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Chasing Lightning

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“Extra mic cables?”

“Check!”

“Distortion pedal? With the right hookups?”

“Check, check!”

“Got your head on tight this time?” Finn asked, in the same tone of his checklist, but with a sly sideways glance at Rey, who sighed and clicked the case of her Fender Squier Stratocaster open.

“You’re one to talk, Mr. Stage fright,” she said, rolling her eyes as she hefted the once-sleek but now somewhat battle-worn ivory guitar up to her midsection, looping the strap around her shoulders.

Finn shrugged as he perched his snare drum onto its telescoping stand, perching himself on the drum throne and making sure everything was at the right height and angle. “I’m just trying to help, Peanut,” he said softly, “we’re all nervous.”

Nervous was putting it lightly, Rey thought as she plucked the strings of her guitar softly, unhooked to the amplifier, and careful to face away from the chattering crowd that had begun to mill about in front of the short stage. She had tuned it just that morning, but she continued to fiddle with it, less out of a sense of perfectionism than out of sheer nerves.

“I had no idea the Niima Outpost could hold so many drunk people!” Rose’s voice came drifting up behind them, as she climbed the step up to the stage holding her electric bass. It was covered in stickers from her favorite bands, including one she had been in with her older sister Paige.

Finn glanced at the crowd, his dark brown eyes widening and looking more wary by the second. Glancing between his bandmates, he said brightly, “Yeah...well, maybe a drunken crowd will be less likely to notice us slip up!”

“Or more prone to riot,” Rey added darkly. It wasn’t just her natural shyness at work. It was the very real and dismal possibility that this, as their first real live gig together, could very well make them the laughing stock of the whole garage/punk scene in the mid-size college town they called their home. Not that Niima Outpost was the most reputable venue around, but it was a solid dive that had borne many acts that had gone on to sign record deals with the coolest indie labels--like Yavin Records, Chandrilla Trade, and Ackbar Media. A far cry from the roughly dozen terrible house party shows and the back rooms of art galleries that they had played. And if that weren’t scary enough:

They were opening for STARKILLER, the biggest band to come out of the university in decades. ‘Big’ meaning signed. To a real label, First Order Records.

Rose’s round face gave Rey an appraising look as she chose not to respond to her grim commentary. Instead, she said, “We’re the most prepared band to take the stage at this lousy bar, I can guarantee that.” She adjusting the strap on her bass with an expert wrist flick as Finn busted out a few strong thumbs on his kick drum, testing the motion.

“Yeah,” Finn latched on to this stream of positive pep-talk, almost as much for Rey’s sake as for his. “We’re gonna own this,” he said, as if it were a calming mantra.

Rey couldn’t help but suppress an amused snort. “You two are starting to sound like Poe--”

“You rang?” A jovial voice sounded from stage left, and Poe swaggered on stage, hair coiffed, leather jacket on, despite the somewhat balmy temperatures indoors.

“Where have you been? We have sound check,” Finn asked immediately.

Yes, before the townsfolk get restless, Rey thought glancing at the crowd at the foot of the stage. The stage was only about a foot up, which made the stares of some of the beer-clutching pub-goers feel too close to comfort.

“Relax,” Poe said, with an upward jerk of his hand, producing several small pink stubs of paper. “I was getting our drink tickets and, you know,” he said as he handed them each a ticket, “schmoozing.” Poe winked to Finn at this. Finn leaned backward on the throne ever so slightly.

“You can’t wait until after we melt some faces to find a date?” Rose said sarcastically, bass guitar at the ready as she thrummed a few deep notes. Poe pointed an appraising forefinger at her, as if she’d made an intelligent but incorrect guess to a question.

“Not that kind of schmoozing. The big-wig from First Order Records is here. Well, at least a big-wig.”

Rey and Finn exchanged helpless glances, followed by nearly identical nervous and searching looks into the crowd.

“Hey,” Poe hissed in a stage whisper, “be cool! It’s fine. It’ll be fine, right Rose?”

“Uh-huh,” Rose backed him up, her eyes on her bass string as she settled into a good spot.

Poe, it seemed, had arrived earlier than all of them (as was his custom) and set up his guitar next to Rey’s up front by the two microphones they used for vocals. As he flung his sunburst hollow-body guitar over himself, shrugging it into place, he turned to each and every one of them and asked if they were okay. When he got a round of nods in varying degrees of impatience, they began their sound check; Poe and Rey flicking on various knobs, switches, and pedals that all came to life with an electric hum and brief whines of feedback. Moments later, a series of short strums from the lead guitar (Rey), rhythm guitar (Poe), and bass guitar (Rose) sounded in succession while a bearded sound guy off to the left of the dark dingy space made adjustments on the house sound system. Finn click-clacked his drumsticks on the snare and beaten up floor tom, kicking the bass drum—its beat echoing into the microphone set up next to it close to the ground.

“Test, test, test,” Rey said into her microphone, swearing she could hear someone in the crowd give a faint laugh. Her embarrassment was short-lived as Poe’s vocal test consisted a series of absurd whoops and tongue rolling trills. He’d be doing most of the vocals tonight, and Rey was grateful for it.

When everything seemed to be to their liking (a thumbs up from the bearded figure in the distance), Poe turned that roguish smile onto his bandmates, as he faced away from the crowd for a moment. On this small stage, they were practically in a circle formation--Rey didn’t have much room to move unless she wanted to back into Finn’s crash cymbal. They all knew what came next.

Poe held his hands out to the women on either side of him, guitar hanging from his shoulders, as Finn took Rey and Rose’s free hands in each of his, completing the circle.

“Dear God,” Poe said, followed by a snicker from Rose. He was the only one closing his eyes in mock sanctimony, a wry tribute to his strict Roman Catholic upbringing of which he’d never been the biggest fan. “Grant us the power to melt people’s faces off and show them the glory of rock. Ave Maria, Dominus santus, spiritus santus, leviticus, septimus--”

--what followed was a stream of words that were decidedly not latin nor holy, to his bandmates peals of laughter, and at the end--

“--oh, and pretty please get us a record deal, ‘k bye, Amen,” Poe added hastily, bowing his head theatrically to the center of the circle, jiggling Rose and Rey’s hands before letting go to perform a parody of a sign of the cross in front of his chest, with far too much finger wiggling. It was a ritual before every practice that they had laughed over and joked about endlessly.

“Whacko,” Finn said under his breath, though with a smile on his face as he picked his sticks back up. Poe turned to the microphone at last and took his guitar in hand.

How’s it going out there? Everyone having a good time?” And just like that, showtime Poe Dameron was there at the mic, drawing in stragglers from the crowd, quieting the idle chatter with his piercing dark eyes and rakish looks. Rey felt relieved to have someone like him as their frontman--it was easy to hide behind ball of energy with perfect eyebrows.

Ladies and gentlemen, we’re Rebel SCUM!” Their band name was barely out of his mouth before Finn’s sticks clacked together; 1, 2, 3, 4 and crash!--they all began to play in time, a raucous energy filling the room as their heavy sound pulled them straight down from the precipice with rhythm and purpose.

Rey concentrated on hitting all her notes, at first standing stiffly at the spot, and occasionally watching Finn’s movements for guidance. As her oldest friend, she found Finn’s presence comforted her more than anything in this godforsaken dive. Poe and Rose were really cool, and maybe the nicest band mates she could have ever asked for, but she’d only known each of them for less than a year--she’d only known Rose for about 4 or 5 months, when they first got serious about practicing and put out cross-campus ads looking for a bassist. She had begun this journey, however—of being in a rock band as well as college--with Finn, after becoming friends with him in her first year at uni. Or, Freshman year as the Americans liked to call it.

On her cue, Rey contributed her backup vocals to Poe’s, acting purely on muscle memory of the many, many times they had practiced this set. The crowd was too difficult to look at while concentrating on a riff, but she chanced a glance while at the mic, strumming an easy rhythm—and to her surprise more than a few people seemed to be enjoying themselves, bobbing their heads, beers in hand, faces alert. The revelation filled her with a renewed confidence—even if the crowd seemed to consist mostly of 20 year old college boys in ratty jeans and ironic t-shirts.

From then on, Rey allowed her movements to loosen up a bit. She bobbed and weaved with the music, hopping in time with Poe during a particularly fun bridge; allowing a small smile to creep on her lips.

 

****

 

Precisely 35 minutes later, the quartet traipsed off stage, having cheerily accepted a decent applause and some enthusiastic hoots (during which Poe called out to the crowd to remind them of their name, to thank Niima Outpost, and announcing STARKILLER as being up next). The house’s sound system resumed its regular bar music as they lugged all their instruments and particulars off stage, Rose stopping to help Finn disassemble his gear. Once all their belongings were hastily stashed away in the dingy back room of the dive (Rey had eyed the ancient boiler in the corner when they’d arrived), they all excitedly headed towards the bar, sweaty and exhausted but overall quite pleased at the reception they’d had.

“That—was—amazing!!!” Finn exclaimed, making a jubilant punching motion with each word. As soon as they’d left the stage, a couple of well-wishers had stopped him and Poe to tell them how much they’d ruled. “We were in top shape!” he added, as Poe clapped him on the back as the four of them leaned against the grimy wooden rail of the bar. Rose had rather speedily flagged down a bartender, leaning over the edge of the bar to shout her order of four pale ales.

“Yeah it’s almost like we’d been practicing twice a week for months!” Rey replied, having to yell slightly over the general din of the bar.

“I apologize for nothing; it was totally worth it--” Poe said decisively as he accepted a beer from Rose, who was handing them out to her bandmates.

“—to crushing it!” Poe added, and they all clinked their beers together triumphantly.

Being in a band, Rey thought, was a lot like having a family, or—to use an example she was truthfully more familiar with—being in a gang. And while this gang involved a lot less petty criminal activity and a lot more practicing in a musty garage behind a strip mall, Rey got the sense her bandmates would always have her back, and she’d have theirs. Through their common passion and shared art, they celebrated each other’s success and lamented their failures collectively. It was a comforting thought, and one she and Finn had discussed at length during late nights sitting on the roof outside their small apartment in a two-story wooden house, sharing a box of cold pop tarts.

Perhaps she was putting too much stock in it, but performing publicly with her band felt like some great emotional milestone they’d all achieved together—and she knew now that, regardless if a record deal ever came along, whether they went their separate ways eventually, shelving their idle college dreams of pseudo-indie garage rock success, they’d still be lifelong compatriots.

“Hey,” Finn said suddenly, nudging Rey on the forearm and pulling her out of her reverie. “Is that the guy from STARKILLER?” he asked, raising his voice slightly to break off Poe and Rose’s chatter.

Poe peered at the stage. “Oh—yeah, well, one of them. That’s Hux, the bassist.” Rey followed his gaze across the large room, and spotted a thin pale man dressed all in black with a shock of red hair unspooling a guitar cable and busying himself with an amplifier.

“Not that Kylo Ren guy you were telling us about?” Finn asked, his voice taking a darker tone. They’d all heard Poe tell them all about Kylo Ren, the frontman of STARKILLER and his former college roommate, and Rey reflexively felt a hitch in her chest. None of Poe’s reminiscences had put him in a particularly pleasant light.

Still, she had listened to their latest record in preparation for this night and she couldn’t help but like it (despite Poe’s scoffs about it being too pretentiously noise rock for him). Having grown up loving punk rock and metal more than anything else, Rey appreciated a healthy dose of fast, angry fuzz in her music even though all the songs she’d written for their band were on the decidedly more pop end of garage rock.

She was looking forward to watching their performance, and she realized that other people in the bar must be too.

As Poe turned away to talk to the manager of Niima Outpost to discuss their payment (one of the main reasons Poe had agreed to open for STARKILLER despite his feelings towards Kylo Ren), Rey started to take notice of the room really beginning to fill out and become positively packed. She couldn’t even really see the stage anymore, her view blocked by a crowd of mostly taller men. STARKILLER’s crowd, she noted, seemed to wear a lot more black that theirs had. Eccentric artsy haircuts abounded almost as much as the untamed facial hair.

The familiar screech of feedback and intermittent guitar notes marked their brief sound check, and in what seemed like no time, the crowd was cheering and hollering around them. Finn stood on his tiptoes in an effort to see, to no avail.

And then, as the cheering died down slightly, a voice boomed across the sound system. It was distorted, deep, and slightly muffled in an electronic sort of way.

“We’re STARKILLER,” it said, with an eerie echo. “Blood Visions.”

Right away, the music began, with an intense and fast paced drum beat and a loud, fast guitar riff, drowning out more cheers from the crowd.

“Should we get up front?” Rose yelled to her companions over the din, and Rey and Finn nod, not really having heard her as much as gathered her meaning from her gesture towards the stage.

Finn led the way, squeezing through the mass of excitable bodies, Rey and Rose making sure to keep close behind as to not lose him in the crowd.

They stopped just short of the stage by 3 or 4 rows of increasingly excited show-goers; many of them rocking about and churning, but thankfully leaving enough space between them so that Rey could finally see the stage.

The redheaded man she’d seen earlier, Hux, was off to the side of the stage twanging a bass with his exposed pale arms dramatically, and to the other side was an extremely tall and strong-looking woman with short cropped blond hair and an icy gaze. And between them, over a drum kit set up more towards the front of the stage than is usual, a large, hulking man was beating away at the set, his legs tapping in quick rhythms, striking a booming bass drum beat eerily reminiscent of a desperate heartbeat.

Rey had seen this man before.

Only in a magazine, of course. At the top of the music review, he’d been wearing the same nightmare-ish mask he was wearing now: patched fabirc covering almost his entire face with the exception of some irregular holes near his eyes and forehead; a protrusion where his mouth should be that Rey had guessed could only be his microphone built in, a cord extending from it and tucked into the neckline of his frayed dark gray t-shirt. Patches and strips of fabric crossed the dome of his head irregularly, revealing protruding ears and locks of black hair.  

This man had to be Kylo Ren.

A fierce black eye could be visible past this terrifying visage, staring out to the crowd as he screamed “blood visions!” intermittently as part of the chorus. Rey glanced at Finn, who was clutching his empty beer bottle with a stupefied expression on his face. He met her eyes and there was an unspoken exchange of being deeply impressed.

Finn, Rey knew, was an exceptionally talented drummer. But this guy was a beast.

It had taken Rey the better part of a year to really figure out how to sing competently while playing lead guitar, and from conversations with other drummers including Finn, she knew the effort was doubly as hard when you were trying to keep time.

The song ended as quickly as it began, and before anyone in the crowd had a chance to cheer, Kylo Ren said “My Shadow,” with a distorted echo, and busted straight into the next song.

As much as she hated to admit it to herself, she couldn’t help being impressed (and perhaps a little jealous). Kylo Ren may have thrown a lamp at Poe’s head in their time living together as college roommates, but he sure knew how to command an energetic performance. What’s more, the crowd couldn’t seem to get enough. Rey felt like she, Finn and Rose were statues compared to the increasingly jostling crowd around them. She felt certain that, given time, the people in front of them would form into a churning mosh pit.

The show raged on, and Rey begrudgingly discovered she didn’t just like STARKILLER’s music. She positively loved it.

 

****

 

“We have to go talk to him,” Finn said, almost grimly. After STARKILLER’s set, the blonde guitarist merely said “Goodnight!” to a chorus of screams and cheers, as Kylo Ren unceremoniously stood from his perch and left the stage, unhooking his mic cable and carrying his snare drum above his head in one hand as if the motion were as natural as any.

Rey bit her lip nervously. She knew that, like her, Finn had been deeply impressed to the point of having some new found respect for the man that had made Poe’s first three years at college a living hell. But that had been over five years ago by now--and surely it would be water under the bridge, right?

“Yeah, let’s do it,” Rey nodded. Rose had gone to the bar to grab some more beers, and she wasn’t sure where Poe was anyway, so she and Finn made their way to the back room, where the other band would surely be packing away their gear before loading out.

There were a few other well-wishers there, clustering around the hallway, excitedly trying to get the attention of someone in STARKILLER. Rey spotted Poe a few feet into the storage room, talking to Hux as he busied himself moving his own gear out of their way. And near the back, Rey spotted him: an exceptionally tall, broad figure toweling the sweat off from his mop of dripping black hair. The mask he’d been wearing had been shoved into an open cross body bag in front of him.

Moving more bravely than Rey felt, Finn cleared his throat and waved a hand to one side, trying to catch Kylo’s eye. The man froze and lowered his hands and towel from his head, slowly turned around to look at them.

If he hadn’t been nearly a head taller than Rey and twice as broad-shouldered, she might have let out a short laugh.

The man underneath the mask, whose eyes had been so dark and piecing, now glared at them out from under messy curtains of wavy damp black hair; his crooked mouth beginning to form a sneer under his large and unusually long nose. His whole face was actually quite long and finished in what Rey imagined to be a weak and narrow jaw. But more memorable than anything, she thought, with the exception of his eyes, were his comically large ears, made all the more noticeable through his wet hair.

“Hi,” Finn swallowed nervously, “I’m Finn; I’m in the band that opened for you?” He gestured to Rey, who stood behind his shoulder, “This is Rey. We just wanted to tell you how great your set was, man. Really fantastic stuff…”

Kylo’s eyes darted between the two of them, his expression unchanged. Finn’s compliment trailed off weakly as Kylo turned his head to Poe on the other side of the room.

“Hey, Dameron. Where’d you find such pathetic band mates this time around?”

Something icy dropped to the pit of Rey’s stomach. Poe had looked up from his conversation with Hux and his normally bright expression hardened into one of a familiar hatred. Hux had swivelled around on to spot--a look of menacing glee on his pale face as he let out a “ha!” to Kylo’s words.

“Leave them alone,” Poe said, pushing past Hux. The blonde woman had stopped what she was doing to watch the exchange, an amused smirk on her face. Rey noticed she was about as tall as Kylo Ren was.

Kylo didn’t spare Rey or Finn another glance, instead turning his whole body to face Poe now. With a quirk on his awkwardly pillowy lips, he said, “I didn’t know you were trying to get a record deal out of pity.” His tone was low, dangerous, and pointed. Almost a hiss.

Rey felt her face flush out of mounting anger when she heard Finn interject, “Hey! Don’t you talk about Rey like that!” His jaw jutted out bravely as he took a step towards Kylo, though Rey could feel a definite quake in his voice.

“What are you, her sad little boyfriend?”

“Come on, Ren,” Poe cut in closer to Kylo. Hux muttered something like “come off it, Dameron,” but Poe ignored him.

“Why don’t you pick on someone your own size?” Poe said, his voice taking on a silk Rey had never heard before, his face mere inches from Kylo’s. “I’m sure there’s a Yeti out there with ears as big as yours.”

Everything happened so quickly the Rey could barely comprehend it in the days to come.

A massive fist fell upon Poe, a flash of angry red hair colliding with him, as Finn yelled, “HEY!” and lunged towards Kylo but was almost immediately sent reeling from another blow, a punch squarely to his nose that had sent him tumbling backwards, shoving Rey aside. But Kylo kept barreling forward, striking Finn again, and again—

Finn gained his footing and flew down the hallway, Kylo tearing after him with a loud roar like a wild animal; Rey giving chase behind him, abandoning the tussle behind her between Poe and Hux—the blonde guitarist had strode forward to try to break the two apart—

Rey wasn’t sure what she’d do to stop this monster from chasing her best friend, but she knew she wanted to tear his stupid ears off the first chance she got--

She stumbled out the rear door to the bar’s back parking lot and spotted Kylo Ren’s large form grabbing hold of Finn and swinging him towards the dumpster. Without a second thought, Rey grabbed a chunk of brick from the ground and hurled it from a few feet away—she’d aimed for his head but it hit him square in the back, causing him to yell “Fuck!” and spin around on the spot, releasing the front of Finn’s jacket.

Rey didn’t hesitate; she just reacted: with all the force she could muster, she threw her whole weight behind her fist that landing on the right side of his face, catching him off guard. It made a sickening crack, and Rey felt like her knuckles might explode from the pain of it—but she had sent Kylo stumbling back a couple of feet in sheer surprise.

Poe burst through the back door, followed closely by the blonde guitarist and Hux, who was sporting a bloody lip. The woman and the redhead made towards Kylo while Rey darted towards Finn and began to help him up, aided by Poe.

“STAY AWAY! Just—stay away!” Poe screamed towards Kylo, who—Rey noted with a savage glint of satisfaction—was sporting a cut over his right eyebrow, his eye sporting the tell-tale signs of a burgeoning black eye.

Kylo Ren was led away by the combined force of his bandmates, but the look of incredulity on his face was apparent as he glared at Rey.

 

****

 

Half an hour later, Rey sat on a curb in the dark parking lot next to Finn, who was holding a bloody towel up to his face. Rose had come running out earlier, saying that news of a brawl had spread to the bar, and she and Poe took it upon themselves to load all the gear out into Poe’s small 4-door Honda, with Rey waiting protectively next to Finn—ready to take on Kylo and his thugs despite the ache in her right hand.

Rose returned with a ziplock bag of ice she’d gotten from the bar. “Poe’s called the cab. He’s trying to get our payment,” she said with an edge of nervousness as she gently handed the ice to Finn. He had refused an ambulance, and he and Rey had flat out refused calling the cops.

They all exchanged nervous glances, wondering if they’d have their guaranteed minimum revoked from all the havoc they’d “caused.” Thankfully, however, when Poe returned a minute later he explained the Niima Outpost manager was no stranger to brawls, and had shrugged it off and paid in full.

They had all piled into the car—with some difficulty, as not all the gear fit in the trunk—Rose practically sitting on Rey’s lap in the back seat next to some stacked drums. Despite their protests, Poe insisted on dropping Finn home off first, Rey going with him. It was a melancholy ride. Normally after a successful practice they’d all laugh and share some pancakes at their favorite 24 hour diner. Rey was sure that’s how the night would have ended if it hadn’t been for Kylo Ren.

“What’s that guy’s fucking problem?” Rose said with an exasperated sigh, breaking the silence.

Poe shook his head, the exhaustion coming off of him in waves. “It’s a long story.”

No one spoke for the remainder of the drive.

Rey decided she’d been completely wrong about Kylo Ren. People, it turned out, didn’t change. And that night she knew she hated him more than anyone else.

He could have said all sorts of nasty things to her, but no one was allowed to hurt her friends. Especially not Finn.

Chapter Text

Kylo Ren hated crowds. It was just one of the many ironies he’d observed about his predicament since he’d started to be in a band that actually enjoyed some reasonable amount of success.

Crowds, people, people looking at you, people trying to talk to you; all of which were things he cared for not one bit. It had been a few weeks since they’d returned from their tour, and when he’d come home to his quiet and dusty apartment he’d committed himself to not speaking to anyone for a full 48 hours just to recover.

Day in, day out, touring for 3 months and having to withstand different assholes in different cities coming up to him after every set, giant grins plastered over their dumb faces, fawning over him and diving into deep explanations about how he inspired their band and that, hey! You should really check us out, man—

It all made him sick, and when Kylo Ren felt sick he wanted to shove the nearest offending individual into a wall.

The only silver lining of it all was that, in his hometown (if you could call it that, he thought with an inward scoff), not a lot of people necessarily recognized him with his mask off. He’d taken great pains to never be officially photographed without it, and never one to jump on any social media bandwagons, the question of who he was remained largely a mystery. It was a blessing in a place like Niima Outpost, where the patrons all seemed to skew either college-aged skater boys with ironic patchy beards, or 50 year old incontinent drunks with decidedly unironic facial hair.

So, at the beginning of the night, Kylo had hung about the wooden bar after loading in his gear, shaking off Hux’s obnoxious questions on the set list and determined to fulfill his immediate need for an IPA.

Draught beer in hand, he wandered over to the edge of the detestable crowd as a soundcheck commenced, his hood up, free hand shoved into the pocket of his black denim jacket.

Dameron. He thought sourly, as he observed the wavy haired guitarist address the crowd with his characteristic charm. Normally, he would have avoided checking out the opening band, preferring to disdainfully stay in the green room with Hux and Phasma—but this was Niima, and there wasn’t a green room as much as a disgusting roach infested closet for their gear.  

Pathetic, he told himself bitterly, but he wasn’t sure if he meant the Outpost’s back room, or his own reaction to it. Had months on the road being treated as an honored guest really changed him that much? He was no fucking sell-out.

No, today he was mostly curious about Poe’s latest effort at a band, if he could call it that. As they began to play, Kylo shuffled forward on the edges of the crowd, trying to remain as hidden as possible. Would Poe have told his bandmates about him?

His eyes cast around the stage as they started playing a walking, upbeat tune. They were all, of course, annoyingly beautiful people, like Poe. Trust his old roommate—the most superficial man who ever lived—to have assembled a band of shining, happy, pretty people. And diverse to boot; another principle he knew Poe championed in his time at school.

He supposed the music wasn’t awful.

Kylo’s eyes roamed from the drummer, who seemed fairly competent, to the lead guitarist, who was occasionally singing pretty back-up vocals into the mic, to the short bassist, whose black hair bobbed in time to the beat—and then back to the lead guitarist, where his eyes lingered for longer.

Like the rest of them, she was very pretty. But unlike the rest of them, her prettiness didn’t make him want to angrily turn away in a fit of misanthropic jealousy. It made him want to stare more, so he did.

She was wearing a black Iron Maiden t-shirt that she had seemingly cut the sleeves off of, exposing toned shoulders, and a pair of what looked like high waisted vintage blue jeans and beaten-up lace up boots. Occasionally she’d move her body with a riff she was playing and a smile would tug at the corners of her mouth. Her brown hair was drawn back neatly, in a practical way, with all but a few strands out of her face as she occasionally dropped her eyes to ground to engage an FX pedal.

There was something soft but striking about her gaze into the crowd; though Kylo suspected she was trying hard not to look into anyone’s face in particular.

He felt a slight lump rise in his throat and he swallowed it down. He wanted to talk to this girl, badly.

You guys having fun?” Poe asked, and Kylo groaned at his penchant for stage banter in between songs. “This next one’s about a seance gone wrong. And it was written by none other than our lovely guitarist, Rey,” he gestured towards the girl with a flourish, and Kylo noticed with another hard swallow that her nose crinkled a little as she smiled and performed a litte mock curtsy.

We were holding hands,” Poe began to sing, as Rey strummed out a few plaintive notes, and they weaved together in time, looking at each other with a mix of amusement and familiarity.

“We were under candlelight.”

  “We didn’t know,”

(“We had no idea,” Rey sang as back up,)

“Why he started to cry…

People have a way of hiding what’s inside,

And now we all feel like shiiiiiiiiiiiiiit--”

The intro crescendoed into a faster pace, and Kylo scowled down at his shoes for a moment, suddenly struck with a bizarre feeling of jealousy. Jealous at their familiarity, jealous of...this song. It was somehow emotional, and funny, but still had the humble punk aesthetics that he’d secretly always strived to bring to his work but never allowed himself to, even when sitting on his bed with his guitar, alone with his phone’s recording app. This song, and the many others after, were filled with a humorous but wistful teenage angst Kylo would have normally considered too embarrassing to talk about, but somehow for them it worked. Songs about watching a meteor shower with your friends, or hating your step dad, or hanging out with the bad kids on the corner--a picture of adolescence Kylo had clearly never had but somehow yearned for with a pang of nostalgia.

Since when was Poe this good at crafting the perfect pop song? He wondered if this was the influence of the girl, Rey. He needed to talk to her. Interrogate her, even.

But of course, being who he was, Kylo completely bungled any chance he’d ever get to talk to her.

After his set, after he’d spotted her fairly close to the stage, looking up with a somewhat flabbergasted expression, beer bottle in her hand and standing stock still, after he played extra hard and aggressively in the awareness that she was watching (and, partially, as a reaction to seeing her sticking next to that drummer the whole time), he had had his chance.

She’d come up to him, with what he was beginning to suspect was her boyfriend, who had taken it upon himself to speak for her--

Kylo Ren didn’t know why he threw a cruel comment in their faces almost immediately--or rather, he knew exactly why, he simply wasn’t able to admit it to himself. It would have been all too easy to ignore the drummer and instead address Rey and pelt her with questions about her music and influences, and why on earth she was wasting time with Poe Dameron--

But he also knew Hux and Phasma were on the periphery, and they would have heard their conversation and wondered why Kylo was suddenly so interested in this girl, and Poe would almost certainly subject him to a smug smirk that Kylo couldn’t bare to see again.

So instead, Kylo called Rey and her drummer pathetic; a barb that was only really half true in his opinion, and the look of disgust and increasing hatred on her face as the interaction escalated told him everything he needed to know: she would never allow him to speak to her, and he’d never get a chance to know who she was, or to see her nose crinkle in a smile up close.

He might have been able to be properly impressed at the force behind the punch she threw at him if he wasn’t so immersed in misery at his own missed opportunity.

“Bad breeding; mongrels, the lot of them,” Hux spat, with a dismissive wave. He had spent the past hour or so verbally abusing Rebel Scum, oblivious to the fact Phasma was barely listening and Kylo, not at all. He and Phasma now hovered around Kylo in their practice space, having wrestled their large drummer back into the Outpost while he had calmed down, streams of blood drying on his face, scaring off any approaching fans as he breathed heavily through his nose and glared at nothing in particular.  They had loaded out when the coast was decidedly clear of any band members that might once again invoke his ire.

Kylo sat on his drum throne, surrounded by haphazardly stashed gear and dabbing his own eyebrow with a clean towel he’d found in the practice space.

“Are you sure you don’t want stitches?” Phasma asked, her arms crossed as she looked down on him. She said it mostly out of courtesy than any real concern.

No,” Kylo spat sharply. He hated hospitals. He just wanted to be alone.

“Surprising, though,” Hux began slyly, and Kylo had a bad feeling about where he was headed with this tone. He knew it would happen eventually. “How some girl half your size managed to get such a good hit in,” Hux’s lip curled as he tilted his head, as if to better observe the wound.  Kylo resisted taking the bait as much as he could.

“She caught me off guard,” he mumbled, as if the thought hadn’t bothered him at all. “I was too busy with that drummer of theirs,” he added with a growl.

“Finn,” Phasma interjected. “I know that one,” she said matter-of-factly in a clipped tone. Hux’s attention was pulled away from Kylo at this new information. “He was a freshman in the university percussion chorus when I was a senior,” she said, and with a rare grin, she said “He’s one of the school’s charity cases.”

Hux gasped at this, “An orphan!” he exclaimed, as if this were the juiciest bit of gossip he’d heard in weeks.

Phasma nodded, still smiling slightly. “They both are.” Hux gasped again with pleasure. “She’s from Brixton, actually”

“What?” Kylo wasn’t sure what they were talking about. Orphans?

Phasma shrugged, “You know, that Antilles Foundation Scholarship. They give full scholarships to a couple of incoming students every year, and they’re usually orphans or something dreadful like that. I heard the girl’s the child of disgusting junkies.”

Hux laughed gleefully while Kylo furrowed his brow at this information.

“It seems they’ve stuck around together after all these years. How positively Dickensian of them,” Phasma added, mostly for Hux’s benefit at this point. Kylo knew that, as the son of a strict and abusive but obscenely wealthy officer of Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, Armitage Hux found endless amounts of mirth to be had in the lower statuses of others. It made Kylo’s teeth grit unpleasantly.

Kylo stood up suddenly and walked out of the practice room as Hux and Phasma continued their typical conversation about the lower class (something he had come to know the two Brits enjoyed mulling over endlessly), and strode down the hallway of the now-deserted music studio building to the public bathroom.

He washed his hands at the basin without looking at his reflection in the shabby cracked mirror, at first. But eventually he reluctantly lifted his eyes.

Kylo didn’t care much for his own reflection even in the best of scenarios. Now, he felt nothing but misery and shame fill him at the sight of his own stupid mug, covered in streaks of dried blood. The blood from the cut above his eyebrow had finally seemed to begin clotting, but the bruising around his eye was starting to show.

“Idiot,” he muttered at his own reflection.

Kylo was no stranger to violence and brawls, usually incited by none other than himself--he’d gotten his first black eye at 10 and inflicted his first at 14 and countless times since--but as he glared at his reflection in the mirror, the image of her face kept coming back to his mind’s eye: bright almond-shaped eyes hard and flinty with hatred, her jaw set in defiance as she bared her perfectly white teeth.

In her fury, she had marked him. Somehow, Kylo didn’t want to consider stitches, and he didn’t quite think it had anything to do with his aversion to hospitals.

Chapter Text

Rey had spent the next morning making sure Finn had enough pillows to prop him up in a semi-reclined position, despite his protests. She had fretted over him the previous night, despite the fact Finn had insisted he’d be fine, that—with an attempt at a wry smile—he’d gotten worse beatings from the corner boys back home.

To Rey, it didn’t look “fine.” One side of his face was swollen, and she was sure his nose may have been broken, not to mention the possibility of him having a mild concussion.

But Finn spent a good amount of time insisting to Rey that he knew what having a concussion was like, and this was definitely not it, eventually convincing her to allow him to sleep in the small twin bed in the den he called his own.

Rey and Finn had been roommates for the past two years, having found a small and affordable 1-bedroom apartment in a leafy part of town not too far from campus, where most streets were lined with 2 and 3 story wood frame Victorian houses like the one they lived in. It wasn’t a very lively neighborhood; mostly inhabited by retirees like their landlady Mrs. Mothma, but that’s how they liked it best. And besides, it was the nicest place they could afford on Rey’s housing stipend--something international Antilles Scholarship students received, but not domestic ones like Finn. Rey had always thought this was a bit unfair so she’d offered to essentially share the stipend with her best friend, and being the stubbornly kind person he was, he had insisted she take the one bedroom, setting up a little corner for himself in the large living room.

Over time, Rey had managed to scavenge various pieces of furniture to add to their home, including a little wooden privacy screen she’d found on the curb that served as a makeshift wall for his little corner. The sofa they sat on now was one such find. Rey often marvelled at how many perfectly good pieces of furniture her fellow college students managed to just throw away without a second thought. With a little work and ingenuity on her part, anything broken could be fixed and seem almost as good as new.

“Poe texted; he’s coming over to see how you are,” Rey said brightly as she dug into her bowl of sugary cereal. She had fixed them both bowls; a common indulgence in their household on lazy Sunday mornings or, like today, Saturday mornings where some serious self-care was in order.

Finn let go of his spoon and said, “Oh come on, I said I’m fine--”

“I know that,” Rey said with a firm hand on his shoulder, knowing Finn was as always trying to put on a braver face than he actually felt. “But, well, Poe’s just probably feeling guilty, is all.”

He better be feeling guilty, Rey thought. She was still a little miffed at him for goading Kylo Ren, a man he knew to be dangerous, in such a way.

Finn shifted a little uncomfortably in his seat, unwilling to say more on the topic. They sat in companionable silence as they ate their cereal, and after she set her empty bowl down on their shabby coffee table, Rey reached for her laptop and opened it up, resuming an playlist she’d had on the previous day (consisting mainly of 70’s proto-punk bands) while Finn propped open a comic book on the pillow next to him.

She had spent most of her free moments in the past few days searching Craigslist for a car as she’d just gotten her American driver’s license a few months earlier, and it had taken her all of 3 minutes of searching before the idea struck her—what if she could find a band van for them?

Rey had a passing interest in cars, of course; having broken into plenty in her adolescence to make off with sound systems or whatever items of value their careless owners happened to leave behind. And while originally she’d imagined something fuel efficient and small like Poe’s the experience of having to cram themselves and all their gear time and time again began to wear on her. A van, somehow, seemed like a much more useful investment.

Besides, though she wouldn’t fully admit it, her upbringing had gotten her accustomed to the idea of having to pick up and leave at the drop of a hat. If push came to shove, a van would fit herself and all her most valued possessions nicely (and, possibly, Finn too).

She knew as well as Finn did that their respite at university was a luxury they had never been able to count on before and would not necessarily be able to expect afterwards.

“What do you think of this one?” Rey angled her laptop so Finn could see the small pictures of a gray cargo van more clearly.

“Looks cool,” Finn shrugged, not knowing much about cars. “$700? That seems pretty affordable.”

“It’s practically nothing,” Rey said, clicking through the photos. “Mind you it’s garbage and barely runs.”

Finn balked and said “Then why--shouldn’t you get a car that actually can drive??”

Rey shrugs. “The owner is offering it as a fixer-upper; saying he’ll help fix it for the right buyer. Might be a fun project.”

“I think rebuilding a car engine might be a little different than boosting one,” Finn said, teasingly elbowing her arm.

“Come on,” Rey laughed, “I’ve worked on car engines before! I’m quite good at it actually,” she said, remembering the one foster family she had stayed at from ages 12 to 14. They had been thoroughly nasty people, but there’d been an elderly relative who’d taught her the basics of car maintenance on his ancient Astra.

Rey was sending a fairly generic email to the owner requesting a time to see the van when a knock came to the door.

“I’ll get it,” Rey said before Finn could even react, throwing off the laptop and scrabbling up over the back of the couch.

“Yo! Friends!” Poe said by way of greeting as soon as the door swung open. He immediately brought Rey into a quick warm hug, and made his way over to Finn.

“Hey buddy, you alright?” Poe said, settling his arms on Finn’s shoulders to prevent him from standing. Genuine concern crossed his tan features as he sat on the coffee table in front of him.

“I can walk, you know, I’m not an invalid,” Finn said with annoyance, glancing at the pair of them. “And yeah, I’m fine; nothing time and some ibuprofen can’t fix.”

Poe worked his square and finely stubbled jaw, as if his teeth were grinding slightly. “I don’t know, man, it looks...a little broken. Your nose.”

Finn shifted nervously. “What? I mean...I don’t know...I’m sure it’s--just a little swelling--”

Poe sucked his teeth briefly and shook his head. “No, I know a broken nose when I see one.” Finn groaned at this, clearly remembering Poe’s time as a junior volunteer paramedic.

“I’ll get some ice,” Rey said, clearly aware of what was about to happen.

“Wha--NO! No, Poe Dameron, I swear to god--”

“I’m sorry buddy but it has to be this way,” Poe said, standing and moving in a circle behind the couch, shoving Finn back down to his seat when he attempted to stand. “The sooner it can happen the better.”

“He’s right,” Rey said as she returned from the galley kitchen with a soft towel holding ice, having been no stranger to all sorts of broken features during her time in the system. “It’ll heal better if it’s straight--”

“Relax, buddy, you’re in good hands,” Poe said a little loudly over Finn’s protests. Eventually he sighed and resigned himself to his fate as Poe’s hands settled over his face in a diamond shape.

Rey reached forward to grip Finn’s hand tightly before--

Crack!

 

****

 

Ice cream was in order.

After the harrowing second of agony and 15 minutes trying to blink away the pain in his eyes, Poe and Rey had convinced Finn to come outside with them to the local diner within walking distance, promising to ply him with as many ice cream-topped waffles as he wanted.

Thankfully, Finn seemed to benefit from the light exercise and extra-strength aspirin, and soon they were seated in their favorite greasy spoon, Rose having met them for an unofficial band meeting.

“Looking good, champ,” Rose had said brightly to Finn as she slid into the booth next to Poe.

Finn gave her a wry smirk in between bites of waffle.

“It’s a well-known fact that chicks love a guy who can take a beating,” Poe said with a straight face, pointing a french fry at Finn.

Rey and Rose laughed, and Rey was relieved to hear a chuckle from Finn.

A few second later, though, Poe cleared his throat slightly and said, “Look, Finn. I’m really sorry. If I hadn’t provoked Kylo Ren like I did—this is my fault—"

Rey felt vindicated in the frostiness she had previously felt towards Poe. At least he knew he was in the wrong.

“It’s okay,” Finn mumbled, looking a little embarrassed. “You don’t have to apologize for that asshole. I’m sorry we even tried to talk to him—after what you’ve told us about him”

“Seriously, what the hell is that guy’s problem?” Rose asked, her glance shifting a bit to Poe. “I feel like maybe I missed something.”

Because Poe was now looking more sheepish than ever, Rey supplied, “Poe and Kylo Ren used to be roommates. He was apparently very violent and unstable.” There was a harder edge to her voice than she’d expected to hear.

To her surprise Poe didn’t nod along with her fervently like she’d expected. If anything, he looked a little sad. Answering Rose’s question, he said “He, uh, had a hard time growing up I guess. Has a bit of criminal record? I think he only managed to come to university because his mom is Leia Organa, and she’s friends with the Dean or something.”

“Whoa, the senator??” Rose raised her eyebrows. Rey was unfamiliar with American government and didn’t really know who that was.

“Yeah, she’s super cool, actually. She wrote a letter of recommendation for me when I was applying to my job; social justice has been her passion in office.” Poe was referring to his role as junior director at a non-profit that focused on helping underprivileged and often homeless or orphaned teens. In other words, the kind of kids Rey and Finn had been. Despite their initial differences and his cocky, suave manner—a trait Rey typically avoided in people—Poe’s line of work and his genuine commitment to it were some of the things that had made her warm up to him as a friend.

“So wait,” Rey said, her fork raising in Poe’s direction. “You’re saying Kylo Ren is just some rich kid with a well-connected mom who actually helps people for a living?” She wasn’t sure how she could hate him more than she had this morning, but it had apparently happened.

“If she’s so dedicated to social justice, why is her son so dedicated to busting our asses?” Finn muttered, his fingers probing his swollen cheekbone tenderly.

Poe shrugged apologetically. “We also had a band at some point,” he said quietly. “I mean, it didn’t last; it was a dorm room band, basically. But...I don’t know. He went through some personal stuff, and he...changed.”

This was news to everyone, not only Rose. Before Finn could question Poe to elaborate on this bit of information, Rey decided it was probably best not to dwell on their attacker at the moment. “Anyway—that was years ago. Poe, how much did we make last night?”

Poe’s mood seemed to brighten, and everyone’s attention snapped to him. “Funny you should ask! That’s partially why I called this official-unofficial impromptu band meeting; our sweet Finn’s condition notwithstanding,” Poe said, as he extracted a crumpled envelope from the inside pocket of his leather jacket. “Last night we made—drumroll, please—"

Finn set his fork down and began drumming his hands on the formica—

“Four hundred and eighty dollars!” Poe said in a near stage whisper, wiggling the envelope. The other three gave little celebratory whoops.

“Holy shit, we broke over a hundred per person, that rules!” Rose exclaimed.

Rey and Finn grinned at each other—it was nice to see him smile again—they had often wistfully dreamt about making some kind of money from their music, even if it seemed like a comparative pittance to the wage from their part time jobs.

“That’s well over the guaranteed minimum they promised us!” Finn said.

“I know!” Poe said, as he started counting the mostly $20 bills into 4 portions. “I’m telling you guys, this is a good sign. If we keep up this momentum, we could even stand to play the Palladium downtown—an early set, of course—"

Rey was busy determining how much more she had left to save in order to pay for the van she’d been eyeing this morning when her phone rang unexpectedly; an unfamiliar number on the screen.

Somehow, she had a feeling it might be about the car, and so she excused herself from the booth and walked a bit away from her excitedly chattering friends.

“Hello?”

Hi, uh, is this...Rey? I’m calling back about the, uh, van? On the website?” A gruff voice seemingly uncomfortable with this kind of interaction spoke over the line.

“Yes! Yes, I emailed earlier,” Rey said.

Oh—okay, good. Sorry, I, uh, don’t really do this whole e-mail thing…” the man said, with an equally gruff chuckle. She got the feeling she was speaking to someone significantly older than herself.

They reviewed the terms of the van briefly, and when he asked when she’d like to see it Rey said “As soon as possible! I could come this afternoon if that works for you.”

She pulled a pen from the hostess’s stand and scrawled an address on the back of her hand.

 

****

 

The address the van owner had given her over the phone was actually a shabby motel on the edge of town. It wasn’t actually very far from their practice space, so Rey was surprised she hadn’t passed it at some point before. She thought for sure the mid-century starbursts shapes formed in neon on a rusted baby blue sign would have piqued her interest as a lover of all things “antique” (her fancy term for “junk,” as Finn had said many times).

Rey had hopped off the bus she usually took to practice and walked for a good 10 minutes after shooting down Poe’s offer to drive her, and Finn’s insistence that she needed back-up in case the van owner had been a “serial-killing kind of van owner.” But it was broad daylight, and Rey could take care of herself. She had almost all her life.

As she passed the sign that read Corellia Suites, she cast her eyes about for the gray van that she’d seen in the Craigslist ad. She recognized the dusty blue walls of the motel at the edge of the parking lot, and spotted it: looking just as it had in the ad.

Rey walked forward tentatively, glancing towards the motel office where an exceptionally fat man dozed off behind a service window. Not far from the parking lot there was a kidney-shaped pool with a couple of screaming children and a conscious adult. She surmised that these people at least would be able to hear her screams if Finn’s fears came to fruition.

Around the edge of the van, she spotted the person who must have been the van’s owner—a man easily in his 60’s or 70’s with a shock of gray hair sitting in a lawn chair with the circulars propped open on his knee as he inspected for coupons. He wore a faded denim vest over a white undershirt, and his bare arms were slightly spotted from the sun but his muscles wiry. His style reminded her of someone who might have been in a biker gang in the 70’s—or maybe someone who had followed AC/DC on tour. As he looked up at her approach, she noticed bright blue eyes under a prominent brow, and quite a crooked nose.

“Are you here for the van? Rey, was it?” He growled, folding the circulars to the ground and getting to his feet with some effort.

“Yeah, that’s me,” Rey said shyly, eyeing the van.

The man wiped his hand on his worn-in straight legged jeans and extended it to her, “Han Solo. We spoke on the phone.”

Rey nodded, taking his hand. He had a firm no-nonsense handshake.

“From your accent I thought you might be some fancy college professor,” he growled. “You’re just a kid, though.”

Rey must have furrowed her brow significantly at this, because he added, as if concerned he’d caused offense, “Not that there’s anything wrong with that. But this one,” he gestured at the van. “It’s a fixer-upper; big-time. You know anything about cars?”

“A bit.”

“Well, I hope you can handle it, because I’m willing to help but my arthritis, you know…” he said, his growl lowering sheepishly as he made a gesture with his hands.

“Can I look inside?” Rey asked, gesturing towards the car.

Han stepped backwards and gestured for her to pass, and she began to inspect the van, opening the multiple doors, looking under the hood, and peering at the dashboard.

Han provided a running commentary as she looked. “Like I said in the ad, she doesn’t run right now so I’m sorry to say you can’t test drive it, but she handled like a dream.”

“How long have you had it?” Rey asked as she peeked behind the front seat. There was one fold-down seat, and the rest of the space had been carpeted with brown shag. Perfect for gear.

“Um…I think maybe...since ‘79?” Han said with an almost-grimace. If he had expected Rey to be deterred by this, he was wrong. If anything, she was visibly pleased at the answer.

“I think it might be perfect,” Rey said mostly to herself, as she opened the rear cargo doors, testing the action.

After a pause, Han asked, “Say...what’s a kid like you planning to do with a hunk of junk like this? Aren’t college kids like you normally into little sporty fuel-efficient imports these days?” He gave a slight scoff at this, hiking up the back of his jeans.

Rey couldn’t help but smirk at the statement. Normally she and gruff older men didn’t really get along, but there was something wry and charming about this one. “I’m in a band. There’s 4 of us and a lot of gear,” she said shortly.

Han’s eyes widened at this, as if he recognized he was finally speaking to someone he could actually understand, and he said with an almost-laugh, “A band, huh? You know—my son is in a band; he lives in this town. Plays a lot, too. I wonder if you know him.” With a lopsided grin, he added, “I bet he’d like you.”

Keen to avoid a line of questioning that could result in an elderly van owner setting her up with his son, she politely asked, “Oh? What’s the name of his band?”

Han scrunched up his face, clearly not armed with the answer to that question. “Um, couldn’t tell ya—he, uh, hasn’t really told me much about it,” he said, his expression shifting slightly to introspection. Her recovered quickly and added, “His name is Ben, Ben Solo. You know, we practically raised him in that back seat over there,” he gestured through the cargo doors with a chuckle.

Rey nodded with a little chuckle. “He must have been able to hold on pretty tight, huh,” she said, gesturing at the lack of seatbelts anywhere in the rear space.

Without missing a beat, Han said, “You gotta be able to, at the speed this baby can fly.” He thunked the side of the van affectionately.

They spent the next few minutes ducked under the hood of the car, with Han going over the known issues that kept the Falcon—as he called it— from running, along with a few issues he suspected were causing other problems, but hadn’t been able to do enough troubleshooting.

“I’ll be in town for at least the next two months, on a job. Mostly, I’ve had difficulty gathering the right parts since I don’t exactly have a, eh, friendly relationship with the local junkyard owner,” he explained sheepishly. “If you could find an alternative that would be a huge help.”

Rey, for the most part, suspected she’d be able to handle this type of repair, though it might take some time. She was no expert, but it certainly seemed Han was. “It’s a deal, if that’s alright with you,” she said, straightening up to look at him.

Han showed her his lopsided grin again, “Well, alright.” It was clear from his general tone and proclivity towards growling, that Han Solo wasn’t a man who approved of much in his old age. He seemed to approve of Rey’s lack of fear around the topic of car repairs, however.

Rey motioned to shake on their newly minted deal with suddenly Han’s eyes went wide as he looked at a point past her shoulder.

“Ooh—there he is—Ben!

He rushed past her and Rey curiously turned around to see what had caused Han such distraction.

About 20 feet away, standing stock-still on the cracked parking lot pavement and fists balled at his sides, was none other than Kylo Ren.

What?

He hadn’t immediately noticed Rey, instead focusing on Han Solo with a glint of disdain as he approached.

“You got my message! How are you, son?” Han said gruffly, making to pat Kylo Ren—no, his son—on the arm, but withdrawing as the taller man jerked backwards slightly.

He had noticed Rey, his eyes widening at the sight of her next to the Falcon.

“You monster!” She wasted no time in matching his aggressive stance, and at nearly the same time, Kylo exclaimed sharply, “You!”

It was Han’s turn to be confused, his eyes darting back and forth between them, as he asked in a tone of bewilderment, “You two know each other?”

“Unfortunately!” Rey spat. Kylo glowered at her.

Han had only a split second to look deeply disappointed, hopes deflated, when he made a double take to Kylo’s face. “Say, kid, who gave you that shiner? Looks fresh—” he said, looking up at Kylo’s right eye.

Kylo glanced back at Han briefly at the question and then glared at Rey afresh. Han followed his gaze to Rey, whose previous polite demeanor had evaporated to be replaced with clenched fists and an unexpected ferocity. He raised his eyebrows at Rey, as if he were mildly impressed. “Oh,” he said quietly.

“What’s she doing here,” Kylo Ren barked at Han. Rey could tell that, even without her presence, the tense body language between the two men did not indicate a particularly close relationship.

“Kid, she’s here to buy the Falcon—“

“You’re selling the Falcon to her???”

“Well, yeah,” Han said, shrugging his hands a bit helplessly. “You’d said you wanted nothing to do with it, and well, I’m getting too old to—“

Kylo—whose name was actually Ben? Rey barely had the presence of mind to process this information but supposed Kylo Ren had of course just been a stage name—shifted his gaze from his father’s sheepish explanations back to Rey.

She felt satisfaction in seeing how much the purple bruises on his prominent cheekbone had begun to bloom in less than a day. The dark eyes behind the bruises however, looked neither spiteful or hateful as they had last night. They were just filled with a subdued misery.

“—have you called your mother? She’s worried about you—“ Han had been saying when Ben’s eyes tore themselves from Rey, and he shook his head as if an irksome insect had flown into his ear, his chin-length hair shaking over his face.

“Just—just tell me what you wanted to talk to me about. You sounded urgent in your message,” Ben huffed, lowering his voice in an indication that this was none of Rey’s business.

Rey relaxed her stance and turned to the exposed engine, staring at its depths but unable to tear her attention from their conversation.

“Right!” Han said, and had retreated around the rear end of the van, where the cargo doors still stood open.

Rey glanced at Ben, who had apparently been watching her before he reluctantly moved to follow his father.

Letting her curiosity get the better of her, Rey peered from around the raised hood in the front of the car to the back cargo doors, from which Han emerged holding a rumpled medium-sized cardboard box. Rey had vaguely been aware of its presence when she’d been inspecting the interior of the Falcon.

“Well, I figured since I was selling the Falcon, maybe you’d want some of your old stuff back,” he said, presenting the box to Ben. Rey could see some faded markings on the box that she guessed said “Ben’s stuff.”

Ben looked as if Han had just presented him with something unacceptably embarrassing. Glancing at Rey with a look of humiliation and fury, he backed away and hissed, “I don’t want it!”

Seemingly unaware of the ticking bomb he was carelessly prodding, Han said, “Wait, are you sure? There’s some CDs and some of your little notebooks—“

“THROW IT IN THE TRASH!” Ben yelled aggressively, his fists clenched at his sides, practically bent double in his furious stance.

And without another word or glance at Rey, he stormed off, kicking Han’s lawn chair out of his way, sending the old antenna radio next to it skidding across the pavement. Rey and Han watched Ben go until he disappeared behind the neighboring building.

An awkward silence had settled on the pair of them, broken only by the distant squeals of laughter from the children in the motel pool.

Slowly turning to Rey, box still in hand, Han’s eyes darted around awkwardly as he gave her a mirthless lopsided smirk and said, “Kids, am I right? They can, huh, hate your guts but you’ll just never stop worrying about them.”

Rey couldn’t honestly say she could relate. “Are you okay?” She asked. Her heart went out to this man, even if he was responsible for bringing Kylo Ren into the world.

Han looked at her quizzically. “I should be asking you the same question. Sorry you had to see that,” he said, setting the box back down in the back of the van as Rey moved closer to him. “My son and me, we’re not that close. I’m not exactly his favorite person. I must have left about 20 messages when I got into town, and he never responded to any of them.”

Rey got the impression that, whatever transient lifestyle Han Solo seemed to live, he had decided to settle in this town for the time being for the primary purpose of checking in on his estranged son.

He looked up at her with a furrowed brow, perhaps interpreting her expression of shock for one of mild disgust. “He’s a good kid, really. He’s been doing a lot better. College helped. I think,” he trailed off in a low mutter.

“He—what did he try to do to you to deserve that knuckle sandwich?” Han asked her after a pause, unable to keep the concern out of his voice despite his efforts.

Rey hesitated. “He hit my best friend, Finn, last night, and I wouldn’t allow it.”

Han’s eyebrows knitted further. “Is Finn a girl?”

“No, he’s a man,” Rey said, taken slightly aback. Did Kylo Ren have a history of hitting girls???

Han looked slightly relieved at this, his shoulders relaxing slightly. “Oh. I am very sorry. But if he’d ever done anything to hurt a girl like you, I would never have been able to forgive myself.”

“He won’t,” Rey said flatly. “I can take care of myself.”

Han nodded. “I know you can. I’ve seen your handiwork,” he growled amicably, with another lopsided smirk. Rey noticed a scar under his lip, just noticeable among the white stubble sprouting from his chin.

The awkwardness having mostly evaporated from the situation, Han and Rey resumed their dealings regarding the purchase of the Falcon, and decided to meet again in another week to start work on the engine. When it came to the question of the price, Han waved Rey’s questioning away.

“Don’t worry about that. If we can get her running again, I could deal you a discount,” Han said gruffly, and Rey got the distinct impression that he felt deeply guilty about his son’s outburst.

Not long after, Rey departed for the bus stop, thoughts of her odd encounter swirling in her head.

Up until half an hour ago, Kylo Ren had been some ghoulish specter, a strawman for Rey to indiscriminately hate; his only sign of humanity having been his comically large ears. It was jarring to think she’d met his father, more to think that at some point he’d been a baby, presumably loved and held by Han. Han, who, despite his proclivity for growling, Rey had really liked as far as random old men in parking lots went.

The thought made Rey uncomfortable and she tried her best to push it out of her mind. Whatever it was that Ben Solo had found so objectionable about Han only proved how at odds he was with Rey.

Still….

She found herself wondering what could have been in that cardboard box that Ben had found so embarrassing.

She wouldn’t soon forget the look of utter embarassment on his face.

 

Chapter Text

Being a person particularly committed to wearing black or otherwise very dark colors in the summertime was a challenge, which is why Kylo Ren privately longed for August to be over.

The only respite from the sunshine and heat he ever seemed to get was in their cool windowless practice space; a medium sized carpeted room settled between dozens like it in a large warehouse building downtown. One of the reasons they often set their practices for the evenings was simply because Kylo wanted an excuse to stay inside his air-conditioned apartment all day during the summers; only leaving once the sun had safely started to set.

It had been a week since he’d made the crucial mistake of facing Han Solo in a scorching parking lot. Quite apart from the fact encounters with his father always derailed his state of mind for days, he had gotten a lot more than he had bargained for—the girl, Rey, had somehow been there. And in a chummy conversation with Han, no less.

Fate, it seemed, would not let him forget the depths of his idiocy when it came to this girl.

Kylo was still feeling quite aggravated about this event—even after he’d spent about 72 hours wallowing around his apartment, reliving the wretched experience in his head while sprawled out on various pieces of furniture in his boxer briefs, all shades and shutters drawn. It wasn’t until the 67th missed call from Hux about practice that Kylo had reluctantly taken a shower and pulled on his jeans (black, of course).

“No, no, NO!” Kylo’s drumsticks clattered off his drumset as he yelled at Hux again. “Are you—are you fucking simple?? Play the fucking note the way I showed you!”

“Alright, ALRIGHT,” Hux raised his voice in return as Phasma patiently waited, her eyebrows knitted and gaze determinedly towards the ceiling. “I just—it’s just fucking different than what we’ve been playing, right?”

Fury radiated out from Kylo’s every pore as he sat on the drum throne, making no move to pick up his sticks.

“And what’s THAT supposed to fucking mean,” he spat, leaning forward and baring his teeth at the thin redheaded man before him.

Hux and Phasma exchanged somewhat conspiratorial looks. “What?” Kylo hissed again.

Perhaps having sensed Hux’s inherent susceptibility to violence at the hands of Kylo Ren, Phasma voiced it on his behalf. “These songs you’ve asked us to play,” she said, almost robotically, “they’re a lot pop-ier than usual. And STARKILLER has a darker vibe, you see.”

Kylo glared at Phasma—for once Hux seemed unable to say anything, not willing to risk agreeing with her statement out loud.

“Is there...a problem with that?” Kylo forced between gritted teeth, after a tense swallow.

Phasma shrugged, and Hux seemed to have regrown a pair. “We’re an art punk band, Ren,” Hux said in a maddeningly superior tone. “We don’t play songs about—about feelings. We play songs that are inscrutable poetry,” he said with a little sniff.

Kylo had never wanted to punch someone more in his life. But he allowed his face to relax and deadpanned, “That’s funny. I was under the impression that the only songs we play are ones written by me.

Phasma seemed to have no argument to this, raising her eyebrows at Hux as she plucked the strings of her guitar once again, as if the conversation were over. Hux wasn’t having it, though.

You presume to command MY band--” Hux screeched, making to pull his bass off of his body and stepping towards the drum kit.

Kylo sprang to his feet and leaned forward to face him. “When I found you, you were a frizzy haired wannabe glam act,” he growled, staring Hux down with his considerable height. “That perm! You looked like—like Dave Mustaine’s reject clone,” he added, to which Phasma let out a mirthless laugh.

Knowing when he’d been put in his place, Hux backed away, his cheeks reddening from Phasma’s apparent agreement with the barb. “Fine,” he breathed, as he moved back to his place, letting his bass rest on his shoulders again. “We’ll try again.”

Giving the two of them petulant glares, he added, “But my long hair was glorious.”

 

****

 

Another frustrating hour later marked by many stops and starts (mostly caused by Hux huffing during his sequence), Kylo rode away from the practice space, his irritation barely having subsided. Trust those two to have zero appreciation for the four songs Kylo had written and arranged in his time sequestered away in his apartment. Typical philistines. They’d only appreciate his work when it garnered them a glowing review in a national indie rock publication.

He supposed their complaints weren’t inaccurate, no matter how short-sided and immature they were. The songs were, in a way, catchier and less blisteringly fast. But that, Kylo thought, was the nature of punk rock. If you took away the earnest emotion and righteous hooks, you were left with lifeless death metal—which Kylo had vetoed outright a long time ago (Hux still broke out his black leather wrist braces and actual eyeliner on occasion, much to his dismay).

Not feeling ready to return to his dark cave of an apartment--or rather, not feeling confident enough he wouldn’t just destroy his own belongings in his frustration—Kylo instead sought out a nearby bar that he hadn’t been to in a while.

Takodana Pub was modest establishment not far from Kylo’s apartment that he had played a number of small shows at when he had just formed STARKILLER. It was far too tucked-away a venue for them to play these days, but it held the advantage of having a good soundtrack and never being too busy that Kylo couldn’t find a decent spot at the bar.

The bouncer checking IDs outside paid Kylo no mind as he slipped past, perhaps recognizing him as a patron beyond regular college years, or perhaps because he had no interest in engaging with his towering glare.

After sliding onto a padded stool at the bar, he’d ordered a whiskey on the rocks—he hadn’t drank alone in a while and tonight seemed to warrant something a little stronger than beer. The impersonal bartender served him hurriedly, swiping his cash off the bar as soon as he’d deposited it.

Yes, this was definitely his kind of spot.

He was only a few small sips on his way to melting his persistent aggravation when he spotted her.

His heart leapt into his throat as he swallowed, hard.

Rey had been behind the bar, tapping buttons on a point of service monitor, facing almost entirely away from him. But he’d recognize those three vertically-arranged honey-colored buns at the back of her head anywhere.

As she made to turn her attention back towards the bar, Kylo quickly tore his eyes away from her, pretending to casually glare at the beer taps nearby and take another burning sip of his drink—but on his periphery he could tell she had stopped in her tracks in surprise; he heard her sigh.

“What are you doing here?” Rey spoke flatly, and Kylo slowly raised his eyes to her once again.

She looked distinctly displeased to have him as a customer. Her eyebrows were set in a strong straight line, her jaw jutting slightly in a tough expression. While she didn’t look as murderous as the last time she saw him, Kylo suspected her restraint was in part due to her currently being on the clock.

He worked his jaw nervously, idly turning his glass on its coaster.

“I could ask you the same.”

“I barback here,” Rey snorted. “Obviously.” She moved towards his right side and deposited a receipt on the bar in front of a customer deep in conversation with a friend. Returning to her previous spot, she gestured at him with purpose, and added, in a lower voice, “You should know; we have a bouncer. So don’t even think of causing trouble with me, or you’ll be chucked out.”

Kylo’s initial reaction was to internally scoff at the man she referred to, who he could’ve beaten with his eyes closed—but it was a reaction eclipsed by her depressing implication. She thought he’d come there to—what? Hit her?

Did she really think him that despicable?

“I wouldn’t do that to you,” he muttered, threatening to fold under her fierce gaze.

Rey scoffed. “Right—I’m too pathetic to fight. I get it.” The acid in her voice was palpable.

Some of Kylo’s overwhelming feeling of misery must have come across to Rey as he looked at her, because her expression softened slightly.

Swallowing again, he folded his lips and chose his words very carefully.

“I’m...sorry I called you...pathetic. I was just angry at Dameron,” he said, the words somewhat excruciating to say out loud under her firm gaze. With more ease, he said “I don’t think you’re pathetic at all.”

He really meant it, just in the way he’d really meant to not apologize for hitting Finn.

Rey looked only slightly mollified, perhaps noticing his omission. “Is that supposed to be a compliment?” Kylo could swear he saw her eyes dance with wry humor.

He shrugged, taking another sip of his drink. “It’s just a fact. I saw you play. There was nothing pathetic about it.”

She blinked rapidly, looking somewhat taken off guard by him doubling down on his statement. Then, something hardened behind her face anew, and she looked down, busying herself with clearing some empty glasses on the bar and into a plastic crate. “Yeah, well. You don’t know anything about me.”

I’d like to, a small sad voice in Kylo said, one that he’d gotten exceptionally good at squashing since he was 10 years old. Still, 28-year old Kylo knew enough to recognize when someone was closing off protectively, so he said nothing.

Instead, he watched her as she went about her duties, filling glasses with water from a gun attached to the bar, filling beers with expert pours from the taps, placing orders at the end of the bar for an impatient waitress to take away, dodging the preoccupied bartender as she went.

He took this time to let his eyes roam over her form unsupervised. She was wearing a somewhat boxy white t-shirt with a wide shallow neckline that showed off delicate collarbones. It was tucked haphazardly into high waisted jeans Kylo suspected were relegated to status as work clothes, given their frayed quality. They were, nonetheless, incredibly flattering in the way they hugged her hips and....

“Would you like another?” Rey turned to ask him. Her tone wasn’t friendly, but it wasn’t cold, either.

Kylo nodded, even though his original plan was to leave after one. She pulled bottle of amber liquor off the shelf behind her and served him in the same glass, nodding curtly as he mumbled his thanks.

He’d expected her to move away at this, but instead she exhaled and turned her head to him, looking at him intently.

“Why do you hate your father so much?”

Kylo’s glass froze halfway to his lips, and he parted them in surprise, any thought of the drink forgotten. There was no menace in her questioning; and he thought he hear something close to...pity.

“He’s--it’s just that he’s really nice,” Rey added at his look of silence.

Any fury Kylo felt at the mention of Han Solo was held back by his determination to once again choose his words carefully. He had gotten Rey to look at him with emotions other than disgust and hatred, and he didn’t want her to backslide in her impression of him.

“I don’t...hate him,” Kylo said quietly, swallowing.

Rey looked quite plainly as if she didn’t believe him. So he continued, “And if you think he’s nice, it’s because you’re not his son.” You haven’t disappointed him, Kylo thought, bitterly.

She looked away briefly, her expression a mixture of consternation and...was it sadness? If what Hux and Phasma had told him about Rey’s lack of a family was true, it was possible that she had very little frame of reference for what made a good parent. He desperately wished he could ask her about it, but he didn’t want to overstep her boundaries and upset her.

Kylo worked his jaw again as he struggled to think of a question to ask her that was neither too personal or too stand-offish. After a few seconds he stuttered slightly, his brows furrowing, “Are—are you p-planning to go on tour? With the van, I mean.”

He had avoided saying The Falcon. Too many painful memories inside that piece of junk came up when he forced himself to name it in his head.

Rey looked once again quite surprised to be addressed. “Maybe. If we can get some momentum with the shows we’re playing…. We have enough songs for a record—just demos—but don’t have a label to put it out,” she explained, shyly looking up at Kylo from under her lashes. He found the gesture unbearably attractive.

Kylo took another sip from his drink, unable to break his gaze from her. So they had written and recorded enough demos for a full length album. That meant Dameron as more serious about this band than ever before. “I went on a pretty long tour this summer. Sleeping in a van sucked. You might prefer a shorter tour anyway,” he said as nonchalantly as he could imagine and altogether failing. Did he sound condescending?

Rey didn’t seem to be bothered by his statement, however. “Yeah, I...heard. Was it a month or something?” she asked, as she attempted to scoop some ice out of the freezer situated between her and the bar.

“Three months,” he supplied.

“That’s crazy,” Rey said, having some difficulty with the ice. “I’m not sure I could deal with my bandmates for that long to be honest, but I’d love the opportunity to….” she trailed off slightly, shifting her grip on the ice scoop and leaning further down in an attempt to break up a melted-together cluster of ice cubes. “Fucking--” she swore quietly under her breath, gripping the edge of the freezer with her free hand and jabbing more violently.

As she did so, the neckline of her boxy shirt dipped down slightly--and Kylo’s breath caught in his throat as he glimpsed, past her delicate collarbones, the curve of her smooth, bare breast. It moved slightly, to the time of her striking movements, and for a fleeting second he saw how it ended in a perfect, dusty rose nipple.

A small part of him knew he should tear his eyes away in embarrassment for her; knowing that if it weren’t for his very specific sightline he would not be seeing this—but he held onto the image like a drowning man held on to his last breath; his lips parted, his eyes wide, his slightly tipsy brain supplying him with the fantasy of taking that perfect breast into his mouth, onto his tongue—

A sharp gasp sounded from above, and Kylo immediately snapped out of a trance, looking up at her face--to find it contorted in fury and humiliation. The ice scoop clattered into the freezer and she straightened with her forearms across her chest in an instant.

Kylo wanted to apologize, to explain his mistake, but he was immediately cowed by her trembling voice as she shouted, “Get out! GET OUT!”

Unable to meet the look of pure betrayal on her face, Kylo stood immediately and knocked back the rest of his drink, leaving before the bouncer had a chance to investigate the commotion.

A blast of night air hit him as he exited Takodana Pub, sweeping his hair back and cooling his burning ears. Chained up bike completely forgotten, Kylo stomped in the general direction of his apartment, fists balled at his side, his anger at himself swelling dangerously.

Idiot, stupid fucking IDIOT, you worthless piece of shit—

A steady stream of insults came rushing to his mind, utterly failing to distract him from the truth of the situation: that he had managed to have a non-contentious exchange with Rey; hear her voice devoid of challenge, her guardedness relaxed—only to ruin the exquisite effect by his boorish gaze. She’d never trust him now.

Breathing hard through his nose, his hands running through his hair, Kylo paused briefly—before kicking a nearby newspaper box clear off the curb with an enraged roar, the metallic clatter and scattering papers utterly unsatiating.

 

****

 

“Are you okay?” Jess Pava asked, as she strained a freshly-shaken cocktail into a glass. Rey was breathing hard, clutching her own chest and having just screamed at a customer to leave. She’d gained the attention of more than just the bartender at Takodana.

“I’m—fine,” Rey practically choked out, avoiding the curious stares from patrons at the bar. “I need five,” she muttered, and Jess made an affirmative noise as she planted some drinks on the bar.

Rey quickly made her way to the back door of the bar, through which most employees either took out the trash or took smoking breaks. It wasn’t much more than a small alleyway with a dumpster at one end, and a littering of cigarette butts near the door. She paced across the small area for a few seconds before planting herself down on an overturned bucket.

Her humiliation of having been seen in that way radiated out from her in confusing, painful waves. There she had been, having a measured but civil conversation with her nemesis, when, just as she’d foolishly begun to leave her guard down, she’d caught him—

A casual glance up from her tedious struggle with the ice—intending to speak more on how she’d always envisioned herself travelling like a leaf on the wind, and how that would lend itself to touring—when she’d noticed Kylo’s dark eyes eerily wide, and focused on a point below her face. His drink had been stupidly halfway to his parted, full lips.

It took Rey a split second to realize he had the perfect vantage point to look down her shirt.

She was, for the first time in nearly a decade, absolutely mortified at her long-standing decision not to bother with bras. She had always reasoned, after all, that there wasn’t much there to protect from bouncing; her breasts always having been dismally small. Ever since enrolling in university in the States and having the stipend for 3 regular meals a day, she’d left behind her nearly emaciated boy-like figure for, finally, something a little more womanly. But her breasts had stubbornly remained lackluster and slight. It had been easier not to care and insist it was her punk rock lifestyle that had led her to eschew bras, and not any sort of deep-rooted self-image issues she may have carried.

In a way, it was nothing compared to the humiliation of having gotten into a real conversation with Kylo Ren. For a brief moment, it was as if he and she were just fellow students in a sociology class, all contentious rivalry forgotten. But then…

Well, he’d revealed himself, hadn’t he? Rey thought to herself, folding her arms across her chest in a severe manner. He couldn’t possibly have liked what he’d seen. She was certain that the look on his face was one more of surprise and horror at having been faced with such a flat-chested anomaly in the flesh—

Rey buried her face in her hands, unable to continue this line of thought. She felt so stupid. It had only been a few seconds before...well, what happened—that she’d actually felt a pang of jealousy towards Kylo’s wavy and shiny black hair. How it always seemed to retain volume and life, when nothing Rey tried for her own lank brown hair seemed to work. She had noticed that his chin wasn’t actually weak at all, as he had worked his jaw nervously—his jaw was merely narrow, and delicate for his long face and prominent features, scattered in small moles she could only see up-close.

“Stupid,” Rey muttered, both to herself and the image of Kylo’s face now floating in her mind’s eye. How could she have been surprised, after all? Rey, at 22 years old, had had her fair share of unpleasant experiences with men overstepping boundaries when it came to her body. She was no stranger to decking boys in secondary school who’d gotten fresh with her and attempted a grope here and there. If anything, it was these experiences that had largely influenced her to swear off any interactions with boys when she’d gotten accepted into university in America. No boys, no violent retaliations on her part, no problems with her scholarship’s good standing. It had been working well so far.

Granted, Kylo had done nothing more forward than stare—but somehow, to Rey that seemed to be more of a betrayal. Possibly because he was no boy—she was sure he was quite a few years older than she—and possibly because she’d been keen on the conversation they’d been having up until that moment. She felt, for a very fleeting moment, like she’d been in a mature respectful conversation. She had felt like an equal.

I’ll never make that mistake again, she promised herself, and a moment later Jess’s voice came floating vaguely from the other side of the door, beckoning her to return with heavy feet.

 

Chapter Text

Seeing Kylo Ren’s father the next morning after the incident was, Rey thought, about as awkward as it could get.

Not that Han Solo had any clue Rey had so much as seen his son. But it was still a bit difficult to meet his eyes sometimes, when he’d idly mention Ben’s name in passing. Which, it turned out, he did a lot.

“So what brings you to college in the States?” Han asked, elbow deep in the engines of the Falcon, re-tightening something he’d just mistakenly loosened before Rey had helpfully pointed out his error. She had brought with her, as per their agreement, some spark plugs she’d scavenged from an odd hobby shop she often went to after class. It was the kind of place with dusty mechanical parts right next to grimy action figures and seemingly useless fad appliances from the ‘80s. “Must be a long way, from—where is it, England?”

“Yes, East London,” Rey murmured, ready with the correct socket wrench Han would inevitably need when he realized the one he was using was making slower progress than he wanted. “I got a scholarship. For music.”

Han made an impressed expression, his eyebrows raising at her. “Didn’t know that was a thing. What do you play? In your band?”

“Well, in my band I play lead guitar,” Rey said, and Han made a very approving noise. “But for the scholarship I play piano. Concert.” The tone with which she spoke of her piano practice made it quite plain she held little interest in that area of study. To her relief, Han did not press her on it.

“Hmm. Well,” Han said as he removed the ill-fitting wrench to find Rey holding the correct size, “It’s a long way a ways across the pond. Your parents must miss you.”

A bit of an icy weight dropped into Rey’s stomach. She was used to this kind of thing by now, and every time it had happened in the recent years the weight had lessened and become less icy. With Han, however, it was somewhat different and she wasn’t sure why.

“They don’t,” she said, almost without thinking. Busying herself with a frayed cable, she added quickly, “I mean—I wouldn’t know. I don’t really have parents.”

There it was: the familiar x-ray beam that seemed to shine on her, even as she looked away, whenever she had been forced to tell a well-meaning person in the middle of a conversation that she was, in fact, a motherless fatherless girl.

She glanced back at Han, knowing she couldn’t hide from interaction forever, that eventually she’d have to face another horrified and pitying expression. But to her surprise, Han merely looked at her with a grave look of understanding. There was some pity there, all the same. But there wasn’t much surprise.

“You grew up in the system?”

Rey nodded, swallowing awkwardly.

“Yeah, me too,” Han growled. “Back then it was just ‘orphanages’ though.”

Rey gaped at this. “All your life?”

Han nodded slowly. “Yeah. You?”

“I was five. I don’t really remember them,” she said, quietly.

And so, Han went into detail about what it was like, growing up essentially a street urchin, escaping through the high windows of his orphanage, falling in with the wrong crowds at tender ages. “I was a pretty decent pick-pocket; watches were my specialty,” he said with grin, and Rey couldn’t help but giggle at this.

“I would steal car stereos,” Rey supplied and Han nodded appreciatively. “I have a knack for jimmying the lock.”

“You know that’s a real skill,” Han said matter-of-factly as he pointed the end of the wrench at her.

They continued on like this for a while, reminiscing about the various trials and tribulations of not having parents or a real family—things that in all honestly felt quite dark and sad when discussed with a normal person, but with Han felt like indulging in a bit of nostalgia. Where Rey had had a bumbling social worker and a couple of awful foster parents, Han had largely depended on a mean old crone named Proxima, who’d commanded a gaggle of street urchins like himself from the comfort of her broken down car’s backseat.

She had in truth never met anyone Han’s age who had been a self-described orphan—the closest example she could think of an older person who’d grown up parentless was a homeless tramp who would hang out near her favorite kebab place back home, who’d chosen to tell her his life story one day as she scarfed down her meal under the tattered awning. She certainly had never met anyone with a similar background to her seemingly so in control of their mental faculties. And while Han was no shining example of an upstanding citizen—from what she’d gathered, the work that brought him to town was driving a box truck across state lines hauling unspecified cargo—he’d had a decent enough long life to have gotten married and have a family.

It had an unexpected effect on Rey to realize such a thing was even possible. For most of the kids she’d grown up with, it was either drugs, or the armed forces. Neither path tended to result in particularly long lifespans.

Han, it turned out, had been in the army, too. “Did a tour of ‘Nam,” he said, with another grunt as he hiked up his jeans. “Got appendicitis, and after my surgery I was honorably discharged.” He shrugged. “None too soon, either. I’m not cut out for that kinda shit. Yes sir, no sir,” Han scoffed, lazily parodying an army salute.

“Spent a few years kicking around doing odd jobs here and there. Travelled with some biker gangs,” he chuckled, gesturing at the faded back patch of his denim vest, which read Kessel Run Kings MC. “Eventually, I got some legit work making deliveries for restaurant supplies; you know, industrial kitchens and the like. That’s when I met Leia.”

Rey noticed that at his last words, he eyes lit up considerably, and she smiled wanly. “What’s she like?” she asked, feeling genuinely curious. Poe had nothing but glowing things to say about the Senator. She had a feeling Han’s perspective on her would have to be a little more enlightening.

She was not disappointed at the slow grin that spread over his face at the question, a chuckle beginning in his throat. “Oh, she’s one of a kind,” he said, with something of a far-away look in his eye. “Smart as a whip, gorgeous, doesn’t take guff from nobody—and I mean nobody; not me, not those crooks she has to work with,” he let out a low whistle. “And boy, could she roll the meanest joint back in the day.”

Rey laughed at this, unable to keep a big grin from creeping up on her face. In front of her, she realized, was a man still very much in love after decades. She found it terribly romantic.

“Yeah, I went legit for her,” Han said, leaning against the front of the Falcon, repairs entirely forgotten in his reminiscences. “For her, and for my Ben. He was born about a year after we got hitched. He’s probably the only reason her parents didn’t cut her out of their will for marrying me,” he said with a chuckle. “Ben was a pretty adorable baby.”

The way Han spoke of his Ben with such fatherly affection struck Rey as so at odds with what she knew of Kylo Ren. It was almost easier to think of them as two different people.

“So...what happened to you two?” Rey asked tentatively, for she knew US Senators probably did not make a habit of living out of dingy old motels with their sunburnt, sleeveless partners.

To her relief it seemed that Han had expected such a question, and while his smile faded, he didn’t seem too perturbed by her curiosity. “Well, you know...people get older, relationships change. Her career got more and more important, and I was always a drifter at heart. Me and her, we only lasted as long as we did together for Ben’s sake.” He met her eyes with a marked degree of sadness. “You can love someone to the moon and back but still be on separate tracks, you know?”

Rey didn’t truly know, but she thought of two lines, running parallel to each other but never truly meeting.

As if struck with an idea, Han rounded the front of the Falcon towards the passenger side door, gesturing to Rey to follow him. After tugging unsuccessfully at the glove compartment, he banged a fist above the latch, and it fell open.

“We can fix that,” Rey interjected plainly, as Han fished around through piles of important looking documents and very unimportant looking paper napkins.

When he found what he had apparently been looking for, he turned back to Rey, and said, “Here’s Leia. This was ages ago, of course.”

He had handed her a couple of vintage-looking photographs, worn and rounded at the edges, as if they’d been handled hundreds of times, but with a degree of reverence.

The photo on top was of a young woman, hardly older than Rey was now but in clothing that clearly indicated it was the late 1970’s; sitting in what was unmistakably the very same passenger seat of the Falcon at which they stood now. She was, Rey thought, extremely beautiful. A sheet of long dark hair cascaded over her arms, a thin crown of braids encircling her head. He features were fine, and her face heart-shaped—but it all paled in comparison to the lively, piercing gaze from her dark eyes. She was smiling kindly for the camera, but her eyes had a kind of blaze within them that Rey was sure Han had been drawn to. She felt drawn to them herself—like this was a woman she’d have loved to meet.

“She’s beautiful,” Rey said, looking up to Han. He tore his eyes away from the photo to nod at Rey.

“I ain’t no liar,” Han said with a lopsided smirk.

Stifling a laugh, Rey uncovered the second photograph to find the same woman, smiling broadly as if in mid-laugh at the camera, her dark hair woven in a long, thick, and shiny braid over her shoulder. And in her lap, her arms wrapped around him as if trying to get him to stay still for the photo, was a black-haired toddler with a little fist at his mouth, distractedly looking at something at the edge of the photo—Rey guessed from the curve of brown fur, a dog just out frame.

“That’s--”

“Yeah,” Han grinned more widely at Rey, his eyes as wily as ever. “That’s my big guy.”

Rey blushed slightly at this term of endearment, laughing at the thought of present-day Kylo Ren hearing himself being described in such a way. Indeed, Kylo bore almost no resemblance to the small toddler in this photo, who did in fact look very sweet and curious. “His ears look normal,” Rey said, smirking, and Han let out a raucous laugh quite reminiscent of a bark.

Still...something hot and painful slid into place around Rey’s heart; familiar but half-forgotten. The way this woman, this estranged love of Han’s life, held baby Ben in such a loving, protective way—his mop of shiny black hair skimming the side of her face, alight with joy. The pain opened up like a raw wound in her when she allowed herself to wonder if she’d ever been held that way; cherished that way.

She handed Han the photos back with a polite smile that she hoped hid her sudden stab of melancholy. He look them back and muttered, “I suppose since it’ll be yours soon, I should keep these somewhere safe—” and proceeded to carefully place them in the front pocket of his tattered denim vest, over his heart.

They spent about another half hour in relative silence, working on the engine before Rey bid him farewell, citing a need to get home and get ready for band practice that night. “Hey, rock ‘n’ roll till I die,” Han joked, waving Rey off as she smirked, slinging her bag over her shoulder.

It was an exceptionally fine and sunny day, but Rey felt nothing but the sting of loneliness as she made her way back to the bus station. She wasn’t sure why seeing that picture of Leia and Ben had brought up all these old emotions again; emotions she had believed herself to be free from for many years now.

Perhaps it was how many great things she’d heard about Leia. How much of an obviously competent and loving mother she must have been. Or perhaps it was a new feeling: the constricting jealousy that overtook her when she thought of yet another thing Kylo had seemed to have that she could have only dreamt of. Two parents, alive and well, telling near strangers about how much they loved you even when they had no reason to.

It should have made her angry. But instead, sitting at that lonely bus stop waiting for a bus she had no way of knowing when to expect, hot tears fell from her eyes, stinging with a deep, aching longing she did not know how to fill.

 

****

 

Classes had begun with as little fanfare as possible in Rey’s collegiate career. It was the beginning of her and Finn’s final year at university, and with it came the usual anxiety: the promise of a path clearly defined beginning to fade

Much of the bruising around Finn’s face had begun to fade nicely, and the swelling had all but disappeared. He was still self-conscious of how he would appear to a new set of classmates, however.

“Drop dead gorgeous, peanut,” Rey had said brightly, as she buttered toast for him in their messy galley kitchen. She had recently returned from her first class (Music History in the 20th Century, which she had thoroughly enjoyed), and was seeing Finn off for his.

Finn grumbled at the compliment, adjusting his jacket over a well fitted button up shirt. “I don’t know, what if folks think I look like some kind of freak?”

Rey rolled her eyes at this. “It’s not that bad. Besides, you could always tell anyone who asks that they should see the other guy,” she quipped, and Finn laughed at this. She had informed him of just how gnarly Kylo’s black eye had looked—though she had carefully omitted many of the details regarding what had happened when she last saw him.

“Going for a run?” Finn asked through a mouth of buttered toast as her heaped sugar into his cup of coffee.

“Trying to,” Rey answered—she had bent down to put on a pair of tattered running shoes. It was a fairly warm day for September, and she’d fished out an old Motorhead t-shirt and a pair of long basketball shorts she’d borrowed from Finn. They were enormous on her, and bright gold. Overall a pathetic look, but she hardly cared—running was not an activity she cherished enough to bother with better clothes for it.

“Good luck with that,” Finn smirked and slung his backpack over his shoulder, placing his remaining toast in his mouth to hang absurdly as he went to exit through the apartment door.

Rey scoffed and waved him off at this, hearing his chuckling as he descended the stairs.

Ten minutes later, after pulling her hair back into her three usual buns, she had made her way to the closest edge of Mirrorbright Park--she could have begun her run from the house but figured the large natural shimmering pond for which the park was named would be a much more pleasant route.

Rey wasn’t the best at keeping up her semi-regular habit of running. In truth, she had only decided to be active today since she’d spent the last few days—since last seeing Han—moping around her bedroom, laying in bed with her guitar on her stomach, half-heartedly strumming some new ideas for songs and hating every one of them. She’d only really left her room to accept some offering of pizza or grilled cheese from Finn, who knew exactly how to care for her in these rare moments of self-imposed isolation.

She’d made a decision on the first day of class to try to start afresh—and running had a tendency to clear her head; distracting her from her old pains by introducing new, superficial ones.

So far, it was working—after 5 minutes of sheer pleasant exercise, it had as usual become something of a slog. The sun had been more powerful than it had seemed earlier, now that she was exerting herself. Her breath had begun to burn in her lungs as she pushed herself forward, taking long, exhausting strides. Even the shorts she had borrowed from Finn, as billowy as they were, seemed like an altogether too heavy material to really make sense for any physical activity. Do people actually play basketball in these? she wondered with annoyance—but annoyance, at least, was an emotion she welcomed at the moment.

She had been idly wondering if she’d reached the halfway mark yet, and promising to research some decent running shorts that actually fit when she got home, when she saw him—

Only a distant figure at first, but the build instantly recognizable. Tall, with dark familiar hair, bobbing as he ran in the opposite direction she did, coming closer every second.

It wasn’t until he was about 20 or 30 feet away that Rey felt her burning breath catch in her throat.

Kylo Ren was running, alright, just like she was—except he was wearing a low-cut athletic tank top, exposing his arms, shoulders, and the very top of his incredibly muscular chest. To her horror, he was also wearing what struck Rey as extremely short running shorts, exposing long expanses of pale, muscular thigh. More than she had been prepared to see at that moment. Especially when her eyes roamed helplessly upwards to the subtle bounce at the front of his shorts.

He hadn’t noticed her at all until they were nearly about to pass each other—and the expression on his face went from one of grim athletic concentration to that of surprise to see her staring at him—and then wide-eyed shock as Rey collided with something solid and immovable.

Ow--fuck!” Rey had exclaimed as she fell backwards onto her butt, having just ran straight into one of the park’s decorative cast-iron lampposts, just barely missing striking her head by a hair’s breadth

“Shit—are you okay?” Kylo had darted forward to assess the damage, and Rey felt her face begin to burn with a heat she was sure had nothing to do with the exertion of running.

“I’m fine, I’m fine—ow—” Rey lied as she attempted to get to her feet, realizing her shoulder where she’d struck the post hurt a bit too much to allow her to scurry away from Kylo’s crouching form.

“Here—is your head okay? How the hell did you manage that?” Kylo said roughly as he clasped her uninjured arm quite gently, helping her up before she had a chance to protest.

“It—shut up! It was an accident!” Rey retorted in anger, yanking her arm out of his hand when she got to her feet. She chanced a real glance at him from under irritated furrowed brows.

He was sweaty, his own eyebrows furrowed in consternation, panting from lingering exertion, his wavy hair wind-swept, one side tucked behind a large ear. Rey swallowed, trying with some difficulty to not allow her eyes to linger on his chest, which was falling and rising rapidly under the thin fabric of the tank top.

“Does it hurt?” he asked, glancing at shoulder she was gingerly clasping with her other hand.

“No!” she said far too quickly, and it was clear Kylo didn’t believe her for a second.

“Wait here,” he said flatly, and vaulted over the row of park bench behind her. When Rey turned to see where he was running off to with such purpose, she spotted a small food and drink cart nearby, situated on a smaller perpendicular path. She tried to not watch too intently as Kylo’s retreating figure came to a stop in front of it, the muscles in his back rippling slightly as he ran his fingers through his hair, saying something to the vendor.

Within seconds he had returned with a plastic drink cup full of ice, and all but steered Rey towards the bench she’d been standing near, insisting she press the ice against her shoulder.

“What--” she had begun to protest but it felt good, in no small part to cool her skin, overheated by the sun.

“You don’t want to fuck up your rotator cuff; not when you you’re trying to play more shows,” he murmured, almost admonishingly.

Rey didn’t care how broad his chiseled shoulders, glistening with sweat—she found his tone entirely too condescending.

“I’m fine,” she spat aggressively, and Kylo’s head jerked back ever so slightly as if physically stung. “I was just distracted, is all,” she admitted. “I didn’t expect to see you here on my jogging route.” She tried to muster as much venom in her words as she could, but to her surprise, Kylo didn’t retort in kind.

His face remained impassive, with the exception of a very slight quirk to the corner of his lips.

Frustrated with this reaction, Rey sighed, feeling her face redden slightly, trying to look away, pressing the ice to her shoulder.

“We have to stop running into each other like this,” Kylo said, and she looked up. “And into...inanimate objects,” he added, with the same maddening quirk on his lips. It took Rey a second to realize he had just made a joke, and perhaps that was his version of a smile.

She let out an annoyed noise through her nose, and Kylo stood up in front of her as she sat, the length of his body unfolding before her traitorous gaze. “Sorry I distracted you,” Kylo said as she glared at his face, determined to not look below it.

With another quirk on his lips he said, “Nice shorts,” and turned away to resume his run as if he hadn’t been interrupted at all.

Rey’s mouth hung open in indignation, glancing down at her ridiculous outfit that she had nearly forgotten about entirely—shorts down to her knees, baggy metal t-shirt with sleeves rolled and bunched up over her shoulders. She probably looked more like a 14 year old boy than usual, and Kylo didn’t miss an opportunity to goad her for it, and her general stupidity at running into a solid iron post.

She tried to hate him afresh, but she only felt sheepishness mingled in with her annoyance at his words, and was all too aware of the ice he had fetched for her currently soothing what would surely become a tender bruise. Almost as if he cared about her ability to play guitar.

The guilt she felt was perhaps for treating him so roughly when he’d only tried to help her after an embarrassing accident. But another reason rose from the corner of her mind, refusing to be ignored, no matter how hard she tried: the very fact that, even though she’d spent the better part of the past week telling herself Kylo Ren was just a typical man with a wandering pervy eye, it was she who had run straight into a pole as a result of ogling him.

She hung her head, scolding herself for her hypocrisy. More than that, too, was her very foolish reaction in the first place—why had his physique surprised her so much? She knew Kylo was a man with a broad, tall, imposing frame. Had she really just assumed that beneath the black clothing, comprising his mass was just a big featureless wall? She scoffed at the absurd idea. Whatever her brain might have previously supplied, it was nothing compared to the knowledge that beneath the clothes were sinew, angular muscle, and glistening skin, scattered with small dark moles like the ones on his face.

Rey knew she was incapable of forgiving Kylo for seeing down her shirt that night. But, at the very least, she knew she couldn’t in good conscience vilify him for it since she begrudgingly understood—she hadn’t after all, intentionally stared at his body. It had just wandered past, taking her quite by surprise. She could admit that something similar might have happened to him that night at Takodana.

Still, Rey thought with a petulant scowl, he made fun of my shorts.

 

****

 

That night at STARKILLER’s practice space, Kylo remarked to himself how uneventful and smoothly their practice had gone, considering. Hux had only bungled his bass line twice, and Kylo had only flicked one splintered drumstick towards him, barely yelling at all.

This was as close as he could get, really, to having a spring in his step.

He sat in the practice space alone now, having dismissed Hux and Phasma after their regular session, citing a need to practice some new material on his own. After 20 minutes of solitude with Phasma’s Stratocaster, an idea had formed in his head, and he set the guitar aside, fishing in his pocket for his phone and exiting the room to search for decent reception he knew he wouldn’t get in the sound-proofed room.

Lingering in a lonely landing in the warehouse, looking out a grimy multi-paneled window to the shimmering lights of downtown, he dialed a familiar number.

“Yeah, calling Snoke. Tell him it’s from Kylo Ren,” he muttered to the personal assistant answering the line at First Order Records.

“That’s fine, I can leave a message. Tell him I have a recommendation for a band I want to open for STARKILLER locally. Yeah, all the shows for the fall.” 

Chapter Text

“You know I care about you,” Poe said plaintively, one hand over his chest and the other pointing at each of his band mates in turn.

“Oh boy, here it comes,” Rose murmured out of the corner of her mouth to Rey, sitting next to her on the trunk of Poe’s small sedan. Poe had picked them up from campus after he got out of work, and promptly announced he was treating them all to ice cream at the local shop, eliciting a few suspicious glances from the lot of them.

While they often held regular band meetings over ice cream in the parking lot, whenever it was Poe’s treat, it usually meant he had some objectionable news to deliver. Last time, it had been to tell Rey she had to pick up more singing parts. That was a doozy, Rey thought as she licked her chocolate and vanilla swirled cone.

“Now, now,” Poe held out his hands in surrender. He was still wearing his customary button up short sleeved shirt and work necktie, which Rey thought made him look hilariously square. “What if I deliver the good news first? Because it rules!” He couldn’t help but keep the excited tone out of his voice.

“Please, deliver me from this misery,” Finn muttered, making short work of his vanilla cone with copious rainbow sprinkles.

“We got asked to play a show next week,” Poe paused dramatically, “at Bespin House.”

Rey gasped, and Finn exclaimed, “Hell yeah!” while Rose squealed with glee.

“That’s a serious step up! Holy hell, are we even ready? We don’t have any good recordings yet—"

“Oh my god—we have to have merch to sell. We could make buttons!” Rose exclaimed, grabbing Poe’s arm with urgency.

Bespin House was a much larger venue than they’d expected to play any time soon. It was maybe twice as large as Niima Outpost and had two bars, and a real kitchen. Rey had heard from Snap Wexley that bands that played there usually got a cut of the bar proceeds, and it was the kind of place that always charged a decent admission price, sometimes selling out online ahead of time depending on who the main act was—

“Hold on,” Rey cut through the excitable chatter of her bandmates. “What’s the bad news?

Everyone fell silent and Poe took a deep breath as if bracing himself. Somehow Rey knew what the answer was before he’d even said it. “STARKILLER.”

Rose groaned, lowering her ice cream sundae in dismay, as Rey and Finn voiced the objections. As if trying to desperately salvage the situation, Poe added hastily, “We’d be the first of three, so it’s not just us alone with them again—and they’re promising a damn good minimum; the place can hold 350 people—"

“But that dingus totally wrecked Finn’s face!” Rose complained, waving her hand in defeat.

“I know, I know,” Poe said, apologetically, “and, listen, buddy, if you don’t want to do this just say the word—but you all should know that First Order Records called me specifically to ask us.”

Rey fidgeted. “Really? Not their booker?”

Poe turned his dark eyes on her and nodded meaningfully. “They could be scoping us out. For a record deal,” he added, turning his gaze back to Finn.

Suddenly on the spot, Finn twisted around to look at all of them from his perch in the open back seat. “What—well—I don’t want to do anything to...hurt the band…” he said, the last stub of his ice cream cone in his hand.

“I know, buddy, which is why I think we should say yes—"

“Hey!” Rose said sharply. “Quit pressuring him! You can’t make him open for his attacker—"

“I’m not pressuring him; it’s clear that he want what’s best for the band—"

“Such a typical Poe move,” Rey retorted, rolling her eyes. Poe’s flashed in her direction and he had begun to ask, “What’s that supposed to mean--” when Rey slid off the back of the car.

Hey!” she interjected. “Stop. Finn, do you want to open for STARKILLER at Bespin House?”

Finn looked up sheepishly at her, considering the question. After a few seconds that were clearly silent agony to Poe, he said, “Well, yeah, of course I do.” Ignoring Poe’s fist pump in the air, he added, with a glance at Rose, “I’m no coward.”

She smiled softly at Finn, appreciating that, despite his fear, his loyalty to his friends always won out. “It shouldn’t be hard to stay out of each other’s way the night of,” Rey said decisively, crossing her bare arms. It was another beautiful sunny day and she was wearing a sleeveless gray muscle shirt. “Kylo knows who he’s dealing with,” she said with a dark tone.

This gesture somewhat broke the tension between Rose and Poe, who giggled at Rey’s tough stance.

“I’m so glad we have Rey as our bodyguard,” Poe laughed, reaching for his milkshake he’d left on the roof of the car.

“Girl, you kicked his ass,” Rose said, with amused admiration.

 

*****

 

When they’d all arrived at Bespin House, Rey felt an odd fluttering sensation in her stomach and she wondered whether it had more to do with the information that this show had nearly sold out—or the fact she may come face-to-face with Kylo Ren again. Feeling like she ought to put her money where her mouth was, Rey had slipped an old pair of knuckle dusters a very irresponsible foster guardian had given her once in her bag, hoping she wouldn’t need them.

She knew she wouldn’t, but all the same—she’d been inspired by Finn’s unwavering sense of loyalty to the point of desperately wanting to be worthy of it.

Finn and Poe made quick work of hauling all their heaviest gear to the back room (“It actually has a sofa and a case of beer!” Rose had reported with excitement), taking care to avoid STARKILLER’s equipment—they had clearly gotten there early.

The week leading up to the show had gone by in a flash--so much that Rey had had to postpone a scheduled repair session with Han, and swap a bar backing shift on her schedule with Oddy Muva. Long afternoons were spent either practicing through their set, or getting roped into Rose’s ambitious crafting schemes for their merch. In the end, they had decided to go with something simple—stickers and pins—and Rey had spent a fun afternoon with her swigging beers and taking turns with Rose’s button maker, which was surprisingly fun to stamp down.

After getting their gear set up with time to spare, Rey took it upon herself to find the merch table carrying a small bag with pins and stickers, cutting a path through the loose crowd of patrons already starting to mill around near the stage; absorbed in their own conversations.

Near one edge of the room, she found a pale faced young man wearing a bland expression standing behind a fold up table. From the looks of it, STARKILLER was successful enough to have their own lackey to man their merch sales. Repressing a scoff, she moved to the emptier side of the table and cleared her throat.

“Do you mind if I--?” she began.

“Go ahead,” the boy said, looking at once both nervous and haughty.

“I’m in the opening band,” Rey supplied as she tried to artfully arrange a selection of buttons and stickers on the table. “Lead guitar.”

“Mitaka,” the boy said flatly, clearly not keen on speaking with her.

This suited Rey just fine, a she found Mitaka about as compelling as a bowl of dried-up oatmeal. “May I?” she gestured to the broad selection of items in front of him, and he shrugged.

Really, STARKILLER’s merch situation truly put theirs to shame—granted, that wasn’t hard to do. Even Snap Wexley’s band, who was playing in between, had a neat little stack of CDs for sale. STARKILLER’s wares had all the hallmarks of a Serious Band: a black t-shirt with a heavy-metal-looking logo in white (she wondered vaguely who had drawn it, as it looked quite good), screen-printed fabric patches, a 7” record, stacks of CDs, and a glossy looking double-LP version of their latest album.

Rey reached out to the display copy of the vinyl album and examined the abstract work of art on the cover, inscrutable and in surprisingly neon colors, with their band’s name nowhere to be found except on the narrow spine of the packaging. Opening up the gatefold, she was greeted by a wide image of a hauntingly stark forest, in monochromatic tones--if it took her a few seconds to realize she could see the ghostly pale faces of Hux and Phasma standing distantly among the trees. Kylo was less easy to find--he was wearing his mask, squatting on the trunk of a fallen tree in the background, like some sort of gargoyle.

“The second disc has a 15 minute art-noise outro,” Mitaka said with a pompous tone.

“I don’t own a record player,” Rey said, raising a disparaging eyebrow at him. “I’ll take the CD.” She had heard a few of STARKILLER’s songs on the college radio station, and online, but she hadn’t heard the whole album, and she was admittedly curious.

Mitaka almost seemed annoyed and said “Ten dollars.” Rey handed it over and surreptitiously snuck the CD in her bag—feeling like this transaction was something she’d rather keep to herself. And surely enough, no sooner had she hidden her contraband when Rose spotted her from a few feet away, waving her over for soundcheck.

 

****

 

Kylo had made himself scarce from the back room area set aside for the bands, deftly avoiding Snap Wexley’s mundane attempts at schmoozing, and proceeding to park himself at the bar.

To his annoyance, Hux and Phasma had joined him for a drink. Thankfully, the latter had cleared off after just the first drink, but Hux had hung around and insisted on another round, ignorant to Kylo’s low growl of irritation.

It was easy to forget what a lightweight Hux was compared to himself—Kylo watched as the red-headed cur became visibly intoxicated, his normally pale cheeks flushing behind his freckles as he prattled on about their set list.

“...see, I think My Shadow should come after Fading All Away...don’t you--don’t you think?”

“No,” Kylo said through gritted teeth, suddenly wishing Phasma was there simply to take Hux away from him.

“Y-you know,” Hux managed through a hiccup, tapping Kylo’s shoulder with his knuckles with a familiarity that afforded him a glare from the dark-haired man. “I can’t believe we have that—those human dregs of a band opening us. As if that disgusting Snap Wexley wasn’t bad enough. We have to be associated with those flunkies and crack orphans; what were Snoke’s people thinking?

Kylo had briefly forgotten how vile and pointlessly insulting Hux could be when plied with even a little alcohol.

“But....I have to say,” Hux persisted, with a sly lilt to his tone, bending closer to Kylo’s hunched form to almost whisper conspiratorially, “that little Brixton slut is quite something, isn’t she? She may be absolute trash but I wouldn’t say no to sticking m’ knob in—"

With a swift movement Kylo’s hand had closed firmly around Hux’s throat, causing him to sputter—hardly anyone at the crowded bar seemed to notice.

Go—away—NOW,” Kylo hissed into his face through his bared teeth, released him with a rough shove; his inebriated bandmate stumbling away, message foggily understood.

Kylo returned to his drink, breathing heavily through his nose and ignoring the few tentative glances the interaction had garnered him. Hux was, he’d observed in the past, a notorious womanizer—or perhaps an average 26 year old male in a rock band, depending on who you asked. Though as disgusting as he always found Hux’s views and attitude towards women (often expressed when Phasma was nowhere in close proximity), none of it surprised or shocked him—with the sole exception that it seemed to be directed towards Rey. The fact Hux had considered Rey with more than just passing contempt disturbed Kylo for a number of reasons.

For one, it suddenly presented a minefield of obstacles in his path to, well, getting to know Rey a little better; clouding his laser-focused intent on convincing her he wasn’t someone to be entirely avoided. Kylo had until tonight considered Poe Dameron and that Finn character to be the only men standing in his way, poisoning Rey against him with their lies, and possibly other things (anger flared inside him at the thought that maybe she was more than just friends with either of them). He hadn’t considered there could be many other men just as interested in talking to Rey as he was, perhaps some he’d never even met.

He groaned inwardly. Above all, it forced him to remember that, for all his clout in the indie rock scene and among his band’s many fans—compared to Hux, he was woefully inexperienced when it came to women.

Ironically, as inadequate as it currently made him feel, this was the primary reason Kylo felt Hux to be a particularly useful tool as part of STARKILLER. He was a mediocre bass player at best, but he was especially adept at swooping in when Kylo was under the attentions of a desperate groupie—and there had been a handful, on the road and off. It was a good arrangement: depending on his mood, Kylo would either flat out ignore the overly made-up would-be seductress, or engage in bland conversation long enough to summon Hux over, where he’d promptly take over, fashioning himself as some sort of Robert Plant-esque sex god. Either way, women he had no interest in generally settled for Hux, and Kylo was always left in peace—until the next morning of course, when he’d be subjected to a boastful account of Hux’s conquest.

As the familiar tones of Rebel’s sound check floated in from the next room, Kylo decided that, at the very least, he could make it very clear to his bassist that Rey was under no circumstances to another one of his marks.

 

****

 

Rey had wondered when, if at all, she’d see him.

As if sensing the most uncomfortable moment to make himself seen, he appeared, among the crowd, as her brain attempted to keep focused on her performance.

The room was large and the crowd still loose early in the show, so she was surprised that he had appeared so suddenly, midway through their second song. He didn’t move, just stared. Arms crossed, hood up, just staring at her face, and her hands moving on her guitar, with the same intensity he always seemed to give her. Just her.

Something soared within Rey, but also frayed slightly at the edges—she tripped over one note, but quickly recovered, turning away slightly from the front of the stage under the pretense of facing Rose and Finn.

If Kylo had been the kind of person to ever smile, he might have done so now. His appearance had distracted her. Again. And in her haste to turn away from him, she’d merely given him another angle from which he could admire her form.

A strange kind of hunger bloomed within him, and for the first time since seeing her flustered face and darting eyes that day in the park, he allowed himself to embrace it.

 

****

 

In the late hours of the night—or were they the early hours of the morning?—the four Scums had sunk into various comfortable spots in Poe’s living room, having convened there for celebratory beers after loading out from a very successful show.

“Eight hundred big ones!” Poe drunkenly exclaimed, waving about an official looking envelope from Bespin House’s manager. It had taken some lingering for Poe to get his attention after STARKILLER finished their set, but it had been worth it.

Rey giggled into her beer as Finn made a joking hand gesture meant to mock the affectation of a rich person.

“And we didn’t even have to talk to those creeps!” Rose said, clinking her bottle to Finn’s with aplomb.

Rey had admittedly really enjoyed watching STARKILLER’s explosive set—albeit from a relative distance towards the back of the room, where she had remained in solidarity with her band mates. It was probably for the best, she thought—the look Kylo had given her was far from threatening, but it had made her deeply uncomfortable. And she could’ve sworn his eyes had sought and locked on her from across the room—even if she could barely make out the details of his masked visage.

“Omigod we should make grilled cheese,” Poe said loudly, suddenly slapping the arm of the cushions of the couch he was half-draped over. “Yesssssss,” Rose and Finn said in hearty agreement as Rey finished the last of her beer, deciding she’d had enough for the night.

“Guys,” Rey had to raise her voice slightly to be heard over the rapturous discussion over what cheese Poe had in his fridge. “I’m gonna head home, see you Monday!” She waved both hands at them as she moved away, stepping over some abandoned beer bottles on the floor.

“Noooooooo,” Finn called out dramatically, not moving from his spot on the ground as Rose echoed his sentiments. “We’re making grilled cheese!! Stay!”

Rey couldn’t help but laugh as Poe was already on his feet, shuffling towards the kitchen, “I have extra sharp cheddar,” he called to Rey in a sing-song voice.

“No, really it’s okay; you guys enjoy a warm one for me,” she said, picking up her bag and dialing a number for a cab company.

“Fine, be that way,” Rose scoffed with mock-petulance.

“I’ll—I’ll probably just crash here,” Finn said sleepily. “Be safe, peanut!”

“Later, peanut!” Rose called after her, tittering as she gently shoved Finn backwards, Rey exiting the front door of the house.

Her reasons for leaving only had a little to do with the fact it was 3:30 am and Rey was too exhausted and sore from her performance to sleep on a crammed loveseat. For one, she was often gripped with the desire to be alone, even when in the company of those she loved most dearly. And for another, she was eager to listen to the CD she’d secretly purchased.

She felt some guilt at this—after all, it wouldn’t have been a big deal to tell her bandmates that she had decided to do adequate research on their peers/competition. Except she felt it was a big deal—there was nothing but severe frostiness in the way Poe and Hux had passed each other at the end of the night as the redhead carried a guitar case to Phasma’s waiting car across the street. The woman had watched them, and even though Kylo was nowhere to be seen, it was clear there was nothing amicable between the two bands presently.

So once she arrived home, Rey had made quite sure the door was closed and the plastic wrapping on the CD stuffed deep inside her wastebasket in her own room before playing it on her stereo. She placed the headphones connected to the stereo over her ears and lay back in bed.

Damn, Rey found herself thinking after only minutes into the album. They’re good. He’s good, she thought, with a pang of envy. She was finally able to appreciate what their record label, their many sweaty college boy fans—even that little dork Mitaka—seemed to have found so special about STARKILLER, this pseudo art-punk noise band from what was surely not even in the top 20 of interesting college towns. That beyond their skill—which was prodigious—there was a well-defined thread of unbridled raw pain and rage in their perfectly curated songs.

She was a little worried at the realization that she related to it so well—as if the songs were like mirrors she couldn’t stop looking into.

After the album was done—this version was 48 minutes long—she started it over again.

And again.

Eventually, she drifted off to sleep with it still blaring in her ears, the headphones askew over her face.

Chapter Text

It was Tuesday, and on Tuesdays Kylo usually ran around the Mirrorbright Pond about three times. He ran there three times a week without fail, rain or snow, or blistering heat. Luckily, today lacked all of these conditions—it was perfectly chilly, the crisp autumn air cooling his sun warmed skin as he ran.

Kylo hated a lot of things, but he didn’t hate this.

It sure beat his workout on the days he wasn’t running—boxing and weightlifting, in the smelliest gym imaginable downtown. It wasn’t the smells or the boxing that bothered him, however—it was the fact that Hux had taken to joining him for the past six months, and Kylo had tolerated it because he occasionally needed a spotter. It still made for irritating conversation.

Yesterday, for instance, Hux had spent the majority of his workout complaining loudly about how they’d had to share their cut of the Bespin House show with Rebel Scum; how he didn’t know what Snoke was thinking. Kylo made sure to hit the bag Hux was holding for him extra hard.

Today, however, he was free. Free from Hux’s ceaseless interrogations and Phasma’s dour looks. The weather was finally getting cooler, and today he was even able to run in a long sleeved shirt and track pants (black, and black, of course).

He had just been contemplating the tempo change of a song he’d been thinking of debuting at practice soon when he noticed some unusual movement on is periphery. Thinking it was probably some irritating stranger trying to pass him on his 7 minute pace, he pursed his lips in between exhales and didn’t look around, expecting them to fall back eventually. They usually did.

But...whoever it was, persisted.

They even actually inched past him enough for him to see it was—

Rey,” Kylo exhaled, seeing the girl panting to keep up with his pace.

She said nothing, but just glanced at him with mischievous smile as her limbs worked hard to pull ever so slightly ahead of him.

Not a chance, Kylo thought with a twinge of excitement, a growl rasping low from his throat as he gained speed.

Rey seemed to have found running clothes that did not consist of baggy basketball shorts, Kylo noticed with a lump in his throat. She wore a cropped sweatshirt that looked like she’d cut it in half herself--and sleek black leggings he almost wanted to stare at instead of running faster.

Scared?” Rey asked breathily, barely able to form the words over the exertion.

“I could—do this—all day!” Kylo said through gritted teeth, breathing heavily through his nose, glancing over at her.

Wellhouse,” she managed, flailing an arm briefly as she ran, her bladed hands a blur. Kylo found her meaning to be clear—they were racing to the small Victorian structure that once had served as the park’s wellhouse, visible off to the distance on the track.

Deal,” Kylo hissed. He’d run this track a thousand times before; he knew exactly how taxing the distance would be at this pace. They were scarcely a hundred yards from their finish line and he began to notice Rey’s breath become a little more ragged. He himself was developing a stitch in his shoulder, but he powered through, goaded by the last fierce look on her face she gave him as they closed in.

It was extremely close when they cleared the edge of the wellhouse, but it was unmistakably Kylo’s victory. He made it abundantly clear by running backwards and letting out a great big “HA!” at Rey, who made a frustrated noise in response.

“No—fair,” she said, as she finally halted, bent double with hands on her knees. “Your legs—are so much longer—than mine—”

For all his gloating, Kylo’s lungs were spent, and he shakily made his way to where Rey was bent double, looking up at him with annoyance on her face. Annoyance, and something else glinting in her eye.

He waved his hand in dismissal weakly. “Bullshit. More weight—to carry—” he argued, still trying to catch his breath.

Rey proceeded to plop down on the ground among a bunch of dried leaves just off the track, kicking her legs out in front of her.

Hesitating for a second, Kylo joined her, albeit it a few feet away.

“I really need to get back into this,” Rey managed to say after a few steadying breaths. Her face was flushed from the exertion, her cheeks pink and her lips parted. Only a few delicate strands of honey brown hair escaped the buns she kept pulled back. Kylo was caught off-guard mid-stare when she turned her head to him and asked incredulously, “Do you do this every day?”

Kylo folded his lips and shook his head, pushing a sweaty strand of hair away from over his face. “Every other day,” he said with a shrug.

“What!” Rey exclaimed as if she were exhausted just hearing about it. “God, you would,” she retorted with an attempt at contempt—but it didn’t really come off that way.

Kylo worked his jaw again and said, “It’s important,” somewhat sharply. “If you want to keep your stamina up to play longer sets, every day, for weeks.” There was something unnecessarily edifying about his tone, but he allowed it. This was only part of his reason for keeping the rigid exercise regimen that he did. It really had more to do with his sanity than his fitness for touring.

“Ugh, I know; I can barely keep up and we usually play for 25 minutes,” she muttered, mostly to herself as she hugged her knees. She thought of the Falcon, and her dream of being able to tour around the country in it with her best friends.

After a moment of silence, Kylo gave her a sidelong glance and said, “You know. I could run with you.” When Rey’s head snapped towards him with a bemused expression, he added, “For accountability. You’d never hear the end of it if you missed a run.”

Rey raised an eyebrow at him and scoffed, “Why on earth would you want to do that?”

Kylo swallowed and Rey noticed his adam’s apple bob up and down as he said shortly, “It gets boring.”

With another one of those odd quirks to his lips he added, “Obliterating you in a race once in a while might be fun.”

Not a good sell!” Rey said harshly, though she grinned in amusement as she did. Still, he made a practical offer. Anytime Rey had managed to drag Finn out for a run with her, they usually ended up running for all of ten minutes before inevitably winding up on a park bench eating bagels or pizza, gossiping for another 45 minutes. When she’d run with Poe, he was almost always recognized by a different handsome and friendly guy who he’d met at a party, and they’d end up in flirtatious conversation while Rey hovered awkwardly in the background, kicking at clumps of grass. And Rose, well, Rose had laughed when Rey had invited her on a jog once, saying “Ohh, you’re cute, but not on your life.”

She wanted to get more serious about this, and Kylo seemed to be the only person she knew with a downright excess of seriousness.

Kylo gave an attempt at an indifferent shrug. “Suit yourself. But I’ll be here at nine in the morning, every other day. Right by the north entrance.”

“Nine,” Rey repeated, scandalized. “I’ve barely rolled out of a bed around that time,” she said, with that crinkle to her nose that Kylo found shamefully irresistible. “But....”

His head snapped up to look at her, entirely too much hope showing on his face.

“...I might take you up on that. If that’s alright,” she finished, with a half-squint towards him and the sun shining in her face.

Kylo tried desperately to hide his giddiness as he got to his feet. “Fine by me,” he muttered. He really did not want to have to tear his eyes away from her at this moment—sitting there, pink-cheeked and lovely in her skin tight black leggings—but he was committed to his act of nonchalance. Before taking off around the running track again, he added, “Be ready to get your ass kicked in another race.”

Rey flung a twig at him rather uselessly.

 

****

 

Kylo had arrived at the lake’s north entrance precisely at 8:50am, early out of sheer nerves. He had spent the last day and a half trying to convince himself that Rey was surely just making casual and friendly conversation—as most people did.

But Kylo didn’t make small talk. There was nothing casual about him. He told no lies and generally expected the same level of ingenuous conversation from others—regardless of pleasantries.

His stomach sank at the initial thought he’d had almost as soon as he’d come home and showered the day before last—that Rey, radiant and utterly captivating as he found her, was merely tolerating his presence out of some societal pressure to be pleasing overall. Next to her hating his guts for punching her handsome boyfriend, this was probably the second worst scenario he could have imagined.

So Kylo waited at the mouth of the lake’s running trail, jiggling his foot impatiently, deciding that if she didn’t arrive by 9:02, he’d take off running and try his best to forget all about her. Okay, maybe 9:03.

Of course she wouldn’t come. She wouldn’t choose to spend her time with him—no one would. No one ever picked him.

Kylo was about to give up hope when, after staring at the shimmering lake hopelessly, he glanced over his shoulder and saw her, distantly tramping through the strewn leaves and giving a lazy wave over her head.

“I can’t believe I’m running twice in one week,” she yawned, as soon as he was within earshot. Her hair was pulled back again in her three signature buns, and she wore a baggy white t-shirt with the word “DEATH” on it over four black dots, and skin-tight maroon leggings

Trying not to allow his eyes to linger on the curves of her legs too long, he glowered and said “You’re late.” Rey yawned widely again and he muttered, “Nice shirt. I fucking love Death.” He gestured stiffly at her shirt, referring to the 70’s proto-punk band from Detroit.

Something in Rey brightened as she recovered from her huge yawn. “Finn told me about them! They’re really amazing, aren’t they?”

Bristling slightly at the mention of Finn, he nodded stiffly. “Shall we?”

Perhaps she’d be getting more than she’d bargained for running with Kylo, Rey thought. For one, he insisted in doing a series of calisthenic warm-ups and active stretches before they even began, through which Rey flailed inexpertly. He was intensely serious about this, Rey thought, until she spied an amused quirk on the corner of his mouth as she tripped over her own feet in a sideways shuffle. Eventually, though, they took off around the lake together.

It wasn’t bad at all. Especially not towards the end, when—both panting for breath—Kylo dropped down immediately to the ground and did what seemed like a hundred pushups while Rey watched with a mixture of annoyance and interest.

Show off, she scoffed internally as she languidly stretched, watching the muscles under his shirt work furiously.

 

****

 

Rey had to admit, she had begun to depend on the Solo men for a great deal of her more centering activities. Amidst all the stress of her new classes and part time job bar backing, and Poe’s renewed insistence they practice seriously twice a week, the time she spent sitting in the sun with Han Solo discussing the Falcon’s break system between mouthfuls of tacos had become something she looked forward to immensely. In fact, she wasn’t entirely sure which she found more relaxing: tinkering on the Falcon’s engine with Han, or running around the lake with Kylo.

Maybe the former, she thought, taking another huge bite of her delectably savory steak taco. Running had brought her a lot of inner peace the last few times she’d done it, and Kylo had been surprisingly tolerant of her presence—at the most only chiding her to run faster. Still, with Kylo there was a lot more sweating and a lot less shoving her mouth full of Mexican food, so Han and the Falcon ultimately won at the imaginary contest in her head.

“I still think that piece is shot,” Han said mid-chew, reaching for a napkin with which to wipe his mouth. He had acquired a cheap lounge chair from the side of the motel’s kidney-shaped pool for Rey to sit on while they ate their lunch.

The young woman shook her head, buns bobbing. “No, you’re wrong—I can fix it; you can’t be too hasty to throw away a perfectly good piece—"

To Rey anything could be made new again with a little work, and she begun on this train of thought when suddenly they were interrupted by a harsh voice speaking in a language Rey didn’t recognize.

“Yeah, yeah—come off it, Leech—” Han had heaved up to his feet to argue with the motel’s manager, a shady-looking character with a mean stare Rey tended to avoid. “I paid you last week and you know it—hey, don’t call it that—there’s nothing illegal about—”

The argument continued like this for a while, in two languages both men apparently understood, sounding absurdly one-sided to a bystander like Rey. Eventually, the man called Leech threw his hands up in exasperation and retreated to his office, shouting something Rey was sure was a curse of some sort.

“Agghhh,” Han grumbled waving dismissively in his direction. “That asshole—boy, I tell you, Rey; when people think they have you over a barrel they’ll try all sorts of shady tricks…” he mumbled, trailing off as he picked up his tools and made his way to the engine of the Falcon.

They worked on the engine for a while, Rey making good on her promise to fix rather than replace, all while Han complained about the various forms of annoying complaints he’d received the motel manager and his cronies. After a while he suggested she take a look at the cargo area and see what kind of shape the ancient shag carpeting.

Leaving Han to the engine, Rey went around the backside of the van and opened up the doors. Noticing them sticking slightly, she applied some lubricant to the latch. Satisfied with her improvement, she stooped to enter the back cargo area, inspecting the mildewy carpeting on the floor of the van. It was olive green, and while Rey could imagine it had once been attractive and comfortable, it was definitely not something she desired to keep. Besides, she had already had in mind her own kind of carpet to put down—something clean, new, and not tacked down haphazardly with rusted-out upholstery staples. She extracted her multi-tool and attempted to pry one of the staples out. It was possible, but it would be slow work.

She tried to imagine what had kind of 1970’s trend had possessed Han to install shag carpeting in his van in such a way as she painstakingly pried the staples out, ripping at the carpet as she went. Eventually, she reached pretty deeply into the cargo area, when she stopped and sat back on her heels, wiping the sweat from her forehead and casting her eyes around the interior.

The Falcon definitely had something of a lived-in quality, she had noticed—with a pang she’d realized pretty early on that Han must have lived in the van for quite some time. It had the feel of a recently vacated apartment, and Rey suspected any of Han’s remaining belongings probably had been emptied out to the shabby motel room he’d been living in for the past month. There was even a left-over photograph, tacked up on the inside of the van near where she guessed would have been the best spot for a man of Han’s height to sleep.

Shuffling forward on her knees for a closer look, Rey felt a lurch of excitement when she examined the subjects of the photograph.

A young boy—clearly Ben—probably around 8 or 9 years old, clutching a small object in his hands close to his heart, with the biggest goofiest grin on his face. Behind him crouched a shirtless young man with tawny hair and tanned skin, his arms wrapped around the boy as if demonstrating something to him in his own hands. Rey realized this must be Han in his youth—he was startlingly handsome. His prominent brow was furrowed in the way it usually was when he was explaining something, but his hair was full of body and rich color; a far cry from its current salt and pepper.

They seemed to be in a lush, beautiful, green place, judging from the plants around them. Peering closer, Rey suspected the item in young Ben’s hands must be a squirming frog. Ben looked overjoyed with his catch—his uncharacteristic grin pulling his eyes to a squint, showing off a number of charmingly crooked teeth, including the gap of one recently missing. His mop of black hair most closely resembled an overgrown mushroom cut that did not succeed in hiding his already enormous ears, she noticed with a snigger. He was a gangly kid, and distinctly nerdy—the kind of kid that a primary-school Rey would not have hesitated pushing face-first into the mud for talking back to her. He wore a baggy t-shirt with the image of a cartoon cat on it, a black calculator watch, and track shorts that struck Rey as painfully uncool by the time this photo must have been taken.

Despite herself, Rey found the whole image desperately charming, and she couldn’t help but smile broadly at this perfect snapshot of boyhood sweetness.

Darting her eyes to make sure Han wasn’t nearby, she took her phone out of her back pocket and snapped a quick picture of it. She was sure he’d forgotten about this memento—it had clearly been tacked up in a place of prominence where Han would be sure to see it every morning when waking up.

Her eyes fell suddenly on the box shoved behind the driver’s seat, labeled “Ben’s Stuff.” Feeling increasingly curious, she nudged the lid off the box and peered inside. In the dark and dusty space below, she saw a glimpse of faded black-and-white composition notebooks, some loose papers, and what she guessed were mix tapes and CDs, judging from the writing scrawled on them in sharpie.

Rey felt the familiar quickening pace of her heart that befell her whenever she found a particularly exciting bit of treasure discarded on a curb. The items had all the telltale signs of juvenile mementos; a time capsule to an adolescent portrait of oneself that was all too easy to lose over time—Rey knew it all too well. She had certainly had long-forgotten diaries, notes, and mix CDs that had all been lost over her nomadic teen years in different homes. This was, in Rey’s eyes, nothing less than treasure for the person to whom it belonged, and she internally scolded Kylo Ren for thinking so little of it.

Rey looked back at the picture of the boy again, marveling at his artless grin, trying to reconcile it with the serious glare of the Kylo Ren she knew—when she heard the side door slide open behind her with a thunk.

“What’s that you got over there?” Han asked, squinting in the relative darkness of the cargo space.

Rey tried to not look as if she’d been caught intruding on a private family memory, and with a nervous exhale she unstuck the photograph and handed it to the older man. “I think you forgot this here.”

Han took the photograph, examined it at arm’s length—he must need reading glasses, Rey noted—and his face split into a lopsided grin as he chuckled at it. “Right, I forgot—this one’s not for polite company,” he joked, flicking the image of his younger self, and Rey allowed herself to laugh along with him.

“Ah, and there’s Ben, always with some frog, of course,” he growled amicably as Rey sniggered. “Boy...he sure was sweet at that age.”

There was something distant and sad about his tone, and Rey asked, “How old is he there? I mean Ben, not the frog.”

This got a little chuckle from Han as he flipped the picture over to check for a date, and shrugged. “Not sure, maybe...nine, ten years old? Old enough to hold a conversation and have a favorite book, but not old enough to hate his old man’s guts.”

Rey smiled apologetically, not knowing what to say.

“I miss that time,” Han continued, his gaze becoming more unfocused, his tone lost in thought. “All knobbly knees and losing baby teeth. He must have scraped his knees more than any kid alive.”

After a few seconds of silence, he murmured, “Everyone says it, but it’s true. They grow up too fast. Would have given anything to make that time last.”

Rey felt as though her heart had been pierced by a very warm, unrelenting knife. She had only ever given a very vague thought to being a parent some day. Hearing Han speak like this made her quite sure that her heart would never survive the ordeal. She wondered how his had.

“Er, Han? May I...may I keep this?” Rey asked quietly, but her question might as well have sounded like a sudden church bell to Han as he started from his reverie. She was gesturing to the box of Ben’s things.

He stared at it in mild surprise, his brow furrowing. “Only—only if you don’t want it, that is,” Rey felt the need to clarify, hoping she hadn’t offended.

Han’s eyes drifted up to Rey, as he slowly slipped the picture into the pocket of his denim vest. There was something searching in his eyes, so deep set as to belie their clear blue color. “Sure,” he said, in too casual a tone to match the piercing gaze he gave Rey, who valiantly tried to suppress the color rising in her cheeks, her jaw set. “I mean—he asked me to throw it away, after all, so it’s as good as garbage otherwise.”

Rey thought he gave her a mischievous smirk as she turned away to pull the box towards her. “Good, l love garbage,” she said, trying to school her features into what she imagined was coolly disaffected.  

Han chuckled and patted the side of the Falcon affectionately. “That’s why you’re here, isn’t it?”

 

****

 

Rey had looked at the picture of the photo on her phone almost the whole bus ride home, pinching the screen to examine various details. She noticed the same blurry tattoo on Han’s right forearm, and what must have been a band-aid on Ben’s little knee. She resisted opening the box of treasure in her lap, however, until the privacy of her own bedroom. Finn only returned her greeting and didn’t turn to see her making a bee-line to her room, box in hand, as his eyes were glued to the video game he was currently playing. She was grateful for his preoccupation--she didn’t feel in the mood to answer any questions about her find.

Dropping onto her bed with the box, she at last began to extract the contents.

The utter worth of what she beheld before her was overwhelming--and, she noted with a slight thrill, deeply private. One of the first composition notebooks she laid her hands on had something scrawled on the cover in ballpoint pen: “PROPERTY OF BEN SOLO, DO NOT READ.” On the inside cover, his name was repeated again, with another line underneath it saying “Age 12.”

She riffled hungrily through the pages, as if discovering some long-lost official communications from a war a hundred years passed, and not the aimless scrawls and doodles of a young boy she now knew as a man. To Rey, it might have been one in the same. She lived for these kinds of private mementos. Trash, to some.

Many of the pages had dates at the top; some entries long and in cramped writing, some shorter with space for a silly little drawing underneath, or lists whose contents she did not quite understand. Picking up another notebook, she saw what looked like guitar tab annotations, and gasped. This must have been him learning guitar at a tender age. Part of the thrill Rey felt was one of envious vicarious nostalgia—what she’d give to see her own notebooks from when she was twelve.

She knew one thing for sure—she hadn’t been nearly as a meticulous diarist as young Ben Solo had been.

One entry was long, with the date at the top embellished with top-quality doodles. The entry seemed to go in depth about a fantasy book Ben must have read in 1991. He had added cute little doodles of dragons and elaborate looking swords at the edges.

Nor had she been anywhere close to as good at drawing, she decided, when a few loose pages fell out of one of the notebooks. It was a worksheet of some kind; boxes and fields filled in with Ben’s untidy scrawl, rows of numbers and descriptions of what sounded like weapons. In one corner was a box that contained a very competent sketch of what looked like a medieval woman warrior, and Rey realized that she held some of the weapons listed elsewhere on the sheet.

This must be that nerd game Finn’s told me about, Rey thought. She didn’t remember too many of the details, but knew that it involved creating your own character. Ben had been a very typical twelve-year-old boy in one sense, she thought with a snort—for his woman warrior was very curvaceous. But she appreciated the modest armor and mean expression he’d given her nonetheless.

She picked up another notebook that she noticed had patches of black electrical tape on the cover, and opened it at random.

 

November 21st, 1993

Party sucked. Nothing but sad old people and mom’s lame friends. I hate talking in front of people. I fucked up the reading pretty bad. Mom seemed mad well not mad but just ‘disappointed’ like she always says.

Dad gave me his old guitar. It doesn’t suck i guess.

 

Underneath this short entry was a cluster of angry ballpoint lines, as if the penman had just furiously scribbled as hard and as fast as he could into the notebook.

Flipping curiously ahead a few pages, she fell on another entry.

 

January 16 1994

Kaydel told everyone at lunch today i was a freak and that i probably have a small dick

She’s right

 

And underneath this, a competent but very unkind cartoon of what Rey could only guess was supposed to be Ben--at any rate, it was a big-headed person with a large hooked nose, giant satellite-dish like ears, and eyes pointed stupidly in different directions. There was a speech bubble emanating from it that read “I’M THE BIGGEST DUMBEST ASSHOLE YOU KNOW

Rey didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Flipping forward in the same notebook, she noticed that half of it was empty, which none of the other books—fat from being packed with writing—seemed to be. Some of the empty pages had been half torn-out, and at the end there were some untidily scrawled musical notation, clearly for guitar as well.

She felt for the first time some consequence to her unbridled curiosity. In her haste to intrude on a story that wasn’t hers—a gleeful onlooker and scavenger of long-lost details—she hadn’t stopped to wonder whether she was prepared to deal with some of the more private emotions that poured out of these books. Deciding to set them down for the time being, Rey moved on to what she hoped would be the slightly more impersonal mix CDs in the box. She longed to play the older tapes, but she knew very well the tape deck she’d found was currently broken and she’d had a tough time finding the parts to fix it.  

So Rey extracted a CD at random and slipped it into her stereo, pulling on her headphones and listening to the angry punk rock music blaring in her ears, a mixture mostly of songs she knew well from her own days as an angry teen.

Poking in the box a little further, Rey noticed something with another thrill—a photograph, stuck to the side of the cardboard.

It was slightly blurry, but nonetheless priceless.

Young Ben—probably a little older than he was in the photograph of the frog, but not by much—sat on his heels, squinting from the sun in his face, his arm around a large, shaggy brown dog with graying fur around his muzzle and a happy tongue-lolling expression.

Rey’s heart broke at the sight, but her brain protested—don’t take pity on his man, some part of her insisted; he had demanded his father throw away these treasures! All the same, she couldn’t find it within her to reproach the big-eared boy who hugged a sweet-looking old dog.

 

Chapter Text

“You’ve been acting oddly,” Hux said, crossing his pale freckled arms across his skinny chest. “It’s not just my opinion, Phasma was saying so too,” he added quickly, nodding his head towards the woman towering over the gear she was about to store in their practice space.

“Leave me out of this, Armitage,” Phasma hissed in a low voice, invoking the redhead’s first name. It was a tactic Phasma and Kylo generally employed to cow their bassist into silence.

It didn’t work, much to Kylo’s disdain.

“Well, you were,” Hux said to her defensively, glancing back at Kylo, who was dismantling his drum set. They’d had a rigorous late night practice, and he was eager to get home and crash into the silence and privacy of his pillow. “You’ve been…distracted. Almost….cheery.”

Kylo didn’t respond to this, only paused to glare at Hux from under his brows. Still, he couldn’t help but notice Phasma’s hands had frozen around her coiled guitar cables, as if waiting to hear a response.

“If you’re talking about your glaring fuck up on Hammer I Miss You that I overlooked, consider it a gift. Happy birthday,” Kylo said sarcastically, returning to collapse his crash cymbal stand.

“See what I mean?” Hux waved a hand impatiently at Kylo, imploring Phasma’s attention. “The Kylo I know would never acknowledge I even have a birthday--”

“Yeah, we all know you weren’t born so much as hatched,” Kylo muttered, and Phasma sniggered unkindly.

Throwing barbs at Hux on a night like this seemed all too easy; low-hanging fruit compared to what Kylo had eagerly awaited all day: for this day to be over so he could move on to tomorrow. For tomorrow was a running day—something Kylo had come to keenly associate with the next time he’d see Rey.

Last time he’d seen her, she’d idly mentioned—while stretching a slender leg on a park bench—that she used to be a lot faster as a kid.

“All that running from the law?” Kylo had deadpanned.

But to his surprise Rey looked up at him seriously and shrugged, “Yeah. I mean, it was usually just for petty theft, but I was pretty good at outrunning the gavvers.”

Kylo had been floored at this revelation of Rey as an orphaned petty thief. “You stole things? Isn’t that—well, isn’t that a little stereotypical for people with your background?” he’d asked with a quirk to his lips.

Rey had given him an expression of mock indignation. “What you’d prefer I specialize in bare-knuckle brawling like yourself?”

“I think you do plenty of that already,” he’d teased, tapping lightly at the scar above his eyebrow, and she’d wrinkled her nose in laughter.

Snapping back to the present, Kylo made sure to speed up the progress of his clean-up; his thoughts of Rey allowing him to more effectively ignore Hux’s whining.

“See ya,” he finally said as he hoisted his bag over his shoulder and quickly left the space, hearing Hux call incredulously behind him, “‘See ya’?? Since when does Kylo even say goodbye??”

 

****

 

This girl might be the death of him, Kylo thought.

Running at a blistering pace and one-armed push-ups were par for the course as far as Kylo Ren was concerned. But he felt like he might never get used to the way her breathy pants sounded mere feet away from his ears, occasional little grunts of effort from her lips as she worked her beautiful toned limbs to work faster in pace with him.

He couldn’t for even one second delude himself in thinking that she returned any of the jumble of feelings he had for her—after all, who would? But he’d allow himself, in those brief moments of bliss when they were both too exhausted from competing with each other’s pace to spout any playfully combative remarks, to hope that perhaps she tolerated his company well enough. Well enough for whatever this particular—uh, arrangement—was.

Still, she was so painfully pretty, it made Kylo’s heart wrench a little bit.

The overcast morning had darkened considerably; gray clouds and a light breeze over the lake threatening rain. They had taken a break at the bottom of a trail leading up a hill—Kylo had suggested they practice their stamina on inclines, and Rey had groaned in protest. Which, of course, meant he redoubled his commitment to the idea.

“Noooooo, I don’t do hills; this is the worst!” Rey said petulantly.

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger,” Kylo spat the mantra like a personal threat, clenching his teeth. To his relief Rey seemed nonplussed at his intensity.

“That’s what my awful track coach used to always say,” Rey snorted.

“Back in high school?”

“Secondary, yeah,” Rey said, resting her hands on her hips, still panting slightly from their recent lap.

“So you were a quitter back then, too; good to know!” Kylo spat, jumping on the spot ridiculously to relieve some of the tension in his worked limbs. Rey pretended to kick high to his mid-section, and Kylo dodged out of the way.

“Did you do any team sports in high school?” she asked, her tone suddenly shifted to amicable curiosity.

Kylo’s arms dropped from their stretch over his head and he held her gaze. With a swallow, he murmured, “No. There weren’t...there wasn’t anything like that where I was.”

There had been a small track, that Kylo had run endless laps around out of boredom and in interest of staying away from the other boys as much as humanly possible. But there had of course been nothing like team sports in the juvenile rehabilitation center for criminal boys that Kylo had spent almost the entirety of his high school years. He told none of this to Rey, but something in her eyes told him she understood more than he knew.

“Well,” she said, as if striving to return casualness to the conversation, “You didn’t miss much. I hated it.”

“Then why’d you do it?” Kylo said, almost confrontationally.

“Because the stupid headmistress practically blackmailed me into it!” Rey said defensively. “That cow,” she muttered under her breath, remembering the vile stuck-up woman with a burning hatred.

Something in Rey’s vicious words about someone other than himself seemed to ignite something within Kylo’s midsection. “What did she catch you doing?”

“What?” Rey said, as if snapped out of a hateful memory.

“The headmistress,” he said, working his jaw as he suppressed the urge to grin. Rey’s eyes fluttered quickly as she held his gaze and answered.

“I—I had taken some soda, from the tuck shop. Without paying,” she finished, rolling her eyes.

A small, filthy part of Kylo wanted to interrogate her further; dying to know how much of a bad girl she really was—but he waved it away with some effort, willing himself to exert control over his excitement, channeling it into something else.

“Nice. I might blackmail you too now, unless you beat me to the top,” he said, the last part in a rush as he darted past her to run up the hill’s trail.

Hey!” Rey cried indignantly and tore after him, the wind picking up around them, dying leaves rustling across the ground.

After a few seconds, small drops of rain started to pelt their faces. At first, Rey ignored them, but they only got heavier as they overtook the crest of the first hill. Soon, as she followed closely behind on Kylo’s heels, the rain had begun to fall in large fat drops that she had a more difficult time blinking away, making it harder for her to see ahead of her.

Kylo had run in worse conditions than this, so he didn’t immediately stop when Rey fell behind. But he heard her distantly call, “Wait—” and he turned to see her walking towards him, shielding her face from the heavy rain like a visor.

Sheepishly, Kylo retraced his steps back to her and raised his voice over the heavy patter of the rain. “I guess this kinda sucks.”

Rey laughed. “Yeah, it really does. Let’s—let’s get the hell out of this. There’s a diner across the road.” She pointed her free hand towards a small steel diner on a corner facing Mirrorbright Park.

She led the way and Kylo followed, both jogging lightly as the rain further drenched their clothes. Even though it was a somewhat unseasonably balmy day, the rain seemed to freeze Rey to the bone; so much that by the time they made it into the diner, she shivered, eternally grateful that the sweatshirt she wore was too thick even in its drenched state to reveal the pebbled nipples underneath her sports bra.

After glancing at each other awkwardly in the bright light of the shabby diner, they mutually agreed with a few awkwardly murmured words to wait out the pounding rain in a vinyl-upholstered booth.

“Well, we might as well have a gigantic lunch while we’re here,” Rey said brightly, peering down at the menu, her shoulders hunching as if trying to warm herself. She glanced up at his noise—a grunt, really—of assent.

Kylo did not entirely turn his body towards her in his seat across the booth—instead choosing to awkwardly sit with his back against the window, as if sitting like a normal person would make the situation somehow inappropriate. She noticed with an awkward gulp that the raglan sleeved shirt he’d been wearing had been drenched in the rain; the white chest clinging to his muscular torso. It revealed to her the hard lines of his collarbone, the dip between his pectoral muscles—and small, hardened nipples. She tore her eyes away quickly and resumed her chatter over the menu.

Ten minutes later, they had been presented with gigantic plates of food as Rey had predicted. She’d ordered a burger and he a turkey sandwich, and they ate as their conversation turned comfortably back to the familiar topic of music—playing it, writing it, listening to it, and so on.

“I’ve always maintained—no, I’m serious!” Rey said, with a laugh as Kylo quirked his eyebrows with a scoff. “—that the Kinks were the true geniuses, not the Beatles.”

“I’ll give you that,” Kylo said, through a mouthful of turkey sandwich. “The Kinks rule—not as much as the Stones—but far superior songwriters, and John Lennon’s just a hack who beat his wives,” he said ruefully. “Everyone knows the only one of them worth a damn was George.”

Rey’s eyes widened as she took a huge bite of burger. She nodded furiously through her bite—Kylo once again suppressing a grin—and when she was finally able, passionately said  “Yes! Obviously!”

They spent a minute or two extolling the virtues of the lone worthwhile Beatle before Rey leaned back in her seat and sighed, “God, he was such a babe.”

At this, Kylo’s eyes raised, threatening to disappear into his hair. Feeling emboldened by the conversation, he set his half-eaten sandwich down and pointed a finger in her direction. “Okay,” he said decisively, as if formulating a plan. “Hypothetical question time.”

Rey sat straight in her seat, interest piqued.

“Which rockstar, musician, music legend, whatever—alive or dead, would you most want to have sex with?” Kylo asked, pursing his lips into a grim line, as if he’d asked Rey to dismantle a bomb.

She was, admittedly, slightly taken aback by this question, feeling her face flush slightly. It was forward, but she felt a thrill all the same. Rey loved silly hypotheticals like this—even though this particular question was hypothetical in more ways than one. “What, at any age?”

“Of course; you have a time machine and unlimited backstage passes,” Kylo said seriously, and Rey’s nose crinkled in a snigger.

“Hmm, that’s a tough one, actually…” Rey said, her gaze roaming around in thought. “He’d have to be both very attractive but also very talented….”

Kylo watched her closely, abandoning any shame he might’ve felt over the question he posed her.  “Come on, you’re English; that’s where rock and roll heartthrobs are basically from,” he chided.

Rey rolled her eyes and picked at a french fry. “Fine, I mean, I guess—” she paused and bit her lip in a bid to make up her mind, and Kylo felt a mild jolt in his stomach at the sight. “I guess—I don’t know, I guess I’d have to go with Mick Jagger; like in 1967.”

At her words Kylo threw his head back and groaned in annoyance. “Ugh, that’s so boring; that’s basically everyone’s answer!”

“Look, it’s a hard question!” Rey shot back, half-defensive but half-laughing all the same. “You put me on the spot—”

“It’s just so vanilla—” Kylo sneered, but Rey could spot that distinct flash of amusement in his eyes once again. “Too safe; I don’t accept it.”

Rey chewed on some fries as she peered at Kylo with narrowed eyes. “Well, then it’s your turn; what’s your answer? If it’s so much more interesting than mine,” she said, crossing her arms in a huff.

Kylo looked at her from under his brows, chewing on the inside of his cheek in thought. He did that often, and Rey found herself strangely drawn to the way his mouth moved when his jaw worked, his face pulling to look even longer than it normally was.

“Viv Albertine,” Kylo answered flatly. “If she was too busy then definitely Poly Styrene. Yup.”

Rey’s eyebrows went up in surprise at this, not in the least because Kylo had factored someone’s hypothetical schedule into his answer. “Oh, I love the Slits; and X-Ray Spex,” she confessed in a quiet voice, before she could stop herself. Both the women he mentioned were very pretty, but not about to grace the cover of magazines at their prime; even if they had been more famous—both relatable to a scruffy Londoner like Rey. She was sure that most men in this hypothetical question would have chosen someone more legendary with widely acknowledged sex appeal.

Kylo nodded. “Yeah, they’re amazing. They were real punk rockers; Poly Styrene’s style was so cool,” he said with a serious, genuine tone.

“They’re punk feminist icons!” Rey said in earnest. “You just—you just named like, two of my heroes,” she said shyly, and Kylo felt his ears go red.

“You’re right, it’s a hard question,” he murmured, avoiding her eyes and suddenly looking a little embarrassing.

“No, that was a good answer,” Rey said. “Even if you did just objectify my role models,” she added in mock-accusation.

His flustered gaze met hers, but quickly enough realized she wasn’t being serious and rolled his dark eyes.

After a moment of silence as she chewed another fry, Rey cleared her throat gently and said, “Hey—what’s up with the mask you wear when you play?”

Kylo had been poking at his sandwich remains with disinterest when he looked up. For some reason, this struck Kylo as a deeply personal question, despite Rey’s best attempt to maintain a casual tone.

“Um, well—I made it. It’s to keep the mic close to my mouth when I’m playing,” Kylo answered sheepishly. “Stands would always give me neck strain, and sometimes I play so hard they topple over.”

It wasn’t the entire truth, but it was the most practical answer. He didn’t want to tell her that he found the idea of people looking at his face while he played truly repellent. For one, he didn’t think anyone would have taken them seriously as a band—with his freakish face and the grotesque snarls he often pulled.

But as he looked into the deep hazel wells of Rey’s curious eyes, he murmured, “I. I guess I have a little stage fright.”

Rey suppressed the impulse to jeer, Ha-ha, Kylo Ren is afraid of crowds, for she knew too well the intimidating effect of performing in front of other living souls; whether it be one or a hundred. So she just nodded sympathetically. “That makes sense. The mask is pretty damn scary, though, kudos for that,” she joked, popping some more fries into her mouth.

Kylo’s lip quirked as he watched her. He felt a strange lightness in his limbs, and he thought of how thoroughly he was enjoying this—whatever it was. It certainly wasn’t running laps around the lake.

“You know you had stage fright too? Lemmy. That’s why he sang with his head tilted up like that; so he didn’t have to look at the crowd,” Rey added, pointing a fry at him and lifting her head in demonstration, revealing her own slender neck. Kylo experienced an intense urge to taste it.

Her head snapped back down and she gasped, a light flickering on behind her eyes. “Ooh, can I change my answer? Lemmy is my answer; I’d have sex with Lemmy from the late 70’s; I’d let him do unspeakable things to me.”

It took Kylo a split second of confusion before he realized what she was referring to— “Ah, shit!” he slapped a hand on the formica table top and bared his teeth. “You see, that’s a good answer, Lemmy is perfect; that hair, that voice—” he bit his lip and worked his jaw again when he added, “—you know, I think Lemmy’s my answer too.”

Rey giggled and riffed, “You just can’t get enough of those huge fleshy moles, can you?”

“Fuck yes,” Kylo deadpanned, his teeth baring again. “I’d be all over those messed-up teeth and mutton chops.”

“Well, I’d fight you for him!” Rey countered, unable to keep a giant smile off her face.

Kylo shook his head, still in perfect deadpan, his eyes flashing with glee. “No way—if 1977-Lemmy stepped out of that time machine right now, you can bet it’d be me and him; right here, on the floor of this diner.” He jabbed a forefinger at the scuffed and grimy linoleum in emphasis.

Rey burst out laughing at this, her hand coming up to cover her mouth as her delighted eyes pierced him. “You can have my sloppy seconds,” Kylo said between her peals of laughter, the ghost of a smirk playing on his plush lips.

Perhaps it was the lewd implication of them both wanting to have hypothetical sex with the same hypothetical person, or the fact Rey had chosen someone as unconventionally attractive as he found himself to be, but Kylo found himself to be far too excited for a late Thursday morning.

“Well,” Rey stammered, finally recovering from her fit of laughter. “All that matters to me is that if 1977-Lemmy shows up at either of our doors; smelling of Jack Daniels and his shirt all open and everything—we have to make a pact to share him somehow,” she deadpanned, extending her pinky finger out to him.

Kylo gave her another one of his fiery gazes, and Rey didn’t look away, feeling quite emboldened. “Deal,” he said, taking her pinky finger with his significantly larger digit. “No Lemmy-hoarding.”

Rey burst out laughing again, trying to stifle her giggles as the waitress came by to offer them the check.

The weather outside had cleared up considerably, and through the large window they were bathed in the weak golden sunlight breaking through the overcast autumn sky. Kylo started to slide out of the booth with an awkward clearing of his throat, and Rey followed suit, murmuring something about needing to get ready for her bar backing shift tonight. Reaching for the crumpled bills in her sweatshirt pocket to put down with the bill, she realized Kylo was already at the cashier’s stand, paying the bill on his own.

“What—” feeling somewhat flustered, Rey approached him as he dropped what seemed like an exorbitant amount of cash into a tip jar. “I was going to split that!” she cried indignantly, while once again becoming all too aware of how much taller than her he really was.

Kylo gave her a somewhat blank look and shrugged. “I--it’s fine,” he said bluntly, as he pushed the door of the diner open for Rey. She scoffed and stomped out, feeling more indignant which each passing second. Who did he think he was?

Ben!” The name slipped out before she could really stop herself, and Kylo’s froze to the spot, his eyes widening as he looked down at her.

Much to his own surprise, he didn’t react the way he usually did to hearing that name spoken. Usually, the only people who called him that were his parents, or a sneering Hux in a moment of deep disdain. Hearing her say it felt different, however.

“You—you shouldn’t pay for me; I don’t need your pity,” Rey said, a bit more confrontationally than she’d truly intended.

Kylo’s face fell, his turn to look indignant. “It’s not pity,” he mumbled. “I just—wanted to.”

A rigid silence filled the air between them, and Rey could almost feel the tension he held in his limbs at that moment, as if he were an ancient tree in a forest sustaining a gale force wind.

“Thanks, I guess. But I could have handled it!” Rey said eventually, feeling her face reddening.

“I know,” Kylo mumbled. “I made you run in the rain, consider us even,” he added, his gaze not meeting her blazing eyes and pink cheeks.

Rey nodded, relief flooding her as something in her mind was set to ease—a simple quid pro quo, after all. A language with which she found herself much more comfortable.

“Okay, bye,” Kylo said suddenly, meeting her eyes again and raising his arm in a half wave. His tone was flat, but his eyes were deep, dark, and beseeching.

“Yeah, I have to get going—” Rey waved awkwardly, turning in the opposite direction and walking away, even though it wasn’t exactly the most direct route to her house. Her body screamed at her to turn around to look back at him, but she firmly resisted. If she had, she would have seen Kylo standing there, watching her leave.

It wasn’t until she was safely a few blocks away that Rey allowed herself to mull over what had just happened. It didn’t take a genius to realize that, from the perspective of an onlooker, what she had just experienced looked, sounded, and felt a lot like a date. Kylo paying the bill had just been the final touch that had jolted her into admitting it.

For a moment, Rey was compelled to avoid their next scheduled run together. She wasn’t sure she could face him again, in this private rendezvous of theirs, after she’d all but shamelessly flirted with him about what rock legend she’d most like to bed. She knew it was all too suggestive a topic for someone she’d felt she wanted to keep at arm’s length, but she never stopped herself; dancing perilously close to the subject of a hypothetical threesome just for laughs. With a hard swallow, Rey was forced to realize what kind of thoughts he must have privately had during that exchange….

Rey had been on a few dates as a teenager. When she’d come to the States for university, she’d largely sworn off any kind of dating, preferring to focus on her studies and her band. The boys she met in her classes or at shows were largely uninteresting to her, but for the most part, her experiences holding girlish crushes for boys in secondary school had turned her off the entire pursuit for the time being. Usually they ended in the subject’s complete unawareness or disinterest in her existence—or otherwise a date and a shy kiss, after which Rey was immediately enlightened to their desire for only one thing; the one thing she never felt comfortable giving. Then, it would end in Rey punching the boy in the jaw, or kneeing him in the groin defensively before he ran off, calling her an insane bitch.

But this wasn’t really a date, Rey told herself desperately. She and Ben—Kylo—were just acquaintances at most; not even really friends. Really, she should think of him more as a colleague, if such a term were even appropriate for the pseudo-professionality of travelling the same circles of the local punk/garage rock scene. Just because they were colleagues didn’t mean he couldn’t buy her a meal if he wanted to.

A colleague with muscular shoulders wide enough to skateboard on, a small, mutinous part of her thought, but she mentally swatted it away.

Furthermore, even though their professional acquaintanceship had begun with Rey punching Kylo in the face, it hard been purely the result of his dispute with her bandmates, and not some kind of lewd advance on her (Rey handily forced herself to ignore the embarrassing moment he caught him staring down her shirt). Surely he did not think of her that way at all. He just paid for the meal because he’s a loaded trust-fund kid and to him it was probably nothing—a luxury he could easily afford not to consider; unaware that Rey had rarely had the money to order a deluxe burger, much less a meal for someone else.

By the time Rey had arrived back home, shivering slightly from the cool wind on her still damp clothes, she had almost managed to convince herself that there was nothing between her and Be—Kylo; nothing more than a mutual interest in running and playing rock music.

And fucking Lemmy, her brain supplied unhelpfully.

She blushed slightly as she peeled her off her damp running clothes in the privacy of the bathroom, feeling somewhat like an imposter since she didn’t know the first thing about sex, having never had it. She caught a glance of her own naked body in the mirror and looked away quickly; not trusting the warm feeling pooling between her legs as she turned on the shower.

Rey wondered helplessly how many girls Kylo had slept with. From what Poe had told her about his popularity in college, it seemed like probably not a lot—but then again, he was in a band with a lot of fans, some of which were definitely busty, thirsty, girls in crop-tops and caked with make-up. Groupies, she knew, were all too real, even for indie bands. Rey decided to not think about that in the moment.

Her thoughts fell back onto how Kylo had looked when he stood before her, saying he’d just wanted to pay for her meal; when he’d said bye. Like a broad, tall tree; one that she’d had the urge to climb.

A finger lurked shyly down to her legs as she stood under the shower stream. She curiously dipped it between the damp curls, giving a slow swipe between her folds. They were, somewhat to her surprise, slick and plush with arousal. A little groan escaped her lips.

Just colleagues, she forced herself to think again as her hands drew away from between her legs, determined to conduct a perfectly unsexy shower, thank you very much.

 

****

 

Across town, in his exquisitely appointed white-tiled bathroom, Kylo stood, legs trembling slightly, one hand braced against the white porcelain sink, the other still pumping his own cock in the aftershocks of an orgasm; the traces of which had coated his fist; some droplets of cum clinging to his raglan shirt.

He had thought of Rey again—as he did every single day since he’d run into her at the lake for the first time; whether in the shower or in his bed or even sometimes in his practice space when he was sure he was alone. He would take himself in hand, usually thinking of the determined expression on her beautiful face, the loose strands of hair grazing her cheekbones; the curve of her ass in lycra bringing him to climax. This time, however, his mind had helpfully supplied him with a fantasy of fucking her on the worn out linoleum floor of that diner, giving her exactly what she wanted from one hypothetical Lemmy Kilmister.

Shame flooded Kylo almost immediately, as it always did. This time it was tempered by the memory of her own words. Unspeakable things.

The idea that Rey was capable of some of the same filthy thoughts as he was prone to excited him to no end. Not that he thought those thoughts would ever be directed towards him—after all, she had spoken purely hypothetically about a man more legend than real at this point—but it still set her apart from others in his mind. When she’d first seen her play beautifully on that stage with the rest of Poe’s pathetic band limping along, he’d assumed she was just a happy little good girl; a Beautiful Person like the rest of them—to that end he’d assumed she’d deserved all the requisite disdain.

But as he got to know her, he realized she was anything but.

Sweet and universally likeable though she appeared on stage, the Rey he’d gotten to know was awkward, quick to anger, violent, and anything but law-abiding considering the details she’d shared about the petty thievery in her teen years. To top it all off, she hadn’t balked at his lewd hypothetical question—she’d embraced it, and her answers seemed to suggest a similar disdain for universally liked Beautiful People.

That was all he really needed to fantasize about possessing her cunning mind and beautiful body in a way he most yearned for. Finally, he felt like he’d met a girl who wasn’t just pretty but actually incredible enough to be his equal (his superior, in some ways, a part of Kylo suggested). The guilt he felt as he wiped up his own cum with some toilet paper was ancient and ever-present--but it rested on the solid foundation of his complete and utter virginity.

His adolescent libido had languished either in awkward humiliation at the hands of sneering classmates, an institution run amok exclusively by other horny but violent boys, or in a haze of medication that prevented him from even achieving an erection alone in his dorm room when Poe was away. After college, as an adult, some women here or there had expressed interest in him, but by then he was already too embarrassed into detachment by his positively geriatric status as a virgin—and frankly, thoroughly unimpressed by them as he was of nearly everyone he’d ever met. Until Rey, that is.

Rey was all too bright a light in his rigidly dark view of the world and other people.

Chapter Text

An enormous sense of relief washed over Rey the next time she met Kylo for a run. It felt like any suggestive conversation had been set aside in favor of a business-like devotion to their exercise, and she was thankful for it. He still met her eyes when she arrived with that deep piercing stare he had a tendency to give, but Rey dismissed that as typical behavior.

After their run, they cooled down with some plyometric exercises and stretches, and the conversation turned to the show Rebel Scum would be playing with STARKILLER the day after next. It had come as quite a last-minute surprise to Poe and the rest of them, but was welcome all the same.

“I think if we’re serious about going on tour, knowing how to handle last-minute shows like this might be best for us,” Rey said, stretching her calves idly as Kylo grunted through what looked like an impossibly difficult set of ab exercises. “I’ve lived in cars before as a kid; it’s really not that hard—” she scoffed, “but I’m more worried about delivering with a good set every night.”

Kylo’s sat up with an exhale. His brows knitted as he looked at Rey. Occasionally, she would say things like that—unknowingly revealing something deeply sad and telling about her upbringing. She’d once mentioned to Kylo that she didn’t actually know the real day or month she was born in because her real parents hadn’t bothered to save anything like birth certificates—this was meant to be a joke over how she might secretly not be old enough to be in bars, but it filled Kylo with sadness and a private, perplexing rage towards the parents she barely remembered. If the rumors Hux had told him about the nature of Rey’s abandonment were true, his compassion for her past would cut through him even more deeply.

But, as always, he tried not to draw undue attention to these statements, so he schooled his face into his usual scowl and said, “Well, living in a van sure does suck when your scrawny ginger bassist insists on sleeping in the nude.”

To this, Rey let out a great big laugh. “What, Hux sleeps in the buff?? How did you—”

“The first night,” Kylo explained, getting to his feet. “Phasma called dibs on the front seats so I had to share the back with Hux. He stripped completely naked and insisted he could only sleep with no clothes on,” he grimaced and Rey began to giggle uncontrollably at this. “I told him if he didn’t put on shorts I’d cut the damn thing off. Why are you laughing? It was deeply traumatic,” he said, glowering at Rey, who was covering her mouth with her hands, utterly not succeeding in suppressing any laughter. “Ugh, it was so gross; his pubes were all—orange—” Kylo said, grimace deepening.

“I don’t know how you could keep that guy around, especially after that,” Rey said, recovering from her fit of laughter. Then more seriously, “He’s a huge asshole. Seriously, why is he in your band?”

Kylo shrugged, as he approached a high overhead bar in the deserted playground they were currently standing. “Reliable bandmates who show up for practice are pretty tough to find. Besides,” he said, a more defensive edge taking root in his voice. “You’re one to talk; you’re in a band with Poe Dameron.”

“And what’s the supposed to mean?” Rey said with exasperation. Why did he hate Poe so much, anyway?

Kylo gave a petulant shrug. “He’s just some pretty-boy womanizer; I’m sure he’s really excited to get cozy with you on a tour van,” he said, giving Rey a dark look. “Although—maybe you’re into that.”

The last part was low, and almost hissed to her. He couldn’t help voice this burning insecurity—though he had no desire to defend Hux’s name, it grated him anew to remember Rey was, in a sense, Poe’s property as a band member, and that he must surely have his own sordid agenda for Rey—if he hadn’t already wooed her….

Initially, Rey had looked somewhat confused and annoyed at this accusation, but to Kylo’s surprise her face split open in laughter.

“What? What’s so fucking funny?”

“I’m—hah—I’m sorry, but did you say Poe was a womanizer? Weren’t you his roommate?”

Feeling his ears begin to go red, Kylo said nothing, just stared at her as she laughed more.

“Yeah, I do not think Poe wants to ‘get cozy’ with me, of all people,” Rey said through her laughter, making little air quotes with her fingers. “Seriously—did you not realize Poe’s very, very gay?”

She had always suspected as much from the moment she met him, but didn’t know for sure until a month later, when Rey and Finn had gone to a house party at Poe’s, and she’d walked into an unlocked bathroom—to be greeted with the sight of Poe and another very fit man furiously making out and grinding on each other, fumbling with each other’s belts. Rey had backed out of the room as quickly as she’d stumbled in, blushing furiously but evidently unnoticed.

This revelation seemed to hit Kylo in the chest like a ton of bricks. His glower smoothed away from his face completely, to be replaced with a wide-eyed look of confusion; prominent brow furrowed and lips slightly parted. Rey was strongly reminded of the expression Han made when he had rewired something incorrectly, and her heart gave a little leap at the thought.

In truth, Kylo had not realized this in the slightest—his overwhelming relief at the thought Poe had no designs of a sexual nature on Rey was somewhat overtaken by the several memories of him practically wrestling with Poe in their dorm room, locked in a furious many-limbed grapple, breathing heavily and close to each others’ faces in what Kylo had assumed was mutual hatred. He wasn’t about to delude himself into the hackneyed concern that Poe had any attraction to him, but—

“What’s wrong, Ben? Suddenly remembering things about Poe in a different light, are we?” Rey asked smugly, raising her eyebrows.

He narrowed his eyes at her with a scowl, trying to not dwell on the many instances he’d lay in their dorm, deeply depressed and face-down wearing nothing but a thin pair of boxer briefs while Poe went about his business. “I—” he tried, but gave up; and instead began to furiously do pull-ups on the bar above him.

Rey rolled her eyes with a smirk. Men really were clueless. “Show-off,” she muttered, but moved next to him to grasp the bar as well. She could only manage about two real pull-ups—which was nothing compared to Kylo, but an accomplishment in her books nonetheless.

 

****

 

The show they were playing with STARKILLER was in a much smaller, but no less packed art space downtown. Rey barely even knew what the name was, but it seemed like a cool place nonetheless—industrial, stark, and bathed in an ethereal bluish-purple light. There wasn’t a bar so much as a fold up table furnished with a bucket of ice-cold beer cans and some large plastic bottles of booze and mixers (and a bored looking “bartender” behind the table fiddling on their phone when not serving drinks).

Rey had ordered an obscenely strong gin and tonic from said bartender, grimacing after the first sip but hastily stuffing a tip in the plastic jar as she moved away. After the energetic set Rebel had just played, and having finished stashing all her gear in the strange adjacent corridor outfitted with freight elevators, she was sorely in need of an alcoholic drink. STARKILLER was about to go on, and she was eager to weave her way to the front of the sweaty crowd to watch it.

Poe had begun to warm up to an armistice with Kylo Ren and STARKILLER, after having had the opportunity to play so many shows with them—it was a hushed hope share among the four of them that this could only mean First Order Records was considering signing them onto a record deal. It wouldn’t do to treat them with anything more or less than a courteous and professional manner, and that included detached interest in the music they played. This suited Rey just fine, as she remembered her commitment to think of Ben Solo as a colleague.

She tried to ignore the fact she hadn’t yet told any of her friends she was meeting with him about twice a week to exercise—she hadn’t even told Finn.

As Rey settled into a spot close to the front row of standing bodies, she spotted Kylo, busying himself with various pedals on the floor next to his drum set. He was already wearing his creepy mask, the jet black hair poking out between the straps; adam’s apple bobbing as he turned to Phasma to say something inaudible over the DJ set currently playing in the background.

It was odd to see Kylo in his performance outfit, Rey thought. Usually these days she saw him in sleek, expensive running gear—the kind of clothes that undoubtedly touted wicking properties and sponsorship deals with world-class athletes. Behind his drum kit, however, he looked like he could have been wielding a machete in a summer blockbuster horror movie: terrifying mask aside, the dark gray shirt he wore was faded, frayed, and probably a size too big for him, and he wore black workman’s pants that were wide-legged, the hems of which bunched around big, heavy tan workman’s boots. His entire outfit looked like it was well worn in and not particularly cared for—there were paint splatters on his knees and mud caked on his boots. Rey supposed this was a pretty cool look for someone who hid his face behind such a deranged-looking asymmetrical mask.

As they began to play, Rey realized there was probably a practical reason behind this as well--the people in the crowd next to her had all but begun to form a mosh pit, and plastic cups of beer were haphazardly flung into the crowd, occasionally splattering STARKILLER as they jammed on the instruments, furiously. Feedback squealed, Kylo’s throbbing beat vibrating in Rey’s chest as she watched him, bathed in eerie purplish light.

 

“TIME MAY HEAL WOUNDS
BUT I WILL KILL YOU
SLOWLY
FADING ALL AWAY”

 

The ominous lyrics sounded distorted as Kylo screamed them through his mask, pumping at his snare drum, shoulders flexing as his drumsticks moved across his kit in a blur.

 

“I WON’T STOP ‘TIL YOU’RE DEAD
‘CAUSE THE VOICES IN MY HEAD,”

 

At some point, one of his drumsticks splintered and all but shattered under his furious assault of the drums, and he flung the pieces behind his shoulder; extracting a new one from between a bass drum lug without missing too much of the beat.

Rey noticed after a few songs, while trying to keep the throng of moshing bodies at bay, that Kylo had become drenched in sweat, a dark patch of dampness forming at the neck of his t-shirt. She had a memory of seeing him without his mask for the first time, toweling off his sweat-dampened hair after his set. She’d thought his looks behind the mask to be rather silly and almost boyish then. She felt a little differently now, but wasn’t quite sure what had changed.

More snare. For fuck’s sake,” he muttered into his distorted vocoder in between songs while boys in the crowd took the opportunity to hoot and cheer; ear-splitting feedback squealing from the PA system. His dark eyes fell upon Rey, and when he began the next song, he didn’t tear them away. She met his challenge for a while, unwilling to act as if her professional interest in his art was anything but.

This challenge became untenable, however, when—in the break between this song and the next, Rey’s ears deafened by clapping and cheering—Kylo reached down to the hem of his shirt and tugged it off over his head, barely snagging at the elongated front of his mask.

Rey felt as if she’d been hit in the face with a ton of bricks, and she looked away quickly, feeling heat rise to the tips of her ears. She’d gotten a full, unobstructed view of Kylo’s bare chest from a mere five or six feet away. He was, as she was well aware, broad, and thickly muscled--but somehow it didn’t prepare her for the sheer reality of his well-defined pectorals and unbelievably solid core, glistening with sweat and with barely any evidence of body hair.

She desperately wanted to look again, but focused her gaze on Phasma’s hands moving across her guitar, trying to distract herself from what she was sure was Kylo’s burning gaze on her periphery.

The throbbing beat pierced her once more and, seemingly powerless to stop herself, her gaze slid slowly back to Kylo.

His eyes were clenched in mid scream as his limbs worked furiously, the muscles of his pectorals rippling with the speed of his hand movements. She allowed herself to take in the utterly chiseled abdomen that, even in a seated position, seemed as unbreakable as a rock face at the shores of a tempestuous sea. With a jolt, she realized after a few seconds that he was staring at her again, dipping his head low, the tendons in his neck straining as he belted out a chorus.

Rey didn’t look away again; her mouth pressing into a severe line as her chest rose and fell rapidly, betraying her excitement at the sight of him.

She wasn’t sure if it was just a drop of sweat that fell from his brow, but she could’ve almost sworn he’d winked at her.

 

****

 

The next day, Rey pulled into a suburban driveway a good thirty minutes outside of town in Poe’s small sedan. She was grateful she hadn’t had the presence of mind to drink much more than she had last night—watching Kylo Ren tear through the latter half of his set obscenely shirtless had been all the distraction she could handle on a day like today. It was to be her first senior-year piano evaluation, and it wouldn’t do to be hungover.

Rey groaned as she exited the car she’d borrowed for the drive. Hungover or not, she wasn’t particularly looking forward to this meeting. She hadn’t been giving quite as much attention to her concerto work, even though this was the year in which it was arguably the most crucial—her final year before graduating. To make matters worse, the dean of students, Ms. Holdo, had kindly but firmly recommended Rey take an evaluation for advanced lessons with a world-renown classical pianist—the ultimate honor, it was said. As a recipient of the Antilles Scholarship, Rey knew the offer was not an optional one, and that Ms. Holdo had more than Rey’s educational development in mind. Training at the hands of a real somebody in her field would make Rey the Nobody all that more impressive in the eyes of the university’s board members.

For such a big Somebody, he sure lives like a damned hermit, Rey thought as she peered into the windows of the formidable but shabby wood-framed house, curtains tightly drawn, shrubbery overgrown. The porch had an unfriendly look, with a pile of circulars on a tattered door mat, and a broomstick leaning against the worn siding next to the door. She rung the doorbell and waited, unsure of whether she had the correct address.

About to seize on an opportunity to turn away and avoid responsibility once again, Rey froze on the spot when the door suddenly opened.

“What is it?” an older man in his 60s appeared in the narrow crack of the open door; the piercing blue eyes behind a shaggy mop of gray hair glaring at Rey’s imposition.

“Er--” Rey stumbled, taken aback by his sudden appearance. “Mr. Skywalker? I’m—I’m Rey.”

The man made no sign she was mistaken and merely glared at her, not opening the door. Finally, he said, “Amilyn Holdo called about you, didn’t she?” He did not seemed very pleased at the fact.

Rey nodded fervently.

“Very well,” he said with a sigh, opening up the door to let her through. “I suppose I owe that woman enough favors….”

Rey hurried across the threshold, making to follow Luke Skywalker, world-class concert composer and pianist, across the dark and dusty foyer of his house. He led her to a sitting room bathed in weak rays of sunlight penetrating the gaps in the drawn curtains. There was a lumpy sofa, a coffee table with stacks of papers and issues of the New Yorker on it, and an upright piano all arranged around a quite beautiful wooden mantlepiece around a deep-green tiled fireplace. The piano, she thought, seemed to be the only thing in the room—including Skywalker himself—devoid of dust or any sort of pilled fabric.

“Sit,” he gestured to the bench in front of the piano, standing next to the mantlepiece. He was a fairly unimposing man, Rey thought. Barely as tall as herself, bearded, and swathed in the lumpy, patched uniform of an older man determined to avoid leaving the comfort of his own home, right down to the slippers.

“So, Amilyn tells me you’re an Antilles Scholar from abroad,” he said, folding his hands in front of his saggy camel-colored cardigan. “Pursuing a piano degree, concentrating on performance.”

Rey nodded again, feeling dumb at her inability to say more for herself.

“Why?” Skywalker asked sharply.

“Excuse me?”

“Why music performance?” he clarified, the harshness of his tone unyielding. “Why that particular career path?”

Rey’s eyebrows furrowed at this and she tried hard to answer as politely as possible. “Because...that’s what I’m...best at...what I got the scholarship--”

The older man seemed displeased with this answer, sighing heavily out of his nose and saying, “Because others have told you you had to? Or because you wanted to?”

Her patience for his tone and line of questioning snapped prematurely. “Does it matter?” Rey said, her jaw set tensely. “I graduate in the spring. I need—guidance.”

Luke did not seem taken aback by her sudden shift in tone. “Then let’s see what you can do,” he said with a reedy edge to his voice, lifting the lid of the piano to reveal an ivory set of keys underneath.

 

****

 

An hour and a half later—though it could have been days for how excruciating Rey found the experience—Luke sighed heavily for what felt like the fiftieth time.

“You’re reading competently, but your phrasing is abysmal, particularly here and here,” he slapped the music sheet in front of her with a conductor’s baton he was using as a pointer. He had a tendency to slap it sharply on the edge of the piano whenever she played in a way that he found beneath his standards. Which was often.

“From the top,” he nearly growled, the incessant click-clack of a metronome set on top of the piano setting Rey on edge.

“Right,” she said through gritted teeth, flexing her hands before trying the advanced solo from the beginning.

Several more interruptions and heavy sighs later, Luke declared he’d heard enough, and bid her to cease her playing as he turned off the metronome. Rey shuffled to her feet and wondered if it would be too much of a faux-pas to leave without a word, when Skywalker turned to her and suddenly said, “And what’s your rock band called?”

“What?” Rey said, though she heard him quite clearly.

The old man’s beard twitched in a smirked that just barely reached his eyes. “You clearly have other interests on the brain. And from hearing you play, they’re not entirely unmusical.” He gave her a once-over. “I’ve seen enough kids like you in my time to know the irresistible lure rock and roll seems to have on you all,” he said, with a somewhat mocking tone to finish.

“Is it that obvious?” Rey asked flatly, realizing she’d rolled out of bed in the same Slayer t-shirt she’d gone to bed in, having thrown on a pair of faded black jeans, looking for all the world like a dingy metalhead low-life. Luke Skywalker, however, shouldn’t have been one to criticize others’ dress.

He shrugged, mollified at the validation. “I’ve been around the musical educational scene for a while, for better or worse. Nothing destroys potential like denial,” he said, with an appraising gaze.

Rey said nothing to this. She understood his meaning perfectly well, but didn’t want to engage in a conversation she wasn’t prepared to have. After a second of fidgeting, she asked, “Can I use your bathroom before I leave?”

“Second door on the left,” he said, gesturing vaguely towards the hall.

Rey scurried out of the room, and after relieving herself in the tartan-wallpapered bathroom, made to return to the sitting room, hoping to just be able to leave with as little conversation as possible. In the hallway, however, she slowed in front of a large photograph on the wall of a young blonde man with a brilliant smile, wearing a sleek black tux, his arm draped over the keys of a grand piano. She supposed this was Luke Skywalker in his prime—the blue eyes were unmistakable—but it was difficult to see any other similarities between the man in the photo and the lined, papery face of the scowling man she’d just met.

She scoffed, about to turn into the sitting room when she noticed a smaller photo next to it, dusty and details barely visible in the dim lighting.

Luke Skywalker, not much younger than he was now but smiling fondly, stood in an ill-fitting suit with his arm around a woman’s shoulders. There was something distinctly familiar about this woman, who was about Luke’s age—her dark brown eyes and graying hair pulled into an exquisite braid about her head. She wore a stylish pantsuit befitting a woman her age and held herself with dignity—and the embrace the two had suggested a warm but entirely unromantic relationship.

It was with a sudden jolt that Rey realized this must be an older Leia Organa. Senator Leia Organa. Ben’s mom….

She’d nearly forgotten the distaste she felt towards Luke when she spotted him again in the sitting room, trying to yank the curtains more firmly closed. “You’re still here?” he grunted, barely turning to look at her. “I’ll give Amilyn my recommendations….”

“Sorry,” she murmured, distaste arising anew. “I just noticed you have a picture with someone I recognize. Leia Organa.”

Luke turned to look at her curiously as she picked up her backpack from the corner. “Yes. Do you know her?” he asked warily.

Rey shook her head. “Not really; I just know her son. We—hang out,” she explained, thoughts straying to Kylo.

Luke’s eyes widened with something beyond his regular disdain, and he rushed towards Rey, a hand suddenly on her shoulder turning her towards the hallway, and ushering her towards the door.

“I think it’s time for you to leave,” he said in a hushed voice as Rey stammered, struggling to voice her confusion and indignance.

“But—what—”

When she was safely on the porch, Luke stood in the doorway, glaring at her with something more like fear than annoyance crossing his face. “I don’t understand!” she all but shouted, jarred by his sudden reaction to the mere mention of Leia’s son. What did he care?

“Let me give you some advice, because you seem like a nice kid,” Luke said sharply, his eyes shifting as if it was against his better judgement to continue. But he fixed her with a firm gaze and said, “Stay away from Ben Solo.”

Rey blanched at this, blinking in confusion.

“He’s dangerous, and nothing good will come from any kind of association with him,” a sort of restrained fury seemed to emanate with Luke’s every exhale. “It will not go the way you think.

And with that, he shut the door on Rey’s face, leaving her to gape at the empty space where his ominous words hung, welling up more questions than he had answered.

Chapter Text

“You sure have gotten serious about running lately, huh?” Finn asked as he stretched back on the couch, video game controller in hand. Rey’s sneakered foot almost slid off the chair she’d perched it on to tie her laces.

Her heart pounded quickly; it always did these days whenever any of her friends mentioned her apparent penchant for privacy, her running habits—or Kylo Ren.

“Hmm?” she hummed casually, trying to disguise her guilt at the statement and not trusting herself to speak at the moment. The bruising under Finn’s eyes had completely disappeared and his nose seemed for all the world like it had never broken under Kylo’s fist—well, with the exception of his new habit of jerking back slightly when any object approached his face, no matter how innocuous. I’m the worst person, I’m awful, Rey internally berated herself—maybe if she did it enough, her friends would go easy on her once they eventually discovered that she was secretly spending time with their sworn enemy.

“Running, you’ve been doing so much more of it lately,” Finn clarified, his eyes still on the little virtual car he was steering. “I wish I had that kinda willpower,” he sighed. “My fat ass needs to get back on track. Snap Wexley’s team is absolutely crushing me and Poe in ultimate frisbee lately.”

“Not sure running would help you there,” Rey laughed, relieved to have avoided any awkward and utterly guilt-inducing line of questioning. “It’s a load of grown men throwing a little plastic frisbee around; I think that’s your problem,” she chided.

Finn shrugged. “Burns off the burritos just fine! Oof, bastards,” he muttered, jerking the controller as his little car came under enemy fire.

“I’ll be back in a bit,” Rey called as she made for the door, adjusting her sweatshirt.

“Take my muscles with you, would you?” Finn called from the couch.

Rey wasn’t sure how she’d allowed something as inconsequential as semi-weekly exercise sessions become secretive. She hadn’t meant to keep it a secret from her friends, especially not Finn—but somehow, her private and guarded nature had once again led her down a slippery slope from leaving out irrelevant information to outright keeping a secret. She’d been down this road before, and it always led to the same thing: telling lies.

I’ll tell him eventually, Rey told herself as she made her way to the park. Somehow.

She wasn’t sure how one would bring up such a topic, especially now--the omission would feel too suspicious. Part of her hoped enough time would go by to the point where everyone would forget the brawl and think, “Oh, Kylo Ren? Isn’t that the guy in that band?” She knew this was absurd, however. Poe and Finn were probably the only people she’d ever met who held on to a grudge more tightly than she did. They wore their fierce loyalty like a second skin, and she was sure they wouldn’t soon forget Kylo’s transgressions.

 

****

 

Kylo waited for Rey, as he always did—incorrigibly early as he always was. He was pleased, then, to discover she was almost on time. His heart gave a tiny leap against his ribcage as he spotted her, tramping through the leaves towards him, wearing sleek olive green leggings and a boxy cropped sweatshirt he recognized from a previous run.

Holy hell, did she look good in that sweatshirt. It skimmed above her hips, accentuating her slender waist and her womanly curves. It took all of his willpower to not dwell on the memory of her, standing in the crowd at their show last week, apparently quite affected by the sight of him playing shirtless. Or, perhaps she was just captivated by his performance. Either way, it threatened to pull the corners of his mouth into a smirk.

“Ready?” he muttered, making to move into their warmups.

“And a good morning to you, too,” she said sarcastically.

 

****

 

After several laps and an intense final race to the wellhouse, Rey and Kylo recovered, breathing heavily and taking turns having sips at the water fountain.

“Face up to the fact I finally beat you!” Rey was gloating, her arms spread wide in a confrontational stance. Even though their races were always close, it was the first time they could have easily called it for Rey—usually they were too neck and neck to agree on a winner.

Kylo’s eyes glinted at her, trying to conceal their hunger. He did not scowl at her showboating display, having deliberately pulled back, allowing her to win. Watching her run ahead of him—in those leggings—had been worth it, after all. “You did, today. It’s bound to happen once in a millennia,” he teased.

Rey rolled her eyes at him and began to stretch her legs on a nearby picnic table.

“What would the townsfolk think, if they heard the mighty Kylo Ren bested by an orphan scavenger?” she retorted, expression alive with amusement. She noticed Kylo’s dark eyes glanced down the length of her raised leg.

“Don’t get too comfortable; next time won’t be the same,” Kylo all but hissed as a response, baring his teeth slightly.

Next time, he thought, I’ll catch you.

A shiver ran up Rey’s spine as it usually did when Kylo spoke with that tone. An onlooker might have found it vaguely threatening, but she knew him well enough to know it wasn’t quite that. There was something in his body language that made it clear it was anything but antagonistic. It was almost like...a tease.

Deciding it would be safer to change the subject, she switched to stretch her quads and said, “By the way. I met someone the other day who knows your mum.”

At this, Kylo’s eyes snapped up from where they’d been idly gliding over her form, all trace of hunger replaced with shock.

“You mean, someone who isn’t Poe?” he practically spat Dameron’s name. His chest constricted as he hoped that, whoever she had met, it wasn’t another handsome 20-something boy to distract her.

Rey nodded, “Well, yeah. His name is Luke Skywalker and he has a picture of himself with your mum; do you know him?”

At the mention of Luke’s name, Kylo’s intense gaze went from wariness to pure, stabbing hatred in a split second. “Oh yeah?” he said, his voice shaking slightly. “And what kind of lies did he tell you about me?”

Rey wasn’t sure what she’d expected his reaction would be to this news, but she hadn’t expected him to look quite like this. The very typical look of disdain he wore when speaking about Poe or Hux was nothing compared to what contorted his features now. There was something else there.

Was it fear?

She sat back on the picnic table surface, shrugging in an effort to diffuse the situation. “Oh nothing; he just warned me to stay away from you and that you were dangerous; blah de blah,” she said, convincingly dismissive of Skywalker’s cryptic warning, and maintaining a touch of humor in her explanation.

Kylo breathed heavily through his long nose and kept his eyes locked on her, though his body was turned away, fist balling at his sides. After a second he worked his jaw tensely and asked, “Are you going to stay away from me now?” His voice shook too much for Rey to not notice.

Rey threw up her hands in mild frustration. “What? No, of course not—that guy was honestly a bit of a prick; I don’t really put much stock in to anything he says,” she said.

Kylo stared into the pools of her wide brown eyes and felt himself on the verge of falling into them. Feeling some of his sapped energy return to him, he flexed his hands a few times.

“How do you know him?” Rey couldn’t help but be intensely curious.

For a while Kylo didn’t answer. “Ben?” She pressed.

“He’s—he was my music teacher at—at the institute. When I was a teenager,” he gulped hard, eyes darting away from Rey. “He’s my uncle.”

Rey gaped at this. “Your uncle?” She couldn’t believe she’d somehow run into another one of Kylo’s relatives. Another long tense silence followed, during which Kylo glared at a tree ahead of him, as if his stare could burn a hole right through it.

“The place you were at when you were a teenager,” Rey began quietly, fiddling with the cuffs of her sweatshirt. “Was it a mental hospital?”

Kylo’s eyes met hers again, this time wide and open, so expressive as they always were, she could feel his need. A need for something she couldn’t quite place. “Something like that,” he muttered, looking away again.

It was really more of a juvenile detention center that focused on underage boys with criminal and violent records, except with a pretty rigid education program and a tendency to medicate more problematic boys—sometimes after being tackled to the ground by an orderly.

But Kylo didn’t tell Rey any of this. And to his surprise, she didn’t flinch at his admission, or back away the way people usually did when they learned even a fragment of his past. He adored her for that.

After a moment, Kylo glanced up at her and asked, with a definite edge in his voice, “Are you going to see him again?”

Rey sighed, looking down at the ground. “I hope not. He was so mean, and he hated the way I played. It felt like he couldn’t wait to be rid of me, to be honest.”

Kylo stepped towards her eagerly, feeling as though she’d thrown him a lifeline. “He’s a fool,” he said aggressively. “You’re insanely talented, and he’s too weak to see it.”

Rey’s downcast gaze raised to him slightly, and he could see a slight pull to the corners of her mouth. Suddenly Kylo felt like an enormous weight had been lifted off his shoulders; his stance losing some of its tension. You’re perfect, he wanted to say.

She shrugged a little, feeling her face heat up under the gaze Kylo gave her now. “Well, Dean Holdo made me see him, and I always have to do what she says. Toe the line and everything. Because of,” she crossed her arms around her middle and sighed, “my scholarship and all.”

Kylo moved to sit next to her on the picnic table—but leaving a two-foot buffer between them, of course. He watched her as she spoke.

“Sometimes...sometimes I feel like I don’t even want to play piano anymore. I just went for it because I was worried they wouldn’t give me the scholarship and I wouldn’t get to ever leave Brixton,” she said, confessing something she’d been holding in for the past few weeks; something too painful to even admit to herself most days. “This whole experience is like—it’s like performing for them, always; not just piano, but to be their model student, you know?”

Kylo said nothing, but nodded once, listening intently.

She scoffed, hugging herself more tightly. “I don’t think I’ll ever live up to what they want.” She said this in such a small, sad voice that Kylo wanted nothing more than to gather her up his arms.

“Then why don’t you quit? If you don’t want to do it, then don’t,” he said sharply, his eyes locked on her face.

Rey looked at him, bewildered. “I can’t just quit—my scholarship—they’ve done so much—“ she sputtered

Kylo slid off the table and faced her, jutting his head forward towards her. “Oh yeah? Like what? What have they done other than parade you around in front of their cocksucking board members; making you perform parlor tricks for table scraps, like you were some kind of little circus poodle?” Kylo spat, a fury rising within him again—but this time, it was the kind of anger that goaded him on; made him feel more powerful. “You should never be anybody’s fucking lapdog.”

Rey found she didn’t disagree—quite the opposite—though it struck her to her very core to hear the truth in this way. It hurt.

Sliding off the table, she shook her head, wondering if she should change the subject, resume some exercises—anything to get Kylo to stop piercing her with that intense gaze again. But she couldn’t draw away. “Maybe...maybe I should just leave once the Falcon’s running again; leave town. I know Poe and Rose will just lose interest in the band eventually. There’s nothing here for me…” she had been privately considering this for a while. “I’ve always wanted to see the country.” Her gaze fell to the ground again, lost in thought. Her eyes felt hot.

Kylo took a step towards her, feeling panic rise in his chest. He couldn’t bear hearing her speak this way; seriously considering leaving town forever—leaving him.

Before he could stop himself, he blurted out, “Don’t leave. You should be in a band with me.”

Rey’s eyes lifted to him in shock, and he could see the smallest hints of moisture there.

“I think you’re amazing, Rey,” he said, feeling his heart pounding in his ears, which he was sure were blazing red at that moment. He took another step forward, and Rey flinched slightly, her breathing becoming heavier through her parted lips. “You’re—you’re so fucking smart, and tough, and beautiful, and—you’re a genius and I’d give anything to be able to write songs like you—”

Rey’s heart was gripped by sheer primal terror as she gazed up at Kylo’s face, seemingly transfixed, and once again overwhelmingly aware of his massive frame, inching closer ever so slightly. His voice seemed uneven and higher-pitched than his usual dark muttering.

“We could be in a band together. Just us,” he said, his eyes utterly soft and beseeching. “We could tour together. Forget Hux and Phasma; forget those losers you call friends. They’re all just pathetic hangers-on; they have no vision,” he all but growled. “Not like us.”

Rey was speechless; she felt as though her throat had dried up completely.

“Please.”

It was barely more than a whisper. He was so close to her now, and Rey couldn’t seem to move her feet to widen the space between them.

At that moment, Kylo threw all caution to the wind—his hands flew up to grasp the sides of Rey’s face and pulling her into a ravenous kiss.

The tiniest of squeaks escaped Rey’s lips in the split second before they were engulfed by Kylo’s, crushing her with their plush softness; the rough sandpaper texture of his stubble scraping against her chin—

He was sure he wouldn’t even make it to her beautiful pink lips; sure she’d roughly push him away with all the strength he knew her to have. But she didn’t, not immediately. In those two glorious seconds, Kylo inhaled her scent deeply, marveling at the intoxicating traces of flowery shampoo and womanly sweat—

And just like that, it was over, her hands on his chest, pushing him away; the spell broken as their lips parted and she backed away, panting and furious.

“You can’t—!” She shouted, her eyes darting over his figure, her body tense and radiating fear. “You can’t just—and then just—" she sputtered, and after a deep furious breath, she managed, “You, of all people! You can’t talk about my friends that way!

With that, she turned and ran off; leaves scattering in her wake.

Kylo watched her leave for a few seconds, and then looked away to the lake, seized by the sudden urge to walk into the pristine surface and not return. If there had been any objects within arm’s reach that weren’t leaves or trees, Kylo certainly would have thrown them aimlessly in a blind rage. So instead, he balled his fists and growled, “FUCK!” loudly into the trees, ignorant to the lone scandalized-looking jogger in the distance. A bird flew from its perch in a flutter of wings.

Feeling utterly unsatiated and brimming with self-loathing, he stood rooted to the spot, breathing sharply through his nose.

Unsurprisingly, she’d run from him. Kylo wasn’t sure what he’d expected her to do—he hadn’t exactly planned to kiss her. In fact, he’d put in a lot of time and willpower into not breaking down and kissing her. Or confessing all his deepest feelings for her, he remembered, as he dug his face into the heels of his palms.

He’d opened his heart to her, and she had run.

Of course she had. Because he was a monster.

Unbidden, the memory of her intoxicating scent tickled his mind. The smooth skin of her face under his hands; so delicate and soft under his grasp. The little noise she made when he’d kissed her….

The familiar heat of shame overcame him when he realized just the thought of kissing Rey, however brief and disastrous, had caused a stirring in his track pants. His cock had become hard, right there in the deserted park, and he exhaled a low growl, determined to vent his fury somehow and darting forward to stomp through the wooded area.

After the tree cover thickened sufficiently around him and the distant sounds of car traffic all but vanished, he stopped, bracing one hand on a sturdy tree trunk as the other fished his throbbing cock out of his track pants.

He’d only ever kissed a girl twice before in his life; both even more pathetic and disastrous incidents than the one he’d just had. The first was on a cruel middle school bet; chaste and unwilling on her part—she’d grimaced the entire time as if she’d just been forced to do something utterly demeaning as the gym class around them erupted into laughter. The second, when he was 14, and his crush Jyn Erso had roughly shoved him away, shrieking, “No, Ben, I don’t like you that way!” In retrospect, things had begun to rapidly decline in his adolescence after that scarring incident.

His kiss with Rey had been different in a lot of ways, he thought as he palmed his cock, hissing at the pleasure mingled with shame radiating with each stroke and twist. For one, he’d desperately wanted to do a lot more than just kiss her (his grip became firmer)—but it stood as the longest, most enthusiastic kiss he’d ever had, pathetically enough.

But that wasn’t why he found himself in a copse of trees, stroking his own throbbing needy cock—it was because they’d opened so much of themselves to each other; sharing their fears and deep secrets. He remembered her eyes welling with tears as she described her own feelings of inadequacy and shuddered at the terrifying intimacy of it all. He realized then that he desperately wanted everything she had to give; not only her lithe body, but her thoughts and feelings and her dreams—he wanted to listen to it all, preferably while thrusting his hard length inside of her.

“Fuck,” Kylo muttered, his pace quickening, a droplet of precum rolling underneath his fingers, causing him to shudder. He hated himself so much; he hated his monstrous impulses, for surely that was what had sent Rey running. But a small part of him knew, as he pumped away furiously, climbing towards a precipitous edge—that Rey wanted this every bit as much as he did.

Just not from you, his mind supplied, but it was no use—Kylo was too focused on the mind-blanking pressure on his cock and the ghostly memory of her small, strong hands on his chest as she’d pushed him away. The bright red flush to her cheeks as they broke apart, her breast rising and falling rapidly with her excitable breath.

With a growl through gritted teeth, ropes of his cum shot out; splattering onto the fallen leaves below with a faint rustle. He rode the aftershocks with a sharp inhale, his stroking hand slowing down.

A wretched wave of misery overcame him then, as he glanced down at the droplets of his own spend on the back of his hand. He was sure this was it—Rey would never speak to him again. He reflected on the fact he’d gotten so many second chances with her, and how he’d utterly destroyed all of them, in the way he destroyed most good things that came across his path.

Chapter Text

Rey spent the next few days in a lost, lonely haze. When she’d gotten over the utter shock of Ben’s confession and his ground-shattering kiss, she spent a lot of time mulling over the horrible truths he’d made her accept. It was a small pit of depression in which Rey found herself settling in to quite comfortably, despite Finn and Rose’s efforts to pull her out.

They had invited her to a house party Poe was throwing, promising her it would be more a cheese-and-wine affair as opposed to a raging kegger. Curiosity piqued more than any desire to socialize, Rey went along, thoughts swirling in her head as her friends chattered with each other around her.

As far as kisses went, she thought, it hadn’t objectively been the best. Rey was no expert, but kissing with overeager boys was about it in the scope of her experience. Not that Ben had been overeager, exactly. It’s just that his lips utterly crushed hers, and he’d locked her face in place with a firm yet surprisingly gentle grasp. But his hands…. His hands had been huge and warm on her jaw; thumbs grazing her cheeks. And she was sure she could detect the heated musky scent of aftershave as his rough chin scraped against hers. She was ashamed to admit that she’d actually...really, really liked it. If it hadn’t been for her completely downcast emotional state at the time, she might have allowed it to continue for a few more seconds.

Nevertheless, as much as she replayed the memory in her mind, it always led her back to the same conclusion: anger and irritation towards Ben Solo for capturing her lips at her lowest moment. It was a cheap move, in her opinion, and she’d decided almost instantly that she would no longer meet him at Mirrorbright Park to run anymore—that much was sure.

He’d told her he thought she was a genius, and beautiful—his face contorted with sincerity.

She didn’t know how to feel about this revelation aside from flustered.

Rey sighed, pouring herself some boxed wine into a small plastic cup, disinterestedly muttering “Hmm,” as way of response to some boy from Finn’s sociology class that had tried to make awkward small talk with her. She had no energy to politely decline the invitations to hackneyed attempts at flirting, instead opting to drift away towards the snacks.

She’d decided yesterday to not drop out of school altogether—Han had called a week ago to apologize that he’d be away for a while on a delivery job, delaying their plans to replace the fuel tank. It wouldn’t do to abandon her scholarship just yet, not when her personal escape plan wasn’t even mobile. Besides, Poe had happily informed them that First Order Records had contacted them for a few more shows in the fall and winter, with decent minimums. Rey didn’t want to give those up, either.

So she settled for emailing Dean Holdo to thank her for the recommendation and asking whether it would be possible to set up advanced lessons with someone else, anyone else but Skywalker? She hadn’t gotten a response yet, but it felt good to try to exert some control over her own life and happiness; having had it wrested away from her so continuously.

 

****

 

It had only taken about a day for Kylo’s crushed and broken feelings to metastasize into bitterness and anger at Rey’s rejection. He had, after all, bared his heart to her, offered to free her from her mediocre band and into a real, more meaningful partnership. He’d foolishly indulged in his own weak hope—hope that she reciprocated even a fraction of his feelings for her.

He knew now that he meant nothing to her. Less than nothing. She didn’t want to partner with him creatively, much less explore—whatever it was he had thought was happening between them.

It was with this anger that Kylo went into band practice several days later, beating so hard against his drum set that yet another pair of worn sticks splintered underneath his hands. With a roar of anger he stood and kicked over the floor tom.

Phasma and Hux exchanged glances as he stomped past them and out of the room, only to return after running his head underneath the faucet in the bathroom.

Hair sopping wet and ears furiously red, Kylo righted his drum set grumpily and insisted that they run through the songs again.

Hux looked like he was about to make a snide comment, but Phasma threw him a cold glare and he apparently thought better of it.

Despite his bristling rage, Kylo couldn’t help but feel utterly lost; it simmered underneath no matter how hard he tried to ignore it or how loud he howled the lyrics.

After a steely departure from the practice space and his bandmates, Kylo shouldered his tattered bag and mounted his jet black single-speed bicycle, pushing off with no real intent to go home.

It was barely after sundown, and the autumn sky was rapidly darkening in shades of of purple; the cool air on his knuckles biting as his wheels crunched through piles of fallen leaves. Today would have been a scheduled run for himself and Rey, he remembered, cruising idly past one end of Mirrorbright Park. He’d known she wouldn’t show up—he couldn’t bring himself to face that reality so instead of running he just threw himself into more boxing, pummeling a bag while trying to ignore Hux bragging about some girl he’d bedded and promptly abandoned the following morning.

Kylo wasn’t sure how he was going to face that park ever again. It would now forever be haunted by the memory of Rey. She had inadvertently taken away the one sacred time and place in which he could exhaust his own churning of emotions into something resembling peace; free from any interruption from Hux and Phasma. He wanted to hate her for it, but he couldn’t.

He could never hate her. He continued to pedal aimlessly, not really sure where he was going but almost certainly miles from his apartment now. His eyes began to sting--and he could tell himself it was just the cool air, and not the hot, clenching feeling in his stomach bringing tears to his eyes.

 

****

 

Han Solo groaned heavily as he sat down into his trusty old lawn chair. It had been getting colder and colder most evenings, but it wasn’t about to deter him from enjoying the fresh air in the parking lot as if it were his own damn porch. Outfitted in a shearling-lined denim trucker jacket, beer in hand, he had decided the chill in the air sure beat the mildewy stillness of his motel room.

He’d just returned from a long-haul trip across state lines, and was happy to be off the highway, back in this quaint town he and the out-of-commission Falcon could call home for the past few months. He idly considered alerting the girl Rey to his return, eager to schedule another repair session with her—but thought that like most young people after sundown, she’d be too busy partying with her friends. He’d call her in the morning instead.

It was in that moment that Han noticed a dark figure roll past beyond the parking lot edge on a bicycle. The figure paused as if looking at him and he experienced a brief sense of foreboding. After a few seconds, his suspicions were confirmed as he watched his son Ben roll up to him on his spartan black bicycle; dressed in black jeans and a black hooded sweatshirt that Han was quite sure could not be warm enough for the falling temperatures.

Ben stopped a good six feet away from Han, dismounting his bike but not letting go of the handlebars. He looked as if he had no desire to meet Han’s gaze, instead his eyes roving anywhere but his father’s face. “You’re still here,” Ben muttered, seemingly displeased with this information.

Han nodded slowly, taking in the dark circles underneath his son’s eyes, wondering if he was getting enough sleep. “Yeah. Haven’t gotten your license back, I see,” he gestured to the bicycle.

Ben looked down at the bike at this, and this time was prepared to meet Han’s eyes. “You know I haven’t,” he ground out. Although it had been about ten years since Ben’s license had been revoked for intentionally driving his mother’s car directly into a convenience store in town, he had avoided trying to apply for it anew; perhaps out of stubborness. No one had been hurt, after all, and Ben had simply walked away from the scene of the crash, surrendering to police when they caught up with him a few blocks away. But Han knew what had come after, as Leia plead desperately for clemency; citing their son’s unstable mental condition at the time.

The old familiar clench of guilt tightened over Han’s chest as he looked into Ben’s eyes, seeing the usual hatred there, but also so much misery. He sighed and made an attempt for amicability. He had never been any great shakes at diplomacy—that was always Leia’s gift, not Han’s.

“How’s the band? I hear you uh, you have a lot of fans,” Han said, trying to insinuate his approval.

Ben’s eyes fell back to the ground as he shrugged, annoyance flaring from his every pore. “I don’t care,” he muttered. Han almost wanted to mirthlessly laugh at this. He’d never known anybody who cared more than Ben did.

“Well, Rey seems to like your band,” Han said innocently, draining his beer.

At the mention of her name, Ben’s head snapped to his father’s face, his eyes suddenly full of vulnerability. Sometimes Han couldn’t believe he’d fathered a son with such an inherently terrible poker face. When he had been a kid, Han and his buddy Lando had joked about how young Ben’s face could be read like an open book.

In truth, Rey had not made any declarations about her feelings towards Ben’s band—she’d merely revealed that they had played some of the same shows together in the course of trying to make polite small talk. But Ben didn’t need to know that.

“I hear you’ve played some shows with her band; I think that’s neat,” Han said, affecting the comfortable tone of a disaffected dad, uncapping another beer with his lighter and offering another to Ben.

The gesture seemed to roil something bitter and unpleasant within him. “What the hell do you know?” Ben spat, as if he’d rather die than take a cheap, watery beer from his old man.

Han shrugged, placing the beer back in the six pack, and taking a swig of his own. “Not a lot, you got me there,” Han admitted. This seemed to quell Ben’s anger slightly, and Han studied his son’s face again. Something had clearly happened. After all, why would he have come here to see him?

“So…” Han began, treading lightly. “Do you think you’ll play more shows with Rey? She’s a clever girl; if she can play a guitar half as well as she can rebuild an engine…”

At this, Ben looked down to the pavement again, looking thoroughly broken. After a few moments of cold silence, he swallowed. “I dunno,” he muttered, not raising his head. “She…she hates me,” Ben said, voice breaking slightly and barely above a whisper.

There it was. Just as Han had expected, Ben had formed some degree of closeness—however small—with Rey, and had done or said something to push her away. He knew it as an inevitability because of the countless of times Han had done it himself.

He did not attempt to console Ben. He knew that wouldn’t have any positive effect.

“That’s too bad,” he exhaled, taking another swig of beer. He considered his words for a moment before slowly continuing. “Do you want her to...not hate you?”

Now, Han was quite sure his son’s eyes were reddening and filling with tears. His breathing had become quicker and he refused to look up from the ground. He worked his jaw in silence for a moment, and eventually said, “Yes,” in a quiet, shuddering voice.

Han wanted nothing more than to be able to stand and pull his massive ebony-haired son into a comforting embrace; to let him cry on his shoulder and to soothe him and tell him it was going to be okay. But that was impossible—it wasn’t something he’d been able to do for decades and through countless of instances of watching his only son distressed and shaking on the brink of breakage. He hadn’t been able to embrace Ben since he’d been 11 or 12, the top of his head barely reaching Han’s chin; bony limbs trembling against his father’s chest as his body was wracked with sobs. Han desperately wished it could be that simple again.

His son wasn’t that gangly boy anymore; so sensitive, almost too sensitive for his own good. But in that moment Han knew Ben was in so many ways still that deeply hurt, affected boy.

“Well,” Han offered, trying to remove his voice’s natural growl. “Women, ya know? Nothing you can really do but be open and honest with them, and try to be, uh, available for them.”

“The right ones always come back, whether they hate you or not,” Han added, fiddling with the label of his beer.

The measured advice seemed to have breached a boundary Ben had been unwilling to cross, and with one last, broken look at his father, he mumbled, “Whatever, old man,” and mounted his bike, riding away in one smooth motion.

“Good talk!” Han called after him as Ben exited the parking lot. He watched him disappear down the street in the darkness of twilight, sighing and wishing he’d asked him to buy a helmet.

Once upon a time, Ben had sought Han out for advice on girls.

Han had been sitting on the bed he and Leia shared in the house they once lived in, going through the familiar pre-bedtime rituals of a married couple. He was the sort of man that would have eschewed the notion of domesticity if it hadn’t been for Leia’s insistence that they stay put to give Ben the best education possible. He was such a smart boy, and it wouldn’t do to move him from place to place like hippie nomads as they had when he was a baby.

Leia had been telling Han about Ben that night; the results of a good test score she had been able to pry out of their increasingly private and quiet thirteen year old son. He’d just started high school and she had discussed at length with Han how difficult an adjustment it would surely be.

Han listened to all of this, peeling off his socks and scrunching his toes on the rug, murmuring noises of assent at all the correct times.

“The poor thing,” Leia sighed, as she rubbed a flowery-smelling lotion on her hands, settling under the covers in her nightgown. “Today in the kitchen he was being very quiet, and then he asked me what girls look for in a date,” she said this in an undertone, as if to speak any louder would alert Ben to his parent’s embarrassing discussion about him.

At this information, Han stiffened, and whipped around in the bed to look at his wife. “What did you tell him?”

A groan escaped Han’s lips as Leia shrugged and explained she’d told him exactly the truth: that he just needed to be himself. “What?” she asked, annoyance crossing her features.

“That’s terrible advice,” Han whined, and Leia huffed at him. “Please tell me you didn’t pinch his cheek and tell him he’s a handsome boy,” he spat. At the look on her flustered face, he was sure she probably did. His heart went out to the boy.

“What’s so terrible about being told people will like you for who you are??” Leia fumed.

“Because,” Han explained, rolling his eyes as he pulled the sheets down to get into bed. “He’s clearly not comfortable with who he is right now, so why would he be able to imagine any girls would be? He’s only thirteen—the kid probably jerks off five times a day and he probably just wants to be able to get close enough to a girl to cop a feel—”

“Ugh!” Leia raised her hands in disgust at Han, unwilling to hear any more. “If that’s all you think of our son, then it’s no wonder he has the self-esteem problems he has—”

“Hey, I’m just trying to be realistic—” Han spat back, jerking his thumb at his own chest.

“Well, if you know so much, then I’m sure you’ll have a chance to give him whatever sparkling pearls of wisdom you’ve got,” Leia growled, yanking the covers over her as she turned away from him in bed. “He didn’t seem exactly elated with my advice,” she muttered, face against the pillow.

“He was probably trying to not die of embarrassment,” Han snorted, and a soft pillow collided into his face.

As Leia had predicted, Han did get his chance—that weekend, when he was replacing a bald tire on the Falcon, Ben was keeping him company, frayed paperback novel in his hands as he sat cross legged on the driveway.

These days, Ben was pretty quiet about pretty much everything, with the exception of the latest fantasy or sci-fi novels he’d raptly describe to his parents. Today he was describing the parallels between Led Zeppelin’s music and Lord of the Rings, breathlessly thumbing through his book, in awe of how cool it all was.

“Sounds bitchin’,” Han grunted, only half listening to the description of wizard fights.

“It is,” Ben said nearly breathlessly, and there was a moment of silence broken only by Han’s occasional swearing under his breath as he went about his task.

When Ben opened his mouth again, his tone had shifted significantly, voice breaking as it usually did recently. “...dad?”

“Hmm?”

“How...how do you get a...girl to like you?”

Han froze at this, and raised his head to look at this son. His dark almond-shaped eyes were darting between his father’s face and his own lanky knees; his prominent ears reddening under the mop of overgrown hair. Ben’s features had grown at a rapid pace that was at odds with his sensitive and nerdy nature; his wide eyes and pink lips and face scattered with dark little moles making him look—despite all evidence to the contrary—a bit like a simpleton. Han was certain he’d never been so awkward at his age. He was at the very least quite certain he’d never been as tall, either—through last summer, Ben had shot up to Han’s height; his beanpole physique showing no signs of filling out any time soon. He often pitied the boy for it.

Pursing his lips in determination to succeed where Leia had failed, he put down the tire iron and shifted his weight where he was crouching to move a little closer to Ben. “I’ll let you in on a little secret,” he said conspiratorially. Ben was instantly alert.

“Girls don’t actually care about how cool you are or if you have a fast car or anything,” Han growled, having an oil-stained hand dismissively. “If you can make a girl laugh—and I mean really laugh, not that fake little laugh your mom does at those boring work parties she goes to—then, well,” Han’s eyes darted around before he lowered his voice to a whisper, “she’ll basically let you do whatever you want.”

Ben’s eyes widened at this revelation. “Within reason,” Han added quickly.

“Really?”

Han nodded wisely. “Yeah. You can be the biggest weirdo on the planet but if you can make a girl laugh until she’s clutching her sides, she’ll be a lot more receptive to any moves you might make.”

If Ben had been older, and if he had thought his son had even an ounce of experience in the matter, he would have tried to explain the sheer power of sexual magnetism that had surely led Leia into his arms; kissing him ravenously in the same breath as calling him a scoundrel. But the principle of a woman’s genuine laughter being so closely connected to her pleasure seemed an important place to start.

The boy’s seemed a little downcast after a second of silence. “But...I’m not that funny,” he muttered in a small voice.

“It’s not about being funny, per se,” Han scoffed immediately, “It’s more about being sharp, and quick on the take, you know? You can make someone laugh; I’ve seen you do it plenty of times.”

The easy reassurance seemed to soothe Ben’s worries. Han could tell that, even if his son wasn’t completely convinced on his advice, the look on his face told him he found it a hell of a lot less daunting than “be yourself.”

“Is that what Uncle Lando does? Make women laugh?” Ben asked, casting his thoughts to what was apparently the most popular ladies’ man he knew.

Han furrowed his brow. “No, Uncle Lando doesn’t need any extra help,” he growled, turning back to the Falcon’s tire.

It had only happened once, as it wasn’t long before he’d been sent away to that place, causing a dire rift across their entire family and evaporating any chance of fatherly advice Han would have for his teenaged son. Teenaged, young man; any stage beyond. Han felt as though his opportunity to parent Ben had ended abruptly at age 14, and it had been what caused a heartbreaking fall-out with Leia.

Back then, he simply could not forgive one love of his life for sending away the other, even though he was well aware he shared much of the blame.

Chapter Text

“It came from--THE DEEEEEEEP!” Finn said dramatically, wriggling his fingers above the girls, who laughed and pushed him away.

 

“Come on, it’ll be fun!” Rose said, shaking her grip on Rey’s arm.

 

Poe and Rose had driven over to their apartment to pick Finn up for a marathon movie night at a retro drive-in theater. Apparently, one of the movies was about a lake monster emerging from the depths to kidnap young maidens, and they’d just spent the last few minutes trying to convince Rey to join after her shift at Takodana Pub.

 

“Oh, I don’t know; it’s not really my thing,” Rey said weakly, slouching on the sofa, already wearing her work clothes.

 

“Whaaaat?” Poe said incredulously. “Sexy lake monsters are everyone’s thing; come on, I’ll buy you a hot dog.” Rose nudged Rey enthusiastically at this.

 

“No—guys, you go ahead. I know I’m going to be utterly exhausted after my shift; I’d rather turn in early,” she said firmly.

 

“Are you sure, Peanut?” Finn asked, dropping his lake monster persona. Rey nodded fervently.

 

“Alright, well, let us know if you change your mind,” Poe said, swinging his car keys on his fingers.

 

“Yeah—” Rose added sweetly, getting up from her seat next to Rey. “Text me after you finish, okay girl?”

 

“C’mon, let’s get! We’re gonna have to get there extra early if we want a good spot,” Poe said, ushering Finn and Rose towards the door.

 

“Later, Peanut!”

 

“Hey,” Poe said, before leaving through the door, pointing a finger at Rey seriously. “I care about you,” he added, in a sing-songy voice.

 

Rey rolled her eyes. “Yes, I know, go have fun!”

 

When the door had shut, Rey sighed sadly, moving to find her jacket and things to head into work. In truth, she probably could have joined her friends for some of the later night movies—her shift wasn’t a long one, as Jess Pava had offered to take on closing duties on her own. But Rey had been paradoxically seeking out solitude while feeling desperately lonely.

 

In the past few days, as she became increasingly bothered by the disappearance of her running routine, she had been forced to admit that she’d really missed Ben Solo. It felt like a kind of secret shame to admit it. She was still quite cross with him for the way he behaved, and for—well, for presuming that she’d ever want to kiss him (the fact he hadn’t been wrong, however, was one that Rey had left largely unexamined). Still, it was hard even for her to deny that she’d enjoyed spending time with Ben, in a way. Even if he is a gigantic dolt, she thought savagely on her way to work.

 

Earlier that day she’d regrouped with Han, who had returned from his work trip earlier in the week. After a brief catch-up and polite conversation about where he’d gone, Han asked Rey casually if she’d played any more shows with Ben. Rey told him she hadn’t, and closed off after that—unwilling to invite further conversation on the topic. She felt very grateful that he had not pursued it beyond that.

 

Unsure of how she was going to make it through another lonely night not letting her thoughts stray to Ben, Rey went about preparing for her shift, hoping, at the very least, that slicing lemon wedges and crating dirty glasses would be sufficient distraction.

 

****

 

Not long before the end of her shift, Jess Pava had broken the news.

 

“Okay, don’t be mad,” she’d said, somewhat sheepishly avoiding Rey’s gaze, after she’d asked why she’d offered to close the bar herself.

 

“What do you mean?” Rey asked, confused and wiping a clean kitchen towel on the hot, damp glasses out of the dishwasher.

 

“There’s a secret show tonight,” Jess whispered. “Management offered me time and a half for the closing shift since it’s likely to be a late night for a Sunday.”

 

Rey supposed she could have been mad that the same overtime had not been offered to her, but she found that a lot less interesting than the fact there was going to be a secret show that night at Takodana. Suddenly, the fact the bar had filled up at 10pm instead of empty out like it often did made a lot of sense to her. “Wow—do you know who it is?” Rey asked curiously.

 

Jess shook her head. “No idea, but clearly the news has spread a little bit,” she gestured at the small throng of people filing in.

 

An unsettling feeling dropped to the pit of Rey’s stomach, and she thought there was some excitement there, too. It held sway over her as she finished her duties at the end of the night, clocking out as the crowd at Takodana became positively jam-packed by the very small pub’s standards. From what she could see from the bar, the small makeshift stage area was completely empty.

 

Jess had made Rey a shift drink at the end of the bar before becoming far too busy with pouring beers for patrons, leaving her to poke at the cherry in her whiskey sour alone.

 

Suddenly, an ear-splitting squeal of feedback sounded from a decidedly unexpected place--closer to the entrance of the bar, across from the empty stage everyone was facing. It was followed by a searing distorted guitar riff and a rolling drum beat she found oddly familiar. Whipping her head to follow the movements of all the patrons who hurriedly turned on the spot away from the stage, Rey felt a hot apprehension settle in her chest.

 

STARKILLER was clearly the band playing the secret show, and Rey couldn’t believe her misfortune—or how she’d managed to not realize most of the patrons that had flooded in had the distinct look of STARKILLER’s fans: a lot of black denim vests, leather jackets, and patchy facial hair.

 

Just great, she thought bitterly, sliding off her stool with her drink and edging around the back of the crowd to try and get a better look. Sure enough, Kylo Ren was beating the drums as if they had personally offended him, with the ghostly pale Hux and Phasma weaving on either side of him like some kind of ornate window dressing. They were playing on the floor, and had apparently been able to set up without much notice—Rey spotted the sniveling Mitaka bobbing his head enthusiastically off to the left of the set-up.

 

She knew she should return to the bar; not get caught up in Kylo’s band yet again, especially after all that had happened between them—but she couldn’t; the familiar thrill his music held over her was too compelling.

 

“Oh! It’s such! A shame!”

 

“I look into your eyes,

And try not to cry,

That’s all I know,

Let’s hope it’s not wasted--oh! It’s such! A shame!”

 

As he sang, Rey was struck again what an unexpected range Kylo possessed. She could never have described his singing as nice, but it was quite distinct from his regular deep speaking voice. Somehow higher and affected with emotion. She realized she’d never heard him laugh.

 

In the next pause between songs, as feedback squealed and black-clad college students roared their approval, Kylo’s eyes met Rey’s. He was panting heavily, already sweating profusely. Rey did not look away, instead steeling her gaze to bore into his. She would not fold to his intimidations, she thought, as she took another strong swig of her drink.

 

But Kylo didn’t seem interested in a staring contest. He tore into the next song with no preamble, and the next, only occasionally glancing towards Rey--who found herself edging incrementally closer through the throng of weaving bodies.

 

“Back the FUCK OFF,” Kylo growled through his mask’s distortion at a fan who’d gotten a little too close to the drum set in his enthusiasm in between songs. And then, with no warning, struck up the next song, meeting Rey’s eyes fiercely.

 

“It’s not a substitute,

It’s not a substitute for you,”

 

Something tore through his voice and straight to Rey’s chest, freezing her on the spot.

 

“It’s not a substitute,

BUT IT!--WILL!--DO!

 

“MISSING YOU!”

 

Phasma and Hux headbanged in time to the crescendo, as Kylo bellowed into the concealed microphone behind his grotesque mask, his eyes clenching shut—

 

“MISSING YOU-OU,”

 

Rey swallowed and tried her best to keep her cool as the crowd of college-aged boys around her were increasingly unable to; jostling her from side to side. All the while, Kylo’s eyes stayed locked on her whenever he opened them.

 

After the song was done (they were all fairly short), Kylo stood suddenly behind his kit as the boys in the crowd voiced their raucous approval. “Time to get personal,” his deep voice was barely audible over the feedback and cheers as he stepped over his snare drum towards Phasma. She wordlessly removed her sleek black guitar from over her shoulders and handed it to Kylo, who jerked the strap over his own head, adjusting it to fit over his broad shoulders and torso. While the boys around them seemed to be losing their minds over this development, Rey watched as Phasma took her place behind Kylo’s drum set, plucking up two sticks and standing at the ready.

 

Kylo was fiddling with something clipped to the rear of his trouser’s waistband, and as a cable hiked his shirt up ever so slightly to reveal a strip of glistening skin, Rey realized it was connected to his mask’s microphone. He must use it to adjust the distortion, she reasoned.

 

He yanked the cables attached to himself like a man dragging his own shackles, lumbering a few steps ahead of the drumset, taking a wide stance among the excitable crowd as he began to play the guitar. His gaze pierced Rey once more.

 

He’s very good, Rey thought as his fingers flew over the fretboard, sounding a searing riff. Her stomach clenched at the thought, although it didn’t come entirely as a surprise—Kylo had made it clear in the past that he wrote and arranged all of STARKILLER’s songs. He’d have to be exceptional at guitar in order to do that. She drained her drink, abandoning the glass at the bar.

 

“Woke from my sleep last night,

All sweaty with quite a fright,

Looked to see if you’re next to me,

Somehow I knew you wouldn’t be--”

 

Phasma was playing a straightforward but pounding beat on the drums behind him—

 

“Seems that my dreams only come true,

When my dreams aren’t about YOU!

Nightmares are all you bring to me,”

 

Kylo pierced he with his gaze, and she could from his eyes full of hurt he was snarling underneath his mask—

 

“I’ll!

I’ll keep searching for you,

I’ll!

I’ll keep searching for you,”

 

To her horror, he’d begun to move forward into the crowd as he played; cutting a wide path through the masses of dancing bodies—to her.

 

“Lonely days and sleepless nights,

This doesn’t seem so right,

It leaves me wanting more,

More than I did before,

Seems that my dreams only come true,

When my dreams aren’t about YOU!

Nightmares are all you bring to me,”

 

With a hard glare in her direction, he turned away from her suddenly, sending a few spectators stumbling in his wake.

 

“I’ll!

I’ll keep searching for you,

I’ll!

I’ll keep searching for you,”

 

He continued this refrain, bent over nearly double over Phasma’s guitar, before splitting off with more ringing feedback. Rey stared, unsure what to think of what had just occurred. She’d heard a lot of Kylo’s songs before, but she’d never heard that one. It seemed almost unlike most things that had appeared on STARKILLER’s recent album—the tune was fast and almost hopeful, but heartbreaking all the same.

 

As if able to penetrate her mind, Kylo ground through his microphone, “Out of my head,” before being drowned out by a roar from the crowd.

 

Phasma struck her sticks together rapidly and they plunged into another song—much more aggressive than the last—Kylo’s masked face turning to once again find Rey in the crowd, who was pale and rooted to the spot.

 

He began to move towards her once again, screaming lyrics into the faces of various people as he lumbered past—

 

“You don’t b’lieve—in what I say,

You don’t b’lieve in when I need you,

I need you just about every day,

But you’re just too DULL to tell,”

 

He had gotten alarmingly close to her now, as he struck a wide stance, towering over her--

 

“ONE-TWO, ONE-TWO,

BABY I GOT YOU,

ONE-TWO, ONE-TWO,

RIGHT WHERE I WANT YOU--”

 

Kylo banged his head harshly, his damp hair whipping in a blur as the crowd around Rey threatened to become a mosh pit. Some part of her screamed to back away; to escape this situation--but she stayed put, setting her jaw firmly--

 

“--ONE-TWO, ONE-TWO,

BABY I GOT YOU--

 

“OUT OF MY HEAD, AND INTO MY BED,” he screamed this inches from Rey’s face; so close she could feel the heat radiating off his body and see the droplets of sweat running down the pale skin of his neck. Rey gave a shuddering exhale of breath that she instantly regretted—he had surely felt it, against his warm, damp skin.

 

His brown eyes met hers, wide and hungry as he played through the a searing riff, slowly being jostled by the crowd closing in around him as if about to be devoured by a horde of rock-and-roll-loving zombies. He tore his eyes away from her and shrugged off a few fans pumping their fists at him; his guitar riff becoming sloppier and more unhinged—

 

Until, with a roar, he ripped the guitar off over his head and brought it down to the ground with a deafening clang and screech of feedback; crowd-members just barely shuffling backwards in time to avoid the strike.

 

Rey watched as he struck the body of the black guitar into the ground over, and over again; his shoulder muscles rippling through his shirt—none of the rest of the crowd seemed to be too surprised by this display. If anything, it only excited them even more. Phasma had stopped playing drums, however, to raise her hands at Kylo in annoyance over the destruction of her guitar. Hux grimaced in his usual haughty way.

 

After it had finally shattered into several pieces, Kylo let go of the neck, straightening up unsteadily and panting heavily—his breaths sounding scratchy through the distortion, mingled with the waning whine of the feedback. Suddenly, the crowd exploded in cheers and screams, and Kylo unhooked his mask’s mic and walked away towards the back room, shoving several cheering well-wishes away. He passed within inches of Rey, not meeting her eyes this time.

 

It wasn’t until he’d disappeared behind a throng of people following him that Rey realized her mouth had been hanging open for a while. She quickly shut it and glanced at Hux and Phasma, who were still standing near their abandoned instruments. Hux leaned over to Phasma to whisper something in her ear, and with a feeling of cold dread, Rey watched as Phasma’s eyes locked onto hers from across the room.

 

To her displeasure, Phasma had stepped over the wreckage of her guitar, ignoring the few well-wishers that had stayed behind to compliment her and Hux, and walked straight towards Rey.

 

Too late to run, Rey thought weakly, as Phasma stopped in front of Rey, smiling a soft, cruel smile that didn’t reach her clear blue eyes.

 

“Oh look,” Phasma began coldly, and Rey could already feel herself hating her, “It’s the poor little orphan girl, once again. It’s almost as if we couldn’t be rid of you if we tried.”

 

Rey flushed at these words, but she was prepared for these kinds of insults—her jaw set automatically, glaring up at the towering Phasma.

 

“I wonder if your wretched junkie parents ever felt the same way,” Phasma added, in almost a purr.

 

“Shut it, Phasma,” Rey gritted through her teeth, clenching her fists. Phasma must have been about Kylo’s height, but somehow seemed more imposing despite her drapey black top.

 

The blonde only smiled more broadly at Rey’s retort. “Now, now--I’m not here to exchange pleasantries.”

 

“Then why are you here?”

 

“I could ask you the same,” Phasma scoffed. “Awfully convenient, isn’t it? Kylo choosing to play a secret show at this bar at the very last minute, and you just happening to be in the crowd,” she said, silkenly.

 

“I—I work here—” Rey sputtered, but no sooner had the words left her lips did she realize what Phasma was getting at.

 

“Yes,” she said, thoughtfully, adjusting a broad silver bangle on her wrist with elegant red claws. “You do. Tell me,” Phasma leaned down towards Rey, lowering her voice. “What exactly do you have on him?”

 

“What?” Rey spat, glaring at her with mounting incredulity. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

 

Leaning back, Phasma indulged in another smirk. “Oh, come on. Not only this show at the bar you work at, but all the shows you and your pathetic little band have suddenly been asked to play with us. All the guaranteed minimums you’re getting from our slice of the pie,” she sneered. “I know Kylo wants us to think it’s straight from First Order Records management, but we’re not stupid.” Sparing a glance at Hux, who was currently chatting up two busty-looking girls in tight tops, Phasma snorted, “Well--at least, I’m not stupid. I know there’s something going on.”

 

Rey’s heart begun to beat frantically against her ribcage. She wanted to retort, to defend herself; anything to refute what Phasma was currently insinuating—but she couldn’t. She was gripped with the sudden revelation that Kylo had clearly been the one behind their sudden windfall of musical success—the shows, the money, the popularity, all of it—possibly from long before they were even really on speaking terms.

 

“You know nothing,” Rey managed to choke out, stumbling away from Phasma, who watched her leave with a cold smirk on her face.

 

She needed to get away to think. Shoving her way through the lingering crowds, she made for the back door through which she usually took her brief breaks in the alley--when she realized the stockroom door was open at the end of a short hallway; its lights left on.

 

Acting on impulse, she determinedly strode towards it; instinctively certain of what she’d find—

 

Kylo was standing in the room, back turned on Rey as he toweled off his hair. He wasn’t wearing his sopping wet gray shirt anymore.

 

“Why my pub?” Rey attempted to ask firmly, but her voice shook despite herself. “Of all the bars you could play, why my—”

 

At her words, Kylo stopped and turned hesitantly to face her. Rey forced herself to keep her eyes above his glistening broad chest and on his morose face. She could still make out the faint lines from where the mask had pressed against his cheeks.

 

“What’s your problem?” she spat at him aggressively.

 

Still not speaking a word, Kylo picked through his open bag and extracted a fresh black t-shirt. Rey noticed the five o’clock shadow on his chin, and for some reason this made her even angrier.

 

“Do you hear me?” She scoffed as he glanced at her from underneath his lashes, still not speaking. “What was that?” She pointed behind her towards the door. “You were—you were getting in my face—“

 

“It’s called a performance,” he finally snapped at her, unfolding the shirt and raising it over his head to pull it on. Somehow, the gesture was even sexier than him taking his shirt off. “If you can’t handle it, I’m not sure how you’ll ever make it in—"

 

Don’t!” Rey brandished a threatening finger towards him, raising her voice and positively fuming. “Why—how could you—" she faltered under his reproachful gaze, and her tone became softer. “We haven’t spoken at all, not since—"

 

“You left!

 

Clearly, it was Kylo’s turn to be angry as he raised his voice, jerking his head forwards the way he always did to emphasize a point. “RAN away, if I recall.”

 

Rey sputtered, “What—what choice did I have?” Her eyebrows knitted as she looked helplessly up to Kylo’s face. His lip was trembling slightly. “I was so vulnerable, and disgustingly sweaty, and then you...kissed me out of nowhere—" Rey scoffed, looking down and unable to complete her sentence, her heart beating wildly.

 

Kylo stared at her for a few seconds. Rey met his gaze, the tight feeling her chest unrelenting. His face was so long and his cheekbones so high.

 

He lowered his face to hers, ignoring her sharp intake of breath as his eyes darted in between hers.

 

“I don’t care how sweaty you were; I’d lick you all over if you’d let me.”

 

Rey felt as if she’d had the wind knocked out of her. Kylo just let them hang there for a few seconds in silence as Rey, unmoored and reeling, tried to regain any semblance of sense. Feeling as though it might be wise to move away before she regained her senses and gave him another black eye, Kylo picked up his bag and turned away from her, heart heavy.

 

Almost immediately, however, he felt a hand on his, pulling.

 

When he turned around, Rey threw herself into him, not with her fist but with both arms wrapping around his neck, crushing his lips with hers—

 

Kyle dropped his bag without hesitation and wrapped his thick arms around her slight body, pulling her so enthusiastically into the kiss that she lifted off the ground but an inch—

 

It was sloppy and furious, Kylo’s large hands digging hard into her waist and rib cage, and Rey running her sweet tongue along his lips, seeking purchase and inhaling his glorious scent—

 

Suddenly, the distinct sound of Hux’s voice trying to shake off a male fan approached the door with perilous proximity—and Rey ripped herself from Kylo’s grip, panting and ignoring his furious snarl of displeasure at their parting. She darted away to what felt like a non-suspicious distance as the door burst open, and Hux strode into the store room, carrying his bass in its soft case.

 

He seemed surprised to see them both in the store room, and his eyes slid over Kylo, strands of damp hair falling across his shell-shocked face, to Rey. He smirked unkindly to her.

 

“Oooh, it’s our little Dickensian Heroine,” he trilled, his blue eyes roving up and down as he gave her a once over. For a brief moment Rey feared he’d notice—call attention to the fact she’d just thrown herself into Ben’s arms.

 

“Tell me; did they have brassieres in that dirty group home you’re from, or is this—display—a consciously slutty choice?” Hux sneered as he gestured at her front, eyes lingering on the thin button up vintage shirt she was wearing. Kylo’s face snapped to Hux.

 

Rey felt no desire to spare any response, so, feeling the sting of his humiliating remark, she pushed past the redhead and ran out of the room.

 

Hux’s eyes followed her for a split second before Kylo’s hand shot up around his neck and slammed him, hard, into the wall next to the door with a sickening crunch.

 

Gnnghh--” Hux could only sputter, his face reddening with the effort to take in any air while Kylo’s grip closed like steel around his throat.

 

“You’re disgusting,” Kylo gritted through bared teeth, and then proceeded to release Hux with another rough motion. “You--you can’t talk to women that way!” he shouted, almost bent double over Hux, who had folded to the ground and was gasping for air.

 

Not caring for any response, Kylo rushed out of the room, hoping to catch Rey before it was too late; to apologize, and offer to eviscerate Hux for her--

 

Bursting through the door leading to the cramped back alley, he rounded the exterior of the building to the sidewalk, and spotted Rey, walking quickly away from Takodana in an olive green flight jacket.

 

“Rey!” Kylo called after her, and she turned to look at him, bewildered.

 

She watched as Kylo rushed up to her, his features open and full of concern. “I—I’m so sorry,” he said, his voice rasping with rage. “Hux is a fucking piece of trash, and I’ll kill him for you--”

 

“What? Wait—no,” Rey said in a pained voice, shaking her head. “I don’t care what that ginger bastard said.” She crossed her arms in front of her, hugging herself protectively from the chill of the wind. “I just needed to get out of there. Too many people...”

 

Kylo’s arms tensed awkwardly at his sides, flexing his hands nervously. “I’m sorry I’m--I’m such a freak. I just don’t want you to be upset.” There was something vulnerable and broken in his voice. Rey stared up at him, remembering how soft his lips had been, how warm and right the feel of his hands on the small of her back.

 

Kylo stared right back, pleading without words, desperate to not say anything that would send her running again. “Can’t we—talk about it? Somewhere--private?” he added, casting his eyes around wildly as if at a loss.

 

Her eyes dragged down and up his body with a mixture of fear and hunger, and after a few seconds she nodded and said, “Yeah. Um, how about my place? Finn’s going to be—gone.”

 

Kylo’s eyes widened at this, ignoring the lightness in his chest as he nodded quickly. “Yeah, sure. Um, I—I have to load out, but—” he jerked his thumb back to the pub. “Give me forty-five minutes,” he said with renewed determination.

 

Rey’s eyelashes fluttered and she nodded nervously. “Yeah—um, give me your phone, I’ll put in the address.”

 

Instantly fumbling for his back pocket, he extracted a sleek phone of a model significantly more advanced than Rey’s and unlocked it. She took it and didn’t have time to really register that the background wallpaper seemed to be the factory default of a galaxy before tapping her address into a map.

 

Kylo took the phone back from her almost reverently, glancing down at the map’s location and back up at her, nodding grimly.

 

Without another word, he swooped down and gave her a quick peck on the cheek, his fingertips just barely brushing her hand, before turning and running full-speed back to Takodana Pub, dodging a couple of people smoking on the sidewalk in front.

 

Rey stood rooted to the spot, absentmindedly brushing her hand against the skin where he’d just kissed her. The constricting feeling in her chest had been replaced by an odd little flutter.

 

Chapter Text

She had kissed Kylo Ren. Not just kissed, but practically grappled him. Rey was sure that, if it hadn’t been for Hux’s interruption, she would have tried to climb him like a tree in that moment.

 

Now, sitting stiffly on the foot of her bed in her apartment, she wondered just what had possessed her inviting Kylo to her home. Upon arriving a few minutes ago, she’d checked herself thoroughly in the mirror, fixing her hair and reapplying deodorant. She’d had some alcohol at the bar, but she wasn’t that drunk--perhaps now she’d just gotten sober enough to realize the depth of her foolishness. Panic rose inside her as she jiggled her knee, wearing at the edge of the bedspread, terrified at the implications of inviting a boy into her roommate-free apartment.

 

What if Kylo thought she was offering him a quick, easy hook-up? Rey sprang to her feet as if her bed was somehow a culprit in her predicament. Worse, still: what if he’d really just wanted to talk, and she’d gone ahead and invited him into her boudoir like some sort of—loose woman???

 

Rey buried her face in her hands, feeling entirely unprepared for the knock on the door that would surely come. The way he’d bolted at the bar made her quite sure he had no intention on keeping her waiting.

 

Her stomach couldn’t help but do a backflip at this thought as she paced across her room. There was no denying it any longer—whatever had been developing between her and Kylo was more than a little overly friendly. She wanted him. Badly. The memory of pressing herself up against his hard, broad chest was enough to make her newly weak at the knees.

 

Guilt over her proclivities rose once again, but they were largely drowned with apprehension of what was to come. She wanted him, but—was she ready for him?

 

Trying hard not to think about it, Rey sat back down on the bed, rubbing her open palms against her jeans. He just wants to talk, she reassured herself, as if it were a calming mantra. He just wants to talk. And if he does anything I don’t like, he’ll regret it.

 

Her thoughts strayed to the pepper spray stashed in her nightstand; she’d gotten it for free at a Take Back The Night march she’d gone to with Finn and Poe, months ago. The image of how they would react if they knew exactly who she was about to meet turned her stomach into knots.

 

Tap, tap.

 

Rey nearly jumped out of her skin when a deliberate, sharp noise sounded against one of her windows. Through the darkness, she could just barely make out Ben’s ghostly face. He had clearly scaled up the side of the porch on the first floor, and crawled across the roof to her window.

 

“Holy shit!” Rey hissed, rushing to open the window for him. “You could have just used to front door!”

 

Ben shrugged as he poked his head inside, and Rey noticed he was holding a paper bag with his mouth, giving him the appearance of a large dog as he began crawling through the window (his shoulders did not both fit at the same time, and it required some maneuvering).

 

He’d changed out of his tattered work pants and boots into more fitted black jeans and plain sneakers, and a black hoodie over his t-shirt. “What is that?” Rey asked as he raised up to his knees from all fours and took the bag out of his mouth, offering it to her.

 

There was something endearing about seeing Ben kneeling before her like this, his brow soft and looking up at her. “I got you a snack,” he muttered. “I figured—it’s late, you might be hungry.”

 

“Oh, you didn’t have to—ooh, chocolate glaze, my favorite,” Rey had begun to protest before opening the bag and inhaling the sweet confectionary smell, eyeing the two donuts inside. She sat back on the bed and Ben got to his feet, treading awkwardly as if unsure what to do next.

 

“How did you know it was my room?” Rey looked up at his face, trying to nonverbally communicate that she could join him on the bed.

 

“Yours is the only one with Christmas lights and an Iron Maiden poster,” Ben gestured at the image of a screaming Eddie as he gingerly sat down on the bed next to Rey. His knees came up considerably higher than hers, and he, too, fiddled with the edge of the bedspread.

 

Glad to have a distraction on her lap, Rey took a piece of one of the donuts and devoured it. It was delicious, and she offered some to Ben, and he waved it away. “No, thanks.” She was suddenly struck by the gesture. He must have stopped somewhere specifically to acquire them just for her (she had frequently complained about wanting donuts on their runs).

 

In fact, Kylo had stopped by a 24 hour diner he knew made fresh donuts late into the day, biked furiously to her house, locked his bike up across the street, and waited in the darkness outside her house for all of five minutes as he tried desperately to let the air cool the sweat on his skin--unwilling to burst into her home like a sweaty, out-of-breath monster. He then scaled the trellis on the side of the house with ease, swiping his foot out of the way just in time for the elderly woman who lived on the first floor to miss seeing him as she turned on the porch light.

 

“Your neighbor almost saw me,” Ben said. “Downstairs.”

 

“What, Mrs. Mothma?” Rey said, amusement breaking in her voice as she swallowed some donut.

 

“I think she thought I was her cat,” he muttered, and was relieved to hear Rey snigger softly at this.

 

“To be fair, her cat is huge,” she joked, setting aside the bag of donuts, watching the corners of Kylo’s lips quirk.

 

Silence fell as they both stole glances at each other, awkwardly catching each others’ eyes.

 

“Ben,” Rey finally said, and her voice was so soft it melted something deep within Kylo’s chest. “Did you ask First Order Records to give us all those shows?”

 

His eyes met hers hesitantly, and almost ashamed. But she didn’t look upset. She looked nervous.

 

“How did you—” he began to murmur.

 

“Something Phasma said,” Rey said quietly, her breath catching at what was essentially his admission.

 

He growled in frustration, deeply annoyed by not only the fact Phasma seemed to have seen through his plot, but that she had presumed to have permission to speak to Rey at all. “What did she say?” he snapped his head towards Rey, gritting his teeth. “Did she—upset you?”

 

Rey shook her head; barely remembering what else the woman had even said. “It doesn’t matter. I just—why did you that?”

 

It could have sounded admonishing, but it instead came off as genuinely curious.

 

“I wanted to give them a chance,” Ben began slowly, working his jaw nervously. “A chance to see what I saw. In you,” he added, avoiding her gaze.

 

Rey didn’t know what to say. She had expected him to deny it, or at the very least tell her he’d just wanted an excuse to see her again. But that still wouldn’t have explained why he’d insisted on splitting a considerable portion of the show profits with them--opening bands usually never made money on shows like that.

 

“You didn’t have to do that,” Rey all but whispered, looking down at his hand tensing on the edge of the bed.

 

“I know,” he said quickly, raising his eyes to look at her. He swallowed hard. “Rey—"

 

Hearing Ben speak her name like this did something to her insides. For a second she wildly imagined her stomach as a coffee can filled with spring-loaded novelty snakes.

 

“I meant—everything I said that day,” he said haltingly, holding her gaze defiantly. “I think you’re amazing,” he added more quietly.

 

Rey flushed more deeply, and a part of her screamed at her to retort; to argue—that he’d been utterly insensitive to her and her friends, calling her band a waste of time.

 

But his eyes were so wide and deep and sincere that she couldn’t bring a harsh word to him in that moment.

 

“What about,” Rey began, still in a whisper, “what you said tonight?”

 

Something hardened in Ben’s eyes. Something captivating and searing.

 

Yes,” he said firmly, not looking away. “Every word.”  

 

He knew he and Rey were thinking of the exact same thing in that moment, for reflected within her wide hazel eyes he saw a fire he knew all too well in himself. It seemed miraculous that Rey—his beautiful, brilliant Rey—could be looking back at him with an unbridled desire that practically radiated off her in waves of warmth.

 

Rey’s eyes darted from his to his lips—which were maddeningly full and alluring. Without thinking, she brought a hand up to his face and lightly stroked the pad of her thumb down his cheek, causing him a sharp intake of breath. Her face drew closer up to his and she kissed him, so softly this time, and slowly. Ben let out a beautiful little muffled moan she wouldn’t have thought possible from a man so imposing. He hesitantly reached out and curled one hand around her waist, gently stroking his thumb over the small of her back; the other hand at the nape of her neck. The sensation sent a pleasurable tingle down Rey’s spine, and she drew closer to him, running her fingers through his hair—which was every bit as thick and lustrous as she had imagined.

 

Kylo was only dimly aware of how unbelievable it all seemed. He was never particularly confident in his ability to kiss before Rey—when, that fateful day by the lake, he’d simply allowed instinct to take over, ignoring the awkwardness of his own teeth and nose prominently getting in the way. But now, Rey was kissing him, and passionately--the little hums of pleasure and the urgency of her hands in his hair and on his shoulders made it quite clear she did not object to him running his hands over her body with the same urgent passion.

 

Rey ran a hand down his chest and could feel his heart beating at a more frantic pace, oblivious to the fact his blood made a heady migration decidedly south.

 

She broke away from his lips briefly, just to catch her breath, when Ben took the opportunity to kiss her cheek, her jawline; planting furious kisses along her neck. Rey gasped, clutching on to his shoulders as his arms braced around her body, trapping her as he practically devoured the crook of her neck, laving over the sensitive skin there with his tongue.

 

You taste--so good--” she heard him whisper, in between his ravenous kisses. The words and the hot breath on her skin made her bite her lip, and she was unable to suppress a shuddering moan. Rey ran her hands over his broad, muscular back, marveling at his size. In his closeness she could feel his warmth; and even more startlingly, detect a subtle scent: something woodsy and masculine. It felt like a glass of top shelf whiskey rarely ordered at Takodana, but with none of the acrid bite.

 

Driven mad by the little sounds she made with every bit of contact, Ben threw all caution to the wind and roamed one hand up the side of her body, brushing his fingers across the side of her breast before giving it a firm, decisive squeeze.

 

Ah,” Rey moaned quietly, and for a moment, she and Ben looked into each other’s faces, panting and staring into each other’s eyes with undisguised want.

 

Almost instantly they were kissing again, Rey intoxicated by his manly scent and the scrape of his stubble on her jaw; Ben’s hands thumbing over her hardening nipple underneath the thin fabric of her shirt. He frantically began unbuttoning her shirt and Rey sightlessly helped him along, any self-consciousness over her body almost entirely forgotten in the scent of him; the feel of his large strong hands all over her--

 

With a soft thwump they both fell backwards onto the bed, with Rey on her back and Ben above her, breaking away from her lips to graze his eyes over her exposed breasts. He had thought, before, that if he’d ever had a chance to look upon Rey’s small, pert breasts unimpeded and uninterrupted, he would just stare admiringly for ages. But the heated ache in his manhood compelled him to dive forward and kiss a sloppy trail down her delicate collarbone and to her left breast, taking it in his mouth; his groan nearly a growl of pleasure at finally feeling her hardened dusty pink nipple on his tongue.

 

Rey gasped at this, clutching at his hair; her hands roaming over his back and taking fists of his shirt in a vain attempt to pull it off as he kissed and suckled at her breasts, caging her slight body in between his limbs. She felt almost dizzy at what was unfolding now; her surprise at his simultaneous ferocity and tenderness overwhelmed by the exquisite ache that increased between her thighs at his every lick and caress. Even through the haze of disbelief and pleasure, she was prescient enough to notice something—large and hard, like steel—press up against her thigh as Ben draped a leg across hers.

 

“Mmmm,” she sounded, her brain trying to sound words despite her body’s objections. “Ben--

 

A nipple caught in between his teeth and lip, he looked up at her face from under his brows--and the sight of him like that with his hair falling over his eyes sent more shivers of excitement to her nether regions.

 

“I’ve—I’ve never done this before,” she struggled to whisper, her hands running over his broad shoulders and down his arms. Holy hell, he was so impossibly hard and strong, she thought. “With a man.”

 

Ben looked up at her wordlessly, having released her nipple. Resisting the desire to grind into her hip—not exactly trusting himself to maintain his composure—he raised himself closer to her face. So, she was in fact inexperienced, despite being constantly and irritatingly surrounded by thirsty, handsome college boys. Amidst her expression of heady lust and desire, he could see a tinge of apprehension.

 

Or was it fear?

 

The last thing Kylo wanted at this point was for his Rey to fear him. He knew her to be generally fearless and indefatigable in his presence where so many would have been quelled—and it was one of the many reasons he couldn’t stop thinking about her. He swallowed after a few seconds and said, “We—don’t have to—”

 

No!” Rey whispered, as if not wanting to risk being heard. “I want you—” she began before breaking off. Kylo swallowed again at her words, his resolve tested. He was torn between giving her exactly what she wanted, and confessing his similar lack of experience to her. Either ran too much of a risk of pushing her away.

 

“We can—take it really slow,” he said, feeling, to his surprise, a huge sense of relief. As much as he didn’t want Rey to fear him--or any part of him--he also desperately didn’t want to disappoint her.

 

Rey nodded gratefully, her hands slipping underneath his shirt and caressing his lower back. “Slow,” she exhaled. “I like that.”

 

They were kissing, again, Ben’s hands running over her body again; his thick, hard something pressing into her hip—Rey obviously knew what it was, but she could not bring herself to confront the reality of it. It seems too big, she thought to herself desperately as she tugged his lower lip with her teeth, eliciting another moan from his throat.

 

In their passionate embrace, Kylo trailed a hand down her abdomen, her back arching at his touch on her warm skin—and hooked a finger into the waistband of her high-waisted jeans. Rey gave a little moan at this, breaking away to kiss at his jawline and his neck and ever so slightly rolling her hips towards him. His heart beating even fast, Kylo’s fingers found her fly and slowly unbuttoned it, unzipping her jeans and gently running a hand over the taut skin of her belly.

 

They met each other’s gaze, Rey’s hazel eyes hooded and darting between Ben’s eyes and his lips, blushing furiously and brushing the hair out of his face with her hands. He watched her face carefully as he slowly dipped his fingers underneath the hem of her panties; trailing his hand down, down, through the curls at the apex of her thighs and watching her intake of breath as his fingers found the warm, slick wetness of her folds.

 

Ben let out shuddering gasp at this, not tearing her eyes from hers as she bit her lip, blushing furiously. He probed two fingers along her heat, gently stroking and exploring, eliciting rousing moans from them both. He badly wanted to look at her body, to pull down any barriers between them and take in her feminine warmth, but he allowed himself to be pulled into another sloppy kiss as he blindly swiped her fingers along her slit. He tentatively brushed what he was sure had to be her clit—and she bucked her hips slightly, moaning into his cheek.

 

Feeling as though he was entirely on fire now, Kylo couldn’t stop himself from breathily whispering in her ear, “You’re so—wet—

 

Rey let out a small squeal of embarrassment but pulled him closer to her all the same. Kylo concentrated all his remaining mental faculties on her pleasure; knowing it wouldn’t do to lose control and come in his pants right now despite how badly he ached for her—how badly he wanted to feel her wetness on his cock.

 

Rey let out another little gasp as one of Ben’s thick fingers found her entrance and gently pushed inside; his breath ragged and warm in her ear. It felt like such a foreign sensation—her own fingers were much smaller than his, and when she’d touched herself in lonely moments in bed, she’d only ever just worried her fingers over her sensitive bud until the familiar feeling of relief. But now, Ben joined his first finger with a second, and she marveled at the lovely stretching sensation at her entrance, brushing her hardened nipples across the fabric on his chest and throwing her head back in pleasure.

 

Kylo watched her as he stroked experimentally inside her soft, wet heat; amazement filling him as eventually she gasped and nodded at a motion he’d made and he latched on to it—repeating it, and watching her reaction in a sort of trance as she rolled her hips back and forth on his fingers.

 

With some difficulty, hand stretching the front of her panties, Kylo brought his thumb up to her clit and delicately began to rub circles around it. He was transfixed by her reaction—her face flushed deeply with color and her mouth fell open in a delicious moan; her eyes fluttering closed—

 

Any conscious thought beyond sensation evacuated Rey’s mind, and she gave herself entirely to pleasure, her hips bucking around Ben’s hand; her own hands grasping at his shoulders, unaware of the noises she now made over the building tension and friction as he worked his fingers—

 

Faster,” he could barely hear her say in a breathy moan, and he obeyed; grateful his years of practicing guitar rendered him immune to any hand cramps—

 

It happened over seconds, but to Rey time was irrelevant as she let out a throaty moan, jerking her hips spasmodically over Ben’s working fingers; feeling as though she was hurled off a precipice in a beautiful electric surge of sensation that washed over her every limb.

 

Ben watched wide-eyed as her chest flushed with color, her breasts quivering slightly under her sudden convulsions and her face screwed up in ecstasy. “Ben--” she babbled thoughtlessly, and his name struck him like a blow to the face; reeling in the sheer impossibility that he did this to her. It was all too brief as he tried to take every detail of her face and her toned, arched body as she rode the wave of her orgasm, jerking and gasping with every one of his slowing movements as he came to a hesitant stop.

 

Rey’s eyes fluttered open as she panted heavily, breast heaving and her hands falling limply from their vice-like grip on Ben’s shoulder’s. Her pupils were blown wide and her lips flushed and Ben couldn’t imagine an image more lovely than her as she was now, the light sheen of sweat on her forehead and in the shallow valley of her breast.

 

Slowly and gently he removed his fingers from her plush warmth—amazed at how she’d coated his hands anew in a wave of moisture when she came—and brought them into his mouth, tasting her arousal without ever breaking his eyes from her perplexed gaze.

 

Rey had never seen anything more arousing in her life—his full dark lips slowly sucking and releasing his own fingers, heady with her slick scent, his dark eyes boring into hers—

 

Without thinking, she pulled him into a furious kiss, and he responded by running his hands over her body as they both rolled onto their sides. The sheer weight of him on the mattress rolled him to his back, and suddenly Rey was on top of him, feeling her body in its disheveled clothing weigh down on him, straddling one of his legs and feeling a certain hardness against her hip—

 

Large hands braced her hips, his fingers wrapping around to her ass as he shifted her over and thrust the hard length in his pants against her core. With a shudder, Rey pulled away from their kiss and looked down at Ben—who was once again giving her that wide, blazing look; his lips parted to reveal a glint of incisor. A look that made her feel like he could devour her whole.

 

“Um—” seized by a sudden panic, Rey propped herself up on her hands and knees, instantly putting distance between her body and Ben’s hardness. “I think—I’ll be right back; I feel like a mess—"

 

“Wha..?” Ben breathed dazedly and his arms followed her outstretched as she leapt off the bed, a hand shutting her shirt closed.

 

“I’m just going to change—just—get comfortable—” Rey said in a higher-toned voice than usual and disappeared into the capacious closet whose door had stood ajar.

 

Propping himself onto his elbows, Kylo felt a rush of confusion intermingled with the throbbing ache in his balls. Had he gone too fast? She had seemed to, for all the beautiful perspiration and rolling trembles of her soft curves, very much wanted him to touch her in that way. If he hadn’t just experienced the most monumental girl-pleasing milestone in his life, he might have felt more distressed at the way she’d torn herself away--the way she practically ran upon feeling him thrust into her.

 

But she hadn’t run far, and with a soft stroke over his clothed erection to steady his patience, he sat up on the edge of the bed, determined to be comfortable.

 

To appear in his boxer briefs before her when she emerged (she’d have to come out eventually—right?) would probably be too aggressive a move. She clearly was not ready to be confronted full-on by his manhood, though he desperately wanted to bare himself to her. Still, he was quite confident by now that she liked his hair, and his naked chest, so he hurriedly yanked his shirt off over his head; determined to reel her in with all the things he knew she liked and touched eagerly. Maybe she’d like to touch more, he thought hopefully, as he kicked off his shoes and socks, not wishing to impede the removal of his jeans if that’s what she wanted.

 

Fuck, I hope it’s what’s she wants, he thought with a hard swallow as he cast his eyes around the room. Until now, he hadn’t really had time to take a good look around—the room around Rey blurring into a soft warm backdrop as he felt incapable of looking away from her too long. Now, while Rey was rustling through some clothing hidden from view, he was able to take in his surroundings.

 

The room was small, but warmly lit, and practically crammed with second-hand items--a chest of drawers, a worn and bulky nightstand, a stack of textbooks and piles of CDs next to a beaten up old stereo. On the walls there were posters of metal bands and small postcards of places Kylo was quite sure she had never been to tacked up haphazardly, along with some various ephemera like a Vietnamese take out restaurant menu, and a fall semester class schedule. He recognized the familiar sight of a jumble of bottles and tubes of lady products, having seen something similar on his mother’s bathroom vanity countless of times in his life. That, along with the shabby and colorful kind of quilt on her bed—topped with a couple irregular pillows too many—gave the room a distinctly feminine feeling entirely unlike anything Kylo was used to occupying.

 

The bed, which he guessed was smaller than his, was shoved into a corner of the room, and his bare feet felt a rag rug underneath that softened the scuffed hardwood floors. In retrospect, it all felt very nest-like. And very Rey.

 

His eyes fell past the ugly outdated lamp on her nightstand to a small cork board leaning up against the wall, positively covered in pinned-up papers and pictures. Kylo felt an unpleasant, hot feeling of rage drop into his stomach as he realized one of the photos was of Finn.

 

It looked like a photo taken with a disposable camera; the flash obscuring all the scenery behind Finn’s head in darkness. In the photo, Finn had a spoon stuck to his nose, and was wearing a goofy duck-lipped expression. Something painful rent in Kylo’s chest as he savagely searched for things to hate about the boy in the picture—above all, he simply hated how much Rey must have cared for him to pin this picture up in her intimate little nest.

 

Seized by the sudden desire to rip the picture off the board and throw it in the trash, his arm darted forward, deciding to perhaps cover it up with something else—when he realized there was another picture underneath. A smaller, more portrait-sized photo.

 

His curiosity overtaking his spiteful rage, Kylo peeled the photo of Finn up to reveal the picture underneath, and his breath caught in his chest.

 

It was clearly a school portrait of Rey. She can’t have been any older than fifteen or sixteen in it.

 

But how she looked in this picture filled Kylo with a sort of reverent awe.

 

Sitting in front of a drab marbled backdrop, sixteen-year-old Rey must have been going through a much angrier rebellious phase in her life than he ever would have suspected. For one, her normally lovely determined eyebrows were completely gone—shaved off, it seemed—and she wore heavy eyeliner and black lipstick over her expression twisted into the deepest of scowls. Her hair was drawn back with truly atrocious amounts of hair gel, and portions of it had been shaved off at the temples, with more locks still dyed blue and green. She wore a thin black cord around her neck like a choker, and a heavy-looking leather motorcycle jacket over what he had to guess was a Screaming for Vengeance Judas Priest album cover shirt.

 

Kylo drew back from his inspection of the photo slowly, committing every deeply embarrassing detail to memory, but unable and unwilling to feel anything but awe and admiration for pissed-off teenaged Rey, who clearly had chosen to enshrine her juvenile fury in the annals of her official school photo, with no parents able to stop her. He desperately wished he could have met this girl when he was in high school—even though he knew everything about his life, from his age to his distance from her across an ocean, to his upbringing would have made any friendship before now impossible.

 

Instead he felt a surge of affection towards her, feeling eternally grateful that he got to see evidence she had existed, and probably still did inside adult Rey. He wanted to know so badly about the things that pissed her off, and about why she’d shaved off her eyebrows. His lips quirked at the thought of asking her, even though he knew instinctively she’d be furious and embarrassed at his intrusion.

 

Casting his eyes around the bed to rid himself of the creeping smirk on his face, he spotted something irregularly-shaped and gray poking out from behind a pillow.

 

****

 

It took Rey a few seconds to calm her breathing, hiding behind the closet door laden with shoes in a hanging rack. She’d just run, like a scared little girl, from Ben, who’d just given her the most quaking orgasm in her life and done things to her that in her inexperience, she hadn’t even known would be effective. She felt a wave of embarrassment as she peeled off her shabby unflattering work jeans, not failing to notice how utterly soaked her panties were. She hadn’t wanted to seem ungrateful or mercurial, but she surely had—and now she felt an overwhelming pressure to make it up to him somehow. Because men will hate you if you act crazy, right? She thought wryly to herself as she searched her closet for something sensible to change into to mask her sudden panic and reason for leaving.

 

Rey knew what had caused her to leap off the certifiable brickhouse of a man presumably still sprawled on her bed on the other side of the door (he wouldn’t leave, would he?). When he’d thrusted his—well, when she felt him move underneath her in that way, she felt entirely unprepared for whatever she could see in his eyes would happen next. Unprepared, even though her body screamed for it just as badly as the hard length in his pants seemed to. The thought filled her with shame and made her feel like an immature little girl; the girl she knew she had often been in secondary school where boys would call her a bore and a prude and mean girls would paradoxically call her a slut. She desperately had wanted to be neither.

 

Determined to not be a prude, but all the same cautiously wanting to move slowly with this (molasses slow, if need be), Rey discarded a few of her favorite sleeping shirts in favor for her biggest t-shirt, for all the rest would reveal too much of her bottom if worn without shorts. And she didn’t want to wear shorts. Or panties, she decided, more boldly than she felt. Stripping her remaining clothes off and throwing them into a hamper, she slipped on the gigantic Public Enemy t-shirt that had once belonged to Finn, back when he’d been a chubby teenager trying to cultivate a tougher look. It came down mid-thigh and could have been a sensible mini dress for all the world. But not too mini, she gulped.

 

Steeling herself, she rounded around the closet door, taking comfort in the fact Ben was unlikely to laugh at anything, much less at her in her ridiculous t-shirt.

 

But what she saw filled her with dread all the same.

 

Ben’s head snapped up to her in surprise, his expression as if he’d been caught stealing out of his mother’s purse. He was shirtless, which Rey did not object to, but he was also clutching in his hands—

 

“Lieutenant Bunbun,” she breathed, before she could stop herself, and quickly stepped forward to snatch the pathetically worn-out and frayed plush rabbit out of Ben’s large hands.

 

“What?” Kylo asked, suppressing a smirk as his eyes took in her defensive stance and huge t-shirt.

 

“It’s his name,” Rey muttered, flustered and cheeks turning violently red. She shoved the plush toy roughly into a drawer.

 

“I’m sorry,” Kylo said quickly. “I didn’t mean to--I just saw something sticking out, and I….”

 

Rey covered her face in her hands and plopped down to sit next to him. “You must think I’m some kind of child,” she said flatly, through her hands.

 

“Of course I don’t,” Kylo said, and it seemed as though he meant it. She lowered her hands and looked up at him. His face was easy and open, with that soft expression that always relentlessly drew her in.

 

Kylo watched her in silence for a second. “Why is he a Lieutenant?” he asked softly, with an odd quirk on his lips, and Rey resisted the urge to punch him.

 

“Because he’s an officer in the Royal Rabbity Air Force,” she said defeatedly, giving him a sideways glance. “He used to have a little aviator’s cap but I lost it ages ago.”

 

“Oh.”

 

“I just...had him since I was a kid,” she added, avoiding Kylo’s eyes.

 

“Did your parents give him to you?”

 

“I’m not sure. I don’t think so.”

 

Kylo could sense a sort of door threatening to close on him. But after seeing what felt like such deeply intimate childhood mementos, he considered it worth the risk. “Do you...remember your parents at all?”

 

Rey’s eyes met his with a strong unflinching look. “No.” To his surprise, she didn’t tell him to leave, or to shut up. Instead, she continued. “I don’t remember much from back then. Just a few things.”

 

Then, as if compelled, she told him about the few memories she did have, of standing on tip-toe to pour milk from a bottle into a bowl of cereal, as she did every day to feed herself when she can’t have been any older than four. She’d take her cereal to the television set sat on the floor, and eat it while watching cartoons. She told him about how one day, she remembered taking her bowl of cereal to the television, and finding the glass screen shattered and scattered in the mildewy carpet; its innards exposed and broken. So she sat down like she normally did and imagined there was a cartoon on.

 

“I’ve always wondered if that’s why I became curious about repairing electronics,” Rey said, as an afterthought.

 

Kylo had listened to her and felt a white hot anger surge through his veins, feeling as though he could sense the loneliness coming off her in waves. How could anyone let a small child live in such a way? He was visited by the cruel desire to hurt them; sure that whoever they had been, they’d been low lives undeserving of anything as bright and beautiful as Rey. His insides clenched at the thought.

 

“How could...how could they do that to you,” Ben said quietly, his anger barely disguised.

 

It had been a long time since Rey had felt any desire to defend her parents—her faith in their return, in their worthiness, had faded with her resignation to stay in Brixton. But she oddly found herself unwilling to indulge Ben in his judgement of them—feeling as though it could have been a judgement on herself.

 

“I wouldn’t expect you to understand,” she said sharply, and Ben’s brow furrowed. “You have no idea because your parents—” she began, but stopped herself, looking down towards the colorful rug underfoot.

 

Kylo felt his anger transform to something dull and familiar. It wasn’t unexpected, but it hurt all the same. Of course, he thought bitterly. Her irritating relationship to Han Solo and what was surely a revisionist history of his own upbringing.

 

“Well,” Kylo murmured, all softness in his voice gone. “My parents would have been a disappointment to you, too.” He picked up his t-shirt, feeling suddenly quite stupid in his own skin, his big dumb shirtless self sitting on her bed. He had ruined everything, as usual. “I can leave,” he muttered.

 

“What? No!” Rey grabbed Ben’s forearm, stopping him from pulling the t-shirt looped around his arms over his head. Somehow, she’d ruined—whatever it was they’d had. “Don’t go.”

 

Feeling suddenly pathetic, as if she were begging, she corrected, “I mean, not unless you want to.”

 

“I don’t want to,” Ben murmured, his gaze reproachful.

 

“Then stay,” Rey said firmly but quietly. “Stay the night?”

 

“Of course,” Kylo said, instantly, even though the idea filled him with a thrill of anticipation.

 

Rey’s hands gripped one of his, and she marveled once again at how big it was compared to hers. She didn’t even consider her own hands particularly small. “I’m...I’m sorry I’m a weirdo,” she said, with effort. “I’m not used to any of this.”

 

Kylo had dropped his shirt on the ground, and was staring at her intently. After a silence, he worked his jaw and said, “I like that you’re a weirdo.”

 

They looked at each other for a while, Rey feeling an unexpected rush of affection for him. Feeling too hot under his intense gaze, she looked down at his open palm and traced the calluses there.

 

They talked for a while, about a lot of things, mostly things of no consequence, and in time ended up lying in the bed next to each other, looking up at the ceiling, which Kylo noticed for the first time had a few glow-in-the-dark stars.

 

Rey turned on to her side to face Ben, and he watched as the black t-shirt she wore hiked up her smooth thighs. He wanted to touch her, to run his hand down the curve of her hip, and under the hem of the shirt…. Instead, his hands remained resolutely folded over his abdomen, even as Rey innocently traced a finger over a constellation of small dark moles on his shoulder and chest. Each touch she gave him left a searing hot trail on his skin.

 

“What’s this from?” she asked, quietly, tracing an ugly scar over his right collarbone. She had noticed it before, but that was when she had been pretending to not notice he had anything of any interest below his neck.

 

“Surgery. Broken collarbone,” he murmured. “I was fourteen.”

 

“That sucks,” Rey said, her brows knitting in concern. “How’d you break it?” she asked, trying to picture a slightly older version of the boy in the photo with the dog, which she currently had hidden in her closet.

 

Ben didn’t answer for a while, and he turned on his side to face her with a great shift of his broad shoulders. She was briefly entranced by the rippling of his pectoral muscles underneath his skin.

 

He chewed his lip before answering. “I’m not exactly sure.” Before Rey could express bewilderment at this, he continued. “I got into a really bad fight with this kid from school, and fell off my bike afterwards. So it could have been that. But it also could have been the—” he paused, with a furtive glance down  “—the cop that tackled me later that day.”

 

Rey just looked at him for a while, internalizing what he said and not reacting. “How do you not know when you’ve broken your collarbone?”

 

Ben shrugged. “Adrenaline, I guess.”

 

Rey glanced down at his chest again. “I hate cops.”

 

“Me too.”

 

For a moment, Ben knew peace and a perverse kind of relief that Rey didn’t—at least outwardly—judge him for what he’d said. Perhaps because it would have felt wrong and painful to recount the whole story when he’d rather they just stare into each other’s eyes all night. He didn’t feel like he had to tell her about the fight with that asshole who’d gone too far calling him names, and how it went from a simple grappling scuffle to Ben slamming the boy’s head repeatedly against the sidewalk, or the fight he’d had with his parents when he’d been expelled from school that day, being repeatedly told he was lucky the boy’s parents weren’t pressing charges—

 

And most of all, Ben didn’t want to tell her about the heated argument he’d overheard his parents having; the shouting match when Han had furiously questioned whether he was really even his son. From the silence and sharp sound that followed, he’d always known his mother had slapped Han out of rage and indignation. But in that moment and many moments since, Ben had wished he’d been right. He’d wished he was speaking the truth.

 

He would have told her all of these things if she’d asked. But he was glad she didn’t.

 

Rey shimmied closer to him, stifling a yawn; her hands curling around Ben’s forearms. “You can take off your jeans if you want to be comfortable. I’m a bit—” she surrendered to her yawn, at last “—sleepy.”

 

Ben kept his eyes on her as he reached over to the bedside lamp, plunging them both into relative darkness. He watched her form in the weak dim light of the christmas lights above Rey’s bedroom windows, and turned away to pull off his pants. Rey watched him the whole time, barely able to discern much beyond his pale, exposed thighs.

 

When he slid back into bed next to her, she was suddenly very aware of how small her bed seemed with his broad form within it. She was used to curling up on the edge of it, surrounded by pillows in a makeshift nest. Now, she instead curled up to Ben’s shoulder, her hands hooking around his bicep as he brought his arm around her back awkwardly.

 

It was strange, he thought. Cuddling someone like this. It had been so long since he’d touched anyone without the intent to strangle them, like Hux. It had been years since anyone had caressed his face with care like she did to him then. If it hadn’t been happening right then, he wouldn’t have believed himself even capable of it.

 

Rey had never had a boy in her bed. The closest she’d gotten to that was one time when she’d gotten a horrid flu, and Finn would sit on the edge of her bed catching her up on the day’s events and trying to get her to eat some saltines. The most affectionate moment then was when he dutifully handed her the bucket to hurl in.

 

She’d never had anyone rub their hand along her back like this, comforting and soft. It felt so right; so familiar, and she drifted off to sleep almost instantly.

Chapter Text

Kylo had been initially uncertain about whether he’d be able to sleep at all that night. He didn’t sleep much in the first place; he never had—often just lying in bed for the requisite six plus hours, tossing and turning and falling in and out of a restless snoozing. And though his erection had long since faded by the time Rey began to softly snore, the ache deep in his balls had not, and he didn’t see how he would get even a semblance of rest when he was trying to ensure he wouldn’t disturb the sleep of the sweet, wonderful girl curled around his body.

 

So he was greatly surprised when he woke with a start in the bright daylight streaming through the window, his limbs entangled with Rey’s and a sharp tapping sounding at her bedroom door.

 

“Rey? You up, peanut?”

 

Kylo was barely able to register where the voice was coming from, when Rey stirred sleepily, raising her sleep-tousled head from his chest. “Mmm?” was her only response to the sharp tapping.

 

“Shit, Rey, you’re gonna be late! Remember Tarkin always docks grades for tardiness—”

 

With a jolt, Rey seemed wide awake, inhaling breath quickly. “Shit! Shit! I forgot--” she frantically slapped her hand to her forehead as Kylo rubbed the sleep out of his eyes with the heel of his palm. Their legs were tangled in a crocheted blanket but he couldn’t remember how that had happened.

 

“Is everything alright, peanut? Say something,” Finn’s voice floated in from outside, heavy with concern.

 

Peanut?” Kylo hissed, the fury rising within him, when he experienced Rey’s hand slapping over his mouth instantly.

 

“Uhm—yeah I’m fine! I just forgot my alarm! Don’t come in, I’m not dressed!” She untangled herself from the blanket hurriedly, leaping over Kylo’s legs off the bed.

 

“Oh,” Finn’s voice sounded relieved from the other side of the door. “Just hurry? You should have left five minutes ago.”

 

“Shit shit shit,” Rey hissed under her breath as Kylo untangled himself from the blanket, plucking his clothes off the floor. “You have to leave,” she whispered as loudly as she could, emerging from the closet tugging on a pair of skinny jeans, tucking half of her oversized t-shirt into the waistband. “I’m so late to my physics class and I’ve already been tardy twice and if it’s a third time--”

 

Kylo pulled on his sneakers and shrugged on his hoodie, whispering back, “Is that the Eriadu building on the west side of campus?”

 

Rey nodded absently, shoving a textbook into a bookbag and slinging it over her shoulder. “Yes, I’m sorry but you have to leave out the window—”

 

“Meet me outside,” Kylo said as he slid the window open carefully, sticking a leg through it. “I can give you a ride over there on my bike.”

 

“Okay,” Rey wondered for a second how she could have missed the fact Ben owned a motorcycle, but was distracted by the quick kiss he gave her before clambering out the window, carefully crouching over the sloped shingles.

 

She didn’t waste any time—shutting the window closed, she ran to her bedroom door and flung it open, hurrying past the kitchen, where Finn handed her a buttered piece of toast and said, “Run, really run.

 

“Thanks, later!” she called back as she thundered down the stairs, devouring the piece of toast as quickly as she could. It was a brisk morning outside but Rey was too full of adrenaline to care that she wasn’t wearing a jacket.

 

She spotted Ben, across the deserted tree-lined street, his hood up and waiting next to a lightweight jet black bicycle; looking for all the world like he was about to burgle all the pleasant houses on the block.

 

“What—how am I supposed to—” Rey began, through a mouthful of toast.

 

“Get on the handlebars, quick,” Ben beckoned.

 

“Is that safe?” Rey murmured, doubtfully, as he slid the backpack off her shoulder and put it on himself.

 

“Of course it is; I can get you to the Eriadu building in 4 minutes,” he said, steadying the bike as she tried to perch herself in the divot between the grips.

 

“No way!”

 

“Wanna bet?” Ben growled as he scooped a large hand around her waist to shift her into a more secure place. Rey felt a small thrill shoot up her center as she felt his jaw brush against the side of her face. “Hold on to my arms.”

 

Rey looked down at the thick forearms braced on either side of her and held on just in time for him to kick off.

 

It was not her favorite mode of transportation, she thought, as the bar dug in uncomfortably into her thighs, and she precariously kept her feet away from the front wheel—but it was certainly fast. Ben huffed behind her, pedaling powerfully most of the way, and swooping through intersections and around corners with surprising speed and grace.

 

Taking a sharp turn into campus, Rey leaned back into his shoulders, worried that their lean would cause them to be utterly imbalanced—but Ben compensated for this, grasping her around the waist again and steering one-handed through the near pin-hair turn.

 

When he slowed carefully to a stop in front of the main entrance to the dilapidated art deco Physics building, he said “See? Told you it would take four minutes, tops.”

 

Rey slid off and checked her watch, surprised to see she had one whole minute to spare. “I’ll never doubt again,” Rey said dryly, and she took her backpack from his outstretched hand. “I didn’t know you rode a bicycle everywhere.”

 

“Long story,” Ben shrugged, his windswept hair revealing his prominent ears. “Easier to evade the cops on this thing, though. Fight the Power,” he deadpanned, gesturing at her shirt.

 

Rey chucked and shoved his shoulder lightly. “Cheek! I have to run though—”

 

She turned to run to class before she felt his hand on hers. “Rey—”

 

He pulled her into a gentle, swift kiss. “Text me later?” he murmured when he pulled away, ears reddening.

 

Rey smiled shyly, “Of course.”

 

Ben never seemed to smile, but the expression on his face seemed to be as close as he was going to get. “Okay. Get to class,” he said, patting her arm before she pelted away, running up the stairs and disappearing from view.

 

Ben groaned to himself, heart suddenly aching at the awareness he had no idea when he’d see her next. There hadn’t really been time to talk about it, and even minutes away from her seemed too long.

 

****

 

Rey emerged from class several hours later, having absorbed nothing from the lecture as her mind was clouded with the previous night’s events. As disheveled as she felt, her hair pulled back in the messy half-tail from the night before and her face unwashed, she felt very a distinct light giddiness over what had transpired with Ben. It was further amplified by a sense of triumph for having slid into her seat right on time under the elderly Professor Tarkin’s icy gaze.

 

Feeling suddenly ravenous, Rey decided to get a snack from a food truck on campus before returning home to shower. She was supposed to meet Han and the Falcon in the afternoon to resume their work. Her thoughts drifted back to Ben, so she was quite startled to hear her name while she waited for her order of french fries.

 

“Rey?”

 

Rose’s voice sounded more tentative than usual, and Rey turned to find her.

 

“Oh, so it is you,” the shorter girl said, walking up to Rey, a bag slung across her shoulder. Her black hair bobbed, framing her face as it always did.

 

“Hey Rose,” Rey said brightly, grabbing her french fries from the man in the truck. “I just got out of my Physics class.”

 

“Barf,” Rose said. “Listen—I might be crazy, but did I see you riding on a bicycle with Kylo Ren?”

 

Rey froze. “What?”

 

“I saw Kylo Ren on a bicycle a couple of hours ago in the parking lot, with a girl that looked a lot like you, and at first I was like, ‘That can’t be Rey,’ but then I saw you here, wearing the same clothes, and well,” Rose looked Rey up and down, eyes widening. “It was...definitely you, wasn’t it?”

 

Any lightness Rey had been feeling earlier instantly vanished. There was no denying it to Rose now. Her mouth suddenly felt very dry.

 

“Dude...are you...hanging out with Kylo Ren?” Rose said in an undertone, looking somewhat scandalized.

 

She was exposed, and she sighed heavily, eyes downcast. “Yeah, it was me, I confess,” Rey said defeatedly, walking over to a picnic table and sitting down heavily. Rose followed suit.

 

“Whoa,” Rose’s eyes widened even more. “Wait—are you like...hooking up with him?” she nearly whispered this, but her voice was definitely tinged with glee.

 

Rey felt her face get very hot and, setting her fries aside, hiding her face behind her hands. “We, um...we might have hung out last night.”

 

Ohmigod,” Rose exclaimed, voice thick with mirth. “That’s amazing; damn, girl—”

 

“What?” Rey was surprised at her reaction, lifting her head from her hands and seeing the devilish grin on Rose’s face.

 

“How did this happen?? Did you go all the way? Was it awesome? Ohmigod was it your first time? Tell me everything,” Rose eagerly twisted around to face Rey, face determined and ready to receive juicy details.

 

Poe had once intimated to Rey that she could be a little friendlier to Rose—as the newest person in their band, Rey felt as though she’d sometimes kept her more at a distance than she should have; that being her default reaction to people she didn’t know well. Rose, however, was a gregarious and social person, and she might have mistaken Rey’s shyness for frosty indifference. She felt quite guilty over this, and she wanted Rose to like her—especially if her reaction to seeing her with Kylo Ren was one of excited curiosity as opposed to deep betrayal.

 

So she hesitantly recounted the basic details of her acquaintanceship with Ben, careful to keep her voice low as Rose punctuated the story with little captivated gasps. She left out nothing, even her chance encounter with his father and uncle—although she felt the need to whisper into Rose’s ear when she got to the part where some of her clothes had come off.

 

“...And I was late for class so he gave me a ride,” Rey finished, nervously scanning Rose’s face for any judgement or possible reproach. Instead, she saw a satisfied sly smile there. It confused her. “Listen, I’m really sorry. I would have told you guys, but—”

 

“Dude, why would you be sorry?” Rose asked incredulously as if it were the most ridiculous thing she could have said. “You can get a ride from any boy you want,” Rose said with a sly chuckle, reaching for Rey’ untouched fries.

 

Rey’s face reddened at the innuendo. “What—wait, you’re not mad?”

 

Rose scoffed. “Why the hell would I be? Kylo Ren’s shredded, I super don’t blame you for wanting a piece of that” Rose said, partly through a mouth full of fry. Rey remembered how she must have seen him drum shirtless as well.

 

“I call him Ben,” Rey said, feeling as though she needed to explain herself further. “Ben Solo; that’s his real name.”

 

At this some of the amusement faded from Rose, replaced by something more thoughtful. “Wait—Ben Solo? I know that name.”

 

“Really?” Rey was surprised to hear it.

 

“Yeah—yeah, I definitely do,” Rose said, her eyes a little distant as if remembering something. “My sister Paige had a huge crush on a guy in the year above her called Something Solo; it must have been him.”

 

Rey gave a hard swallow at this. She’d never met Paige, but she’d seen a photo of her as a high school senior, holding a violin (while a grinning twelve-year-old Rose sat below her, a mouth full of braces and clutching a French Horn). She was gorgeous.

 

“I think the only reason I remember him is because he sounded like the only guy that never gave her the time of day,” Rose continued, with a little shrug. “Usually, guys fall over themselves just to talk to Paige, so she was always ranting about how this one guy didn’t even seem to remember who she was when she tried to talk to him.”

 

“Oh,” Rey said weakly, not sure of what to make of this information.

 

Rose caught the expression on her face, and added reassuringly, “I mean, that’s just the way Paige was, though—straight-up boy crazy. She’s totally married now, though.” Rolling her eyes, she said wryly, “Thankfully, for the rest of us.”

 

Rey knew Rose loved Paige dearly—they had formed a band when the older Tico sister was in college and Rose was in high school, beginning Rose’s love affair with punk rock. But, the one photo of Paige Rey had seen in Rose’s apartment told a very distinct story, in which Rose, round-faced and unabashedly friendly, must have always felt overshadowed by her beautiful, graceful older sister. Rey suspected Paige must have at some point inadvertently drawn the attention of at least one of Rose’s crushes.

 

“So,” Rose broke the silence, popping some more of Rey’s fries into her mouth, as Rey chewed thoughtfully. “How was it?” she asked with a meaningful eyebrow raise.

 

Flushing anew with embarrassment, Rey couldn’t help herself. “It was...amazing,” she blurted out with a devilish grin. Rose let out an excited squeal. “His hands are. Very nice.” Rey knew she was being painfully English right now, but she knew not how else to describe it.

 

“What was it like? His—you know,” Rose said discreetly, grinning.

 

Rey felt another surge of embarrassment. “Well, I actually—didn’t see...um. He just—” and she whispered, as best she could, precisely what he did to her.

 

“Whoa,” Rose said, eyebrows arching in surprise.

 

“Is that weird??” Rey asked, panicked. She was relieved that Rose had more or less assumed it was Rey’s first time—but terrified at being judged for a misstep of inexperience.

 

“I mean—no—” Rose reassured her. “Not like bad weird, just unusual.” She nodded, eyebrows raised, as though giving her approval. “I wouldn’t have guessed Kylo would be a ladies-first kind of guy, that’s pretty cool. Definitely take his pants off next time, though.”

 

Rey couldn’t help but giggle nervously at this. “Oh, I don’t know—”

 

“Dude, of course there has to be a next time, you’re obviously into him.”

 

“Yes, I know—I’m just—I’m just so scared that Finn and Poe will find out; they hate him,” Rey sighed heavily, resting her chin on her hand. “He did hit them, after all.”

 

To her surprise, Rose rolled her eyes at this. “They’ll get over it,” she said in an annoyed voice. “You’re a big girl; they can’t tell you who you can and can’t make out with. Besides, Poe can’t be one to judge—his mouth always gets him into trouble.”

 

Rey felt a huge wave of relief to hear a friend speak this way. “That’s true...but still...Ben was really mean to them….”

 

“Hate to say it, but that’s just what happens when boys and their stupid testosterone run amok in a cramped space,” Rose shrugged. Then, with a more serious glance to Rey, she added. “Besides...didn’t you ever think that maybe Kylo just reacted that way because he was jealous?

 

Of all the things Rose had said, this was the one that genuinely puzzled her. “Jealous of what?”

 

Rose looked at Rey not unkindly. “Jealous of Finn, of course.”

 

“Why would he be jealous of Finn? He barely knows him.”

 

“Because you two are...super close. He obviously had a huge crush on you and here comes Finn, also a drummer, right by your side…and then,” Rose trailed off, waving her hands as if to gesture a fist fight. “It’s a stupid reaction, but I wouldn’t blame him for making the assumption, you know,” she murmured, with a sideways glance at Rey.

 

At this, Rey felt two things at once: appreciation for Rose’s keen assessment of the situation, and a sudden realization that Rose had probably on more than one occasion been made to feel uncomfortable by her and Finn’s admittedly close friendship. She knew—through Poe—that

Rose seemed to have a crush on Finn, and Rey felt quite wretched for having inadvertently gotten in the way.

 

“You know,” Rey began slowly, not really sure how to tactfully broach the subject. “Finn and I are just friends. I’m like a sister to him,” she said in a low voice with a meaningful look at Rose.

 

Rose looked up at her kindly and said, “I know.”

 

After a few moments of silence, she added wryly, “I’m just glad one of us is having some sexy fun.”

 

Rey suppressed a giggle. “Is it that bad?”

 

“He’s so clueless,” Rose scoffed. “One of these days I’ll have to hire a plane to sky-write it out for him. ‘ASK ROSE OUT ON A DATE,’” she said, sweeping her outstretched hands towards the bright noon sky. Rey busted out laughing.

 

They spent another hour like this, munching on fries and spit-balling ideas for how to slap some sense into Finn; and eventually discussing at length their ideal tracklist for a hypothetical debut album. It was lovely, Rey thought, talking to Rose without Finn or Poe to interject with their sometimes large personalities. Rose was a bright fire all her own, and conversation with her came easily, not only about boys, but about all sorts of things.

 

Before Rey departed home to shower, she turned to Rose. “You won’t tell Finn and Poe, will you? About Ben?” she asked, feeling apprehensive. She’d never asked someone to keep a secret for her. Usually she shared no secrets.

 

“Rey!” Rose slapped her lightly on the arm in indignation. “Chicks before dicks!” When Rey’s laughter had subsided, she added more seriously, “No, of course not. It’s really none of their business anyway.”

 

Rey hoped, more than believed, she was right. But she was grateful all the same.

 

****

 

It took Kylo all of two hours and forty-five minutes between seeing Rey disappear into class before frantically checking his phone for any incoming messages. Nothing. He’d wanted to check as soon as he felt her warmth dissipate, but reasoned she wouldn’t be able to text in class.

 

Instead, he pedaled home, his mind swirling with thoughts of Rey—her toothy smile, her delicate hands gripping his shoulders, her sweet moans of pleasure. By the time he got home, he was rock hard again, and proceeded to relieve the intense prolonged ache between his legs while in the shower; remembering how her arousal had tasted, how her breasts had flushed at her climax.

 

He hadn’t bothered to get dressed, instead lying on his bed, staring at the ceiling and air-drying for the better part of an hour. He checked his phone again, needlessly. Still nothing.

 

Kylo felt all the familiar feelings of crippling doubt resurface. It had been so easy to kiss her goodbye, as if there were some mutual understanding of caring between them. But what if there wasn’t? Or what if she changed her mind? Maybe she didn’t actually care, or at least not enough to reach out to him again. Maybe the next time he saw her, lovestruck and starved for her touch, she’d just tell him that hey, while it had been fun, she really didn’t like him in that way.

 

With a groan, Kylo brought his hands to his eyes, resisting the urge to look at his phone again.

 

He needed to find a way to distract himself from this. Not being technically employed, the only means of distraction Kylo even possessed were the same outlets for his anger: running, punching bags, or playing music. But he had long since begun to associate running with his memories of spending time with Rey, and the last half dozen songs he’d written recently had all been obliquely about her.

 

Leaping up from the bed, Kylo decided to throw on some clothes fit for boxing; deciding that the off-putting smell at the gym was probably as far away from anything to do with Rey as he could imagine. Besides, he could use an intense physical energy drain, since he felt, after last night, the most rested he’d felt in years. Maybe even decades.

 

When his eyes fell on his phone again, he hesitated, considering leaving it at home. He berated himself for his own weakness after he scooped it up and slid it into his pocket.

 

****

 

“Not sick of me yet?” Han growled wryly, as Rey cheerfully waved at him on her approach.

 

“We have a deal, Solo,” she said in a tone of mock-seriousness.

 

The older man scoffed jovially, getting creakily to his feet from the lawn chair he usually occupied. “I’ve heard that one before.”

 

“Ready to replace that fuel line?” Rey said, her fist on her hip as she moved to the Falcon’s open hood.

 

“You’re awfully chipper,” Han said, giving her a narrow-eyed, searching look. “Having a good morning?”

 

Rey felt momentarily stunned by his piercing look—he always had a tendency to seem to know more than she thought he did. But she recovered, feeling certain there was no way he could possibly be aware that she’d just spent the night tangled up with his own son, in more ways than one. “Just happy to see you again. It’s been a while.”

 

Han blanched at this and chuckled again. “Now that’s one I don’t hear too often. Good to see you too, kid.”

 

As he began to move towards the engine next to her, she took note of how his gait was stiffer, and more shuffling. As if he were hurt.

 

“Are you alright? Your leg—” Rey said sharply, gesturing down.

 

Han looked somewhat sheepish as he followed her stern gaze. “Oh—that’s nothing.”

 

“It doesn’t seem like nothing!”

 

“Aghh, it’s just this shit hip of mine; when it gets cold like this it gets stiff,” he explained, with a dismissive wave. “Now, where are those pliers…”

 

Rey dodged his deflection. “I can’t imagine sitting outside in these temperatures is helping; maybe you should get a thicker coat,” Rey said, casting her eyes about the lawn chair and transistor radio set-up in the parking lot.

 

Han gave her a perplexed look. “It beats hanging out in the shithole of a motel room. Besides, it’s just because I had a long haul drive; all that sitting—I’m fine,” he insisted, beginning work on the engine.

 

Rey didn’t feel convinced. “Look, when you’re my age there’s not much room for improvement; just wake up and hope for the best,” Han said gruffly.

 

Rey’s eyebrows set in a severe line. She was already formulating solutions of Han’s ailments in her head, and vaguely wondering why she suddenly felt so concerned by the older man’s frail appearance. Perhaps it’s because usually he slung back beers in a way that would have made a younger man proud, or because without his tough denim biker vest he looked more like an ordinary man instead of an eternal ne'er do well. Or, Rey thought with a twinge, it was because she’d been so acutely aware of how much the amused tug at the corner of his lips and stern brow reminded her of Ben.

 

****

 

They spent the rest of the afternoon amicably tending to repairs, and when the sun began to wane, they sat in the open back cargo area of the Falcon eating tacos. Rey caught Han up on her recent band developments. Somehow, the topic of conversation had once again turned to Ben, and Rey found herself compelled to spur Han on with questions about him as a child.

 

“--he was always like that; sensitive is not the word,” Han chuckled, after recounting a memory of a six-year-old Ben, inconsolable after finding one of his captured frogs deceased during a camping trip. Leia and Han had held a funeral for it, eulogizing the erstwhile pet to Ben’s sniffles. Rey found these stories highly amusing, and sweet.

 

“I used to think it was because of Leia, the way she coddled him; she’s almost too much of a good parent,” Han grunted, squeezing out more hot sauce on his taco. “But looking back I think he was just born that way. I’ve got thick skin and a thicker skull so I never really understood it,” he chuckled, rapping a knuckle against his temple.

 

Rey felt she knew what he meant. As far as she’d observed, there was nothing in Ben’s life that he didn’t take with the utmost seriousness—it was only after getting to know him better that she started to realize the seriousness wasn’t a result of pompous self-importance as much as a blisteringly vulnerable sincerity.

 

“Did you ever have a bigger pet? Like a dog?” Rey asked, remembering the photo of Ben with a big shaggy brown dog.

 

Han’s eyes met hers immediately, the amusement on his face vanishing. “Yeah,” he said, more seriously. “Chewie. Best dog in the world. Big brown mutt; had a temper, but smart.”

 

“Awww,” Rey said, smiling sweetly. Chewie was a sweet name for a hulking dog.

 

“I miss that dog. Hmm. Must have died when Ben was oh, I don’t know—maybe 10 or 11? Ben cried like a baby. Well, we both did,” Han murmured.

 

“I’ve never had a pet,” Rey said, musing about the various stray cats she’d unsuccessfully tried to befriend on the street as a kid.

 

“Yeah, I never did as a kid either, and when we found out Leia was pregnant I wanted to make sure Ben—that he’d get to know what it’s like, you know?” Han said, knitting his eyebrows. It was a heart-achingly sweet sentiment in Rey’s opinion. “I remember when he was small he named all his frogs and turtles Chewie,” Han chuckled. “Or characters from that Lord of the Hobbits book he loved.”

 

Rey giggled at this, as it was quite plain that Han did not then, nor currently, understand much about childhood Ben’s obviously nerdy hobbies. She marveled at how someone as generally unbothered and effortlessly cool as Han Solo could have raised a son so interested in amphibians and dense fantasy tomes. She wondered if Ben still liked frogs and nerdy books. As always, talking to Han about Ben had raised more questions than it answered.

 

Staring out to the golden autumn sky, lost in curiosity over Ben, Rey’s finished her beer next to Han, who promptly offered her another one.

 

“No, thanks; I should probably get home and focus on school work for a change,” she waved beer away, and Han cracked it open for himself.

 

“Smart girl,” Han said, appraisingly, raising his beer to her in salute.

 

“You around all next week?”

 

“Yup, just give me a shout.”

 

Rey high-fived the older man and departed with a wry smile. “Don’t sit outside all night!”

 

“Yeah, yeah,” Han chuckled back at her, swigging his beer again.

 

Feeling that familiar lightness from this morning once again, Rey scooped out her phone from her pocket when she got to the bus stop. Under the darkening sky, she was bathed in the artificial glow of a street lamp as she opened a text message to Ben.

 

When they’d first exchanged numbers, as acquaintances who met only to run, Rey had been wary to label him as Kylo in her contacts lists. She had instead made his name a demonic mask emoji in a fit of private spite. She now took the time to change his contact to “Ben.” Just Ben.

 

She began tapping out a message as she waited for the bus.

 

****

 

In the boxing gym, Kylo sat on a bench, drenched in sweat and unwrapping his hands. He’d been training for several hours, culminating in a ferocious bout of sparring with one of the few regulars who dared fight him—who was now sitting across the gym with an ice pack against his jaw, throwing Kylo dirty looks and muttering darkly to his friends.

 

Kylo glared back, momentarily considering escalating the situation—the man was being a sore loser, plain and simple—when his phone on the bench vibrated, sending a jolt of anticipation through his spine.

 

Hand wraps and would-be nemesis forgotten, Kylo darted for his phone, swearing that if it was just Hux again with some bullshit he would hurl his phone into a wall. But it wasn’t—it was Rey.

 

Rey:

Hi there! I forgot to ask you something this morning in all the rush. Did 1977 Lemmy ever show up at your place by any chance? Be honest!!

 

Kylo felt his heartbeat quicken, feeling both excited and overwhelmed. He was not, admittedly, and expert at text conversation, much less flirty text conversations. But he’d have done far more uncomfortable things to see Rey again.

 

****

 

Rey had taken her seat on the bus when her phone dinged with a response from Ben.

 

Ben:

Well now that you mention it, he did come by about two weeks ago

We spent about three days just absolutely ruining each other

Sorry I would have rung but

You know how it is

 

Rey tittered to herself and felt her cheeks getting hot. She wasted no time with a response.

 

Rey:

You scoundrel! We had an agreement; I didn’t even get to have a go [angrily huffing emoji]

 

Ben:

You’re right. My dastardliness knows no bounds. Truly, I am a cad.

 

Rey had begun to draw the attention of a few scattered bus passengers as she let out another little squeak of laughter.

 

Rey:

And to think I was willing to share his body with you!

 

Ben:

If it makes you feel any better he was a very aloof lover; he never took his sunglasses off.

 

Rey:

Ugh, that only makes me want him more!

 

Ben:

Interesting. I’ll keep that in mind.

 

She paused at this, blushing and trying to formulate a response, when three little dots appeared.

 

Ben:

I’ll make it up to you.

 

Rey:

Oh? Lemmy leave a return address, did he?

 

Ben:

No. It’s ok. He doesn’t smell nearly as good as you do.

 

It was as if the wind was knocked out of Rey’s center, and with a steadying breath she tapped out—

 

Rey:

Flattery won’t get you far, Solo

 

Ben:

Can you meet tonight?

 

Rey:

Actually, I can’t! [deep frown emoji] I have a mountain of course work to deal with, and tomorrow night I have band practice.

 

What seemed like an eternity went by before he responded, though Rey was sure it was probably only a minute.

 

Ben:

How’s Wednesday? You can come to my place.

I have an enormous NWA t-shirt you can wear.

 

Rey paused at this, gripped by a sense of foreboding. She wasn’t sure if she was ready to enter Kylo Ren’s lair, far from the safety of her apartment.

 

Rey:

Come to my place? [praying hands emoji] Finn’s out that night, he works the graveyard shift

 

Ben:

Sure

Until then

Give Lt. Bunbun my regards

 

Rey:

Thin ice, Solo!!!!

Chapter Text

“That absolute cow; this is not non-dairy creamer,” Hux huffed indignantly after taking a whiff of his expensive coffee and throwing a menacing glare in the direction of the barista.

 

Kylo despised the minimalist overpriced coffee shop they held their important band meetings in. It had long ago been agreed that conversations about the business aspect of their band and label could no longer be discussed in the practice space since it was far too easy for someone—usually Kylo—to use a musical instrument to drown someone else out—usually Hux.

 

Kylo was sure Hux had picked this place specifically for their too-small hard wooden industrial stools that he found impossible to perch on. Phasma had seemingly given up on the seating, preferring instead of lean up against the cold concrete counter.

 

“Nevermind that, Armie—let’s get on with it; some of us have plans after this,” Phasma said with a languid eye roll. Kylo privately agreed. After waiting what felt like an excruciating lifetime—two whole days—tonight was finally the night of another clandestine meeting with Rey.

 

“The lacrosse meet can wait, Phasma,” Hux said dryly. “You two know the time to discuss our next album has fast been approaching. And you got the email from Snoke indicating he wanted updates. If we want to tour next summer, we’ll have to come up with some new material and get into studio as early as next month.”

 

Phasma nodded to this pensively, but Kylo shook his head, shifting his weight again on the tiny stool. “But that’s simple; I’ve already written a bunch of new shit. That’s three-quarters of an LP right there.”

 

Once again, Phasma and Hux exchanged one of those maddeningly weary glances. “About that,” Phasma began as she picked up her comically small espresso cup. “Hux and I think—and we have good reason to believe Snoke will agree—that the new songs you’ve written represent a departure.”

 

“They’re not adhering to the art-noise-punk sound we’ve carefully cultivated,” Hux added with a sniff.

 

“Not this again,” Kylo muttered under his breath before raising his voice. “We’re garage rock with a noise aesthetic; that doesn’t mean you can add one of your seven-minute droning outros, Hux—”

 

“The new stuff you’ve written sounds almost like pop—” Hux interjected with a sneer.

 

“That’s punk rock—” Kylo said angrily, slipping off the stool again before jumping to his feet angrily. “Pop hooks and unbridled aggression; THAT’S what I’m achieving and the crowds fucking eat it up—”

 

“I agree with Hux,” Phasma said silkily, barely needing to raise her voice. “The new songs sound quite a bit more like…lovesick pop songs, curiously enough.”

 

Kylo glared at her. Her icy stare was pure deadly intent and knowing. Of course she knew, Kylo remembered. She knew about Rey. Glancing over at Hux’s self-righteous little nod, however, he could tell Hux did not know about Rey. Phasma had apparently chosen not to share this information with him, for whatever reason. Yet.

 

“This is mutiny,” Kylo said in a low shaking voice.

 

“For fuck’s sake, Ren; it’s not a ship,” Hux rolled his eyes. “We’re just asking—very nicely—if you can get your act together and inject some of that famous nihilist rage of yours into the new stuff—”

 

Kylo was getting aggravated with this conversation, and he kicked the stool away from him as he paced in a small circle. With a glance at the minimalist analog clock on the wall, he noticed time was quickly slipping away. He needed to get ready for Rey, and soon.

 

“Fine,” Kylo said with a sharp inhale. “I don’t have to rewrite anything. But I can tweak some—things.” Phasma and Hux seemed slightly mollified at this statement. “But you two—” Kylo jabbed his hand like a blade at each of them in turn. “If you know what Snoke wants so much more than me—you have to prove it with new material. Put up or shut up,” he snarled.

 

Phasma glared at Hux, who seemed unbothered by the challenge.

 

“And no fucking cold wave, Hux!” Kylo hissed, yanking his denim jacket on and making for the door. “Make the studio appointments,” he added roughly to Phasma.

 

“Have fun,” she said coldly, with a little wave of her fingers.

 

****

 

“Be fearless, Rey! And just remember that if nothing else works, use your tongue,” Rose whispered to Rey urgently in the cramped kitchen of her apartment.

 

Rose!” Rey hissed, feeling heat rise in her cheeks at the suggestion.

 

“What? It’s true; he’ll fall apart,” Rose shrugged. She had pulled Rey into the deserted kitchen during the impromptu little party she’d thrown to, much to Rey’s mortification, give her a pep-talk in preparation of her meeting with Ben that night. The pep-talk had quickly become advice for taking off Ben’s pants.

 

“I—I wouldn’t even know—” Rey sputtered, unable to process some of the information Rose had given her. Was she really out of her depth with this? The more time went on, the more apparent it became that she knew distressingly little about—well, how to do anything with a man.

 

“Sure you do; you know how to lick an ice cream cone and make eye contact—” Rose plowed through Rey’s fit of coughing at this, “—but it probably won’t come to that! Like I said, it’s really not that scary. Once you see it, a lot of the mystery and the fear will disappear and you’ll know what to do.”

 

Rey’s hands rubbed against her temples in distress. “Are you sure no one will mind if I cut out early?”

 

From the sounds of it, Poe, Snap Wexley, and Snap’s bandmate Joph Seastriker were all heatedly arguing over a game of Jenga in the living room.

 

“I got you,” Rose said firmly. “Poe’s had two bottles of wine basically by himself; he won’t notice a thing.” Rose looked Rey up and down. “You look super cute! You’re gonna have so much fun; I promise!”

 

Rey smoothed down the front of her plaid pants. Her top was fitted and vintage, with a rounded collar that wasn’t too dressy for the occasion, but not too sloppy either. She’d drawn her hair back in a half ponytail, with the rest of it skimming her shoulders. “Thanks, Rose,” Rey said softly. Despite the terror of Rose’s very forward conversational skills, she really did appreciate the help confronting her challenges head-on.

 

“Go get your man,” Rose smirked, with a little pat. “I’ll keep these fools distracted.” She hefted another bottle of wine and a corkscrew. “Remember—he’s just a man!”

 

“Just a man,” Rey muttered to herself as she made for the front door. Just a man with a huge hard length in his trousers.

 

****

 

A familiar tapping came to the window. Rey drew away from the laptop where she’d been queuing up music to see Ben’s face loom in the darkness.

 

“You didn’t have to come through the window again; I told you Finn’s not here,” Rey said as she opened the window and watched the large shadow of a man crawl inside—he was wearing a backpack and once again held something papery in his mouth, which he removed before standing.

 

“I prefer the window,” he muttered, before straightening to his full height over Rey. He didn’t like to be reminded of Finn’s existence in Rey’s home—and scaling the house to sneak in through her window made him feel like he was infiltrating an impenetrable fortress.

 

“I, uh—got you this,” he muttered, handing her the crinkling papery object he’d been holding, awkwardly shifting some of the paper aside.

 

Rey took it, and realized it was a small bouquet consisting of two large, beautiful lilies wrapped in a paper cone. They were white with streaks of pink at the center.

 

She looked up at Ben, who gave her his usual piercing intense gaze. “They’re beautiful,” she said quietly. No one had ever given her flowers before. It was not, she had to admit, the sort of thing she thought Ben would have done. “Thank you.”

 

Ben gave an awkward nod and looked away momentarily, taking his backpack off and opening it. “I also brought beer,” he said flatly, extracting a six pack.

 

“Great!” Rey said brightly. “I’ll go put these in water.”

 

Before she could turn away, she felt Ben’s hand brush up on her upper arm. Eyelashes fluttering up at him, she felt his hot gaze on her once again. He lowered his face to kiss her tenderly on the corner of her lips. It was brief, but heart-stopping.

 

As he drew away, he wanted to tell her how much he’d missed her. She looked so beautiful and bright, and—the lewd part of his brain intruded—her tits looked incredible in that tight shirt. Ben gulped, and Rey smiled shyly at him, holding up the flowers as she turned away to acquire water.

 

Once she returned and carefully placed a little jar containing the flowers on her nightstand (Ben took the opportunity to appreciate the shape of her behind in her plaid pants), they both sat down on her bed to crack open some beers; David Bowie playing on the stereo softly in the background.

 

They talked for a long time, mostly about music, but also about pet peeves and people they couldn’t stand. As Rey laughed and sipped her beer, she marveled at how easy some conversation with Ben seemed. Easy and right, like a warm sweater on a cold day.

 

It was nice to see Ben again, and not scary at all. He looked lovely, she thought. His hair was lustrous and as neat as it ever got, and his chin clean-shaven. There wasn’t any trace of exhaustion or irritation; just his evenly dark full lips and the intoxicating manly scent that she could only guess was his soap.

 

She wanted to reach out and touch his long face; she wanted to kiss him—but she enjoyed talking to him in such an easy comfortable way that she held back. Eventually, they got to the topic of Rey’s history joining a band.

 

“Well, Finn and I always had our own unofficial little band,” Rey said with a chuckle. “It was mostly an excuse to play loud terrible music in the student union when no one else was around. But then Finn met Poe, who was looking for a drummer. I wasn’t originally going to join them—what with Poe already being the guitarist—”

 

“If you can call it that,” Ben muttered darkly, taking a swig of his beer.

 

Rey gave him a reproachful but playful look. “—but we were talking and I repaired his busted Strat, and he asked me to join. I think he figured it would help to have someone good with electronic repairs.” She shrugged. “It was just some broken pickups.”

 

Though he knew Dameron must have recognized Rey’s prodigious musical talent to ask her to essentially take over his own lead guitar, Ben was impressed all the same. Rey seemed to also be gifted with repairs of all sorts of complicated equipment Ben would rather spend a prodigious amount of money to pay to have repaired, rather than attempt himself. It was increasingly clear why she chose to spend her time with a vehicle as broken as the Falcon.

 

“So,” he began a little slowly, not wanted to seem like he was prying. “Why didn’t you major in electronics or mechanical engineering or something? You seem so…passionate about fixing things.”

 

Rey gave a little shrug. “Fixing broken old electronic stuff doesn’t really get you any awards or scholarships; not where I was.” She took a sip of her beer, her eyes a little downcast. “Music seemed more—prudent in my situation”

 

Ben nodded at this. He understood, but it nevertheless filled him with sadness. Rey was an exceptional girl with extraordinary talents, but she’d gone through life bargaining, negotiating, and strategizing how to use only the skills the masses seemed to appreciate to tirelessly better her situation. Everything in her life, from her worthless junkie parents to every school system she’d ever passed through, had never allowed her the richness of options Ben had always rejected out of petulance or spite. Rey was like a strong vibrant flower in the mud, unbreakable and always reaching out for the light no matter how much anyone tried to drag her down.

 

“Also, I can sing okay,” Rey added, with a shrug. “Finn’s absolutely tone deaf, so I think that cinched me joining the band. What about you?” Rey perked up slightly to ask him. “Did you always want to be a musician?”

 

Ben considered this. “Well, not really until I was thirteen. My—I got my first guitar then.”

 

“Oooh, was it electric?” Rey asked, her eyes lighting up. She loved talking about guitars.

 

“No, acoustic; an old Martin. It’s probably from the 1950’s,” Ben said.

 

“Wow—that’s amazing,” Rey sputtered. “Did your…parents?”

 

Ben gave a terse nod. “Yeah. It was—it used to be Han’s,” he muttered.

 

He remembered being furious at his father, who hadn’t shown up to his Bar Mitzvah, even though he’d promised—Ben had been dreading the whole affair, and hoped Han’s natural conversational charm and ease in situations in which he had no place would draw attention away from himself. Instead, Ben had spent the whole night harangued by his mother’s annoying colleagues and acquaintances from synagogue who’d repeatedly commented on his towering growth spurt and the conspicuous lack of any other kids his age. By the end of the night, his father had had the nerve to find Ben, brooding on the floor in a corner, still wearing his ill-fitting suit. But Han had gifted him with his own old acoustic guitar then, temporarily banishing some of the feelings of betrayal and anger.

 

As a child, he’d lived in awe of his father’s crude guitar playing skills; jittering with excitement when Han agreed to play him something before bedtime. The guitar was the only thing from Ben’s old life that he hadn’t left behind or destroyed. It was stashed safely in a hard case in his closet.

 

He told none of this to Rey, who had a sweet, almost sad smile on her face at hearing his first guitar had been his dad’s. Ben avoided her gaze with a large swig of beer.

 

Rey was trying to imagine what it must be like to have a family heirloom. Any sort of family heritage to inherit and pass down. It was a beautiful thought, and she wondered if Ben knew how lucky he was.

 

“You know,” she began slyly. “Han told me you were really into fantasy books as a kid.”

 

Ben’s eyes snapped up and he felt a sense of cold dread creep into his chest. He had known for a long time that his relationship with his father was beyond repair, but now it seemed as if Han Solo was actively trying to prevent Ben from ever losing his virginity.

 

He groaned and rolled his neck, but Rey didn’t seem deterred.

 

She giggled, wondering if her one beer had really affected her that quickly. “I didn’t read much as a kid, but I—I like that you did.” She gleefully remembered Han’s description of his son as a bookworm, eschewing any suggestions he join a school sports team in favor of his dusty paperback novels filled with wizards and dragons.

 

Ben looked at her warily, suddenly afraid of what else Han might have told her. He’d always assumed it would be disparaging assessments of his character, which Han had apparently always felt was so lacking—but for some reason hadn’t imagined it just being embarrassing details of his childhood.

 

“What other embarrassing shit did he tell you about me?” Ben groaned.

 

“That you loved frogs!” she said, grinning widely.

 

He groaned even more loudly this time, uncertain as to why she was laughing in the face of his obvious mortification. He set his beer on the floor and flopped back on the bed, silently praying he might be able to sink into the ground and disappear entirely.

 

“What? I think it’s cute!” Rey said, from out of his range of vision.

 

This seemed to catch Ben off guard. “Huh?”

 

Rey crept forward to hover over him. His brows were knitted in confusion. She slipped her hand up his arm, gripping a thick bicep. “I think it’s sweet,” she said softly. “I like hearing those stories about you.”

 

Ben glanced from Rey’s parted pink lips to the hand now trailing his chest ever so lightly. “You don’t think it makes me a fucking weirdo?”

 

“I like that you’re a weirdo,” Rey said, with a small smile.

 

Wordlessly, Ben raised up onto an elbow and kissed Rey, ferociously. She was engulfed by his masculine scent as she felt a large hand gently cup the back of her neck. His lips were so soft and she couldn’t help but responding with little ravenous licks and nibbles.

 

They both sat up, lips still locked, and Ben snaked his other hand around Rey’s waist and pulled her closer.

 

You’re so hot,” he breathed, barely above a whisper. His hand roamed from her waist to her breast, massaging her and thumbing over her hardening nipple, eliciting a moan from Rey’s throat.

 

Rey ran her hands across his chest and wasted no time—be brave! she thought to herself, breaking away from his kiss to tug the hem of his shirt upwards over his taut abdomen. Ben let her go to obey her motions, raising his arms as she stood to pull off his black t-shirt--revealing his pale heaving chest and broad shoulders.

 

He wrapped his arms around her waist and pull her down to sit on his lap, one hand gripping her ass as he kissed her neck wetly.

 

Rey could feel his hardening length under her thigh as she moaned, lost in the flurry of sensation—his large hands roaming and squeezing, his lips suckling. She only barely had the presence of mind to snake her hands down his front to fumble with his belt buckle.

 

“Take these off,” she said in a breathy whisper, shifting off his lap onto the bed.

 

Ben didn’t need to be told twice. Once Rey had unzipped his jeans, he stood to pull them off, leaving his underwear on.

 

Rey felt the breath catch in her throat as she stared openly at the sight before her.

 

Ben stood in front of her, breathing shakily and flexing his hands at his sides. The sight of so much expanse of his strong muscular thighs and the trail of fine black hair down his navel was almost too much for Rey as it was. She was confronted by the large outline of his tumescent cock, straining against the thin fabric of his black boxer briefs—an outline that snaked upwards towards his left hip.

 

She noticed the weight of it against the fabric was creating a small gap at his waistband.

 

Rey squirmed in her seat, feeling the familiar sensation of heat pooling between her thighs. She reached out a hand to his hip, gently running her hand down his thigh. Ben let out of a shuddering exhale.

 

He felt nervous but utterly prepared for Rey to stare at him openly like this. Any lingering sense of self-doubt had been overtaken and made incomprehensible by his burning desire for her. He edged closer to her, on fire from her touch and all too aware that his cock was at approximately eye-level to her right now.

 

Rey glanced up at his face and saw him, working his jaw, his mouth moving absentmindedly in a way that attracted her so much. Steadying her resolve, she drifted a trembling hand from his hip to give a long, firm stroke over his hardness.

 

The moan he gave was almost like a whine, and his hips bucked forward slightly. “Rey,” he ground out, his voice breaking. “Rey…”

 

Rey looked up at him with a mixture of curious attention and lust. He swallowed. “Rey…I have to tell you something.”

 

She said nothing, only listening, her hand running softly against his length. God, it felt incredible.

 

“I’m—I’ve…never done this either,” Ben confessed, piercing her with his determined gaze. “With anyone,” he added in clarification.

 

Rey blinked, perplexed.

 

“Wha—really?” she said softly.

 

Ben felt a wave of embarrassment crash upon his consciousness. He shouldn’t have said anything; he was a freak

 

“Good,” Rey said unexpectedly, a sudden edge to her voice. Ben blanched at this. “We can take it slow. Together,” she whispered, and her gaze was like steel.

 

Ben shuddered, in awe of her.

 

“I want to see you,” Rey looked up at his face from under her lashes, and Ben bit his lip, determined to not come immediately. He watched her face as she pulled down the front of his briefs, and his throbbing cock sprang out.

 

Rey had never seen a real-life erect penis before. Despite having overheard vile things at the group home and in the girl’s loo at secondary, she’d never actually watched porn before—and had never seen more than a discarded nudie mag on the sidewalk, which gave her the impression porn didn’t even have men in it per se as much as it had impossibly large-breasted women with goofy open-mouthed expressions and disembodied male legs, hands, and phalluses in varying stages of activity. So Ben’s large and purplish cock was as much a source of fascination as it was a source of arousal—she felt both in equal measure. The dawning awareness of the fact the Ben she’d know for this many weeks had had this in his pants the whole time only increased those twin emotions.

 

Ben watched Rey carefully, the sight of her fully clothed and staring at his cock without touching it utterly torturous and arousing. He wasn’t sure what she thought of it—but she didn’t seem to be able to tear her eyes away from it for too long.

 

Hesitantly, she brushed her fingers across the thatch of hair at the base of his length, causing Ben to groan huskily. Her thumb brushed up against his sack, which twitched in a way she found curious. When she looked up at Ben’s face questioningly, she found only an expression of livid anguish; his brow creased and jaw working.

 

Did she want him to die of anticipation?? Ben was sure she was prolonging this more than necessary, and he was on the verge of despair when she said lowly, “I want to watch you touch yourself.”

 

Ben froze and tried to steady his breath. He found it impossible to feel angry at her—even though the feeling in the pit of his stomach felt very much like simmering rage. He couldn’t deny the way she stared at him now positively inflamed his arousal further.

 

Rey kept her eyes on Ben as she unbuttoned her own trousers, pulling them off and settling back on the edge of the bed to pull off her shirt. Ben watched her, his eyes dark and piercing, and after a second of hesitation, he stroked his hand over his cock, folding his lips at the sensation; eyes darting between Rey’s face and breasts.

 

If this is what she wanted, then so be it, Ben thought bitterly as he pumped his cock maddeningly close to her face; her eyes eager and focused.

 

Watching Ben touch himself this way caused Rey to ache powerfully at the apex of her thighs. His hips moved in time to the furious strokes, and his eyes never left hers as he struck his free hand on the wall above her head; leaning closer to her. Rey ran a hand over his taut abs.

 

Finally, mercifully—Ben gasped as Rey’s hand curled around his cock. “Rey,” he said, all other thought perished from his brain as she began to take over from his previous motions. “Rey, Rey…” he moaned, his now freed hand running through her hair; his eyes closing lazily as he thrust into her hand.

 

It felt powerful, Rey thought, to have so much control over Ben in her relatively small hand. Indeed, she noticed her fingers just barely didn’t meet when closed around his throbbing length. It felt like steel sheathed in the softest velvet. She focused on mimicking the motions she watched Ben use on himself; tentatively reaching out with her other hand to cup his balls.

 

Ungh,” Ben positively whined at this, Rey enraptured by how his body moved; pale and powerful. Looking up at him, Rey was strongly reminded of the classical statues she’d seen on a fieldtrip to the British Museum as a teenager; chiseled and broad and smooth—although she was quite sure none of those statues had quite the same thing between their legs.

 

Don’t stop,” Ben said, his breathing becoming panting, as he felt the building burning pressure. He cupped a hand around her working fist, aiming his cock away from her face. Rey soon understood why: a throaty moan rent the air and his hips bucked into her hand as he came; pearlescent white liquid shooting out onto his chest, and spilling out over Rey’s knuckles.

 

Ungff—“ Ben’s vocalizations were increasingly incomprehensible as his consciousness became untethered. Rey pumped his cock until his movements slowed to a tremble. His eyes were half closed as he leaned with one arm against the wall behind her, and Rey slowly rose to stand, taking his face with her un-stained hand and pulling him into a lazy kiss.

 

Ben had the vaguest sensation of Rey’s soft, sweet lips on his before he weaved on the spot and flopped down on the bed; chest rising and falling in an effort to calm his breathing.

 

His first thought after a few seconds of brainlessness was that this was the first time he’d ever climaxed and not felt a rush of shame or disappointment. The way Rey held him, looked at him—made him feel incapable of shame in that moment. He’d felt cherished.

 

Rey had wiped her hand with a tissue and bent over Ben’s languid sprawled form to swipe some droplets off his chest. He opened an eye and pulled her into his chest; Rey squeaked in surprise.

 

“You’re beautiful,” Rey said, slightly muffled; her face buried in the crook of his neck as he embraced her.

 

Ben experienced a swooping feeling not entirely unlike his orgasm. He hugged Rey tighter. “I’m—a big—dumb—” he muttered haltingly, too exhausted to finish his thought.

 

Rey giggled, propping herself on her elbows to get a good look at his face. There was a peacefulness in his brow she hadn’t seen before; his lids heavy and his lips full and parted.

 

I want you,” Rey whispered, her feelings of tenderness eclipsed by a renewed awareness of her own drenched panties.

 

Ben’s eyes regained some of their awareness and he pulled her into an ardent kiss—an arm drifting down her back and groping her ass. Rey felt a jolt of excitement as his fingers slid underneath the elastic of her panties and probed for her wetness from behind—

 

Suddenly, the sound of the apartment door opening and shutting caused Rey to jump—it was quickly followed by the familiar sound of keys dropping and shoes being kicked off.

 

Shit!” Rey whispered, tearing herself away from Ben and reaching across him to turn off the bedside lamp. “Finn must be home early!” Rey said in a panicked whisper.

 

Ben threw his head back into the mattress and groaned his annoyance. He hated Finn now more than ever.

 

“Shhhhh,” Rey shushed Ben, her finger pressing fussily against his lips. “Please—he’ll hear—”

 

“And what?” Ben hissed in a whisper. “He’ll banish me?”

 

In the low light Rey could make out Ben’s bared teeth. “Look, I’m sorry. I just don’t think he can know about us.”

 

Ben didn’t care what Finn knew or didn’t. The guy could walk off the nearest cliff for all he cared—anywhere not in close proximity to Rey’s intimate little nest. But with an annoyed glance at Rey’s worried face, he relented. His scooted back on to the bed and reached out for Rey. “C’mere.”

 

Rey crawled into his open arms and curled her body around his, snuggling against his shoulder.

 

After a few seconds of silence, through which they could hear Finn rummaging for a late-night snack, Ben whispered, “That was amazing.”

 

Rey blushed furiously, hugging him tighter.

 

“You’re…you’re amazing,” he added, his voice serious.

 

She raised her head to kiss him. It was a kiss full of tenderness and adoration, and Ben was seized with the wild impulse to tell her she was everything to him; that he’d be utterly lost without her.

 

Instead, he said nothing and just buried his head in the crook of her neck. Rey smiled against his hair, brushing over her cheek.

 

****

 

For a second upon waking, Kylo was briefly convinced he’d simply just had a vivid sex dream involving Rey—it wouldn’t have been the first time he’d woken up alone, half hard, after dreaming about her. But he was entirely too rested, and as his eyes fluttered open, the sight of the colorful crochet blanket curled in his first convinced him otherwise.

 

A feeling of panic threatened to overcome him as he realized her absence from the bed was real, too. She couldn’t have just left him there, could she?

 

Then, he heard her: her easy laugh drifting in from beyond the door, mingled with a man’s voice. It was clearly Finn. An icy weight dropped into Kylo’s stomach.

 

He fumed, a thousand upsetting assumptions crossing his mind; the foremost being what a cozy scene he was obviously overhearing. Ripping the blanket from his naked body, Kylo furiously fished for his underwear and jeans. Well, if Rey was just going to leave him there, naked and vulnerable after using him for his body—to just go laugh and have a grand old time with Finn—then he’d just leave right then and there.

 

Kylo was halfway through angrily pulling his pants on when the door opened a crack.

 

Rey shuffled through, the ghost of a laugh still on her face. She was wearing an over-large frayed Slayer t-shirt and the giant golden basketball shorts he’d seen her wear the first time at the lake. She maneuvered through the door, carrying a plate full of what looked like French toast in her arms.

 

“I brought breakfast,” she whispered, as the sound of Stevie Wonder’s dulcet tones sounded from the other room. Her face fell as her eyes roamed over Kylo, halfway through pulling his jeans on. “What’s going on?”

 

Kylo froze, swallowing nervously. “I—“

 

“You’re not leaving, are you?” Rey breathed, looking hurt as she shut the door behind her.

 

His eyes fell on the heaping plate of food and the mug of coffee she held in her hand, back to her pleading eyes. “Um, no—I mean, unless you want—“

 

“I want you to stay,” Rey said firmly, glancing down at her bounty. “I thought we could—eat.”

 

Distantly, he could hear Finn sing along to the music.

 

“He really is tone-deaf, isn’t he,” Kylo murmured, gently abandoning his trousers as Rey approached with her plate of food.

 

“It’s Thursday, Finn usually makes French toast on his day off,” Rey said sheepishly. “I thought you might—like to share it with me?”

 

Ben sat down on the bed with Rey, gazing into her large, pleading eyes. Any bitterness and jealousy he had felt merely seconds before had evaporated as he looked into her wide hazel eyes.

 

“Sure,” he murmured, and a sweet smile spread across Rey’s face.

 

“It’s the best; we have powdered sugar,” Rey said excitedly, settling the plate down on the bed and taking a slice of French toast with her hands. Ben took a piece awkwardly, nibbling at it though far more interested in watching Rey devour hers.

 

“Coffee?” Rey managed to ask through a mouth full of food.

 

“Okay,” Ben said, suppressing a laugh as he took the proffered mug from her.

 

They chewed in pleasant silence for a while, before Rey swallowed and said, “I had a lot of fun last night.”

 

Ben’s eyes darted up to meet hers, wary.

 

“Me too,” he said softly.

 

“I’m sorry—it was cut short,” Rey said seriously. Finn was still singing loudly in the other room.

 

Ben glanced down at his knees, shrugging. “It’s okay. I mean, it’s not okay—I wanted to….”

 

He felt unable to complete his sentence, glancing up at Rey’s blushing face. Even in her oversized shabby sleeping clothes and tousled hair, she looked radiant.

 

Ben pursed his lips in determination. “Next time we’re meeting at my apartment,” he said flatly. Rey smiled, biting her lip briefly.

 

“Okay,” she said, her voice smooth.

 

Feeling though he ought to be proper about it, Ben exhaled and held her gaze steadily. “I—want you to come over to my place. For dinner. I’ll make you dinner.”

 

Rey was pleasantly surprised by the proposal. “Really?”

 

Ben nodded fervently. “Would you?” A small part of him was sure she’d rebuff him.

 

“Of course,” Rey mumbled shyly, tucking a strand of hair behind her ear.

 

Ben couldn’t believe his luck. A few minutes earlier he was sure his Rey—his beautiful, sexy Rey, who’d made him see stars with her strong graceful hands—had abandoned him in favor of the attentions of some other man. Now, she was agreeing to have dinner with him in his own home, and they were trying to figure out a day that worked with her busy schedule. He knew, deep down, that even if he lived a hundred years he’d never do anything to deserve her.

 

But somehow, she was here.

Chapter Text

For both Ben and Rey, it felt like an eternity waiting for their ostensible dinner on Saturday.

 

On Rey’s part, she couldn’t believe she’d finally be getting a further glimpse into Ben’s life—or at the very least, his life as an adult; having learned a great deal about his childhood from Han. But as much as it pained her to admit, she knew very little about what Ben’s everyday life was, or what kind of home he kept. When she stripped away his past and his family, all she knew of Ben as a lone individual was his knowledge and devotion to his music, his fitness regimen, and the searing intensity in the way he regarded her. That, and his horrid band mates, she decided. So she was at once thrilled and terrified to find out more. Thrilled to further explore the caves of his private world like some sort of intrepid spelunker; terrified of what she might find.

 

For Ben, he simply couldn’t believe he’d had to get through an entire night playing a show with Rebel Scum and pretending he didn’t feel absolutely on fire for the pretty lead guitarist. It seemed impossible.

 

Friday—the night before they were slated to meet at his place—was the night of the long-awaited show at the Ahch-To Lounge, where Rebel and STARKILLER were to open for the epic band Mandalore in one of the coolest new venues in town. Shows at Ahch-To since its recent inception had gone on to become legend: Poe had spent an entire week a few months prior rhapsodizing to his band-mates about the Mandalore show he’d seen there with Snap Wexley, and surely enough there had been a feature about the band in the Coruscanti Music Revue soon afterward.

 

Tensions were certainly high, and not just for the two clandestine paramours.

 

“Okay kids, I know we can do this--“ Poe gritted out as he heaved his cabinet onto the sidewalk. “I’m counting on you guys—“

 

“Holy hell, Dameron, just relax already,” Rose sighed, helping Finn load in his drum kit.

 

Poe’s eyebrows knitted severely as his face snapped towards Rose. “Relax? Relax?” he sputtered, and Rey thought she spotted a vein protrude on his temples. “Depending on how things go tonight, we could leave here legends—or total laughing stocks,” he retorted.

 

Rose was about to argue when Finn placed a hand on her shoulder and shook his head urgently. Rey saw an opportunity and took it, swooping into Poe’s line of sight to help him with his guitar cabinet. “Rose has a point; there’s no sense in tensing up right before the show—I’m sure Mandalore wouldn’t,” she said sensibly, even though she felt far from relaxed herself—for entirely different reasons.

 

Poe’s jaw visibly unclenched and he seemed put at ease by her words. With a curt nod, he gestured that he could handle the cabinet on his own and made his way inside, leaving Rey to heft up her amp.

 

She was taken quite by surprise then, when she felt a hand brush against hers and her amp became seemingly weightless in her grip.

 

She jerked her head around to see Ben looming close to her, taking her heavy amp in his hand. “Let me get that,” he muttered quietly, his eyes heated but his expression stony. He was already wearing his usual band outfit, which somehow made him feel more imposing.

 

Rey gave a panicked glance towards him and towards Finn and Rose, who had frozen in their tracks nearby, drum kit parts in hand. They shared expressions of surprise, and in Finn’s case, poorly-disguised fear.

 

“No, thank you; I’ve got it,” Rey said stiffly, trying to avoid Ben’s gaze but failing. She was so close she could see the fainter moles on his face like freckles, and the scar she gave him above an impassive eyebrow. She made a valiant effort to take the amp back, and was relieved when Ben let her.

 

With a heavy heart, Ben watched her retreat inside the venue before glancing at Finn and Rose, who looked away quickly and made to follow Rey, pretending for all the world that they hadn’t just been staring openly at him.

 

****

 

Ahch-To Lounge was drenched in an eerie blue light, and off to a side of the garage-like space, as if placed in after-thought, was a disco ball revolving slowly on the spot and scattering flecks of light across the crowd and the psychedelic mural behind the stage. Ben watched Rebel play with crossed arms leaning against a wall on the edge of the room.

 

Poe had announced that the next song was one of Rey’s, and with a shit-eating grin Ben couldn’t stand, invited her to take the lead singing this time. Rey gave an embarrassed but charming eye roll before leading the band into a fierce thrumming riff.

 

“Hanging around,

Lookin’ at your phone,

Don’t talk to anyone,

But you don’t go home,

 

“You’re so shy, but you linger,”

 

Rey was singing the song beautifully, and his throat felt tight and dry whenever her hazel eyes dropped to find his every so often.

 

“What’s on your mind?

What can you say?

Wanna get a slice sometime?

Oh well, that’s okay,

 

“You’re so shy,”

 

Ben wanted for all the world to stay there in that spot and devour Rey’s performance for hours. He felt weak and overwhelmed with a rapture, and in an effort to steady himself he drained his whiskey drink quickly, not entirely sure how he’d get through his own set.

 

Half an hour and several inadvisable drinks later, Ben tore through STARKILLER’s set with the characteristic fervor the crowd had become to associate with Kylo Ren—but behind his unfocused gaze, his thoughts never strayed from Rey, and his need to find her in the crowd.

 

It wasn’t until after muttering a shout-out to Mandalore and lugging his gear off stage (surprised to find one of the house sound guys ready to assist), that Ben was able to search for Rey in the dream-like blue darkness. He dodged a few well-wishers and an increasingly intoxicated Hux as Mandalore began to play and his ears swelled with deafening noise. But none of it mattered except finding her.

 

HEY!” He heard someone’s voice above the din of the music, faint but obviously close to his ear. Turning to see who it was, Ben’s brow furrowed as he focused on the dark figure next to him.

 

It was Poe.

 

He didn’t seemed pleased to see Ben. Which suited him just fine—the feeling was mutual. Poe seemed to be trying to shout something at him from a few feet away—but then gave up and approached Ben’s ear, craning his neck to be heard.

 

I’d appreciate it if you stopped trying to intimidate my band-mates, Kylo,” Poe all but yelled into Ben’s ear. “I don’t know what angle you’re playing but—

 

“What are you talking about?” Ben growled towards him; uncertain if he was audible over the din, but Poe seemed to understand him from the hard glint in his dark eyes.

 

I could see you, you know—staring them down from the crowd. It’s not cool!” the shorter man yelled, pulling back to stare at him with an expression of grim disapproval; his thick eyebrows set in a severe line.

 

Ben glared back at him for a while; the alcohol supplying his brain with a host of aggressive responses he could throw in Poe’s face. But he merely bent low to say, “Mind your own damn business!”

 

It was not, apparently, the response Poe was expecting, for his gaze shifted to one of stern confusion as Ben turned away from him; cutting through the crowd. For a brief moment he considered returning to Poe with a fist flying towards his irritatingly chiseled jaw; all thought for consequences thrown out the window—but then he saw her.

 

Standing near a gaggle of strangers, near an edge of the room, seemingly searching for someone as well. Her hair was up tonight, in the three buns she usually wore on their runs; which Ben thought showed off her beautiful neck so well. She froze, lips parted when she spotted him.

 

Rey felt a leap in her stomach when she saw Ben, cutting a wide path through the crowd and still wearing the outfit he played his set in. Despite the seeming lack of any heating in this industrial building, she could see a patch of dampness around the neckline from his sweat. Faint little dots of blue light from the scavenged disco ball travelled slowly across his face; making their slow trek across his enticing lips and aquiline nose. He looked so beautiful, and Rey wondered how she ever could have thought his looks to be silly when she’d first met him.

 

When he’d been nothing but Kylo Ren to her.

 

Rey made a subtle jerking movement with her head, as if trying to communicate something wordlessly to Ben. Within a few seconds he understood what: she was standing near the end of a gauzy decorative curtain hanging from the ceiling that Ben had assumed was some kind of art installation, judging from the strange ripped portions hanging throughout the room like ghostly stalactites. Rey edged carefully behind one wide portion of the curtain and a section of wall behind it, and Ben made his way towards her.

 

Rey backed as far as she could into her little hidden space; her eyes roaming from the now obscured crowd on the other side of the curtain to Ben, who appeared before her, his eyes ablaze. There was only barely enough space for his wide shoulders to barely skim the fabric as he closed in on her, closer and closer until Rey had to crane her neck to look into his face.

 

Wordlessly, the deafening noise from Mandalore’s set crushing in their ears, they fervently embraced in a flurry of roaming hands and crashing lips. Ben dove for Rey’s graceful neck, planting firm, wet kisses there as Rey lost all sense of place and self and hiked a leg up his hip; crushing her core to him. She felt his large hands grope her ass and span her waist, and when his lips returned to hers he shoved his tongue roughly betwixt them—his familiar taste mixed with a hint of aromatic whiskey.

 

Come home with me,” Ben all but whined in her ear when he broke away, and swooped down to kiss her neck again.

 

I can’t!” Rey said in his ear, and she felt some of his weight lean on her shoulders as Ben’s stance seemed to droop in disappointment. She nudged his shoulders away from her the better to gaze into his face—which was distinctly more dejected than it had been mere moments ago. His hands still roamed, alight with lust. “But I will tomorrow,” she raised up on tiptoe to say in his ear, and gave a soft tender kiss there. She could feel his body shudder underneath her touch.

 

The gauzy fabric of the curtain dragged along Rey’s head as she slipped past Ben to leave; trailing her hand across his chest and arm as she went, and turning once to look at him before leaving to find her friends.

 

****

 

When the day finally came, Rey would have given her faithful Strat to make time slow down.

 

Though exceptionally emboldened the previous night—by a combination of several gin drinks and Ben Solo’s soft, searching eyes—in the sober daylight of the cold autumn morning she felt the familiar dread of being out of her depth.

 

After the show the previous night, she and her band mates had all congregated at Poe’s house and drank several bottles of cheap wine in celebration. The hushed giggling conversation about Ben she’d had with Rose in the bathroom—who slammed the door to Finn’s protesting whines that he had to pee—had apparently not helped Rey’s nerves. She’d disclosed a great deal of her and Ben’s recent trysts, and informed her of the upcoming date.

 

Perhaps drunken advice is not the best advice, Rey thought as she woke up fully clothed on her own bed with her head throbbing from a hangover. Next to her on the bed was a sequined miniskirt she had vague memories of Rose insisting she borrow for her date.

 

Shuffling into the living room in search of water, Rey heard Finn’s soft snores from his bed in the den, and resolved not to wake him. She had told him the previous day that she and Rose were going to have a girl’s night in tonight, with Rose helpfully (or was it very unhelpfully?) chiming in that it might be a sleepover; her eyes alight with a knowing amusement.

 

Rey knew the possibility of sleeping over at Ben’s place shouldn’t have scared her as much as it did—after all, he’d already slept in her own bed twice; filling the space with his soft warmth and masculine scent. But no matter where she went, she’d always be that same near-feral girl living in broken-into cars—always in need of being extremely familiar with her surroundings, and gravely wary of walking into traps. Admittedly, police officers and social workers were quite a different trap from a towering glacier of a man with incredibly soft and warm lips.

 

The traps that men presented had often been forefront in her mind in the past. It was one of the lessons for which Rey was most grateful to receive as a young girl, in absence of any steady parental figure in her life. She remembered Maz, the stern old woman with coke-bottle spectacles who ran the corner shop Rey frequented in many unsuccessful attempts to steal candy when she was still in primary school. Though Maz caught her every time and never called the cops, her reprimands were always enough to leave Rey swelling with guilt. Nothing escaped the woman’s notice, especially not the way Rey paced down an aisle one day; in abject tears close to hyperventilating. The old woman took one look at the stricken thirteen-year-old girl in a too-large sweatshirt hovering uncomfortably next to the rows of menstrual products and knew all she needed to: that Rey was alone, and there was no one warn her of the perils of impending womanhood.

 

Maz had, with uncharacteristic gentleness, explained this daunting change and handed her some products; allowing her to use the loo she’d always growled was for employees only. And beyond that, she’d given young Rey some grave advice on the heels of an uncomfortable truth.

 

Now listen, my child. You’re a woman now. Men will know it; seek you out like the sharks they are, and such a small thing like yourself has to be extra careful to not fall into their jaws. You best be guarding yourself, do you understand?

 

In retrospect, perhaps Maz’s stern advice had been given out of fear for Rey’s obvious lack of guardians at such a tender age. Still, it was good advice that Rey held close to her heart—until, apparently, Ben Solo had come along.

 

She swallowed a huge swig of water in an attempt to steady her nerves. Everything with Ben had happened to fast that she hadn’t really had time to examine it before now. Could she really trust his intentions? Her first answer was that he was never going to get out of her what she wasn’t willing to give—she was quite sure of that much. But Rey bit her lip nervously as she extracted the familiar hidden cardboard box filled with his childhood mementos. As much as her misgivings had to do with their physical relationship and her woeful inexperience, she was forced to admit that, more than anything, she feared everything else just as greatly: the real intimacy that came with it.

 

It had been challenging, but somehow natural, to see his transition from nemesis held at arm’s length to object of her own suppressed desire. But whenever she thought beyond that, her heartbeat quickened, and she feared she was already knee-deep in whatever it was she had always at once desperately longed for and dreaded in equal measure. The box filled with composition notebooks was proof enough of that.

 

Rey picked a notebook at random and flipped to a promising looking page.

 

September 20th, 1993

 

School really sucks so far, but Uncle Lando’s here this weekend! Him and dad tried to teach me poker again. I’ll never get any better at it. Dad laughed his ass off, but Uncle Lando said he’d let me drive his sports car if I ever won. I’m not that into cars but I overheard him tell dad that it was a “grade-A pussy magnet” (!!!!)

 

Lando rules. Way more than dad, anyway. At least he has a job, I mean I think he does even though I’m not sure what it is. But he always seems to know so many girls

 

Rey had to clasp her hand over her mouth to muffle her laughter, not wanting to wake Finn. She shut the composition notebook, feeling an excitable jitter in her stomach. Even though she occasionally gathered up the courage to rifle through 13 year old Ben’s most private thoughts, it filled her with an indescribable thrill she only allowed herself in tiny doses. It felt at once perverse and sweetly intimate. She recognized the irony of learning more about Ben through clandestine means instead of just asking him in person, but she felt this is what she needed. For now, anyway.

 

She smiled to herself as she put the box away, pausing to look at the picture of Ben and his dog Chewie again. It filled her with a strange kind of renewed bravery—and willingness—to face whatever awaited her tonight. As if knowing the weaknesses in his armor would fortify her own, even though she never sought to use it against him.

 

****

 

After an afternoon of intense self-care, Rey left Finn to his videogames and made her way to Rose’s apartment. They had agreed the day before that she’d change for her date there—the better for Rose to insist she wear whatever outfit showed the most leg. Rey firmly vetoed Rose’s suggestions, swearing she’d never be caught dead in a short skirt—but in the end they managed to reach a compromise with Rey’s tightest skinniest pair of high-waisted black jeans and a very cropped fuzzy sweater as a top.

 

“Are you sure it’s not a little…” Rey’s voice trailed off weakly as she examined herself in the mirror, fussing with the hem of her top. It barely skimmed the waistband of her jeans.

 

“Shush, you look amazing! Come over here,” Rose said, brandishing her make-up bag with a wide grin. “This is gonna be so fun!”

 

Rey had to put her foot down for what felt like the thousandth time. “Only! A teensy bit of mascara,” she said firmly, to Rose’s exasperated eye roll.

 

Half an hour later, Rey had layered on her trusty old leather motorcycle jacket and a scarf and made her way to Ben’s apartment, which was a short walk away in the direction of the ritzier neighborhood near downtown. The streets were lined with handsome brownstone row houses that were not all together unlike ones she’d seen in Kensington, the few times she’d ventured there for piano lessons. The directions Ben gave her led to a wide alley-way behind one such row of houses, and Rey marveled at what kind of people must live in this neighborhood to have alleys and garages in such pristine condition.

 

People whose moms are senators, I suppose, Rey thought wryly, before spotting the address and climbing the steps to a wooden porch attached to the brick rear of the house.

 

Rey knocked on the door and only had to wait a few seconds before it swung open before her.

 

Ben appeared, accompanied by a blast of warmth and an enticing smell. He looked serious and dignified, as he always did on the rare occasions she encountered him in scenarios that didn’t require much physical exertion.

 

“Hi,” she said with a nervous smile, shivering slightly. “Am I late?”

 

He shook his head, his soft waves shimmering in the light as they shook. “No—no, come in,” he said, as he stepped aside for her. “Hi,” he added softly, looking her up and down as he shut the door behind her. “Nice jacket,” he said, piercing her with that dark gaze she found so arresting and familiar.

 

“Thanks, I’ve had it since I was fourteen.”

 

They stood awkwardly across from each other for a few seconds before Rey produced a bottle of wine she had stuffed inside her jacket. “I brought some red wine; I hope that’s okay.”

 

Ben seemed to snap out of a sort of reverie and took the bottle proffered to him. “Oh—yeah that’s perfect,” he said, making to open the bottle in the kitchen behind him.

 

Rey took the opportunity to shrug off her jacket and cast an impressed look around Ben’s apartment. The ceilings were high and adorned with elegant plaster molding clearly over a century old, somewhat at odds with the stark living room furnishings and open modern kitchen. “Wow, are you—cooking?” Rey asked as her eyes fell on the array of ingredients on the sleek kitchen island, and the several pots simmering on the range.

 

Ben froze in mid-pour, looking up at Rey and then glancing away. “Yeah, it’s just, uh—a Bolognese,” he muttered, suddenly feeling quite ill-at-ease.

 

“It smells amazing,” she said, her voice dreamy as she sniffed the air. Ben noticed she wore a black string choker around her slender neck. It was strangely alluring. “Can I help?”

 

Ben shook his head, feeling his cheeks flush with heat. “Um, no need. It’s almost done. Here,” he said, offering her a glass of wine in a long-stemmed glass.

 

“Actual wine glasses,” Rey said in a tone of mock-praise. “How sophisticated of you.” She thought of the many second-hand chipped mugs wine was often served in her household.

 

The corners of Ben’s lips twitched slightly, and he said sarcastically, “Oh, so you do know what these are,” gesturing to the glass in his hand before taking a sip. “I have to say, Rey, that’s not—that’s not very punk rock of you.”

 

Rey wrinkled her nose in a snigger and gave his shoulder a little shove for his impertinence. It was like trying to shove a mountain.

 

Ben’s eyes roved down her body, making Rey blush slightly and sip her wine awkwardly. “Do you—want to sit?” he said, gesturing towards the modern-looking grey sofa across the kitchen island.

 

Rey made her way around the front of the sofa but stopped to gaze at the opposite wall, which was full of shelves of vinyl records—one of which she noticed was already in a very high-tech record player nearby; the quiet and fuzzy recording of an old blues song playing in the background. “That’s quite a collection,” Rey said, moving forward to inspect some of the titles.

 

Ben shrugged, taking the opportunity to allow his eyes free rein over her lithe body. “Only thing I really collect,” he muttered, appreciating the shape of her in sleek jeans.

 

Rey picked out a copy of Exile on Main Street and turned back to him as his eyes snapped back to her face. “Can we play this during dinner?” she asked brightly.

 

Minutes later Rey was settling into a seat at a small table near the tall windows. She was impressed by Ben’s fastidious attention to his task of serving food in the kitchen, as well as his commitment to bathing them in warm candlelight—she set her glass down next to one such small candle flickering on the table.

 

The incredible savory smell of the food wafted closer to her as Ben set two bowls filled with pasta down on the table, followed by small bowls of a pretty salad. Rey’s mouth hung open slightly at the sight of such an attractive home-cooked meal—remembering the fanciest home-cooked meal she’d ever experienced before now were Poe’s grilled cheese sandwiches with gruyere instead of supermarket cheddar.

 

“This looks amazing—how did you—“ Rey began, inspecting her dish of steaming food with a curious prod of her fork as Ben settled into a chair next to her.

 

His ears reddened at her attentions, and he merely mumbled something about it not being that big of a deal. Ben’s attempts to brush off a fuss over the dinner he made were further extinguished when Rey took a bite and began to moan, loudly.

 

“It’s—so good,” Rey said rapturously, muffled by the food she was shoveling into her mouth.

 

He couldn’t help but be amused by the sight of her, cheeks bulging with pasta. The corners of his lips twitched as he fought the impulse to smile.

 

“How do you know how to cook??” Rey asked, in between bites, thinking it sounded like the most impossible skill to master—it was clear Ben had done this from scratch.

 

Ben’s face fell flat and he looked away, nudging his own food. “My mom,” he muttered simply, avoiding Rey’s gaze. Leia had spent a large chunk of his summers as a pre-teen insisting that he learn how to cook dinner for Shabbat—that it was a skill every man should learn to serve him well later in life. Ben had groaned at this, arguing that Han didn’t know how to cook to save his life, and he was a man. Leia had just sighed heavily and muttered, “Well, that’s your father.

 

Rey perked up at the mention of his mother, curious and searching Ben’s face, but decided not to pry. “Well, I’m completely lost unless it’s a breakfast food, and even then my pancakes aren’t all that spectacular,” she said, taking a sip of wine.

 

They joked about Rey’s lack of cooking skills amicably a while, sipping wine and eating, straying to all sorts of topics tangentially related to food—there were many as, she noted, food was one of Rey’s favorite subjects. The kind of awful food she’d subsist on while in the home, food in the college dining hall, American versus British cuisine peculiarities, to the kind of food Ben would have to subsist on while on tour.

 

“But perhaps that’s more your speed,” Ben said, humor dancing in his dark eyes as he took a sip of wine. “Soggy fast food and rest stop coffee.”

 

Rey gave an exaggerated shrug. “What can I say; we’re not all posh like you. I like to think I’d be well cut-out for it!” she said with a prideful smirk. Then, remembering the uncertainty that they’d be signed at all, added more modestly, “Well, that is, if we get to tour.”

 

A silence fell over them, made all the more noticeable given how infrequently they’d had any pauses in their conversation at all. Rey had all but finished her meal, and now busied herself with her wine. Clearing his throat awkwardly, Ben asked, “So…how’s…fixing the van going?”

 

He couldn’t bring himself to say “the Falcon,” which was not lost on Rey. But he had to admit he was curious about Rey’s continued involvement with his own father; as often as he tried to not think about it.

 

“It’s going really well,” Rey said measuredly. Ever since her heart had begun to soften towards Ben Solo, she’d ardently hoped there would be some way for the two Solo men to get along. She didn’t know what the answer was, but her instincts told her to leave Ben no choice but to get used to hearing about Han. “We’re almost finished. It might have gone quicker but Han’s not really much of a mechanic,” she admitted, chuckling warmly.

 

Ben’s gaze met hers with an opaque expression. “Oh?”

 

Rey shrugged. “He knows his way around an engine, but often will muck up the littlest things.”

 

Ben felt a surge of grim vindication. The nerve of that man; to pose as a car aficionado simply to rope in a real expert like Rey to do his work for him. He wanted to express this to Rey; to make her see how weak and worthless Han Solo was—but he didn’t have the courage to tank the pleasant mood in one fell swoop. He merely said, “That sounds like him.”

 

“It’s nice to have the company, though!” Rey said, almost a little too quickly. “We order Mexican take-away and he’s always able to find the good stations on the wireless,” she said brightly.

 

Ben felt something akin to a pinprick in his chest. It was true. Han was always able to find the good stations on the radio wherever he was; often obscure and not all quite there, but a blessing in a sea of obnoxious top 40 hits and shrill commercials.

 

“Among other benefits,” Rey added as she served them more wine. Ben’s fork dropped to his bowl with a clatter.

 

What.”

 

His tone was suddenly stern, but Rey couldn’t help but smile at how his suddenly furrowed prominent brow and offended, parted lips reminded her of Han. Ben felt himself in danger of becoming irrepressibly incensed. What the hell did she mean--?

 

“He keeps a lot of photos, your dear ol’ dad,” Rey said with the air of someone cradling a great mystery, oblivious to Ben’s roiling emotions. “And I’ve gotten to see pictures of you as a wee lad,” she said, grinning into her wine. She knew she was goading Ben for a reaction, but something—perhaps the delicious red—had made her feel more daring.

 

The fiery rage clutching Ben’s heart had evaporated instantaneously, to be replaced by embarrassment that almost felt like relief. “God,” Ben groaned, leaning a back into his chair; his benign annoyance at his father flaring again.

 

“You were so cute as a baby!”

 

“It was short-lived.”

 

“And as a kid,” Rey gave him a warm look; her eyes sparkling. “I saw something.” She described the photo she’d seen of Ben with the frog and his father; the details rich in her mind as she’d looked at it many times since on her phone.

 

Some of the icy indignation on to which Ben had stubbornly held began to melt away with Rey’s loving description; though his arms remained steadfastly crossed. She described the scene not like a hopeless weak little nerd and his stupid dependence on escapist interests and his equally weak father. But as a scene to be cherished. As if he was to be cherished.

 

After a moment of silence, Ben’s jaw worked as he stared intently at Rey, and he said slowly, “Yeah? Well…I saw something too.”

 

Suddenly there was more mischief in his eyes than Rey had expected to see after dropping the bombshell on him that aha!, she knew he had in fact once been a sweet little boy and had not simply emerged in a storm, like the Terminator, fully formed and angry. “Oh? What’s that?” Rey said, determined to sound unimpressed.

 

“A picture of you,” Ben said, sitting up straight again, the corners of his lips twitching in amusement. “With no eyebrows and looking really angry.”

 

Rey’s eyes widened; utterly scandalized as she gasped indignantly. “How dare you--!” She made to rise from her chair— “You had no right—!”

 

Large hands darted out to grasp her forearms, coaxing her back to her seat. “I couldn’t help myself,” Ben blurted out, nearly cowed but determined to give her a taste of her own medicine. “You just looked like such a pissed-off teenaged nightmare and I loved it—is that the same leather jacket?” He received a cloth napkin thrown into his face for this.

 

Yes,” Rey gritted through her teeth, her turn to fold her arms over her chest. She couldn’t believe she’d been thwarted this way.

 

“How old were you?”

 

Rey huffed, initially unwilling to entertain his line of questioning, but something in his softening gaze made her cave. “Sixth form had just started…so I guess I was probably sixteen,” she muttered. “Finn found that photo and showed it to Poe, like an idiot! I lost a bet and had to tack it up…” she grumbled.

 

It was a testament to his interest in this subject that he barely registered Rey’s ill-mood towards her friends. “Was it a school photo? Was there a dress code? Did you get in trouble for dressing that way?” Ben was now leaning forward in his chair, the usual hunger in his eyes taking her aback. She found his barrage of questions almost amusing.

 

“Well—yes,” Rey said, suppressing a laugh. She told him all about that day. She no longer had to wear a uniform to sixth form, but there were stringent guidelines in the dress code, especially for photo days. The awful headmistress—always in her hideous tweed waistcoat—had been on Rey’s case about her appearance from day one: making disparaging comments about her ratty old clothes, stern expression, general insolence, and her overall unladylike presentation. “It was always, ‘pluck those eyebrows,’ and ‘put a little effort into that hairstyle, won’t you?’ God, I wanted to give her a swift kick,” Rey said, remembering her anger as Ben watched her, wide eyed and leaning forward in his seat, utterly captivated by the story.

 

So the morning of the photo day, in her fuming rage, Rey had done what she reasoned at the time any young woman would do in her situation: ventured into the disgusting bathroom all the boys at the group home shared and found an electric razor to shear her eyebrows clean off. But she hadn’t just stopped there; taking the razor to her temples in jagged patches before styling what remained in the angriest stiffly-gelled style the copious amounts of product could support.

 

Neither of them noticed the fork in Ben’s hand bend slightly under his frozen grip as he devoured her words, mouth hanging open and his eyes darting rapidly between Rey’s, as though unwilling to blink in fear of missing a single split-second.

 

“The headmistress looked like I’d just slapped her in the face,” Rey said, smirking. “Mind you, that’s what she did to me after I called her a self-righteous cow, so you could say we were even.” Rey raised her hand to feel her own eyebrow. “It was worth it, even though they took ages to grow back.”

 

Without warning, Ben burst out laughing. Uncontrollably laughing; surprisingly high pitched compared to his deep sonorous voice. It was so shocking that Rey jumped slightly in her chair and stared at him. His shoulders shook and his face was split into a huge grin, and Rey realized that adult Ben still had beautiful dimples, and that his rarely-seen and slightly crooked teeth in this new context made him look less like the snarling wolf he often resembled and more like a youthful boy. His normally almond shaped eyes had almost squinted closed with rapturous humor.

 

That—rules—" Ben managed to say, gasping for breath in the midst of his fit of laughter and clutching the edge of the table. Rey giggled softly, feeling his laughter infectious and a beautiful sight to behold. She felt as though she were looking upon something rare and fleeting; a wondrous animal whose existence had as yet been unconfirmed.

His laughter had only just subsided, radiating from a deep place in his chest, when—with a great scraping of her chair—Rey leaned forward and crushed his mouth with hers, kissing him deeply. He pushed his chair back to wrap her in his arms, dragging her closer to his lap.

 

You’re so—fucking cool,” Ben said, parting from her momentarily to catch his breath; his forehead pressed against hers.

 

Rey giggled and kissed along his jaw, whispering in his ear, “You’re beautiful.

 

Ben felt something leap in his chest, discomfited by the sheer unfamiliarity of this. Rey’s hands ran through his hair and gently caressed the shell of his ear as she deepened her kisses along his jaw and his neck, feeling the rough of his stubble on her cheek. She couldn’t describe how much she wanted this man, more than ever before; she wanted every inch of him—

 

Rey straightened to look into Ben’s face, hearing his breath become ragged; all seemingly innocent amusement vanished as his eyes flashed with a lustful hunger; his large hands encircling her waist.

 

Feeling emboldened by her scorching desire and the influence of the wine, Rey rose up from Ben’s lap; his hands following after her with a soft protesting growl. Standing before him in his seat, Rey unzipped her jeans and wriggled out of them, his eyes mesmerized and following her motions as she came to rest in small, simple pink panties and her cropped sweater.

 

Rey mewled softly as Ben’s large hands softly gripped her hips, caressing her in lazy circles with his thumbs. His eyes lingered on her slender but athletic thighs before roving up slowly to her face, gazing at her through his lashes. Rey felt her pulse quicken as Ben stood from his chair, hands still on her hips, standing close as his full height towered over her.

 

With trembling hands, she caressed his broad, hard chest through the soft fabric of his t-shirt. She felt almost dizzy and unable to crane her neck to look into his eyes, instead keeping her gaze level with his Adam’s apple, which visibly bobbed. She felt his fingers dig into her ass, and he said with a darkness in his voice, “Get on the sofa.”

Chapter Text

The low, warm candlelight in Ben’s apartment made the air feel thick and heavy. Rey could hear the muffled and barely audible sound of the record player needle still spinning on the vinyl; album spent. Ben lumbered towards her as she perched on the sofa; her firm and scantily-clad body looking impossibly alluring as she watched him, lips parted in anticipation.

 

She’s so hot, Ben’s brain unhelpfully supplied as he approached. He wanted to tell her how hot she was but was afraid of sounding trite, or sexist. Instead, he just whispered her name and lowered himself on to the sofa, crowding her with another crushing kiss. Rey flopped back into the cushions behind her and Ben followed, chasing her lips with his. His hand slipped under the hem of her cropped sweater to caress her breast, and Rey’s back arched pleasurably at the sensation.

 

Ben tore away from her lips and rose up to hover over her. He drank in the sight of her lithe body beneath him; her slender waist and feminine hips; the curvature of her breasts peeking out from beneath her short sweater. Rey’s lips glistened, swollen from his kisses; her eyes heavily lidded. She bit her lip as Ben’s eyes roamed her body; his hands following suit as he sat up, caressing down from her breasts to her thighs in front of his abdomen. She desperately wanted to liberate him of his clothing, but his hands always seemed quicker with hers.

 

Ben felt compelled seek Rey’s nipple with his tongue, roughly pushing her sweater up to expose her breasts. His blood pounded in his ears as he laved over her perfect breasts, hearing her breath quicken with his attentions; a sultry moan escaping her lips. He’d missed touching her—tasting her—more than he was sure she could imagine.

 

Rey ran her fingers through his thick silken hair, squirming under his tongue and squeezing her thighs together, seeking some kind of relief for the fire that raged between them. “Ben,” she said breathily, and he gave a moan that was a lot like a growl—gently rolling her nipple in his teeth, eliciting a pleasurable hiss from Rey.

 

He couldn’t believe she was there. He couldn’t believe that her body was in her arms, quaking with the same want and hunger he felt bristling within himself; her delicate hands grasping at his back, his waist, his hair.

 

With a heavy exhale, Ben withdrew from Rey to look at her once again, his eyes flashing intensely at her before dropping, heavy-lidded, to her hips. His thumbs caressed the crest of her hipbones, hooking under the fabric of her panties. Rey watched with bated breath as he roughly tugged, and—aided by a shimmy of her hips—pulled her panties off.

 

Rey tried to shyly close her thighs; the dark, lustful look in his eye making her suddenly self-conscious—but she offered no resistance as he gently parted them.

 

Underneath a small thatch of delightful dark curls, Rey’s pussy was already glistening wet, plush, and utterly inviting. He admired the deep blush color as he trailed a finger down her wetness, reveling in the keening moan that escaped her lips. He wanted to hear her moan more; to feel her wetness more—

 

“Ben? What—" Rey had begun softly as Ben’s lowered her face in between her thighs and he gave her a great, long lick.

 

What are you—” Rey tried to say but most of her words were swallowed in a gasp of simultaneous surprise and pleasure. The sudden sensation of his long tongue on her sensitive folds sent jolts of electricity to the end of her toes; the scrape of his stubble on her mound swirling waves of heady lust radiating through her body—

 

Ben laved at her pussy, making circles around her clit, sucking and kissing as if he needed to taste as much of her as possible; the fact he had only a theoretical knowledge of what to do in this situation was a detail long forgotten in his desire to continue hearing more of her moans and sexy little whimpers—

 

Oh, Ben—”

 

Ben glanced up at Rey and was so utterly turned on by the sight of her exposed tits and enraptured face, that he tried to shift his knee on the sofa to get a more secure angle from which to bury his face in between her thighs—when he slipped.

 

Fuck!” Rey heard Ben whisper; her bliss interrupted by a simultaneous slight jerk of her thigh as he slipped part way off the sofa.

 

There was a moment of awkward fumbling and quiet curses, as well as sheepish apologetic glances from both of them, before Rey suggested, “Er, should we—maybe move to the bed?”

 

It didn’t take much for Ben to recover from his momentary embarrassment—in fact, all it took was Rey biting her lip, naked save the cropped sweater that had momentarily fallen back over her breasts as she propped up on her elbows. He nodded silently and Rey made to sit up, taking off her cropped sweater over her head.

 

Before she could get to her feet, however, she felt large hands encircle her and heft her up into the air, causing her to squeal in surprise.

 

Ben had picked her up with a playful growl, practically throwing her over her shoulder; a hand digging into her thigh. “I can walk, you know,” Rey laughed, giving him a little slap on the shoulder as he carried her to his dimly lit bedroom.

 

“This is better,” Ben said, feeling her nipple graze against his jaw. He gave her thigh a little squeeze before dropping her on to his bed with a soft thwump. Rey barely had any time to register the lovely bay windows—were those original shutters?—at the head of his bed before propping herself up, feeling heated under his gaze as he swooped down for another trail of scorching kisses down her neck.

 

“It’s not fair,” Rey said quietly, caressing Ben’s muscled back and lifting his shirt. “You have way more clothes on that me,” she said, chidingly.

 

Ben broke away from her, allowing her to pull his t-shirt over his head, revealing his alabaster chest and abs. As he straightened, she could see the considerable bulge in his jeans, and her eyes darted between it and his searing gaze.

 

He stood at the foot of the bed bathed in a soft dim light from a minimalist lamp nearby. He feverishly took off his jeans, followed by his boxer briefs; his throbbing cock springing out, ruddy and finally freed. Rey felt the familiar rush of fear but this time accompanied by the spine-tingling thrill of desire; mesmerized by how it bobbed with his every movement as he kneeled on the bed, coming closer.

 

Their lips collided in a feverish torrent of kisses; and Rey could still taste her own arousal on his lips. She felt as though it should have turned her off but it only made her want him more. The weight of him on top of her felt reassuring and strong.

 

After a second, he pulled away from Rey, his thick arms caging her body as they both stared at each other, out of breath. His hair was falling over his eyes and Rey reached up to push a lock of it behind his ear with a gentle caress. She shifted her legs around his hips and felt the heavy weight of his cock on her core; with shared gasps, Ben began sliding the length of his manhood against Rey’s soaking folds. The pressure of him sliding against her wanting clit drove her crazy; she could feel her nipples harden as they brushed against his chest.

 

So wet,” Ben whispered in between breaths, staring into Rey’s eyes almost pleadingly. He knew if he kept up the pace of his thrusts, he’d lose himself and it would all be over far too soon—

 

I want you,” Rey said, barely above a whisper from her sweet, swollen lips.

 

Ben’s eyes pierced her with an intensity so open and soft, Rey bit her lip in utter desire of more of him. She watched as he reared up to sit on his heels; cock bouncing upwards and shining with her juices, his hands firmly parting and hiking her thighs around his hips. With a nervous glance down, Rey thought she saw a renewed determination in his face. His Adam’s apple bobbed as he swallowed and muttered, “Hold on,” before reaching one long arm over Rey’s head to her right.

 

Rey only had a second to brush a mesmerized hand over the sculpted muscles over his ribs as he hovered awkwardly over her face, reaching inside his nightstand drawer. He returned to his spot between Rey’s legs with a condom in hand.

 

He avoided her gaze as he ripped the foil packet open, feeling once again momentarily embarrassed as he fumbled with applying the condom. He’d be lying if he said he hadn’t tried it in private before; precisely for the purpose of not feeling fully unprepared when the moment to use it actually came. Internally, he blessed the relatively dim lighting for concealing what he was sure was an unflattering view.

 

Rey, meanwhile, privately marveled at the sight of him rolling down the pale latex over his throbbing, flushed cock. She hadn’t imagined the sight before her would be so…sexy. She’d received enough of a sex education in secondary school to know the theory of how a condom worked, but had never truly understood it before. Any further questions to the headmistress usually incurred a sharp slap on the back of the hand and a reminder that your future husband would be the one taking care of all of the details. Rey had gotten her own birth control in the same doctor’s appointment as all her relevant college entry vaccinations, but still—why ruin a good show?

 

Confident he hadn’t fucked up the most boring part of the evening, Ben leaned over Rey again on one arm; the other hand trailing down Rey’s waist and down to his cock—

 

A shudder of apprehension gripped him as guided the tip of his cock along her folds, his eyes darting back and forth from her pool of moisture to her face; keenly searching for her reaction. It was an awkward few seconds of fumbling for both of them, as her blushing eager face met his and her hands skimmed his broad shoulders. She tried to aid him with a slight wiggle of her hips he found devastatingly cute. Her light touch became a firm brace as he found her entrance and began to push inside her impossibly warm core—

 

Ben let out a lewd, low moan as he slowly breached her tight, hot pussy inch by inch; his mind barely clinging on to his feeble determination to be gentle and to not plunge into her hard and fast—Rey fought to keep her face from screwing up tight from the overwhelming sensation of mingled pleasure and pain. Her breathing became quick as she braced herself against the searing pinch she felt at his push; hands clutching at the nape of his neck, his hair; down his marble-hewn chest.

 

Ben looked down between them to watch his own cock dive deeper into her pussy; mesmerized by how her tight core hungrily accommodated him—when he looked up at her face again, he realized she was watching just as mesmerized as he; her brow furrowed in a lustful expression.

 

He kissed her sloppily; neither of them having enough breath to be gentle as their lips met—

 

Rey’s moan was half a quiet cry as threw her head back into the mattress as Ben sunk himself into the hilt; breathing hot puffs of warmth against her neck. “You’re—so tight—“ he panted, half-moaning the words between breaths. Rey’s thighs trembled at his hips; her body undulating unconsciously underneath him—

 

He had to hold back; he couldn’t hurt her—and he couldn’t come immediately, no matter how badly he wanted to let go inside her warmth. Regaining his focus with a swallow, his head drooping to the crook of Rey’s shoulder, Ben slowly experimented with a thrust.

 

Perhaps it might have been easier to maintain his composure if it weren’t for the heady, sensual little noises Rey made at his every movement; noises that made him want to fuck her raw

 

As soon as Ben had begun to move in and out of her, slowly and hesitantly, the pain had begun to dissipate almost as it had never existed at all; and Rey experienced a mind-blanking ecstasy and hitherto undiscovered sensation of fullness in her core. She clenched her thighs around him, her heels brushing against his haunches as he panted against her neck; overwhelming her with the sheer presence and size of his hard body.

 

Ben,” Rey moaned, her hands clutching his waist, her eyes closed and head tossed. Ben barely raised his head enough to dust her jawline in lazy kisses; his lips brushing against her neck as his began to unconsciously thrust a little faster, and a little harder….

 

Rey gasped, her moans becoming louder and incoherent, and utterly erotic to Ben’s ears—he growled his pleasure in hers; trying to hold on just a little longer—

 

But her dainty hands slid from his waist to grip his ass as he thrust inside her—one, two thrusts and he felt himself unraveling; his body tense with spasms in the cradle of her thighs as he came, pumping his cock inside her with a moan that almost sounded like a cry.

 

He stilled after a few seconds, head resting on the mattress next to Rey’s; his hair damp and his breathing shaky. She wasn’t immediately aware of what had happened—everything had gotten so intense and good—but then it had stopped. Had she done something wrong?

 

She was about to tentatively ask if he was okay when with a shaky groan next to her ear, he said, “I’m—I’m sorry—I…”

 

Rey’s brow furrowed, unable to move much caged in as she was by his weight. “What are you sorry about--? Oh,” she said, but stopped when she realized what must have happened.

 

After a few seconds in which neither of them made a sound save from Ben’s recovering breaths, he raised his head enough for her to see his face—seemingly embarrassed, almost pleading. The hair over his eyes was damp and she could see the very red shell of his left ear poking out. “I…I didn’t make you…” he trailed off, hanging his head so his forehead rested on her collarbone.

 

“Well…so what?” she said, and the sentiment was mostly true—if anything, she had only wished it had gone on for longer as she’d just started really enjoying herself; the initial pain gone and free to feel Ben’s muscular, thrusting body under her hands.

 

He was not entirely convinced by her words, but when she pulled him up into a soft, gentle kiss, any doubt he harbored over his performance felt momentarily irrelevant. Even as he gingerly slid his softening manhood out of her to topple over to one side, she looked radiant, flushed, and pleased.

 

“I wanted you to finish, though,” Ben muttered, propping up to pluck off the condom. “I’m sorry.”

 

Rey watched his naked body hungrily as the muscles moved over his frame; looking like a work of art in the most mundane motions. Her ability to gawk was fleeting, however, as Ben returned to her to gather her up in his arms.

She shrugged at his statement, not wanting to seem ungrateful or overly fussy. Everything he’d just done with her and been so mind-blowingly beyond what they’d done before. Especially that bit with his tongue….

 

“I’m the one who should be sorry, really,” Rey said, looking down at her thighs from her spot nuzzled against Ben’s chest. “I’ve really made a mess of your sheets.”

 

“I didn’t hurt you—did I?” he looked up, brow furrowed.

 

Rey shook her head. “Not really—it hurt a little at first, but it wasn’t—bad,” she explained awkwardly.

 

Ben brought up a hand to caress her face and then kissed her forehead, and Rey was so struck by the expression of tenderness that she wouldn’t have believed it possible at a moment like this. She almost wanted to look away, as if it would help her deal with the intense feeling of intimacy as Ben drew her into her chest again with his powerful pale arms. But she didn’t, feeling a smile creep up on her face as she burrowed into the crook of his neck.

 

After a moment, remembering the look on Ben’s face when he’d entered her, she asked curiously, “Does it hurt for you, too?”

 

She instantly regretted asking, however, as the quirked eyebrow in Ben’s expression—one clearly of repressed amusement—made it clear she’d just asked a very stupid question. “No,” he said, voice slightly tremulous. “Not even a little bit.”

 

Rey huffed and buried her face into his chest once more. “That doesn’t seem very fair, does it?” she grumbled.

 

“No,” Ben shook his head, suppressing a smile. “It doesn’t.” He kissed her forehead again; caressing a rich tawny strand of hair over a freckled shoulder.

 

“I have to pee,” Rey said after a second’s pause, pecking him on lips and sliding off the mattress before he had a chance to grumble.

 

****

 

Ben wasn’t at all sure that had gone well. He rolled on his back and stared at the plaster medallion on the ceiling, which cast strange shadows in the dim lamplight. He had been clumsy, awkward, fumbling, and possibly the worst bit at the end—had come too prematurely with a sound like a wounded animal.

 

He tried not to allow himself to fall into the familiar spiral; instead trying to focus on how well things seemed to have gone when he’d only used his fingers. As enthralled as Rey seemed by the sight of his cock, maybe he needed a different approach. It pained him to think about, since the sensation of being inside her was too heavenly to forget any time soon.

 

But Rey was his light, and she deserved happiness more than he did.

 

****

 

“Does your bathroom floor have some kind of—heating--?” Rey asked as she returned from the fanciest bathroom she’d ever done her business in. Ben perked up at the sight of her traipsing across the darkened room like a lithe nude ghost.

 

“Oh—yeah, that’s the radiant floor heating,” he mumbled, pleased at how Rey burrowed into his arms when she returned to the bed.

 

“Wow,” Rey said, her voice muffled against his chest. “Is that really necessary?”

 

Ben scoffed gently. “You tell me. Were your bare toes not comfortable and warm?”

 

“You got me there.”

 

She sighed contentedly before looking up and kissing him sweetly on the jaw. Ben looked down and met her eyes, wide and heavy with lust.

 

“I want to make you come,” he said, quite suddenly. His tone of voice was almost petulant, but his glinting dark eyes suggested another mood altogether.

 

Rey felt that all-too-familiar tinge of apprehension and thrill—and before she knew it, Ben was crushing her with another kiss; swiftly making his way down her breasts once more.

 

“Where were we?” Ben muttered, hooking his hands around the top of her thighs and tugging her hips towards him as easily as one would rearrange some bedding. Rey nearly felt like a rag dog in his grip, but she couldn’t find a single reason to complain as he threw each of her thighs over his broad shoulders and began a soft, wet trail of kisses down her belly.

 

Mmm—” Rey moaned in anticipation as the hot wet kisses trailed on the sensitive flesh of her inner thigh. She couldn’t really believe this was happening, but once again she was absolutely on fire; the powerful ache at her entrance for him renewed once more.

 

“Right,” Ben said in a tone that would be matter-of-fact if it weren’t nearly whispered, and without much preamble, plunged his tongue over Rey’s wet folds once more.

 

Oh--!” Rey gasped, ecstasy filling her once more as she watched Ben’s full lips, glistening with her juices, suckle at her folds and clit with the sort of serious dedication he showed to all his practices. She could only barely hold the fleeting thought of how bizarre, how thrilling, that the man she’d once resented so sorely was now between her trembling thighs; giving her a wet slurping pleasure she’d never have thought possible in her wildest dreams.

 

Ben’s obsidian eyes glanced up at her while lashing her clit with his powerful tongue and it was almost too much; Rey threw her head back in the pillow and flowed with the sensation of it all—his stubble and hot breath on her skin, his large hands groping her ass and thighs—

 

She began to almost unconsciously start rocking her hips into Ben’s face; seeking her release, and in response Ben slid a hand from her thighs and inserted a thick finger into her entrance—

 

Ahh—”

 

The lingering dull pain from him entering her had ebbed significantly; no doubt soothed by how warm and ready she’d become for him. He must have sensed this, and heard her joyful moans, because soon he inserted another finger, glancing up at her from under his brows. The sight of him like this, shouldering her thighs on his broad frame and his tongue and plush lips still working furiously, made Rey feel as though she might crumble from the desire she felt—

 

“I’ve wanted—to do this for so long,” Ben whispered in between licks, and Rey whimpered. He had begun to pump his fingers inside her in an utterly overwhelming sensation.

 

Yes—more—” Rey gasped, gesturing a brief curling motion with a flailing hand, and Ben was more than happy to oblige.

 

Ben locked her eyes on her face, rather enjoying her tortured and blushing expression; her breath had become out of control, her breasts quivering so beautifully as she gasped for air and rocked her hips harder onto his hand. Ben held his tongue long and firm against her cunt as his fingers curled inside her, and Rey’s hips ground onto it; delirious moans of pleasure ripping from her throat—

 

The heat inside Rey had built to a breaking point, and when she focused her eyes long enough to see the intense stare in Ben’s eyes, she broke—practically screaming as she rode out her orgasm against his lips; a hand clutching at his hair, another grabbing a fistful of the sheets. It all felt like too much, and Ben continued his feverish lap, clutching on to her hips as she squirmed against him; her eyes filling with involuntary tears and her brow covered in sweat.

 

After what seemed like hours but was only seconds, she felt Ben withdraw, trailing wet kisses up her inner thigh as her limbs went limp and she valiantly tried to catch her breath. The blood was pounding in her ears, making her feel as though she’d been hanging upside down.

 

Ben watched, enraptured, as Rey recovered from her orgasm; her lids heavy and the low light of the lamp gleaming softly of the perspiration on her forehead and between her heaving chest. Her thighs were trembling.

 

That was,” Rey panted after a while, her eyes regaining some of their focus, “crazy—

 

Ben felt his lips twist into a smirk as he tried to suppress a laugh and ultimately failed—Rey giggling along with him as he dove forward to embrace her, her shoulders shaking as he buried his face in the crook of her neck. They stayed like that for a moment, Rey feeling the comforting weight of him on her; a billion questions swirling in her mind as she curled his hair around her fingers. She hadn’t even been aware that was something people did, although she immediately felt stupid since she had heard countless times about the reversal.

 

As they lay together in a contended sweaty silence, Rey felt the pull of sleep tug at her. Ben give her soft, tender kisses on the crown of her head. He closed his eyes and pictured her, from just minutes earlier—lithe body tensed from her cresting orgasm she rode out on his lips, nipples erect, a sheen of sweat on her sweet face as she practically screamed in pleasure.

 

He didn’t feel like he’d ever forget that for as long as he lived, and he drifted off to sleep with a slight smile on his face at the thought.

 

Chapter Text

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.

 

 

Chapter Text

“Ready? Okay—hold on—okay, give it a shot, now,” Han said, rounding the corner from the front of the Falcon.

 

It was the next morning, and Rey had woken bright and early to make her way to the Corellia Suites, having agreed on an early repair session with Han. She wouldn’t have missed it for the world—for today they both hoped the Falcon’s engine would finally be rebuilt and repaired.

 

Rey bit her lip in anticipation, sitting in the driver’s seat of the capacious van after several false starts. With a glance at Han’s dice hanging from the rearview mirror—for luck—she released her hand’s white-knuckle grip on the steering wheel and gripped the key in the ignition once again.

 

She turned it, and the Falcon roared to life, with the most beautiful purr Rey had ever heard come from a car—

 

Yahoo!” came Han’s exclamation from outside the van as he punched the air triumphantly. Rey let out a great, happy scream of laughter as Han yelled, “She lives! I knew it; I knew she could do it—“

 

Rey couldn’t help it—she jumped out of the driver’s seat, leaving the Falcon idling, and collided into Han’s arms with a bracing hug of joy. They both laughed and thumped each other on the back.

 

“Hey—let’s take her for a spin,” Han said, pulling away with a slow lopsided grin. Rey made to move to the passenger’s seat, but he stopped her. “No. You do the honors, Rey. She’s yours, after all,” he said, with a mischievous growl.

 

Rey grinned and bolted back into the driver’s seat as Han rounded the front of the Falcon, slamming the hood closed before climbing into the front passenger’s seat.

 

If there was a more satisfying feeling than spending months repairing an ancient car for it to run as beautifully as it did now, Rey would have not believed it. The Falcon may have looked like a homely cargo van, but as she turned the steering wheel, sending them in fine loops around the motel’s parking lot, she marveled at the fact it handled more like a light-weight sporty sedan.

 

Wow,” Rey gasped, her eyes trained on the open space before her; early morning sunlight flooding the inside of the car and bathing them in golden light. Han gave her a sideways glance and chuckled proudly, giving the dashboard of the Falcon a fond pat.

 

****

 

After another few joyful laps around the parking lot and around the block, Rey returned the Falcon to its usual spot, and she and Han tested out the heating system as they sat inside. She was utterly pleased to learn all her hard work had paid off—the heat worked beautifully, melting away the late November chill inside the van. Even as the surly motel manager Leech had come out from the dingy front office to glare at them in a way Rey would have found distasteful and unsettling, she found that not even his scowl could sink her spirits today.

 

“You know…you could probably take her home today,” Han said with a sideways glance at her, scratching his white stubble.

 

“We still have to change that break light,” Rey said, remembering the last item on their list. She grinned. “It’s okay. All the tools are here—I’ll come back tomorrow and get it done in a jiff.”

 

They sipped on the coffees Rey had brought them; already having devoured their donuts. “Oh! By the way! I have something for you,” she said, remembering the tote bag she’d thrown behind the seat.

 

“Ah, shit, please don’t tell me it’s another piece of my—old man uniform,” Han growled, watching as Rey hefted a bag onto her lap.

 

“Oh, come now; I know you love your reading glasses,” Rey scowled, nodding her head to the folded-up lenses barely peeking out of the chest pocket of Han’s denim shearling jacket. “They make you look smart.”

 

“They make me look like an old fool,” Han countered defensively.

 

“Not being able to read a take-away menu closer than arm’s length is what makes you look old,” Rey argued, and Han smirked despite himself.

 

She extracted a woolen gray blanket from the tote bag. “It’s a heated blanket!” she said, as Han’s brow furrowed at the weight of it. “The voltage should be safe—I triple-tested it myself and re-soldered all the weak wires.”

 

Han looked up at her, a mixture of stern disapproval and sheepish affection on his lined face. “You didn’t have to do that,” he grumbled softly.

 

Rey wouldn’t hear of it. “It’s nothing,” she shrugged. “I figured it would be good for your hip when the weather gets more dismal.”

 

“Ahhhh, see?” Han hissed, waggling a finger at her as though catching her in a lie. “It is part of my old man get-up—“

 

Rey laughed amicably at this. She spent a few minutes showing him how the settings worked, and after some more sips of coffee, Han cleared his throat.

 

“So…how’s Ben?” he asked, with a pointedly casual air, looking determinedly through the windshield as if the near-featureless parking lot held some passing interest.

 

Rey felt her face flood with heat at the mention of Ben. Shit, she thought to herself as her eyes darted from her coffee to Han. The sly lopsided smirk on his face told her quite clearly that her reaction to a simple question had betrayed too much.

 

“Oh, I’m—I’m sure he’s fine,” Rey said in a would-be casual tone, as though Ben were merely some acquaintance who travelled in similar social circles. Acquaintance, begrudging friend—not clandestine lover who frequently worked her into throws of passion.

 

She was sure her cheeks must be intensely red.

 

“Just fine, huh?” Han said, his amusement barely restrained. “That’s good to hear. Well, if you, uh, happen to see him any time soon,” Han said as his smirk widened and he leaned over in his seat slightly, “tell him to call his mom; she worries about him.”

 

Rey barely had the capacity to examine her tender feelings towards the request amidst her intense embarrassment. Surely, somehow, Han knew. It didn’t seem to merely be a suspicion for him anymore—the glint in his eye said it all. Rey nodded curtly, her lips in a tight line. Two could play this game, however. Her cold English upbringing had prepared her perfectly for it.

 

Han raised his coffee to his lips to take a sip and, with the most obvious side-eye in the known world, added, “She’s been trying to reach him for a few days, seeing as it was his birthday yesterday and all.”

 

If Rey had been drinking her coffee, she was sure she would have spat it out all over the recently-scrubbed dashboard. Instead, she positively jumped in her seat and whipped her head towards Han; attempts at subtlety promptly dashed. “It was???

 

Han’s sly smirk returned and he nodded. “Yep. Twenty—” Han paused, his brow furrowed, apparently trying to subtract from Ben’s birth year “—twenty-nine. The big three-oh’s coming up,” he said with a smug smile, and upon seeing Rey’s flabbergasted expression, added, “Not that it means he’s over-the-hill or anything; your thirties are actually better than your twenties—”

 

Han continued this line of musing, presumably trying to sell Rey on his son despite their age difference—but the number was not even close to what had shocked Rey.

 

She was shocked—and she realized, deeply hurt—that Ben had not told her it was his birthday. Even though they’d seen each other that very day. She reasoned that perhaps he had meant to tell her later—that they’d both expected to go to Ben’s after her shift, and perhaps he’d tell her in private. Rey’s heart sank at the thought. The night had not ended the way either of them had hoped, except with the added sting that it had been his birthday.

 

Rey treasured birthdays. She didn’t know her own; having merely been assigned one by a social worker.

 

“Why didn’t he say anything?” Rey asked sadly, more to herself than to Han.

 

Han fixed her with a soft gaze, his lips folded. “I, uh, well—the kid’s always hated his own birthday,” he began, with an awkward chuckle that made it clear he was trying to diffuse Rey’s obvious pain. “He was really only ever in it for the ice-cream cake until he was maybe nine or ten—hated everything else about it—”

 

Rey gave him a weak attempt at a smile.

 

“But who knows,” Han said, clearing his throat. “It’s been twenty years, maybe—maybe some things have changed.”

 

****

 

Ben was trudging back home from the boxing gym, bag over his shoulder and head swirling with painful thoughts of Rey’s disappointed face from the previous night—when he saw her standing on his porch.

 

She was wearing her leather jacket and had her arms crossed, leaning up against the railing with a stern expression on her face. Ben merely gazed up at her, stopping dead in his tracks. Given the events of last night, he wasn’t sure if he was supposed to profusely apologize and wrap her in his arms, or give her ample space.

 

Ben had spent a few hours thoroughly abusing gym equipment in his misery; certain that the radio silence on Rey’s end was her way of ending things with him, or at least a form of punishment he hugely deserved.

 

So his surprise at seeing her outside his apartment, though displeased, lifted his misery somewhat—but increased his sense of foreboding.

 

“Ben Solo,” Rey called out in a cold tone, leaving her spot on the porch to approach him. “I’ve a bone to pick with you,” she said, removing her gloves and fixing Ben with an increasingly narrowing gaze.

 

Ben swallowed, rooted painfully to the spot, certain she was going to tell him something to make his insides twist anew with heavy guilt, like she’d lost her job because of him, or that the vile snake had somehow brought litigation over his injuries—anything that would explain why her agitation towards him had not waned in the slightest.

 

Mere inches from Ben, Rey crossed her arms again and gave him a steely look. “I heard it was your birthday yesterday.”

 

What?

 

Why didn’t you tell me??” Rey’s steel gave way to a pained expression, and her hands came up to tenderly grasp Ben’s jaw and pull him into a hard kiss.

 

When they parted, Ben felt a wave of relief wash over him—soon to be subsumed by confusion and irritation. “What—wait, who—”

 

“Your dad,” Rey said sheepishly, her hands caressing his chest affectionately. Ben’s sour reaction at the news—and its source—surprised her not one bit.

 

Goddammit,” Ben muttered, trying to ease his irritation in light of the fact Rey was touching him and apparently not still furious about last night—but ultimately failing. It was hard to reconcile with the fact Rey’s radio silence had apparently been caused by a meeting with Han. “He should mind his own business,” he ground out, breaking away from Rey’s sweet grip to move past her and into his apartment.

 

Rey, undeterred, followed him in; a smirk creeping on her face.

 

A few minutes later, Rey leaned against the porcelain sink in Ben’s bathroom after he’d stripped all his clothing to jump in the shower. He had given Rey a reproachful look that she knew was not borne from displeasure in her behavior but rather his unwillingness to entertain her suggestions of a birthday party.

 

“But why not? I can throw a mean party—and it can be just us! What could be better?” Rey raised her voice over the sound of the shower stream, leaning over slightly to catch a glimpse of Ben behind the shower curtain; a sliver of wet hair and suds.

 

“I hate my birthday,” was Ben’s constant refrain. “As far as I’m concerned it’s just like any other day.”

 

“But it’s not,” Rey insisted, a lilt of sadness to her voice. “It’s special. I—I want to celebrate it.”

 

Despite his churning mess of irritation and painful childhood memories of embarrassing birthdays past, hearing Rey work so hard to convince him of the importance of something as silly as a party to celebrate his birth touched him deeply nonetheless. He was keenly aware that birthdays growing up in the foster system as she did must have been an experience very distinct from his own.

 

Ben’s hand curled around the edge of the shower curtain as he pulled it back slightly to look at her. “Okay,” he said, hesitantly, and Rey’s eyes lit up. “We can—do something. But no surprises, no cake, no—no bullshit. Just a regular hang out,” he added, trying to appear stern in his decision—an effect somewhat dampened by Rey’s brilliant smile.

 

“You won’t regret it!” she said brightly, reaching out with one hand to smooth a wet lock of hair from his face. She couldn’t help but be drawn to his appearance, wet and slightly sudsy as he was; his ears and cheekbones prominent without his hair’s normal volume to conceal them. He looked beautifully melancholy.

 

“Now,” Ben said, his jaw working slightly as he eyed her. “Take off your clothes and get in here.”

 

“What? No, I already showered,” Rey scoffed, trying to hide her shock at the request—no, demand—with casual dismissal.

 

A shadow crossed his face. It was one she knew well by now: not deadly serious, but dangerous all the same. She could practically read his lust in his hard gaze, as though his eyes were an open book. “Take them off, or I’ll pull you in anyway and strip you myself,” he said, his gaze heated and his voice even.

 

Rey blushed; her eyes rolling as her only form of protest. But she complied, powerless to resist the invitation after seeing the fire return to his expression; droplets of water clinging to his parted lips and rolling down his broad shoulders.

 

As she stepped over the lip of the handsome claw-footed tub and into Ben’s warm, slick embrace, she realized just how much she’d missed his touch last night.

 

****

 

Rey threw her head back into the mattress with wanton abandon; not caring very much that her damp hair was sure to dry into an absurd mess. It was difficult to care about much when riding the electrifying wave that was her orgasm; having been brought to a delicious peak by Ben’s insistent tongue and lips.

 

His gorgeous, wet lips, she thought with a spike of desire as she saw him pull away slightly to pierce her with his dark eyes; brow low and mouth positively dripping with her arousal.

 

“Your pussy is mine,” he said, in a low, almost dangerous voice that Rey felt as though she could feel on her hardened nipples. He bent low to give her another torturous lick; making her whine from the overstimulation of it all. “Just for me,” he whispered, running wet kisses along her thigh, never breaking eye contact.

 

Yes,” Rey breathed her approval, partially of his filthy words, and partially of how he raised himself up between her legs; his large purplish cock bobbing up into view and grazing against her thigh. She reached for him, barely able to caress his supple musculature with her fingertips. He was teasing her still, much the way he had since she’d stepped into the shower.

 

Please—” Rey whispered as he slowly ran the shining tip of his manhood along her folds, teasing her entrance. She wanted the fullness only he could give her; she craved it—

 

A shadow of a smirk twitched on Ben’s lips as he bent forward slightly, crowding over her with his formidable mass. “Please, what?” he demanded darkly, worrying his own shining lip in his teeth as he moved his hips against her thighs in a way that spiked Rey’s arousal even more.

 

Rey was nothing if not a somewhat prideful woman. Pride had always been less of a vice and more of a survival mechanism in the dismal environment of her upbringing. She’d had many peers who’d allowed themselves to spiral down into the kind of low self-worth that led to less than happy fates. So in that moment, despite her searing lust for Ben snaking down her spine, she tried her best to remain obstinate to Ben’s dirty talk.

 

It didn’t work.

 

Please…fuck me,” Rey whispered through gritted teeth, and the feeling of giving in was at once exasperating and exhilarating. Ben’s eyes widened like he’d just spotted the most delectable meal after weeks of starvation—he curled his hands around Rey’s thighs and plunged his thick hardness into her, relishing her loud gasp of pleasure.

 

Keeping his body perpendicular to hers, he began to thrust into her; softly at first and gradually harder—his hands digging into her legs as he watched Rey’s soaked and ready folds part around his glistening cock so willingly. She felt so good, and she looked exquisite—Ben was momentarily entranced by her small pert breasts, which bounced in time to his every thrust; bidding him to thrust harder. Her breathy moans, her flushed face, how she would sweetly bite her lip and clutch at the sheets overhead—she was perfect, and he felt something akin to being honored to fuck her, here and now.

 

Rey felt as though her entire body was overheated; sending hot shivers down her spine to her center. She could barely focus on Ben as his hard body thrust against her, hearing his puffs and grunts of effort. “So…tight,” she heard him growl lowly amidst the slapping of skin, feeling a large warm hand curling around her waist.

 

She opened her eyes long enough to focus on Ben’s face; his hair still partially damp from the shower; beginning to curl pushed behind his large, flushed ears. His lips hung open as he watched her intently; his muscles extra defined with the effort of thrusting. “I love how badly—you want—my cock—” he said, his teeth bared, and the timbre of his voice and hearing his filthy words proved too much for Rey. She came for a second time, the waves of pleasure radiating from deep within and wiping her mind blank of any concern or awareness of her own composure.

 

Rey was positively screaming; throatily wailing her pleasure as Ben leaned forwards, one hand gripping her waist as he fucked her hard and deep—the beautiful flush on her bouncing breasts the briefest sight he enjoyed before he let go himself. “Unnghh—” Ben growled, snapping his hips as his spend shot into Rey; his forearms trembling from the sensation.

 

He couldn’t imagine a more beautiful sight than Rey spread out before him, catching her breath with a languorous expression and oblivious to the pearls of cum rolling down her bottom. Ben didn’t want to pull out; he merely wanted to hold her, be inside her and around her as long as she could stand.

 

Rey hummed happily as she felt the warm weight of Ben’s torso press against her; his strong arms wrapping her in a tight hug. She wrapped her own shaking arms around him tightly, bringing up her fingers to play with his wavy locks.

 

It felt as though there was a lot unspoken between them—about last night, about her friendship with his father. About the filthy things he’d said to her during sex that had strangely only inflamed her passion more. But they both left them unsaid, murmuring their affection into each other’s ears; hazy under the blanket of sweet contentment.

 

“I like your ears,” Rey instead said quietly, a grin spreading to her face as she reached up to caress them. Ben spared her a quizzical look and a frustrated groan before shaking his head wildly like a dog, his raven locks whipping about to conceal the ears in question; falling over his face. “It’s true! I think they’re cute,” Rey giggled, as Ben buried his head on the crook of her neck with a slightly more sheepish noise.

 

Attempt to hide as he might, she nevertheless stroked the shell of his ear affectionately, and Ben felt an intense desire to protect this sweet, fearless woman to the ends of the earth. She was a brilliant beacon of light that he’d never known he’d needed before recently. He swallowed hard, fully aware that he did nothing to deserve her. He supposed his single-minded mission to give her all the tender kisses and thigh shaking orgasms she could ever want was an attempt to earn the attentions she so willingly gave him.

 

But pleasures of the flesh were crude, just like him—and it paled in comparison to all the things she’d given him by merely existing in his orbit.

 

****

 

Rey’s email request to Holdo regarding Skywalker had gone unanswered for quite some time, until, it transpired, she received an email from the Dean requesting a meeting for the following day.

 

Her initial reaction had been a thrill of fear—had she somehow upset the Dean by declining the offer to work with the misanthropic Skywalker? Was the meeting to discipline her? Granted, it was entirely possible there was nothing to be concerned about. After all, Dean Holdo had taken a kind interest in Rey’s well-being in the past, and had clearly tried to cultivate a friendly mentor-like relationship with the younger woman.

 

But being who she was, Rey had remained polite and agreeable in those conversations; unwilling to open up in the way Holdo had perhaps hoped she would.

 

It’ll just be another one of those…heart-to-hearts, Rey told herself as she hurriedly climbed the steps of the main administrative building on campus. She was late, as usual. She rushed down the hall to Holdo’s office, nodding perfunctorily to her secretary, and swung open the elegant wooden door marked DEAN OF STUDENTS, Ms. Amilyn Holdo.

 

“Sorry I’m late, I had to—”

 

Rey stopped dead in her tracks, hand still gripping the engraved brass doorknob as her eyes widened at the sight before her.

 

“Rey! I’m so glad you’re here; come in and take a seat,” Amilyn Holdo exclaimed warmly, rising from her seat behind her desk, where she’d been speaking to a very grim-looking Luke Skywalker. He stood by the window, his patched brown corduroy jacket and shaggy gray hair looked especially shabby compared to Dean Holdo’s smart pencil skirt and shining, wavy lilac bob.

 

“Ma’am?” Rey muttered uncertainly, eyes darting between Luke’s frosty blue gaze and Amilyn’s warm, sweet smile. The older woman practically towered over Rey, but it was an unsettlingly benign sort of shadow as she gently shut the door behind Rey and steered her forward with a firm hand on her shoulder.

 

“Your classes are going well I expect?” Amilyn asked, leading Rey to sit in one of the two chairs in front of her desk. Rey didn’t sit, nor did she answer; she only shrugged her backpack off into one of the chairs. “You’ve met Luke Skywalker, of course,” she continued, seemingly unphased by any lack of answer and resettling herself on her velvet high-backed chair behind her desk. She gestured at Luke politely with an elegant long hand adorned with tasteful jewelry. Luke merely frowned.

 

“Yes, ma’am,” Rey said quietly. She didn’t imagine anything good could come from Luke’s presence in that office.

 

“Rey, you can relax,” Amilyn said lightly, smiling sympathetically, her warm eyes searching Rey’s. “Luke’s a very old friend of mine. He told me about your meeting some time ago; and after I received your message, I got the sense that perhaps you two had started off on the wrong foot.” There was no steel in her voice, only warm authority.

 

Rey tried hard not to look up at Luke, determined to not see his disapproval. “Yes, ma’am,” was all the response she had, and Holdo plowed forward.

 

“Now, I know you two are artists,” Amilyn said, brightly smiling at the two of them, as if Rey and Luke were her precocious and beloved toddlers. “And far be it from me to expect all artists to have similar methods—but I’m happy to say that I’ve spoken with Mr. Skywalker, and he’s kindly agreed to give it another try,” Amilyn pierced Rey with her kind gaze at this, “if you’re willing to try as well.”

 

Rey’s expression of tight-lipped discomfort dropped, and her lips parted in confusion. “What?” she whispered, perplexed.

 

“This is important for your development, Rey,” Amilyn continued, clasping her hands together almost as if in supplication. “You’re so bright, and talented, and you need a teacher,” she said, as Rey continued to gape between her and Luke’s passive scowl.

 

“Err—” Rey shifted uneasily; wanting badly to argue, to make her see reason that it was not Luke who had been wronged.

 

“Mr. Skywalker also brought to my attention something he’s very concerned about,” Holdo said, her watery blue eyes piercing Rey’s with seriousness. “So it’s very important we talk about it open and honestly, okay?”

 

Feeling at the mercy of this increasingly uncomfortable conversation’s whims, Rey merely nodded weakly.

 

Amilyn Holdo pursed her lips into a thin line, as if choosing her words very carefully.

 

“Mr. Skywalker’s very concerned you’ve become—friendly—with a former student of his, Ben Solo?” she said gently, and Rey suddenly felt like a child caught with her hand in the sweets cupboard.

 

“What’s it to him?” Rey blurted out, surprising even herself as she shot a scathing look at Luke.

 

“Rey, we talked about this,” Luke spoke for the first time since she’d entered the office; his tone almost a stern growl. Amilyn quickly cut him off.

 

“Ben Solo,” she said, with a firm and raised voice that still managed to be kind, “was a student here some time ago, as I’m sure you’re aware. He’s also Mr. Skywalker’s nephew, and the son of a dear friend of mine.” The set to Holdo’s expression at this almost made Rey believe the idea pained her to some degree. “Did you know that?”

 

Rey nodded, slowly, feeling her heartrate quicken as dread settled into the pit of her stomach.

 

Amilyn gave a bracing little nod before continuing. “Now, we do not consider Ben Solo alumni, since he never graduated despite attaining all the appropriate credits, but we are aware of his extensive misconduct record,” she said, idly straightening a folder on her desk. “Mr. Skywalker is concerned—in light of what a bright future you have, Rey—that fraternizing with a man like Ben Solo will negatively impact your scholastic and musical career—”

 

“He’s dangerous, Rey,” Luke said, as if he could no longer contain himself. “Has he told you?”

 

“That’s ridiculous,” Rey spat sharply, throwing all caution to the wind. “Why are you so dead-set against—”

 

“Has he told you, Rey?” Luke repeated, his voice shaking as he took a small step forward. Amilyn had fallen eerily silent, her hands clasped on her desk as she watched Rey from under a bright lilac curl. “About the institute? About the boy he blinded—

 

“Yes, he has,” Rey hissed, balling her fists at her sides in an attempt to keep them from shaking.

 

Luke gazed at her more intently, his graying beard doing little to conceal his deep scowl. “Has he told you about the fires? Multiple ones—at his mother’s country club, and at the institute; where I was his music teacher at the time,” Luke said, and for the first time Rey could feel a palpable sorrow emanate from the old man. “I almost didn’t survive to tell the story—”

 

“Thank you, Luke,” Amilyn said to him with a subtle edge Rey had never quite heard before. Her face now looked grave and concerned. “What Mr. Skywalker is trying to say,” she said, turning to Rey again as Luke exhaled deeply and paced near the window again, “is that he’s concerned about the potential of having another student fall along the same path, Rey.”

 

Rey stared at her, unsure she understood what she was hearing.

 

“Now, I know you well enough to know you’re a good kid, one of the best,” Amilyn continued. “But I’m sure you can understand what a delicate position Mr. Skywalker and his practice is in when he agrees to take on new students—”

 

He agrees to??” Rey snapped, unable to allow this assumption go on any longer. “I haven’t agreed to this—"

 

“Look,” Luke interjected wearily. “We just want to help you,” he said, and Rey sputtered indignantly. Luke and Amilyn exchanged looks.

 

“Help me? Doesn’t sound like you ever wanted to help Ben!” Rey retorted, and she felt a certain satisfaction to see her accusation pierce Luke as though it were a hot sword.

 

“Ben’s beyond help—” Luke began furiously, color rising to his pallid face.

 

“No, he isn’t—you simply failed him and refuse to let go—” Rey was sure the color rose in her cheeks at the moment too—how dare Luke, his own uncle, say such horrible hopeless things about Ben? “You don’t know him at all—

 

“Rey,” Amilyn’s voice interjected the argument like a soft, heavy blanket. Shaken, Rey tore her fearful gaze from Luke to see her pained face. “Is it possible you and Ben Solo are more than just friends?”

 

It was as if the air in the room had been sucked out entirely; Rey felt Luke’s head snap towards her in shock, and she chanced a glance at his stricken look of surprise and horror.

 

“In other words, is your relationship with him—intimate?” Amilyn clarified, her tone professional but her expression far too understanding for Rey’s liking. Luke, on the other hand, looked as though he’d been struck temporarily senseless; his mouth agape.

 

Rey felt as though her heart was going a mile a minute. She snatched up her backpack and shakily said, “That’s none of your business!” and darted out of the room, fighting back tears of embarrassment.

 

“Wait! Rey!”  she heard Luke call out, his voice high and urgent—and she began to run as fast as she could, down the marble-floored hallway and overtaking a few shocked people climbing the steps as she rushed past.

 

She ran and didn’t stop until she was well out of range of the campus parking lot, tears of fury streaming down her cheeks.