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Steer from the Passenger Side

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As the golden sun rusts in the late afternoon sky, Rey realizes she’s never seen a sunset that didn’t fall over sand.

 

She stares at the horizon from the roof of the garage and cracks open a shitty light beer, taking a swig just to feel the burn in her throat.  She’ll make sure to return the can to the floor beneath Plutt, who’s passed out in his recliner in front of the t.v. just like every night, because she knows he’ll count them in the morning to make sure she isn’t stealing from him. Rey drinks it for the buzz and because it’s one more way she can give him the finger for all he’s stolen from her over the years.

 

The sun’s rays shine down on the low hills and arroyos that lie in the distance like a frame to the wide expanse of blue sky.  They’re a tool for measurement, maybe, a comparison of how infinite the heavens are against the small lives of those who live here in the middle of nowhere.

 

Rey Jackson knows these skies well.  She has lived her whole life in the west Texas desert.  Essentially alone with the sand and tumbleweeds.

 

Rey reaches into her jean’s back pocket and pulls out the postcard from Finn.  He’s the one friend that she’s kept in touch with over the years, as they moved from group homes to foster homes and then away from each other.  On the front, a picture of the ocean, endless blue waves capped in white, and happy people walking amongst palm trees and white beaches. A world wholly foreign to Rey.

 

Come to California, Peanut!  

The air smells sweet here.  So much water and sun.

They don’t even own winter coats!  -FN

 

She looks up at the last orange stain of the setting sun and squints.  And now the dunes and hills are an ocean of blue, a dull roar she can almost hear, and the salted air whips her hair.  Old Ranch Road 294 is the boardwalk where happy couples stroll hand in hand, not the broken road in front of Plutt’s beaten-down house.  She looks due west and dreams of taking US-287 all the way to Amarillo and beyond, further than she’s ever gone, to where all roads end at the edge of the world that she can imagine.  To a new life and a new sunset over the Pacific.

 

Rey pins Finn’s postcard up in her small room above the garage.  After work, she climbs out of her window and up onto the roof where her dreams don’t have limits, staying out until the air grows cold and the stars blink on brightly above her, the night sky so vast it’s like living in a snowglobe made of lights.  When she can’t take the cold she climbs back inside, wraps her old flannel shirt around her shoulders and curls in on herself. At night, desperate to sleep, she dreams of the ocean and the sound of the waves lulls her asleep with their promise of something more than this.

 

For ten years, Plutt has kept her here in Goodnight, Texas.  Every other kid in his care either aged out or moved, she’s the last one left now.  She knows him well enough, well enough to stay safe, but also well enough to have added extra locks to her door that she never fails to fasten at night.  Rey will always do what she must to survive.

 

She’s aged out, too.  She turned eighteen last year and the state is now done with her.  No more check-ins or a false sense of concern. No more needing to smile at worried adult faces, I’m fine, I’ll be okay, don’t worry about me!   No more pretending to them or herself that she will ever be anything other than what she is now.  Absolutely alone in the world.

 

Plutt lets her stay after her birthday and high school graduation.  Where else would she go? And how? Everything she owns fits in the top drawer of her dresser.  The only things of value are a yellowed scrap of paper and an old worn red and black flannel shirt, men’s size large, items which hold no worth to anyone but her.  

 

Plutt needs her.  He needs her to help him run the autobody repair shop.  He needs her to drive him when he’s too wasted to hunt for scrap metal in the junkyard fields, needs her to do all the real work and deal with the sporadic customers at the garage while he buys beer.  He makes a show of charging her rent for her room, since he doesn’t get state money to feed and board her anymore. Rey makes sure it is enough for her to save up. She doesn’t need much to live on, so she’s squirrelled away her salary where he won’t find it and counts the days until she can take off.

 

Then one day a tow truck deposits a dark blue-green Jeep Wagoneer woody, found abandoned in an old field.  A 1982 model, so already twelve years old, covered in patchy rust and a rat’s nest in the backseat. She runs her hands over the panels and imagines.  She wants it. Plutt laughs when she begs him not to strip it for scrap and scans it over. “Ha, girlie, you make that thing run and you can have it. Nothing worth a damn penny on that piece of junk anyway.”  

 

Rey spends every free moment repairing the woody.  She rips out the backseat and trashes it, which is fine, she’s the only one who’ll ever drive in it.  She carefully vacuums out sand and picks burrs from the high pile carpet and conditions the leather seats.  She repairs the rust patches, mostly on the undercarriage, and reinforces the floorboards. She puts in a new carburetor herself, reworks the engine piece by piece, learning what she doesn’t already know.  She hunts for the parts she needs in the shop and trades others garages for parts when Plutt’s passed out.

 

She’s almost done now.  She gives it all new belts and tires, of course, and flushes out the lines and changes the oil.  Rey works on the electrical and gets the tape player going but not the clock. The air conditioner is spotty at best, but it will do.  And when she gets the engine running for the first time, she feels such a thrill that she hollers and scares away the stray cats.  It takes her four months to rebuild what she could, repaint and cover up what she couldn’t, and Rey knows the woody is her ticket out.  The jeep means freedom.  Freedom means escape.

 

Rey signs the registration papers in Plutt’s hand, well practiced by now.  She saves up the gas money and has a fortune, $853.65, more than enough to get her to San Diego.  She’ll sleep in the car in a bedroll with extra blankets. She starts hoarding non-perishable food and water.  Nothing is going to stop her.

 

It is mid-September when she decides this is the night.  She waits until Plutt finishes his eighth beer to start packing up the woody.  She hears the late night show with the new guy, Conan something, start up. Rey knows Plutt hates him so he must be passed out already if he hasn’t changed the channel.  Rey packs up her few belongings in an old duffle bag she found in the shop, and puts a few tools and her leatherman on top. She pulls off Finn’s postcard from the wall with his address in San Diego and pushes it into her bag, stuffing her coffee can of money inside.  Everything she owns fits on one shoulder. She slips on her cowboy boots and grabs her pillow and some bottles of water as she tiptoes down the stairs.

 

She pauses above Plutt snoring in his chair.  She reaches down for one last beer, considers briefly leaving him a note, then thinks better of it.  She turns her back on him and locks the door behind her, puts the garage keys in the mailbox, and walks to the woody.

 

As Rey drives away from Goodnight, Texas, for the last time in her life, she pops in the one cassette tape she owns and rolls down the window.  As she shakes her long hair free she cracks open her beer and takes a swig.

 

As the stars shine down on the empty road before her, Rey heads to Amarillo to catch the road west through Albuquerque.  She sips her beer and cranks her music up high. Free for the first time, Rey only wants to reach California and see the sunset over the ocean.

 

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As Kylo Ren pulls out of the city limits of Chicago, he checks his rearview mirror one last time to make sure he isn’t being followed.

 

Of course they’d send someone to trail him.  Carrying an item of this much value, they wouldn’t leave the exchange of goods up to chance or his upstanding moral virtue.  Certainly not with his family’s last name. They’d want insurance that he’d deliver what was promised from New York City to the dealer in Chicago, and on time.  It made sense.

 

And he did it, despite obstacles.  Despite his injury. Despite wanting nothing more than to burn and destroy anything relating to Snoke to the motherfucking ground out of spite.  He did his job like a professional. His last job, whether they knew it or not. So why were they still tailing him? That could only mean one thing.  They were tying up loose ends, and Kylo wasn’t about to become a loose end.

 

The old black sedan is nothing special, but it has pick up.  He wasn’t raised in the city, so he knows how to drive unlike the goons following him.  He weaves in and out of traffic easily, sticking them behind trucks and running amber lights, until he loses them.  As he stubs out his cigarette in the ashtray, he scans his mirror for the tan Buick seating two.

 

Nothing.

 

Once he almost reaches Kankakee ( where the hell do they come up with these names, Jesus ), he diverts suddenly off Highway 57 and gets on old business 50.  He pulls into the small town and into the first open gas station he finds.  Checking the mirror, he catches his own eyes, pupils wide and bloodshot, staring back at him.  He runs fingers through his shaggy hair trying to tame it, smoothing down his goatee as he exhales.

 

Kylo buys a U.S. map, some water and candy bars, and a pack of Marlboros.  He starts the engine and lights up another cigarette as he opens up the map.  Each time a set of headlights arc into the station, his eyes dart up nervously.  As he folds up the map, he rolls his shoulders back and reaches into the waistband of his jeans, pulls out a revolver and sets it on the seat next to him, hidden under his jacket.

 

He pulls out of the gas station and heads west, cutting across farmland to hook up to the old mother road, old Route 66.  The road that will take him all the way to California.

 

The fastest way out of Illinois going south or west is to take Route 57.  That’s logical, that’s efficient, that’s where they’ll look for him. He’s going a different way, the scenic route, an unexpected path.  He’ll take old Route 66 through St. Louis, Tulsa and Oklahoma City to make his way west. He’ll take it all the way to Los Angeles, meet up with his contacts and pick up the wire transfer, and get the hell out of the United States for good.

 

Kylo Ren inhales slowly, scans his empty rearview mirror periodically, and starts to relax.    

 

As he heads southwest under a full moon, the inky black road laid out before him like a river, he tells himself he has nothing to worry about now.  He takes a sip of water and reclines back in his seat. Leaving his past behind him, Kylo Ren only wants to reach California and start a new life.

 

 

Chapter Text

It takes Rey less than an hour to get to Amarillo.  She’s familiar with the route from years of driving Plutt to get parts and scrap outside the city.  This time she diverts south and merges onto US 40 heading west.

 

The traffic has thinned out by the time she approaches exit 60 and sees the sign for the Cadillac Ranch.  She’s always wanted to see it, but Plutt never had time for such nonsense. But he’s not here now, she thinks as she exits and follows the frontage road leading up to the ranch.

 

She pulls onto the shoulder a mile past the highway in front of a locked gate.  There’s nothing to see yet, just some glowing lights in the distance. A couple of trucks are parked nearby.  It’s after midnight and black as pitch, so she reaches over to the glovebox for her maglite flashlight. It’s almost the size of a crow bar and as she grips it in both hands she thinks she could crack a skull if she swung it right.  Rey locks up the woody as she walks up to the gate and climbs over to get into the pasture.

 

Up ahead she hears laughter and yells.  She pauses, listening. Sounds like high school kids around her age.  She gives them a wide berth as she approaches the cars.

 

It’s a surreal scene.  Ten old cadillacs, half-buried nose down in the earth, all pitched at the same angle.  Covered with years-worth of graffiti scars, some inked in neon and glowing in the darkness.  Rey keeps her distance as she walks a big circle around the cars, wary of the kids she sees climbing over them, beer cans in hand and talking loudly.  

 

One of the boys takes out a spray can and adds his name in white to a car.  He offers it to a girl next to him and she joins in. They kiss and his friends laugh.  Rey watches silently. Then they catch sight of her. “Hey, you want to add your name, too?” the boy asks her.

 

Rey looks at him and his friends shyly.  Just normal kids out having fun, what kids are supposed to do.  They seem harmless. She looks at the cadillacs, where they’ve stood for more than twenty years, and sees name upon name, painted over and over again.  

 

What’s one more name?  I could add mine. But, what’s the point?

 

Rey gives a quick smile and shakes her head as she turns to walk back to her car.  She’s going to leave Texas the same way she arrived, unknown. Leaving no mark and nothing to remember her by.  

 

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She pulls into Glenrio, the last Texas town that sits right on the border with New Mexico.  It’s 2:30 am and 110 miles outside of Goodnight, and she’s exhausted and hungry.

 

There’s an all-night diner just off the highway and she parks near the door.  Rey scans around the parking lot to make sure she’s not being watched, then reaches into her duffle to pull money out of her coffee can.  The last thing she needs is to get mugged of her life’s savings before even crossing the state line.

 

Rey locks up and enters the diner.  There’s a few tables of truckers and travelers, mostly quiet as they eat.  She sits up at the counter on a stool and an older woman with bleached blonde hair smiles at her kindly and takes her order.

 

Rey gets the breakfast burrito platter, extra bacon crispy, side of pancakes and coffee.  She hates coffee but needs the caffeine to make it to Albuquerque tonight.

 

As she’s eating there’s an influx of people, mostly men, coming in from the honky tonk next door.  Loud voices break up the subdued mood as the late night crowd shifts after the bars close. Rey starts to eat faster.

 

“Hey, Miss.  Whatcha doin’ eatin’ alone?”  Rey looks up and over her shoulder at the loud voice and sees a drunk redneck sitting nearby, his red trucker cap matching his bloodshot eyes trained on her.  She realizes with a start that he’s talking to her.

 

“Miss, you’re too young to be on your own.  Wanna come eat with us?” He’s sitting with a smaller oily-haired guy with equally-wasted eyes who is leaning his elbows on the table smirking at her.

 

“No, thanks.”  Rey turns back to her food and waves her hand to the waitress for a coffee refill.  

 

She hears a chair scrape the floor and now he’s lumbering up to her.  She braces herself. “Are you here alone? Little girl like you shouldn’t be out this late.”  He leans one hand on the bar and she can smell a foul combination of beer, cigarette smoke and body odor waft over her.  She sits up ramrod straight, senses tingling.

 

“I’m not alone.  Meeting my boyfriend.”  She tries to sound sure of herself, she knows she’s a terrible liar.

 

“Oh, that’s right?  Well, you can come sit with us ‘til he gets here.”

 

“He’s not coming here.  He’s in the army. I’m meeting him at- ,” Rey racks her brain for the name of any army base in Texas she can remember, “Fort Hood.”

 

“Damn, girl, that’s almost 8 or 9 hours away!  You aren’t going to meet him tonight.” He is smirking at her and leans down as she cringes, brain scrambling for what to say next.

 

“Travis, leave this girl alone now!  She’s finishing her breakfast. You go sit down at your table and mind your own business.”  The kind waitress is back again with Rey’s coffee and a scowl as she shoos the man back to his seat.  Rey catches her eyes and mouths “thank you” as she exhales. The woman winks and slips her bill quietly on the counter.

 

Rey slides off her stool to go to the women’s restroom.  When she comes back the guys have left, so she quickly slaps down a 20 dollar bill on the counter and walks to the front door, keys in hand.

 

She’s almost in the woody, just opened the driver’s side door, when she feels a large hand wrap around her upper arm as she flinches.  She turns her head and the large redneck is there with his friend standing behind him, fingers clamped around her left arm.

 

“Now, sweetheart, we told you it ain’t good to be out here alone.  All kinds of unsavory characters. Why don’t you join me and Joe? We’re going to get a drink.  You old enough to drink, sweetheart?”

 

Rey tries to slip her arm away from him, but he squeezes his hold tighter, fingers starting to dig into flesh.  She turns to him and sees his glazed eyes bearing down on her, a predatory glint. Her heart starts to pound, pulsing in her ears.  She gives him a half smile and then turns away from him to look in the woody.

 

Then Rey suddenly pulls back and lands a devastating right hook.  He’s a lot taller, so she misses his nose and punches him as hard as she can dead square in the middle of his throat.

 

He instantly releases her and wraps both hands around his neck, gasping and gulping like a wide-mouth bass as he falls to his knees in shock and pain.  Rey jumps in the woody and slams the door, locking it, as his friend runs up and grabs his shoulders. She starts the engine and guns it out of the parking lot, fishtailing on the gravel road, as she hits US 40 and speeds off west into New Mexico.

 

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The adrenaline and the coffee have Rey buzzing, wide awake at almost 4 am, panting as she drives.

 

Stupid, stupid, stupid!  Don’t go out that late at night.  

 

All of a sudden her bladder feels weak and her right hand is aching as she makes a fist and unclenches it, shaking her hand out.  She’s 40 minutes inside New Mexico when she sees a sign for a huge travel stop, Love’s, and she pulls over.

 

Rey pulls under a streetlight in the lot near other parked cars and campers and kills the engine.  She’s too terrified to go inside. Her breath slows as she watches the parking lot for several minutes.  She sneaks out to squat behind a bush, eyes alert in the dark and ears tuned in for any sound.

 

When she’s done, she runs on her tiptoes back to the woody and locks it up tight.  The air is crisp and cool, not quite cold but still she’s trembling. She crawls into the back of the woody and slips off her boots but pulls her maglite and leatherman close to her.  Curling up in a her bedroll under a nest of blankets, she hides herself away so anyone peering in won’t see her.

 

She tells herself tomorrow she will be smarter.  She won’t make those same mistakes again. Rey is a quick study.  She’ll do what she needs to do to survive.

 

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Kylo sees the tan Buick again as he’s standing at the pump filling up the sedan in Oklahoma City.  He almost misses it, just happens to look up at the moment it slows down on the frontage road before passing the gas station entrance.  There’s zero doubt in his mind it is the same one as Chicago. He holds his breath.

 

It’s impossible they’ve been trailing him all this way.  Impossible. He’s been extremely careful. He’s scanned every stop he’s made and has even circled back a few times to make sure he wasn’t followed.  That means they must’ve been waiting for him in Oklahoma City when he hooked up with US 40 west. But how did they find him?

 

Kylo turns away from the pump and looks back at his black sedan.  He feels a wave of nausea at his own stupidity.

 

Why did I keep the same car as the hand off?  Fuck, idiot, idiot! Lazy fuck!

 

He hurriedly walks around the back bumper of the car.  Getting down on his knees to peer underneath the car like a concerned driver, he uses his hands to feel for anything out of place, anything strange.  He scans the interior too, feeling under seats, looking in cupholders and vents, searching for something added on.

 

Kylo finally finds it in the spare tire tucked under the floor mat in the trunk.  An electronic tracker. He remembers suddenly that Snoke was in the special forces when he met his Dad.  He can imagine the names his father would be calling him right now if he were here.

 

His every instinct is to trash the tracker right away.  But then Snoke’s guys will know he’s on to them, and that will push up their time table.  Kylo has to bide his time. Be patient. Right now he has the element of surprise and that may be his only advantage.

 

Kylo hangs up the pump and goes inside the station.  He bides some time to think by eating a hamburger (utter crap) and a hot dog (passable), then buys more snacks, a big gulp soda, and more bottles of water.  

 

He comes back to the sedan with his haul and pulls out the map, formulating a plan, willing his hands to stop shaking.  He uses a pen to place an “X” on a region of New Mexico off US 40.

 

If Snoke has the tracker and this same team following him since Chicago, chances are they don’t think he’s on to them.   Which he wasn’t until he got incredibly fucking lucky just now, he thinks.  If they have him in a noose, they won’t need to send back-up.  That’s much better odds for him.

 

A familiar voice is ringing in his ear.  A memory. Don’t ever tell me the odds.  

 

Kylo smiles sadly.   What would you think about my odds right now, Dad?  

 

They’re waiting to get him isolated, so instead he’ll stay out in public.  He has a plan and the element of surprise on his side, he hopes that is enough.

 

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Kylo drives on US 40 west for five hours without stopping.  He cuts straight across the panhandle of Texas without setting a foot on the ground.

 

He has enough food and gas, and when he has to piss, that’s what the Big Gulp cup is for.  Apologies for those driving behind him as he dumps it, except for those in the Buick.

 

Five hours after Oklahoma City, he passes the border into New Mexico.  He makes a quick stop in a travel center to pick up a more detailed state map and to use the washroom.  Splashing freezing cold water onto his face, he slaps his cheeks several times to wake himself up. He’s got to be alert for this.

 

He gets back into the car and forces himself to breathe deep.  Looking left and right to make sure no one sees, he checks his revolver.  He reaches into his backpack for extra rounds and puts them on the seat under his jacket with the gun.  He studies the detailed map and finds the road he needs. Pulling back onto 40, he spies his friends in the tan Buick following him a respectful 10 car-lengths back.

 

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Kylo passes through Tucumcari ( these names are killing me ), New Mexico, and is on high alert after US 54 merges into US 40 west.  A few miles later, he sees the sign for exit 321, to Palomas, and with no warning veers off to the right.  He crosses over the highway on an overpass and looks down to his left to see the tan Buick slow down and then take the same exit a minute behind him.  

 

Kylo speeds up down the frontage road and takes a right turn to cross back over the highway again and head almost due north.  He passes the road sign for “Q R AZ” as the paved road gives way to gravel and dirt.

 

He’s on a one-lane gravel road, kicking up dust behind him, driving faster than he should.  The car hits a pothole and he curses as his head hits the roof, the small jolt of pain adding another burst of adrenaline.

 

He speeds on, the dirt he’s kicking up partially obscuring him and hopefully slowing down the Buick to give him a bigger lead.  A single lonely house, no sign of life, sits back off the road, seemingly abandoned. The road narrows as it leads up to some small hills and arroyos, the steep-sided gullies that line creeks in the west.

 

Kylo abruptly pulls up to what seems like an old mining site, some long lost equipment piled to the right.  It’s a cul de sac, but then he knows that, it’s why he chose this road. The open space is round and flanked on three sides by the sharp cliff faces that bottom out in tributaries that feed down to Vigil Canyon.  It is a dead end.

 

He turns to his right sharply when he hits the clearing, and then whips his car around to face the dirt road perpendicular to the entrance, backing up to tuck himself in.  The car is partially obscured by the mining equipment and the slope of the hill next to the road. He waits, breathing heavy, and tightens his seatbelt.

 

Everything is still as the dust starts to settle and the air clears.  The midday sun beats down on the sand. He cranks his air conditioner up a few notches and turns the air colder as he starts to sweat, using the back of his palm to wipe it off his brow.  He tucks his gun into his belt. His knuckles are white on the steering wheel where he grips it tightly. He never takes his eyes off the dirt road entrance.

 

The second he sees the tan Buick drive in slowly, he doesn’t think twice.  His foot slams on the accelerator and he floors it until he smashes into the passenger side of the car with a crunch, ramming it over to the edge of the gully.  He doesn’t lift his foot off the gas until he’s sure the car will go over the edge. As he feels the Buick fall away from him, he cuts the wheel sharply and pulls the emergency break, stopping almost parallel to the edge of the cliff.

 

It is over impossibly fast.  His chest is stinging from where the seat belt gripped him and he may have hit his head again.  He’s going to have some bruises and maybe a couple of cracked ribs, which is unfortunate because he still has a knife wound in his abdomen to contend with, so this is really not a good time to add to his injury collection.

 

Kylo grabs his gun and eases himself out of the car.  He makes his way carefully up to the edge of the gully and listens.  Dips his head over quickly a few time to draw fire, but there is nothing.  It is still and quiet. He peers down.

 

The car has landed on its roof, belly up on the bottom of the gully, and water is surrounding and submerging it partially.  He sees only the legs of one man whose body is pinned under the car, must’ve been ejected before the car rolled over him. He seems dead.  The car is starting to smoke. No sign of the other man.

 

Kylo pulls back from the edge of the gully.  He needs to know if the other guy is dead, too.  If not, he’ll call for back-up and Snoke will send another team.  Kylo needs to know if he has days, not hours, of a head start. The only way is to go down and check for himself.

 

He hunts for a path and finds a switchback.  He starts down, cautiously, one hand on his waist and the other holds his gun.  It’s painful going. His ribs on the right are starting to ache from the collision.  He thinks bitterly, at least they’re balanced out, since the stab wound is on his left side.   

 

He makes his way down and steps closer to the car, reflexes primed to shoot at any movement.  More smoke and the smell of burnt rubber. Kylo kneels down low to look into the car.

 

He sees the driver.  He’s pinned partially under the the left side of the car where it crumpled, curled on his side, and there’s water covering him from the waist down.  He’s alive, but barely. He’s got blood dripping of his mouth and nose and he’s making gurgling sounds as he breathes and coughs faintly.

 

Kylo looks around for any weapons in the man’s reach but there are none.  He looks too bad off to use one anyway. Water is rising on the other side of the car as it starts to sink into the sandy creekbed.  Kylo doesn’t think he’ll last long.

 

He aims his gun and swallows hard.  At this point it would be a mercy killing.  He could save this man some pain and misery.  The man turns to face Kylo and he makes eye contact, eyes half-lidded.

 

When he sees the dark brown eyes staring back at him, drowsy and weak, Kylo remembers another set of eyes staring back at him.  Hazel and dark, full of pain. Pleading eyes. Kylo blinks. He slowly lowers his gun and stands up.

 

He’s never killed a man before.  That’s a bridge he won’t cross. He knows what he just did amounts to murder, but they were going to kill him, it was self-defense.  At least he can tell himself that. He can’t kill a man in cold blood, even in the name of mercy.

 

Kylo makes his way back up the trail, slowly and resting often.  When he gets back to the sedan he almost dozes off. He drinks some water and can see from the dark billowing smoke that the car is burning in earnest now.  He starts his engine and the car can drive despite the smashed left fender. He pulls out on the dirt road and makes his way back to US 40 west without looking back.

 

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The good thing about the East Coast and the Great Lakes region is that there are plenty of bodies of water perfect for hiding large things.  The West is different. You have to take the opportunity where you can.

 

Two hours later he is standing on a steep overlook on the shores of Santa Rosa lake.  

 

It is the middle of the day during a work week in September, so not a lot of tourists or fishermen.  He has this corner of the lake to himself.

 

He strips everything out of the car, removing anything that could be traced back to him including the license plates.  He wipes down the interior, just in case, after rolling down all the windows but leaves the tracker in the trunk. Putting his bag on the ground a distance away, he starts the engine and gives it the gas before rolling away from the car with a grunt to clear the back wheels.  The sedan picks up speed and tumbles down the slope into the lake and within five minutes is completely submerged.

 

Kylo puts his pack on his shoulders with a grimace and makes his way slowly out to the service road.  He sticks out his thumb and hopes someone will give him a lift.

 

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Now he’s sitting in a small booth by the window of the Chili Hills Diner in Moriarty, New Mexico, nursing his coffee at 10 am.  It has been a hell of a two days.

 

He rolled into town last night after a friendly trucker, a Mormon, took the opportunity to pick him up and proselytize to his poor, lost soul.  Kylo didn’t mind one bit as the man went on, earnestly. He felt flattered that someone thought he was worth redemption.

 

Kylo slept like a goddamn log last night at the Sunset Motel.  The room was clean, it was set conveniently on the main road near a diner and a bar, and they didn’t ask any questions when he paid in cash.  Perfect.

 

He has to plan his next step.  He’s mulling over if he should just keep hitchhiking his way to California, but that seems too risky.  What if something goes wrong and he’s stuck in the middle of the desert? What if Snoke sends another team?  He hates the bus, too many people. So he must buy a car. That would be memorable and suspicious in a small town like Moriarity.  He’ll hitch to Albuquerque and buy a car there.

 

As he’s considering his options, sipping his black coffee, he suddenly hears cursing outside the window of the diner.  Cute, feminine cursing.

 

Kylo turns over his shoulder to find the source of the noise.  Pulled over on the side of the road in front of the diner is a green jeep with wood panelling.  The hood is lifted up and what looks like steam is coursing out from the engine. And yelling at the car as if it has done something personal to her is a small slip of a girl in cut off shorts and cowboy boots, white oversized t-shirt knotted at the waist.

 

He can’t do anything but stare.

 

She’s yelling at it, then suddenly forgives and leans over the engine again.  As she stretches to reach inside, one long leg sticks far out behind her for counter-balance, like a ballerina on the stage.  Kylo licks his lips as he tracks the length of tan, smooth skin leading up to her round ass sitting above the grill like a cupcake on a platter.  Then she’s quickly back up again, whipping her long, brown hair over her shoulder to reveal a gorgeous, smooth face crinkled in thought. She starts up her tirade anew, screaming at the car and kicking the front tire for good measure.

 

He’s absolutely mesmerized.  

 

He turns his body to face the window, brings his coffee up before him like he’s watching the morning news, studying her in her beautiful rage.   

 

She is running her hands through her hair now and shaking her head in disbelief.  She’s either talking to herself or to the car, he can’t tell. She’s silent for a moment but then she tilts her head back and screams at the heavens and he almost jumps at her unexpectedly fierce, full-throated, angry cries.  She kicks the tires three, four, no five times, then stomps away from the jeep and is she picking up fistfulls of sand and throwing them, she’s so mad?  Oh my God.

 

He has never before seen anyone act like this, least of all a beautiful girl.  He is simultaneously fascinated and aroused. If she has this much passion for a goddamn car, he thinks, then that could really be something.   He allows himself to imagine her cries underneath him in the dark and has to shift in his seat.  

 

She walks to the passenger side of her Jeep as he comes out of his daydream and picks up a duffle bag.  Now she’s storming up to the front door of the diner and he turns to face his food again.

 

Kylo leans over his plate in a show of nonchalance but peeks up under his brows at she pulls open the front door and silver bells ring in greeting.  He’s suddenly grateful he showered and wore his pair of clean clothes, a black button down and jeans sitting atop his laced-up leather work boots. She stands for a moment to scan for a seat, her eyes dragging over him without stopping, and she walks over to a small booth two away from him, dropping the bag on the seat opposite her.

 

The cook, who is also the cashier, comes up to ask for her order.  A Migas plate with coffee and side of pancakes, please.  Quite the appetite, he thinks.

 

Kylo picks up a forkful of his food and savors it.  He pointedly ignores her as he begins to change his plans.  This is a small town, he has time to play this right. She’ll notice him soon, he’ll make sure of that.




Chapter Text

Rey wakes up in the woody with the sunrise, restless and clammy in the enclosed space, with a crick in her neck.  She slept restlessly and woke often.  The adrenaline and tension of the night kept her strung out on a wire.  Her hand rubs circles on her neck as she blinks herself awake, stretching out long to uncoil sore muscles.  

 

Her first day finally being free, but it doesn’t feel like victory yet.

 

Rey washes up in the sink at the truck stop and changes into cut-offs and a t-shirt.  As she brushes out the knots in her hair, she estimates how much money she can afford to spend each day to make it to San Diego.  It’s going to be tight.  She decides to skip breakfast and just picks up a coffee for the road.

 

Back on Route 66 heading to Albuquerque, she drives through the angled morning sun.  Beams of light shine down on the road like a magic wand, turning everything new again.  Rolling down her window, she breathes in the cool air and feels lighter.  Her left hand floats outside, palm surfing the waves of air like a dolphin as she drives.  She starts to unwind and enjoy the freedom she’s been thirsting to taste for so long.

 

----------------

 

Everything’s fine until something suddenly goes wrong, very wrong, with the Jeep in Moriarty, New Mexico.

 

Rey watches the woody’s temperature gauge steadily rise until it spikes on the outskirts of town and steam starts billowing out from the hood.  She tries to coast to a gas station, but the steering column begins to shake and she has to swerve onto the side of the road.  A flash of panic seizes her throat and she kills the engine.

 

Rey pops the hood and almost burns her hand on the hot metal, yelping.  She goes back for a towel to prop up the hood on the support bar.  Waves of steam release and she steps back and shakes the towel to dispel it.  There’s no smoke or flames, at least that’s good.

 

Then Rey realizes she didn’t pack a fire extinguisher and starts to berate herself.  Stupid, why didn’t I think of that?!    

 

She leans over the grill and sees the problem right away.  The water pump has failed and can’t cool the engine.  She had replaced the hoses, but she thought the pump itself was sound.  Now it looks stuck and that’s why the car overheated.

 

Pushing back from the woody, she starts cursing, “Shit, goddamn piece of SHIT!” and kicks the tire in her pique.  She’s mostly mad at herself.

 

She huffs out a breath of air then leans back over to see if there’s any other damage.  And that’s when she spies it. A vertical crack, probably caused by rust and vibration, down the side of the master cylinder.  Can’t be fixed, must be replaced. Expensive. Both of these together, at least 300 dollars in parts. And there goes her money flying out the door like birds set free.  

 

With every nerve fried after an emotional battering of a night, her neck seized up and a hand still sore from the punch, this pushes her over the edge.  Rey loses her shit completely.

 

She was raised in a small, conservative town and there’s one word that good Texan girls are told never to say.  When Rey finally explodes, she screams it at the top of her lungs. “FUUUUUCCCCCKKKK!  Fuck me!  Fuck, fuck, fuck me, goddammit!”    

 

She kicks the tires so hard she makes her heel ache, too.  Her head goes back, eyes closed, as she screams incoherently at the sky, and the wind, and at her rotten luck and how she can't seem to catch one single goddamn break.  She screams at fate and at Plutt, who would laugh his ass off in his recliner if he could see her right now, and at her stupidity at thinking she could ever make a clean getaway.

 

Barely five hours away from Goodnight, but she'd rather die in a ditch rather than crawl back there.  Rey picks up handfuls of sand and throws them, she’s so mad.

 

When she’s done releasing all her own steam, she stands panting before the dead engine.  It’s quiet on the street, not a soul in sight, as she returns to her senses.  She turns around, embarrassed, but no one seems to have witnessed her fit.  

 

A proper meal, that's what she needs, to quell this headache.  Then a cheap place to stay tonight and call a shop.  She’s going to be in this town for a few days so she has to think straight.  Just stay calm and be smart.

 

Rey grabs her bag out of the woody and turns to face the diner, walking with a purpose to the front door.

 

--------------------

 

Silver bells ring out cheerily as Rey steps inside the door.  She looks around cautiously, lips pressed together, as she scans the restaurant.  Two older couples in the back, eating in silence, one man dressed in black sitting alone near the window.  

 

Rey walks to the first small booth by the door, two away from the man, and sits facing him.  She wants to keep an eye on him, her fight or flight response still keyed up from last night.  She puts her bag on the seat opposite her to dissuade any new friends.

 

The cook, an older man with a friendly, wrinkled-up face like cellophane, pushes through the kitchen door to take her order.  She asks for a migas combo plate with pancakes on the side.

 

The cook asks her, “red or green or Christmas?”

 

Rey blinks at him, dumbfounded.  “Sorry, what?”

 

“Oh, you’re not from here, then.  It’s the state question of New Mexico,” he chuckles.  “It means chile. You want red or green or both?” he says with a patient smile.

 

Rey hedges her bets, “both, please, on the side?”  He nods and returns to the kitchen.  When she turns forward again she sees the stranger lower his gaze from her and back to his plate.  

 

But for an instant she catches his eyes.  

 

Dark eyes, surprisingly warm, like black coffee with a splash of cream.  Intelligent eyes, rich and deep. Eyes you could drown in if you aren’t careful.  She feels the hairs on the back of her neck start to rise.  When he breaks away abruptly, she exhales.  

 

She looks out the window and rubs her sore neck, fingertips making circles.  She’s not threatened by the man exactly, but she’s on edge. Without looking at him, she feels his presence nearby, like a low vibration in the room.

 

The sound of the griddle in the kitchen gets louder as the door swings open, and the cook delivers her coffee and a water.  Thanking him with a smile, she pours in two packets of sugar and stirs. She takes a sip, the puts down her mug as she lifts the plastic stirrer to her mouth and chews on it absentmindedly.

 

She hears the scrape of a fork on plate and her eyes flick back to the man instinctively.   

 

He’s looking down as he lifts a bite up to his open mouth, a set of plush, full lips curling around the fork before it slides out clean.  Dark shaggy hair frames high cheekbones set above a long, straight nose and goatee. An unusual face, a face you can’t forget, masculine and strong.

 

She’s realizes she’s staring and turns away.  She waits for her food, chewing on the stirrer, looking anywhere but at him.  She sighs and crosses her legs, her top foot starting to tap quickly under the booth.  He’s a shadow on the edge of her periphery.

 

The cook reappears to bring out her plate and then delivers the bill to the man.  He hovers over the stranger, making small talk. “Going to be in town for awhile?”

 

Rey is focused on her food, but tunes into their conversation, curious.

 

“Maybe a couple of days.  I’m just passing through on my way to Vegas,” the stranger says as he wipes his mouth with a napkin.  It’s the first time she’s heard his voice, a surprisingly smooth rumble like the purr of a V-8 engine.

 

“Where you from?” the cook asks, conversationally.  

 

“New Jersey.”  

 

Her eyes snap back to him.  She’s never met a real yankee before, just seen them on t.v.  He doesn’t sound like Jerry Seinfeld. She’s even more curious now.

 

“Wow, long way from home!  What takes you to Vegas then, work or pleasure?”

 

“Little bit of both, I expect,” the stranger says, wiping his mouth with a napkin.  He smiles at the cook, a crooked grin, his cheeks rising and his eyes crinkling into little half moons.  His face transforms with his smile, like a hidden light has been turned on.

 

“Well, good luck to you,” the cook says as he heads back to the kitchen.

 

Rey focuses on her plate.  She’s not one to let her food get cold.  She tries not to notice the stranger throw down some bills and rise from his seat, unfurling to his full height.  He’s massive. Their eyes briefly meet again as he passes by her table, but she looks away, shy, to scoop up another bite as she hears the bells ring goodbye behind him.

 

Rey turns her head to watch him through the window.  He cups his hands to lights up a cigarette and squints into the sunlight as blows out a puff of smoke.  His other hand reaches up to rub his ribcage and slowly card through his hair. He turns his broad shoulders away from her to walk down the dusty road, shoving his hand in his pocket.  She watches his long, slightly pigeon-toed strides take him across the road and up to the Sunset Hotel until he disappears from sight and she returns to her plate.

 

---------------------

 

Kylo thought he played that just about perfect.  

 

He didn’t talk to her.  He practically ignored her.  He funneled all his concentration into not noticing her to the best of his ability even though every cell of his body screamed out to get to know her better.  He almost bit his tongue to stop from asking her name.

 

He saw her watching him as he spoke to the cook.  She’s interested, at least curious. He wanted to sound friendly, harmless, to put her mind at ease that he wasn’t a threat.

 

He wonders if that’s actually true.  If he really isn’t a threat.

 

She had him all hot and bothered after her rage fit, but up close she is incredibly young.  More an angel than demon. He wonders if she is even eighteen and his mood darkens.  He won’t touch her if she’s not eighteen and, God, his hands itch to touch her.  He wants to feel that long honey-brown hair weave between his fingers, see her shining eyes sparkle just for him from her pretty moon of a face.  Her skin so smooth his hands could slide all over her curves like butter.  She’s perfect, shy and fierce, all sugar and spice.  He’d love to get a taste, even if it’s just for a couple of days.

 

He was smart to bide his time, to leave her wanting more.  She’s curious now. She doesn’t even know his name. Not the one he’s using right now, anyway.  

 

He’ll make sure she can find him when she wants to.  It’s Saturday and there’s no way her truck gets fixed before Monday in a small town like this.  Plenty of time.

 

He’s wonders how long he can wait.  How long will it take Snoke to figure out he slipped out of his grasp and is running again?  A couple of days? More? He’ll give it until Tuesday, max, though he probably shouldn’t. He should hitch out of here this instant, but he knows he’s not going to do that now.

 

He’s formulating a new plan and if it works, he can take his time making it out to California.  They won’t be able to find him. It’s a gamble, but one he’s willing to take.

 

----------------------------

 

The Sunset Motel is the closest one to the woody.  For 25 dollars a night it’s clean and safe. There’s a nice married couple who run it, and she can keep an eye on her Jeep from her window.  It’s just a coincidence the stranger is also staying there, she tells herself, it’s a small town.

 

She pays in cash for the first night.  They have plenty of rooms vacant, it isn’t tourist season now that schools have started up.  Rey gets her key and walks past blue and red plastic adirondack chairs on the front sidewalk to find her room.  It’s small, but three times the size of her room at Plutt’s and infinitely cleaner. Wood panelling lines the narrow walls that surround two full-sized beds draped in white like twin clouds.  It has a fridge and a t.v., everything she could need. After she locks her door, she drops her bag on a bed and heads straight for the bathroom.

 

Rey takes the longest, hottest shower she can handle.  She closes her eyes and lets the water wash away all the dust and tension from the day, cleansing herself with the heat, until her fingertips are waterlogged and wrinkled.  It’s glorious. When she’s done, she wraps her hair up in one towel and her body in another and climbs under the covers to flick on the t.v.

 

She’s laying on her own bed, with no one to tell her what to do or not do, for the first time in her life.  She’s in heaven. Her eyelids feel weighed down and she’s so comfortable that she drifts off to sleep, curling under the warm white duvet on piles of pillows.  She dreams of white-capped waves.

 

Rey wakes up from her nap in the late afternoon, groggy and hungry again.  She puts on her same clothes and detangles her damp hair, braiding it loosely down her back, before locking up the room and taking a few twenties from her can.  The owners at the front desk tell her that “Unique Automotive” is closed on the weekends, but the owner is in the phone book so they help her call him.

 

Mr. Perkins isn’t very pleased to be called on a Saturday, but agrees to meet Rey after church tomorrow to tow the truck to his shop and give her an estimate.  She thanks him profusely, using her good southern manners, though she curses internally that it will mean at least two more nights at the motel and more money gone.

 

She sets out to find an early dinner, looking for the restaurant the owners recommended.

 

Rey walks down the gravel road kicking rocks with her boots as the sun’s rays start to taper off in the early evening sky, heat waves still rippling off the black top road beside her.  She stops in front of Blackie’s Lounge & Dancing. It’s a combination liquor store, bar, and restaurant. Her pulse quickens as she pulls open the front door, but she tells herself it’s early yet and she won’t take long.  She could really use a beer.

 

Inside it’s more pool hall than diner.  High ceilings and a dark wood bar, with two pool tables set against a green accent wall and round table tops spread throughout.  Rey walks straight up to the bar and sits down on a stool.

 

She’s not legal drinking age yet, but they don’t card her, not after she gives the old bartender a sweet “please” and her most brilliant smile.  She orders the house special, cheeseburger with green chiles, and waits. She leans her elbow onto the bar and puts her head in her hand as she lazily watches a football game on the t.v. and nurses her beer.  

 

A few minutes later she hears a familiar rumble behind her.  “Vodka tonic with a lime.”

 

She turns her gaze over her shoulder then sits up straight.  The stranger from this morning is standing not two feet behind her.  He’s staring at the football game and presenting her with his profile, regal lines like he’s carved out of stone.  She takes a sip of her beer and turns to face forward again, crossing her legs. They’re both quietly watching the game.  Has he even noticed her sitting there?

 

Rey feels nervous, but she’s bored and has nothing to do.  She can’t contain her curiosity any longer. What harm could come from just talking to him?  She tries to think of something to say.

 

She turns to him and asks, “are you a fan?”   Smooth, Rey, real smooth.

 

His eyes leave the game and land on her.  He gives her a small smile as he says, “of football?  Not particularly.”

 

Having his full attention makes her pulse quicken.  From this angle he looks huge and all man, every part of him thick and strong.  It makes her feel small.  She doesn't feel scared of him, and somehow that makes her feel even more nervous.  

 

The curiosity burns her up.  “What’s your name?” she asks casually.

 

“Kylo Ren,” he answers and waits, warm eyes bemused.  She realizes suddenly this is a two-way conversation.

 

“I’m Rey.”  She reaches out her hand to him, remembering her manners.  He takes it firmly in his and gives her a squeeze, his large hand swallowing hers up, his thumb brushing the back of her hand.  She feels a twist in her stomach at the contact.

 

He draws back and reaches his hands wide on the bar as he leans over his drink, crossing one ankle in front of the other.  It's like he's staking out his turf.  She wonders if he won’t sit down unless she asks him.  Should she?  What would that mean?  She’s nibbles her lower lip.

 

Kylo turns back to her and asks gently, “is that your green Jeep in front of the diner?”

 

His dark brown eyes study her, that intelligence drawing her in.  She feels her skin more acutely, like his gaze has tangible weight.  She shifts in her seat, but he stays absolutely still.

 

“Yeah, it is.” She lifts her chin up resolutely, putting on a strong face and meeting his eyes directly.

 

“What happened?” he asks casually as he takes a sip of his drink.  His demeanor is calm, neutral to friendly. But Rey feels her guards come up.  She doesn’t want to reveal too much and admit to him, a stranger, that she’s stranded here alone.  

 

“Do you know anything about cars?” she asks, deflecting the question.

 

He shrugs and looks down at his drink.  “I know a little. Not a lot, you probably know more.”

 

Somehow his words relax her.  He isn’t trying to act like a big man or talk down to her.  The fact that he seems almost disinterested in the conversation puts her at ease and she feels less defensive.  

 

Though it dawns on her that if he knows that’s her car in front of the diner then maybe he saw her fit this morning.   Oh, Shit.   She feels a heat come into her cheeks, embarrassed.

 

He must notice.  “Well, if you need any help with the truck, let me know.  I can’t do much, but I’m an extra set of hands,” he says while holding up his massive set of hands to her.  “I’ve got nothing to do the next couple of days while I wait for the bus.” She looks up at him and he nods at her and walks away to sit at a table alone.

 

Rey’s cheeseburger arrives and she digs in.  A few more groups come into the bar as the sun sets.  She turns to look at the pool tables every once in a while to see the games, and steal a glance at Kylo over her shoulder.  He’s eating alone still watching the football game.

 

When she’s done, she starts to nervously tap her foot.  Should she stay and get another beer? Should she ask to sit down with him?  She can’t decide. It’s starting to get dark and she’s antsy. She can feel his presence behind her, and it would be nice to talk to someone, but she’s so uncertain.  She can’t decide until a group of loud guys walks into the bar, laughing.

 

She quickly pays her bill and grabs her change.  As she slides off the stool, she walks by him and gives a small smile and wave.  He lifts a hand back at her.

 

Rey walks back to her motel room fast and as she locks up the door tight, exhales and drops her shoulders.  She strips down to just her undies and puts on her flannel shirt, switching on the t.v. and sitting cross legged on the covers.  After a few hours she turns the sound down low, just to have the company.

 

She walks up to her window and looks out into the parking lot.  It’s dark except for the pools of street lights shining down. In between two pools she sees a tall shadow and the small red ember of a cigarette glow.  She squints and as her eyes adjust she recognizes the shape of the guy, Kylo Ren.

 

Rey steps back back and closes the blinds, turning off her light.  Then she peeks around the edge to watch him. He puffs out a cloud of white smoke into the inky darkness and then starts walking slowly heel before toe in his large boots, like he’s walking on a tightrope, arms outstretched for balance.  This makes her smile.  He puts out his cigarette with a twist of his foot and instead of lighting up again, shoves both hands in his jeans pockets and tilts his head back to stare up at the sky.

 

From her room, Rey stares up at the sky with him.  The stars are endless, infinite, like a blanket of light has been pulled over the horizon.  She looks back down to his silhouette etched by the streetlights in the distance.  She feels the urge to unlock her door and walk out to join him.  To stand side by side so they can wonder at the stars together, arms shooting out to take turns pointing to the brightest ones, heads tilted close.  Maybe he’d loop his arm around her waist in excitement when he saw a shooting star, just to make sure she saw it, too.

 

In her room, alone, Rey steps back and turns from the window, criss-crosses her arms around her stomach, locking herself away.

 

That night in bed, she touches herself and thinks of him.  Of big hands and wide shoulders, of those plush lips on her mouth and her neck, and everywhere, and of those warm coffee eyes boring into her, trapping her and demanding she see him.  Eyes that would ask her to give him everything, and she would. She comes hard in her hand, legs shaking and breath fast, etching his face in her memory with each wave.  She falls asleep thinking of the ocean at night and the twinkling of stars reflecting off moonlit waters.  

 

Chapter Text

Kylo wakes with the sunrise, an ingrained habit from his early morning flight schedule for work, his body used to tying itself to the sun.

 

Staring up at the ceiling, his eyes try to focus in the hazy light.  He rubs his forehead with the back of his knuckles and gauges which side of his body is the least sore.  Deciding it’s his left, he slowly rolls over with a groan as he pushes up to sitting, looking down at the bandage on his waist as his hair drops over an eye.

 

The stab wound in his lower abdomen is almost healed.  It missed major organs more from serendipity than cautious intent, so he knows it could have been much worse.  His fingertips brush against the angry red scar etched into his pale skin. It’s still numb to the touch but the doctor said normal feeling would return over time.  He wonders if that’s true for the rest of him.

 

Despite his injuries, he’s feeling stronger than he has in days.  The motel bed is unexpectedly comfortable and he only woke up in a panic once last night, either from a dream or a memory, he can’t tell which.  

 

It’s Sunday.  He has a day left in Moriarty.  The bus to Vegas leaves at 4:30 pm tomorrow, and if he can’t find a ride before then he’ll be on it.

 

He’s hopeful he won’t be.  He thinks of the girl, Rey, and of wide hazel eyes.

 

Kylo rises to go to the sink.  Brushes his teeth and then shaves his cheeks and neck around the goatee.  As he rinses off the motel razor, he looks deliberately at his reflection, angling his face side to side in the mirror, trying to imagine how she views him.  

 

Does she like what she sees?  What kind of man does she want?  

 

He’s many weeks away from his last haircut, dark eyes a little too intense, lips too full for a man’s face.  Maybe she likes a clean-cut guy, the All-American type, and he wonders if he should shave for her. He dismisses the thought instantly, it would leave his face too open and his eyes already reveal too much.  He’s not a boy scout. If that’s what she wants, he’s out of luck. He’ll never be that again.

 

But maybe he can be good enough.  Maybe he can be good enough for her to let inside, just for a couple of days.

 

He followed her to the bar last night at a respectful distance and didn’t approach her, just made himself available.  She came up to him. She’ll remember that she was the one who made the first move.

 

Kylo remembers learning to hunt with his dad when he was in middle school.  How Han taught him to sit very still to not make your presence known. That if you were quiet and still enough, the deer would acclimate and accept you.  You didn’t even need to hide if you were just patient enough.

 

The last thing in the world he wants is for her to fear him.  He can be patient. He’s good at waiting.

 

-----------------------

 

Rey wakes up feeling refreshed.  She hasn’t slept this well in- to be honest, probably ever, and there’s a spring in her step.

 

She heads to the front office of the motel bright and early to claim her complimentary breakfast.  She stuffs three danish in a bag and grabs a coffee, then pays for the night’s stay at the front desk.  

 

As she returns to her room on the long sidewalk facing the parking lot, she catches sight of a pair of long, black-clad legs extending out from a red Adirondack chair.  She stops dead in her tracks.

 

Kylo Ren is slouching down low, his legs crossed at the ankle and stretching out for what seems like a mile, blocking her path.  His jeans struggle courageously to contain the bulk of his thighs as they stretch taut. His fingers are laced and folded over his heart, elbows splayed out on the arms of the chair.  She traces the curve of muscle on his forearm and bicep to where they dip under the sleeve of his short-sleeved black t-shirt. It’s like every part of him is carved out of oak, thick and solid.

 

Rey studies him silently as her heartbeat quickens.  She can’t tell if it’s from excitement or nervousness, or a combination of both.  His head is tilted back and resting on the back of his chair, eyes closed, hair brushed back from his temples like it’s blowing in the wind.  She has the insane urge to sneak up and touch it.

 

Somehow all these disparate parts and pieces, perhaps not notable each on its own, combine to create something magnificently male.  A man. A big man with gorgeous toasted brown eyes, both piercing and gentle. The tip of a pink tongue darts out to lick his lips. Rey inhales sharply, so help her God.

 

Kylo’s eyes blink open and his head cranes up and over to see her.  He smiles languidly and says, “Oh, hi Rey.”

 

“Hi.  Kylo, right?  I’ve never heard that name before,” she tries to sound casual.

 

“I’m one of a kind.”  He still hasn’t moved his body, but his lips curl up into a grin.  “I’ve never heard of a girl Rey. You’re not Raymond, right?”

 

She gives a little laugh and it cuts the tension.  “R E Y. Rey.” He looks down at her hands. “They have coffee and pastries in the front office.  If you’re hungry.”

 

He licks his lips again and then presses them together.  Despite looking to her very much to the contrary, he says “I’m not hungry, thanks.”  His voice rumbles low in his chest. She shifts her weight from foot to foot.

 

Heartbeat thumping, she decides to take a risk rather than spend another boring day in her room, alone.  Swallowing, she presses out, “mind if I sit?” in a voice small but clear.

 

“Please do.”  He sits up straighter in his chair.

 

Rey takes a seat in a blue chair a few feet away.  They both look out into the parking lot, side by side, as she pulls a danish out of the bag.  She gives him a quick, shy smile then takes a bite, chewing and staring at Route 66 cutting through town.

 

“You’re waiting on a bus?” she says between bites.

 

“Yeah.  My car died in Tecumcari.  I hitched here.” He looks out at the parking lot with her, even though there isn’t much to see.  The few cars that were parked there yesterday are gone, they’re the only two left at the motel.

 

“Wow, that sucks.  My Jeep broke down, too.”  She nods her head at the woody in the distance and takes a sip of her coffee.  She glances over at him. “But I guess you knew that already?”

 

“Yeah, I was eating breakfast, remember?” he says casually.

 

Oh, she remembers.  She thinks of her fit that morning and feels a heat come to her cheeks.  “You didn’t, ah, see anything, right?”

 

The way his eyes light up and his mouth pulls into a cheshire grin tells her everything she needs to know.  He squints and crinkles his nose as he holds up his index finger and thumb an inch apart, “well, I may have seen a little bit.”  Then he gives her a wink.

 

Rey’s eyes grow wide and her jaw drops, and then she dives her face down into both her hands in embarrassment and squeals as she hears him belly laugh out loud, deep rumbling sounds that she would enjoy much more if she didn’t feel like combusting from shame.  She kicks her feet up and down like she’s running in place to the center of the earth while hiding her face in her palms.

 

As his laughter tapers off, she pulls up to fake swat at him as she protests, “it isn’t funny!  I was really, really mad! Not funny!” But she’s smiling and trying not to huff out a laugh herself despite her mortification.

 

“Come on, it’s a little funny,” he says lightly, smiling gently at her.

 

She shakes her head at him, but she’s still smiling as she turns back to the parking lot.

 

She sighs as she stares at her Jeep in the distance.  “I worked everyday on that Jeep for months,” she says wistfully.  “On my own. I got it to run again. And then I made a dumb mistake and here I am.”  She turns to look at him. There’s a ghost of a smile on his lips but something serious behind his eyes.  “It was my way out. And now I’m stuck here.”

 

He doesn’t ask her, your way out of what?  For that, she is grateful.

 

He gives her time.  Then says slowly, reassuringly, “You can get it fixed.”  

 

She nods.  “Yeah, if they don’t screw me over on the price.  I’m . . . on a pretty tight budget.” She won’t look at him directly but she sees him nod in understanding.  He doesn’t make her say outright, I’m broke.

 

She pulls out another danish and takes a bite.  From the corner of her eye, she sees him still studying her.  She doesn’t turn to him until after she swallows and says, “What?”

 

“I was wondering how many of those one girl needs.”  Tilting his chin at her food, teasing her with a twinkle in his eye.

 

“I eat a lot.  Maybe I’m still growing.”  His smile slowly falls as he glances away from her.  She continues to chew and takes a sip of coffee. He’s quiet now and and working his jaw.

 

It dawns on Rey that he doesn’t know if she’s joking or not.  Maybe he thinks she’s really young, a child. The thought bothers her.  

 

She turns to him and asks boldly, “How old do you think I am?”

 

His eyes dart back to her, alert now.  “I really couldn’t say.”

 

“Well, how old do I look?” she takes another bite and arches an eyebrow, acting cockier than she feels.

 

“My mother raised me well enough to never answer that question,” he says.

 

“Well, I didn’t have a mother, so I’m going to guess your age.”  She turns to him and notes his surprise as she looks him over intently, like she’s studying a textbook.  He holds still for her. She likes that. “I’m going to say 26.”

 

“Close, I’m 29.”

 

“Oh.”  She’s not surprised, but it’s still a thrill.  He’s so unlike the boys she grew up with that they seem different species.  She starts to feel a prickly heat rise from her chest upwards as the reality of the age difference sinks in.  She takes another bite of her danish and sips her coffee to give her heartbeat time to slow down.

 

She turns back to him, bold again.  “No guess on me?” He shakes his head.  

 

“I’m 19.”

 

She bends down to take another bite, but not before she catches his exhale and a look of relief.  She chews silently and keeps her gaze in the parking lot while willing herself not to blush. The silence between them nearly hums as she finishes her breakfast, the moment weighted now.

 

The sun is rising and starting to heat things up and the air feels thick.  She should go, she has to meet Mr. Perkins at the Jeep soon. She fishes for the right way to end the conversation but draws a blank.

 

She stands and looks down at him.  Even sitting, he comes up to her breastbone he’s so tall.  “I’ll see you around,” she says.

 

He looks up at her with those eyes and says “Sure, Rey.”

 

She starts to walk away but then stops.  She doesn’t really want to meet with Perkins alone.  Despite it sounding weak, she could really use an ally.  A friend. It seems like he’s all she’s got.

 

She turns back to Kylo and says, “Um, are you free today?  Like in an hour?”

 

He looks at her quizzically.  “Yup.”

 

She takes a step closer to him.  “I have to meet the mechanic to talk about the Jeep.  I know about cars, I don’t need help with that. But . . . I’d rather not meet with him alone.”

 

He picks up what she’s saying.  “You want me to come, as back-up?”

 

“Yeah, back-up, exactly.  Just in case he tries to screw me.  On the price, I mean.”

 

She stands nervous under his gaze.

 

“Sure thing, I can do that.  Just come and get me when it’s time.  This is my room.” He says lifting a hand up to the door near his chair.

 

“Thanks, I really appreciate it.”

 

She walks back to her room feeling springy again.

 

--------------

 

Kylo’s showered and ready when he hears her knock an hour later.  They walk side by side down the dirt road to her Jeep. The midday sun lifts heat mirages off the black asphalt highway beside them in waves, and the smell of diesel and burnt rubber pepper the air.

 

Rey pops the hood to show him the problem.

 

He was right, she does know a lot more about cars.  She lifts up on tiptoes to lean over in her tight jeans to point things out.  He’s right next to her and has to reach his arms wide on the grill and fence her in to tip over to follow her finger.  

 

He’s not touching her, but he’s incredibly close.  He’s close enough to smell the sweet berry of her shampoo and see the shiny pink gloss on her lips.  It’s distracting. His fingers grip the hot metal of the grill and he squeezes.

 

She moves within the cage of his arms to point out the cylinder.  He leans down over the engine to follow the length of the crack, trying to listen attentively to her explanations about rust and mechanical failure.  His right forearm gets closer and his thumb brushes the outside of her hip. A jolt passes through him like a static shock, and she pauses. He pulls his arm away and slides that hand in his back pocket.

 

He’s trying to understand what she’s saying, but his focus drifts to her mouth to track the words as they fall from the source.  He sees her pink lips stutter, and she must still be talking about engines but she loses her train of thought so they both just stare.

 

The tow truck pulls up.

 

Mr. Perkins is as dried up as an old boot left outside all summer.  He evidently needs the Lord’s word more than most people, because even an hour after church he is all salt and vinegar.

 

“What the hell kind of job is this?  Who re-worked this thing?” he spits out after inspecting the Jeep.

 

Rey grits her teeth and clenches her fists.  Kylo’s seen this body language before, so he steps in to diffuse it.  “Her father did.”

 

Rey freezes and glares at him, too.

 

“Well, someone should give him a refresher on auto-mechanics.  The pump should have been replaced first, before the hoses. The pressure build-up is what knocked out the cylinder,”  Perkins looks back under the hood.

 

Rey seethes.  Kylo raises a palm apologetically trying to calm her.

 

Mr. Perkins chews his lip as he scowls, measuring them up.  “All right. Let’s talk cost. Tow is going to be $20. Both parts, total of $320, plus a clean up around there.  Labor. Hmm, if you want it fast, that’s going to cost more. I could do it by tomorrow for $645.”

 

Rey sways next to him and Kylo knows it isn’t the heat getting to her.  “$645! That’s ridiculous!” she sputters out.

 

“Well, I have to go to Albuquerque for the cylinder.  And if you want it in less than a week, that’s what it costs."  Perkins scowls deeper.

 

Rey has gone white as a sheet.  She blinks and her eyes turn wet.  She turns her back to the men and walks a few steps away.

 

Kylo sidles up beside her and puts a hand on her low back, “Rey, are you okay?”

 

He has to lean down to hear her.  “I don’t have it. I don’t have the money.  I just don’t have it.” She nearly whispers as her lower lip quivers.  Her arms fold around her waist, shrinking into herself.

 

She seems so small and young, stunned into silence.  He feels a tug of recognition.

 

He was that person, before, a long time ago.  A kid trapped by circumstances. A person in need of a lifeline.

 

And something snaps into place inside him.  A sense of what he must do. It doesn’t matter what it costs.  It doesn’t matter if she drives him. He’s going to help her, regardless.

 

“It’s okay, Rey.  I’ll take care of it.”  

 

She lifts her eyes up sharply to meet his.  “What?”

 

“I have money.  I can . . . loan it to you.  You can pay me back.”

 

“What?  Why?” she’s shocked.  A tear rolls down her cheek as she lifts her chin.

 

“Because I can.”  They stare at each other.  He’s resolute. When he’s convinced she will let him do this, he turns back to Perkins.

 

“Is that your best price?”

 

The man scowls again, trying not to look at Rey as she cries.  Maybe the good word worked within him after all and he isn’t made of stone.  “We can call it six hundred even.”

 

“It’s done by five tomorrow, guaranteed?”  Kylo says. Rey hasn’t turned around yet.

 

Perkins nods.  “I need a deposit.  Half.”

 

Kylo reaches into his wallet and hands him three crisp hundreds.  “Five, no later.”

 

Perkins pockets the money and moves to hook up the Jeep as Kylo walks back to Rey.

 

“Let’s go get a drink.”

 

--------------------

 

They’re sitting in a booth at Blackie’s at noon, facing each other over bottles of beer.  

 

Rey still sniffles periodically, but she’s not crying.  He’s relieved. Her shoulders are hunched and she looks deflated.  His own feel heavy in sympathy.

 

“Where are you heading to?”  He asks her gently.

“California.  San Diego. I’m going to find my friend.”  She takes a swig of beer. She’s open to him now in her defeat, her guards obliterated.

 

“You’re coming from Texas?”  He noticed her license plates.

 

She nods.

 

“Is anyone looking for you, Rey?  Will someone come after you? Parents?  Cops?”

 

She shakes her head.  “Nobody. There’s nobody who cares.  Only Finn in California.”

 

He takes this in.  “How much money do you have left?”

 

She looks up, and her expression is so raw and open that he feels like they’re seeing each other for who they really are for the first time.  All that happened before seems unreal compared to the look in her eyes as they look at each other, unfiltered.

 

Everything else is being marked as before and from this moment forward is the after.  This is the moment where they truly meet.  

 

Her voice is rough, but doesn’t waver.  “I have $703.50 to my name and that Jeep.  That’s all I have. No family, no friends besides Finn, no back-up plan.  This is it.” She’s not shy anymore, relieved to admit it.

 

Kylo looks at this lovely girl, opened up to him like a blossom, and realizes that this is his one chance.  He has to make a choice. He picks his words extremely carefully because he knows they count.

 

He starts with a sigh.  “I’m going to help you, Rey.  I’m going to give you the money to fix your car, and then some.”

 

She just stares at him.  “Why in the world would you do that?  Unless you want something else in return.”  Under her broken expression there’s a fierce strength in her eyes.  He can see her willingness to do anything to survive, almost frightening in its intensity.

 

He wants to fall down on his knees and thank the heavens that he’s the man she’s saying this to, because the thought of what many other men would ask of her makes him go almost blind in rage.

 

“I’m going to help you because I can.  Because I know what it’s like to run.” He looks down at his hands, surprising even himself at what he’s about to tell her, a truth he didn’t know he carried.  “And because I wish someone would’ve done the same for me once, too.”

 

The jukebox in the corner switches songs.  They listen the opening chords of an old country song start up and then Willie Nelson’s voice, clear but rough around the edges, like smoothed down sandpaper, fills the room.

 

“I don’t know when I can pay you back.  If I ever can pay you back.” Rey says quietly.

 

“Don’t worry, Rey, please.  Just . . . let me do this, okay?  Just accept it. Accept some good luck for once.”

 

“What about your luck?  You’re going to Vegas?” she asks.

 

He nods.   Much further, I could ride with you all the way.   He doesn’t say that.  

 

Eyes still slightly red from crying, world-weary expression out of place on a face so young, she looks at him thoughtfully.  “I can drive you.”

 

There it is.  He holds his breath.  

 

She continues, thinking out loud, “I can drive you to Vegas.  If you’re paying for my car, I can drive you there, that’s fair.”  She puts her palms down on the table, making a plan.

 

It seems too good to be true that she’s the one to come up with the idea.  It’s exactly what he wanted from the start. But he doesn’t want to stain what he’s giving her by getting a favor back.  He doesn’t want his offer to be about that. For an insane moment, he pushes back against his own plan.

 

“No, Rey, you don’t have to.  I’m not giving you the money for that,” he hears himself say, shocked to realize he’s telling the truth.

 

She doesn’t budge, the fierceness still there.  She’s stronger than she seems. “It’s okay, Kylo, I want to.  You’re helping me, I can help you. It’s the right thing to do.”

 

He swallows.  Suddenly his carefully crafted plan, his dream of two days of pleasure with this beautiful girl, falls apart like tissue paper in his hands.  He’s finally on the cusp of what he’s wanted since the first moment he saw her, but he’s going to throw it all away. Because he doesn’t want her to accept him on a lie.  Because he is burning, on fire already, to tell her the truth.  To give her the choice.

 

And he has no idea why he is fucking this up now that he finally has it, but here he goes.  He brushes a hand through his hair. “Rey, I have to be completely honest with you.”

 

She pulls back slightly, eyes cautious.

 

“I’m going to California, also, to L.A.  I was going to hitch to Albuquerque and buy a new car but got stuck here.  I need to leave town soon and head west.”

 

She nods back at him, following.  Like this isn’t so bad.

 

“I’m running . . . I’m leaving something behind, also.  But some people may try to find me. They are trying to find me, actually, but I think they can’t anymore.”  He looks at her directly, to make sure she understands. “They’re not nice people.”

 

She’s still as a statue, eyes wide.   

 

“I’m telling you this because I want you to know that I’m not giving you the money to trick you.  I don’t want you to think that. I just,” he sighs again, “I just have the ability to help and I want to.  It’s that simple.”

 

She still hasn’t said anything.  He has no idea what she’s thinking.

 

“If you drive me to Vegas, I’ll pay you.  I’ll pay for hotels, food, and I’ll give you money on top of that.  You can hit California with a head start.” He does a mental calculation then looks at her smooth face, so young and fucking precious, hints of freckles on her cheeks.

 

“$5,000 plus expenses.  For a two day drive to Vegas.  You’d be helping me. What do you think?”

 

Rey’s eyes are saucers now.  She takes a big swig of her beer.  “That’s too much money, I can’t take that much from you,” she says quietly.

 

“I can afford it and I offered.  You’ll need it. Why not take it?”

 

She nibbles her lip and looks down, nervous again.  “What else will you expect-”

 

He’s cuts her off fast as lightning, “Nothing.  No strings attached. And if you aren’t comfortable and say no, I’m still giving you the money.  I mean it.”

 

“You’d do that?” she says, confused.

 

He just nods and takes a sip of his beer.  He’s not trying to manipulate her. He wants her to make this choice freely.

 

She’s starts to peel the label off her beer bottle.  “Why should I trust you? I just met you yesterday. How do I know this isn’t a scam?”  She looks up at him directly. She needs him to give her a reason.

 

“I can’t tell you to trust me.  But I’m telling you truth. And I’ll also tell you that that I’m pretty beat up, so you could easily take me in a fight by kicking me in the ribs and leaving me in a ditch somewhere.”  She tilts her head at him, and he continues, “but at the end of the day, what does your gut tell you?”

 

She’s quiet for a long time, her wheels turning.

 

“Okay.  I’ll take you to Vegas.”  

 

He looks down and nods.  

 

------------------

 

There’s a knock on his door after 9 pm.

 

He opens the door to Rey with a piece of paper in her hands.

 

She brushes past him to enter his room.  “Okay, I need to ask for something.” She’s slightly breathless, speaking quickly like she’s already had this conversation a few times in her head.  “Can I see your driver’s license, just in case?”

 

“Just in case of what?”  He blinks at her, “why?”

 

“I’m sending a letter to my friend in San Diego.  It’s like insurance. So I know that you’re really being up front with me and this isn’t . . . a trap or something.”

 

“You think it’s a trap?” he asks her slowly.  He should feel insulted she wants a guarantee, but instead he’s vaguely impressed she’s come up with a plan to help protect herself.

 

“No.  But I could be wrong.  You could do this all the time, or something.”

 

“It wouldn’t be a very efficient way to travel.”

 

She rolls her eyes at him as she sits down.  “If Finn has the letter then we both know someone else out there knows we’re together.  I’ll feel better.”

 

He looks at her bravely sticking her chin up at him, waiting for an answer.  He walks over to his wallet and digs out his New Jersey driver’s license for Kylo Ren.  Hands it over to her.

 

She smiles and then sits down and copies the information into her letter.  She curves over the note to block his view then sits up, handing him back his license.

 

“Okay.  I’m going to mail it.  Then we’re set.” She blinks up at him but doesn’t make a move to leave.

 

“Okay.”  He stands looking down at her.  The amber light in the corner makes her eyes look darker, almost a deep green.  She looks up at him expectantly. He shoves his hands in his pockets to resist the urge to touch any part of her.

 

“Get some rest, Rey.” he says.  “We leave tomorrow.”

 

She nods and slips out of his room.

 

------------------

 

Later, he thinks he sees her room light switch off while he’s out for a smoke.  He stops himself from looking at her window and keeps his gaze fixed on the sky above him.  A sky of stars and endless possibilities. He exhales a puff of smoke into the darkness and watches as the white dissipates into black.  

 

He walks back to his room and locks the door.

 

As he lies in bed, his hand gripped around his hard cock, he remembers her screams of fury, her long hair whipping in the wind, her fire and the wild expression on her face the first time he saw her.  He pumps himself in his hand, squeezing tighter, thinking of long smooth legs lifting her ass up. Then his mind shifts and now it’s her eyes he sees, wide open to him, her delicious lips parted, and his pace quickens.  He hears her saying his name and imagines what her face looks like squeezed tight in ecstasy, nails digging into his shoulders and tan legs squeezing his waist as she shudders under him. But it’s her eyes begging him, seeing him, knowing him that push him over the edge as he comes hot and fast, whispering her name.

 

-----------------------------

 

Much later, only a few hours before sunrise, he’s outside the motel kneeling in front of the blue USPS postbox, not a soul in sight.  

 

For the fourth time in his life, he is very grateful that his Uncle Lando showed him how to pick a lock when he was ten.  He made Kylo promise never to tell his mother because she’d strangle Lando, as his father looked on in barely-concealed pride, shaking his head and laughing.  A secret just for the men to share.

 

Kylo springs open the postbox and sorts through the letters, picking out Rey’s.  He looks around again, then closes the box and returns to his room, letter in hand.  

 

Standing under a flickering neon light in the bathroom, he rips the envelope open.  He can’t risk leaving a trail.

 

Dear Peanut,

I’m coming to see you!  I finally got out!  Left that old fuck Plutt passed out drunk.  I half wish I could see his face when he realizes I’m gone forever.

Not sure when I’ll get there.  My old Jeep broke down in Moriarty, New Mexico, so getting it fixed.  I’m driving a guy, Kylo Ren. He’s paying to fix it and to take him to Las Vegas.  I know it sounds bad, but he hasn’t tried anything.  He’s not like that.  He’s a good guy.  I can just tell.

So either I’ll see you in a week or maybe get hitched in Vegas- ha ha!

Here’s his driver’s license info in case I’m wrong about him or if something bad happens.  If so, then scatter my ashes in the sea.

I miss you so much.  Can’t wait to see you and the ocean.

Rey xoxo

 

He reads the letter over a few times.  Then shreds it in his hands and flushes the pieces down the toilet so there’s no trace.

 

He gets back into bed and closes his eyes.  He needs his rest to hit the road tomorrow.



Chapter Text

Rey wakes up to the loud growl of a diesel engine as an eighteen-wheeler shakes to a stop on the highway in front of the motel.  She twisted her legs in the bone-white sheets, wound up like a coil pulled tight after agreeing to drive Kylo to Vegas, restless and tense.

 

Rey throws back the covers, untangling her legs from the bone-white sheets as she stumbles to the bathroom bleary-eyed.  She feels like a wound up coil pulled tight after agreeing to drive Kylo to Vegas.  Stepping into the hot shower, she closes her eyes and let's the water rush down her face, rinsing away the tension.  She twists a long straight braid down her back, too impatient to dry it, her t-shirt clinging to her skin as she slips on her flip flops.

 

The day is already warming up and the bright sun has just risen.  Rey walks to the front office for breakfast, turning her head as she passes his room.  It's dark and the blinds are closed up tight.  Clip clop, clip clop, her steps echo off the concrete walls as a dog barks in the distance.   

 

After she pays for a late check-out and grabs her breakfast, Rey walks back alone.  His red Adirondack chair is empty on the walkway and she swallows her disappointment.

 

She sits on the bed and watches t.v. as she eats, mind wandering.  Things have changed so quickly, the needing of someone and receiving help.  The feeling of being in debt. Like shifting sands under her feet, she’s still trying to find her balance.

 

She should be scared of him.  He must have done something bad, being tied up with bad people.  He’s dangerous.  But even after he told her that, she still isn't afraid of him and offered to drive him.  She's confused why she trusts him.

 

She remembers how he looked at her when desperate tears burned her eyes, a connection she can’t name.  She’s not used to receiving kindness.

 

She shakes her head to clear the thought.  No, she’s letting him in because of need.  Pure, basic need.  He really needs a ride and she really needs the money.

 

And if she likes the way his eyes slide over her sometimes, or the sound of his voice, that has nothing to do with it.

 

She eats her breakfast and watches t.v. mindlessly.  Just a few more hours now.

 

---------------

 

Rey went back to the diner where they met for lunch.  Kylo’s not there. The cook is friendly, she orders extra chile.  She looks out the window as she eats, but sees no movement outside the motel.

 

She walks past his room on her way back and nothing’s changed.  It’s well past noon.

 

As she starts to pack up her bag, stuffing clothes in haphazardly, she counts out the money in the coffee can.  $614.65. If she had to pay for the Jeep by herself, she’d have nothing left. She’d be stuck there.

 

Rey freezes and panic grips her.  Kylo’s usually out of his room by now.  Something’s wrong.

 

Did he ditch me?  Did he change his mind and hitchhike out of town?

 

Her mind is twisting, spiralling down.  Why hasn't she seen him yet?  A cold fear grips her heart.

 

Did they find him?  The bad men?  What did they do to him?

 

Rey drops the can and she’s out of her room so fast she’s barefoot, running down the hot concrete, sliding in front of his door.  Panting as she frantically starts rapping her fist on his door, calling out “Kylo! Kylo!”

 

After a moment the door jerks open.  “Jesus, Rey, what’s wrong?” 

 

His hair is wet and his left cheek is covered in shaving cream, his eyes wide with surprise.  She looks down and sees he’s shirtless, his black jeans sliding down low on his hips to reveal the waistband of his boxers, and she's too stunned to look away.  Her greedy eyes take in every inch.  

 

She inhales sharply as she sees the strip of angry purple and yellow bruises mottling his ribs on his right side.  Just above his waistband on his left she sees a red scar, black stitches piercing through his flat stomach.  Without thinking she lifts a hand as if to touch his chest, but catches herself.  Her fingers hover just inches away.

 

“What happened?” she exhales.

 

His eyes lift from her face to look around behind her, cautious, then waves her in.  The room is dark, the only light the fluorescent bulbs above the sink across the room.  He walks to pick up his razor as she trails behind him.

 

He starts shaving again, looking at her over his shoulder through the mirror, then back to his jaw.

 

“Car accident.”  He turns on the water and rinses off the razor, jutting out his chin to shave around his goatee.  The muscles in his back flex as he reaches both hands up to his cheek, a mounds of bicep and shoulder rising to nearly block her view of his face.

 

“The car accident made the scar?”  She takes a side step closer to his bed to search for his eyes in the mirror again.

 

He angles his face as his left hand pushes up for a closer shave.  “No.” His eyes flick back to her and settle for a moment as he works his jaw, as if weighing his words.  “That one’s from a knife.”

 

She tenses.  Her breath rattles in her chest as she clenches the hems of her shorts in tight fists.  “Who cut you, Kylo?” she asks quietly.

 

He finishes up his shave in few more strokes.  She won’t take her eyes off him.  He drops the razor in the sink then bends down to cup water over his face, rinsing and toweling dry.  Bowed over the sink, he hangs his head low for a moment, arms stretched out wide on the counter.  His back expands, shoulder blades like wings, and she traces the lines of his back with her eyes.  

 

He won’t look up, speaking to the drain.  “One of the guys chasing me.  Man named Hux.”

 

She takes a few steps closer to him, stepping out of the darkness as the fluorescent glow illuminates her face.  “What will they do if they catch you?”

 

He peers up at her under his brows, a lock of wet hair curled on his forehead.  Then he turns around to face her directly, his expression tight.  His eyes give her the answer she feared.

 

“Why were you knocking so hard on my door?” he asks, changing the subject.

 

Rey looks down as her palms smooth out her shorts.  She realizes she’s barefoot. “I just got worried.”  When she looks up, she sees the hint of a smile on his lips.  Her gaze falls back down to his chest, the swell of muscle normally hidden from view displayed under flexed biceps.  

 

He clears his throat and walks across the room and pulls on a t-shirt.  Rey turns away.

 

“Did you eat yet?” he asks.

 

“Yeah.”

 

“I’m going to get some food.  I’ll come over to your room around four thirty.”  He sits down to pull on his shoes.

 

Rey nods and walks out of the room.  It isn’t until she’s back to hers that she realizes she didn’t ask him what he did to get stabbed.

 

---------------

 

She wakes to him knocking.  The t.v.’s still on as she rolls over to read the digital clock on the bedside table, 4:45 pm.    

 

As he leans against the open doorway casting a long shadow in the room, Rey makes a final sweep.  She zips up her duffle and throws it over her shoulder, drops the room key on the table and pulls the door closed behind her.  She walks a few paces behind him as her nerves string tight.

 

This is happening.  She’s leaving with him.  She reaches a hand across her shoulder to squeeze the strap of her bag.  She has to take two strides for every one of his to keep up.

 

They walk along the dusty road to get to Perkins’ garage.  He lights up a cigarette and offers her one, but she shakes her head.  Halfway there he turns to her and without saying anything reaches for her bag and puts it on his other shoulder with a grunt.  She protests, but he keeps walking.

 

Perkins takes Kylo’s money and still won’t crack a smile.  She hears Kylo ask if he keeps written records. Perkins nods and pulls out the paper file.  Kylo puts down another $100 bill and picks up the file and her keys as they walk out to the Jeep.

 

Kylo tosses her the keys and they load up their bags.  Kylo gets in and slides the passenger seat all the way back and reclines.

 

“Two rules,” Rey says as she adjusts her rearview mirror.  “I drive and no smoking in the Jeep.”

 

He looks at her profile as she starts to pull out onto Route 66, leaving Moriarty in their tail lights.  “You’re the boss.”

 

---------------

 

As they roll down the highway, Rey relaxes.  It’s a relief to be moving again. The shadows play across the road as the sun begins to fall.  

 

They steadily climb up in elevation as they track US 40 West to Albuquerque.  The foothills of the Sandia Mountains rise before them like a slow wave from the tan and orange sands, ridges covered in green pines like islands in the desert.  

 

She looks over at Kylo, eyelids fluttering like a moth to flame.  His presence adds a low-level electric charge to the air, like the shift in pressure before a thunderstorm.  

 

He’s slouched down in his chair, head turned to the window with a forearm draped over his face, thick chest slowly rising and falling.  Her forearm is mere inches from his on the armrest, she feel the hairs on her arm rise from his heat. His legs are splayed wide, still bent even with the seat pushed back all the way.

 

She steals quick glances down at him and then flicks her eyes back to the road, furtively.  

 

The curve of his thighs pulling at his jeans . . . then snapping back to the dotted yellow line.  

His flat stomach . . . then scanning the horizon.  

The bulge where his thighs meet . . . then adjusting the rear-view mirror as she swallows.

 

The mountains peel open to reveal Albuquerque laid out before them in a wide plain.  They slice through the heart of town, slowing when they merge with rush-hour traffic.  Rey takes in the explosion of noise and color around her after the emptiness of the desert miles, a blur of activity as people go home to their families, living normal lives.

 

As they cross the wide bridge over the Rio Grande River valley west of town, Kylo shifts in his seat.  The landscape empties, the rush of the city giving way again to the empty desert, as the setting sun’s red and orange strands weave through the sands and mesas like spilled paint.

 

Rey reaches down to pop in her cassette tape.  Angry, slow strikes of guitar break the silence.

 

After a few moments Kylo says with a hint of contempt, “Is this grunge?

 

Rey bristles.  “No, it’s alternative.  You don’t know Stone Temple Pilots?”

 

He grunts.  “You like this?”

 

“Yeah,” she frowns.  “Why, what do you listen to?”

 

He sits up.  “Lots of stuff.  U2, Rolling Stones,” he pauses, as if remembering.  “My dad played a lot of classic rock and country . . .”

 

Rey gags, “Ugh, I hate country.”

 

He turns to her incredulous.  “And you’re from Texas? Is that even legal to hate country?”

 

“You’re a Yankee who likes country, so what the hell?”

 

He turns back to face the road.  “You always lived in Texas?” he asks her, curious.

 

She taps her signal to pass a truck and looks over her shoulder, “can’t you tell by my accent?”

 

“Yeah, I guess so.  And I like it. The accent.”

 

She looks over at him, and his smile has deepened, toasted eyes warming her up.  She turns back to the road and lifts her right hand to her cheek, as if her fingertips could rub the blush away.  “You don’t have much of an accent for a Yankee.”

 

“I grew up all over, my dad was Air Force.  We only settled in New Jersey when I was fourteen after he retired.  Then I split time with him in Denver after the divorce.” He pauses, “So nothing really stuck.”

 

A new song starts, wistful and melancholy notes followed by a crash of electric guitar.  

 

“What about your family?” he asks.

 

“I don’t have any.  Orphan.” She keeps her gaze glued to the asphalt, her tone clipped.

 

He’s quiet.  Then says casually, “sometimes I wish I were an orphan.”

 

She whips around, eyes blazing.  “Only someone with a family would ever say something so dumb.”

 

He meets her gaze as his lips part.  She turns away before he says, “I’m sorry, Rey.  That was stupid.”

 

“It’s okay, I’m used to it,” she says in a clipped voice.

 

“Used to me being stupid?  But you just met me.”

 

He’s smiles at her wryly, his dark eyes apologizing.  “Who took care of you?” he asks.

 

“When I was a baby, an orphanage in Amarillo.  When I was older, foster homes. I aged out of my last one.”

 

The song’s chorus crests and she turns up the volume, effectively changing the topic.

 

Leavin' on a southern train

Only yesterday you lied,

Promises of what I seemed to be

Only watched the time go by

All of these things you said to me

 

He takes the hint.

 

---------------

 

Kylo was an oddball child.  Too tall, too quiet, too moody.  His refuge was the library, where being alone is normal.  “Intellectual introvert,” his mother Leia called him. “Fucking bookworm,” said Han.

 

Which is all to say that even though he hasn’t picked up a book in years, he still recognizes dramatic irony when he sees it.  Clearly Karma is playing a cruel joke on him.

 

He’s finally in the car with Rey, pretty as a rose.  She’s inches away but just out of his reach, like the promise of water to a lost man in the desert.  The more he learns about her, the more he wants her. And the more he wants her, the more he’s convinced he should never touch her.  

 

Dramatic irony.  Or, Karma is a fucking bitch.

 

Rey’s humming along to the music quietly without realizing it, her tan thigh bobbing to the beat, catching his eye like a lure.  He’s close enough to smell her sweet scent, strawberries and green grass, fresh like summer. He leans closer to his window to fight her pull on him.

 

She’s so pure and raw, like unrefined sugar.  Stealing glances at him when she thinks he won’t notice.  Cheeks turning pink when he said he liked the way she talked, actually blushing.  He can’t remember the last time he was with a woman who blushed, if ever.

 

Rey was dealt a shitty hand in life.  Far shittier than his, he knows that. Yet she’s strong and brave, somehow untainted.   What is it like to not be ruined?  Can he even remember?

 

He feels a primal urge to protect her.  To keep her safe, even from himself.

 

This is his second chance, his payback to the universe in exchange for a second chance, his way of doing something not selfish for once.  He’s going to do this right, even if it kills him.

 

-----------------

 

Rey’s stomach starts to growl when they’ve almost made it to Gallup, New Mexico.

 

“What are you hungry for?” he asks, glancing at her for a reaction.  “I’m in the mood for a steak.”

 

“Hmm, fancy.  I don’t care, I’m not picky.”

 

He’s noticed.  He’s noticed she cleans her plate like someone’s going to take it from her half-way through.  He wants to feed her, and feed her well. “Let’s eat some place nice. With tablecloths. And waiters and wine and dessert.”

 

Her eyes twinkle.  “Well, it’s your dime.”  He can tell she’s excited.

 

Gallup is a small town nestled amongst tree-covered hills and red mesas, hemmed in by rows of train tracks.  They pass by old motels, trading posts and pawn shops, with colorful hand-painted billboards painted on the brick buildings that line the streets.  As they pull into the restaurant district, festive white lights hang over the road in merry welcome as families and couples walk hand in hand down the sidewalk.

 

“Here,” he points.  She turns past a neon motel sign in the shape of a spruce tree, looking unchanged from the 1950’s, and pulls into the parking lot of the Badlands Grill.

 

As she kills the engine he says, “look, perfect” and gestures to the hand-painted letters on the restaurant wall.  

 

Badlands Grill

BBQ Ribs * Seafood * Stuffed Burgers

Steaks dry-aged 40 days

 

Rey looks down at her cut-offs then back at him.  “I need to change, I’m not dressed.”

 

“Nah, you look great.  Don’t worry,” he says opening the door.

 

“Kylo, this is a nice place,” she insists, “keep an eye out.”  She crawls through to the back of the Jeep to get to her bag.

 

He gets out of the car then shuts the door and leans on it, arms crossed on his chest, loyal guard dog.  

 

He hears a grunt from within the car and turns his head instinctively to follow the sound at the exact moment that Rey, kneeling with her back to him, finally peels her tight shorts down past her hips, sliding her small white panties halfway down her perfect ass as she bends over.

 

He snaps his head forward, blinking.  Huffs out a breath, his heartbeat thumping in his chest.  Fuucckkk.   “You okay in there?” he calls out without turning back.

 

“Yeah, almost done.”

 

A moment later the door next to him opens and she slides out cowboy boots first, her long, bare legs capped by a tight, black pencil skirt hitting her mid-thigh, plain white t-shirt knotted at her waist and hair cascading past her shoulders.  She’s a dream.

 

Kylo does a long, slow whistle.  “You clean up real nice, kid.” He smiles so he doesn’t gape.

 

Rey looks away shyly, her pursed lips breaking into a grin.  “It’s the one girly thing I own.” She scrunches her nose at him, “and don’t call me kid.”

 

He places a hand on her low back, fingertips lightly grazing, to guide her to the front door, opening it like a gentleman, just like his mother taught him.

 

--------------

 

The Badlands Grill is a nice family establishment.  Drenched in warm wood-panelling and candlelight, Native American pottery and blankets line the walls.  The hostess seats them at a cozy booth along the wall, next to a wall of mounted honest-to-goodness leather saddles.  There are white tablecloths and waiters and wine, as promised. Kylo orders a bottle of red and it’s Rey’s first taste.  It’s sweeter than she expected, with a little bite.

 

His hands are laced together and only his wrists touch the edge of the table.  He has good table manners. She thinks he’s probably used to nice things.

 

Rey’s suddenly very aware that she doesn’t know which fork to use first.  She’s only been to places with one fork, mostly plastic, and no one ever taught her manners or gave her nice things.  It’s all foreign. She slides her hands under her thighs and nervously taps a foot.

 

They both look around the restaurant, politely avoiding eye contact.  A woman with a sleepy smile and bronze skin, her long, black braid dipping well past her waist, introduces herself as Yvette and takes their order.  They turn to each other, slightly awkward but smiling. Rey thinks this must be what a date feels like.

 

She tries to order a burger, self-conscious about the cost, but he won’t have it.  He gets an aged steak and recommends the filet mignon for her. When it comes out sizzling and medium-well, she thinks she’s died and gone to heaven.  How can it be buttery soft and still meat? She closes her eyes with each bite, savoring the rich flavors.

 

She opens them to catch him watching her.  There’s a softness to his expression that tempers the intensity of his eyes.  She takes a sip of wine, feeling a little lightheaded after one glass, getting used to the burn in her throat.

 

“We’re only a few hours away from Flagstaff,” he says.  “We could drive into Arizona tonight and get there by midnight, or we could just stay here and relax a little.  There’s the motel next door.”

 

Rey nods, her insides warm and full, but the mention of the motel scares up butterflies.  They didn’t discuss sleeping arrangements yet. One room or two.

 

Maybe he can read her mind, or at least the way she nibbles her upper lip.  “We’ll get two rooms,” he says gently.

 

She looks up at him, grateful he said it.  The candle on the table adds new angles to his cheeks and flecks of amber to his eyes.  She wonders what he’s seeing in hers by the way he stares at her, rapt. He pulls away to top off her glass, the bottle nearly drained.

 

Yvette brings by the dessert menu and she chooses double-chocolate cake.  She takes another sip of wine, soaking in waves of contentment.

 

Emboldened by the wine, she asks, “So, what do you do?  For a job?”

 

He stills while reading her expression.  “I worked in the family business. Private aviation, mostly deliveries.”

 

She stares at him blankly, not comprehending but noticing the past tense.

 

“I flew planes with my Dad,” he explains.

 

“Oh, cool!  I’ve never been in an airplane,” she admits.  “I’ve never been outside of West Texas before.”

 

“Never?  Well, I gotta get you up there some time.”  He looks down, knitting his brows together. “It’s peaceful.  You get a whole new perspective on things. What about you?”

 

She fidgets with her napkin.  “Well, I like mechanical things.  Taking stuff apart and seeing how it works so I can fix it.  Plutt- the guy at the last foster home I was in- he owned an autobody and scrap shop.  He was pretty useless, so I ended up doing a lot of the work.”

 

As she speaks, she notices his eyes wander and his smile waver.  She turns to her left and there’s four state policemen sitting down in a booth across the room from them.

 

By the time she’s turned back, he’s facing her again, but his easy manner is gone, spine ramrod straight.

 

She lowers her voice.  “What’s wrong? Are you okay?”  

 

He nods and looks down.  “Yeah. Yeah, keep going.”

 

She takes another sip of wine and the waitress brings the cake and the check.  She scoops up a mouthful or the rich chocolate and makes a slow moan of pleasure as she licks her fork clean.  “Oh my God, you have to have some, it’s so good.”

 

He’s distracted, looking at the cops as he pulls out his wallet.  She glances over again and one of the cops is looking in their direction.  She sees him turn back to say something and then another guy looks over. She gives a half-hearted smile, then turns back to her cake.

 

Kylo’s voice is tight.  “Rey, change of plans. We need to cross into Arizona tonight.  That okay? Are you okay to drive?”

 

She nods but suddenly feels exhausted.  She shouldn’t have had all that wine.

 

“Okay, meet me by the bathrooms.”  He drops down the cash for the check and walks away.  Rey sees a policeman get up and follow him as she’s wiping her mouth.

 

She stands up and walks after them, nervous, but sees the policeman detour to chat up the hostess.  After she comes out of the restroom, Kylo places a hand on her elbow and sweeps them out to the car, steadying her as she stumbles.

She starts up the engine but she’s so tired and starting to see halos around the streetlights.  “I think you have to drive, I’m so sleepy.”

 

He turns and studies her and she blinks up at him with a lazy smile.  She leans in to get a closer look at his full, pink lips, his hot breath warm on her cheek.   

 

“Shit, Rey, I think you’re drunk,” he says.

 

“Nah.  I’ve never been drunk.  I’m just really tired.” Her head starts to spin.

 

He looks skeptical, then looks behind them, jittery.  “We have a problem. I can’t drive stick.”

 

“What?!” she’s incredulous.  “No way.”

 

“I never learned.  My dad had an old automatic pick-up and I learned to drive in my mom’s Volvo.  No stick.”

 

“But you can fly planes!”

 

“And this isn’t a plane.  Look, can you drive us to Flagstaff?” he’s looking at her urgently.

 

She blinks her eyes, but she’s starting to see double.  “I don’t think I can.”

 

He leans forward and knocks his head gently on the dashboard.

 

She thinks.  “But, you can drive and I can shift.”

 

He pulls up.  “How?”

 

“You hit the clutch when I tell you and I’ll change the gears.  Once we get up to fifth gear, it’s the same as automatic.” They switch places and she shows him the clutch for his left foot, the brakes and gas for his right.

 

He puts the Jeep in reverse, then stops as she says “clutch!” and leans over closer to shift for him.  He stalls out. “You gotta release it slowly as you add the gas, like this.” Rey uses her hands to demonstrate like a see-saw.

 

They only stall out once more at a light when he pushes the break instead of the clutch, cursing as she grimaces and grinds a gear.  But soon enough they’re on the highway again. Kylo keeps checking the rearview mirror as she slinks down in her seat and closes her eyes, the sound of the wheels on the road beneath them lulling her to sleep.

 

-----------------------

 

She wakes up and it’s pitch black out.  She sees a flash of lightning and the deep rumble of thunder chasing close behind.  A few heavy raindrops are starting to fall on the windshield as they drive into the edge of the storm.

 

She rubs her eyes.  “How long was I out?”

 

“Only an hour.”  His eyes keep flicking up to the rearview mirror.  

 

She turns around to look behind them, but it’s just empty road.  “What’s the matter?”

 

“Nothing.  We’re in Arizona now.”

 

More heavy raindrops start to fall and another peal of thunder.  It sounds like mighty boulders rolling around the heavens and there’s nothing to absorb the sound for miles.  

 

Suddenly a wave of heavy rain hits them, and the raindrops start to crackle on the hood.

 

“Shit, that’s hail,” she says.

 

He slows down and flips the wipers faster.  They pass a sign for the Petrified Forest National Park and Kylo takes the exit.

 

“We’re going to wait this out,” he says as the rain and hail make visibility next to nothing.  Their headlights cut through the dark night, no other cars on the road. They pull up to the National Park front gates but they’re locked, so he makes a U-turn and then pulls off on a service road marked “employees only.”

 

He cuts the engine.  They sit in silence as the thunder rolls around them, rain and hail pelting the Jeep.  They’re cocooned in the Jeep, the air growing humid.

 

“I have blankets in the back,” she says.  She unbuckles and turns as he leans away from her.  Her hip brushes his shoulder as she crawls through. “We can sleep back here.”

 

She’s glad she ripped out the back seat because of the rats, no way they’d both fit otherwise.  The thick, plush carpet adds a layer of softness as she spreads out the blankets and slides between them, grabbing her pillow.  

 

Kylo stays in the driver’s seat and makes no move to join her.  “Are you coming?” she asks.

 

“I’ll be okay up here, you sleep.”

 

“Come on, we could be here for hours.  You can’t sleep up there.” She hunts for his eyes in the rearview mirror, a flash of lightning revealing his piercing stare.  “There’s plenty of room. And, it’s going to get cold. Come on.”

 

He turns away and gives a tortured sigh.  She slips off her cowboy boots, fingers tingling, and lays down under the blankets, unhooking her bra and pulling it through the arm of her shirt.  She feels the Jeep shift from his weight as he crawls back to join her, like a bear lumbering in the dark.

 

He slides off his work boots and removes his shirt, leaving just an undershirt.  He lays down on his back with an arm under his head, but there isn’t enough room unless he touches her, so he rolls on his right side to face away.  She pulls up a blanket to cover them.

 

They listen to the rain and hail on the roof of the car.  A peal of thunder makes the windows rattle as the storm passes directly overhead, vibrations running through her.  She’s not sure how much time has passed as the storm fades away, but her heart is beating too fast to sleep.

 

The temperature in the Jeep has dropped with the storm.  Rey inches closer to him, to where his body warms up the blankets.  She can’t tell if he’s awake or asleep, she can only see his wide back and the curve of his shoulder, like a wall.  She thinks he must be asleep, he’s so still. She nudges up a little closer, aching to feel his heat, to know how his back feels under her hands.  

 

Her heartbeat it pounding so hard, she’s afraid he’s going to hear it.  She tries to slow it down, but it’s like a caged bird trying to break free.  He doesn’t respond as she nudges up even closer, daring herself inch by inch.  Finally she presses her hips forward until they nuzzle up against his ass, and she exhales raggedly, his heat pooling in her belly.  

 

She curls around him like a shadow and slides her hand carefully on his back first, and then under his arm, quiet as a mouse, until her palm rests on his chest.  She turns her cheek to press against the soft warmth of his back, inhaling his musky scent. Warm at last, her heart still beating like a drum, she melts into him and slowly drifts off to sleep.

 

------------------------------

 

Sometime later another peal of thunder rattles the car.  Kylo reaches down to pull up the blankets, making sure it covers her back where she sleeps behind him.

 

He didn’t dare move when he felt her nudging into him.  He kept his focus on slow and steady breaths, fighting the urge to shift his hips as he grew painfully hard.  When Rey’s arm curled around him, it took every ounce of his willpower to stay still.

 

Kylo feels steady hot breath on his back and knows she’s asleep now.  His hand covers hers, pressing it deeper into his chest, as he unbuttons his jeans to release the tension from his throbbing cock.  He reaches fingers back, tentative, as he grazes the smooth skin of her bare thigh.  He draws his hand back reluctantly and closes his eyes, focusing on his breath and the thin strand of control that keeps him from turning over to her.

 

He counts the spaces between the lightning and the thunder as he drifts off to sleep, not wanting the storm to pass.

 

------------------------

 

The next morning Rey wakes up alone in the woody.

 

She stretches and rubs her forehead, her head throbbing, and sits up slowly.  There’s no sign of Kylo.

 

As she looks around the Jeep for a bottle of water, she sees a glint of light from Kylo’s open bag, something catching the light.  She leans over and pushes his shirt out of the way to find the source of the reflection.

 

Then holds her breath as she finds his gun.



Chapter Text

Kylo wakes on his back to the smell of berries, fresh and sweet.  

 

His eyes flutter open as the sun ascends the horizon, the first golden rays burning through the grey morning haze like striking a match.  Color seeps back into the world bit by bit, the inside of the Jeep bathed in a warm glow.

 

He breathes in and realizes the sweetness on his lips is Rey, the crown of her head tucked under his chin.  He must’ve turned to her in the night. She’s melted against him like water poured into a glass, arm draped across his chest and thigh twining like a vine around his.

 

Her soft heat holds him captive.  It’s the first night he can remember where he hasn’t had nightmares.  

 

He carefully lifts his free hand to brush away the hair over her eyes.  He looks down as she sleeps, long brown lashes snapped tight. He pinches the end of a chestnut curl between two fingers and rolls it lazily before letting it fall.

 

It’s getting muggy in the Jeep.  There’s moisture on the glass, their breath from last night captured and recorded on the windows.  Rey sighs in her sleep, and he shifts his hips as he feels himself respond, growing hard just a few inches away from her thigh.

 

He holds still, drinking up the feel of her body while he has the chance.  

 

Feels so good.  Jesus, so good.

 

He fists his hands to restrain himself.  There are so many reasons why he shouldn’t touch her, but it’s hard to remember them all when she’s so close.  

 

It would be so easy to just roll over, push her thighs open, lay between those warm legs as she wakes up to him with a sleepy smile.  Trail his hands up her waist to cup her soft breasts, take her sweet mouth in his so he can swallow her moan. He’d push his cock up to her center and beg her to let him in because she’s so warm, and so ripe, and right there under his hands.  

 

He shifts his hips again and she doesn’t stir.  He can’t stop himself from pressing a kiss to the crown of her head, inhaling her sweetness as her silky hair slips beneath his lips.  A last taste.

 

He gently slides out from under her as she curls in on herself in her sleep.  He sits up and bends forward in the small space, rubbing his face in his hands.  He reaches into his bag for his dopp kit, water and a clean shirt. He doesn’t zip it back closed so he won’t wake her.

 

Kylo quietly opens the back door and slips out.  He walks away to clean up, combing fingers through his hair, already missing the feel of her on his skin.

 

-----------------

 

The bright sun reveals the alien and barren landscape of the Petrified Forest.  The fallen ancient trees have broken into segments and turned to stone, revealing rings that mark years lost to time.  He picks his way past the rust-colored fossils jutting up unevenly from the ground. In the distance, the hills are painted in stripes of orange, maroon and red, blurring at the edges like a giant layer cake.

 

Kylo brushes his teeth and splashes his face with water, then strips off his shirt to dry off.  Bare chested, he stretches both arms up to the heavens and closes his eyes, welcoming the burn of the sun like a judgment on his skin.  He rubs his sore ribs and puts on a clean shirt. His heartbeat is the only sound he hears, the only hint that he’s not lifeless, too.

 

He spies a single bird flying in a slow spiral far away.  He envies its freedom, an existence without guilt. Just like Rey, not slowed down yet by the weight of memory or regret.

 

He walks back and finds the Jeep empty.  He drops his things inside and spots her pacing yards away.  

 

Something’s wrong.

 

-----------------

 

He finds her still in the black skirt and white t-shirt from last night, hair wild and windswept.  She’s braless and he’s mesmerized by the bounce of her breasts as she stomps back and forth in her boots amongst the fossils.  She stops mid-stride and glares at him, hands fisting at her sides.

 

He freezes.  Her eyes are green slits, full of anger.  Venomous as a rattlesnake, she coils to strike.  

 

“I know, Kylo.   I know .”  

 

His heart skips, mind racing over what she could know.  That he kissed her? His real name? What he’s done?

 

He’s silent.  She’s vibrating with rage, her mouth pulled into a sharp line.  She’s stunning in her fury like the day her first saw her. The wind whips a lock of hair across her freckled cheek.

 

“What do you know?” he asks slowly, guarded.

 

“I found the gun.”  She spits it out as her head bobs, mouth curling into a smile that’s anything but kind.

 

“Oh, that.”  He exhales and the look of relief on his face is only gasoline to her fire.   

 

“You’re a liar !” she snarls.

 

“No, Rey, let me explain.”  He takes a step forward and doesn’t miss her flinch.

 

“I hid it.  Where you won’t find it.”  She gestures to the dead forest behind her, then stares him down.

 

He bites back his smile to not provoke her again, but he loves that she’s a spitfire.  

 

My clever girl, protecting herself.

 

“So don’t even think of using it on me,” she growls out.

 

Her words slice him open and he jerks back like she’s struck him.  His humor slides away to hurt. “What the fuck, Rey? How could you say that?!”

 

She stands tall, face pinched tight.  “What do I know?! I clearly don’t know you at all!”  

 

He points a finger at her, raising his voice, meeting her blow for blow.  “I never lied to you! I told you the truth!”

 

He believes his words, even as what he did to her letter flashes through his mind.

 

But secrets aren’t lies, are they?  

 

“You didn’t tell me you had a fucking gun!” she spits out.

 

“You never asked!”  He scowls back at her.

 

“Fuck you, that’s no excuse!” she hisses.  “I should drive off and leave you here to hunt for it!”

 

“Rey-” he starts, but she cuts him off as she takes a step back.

 

“Is that why you were scared?  With the cops last night?” She digs in her heels, ready for a fight.

 

“No,” he grits out.

“Then why?!  What did you do?  Did you shoot somebody?”  Her voice gets louder and more shrill on each word, and Kylo looks around.  They’re completely alone, the only sound for miles their angry voices and the wind.

 

Part of him thrills at her passion, at the energy snapping between them.  But not like this. It hurts him that she fears him.

 

He approaches her like moving in on a wild animal, palms up to show he’s not a threat.  “I’ve never shot anyone in my life.” He picks his words carefully.

 

Still the truth.  

 

“How can I believe you?”  She shakes her head. “I’m so stupid!  God, I don’t even know you! I don’t know you at all!”  She takes a step back from him. Her lips tremble and a look of panic washes over her.  

 

She’s going to bolt.  She’s going to run away from him, and he’ll lose her.

 

He inhales and releases a haggard breath, running his fingers through his hair.  Holding her angry eyes, he slowly kneels down in the dirt.

 

She furrows her brows, confused.

 

He puts his palms on his thighs in concession.  “You know that I would never hurt you.” She looks away, but he draws her back.  “Rey, look at me. You know deep down, don’t you?”

 

He presses his lips closed, begging her to feel it, too, to understand.  

 

Through her narrowed eyes, he sees a flicker of recognition.  A glimmer of hope.

 

“You do.  You know I could never hurt you.”

 

She takes a step closer, voice rasping.  “Then tell me, Kylo, everything. Why are you running?”

 

He sits back on his heels, rubbing his thighs where they pull at his jeans.  He looks away, working his jaw. The wind picks up between them and he squints against the dust.   

 

“I worked with my dad.  We flew planes cross-country, and to Mexico and Canada.  We flew cargo that wasn’t declared.”

 

She blinks at him.

 

“Smuggling.  It started with low-level shit, like cigarettes and liquor to avoid import taxes.  Then it got bigger, became jewelry, stolen goods, guns, drugs, whatever they paid us to fly.”

 

Her lips part.  

 

“The money was good, ridiculously good.  But I was sick of it and wanted out. My dad-”  He looks down and swallows. “My dad wanted me to stay, he was saving up to retire.  We fought about it. The guys we worked for wouldn’t let me quit, so I ran away. And now they’re after me.”

 

She’s studying him intently, her scowl loosening.  “What about your dad?”

 

He knew it was coming, of course she would ask.  Still, he isn’t prepared to say the words.

 

Looking down at his hands, his lower lip starts to tremble, so he bites it.  “He’s dead,” he says finally, not meeting her gaze.

 

She moves in closer.  He can only see her feet and her knotted hands.  “It was them?” she asks quietly.

 

He nods.  

 

“I’m sorry,” she sighs out.  

 

He draws up the courage to meet her eyes again.  “The gun is for self-defense. I’ve never shot anyone, Rey.  I just wanted out. Please believe me.”

 

She nods, her hands knotting at her waist.

 

He gulps.  “The people chasing me have connections.  If the cops bring me in, they’ll have me killed.  There’s no jail or prison they can’t get to. If I’m arrested, I’m dead.  That’s why I acted that way with the cops. Do you understand?”

 

Her eyes grow wide and she nods again.

She exhales and looks away from him at the hills in the distance.  “Okay,” she says quietly, eyes far off. He can’t tell what she’s thinking.

 

He gets up and blocks her path, forcing her to look up at him as he searches her eyes.  

 

“We’re close to Flagstaff.  You can drop me off there and go on your way alone, Rey.  I’ll keep my word, the money is yours either way.”

 

She squints up at him as the sun comes out from behind a cloud, bathing her face in light.  She lifts a hand to cup her eyes but doesn’t flinch away.

 

“Think it over, Rey.  I’ll accept your decision.”

 

She gives him a tight smile and a nod, then turns to walk back to the Jeep.

 

“What about the gun?”  He calls out after her.

 

“It’s in the glove box.  I wanted you to think I hid it out here.”  She replies over her shoulder, not turning back.  

 

-----------------

 

Rey changes in the women’s bathroom of the Petrified Forest National Park.  She cups water over her face and changes into jeans and a cropped tank. Her hands aren’t shaking anymore, but she feels strung out and exhausted, still nursing a headache from the wine.

 

She exits the bathroom and sees Kylo leaning against the Jeep, stretched long with his ankles crossed as he smokes.  She watches him from a shadow before walking back.

 

She won’t look at him directly and they don’t talk as she drives on to find food.   

 

They pull into Winslow to eat lunch at a diner.  Neither talks as they sip coffee and he watches the news on the t.v. in the corner.  She keeps her gaze on his big hands as he eats, her knee bouncing under the booth as she scrapes her plate.  

 

He turns to her suddenly.  “Hey, Winslow, Arizona, like the Eagles song.”

 

She swallows.  “What song?”

 

“Take it Easy.”  She looks at him blankly.  “Their most famous song?”

 

She shakes her head and wipes her mouth.  “Nope. Plutt didn’t listen to music. The radio reception in the shop was shit, we couldn’t even get country.”

 

“You’ve gotta have heard this song, they play it all the time.”  

 

She shakes her head blankly.

 

He leans in, sliding his hands under the table, and looks both ways, like he’s about to tell her a secret.  “I’m sorry to have to do this,” he says solemnly, then starts starts warbling, in a low bass tone.

 

Well, I’m standing on a corner, in Winslow, Arizona, and such a fine sight to see.  

It’s a girl, my Lord, in a flatbed Ford, slowin’ down to take a look at me.

 

Come on, bayyy-beee, don’t say maybe

I gotta know if your sweet love is going to save me.

 

Take it eeeea-syyyyy

 

She drops her jaw.  The tension coiled inside her snaps, and she bursts out laughing as he pulls back, looking around the room as he flushes.

 

She cries in laughter, wiping away tears with the back of her hand as she shakes in her seat.  He looks back at her, abashed, then his eyes crinkle and he joins her with a chuckle.

 

“All right, settle down, it wasn’t that bad.”  

 

“Are you kidding?  That was terrible!”  She gasps out.

 

“Are you choking?  I don’t want my singing to kill you.”

 

She finally sighs and wipes her eyes with her napkin.  “No, I’m good now.”

 

The tentative hope in his eyes makes her feel shy, so she gives him a small smile in return and finishes her food.  Not quite thawed, but not hostile, either.

 

They get back on the road to Flagstaff.

 

-----------------

 

After another thirty minutes of silence, Rey sees a road sign up ahead that reads “Natural Wonder!  Meteor Crater Natural Landmark, 6 miles ahead.” There’s a giant fireball hurtling toward an unsuspecting earth, painted in a 1950’s style.

 

Plutt would scoff at her curiosity, his mind as lazy as the rest of him.  Kylo’s slouching low in his seat, unreadable. Her hands twist around the steering wheel, the leather crackling in her grip, and she sets her jaw as she decides she’s not going to miss out anymore.  She’s the driver now.

 

“I want to see that.”  She points to the sign as they pass it.  

 

He lifts his head off his palm to follow her finger, then shrugs.  “Whatever you want.”

 

They take the next exit.  The wind rolls tumbleweeds across the long, straight access road to the crater.  A sign reads, “Speed Limit. Motor vehicles, 50 mph. Meteors, 26,000 mph.”

 

The air conditioning in the Jeep starts to rattle and hot air blows out.  Rey fiddles with the dial, finally slapping her hand on the dash a few times until the cold air kicks in again.

 

After they park, he starts a slow amble up to the museum building at the far end of the lot.  Rey locks the door and looks around. Instead of following him, she makes a beeline for the path leading to the crater.  

 

The dry wind gusts as she walks out on the concrete path leading to the crater’s edge.  She hears footsteps, and turns to see Kylo following her, stopping to read a sign. Rey keeps walking until she reaches the very edge of the catwalk hanging over the hallowed out abyss.  She leans over the railing and peers down.

 

The wide blue sky is dotted with white puffs of clouds, a contrast to the red and tan sands of the desert and the huge, gaping bowl of sand in front of them.  You could fit a hundred Goodnights in that crater and have room to spare, swallowing the town she grew up in like it never existed.

 

Thousands of years ago, a fiery chunk of space ripped through the earth’s atmosphere in a flash of power and left a massive wound that the earth still carries today like a scar.  The crater is empty now, no trace of the meteor, just sand and rock as the hands of time wore it down to nothing. Here she stands on the edge, nineteen years old, looking down at the traces of the galaxy, feeling infinitely small and tender.

 

“This could be what took out the dinosaurs,” Kylo mutters behind her, where he stands a few feet back, giving her space.

 

“I wonder what it looked like.”  

 

“Anything that saw it was probably wiped out instantly.”

 

She scans the expanse, images of fire and light in her mind, destruction raining down from above.  They stand in silence. She thinks of the powerlessness of people and the unforeseen threats that hover just on the edge of your imagination before they’re made real, like a bump in the night or a shadow in the corner.

 

But it’s not night.  He walks up to the railing to stand beside her as the sun shines down on them.  They’re the only souls in the park, alone but together at the edge. She glances over at his profile, dark hair shifting in the wind, thoughts unknowable as his forearms lean on the guardrail.  She’s glad he’s with her and that she’s not alone.

 

-----------------

 

Back on the road, he breaks the silence first.  “I’m sorry that you had to find the gun like that, and . . . think of me that way.  I should’ve told you.”

 

She turns to see his serious expression and it grabs her for a moment.  She faces the road again and says, “Yeah, you should’ve,” but she’s not mad anymore.

 

The silence feels lighter.

 

A few moments later she says quietly, “I’m so sorry about your dad.”

 

She sees him stiffen from the corner of her eye.  “Thanks for saying that.”

 

“I . . .”  She picks her words.  “I don’t know who my parents were.  I never met them. They gave me up when I was a baby.  So to have a father that loves you, and to lose him . . .  I can’t imagine how that hurts.”

 

He’s quiet.  “It wasn’t always good between us.  We fought a lot, he could be shitty to mom and me.”  He exhales. “But he was my dad.”

 

The sound of the tires hitting repetitive grooves in the asphalt sets a steady rhythm beneath them when there’s nothing left to say.  

 

She wants to touch him.  Reaching over the armrest, she finds his hand where it sits on his thigh.  Tentative at first, she wraps her small fingers around his large ones, then holds him and squeezes tight.  He exhales as his left thumb starts to move, brushing slowly up and down the back of her hand. He looks down at where she holds him.  She feels the heat of his hand spread through her, like a current being completed, positive and negative sides complete.

 

They pass the sign for Flagstaff, and he coughs and withdraws his hand.

 

“Do you still want to see the Grand Canyon?” he asks, combing his hair back.

 

She thinks about last chances, about not missing out anymore.  “Yeah, I do.”

 

He nods.  “Let’s stay here tonight, then.”

 

-----------------

 

They pull up in front of the historic Hotel Monte Vista in downtown Flagstaff.  The mountains behind the town rise up from the western pine forests, the Northern Arizona landscape a welcome respite from the red desert flatlands they’ve been travelling through so far.  The air is cooler and thin, more than a mile above sea level. Rey feels slightly lightheaded.

 

Kylo checks them in to adjacent rooms with a connecting interior door.  She’s never seen one before, so they open them and stand on either side.

 

“If I leave my side unlocked, you can just walk through.  But you can still lock your side, see? So I couldn’t get in.”  She fiddles with the lock then stops to look up at him.

 

He hooks his fingertips on the top of his door frame, his molded biceps escaping the short sleeves of his shirt, like a curtain of muscle on either side of his face.  Coffee ground eyes peer down at her beneath his fringe of dark hair. Rey tilts her chin up and her heartbeat quickens. “What now?” she says, a bit breathless, the air suddenly too thin.

 

His eyes roam over her face.  A hand snakes down to pull out his wallet, and he pulls out a wad of bills and hands them to her.  “Take some time to think things over. I mean what I said before, I’ll respect your decision.”

 

He leans back and smiles as he closes his door.  She doesn’t hear the lock click.

 

She pockets the money and closes her own door.  Hesitating, she locks her door.

 

-------------------

 

Rey showers then walks through the streets of Flagstaff alone.  Funky art galleries sit next to restaurants and old Indian trading posts.  She pulls out the money he gave her and counts out three hundred dollars.

 

She walks the streets and rolls his words over in her mind.  

 

She should ditch him.  Her logical brain is telling her to run, run far away, to take the money he offered and save herself.  He’s dangerous and he didn’t tell her about the gun. He’s being hunted. She’s going to start fresh in California with Finn.  She doesn’t need this.

 

Then why does she want him so badly she can almost taste it?

 

Curling up around him last night lit a fire in her, and she can still feel the heat between her legs.  His dark velvet eyes staring at her with sadness, and maybe hope, make her defenses melt away. This feeling of raw need is new and makes her feel jittery, almost like stage fright.

 

Maybe that’s why she was so mad that he kept things from her.  To want him like that, so much it almost hurts, she needs to believe he’s a good man deep down.  That he can at least be good to her.

 

As she walks the street alone, she can admit that she doesn’t want him to go.  That she wants him, despite him being dangerous. If she’s truly being honest, maybe partly because he’s dangerous.

 

She wanders for hours, wrestling with herself, finally stopping to eat dinner alone.  She keeps her head on her plate to ignore the happy couples and families surrounding her.  Making up her mind, she returns to her room and writes a note.



Kylo,

 

I’m sorry I got so mad about the gun.  I was surprised and got scared.

 

I do trust you.  I don’t know why, I think maybe I shouldn’t.  But I do.

 

I’ll drive you to Las Vegas.  I’ll even take you to San Diego, if you want.

 

I’ll help you run.  I don’t want you hurt.

 

Rey



She folds up the paper and walks to the door that separates them, nervous fingers unlocking her side slowly.  His handle turns under her hands, and she opens his door.

 

Her heart thunders as she steps into the darkened room and finds him lying in bed, bare back turned to her as he faces the wall, the sheet wrapped around his waist.

 

The light from her room filters in and illuminates the white expanse of his back.  She watches his chest expand with each deep breath, the skin pull taut over his ribs.  She takes a step closer to his bed, holding her breath, the pressure in her chest screaming for release.  She reaches out and places her note on the bed next to him.

 

She slips out quickly, waiting to exhale until she’s quietly closed his door.  Once she’s closed her door, she presses her palms to the cold wood, then bends her forehead to rest on the surface.  She closes her eyes and breathes. When she finally turns away, she doesn’t lock her door.

 

------------------

 

He hears the door creak behind him and his eyes snap open at the wall, mind racing to where he put the gun.  Then he realizes through his adrenaline rush that it’s Rey coming back from dinner.

 

A rustle behind him.  A sharp breath.

 

If he rolls over to face her, that’s it.  The stalemate between them ends the moment he meets her eyes.  If he meets her eyes, hazel and wanting, he won’t be able to hold back.  He needs to give her this last chance, he needs her to choose him. So he closes his eyes and holds very still, waiting for her.

 

His heartbeat thuds as takes deep breaths in and out.  Another rustle and she closes his door again. He doesn’t hear her lock turn.

 

Rising out of bed, he presses his palms to the door as he cups an ear on the wood to listen for her.  Not a sound. He pushes his palms into the surface of the wood like he could reach through and feel her.  

 

He steps back and turns on his bedside lamp.  

 

Then he sees her note.

 

---------------




Chapter Text

The knock on her front door wakes her.

 

Rey rolls over, still wrapped up in a dream.  The room is inky black, the streetlight outside her window filtering through the edges of her curtains, tinting the room in a maroon glow.

 

When the three quick raps repeat, she cartwheels out of bed and pads to the front door wiping her eyes.

 

She leans into the peephole.  Kylo’s there, shaggy mane hanging around his brow, smiling at his feet.  She bites her lower lip as he looks up, eyes bright and hopeful.

 

She rocks back and unhooks the chain.

 

“Good morning, sleepyhead.”  

 

His grin stretches wide as he holds out a brown paper bag and a tray with two coffees.  

 

“What’s this?”  She asks, yawning.

 

His chin tilts down and his gaze snags on her thighs.  The large t-shirt hits a few inches above her knee, she’s only wearing panties underneath.  She crosses one bare leg over the other, as if that helps.

 

“Sorry, I’ll go--” he starts.

 

“It’s okay, come in.”  She talks over him and turns to hide her blush, waving for him to follow.  She flicks on the lamp and moves to the table at the foot of her bed.

 

Rey walks to the far side and sits in a chair, quickly tucking her knees up under the hem of her shirt, covering them down to her crossed ankles.

 

“I know you like the sweet stuff.”  He puts down the bag and hands her a coffee as he sits across from her.  “There’s sugar and cream, too.”

 

There’s an apple fritter, some donuts, and a cheese danish.  Her stomach growls. A creamer rolls off the table and he bends over to pick it up for her.

 

When he sits up again, she grins.  “My hero.”

 

His cheeks pink and he tilts his ear to his shoulder as he shrugs in an “aw, shucks” gesture.  It’s so cute that it hurts.

 

“You want some?” she offers the bag.

 

He shakes his head.  “I can’t eat this early.”

 

She squints as she chews.  “What time is it?”

 

“Close to five.”

 

Rey’s eyebrows shoot up.  “In the morning?”

 

He chuckles.  “Yeah. So, I asked somebody yesterday.  They said the best time to see Grand Canyon is first thing in the morning, right after sunrise.  It’s quiet, good for pictures, stuff like that.”

 

Rey swallows and looks at him, blinking.  He remembered she wanted to see it. His thoughtfulness hits her in the chest.

 

“So, you wanna go now?  Or sleep in some more?”

 

Rey’s suddenly fully awake.  She grins. “Let’s go.”

 

---------------

 

They pack up.  Rey is quick, shoving things in her bag without thought.  Kylo folds and stacks in piles as she leans on the door frame, watching him.

 

Her note is gone from the bed.  He doesn’t say anything about it, she doesn’t ask.

 

Kylo picks up a black t-shirt and scowls at the hem.  Muttering, he balls it up and chucks it at the trash can.

 

“Whaddya doin’?” she says, walking over to fish it out.  “That’s perfectly fine.”

 

“There’s a hole, it’s ruined.”

 

She holds it up over her palm.  “That tiny thing?”

 

He waves his hand dismissively and keeps packing.

 

“Can I have it?”

 

He grunts.  “Sure, why?”

 

Rey fishes in her bag and unfolds her leatherman, flipping out the knife and scissors.  First, she cuts off the sleeves, cutting at the hem and ripping. Then she stabs just above the hole and slices straight down.  She slips the shirt on over her white tank, knotting it at the slit on her hip, letting it blouse over her jeans. It smells like him, coffee and spice with a hint of smoke.    

 

“See?  It’s fine.”

 

His face is solemn as his sharp eyes track over his shirt.  She shifts her weight from foot to foot under his intense stare.  His voice comes out rough. “It’s yours.”

 

They leave the keys in the rooms and load up the Jeep, heading North to the canyon in the pitch black hour before dawn.

 

---------------

 

Kylo woke up early as always, but this time on a mission.

 

There’s a spring in his step as he goes on a hunt for coffee and breakfast, anxious to see Rey’s face when he tells her about his plan.  He’s sure she’ll be happy, maybe he’ll even get a hug.

 

When he thumbs through his bills at the coffee shop, he sees her note folded in his wallet in a tiny, careful square and smiles.  She knows about him, and she’s not kicking him out. That changes everything.

 

She answers the door sleepy and tousled, but he can tell she’s happy to see him.  That alone gives him more of a jolt than the caffeine.

 

Rey opens the door all the way to let him in, and oh, fuck.  

 

Tan, smooth legs for miles.  She crosses them and the white hem of her shirt rises a hair higher.  He wants to drop to his knees on the carpet and nuzzle into her soft heat right then and there, nose around until he can taste her sweetness.  Instead he follows her inside like a hungry puppy begging for a scrap.

 

When the creamer falls and he reaches to pick it up, his eyes dart to her crossed ankles on her chair.  Under the hem of her t-shirt, there’s a sliver of her perfect little ass in white cotton undies, and he has to close his eyes fast like he’s staring at the sun.  It’s too late, the damage is done, the image of her burned behind his lids. His cock throbs at the seam of his jeans like it’s laughing at him.

 

When he sits up again, she calls him her hero.  With her looking at him like that, he can almost believe it.    

 

Kylo tells her about the Canyon, and she beams at him brighter than the sunrise.  

 

God, she’s so beautiful.   She doesn’t even know.

 

He’s a goner, and he knows it.  He can’t fight it back, losing the will to even try.

 

She’s got him.

 

---------------

 

They pull into a gas station twenty minutes from the Canyon.

 

Kylo gets out to pump the gas while she goes inside to pay and buy snacks, and look for one of those disposable cameras made out of cardboard.

 

He twists on the fuel cap and walks across the lot for a cigarette.

 

The wide horizon is turning from dark grey to deep blue as the first wisps of sunlight billow up from the horizon.  He leans back to see the stars tuck back into the sky, the chill of the late September dawn giving him a shiver.

 

He exhales a puff of smoke as a black sedan with tinted windows slowly pulls into the parking lot.  His blood freezes in his veins.

 

Kylo’s eyes flick to the bright lights of the station.  There are no other cars, just them and the attendant. He spots Rey browsing through the aisles.  His heartbeat pounds in his ears, as his eyes dart between the sedan and her.

 

She walks around by the window, exposed.  

 

He throws down his cigarette without stepping on it taking long strides back to the Jeep.  His gun is in his bag.

 

Stupid, stupid, fucking stupid.

 

The black sedan lazily loops around the lot and and pulls up behind the Jeep.  It idles, and he can’t see through the windows.

 

When he’s ten paces away, his head jerks back to the station to see Rey at the register.  In another moment, she’ll walk outside, vulnerable.

 

He picks up to a jog as the tension snaps tight in his body.  Yanking the door open, he slides in without closing it and twists to rifle through his bag.  He looks through the back window at the sedan as his roving hand clutches the gun’s handle.

 

A tinted window rolls down and smoke rolls out of the sedan in a wave, along with loud voices and music.  

 

The door opens and a blonde in a miniskirt tumbles out, giggling.

 

Kylo’s heavy breaths fog in the air as he watches another girl follow her out, howling.  She helps the blonde up and they cut a clumsy zig-zag path into the station, laughing.

 

His pulse slows as his fingers release from the handle of the gun.  Rey’s still at the register, smiling at the clerk, as the girls walk in.  He flexes his hands in his lap to try to stop the shaking.

 

Kylo steps out of the Jeep and recognizes the song blaring from the sedan.  A kid stands at the pump, spiky hair, probably college.

 

“Hey,” Kylo says walking up to him, “Is that a tape?”

 

“Uh-huh.”  The kid’s red-rimmed eyes are vacant as he glances at him, disinterested.

 

“I’ll pay you forty bucks for it.”  

 

Kylo reaches into his wallet and picks through the bills.  The kids looks down at the cash.

 

“Yeah?  How about a hundred then?”

 

Kylo scoffs.  “Really, man?”

 

“Yeah, it’s my favorite.  Sentimental value and all.”  The kid smirks.

 

The little shit.   He shakes his head and counts out the bills.   “Fine, hope this makes it up to you.”

 

The kid grins and reaches across his dash to pop out the tape and hand it over.  

 

“You must be a superfan or something.”

 

“Yeah, or something.”  Kylo turns to see Rey walking up.

 

“Ready?” she asks brightly.

 

He exhales as his shoulders relax.  “Yeah, I got us something new to listen to.”

 

As they pull out of the parking lot, the sun kissing at the lip of the horizon, a guitar riff picks up.  

 

Kylo rolls down his window, fingers hooked over the top of the door frame, heart lighter than it’s been in years, despite the scare.

 

Rey glances over, curious, just a hint of a smile as the rolling drums pick up the tempo.

 

“What’s this?”

 

“You’ll see.”

 

I wanna run, I want to hide

I want to tear down the walls that hold me inside

I want to reach out and touch the flame

Where the streets have no name

 

---------------

 

The road into the Grand Canyon National Park South Rim snakes them back to the visitor’s center as the sky lights up.  

 

Rey parks in a far corner of the lot and grabs a long-sleeved shirt and the camera.  “Hurry, hurry!” she says, slamming her door and dancing on the balls of her feet. “We don’t want to miss it!”

 

“I’m coming,” he laughs.  By the time he steps out, she’s already sprinting across to the mouth of the South Rim trail.  He has to run to catch up, chasing after her long, brown hair whipping in the wind.

 

The sun crests the horizon as a group of tourists linger around the lip of the Canyon, herded safely behind a curving guard rail.

 

His breath still mists in the cool morning air as he slows down to track her weaving through the crowd.  She finds a place on the far edge, hands gripped on the metal bar as she leans over to stare across the Canyon.  He finds his place beside her, hand clutching a stitch in his side, as he looks up to see what she does.

 

It’s astounding.  

 

The deep red of the rocks, cut down by millenia of ancient waters, glows as if by candlelight.  Stacks of stone marking the passage of thousands of years lead sharply down to the grey-green water of the river twisting around itself.  The deep blue sky seems held up by pillars of light as the fireball sun sits on the horizon.

 

It’s the kind of awe that he feels in his bones, rattling and taking root, a recognition of something ephemeral and precious.  The kind of awe he wants to remember. He takes a step closer to her to share it.

 

He looks at her.  The sun kisses her cheeks, waking her freckles.  He thought she’d be smiling, but her intensity is deeper than that, maybe reverence.  She seems older somehow.

 

“Let me take your picture,” he says, holding out his hand for the camera.  She finds his eyes, and smiles at him, her gorgeous face bathed in light.

 

He’ll always remember that, as well.

 

She turns around and poses.  Serious at first, then silly.  She pretends to hold the sun in the palm of her hand.

 

“You get in, come on!” she waves at him.  He shakes his head, but she drags him in by the arm.

 

He stands next to her and angles the camera towards them.  Rey lifts up on tiptoes so they’re on the same level and curls an arm around his shoulder to get closer.  He presses his lips together formally as she smiles brightly. He snaps a photo.

 

She looks at him, then pushes his shoulder.  “You didn’t smile!”

 

“That is my smile.”

 

“Come on, you can do better than that!”

 

“Probably not.”

 

She tilts her head.  “We’ll see. One more.”

 

Kylo sighs, but lifts up the camera again as she wedges in close.

 

This time, as he counts down from three, he feels her warm lips press into his cheek.  His lips open in surprise as the shutter clicks.

 

Kylo turns to her, and she giggles at him.  She lowers down and her hand slides to his bicep as they stare at each other.  

 

“Want me to take your picture?”  A grey-haired man smiles at them and offers out his hand.  Rey nods and Kylo hands him the camera.

 

He reaches around her back to pull her to tight to his side, fingers curved around her ribs.  She wraps one arm around his waist, the other over his heart. He’s sure she must feel the pounding under her palm, it’s beating so loud.  His fingers stroke up and down lazily.

 

“Say cheese!”  They do.

 

They hike down the trail all morning, stopping for pictures until the camera’s full.  

 

When they run out of water the sun is directly overhead, so they head back up to the car to find lunch and get out of the heat.

 

---------------

 

Rey’s driving after lunch when the AC makes a strangled noise and hot air blows out.  She slams her hand down on the dash until it kicks in again. She curses under her breath, then yawns.

 

“You want to drive for a bit?”

 

“What about the rules?  I thought only you drove,” he teases.

 

“I’ll make an exception,” she glances over.  “Five a.m. is not my thing.”

 

“I don’t drive stick, remember?”

 

“I’ll teach you.”

 

He gives out a laugh.  “Yeah, well . . .”

 

“Everybody should learn standard.  It’s a life skill.”

 

Her eyebrows are raised, mouth pressed in a prim smile behind her glittering hazel eyes.  

 

Who can say no to that face?

 

He sighs.  “Okay, sure.”

 

She pulls over into an empty section of the lot, and they switch places.   

 

“Remember that night you drove and I shifted?”

 

He nods, but can’t resist a little tweak.  “Probably better than you do.”

 

She throws him a look, nose scrunched.  He has to restrain himself from smoothing it out with his lips.

 

“The clutch.”  She points. “Use your left foot for the clutch to shift gears, right foot for the gas.  You have to switch slowly so you don’t stall out.”

 

“Got it.”

 

“It’s all about timing and coordination.  I’m sure it’s easier than flying a plane.”

 

He chuckles.

 

Rey puts her right hand over his on the stick to guide him.  It looks tiny compared to his, but she’s surprisingly firm. She talks him through the shifting, and they work together.  He likes her taking the lead.

 

After stalling a few times, he picks it up easily.  Her hand stays put over his as he circles the lot. He lifts his thumb to stroke the outside of her index finger.  She doesn’t pull away, even though he can shift on his own now.

 

He slots his fingers under the spaces between hers on the gear shift as his fingers brush through hers slowly.  He turns the wheel one-handed so he doesn’t have to let her go.

 

Kylo finally pulls over on the side of the lot and parks.  Rey sits back but doesn’t move her hand.

 

“You’re a fast learner,” she says.

 

“You’re a good teacher.”  He leans toward her on the arm rest, and flips his hand so they’re palm to palm.

 

“Hmm.  You need a teacher, huh?”  She takes a big breath in, her small chest puffing up in his old shirt.  He feels a thrill at the direct comparison of her body to his, how she fills the exact same space he once did.   He looks down at her hand and strokes the back with his thumb.

 

He meets her gaze again, without blinking.  The joke fades away under the heat of their stares.  “Yeah, I think I do.”

 

It’s just a moment.  If he wasn’t looking in her eyes, he may have missed it.  She looks down at his lips, her mouth slightly parted, and then lifts up again to his face.

 

It’s just a moment, but it’s enough.

 

His left hand gently brushes a long strand of hair away from her face, then tucks it back behind her ear.  He looks back at her and says, “Rey.”

 

Not a question, a statement.  A truth.

 

“Yes,” she answers.  Her voice is soft as cotton.

 

He cups her jaw and traces his thumb over her cheekbone before leaning in.  Her eyes stay open as he closes in.

 

She lifts her chin and he tastes her for the first time.  

 

At the press of their lips, his eyes float closed.  He feels like he’s flying, that familiar weightlessness as gravity is escaped and you’re finally free.  He kisses her gently, lapping her up with small kisses, her lips warm and unbearably sweet.

 

She leans her head back against the headrest to angle up to him and his mouth follows hers.  Her free hand lifts up, and he thinks for a moment she’s going to touch his face.

 

Instead she grabs the center of his chest and balls up his shirt in her fist to draw him closer and hold him in place.  He lets her do it, she can have that shirt too, for all he cares. He’s too drunk on her to care about anything other than this.

 

A car horn jolts them apart.  He looks away for a moment then back to her, holding his bottom lip between his teeth to savor her taste.  She looks drowsy, lips pink and cheeks flushed, and so goddamn pretty. He brushes the back of his knuckles against her cheek and then leans back to shift the car into drive.

 

They hit the road heading West.  She balls up her flannel shirt and sleeps against the window.  He listens to the new tape as he drives through Arizona, glancing over at her sleeping, tanned legs curled into her chest.

 

She wakes up when they stop at a gas station.  The late afternoon sun beats them down in the desert, a scorcher of a day.  Rey strips off the tank under her shirt and changes into her cut-offs in the women’s room.  He can see glimpses of her pale pink bra through the wide arms of his shirt.

 

She takes the wheel again, driving them toward the sunset.  The AC rattles and hums as she slams her palm on the dash to fix it.

 

This time it finally dies for good.


Chapter Text

 

The air conditioner finally shuffles off its mortal coil in the desert outside of Valle, Arizona.

 

Rey curses under her breath and slams her palm on the dash a few more times out of spite as he suppresses a grin.  He fiddles with the dial, but only hot air blows so he shuts it off.

 

She glowers at the road as he pulls out the map.  “Looks like Ash Fork is a big enough town to have a shop.  We could eat dinner there, stay the night.”

 

He tingles at the thought of being alone with her in a room.  He can still feel her on his lips.

 

Rey shakes her head.  “I’m sick of small towns.  We should drive on to Vegas after sunset once it cools down.”

 

He looks down and considers.  “Vegas is about four hours from Ash Fork.  Or, maybe we skip Vegas and take the direct route to San Diego.  We’d hit Barstow, Nevada, in five.”

 

“I thought you wanted to go to Vegas?”  Her eyebrows form a peak as she glances over.

 

He meets her eyes and marvels at the light reflecting back at him like a mirror, still pinching himself they open to him at all.

 

“It doesn’t matter to me where we go.  I’ll stay with you, make sure you get to California safe.”  

 

He watches her expression soften and settle in as she blinks faster.  Just his words did that, made her melt before his eyes. He wonders what he could do with other ones.

 

She bites the corner of her lip and turns back to the road.  He eases back into his seat with a whisper of a smile, fingertips drumming on his thigh to the beat of the music.  

 

The late afternoon sun beats down.  Shimmering heat mirages rise like ghosts from the asphalt.  Without the A.C., the temperature in the Jeep rises rapidly.

 

They roll down the windows.  The air is hot, but at least it’s moving.

 

Kylo glances over at her.

 

The wind whips her long hair around wildly, like a road trip Medusa.  She squints and tosses her head to keep it out of her eyes. His old t-shirt billows like a black sail on her small frame.  His eyes drop and catch flashes of her pale pink bra through the wide cut-off sleeves.

 

Kylo’s mouth waters at the hints of her small breasts as they appear and disappear faster than he can blink.  He shifts in his seat.

 

Boots come off first.  Without her asking, he bends over to lift them out of her way.  His index finger barely brushes the inside of her ankle, and she moves her legs wider on instinct.

 

He drops them in the back and leans an elbow on the door, propping his forehead between finger and thumb like a visor.  He takes a slow, deep breath in and whistles it out through pursed lips.

 

His skin is getting sticky under his clothes.  He widens his stance in his seat.

 

A sign reads “Ash Fork, 30 miles.”

 

“You sure you can make it?”  he asks gruffly.

 

Rey turns to him and nods, releasing a drop of sweat from her temple.  He reaches out and catches it without thinking, wipes his hand on his thighs.  She sucks in her bottom lip and turns back.

 

Kylo cranks up the music loud enough that he can feel it in his chest, anything to distract him from the oppressive air and her slick body just a hand’s reach away.

 

He stretches for a water bottle.  Hooking his fingertips on the top of the window, he tilts back his head and chugs it.  He wipes his mouth with the back of his hand and nudges her shoulder with the bottle.

 

Rey gulps it down, and he shakes his head when she tries to return it.  She lifts it to roll the cool condensation on her forehead, then plants it in the middle of her thighs on the seat.

 

He clears his throat and looks away quickly, but not before he catches the way her skin hugs in on the bottle.  Beads of water roll down and pool on her inner thighs. He licks his lips.

 

It gets hotter and hotter.  

 

He catches her stealing glances when she thinks he’s not looking.  He tries not to notice how her t-shirt catches on her wet skin, how she has to breathe through parted lips.  The air he inhales feels as hot as the breath leaving his lungs.

 

Twenty minutes from Ash Fork, almost there.

 

She says suddenly, “Can you steer?”

 

He reaches across to hold the wheel steady.  Rey keeps her feet on the gas, but leans back and makes a quick messy bun using the rubberband from her wrist.  He notices she forgot one long tendril, and it curls like a snake at her nape, stuck to her skin.

 

Eyes on the road, her quick fingers reach back to unhook her bra.  From the corner of his eye, he sees her pull it through the wide armhole of his shirt and toss it back.  He pretends not to notice.

 

All he can do is notice.

 

She takes the wheel back and he waits as long as he can before looking down.  Her thighs shift restlessly in her seat, a sticky sound as she unpeels her skin from the leather.

 

From the corner of his eye he watches the wind whipping through her shirt, revealing glimpses of perfect, pert breasts, rosy nipples playing peek-a-boo just a foot away from him.

 

He closes his eyes.  He can’t fucking take it anymore.  He unbuckles so he rip off his shirt in a single motion, and uses it to wipe off his face and chest.  He bunches it in his lap so she won’t see him tenting his pants for her as he stares at the horizon.

 

The resolve it takes to not stare at her makes him clench his jaw.  One little push is all it will take to push him over the edge.

 

She turns in his direction.  He waits for her to turn back, but she doesn’t.

 

A quick glance, and he sees her eyes track over his chest, lips parted.  She looks at the road and then back to him.

 

She doesn’t have to say it, it’s written on her face.  She’s hungry for him, too.

 

Kylo leans in, hand gripping the arm rest.  She sits straighter and turns back to the road as he closes in on her.  He draws in like a magnet and plants a single kiss to the hot skin behind her ear.  Rey exhales sharply. When he licks a stripe up her salty pulse, she whimpers softly and angles her chin to expose more to him.

 

He lifts the water bottle from her thighs and drops it, replacing it with his hand.  He kisses her neck as fingers knead into her hot skin. Rey makes room for him by opening her thighs, hands gripping the steering wheel as her breath stutters.

 

“Goddamn, Rey, I’ve been dying to touch you,” he whispers against her pulse.

 

His hands slip up under her shirt and his cock twitches as he makes contact with one of her sweet breasts.  

 

He cups it in a hand and studies her profile as his thumb passes back and forth across her firm point.  Her lips tremble slightly and she releases a low moan when he captures the nipple between two fingers and rubs.  He slides across her slick skin to the other breast, a palmful of sweat heat, and licks his lips because he can’t wait to taste them.

 

She merges onto the highway leading into Ash Fork.  They’re ten minutes out.

 

Rey shifts her hips in her seat.  His hands trace down and slippery fingers fumble with the top button of her cut-offs.  She helps him with shaking fingers.

 

His fingers drop down until he hits her white panties.  Two fingers reach to stroke the cotton that sheathes her.  She’s dripping wet, soaked clean through.

 

Rey rocks up to meet his fingers and he nips at her neck.  She gasps as he adds some pressure.

 

He sits up to stare at her profile.  “God, baby, you’re so wet already. I can’t wait to taste you.”

 

Her eyelids flutter.  It sets his blood on fire.

 

“Are you gonna let me?  Are you gonna let me put my mouth on you?”

 

She nods, then her right hand drops down to squeeze his wrist, to keep him moving.  She reaches over and fumbles at this thigh before her hand slides up to find him straining hard against his zipper.

 

He exhales like releasing steam as she cups him and lightly, too painfully lightly, strokes him outside his jeans.  

 

He nips her earlobe as they cross into the city limits of Ash Fork, Arizona, with their hands on each other.  

 

At the Copperstate Motel sign, the first one they see, he barks out, “turn here.”

 

She hits the driveway lip a little hard, jostling them apart.  She pulls in front of the office and he throws on his t-shirt and doesn’t bother to lace his boots.

 

Kylo steps out and leans over to grab their bags.  “Park, and wait for me.” She nods, and he adjusts himself as he strides inside.  

 

Paying in cash tends to cut-off small talk.  He’s out in a couple of minutes, looking for the Jeep.

 

Rey spots him and steps out fast as he throws his head in the direction of their room.

 

She locks up the Jeep and it’s a race who will get there first.  By the time he’s unlocked the door and dropped the bags, she slips inside behind him, panting.  He locks the door then spins to find her.

 

They lock eyes for moment but before she can say a word he takes two steps and pulls her into his chest, a hand tangling in her hair and other on her low back, covering her mouth with his.

 

God, he’s starving for her.  She’s hot, salty and sweet, he could never get enough.  

 

Her hands clasp on his shoulders as he kisses her deep and thoroughly, a man making up for lost time with his mouth.  Days of pent-up desire pour out all at once, and he wants to devour her whole.

 

They take staggering steps backwards to the bed.  He releases her to strip off his shirt as she looks up at him with glassy eyes.  She pants, hair falling from her bun, and stares at his chest. He’s throbbing just from the way she looks at him.

 

Rey lifts her arms up to help him strip off her shirt.  They stand bare chested and panting as they take in the other.  Hands rise to touch and feel. She tracks the curve of his muscle with her thumbs, he circles her nipples in his palm.

 

“I’m, uh, I should shower, I’m gross--” she starts.

 

He’s already shaking his head.  “I don’t fucking care, you’re perfect.”

 

He dives down to kiss her again, leaving a hand on her tit as the other grabs a palmful of ass.    Kylo guides her to step back until her thighs hit the bed, then he eases her down an onto her back.

 

He makes eye contact as he says, “I want to taste you so bad, I can’t stand it.  I can’t.”

 

Rey exhales and leans back on her forearms to watch him open her fly.  She lifts her hips up to help him tug off her panties and shorts in one go.

 

He’s stunned at her sweet little pussy, finally open for him.  He peeks up at her as his hands wrap her waist. She sucks her lower lip as her cheeks pink.

 

He kisses her navel lovingly then looks up.  “You’re so goddamn beautiful, you know that?”

 

She smiles shyly and shakes her head.

 

“This hot little body, oh my God, Rey.  You’re hurting me if you don’t know it.”  He kisses her hip bones one at a time and squeezes her waist for emphasis.

 

He dips lower and feels her fingernails scratch at his scalp.  He pays them no mind because he’s too busy tracking wet kisses down her hot slit.  

 

She tastes amazing.  Her flavor goes right to his cock.  He licks a long stripe up to her clit and feels her tremble under his hands.

 

She’s so sweet and sensitive, like a racehorse all keyed up at the gate, muscles twitching and begging to be let out.  He slows down his tongue so she doesn’t set her off too quick, only light touches.

 

His cock starts to weep, he’s so goddamn hot for her.  

 

He sets out with a singular focus, licking around her clit to not pull her trigger too soon.  Rey starts to whine and rock her hips in time with his tongue and his hands reach to cup her ass, like drinking from a chalice.

 

The first time she comes, it’s all pants and whines as she bursts in his mouth.  He hums and lets her down easy by swirling his tongue. When her legs have stopped shaking and she sighs, he kisses his way back up past her flat stomach to her tender breasts.

 

He showers them with praise, kissing the undersides and licking a trail up her cleavage, working in concentric circles in to her nipples before kissing her hard tips.  He takes her peaks in his mouth, tongue flicking on her salty skin, hands roaming down her sides.

 

When she starts to rock her hips again, he knows she’s ready.  He settles in between her thighs and hooks her knees over his shoulders, cupping her ass.

 

This time when she starts to buck with his mouth, he inserts a single finger as he laps at her clit.  Rey moans, deep and throaty, as he eases it in slowly. She’s so fucking tight, he’s never felt anything this tight.  He dips in a little deeper to her sopping pussy and she hisses, so he keeps the thrusts shallow as he works her over with his mouth.

 

She’s gonna need some time.  That’s okay, Kylo’s patient. He’s got all the time in the world for her.

 

He watches her.  She’s arching her back, tanned thighs spread wide, eyelids closed and lips parted.  He’s never seen anything so beautiful, it hits him in the chest. He slides a hand up to pinch a nipple and she gasps.  When he gives it an experimental little twist, she clenches in on his finger and cries out. She comes again, louder this time as she finds her voice, pulsing tight and hot as he drinks her down.

 

When she’s done, he wipes his mouth and stands up.  She’s a soft, gorgeous mess, with hair tangling and eyes drowsy with pleasure.  He has to remind himself to breathe.

 

He slowly unbuckles his belt and hooks his thumbs under the waistband to drop his pants and briefs at the same time.  

 

Her eyes dart to his scar and the bruise on his ribs, then drop and grow wide as his cock pops free.  He smiles at her, pride going to both his heads. He crawls over her slowly and lowers his hips to cover hers.

 

“Don’t worry baby, I’ll go slow for you.”

 

He kisses her neck and she eases around him, looping small hands around his shoulders.  He kisses her cheeks on his way to her mouth, and she opens for him. He’s dripping for her and rocks slowly back and forth, rutting his cock against her slick center, feeling little tastes of wet heat as he slides back and forth.  

 

Her thighs part as he shifts lower on the bed.  His breath catches as the head of his cock hooks inside the edge of her opening.  He moves his hips side to side gently, rubbing into her wet heat, getting her used to the feel of his tip.

 

They both look down to where his cock is straining to reach inside.  His eyes rise to her rosy cheeks, freckles popping, as she stares down at where he’s prodding her.  Long lashes hide her eyes and baby hairs curl around her gorgeous face.

 

His lovely girl.  Leaning weight on a forearm, he traces her cheekbone with his thumb.  He wants those wide eyes to see him, really see him, with the same rawness as when she offered to drive him back in Moriarty.  He starts to slowly press inside another inch. She finally looks up at him.

 

He stops himself.  Her eyes are wide with something other than desire.  

 

Fear.   

 

His stomach drops out as the sudden realization hits him like a slap to the face.  

 

She’s only nineteen.

 

Fuck, oh fuck.

 

“Rey, baby, have you ever done this before?”

 

She grips his shoulders and flushes deeper, shaking her head side to side.

 

Fuck, fuck, FUCK!!!    

 

His blood runs cold.  Every single reason he stayed away from her comes roaring back at once in his mind, the sick guilt twisting in his gut like a knife.

 

He has no fucking right to touch her.  

 

She deserves so much more, better than some selfish asshole stealing her first time for himself and leaving her a few days later.  He’s a greedy bastard, but the last thing he wants is to spread his damage onto her.

 

He’s not going to ruin her, he’d never forgive himself if he did.

 

Kylo hangs his head down and exhales.  He plants a tender kiss on her breastbone and rolls off.

 

He sits on the edge of the bed with his head caught in his hands for a moment, then gets up and walks to the bathroom.  The wave of nausea builds.

 

“What?  What’s wrong?” she says, voice small, as he passes by the foot of the bed.

 

He only wants to protect her.  He can already hear the hurt in her voice, and it’s a kick in the gut.  

 

Kylo locks the door and turns on the shower as hot as it will go to burn himself clean.

 

Squeezing his lids shut, he lets the water pour over him.  He’ll get himself under control then apologize. He’ll find a way to make it up to her.  

 

Then he turns the water to ice cold, and slams his palm against the tile repeatedly until he thinks he’s broken it.


Chapter Text

Rey hugs her knees into her chest and bites her lower lip to stop the trembling.  

 

She’s not going to cry like a baby on this bed, she won’t.

 

The shower starts up behind the wall right as the first hot teardrop leaks down her cheek.  

 

Rey curls into a tight ball on the bed, like she used to in Goodnight when she wanted to disappear.  If only she could shrink down to nothing and slip away under the door, she wouldn’t have to see him feeling sorry for her.  She doesn’t want his pity.

 

Rey didn’t know for sure if Kylo liked her back until she pressed her lips to his cheek, and he blushed at the Grand Canyon.  He finally kissed her in the parking lot and her heart sang.

 

She’s kissed a boy before, but it was nothing like that.  That was kissing a man.  It sent electricity straight up her spine, a white hot energy that wiped her brain clean of anything but bliss.  

 

She wanted him to touch her more, hungered for it.  When his hands roamed over her in the car, her raw need left her dizzy as his fingers set a fire ablaze under her skin.  Rey never knew it could feel like that, so overwhelming, but she ached for it. She had to remind herself to breathe, wondering where he’d touch her next.

 

She wanted him to be her first.  She wanted him to show her everything.

 

Instead, he stopped.

 

He looked at her like she was pathetic, just a silly little girl who got her hopes up.

 

Not good enough for him.  

 

Rey’s breath hitches as she releases a single sob on the bed.

 

A loud slam from the bathroom interrupts her thought.

 

She sits up and wipes the tears away as she listens to him beat the wall.

 

He’s mad.

 

Well, fuck him then!  

 

If he doesn’t want her, she doesn’t have to stick around.

 

Rey springs up and throws on clean clothes in a fury and shoves things in her bag.  She picks up his cut-up t-shirt and crumples it, spiking it in the trash can.

 

She scowls.  California’s going to be better.  She’ll have a fresh start. No one is going to make her feel like shit ever again.

 

Rey steps into her cowboy boots and throws her bag over her shoulder, scooping up the Jeep keys.  The shower’s still running as she grabs the door handle and freezes.

 

She thinks for a moment, then turns back and retrieves his shirt from the trash, shoving it deep into her bag.  

 

Rey storms out into the night with her chin lifted high and nearly runs to the Woody, throwing her bag in the back and turning the key in the ignition.  His tape cassette in the player blasts a guitar solo, picking up where it left off.

 

Rey bursts into tears.  Leaning her forehead on the steering wheel, she let the sobs run away from her like wild horses, shaking her shoulders as they let loose.

 

She just can’t do it.  If she leaves now, she’ll never see him again.  The thought cuts her heart out.

 

Once Rey’s collected herself, she wipes at her face and looks in the mirror.  Red-rimmed eyes stare back, full of resolve.

 

She’ll show him that he’s wrong about her.  She’ll show him what he’s missing.

 

But first, let him simmer.

 

Rey grabs her final two hundred bucks from her can and sticks it in her back pocket.  She steps out of the Jeep and looks around.

 

Across the highway is a brightly-lit sign for Lulu Belle’s barbecue, what looks like a cross between a honky-tonk and a restaurant.

 

She could really use a beer.

 

---------------------------------

 

Rey walks straight up to the bar and takes a stool.  The place is mostly empty, a bit early for dinner. A big bartender with arms full of colorful tats and a red, bushy beard raises an eyebrow when she orders a beer, but doesn’t card her.

 

She chugs half her bottle on the first sip and listens to a sad country song on the radio, some old-timey tune about heartbreak.  Normally Rey hates that kind of thing, but tonight the warble in the woman’s voice hits her in a tender spot, and her eyes get misty.

 

A cheerful tenor voice calls out behind her.  

 

“Hey Frank!  Whiskey sour.”

 

“Aren’t you on the clock, Poe?”

 

“Does it look like I’m on the clock, man?”

 

The bartender chuckles as the guy sits down on the seat next to her.

 

She glances over and is met by friendly coal-dark eyes at roughly her level.  He’s got a short-cropped beard and wavy short hair barely peppered with grey, and is dressed casually in a loose denim shirt over a t-shirt and jeans.  He’s handsome and oozing confidence, with a warm smile that he aims directly at her.

 

“Good evening,” he says.

 

“Hello.”  Rey ducks her head and turns back to her beer.  She keeps her hands busy by picking at the edge of the label, separating it from the icy glass, as she drains it down.

 

“New in town?” he asks conversationally.

 

She shifts in her seat and starts shaking her foot.  It’s been days since she’s had a real conversation with anyone but Kylo.  The thought of him hurts and makes her mad at the same time, so she turns to answer the guy in a weird sense of spite.

 

“Yeah, just passing through.”  She meets his open eyes, and surprisingly feels no threat.  He seems kind.

 

“Well, welcome to Ash Fork.  We may be small, but we’re mighty.”

 

“Just like you, Poe!”  the bartender calls out with a smirk.

 

“Yeah, and don’t you forget it, Frank!”  Poe calls out as the bartender laughs.

 

Rey smiles at their easy humor, her mood lifting.  It’s nice to feel light, for a change. She waves to the bartender for another beer.

 

“I’m Poe, obviously.  What’s your name?”

 

“Rey.”  They shake hands politely.  His hand is rough, but warm.

 

“Nice to meet you, Rey.  You here alone?” he asks casually.

 

Rey takes her second beer, and starts fiddling with the label on the bottle.  She peels back the corner, trying to keep it in a single, solid piece.

 

“No, I’m travelling with someone.”

 

“Ahh, okay.”  Poe takes a sip of his drink and leans an elbow on the bar to angle in her direction.  He looks around the restaurant. “But he’s not here right now.”

 

“No.”  Rey answers quickly and looks down.  The song switches to something cheerier and Poe’s fingers begin to tap on the bar with the beat.

 

The bartender walks up to them.  “Any food, folks?”

 

“I’ll have the regular,” Poe says, then looks to her.  “How ‘bout you?”

 

She’s starving suddenly.  “I’ll just have a cheeseburger.”

 

Poe nods.  “They’re good here, they even brand them.”

 

Rey scrunches her nose, “What?”

 

“Yeah, they’re so fresh, they brand them like cattle.”  Poe extends an arm like he’s prodding a cow and hisses dramatically.

 

She giggles.  “Okay, then definitely the cheeseburger.”

 

Poe smiles and looks at the bartender.  “Put it on my tab.”

 

She tries to stop him, “Oh, no, I can pay--”

 

He waves her off.  “My treat. To welcome you to our humble town.”

 

Rey crosses her legs on the stool and smiles back.

 

They sip their drinks.  A few more people trickle in as the sun starts to set.  She’s probably dehydrated, the beers are going straight to her head, loosening the tension in her shoulders.  She’s feeling better and a little buzzy.

 

“Where you going to?”  Poe asks, leaning his head into his palm so he can watch her answer.

 

Rey takes another sip.  It feels good to talk. “California,” she says, then adds boldly with a grin, “I’m starting a new life.”

 

Poe’s eyebrows rise, the only change to his expression as he smiles back at her.  “Really.”

 

Rey nods and takes another sip.

 

“Aren’t you a little young for that?  Usually people who want a fresh start are running away from something.”  His voice is neutral.

 

“Not all the time.  Sometimes they’re running to something new, making their own life, finally.”  

 

“Is that you?”

 

She shrugs.

 

“Why California and not say, Ash Fork, Arizona?”  He smirks.

 

Rey laughs.  “My best friend lives there.  He says it’s beautiful, and you don’t even need a winter coat.”

 

Poe nods in agreement.

 

She looks away from his curious dark eyes, adding softly, “I’ve never seen the ocean, but I always wanted to.”

 

“Well, at least you have another friend to keep you company on the ride.”

 

The thought of Kylo makes her smile waver.  Their food arrives, a welcome distraction. Poe was right, her burger is branded with “LB” right on the bun.  She grabs a huge bite and chews quickly.

 

“He’s not my good friend, the guy I’m driving with.  We just met.”

 

Poe is quiet, and she looks over to see him raising an eyebrow.

 

“It’s not like that,” she rushes out, “His car broke down.  He’s paying me to give him a lift to Vegas.”

 

“All right, Rey.”  Poe takes a bite of burger and wipes his mouth as he turns to her kindly.  “You seem upset. Do you need help? He’s not hurting you, or . . . “

 

“Oh, no, nothing like that.”  Rey gets a prickly feeling at the way Poe is studying her, an alarm bell starting to ring the back of her mind.  “He’s fine, really, I’m just doing him a favor. He’s helping by paying for gas and stuff.”

 

Poe sits up straight and puts his hand on her forearm lightly as he leans in, voice lowering.  

 

“We just met, but I’m a good judge of people.  You seem like a sweet girl, so just say the word if you need any help, okay?”

 

Rey nods and starts to speak again, but a shadow approaches and she turns to see Kylo staring down at her, face drawn into a sullen mask, but dark eyes sparking and alive.

 

She has no idea how long he’s been standing there, but she’s afraid it was long enough.

 

--------------------------------------

 

The water pouring over his face calms him down, the sting hot enough to hurt.  Kylo loses track of time as he plants his palms on either side of the showerhead and closes his eyes.  His right hand throbs from losing the fight with the shower tile.

 

Fucking idiot, you probably broke your own damn hand.

 

His dad would have ripped him a new one for using his dominant side to pitch a temper tantrum, an unforced error.

 

Don’t you listen to a goddamn thing I say?  

 

A gravelly voice echoes in his ears.  Kylo’s heard the adage that your parent’s voice becomes the voice in your head.  He always knew he was his father’s son, so it doesn’t surprise him.

 

There’s no denying the truth that is your family.

 

I listened.  Always, Dad. I remember everything.  

 

He never got the chance to tell him that, though.

 

Kylo turns off the water and dries off, wrapping a towel around his waist as he practices an apology in his head.  He’s going to make it up to her. Still hunting for the right words, he steps out of the bathroom to face Rey.

 

The room is empty.  

 

Her bag is gone.

 

Fuck, fuck!

 

He races to the front door and yanks it open, stepping out onto the sidewalk in a panic, scanning the empty parking lot as he grips the towel at his waist.

 

She’s gone.

 

When he spots the Jeep still parked in the lot, he exhales and the wave of nausea subsides.  

 

She’s still around somewhere.  He’ll get dressed and go find her.  

 

He’s not gonna fuck this up again.

 

--------------------------------------

 

Kylo searched all around the Motel grounds, walking past the picnic tables and playground in the back, expecting to see her curled up and crying at the base of every tree.

 

Stomach sinking, he imagines her upset and wandering out there, all alone.  His fault, once again.

 

Once he’s sure she not at the motel, he asks the front desk clerk if he saw her.  Then he’s back to walking down the road.

 

He spots the sign for Lulu Belle’s.  Certainly she was too upset to go eat dinner alone?  It’s worth checking anyway. He crosses the road and walks into the bar.

 

Kylo’s shoulders relax and he exhales in relief as he sees her sitting on the stool, safe.  Then a dark pit forms in his stomach as he sees the guy next to her chatting her up.

 

She’s laughing, fucking laughing.  Some smooth-talking local asshole is making her laugh.

 

Kylo glowers and walks up, overhearing her words.  

 

“He’s fine, really, I’m just doing him a favor.  He’s helping by paying for gas and stuff.”

 

A dark fire kindles in his gut.

 

“We just met, but I’m a good judge of people.  You seem like a sweet girl, so just say the word if you need any help, okay?”

 

Kylo fists his hands to keep them from wrapping around the guy’s puny neck as he sees him touch her.

 

He steps forward, and Rey spots him, eyes growing wide in surprise.  Her look fades back to hurt, and she turns away, back tensing. It hurts like a kick to the gut.

 

Kylo ignores the guy entirely.  “Rey, can I talk to you?” He pauses.  “Alone.”

 

She takes a sip of her beer, refusing to face him.  He can tell she’s hurt and mad, but if she just gave him a minute to explain, he’ll make it up to her.

 

“I’m eating right now.”  She’s pouting. He wishes that asshole wasn’t sitting so close, but he’ll say whatever it takes for her to forgive him, no matter who listens in.

 

Kylo clears his throat.  “Rey, I’m sorry about earlier.  I feel terrible, I just want to talk to you.”

 

He sees her stiffen.  The guy next to her speaks up, unwelcome and uninvited.  

 

“Hey, buddy, Rey’s busy eating right now and she gave you an answer.  Why don’t you go cool down and she’ll find you when she’s ready?”

 

Rey takes another bite of food, ignoring him.  Kylo feels the bile rise in his throat and turns to the guy, his voice laced in acid.  “I’m not talking to you, buddy, so why don’t you mind your own business.”

 

She looks over at the guy.  “It’s okay, really Poe. I’m fine.  We just had a misunderstanding.”

 

She’ll look at this asshole, but not at him?   

 

Kylo starts to boil, her rejection and the jealousy igniting his temper, burning through his control like kindling.  “ Poe?   Really, Rey?  I’ve been walking all over this goddamn town looking for you, worried you’re crying in a corner alone some place, and you’re here making new friends?”

 

A stool scrapes and Poe stands up.  He barely reaches Kylo’s shoulder, but he’s not intimidated as he stares up at him.

 

He’s known little men like him before, pitbulls with something to prove.  Kylo turns and sets his jaw, not backing down.

 

“I think you better listen to what the lady told you, and go cool down before you do something you regret.”

 

They lock eyes.  Rey’s voice rises, tight and nervous.  “Kylo, just go back to the room, okay?”

 

Kylo takes a step forward, but then turns his back to Poe and leans into the bar to face Rey, cutting the guy out.  Rey won’t look at him, looking down at her hands. He studies her profile as he softens his tone. “I just want to talk to you, Rey, please just give me a minute.”

 

She opens her mouth to speak, but Poe cuts her off.  “I said, take a walk, buddy. Now.”

 

Kylo works his jaw and refuses to look back at Poe, keeping his gaze trained on Rey.  He spits out through clenched teeth, “I don’t need you to speak for my girlfriend, asshole.”

 

Rey turns her head sharply and finally looks at him.  Her eyes are glassy with tears, lower lip quivering. He holds her gaze, telling her through his look how sorry he is, as he watches her process his words.  

 

The moment snaps when Poe grabs Kylo’s bicep and squeezes, pulling him back from the bar with a shit-eating grin.

 

“No way she’s your girlfriend, buddy, take a walk.”

 

His arrogance and the hand on his body lights his fuse and Kylo explodes.  He pulls back and punches the grin right off of Poe’s face as Rey cries out behind him and stands up.

 

Poe falls back and knocks over his stool as he lands flat on his ass, rubbing his jaw with a look of shock.

 

“Back the fuck off, man, before I call the cops!”  Kylo spits out. An empty threat, sure, but this asshole doesn’t know that.

 

Poe looks down for a minute and chuckles darkly, still rubbing his jaw as he shakes his head.  Kylo huffs where he stands and prepares to fight. Poe slowly stands up and then flips back the hem of his loose denim shirt.

 

Hooked onto his belt is a gun holster and star badge.

 

“You already called the Sheriff, buddy.  An asshole, to be precise. Hands on the bar and turn around.”

 

Stunned, Kylo blinks and then complies, slowly turning to place palms on the bar.  Poe shoves him forward and kicks his feet apart to frisk him. Rey starts babbling.  

 

“Wait, Poe, wait, no, no, Kylo was just trying to talk to me, please don’t do this.”

 

“Sorry, Rey, he punched a cop.  That’s assault. He’s going in.”

 

Kylo says, “I didn’t know you were a fucking cop.”

 

“Yeah, well, you’re still a sonofabitch anyway, aren’t you?  Should’ve just cooled down like the lady said.”

 

Kylo hangs his head down as Poe handcuffs his hands behind his back and drags him to standing.  

 

He bites his lower lip and looks up at the ceiling to avoid Rey’s eyes as Poe talks to him. “Gonna hold you overnight in the town jail, then process you in county in the morning.  You’ll get a hearing and bail set in Flagstaff.”

 

“What?  Poe, please, no, please don’t. ”  Rey’s voice wavers, and Kylo closes his eyes.

 

“Sorry, Rey, the law is the law.”

 

Kylo dares a final look at her, not sure if it’s his last, and the tears streaming down her face cut him to the bone.  “It’s okay, Rey, it’s gonna be okay.” He doesn’t even believe it himself.

 

Poe jerks him out the door and into the cool Arizona night.



Chapter Text

Rey begs the Copperstate Motel front desk attendant to give her a key to the room.  His bored eyes barely leave the small t.v. on the desk as he smacks his gum and slides it over with a nod.  

 

Rey walks quickly to the room and locks the door behind her. She sits on the bed and stares at the the blank wall as she wraps her arms around her waist.

 

She finally rises and showers.  The water carries away the last traces of Kylo off her skin as it swirls and circles the drain.  Her fingers tangle in her long hair, catching knots and tugging. No matter how hot she turns the water, she can’t get her hands to stop shaking.

 

Dressed again, she paces back and forth at the foot of the bed, hands twisting at her waist.

 

His words in the Petrified Forest haunt her.

 

If the cops bring me in, they’ll have me killed.  

There’s no jail or prison they can’t get to.

If I’m arrested, I’m dead.

 

Rey’s mind races with her pulse.  

 

Tomorrow morning, they’ll process and put him in county jail.  The guys chasing him will find out where he is, and then he’s dead.  Dead.

 

Her mind struggles to accept that this is really happening, that it is real.  It was too fast. She never should have spoken to Poe, she never should have left the room.  It’s her fault.

 

Her stomach bottoms out at the certainty that she can’t fix this.  Rey starts to breathe shallow and fast.  She pivots and her eyes land on Kylo’s bag in the corner.  She halts mid-stride.

 

It would be easy to take it and just go.  He won’t need it now and he’d want her to have it.  He promised her.  If she drove all night long, she might hit the California state line by sunrise.

 

She shakes away the thought as fast as it comes, but an idea sticks.  The money.

 

She can make bail and they can skip town.  Or, even better, maybe Poe can be convinced to let Kylo go tonight, before he’s even been processed.  They could keep him out of the system and just drive on. The money would go really far in a small town like Ash Fork.  No one would ever have to know.

 

She’ll talk to Poe.  He liked her.  He’ll listen to her, she’s sure of it.  This is all a huge mistake.

 

Rey bites a nail as she considers what she needs to do.  Kylo’s dead if she doesn’t do this, she feels it in her bones.  Poe will listen, she’ll make sure of it.

 

She walks over to his bag and gets what she needs.  She shoves a huge wad of cash in the back of her shorts, then packs up and puts his stuff in the Jeep.  

 

The sun is long gone, the early bite of Fall sharp in the air.  She’s shivering, so Rey slips on her old flannel shirt like a jacket.  It hides the bulge in her back pocket.  Rey walks back to the front office to ask for directions to the town jail and to return the key.

 

They won’t be staying in Ash Fork tonight.

 

-----------------

 

It’s past ten when she pulls into the parking lot in front of the Jail.  She parks in a dark corner.  The only other car around is Poe’s police cruiser, marked Sheriff Dameron in bold letters on the driver’s side door.

 

Rey shoves her hands in her pockets as she takes a deep breath and walks up to the front door.

 

It’s locked.  She looks through the glass window into the one-room space.  It’s got two cells with bars and cots in the back.  She feels a pang of guilt when she sees Kylo’s wide back as he lies facing the wall.

 

Poe sits at a large wooden desk in the center of the room facing the door.  His legs are propped on the desk as he flips through a magazine.  Rey notes a large radio set-up on the wall nearby.

 

She takes a deep breath and raps on the glass.  Poe looks over the top of the magazine at her and she waves.  A momentary flash of surprise darts on across his face then is replaced by cool professionalism.  He puts down his magazine and slowly walks to the front for as he hitches up the back of his belt.

 

Poe doesn’t open the door, talking to her through the glass.  “Rey, there’s no visitors allowed.”

 

“Please, Poe.  I’m not here to talk to him, I need to talk to you.”

 

“Can’t this wait until the morning?”  He eyes her suspiciously.

 

“No, it can’t.  I--” her brain scrambles for a compelling reason.  “I want to confess.”

 

He squints at her.  “To what?”

 

“Let me in, and I’ll tell you.”  Rey holds up both her hands so he can see they're empty.  

 

He sighs and unlatches the door, stepping aside and motioning her over to the chair in front of his desk. 

 

Poe sits down and studies her with skeptical eyes, tenting his fingers as he leans back.  “Okay, then, shoot.”

 

“Um.  I wasn’t entirely honest before.”

 

She sees Kylo’s head jerk up and he rises to sitting to look at her.  His dark eyes betray nothing.  She glances over, but there’s no way to give him a hint without alerting Poe.

 

“I said that Kylo was just a guy I met, but that isn’t true.”

 

Poe cocks his head to the side.

 

“He’s my boyfriend.  I was just mad at him.  We got in a fight, and I wanted to make him jealous.”

 

Rey’s eyes dart to Kylo and he frowns.

 

“It was just a misunderstanding, Poe.  It’s my fault.  I shouldn’t have been flirting with you like that, he only hit you because of me.”

 

Poe raises a single hand to stop her.

 

“Rey, everyone’s responsible for their own actions.  Unfortunately, he made a bad choice, now he’s gonna pay for it.  You can’t blame yourself.  That’s an abuse victim mentality.”

 

Rey looks down at her hands, ignoring the confused look on Kylo’s face, and tries another tact.

 

“Poe, we were arguing because– Um, this is embarrassing to tell you, but I’m pregnant.”

 

Poe sits up straighter.  Kylo shakes his head slowly side to side in warning, but Rey keeps her gaze solidly on Poe.

 

“How old are you, Rey?”

 

“I’m nineteen.”

 

Poe lifts an eyebrow.  “And when did this relationship start exactly?”

 

“A couple of months ago.”

 

“Cause Kylo Ren over here has a New Jersey driver’s license and just told me he drove down from Chicago a week ago.”

 

Shit, shit.

 

“Uhh . . .”  Rey starts to think of another lie, but Poe smiles sadly and shakes his head.

 

“Just stop right there.”

 

She bites her lip.

 

“He told me everything already, and I’m inclined to believe it.  He insisted you had nothing to do with him.  He met you in Moriarity, offered to pay to fix up your Jeep if you drove him to California.  That lines up pretty well with what you told me at Lulu Belles, so I’m gonna go with that version.”

 

He leans his elbows on his desk and smiles at her like she’s a naughty child who got caught with her hand in the cookie jar.  Rey’s blood starts to heat.

 

“You know what I think?  I think you’re a good girl and are trying to help him out.”  He ducks his head down to try to catch her eyes, a warm smile on his face.  

 

Rey looks over at Kylo and he hangs his head down, shoulders bowed.

 

“I think you're sweet and felt sorry for him, but Rey, he doesn’t deserve it.”

 

He eyes snap back to Poe.  

 

“He’s lied to you from the start, I guarantee.  He’s probably lying right now.  That’s just the kind of guy he is.  He doesn’t deserve your sympathy.”

 

Her cheeks start to flush as anger vibrates to life.  “You don’t know him.”

 

“I know enough.  I have a hold order on him from the FBI.  He’s not going to county jail tomorrow, he’s going to the field offices in Lake Havasu.  That means he's wrapped up in some very bad shit.”

 

They found him, they found him already.   The panic squeezes the breath out of her chest.  Rey blinks fast, and then blurts out, “I’ll pay you.  We have money, I can pay you, Poe . . .”

 

“Don’t.”

 

She turns sharply as Kylo’s deep voice barks out from the cell.  His dark eyes burn into her.

 

“Don’t, Rey.”

 

She looks back to Poe and sees it written on his face.  He’s not gonna let Kylo go, no matter what.

 

Poe’s voice and eyes are gentle.  “Rey, you’re young and have a good heart.  So, I’m going to pretend I didn’t hear you attempt to bribe a law enforcement official, which is a class-4 felony in the state of Arizona.”

 

She drops her head and blinks back tears.  She can’t meet Kylo’s gaze, but feels it prickle on her skin.

 

“He’s got to face this, and you have to let him go.  Move on, don’t get dragged down with him.”

 

Rey takes a deep, stuttered breath and stands.  She looks sadly at Kylo as he stares back at her from the cell.  He gives her a nod as if he accepts his fate. 

 

His beautiful dark eyes, the deep pools of mystery, hold her for a moment.  Eyes she could drown in.  Eyes she could never forget, even if she wanted to.

 

Rey turns back to Poe and reaches back for the bulge pressing into her low back, past the lump of bills, and pulls out Kylo’s gun with a trembling hand.  She aims it at his chest.

 

“Put your hands up, Poe.”

 

He holds stock still, eyes wide and smile frozen in place, as if posing for a picture.  Then he starts speaking slow as molasses.  “Rey, now hang on a minute–”

 

“I said put your hands up, now.”   She aims the pistol straight at his heart.

 

“Do you even know how to use that thing, sweetie?” he asks with a smirk.

 

“I’m from Texas, of course I do.”  Rey clicks off the safety and cocks it.  Poe's smile drops as his palms float up to his shoulders.

 

“Rey.”

 

Her eyes dart over to Kylo, now standing with fists looped around the bars.  His imploring eyes were filled with worry.  “Don’t do this, you can’t do this.”

 

“I am,” she says definitively.  Poe's still sitting and watching her with his lips pressed tight.

 

“Get out his wallet and paperwork, anything you put his name on,” she says in a firm voice with only a hint of waver.

 

“That’s not going to make any difference, I already called it in–”

 

“Please just do it, Poe!”  The gun starts to tremble slightly in her hands as her voice lilts higher.  She walks around the corner of the desk to keep her eyes on his hands.  “Please don’t make me shoot you.”

 

Her tone makes him move.  Poe slowly pulls out Kylo’s wallet and a file folder and puts them in the center of the desk.

 

“Now throw him the keys,”  Rey says.

 

“They’re on the wall, I have to walk over.”

 

Rey nods and bites her lip.  She reaches up her other hand to wipe a trail of sweat from her forehead.

 

Poe moves slowly to the keys on the wall.  “I’m throwing them now.”

 

Rey nods.  He tosses and they land with a clink near Kylo's feet. 

 

Kylo doesn’t move.   

 

“Open the door,” Rey says to him.

 

“No.”

 

She jerks her head to him, mouth open and eyebrows peaked in confusion, then back to Poe, as she nervously shifts from foot to foot.

 

"I’m not gonna let you do this.”

 

“Kylo, you said they’re going to kill you if you got arrested!”

 

Kylo is silent.

 

Poe’s eyes track back and forth between them as she keeps her eyes glued on him.  Her pulse thunders as she yells at Kylo.

 

“Just do it, okay!”

 

“I’m not going to let you ruin your life for me, Rey.  Just go, leave.”

 

“No, I won’t!”

 

“He was right, I made my choices.  I deserve this.”

 

Poe chimes in, “Listen to him.”

 

Rey squeezes her eyes shut for a moment and screams in frustration, then stares at Poe as she gestures with the gun.

 

“Shut up!  Both of you, shut up!”

 

They do.

 

Rey frowns at Poe.  “You said before that people are responsible for their own choices.  I’m saving him.  That’s my decision.”

 

She glances at Kylo.  “So you can unlock that cell door, or I can shoot you in the leg and drag you out of there myself, but you’re coming with me!”

 

The handle of the gun is getting slick in her hands.  Her breath comes out in short, shallow bursts.

 

Poe’s palms are still raised, but he takes a step forward.

 

“You’re trying to help him, but you don’t want to hurt anyone, Rey.  I know that.”

 

She takes a step back.  “I will if I have to, stay back.”

 

“It takes a certain kind of person to hurt somebody.  I don’t think you have it in you.”

 

He takes another step forward.  He’s only about ten feet away, if he sprinted he could get to her fast.

 

She clenches her jaw and without warning squints and aims for the middle of his desk.  She fires a round that cuts through the wood, missing Kylo’s wallet by inches.  The loud bang reverberates off the concrete walls.  Poe flinches back a step.

 

She cocks the hammer again.  “Don’t test me.  Come on, Kylo, right now,” Rey’s voice is stronger.  She sees him move from the corner of her eye to reach for the keys as Poe holds his hands up.  

 

He opens the cell door and moves to stand beside her.  

 

“I can take the gun now, Rey,” Kylo says in a soft voice, reaching out a hand.

 

She shakes her head, not trusting that he won’t just turn it over to Poe.  Rey stands firm.  “Handcuff Poe to the toilet.”

 

Poe slides down to the ground of the cell, one leg kicked out, as Kylo cuffs his right wrist to the pipe of the john.  He drapes his other arm loose over his knee.  They lock him in and Rey takes the key.

 

Kylo picks up the file and his wallet as Rey unlocks the hammer and pockets the gun.  She pulls out a few cords from the radio and phone, rendering them useless, just in case.

 

Kylo walks ahead of her and holds the door open as she turns her back on Poe.  His voice chases her.  

 

“You know, once you leave here you become an accomplice.  You take on every bad thing he ever did, every crime, it’s yours now too, Rey.  You don’t even know him, is he worth it?”

 

She doesn’t turn back, and Poe’s voice rises.

 

“Did he even tell you his real name?”

 

Rey freezes.  She gulps, her chest expanding with the breath fast and hot in her lungs.   

 

She turns back to face him, lower lip quivering.  “I’m sorry for this.  I just couldn’t let him die.”

 

He shakes his head and his eyes grow cold.  She locks the front door behind her.

 

-----------------

 

They walk in silence to the Jeep in the dark corner of the parking lot.

 

Rey’s fingers shake so badly she drops the keys in the gravel.  He stoops to pick them up and then holds her hands in his to still them.  

 

She’s so cold.  “Jesus, you’re freezing!  Look at me.”

 

Her breath is shallow and quick, she's shivering.

 

“Rey, baby,” he cups her jaw.  Her eyes lift to his, wide and open, the pupils dilated.  She looks so young and terrified, a rabbit snared in a trap.  His heart squeezes so tight in his chest he could die.  “I think you’re going into shock.  You have to calm down.  Look at me, Rey, it’s over now.”

 

He rubs her jaw with his thumb and presses a kiss to her forehead.  She exhales in a gust as the tremors start.  He leads her around to the passenger side and helps her buckle in.  She curls her knees up into her chest on the seat.  He drapes his jacket over her knees to keep her warm.

 

They head west out of Arizona in a dark and starless night, windows cracked for air since the A.C. is busted.  Rey falls into a fitful sleep against the window.  Kylo keeps checking on her, worried.

 

A few hours later, they’ve crossed the state line into Nevada.  He drives them northwest, running to the bright seam on the horizon where the Vegas strip pollutes the desert sky in a stain of neon, to a place where they can disappear for awhile.  


Chapter Text

 

The Mojave desert is vast and empty.  

 

It’s late, but Kylo’s wired with adrenaline.  His knuckles crease the leather of the steering wheel.  He drives to Vegas through the starless night as his eyes adjust to the dark road ahead.

 

A set of bright headlights close in on them from behind.  He blinks up at the rearview mirror as muscles tense.  He waits for a siren.  An old pickup truck passes on the left, a false alarm.  His shoulders slowly ease as the road empties again.  

 

The clouds part like a curtain to reveal the full moon.  Moonlight reflects off the dunes as if they’re made of water, frozen whitecaps caught in the silver light.  Then the clouds swallow up the moon again and the only light is the greenish glow from the dashboard and the Jeep’s twin beams slicing through the black.

 

Kylo won’t risk waking her with music, so his drive is accompanied by the whisper of the wind from the crack in the window, the dull drumbeat of the tires on asphalt, and her deep, slow breaths.  He glances over at her curled like a kitten under his jacket.  She looks so small he feels it in his chest.

 

The blackness gives way to grey and then a scream of neon as they enter the city limits of Las Vegas.

 

It’s after 2 am and the streets are crawling with life.  Roads are clogged with cars and tourists heading to bars and casinos, a riot of color and sound.  The deep bass of other people’s music thumps in his chest.

 

A convertible stops and guys with drinks hang out the side to yell at girls on the sidewalk.  He swerves around to pass.  Vegas teems with artificial noise and technicolor energy, a bright gash cut into the quiet, desert night.

 

Kylo retreats from the strip to find a quiet motel.  Not too quiet, so they’ll be noticed, but far enough to avoid the crowds.  

 

The bright red vacancy sign at the Howard Johnson blinks and he pulls into the lot.

 

He doesn’t want to leave Rey alone, but hates to wake her.  Weighing it out, it’s better if she stays hidden.  The less people who can link her with him the better.

 

The light in the office is a sickly yellow.  The overnight clerk with tattoos swirling up the sides of his neck won’t make eye contact, too focused on a wrestling match on the small t.v. in the corner.  When Kylo offers to pre-pay for three nights, the guy doesn’t ask for a driver’s license. 

 

Their room is across from the swimming pool and hidden from the road.  The aqua water shimmers and glows from the underwater pool lights and it casts moving shadows on their door.  Kylo cuts the engine and sits for a few minutes to watch the lot.  It's quiet.  He carries in their bags to the room and returns for her.

 

He opens the passenger side door and crouches down.  Cupping her knee, he says softly, “Rey, wake up.  We’re here.”

 

She makes a little noise but doesn’t move.  He uses his index finger to trace a strand of hair back from her brow, studying her face.  Her fierceness is gone in dreams.  She so beautiful he tries to soak it in to save it. 

 

He exhales and reaches around to unbuckle her seatbelt.  “C’mere,” he says, scooping her up.  

 

Rey stirs and he hushes her.  He carries her inside cradled to his chest and she nuzzles into his shoulder.  She’s light, a ball of muscle and tight energy.  He could carry her for miles.  Rey shivers under his jacket against the cool air and he grips her tighter.

 

Kylo places her gently on the bed and she immediately rolls over onto her side.  Just one bed, a king.  He didn’t think to ask.

 

He leaves to lock the Jeep and have a smoke.  A few people come and go, tourists, but no one pays him any mind.  He exhales and stares up at the sky, the nicotine soothing his nerves.  

 

When he returns, Rey's asleep tucked under the covers.  Her jean shorts and bra are crumpled on top of her boots next to the bed.

 

Kylo washes up and strips down to his boxers.  He settles in next to her and folds an arm behind his head to stare at the ceiling as his mind churns.

 

Rey’s in it with him now.  All of it.  Selfish bastard that he is, he sucked her right down with him.  He’s got to figure out what to do next.

 

Poe said the FBI was involved.  That was a surprise.  So now he has both the Feds and Snoke looking for him.  Of course Snoke already knew something was wrong, since he hadn’t heard from the team tracking him– the guys at the bottom of the ravine in New Mexico– for a week.  But now he knows Kylo’s still in the country and where to look for him.  

 

Hopefully he doesn’t know about Rey yet.  

 

Kylo works his jaw.  He should've made a fast break for California.  Now he’s dragged Rey into this hell with him, and it’s the last place in the world he wants her to be.

 

The dark guilt sits sour in his stomach.  He watches her shoulder rise and fall rhythmically as she sleeps facing the wall.  His knuckles lift to brush along her back, sketching the curve of her shoulder blade.

 

He’s the one to put her at risk.  Rey, who deserves so much more, who threw away everything to save him.  

 

Kylo won't let anything happen to her. 

 

He falls asleep watching her.

 

-----------

 

He wakes to long, brown hair tickling his bare chest.  Her forehead presses into the outside of his arm in the chill of the very early morning.  

 

The red numbers on the alarm clock say it’s an hour before dawn.  Sometime in the night, she had turned to him seeking heat or some other comfort.  Her shins press against the outside of his leg as she balls up on his side.

 

Kylo lifts an arm to drape behind her back.  Rey shifts closer into the warm space he’s made for her.  He pulls the covers around them and rests his lips on the top of her head to breathe her in.  His eyes drift closed.

 

He knows he’s a terrible man.  He’s done shitty things, unforgivable things, and he’s fucked up the one good deed he wanted to do for this girl.  Kylo’s earned whatever happens to him, of that he’s sure, and he doesn’t come close to deserving her.  

 

But he’s also just a man, and Rey’s so warm, so tender, and so damn close.

 

He rolls over on his side and slides his other arm around her waist under the covers.  Tugging her closer, she unfurls and he slots a thigh between her legs.  Rey sighs in her sleep and turns her cheek to rest on his chest with a little hot puff of air.  Her hand wraps around his ribs as they adjust around each other, skin pressing into warm skin.

 

His fingers squeeze her bare waist just below the hem of her shirt.  Her smooth legs slide against his.  He rocks his hips once, feeling her press up against him in response.  He swallows heavy as his cock stiffens.

 

It feels so good.  Maybe just holding her could be enough.  

 

His fingers lightly trace the curve of her spine.  Warm heat to warm heat, her softness melts around him as he grows hard.  Her head rests over his heart.  

 

He almost believes this could be enough.

 

Rey squirms and her hips brush against his cock.  Kylo bites his lip.  She’s not fully awake yet, but he is.  His heartbeat pounds in his chest so loud he’s sure it will wake her.  The places where she touches him become unbearably hot.

 

The list of reasons why he shouldn’t fades away.  It’s just her and him, this room and this bed.  He wants her, more than he knew he could.

 

Rey moves again and instinct takes over.  He holds her ass as he grinds his hips forward into hers.  The feel of her against his cock is delicious, only the thinnest layers of cotton separating them.  Rey’s lips unseal with a little breath and her fingers press into his chest.  

 

His body moves against hers as if asking a question.  Her body answers.

 

Rey starts rocking into him in a slow dance, and Kylo lets her take the lead.  Her hands move to grip his hips and he knows she's awake now.  He holds her tight as they move together, the friction heating them under the covers.

 

Her moan breaks free and it’s like lighting a fuse.  He curls an index finger under her chin to look at her.  In the hazy light, her drowsy eyes sparkle green.  When she parts her mouth, he covers it with his.   

 

The spark is instantaneous.  He sweeps his tongue on her lips, little bites moving deeper as she opens to him.  His arms cinch around her like ropes.  Their hips meet and a hand nestles in to tug his hair.   

 

All his pent up energy flows free.  It almost hurts if he's not touching her, if he can’t feel every inch of her at the same moment.

 

He rolls onto his back and pulls her with him.  He tastes her without stop, holding her jaw at the right angle so he can kiss her properly.  Her long legs slide against his calves, and the brush of her hip on his cock is driving him quickly mad.  

 

Rey pulls up with a gasp for air.  He trails kisses down under her jaw, never wanting to stop kissing her.  Her thighs split around his waist and she straddles him and sits up.  He grips her hips and stops kissing her long enough to meet her eyes.

 

Her long hair drapes down around them.  Rey's lips are pink and bee-stung, and her wide hazel eyes burn.  The inches between them are too far.  He stretches up to kiss her, but she pulls back just out of reach.

 

“What’s your name?  Your real name?” Rey asks as she catches her breath.   

 

Kylo drops his head heavy on the pillow and sighs.  His thumbs draw soft circles around her hip bones.  The thought strikes him clear as a bell that he wants her to know.  He wants to tell her everything.

 

“Ben.”  He swallows.  “Ben Solo.”

 

“Ben,” she says, testing it out on her tongue.  He squeezes her hips again.

 

Her gaze washes over him in the quiet darkness.  He waits.  She finally lifts fingertips to sweep the hair off his forehead.  Their eyes lock and it feels like a crushing weight was lifted.  He can breathe again. 

 

The room grows lighter at the first hint of dawn.  They can see each other clearly.  He lifts his head off the pillow to tentatively reach for her.  She bends down and cups his jaw and their lips touch.

 

It’s slower now, softer now, as the heat settles in under his skin.

 

He kisses her dizzy, tender but constant, hands rubbing down her back and thighs, rocking her in his lap.  His cock is wedged between them, bulging at the fly of his boxers and impossibly hard for her.  He guides her hips as she brushes along his shaft, following her lead.

 

His palms slide under the hem of her shirt and crawl up to her ribs as he whispers, “Is this okay?”

 

Rey nods and bites her lip.  He cups the undersides of her breasts under her shirt.  His thumbs lightly circle her nipples and Rey moans and arches her back to fill his hands.  His eyes drift down to her little white panties, crotch tantalizingly close, nestled between tan skin spread wide for him.

 

He helps her out of her shirt and drops it off the bed.  She flips her hair over a shoulder and smiles at him, shy.  Freckles pop under the blush of her cheeks. 

 

Her beauty steals his breath away.  “You’re fucking gorgeous,” he says, voice hoarse.

 

Rey looks down as a smile blooms.  He circles her creamy breasts until her nipples spike into his palms.  She’s the perfect balance of fierce and innocent, sweet and stunning, in a near lethal combination.  He flexes his hips and lifts her up off the bed a few inches.  She hangs onto his wrists for balance.

 

Rey drags her hips back and forth in his lap, then leans forward to kiss him.  He combs fingers through her hair and holds her mouth steady as she starts to pant against his lips.  He wants her to come for him, just like this, where he can see her.  His forehead presses to hers as he watches her hungrily, catching each small whimper and moan to steal them away for himself.  

 

No other thoughts, only Rey.  “Come on, baby, come for me,” he whispers to her lips. 

 

She whines and he kisses her as two fingers find the seam of her panties.  She moans and moves faster.  His fingers dip over the edge of her panties to find her clit.

 

Rey's hands fumble to release his cock.  He inhales sharply as her fingers wrap around and start to pull.  He kisses her harder.  “Damn, baby,” he says and she smiles against his mouth.

 

Their hands work, needy and hungry for each other, until he feels her thighs clench around his hips.  She gasps and closes her eyes as bends over him and tips over the edge.  She comes as he kisses her neck, drinking up her whimpers.  Her rocking slows until she melts down and his arms wrap around her back.  

 

Rey sits up with a smirk, a pink flush still on her cheeks, and wraps both hands around him.  It doesn't take long.  He helps her pump him fast, his big hand covering her small ones, until he comes into his palm with a grunt.

 

Ben drops his head back on the pillow and Rey curls up next to him, kissing his shoulder.  His hand lands on her thigh.  He goes to the bathroom to clean up and brings her a towel before returning to bed.  

 

The darkness recedes to the corners of the room as they curl together and fall asleep with the rising sun.  

 

-----------

 

Rey wakes up hours later, rubbing her eyes.

 

“Kylo?”  she calls out.  Then a moment later, “Ben?”

 

The air is still enough to tell her she’s alone.  She sits up in bed and sees the small note on the bed in a clean and controlled black cursive.

 

I went to get food.

Don’t leave.

 

Another line beneath it, as if an afterthought.  

 

Please Baby.

 

Rey picks up the note and presses it to her closed lips for a moment and considers.  She drops it in the bottom of her bag next to the disposable camera.  She heads to the shower smiling.    

 

Chapter Text

Ben Solo leaves a note and lets her sleep.  The sun is up in earnest now and the crisp Fall air clears his head.  He twirls a cigarette between his thumb and forefinger as he walks the neighborhood surrounding the motel and gets the lay of the land.

 

They need a plan.  Ben exhales a plume of smoke as his wheels turn.  What they do next depends on what the authorities know.

 

The old diner a couple of blocks away is mostly empty.  He sits at the counter and flips through a left-behind newspaper while sipping coffee black.  The other customers appear to be either early bird seniors or casino workers coming off the night shift.  The Vegas morning news drones on a t.v. mounted in the corner. So far, no word about him and Rey.

 

Maybe the FBI isn’t going national with a manhunt.  Snoke is sure to have influence on the inside and would want to get to them first.  But do they have a bead on Rey yet? Ben doesn’t like not knowing.

 

He’s too antsy to eat, but he knows her so he puts in a to-go order.  He returns to the room with his hands full. As he fishes for the key in his jeans’ pocket, there’s a flash of worry that she’s already long gone.  That he’ll find an empty room. He swallows down the sour taste of fear and pushes the door open with his foot.

 

For a moment, the abrupt shift from daylight back to darkness blinds him.  The t.v. flashes like a strobe light across the dark room and his eyes struggle to focus.

 

Then he sees her.  Rey slides up to sitting, half-wet hair falling like a chestnut wave over a shoulder.  She smiles at him, soft and shy. Ben exhales in relief.

 

Feeling light as a feather, he sets down the coffee and food on a table by the window.  “Got you breakfast,” he says and flips on a lamp. “You hungry?”

 

Ben leans forward to pull out styrofoam boxes of fruit and pastries, a breakfast burrito, pancakes, whatever he thought she’d like.  His hands still when her arms cinch tight around his waist and she presses her chest into his back. His heartbeat trips. Fuck.   When she touches him, he can’t think of anything else.  

 

“Thank you,” she says, voice muffled by his shirt.  His one forearm covers both of hers easily. He holds her in place for a moment then gives her a squeeze.  He twists around to plant a kiss on her temple.

 

“Eat,” he says gently.

 

Rey crosses her bare legs on the chair and digs in.  She hasn’t eaten since yesterday and it shows. Shoulder against the wall, he watches her with a smirk.  She shovels mouthfuls in like they’ll run away if she doesn’t. How someone so small can eat so much is one of life’s mysteries.

 

Fond thoughts fade as the reality of their situation pokes through the calm.  He crosses his arms and grows serious. He’s gotta figure out what the authorities know.

 

“I need you to think back to Ash Fork,” he says carefully.

 

Rey swallows and looks up at him with saucer eyes.  If she ever realizes the power she wields with just those eyes, he’s done for.  

 

“Did you talk to anyone at the bar besides Poe?”  

 

Rey continues chewing as her expression shifts.  “No. Just him and the bartender.”

 

He nods.  “Did you give your last name?”

 

She looks down.  Obviously, the subject’s still sore.  “No, I didn’t.”

 

Ben sees her bristle but pushes on.  “Did you mention you were from Texas?”  

 

“No.”  Rey presses her lips thin and won’t meet his gaze.  

 

He tilts his head.  “You did, remember? In the jail.  When you told Poe you knew how to use a gun.”

 

“Okay, fine then, I guess I did.”  She’s scowling at either him or the memory, maybe both.  

 

He ignores her discomfort.  Avoiding it isn’t going to keep her safe.  “Did anyone see you drive the Jeep?” If it’s been compromised, they’ll have to ditch it.

 

Rey fidgets in her seat.  “I don’t know. Why are you asking all these questions?”

 

He sighs as his frustration rises to meet hers.  “It’s important, try to remember.”

 

Rey huffs.  Her eyes lift to meet his, the annoyance made plain.  “I don’t think so. It was after dark when I drove to get you out of jail.”

 

Being a brat doesn’t help matters.  He sets his jaw. “So no one in Ash Fork knows your full name, correct?”

 

She looks down again and scoops up an angry bite.  “Right.”

 

They both cling to the silence stubbornly.  The AC unit kicks on with a rattle and a whir.  Rey sips her coffee. He watches her eyebrows crease as her eyes flicker up to his face and then down again.  

 

She clears her throat.  “Well, maybe the front desk guy.  I had to beg for a key after Poe took you.”  

 

Kylo drops his arms and sighs loudly.  It’s the pin that pops the tension like a balloon.

 

Rey slams down her fork and jerks to standing.  “What?! I don’t remember, okay?! You just got arrested.   Sorry I didn’t pay enough attention to my words !”

 

Ben pinches the bridge of his nose between his fingers and shakes his head.  If the clerk got her full name, life gets a lot more difficult.

 

He hears her stomp up.  “Why are you so fucking mad at me when I saved you?”  She looks at him feral as a cat.  

 

He snaps back.  “I’m not mad! I’m trying to figure this out.  And I never asked you to save me, in fact I begged you not to!”  

 

Her jaw drops.  “So I was supposed to let them kill you ?!”

 

His voice rises.  “It was for your own sake, Rey!  I’m trying to protect you, can you help me with that?!”   

 

She narrows her eyes.  “What difference does it make now anyway?”   

 

He scoffs.  “A huge fucking difference!  They’d have your driver’s license, the Jeep registration, they can track you–”  

 

“There’s nothing to track!  I don’t have anyone.”

 

He shakes his head.  “Still–”

 

“Poe said we’re in it together now.  So it doesn’t matter.” She steps forward and studies his face, her voice dripping with suspicion.  “Unless you’re planning to ditch me.”

 

His stomach plummets.  “ Rey –”

 

“That’s it, isn’t it?” she continues on with wild eyes, “You want to know if you can just dump me, guilt free!”

 

“No,” he shakes his head, lifting his palms to her.  “Just listen-”

 

The words sound like they’re ripped straight from her chest.  “It’s what you wanted all along! To run me off!”

 

A flush rises up her neck as her eyes grow wet.  He watches as the hard shell of anger breaks apart to reveal the broken heart pulsing underneath.  She sobs and her words shred him. “You didn’t want me!”

 

“That’s not true!”

 

She lunges forward as the first tears fall.  “It is! I’m just a dumb girl, not good enough!  You wanted me gone!”

 

Goddamnit, Rey!” he roars, desperate to reach her.  “Please listen–”

 

She falls apart as he shakes his head uselessly.  His guilt at hurting her slices deep as he watches her sob.  He only wants to make it right. Ben does the only thing he can think of, he steps forward and grabs her up into his arms.

 

Rey flails at first, slapping at his chest, struggling to get away.  He holds her until she finally deflates and leans into him. The cries choke her and her hands cling to his hips.  He won’t let her go.

 

“No, no, shh, it’s okay,” he whispers as she soaks his shirt.  “I want you, baby, I always wanted you. I’m here.”   

 

He rubs her back and waits until she quiets.  Then he takes her cheeks gently in his hands and thumbs away the tears.

 

“Look at me,” he says softly.  Rey presses her eyelids closed and sniffles, a wave of pain passing over her face like a shadow.  Then she opens to him.

 

“I’m sorry I left you like that in the room.  It was me. It wasn’t you, it was me. I’m sorry, baby.”  The hurt is still clear on her face. It guts him to know he put it there.  

 

“Why?” she asks, her lower lip quivering.  Her face is flushed from crying, all vulnerable and soft.  He brushes her cheekbone. She’s still the prettiest girl he’s ever seen.  

 

His voice lowers to a rasp when he confesses, “I didn’t want to take something from you that you couldn’t get back.  You deserve so much better than me. Especially your first time.”

 

Her hands grab his wrists as Rey lifts her chin.  “Don’t I get a say in what I want?”

 

It stops him cold.  “Yeah, of course.”

 

She looks at him defiantly.  “Then stop trying to decide for me.”

 

He sighs and tries to move away, but she holds him firm.  “You don’t know everything about me,” Ben says quietly.

 

“Then tell me everything about you.”  Her wide, hazel eyes are unrelenting.

 

She risked everything to save him, threw her lot in with his.  He can’t lie to her. What she deserves more than anything is the truth.

 

Rey sits down on the bed and he pulls up a chair across from her.  

 

He starts talking.

 

---------------

 

Ben always knew what it meant to be a Solo.  Never whine and never quit. Carry the family name with honor.  Don’t back down from a bully or a challenge. And above all else, push down any feeling that interferes with getting the job done.  It was the Solo way.

 

His father Han was a Captain in the Air Force and his mother Leia was a lawyer.  Ben was an only child and a military brat who was uprooted with every base transfer.  Lonely and shy, too big for his age, books became his friends. Books he could carry with him everywhere he went, books never left him.  His mom said he’d become a writer one day.

 

His parents had a passionate but rocky marriage.  When he was fourteen, the bad times outnumbered the good.  They divorced. Ben moved to New Jersey with Leia and Han got visitation.  By high school, all the friendships were already made and there were none left for Ben.  When his mother got busy running for state office, he was left on his own.

 

His dad retired from the Air Force and settled in Denver.  He bought an old Boeing 727F with his service buddy Chewie and they named it The Falcon.  Millennium Air Freight was born.

 

Ben was shuttled back and forth between New Jersey and Denver throughout high school.  He’d look down out of airplane windows at the small squares of farmland and winding, silver rivers.  The cities all looked the same. He didn’t feel like a part of any of it.

 

Leia was too wrapped up in her State Senate campaign to notice Ben slowly drowning.  He missed his college application deadlines. She was pissed.

 

“What’s your ambition in life, Ben?  What will you make of yourself?” his mother asked.  Ambition was an inherent Organa trait, his lack of it was inconceivable.  They had screaming fights.

 

Leia had worked too hard to get where she was.  She didn’t have time for him to be lost. It was decided Ben would move to Colorado for a year after graduating so Han could “straighten him out” before college.  

 

Ben started work at Millennium Air tracking the cargo shipments and schedule.  He flew on the jumpseat in the back of the cockpit and read for hours along to the white noise hum of the engines.  Han and Chewie taught him how to fly, and it turned out he wasn’t half bad. A year went by, and then another. He lost both the college applications and the drive to complete them.  His Mom stopped asking and finally let him go.

 

Time slipped by and soon a decade had passed.  

 

By the time Ben was twenty-seven, he still didn’t know where he was going.  He was happy enough. Han made up for all the years he wasn’t there by teaching Ben everything– how to fly, how to shoot whiskey, when to bluff and when to fold.  They flew across the country and even into Mexico and Canada. He was a part of the family business, and business was good.

 

It was easier to not fit in when you were always on the move.  Every city was new– new bars, new women, new experiences. Ben found his place was everywhere and nowhere at the same time.  If you kept on moving, loneliness couldn’t catch you.

 

They began running jobs for an old military buddy of his dad’s.  The pay was good. Millenium Air wasn’t picky on the cargo, all the crates look the same in the hold.  But Ben noticed the money was double a normal shipment. The customs paperwork was sketchy. He wasn’t stupid.  

 

“It doesn’t matter what we fly, son,” Han said while working on the engine.  “Money is money.”

 

“It matters if we’re the ones on the hook for it,”  Ben muttered. He thought his dad was a straight arrow.  He looked up to him. It bothered him that Han didn’t care.

 

“Look, if Snoke wants to run some cigarettes without paying tariffs, who’s getting hurt?  I don’t give a fuck. It’s all going into the Baja fund.” Han’s plan was to retire down south with Chewie, build a hotel or something.  Live like a king finally.

 

Soon enough it wasn’t just cigarettes.  It was guns. Then drugs, heroin maybe. Ben checked the crates when Han wasn’t looking and tracked the shipments.  They were getting bigger and so was the money. Something would have to give, and it was the Solos who would pay the price.  

 

Han didn’t want to hear it.  Ben gave up trying to talk to him.  He washed away the guilt with booze and partying, but it still gnawed at him.  Han and Chewie were all he had. Ben hadn’t talked to Leia in more than a year, but he could imagine the look of disgust on her face if she found out what they were doing.  He was a fucking disappointment, especially to himself.

 

One day he stood in the bathroom of a small regional airport in Minnesota.  Ben was washing his hands when he looked up into the mirror. He didn’t recognize the hollowed-out eyes that stared back at him.  The lost boy had grown up, but still hadn’t found himself. The man he saw looking back at him was a stranger.

 

Out of the corner of his eye he saw a torn paperback on the shelf above the sink.   Crime and Punishment by Dostoevsky.  Ben couldn’t remember the last time he actually read a book, that dream was lost somewhere along the way, too.  Ben flipped to a random page and saw a sentence underlined in red:

 

“The man who has a conscience suffers whilst acknowledging his sin.  That is his punishment.”

 

He pocketed the book.  Ben read it cover to cover in the cockpit, and when he had finished started it over again.  His disgust and worthlessness rolled-up into one thick mass that sat heavy in his chest.

 

He didn’t want this life.  He wanted more. Ben finally found his voice.

 

“We don’t have to do it anymore, Dad.  We make enough doing legal runs.”

 

Han didn’t see it that way.  “Look, kid, I hear you. But guys like Snoke, they don’t really take ‘no’ as an answer.”

 

“We don’t have to be his puppets.  We can stop.”

 

Han shook his head sadly.  “There’s no stop. There’s only getting out, and we can’t do that until we have enough for Baja.   Just a few more years.”

 

“If customs catches on, time’s up.”  Ben countered.

 

“All due respects, kid, but you don’t know Snoke like I do.”  Han set his jaw. “We have the routes and the contacts that he needs.  If we bail, he’ll put a bounty on our heads. We’re as good as dead.”

 

“I can’t do it anymore, Dad.  I can’t. ”  Ben said, straightening.  He was taller than his dad.  When exactly did that happen?

 

Han pointed a finger at his chest, quirking his mouth like he did when he was angry.  “You’re my son, and you will. This is our last shot, you see that? Just keep your eyes on the prize.  We can make it.”

 

Ben tried, but it ate away at him like acid.  Maybe his conscience was his punishment, but he couldn’t breathe under the weight of it.  He wanted redemption.

 

Things broke at a delivery in upstate New York.  

 

Chewie was aboard The Falcon overseeing the unloading.  Ben bitterly eyed Snoke’s guys as he and Han stood on the loading dock.   

 

Snoke sat in the corner watching them with piercing blue eyes.  It was unusual to see the old man at a delivery. From his side, the redhead named Hux, snide and slick as a snake, stared back at Ben.    

 

Snoke waved Han and Ben over.

 

“There’s been a change in our delivery schedule,” he began.  His voice was reedy and cracked, but not weak. “We need to double the flights.”

 

Ben looked to his dad.  Han shifted a hip and rubbed the back of his neck.  “That’s going to be difficult to manage with our other jobs . . .”

 

“Cancel the jobs.  We need an exclusive runner for our volume.”  Snoke pointed a long, crooked finger at them.

 

Han swallowed.  Ben’s throat tightened as his pulse picked up.

 

Snoke smiled.  “Millennium Air has done very well for us.  This works out best for everyone.”

 

“It’s putting all our eggs in one basket,” Ben said, looking to his dad.

 

Snoke’s eyes darted to Ben.  “A basket that pays fucking well.”

 

Han tried to hedge.  “We’re going to need some time to discuss, think it over . . .”

 

Snoke’s smile grew, but his eyes were dead.  “I think you misread the situation. This isn’t a question.”

 

Ben fisted his hands at his sides.

 

Han shrugged with a wry smile, trying to make light of it in his typical way.  “Look, Snoke, there’s no need to rock the boat, we’ve worked well together–”

 

“No.  Not together.  You work for me.  You Solos really need to learn your place.”  His man Hux moved closer to his side. “Why do you think I’ve paid you so well?   I own you now.”

 

Ben’s resentment boiled over.  “Don’t talk to my father that way and don’t threaten us.  Nobody owns us. We could just go to the–”

 

Han’s hand shot out and grabbed Ben’s bicep in warning, but it was too late.   

 

“Who?  Go to who?  Finish what you were saying, my boy,” Snoke said, voice oozing like poison.

 

Ben swallowed nervously.

 

“Who are you going to talk to, hmm?”

 

Hux put his hands in the pockets of his jacket.

 

“No one,” Ben said quietly.

 

“That’s right.  I think you need a reminder of where you stand.”  Snoke snapped his fingers.

 

Hux drew out a hand and flicked a wrist to unfurl a butterfly knife.  He lunged before Ben could react. Pain lit up his side like fire. With a grunt, Ben landed on his knees, fingers sticky and hot as he clutched at his gut.  

 

Ben stared down at his knees, mesmerized by the red pool spreading on the white concrete floor.  There was movement around him. “No!” His father’s voice.

 

Feet scraped, then a gasp and a shot rang out.  A sickly thud landed beside him.

 

Ben turned to see his father.  Han clutched at his chest, hand pawing weakly as a crimson stain spread over his shirt.  His wide eyes blinked in astonishment at Ben.

 

“Dad, Dad!” he choked out and reached for his father.  He watched the life drain away and his dark pupils dilate and empty.  He didn’t flinch away, even through his tears. He did this. It was his fault.  Ben fell over on the floor beside his father.

 

Hux’s boot pushed down the side of Ben’s head on the concrete.  The pain barely registered above the rest.

 

Snoke’s voice rose behind him.  “This was unnecessary. You fucking Solos and your pride.  Han dared to draw on me? On me?  A fool, just like his son.”

 

Ben kept his eyes on his father’s face.  His head swam and sunk, the fog of unconsciousness closing in.

 

“Nothing changes, Solo, or anyone you ever loved feels this pain.  Understand?”

 

Mom, Ben thought, and then blackness took him.

 

---------------

 

A week in the hospital and the doctors said he was lucky.  All major organs left intact. Ben was released in time to bury Han.

 

His mother flew to Denver for the funeral.  He couldn’t meet her eyes when he told her the same story he told the police: unseen assailant, fled on foot.

 

Snoke made contact a couple of weeks later.  Business as usual. He lined up the Chicago job.  Ben knew their days were numbered. As soon as Snoke found a replacement with the right routes and contacts, he and Chewie would be eliminated.  It was a game of chicken, and Ben wouldn’t fold.

 

Chewie wanted to kill Snoke outright.  Ben knew they’d never get the chance to see him face-to-face again, so he had something else in mind.  They made a plan. After the drop-off in Chicago, Chewie would fly on to Baja and sell the Falcon. Disappear forever.  Ben would make the hand-off and drive the rented car all the way to L.A. He’d meet his contact there and leave the country for good.

 

Ben wrote a long letter to Leia.  She was the frontrunner for an open U.S. Senate seat and already had federal protection.  He didn’t name Snoke, he wouldn’t put her at further risk. Snoke had too many moles in law enforcement.  Ben told her to up her protection and that someone may be coming for her. Snoke wouldn’t touch her once Ben was gone if she didn’t know anything.  At least he hoped so.

 

Ben stepped into the Falcon cockpit for the last time.  He packed cash and his new fake ID and passport. He palmed Han’s gun, the one he drew on Snoke, in his pocket.  He touched his dad’s dice in The Falcon for luck and then unhooked them and handed them to Chewie before landing.

 

He left Ben Solo dead in Chicago.  It was Kylo Ren who shook off his tail and hit Route 66 south.  He left his past behind him, dead and buried. He only wanted to reach California and start a new life.

 

---------------

 

Rey stares at Ben as his head hangs low between his knees.  His face is buried in his hands, elbows propped on his thighs.  

 

His grief raised a tide of her own, a riptide of loss and loneliness that she knows well.  Her wet cheeks match his.

 

He told her everything.  It poured out of him like a confession.  How Snoke’s men cornered him in New Mexico.  How he rammed their car over the arroyo, but couldn’t bring himself to shoot the man.  Ben buried the car in a lake and hitchhiked to the diner in Moriarty.

 

That’s where he found her.

 

Her heartbeat is thrumming in her veins.  Rey rises slowly from the bed. He’s curled in on himself like a child in the chair.  It makes her feel bigger, like she has something to give. She eases in closer.

 

Maybe she should be mad at him or scared by what he told her.  He’s dangerous and a criminal. He’s being hunted by thieves and murderers, but she knew that already, didn’t she?  She doesn’t feel scared. He’s never been dangerous to her.

 

The carpet is soft under her bare feet as she inches closer.

 

Soft sobs shake his wide shoulders.  Rey reaches out a hand to comb it through the hair above his temple.  It’s as soft as it looks, falling over his face in gentle waves. She wonders if he had curls as a baby.  For an instant, she can imagine him so young and tender, a younger version of himself, with dark eyes filled with a lonely ache.  Maybe he counted down the days to rescue, just like she did. Maybe he hoped there was someone else out there looking, too.

 

As she touches him, Ben looks up.  His expression is bare and pleading.  It’s a look of resignation, as if he’s expecting a judgment or even a blow to fall.  Beneath the pleading look in his eyes something tugs her in closer, like the last glimmer of a fading light.  

 

It looks like hope.

 

Rey cups his cheek, like he did to hers earlier.  “It wasn’t your fault,” she whispers.

 

He closes his eyes as a tear breaks free, and she wipes it away with her fingertips.  She closes the distance and kisses him. Her lips press gently to his in mercy, the only forgiveness she can give.  He holds her waist, trembling hands squeezing tighter as she brushes the hair back from his face so she can see him better.  She kisses his soft lips as if she could break a spell.

 

He pulls back with closed eyes and leans his forehead into her stomach.  She wraps her arms around his shoulders as he hides his face in her. After awhile, he gets up and walks to the bathroom.  Water runs and he washes his face.

 

Ben comes back with a glint in his eye and holds out a hand to her.  Rey takes it.

 

“Let’s get the hell out of here,” he says, and she smiles.




Chapter Text

 

Ben opens up his duffle and pulls out a stack of cash.  He licks his fingers to count the bills and stuffs some in his wallet.  Rey was unsure earlier if he meant leave the room or leave Vegas, but when he stuffs the bag back under the bed she knows they’re staying the night.  

 

He reaches for her hand and laces their fingers together as he locks the door.

 

It’s a warm Fall day.  His long strides carry them down the sidewalk at a fast clip.  She has to skip every third step just to keep pace with him, boots clicking along on the pavement.  Her palm grows hot pressed against his but she doesn’t mind. His big hand swallows hers in a firm grip, like he’s afraid she’ll slip away from him.  

 

Ben holds her like he doesn’t want to lose her.  It’s a new feeling for Rey, to be found.

 

She lets him pull her along, leading her some place that feels intentional.  Rey cranes her neck to take in the storefronts and restaurants as they pass by, catching glimpses of their reflection in the shiny glass panes.  They look like they belong together, his black-clad legs and her white-shirted, like salt and pepper. They look like a couple. Is that what they are now?  She squeezes his hand. Her heartbeat pounds along with her feet.

 

Ben turns and they approach a busy street ahead.  It must be the Strip, the main artery of town. She can see a river of cars and bright candy-colored lights beckoning them forward.  It’s a technicolor rainbow even in the bright midday sun.

 

They hit the wide sidewalk and finally stop.  Rey catches her breath and tries to take it all in.  The electric energy and buzz of excitement are like nothing she’s ever felt before.  Crowds of tourists pass by with loud foreign voices and cars honk and swerve. The casino lights dance in a staccato rhythm and music blasts with a heavy bass from clubs and hotels.  It’s almost too much for someone so well-versed in solitude. Emotions surge through her.

 

Rey follows the shape of the hotels up and up as they tower above the street.  Their flashing bulbs stretch for the washed-out blue sky. She watches as wisps of white clouds pass and add scale.  It’s the kind of view that can make you feel tiny, like you’re nothing.

 

Only Rey doesn’t feel small anymore.  She squeezes Ben’s hand and she’s a giant.  Her heart could swell to the size of those clouds, she’s so light she could float away.

 

Rey turns and tugs him down, beaming with glossy eyes.  He smiles and she kisses him, cupping his jaw and nipping at his lower lip.

 

“You like it, baby?” he asks.

 

“I like you,” she says.

 

He grins and they walk slower now.  He loops a heavy arm over her shoulders and she wraps an arm around his waist.   They walk for what feels like miles, taking in the city and the lights.

 

She comes to a stop in front of an upscale boutique.  There’s a dark purple dress in the window that catches her eye.  Ben lowers his palm to her low back. “C’mon,” he says with a nod, guiding her to the door.

 

Rey shakes her head.  “No, it’s okay.”

 

“Let me buy you something,” he says, flashing a grin.

 

“No, Ben–”

 

He stops and lifts his eyebrows.  “Why not?”

 

Rey nibbles her lip and turns to face the storefront.  Heat springs to her face. “I don’t know. I’ll– feel bad,”

“Why would you feel bad?”

 

She shakes her head, embarrassed.  Nobody buys her gifts. It’s not a thing people do for her.

 

Ben steps in closer and kisses the apple of her cheek.  “I want to buy you something. I wanna spoil you a little.  Can you let me do that, please?”

 

She sighs and leans into him, eyes still glued on the dress as she fidgets.  He nudges her with his nose and the tingly heat spreads all over.

 

“Okay,” she breathes out in a small voice.  It feels like jumping off a cliff, which is ridiculous, she knows.  She walks inside.

 

There are two shop girls who eye her cut-offs and old white t-shirt but don’t say anything.  She browses through the racks of clothes. Most cost more than what Plutt paid her in a month.  She doesn’t belong here.

 

The purple dress costs $300, and Rey almost chokes.

 

“Try it on,” Ben says, unfazed.  

 

“No, that’s a rip-off!” She whispers so the girls won’t hear.

 

“I’ve got the money.  I want to see it on you.”  He smiles as she squirms and rubs the back of her neck.

 

“Ben, it’s too much.”

 

“Please, baby, let me see you in it.   Please.

 

He looks so earnest, his warm eyes crinkling at the corners, that she relents.  She takes it to the back room. It’s a tight sheath, dark purple, with a boat neck and a low asymmetrical scoop back.  She leaves the boots on but takes off the bra.

 

She pushes back the curtain and steps out, smoothing the short skirt down her thighs with her palms.  He stands up straighter as she walks up and does a small twirl.

 

“Well.  What do you think?”  She smiles shyly.

 

“Hot damn is what I think,” he says, whistling.

 

Rey giggles and looks away.  But it feels like soda pop inside and she’s fizzing all over.

 

“We’re taking it.  And some shoes, too.”

 

“It’s too much, Ben!”  Rey protests.

 

He holds her wrist and lifts his eyebrows to make sure she’s really listening.

 

“If I want to spend some money on my girl, then I’m gonna do it.  Okay? No more fussing.”

 

Her stomach is flipping and her breath comes faster.  She blinks up at him. “Your girl?”

 

“Yeah.  You are, aren’t you?”  He swallows and brushes the back of her hand with his thumb.  

 

She forgets the shop girls for a moment, forgets they’re in public, and gets caught up in his eyes.  Her pulse beats solid in her chest. His finger brushes her hand softly. She looks at his full mouth, suddenly too shy to meet his eyes, but happier than she’s felt in forever.

 

“Yeah, I am.”  

 

He smiles like he already knew the answer.  He steals a kiss. “You want to wear it now?”

 

She shakes her head, still feeling overwhelmed.

 

“Okay, let’s bag it up.  And whatever else you want.”

 

Ben pays in cash and the shop girls don’t even blink.  Must not be very unusual in Vegas. The blonde one checks out Ben, and Rey just smiles and holds him tighter.  Can’t have him, you’re not his girl.

 

They leave dropping more than a half of a year’s salary at Plutt’s.  It feels decadent, crazy, like they’ve lost their goddamn minds. It’s the kind of crazy that energizes you, a natural high.  Rey is giggling like a schoolgirl. She has two dresses, a pair of heels, some t-shirts and new jeans. He’s swinging the bag in one hand and holding her with the other.  It’s a beautiful day and the sun is shining down on them.

 

They walk into a casino and it’s loud.  Bells continually ring from around the floor and people shout both in glee and anguish.  Rows of old women sit at slot machines grim-faced, with cigarettes dangling from their cherry-red lips and plastic visors to filter the harsh lights.  Rey sits down at a machine but wipes out fast. That’s okay, she’s already too lucky and she knows it. Fate doesn’t work that way.

 

They duck back out to the street and walk until they find a quiet steakhouse.  He holds the door open for her, a perfect gentleman.

 

Ben orders a bottle of red.  Rey drinks a glass but it’s strong, so he orders her a beer instead.  The sunlight ripens to a deep bronze and stretches long through the blinds.  Waiters slip between the tables and light small tealight candles in colored cups.

 

“Why California?” Ben asks.

 

“Finn,” Rey answers.  “He’s the one person I keep up with from foster care.  He’s like a brother I guess. And I want to see the ocean.”

 

“You’ve never been before?”

 

Rey shakes her head.  “I’ve never been outside Texas before, and Plutt wouldn’t take me to Galveston.”

 

“Plutt?”

 

“My last foster, the guy who owned the garage.”

 

“Oh, yeah, you mentioned him.”

 

She peels the label of her beer bottle.  “I should be grateful I learned cars from him, I guess.  But I’m mostly grateful I never have to see him again.”

 

He doesn’t press.  The silence stretches.  They sip their drinks and an old Frank Sinatra song rises from the background, his mournful voice crooning out to a lost love and the moon.

 

“San Diego is nice, but there are lots of nice places.”  His eyes lift quickly to hers and then down to the table.  He flips his fork over slowly on the tablecloth. Forwards.  Backwards.

 

She keeps picking at the label on her bottle.  Why does she feel nervous? “Finn’s expecting me,” Rey says quietly.    

 

“Yeah, of course.”  Ben lets go of the fork and picks up his wine glass.  The sip turns his pink lips a shade pinker.

 

“You’re going to L.A.?” she asks.

 

“That was the plan,” he says, meeting her eyes.  “But things can change.”

 

“Oh.”  She smiles at her plate.

 

The waiter returns with dinner.  Two filets and she’s never tasted anything better.  He orders them sides, a sweet potato casserole that tastes like dessert and the fancy mac and cheese made with a bunch of kinds of cheese she can’t pronounce with the crispy crumbles on top.  Rey takes smaller bites than normal because she wants to make it last forever.

 

They finish off the wine and order a chocolate cake so warm and rich she wants to licke the fork clean after every bite.  The candlelight plays games with Ben’s eyes. She hasn’t kissed him in more than an hour and she’s starting to feel itchy to touch him, her nerves pulling tight inside.  

 

It’s dark when they leave the restaurant.  They stop in a western bar and grab a beer, but it’s too loud to really talk.  She feels like they’re celebrating, but she’s not sure what. There’s a mechanical bull in the corner and they laugh as the drunks get tossed flat onto the mat.  Rey leans her head against his bicep and he pats her hair.

 

The air is cooler as they step back into the night.  The city has come alive, waking up like a nocturnal animal.  Twice as many people line the streets and the energy is thrumming in a contagious frequency of anticipation.  She hugs close to his side and matches his gait as they walk back to the room holding hands.

 

The moment the door closes and it’s just the two of them, it’s a new kind of quiet.  It’s unpredictable and alive. She shifts on her feet.

 

“You want to go out?” he asks, coffee eyes darting to hers.

 

“What do you want?” Rey says, realizing too late just how open the question is.  She wiggles her toes. What she actually wants to know is do you really want me?

 

“Whatever you decide is good for me.  Let me grab a smoke first.”

 

He kisses the top of her head and steps outside the room.  Rey sits down to pull off her boots and think for a minute.  She doesn’t want the night to end yet, but she doesn’t want to go out.  She just wants to be with him.

 

Rey hurries to the bathroom and brushes her teeth.  She fixes her hair in the mirror, brushing it and fiddling, studying herself.  Rey exhales.

 

This is the night.  She goes out to find Ben.

 

------------

 

He stretches out long on the pool chair and takes a drag of his cigarette.  Ben hasn’t felt this relaxed, or this good, since he was a kid.  Long enough back to seem more like a story than a memory, just a vague idea of what happy could be.  He takes another deep drag and lets his eyes close.

 

It was a perfect day.  Well, not the crying like a fool part, he doesn’t want to think about that.  The day with Rey was perfect. She knows everything and doesn’t look at him like a monster.  It’s like the elephant sitting on his chest has finally stepped off. He feels like he won a jackpot.  He’s never felt so lucky.

 

Rey comes up to stand beside him.  He turns his head to blow smoke away from her.

 

“When did you start smoking?” she asks.

 

He inhales before answering.  The ember burns red. “Fifteen I think?”

 

She wraps her arms around her waist, hugging herself.  “You never offer me one.”

 

“You shouldn’t start,” he exhales and smiles sheepishly.  “It’s a terrible fucking habit.”

 

Rey walks to the water’s edge and sits down.  He looks up at the sky. The night is overcast but the bright neon lights would cover up the stars anyway.  They can hear the sound of live music at a great distance and the dull roar of a crowd in response. The temperature is dropping now that the sun set, but it still feels nice out.

 

The underwater lights make the aquamarine water glow.  Gentle waves shine like facets of a jewel and cast shadows on the pool deck and motel walls.  It gives the world a magical feel, as if everything is underwater. It doesn’t feel real.

 

She dips a curious toe into the water.  It must not be too cold, because she slides her slim legs in to the calves.  Rey leans forward with hands on the white tile edge as her legs dangle loose.  She watches her feet, and he watches her. The shadows from the water dance across her face, and she looks magical, too.

 

Rey’s staring at the water like she’s dreaming of something, maybe the ocean or where she’s heading.  He hopes not where she’s come from. She looks over her shoulder and catches him staring. She smiles, coy.  

 

“Do you swim?” he asks.  There’s so much he doesn’t know about her.  He wants to know it all.

 

She shakes her head.  “There was no pool in Goodnight and nobody to teach me.”

 

He answers quickly.  “I’ll teach you.”

 

She tilts her head to her shoulder and lifts her eyebrows.  “Really.”

 

“Sure.  I’m a good teacher.”

 

Rey laughs at that.  “You are? Who have you taught?”

 

He shrugs and smiles.  “Myself mostly. But I’ll teach you.  Anything you want.”

 

She licks her lips and holds his gaze.  Her eyes seem to hold a secret. “Anything?”

 

“Absolutely,” he answers.  If she looks at him like that, he’d walk to the moon for her, happily.

 

He begins to say, “We can get you a suit tomorrow–” but before the words have left his mouth Rey stands up and strips off her top.  He’s struck dumb by the sight of her simple white cotton bra stretching tight over her tan skin. By the time he’s found his tongue, she’s pulled down her cut-offs, too.  The blue glow chases across her white cotton panties.

 

He stubs out the cigarette and tears his eyes away to scan around the pool deck.  They’re alone, but out in public. “Rey, anybody can walk by–”

 

“I don’t care.”  She throws him a grin and her eyes spark.  Rey walks to the stairs and steps down into the water.  He swallows as the water laps around her thighs.

 

She gets waist-deep before crouching down to dip her shoulders under.  The water must be colder than she thought, because she flinches and her body jerks involuntarily.  Ben’s trying to figure out why that’s so damned erotic but then she stands up and his mind is wiped clean.  Her white cotton bra is soaked through to her skin. He can make out the pink points of her nipples pressing up against the fabric.  His cock pulses in his jeans.

 

“C’mon then,” she says, fingertips skimming the surface, smile as sly as a fox.  “You said you’d be my teacher.”

 

He unlaces his work boots and stands to pull his shirt over his head.  She watches him unbutton his jeans and drop them in a pile on the pool deck.  Standing in only his dark grey boxers he waits at the edge. She’s looking at him with lips parted, waiting for what comes next.  He cracks a devilish grin then hoots and jumps in, feet first, splashing her as she squeals.

 

Ben surfaces and she’s still laughing.  The look of pure, unfettered joy on her face heats him from the inside out.  He wants more of that, for her, more uncomplicated happiness. More sheer elation.  Ben shakes his wet head at her, like a dog, and she lifts her arms up and squeaks, “Cut it out!  Stop!” but she’s laughing again and he just can’t stand not to touch her.

 

He floats forward palms up, like asking for a dance.  She takes his hands and he walks backwards leading her into the deep end.  

 

When the water comes up to her chest and her eyes flit side-to-side nervously, he stops.  “It’s okay, baby,” he murmurs and pulls her in to his chest. Her hands grip his shoulders tight.  He holds her waist.

 

“Trust me,” he says, and she looks at him.  He can see in her eyes that she does. She’s scared, but she trusts him.  

 

Ben takes another step back into the deep end and he can still stand but her feet kick softly in the water when it’s too deep for her to touch the bottom.  He holds her up and gently bobs them up and down. She’s weightless in his arms. He starts to rotate in a slow circle.

 

“Just relax and breathe, I got you,” he whispers.  Rey nods and reels herself in to wrap her arms around his shoulders.  Her chest presses against his and he can feel her muscles tight with tension.  Wet, firm skin slides against him, their heat pressed together. Ben crosses his arms behind her back to cage her in closer.  She’s light as air against him, weightless, all taut muscle and warm satin skin. He closes his eyes and bobs them slowly up and down, feeling her melt into his arms as she relaxes against him.  

 

Rey turns her head and lips graze the side of his neck, her warm breath whispering over his skin.  He exhales loudly and his arms cinch her tighter. Her thighs brush up and down against him under the water, sliding against his cock as it rises up to her.  Rey leans back to look at him, the glow of the pool reflecting back in her wide open eyes. They just look at each other as they float, weightless and enchanted.  

 

She wraps her legs around his waist and rises up slightly.  Ben lifts up his chin to look at her. His lips part and she pushes back his hair then leans down to kiss him.

 

It’s the softest touch.  She leads, he follows. Her tight little tits are pressing into him and the slide of her skin sets him to a slow boil.  Ben slips a hand down her back to follow the slope of her ass. He squeezes her thigh and holds her closer.

 

He steps back until his back is against the wall, grounding him.  Her hand reaches for the pool edge and he kisses down her throat, the chlorine conjuring memories of youth and fresh chances.  “Oh, God,” she whispers and leans her head away to give him more skin.

 

Ben clutches her ass to grind against her.  He’s heating up from the inside out, his movements becoming more urgent.  His other hand lifts to her breast to circle the wet fabric as his palm warms her small, perfect tit.  Rey moans in his ear and it’s all the encouragement he needs. He slips down the strap of her bra and then his skin meets hers.  Cupping and squeezing her soft mound under the water, his thumb flicks her nipple until she takes a sharp intake of breath. Rey hugs in on his hips and winds her fingers into the ends of his hair.

 

He sucks on her neck and rocks into her.  She pulls back from him and arches her back to find his eyes.

 

“Ben,” she says, breathless.  “I want to go inside.”

 

He wills his breath to slow.  “Okay, baby. You cold? We can shower–”

 

“No, I want you to– I want us to . . .”

 

She looks down at his mouth and bats her lashes as she finds the words.  He kisses her cheek.

 

“I want it to be you,” she says finally, and looks up at him.  He understands and it sets him to burn.

 

“There’s no rush, baby.  You don’t have–”

 

“I know.”  She lifts her chin, chest moving faster with her breath, a determined look in her eyes.  “I want you.”

 

He looks between her eyes.  His fingers brush along her spine.  It feels like a dream, but not the kind he’s used to having.  His hands trace her skin, unused to touching something so precious.  

 

“Hold your breath.”

 

Ben kisses her and they sink down under the surface, eyes closed.  They hover underneath, caught in time, until his feet hit the bottom and he surges them up to break the surface with a gasp.  He smiles back at her surprise and paddles them to the edge.

 

---------------------

 

He barely locks the door.  Rey drops her clothes in a pile and reaches for him.  They’re still dripping, no towels.

 

“You want to shower–”

 

She’s shaking her head no as she walks up to him, hands sliding down his chest, greedy little fingers dipping down to his waistband.  He’s still half-hard and the hungry look in her eyes shoots him straight down south.

 

He kisses down her throat and winds a hand in her hair to support her neck.  She tastes bright and clean, his brain tying her up with heat and summertime now from the pool.  His other hand grabs her ass and kneads. Rey’s already pushed down his waistband and is drawing out his cock.

 

Ben groans into her skin as she starts to stroke him.  Too light and tentative, her small hands are light as butterflies.  He helps her grip him and whispers “Like this.”

 

Rey is a fast learner.  She wraps fingers tight and draws the skin up and down his shaft.  He presses his forehead to her neck and exhales hot on her wet skin.  She shivers. He watches her thin fingers work his flushed cock. Perfection.

 

He’s not gonna last if she keeps going, he’s too starved for her.  He stops her hands and sits down on the bed. He sheds his shorts and draws her between his thighs. Rey’s hands land on his shoulders as he reaches around to unhook her bra.  Then he pushes down her soaked panties until she’s bare and gleaming before him.

 

He licks his lips and stares up at her.  Rey’s face is equal parts trepidation and hunger.  He’s gonna make this good for her, it’s all that matters.  

 

“So beautiful, baby, I will never get over you.”

 

She smiles and that shy blush hits him right in the chest.  Her perky tits are right in his face and he wraps his hands around her waist.  Ben takes a hot breast in his mouth and Rey moans and arches her back, so sensitive to his touch.  It’s a heady feeling, a power, that he can make her react like that with just his mouth. He’ll never grow tired of the sounds she makes as he flicks his tongue.

 

He holds her steady, hands reaching to her shoulder blades as she sways on her feet.  Ben switches sides and Rey scratches her nails up and down his back in light tracks. He pulls her down to straddle his hips as he sucks and nips on her sensitive skin.  She rocks in his lap and he feels her hot pussy rubbing up and down his length.

 

When she starts to whine, he lets go and lays back on the bed.  He holds her hips to guide her forward.

 

“It’s gonna be better for you like this,” he says.  “You’re in control.”

 

Rey swallows and her eyes flit down to his cock.  It looks huge compared to her. He knows what she’s thinking.

 

“We can stop anytime.”

 

She sets her jaw.  “I don’t want to stop.”

 

“C’mere, baby.”

 

He pulls her to lie down on his chest and kisses her.  Rey’s legs split around his hips and he reaches down to adjust himself so she can stroke against him.

 

Ben kisses her softly and lets her set the pace.  She rubs up and down, tipping her hips against his hard cock, working herself up with the friction.  She’s so wet that it slicks the slide. He cups her cheek to kiss her, his thumb tracing along her jawline.  

 

One long slide, and the tip of his cock catches.  Rey’s breath hitches and he bites his lower lip as she sinks down on him, just barely easing him inside her wet heat.  He holds still, though the urge to move is strong. She breathes heavy and pauses, then sinks down more.

 

He sees a flash of pain cross her face and she grits her teeth.  “Breathe, baby,” he whispers, “try to relax.” He’s watching her closely.  He brings his thumb to her clit and starts to circle.

 

Rey moves down more and bites her lip to hold in a little whine.  

 

“We can stop,” he whispers, watching her.

 

She lifts her eyes to him.  “No, I don’t want to stop.”

 

He kisses her softly, still circling her clit, and Rey moves her hips a little.  A small tilt forward, but it sinks her down a little more. She’s mostly holding still but she starts to relax and kiss him back.

 

Ben keeps up at her clit and she’s still laying on his chest.  Rey starts to push down and take him deeper. She’s so tight and hot, and the urge to move is so strong, that he tips his hips up to meet her with a slow thrust.  She hisses through her teeth.

 

“Sorry, I’m sorry,” he kisses her throat in apology and holds still.

 

“It’s okay.  It feels better,” she whispers.  She rolls her hips to show him. Ben groans and keeps up his thumb going on her clit.

 

Rey starts to bob up and down gently, taking him deeper on each down stroke, bit by bit.  Most of her weight is still on his chest. Ben starts to gently meets her thrusts with his own movement, staying slow and shallow for her.  She’s so wet, the sounds echo in the quiet room along with their heavy breath and her whimpers.

 

Rey plants her hands on his chest and rises up to lean back.  She adds more weight on her heels and there’s another flicker of pain.

 

“Come back down,” he says, but Rey shakes her head.

 

She looks him in the eyes and leans back to sink down fully on his cock, moaning through the final few inches until her hips meet his.

 

“Fuck, Rey,” he says, fingers working her clit.  She holds still and adjusts to him. He looks down to where she’s staring, the place where they’re joined and he’s dug into her cunt.  “You’re so big,” she says, and Ben’s head swells bigger than his cock.

 

She starts to roll with his hand, in small circles, arching her back and grinding down.  Not thrusting as much as stirring her hips. He almost can’t stand how hot she is. Rey starts to move more, loosening into the movement, holding onto his forearms as little whimpers escape her throat.  

 

“How does it feel, baby?” he asks.

 

“So good,” she moans, “so, so good now.”

 

He smiles like he’s won a prize.  “That’s it. You’re so hot, God, you’re incredible.”

 

Her eyelashes flutter.  “Can you come like this?” she asks.

 

“No, but that’s okay.  I want you to.”

 

“No, together,” she leans down to kiss him.  “I want to come together.”

 

No one could say no to her, but especially not him.  He hugs her to his chest and then rolls them onto their sides.  Ben keeps up with his fingers on her clit and lifts her leg over his thigh.  He starts to move slightly, not too deep, just little thrusts to make it gentle for her.

 

Rey’s wet hair is curling and the water has dried but her brow shines with a fine sheen of sweat.  He pushes her hair back from her forehead and kisses her there, salty and hot. Her bright eyes are hazy and half-lidded as she looks up at him.  He’ll never forget this, that look in her eye and the sounds she makes as she rises up to her peak.

 

She thrusts up to meet him and he holds back to not hurt her, but the way her lips quiver when she closes her eyes and comes on his cock makes him break into a smile.  When she’s come down, he pulls out and strokes himself until he comes on her stomach, his thighs shaking. Ben kisses her and goes to get a towel to clean them up.

 

There’s a little bit of blood.  She looks away as he dries her off.  She slips out to go to the bathroom and he hears the shower turn on and then off again.  She comes back in a towel but drops it to get into bed with him.

 

Ben settles her against his chest.  She’s quivering. He pulls the covers up around them and rubs her arm and back.  Rey falls asleep before him and he watches her, wrapping an arm around her waist.

 

Ben knew how bad he wanted her from the moment he saw her, but he had no idea how hard he’d fall.  Rey’s all that matters anymore. Getting her to California is his new mission.

 

God help anyone who gets in his way.


Chapter Text

The air conditioner kicks on with a rattle, and Rey’s eyes open.  

 

The room is bright.  She turns her cheek on the pillow to find a cooler patch and nestles in deeper.  When sleep doesn’t return, she brushes her hair from her eyes and looks at the bedside table.  The red block letters on the clock read 8:27.

 

Rolling over, Rey feels a lick of fire between her legs and remembers last night.  The swimming pool. Sinking under with Ben.  Dark eyes, soft lips, his breath on her neck, his hips working into hers.  Rey stretches long in the bed and smiles lazily at the ceiling.  Everything has changed.

 

She throws back the covers and walks to the bathroom.  The shower takes a while to warm up. She sits on the toilet and there’s a little blood, but it’s not that bad.  It was worth it. To feel his weight on her and the needy hunger of his mouth, and they way he couldn’t look anywhere but at her– it was absolutely worth it.  Her hands almost shake thinking about it now, knowing she did it. It was something she wondered about for so long, and now it happened.

 

Rey thought she’d feel different afterwards.  She’s a woman now, no longer untouched or unwanted.  But she feels pretty much the same. Just a little sore, maybe, but a whole lot happier.

 

Stepping under the hot spray of the shower, she closes her eyes and leans her head back.  She rubs in the shampoo and sees Ben’s wide shoulders hovering over her. Soaping herself, she remembers the feel of his warm mouth on her breasts.  It’s like he’s lit a fuse in her know that she knows what he feels like. Her skin is charged, like static electricity waiting to spark off. She’s had a taste, and she’s wants more.

 

After shaving and cleaning up, she dries off and wraps up in a towel.  Ben still isn’t back in the room. She slips on clean undies and one of his black t-shirts she finds draped over the chair.  Rey holds the collar up above her nose. It smells spicy, like him, and she takes a deep breath in.

 

Rey pulls back the curtain to look out front of the motel.  Ben’s out there by the pool, smoking.

 

He’s laid back in a pool chair in only his jeans and boots, no shirt.  His long legs are crossed at the ankles and a hand folds behind his head.  His thick bicep flexes by his ear as he takes a drag.

 

He said I was his girl, Rey thinks.   I am.   It feels like a secret, like it’s finally her turn to win a prize.  She wants to go claim it.

 

Slipping on her jean shorts, she walks outside barefoot.  The smooth cement is warm, but not hot yet, under her feet.

 

His smile gets bigger the closer she gets.  She stands beside his chair and he turns his head away from her to exhale.  His wide chest is pale as moonlight a smattering of moles, but it serves to define his muscles even more, like he was carved from marble, she thinks.  He doesn’t have the bandage on his waist anymore. Rey can see the angry red scar from Hux’s knife. It makes her sad and angry now that she knows.

 

She’s distracted from that thought when he scratches behind his ear and one of his juicy pectorals twitches.  She wants to take a bite.

 

“Morning, babe,” he says in a rusted-over voice.  He hasn’t been awake for long, she can tell. He slept in, too.

 

Rey sits down next to him on the chair.  Instead of answering him, she lays her cheek on his chest and hugs him.  Ben takes another drag off his cigarette and blows the smoke away from her as his free arm wraps around her back.

 

She sits up to lean in for a kiss, but he grimaces.  “Shit, I didn’t brush my teeth yet,” he says.

 

“Whatever,” Rey says and kisses him anyway, a chaste peck because he won’t open his mouth to her.  “Lazy. You always bring me breakfast.” She grins and pokes him.

 

“I guess somebody wore me out last night.”  He raises his brows as his dark brown eyes twinkle.  Rey blushes and looks down, but her smile grows.

 

He takes another drag.  “How come you never offer me one?” Rey asks.

 

“‘Cause you shouldn’t smoke.  It’s a terrible fucking habit.”

 

She tilts her head and states the obvious.  “Well, you do.”

 

“That’s why I know.  It’s stupid, never start.”

 

She rolls her eyes and leans against his chest again.  “How old were you when you started?”

 

His voice rumbles under her ear.  “Sixteen. I was a dumb kid. I did it to piss off my mom and got hooked.  Thought I could hang out with the other teenage rejects.” He exhales. “That was before I realized I was too much of a reject for the rejects.”

 

Rey nibbles her lip.  Sixteen, only two years younger than her.  She forgets sometimes he’s a decade older. Maybe he still thinks she’s a dumb kid.  She knows she isn’t. Life didn’t give her the time to be lost, she wasn’t afforded the privilege to be dumb.  Ben didn’t have it easy at her age, but he did have parents. That’s more than she could say.

 

Rey sits up and looks at him.  She places a hand on his chest, just because she can.  He’s warm and firm. She’s never had a man, or even a boy, she could just touch when she wanted.  She has a lot of catching up to do.

 

Ben drops the butt on the ground and grinds it out with the ball of his foot.  Then he swings his legs over to sit next to her.

 

Rey takes his hand and leans into his neck to give it a kiss.  “Come back inside,” she whispers, pressing another soft kiss to his ear lobe.  She feels him take a breath, his rib cage expanding like a bellows next to her.

 

“Aren’t you hungry?  I can grab coffee at the diner–“

 

Rey nips his earlobe between her teeth.  Ben exhales fast.

 

“Not yet.  Come inside,” she whispers.

 

He leans away to get a better view of her face, reading her.  She keeps her hand on the warm swell of his shoulder and draws it across to his chest.  Rey blinks up at him, meeting his eyes.

 

“What’s got into you, baby?” he murmurs.  “You’re always hungry.”

 

His warm gaze drops to her mouth and then rises up again.  She sees the exact moment his own desire kicks in, the way he holds her look steady as his eyes darken.

 

“You know what’s gotten into me.”   

 

She moves closer.  Ben mutters, “I gotta brush my teeth–”

 

“Shut up,” she says and kisses him.  He tastes like smoke and heat, like Ben.  He chuckles at her, but she doesn’t care. She got what she wants.

 

They make it back into the room and he kicks the door closed behind him.  Ben pulls up at the hem of his black shirt, lifting it up over her stomach, his top teeth biting into his lower lip as he watches it rise off of her.  He throws it away and his hands land on her bare hips, then one cups her breast and holds. He walks her backwards to the bed as she holds his cheeks and smiles.  

 

Ben sits her down and makes room to kneel between her legs.  He looks down at her waist, concentrating on the mechanics of unbuttoning her shorts.  Rey combs his hair back from his angular face to watch him, stroking his cheekbone with a thumb.  He’s so handsome, and she can just touch him if she wants.

 

“Ben,” she says.  Because he can, he’s hers.  

 

“Baby,” he replies, and kisses her again.  He guides her to lay back on the bed so he can unzip her shorts.  She lifts her hips up to help him strip them off with her undies in one smooth motion.

 

He crawls up beside her on the bed and Rey’s fingers slide down his flat stomach to help him open up his jeans.  It’s tricky and they fumble, because neither seems willing to stop kissing long enough to do the job right. Rey slides a hand under his waistband and her fingers hit soft skin and coarse hair.  Ben sucks in air sharply between his teeth.

 

“Fuck, baby,” he says, tugging his pants down his hips.  “I gotta have you in my mouth.”

 

Rey reaches for him, wanting him on top of her but also around her, not exactly sure where or how to start, as she becomes more frantic for him to touch her, pulling him closer and just wanting more.   

 

He senses her confusion and paradoxically slows down.  He leans on a forearm above her, staring down with parted lips, as she pants on her back.  He studies her face for a minute, as if he’s reading a secret code.

 

“Hi,” he says.  It’s odd and endearing.  It’s what she needs somehow.  She calms down.

 

“Hi,” she whispers back.  He traces the curve of her jaw with a fingertip.  She smiles and he dips down to kiss her again, languid.  Patient.

 

She’s never had the time to just be kissed.  It’s not a stolen moment, it’s not desperate.  It’s comprehensive. Ben’s not in a rush and Rey relaxes.  Her mind goes blank as she gives in to the sensation of his lips, the heat of his mouth, the pressure which is just enough and not too much.

 

His fingers twine into her hair and it’s nice.  She didn’t know it would be nice, but it is. Rey kisses him back and rocks her hips, wanting him to touch her.  She throws a leg over his hip and clenches her thigh to drag him closer. She forces him to roll more weight onto her.  She’s growing wet and aching, and if he doesn’t touch her soon, she may go mad.

 

Ben’s cock brushes against her hip, hard and ready, and she doesn’t want to wait anymore.  She squirms up higher and wraps a hand around his waist, to the sharp curve at the top of his ass, and draws him closer.

 

Ben groans.  “Baby, slow down.”

 

“Can’t, Ben,” she whispers back to him, “I can’t wait.”

 

“Wait,” he exhales, his voice deep and strained as his own control is tested.  “You aren’t ready yet.”

 

Rey feels ready.  She rocks her hips into him, spreading some of her wet heat on him, and kisses under his jaw.  His palm cups her breast and she moans at the feel of his rough skin on her tight nipples. She feels as tightly strung as a guitar string, ready to be strummed.  His other hand grabs her ass and he grinds into her.

 

She reaches down to stroke his cock.  His weight and length are still a novelty.  She’s unsure how hard to go, so she strokes him lightly until he shows her how to squeeze the skin up and down the shaft properly.  Once, twice, barely three times, and Rey has had enough waiting so she aligns him and shimmies down.

 

He starts to push in and Rey winces.  She’s wet, but still sore and tight. It hurts.

 

Ben sees and stops.  He pulls out, and she reacts to the loss by reaching for him.

 

“C’mere.”  He’s gentle with her.  “Come over here.” He lays his head on the pillow, lying flat on his back, and leads her up the headboard.  He guides her to straddle his face.

 

Rey holds on and stares down at Ben between her thighs, butterflies twirling in her stomach.  This is all new.

 

His thumbs cover her hip points as he draws her closer to his mouth.  “Relax, sweetheart, I got you.” He licks a soft stripe, and Rey gasps.  Her fingers tighten on the wood as she lowers her hips down to chase after that incredible feeling.

 

She stares into his dark eyes as he buries his mouth in her pussy.  Rey sighs and melts down as he starts to twist his tongue through her wet skin.  Her head lolls to the side as her neck turns to rubber. She rocks her hips against his mouth in time with Ben’s tongue.   

 

“Oh, God.”  The words escape from her lips.  She’s breathing hard already.

 

He sucks and laps at her until she’s panting.  His dark coffee eyes drill through her, hollowing her out and filling her up at the same time.  She’s whimpers and whines as he builds her up to her climax, until she comes in his mouth with shaky thighs and soft cries.  He helps her crawl down his body until she’s a puddle on his chest. Her legs extend and slide between his and she feels his firm cock wedged between them.

 

He rolls them over and she wraps her legs around his waist, insistent.

 

“We don’t have to, if you’re–”

 

“Now, Ben,” she says, not to be denied.  She links fingers behind his neck and holds.

 

Ben kisses her and she tastes herself on his lips.  Slightly salty and sweet, rich and unusual, but not unpleasant.  It’s a blend of both of them. She’ll get used to it.

 

He reaches down to fit himself inside her.  Rey’s drenched and soft now, and the slide is better.  He pushes in until his hips are slotted against hers and holds.  Ben extends his arms and balances, staring down at where they’re joined.  She follows his gaze. He finds her eyes again and smiles. She cranes her head up to reach for his mouth.

 

“Fuck, baby, you’re beautiful,” he murmurs against her lips.

 

Rey thinks he’s beautiful, too.  “I want you,” she says.

 

“You got me.”

 

He starts to pump, gentle at first and then harder when she can take it.  Ben lowers to press against her chest, her nipples raking against his hot skin with each thrust, and wraps his arms under her shoulder blades and buries his face in her neck.

 

“God, Rey,” he says, and she moans in response.  She feels it, too, hugs him tighter.

 

Ben thrusts into her until Rey cries out and comes again in his arms.  When she’s done, he pulls out and a few tugs later he comes on her stomach, gasping.  He falls back to her side and kisses her temple as she lightly scratches his back.

 

“Some days I wake up and think I dreamed you,” he says out of nowhere.

 

Rey laughs.  “You are not for real.”

 

“Yes, I am.  Maybe I crashed out in the desert and this is just a heat mirage.  I’ll wake up with a tumbleweed next to me.”

 

She turns to look at him and narrows her eyes.  “Better not cheat on me with a tumbleweed.”

 

He grins at her, then kisses the tip of her nose.  “Never.”

 

Ben gets out of bed and throws her a towel then starts the shower.  He brushes his teeth.

 

Rey rolls onto her side, cheek in hand, to watch him.  His tight little ass wiggles as he scrubs his teeth, she can almost see his balls jiggle from between his thighs.

 

“You’re cute,” she says.  He stops brushing and turns over his shoulder to glare at her.

 

“Cute?!” he says in mock offense, mouth full of toothpaste.  He spits in the sink.

 

“You heard me.”

 

He bites his toothbrush and then makes a muscle man pose in the mirror.  “Don’t you mean ripped?”

 

Rey rolls her eyes and gets out of bed.  “Ripped in a cute way.”  She giggles at the outraged look he throws her then slaps his ass and slips past him into the shower.

 

He joins her a minute later.  

 

Time to get a move on, they’ve got things to see.



Chapter Text

Ben looks up at her, a slender curve of muscle and grace, her taut thighs spread open for him.  From this angle looking up, her narrow waist is made even slimmer under the width of his palms. He watches his thumbs trace circles around the delicate bones of her hips while she rocks gently against his mouth.

 

Rey whimpers and his eyes shoot back to hers.  She’s a sight to behold, pink nipples pulled tight above the golden swells of her breasts.  She grips the headboard and arches her back, and the loose waves that frame her face fall forward when she gasps.  Her eyelids flutter with her breath, and hazel eyes full of lust and wonder meet his.

 

Ben flicks his tongue and feels her tremble.  He grips her tighter, working his way through pliant flesh, and the sounds she makes are like music, a lullaby of desire, the sweetest sounds he’s ever heard.  Rey unwinds for him as she comes in his mouth, and he catches every move and every sigh. Rey is beautiful, no, she is beauty.  

 

Ben draws her down to his chest, holding her tight, before rolling them over.

 

He pushes inside and clutches her closer.

 

She is everything.

 

+++

 

Vegas during the week is only moderately less busy than the weekend, which suits him fine.  Even better for them to disappear in the crowd of people flowing in and out of the city.

 

Ben wants to see her in the new purple dress.  Rey’s shy about it at first, but he can tell she wants to wear it, so he begs her to.  She smiles and skips to the bathroom to slip it on and surprise him. She comes out prancing and he gives her a long, slow whistle.  It fits her like a glove, like it was made for her. The new heels hurt her feet, and Rey’s a practical girl, so she steps into her cowboy boots instead.

 

They walk down the street with fingers linked.  Rey looks like a million bucks. Ben feels like the luckiest guy alive.

 

The honky tonk off the strip is only half-full.  No cops. They choose a booth in the back corner where Ben can still see the bar TV.  He listens to Rey as his eyes stay fixed on the early evening news. Still no word about either of them or Ash Fork that he’s seen.  He’s starting to worry that Snoke has a different play, maybe he isn’t going to flush them out at all. Something he can’t predict, and that makes him antsy.  

 

“Did you hear me?”  

 

Rey’s soft voice cuts through his thoughts, and he turns to her.  “Hmm? Sorry, babe.”

 

“I said we could be to California in a day if we drive straight through.”

 

Ben swallows and takes another sip of beer.  He’s been so wrapped up in her that it’s been easy to ignore everything else.  But they need to get moving again, and with that comes risk and decisions. He can’t put off the inevitable forever.  

 

“Finn could put us up for a while, I know he would.  While we look around for a place.”

 

Ben blinks, and the surprise on his face must be evident as it sinks in.  Rey wants him to stay with her in California. She wants him.

 

Rey looks down and crosses her legs as she starts to pick at the label on her longneck, peeling back the corner.  Her words roll out fast, as if pulled on a string. “I mean, if you want to stay there for a while and didn’t have plans already.  You didn’t say if you had plans, so I didn’t know.”

 

Ben’s laser-focused on her now.  The moment feels very important all of a sudden, and he doesn’t want to fuck it up.  “I need to go to LA to meet a friend of my Dad’s to get some things sorted out–”

 

Rey chews on the side of her cheek and nods, still looking down as her lip screws up.  He rushes to finish the thought.

 

“–but I don’t have to right away.  I’ll take you all the way in to get you settled first.  Safe and sound.”

 

Rey glances up finally.  He can see the question behind her eyes before she even speaks it.  “Then what?” Her voice is clear, but quiet. It’s the sound of someone who is used to disappointment, of setting their expectations realistically low.  That alone makes his heart break a little.

 

Then what is a good question.  Ben doesn’t have all the answers to that yet, but he knows what he wants.  He’s just not sure it’s what she deserves.

 

“Then we take some time to figure things out.  You can’t have a clear head while we’re running.”

 

Rey looks at her beer and considers.  She takes a sip and sits up straighter.  “Are you saying you don’t know what you want yet?”

 

He sees the muscles in her jaw start to work and that stubborn jut of her chin.  He knows the signs of her rising steam by now, and he wants to cut it off at the pass.

 

“No.  I’m saying that for you, babe.  There’s no rush and you don’t have to decide anything yet.”

 

“There’s nothing to decide if I already know.”  Rey looks at him directly with a heat in her eyes that makes him want to melt on the seat.  She flashes a cheeky grin, fully aware of what she’s doing to him, and lifts both eyebrows to goad him as she takes a long swig of beer.

 

Before he can reply there’s feedback from an electric guitar being plugged in.  A band is setting up on a small stage in the back. They put in an order for burgers as the music begins to play.

 

When the food arrives, Rey pushes her plate over and slides in next to him on the booth so they can both watch as they eat.  The sun’s gone down and more people start to trickle in after work. A few couples take to the dance floor.

 

Ben settles his hand on her thigh as they eat.  They don’t talk about it, just watch the band. She reaches over and steals one of his fries, then grins up at him while she chews.

 

“Little thief,” he mutters affectionately, watching with a soft grin.  Rey looks down at his mouth then back to his eyes. She stretches up and steals a kiss, too.

 

She moves to sit back but he follows her mouth down, chasing after her, not letting her get away from him that easy.  He gives her thigh a squeeze and Rey giggles against his lips and jumps. Ticklish.   Interesting.  He can use that.

 

Their plates are cleared and he loops his arm around her shoulders as she leans into his chest.  The band starts a new song, a slower one, and a lonely guitar riff rises.

 

Rey stands up.  “Come on, I like this one.”  She reaches for his hand.

 

Ben shakes his head.  “Nah, these big feet don’t dance.”

 

“I don’t dance either!”  She pulls at his hand, insistent.  “Come not-dance with me.”

 

He sighs, but how can he say no to that face?  It’s not fair. He lumbers up to standing and lets her drag him onto the floor.

 

Ben hasn’t danced since eighth grade, some cotillion shit Leia signed him up for.  He’s trying to remember where to place his hands when Rey beats him to it and wraps both arms around his waist, chin digging into his chest to look up at him.  He crosses his arms behind her back and they start a slow sway.

 

“See, it’s not so bad,” she says, voice barely rising above the music.

 

He grunts and tries to frown, but it comes out as a smile ‘cause she’s looking at him like that.  The thought crosses his mind: what would his dad say, seeing him so soft and moon-eyed over a girl?  Seeing him so happy? He feels a twinge in his side, an echo of pain, and kisses Rey’s forehead and hugs her in closer.

 

As they dance, Ben’s eyes wander the dark corners of the bar until he spots a guy in a cowboy hat staring in their direction.  He feels a prickle of fear for an instant, but then sees the guy’s shamelessly checking Rey out, going so far as to nudge his buddy to get him to look, also.  Ben seethes as a dark cloud forms. He shoots the guy a look that could cut and his body tenses.

 

Rey pats him on the back to get his attention.  “Hey. What’s up?”

 

“Nothing.  Some asshole,” he mutters, dragging his eyes back to her.  

 

She stretches back and tosses her hair over a shoulder to get a better look at him, studying his face.  “You wanna go?”

 

“Nah.  I want to finish our dance.”  He keeps his eyes on her and laces his fingers together behind her waist.  The lights over the stage shift from blue to red and back again, changing the shadows on her face.  They make such a slow circle that it would be hard to tell they were moving at all if you weren’t looking closely.  Rey comes up to the middle of his chest, and when she lays her cheek against him he can rest his chin on the crown of her head.

 

They fit together perfect.

 

+++

 

It’s a few days away from October, and he can feel the crisp bite in the air.

 

They hit the street again and make for the strip, the neon lights calling them closer like a siren song.  Horns and music rise and then fade as they pass by open restaurant and bar doors. The barkers try to hand them fliers as Ben waves them off.  

 

Rey keeps pace just fine, her lean legs are meant to move.  He likes watching the bright lights reflect off her face as she looks around her.  She tries to play it cool and keep the amazement off her face, but it seeps through anyhow.  Her excitement makes him feel excited, like a kid on Christmas morning, as he sees the world fresh through her eyes.  

 

They walk to Flamingo Road and stop.

 

“Pick one,” he says.

 

“Really?  Any of them?”  She looks at him like he’s already given her a gift just by asking.  He wonders how many she’s ever gotten in her life. He can’t wait to spoil her rotten.  

 

Rey points to Barbary Coast and they’re off.

 

It’s a blur of loud noise and color.  Bells ring in discordant rhythm and people shout when they win and shout when they lose.  They walk through the slots on the main floor, then retreat to an upper floor for the table games.  A cocktail waitress brings them vodkas with Sprite, extra cherries for Rey, and they start at the roulette table.  He buys in for two hundred and Rey looks stunned.

 

She likes roulette.  She’s pretty lucky, betting on black more often than not.  When she wins, she hops, and sometimes gives him a hug. He wants Rey to always win.

 

He sits down at a blackjack table and buys her in, too.  She picks it up quick, but she’s cautious with her bets. Ben thinks it’s funny.

 

He whispers in her ear.  “Babe, if you run out, I’ll get you more chips.”

 

She shakes her head, serious with her two dollar raise.

 

“It’s not a problem, I have more.”

 

“I’m not going to waste your money,” she says curtly, shutting him down.  After winning thirty bucks, she’s done. She cashes out and stands behind him, leaning on his shoulders.

 

Rey hooks her chin over a shoulder to watch his hand.  He shows the cards, pointing wordlessly so she can learn the game, gesturing for the dealer to hit him so she knows why.  When he’s up by a couple hundred, he’s had enough and Rey seems ready to go. It’s getting late. He cashes out and then takes her hand to grab a final drink at the bar.

 

As he winds them through the crowd to head downstairs, Ben looks up and freezes.  His heart begins to pound.

 

Up ahead, back turned to them, is a tailored black suit and a slicked-back head of flaming red hair.

 

Hux.

 

Without a word, Ben pivots and walks back where they came from.  Rey trails behind and tugs his hand, “Ben?”

 

“Follow me,” he barks out, not breaking stride.  He leads them past the blackjack tables to the far wall.

 

If Hux is here, he’s not alone.  Ben feels incredibly stupid and looks up at the security cameras.  Every inch of the casino is covered by surveillance, even the elevators.  They could be watching them right now.

 

He drags Rey behind him to the back corner and a set of double-doors marked “employees only.”  Without a second thought, he pushes through.

 

They step into a long, white hallway lit by flickering fluorescent bulbs.  A service elevator and stairway are at the far end past another set of double doors.  It’s empty and doesn’t look used much, the underbelly of the casino.

 

Ben turns to Rey, who’s breathless and confused.  He doesn’t let go of her hand.

 

“We have to get out of here.  I think we were spotted.”

 

“By who?”  She frowns.  It’s really the only question she could ask.

 

“Hux.  Snoke’s guys.”

 

She looks more angry than frightened now.  “The guy who stabbed you? Are you sure it was him?”

 

That gives him pause.  He could’ve made a mistake.  Maybe it was someone else he saw.  Perhaps it was just his fear talking.

 

But, no, Ben can feel it.  His luck has finally run out.  “Yeah,” he says and starts walking again, pulling her along.  “It was him.”

 

They take long strides and their heels click on the tile and echo off the walls.  He shoves his other hand in his pocket, but knows he’ll find it empty. Stupid, he’s so stupid.  The gun is locked up with the bag of money in the motel.  He’s got nothing.

 

They’re mid-way down the hall when a man steps through the double doors.  He stops in front of them. Navy suit, blonde goatee, a stranger. The way the man’s eyes seem to bore into him, though, he’s sure of it now.  

 

One of Snoke’s guys.  They’ve been found.

 

Ben squeezes Rey’s hand and steps in front of her.  The man clasps his hands in front of his waist and blocks the hallway.  Ben starts edging back. Maybe they can make a break for it, he can keep the guy busy while Rey gets away.  He’s got to time it right in case the guy’s got a gun.

 

The door they came through swings open behind them.  Ben hears footsteps and a sickeningly-familiar voice.

 

“Solo, it’s been a while.”

 

Ben turns over his shoulder and sees Hux approaching with another first order guy, Koh he thinks it is.  Thick, solid chest, black buzz-cut. Hux’s smug smirk nearly drips off his lips. They’ve cut off their escape route from behind.  

 

“Colonel Snoke’s been very anxious to talk to you.  You’re not an easy man to find these days.”

 

Ben’s mind begins to buzz.  He presses Rey back behind him against the wall, caging her in.  Blonde Goatee reaches his hands into his pockets, a threat. Ben runs calculations in his mind.  It’s a matter of two versus one, so that’s the direction he’ll shove Rey if he has to, telling her to run and never look back.  At least the odds are better she’ll get away.

 

Never tell me the odds.

 

Hux and Koh close in and stop.  Hux tilts his head, icy eyes trained on Ben.  

 

“We were surprised that our Chicago team fell off the grid.  They were tailing you. You wouldn’t know anything about that, would you Solo?”

 

Rey’s hands press into his back.  He can’t see her, but he can feel her.  The buzzing in his ears gets louder. “Maybe you should have better hiring standards,” Ben says.

 

Hux snorts.  “Still a jackass, I see.  I thought I taught you a lesson about your big mouth.”  He purses his lips as his eyes land on Rey.

 

“Or do you need another?”

 

Ben’s hands start to shake with the building adrenaline.  Fear and anger twist together into a thick knot as his body prepares to snap.

 

Hux nods and Goatee steps forward and sucker punches Ben in the gut while he’s not looking.  It’s a direct hit on the stab wound, and he grunts and folds in half. Goatee drags him down by the shoulder and his knees slam to the tile.  Rey cries out behind him.

 

Hux yanks her back against his chest so she’s facing Ben.  Goatee pulls Ben’s hair back so he has to watch. One hand wraps around Rey’s throat, the other grabs her hip to hold her back.  Ben’s vision blurs around the edges and he huffs like a bull.

 

“Now, there.  Calm down. We’re going to meet the Colonel.  You can even bring your little friend.”

 

Rey lifts her chin as she looks at Ben, her eyes welling with tears.  The muscle in her jaw twitches and her hands clench in two tight fists at her sides.  

 

Seeing her under Hux’s hands is torture.  He can’t take it. Ben’s voice comes out choked.  

 

“Let her go.  She doesn’t know anything.  Just let her go, she won’t talk.”

 

Hux smirks and the hand on her hip slides around to her stomach as Ben watches.  

 

“She knew enough to get you out of Ash Fork.”

 

“Because I’m paying her for a ride, that’s all.”  The hand slides up the purple dress painfully slowly.  Ben works his jaw, blood ready to boil over, and forces himself to look at Rey’s face instead of Hux’s hand.  Her lips are trembling and he’s sees a rising storm in her own eyes, wet but furious.

 

“Hmm.  What else are you paying her for?”

 

Hux’s rises up her body and lands on a breast.  The moment hovers and Rey’s jaw clenches at the invasion, her eyes growing wild.  

 

Ben sees red.  

 

He inhales, his chest swelling, as he readies himself to lunge, fuck the consequences, fuck him, he’ll smash Hux’s face into a million pieces.

 

But it’s Rey who moves first.

 

The roulette wheel of fear and anger spinning behind her eyes lands on anger.  Her left fist lifts up and then smashes back directly into Hux’s crotch, taking him by surprise.  He exhales in a whoosh and crumples forward at the direct hig, dragging her down to the ground with him.

 

Ben moves like he’s been set on fire.

 

He turns and yanks Goatee down by his belt to slam him to the ground.  He pummels him in the gut with both fists, then holds him down and lands three solid punches to the face before his knuckles split open and the guy grabs his face, moaning.

 

Koh, stunned, finally moves and pulls out a gun as he rushes forward, mistakenly judging Ben the greater threat.  Rey pushes Hux off of her, and Koh trips on his legs, stumbling into Ben’s arms as he rises to standing.

 

Ben grabs the wrist with the gun and slams Koh to the wall.  He punches him in the gut and then slams his head repeatedly into the wall until Koh drops the gun and falls to the floor like a bag of bricks.  Ben kicks the gun away down the hall.

 

He whirls around in time to see Rey knee Hux in the crotch again and then stumble out of his reach as he swipes for her from the floor.  Ben lurches forward and starts kicking Hux, wildly.

 

Motherfucker , don’t you touch her!”  It feels good to kick. It feels fucking fantastic to hurt him.  Ben unleashes all his fury on Hux, kicking any part he can reach, his stomach, his legs, his chest, putting all the pain he’s carried inside back onto him.

 

“Ben, stop!”  

 

He registers Rey’s voice as if it’s coming from far away.  Her hands circle his arm, but his leg moves on its own now, he can’t seem to stop it.

 

“Ben, stop!  You’ll kill him!  Stop!” Her voice hits a higher pitch and his foot is still connecting with a sick thud, even though Hux has stopped twisting and merely flinches each time he connects.

 

Please, Ben!”  Rey screams desperately, pulling him back, and the please finally reaches him.

 

Ben’s gasping for air and his sweat sticks his hair to his forehead when he turns to look at her, the spell finally broken.  Rey’s sobbing, her face and throat are a splotchy red, as her chest jumps with her breath.

 

“Let’s go,” she pleads, her eyes swimming in tears.

 

He pushes the hair from his face and looks down at the men.  Hux is still but breathing. The other two are faintly whimpering.  

 

Rey takes his bloody hand in hers and pulls him down the hall.  They follow the exit sign down the stairwell and pick up speed with each step, not stopping until they hit the alley behind the casino and step back into the brightly shining Vegas night.