She didn't so much as get into acting as have Teng Malar, the hotel's ancient groundsman, shove a casting call flyer into her hands while she helped herself to buffet leftovers in the kitchen with the rest of the maids.
"Why not?" Teng shrugged. "You've got the looks for it. Ain't seen eyes like yours since Audrey, girl."
The other maids giggled and dared her to go, just for the fun of it, and, Why not, indeed, Rey thought, her mouth full of chicken terrine. She never backed down from a dare and everyone living within the central Coruscant radius wanted to be a star, anyway, what with that Hollywood sign shedding silver dreams from the omnipresent emerald hills. Might as well.
She went to the audition and the rest, as they say, is Tinseltown history. But what Rey didn't know was this— as she channeled Jakku, England's dust and bitterness into that scrappy survivor role while the casting director watched silently from the front row, Kylo Ren was ripping up his contract with First Order Studios in a boardroom full of aghast lawyers and executives, and then he was smiling tight-lipped with grim pleasure as he strode out of the industrial black steel complex, into the sunlight of a new life.
"Where are you staying?" Finn asked Rey while they sipped lattes at Maz's to celebrate impending fame and fortune. We're gonna be on TV, he'd gushed to the severely unimpressed barista, who'd rolled her eyes but doodled a Sharpie star on each of their cups, anyway.
"Right now? Staff housing at the Death Star," Rey said, with an unabashed grin.
"No shit?" Finn cocked his head. "That's where Anakin Skywalker died."
"So I've heard." She licked away the sweet foam from her lips. "Mysterious circumstances, yeah?"
He snorted, leaned in closer if to impart some great secret. "As mysterious as cocaine overdose gets, sure. You know who was with him when he kicked the bucket?"
"I used to be a limo driver. You hear things. Christopher Walken and Robert De Niro were with him, in that room. All three of them going doo-doo on the happy dust."
Finn nodded, and then changed the topic. "You can stay with me, if you like. My roommate, Slip— he's moving back East, and I need someone to cover his half of the rent."
Rey agreed, because apartment rates were off the charts and, while she'd only met Finn at the first round of auditions, he had kind, definitely-not-a-serial-killer eyes. They sealed the deal with a latte toast, and, meanwhile, Kylo Ren was taking a call from someone he hadn't spoken to in years as his Bugatti TIE aimlessly cruised the Coruscant streets.
"Ben," said his uncle, "I need a villain for my new show. Interested?"
Rey didn't normally dress up, but, for the kickoff party, she'd squeezed herself into her nicest skinny jeans and a pair of thrift-shop boots. There would be press at the reception, so she'd done the best she could with a mascara wand and a tube of sparkly peach-hued lip gloss.
"Might want to contract a stylist for events," Poe Dameron advised her, smiling to take the sting out of his words.
"Good idea," she mumbled, a little tongue-tied because it wasn't even a decade ago when Poe was stealing hearts all across the globe with his portrayal of some bedroom-eyed dreamboat on one of the most successful teen dramas since Dawson's Creek. Now he was throwing in his lot with her and Finn as the protagonists of Luke Skywalker's much-awaited take on young adult dystopia.
"Here comes Big Bad," Finn announced, and Rey turned to look at the doorway— as did everyone else. Some people had that effect on any given room.
Kylo Ren was tall and lean, with a mane of unruly dark hair and full lips that were, as many a celebrity feature had gushed, made for kissing. He bore no physical resemblance to his movie-star grandfather, but his gaze was just as intense— just as magnetic— as Anakin's had been, from what Rey remembered of old films and interview clips. That gaze met hers as he perused the crowd, and she felt a strange current run between them— some crazy electric-charged jolt that made her look away as quickly as if she'd been burned.
"Heard he split with First Order Studios," Poe was gossiping to Finn. "Walked out right in the middle of filming Starkiller, 'cause of creative differences."
"They probably served his Kona Deep a degree too warm," Finn sniped. He'd driven that limo for Snoke, and he'd been regaling Rey with all the dirt on Kylo ever since they found out he was their newest castmate. He was notorious for on-set tantrums and partying way too hard— although, there had been that stint at Passages, hadn't there, according to the tabloids, and he was supposedly clean now—
It was an odd sensation, to be in the same room with someone and already have the gritty pieces of their life mapped out in the pop culture center of your brain. By the time Rey chanced another look at Kylo, he had his back to her and he was talking to someone she didn't know. Bereft of those striking eyes, she could concentrate instead on his broad shoulders, accentuated by a tailored charcoal jacket, and his slim hips, and then, oh, God, she was checking out her co-star's ass in thousand-dollar dress pants.
"So, Finn tells me you used to housekeep at that hotel off of Endor?"
It took Rey a few seconds to realize that Poe was talking to her, and another few seconds to notice that Finn had wandered away to chat with the crew. She nodded, willing her cheeks not to flush red. "The Death Star, yeah."
"Ever housekept the chalet Anakin Skywalker died in?"
"They won't tell us which one it is."
Poe chuckled. "Figures they wouldn't. You know who he was with that night?"
"No. Who?" Rey said, gamely.
"Meryl Streep and Dustin Hoffman. The studios covered it up, of course."
Luke gave a brief welcome speech, accepting the round of cheers with a solemn yet cautiously optimistic expression on his weathered face. Awakening was his big comeback; he'd spent the last five years in seclusion on a tiny island called Ahch-To, somewhere in the Mediterranean, after the shocking cancellation of his long-running political thriller, Empire. He introduced the cast one by one, for formality's sake, and Rey couldn't quite help the ridiculous grin that threated to split her face in half at being referred to as "our Daisy." Flanked by Finn and Poe, she leaned against the wall and basked in the applause. Not bad for a former dreg of the Jakku foster system. She had to be dreaming.
Kylo didn't clap, but his dark eyes lingered on her long after Luke had moved on to the other cast members. Every time her gaze drifted to him, he was already watching, holding her attention from across the room. It was tense and— shockingly exhilarating, this series of stolen glances, like two satellites in orbit or maybe battle lines being drawn, and Rey had no idea how to flirt so she finally just... shrugged at him. It was an I don't know what we're doing, do you? kind of shrug. He started a bit, and then he looked away, but not before she caught his lips curving in a vague approximation of a smile.
After more speeches by various studio heads and people attached to the show, everyone was ushered to a hall where long buffet tables groaned beneath all manner of delicacies. Rey and Finn dove in like animals while Poe hung back, torn between amusement and dismay.
"This cheese," Rey declared, cheeks bulging, "is the heavenliest thing I've ever put in my mouth."
"Try it with the pastrami," Finn urged, nudging her in the direction of the cold cuts.
Poe squinted at the half-decimated cheese wheel on the table. "Oh, yeah, Brillat-Savarin's great," he said, nodding. "My favorite Brie. It's so creamy because of the white mould they use—"
Finn discreetly spat into a paper napkin, while Rey's brow scrunched as she tried to decide whether or not she was grossed out by the concept of eating what was basically rotten food. Nah, she wasn't. She'd braved worse back in Jakku, and none of her dumpster dives had ever yielded anything this delicious.
She was about to go for seconds while Finn and Poe bounded to the dessert table, when Kylo suddenly loomed over her like a... great big looming thing.
"Allow me to properly introduce my nephew," said Luke. Kylo hadn't gone through the usual string of callbacks and chemistry tests— some people were crying nepotism, but Luke called it a leap of faith. "Rey, this is Ben."
Ben? she was about to ask, before she remembered that Kylo Ren was a stage name. "Hi," she said instead, trying to sound as congenial as possible. She'd never been much of a social butterfly, but it was probably time to start practicing. "It's nice to meet you."
Kylo stared at her as if she'd punched him in the gut. Luke suddenly broke into a grin. "That's right— the accent! I'd forgotten." To a very confused Rey, he explained, "Ben's teenage obsession was Rachel Weisz in The Mummy."
"Uncle," Kylo said through gritted teeth, "shut up."
Luke was still chortling as he walked away, leaving his two stars to get acquainted. Or, more precisely, to shuffle their feet awkwardly at each other.
"Evelyn Carnahan, huh?" Rey's attempt at levity only earned her the scowl that had been immortalized in many a First Order blockbuster. Up close, Kylo's eyes were lighter than she'd previously thought— a gold-flecked, almost toffee-hued shade of brown. He wasn't conventionally handsome, but the blend of sharp features with that pale, beauty-marked complexion was striking, and that generous mouth ensured a one-way ticket to hell. If Poe Dameron was a dreamboat, then Kylo Ren was the kind of dream you told no one about, not even your priest.
"This is your first gig," he said, slowly. "Correct?"
"Er, yes." Smooth, Rey. "Will that be a problem?" she challenged, because his reputation as an asshole preceded him and she was familiar with the sort of industry speculation that surrounded a big-budget show headlined by unknowns. She was not sleeping with the casting director, thank you very much.
The hurt that flickered across his expressive face made her think that perhaps she'd read his intentions wrong. However, just as she was starting to feel guilty, he rallied with a sneer. "I don't know if I'm comfortable working with someone so inexperienced," he mocked, and whatever attraction she'd felt for him evaporated like mist in the morning.
"At least I actually tried out for my part," she retorted. "Must be nice to have connections."
She flounced away, and it wasn't very Scarlett O'Hara because she was in jeans and her mouth tasted like mouldy cheese, but she managed the outrage just fine, in her opinion.
"I mean, he is playing the villain," Poe said later that night, in the apartment that Rey now shared with Finn, after they'd invited him over for milkshakes and Cards Against Humanity. "He's a method actor, y'know? Like his grandfather."
Rey pursed her lips as she tipped the box of black and white cards onto the table. "Should I expect a live rat in the mail, then?"
Finn burst out laughing. "I don't think Adam and Daisy are going to have a Joker/Harley Quinn kind of relationship, so you're probably safe from the Leto-esque antics."
"God. Leto." Poe shook his head. "Sometimes I just want to take him by the shoulders and ask him if he's okay."
"Could you reach Jared Leto's shoulders?" Rey asked, doubtfully.
Poe flicked a straw at her.
Before he became Kylo Ren, he was Ben Organa-Solo, the New York senator's son, and never was Rey more reminded of this than when they were doing promotions for Awakening. He showed up in custom-made suits, unperturbed by the sea of blinding flashes, and he answered the most treacherous questions with enviable diplomatic ease.
"Kylo," said a reporter from Astral!, "there are rumors that First Order let you go because you relapsed. Care to comment?"
"They're just that— rumors," he smoothly replied. "I left First Order because it was high time to take my career in a different direction."
Before the reporter could follow up, Kylo turned away to murmur something in Rey's ear. She was sort of accustomed to this by now, him using her— or the nearest available castmate— as a shield, although the first time he'd done it, she'd almost elbowed him out of her personal space before he snapped at her to "just go with it." Cameras went off and people aww'ed, because he had to bend down so that his lips could brush against her ear while his large hand spanned the small of her back. He smelled like sandalwood with a hint of vanilla, and maybe it was the lights but she could swear that the look on his face was almost soft as he gazed at her.
He usually asked her random, inane questions at times like these. Tonight, he said, "So, tell me, how does a British girl end up in Hollywood, California?"
"My birth mother found me when I was seventeen and brought me across the pond." She had to concentrate on her answer; his breath was warm and the low rumble of his voice did things to her stomach. "Omaha, to be exact, but there was nothing to keep me there when she passed away a couple of years ago." Telling this story was old hat by now, and she waited for the inevitable grating sympathy or the awkwardly abrupt change in topic— she was never sure which of the two she resented more.
Instead, Kylo merely observed, "You kept your accent."
Rey's grin was surprised, but genuine. "What can I say? I'm stubborn."
Another reporter called her attention, and Kylo dutifully let her go. A mic was thrust into her face. "Rey, could you tell us more about your character on Awakening?"
"Um, sure." She nervously smoothed down the front of the skin-tight green dress that her stylist had insisted on putting her in, and she wondered if the fish-out-of-water feeling would ever go away. "Daisy's a young, impetuous girl who lives in a dystopian future where love is considered a disease. Amor deliria nervosa. When people in this world turn eighteen, they undergo a form of brain surgery that takes away their capacity to love— transforms them into emotionless robots, basically. Daisy's life is turned upside down when she falls in love with John— that's Finn's character— a month before her eighteenth birthday." She was doing nothing more than reciting a Cliff's Notes version of the first season's storyline, but the reporter nodded in encouragement. "So she has this whole crisis of faith, on whether she should, uh, remain in the good graces of society, or, you know, fight for her love. It's all very dramatic and romantic, and it opens up all sorts of questions about— about how you could feel something so strongly for someone that it makes everything else— all the risk and the hardship— worth it."
"And do you think love is worth everything?" the reporter asked, slyly.
Rey blinked. Kylo was watching her out of the corner of his eye. "I wouldn't know," she said at last. "I've never been in love. But I do know about survival and fighting for the things that matter, and how it can be difficult to strike a balance between the two. It's that conflict that I'm looking forward to bringing to the role."
Poe made his grand entrance just then, and Rey heaved a sigh of relief as the reporters flocked to him. "Think he bought my bullshit?" she joked to Kylo.
"Don't sell yourself short like that," was his terse reply. "There's no need to be cute— it was a good answer. You don't have to pretend that it didn't mean anything to you."
It was a compliment, but also not. And, just like that, she was annoyed with him again.
Wilhuff Tarkin said it best, I think. The year was 1990 and real-time computer graphics had just made their big debut in, of all things, Robocop 2. Silicon Valley was ecstatic, Hollywood was abuzz, and the Oscar-winning director ( Wrath of God, 1972; Strike Fear, 1979) and I were holed up in his favorite bar— The Carrion Spike on Monument Plaza— lamenting evolution and the end of the old world.
For some reason, the talk veered to Tarkin's most infamous protege, who had been discovered in rigor mortis by the housekeeping staff at the exclusive Death Star a few months prior. "If ego is what makes men miserable, then he was surely one of the most miserable men of all time," Tarkin declared around the cheroot between his lips. "He was a wild animal— but, where a beast would have claws, he had talent. And his talent mauled many."
This damning praise hardly comes as a shock. No movie star within the last century has polarized Hollywood and film buffs so much— has inspired such equal heights of revulsion and awe— as the late Anakin Skywalker.
"Code Red!" BB hissed at Rey the moment she entered the narrow corridor of dressing rooms at Resistance Studios. " Finding Emo, incoming!"
Rey groaned, with more resignation than actual surprise. She'd expected as much ever since she opened Lor San Tekka's article over her breakfast muesli. "How bad is it?"
"Not that bad yet," BB replied, clutching a manila folder labeled SCRIPT - POE DAMERON to their ample chest. "Some shouting, and he thumped the wall at one point, but none of the interns have quit so far."
"Give it time," Rey dryly advised "Are Finn and your boss here yet?" Finn had spent the night at Poe's— had been doing so constantly for the past month— and Rey was happy for them, even though she lived in a perennial state of anxiety that the paps might catch on to this whirlwind romance and tear it to shreds.
BB nodded. They were half a foot shorter than Rey, with orange-framed cat eye glasses and a head of cropped auburn hair. "Got in fifteen minutes ago. The two of them are laying low, and so should you."
"I can't. We're shooting a pivotal scene today. We need to rehearse."
BB clucked their tongue in sympathy. There was a muffled shattering sound from up ahead, and one of the doors creaked open as a tall, icy blonde strode out into the hallway, an inscrutable expression on her face.
"He broke a mirror," she explained to BB and Rey. "I think it's time to raise the alert level to Tantrum At Tiffany's."
"Oh, Phasma," sighed BB, "why don't you just quit?"
"And leave all this?" Phasma's lips quirked in tandem with another crash from the dressing room that she had just departed. "I've been his personal assistant since First Order Studios. Anyone else would murder him."
"So?" BB prompted.
"So I'd hate to inadvertently be the reason some poor sod goes to jail. The last time I checked, 'because he was an asshole' doesn't hold up well in court." Phasma then gave Rey a brisk nod. "He's asking for you."
"Wonderful," Rey muttered. "Catch the two of you later, then."
Kylo reminded Rey of the animal that Tarkin said his grandfather had been when she stepped into his dressing room. He was prowling about, restless and wild-eyed, fists clenched at his sides and lips pulled back in a snarl. There was a copy of today's issue of the Coruscant Times on his desk, ripped in uneven halves, and she didn't need a closer look to know that the newspaper had been opened to the feature article commemorating the Anakin Skywalker retrospective which would deck the Imperial Theatre's gallery for a month.
He stilled in his tracks once he registered her presence, but it was the stillness of a creature poised to leap. Or, perhaps, to flee. "You're late," he ground out.
"Filming doesn't start for another three hours," she blithely reminded him.
"Immaterial. I told you to be here at seven sharp so we could go over today's scene."
"I'm here now, aren't I?" She eyed the shards of mirror littering the carpeted floor. "Although, I refuse to work with you if you're in one of your moods."
"Rogers' heavily beaded sleeve smacked Astaire in the jaw and eye while they were filming Follow the Fleet, but he stuck it out until the end of the take," Kylo said, flippantly. " You can put up with a grumpy co-star during rehearsal."
"We are not Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire," Rey snapped. "For one thing, they could actually tolerate each other."
"Perhaps that was an erroneous comparison," Kylo mumbled. "I can tolerate you just fine. It's your dancing I have problems with." And she just knew that he was referring to the day that she, Finn, and Poe had flailed around like headless chickens when someone put on "Greased Lightnin'" during a break on set. Kylo hadn't joined in, because he was a spoilsport.
"It's your dancing I have problems with," she mocked, in what she felt was a passable depiction of his snippy tone.
"Cut it out." He glared at her. "You know I hate it when you do that."
"Mortensen broke a couple of toes when he kicked that helmet in The Two Towers, but he powered through the scene," Rey said, giving Kylo a taste of his own medicine. " You can put up with my stunningly accurate impersonations."
"Hilarious." But the verbal sparring seemed to have taken the edge off of his temper, because the look on his narrow face was almost contrite as he hunkered down in the nearest chair, bending to prop his elbows on his spread knees and clasping his hands together. "Shall we get to it, then?"
The only other chair in the room had been overturned. Rey shot Kylo a pointed glance while she set it to rights; he responded with a vague smirk, which quickly faded into a frown when she sat and rooted around in her oversized tote for her copy of the script.
"How do you not have a PA yet?" he demanded.
"Unlike you, I know how to fetch my own coffee."
"That soy milk abomination of yours is not coffee."
Her wandering fingers froze inside her tote. "You remember my order?"
She studied his flushed cheeks, and the agitation with which he raked through his thick dark hair. They'd bumped into each other at Maz's last weekend, passed the time in queue by bickering through the amiable, paparazzi-ready smiles on their faces while standing far apart enough to make it clear that they were not grabbing coffee together. JustJarJar.com had obliged by burying their tamely-captioned photos in the weekly roundup.
Eventually, she found her script, and the next hour was spent reading lines with him. She could almost like him when he was like this— focused and intense, nudging her along with clipped little pointers and helpful insights into character motivation. "More defiance," he'd grunt, or, "My uncle will have the final word, but I think you should angle your face to the camera just so." He was a gifted actor, she had to admit that, and his resemblance to Anakin grew more obvious with each passing day. Sometimes the fluorescent lighting would halo around him, and she'd find herself thinking of his grandfather trapped beneath the glare of a dozen choppers in Wrath of God. Anakin had won an Oscar for that movie, at the age of twenty-five. Kylo was pushing thirty now, with no major awards to his name. Probably why he had such a chip on his shoulder in the first place.
An assistant scurried in to rush the two of them off to makeup and wardrobe, and then Luke was calling for quiet on set as Rey sat with wrists and ankles strapped to a metal chair while Kylo stood over her in his black mask and the equally black regalia that made him look a little like a scarecrow. Suddenly, she wasn't Rey anymore— she was Daisy, burgeoning rebel fighter captured by the evil government, separated from her friends and John, the love of her life.
"Where are the others?" She injected the right amount of tremor into her question, a hint of barely-concealed apprehension in an otherwise steely tone.
"You mean the murderers, traitors, and thieves you call friends?" Kylo— no, Adam— rasped through the voice modulator. "You'll be relieved to hear I have no idea."
It was a harrowing scene. He played his part as interrogator eerily well, relentless, threatening, and, with that mask on, it was impossible to believe that he was the same person who remembered how she took her coffee. By the time he leaned in close and she turned her face away, the sheen of tears that the script required her to produce at this point was dangerously close to real.
"Cut!" Luke declared. "Sorry, guys, that was great, but the lighting's a bit off. Can we throw more shadow over here, please?"
"I mean, you could fix that in post-production—" one of the assistants started to say, but was quickly hushed. Luke Skywalker had a thing about light. It was common opinion that no other director had ever understood chiaroscuro and used it to such great effect since Hitchcock himself.
Kylo didn't move away from her as the technicians hurried to cater to Luke's preferences. Rey could feel his stare even through the mask.
"It's me," he told her, quietly. "I'm under here."
She huffed out a breath, embarrassed by her own weirdness. "That doesn't make me feel any better," she griped, even though it did.
In his interviews, Anakin Skywalker always spoke with the blazing language of a decadent poet, providing fascinating views on situations that he screwed up through his pathological behaviors. He was scorchingly honest about his innermost torments and how his oversized feelings color-saturated his world. He was a self-taught actor who practiced merciless disciplines on himself; Tarkin once described him climbing into a closet and doing strenuous vocal exercises for ten hours in a row.
"At a performance, everything works out on its own," Anakin said in 1973. "I've solved the mystery— you have to submit in silence. Open up, let go. Let anything penetrate you, even the most painful things. You mustn't let scar tissue form on your wounds; you have to keep ripping them open in order to turn your insides into a marvelous instrument that is capable of anything. All this has its price."
And the price that he paid was indeed high. In the brutish two years spent shooting Dark Lord— the movie that would cement his place in Hollywood history as one of the greats— Anakin fell out with his long-time friend and mentor, Sir Obi-Wan Kenobi of Olivier fame, and Ahsoka Tano, who played his younger sidekick in Twilight of the Apprentice, still considered one of the finest action-dramas ever made . By the time filming on Dark Lord wrapped, Anakin's pregnant wife— the distinguished former senator Padme Amidala— had left him as well. Months later, Amidala died of postpartum complications after entrusting her twin children to the illustrious Organa political dynasty.
At the time of this writing, it is still unknown whether Anakin ever met his son or his daughter, both now equally famous in their own right. Senator Leia Organa-Solo and Luke Skywalker— who caused quite a stir when he chose to use his father's last name— have always been tight-lipped on the subject. In this, they take after Anakin himself, who was uncharacteristically mum whenever asked about the horrific end of his marriage to Amidala. To inquiries of this nature, he would reply simply with: "Creation is violent."
It was a red-carpet event for the premiere night of Gial Ackbar's latest movie, Martyrs. "As if the man needs anymore Best Director awards," Luke had good-naturedly grumbled.
Rey arrived with Finn, who was still giddy about being chauffeured in a limo instead of driving one, and they posed for lots of pictures because they were playing star-crossed lovers on TV— although, in her opinion, he and Poe weren't the least bit subtle about all the eye-sex they kept having, but maybe that was just because she knew. Poe had arrived with Jessika Pava, who played Rey's best friend on the show, but Kylo came alone. After the requisite group shots, the photographers asked for a picture of Adam and Daisy, villain and heroine, and they automatically obliged, Kylo's hand drifting to the small of Rey's back as usual.
"Could you scratch a little higher, please?" she muttered under her breath.
"What?" he hissed, bewildered.
"Sequins," she explained, smiling as the flashes went off. "Itchy, itchy sequins."
"For God's sake." But he did as she asked, his fingers running up the base of her spine and discreetly digging into the beaded material of her silver gown. A hum of pleasure escaped from her lips, and he froze for a long, slow moment, before continuing his ministrations.
"Kylo!" a reporter shouted. "Is there any truth to the rumors that Senator Organa-Solo used her influence to bar First Order from suing you for breach of contract?"
He pretended not to hear, turning to Rey with masterful timing and another one of those random inquiries that he saved for these situations. "What's your favorite color?" he murmured in her ear.
"Yellow," she answered.
He seemed revolted. "What, like mustard?"
"No!" She wrinkled her nose at him. "Like afternoon light. You know, that end-of-day moment when everything's lazy and glowing."
"So, like the Coldplay song."
"That's a brilliant way to put it, actually," she said, the cameras forgotten as she craned her neck to look at him.
"You don't have to sound so surprised." His eyes were tawny in the splintering radiance of the white-hot flashbulbs, and his voice was a languid drawl as his hand trailed across her spine. "I am brilliant."
"Way to ruin the moment, Kylo."
"The end-of-day moment?" he teased.
She couldn't storm off without next day's tabloids making some big deal about how the stars of Awakening hated each other, so she seethed in silence instead.
At the post-viewing reception, Rey found herself cornered against the punch bowl by some slick-looking executive type with a gravity-defying pompadour, who introduced himself as Elan.
"I read online that you used to be in hotel housekeeping," he said, nibbling on a tomato-and-mozzarella skewer.
Rey managed a polite smile. "Yes, at the Death Star."
"Isn't that where Anakin Skywalker...?"
"So I've been told."
Elan nodded. "He wasn't alone, when he died. There were a couple of other people, but, of course, they hightailed it out of there. They were both big-shot directors— you don't need names. I found out about it when I was making the last Indiana Jones film."
Rey sincerely doubted that this man was Steven Spielberg in disguise, but Jessika came swooping in to rescue her from the awkward silence. "We're doing shots!" she said enthusiastically, dragging Rey over to where Finn, Kylo, and Poe were clustered at the other end of the hall. "That Elan guy is so full of shit, don't listen to him. He was just a junior studio accountant on Kingdom of the Crystal Skull, for crying out loud. Talking like it was his movie. Douchebag."
In the midst of Jessika's rant, Rey noticed that Kylo was holding a champagne flute filled with sparkling apple cider instead of alcohol, and he wore the put-upon expression of somebody who had been content in his own private bubble before his castmates descended on him. His features relaxed slightly as she drew near— no doubt he was contemplating how best to pick on her this time. She ignored him, for the most part, as she downed tequila with her other co-stars and gasped through the wicked burn in her throat, and then one of the roving journalists sauntered up to their group with voice recorder in hand.
"Hey, Kylo, have you checked out the Imperial Theatre's Anakin Skywalker retrospective yet?" the man asked.
Finn, Jessika, Poe, and Rey held a collective breath. Kylo's grip tightened around the stem of his champagne flute. "Not yet."
"Do you think Anakin would be proud of the work that you, his only grandchild, have done so far? Considering that your own films, while box-office hits, have been critically panned, and Awakening isn't exactly an HBO drama—"
It was the kind of cruel, needless question that all these damned gossip rags lived for, and the champagne flute shattered in Kylo's fist. All around them, conversations faltered and heads turned as cider drops and glass shards fell to the floor in sparkling rivulets, and then Kylo was leaving the hall in swift, angry strides.
With a satisfied smile, the journalist melted back into the crowd before Rey could succumb to the urge to punch him. Poe reached for his phone. "Hello, Phasma? We're at the Martyrs event, but your boss just exited, stage right. What? Alert level?" He paused for a moment, deep in thought. "Hmm. Probably Guess Who's Coming To Dinner? Not My Grandfather... Yeah, Phas, it's that bad."
Rey found Kylo before Phasma or anyone else did, and she had no idea how that could have happened. It wasn't like she had a mental Waze fix on him (turn left to avoid emotional traffic jam). It didn't seem at all likely that, by leaving the premiere and wandering for a few blocks on three-inch Louboutins— "the lowest heels I could find that still matched your gown," her stylist had insisted— she would stumble upon Kylo in the little dark green park on Monument Plaza. But there he was, slouched inelegantly on a stone bench, his moonlit eyes flickering to her as she teetered towards him. It was fate, or fate's closest cousin, similar to the way they couldn't keep their gazes from colliding at that kickoff party long ago. Maybe there was always this one person you would meet, and know beyond a shadow of a doubt that the two of you were meant for something, in another life. In whatever life.
"My feet are killing me," Rey grumped.
Kylo shifted, and she sank down into the space that he made for her beside him, the sequins of her skirt scraping cold metallic rustles against stone, brushing up one side of his black trousers. She started to bend down, but he beat her to it, his head bowed over her knees as he gently undid the intricate clasps of her shoes. Rey's fingers twitched from how much they longed to card through his soft-looking hair, so she primly folded her hands on her lap, instead. He slid off her right shoe first, and, as blood rushed beneath the white lines that the thin, tight straps had cut into her flesh, she bit back a moan of relief. The strangled whimper of sound made his lean frame tense, made him compulsively stroke the pad of his thumb over the slim bone of her ankle. It was a soothing gesture, and stirring, and dangerous, because it should not have come from him.
He switched his attentions to her left shoe, and it wasn't until both her feet were bare and lifted a few inches off the damp grass as she wiggled sensation back into her toes that she remembered—
"Kylo, your hand."
He straightened up. "'Tis but a flesh wound.'"
"I hate to break it to you, but we're not in a Monty Python sketch."
"What are you talking about? That's from The Goon Show."
It was her turn to be baffled. "What the hell is The Goon Show?"
"That fifties BBC radio programme?" he prompted. "With Peter Sellers? That was one of Cleese and company's major influences. In fact, the quote from Holy Grail is actually 'Tis but a scratch,' followed by 'It's just a flesh wound' a little while later. Everyone remembers it wrong. Like how we all think the evil queen in Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs says, 'Mirror, mirror on the wall,' when what she really says is ' Magic mirror on the wall...'"
"Focus," Rey told him, not unkindly. "Give me your hand."
There was blood, but less than expected. Kylo had gotten lucky. She salvaged a kerchief from her evening clutch and tied it around his hand, watched faint red stains gradually bloom beneath the surface of the white cotton, like tiny roses on a field of snow. "You ought to get this properly disinfected and bandaged. There might be some glass left in there, too."
"I'll live," he mumbled. He did not move his hand; it hovered in the air above her thigh, his fingers outstretched as if he were offering her these strange blurred flowers growing on his palm. "But I'm sick of playing nice with the vultures."
"You didn't used to." She carefully placed his injured hand on his lap, pressing on the wrist once in a silent command to keep still. "You always ran your mouth off at interviews." He had been just a name to her, once. A face in a magazine, on a movie poster. There was a time when she hadn't known that he messed up his hair when he was nervous, that his eyes were more gold than brown in the right kind of light, that end-of-day light that she loved so much.
Kylo smirked, the self-deprecating twist of lips that had been Anakin's whenever he spoke of demons, before dying too young and in such indignity. "I know everyone's waiting for me to fuck it all up. Get caught doing lines in the bathroom, or whatever, and, yeah, San Tekka's article threw me for a loop. It's painful, seeing your family's skeletons put on display like that by some old fart who's been shoving his nose into everyone's business since fucking forever. But I'm trying, I truly am, to avoid giving the show any bad press. This is Uncle Luke's project. I don't want to ruin that for him. I've already been— not the best of nephews, in the past. Or, if truth be told, the best of sons." He sighed, and Rey could tell that there was more to this story, but it was lost to the night, you could carry only so many things at once when you just had two hands— one of which, to take the metaphor further, was currently bleeding through your castmate's kerchief.
"So this is, like, your redemption arc," she teased.
"Very funny." His tone was deadpan, with no real heat behind it, but her joke missed by a mile and accidentally crashed into something serious, as what always happened around him when she wasn't being careful. "I had to attend Sabbath school for a month, you know. When I was eight."
"No kidding?" She slanted her chin up towards him and liked this new angle, liked looking at his chiseled profile sideways against a shimmering net of stars. "Why?"
"The nanny quit," he grunted, and she had to snort at that. "The only people Mother could find to watch me on weekends were our next-door neighbors. Nice Seventh-Day Adventist family, with, like, a good dental plan. I don't know. That's what I remember most about them— their teeth. Anyway—" He cleared his throat. "There was this one time when the Sabbath school teacher made us kids draw what we thought a sinner looked like. I drew a stick figure on its knees, praying. And then I saw what I drew— really saw it— and I asked myself, where was the sin in this? Why did my mind immediately jump to penitence, instead of the act itself?" He shrugged, a bit impatiently. A bit impatient with himself. "What I'm trying to say is— the thing about redemption, it's only an aftermath. It's a satisfying end to a story, but it doesn't erase everything that came before."
Rey felt like she was in an old movie, with the world all black and white like this, with the streets stretched out before her and the Catalina ironwoods draped in shadow, a suit-clad man's deep voice fading wistfully into the air. She supposed it was one of the hazards of working in Hollywood— the glamour clung, like a stubborn sheen, to the grime of everywhere. Maybe Clark Gable had sat on this very bench. Maybe Irene Dunne and Loretta Young had shared a smoke beneath one of these trees. You couldn't ignore it, the sense of history, the echoes of silver screen ghosts who had been larger than life. It was all right here, mapped on the face of someone who, at times, looked like Anakin Skywalker.
"What you just said," she told Kylo, "that was good. Fantastic, even."
The glance that he ventured in her direction seemed oddly shy. "Yeah?"
"Better than anything your grandfather ever came up with," Rey confirmed.
Kylo laughed. It was rusty and short-lived, quickly muffled behind his lips as if he didn't think he had any right to the sound. "Yes, all right," he hummed.
She nudged his shoulder. "Here's looking at you, kid."
He shook his head, almost vehemently. "We are not Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman."
"No." He nudged her shoulder right back. "For one thing, you have eyes like Audrey Hepburn's."
She had to turn away so that he wouldn't see her smile, and this quiet little stir in her heart, God, it felt like the next big thing.
"When I heard that he had died, I had a moment of grief that lasted about five minutes," Ahsoka Tano calmly remarked in a 1995 interview. "It was very intense, and then it never happened again. Not because I forced myself to stop, but— well, I think it was because he had simply caused too much pain. It burned away everything else that came after."