Twigs snapped under her feet and branches grasped at her as she fled. Her simple shift had been stained during the brawl. She couldn’t tell if the fabric was tainted by wine, blood, or both. It didn’t matter. A few tears in the coarse fabric were the least of her worries.
Leaves rustled as she kicked them aside, running as fast as she was able. If she could get far enough into Takodana Forest, they wouldn’t follow. No one ever went past the ravine. Those who tried fell to their deaths but death was preferable to being caught.
His bellowing call echoed through the trees. It was impossible to discern which direction it came from. She paused, glancing frantically over her shoulder. He sounded close. Too close. She tried to see where he was but all she could make out was the light of his lamp through the thick maze of trees.
“Get back here, you ungrateful wench!”
Ignoring the threat, Rey raced towards the ravine. The drop-off was beyond the most recognizable landmark in the forest — the Great Oak.
Rey knew the legend. It was told in every tavern and every household in town. What began as a tale to keep disobedient children in line had developed into a spooky fable even the oldest resident believed. She had never been much of a believer, never having much to believe in, but if it was between the darkness that slumbered in the woods or Unkar Plutt’s whipping post, Rey would take her chances with the woods.
The dark did not scare her.
When her master shouted for her again, this time the call was followed by the bays of his hounds. With the dogs on her scent, she had precious minutes to get to safety. Teedo was a greedy, unpleasant gamekeeper, but he trained the mutts well. The had a keen sense of smell and an even keener need to remain fed.
Just a little further.
Rey tore through the forest. A few more steps and she’d be free — free from servitude, free from Plutt, and free from his latest scheme.
He’d told her of his plan at dinner while she served the wine. Teedo chuckled and remarked that it was about time she became useful. It was his callous comment which prompted her to pour her wine down the front of her master. The distraction worked just long enough for her to escape the manor.
Then he gave chase.
As she ducked and weaved through the trees, Rey spotted the Great Oak. The massive tree was a dead, decaying member of the forest. It was said the tree would stand for over a hundred years, slowly rotting until all that was left was a pile of dark ash. Nothing would grow in its place. It would be barren, a cursed parcel of land for all the years to come.
It had been planted on the day of the last Skywalker’s name day, a symbol of new beginnings and of the hope his birth brought. The tree flourished until his death, the end of their royal line and the family’s rule. Following his twenty-third birthday, the prince fell. No one knew how it happened. There were whispers in the town of a dark knight who murdered the prince in cold blood. Others claimed he fell victim to an illness that plagued him since birth and then there were a few who believed he took his own life.
Rey cared for none of those tales. She’d always assumed his parents were responsible, just as hers had been responsible for abandoning her to Plutt’s care.
The Great Oak was surrounded by a dense cluster of thorn bushes. Like the wall of a fortress, they protected the tree. At the center of the towering organism was a hollow large enough to fit a person. It was nearly completely hidden from sight due to the thorns, which made it the perfect place to hide if she could reach it in time.
Rey crawled through the prickly vines, unaffected by the sting of their barbs on her skin. If she was to avoid Plutt, she needed to hide where the hounds couldn’t reach her. With any luck, they’d scratch their snouts on the aggressive plant and scurry off.
Distracted in her haste, Rey allowed her dress to snag. She reached back to free herself and sliced into her upper arm. A cry of pain escaped her lips as the wound began to bleed.
The baying hounds let out a howl, catching her scent.
Biting her lip, Rey continued dragging herself through the thorns. She made it to the end. Grabbing a low-hanging branch, she leveraged the tree to straighten up and tucked herself into the shadows of the hollow.
Plutt’s lamp light came into view. Rey held her breath. She was too busy watching her master approach to notice how her blood ran down her arm. It dripped from her fingertips to the dry earth below. The crimson liquid pooled, bubbling for a moment before seeping into the dirt, vanishing from sight.
When her blood soaked into the soil, a sacrifice was made — a sacrifice which would unleash the dark powers of the being imprisoned in the Great Oak — if he accepted her offering.
As Plutt raised his lamp, Rey took a shaky step backward and hit the rear of the hollow. It was warm and solid.
Her brow furrowed. Before she could turn around, a pale arm snaked around her waist. Her scream was muffled by the press of an equally pale hand over her mouth.
“Quiet, little lamb,” a low voice commanded.
Rey thrashed in the man’s hold. At least, she thought he was a man. She’d never heard a voice so deep before. It reminded her of thunder rolling over the fields before a storm. Her resistance brought attention to her location.
“There she is!” Teedo yelled, pointing at her.
She froze, paralyzed by fear. Unconsciously, she shied away, leaning into her captor’s hold.
One second he was there, holding her up and the next he was between Plutt and Teedo. Both men startled. The dogs whined and took off, heading out of the forest as rapidly as their four legs could carry them.
“Leave,” the stranger demanded.
“Not without my property,” Plutt argued. “She’s to be sold to Lord Snoke.”
Any bravery he showed against the stranger was born solely out of greed. He held no concern for Rey or what was to become of her.
“This one is mine,” the stranger growled. “No other shall touch her.”
His broad hand latched onto Plutt’s neck, choking the air from the scheming man’s lungs.
“Bastard!” Teedo shouted, striking the stranger in the back of the head.
The man chuckled, unaffected by the attack. He spun around so fast that all Rey saw was a blur of shadows. Then Teedo was on the ground and the man stood over him. His boot pinned Teedo by his chest to the forest floor. Somehow he’d managed to restrain the gamekeeper without loosening his grip on Plutt, who was gasping for air like a fish out of water.
“Little lamb,” the stranger called to her. Rey felt her skin prickle at his endearment. “You may wish to avert your eyes.” When she didn’t, he gave her a curt nod. “Very well.”
He released Plutt, leaving the man to drop to his knees. While her master clawed at his throat, desperate for breath, the stranger removed his foot from Teedo.
An ominous sensation settled in Rey’s gut. Darkness surrounded this man. It wasn’t the darkness of the wood or the mystery of the night. The shadows he veiled himself in were older than either and far more powerful. She stared, unable to look away.
Both men ran, realizing the danger that stood between them.
They needn’t have tried.
No one could outrun the devil.
The stranger drove his fist threw Teedo’s chest, tearing through him the way the thorns had torn through her arm.
There was a sickening squelch as he withdrew his hand from Teedo’s chest cavity. Without a moment’s hesitation, he tore the gamekeeper’s limbs off one by one. Teedo’s cries rang through the night, terrified pleas of anguish escaping his lips. The stranger didn’t stop until he fell silent.
Rey wasn’t ignorant of what substance ran thick and red down the man’s arm. The only other time she’d seen so much blood was when she assisted Maz in slaughtering a pig for dinner.
The stranger’s attention returned to Plutt. Moonlight illuminated him, giving her the briefest glance at his wardrobe, which consisted entirely of black. They blended into the night like their owner. Rey gasped as she caught a glimpse of his eyes.
They were red.
And in that instant, Rey knew the legends were true.
But it wasn’t a ghost who haunted Takodana Forest. It was a demon.
Plutt drew his dagger, muttering prayers under his breath as he retreated backward. Rey had never heard her master pray before. He was not a religious man and had never entered the walls of the sanctuary. She was convinced if he had, he would have erupted in flames. Facing the devil must have given him a reason to consider a change of faith.
The demon lunged at Plutt, his crimson hands slashing through Rey’s master. He ripped through Plutt as though he possessed claws instead of fingers. Shreds of flesh and organs flew through the night air as the stench of blood and burning flesh filled her nostrils.
Rey clutched at the sides of the tree, fighting to keep herself upright as she witnessed the horror. Her stomach pitched and she felt dizzy. Yet, she couldn’t look away.
Plutt’s screams for mercy were as haunting as Teedo’s pleas. Rey was sure she wouldn’t forget those sounds as long as she lived.
If she lived at all.
Her survival instincts urged her to take action. Tearing a shred of her ruined dress off, she made a quick tourniquet for her arm. With the wound bound, she crawled through the thorns.
By the time she was free, the forest was quiet.
The dark deed was done and the demon stalked towards her.
“You’re a monster,” she hissed.
“Yes, I am.”
Rey dove across the ground, picking up Plutt’s dagger. He wouldn’t be using it. “Stay away. Keep back!” she ordered the demon, pointing the blade at him. Despite the venom of her words, her hands trembled.
“A mortal blade cannot harm me,” he reminded her.
Ignoring his remark, Rey charged at him, slicing the knife through his side. The dagger pierced only air. She froze, staring at the weapon in disbelief as he chuckled.
Suddenly, his arms were around her waist. She dropped the blade in surprise. He dragged her across the ground, drawing her to him until her back was flush to his chest.
“Oh, little lamb,” he crooned in her ear. “We’re not done yet.”
Rey’s eyes widened in fear. She hadn’t escaped one set of chains for another. “No.” She twisted in his hold and shoved against his chest.
“Yes,” he smirked.
It was the grin of the devil.
She felt her heart drop into her stomach. This creature wasn’t like the monsters she’d known in town. Plutt, Teedo, and their cronies were mere men. They were cruel and vile but they were mortal. This demon was neither a man or a mortal. He was of another world, untouchable.
Rey fought viciously against him until his command echoed in her mind, gentle but firm.
Kylo Ren caught the unconscious girl, sweeping her into his arms with a single fluid motion. She was a frail thing, light like a bird. He could see her collarbones protruding from where her dress was torn. Despite her size, she’d put up a fight. The defiance she’d shown was that of a wolf. Very few had ever opposed him and those that had met a gruesome end. There was a strength in her — a strength that she didn’t appear to be aware of.
How interesting, he mused as he passed through the hollow.
The tree had served as his prison for the last century. While Kylo craved distance from the Great Oak, distance took time and he didn’t have time. Without knowledge of what existed beyond the forest, he couldn’t risk being caught in the daylight. It would destroy him. He’d have to spend one last day within the tree. It was as much for his safety as it was for the girl’s.
He could still hear her blood singing. The same power which woke him from his long slumber now tempted him like a siren’s song. The curse could only be broken by virgin blood, the purest of all sacrifices and the most difficult to secure. It was so rare that it had taken a hundred years to pass through his forest.
When it had, the blood didn’t belong to a high-born duchess or a well-off merchant’s daughter. The virgin was a maid, covered with dirt and grime. Her physical appearance was of no consequence. The girl was as pure as the first beams of morning, breaking through the treetops. She was untainted, wholly unlike the carnage he’d left in his wake.
The men who’d been after her were reduced to a pile of bloody remains. In the morning, the vultures would finish them off. It was more than they deserved. When he’d heard their intent, felt their malice, and smelled their greed, it had been all too easy to lose himself in his rage.
The girl called him a monster. It was true and she would know. She’d been living with a creature far worse than he. A man who sold women like livestock was not a man she needed to concern herself with. Kylo had done her a courtesy. If only she could see that. It would make things simpler when the time came to accept her fate.
Kylo had accepted his fate long ago.
In the hollow, there was a bed of moss. Kylo lay the girl upon it. He didn’t require sleep. Nor did he require substance or shelter. All he required to exist was a blood offering and a host. With the girl, he had found both.
She was unaware of how her actions bound them together. She would learn in due time. Perhaps then she wouldn’t refer to him in such a vehement manner.
Given her disdain, Kylo took extra care to lay her down. Even in sleep, her brow was furrowed, a sign of her distress. Exerting his powers over her hadn’t been easy. She wasn’t weak-minded like the men in the woods and he didn’t wish to hurt her. She had the spirit of a true warrior. He recognized he had two choices: intervene subtly or disarm her by force.
She shivered, curling in on herself atop the moss. Kylo summoned a relic from a forgotten time, draping it over her slight form. The cloak bared the Skywalker crest, an ancient family who once ruled over the lands until tragedy struck. Kylo avoided those memories just as he’d avoided being struck in the woods.
Wrapped up, the girl’s brow relaxed. Her breathing evened out as she fell into a peaceful rest.
A part of him wished he could join her but it was a foolish idea. He’d given up on hoping for any small semblance of mercy after the first decade of the curse passed. There was no light left in Kylo Ren. Not even the slightest hint of humanity remained a part of him.
It was foolish to hope, yet as he gazed at her, Kylo couldn’t deny he did.
Rey jolted awake. Darkness surrounded her and she was forced to blink several times to adjust to the low lighting. She wasn’t at Plutt’s manor nor was she any place she recognized. There was a cloak laid across her, providing heat and a comforting weight. She could hear birds chirping and felt a cool, damp breeze.
Among other things.
Shifting on the ground, she sat up and turned to face the heavy gaze of her host. As she set her sights on those burning crimson eyes, Rey realized her nightmares weren’t mere dreams. It had been real. All of it.
“Where am I?” she asked.
“You’re my guest,” he answered from where he crouched in the shadows.
His voice was deep and powerful, a fitting trait for a demon. Rey shivered, unconsciously pulling the cloak tighter around herself.
“You need not be afraid of me. I mean you no harm,” he vowed, standing up.
For the first time, Rey got a good look at the stranger who saved her in the forest, the devil who gutted her master like the pig he was. The demon was not classically handsome with his long features and raven hair. Yet, Rey couldn’t avert her gaze. There was something — something she couldn’t understand that drew her toward him.
He was tall, like the Great Oak, and broad like the ravine beyond the famous tree. He appeared to be a part of it with his elongated features and the branch-like horns protruding from his forehead. The fingers she’d described as claws last night were long but not deadly. They were normal hands. At first glance, there was little to suggest he was otherworldly.
As long as he remained silent.
Which he didn’t.
“Unless, of course, it’s not fear in your eyes but something else, little lamb.”
Rey narrowed her eyes. She would not be mocked. “Stop calling me that! I’m not a lamb.”
“You tremble like a newborn lamb learning to walk,” he observed.
“I do not!”
He made a humming sound. “We will see.”
“You won’t see anything,” she argued. “I’m leaving.”
Standing up, Rey let the cloak fall away and searched for a way out of the chamber. There were no doors and no windows. When she glanced up, she gasped. The ceiling was a collection of thick, knotted roots.
“If you wish me to return you to your home, I will,” the demon offered from directly behind her.
Rey whirled around and took an unsteady step backward. He watched her intently but made no further move towards her. She couldn’t forget the events of the evening prior or the horrific sounds he’d caused. It was a stark contrast to the creature who loomed before her. The man in front of her was composed and patient. There wasn’t an ounce of fury in his eyes.
She felt compelled to tell him the truth. “I don’t have a home.”
Something passed over his face, a fleeting expression she couldn’t place. “I will remedy that,” he promised.
She stared at him, affected by his calm tone nearly as much as she was by his offer. There was conflict in him. Rey could see he was restraining himself — whether to keep himself from attacking her or something else, she wasn’t sure, but he hadn’t done anything untoward yet. Her curiosity was piqued.
“What do I call you?” Rey inquired.
“Kylo,” she repeated, watching his blazing eyes shut for a brief second. When he opened them once more, she extended her hand. “I’m Rey.”
“Rey,” he echoed in his low timbre. He raised her hand to his lips like a refined gentleman, planting a chaste kiss across her knuckles. It sent a shiver running down her spine.
Rey dropped her gaze to the ground, unaccustomed to such pleasantries. The only attention Plutt ever paid her was the end of his whip. He’d only struck her hard enough to leave a scar one time — the first time. After that, he’d learned to control himself. Once Lord Snoke showed interest in her, the worst thing Plutt did was refuse to feed her. He didn’t want to damage his merchandise.
With her eyes averted, Rey noticed the emblem sewn onto the cape she’d been wrapped in. “This is the Skywalker crest,” she commented.
Kylo dropped her hand, his eyes flaring up as though the flames had been stoked by her words.
“Did you know them?” she asked.
The demon retreated to the shadows of the hollow. Rey waited, unsure if it was wise to follow. When he spoke, his voice was tense.
“It was many years ago.”
“They were your friends?” Rey questioned, curiously.
He scoffed. “No.”
She eyed the garment once more. The cloak was made of the finest materials, lined with smooth silk for comfort, a fur collar, and a wide frame. She surmised it had been custom-made for a man, someone of great importance to the family.
Why would this demon have it?
“Did you steal it?” she asked, bending down to pick up the luxurious garment.
“In a manner of speaking.”
Rey arched a brow. Her fingers grasped at the material. A sense of foreboding settled over her.
“Their heir...,” he trailed off.
Kylo nodded. “I killed him.”
He waited for her to scream or threaten him with another weapon, but the girl did neither. Rey simply stood in the center of the hollow, eyeing him as though he was the final move to secure a checkmate.
She wasn’t what he’d expected. Once she accepted the fact he wouldn’t hurt her, Rey showed a genuine interest in him. No one had ever bothered to ask his name. No one usually lived long enough.
As a maid, especially one suffered to serve such a deplorable man, she’d been given no formal education. Regardless, Rey possessed a keen intellect. She recognized the crest and guessed who the cloak belonged to.
If she only knew the truth.
“Did they hurt you?”
He jarred at her query. “What?”
“The Skywalkers,” Rey clarified. “They all died before I was born but I heard tales of what the land was like under their rule. Did they hurt you? Is that why you killed the prince?”
“What makes you think that?”
She took a hesitant step toward him. “Everyone in town claims their rule was perfect but nothing is ever perfect. I always figured they must have made a misstep along the way.”
Kylo chuckled. “There are many who would vehemently oppose your point of view.”
“I’m sure there are,” she returned. “It doesn’t mean I’m wrong.”
“No, little lamb, it doesn’t,” he said with a smirk. She bristled but didn’t reprimand him for the endearment.
Rey continued to surprise him. Her air of defiance was back, though not directed at him. It provided Kylo the opportunity to see how beautifully her eyes narrowed and the subtle way she set her jaw. Her hazel orbs glimmered with gold specks, like the first sparks of fire. When they caught the light just right, they appeared to glow.
Kylo had met women in his mortal life. They had paraded around with their painted faces and lavish gowns. Had one of them encountered him in Takodana Forest, he was sure they would have died of fright. They were fragile creatures.
This girl was not fragile. She was magnificent.
Her prison differed from his but he recognized the pain in her eyes. It was mirrored in his own.
“I never thanked you for saving me last night,” Rey admitted. “The Lord Plutt planned to sell me to is a cruel man. I would have rather pitched myself off the ravine than ended up in his hands.”
“Yes,” she confirmed with a nod. “He serves King Palpatine who took over the lands in the absence of the Skywalkers. They may have been oblivious, but he is evil.”
“You are so right,” Kylo responded. “When the remains of those men are found, I doubt anyone will come searching for you.”
“Thank you,” Rey responded gratefully. “I never thought I’d be free.”
He felt something contract within him, an organ he thought died along with his mortal form.
“You are free to leave,” Kylo agreed. “I will not hold you here against your will. However—.”
“However?” Her eyes narrowed suspiciously.
“I cannot allow you to part from me.”
“What?” she shrieked.
“We are bound,”’ Kylo explained. “Your blood woke me from my slumber. It is what tethers me to this world. If something were to befall you, it would also befall me. I cannot take such a risk, so I will accompany you.”
Rey gaped at him. “For how long?”
“For as long as your draw breath, little lamb.”
“No one will bother us here. This place hasn’t known occupants since the time of Anakin Skywalker,” Kylo informed her when they arrived at Naboo.
The summer castle was an all-but-forgotten stone structure, jutting out from a hillside overlooking the Silver Sea. Across the glassy water sat Takodana Forest.
Rey didn’t know how to swim. Her fear of the water prevented them from rowing across, thus taking the entire evening to hike along the shore to the opposite side of the lake.
As they reached the exterior walls that surrounded the palace, Kylo shied away from the gateway, ducking into the shadows.
“What is it?” Rey questioned, glancing around to identify the danger.
“Morning,” he grumbled.
She scrutinized his posture. “You’re afraid.”
“Demons belong to the dark. There is no place for me in the light,” he murmured.
“I thought your place was with me,” she returned.
His eyes simmered. She didn’t look away.
“You could join me,” he countered, offering her his hand.
“And you could join me,” Rey retorted, extending her hand to him. He stared at her open palm. “Unless you’re too afraid.”
Kylo’s gaze hardened. She saw the war inside but after a moment, he took her hand and allowed her to lead him through the gateway.
The entry courtyard was overgrown with ivy, the vines curling around each pillar and coating every wall in emerald. To some, it may have been viewed as a nuisance. To Rey, it was awe-inspiring. She’d never seen so much green in one place.
Plutt’s entire manor was brown. What little grew on his lands was wilted and dying, a byproduct of his lazy nature. When Rey suggested he hire a groundskeeper, he’d backhanded her. She’d been six at the time. That was her first lesson from her master. It wouldn’t be her last.
“It’s a disgrace,” Kylo spat, leaving her side to inspect the expense of the growth.
Rey watched him survey the area. His strides were long and smooth. He kept his hands tucked behind his back as he moved, his head inclined toward the earth. There was a confidence in how he strolled, an air of arrogance that couldn’t be taught. It was familiar yet, out of context, Rey couldn’t place it.
“I think it’s beautiful,” she commented.
Rey didn’t know if she told him because she didn’t want him to worry about the state of the courtyard or because she sought to agitate him. It didn’t matter. Her remark resulted in neither outcome.
“It was once,” he replied contemplatively.
Kylo continued walking along the perimeter, keeping as close to the wall’s shadows as possible. Rey found her eyes trailing him. When he glanced up, catching her, she felt her cheeks burn and quickly looked away. She expected him to chuckle and mock her. Instead, he peeled away a wall of ivy to reveal the entrance.
“This way,” Kylo directed her.
She followed him.
Like the courtyard, the interior of the palace was in dire need of care. Dead leaves, dust, and cobwebs littered the corridors and decorated the doorways. It reminded her of a mausoleum — cold, desolate, and forgotten. It was fitting, considering her circumstances. She was bound to the demon who ended the Skywalker line. Death seemed imminent. Perhaps the summer palace would serve as her tomb.
She glanced over her shoulder to find him standing in the shadows of a staircase. Sunlight cascaded over the entryway, dividing them — one bathed in light, one in the dark.
“I know what to do,” she announced, rushing past him and upstairs.
She entered the first bedchamber she found. The curtains remained intact over the balcony. Rey tugged the drapes closed, eliminating the majority of the light. She grabbed the furniture covers, taking the sheets to the remaining windows and tucking them up into the window frames until the room was bathed in darkness.
“Kylo?” Rey called.
“I’m here.” He stepped into the room, his glowing red eyes focusing on her face.
“Will this work?” she asked.
“Yes, little lamb, this—.”
“Yes, Rey,” he corrected himself. Then, quieter, “Thank you.”
“Stay here. I’ll see if there is anything salvageable in the garden. If not, we may have to take a trip into town,” she informed him.
His eyes widened. “You’re leaving?”
There was a vulnerability in his tone, a strange trait for a demon to possess, especially one as powerful as he. Rey couldn’t help but feel connected to him, not because of the binding but because she knew what it was to be abandoned and alone. She saw in his eyes the same fear she’d felt as a child when her parents left her.
“No,” Rey insisted. “I’m traveling into town to gather the supplies we need in order to stay here.”
“Yes,” she promised. “I’ll be back before dusk.”
Obtaining supplies meant paying for them and paying for them meant she needed coin. Rey knew of only one place to secure the funds she would need to live at Naboo with Kylo.
The one place she swore she’d never return to.
Rey waited until the servants were all busy with their chores to sneak inside. She hid in the alcoves when someone passed and darted into her room as quickly as possible.
She changed out of her tattered shift, replacing it with the only other one she possessed. Rey owned nothing else. There was nothing in the manor worth taking except for Plutt’s money.
After all, he wouldn’t be needing it.
Rey had never considered stealing before. She knew it was wrong. She’d seen how such deceit and greed corrupted people. When Plutt called her a thief in the forest, his remark stung like a slap.
As she entered his chambers, Rey felt the same sting to her pride. Was this what she had been reduced to? Sneaking around and stealing from a dead man?
Rey jumped and whirled around to face Maz.
“You’re alive.” The older woman sighed with relief. “I was worried something had happened.”
Something did, Rey thought as she remembered Teedo and Plutt’s cries.
“Where is Master Plutt?” the cook inquired.
“Dead?” Maz questioned skeptically with an arch of her eyebrows.
“He fell in the forest, along with Master Teedo,” Rey explained.
She watched realization dawn upon Maz’s face but before she could justify her reason for being in the chambers, the cook started to pile coins into the pockets of her dress.
“Take it,” she ordered. “Go. Master Plutt was a disagreeable man but Lord Snoke is the devil. He will do far worse than whip you, child.”
Rey thanked her, gathering up all she could. Maz helped her through the servant’s passage and, when the coast was clear, she fled.
Rey passed through the gateway as the sun set in the west. Night blanketed the sky in an array of deep blues and the first sparkle of stars. Above Naboo, away from the commotion of town, she could appreciate the natural beauty of the shift to evening. She paused a moment in the courtyard, taking it in until she remembered one crucial fact.
She was late.
The second she entered the castle, he was on her.
A hand clasped around her throat as she was shoved up against the wall. Rey’s gasp was silenced by the pressure he applied over her windpipe.
He froze. “Little lamb?”
The hand instantly withdrew. His eyes were wide with recognition for a split second before he winced in shame.
He grabbed her firmly by the waist, head bent over her neck to inspect the damage. “Are you hurt?”
“No, I’m fine,” she rasped, massaging the tender skin.
“I thought you were an intruder,” he explained. “You said you’d be back by dusk.”
“I got held up at the manor,” Rey returned.
Kylo batted her hands away. She felt his breath, hot against her pulse point. It was the only warning she was given before his lips descended on the abused flesh. Rey let out an indescribable sound, one part terrified and one part something else entirely.
“There,” he whispered as he leaned back.
His hands were still on her waist. He made no sign of removing them and Rey found herself staring up at him, embarrassed and confused. Kylo’s eyes were no longer filled with shame. They were overflowing with desire.
Any response she may have given got lodged in her throat. Rey was pinned by his stare. She took in a shallow breath, simultaneously afraid of ending the moment and wishing for a break in the tension.
Kylo’s crimson eyes bore into her. Rey feared he could read her thoughts and see the vulnerability that clouded her heart and mind.
When his grip on her waist tightened, she jolted. “You must be tired,” he surmised. “I’ll leave you to rest.”
Then, as quickly as he had appeared, he was gone.
Rey stood in the foyer for several minutes, waiting for the beating of her heart to slow.
Kylo watched from the shadows of the balcony as Rey slept. She’d spent the evening preparing a stew of some sort in the kitchen. After it was done and she was fed, she’d retired to the chamber across from his. It took less than a minute for her to succumb to sleep once she cocooned herself in his cloak.
He hadn’t given much thought to the fact that she kept the garment on their journey to Naboo. As he watched her sleep, wrapped in the silk, with only her face uncovered, a strange feeling settled within him.
It trickled through him, slow and steady like poison.
When she hadn’t returned, Kylo panicked. He’d been on the verge of ripping through the town in search of her, convinced something had happened. If Lord Snoke found her — if he had touched her — Kylo would burn the land to ash.
His rage blinded him to her presence. When she entered, he’d pounced.
She’d been afraid, but not of his power.
Rey was afraid of him.
Kylo was terrified of her.
The longer he remained in her presence, the less he felt the weight of his curse or the thrum of his dark powers. Rey was unbothered by his abilities. She spoke to him as an equal, as a friend. He’d never had a friend.
The curse had brought her to him, bound her life to his, but Kylo found himself wondering if they had met in the time before — a time he usually preferred not to think of — if things between them would be different.
It matters not, he thought sullenly. I’m a monster.
While the maid slept, the demon guarded her — a shadow shielding his light from the dark.
Under Plutt, Rey had spent her days cleaning second-hand jewels and other treasures he’d procured illegally so he could turn a profit. She cleaned, kept up the stables, assisted Maz with preparing meals, and did anything else her master ordered of her.
At Naboo, Rey was her own master. She spent the first several days cleaning the castle’s interior, removing stubborn cobwebs, sweeping out the leaves, and uncovering the forgotten furniture.
In the evenings, her efforts were doubled. Kylo insisted on helping and he’d continue her tasks while she slept. They made a good team. It didn’t take long for the castle to transform into an acceptable living space.
With the inside done, Rey turned her attention to the exterior. The gardens were lovely, despite the overgrowth. She wrangled with the ivy and tore the weeds from the rich soil. When Kylo found her on her hands and knees in the courtyard, he commented on her state.
“You’re covered in dirt, little lamb.”
“I’m gardening,” she replied flatly.
“I’ll take care of this,” he offered. “Go inside and wash off. You need to eat something and rest.”
“I’m fine. I—.”
She was cut off by the gateway creaking. Kylo was a blur of movement as he positioned himself in front of her, a low growl rumbling free of his chest.
“Rey?” a familiar voice called.
“Kylo, wait!” She looped her arms around his torso, holding on to prevent him from attacking the cook. “She’s a friend.”
Maz’s eyes widened behind her spectacles as she took in the sight of the demon and the girl who kept him at bay.
“I heard rumors,” she remarked, “but I didn’t believe it.”
“Maz, I can explain,” Rey started as she released Kylo and stepped around him to face her friend. The older woman held up a hand, signaling her to stop.
“Do you have any idea who he is, Rey?” Maz queried. “Do you know what he’s done?”
“Yes,” Rey responded, taking his hand. “He saved my life. He brought me here. He’s taken care of me.”
“He’s not what you think,” Maz warned.
“He’s not dangerous,” Rey insisted.
Maz’s gaze flickered between them. After a moment’s pause, she sighed. “This is the path you choose?”
Rey squeezed Kylo’s hand. “It is.”
“Very well.” Maz adjusted her spectacles. “As I require employment, I’ll manage the kitchen and take care of running into town for supplies. It’s best if you both remain unseen, given that Plutt is dead by your hand,” she said as she pointed to Kylo. “And Snoke is searching for you,” she added to Rey.
“Thank you, Maz.”
The old woman waved her off. “Just point me to the kitchen. I imagine you’re famished as always.”
Rey led her inside, oblivious to the knowing glance Maz shot Kylo.
He perched on the railing of Rey’s balcony, staring through the glass doors at her. She’d fallen asleep only moments before, her breathing slowing until the soft rise and fall of her chest was nearly imperceptible under the cloak.
Each night she slept cuddled under the thick fabric of his former life, the same way she had fallen asleep in the hollow under his protection.
Maz had been with them for a month, lessening Rey’s responsibilities for the property. While she trusted the cook, Kylo had taken up his mantle immediately following the old woman’s arrival. He would not risk Rey’s safety for anyone, even if she believed the woman was a friend.
Watching over her became his favorite part of the day. Any uninterrupted time with Rey was his favorite part of the day but this was precious. This time was his and only his.
Kylo sighed, asking why he continued to torture himself each night this way. Seeing her like this — allowing himself to wonder what it would be like to share her bed — was dangerous.
As if in agreement, Rey’s brows creased and her hands grasped at her sheets. She curled in on herself, a small whimper escaping her lips. His eyes widened and he found himself at the doors with his hand hovering over the handle.
“Kylo,” Rey called as one of her hands reached across the mattress. When she realized he wasn’t there, she cried.
His restraint dissolved.
In an instant, he was kneeling over her. “Rey?” He gently roused her from her slumber. “Wake up, little lamb.”
She murmured once more, her eyes wincing and then she jolted awake. “K-Kylo?”
Rey’s eyes widened. Her lips were slightly parted, her chest swelling with each ragged inhale. Her fingertips traced his jawline as if she couldn’t believe he was real. “You’re here,” she whispered.
“I’m always here,” he promised, leaning into her touch. In the dark of the night, he could admit how good it felt.
“I dreamed you left. It was just me here in these empty halls,” Rey revealed, a tear slipping free.
“You have Maz too,” he reminded her.
She shook her head as another tear fell. “It’s not the same. You left.”
He wiped her tears away with a wide brush of his thumb. “I would rather spend eternity trapped in the Great Oak then leave you,” Kylo responded.
“You’ll stay here with me?” she asked, searching his face with her hazel eyes.
There was no denying himself anymore. He wanted — no, he needed — her.
“As long as you wish, little lamb. I’m yours.”
Kylo leaned down, pressing a tentative kiss to her lips. Rey’s reaction was immediate. She wound her arms around him, keeping him close so she could kiss him back.
When he felt her desire, Kylo tossed his cloak aside. Her thin white sleep shift left little to the imagination. He could see every curve of her young body and the way her pulse beat rapidly.
“Are you scared, little lamb?” he questioned quietly.
“No,” she told him with a shake of her head.
“You’re trembling,” Kylo pointed out.
“I’m nervous,” Rey admitted. “I’ve never done this.” She bit her lower lip and lowered her gaze to the bed sheets.
“We need not do anything tonight,” he comforted her. “I will be with you always. There is time for all that lat—.”
“I want to.”
Kylo blinked, regarding her expression carefully. “With me?”
She nodded. “I trust you. I care for you. And I want this with you. Only with you.”
His throat felt dry and his chest tightened. She trusted him. She cared for him. She wanted him.
He wanted to please her but his experience matched her own. His knowledge of such an activity was limited to what he’d read in books and heard talk of in the forest. Neither were sufficient material.
Her hand was on his face again, her voice wavering with uncertainty.
“I don’t know how,” he confessed. “I’ve never...” he trailed off, unable to say the words.
She hadn’t rejected him for his darkness. Would she refuse him for his naïveté?
“Together?” Rey suggested hopefully.
The unease in his chest abated. “Together,” he confirmed.
She began to undo the ties of her shift. He watched as her nimble fingers worked them loose, each motion revealing more of her golden skin to his gaze. Rey grabbed the bottom of the dress to lift it up and over her head, leaving her bare and Kylo speechless.
It wasn’t until she removed his shirt and began working him free of his trousers that he found the ability to speak.
“Lie back, little lamb,” he commanded, gently guiding her down to rest against her pillows. Her skin was hot to the touch. He could hear her blood singing the way it had the night she freed him.
“Kylo,” she whined as she pressed her hand to him.
“Shhhh.” He kissed her, dragging her hand away from his shaft. “Let me take care of you first. I want to taste you.”
Rey lay back and he settled between her thighs, prying them apart with his broad hands. Kylo kissed her inner thigh. “Look at you,” he crooned. “So ready for me. Perfect.”
She ran her hands down her chest, across her flat stomach to his head. When he drew a line with the tip of his tongue up her slit, Rey keened loudly. Her back arched off the bed and her fingers tangled in his hair.
He repeated the gesture, varying the pressure and length of his strokes. The sounds Rey made encouraged him to continue until her legs were shaking, her eyes fluttered closed, and she cried out his name.
Kylo glanced up, satisfied by the sated expression on her face as she sunk into the mattress. He gave her a moment to rest while he shucked off his pants.
When Rey felt him where his mouth had been prior, her eyes opened. She spread her legs wider and lowered her hands to his shoulder blades.
“You can tell me to stop,” Kylo offered.
Rey shook her head. “I don’t want you to stop.”
He dragged the head of his weeping cock through her folds, delighting in the way her nails dug into his skin as she contained her cry.
“Don’t be quiet, little lamb,” Kylo told her. “I want to hear you. I want to hear what I do to you.”
With that, he entered her with a single thrust.
Rey wailed, clamping around him like a vice. Kylo groaned. The sensation was unlike any he’d experienced before. It overwhelmed him to the point he couldn’t hold his head up. He dropped his face into the crook of her neck, huffing against her heated skin.
He could feel her everywhere.
There was the rhythmic rise and fall of her chest. He could feel her ribs, though they weren’t as apparent as when he’d met her. She’d been eating regularly at Naboo.
There was the slide of her thighs against his waist. She planted her feet on the mattress, providing him with a better angle.
There was the pounding of her pulse, so close to where his lips hovered over her sweet flesh. He kissed the spot, heard her moan, and kissed it again.
He slid out of her only to immediately thrust back in. They both groaned. Kylo canted his hips, driving deeper and deeper with each roll. Rey’s hands returned to his hair, grasping at the tendrils. He kissed her pulse point, then her jaw, and, finally, her lips.
As his speed increased, the volume of their voices rose. He held her hips down, forced to keep her in position as she rose further and further off the bed.
She moaned his name, nibbling on his lower lip.
“Together,” he reminded her, trailing his hand across her belly to the apex of her thighs.
Kylo circled the sensitive bundle of nerves and sent her careening over the edge. He fell with her, spiraling down in an intense bout of euphoria and clutching onto Rey the entire time. He was adrift in a sea of sensations but she was there to guide him back. She kept him grounded.
“I love you,” he whispered against the crown of her head. His lips swept across her brow as he settled down next to her.
Rey smiled blissfully up at him. She cupped his face in her two hands and kissed him soundly. “I love you.”
Kylo watched her fall back asleep until his own eyes became too heavy to keep open.
Rey woke to sunlight trickling into her chamber. It cascaded across the floor to stop at the foot of her bed.
She was usually up early so she could check in with Kylo. Today, her body was spent and Rey wanted to go back to sleep. She rolled over, intending to bury her face in a pillow. She found herself buried in Kylo’s chest instead.
“Morning, little lamb,” he mumbled sleepily, draping his arm over her. He held her close, resting his chin on the top of her head.
“You slept,” Rey observed. “I didn’t think demons slept.”
“I usually don’t,” Kylo admitted.
“Did I exhaust you?” she asked, nuzzling her face against the column of his throat.
He made a humming sound. His hands skimmed over her bare flesh as they descended along the length of her spine. “No, I will never tire of you.”
Cupping the roundness of her backside, Kylo lifted one leg over his waist. He rolled his hips against hers. Rey felt heat erupt in her core. Her hands clutched onto his shoulder blades as a moan escaped her.
Kylo ducked his head and pressed a kiss to the juncture of her neck and collarbone. Rey sighed, softly, leaning into his attentions. Then he bit down on the same spot, eliciting a cry from her lips.
“You’re mine, sweet lamb. All mine,” he growled possessively with another roll of his hips.
Rey mirrored his movements, falling into rhythm with the sensual rocking of his hips. She framed his face with her hands, kissing him as deeply as she could feel him.
It was as though he was within her, overwhelming her senses, and threatening to drive her mad. Her body was an inferno, desire burning hot and persistent beneath the surface. Her blood sang for him.
Then, as if someone severed the thread, awareness broke her of the spell. Her eyes snapped open and she gasped.
The glowing eyes she’d grown used to seeing were gone. There was no longer a crimson pair of orbs staring back at her. Instead, she was gazing at a pair of pretty dark eyes.
Dark, but human.
He leaned back, attempting to understand the concern in her voice. She reached up, tenderly tucking his hair behind his ear as she scanned his face.
“Your eyes,” Rey whispered in awe. “They’re different.”
“Different?” he questioned, brow furrowing. “Different how?”
“Come closer. Let me look at you,” Maz instructed him.
Kylo sat in the kitchen, while Rey stood nervously fidgeting at his side. He was tempted to tease her, comment on how she was still a little lamb — his little lamb — but the notion was squashed when Maz addressed him once more.
“When you live as long as I have, you see the same eyes in different people,” she announced. “I see a demon who wants to be a man and a man who wants to love.”
Kylo couldn’t stop his gaze from locking on Rey. She was staring back at him, a fresh blush coloring her cheeks.
“What does it mean?” he inquired.
Max tilted his head back, scrutinizing the color of his irises. “Rey?”
“Yes?” she returned hesitantly.
“Open the windows,” the cook ordered.
“Maz, no! He can’t—.”
“He can,” the old woman insisted. “Do it now.”
Kylo watched her cross the room and, with a shaking hand, throw open the shutters. Sunlight filled the room, overflowing past the table until it hit him. He flinched, expecting his pale skin to burn and boil under the rays.
Maz made a noncommittal sound.
Kylo merely stared at his hands, turning them over slowly to bask in the warmth of the sun. It was the first time in a hundred years that he’d felt the morning light. It felt like a dream.
“Maz, what’s happening?” Rey asked.
“Mortal.” The old woman confirmed Kylo’s suspicions. “He’s turning mortal.”
The warmth of the light couldn’t distract him from the fear which gripped his heart. If he became mortal, he would no longer possess his powers. Without his abilities, he couldn’t protect Rey from Snoke.
And Snoke was coming. Of that, Kylo was sure.
When he did, he would try to take Rey away. Kylo had to be ready. He needed to be at full strength so he could eliminate the threat once and for all.
Being a demon was preferable to losing her. Risking her safety wasn’t an option, even if it meant he’d never be able to give her what she wanted: a family.
Maz caught his eye. She sighed and he knew she knew.
“Rey, dear, could you run out to the garden and fetch me a fresh batch of thyme?”
“Yes, of course.” Rey took off, leaving the demon alone with the cook.
She walked over and sat down beside him, placing a hand on his arm. “The belonging you seek is not behind you, young Solo. It is ahead.”
Kylo stiffened. “You know?”
“I’ve known since I found Rey here with you,” she revealed. “What I don’t know is why you aren’t pleased. Rey is.”
“I know,” he admitted. “That only makes what I have to do even more important. I have to protect her. Snoke means to take her by force. I will not let that happen.”
“Rey isn’t the delicate creature you paint her to be,” Maz reminded him. “If you teach her to fight, when the time comes, she will stand with you. You have a choice.”
Rey returned to the kitchen with a handful of herbs as promised. As she laid them out to dry, Kylo muttered to Maz, “I hope you’re right.”
Rey dragged her arm across her brow, wiping away the perspiration their training had caused.
Kylo insisted she be prepared when Snoke arrived. Once news of Plutt’s death entered the town, Lord Snoke went on a hunt to track her down. There was a body for Plutt and one for Teedo but none for Rey. He was convinced she was alive. He was also convinced that she had killed her master and his pawn. So she had to prepare.
Preparation meant being able to fight. Never one to shy away from a challenge, Rey agreed and instead of spending her days weeding and cleaning, she worked with Kylo in the courtyard, sparring from morning until dusk.
They’d found some pants, probably left by a stable boy, and a thin tunic. Rey enjoyed the garments, enjoying how easy it was to move without the heaviness of her skirts.
Each night, she collapsed into bed, sore and exhausted. Each morning, she woke with the sun, ready to begin again. If she was honest, her eagerness had more to do with the fact Kylo sparred shirtless than anything else.
“Again,” he commanded, jarring her out of her thoughts and back to reality.
Rey settled into her starting position. Her hands were clamped down on her staff. It was for training purposes so she could learn the angles of attack. The staff was made of solid wood and carried some weight, though it wasn’t quite as heavy as a sword, which was their ultimate goal.
They’d found various daggers and other weapons in the palace’s armory. Kylo suggested the training staff to avoid any accidental wounds.
She’d hit herself a couple of times since they started. Her knuckles were bruised from where she’d struck herself when she under-calculated the arch of her attack and there was a scab under her chin where she’d clipped herself last week.
Kylo circled her, chocolate eyes narrowing as he assessed her stance for an opening. Rey did the same to him. The first time she’d caught an opening, Rey had charged at him with a battle cry.
She’d failed on two levels. First, Kylo had intentionally left himself open to attack to draw her in and second, she had announced her intentions with her scream. The result was her on her back, the air knocked from her lungs, gazing up at his amused smirk.
Rey heard the word so often, it was beginning to lose its meaning.
She watched the way his foot shifted slightly in the dirt and how his left side tensed. Her lips curled up in a small grin.
Before he could charge her from the right, Rey dropped to her knees, sliding across the ground to sweep his leg. Kylo collapsed to his knees with a grunt.
Rey straightened up, whipping around to bring the blunt end of her staff to his neck.
“Not so fast, little lamb,” he chuckled. “You haven’t disarmed me.”
As he sliced through the air with his training staff, Rey sprung up, flipping backward over the training blade. When she landed, her eyes were wide and her heart was pounding excitedly.
Kylo stood, astonishment painted on his face.
She didn’t hesitate to counter, bringing her blade down with enough force that she nearly knocked Kylo’s from his hands. Her leg raised at the knee and she snapped out a front kick. Her heel struck him in the chest, applying the perfect amount of pressure to send him staggering back.
Rey advanced, raising her staff over her head with both hands and following through the giant arch to disarm Kylo with one final blow.
He tumbled to the ground. Rey perched over him, looping her staff behind his head to guide his gaze to her. “Yield.”
Kylo smirked. He smacked the staff out of her hands, grabbing her so suddenly she didn’t see it coming. With another rapid motion, he flipped them over so he was over her, kneeling between her thighs.
“Oh, my little lamb, you’re full of surprises,” he crooned.
He brushed her hair from her face and leaned down to kiss her. Rey wrapped her arms around him, savoring her victory along with the comforting weight of him.
She could feel the defined muscles of his chest ripple each time he moved. His broad hands were everywhere, tugging her hair free of her buns, working at the ties of her tunic, and holding her still as his hips rolled rhythmically.
“Kylo,” Rey whined. Her fingers tangled in his damp hair, yanking at the strands as her desire grew more desperate.
“I was concerned about your safety,” a cold voice interrupted them.
Rey jumped in Kylo’s hold, shying away from the intruder as she adjusted her clothes. Kylo’s eyes hardened and a growl passed between his lips. Rey watched the chocolate fade away to reveal the burning crimson she’d known on the night she met her demon.
“I see I had reason to worry,” Snoke announced.
“You’re not welcome here,” Kylo stated firmly. He stepped in front of Rey, shielding her with his broad form. “Leave.”
Snoke cackled. “Time hasn’t changed you at all, young Solo. You still have too much of your father’s heart in you and far too much of your mother’s spirit,” he sneered.
Rey stared up at Kylo as the truth of Snoke’s words stitched together the fabric of clues she’d been too blind to see. Kylo had told her he killed the prince and in a sense, he had. He had killed a part of himself, the part which had chocolate eyes and knew the customs of a gentleman.
The part of himself that belonged to the light.
“If he’s Ben Solo, he’s the rightful heir,” Rey insisted. She went to his side, interlacing her fingers with his. “You and your master have no claim to this land.”
“King Palpatine owns these lands, just as I own you,” Snoke hissed at her. “Come along.”
“No.” Rey spat at his feet. “I am not property.”
Snoke’s nostrils flared in indignation. “Such fire.” His lips curled in a smug grin. “I’ll enjoy snuffing it out of you.”
“You won’t touch her,” Kylo seethed, releasing her hand to unsheathe his sword.
“Oh, dear,” the lord tutted. “I do so hate unnecessary violence.” He snapped his fingers and a battalion of soldiers marched in, wearing the crimson colors of King Palpatine. “He is a traitor to the crown. Kill him and bring the girl to me.”
“Rey, run!” Kylo shoved her towards the castle and turned to face his opponents.
She saw Maz standing on the steps. Hastily, Rey crossed the courtyard.
“Maz! I need a weapon,” she begged.
The cook handed her a kitchen knife. “You have one.”
Rey eyed the blade, sharp enough to slice through a roast but not as formidable as a sword. She handed it back.
“It’s not the size of the weapon but the courage of its wielder,” Maz told her, closing her fist around the knife’s handle. “Find your opening and take it.”
Rey glanced over her shoulder to see Kylo fighting eight guards all at once. He wasn’t tearing through them. It was as Maz predicted. His powers had left him. He was mortal now. Mortal and vulnerable.
She couldn’t take down the armored men, but there was one foe who wore no such protection.
Rey stalked toward Snoke, unnoticed until the edge of her blade was against his jugular.
“Order them to stand down,” she demanded.
“What a delightful surprise,” he chortled. “A maid who thinks herself a warrior.”
“Order your men to stand down. I won’t ask again,” Rey snarled.
“Stand down,” Snoke commanded.
Instantly, the guards stopped and took a step away from Kylo. He was panting, sweat dripping down his brow as he glared at Snoke. His gaze flickered to Rey, then back to the threat.
“Now, you’re going to leave this place and inform Palpatine these lands no longer belong to him,” Rey explained.
“And why would I do that?” Snoke asked with a chuckle. “Seize her!”
The soldiers advanced, quicker than Kylo could take them down. Rey was faster. She spun on her heel, facing Snoke and dragging the side of the knife with her. By the time she reached his front, the blood was already soaking into his fine clothes.
She heard the soldiers halt mere inches behind her, as their leader gasped for air. He dropped to his knees, clutching at his bloody throat but no sound escaped his lips. He couldn’t command his men.
Rey felt a hand on her lower back. Kylo stood by her, glaring down at the old man.
“I do so hate unnecessary violence,” he told Snoke.
Right before he thrust the sword straight through his chest.
Silence descended upon the courtyard. No one dared to move or even breathe in the aftermath of Snoke’s demise. The soldiers had no orders. Kylo had no threat. Rey had no master. Everything was changed.
“Long live the king,” Maz’s voice boomed, echoing off the walls of the courtyard. The soldiers startled. “Long live King Solo!”
A murmur passed through them. Slowly, one by one, they fell to their knees. Their true king had returned.
Kylo tossed his sword aside and took Rey’s hand. She saw the question in his chocolate eyes and nodded.
When he grinned, she saw a light brighter than the sun.
“And that is how I met your mother, my little devils,” Ben Solo announced proudly.
“You didn’t have to give them the whole story,” his wife pointed out from where she was laying in bed watching him.
“Don’t worry. They won’t remember,” he responded with a smirk.
“You better hope not,” Rey scoffed.
“They fell asleep before I got to the good part,” Ben revealed.
“And what part is that?”
“You know which part, little lamb,” he chuckled, joining her in their bed. He pressed a kiss to her forehead. “How are you feeling?”
“Tired,” she admitted with a laugh.
“You’ve been through a lot today,” he told her. His gaze flickered to the newborn babies asleep on their bassinets. The twin’s birth had been hard on the queen but she had never looked as happy as when Maz passed the children over to her.
“I couldn’t have done it without you by my side,” Rey confessed.
“Then I suppose we are even,” Ben commented. “Because I couldn’t have done it without you.”
“All of it.”