movements, driving down with renewed force. He let her determine their pace, offering up moans and the occasional hissed curse as signals while she learned what angle and speed he liked.
A delicious thrill took over Rey. Seated on top of Kylo Ren, arguably the most powerful man in the city, made her feel invincible. But it was the sounds she coaxed out of him that made her feel truly special.
When he cried out her name, Rey dipped forward, cradling his face in her hands as she bent down to kiss him. Kylo returned her kiss with fervor. His fingers dug into the flesh of her backside so hard she knew there would be an array of purple marks on her skin come tomorrow. She followed his rhythm, rolling her hips in time with the push and pull of his grip.
Kylo groaned. He wound his arms around her back, clutching Rey tightly. With his face buried in the crook of her neck, he began thrusting. His breath came out in hot huffs as he approached his peak. She carded her fingers through his hair, whispering about how strong he was, how good he felt, and how she wanted to be with him this way forever.
His movements became erratic and then, with a howl, he finished. Rey rocked against him a few more times, finding her second release.
They laid together for a time, limbs tangled and skin dewy with sweat.
Eventually, Kylo repositioned them, rolling onto his side with one arm draped over Rey’s torso.
“Stay with me,” he whispered into her hair.
He’d spoken those same words when he’d pulled her from the brink of death. At the time, Rey hadn’t known the voice belonged to Kylo. Hearing him echo his plea from that night, broke the last of her chains. Love may not have grown in Jakku but in the heart of Kylo Ren, Rey found the home she’d always wanted.
She started to reply with her own three words but was asleep before the final one could pass over her lips.
“Sweet thing.” Kylo attempted to rouse his sleeping girl by kissing a trail along her neck. They were so close like this that he could feel his facial hair dragging lightly against her skin. “You have to get up.”
“Are you ever going to stop calling me that?” she asked, teasingly swatting his arm, eyes still firmly shut.
“Are you ever going to admit you like it?” he countered.
“Then no,” Kylo answered. “Come on. Get up.”
“Time to change your bandages,” he reminded her.
Rey let him lead her into the bathroom. He turned on the shower, testing the water temperature to ensure it was warm enough while she removed the gauze and tape from her side.
Neither of them had bothered to redress. Kylo had an unobstructed view of Rey’s slim form. His gaze lingered on her until the water was scalding and he was forced to withdraw his hand with a jerk.
“Come here,” he beckoned.
She walked over and stepped into the shower. Kylo followed, closing the glass door behind him.
Steam was beginning to rise out of the stall, pillowing at the ceiling. Wisps slowly curled outward, unfurling in the direction of the mirror and the door to the bedroom, which he had left ajar. It was a hypnotic dance that held his attention for a few seconds before he heard Rey hiss.
Her jaw was clenched and her hand was on her side.
“Does it hurt?” Kylo asked.
Rey stared up at him. “Have you been shot before?”
“Then you know the answer,” she returned.
“They gave you pain meds,” he said, reaching past her to grab his shower gel.
Kylo tried to catch her eye but Rey turned away, grabbing his shampoo and squirting a generous amount into her palm.
“Why not?” he questioned, watching her work the product into a thick lather.
She didn’t answer right away. Kylo wondered if she hadn’t heard him over the running water but then she cleared her throat and rolled her shoulders back. When she spoke, her voice was quieter than he’d ever heard it before. “My parents were addicts.”
“Rey, that doesn’t—.”
“I don’t care,” she cut him off sharply. “I don’t ever want to be like that. I don’t want to lose myself so completely that I can’t recognize what’s important.”
Kylo saw her shudder, her shoulders curving in on her frame. “Sweet thing,” he tried in a softer tone as he enveloped her in an embrace. “You’re not your parents. They were sick. That isn’t your fault.”
“But they left me,” she cried, voice cracking.
“That was their choice. It’s a reflection of them, not of you,” he told her. She turned around to face him, eyes rimmed red. “You built yourself a life. You didn’t let your past define you. You carved out a place in this world, one meant just for you, and you survived. You’re a force to be reckoned with. Tell me you understand that.”
Kylo crooked a finger under her chin, tilting her head up. “Tell me.”
“I understand,” she said, eyes locked on his.
“Good.” He pressed a kiss to her forehead. “I can’t have my sweet thing upset.”
Rey wiped her arm across her face. “Your sweet thing?”
Kylo guided her back under the showerhead to rinse out her hair. He began massaging her scalp, suds trailing down her back to the drain below. “Couples have pet names, remember?”
“Oh.” Even under the hot water, he could tell she was blushing. “I thought you were teasing me.”
Kylo smirked. “That’s when I thought you didn’t like it but now I know better.”
“It’s not...terrible,” Rey confessed as he finished washing her hair. “At least it’s better than darling.”
He chuckled as they switched places so he could rinse off. “I’m partial to tiger, myself.”
Her eyes widened. “You did like it!”
Rey scoffed. “Maybe? You’re such a liar.”
Kylo deadpanned. “I’ve never lied to you.” Her smile faded as he continued, “And I promise I never will.”
Rey traced the line of his jaw before kissing him. “Thank you.”
Kylo wrapped his arms around her, holding her as the water rained down on them. He dropped his head down to tuck her under his chin. Rey’s cheek was warm where it rested on his chest.
They could have stood there for five minutes or an entire hour and it wouldn’t have mattered. The water remained hot. The steam continued to billow around them.
Kylo Ren felt at peace.
Rey emerged from the bathroom, a satisfying soreness still present in her body. She wore a small smile as she searched through Kylo’s closet for something to wear.
“You need your own clothes,” he chided as he entered the walk-in behind her. His tone held no bite.
She didn’t reply. Rey brushed her fingertips across the shoulders of his shirts, going past the crisp, white button-ups to the softer material of his undershirts.
Though the walk-in was big enough to fit both of them comfortably, as well as all of his garments, the selection was static. There were two kinds of outfits: casual and formal. His suits lined one side of the closet and his jeans, shirts, and a couple of high-end leather jackets took up the opposite rail. Part of her wondered if his psyche was split the same way.
As she scanned her options, a shrill ring broke the silence.
“What?” Kylo demanded in a gruff voice, forgoing any kind of greeting.
Rey watched his jaw work as he listened. The longer the person spoke, the deeper the crease in his brow went.
She busied herself with fastening a charcoal tie around her waist, cinching one of Kylo’s button-downs. The sleeves had to be rolled multiple times until they came up to her wrists but the makeshift dress worked, at least enough to get her to the mall.
“Fine,” Kylo grumbled. “I’ll be there in thirty.”
There was a pause as the caller responded.
“Because I said so, that’s why,” he snarled. He threw his phone out of the closet and buried his face in his hand.
“Work?” Rey surmised.
“I have to give my report,” he confirmed.
“Do you want me to go with you?”
“No.” He turned around, immediately taking her by the shoulders. Rey saw the fear in his eyes. When he spoke next, his tone was less abrasive. “I don’t want you anywhere near that place.”
Kylo seemed to relax at her reply. He brushed a hand through his hair, muttering to himself about the fact he had to leave. As he grabbed a fresh shirt, he paused. “Is that mine?”
Rey spun around to show off her temporary ensemble. “I had to borrow something to go shopping in.”
Kylo’s lips twitched. Then he resumed dressing. “I’d prefer if you waited for me to get back,” he told her as he laced up his shoes.
“Because Hux will be sniffing around to determine if you lived or died. Phasma is sticking her nose where it doesn’t belong and Bliss is out for blood. You’re wounded. It’s a liability,” Kylo answered flatly.
“Then train me,” Rey insisted.
“Phasma was right. If you expect me to live this life, you need to arm me with the tools to survive,” Rey pointed out. “Last time, I got lucky. Next time, I might not.”
“Rey, you don’t know what you’re asking,” he said with a sigh.
“You said you took me with you so I had a choice,” she reminded him. “I chose you. I know what you are— who you are —and I’m still here. If this is your life, I want to be a part of it.”
“There will be things you don’t agree with, things you can’t unsee,” Kylo warned her.
“That’s not so different from my life in Jakku.”
“Plutt was a cretin but he never ordered you to kill someone,” he remarked.
“No, but it’s not me you should be worried about,” he cautioned.
Kylo nodded. “And his underboss, Anthony Snoke.”
“Your boss?” she guessed.
He nodded again.
“Is he the one who gave you this?” Rey ran her fingers over his First Order tattoo. There was a scar hidden beneath the dark design. It wasn’t clearly visible but from her proximity, Rey could see the raised skin. It looked like an old knife wound.
Kylo stepped back, his face hardening.
“Don’t.” Rey took a step toward him. She grabbed onto his hands. “Don’t hide behind your mask. Let me see you.”
“No lies. No secrets,” she said.
He stared at her, eyes full of turmoil. “I was always a disappointment— to my parents, to my uncle, to Snoke— and he never let me forget it. He said everything he did was to make me stronger. What he meant was complaint.”
Rey gave his hands a squeeze.
“The day I realized what he really wanted— just a pawn he could move around the chessboard —I tried to leave. I was nearly at the city limits when a cop pulled me over. They said my tail light was out, but when they went to write up the ticket, Snoke arrived with two of his underlings.”
He paused, his face pinching. Rey waited patiently for him to gather his thoughts.
“They hauled me out of my car, took me to an abandoned warehouse a few blocks over, and beat me within an inch of my life. When they’d had enough, Snoke came over with his letter opener. He told me I owed him my life, that I would be nothing without his guidance. As a reminder, he sliced me open. I would have bled out if it hadn’t been for Sigit.”
“He’s the on-call medic,” Kylo explained. “Sigit was stationed at the warehouse for the ordeal. I didn’t know it at the time. Snoke wanted me broken, begging for my life. He wanted me to know just how much power he held over me.”
“Sick bastard,” Rey hissed.
“Now you know why I want you to stay here,” Kylo concluded.
“All the more reason for you to train me,” Rey prompted. “You need someone who has your back.”
He started to argue but was interrupted when his phone began to ring. “What do you want?” he growled into the receiver.
Rey slipped past him to find her shoes. As she dug around their discarded clothes, she spotted a piece of paper poking out of the pocket of his jeans.
Captain Gwendolyn C. Phasma
Coruscant Police Department
He exited the closet, fully dressed with his phone tucked into the front pocket of his blazer.
Rey held up the card. “What if I went out with Phasma?”
His gaze flickered from her hand to where his jeans lying on the floor then back to her face. He sighed as if sensing he’d already lost this battle. “Where do you want to go?” he inquired cautiously.
“To the mall?” she half-suggested, half-asked as Rey realized she didn’t have much money. The only shopping she’d ever done for herself consisted of riffling through donations at local shelters.
He made a humming noise, seeming to think it over. “I’ll have Phasma take you uptown,” Kylo decided. He disappeared into the closet before emerging with a burner phone and a sleek, black credit card. Rey held up her hands and immediately started shaking her head. Kylo ignored her protests. “Sweet thing, if you’re going to live this life, you have to look the part.”
She glanced down at her makeshift dress. “What’s wrong with the way I look?”
“Nothing,” he answered. “But even my pull won’t persuade them to let you into Pangalactus while wearing one of my shirts.”
“We have to celebrate,” Kylo commented, checking his cufflinks. “They have the best selection of champagne in Coruscant. It may cost over a thousand dollars a bottle, but I assure you, it’s well worth it.”
“I’ve never had a drink,” Rey confessed. Like medication, she’d avoided alcohol, not that it had ever been offered to her before.
“You don’t have to try it if you don’t want to,” Kylo assured her, “but we’ll need something to toast with.”
Rey arched a brow. “What are we celebrating?”
He looped an arm around her waist, pulling her flush to him. “Everything.”
She ran her hands up the smooth material of his onyx jacket. His button-down and tie were also black. The only deviations in his color palette were his watch and cufflinks; both were silver.
“You better get going or you’ll be late,” Rey told him.
With a chaste kiss, he tucked the card and the phone into her hands. “Call Phasma and tell her she needs a day off,” Kylo suggested. She followed him as he walked out. “I want you to promise you’ll call me if anything happens.”
He stared at her and Rey wondered if he was changing his mind. “I’ll have the building manager make you a key. I’ll tell them to put a rush on it so it’s ready by the time you return.”
“See you later, then?”
“See you later, sweet thing.”
Then he was gone.
Up Next: Kylo confronts Snoke and Phasma teaches Rey how to shop
Chapter 11: Ashes
Can you use these tears to put out the fires in my soul?
'Cause I need you here
'Cause I've been shaking
I've been bending backwards till I'm broke
Watching all these dreams go up in smoke
Kylo ignored the nervous itch demanding that he stop at the nearest convenience store to pick up a pack of cigarettes. The habit, formed in his youth, had been hard to kick. He fought against the urges every day but when his stress level was up, it was damn near impossible to ignore.
He drummed his fingers along the steering column as the needle of his odometer steadily rose.
He’d been avoiding Snoke since Jakku, convinced his mentor would be able to see through his poker face. Initially, Kylo feared he’d be ordered to kill her as a potential witness. She’d been a stranger, but it would have served as his final step into darkness. Now, the risk was different and far greater. Rey wasn’t merely a witness. She was his.
If Kylo had any sense, he would send her away; book her passage out of the city and send her on her way, the farther the better. Reason had never been his strong suit, not when it came to matters of the heart.
But Rey wasn’t made of glass, a fact she’d proved time and time again. And she wanted this. She’d said so in her own words. Who was he to deny her? As if he could.
“Fuck," Kylo muttered, running a hand through his hair.
Her request caught him off guard. He hadn’t planned for what to do with Rey once her wound was healed and he had secured the property. Training her to wield a weapon would narrow the chance of someone hurting her again. Picturing Rey holding a Kahr or a Sig Sauer handgun had his skin flushing. It was rather appealing and the idea of having someone to watch his six had merit. He’d never had a partner.
And, if his suspicions about Snoke were correct, he needed one now more than ever.
Between the hints from Dameron and Bliss, Kylo had pieced together his parents’ true allegiance. Eliminating them would have secured more than First Order territory for Palpatine. Taking out his mother would have also meant controlling the vote for the next election, giving Palpatine control over the city and its underground networks.
He flexed his hands, eyes darkening as he thought of the years of abuse he’d suffered at the hands of Snoke. He’d been blind to who the man really was: his parents’ killer.
It rained the day of his parents’ funeral. Amongst the black umbrellas, the black cars, and the black-clad figures, Ben stood alone. He clutched two roses, one for each closed casket.
The staff had left, off to find work elsewhere since his fate had yet to be decided. Uncle Luke hadn’t shown up at the police station. He was absent today as well. Ben fought not to cry but he was scared. What would happen to him now?
While the officiant spoke about his parents, Ben stared at the pristine caskets, one decorated with the flag and an enormous bouquet while the other remained untouched. He wanted his dad to swing the door open and shout, “Surprise,” as if this entire thing was a practical joke. As the service went on, Ben came to realize it wasn’t. His parents weren’t ever coming back.
When they lowered his father into the ground, Ben began to cry. No one seemed concerned. No one offered him a handkerchief or a pat on the back. He was left to deal with his sorrow alone.
He barely heard the words his mother’s friends spoke, telling the crowd how special Leia was. He didn’t acknowledge his father’s best friend, Lando when the man shared a humorous story of Han winning a round of poker. Ben didn’t want to listen to stories about their lives without him. It made him feel like they were gone before they died.
Maybe they had been.
After the stories came time to say the final goodbye. Ben dropped his flowers into the ground, passing the deep holes with watery eyes. He stood between the headstones, watching the lengthy procession of attendees do the same until he was truly alone.
Ben collapsed to the ground, not caring that the rain had soaked through his clothes. He didn’t notice one attendee watching him from the tree line.
“Young Solo,” a voice spoke. He sniffled and shifted away. “Stop crying.”
“Don’t tell me what to do; you aren’t my father!” Ben shouted, angrily. “My parents are dead!”
“That is true,” the voice confirmed. “But you aren’t.”
Ben raised his face from where he’d buried it in his knees. His arms loosened around his legs as he peered up at the man. “Who are you?”
“Anthony Snoke,” the stranger introduced himself. He was older than Ben’s parents, with pale, scarred skin, and beady black eyes.
“What do you want?”
“You,” Snoke answered. “Would you like to come live with me?”
Ben stared at him. “Were you a friend of my parents?”
“Your parents were fools,” Snoke hissed. He loomed over Ben, a look of pure disgust on his weathered face. “They were weak. That’s why they’re gone. They left you alone, young Solo. They didn’t want you. They didn’t understand your true potential— your destiny —but I do. I always have.”
“What’s my destiny?”
“To be powerful,” Snoke concluded with a twisted grin. “When I’m done with your training, you will be untouchable.”
“Will I be alone?”
“Never again,” Snoke vowed, placing a hand on his shoulder. “The First Order is the true strength in this city. It will not fall.”
Ben wiped his sleeve across his face, clearing his cheeks of tears. “And you’ll teach me?”
“Of course, my boy. I will train you with everything you need to know.” He offered Ben a hand up. “Join me.”
Kylo clenched his jaw. His mentor had been manipulating him for years, preying on him from his most vulnerable point onward. He’d never questioned Snoke’s methods, believing the man was teaching him the necessary tactics to protect himself so he never fell that low again. Rey showed him the truth. It wasn’t Kylo’s parents who had been foolish; it was him.
He recalled how resigned Dameron had been in the end. Typically, men awaiting death pleaded for more time, begged for mercy. Not Dameron. He’d accepted his fate with confidence, unlike anything Kylo had witnessed before.
What do you think we’ve been fighting for all this time?
Zorii was right. Kylo had been blind to everything. The truth of his family, Dameron’s purpose, and his orders were not what they seemed. Palpatine hadn’t sent him to snuff out the Resistance. He’d tasked Kylo with killing the final piece of himself, the last hope for Ben Solo’s return.
The old man had failed.
Slowly, a plan began to form in Kylo’s mind. The shape of his future became solid and clear.
He knew what he had to do.
Convincing Phasma to take her shopping hadn’t taken much effort. Once the police captain heard that Kylo wouldn’t be around, she’d promised to pick Rey up outside of the apartment building. Bouncing on the balls of her feet excitedly, Rey knocked on Lor’s door. Before she left, she wanted to check on him.
The door swung open and the occupant inside smiled broadly at her. “Rey! What a pleasant surprise.”
“Good morning,” she greeted him. “I’m heading out with a friend and I wanted to check to see if you needed anything.”
“Well, aren’t you a sweetheart?” Lor beamed. “I’m all set. Been expecting a friend of mine for a while now, but he’s usually late.” He chuckled to himself. “Rey, if you’re free later, perhaps you’d like to join us for dinner?”
“Could Kylo come?” she asked. “I don’t want him to eat alone. He’s done enough of that.”
“Of course,” Lor agreed instantly. “Bring your beau. I’d love to meet him.”
“We’ll eat around five. Us old-timers like to keep things early, you know,” he said with a wink.
“Can I pick up anything for the meal?” Rey asked, thinking about how Kylo had mentioned champagne for their celebratory dinner.
Lor shook his head. “Just bring yourselves. That would be more than enough.”
“Okay. We’ll see you at five then,” Rey replied with a wave.
As she rode the elevator down to the ground level, Rey opened up a new text message. There was only one contact saved in the burner phone.
R: Your neighbor invited us over for dinner tonight at 5.
She was scanning through the emojis, trying to decipher what each yellow smiley face meant when the elevator chimed. Instinctively, Rey stepped out into the lobby, colliding with someone.
“Oh! I’m sorry,” she apologized, realizing it was her fault. She’d had a phone for less than an hour and had already committed a standard faux pas.
“That’s alright,” the stranger replied.
He was an older man, not quite as old as Lor though his face was weathered. His hair was shaggy. Paired with his beard, he appeared rather unkempt. If it hadn’t been for his watch, Rey would have thought he was homeless. The Tag Heuer was made of polished stainless steel with an onyx inlay and sapphire dials. She estimated the value at ten grand.
Whoever he was, he certainly wasn’t homeless. Rey wondered if he was part of the First Order. Had she finally run into Snoke?
Based on what Kylo had told her, his mentor wasn’t the type to forgive easily. “I shouldn’t have been texting,” she admitted.
“I shouldn’t be running late. Guess we’re both at fault,” the man offered with a kind smile.
Rey smiled back. She was about to ask if he was Lor’s overdue visitor when a car horn honked. Glancing around the stranger, Rey spotted Phasma waving her over from a sleek, silver Porsche.
“Sorry again,” Rey told the man.
She didn’t see the way his blue eyes watched her as she rushed out to meet her friend.
Snoke was seated in the center of his penthouse, flanked by his bodyguards. The men, whose names Kylo had never bothered to learn, all stiffened when he entered the room.
“Kylo Ren,” his mentor welcomed him. “You’ve done well.”
“You gave me a task. I delivered,” he replied.
“Now the Resistance has scattered to the wind. Our plan for the city can get back on track,” Snoke stated proudly.
Kylo stiffened. “Plan?”
“To secure full control of Coruscant,” his mentor clarified. “The gangs that run rampant in the lower sectors, like the Kanjiklub and the Gauvians need to be dealt with. I trust you will bring a swift end to their days.”
“Consider it done,” Kylo said with a nod.
“With the riff-raff off the streets, we can turn our attention to larger matters,” Snoke went on. “The Senate seat has been vacant since the days of Leia Organa. Mon Motha will retire in the fall and the interim period will pass. The seat will be put to a vote and I intend to take it.”
Kylo felt his blood run cold. It was as he feared. The First Order didn’t seek control of the underground. They wanted control of everything. With their power out in the open, there would no longer be a need for them to do their dealings in the dark. A whole new world would be born— one built on fear and domination.
“You seem surprised,” Snoke observed with a sneer.
“I thought Palpatine would choose to sit at the table,” Kylo covered up.
“Sheev is too old. His time is better served in the shadows. I will be the face of the First Order and he will continue to serve as the core,” Snoke explained.
“You have done well, Ren,” Snoke praised him. “I feared for a time that you would be too weak to fulfill your destiny. You had so much of your father’s heart in you.”
Kylo didn’t respond. He kept his head bowed and his hands at his sides. His nails dug into the palms of his hands deep enough to draw blood but he didn’t flinch.
“They were sentimental,” Snoke continued, his lips curling in distaste. “Especially your mother. She took after your grandmother, Padme, foolish woman that she was. She instilled a belief that the people were capable of governing themselves.” Snoke laughed, an emotionless, cold sound. “You can see how well that notion worked out.”
Kylo began counting in his head, forcing himself to focus on the cadence of his breathing instead of his mentor’s cruel words.
“Sheev tried to convert her, of course, but she was too headstrong. We sent your grandfather after her with the desire for him to subdue her. I thought if he got her pregnant, her ambition would dwindle out as she turned her sights to her children. All it did was increase her drive. She fought harder against us and Anakin went with her.”
Kylo kept his expression neutral despite his relief. The stories he’d heard from his mother about Anakin Skywalker had painted a very different picture. He suspected from her point of view, things had appeared differently.
“When she died, Sheev overpowered the others and took control of the Senate. He was able to change laws, install protocols, and rein in the city. Then your mother came of age,” Snoke grumbled, his tone souring.
“With Sheev’s age against him, he was no match for her. All of his supporters were retiring and he lost control of the vote. He was displaced by Leia. Han tagged along, as he always did, rallying the rabble to join her cause. Overnight, our organization crumbled until we were only bare bones. Something had to be done.”
“You killed them,” Kylo surmised.
“I did,” Snoke agreed with a glint in his beady eyes. “It was easy. They were far too trusting, much like yourself when you were a boy. What child allows a stranger to take him home?” Snoke chuckled darkly.
Kylo felt his stomach pitch. Blood dripped from his palms to the floor. He wiped his hands on his pants, hiding the evidence of his weakening resolve.
“I had no one,” he admitted. “My uncle never showed up to claim me.”
“Ah, Skywalker,” Snoke said scornfully. “Another waste. He rejected Sheev’s offer to join us when he was your age.”
Kylo glanced up, surprised by the revelation. His uncle had never mentioned knowing the former Senator turned crime boss.
“Where is he now?” Snoke questioned mockingly. “Hiding in shame or dead in the gutter, no doubt. You were the only one with any sense.”
The words inspired no sense of admiration. They sounded as hollow as Snoke’s laughter.
“And you will be the only one who lives to see the rise of true power.”
“I look forward to it,” Kylo stated.
“Good. Very good.”
On the outside, Kylo was stoic. Snoke’s confession appeared to not affect him. He held himself together, thinking of what was at stake until he was dismissed.
The moment Kylo stepped outside, his mask fell. He took an abrupt detour into the nearest alley and retched. With one hand against the wall, keeping him steady, he took several deep breaths. His chest heaved from the pain and shock.
Kylo hadn’t wanted it to be true, hadn’t wanted to admit how naive he had been. Snoke hadn’t even tried to refute it. The old man hadn’t shown an ounce of remorse. He seemed rather proud of his methods.
Hunching over, Kylo heaved again. He staggered a few steps deeper into the alley, before dropping to the ground.
As he shook with unbridled rage and immense heartache, Kylo thought of his parents. He pictured their faces on the night they’d left, so full of confidence and hope. They hadn’t expected they would lose. The thought had never crossed their minds. They were deeply committed to their goal, to their promise to him. They had fought for a better city, a better future.
And he had dishonored them by serving their killer.
There was no absolution for someone like him. There would be no salvation. When his time came, Kylo would be greeted but the same darkness that surrounded Snoke. It would choke the air from his lungs and seep into his skin until it overwhelmed him. He’d cease to exist as he was. He’d become just another ambiguous shadow, a fragment the daylight discarded.
It was all he deserved.
The city would be better off without him— a failed man with no purpose. Rey would be better off too. She wouldn’t be shackled to him, drug down into the depraved world he surrendered himself to. If he left her...
They left me!
A sharp pain erupted in Kylo’s chest, like a firecracker going off in a closed hand. No, he couldn’t leave his girl. He was a monster, not a sadist. Kylo hadn’t been strong enough to save his parents. He had failed them and their dream, but he wouldn’t fail Rey.
Kylo found his new purpose in her.
He would fulfill his promise. He’d train her, protect her, and together they would end the cycle.
Rising from the alley, he brushed off his jeans. He had a stop to make on his way home.
Rey frowned at her phone. Kylo hadn’t returned her text.
“What are you looking for?” Phasma asked, causing Rey to shove the device in her pocket.
The police captain had brought her to the shopping district, Canto Bight. The street was lined with flagship stores, each with an impressive window display that made Rey feel inadequately dressed. Designer names flooded her view. Everything from Armani to Versace. It was overwhelming.
“Um, is there a Primark around here?”
Phasma stopped. She glanced over her shoulder at Rey, her blue eyes wide. When she saw Rey wasn’t kidding, her gaze softened.
“Let’s start with the basics,” she decided, ushering Rey into La Perla.
The floor was polished white marble, accented with thick red carpets in the sitting areas. Rey swallowed nervously as she glanced around. There was no end to the amount of frilly lace on display. The garments didn’t seem practical or built for any level of comfort. She grimaced as she plucked a bodysuit with a garter belt off a hanger.
“Oh, that’s a popular model,” the sales associate remarked with a wink.
“I can’t imagine why,” Rey scoffed, putting the lingerie back.
The woman glanced over at Phasma, confused.
“She needs something special,” the police captain offered as an excuse for Rey’s dismissive tone. “You can put it on this.” Phasma handed Kylo’s black credit card over. The sales associate bristled and immediately began gathering up her staff.
Rey shot Phasma a look, but the blonde merely smirked. “At least Ren’s good for something.”
Kylo’s reputation garnered a specific type of response. No matter how busy the store got, Rey had at least two associates waiting on her at all times. They got her measurements, made recommendations, and even brought her and Phasma a round of bellinis, which Rey politely declined.
By the time she left the store with Phasma, Rey had more lingerie than she expected to ever need.
“Next, we need to get you out of that shirt and you need some proper shoes,” Phasma commented.
She took Rey into Balenciaga, Chanel, Tory Burch, and Vuitton. The effect they had on the staff at each location was similar to how the women in La Perla had reacted.
Soon, Rey’s arms were laden with bags and her stomach was grumbling.
“How do you feel about sushi?” Phasma asked as they meandered down the street.
Rey opened her mouth to reply but never got the chance to answer. A white rag clamped over her face, silencing her words. A strangely sweet smell filled her lungs and suddenly her vision became hazy. She tried to call out for Phasma but the darkness was quicker.
The last thing she saw was a flash of red hair.
The cemetery was quiet except for the light breeze blowing through the old oak tree next to his parents’ plot. Kylo stood centered between the headstones, staring down at their names. The letters were carved into the stone, almost as deep as the regret etched upon his heart.
“I’m sorry,” he told them. “I know I’m too late and that it doesn’t matter now but I want to say it. I owe you that much.”
He sighed and ran a hand through his hair. “All these years, I thought you were closing a door on me, keeping me out. I didn’t see your actions for what they were. You tried to prepare me but I was too focused on my anger to see beyond myself. I’m sorry for that too.”
Kylo knelt down, placing a bouquet of roses on each of his parents’ graves. “I’m not the man you wanted me to grow up to be but I promise to try. Every day for the rest of my life, I will work towards being that man. I won’t let your deaths be in vain.”
He cleared his throat, keeping his tears at bay. “I’ll visit again soon. I’m sorry I haven’t until now. I didn’t think you’d want to...I didn’t deserve to see you after how I acted. But I’m going to change that. I guess,” he paused to wipe the back of his hand across his face. “I guess I just wanted you both to know that.”
He patted the top of his father’s tablet, “I love you, Dad. Mom,” he said, turning to her stone. “I love you.”
With a shaky breath, Kylo rose. As he straightened up, he felt a weight slid off of his shoulders. His chest opened. His limbs, tense from the encounter with Snoke, loosened.
Kylo gave one last look at his parents’ grave then proceeded toward his car. He’d only gone a few paces when his phone rang.
He recognized the number instantly. Perfect timing.
Renewed from the revelation and his conversation with his parents, he answered. “Rey?”
“Rey, is it? Well, isn’t that a pretty name.”
Kylo froze. “Hux,” he snarled.
“Where is she?” Kylo demanded.
“Who? Rey? Oh, don’t worry. She’s fine. A little unconscious at the moment, but no permanent damage.”
“If you touch her, you bastard, I’ll—.”
“Yes, yes, I know,” Hux cut him off. “Torture me, murder me, splay my entrails along Main Street….you’re very predictable, Ren.”
“Then you should know not to cross me,” Kylo hissed, unlocking his Mercedes and climbing into the driver’s seat. He pulled up the tracking app on his phone, waiting on bated breath as the coordinates came in for Hux’s position.
“I know you’re too strong for me to take on by myself, but with the right amount of leverage, that all changes.”
“So you want to take me out? That’s your plan?”
“Why don’t you join us and I’ll tell you,” Hux offered smugly.
Kylo swore, tearing out of his parking spot while the GPS locked in on Hux’s location.
“Oh, and Ren?”
“I haven’t got all day. To speed things up, know that I’m not currently sitting in Palpatine’s courtyard. That would be Mitaka.”
Kylo stared at the blinking dot on his map. How the hell—?
Hux cleared his throat. “Next time you put a tracker in someone’s phone, make sure they don’t see you do it.”
“You fucking bas—.”
Kylo roared in frustration, jabbing his finger on his phone screen. It only rang once.
“Phasma, you better have a damn good reason for why Rey’s not with you.”
Chapter 12: Warfare
Running through the dark
Nowhere left to hide
Battle lines are drawn
Taste the smoke and the fire
Kylo took the stairs two at a time as he raced up to Hux’s apartment. The unit was on the top floor. The elevator would have been quicker for a normal man. Fueled by rage and an undeniable urge to protect what was his, Kylo climbed the stories. He was a dark blur, barely noticeable on the security cameras.
Each step echoed on the bare, white walls of the stairwell. Like rolling thunder, the noise spoke to the damage it’s creator could inflict and the debris which he would leave in his wake.
He flung the door open, entering the corridor. His eyes instantly located the door. Kylo didn’t hesitate to land a swift kick to the side, breaking the lock so the door swung open.
The entryway was empty. Holding his gun in front of him, Kylo stepped inside. The lights were all off and the place appeared to be deserted.
But appearances could be deceiving.
He pressed forward, keeping his Heckler & Koch poised. If there was any sign of movement, he’d be ready to fire.
Kylo stepped over a discarded piece of fabric on the floor and his stomach lurched. It was his charcoal tie, the one Rey had been wearing as a belt the last time he saw her.
He knelt down, never taking his eyes off the room in front of him. Kylo plucked the tie off the floor and stuffed it into his pocket. As he straightened up, he spotted the laces of Rey’s beat-up sneakers peeking around the corner.
Better a trail of clothes than a trail of body parts.
He’d left pieces of Nien Nunb scattered along Sullust. It was like a jigsaw puzzle the Resistance had to piece together before they buried their fallen comrade.
Kylo hadn’t felt any shame for his actions. The arms dealer had only recently switched his allegiance to the Resistance. Before that, he’d outfitted the Kanjiklub, the Guavians, and the First Order, profiting from each interaction. Scum like Nunb deserved what he got.
Hux’s actions earned him a far worse fate.
Kylo found Rey unconscious on a couch in the next room. He maneuvered around to her side, keeping alert.
She was lying on her side, chest rising rhythmically as if she was asleep. It was the sickeningly sweet smell that let him know otherwise.
He placed two fingers along her neck, checking her pulse while he considered the many ways he could end Hux’s life. Her heartbeat was strong. Regardless, Kylo wouldn’t hold back. Hux had crossed a line and Kylo intended to deliver a swift punishment for his arrogance.
Placing a hand to Rey’s brow, he gave himself a moment. Her lips were slightly parted and her delicate forehead was creased. She was still wearing his shirt. There were no signs of it having been removed. Another small mercy for which he was grateful.
“I’m here,” he whispered. “I’m going to take care of this, then we’re going home.”
Kylo shrugged his jacket off and tucked it around Rey.
With one final glance, he rose. Hux’s reprieve was over.
He followed the hallway to an office. Swinging the door open, he waited for any incoming fire before entering. The room was empty. Kylo repeated the same process for the unused gym and the spare bedroom.
One door was left.
As he reached for the doorknob, clapping sounded from behind him. “Well done, Ren. Maybe you aren’t as ignorant as I thought.”
Kylo glowered at the redhead, pivoting around to defend himself. Hux was holding his Colt at his side though he made no move to fire.
Who is being ignorant now?
Kylo charged at him, grabbing his wrist to twist it away so Hux couldn’t fire on him. As Hux stumbled back, Kylo smacked the blunt end of his gun against Hux’s temple, stunning him.
“You better start talking,” Kylo said.
Hux spat on his shoes.
With a roar, Kylo ripped the Colt from Hux’s grip and tossed it into the living room. Grabbing Hux by his shirt, Kylo dragged him out of the hallway. He wasn’t sure where Hux had come from and he needed to keep his eyes on both Rey and the exit.
“You made a mistake, Hux,” Kylo growled, slamming the redhead against the wall. His head hit with a sickening thud. Kylo felt a ripple of satisfaction roll through him.
“I didn’t—,” he paused, wincing as he coughed, “— hurt her.”
“You better not have,” Kylo snarled, backhanding the man. “If there is one hair out of place, the last thing you’ll ever see is the barrel of my gun.”
Hux blinked, trying to peer at Kylo through his sweeping face. The cut above his left eye was dripping blood down his front. A few droplets had fallen to the floor. Kylo didn’t care. It wasn’t his apartment.
“How did you know where she was?” he demanded, jabbing Hux’s shoulder with his Heckler & Koch. “How did you find her?”
Hux chuckled, shaking his head slightly. “You still haven’t figured it out, have you?”
“Stop stalling and tell me,” Kylo ordered, his finger itching to pull the trigger.
“She said the girl changed you. I didn’t believe it until now.”
Someone appeared at the edge of his peripherals. “Drop your weapon, Ren.”
His gaze flickered to Phasma. “You,” he hissed.
“I warned you to be careful with her,” the police captain stated, slowly rounding on him, her weapon aimed for his head. She wasn’t taking any chances. If she took her shot, it would be for the kill.
“Me?” Kylo spat. He didn’t lower his gun. “What about you? You handed her over to Hux!”
“He didn’t hurt her,” Phasma returned.
“He shot her in Jakku!”
“That was an accident,” Hux grumbled. “I thought she was Teedo.”
Kylo’s eyes narrowed. “Who the fuck is Teedo?”
“Plutt’s courier. He was—.”
“Armitage,” Phasma cut him off.
Kylo’s focus shifted between the two. “What the fuck is going on here? Who the hell are you two?”
“Put down your weapon,” Phasma advised. “Then we’ll talk.”
“How do I know you won’t shoot me as soon as I do?”
Phasma’s answer was blunt but honest. “You don’t.”
Rey could hear voices. Like her vision, her ability to hear went in and out. She felt like she was floating on the edge of consciousness. Every time Rey tried to wake herself up, she was pulled underneath a haze of half-dreams and half-memories. Her subconscious toyed with her like a cat with a mouse, keeping her aware enough to know something wasn’t right but not alert enough to fight it.
The speakers were close. Angry shouts broke through her foggy brain, causing her to jolt with surprise. Rey’s sudden movement made her stomach pitch and she worried she’d retch. With a few deep breaths, Rey calmed herself. Her stomach settled and she attempted to open her eyes.
At first, all she could see were shapes. There was a block of black over her and an off-white mass behind her. Rey blinked a few times, trying to focus as the voices grew louder.
There were two...no, three of them arguing across the room from her. As Rey listened, she recognized each of them.
Kylo was snarling like a protective Rottweiler. Phasma’s tone was cold and clipped, a clear indication that she was annoyed. And the third, Hux, sounded breathless as if he’d been running. Considering the timbre of Kylo’s voice, Rey wagered Hux had been trying to escape him.
Rey tried to sit up. Her stomach roiled unpleasantly, forcing her to remain lying on her side. She winced, desperately trying to recall how she got here.
The last thing she remembered was shopping in Canto Bight with Phasma. They’d been on their way to lunch when—
Rey rubbed her temples and gazed across the room to where Phasma was standing beside Hux.
Good. I hope she—
Rey’s relief turned to horror as she noticed which direction Phasma’s gun was pointed. She blinked, hoping it was the latent effects of the drugs and not true. The scene remained unchanged.
Kylo looked as shocked as she felt. He refused to give up his weapon and Phasma cocked her gun.
Rey heard her heartbeat drown out all other sounds. She scanned her surroundings, looking for a vase or a lamp she could throw for a distraction. What she found was even better.
“Don’t be a fool, Ren,” Phasma chided. “You can’t shoot your way out of this.”
Three pairs of eyes locked onto Rey as she stumbled forward, hands trembling. She kept the Colt pointed at the police captain.
“Rey.” Phasma held up a hand to caution her. “Put it down. You aren’t thinking straight.”
“Don’t,” Rey snapped. “You’re just as bad as him.” She inclined her head toward Hux.
“Fiery little thing, isn’t she?” he remarked with a laugh.
“Shut it,” Kylo hissed. He sidestepped, getting closer to Rey. His arm pooped around her side, steadying her. “Now, you were saying, Phasma.”
The blonde’s icy blue eyes narrowed. “Rey, you’re confused. The chloroform hasn’t worked it’s way out of your system yet. Let me get you a glass of water and—.”
“No!” Rey shouted, gripping the gun tighter.
“Protecting Kylo Ren isn’t worth your life,” Hux muttered.
“If you don’t shut up, I’ll make you,” Rey threatened.
“Oh yeah?” He crosses his arms over his chest, looking amused. “Go ahead then. Because I don’t think you have the balls to—.”
She fired off a shot. The bullet tore through the floor directly in between Hux’s feet and disappeared into the apartment unit one floor below. His face had gone deathly pale.
Rey smirked. “You were saying?”
The tension in the room kept all four frozen, gaze dancing from one adversary to the next as they each weighed their options.
After a moment, Hux let out a heavy sigh. “Stand down, Phasma,” he said.
“Stand down. That’s an order, Captain.”
Sullenly, Phasma holstered her weapon. Rey glanced over at Kylo, who gave her a nod. Steadily, they lowered their forearms.
“Let’s get you some water and sit you back down,” he advised Rey, guiding her into the kitchen. Then, to the other two, he said, “We’re not done yet.”
As Phasma tended to Hux’s wound, Kylo poured Rey a glass of water. She gulped it down greedily. She hadn’t realized how dry her mouth was until she had her first sip.
“I didn’t know you could shoot,” Kylo murmured softly so only she could hear. “Are you trying to turn me on, sweet thing?”
Rey smiled sheepishly up at him. “I was aiming for his kneecap.”
His smoldering expression changed. Rey would have laughed if they hadn’t been with Phasma and Hux.
Kylo directed their hosts to the living room, making them sit on the floor while he settled on the couch next to Rey.
“Talk,” he barked.
Phasma looked to Hux who cleared his throat.
“I’m sorry about the drugs,” he apologized to Rey. “I didn’t think you’d come if I asked and I knew if I took you, Kylo would follow.”
“Excuse me?” Rey snapped angrily.
“Let me explain.”
“Well someone better,” Kylo scoffed.
“I’ve been undercover in the First Order for almost a decade,” Hux confessed. “There are days when I tend to forget myself. The line between keeping up appearances and becoming the villain blurs.”
Rey stared at him. “You’re a cop?”
He extended a hand to her. Kylo immediately straightened up, aiming his gun for a kill-shot. Hux retracted his hand. “Detective Armitage Brendol Hux of the Coruscant Police Department.”
Kylo snorted, unimpressed. Rey narrowed her eyes suspiciously. “You killed my boss in cold-blood. You committed murder.”
“Ah, yes, I can understand how you would think that,” Hux said with a contemplative nod.
“Don’t try to convince me that he was an undercover agent,” Rey commented, keeping her hands on the Colt in her lap.
“No one would let a man of his...persuasion into law enforcement,” he stated.
“So it made it alright for you to kill him?”
“I thought you didn’t care that he was dead,” Phasma challenged.
Rey glared at the other woman. Her betrayal stung, partially because of Rey’s pride and also because she believed they were friends.
“He didn’t deserve to live but the fact remains that he was murdered,” Rey pointed out. “By you.” She returned her focus to Hux. “What I want to know is: why?”
“One of my informants, Brentin,” here he paused to glare at Kylo, “found the Varykino deed. When he told me he had it, I immediately knew we had to get it somewhere safe. Plutt’s was the most unexpected location, the safest, but he got greedy and decided to use it as leverage to get out of the pawnshop business. I couldn’t let that happen,” Hux informed her.
“How did he even know what it was?” Kylo asked.
“He was part of the First Order’s network,” Hux answered.
“What are you talking about? No, he wasn’t. I would have known,” Rey cried.
“Plutt may have fallen from grace but he never left Sheev Palpatine’s circle,” Hux replied. “Didn’t you ever wonder why you ended up in his care? What social worker in their right mind would award custody to a man like him?”
Rey felt her stomach pitch uneasily. She froze, starting to see the broken pieces coming together.
Kylo placed his hand on her thigh. “What are you talking about?”
“Before Lota, Plutt was in charge of the trafficking ring,” Hux informed them. “But he got a little too hands-on with the merchandise so he was demoted. Rey was the last trade he made before Palpatine kicked him out. When Teedo brought her in, she was so young and scrawny, Plutt mistook her for a boy, so he put her to work instead. After she showed an affinity for mechanics, he decided to keep her on. I think he thought it would piss off Palpatine, but the old man could have cared less.”
Rey swallowed against the burning sensation in her throat. Her eyes filled with furious tears, and her hands began to shake. When she spoke, her voice wavered uncontrollably. “And my parents?”
“I don’t have any record of them,” Hux admitted.
She felt something in her chest crack. Kylo squeezed her thigh. His compassion broke her. The tears began to fall.
“Phasma, more water,” Hux suggested. The police captain looked to Kylo, who gave her a curt nod. She went to the kitchen to retrieve a fresh glass.
Rey wiped at her cheeks, feeling immature and silly for crying. Kylo removed his hand from her thigh to place his arm around her shoulders.
“Why don’t you finish your story before I lose my patience?” he suggested tersely.
Hux’s gaze lingered on Rey, trying to assess if she was alright to continue. She inhaled deeply and fixed her eyes on him. “Don’t mistake my emotions for weakness. I’ll still shoot you.”
“You certainly know how to pick ‘em,” Phasma remarked, returning with a glass of water for Rey and an ice pack for Hux.
“I stand by my choices,” Rey returned. “Can you say the same?”
“Yes,” Phasma responded without hesitation. “I know what I’m fighting for. Do you?”
“You didn’t know his real name until this morning,” Phasma reminded her, skeptically.
“I know him,” Rey insisted. “That’s what matters.”
Phasma held her gaze. When Rey didn’t blink, she turned away. “This throws a wrench in things.”
“What things?” Kylo asked.
“Restoring balance,” Hux answered. “The First Order cannot be allowed to take control of the city.”
“You’re with the Resistance?” Kylo surmised.
“No,” Hux said, shaking his head. “The Resistance won’t be any better. Not in the long-run, anyway. They may have started with good intentions, but eventually, the power will get to them and, in the end, they will be just as bad as the First Order. Dameron knew it too. That's why he let you catch up to them.”
Kylo scoffed. "Let me?"
Phasma and Hux shared a look.
“If you're not with the Resistance, what do you want?” Rey questioned.
“Democracy,” Hux answered. Looking at Kylo, he said, “When your mother was in office, she made decisions to serve the people. She didn’t make the people serve her.”
“I’m not my mother.”
“No, but you are the only one who can stand up to Sheev Palpatine. No one in this city would oppose you. Those from the underground fear you and those from the government would respect you, out of honor for your parents. If you take up your name and your birthright, you can—.”
“Is that what this is all about? My family’s legacy?” Kylo asked, annoyed.
“You can’t honestly tell me you haven’t considered snuffing out your boss,” Phasma challenged.
Rey saw his dark eyes narrow. “Haven’t you?” he queried, glancing at Hux meaningfully.
“My supervisor doesn’t punish me by leaving a scar.”
Kylo rose, gun at the ready. Rey jumped up, grabbing his arm with both hands. “Kylo! Sit down.”
He wheeled around, wide-eyed. “What?”
“I want to hear them out.”
“Why the hell should we?”
“Because,” Rey paused to take a deep breath. “I agree with them.”
“Stop looking at me like that,” Kylo grumbled as he drove through the city.
Rey was giving him the silent treatment, glaring at him with her arms crossed over her chest.
“I work alone,” he insisted.
She rolled her eyes and turned to look out the window.
“We can’t trust them. They’ve proven that with the little stunt they pulled today. If they don’t like the outcome of something, they resort to whatever means necessary to change the result. I won’t gamble your life on something like that, so don’t ask me to,” he told her.
Rey didn’t respond.
Kylo sighed, running a hand through his hair. The day had been long and the hits kept coming. Despite Hux and Phasma’s deception, Rey had sided with them. She didn’t understand why he didn’t want to accept their help and burn the First Order down.
She thought it was because he was angry with his parents for leaving him. Kylo couldn’t bring himself to tell her the truth. The real reason he refused was because of her. The First Order had already taken his parents. He wouldn’t be able to survive losing Rey too.
He could take her anger. If that was the price Kylo paid for keeping her alive, he would gladly accept it.
“You must be hungry,” he tried to change the subject. “There’s a great Thai place on the way back. We can get takeout and you can show me all the things you bought today.”
Phasma secured all of Rey’s purchases in her Porsche once Hux had nabbed her. Kylo had begrudgingly loaded them into his Maybach before they departed. Practicality won out over rage. After all, his card had already been charged for everything. Rey might as well enjoy the items.
He glanced over at her. She didn’t appear to be enjoying anything. Her lips were set in a firm, thin line and her brow was creased.
“No to the Thai, then. How about pizza?”
“I have dinner plans,” she snapped.
“Lor invited us for dinner. I texted you,” Rey reminded him.
“I don’t feel like—.”
“I’m going,” she insisted.
“You don’t have to go, but I am,” she stated stonily.
The rest of the drive was completed in tense silence. Kylo went well above the speed limit but not a single cop in Coruscant would risk pulling him over.
When he pulled into his spot in the parking garage, Rey was already unbuckling her seatbelt. She gathered up all of her bags from the truck, stubbornly refusing his offer to help. With her arms full of numerous packages, she barely managed to squeeze into the elevator next to him.
The only noise inside the car was the sound of it climbing the guide rails upward. A chime sounded with each floor they passed.
When the doors slid open, Rey shoved herself and all her bags through the opening. Kylo followed behind, noting her stiff posture.
He held the apartment door open for her, to which she gave him a curt “thank you” and then locked herself in the Master bedroom to get changed.
Kylo wondered how long Rey would shut him out. His mother had used the same tactic on his father when she was upset. His parents could be explosive at times. Of the two of them, Leia usually won out. Kylo hadn’t understood why until now.
Rey emerged in a simple sundress, the same color as the green flecks in her hazel eyes. She had on a pair of beige heels that clacked against his hardwood flooring as she moved.
“You look nice,” he offered.
She barely acknowledged him. “Thanks.”
Kylo watched as she checked her hair in the mirror by the front door. Rey had no reason to worry. She looked beautiful whether she wore scuffed-up sneakers and a borrowed shirt or the finest garment available for purchase at Vuitton. Either way, her inner light shone through.
“I’ll see you later,” Rey mumbled. She hesitated, one hand on the doorknob. When he didn’t move to join her, she left without looking back.
He sighed, staring at the closed door as if he could drag her back by sheer will. Not that asserting dominance had ever worked with Rey. She’d demonstrated how capable she was if pushed. It was terrifying and thrilling— a wicked combination that was sure to cause him trouble. He had it bad.
Kylo shook his head and went to his office. He spent several minutes checking emails, reviewing paperwork his lawyer had sent over, and scheduling a follow-up. He needed to secure the property quickly to avoid any complicated entanglements with Palpatine.
His apartment felt empty. It was too quiet, too lifeless. Wandering around, Kylo realized he’d never decorated. There had never been a reason. He kept overnight bags prepared in case he ever had to leave town. One was in the kitchen, another in his office, and the third was in his car. Up until today, Kylo thought this was practical. Now, he realized it was sad. He could pack up his entire life in seconds. Nothing was tying him to this place— nothing but Rey.
Swiping his hand down his face, he groaned.
He took a quick shower, put on a fresh suit, and grabbed a bottle of wine from his cooler.
Standing outside his neighbor’s apartment, Kylo could hear voices and one very familiar laugh. He glared at his feet. The idea that Rey could have fun without him sparked a bout of irrational jealousy.
The voices quieted and a second later the door swung open. “Ah! You must be Rey’s beau,” an elderly man greeted him. “Are you feeling better?”
“Yeah,” Kylo replied curtly. He thought he heard someone clearing their throat inside. Rubbing the back of his neck, he added, “Uh, this is for you. Sorry, I’m late.”
“Chateau Corellia, 1979.” The man whistled. “It's not every day you get gifted a bottle as fine as this.”
Unsure what else to say, Kylo replied, “Rey speaks highly of you.”
“She’s a lifesaver,” the man said. “I’m Lor. Please come in. Join us.”
Kylo entered, relaxing the moment he saw Rey. The smile she gave him was brighter than the morning sun. He was so transfixed by her that he failed to notice the other guest, until...
Were you expecting *another* cliffhanger? #sorrynotsorry
Chapter 13: Hell or High Water
We can make it out alive
Undercover of the night
No one here is safe
Trees are burning ravens fly
Smoke is filling up the sky
We are running out of time
Rey stared at the man seated across from her. Lor had introduced him as Luke. No last name had been given. Rey hadn’t thought it polite to ask. She was a guest in Lor’s home and she was exhausted from fighting with Kylo.
Her mistake was evident as was the loathing scowl on Kylo’s face as he glowered at the man.
His blues eyes were familiar and for the first time, she questioned why. She glanced behind her at Lor’s wall of photos. The realization hit her like a sharp blade in the gut. The same blue eyes stared back at her from under a mop of sandy blonde hair.
Luke’s last name was Skywalker, as in...
The second she reached her conclusion, Kylo withdrew his gun. “Give me one reason why I shouldn’t kill you?” he growled lowly.
“It would be terribly rude to interrupt a meal with violence,” Luke replied.
Rey wasn’t sure if he was trying to be funny or if he didn’t believe his nephew. Based on his appearance, she didn’t think he’d be able to stop Kylo if he did choose to open fire. Thankfully, Kylo didn’t, though Rey knew his decision had more to do with her proximity to Luke than any semblance of mercy.
“What are you doing here?”
“Having dinner with an old friend. What’s your excuse?”
She glanced across the apartment at Lor, who was frozen by the kitchen counter. He wasn’t surprised by Kylo’s reaction. Rey began to feel uneasy. She rose from her seat, eyes wafting scanning the room.
Kylo must have sensed her confusion. He started to round on Luke, keeping his Heckler & Koch aimed at his uncle as he made his way closer to Rey.
“We’re leaving,” he announced. “And if either of you even think of following us, I urge you to reconsider. I won’t hesitate a second time. The next time I see you will be the last.” The final part was directed at Luke.
“I have no doubt,” his uncle responded with a chuckle.
Kylo wrapped an arm around her, guiding Rey toward the door. “Go down to the car. Don’t stop for anything,” he whispered as she passed in front of him.
“I should have known I’d see you today, Ben,” Luke remarked. “I visited my sister earlier. I figured I’d find the grave unkempt and overgrown, but when I got there I saw it was well-maintained. There were even fresh flowers put out. She always did love roses. I didn’t think you remembered.”
“Don’t you dare talk to me about my mother,” Kylo hissed.
“Ignore him,” Rey urged, tugging on his sleeve. “Let’s go.”
“It was a pleasure to meet you, Rey. I’m sure we’ll see each other again,” Luke said to her, his blue eyes twinkling with amusement.
“Not likely,” Kylo snarled.
He put his hand on her lower back, gently pushing her out of the apartment, before adding, “I’ll be right behind you.”
The door clicked shut and Rey was left alone in the corridor.
She stared at Lor’s apartment for a moment, her mind racing to come to terms with Luke’s identity, Lor’s connection to Kylo’s past, and her stubbornness which had led them here. Chewing on her lower lip, Rey considered going back inside.
She could hear raised voices but they were shouting over one another making it difficult to follow the conversation. Her anger had blinded her to the truth. She’d acted rashly and her mistake was costing the valuable time. It wouldn’t happen again.
Rey darted into Kylo’s apartment. She went to the closet, shoving aside the designer bags to get to his gun safe. She’d heard him unlock it this morning. Working with Plutt had taught her many things, among them the keen ability to hear the lock pins when they found the right combination. She opened the safe on the first try.
There were at least two dozen weapons contained inside, along with boxes of ammunition. Rey grabbed it all, stuffing it into a large black duffle she found behind Kylo’s suits.
Hoisting the bag over her shoulder, she went to the bathroom. Swiping her hand along the cabinet shelf, Rey dumped the contents inside. Bandages, antiseptic, cotton balls, a sewing kit, and scissors all fell in.
As she clambered out, Rey paused. Kylo’s long-sleeved shirt was lying with one sleeve over the rim of the hamper. She yanked it out, stuffing it inside the bag before she went to the living room. Oliver Twist sat forgotten on the coffee table. Rey grabbed her last item just as Kylo burst into the apartment.
The instant he saw her his eyes darkened. “What are you doing?”
“You’re supposed to be waiting in the car,” he reminded her gruffly as he stomped over.
He took the bag off her shoulder and peered inside. “How did you?— never mind.” He shook his head. “Where are your clothes?”
Rey stared at him. “Clothes?”
“All the stuff that just landed on my credit card statement,” he clarified.
“Not essential,” she answered, waving him off.
“You’ve got a lot to learn, sweet thing.” Kylo bent down to kiss her and then swept out of the room.
Rey moved to rummage through the fridge when he hollered, “Come in here and get changed.”
She glanced down at her bare legs. Right, a dress wasn’t appropriate runaway gear. Closing the fridge, she returned to the bedroom.
Kylo was shucking off his tailored pants while he pulled a fresh black sweater over his head. He moved through his closet methodically, switching out his pants for dark jeans and his dress shoes for boots.
He reached into a small drawer above where his shoes were stored. At first, Rey assumed Kylo was putting away his watch, but then he tossed something at her.
“I can’t trust the police. Hux and Phasma are wild cards. We can’t leave any evidence that would lead them back to us,” Kylo explained, sliding on a pair of his own.
Rey nodded, tightening the straps as far as they would go. The leather felt cool and stiff against her skin. It was constructive. She wasn’t sure how he worked with them. Rey couldn’t imagine fixing an engine with limited mobility.
She suspected the pair was new. While large on her, the gloves weren’t wide enough to encase Kylo’s hands. When she turned her hands over, Rey noticed a slight tear along the knuckles on the left one.
“Were these yours?”
He nodded. “My first pair.”
Rey flexed her hands a couple of times, trying to get used to the feel of them.
“You’ve got the right idea,” Kylo told her. “Heat will help stretch them out so they’re more comfortable.”
She kept moving her hands, while he rooted around in the closet, tossing things out of the shopping bags and onto the floor by her feet.
“Here.” He laid several items out on the bed before rolling up the rest and tucking it into the duffle bag.
Rey slipped out of her dress. As she kicked off her flats, she picked up the jeans. Rey was sure the DIESEL associate wouldn’t be pleased if he knew there was a good chance of her getting blood on them. The thought put a smile on her face as she pulled on a charcoal t-shirt.
Kylo muttered a curse, trying to zip up all their belongings. He shifted things around, attempting to get the bag to close.
“What the hell is this doing in my go-bag?” He held up Oliver Twist . “This isn’t important.”
“Liar,” Rey shot back, sliding her arms into her brand new leather jacket.
Kylo paused, studying her for a moment.
“What?” she asked, as she tied her hair back.
“You’re perfect,” he said quietly. She shook her head, turning away from him, but he grabbed her wrist. “Rey.”
Glancing up, she saw the sincerity in his eyes.
“Take this.” Kylo pushed something into her hand. It was a Smith & Wesson Shield, arguably the most concealable handgun on the market.
“Is it Christmas already?” Rey teased, turning the weapon over in her hands.
“You can fire this from a safer distance than a baseball bat,” Kylo retorted.
“I don’t know how to use it,” she admitted.
“I’ll teach you,” he promised. “Where we’re going, we won’t have to worry about neighbors.”
“Where are we going?” Rey asked.
He smirked. “You’ll see.”
Varykino was nothing like Kylo remembered. The once-grand gates were overgrown with weeds and the sign had rusted until it was unrecognizable. A padlock was fixed around the middle, barring anyone from entering the property.
Rey sat silently beside him, staring in wonder. She didn’t utter a word when he exited his Mercedes to break the chain. Kylo pushed the left gate back far enough for his vehicle to pass through then proceeded to get behind the wheel.
He followed the white stone path away from the road and past the empty guardhouse. There were several buildings on the property, including a garage, guest house, and recreation center, which was attached to a full-scale tennis court. As they made their way past each, Kylo noted how the overgrowth has taken control of the land. In the morning, he would need to contract landscaping services.
The Maybach rolled up to the main house, a historic building over two hundred years old. The foundation was strong, outlasting all of its prior tenants. Kylo suspected it would outlast him as well.
“This is it,” he told Rey, turning off the car.
“It’s beautiful,” she marveled, following him up to the front steps.
The entry was also locked. With an annoyed huff, Kylo withdrew his guns and fired one round directly into the pin. The mechanism sprang open and the heavy chain attached to the lock fell to the ground.
“Shall we?” He held the door open for Rey, watching her eyes scan the interior excitedly.
She was impressed by the grandeur. Kylo wished she could have seen it the way it had been when his family was alive. The staff had loved the property as much as they loved his mother. There hasn’t been a single leaf out of place. After years of being confined in Jakku, Kylo knew Rey would enjoy the gardens.
Once he ended Snoke, Kylo would restore Varykino to its former glory— for his parents, for Rey, and for himself. The vow he’d made at his parents’ grave had furthered a change in him, one Rey set into motion.
The night she crashed into his life was the moment when he’d made his first independent decision in years. He’d spared her, knowing the consequences. Kylo had defied Snoke, gone against his training to protect the last shred of his humanity. It was that choice which brought him back to Varykino. Back where it all began.
Palpatine had been trying to control the Skywalker family for generations. Through manipulation, blackmail, and force, the old man played them like pieces on a chessboard, pitting them against his subordinates and each other until the only one who remained was Kylo. Then Snoke turned him into a pawn.
His mentor would pay for the lives he took. An eye for an eye, Kylo thought bitterly. That was their way. He would take back control and once the First Order was gone, Kylo would give Rey the home she deserved.
“Electricity works,” his girl commented, wandering ahead of him, flickering lights on as she meandered from room to room.
“My lawyer is compensated well for his efforts,” Kylo remarked.
“I hope so,” Rey said.
She pulled a sheet off the dining room table, revealing Bocote wood. Kylo remembered his parents fighting over the decision to purchase the piece. His father had thought it was too much money to spend on a table they’d only use once or twice a year. His mother claimed it was worth the cost to have a complete set since she already had the matching chairs. In the end, she’d won but his father had been right. Kylo recalled eating at the table only during the holidays.
“Let’s check on the state of the recreation center,” he suggested. “We can begin your training there.”
Rey followed him outside to the separate building, where he dealt with the lock the same way he had for the main house. Their boots crunched over dead leaves and dried up vines as they passed through the entryway.
The once state-of-the-art gym was overdue for a cleaning. Dust covered the machines in a thick film, giving it a haunting appearance. The pool had been drained before the property was vacated. Its deep void was filled with shadows instead of water.
“Let there be light.” Rey flipped a switch. The room was bathed in harsh white light from overhead.
“Those need to be changed,” Kylo added to his running list of renovations.
“LEDs would be better,” Rey agreed. “Hey, what’s that?”
Kylo glanced over his shoulder to see she was pointing at a training dummy. He inwardly groaned. When he’d asked his mother if he could try football, she’d given him a counteroffer: fencing.
“It’s a practice target,” he answered.
“Perfect.” Rey flashed him a grin, withdrawing her handgun.
“Eager, aren’t we?” he said tauntingly as he approached her.
“What can I say? My boyfriend’s not much of a people person,” she retorted with a smirk.
He made an indignant sound from the back of his throat and dropped the duffle bag on the floor.
“If you keep making enemies of everyone, you’re going to need more than one person to watch your back,” Rey stated. “You should reconsider—.”
“Fine,” she scoffed. “Then get over here and show me how to shoot properly.”
“Your footing is off,” Kylo began, nudging her right foot with the toe of his boot. She made the necessary adjustments. “Relax your shoulders.” He pressed down on her arms.
“You can’t tense up. When the gun discharges, it will recoil. If you’re rigid, your body isn’t going to be able to absorb the kick,” he explained. “Stay loose. Let the movement flow through you. Don’t fight it.”
Rey took a deep breath and he saw her body relax slightly.
“Good. Now, when you aim, close your non-dominant eye. Line up your shot this way. It will be more accurate. Ready?”
“I’m right here,” Kylo reminded, positioning himself behind Rey. “Take your time.”
There was a pause, then a shot rang out.
Rey staggered backward. Kylo caught her under her arms, pressing forward to keep her on her feet.
He chuckled. “Told you.”
“Where did it go?” Rey asked, unfazed.
Her brow was furrowed as she scanned the training target. The dummy remained untouched. About thirty yards behind it, a divot has been carved out of the wall.
“Crap,” Rey mumbled, disheartened.
“Do it again.”
She repeated the process until the chamber was empty. Not a single bullet penetrated the fencing target.
“Maybe you better find a different backup,” Rey said with a sigh.
“I don’t want anyone else,” he told her.
“Kylo, about earlier,” Rey began. “I’m sorry. I didn’t know your uncle would be there.”
“I suspected he’d show up sooner or later,” Kylo admitted with a huff.
“You aren’t worried?”
“Worried?” he repeated, confused.
“Won’t Luke know about this place?” Rey inquired.
“He wouldn’t dare set foot on these grounds. It would be trespassing. I’d be well within my legal rights to shoot him,” Kylo muttered.
She didn’t appear convinced. “What about Phasma and Hux?”
Kylo’s eyes narrowed. “They aren’t welcome here either.”
“That’s not what I meant,” she told him, kneeling by the bag to begin unpacking. “I can set up a security system in a few hours but I’m going to need a wireless router, a modem, cameras, and a few other things."
“I can acquire those things but I’ll need to leave the grounds for a while,” Kylo responded. “I don’t like the idea of leaving you here but it’s safer in case Bliss intercepts me.”
“It will give me time to practice,” Rey explained, straightening up as she loaded her handgun with a new round of ammunition. “If you’re here, you’ll only distract me.”
“Again with the distractions,” he teased. “We’re going to have to work on that.”
She tucked the gun in the back of her jeans, smiling at him coyly. “We can work on that once the perimeter is secure.”
There were times when Rey was innocent and demure. Then there were times where she caught him off guard with her straightforwardness. It would have scared Kylo if he wasn’t so turned on.
“One hour,” he said. “You better be ready for me, sweet thing, because I’ll be coming for you.”
Rey aimed the gun, holding the weapon steady with both hands. She inhaled slowly, counting her heartbeats.
She pulled the trigger and the gun cocked back, startling her. Rey stumbled a couple of steps. While small, the Smith & Wesson was powerful. Not only had it kicked her back, but the round had left an impressive tear in the masked mannequin. It was the first time she’d hit her mark exactly where she wanted to— half an inch from the center of the chest.
Without pause, Rey fired again, aiming for the same spot. She hit the target but not where she meant to. The bullet cut through the canvas skin of the dummy an inch from her last shot. She cursed, kicking the ground in frustration. So close . Her hand was nearly numb from overuse and her back was sore, but the pain was worth it. She was improving.
Kneeling down to reload, Rey failed to notice the shadow behind her. Arms closed around her torso, hauling her off the ground and spinning her so she couldn’t see her attacker.
“Gotcha,” he purred in her ear.
She wriggled free, angrily shouting,“Kylo!”
He laughed, as she shoved against him. “What?”
“I could have shot you!”
“It was empty,” Kylo said flatly.
She tilted her head, staring at him. “How long have you been watching me?”
“Long enough,” he answered. “I did warn you, sweet thing. You should know by now that I’m a man of my word.”
Rey glanced around, searching for the supplies he’d gone out for. “Where is the surveillance gear?”
“In the main house.”
“Perfect. I’ll set it up in the study,” she decided, moving past him.
Kylo caught her wrist, pulling her toward him so they collided back to chest. “Later,” he crooned. “You asked what I would do if I caught you. You’re about to find out.”
He guided her to the main house and upstairs to the master bedroom. All the furniture was uncovered. Rey noticed that the surveillance equipment wasn’t the only thing he’d stopped for. The bed was wrapped in a fresh set of sheets.
Rey started to remark on how romantic he was but stopped when she felt Kylo’s mouth on her neck. He kissed along the column of her throat while he undressed her, only pausing when he pulled her shirt off. His clothes were discarded onto the floor immediately after.
Kylo laid Rey on top of the mattress. He covered her body with his own, one arm looped under her shoulders to hold her up while the opposite hand ripped out her hair ties. “Gorgeous,” he murmured before kissing her.
Rey’s hazel eyes followed him as he sat up, positioning himself in between her legs. He set one wide hand along her hip, his fingers spanning from the top of her thigh to her waist.
“I’ve been hard since I saw you make that shot,” he growled, pumping himself. “Need to have you.”
She propped herself up on her elbows and locked eyes with him. “You have me.”
Her approval was all he needed to hear. With one thrust, he entered her. Rey cried out, vocalizing her mixture of surprise and pleasure. Kylo gathered her in his arms, settling her into his lap as he rocked up into her. He was more forceful than the first time, taking charge of her body. It was exhilarating, causing a thrill to ripple through her, not unlike the way she’d felt when she attacked Bliss. Kylo brought out a different side of her, a darker part she’d never fully realized.
She gripped onto his shoulders. “Harder.”
Rey felt him stiffen in her hold. For a moment, he seemed unsure. Then he flipped her onto her back, arranging her legs around his waist. The new angle allowed him to penetrate deeper. She arched off the mattress, trying to help him hit the spot within. Adrenaline from her training paired with Kylo’s fervor had her panting and gasping.
Rey could feel herself cresting. She dug her nails into his back, legs tightening around his hips. Her eyes were screwed shut and her lips parted in a silent howl as Kylo drove into her. Each stroke was intense. She felt as if her entire body was shattering to pieces and reassembling again.
“With me,” Kylo urged, dipping a hand between them to circle her clit.
She spasmed, screaming his name as she came. His speed increased as he frantically chased after her. A few more thrusts and he moaned, collapsing on top of her.
His body was scorching and heavy but she welcomed the weight. It made her feel protected, loved.
The last thing Rey saw before she closed her eyes was a wooden box on the dresser that hadn’t been there before.
Kylo watched as Rey slept, tenderly carding his fingers through her hair. Her chestnut tresses were wavy from the buns she’d tied them into. The elastic bands pinched. He had something better for her to use.
Not wanting to wake her, he slowly rose from the bed and went to the dresser.
On his way to meet DJ, Kylo had stopped by his apartment. In his haste to get Rey somewhere safe, he’d forgotten to grab the keepsake chest. He thought about torching the high rise to the ground, knowing his uncle was still inside. One glance down at the box in his hands and he knew he couldn’t.
Kylo opened the chest and pulled out a silver hair pin. It belonged to his mother. Like her, it held a secret. When Kylo held onto the jewel encrusted top and gave it a sharp twist, the pin broke into two. A blade, no thicker than a pen knife, was revealed. It was lightweight, thin, and lethal.
His mother had managed to smuggle it into every event she’d ever attended, no matter how secure. No one suspected a woman's accessory to hide a deadly weapon. It had worked for his mother and he was certain it would work for Rey. His girl could be just as deceptive as the piece.
He brought it over to her, laying it on the bedside table as he climbed back into bed. The movement roused Rey. She blinked a few times, eyes focused on him.
“You know what hearing you say that does to me,” he said in a low voice.
She gave him a cheeky smile. “Why do you think I keep saying it?”
“Insatiable,” Kylo muttered. “I brought you something.”
“A grenade launcher?” Rey asked jokingly.
“Better. Turn around.”
She eyed him warily but did as he asked. Kylo picked up the hair pin, making sure it was locked shut before gathering up Rey’s hair and securing it into a bun.
“You got me jewelry?” she asked, surprised.
“I got backup for my backup.” He explained how the pin worked, pleased when he saw how her eyes lit up enthusiastically. Then, quieter, he added. “It was my mother’s.”
Rey touched the end of the pin gently and gave him a grateful smile. “Kylo?”
“What will you do when it’s all over?”
“When what’s over, sweet thing?” he asked, lazily running a finger along her side.
“The First Order, Snoke, Palpatine...all of it. What will you do?” Rey asked.
“What would you like me to do?” he countered, sitting up.
Rey pursed her lips. “This isn’t about what I want. What do you want, Ben?”
He stilled. It was the first time she’d called him by his name without anger or irony. The sound stirred Kylo. He hooked his hand around the back of her knee, drawing her leg up over his hips to move her closer.
“I want to see you each day, in my bed and by my side,” he told her.
Rey smiled, placing her hand on his cheek. “But what do you want for you? What do you want to have that’s just yours?”
He shrugged. “I’ve never considered anything outside of what I do now. This is what I’m good at, operating in the shadows, doing the dirty work—”
“ Don’t . Don’t belittle your abilities,” Rey interrupted. “Just because your mentor kept you under his thumb doesn’t mean you aren’t valuable. You have worth. You should share that with the world.”
Kylo snorted. “The world?”
“Coruscant,” she clarified. “Ben, this is your home. Your mother—.”
“I’m not her.”
“Your mother,” Rey pressed, “wanted you to help this city. If you want to honor her, and your father, then run for office.”
His eyes widened. “You can’t be serious. Rey, no one wants an enforcer in City Hall.”
“Because the people currently there are so much better?” she returned, arching a brow.
“At least they have experience. What do I have? I never even finished school,” Kylo pointed out. “I’m not qualified.”
“You are. You know this city. You know it’s people. And, most importantly, you know how to take responsibility for your actions. Look what you did for me,” Rey said.
“That’s different. I like you.”
“Remember what you told me that night at your apartment?”
He smirked. “Which one?”
“You asked me not to hide from you. All I’m asking for is the same courtesy,” Rey explained. “Stop being the man behind the mask and start being the leader you were born to be.”
“People don’t want to know me,” he mumbled.
“People know Kylo Ren,” Rey argued. “They don’t know Ben Solo.”
“Because he’s dead,” Kylo reminded her.
“No one is ever really gone. You could do it, turn this city around,” she urged. “I’ll help you.”
“You’re lucky I love you,” he brought her hand to his mouth and pressed a kiss against her ring finger.
Rey stared at him with watery eyes. “You do?”
“Why do you think I keep you around?” he teased.
She didn’t laugh. “I love you too.”
Kylo kissed her. “Good, because if I’m going to give up this life to live on the straight and narrow, I have one condition.”
“And what’s that?” Rey prompted.
“Make an honest man out of me.”
We're coming up on the end. Only two chapters left!
Chapter 14: Game of Survival
I'm sorry I haven't gotten responded to comments yet. I promise to get to them this week. Work has been hectic and I'm working on new content for May the Fourth.
Thank you to my beta, Ria84. Without her support and help, I wouldn't have finished this fic.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Who's in the shadows?
Who's ready to play?
Are we the hunters?
Or are we the prey?
“Your wound healed nicely. There won’t be much of a scar,” Doctor Aphra remarked as she finished removing the last of Rey’s stitches.
It had been five days since they’d been to Coruscant General. In less than a week, Rey had learned to shoot, to disarm an opponent, and how sharp her hairpin was.
The blade sheathed within the silver accessory was smaller than a paring knife but just as effective. Kylo had her practice on meat cutlets first, before she started in on the fencing dummy. By the end of the week, the masked mannequin was in tatters. Between her target practice with the Smith & Wesson and the hairpin, the dummy never stood a chance.
“Snoke doesn’t either,” Rey had told Kylo when she caught him watching her yesterday afternoon.
“As much as I’d love to see that, sweet thing, Snoke is mine.”
They’d agreed Kylo would handle his mentor alone. Rey vowed to do whatever she had to in order to give him the opportunity.
“You’ve put on some weight,” Doctor Aphra commented, bringing Rey back to the present. She glanced at Kylo. “Moving in together seems to have been the correct course of care.”
“A hearty steak works too,” he replied.
Doctor Aphra nodded. “Red meat in moderation is fine but don’t make a habit out of it.”
“Noted,” Kylo replied. “Anything else?”
The doctor shot him a look before she scanned Rey’s chart. “Have you given any thought to physical therapy? There are several resources available through the hospital or I can recommend a couple of groups who host meetings off-campus,” Doctor Aphra suggested.
“Groups?” Rey questioned.
“Support meetings for victims of gang violence,” the doctor clarified without hesitation.
Rey saw Kylo adjust the collar of his jacket in a vain attempt to cover up his tattoo. “I’m not interested,” she told Doctor Aphra.
“Well, if anything changes, let me—.”
“It won’t,” Rey insisted. “I appreciate the help but it’s not necessary. Kylo and I have been training and—.”
Doctor Aphra arched a brow. “Training?”
“In our home gym,” Kylo explained. “I monitor her progress to make sure she isn’t overdoing it.”
“I see,” the doctor remarked, regarding them suspiciously. “It appears you’re all set, Rey. I’ll leave your paperwork with the front desk. Make sure to stop in once you’re dressed.”
“I will. Thank you,” Rey assured her.
“Mr. Ren.” Doctor Aphra gave Kylo a curt nod and excused herself from the exam room.
“She hasn’t warmed up to me,” he commented as soon as Doctor Aphra was gone.
“Can you blame her?” Rey asked teasingly as she changed out of her smock into her street clothes. “You come here, corrupt me with your evil First Order ways, and—.”
Kylo scoffed. “I corrupted you?”
“You gave me a concealed weapon as a present,” she said pointedly.
“For protection,” he returned defensively.
“And it was very sweet,” Rey told him, kissing him on the cheek. “Normal people don’t give their girlfriends knives.”
“Girlfriend?” he crooned, wrapping his arms around her. “Is that what you are, sweet thing?”
“One life-altering decision at a time, okay?”
“Fine,” Kylo agreed begrudgingly. “But when Palpatine is dead, we’re going to revisit this conversation.”
“I don’t like this,” Kylo grumbled. He had one hand wrapped around Rey’s and the other on his gun, hidden beneath the table they were seated at. “There are too many uncontrolled variables.”
Rey squeezed his hand. “Relax. The reason we’re meeting in a public place during prime business hours is so they can’t try anything.”
“Didn’t Hux snatch you off the street in broad daylight?”
“Phasma put me in position,” Rey reminded him. “Here there isn’t any way they can make a move against us, not without compromising their roles within the First Order or the police department.”
“I still don’t like it.”
“I don’t either,” Rey confessed, “but we can’t take on the entire First Order alone. I’m not as skilled as you.”
“You could be,” he told her.
And he meant it.
In the past several days, Rey had excelled in her training. She possessed a natural talent for handling weapons of all calibers. She chalked it up to her need to adapt but Kylo saw it as something far more impressive: pure determination. Rey told him she would have his back and she took her oath seriously.
She spent hours with him in the recreation center, urging him to give her feedback, no matter how harsh. Rey repeatedly pushed to continue on in her lessons until he was the one who was hunched over, breathing heavily, and longing to tap out. But he never did. His pride wouldn’t let him.
If he casually remarked on how she needed to take a break due to her recovery, Rey was none the wiser.
She was stronger than she knew. If they had months instead of days to take out Palpatine, Kylo was convinced they could have done it. Together. Rey would have been a magnificent blur of black leather and fierce snarls beside him. No one in the Order would see her coming. Their enemies would have fallen to the ground, limp and lifeless.
There was one enemy they couldn’t fight. Time. As the days to the next election lessened, their window of opportunity shrank. If they were going to make a stand, it had to be now.
Someone pulled out a chair across from them.
“Hux,” Kylo spat the man’s name as if it tasted sour in his mouth.
“Where’s Phasma?” Rey questioned, glancing around the coffee shop.
“Checking the perimeter,” Hux answered calmly.
Kylo wanted to wipe Hux’s confident smirk off his face. The man had no right to be so at ease after what he’d done. Violence wouldn’t gain him an ally, so he settled for a quip. “How’s the eye?”
Hux’s composure faltered. “I needed stitches thanks to you.”
“Thank your partner that’s all you needed,” Kylo returned. “Because if she hadn’t intervened when she did, you would have needed a casket.”
“Boys, play nice,” Rey said, smoothing her hand along Kylo’s thigh.
“Keep your dog tethered,” Hux barked.
“You’re on very thin ice, Armitage,” Rey replied. “I wouldn’t press too hard.”
“I agree,” an alto voice entered the conversation from above.
Kylo glanced up to see Phasma towering over their table. The blonde police captain eyed each of them before folding herself into the empty chair beside her partner.
“I’m glad you came to see reason,” she remarked.
“The only reason I see is the one where you help us get what we want or I kill you,” Kylo countered.
Phasma wasn’t phased by his threat. She focused her attention on Rey, ignoring the glare Kylo fixed on her. “What’s the plan?”
“You’re asking her?” Hux snapped.
Kylo was equally surprised but he kept his reaction concealed, waiting for Rey to answer.
“Hux turns me in,” she stated.
“What?” Kylo roared, earning more than a few curious glances from the surrounding patrons. He felt her hand grip his thigh in a warning. “You’re not serious.”
“I am,” Rey confirmed. “Snoke has no reason to distrust Hux. If he brings me to him, feigning loyalty to the First Order and playing up his hatred of you, it gets me in the compound without question and earns you an audience with your mentor— a closed-door audience.”
He felt his breath hitch. Recently, Rey had been asking him about the Order’s protocols. Kylo hadn’t thought much of it at the time. He assumed she was keen to learn about his past and her adversary. If Kylo has known she was plotting a way to get herself into the lion’s den, he would have never encouraged her.
“While Snoke interrogates Kylo about keeping me alive, Hux will slip me my gun. Three against seven aren’t great odds, but we have the element of surprise on our side. Snoke won’t be expecting a gunshot victim or a loyal lackey to be firing on him and his men,” Rey explained.
“And what about Palpatine?” Phasma questioned. “He won’t be as easy to get to. He keeps himself secluded in the house, surrounded by dozens of armed guards.”
“That one we will have to play by the book. After Snoke is dealt with, Hux, Kylo, and I will make our way to Palpatine. We’ll have to gather confirmation of his transactions with the local businesses and government officials. Is there somewhere he’d store documents? An electronic black book maybe?” she asked.
“There is a server room in the basement. It’s heavily guarded and only a few people know about it, but I can get there,” Hux said.
“Good. You get the proof and then get out. Phasma, you, need to wait until Hux is clear to call in reinforcements,” Rey continued. “Once we secure evidence on Palpatine’s dealings, the police will have probable cause to swoop in and shut the place down. Problem solved.”
Everyone at the table was silent. For a moment, all Kylo could focus on was how loud his heartbeat sounded. It was thundering in his ears like a warning or a call home. He couldn’t be sure.
Hux appeared astonished. Phasma smiled appreciatively, though she didn’t seem at all surprised. Not the way Kylo was. He was in awe of Rey— of the conviction which she spoke with. There was no hesitation, no waver in her voice. Her mind was made up. Her plan was clear.
After a moment, he realized she was staring at him, waiting. “You’ve thought this through,” Kylo finally said.
“When you don’t have much, you learn to protect what you do have— whatever it takes,” Rey told him.
He turned to Hux and Phasma. “Excuse us,” he muttered, ushering Rey out of the cafe.
“What?” she demanded once they were outside.
“I won’t agree to this,” he replied. “I’m not trading your life for mine.”
“You’re not going to,” Rey argued, grabbing his hands. “If everyone follows the plan—.”
“That’s a big ‘if,’ Rey,” he interrupted with a skeptical expression. “We can’t trust Hux or Phasma. Today they claim they want to help us but if things go sideways, the only person they are going to help is themselves. If it means escaping with their lives, they won’t think twice about it. They will leave you for dead.”
“That’s why I have you,” she reminded him. “You’ve got my back and I’ve got yours. That’s the deal.”
“No,” he refused, shaking his head. “I didn’t agree to those terms.”
“You did,” she insisted angrily. “You said you’d train me. You promised there wouldn’t be any more lies.”
“This isn’t a lie,” Kylo growled. “This is your life and I won’t chance losing you, so don’t ask me to.”
Rey sandwiched his face in between her hands, staring at him with her enchanting hazel eyes. “Listen to me, Ben Solo. I may not have much but I have my freedom. I don’t answer to anyone. My choices are my own. You can’t say the same. You’re driven by your guilt or your objective. You’ve lost sight of who you are and what you want.”
She paused, studying his reaction. Kylo wasn’t sure what she saw in his face. He couldn’t decide how to feel.
“You gave me a place to belong. You chose me. You saved me. Let me do the same for you. Let me break your chains and set you free— free to be the man I know you want to be— the man you truly are.”
He didn’t realize he was shaking until Rey wrapped herself around him, hugging his torso as tightly as she could.
“You know there’s no way in hell I’m letting you go in there now, right?” Kylo whispered the words against the crown of her head.
“You can and you will,” Rey responded. “Because if we don’t end this, neither of us will ever be free again. Isn’t that reason enough to fight? A chance to be together on our terms?”
Kylo tilted her head back and kissed her soundly. Not all decisions had to be spoken out loud.
They decided the best time to strike was right before midnight. If executed correctly, the guards would be due for a shift change right when Kylo attacked Snoke, adding another layer to the confusion.
As they poured over the compound schematics at Hux’s apartment, Rey absorbed as much as possible. Any details regarding the property, no matter how obscure could mean the difference between making it out alive or being carried out in a body bag.
“The ventilation shaft here was renovated last fall. It has weight sensors so if anyone tries to use it to get in or out, security will be notified,” Hux explained, dragging his finger along the illustration.
“So if we get pinned down that’s it?” Kylo questioned, sounding thoroughly unamused.
Though he had agreed to go along with her plan, he wasn’t happy about it. He was less pleased with the fact they’d spent all their spare time preparing with Hux and Phasma. Kylo hadn’t warmed to either of them since the shopping incident, not that Rey blamed him. Had their roles been reversed, she wouldn’t have hesitated to drive her hairpin through Hux’s jugular.
“Don’t get pinned down and we won’t have a problem,” the redhead replied in his nasally voice.
Rey’s gaze flickered to Phasma who was eyeing both men warily. The police captain hadn’t spoken more than necessary since Rey drug Kylo back into the coffee shop. There was a chance Phasma felt remorse for her part in Rey’s abduction but Rey still didn’t trust her.
“Let’s move on to the bait,” she suggested.
“Use another word,” Kylo insisted.
Hux scoffed. “When did you get sensitive, Ren? Don’t worry. I won’t let the old man touch your girl.” He casually slung his arm over Rey’s shoulders.
“You will remove your hand or I’ll remove it for you,” Kylo snarled.
“Armitage,” Phasma warned simultaneously.
They chose words. Rey chose action. She grabbed Hux’s wrist with both hands and twisted, ducking out from under his hold and angling his arm behind his back at an upward angle. She slammed his face down into the table. Hux howled in pain. Phasma jumped out of her seat, while Kylo merely watched. Once Rey had Hux restrained, Kylo provided his feedback.
“Your form is improving but you need to follow through. Don’t let up on his wrist. Keep applying the pressure,” he instructed.
Rey turned Hux’s wrist. “Like this?”
“If you two sadists are done, would you kindly back the fuck off?” Hux spat.
Rey released him, moving to sit in Kylo’s lap. He draped an arm over her shoulder, the way Hux had, smiling smugly at the redhead.
“You two deserve each other,” Hux grumbled as he massaged his wrist.
“Thank you,” Rey returned, matching Kylo’s smirk.
The tension in the room thickened. Hux glowered at the couple seated across from him. Kylo’s free hand rose to rest on his gun holster and Rey felt him tense underneath her.
“I don’t like to be touched,” she said by way of explanation.
Hux eyed the way Kylo dragged his thumb lazily along her shoulder. He shot her a dubious look.
Before he could object, Phasma cleared her throat. “Well, then, that’s settled. Let’s get back to work.”
Rey stared at Hux, silently challenging him to speak against his partner. He didn’t. The group resumed their planning without further interruption.
The surveillance van was hidden three streets down from the mansion. Parked in a secluded wooded area, the forest green paint blended in with the surrounding trees and the night. They were far enough away from the compound to avoid detection but close enough to pick up a signal, though he doubted it would matter if they called for help. If their plan was discovered, there was only one way out.
Kylo’s spine was rigid as he watched Phasma fix a wire to the interior lining of Rey’s bra underneath her simple T-shirt. Wearing a device inside would increase the risk but Rey had been adamant about getting proof against Palpatine. Phasma assured him she was using the best technology available.
“Forgive me for my skepticism, but your city budget doesn’t allow for the best,” he muttered.
“The bug isn’t from the city budget. It’s from one of my confidential informants who goes by the alias DJ,” Phasma explained. “He managed to find a way around the FM radio trick.”
Rey caught Kylo’s eye over Phasma’s shoulder. He didn’t react to the knowledge that his supplier was one of Phasma’s contacts. Discretion was a valuable weapon, almost as beneficial as a knife, though not as sharp.
Kylo had made sure Rey put her hair up for the encounter. It gave her a reason to wear the blade and kept her vision clear for the fight that was to come.
“For the record, I still don’t like this,” he told her when Phasma finished.
“This time tomorrow, you’ll be a free man,” Rey reminded him, placing her hands on his shoulders.
“A free, honest man?”
She shoved him playfully. “Don’t push your luck.”
“I think you like when I push your buttons,” Kylo returned, grabbing her before she could slink away. “The same way you like it when I call you sweet thing.”
“Maybe,” Rey said. “Guess you’ll have to wait and see, tiger.”
He felt a pleasant tingle run down his back as if she had reached behind him to trail a finger along the dip of his spine. “When I get you home—.”
“Time to go,” Hux announced, cutting off his suggestive comment. Kylo glowered at the man. “Don’t blame me. Blame your murder mistress.”’
Rey smiled up at him, eyes sparkling with amusement. “It’s not the worst name he’s come up with.”
“I prefer sweet thing,” Kylo said, fingers digging into her sides as he realized he was about to watch her go. He considered taking a sedative so he wouldn’t charge in after her. They only had one shot. They had to make it count.
“See you soon?” Rey asked nonchalantly. Kylo didn’t understand how she maintained her cool. It frustrated him. Didn’t she recognize this could be the last time he held her? She brushed her hand along his face. “Ben, it will be fine. Trust me, okay?”
“Just come back to me,” he whispered pleadingly.
“That’s what we do,” she reminded him with a kiss. “We find each other. We save each other.”
She took a step away from him and then another until she was at the door. He saw Phasma give her the rundown. He saw Hux pipe in with his piece of the plan. Then, Rey was turning around to leave and it snapped him into action.
“I love you,” he declared, standing up.
Phasma and Hux stared at him but he wasn’t aware of their gazes. All he saw was Rey’s brilliant grin.
“I love you too.”
Kylo let out a half-laugh, half-sigh as he admired her.
He didn’t see the way Hux bound her wrists, or note the way Phasma kept checking and rechecking the wire was safely hidden. All he saw in those final moments was his girl.
With one hand on her upper arm, Hux led her into the compound. Kylo watched from a screen in the van. Phasma’s undercover team had tapped into the camera circuits twenty minutes prior. There was no audio but the sound wasn’t what Kylo needed.
He saw Hux nod to Pryde and Tarkin at the entrance. The guards let their eyes freely roam over Rey’s form. Kylo’s fist tightened at his side.
Phasma switched the channel to the next view, allowing them to watch Hux guide Rey through the corridor to Snoke’s chamber.
Kylo held his breath when Hux ushered her inside. His trigger finger was coiling, mocking the motion his instincts were demanding. He restrained himself. Rey needed him to trust her plan— to trust in her. He had to be patient.
Phasma flipped to another screen. They witnessed Rey putting up a fight with Hux. He grabbed her by the neck and shoved her in front of his boss. Kylo stood up, gun at the ready.
“Calm down,” Phasma snapped. “She’s fine.”
Kylo started to protest but caught himself. To anyone else, Rey’s frantic eyes and trembling lower lip would have been signs of her compliance. He felt some of the tension leave his body. Those were tricks he’d taught her. She needed to play the victim and Kylo had coached her on the subtle ways she could make her story more believable.
Snoke and Hux exchanged words, the latter gesturing to Rey and sneering. Kylo saw her attempt to make a run for it, only to be stopped by one of Snoke’s bodyguards. He saw Snoke laugh and pull out his phone.
Kylo’s cell ran.
Anthony Snoke was as despicable in person as Rey anticipated. The man’s face was sunken in with deep scars marking the pale flesh. His dark, beady eyes bore into her like a snake poised to strike. Rey glared in return.
He was as hideous as he was cruel. No sooner had Hux notified him of who Rey was, then he had called Kylo, demanding his enforcer report in.
Snoke’s predictability lended itself to her plan yet Rey remained apprehensive. She’d been on edge since separating from Kylo. The longer she went without him the more unraveled she felt. Rey wasn’t sure if it was her nerves or her intuition. She aired on the side of caution.
The second Kylo entered the room, Rey turned her head to gaze over her shoulder at him. His jaw was set firmly and his hands were clenched at his sides. The determination illustrated by his features was real, as real as the fear in his amber eyes.
“Ren,” Snoke addressed him with scorn and pointed to Rey. “Explain yourself.”
“She means nothing to me,” he responded.
Rey didn’t hide her hurt. Though it was part of the plan, the words still stung because his callous dismissal was her wrist fear.
“Prove it,” Snoke demanded. “Kill her.”
Hux’s grip intensified before it went slack. She noticed a strain in his movements as he stepped aside.
Rey faced Kylo. He was unrecognizable from the man she’d grown to love. All traces of Ben Solo were gone. All that remained was Kylo Ren. His steely gaze was impenetrable. He looked cold, merciless in the way he held himself. For the first time since the night they’d met, she was afraid.
But not of him.
What she’d ask of him was too much. Rey could see that now. She saw how the burden was wearing on him. Her voice was barely audible over the ringing in her ears.
“Do what your grandfather couldn’t,” Snoke urged. “End her life and your compassion now!”
Everything happened in slow motion. Kylo withdrew his Heckler and Koch. Snoke cackled, unable to see Kylo’s true intent. The old man couldn’t see past his own ambition. He didn’t realize that he’d already lost.
Rey heard the gunshot ring out and felt the tremor of the explosive sound in her gut. Silence reigned for several moments as tension mounted. She opened her eyes to find Kylo shaking.
Carefully, Rey placed her hands over his, lowering the gun to the floor. “It’s over now,” she told him. “He will never hurt you again. You’re safe.”
His mask shattered and he gathered her into his arms. She felt his chest heaving as he clutched onto her, his fingers tangling in her shirt. Rey pressed kisses along his neck, murmuring softly as she rubbed his back. She wasn’t aware of anything but Kylo.
The first of his chains were broken. From here, she could lead him forward into the light.
“A little help here!”
Hux’s cry alerted them to the incoming attack. Snoke was collapsed over in his seat but his guards were still breathing.
Kylo took hold of his weapon, angling the barrel over Rey’s shoulder. He fired three shots, before spinning them so Rey was behind him so she could retrieve her Smith & Wesson from Hux. She tossed Kylo a smile over her shoulder.
They took aim at their targets and pulled the trigger.
Up Next: The final showdown...
Chapter 15: The Day the Dance is Over
You can put away your costume
You can be yourself
There is nothing to be scared of
They can turn all the lights out
Leave us standing in the dark
But I'm not going anywhere, love
Walking out of the First Order compound for the last time felt like a religious experience. Ben shed the final remnants of his dark past, letting them slide off his shoulders. The burden was no longer his to bear. He’d put it all behind him.
Over the shouts of the SWAT team, he heard the rhythm of his heart steady. Rey fell to her knees beside him, placing her hands on the back of her head. Hux followed suit before shooting him an expectant glare. Some things never changed. With a sigh, Ben lowered himself to the ground.
Snoke’s demise had set forth a chain of events leading up to this moment. Those events were written in blood. The crimson fluid decorated his entire form. He wasn’t the only one who looked like a horror movie extra. Blood splatter dotted Rey’s tanned skin, adding a morbid layer of freckles to her appearance.
They’d taken out all of Snoke’s guards before splitting up. Rey went with Hux to download the files from the server room and Ben went after Palpatine. The First Order hadn’t killed one parent; they’d killed both. It was only fair he did the same.
An eye for an eye.
The old man hadn’t been surprised to see Ben stalking into his office. He’d been eerily amused by the situation. When Ben saw the three dozen men behind Palpatine, he understood why. The boss had been expecting this.
“You Skywalkers,” he spat, “always so headstrong and foolish. You lack vision. You lack the will to do what is necessary. What a waste.”
“It’s over,” Ben told him. “The police have what they need. You’re going away.”
“Really?” Palpatine scoffed. He snapped his fingers and one of the guards displayed an iPad with an image of Rey and Hux in the server room. “What if I propose a trade?”
Ben watched as the emergency procedures locked down the room, trapping Rey and Hux inside.
“There’s enough oxygen to keep them alive for ten minutes, nine if they suffer from claustrophobia,” Palpatine said with a sneer. “That’s how long you have to decide.”
He moved without pause. The last of the darkness in his soul flared viciously. Ben didn’t think. He didn’t have to. Instinct took control. He dodged, ducked, bobbed, and weaved. Not a single strike landed against him. With precise motions, Ben cut down each one of his opponents, a relentless machine of destruction unparalleled in his ability to incapacitate them.
When the last body fell to the floor with a heavy this, he turned to Palpatine. The old man had the gall to clap. “Impressive.”
“Release them,” Ben demanded.
It was a trap. He recognized the smug glint in the old man’s eyes. He also knew Rey had less than a minute of air left.
“What do you want?” Ben asked.
“You,” Palpatine answered. “Serving as my right-hand. Take up your mentor’s path. Serve the First Order as you originally intended.”
“Then watch her die,” Palpatine hissed.
Ben gazed at the screen. Hux and Rey had vanished from view. He grabbed the iPad, frantically scanning the image.
“Too late,” Palpatine preened.
“No!” Ben threw the iPad against the wall.
The old man cackled, delighted by his pain. “You should have learned, young Solo. I beat your grandfather. I beat your mother and now, I will end the Skywalker line with you.”
Ben didn’t see Palpatine raise the pistol. He was still staring at the shattered pieces of the iPad. It was the click of the hammer that alerted him to the threat. He turned to face the end. His breath caught.
Palpatine’s finger lowered to the trigger and that was when Rey stabbed her hairpin into his jugular.
He wasn’t sure how long he’d watched her. Her hair was hanging in her face and her hands were trembling as she removed the blade. Blood poured out, staining her shirt. Palpatine slumped forward and then collapsed to the floor. Ben watched her chest rise and fall as she stared at the body in disbelief. Her gaze flickered to her hands then returned to the crime syndicate’s boss. Her face paled.
“Rey.” Ben spoke softly, afraid to startle her.
“He...he was going to—to kill you,” she said. The words were a struggle but there was no remorse in her voice. “I didn’t plan for this.”
“Sweet thing.” Ben tucked her hair away from her face. “I don’t care about the plan. You’re alive. I’m alive. We’re together. That’s all that matters.”
Rey nodded, eyes lingering on Palpatine’s carcass.
“How did you get out?”
She glanced up at him. “That central air shaft Hux mentioned.”
“The one with the weight sensors?” Ben asked.
“Which are controlled by the security program which is stored on the server,” Rey explained with a smirk. “Once I hacked into the system, I had control over everything. Hux and I split up. He went to signal Phasma and I came back for you.”
He smiled. “You always do.”
“And I always will.”
The investigation took over eighteen months and served as a constant interruption. While Ben began campaigning for the vacant seat, Rey was left to question what was next. Though he insisted she didn’t need to work, there were only so many hours a day she could train. She quickly grew bored.
“Are you reading that again?” Ben asked when he arrived home to find her curled up in the window seat with Oliver Twist.
“It’s my favorite,” she answered without looking up.
“Which you stole from me.”
“You don’t have time to read it,” she returned. “I do.”
“I could buy you a junker,” Ben offered, sinking into an armchair next to her. “That way you could tinker while I’m in meetings.”
“Nah,” Rey said, waving off the suggestion. “Cars are all the same. Machines in general, actually. Fixing them is too easy.”
“But you like fixing broken things,” he reminded her.
“Yes, but when it’s the same thing every time, it starts to lose its appeal.”
Ben straightened up. “What if it wasn’t the same every time?”
Rey lowered the book into her lap, studying him. “What did you have in mind?”
The next day, instead of prepping with his team for his campaign, Ben drove Rey into Coruscant to Raddus Publishing.
“What are we doing here?” Rey questioned as he guided her into the elevator.
She’d thought something was up when Ben told her to dress nice. He’d vetoed her first outfit— a slinky red dress that dipped too low for her to wear a bra. After three more tries, Ben had selected a sleek pencil skirt and blouse.
“You have an interview with Amilyn Holdo, the Editor in Chief.”
This was not what she’d expected. Her assumption had been more along the lines of finally having dinner together at Pangalactus. And, if she was being honest, ending the night with a particular question and an even more specific piece of jewelry.
“I’m not prepared for this,” she hissed at him.
“Don’t worry. Amilyn’s an old family friend. She’s not your typical leader. She tends to do things...alternatively,” Ben assured Rey.
She wasn’t convinced.
As they stepped off the elevator and into the posh publishing office, Rey considered removing her hairpin. She’d just gotten it back from evidence last week. Phasma would be disappointed if she had to take possession of it again so soon. In Ben’s case, Rey was thinking she might make an exception.
Then a woman with vibrant amethyst hair came around the corner. “Ben! So nice to see you,” she greeted him, pulling him into a hug. “And this must be Rey.”
“Hello, Miss Holdo. Thank you for meeting with me.”
“Miss Holdo! Ben, what did you do to this poor girl?” the woman teased. “Rey, please call me Amilyn. We’ve never been that formal at the Raddus and we aren’t going to start now. Let me show you to my office and we can chat,” she said, hooking her arm through Rey’s.
Amilyn turned out to be as atypical as Ben mentioned. Along with her wild choice in hair color, she had rather progressive views on business. Rey instantly felt at ease with the other woman. They spoke about books— what she liked, what she didn’t— and at the end of the interview, Amilyn offered her a job as a Copy Editor.
Rey started at nine a.m. sharp the next morning.
Ben stared down at his parents. He’d visited each week since he’d been cleared of all charges for his crimes for and against the First Order. Ironically, his role in ending the crime syndicate was what had won him the votes to take the Senate chair.
To celebrate, he’d taken Rey to dinner at Pangalactus. She’d expected the champagne. She hadn’t been prepared for the ring he’d paid the waiter to hide in her glass.
In the time it had taken him to secure his place for office, Rey had excelled in her career as a book editor for Raddus. She’d gone from Copy Editor to Junior Book Editor in less than a year.
Amilyn appreciated her unique perspective. The company’s bottom-line appreciated it even more. Rey’s books had continuously increased their net income year over year, earning her an advance to Editor status.
She was up for a second promotion to Senior Editor under Amilyn, a position which Ben knew she’d have no trouble getting. His girl had a passion for books.
Her love for the written word was second only to him. No matter how involved Rey became with a new manuscript, she always made time for Ben. Whether it was a quiet night in watching another episode of Chopped or walking hand and hand through Canto Bight, Rey was committed to their relationship.
Ben was committed too, which was why he’d slipped a rather large diamond-studded ring into her champagne flute. Somewhere between her tearful cries of ‘yes’ and his proud grin, they realized dinner would have to wait. Ben barely made it back to Varykino before he was tearing her red dress off.
Nine months later, their son was born.
“I promised I’d bring him by once he was old enough,” Ben said, reaching into the stroller. “This is your grandson, Dylan,” he introduced the bundle in his arms. “Dylan, this is your grandmother, Leia and your grandfather, Han. They can’t speak to you the way your mother and I can but they will always be with you.”
His son’s green eyes took in the pair of headstones curiously before he broke into a toothless grin.
Ben smiled in return. “He’s got your lack of respect for the rules,” he told his father. “And your stubbornness,” he said to Leia. “I see so much of you both in him every day.”
He felt the familiar burn at the back of his throat, signaling he only had a few more minutes before his voice gave out due to tears.
“Rey’s started working from home so she can be with him more. She doesn’t want him to grow up the way we did. I haven’t told her yet, but I’m thinking of sitting the next election out. Maybe run for City Council instead. I think Zorii could run things. She’s calmed down since I made her my Counsel,” he shared.
As predicted, the First Order ceased to exist after Palpatine’s fall. Once Zorii became aware of Dameron’s role in the turn of events, her hatred of Ben lessened. When he approached her with a job offer, she was suspicious. In the end, it was Rey who convinced her to serve in government. She told Zorii it was what Poe would have wanted. Once she was on board, the Resistance fell in line.
It had been an uphill climb. There were days when Ben felt it would have been easier to take up his former mantle to garner results. Wielding a gun yielded immediate action. In the office, the only tool he brandished was a pen. It didn’t have the same effect. It also didn’t come with the same risk. When he had married Rey, Ben made her a promise. He made the same promise to their son on the day of his birth.
“I don’t want to miss anything,” Ben said, watching Dylan play with the edge of his blanket.
“And you shouldn’t,” a voice said from behind him.
Ben turned to find his uncle standing by the oak tree. He was carrying a bouquet of roses for his twin.
“I didn’t mean to interrupt,” Luke quickly apologized. “Just wanted to drop these off on my way to Lor’s.”
Ben didn’t know if he’d ever forgive Luke but he’d killed enough for one lifetime. He refused to add the weight of his uncle’s death to his list of sins. He wanted to shed the chains of his past, not create another ghost.
“Maybe you two could stop by Varykino sometime. I’m sure Rey would like to see Lor,” Ben offered. “And this little guy,” he held up Dylan, “should get to know his family. All of his family.”
“A change of venue might be nice,” his uncle agreed.
“What about next Sunday?” Ben suggested.
“Noon?” Luke asked. Ben nodded. “I’ll bring the wine.”
Ben took a deep breath, feeling a calm settle over him. He tucked Dylan inside his stroller, careful to keep the blanket wrapped tight around him. With a wave to his uncle, he began his stroll back to the Maybach.
“By the way,” Luke called after him. “I liked the title of your last bill. A New Order. Quite fitting, given the circumstances, isn’t it?”
“What can I say?” Ben smirked with a shrug. “Skywalkers like to be dramatic.”