cover by dayflow
Ifs and Whens
Kylo Ren strode through the halls of the First Order manor house, more than a little frustrated at the summons. His employer, Hux, had been away for some time, visiting his ailing father in a remote part of Hux’s lands. Ren had almost begun enjoying the time to himself. But now Hux had returned, and he had immediately called for Kylo to join him.
A guard at the entrance of Hux’s study let him in and Kylo stood at attention, hands behind his back, waiting. Hux was idly thumbing through some papers while seated as his desk. He didn’t speak for several minutes; Kylo knew he did this to assert his power over people. Hux could make someone stand there for hours waiting for him to speak at his leisure, if he wanted to. Luckily, he looked up after only a few minutes. “Ser Ren,” he said, sounding almost pleased to see him. He smiled and Kylo’s jaw clenched against his will. “I hear you kept the training yard busy while I was away.”
Kylo gave a short, sharp nod. The ability to train freely without Hux subjecting him to his not infrequent tests of strength or showing him off to visiting dignitaries had been a welcome respite. He didn’t speak, but Hux didn’t seem to mind; he rarely cared what Kylo thought.
“As you know, I’ve come from visiting my father, Lord Snoke,” Hux said. For just a moment, a flicker of something almost human showed behind his eyes. Snoke was dying; Kylo knew it then. Hux blinked and continued, “He is very wise, my father. He made an excellent point in one of our many conversations.” He stood and walked around his desk to face Ren. Hux was tall, not quite reaching Kylo’s height, but tall enough that he did not have to look up at Ren as so many others did. “Have you ever courted anyone?”
The question took Kylo completely off guard. “No,” he said, voice honest and surprised.
Hux smiled. “Of course; you’ve been in my family’s service since you were too young to be courting.” He paced a bit, seeming to consider his words. “There is a young woman,” he said slowly. “The ward and named heir to Maz Kanata’s lands. I hear she is well-read, enjoys sport, and has already shown an aptitude for strategy. She would make a fine wife.” He stopped again, facing Kylo. “You will ride out to the Kanata lands and spend a fortnight there. Meet with this girl. Get to know her. If all goes well, we will be negotiating a marriage.” He stepped back and eyed Kylo. “It’s about time, don’t you think?”
Kylo couldn’t breathe. Of course, Hux had the right to negotiate a marriage on his behalf; he had pledged himself to Hux’s service. But he had never imagined that it would actually happen. It had seemed about as likely as Kylo being granted his own lordship out of the kindness of Hux’s slimy little heart. But here it was, a marriage to a too-perfect sounding young woman. Hux must have really wanted the Kanata lands. Hux stared at him, an amused little smirk playing on his face. “Well?”
Kylo blinked and nodded jerkily. “When do I leave?”
Hux grinned, clearly pleased with all this. “At first light. It’s a two days journey to the Kanata lands; I’ve arranged a stay at a favorite inn of mine at the halfway point. As I said, you will stay for a fortnight and I will expect to hear the happy news of an accepted engagement when you return. Don’t disappoint me.”
Kylo knew he was dismissed then. He nodded again and turned to leave, hearing Hux call for the next retainer to annoy, already moving on to other business. In his quarters, Kylo hovered over his travelling gear. What did he even bring? What should he wear? It seemed like an absurd question but surely things like clothes mattered when... courting…
He made a frustrated noise and decided that whoever this girl was needed to know what she was getting into when she married him. If she married him. He packed as he would for any other trip, sturdy clothes that were clean with (almost) no stains. Most in black or brown. He spent a fitful rest of his day preparing for the trip. He briefed his second in command, Hux’s half-sister Phasma, on his planned training for the new crop of house guards who had just been retained. He cleaned his weapons but chose only to take his dagger with him. His main blade was a large claymore and would surely be too difficult to travel with, let alone intimidating for two women living alone.
Kylo did not sleep that night. He spent it training in the yard, on edge and feeling like he was going to come out of his skin. Was this fear? Nervousness? His hands shook and he received more than one bruise for his distraction. An hour before dawn, he bathed and dressed, getting into the waiting carriage clean and as ready as he could be. It didn’t occur to him until the carriage was pulling away from the manor that he never asked the girl’s name.
As promised, it took two days to reach Kanata’s lands. Kylo stayed at an inn nestled in the forests between the two domains. He hated every minute of the carriage ride; he’d rather have ridden there himself, but when on official business, he had to take a carriage with Hux’s family crest on it. Politics made his hands twitch to fight.
He arrived at the Kanata estate near dusk on the second day. He was greeted by retainers who took his things and led him into a drawing room. He stood at parade rest, fighting the urge to hunch over. He felt overlarge in the relatively humble manor house. After a tense few minutes, a retainer announced the arrival of Maz Kanata and her adopted daughter Rey. Kylo straightened further and tried to look harmless.
Maz Kanata was a small, wrinkled walnut of a woman. She had bright, laughing eyes behind large, thick spectacles, and despite her age, walked with an upright bearing. Her daughter…
Kylo’s breath caught in his throat. Rey Kanata followed her mother into the room with a grace that only came from physical training. She was lithe and stood tall, though he could sense a nervousness in the set of her shoulders. Her eyes were bright, and so like Maz’s that he wondered for a moment that she was truly adopted. Her eyes met his and he couldn’t breathe. She was stunning. And then, as if uncaring if he died right there in her drawing room, Rey smiled at him.
It was a tentative smile, as if unsure of how it would be received. He swallowed hard and offered a nod in return. His hands shook where they were clasped behind his back.
The retainer spoke up, clear and formal. “May I present the Dowager Baronetess Maz Kanata and her daughter, the Lady Rey.” Kylo bowed low, grateful for the moment to hide his face. He straightened and the man continued, “My Ladies, may I present Serah Kylo Ren, master of the Knights of Ren, personal Guard to Lord Armitage Hux.”
Maz inclined her head and Rey held out a hand to him. Kylo froze for a moment before a lifetime of noble training kicked in and he moved forward, taking her small hand in his and bowing over it. He brought it to his lips but kept a sliver of distance, instead breathing a “My lady,” against her skin. He felt her hand twitch in his and when he straightened again, letting go, her hand hovered in the air for a moment. He watched her wide, curious eyes roam over him before she took her hand back and cleared her throat.
Maz watched it all with the most knowing, pleased little smile he had seen since he’d last seen his own mother. “Well, now that we’re all acquainted,” she said, “let’s drop a few of these formalities. Ser Ren, while you are here you have permission to address myself and Rey by our given names. We don’t use titles in the house if we can help it. Keeps us humble. We would be very pleased if you would allow us the same familiarity with your name.”
Kylo nodded immediately. “Yes of course,” he said. “Please, call me Kylo.” He stumbled over the name for just a moment. He had almost given them a different name.
Maz’s smile became more warm and fond. “You look like you’ve seen a ghost, lad,” she said. “I’ll have someone show you to your room. In the morning, we’ll have breakfast and hopefully things will be less… formal.” She winked – winked – at him and turned to leave. A retainer came to his side and Kylo turned to him.
A soft, feminine clearing of the throat. Kylo turned back to see Rey still in the doorway, hovering while a retainer waited for her. She seemed to war with herself for a moment, then said, “I hope you sleep well. The birdsong is lovely in the morning.”
Kylo fought for something to say back to her. “I – I’m sure I will,” he said. “Thank you.” She gave one last smile and left the room, leaving Kylo to stare after her and wonder if he was imagining the scent of honeysuckle in the air trailing behind her.
Kylo did indeed sleep well in the Kanata household. It wasn’t like the cold, imposing estate of Hux’s family; it was warm and inviting, no marble to be seen. When he came downstairs to breakfast, it was probably the most relaxed he’d been since taking employment with Hux. He was shown to the table where the woman already waited for him. He sat and was served something that smelled like camping when he was child.
Maz greeted him but seemed engaged in conversation with a retainer. Rey gave him a look under her lashes, and he said without thinking, “You were right about the birds.”
It was the right thing to do; she beamed at him, the kind of smile that lit up ballrooms and brought suitors begging from every corner. “I am glad they pleased you.”
“I’m glad to be here,” he said, honest, too honest. But that smile remained, so bright and warm that he felt knots he hadn’t known were there loosening in his back.
“After breakfast you will take a walk among the grounds,” Maz said. It was not a suggestion but Kylo had no objections and by the looks of it, neither did Rey. Maz eyed Kylo. “I trust a chaperone will not be needed?”
Kylo felt his face heat. “I assure you-” he began, but she laughed, cutting him off.
“Mother!” Rey hissed, her own cheeks a bright rose. “Stop teasing him!”
Maz flapped her napkin at Rey. “Oh hush you; an old lady has the right to tease.” She turned back to Kylo. “I’ve been assured that you’re an upstanding young lad; I have no worries. I’m sure she’ll be safe in your care.”
Oh gods, he couldn’t do this. How was this happening? What had he done to deserve this… light?
Breakfast passed quickly, with Maz talking about the grounds and her other plans for the two for them. Horse back riding, hunting, games of strategy in the parlor. It was to be a true courtship and it sounded wonderful.
When servants began clearing the table, Maz stood. “Kylo, please escort me to the parlor.” At Rey’s alarmed look, she said “Don’t worry, your handsome knight will be at your side soon enough.” Rey’s answering blush nearly did Kylo in.
He stood and offered an arm down to Maz, who laughed. “I don’t expect you to hobble there,” she said, and instead they walked side by side through the hall.
“She’s terrified,” she said conversationally. Kylo said nothing. “Of course, so are you. But she’s had a difficult road in life.” She stopped and turned to him, forcing Kylo to stop as well. “Rey was not born of noble birth,” she said seriously. “As I’m sure you’ve gathered. Her parents were servants of my family’s; devoted, good-hearted people. They died of a plague when she was young. I was not told right away and so I did not find her for several months. She was alone and struggling and I never want her to struggle like that again. Do you understand?”
Kylo nodded. “I understand, My Lady. I – I won’t-” He stopped struggling to express how much he wanted to keep this girl safe. It seemed absurd to say; they barely knew each other.
“Hush boy, don’t hurt yourself,” Maz said, amusement back in her voice. “And it’s Maz, not My Lady. Now go and take a walk with Rey. Be back for lunch.”
Kylo nodded again and gave a short bow, then tried not to seem like he was running to get back to the girl. He found her waiting for him in the foyer, backlit by the sun streaming in through the windows. “Ready?” she asked with an eager little smile. Kylo tugged on his cloak and he watched her eyes follow the sweep of it. He offered her his arm and she took it with a reverence he knew he didn’t deserve.
He led her outside and felt like he could breathe again. “I hope she didn’t harry you too badly,” Rey said, the warmth of her palm on his arm proving to be quite the distraction.
“She cares for you,” Kylo said. “She only had your best interests at heart. I don’t blame her.”
Rey made a thoughtful noise. Then, “Enough about Maz. Tell me about yourself, Ser Ren.”
He didn’t correct her. Kylo wasn’t his name and he had no more connection to it than Ren. When he married this girl – if he married this girl – he would tell her his born name so he could hear it from her lips on their wedding night. The thought distracted him enough that she had to prompt him. “Ser Ren?”
He cleared his throat. “There isn’t much to tell, my lady,” he said. “I was sworn into the service of Armitage Hux when we were both of sixteen summers. It has been ten cycles since. I began as a squire but rose quickly to-” he stopped. Not just speaking but walking, pulling her up short. “I am an arm,” he said haltingly. “A weapon. I am not – I am not important. I want to hear about you, My Lady. I would rather speak of the light in you than the dark in me.”
Rey stared up at him, eyes shining with what he hoped was warmth for him. She took a step closer and he knew he hadn’t imagined the honeysuckle in the air around her. It was there too, warm and sweet. “There is darkness in me too, Ser Ren,” she said softly. “But I would gladly lend you some of my light as well, if it would bring a smile to your face.”
He stared at her in wonder, this brilliant little survivor whose fingers now dug into his arm as if to keep him from leaving. She needn’t have worried. He was already hers. He found himself leaning in, the scent of honeysuckle getting stronger, before he remembered himself. He cleared his throat and took a step back, face burning. Rey seemed to come back to herself as well, and she gave an almost embarrassed smile that Kylo returned.
“See?” she said, sounding pleased with herself. “It’s already working.”
He laughed, and it felt like something unlocking in his chest. “You’re a sly one,” he said. “I can’t wait to see these games of strategy I’ve been hearing about. I want to see if this cheekiness extends to the field of battle.”
“Battle?” she grinned. “Do you imagine wars are fought in the drawing room over a board and some game pieces?”
“Wars can be fought anywhere, My Lady,” he said. “And victory can be taken anywhere.”
Rey’s eyes were warm and glittered with mischief as she looked up at him. “We’ll see who takes what,” she said. Then with a bright laugh, she picked up her skirts and ran.
Kylo followed immediately. As she led him a merry chase around the grounds, he sent a prayer to whatever gods were listening to thank them for bringing this girl into his life.
The next day saw the two of them on a ride to the lavender fields tended by the Kanata household. Kylo understood that trips like this were not just meant as a courting experience but also to show him the assets he would gain by a marriage to Rey. He didn’t care about any of it except how radiant she looked against the sea of purple stretching out over the horizon.
She told him more about her family. He admitted to her what Maz had told him and rather than being upset, she told him stories of her parents. Her father was teaching her to sword fight when he died. “I could continue your training,” Kylo offered as they strolled along the hill overlooking the lavender fields. Rey stopped and turned to look at him, eyes shining with surprise and the residual grief of speaking about her family. He became somewhat nervous when she didn’t speak so he continued, stumbling a bit, “I’ve trained hundreds in combat and I can see from your form that you would – not that I’m looking at your – I just mean that when we’re marri- if, if we – in the future, I could teach –“ He went utterly still as she moved forward, a serious look in her eyes. She placed a hand on his chest. The heat of it seared him as she leaned up, up on her toes and pressed a kiss to his cheek.
His breath caught and his hands clenched to keep from touching her because he knew if he started, he would not stop.
Rey lowered herself down to her feet and said, “I’m sure we’ll learn a lot from each other,” she said. “When.”
Kylo nodded. “When,” he agreed, voice cracked.
The strategy games were everything he’d been promised. He lost, over and over, to Rey’s quick mind, her inventiveness, her surprising ruthlessness. It was a board game based on military battles, and she soundly defeated him every time. She broke out tactics he’d have never thought to use, feinted and tricked and deceived, and celebrated each victory with slightly unbecoming glee.
He had never ached for anything more than he did for her. After a particularly fierce thrashing at her deft hands, his own had gripped the arms of his chair as, unbidden, the idea of sweeping the board aside and taking her right there on the table cut through him.
Kylo was not a virgin, despite Phasma’s occasional insinuations. He had never imaged marriage as a future he could have, so he had not saved himself for this. However, all of his experience came from brothels he’d visited, always out of town when on business as Hux knew the owners of all the brothels in his own lands. It had never meant anything.
Kylo was not a virgin and while part of him regretted not waiting for this bright, brilliant young woman, he was mostly glad that he would have some semblance of experience to fall back on when their wedding night came. When. Otherwise, he thought he might die of a heart attack at the site of her bare skin.
Rey saw something in his face, and it made her own triumphant grin falter. She looked a little flustered. He wondered what she saw in his eyes. Could she see how badly he wanted her? She cleared her throat. “I hope I have not offended you,” she began.
He cut her off with a quick shake of his head. Leaning forward a bit, he met her eyes. “You have a brilliant mind, My Lady,” he said. “And you come by every victory fairly. I could hardly begrudge you a celebration of it. In fact, I can’t wait to spar with you. I’d like to get some of my own back.”
He wasn’t imagining it; she was flustered and blushing now. She looked away from his dark eyes and took a sip of her water. She picked up her fan and fluttered it once, then seemed to realize what she was doing and put it down again. Finally, she met his eyes once more. “I suppose we’ll see who ends up on top.”
That particular remark had him heading to bed early, begging out of dinner to keep from doing something to damage Rey’s honor. He fought to keep his distance the rest of the trip, struggling because Rey seemed to have no qualms about teasing him. Every turn of her head, every move of her hands, every glinting, gleaming smile left him heated and wanting. Kylo had never experienced this kind of desire.
It wasn’t just desire for her body, though she was beautiful. He wanted to hear her teasing words every day. He wanted her to fondly mock him when he became too serious, to beat him at every game they played, to kick him into the dirt once he resumed her swordsman training. She owned him and it was only a matter of time before he could lay himself at her feet and beg to be let inside.
The two weeks passed too quickly, in a haze of heat and honeysuckle and playful banter that always left him reeling. On the final day, he met with Maz and Rey formally to discuss marriage. Maz did not have a magistrate on staff, but the marriage contract had already been written up by Hux’s own staff of legal advisors. It was written in the Hux family shorthand, which the Kanata household couldn’t read, but it was clear that Maz had discussed the terms with a representative at some point.
Kylo stood at attention like the first day, though he was much more relaxed than he could ever remember being. Maz sat at her desk in her study, with Rey standing close by. She was smiling at Kylo, a secretive, intimate little smile that made her eyes gleam in the firelight.
“I’m sure it doesn’t need to be said,” Maz began, sounding amused, “but formalities and all that. Kylo, you have spent a fortnight with my adopted daughter Rey. Now that you have made her acquaintance and seen what you would gain in a marriage, do you still wish to proceed?”
“Yes,” he said firmly, not meeting Rey’s eyes. He couldn’t, or he would go mad.
Maz laughed. “How shocking.” Kylo tensed for the next part. “And Rey, you have-”
Rey leaned forward and snatched the pen from Maz’s fingers. She signed her name on the contract with confident, sweeping strokes, in front of Kylo, her guardian, and the gods themselves. With a flourish, she finished her signature and slammed the pen down on the desk. Standing up straight, she met Kylo’s eyes. “Yes,” she said, certain and happy and gods, he didn’t deserve her. How would he survive the weeks until the wedding?
Maz laughed and clapped delightedly. “Oh, look at you two. Serah, I do hope you know what you’re getting into. She’s incorrigible.”
“Wild birds shouldn’t be caged,” Kylo said, voice thick with emotion from Rey’s display. “They sing more beautifully when they’re allowed to choose why they sing.”
Rey shook her head at him, amused by his sentimentality, but her eyes shone with unshed tears. While his things were taken to the carriage, Rey was allowed to walk him to the door. They stood on the steps of the manor house, and Kylo struggled against the instinct to lean into her. “It’s only a few more weeks,” she said, clearly as distressed by the separation as he was.
“How will I survive without you there to humble me by defeating me at every turn,” Kylo said, voice warm and fond.
Rey leaned in, her eyes dark. “Perhaps on a certain night coming very soon, you will get to best me.” Kylo’s breath caught in his throat. She leaned back, clearly extremely pleased with what she had done to him. “I hope that thought keeps you well until next we meet.” She turned to go, but he took the chance and caught her by the wrist.
He brought her hand to his mouth and finally kissed it, pressing his lips to her skin and taking in her scent to keep it close on the road home. “When I best you,” he said, voice low, “I’ll expect a prize.” Then he released her hand and turned to leave, knowing if he didn’t leave then, he never would.
As the carriage pulled away, he watched as she stood in front of the manor, her eyes never leaving his until the carriage turned down the road and the house, and girl, were gone. Immediately, an ache settled into his chest. He told himself it was only temporary; the contract had been signed. He would see her again soon and when he did, they would never be parted.
He arrived back at Hux’s manor house two days later. It was near dusk, but he went to Hux’s office as ordered. Hux was looking over a copy of the marriage contract at his desk. He looked up as Kylo entered. “Ah, Ser Ren,” he said. “You’ve returned. I see we have a signed marriage contract. Tell me about the girl. Was she to your liking?”
Kylo swallowed and fought the instinct to downplay what he’d experienced. Hux had a history of using that kind of information against him. But the contract was signed, and Hux had arranged this himself. He felt a reluctant wave of gratitude towards the man for what he’d been given. “She’s – she’s incredible,” he found himself saying. “Sharp and bright and clever; she bested me at-”
Hux cut him off. “Yes, yes, I’m sure she’s very charming. How does she look?”
Kylo frowned a little, annoyed at the impertinence of the question. “She’s radiant,” he said, a little defensively. “I’ve never met her equal.”
“Good,” Hux said. “I’ll not have the next generation of Huxes born of an ugly mother. Thank you for doing this, Ren. I find courtship exhausting.” With every word, a cold dread began to fill Kylo’s body until he felt he might drown in it. “You must have done something right since the contract was signed. I’m assured you were chaperoned; I did wonder if you would spoil my bride, but it seems you controlled yourself.” Kylo’s body was trembling with the need to do violence as the full extent of Hux’s deception dawned on him. “You’ll go back and fetch her in a few weeks’ time, once the preparations for the wedding begin.” Hux met Kylo’s eyes and there was a vicious, pleased gleam in them. He had done this on purpose. “Any problems?” he asked knowingly.
Kylo’s jaw worked as he struggled against himself. He felt sick and angry and the very idea of Hux’s hands on Rey – he took a deep, steadying breath. Awareness of what he had to do washed over him. “No problems,” he said as steadily as he could.
Hux seemed a little disappointed. “You’re dismissed,” he said with a flap of his hand.
Kylo turned and left, heading straight for the message runners near the stables. He wrote out a message and had it sent immediately. It was his only hope; if they refused him, Rey would be out of his reach forever.
The next few weeks were agony. Kylo struggled every day not to rip into Hux’s smug face as he went about arranging the wedding. All Kylo could do was wait for a returned message. He knew it would take time, but every moment that passed made sick worry claw in his chest. The day came when he would be sent back to fetch Rey, and no message had returned for him.
He loaded up in the carriage with none of the nervousness or excitement of his previous trip. Dread and hopelessness filled him, and he spent the two-day trip in absolute silence.
When he arrived at the manor house, he was shown into an empty parlor by retainers that were now stern-faced and sullen. He waited a long while before he heard footsteps. Turning away from his place at the fire, he was greeted by the sharp sting of a hand across his face. Rey stood before him, righteous fury in every line of her body. She slapped him again, but when he tried for a third, he caught her wrist. “You lying snake,” she hissed at him, rage making her bright and so beautiful that it hurt to look at her. “You two-faced, monstrous-” she cut herself off. Kylo hadn’t spoke, and he cradled her wrist gently, taking her words with no argument.
Something dawned in her eyes, a sadness and despair that dimmed their light. He wished she would just be angry again. “You didn’t know,” she said softly. The fight seemed to leave her then and she stumbled over to sit by the fire, tugging her wrist from Kylo’s hand. “You didn’t know.” She looked up at him. “Did you?”
He hesitated but even now, there would be no lying to her. “No,” he said, tense and low. “I didn’t know. We were under the same… misapprehension.” He watched her face crumple as she struggled against tears. She won the battle because his fierce little survivor would always win.
“When do we leave?” she asked, voice dull and lifeless now.
“At dawn,” he said. “Where is your mother?”
Rey’s face hardened again. “She has ridden to an ally to seek help in breaking the contract,” she said. “We were lied to. The contract specified that the marriage was between the Hux heir and myself, but every verbal conversation involved you. I don’t – I don’t think there’s much she’ll be able to do. But she’s trying.”
Kylo nodded, unsure of what else to say.
“What’s he like?” she asked, and he heard a tremor in her voice.
Kylo’s jaw clenched. “I am – I am sorry,” was all he could say. He turned and left before he could see her tears.
The next morning at dawn, Kylo and Rey were bundled into the carriage. They sat on opposite seats, and opposite ends from each other, as far away as possible. He wasn’t sure what they were trying to avoid with this unspoken arrangement, but it was likely for the best. They rode in silence for what felt like hours, before Rey spoke up. “Will you be at the wedding?”
Kylo nodded, eyes out the window. “I am the head of Lord Hux’s personal guard. I will likely be… standing with him. During the ceremony.”
Silence. Then, “Why haven’t you killed him?”
Kylo looked up sharply to see Rey staring at him, eyes hard and challenging. He ached for her. “Because – because if I kill him, then I will die,” he said. “Or be imprisoned for treason. Either way, I will never see you again. They could even try you as a conspirator if his sister felt petty enough, and she would. But if I am there at Hux’s side, that means I am at your side. I can keep you safe from every harm.”
Kylo nodded. “Except him.”
Rey turned back to staring out the window. “I am no longer looking forward to my wedding night,” she said, so matter-of-factly that Kylo gripped the hilt of his dagger as a reflex. “Like signing up to ride a thoroughbred only to be given the reigns of a mule. I doubt Armitage Hux will have the fortitude to best me the way you-”
“Stop,” Kylo said, voice strangled. Deep, hot jealous pounded away in him, wrapped in an arousal so thick he feared if he moved, he would spend himself in his trousers and make this day even more humiliating. He caught her eyeing him shrewdly and knew immediately that this was calculated. She was planning something. His brilliant little – not his. Never was and now never would be. There was no longer a when or an if. There was nothing for them.
They finished the day’s travel in silence and arrived at the same inn near dusk. After a tense meal in the pub, they retreated to separate rooms. A single wall separated Kylo from Rey, and it might as well have been an ocean.
He lay awake late into the night and had only just began dozing when he heard a cry of pain from next door. He stood, heart pounding, dagger already out, striding for the door before he was fully awake. He banged on her door, nearly breaking it down when it was opened from the other side.
Kylo froze. Rey stood there in her nightgown, a flimsy length of silk that billowed in the wind from her now broken window. The hand holding the knife gripped tighter until his knuckles turned white. “What happened?” he asked.
She sighed and held out a hand to show blood welling up on a finger. He reached for her, but she stepped back into her room. “I threw a vase at the window,” she said, a little apologetically.
“I’m sure the window deserved it,” he said, unable to tear his eyes away from her.
Rey huffed a laugh, eyes shining with unshed tears. Kylo struggled with himself for a moment before he slid the knife back into its sheath on his belt. “I should let you get back to bed,” he said, and turned to leave.
The hand on his bare arm was searingly hot. He froze in place and she curled her hand further around his forearm, under the loose sleeve of his shirt. “I have something to ask of you, Ser Ren,” she said. He turned a little further to meet his eyes. “Have you ever been with a woman?”
The question shocked him, and he answered truthfully, “Yes.” A moment later the shame caught up with him and he looked away again.
The hand on his arm tightened. “I refuse to give my first night to a liar,” she said. Kylo turned back to her, afraid to believe what he was hearing. He knew that look on her face though; determined, fierce, glowing with the fight he knew she had in her. “I made a promise that you would get to best me,” she continued, and a blush crawled up her face despite her confident words. “And I keep my promises. It’s yours, if you want it.”
Kylo was silent for a long moment, struggling with himself. He couldn’t keep her. She didn’t belong to him. Would it be worse to taste her now, knowing he would never have her again? Or if he left her alone now, would he always regret not taking what was offered? She fidgeted under his silence. “If you want it,” she said again, uncertainty creeping into her voice. “Though I suppose if you are fickle-” She stopped as he placed his hand over hers. It covered hers completely.
“My Lady,” he said, voice cracking, then stopped. “Rey,” he said, a little more firmly. “My name is Ben. And that’s the name I want to her from your lips tonight. Do you understand?”
Her mouth parted on a panting breath and gods, she would be the death of him. “Ben,” she said with a nod. “Come inside and close the door.”
Ben did as he was told. She drew him in, and he allowed himself to touch her for the first time. His hands alighted on her hips and he watched her eyelids flutter. “As you have done this before,” she said, voice breathy and soft, “I will yield to your experience.”
“I may be out of practice,” he said, “but I’m sure it will come back to me.” He gently led her backwards towards the bed, until her legs hit the edge and she sat down in surprise. He took a step back, then another. Then he peeled his shirt off, tossing it aside before kicking off his trousers. He felt a deep, masculine pride at the way her eyes widened, and her legs pressed together.
“Apparently my thoroughbred analogy wasn’t far off,” she said, nervousness hiding behind the gentle teasing.
He moved back towards her, letting her look her fill. Let him be what she would always compare to; let her see his face and his body and his cock when Hux tried to touch her. As he moved closer, she scooted back on the bed a bit. He stopped her with a hand on her knee, the most intimate touch they’d shared yet. “Let me see you,” he said, eyes on her silk shift. “All of you.”
She stood and he did not step back, invading her space and letting her feel the heat of him. Rey’s trembling hands lifted the edge of her shift and pulled up. He caught it in his hands and tugged, lifting it off her head and away. She pressed a palm to his chest, smearing a bit of blood from the cut on her hand. Neither of them paid it any mind.
Ben cupped her face in his hands and kissed her, deep and possessive, wanting her to be tasting him for days. Her own hands came up to grip his wrists and he walked them backwards until she hit the bed again. He let her go in time to see her fall back and bounce once on the mattress.
Ben crawled onto the bed after her, eyes drinking her in. Lithe, as he’d thought. Pale with the occasional freckle. Muscles taut and defined, showing her love of running and leaping and testing her limits. At the apex of her thighs, her cunt, just visible to him, pink and wet.
He gripped her hips and slid her further up the bed, smirking at the surprised sound she made. Then he took hold of her thighs and spread them, opening her to his gaze. “Ben!” she said, a bit scandalized. The sound of his name on her tongue shot through him and without hesitating, he leaned in and pressed his mouth to her cunt.
Rey made a choked off sound and fell back onto the bed. Her hands went right to his hair, and he rewarded her bravery by licking his way into her, tongue pressing past her entrance to just inside. “Ben,” she whimpered, sounding overwhelmed and desperate. And they were just getting started.
Ben’s hips moved against the bed as he worked her into a panting mess. He sucked her clit between his lips, he moaned against her, and when she was writhing and whining for something more, he slid two fingers into her. She arched against him, using her hands in his hair to force his face deep into her cunt. He gripped her hip with his free hand and stopped playing fair.
Ben crooked his fingers, stroking inside her with a relentless rhythm as he closed his lips over her clit. She thrashed under him, fighting the hand on her hip as she crested the wave. Finally, she let out a broken moan that made his cock throb, and she shuddered hard against him, his fingers soaked and slowing to a stop as he worked her through it. When she had subsided to a light shiver, he slid his fingers out and lowered them to his cock. He could spend himself like this, the taste of her on his tongue, and –
Rey’s hands in his hair tugged insistently. “Get up here, Ben,” she said, voice rough and nearly unrecognizable. “I want that thoroughbred cock inside me. I want to be walking with a limp when we arrive at our destination.”
How could he possibly refuse? He followed her hands up, and she kissed him fiercely, unpracticed but with more passion than any woman he’d paid to touch him. The kiss broke and they stared at each other, Ben trying desperately to memorize the way she looked, hair a mess, face flushed and damp, chest heaving from pleasure he had given her.
Rey nodded at him. “Now, Ben,” she said. “Lay your claim.” She draped a leg around his hips.
It fed that filthy, possessive little corner of his soul and finally he took himself in hand and guided the head of his cock to her dripping cunt. He pressed in, stopping immediately when she made a sound of pain.
Rey gripped his hair again, yanking his head up to force him to look at her. “If you stop again, I will kill you,” she snarled, and he loved her so much in that moment that his chest ached with it.
He pressed forward, too eager, too fast. She gasped sharply and her nails dug into his back as her body accepted him. He went still once he was seated inside her. She was tight, and so hot that his cock throbbed with it. “Ben,” she said warningly, and he gave a choked off laugh.
“Greedy, impatient little fox,” he said, voice a wreck, still laughing breathlessly. “Give me a moment to maintain some dignity.”
She gave him a fond look, brushing back curls out of his eyes. “Ben,” she whispered again, and he met her gaze. “They can’t take this from us,” she said, voice soft and certain. “It’ll always be ours.” She moved her hips and he let out a pained groan as he shifted inside her. “It’ll always be yours.”
Ben gripped her chin with a hand, barely managing not to bruise. With his other hand, he took hold of her thigh, lifting and moving her so he was as close as he could be. “Your cunt is mine,” he hissed, giving in to every horrible, dirty little impulse pounding in his head. He jerked his hips sharply and watched her face as he hit the deepest parts of her. “No one will ever be as deep inside you as me.” Another thrust, the bed jolting with it. “I’m going to fill you up and you’re going to meet your new husband with my spend on your thighs.”
Rey’s face was red and strained, head thrown back. “Ben,” she managed, her whole body trembling under him. “Ben – fuck, stop teasing and do – ah!” Her final words were cut off as Ben began to pound into her in earnest. He would be ashamed of this later, this brutish, animal rutting, wild and uncontrolled. But in the moment, nothing would have been able to tear him away from Rey’s body, the way she took his cock, the way she cried out.
Her hands groped his face and he opened his mouth, let her fingers press his lips, tasted her blood on his tongue. They locked eyes and he was unable to look away as the wet sounds of flesh and pained panting for air filled the room. “Do you feel how wet you are for me?” he said, voice a barely recognizable growl. “Do you feel the way your cunt slicks around my cock?”
Rey nodded, eyes wild and a little glazed.
“You’re perfect,” he said, “perfect for me, my perfect little survivor-”
“Ben – Ben, I love-” Her voice died as her body spasmed again, clutching him so tightly he feared she would break something.
With a broken snarl he slammed into her one more time, spending deep inside her, hips moving in small jerks to prolong the climax. After what could have been several contented days but was likely only a minute or two, Ben gingerly slid his softening cock out of Rey and collapsed next to her. She made a small sound of protect that broke off into a gasp as he slid two fingers inside her, feeling the slick stickiness of their combined fluids.
“Once more?” he cajoled, even as Rey grabbed his forearm as it worked his fingers inside her. “One more little death for me, My Lady?”
“I – I don’t know if I can- oh yes, right there,” she moaned as he moved his fingers. He thumbed her clit as his fingers moved in her cunt, trying to keep his spend inside her as long as possible. “Yes, Ben – gods, your hands-” Her perfect pearl nails dug into his arm until they left red, angry marks, matching what he knew was all over his back.
“Once more,” he murmured against her neck, careful not to leave his own marks as he mouthed at the sweaty skin and decided that honeysuckle didn’t compare to the way she smelled while she writhed on his fingers and cock. “My Lady, my love, once more for me-”
She gave a weak little cry, hands scrambling at his arm as her cunt pulsed around his fingers. When it was over, she collapsed, her whole body twitching with aftershocks. He stared at her, wiping his hand on her ruined nightdress that lay nearby. After a long moment, Ben wrapped his arm around her middle and pulled her against his body. He could feel the cold creeping in from the broken window and knew he didn’t have much longer to bask in her.
Rey pressed her face to his chest. “I will carry this with me,” she murmured. “When he touches me, I will close my eyes and I will think of you. The memory of this will save me.”
Ben held her tightly, too tightly, and pressed his nose to her hair. “I can’t stay,” he began, but she cut him off.
“If this is the only bed we will ever share, then we will stay in it as long as we can. You are not leaving my side tonight.”
Ben heaved a sigh and nodded, closing his eyes as he breathed her in. “Go to sleep, My Lady,” he said against her hair. “I will be here when you wake up.”
The morning came, cold and cruel. He woke to a Rey with wet eyes but a hard face, who called him Ser Ren and would not meet his eyes. He could still taste her cunt on his tongue, and she would not look at him.
The rest of the day was spent in icy silence, and Ben felt like his chest would crack open. Surely people did not survive this kind of pain. Why wasn’t it killing him?
He knew why. He was being punished. He deserved this for so many things, but mostly for thinking a woman as radiant and brave as Rey could be his. She seemed darker now and he wondered if his touch had sullied her, dimmed her light. His hands were spotless, but they felt filthy.
He thought he’d be spared the indignity of her first meeting with Hux, but it was not to be. Ben and Rey were led immediately to one of the drawing rooms where Hux stood waiting for them, a snifter of brandy in his hand and looking as pleased as Ben had ever seen him.
“So, this is my future bride,” Hux said as he took in Rey’s stiff body, her cold eyes that refused to meet his. Hux looked at Ben and said, “I hope you’ve brought her to me in one piece, Ser Ren.”
Ben wanted to scream that no, he’d taken something from her, something Hux could never have because it belonged to him now, secreted away like the filthy nightdress he’d shoved in his pack before they left, saving it from the trash heap. Her womanhood, her innocence, her cunt, whatever it was, it belonged to him now and Hux would never truly have her.
Ben didn’t say a word. Hux eyed him, clearly disappointed by the lack of response. Finally, he dismissed him with a wave of his hand. Ben was meant to leave Rey there alone with Hux. He stiffly headed for the door, giving one last glance back as Hux moved towards her and the door was closed behind him.
He kept a steady pace until the corridors emptied then he was running, pounding his body to its limits until he was in the training yard. Startled recruits watched as his stride brought him right to the practice weapons. He grabbed a wooden stave and beckoned. “Come on,” he snarled. “Let’s test how Hux’s guards are coming in their training.” No one stepped forward. He took a breath through his mouth and caught of taste her again and bellowed, “COME ON!”
A practice blade came out of nowhere on his left and he just barely managed to block it. Phasma, Hux’s half-sister stood there, a challenge in her eyes. Ben went for her immediately, and Phasma engaged him in kind. The two fought for long minutes, Ben near mad with grief, Phasma cool and collected and routing him at every turn. Finally, he found himself on his back, Phasma’s practice blade at his throat. Ben lay there, panting and filled with a poisonous rage that threatened to drown him. Phasma’s eyes never left his as she barked at the onlookers, “Everyone go clean up and head to the mess for lunch.” Everyone shuffled out and Phasma did not speak again until they were alone. “I get the feeling something’s bothering you,” she said, and stepped back to let him up.
Ben stood, glaring at her. “Go fuck yourself,” he snarled.
“Ooh, do you kiss your mother with that mouth?” Then she smirked. “No, I don’t suppose you do.”
Ben lunged at her, but she side-stepped him easily. “Calm down, boy,” she said dismissively. “I’m not here to rub salt in the wound.”
She knew. She had to know. Had Hux told her of his plan? How much did she know? “Leave me alone,” he snarled, but it sounded pathetic even to his own ears.
She eyed him. “No, I don’t think I will,” she said. “My little brother is exceedingly proud of his latest stunt, and I wanted to see the results with my own eyes.” To his confusion, her expression softened a little. “He’s a cruel little coward, isn’t he?”
Ben eyed her suspiciously. Phasma was Hux’s older sister, unable to lay claim to the title and lands because… because of her parentage. His eyes widened a bit with revelation, and she snorted. “Took you long enough.”
Ben had never questioned it before, as it wasn’t typically spoken of, but Phasma was the result of an affair Hux’s father had before Hux was born. A dalliance with a maid that ended when she died in childbirth. “Did he love your mother?” Ben asked.
Phasma shrugged. “I don’t know. Sometimes I’d like to imagine he did. But then I look at his legacy and think there’s no way he loved anything.”
Ben’s shoulders sagged and the fight went out of him. He stumbled over to sit on the ground, his back to the wall of the practice ring. Phasma followed, joining him in the dirt. “Why did he do this?” Ben asked, eyes glazed over. “He could have chosen any torture for me; why this one? What did I do?”
Phasma huffed an unamused laugh. “It’s nothing you did,” she said. “It’s what you are. Do you remember that ball about six months ago? The one where he’d been trying to negotiate a sale of some land from that Baron?” Ben nodded, confused. Phasma continued, “He also hoped to bed the daughter of the Baron, that lovely Rose girl. But apparently, when he crept up to her room that night to accost her, he heard the girl and her handmaid talking. About you.”
Ben frowned, more confused than ever. “What about me?”
Phasma made a slightly disgusted face. “I’m told they were very thorough in their assessment, going on and on about your virtues. That was frustrating enough, but the final insult was that they were comparing you to Hux. I believe the thing said that upset him the most was, and I quote, ‘A single finger on Ser Ren’s hand is surely twice whatever manhood Hux is cursed with’.”
Ben felt himself start to blush, which was absurd. He stared at Phasma in disbelief. “He spent six months concocting this scheme to punish me for a noblewoman’s gossip?”
Phasma shook her head. “Boy, everyone knows that Hux has only managed to hang onto power, and gain more, because of you. That slimy coward can barely hold a dagger. You are his attack dog, you are what people fear, and Hux knows that. Hearing that women would also prefer you over him in bed was just the final straw. He knows he can’t get rid of you, but he seeks to keep you beaten down, contained, so that you never think to abandon him or worse, turn on him.”
Ben swallowed hard. “Why are you telling me this?”
Phasma sighed. “Because a man deserves to know why he’s being punished. And because-” she reached into her shirts and pulled out an envelope, “-you received a message while you were gone.” Her eyes glittered as she handed it to him. “I hope whatever it contains helps ease your mind.”
Ben took it with shaking fingers and watched as she walked away. Once she was gone, he ripped it open and hungrily read the words. Something small and bright and painful flared in his chest. Something like hope.
Ben did not see Rey that day, but he did see Hux, stomping around and looking like his meeting with Rey did not go as planned. Ben slipped out of the manor that night, after supper and when most had already gone to bed. He wore a cloak to hide his face and made his way to the seediest part of the nearby village, and a pub where one could employ the company of a young woman for a short while.
However, he did not greet any of the women hanging around the bar, instead heading for a table by the fire where a dashing man sat nursing an ale. As Ben approached, the man grinned. “Take that cloak off,” he said. “Anyone who knows you would see right through it. No one else walks like they’re angry at their own height.”
Ben took the cloak off and sat down at the table. “Poe,” he said stiffly. “It’s… good to see you.”
Poe laughed. “I bet it is,” he said. He motioned for another drink then eyed Ben. “You look like Hell, your highness,” he said dryly. “Life as Hux’s lapdog not as fun as you’d hoped?”
Ben’s jaw worked as he fought not to rise to the bait. When he did not respond, Poe’s face shifted. “Shit,” he breathed. “Ben, I didn’t realize it was this bad.”
“Did you read the letter I sent?” Ben asked stiffly.
Poe shook his head. “No, the queen-” He coughed and corrected, “I was just told to meet you. That it was important. And to tell you that, and I’m quoting here, ‘Anything you need is yours and always has been’.”
To his shame, Ben felt tears welling up in his eyes and he clenched his jaw so hard it cracked. He swallowed against the rising emotion and said thickly, “Hux is engaged to a young woman. And-” he faltered. “And I – and she-” He made a frustrated noise. “Why did they send you, you would never understand.”
Poe eyed him, then turned towards the bar. Ben followed his eyes and saw a handsome, dark skinned young man chatting with the bartender and some of the working ladies. He had a bright smile and a rapt audience as he told some exciting story of adventure. Poe cut his eyes back to Ben, who relaxed a little. “You’ve changed,” Ben said.
“Love does that to a man,” Poe said. He turned fully to face Ben again. “If you said in your letter what you’re trying very poorly to tell me, then I can guarantee they’re already working on it.”
Ben leaned forward. “I need to undercut his claim to her,” he said earnestly. “Our family is of higher-”
“Ben, you realize what this means, don’t you?” Poe interrupted. “You would have to come back. You wouldn’t be Kylo Ren anymore. Now, I think you’re a selfish idiot for leaving, but you’ve stayed gone a full decade. Your parents have always held out hope you would return, but if you’re doing this just because of a girl-”
“She’s not just any girl,” Ben said, with more fervor than he’d intended. “She’s-”
“She’s your girl,” Poe finished with a sigh. He drained his drink. “Alright. We need a plan. I’m sure your parents could win any challenge for her contract but there has to be an in, a reason to initiate the challenge.”
“Hux lied to Rey and her guardian about who she was marrying,” Ben said. He watched as understanding bloomed in Poe’s eyes. He may not know the details, but he understood the deception was on Ben too.
“Can you prove that?”
Ben thinks back, then growls. “No; it was a verbal negotiation until the contract was signed. The contract is in Hux’s family shorthand and states the truth of the arrangement. No record of me in the discussions exists.”
“Hmmm.” Poe scratched at his chin as Ben heard the handsome young man at the bar laugh, happy and infectious. Poe snorted. “It’s took bad you can’t prove she’s not a virgin. I mean, did Hux add that the contract? He seems like the kind of creep that would.”
Ben’s hand tightened on the mug. “He – he must have. Poe… Poe, she’s not a virgin.”
Poe frowned. “Well, how would you-” He broke off and a grin spread across his face as Ben groaned and dropped his own red face into his hands. “Ben Solo, you sly dog. Not just any girl, another man’s wife, too. Never knew you had it in you.”
“Shut up!” Ben hissed, glancing around. “And she’s not his wife yet.”
“Well, can you prove it? Can you prove you despoiled the bride?”
Ben shrugged helplessly. “I don’t even know how I would. The sheets at the inn? I’ve got these-” He lifted a sleeve and thrust his arm out, showing the marks Rey left on him. His face burned with shame, but this was more important than his pride.
Poe made an approving sound but said gently, “Those could have come from anyone.”
Ben cast about, trying to catalogue the evidence of that night. The taste of her on his tongue, the marks she left on his skin, the ruined sheets, the nightdress –
His eyes went wide. “Her nightdress,” he said in a hushed whisper. “I have it, it’s – it’s got blood on it.” It didn’t matter that it was blood from her injured hand and that she hadn’t bled from their coupling. Blood was blood and it would look like virgin blood to the right people.
“Wow, Ben, I’m actually impressed by how devious this whole thing is,” Poe said. “Okay, I’m riding back tonight. It’s going to take at least a few days to arrange, but we’ll get it done as fast as possible. We’ll get your girl.” They both stood and Poe dropped some coins on the table. Ben turned to leave but Poe caught him by the arm. “They told me not to say this,” Poe said, “but I’m going to anyway. You broke my nose once, so I figure I’m due some payback. The king and queen – your parents – they miss you. There isn’t a day that goes by that they don’t speak of you. You broke their hearts when you left. If you’re determined to reclaim your title so you can reclaim this girl, just – just keep that in mind. They’re risking a lot for you.”
Ben lowered his head a bit. The ache in his chest throbbed as he pictured his mother, hurriedly arranging this despite having not seen or heard from him in a decade. He had a lot to be ashamed of. Ben took Poe’s hand and shook it. “Thank you,” he said. Poe nodded, and headed off to get his handsome lad and ride home.
Ben went to Phasma the next day, with a copy of the marriage contract. He cornered her while she was in the bath, knowing she didn’t let retainers help her. “If I didn’t know about Lady Rey, I would be offended for my girlhood,” she said dryly as he shut the door behind him.
“Shut up,” he said with a wave of his hand. “I need you to translate this contract.” He went to the side of her tub and help out the paper. “All I need to know is if Rey – Lady Rey’s virginity was part of it.”
Phasma raised her eyebrows at him but skimmed over the document. After a moment she said, “Yes; one of the conditions was that the Lady remain pure until her wedding night to Hux.”
Ben let out a sigh of relief. “Good, that’s good.”
“It… is?” Phasma stared at him like he’d grown two heads.
“Yes, it is,” he said firmly. He took the papers back and strode for the door. “Enjoy your bath,” he called over his shoulder, nearly giddy because this plan might just work.
His mood was doused when he ran into Rey right outside the door. He made a surprised noise as he collided with her, nearly knocking her over. Instinctively, he reached out and steadied her with a hand on her arm. It seemed to take her a moment to realize who she had run into. When she did, she stepped back, a cold mask falling across her face. “Ser Ren,” she said. “You should be more careful.”
Ben’s heart ached. He glanced around; they were alone and the door to Phasma’s bathing chamber was thick. He leaned in. “Rey,” he said softly. “Please look at me like you know me.”
He watched her face spasm and then all at once, the mask dropped. She looked up at him with wet eyes. “Ben,” she whispered, “don’t do this. You’re making it worse for both of us.”
Ben moved closer, close enough to smell the honeysuckle of her. “Has he touched you?” he asked in low, urgent tones.
Rey shook her head. “No one has touched me since you.”
All sense left his head and he crowded her against the wall, pressing his face to her neck. He yanked up her skirt on one side, just enough to get a hand underneath. “Ben!” she gasped, as quiet as she could, hands scrabbling at his shoulders.
“I could still taste you,” he rumbled in her ear. “In the morning. When we stood there while Hux bleated. I could taste your cunt on my tongue.”
Rey whimpered and Ben shoved two fingers of his free hand into her mouth.
“You must be quiet, My Lady,” he said against her ear. “We wouldn’t want the hound to find the fox.” The hand under her skirt found her cunt, already wet for him, and he slid two fingers inside her.
Rey’s teeth clamped down on the fingers in her mouth, and she muffled the noise of her moan against them.
“We haven’t much time,” he murmured, “so I need you to move those lovely hips for me. Fuck yourself on my fingers and find your release. Use me, and when you walk away, you’ll still feel my fingers inside you.”
Rey immediately began moving her hips, making little huffing noises against the fingers in her mouth, sounding more like a fox than ever. His cock ached to be inside her, but they couldn’t, they didn’t have time. He just needed to see that ecstasy on her face again, needed the taste of her seared into his memory.
It wasn’t long before she was shuddering against him, the fingers of both Ben’s hands dripping from her mouth and her cunt, as her body shivered violently, trapped between his bulk and the wall. When she slumped against him, he extricated his hands from her and pressed a kiss to her bruised, wet mouth. “This is hell,” she murmured against his mouth as she kissed him back.
Ben nodded. “I would gladly accept damnation for a taste of you.” A sound of metal on stone yanked them out of their reverie and Rey pushed him away.
“Go,” she hissed. “I’m meant to be here, you’re not.”
With one final look at her flushed, wrecked face, he turned and hurried away, towards his quarters. He barely got the door shut behind him before he was shoving his hand down his pants. His fingers were wet with her spit, and the other hand went to his mouth, tasting her cunt as he jerked himself. It took only a few hard tugs before he was spilling over his hand, desperately wishing he was inside her again.
Rey went back to avoiding him after that. While it made Ben ache to see her only from a distance, he knew it was for the best. They could not get caught before the plan was enacted. It would ruin everything. Though the plans were almost derailed when he stumbled on her in her wedding dress. She stood in one of the dressing rooms as he happened to walk by, staring at herself in the mirror, encased in white lace and silk.
Ben stopped, unable to tear his eyes away. Rey caught his gaze in the mirror. He saw her swallow, saw her throat bob before she said, “I’m a liar now. This dress is white. I shouldn’t be wearing this color.”
A shudder went through him as he thought back to their night together, how clear she made it, what she was giving to him freely.
“Walk away,” she said, and he heard the desperation in her voice. “Ben, he could be here any minute. Walk away. Please.” There was a catch to her voice, and he thought she was holding back tears.
He didn’t know how he managed it, but he turned away from the site of Rey in a wedding dress and walked away.
The message that night was a welcome one. A quick note from Poe that everything was in place. Ben went to bed that night thinking that hope was almost more painful than despair. At least with despair, there was nothing left to lose.
The dawn came with a frantic knocking at his door. Ben dragged himself out of bed and opened it to see a harried looking squire. “Ser,” the boy said in a rush, “Lord Hux wants to see you now.”
Ben’s chest clenched but he fought not to show his hand. “Alright, let me get dressed…”
“No!” the boy cried, looking terrified. What had Hux said to him? “M’lord said now, I wasn’t to let you do anything but follow me.”
Ben looked down at himself. He was barefoot, wearing short trousers and nothing else. He leaned over and grabbed a shirt from the back of a chair, then stepped out into the hall. “Alright, lead the way.” He tugged the shirt on but didn’t bother to tie it closed or tuck it into his trousers. If Hux wanted him to look like a child who’d slept in, then he would oblige.
Ben was herded into the throne room by the guards and stopped short when he saw the scene before him. Hux sat on his throne, which was up on a dais so he could overlook any visitors. Facing him, calm and collected, where Ben’s parents, the King and Queen. They were flanked on either side by Poe and his handsome fellow, who Ben vaguely heard being presented as Finn, a knight.
Ben stepped forward slowly. His mother turned and he met her eyes for the first time since he’d abdicated his place as the heir to the kingdom. She gave him a small smile and he retuned it, ashamed of his decade of silence but so deeply, powerfully glad to see them. She was lovely, his mother, stately and beautiful. It felt like he’d forgotten that.
Hux looked absolutely livid; his skin had paled to resemble the underbelly of a dead fish, and his hair stood out all the redder. He was like some kind of poisonous, disgusting creature one might find under a rock in the swamp. “Ser Ren,” Hux spat, “I’ve just been asked to entertain the absolutely ludicrous notion that you have some kind of claim on my wife.”
“Fiancé,” Poe interjected with a smirk. He had the grace to look chagrined when the Queen, Leia, gave him one of her motherly Looks.
Hux’s face went mottled as red anger mixed with his humiliation and hate. Ignoring them, he directed his eyes Ben. “Did you touch her?” Hux hissed.
Ben stood up straight, to his full height, and clasped his hands behind his back. The picture of a good knight. “I only did exactly what was asked of me,” Ben said, a little embarrassed his parents were here for this, but willing to endure it for Rey’s sake. “I… served her needs in your stead.”
Hux stood abruptly and Ben saw Poe and Finn drop into fighting stances. Hux didn’t attack though; he had very little combat training. “Prove it,” he snapped, putting more venom and hate into those two words than Ben had heard his entire life.
“We can do that,” Leia said mildly. “Poe, if you would be so kind as to go to Ben’s room.” She looked at Ben and spoke to her son for the first time. “I assume it’s still there?”
Ben’s chest felt like it could crack open at the sound of her speaking to him. He had missed her. Ben nodded, having to clear his throat before he could speak. “It should still be in my pack from the trip to retrieve the Lady Rey.”
Ben saw worry creep into Hux’s face. Hux must have thought the claim was baseless, or at the very least unprovable. Poe hurried off and Hux faced the Queen again. “If this is true, then your son is a thief.”
Leia raised an eyebrow. “I didn’t realize a woman belonged to you just because you want to marry her,” she said dryly. “The marriage hasn’t even happened yet and already you count her among your trophies?”
Hux went silent, fuming. Poe soon returned with Ben’s bag slung over his shoulder. “I think this is what you’re looking for,” he said, and pulled Rey’s ruined nightdress out of the bag. Ben’s face burned red and he hunched in on himself a little. He hadn’t realized how incriminating that scrap of silk would look. It was ripped and stained and did indeed have blood on it. The king, Han, leaned forward around his wife to look at his son. Ben gave him an embarrassed little shrug and Han shook his head, a fond smile on his mouth.
Ben thought Hux might explode. “No, no, this is-” He swept a hand at Poe. “Put that away. I need to hear this from that whore’s mouth. Bring the girl here.”
Ben’s hands clenched into fists, but Poe came up beside him and nudged him in the side. They shared a look and Ben forced himself to relax. He wasn’t going to be able to punch this into submission.
His resolve was tested when Rey arrived not walking on her own power but dragged, stumbling by a guard. Ben started forward and Poe grabbed his arm. “No,” Leia hissed at her son, and he stilled. He had to trust them.
Rey was tossed onto the ground in front of Hux’s throne and she looked around wildly, seeing Ben and the monarchs and clearly figuring out what was happening. His beautiful, brilliant survivor. Rey met Hux’s eyes but did not stand. Instead, she crossed her arms and glared at him from her knees on the floor. “I hope you have an explanation for the treatment I just received,” she said icily. Ben saw Leia’s eyebrows go up in what he knew was admiration. His parents were going to love Rey as much as he did.
Hux sneered down at her. “I’ve heard a rumor that this filthy coward put his hands on you. That he took you to bed before you were brought to me, that he took your virgin blood. Is there any merit to these rumors, woman?”
Rey turned and met Ben’s eyes. He could see the naked hope in them, and knew she was looking to him for affirmation. She was asking, ‘Do we have a plan?’ He nodded ever so slightly. The way she looked at him then- he could have died, and that look would sustain him for an eternity in hell. She had such faith in him.
Rey turned back to Hux and said, “Yes. He did.” Ben wanted badly to hold her, but he stood his ground, waiting, trusting her to be the brave, clever fox he knew she was.
Hux spluttered, rage and disgust and hate making it hard for him to speak. “You – he – he forced you!” he crowed. “He took you against your will! Everyone knows Kylo Ren is a violent, thuggish brute who-”
At this, Rey stood, hands clenched into fists. “He did what I asked him to do,” she said, voice clear and firm and full of conviction. “I asked him to take me to bed. I gave him my body, my blood by choice. It was mine to give and now it’s his to keep. It belongs to him and it always will. And so will I.” She took a step towards Hux, getting as close as she could without stepping up onto the dais. “What woman would want to give their virgin blood to you, a slimy, disgusting dead fish of a man, when Kylo Ren is within reach?”
Ben didn’t have time to bask in Rey’s words, in the way it made him want to take her right there in front of everyone, because Hux let out a bellow of rage, pulled out his decorative dagger, and lunged at Rey.
Ben’s mind went blank. He moved but he knew he would be too slow, too slow, he couldn’t reach her in time. His parents moved too, and Poe and Finn, but Rey had put herself right at Hux’s feet, he was there too quickly, and it was like the world slowed down just to twist the knife and force Ben to watch the woman he loved die.
Hux let out a guttural cry of pain and time sped back up and suddenly he was scrambling back from Rey, shrieking, “Kill her! Hill that filthy whore!”
Ben reached Rey in time to see her wiping her blade – no, his blade – on her dress. She looked up at him, eyes bright and hard and he loved her with everything he had.
“Okay, I think you’re done,” Poe said to Hux who had kept up his screams of rage, despite the fact that his guards were not obeying. Poe punched him in the face and Hux crumbled, nose broken, knocked out cold.
“That’s my knife,” Ben said, a little dumbly.
Rey grinned at him, her teeth so white against the splatter of blood on her face. “I took it off your belt in the hallway the other day when you-”
“- yes, okay, I remember.” His face burned red as he realized how far gone he must have been, his fingers buried inside her, to not notice she’d done that.
“I’d thought to use it on my wedding night,” she admitted softly. “On him or me, I wasn’t sure, but I liked the idea of using your blade.” His brave, brilliant little fox. His radiant survivor.
“Son?” Ben turned, drawn from his private little world with Rey and back to reality. His father was standing there, looking rueful. “Sorry to interrupt but, what do you want done with Dead Fish over here?”
“Is he-?” Ben began but Poe shook his head.
“She gave him a nasty shoulder wound and his nose will never be straight again, but he’s alive.”
“He could be tried for, well, any number of things,” Han said. “He could be executed.”
Ben met Rey’s eyes. They stared at each other for a long moment. He didn’t need more violence. She would give him some of her light. “No,” he said, turning back to his father. “Strip him of his title and give it to Phasma; she’d be better at all this anyway and at least she can hold a sword.”
Han grinned and Ben knew instantly that he’d made the right choice. “Your mother and I are going to get this mess cleaned up. We’ve got a lot of paperwork to do.” He looked at Rey. “Maz is waiting at the capital for you. She got to us before Ben’s letter did; we were already planning something, but Ben helped us find the loophole to exploit.”
“Thank you,” Rey said with feeling. “Your Highness, I can’t-”
“Call me Han,” the king said. “Or dad, that works, too.” He winked at Ben and said, “She doesn’t need to be here for this. You two go get cleaned up.”
Ben nodded, throat too thick to speak. He took Rey’s hand, basking in the way she was gazing up at him, and led her away.
Once they were far enough away to not be heard, Ben stopped her, turning her to face him. She looked up at him, smiling a little. “Ben?”
He carefully got down on his knees, the cold stone of the floor digging in. He took both of her hands in his and said, “Rey… I love you. I should have said that the night we were together, but I was a coward. I didn’t want to make things more painful. You were to be wed to someone else and all I could count on was that night. But now – now we have an if. And maybe a when. And I’m wondering if-”
Rey joined him on her knees, wrapping her arms around his neck and kissing him. “It’s a when,” she murmured against his mouth. “It was always a when.”