Rey’s gaze had never wavered from Kylo’s for the whole time he’d sucked her wounded finger in his mouth. It had been one of the most surreal experiences of her life, having him kneeling like that in front of her, eyes full of awe and something else she hadn’t managed to grasp.
She’d always imagined blood sucking to be some strange, traumatizing experience, violent maybe, with pointed canine tearing at delicate skin, but she’d perceived only respect and reverence from him. In the end, In the end, she’d been lily-livered, and the cut on her finger had been quite shallow, producing only a few droplets of blood that he’d licked like his life depended on it, making her heart run like a wild horse..
Now she was lying on her side, squeezing her hand in one of the serviettes they used for their lunch, her body sheltered by his cloak. Kylo was sitting beside her, cradling his knees and looking at the trees around the small puddle they called a lake, lost in his musings.
The unthinkable had just happened: maybe for a trivial reason such as her old pots, maybe because she was doing the right thing for both of them–she wasn’t sure, but she knew she wanted his lips on her skin again, as soon as possible, and tried to draw his attention. Her trembling hand almost reached the lapel of his vest when a pinecone hit her on the shoulder. They weren’t under any tree, since she’d preferred to eat in the sun and pine needles would have ruined their picnic cloth, so someone must have tossed it from somewhere.
She didn’t even have the time to turn her head when Kylo disappeared before her eyes with a strange vacuum sound. Her heartbeat sped up; these were some of his real powers, on display in front of her. She got to her feet with haste, following the harsh sound of cries from a crop of trees behind them: Kylo was there, holding two lads by the scruff of their necks, and she ran towards them. They kept trying to kick her husband but to no avail, and upon a closer inspection one of the boys looked in fact like a girl in hand-me-down clothes too big for her, and Rey’s heart constricted.
“Kylo, stop right there!” she cried, covering the last yards between them with long strides.
He turned towards her as one of the lads finally managed to kick him in a shin, but he didn’t even flinch.
“Put them down,” pleaded Rey. “They’re children.”
And he did. He opened his hands and let the two rascals fall on the ground. One of them lost their hat, revealing two long braids: Rey had been right, she was a girl. Both scrambled to get on their feet again, but before running away, the boy spat at Rey, his saliva hitting the hem of her dress. And then she recognized the duo: they were the same younglings that had disturbed her promenade with Mr. Dameron, a couple of weeks before. She crouched, cleaning herself with her serviette, trying to understand who those children were, and what they could want from her.
“Let’s return home,” said Kylo, and she nodded, tired.
They quickly collected their victuals in the picnic chest, and when they finished, Kylo approached Rey and lifted her in his arms like a husband does with his spouse after the wedding ceremony. She squeaked in surprise but didn’t stop him, enjoying the sensation of being lifted almost effortlessly combined with the warmth of his strong arms around her.
“I suggest you close your eyes,” he prompted her, but she didn’t even have time to ask for clarification before everything was swirling around them, and a plummeting sensation hit her stomach and disoriented her.
She shut her eyes then, holding tight onto his neck, and he squeezed back, as if to ground her. When Rey opened her eyes again, she discovered that they were already in the foyer of her house: in the blink of an eye, he’d somehow transported both of them instantaneously home, directly from the park. She opened her mouth in awe: this power of his was new, and unexpected, and incredible. Her mind raced through all the archaeological sites she had visited in her youth and the countless hours spent on trains or boats to reach them, and how she had often felt too unwell to appreciate traveling. She’d definitely underestimated her husband’s abilities.
“How did you manage that?” she squealed in delight, and he tightened his hold on her.
“You gave me your blood,” he answered, “I will need time to adjust, but my powers will slowly come back now.”
Avoiding thinking about why she’d conceded him her blood was almost impossible now. Squirming, she prompted him to let her down, chastising herself for thinking about her forged pots while he was touching her. A touch she definitely didn’t mind anymore.
He’d drank her blood, and she had to be careful with her thoughts from now on: he could touch her and read her mind whenever, or she could accidentally project images from her plan directly into his mind while they were promenading, arm in arm. She went in the kitchen to leave her picnic chest there for her menials to clean, concocting a polite way to dismiss him.
But when she returned in the foyer, he was still there, waiting and smiling at her. His right hand was hidden in his pocket, and a corner of his mouth was lifted, but not in his usual, sardonic way. This smile of his seemed genuine, and full of expectation, and her heart began to beat frantically in her constricted chest.
Before she could excuse herself to disappear into her studio, he grabbed her hand, making her jump in alarm.
“Are you feeling well, Miss Rey?” he inquired, a frown sombering his otherwise cheerful features.
She averted her gaze and turned towards the door, hoping that avoiding his eyes could be enough to stop him from reading her mind. But his grip on her hand grew stronger, as if he could soothe her with his insistent, warm touch.
Rey understood that she’d slipped in the end, letting her mind race towards her pots when his hand abandoned hers all of a sudden, almost like her flesh was burning from the inside. She’d thought about how she needed him to touch her vases despite having desperately tried to avoid it so far, while he was genuinely worried for her, and trying to ascertain if she was unwell.
Guilt gnawed at her heart, and she gulped upon finding his eyes fixed on hers, cold as amber stone. He was still as a statue, sorrow etched across his long, solemn visage, looking at her with a coldness that iced the blood in her veins.
“Is that so?” he finally spoke, his voice devoid of any emotion but almost trembling despite its hardness. “Did you cut yourself on purpose?”
She kept her mouth shut, unsure of how to answer.
“And you let me drink your blood only to exploit my ability to see the past with my hands?”
“No!” she cried. “Not only because of that!”
“And for what, pray tell?”
She lowered her gaze. Why did she let him drink from her hand? To discover more about the forger, undoubtedly, but that wasn't the only reason she’d let him feed on her. But words were now failing her, and her lips refused to open.
“Very well,” he interrupted her silence, “I’ll touch your wretched vases and I’ll disturb you no further.”
“Please, let me explain!” she cried, but he didn't stop.
His long legs brought him to the upper floor in a matter of seconds, and he stormed into her studio while she tried hopelessly to keep up with his pace, her hands lifting and creasing her tabinet skirt while she ran up the stairs.
“Are these your vases?” he barked, opening the door with haste and approaching her desk.
“You misread my thoughts, Kylo. Please, stop and listen to me.”
“Don’t. Please, don’t treat me like I was born yesterday.” His gaze sorrowful, he took the first vase in his hand, lifting it towards her. “You cut yourself on purpose, to know who made these.”
Rey lowered her gaze again, nodding. He was right, she had thought that fooling him could be easy as picking a low-hanging fruit. And in doing that, she had wounded him again, deeply, maybe in an irredeemable way. Who was the monster between them now?
“This was made by a Greek man called Oltos, in Athens, more than twenty-two centuries ago,” he said, avoiding her gaze and picking up another vase. “This one was made by one Timonax, in Taras, and these two were both made in Vulci, by two different people, Makron and Velparun.”
“Kylo,” she pleaded, but he promptly interrupted her.
“And this one. This one was made two years ago by a woman called Bazine Netal, in Bleeding Hart Yard, London.”
“Kylo.” Rey tried again, without letting slip any reaction to what he’d presently said.
“Now I'll see myself out,” he announced, approaching her slowly and extracting something from his pocket.
Rey felt her legs threaten to give out under her but collected her strength nonetheless and remained stoically glued on the spot, waiting for his next action. He took her right hand in his: his touch was electric, and she jolted at the contact. He put something in her palm without letting her see what it was.
“I wanted to give this to you earlier, after lunch. Do whatever you want with it, I don't care about it anymore,” he announced, exiting the room. “Goodbye, Miss Rey.”
She opened her hand only when she couldn't hear the noise of his steps anymore. Upon seeing what he’d given her, her heart skipped a beat, and she had to close her eyes again, grounding herself against the ringing noise that quickly filled her ears.
A warm tear escaped her lashes: in her hand there was a stunning gold ring with a carved green stone. It could only be Poe Dameron’s Roman one, and Kylo had bought it for her.
During the following week Rey tried to keep herself as busy as possible in order to not think about her husband leaving her again. This time, she had been the main cause of her woes, and while she tried to keep herself distracted with her studies by day, her dreams were haunted by Kylo Ren’s piercing eyes by night, leaving her exhausted and yearning for his forgiveness. She even tried, under the shelter of her quilts, to touch herself, chasing solace. But even on the cusp of relief, all she could imagine were his lips around her finger, tinted red with her blood.
She had to hide the Roman ring in a small wooden box on her bedside table in order to not look at it, but sometimes her gaze was drawn to the jewel case against her will. But she’d solemnly promised herself to not look at it, so she didn't. Her willpower was stronger than her loneliness.
In the end, she’d reached her primary goal–discovering the truth about the vases she’d brought at the auction house with her colleagues. She told Finn and Rose that after several hours of careful study she’d managed to discover which one of their red-on-black vases was false, and the whole lot—minus the counterfeited one—had been sold to the museum as previously programmed, without further hesitation.
Spring came shyly but arrived nonetheless, and the gardens and parks of the city slowly started blooming with new buds and flowers while birds and squirrels played amongst the young leaves. Rey became inexplicably angry upon witnessing nature’s awakening, but she couldn't exactly pinpoint the reason behind all that resentment. She almost wished for winter to come back and freeze all the buds off their branches and envelop her body, cocooning her under a blanket of snow and ice.
One morning, Mr. Oswald knocked on her study door, announcing that he was bringing sad news.
“It looks like one the trees in the back garden did not survive the bad season,” he announced, sorrow in his voice.
Rey closed the tome she was consulting and got to her feet, her chair scraping the wooden parquet. He was talking about one of the trees she and Kylo had traversed during their flight over the city, and upon thinking about him, her heart sped up and she had to blink back tears. She hated getting emotional before her monthlies.
She followed her butler to the garden to ascertain with her own eyes if he was telling the truth or not. One of Professor Solo’s black poplars already had small, light green gems on its trunk, while its twin was still naked, gnarly branches extending towards a sky rich with clouds and gentle spring rains.
Rey touched the dark, corrugated bark in a reverent way. She’d always liked those two huge trees in her back garden, remembering the awe she’d felt the first time Leia accompanied her to see them. It was a few months after she’d met Han Solo and the elderly couple had decided to take her under their wings.
“Miss Rey, should I call someone to take it down?” inquired Mr. Oswald.
She turned around, surprised. “No. It’s not really dead. Insects and small animals still live inside its trunk and between its branches. It would be cruel to them to cut the whole tree down. And besides that, even without sap running beneath its bark, it remains a majestic specimen. Now it’s the most beautiful tree in the garden.”
The butler nodded, leaving Rey in the garden, alone with her thoughts.
The idea that she was, in fact, in love for the first time in her life reached her during a quite boring task: she was helping Mrs. Rachel cutting some onions for their lunch, since the poor woman’s eyes were particularly sensitive to the fiery bulbs. As she removed the first, purplish and desiccated layer from the onion, her thoughts wandered to Kylo Ren. A monster coming from the dawn of time and the depth of space. Her husband.
She missed him. She missed his presence, and their chats, and their promenades, and his wit. But she also craved his lips on her skin again, and the thought made her sigh deeply. For the first time, she was finding someone’s company more appealing than her own. Thinking that she could exploit its powers like his innumerable previous masters before her without hurting him had been a huge lapse of judgment on her part. Her knife descended on the poor, innocent onion, butchering its delicate and juicy layers.
“Miss Rey, I’ve asked you to cut it, not to pulverise it. Return to your broken pots, please!” squeaked Mrs. Rachel.
Rey could only nod, and, defeated, she returned to her rooms. Keeping away from the small box on her bedside table was now impossible, so she opened it, admiring once again the stunning Roman cameo. She slipped it on her right ring finger, her thoughts lost in the delicate carving of Minerva’s helm, and closed her eyes, wondering what Kylo was doing in that moment.
She threw herself over the bed like she used to do when she was a young lass: she would embrace her ratty cushion, imagining that it was one of her parents, finally back to save her from Plutt’s whip. But upon waking up in the morning, she was still on her small bunk in Plutt’s house, and there was no trace of her mother, or her father. Now, in the same fashion, stroking her ring with her fingertips, she embraced her plump goose cushion, imagining that it was Kylo, and they were happy, relaxing on her bed after reading together, or after a long and beautiful trip. Lulled by her reverie, she fell asleep, hoping to see him in her dreams at least.
Upon hearing someone knocking on her door, she woke up and found herself still squeezing the cushion between her arms. The sun was shining beyond her heavy curtains: the colour of the light was hinting that it was already past lunchtime. Her mind felt hazy, and she blamed a deep fatigue that hadn’t been there that morning. Another knock on the door prompted her to answer, lamenting an alleged migraine.
“I don’t feel like eating! I’ll have some tea later!”
Mr. Oswald’s voice came muffled and feeble from behind the wooden door. “Oh dear, are you feeling well, Miss Rey?”
“I feel a bit tired, nothing to worry about. I’m sure that’s because of the change of season.”
She turned on her side, squeezing the cushion again. Her head was spinning: she had to close her eyes for a moment to ground herself, and her traitorous brain brought her to her last day with Kylo, when he’d transported her from the park to home in a matter of seconds, making her experience a similar kind of dizziness. When she opened her eyes for the second time, they focused on the dull gold of the Roman ring, still wrapped around her finger. The goddess’ dead eyes were fixed on her, as if daring her to take Kylo back, and Rey’s heart began beating again at the mere idea of ordering him to return to her.
Rey pondered her reflection in the mirror. There was no time to ask Finn or Mr. Dameron to accompany her to Maz’s, so she’d donned Professor Solo’s clothes: after almost twenty years, she was going to take a stroll all by herself, dressed as a man. The old coat and trousers were big indeed on her, but she was hoping the impending twilight might make her less recognizable as a woman while covered up in ill-fitting masculine clothes and with her long, chestnut waves hidden under a hat.
After closing her bedroom door and leaving a note in front of it on the floor, saying she wished to rest in silence until the morning, she sneaked through the house, walking against the walls and listening for any indication of her menials’ position. Both Mr. Oswald and Mrs. Rachel were in the kitchen, the first one chatting inanely, and the second one grumbling from time to time. Rey slipped through the front door, careful to not produce any kind of creaking on the wooden floor.
Outside, the air was crisp and the sun was already going down, its violet rays already hidden behind the tall buildings of the beating heart of the city. Rey grit her teeth as she leaped over the rail fence, her knees and hips more used to keeping seated for hours than to be exerted in physical activity. She had to start digging again as soon as possible, and if everything was going as planned, her dear husband was going to bring her where he’d been trapped in that beautiful body for the first time, and together they were going to unearth that long-forgotten temple. She only had to tell him she was sorry, confess to him that she found his company more appealing than her own loneliness, and bring him home again.
Walking alone was beautiful, freeing and, so far, uneventful–until she reached one of the bridges over the river: she turned around swiftly, hearing a pair of fast, small steps over the wooden and metal flooring of the structure, and noticed a small, lithe outline emerge from the shadows, coupled with another set of steps coming from behind her. They were the two kids that kept crossing her path, and she’d been surrounded. The boy was blocking the escape route in front of her, and the girl was slowly approaching her back.
“I would seriously avoid walking in the darkness at your young age. Your parents must be very worried for you,” she said, her voice trembling slightly.
“We wouldn’t be here if we had parents,” said the lass, and Rey turned her head in her direction.
“We’re only enjoying a visit in town before returning to Sussex,” chimed in the lad, spite clearly perceivable in his tone.
“Who are you, and what do you want from me?” growled Rey.
“My name is Devi, and he’s my brother Strunk.”
The boy spit on the ground in Rey’s direction. “What do we want? What are you willing to give us, I’d say.”
“Why should I give you anything?” snapped Rey. “Return to Sussex or to whatever pit of hell spawned you, or I’ll let my husband give you a real lesson.”
“Your husband? Do you mean that man that stormed outside of your house several days ago and never returned?” seethed Devi.
Rey’s heart stopped. They were spying on her, and they knew she was currently alone. Someone had sent them to track her movements, but who? Her mind raced to all the people she knew in Sussex, apart from Professor Solo and his wife Leia of Alderaan: her only tie with that place was Unkar Plutt. She’d never seen him again after she’d met Han, and he’d reassured her that she hadn’t anything to worry about.
“Did Plutt send you here?”
The pair began laughing hysterically, making her skin crawl.
“It looks like studying for all those years really made you intelligent,” continued Devi, while her brother was showing his teeth–the ones still attached to his gums, at least–to Rey. “Give us your ring, and we’ll tell Plutt we didn’t find you here, that you live abroad now.”
The last time Rey had seen this Devi girl, she was scared and screaming for her life, while Kylo was yanking her around. Now she looked as menacing and feral as her brother. Were they really ready to do anything to obtain what they wanted? Had she really been like them when she was a lass? Rey put her right hand in her pocket with haste, as if to shelter Kylo’s ring from their hungry gazes.
“T–the ring is a gift from a loved one, I won’t give it to you,” she said, head held high.
The creepy younglings approached her slowly, snickering. Rey, not knowing where to run or take shelter, approached the bulwark of the bridge, but they quickly jumped on her, making her cry out loudly as they extracted her hand from her pocket, twisting her finger and dislocating its joint to remove her ring. Blinded by the pain and speechless by the ferocity displayed by the children, she wasn’t fast enough to react when they used their combined weight to push her over the bulwark. Rey didn’t know how to swim.
This is it. This is how I'll die , she thought as her limp body collided with the icy depths of the river.
The dark, polluted waters swirled around her, and ice began to seep into her bones. She coughed once, then twice, but air was out of her reach, and her lungs were already burning, water filling them in the most painful way. Her ears started ringing, and as she began to drown, she thought she heard Kylo’s voice.
“I’m here for you, sweetheart.”
Everything went black, and she closed her eyes.