Rey peers inside her basket one more time, counting the bottles and tinctures nestled inside to ensure she has everything ready before making her trip to the village. There’s the ginger and clove paste for Finn and Rose’s teething baby, and the chamomile salve for old Maz Kanata, plus some more things she’s hoping to sell at the market. Once she’s satisfied that everything is accounted for, Rey replaces the lid and makes her way towards the trail that will lead her to the village.
She’s halfway through the forest when she comes across a paw print stamped onto the brown-grey of the mud beneath her feet. It’s large, larger by far than any of the prints she’s seen made by the village dogs or the few wolf tracks she’s come across farther from her property. Each point is distinctly made, topped by a thick claw that promises to be deadly and sharp. Not wanting to linger any longer, Rey wraps her cloak closer around her and continues to make her way towards the market.
Using plants to help people is not something Rey thought she would ever be doing, especially when taking into consideration her childhood in the desert. But she’s lucky that she met Finn, that he became one of her best friends and convinced her to get out of that horrible place and somewhere green. It’s more than she ever dreamed of; her own cottage in the woods, her friends Finn and Rose, enough money made from her hard work to not go hungry.
She’s so lucky, and so she ignores the pangs of loneliness that sometimes make their home in the space between her ribs. She tries to ignore it, preferring to settle for an afternoon of sun and sweat amongst the blooms in her garden or a busy day spent at the markets. She used to imagine an ocean on those sleepless nights when she still lived in Jakku; a place that was green and peaceful and hers. Something to ease her into sleep. Now, most nights she’s tired from a day filled with hard—but satisfying—work and falls asleep easily enough when it’s time for bed.
If there are nights where she lies awake, staring out her window at stars that shine like drops of silver in the night sky, feeling small and alone in the darkness, well, no one but her knows.
Rey swears there’s a wolf in the woods near her home.
After that day of discovering the paw prints in the mud, Rey had been foraging for mushrooms in the forest when she’d come across a deer carcass. It looked like it had been dead for some time; the blood had dried a dark brownish red. She could tell it had been a huge buck, it’s antlers larger than the span of her outstretched arms, it’s ribs round as oak barrels. There were no signs of a pack or group of predators, not even the torn up earth that signaled a struggle. Just one set of paw prints again, leading up to and away from the felled deer. Whatever had brought it down had done it alone, and Rey marvels at what could have been big enough to do so.
On one of the nights, when the moon is nothing more than a chip of silver in the night sky, a lonesome howl pierces the quiet stillness outside her window. It seems to pull to something ancient, sad, and deep within her. Rey finds she cannot sleep the rest of the night, long after the howling stops.
Another day, Rey hums to herself as she goes foraging for blueberries, finally late enough in the summer for them to be ripe and sun-sweet. As she makes her way amongst the woods, she wonders if she’ll ever see the wolf that’s made a home of the forest, like her.
As far as she knows, there are rarely wolves this far south, though they have been known to seldom make their way through these forests before continuing on their way east. She hasn’t caught a glimpse of it yet, though at this point she believes it better if they didn't meet. She’s reaching for a particularly thick patch of blueberries hidden deep within the bushes when she feels a prickle of awareness at the edge of her senses.
Rey turns, looking for the source of the feeling, only to be confronted with what she’s certain is the wolf that’s been roaming the woods.
She remembers the wolves from Jakku. They had been mean and scrawny things; their ribs standing out in sharp relief beneath their mangy pelts. They had been dangerous; driven feral by hunger and scarcity.
But not this wolf.
Even at a distance, Rey can see there’s a healthy sheen to its thick, black fur. The beast is massive, all muscle and sinew, and the sheer breadth of them makes her run her hand over the knife hidden beneath her cloak for reassurance. She expected to feel fear coursing through her veins after finally catching a glimpse of the wolf who had been roaming the forest near her home. But she feels instead some measure of appreciation for its animalistic beauty.
But then she frowns, realizing that it could easily pose a danger to the village people and their livestock. It must be sheer luck that it hasn’t gone after the town’s sheep, for it looks as if it would take two or three to satisfy a wolf of that size. Rey wonders if she should bring it up to Rose or Finn, when the beast swings its wide head to lock eyes with her own.
Rey’s breath catches in her throat and the hair on the back of her neck stands up. Amber eyes stare back at her from beneath the shadows of the evergreen trees, alight with a keen intelligence.
It simply stares at her, unblinking, as if daring her to look away first. Rey inches her arm downward, reaching for her knife as she gauges the distance between the wolf and herself. It’s eyes catch on the movement, letting forth a low growl heard clear across the clearing, flattening its ears against its skull. To Rey’s surprise it steps back, shooting one more glance her way before melting into the forest undergrowth.
One moment passes, and then another, and bit by bit the forest comes alive again; birdsong echoing high above the treetops and the sound of mice chittering underfoot. Her eyes linger on the empty space where the beast stood, wondering for a moment if she had imagined it. But no—no, it was real, startlingly so, with its amber eyes which seemed to know more than any normal animals’ ought to.
Rey takes a step forward, and then another, each step taking her farther from the strange encounter and back towards the village. The logical thing to do would be to alert the town to the predator’s presence. They can scarcely afford any stolen livestock, or heaven forbid, injured people. But they would hunt it down, Rey realizes. The townspeople wouldn’t want to risk it, especially if she mentioned the size of it. She frowns, feeling a cloud of melancholy fall over her at imagining such a creature dispatched beneath a volley of arrows.
No. No, I won’t tell them.
It looked well enough fed, yet she hasn’t heard any recent complaints from any of the local farmers, and surmises it hasn’t hunted any of the livestock. As of now, it hasn’t garnered a reason for her to report it. As long as it remains so, Rey will turn a blind eye to it.
She nods, mind made up, hoisting her basket closer and prepares herself for the trip ahead.
Days pass without Rey catching any further glimpses of the wolf. No more muddy paw prints, or lonesome howling echoing from the forest, nor any other signs that could be attributed to a beast of that size. Perhaps it was just passing through, making a slight stop before continuing on its way. Rey hopes she’s right as she works in her garden, elbows deep in black soil as she pulls up weeds. Beads of sweat cling to her temple while the muscles of her arms ache from use. It’s tiring but satisfying work, caring and maintaining her plant beds.
She remembers her little spinebarrel flower on Jakku, how hard she worked to keep it alive despite the desert’s harsh conditions. And she remembers how proud she had been, when it continued blooming day after day. That same spark fills her chest as she looks over the patch of verdant green she’s cultivated on her own. Every stalk and bloom she knows, she’s planted, cultivated, and cared for them all by herself.
A sharp breeze blows by, cooling her down and bringing with it the smell of rain. The sky above her is as blue as a jay’s egg, and the few clouds in sight are white as cotton, but Rey knows summer storms are not unheard of. She straightens, picking up her basket of weeds as she heads back to her cottage.
She’ll have to remember to bring in the plants hanging in the sun to dry before the rains come, and to check her pantry for food. Rey’s not too worried about it, but the river she has to cross to make her way into town can flood if there’s too much rain. It’s only happened once since she moved here, a couple of years ago. But getting to the old bridge only to find it buried beneath frothing white capped waves had been an unpleasant surprise.
It had taken days for the current to subside, but Rey thanked the survival skills which had pushed her to stock enough food beforehand to save her from going hungry.
Making her way inside, Rey wonders if it’ll be a summer storm or just some passing rain. She won’t mind either, she doesn't think she’ll ever mind the rain after a lifetime spent in the oppressive heat of the desert.
She goes to sleep with thoughts of rainwater and misty mornings behind her eyes.
Later, Rey wakes up to darkness and the sound of rain pounding the roof of her cottage. She stills, straining her ears to catch what sound, if anything, woke her. For a moment there’s only the sound of rain, but then, there—
A high pitched whine sounds outside her door, the noise weak but there. She makes her way blindly in the dark, searching for a candle, a match, and most importantly, her knife, while her heart pounds in her chest.
Rey yanks the door open and nearly trips over the mess of fur and blood that lays across her entryway. She gasps, scarcely believing what she’s come across. The candle flickers against the wind, casting a weak light upon the body in front of her as the rain continues to pour outside. She can hardly make sense of what it is that she’s come across, until a white canine glints beneath the candle’s light and a sliver of amber eyes open.
The wolf, she realizes, dazed, and then wonders if it’s dead, until she notices the slight rise and fall of it’s chest.
But there’s blood, so much blood she can scarcely tell where it’s all coming from, though she sees nasty gashes across its belly and the around the scruff of its neck. It’s dying, or will soon enough, she guesses, with the severity of its wounds.
Rey feels unease as she wonders what kind of thing could have brought the great beast down. Her grip tightens on the knife clutched in her hand. Her stomach clenches at what she’s about to do, but she won’t let the poor creature suffer on her doorstep.
“Its ok,” she whispers, crouching down by the wolf’s head. She brings the knife to hover over its neck. “It’ll be over soon,” she soothes.
She raises the knife, poised to bring it down when the wolf opens its eyes, zeroing in on her and the knife in her hand.
It growls, lips curling over its fangs as it works to heave itself upward, as if making to stand. Rey jerks back, adrenaline pumping through her blood as she prepares herself to fight.
Blood tinged saliva drops from its jaw as it swings its head towards her, but it doesn’t manage to stand, too weak from its injuries. But it’s looking at her, like in the forest, eyes trained on her own, bright and glowing in the darkness.
It whines, ears laid flat against its skull as it continues to stare.
I’m not ready yet, it seems to say. Not yet.
Rey gulps, wondering if she’s half mad for what she’s about to do.
“I can’t promise anything,” she says, at last, speaking as if the wolf could actually understand her.
It blinks once, slowly, as if in agreement, before it slumps back towards the floor, once again unconscious.
Rey stares at the large swath of black fur and pooled blood before her, wondering what exactly has possessed her. Swallowing, she steels herself for the long hours to come. If there’s any hope of saving the wolf, the first thing she must accomplish is bringing it inside, away from the rain and the cold.
It’s no easy task dragging and pushing the wolf across her wood floors and into her cottage. The beast is huge and heavy, and even Rey, with her years of practice hauling junk in the desert struggles with its weight. When she’s finally done, the muscles in her arms and back ache from use, but at least they’re no longer out in the rain.
She works through the night, first cataloging which of his—she checked—wounds were most critical, and then cleaning them by running a warm cloth soaked in yarrow tea over them. Rey is no physician, but she knows her way around a needle well enough, so she begins stitching the gashes across his chest and neck. It’s difficult work, made more difficult at having to work though his thick fur.
Rey curses as her fingers slip, sticky with blood.
The fire in her hearth flickers as she grinds goldenrod and calendum into a poultice with her mortar and pestle. She’ll use it to cover the shallower wounds that don’t require stitches. As Rey works, there are several moments where she fears he has stopped breathing altogether, and yet after a few heart stopping moments she sees the slight rise and fall of his chest.
Tired, vision blurry, Rey takes stock of her work: the wolf’s body, now mostly clean of dried blood, stitched back together and bandaged up. There’s nothing more she can do at this point, her knowledge of animals, and wolves in particular is not nearly as extensive as that of humans. She’s worked mostly on instinct and general knowledge, but now it’s up to the wolf to make it through the night.
Exhausted, she sags onto the floor, next to its warm body. Sleep falls like a veil over her, heavy and warm, but not before she sends one last prayer to the universe that she not wake up alone.
Piercing yellow sunlight falls across her face, painting the back of Rey’s eyelids a summer blossom pink. She groans, blinking awake as the world swims back into focus. For a moment she wonders why she didn’t make it to bed, but the sound of steady breathing next to her brings back last night’s memories to the forefront of her mind; the storm, the wolf.
But when she turns, to check on the wolf, instead of black fur she’s met instead with the body of a man. A very large, pale naked man, but a man all the same.
Rey yells, surprised, scrambling away from the stranger in her home.
His body jerks awake, breath leaving him in a pained gasp as he lurches up, growling, and turns towards her. He lunges for her, eyes unfocused and half-crazed with pain.
“Stop!” she shouts, as one large hand grabs onto her arm like a vice.
“Who are you?! Where am I?” he grits out, voice reverberating with anger.
“Let me go!,” Rey seethes, hand inching towards the knife, which lies a few feet away from her.
“Answer me,” the stranger demands.
“No!” Rey shouts, swinging the blade in a tight arc and cutting clean across the man’s face.
He groans in pain, loosening the grip on her arm enough for Rey to slip free of his grasp.
Blood drips down his face, into his eye and across his jaw. He looks angry, and proceeds to take one heavy step towards her. But, then a green pallor falls over his pale skin, and Rey watches as his eyes roll backwards and he collapses to the ground like a puppet with its strings cut.
Panting, heart hammering beneath her ribs, Rey stares down at the unconscious man at her feet.
“Oh hell,” she groans, mind racing with what to do. She decides the most important thing is to secure him first.
Rey lets out a huff as she ties the final knot around his left foot, securing it to her bedpost. The rest of his arms and legs are similarly indisposed, the knots tight enough to hold him but not enough to injure him further. Rey had avoided directly thinking about the stranger, but now her mind is free to linger on the most pressing issue, one she’s been studiously ignoring since the man passed out. Namely, that she fell asleep next to an—as far as she knew—ordinary wolf, and woke up to a human male in its place.
A man with the exact same injuries, in the same places, bandaged up like she’d done last night, and bearing her poultices over his wounds.
Barring the new wound across his face, courtesy of their earlier encounter.
Rey doesn’t believe in magic, but what else could explain away her suspicions that the black wolf and this man are the same being?
She inches closer to the bed, finally taking a moment to analyze the man strapped to her bed. He has a long, pale face dotted with dark moles, a strong nose and wide lips which add a measure of softness to his face. An interesting face, but not what she was expecting for such a creature. Thick black hair falls across his face, and this she does recognize from the wolf.
She winces at the bloody dressings stretched across his wide body, makes note of the lengths of his thighs and shoulders corded with muscle. A blanket covers his lap, she’d sought to preserve what little modesty of his she could, though she doubted he would appreciate it. The rest of his body looks battered and war-torn, and his shallow breaths coupled with the star shaped bruise blossoming across his left rib cage make her suspect he has a fractured rib.
Rey presses her lips into a thin line, unable to unravel the mystery before her. Maybe that’s why she’s still in her cottage, and not halfway to town looking for reinforcements. She’s no stranger to violence, or defending herself and Rey’s sure she can take this man on, if necessary. Satisfied, she nods to herself as she turns towards her workbench and the dried chamomile hanging from the rafters.
Now all that’s left is to wait for him to wake up, and Rey, she’s had plenty of practice with waiting.
He wakes a few hours later, when the sunlight is beginning to filter through the windows at an angle, the sun higher in the sky. Rey notices his breath stutters for a brief second before continuing on as it had been. His body is still, too still when she turns towards him, a line of tension running through him.
“I know you’re awake,” she says, walking towards him. “You don’t have to pretend.”
“Then I won’t,” he answers, blinking open a pair of deep brown eyes which turn to glare at her. He tugs on the ropes, testing their strength—and huffs in surprise when they hold.
“We’ve both had a very long night, I guess you more than me, so,” she looks at his face, noticing the challenge in his eyes, “we’ll start with names. I’m Rey, what’s yours?”
He chews his full bottom lip, as if debating whether or not to answer.
“Kylo,” he mutters after a moment. “Now untie me,” he growls.
“Not until I’m sure you won’t attack me again,” Rey retorts.
“If you let me go, I’ll leave.” Kylo strains against the ropes, baring his teeth in pain.
“Stop that,” she responds, tone sharp. “I didn’t agree to this either. Last night, a black wolf came to my door, nearly half dead, and I tried to save its life. Now, you’re here,” she points at him.
He shakes his head in response. “Impossible.”
A spark of anger catches in her chest at the accusation in his tone.
“I’m not lying,” she says. “A black wolf sought me out last night, and this morning I awoke to you beside me.” Her unasked question lingers in the air between them.
Do you deny it? Are you not one and the same? Do creatures like yourself truly exist, man and beast and both?
They stare at each other, a silent battle of wills, and Rey swears if he were a wolf his hackles would be up.
“I saved you,” she finally says, not a reproach but a truth that can’t be denied.
It’s not a truth he seems to enjoy, with the way he narrows his eyes at her. But he doesn’t deny it.
“I don’t remember coming here, if that’s what you mean. But I must have had some good reason for doing so,” he relents at last, confirming her suspicions without saying the words out loud.
She nods, fighting not to let her surprise show on her face. She’d almost gone as far as to accuse him of it, but for him to admit that he’s the wolf that’s been talking the woods makes her breath catch in her throat.
“Alright Kylo,” she says, reaching out to grab a wooden bowl perched on a nearby table. “You want to leave, and I want to heal those wounds just as quickly. If you behave—” she emphasizes the word, “—we can both end this soon.”
“Why not let me go now? How do you even know I won’t hurt you if I stay?” he presses.
She glances at the knife strapped to the waistband of her trousers, then draws her eyes along the path of the wound cleaving his face in two. The tips of his ears peeking out from beneath the curtain of his hair turn red, though from anger or embarrassment she can’t tell.
“As for your second question, I can’t in good conscience let you go injured as you are. Bridge to town is likely flooded from last night’s storm, so there’s no other physician for miles. And I didn’t help you get through the night for you to die once you’ve made it three steps out my door.”
Kylo averts his eyes, so she fails to catch the flash of emotion across them, but she does observe the furrow in his brow.
“Do we have a deal?” She asks.
Kylo frowns as he turns back to look at her, but at least he’s no longer baring his canines at her.
“Yes. These are no longer necessary then,” he instructs, making a point to tug both arms against the ropes.
Rey dips a rag into the steaming liquid of the wooden bowl.
“As long as you promise to cooperate.”
Kylo is not an easy patient. Not that Rey was placing much hope on that particular fantasy.
The first thing she does after she frees him is present him with a pair of pants and shirt, courtesy of Finn. He’d left them in her home at some point and just never gotten around to picking them back up. Rey knows they’ll be too small for his massive frame but it’s all she has, she doesn’t have any other men’s clothes, especially not for someone of his size.
“Here,” she hands the bundle of clothes to Kylo, who had until this point been sitting half awake in her bed. “They’re all I have on hand, but they should fit somewhat.”
Kylo sniffs them, wrinkling his nose at whatever smell he seems to catch.
“These will suffice, I suppose.”
Rey huffs, turning around to give him some privacy as he pulls the pants on. Would a thank you be so difficult?
Afterwards he lets her clean his wounds, but only with the utmost weariness. His dark eyes track each of her movements as she runs the damp cloth over his injuries, mouth set into a displeased frown. When she’d first made a move towards him she’d noted the line of tension in his shoulders. Rey had the distinct impression Kylo wasn’t used to anyone being so closely in his personal space.
It’s something she tries not to dwell on, though she won’t deny that she’s grateful he’s in his current form now. Treating human patients is something she has much more practice with she thinks as she dresses his wounds with yarrow tea again.
Her hands never falter, even when a low rumbling growl begins deep in his chest, strong enough she feels it reverberate beneath her fingertips. That, and she catches sight of his hands; wide palms and long fingers, curled into fists across his lap.
Kylo doesn’t look like one for small talk, and he is injured, so Rey limits her conversation to instructing him to lift his arm or to turn his torso a certain way so she can redress his wounds. She winces in sympathy at his wounds, which look somehow worse in the stark light of day. Huge swathes of his body are covered in violet bruises she knows will darken to a deep plum color by tomorrow, sore and aching.
“You can put the shirt on now,” she says once she’s finished. “I’ll prepare something to eat.”
She half expects him to fight her on it, but he simply turns sullen eyes her way and does as she’s asked.
Satisfied, Rey heads towards her kitchen, pulling out strips of dried meat from her pantry and gathering fresh vegetables she’s harvested recently from her garden. She dices them before tossing them in a pot full of water to make stew. Soon enough she’s got it boiling, filling her cottage with its hearty smell.
When it’s done cooking, she ladles two heaping spoonfuls into bowls, crossing the room to bring it over to Kylo. His nostrils flare at the smell, eyes zeroing in on the broth in her hand.
“Dinner’s ready,” she announces, sliding one bowl into his outstretched hand.
Rey takes a seat on a stool in the corner of the room, with him directly in her line of sight. She tucks into it before he does, slurping big mouthfuls of delicious stew and chewing on strips of venison. It’s only once she stops hearing the sounds of Kylo eating that she notices he’s busy staring at her, one brow arched in question.
Rey feels a wave of heat crawl up her cheeks. She doesn’t often worry about her manners, has no reason to really, since she lives alone.
“Tell me,” she begins, hoping to distract him, “what injured you?”
His eyes shutter, and he takes a bite of stew instead of answering, chewing thoroughly.
She hazards a guess. “Was it another—another wolf?”
“Why should I tell you anything?” he answers, a warning note simmering beneath the words. “How do I know you won’t just relay everything I tell you back to your human village?”
“You don’t,” Rey answers. “If it’s something I feel would endanger then I’d warn them. But—” she shrugs, “—I haven’t told them about you, and you’ve been wandering the forest for weeks now. And you haven’t hurt me, despite the opportunity to do so when you were a wolf.”
Kylo doesn’t refuse what she’s said.
“So,” Rey glances at him, “ I think we’re at a good start.”
Kylo huffs, tilting his head as he deliberates her words. Seeming to come to a conclusion he nods to himself.
“Yes,” he says, confirming her suspicions. “Another of my kind caused this. Werewolf, shape-shifter, whatever your people call us.”
“Is it just you, alone then?”
“I belong to the First Order pack, under the leadership of Snoke. It’s enemies are my enemies, and are dealt with as such.”
Rey wonders what kind of leader would leave one of their own behind. Kylo seems to catch the wariness on her face.
“Snoke is wise,” he says. “It’s his job to keep the pack strong. One weak link can be enough to destroy it.”
She doesn’t like a single word coming out of Kylo’s mouth.
“So what would have happened if you hadn’t arrived on my doorstep last night?”
Kylo shifts on the bed, flexing and un-flexing his hand.
“If he were feeling merciful? Left me to lick my wounds, testing me to see if I could make it until morning alone. Otherwise, he might instruct one of the other wolves to fight me, to prove my worth before he allows me back into the pack.”
“That’s awful,” Rey informs him, a shiver of dread crawling down her spine.
“It’s tradition. Snoke’s always done it this way, since long before I joined. It ensures only the strongest survive,” Kylo replies, his dark eyes catch hers from across the room.
“That’s now how you foster strength,” Rey says, her fingers digging into the edge of her bowl.
“What would you know of wolves?” Kylo scoffs.
“It doesn’t matter what you are. What this Snoke is doing is wrong,” Rey insists, leaping from her seat, angry and confused with the nonchalant tone that Kylo relays his answers, as if he’s come to accept the cruelty of his leader.
“I don’t need your pity,” he snarls from behind her.
“No one’s said anything about pity! Least of all me. But you must know what he’s doing is unjust. How many deaths has he caused? Why are you even part of his pack?”?
Rey crosses her arms across her chest, “Of course. Listen, you need more rest. Stay here, I’m going out front to check on the garden. Don’t undo the bandages.”
And with that Rey turns on her heel and marches right out of her cottage. Once outside she takes a deep breath, letting the lingering smell of fresh rain calm her down.
Grabbing her trowel and shovel, she kneels in the moist earth, looking to dispel some of her anger with productive work. Soon enough, she’s lost herself in the repetitive motion of harvesting plants, the smell of petrichor and wet dirt in her nose.
Rey works for some time but doesn’t hear any further noise from inside her cottage. Once the sun begins to touch the tops of the trees and the shadows lengthen she makes her way back inside.
Meanwhile, Rey heads back to her closet to pull out any extra blankets she has. Kylo will take the bed because of his injuries, so Rey has accepted she will have to take the floor. It’s not the worst place she’s slept before, she’s made do with worse before.
“What are you doing?” Kylo asks as he observes her setting up her nest.
“My bed. But before we sleep I’ll have to check your dressings. How are they feeling?”
Kylo shrugs. “Fine.”
But Rey can’t imagine he’s very comfortable, so she pulls some white willow bark from her drying rack and sets some water to boil in a kettle over her hearth. As it warms, Rey approaches Kylo, who stares at her from beneath the sweep of his dark lashes.
His gaze never falters from her hands, intent as she slowly unwraps his wounds. They look good, relatively speaking. His stitches have held, and there’s no swelling or redness—common signs of infection.
Rey feels the warmth of his skin beneath her hands as she rewraps his torso and chest. She notices the scars that litter his body, some pale with age, while others look recently healed, shiny and tender. She wonders how many of these he has gained from his time with the First Order.
A shriek interrupts her thoughts, the tea kettle emitting a tower of steam as it boils. Rey lets out a breath as she steps back, ignoring the weight of Kylo’s stare on the back of her neck.
“Drink this. All of it, it will help lessen the pain,” she explains, handing him the cup of willow tea. She resists the urge to smile at how comically small her cup looks in his large hand.
Kylo takes a deep breath of the steam, letting the smell of it linger in his senses. “Smells sharp. Willow bark?”
“Yes,” she nods. “A common plant used to ease pain.”
He nods, taking a swig of the offered tea.
Rey makes her way around the cottage in the meantime, extinguishing the candles she lit when the afternoon had deepened into night.
“Put that one out when you’re ready,” Rey instructs, nodding toward the lone candle on the drawer next to her bad, less than an arm's length away from Kylo.
He agrees, so Rey lies down in the mess of blankets that make up her bed tonight. She falls asleep before she sees him turn the light off.
She half expects to wake up alone once morning arrives, to realize that all the events from yesterday had been nothing more than a very detailed dream concocted by an overtired mind. But the solid body she sees lying asleep on her bed is distinctly real; as real as the chirping of the swallows outside her window and the ache in her muscles from hauling him in from the rain that first night.
So, werewolves are real. They’re real and she has one in her home at this exact moment, because she saved his life and now she won’t let him go until she’s sure he’s in the clear.
Rey takes a deep breath, letting her mind come to terms with this new reality. Based on yesterday’s interactions, it’s clear Kylo wants to be on his way as soon as possible, but she hopes he realizes his wounds are quite extensive, and will require weeks of care. She doubts he’ll want to be here so long, but it is what it is.
Kylo wakes then, as if he can hear her thinking about him. Those dark brown eyes blink open, confusion evident for a fleeting seconds before he too seems to remember yesterday’s events. He grunts as he makes to get up, and Rey panics.
“What do you think you’re doing? You’ll reopen your wounds,” she shouts, reaching out and making to push him back down on her bed.
He lifts a palm up, as if to stay her. Kylo uses his other hand to push up the sleeves of his shirt and then extends his arm out to her. Rey can’t believe what she’s seeing. The gash along his forearm that she’s stitched shut is the pale pink of new flesh. The bruises that were a violent shade of purple are now blue and yellow, looking days instead of hours old. It’s not possible, but somehow his injuries look far more healed than they should be. Rey doesn’t believe what it is she’s seeing. It should be impossible.
“How?” she begins to ask.
“There are some advantages that come with the ability to turn into a beast at will,” he answers. “Among them is an accelerated rate of healing.”
“This is normal for you then?”
He nods. “More or less.” He hesitates afterwards, closing and opening his mouth as if there is more he wants to say. In the end all he does is push back down the sleeve of his shirt.
Rey notices how close to him she’s standing and makes a conscious effort to step away. “I suppose this does move things along. I was expecting your recovery to take weeks, at least.”
“Yes, if all goes well, I should be on my way in a couple of days, and then you’ll be free of me.”
Rey doesn’t answer, unwilling to admit she doesn’t think she’ll be completely free of him even after her leaves. She’ll never forget him, or what he is, and so if nothing else she’ll have this memory. She doesn’t voice any of this, instead moving towards the kitchen to make breakfast.
It ends up being a silent affair, with neither party up for much conversation, but she does notice Kylo seems less on edge, the warriness in his eyes less pronounced. Whether this is because he’s healing and thus feels less vulnerable than yesterday Rey can’t say. She orders him back to bed after they’ve finished eating as rest is the best course of action for him now.
“And don’t give me that look,” she says after catching the sullen expression on his face. From his arms and legs chorded with muscle Rey guesses he’s not one used to idle time, and staying still must rankle, but there’s nothing to be done about it.
“There’s some books you can read, if you want something to keep you busy,” Rey says, nodding towards a pile of books stacked messily on her bedside table.
They’re mostly to do with plants; how to cultivate and harvest them, their healing properties and how to best make use of them. They interest her a great deal, though she can’t guarantee how stimulating they’ll be for anyone else to read.
Kylo glances towards the books, a look of surprise on his face as he picks one up and leafs through it, careful with the yellowing pages.
“Thank you,” he replies, voice deep and sincere.
Rey nods jerkily, feeling rather put out with this, until now, uncharacteristic show of gratitude. Satisfied that Kylo will stay put, she heads out into the early morning sun to tend to her garden. The storm from two days ago has long since passed, though the ground beneath her feet still feels damp. Rey makes her way among the rows and rows of green and growing things. Most of her garden is taken up by medicinal plants—chamomile, foxglove, yarrow root and lavender—but part of it is used for vegetables and fruit; food for herself.
She checks on her zucchini and tomatoes, noticing that they’re finally ripe enough to harvest. From then on out it’s muscle memory, digging into the ground, plucking tomatoes from their vines, removing any unwanted weeds she comes across. The sun makes its way across the sky, and soon it’s close to noon. The front door opens and Rey turns, shielding her eyes from the sun as she looks across her garden to see Kylo coming out of the house.
Well. She wasn’t really expecting him to stay inside all day, doing nothing. Picking up her basket, now laden with food, she starts making her way back.
“I seem to remember telling you to rest,” she says once she’s closer to him.
He shrugs. “I don’t do well with boredom.”
Rey ponders this for a moment, then decides on something.
“Help me then. Grab a chair from the kitchen and take a seat here outside.”
Kylo lifts an eyebrow, giving her an inquisitive look before heading back inside momentarily. He emerges a moment later, and how strange that even her normal sized chair looks tiny next to him.
“Some of my herbs are ready to be harvested. I’ll pick which stems to cut and all you have to do is pick off any leaves or buds that seem damaged or sick.”
“Look,” she says, moving a little ways down to a patch of green plants filled with daisy-like flowers. She plucks a couple of stems and brings them over. “It’s chamomile, good for pain and swelling. You can pull the flowers off at the base of the bud to set aside for drying. And the leaves are useful too.” She points at one leaf that’s brown and wilted, “These ones, not so much.”
“Seems easy enough,” Kylo replies. He doesn’t look particularly enthused, but he’s not denying he’ll help.
“Alright,” Rey responds, a satisfied look on her face.
They settle on a rhythm soon enough, Rey harvesting and Kylo removing the damaged parts. The only sounds are the rhythmic snip of her scissors and the winds in the trees. She’s reaching for a thick patch of Devil’s Club when she hears Kylo breathe in deeply.
“Why did you save me, that first night? You could have left me to die, I was only an animal to you then, but you didn’t,” he asks.
She turns to look at him, noticing the way his dark eyes are fixed on her. She doesn’t know how to answer his question, because she doesn’t know the answer herself. It had been more of a compulsion at that point.
“I don’t know...you didn’t look ready to die, and it felt like there was something else urging me on. I’m not sure how else to explain it.”
Kylo gazes at her, eyes intent on her face, as if searching for something. Rey stares back, wondering what it is he expects to find.
He looks away first, turning to stare out across her garden to the edge of the forest beyond.
“It’s been months since I’ve walked as a man. Snoke’s recent missions have required I stay as a wolf. It’s different, then. I retain most of myself, I know who I am and what I’m doing, but the longer I go without switching the more the wolf takes over. And memories—they work differently as well. Time is sometimes difficult to parce, and it can take some effort on my part to sort my memories out.”
Rey listens, intrigued by his words.
“We—I keep to myself, even within the pack. Waking up in your house yesterday seemed impossible, but bits and pieces are coming back. My wolf watched you, and he must have thought you were safe enough to go to for help.”
“Well, that’s not terrifying at all,” Rey retorts, tone sarcastic to cover up the sliver of shock that runs through her at his words.
“I didn’t take you for one to scare easy.”
“I don't, but you have a werewolf stalking you and then see if you don’t feel uneasy.”
Kylo frowns. “I wasn’t stalking you. But the wolf saw something in you, enough to come for help instead of dying in the woods.” He takes a deep breath, “So, thank you for all you’ve done. And for putting up with me so far.”
Rey blinks, surprised at the candor in his words. Even without the sincerity present in his tone she would be able to read it on his face, it’s so expressive, each emotion mapped across it easy for her to read.
“You’re welcome. Sorry for tying you up to my bed. But I’m not sorry for that,” she admits, pointing at the gash that runs across his face, that even now is pink and noticeable.
Kylo runs his fingers over it, mapping it down his face. “You were defending yourself,” is all he replies. “It’s good that you know how to do so.”
“I had to learn pretty early on,” Rey responds, and hopes he doesn’t pry any further. He doesn’t, thankfully, and she’s grateful for it. Seemingly done, they go back to working, the silence more comfortable now than it was before.
That’s how the next days go, a new routine building between the two. They wake early, eat breakfast, then go out to work in the garden until noon. Afterward they come back in for lunch, and there’s always work to do inside as well; drying herbs, making poultices and tinctures. Kylo helps where he can, or otherwise he sits and reads. Everything seems to be going better, until night falls on their fourth day.
Rey dreams of her parents.
No, that’s not right. She can’t remember them, neither their faces or their names. But she remembers being left in the Jakku desert.
“Please!” she screams, a child again, voice pitched high with fear. “Come back, please!” she pleads to the backs of two retreating figures.
The sun above is scorching, blistering and unforgiving even in her dreams. Rey cries. She’ll do anything for them to come back. She’ll be good, she promises she will, so long as they come back.
“Where are you?” But there is no one to hear her; just the empty and endless sand dunes that stretch out as far as the eye can see.
She’s alone, so alone.
Rey wakes, sobbing, feeling a weight akin to a boulder sitting squarely on her chest. It’s night still as she struggles to distinguish dream from reality in the darkness.
Until a wet nose pushes against her cheek, and a warm body presses into her side. She searches blindly, digging her hands into fistfuls of thick fur as she works to anchor herself to the here and now. Rey buries her tear stained face into a neck of fur, blocking out the world and breathing in the calming scent of fresh pine and green grass.
The wolf huffs, curling its big body against hers. Still half asleep, Rey allows the steady rise and fall of the chest beneath her head to lull her back to sleep.
Rey wakes to watery light filling her cottage, feeling wrung out and still tired. She’s alone in her makeshift bed, Kylo sleeping in the bed above her. She rubs her eyes, only to find sticky tear tracks dried onto her cheeks. The feeling of sadness threatening to suffocate her makes sense now. She always feels this way after dreaming about her parents, though it’s less and less often these days.
But there was more this time, Rey remembers a solid body beside her own, the smell of forest and pine thick in her nose. A wolf, comforting her after the nightmare.
She stares at Kylo, his broad back facing towards her, hardly believing what she remembers. Not for the first time she wishes she could see exactly what he was thinking.
She sighs, forcing herself to rise, taking a moment to notice the way Kylo’s face looks softer in sleep before heading to make breakfast.
Rey chooses to make oats boiled in milk with fresh fruit and honey, delicious, and more importantly, a simple dish.
Kylo wakes, gingerly rising as he makes note of his injuries. He makes his way over to her, footsteps almost silent despite his stature. He stops in front of her, hooded eyes trained on her face.
“My parents left me behind,” she starts, eyes landing on a small scar just below Kylo’s collarbone which has gone silvery-white with age.
He doesn’t say anything.
“They left me in the Jakku desert when I must have been five or six. I can’t remember their faces anymore. Not even their names,” she confesses, and now that she’s begun speaking it’s as if she can’t stop, the words dredged up from deep within herself and spilling forth.
“I waited so long for them to come back, as long as I could. I knew they would come back for me. But I was so alone,” she whispers, unable to stop the tears from rising unbidden to her eyes.
“You’re not alone,” Kylo says, and at his words Rey finally looks up to find a glimmer of wetness reflecting in his dark eyes as well.
He reaches a hand towards her, palm extended, a somber look on his face. Rey stares, then resolute, lifts her own hand to brush her fingers against his own.
A surge of electricity surges through her at the contact, undeniable and instantaneous.
“My mother had wolf in her, but never presented,” Kylo begins, eyes fixed on their linked hands. “I was sullen and serious as a child, but as I grew so did my temper. Both my mother and father were too busy with their own responsibilities to focus on their troublesome child. They thought it my nature, something I would grow out of. But one day when I was fourteen, I entered a rage so black I lost control.”
Rey listens, stunned by the pain she sees in his face, old and deep.
“When I came to I was a wolf. I do not remember much of that first time. Confusion, fear, the wind in my fur. But they couldn’t deal with it. They sent me off to my uncle, too ashamed to have a monster for a son. His betrayal would prove far worse,” he growls, but doesn’t elaborate further.
Rey wonders if that’s what finally pushed him towards Snoke. How much of his fall is his own pain and fear and what belongs to his family. It’s something she can’t ignore, but she doesn’t want to think about it just now.
She slides her palm against his, up his wrist, following the line of his arm and feeling his pulse drum beneath her fingers. Kylo reaches down, tucking a loose strand of hair behind her ear. He wraps an arm around her, gathering her to the solid wall of his chest. Careful of his injuries, Rey encircles his waist and rests her head against over his heart. She hears the steady thumping beneath her ears.
“It’s not the same. But I know what it is to feel abandoned. To feel alone.”
“You’re not alone,” she answers, elation and worry warring within her in equal measure. No one else has ever understood her loneliness like Kylo, but she knows this must soon come to an end. Once he’s healed he’ll go back to his pack and leave her behind. She knows someone like Snoke would never approve of something this soft existing for someone within his ranks.
Kylo rests his head atop of hers, sliding one hand up her back to rest in the space between her shoulder blades. Overwhelmed, Rey closes her eyes, and commits the moment to memory, letting Kylo’s body shield her from the outside world. He bends down to rest his forehead against her own, the strands of his hair falling like a curtain around them.
Tomorrow she’ll have to accept the world’s harsh realities. But in this moment the future shimmers with possibilities, ones in which she and Kylo never have to be alone again.