Somehow someway, Rey manages to mostly keep to herself the next few days. As much as she'd like to follow Ben around like some sort of memory detective, trying to ascertain if he did indeed remember, she doesn't want to tip off grandfather that she still cares.
She also doesn't want to freak out Ben, especially after he'd all but sprinted from her room the other night.
Today is Saturday and Rey sleeps through breakfast, deciding that the extra few hours of rest are worth rolling the dice on Palpatine's ire. When she wakes she checks her holopad and finds that Palpatine has summoned her to his quarters when she's up and "deigned to grace the world with her spoiled presence."
It sours her mood immediately.
She rolls out of bed and pulls on casual clothes, scowling at the way grandfather had spoken to her in his message. Like she's some toddler that exists only to be bossed around by him. Rey wonders, not for the first time, what Palpatine actually has planned for her life. Certainly nothing to do with the business side of things, given the way he's refused to show her anything regarding his dealings.
She thinks about how he'd mentioned her and Armitage Hux "courting" and feels a sharp twist of nausea. She suspects she has her answer in grandfather's plans for her, unfortunately. It would be foolish to think that he would ever listen to Rey's wants and needs for her own life. To take into account Rey's own choices. To Palpatine she simply is not worthy.
Rey drags herself out of her room after she pulls on her clothes, closing her bedroom door behind her with a sigh.
She really does need to figure out a way to get out of this cage, to break out of her prison. Perhaps...perhaps she could even convince Ben to—
Rey shakes that thought from her head before it can seriously take root, treading the stairs lightly and carefully. She crosses the entryway and moves past the dining room toward the wing of the mansion that serves as grandfather's quarters. The house grows noticeably stuffier as Rey moves deeper into this part of it, the air thick with the scent of human decay. Hateful thoughts swirl through Rey's head as she makes her way to grandfather's office, knocking on the door to announce herself.
She wishes whatever rot is taking over grandfather from the inside would hurry and catch up with his outside. Then she would never have to deal with these sorts of conversations anymore.
The door to the office swings open and there is Ben, color wheel turning yellow as usual. But something about the android's demeanor makes Rey pause before she enters the room. Ben seems disheveled somehow, although at first glance Rey can't really pinpoint why. She frowns at him as she enters the room, forgetting for a moment that she's there to speak to grandfather.
And to her shock, the android frowns back at her. The unexpected expression nearly has Rey tripping over her own feet, but she rights herself as she goes to stand in front of grandfather's huge, ornate mahogany desk.
Palpatine, with a pair of reading glasses perched on the tip of his nose, is going over paperwork that's spread over the top of his desk. "Rachel," he acknowledges her without bothering to look up. "So good of you to wake up and join the rest of the world."
"It's not that late, grandfather."
Rey winces at her own backtalk. She knows better than this, knows it's best not to piss of grandfather with sass.
He slowly, calmly shuffles the papers on top of his desk into an organized pile before taking off his glasses and finally looking at her. "It is a good thing the Huxes enjoy your spirit, Rachel."
Rey already has a feeling as to where this conversation is going, but the knowing doesn't stop the sense of dread that makes her feel cold in this overheated room. She swallows, forces herself not to break grandfather's eye contact.
"I've invited Brendol and his son over for dinner tonight, to celebrate what an excellent job they've done on KR. His improvements have proven to be invaluable." Using his cane, Grandfather Palpatine slowly pushes away from his expensive looking desk and rises to his feet. "You, my useless granddaughter, will appear and act like the damned Palpatine that you are!" He slams his hand down onto the wooden desk to emphasize his point with a loud BAM, causing Rey to jump.
Grandfather notes her surprise, her discomfort, and gives her an oily smile in return. "Brendol tells me that Armitage is sweet on you. Isn't that nice, Rachel? Despite you smelling and looking like a rat, the heir to HuxTech wants to fuck you. You're going to let him if he tries."
Horrified, Rey's mouth falls open as she scrambles to speak. "Grandfather, please—"
"KR," grandfather cuts her off with ease, gaze going past Rey's shoulder to where Ben is standing by the door. "Take my granddaughter back to her room. Pick out something nice for her to wear and make sure she starts the process of getting ready." His upper lip curls as he looks back at Rey. "I'm sure she'll need all the time she can get."
Rey still can't quite move. "But, grandfather—"
Palpatine can't move quickly anymore, but he still leans across his desk and raises his cane, and Rey backs away only just in time to avoid getting whacked in the shoulder with it. She rushes out of the evil old man's office, tears already streaming down her face and Ben right on her heels.
Rey all but runs back to her room, not really caring if Ben is following her like grandfather ordered him to. Her brain is clouded with fury and fear. Fury over grandfather thinking he can just dole her out to Armitage Hux like a doll to be used, fear at what she'll have to do in order to defend herself and her honor.
Hands curling into fists, Rey shoves open her bedroom door and storms into her room. That gross ginger is never going to touch her, of that much she's sure. Never.
She whirls toward her closet and nearly shrieks to find Ben standing behind her. His eyes widen a little as he takes in the tears tracking down her face despite her ferocious expression. His color wheel briefly spins red, as if her anger is also his own, before it slips right back to yellow.
"I can pick out my own goddamn clothes," Rey snaps, chest heaving as she breathes in and out heavily. She doesn't really care if she's being rude to the android right now; she's much too concerned with getting herself through tonight's accursed dinner.
To her pleasant shock, Ben slowly nods and steps away from her, back toward the door that leads out into the hallway. "Alright."
Such simple defiance.
But defiance all the same.
Rey hadn't been expecting for Ben to actually leave her be. The tears clear a bit and the fury on her face melts away into wide-eyed surprise. "Oh! O-okay. Thanks, Ben." She sniffs and smiles weakly at him, scrubbing away the drying tears on her cheeks with her long sleeves.
He pauses with his hand on the doorknob, head tilting a little as he processes what she's just said.
"Ben," he states back to her, voice low.
And it hits Rey then, that this is the first time she's used his name with him since Palpatine had his brain scrambled. She laughs a little awkwardly and clears her throat. "Yeah. I've been calling you that since, well, since your first night here, I guess."
His mouth parts as he stares at her, clearly still processing.
Rey shifts her weight between her feet, growing more and more uncomfortable under his watchful brown gaze. "I can call you something else, though, if you want. I know grandfather calls you 'KR'—"
"Ben is fine," he cuts her off smoothly. "See you at dinner, Rey." And then he slips out the door.
By the time Rey has showered and picked out a reasonable outfit for the evening her hands won't stop trembling. She's decided it's not worth risking grandfather's wrath by purposefully looking like a slob, so she attempts to put on eyeliner. She styles her hair, puts on lotion and perfume.
By the time she's pulling on the soft, green sweater she picked out, along with a sensible skirt, she's feeling lightheaded. She hears the Huxes' van rolling up the driveway and true panic begins to set in.
How the hell is she going to survive this dinner?
But Rey forces herself to suck down a deep breath, to steady her breathing until her heartbeat slows to an acceptable rate. She can't break now. She can't let Palpatine win.
She can't fucking break.
So when Rey finally walks downstairs and into the dining room she looks precisely like the granddaughter of an obscenely rich, powerful man like Palpatine should look. She looks sweet. Sweet, and without a care in the world.
But she doesn't smile at the Huxes when they greet her.
She won't fucking break.
Rey is seated to the right of grandfather Palpatine, who of course sits at the head of the table, in his usual spot. Brendol Hux and his horrible son sit across from Rey. She stares resolutely down at her empty plate, refusing to meet Armitage Hux's eye.
"So, Rachel…" the younger Hux drawls, using her "real" name. Rey manages to force down her wince. "How are your studies coming along?"
Rey is actually a little taken aback by the question. She hadn't expected any of these men to take an interest in her, despite it being small talk chatter. In truth, she hasn't thought about her studies in a few days, at least since Ben's return. She technically has finals coming up too...
Swallowing, Rey fiddles with the linen napkin folded neatly next to her plate. "Well, actually—"
Palpatine starts laughing. His chuckle is cruel, low, and it silences Rey immediately. "Armitage, surely you don't care to hear about Rachel's frilly little schoolwork. It's not like she's studying anything important. I'm amazed she was intelligent enough to get into the school in the first place."
Rey feels her cheeks flush in humiliation. She lets go of the napkin, puts both hands in her lap under the table so she can curl them into fists. She won't fucking break.
But she won't be sweet, either.
Palpatine has a sharp eye on her, watching her closely for any sort of reaction. And Rey knows in that moment that the best way to piss him off is to pretend that she truly doesn't care about what he has to say.
So instead she simply shrugs one shoulder, takes a sip from her glass of water, and repeats, "Frilly schoolwork," with a giggle and a shake of her head. As if she's totally unaffected.
The way grandfather punishes her for this is to not include her in the conversation going forward. He engages both Brendol and his son in business talk, going over accounts and clients that Rey has never heard of.
Thankfully Ben saves her from sitting in boredom for too long. He steps through the swinging doors from the kitchen, cart piled high with dishes of their dinner. Grandfather and the other men are too engaged in what they're discussing to pay any attention to the android they created.
"Hey, Ben," Rey calls softly, giving him a very small smile. It's risky to use Ben's name in front of grandfather like this, but Rey feels like this time it's worth the chance.
He acknowledges her with a sharp nod, eyes taking in the scene of the dining room with unnatural speed. He gets to work and a moment later he's placing her dinner in front of her. It's a deliciously cooked steak, seasoned and seared to perfection. And with barely a glance Rey can tell that these cuts of meat are the most expensive. There's also asparagus and a baked potato, but Rey ignores the side dishes to dive into her slice of meat. Nice meat like this was a fantasy to her until she came into Palpatine's possession.
Ben calmly serves the other men, who's conversation has now somehow transformed into a full blown argument with both grandfather and Brendol Hux growing red in the face. After briefly listening in Rey determines they're discussing sports now, of all things.
And then it hits her, hits her hard as Ben places Armitage's meal in front of him, the last to be served, when Rey is almost finished with her steak already.
Ben served her first.
Ben's simple defiance gives Rey all the mental clarity she needs to finish out the evening. They've moved from the dining room into a space that grandfather calls the drawing room; it's where he insists on taking his company.
It isn't too bad for Rey, at first. She sits at an empty card table and looks through one of the volumes on war strategy that Palpatine keeps in the room for decoration. She is content to ignore grandfather and the Huxes and be ignored in return.
But eventually Armitage gets bored. As Palpatine and Brendol lite up cigars, the younger Hux plops down on the chair at the card table Rey is sitting at. "What're you reading?" he asks, clearly not caring a lick about the book in her hands.
Rey presses her lips together to keep tke fuck off from escaping out. "A book," she supplies, flipping to the next page with rabid attention.
"Looks fucking boring," Hux says. He leans back in his chair and drums his fingers against his knees before a grin splits across his face. He motions at the corner, where Ben has been standing quietly the whole time they've been in here. "Hey, robot boy! Come here, yeah you! 'KR' or whatever the hell your name is." Hux grin grows even wider. "Weren't you calling it 'Ben'?"
"You may call me 'KR', if you wish," Ben says mechanically, but there's something in his voice that has Rey jerking her head to regard him. There's a steely quality that wasn't there before. The android steps up the card table where Rey and Armitage are sitting.
"Whatever." It's clearly not a pressing issue to Hux what Ben's name is, because as soon as Ben obeys him and comes to stand by them Hux pulls a switchblade out of his jacket pocket.
Immediately alarmed, Rey moves to stand up when Hux shakes his head and gestures for her to stay seated. "I'm not going to stab you, for Christ's sake." Hux eyes her sharply before telling Ben to sit in the third seat at the table.
He smiles at both of them, but it doesn't reach his eyes. It barely curls his mouth. "I just want to play a game with it."
Ben stays unnaturally still, and Rey wonders why he seems to be embracing him being a machine more then he ever did before.
Hux holds up the knife and points at Ben. "Hand on the table." Ben immediately opeys, laying one of his massive hands at the center of the card table.
"You've seen this before," Hux says to Rey nonchalantly, as if what he's about to do isn't extremely strange. "Just watch." He nods at Ben. "Spread your fingers apart."
And then, still grinning obscenely, Hux starts humming some silly jingle as he pings his sharp switchblade between the spaces of Ben's fingers. "See," he chances a look up at Rey, "the challenge is to go faster as the song picks up."
So Hux starts moving the knife faster, the song he's talking about only playing in his head. Rey wants to scream, to tell him to stop, but she feels powerless in that moment. Like whatever she does will be a cause for punishment.
And then it happens, and Hux probably planned this, is probably enjoying the horrified look on Rey's face when he misses and plunges the knife into a finger on Ben's left hand.
Of course, Ben doesn't react at all. He watches the knife go in and then out calmly, watches as blue liquid begins to dribble steadily out of the cut.
"Hux!" Rey shouts, and smacks his shoulder. He's laughing though, utterly amused by this situation.
"Opps." He shrugs uncaringly, watches as Ben uses the shirt sleeve on his right arm to dab up the blue liquid.
Rey glares at Armitage, absolutely furious. But Ben's completely calm manner keeps her blood from boiling too hot. She settles a bit in her chair, watching carefully as Ben cleans up his...his… Rey can't help but ask, "Is...is that your blood?"
"Sort of," Ben says softly, as if a houseguest hadn't just stabbed him in the finger. "I have all the necessarily bodily fluids that a human male would have. It helps keep my synthetic organs lubricated." He looks like he could explain more but seems to understand that the situation doesn't call for it. The color wheel on his forehead is a steady yellow.
And then Ben does something surprising. He picks up Hux's now blue-splattered switchblade and holds it up. "My turn?" He sounds like a machine as he asks, as if engaging like this is simply what he was designed to do. To act like how he was programmed.
But Rey knows, deep in her stomach, that something is very wrong.
To his credit, Hux doesn't look nervous, accepting Ben's invitation with a flourish. He makes a big deal about putting his hand down on the table and then spreading his fingers. He cracks jokes the whole time that make Rey cringe or frown and truly, truly she cannot wait for this evening to be over.
Ben, gripping the switchblade, begins. He hums the same song Hux was humming at first, but he quickly let's it taper off. He's soon moving the knife expertly between Hux's fingers, and eventually he starts going so fast that his movements begin to blur. Watching the speed at which he works actually gives Rey a headache and eventually she has to look away.
It happens too fast for her to see it, but she knows it's happened because Hux begins to scream.
Hux begins to scream and suddenly there's blood, real blood, splattering across the card table.
Ben has cut off Hux's finger.
Rey can't move on account of how shocked she is. She watches, completely flabbergasted, as Hux scurries over to his father. He clutches his injured hand to his chest, sobbing and motioning to the rest of his left pointer finger, which is laying on the carpet beside where he'd been sitting.
It looks as if father Hux doesn't relish the idea of picking up the finger and putting it on ice.
All the sudden commotion means Rey has been forgotten by all the men in the room. All the men...but not the android.
Ben is watching her like a hawk, brown gaze intense and unblinking. To see if she approves, she realizes with a jolt.
"You did that on purpose," she whispers, low enough that Palpatine and the Huxes won't hear.
The android's expression doesn't change, but he gently takes hold of her elbow and steers her out of the drawing room. As the door swings closed behind them Rey can still hear Armitage's shouting and hauntingly, Palpatine's laughter. As if the old man is amused by the antics of his android. It makes the hair on Rey's arms and on the back of her neck stand to attention.
"You did that on purpose," Rey repeats, head feeling fuzzy and full of questions as Ben continues leading her down the hallway. And then they're in the entryway and Ben is pushing her against the wood panelled wall, corralling her there with his large body.
"You did that on purpose," she says a third and final time, but now it's a statement. Because she knows, she knows. The wheel on Ben's forehead is spinning red, bright and rich and the exact shade of Hux's blood.
Rey's android gives her a vicious grin that makes her swallow. He doesn't respond. He simply runs a finger along the line of her jaw, drinking in her expression and her gaze with relish.
Then he cups her face in one hand and kisses her.
Hux messed with the wrong android lolz. Palpatine is laughing now but...
I really, really like this chapter and I hope y'all did too! I'm thinking I can wrap this story up with two more chapters and an epilogue. It's way longer than I ever thought it would be (to the surprise of no one) and I'm way fonder of it than I ever thought I would be as well.
If you liked let me know?