When you close your eyes, what do you see?
Do you hold the light or is darkness underneath?
In your hands, there's a touch that can heal
But in those same hands, is the power to kill
It was nearly midnight when the roar of a sleek Mercedes-Maybach disrupted the otherwise dull evening. By the time the owner turned off the vehicle, the digits on the clock had advanced. It was the witching hour, or, as some folklore called it, the devil’s hour.
The man, who was dressed in all black, preferred the latter. It was appropriate considering his line of work. With the grace of a panther, he exited the ebony vehicle and strolled into the night. He walked with purpose. No one was foolish enough to cross his path but their eyes followed him warily.
The Jakku District was a hive for the filth of the city. Halfway houses, liquor stores, car lots, and cash advance businesses lined the streets, each promising satisfaction and each ready to relieve customers of their money. Motels like Niima Outpost were a revolving door of villainy and scum, which was why when he strolled into the manager's office, no one batted an eye.
“Which room?” he questioned the quivering man behind the counter.
A key was placed on the countertop between them. His black-gloved hand covered it completely as he slid it back.
“That won’t be necessary.”
The enforcer exited as abruptly as he arrived. He marched along the exterior corridor, the heels of his boots drumming against the cement. To those who watched him, he was seen as the harbinger of death. Apart from his attire, there was the distinct air of death that followed him like a shroud.
Standing outside of the room, there was no hesitation. His knee rose and with a single kick, he broke the door off its hinges.
Inside, the target’s eyes widened in terror. “You!”
“I don’t have it,” the man pleaded, frantically backing away.
For each one of the dark assassin’s strides, his target had to take three steps. The First Order enforcer was massive, a tidal wave of black rolling forth from the shadows to silence his foes. The target never stood a chance.
“Where?” the enforcer snarled, grabbing the man by his throat and lifting him off the floor.
“P-Plutt,” the target rasped. “He has it stashed in his shop.”
The assassin tilted his head as he regarded the sniveling coward in his grasp. Then, with only the force of his hands, he snapped the man’s neck and all was quiet.
Moments later, the Mercedes roared to life and peeled down the street.
Rey dragged her arm across her forehead, clearing the sweat away before it entered her eyes. The harsh fluorescent lights above and the old hand lamp she had hooked to the car’s hood were beginning to give her a headache. Or maybe it was the fact she hadn’t eaten anything since yesterday. It was hard to tell.
Hunger was a familiar sensation. According to Plutt, it was a privilege to eat and scavengers needed to earn their privileges. When she’d been under his care that meant he paid her in food. Since she was no longer covered by the foster system, he was forced to pay her for real. And he never let her forget it. Plutt paid Rey minimum wage no matter how many hours she slaved in his shop. If she commented on it, he was quick to remind her that she was nothing and had nothing without him.
“Girl,” his gruff voice called into the garage.
She didn’t respond, singularly focused on finishing her task.
A calloused hand grabbed her forearm, yanking her away from the vehicle. “Hey.”
“I’m busy,” she snapped, her agitation winning out over common sense.
It was a mistake. Her boss backhanded her without pause.
Unkar Plutt was not a kind man. The only two things that interested him were profit and control. Employing her gave him both.
“You were supposed to have that done three hours ago,” he grumbled.
“And you said it was only the sparkplugs that needed to be replaced,” Rey pointed out, fighting to keep her voice even. “But she needs the works. I just finished replacing the catalytic converter. I still have to do the ignition coil and install a new gas line.”
“Leave it,” Plutt ordered. “I need you to watch the shop.”
Rey bit back a scathing retort. She hated manning the pawnshop next door, especially this late at night. Only creeps came in after midnight and that was saying something given the shop’s address was in Jakku.
“For how long?” she asked. She wasn’t sure why she bothered. Plutt didn’t keep a time table.
“Until Madame Lota’s closes.”
Rey inwardly cringed. Madame Lota’s House of Flowers was a brothel on Plawal Road a few blocks away. If she wasn’t handy as a mechanic, Rey knew that was where she would have ended up. There weren’t many career opportunities for a homeless orphan who graduated from Jakku High. Her lack of options was the sole reason she still worked for Plutt.
“Don’t forget to file these,” Plutt reminded her, dropping a stack of papers on her workbench.
“I’ll be over in a minute,” Rey told her employer.
He muttered something distasteful under his breath and waddled out of the garage.
She waited a moment before sliding under the car. The outdated creeper’s wheels screeched in protest as Rey scanned the underbelly of the vehicle for her stash. Hiding her wages was just one of the many secrets she kept from Plutt.
The other was that she snuck into the crawl space above the garage after hours to sleep. It was warmer than the streets and less crowded than the shelters. Plus, there was no one around to ask questions. While the shelters provided meals and cots, they were also visited by overzealous believers. Rey would rather eat scraps than have to listen to another pointless sermon.
She stuffed the wad of bills into the pocket of her grease-stained jeans. It was time to move her supply. Rey had already scoped out a spot in the attic, between the ductwork and the insulation.
As she rolled out from under the car, she heard a sound like an explosion.
Jumping to her feet, Rey raced over to the pawnshop. She slipped in through the back door, intending to grab the old Louisville slugger from the break room when the first shot was fired. Rey dropped to the ground, keeping her head down.
Gunshots weren’t a foreign noise. Like sirens, they were a constant in the Jakku district, though Rey had never heard one so close. It sounded like thunder, only louder and more infinite.
“Where?” a deep voice demanded.
Her brow creased. She’d never heard such an intimidating timbre before. It made her wonder if she had heard gunfire, or if this mystery man was to blame.
Perhaps it was a bit of both.
Rey maneuvered closer until she was able to peer through the door into the main room. The scene was one she’d pictured before with one key difference: instead of Plutt cowering in fear from the man pointing a gun at him, she had always imagined her boss recoiling from her. It seemed he wouldn’t live long enough for her to get a chance.
She couldn’t see the assailant’s face. He was angled away from her, standing over Plutt while the overweight shop owner babbling incessantly about a deed. Rey had no idea what he was talking about. He dealt in knock-offs and second-rate items. Items with real value, such as property or land rights, didn’t belong with the garbage.
“I know it’s here,” the stranger growled. “Brentin told me...right before I killed him.”
Rey’s eyes widened, clapping a hand over her mouth to stifle a gasp. She didn’t know who Brentin was but she pitied him. If the stranger’s tone was any indication, Rey imagined his death had been unpleasant.
“I don’t have—.”
The stranger, who was dressed in all black, silenced Rey’s boss with one hand around Plutt’s throat. If his tone of voice was intimidating, the sheer size of his hand was unnerving. She watched the leather of his gloves crinkled as he applied pressure to Plutt’s windpipe.
“I—,” her boss started making choking sounds.
The stranger tossed Plutt against one of the display cabinets, smashing the glass panels so they shattered into small, jagged pieces. From Rey’s vantage point, it looked like the sky rained diamonds, only the outcome wasn’t beautiful. It was horrifying. Plutt’s clothes were shredded and his face was streaked with blood.
Rey felt her heart hammering in her chest, yet she couldn’t pull herself away. Despite the danger, she was drawn to the man in black— to his power, to his determination, to his voice. There was a darkness there, unlike anything she’d ever experienced. Even more terrifying, was the fact that his darkness called to her.
Her eyes snapped to the newcomer entering through the front door.
“Hux,” the man— Ren — greeted the redhead, who, Rey noted, was also dressed in black.
“Just shoot him. We can search the place once he’s dead. It would save time,” Hux suggested in a haughty tone.
Ren glared at Plutt, whose wide eyes were fixated on the men standing over him.
“I won’t ask again,” Ren stated. “Where?”
Before Plutt had a chance to finish, he was cut off by a flurry of bullets. Ren pivoted around, still facing away from Rey, to snap at his comrade. “Hux.”
“He was lying,” the redhead said with an unapologetic shrug.
Rey swallowed nervously, unconsciously backing away from the door. Her mind reeled from the brutal murder and the indifference of the men who were responsible. She’d seen violence in Jakku— had been a victim of it on occasion —but this wasn’t the same. This level of savagery was reserved for the worst of monsters.
She had to go. Now.
“I want that deed.”
“So find it,” Hux mumbled. “I’ll be waiting in the—.”
His response was cut off by the clatter of the Louisville slugger hitting the floor. Rey froze, mentally cursing herself as she stared at the bat in disbelief. She’d forgotten it was leaning against the cabinet.
“We aren’t alone,” Ren’s voice ended her momentary paralysis.
She bolted out the rear door just as the pawnshop erupted in a hail of bullets.
Kylo Ren darted after the eavesdropper, his gun holstered at his side. He wouldn’t need it. The little snitch would beg for his life and once he gave up the location of the deed, Kylo would end him.
Bursting into the alleyway, he scanned the dimly-lit street for a sign of where the rat had slunk off to. His answer came in the form of a blood trail. The droplets led him to a pair of dumpsters behind a corner store. A collection of discarded cardboard boxes were propped up, effectively blocking out the street light. A lesser man wouldn’t have noticed, but Kylo was the best. He’d spent years honing his skills. He didn’t miss a thing.
Kylo smirked when he spotted another integral detail: the twenty-foot stone wall behind the dumpsters. There was no escape. The snitch was cornered. He’d get his answer and then he’d get rid of Plutt’s partner.
Full of confidence, he strolled up to the shadowed nook. With the swipe of his hand, Kylo removed the stacks of cardboard to reveal the last obstacle in his path.
It wasn’t an accomplice.
It was a girl.
She was slumped against the side of the dumpster, eyes closed and lips parted. Her breathing was uneven due to the growing red stain on her dirty clothes. She’d caught a bullet on her left side. Kylo couldn’t discern the exact point of entry but without treatment, it wouldn’t matter. The wound would be fatal.
Kylo knelt down, placing two fingers on the pulse point of her neck. Her heartbeat was erratic as her body fought between protecting itself from infection or shutting down her vascular system to lessen the blood loss.
Upon closer inspection, he realized she couldn’t have been more than eighteen years old. She was thin and her lips were chapped, indicating dehydration. There was grease under her fingernails and calloused on her hands.
Runaway, he surmised.
She’d probably been trading labor for food and simply been in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Kylo cursed again. This was a complication, one he hadn’t prepared to deal with. He pulled out his phone, scrolling through his contacts as he considered what to do. With each passing second his options— and hers —became more limited.
“Is she dead?”
He whipped around, glaring up at Hux.
The redhead arched a brow expectantly. “Well, is she?”
Hux aimed his Colt at the girl’s prone form. Kylo rose to his feet, smacking the weapon down, while simultaneously punching Hux in the nose.
“Fuck!” the redhead wheezed.
“You know my rules,” Kylo snarled.
“They’re your rules, Ren, not mine,” Hux spat, pinching his nose to keep the blood from spilling out. “She’s seen too much. That makes her a liability.”
“Maybe if you hadn’t shot up the place like you were in a cheap western, she could have told us where the deed was stashed,” Kylo argued.
“Maybe or maybe she’s just a whore on break from the bordello.”
In the next instant, Kylo had the redhead slammed up against the dumpster. “I don’t recall asking your opinion.”
Hux’s eyes narrowed but he didn’t reply. Kylo held him there for a moment, his grip tightening in a silent threat. Then, as suddenly as he had attacked Hux, he released him. The redhead collapsed to the asphalt, gasping for breath.
Kylo scooped the girl up, wincing at the way her head lolled to the side. She didn’t have much time.
“You’re making a mistake, Ren. When he finds out about this—.”
“Are you going to report me?” Kylo questioned, voice tight.
Hux didn’t answer. He merely continued to glower at Kylo from where he sat cowering on the cold ground.
“That’s what I thought,” Kylo remarked. “Clean yourself up and go back to the shop. Find the deed.”
With his orders given, he took the girl to his Maybach.
It was a fifteen-minute drive to Coruscant General. He hoped she made it.
It was damp and dark. The stench of rotting waste-filled his nostrils, causing him to gag. He drew his knees up to his chest, burying his face in his hands to hide his shame. He knew he had failed. The look on his mentor’s face was all the confirmation he required. The moment he’d seen the disappointment in the older man’s beady eyes, he knew what awaited him.
A leak in the north corner served as the only sound, pitter-pattering rhythmically against the stone like the second hand of a clock. With nothing else to focus on, the noise became maddening. As minutes turned to hours, he felt himself breaking. The solitude was wearing away at him like water on rock. He began to cry.
That was when the shadow fell over him.
“Ah, young Solo, have you learned your lesson?” the raspy old voice questioned.
“Really?” His host leaned closer to the bars, eyes narrowing in suspicion. “And what lesson have you learned?”
“Compassion is a weakness,” he answered his mentor.
“Can I come out now?” he pleaded, wrapping his hands around the bars. “Please? I’ll be good. I promise.”
“I will release you,” the old man promised, “once you truly believe those words.”
With that, Snoke left him in the dark.
Kylo inhaled a shaky breath, gaze flickering to the unconscious girl beside him. For a moment, he contemplated leaving her at the Emergency Room. As he approached the hospital, he’d been plagued by Hux’s threat. The consequences of his actions would not be overlooked by Snoke.
He glanced at his rearview mirror. The chocolate eyes staring back at him weren’t those of the scared child locked away in a cellar. That boy had died, alone and forgotten. What had emerged from the ashes was Kylo Ren, the most feared man in the city, and Snoke’s right hand. He’d killed his past, along with his weakness. Now, he was invincible.
Turning the Mercedes into the hospital driveway, Kylo made his choice.
A couple of EMTs were leaning against the entryway on their break. When they saw him open the passenger side door, both jumped into action. Amidst the yelling for a stretcher and calls for a doctor, Kylo whispered to her.
“Stay with me.”
She was cocooned in darkness, enveloped by an infinite void. There was nothing to see, nothing to hear, nothing to feel. It was neither warm nor cold, neither pleasant or uncomfortable. It simply was.
She couldn’t remember her name or where she was supposed to be. This place, and it’s never-ending expanse of black, was all she knew.
For a time, she drifted, content to float in the undefined realm. Whatever she was meant to do, whomever she was destined to be, none of it mattered anymore. There was no pressure to achieve more, no voice in her head urging her to continue forward. She could rest.
Or so she thought.
The first pinch of pain descended on her like a lightning strike. It hit her squarely in the chest, ripping through her until she was sure it would burn her alive. Her lips parted but no scream came out, no singular cry of agony to ward off the assault. That was when she realized she couldn’t move.
Slowly, Rey came back to herself. She felt the heaviness of her limbs, became aware of the searing pain between her ribs, and tasted the coppery tang of blood in her mouth. She tried to yell for help but her vocal cords didn’t work. Nothing did.
She was alone in the dark.
“Stay with me.”
Rey reached into the inky blackness, searching for the owner of the voice. It was low and vibrated through her like the bass on Ivano’s street racer.
“Stay with me,” the man said again.
She strained herself trying to locate him. The pain increased with her efforts but it was no match for her desperation. Somehow she knew if she could reach him, if she could just touch his fingertips, everything would be alright.
Rey stretched forward, blindly grasping until she saw a thin crack of light, like the first rays of sunshine through Plutt’s roof. She heaved herself toward it.
And tumbled into the unknown.
Kylo Ren had two rules: No women. No kids. As far as he was concerned, the girl lying on the surgical table below was both. His fingers itched for a cigarette, even though he’d quit months ago.
The job was simple; a quick in-and-out scenario. He hadn’t anticipated the deed changing hands. He hadn’t suspected that he’d draw his weapon. Regardless, Kylo was prepared.
He’d tracked the document to Jakku, surprised by the choice to hide it in the poverty-stricken district. Upon further musing, Kylo saw their genius behind the decision. No one would suspect the most valuable property deed in the city was hidden in a section overrun with illegal gambling, drugs, and prostitution. The trifecta of immortality, as he’d heard it called once, didn’t inspire an ounce of confidence. And yet, it remained hidden, a diamond in the rough.
Like the girl.
Kylo’s gaze flickered to her pale form, surrounded by a surgical team. She should have died in his passenger seat. There’d been a pool of blood on the black leather when he hoisted her out of the vehicle. For a figure so slight, she shouldn’t have had a pulse. Even the EMTs were surprised by her resilience. Once they secured her on the stretcher, he’d been forced to let go of her hand. As Kylo watched them prep her, he’d held his breath, waiting for her to slip away.
But she kept fighting.
When the emergency room team got her onto a stretcher and ripped open her shirt to apply the paddles, Kylo noted the way her ribs stuck out. One of the nurses asked about the fresh bruise on her cheek. He hadn’t answered but he could guess the cause.
Men like Plutt were bottom-feeders, slinking through life on their fat bellies, taking what they got and earning nothing for themselves. They were the lowest of the low. If Hux hadn’t killed the man, Kylo would have returned to finish the job.
He retrieved his phone from his pocket, dialing the red-haired man.
“Did you find it?” Kylo demanded, his dark eyes remaining focused on the unconscious girl.
“No,” Hux hissed. “I would have called you if I had.”
With an enraged growl, Kylo ended the call. He wanted that deed. The land, the property, and all that it contained inside was his. It belonged to him. When he took it, that would end the pathetic war between his uncle and the First Order. Luke Skywalker would be nothing more than a washed-up legend. It was what he deserved after—
The shrill cry of medical machines broke his train of thought. Kylo leaned forward, peering through the glass, his heart in his throat.
The room had erupted in chaos, the doctors and nurses all passing tools and bags of blood to one another in a strangely methodical dance. He could barely see the girl anymore. She was blocked from his view by a sea of blue scrubs.
“Sir? Sir, you can’t be in here. The viewing area is for hospital staff only.”
Kylo glanced over his shoulder at the nurse in the doorway. He ignored her, gazing down at the girl. One of the doctors brought the paddles forward. Kylo swallowed thickly.
“I’ll make a generous donation if you leave right now,” he told her without changing his focus.
“Sir, that’s really not—.”
“I’ll give you $10,000.”
“Bribery is a federal offense and—.”
“Okay, is $25,000 enough?” he offered.
In the operating room, the surgical team was still rushing around. Kylo clenched his hands into fists at his side. There was one line he’d never crossed. If the girl died, there was nothing to separate him from total darkness. There would be nothing that differentiated him from Snoke. He’d be a monster.
Kylo couldn’t allow it. He wouldn’t let her die.
“I’m very sorry, sir, but—.”
“Just...I need to know she’s going to make it,” he told the nurse.
She joined him at the window to look down.
“Doctor Aphra and Doctor Kalonia are the best surgeons on staff. You don’t need to worry. She’ll pull through,” the nurse assured him. “It will take about ten days for the skin to heal, but it will take longer for everything else. She’s going to need rehabilitation, therapy, and a support system at home.”
Kylo didn’t respond. He didn’t even breathe. The things the nurse spoke of, the things the girl required, weren’t possible for her. If she didn’t have money to eat, she certainly couldn’t afford the care she needed.
He ran a hand through his hair. In his haste to save her, the last-ditch effort to save what was left of his humanity, Kylo hadn’t bothered to ask if he should. What kind of life was he leaving her with— one full of pain and financial burdens? Was that better than letting her die in the street? He didn’t know the answer.
All he knew was that he couldn’t move. Kylo couldn’t leave her alone and vulnerable, splayed out on the table with no control over her fate. He’d wait in the gallery all night if he had to, but there was no power on earth that would tear him away from her until he knew she’d live.
It was then that her pulse stabilized. The chaos surrounding her quieted and Kylo released the breath he hadn't been aware he was holding. If he believed in a higher power, he would have attributed her sudden change to that. As it was, he’d never been big on the theory of the man upstairs.
“They’ll move her to the critical care unit when they are done. Visiting hours start at eight,” the nurse informed him.
Kylo handed his card to the nurse. “When she wakes up, have someone call this number.”
Kylo nodded in thanks.
He recognized how his mentor would classify his actions: a mistake.
He’d said far too much— done far too much. He was supposed to be a shadow, untouchable and indescribable. This girl— whoever she was —proved the lesson Snoke had tried to drive into him all those years ago.
Compassion was his greatest weakness.