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Chasing Lightning

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Rey awoke in a fuzzy haze the next morning, slowly becoming aware of her warm, still surroundings. At some point in the night, they must have curled up under the sheets together, and the stiffness in her limbs suggested she’d slept heavily; moving little under Ben’s arm, which was still draped over her body. He was still sleeping, and Rey turned her head to catch sight of his features soft and untroubled under his raven hair; his breathing slow and even.

 

She smiled to herself before casting a curious eye around his bedroom, having not been able to discern much in the dim lighting of the previous night. The walls were white and unadorned with anything aside from the intricate plaster molding edging the high ceilings. The bay windows at the head of his bed stretched nearly to the ceiling; each of the three windows forming the bay looked quite old and were framed in rich dark wood. That, and the ornate white marble mantelpiece off to the side suggested to Rey this had at some point been the parlor room of the entire townhouse. The small wooden chest at the foot of the fireplace, however, suggested it no longer functioned to its original purpose. Over the mantelpiece was a framed monochromatic print; an abstract form Rey couldn’t make any sense of.

 

In the alcove of the nightstand closest to her, Rey spotted a few well-worn books; some of it seemed like very long science fiction or fantasy paperback novels. She smirked inwardly, remembering Ben’s apparent proclivity to fiction she’d have categorized as painfully nerdy.

 

She craned her neck around, searching for any other clues in this painfully stark room, when her movements caused Ben to stir in his place curled around her.

 

Mmm,” Ben murmured, shifting sleepily and tightening his grip across Rey’s shoulders. He nuzzled his nose into her hair, which she’d loosened from any hair ties the night before. “Hi,” his voice heavy with sleep.

 

Rey squirmed under the weight of his limbs; one of his legs had hooked around her calf. “Hi, yourself. Mind giving me my arms back?” she asked with amusement her voice, wriggling her own caged-in limbs.

 

Ben opened a bleary eye and, in the sunlight, Rey was struck by how soft and golden brown the iris appeared. “Nope. You’re mine now,” he muttered with a faint smile. He retightened his grip, but on her waist this time, freeing her arms.

 

“I hadn’t pegged you for such a cuddler,” Rey said with a wry smile—though in truth the fact did not surprise her; not from the moment Ben had first kissed her. His every movement and expressive eyes made it clear he had longed to touch; to be touched.

 

Ben grunted in protest and planted a few soft kisses on her shoulder. He hadn’t previously identified as one either, but having someone as incredible as Rey in his bed made him feel as though he hadn’t much of a choice—and was glad for it. He was about to ask if it made her uncomfortable, offer to withdraw with a heavy heart—when he felt her hand curl around his arm, caressing his bicep and pulling closer to him.

 

This really must be what bliss is, Ben thought, sinking into a pleasantly mind-quieting feeling of softness; his usual apprehension and anxieties melting, as though smoothed away with Rey’s soft caresses. He unconsciously rolled his hips against her; his hard morning tumescence pressing against her thigh as he brushed his lips along her neck. He felt Rey stiffen next to him, and glancing at her face, saw her eyes wide and quizzical.

 

“Um,” Ben felt the tips of his ears reddening slightly. “That just happens in the morning. It’s normal,” he explained, nervously avoiding eye contact. “It’ll go away on its own eventually.”

 

He brought his eyes shyly up to hers again, and added, “…I mean, if you want it to go away.”

 

The corner of Rey’s mouth twitched slightly and she glanced down, in the direction of his manhood. Her head gave the smallest of little shakes and she snaked a hand down between them, gently stroking his stiff cock, sending a little shiver of pleasure though Ben’s body.

 

Rey twitched the sheets as to give her a slightly better view of her hand wrapped around his newly purpling cock; gaping at the size of him. Desire pooled within her again, and she looked up at Ben’s face to see it reflected back at her. His lips were slightly swollen and pinkish from sleep, utterly inviting as he parted them in a silent gasp. She kissed him as though in a trance; feeling his undulating movements in her hand as his soft, wet lips massaged hers, moaning and nibbling.

 

Rey,” Ben moaned, as though he’d never tire of saying her name. “I want you,” he murmured, barely above a whisper. “I’ve always wanted you,” he confessed, feeling more brazen by the second, “just like this.” He ran his hand up her waist and ribcage to her breast, teasing her dusty rose nipple in between two fingers.

 

Rey couldn’t help but gasp when he ran his tongue in a long stripe up the sensitive skin of her neck, ending in a flick, all the while thrusting his considerable hardened girth in her stroking hand. She only had a second to appreciate the wonders of his tongue when he began to whisper something in her ear about how he’d wanted her for so long—

 

“The first time I saw you in those tights I knew I wanted to lick your pussy; put my tongue inside you—"

 

Rey let out a squeal of half-hearted protest, feeling wetness pool between her thighs despite herself—the way he was talking to her should have repelled her, or at least annoyed her. They weren’t words she normally would have considered very respectful, but coming from his lips, lust barely contained, they sounded like nothing if not reverent.

 

“You’re so beautiful—" Ben planted a wet kiss on her jaw, his tongue darting down her neck again; causing her to shiver. His hands wrapped around her small waist and pulled her body flush to his, rolling onto his back. Rey’s loose hair fell across her face as she steadied herself on his broad chest with splayed hands; nearly dizzy from the things he was saying to her. As she brought her knees up and about his hips, straddling him fully, she felt her dripping wet cunt align with his hard, thick cock and so did he: he wrapped a hand around the nape of her neck, fingers entwined in her hair and whispered in her ear, “So wet; so soft…

 

Rey whimpered slightly as he engulfed her lips in another kiss, his other hand squeezing her ass as his tongue massaged her; his cock thrusting against her soaking core. She pulled away from his kiss to sit up astride him, her hands running down the hard topography of his torso, tracing every mole like it contained a secret message.

 

Ben’s eyes were hooded, pupils blown and full of desire, dragging his gaze across her body. He wrapped his large hands around her waist, caressing her flesh in small circles and watching hungrily as her perfect pink cunt slid wetly over his purplish cock pressed against his abdomen.

 

The pressure of him sliding against her clit was exquisite and she once again experienced that heady and instinctual desire for fullness—her pussy ached for him inside her.

 

Ben…” she whispered, looking down at him, groping at his chest; movements uncertain but filled with need.

 

Ben’s jaw worked as he stared up at her with lust, and down at the mesmerizing sight before him. It was torture to rip his gaze away as he twisted slightly to reach for another condom on the nightstand—

 

It’s okay,” Rey whispered, sliding along Ben’s hot hard length and wanting nothing more than to feel all his heat.

 

Ben stared at her for a second, but once she explained she was, in fact, on birth control in a dark, lusty whisper, he didn’t need to be told twice.

 

With one hand, Ben groped at Rey’s ass and lifted her slightly, and with the other he reached for his throbbing shaft; guiding the shining, leaking head towards her soft entrance. It was an incredible sight, to see her tight, soaking pussy slowly impaled on his own cock in time with her sensual, almost pained, moans. Ben sank himself into her to the hilt, watching her slick folds stretching around him; Rey’s body undulating with her shallow breaths. Her eyes had fluttered closed in a rapturous expression, and when they opened again, she pierced him with her gaze in between strands of hair that had fallen about her face.

 

She looked radiant this way. Ben moved only fractionally as Rey ground shyly against him; the better to take in her appearance astride him. He decided almost instantly that he loved Rey on top of him; he could see everything seemingly all at once—her face, her flushed tits, her perfect tiny waist, even where they joined together. Not having to support his own weight, his hands were free to roam her soft curves; grope her ass, squeeze both her tits, pull her face down to his as they both quickened their thrusts, panting.

 

Rey initially had felt shy and exposed to straddle him—but was quickly realizing how perfect it really was. Some of her inherent fears of Ben’s weight and power were alleviated, and she felt remarkably in control instead of exclusively under his whim and under his weight. His muscular torso and thickly roped arms were laid out before her, instead of bearing down on her, and she reveled in the sight of it; reaching out a hand to caress the fine and very subtle patch of chest hair between his pecs. She could play with his nipples and bring her fingers down to his plush lips. All while experiencing that lovely feeling of fullness; of being stretched around his huge cock excited her into experimenting with rolling her hips; rising and sinking on his shaft with the help of his large, guiding hands on her ass.

 

It took mere seconds of watching her perfect pert breasts bouncing in time with her movements—her mouth hanging open beautifully in a languid moan—to make Ben feel like it would be all too easy to come immediately inside her. It took all his focus to hold back, even when she reared up even straighter, her hands lightly grazing his thighs behind her; her back arched and presenting an even less obstructed view of her pussy bearing down on his glistening cock.

 

Holy shit, Ben thought helplessly, squeezing his eyes shut momentarily in an effort to control himself. The sight alone made him want to fuck her hard and mercilessly, but he knew he’d come far too quickly, and after last night he was determined to make her finish first. Rey was unbelievably hot right now; both to his eyes and to the touch—he could see beads of sweat roll down her neck and over her small bouncing tits—

 

With a lascivious moan, he wrapped his hands around her waist and back and brought her down to him—curling up slightly to take her warm stiff nipple in his mouth; a muffled moan ripping from his throat as Rey cried out in desire, overwhelmed by the feeling of his tongue flicking against her nipple and his cock thrusting into her from below in a jerky rhythm.

 

Ben released her nipple with a wet pop and brushed his lips along the crook of her neck. “I want you to come on my cock,” he said in almost a deep purr, gripping Rey’s firm ass in emphasis. Rey whined and bit her lip in response—seeing the lustful expression on Ben’s face was almost pleading. His hand reached between them and began to swirl a thumb around her clit, causing her to release a throaty moan.

 

Please,” Ben pleaded in a whisper, his eyes locked onto Rey’s face and lower lip trembling; begging for her release as well as his own.

 

It didn’t take Rey long to be overtaken by the heated sensation; her clit utterly on fire as he rubbed it in time with her grinding on Ben’s cock, her hands deliriously grasping at his chest. She was barely aware that the strangled sound that filled the air, half-scream and half-whine, was her own orgasmic moan of delicious pleasure.

 

Ben watched this display with his mouth hanging open; barely able to believe it was happening. He couldn’t be sure if the sensation of her suddenly tightening around his cock and flooding him with additional moisture was real or imagined. Within seconds, as Rey’s noises subsided and her face showed signs of budding awareness, he pulled her down to him with strong arms, her hips raising off his ever so slightly—

 

And he began to thrust up into Rey’s swollen and newly soaked pussy with hitherto unmatched speed and ferocity, his eyes never leaving her face as her mouth fell open in a silent scream of pleasure. “I need to fuck—you—hard—” Ben whispered in between grunts and he pressed his forehead against hers, his hands gripping her ass tightly—

 

Rey felt a brief exhilarating feeling of being fucked mercilessly; completely overstimulated as Ben thrust himself into her, their skin slapping obscenely—and just as suddenly as he had begun, it was over: his body tensed underneath her with a groan and one last thrust before he relaxed; shakily running his hands up and down her back.

 

They lay there for a while, both dazed and exhausted in a messy, panting heap. Rey could feel Ben soften inside her; his shaky hands caressing small circles onto her shoulder blades.

 

After what seemed like ages, Rey was the first to gather the energy to speak.

 

“That was—amazing,” she said, still catching her breath.

 

Ben could only weakly groan his assent as he wrapped his arms around Rey’s slender form. He wanted to tell her how much better than any of his fantasies of her that had been; that experiencing her wave of wetness as she came on his cock made him feel like more of a man than anything in his life had before; that he wanted to run away together and do this with her and only her every single day of his life—

 

Ouch—cramp,” Rey muttered, shifting out of his arms and dismounting him to relieve the tension in her leg. She settled next to him on her back; Ben immediately turning on his side to drape an affectionate arm over her.

 

Ben watched her delicate profile; her expression one of languid content. Strands of her loose shoulder-length hair had stuck to her forehead with perspiration, and her cheeks were still beautifully flushed from the activity.

 

He realized then he was completely and ardently in love with her.

 

He wanted to tell her this, but he couldn’t. He was a coward; he’d always been a coward.

 

Even when Rey had turned to him, her eyes lightly sparkling as she curled her arms around his; snuggling under his chin—he felt as if the words helplessly bubbling to the surface were stuck in his throat.

 

“I like you, Ben Solo,” Rey whispered tenderly into his jawline.

 

She could feel the rapid pace of his heart beating against his chest.

 

After a second and a tough swallow, he said, “I should hope so; considering what we’ve just done.”

 

Rey looked up at him, half-annoyed and half-amused, slapping his shoulder reproachfully. Ben’s lips had twisted into a sheepish smile.

 

“I like you too,” he muttered lightly into the crown of her head as he drew his arms around her.

 

****

 

“Aren’t you hungry?” Rey said as she curled back into place next to him after a visit to the bathroom. The mess they had made out of her when she rejected the condom was, admittedly, more than she’d anticipated.

 

Ben shrugged, caressing Rey’s forearms and lightly entwining her fingers with his own. They were so small compared to his. “Not really. Might be more interested in round three, though,” he said, nuzzling his nose into Rey’s hair.

 

Rey giggled. “I don’t know, I could use a break; I’m sure I’m going to be sore,” she said, playfully biting her lip.

 

It was as if she was trying to get him to fuck her again.

 

“What’s a little more soreness, in the scheme of things?”

 

“Eager, aren’t you?”

 

Ben shrugged. “How could I not be?” You’re perfect. “Maybe I’m making up for lost time,” he said wryly. “I’m pushing 29 here.”

 

Rey laughed at this. It was a sweetly unparalleled sound.

 

“Can I ask you something?” Rey gathered the courage to say after a few moments of silence. Ben watched her curiously. “Why didn’t you…until now?” she asked tentatively. And then, with more ill-disguised trepidation, “Surely there must have been—someone—”

 

Ben watched her for a few seconds, his expression awkward. He shrugged sheepishly. “There really wasn’t.”

 

“The whole time?” Rey asked incredulously. Perhaps it was hypocritical of her, but she didn’t see how a man like Ben could have remained untouched throughout college and beyond.

 

“Well…yeah,” Ben said, a pained expression on his face. “I don’t really…get along with most people,” he said, somewhat strained. “I’m sure you’ve noticed.”

 

Feeling his tone become more clipped as he looked away, Rey stroked his chest in a soothing gesture. “Their loss,” Rey whispered softly. Ben’s eyes met her with their previous open softness. “I suppose I’m not the best judge, but you’re aces at it,” she added wryly.

 

Ben chuckled, hoping his deep blushing wasn’t too apparent. While he certainly wasn’t very proud of how short he seemed to last with his cock inside Rey, it didn’t escape him how furtively jerking off to some pornographic production or another on lonely Sunday afternoons for the better part of his 20’s prepared him with an adequate enough knowledge of a woman’s pleasure. Rey’s body was nothing like those of the waxed, oiled, overly-made up and screaming women of said productions, but that just made her all the more exciting to explore.

 

“I don’t think either of us are very good judges,” he muttered, wondering if Rey had ever been as achingly horny as he had been at her age. “But it’s fun to be complete novices together.”

 

They spent a while like this, cuddling and softly sharing tidbits about their past. For Rey it was easy—she had no qualms sharing and Ben was eager to hear her tales. But for Ben it was more difficult. Rey had the distinct impression that she was drawing out something painful and still half-concealed when he chose to tell her about things—about the few months he’d spent in a minimum-security prison at 18 for crashing his mother’s car in protest of her wanting him to enroll in university, and about the failed round of medication that followed. He told her about the institute he’d spent his teenage years in, and most crucially, about the boy he’d hurt when he was fourteen that had landed him in there in the first place.

 

The boy he’d beaten so badly in a fit of rage he’d nearly been blinded. “He recovered his eyesight, mostly,” Ben muttered, avoiding Rey’s gaze.

 

Though inherently shocking as some of the information was, she found it did not surprise her greatly. She remembered the notebooks and the angry, tortured journal entries of a thirteen-year-old been she’d read covetously—it was strange but not entirely incongruous to imagine that boy would soon be committing an act of violence that would change the course of his life in many ways.

 

Ben’s dark eyes met Rey’s, wide and expectant, as though awaiting her harsh judgement. Perhaps this would be it—perhaps this would finally drive her away from his arms forever—

 

Instead, Rey twined her fingers in his and brought them to her lips. She kissed the back of Ben’s hand tenderly; gazing steadily into his searching eyes.

 

She thought about Maz, and about the understanding guidance counselor in secondary school, and about the occasional kindly and helpful female social workers than picked up her case over the years—in retrospect, Rey had been gifted with so many older women passing through her life who’d helped her immeasurably here and there. Wherever she went, they’d seemingly been there; prepared to help a lost girl like herself find her way safely—even now, Dean Holdo was just one of such women.

 

She thought of Finn, and of Ben, and she wondered who was out there helping the lost boys.

 

Perhaps no one.

 

Rey brought her lips to Ben’s, kissing him slowly; wrapping an arm around his shoulder in an embrace she hoped would communicate all her unspoken feelings. She could feel Ben’s body relax under her embrace as he deepened their kiss. It was more subdued than their earlier kisses that day; free of dire lust and heat, and instead weighty with tenderness.

 

****

 

The next few weeks passed in a haze of easy bliss; one that almost seemed incapable of happening in his life as Ben Solo knew it. Up until now, most of his life had consisted of disappointments at best, and utter humiliation and disaster at worst—a partnership with someone as kind, strong, and beautiful as Rey felt as though it couldn’t have any place in his story. So much so that he frequently expected to awake from this uncharacteristically sweet and untroubling dream to find his bed empty, or his phone devoid of any flirtatious text messages from her.

 

But every morning he’d wake with a start, bracing himself for the worst—to discover Rey either snoring softly curled around him, or his phone chirruping with a notification from her (usually ending in “xoxoxo!”).

 

Perhaps the only aspect of their relationship that seemed to track with Ben’s expectations was its secrecy: even though he was now allowed to wrap his arms around Rey’s waist at will, making her shriek with glee as he’d playfully bite and nip at her, often times leading to more heated embraces and the imminent loss of their clothing—they kept to the privacy of his apartment, or (less frequently) quiet trysts in Rey’s bedroom. She’d occasionally jumped in surprise as she’d enter her room after classes to find Ben already there having scaled the drainpipe again; half undressed and reading one of her college text books out of boredom.

 

They’d continued their runs around Mirrorbright Park, too; although their post-run stretching conversations inevitably led to positively indecent displays of public affection as Ben would shove a gasping and flushed Rey against a tree, or flatly prone on a picnic table. He’d already had to growl at several scandalized passersby, causing them to tug on the leashes of their tiny dogs in disgust.

 

In general, however, Rey tended to be on top of the private nature of their relationship. She was usually the one to speak some sense in the heat of the moment, breaking away from his lips and edging Ben’s groping hands away from her in public. She’d often eased him off her with a loving squeeze to his fingers as she whispered that here is not the place! Although it occasionally frustrated him (and tucking his flagging erection in his trackpant’s waistband proved difficult), Ben would have done anything to keep Rey happy. Especially with the smug knowledge that it was he that would have to keep her quiet, his fingers on her soft parted lips, when they made love in her bedroom—the creak of her mattress and the slick bodily noises usually drowned out by the explosions and car revving sounds of Finn’s video games.

 

Frankly, Ben couldn’t give two shits about whether Rey’s friends discovered their relationship. He would have welcomed Rey’s screams of passion as he fucked her deeply with Finn on the other side of the door—if the sight of her trembling from the effort of staying quiet (biting down on her own knuckles or his) didn’t make him so inexplicably hard.

 

Nevertheless, he was of the opinion that he’d never be able to get Dameron or Finn to ever approve of him even if he’d wanted to, and he assumed the girl Rose would feel similarly to her friends. They were all annoyingly tight-knit, but the pained look on Rey’s face whenever they discussed the matter always steadied Ben’s resolve to cause as little inconvenience for her as possible: he was determined to be there for her when she needed him, and to disappear into the shadows when other demands in her life came calling.

 

Unfortunately, Rey was a typical busy college senior, and the demands were frequent.

 

In addition to her classes, extra performance sessions, study time, and band practice with her friends, Rey had to work a job bar-backing just to make ends meet beyond the measly stipend her scholarship had awarded her. This was in stark contrast to Ben’s situation, who, due to the money he’d gotten from the deal with First Order Records (and the retainer advances Snoke had arranged for him exclusively), had the free time to focus on his music for STARKILLER, with plenty of time to spare. This was even apart from his considerable trust fund, which he deeply resented and refrained from depending on—usually, he reserved that for irritants like having to replace Phasma’s guitar after destroying it.

 

Never before had Ben so acutely felt inconvenienced by his lack of a typical job—even after practicing new songs in his apartment, exercising furiously for a few hours, and taking care of mundane tasks around the house, he realized just how much free time he had left over in which to pine over Rey’s absence; thumbing through the pictures he’d snapped of her on his phone (generally of her stuffing a bagel or pizza slice into her mouth, cheeks bulged like a chipmunk).

 

Luckily, Rey’s place of employment wasn’t too far from Ben’s apartment, so she’d always invite him to sit at the bar while she worked—under the strict condition that they both kept their hands to themselves.

 

****

Rey:

You coming over to Takodana tonight? PLEEEASE it’s gonna be soooo slooow I could use the company! Xoxo

Ben:

If I must

You know how busy I am

With busy important guy things

But this I will do for you

Rey smiled at the exchange from earlier that afternoon as she prepared for her shift, tucking away her phone in her back pocket.

 

One of the things that made Ben so attractive to her was his remarkable wit; concealed in perfect deadpan delivery that she imagined was lost easily on other people unable to see past his imposing frame. The time she’d spent with him recently had filled her with all kinds of newfound tender appreciation for Ben’s admirable qualities—beyond his tireless energy in the bedroom and talented, deft tongue.

 

She’d been continuously surprised not only by his wit, which was often self-deprecating, but how attentive and deeply empathetic he was. Rey hadn’t realized it at first, perhaps because one could never describe Ben as nice—but any harshness he had for others came from a deeply honest place. Ben was always true to himself, no matter how unpopular it made him with friends, strangers, or authority figures. She found she admired that quality—perhaps selfishly, since any moment Rey opened her mouth he’d focus on her intently, drinking in her words as if she were delivering a fascinating lecture. His honesty with her was devoid of any harshness—instead it was wrapped in a striking amount of vulnerability that Rey found somehow more appealing than his rock solid 8-pack abs.

 

Maybe not quite as appealing as his lips, Rey thought with a happy exhale as she spotted Ben enter the small lounge, his brow set in its usual severe line as he eyed his surroundings. She found it remarkable how his countenance always transformed so thoroughly upon seeing her—his brow softening and his eyes shifting from dark tunnels to pools of warmth, his lips parting.

 

Rey waved him over to an open stool at the sparsely populated bar. He shrugged off his coat, revealing underneath the dark gray flannel shirt he usually wore over his t-shirt on cold nights like this one. She liked that shirt. It was so soft and comfortable against her cheek.

 

“Nice of you to grace us with your presence, Solo,” Rey said playfully, pulling a tap to pour him a pint glass of beer.

 

“You’re welcome,” Ben deadpanned; a haughty arch to his eyebrow.

 

Rey stifled a giggle. “That was an excellent impression of Hux; needs more nostril flaring, though.”

 

The tiniest of smiles pulled at Ben’s lips as he took a sip of his beer. “If I ever seriously act like Hux, please end my life quickly.”

 

“Right then, come here so I can cleanly snap your neck,” Rey beckoned him with a wink.

 

Ben leaned forwards over the bar slightly, presenting his neck, and Rey giggled this time, ignoring the few interested looks from the few patrons at the bar—and a cock-eyed look from Jess as she gathered empty glasses from a café table in the middle distance.

 

“Want to guess what Hux’s first name is?” Ben asked her, a glint of amusement in his eye.

 

“What, it’s not an acronym or codename or something? HUX 9000?”

 

It was Ben’s turn to stifle a laugh. The way his lips shifted as he did so made Rey slightly weak at the knees. “No. It’s Armitage.”

 

Rey set down the glass she was needlessly drying with a hard clunk. “You’re joking!” she hissed, her face splitting into a wide grin.

 

They spent the next good while savagely abusing Hux; the ginger British bassist being such a ripe topic of ridicule. The conversation somehow evolved to British heavy metal, to doom metal, and eventually whether or not they could swim (Rey could not, and Ben had taken lessons as a child). Rey occasionally tore herself from Ben to pour another beer for the patron two seats away from him, or to respond to Jess’s requests from the other end of the bar.

 

Taking another sip of his dwindling beer, Ben gazed at Rey lovingly as she nodded to the bartender’s instructions, leaning over on tip-toe to reach a bottle of liquor on a high shelf. The hem of her shirt hiked up to reveal the smallest sliver of skin on her back as she did so. Ben was just musing on whether he should offer to teach Rey to swim in the pool of the student union, when the patron two seats away stirred—a pile of raggedy coats seemingly coming to life.

 

“P-p-pretty girl,” the man said, hunched over his drink and jerking a fingerless gloved thumb towards Rey. His manner was that of a tramp but his voice was silken like a snake’s—despite the stutter. “Make a man think wild thoughts-s-s.”

 

Ben spared a glare to this stranger; as disinterested in his eccentric manner of dress as he was enraged by his words. With a steadying gaze at Rey as she stirred a drink, chatting with another patron, he decided to say nothing.

 

Thankfully, so did the snake.

 

“Have you ever tried swimming in the ocean?” Ben asked when Rey returned to him with a smile.

 

She shook her head, scooping up his empty glass and pouring him another one. “No—I’ve actually never seen the ocean up close—only from a plane.”

 

Ben’s eyebrows raised at this, and Rey realized she must have revealed another thing about her life that he found disconcerting. She shrugged. “It’s not a big deal—Brixton’s not exactly seaside.”

 

He opened his mouth to declare that he’d take her; he’d take her to the ocean when it was warm again—when the pile of coats two seats from him tapped his glass and grunted, “Whis-s-skey.”

 

At the same time, Jess called from the other end, “Rey, where are those coupe glasses? All these are dirty—”

 

“Ooh—just a second,” Rey said, flustered and turned away from the bar in order to aid in Jess’s request.

 

There was some commotion as Rey procured a clean crate of glasses for Jess, hurriedly wiping off the excess dampness on the bottoms from the dishwasher. Pretty much immediately, she was pulled away by another patron asking to settle up her bill, and turned away to the point of service to tap away at the screen.

 

Ben watched her back, eyes lingering on the wisps of hair on the back of her neck that had escaped her three buns. He made a mental note to ask her why three? When the pile of coats asked for whiskey again.

 

“Just a moment,” Rey muttered distractedly as a receipt slowly printed out in her hand. Ben felt increasing irritation towards this stranger as he continuously tried to grab Rey’s attention—snapping at her like she was some sort of dog.

 

He hurriedly searched his mind for the most polite way to interject, silently fuming. Hey friend, maybe let the lady do her job, was the only thing that came to mind; well, that, and Hey dickhead, BACK OFF—

 

Neither interjection made its way to Ben’s throat, however, since it was in that moment that the snake chose to reach out across the bar to hook a grubby finger in the waistband of Rey’s jeans. “Hey—“

 

It was no good. Ben’s arm shot out, lightning-fast, to grasp the back of the man’s neck, and slammed him face-first into the wooden ledge of the bar with all the force he could muster; which was considerable—

 

Rey barely had time to register that the sensation at her waist was, in fact, someone’s hand and not some phantom gust of wind, when all hell broke loose: a deafening CRASH, a sickening crunch, and the shattering of a glass on the floor as she whipped around.

 

She was met with the sight of Ben on his feet; hair and expression wild, breathing heavily and utterly enraged as he looked down at a groaning, sputtering something on the ground on the other side of the bar.

 

What--!” Rey gasped as she scrambled around the edge of the bar to see the previously seated patron in a crumpled pile between fallen stools. Blood ran fast and heavy from his nose as he groaned in agony.

 

All around them, the other patrons at the bar had all turned to stare upon hearing the commotion; Jess and the bouncer at the door approaching.

 

What happened, Ben??” Rey hissed as quietly as possible, aware of the silent stares of the other bar-goers.

 

“He slipped,” Ben said quietly. “He’s drunk and he SLIPPED,” Ben added, more loudly to the other customers, his teeth bared. A few of them shifted uncomfortable in their seats. The bouncer silently glared between Ben and the man on the floor.

 

“Good god,” Rey exhaled, knowing full well what happened, but unable to do anything but tend to the drunken bleeding mess on the floor. Jess muttered something about this man always being too much of a mess for his own good, and along with the bouncer they got him to his feet, provided him a towel to staunch the bleeding, and tried to determine whether he wanted an ambulance or a cab home.

 

“We can take this outside,” Ben hissed behind Rey, quiet enough that only she could hear him over the sounds of Jess trying to make any sense of the man’s words.

 

Rey whipped around to Ben, her brow knitted. “What are you talking about?”

 

“He’s a piece of shit, Rey; he should bleed out in the gutter—“

 

“Ben, stop—“

 

“He touched you, Rey—it was disgusting—who does that??”

 

Rey wanted to retort, I don’t know; who busts someone’s face in a bar like it was a fucking roadhouse? “He’s just a drunk—they get grabby sometimes; it happens; that doesn’t mean it’s okay to be violent,” Rey lowered her voice to a whisper, throwing her hands up in frustration.

 

Some of the rage in Ben’s face boiled over to something somehow more terrible. He seemed positively livid. “What do you mean ‘it happens’? Rey—does this happen to you all the time?” his voice almost shook from anger.

 

Rey felt the pressing need to get Ben out of the bar as soon as possible—their conversation alone was drawing suspicious looks from the bouncer. “You have to leave. Now.”

 

Answer me.”

 

“Outside,” Rey gritted out firmly. “I need some air,” she said, glancing at Jess, who waved her off.

 

Rey strode through the back door of the pub, to the small alley area; Ben on her heels.

 

“How could you—how could you put up with that?” Ben asked as soon as the door shut behind them with a heavy thud, his voice still shaking. “Disgusting strange men like that—just—grabbing at you—“

 

“Ben, how dare you--!” Rey began, suddenly free to voice her frustrations. As angry at him as she was, she couldn’t risk confirming the bouncer’s suspicions. “Do you have any idea what trouble the stunt you just pulled could cause—“

 

“He deserved it!”

 

“Not for him,” Rey yelled, her hands frustratingly clutching at her temples. “For me! I’m lucky no one seems to have actually seen it; I could have been fired, Ben—you almost got me fired—“

 

At this, Ben seemed to quell under her words; wounded. “I really need this job, Ben!” she continued. “When I invite you over here to my shift, you can’t just—we said we’d keep our hands to ourselves!” she sputtered, unable to hold on a trail of thought for very long in her distress.

 

Ben breathed heavily, as if trying to calm himself. Rey glared up at him, her face full of worry. After a while, his eyes locked on hers, and his lower lip trembled ever so subtly. “I’m sorry.”

 

Rey sighed, burying her face in her hands and leaning against the brick wall. “What a mess,” she said, running her hands down her face in exhaustion. “Jess is pissed; I can just tell.”

 

Ben shook his head as if Jess’s feelings were an irksome fly. “Rey. What he did isn’t acceptable—“

 

“Yes, but I could have taken care of it myself,” she said firmly. “That’s why we have a bouncer in the first place—“

 

Ben scoffed. “That clown?”

 

Rey rolled her eyes, frustrated at the truth that her Ben was somehow always the biggest, strongest guy in any given room. “Yes, him. It’s his job to deal with nuisances and guys who’ve had one too many—not yours.”

 

Ben chewed the inside of his cheek and leaned against the wall next to her. After a few seconds of silence, he asked quietly. “Doesn’t it piss you off? That men like that treat you like meat?” he asked, his voice cracking slightly. He had to clench his fists reflexively in an effort to not allow himself to fly into a rage again over the thought alone. “Don’t you—don’t you just want to…hurt them?”

 

Rey looked up at Ben’s pained face; the shadows cast by the dingy street lamp sharp on his long angular face. His eyes were like dark watery pools, somehow betraying pain underneath his barely constrained rage. 

 

“Of course I want to. Every single time,” Rey confessed, and for a split second rapturous vindication swelled in Ben’s chest. “But I can’t. No matter how much I’d like to. I don’t have—that kind of luxury. I have too much to lose,” she added, shaking her head. “And they’re just not worth it.”

 

Ben watched Rey’s downcast expression for a moment, feeling an unfamiliar weight pull at his heart. The way in which she could take so many injustices upon her honor and her character in stride, and find a way to survive; thrive, even—it inspired something in Ben beyond empathy, beyond even simple respect.

 

He was weak; always at the mercy of his churning emotions, and she was impossibly strong. Her determination was seemingly incorruptible.

 

He at once feared for her and revered her.

 

“I think you should go home,” Rey said sadly, looking up from her shoes. “I don’t want people to get suspicious.”

 

Ben felt a lump stick in his throat. They’d been having so much fun; it had been so beautiful—and he’d ruined it. “I…”

 

Something soft took over in Rey’s eyes, and her hand brushed against his arm—the fine hairs standing on edge in the cold air. “I’ll see you tomorrow. Okay?”

 

Hot shame ran through his blood and he looked away; sure he’d betray his weakness if he looked into her eyes any longer. But she raised a hand to his jaw and pulled her face back towards her with incredible tenderness.

 

“Thank you,” she whispered, and raised on tip-toe to give him a soft kiss; her hand falling to caress his chest.

 

Ben had been shaking from the effort to keep his emotions under wraps and was utterly taken by surprise by this kiss; frozen under her whims.

 

“I’ll see you tomorrow,” Rey repeated as she broke away, and made to slip back through the door; leaving Ben alone in the alley way to contemplate her words.