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Reign

Chapter Text

Rey stared at Ben, his outstretched hand, her heart breaking. “Let them go.”

His brows twitched. “They don’t matter. They’re the past.”

“They’re my present,” she countered softly, desperately. “They’re the first friends I ever made. Please, let them go.” She took a half step forward, changing tack. Bargaining. Her life for theirs. “Let them go, and I’ll stay.”

Anger flashed in his eyes, and his fingers trembled as if he wanted to clench them into a fist. She’d hurt him. “You would stay for them?”

Another half step. “They’re not a family I was born into. They’re a family I chose. Call it off, Ben. Please.” Indecision crossed his face at the sound of his name. He just needed a little push. “I can’t stay if you kill my friends. I just can’t.”

And she wanted to. Not for the First Order, not for power, but for him. She let that truth burn in her eyes, let it soak their connection. She didn’t know if he would see it or understand it if he did, but she left herself open to him. Vulnerable.

“Please, they’re dying.” Her voice had become a sob. She heard the destruction behind her in the view port and felt hot tears on her skin. She didn’t dare turn to look, unable to face more death with the bodies of Snoke’s guards scattered at her feet.

Something must have gotten through, because his face turned stony and he turned on his heel. For a moment, she thought he’d rescinded his offer, that he was walking away from her, but then he stopped at a control panel and spoke into it. She couldn’t hear him over the humming in her ears, but when he turned it was to hold his hand back out to her, his face closed off. “It’s done.”

Rey swung to peer into the screen. The small fleet of transports continued toward the planet below unmolested.

Her heart swelled so full, it hurt. They would live. He’d done it.

He’d done it for her.

She turned back to him, his hand no longer a request but a demand. He’d upheld his end of the bargain, and now he expected her to uphold hers.

Rey walked to him and placed her hand in his.

Chapter Text

He let out a long, slow breath as her hand settled into his. She realized that he hadn’t expected her to say yes.

Rey let him turn them toward the doorway, his posture formal as his fingers gripped her hand, when the whole ship rocked. Rey braced her feet on the blood-slicked floor, and Ben released her to check the room’s terminal. She kept her eyes locked worriedly on his broad back.

“We’ve been hit,” he told her, turning and gripping her elbow. “You can take Snoke’s shuttle to–”

“I’m staying,” she interrupted.

His eyes snapped to her face, assessing, and he released her with a nod. “Come.” He turned and swept out of the room, leaving Rey to scurry after him.

He led them to a command center filled with activity. A distracted, agitated red-haired man started their way. “Ren! What the hell are you thinking? You called off the attack?! And who the hell is this?!” Cold green eyes settled belatedly on Rey where she stood a little behind Ben.

Ben pulled the persona of Kylo Ren back around him like a death shroud. “The Supreme Leader is dead,” he said. “I have assumed his place.”

The red-haired man looked too refined to gape, but he did an admirable imitation. Before he could sputter a response, Ben gestured to Rey.

“General Hux, this is Rey. She is to remain unharmed.”

“I know who she is,” the man spat. “What do you mean, the Supreme Leader is dead?”

The closest workers on the command deck went silent around them.

Rey knew the exact look Ben gave General Hux. She’d seen it leveled at her plenty of times. “I killed him.”

Hux looked equally incensed and baffled. “What?”

“He pissed me off.”

Suddenly, everyone close enough to hear them found something else to do.

“That’s treason.”

Ben took a step toward the shorter man, his voice dangerously soft. “Only if I failed.”

General Hux took a moment to compose himself, gears spinning and clicking almost visibly in his mind. Rey knew what self-preservation looked like, and this man struck her as a master of the art. “I will give orders to pursue the rebels.”

“You will not,” said Ben.

General Hux rounded on him. “You do not control my army,” he growled.

With a savage motion, Ben lifted the general, the Force gripping the other man’s throat. Rey felt sick as she saw General Hux flail and choke in midair. “I am your Supreme Leader now. You will order all ships to stand down and return to base. You will not ask any questions.”

The general dropped gracelessly to the glossy floor, hand rubbing his throat. “Yes, sir.” Rey saw the venom he shot at Ben’s back and made a mental note of it.

“Come,” Ben said to her, and Rey followed him to the turbo lift. He offered her his arm as they waited, and she took it, holding onto him as an anchor in the storm as her future swirled and eddied around her, reshaping into something she didn’t recognize and was frightened to examine.

She kept an eye on the room behind them, not trusting anyone there to refrain from shooting her in the back. Luckily, they all seemed distracted by the attack on their ship, reviewing damage and casualties.

As she joined Ben on the turbo lift, she saw the red-haired general – Hux – send an appraising glower their way.

“You can’t trust him,” she said quietly as the lift began to move.

Ben’s fathomless brown eyes flickered to her face, then away. “I know.”


 

He led her to a functional, almost ascetic room of steel walls. A bed stood to one side, a small table with a single chair in the opposite corner, and the only other door stood open to a washroom.

“Rest,” he said, relinquishing her to her examination of the space. “I’ll return once we’re in controlled space.” He paused at the open door. “If anyone but me enters, kill them.”

She watched him go and wrapped her arms around herself. She didn’t want to be left alone in this hostile place, but she wasn’t afraid. Solitude was an old, familiar companion, and the most dangerous potential enemy was now her… ally? Partner? Master? Or had her first instinct been correct, the one that made her want to take his hand? The one that said he was offering himself.

Rey realized that the terms of their arrangement hadn’t been clearly defined. What if her interpretation of “ruling the galaxy together” wasn’t the same as his? What if he just wanted his own apprentice? He’d offered to be her teacher before, on Starkiller before she’d slashed his face, but she’d grown into her powers since then. She didn’t need a teacher anymore.

Or had her offer to stay in return for her friends’ lives made his proposition null and void?

Rey began to feel stupid. She knew how to cut a deal–she’d had to learn haggling fast on Jakku–but she’d completely failed to lay out exact terms. She didn’t regret saving lives, but perhaps she could have been a little more shrewd in the moment.

She huffed out a breath of air and explored the room, nosing into every corner, letting her scavenger’s curiosity off its chain. She quickly realized that this was Ben’s room, obvious from the clothes she found tucked neatly away. Beyond the open door was the same washroom she’d seen him in through their bond.

Rey blushed and closed her eyes on the memory of Ben without a shirt, as if the physical act could block the image from her mind. He hadn’t shrunk from her gaze, stoic in the face of her discomfort, and she’d had to adjust.

Rey looked at the bed by the wall. It wasn’t big enough for two, and she wondered if he expected her to share it with him later that night.

No. Rey shook her head. She would put her foot down, if it came up. She didn’t think he’d push the issue, and he probably hadn’t even considered anything of the sort.

Rey didn’t know how long he would be, and she’d already exhausted the room’s secrets. She considered sitting and waiting, but the blood on her skin began to itch and a shower sounded amazing.

She glanced at the door and decided that it would have to be the quickest shower of her life.

Rey entered the washroom and turned the water on, letting it get hot before she stripped and stepped into the spray. She hissed through her teeth as it hit the slash on her bicep. A dispenser held rich, almost spicy-smelling soap, and she lathered her skin and hair with it, scrubbing her hands vigorously across her body and scalp as the water around the drain turned pale pink and then clear.

Rey kept sending the closed washroom door dirty looks, waiting for someone to accidentally blunder inside. She’d left her lightsaber on the sink nearby, an easy Force-pull away, but she felt vulnerable standing naked under the spray.

She turned the water off once she was satisfied that her hair was clean of blood, and she realized she’d forgotten to find towels before stripping. She stepped out and shivered as she hunted for towels, finding them in a latched cabinet near the shower.

Rey wrapped her hair in one towel and dried her body with the other, slipping back into her clothes with an intense sense of relief. She didn’t know where to put the towels, so she dropped one on the floor, mopping up the water she’d gotten everywhere, then returned to the empty main room as she rubbed her hair with the other.

Rey had found a med kit in the washroom cabinets and pulled a bacta pouch out. She squeezed the cold gel onto the slash on her arm, wincing as it started to work.

Then she could only wait.

Chapter Text

Rey wished she could nap the time away, but she was too keyed up, so she was equally annoyed and exhausted by the time Ben returned late that evening, sweeping into the room in a dark cloud of irritation.

“I’ve arranged a room for you,” he said as soon as the door closed behind him, his dark eyes taking in her clean skin and hair without comment. His gaze lingered over the bacta patch on her arm, then that intense gaze turned to meet her eyes. “If you’re ready?”

He held out a hand, but Rey stayed seated on his bed. She wished he’d come back sooner, when she had all of her thoughts together in neat little rows instead of eroded by boredom.

“We need to talk,” she said.

His brows twitched, displeased but giving her room to continue.

She took a deep breath, hoping she hid the anxiety churning her stomach. “I have questions.”

He stepped further into the room, his unwavering gaze the only acknowledgement he gave of the conversation.

Rey took a deep breath and blew it out, deflating a little with the motion. She had to ask this without offending him. “What exactly did we agree to?” At his frown, she added, “Because, thinking back, it was all kind of… vague.”

His brows went up a notch. “Oh?”

Rey sucked her embarrassment down, forcing the words to her lips. “The whole ‘galaxy’ talk, and… were you offering me a job? Or…”

“Marriage,” he said immediately, his expression unmoving. “You agreed to marriage. And you can’t back out, because I’ve already upheld my end of the bargain. I just spent five hours dealing with the fallout.”

Rey felt her breathing ease. She hadn’t misinterpreted him. “No,” she said quickly. “No, I’m not backing out.”

He looked at her like he expected her to bolt for the door any moment, his body tensing as if in preparation to stop her. “Good.”

Rey bit her lip. She had even more questions now, and he just stood there watching her with that wary expression. “Do you want children?” she blurted.

His eyes widened a fraction. He answered honestly, almost as if she’d surprised him into it. “Yes.”

She nodded firmly. Children had never been a practical dream on Jakku, but every now and then, when she let herself, she imagined herself with a family of her own with lots of kids and a man whose face had never quite resolved into anything but whose heart would be strong and kind, and whose arms around her would be warm. “Good.” She looked away and added softly, “I’ve always wanted kids.”

“As many as you want.” He swallowed and a pink flush flared across his nose and cheeks.

Gratitude swelled, and Rey realized that she wanted to kiss him. She wanted to press her lips to his and taste him. But, for all she could stand her ground against him in the heat of battle, she found that bridging those few feet was more terrifying than any fight she’d ever charged into.

So she didn’t, and the moment passed. Instead, she pasted a smile on her face, hoping he wouldn’t notice the strain behind it. “You said something about a room?”

He nodded. “Do you wish to see it?”

She hopped off the bed. “No time like the present.”

The room he’d found for her was close by, barely around the corner from his own.

She stepped inside, but he remained in the doorway. She felt at a loss.

“What do I do now?” she asked.

“Wait,” he said. “Rest. We’ll move to another dreadnought in the morning. Supremacy can’t jump to hyperspace in its current state.”

She nodded, and he stood there looking at her, an odd expression on his face.

After a moment, he seemed to gather himself. “Are you hungry?”

Her smile this time was genuine, if wry. “Always.”

He seemed relieved to have a goal. “I’ll find you something. If anyone but me tries to enter–”

Rey crossed her arms across her chest and raised an eyebrow at him. “Kill them?”

He didn’t catch the sarcasm. “Yes.”

She sighed. “Right.”

Rey examined the room after he left. It wasn’t too different from his. She supposed there wasn’t enough space aboard the ship for luxury even among the high-ranking staff. She didn’t mind. It was still a palace compared to her living quarters on Jakku and Ahch-To.

She’d removed her shoes and curled onto the bed by the time he returned. He handed her a package of field rations with an apologetic grimace. “The cafeteria didn’t survive.”

Rey tore into the packaging and bit off a corner of the dry, tasteless block, chewing happily.

Food.

He found a chair and sat, watching her eat. “You’re easy to please,” he observed.

“Not usually.” She ripped off another bite with her teeth and looked at the rest of the ration. If she stopped now, she could stretch it for another day, maybe two.

Rey began to wrap the ration up and tuck it away in her belt.

“What are you doing?”

She looked up at him, startled. “Saving it.”

“Why?”

She felt self-conscious, but she still tucked the food away. “Habit.”

He frowned. “You don’t have to worry about having enough to eat.”

She fidgeted. “Yeah,” she said softly. Hesitantly, she admitted, “I keep expecting to wake up in a cell, or an interrogation chair.”

He made a violent gesture of denial. “I wouldn’t let that happen.”

“No, but… what if you change your mind? I’m surrounded by the First Order. They don’t like me, and I don’t like them, and… and…”

He moved forward, one of his big hands covering hers, and crouched so that she could look him in the eye. A slight flush crossed his pale face, but his dark eyes were just as firm and steady as they’d ever been. “I won’t change my mind. And if anyone attacks you, they will have to deal with both of us. They will not survive it.” The ferocious conviction lit every line of his body, reminding Rey of the way he fought Snoke’s guards. For some reason, it helped her breathe easier.

“Okay,” she said softly.

He watched her for a moment. “You’re not going to finish that, are you?”

She smiled and blushed. “Not with you staring!”

“I don’t stare.”

She tossed him a brief smile. “You always stare.” His eyes warmed, and something twisted in her belly, anxious and happy.

Rey wondered with a jolt if she was flirting. It embarrassed her so much that she took the ration out and bit off another piece to avoid looking at him.

When he stood, her gaze followed him.

“I’ll be near if you need anything. Tomorrow will be hectic, so try to sleep.” He hesitated, arms clasped behind him, and his deep voice softened. “I’ll announce our betrothal as soon as we relocate to the Dominance.” He hesitated a moment more, looking at her in a way that made it hard to catch her breath, then turned on his heel and strode stiffly toward the door. “Good night.”

“Good night, Ben.”

He shot her an inscrutable look from the doorway, fast and intense, at the sound of his name.

Then he stepped into the hall and the door slid shut behind him, leaving Rey alone with her thoughts.


Betrothal. Marriage. Children. Happy things but for the hostile environment she’d found herself in. As she curled up under the bed’s blanket to chase elusive sleep, Rey’s mind whirled with new expectations battling to overwrite the old.

No matter what Ben promised, she knew her presence would cause no end of trouble. There was too much Resistance in her for this new role she’d been cast.

Rey rubbed her cold feet together, bringing her knees higher to conserve as much warmth as she could. The room felt dismal and resoundingly empty. Rey wished she’d asked Ben to stay a little longer.

“I’m here,” he murmured. Rey didn’t have to roll over to see him. He sat on the ground with his back to a wall, his arm braced across one knee and the other leg stretched long in front of him. Dark hair fell around his pale face and into his eyes. He hadn’t bothered to comb it.

The bond, Rey thought. Out loud, she said, “Hi.”

His eyes crinkled at the corners, the only indication of a smile. “Hi.” After a moment of silence, he asked, “Did you need something?”

“My feet are cold.”

He considered that. “There should be extra blankets.” He told her where to find them, and she went to pull two out of the retractable wardrobe. When she’d snuggled down in them contentedly, waiting for her toes to unfreeze, she lay her ear on the pillow and looked at him. He looked back. “That wasn’t all you needed,” he said.

Rey bit her lip and tugged the blankets closer around her chin. “I didn’t want to be alone.”

“You’re not,” he assured her.

“Stay until I fall asleep?”

His voice was infinitely warm and gentle. “Of course.”

Chapter Text

Rey woke with a start the next morning to voices outside her room. She hadn’t slept nearly enough, but the reality of her situation splashed over her like cold water as soon as her eyes opened, and she flung her blankets off and touched the hilt of her lightsaber warily.

She crept to her door on bare feet, listening carefully, and recognized Ben’s low rumble. “Very good. Tell the crew to begin their move to the Dominance immediately. And warn the admiral that I’ll be bringing my betrothed aboard, and I expect him to have his best cabin ready for her.”

“Yes, Supreme Leader.” Footsteps retreated, and Rey opened her door in time to catch sight of an officer disappearing around the corner at the end of the hallway.

A stormtrooper turned when her door opened and went still. She couldn’t tell through the mask, but she thought he was staring.

Ben merely raised an eyebrow. His hair was rumpled and his clothes looked slept-in. A strange suspicion entered Rey, and she crossed her arms to frown at him. “Ben Solo, did you sleep out here?”

“Of course not,” he replied calmly, and took the data pad the stormtrooper held out to him, pausing to peruse it.

She narrowed her eyes. “Did you sleep at all?”

He didn’t reply, and she met his gaze as he handed the data pad back. The stormtrooper made himself scarce.

In a quiet but stern voice, she asked, “Ben, did you sit outside my room all night?”

He lifted that brow again, looking regal. “I didn’t trust anyone else to guard you.”

She blew out a breath. He’d sat on the damn floor all night to watch over her. She wanted to be mad, but she couldn’t quite find the energy. “You know I can take care of myself.”

He inclined his head. “You needed your sleep.”

“So do you.” She unfolded her arms to reach up and smooth his hair out of his face. He had dark circles under his eyes, which she hated, but he watched her closely, drinking in her every move. Something vulnerable flickered in his face when her fingers slipped and brushed against his skin, and she pulled her hand back.

Why did the corridor suddenly seem much smaller?

His voice had gone husky, and he was looking at her. God, he could burn a hole through her with that gaze. “We’ll be moving to the Dominance within the hour. Now that you’re awake, I’m going to get cleaned up. Do you need anything to eat before I do?”

Rey patted the lump in her belt guiltily. “I still have some of my rations left.”

He sighed. “Of course you do.”


By the time Ben knocked, Rey had had time to go over every way her presentation to the First Order could go horribly, violently wrong.

She touched her lightsaber to remind herself it was there, reassured by its comforting presence at her belt, straightened her shoulders, and opened the door.

Ben looked tidy now, clothes unrumpled and hair clean and brushed. The shadows under his eyes remained, but he seemed a little more alert.

“You’re not going into battle, you know,” he murmured as they began down the hallway together.

“Are you sure about that?”

He lifted a hand toward her, hesitated, and pulled it back. It clenched into a fist by his side, and then he quickly and very lightly placed his palm on her upper back.

Rey’s gait faltered for a moment at the touch, and then it was gone, his hands back at his sides, his gaze resolutely forward.

Rey didn’t say anything, but she couldn’t help the smile that played on her mouth. It slipped away as they reached the shuttle that would take them to the Dominance. Three officers and four stormtroopers awaited them, all standing at attention as if they had steel rods instead of spines.

Ben began giving orders, and Rey slipped into one of the seats in the back, by the wall, and strapped herself in. Everyone ignored her except for Ben, who paused to slide her a frown when he saw where she’d chosen to sit. Perhaps he’d expected her to sit up front, but Rey didn’t feel comfortable elbowing in among the First Order elite, and she knew they wouldn’t have appreciated it.

The preparation to take off took more time than the actual flight. Once they landed in the Dominance’s hangar, she released her safety harness as the others on the shuttle began moving around with purpose. Ben approached her as she stood, and she allowed him to tuck her hand into the crook of his arm and turn them to face the exit, his posture tall and formal as they waited for the shuttle ramp to lower.

“Breathe,” he murmured.

Rey dragged in a breath, too aware of the people behind her. Her neck prickled with the need to have them where she could see them, to adjust her position so that she could anticipate an attack.

She gripped Ben’s arm tighter, her other hand twitching to reach for the comforting smooth planes of her lightsaber as gears hummed, the shuttle’s seal popped, and light appeared around the edges of the ramp.

“Again,” he said, too low for anyone else to hear. “Slowly.”

She took another breath and let it shakily out as she steeled herself for what waited on the other side.


Ben’s black-clad arm was warm under Rey’s fingers as he escorted her down the shuttle ramp. It took her eyes a few moments to adjust to the brighter lights of the Dominance, but the sight that greeted her had her body tensing with fear.

Rows of officers waited for them, backed by entire squadrons of stormtroopers. The entire hangar had been filled with tidy rows of uniformed soldiers, and her instincts clamored, setting her teeth on edge.

A man stepped forward, accompanied by the red-haired General Hux, and Rey’s adrenaline spiked in the instant before the man bowed.

“Supreme Leader,” he murmured. “Please allow me to welcome you and your betrothed to the Dominance. I am Admiral Sornman.”

“This is Rey,” Ben said, shifting his arm so that she had to take a step forward, putting her slightly ahead of him. All attention snapped to her, and Rey felt the back of her neck heat under the scrutiny. Immediately, self-consciousness filled her; in the room full of impeccable uniforms and polished helms, she looked distinctly shabby.

Then Ben stepped forward, his shoulder even with hers, his presence wrapping around her like a comforting shadow, and she felt relief swamp her as most of the attention swung back to him. He spoke to the admiral in a voice which carried. “No harm is to come to this woman, on pain of death.”

“I will put my most trusted people in charge of her safety.”

Ben inclined his head. “I’d like to evaluate your choices before assigning them.”

The admiral blinked but demurred, eyes darting to the side. “Of course, Supreme Leader.”

He’d been hoping to spy on her, Rey realized. His most trusted people would probably be loyal to him first, not to her or Ben. But if Ben vetted her guards, he’d be sure to pick people she could trust to protect her.

But would they be people she could trust with other things?

Rey glanced up at Ben’s face as other military leaders were presented to him. Despite his focus on the proceedings, the small movement drew his gaze.

Later, she decided. She didn’t want to draw any more attention in front of all of these people, and there would be time later to tell Ben that she wanted a choice in the people protecting her.

She turned back to the admiral’s introductions, and Ben shifted his gaze back as well.

The introductions took long enough that Ben started looking annoyed. The admiral hurried after that, finishing in record time and offering to lead them on a tour. He kept up a one-sided conversation as they followed him.

Rey felt the pressure of eyes leave them as they left the hangar and entered the relative privacy of the ship interior.

She squeezed Ben’s arm to get his attention. Once she had it, she murmured, “I want to pick my own guards.”

He examined her expression. Finally, he inclined his head. “You may have the final say.”

“Thank you.”

An inscrutable glance.

“–the finest rooms,” the admiral was saying. “And we have crews working around the clock on the addition you requested, Supreme Leader. It should be finished by the this evening.”

“Addition?” asked Rey.

“A door between your sitting rooms,” Admiral Sornman said, a sly smile blossoming on his face.

Rey stopped walking, mortified at the implication. “What?”

Ben stopped as well. “It’s a safety precaution,” he said softly. “I won’t invade your privacy.”

Any more than you usually do? she thought, but she didn’t say it because of all the eyes on them. The fewer people who knew about their bond, the better.

She faced forward with her head high and her face on fire. “I’ll kick your ass if you do.”

He smiled at her with his eyes, and they began walking again. “I know.”

 

Chapter Text

The interviews for guards took most of the rest of the day. Admiral Sornman had set Rey up in a small room where she spoke to individual prospects, one after another.

Ben wasn’t with her. He’d been sequestered in a conference room nearby to handle First Order business while she sorted through bodyguard candidates. He’d requested to interview those who made the final cut later that evening, and Rey had agreed.

She made candidates take their helmets off. They weren’t all comfortable with the request, but she couldn’t get a good read on them through those lifeless masks and Rey… Rey wanted to look them in the eye.

She didn’t know what to ask them. She let them recite their qualifications and gravitated toward those who showed hints of personality or a sense of humor, but it was the Force which mostly guided her to keep someone on her list.

There were plenty of hardcases who looked like they ate bullets for breakfast, and she cut most of them, but there was one. He didn’t seem different from the others, but the Force nudged her hand as she reached to strike him from her data pad and she put him in the maybe column.

By the time dinner rolled around, she had six potential candidates and felt strongly about two of them.

“I need more options,” she told Ben as he looked over the data pad she’d been making her selections on. “All of those are from the admiral’s recommendations.”

Ben nodded, still perusing the information in his hand. He’d joined her in the room where she’d conducted her interviews and had insisted on eating privately despite the admiral’s invitation to join him for dinner. “His priorities are different from yours.”

“Exactly.”

He set the data pad down. “What are your priorities?”

It was the question she’d been struggling with all afternoon. She thought about it, and he let her think, gave her space to put her thoughts into a jumble of words and then process those words into sentences.

“I want people I can trust,” she said slowly. “Not just with my safety, I can protect myself, but with my life. With my secrets. Who will… will trust me.”

He nodded slowly, thoughtfully, and tapped the data pad. “I think I know a few questions you can ask. We’ll have these six brought back after dinner. Speaking of.” He glanced toward the door and gestured, the door opening at his command. The crewman on the other side froze before entering warily with their food, clearly not used to Force displays.

Rey perked up.

“So easy to please,” Ben murmured too low for the crewman to hear.

“Sometimes,” she agreed. To the crewman, whose hands shook as he set the food on the meeting room table, she said, “Thank you.”

She nudged Ben with her elbow, and he added a reluctant, “Thank you,” as the crewman retreated out the door.

Ben’s gaze stayed on Rey as she grabbed a spoon and dug in.

“Oh my God, this is so good,” she said through a mouthful of meat stew. After a moment, she realized he was looking at her instead of eating. She swallowed. “Aren’t you hungry?”

“Mm.” He drew utensils toward himself and examined the meat and vegetables he’d ordered. “I like watching you eat.”

She blushed furiously.

“Your table manners are horrible,” he added, tugging his napkin into his lap.

She glared at him from over her bowl. There was a teasing glint in his eye, but still. Rey tried not to hunch over her bowl after that.


Rey ate more than Ben, but they still finished at the same time. He might have been more appealing to look at while he ate, but he was as slow as a half-lame luggabeast.

Ben summoned someone to clear the remnants of their meal. He’d been assigned an officer to be at his beck and call until they settled in, and he sent this lackey to fetch the six maybes on Rey’s list.

The prospects arrived promptly, and Rey hoped that they hadn’t been pulled away from their own dinner. She didn’t want to make anyone go hungry for the night just because they couldn’t tell her no. When she mentioned this to Ben, he called his lackey in and ordered him to make sure the applicants had had a chance to eat.

Rey made a mental note to have snacks on hand for future meetings. She always felt more comfortable on a full stomach.

The first applicant was shown in and stood at attention in front of them, his posture much more rigid than when she’d been conducting interviews on her own.

Ben nodded at her to begin.

“Helmet off, please,” she said. “And feel free to sit.”

“I can stand, ma’am,” said the man in front of them. He was the hardcase she’d almost sidelined earlier, his hair cut severely short.

She looked at her data pad. “If someone was shooting at me, and I told you to get down, what would you do?”

The man’s eyes flicked warily to Ben.

“Don’t look at him. Look at me. What would you do?”

“I’d get on the fucking ground, ma’am.” He shrugged one armored shoulder. “Then I’d shoot the bastard.”

She looked at the data pad and swallowed the urge to smile. His matter-of-fact arrogance made her feel better about not cutting him. “How are you at working with others?”

“You’d have to ask my squad leader, ma’am, but I’d say pretty good.”

“What is your strongest skillset?”

“I’m a brawler, ma’am. Close quarters, hand-to-hand. I’ll step between you and blaster fire in an instant, no problem.”

“Where are you weakest?”

“Cooking,” he replied promptly. “Can’t cook for shit.”

Rey couldn’t help herself. She burst out laughing. A smug grin tugged at the man’s mouth.

The rest of the interview went well, and they finally sent the hardcase on his way.

“I like him,” said Rey, tapping interview notes into her data pad.

“He’s acceptable,” Ben replied cautiously.

“You were scanning his mind?” She didn’t like it, but he’d insisted on it for the interviews, and she’d agreed so long as he stuck to surface thoughts. Any deeper hurt.

“Mm,” he hummed. “He’s arrogant.”

“So are you,” she replied, softening the words with a smile.

“Hmph.”

She brushed the back of her hand briefly against his, and he focused on her with an intensity that took her breath away.

“Rey…”

She swallowed, caught in his gaze. She couldn’t help wondering what he thought of when he looked at her like that. “We should, um…” She cursed herself for fumbling the words. “Next?”

It took him a moment to relent, and then they had the next candidate ushered in.

It took hours to get through the remaining five, and Rey was drooping in her chair by the end. When Ben held his hand out to her and helped her to her feet, she stopped him from leading the way out of the room. “There’s one more thing.” He looked at her, waiting, and Rey took a deep breath. “You can’t kill my guards.”

His brows rose. “I wasn’t going to.”

“I need you to promise. Even if something happens to me on their watch, I need you to promise me they’ll be okay.”

His face darkened. “If they fail in their duty–”

“Then they fail. I need to know, and I need them to know that they’re safe from you. If they’re worrying about what you’ll do if I get a hole blown in my skull, they might not listen to my orders and that could get people killed.”

He grimaced. “Rey.”

She leaned forward. “You have a temper, Ben. My guards are off-limits. I need you to promise me.”

He gritted his teeth. “Fine.”

“Fine what?”

“Fine, your guards are safe so long as they do their duty.”

She narrowed her eyes at him. “Try that again.” She was annoying him, she knew it, but this was important to her.

“So long as they’re following orders, I will not kill them.”

“You will not hurt them.”

His jaw tightened. “I will not hurt them.” After a moment, he asked, “Are you satisfied?”

She lifted her chin. “For now.”

He sighed, but the annoyance fled. “Come. You need to sleep.” He offered her his arm, less formal this time, and escorted her to her room. Two guards stood outside her door, unrecognizable because of their helms. Rey glanced awkwardly at them, but Ben ignored them completely as he led her inside.

The room they entered had dim lighting and a luxuriously thick red rug which covered an obscene amount of floor. A simple dining area with a round black table and four chairs sat to one side; a plush sitting area with cream upholstery had been arranged further in; and a door stood beyond.

“I want to do a quick sweep of your rooms,” he said, his gaze roaming the large space like a hound searching for prey.

She followed him, letting the Force guide her senses outward to touch every corner as they moved through the large room to the smaller one at the back.

Ben entered without hesitation, but Rey found herself lingering at the door and merely watching as he checked her bedroom and washroom.

When he returned, he seemed satisfied.

She followed him back into the living area to an unobtrusive door set in the wall near her dining table. Ben tested the door. It didn’t have a manual latch or an electronic lock, and it stayed firmly shut until he applied the Force to it. It closed gently on its own. “Only Force users can open this,” he told her. “It leads into my quarters. This way, I’ll be available if you need anything.”

“Like blankets?” She smiled.

He didn’t smile back, his gaze boring into her and making her flush with self-consciousness. Rey was suddenly very aware of how much of a mess she was, still wearing the blood-spattered clothes she’d fought Snoke’s guards in, her hair limp from the long day.

Ben took her chin very carefully between his thumb and forefinger, tilting her head up. Rey’s skin tingled where he touched, and she felt her eyes grow wide.

He bent and brushed his lips carefully against hers, pressed, shifted, then drew away.

“Good night,” he whispered, color flaring on his nose and cheekbones, his breathing unsteady.

Rey watched him retreat into his own room. Her pulse had skyrocketed, and the blood rushing in her ears drowned out all thoughts but one.

He kissed me.

Chapter Text

Rey got ready for bed in a daze, Ben’s kiss burning its way through her thoughts and making her skin flame. 

She showered, scrubbed her teeth, and slipped into the simple white nightgown she’d found in a retractable wardrobe. As the skirt pooled around her feet and the neckline plunged between her small breasts, the weight of the sleeveless garment threatening to slip off her shoulders, Rey realized that she’d been given someone else’s clothes. A taller, bustier someone else.

Rey gathered the skirt over her arm so she wouldn’t trip and held the neckline against her chest as she dug fruitlessly for a shirt or pants in the wardrobe. It was full of gowns with delicate embellishments and rich fabrics, each one more expensive than anything Rey had ever owned in her life, and none of which were suitable for sleeping.

She considered her own clothes, but they’d begun to smell, and sleeping nude was out of the question when her Force bond could open and expose her.

No, she would have to suck it up and ask tomorrow for something else to wear. She needed real clothes, not this ridiculous collection of wearable art.

She climbed into bed, twisting and jerking the damn nightgown around because it wanted desperately to clump underneath her in a pile of uncomfortable fabric. Rey got mad at it, but she persevered.

Once she positioned the skirt into a more comfortable position, she curled up under her blanket and tried to shut her brain off.

It didn’t work.

She brushed her fingers across her lips, the ghost of Ben’s caress lingering there, and smiled to herself in the darkness.

She lay there dreamily for far too long before she sat up straight with a curse.

“No, no no no,” she muttered as she threw the blanket off and swung her legs out of bed. The bodice of the nightgown twisted with the movement, baring a breast, and Rey wrenched it back into place.

She moved the skirt out of her way before she stood and proceeded to grab a soft knit blanket from the sitting area outside her room. She wrapped it around her torso like a shawl, solving one annoyance. There was no way she could leave her quarters with her breasts halfway on display.

Rey found her blood-smeared boots and pulled them on. There had been silken slippers in the wardrobe, but she knew better than to try and wear too-big shoes. She had enough problems walking in that damn nightgown without tripping over her own footwear.

Rey opened her door, the one that led to the hallway, and asked her guards to come inside. With a wary glance toward the door she shared with Ben, she faced them.

“Helmets off, please.”

They obeyed, revealing themselves as the top two candidates she’d interviewed that evening–hardcase and a woman with grey eyes and brown skin whose file said she had significant experience in guerrilla tactics.

Rey looked between them and took a deep breath. “I need to make a call.”


The brown-skinned woman, designation AS-2874, led the way to a lesser-used communications room. Rey followed with her skirt in one hand and the hardcase behind her to keep an eye out for trouble. She’d explained to them that the mission was personal but would probably piss a lot of people off. 

Especially Kylo Ren.

She gave them the option to back out. Told them they didn’t need to accompany her, that they could go get some sleep and let her handle the fallout alone.

The hardcase narrowed his eyes and asked the question: “Is it important, ma’am?”

If Rey wanted them to trust her, she needed to trust them. “I have friends who, when they hear I’m getting married, might try to rescue me from Kylo Ren’s evil clutches.” She gave the words appropriate dramatic flair, then sighed. “Not that I’d blame them. He and I didn’t always get along, and they have no reason to think that’s changed.” She bit her lip, gauging their reactions. Patient. Professional. A little bit curious. “The problem,” she said carefully, “is that my friends are in the Resistance. Contacting them could be… misconstrued.”

Silence. Then, finally, the woman pursed her lips. “You could make a recording, ma’am.”

Rey frowned and motioned for her to elaborate.

“Of the call. That way, anybody who’s worried can examine it themselves. It doesn’t mean you’re not using secret codes to send classified information, but it’s better than nothing.”

Rey thought about that and smiled. “I thought you said in your interview that you were bad at diplomacy, AS-2874.”

“Strategy isn’t diplomacy, ma’am.”

Rey looked to the hardcase. “Are you up for this?”

He shrugged. “I’m up for anything, ma’am.”


“Rule one of being my guards,” she said as they walked. “Never get in Kylo Ren’s way when he’s angry.” She thought about it for a moment and added. “Especially when he’s out for my blood.”

She felt their attention, but they didn’t ask any questions. They simply ushered her to the correct room and paused outside of it with her.

“Wait out here. If anyone questions you, you’re here under orders. If you’re challenged by a superior, insist they get the Supreme Leader. Stall if you can, but cover your asses if things go south.” She glanced at them both, hating the helmets that hid them from her. “What’s the first rule?”

“Get the fuck out of Kylo Ren’s way.”

She nodded, faced the door, and squared her shoulders. “Let’s do this.”


Rey had expected a skeleton crew at this time of night, and luck was on her side. The single crewmember inside the small communications room cleared out with a gentle push of the Force, scurrying off to take a nap.

Rey immediately got to work. She secured the transmission so that it couldn’t be tracked, sent out a request that someone Resistance-side would hopefully pick up, and enabled recording.

Then all she had to do was wait.

Rey didn’t know how long it would take or how soon she’d be discovered, so she tucked her voluminous skirt around herself, pulled the blanket tighter around her shoulders, and tried to ignore how the cold seeped into her boots to nip at her toes.

She chewed over what she ought to say, all the arguments her friends could throw at her, all the evading she would have to do.

God, she didn’t even know if Finn was out of his coma.

She wanted to get up and pace–movement always made her feel better–but the damn nightgown made walking too complicated.

At some point, Rey pulled her feet out of her boots and tucked them under her on the steel chair, hoping the frivolous skirts would help trap heat and warm her icy toes.

She didn’t know how long she’d been waiting when the console beeped. Rey checked that the recording was running and pulled up the video feed.

Suddenly, she was face-to-face with Finn.

His face split into a huge grin. “Rey!

“Finn!” She laughed, a sudden pressure behind her eyes making them ache. She hadn’t realized until just that moment how much she’d missed him or how worried she’d been.

“Where are you?” he asked eagerly. “Are you okay? What happened? I thought you were off training to be a Jedi.”

“I was. Now I’m not. It’s a long story.”

“So long as you’re safe,” he said. “I’ve been worried about you coming back while we had the Supremacy on our asses. You won’t believe what we’ve been up to. Rose and I–oh, right, you haven’t met Rose–well, we went to hire this codebreaker, and–”

“Finn…”

“–we found a different codebreaker, and he was going to help us sneak onto Supremacy to shut down its tracking system, but the asshole betrayed us–”

“Finn,” she tried again.

“Oh, hey, here’s Rose.” He looked past the camera and cupped his hands around his mouth. “Rose!”

A short woman with shoulder-length black hair and a round face appeared, bending at the waist to look over Finn’s shoulder.

“This is Rose,” said Finn. “Rose, this is Rey.”

Rose’s almond-shaped eyes widened. She settled a hand almost absently on Finn’s shoulder to steady herself as she leaned closer. “You’re Rey? I’ve heard so much about you. Wow.” Rose’s expression faltered for a moment. “You’re really pretty.”

“Oh. Um. Thank you.”

“Sorry,” Rose said. “You’re kind of a legend around here. And Finn talks about you all the time.” There was a trace of emotion when Rose said that, the faintest tightening of her smile. If Rey had had time, she would have liked to get the story behind that look out of Finn, but she reluctantly set her curiosity aside.

“Speaking of Finn,” Rey said, focusing on him in the viewscreen. “I really need to–”

A handsome man popped into view, vying for space with Finn. “Who are we talking to?”

Finn elbowed the man out of his personal space. “It’s Rey.”

“Oh, hi!” The man grinned. “I’m Poe. I’ve heard a lot about you.”

Rey smiled, unable to help herself in the face of such blinding good looks. “Nice to meet you.”

At that exact moment, a familiar droid rolled past in the background. It disappeared behind Finn but didn’t reappear on the other side of him. After a moment, BB-8 rolled backward into her line of sight and rotated to look at the terminal.

He beeped in excited shock.

Rey laughed. “Hi, BB.”

He beeped again and took off at top speed back the way he’d come, nearly tripping Poe.

“So what are you calling about?” asked Finn. “When are you coming home?”

“That’s… actually… I’m not.”

Finn’s smile fled. “What do you mean, you’re not?”

“I’m getting married.”

Finn’s eyes showed white all around. Poe whistled, brows almost in his hairline. He glanced at Finn and shifted subtly backward as if he didn’t want to be in the middle of this.

“Congratulations,” said Rose, sweetly cheerful.

And then the explosion. “What?!” Finn lunged from his seat, hands planting on the terminal desk in front of him, stunned and confused as he stared at her. “When did this happen?” He drew back a little. “Skywalker?”

No,” she said quickly, laughing at the suggestion. “Absolutely not. No.”

“Who, then?”

A loud warble interrupted them, and the image on the screen in front of her exploded into a flurry of activity and fur as Chewbacca pushed his way in front of Finn, his face filling the viewscreen for a moment. BB-8 chirruped cheerfully in his wake.

“Hi, Chewy.” She smiled softly, listening to him with a laugh. “Yeah, I missed you, too.”

He moaned a question about her mission.

She forced her smile to stay steady. “It… didn’t go exactly as planned. I was just telling Finn… I’m getting married. To Kylo Ren.”

Chewbacca tilted his head and looked thoughtful. He’d known of her attempt to bring Ben home, and she thought maybe he was filling in gaps with the puzzle pieces he possessed.

The others, on the other hand…

Why?” asked Finn, looking shocked and, yes, a little disgusted. Even BB-8 beeped at her in alarm. “You hate him. You hate everything he stands for!”

“Not so much anymore,” she admitted. “It’s… complicated.”

She heard voices outside the communication room door. Her guards were speaking to someone. Rey’s nerves twisted, and she turned back with renewed purpose.

“Listen,” she said, silencing their questions. “I don’t have a lot of time left. I didn’t ask permission to use this console, and I think the natives are noticing. I wanted you to hear the news from me, because you deserve to hear it from me, and because…” the prickling behind her eyes returned, “I don’t want you to think I need rescuing. I’m not a prisoner. I haven’t been coerced or brainwashed. I’m safe, comfortable, and…” she choked on the word “happy,” because she wasn’t. It was impossible in this cold metal ship with its brutal purpose. Instead, she shrugged. “It’s not my first choice of situations, but I’m okay. I don’t need help.”

“You don’t have to do this,” Finn told her gently. “We can get you out.”

The voices outside her door became more agitated. A new voice had joined the chorus, and Rey felt the seconds slipping out of her grasp.

“That is exactly what I don’t want,” she said firmly. “I do not want people I care about barging onto a First Order ship and getting slaughtered in a misguided attempt to free me.” She met Finn’s eye, and he winced at the expression in hers. “I don’t need saving. I can take care of myself.”

“I don’t understand,” he said softly.

Just as softly, she replied, “I don’t expect you to.”

She felt power swell and move in her direction. She turned her head to the door, apprehensive. “He’s coming.”

A shadow crossed Finn’s face. “Will you be okay?”

“He won’t hurt me.” She knew this, but Finn didn’t. He couldn’t. Rey understood his doubt, but she was reluctant to expose the depth of her connection to Ben. It felt too private, too intimate to share even with her closest friend.

“I wish I had time to make you understand. I trust him. I just needed you to know that I’m okay, I’m safe, and I’m going into this with my eyes open.” She felt the tears swell, making her vision waver and her voice crack. “Please don’t come for me. Don’t send anyone. Just stay away and be safe.”

“Rey,” said Finn helplessly.

The amount of hurt and confusion on his face made the tears fall. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, and she severed the connection.

She hugged her knees and rubbed her wet face on her makeshift shawl, waiting miserably for the reckoning she felt zeroing in on her.

She glanced over her shoulder when the door hissed open. Ben stood there, fury in his eyes and ice in his voice. “What have you done?

General Hux elbowed his way inside, surging to the terminal to assess the damage. “She’s contacted the Resistance,” he spat, whirling on her and reaching for his blaster. “Traitorous bitch.”

Rey could have defended herself, but she didn’t have to. The general flew bodily into the far wall, crashing down onto the corner of the console.

“Leave,” snapped Ben.

The general pulled himself to his feet, moving as if in pain, his perfectly combed hair mussed. Fury flashed in his eyes, snapping like a rabid dog, and he glared over Rey’s head. “She–”

“Is mine,” growled Ben. Despite the cold tone, the words made her shiver.

General Hux clenched his jaw as if he wanted to continue arguing, but he merely tugged his jacket straight and left the room.

Once the door closed behind the other man, Ben’s large hands grabbed the empty chair beside her, lifted it, and flung it into a wall.

Rey stared at the coiled fury as he turned and circled her, stalking like a predator, his eyes on fire.

“There’s a recording,” she said softly.

He stopped mid-stalk, focusing.

She hunched her shoulders into her blanket. “Someone suggested that I record it, so I did.” She gestured toward the communications console. “There’s a recording.” The words tasted flat in her mouth.

“Why?” he demanded. “Why contact the Resistance at all?”

“I don’t know, Ben. Why would I want to tell people who care about me that I’m okay?” She waited for him to say something, but he didn’t. After the silence drew out long enough to become uncomfortable, she placed her bare feet on the floor, standing carefully so that she didn’t trip on her skirt, and wrapped her arms around herself. “If we’re done here, I’d like to go to bed. I’m tired.”

He stepped forward and looked down at her, wary. After a moment, he raised a hand and cupped her chin, rubbing his thumb across her damp cheek. “You’ve been crying.”

She leaned into his touch. Telling Finn had been harder than she’d expected, and now she hurt. She didn’t know if Finn would ever forgive her for joining the First Order, even if she didn’t plan on fighting against the Resistance. She hadn’t had time to tell him that. She didn’t know if it would have made a difference.

She leaned into Ben so that her forehead touched his chest. He wrapped his arm around her shoulders, his touch tentative.

“I may have just lost my best friend.”

His other arm came up, and he held her gently. “You have me.”

She smiled against him, a fresh tear spilling. “You’re the only good part in any of this.”

His arms tightened around her.

“What if they never trust me again?” She shook her head, scoffing. “God, why would they? I’m marrying their enemy. If I hadn’t told them myself, they wouldn’t have believed it.”

“I’ll take you back to your room.”

“No need. I’ll take my guards.” She glanced at the communications console. “I know you want to watch it.”

“Your guards have been relieved of duty.”

Her gaze flew to his. “What? Why?”

He only looked at her.

“Ben,” she said, gripping his arm, “please don’t punish them for something I did. I ordered them to bring me here. It’s not their fault.” When he frowned at her, she moved closer. “Please, Ben.”

He hesitated a few moments more, then gave in with a sigh. “I’ll speak to Hux.”

He escorted her out of the room, a hand on her waist, and ordered his officer flunky to send a copy of the transmission to his room immediately.

General Hux pounced the moment Ben stopped speaking. “I’ve assigned new guards to keep the girl in her room–”

“Cancel that order,” said Ben. “Rey wants her old guards.”

General Hux stared at him. “You’re joking.”

“They followed an order from a superior. Return them to her.” He leveled a warning stare at the other man. “That is an order, general.”

General Hux looked like he might explode. Rey almost wanted to applaud when he managed to grit out, “Yes, Supreme Leader.” It had clearly taken a lot of effort.

Ben led her away, and the last she heard before they rounded the corner was General Hux entering the communications room and yelling, “I want a copy of that recording as well!” 

Chapter Text

“What are you wearing?” Ben asked as she struggled with her skirt, eyeing the too-long garment critically.

“Someone else’s clothes.” And she wasn’t happy about it. Not only was the stupid thing a pain, she’d forgotten her boots in the communications room and now she had to cross hard metal floors on bare feet. Rivets dug into her soles, making her feet feel battered and bruised.

Ben huffed and scooped her into his arms, drawing a squeak of protest from her.

“No one can see,” he assured her.

“Says you.” Rey held onto his neck to steady herself, even though he clearly had no problem bearing her weight. “You’re not the one being carted around like an invalid.”

“I’m also not the one who snuck out in a dress that didn’t fit,” he pointed out, glancing down at her, but then he stumbled, making her grip him harder. His entire face flushed, and Rey followed his gaze down to her chest.

The blanket around her had loosened, and from the gap peeked the curve of one breast, the rosy nipple only partially shrouded by a fold in the fabric.

Rey gasped and jerked the blanket to cover herself, going rigid with embarrassment in his arms.

He said nothing, and she didn’t dare look up at him. After a moment, he resumed moving.

When he reached their hallway, Rey said, “You can put me down now.”

He didn’t even break stride. “No.”

Guards loomed ahead, probably not hers since the guard change would take more time than they’d spent getting there. “Ben, they’re going to–”

“No.”

She considered wiggling out of his arms, as they were fast approaching the guards, but she’d never be able to land gracefully in that skirt.

He swept past the stormtroopers at her door and opened his own with a gesture. Rey struggled not to blush or hide her face as he carried her inside and deposited her on a particularly plush red chair with only a passing attempt at gentleness.

Rey untangled her legs from the skirt, thoroughly loathing the stupid nightgown and wishing she’d just put her sweaty, stiff, battle-stained clothes back on. She fixed the blanket more sturdily around her, determined not to let it slip again, and tried not to think about what he’d seen.

Ben opened a computer console in his wall and found the recording of her conversation, turning the volume up. He watched with his back to her, his posture rigid, and she couldn’t get a read on him.

Finn on the screen drew her attention, his smile at the beginning, melting into horror when she broke the news to him. On this recording, she could see her video feed beside Finn’s.

I look sad, she thought.

By the end, Rey’s jaw was stiff from holding back tears. Watching the feed was almost as bad as living through it, except this time she got to focus on all the little details she’d missed. Rose had seemed wary of her by the end, and Chewbacca had shared a concerned look with BB-8.

When it cut off, her relief was short-lived, because Ben played it again.

After the third viewing, tears streamed down her face unchecked.

When Ben spoke, his back was still to her. “Who is he to you?”

It wasn’t the question she’d anticipated. She’d thought he’d grill her on whether she’d passed along any secret information or coordinates. Instead, he wanted to know about Finn?

“The traitor,” he clarified when she took too long. “FN-2187. Who is he to you?” He rewound the video and stopped on Finn’s smile, her own grin an echo of his.

“He’s my friend.”

Ben turned his head a fraction. “He came for you at Starkiller Base.”

“Yes.”

“He almost died for you.”

“Yes.”

He turned to her, then, for one of his long, assessing looks, studying her every expression. “I won’t give you back to them.”

Rey blinked. What?

“I don’t care if you love him, I won’t let you leave. You agreed to this. I won’t release you.”

Rey’s eyebrows crept upward. “Excuse me?”

He stepped toward her, the movement almost violent. “You promised.” He towered over her, brows drawn. “You won’t contact him again.”

She stood, wrenching her skirts out of the way so hard that she heard something rip. She ignored it and glared defiantly up at him. “I wasn’t aware that our deal meant you could dictate my friends for me.”

He flexed his hands into fists. “Don’t test me on this, Rey.”

“Or what? You’ll lock me up and throw away the key?”

His eyes narrowed and his mouth twisted. Rey suddenly got a hint of his turmoil through their bond, and the sheer stunning weight of it stopped her in her tracks.

“Ben,” she said, eyes widening. “Are you jealous?”

“You’re marrying me. Not him.”

“I know that.”

“No other men, Rey. I mean it, I’ll kill them. You’re mine.”

She filed the thrill that shot down her spine away for later consideration and straightened to her full height. “First off, Finn and I have never crossed that line, so stop threatening him. Second, you’re not the only one in this relationship. It pisses me off that you think I’d do that to you, but since you brought it up, fine. Let’s do this.”

She prodded him sharply in the chest with a single finger. He didn’t step back, but she could tell she’d surprised him. “I will break the teeth of any woman you flirt with. Just because you’re Supreme Leader doesn’t mean you get to play the field. Once you’re mine, that’s it. You’re taken. I’m not going to put up with anything less.”

He watched her with eyes that always seemed to see too much. She flushed under his solemn intensity but kept her chin up, challenging him.

“We understand each other,” he finally said.

She nodded. “No one else. Not for me, not for you.”

“Agreed.”

They stood for a moment, and his eyes slipped to her bustline, almost as if remembering, then back up to her face. “I’ll find you something more comfortable to wear tonight.”

She wrapped her arms self-consciously around herself, her anger defused. “Thanks.”

He frowned down at her. “I’m curious, though. Why didn’t you ask someone to get you different clothing?”

She frowned back at him. “It’s the middle of the night.”

He blinked. After a few moments, he said, “I see.”

She wasn’t sure what he meant, but he turned and strode silently into his bedroom. When he returned, he had a pile of clothes in his hands. “They’re clean,” he said, handing them to her. The blanket slipped off one shoulder as she accepted them, freckled skin drawing Ben’s gaze. Rey felt heat prickle along the path his eyes traced, and she clutched the collection of clothes closer to her chest.

“Thanks,” she said softly.

She felt his eyes on her the whole way back to her room.

Chapter Text

The clothes were Ben’s and they were huge on her. Fortunately, his shirts weren’t cut to show cleavage like her nightgown, so she could rig them into something reasonably modest, especially since the shortest garment hung to mid-thigh.

Rey slept well, too exhausted to lay awake thinking, so when she woke the next morning she found that she’d slept in. The experience was so strange to her that she had stumbled into her sitting room, rubbing her eyes, before she realized that people waited for her there.

Rey stared at the female officer who approached.

“My lady. I’m Lieutenant Watt. I’ve been assigned to help you find an assistant today.” Lieutenant Watt gestured to a stout older woman who approached with a droid. “This is Desomma. She will take your measurements for more… appropriate clothing.” Watt’s eyes flickered to Rey’s bare legs beneath the too-big shirt with disapproval that she quickly hid. “When you’re done, I’ve arranged for you to meet potential assistants."

“Oh,” said Rey. “Um… thank you.”

Desomma and the droid ushered Rey back into her room, where they made Rey strip and proceeded to loop measuring tape around various parts of her body as Desomma clicked her tongue against the roof of her mouth.

“Not much to work with,” Desomma told the droid. “At least the face is pretty.”

“I’m right here,” Rey grumbled, jumping and blushing as the droid measured the length of her leg from inside her thigh. “Does he have to touch me there?”

“Yes,” said Desomma. Then, seeming to notice Rey’s discomfort, she softened her tone. “Don’t worry. You’ll have a wardrobe worthy of an empress in no time. Including a spectacular wedding gown.”

Apprehension filled Rey. She hadn’t even thought about a wedding. “Really, I just need something I can fight in. Something simple.”

Desomma raised an incredulous brow. After a moment, she clicked her tongue and asked imperiously, “Do you or do you not want the Supreme Leader to swallow his tongue when he sees you?”

That gave Rey pause, and Desomma smiled like a satisfied cat. After a moment, Rey said, “Just… make sure I can fight in it if I have to. I can’t defend myself if I can’t move.”

Desomma looked thoughtful. “I think we can arrange that, my lady.” She tapped a finger to her chin and watched the droid finish his measurements. “I do like a challenge.”


Desomma had arrived with a trunk of clothing items and found Rey something that fit, promising she’d return that evening with some “real” clothes.

The clothes she’d given Rey seemed more than acceptable. They consisted of a sleeveless black undershirt, officer-issue slacks, and a white long-sleeved shirt. Rey kept her own belt, which Desomma cleaned with a soft rag right there in the room.

Desomma took away the collection of expensive dresses when she left, as well as Rey’s own dirty clothing “as a jumping off point.” Rey wasn’t sure what that meant, but she had a sudden horrible vision of herself in a version of one of those stupid cumbersome gowns, searching for her lightsaber in the folds of the skirt as someone shot at her.

She then imagined herself with the floor-length skirt caught halfway up in her belt, baring her legs from the knee down so she could kick ass, and grinned. That image would probably make Desomma faint.

Once she finished getting dressed–someone had brought her boots back from the communications room and cleaned them for her–she met Lieutenant Watt in her sitting area.

The Lieutenant stood and bowed. Behind her, two stormtroopers hovered, and Rey noted their familiar designations.

“Good morning,” she said to the hardcase and AS-2874, relieved to see them back on duty. They nodded at her, remaining at attention. Rey didn’t try to press for conversation with someone else there, so she allowed the lieutenant to lead her to a meeting room with a long table filled with low-ranking officers. Rey’s guards stationed themselves just inside the door, and Rey glanced at them before taking a seat at the head of the table, deeply uncomfortable in the formal setting.

“These eight personnel have been hand-selected by myself,” Lieutenant Watt said, setting a data pad on the table in front of Rey. “Each with impeccable records.”

Rey frowned at the information in front of her, unsure how to parse it but too nervous to ask. Instead, she looked around the table at the officers, each trying to look more impressive and professional than the next.

Rey fought the urge to laugh. “You can relax,” she said softly into the quiet room. “I’m not going to pick based on how stiff you sit.”

Each face turned to her, stunned, as hardcase turned a chuckle into a cough by the door.

Rey flushed with embarrassment. To try and defuse the situation, she straightened her shoulders and pasted on a smile. “So. Who’s hungry?”


Food arrived within fifteen minutes, pushed by a brunette girl in worker bee colors. She was close to Rey’s age and had an oval face, pale skin, and perfectly nondescript features.

The Force perked up when she entered.

“What’s your name?” Rey asked when the girl reached her.

“N-Nalti. Ma’am.” From her wide-eyed expression, Nalti never spoke to higher ups.

“Nalti. Pull up a chair.”

Everyone stared as the young woman anxiously obeyed.

“Bread?” offered Rey, trying to put the other woman at ease.

“No thank you, ma’am.” She looked like she wanted to sink into the floor.

“What work experience do you have, Nalti?” She nodded at the food on the table, glancing at the officers. “Go ahead. Help yourselves. Even I can’t eat all of that.”

None of them moved.

“My lady,” said Lieutenant Watt, “what exactly–”

“I’m talking to Nalti,” Rey said cheerfully, taking a roll for herself and picking bits off to pop into her mouth. “So, Nalti. Experience?”

Nalti licked her lips and shrank in on herself. “I work in the kitchens right now, ma’am–er, my lady. Ma’am?”

Rey shrugged and pulled another piece off of the roll. It was so soft, it practically melted on her tongue. “Whichever. Or Rey. It is my name. I won’t be offended if you use it.”

Nalti cleared her throat nervously. “Yes, ma’am.”

“What other work have you done?”

“This and that, ma’am. Delivery, cleaning, anything I’m qualified for.”

“What would you want in an assistant, Nalti?”

Nalti looked perplexed. “Ma’am?”

“If you needed an assistant. What would you look for?”

“Um…” Nalti shot a look at the others in the room, cringing as if she expected someone to yell at her. “Someone I… felt comfortable with?”

Rey drummed her fingers lightly on the table, thinking. “Someone like yourself?”

Nalti pinked. “Not like me, ma’am. Someone like you. As an assistant for you. If that’s what you mean, ma’am. Someone…” she waved her hands expressively, managing to take in the whole table of sour-looking prospects, “important.”

Rey drummed her fingers again and nodded. “I think you’re right. I need someone like me. So here’s what we’re going to do.” She leaned forward and hooked them all with her gaze. “We’re going to go around the table, and you’re all going to define yourself in one word. Who are you?” She nodded to the man on her right. “Start.”

“Accomplished,” he said.

Around the table it went, each candidate offering what they thought she wanted to hear. Helpful. Hard worker. Diligent. Loyal.

And then it got back to Nalti. Rey nodded for her to finish the round. The nervous girl licked her lips again and practically whispered, “Nobody.”

Rey sat back and looked at the hopeful faces in front of her. She could practically feel Lieutenant Watt’s annoyed confusion, but Rey still felt a pull to Nalti as if the Force were hopping up and down saying, “This one. This one!”

“When the Supreme Leader proposed,” Rey started conversationally, “he used the phrase ‘You’re nothing.’“ She offered a tiny smile at their blank expressions. “Smooth he is not. But he also wasn’t wrong. I’m no one special. I’m a scavenger from Jakku.” She shrugged, not ashamed of her past. “All of you have impressive credentials, and anyone would be lucky to work with you… but Nalti is right. I need someone I’m comfortable with. You and I just wouldn’t be comfortable together. I’m going to need a nobody.”

Rey stood and looked down at Nalti, whose eyes couldn’t have gotten any bigger. “Are you up for it?”

“Y-yes, ma’am.”

Rey smiled.


Rey left the meeting room with her new assistant in tow, her guards trailing them. She’d encouraged the other applicants to stay and eat before they went back to their duties, and she hoped the gesture soothed their ruffled feathers.

They had looked distinctly disgruntled, especially Lieutenant Watt, who’d followed Rey out to inform her that her choice was “highly irregular” and would definitely cause resentment.

“That would be a shame,” Rey said, not stopping so that Watt had to follow her to continue complaining.

“Passing up qualified candidates for this promotion in favor of a kitchen maid is a grave mistake.”

Rey glanced at the lieutenant, her smile remaining even as her eyes narrowed. “Like how your Supreme Leader is elevating a nobody scavenger from Jakku?”

The lieutenant looked as if Rey had slapped her. Stiffly, she replied, “Of course not, my lady. The two situations are completely different.”

“Are they?” asked Rey.

It was rhetorical, but Lieutenant Watt answered her anyway. “Of course! One is a matter of skill and experience, and the other is a matter of… the heart.”

The hesitation before those last two words was more telling than the lieutenant realized. Rey shot her another look, realizing that Lieutenant Watt and probably a lot of other First Order personnel thought that Rey had skills that Ben wanted to use.

Her face flushed, and she dismissed the lieutenant more sharply than she probably should have. Watt left in a huff, and Rey led the way to her quarters so that she could cringe in private.

“How discrete are you, Nalti?” she asked to get her mind off of the lieutenant’s disapproval.

“I’ve never once gossiped about the people I made deliveries to, despite the things I’ve walked in on.”

Rey nodded. Good enough.

“If you’ll forgive me saying, ma’am,” Nalti added, “I don’t think you should have tattled on the Supreme Leader. That story is already making the rumor mills, I’m sure.”

Rey blushed, suddenly ashamed. Had she made Ben look bad in front of his people?

Then Nalti shot her a curious look. “Did he really say that?”

Rey laughed. “Yes. I’d like to say the rest of his proposal was better, but it wasn’t by much. He’s not a romantic.” She bit her lip, wondering if she’d gone too far again.

“Your secret is safe with me, ma’am,” said Nalti.

Rey glanced back at her guards, and AS-2874 nodded briskly. “And with us, ma’am.”

The resulting warm glow carried her all the way back to her quarters, where the guards took up their posts outside her door.

Within, Desomma waited with her droid, scribbling fiercely on a data pad.

“There you are,” Desomma fussed, bustling Rey into the sitting area. “I had a few designs I was able to adjust, but I need to run them by you before I start construction. A few of the simplest options can be ready by this evening, but the more complicated creations will take time.”

Rey waved Nalti over to join them, and the young woman abandoned her awkward hand-wringing by the door to look over Rey’s shoulder at the data pad.

“Who’s this?” asked Desomma.

“My new assistant. Desomma, Nalti. Nalti, Desomma.”

Desomma looked Nalti up and down appraisingly. “I assume I’ll be coordinating with you from now on, then. Fine, fine.” To Rey, she said, “Do you want me to come up with something to put her in? You can’t be seen with an assistant who dresses like that.”

Nalti looked down at herself. “I didn’t pick it. It’s the kitchen uniform.”

“It’s awful. I’ll make you look less awful, if her ladyship agrees.”

Rey glanced up at Nalti, who looked back with huge, hopeful eyes. “Sure.”

Desomma nodded. “Neutrals for you, I think. They’ll be easier to coordinate with her ladyship’s wardrobe. Ugh, can you imagine if you clashed?” She leaned toward Rey and tapped the data pad to zoom in on a more elegant variation of Rey’s usual clothing. “I was thinking this for puttering around the base. We’ll keep the colors muted, nothing too flashy. You’re not a flashy sort of girl.”

After two hours, Rey had vetoed five outfits and requested major changes to seven others. Desomma had sighed over every alteration as if Rey were compromising her innermost soul, but Rey felt cautiously optimistic by the end.

Desomma added notes to an evening gown. Rey would have been happy with no evening gowns and a fraction of the more sensible outfits, but Desomma had flatly refused.

“I just don’t see why I need so many.”

Desomma stared at her. So did Nalti.

“What?”

Desomma broke the silence. “How did you survive until now?”

“I scavenged old Imperial ships for parts.”

Desomma rolled her eyes to the ceiling. “And how many sets of clothes did you own?”

“Just the one.”

They stared at her even harder. Then, abruptly, Desomma stood and announced that she needed a moment. She marched into Rey’s room, and they could hear her muttering to herself.

Nalti giggled.

“One set isn’t normal, is it?” Rey asked.

“No.”

“Hmm.”

When Desomma returned, she sat primly beside Rey and reached for the data pad. “Next, your trousseau.” She opened a file and handed it back to Rey.

Rey nearly dropped the data pad. “What is that?!”

“Lingerie, dear.”

“I don’t want that!” She shoved the data pad back into Desomma’s hands, her face and neck aflame. Her arms came protectively up across her chest as if she could impose modesty on the design with the gesture.

“It’s not for you,” said Desomma patiently. “It’s for your husband.”

“I don’t care who it’s for, I can’t wear it. People would see my…” She gestured vaguely to her chest.

Desomma blinked at her and shared a look with an equally surprised Nalti. “There goes that theory, then.”

Rey frowned at her in confusion.

Desomma zoomed in on the image and held it out so Rey could see it. “These are for the bedroom, dear. No one but your husband is going to see you in them.”

Rey peeked at the image, curious despite herself. “It doesn’t look very comfortable to sleep in.”

Desomma and Nalti burst out laughing.

“Darling,” said Desomma, laying a hand on Rey’s shoulder, “if these do what they’re supposed to, you won’t be doing much sleeping at all.”

Rey looked at her, and it took a moment for the words to click in her brain.

Oh!” She shot up, covering her mouth with her hands as embarrassment boiled her alive. “Oh!”

Desomma and Nalti laughed even harder.

“Oh, my dear,” said Desomma, wiping away a tear with the back of one hand. “You are going to be a delight to dress.”

Chapter Text

When lunch rolled around, Rey asked Nalti to order some food and invited Desomma and the guards to join them. Desomma declined, saying she needed to get to work if Rey was going to have anything decent to wear by that evening, and Nalti offered to fetch the food herself, since she needed to tell her boss about the career change anyway.

Rey’s guards removed their helmets and joined her at the dining table where they endured her clumsy attempts at conversation with polite equanimity. Hardcase talked more than AS-2874, who answered mostly only when spoken to, and Rey decided that her first impressions of them had been correct.

After they’d been talking for a little while, still waiting on Nalti, Rey asked, “Do you have nicknames I can call you?”

“One of my friends calls me ‘that rowdy son of a bitch,’” said hardcase.

AS-2874 just shrugged. “Whatever you want to call me, ma’am.”

Rey examined AS-2874, noting her grey eyes. “Ash,” she said after a minute. “And Rowdy.”

Rowdy laughed loudly, and Ash nodded. “Fair enough.”

“So when are you going to finalize your guard unit?” asked Rowdy, leaning comfortably back in his chair.

“What do you mean?” asked Rey.

Ash and Rowdy shared a look, and Ash took it upon herself to explain. “You have ten slots to fill, ma’am. A full squad. Right now you haven’t finalized anyone, and your rotation is a bit thin.”

“Consider yourselves finalized after last night. I really appreciated your help, by the way.” Rey noticed for the first time that her guards looked tired. “How long have you two been on duty?”

Ash straightened. “Double shift, ma’am. Nothing we can’t handle.”

Rowdy nodded his agreement. “Much worse jobs than babysitting a door, ma’am.”

She tapped her fingers thoughtfully on the tabletop. “I seem to be free this afternoon. Where do you suggest I look for more candidates?”

Ash considered. “The training rooms would be a good start. You could see individuals in action, and your face isn’t so well known yet that everyone would be trying to show off.”

Rey nodded, intrigued, and a knock came at the door between her room and Ben’s.

“Come in!” she shouted.

It opened, and her heart lurched as his tall, severe form stepped through. He immediately took in the scene, then turned his gaze to her. “You have company,” he observed.

“Come sit,” she said, nudging the chair beside her.

“We can leave,” said Rowdy, making to stand up as Ben approached the table.

“Nonsense,” said Rey. “Sit down. He’s not going to bite.”

Rowdy sat, but he and Ash both looked like they wanted to jump out of their skins.

Ben took the chair she’d indicated, radiating annoyance.

“Stop that,” she murmured.

He lifted a brow at her.

“The… menace thing.” She fluttered her fingers at him, encompassing his stiff posture and scowl. “You’re scaring them.”

Ben turned that scowl onto her guards. “Am I scaring you?”

Rowdy scrambled up, followed quickly by Ash. “We’ll be outside.” They grabbed their helmets and practically ran out the door.

“You did that on purpose,” she accused when they were alone.

Ben didn’t deny it. “They shouldn’t have left their post.”

“I asked them to.”

“Why?”

Rey huffed, but he seemed genuinely curious, so she considered before she answered. “I want them to like me.”

“They work for you. They don’t have to like you.”

“No, but I want them to. Plus, I can defend myself just fine if I get attacked. It’s not like they have to protect a helpless princess or something.”

His lips twitched at that, and she suspected a story there, but he didn’t offer and she didn’t ask.

Her fingers twisted together in her lap as the last confession fell softly from her lips. “And… I didn’t want to eat alone.”

He shifted toward her and touched her arm, his thumb rubbing so lightly that she felt only the whisper of it through the cloth of her shirt. “You’re not.”

Unexpected heat blossomed where his hand rested and shot downward. Rey gasped, and Ben narrowed his eyes at her response, his reassuring caress firming as he trailed his fingers down her arm.

“I’ve been thinking about you all morning,” he said, every bit of his focus centered on her. His eyes tracked her reactions, examining her face as if his whole existence hinged on the slightest hitch in her breathing.

He lifted her chin with two fingers, and Rey felt weak.

“Rey,” he whispered, close enough that his breath feathered against her lips.

His nose bumped awkwardly into her cheek, and it took a moment for them to find the best angle. Then their lips settled onto each other, and she melted.

When she sank her hands into his hair to hold herself steady, gripping it like a lifeline, he whimpered.

Rey had never in her life heard anyone make a sound like that–so helpless with need. A thrill shot down her spine at the thought that she’d made him sound like that, that her kiss had made him weak and desperate. She pressed her lips harder against his and groaned his name into his mouth. Her skin flamed everywhere he touched, and she suddenly wanted him to touch her everywhere.

The sound of the door opening had Rey flinging herself away from Ben, who rounded furiously on the interruption. “Get out!

Nalti, who’d begun pushing a cart full of food into the room, quickly backpedaled, leaving them alone again.

“Well,” said Rey shakily into the sudden silence. “That’s three out of three of my staff you’ve managed to terrify.”

He leveled her with his hot gaze. “Come here.”

“Ben…”

“Come here, Rey.”

She laughed low in her throat when he stood and hunched over her, nuzzling her hair as his big hand stroked the back of her neck.

“Kiss me, Rey.”

She almost gave in. Almost. The languid heat in her bones hadn’t entirely ebbed, and it would take very little fanning to set it aflame. “I have things to do today.”

“It’s just a kiss,” he murmured huskily.

“If I kiss you, I might not get anything else done.”

His fingertips painted warm swirls at her nape. “Is that so bad?”

She tugged playfully on his jacket, glancing up at him through her lashes because she didn’t want to tip her face up and give him an excuse to descend on her like a hungry wolf. “Save it for after the wedding, big guy.”

He breathed unsteadily, an unhappy smile twisting his lips. “You’re killing me.”

“If I wanted you dead, we’d be having a very different discussion.”

He huffed a laugh. “Fine. I’ll be patient.” He released her, but his steady gaze promised things that made her flush. “I didn’t come here for that, anyway.”

“And here I thought you just wanted to see me,” she teased. “Can I let Nalti in now? I’m hungry.”

He inclined his head, remaining on his feet until she returned. He only sat after she did, and Rey found herself embarrassed and pleased by the old-fashioned courtesy.

Nalti’s shoulders were tense with anxiety as she laid out the spread.

“So why did you come by?” Rey asked as Ben placed his napkin in his lap.

She copied him, remembering his table manners comment with annoyance.

“I just had a visit from Sornman and Hux. It seems you’ve stirred up a hornet’s nest with your stunt today.”

Nalti froze, her eyes wide, and she backed away from the table. Rey stopped her.

“You don’t have to stay if you’re uncomfortable,” Rey told her, gesturing to the spread, “but at least take something with you. I’m sure you’re hungry.”

Nalti shook her head, continuing to back up. “I’m fine, really.”

Rey sighed and let her go.

Ben resumed as if the encounter hadn’t taken place. “Lieutenant Watt took it upon herself to complain to them about your… unusual choice.”

Rey opened a serving dish and examined its contents before piling a heaping spoonful on her plate. “I just picked the assistant that was right for me.”

He raised a skeptical brow. “A kitchen worker?”

Rey flushed, recalling the similarity between Nalti’s situation and her own. His scorn made her angry, and anger made her reply sharper than it might have been. “I knew you were a snob, but really, Ben.”

“And you’re naive,” he snapped back. “Lieutenant Watt filled that room with extremely connected individuals–connections I had to listen to Hux detail at length. You’ve offended them.”

She examined him quietly, eyes narrowed. When she spoke, she let a dangerous undercurrent slip into her voice. “Are you asking me to change my mind about Nalti?”

He sighed and sat back. “No. And I let Hux know that I stand behind whatever decision you make. But it will have consequences.”

Rey thought about that. “Okay. Thank you for telling me.” She glanced up at him and thought about what it must have been like to have General Hux and the admiral chastising him for something she’d done. “I’m sorry I caused you trouble.”

He snorted. “The day I can’t handle Armitage Hux is the day I hang up my lightsaber.”

She smiled at him. “If that happens, you can borrow mine.”

Chapter Text

“You can’t wear that to the training rooms. It’s too noticeable,” said Nalti once Ben had gone and Rey invited her back inside. “I can get you a standard issue crew uniform.”

“Sounds good,” said Rey with a smile. She hesitated and glanced at the other young woman. “I’m sorry about earlier. Usually he’s not…” Not what? Not angry? Not intimidating? Rey had to let the words trail off.

Nalti chewed her lip, eyes on the floor. “It’s fine.”

Rey sighed, giving up on the “make everyone get along” angle for just then. “First rule of working for me,” she said with a pang. “Get out of Ben’s way when he’s pissed.” She shrugged. “You did the right thing.”

Nalti was looking at her oddly.

“What?”

“Ben?”

“Oh,” said Rey, flushing. She didn’t even think about calling him that anymore. “That’s his name. You can call him what– whatever you were going to call him. He might react… badly… if someone called him by his real name.”

“Oh.” Nalti’s brown eyes settled thoughtfully on Rey’s face. Rey fidgeted. Carefully, as if uncoupling a live power source, she said, “He lets you say it.” It wasn’t quite a question, more like a guess.

Rey nodded, flushing, but then an impish grin spread spread across her face. “Well. He doesn’t let me do anything.”

An answering twinkle sparked in Nalti’s eyes. “You’re very odd.”

Somehow, Rey got the impression that Nalti didn’t mean that as a bad thing.


Wrapped in the comfortable olive jumpsuits of low-level workers, Nalti and Rey followed Ash’s directions to the stormtrooper training areas, weaving through the maze-like structure with the ease of Nalti’s familiarity. Rey paid attention to the route and the directional markers, noting that it wasn’t organized too differently from the old Empire ships she’d scavenged on Jakku.

Rowdy and Ash had encouraged Rey to go before their shift change so she wouldn’t have to drag guards along with her on her secret mission. Nalti had then taken Rey to her crew quarters, and there they’d changed into the uniforms.

The only thing Rey hadn’t been willing to leave behind was her lightsaber, and Nalti had found her an orange technician’s vest to tuck it into.

“Nobody pays attention to crew,” Nalti said after a pair of stormtroopers passed in the opposite direction. “Just follow my lead and act like you’re supposed to be there.” She waved the data pad she’d been issued as Rey’s assistant and winked. “We can pretend to be looking at this while we check out the fighters.”

Rey furrowed her brow. “Won’t somebody notice that we’re not actually doing anything?”

Nalti laughed. “It’ll be okay. There’s a subculture here on the Dominance where sometimes crew go to the training rooms on their break and watch the troopers work out.” The look she slid Rey was pure mischief. “I may have done it once or twice, myself.” She brushed brown hair behind her ears. “Nothing comes of it, of course – fraternization is strongly discouraged – but some of those guys will do a couple extra reps or flex if we’re watching.” Nalti grinned. “They like the attention.”

Rey laughed and blushed, at a loss for how to handle the topic. Thankfully, Nalti dropped it as they entered the training rooms.

The training area was huge, with steel grey walls and dark floors, the red First Order emblem prominently displayed across from the entrance. Benches lined the walls, upon which sat Stormtroopers cooling down or watching one of the sparring bouts. True to Nalti’s word, two other female crew members sat near the weight stations, not even pretending to be doing anything but watching soldiers flex.

Nalti led Rey toward the sparring rings, three grouped near each other. The spaces were denoted by little more than separate floor pads. Rey and Nalti settled far enough away from the other spectators that no one could overhear their assessments of the local talent.

Rey knew Rowdy and Ash were here somewhere, or would be as soon as their shift changed, despite her attempt to order them to get some rest. They’d refused to let Rey go on her little expedition without backup.

"I don’t look forward to explaining to the Supreme Leader that you got hurt when you should have been safe in your room,” Rowdy had said when she’d told them not to come.

Ash had nodded her agreement. “Begging your pardon, ma'am, but he’s a lot scarier than you are.”

Rey had relented, if only to make them feel better.

Whenever one Stormtrooper got the upper hand in the sparring ring, Nalti would make an appreciative sound or nudge Rey with an elbow, as if Rey wasn’t already watching. Nalti’s brown eyes glittered at the displays of martial prowess, and Rey regretfully had to admit that her companion didn’t know the first thing about fighting.

One fighter craned his neck and gave a cocky nod at them when Nalti forgot herself and cheered, only to get knocked off his feet a second later by his opponent.

He cursed and slapped his opponent’s proffered hand away, standing up with offended dignity.

Nalti giggled as he stormed off, and Rey tapped in the sparring partner’s designation with the note, “Polite.” She kept an eye on that one afterward. He lost more than he won, but he accepted every defeat with grace.

Rey realized a little later that one of the sparring matches included Rowdy, and that was only because she recognized his voice. She took a closer look at his sparring partner, who at one point tripped him, sat on his back, and laughed at his curses in a ringing alto.

He accepted a hand up, removing his helmet ruefully as his sparring partner did the same, revealing a woman older than Ben with thick yellow braids wrapped like a crown around her head. Her square face was flushed with triumph, and her mouth looked like it laughed often. They went to get water, and Rey quickly noted the woman’s designation on her data pad.

She looked for Ash after that and found her leaning against the opposite wall, ostensibly watching the matches but most likely keeping an eye on Rey.

Rowdy continued to spar with different people, and Rey soon realized that all of his choices were high caliber fighters with various styles.

She smiled to herself when she realized he was drawing fighters into the ring that she might otherwise not have seen today.

Rey felt optimistic about the new prospects as she watched one last set of fights. Nalti, who had taken over Rey’s schedule, informed her that they needed to get back for a fitting with Desomma before Rey’s dinner with Ben.

“Wow,” said Nalti enthusiastically, staring at the fighters closest to them. “He’s good.”

Rey knew which Stormtrooper she meant. He had talent, definitely, but he showed off too much, which was why the words “Not really” popped out of her mouth with far too much volume.

Everyone nearby turned to look at them, including the man they were talking about.

He stared at them for an uncomfortable moment, then strode over and pulled off his helmet. He was the kind of handsome that knew it, and he was glaring down at her. “You have a problem?”

Rey stood up, chagrined, and wished he wouldn’t try to tower over her like that. “Sorry,” she said simply. “I didn’t mean it like that.”

“Then how did you mean it?”

He stood too close. She tried to shift backward, but her legs bumped into the bench and he moved in to crowd her. Past him, she saw Ash making her way across to them. On the other side, Rowdy approached with one of his sparring partners, a wiry older man who used a pike like it was an extension of his own arm. Other Stormtroopers drifted closer, sensing the rising tension.

“Nothing,” she said, still trying to calm him down as her own annoyance rose. He was boxing her in, trying to intimidate her with his size, and the tactic made her chin set.

He sneered at her, his color high. “What do you know about fighting?”

Rey’s temper flared. “More than you, apparently.”

Ash arrived, her voice a whiplash of disapproval. “What’s going on here?”

The handsome Stormtrooper ignored Ash, throwing his shoulders back as if spoiling for a fight. “You want to prove it? Get out there on the mats and see who’s tougher? I would destroy that pretty little ass,” he said, looking Rey up and down with disdain.

Ash got in his space, her voice low with warning, “You need to take a step back.”

“Butt out,” he snapped, shoving her. Ash looked ready to push back, but Rey was faster. She narrowed her eyes and lifted onto her toes to get in the guy’s face, something she could do because he wasn’t as tall as Ben. “Point me to the weapons.”

Ash grabbed Rey’s arm as she started toward the weapons rack and hissed, “What do you think will happen if you get hurt?”

“I’m not going to get hurt, he is,” Rey growled, tugging on her arm.

Ash didn’t let go. “If you get even a single bruise, what will Kylo Ren do? This guy is an asshole, but is it worth getting him killed?”

Rey started to scoff at the idea of Ben killing someone over a bruise, but she stopped herself and actually thought about it. She honestly didn’t know what he’d do.

Rey couldn’t take the chance. Not even to show up a snotty asshole.

So she sighed, drew her anger inside, and turned around to face her would-be opponent. Ash released her immediately.

“I’m sorry,” she said to him. “I shouldn’t have said that. You’re very good, I just think all the flashy stuff is holding you back.” He scoffed at her, but she held onto her temper this time, raising her voice so he’d have to listen. “It’s better to practice the way you plan to fight in a battle, and twirling your weapon all the time will get you killed.”

“And you’re some kind of expert? Why am I even listening to this?” He looked around at the crowd they’d gathered as if he expected support. A few looked as if they saw his point. Others just watched. Ash stayed close enough to interfere, and Rowdy shifted subtly, poised for action.

Annoyance colored Rey’s voice, and her hands curled into fists. “I never said I was an expert, but I have fought for my life before. Have you?”

He glared at her with such coldness that she knew he hadn’t.

“Ask anyone who’s fought and survived,” she informed him firmly. “They’ll tell you the same thing. Cut out that flashy shit.” A few shared glances. She didn’t know if it was a good sign or a bad one, so she just turned to leave.

Several things happened almost before she could register them.

He reached out to grab her; Ash’s fist sank into his midsection, doubling him over so she could then knee him in the nose with a sickening crack as armor met cartilage; and Rowdy pulled Rey out of the room.

In the hallway, Rowdy hurried her along, Nalti rushing to keep up with them. Ash soon joined them at a jog, falling in on Rey’s other side.

“You think what I did was stupid,” Rey said with no small amount of chagrin.

Ash replied stiffly, “It’s not my place to say, ma’am.”

Rey glanced at Rowdy.

“Fucking stupid,” he muttered.

Ash sent him a weary glance, and Rey snorted.

Rowdy shrugged, his blunt features drawn into a frown. “That guy was twice your size.”

Rey shrugged. “Ben is bigger.” When they looked confused, she cursed herself and clarified, “Kylo Ren.”

They absorbed that warily, and Rey suddenly realized that it sounded like Ben was her personal attack dog, like she’d be willing to sic him on anyone who messed with her.

“No,” she said quickly. “I didn’t mean…” She swallowed. “I’ve fought Ben before, and he’s bigger, so size isn’t really a factor. I can take some random asshole who thinks he’s too good to fight properly.”

“You’ve fought Kylo Ren?” asked Rowdy. He looked politely skeptical.

Rey smirked. “Who do you think gave him that scar?”

They stared at her, actually stopping in their tracks. Rey stumbled to a halt and had to turn around to see their dumbfounded expressions.

She shrugged self-consciously, uncomfortable under the attention. “We didn’t always get along.”

The silence drew out. Nalti was the one to break it.

“That makes so much sense.” At their stunned expressions, she explained as if they were dense, “Of course he’d fall in love with the woman who bested him in battle. It’s classic.”

Rey felt her eyes grow wide. “Oh, he’s not–” She stopped, shutting her mouth with a snap when their attention returned to her.

Nalti rolled her eyes and resumed walking, patting Rey’s arm as she passed her. “Of course he is, sweetie. He’s marrying you, isn’t he?”

Chapter Text

Desomma made Rey shower before trying on the clothes she’d brought. The day-to-day items fit well, but Desomma clicked her tongue and went about making tiny adjustments as Nalti combed out Rey’s wet hair and squeezed the strands with a dry towel.

Rey felt distinctly uncomfortable with the pair of them fussing over her, helping her in and out of various shirts, leggings, tunics, and jackets in a variety of earthy shades. Each piece had fine, subtle details which transformed her look from plain to elegant. Small buttons and faintly shimmering embroidery added just enough interest without overpowering the simple lines.

“I have a surprise,” Desomma said as they reached the end. Her droid lifted a swath of buttery cream silk from the collection, swinging it forward for his mistress to accept. “I finished one of your evening gowns.”

Rey removed the clothes she’d been trying on and allowed Desomma to slip the gown over her head. The silk slid over Rey’s skin, settling in lightweight layers against her legs with plenty of room to move. A delicate lace tabard overlaid the dress, two lace panels joining at the waist to fall together to the hemline.

Desomma stepped behind her and began to fasten the back as Nalti moved to the front.

“Oh, you look beautiful,” she said. “You should wear that to dinner tonight.”

Rey nudged the hem of the dress with her foot. It stopped just above the floor, still longer than would be easy to fight in, but she’d had to compromise on length to keep Desomma from having an anxiety attack.

“Do you think…”

“He’ll love it,” Nalti said immediately.

Rey glanced down at herself. She’d insisted on necklines that no one could see down, since she was shorter than almost everyone on the Dominance. Still, Desomma had managed to create a neckline that shielded Rey’s breasts but still pushed them into a gentle swell above the fabric.

Rey had never worn anything so feminine in her life. When Desomma’s droid produced a mirror, Rey almost didn’t recognize herself.

Desomma smiled smugly. “I’m pleased with the color. It’s just enough of a contrast with your golden skin.” She gestured, and her droid pulled matching slippers from a trunk. “Here. Put these on.”

Rey stuffed her feet into the slippers, lifting the skirt to do so, and Nalti began to play with her hair. Desomma silently handed Nalti a small white flower from the same trunk as the shoes, and Rey felt Nalti affixing it over her ear.

“One last thing. I know we’re running a little late for your dinner, but I want you to look through these designs for your wedding gown.” Rey accepted the data pad and examined the first design as Desomma and her droid began putting all the new clothing into the room’s wardrobe. “I had to scrap a half dozen designs when the order came down to have it done by next week.”

Rey scrolled to the next design. “Why so soon?”

The silence felt heavy, and Rey looked up to see Desomma share a look with Nalti over Rey’s head.

Nalti spoke very gently as she finished fastening the flower in place. “That’s when the wedding is. I thought you knew.”


Ben was waiting for her by the dining table, and a small part of her tucked his reaction away when he turned and saw her in the evening gown. He stared and swallowed, his eyes fixing on the hint of cleavage before flickering up to her face.

His eyebrows rose when he saw the fury there.

She stopped in his personal space, craning her neck to glare up at him. “When exactly were you going to tell me you’d scheduled the wedding?”

He examined her in that curious, patient way of his, stretching the tension out until Rey felt her anger get too heavy to fully maintain. “I made the decision after I saw you at lunch.”

Lunch. When he’d kissed her.

His eyes darkened as if he knew what she was remembering. “You’re lucky I didn’t schedule it for tomorrow.”

She drew a frustrated breath. “Is this how we’re going to do things, Ben? You make the decisions, and I’m left to follow along like… like a pet?”

He frowned at that. “No.”

“Which means maybe you should have talked to me, the one other person this affects, before you made plans.”

“I don’t see how it matters when the wedding is. We’ve already agreed it will happen.”

“Right,” she said, “so it doesn’t matter if it’s next week or in three months.”

“I’m not waiting that long,” he said flatly.

“Do I have no say in this?” she asked incredulously.

He leaned close, features drawn with ferocity. “Be careful, or I’ll drag you off and marry you right now.”

Rey should not have found that as sexy as she did. Her heart thudded, and she could only stare at him with wide eyes, heat glowing under her traitorous skin.

She almost said yes. Yes, please drag me off and marry me right now.

But she didn’t. She wasn’t ready, and something in her rebelled at the idea of marrying him in some perfunctory ceremony on this cold, heartless ship.

“We’ll talk about it while we eat,” she told him instead, her voice not entirely steady.

He drew back, those dark eyes seeing more than she wanted them to as she went to see Desomma and Nalti out.

Desomma left the data pad with Rey, asking her to make a decision that evening. “I have seven sewing droids on standby, but I need to start tonight if I’m going to have it done in time.”

The two women scurried out past Ben, who ignored them in his usual way, and then it was just him and Rey and food on the table.

Rey sat, taking a moment to adjust her skirt. She’d never worn skirts before, so she knew she looked stupid trying to manage it, but Ben didn’t comment.

He sat after she was settled, and she turned on the data pad.

“What is that?” he asked as he draped his napkin on his lap.

“Wedding dresses,” she replied absently, scrolling through the images.

“Oh.”

She glanced at him. He’d sounded pleased. After a moment, she asked, “Do you want to see?”

Interest sparked in his eyes, but he declined. “I think it’s supposed to be a surprise.”

Rey thought as she compared the three dresses she liked best. It was easier to think now, without people surrounding her and making demands. “I want a small ceremony,” she said. “On a planet. Somewhere green.”

He considered for a moment. “Done.”

“I want my guards there. And Nalti and Desomma.” If she couldn’t have her Resistance friends, she’d at least have familiarity.

“Of course.”

As her staff, they had to be there anyway. They both knew that, but the fact that he didn’t point this out made her even more annoyed.

“Ben,” she said, putting the data pad down.

His eyes snapped up. “Yes?”

She blinked, her annoyance derailed. “Were you just–”

Pink crossed the bridge of his nose, confirming that, yes, he’d been staring at her breasts.

“You were.” She covered a chortle with her hand, and he shifted uncomfortably in his chair.

“You don’t have to laugh,” he muttered, his flush deepening. Then, because apparently his mother had drilled some manners into him, he added, “Sorry.”

She blushed and looked away. “Well,” she said with a slight shrug, “I can’t be too mad. We are getting married, after all.”

She glanced up and found herself caught in his intensity.

She tried to breathe through the sudden tightness in her chest. How did he make her feel like she was drowning and burning at the same time? Wasn’t it physically impossible to do both at once?

She half-rose, leaned over, and kissed him.

It was a simple kiss, and she broke it off quickly, but his ragged breathing stroked her ego. It wasn’t lost on her that this was the first time she’d initiated a kiss, and it didn’t seem lost on him, either. From the look in his eyes, he would give her a hundred galaxies if she asked.

He tried to follow her as she pulled away, but she stopped him with a gentle hand to his chest. She could feel the way his heart pounded under her palm. “I’m hungry,” she said.

He relented, but she felt his gaze on her all through dinner. Rey glanced at him every now and then, flushing under the intense concentration he leveled at her, but she had to focus on her food to avoid spilling on her dress.

When Rey’s belly felt full enough to slow down, she’d had enough time to process their conversation. The wedding wasn’t the only thing he’d kept her out of. He’d been disappearing during the day, most likely making plans with the First Order leaders.

“Do I get to know what the First Order is planning?” she asked quietly.

The direction of his attention shifted, and she glanced over to see him frowning at her.

“You said we’d be in this together. Are we or not?”

He nodded slowly. “Of course.” He set his sliverware down, and she gave him time to consider his words. “What would you like to know first?”

“Are you trying to track down my friends?” This fear had hovered over her ever since he’d let them go.

“Not at the moment. The Resistance has been broken, giving us an opening to begin taking control of various lawless worlds. We’ve sent envoys to eleven planets to negotiate their surrender. We’ve had positive responses from seven already.”

“What happens if a planet says no?”

He watched her warily. “We take it by force.”

“And people die.”

“We give them the option to surrender.”

“And you kill them if they don’t.”

“We defend ourselves.”

They defend themselves! You’re the ones invading, Ben!”

“We do it for their own good! Their lives are miserable, corrupt. We bring order and stability to a galaxy overrun with–”

She interrupted him with a harsh laugh. “Oh, of course. You kill them for their own good. Go on, tell me another one.”

He ran a frustrated hand through his hair. “You don’t understand.”

“I understand enough,” she shot back.

“The faster we take a world, the less strain it puts on the local economy. We don’t want long, drawn-out fighting because in that type of confrontation, both sides lose. We are violent because some people only understand violence. Surrender is a much smoother, more peaceful option.”

Rey shook her head, not believing her ears. “Yes,” she said wearily. “Surrender is much easier for you.”

He sighed into the resulting silence. “We’re getting off topic. You wanted me to catch you up.”

They talked for hours, moving to the more comfortable sitting area at some point. Sometimes they clashed, their views driving them into what could generously be called a spirited debate, but mostly Rey concentrated on learning more about the bloodthirsty order she now called home.

As late night rolled into early morning, Rey found herself sagging against Ben with his arm around her. He drew idle patterns on the back of her hand with his fingers, and their conversation adapted to the intimacy.

“Have you ever kissed anyone?” she asked, adjusting so that she half-lay against him. His heart beat steadily against her ear.

He raised a brow down at her, and she blushed furiously.

“Aside from me.”

He examined her in his quiet, canny way. “Once. During my training at the Jedi temple.” He looked away, and she suspected that his impassivity was a mask. “We were kids, and we were curious.”

Rey was surprised by the acid that rose within her, and her words came out more accusing than she’d intended. “Exactly how curious?”

Those too-sharp eyes took in her discomfort. “Just a kiss. The Jedi discourage desire, and we would have been punished if we’d been caught.” Years of bitterness seeped into his words, coloring them.

Rey couldn’t help herself, asking as casually as she could, “Was she pretty?”

When he didn’t reply, she glanced up to find those big brown eyes observing her. His lips twitched, the expression almost smug, and Rey started to get embarrassed and annoyed.

He spoke, then, and her annoyance crumbled. “You are preferable.”

“Not what I asked,” she muttered half-heartedly, her skin too warm.

He only raised a brow.

She couldn’t hide from him. He always saw through her, drawing her secrets out one by one. It was exhilarating and terrifying at the same time.

He nuzzled against her hair. “What of you?”

She shrugged, drowsiness pulling at her. “You were my first.”

The breath he let out against her scalp sounded like triumph, and his arms went fiercely around her. “Good,” he rumbled.

Chapter Text

Rey woke the next morning when the warm, soft expanse under her cheek shifted.

“I’m so sorry,” whispered Nalti. “So sorry. I’ll let myself out.”

Rey lifted her head from Ben’s chest. Somehow after she’d fallen asleep against him, they’d maneuvered so that he was on his back, his head propped against the arm of the plush seat that could barely hold them sitting side by side, with Rey sprawled on top of him in her evening gown.

“Nalti?” she called groggily.

Nalti tiptoed back into range. “Yes?”

Rey yawned and stayed where she was. “Did you need something?”

“Just coming in to tell you that we have guard interviews this morning, but it seems like you’re busy, so I’m just going to reschedule them, don’t worry.”

“Oh. Okay.” Rey buried her nose in Ben’s chest as she listened to Nalti’s retreating footsteps and the hiss of the door opening and closing.

“Good morning,” he rumbled.

She looked up at him and smiled. “Morning.”

He shifted and grimaced, nudging her to sit up as he massaged the back of his neck. “Ow.”

He must have slept with his head at an odd angle to keep from waking her. Rey felt guilt pool in her stomach. “Why didn’t you make me go to bed?”

“I would have had to let you go.” He said it without self-consciousness, eyes closed as he stretched his long neck with a wince.

Rey felt warm and weightless, as if she’d been filled with sunlight. She had no words, so she simply stood, slipped behind him, and took over rubbing his neck.

Ben sat up straighter and groaned, a sound that made the sunlight inside of her burn brighter. He dropped his head forward, giving her better access, and she pressed small, strong fingers firmly into the muscles there, kneading from the base of his skull to his shoulders and back up again.

The sounds he made under her ministrations made her think of his kisses, the heat of his body, and falling asleep with his arms around her. It made her remember the way he’d called her his in front of General Hux.

Her emotions channeled into her hands, the firm strokes caressing him, until he lifted one of his own to stop her.

“Rey,” he gasped. His shoulders rose and fell with his unsteady breathing.

She leaned in and kissed his nape, trailing her lips down the pale column. Her tongue darted out to touch the bumps of his spine, and he made a strangled noise deep in his throat.

Lost in a haze of affection and desire, Rey ran her hands over his shoulders and down his chest, using her tongue again to wring a moan from him. He grabbed her hands and brought them to his mouth, kissing the palms and fingers before drawing one digit into his mouth and sucking.

“Ben,” she whimpered, and he suckled harder, grazing it with his teeth. “Ben!”

He released her finger and brought one of his big hands up to pull her head down, craning his own back to face her. “Say my name like that again,” he gasped, and then he pulled her lips to meet his and proceeded to devour her.

She moaned against him, reduced to a helpless pool of desire, and he pulled her around the couch and onto his lap, diving back into the kiss.

Rey accepted his onslaught, gasping as his lips moved to her throat. A curl of displeasure entered her as she considered how easy it was for him to reduce her to a moaning mess. “Is this how you kissed that other girl?”

He spoke against her skin, his hot breath moving back toward her mouth with the progress of his lips, his words interspersed with heaving breaths. “I have never… done anything like this… with anyone. Ever.” He sank his teeth lightly into the skin under her ear, making her cry out. “I’ve never wanted anything as much as I want you.”

“Ben,” she moaned.

Yes.” The sound of his name seemed to unleash something in him, because he flipped her onto her back and kissed her so hard that she sank into the cushions.

She squirmed restlessly against him, and he slid one hand up her bare calf, pushing her skirt higher.

Rey gasped and grabbed his wrist when he reached her knee. He pulled back, his lips swollen and chest heaving. She could feel his ragged pulse where her fingers wrapped around his wrist, but he held himself in check.

“Not yet,” she whispered. “I’m… I’m not ready.”

He removed his errant hand and placed it on her hip, fingers splayed. His eyes never left hers, watching carefully. “Is this okay?”

She nodded, nervous now that they’d stopped kissing. It had been so easy to get swept away in his touch, but now her brain clicked back on. She forced out words she didn’t want to say. “Maybe we should stop.”

He gazed down at her. “Must we?”

She leaned up to bury her nose in his jacket so she wouldn’t have to look at him. She almost whispered the words against his chest. “There’s only one place this can go, Ben. And I’m not ready. Give me more time? Please?”

He drew away slowly and stood, holding a hand out to her. She took it, and he helped her up.

His thumb rubbed across her knuckles. “Will I see you at lunch?”

She smiled. “If you want.”

He leaned down and kissed her gently. “Until then.”

Chapter Text

Rey didn’t notice the package on her bed right away. She tried to pull her gown off the moment she entered her room, eager for a shower and still distracted by Ben’s kisses, but the fastenings down her back snugged it too tight for easy removal.

She stopped wrestling with it when she saw the package, small enough to fit inside BB-8, wrapped in brown paper and twine. No markings suggested where it came from or how it got there, and Rey probed it warily with the Force.

When nothing pinged against her senses, she delicately untied the twine and pulled the plain brown paper away, revealing a smooth, glossy black cube with a press-latch.

It opened at a touch, and Rey blinked at a sealed letter at the top of the contents. The seal looked familiar, but she couldn’t place it until she broke it open and glanced at the signature.

Her breath caught.

Leia.

Her eyes flew over the short note before she slowed down to read it again more carefully.

Dearest Rey,

It will not surprise you to learn of my shock when I heard you were to be married to Kylo Ren. I do not know how this came to pass, but I have every confidence, my dear girl, that you will be a good influence on your new husband.

However, you must permit me to worry about you. If my hope for the two of you proves to be in vain, please know that you are always welcome here with me.

I have included several wedding gifts, family heirlooms that I have kept for the daughter I never had. Please accept them as a testament to my sincerity when I wish you every happiness.

Take care of yourself. And him.

Leia

Rey read it a second time, her eyes stinging. It had been carefully written, the words taking on new depth when Rey considered that by marrying Ben, she was indeed becoming Leia’s daughter. And Leia had offered to be her haven, though doing so would undoubtedly widen the rift between Ben and his mother.

Rey traced the final sentence with her fingertips, the weight of those two little words settling heavy on her heart.

A second page contained a detailed list of the gifts in the box, including such items as “the surviving royal jewels of Alderaan,” “mother’s wedding veil,” and “Breha’s bracelets.”

Rey pulled small velvet pouches from the box and set them in a row on the bed, finally lifting a delicate veil of antique lace and intricate beading from the bottom.

She considered wearing it for her own wedding, attracted to the idea of connecting her present to Ben’s past, but she grimaced at the thought of all that lace and set it reverently back.

Perhaps her own daughter would want it.

She halted and flushed at the thought, even though she’d already admitted to Ben that she wanted children. It had seemed so abstract, a hazy fantasy without much thought of how she would get there.

She’d kissed him since then.

She closed her eyes and let herself imagine children running and laughing in the sunlight as warm arms slipped around her from behind. When she looked into the face of her mystery man now, his face was no longer a vague collection of indistinct features. Now he had silky black hair, sensitive lips, a long scar, and a smattering of small moles.

And he looked at her like she hung the stars in the sky.

Rey read the letter several more times before looking in the velvet pouches. Of all the things Leia had sent, without even having to look, the letter meant the most.

But that didn’t mean that Rey didn’t look in the pouches.

The Alderaanian royal jewels sparkled with a light all their own, so spectacular that Rey was afraid of ruining them if she touched them. She carefully packed them back away, not wanting to damage them with her inexperience.

The bracelets were better, a pair of simple bronze cuffs embellished with a symbol Rey didn’t recognize – that of an upside-down triangle made of interlacing curves.

Rey tried one on, the metal cool against her wrist. She wondered what Ben would say when he saw what his mother had sent her.

But… maybe he didn’t need to know about the letter where Leia offered to whisk Rey away. Would it upset him? The letter meant the world to Rey, even if she didn’t plan on taking Leia up on her offer.

She read it over again, trying to see it from Ben’s perspective, and chewed her lip. She would tuck it away against her heart for now and worry about whether to show it to him later.

“Oh, Leia,” she sighed pensively.

The bracelet lit up.

Rey wrenched it from her wrist and threw it on the bed.

The light grew, staining the room blue, and a voice crackled into the bedspread. “…hello? Are you there?”

The familiar rasp had Rey leaning forward and turning the bracelet so the blue light resolved into a staticky hologram.

“…both…amplifies…”

Rey took the bracelet set and slipped them onto her wrists. Immediately, the hologram resolved into General Leia Organa’s face.

“There we are! Much better. As I was saying, you need to wear both bracelets to get a clear signal. One amplifies the other.”

Blue hologram Leia gestured at Rey’s other wrist.

“G-General?” she stammered.

“Don’t look so surprised. You think we’d really leave you in that pit of vipers without a way to keep tabs?”

Rey sat heavily on her bed by all the pouches of pretty things Leia had sent, doubt rising like bile. Had she even meant a word of that letter? Or did she plan to use Rey as a convenient spy? “How did you get the package to me?” It wasn’t the question burning a hole in her heart, but she was curious. Whomever left it had had to sneak past both Ben and herself as they slept.

Leia waved the question away. “I’d be a terrible resistance leader if I didn’t have at least one spy on that ship. That’s not why I want to talk to you.” The older woman’s sharp eyes pinned Rey in place. “What happened?”

They spoke for almost an hour, mostly about how Rey had come to find herself in her current situation. Chewbacca had filled Leia in on what he knew about Rey’s mission as well as the little he understood of the Force bond. Rey had had to tell him about its existence to get him to drop her off at the Supremacy.

“That was a stupid thing to do,” Leia said when Rey told her about the deal she’d made. “Holdo sacrificed herself to disable Supremacy. We would have gotten away just fine without you selling yourself to that boy.”

“I didn’t sell myself,” Rey said, offended. Sure, Rey’s sacrifice wasn’t as profound as Holdo’s, but she’d still made one.

“You’re telling me you would have married Ben if he’d kept firing on the transports?”

“Well, no.” Obviously. She couldn’t just throw herself into the arms of a man who slaughtered her friends. She had some standards. But his concession had opened the door and allowed her to make one of her own.

Leia shrugged. “You sold yourself.”

Rey stood, her temper snapping. “I did not!

Instead of getting angry, Leia observed her. Rey kept her chin high. She didn’t know what Leia saw, but she wouldn’t cower before anyone, not even Leia Organa.

When Leia spoke, it was with utter contempt, clawing Rey’s bruised heart into shreds. “Then why did you do it? And don’t tell me it was for the transports. You’re not the type to stay somewhere you don’t want to be. Why join the First Order? Why chain yourself to a cold-blooded murderer?”

“Stop that,” she snapped.

“Stop what?”

Rey struggled to get the words past her anger. “Talking about him like that.”

Leia scoffed. “I can talk about my own son however I want.”

“That doesn’t make it right.” Rey’s face flamed with indignation. “He deserves better.”

Leia looked at her for a long, assessing moment. “He’s a murderer.”

Rey faltered. “Yes,” she almost whispered. “But he’s… more than that. He’s…” She trailed off, unable to encompass the maelstrom of traits that was Ben.

Sad, confused, lonely, impulsive, angry, kind, awkward, bitter, thoughtful Ben. He was a mess of contradictions, and he was hers, and no one was going to talk about him like that in front of her, not even his mother.

Leia’s expression cracked into a slow grin. “I see,” she murmured.

Rey frowned at her. “What?”

The grin stayed, turning smug. “You care about him.”

“Of course I do.” She narrowed her eyes at the general, off-balance because she’d been braced for a fight. “Wait. Is that why you said all of that?”

“Mm,” agreed Leia. “I had to know your reasons for being there. If you were just going to use my boy and break his heart, we were going to have words.”

“You could have just asked,” muttered Rey, suddenly embarrassed.

Leia shrugged. “Visceral reactions are more honest. Now, tell me.” Leia’s sudden ferocity was tempered by the aching throb of her voice. “How is my son?”

Rey told her, and Leia absorbed every word with the greed of a mother separated from her child for too long. The unwavering focus reminded Rey of Ben.

When the conversation turned to the Resistance, Leia sighed heavily. “We’re doing our best. Morale is low after losing you and Holdo, especially since there are those who see your defection as betrayal.”

Rey winced. She’d known her decision wouldn’t be a popular one. “How is Finn?”

“He got into a fistfight over you,” Leia told her with an exasperated eye roll.

“What? Why? How?”

Leia shrugged. “Like I said, tensions are high and you don’t have many fans. Someone said something particularly vulgar, and Finn tried to defend your honor.”

Her skin prickled with guilt. “Is he okay?”

“Of course. We know how to handle hotheaded men around here. Patch them up, throw them in their bunks for a few hours to cool down, and pile them with so much work when they get out that they won’t be able to cause any more trouble for at least a week.” Leia’s eyes twinkled. “Finn is mopping the entire base. Twice.”

They caught up on Chewbacca and BB-8, and Leia asked about Luke. Rey told her what she could. They danced around locations and strategies, agreeing without words that Resistance and First Order business had no place here, too much of a conflict of interest.

The conversation eventually lagged, and they ended the transmission after Leia told Rey how to use the bracelets to get back in touch with her. Apparently, they had to be switched on and then activated with a password – “Leia,” in this case. Rey could switch them off in public to prevent accidents.

This development, Rey decided as she removed the bracelets and packed the other items back into the black box, was not something she would be mentioning to Ben.

Chapter Text

Once Rey finished with Leia, she summoned Nalti back in and had to endure the other young woman’s sly smiles as she helped Rey unfasten the rest of her gown.

“Did you have a nice night?” Nalti asked with an awful smirk.

Rey thought about it. “Yes, actually. We talked.”

The smirk fell. “That’s all?”

Rey tensed slightly, remembering the morning’s activities. “Yes. Why?”

Nalti shrugged, finishing the last few fastenings so that Rey could shuck the dress. “It’s just… the way I found you two this morning.” She gathered the silk into her arms to put in Rey’s retractable wardrobe. “It was so cute. I just thought… maybe…”

Rey shrugged naked shoulders and entered the washroom, her own private sanctuary. It reminded her of the AT-AT she’d lived in on Jakku, all warm light and cozy space. It felt soothing in comparison to the sterility of the rest of the ship, its walls the sunny cream of sunlit sand, and had an extravagant tub that could maybe fit four of her. She hadn’t tried it out, too apprehensive about wasting that much water, but liked it all the same.

Rey hopped in the shower, soaping her hair thoroughly and thinking about the sweet intimacy of the night and morning. Pleasant heat that had nothing to do with the shower slid through her veins, and Rey closed her eyes to better savor the memories. She shivered when she recalled what he’d done to her finger with his mouth. How had that been so sexy? It was just a finger. It wasn’t her lips or… or other places.

Rey guiltily scrubbed the rest of herself, careful not to spend more time on those places than necessary. The shower was suddenly too hot, and she wanted to get out and cool down.

When Rey returned to her bedroom with damp hair and a towel around her body, she found that Nalti had laid out clothes for her on her bed. Rey pulled the soft sand-colored leggings on, slipped into a white tunic, shrugged a high-necked embroidered vest on, strapped her belt over it all, and slid her lightsaber into its holster.

Thus armed, she stepped out into her sitting room.

Nalti and Ben waited, politely ignoring each other, though Nalti fidgeted with the data pad in her hands and surged gratefully forward the moment Rey appeared.

“Here you are,” Natli said quickly, shoving the data pad at Rey. “This has the background information for your guard interviews today.” She pointed at the list of names, and Rey nodded, her gaze drawn to Ben where he waited for her by the dining table.

Nalti cleared her throat in an amused bid for Rey’s attention.

“I’ll meet you here after lunch for the interviews, then?”

Rey resisted looking at Ben again. He was impossible to ignore. His presence took up the whole room, and he watched her. He was always watching her. It made her skin prickle with awareness. “Sounds good.”

Nalti took her leave, and Rey set the data pad on the table before looking up at Ben. She didn’t sit, and neither did he.

“Being late is turning into a habit,” he murmured, bending to brush his lips against her cheek.

“Sorry,” she replied. “I lost track of time.”

Curiosity sparked in his eyes, but he didn’t press for details. “You look nice.”

Rey blushed. “Oh! Thanks. So do you.” She blushed further. “I mean, obviously.” He always looked good.

But perhaps he hadn’t gotten that particular memo, because he tilted his head to one side. “Obviously?”

She waved awkwardly, the gesture encompassing all of him. “Obviously,” she repeated dryly.

He continued to watch her with those expressive brown eyes, bemused and maybe a little pleased.

She cleared her throat and fought the urge to look away. “You’re very attractive,” she confessed.

His attention focused laser-sharp on her. “Really.”

Rey crossed her arms and rolled her eyes, calling up false bravado to ease her embarrassment. “As if you didn’t know.”

Something flashed across his face, something vulnerable, and she realized that he didn’t know. He drew in a deep breath and watched her carefully. “You’re… attracted to me?”

The careful way he asked that question broke Rey’s heart. She bit her lip and watched him swallow.

He was waiting for her answer.

She didn’t look away, couldn’t. She could barely make her voice work, but she managed to push a single word up from her chest, past her pounding heart and aching lungs, rolling it through her tight throat and off a reluctant tongue.

“Very.”

He stared blankly. “You find me attractive.”

She laughed and fought a shaky urge to cover her face with her hands. “Why do you sound so surprised?”

He drew back. He stopped himself before it could become more than a short jerk, but she saw it. “I am,” he said simply.

Her heart thudded painfully in her chest as she looked into the soulful eyes of this damaged man. She wanted to reach into him and put the pieces back together, to mend them with affection and laughter until the hollow sadness in his gaze had glutted itself on her love.

Love.

She loved him.

The knowledge settled inside her comfortably, as if it had been there all along just waiting for her to notice. She clasped it close.

His surprise and confusion that she would find him attractive… that she might want him… it hurt.

It hit Rey in a dizzying rush that he was hers. Hers to love, hers to cherish. It was her responsibility to make him feel wanted, and the relief that unfolded in her chest at this realization made her bold.

He grunted when she shoved him into a chair and wrapped his arms reflexively around her when she sat on his lap.

Rey wound her hands into his hair, relishing the feel of the soft black strands between her fingers. He swallowed, and she kissed his throat.

His breathing stuttered.

“Shh,” she murmured into his skin.

He stroked her back, his fingertips running trails of warmth up and down her spine, and lowered his head to kiss her earlobe. A moment later, she felt his breath ruffle her hair in a short laugh.

She took the opportunity to kiss his cheek. “What?”

He brought a hand up to move her drying hair aside, away from her ear, and rubbed his thumb gently across a tender spot just below it. “There’s a mark. From where I bit you this morning.”

He sounded oddly proud of it, his thumb running back and forth over the spot. The little tingles made Rey’s pulse pick up speed, and she gasped when Ben placed his mouth on the mark, sucking the skin between his lips and teeth. He released it with a soft pop and rumbled into her ear, “I want to mark you everywhere.

Rey had never thought something as simple as a voice could make her burn this hot. She squirmed in his lap, almost wishing she’d chosen to straddle him so she could press against him and try to ease the ache between her legs. “Ben.”

He had the upper hand, and he took it, his hands moving restlessly across her back and sides as his mouth descended on hers. He kissed her like he’d been poisoned and her lips held the antidote, like a man possessed, and it made Rey pulse with want.

“Tell me you want me,” he murmured against her mouth, the words a plea. “Tell me you want me as much as I want you.”

She shook her head. “No.” She whispered her answer, feeling him tense against her as her left hand caressed the scar she’d left on his face. “I want you more.”

His arms tightened around her, and she opened under the fresh onslaught, allowing his tongue access to battle with hers.

Rey poured her heart into every touch, every meeting of skin, her body singing like a well-tuned instrument as Ben’s hands stroked her back and sides, making her burn to press closer. They kissed like needy teenagers for almost an hour, eating at each other’s lips, barely able to catch their breath.

It wasn’t until Nalti knocked on the door that they separated, and it wasn’t until Ben left that Rey remembered that she’d intended to tell him that his mother had sent gifts.

Chapter Text

Desomma had gotten hold of Nalti since that morning, putting her in a fitted ash-brown dress with hints of military in the collar and buttons. It wasn’t remotely practical if a firefight broke out, but Rey acknowledged that it looked nice. Nalti had even done something new with her hair, pulling it into a loose updo.

“You have eight slots to fill and seven interviews,” Nalti said, checking her data pad. “Your first appointment should be here any minute.“

As if on cue, a knock sounded on the door, and the stout, yellow-haired woman who’d tripped Rowdy up on the sparring floor entered, helmet under one arm.

The woman stared at Rey, hesitating before following to the sitting area and perching on the edge of one of the luxurious chairs.

Rey tried to put the older woman at ease, but years alone on Jakku hadn’t sharpened her people skills, and she found herself fumbling through a few questions. Rey decided to have mercy on them both and cut the interview short, waving Nalti over from where she waited by the entrance. “Note Valkyrie as confirmed. And would you order some snacks?”

Nalti complied.

“Feel free to wait and eat something,” Rey told Valkyrie, who blinked at her in confusion. “Or you can go, but I’ll need you back in… three hours?”

Nalti checked their schedule. “Roughly, yes.”

Valkyrie stood and faced her awkwardly. “Does this mean I have the job, ma’am?”

Rey stood as well, easily able to look the other woman in the eye. “Yes. I saw you fight the other day in the training room. The interview was just a formality.”

Valkyrie blinked and swallowed, stunned. “Um. Thank you. Ma’am.”

“Oh,” added Rey, “I give my people nicknames. Are you okay with ‘Valkyrie’? You can pick something else if you want.”

“It’s fine, ma’am.”

Valkyrie left, and the polite stormtrooper arrived next, the one who’d offered his hand to an irritated opponent only to have it knocked away. He turned out to be a young man with an open, honest face, and he told her point-blank not to pick him.

“I’m a mediocre fighter, ma’am, and I don’t have any real combat experience. You’d be much better off choosing a veteran or one of the weapons masters. I’m just a grunt with barely passable aim.”

Rey hid her smile. “I’m sure we can find something for you.”

He straightened his spine. “Really, ma’am. For your own safety, I’d have to turn down any offer.”

Rey raised her brows at that. “Is there any reason, other than you think you’d be bad at the job?”

“You wouldn’t be properly protected, ma’am.”

Rey chewed on the end of her thumb for a moment, watching him and thinking. “What if I told you I don’t need fighters? What if I told you that I need people I can trust?”

He met her eyes with a frown. “You could trust me, ma’am. But I’m still a bad bet.”

“I’ll be the one to decide that. But I have a feeling you can handle it.”

His frown deepened. “If you say so, ma’am.”

Her next interview was with Ruby: a tall, beautiful woman only a little older than herself who laughed when Rey told her her nickname. She had long, glossy raven hair and red lips like some sort of fairy tale princess. Rey had watched her fight long and hard against a bigger, tougher opponent in the sparring ring. She’d lost, but Rey had seen something of herself in the way she’d persevered to the end.

Ruby also seemed friendly, much more confident and talkative than Valkyrie. She would fit easily into any team.

When the interview concluded, Rey shook her hand with a pleased, “Welcome to the team.”

“Glad to be on it,” Ruby replied.

After Ruby, Rey saw the middle-aged pike master, the one who’d been beside Rowdy during her argument and almost-fight. He had leathery skin and thinning brown hair. He gave her a strange look, as if he recognized her but couldn’t quite place from where. Rey chose not to enlighten him.

“If we take fire and I tell you to get down, what will you do?”

His brows furrowed. “Whatever it takes to protect you, ma’am.”

“You would ignore a direct order to get on the ground?”

He pursed his lips. He obviously knew what answer she wanted, but he refused to give it. “I would do what the situation called for. Begging your pardon, ma’am, but you don’t have the training we do.”

Rey set her elbows on her knees, resting her chin on her fists. Something told her that he would watch her back whether she liked it or not. “Okay,” she finally murmured. “But if you turn out to be a liability, I’m sending you right back to your old squad.” She sat up straight and reached for her data pad. “Tell Nalti to send the next person in, and start thinking of what nickname you want. If you can’t think of one, I’ll pick one for you.” She already had one in mind, but she thought this man might mind if she forced it on him.

The final three interviews were Ben’s picks. He’d chosen based purely on skill, each at the top of his or her field. Two of them had bodyguard experience.

The first of Ben’s choices stood almost as tall as Ben himself, broad-shouldered and stone-faced. He’d been in charge of crowd control training until he made a reputation as the preferred bodyguard for officers in hostile environments.

The second was a lean woman with the flint-sharp eyes of a sniper. She carried herself well, and Rey decided that she wouldn’t want to be on the opposite end of this woman’s rifle.

The third had a perfectly unassuming face and posture, everything about him average except for his eyes – a killer’s eyes. The Force whispered of hard-fought battles and blood muddying the ground. His record showed that he was special forces, trained in extreme combat conditions, and had fifteen successful missions under his belt, including three protection details.

Rey took her time on their interviews and placed them on her short list. She saw the practicality of them, but she needed to see them with the rest of her team before making a final decision.

At the designated time, they all returned, entering to find that Rey had arranged food and drink in a small congratulatory celebration. Nalti, Rowdy, and Ash had helped her set it up, talking frankly about the new recruits. Ash and Rowdy both approved of Ben’s picks, genuinely enthusiastic about the level of skill represented. Rowdy was particularly smug about her choice of the pike master and Valkyrie, assuring Rey that they’d both warm up to her in time.

Ash argued with Rey about the polite one with the mediocre skills, who Rowdy jokingly dubbed ‘Rude.’ Surprisingly, Rey found an ally in Nalti, who’d had a chance to talk to the young man after his interview.

Once gathered, Rey encouraged her new collection of staff to relax and enjoy themselves in her space, brightening the room with conversation and laughter.

The social ones bunched together, the easy camaraderie of Rowdy and Ruby all Valkyrie needed to loosen up and laugh. Nalti began the evening with them but drifted to Rude – Rey felt guilty, but the name had stuck – where he stood by himself near the food. Ash joined the quieter group in the sitting area, the consummate professionals keeping their conversation low and sparse.

Rey looked around at them, a drink in her hands and the wall at her back, and felt achingly alone.

Chapter Text

Relief drenched Rey when Ben entered, surveying the room with a frown before drifting to her side. “Did you forget about dinner?” he asked.

Rey blinked. Was it that late already? She smiled an apology, trying not to let her feelings of isolation seep through their bond. “Sorry. I guess the time got away from me.”

“Send them away,” he suggested.

Rey pressed her lips together, not wanting to ruin anyone’s fun. She glanced around, seeing that her guards had noticed Ben and now kept a wary eye on the two of them – the fun had already begun to leech out of the room.

Ben didn’t seem to notice or care. His attention stayed on Rey, unwavering.

The only other person who didn’t tense at his presence stood across the room, behind Rowdy and Valkyrie.

Ruby.

Something in the way her gaze fixed on Ben’s profile left Rey unsettled. As Rey watched, Ruby’s tongue darted out to wet her lips, and Rey instinctively sent out a tendril of Force to skim the other woman’s thoughts.

She physically recoiled at what she found there.

Rey stumbled back against the wall and felt her stomach rebel, trying to send up the little she’d had to eat and drink. She’d caught a series of thoughts in image form, hazy but for the greed that accompanied them – Ruby resplendent on Ben’s arm, head high as the First Order gazed up at her in awe; Ruby commanding armies; Ben forcing their enemies to grovel at Ruby's feet; Ruby naked in Ben’s bed, clutching his hair roughly as he buried his face between her thighs.

Rey couldn’t help scanning Ruby’s mind again, prodding it like a sore tooth. She found intent there – not to replace Rey, but to offer herself as a… Rey caught the word mistress. Ruby wanted to scratch the dual itches of ambition and lust in one move.

Rey’s probing finished in seconds. She didn’t know if she meant to catch Ruby’s gaze but catch it she did, and the other woman immediately paled. Rey didn’t know what Ruby saw in her face, but the other woman left the room at a pace just shy of a run.

Rey stared at the exit, her attention locked into an internal battle. A clawing beast roared in Rey’s chest, urging her give chase so that she could rip that bitch limb from limb.

“Nalti,” she choked out, her eyes never leaving the door to the hall.

Nalti approached, the whites of her eyes showing as she took in Rey’s ferocious expression.

Rey felt hot with the effort of holding herself in check. “See that everyone is fed before they leave. And reassign Ruby to the farthest First Order outpost you can find.”

Nalti’s eyebrows rose into her hairline. “Yes, of course.”

Rey knew that Nalti would pepper her with questions later, when they were alone. Maybe Rey would be calm enough to give her answers by then. Now, however…

“Make sure I never see her again.”

Their conversation had been too low for anyone but Ben to overhear, and he did nothing more than raise an eyebrow as Rey opened the door between their rooms and preceded him through.

When it shut behind them, Rey let her tense shoulders shake with suppressed adrenaline.

“What was that about?” he asked.

Rey clenched and unclenched her fists. “You.”

His brows rose further, attention sharpening. “How so?”

Rey couldn’t hold still anymore. She began to pace, ignoring the comfortable black and red furniture. She used the Force to shove a chair out of her way, and Ben watched her with the same patient focus he’d employed when she’d hurled accusations at him through their bond on Ach-To.

The image she’d gotten from Ruby, the one of his head between Ruby’s long, shapely legs, had lodged itself like a tick under Rey’s skin.

She was furious.

“She wanted you,” Rey burst out, the words coming out in a feral tone Rey had never known she possessed. “She was thinking about it. She was going to try.”

He tilted his head, only a slight pinkening across his cheekbones indicating that the words affected him. Still, his focus remained on Rey. “And you exiled her for it?”

Pace, turn, pace. “It was that or kill her. You would not believe the things she was thinking… Why are you smiling?” She stopped and glared up at him.

He reached out and brushed a lock of hair behind her ear. “You’re jealous.” His voice was low and husky, mixing with her adrenaline-fueled anger to stir her blood.

“It’s not funny, Ben,” she snapped at him. “She was thinking about you with… and she was…” Rey couldn’t get the words out, gesturing wildly.

He caressed the shell of her ear. His breath stirred the strands over her forehead. “Naughty girl, peeking at other people’s thoughts.”

“Naked! She was naked! And you were…”

He raised an interested brow.

Rey threw her hands into the air, flushing. “I don’t even know what you were doing!”

He leaned close to her ear, his voice rolling silkily against the sensitive organ on a warm puff of breath. “Was it something you’d like me to do to you?”

The image of Ben pressing his face between her legs as she clutched his hair suddenly swam into her mind, making her shiver against the fever that gripped her. Her eyes closed against it, body swaying toward his.

He pulled her close, his touch tender but firm. “Tell me what you want, Rey. Anything you want, I’ll give you.”

Rey’s breath caught, but then her stomach rumbled and she had to laugh against his chest, some of the heat cooling. “Food? We kind of… missed lunch.”

His amused huff stirred her hair. “I suppose we did, didn’t we?” He ran a hand down her back. “I’m willing to miss dinner, too,” he offered.

Rey stepped away, and he released her. She smiled shyly up at him. “One track mind,” she teased, choosing to ignore the fact that she’d brought the subject up.

He gazed down at her with those meltingly dark eyes and the creature in Rey’s chest growled, Mine.

“Food first,” she said.

“First?” he echoed.

Rey fought to hold back her smile and failed.


Caramelized fruit slices, flaky meat pastries, and small sweets that melted on the tongue. Ben had ordered an assortment of rich, easy-to-eat finger foods and then locked his door against visitors.

He kissed her neck while she leaned over the options, nibbling her the same way she nibbled at the food. Rey shifted her hips against a different kind of hunger, one that grew at the juncture between her thighs.

“Are you done yet?” he murmured against her throat, his hair tickling her cheek.

She laughed and blushed, enjoying the eager wet kisses he left in his wake. “You should eat something, too.”

“Mm,” he mumbled, too busy stroking her ear with his tongue.

Rey squirmed harder and picked up a slice of sticky fruit, holding it up for him. “Here, try this.”

He bit, heavy gaze on her face as he chewed, swallowed, and leaned in to take the rest into his mouth, his tongue finding her fingers and licking them clean before he let them go and finished the bite.

Rey couldn’t take her eyes off of him, wondering how he’d turned something as simple as food into a seduction.

He leaned in to kiss her, and she caught a glimpse through their bond of his uncertainty. He worried that she would push him away, that she didn’t want him.

She turned in his arms and kissed his mouth, his lips sweet with traces of the fruit she’d just fed him. She pulled back just far enough to tell him, “Clothes stay on. That’s my only rule for tonight.” She thought about the time she’d seen his naked chest, about Ruby’s awful fantasy now burned into her brain, and she knew she wasn’t ready for that.

But for this… yes.

Rey pulled his mouth down to her own, making him hunch over her, and ran her hands across his chest, thinking about the smooth skin she’d seen and searching for his muscles under the black cloth.

His hands spanned her waist, fingers against her lower back. He hadn’t taken advantage like she’d thought, his lips doing wicked things to her senses but his hands firmly planted far away from the places she wanted them.

Rey pressed closer, wiggling in his grip to encourage him to move, but he didn’t get the hint. Instead, he groaned, his mouth opening as they fought over control of the kiss. He bit her lip lightly, and Rey gasped at the frisson of pleasure from that tiny nip. She drew back just far enough to tell him, “Do that again.”

He growled and began to tug at her lips with his teeth, covering them with teasing nibbles and bruising bites, alternating pressure often enough to leave her breathless and arching against him.

He wrapped an arm tight around her waist and lifted her, steadying her with his other hand under her thigh as she wrapped her legs around his torso.

He began to carry her toward his bedroom, and Rey tugged at him to get his attention. “Bring the food,” she gasped.

Ben’s head fell onto her shoulder with a thump, and she felt him shake with silent laughter. When he raised his head, he strode into his room, threw her on the bed, and left to fetch the food. By the time he returned, Rey had her belt and vest off, struggling with her boots as he pushed the food to the side.

“I thought you said clothes on?” he asked as he knelt to help with her boots.

“Still clothed,” she replied, gesturing to her perfectly serviceable shirt and pants.

He set her boot aside, ran a hand up her calf, and planted a kiss on her ankle before he stripped off his belt and outer layers, leaving him in a black undershirt like the one Desomma had given her to wear and the high-waisted pants she’d seen him in before. He kicked his boots off and climbed above her, his mouth returning to her neck.

Rey ran her fingers down his scar, the permanent mark she’d left on him, and thought pleasantly that she’d branded him as her own, claimed him. She used their bond to send him a hint of the purring possessiveness the scar evoked, and he cried out against her, hips slamming down against hers with more force than finesse.

He devoured her mouth, and she grappled his head closer, biting his bottom lip and moaning when he remembered to use his teeth.

Rey let him between her knees and lifted her hips to his, encouraging him to rub against her, and he made wonderful, helpless noises in the back of his throat as she urged him on.

His lips broke from hers as he tossed his head back, his hips working faster, the friction making them both pant, and Rey found her body coiling tight beneath his.

His head dropped forward, his dark hair a mess. He watched her, his normally steady gaze wild, his breathing coming fast and hot as he drove them both higher.

One of his big hands slid over her breast, and Rey felt all of that desire compress at her center. “Ben!” she half-sobbed, half-begged.

He threw their bond wide open, and his frenzied desire poured into her.

The tension exploded outward, filling every corner of her body. She felt Ben squeeze her breast painfully hard, jolting the pleasure higher as he ordered her to open her eyes.

She hadn’t even realized she’d closed them.

The moment her gaze locked with his, his own eyes widened and his jaw worked. Their open bond draped the fire of his explosive release across her, catching her up like a net and driving her over the edge again. She wailed as he rutted his hips against her convulsively, riding the pleasure hard until it broke and ebbed and he collapsed on top of her, gasping.

Ben shifted off of her with effort, but he kept one leg across hers, nose bumping her ear as his breath puffed hot against her skin. He idly palmed her breast through her clothes as their heartbeats slowed, and Rey snuggled against him, arching her chest into his hand. He couldn’t get a very good grip with her breastband and shirt in the way, but he didn’t seem to mind, rubbing and squeezing until the flames under Rey’s skin began again at a low smolder.

“I didn’t know,” she murmured, unable to form a coherent thought. “I never… I didn’t… That’s a thing?”

He chuckled against her ear, the deep, satisfied rumble warming her further.

“Is that going to happen every time?”

She felt his smile against her skin as he leaned in to press a lazy kiss against her throat and gave her breast an enthusiastic squeeze. “I hope so.”

Rey laughed and turned her head to meet his lips with hers. “Ben,” she murmured against him, making him smile again. He twitched his fingers on her breast, pinching the tip through her clothing, and Rey gasped into his mouth.

His long fingers switched between plucking at her and palming her, stroking the swell of flesh as his mouth devoured her own. It was during this exploration of her breasts that something crinkled beneath his hand, and Ben lifted his head to examine the spot. “What’s that?”

Rey stiffened, remembering that she’d stuffed Leia’s letter over her heart. She didn’t want to ruin Ben’s playful mood, but she didn’t want to hide the truth from him, so she reached down her shirt, smirking when he angled his head to follow the motion, and tugged the paper into view.

“It’s from your mother,” she murmured as she passed it into his hands. His fingers stilled, gaze riveted to it. “I meant to show it to you earlier.”

He unfolded it slowly, carefully, almost as if he feared it would explode in his face. Rey watched his eyes as he absorbed the words, saw the way his mouth trembled and twisted at the end. He swallowed hard and handed it back to her.

“She sent gifts,” she explained into the silence, giving him a chance to get his emotions under control. “Jewelry, mostly.”

“I see.”

Rey tucked the letter back beneath her breastband and threaded her fingers through his. She tried to ignore the guilt that she’d kept the secret of the bracelets from him. She had plenty of perfectly rational reasons, but she had never kept anything from him before. It felt wrong.

Ben wrapped himself back around her, body stiff, and they lay awake together for a long while. Eventually their breaths synchronized and he relaxed into a light doze, Rey caged in his arms. She put aside her worries and let his warmth lull her to sleep.

Chapter Text

When Rey woke to the sound of someone at the door, it took her a moment to recall that she wasn’t in her own room. Ben’s body wrapped solid and warm around her, his chest pressed to her back, his long arms holding her prisoner. He grumbled into her hair at the noise and began to untangle himself from her. “I’ll kill them and be right back.”

“Don’t actually kill them,” she mumbled into the blankets, rubbing a little drool from her cheek. She heard him huff as he left the bedroom, leaving the door cracked to let a ribbon of light through. Rey could hear the hiss of the door to his rooms, and a voice she vaguely recognized came through low and urgent.

Blinking against the sleep crusting her eyes, Rey went to the bedroom door and peered into Ben’s sitting area.

A live wire of emotion shot up her spine as she saw Ruby’s long dark hair and beautiful face in profile, peering up at Ben from a kneeling position. She didn’t wear her bulky armor, only the sleek black bodysuit.

Rey tamped down the desire to insert herself into the scene and focused every molecule on listening.

“…banished me to an outpost on an uninhabitable planet, and I didn’t do anything to deserve it. Please, Supreme Leader, only you can save me now. I don’t know why her ladyship hates me–”

“Don’t you?” Ben asked silkily.

Ruby’s voice was clogged with tears. Rey might have felt sorry for her if she hadn’t gotten a front row seat to her fantasies. Rey could have forgiven the delusions of grandeur, but Ruby had made a grave mistake when she’d included Ben.

He belongs to me, Rey thought fiercely, and the corners of Ben’s mouth twitched. Rey grimaced. She had less control than she thought if that had leaked through their bond without permission.

Ruby’s shoulders slumped in relief, thinking the smile meant he would intervene. “I’ll do anything,” she continued in a hopeful voice. “Anything.” Rey had no doubt as to what “anything” meant, and she had to forcibly hold back a growl. Ruby certainly made a pretty picture, her bosom thrust forward dramatically as she knelt in supplication before Ben’s tall form, her face tipped upward and lips slightly parted. “Please save me, Supreme Leader.”

He gazed down at her, his eyes hooded and hair tousled from sleep and Rey’s fingers. He bent close to Ruby and spoke in a low, intimate rumble.

When he drew back, Ruby’s eyes had widened and her chest rose and fell with rapid, shallow breaths, her body frozen on her knees.

Ben snarled, once, and Ruby scrambled toward the door. She escaped the room and Ben’s presence, and he watched her go with ice in his gaze.

He didn’t move until Rey touched his arm, and he wrapped it around her and pulled her close.

“What did you say to her?”

“That if she didn’t get out, she wouldn’t make it off this ship alive.”

“She still might not,” Rey growled.

He smiled down at her. “She seemed to think I could control you.”

Rey wasn’t in any mood to smile back at him. “She thought she could sleep with you in return for protection.”

He raised a brow. “Reading minds again?”

Rey leaned into him, letting his warmth ease her tense muscles. “Didn’t need to. She couldn’t have been more obvious if she’d walked in naked.”

“Hm,” he murmured, dropping a kiss on her hair. “You think I should have accepted? I could still chase her down…”

He shifted toward the door even though his arms didn’t release her. Rey punched him lightly in the stomach, and he laughed. “Don’t even think about it,” she mumbled against his chest.

He leaned down to nuzzle her ear. “I like it when you’re jealous.”

She fought a smile. “Ben…”

His big body enveloped her, his words hot and teasing against her skin. “Can’t you tell?”

Rey’s heart picked up, thudding roughly against her ribs as he coaxed her hand over his chest and down his abdomen, his breath turning ragged the lower she went. He stopped guiding her, his fingers gripping her hips hard enough to bruise as Rey continued to explore on her own, her small hand hesitating close enough to his sex that she felt the heat of him.

He said her name in a desperate gasp, his body trembling. The fabric sloped upward, a clear path showing her the way, and she followed it slowly, lightly, barely brushing against him.

He clung to her, breathing audibly as he pressed his face against her neck, his hair brushing soft against her jaw.

Rey forced air into her lungs, overwhelmed by the moment as her fingers slid gently around him.

Ben whimpered her name and clutched her harder.

“Look at me,” she whispered, holding him in a loose grip as he shook and quivered against her.

He drew far enough back to stare into her eyes. His face was flushed, his mouth twisting with the effort of holding himself back. “Please.”

Rey felt the leashed power under her hand, the effort it took for him not to shift and drive himself into her fist. Every muscle in his body strained, wanting. He could have taken her, stripped her naked and fucked her brains out right there on the floor. He had the strength, the advantage of height and weight, and the liquid heat between her thighs meant she wouldn’t have put up much of a fight, but he kept himself in check, relinquishing total control to her.

Rey tightened her grip around him, drawing a whine from his throat. She kept her eyes locked to his and saw his lips part, his gaze going unfocused as she gave him a squeeze.

“Rey,” he gasped.

“No one but me,” she commanded, smoothing her hand down his rigid sex before dragging it back up.

He swallowed. “Never. Only you.” He shoved a hand into her hair, gripping it as if he could anchor his trembling there. “I only want you. Only ever you.”

Her possessive instincts soothed, she began to stroke him, wrenching lovely, filthy sounds from deep in his chest with every pass of her hand.

He lowered his mouth to hers, his trembling lips slow as she kept his focus on the hard ridge between his legs.

Such a big man, so hot and solid, and she had him completely at her mercy.

“Come for me, Ben,” she whispered against his lips, following her words with a steady pumping rhythm.

Rey.” He practically sobbed the word into her mouth, hunching over hard as his hips twisted and thrust into her grip. When he came, his whole body shuddered with it, his hand fisting in her hair as he jerked against her, and damp seeped into the fabric beneath her hand.

Rey supported a portion of his weight as he slumped against her and groaned.

When he stirred from his daze, it was to rumble, “I need to change pants.”

Rey laughed, burying her face in his chest.

He threaded his fingers through hers, his other hand stroking her hair. “Come back to bed. I’ll change and maybe… return the favor?”

Rey caught her breath, glancing up and reveling in how utterly ravished he looked with his swollen lips and tousled hair.

She’d done that to him.

And now he wanted to do the same to her.

She yielded before him, letting him guide her back to his bedroom. She lay down and waited while he changed in the washroom, thankful for his tact. She might have felt him up, but she didn’t think her nerves could handle nudity just then.

When he returned, he crawled into bed and hovered anxiously above her, his messy hair tempting her fingers to run through it.

“Did you want me to…?” He left the question open-ended, his expression carefully neutral. She knew he would respect any decision she made, but she also knew that he wanted to do this for her. He wanted to give her pleasure, to make her moan and writhe underneath him.

She didn’t even need their bond to tell her. It was written starkly on his face, in the effort it took not to pressure her.

She nodded, unable to say the words, and he let out a breath.

“Come here, sweetheart,” he murmured, helping her shift so he could have easier access, and Rey’s heart thrummed at the endearment.

She tried to hold it in. She tried and she tried and she tried, but his hand pressed against her lower belly, and her heart felt so full, and he looked at her in such a way, and it just spilled out of her mouth before she could stop it.

“I love you.”

He froze, his big body propped up beside hers. He stared at her, and Rey had a brief, terrible moment when the confession felt like the biggest mistake of her life. Her heart stuttered and stopped, and her horror had to have been clear on her face.

Ben brought his hand up from her belly to caress her cheek, and then his mouth was on hers and her heart started beating again with a painful thud.

“I love you,” he whispered between desperate kisses. “I love you, Rey. I love you.”

They kissed and groped and clutched each other on the bed. Ben pushed his hand between her thighs, no longer hesitating, and Rey gasped and rode his palm, lifting her hips desperately into his touch as he ground the heel of his hand against her.

It wasn’t enough. Rey grabbed his hand and pushed it inside her leggings, urging his long fingers to seek out her melting core.

“Ben!” she cried as he swiped a finger through the slippery folds of her sex.

He pressed a finger slowly inside her, his eyes widening and breath catching. He swallowed and watched her face as his touch sank all the way inside.

Rey trembled from the contact, arching her neck when he accidentally brushed his thumb across a point she hadn’t known existed, sending a jolt of intense sensation through her body.

He noticed. He always noticed. He noticed everything, everything she’d ever done, he seemed to remember, so of course he immediately tested that spot again, and Rey bucked her hips off the bed with a muffled shriek.

Her reaction made him chuckle, and Rey would have told him he didn’t have to look so smug, except her brain had taken a vacation, leaving her centered completely on his thumb stroking lightly against that sensitive point and the intrusion inside of her, every little shift of his hand sending fire sparking through her veins.

The long finger inside of her moved, beginning to pump, and Rey came undone. She clenched and fluttered around his intrusion, and Ben’s hot gaze drank her reaction in.

Rey whimpered as the waves of ecstasy faded from her body, his hand still pressed against her slick sex, and she relaxed bonelessly into the mattress. “You’re amazing,” she sighed.

He withdrew his hand, damp with her fluids, and kissed her deeply.

They stayed up longer than was wise, going over their shared past and murmuring words of love peppered with affectionate touches, until at last they fell asleep in a warm heap of happy exhaustion.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Rey woke to another disturbance at Ben’s door. This time, she didn’t recognize the voice and the tone wasn’t urgent enough to make her get out of bed.

When Ben returned and saw her awake, he dropped a kiss on her mouth. “I have a meeting this morning. Would you like to join me?”

Rey looked down at herself.

He stroked her hair back from her face. “I need to shower and change as well. You have time.” A firmer kiss, his lips lingering. “I’ll wait for you.“

When Rey entered her rooms through the shared door, she found Nalti waiting for her. Nalti wore another new dress, this one sand-brown and knee-length with brass buttons and a short matching cape.

“I’m joining Ben’s morning meeting,” Rey told her as she passed through to the bedroom.

Nalti followed, a frown on her face. “Can we talk about what happened last night?”

Rey stumbled and blushed, turning wide eyes on Nalti. “Wh-what?”

“Ruby,” Nalti said. “Why did you send her away?”

“Oh,” said Rey, relieved until she thought about how to explain the whole mess. “It was the way she looked at him,” she finally admitted. That had been the catalyst for scanning Ruby’s mind, and maybe someone with more experience could have parsed its meaning without any powers.

Nalti’s frown deepened, and Rey let out a breath.

“I probably overreacted.” The words scraped her insides with shame, irritating her. She hadn’t had anything to fear from Ben, but the raw, covetous greed she’d seen in Ruby’s thoughts had woken territorial instincts Rey hadn’t been prepared for.

Reassigning the woman to the farthest reaches of the galaxy over private thoughts had probably crossed a line. Rey sighed, reluctantly admitting that truth to herself. “If she’d come to me, I would have changed my mind, maybe assigned her somewhere… nice. But she didn’t.” Rey’s voice grew hard. “She went to him.”

Nalti raised her brows.

“She arrived in the middle of the night in nothing but the skintight black bodysuit the troops wear under their armor and practically offered to strip right there if he overruled me.”

Nalti gasped and covered her mouth with her hands. “She didn’t.”

“I saw the whole thing.”

“What did the Supreme Leader do?”

“Told her to get out. Sent her running, actually.” Rey hugged that memory close to her heart, a guilty pleasure. Ruby had presented a sensual figure on her knees, begging Ben for his help, and he’d sent her scurrying like a rat.

“Wow,” said Nalti, sitting heavily on the edge of Rey’s bed. “Wow. He is so in love with you.”

Rey’s knee-jerk reaction was to deny it, but memories of the previous night stopped her. A smile rose unbidden, and Rey pressed her lips together to try and stifle it.

“Oh,” said Nalti, eyes widening. “Oh, something happened. Tell me, tell me!” She rotated to face Rey fully, hands pressing against her thighs as if she had to keep herself still by force.

Rey laughed, briefly covering her mouth with her hands. “He loves me.”

“Well, duh,” Nalti said, rolling her eyes with a huge grin. “What have I been saying all this time?”

Rey shook her head. “I didn’t know. I wasn’t sure. I didn’t… I didn’t want to get my hopes up.”

“You two are hopelessly adorable.”

Rey shook her head with fond exasperation and went to shower.

When she returned, Nalti had laid out an outfit of cream leggings with a white undershirt and a diaphanous pale blue tunic, short in front and long in back, that drifted and rippled around her legs with the slightest movement. It combined the practicality of easy movement with the excess of Desomma’s evening gowns, a pleasant blend of pragmatism and fashion.

“You’ll want to impress the officers,” Nalti explained as she helped dry Rey’s hair.

Rey raised an amused brow. “I don’t really care what the officers think of me.”

“You ought to,” Nalti said softly. She worked quietly until Rey’s hair was dry and began to style it with a set of glittering pins in to keep it in place.

“What do you mean?”

Nalti sighed and patted Rey’s hair, moving around front to fix a few stray locks, and it was the most serious Rey had ever seen her. “I like you, my lady, which is why I’m telling you that you need to be more careful. You have already made enemies, and your enemies will become his.” She adjusted a hair pin, not meeting Rey’s eyes. “Don’t feed any rumors. Don’t offend anyone.” Nalti took a deep breath and finally looked Rey dead in the eye. “Don’t let anyone know that the Supreme Leader loves you.”

Rey frowned but listened, unsettled by the gravity of Nalti’s demeanor.

“Right now, you’re a curiosity. Rumors are one of the few entertainments on a ship like this, and you’re new and mysterious and interesting. But if people knew the truth, you’d be a target, a pressure point to use against the Supreme Leader.”

Rey absorbed the words quietly. When Nalti pronounced her finished, Rey looked at her. “Thank you.”

Nalti nodded.

Rey started to leave the room but turned back. “And Nalti?”

“Yes?”

“Adjust my order for Ruby’s reassignment to something less… extreme. Please.”

Nalti smiled, and Rey thought she saw relief there. “I’ll do that.”

Chapter Text

General Hux led the meeting, confident in front of the assembled First Order leadership as he updated them on the struggling negotiations on Abednedo.

He’d greeted Ben and Rey with as much sneer as smile, and Rey found herself glowering back at him. She kept Nalti’s words in mind, however, and didn’t say anything.

Rey sat now beside Ben, listening to the highest officers of the First Order discuss ways to force the recalcitrant planet to bend. Admiral Sornman went over the available firepower, and a woman with the same sharp nose as Lieutenant Watt briefed them on Abednedo’s defenses.

“We easily outstrip their resources,” said Sornman.

A grey-haired man with a thick mustache nodded. “It’s not a strategically important planet, so we don’t need to preserve their infrastructure. If we could collapse those damn underground cities, we’d cut off their ability to retreat and regroup.”

“Are the cities occupied?” Rey asked with a frown.

“They are,” said the grey-haired man.

Rey tamped down her anger. My enemies will be Ben’s enemies, she reminded herself. In a deceptively calm voice, she asked, “Women and children? Noncombatants?”

“In war,” General Hux explained as if to a child, “casualties are inevitable.”

Rey clenched her jaw, anger spiking. She looked for something less incendiary to say than Fuck you, and settled on, “You want the planet with the least amount of casualties–”

“For our people, yes,” said General Hux. “It doesn’t matter how many of their people survive, so long as the survivors accept our rule.” He turned to the rest of the room, dismissing her as if she hadn’t spoken. “Clearly, a show of force is in order. We could send a force to take out the king, but reports show that a large-scale strike would be faster and more–”

“Send me.”

Every officer in the room turned to look at Rey. Ben studied her with a frown.

“Let me try to talk to them. Make them see reason. Send me.”

You would convince them to surrender to us?” asked Hux with a sneer.

Rey gave him a cool look. “I would urge them to find a compromise.” She met Ben’s eye. “If it saves lives, I’ll do it.”

His dark gaze gave nothing away. She worried that he’d say no, but instead he nodded slowly. “You’ll take your guards. All of them.”

Rey balked. “I’m not going to put them in danger.”

His jaw clenched. “Then you’re not going.”

“You’re not seriously considering this,” sputtered General Hux.

Admiral Sornman waved a hand at him. “Let the girl try. What’s the harm?”

Ben just kept watching her, his dark gaze predator patient. The arguments around them faded away as she met his eyes, and she found herself sighing and nodding. “Fine. I’ll take my guards.”

He nodded quietly back and turned to Sornman. “Get her the materials and arrange a briefing with our current emissary to get her up to speed.” To General Hux, “Set our heading for Abednedo. I want to be nearby if things go south.”

The meeting wrapped up quickly after that, everyone scurrying to their assignments. General Hux sent Rey a disgusted look as he left the room, and Ben rose and offered her his hand.

She allowed him to help her up, but she pulled her hand from his when he tried to caress her knuckles with his thumb.

A frown line appeared between Ben’s brows, but he didn’t comment. After a moment too long, he offered her his arm and relaxed minutely when she took it.

She felt his eyes on her as they walked back toward her rooms, her guards far enough back that they couldn’t overhear.

“Is everything alright?” he asked quietly.

Rey licked her lips and clutched his arm tighter under her fingers. When she didn’t respond right away, his frown deepened.

“Did I… do something?”

“No,” she said quickly, and he relaxed further, bringing his opposite hand up to cover her fingers where they rested on the inside of his elbow.

“Then what is it?”

“Nalti said that we shouldn’t let anyone find out how–” she broke off, unable to finish the sentence. She tried again. “She thought people might try to use me as a… pressure point… to get to you.” She shrugged and licked her lips, wondering why they felt so dry. “It made sense, I guess. So maybe we shouldn’t be too… affectionate? In public?”

His frown became thoughtful, and he didn’t speak until after they passed a pair of officers going the other way. “I see.”

She couldn’t get a read on him. “Is that okay?”

His gloved fingers squeezed hers before he removed his hand. “The safer you are, the better.”

Rey let out a breath she hadn’t known she’d been holding and laughed.

At his curious look, she said, “Nalti.” Her assistant would be incorrigible from now on.

He examined her expression. “I’m glad she’s working out for you.”

She squeezed his arm and smiled up at him. “Me too.”

Chapter Text

When Ben saw her room was empty, he swept her into his arms and buried his face in her pinned hair.

“I don’t like this plan,” he said.

She leaned back far enough to look up into his face and smooth her palm across his scarred cheek. “I have to try.”

“Why?” he demanded. “Why does Abednedo matter?”

She shook her head. “The fact that you’re even asking me that… Ben, your people… they’re monsters.” His face twitched at the word, almost a wince. “They’d slaughter entire cities – have slaughtered entire planets – for what? Power? Is power worth all of this? Worth killing women and children? Destroying lives and families and people who never hurt anyone? People who were just struggling to survive?” Rey knew about survival. She couldn’t even comprehend the destruction of the Hosnian system, being wiped from existence with no chance to defend herself, just light and heat and oblivion. No amount of personal power or preparation or sheer determined grit would have mattered. She felt tears start behind her eyes, and a frown line formed between Ben’s brows. “And you can’t understand why I’d want to prevent it? Why I have to at least try?”

She didn’t know if her words made it through or if he just wanted to comfort her, but he took her face between his hands and kissed her, stroking his thumbs to wipe away the fat tears that fell as she closed her eyes and arched up to him.

“Will you sleep in my room again tonight?” he asked as he nuzzled her neck.

She ran her fingers through his hair, loving its softness. “If you want.”

He relaxed against her. “Yes.”

She kissed his ear, wishing the day were over so she could curl up against him and forget anything existed outside the two of them. “I love you.”

He pulled her close and held her.

They separated at a knock on the door, but Rey couldn’t pull her gaze away from his. They stood staring at each other intently until a second knock came, and Rey turned reluctantly to let Nalti in.

“I knocked,” Nalti said the moment she saw Ben.

Rey laughed. “Yes. Thank you.”

Nalti checked her data pad. “You have briefings starting in fifteen minutes, and Desomma wants to see you.”

“Fit Desomma in where you can, and bring my guards in for the briefings. They can take tonight off. I want them rested for tomorrow.” She glanced up at Ben. “Did you want to stay for the briefings?”

He nodded.

“Okay, you settle in, and I’ll be right back.”


Rey retreated to her bedroom, engaged the door lock, and put on the holo-bracelets. She decided to place the call in her washroom, as far as she could get from prying ears.

She needed advice from someone with diplomatic experience, someone who didn't want to dominate those poor people.

Rey told Leia the situation without offering details, and Leia didn’t ask. They agreed without words that they wouldn’t muddle their relationship with politics.

Even when they were talking specifically about politics.

“Taking your guards is a good idea,” Leia told her. “People will think you need to be protected, and they’ll underestimate you.” Her holo-bright gaze looked Rey up and down with a frown. “Your clothes also matter. Find something that will make an impression. You want to walk the line between feminine and professional so that they’ll listen but not view you as a threat. And you want something that shows you have the power to negotiate on the First Order’s behalf.”

“I’m not used to problems I can’t just hit,” Rey admitted.

Leia grinned at that. “Being able to punch your way through life is definitely simpler. Think of it like haggling. You’ve done that?”

Rey nodded.

“It’s the same thing, just on a larger scale. You both want something, and you’re using what you have to try and get it.”

Rey thought about it, remembering the times she’d bartered with Unkar Plutt for a fair trade in rations. He’d always been trying to stiff her and the other scavengers, and he could get away with it because they had nowhere else to go.

Now she was Unkar Plutt – as a representative of the First Order, she held Abednedo by the throat. They had no leverage, no negotiating position. The First Order could and would decimate them if they resisted.

“I understand,” Rey said finally. “I think I know what I need to do.”

Leia nodded, but she hesitated when Rey went to say goodbye. “Have you set a date for the wedding?” It was posed casually, but they both knew it wasn’t a casual question.

“Five days.”

Leia took a shaky breath and let it out. “Okay. Be careful.”

They disconnected, and Rey sat for a moment in silence, thinking, before returning to her sitting room.


Desomma and her droid waited impatiently outside her bedroom door, the woman’s arms crossed and foot tapping. She’d somehow managed to wedge herself in front of the officer waiting with Rey’s first briefing.

Before Rey could do more than meet her eyes, the older woman ushered her back into the bedroom, barreling in with her droid in tow.

“I don’t know why you locked your door,” she said. “I could have had all of this laid out already.” She snapped her fingers, and her droid produced several garments. “Pick one for your trip and I’ll put the finishing touches on today.”

Rey glanced over them and bit her lip. “I need something more impressive. Something that will make them believe I’m someone important. But it needs to be maneuverable, something I can–”

Desomma rolled her eyes. “Fight in. I know.” She let the last two words out on a long-suffering sigh.

“And I need a place for my lightsaber. Hidden but easy to access.”

Desomma pursed her lips and looked over the selection. “I’ll need to requisition more droids. With your wedding dress, I’m stretched to the limit.”

“Talk to Nalti if you need help getting them.”

Desomma beamed and started shooing her droid to put the clothing away. “Perfect. I’ll come by as soon as the foundation garment is finished and make sure it fits. Probably this evening after dinner.”

Rey started to exit the room but caught the black box out of the corner of her eye, the one with Leia’s gifts. She hesitated and followed Desomma to her open door, hovering there as the other woman led her droid straight to Nalti.

Ben leaned against a wall, watching the room and staying out of everyone’s way even as his huge black-clad body sucked the air out of the space around him. Despite the crowd, he had a large buffer zone, his crossed arms and impassive expression barring anyone from getting closer.

Rey crooked a finger at him, and he unfolded himself from his position, everyone making way as he crossed to her.

She let him in and nodded at the box at her bedside. “That box,” she murmured. His eyes went to it and stayed. “Take your time.”

Rey slipped out of the room, leaving him alone inside. She still wore the bracelets, having turned them all the way off after her chat with Leia, but it was too late to remove them now.

She felt another pang of guilt but quickly suppressed it. She trusted Ben, but she didn’t know how he’d react to her having a direct conduit to his mother, the leader of the Resistance.

And Leia’s kindness, her acceptance, her willingness to be there for Rey… it mattered too much. Maybe it was nothing more than smoke, but Rey wanted a mother so badly.

And she was terrified Ben would push Leia away from her.

“Rowdy,” she called. He approached. “Helmets off for now. Did Nalti brief you all on what’s happening?”

“Yes, ma’am,” he said, removing his helmet and gesturing for the other guards to do the same.

“Are the new recruits aware of the first rule of working for me?”

He grinned. “Not yet, ma’am.”

“Catch them up, please.”

He nodded but didn’t turn to go. He glanced nervously toward the officer, who stood impatiently in the sitting area. He turned back and lowered his voice. “Permission to speak freely, ma’am?”

“Sure.”

“What happened to Ruby?”

Rey closed her eyes, breathing carefully through her nose. The wariness in his voice hit her like a punch in the gut. She could feel all of that fragile trust she’d built balancing precariously on the edge of a cliff. The wrong words, and she’d push it over to shatter at the bottom. “It was… personal,” she admitted softly. “Ruby… she wanted something she couldn’t have. She wanted him.” Rey glanced briefly at Rowdy. He seemed surprised but not suspicious. “Nalti knows the details. You can ask her about it.” It seemed like the safest option. Nalti would know how to phrase things. “She also has Ruby’s new assignment, if you want to keep in touch.” It stung Rey’s pride to say that, but she knew that she couldn’t force her guards not to be friends with the woman.

“Yes, ma’am. And… thank you.” Rowdy rubbed the back of his neck awkwardly. “I know you don’t owe us any explanations…”

Rey nodded, equally awkward, wishing this conversation were over. Rowdy seemed to feel the same way, because he nodded back, cleared his throat, and returned to the front of the room to talk to the other guards. After a moment, they removed their helmets as well and Rowdy spoke in a low voice that didn’t carry.

Rey turned a strained smile onto the officer in her sitting area. He looked put out that she’d made him wait, but he didn’t say anything, only sat when she invited him to.

His job was to brief her on the terms of surrender that the First Order required from Abednedo. Even with her nonexistent experience, she could tell the terms were harsh.

I’m the Unkar Plutt of space, she thought with a mental sigh.

A low whistle from her guards drew her attention. The officer briefing her also looked over, and a few from the group glanced back at them. The rest looked studiously elsewhere.

Nalti stood with them, her arms crossed, and winked at Rey. It took a moment more for Rey to realize that all their bodies were angled toward Nalti.

Oh, she thought, catching on. Nalti must have told them about Ruby. From their expressions, Rey did not come across as irrational or arbitrary, which was a relief.

They looked quickly away, and Rey returned to her briefing with pinker cheeks.

Ben returned before Rey’s next briefing. He entered and leaned against the wall nearest her, his presence a solid comforting weight against her senses. Unfortunately, it was not nearly as comforting to anyone else. The tension in the room rose the moment he reappeared, and her guards hesitated when asked to join the next briefing.

“Let’s move these chairs around,” Rey suggested, standing up and pulling a second single-occupant chair next to her own. She gestured for the small sofa to be pushed back to make plenty of room for her guards – there weren’t enough seats for everyone, so some would have to stand. Everything else got shoved against the wall, displacing Ben, and she gestured for him to take the chair beside hers.

“Nalti?” she asked when everyone was settled.

The young woman approached with a half smile. “Food?”

Rey blinked. “Um… yes. How–”

Nalti’s smile bloomed into a grin, but she didn’t respond. “Drinks too?”

“Please. For everyone.”

Nalti nodded and stepped back to tap the order into her data pad.

The group’s tension eased a bit with Ben seated and further when the refreshments arrived. Nalti served drinks to Ben, then Rey, then the officer before bringing cups to the guards. Rey let her, even though she didn’t think that was part of Natli’s job.

This briefing covered the safety precautions they’d be taking on her visit to Abednedo, along with potential threats and the difficulties the previous emissary had already faced.

“They’re a stubborn lot, too proud for their own good. I really don’t see how you’re going to make any headway when we haven’t–” A sharp glance from Ben made the officer clear his throat and get back to the point. “They think they can resist us, but mostly their attempts have been circumspect. They’re afraid of retaliation. Once you’re in the palace, you shouldn’t have a problem. The nobility is too timid to do anything rash.”

“How can they be timid if they’ve held out this long?” she asked, skeptical.

The officer’s tone became patronizing. “What I mean is that they will not risk themselves. They lay the blame of violence on splinter groups among their people – small pockets of bandits. We have offered our assistance in removing the vermin, but the nobles bumble into their own way, and ours, and continue to maintain that they can take care of the problem. We believe it is all a facade.”

Not timid, then. Crafty. Willing to look like fools to stymie the enemy.

Rey fought a smile.

“You’ll be flying directly to the landing pad at the palace. There shouldn’t be any opportunity for attack. Once you’re in the palace–”

This briefing took longer than the first, as it detailed the arrangements for her guards as well as herself.

When lunchtime came, the briefings didn’t stop. Rey ate what Nalti ordered, aware of the officer’s horror at her table manners and the look Ben leveled to make the other man mind his own business.

Rey tried to eat properly. She did. But the effort took more out of her than lightsaber training, and Ben finally snapped at everyone to get out.

Rey devoured the rest of her food in record time. When she finished, she stood between his knees and kissed him, grateful for the stolen moments alone as he relaxed into her touch. She hadn’t missed the tension winding tighter and tighter in his body through the morning, and she worked her fingers into his shoulders to try and loosen them.

He grunted appreciatively under her ministrations, tangling his tongue with hers and bringing his hands up to her hips. Her belt kept her shirt and tunic locked against her body, so his questing fingers couldn’t find bare skin. He caressed down her hip, lips moving under hers, and curved around the back of her thigh, rubbing the flesh just below her buttock.

Rey panted into his mouth. “Ben…”

“Mm?”

“There are almost a dozen people waiting on us right outside that door.”

He kissed her neck. “I don’t care.” She pushed him back, and he let himself be pushed.

“I do.” She blushed and chewed on her lip as he squeezed her thigh. She leaned in and placed a gentle kiss on his lips. “Later tonight, okay? You can…” she swallowed nervously, “…you can touch me wherever you want.”

He raised a brow. That got his attention. Then one corner of his mouth rose. “Clothes on or off?”

Rey’s face heated, but she took a moment to consider. “On. But… um… you can… put your hands… underneath?” She couldn’t even look at him after that, but she didn’t need to. He drew in a shuddering breath and kissed the bare hollow of her collarbone above the dip of her shirt. His tongue darted out to briefly stroke her there, and Rey gasped. “Ben,” she whispered urgently. If he kept doing that, they’d never get back around to her security briefings.

He dragged his tongue up her neck to her ear, the one he hadn’t left a mark under, and licked her there, too.

“Ben,” she hissed, warmth pooling between her thighs. “Stop that!”

He surged out of the chair, catching her up in his arms, and bent to plunder her mouth. When he stopped, they were both panting. “Have your meeting,” he murmured, his words hot against her lips. “I need… a moment.” He swallowed, his throat moving with it, and Rey felt annoyed that he got to escape after muddling her brain so thoroughly.

She took a few deep breaths to compose herself as he left through their shared door, and then she pasted on a smile and invited everyone back inside.

Chapter Text

Rey was only a few minutes back into the briefing when she heard something that made her glance over her shoulder.

Her eyes widened, and she didn’t need to check to know that no one else saw it, didn’t need the pull of the bond to tell her that this was the Force at work.

She didn’t have a shower in the corner of her room.

Rey pressed her hand over her mouth to hide the fact that she was now a flustered mess, hoping it didn’t look like she was staring guiltily at the long pale expanse of Ben’s nude back as water sluiced over him, plastering his dark hair sleekly to his head so that his ears stuck out from it.

He had one hand against the wall, bracing himself as his other wrung soft gasps from him. His hips jerked in a steady rhythm, and he pressed his forehead against his hand on the wall, his face turned just enough for her to see in profile that his eyes were screwed shut, his face flushed red as he labored unsteadily toward pleasure.

“Rey,” he groaned, and she gasped softly, immediately cursing herself.

His eyes snapped open, wild, and focused on her in shock. He said her name again, intent this time, almost an accusation, and swallowed hard as his hips bucked once, twice, and his shoulders curled inward. He shuddered, let out a deep groan, and slumped panting against the wall.

His eyes had stayed on hers the entire time.

The vision faded, leaving Rey with an insistent throbbing between her thighs, a furious blush on her face, and a level of curiosity that was frankly embarrassing. She closed her eyes and breathed slowly, counting backwards from ten before she could face the group again.

Rey barely held her tattered composure around her, thankful that none of them knew about the Force bond and couldn’t guess what had just happened. Her face remained too warm, but she managed to find her voice and ask the officer to repeat himself. If she shifted to a more comfortable position in her chair as she spoke, no one mentioned it.

Nalti approached and spoke quietly. “Are you okay?”

“Too much to drink,” Rey said, grasping onto a sudden inspiration. “I haven’t had a chance to…”

“Go ahead,” said the officer, tapping carelessly into his data pad. “Not like I have anything better to do than wait.”

Nalti glared at him, but Rey felt too shaken to argue. She made a break for her room, going straight to the washroom so she could splash cool water on her face and wrestle with her embarrassment in private.

She whimpered softly at the ache between her thighs, twisting her hips to try and ease it. She couldn’t touch herself – she didn’t have time and didn’t really know how – so she simply dabbed some cold water down there as well, hoping it would convince her body to calm the fuck down.

She used the facilities while she could – she didn’t know when the next break would be – and focused on taking deep, slow breaths until her heart had returned to something closer to its normal pace.


If Rey thought that her voyeuristic vision of Ben would make him bashful and unwilling to meet her eye when he returned, she was mistaken. Instead of driving a wedge of discomfort between them, the experience seemed to have set tension between them to a high boil. Every time Rey looked at him, she remembered the feral way he’d pleasured himself to thoughts of her. For Ben’s part, he barely took his eyes off her all afternoon, quietly watching her blush and struggle to focus on the information she needed for Abednedo.

By the time dinner rolled around, Rey was a mess of nerves. Ben sent everyone away again, and this time she almost dreaded being alone with him.

The moment the door slid shut behind the crowd, talking amongst themselves as they left to eat and refresh themselves, Ben began to stalk her.

Rey tried to put the dining table between them, but he rounded it with long, unhurried strides, his intensity stealing her ability to think. “Ben,” she said nervously, eyes darting this way and that as she backed away. She cleared her throat, unsure what to say. Sorry I watched you touch yourself? She wasn’t sorry, just flustered and nervous and incredibly turned on. But she didn’t know what to do with those emotions, she still wasn’t ready for sex – despite her body’s clamoring otherwise.

Her back hit the wall, and he caged her loosely with his arms, lowering his head to brush his lips across hers. His voice came out silky and sinful, a full-throated murmur. “You watched me.”

“I’m not ready,” she replied, a zing of panic shooting through her.

His lips touched her throat, and she arched against him.

“A few more days,” she begged, barely able to focus on the words. “Just a few more days.”

He dragged his lips up her neck to her jaw and rested his forehead against hers, his voice a husky growl. “Tell me you want me, Rey.”

She shivered. “Ben. I’m not ready.”

He nuzzled her. “I know. I just need to hear you say it.”

Rey rose on her toes to bridge the short gap between them. She sank her hands into his hair and kissed him, exploring him with her mouth to assure him that no, he was not the only one who wanted.

When she released him, his breathing was ragged and his hair was a mess.

Rey bit her lip. “I think this is my favorite look on you.”

He huffed a laugh and returned to her lips, biting at her to make her moan and hiking her leg around his hip when she made the mistake of lifting it. He ground himself against her core, lifting her against the wall until her toes left the floor. His big hands held her up as his mouth pressed her down, and Rey squirmed against him, breathless with wanting.

His mouth slipped to her chin, and he nipped her there. “Come into the back with me. I’ll take care of you.”

Rey made the monumental effort of restarting her brain. “I can’t,” she groaned, letting her head fall back against the wall. One of her hair pins dug into her scalp, and she resisted the urge to yank them all out. “There’s too much to do, still, and I need to eat something.”

He sighed, kissed her one last time, and shifted back reluctantly, his eyes locked headily to hers as he lowered her to her feet.

“Later,” he promised, his firm expression leaving no room for debate.

“Clothes on,” she replied.

He nodded, his jaw working with displeasure, but he didn’t argue. She appreciated that.

“Food now,” he said, leading her by the hand to the table. “Then work. Then you’re mine.”

Chapter Text

After dinner, Rey listened for over an hour to detailed extraction plans in case things went south. Her guards had more of a role here, so they paid close attention as escape routes were plotted with the provided map of the palace.

It was late when the officer packed up his data pad to leave. Rey dismissed her guards for the night, encouraging them to get plenty of sleep, and Nalti summoned Desomma, who arrived quickly with her droid in tow. She had a pile of ivory cloth embroidered with glinting gold thread in her arms and looked annoyed when she saw the mostly-empty room. The items in her arms turned out to be short one-shoulder capes for Rey’s guards to separate them from the rank-and-file.

Rey allowed herself to be shooed into her room so that she could try on a simple gown. Rey liked the high neckline which stopped just below her throat, the simple way the butterscotch bodice followed her slight curves, fading gradually into ivory at her waist, and then fell in soft, lightweight folds until it touched the tops of her feet in pure white with plenty of room to move quickly.

Rey loved it even more when Desomma showed her the clever hidden pocket for her lightsaber, built so that it could strap to Rey’s thigh without interrupting the flow of the gown.

“What are these?” Rey asked, touching a collection of small specks along one shoulder, each one smaller than her smallest fingernail and shimmering individually when they caught the light.

“Sequins,” said Desomma, adjusting the opposite shoulder so that the neckline lay a little flatter over Rey’s collarbone. She pinned it. “It’s going to take all night to get the rest of them on, but the effect will be just what you asked for.”

Rey looked down at the gown. “You mean it’s not finished?”

Desomma laughed so loudly that Ben probably heard her from the sitting room. He’d refused to budge, choosing to wait for her instead of retreat to his own rooms. “No, sweetie. It’s not finished.”

When Desomma left, Rey bade Nalti goodnight and saw her out. Then she sighed wearily and leaned against the wall beside the door, the room now empty but for her and Ben’s tall, black-clad form.

He approached slowly. Rey didn’t move, waiting for him as he placed gentle hands on her waist, his breath warm as he pressed his lips into her hair. Rey wound her arms around his neck.

“Come to bed,” he murmured.

She smiled gently, nudged him to move back, and took his hand to lead him to their shared door.

In his room, Rey pulled the pins haphazardly out of her hair, shucked all but her pants and shirt, and sprawled on Ben’s bed. She stretched her arms far over her head, easing muscles stiff from sitting for so long.

Ben watched her as he removed his own outer clothing, and Rey watched him back. Anticipation had stoked the fire under her skin all day. She’d only managed to keep it from overwhelming her by studiously ignoring Ben and focusing on the things she had to learn.

The man was a menace. Too sexy just by breathing, a distraction when she needed her wits about her.

She let out a relieved sigh that she didn’t have to think anymore, that she could let go and relax.

He climbed onto the bed to hover over her, his hair hanging around his face. He just looked at her, eyes tracing every feature. “I should go with you.”

Rey gave him a tired smile. “That would be a disaster.”

He grunted and shifted his weight, the bed dipping in response.

Rey reached up to rub the back of his neck, making him grumble appreciatively. “I’ll be fine.”

A long stretch of silence. He placed a kiss behind her ear. “I’ll still worry.” 

“I got away from you, didn’t I?”

Another grunt. “I’d just been shot. And the ground opened up between us.”

She propped herself up on her elbows and placed a teasing kiss on the tip of his nose. “A wounded Kylo Ren is still much more dangerous than anything I’ll face on Abednedo.”

The worry in his eyes didn’t ease, and she offered another kiss to distract him – this one on his lips. “I survived for fifteen years without you, Ben. A few days isn’t going to be any problem.”

His knuckles stroked her face. “You’ll tell me the moment you need backup?”

She couldn’t help but grin at his gentle nagging. “The very moment.”

He pressed a kiss to her mouth. “I’ll equip you with an emergency beacon. The instant things go south–”

“Ben,” she interrupted softly, waiting for his attention to return wholly to her. “Are you just going to talk all night?”

His hands curled in the sheets on either side of her, and his jaw worked. When he didn’t speak for much too long, she touched his face. His expression was heart-breakingly vulnerable.

“What is it?”

“Did you… like it? What you saw earlier?” His gaze skated away from hers, pink tracing his nose and cheekbones.

Rey wanted to hide her face, to beg not to have to answer the question. It was the uncertainty in him which kept her from doing either of those things. Instead, she pressed a shaky hand over his chest, feeling his warmth and the thunder of his heartbeat.

There were so many answers she could give. That his intensity made her nervous, that her own reactions to him scared her, that she’d never experienced anything like this before. All honest answers, but none were what he needed.

Rey picked up one of his hands, her touch gentle. He settled his weight on his other arm and let her guide his fingers beneath her leggings before she released him.

He examined her carefully, and Rey drew a shaky breath.

“It was worse earlier,” she whispered as he touched her. “After.” She closed her eyes and felt his fingertips slide across her most intimate place. “I wanted…” she didn’t have the right words, so she looped her arms around his neck and met his eyes. “I wanted.” And she pulled his face down to hers.

They kissed like that, his fingers playing inexpertly among her folds, until he found the spot that made her buck off the bed.

“Ben,” she gasped.

He groaned. “I’ll give you three days. Three. Then you’re coming back to me.”

She pulled his face down to hers and kissed him, arching her hips into his touch as needy little sounds left her. A few strokes in the right spot and she came apart for him; the long day of fighting the ache at her center had left her primed.

He held her tight afterward, almost as if he could keep her from Abednedo by wrapping her in his arms and refusing to let go. Eventually, when she’d begun to drift toward sleep, he asked, “When do you want to have children?”

Rey’s heart leapt. She wanted to say Right away, but instead she rolled onto her back beside him and looked up at the cold metal ceiling of his quarters. “Not here,” she said with a grimace. “Not on this war machine in the middle of space.”

He watched her, patient, and she thought about the question.

“As soon as we have a home,” she murmured, laying her heart bare. Her old scavenger instincts warned her to be careful, not to expose herself like this, but this was Ben. She trusted him.

He went still, his fingertips resting against her shoulder where he’d been tracing her freckles. “A home.”

She propped herself up on her elbow so that he had to look up at her. “I had this… dream, I guess, on Jakku. It wasn’t very practical, but every now and then I’d imagine a little house with children running around and playing outside – always on Jakku, always near Niima Outpost.” She swallowed awkwardly, looking at his chest instead of his eyes. “And someone with me. I’d still scavenge, and he’d have a job, and he’d kiss me before we went to work for the day.”

She saw a muscle in his jaw twitch. “Did this someone have a name?”

She shook her head, glancing up. “No name. No face, either. Just… warm. And kind.” She dropped her face against his chest to hide her flushed cheeks.

He absently stroked her back. “Do you still think of it?”

Yes. Even though she hadn’t had time to dwell on it, she knew her dream had changed, and the new details filled in further as she spoke. “The house is still small. The children still play outside. But now it’s somewhere green, somewhere beautiful and peaceful and full of life.” She pressed toward him and kissed him, her lips moving tenderly and almost chastely over his. His hand moved from stroking her back to comb gently through her hair as he accepted her tenderness.

“The children look like you, now,” she whispered against his lips, and his breath caught. She kissed his smooth cheek, then his scarred one. The bridge of his nose and arch of his brows. “And you’re there. Always there.” She kissed his mouth again, and his response gratified her, his lips moving beneath hers with more urgency. “With me.”

He groaned helplessly and tugged at her hips, urging her to straddle him.

She obliged, a shiver running down her spine at the heat and hardness of him. She leaned close to his ear so that she could whisper, “Our home, Ben.”

He gasped her name and bucked up against her.

She smiled. He liked that, did he? Details sprang to her lips unbidden, things she thought he’d like, things she came up with on the spot to please him. “We’ll have a window in our room,” she whispered against his ear. “And we’ll leave it open at night, and the wind will bring in the scent of growing things. You’ll be tired after a long day, but I won’t be able to keep my hands off you.” She ran a hand firmly over his chest to demonstrate, dragged her tongue across his ear, and bit the delicate shell.

Ben moaned and gripped her hip with one hand, the other snaking its way up her shirt to grip her through her breastband. Frustrated, he yanked at the binding cloth, shifting it just enough that a few more well-placed tugs revealed a nipple, which he found, wrapped his fingers around, and proceeded to tug mercilessly.

Rey shrieked and wriggled against him. “Ben!”

“We’ll have a window,” he panted, bringing his hips up to meet her in time with her desperate undulations. “I’ll take you in front of it, Rey.” He grunted and arched his neck back. “As many times as you want.”

She ground against him with needy whimpers, shock driving her higher every time he pinched or pulled the tip of her breast. “Ben… don’t stop… Ben!”

Without easing the pace of his hips, he shoved her shirt up, found her nipple, and sucked it violently into his mouth.

Rey screamed and flew to pieces, stars exploding behind her eyes for what felt like forever. When the sparking of her senses eased, she whimpered and collapsed across his chest.

“Maybe Naboo,” he rumbled beneath her. “It’s very green. I’ve only been there twice, but it’s nice. My grandmother used to be the queen.”

Rey picked her head up off of his chest and blinked at him. “Say that again?”

He ran a hand through her hair, his other hand still toying with the tip of her breast. “Which part?”

“Your grandmother.”

“She served two terms as their queen. Elective monarchy,” he explained. He angled his head, peering down her shirt. He gave a little tug at her breastband. “Take this off?”

She felt his heartbeat pick up under her. He was still hard against her leg, still shifting every now and then, his breathing changing every time he moved.

Rey remained focused on the conversation. “You’re descended from royalty?” She really wished that last word had not come out as a squeak.

“Mm,” he murmured, still focused on widening the gap he’d made in her breastband. “The royal jewels of Alderaan didn’t tip you off?”

Confusion warred for her attention with the way his thumb rasped circles around her nipple. “I thought you said Naboo.”

“My grandmother was queen of Naboo,” he said patiently. “Leia was princess of Alderaan.” He pinched her hard enough to make her squeak. “Can we talk about something else?”

But Rey’s curiosity wasn’t satisfied. “So… your grandfather was from Alderaan?”

“No,” he said. His brows had come together, mouth pressing into a line. “Darth Vader wasn’t royal. Leia was adopted by the Alderaanean royal family, the Organas.” He shook his head, his attention to her breast receding. “It doesn’t matter, Alderaan is gone.”

“The Death Star,” Rey whispered. Even on Jakku, she’d heard the tales.

“He destroyed it right in front of her.”

Rey stared at him, reeling from the way he described the mass murder of his mother’s planet in such a detached tone. For a moment, she felt like she didn’t know this man.

Then Ben whispered in a voice so soft and yearning that she almost didn’t hear it, “He knew who he was.”

And she knew him again.

Rey leaned over to touch her lips to his, tentatively trailing her hand down his chest. He inhaled sharply when her fingers delved beneath the waistband of his pants, and his breathing became too ragged to continue kissing her, his eyes glazing over as her fingertips touched the tip of something soft and hot and a little bit damp.

When she shifted her hips to one side so she could explore further, and the pads of her calloused fingers traced down his stiff shaft, a literal whine burst from deep in his throat. He clutched one hand into the bedsheets and the other into her hair and threw his head back.

“Rey,” he growled – he fucking growled it – and she gripped him in her hand. He used her hair to pull her face down to his and found her lips, his tongue seeking entry to her mouth, and she opened to let him in.

As Rey fondled him, the hot skin of his sex searing into her hand, he writhed beneath her, his tongue stroking hers as he groaned and moaned into her mouth, making the kinds of noises Rey would now kill anyone else for bringing out of him.

“I love you,” she pulled back far enough to whisper, and then his hand was out of her hair and closing over hers under his pants, and he was guiding her in a swift, steady stroke, forcing her to squeeze at the base before dragging her hand up to the tip and down again.

His hips thrust in time with their combined strokes, his breathing harsh, and soon she felt him swell further before a few sharp jerks heralded spurts of thick, sticky liquid which covered their fingers and the insides of his clothes.

Only after the final spurt did he lie still and try to catch his breath, his face pressed against her hair as she drew their hands free.

“Thank you,” he whispered when he found his voice.

“I love you,” she whispered back.

He laced his sticky fingers with hers, palm to palm, and his jaw shifted awkwardly as he looked down at their messy hands. His nose and cheekbones, already flushed from their exertions, turned redder. “Sorry.”

“Don’t apologize.” Rey squeezed his hand with hers and untangled their fingers, sitting up to scoot off the bed and toward his washroom. “Be right back.”

She rinsed her hand and used the facilities, glad to have a chance to mop up between her legs. She’d been left with a level of wetness that had made her leggings uncomfortably damp. Part of her wanted to strip them off, but she knew they’d never get to sleep if she did that, and she needed to rest for the negotiations on Abednedo.

She did, however, remove her breastband. It was a terrible idea, but it was already askew, and she’d have had to rewrap it anyway.

This was more practical. Right?

Rey snorted, not even able to fool herself, and returned to find Ben sitting on the edge of the bed with a folded garment on one knee, waiting his turn.

He flushed when he saw her and nodded briefly before skirting past and shutting himself in.

When he returned, he curled behind her on the bed and tucked her against his chest. One hand slid up beneath her shirt to casually cup her breast, and his entire body, which had been relaxing behind her, stiffened when he didn’t find her breastband in the way.

“Rey,” he said warningly.

She fought a smile and wriggled further into his embrace. “Hm?”

She thought she could feel his jaw work where it rested on top of her head. When he spoke, the words came out accusatory. “I don’t have that many clean pairs of pants left.”

Rey laughed, and he pulled her shirt up in retaliation, baring her skin to the cool room. Her nipples immediately tightened, pebbling into his questing palm, and he tugged her onto her back.

For a long time, he simply looked at them, tracing their gentle swells with his eyes and his hand, fingers tweaking and caressing and exploring. Rey felt self-conscious under the solemn intensity of his scrutiny, warring urges to cover up and strip more of herself bare fighting for dominance.

Then he lowered his mouth to them, and every single thought drained out of her head.

“Ben,” she whined, clutching his hair to either pull him closer or push him away, she didn’t know. Her hands froze in his strands as his lips surrounded a nipple and his tongue darted out to flick it.

“Two pairs, Rey,” he growled against her skin. “Two pairs of pants left. You’re going to make me use both of them tonight, aren’t you?”

Despite his grumbling, he didn’t seem to mind stoking the flames between them higher, licking and kissing and palming her breasts with her shirt bunched up high on her chest until Rey lay panting with a light sheen of sweat on her forehead.

She arched her head back. “Ben.”

He slid a hand beneath her leggings then, stroking two fingertips across her opening before pushing them slowly inside, his thumb searching for that spot that made everything else background noise. He continued to pay close attention to her nipples, sucking on them as his rough fingers sank deeper into her and his thumb brushed across that spot.

“Kiss me,” she whined. “Ben.”

His lips found hers, nose bumping her cheek, only half his attention on nibbling at her mouth as his hand fumbled her closer to her peak. “Rey.”

She rolled her hips desperately against his hand, chasing the feeling he’d pried so easily out of her after that long, torturous day. His thumb went off-center, and she pushed it back into place with a frustrated pant. He took the cue and rubbed the spot over and over, light and fast, and it didn’t take much longer for Rey to dig her nails into his arm with a long, gasping moan.

He nuzzled her cheek as she came down, his damp fingers pulling out to stroke at the bare skin of her waist. She felt him sigh contentedly against her. “Anything you want, Rey,” he whispered. She wasn’t sure if he’d meant for her to hear him or if he was talking to himself, so she didn’t reply, only turned her face to kiss him. Warm and sated, she snuggled against him and fell asleep.

Chapter Text

The next morning, Rey woke when Ben got quietly out of bed and headed to the washroom. She lay there for a little while, waiting on him, and woke again when the washroom door opened and he exited, dressed and drying his hair.

“You can sleep a little longer,” he murmured, sitting beside her. “I’ll let you know when we get to Abednedo.”

Rey yawned and rubbed her eyes, an urgent need in her bladder making her sit up. “Okay.”

When he next woke her, it was because Nalti was waiting in her rooms. He gave Rey the choice of sleeping further or getting up, and Rey swung her feet out of bed.

“I’ve never been lazy,” she said, picking her things up off the floor. She had to kneel to gather all the hair pins she’d so carelessly dropped onto her diaphanous blue tunic, and rose with her hands full. She and Ben looked at each other for a few moments before she rose onto her toes and tipped her face up for one last, lingering kiss before heading back to her own room. She felt his eyes on her as she left.

Nalti helped Rey get ready for the day without, thankfully, mentioning that Rey hadn’t spent the night in her own bed. Just the small, conspiratorial smirk Nalti tossed her triggered inner convulsions of embarrassment.

Thus, Rey was clean and dressed by the time the First Order emissary to Abednedo arrived for Rey’s final briefing. He had very short red hair, lighter than General Hux’s, and the standard perfectly tidy black uniform. He didn’t sneer like the general, but frustration leaked through his words as he caught her up on the current state of Abednedo.

“Completely useless,” he told her. “The king will talk for hours without getting anywhere – you have to practically drag him to the point – and the nobility avoid any conversation that isn’t about clothes or food.” The look he shot Rey was more sympathetic than she’d expected. “I really don’t know what you think you might accomplish, but you’re welcome to try.” He sank wearily back into his chair. “I’m just glad to be done with the whole mess.”

Desomma arrived for Rey’s last fitting before he finished. She had dark circles under her eyes and a feral, determined glower. Rey begged the emissary’s patience and submitted to the seamstress, surprised that he didn’t put up any fight when she abandoned him.

“See that that poor man gets a break,” Rey told Nalti as she stripped in her bedroom and let Desomma settle the finished gown over her head.

Nalti nodded and lowered her gaze to tap the order into her data pad. “Shore leave. On it.” When Nalti looked back up, she simply stared, silent. “Wow,” she finally whispered.

Desomma’s exhausted face twisted into a cocky smile as she made slight alterations on the fly, her droid providing swift stitches where needed.

When Desomma pronounced the gown finished, she draped a second part over Rey’s shoulders, hooking it at the front of her throat so that the long cloak hung straight and graceful to the hem of the gown beneath.

When Desomma produced a mirror, even Rey had to stifle a gasp. The gown shimmered with those tiny pricks of light Desomma had called “sequins,” placed in tight, delicate layers at her throat only to fade below her hips, leaving her lightweight silk skirts bare. Rey would have been satisfied with just the dress, but the thin, twinkling cloak was drenched in the tiny disks, broken only by embroidery lines which made Rey look as if she wore butterfly wings crafted of pure starlight.

Desomma had even brought an extra droid to do Rey’s hair, putting it up with a sprinkling of glimmering pins so that Rey looked as if she’d been dusted with stars from head to toe.

The emissary leapt to his feet when she exited her bedroom in her new finery, his eyes wide and posture ramrod straight. He gave a stiff, astonished bow. “Madam.”

“If that doesn’t tell you how good my work is, nothing will,” Desomma said, passing the emissary and shooing her droids out the door. “I’m going to get some sleep. Goodnight.”

Rey waved goodbye, despite Desomma already having left, and turned back to the emissary. “Where were we?”

He swallowed, still staring. “Ah… the tactics I’ve tried with the king.”

She smiled and sat awkwardly, wishing he wouldn’t look at her like that. It was only a dress. She hadn’t suddenly become someone else, someone worth being nervous around.

He painted a picture of an obstinate people content with dragging negotiations out to their breaking point. He spoke quickly, efficient with his words, and didn’t relax back into his chair again. He finished faster than Rey had expected, and Nalti informed her that a shuttle had been prepared in the hangar bay and that the Supreme Leader would meet her there when she was ready.

“I’ve packed a few of your other clothes, including the gown with the lace overlay, and they’ve already been loaded into the shuttle. That should keep us for a few days if something happens to this one.” She gestured at the masterpiece Rey wore, and her eyes lingered. “That really is an amazing gown.” Then she broke the serious moment with a wide grin. “I can’t wait to see the Supreme Leader’s face.”

Rey blushed so hard, she felt it in her ears. “Let’s just go,” she muttered.

When she exited into the hallway, her full guard roster awaited her, each kitted with the ivory-and-gold half cloaks Desomma had been carrying the night before. They looked very professional, covering one shoulder and hanging just to the elbow so that their movements wouldn’t be hampered by excess fabric.

When Rey exited, no one spoke or moved, and Rey fidgeted with her skirt and tried a joke to lighten the mood. “That bad?”

It was Ash who stepped forward and solemnly took a knee. “You look like a queen, ma'am.”

One after another, each guard followed Ash’s lead until they all knelt before Rey, their heads bowed. Rey’s face warmed.

“Please don’t,” she begged, unnerved.

Ash was the first to stand, then the rest, but they remained silent as they fell in behind her on the way to the main hangar.

Ben waited for her with several officers, including a sour-faced General Hux. Rey noticed Lieutenant Watt speaking with the female officer who shared her nose, the two clearly related.

When Rey and her unit entered, conversation stopped. Even technicians in the distance paused to look her way, some craning their necks to get a better view.

Probably blinded by my dress, she thought wryly. It sure as hell was sparkly, and the hangar lights made individual disks flash with every breath.

Ben approached and tucked her hand into the crook of his elbow, escorting her past the silent personnel and onto her transport, her unit following close behind. She noted with spiteful pleasure that General Hux looked taken aback, his head turning to follow her with everyone else’s.

Inside the shuttle, her guards settled themselves in with the professionalism of lifelong soldiers, and Ben drew her aside where they could have the illusion of privacy.

“I don’t like this,” he murmured, threading his fingers through hers.

“I’ll be fine. I can take care of myself.”

“I know.” He rested his forehead against hers. “It’s the only reason I’m letting you go on this damn trip.”

She smiled up at him. “As if anything I do is because you let me.”

He huffed at that, the slight smile she’d drawn out still not enough to erase the worry line between his brows.

He kissed her, then, pouring all his worry into it, and Rey wrapped her arms around his neck and kissed him back. She released all of her stress and tension and inadequacy into that kiss, all the missing him that had already started as she’d dressed, and pulled on his strength to steady her.

When they parted, his eyes had hardened and he looked about ready to order her to stay. Instead, he gritted his teeth, muttered, “Fuck,” and flung himself away from her toward the exit.

He stopped in the light filtering in from the hangar, whirled back around, and stared at her, his jaw clenching. He looked half wild, but he mastered himself and stalked out with an infuriated, “Fuck!”

When the transport door closed, Rowdy gave a low whistle. Rey rolled her eyes at him, but she couldn’t help the small smile Ben had left her with.

Chapter Text

“Did you see the way those officers stared, ma'am?” asked Rowdy as Rey piloted the shuttle seamlessly from the hangar.

Valkyrie cackled. “Struck ‘em speechless.”

Rowdy joined in the laughter. “The general looked personally affronted.”

“Probably planned to make her ladyship feel small,” put in Nalti. “Put her in her place. Did you see which officers he brought with him?”

“All the snooty assholes,” said Rowdy.

His people,” said Nalti. “And her ladyship left them so dumbfounded, they let her walk right on by without trying any of their petty tricks.” She sounded proud, as if Rey had accomplished something instead of just wearing a dress someone else had made for her.

Rey blushed and rolled her eyes. “Let’s hope the Abednedo are as impressed by my clothes.”

The Abednedo, however, were hard to read. Their buildings were a haphazard mishmash of color and height that made Rey smile, their cities much more lively than the Dominance, and Rey breathed in the fresh atmosphere gratefully the moment her shuttle’s ramp descended at the palace.

Don’t let them intimidate you, Leia had told her, so Rey straightened her shoulders before she walked down the ramp and nodded the way she’d been coached when she was introduced to the king – not deep enough to be a supplicant but not shallow enough to insult him. They’d debated having her curtsy, but one test run had killed that idea.

“You have the grace of an injured blurrg,” she’d been told.

So she nodded, and the king nodded, and he was impossible to read with his long brownish face and giant nostrils and eyes too far apart. He escorted her inside the palace, and he offered her tea in a formal sitting room, but Rey was too busy trying not to look nervous to drink it. He offered her a plate of something that looked like dried leaves with crystalline flowers on top, and Rey had to keep her twitching hands in her lap.

Don’t eat in front of them, Ben had said at dinner the previous night. Rey had thrown a roll at his head and made him laugh.

Rey reached for the tea in front of her, but something about the king’s sharp attention on the motion made her drop her hand back into her lap. Her scavenger brain hissed a warning, and Rey fought to keep the smile on her face.

Poison? she wondered. He hadn’t touched his own.

“Please,” the king said with a generous smile. “You will offend me.”

Snake, Rey’s instincts snapped. She slid the cup toward the king, narrowing her eyes over her smile. “You first.”

His face froze into a mask of politesse. “Are you insinuating something?”

Rey dropped her smile. “Let me break this down for you, your majesty. The First Order wanted to send Kylo Ren to end negotiations once and for all. I am your last option before that becomes reality. I am not your enemy.” She leaned forward, piercing him with her glare. “I’m trying to save your ass.”

The king blustered, the tendrils extending from either side of his mouth bristling with indignation, but Rey didn’t let him get more than the start of a word out before she cut him off.

“You don’t want to give in to an invading force. You will fight to your last breath. I understand, because I would do the same. I respect that. The problem is that you will die. Your people will die. I’ve seen the reports on your defenses – you’re not equipped to hold out for more than a few months under siege, and that’s only if you can prevent them getting boots on the ground.”

Rey stared the king straight in the eye. “Is this room monitored?” Her people and his waited outside, close enough to leap into action should action be necessary but not so close that they’d overhear a private conversation. Nalti had been nonplussed at being excluded, but she’d accepted the decision because she had to.

He blinked at the change in topic. “No.”

She probed his answer with the Force. Truth, it whispered.

Rey twisted the activation sequence on her bracelets as she spoke. She’d slipped them on after Desomma finished with her hair, and her shimmering cloak had hidden them from prying eyes. “I have an alternative proposition. If you compromise for now, you will have time to build resources and allies to oust the First Order from your world when conditions allow. To help, I will introduce you to a powerful ally in the Resistance who can give you advice, direction, and help you coordinate with like-minded sovereignties.”

The king raised a hand, his baffled expression encouraging her to stop and let him speak. “You are not an assassin?”

Rey blinked at him. “No. Why would you think that?”

The king ran a hand over his bug-like face. “We had a transmission from your ship warning us that they were sending an assassin disguised as a diplomat.”

It took a moment for the implication to sink in, and Rey turned cold with fury.

Someone on the Dominance wanted her dead.

“Were you able to tell who sent it?” she asked.

The king shook his head. “I am sorry. I did not realize…”

She waved his apology away, the gears in her head turning. “Don’t apologize. I shouldn’t be surprised that they’d do this.”

Yet she was surprised. Not that they wanted her dead but that they’d risk going against Ben like this. It was a dangerous game they played, and it made her anxious for his safety. She wanted to leap from her seat and return to the Dominance right away, but she tamped down the panic with monumental effort. She had a job to do, and she wasn’t done yet.

“Why do they send you here, then? Don’t they know you will betray them?”

She sighed and reached for her tea before remembering the poison. The king smiled ruefully and took the tea away, pouring it into a potted plant nearby.

“They couldn’t tell me no,” she murmured.

“Surely…” said the king.

“I’m marrying the Supreme Leader,” she explained. It was her turn to be rueful. “He lets me get away with things.”

The king drew back. “I have heard tales of that creature. Old and ugly and cruel.” He examined her with obvious concern. “You do not need to go back to that. You can stay here. We will protect you.”

Rey smiled, feeling genuinely fond of the king in that moment. “There’s a new Supreme Leader, and he’s much more… pleasant. You don’t need to worry about me.”

“Ah,” said the king, leaning back with a mischievous twinkle in his black eyes. “Young and attractive, I presume.”

Rey blushed and started to deny it, but then she shrugged. “Yes.”

“And he has you on a long leash.” His gaze became speculative, and eventually he nodded. “Very well. Tell me of this ‘alternative plan’ of yours.”


Leia was startled that Rey wanted to conference her into the negotiations, but she recovered swiftly and threw herself into helping find a balance that the First Order would accept. Hours slipped away as they worked, and the king had more food and drink brought in – the initial tea had been poisoned, but the little candied flowers had not, and Rey stuffed them shamelessly into her mouth when he persuaded her to try one, earning her a stare and then a grin.

Rey’s guards remained outside the room. Rey had let the king know that the people with her had to be kept in the dark about her unusual connections. She also asked that he keep the fact from his own people. He’d been reluctant but agreed after Leia had weighed in, assuring him that Rey was in the best possible position to destabilize the First Order and that endangering her would put everyone at risk – including the king himself.

When they took a break so that they could stretch their legs and use the facilities – they’d gone through two whole pots of tea – Rey had a moment alone with holo-Leia.

“Are you sure about this?” the older woman asked gently.

Rey winced. Sighed. “I can’t ignore who I am, or what I believe. I’m trying not to betray Ben, but I can’t just let the First Order destroy these people. The things they threatened to do…” She shuddered in revulsion at the thought of collapsing entire underground cities of civilians just for a strategic advantage.

Leia showed her age as both personal and professional grief lined the holographic planes of her face. “After what they did to the Hosnian system, I’m no longer surprised by any of their atrocities.”

“It’s the leadership,” Rey said fiercely. “General Hux and them. Everyone else just follows orders, but those… monsters are the ones putting these strategies out there.” Her lips thinned with anger. “If I could pack everyone up and disband the First Order, I would. Right now, today.”

Leia sighed. “You’ll need Ben on your side for that.”

“Yeah.” Rey slumped. “He lets me get away with a lot, but no one thinks I have any power on my own. All of it, every last bit, is because of him. He’s the Supreme Leader. I’m just the girl he humors.”

“Hang in there,” said Leia firmly. “I wasn’t lying when I said you’re in the best position to destabilize the First Order. If you can sway Ben to your side, even a little, you’ll have the foothold you need to take that damn organization apart.”

“Without bloodshed,” Rey said, a vision of the First Order falling into neat pieces painting itself behind her eyes, the people aboard the Dominance escaping across the galaxy like ants, humbled and purposeless but alive.

The look Leia gave her was infinitely sad, and her voice came out flat. “You aren’t that naive, sweetheart.”

No, Rey admitted to herself as the hopeful vision sank like water on the sand. No, she wasn’t that naive.


They finished the first draft of the treaty by dinner time and sent it to the Dominance for approval. It came swiftly back, rejected, and Leia took a moment to soothe Rey’s disappointment.

“I didn’t expect them to accept the first attempt. We’ll sleep on it tonight and come back fresh tomorrow.”

Rey switched her bracelets off and looked at the king, who seemed tired but pleased with the events of the day.

“I’ve had my people prepare a celebration dinner, to thank you for your help.” A wry smile twisted his drooping mouth. “No poison this time.”

Rey laughed and smiled back at him. “I appreciate that.”


Before dinner, Rey requested and was granted a chance to contact the Dominance. The king let her know that her communication wouldn’t be secure, and Rey took that to mean that someone would be monitoring her call.

It didn’t matter, not when Ben came onscreen, his dark hair and pale skin perfectly framed by the grey of the room behind him.

“Someone’s probably watching this,” she told him wryly.

He didn’t smile, choosing instead to examine her. “Are you well?”

“Yup. Not a scratch on me.” She lifted her arms to show him, and he stared at them as if checking for damage.

“Those bracelets,” he said after a moment, tilting his head as if trying to recall where he’d seen them before.

Rey pulled her arms back under her cloak. “Oh. Yeah. They’re from, um… that friend. The one who sent the wedding gifts.”

“Ah.” The little frown line stayed, and his eyes moved to her face.

“Things are going well,” she said suddenly into the awkward silence. “We’re being fed soon – I’m told it will be good.”

One side of his mouth quirked upward. “You do like food.”

“I love food,” she bubbled, eager to reassure him that everything was fine. “That reminds me, I have to tell you about these little flower things they had with tea when I got here. They were prettier than they were delicious, and they tasted really good, which tells you how pretty they were.” The poisoned tea had been on her mind all afternoon, as well as the mysterious message the king had received. She needed to tell Ben but didn’t want that tidbit overheard by anyone listening in.

Later, she assured herself.

His smile deepened. “Ask someone to send the recipe to the Dominance. I’ll see if we can’t have it replicated.”

Rey grinned at him. She was glad to see his face and hear his voice. She’d missed him. She wanted to say the words, but they’d agreed to be circumspect about their relationship, so, instead of speaking, she gazed into his eyes, and he gazed into hers. Rey felt her insides melting, pulling toward him with unbearable longing.

Aw, screw it. “I miss you.”

His expression softened. He said, “I’ll see you before too long,” but she understood what he meant.

He missed her, too.

“I should go,” she said, mentally adding, before I say something ridiculously sappy.

He nodded slowly, pulling his Kylo Ren persona around himself. His eyes still burned into her, but no one looking at the feed would be able to tell what he was thinking. “Sleep well.”

“You too.”

She signed off, feeling a pang as the feed went dark, and sighed into the silent emptiness of the room.


Dinner was lavish and crowded, the king having invited all of Rey’s people as well as fifty or so of his close personal friends. Rey did find the noise useful at one point when she leaned toward the king and asked him to send her assistant the transmission data from the assassination message. He agreed and chugged from his goblet.

Rey enjoyed the food, but she was very much ready to turn in for the night when the celebration lurched – a little drunkenly – into its second wind.

“I’d like to go to bed,” she told the king when he encouraged his people to clear a space for dancing. He claimed to be too old to partake, himself, but enjoyed watching.

“The night is still young,” he protested. “Surely, you would like to dance?”

Rey smiled, trying not to wince. “The person I’d most like to dance with isn’t here,” she admitted. Then, because that sounded a little too sappy and wistful, “Also I don’t know how. And I want to be rested for tomorrow. And I’m tired.”

The king guffawed, holding his middle. “Enough, enough! I can take a hint when I’m bludgeoned with one!” He wiped at one wide-set eye and then the other. “Go on, then.” He gestured one of his servants close and gave him instructions.

The king rose to his feet and bowed his farewell, and Rey nodded back at him, internally panicking over whether it was deep enough for their new, friendlier understanding.

He bade her goodnight and gestured for the servant to lead her to her room for the night. Her people fell in behind her, and Rey felt suddenly bone-weary.

It had been a long day.


Rey spared a few minutes for an end-of-day meeting with her staff, but Nalti soon shooed everyone out and helped Rey change out of her gloriously lovely gown and into something more practical for sleeping.

Rey didn’t know where her guards were sleeping, but she only had enough energy to wish she had the energy to ask. Her eyelids drooped, and the door to her room slid shut behind Nalti as the soft pillows swallowed her body like a ridiculously fluffy and colorful cloud.

The universe went silent for a moment, heralding the opening of her bond, and then Ben stood there, hands clasped behind himself, his gaze roving over her as if checking for damage or maybe just to reassure himself that she was there.

Rey smiled. “Hey.”

He let out a breath. “How was your day?”

“Interesting.” She tried to make her fuzzy brain work. There were things she needed to tell him, but pulling them up seemed a little like wading through uneven sand. First things first. “I need you to find someone who can trace a transmission.” There. Good. Rey patted herself on the back for being so clever.

“Of course. There are multiple communications technicians who can–”

Rey shook her head, rubbing her fingers against her scalp. It ached in a good way, finally free of all those decorative hairpins. “Someone discrete.”

He tilted his head to one side. “Very well. May I ask why?”

Rey was too tired to try to be clever again. She took her time, trying to think of how to break the news, and felt his tension growing the longer she delayed. Finally, she said, “Promise you won’t overreact.”

His expression darkened.

She huffed and dropped her head back against the pillows, still rubbing at her scalp. “Nalti has the information you’ll need – I’ll get it to you once you have a technician you trust – but the short of it is… um… the king told me someone told him that I was here to assassinate him.”

She peeked at Ben. He’d gone very still, his posture cold and predatory.

“But he doesn’t know who sent the message, so he gave me the transmission information so we can try to figure that out when I get back.” She yawned, pretending everything was fine and relaxed and normal so that maybe some of it would leech into Ben’s stiff posture.

“Did he know where the transmission originated?” he asked in a deceptively cool voice. “Origin can usually be pulled from the transmission data.”

Rey sighed. She didn’t want to withhold information, but she didn’t want Ben to start a witch-hunt on the Dominance. “What are you going to do if I tell you?”

His eyes met hers, fever bright, and she saw death there.

“I mean, like, how are you going to find whoever it is?” she muttered.

“However necessary,” he replied.

Rey groaned. “Ben, I am too tired to worry about you interrogating people right now. I’ll bring the information home with me. Get some sleep.”

“Rey.”

She’d started to roll away from him onto her side, but she looked back over her shoulder at the sound of her name.

“How am I supposed to sleep after what you just told me?”

Rey understood. He needed to do something, to act. She was the same way, and so she took pity on him. “It came from the Dominance. I’ll get you the details as soon as I can. You find a good tech to pull it apart and see who sent it. Okay?”

His mouth worked and his hands clenched. She knew he wanted to break something – or, more likely, someone.

“I’ll be back before you know it, and we’ll figure this out. Together.”

Rey didn’t know when he disappeared, if she’d blinked to find him gone or if she’d fallen asleep. She only had a moment to feel his loss before sleep dragged her down and kept her.


Rey woke early the next morning and connected immediately to the bond. Ben had been waiting. His technician had made a secure channel for Nalti to send the transmission for decoding, and Rey summmoned Nalti and gave her the information that Ben dictated – careful not to let on that she was getting the information that very second.

Nalti set out the cream-and-lace gown before leaving to send the transmission . “It’s not as remarkable as yesterday’s, but you seem to have made a good impression on the king.”

“Seems so,” Rey said cheerfully. Her mouth twisted into a grimace as she thought about the concessions the First Order wanted. How were they going to find an acceptable agreement?

Flash, the sniper, was on duty with Rude when Rey poked her head out her door and asked for help fastening her dress, and then they had to wait for a servant to take them to the king. During the wait, Rey’s bond flared to life again and Ben let her know that the transmission had been safely received. She smiled but couldn’t talk because she wasn’t alone. Her people stood strategically around the room, alert but more relaxed than the day before.

The servant came just after Nalti returned, and Rey’s people fell in behind her as she was escorted to the king.

Her people stayed outside again, and Rey activated her bracelets and got to work. They worked for hours, sent a new treaty to the Dominance, and worked through lunch after that one was rejected. Leia finally said what they were all thinking, “I think we need to consider giving the First Order more and moving the bulk of your resistance underground. You need time to build resources, especially since the First Order is demanding that you turn over your weapons caches. You won’t be able to give them nothing, which will deplete your stores.”

They continued to brainstorm, and Rey found herself following the back-and-forth better than she’d anticipated.

Finally, just before dinner, they sent the newest treaty to the Dominance and… it wasn’t rejected. Instead, it returned with a selection of alterations which the king and Leia poured over at length. They had dinner brought in.

Abednedo compromised further, and it was late in the evening when the Dominance officially approved the treaty.

The king held the signed copy in his hands, his face weary and sad. “Thank you, my dears. You will never know what your assistance has meant to this old man.”

“I’m only sorry we couldn’t get those bastards to agree to better terms,” said Leia.

“You did your best,” he replied. They had not said so in front of Rey, for some reason trying to absolve her of future guilt, but she knew that the king and Leia planned to continue their strategizing after Rey left. Leia had been given the transmission codes for the king's personal, very secure communications channel.

The king reached and patted Rey’s fingers, his wide-set eyes meeting hers. “I know how much this could cost you, if you are found out. The First Order is not known for its kindness.” He inclined his head to her, a gesture of respect that had nothing to do with rank. “I will keep your secret, child.”

Rey felt tears prick at her eyes and swallowed them back. “Thank you, your majesty.”

They gazed mistily at each other for a moment, and then the king cleared his throat. “Yes, yes. I’m sure you’re tired. I know I am.” He stood as she rose, and the stoop of his back before he straightened made him look his age.

“If you change your mind about that Supreme Leader of yours, I have two grown sons you could choose from. I’d love to have you as a daughter-in-law.”

Rey laughed, taking his proffered arm as they stepped into the hall where her people waited.

“I’m quite serious,” he said, and he smiled down at her.

Rey smiled back. “I know. And thank you.”

Chapter Text

Three trunks of gifts had been delivered to Rey’s rooms by the time she woke up the next morning. Nalti encouraged Rey to put on a traditional Abenedoan gown from a trunk of clothing, since she’d exhausted her own gowns on the trip. The one Nalti held up had multiple parts, Rey found as she let her assistant help her into it. First, a simple red underdress, then a heavy textured robe, all of which cinched at the waist with a wide sash. Patterns covered every inch of the robe and might have overwhelmed Rey except for the clever use of color to mute the effect, and it had a train which dragged on the ground behind Rey. It was a tripping hazard, but it also meant she could increase her stride length if she fisted her hands in the skirts and lifted it an inch or two.

Thankfully, they’d just be boarding a transport back to the Dominance and not attempting to fight off hordes of enemies, and the gown’s design let her wrap it as snugly as necessary around her chest and torso.

Nalti assisted by pinning half of Rey’s hair up with plain pins which disappeared among the brown strands.

Palace servants carried the trunks to Rey’s shuttle, using secret back ways to finish before she and her staff even reached the landing platform.

The king waited for them along with an assortment of nobility. A few younger people stood close to him. “That gown suits you,” he said. He held her hands as they said their quiet goodbyes. “Are you sure you will not stay longer? Perhaps consider marrying one of my sons?” He tilted his head toward two young men to his left.

She smiled at him. “Thank you, but…”

He sighed. “Yes, I know. Your Supreme Leader awaits.”

“Take care of yourself, your majesty.” Rey would miss him. The poignancy of it surprised her.

“You as well, my dear.” Worry creased his broad brow, but he released her when she drew away.

Rey led her people onto the shuttle, fastened herself into the pilot’s chair, and ran through the ship’s pre-flight sequence. As the engines warmed up, she grinned at the view in front of her and waved a friendly goodbye to the king. Over her shoulder, she checked that everyone was strapped in and the hatch was closed. She couldn’t help the smile that lit her face. “Let’s go home.”

The shuttle lifted smoothly, and Rey almost hummed to herself with the combined pleasures of flying and getting to see Ben in just a few short minutes.

Though she’d seen him through their bond, it didn’t hold a candle to the warmth of his arms around her or the scent of his skin. She’d be able to kiss him, and her skin sang with anticipation.

It wasn’t until they were almost through the atmosphere that things went wrong.

The shuttle lurched and sputtered. Rey checked her readouts, looking for the source of the problem as the engines reengaged, sending them parallel to the planet’s surface as the navigation struggled to kick back in.

Rey took manual control, smoothing their path deftly as she searched for a place to make an emergency landing. They’d gone too far from the palace to head back there.

The engines coughed, going offline for an instant, dropping them several feet, then shuddered back to life.

Rey didn’t have time to find a good spot. She spotted a wide space – some sort of pavilion or town square which abutted seven buildings of various size and shape, standing like drunken sentinels around the space.

Large enough for a crash landing, Rey decided. She just had to avoid hitting any of those buildings and hope the people in the pavilion saw her in time to run.

Rey struggled to impose her will over the malfunctioning ship, reining it in just in time for the engines to cut out and drop them another few feet. They’d begun a tailspin, and Rey heard the unpleasant sound of someone retching behind her.

She threw out her senses, ignoring the sound of Nalti screaming, and focused everything she had on getting her people safely to the ground.

Dive, spin, engines on, pull up, shunt to one side, don’t hit that building, and–

When the world stopped shaking, it was dark. The shuttle’s emergency lights glowed, bathing the interior in red. For a moment, as Rey blinked out the front window, she couldn’t figure out what she was looking at, but then it occurred to her – rocks. Rocks and dirt.

They were underground.

Dazed, Rey powered the engines down and took stock of herself before unbuckling to check on everyone else. 

They’d landed askew, the entire ship listing to one side so that the floor tilted beneath her feet. Rey tested her purchase before letting go of her chair and stumbling toward the armored figures in the small craft’s rear.

“Is everyone okay?”

Shaky affirmatives reached her.

“Nalti’s passed out,” said Rude, already out of his seat to test her pulse. “Someone hand me the med kit.”

Rey lurched to Rude’s side and took Nalti’s other hand in her own.

“Probably just the g-force,” he explained, accepting the med kit from Stone and opening it up. “She hasn’t been conditioned to stay awake through it.” He glanced up at Rey as if remembering that she was supposed to be his first priority. “Are you injured, ma'am?”

Rey shook her head. She had a few nasty bruises where the safety harness had cut into her, maybe a scrape or two, but nothing which needed urgent attention. “Take care of her.”

Rude did as bade, patching Nalti’s cut with bacta and easing her out of her harness.

“Someone get the hatch open,” Rey said, helping Rude catch Nalti as she slumped between them.

Rowdy sat closest, so he unbuckled, moved carefully the few steps up to the release lever, and pulled. The back hatch lowered a few feet and then made a painful grinding noise as the tilted edge butted up against more stone and dirt.

The rest of Rey’s guards released their harnesses and made their way carefully to survey outside the ship. Graves and Flash slunk out first and called back that it looked pretty stable.

The two of them created a perimeter as Ash dropped down to help ease Nalti out of the ship. Once Nalti was safe with Ash, Rude landed beside them and immediately helped carry the unconscious girl out of the way.

Rey dropped easily down next, rolling her eyes at Stone’s protest behind her, and walked far enough from the shuttle to evaluate their situation. They’d crashed through the surface into the underground network of tunnel dens.

“Well,” she said, hands on her hips. “That was fun.”

“Fun like a barrel of rocks, ma'am,” agreed Rowdy.

A groan pulled Rey’s attention to the prone figure on the ground. Rude responded immediately, telling Nalti not to sit up too quickly.

Rey surveyed her people. They stood tense and ready, on edge. Rey didn’t know what the right move was, here, but she thought they ought to find a safe spot to wait for the local authorities to show up.

Mind made up, Rey opened her mouth to say just that when a disturbance rolled across her consciousness, changing her words into a harsh command.

“MOVE!”

Rey shoved those nearest her toward a convenient side tunnel. A single Force pull yanked Rude and Nalti the last few feet to safety when their ship exploded in a hail of sharp debris.

The tunnel they’d just been in collapsed.

Graves cried out sharply, and Rude was by his side in an instant, helping him put pressure where a piece of falling rock had cut into his leg.

“That wasn’t us,” said Flash, her weapon at the ready and her head on a swivel. “That wasn’t our ship – someone fired on it.”

“I agree,” said Rey. She took stock of everyone. Their armor had been dusted with dirt, but they mostly seemed whole.

“We should get out of this area, ma’am,” said Stone, looming at Rey’s elbow. The pikeman, Thorn, approached her other side.

“Can Graves be moved?” she asked Rude.

“As soon as I stop the bleeding,” he replied. He’d removed the armor around the wound and cut a hole in Graves’ black undersuit, exposing the torn flesh. Ash dropped on the other side, handing Rude things from the med kit.

Rey had a moment’s pause when she saw that he’d grabbed it and brought it with them. He’d also been the first to identify Nalti in the ship and Graves just now, and the first to help.

The beginnings of a thought took root in Rey’s mind.

“We’ll move her ladyship,” said Stone. “You can catch up with us.”

“I’m fine,” Rey said. “We can wait.”

“Due respect, ma'am, you’re our first priority.”

Rude spoke without turning from his work. “He’s right, ma’am. You need to go. We’ll find you.”

Graves, his face hidden by his helmet, nodded.

Rey went to Nalti and lifted her with a shoulder under her arm. Rowdy went to take the other side, but Nalti assured him she was fine so he joined Flash and Valkyrie at the corridor’s only remaining exit.

“Okay,” Rey said. “We’ll take this right and then the first left and find a building to hunker down in. Meet us as soon as you can. Stone? You stay and help with Graves.”

For the first time, Rey appreciated the training that made her people obey without question. She couldn’t see Stone’s face, but his posture went rigid with displeasure.

Rey used her free hand to lift her slightly-too-long skirt so she wouldn’t get her feet tangled in it and helped Nalti shuffle quickly toward the open end of the passageway. “Do you have it?” she whispered.

“Yes,” replied Nalti. Rey had given Nalti her lightsaber for safekeeping that morning. “Give me a second.” Rey stopped when the other young woman pulled her arm away and dug inside her jacket. She handed the weapon to Rey, who stuffed it into her belt, and they continued forward, nudging her people to the right when she joined them.

They hadn’t reached the first left when they started taking fire.

Flash shouldered her rifle and took out two of the shooters in the time it took Rey to pull her weapon free and light it.

“We need to take cover!” yelled Rowdy, shooting back as Flash picked off another. Rey tugged Nalti into a nearby alcove and the guards crowded in, covering them.

“What about the others?” asked Nalti, craning her neck to look back.

“They won’t walk into an active shootout,” Rowdy assured her between blasts.

“I’m concerned about the way they took out our shuttle,” Valkyrie shouted over the sound of blaster fire.

Flash turned her head. “Yeah, I was thinking about that, too. That was heavy ammunition. If they hit this hallway with the same amount of firepower, it’ll come down on top of us.”

“We have to close the distance,” said Thorn, blaster in hand. He had a pike strapped to his back, but he couldn’t use it at this range.

“I can help with that,” said Rey, releasing Nalti. The other young woman leaned against the alcove wall, but she already seemed steadier on her feet. She nodded encouragement to Rey.

“I don’t see how, unless you plan to be a human shield,” yelled Flash.

“Hey, Rowdy,” called Rey as she tugged her lightsaber out of her waistband. “You remember what I told you about Kylo Ren’s scar?”

He stopped blasting around the corner long enough to turn and look at her.

Blue light reflected off his helmet as she lit her weapon and grinned. “Wanna see how I did it?”

Hiking her skirt with her free hand, Rey lunged into the corridor, opening herself to the Force as plasma blasts fell around her, her weapon flashing with bursts of deflected power. Rey’s movements were liquid as she pushed forward into the enemy onslaught, gaining enough ground that the attackers tried to fall back.

Rey wasn’t having it. With a battle cry, she raised her lightsaber and charged, feeling the life signatures of her people keeping pace behind her. She both saw and felt an enemy snuffed out by Flash’s rifle, the sniper picking off another before they closed and began hand-to-hand combat.

Thorn took one in a single fluid pike thrust, and Valkyrie broke the neck of another after flipping him to his back. Rowdy shot another point-blank in the face and punched that one’s comrade hard enough to break his nose.

Two went for Rey, and she plunged her saber through the heart of the first while Flash and Pike finished the second in tandem.

Once the enemies lay dead around them, Rey had a moment to examine their clothing. They wore goggles and cloaks, obscuring their faces. As Rey’s team tried to identify them, she saw that they were of different races, all with a small black star tattooed below their left eye.

“Castellian pirates,” said Thorn, kneeling beside one of the fallen. “What are they doing on Abednedo?”

“Someone sent them,” said Rey. It was a guess but an educated one. Someone had already put her in danger once. When that failed, they might have decided on a more direct route.

Thorn’s head snapped up as if scenting blood. “The king?”

Rey shook her head. “No.” She couldn’t entirely discount the king, but her instincts said this wasn’t him, and she trusted her instincts.

“Money,” said Flash suddenly. “For a mission this dangerous, someone promised them a hell of a lot of money. No one is stupid enough to attack a high value First Order target without a very fat bankroll.”

Rey nudged one of the bodies with her foot. “We should’ve left one alive to question.”

“Unfortunately, we’ll probably encounter more,” said Rowdy, moving to Rey’s flank and examining the corridor for movement. Anyone not interested in having their head blown off would probably hunker down until the violence blew over. “Let’s get out of here before more show up.”

Nalti wasn’t with them. Rey glanced back the way they’d come and saw her peeking around the edge of the alcove.

The tall, brown-haired girl stepped out into the corridor as she caught Rey’s eye, hands hugging her elbows and eyes widening at the sight of dead bodies – and then an instant flare of light, hitting Rey’s eyes before the tell-tale sound of a blaster caught up with her ears, and Nalti fell.

Rey found herself racing down the corridor, her lightsaber in hand and a scream of pure rage on her lips as she leapt past her fallen friend and swatted blaster fire away like so many gnats, barely cognizant of the hand holding her skirt out of the way or the effort of her sprint, every molecule of her body focused on snuffing out the sparks of life in front of her.

It felt good – too good – to destroy the bastards who’d cut down Nalti. Rey lunged among them with mindless ferocity, letting the Force move her through them, cutting each down, death personified.

A rifle blast from behind Rey cut down a pirate to her right in a single shot, and then her pike-master and brawler and whatever-the-hell Valkyrie was caught up and subdued the remaining enemies.

They left one alive, and Rey had to hold herself back from cutting his head off as Rowdy bared the captive’s face to her.

“Who hired you?” she asked hoarsely, only then recognizing the salty wet taste on her lips as tears.

The pirate shook his head. “I don’t know.”

Rey shoved her lightsaber through his eye socket.

Nalti!

The sound of Rude’s voice made Rey turn. Stone and Ash half-carried Graves, who kept his weight off his bandaged leg as he limped between them.

Rude had abandoned them and skidded to a stop beside Nalti, turning her with gentle hands, the med kit abandoned beside him.

A moan, low and so filled with pain it was barely human, echoed through the subterranean corridor.

“Nalti,” whispered Rey, rushing to Rude’s side as the trooper opened the med kit. Rey knelt at Nalti’s head, hands brushing the hair from her soot-stained face, and tried not to look at the scorched arm Rude examined.

Rey’s hands trembled. She thought for a moment that Nalti was unconscious because she didn’t scream when Rude touched her blackened limb, but her eyes were wide and glassy and staring up at Rey.

“You’re okay,” Rey whispered furiously. “You’re okay. You just got knocked down, you’re fine. Some bruises in the morning, maybe a headache.”

Rude drew something from the med kit and injected Nalti in the neck. Her lashes immediately fluttered, and her glassy gaze disappeared behind closed eyelids.

“Get us out of here,” Rude barked, shoving the med kit into Rowdy’s hands before lifting Nalti into his arms. “I can’t do anything for her here,” he explained in a low, clipped tone.

Rey nodded and went down the first side corridor she could find. She began taking turns at random, her only thought to get as far from the crash site as possible so she and her people could recuperate.

They stumbled into a populated area, families peeking out from individual underground dens, the network of tunnels and burrows not unlike a hive. Rey led them through, not wanting to get civilians caught up in her trouble.

The tunnel system made no sense, but Rey hoped that would work in their favor and throw off the pirates hunting them. Every turn seemed to take them lower, deeper below the planet’s surface, but Rey didn’t stop until she spread her senses out and found no life nearby. She hunted until she found an old storage area that was still in use but hadn’t seen foot traffic for some time.

She led her people inside and moved crates into the doorway with the help of the able-bodied. Graves sat in a corner, his injured leg stretched out in front of him. Rude crouched beside a prone Nalti, helmet off as he checked her life signs and smoothed bacta across the damaged flesh of her arm.

“How is she?” Rey asked gently.

“She could lose the arm.” Rude ran a hand across his face, fine tremors running through his fingers. “She didn’t feel me touching it in the corridor – that means third degree burns. The nerves have been destroyed.” He took a deep breath and dropped his hand, eyes locked on Nalti’s unconscious face. “The biggest risk right now is infection. She needs a med bay and a surgical droid, not some stormtrooper half-assing his way through field dressing.”

“Hey,” said Rey, putting a hand on his armored shoulder, “it’s not your fault. Do what you can and let the rest of us concentrate on how to get out of here.”

He nodded, took a deep breath which seemed to steady his hands, and continued treating the unconscious woman.

The rest of Rey’s guards gathered in a different corner, leaving the wounded to Rude, and Rey joined them. She leaned against the dirt wall, her lightsaber off but in her hand in case of attack. The adrenaline that had been pumping through her system started to fade, leaving her shaky and worried.

“What are we going to do now?” asked Valkyrie quietly.

“We need to get out of here,” said Thorn. “Our best bet is to get to a communications console and contact the Dominance.”

Rey cursed, feeling the urge to slap a hand over her face. She tucked her lightsaber away and fiddled with the ring on her opposite hand, twisting the flower-like base and pressing down on the gem in the center until she felt it click. “I had an emergency beacon on me,” she explained to her baffled guards, waving her ring at them. “It’s on now.”

“That should do it,” said Thorn.

“I should have activated it the moment we crashed,” said Rey, annoyed with herself. She remembered why she hadn’t – she’d thought she could handle the aftermath of something as simple as a crash – but she couldn’t justify not taking two seconds to activate it when they’d been taking fire in the alcove.

She’d been distracted, sure, but… she’d promised Ben she’d use it if she ran into trouble.

She closed her eyes and let her head fall back against the wall. “He’ll be here soon.” The thought shouldn’t have brought her as much comfort as it did. He would cut through any lingering pirates with merciless rage, would destroy anything between him and Rey. She knew it, and she counted on it. She had to get Nalti help as soon as possible.

It was Stone who broke her out of her thoughts by asking, “Who will, ma’am?”

She opened her eyes, confused. Wasn’t it obvious? “Kylo Ren. Kylo Ren is coming.”

Chapter Text

Valkyrie had a pack of cards on her which they used to pass the time. Graves even moved to their corner to join in, a distraction from his leg. He’d refused pain medication because he wanted to stay sharp.

Rude remained by Nalti, even though there wasn’t much else he could do for her. He just sat there and stared helplessly at her breathing.

Rey knew Nalti might die. She’d seen burns on Jakku, scavengers who’d gotten hold of an unstable piece of equipment. She’d heard about those too stupid or too poor to seek proper medical treatment, how rot set into the wound and ate their life away in agonizing inches.

Rey felt Ben the moment he made landfall, his turmoil churning the Force into a whirlwind. His presence was so huge, so tumultuous, she doubted she would have been able to miss it, and it only grew closer.

“Where the fuck are you?”

Rey jumped, cards falling from her hand as her bond slammed open. The others stared, and she told them to continue without her as she rose and moved to another corner of the room, behind some crates.

Rey kept her voice down so it wouldn’t carry. She knew he’d hear her no matter the noise level of his surroundings. “Underground. We went downhill for a while.”

“I found your shuttle,” he said, darkness pulsing through him so thickly she could almost see it.

Rey winced. She hadn’t seen the wreckage herself, but it couldn’t have been pretty. She wondered if he’d thought she was trapped inside. “Someone hired Castellian pirates to attack us. I can’t prove it, but I think that same someone sabotaged my shuttle.” She flicked her gaze up to meet his. “We have two wounded, and Nalti needs a surgeon. Her arm is…” Rey swallowed her emotions back, “it’s bad, Ben.”

“You think it’s the person we’re hunting?”

Rey nodded firmly. “Too much coincidence for it not to be.”

“I agree.”

They looked at each other in perfect understanding. Whoever this mysterious enemy was, he or she had attacked the wrong fucking people. They’d almost killed Nalti, and they were still trying to kill Rey.

Neither she nor Ben would forgive them.

“You’ll probably need a local guide,” she added. “The twists and turns of this place… I couldn’t keep track, but we’re in a small storage room a ways down. Not many civilians in this area.” In case they had to fight again. She didn’t need to say the words, he’d understand.

His dark eyes dragged over her, taking in every bruise and cut, every grimy patch of dust or blood, as if storing them away. “I’ll find you,” he promised, and he was gone.

Rey rejoined the card game, trying not to think about time ticking away on Nalti’s injuries.

“You’re a good fighter,” said Flash suddenly. The sniper didn’t take her gaze off her cards.

“Thank you.”

Flash set a card down as deliberately and carefully as her next words. “The Supreme Leader likes you.”

Rey saw the others tense. Did they expect Rey to be angry? She supposed Flash was stepping wildly out of bounds for First Order protocol and briefly imagined how Watt or Hux or any of the officers who’d briefed her on Abednedo would react to a stormtrooper talking to them like this.

Probably not well.

Rey shrugged and waited as Ash set down a card. It wasn’t as if they hadn’t all seen the kiss in the shuttle. “Yes.”

“You said something about his scar,” Flash probed further. “Before the fight.”

Rey nodded, eyes on her cards as she casually set one down. Hers wasn’t a strong hand, but she didn’t mind. They weren’t playing for stakes. “I gave it to him. On Starkiller base.”

They all looked at her. Even Rowdy and Ash hadn’t known she’d been on Starkiller.

Oh well.

“Right before my friends blew it up.” For good measure, because she’d already damned herself, she added, “It was an abomination. Just like the creature that made it.”

“You’re Resistance,” breathed Graves, sounding stricken.

Rey considered and felt… sad. “I’m not sure what I am anymore.”

“You aren’t First Order?” asked Flash.

“If I am, then I’m very bad at it.” Rey watched Valkyrie set down a card. No one seemed to be paying much attention to the game anymore, only going through the motions to keep from having to look at each other.

Flash’s turn. She played her hand and lost. Valkyrie collected everyone’s cards and shuffled to deal again.

“Is he marrying you because you’re strong?” Flash asked.

“He offered to teach me because I’m strong. I turned him down.”

Flash’s helmet turned sharply in Rey’s direction, and Rey realized she’d just admitted to being Force sensitive. “Really.”

“I went to study with a Jedi, instead.” She shrugged. “It didn’t work out.”

“You’re a Jedi?” said Rowdy, entering the conversation for the first time. He tilted his head to one side as if to examine her. “And you’re marrying the Jedi Killer?”

Rey didn’t know exactly what to say to that, so she addressed the flawed assumption. “I’m not a real Jedi. Not a proper one, at any rate.”

Flash hadn’t turned away from examining Rey, even though Valkyrie had dealt everyone a new hand. As Rey picked up her cards, the sniper spoke. It wasn’t an accusation or even idle curiosity – it seemed as if Flash was trying to puzzle Rey out, and Rey found that she didn’t mind someone trying to understand her better.

“Are you marrying him for power?”

Rey laughed. She couldn’t help herself. Of all the things Ben had offered her, power had been the least tempting. “No.” She grinned and wiped a nonexistant tear from her eye. “I mean, he did offer me the galaxy on a silver platter, and I suppose that would work very well on most girls, but no. I don’t want the galaxy or even the First Order. I spent fifteen years on a desert planet, on my own, by choice. I stayed and I endured because I thought–” Rey stopped and shook her head. They didn’t need to know why. “No. I’m marrying him because I love him. I’d rather have him without the galactic domination part, but…” She let the sentence trail off.

But. That was the part that hurt, that kept her from fully enjoying her new life. Galactic domination was part of the package. Maybe it wouldn’t be some day, but Rey couldn’t count on that, couldn’t give into the delusion that things would change if she only pressed hard enough.

She had to accept the possibility that he would continue as Supreme Leader for the rest of their lives and that she would endure at his side, only ever almost happy.

Maybe she should have said no when he asked her to join him in Snoke’s body-strewn throne room. Refused to bargain, held her ground, and returned to the shattered Resistance to keep fighting. But she hadn’t. Had she given up? Compromised her principles? Did every breath on the Dominance constitute a betrayal of everything she was?

Rey… wasn’t sure.

“You’re very odd,” said Flash, pulling Rey out of her thoughts. It didn’t sound like an insult. Rey supposed that stormtroopers didn’t meet many people whose aspirations had to do with personal happiness, and so they had no framework by which to measure her. In their world, she would rate as odd, a statistical outlier.

Rey smiled wryly. “That’s not always a bad thing.”

Flash shrugged noncommittally.

“You shouldn’t be asking her ladyship so many questions,” Stone muttered to Flash.

“It’s okay,” said Rey gently. “You can ask. If there’s something I don’t want to answer, I’ll let you know.”

Stone didn’t reply, and she felt as if he still disapproved.

Rey glanced toward Nalti, the one who usually told her when she’d said too much. “I do ask that you keep anything I say to yourselves, though. And anything you see. You have more access than most, and I… can’t always tell when I’ve said something stupid.”

“We know how to keep our mouths closed,” said Graves, shifting his injured leg with a grunt.

Rey smiled at him. “If you didn’t, Ben wouldn’t have recommended you.” Then she sighed at herself for opening her big mouth yet again. “Right. Ben is his real name. That’s another ‘keep it to yourself’ thing.”

Graves nodded without comment.

“We’re not the ones you should worry about, anyhow,” said Valkyrie. “Desomma is privy to everyone’s gossip.”

Rey’s brows rose.

“She tailors for everyone. The officers, visiting dignitaries, the Supreme Leader, everyone. And she hears everything. Anyone who knows gossip knows that she has the juiciest tidbits, and certain people know how to get things out of her – especially things that don’t seem important.”

“We’ll call it the second rule of working for you,” said Rowdy amiably. “Keep our fucking mouths shut.”

The others nodded.

He chuckled. “And the third is, ‘Don’t call the Supreme Leader by his real name.’”

Rey snorted, relieved to have the tension broken and thankful for Rowdy’s complete disregard of propriety.

After that, they focused on the card game. Rey wished they would take their helmets off so she could see their faces, not least because it was damned hard to read their reactions to the cards, but they preferred to remain battle-ready and Rey couldn’t argue with that.

Within the next hour, the weight of Ben’s presence moved closer, a storm of fury and worry and poorly sated bloodlust. The knowledge that he was there, that he would cut through their enemies to reach her, provided her with a twisted sort of comfort.

And then everything went to shit.

Again.

The explosion wasn’t as close this time, but it left enough dust in the air that Rey removed her robe and wrapped the belt around her nose and mouth. Ash went to check what had happened, Flash providing backup, and they returned with bad news.

The tunnels they’d used had been collapsed. Rey felt a brief shot of panic and checked for Ben, soothed to feel him still there, fresh rage sending eddies through their bond.

“We can’t stay here any longer,” said Ash. “I don’t know how stable these tunnels are after that blast, and we’re sitting ducks if the enemy finds us.”

Rey nodded and bade Valkyrie to cut the hem from the red undergown – she didn’t want to be encumbered if they had to fight again – which the other woman did after she put her cards away.

Rude hoisted Nalti into his arms, his helmet back on to filter out the dust in the air.

As they all gathered at the exit, Rowdy said, “Let’s find a way out of this hellhole.”

“Let’s,” agreed Rey.

Rey let someone else lead, casting out with her senses for danger and letting those without watering eyes do the navigating. She was grateful that the explosions hadn’t knocked out the power to the underground lights, their yellow glow a comfort. She didn’t know if any of her people had night-vision technology, but she didn’t relish the idea of walking through the tunnels blind.

Not twenty minutes into their trek, they stopped at a major hub to hunker down and discuss which way to go. Rey probed each direction with the Force, checking again on Ben who’d grown further away as her people moved, and found that she only felt armed opposition in one direction.

When she told her people, Rude wanted to go in a different direction, but Graves insisted that through the enemy was probably the fastest way topside.

“I agree,” Rey said. “If we take this batch of bastards out, we can probably find a way out from there.”

“Not we,” said Graves, pulling himself to stand on his damaged leg. “I’ve got this one.”

Rey frowned. “Not a chance. You’re injured.”

He chuckled shortly. “You showed us what you can do, ma’am. Let me show you what I can do.”

Flash, who seemed to know Graves better than the others did, nodded. “Let him try, ma’am.”

Rey looked between the two of them, but she knew that kind of resolve. There was no arguing with it. “If you get yourself killed–“

“–you can kick my corpse,” Graves finished for her. “Just point me in the right direction and give me a decent head start before you follow. I won’t be moving as fast as I usually do.”

Rey obliged, and they watched him limp off, leaning heavily against the wall as he moved. Rey wondered aloud if they should have sent someone with him.

“No,” said Flash. “He works better alone.” She turned her head toward Rey, her rifle held at the ready. “I’ve only heard stories about him, you know? GV-6606. The special ops guys I worked with talked like he was some sort of legend. If the Supreme Leader singled him out, I’m inclined to think the stories are true – some of them, at least.”

“What kinds of stories?” whispered Rowdy, as if speaking at a normal volume would draw the wrong kind of attention.

Flash tilted her head to one side. “Their favorites were how a captain would send him into enemy camps in the dead of night. They wouldn’t hear a sound, not a single scream, but when he comes back, they’re all dead, every last one.”

Rey shivered. Had Ben really placed a killer on her guard roster? She wouldn’t put it past him. In fact, the more she thought about it, the more like him it sounded. Of course he’d arm her with a stone cold killer, someone to cover her when he couldn’t.

They waited quietly, Rey stretching her ears and her Force sense. She felt civilians huddled into their homes, terrified, and she felt Graves as a slow-moving spark working his way upward. She focused on him and the cluster of enemies lying in wait as he closed the gap.

Fifteen minutes passed, then half an hour, her every muscle strung tight, and finally one of those enemy sparks went out. Then a second. A third. The deaths came so fast after that, Rey couldn’t quite comprehend it, but soon she felt only the one familiar presence in their stead.

“Okay,” said Rey quietly. “He’s done.”

The others looked at her but didn’t argue, and Rey relaxed enough to let her bond snap into place. Ben had been trying to establish it since the cave-in, but she hadn’t had any attention to spare.

“Rey.”

She glanced at him, flushing with the relief of seeing him whole and unharmed, if dirtier than last time. The explosion had left him covered in a fine layer of debris, showing stark on his black clothing and dulling his pale skin, but his eyes still gleamed dark and intense, unclouded. He used those eyes to check her for injuries, his jaw flexing with either concern or relief, maybe both.

“Flash takes point,” she said, glancing back to her people. “Ash takes the rear. I want Rude to check Graves for injuries once we get to his location.” Rude nodded, kneeling beside Nalti, ready to lift her the moment they got the order to move. He’d injected her with a second sedative as they waited, in case the first wore off, and her breathing looked peaceful, if not entirely even. “We’re going to go quick and quiet until we find an exit. Hopefully, backup will be waiting topside so we don’t walk into an ambush.”

“Consider it done,” Ben said softly, his deep voice reverberating through the air to her ears.

Rey let out a breath she hadn’t known she’d been holding. She closed her eyes and gave herself a moment, just a moment, to enjoy the comfort of her bond, and then she let it slip away.

She fixed the relevant passage with a hard look. “Let’s go.”


Because Rey’s Force sense was so open, she felt something else.

She moved beside Stone and spoke in a low voice. “You’re angry with me.”

He didn’t reply right away. “It’s not my place to have feelings, ma’am.”

“It’s okay. I understand.”

“Do you?” he asked stiffly.

“I made you stay behind after the crash.”

He didn’t deny it.

She glanced up at him, the smooth helmet giving nothing away. “They couldn’t take care of the wounded and protect themselves, and Rude is a terrible shot. He told me so himself.” She pursed her lips. “I needed to know they were safe, and you’re the best at keeping others safe. Or am I wrong?”

His head jerked a little, somewhere between a nod and a shake. “I couldn’t say, ma’am.”

She looked at the dirt path in front of their feet. “Thank you,” she finally said, and his step faltered in surprise. “You did something I couldn’t, and I know it wasn’t what you wanted. So thank you. I’m grateful.”

He cleared his throat. “Just following orders, ma’am.” But she could tell he appreciated the words.

She wondered if he’d ever been thanked before or if it was another thing stormtroopers were denied. She wished she could ask Finn.

The thought of her best friend sent a pang through her. She’d be married soon, and he wouldn’t be there for it, probably didn’t even want to be there, probably thought she was betraying everything they’d fought for, compromising herself by giving her future to Kylo Ren and the First Order.

Rey didn’t quite recognize herself anymore.

The thought depressed her.

Not just the thought that Finn would be disappointed in her, but the realization that she would make Ben a terrible wife. No, not Ben, she corrected. The Supreme Leader of the First Order. She loved Ben, but in the context of the First Order, she was still a former Resistance member. She would cause him no end of headaches.

She was a terrible choice. Possibly the worst choice.

She shook her maudlin thoughts off when they reached Graves, her concern taking priority. Rude checked him and applied fresh bacta to his leg, which had begun to bleed through the bandages. A few minor abrasions on Graves’ face could wait until they reached the surface – Rude wanted to keep as much bacta on hand as possible for further injuries as well as Nalti’s arm. Enough bacta over a long enough period could heal the nerves and burnt flesh, but they didn’t have an unlimited supply with them.

She watched Rude as he re-bandaged Graves’ leg. The door beside Graves had been closed, but she could smell something unpleasant beyond.

“I wouldn’t,” Graves said quickly when she reached for the handle.

She looked at him, into his cold fathomless eyes.

“They killed the family before they set up in there. You don’t want to see that.”

Rey withdrew her hand, feeling it shake, and stepped warily away from the door.

Graves let his head fall back against the wall and closed his eyes.

“You’re a killer,” she said.

He nodded but didn’t open his eyes. “That I am.”

She watched him as Rude finished his wrapping and packed up the medical supplies. When Rude moved away, she asked, “Are you able to work with others?”

One side of his mouth turned up, and his eyes slitted open. “It’s not my strongest suit, but I can be a team player. Why?”

“I’d like everyone to train together. With me. In case something like this happens again. I don’t want to be second-guessing each other, and I’ve neglected my own training.”

He nodded. “Sure. We all had to train with our squads coming up.”

“Good to know.” She glanced at the others. “When you’re able to move, we’ll keep going. I don’t sense any more pirates nearby.”

He shrugged and started to stand. “I’m good now.” Rey grabbed his forearm to keep him from stumbling, though he didn’t seem to need it.

Ash approached and took over, slinging Graves’ arm over her shoulders and her own around his waist so that he could keep his weight off his injured leg. “I’ve got him, ma’am.”

Rey spoke softly, but they all heard her. “Let’s move out.”

Chapter Text

A unit of stormtroopers met them before they reached the exit, and the unit leader filled Rey in as he guided them upward.

According to him, Kylo Ren had sent squadrons into each of the underground entrances to eliminate hostiles and try to intercept Rey. He hadn’t gone back underground himself because no one knew which exit she would be coming out of, and he hadn’t wanted to concentrate forces on the wrong one. However, he had tracked down and slaughtered almost a dozen pirates when they found Rey’s wrecked shuttle, his rage threatening to collapse the tunnels on top of himself and the troops with him – here, the unit leader admitted that he hadn’t been on that mission but his friend had been, so he had a firsthand account – and the trembling of the earth was what triggered the landmine further down, destroying the portion of the tunnels they’d needed.

When they emerged into daylight, Rey blinked and held a hand to shade her eyes, stunned to realize it was still morning. The entire misadventure had taken a few hours at most.

It had felt so much longer.

Their escort hurried them toward a large open courtyard, moving a little too fast for Rey’s wounded. From the unit leader’s continued chatter, she got the impression that his troop would be rewarded for being the ones to find her.

On the righthand side of the courtyard, a squadron of stormtroopers pointed their weapons at four subdued pirates who had been bound and forced into a kneeling position.

General Hux stood stiffly near the captives, and Rey had to pass close enough to him that he could mutter, “Did you roll in every pile of dirt you crossed?” His own uniform was pristine, but his right arm was in a sling, and Rey noted a bruise on his pasty cheekbone that hadn’t been there when she’d left.

Rey took all of this in even as her attention locked onto the black-clad man striding toward her from the far side of the open space, his sweeping cape picked up by a slight breeze.

Rey stopped and drank Ben in in all his filthy glory. His clothes were dirty, his hair was mussed, and he had blood and dirt smudged across his cheek.

He looked wonderful.

Rey burst into a run and found herself herself caught up in his arms even as she hurled herself bodily at him.

Safe.

Ben’s heart pounded wildly against her cheek, and Rey bit back a happy sigh, turning her head so that she could watch Rude carrying Nalti to the nearby medical shuttle. She resisted the urge to follow. They didn’t need another body in the way.

Graves followed Rude at a limping pace, waving Ash’s assistance away. The others formed a loose perimeter around Rey and Ben, continuing to protect her even in the obvious net of safety.

Rey tried to take a step back, but Ben’s arms tightened around her.

“No.”

Rey relented and relaxed into his embrace, getting Ash’s attention with a hand motion. When the other woman approached, Rey told her, “See that everyone gets checked out in med bay once we get back to the Dominance, then take the rest of the day off. I don’t want to see any of you until after dinner.”

“Yes, ma’am.” She returned to her position.

She glanced up at Ben’s face. “Go ahead. Say it.”

“You do know that their job is to be by your side at all times, yes?”

She shrugged. “I think I can manage to survive a few hours on my own. Besides, they’ve earned a break.”

He sighed, and she knew he was biting back the urge to explain their place to her. She didn’t need the Force or their bond to tell, she could just read him.

The realization made her smile against his dirty tunic.

She turned her head until she caught sight of the captured pirates and injured general. She indicated the latter with a tilt of her head. “What happened to him?”

“He annoyed me.”

Though curious, she let the matter settle. Too many ears around, and too many eyes on them.

After a moment, he murmured, “Let’s get you home,” and guided her toward an Upsilon-class command shuttle. Rey’s eyes widened when she saw it, and she paused inside to ogle the instrument panels and sensor arrays. The shuttle she’d been given to fly to Abednedo had been a simple transport ship. This had all sorts of bells and whistles her fingers itched to explore. “Another time,” he promised, nudging her toward the passenger compartment.

Rey sighed and let herself be nudged, gaze lingering on the sleek panels before the passenger compartment’s door slid closed behind her, cutting off the beautiful sight.

Ben’s mouth crashed down on hers, his body pressing her against the door. His hands ran up and down her sides as if he couldn’t decide where to settle them. He tasted like dirt and sweat, and Rey knew she probably tasted the same, but it didn’t stop them. His lips parted, and Rey followed suit, their tongues meeting and tangling with more desperation than finesse.

This wasn’t a seduction, it was pure unthinking need. Rey wrapped her arms around his neck and lifted a leg, only slightly hampered by her skirt, and he reached down and pushed the fabric above her knee, halfway up her thigh, his gloved palm rubbing boldly over the bared skin and leaving goosebumps in its wake.

When they stopped to breathe, Rey rested her ear against his chest and listened to his heart beating equally as hard as her own. Ben burrowed his nose in her hair and said, “Let’s never do that again.”

One side of her mouth turned up. “Kiss or get attacked by pirates?”

“Be apart.”

Rey burrowed deeper against him. “Not for a while,” she agreed.

He leaned down to run his hand up her thigh, over the skirt that had fallen back into place, and kissed her grimy neck. Rey touched the blood on his cheek. “Is that yours, or…?”

“Not mine,” he said, his breath on her skin making her shiver.

“Ben,” she murmured, tugging his head back as he tried to kiss behind her ear. His eyes were dark, the pupils blown wide. “I’m disgusting. I need a shower.”

His hand snaked to the juncture between her legs, pressing over the fabric of her skirt. He lowered his head again as he rocked his gloved hand against her, his lips pressing to her skin as his movements below sparked her senses. His voice was as low and velvety dark as she’d ever heard it. “How about a bath? I could join you.”

If he did, they’d never make it to the wedding night. If he didn’t take her in that ridiculously large tub, she would take him. She knew she wouldn’t be able to resist, not after being away from him for so long and this new urgency in the way he touched her. She was tempted to wrap her legs around him right there in the shuttle, with people preparing for takeoff on the other side of the door, and beg him to fuck her.

He probably would.

Rey groaned and told herself not to imagine it, not to think about it. She needed to move away so she could think, but her body wouldn’t obey her. It wanted to wrap around him, pull him inside, arch and pant against him.

Ben’s groan filled the whole compartment. “I want it, too,” he whispered.

Rey found her fantasies interrupted – and her body cooled enough to separate from Ben’s – by an unlikely savior.

“Open the door!” yelled General Hux, banging on it with a fist.

Ben’s jaw clenched as he released her, and he leveled a glare toward the voice. “I’m going to break his other arm.”

Rey laughed and went to the panel to unlock the door, wondering when Ben had had time to lock it in the first place. When she’d been distracted by the ship’s electronics? While they’d been kissing?

The door hissed open and Hux strode in, scowling suspiciously at both of them. “It’s rude to lock people out,” he said and took one of the open seats.

Ben sat across from the general and pulled Rey onto his lap. She sat stiffly, uncomfortable showing affection in front of the horrible man, but Ben didn’t take any further liberties, and she gradually relaxed. He kept an arm around her waist, her bottom planted firmly on his thighs, and ignored everything else in favor of silent stoicism as her remaining guard unit filed in now that the door was open.

Rey suspected that Ben would have positioned her differently had they been alone – perhaps facing him with her skirt hiked up, her knees on either side of his waist as he devoured her mouth.

“Did you secure the prisoners?” he asked General Hux, who sneered.

“Of course. I know my job, Ren.”

Ben’s only sign of irritation was the flexing of his fingers against her side. Rey casually threaded her own fingers through his, her arm lying atop his black-clad one over her stomach, and felt him relax.

The trip to the Dominance was uneventful. Rey insisted on going to the med bay first thing, and Ben agreed – though her motive was to check on Nalti and his was to have her examined by the med droids.

Rey submitted to the droid without protest, listening to Rude’s update on her assistant from behind a privacy screen.

“The burns went all the way to the bone. They don’t know if bacta can fix that much damage, but they’re going to put her in a tank for a day before they reevaluate.” He sounded tired.

“Stay with her until they get her in the tank,” Rey said. “Then take care of yourself. Shower, eat, rest. You’ll be in charge of checking in on her between your medic lessons, and you’re to let me know if anything changes.”

A beat of silence. “My what?”

“I’m having you trained as a medic.” She paused. “Do you know who to talk to about that? Because I… um… don’t.”

“I’ll set it up,” said Ben over his shoulder, eyes flickering to the way she’d shifted the red fabric of her ruined underdress so that the med droid could examine the bruises on her back. He’d insisted on being behind the screen with her, though she’d made him stand with his back to her.

It was embarrassing enough to have him there without his eyes on her every step of the way.

“Thank you.”

He nodded but didn’t turn away, his gaze locked on the skin of her shoulders. Freckles. It was a stray thought, one she knew he hadn’t meant to let slip free, and Rey had to bite her lip to keep from smiling.

She narrowed her eyes at him. “Don’t you have something else to do?”

He considered, turning to face her fully and abandoning any pretense of not looking. “Several things.” He took a step forward, and Rey flushed deeply as he tugged the neckline of her dress down and stared at the skin he’d bared – not enough to see her nipples but definitely more of her breasts than had been showing previously. The droid didn’t care, its programming keeping it focused on its task, but anyone could walk around the privacy screen and see them, hear them, and Rey’s pulse skyrocketed.

The med droid beeped a blood pressure warning, and Rey glared at Ben, who looked like he was trying not to laugh.

“Why don’t you go do one of those things,” she bit out.

He ignored her suggestion. Instead, he removed his gloves, tucked them into his belt, and dipped bare fingers into her cleavage, making her eyes go wide.

His other hand slipped under her skirt and between her legs, pressing two long fingers into her core with no warning. The med droid gave another blood pressure beep, but neither Ben nor Rey paid it any attention as her legs spread and his tongue delved into her mouth.

The med droid beeped and pushed at Ben, fussing about him being in the way, and that did make him laugh – to Rey’s utter mortification – before he stepped back.

He raised the fingers that had been inside her and licked the tips, his heavy-lidded eyes locked on hers and a small smile playing at the corners of his mouth.

Rey blushed furiously and glowered, telling him without words to knock it off.

Once the droid finished its examination, Rey straightened her dress and accepted Ben’s hand to hop down from the cold metal examination table. He tucked her hand into the crook of his arm, still smiling faintly, and let her check in with Rude before they went to her room.

He walked through her rooms, checking for danger. Rey knew that the attempts on her life had left him paranoid, and she didn’t mind his extra caution.

“Stay in your rooms until I get back. I need to check on the progress of your transmission, and then I’ll see what I can get out of the prisoners. Perhaps one of them knows who hired them.”

Rey thought about what it had been like to be in the interrogation chair in front of a man who could pry her thoughts from her head and shuddered. She felt a little sorry for them, evil scumbags though they were. She wouldn’t wish that experience on anyone.

Ben kissed her forehead, and she looked at the blood and dirt smearing his skin and clothes. Only his hands were clean, since he’d been wearing gloves.

“You might want to shower first,” she suggested, pushing matted hair back behind one of his ears.

He frowned and fixed his hair so that it covered his ear again.

Rey tilted her head to the side and peered up at him. “Ben.”

He met her eyes. “Hm?”

She pursed her lips. “Are you…”

He waited.

“Are you embarrassed by your ears?” she blurted out.

He blinked down at her, a dark flush flaring to life across his nose and cheeks.

“Is that why you wear your hair long?”

He drew back and glanced away, his awkwardness answering her more clearly than words.

I’m right. Rey kept herself from smiling, knowing instinctively that he wouldn’t appreciate it.

It was just so… cute. So human.

Her mouth twisted of its own accord, and he glowered at the door. His ferocious scowl made her want to laugh.

She lifted herself onto her toes and pushed his hair gently back to expose one large ear. He allowed it, though his face turned even more red and his mouth twisted uncertainly.

She placed a chaste kiss on his lips. “I like them.” And with that, she turned and went to hop in the shower, leaving him to stare dumbly after her.


After she’d scrubbed herself relentlessly clean, Rey put on fresh leggings and the plainest shirt she could find, then settled onto her bed to contact Leia.

“Rey. Sweetheart. You can’t ever do that again.”

Rey blinked at Leia’s ferocity. She’d expected the older woman to be happy to see her, perhaps to talk about the work they’d done on Abednedo. She did not expect to be scolded. “What? I-I don’t understand.”

“You can’t include the Resistance in your negotiations like that.”

“You’re… are you angry?” Now Rey really didn’t understand. She’d given Leia the chance to set up Resistance contacts on Abednedo at the highest levels. Why would she be angry?

“You don’t know politicians the way I do. They will sell you out the moment it’s in their planet’s best interest. Even the well-meaning ones.”

Rey shook her head, not disagreeing per se, but… “The king said he wouldn’t–”

“And he won’t. For now. But what if the First Order puts up a blockade, what if the Abednedo begin to starve? Do you think that nice old man wouldn’t sell you out to General Hux if things turned dire?”

Rey felt very young and very lost. “Would he hate me?” she whispered.

Leia seemed to understand that Rey wasn’t asking about the king, because the older woman’s eyes softened. “Oh, sweetheart.” There was so much emotion in that one word, so much pain and worry and pity, that Rey’s eyes immediately welled up.

Leia didn’t have an answer for her, and Rey finally considered what it would mean for Ben if her duplicity was discovered.

He would either have to kill her – or die alongside her.

“I understand,” Rey said softly.

Leia watched her with sad eyes. “Yes. Yes, I think you do.”


Rey paced as she waited for Ben to return, the potential consequences of her actions on Abednedo growing ever more oppressive as her mind churned. She had to force herself to take calming breaths when the chairs under the dining table began to rattle, but she couldn’t keep her feet still.

She recalled all the things she’d worried about below Abednedo’s surface, all the little concerns that she’d so easily put aside once she’d been back in his arms.

Stupid, she told herself. Stupid. You got distracted and self-righteous and you didn’t spare a single thought for what would happen if everything went wrong, did you? You just assumed you could fight your way out of it and that he’d be there, he’d always be there, because he loves you. Well, you’re an idiot. A huge, stupid, porg-brained dumbass.

She felt Ben’s approach half an hour into her pacing, his foul mood preceding him through their bond; however, when he stepped inside, her agitation seemed to knock him off his stride.

“Rey?” he asked, standing still as she strode restlessly to and fro.

She stopped and faced him, shoulders squared. “I have to talk to you.” He lifted a brow, and Rey took that as a signal to continue, so she took a deep breath and talked fast, her words spilling over each other in the race to get them out before he could interrupt. “You shouldn’t marry me. I’m a terrible choice. I’m more Resistance than First Order, you know that, but you’re the Supreme Leader, which means the only thing I’ll do is cause trouble even if I’m perfect, and we both know I’m not, so I need you to think very long and hard about whether you’re making a huge mistake; because, if you are, then you’ll come to resent me, maybe even hate me, and I don’t think I can handle that.” She was horrified when her voice broke on the last few words.

Ben stared at her. Then he took her face between his hands and kissed her. Rey wanted to melt against him, but she mustered enough brain power to push away.

“You can’t do that, you can’t just–”

He kissed her again, and she pulled back to glare at him.

“You’re not taking this seriously.”

“One of the perks,” he murmured, his voice low and intimate as he nuzzled his nose against her cheek, “of being Supreme Leader is that I can do whatever I want.” One hand slipped down to cup the curve of her ass. “I can marry whomever I want.” He squeezed, causing Rey to jump and give a little yelp. “And if anyone complains, I can have them executed.”

Executed. Like she would be if–

She stopped the thought in its tracks, noticing Ben’s sudden scrutiny.

“You’re hiding something.”

Rey fought the panic down. She opened her mouth to protest, but nothing came out.

He gave her no quarter. “Tell me.”

When she only trembled in his arms, he lowered his forehead to hers, gaze softening.

“Show me.”

She hesitated, but ultimately she opened her mind to him. She could resist but found she didn’t want to.

She felt him rifle gently through her most recent memories, lingering sweetly on their time together before zeroing in on the cause of her guilt.

The bracelets. The negotiations. The kind old king. Leia’s warning. Rey’s fears. He saw them all, drew them in, and when he drew back from her mind, he also drew back physically, leaving her cold.

She tasted his turmoil, cold fury mixed with searing pain. The line of his jaw moved, his mouth twisting as his gaze burned into her.

He held out a hand, and Rey slowly, reluctantly removed the bracelets and gave them to him. Without a word, he grasped them, turned, and left the room.


Rey did not see Ben again that evening, that night, or the next morning. She barely slept, oscillating between dread and hope.

She was a terrible choice of wife for the Supreme Leader of the First Order. Terrible. It was good if Ben figured that out now instead of later.

But she still wanted him. She still wanted that little house on the green planet, with its open window as he made love to her, and their children playing in the grass.

Rey struggled with resentment that she couldn’t have Ben without the First Order. Why couldn’t he have chosen a different path? Why couldn’t he have followed her to the Resistance? A thousand possible futures together played out, each more tempting than staying on this cold ship with its murderous purpose to rule over a horde of killers.

When the morning dragged itself in, Ash woke her to prepare for Desomma.

Rey showered before the seamstress arrived and submitted for two hours to the pinning and altering of her wedding gown, obeying with listless obedience, her long night making her limbs feel like lead weights.

The wedding dress was lovely, of course. A snug, scoop-necked bodice the color of sunlit sand, textured by gold beading. It cinched her waist tight before exploding into a dramatically large skirt with artistic folds and splashes of the same gold beads as if they’d been thrown at the fabric and decided to stick.

It made Rey look like a princess. Or a queen. Or an empress. One of those things, she didn’t know which because she’d never seen one, aside from Leia, and Leia didn’t count because she’d been leading an army at the time.

Or did she?

What were the rules for royalty?

Rey gave up trying to figure it out, certain it didn’t matter. Wouldn’t matter.

Because Rey knew, as Desomma did not, that there might not be a wedding, and so she endured the fitting in silence, fighting tears the entire time. Desomma didn’t seem to notice, for which Rey was grateful. The seamstress had dark circles under her eyes. Even the handful of droids she’d brought with her seemed subdued.

When Desomma finished triple-checking the gown’s fit, she made Rey remove it and slip back into regular clothes.

“Take a bath,” Desomma suggested. “Wash your hair. Relax while you can. Things will only get more hectic once we reach Onderon.” At the door, Desomma turned. “And take a damn nap. Your wedding is tomorrow, and you look like death. You’ve already lost two of my gowns – I won’t have this one gracing a walking corpse.”

Desomma left, muttering darkly about brides, beading, and pirates.

Instead of following Desomma’s advice – being alone with her thoughts for a moment longer sounded like torture – Rey went to see Nalti in the med bay. Rude sat in a chair by her tank, reading a medical training manual with his helmet off, his short brown hair sticking up a little on one side. He was pleased to see Rey, although he had no new information on Nalti’s condition. Her reevaluation was scheduled for that afternoon, and Rude promised to bring Rey news as soon as he had it.

Graves, Rude informed her, had been tended by the med droids and was recuperating in the barracks, and the Supreme Leader had come through with Rude’s new training. He would be starting as soon as things calmed down after the wedding.

Rey thanked him, said she was glad to hear it, and stood there with his attention fixed awkwardly on her as she examined the tall young woman floating in the bacta tank. Nalti wore very little, only enough to preserve her modesty as the tank did its work, a mask strapped over her nose and mouth so she could breathe. Except for the contraption on her face and her burns, she looked peaceful. Her eyes were closed and her dark hair fanned over her shoulders in the viscous liquid.

Her damaged arm was painful to look at – blackened and cracked, red blood oozing out to stain the bacta around it pink.

Rey felt like crying again, which was the precise thing she’d been doing in her room all night and had left to prevent more of, so she made her goodbyes to Rude and let him get back to his reading.

Ash and Stone waited for her in the hall. Rey asked them if they knew somewhere she could practice hitting things, and they took her to a private training room near her rooms.

“This is the one the Supreme Leader uses,” Ash told her as they followed her inside.

“Are you sure–”

“Yes. You’re allowed.”

They left her alone, and Rey pulled a staff from the rack of weapons.

For the next two hours, Rey pushed her body, trying to shut down her mind. The movement, working out the stiffness of her muscles after their hard use on Abednedo and the several days of neglect before that, put Rey into a kind of trance. She moved and struck at invisible opponents, the flow of motion familiar and comforting.

It cleared her mind.

If Ben called off the wedding, if he decided he was better off without her – and oh, that thought stung, but he would be better off – she would leave. She’d go back to the Resistance, where she belonged.

If they would have her.

Rey hadn’t forgotten that she’d made enemies in the Resistance by her move to the First Order. She’d probably be viewed as a traitor and a spy if she tried to return, even with Leia’s support.

Another possibility filled her mind, and the rightness of it made her catch her breath. Chewbacca. The Falcon.

That was where she’d go. Chewbacca wouldn’t judge her, wouldn’t hate her for being torn between the Resistance and the leader of the First Order. He would understand, maybe even offer her comfort as she nursed her broken heart.

It was perfect.

So why did it make her want to cry?

Chapter Text

Rey spent the next hour hardening her resolve with every invisible opponent defeated, channeling all of her emotions into her strikes until she sank, bone-weary, to sit on the mat.

She felt him then, behind her, and glanced over her shoulder to find him watching her. For a moment, she thought their bond had opened without her noticing, but no. He was really there.

She bit back a flash of anger and the urge to demand to know where he’d been.

He walked forward until he was looking down at her, and Rey couldn’t read him. Grief and anger warred for dominance in her.

What was he waiting for? Just get it over with, she thought acidly.

He frowned but didn’t say anything.

The silence drew out until Rey’s temper snapped. She got to her feet and threw her shoulders aggressively back. “Say something already!”

He lifted a gloved hand and pushed a lock of sweat-curled hair behind her ear. She’d put her hair all the way up in her usual style to work out, but a few strands had come free around her face. “What am I supposed to say?”

She threw her hands out in frustration. “That you’re angry with me, that I was stupid, that the wedding is off, that the First Order is getting ready to execute me? I don’t know, something.” She nearly yelled the final words in his face, but those steady dark eyes gave nothing away.

“I am angry with you,” he said, his voice low and even. “You were foolish. The wedding is not off, and I took care of things so that no one will find out what you did.” His fingers lingered on her cheek close to her ear. “I destroyed the holo-devices.” He paused, and Rey’s breath caught as something flickered through his gaze. “I also destroyed the only other person who knew about them.”

Rey’s heart stopped. Leia? But then she caught up to what he meant, and her heart restarted only to give a painful lurch.

The king.

She took a step back, hand going to her mouth. His eyes tracked her, but he didn’t move to close the gap. “You didn’t.”

“He hadn’t told anyone else.” He spoke impassively, as if discussing breakfast. “I made it look natural, as if his heart stopped in his sleep. It did not take long.”

She shook her head. “Ben…”

“His life for millions of his people,” he said, voice gentling. “I spoke with the new king, and he will honor the treaty. Despite your… methods… things seem to have worked out.”

He reached to wipe a tear from her cheek, but Rey found the touch of his glove unbearable and flinched away.

Ben dropped his hand and let her cry. He didn’t move to comfort her, and Rey didn’t know if she wanted him to.

His jaw shifted. “The pirates didn’t know who hired them. It was done through a middleman who was found dead in a Coruscant gambling den two days ago. His ship is missing, and I have an alert out for it, but I doubt we’ll find it.

“My technician found which terminal the assassination transmission was sent from, and he pulled security footage that showed Commander Watt entering and leaving the communications room in that time frame.”

“I thought she was a lieutenant,” said Rey.

Ben shook his head. “Not the lieutenant. Her mother.” He gave Rey an appraising look before adding, “The commander was found in her room when I sent security to arrest her. Poison. Possibly self-administered.”

Rey thought about that. “Is it over, then?”

“I doubt it.”

She looked at him, but he didn’t elaborate, only shifted toward her before he stopped himself. Rey looked up at him with wet eyes. “I need to be able to live with myself, Ben. I need to find a way I can do that. I won’t bury who I am or what I believe, and I won’t pretend to be someone I’m not.” She couldn’t play happy little First Order wife, eating fine food and wearing pretty clothes while Ben’s people committed atrocities. She just couldn’t. “If that’s the kind of wife you want, the kind of wife you expect…” She bit her lip hard enough to hurt, and the next words came out from a throat sore from a sleepless night spent weeping. “Then I’m really not the girl you should be marrying.”

He wrapped himself around her, his embrace gentle enough that she could pull away if she wanted. “You can fight it all you want,” he murmured into her hair, his anger finally leeching into his voice. “I’m not letting you go. You said yes.”

Rey drew slowly away. In a quiet, dangerous voice, she asked, “If I decided to leave, you would stop me?”

His mouth worked, eyes glinting. “Yes.”

She stood separate from him now, sore from her workout and stiff with fury so mixed up with his that she couldn’t tell where one ended and the other began. “Would you put me in chains?”

He snarled at that, and his voice sounded suspiciously thick. “Don’t.”

Rey trembled, the gut punch of this man murdering the kindly old king playing through her head like a macabre movie, blending with Leia’s disappointment and the sleepless night she’d endured because he’d disappeared on her, leaving her to twist in her torment. “I can’t look at you right now,” she choked out, her hands curling into fists. She headed toward the exit, and she knew he wanted to grab her, but he let her walk away.

For now.

Once the door shut behind her, a crash sounded from beyond it. Rey resisted the urge to turn, but she heard her guards jump.

“Come on,” she said shortly, and they followed her.

Rey went to her rooms. She considered visiting Nalti but didn’t want to risk running into Ben in the corridors. She didn’t want to see his face. She felt violent and unsteady, her emotions all over the place, and she thought she might try to punch him if she saw him just then.

When she entered her sitting room, she lifted an arm and used the Force to slam her dining set against the door between their rooms. It hit so hard that it splintered, but it left Rey unsatisfied, so she raised both arms to fling the comfortable cream chairs and couches in front of it as well, curling her fingers into claws and baring her teeth in a snarl. A lock of hair fell against her neck, shaken loose by the violence of her gesturing.

Better, she decided, and marched straight to her washroom to clean the sweat from her skin.

By the time Rey finished and changed into clean clothes, a dark-haired officer had appeared in her sitting room. Ash and Stone stood inside the sitting room door, keeping an eye on him.

He bowed carefully to Rey and introduced himself.

Rey wasn’t sure what part of her toweling her hair dry made him nervous, but he took great pains to give her space. Immediately as she looked for a place to sit, she thought, Oh, and glanced toward the pile of damaged furniture in front of her shared door.

Rey shrugged and sat on the floor, crossing her legs and resenting the little self-conscious urge to be more ladylike. She wasn’t in the mood to pretend for anyone, and she disliked this stranger in her space. “What was your name again?”

The officer stood at attention. “Lieutenant Mitaka, your ladyship.”

“And what did you do wrong to have to deal with me today?”

He stared at her, his dark eyes baffled and a little frightened. He clearly wasn’t used to babysitting angry women. “I’m sorry?” he asked.

“Why are you here?” she clarified, lowering her tone from confrontational to merely irritated.

“Ah. I’m in charge of your security through the wedding, my lady.”

Rey glanced at her guards, but of course the closed-mouthed ones would be on duty just then. “He sent you, didn’t he?” she asked, toweling her hair harder. Mitaka’s gaze flickered toward the pile of furniture before he nodded with supreme neutrality. “And he told you what? Keep an eye on me? Don’t let me leave the ship?”

Mitaka swallowed. Rey continued to dry her hair, and eventually Mitaka spoke. “He expressed concern for your safety, your ladyship.”

Rey sighed and dropped the damp towel into her lap. She glanced toward her guards, then back to the man in front of her. “Are you hungry, lieutenant? I missed breakfast. And dinner.” She hadn’t had an appetite the night before. She couldn’t remember the last time that had happened.

“I can order lunch for you, my lady,” Mitaka offered, his shoulders relaxing subtly. In anyone less stiff, she might have called it a full-body sigh of relief.

Rey nodded. “Get something for the three of you, too.” She raised her voice to talk to Ash and Stone across the large room. “When does your shift end?”

“Not for two more hours, ma'am,” said Ash.

Rey nodded. “Okay, get something for everyone, please.”

By the time the food arrived, Rey had convinced her guards to remove their helmets and join her on the floor. Mitaka resisted, but he gingerly lowered himself onto the rug when eating standing up proved too complicated. He sat as straight and stiff as he’d been on his feet.

“How are your injuries, ma'am?” asked Stone, sitting with his big shoulders hunched as he ate. He’d taken off his gloves and used his fingers, eschewing sweet fruits in favor of lean protein.

“Barely feel ‘em. How’re yours?”

“Nothing to speak of.” After a moment, he asked, “How’s that girl? Your assistant?”

“I saw her this morning. She’s–” Rey stopped and sighed. Ash sent her a sympathetic glance, her grey eyes solemn.

“Rude is worried she’ll lose the arm,” said Ash, using a bare brown hand to spear greens onto her fork. At Rey’s look, she elaborated, “I went to see her last night.”

“He told you more than he told me, then,” Rey murmured.

“Well,” said Ash. Rey looked at her again. “I’m sure he tried to soften it for you.”

Rey sighed and stuffed her mouth full of some kind of tangy meat in a brown sauce. They ate quietly, and it felt more comfortable than the last time Rey had eaten with her guards. Ash and Stone weren’t talkative by any means, but they seemed comfortable enough whiling away the time until the shift change.

When the change arrived, so did Rude. He’d met Rowdy and Valkyrie on their way to relieve the current shift and had walked with them, so the three of them entered together.

Rowdy removed his helmet, whistled at the mess by the shared door, and glanced at Rey. “Mad at your furniture?”

She fought the beginnings of a smile. “Something like that.”

She looked at Rude. Ash remained, even though she was allowed to leave, and Stone waited also, though Rey wasn’t sure if he was invested in Nalti’s well-being or just didn’t want to walk back to the barracks by himself.

She’d noticed during her time on the Dominance that stormtroopers were rarely alone. Even the most solitary personalities sought the comfort of being around their brethren – like pack animals.

“Is there a verdict?” Rey asked.

Rude swallowed, his voice soft. “Not quite. Her progress has been slower than expected, even in the bacta tank. They can’t decide if she’ll get full use of her arm back – the bone is definitely damaged – so they plan to give her one more day in the tank. If the bone doesn’t shown signs of healing by then…” Rude paused, swallowing, and Rey fought to keep panic from overwhelming her. “If there’s no change, they’ll remove her arm tomorrow.”

The room went blurry, and Rey swiped tears from her eyes only to have more take their place. “Okay,” she whispered. “Okay.”

She felt a tentative hand on her shoulder and looked into Rude’s compassionate face. “She’ll live,” he said firmly. “That’s the important thing. She’s not in any danger from infection, and no vital organs were damaged. It’s just an arm.”

Rey nodded, continuing to swipe at her face.


Rey spent the afternoon playing cards on the floor with Rowdy and Valkyrie, roping Lieutenant Mitaka into joining only because he couldn’t refuse.

Rowdy, of course, pried about the broken furniture.

“Does it have anything to do with the training room Kylo Ren wrecked this morning?” he asked.

Rey’s eyes went wide, and she glanced at the lieutenant, but Rowdy waved away her concern. “He knows about it. Of course he knows about it, it’s all anyone can talk about.”

Mitaka’s lips thinned and turned a shade paler, his gaze resolutely on his cards.

Rey huffed in annoyance. “We may have argued,” she said tartly, locking her best warning glare on Rowdy.

“Wedding’s still on, though, right?”

“As far as I know.”

“Good good,” said Rowdy. “Folks in the trenches are hoping he’ll calm down a bit afterward. From what I hear, he was about as fun to work with as a rathtar while we were planetside.” He nudged Mitaka’s elbow, and the lieutenant looked deeply uncomfortable. “You work in command, don’t you? So you’d have seen that firsthand. Are the rumors true?”

Mitaka glanced toward her shared wall as if he expected to be overheard, but he eventually replied, “Her ladyship does seem to have a… calming influence on the Supreme Leader.”

Rowdy grinned. “See? You’re a calming influence.”

Rey pressed her lips together, torn between annoyance and amusement. “Great,” she muttered.

This made Valkyrie purse her lips and visibly hold back a laugh as she focused on the cards in her hand, little crinkles appearing by her eyes. Those lines reminded Rey that the stout, golden-haired fighter had nearly two decades on her. Valkyrie’s luxurious hair, always kept tidily out of the way in a helmet-friendly braid crown, made her seem younger.

Before dinner, a medical droid arrived to give Rey a followup physical. Rey led it into her bedroom, where she stripped and allowed it to examine her closely.

Rey winced as she glanced down at the purple bruises across her shoulders and torso where the shuttle’s safety harness had caught her. They hadn’t been as dark the day before, when Desomma had had her try on the wedding gown. The seamstress had probably missed them in the bedroom’s poor lighting.

No chance of missing them now. They would show bright and ugly above the gown’s deeply curved neckline.

Once the examination finished, and Rey began to dress, the droid asked, “Do you have an intact hymen, my lady?”

Rey glanced at the medical droid. “A what?”

“An intact hymen.”

When Rey only gave it a baffled look, it clarified, “Have you experienced vaginal penetration?”

Rey blushed deeply, thought of the way Ben’s fingers had slid inside of her, and squeaked, “What?!?

The droid didn’t seem at all fazed. “Do you require a primer on sexual intercourse? Your schedule says that you are participating in a human marriage ceremony tomorrow. My data banks inform me that it is traditional for sexual intercourse to occur soon afterward.”

Flustered, Rey could only stare in horror as the droid booted up its lessons on sex.

“Human female genitalia is designed to accept human male genitalia,” the droid explained, a holo image of the two body parts appearing in the air in front of Rey. They were disembodied facsimiles of the real thing, blue and translucent, and they moved into alignment as the droid spoke.

Rey yelled, “Stop!” in a strangled voice.

The droid paused the holo images on the cusp of their ghostly copulation. “You do not wish to continue the tutorial?”

Rey opened her mouth to agree but closed it and grimaced. Aside from seeing animals on Jakku and her handful of nights in Ben’s arms, she didn’t know anything about what to expect. She’d enjoyed those nights, but she knew there was more to the act than what they’d done together. “Can we do it without the pictures?”

“Of course,” said the droid, and the phantom genitalia disappeared. “Within the human female sexual cavity, there is a barrier called the hymen which, if not stretched or broken beforehand, may tear during the mating process. This is a normal occurrence and often generates a small amount of blood–”

“Wait,” said Rey, shaking her head. “What?”

“Which portion of the tutorial do you wish me to repeat?”

Rey blew out a frustrated breath. “I’m going to bleed?”

“It is typical for human females to bleed when an intact hymen is torn during their first penetrative sexual encounter. Another byproduct of tearing the hymen is pain. The pain scale is often rated low, though some women rate higher–”

Rey dropped her head into her hands, fighting to keep herself from hyperventilating, and the droid paused itself again.

“Do you wish to continue the tutorial?”

“Just shut up for a second!”

Exactly one second later: “Do you wish to continue the tutorial?”

Rey shoved her hands into her hair and closed her eyes tight. “Augh!

“‘Augh’ is not a recognized response. Please answer in a yes or no format.”

Rey glared at the droid.

“Your blood pressure and body temperature seem to be rising. This is a common indicator of approaching illness. Would you like me to run further tests?”

“If you don’t shut up,” Rey growled, “I am going to turn you into scrap metal.”

The droid shut up, and Rey concentrated on centering her mind and body.

Blood. And pain? That didn’t line up with her experiences with Ben. But, of course, they hadn’t done the… “penetration” thing.

“Is there anything else I need to worry about?” she asked once she had control of herself.

“Pregnancy is often a byproduct of sexual intercourse. Would you like to hear more about human pregnancy?”

“No,” said Rey, waving a hand to ward off further tutorials. “Just tell me how to avoid it.” She’d been telling the truth when she told Ben she didn’t want children until they had a home. The part of her eager for her own family whimpered and writhed, but Rey ignored it. She would not have children on a dreadnought.

“There are multiple preventative measures. The most common is an implant which takes one week to reach peak effectiveness.”

Rey furrowed her brow. “Anything that’ll work by tomorrow?”

“I can give you an injection that will immediately disrupt your biological cycle. In combination with the implant, your chances for fertilization will be 0.001%.”

“Okay. Let’s do that.”

The injection stung, and Rey chose to wait for the implant. The injection, according to the droid, would keep her infertile for two weeks. If she got the implant by the seven day mark, she wouldn’t have to get a second injection.

The droid continued the sex tutorial, and Rey allowed it to play just in case it had any other surprises in store. Afterward, Rey dismissed the droid and spent half an hour trying to scrub the memory of that mechanical voice uttering words like “ejaculate” and “copulation.”

Rey thought about Ben, about the fact that he’d be “penetrating” her in a little over twenty-four hours, and felt her entire body flush with heat.

It irritated her that she could be aroused by the thought of him even while she wanted to bash him over the head. She didn’t want her anger to seep away at the memory of his warm eyes and the things his hands had done to her.

Rey’s thoughts were interrupted when her stomach gave a sudden violent lurch and she had to run to her washroom. She just barely made it to the toilet before the bulk of her lunch forced its way up her throat.

As she clung to the toilet bowl, Rey thought belatedly of the side effects the medical droid had cited for the injection it had given her. Nausea, cramping, fatigue, dizziness, bleeding, and headaches.

“Great,” she muttered, stomach churning at the acrid smell of her own sick. “Just great.”

Rey spent the rest of the day fighting back the urge to vomit. She tried to go back to playing cards, but her mood continued to plummet along with her physical comfort. Stomach cramps hit hard and sapped her of energy, and she retreated to her bedroom to curl into the fetal position until she fell into a restless doze. She woke often through the evening so that her body could rebel against her, and her mind replayed all the reasons she was right and Ben was wrong. She quickly decided that her current predicament was all his fault, holding that against him as well. She knew it wasn’t sensible, but she wasn’t in a sensible mood.

The symptoms began to ease toward the middle of the night, but Rey found that her thoughts kept her awake in place of her body’s traitorous misery. She kept thinking of things she should have said to him and catching herself halfway out of bed on the way to find him so she could spit them in his face. But eventually her anger burned lower after its long blaze, and she replayed it all from his point of view. She knew that he was wrong – he’d killed a good man, there was no justification for that – but his actions clearly made sense to him. He’d seen a threat and eliminated it. In his own twisted way, he’d tried to protect her.

It didn’t make him right. It didn’t make it okay.

Rey wished for Leia more than ever, and then for Nalti. Someone to talk her through all the feelings ramming against the inside of her skull and giving her a headache. Or maybe that was her injection. She couldn’t tell anymore.

When Flash knocked on Rey’s door the next morning, Rey woke from an unexpected nap with drool pooling under her cheek, her symptoms blissfully absent and her temper banked like hot coals.

Flash handed Rey a parcel. Considering how the last package she’d received had turned out, Rey accepted it reluctantly, but this one had been wrapped in luxurious black silk instead of sturdy brown paper. A simple note written with exquisite penmanship accompanied it: Rey.

When she opened it on her bed, she found three bound leather books made with real paper – a rarity.

Rey opened the top book and examined the title page.

The collected words of Padmé Amidala Naberrie (46-19 BBY): Vol. 1

That name seemed familiar. Where had she heard it before?

The collection contained speeches and letters, each carefully labeled with a date, location, and often a foreword to give context. Rey leafed through the pages, curious, then picked up the next book and found more of the same.

The covers felt soft and almost warm in her hands, their slim spines beautifully bound, their covers embossed with gold leaf.

Rey turned to a section at random and began to read.

The further she got, the more confused she became. She’d assumed Ben had sent them, but perhaps this was someone else’s idea of a wedding gift.

Leia…? Had she somehow found out what happened to the bracelets? Or had this gift not been part of her first package because it had taken longer to prepare?

Rey stood and went to find Flash, leaving the books on her bed.

“Who sent that package?”

Flash straightened her spine as if bracing herself. “The Supreme Leader, ma’am.”

Rey blinked twice, automatically thanked the other woman, and returned to sit on her bed with the baffling books in front of her.

Rey considered sending Ben a message through one of her guards, but what would she have them say? “I don’t feel like shoving your head in a trash compactor anymore, come see me?”

Luckily, Rey had another, much easier option.

She crossed her legs on the bed and closed her eyes. Ben.

He was there before the invitation finished. Rey’s eyes snapped open.

He stared, his gaze devouring her. He looked like he hadn’t slept any better than she had, his hair a mess and dark circles under his eyes.

Good, she thought spitefully, but then that expressive mouth twitched and shifted, exposing his uncertainty, and she regretted the thought.

“I’m still mad at you,” she assured him.

“I know,” he replied, and his voice was rough from lack of sleep, somehow deeper and richer and doing things to Rey’s heart that she tried to ignore. He ran a hand through his hair, a motion she’d never seen on him before, perhaps because it exposed his ears for a moment before the hair fell back into place. He looked utterly lost, and Rey’s heart softened further.

“I did it to protect you,” he said when she didn’t speak, and the defiance in his voice clashed with the misery that flashed through their bond before he suppressed it. She might have taken pity on him if that misery weren’t mingled with a heavy dose of frustration. “I’d do it again. I’d destroy worlds for you. I won’t apologize for that.”

Rey shook her head, her own anger rising from its low smolder. She was able to leash it, keep it from becoming a conflagration. “I don’t want that. I don’t want the burden of knowing someone died and it’s my fault.”

“You are…” he stumbled on his words, biting out roughly, “almost my wife. I will protect you.”

Rey knew her frown was petulant. She felt petulant. “About that–”

He sighed through his nose, jaw clenching. “Don’t start.”

“Did you think about what I said?”

He gave her a sour look, which made the bags under his eyes more pronounced. “I’m not calling off the wedding,” he growled, his hoarse voice sliding up against her defenses and then under, making her shiver.

Rey didn’t know what she ought to feel, but she found that relief took prominence. He wouldn’t be throwing her aside. “Then I need to find a way to stay true to myself. If I can’t do that…”

“We’ll make it work,” he said firmly.

Rey nodded, hoping more than trusting that he was right.

After a moment, he asked, “Did you receive the gift I sent?”

Rey heard a thread of nervousness that he probably wanted to hide and touched the cover of one of the leather-bound books. Nothing came on paper anymore – he must have had them specially made. “It’s… not exactly First Order propaganda.” She shot him a suspicious look, wondering if she just hadn’t gotten there yet.

He tilted his head to one side. “My grandmother’s speeches. They’re ridiculously sentimental and idealistic.” He shrugged one shoulder, the motion dismissing their contents in direct contrast with how much work had clearly gone into the gift. “I thought you might like them.”

Rey raised a sarcastic brow, but her heart lurched as she recalled where she’d heard the name before. His grandmother. “Because I’m ridiculously sentimental and idealistic?”

“Yes.”

She stared at him. The word held no judgement, no qualifiers, no patronization. Rey knew how he felt about his family, how he felt about dredging up the past. He would have had to set all of that aside, however briefly, to secure this for her. It must have scraped at his pride, but he’d done it.

It was a peace offering.

Something tight unfurled like flower petals in Rey’s chest. “Thank you,” she said softly, and the look in his eyes, that desperate longing which left him so very vulnerable, softened her further.

She was still unhappy with him, but… she loved him. And it seemed like he understood how hard she found it to acclimate to the First Order, if the books meant what she thought they did.

“The wedding is today,” she said, gaze skating away from his.

“I’m aware.”

Rey glanced at him, not sure why she felt so nervous. “I’ll see you there?”

His mouth moved, his eyes shone, but all that came out of his hoarse throat was, “Yes.”

Chapter Text

When the Dominance reached Onderonian airspace, Rey went to see Nalti one last time. Rude no longer sat vigil, waiting instead in the transport hangar with all but Graves, who was on medical leave, and Rowdy and Ash, who waited for Rey in the corridor. She’d asked for them specifically that morning. She wasn’t sure why. Perhaps because they’d been with her first and had known her the longest. Perhaps because they’d been part of her mission to contact Finn that first night on the Dominance.

Whatever the reason, it felt right to have them at her back on this last walk through the ship as an unmarried woman.

Rey touched the glass of the bacta tank. “I wish you could be there,” she whispered. “I know you’d love the dress. And probably the ceremony. And… well, probably all of it. I don’t even know what it will be like, but I’d bet my lightsaber you’d love every moment. I hate that you’ll miss it.” She examined Nalti’s unresponsive face, the way her eyelashes had tiny bubbles on them and how the straps of her breathing mask pressed into her cheeks. She should have been hurrying Rey planetside with a grin and a spring in her step instead of floating there. “I miss you.”

Rey let her fingertips rest on the warm glass a moment longer before she turned to leave the med bay. The walk to the hangar was silent. Rey wondered if Ash and Rowdy felt as dispirited by Nalti’s absence as she did.

“Hovercams,” said Ash, stopping in her tracks just before they reached the hangar.

Rey turned around. “What?”

“Hovercams. We should requisition some hovercams to record the wedding, since Nalti can’t be there.“ Ash straightened and cleared her throat awkwardly. “That is… if you want to, ma’am. I was just thinking, she’ll be out of commission for a while even once she’s out of the tank, and it’ll give her something to watch to pass the time.”

Rowdy clapped a hand on Ash’s armored shoulder. “That is a great idea.”

Rey looked at them, a huge smile blooming. “It really is. How long does it take to get hovercams?”

“For you? As fast as a walk over to supplies. You’ll get anything you ask for.”

They chattered excitedly on their way to the supply depot and agreed to record everything, all the intimate preparation details that Nalti would have been there for, all the little moments she would have loved.

They were laughing as they gathered half a dozen hovercams and activated them right there in the supply depot, the flustered logistics officer leaning over his desk to gape as they left with their small armada of artificially intelligent holo-recording droids bobbing along behind.

In the hangar, the rest of Rey’s team waited with dark-haired Lieutenant Mitaka. He straightened as Rey approached, though he flicked a puzzled look toward the hovercams and seemed alarmed by all the laughter.

Rey submitted to sitting in back instead of in the cockpit only because she was, frankly, too exhausted to do anything requiring brain power and dexterity. Her sleepless nights had begun to catch up with her. She hoped it wouldn’t show too badly during the ceremony.

“You’ve been to Onderon before, Ash,” said Rowdy. “What’s it like?” There was an undercurrent of excitement among her guards, and Rey let herself get caught up in it.

“Humid,” Ash replied. When Rowdy prompted her for more, she added, “It’s a jungle planet. Dangerous wildlife, walled cities.”

Rey smiled wryly and rested her back against her shuttle seat. “I did ask for somewhere green.”

"I don’t believe it will be too humid where we’re going,” said Mitaka.

“Where are we going?”

“A resort town on a mountain. It’s not too far from the capital city, Iziz, but it’s on the other side of the mountain, so we’ll only see untouched wild once we land.” He fidgeted. “The altitude should keep most of the humidity at bay.”

“Sounds great,” said Rowdy.

Rey smiled and tried not to let her eyes droop closed. She blinked a few times, but when the transport jolted gently upon landing, she woke with a gasp, yanking her chin from her chest and looking blearily around at the others. No one looked directly at her, and she suspected that they were all trying not to laugh.

Except Mitaka, who seemed even more anxious to be on the ground than he was on the Dominance.

When Rey disembarked the transport, hovercams dancing around her, she stopped to take in the breathtaking view. A breeze carried the scent of lush green growing things as color rioted and the landscape unfurled far below.

The resort itself was by far the most opulent place she’d ever seen, decorated with violet shrubbery and a carefully maintained pond with water so smooth it reflected the blue sky, and little burbling fountains tucked into nooks and crannies like hidden treasures.

A woman several decades older than Rey and much more elaborately dressed gave a deep and perfect curtsy. She had a small retinue behind her, all of whom bowed or curtsied even more deeply, and Rey blinked and wondered how they all didn’t just fall over and how long had they practiced this move to get it just right?

The woman rose with a graceful smile, her knees not even creaking or anything, and Rey focused on her face. “My lady. It is such an honor to have you here. I am Serin, proprietress of this humble establishment. Please let me know if there is anything you need during your stay. No request is too large or too small.”

Rey gave her an awkward smile. “Um. Thanks.” She glanced around and added, “Your place is beautiful.”

Serin beamed. “Thank you, my lady.” And gave another curtsy. “I will see you to your room, and my handmaidens will assist in your preparations.” Serin continued to make light conversation as Rey and her people followed.

The room Serin led them to was not a bedroom but some sort of large parlor. All the furniture had been placed around the edges of the room, mostly tables and places to sit and a large well-lit vanity with a mirror beside a large window with an exquisite view of the jungle below the mountain.

Desomma waited inside with three droids, and Serin left two of her handmaidens behind to assist. Mitaka arranged Rey’s male stormtroopers at intervals outside the room, and the female troopers remained inside. Rey saw Serin’s handmaidens glance nervously at the armored women every now and then, giving them plenty of room, so she gave her women leave to take their helmets off. Only Valkyrie did, exposing the golden braid wrapped like a coronet around her head and a grin on her face which seemed to relax the handmaidens.

“What do you think of that view?” Rey asked Valkyrie.

Valkyrie raised an amused brow but remained by the door. “It’s quite a view, ma’am.” She pursed her lips and added in a wry undertone, “I don’t much like heights.”

Flash snorted, the sound filtered oddly through her helmet. “How’d you make it through basic training?”

“Didn’t say I couldn’t handle them,” Valkyrie replied easily. “Just don’t like them.“ She nodded pointedly toward the window. “Never heard of anyone falling to their death by staying on firm, level ground.”

Flash shook her head. “Chicken.”

Valkyrie remained unfazed. “Sure.”

Rey laughed and accepted a lightweight silk robe from Desomma. The hovercams turned politely away, and Rey stripped. She was about to tie the robe’s belt when Desomma grabbed her wrist.

What are those?” The look in the older woman’s eye was alarming. Her face had gone simultaneously pale and mottled. She looked ill at the sight of Rey’s bruises.

Rey finished tying the robe with unsteady fingers and allowed the hovercams to turn back around. She ducked her head at the seamstress, trying not to anger her further. “I was attacked by pirates,” she said sheepishly.

“Those weren’t there yesterday.”

“They hadn’t turned pretty colors yesterday,” Rey corrected. She touched one of the thick purplish marks which crossed her collarbone. All said and done, she’d been lucky not to break any bones. “These are from the shuttle crash. Safety harnesses keep you from flying through the view port, but they leave marks when the impact is hard enough.”

The handmaidens stared at her, enthralled by the story, but they didn’t say anything. Rey lifted her brows encouragingly at one of them, and the girl drew in a breath and whispered, “That must have been terrifying.”

Rey considered. She hadn’t been scared so much as tense and worried. Adrenaline had kept her sharp, and her people hadn’t panicked. That part had gone about as smoothly as possible, considering. “I guess so.”

“Please,” said Valkyrie with a laugh. “You were cool as a cucumber. Crash landed the shuttle and saved our damn lives when those bastards blew the thing up. Only saw you rattled when Nalti got hurt.” Valkyrie met the handmaiden’s wide eyes with a grin. “Don’t let the sweet face fool you, this woman can kick ass.”

Rey blushed, flustered, and watched Desomma gesture wildly as she conferred with her droids.

Ash adjusted her weapon and softly said, “Discretion, Val.”

Valkyrie shrugged. “Not anything to be ashamed of.”

“True,” muttered Flash, who’d been nodding along with Valkyrie’s description.

“Yes,” said Ash in that same low tone, “but you’re embarrassing her.”

Valkyrie glanced at Rey’s red cheeks and offered an apologetic smile. “Sorry.”

Rey shook her head. “Don’t worry about it.”

Desomma and her droids placed a pile of small items Rey didn’t recognize on the vanity. “You’re lucky I brought my powders. I should be able to cover those marks, but I won’t have as much time to do your hair.” She shook her head and started muttering about being behind schedule. Rey almost regretted her side trip to collect the hovercams, but couldn’t quite manage it.

“I’m sure it will be fine if I’m late. I mean, it’s not like it can start without me.” Everyone stared at her, and Rey felt like she’d said something stupid. “What?”

After a moment, Ash said, “The Supreme Leader might not appreciate delays.”

Rey rolled her eyes. “Is that what you’re worried about? Just tell him it’s my fault.”

Still no response.

Rey sighed. “Okay. Look. Just send someone to tell him I said I’m running behind. He’s already here, right?”

“Yes, my lady,” said one of the handmaidens.

Rey nodded firmly. “He shouldn’t mind too much if he knows to expect a delay. And if he does have a problem with it, tell him he can come complain to me.”

One handmaiden looked like she might faint, and the other stared at Rey as if she’d never seen anyone so foolhardy. But the second one left to deliver the message and returned as Desomma began work on Rey’s hair, the hovercams capturing every tedious moment.

“No delays,” the handmaiden reported in a shaky voice, her arms wrapped around her body as if she could hide from whatever she’d seen.

Rey’s gaze sharpened. She wet her lips carefully, thinking, and asked in as non-threatening a voice as she could, “Did he do something to frighten you?”

The handmaiden shook her head. “N-no, my lady.”

Rey pressed her lips together, not entirely believing her. How stupid it had been to send this tiny mouse into the lion’s den. “Then why are you shaking?”

Valkyrie raised a brow, and Rey focused on her instead.

“Have you seen the Supreme Leader, ma’am?”

Rey frowned, not understanding. “Yes.”

Valkyrie pressed her lips together, hesitating as she chose her words. “He’s…”

“Imposing,” said Ash.

Valkyrie nodded her thanks and added, “Also terrifying.”

Rey blinked and considered all the times he’d interacted with her staff. He mostly ignored them, but when he didn’t…

Okay, yes. She could see it.

She sighed. “I’m sorry,” she told the handmaiden. “I should have gone myself.”

The handmaiden only curtsied, eyes down. “I’m honored to be of assistance, my lady.”

Rey hesitated, frowning. She didn’t think starting an argument about this young woman’s right to not be terrorized would help matters. “I’m still sorry.”

The handmaiden nodded and rose but kept her eyes down. Rey turned away, hoping the girl would feel better if she had a moment to compose herself.

Desomma finished Rey’s hair and made the hovercams turn around again as she helped her into her gown. They were allowed to turn back while the handmaidens fastened it and Desomma grabbed her powders.

“Bruises,” Desomma muttered. “You there, get me a towel to protect the gown while I cover these marks.”

One of the handmaidens abandoned fastening Rey’s bodice and ran to obey. She returned quickly with her arms full of white linens, which Desomma tucked into the neckline and straps of the sand-gold gown so that she could liberally apply her powders and paints to Rey’s skin.

Rey tilted her head back as Desomma pushed her chin up to get at a bruise on Rey’s jaw. “Huh,” said Rey, trying not to move her face too much. “I don’t remember getting that one.”

Desomma huffed irritably, released Rey’s face, and stepped back to examine her work. She picked up a different powder and applied it to the bags under Rey’s eyes. One of the hovercams zipped over for a closer shot of the procedure. “Your cheeks are positively hollow. Did you sleep at all last night?” She slathered more powder onto Rey’s face, and it felt almost as if she were trying to erase the face itself instead of just the irregularities.

Rey blushed. “Not… not really.”

“Brides,” Desomma grumbled, grabbed a rosier powder, and massaged it gently across Rey’s cheekbones. Out loud, she said, “I’m glad I brought extra supplies. You’re going to test the limits of my abilities, but I think we’ll be able to make you look human again.”

“Thank you,” said Rey, and she meant it. It didn’t bother her if she got married in rags with a thousand bruises on her skin, but… Desomma had been working nonstop for Rey since she’d arrived on the Dominance. She’d sacrificed for this day in particular, and Rey felt as if she owed the seamstress.

“Now your back,” said Desomma.

When the bruises on Rey’s back (fewer than her front, since the pilot’s seat had applied pressure evenly, unlike the harness straps) had been hidden beneath what felt like far too much powder, Desomma double-checked every single inch of exposed skin and touched up a few spots where the bruises just barely showed. She continued to look Rey over with a critical eye even as she proclaimed her work finished.

Desomma pulled the protective linens carefully from the dress and swiveled Rey to face the mirror over the vanity.

Rey barely recognized herself. Desomma had evened out the skin of her face, shoulders, and chest, but at the expense of her freckles. Rey’s eyes had been lined in something that made them glow green instead of hazel, and her lips and cheeks looked rosier. Her hair had been styled elaborately and crowned with golden flowers. As she examined her reflection, Desomma presented a golden necklace and draped it around Rey’s throat. It filled the blank canvas of Rey’s chest above the neckline. And… Rey looked down at herself. Yes, Desomma had applied powders to enhance Rey’s hint of cleavage (not even a hint, more of a suggestion, really).

Rey looked back at the mirror. She looked beautiful, elegant, and untouchable – and not at all like herself.

The handmaidens – really, what kind of job title was that? – cooed and gushed. Rey accepted their excitement with a wan smile.

She felt like a stranger in her own skin.

When Serin came to fetch Rey, she stopped and brought a hand to her mouth. “Worthy of a Supreme Leader,” she marveled, drawing herself tall before sinking into a curtsy that managed to be somehow deeper than all the others.

Rey felt her face heat as Serin held the curtsy longer than necessary.

“If you would follow me, my lady. The ceremony is about to begin.”

Valkyrie offered Rey a wink before putting her helmet back on. It eased some of Rey’s tension, enough that she turned to Desomma and held her palm out for the other woman to take.

It took Desomma a moment to get over her surprise and place her own hand tentatively in Rey’s. Rey squeezed it. “You put a lot of work into today. Thank you.”

Desomma blinked and nodded, her eyes wet and voice unsteady. “You’re welcome, my lady.” As she stepped back, she pulled a handkerchief out to dab at her eyes. “Happy to be of service.”


Rey had a moment to herself before she had to step outside. Three of the hovercams had zipped out to survey the decorations and the audience.

She glanced up at the hovercam in front of her, smiling in spite of her nervousness. Since this was just for Nalti, she winked and whispered, “I really hope I don’t trip.”

Serin returned to inform her that her cue would be in just a moment. Rey took a steadying breath, waiting, and Serin whispered, “Now.”

The scent of flowers assaulted Rey as she paused for her eyes to adjust, and then she walked as carefully as she could down the fabric-lined path before her.

She got an impression of gold and cream decorations against the backdrop of green foliage, music prompting her forward, before her eyes found and locked on the figure in black at the other end of the path.

He’d changed clothes, she realized as she drew closer, noticing the glint of silver embroidery down the front even as the extraordinary intensity of his gaze caught her.

She knew as their eyes locked that he didn’t care what she wore or if her bruises had been covered properly or if she could curtsy without falling on her face. She knew he didn’t care that her feet took her to him a little faster than the music or mind when a hovercam drew just a little too close as she placed her hand on his large, gloveless one.

His fingers wrapped gently around hers, and he nodded for the officiant to begin.

The ceremony itself was a blur, words spoken and repeated as Ben’s potent gaze burned into her own. The air around them began to dim to the deep gold of evening, the time of day on Onderon later than what she was used to aboard the Dominance. When the officiant ran out of words, Ben bent and pressed a chaste kiss on Rey’s mouth, their lips closed and only briefly touching. It was perfunctory and passionless but for the way Ben sucked in a breath as he straightened, as if the kiss had drawn all the air from his lungs.

He took Rey’s hand and tucked it into the crook of his arm as he turned her to face the small crowd. Her head swam, but she huffed a laugh when her guards burst into raucous applause. The officiant had to wait for them to quiet down before he could pronounce them wed.

Ben didn’t even raise a brow to silence them, which seemed odd, but a quick prod at their bond showed Rey that he was too overwhelmingly satisfied to be annoyed.

Rey felt the smiles on her, the silent proper ones of the guests and the genuine warmth from those who knew her. The latter gave her the courage to let her own grin slip free.

A gentle tug, and Rey allowed Ben to guide her back down the path toward the building. As they moved, her eyes caught on a shock of neat red hair toward the front, the pale man clapping too languidly to be polite.

She leaned in and murmured, “Why is that asshole here?”

Ben replied without looking. “I thought he’d be less likely to bomb us if he were in the strike zone.” He placed his other hand on her fingers and squeezed. “Just don’t drink anything he hands you, and we should be fine.” The tone sounded joking, but the words were anything but. Rey felt a little chill at the reality of her life from here on out.

Beautiful ceremonies and assassins.

What joy.

There weren’t many in attendance. A complement of both high ranking and lesser First Order officers, Rey’s guards, some of the locals who’d apparently been allowed to attend, and Desomma in the back with her handkerchief pressed to her mouth, tears flowing freely. She offered Rey a watery smile as they passed, and Rey returned it.

Inside, Serin invited them to accompany her to the reception area.

“A moment first,” said Ben, and Serin guided them to a lavish parlor and left them alone, taking the hovercams with her.

Rey sagged against Ben, glad to have all those eyes off of her, and Ben pulled her into his arms. He didn’t kiss her, just held her, and she let him support the majority of her weight for several long breaths.

Wife,” he murmured against her temple, making her heart thud in her chest. He placed a tender kiss there, then one by her ear, and another on her jaw. Rey felt herself melting, but he paused and lifted his head to look at her properly. “Your face is different.”

His bemusement made her laugh. “Oh. Yes. Desomma used some sort of powder to hide my bruises from the crash. My freckles didn’t survive.”

He lifted a hand and ran his thumb down her cheek, staining his finger faintly with the color of her skin. “That’s a shame.” Then, putting the subject aside, he cupped her face between his large hands and lowered his mouth to hers.

This kiss was nothing like the civilized peck he’d given her in front of their audience. That kiss had done little, but this stirred her body to gentle interest and then, as he deepened it, set her skin on fire. Her senses clamored for more, demanded that she push him down on a nearby piece of furniture and climb over him, that she lick and kiss every inch of skin she could find until he writhed and moaned and bucked underneath her.

He pulled back, chuckling when she tried to follow his mouth with hers. “Soon,” he promised.

Rey took a moment to make her head stop spinning, counting her breaths. When she felt steady, Ben took her hand and held it firmly on the way to the reception.

It wasn’t until the scent of food hit her that Rey realized her dizziness wasn’t all from Ben’s kisses. She hadn’t eaten since lunch the previous day, and she’d mostly vomited that up after her injection. No wonder Desomma had despaired over her. She’d been starving herself, and she’d never had much meat on her bones to begin with.

She sighed, drawing Ben’s glance. “I’m hungry,” she explained.

He smiled, eyes crinkling, but the warm expression slid off his face as they entered the clearing the resort had prepared for them. The role of Supreme Leader Kylo Ren settled over him just before eyes and hovercams turned their way.

The clearing had been decorated with little lights sprinkled over and around them like stars, the effect ethereal in the mellow twilight. Soft music accompanied the trickle of hidden fountains, and guests milled about with drinks in their hands which they raised to the bride and groom with a fresh smattering of applause.

Rey blushed and felt Ben surreptitiously squeeze her hand.

People approached to speak to them, but Ben brushed them off. Rey frowned at his rudeness until she realized he was moving inexorably toward the banquet table, tugging her along until they stood in front of heavily-laden platters and their taunting aromas.

Rey glanced up at him, but he only inclined his head toward the attendant and said, “Let them know what you want. They’ll bring it to our table.”

Her wide eyes took it all in, and her stomach gave a noisy rumble. She laughed self-consciously, and his lips curved upward. She shrugged at the attendant. “Surprise me?”

With his big hand still wrapped around hers, Ben guided her toward the table at the head of the space. Someone had placed it on a low platform and decorated it with a luxurious ivory tablecloth and garlands of golden flowers. On the far side, two tall chairs waited, facing the assembled revelers, and Ben released Rey’s hand so that he could pull her chair out for her.

Rey had not yet taken her seat when a boy who couldn’t have been more than twelve years old approached from behind Ben. It took Rey’s hunger-addled brain longer than it normally would have to identify the glint in his hand as a knife, but her body responded immediately. She shoved past Ben and slammed the heel of her hand into the boy’s sternum, sending him stumbling back before the knife flashed out and into the space she’d just been standing, her body already jerked back as Ben grabbed her in one arm and the boy in his power.

Rey pulled carefully from Ben’s – her husband’s – protective hold and approached the eerily still boy. Ben gave a growl of warning, but she ignored him and removed the weapon from the boy’s frozen grasp, handing it to one of her guards who’d joined them.

“You can let him go now,” she said over her shoulder.

Ben’s face darkened, but Rey met his eye as her guards readied themselves on either side of the young attacker, and Ben slowly dropped his hold.

“What’s your name?” she asked as Thorn and Rowdy each took one of the boy’s arms. He was a spindly thing, his biceps easily spanned by the stormtroopers’ grips. Rey was aware of the wedding guests gathering on the other side of the table, the safe side, and chose to ignore them.

The boy lifted his chin. “Thurmin Arbit.”

Rey felt her brows rise. “Why did you attack us, Thurmin?”

Thurmin’s young face contorted into a mask of rage. “You killed my parents.

Something deep inside Rey folded in on itself. “Oh.” Then, “How?”

“We lived on Hosnian Prime. They sent me to visit my aunt here on Onderon, and then you killed them.” His voice had become a sob, and his eyes shone with tears.

Rey glanced helplessly at Ben, and the understanding she saw there made her knees go weak. She didn’t know if he felt anything about what the boy had gone through, but she knew he felt compassion for her, for how the boy’s suffering dredged up her own.

“He should be executed, not questioned,” said General Hux, who’d chosen to join them on the unsafe side of the table. He examined Thurmin with a sneer. “Dirty little beast.”

Rey rounded on him. “I won’t have a child murdered at my wedding.”

General Hux rolled his eyes, but Ben nodded his assent. Rey didn’t need his permission to protect the boy, but she knew that those around her didn’t see things the same way, and so Rey waited for this signal before she turned to her guards. “See that he gets home safely, and tell his aunt to keep a better eye on him.” To Thurmin, she said, “Don’t come back. I won’t be here to protect you a second time. And besides, you attacked the wrong person.” She jerked a thumb at Hux. “Starkiller was that guy’s project.”

Hux looked torn between arrogance and irritation. He settled for glaring sourly at Rey.

As Thorn and Rowdy tugged the boy past her and toward the exit, Rey murmured, “I’m so sorry about your parents.”

Thurmin spat on her.

Before Rey could do more than jerk in surprise, Ben had grabbed the boy with the Force and lifted him from his feet, his rage a live wire electrifying the air around them.

Rey reached out and yanked Ben’s arm down, breaking his concentration so that he dropped Thurmin and snarled at Rey, then stopped himself, seeming to remember where he was and why he wasn’t supposed to kill anyone. Rey kept an eye on him until her people had escorted the boy out of sight, and then she took Ben’s hand and guided him back to their table.

Her heart pounded, but she kept her face calm and her movements as normal as possible. An attendant stood nearby with a plate of food, and he brought it hurriedly over when Rey caught his eye.

It took Ben a little time to return fully to himself, and Rey gave him the space to do so, letting him work through his emotions without interference as she stared mournfully down at her plate. The attendant clearly didn’t know the first thing about Rey’s appetite – he’d served her dainty tidbits arranged artfully so that none of them touched.

Rey ate it all in record time, then leaned toward Ben. “I’m going to get my own food. Do you want anything?”

He shook his head, and she picked up her used plate and headed back to the banquet table.

The attendant balked when Rey started piling things on her plate, trying to talk her into letting him serve her and wouldn’t she at least like a new plate, but she smiled politely and ignored him.

These people clearly didn’t know how to eat.

“That was quite impressive,” said an elegant dark-haired woman who’d appeared at Rey’s elbow.

“Um,” said Rey. “Thanks?”

The woman smiled, flicked a hovercam out of her way (it zipped off in a huff), and gestured for the attendant to serve her, turning back to Rey as he busied himself. “You have great courage, taking on such a violent opponent.”

Rey shrugged and added a leg of something that had been roasted golden brown to her pile of food. “He was just a kid.”

The woman slid her a sly glance. “I was not speaking of the child.”

Rey did turn then, startled, and the other woman inclined her head. “Allow me to introduce myself. I am Priya Dendup, Queen of Onderon.”

“Oh,” said Rey. She suddenly felt out of her depth, standing there with a plate piled obnoxiously high and a dumb expression on her face, but the queen only smiled at her.

“I apologize for worming my way into your wedding. When I heard the Supreme Leader of the First Order would be marrying his lady fair on my planet, and so close to my capital city, I couldn’t rest until I obtained an invitation.” She tilted her head and examined Rey with frankly curious eyes. “You are not what I expected.”

“I get that a lot lately.”

The queen laughed, even though it hadn’t been a joke, and slid Rey another sly glance. “Perhaps you can convince your husband not to take my throne from me. I am certain you have ways to get him to listen to you.”

Rey flushed, suddenly uncomfortable with the turn of conversation. The queen seemed to sense this, because she patted Rey’s forearm lightly, murmured, “Think about it,” and swanned off to join the small group of local guests.

Lieutenant Mitaka intercepted Rey on her way to the head table. He gave a deep bow and smiled, though anxiety flickered at the backs of his eyes as he glanced toward the table and Ben’s hulking form. “I just wanted to congratulate you, my lady, before I head out.”

“You’re going somewhere?”

“The Supreme Leader gave the majority of the Dominance shore leave for the next few days. I’ll be joining a few friends in Iziz tonight, since my duty as your security coordinator is finished.”

Rey smiled, surprised and pleased by this news. She hadn’t known Ben had decided to be so generous with his subordinates. “That’s wonderful. I hope you have a good time.”

Mitaka returned her smile. “Thank you, my lady. And many blessings on your marriage.”

“Have a good night, Mitaka.”

“You too, ma’am.”

With another bow, he left, and Rey continued to the head table unmolested. When she arrived, Serin stood menaced between a stormtrooper at her back and Ben’s looming darkness at her front. The poor woman wrung her hands and babbled, her voice thick with tears and terror.

“…no idea what he planned to do. I swear if we had even the slightest inkling – we’ve never had an incident like this in all our years, I swear to you, my lord, I swear it.”

Rey stepped past the distraught woman and ran her hand over Ben’s arm, hoping the touch would break his icy intensity. “Of course you didn’t know,” Rey said lightly.

Serin looked at Rey hopefully. “We hired extra workers for the wedding. He was only supposed to help prepare the grounds beforehand, he wasn’t even supposed to still be here!”

The stormtrooper spoke, then. “We found evidence that he’d hidden in one of the tool sheds until it got dark enough to sneak out. The knife belonged to the resort, but it’d be easy enough to sneak one out of the kitchen.”

Serin’s eyes darted desperately. “We did background checks on all of our staff, on everyone connected with the wedding. We knew his parents were dead, that he lived with his aunt nearby, but the records didn’t show how they died, and he was just a child…”

“Clever kid,” said Rey, edging further in front of Ben and pulling something chocolate-covered from the middle of her food. The move threatened to send the teetering pile further off balance, but she ignored her precarious plate and popped the small chocolate-covered thing in her mouth – it was a piece of fruit, and the combination was both refreshing and decadent – then spoke with her mouth full because she knew it exasperated Ben. “I would have done exactly the same thing in his position.” She licked the chocolate off her fingertips. “You have great food. Could I get the recipe for those little cakes? The red ones?” She didn’t care about the cakes, but she wanted to change the course of the interrogation before Ben decided that Serin’s head and body didn’t need to be connected anymore.

“Yes, of course, my lady,” said a baffled Serin.

Rey felt Ben’s chest move behind her as he sighed, and she knew she’d won. “You may go,” he rumbled.

Serin scurried away, and Rey turned to put her plate on the table. Ben pulled her chair out for her and murmured, “I wasn’t going to kill her,” in her ear as she took her seat.

“You had a lot of people fooled, then,” she replied, flicking a glance at their nervous guests. Ben turned his icy stare their way, and they all found something better to do.

Rey looked at him when he sat. He found her hand under the tablecloth, running his thumb back and forth over her knuckles, but he kept his gaze carefully averted.

Rey shrugged and used her free hand to shovel food into her mouth, particularly enjoying the tender, juicy meats. She loved fruit, but real meat had been almost as much of a luxury on Jakku as fish, and she’d had more than her fill of that on Ahch-To.

She didn’t notice Ben’s amusement until she finished and leaned back in her chair with a sigh, her stomach uncomfortably distended against the gown’s restrictive bodice.

He squeezed the hand he held and raked his eyes over her. “When was the last time you slept?”

Rey thought about it and pressed a hand over her tired eyes. Did naps count? “I’m not sure.”

When she pulled her hand away, Ben had summoned Desomma over. The seamstress sank into a curtsy. “Yes, Supreme Leader?”

“My wife is tired. See that she is made comfortable.”

“Of course. If you will come with me, my lady?”

When Ben released Rey’s hand, she stood, but a sudden impulse made her bend and kiss his cheek, leaving him stunned as she cheerfully followed Desomma indoors. A pair of hovercams followed them, and the two women walked side-by-side once they were out of sight of the party.

“Nalti would be doing this if she were here,” said Rey quietly.

“Have you heard anything?” asked Desomma.

Rey’s shoulders slumped. “Not today. The wedding… I haven’t had time.” She gestured at the hovercams. “She’s actually why I brought these guys, since she couldn’t attend in person. They were Ash’s idea.”

Desomma smiled. “That’s brilliant. She’ll love it.” When they reached the stairs to Rey’s room, Rey waved the hovercams back to the party.

Desomma spoke as they climbed. “Will you be releasing the footage? I’m no public relations expert, by any means, but it might help the First Order’s image to see the Supreme Leader doing something as normal – and romantic – as getting married.”

Rey hadn’t considered that. She didn’t like the idea of her private moments being ogled by strangers. “I don’t know.” She would discuss it with Ben.

“Hm,” said Desomma as they reached the top landing. Only one door waited, a work of art all on its own, gleaming wood polished to a rich sheen.

Desomma pushed the door open and let Rey step in first.

Rey gaped around a space twice as big as her own sitting room. A gilt-edged dining table with matching chairs outstripped the door’s beauty by a mile, lit gently by moonlight where it stood beside the room’s only window – a tall, wide opening boasting what could only be the resort’s very best view, its gauzy curtains fluttering inward on the night breeze.

And – oh.

A vast bed stood in the shadows against a different wall, unlit candles flanking its opulent bulk.

Rey’s face flamed.

Desomma smirked but didn’t comment as she gestured to the broad wardrobe near the bed, her hands busy as she found and lit the room’s lamps. “All your things are in there. I’ll help you out of your gown if you want to get washed up.”

“Thank you,” said Rey.

Desomma returned her smile, then motioned for Rey to turn around so she could undo the gown’s fastenings.

Once Rey stepped out of the puddle of expensive cloth, she felt lighter and more comfortable.

“Do you want me to cover the rest of those bruises?” Desomma asked, looking critically at Rey’s ribs where the bodice had hidden the damage.

“No,” said Rey. She intended to shower, scrub her hair, and get the rest of that lousy powder off of her skin. “I’m fine.”

“Alright, then. I’ll just put this away and pull out your nightclothes. Do you want them in here or in the washroom?”

“Washroom, please.” A tingle of anticipation lit under Rey’s skin as she turned on the shower, shed her underthings, and stepped into the hot spray.

Desomma would finish her work and leave.

And then…

Rey shivered, and it had nothing to do with being cold.

Chapter Text

Rey examined herself in the washroom’s mirror as she toweled off from her shower. She’d washed away the powders and paints, revealing her bruises in all their shocking glory, but she felt nothing but relief to be in her own skin again.

When she was dry, Rey slipped on the white nightdress Desomma had left on the sink, looked at herself in the mirror – and laughed. Not some weak snicker, but a full belly laugh born of surprise.

It was the nightgown. The one she’d worn on her first night aboard the Dominance, the one she’d snuck out in and had to wrap a blanket around herself to hide its plunging neckline, the one with skirts she’d had to gather out of her way so they wouldn’t trip her. The one he’d carried her in, when the blanket and bodice had shifted and exposed her, and he’d seen more than he should have.

It had been altered so that she didn’t reveal her nipples with every shift of her body or trip with every step, but there was no mistaking it.

Rey picked up a second folded garment and slipped into a matching silk robe. She wondered if Desomma had made it to go with the nightgown, or if it had been in the original wardrobe and Rey just hadn’t found it.

The robe hid the fact that the nightgown still dipped scandalously low in front, and Rey felt a little more herself with the extra fabric covering her.

She exited the bathroom with damp hair and laughter on her lips, but Ben hadn’t arrived, so she went to stand by the table and look out at the moonlit jungle far, far below.

When he finally entered, Rey didn’t turn, just relaxed and focused on the soft thud of his boots as he removed them, then his footfalls as he drew near. His fingers found the curve of her shoulder and caressed her there.

“Was it your idea?” she asked, that smile still playing on her face. She rubbed her cheek against his hand and glanced up over her shoulder, still inclined to laugh. “The nightgown?”

His palm smoothed down her back, warm through the delicate fabric. “I may have requested it.”

Rey laughed and leaned back against him. Languid warmth spread through her limbs, edged with anticipation. She felt his breathing, not entirely steady, and the heat he radiated.

“Maybe… maybe we should just sleep,” he murmured into her hair, and she would have thought he was joking except that he had a concerned frown on his face when she turned to stare at him.

Rey couldn’t think of a single word more eloquent than, “What?”

He lifted his hand and rubbed his thumb across her cheekbone, his eyes taking in every little detail. “You’re exhausted, sweetheart. When was the last time you slept?”

For a moment, she thought… did he not want to? But then she probed their bond, looking for the source of his reluctance, and found that he was as ready as she was, his body primed, but some deeply buried instinct had surfaced at the feel of her delicate bones under his hands.

Oh for fuck’s sake, Rey thought as she discovered his gentlemanly but entirely unnecessary urge to take care of her.

She shoved him, and he took a surprised step back. She shoved him again, following as she used the Force to move this mountain of a man until his knees bumped against the side of the bed.

She crowded him into sitting on the edge, and he looked up at her as she stood between his legs in that white nightgown he’d had Desomma take in as a surprise for her. His expression pulled at her — full lips quivering and eyelids heavy as he let her take control. She hadn’t seen him this helpless, this uncertain, since his whispered, “Please,” in Snoke’s throne room.

Rey yanked at the collar of his thick, silver-embroidered wedding coat. “Take this off.”

His breathing stuttered, and he shifted to oblige, keeping his eyes on hers as he removed his belt and slowly shrugged out of the handsome fabric.

Rey fought a shiver as he tossed the coat aside and leaned back onto his elbows, rubbing his thumbs across his fingertips in an endearingly nervous gesture.

She moved even closer, until her outer thighs brushed against his inner ones, and gently reached to take his face in her hands.

His expression was infinitely vulnerable, as if she could shatter him with a touch.

Rey traced the lines of his face with her fingers.

Wanting more, she pulled at his shirt, prompting him to sit up and lift his arms so she could tug it over his head. Once it was off, he wrapped an arm around her waist and found the little vee of skin above her robe with his lips, revealing his broad naked back and muscled shoulders to her gaze.

A very nice view, especially those shoulders. Rey tucked that tidbit away for later as she pushed him away, using her strength and position above him to force him back onto his elbows again, despite his disappointed frown.

He tried to keep a hand on her hip, and she used the Force to shove it back against the bedding.

Ben drew breath with a hiss at that, eyes narrowing, but he remained compliant as she took the lead, watching her from under half-closed lids as she trailed her fingers over his scarred torso, examining him.

“Rey,” he gasped when she nuzzled the scar she’d given him, tracing it to its lowest point with her nose before dragging her lips across his skin. She darted her tongue out to taste him, and his head fell back on a groan.

Rey licked him again, and he fisted his hands in the bedding, body jerking and pressing his stiff sex against her. When he got himself under control, she could still feel his tip where it touched her through the fabric of his pants.

Rey considered where to put her mouth next and discovered a conundrum. She very much wanted access to his lips, but he was too tall. She’d have to lay herself bodily against him to reach, but that would leave her off balance and put all the power into his hands.

While the prospect of Ben taking charge made her thighs melt, Rey wasn’t ready to give the power up yet.

Having him laid out before her was too delicious.

She massaged the tense muscles of his thighs as she thought, firmly running her hands up and down them, never touching the fabric-shrouded shaft at his apex as she decided on a battle strategy.

Rey watched him try not to squirm under her hands, fighting to keep himself obedient. She offered him a small smile, a reward for being good, and saw his flushed face and glassy eyes lock onto her hands as she brought them to the belt of her robe. She untied it and let the fabric fall open, gratified when his eyes latched onto the expanse of bruised and freckled skin exposed by the deep vee between her breasts. His full lips parted, and she wanted to kiss them.

“Lie down,” she ordered, shrugging the robe from her shoulders to pool at her feet. He let out a strangled sound at the sight and scooted himself further onto the bed before he lay back.

Rey hiked up the nightgown’s skirt so she could crawl over him to straddle his waist. His unsteady breathing picked up, and Rey allowed herself a self-satisfied smile as she leaned down and used her mouth on his collarbone.

He moaned and bucked, his arousal hard against her, and she lifted her mouth from him, pressing one hand against his chest until he stilled with a desperate whine.

Pleased, Rey scooted further up his body until she could reach his face, her naked core against the fabric covering his abdomen. She leaned over him, pushing her loose hair over her shoulder only to have it fall back against his face as she brushed aside his dark curls and kissed his forehead. She felt his intake of breath as she trailed her lips to his eyebrow and kissed him there, then moved to the bridge of his nose and kissed that, too. She kissed the side of his nose and then his cheekbone, and she felt him quiver beneath her.

She loved him. It swelled inside her, pouring out into kisses on his jaw and cheeks and eyelids, everywhere but his mouth, making him pant helplessly under the assault and yank at the bedclothes fisted in his hands.

“Please,” he groaned, and she took pity on him, slanting her mouth across his and licking inside of him. His tongue met hers eagerly, twining and chasing, a desperate dance to catch and hold this one part of her.

His hips shifted restlessly, her body positioned too high for him to be able to rub against her, and he moaned into her mouth, almost sobbing with frustration.

“Hands and lips, over the clothes,” she allowed, then went back to kissing him as his fingers speared into her hair and pressed until their lips seemed to fuse with needy pressure.

One hand left her hair to drift down her body, brushing lightly against her breast before grasping her hip. In a maneuver she hadn’t expected, his big hand bore her down as he arched his back, pressing his abdomen against her sensitive sex.

Rey gasped into his mouth, and Ben smiled and did it again. And again. She had to stop kissing him, overwhelmed with the sensations sparking from her core, and found her hips gyrating needily against his body as little gasps and whimpers fell from her lips.

“I’m going to fuck you on that table,” he murmured, his voice low and dark like black velvet. Rey moaned and closed her eyes as she rutted against him, trying and failing to find pressure against all the right places. “Before we leave here, I’m going to put you over it and fuck you until you scream so loud everyone hears it.”

“Ben!” she gasped, needing more, needing… She reached to burrow her hand under her skirt and try to find that spot he always seemed to home in on when they touched each other, but he grabbed her wrist and pulled her hand away.

“I don’t think so,” he whispered, his lips full and red and eyes reflecting the soft lights of the room as he drank her desperation in. “If I can’t touch, neither can you.”

She squeezed his sides with her thighs, too frustrated to fight properly, her cheeks hot and core needy.

He released her, and Rey scooted lower. She felt vindictive pleasure when she dragged her needy core across him, making his eyes roll back and tearing a hoarse groan from deep in his chest.

“Rey,” he murmured, catching her hand as she began to fumble with his pants. She focused on him, and his gaze was much more lucid than it should have been under the circumstances. “I want you naked.”

She blushed, but he only waited and watched, neither pressuring her nor trying to pull the nightgown from her body.

Rey recognized that it was a request, not a demand. He wouldn’t force her to strip for him, wouldn’t make her uncomfortable, but he wanted to see her.

She was still nervous. She struggled with her feelings, and he continued to wait, patiently, as she searched for the courage to give him what they both wanted.

The desire in his eyes when she drew the nightgown’s hem further up her thighs helped chase her doubts away, but the most satisfying part was the flash of unguarded wonder when it caught under her hips and she shyly murmured, “Help me?”

She could feel the way his hands shook as he helped push the fabric up her body, baring her inch by inch. She saw his Adam’s apple bob, her eyes on his until the nightgown hid him from her and they drew it together over her head. Her hair fell messily down around her face once her head cleared the neckline, and they tossed the garment aside.

Ben stared at her and swallowed, looking suddenly very young as his eyes roamed her. Rey bit her lip and watched him. He hadn’t tried to touch her yet, and her thighs trembled at the thought of his warm palms against her skin.

He lifted a hand but only smoothed it across her hip, the touch comforting as he met her gaze again. “Are you sure?”

Rey bit her lip and nodded jerkily.

His gaze flickered with uncertainty. “Do you want… should I…” A deep breath, his nose and cheeks flushing. “Do you want me to take mine off, too?”

Rey fought down sudden panic and worried her lip between her teeth. “Maybe… could we… under the blankets?”

He nodded quickly, mouth shifting with surplus emotion. He helped her ease from her position straddling his body, keeping his hands considerately at her waist, and got up to pull the blankets down so she could slip underneath. Once she settled, he followed, and Rey looked away as he wriggled out of his pants.

He rolled to face her when he finished and drew his knuckles down the skin of her arm. She met his eyes, and he whispered, “Are you okay?”

Rey nodded. She was nervous and excited and freaking out, but yes. She was okay.

He slid closer to cup her cheek with one large hand. He watched her with those big brown eyes, his defenses stripped away along with his clothes, and she knew she held something very precious and fragile in her hands.

His trust.

“Ben,” she whispered.

“I love you, Rey.”

Her breath caught, and she wrapped her arms around his neck, bringing him closer. “I love you, too.”

They lay like that for a little while, getting warm and holding each other, and Rey felt herself relaxing as she acclimated to the feel of his nakedness against her. She could feel him resting lightly against her lower belly, a point of warmth.

“Tell me… tell me what you want to do to me,” she whispered. She wanted to hear it, hear the words rough and raw from his mouth.

Her pulse spiked as he rested his forehead against hers and took a ragged breath. The flush staining his cheekbones crept lower until it pinked his neck and leaked onto his chest, and his nostrils flared as he replied, “I want to touch you until you come.”

That was not the answer Rey had been expecting, but oh it was the right one. She surged against him and attacked his mouth, practically grappling him onto his back. He rolled with a kiss-muffled oomph, and steadied her eager thighs with his hands as she straddled him again, finding his bare member and rubbing her slick sex along it.

Ben closed his eyes and moaned, arching his hips into her so that his sex rubbed along her clit.

“I want you inside me,” she panted. “Please, Ben.”

“Yes,” he growled, tensing under her, but here he let her take the lead again, only putting his hand between their bodies when she needed help lining everything up, but then his fingers slipped along her folds and inside, and he whined in the back of his throat. “You’re so wet,” he gasped. “Fuck, Rey, you’re so wet for me, sweetheart.”

Rey bit her lip to hold back a moan, but he pumped his fingers shallowly, unable to get deeper due to the awkward positioning, and she rocked against his hand and whimpered when it wasn’t nearly enough. She grabbed his wrist and tugged his fingers out, needing something else and ready to try. “Please,” she begged. “Please, Ben.”

He wrapped his hand around his member, holding himself steady as she wiggled her hips against him and tried to find the right spot. She felt awkward as she shifted above him, but there seemed to be an incline downward to the place she needed him, and she inexpertly followed her body’s signals until he pressed into a place that yielded, and Rey’s eyes flew wide when she felt his tip go inside.

She couldn’t tell if it was her trembling or him or the two of them together, but Ben’s face had such awe written on it, his pupils blown wide and flushed lips parted as he watched her expression.

“Rey.”

She sank another half inch onto him, her eyelids fluttering closed at the strange feeling.

“Keep your eyes open, sweetheart.”

She pried her lids up and met his gaze, and then his eyes flicked down to where they were joined, and he said, “Look at it,” as if he wanted to share something breathtaking with her, and so Rey looked and saw where his shaft rose pale and proud to meet her, saw where they were just barely joined, and she gasped and looked away, back at his face, and found a smile waiting for her. No laughter or teasing but a simple, unguarded smile that she suspected he hadn’t worn for a very long time. “You’re beautiful,” he said.

She pressed further, going slowly as she waited for him to bump up against her hymen — what did a hymen look like, anyway? Was it a solid barrier like a tarp inside of her? If so, how did her monthlies get out?

Ben gasped as she took more of him, hands clenching on her thighs, and Rey decided that just then was not the time for wandering thoughts. Frustrated with the achingly slow pace, she bore down until she had over half of him inside, glancing down to check her progress and frowning when the only discomfort she felt was the strange stretching feeling, and even that wasn’t painful so much as odd.

She pressed down again, the slick inside of her easing his passage, and then with a soundless thump she was fully seated on his cock.

No pain.

Ben groaned hoarsely and wrapped his arms around her, burying his head in her shoulder, his thick hair soft against her neck, before going lower and nipping desperately at one of her breasts. He didn’t seem to know where or upon what to focus.

Rey stroked his mussed hair as he breathed harshly against her chest, waves of tenderness threatening to overwhelm her. She lowered her lips to his ear, her voice low and intimate, flirty in a way she’d never been before. “Tell me what you want to do to me now, Ben.”

“I want to fuck you,” he gasped, his response plain and efficient in its honesty. “Please, sweetheart, let me fuck you.”

Rey only vaguely understood the mechanics of what came next, but it didn’t scare her anymore.

And he’d been so very patient.

So she bent, licked his ear, and gave up her control.

“Take me.”

He rolled her onto her back, a move that might have been fluid if they’d ever done it before — but here, on their wedding night, it was a fumble of limbs, his cock slipping out until they sorted themselves, and he seated himself back inside her with a thrust she knew could have been much more powerful.

He was still holding himself back, still showing her gentleness as he wrapped his arms around her and began to move.

Rey arched her neck, lips parting as he refused to follow orders, refused to take her, and instead made love to her. As his hips rocked with long, slow strokes, his lips found her breast again and suckled. Rey blinked back tears, gripping his shoulders with her fingertips and running them up his neck and into his messy hair.

“Ben,” she whispered.

He looked at her, naked emotions bared on his face, and watched her as he increased his rhythm. “Keep looking at me, sweetheart.” He lowered his mouth to her nipple, not taking his eyes from hers for a second, and licked it. “There you are,” he murmured as she gasped and lifted her hips to meet his. “Keep looking at me. I’m going to come inside of you tonight. Would you like that?”

Rey nodded, still trying to match his rhythm. His words and his gaze on hers and the sheer love she saw on his face even as he made her skin flush and her mind spin and oh oh oh, this new angle made her see stars, fuck. Fuck. Fuck fuck fuck.

“FUCK!” she shrieked. His eyes widened, a curious brow rising as he took note, and she snapped her hips up to his with a growl. “Harder.”

He obliged. And he obliged when she demanded he go harder still and only grunted when her fingernails bit into his shoulders and her hips canted upwards, and she trembled on the edge of something glorious.

“I can’t hold on,” he gasped, pounding into her in a steady beat which matched the blood racing through her veins. “Rey.”

“Then don’t.”

Rey could do nothing but cling to his sweat-slicked shoulders as he began to fuck her in earnest, his eyes wild and mouth open as he panted hot against her face, still refusing to break eye contact as he hammered into her body.

It felt amazing, the hard fast thrust of him inside her, and Rey wanted to sob at the intensity which poured off him. Just as he peaked, the severe lines of his face turning sharp as he shoved all of his hard length inside and groaned his release, Rey felt herself propelled close to the edge — and then start to slide back.

She lifted her hips against his, struggling to chase the feeling, and he roused himself to give her what she wanted, hard thrusts and nibbles at her breasts, but he soon softened too much to continue, slipping gently out of her. With the retreat of his shaft, Rey’s loosely cobbled pleasure dissipated.

Ben rolled onto his back, tugging her until she lay on his chest with her thighs on either side of his waist, and they kissed like that for several minutes, the unquenched fire between Rey’s legs making her wet again as she revelled in the warm, sated, relaxed man underneath her. She’d never seen him like this — even when she’d pleasured him on their nights together aboard the Dominance, he’d always held onto his edge — and she decided to make a point of getting him this way as often as possible.

She pressed her hands to his chest and sat up only to feel something thick and wet slide out of her onto his stomach.

Rey scooted back and stared down at the glob of cum, mortified. “I am so sorry,” she gasped.

Ben laughed, stroking Rey’s sweaty hair away from her face. “For what? Marrying me, having sex with me, letting me come inside you…”

“Ben,” she huffed, but his smile turned mischievous, and he grabbed her and pulled her against him, smearing the viscous fluid over both of them, making her shriek as laughter reverberated in his chest.

Still playful, he rolled with her, and Rey found herself flat on her back, Ben hovering over her, the mess glistening on their skin.

“Next time, I’ll make sure you come first,” he murmured, snaking his hand between her legs and searching until he found that little sensitive spot that made her hips buck. He hummed his appreciation as she ground her clit against his questing hand. “Was it okay?” He flicked his head to get his own sweat-damp hair out of his eyes, a worry line forming between his brows, and Rey groaned that he felt the need to talk right then. But his worry made her try to focus, for his sake. “You seemed to be enjoying it toward the end there.”

Rey mustered enough brainpower to respond even with most of her brain diverted between her legs. “Yes,” she admitted, shifting against his hand and gasping when he brushed the right places. “The angle, I think.” She bit her lip on a whimper as his fingers played in the sticky mess they’d made together. She arched her back, eager against his hand, and he watched her face intently, patiently, memorizing what made her lashes flutter and what made her lips part and what made her cry out.

“I’m going to fuck you again,” he whispered when she made little desperate mewls every time he pressed his thumb into that spot. “I’m going to fuck you every day. Sometimes I’ll fuck you soft and slow, and sometimes I’ll fuck you fast and hard.” He drew a breast into his mouth, sucking almost painfully, and still he watched her with those predator-bright eyes.

Rey bucked against his hand, his words driving her higher, and she remembered what that bitch Ruby had thought about him. Rey replaced the other woman in the fantasy with herself and opened that image to Ben, making him jerk against her with a surprised hiss.

“I can do that for you, sweetheart,” he murmured, licking purposefully around her areola before flicking the tip of his tongue back and forth against her nipple. “I can do anything you want.”

He slid two fingers inside of her and began to fuck her with them, sending her the purring satisfaction it brought him to indulge her. Rey gasped as he sent her more, swamping her: the pleasure he’d found in fucking her tight body until he’d spent himself inside, the utter rightness of being with her, being inside of her. He sent his desire to take her like a wild animal, pounding her until she screamed, as well as his arousal at the thought of taking her with soft, slow touches and muted moans. Above it all, laced through, a thread of aching tenderness.

“Ben,” she whispered as he took her higher. She grasped for that peak, trying to hook her fingertips into it, and she felt him lick over her breast and up her neck before his lips found hers. He sent his excitement through their bond, his love and devotion and the word wife over and over like a helpless mantra.

Rey arched against him and screamed, scrabbling her fingers into his hair and skin, anywhere she could reach to try and anchor herself as her orgasm took her.

When she came down, she relaxed into the mattress and blinked up at his smile.

“Who takes care of you, sweetheart?”

She knew how he meant it, and she didn’t mind one bit. “You do.” A yawn chased her words, and he cuddled down beside her, pulling the blankets over their sweaty bodies and draping one of his heavy arms across her ribs.

She felt his lips stir her hair. “Rest.”

Rey yawned again and nestled against him. “I thought you were going to fuck me into oblivion.”

His fingers trailed across her shoulder. “Plenty of time for that later.” Another kiss to her hair. “You’ll need your strength.”

She snorted at that, but her body agreed with him. She hadn’t had enough food or sleep lately, and she’d need to catch up more before she tried to roll around in the sheets with him again.

Rey fell asleep to the sound of his breathing, his heartbeat, and the scent of sweat overlaying the warm breeze full of flowers and jungle.

Chapter Text

Rey dreamt of Starkiller Base and the platform where Ben killed his father. This time, however, it wasn't Han but the kindly old king Ben skewered.

“Isn't this what you wanted?” the murdered king asked before the dream changed to something nonsensical involving Chewie and the Falcon and hundreds of Porgs. Rey kept trying to find the Falcon's bathroom only to sink deeper and deeper into piles of Porgs, when an Ahch-To caretaker appeared to let her know the only working toilet was the co-pilot’s chair in the cockpit.

The dream faded, leaving Rey blinking blearily up at the unfamiliar ceiling. It was still dark at the resort, but her bladder didn't seem to care, so she eased out from under Ben's arm to visit the washroom.

As she relieved herself, Rey remembered more and more of her dream, including the part with Ben and the king.

It wasn't what she'd wanted to happen, either in the dream or in reality. Her decisions had had unforeseen consequences, and the awful thing was that Rey didn't know what else she could have done. She didn't know how to convince anyone to do something she wouldn't be willing to do. She didn't possess that skill. She wondered if that was the heart of politics: convincing people to do things you would never do yourself.

Rey finished up and returned to the dim bedroom, finding her robe on the floor and slipping into it before crawling back into bed with Ben.

He was awake, of course, and waiting. His dark eyes followed her as she settled down beside him.

She curled into him, chilled from her brief foray out of bed, and pressed her face against his chest. “Bad dream,” she whispered, taking comfort from his closeness. It was not lost on her that he was the subject of her nightmare, even as his arms closed around her and made her feel safe.

She’d never had this — someone to chase the bad dreams away. Had Leia done this for him as a boy? Before fear drove her to send him away? Had she smoothed her hands over his back and his hair until the warmth and closeness lulled him back to sleep?

Then Ben’s hand moved lower and gently cupped her ass, making Rey gasp.

He certainly hadn’t learned that from his mother.

Rey pressed closer, and Ben’s arms drew her in until they were flush against each other. Their lips met, and they kissed lazily, their tongues reacquainting themselves with warm, slow, sleepy caresses. Ben’s hands moved soothingly over the robe, stroking and fondling, and Rey felt his member waking between them, not yet insistent but making its presence — and interest — known.

His fingers caught the neck of her robe and drew it aside, the robe’s thin belt doing nothing to hamper his gentle efforts.

Their kiss became heavier, deeper, mouths more insistent as Ben’s hand smoothed down to her legs and pushed the robe aside there, as well. He tugged Rey’s leg over his hip, squeezing and caressing her thigh as his sex bobbed against her, not quite in the right position. He used the hand on her thigh to fumble with himself until his tip slid inside, then returned his hand to her leg, gripping her there as he groaned and pressed deeper.

Rey gasped against his collarbone, all of her attention focused on the hot hazy sleepiness of his entry. Their mouths didn’t quite line up now, but Ben rectified that once he’d seated himself fully inside her by curling his spine so that he could reach her lips with his.

Rey sighed against his mouth and kissed him as he began to move inside her, soft and slow and sweet. She felt warm and safe, dreamlike, threading her fingers in Ben’s hair and kissing him through the coupling until he tore his mouth from hers to bury his head in her neck. He shuddered as he came inside her, mouth panting hot and damp against her skin.

As their breathing slowed, Ben groaned a curse into her neck.

Rey stroked his hair. “What is it?”

He drew back far enough to look at her, eyes heavy-lidded and lips pressed together. “I said you’d come first next time.”

Rey smiled. “It’s fine.”

Ben nuzzled her, his limbs still heavy and sated. “It’s not.” A lingering kiss made her body take his side: nothing would be okay until she’d come and come hard. “Let me make it up to you,” he said. “I’ll draw you a bath, order some food, and make you come as many times as you can stand.”

Rey felt like she ought to argue, but every word of that sentence sounded like heaven, so instead she grinned and kissed the tip of his nose. “Okay.”

He climbed out of bed with a final kiss to her lips, pulling on pants and a shirt before slipping into the washroom to draw her bath.

Rey took the moment alone to let her thoughts drift, pale and amorphous. When Ben returned, he stood and smiled down at her. Rey smiled back, shifting her legs on the mattress and biting her lip. She knew her eyes were hungry, and his darkened to match.

He bent to untie her robe and unwrap it from her. When she’d been freed of the fabric, he lifted her easily and carried her to the washroom.

The tub, which looked more like a small pond, sat beside a window overlooking the jungle below, though this window remained closed. Ben had placed a small lantern nearby, eschewing the room’s brighter lights for the soft glow.

He lowered Rey into the filling tub, settling her on a built-in seat, and she sighed as warmth pressed over her legs, into the used crevice between her thighs, and made her shiver at the contrast of the water’s heat against her cooler skin.

Ben loomed, and she smiled shyly up at him.

“I’ll be back,” he murmured, bending to press a kiss to her hair.

Rey nodded and sank deeper into the bath, wanting the heat to permeate further. Alone, she parted her thighs and rubbed her fingers against her folds, carefully and deliberately wiping the stickiness of their coupling away. As the water rose closer to her shoulders, she turned the tap off and ran her hands over her stomach and breasts, relieved as Ben’s dried mess dissolved into the water.

Having done all she could without cloth or soap, Rey relaxed and let her hand drift back between her thighs, searching out a different purpose now.

She gasped as she found that spot and pressed, biting back a moan. Rubbing it didn’t do much, the water washed her slick away too quickly, so instead she experimentally grasped and pinched it. Her hips jerked as tight pleasure shot almost painfully all the way to her spine. Rey yelped and pulled her hand away.

O-kay, maybe a lighter touch?

She tried again, just brushing the spot with her fingertips, and felt pleasure like the whisper of a butterfly’s wing, so subtle it could have been her imagination.

Rey continued to toy with herself, figuring out what pressure and rhythm she liked. She was deep into her self-pleasure when she heard the washroom door open. She jumped, yanking her hands away and staring at Ben as he entered with a tray.

He set the tray down on the side of the tub and raised an eyebrow when he saw her flushed face and guilty expression. One hand slid up her cheek, reminding her of the handful of times when they'd first met and he’d not quite touched her as he searched her mind. He had that same inquisitive intensity now. “What were you doing?”

Rey thought he already knew, or at least guessed, but she opened her mind to him, let him see.

His eyes slid closed, and his lips parted. “Oh.” When he opened his eyes, bright spots of color had appeared on his cheeks. “Rey.”

She simultaneously wanted to slide under the water to hide and rise up to pull him down. She did neither, watching instead as he stripped his shirt off and gripped the waistband of his pants. She looked away with a soft gasp as he drew them down and stepped out of them, only glancing up toward his chest and face when he joined her in the water.

She was very careful to avoid looking between his legs, but she couldn’t quite avoid catching it in her periphery and turning bright red as a result. It was better when he covered her and his chest and shoulders blocked most of her line of sight.

His hand crept to her core under the water, seeking to continue what she’d begun. Two fingers slid inside and his thumb probed at her clit. “Open for me, sweetheart,” he murmured, his face beside hers and expression distant as he nudged the barrier of her mind.

Rey let him in, let him feel what she felt so he could adjust his touch to suit her, and let her legs fall further open as well. Soon, he had her squirming beneath him, a faint smile on his lips as he listened to her responses.

“So impatient,” he murmured, as if she couldn’t feel his cock on her stomach or the way he shifted lightly, rhythmically, seeking friction against her skin.

He huffed as he caught her thought, and Rey mentally stuck her tongue out at him.

“Careful, or I’ll bite it off,” he warned, rutting harder.

Rey ignored the fact that he couldn’t bite a mental tongue and glanced down at the length of him moving against her stomach. A low moan escaped her, and she tried to hide how much the sight turned her on.

But she couldn’t. He was inside of her, his fingers in her body and his thoughts twining with hers, and he could feel how wet the shock of it made her.

He rose until the head of his cock rubbed directly between her breasts and wound his free hand in Rey’s hair so he could force her to look at it. Transfixed, she gazed directly at the mushroomed tip with its small open slit, unable to hide from the pale smooth length of him, and watched this piece of him degrade her with disproportionate desire rising up to meet it. She knew that the desire was her own, and the embarrassment sent her higher.

“Ben,” she gasped as his fingers picked up their pace, fucking her so hard that the water around them splashed lewdly. Rey gripped his arms to steady herself, her body anchored by his punishing grip in her hair and the pistoning hand between her thighs.

He continued to bump his thumb against her clit, and Rey felt emboldened by the mounting pleasure, her arousal feeding into his and his into hers through their mental connection until she was half insane with lust.

Insanity was the only explanation for why she dipped her mouth to the water’s choppy surface, extended her tongue, and licked the slit at the tip of his cock.

Ben cried out, his thumb clashing against her clit, and Rey felt a haze of carnal intent settle over him, mingling with frustration and fury. It distracted her, and he cut the connection, leaving her alone in her throbbing body as his long fingers drove her to the precipice, his cock bobbing in her face now, bumping wetly against her cheek, and Rey wrapped her lips instinctively around it just before she came, wringing a curse from the man hunched above her.

Rey flew apart with a wild, desperate moan, releasing Ben’s cock from her mouth so she could arch her back and ride his fingers through her orgasm. He drew her orgasm out with his fingers, and then she pushed his hand from her overstimulated body.

Ben wrapped an arm around her waist, flipped her over so her arms rested on the side of the tub, and entered her from behind. Rey gasped and pressed back into him, the reverberations of her orgasm flaring as Ben fucked her, his frantic thrusts stuttering to a halt as he released a low moan and added fresh wet heat to pool inside her body.

He slumped on top of her, then pulled her onto his lap on the tub's seat so that Rey could curl at a comfortable depth.

“Why were you angry?” she asked once they both caught their breath.

He huffed a laugh and gazed down at her, his brown eyes tracing over her face. “I promised myself I wouldn’t come. This was only supposed to be for you.” He pressed a kiss to her forehead, then her nose, and finally her lips. “You spoiled my plan.”

Rey kissed him smartly on the mouth. “It was a stupid plan. I like it when you come.”

He raised an amused brow. “Well. You’re certainly good at making that happen.”

“I mean it,” she insisted, and tilted her face up so she could look him in the eye. She continued despite the blush on her cheeks. “I like making you come. It’s sexy.”

He examined her expression, his own hidden behind a considering frown. “I feel selfish when it’s just me.”

She traced her palm up his jaw, feeling the ridge of his scar. She couldn’t say that she didn’t appreciate the thought or that she didn’t want to come — orgasms were amazing — but she didn’t see what he had to feel selfish about. “It’s not like you’re ignoring my needs, Ben,” she said softly, caressing his face. He pressed his cheek into her palm and turned to kiss it. “And it’s just dumb to deny yourself for my sake, especially because I don’t want you to. It’s… nice. When you come for me.” She wanted to hide her face in his shoulder but resisted the impulse. Softly, she admitted again, “I like it.”

He pressed a kiss to her wrist. “You’ll tell me if you’re not satisfied?”

Rey thought about it. It would be embarrassing to admit, and part of her resisted the idea, but then she came up with a happy compromise. Wiggling on his lap, she straightened her spine. He’d been watching the emotions on her face, probably probing their bond to understand better. “If I’m unsatisfied, I will let you know by personally shoving your hand down my pants until it’s all better.”

He smiled, the expression reluctant, his gaze still wary, but she kissed him until the worry lines eased away and his hand drifted between her legs to tease her clit back to swollen attention.

“Like this?” he asked.

Rey squirmed, flushing with fresh desire. “You’re just doing that because you feel bad about earlier,” she whispered.

“Yes,” he admitted, but the grin teasing his lips made her ignore his hangups and kiss him, his face between her hands as he coaxed her higher and whispered dark desires in her ear, methodically circling her clit and pressing his fingers into her until she arched and shattered with a strangled cry.

He seemed pleased after that, satisfied that he’d made up for breaking his promise. It didn’t sit right with Rey that he couldn't just relax and enjoy himself, but her body was too busy humming like a well-tuned speeder engine to complain.

He pressed a piece of chocolate-covered fruit to her lips, and Rey accepted it with a happy sigh. She kissed his lips without wiping the chocolate residue from her own and wrapped her arms around his neck.

Ben’s lips found the bruises Desomma had covered up so carefully. He traced one to Rey’s sternum and up, mouthing at her collarbone where the shuttle’s harness had pressed most cruelly. “I’m glad they’re dead,” he said. His fingertips trailed over her shoulder, down to the thin raised lines of the scar on her bicep, her souvenir from their fight with Snoke’s Praetorian Guard. It had an interesting shape, almost intentional, like a signature flourish. Ben's fingers ran over and over it.

Rey turned her head to watch the progress of his fingers and lips. He kissed her scar, wrapped his arm around her waist to steady her, and trailed his mouth up her opposite shoulder, following the path of the bruises she’d acquired.

She stroked Ben’s thick dark hair, her fingers turning the top strands damp. “Have you heard anything about Nalti?”

Ben raised his head, his gaze flickering to hers with an assessing stillness. After Rey’s heart had time to sink, he confirmed her fears. “They replaced the arm.”

Rey buried her face in Ben’s neck and felt both arms come up around her, drawing her in. She didn’t cry, but she felt like maybe she ought to. “I should have been there.”

He adjusted their position so he could watch her, cradling her against his chest rather than hugging her. Eventually, he reached one of his long arms toward the tray of food and plucked a morsel off to slip between her lips. This one was savory and spread its flavor over the guilt on her tongue. “Cybernetics these days are excellent.”

“Tell that to Crusher Roodown,” Rey muttered as she chewed. Ben tilted his head in inquiry, but Rey shook her own. “Just someone on Jakku. He couldn’t scavenge after he lost his arms, wound up hauling scrap.” She didn’t mention how Crusher lost his arms, that Plutt suspected him of trading with another junk dealer and sent his goons to cut them off. It veered too close to memories of how she’d been under Plutt’s thumb, how she could have suffered an equally awful fate. Crusher Roodown had been an example of how one bad piece of intel could make The Blobfish turn on even his best people.

Ben stroked her hair. “I authorized a top of the line prosthetic for her. She’ll be fine.”

Rey let him try to soothe her, concentrating on his hands and the rumble of his voice to drive the memories away. “She’s why I ordered those hovercams. So she could see the wedding.”

“I know.” At her glance, he elaborated. “I had to sign off on them.”

“Ah.” So even that choice had been his, in the end. She shouldn’t be surprised, but she was. Another reminder of her place and how her authority was only what he allowed her. She didn’t think Ben thought of it that way, but it was the reality of their situation. In the eyes of the galaxy, he would always be the Supreme Leader, and she would always be… not.

“I believe the footage has already been taken to the Dominance.”

“Desomma said it might make the First Order look better if you released some of the recording.” Rey bit her lip and adjusted on his lap, her bare bottom against his naked thighs. “I’m not sure, though. I don’t know that I want strangers gawking at my wedding.”

Ben rested his head back against the side of the tub, a frown tugging at his full lips. Finally, he shrugged. “I’m not too concerned about public relations.”

Rey arched a brow at him. “You probably should be. People hate the First Order.”

He observed her with those dark, probing eyes. “They don’t need to like us. They just need to fall in line.”

Rey sighed. “That’s what the Empire thought."

He looked annoyed, so she let that line of conversation go and reached for the food. That she’d managed to ignore it this long surprised her, and she wondered as she stuffed her mouth if sex would be better if she could eat at the same time. Or maybe eating would be better if she could have sex at the same time.

Definitely worth exploring.

Rey hopped off Ben’s lap and examined the food more closely, popping bits into her mouth. After she’d eaten half of what he'd brought, she glanced over her shoulder and asked, “Did you want any?”

His lips twitched. “I can wait for breakfast.”

Rey grinned and went back to eating, elbows on the side of the tub so she could prop herself over the tray. “Mmm,” she sighed, wiggling with delight.

The sharp inhale behind her made Rey pause and consider how she was positioned, her back arched and rear on display. When she glanced over her shoulder again, more surreptitiously this time, she caught him staring at her ass. She gave it another experimental wiggle, and his lips parted.

His eyes flickered to hers, and the water sloshed as he surged forward to cover her.

He didn’t pull her away from the food, but his big hands gripped her hips, his lips traced up her spine, and his sex pressed hot and thick against her buttocks.

Rey moaned through her current mouthful and wiggled her ass against him.

He reached around and drew his fingers through her folds, adjusting her hips higher, actually lifting her out of the water to align himself so he could sink inside.

Rey grabbed the edge of the tub and groaned, her mouth full of food and her senses full of Ben. He was such a distraction that she forgot about the food in her mouth until a morsel tried to slide into her airway. The prospect of choking prompted Rey to chew rapidly and swallow as the man she loved thrust into her.

So much for that idea.

With her mouth free, she moaned and pressed back against him, her nipples rasping the edge of the tub as he took her.

“Say it,” he growled into her ear.

Rey gasped and shivered, feeling their bond open from his end, one word pressing into her with each thrust of his hips.

“You know what I want.” He bit her ear hard enough to leave a dent, and Rey shrieked at the unexpected pain of it. “Say it, Rey. Say it.”

She whimpered, unable to find any leverage. She could only accept his onslaught, couldn’t participate. Her lips parted on a gasp, and she whispered, “Husband.”

He drove into her so hard that her ribs slammed against the edge of the tub. Pain flared bright. “Again,” he demanded, holding her hips high with one arm while the other braced himself, his hand on the edge beside her.

“Husband,” she gasped, bracing herself to endure his rough thrusts, his strong, powerful strokes shoving her into the side of the tub. She had to grit her teeth to get through it. She felt relief when he came inside her with a ragged shout, tugged her into his arms, and slumped onto the tub’s seat to catch his breath.

“Ow,” she muttered against his collarbone. She rubbed at her ribs, and Ben drew back to look.

“Did I hurt you?”

Rey looked up at his wide-eyed frown. He glanced at her hand, and she snatched it away from her ribs, but he took the opportunity to make his own inspection, running a thumb across the red skin where she’d bumped against the tub's hard edge.

“I did, didn’t I?” He zeroed in on her face, the weight of his eyes heavy and accusing. “Why didn’t you say something?”

She shrugged. He’d been so eager, which she’d liked, and the pain hadn’t been that bad. None of which held up very well, but they were her reasons, damn it. They didn’t have to be good ones.

He sighed and smoothed her hair back from her face, leaving it damp. His fingers, she noted, were pruned from so much time spent in the water -- and inside her. The realization made her shiver.

Ben reached out and picked up a small violet bar of soap; he proceeded to rub it lazily up and down Rey’s back, to her neck and shoulders above the water and down to the base of her spine below, covering every inch before rinsing the suds away. “You have to tell me these things,” he murmured as he set to work on her arms and sides, then her front. He pressed his thumb into her nipples gently after he passed over them, a greeting more than a tease, and carefully rubbed the soap over the fresh bruises on her ribs, down her stomach, to the juncture of her legs.

He washed every inch of her, making her squeak and blush when his ruthless thoroughness included her asshole, and when she was clean and rinsed he began to wash himself.

Rey stopped him. Silently, glancing sheepishly through her lashes at him, she began to wash him the way he’d washed her, starting with his shoulders and chest.

He nuzzled his nose against her hair as she proceeded, not trying to touch her, just letting her touch him. “You need to tell me next time, Rey. Promise me.”

“I’ll try,” she said as she got to his thighs, skipped his soft member, and scrubbed her way down one leg.

He gripped her upper arms, his big hands spanning them, and waited for her to look up at him. “No. Not try. I don’t want to hurt you.” A glint of worry, maybe shame entered his dark eyes, and his mouth twisted with emotion. “I can… forget sometimes. To be gentle. I’m not… used to it.”

Rey wriggled free and leaned forward to kiss him, unable to keep the wry humor out of her voice. “Ben. It wasn’t the sex that hurt. It was the side of the tub.” She smoothed a lock of hair from his brow, leaving a damp trail behind on his skin. “I’ll say something next time, okay?” She ducked her head. “And… we’re both kind of new at this. I think we get some leeway while we figure it all out.”

Rey gripped the soap and returned to his leg, continuing down and noting the strangled noise he made when she scrubbed the bottom of his foot, a cross between a gargle and a yelp. His leg jerked as if he wanted to pull away, but he mastered himself and left his heel in her hand.

Rey bit back a grin. Ticklish. Good to know.

She moved to his other foot, suppressing her amusement at the way he twitched, and began to move up until she was soaping between his legs; he shifted his thighs apart to give her better access, heavy gaze on her face as she carefully washed him. He wasn’t erect, and Rey wondered if that had something to do with guilt or if she was doing this wrong, so she soaped him up slowly and took the chance to examine him through water fogged violet with soapsuds.

Soft like this, he was easy to manipulate, and Rey was almost worried about hurting him. His sex sat pale and quiet in coarse dark hair, moles sprinkled across his thighs to either side. Two tiny flat moles, almost freckles, appeared on his shaft, one further down and the other more to the side. She felt warm and pleased that no one else knew about them, that the sight was hers alone.

Beneath his member hung a fleshy sac with two lumps inside, and Rey blushed furiously when he made a low groan at her exploratory fondling. She washed there quickly and nudged him to turn so she could get his neck and back.

She wasn’t washing his ass, he could do that himself, and she told him so as soon as she finished with his tailbone. He took the soap with a low laugh, and Rey turned away. The sudsy water had begun to cool, so Rey climbed out and found a towel to wrap around herself. Ben followed suit once he was clean, setting the wet soap on the side of the tub and swinging his legs over to sit on the edge. He watched her as he grabbed a towel and dried his neck and the tips of his hair where water had gotten on it, leaving his big body on display.

Rey couldn’t help peeking, even though she felt his eyes on her face.

“You can look,” he said softly.

Which, of course, embarrassed her so much that she stopped peeking. She went into their room and found her nightgown, slipped it on, and crawled into bed, weariness tackling her. The sun wasn’t even up on Onderon, which meant it was probably bedtime on the Dominance.

When Ben entered, a towel slung around his waist, he set his neatly folded clothes on a chair by his side of the bed.

He dropped the towel and climbed into bed naked, curling his big warm body around Rey. His lips found her cheek, and he sleepily asked, “Do you want to try that thing you showed me? With my head between your legs?”

Rey’s eyes widened, her heart picking up. “I’m… I’m tired,” she protested.

His hand ghosted over her ribs where he’d pressed her into the hard tub edge, and Rey understood that his offer came more from guilt than desire.

“In the morning,” she replied, maneuvering until she could snuggle back against him. “I haven’t slept properly in… days, I think.”

He rumbled his assent and tugged the blankets up over them, cocooning them both in warmth.

Chapter Text

When dawn broke through the window and the world below began to stir with life, Rey cracked an eye open and rolled onto her back and then out of bed. She stumbled into the washroom in her nightgown, relieved her bladder, and took a moment with the skirt hiked up to examine the new bruises across her ribs.

Not bad, she decided. She’d gotten worse from her scavenging, when she hadn’t had any extra flesh to protect from injuries. She could tell that she’d gained a thin layer of padding under her skin, her body clinging to the precious extra weight. Someone else wouldn’t be able to tell, but Rey had spent too long counting her own ribs not to see the change.

She dropped the skirt and smoothed it, wondering if she should try to get some more sleep with the sunlight peeking over the horizon.

Ben waited beside the washroom door as she exited; he slipped in behind her, presumably to relieve his own bladder. He’d found his pants and put them on, and Rey saw when he came back that his hair stuck up on one side. He crawled bleary-eyed into bed beside her and continued until he was leaning over her. He kissed her cleavage, nuzzling it sleepily with the entire length of his face, and started tugging her skirt up toward her hips while he shifted down beneath the blankets. Rey lifted her hips so he could shove her skirt up easier, not at all opposed to whatever he had in mind, but she gasped when he pressed her thighs open, his face hovering just above the juncture between her legs, and glanced up with molten intent.

Rey felt herself caught and held by his eyes, irises lit a beastial amber by the growing light creeping through their window.

Ben lowered his mouth onto her, pressing with his lips and then his tongue, watching her face carefully to see what made her squirm. Once he seemed comfortable, he buried his entire face between her legs, dedicating himself solely to the soft folds of her sex and the little piece of flesh that made her want to grind against his face when he nudged it.

Rey’s entire body flushed. She didn’t know whether to feel pleasure or embarrassment more, and the two emotions warred strong inside of her, feeding each other, until Rey found herself gripping Ben’s hair hard enough to make him give a soft, pained grunt.

He ate her with renewed fervor, nipping and licking and sucking until she writhed beneath him, yanking his hair rhythmically with the little twisting gyrations of her hips. Somehow, he’d figured out enough by watching her face, and Rey didn’t know whether to pull him away or push him harder into her, but then he shoved two fingers inside of her and pumped them, sending her to the edge of flying apart but not quite there. Just a little… a little… more...

“Aaaah!” she shrieked, her thighs closing around his head against her will. She’d been trying so hard to keep them open; it distracted her from her orgasm, which waned quickly when she snapped them back open and pushed his head away from her core.

Rey panted, and Ben crawled up to settle beside her, his damp chin resting on her shoulder as she caught her breath. “Was that okay?” he asked, those big brown eyes watching her.

Rey nodded, unable to find words as her heart pounded and her core throbbed with only half-sated need. She doubted it was his fault her climax had been so weak. She hadn’t been able to get out of her head. “Do you want to...?” She glanced at him, and his brows rose. Rey blushed. Even after all the things they’d done the previous night, even though his face smelled like her sex, she couldn’t ask her own husband to fuck her.

Not in the light of day, at least.

Rey rolled away from him and gathered her skirt further around her hips. Not having to face him made her bolder, and she reached back to pull his arm around her, up to her breasts where he automatically slid a hand under the low neckline and cupped one of the small, soft mounds. She rubbed back against his erection and said, “Please?”

She felt his surprised huff pass over her ear and cheek, and then his warmth disappeared as he rolled onto his back and shed his pants. He wrapped his body back around hers and lifted her top leg for access. “Anything,” he murmured as he slid inside.

He held still, letting her body adjust, and kept his face pressed into her shoulder. Rey appreciated the restraint, but she needed him to move . She reached back and gripped his hip, digging her fingers in to urge him on, and he began a slow, steady rhythm that frustrated her sensitive sex.

“Harder,” she snapped, and his hips snapped in response, sending a wave of sensation over her. Rey groaned and tugged at his hip, urging him to go faster and rougher, using her words when she had to.

Their bond flared open, and she could feel how hard he was working to hold his own climax back, wanting to send her over the edge first. She drew from his feelings, feeding them into her own, letting it all drive her half-mad. She was writhing back against him, in his arms, when he reached around and found that little spot he’d licked to attention not too long ago.

He brushed a finger over it, and Rey’s hips bucked so hard that she almost uncoupled from him.

She could feel his smile against her skin, and he waited until she fell back into the rhythm before brushing that spot again. Rey managed to keep her body in place this time, and Ben used this new game to torture her until she exploded with a long cry, staccato from the way he fucked her even harder through it, and he finished inside her just before she slumped back into his arms.

They curled together in a limp pile of sweaty limbs and panting breaths.

Ben pressed his lips against her shoulder. “I don’t deserve you.”


Rey watched Ben dress for breakfast as she lounged on the bed in her nightgown. He was fully kitted out when the food arrived, an utterly ridiculous amount of it, but he ate sparsely as Rey stuffed her face, the barest hint of a smile twitching at his mouth.

He slipped a bit of porridge through his lips, and Rey raised a brow at him when she noticed he was looking at her breasts, the shape of them obvious through the fabric.

He met her eyes without a shred of shame and said idly enough that she knew he was trying to distract her, “We’ll be going out today.”

She chewed and swallowed her mouthful, instantly curious. “Where?”

Outwardly, he seemed impassive enough, but anticipation hung in the air around him. “You’ll see.”

Chapter Text

Ben’s entire demeanor altered once they stepped out of their rooms, tension flooding into him and his gaze going distant and alert even as he offered her his arm.

Her guards fell into step behind them, the perfectly uniform cadence of their footfalls filling the halls with the unmistakable sound of stormtrooper. Resort staff peeked out at them but kept back, nervous, and Rey’s heart sank as she understood that they were afraid. She knew the faces and personalities behind the masks, but others did not, and Rey found herself wondering how many of her guards might care if any of these people got hurt.

Or if they had to hurt them.

Finn had been raised by the First Order, taken as an infant and carefully indoctrinated. He’d told her he hadn’t known any other life.

Was it the same for her people? And if it was, how much Finn did they have in them?

If any.

The command shuttle awaited them in the landing zone, and Rey examined the consoles as they passed into the passenger section. Ben sat stiffly beside her, though he kept a possessive hand on her lower back as her guards took position opposite them and a collection of other passengers boarded, officers who'd been at the wedding taking seats as far from their leader and his new wife as possible.

“I thought we were staying longer,” Rey murmured as the shuttle took off.

Ben rubbed his thumb across her waist, the motion hidden from the other passengers. “We’ll come back.”

“Are we going to the Dominance?”

He slid a neutral glance her way. “Yes.”

Rey sat up straighter. “Can we visit medbay?”

“I doubt we'll have time,” he replied neutrally.

Rey frowned. "I'd really like to see Nalti," she explained, keeping her voice low.

"Ah," he replied, still infuriatingly blank. "I'm sure you will. But Desomma is waiting in your rooms, and we have a busy day ahead."

"Oh," she replied, disappointed.

His thumb caressed her waist again, but it didn't make Rey feel much better.

She resolved to check on Nalti before they left the Dominance, even if she had to threaten Ben with her lightsaber to do it. She was upset that he didn’t consider how much she would want to see her friend, that he made plans without thinking about what was important to her.

The trip to the Dominance would take some time, so once they were out of the atmosphere, Rey looked around and caught the officers quickly looking away. Curiosity, she supposed, glad she’d worn a high-necked tunic to hide all the bruising from the incident on Abednedo as well as any new marks Ben may have left on her last night.

Rey got up and stretched, drawing eyes, her guards turning their masks her way. She bent just enough to murmur, “I’m going to look at the equipment up front,” to Ben before she strode through the connecting arch with her head held high as if she had every right to go wherever she wanted.

She heard the mild clank of armor following behind her as she made her way over to the cockpit and leaned over the pilot’s shoulder. He glanced up at her, eyes wide as she focused on the console in front of him. He had flat lips and a squashy face.

“Is that the sensor array?” she asked, pointing at a panel to his left.

“Yes, ma’am,” he replied.

There was a lot more input than she was used to seeing. “How many sensors does this ship have?”

“Ah… quite a few, ma’am.”

“Do you have a problem with burnout?” she asked, pursing her lips.

His expression changed just a little, from trying not to offend the lady to I’m not talking to an idiot. “Heat sink, ma’am.”

A broad grin spread across her face. “Which would extend their lifespan. Of course.” She looked at the pilot. “What’s your name?”

“Tavson, ma’am.” He looked nervously behind her at her guard, then blinked a few times and nodded politely.

She offered a friendly smile. “I’m Rey.” Thought about it for a moment. “Though I’m not sure what you’re supposed to call me.” She turned. “Ash? What are people supposed to call me?”

Ash stepped forward. “We call you ma’am, my lady, or your ladyship, ma’am.”

That won’t get awkward,” she teased lightly, turning back to Tavson. “What else does this ship have?” Then she glanced at the panels and added, “If you’re not too busy.”

“Of course,” Tavson offered, and he made a motion at his co-pilot, who got up and let Rey take his seat.

She spent most of the trip to the Dominance learning about Upsilon-class command shuttles, and Tavson even let her pilot it for a bit before they reached the Dominance (with his co-pilot looking over her shoulder).

“You wouldn’t make a bad pilot,” he told her once she got up to give the co-pilot his seat back.

Rey smiled, though she wasn’t sure it reached her eyes. “I’ve done lots of simulations on different types of ships. None like this, though.” She traced her fingers lightly over the edge of the control panel, careful not to press any buttons by accident. She felt a pang, comparing it in her mind to the Millennium Falcon. That ship may have been falling apart, but it had more character in its fuel cells than this had in its entirety.

Still, it was a very nice ship, and she thanked Tavson for indulging her curiosity, watching as he and his co-pilot guided the shuttle into a feather-soft landing in the hangar.

A warm palm came to rest on her lower back, and Rey pressed back against it. "If you're done distracting our crew," Ben said mildly, raising a brow when she craned her neck to look at him, "we're on a schedule."

“Yeah,” she said, her voice coming out a little too breathy. To Tavson, she said, “Thanks again,” and let Ben lead her out.

As they stepped off the shuttle, Ben’s hand on her lower back, Lieutenant Mitaka stood at attention and began to walk with them, giving a report as he did so.

“Sir. The wanted posters have resulted in a handful of sightings of the rebels. The general has sent teams to verify the identities of those who have been captured.”

Rey didn’t realize she’d stopped walking until Ben’s hand slipped away and he turned to look at her. She shifted her gaze from Mitaka to Ben. “Wanted posters?”

Ben’s jaw shifted briefly, as if he was reluctant to speak. “Hux made wanted posters of the rebels you spoke to.”

The rebels she…

Rey blanched. Finn. Chewbacca. BB-8.

She was going to be sick.

Ben caught her elbow and tucked her against his side, addressing the lieutenant as he tugged her along, her feet working mechanically to keep her from tripping. “Tell the general to stop chasing strays around the galaxy and focus on our primary objective.” A glance at his face showed his brows lowered into a glower.

“Yes, sir,” Mitaka replied, and turned on his heel to deliver the message.

Rey felt Ben squeeze her elbow gently, a reassurance, and before she knew it, they were stepping through the door to her rooms.

Rey’s swirling thoughts came to a standstill the moment she saw the tall brown-haired girl standing in the middle of the room, smiling.

“Nalti,” Rey gasped, the word almost a sob, then pulled away from Ben to run forward and wrap the girl in a hug.

“My lady,” Nalti said, hugging back. One of her arms was warm and soft, and the other was a bit more firm.

Rey glanced over her shoulder at Ben. “You planned this,” she accused.

He didn’t reply, but the corners of his mouth deepened and his eyes shone.

Rey held Nalti at arm’s length to look at her, short cream gloves and long sleeves hiding all evidence of her injury. Her creamy peach dress was well-tailored, professional and slimming, and the skirt reached just below her knees. A matching jacket with military-style buttons polished off the look, and a gold pin shone from her lapel, the First Order symbol softened without its usual red and black.

Nalti saw her looking and touched the pin. “Your symbol,” she said, and gestured Rude forward from behind her. He rolled his shoulder forward and Rey saw the new addition to his armor, the First Order emblem painted on in gold and his call sign just below: “Rude.” Looking at the half-cape on his other shoulder, she realized the First Order symbol had been stitched there, as well, though it was much more subtle.

Always gold.

Setting this information aside to consider later, she refocused on Nalti. “How are you feeling?”

Nalti smiled wanly. Her eyes looked a bit bruised, and she seemed tired. “I’ve been better. But the worst is past. I’m still adjusting to this thing.” She drew up her sleeve a bit, exposing what looked like normal flesh, and quirked a more genuine smile at Rey. “Literally. The med droids keep adjusting it. If it weren’t for Rude keeping me company, I’d have gone insane.” She cast a fond smile Rude’s way, and Rey wondered if she imagined the slight duck of his head. If he removed his helmet, would he be blushing?

Nalti’s eyes brightened as she turned back to Rey. “Thank you for the holovid, by the way. The wedding was beautiful.”

“It was exquisite,” Desomma chimed in, and Rey grinned, having only been vaguely aware of her presence in the room. “Now let’s get to work and make you beautiful again.”

Rey looked over her shoulder at Ben, who nodded for her to go ahead, and she followed Desomma and her droids into the bedroom, Nalti following just behind.

“I have not had enough time to make a new dress from scratch,” Desomma informed her promptly once the door shut behind them. Nalti took a seat on the bed, folding her hands in her lap and watching. “I’ve had to repurpose some older things for now.” She gestured, and her droid swung two different gowns to drape gracefully for Rey’s perusal.

Rey looked at them and frowned. “Have I seen these before?”

Desomma gestured toward Rey’s dresser. “Good eye. They were part of the collection I removed from this very room.” A disdainful glance at the gowns. “These are the least garish.”

Rey stepped closer to examine them. “Whose were they?”

“They belonged to the admiral’s mistress.”

Rey glanced at her. “Doesn’t she need them?”

Desomma’s lips compressed, and she didn’t meet Rey’s eye. “Not anymore.”

“Fraternization is discouraged,” Nalti said with a small grimace. “The higher ups are allowed to marry, but affairs are too…”

“Extravagant,” Desomma offered, and Nalti nodded.

“The First Order is about self-discipline, order, and efficiency. When the high command found out, Admiral Sornman was ordered to dismiss Lady Shand.”

Desomma snorted, stripping off Rey’s things and grabbing one of the gowns. “She was no lady. Forced Sornman to buy her these travesties.” She dipped her chin, indicating that Rey step into the gown so she could pull it up and over her shoulders. “These things have no subtlety at all. No art.”

Her droid held up a mirror, and Rey blushed deeply. “It’s a bit… thin.”

“It used to be see-through,” Desomma grumbled as she fastened the back, and Rey turned even redder. “I put an opaque flesh-toned lining in, and that was not as easy as it sounds. Nothing is going to show that shouldn’t.”

Nalti tilted her head and smiled. “You look like a sun goddess in that.”

Beads dotted the dress, some of them sun-shaped, all of them scattered across the light, sheer fabric. The dress had a high neck that sloped into bare shoulders and sleeves that started halfway down her arms and fell in graceful swaths of fabric to her feet, the same length as her skirt.

“There’s nowhere for my lightsaber,” Rey complained, picking at the skirt until Desomma smacked her hand away.

“I altered it, I didn’t make it. You’re just going to have to make do until I have time to get more done.”

Rey wiggled out of the dress as Desomma unfastened it and stepped into the other, which the droid held up.

“How do I even…?”

The droid cut her off, maneuvering her limbs into the correct holes and tugging it up so Desomma could zip the back.

There was a band across her collarbone that did not at all attach to the rest of the front, and if Rey thought the beading on the sheer gown was a bit extravagant, the sheer weight of embellishments on this one nearly knocked her over.

“Where is the rest of it?” she asked, staring at the space between her breasts where the neckline disappeared into the heavily embroidered skirt. There was nothing but the tightness of the dress keeping it up.

Desomma rolled her eyes.

Rey watched her reflection and imagined anyone else seeing her in this. “I don’t think I can wear either of these.”

Desomma ran a hand over her face. “Okay, there’s one more I’ve been altering.” She gave her droid instructions, and it disappeared. “I thought you’d hate the skirt, but it covers more on top than this one and is thicker than the other.”

When the droid returned and Desomma helped her into a rich red gown, Rey understood what she’d meant about the skirt. It almost entirely bared one leg and part of the other, while the back poofed into a full drape, suggesting more skirt than was actually there.

The top, at least, covered her breasts, and though it was off-the-shoulder it still had long sleeves.

Desomma spread her arms with an exhausted sigh. “These are the only three I have. Everything else is worse. A thousand times worse.”

“Can’t I just wear my regular clothes?”

“No,” Desomma replied firmly. When Rey looked at her, she pressed her lips together. “You represent the First Order. On this ship and off. What you wear reflects on all of us.”

Rey looked back at the mirror with a small frown. This one wasn’t as awful as the other two. “What about leggings?”

No.

“At least you’ll be able to fight in this one,” Nalti pointed out.

Rey huffed a laugh. “True.” She examined the skirt. “Think I can hide my weapon in this?”

Desomma let out a breath. She seemed relieved that Rey wasn’t fighting her further. “I think we can manage that.”


The look on Ben’s face was almost worth having to wear the red dress.

“Stop fidgeting with it,” Desomma murmured as she passed, not-so-subtling knocking Rey’s hands away from where they’d been trying to shift the skirt to hide more of her legs. She’d given Rey other instructions before they’d left the room, too, like, “Sit with your knees together unless you want everyone to get a good look at your underthings,” and, “Keep your shoulders back and head high unless you want everyone to think you’re a bumpkin.”

Desomma had caked makeup over her bruises, tutting when she saw the new ones across her ribs from last night and sending Rey a knowing look that made Rey blush furiously. Her droid braided Rey’s hair on top of her head and twined small gold leaves into it, offering a selection of necklaces from which Desomma selected a wide gold necklace. After a short perusal of shoes, she offered Rey thin red slippers that weren’t sturdy but wouldn’t make her twist an ankle, either.

“Not a word,” Rey told Ben, striding past him as she pulled irritability around herself to hide her embarrassment. She turned when she got the door and crossed her arms over her chest, far too aware of the draft around her legs. “Where exactly are we going that I had to go through all of that?”

The surprise on his face had faded into an amused smile, the barest upward tilt of his lips. It was mostly in his eyes. “You’ll see.”

He cupped her elbow and turned her toward the door, and when he released her, Rey slipped her hand through his arm without prompting. He spared her a glance, then pulled his arm in until her hand was pressed against his side, holding her close.

They had just entered the hangar when a tall, pale red-haired fury descended upon them.

“What is the meaning of this, Ren?!”

General Hux got in front of them, forcing them to stop.

“You’ve suddenly requisitioned hundreds of thousands of credits, and now you don’t want to follow up on the rebel scum we have practically cornered?” Spittle flew from the general’s mouth.

Ben stiffened. “We’re not going to waste resources on a defeated enemy, general. Retract those wanted posters and send your people to Mandalore, where they can be of actual use.”

Hux turned almost as red as his hair, spluttering with rage. When he found his voice, he jabbed a finger at Rey, “This is because of her, isn’t it?!” He sent Rey a look so venomous, so poisoned with hatred, she actually fell back a step. “Your Rebel whore! You’re letting—”

His words choked off quite literally, Ben’s hand raised and curved at the general as Hux scrabbled at the Force pulling tight around his throat.

“What was that?” Ben asked, teeth bared, the lines of his body tensed for violence.

“Supreme Leader… is… wise,” Hux finally got out.

Ben dropped him, looming. “Apologize.”

Hux sank to a knee and bowed his head at Ben. “My deepest…”

Ben stepped forward threateningly. “To her.”

Hux stopped himself, face twisting with distaste, but looked up at Rey from his kneeling position and gritted out, “My apologies.”

Ben kicked Hux in the face, pressing his boot to the general’s head to pin it to the floor. Blood smeared under Hux’s cheek, and Rey couldn’t decide if she felt sorry for the horrible man or pleased to see him pinned like the bug he was.

Ben bared his teeth again. “Your apologies, what?”

“My… lady…” Hux gritted out.

Ben removed his boot and let General Hux scramble to his feet. Hux avoided their eyes, gingerly touching his injured cheek and lip.

Ben turned to Rey and cupped her elbow. “Are you okay?” he asked too low for anyone but her guards to hear.

Rey’s mouth twitched, amusement lacing her voice. She wished rude names were the worst she’d have to deal with. “I think I’ll survive.”

A soft exhalation through his nose and the slightest easing of tension around his eyes were the only indications that he’d caught her teasing.

She tugged at his wrist, moving toward the command shuttle. “Come on. We’re on a schedule, right?”

Ben didn’t look back, but Rey did, and she saw General Hux’s tense shoulders as he strode away, his movements jerky with agitation. She felt, for a brief moment, the hatred rolling off of him like a sickness, putrid and choking.

Chapter Text

“Graves!” Rey felt a wash of relief to see her injured guard waiting for them in the shuttle. His armor had been altered like Rude’s with the golden First Order symbol and his call sign beneath it. She glanced at his leg with a frown, concerned. “Are you sure you should be walking?”

“I’m patched up,” he assured her, which was not actually an answer.

Rey furrowed her brow, sighed, and said, “I’m going to trust you to know if you’re fit for duty.” She met what she hoped were his eyes through the helmet. “But that means I’ll be angry if you’ve overestimated your recovery. I won’t have you reopen your wounds just because you think you should be back at work. Got it?”

He inclined his head. “Yes, ma’am.”

She nodded back at him. “Good.”

Rey let her people take their seats while she tried to figure out how to sit in that damn dress. She wiggled in her seat and tugged at the skirt to cover both legs until a shadow fell over her, Ben hiding her from view with his body, and she looked up to see his eyes pinned on her.

He unfastened his cape, then draped it across her lap.

“Better?” he asked as she clutched it gratefully against her legs.

She smiled. “Yes.”

He sat beside her. “We have several stops to make today. The first is close by, on Onderon, so we’ll take the shuttle straight there.”

Rey nodded and tipped her head to smile at him. “Are you going to tell me where we’re going?”

His lips quirked. “You’ll see.”

Rey sighed and resigned herself to patience. The ride wasn’t long, but she was baffled as they disembarked in a residential area full of large houses with tall, thick white walls, their straight edges marked by pale yellow and grey-blues columns. It wasn’t a particularly colorful display.

Ben guided her toward the closest house, its privacy gates thrown open for them, a human man and woman waiting with smiles that looked a little too cheery to Rey. The man held a data pad, and bowed as the woman stepped forward to curtsey.

“Supreme Leader Ren, you honor us with your presence.”

Rey glanced up at Ben, who flicked a dismissive look at the woman. Why were they visiting this couple?

“Show us the house,” he ordered, brushing the woman’s words aside.

Rey frowned at him. A bit abrupt if they were guests. She’d have to speak to him about that.

The woman bobbed another curtsey, this one quicker. “Yes, sir. Please, if you would come this way?”

It took Rey only a minute more, as the woman started extolling the virtues of the building and its prime location, before Rey held up a hand and turned to Ben. “Are you… buying me a house?”

He looked down at her, and the corners of his lips deepened with amusement, his eyes twinkling.

Rey’s mouth dropped open, and her breath caught in her chest. “Does this mean what I think it means?”

His smile bloomed so that even the saleswoman wouldn’t be able to miss it, and he nodded. “Yes.”

She couldn’t speak for another moment, and then she grabbed him and pulled his face down to hers to kiss him, her thoughts awhirl with one word:

Children.

Chapter Text

The datapad turned out to be blueprints for changes to the house, including lush gardens and better security. It involved purchasing the land around the house, upon which sat other people’s homes, and Rey didn’t particularly love that idea.

“We have other houses to see today,” Ben told her, his expression impassive even as his hand brushed against her arm.

“Here?” she asked.

Amusement lit his eyes. “No.”

Which was how Rey found herself back in the command shuttle, traveling through hyperspace to the next planet on Ben’s list with her hand folded in his.

“Oh,” she breathed when they stepped off the shuttle onto an island that looked nothing like the damp, rocky roughness of Ahch-To. Instead of dark rocks, a gradual slope of white sand slid into the water like a lover into a warm bath, and the water was so clear, she could see fish swimming through it. It turned a brilliant turquoise the further out she looked, and she could just make out the shapes of some sort of aquatic formation under the water a few meters out.

Ben’s hand on her elbow startled her into turning toward a path she hadn’t noticed until just then, and she caught her breath again as she took in the lush greenery the path drew them toward, flowers erupting in a riot of colors all around it. As they stepped beneath the canopy, bright, haughty birds flitted from one tree to the next, calling to each other. Rey failed to pay attention to her feet, she was so busy gazing around in wonder, and Ben left his hand her elbow after the second time she stumbled and he had to steady her.

“This is beautiful,” she said, her eyes catching on a brightly-colored lizard clinging to the side of a tree. “What planet is it?”

“Spira,” he replied, glancing down at her with a hint of a smile in his eyes. “It’s actually a luxury resort planet. During the Empire, high-ranking Imperial officials liked to vacation here.”

“How’s the defensibility?” she asked as the path ended and a bright blue sky framed a beautiful, low-slung white building that curved gracefully like it hadn’t been built but had instead grown onto the island.

“Fair,” Ben murmured, nudging her forward. “But we can always add security measures.”

A blue-skinned Pantoran waited for them. “Supreme Leader,” he greeted, taking a single step forward and offering an obsequious bow he had clearly practiced. “We are honored to have you on our humble planet. I am Che Diza of the Tourist Guild, and this,” he said, swinging his arm toward the magnificent building, “is the finest our planet has to offer.” Diza pressed his palms together with a smile on his face. “Would you like to begin with the gardens?”

Rey automatically slipped her hand into the crook of Ben’s elbow when he offered it, and they followed Diza up the path toward the house. Greenery had been cultivated to soften the building’s appearance further, flowers and foliage and sweet-scented plants mingling in artful combinations. A curved white bench, smooth and flawless like the house itself, sat nestled under a bower dripping with pale yellow flowers.

“The weather here is always temperate, always mild,” Diza said as Rey touched a plant. She released Ben’s arm to get a closer look at some star-shaped flowers tucked in the grass nearby, and felt him behind her as she ducked down to look at a vine threaded to a lattice around a tree.

Inside was opulent but felt organic, and Rey was astonished to see more plants worked into the decor. "Plants can be inside?" she blurted, and Diza gave her a condescending look which quickly disappeared into obsequious neutrality when Ben nodded.

"Of course," Ben said simply, the corner of his mouth curling at her obvious surprise. The warmth in his eyes was private, just for her.

"Of course, we have staff to maintain the house and grounds," Diza said, then snapped his fingers to summon an exquisite Twi'lek woman who looked no older than Rey. She'd been draped in a thin, silky gown, and delicate silver chains added glimmer to the swaths of blue-violet skin her gown left uncovered. She stood silently, her eyes cast demurely down as Diza gestured to her like a luggabeast on the auction block. "Sheela here is proficient in anticipating and meeting all of your needs."

Ben went stiff beside her, and Rey looked up at him, following his glare to Diza. "No," he bit out.

Diza blanched and waved Sheela hastily away. She melted from the room, and Rey was left looking between the two men.

"Stay here," Ben ordered the man, jaw tight. One of her guards punctuated the statement with the clack of a blaster going from neutral to ready.

Rey felt like she'd missed something as she let Ben lead her further into the house.

There were so many rooms and windows, and so much light, but Rey kept glancing at her husband's stormy expression.

"Ben?" she ventured once they’d reached a round, glass room full of plants and couldn't go any further.

Ben's lips pulled downward, and he fixed his gaze on Rey. "You didn't notice?"

She shook her head, and his jaw shifted unhappily.

"Here," he murmured, and he placed her fingers against his temple, pushing the thought toward her, his interpretation of all your needs, plus the memory of Diza's sly smile, and Rey found herself startled that the exchange had happened right there in front of her without her noticing. She went over it in her mind trying to find a different explanation, but…

She'd thought Sheela had looked young. And the clothes. Those weren't practical for any real kind of work.

Rey wondered if the girl had any choice in the matter.

Diza, though.

Worm.

Ben huffed a laugh, and Rey realized she was still touching him, projecting her own thoughts, now.

Ben only had to bend his head to kiss her, and Rey melted into it before remembering their escort. She pulled back to look around Ben for her people, but he slammed the room door closed with a gesture and guided her to a table.

"They're further back," he murmured as he hoisted her onto the tabletop like she weighed nothing.

Rey tilted her head to give him better access as his lips found her neck; she was taller this way, able to thread her fingers through his hair and hold him to her, clutching at his waist with her thighs.

He pulled off a glove, and Rey grabbed his wrist when one large palm slid under her skirt and up her thigh. As she stilled him, Ben lifted his lips from her throat, a question in his eyes.

Here?

He let out a soft huff and shifted his hand under her skirt, a maneuver made easy by the long slit. “Just let me…” he trailed off as his fingers found her center and wiggled into her underthings. “May I?” he asked, and Rey snorted because his hand was already against her center.

So she just leaned back on her elbows and swept a permissive hand toward her privates. “Be my guest.”

Her amusement melted away under the movement of his fingers, and a little tugging at her smallclothes gave Ben better leverage. She sighed and relaxed as two of his thick fingers pushed gently inside her, his eyes locked on her face as her eyelids fluttered.

The room was practically all window, but the garden outside shrouded them effectively enough. Even so, Rey was glad that Ben was reaching in rather than taking any of her clothes off, and his cape further hid what he was up to between her legs.

She bit her own wrist to stay quiet when he brought her to climax, then watched with lazy pleasure as he adjusted himself and tugged his clothes to hide his reaction to her.

“Aren’t you going to—?” she asked, nodding at his pants, but he simply offered her his hand to help her hop down. She didn’t need his help, but she took his hand anyway.

“No,” he murmured.


Rey hated Coruscant almost as soon as they landed on it, accompanied by a full complement of TIE fighters. Finalizer, Harbinger, and Conqueror met them as they left Spira, a ham-fisted warning against seditious behavior.

The sad thing was that Rey wanted to love Coruscant. The technology delighted her; the rooftop gardens were delicate and fragrant and well-tended.

But from the moment they entered the atmosphere, she felt the presence of trillions of life signatures below, pressing upward, trying to suffocate her.

They did not stay on Coruscant long, despite the small group of what she assumed were very powerful men and women there to welcome the Supreme Leader and his new wife.

She wondered if they were secretly glad to see them leave, despite their pretty, obsequious words.

On Rodia, under a huge and lovely environmental dome, Ben showed her a tall, graceful architectural wonder with what were probably buttresses and abutments. Her favorite part was the plantlife, specifically the climbing vines with flowers that gave off a faint glow, reminiscent of the star-swirl eyes of the Rodians.

Cato Neimoidia followed, bridge cities and wealth displayed like a preening varactyl out for a mate. A member of the Trade Federation met them and showed them through an exquisite crystal palace filled with treasures from every namable world.

It was impressive but cold, and Rey felt more and more out of place with every new wonder.

“Forgive me if I overstep,” their guide said, pausing in his description of an ancient tapestry, “but I feel as if my lady is unenthusiastic about this property.”

Rey grimaced her agreement.

“May I ask: what precisely are your criteria?”

“Defensible,” Ben replied promptly. “Big enough for guards and household staff.”

“Cozy,” Rey added with a mild glare Ben’s way. She’d wanted small, but she supposed his reasoning made sense. “Comfortable. Green.”

“Plantlife,” Ben interpreted when the Trade Federation representative’s brows rose. “My wife grew up in a desert. She wants plants.” He slid his hand to the small of her back, the contact reinforcing his words, and Rey leaned into him.

The Trade Federation representative tapped a finger against his lips. “I assume you already looked at Coruscant.” Ben’s nod had the man humming in thought. “If you want greenery, there’s not many places can beat Naboo—”

“No,” Ben said promptly, his voice harsh.

When Rey looked at him, startled, he rubbed his thumb along her spine through her dress, not taking his eyes from the other man.

“They’re Rebel sympathizers,” Ben explained, and a nod was the end of it.

“Chandrila is right out, then,” the man said, not seeing the way Ben tensed up. Rey felt it in the pressure he put against her back, in the tension of his body beside her, saw it in his jaw, and felt it through the Force. Something about Chandrila started a firestorm of emotion in her husband.

She tucked her questions away for later, when no one else was around.

“Arkanis is quite wealthy, though it rains ninety percent of the time. Birren…”

Ben dismissed those options with a wave of his hand. “Nothing affiliated with the Elder Houses.”

The Trade Federation representative seemed curious at that but let it go. “Well… hm.” He thought hard for long moments. “What about Stassia?”

Ben seemed surprised, if the barest rise of his brows was anything to go by, then thoughtful. “That might do,” he finally agreed.


It was night on Stassia when they arrived, and Rey wondered how many of the people showing them around had been roused from their beds, how many yawns were stifled in favor of polite smiles.

The homes on Stassia were more modest than the ones they’d seen thus far. The planet itself was less developed than Coruscant and more traditionally settled than Cato Neimoidia. According to the information Nalti had dug up on her datapad, most of the citizens were human, and Stassia had remained neutral through every regime change, letting history sweep it along in a buffeting tide. It had a good location in the Core, near Coruscant, and along a major trade route.

They were shown the mansion that had belonged to the old governor from Imperial occupation. It was located somewhat centrally, in a pleasant part of the city with charming little trees lining the road. Ben clearly liked the functionality of the house, the leftover security and communications center and staff quarters from its Empire days, but Rey felt awkward about its history.

It also felt… pretentious. Like she’d be expected to fit into a certain mold among their neighbors, live up to specific expectations, and she didn’t think she could do that.

The next house they were shown was a bit more modest, and Rey liked it but Ben didn’t.

It was the third, as they stepped out of their transport and looked at the strategically lit facade, the way the lights hinted at acres of grass all around, that Rey turned to Ben and found him looking back at her, brows raised.

She smiled, and he nodded.

Taking his proffered arm was automatic, and if her steps were a little more eager than they had been thus far, Ben said nothing, only matched her speed with his longer legs.

The inside was fully furnished and warm, the decor enveloping without suffocating, tricking the eye into thinking it was smaller than it was. Her guards and Nalti easily followed them into the foyer, though it looked like it couldn’t hold that many people. There was a moment when Rey worried that someone’s elbow would knock a vase or something over, but she should have trusted her people to be aware of that kind of thing.

A human woman with a gentle smile curtseyed to them and introduced herself as Zahraa Faizia. “If you’ll follow me,” she said, and Rey left her guards to fall into position at the entrances as she, Ben, and Nalti went deeper.

The kitchen was tucked away down a narrow hall, connected to a formal dining room that could be partitioned into a smaller space for intimate family meals.

The hallways bent in interesting ways, leading them to the most obvious rooms but then surprising her with little extra rooms tucked away, like the sun room that she could reach through a small sitting room. It was full of plants and art supplies. The previous owner must have liked to paint.

Rey felt her scavenging instincts perk up at the way the house had been organized, delighted with all its secrets, like the smaller closet inside the master bedroom closet that Zahraa said had been designed for the previous mistress’s shoes.

“Who has that many shoes?” Rey cast over her shoulder to Nalti as Ben followed Zahraa into the master bath.

Nalti nudged Rey toward the bath and stayed a respectful two steps behind. “You probably will, if Desomma has her way.”

Rey rolled her eyes, and Nalti giggled.

As they examined the bedrooms, Zahraa told them how the house used to belong to a city counselor who’d passed and whose children preferred the city to the outskirts and had been trying to sell the place for a little over a year. “Not that there’s anything wrong with the building,” she was quick to assure them, her tone sincere. “They could have sold it already if they’d been willing to come down on the asking price, but Stassia isn’t a rich planet, not like Coruscant or Spira. None of the interested buyers could afford it.” Then she flushed pink. “Not to say that you— I mean, I can talk to the owners for you about maybe—”

Ben cut her off. “How much is it?”

Zahraa wrung her hands, her expression apologetic. “Forty thousand credits, sir.”

Ben nodded. “That’s fine.” He looked at Rey, and she bit her lip, trying to convey how much she loved the house through eye contact alone. The corners of his lips deepened, and he turned back to their guide. “We’ll want to see it in the daylight before we commit, but my wife likes it.”

Zahraa beamed at them, clearly surprised that they hadn’t made a fuss about the price. “Wonderful. I’m so glad.” She led them out, detailing a few things they couldn’t see, giving them more of its history. She stopped in front of their transport and clasped her hands in front of herself again. “If you’d like to stay in the city tonight and see the house again tomorrow, I can arrange rooms for you.”

Ben looked at Rey, and she realized he was leaving the decision up to her.

“Let’s stay,” she said. “I don’t want to fly all the way back tonight and then all the way here again in the morning.”

He brushed a strand of hair out of her face. “Very well.”


“What is Chandrila?”

Ben avoided her gaze, leaning over to take off his boots. He was quiet long enough that she wasn’t sure if he planned to answer, but then he sighed and said, "I grew up there."

In a flash of memory, she recalled another night, when he'd stood exposed in front of her and told her to let the past die, to kill it if she had to. She thought about the books of his grandmother’s speeches, back in her room on the Dominance. His grandmother, former queen of Naboo. "When you said no to Naboo. Was it really because of Rebel ties?"

He set his boots carefully aside and raised his head. His eyes showed such vulnerability, letting her in so deep with only a look, that she went to him and kissed him.

"I want to start something new," he told her, the calm of his tone belayed by the fire in his eyes. "With you."

She helped him undress and let him peel the red dress off of her, his lips following the fabric down.

She held him close as he moved over and inside of her, and she mourned the pieces of himself he was determined to cut off. She didn't know what all of those pieces looked like, didn't know who he'd once been, but she knew in her gut that those pieces were good.

Evil couldn’t be wounded the way Ben had been — wounded so deeply, he’d run to a monster like Snoke.

As they held each other afterwards, she wondered drowsily if she’d ever be able to coax him to knit any of those pieces back together.

Chapter Text

Rey slept in the next morning, the rooms their guide had procured for them not quite as nice as the one they’d had on Onderon but still very comfortable, and she was worn out after all the traveling they’d done.

It was Nalti who roused her, Ben already up and about for the day, and Rey wondered if he'd had trouble sleeping.

“I didn’t think you’d want to wear that red dress again, so I went out first thing and bought something in the local style.”

Rey looked at the simple beige garment Nalti laid out on the foot of the bed and raised a brow. “Desomma will have your head.”

Nalti shrugged. “Probably.”

They looked at each other and laughed.


Stassian fashion seemed to be mostly earth-toned garments with flowing lines and no dramatic swaths of skin. All of the embellishments, as far as Rey could tell, had to do with texture. Corded trim, in particular, seemed to be popular.

The dress Nalti put her in was a lightweight fabric, pleated vertically and bloused out over a narrow skirt. The neckline and armholes were trimmed with wide braiding, and the same braiding circled the skirt in horizontal bands.

As she walked to the shuttle with Nalti, the bright armor of her stormtroopers drew more than a few looks, some curious, some frightened. Everyone kept their distance.

Rey was relieved when they entered the command shuttle and the pressure of all those eyes evaporated. She greeted Tavson and let Nalti brief her that the Supreme Leader wanted her to join him at the old Imperial mansion.

Rey frowned but didn’t say anything until the shuttle parked at the mansion and she entered to find Ben talking with a pair of First Order engineers.

He gave them a final instruction before striding over to her, hands behind his back. “Did you sleep well?”

Rey nodded, knowing by now that he wouldn’t kiss her in front of others. “Yes. You?”

He tilted his head in a vague nod. “Well enough.” He glanced over his shoulder toward the engineers. “I got up early to see how the evaluations were going.”

“I thought we were looking at the other one,” she said softly, too low for anyone to overhear.

Ben nodded and turned back to her. “And if we buy that one, I’ll want a separate space to work.” His eyes glinted with amusement. “Unless you want to host Hux for the daily briefings.”

The thought of that man in their private dwelling made her shudder. “Never. Not ever.”

Ben nodded like he’d expected that answer. “This place has other amenities we might need, like a ballroom, which the other house doesn’t. Things that might be useful if we ever have to host heads of state.”

You plan to host a ball?”

He grimaced. “Maybe a summit? The space will be useful either way.”

She wondered if Ben had ever been to a ball before. She’d read about them, when all she’d had were scavenged holonovels and damaged Imperial records, but they’d always felt unreal, all of that wealth being thrown around for the entertainment of a handful of people.

“Did Desomma send that?” Ben asked, examining her dress with a mild frown.

“Oh.” She fiddled with one of the thick braids on the skirt. “No. Nalti found it for me. It’s local.”

He lifted his chin. “Ah.”

When he didn’t say anything else, Rey added, “She thought I’d be more comfortable.”

He nodded noncommittally, then held out his arm. “Do you care to see the other house now?”

“Please.”


Another pair of First Order engineers waited at the house, standing at attention out front.

“Report.”

“We’ve catalogued twenty-one minor repairs, two structural weaknesses, and twelve security issues.”

“Show us,” Ben commanded, and the engineers promptly took them inside and started to go over every small detail. Nalti remained at the entrance to wait for Zahraa Faizia, and Rey's guards took up defensive positions around the building.

When the engineers pointed out a plumbing issue in the kitchen, Rey said, “I can fix that,” hiked up her skirt, and dropped to her knees to duck into the mess of pipes. The smooth bun Nalti had pulled her hair into that morning bumped a pipe, but Rey ignored it while she found the drip.

The silence behind her only filtered in once she realized she didn’t have any tools on hand and asked someone to get her some. She glanced back, saw the engineers standing at attention, looking straight ahead at the wall, their expressions extremely uncomfortable.

Ben turned his uncompromising gaze on them. “You heard her ladyship.”

The engineers turned and hurried away.

Ben waited until they were gone to raise a brow at her. “I think you scandalized them.”

Rey considered that. “They’ll get over it.”

Ben’s lips quirked at the corners, but he stayed where he was until the engineers returned with tools and protestations that they should be the ones to fix the pipe, not her.

Rey rolled her eyes and demanded what she needed, which they handed to her with nervous glances Ben’s way, like they expected him to be angry that they were letting her do this. Ben held a truly remarkable impassive facade as he watched her, though she felt his amusement through their bond. He was enjoying their squirming.

She tuned it all out and got to work, easily tightening what needed to be tightened and taping what needed to be taped. She eventually crawled out and traded her tools for a rag to wipe her hands. “We’ll probably want to replace a lot of those pipes, but that one should hold for a while longer.”

She still had hold of the rag when Nalti ushered in Zahraa Faizia and two people who were probably the owners, judging by the expensive cut of their clothes and the proprietary way they strode in.

It was a man and a woman, their features similar enough that Rey decided they had to be related, and the woman wore a dress a few shades paler than Rey’s in a similar cut and design but with more elaborate texturing on the skirt.

The woman’s brows rose as her eyes trailed from what Rey realized was probably a lopsided bun down over the dirt she’d gotten on the thin fabric of the dress by crawling around and fiddling with old pipes.

The twitch of cruel amusement on the woman’s lips made Rey straighten her spine, refusing to be intimidated.

“Supreme Leader,” the man said, ignoring Rey as he bowed to Ben. He didn’t spare Rey a glance, though the action didn’t seem intended to slight her.

Zahraa stepped forward and warmly offered a curtsey that made sure to include both Ben and Rey. “Supreme Leader, your ladyship. A pleasure to see you again today. I see you’ve been quite busy.” She lifted a politely inquiring brow as if she routinely found ladies doing their own plumbing and saw nothing unusual in it.

Rey waved the rag at the pipes that were now hidden behind a cabinet panel. “There was a leak. We fixed it.”

"May I present Garven Fisk and his esteemed sister, Marin Ilco?" She then turned to the siblings and said, "The Supreme Leader and his wife have been touring your father's estate."

Marin Ilco blanched, and Garven cast an appraising look Rey’s way, like he was upgrading a little file in his mind that he kept on everyone he met. Cross out 'nobody,' pencil in 'important.'

Once Marin got her bearings, she frowned again at Rey’s disheveled appearance. “Don’t you have servants for that kind of thing?” She waved dismissively at the engineers, who looked as stiff as Rey had ever seen.

Rey offered a smile that she didn’t feel and tilted her head to one side, probably emphasizing her messy hair. “Where’s the fun in that?”

Garven laughed and placed a hand on his sister’s arm. The look he sent Marin was sharp, and she lowered her eyes and took a half step back, allowing him to do the talking. “We understand that you’re interested in our family manor. Obviously, it has great sentimental value, and we couldn’t bear to part with it for less than…” He flicked a hand, the gesture similar to the way his sister had waved at the engineers. “…eighty thousand credits.”

Ben narrowed his eyes and turned to Zahraa, who looked incredibly flustered. “That is not the price we were quoted.”

“Of course,” Garven continued, taking a step forward, “we could be persuaded to bring the price down if, say, you had us over for dinner every now and then. As a show of good faith.”

Ben turned a black look on Garven, staring at him so still and so long that the man swallowed and stepped back. When Ben spoke, the room was so silent that he didn’t have to raise his voice at all to be heard. “Counteroffer. Thirty thousand, and I let you leave here with all of your limbs.”

His words were clear and clipped, and they sank into the middle of the room like a stone.

Garven opened his mouth, but at a look from Zahraa, he turned whatever he was going to say into a shaky nod. “You have a deal.”

“A pleasure doing business with you,” Ben replied coldly. “Get out.”

Once they were gone, Rey cast him a concerned frown. "Why would they want to have dinner with us?"

“Social climbers,” he explained.

Her frown deepened. “But… they didn’t like me.”

A barely-there smile broke onto Ben’s face. “I’m sorry to have to tell you that you are a powerful and influential person now. People don’t have to like you to want to be part of your inner circle.”

“But…”

“You have power. Power they want. If they spend time with you, others will think that they are powerful. Their social standing and influence will increase.”

Rey thought about that. She’d seen that sort of thing on a smaller scale in Jakku, with Plutt. Still. “That’s stupid,” she informed him. It wasn’t a contradiction, just her opinion of the whole thing.

“That’s life.”

Rey blew out a breath and realized she was still holding the rag. She tossed it onto a counter and nodded at the engineers. “Let’s finish the tour.”


Grass spread around the house like one of Desomma’s fine skirts, marred by a tidy little kitchen garden out back and orderly decorative shrubs cozying up with small cheerful trees.

“The forest presents a security issue. We were thinking that motion-activated cameras might be a good idea, in addition to cutting it further back.” Rey shielded her eyes from the sun and looked into the distance where the grass stretched up to a treeline that hadn’t been carefully curated.

Rey tried not to imagine resistance fighters trying to sneak through those trees and getting caught, attacked, killed.

The resistance was full of people she didn't want hurt any more than she wanted Ben or her staff hurt.

If this was going to be her home, she’d put up with whatever security measures they chose to make — even if her first instinct about the old Imperial governor’s mansion was to want to plant a bomb in it.

Not with Ben inside, of course.

But the thought of the First Order going about its business right there, fresh tyranny where tyrants had served… it made her a little sick.

Ben eventually waved the engineers away and faced Rey. "Do you still want it?"

She looked around them, at the grass their children might play on, at the trees where the First Order expected assassins to lurk, and felt a chill of foreboding. It wasn’t a Force vision or a knowing or anything so clear-cut as that, just the certainty that as long as Ben led the First Order, they and theirs would be in danger.

She tipped her face up, squinting into the sun as it backlit her husband. She felt briefly disconnected from him, the future straining to hold a happy shape when she knew she'd never be okay with the First Order being part of their lives.

She didn’t try to force a smile. He'd know if she was faking, anyway. "Yes. This is the one."

He took her hand and kissed her knuckles, holding onto her fingers as he gazed unwaveringly into her eyes, his searching between hers and probably ferreting out more of her emotions than she wanted to share just then.

He gently squeezed her hand. Reassurance? Comfort? She wasn’t sure. "Consider it done."