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“Hey, Ben.”

“Don’t call me that.” His fist tightens around the tin cup in his hand, forcing it out of shape. Rey can hear the metal squeal even over the ear-battering volume of staticky Twi'lek pop blaring from the ceiling.

Rey rolls her eyes and drops on the rickety stool beside him. “Well, I can’t call you K-y-l-”

“It’s Jav,” he hisses. “Jav.”

Rey snorts. She doesn't know how Kylo comes up with his terrible aliases, but every time she sees him—which is far too frequently for her peace of mind—he’s using a new one. Jav is the worst yet, though. It sounds like an industrial cleanser.

She leans over the sticky counter and signals to the droid tending bar. “Corellian whisky please,” she shouts over the din. “And put it on Jav’s tab.” Even though she hates the taste of the stuff, she drinks nothing else at these purportedly accidental meetings. Anything to irritate him.

And she wants to irritate him now, to make him angry. As angry as Rey’s been ever since she eased her way, after hours of patient untangling with the Force and her fingers, through the massive thorned tentacle bush blocking the entrance to the ruined school and found—nothing. The scroll she’s been hunting for weeks was gone, but traces of Kylo’s Force presence were everywhere. He hadn’t even bothered trying to hide.

The droid clangs another tin cup down on the bar in front of her and pours sloppily; its elbow joints need calibration. Rey reaches out to nudge her cup further under the flow.

Kylo is keeping his face turned away from her, but she suddenly realizes what seems strange about him. The scar that the saber hidden under her coat gave him no longer bisects his right cheek and the bridge of his nose.

“You got rid of—” she circles one hand around her face to convey her meaning. She tries not to stare, but her eyes keep returning to that smooth expanse of skin. Something about it looks off, though it takes her a moment to realize what: fewer freckles and marks are scattered across it than the rest of his face.

“Yeah.” He stares down into his cup. “Cost me a ton of credits. Good synthskin isn’t cheap. But it was too noticeable.”

When she reaches for her drink, her arm brushes his, and Rey senses his half-acknowledged wish tinged with shame that he still had the scar. Something inside him liked being marked by her.

The droid corks the bottle and rolls away. Rey remembers why she came looking for Kylo in the first place. “Where is it?”

At least Kylo doesn't pretend not to know what she’s talking about. “I destroyed it.”

“What?” Rey’s shoulders stiffen and she glares at him. “Why would you do that?”

“It was too dangerous for you.” He tosses down the rest of his drink and turns on his stool to look down at her. She narrows her eyes at his condescending expression. “That thing was soaked in blood and pain.”

“You think I’ve never known blood or pain?” Rey clenches her jaw to keep from spitting at him. How dare Kylo decide she’s too pure for knowledge she wants, that he already has?

“You’ve never fed on them. You don’t know how to deal with something that demands more of them.” He looks away, scanning the crowded cantina and its heaving mass of various species shouting over the music as they bargain for work or company or temporary oblivion. “And that thing was hungry.”

Rey leans over, grabbing his shoulder as the unbalanced stool tilts beneath her. “Don’t ever do that again, Jav.” She punctuates the false name with a poke of her finger at his sternum. “It’s bad enough that you keep following me around, but if you ever steal something out from under my nose again and then decide that it’s yours to dispose of, I’ll give you a replacement scar on the other side of your face.” She leans in even closer and hisses directly into his ear. “Do you understand?”

He turns his head back and her mouth bumps against his cheekbone before she can move away. This close, the cinnamon-scented burn of liquor on his breath is overwhelming. He’s been drinking for a while. “Are you coming up to my room now or later?”

Ten minutes later Rey is stretched full-length across the terrain of Kylo’s body, draped over him like a clinging misura vine. Her hips are the only part of her in motion, rocking lazily, drawing out her irresistible surrender as long as possible. She can't stop stuttering out a choked moan each time he drags back and forth, slowly, over the perfect spot. Their mouths nearly touch, but they aren't quite kissing; just breathing each other’s breath as it crosses their lips.

Part of Rey knows this isn’t the kind of sex someone has with an enemy. Or even a rival, a competitor, a recurring curse, whatever Kylo is to her by now. She should be—what’s that awful expression Poe uses?—riding him like a stolen speeder.

But she’s ignoring that part of her right now. Other things are more important, namely Kylo’s body moving beneath hers like an ocean undertow: gentle waves with a palpable underlying power, enough to carry her away and drown her. Rey closes her eyes, buries her head in the warm hollow of his neck, and lets herself dissolve into pleasure. Kylo groans in her ear and she feels the same current ripple through his body.

For an instant too long, they don’t move. They lie still, tangled in each other, and Kylo’s heartbeat thuds under her ear. It’s too intimate. Rey shoves herself off of him before her brute physical desire can confuse her emotions or her thoughts any further. A Jedi should be able to restrain herself.

But when it comes to Kylo, Rey’s power of restraint is apparently nonexistent. Sex with him once could be considered an experiment, twice a coincidence, even three times possibly brushed off as a foolish indulgence. But this is their fourth encounter, and at this point she’s spent more time learning the map of Kylo’s scars and freckles than his combat forms.

She can’t even remember how this all started.

No, that’s not true—a Jedi shouldn’t lie to others, or to herself. Rey remembers. She just doesn’t want to admit how foolish she was.

The First Order might have gone down in defeat, and Snoke vanished, but Kylo is still a wanted man across most of the galaxy. She figured he’d do the smart thing and disappear into the outermost edge of the galaxy, but of course he didn’t. She almost couldn’t believe it when she saw him at an underground market (literally) in the Asonel Caves on Prakith, bargaining with a scavenger for the same scrap of Jedi history she was seeking. She outwitted him that time, having more experience dealing with scavengers in general. But the next time, on Nar Shaddaa, he’d beaten her to her goal.

She’d had some half-cocked plan to startle him enough that she could tear the holocron out of his grasp and run. One hand poised to seize it, she hauled him in for a kiss.

And he was surprised, all right, but so was she. When her mouth slammed into his, something crackled to life between them; burning energy flared at every point of contact. Rey had never known the Force to behave this way before, no matter who she was intimate with, and from his shock neither had Kylo.

She told herself, as she pulled him into her dingy room, as he fell backward on the narrow bed, dragging her with him, that she’d do this just once. She wanted to discover whether the fierce current flowing between them would dissipate. And then it would be over.

But that’s not what happened.

The sex was as she expected: quick, rough, and desperate. What she didn’t expect was how overwhelming it was. It felt like a narcotic overriding her conscious mind when his fingers slid over her bare skin. The second time their bodies collided, she wondered if Kylo had in fact somehow drugged her, and only his indignant recoil when he caught the echo of that idea crossing her mind convinced her.

Lying next to him now, sweat cooling on her skin and her hair lifted by the rattling fan, Rey tries to convince herself that given the odds, she may never see him again. After all, there’s a whole wide galaxy out there and a myriad of star systems. It would make sense if their paths never re-crossed, especially when one of them is a fugitive still more or less wanted by the New Republic.

She can’t believe that no-one’s caught on to him already. Yet nobody seems to take any unusual interest in Kylo’s alter egos. Rey knows that not many living people have seen his bare face as an adult; still, he must be more capable of subtlety and stealth than she’s ever believed.

Or perhaps the hunt for him isn’t as intense as it looks? The General can certainly call in enough political favours to ensure that her son’s in no danger of actually being captured.

Rey should turn him in. Each time they meet, she threatens to, but Kylo ignores her. He knows that she won’t—because of his mother. Rey can't do that to her.

But eventually, if the two of them keep winding up on the same planet, in the same room and the same bed, someone’s going to catch him.

*

The fifth time is on Kerensik, a cold moon with only a few long term inhabitants, gas miners who drill through the crust of ice and dig their homes out of it as well. They’ve asked for a mediator between factions arguing over how the settlement should govern itself now that the war is over—former First Order supporters in conflict with those who backed the New Republic and the Resistance. Rey is achingly proud to have been chosen and vows to be as fair and impartial a representative of the new Jedi as she possibly can.

She’s not even surprised when she sees Kylo in the public mess hall.

She doesn’t bother to ask what possible justification he has for being on Kerensik. There's nothing to smuggle and no artifacts to steal. He's here because he's following her.

Still, she admits that it helps to have an unofficial, unacknowledged symbol of the former First Order there backing her up. His tacit support makes her job easier. It’s obvious some of the miners know who or at least what he was, because they’re far more deferential to him than they ought to be to a minor smuggler.

When he knocks on the door to her quarters after a late-night negotiating session, she’s too tired to get out of bed. She unlocks it for him with a wave of her hand. He pauses in the doorway, scanning the dark room and finding her curled up under thick layers of blankets. She can feel his confusion.

“Come in if you want a place to sleep. Otherwise go away.” Rey yawns, her jaw cracking.

He shuts the door behind him, takes off his boots, and crosses the room silently to slip under the covers. Rey turns over, dragging the heavy blankets with her, and slings an arm around his waist. His clothes are still cold from the outside air, but the body underneath them is warm. She burrows in closer.

Kylo smooths her hair out of her face with one hand and trails it down her back. He doesn’t stop touching her, letting his hand slide from her shoulderblades to her thighs and back in long strokes that make her skin tingle. “Are you really that tired? I bet I can make you come at least once before you fall asleep.”

“Just go to sleep, Kylo,” she mumbles into his chest, tightening her arm around his waist. She’s finally starting to feel warm for the first time since she landed on this ball of ice. “The miners’ guild gave me a nice room, you might as well enjoy it. The cheap bunks in that freighter of yours suck.”

Suspicion radiates off him; he doesn’t understand why she’d want him to stay unless it was for sex. Groaning, she projects her contented feeling of animal warmth at him and he seems to accept it. Still, as Rey topples into sleep like a stone falling from a cliff, she can feel him lying stiff and angular beside her.

She wakes instantly two hours later, staring at the chisel marks on the icy ceiling. No need to ask why; Kylo’s nightmare is like a third presence in the bed between them. He’s gasping in deep gulps of air, and when she brushes her fingertips gently over his face it’s clammy with the slick sweat of terror. She calls his name silently but there’s no response. She tries again, more insistently, slipping into the outer chambers of his mind.

He throws her off and jerks upright, the covers falling to his waist as he pants for breath.

“Kylo?” Rey says, out loud this time. She’s not sure he’s even awake. When he looks down at her, his eyes are still half-caught in the sucking sandpit of dreams.

“You’re awake,” she tells him. “You’re with me, we’re on Kerensik. It’s cold here. The war is over.”

“Snoke is dead.” His voice is hollow and raspy.

Rey blinks. That was never confirmed, as far as she knows, and she had access to all the intelligence the Resistance could gather as well as Luke’s better-honed instincts. “Is he?”

He holds his hands out in front of him, turning them over to stare at the palms, then the knuckles. “I killed him.”

Rey isn’t sure whether he’s talking about his nightmare or real life. She tugs at his arm, pulling his wooden, resistant body back down to the bed. He ducks his head into her shoulder and his hair is soft against her neck.

“You don’t believe me,” he whispers against her skin. “But I did it. I killed him.”

Rey decides bare honesty is her best policy. “I’m just wondering if you dreamed it.”

Kylo laughs once, a harsh bark. “I wonder that too sometimes. But I'm pretty sure it happened.” A tremor runs through his body but he keeps talking. “He dug holes so deep in my head sometimes I don’t know who I am.”

He shivers again and Rey folds her arms around him, one hand automatically sinking into his hair. Reluctant empathy wells up and constricts her chest. She doesn’t want to think about what might have happened to Kylo. It’s always safer to focus on what he did—what and who he destroyed. She doesn’t want to be tempted into forgiveness.

Kylo catches the fleeting edge of that thought and answers it aloud. “I know what I did. And I know I don’t deserve to be forgiven.”

Rey sighs at his obtuseness and fists her hand tight in his hair for an instant. “I’m not the one you really want forgiveness from.” She issues a silent order: go back to sleep. The promise that she’ll keep watch until he can is implicit.

In the morning, her breath has made fuzzy patches of frost on the outside of the blankets and the other side of the bed is cold. He’s long gone.

*

The seventh—no, eighth, she’s lost count—time is on the grasslands of Sicemon. Rey's recon mission for a possible new Praxeum location has gone well, and she's enjoying the luxury of nothing to do for a few hours until her shuttle arrives.

She stretches out on the striped grass and folds her arms behind her head. When she closes her eyes, the world disappears into a rosy glow. She remembers the way Jakku’s sun hit heavy as a fist if you were stupid or desperate enough to venture out in it at midday. The gentler suns of other planets are still a delight to her; she can feel the radiation of Sice’s star on her cheek like a warm touch.

She’s thinking of Kylo just as a cooler shadow falls over her legs. “Lazing around, are you? That’s no way for a Jedi to behave.”

Even he can’t annoy her too much on a beautiful day like this. She shades her eyes with one hand and grins up at him, startling a smile from him in response.

Kylo’s eyes have always been his only objectively handsome feature. Everything else about him is too extreme—too harsh and intimidating, like his size and his nose, or too lush and soft, like his hair and lips. He’s a strange assemblage of parts.

Still, she has to admit that when he smiles, his warm brown eyes are attractive. Like the peaty streams on Ach-to, they hide golden tints in their depths.

Rey’s gut coils with a sinking realization that she doesn’t just miss Kylo's flesh; she misses him. That won’t do. So when he offers a hand to help her up, she uses the leverage to pull him down instead. She winds up pinning him and straddling his hips, although his head hits the ground a little harder than she intended.

“Ow,” he says mildly, and she pounces.

Rey wants something simple, urgent and mindless—the way it used to be. But it's too late for that. She knows Kylo now: knows that if she strokes the scar along his ribs he'll close his eyes, that biting his shoulder will wring a faster pace from his hips. His fingers have learned the precise, perfect amount of pressure she craves, and his lips on the sensitive skin of her inner arm make her shiver.

When she collapses on top of him at last, their bodies are dusted with itchy strands of dry grass and her once neatly-restrained hair is falling in her eyes. Kylo offers the use of his ship’s fresher to clean up and Rey agrees. That turns into a second round, even rougher and more desperate, as he presses her up against the cold metal bulkhead. But the scratches she leaves on his back and the bruises she'll have on her hips are still not enough to make it feel impersonal again.

“Maybe we should take a break for a while,” Rey says carefully. She’s spent much longer with Kylo than she should have, and now she’s going to have to hurry to make her rendezvous at the landing strip. Still, she has to do something with the snarled mess of her hair. She cranes her head down in front of the tiny mirror in Kylo’s cramped cabin and rakes her fingers through the tangles. “We’re being too obvious. People are bound to notice.”

“I doubt it. People are stupid.” He pulls at a loose strand as she’s hastily braiding it back, and she slaps his hand away. “And no-one would ever believe the perfect shining light of the new Jedi was capable of something like this.”

Rey glares at his reflection in the fly-specked mirror. “Capable of what—sex? You’re not my first lover. Or did you think I was a virgin?”

“Capable of betrayal. Sleeping with the enemy.”

“You’re not the enemy, exactly. Not anymore. And I haven’t betrayed anyone.”

“No?” His eyes don’t look golden now, but dark with bitter amusement. “You’re protecting a wanted fugitive. A war criminal. What will your friends say when they find out?” he presses. “Or have you already told them?”

“No, I haven’t!” Rey snaps. “I can’t imagine why right now, but I don’t actually want you to get caught.”

Kylo drags his shirt back over his head and stands to pull on his pants. “You’re right, though. It’s past time to end this. You should go and be with the traitor, where you belong.”

“What?” Rey jams the last braid into her coiled bun and frowns into the mirror. This conversation has stopped making any sense at all. “Why would I belong with Finn?”

“He’s—good. Like you.” Kylo’s gaze is fixed on a point somewhere over her head in the dim cabin.

“He is a good man,” Rey agrees. “But what does that have to do with anything? I’m not sleeping with Finn.”

Kylo folds his arms over his chest sullenly, still refusing to meet her eyes. “Just get off my ship.”

Rey grabs her saber and her outer robe and goes, stomping down the ramp in a childish display of temper. It’s either that or rip Kylo’s head off. She doesn’t understand how he can be so stupid.

*

For the next six standard months Rey avoids exploratory missions and artifact hunts on shady Outer Rim planets, and anywhere else a fugitive might easily move around. She sticks to Core worlds and public assignments, shadowing the General and Poe in their endless attempts to build something lasting on the shifting sands of post-war politics.

Sometimes she wonders if Luke knows why she’s doing it. He seems a little too understanding, too willing to leave her be and not press for the reasons behind her choice, but then she’s always had difficulty reading her mentor. He gives nothing away that he doesn’t choose to. Now that she’s spent years learning from him, she can see with harsh clarity just how disastrously ill-matched he and Kylo must have been as teacher and pupil.

Then Finn returns from his latest hunt for decommissioned First Order crèches and training facilities. After the war, that was the work he wanted to do: ensuring no children were abandoned in forgotten barracks somewhere, piecing together records of which planets Stormtroopers were stolen from. He hasn’t found his own home yet, but given his persistence and determination Rey knows it’s only a matter of time.

As soon as she opens her door and sees Finn on the other side, Rey drags him in for a hug. She’s missed him more than usual lately. It’s because she’s feeling discouraged, and needs a little of his bright energy to restore her own endurance. It’s not because she’s missing anyone else.

“Find anything good this time?” she asks as she crosses to the tiny cupboard where she keeps her small cache of food and water. She pours Finn a cup and passes it to him, her only guest ritual. Rey still feels pride at having enough water to give to anyone she wants to, even though everywhere she’s lived since Jakku water’s no longer a luxury; there’s so much of it it falls in surplus from the air.

“Not really.” He takes a long swallow. “But Kylo Ren found me.”

“What?” The cupboard door slips out of Rey’s hand and bangs shut. She scans Finn from head to toe, looking for signs of a fight. “Did he hurt you?” She can’t ask Finn if he hurt Kylo, even though she desperately wants to know that too.

“No.” Finn shakes his head, looking bewildered. “He gave me the co-ordinates for a First Order data core. And the name of a former records officer who probably knows of more.” Finn leans one shoulder against the wall and drains the rest of his water. “He also called me an idiot for not getting at least a captaincy out of deserting.”

Rey chokes on a smothered laugh.

Finn looks back at her steadily. “Is there something you want to tell me, Rey?”

She looks down at the floor. “Did he ask about me?”

“No.”

Rey doesn’t realize how much she was hoping to hear otherwise until disappointment punches her in the diaphragm, stealing her breath.

“He told me that I’d better look out for you and that if I didn’t he would—how’d he put it?—cut me in half again.” Finn sounds wryly amused rather than worried, but Rey still feels guilty.

“I’m sorry, Finn.” Rey slumps against the wall, sliding down until she hits the floor. Her legs fold up and she rests her forehead on her knees. “I don’t know how it happened. We kept running into each other and somehow I—I got involved.”

Finn lowers himself to sit beside her, stretching his legs out along the floor. His disappointed frown makes Rey feel like the lowest invertebrate on this planet. “Rey, he’s a wanted criminal.”

“I know that.” She lifts her head to glare at him. “You want to turn him in? Go ahead, do it and watch the General’s heart break in front of you.”

Finn sighs. “You know I won’t. But Kylo Ren? Really?” He nudges her with his shoulder. “What were you thinking?”

“I wasn’t, obviously,” Rey mutters into her kneecaps. “That’s the problem.”

Finn rubs her back comfortingly. “I don’t know what happened between the two of you, and I don’t want to.”

Rey snorts.

“But something about him must have changed,” he offers. “At least a little. Or why else would he give me that intel?”

*

The next time, Rey finds him. It takes weeks of patient work, tracking his latest alias through bogus cargo manifests and altered flight paths, until she finally catches up with him at Carannia spaceport.

The ramp is down. Rey isn’t stupid enough to just walk aboard any seemingly unguarded ship, though, especially one belonging to a paranoid man with a bounty on his head. She stops at the bottom and looks around, shrugging her heavy duffel back up on her shoulder. “Hello?” she calls.

Metal clangs and a hydrospanner drops from the forward cargo compartment, barely missing her toes. Rey looks up just in time to see Kylo’s head pop out of a maintenance access port on the side of the ship. She feels idiotically happy at the sight of him with welding goggles pushed up on top of his head, making a birdsnest of his hair, and an iridescent streak of lubricant on his cheekbone.

An answering flare of emotion bursts from Kylo in a shockwave, but he pulls it back immediately and clamps down so hard on his Force presence that she can’t even be certain he’s surprised to see her. Maybe it was anger.

“What are you doing here?” He doesn’t bother climbing down the ladder, just drops to the ground using the Force to slow his fall.

Rey doesn’t see any point in being indirect. “Figured I’d travel with you for a while.”

Kylo says nothing else. He wipes his hands on the already filthy rag stuck in his belt and stares at her.

“We always seem to end up in the same places anyway. Might as well save on fuel.” She looks up at the outwardly shabby ship; her scavenger’s eye coupled with her Force senses tell her it’s bristling with concealed weapons and a hyperdrive ten times faster than anything so outdated ought to be able to mount. “I see you’ve upgraded. How’d you afford that?”

“Wouldn’t you like to know.”

“I would, actually.” She shifts from foot to foot. “A little smuggling is one thing, but I don’t intend to make a living doing anything too immoral. How would you feel about stealing some more First Order data? I think your mother could be persuaded to pay a decent price for it.”

Kylo keeps staring at her. She drops her duffel to the ground and takes a step closer to him. He freezes and she feels his panic like a blow—this can’t be real, any second now he’ll wake up alone.

All she can do is throw her arms around him. With her body and mind she presses closer, trying to make him understand that she’s here, she’s staying. The rigid muscles of his back ease under her palms at last and he enfolds her in turn, stoops over to shelter her with the expanse of his shoulders, breathing raggedly into her hair.

For a long moment they stand there, clinging together, listening to each other start to hope.

“You mean it,” Kylo says, although it sounds more like a question. “You’ll come with me.”

“One day, I hope you’ll come back with me,” Rey says. “Until then, yes, I plan on keeping you out of trouble.”

She lifts her head, yanks him down by his ears and kisses him like he’s the best thing she’s ever tasted.

“You need to change your name again, though,” she adds several minutes later. “I’m not going anywhere with someone called Rysto. Honestly, is that the best you can do? It sounds like a Huttese delicacy.”

“Call me whatever you want.” Kylo swallows. “Even—that name.”

Rey’s heart cracks, raw and tender, filled with something she doesn’t want to give a name to right now. “Not yet.” She cradles Kylo’s face in her hands and presses a kiss to his jaw through the scruffy half-grown beard. “But some day, if you really want me to, I’ll call you Ben.”