Lieutenant Rey (just Rey, no last name on record, with half the precinct in some doubt as to whether Rey was her first or last name) used the last few paces between the elevator and the door to scrub her hands over her face. It was five twenty-six AM; her communicator had gone off at five-oh-one. The intervening twenty-five minutes had been spent jumping in and then quickly out, cursing, of an icy shower, grabbing the go cup of fake caf from under the grumbling spout of her ancient machine, then shooting across town as fast as her clunky, departmental issue vehicle would go. Her hair was twirled into three equal sized buns, which was the way she liked it: off her neck, and out of her way.
She nodded to the uniform on the door, but didn’t bother sealing her hands and feet until she was in the apartment proper. Dozens of fingers had been wrapped around that handle today, it would be useless as far as prints were concerned.
The vic was a young woman, undeniably lovely, with skin which must have been pale and creamy in life gone blue and mottled in death. She was naked, a black skinsuit neatly folded off to one side. Her cosmetics were still perfect, her cherry-coloured lip dye sending a pang of pity through Rey like the bolt from a caster. It brought a much needed flush of warmth to a face which would never blush again, and that offended her personally.
She took all death personally.
She considered the dead her own.
“Unidentified licensed companion,” she reported, after a frustrating few seconds struggling to adjust her aged recorder. “Approximately thirty, brown, blue. No signs of violence or trauma. Cause of death as yet unidentified.” She clicked it off, turning away from the girl on the floor to the second officer in the room. Even knowing the techs would take the greatest of care with her didn’t help – Rey hated to look away from the still, pretty face, hated to leave her alone, bare and vulnerable and cold. She’d been bare and vulnerable and cold before, and even the memory of that memory was something she had to shake off before addressing Dameron. “Who owns this building?”
Poe Dameron was an e-whizz, an electronics geek who’d side-stepped the stereotype by being taller than most and far more handsome. He had a pair of the most expressive eyebrows Rey had ever eseen, running straight and strong at almost exact right angles to his bold nose. He’d been up to his elbows in the security system when she enquired, worn leather sleeves rolled back the precise number of times he liked them rolled back, his forearms tan and muscled, completed by surprisingly delicate, constantly twitching tendons. “You’re not going to like it,” he warned her, one side of his mouth sneaking upwards in spite of the grisly situation. “Computer, identify building owner.”
The Amidala Memorial Complex is owned by First Order LLC.
Rey fought the urge to rub at her face again. She had a wicked headache building up behind her eyes, and it was only going to get worse. “Computer,” she said wearily. “Identify individual accountable for the Amidala Memorial Whatsit, clearance Lieutenant Rey, Hosnian Prime PD.”
Clearance Lieutenant Rey, Hosnian Prime Police Department accepted. Please contact Kylo Ren, designated Chief Operating Officer.
“Ren again.” Poe whistled, a low, sweet whooshing noise which did nothing to help the headache which had suddenly and inexplicably blown up like a firestorm inside Rey’s skull. She rifled through her pockets for a blocker, if only to get through the next fourteen or so hours before she could get a cup of cheap noodles and some sleep, but all she kept in the pockets of her oldest pair of trousers was lint.
“I thought Hux was chief exec.”
“He’s executive, Ren is operations.”
She crammed her hands deeper into her pockets, hunting for something that wasn’t there. “That’s the third licensed companion to die in a First Order building this month.”
“You think somebody’s trying to send a message?”
“Or somebody’s shitting where they eat.” Poe grinned at her crudeness, but Rey couldn’t manage anything for him in return. The sick, trapped butterfly feeling in her stomach was back, and that worried her. It worried her because it didn’t have to do so much with the case as Kylo Ren himself. “These buildings where the vics are found are all under Ren’s jurisdiction, not Hux’s. Why? Up until recently, Ren was permanently stationed off planet.” Giving in to the building pressure inside, Rey knuckled her burning eyes, which had little to no effect on her levels of pain or fatigue. “Did Ren ask to be reassigned? Is this why? Does he have something to do with the death of these women, this guy with a famously bad temper and no record of ever using a licensed companion of either sex? Does he actually have nothing to do with it, Dameron? Am I just blasting at the moon?”
The e-detective gave her a wry look. “That’s why they pay you the minimum credits, Lieutenant – to go and find the answers, to drag them out of people kicking and screaming if necessary. Me, I’ve always preferred machines. Much simpler.” On cue, the globe-like droid at his side burbled. He patted the sloping orange and white top, much as another person might pet a dog. “Simple doesn’t always mean stupid, Beebee-Ate. A lot of the time, it just means easier to understand.” Privately, Poe thought no one could accuse Lieutenant Rey of being either kind of simple.
Privately, she was thinking the same thing of their person of interest.
Kylo Ren was clearly a big fan of black. Almost everything in his huge office was black: matte black, mostly, with the occasionally touch of gloss here and there (to brighten the place up, she assumed). Mitaka, Ren’s assistant administrator or administrative assistant – she’d forgotten which – a neat, small-boned man, had encouraged her to be comfortable, but one glance at the sleek black visitor’s chair had her shaking her head. It looked like the kind to have restraints hidden in the arms.
The distorted voice made her jump, and Rey whirled around to see not a man – well, technically a man, but as she already suspected him of being much worse than that, it wasn’t that much of a leap – but a six foot plus monster, its face covered with shining black and silver curves, reducing the eyes to shaded ovals and the mouth to a downward-pointing snout. He could see her, but she couldn’t see him. All she had to go on was the armour he wore.
She must’ve made some sort of sound, because Ren immediately lifted his hands and removed the mask. Rey’s heart was still hammering when his face came into view, with the narrow, slightly slanting eyes, the long nose, the generous mouth all set a little too far apart in the pale, angular face. He was attractive, but she couldn’t work out how he was. Kylo Ren was neither handsome, nor pretty, nor even particularly symmetrical. He towered over her, and his shoulders were broad, but the unadorned black of his clothes confused his outline to the point where she couldn’t tell whether he was built or slim. Coming towards her, he ate up the carpet in relaxed, rangy strides.
“What’s with the mask?”
“I was taking part in some demolition.”
“You don’t have any dust on you.”
“I cleaned up.”
His untroubled responses frustrated her and made her punchy, but Rey felt the urge to lean away from Ren as he approached rather than into him, to invade his space and intimidate him as she would another suspect. She felt shabby in her grey outfit, dwarfed by the enormous room, uncomfortable in her own skin. She prickled all over as he watched her, assessing, probably evaluating all the things about her she was currently using as a stick to beat herself.
“There’s been another murder,” she told him curtly.
“At one of my buildings,” he surmised. “Which?”
“The Amidala.” Ren closed his eyes briefly. “You have a personal interest in that building?”
His eyes came open again, flaming. “It’s mine, isn’t it?” He’d gone to the desk and arranged himself against it, hands braced on either side of his body. Now the knuckles shone white, and Rey swore she heard the wood crunch. “I named it for my grandmother.”
“The victim didn’t have a chance to be anybody’s grandmother. Nor did the last young woman to die in one of your buildings. Nor did the first. I’m getting bored of coming back to your office, Ren, and of you evading the same questions. What is it that you aren’t telling me?”
His response wasn’t what she expected. She was getting used to his quick temper, because he tended to cool off as swiftly as he got riled up (maybe something to do with whatever ‘demolition’ didn’t leave any dust or debris on his black tunic). She did observe the rage him, but rather than returning to smooth impenetrability, Rey saw him soften somehow. It wasn’t a change she could pin down, but it paralysed her. She was fascinated by the slowly dawning difference as he looked at her, taking her in once again. She knew what she was, a cop. She knew what she appeared to be, a poorly paid cop, just above medium height, eyes dark, hair dark but not as dark as his. His curled. Wavy strands of hers slipped down in front of her ears sometimes, but he definitely win in the grooming stakes. Her frame was compact and tough. Her knuckles were often bruised.
“What is it that you aren’t telling me, Lieutenant?” Kylo Ren let go of the desk as well as his anger and closed the distance between them, stopping too close for Rey’s churning stomach or the pulsing headache which refused to go away. “What is it about you?” She flinched when he put his palm to her cheek, though the contact was hardly aggressive. It hardly even seemed relevant, for him or for her. It seemed a backdrop to the way he tilted his head, aligning his gaze with hers, staring deep into the brown irises, the black pupils, beyond. He was searching for something, she realised. Her mouth went dry, Jakku on a hot day dry. “Don’t be afraid,” Ren murmured, recognising something she didn’t.
“I’m not afraid of you.”
“Not of me,” he replied. “Of it.”
Rey was sure she wasn’t a bad detective. Considering her age and experience, she was one of the better detectives Hosnian Prime PD had, and her devotion to her victims was unshakeable. It had to be. She had so few other permanent things in her life, so few possessions, practically no roots. That commitment kept her grounded, centre. On days where the past crept up and threatened to jump her, ruin her, engulf her completely, she clung to justice like a life raft on an unkind ocean.
“I feel it too.” His hand curved around to cup her jaw, to raise her chin, his aid in examining her like a flower on a skinny-necked stem. “You’ve been so lonely.” His thumb just brushed her earlobe, then moved away again before she had time to startle. “You know I can take whatever I want, your job, that flop your pittance of a salary means you have to call home. All the information I need to shut your case down, or spring it wide open. Whatever I want, Rey.”
He felt it again when her muscles tightened, whatever ‘it’ was. He felt it power through him like the jump to hyperspace when she clenched her teeth, when she retorted, “Then you don’t need me to tell you anything, do you? We can just talk about you. And the victims. And you can take your hand off me before I have to hurt you.” Which surprised him. She was an ordinary girl, an ordinary officer, yet she was a blank. No past, no pressure points, even though her lip was quivering.
At that, Ren did step away (and Rey, like an idiot, felt suddenly and stupidly bereft, colder than she’d been all day). “I should probably threaten you back,” he said. “But despite the many things which do call to me, I don’t enjoy hurting women.” Then he went back around the desk, drawing the line between them. Rey welcomed it. She welcomed the distance, not to mention something physical between them he couldn’t charge right through.
“You wouldn’t get the chance with me.”
“I didn’t kill the two licensed companions you’ve already questioned me about, and I didn’t kill the woman whose body you discovered today.” He leaned forward slightly, but Rey no longer felt the need to move back. They knew where they stood again. The moment had passed. “But if I find out who did, Lieutenant, I’ll kill them myself, and there won’t be anything left for you but scraps.” And he meant it, she sensed it.
“Who murdered your grandmother?” Rey asked.
“My grandfather,” Ren answered, unflinching. “But I loved them both, which is why I understand.”
He gave her a half-smile, one which her mouth wanted to mirror. She needed a blocker, and soon.
“I can help you.”
Of that, she was certain.
He could help her over the edge.