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Plaiting A Dark Red Love-Knot

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The inn appeared slowly as the Knights of Ren crested the hill. They had never been to this part of Jakku before, but Rose had heard there was a secluded inn, set between towns, a day’s ride from any village. A perfect place to hole up for the coming storm.

Kylo Ren directed his horse down the hill, and his group followed him, quiet in their exhaustion. They had been travelling for days and had already been caught in driving rain in the previous town. Phasma had argued for them to stop, but Kylo refused. There were too many First Order soldiers there, milling about the citizens in their red livery. They needed someplace safer to wait out the rains.

Already the sky was darkening as they made their way to Niima Outpost Inn. They approached slowly, eyes sharp for guards or soldiers. The inn was silent and still, shaded all around by large, blue-grey weeping willows. Kylo motioned his group to stop, and he dismounted his horse, handing the reins to Phasma. He walked to the door and peered into the high, little window set into the wood.

The glass was dirty and smudged, and he had barely gotten a glimpse of a worn-down entryway when a head rose to the window, blocking his view. His gaze met a pair of sharp, hazel-green eyes. They stared at him with a fierceness that made him pause, caught in their challenge. Then the door swung open and Kylo stepped back to see a girl in the doorway. She was young, perhaps 18 years, and wore a threadbare dress that might once have been fine and rich. He could see where it had been mended and taken in, over and over.

The girl clutched at the door, eyes roaming over him as if assessing. He thought it was only fair, and let his own eyes wander down. He frowned a bit. Her feet were bare, and more than a little battered. “Do you want something?” Kylo’s eyes snapped back up at her voice. As much a challenge as her eyes, she ducked a little further behind the door as he met her gaze again.

“This is an Inn, isn’t it?” he asked, a little amused. Something about her was itching at the back of his mind. Was she familiar? He didn’t think that was it.

Her mouth twisted, and she stepped back to let him in. “Marginally an Inn,” she allowed, turning to go to the desk sitting in the entryway. The house was strange; Kylo could see fine craftsmanship in every wood grain and faded gilding but it was gone to seed; whoever was taking care of this manor didn’t actually care about it.

The girl ducked under the desk and came back up with a large, elderly ledger. She slammed it into the desk with an ominous sound, then flipped through it to near the very end. She reached for a tattered quill sitting in a congealed ink bottle. “Name?”

“Atton Rand,” he said with a little smile.

She eyed him. “Right, and I’m the Queen of Alderaan,” she said dryly, and his stomach did a funny, nervous turn. “But yes, whatever you say, Atton, so long as your coin is good.”

Kylo reached into his satchel and pulled out a coin purse, dropping several gold Alderaan credits on the desk. He watched her scratch his false name into the ledger, as she added a question mark at the end, the cheeky little –

“Wench!” Kylo stiffened and he watched the girl jump guiltily and drop the quill. She stepped back from the desk as a squat, unpleasant looking man came in from what Kylo was assumed was a back kitchen. “Just what in blue blazes do you think you’re-”

Kylo hated this man instantly. “She was helping me with a room,” he spoke over the man, voice firm. “I’ll need four, actually, for myself and my group.” He drew another coin out of his purse and slowly set it down on the desk. “Let her finish.”

The man - the landlord, he assumed - eyed Kylo. He watched greed and caution war in him before he waved a dismissive hand. “Rooms we’ve plenty,” the man said, “and they’re for sale. The girl isn’t. Keep that in mind.” He turned and grumbled his way back out of the entryway.

Kylo’s eyes followed until the man was gone, then he looked back at the girl. “Shall we continue?”

She stared at him for a moment, then cut her eyes to the doorway the man had come through. Finally, she moved back to the desk, picking up the quill. Her hands were shaking. Kylo leaned in close. “Are you frightened of him?” he asked, very softly.

Her eyes flicked up to him and he realized she wasn’t afraid, she was angry. “Oh,” he breathed. “That’s far more interesting.”

Without breaking his gaze, she scratched more letters into the book. Then, with a swift motion, she turned it to face him, slamming the quill onto the desk. “Sign,” she said.

Kylo took the quill and signed Definitely Atton Rand on the line she indicated. He smirked and she turned the book back to her. When she read what he’d written, he saw her mouth twitch against a smile, and it was the most satisfying response he’d gotten in ages.

She stepped back from the desk. “Horses?”

“Six,” Kylo said.

“Stable’s round the back of the house,” she said. “Extra charge for feed.”

“I think we’ll manage.” Kylo stepped back. “We’ll stable the horses and be back for our rooms. Who should I ask for?”

She eyed him. “Rey,” she said.

Kylo nodded. “Rey.” He turned and headed back outside, to his waiting group.

“What is that look for?” Finn asked as he joined them.

“Like the cat that got the cream,” Poe agreed. “It’s unnerving.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Kylo said flatly, eyes glittering. “C’mon; let’s stable the horses and get in off the road. Rain’s coming.” He led his group around the back of the building, finding a dilapidated stable watched over by two boys no older than ten, looking cold and bored. Kylo tossed them a few extra coins and they hurried to tie the horse and brush them down.

“How many rooms did you get?” Hux asked.

“Four,” Kylo replied.

“Because I’m not sharing with you again,” Hux continued, as if Kylo hadn’t spoken. “You never sleep.”

“I sleep,” Kylo said, a little annoyed.

“No, you don’t,” Phasma cut in.

Kylo rolled his eyes and shoved the door open, smirking a bit when he saw Rey waiting behind the desk for them.

“So that’s what that look was for,” Poe muttered.

“Predictable.” Finn agreed.

Kylo ignored them and went right to the desk. “Like I said,” he greeted her. “Four rooms.”

Rey’s sharp eyes took in the group. “These two will be sharing,” she guessed, pointing at Poe and Finn. “And these two,” indicating Phasma and Rose. “And you and the ginger will get your own rooms.”

The group was silent for a moment. “That’s… a very good guess,” Phasma said after a moment. “Have you the Force, girl?”

“Of course not,” Rey said, looking both offended and nervous. “We’re respectable here.”

“Oh, of course,” Hux sneered. “Respectable.”

“Don’t mind him,” Kylo said. “He’s still bitter the sky had the audacity to rain on him yesterday.”

Rey’s mouth twitched again, and she lowered her head for moment, as if fighting off a smile. Kylo wondered what her life was like that smiles had to be hidden. “Alright, let’s go.” She took four keys off the wall behind the desk, and Kylo was not surprised to see no other keys were missing. She motioned to the stairs and Kylo and his group followed her up.

“First room,” Rey said, unlocking it and opening the door.

“Here!” Poe grabbed the key from her, then gave a quick bow. “My lady.” He ducked into the room, pulling Finn with him. The door shut and locked behind them. Rey cocked an eyebrow at Kylo.

“Best to leave them be,” he said. “They’ll be down for dinner.”

“Let’s hope they remember trousers this time,” Rose murmured.

“….alright.” Rey led them to the next room and unlocked it.

“I’m not sleeping in the room next to those two,” Hux announced.

Rose rolled her eyes and took the key from Rey. “We’ll take this one, thank you,” she said graciously. “What time is dinner?”

“Dinner is at six,” Rey said. “It may not be much, as we weren’t expecting folk. But Maz knows her trade; it’ll be filling, at least.”

“Fine with me.” Rose and Phasma headed into the room to drop off their bags and change out of their riding gear.

“I’ll take the next one,” Hux said. Rey unlocked the door then handed the key to him. “Are there any bathing facilities?”

“We’ve a bathhouse out back,” Rey said.

“With the stables?” Hux asked, wrinkling his nose.

“No,” Rey said with false sweetness. “Next to the privy.” Hux made a disgusted noise and she rolled her eyes. “This house used to belong to a nobleman,” she continued. “The bathhouse is only used for guests and it’s clean, I promise.”

“Good enough, I suppose.” Hux went into his room and shut the door firmly behind him.

“I suppose I’m next.” Kylo followed Rey to the final room in that hallway, stopping outside the door and turning to her. He fished a few coins out of his purse and held them out to her.

Rey stared at the coins with a mix of longing and fear, surprising him. “What’s that for?” she asked, distrustful.

“For helping us to our rooms?” he said. “It’s customary.”

“And just that?” she pushed.

His gaze darkened a little. “Yes,” he said firmly. “Just that.”

Rey seemed to war with herself for a moment, then quick as a flash, she snatched the coins from his grip. She clutched them to her chest, her eyes flitting over his face like she was waiting for him to take them back. When he did nothing, she said daringly, “You’re a bandit, aren’t you? You and your friends?”

Kylo smiled a little. “I think they prefer the term ‘highwaymen’,” he said. “But what makes you think I’m one of them?”

She pointed to her own collarbone, then moved closer and poked at the brooch holding his side-swept cape closed. “This is a nobleman’s mark,” she said. “But you’re not a nobleman.”

Kylo cocked an eyebrow. “I could be,” he pointed out. “I’ve the coin for it.”

“Noblemen don’t travel with deserters,” she said shrewdly.

Kylo took a step back, smile sliding off. “Why would you say such a thing?” he demanded, voice hard, then regretted it instantly when she flinched. “I – I’m sorry-”

“N-no, I shouldn’t have-” She was retreating, and Kylo reached a hand out, but it was too late. “I apologize m’lord. I should go be sure Maz is aware we have guests for dinner.” She hurried off and Kylo heaved a sigh, turning to the door of his room and realizing that not only had he chased the girl off, but she still had the key.

He growled in frustration, then looked up and saw Hux leaning out of his room. “You’re an idiot,” Hux said.

“I know,” Kylo agreed sullenly.

“Go apologize,” Hux ordered.

“I’m going!” Kylo pushed off from his own locked door and strode down the hall, shoving Hux back into his own room as he went.

The inn was empty and cold, and Kylo stood in the entryway wondering where the girl went. He sighed and closed his eyes, then reached out with the Force. There. Two people in the kitchen. He slowly edged his way through the door behind the desk, to the back of the house, where he knew guests would likely not be allowed.

The hallway was dark and dim, and the building was in far worse shape there. If the house had been a nobleman’s manor then these were the servant’s rooms and corridors, and no one was paying any mind to them. He followed the bright spots of light in his inner vision, and soon could hear voices coming from the kitchen, where warm firelight danced through an open, sagging archway. He eased close and leaned against the wall right outside the room to listen.

“They’re bandits,” came Rey’s voice, and Kylo smiled.

“Bandits means money,” an old woman’s voice replied. Maz, he assumed. “Plutt should be thankful they stopped here.”

“Hmmm,” Rey hummed thoughtfully. “Plutt didn’t seem to want Ser Rand around,” she said. “He didn’t trust him.”

“What’s this Atton Rand look like?” Maz asked.

“That’s definitely not his name,” Rey said. “But he’s – he’s tall. Very tall. Dark hair, dark eyes. Dark clothes. Pale face.” She was silent for a moment. “Handsome?”

“Are you asking or telling?” Maz prompted, amused.

Rey was silent for a beat. “He frightens me,” she said in a hushed voice, and Kylo winced guiltily. “I think he’s a sorcerer.”

“He has the Force?”

“I think so. There’s something strange about him.” The room was quiet. Then Rey asked, “Maz? What’s wrong?”

“Mmm? Oh, it’s nothing. I just…” Maz went silent. Then, “Kylo Ren.” Her voice was soft, as if pulling something from memory.

Kylo stiffened, wondering if they needed to leave. He waited though, and Rey prompted, “Who?”

“It’s just – there’s a highwayman I know of. I knew his parents, rather. He calls himself Kylo Ren and he fits that description.” Maz laughed a little, then recited, “Near rides Kylo Ren; if male thou art, look to your purse; if female to thy heart.” She laughed again. “If it’s who I think it is, you needn’t worry. He won’t cause any harm.”

Kylo’s heart was racing. He didn’t know who this Maz person was, but she definitely knew him. And possibly his parents. It seemed so unlikely, but his father’s own past wasn’t exactly a pious one; this recognition had to happen sometime. And he still needed to get the room key from the girl.

He took a deep breath and reminded himself that eavesdropping was rude. He crept a few paces back up the hall, then allowed his footsteps to be heard as he returned to the kitchen entrance. “Hello?” he called.

Urgent, hissed whispers followed this. Then Rey appeared, a small pair of incredibly gnarled old hands visibly shoving her into the doorway, before disappearing again. “You’re not supposed to be back here,” Rey said immediately, then jumped guilty as one of the wrinkled hands smacked her lightly on the arm with a wooden spoon. “Er, I mean, can I help you?”

Kylo tried to make himself seem less tall and looming; difficult to do when his head was brushing the ceiling of the narrow passage. “I need the key,” he said. “To the room?” He held out a gloved hand.

“What?” Rey frowned, then looked down at her hands, where the key was still gripped tightly in one fist. “….oh.” She moved forward and pressed the key into his hand, skipping back immediately, putting space between them. “Sorry,” she tacked on.

“It’s – it’s fine,” he said. “I’m sorry if I frightened you.”

“I wasn’t frightened,” Rey argued immediately.

“Oh, of course,” Kylo said, mouth twisting a bit. “You make a habit of running off halfway through your duties, then?”

Rey glared at him. “Does Ser need to be shown back to his room, or can he manage on his own?” she asked sourly, crossing her arms over her chest.

He smirked. “I think I’ll make it without your assistance,” he said. “I’m sure you have much more important things to do.”

Her eyes narrowed and Kylo felt a bit of a thrill at the idea of a truly epic argument with her. But before either one could speak, a great clap of thunder sounded above their heads, and rain began pelting down as if the sky had ripped open. Kylo glanced up as Rey made a squeaking sound and ducked back into the kitchens. When she didn’t emerge after a few moments, Kylo grumbled a bit to himself then turned and left, heading up to his room.