Blue jeans, white shirt, walked into the room you know you made my eyes burn.
It was like James Dean, for sure. You’re so fresh to death and sick as cancer.
Han Solo’s funeral was the first time Rey felt like she was a part of an actual family. She knew she wasn’t actually, but the way Luke introduced her to everyone as his “protégé” made her feel like she was finally… accepted. If Rey was the dreaming type, she’d even let herself believe it meant she was wanted. By someone, anyway.
She sat next to Luke in her simple black dress and squeezed his arm in support when he went up to the podium to speak. It was one of the most heartbreaking experiences she had ever witnessed - Leia wept in the front pew, her hand over her heart as if she could keep it intact through touch. She heard the blanket of whispers that filtered through no one’s - and everyone’s - mouth.
Ben Solo killed his father.
Luke’s broken voice echoed around the church, “Han was more than my friend, he was my brother -”
“I would never be able to forgive him.” Rey had heard someone behind her mutter but she kept her eyes on Luke.
Ben Solo wasn’t here to explain himself. Not that he could. He was awaiting trial in a detention facility. Somewhere in a concrete room, he had a lot to think about. Rey hated him a little bit. Actually more than a little bit. Luke talked about him so often that Rey felt like she already knew him. Already knew his secrets and his excuses.
Luke hadn’t said much at first. Only that Han had got into his car to stop Ben from driving it, and when Ben lost control and hit a telephone pole, Han hit his head in just the wrong way.
“This isn’t happening,” Luke mumbled when Rey drove him to the hospital.
But it did happen.
And when Ben Solo sobered up, he found out with everyone else that his father had passed away. Except, he was alone in a small room where lawyers meet their clients, and he didn’t hear it from someone who loved Han. He heard it from his attorney, who gave him about ten seconds to process the information before they switched gears.
“We will need to change our defence strategy.”
Or so the story goes according to Luke. After nearly two and a half years in prison, Ben is coming home. Not his home, but as close as he is going to get.
“The only way I can help him is to set boundaries,” Luke explains as if Rey was in any position to question him. “His parole terms are limited but not limited enough if you ask me. At least if he is working here and living with me I can keep an eye on him.”
“Does he know anything about custom aviation?” Rey asks with a raised brow.
“He knows enough. He grew up with a family of aviation nuts.” Luke pauses at his own words and clears his throat.
“He’s been drug-free since the accident. Not that he had much choice. But I still have no idea what version of Ben is going to walk out of that prison tomorrow.” Luke’s eyes fix onto nothing as Rey loses him to his thoughts.
She doesn’t ask him any more questions after that.
The following day Rey works like normal, her playlist louder than usual since she’s alone. She can’t help but resent Ben’s impending presence. He had everything she had ever wanted. Everything she dreamed of. Luke’s house still has pictures of Ben growing up - a toddler in the pilot's seat of a Beechcraft, Luke and Ben standing in front of an airplane wing, Ben hoisted up on Luke’s shoulders, Ben’s high school graduation with Han pulling a resistant teenager into a pose for the camera. Rey could feel the love through the pictures and it made her chest turn to ice.
He had a family who loved him. Who still loves him, despite everything. Rey can’t say she’s had the pleasure of knowing what that feels like.
Her own story feels so far away from her at this point. Why couldn’t you have tried a little harder, Ben Solo? She thinks to herself as she reprograms the dash controls, music loud in her ears.
They actually met once before...not that Ben is likely to remember. Rey was early getting to Luke’s for a Sunday roast when she noticed an unfamiliar car in his driveway.
It had looked like whoever parked it guessed - poorly - at where the driveway would be under a blanket of snow. The crisp winter air nipped at her arms and she wrapped her sweater around herself. She jumped at the sound of the front door flying open. Rey didn’t know if he was pushed or if he fell, but a large body barreled out of the doorway and onto Luke’s porch with a heavy thud.
“I swear to god, Ben. If you get into that car I’m calling the police.” Luke had joined the body on the porch and caught Rey approaching. He held his hand up as a warning for her to stay back.
“Rey, I’m so sorry, you should get back into your car until it's safe.” Rey stopped dead in her tracks as Ben slowly found her face through his haze. His neck looked like it could barely keep his head upright from his sprawled position on the porch.
“Who are you?” His voice dragged and Rey had felt completely frozen. When she didn’t answer Ben laughed, pulling himself up into a seated position with incredible effort.
“Shit, Luke. She’s younger than I am,” his weighted eyelids blinked at her, “not that I can blame you.”
Her blood had boiled and her cheeks flushed as Luke’s voice sliced through her thoughts, “She’s my employee for fuck’s sake. Let me call you a cab.” Luke pulled out his phone and met Rey’s eyes, “I am so sorry, Rey.”
“It’s okay.” She whispered in reply, even though it wasn’t. Ben hadn’t stopped staring at her as he pulled himself to his feet, swaying slightly. As he made his way towards her, Rey stepped back instinctively.
Ben put his hands up in that mocking way people did to let you know you’re overreacting, “What kind of shit has he been telling you about me?” He took the steps down off the porch and continued to saunter in her direction. “It’s only half-true.” He added with a lop-sided grin and Rey’s back hits her car door.
“Ben. Knock it off.” Luke followed him down the steps as Ben got close enough for her to see his blown-out pupils and sunken eyes, his focus off somewhere behind her.
“Are you okay?” She asked softly and he finally met her stare through his cloudy, drug-induced zombie state.
“Not even close.” He leaned in to - well, she still doesn’t know why - and then just as fast, Ben was pulled back and thrown to the ground, Luke standing over him.
“Get in the fucking house, Ben. Are you trying to kill yourself?” Luke’s voice was steady and strong. “Rey, I am sorry, we will have to reschedule.”
Rey nodded and quickly moved to get back in her car.
“Are you sure I can’t help?” She asked, knowing the answer. Luke shook his head, a sad crease formed along his forehead.
“I’m sure. I’ll make it up to you next weekend.”
As Rey pulled out of the driveway, she watched Luke all but drag Ben’s deadweight body toward the porch, their shouting voices grabbing the attention of a next-door neighbour who peered over, shamelessly, at the altercation.
Rey couldn’t help but feel a sharp pang of empathy for Ben at that moment. She recognized the hurt that had settled into the lines of his face. The sadness pulling at his limbs. He needs help, she thought, her heart breaking for him as Luke fought him up the stairs of his porch.
Three months after their not-quite-introduction, Ben made the most selfish, irresponsible, and reckless decision of his life. It was a lot harder to feel sorry for him after that.
She tries not to stare. Clearly, Ben spent his 28 months in prison working out. Working out, and not much else, if her eyes can be trusted. Not that he was small before, but now it is a bit obscene the way he takes up space in Luke’s office. His arms look like they could split the seams of his coveralls and the expanse of his shoulders makes her do a double-take.
“Rey, I would like you to meet my nephew, Ben.” She catches the way Ben’s eyes narrow at the term nephew, but he otherwise doesn’t react.
She silently extends her hand, his eyes not quite meeting hers.
His grip is iron for a flash before he drops his hand like he’s been burned. The silence is only awkward for a moment before Luke picks back up again.
“I was just telling Ben that the hangar is huge, and you’ll be working on different projects, so I doubt you’ll have too much crossover on the day-to-day stuff.” Rey nods, but her brows crease. Is Luke concerned that she has a problem working with Ben? She doesn’t.
“Well, it’s nice to meet you,” again, she adds to herself. “Let me know if you ever need anything.” She smiles at Ben but he hasn’t met her eyes since she walked in.
He gives a tight nod and Rey exhales, rolling on her heels. This has been as pleasant as expected. She and Luke share a look, and he sends her an apologetic half-smile.
“Right. Well, you know where to find me.” Her mouth forms into a line before she pushes herself out of the office and takes the stairs two at a time, her brain spinning the whole way down. He’s just as weird as she remembered. Just as curious. If history is anything to go by, he is probably as unknowable as he’s ever been.
As she gets closer to her work station, her music begins to swell, the steady rhythmic pulse of a familiar melody slowing her heartbeat with every step towards the speaker.
The next two weeks are... tense. Luke hovers, and it messes with her flow. When Luke isn’t checking in on Ben (or checking in with Rey about Ben), he stalks the hangar and it is distracting. She remedies this by keeping her music loud and her eyes away from Ben’s work area. It works about half the time.
Rey would rank her interactions with Ben from non-existent to painfully minimal.
Ben’s arrival has also affected her relationship with Luke. There have been no Sunday dinners since Ben’s been home, and she and Luke haven’t been able to sit down and have a real conversation since even before that. It is obvious that Luke is struggling with this arrangement. His eyes are red-rimmed and he’s pacing the floor by the time she gets into work for the morning. Occasionally, she will overhear them bickering, but it sounds fairly one-sided.
Ironically, Ben doesn’t seem to be affected by much of anything. He keeps to himself and doesn’t argue much when Luke pulls him into the bathroom for a piss test or when Luke goes through his things at random.
“I don’t know when you think I would have the ability to obtain contraband,” Ben mocks, leaning against the door of the breakroom as Luke dumps out his beat-up backpack. A few books and snacks fall out, along with bits of paper and a few pens, “I can’t take a shit without you waiting at the door.” Rey spots a Star Trek bookmark among the mess and makes herself extremely busy with fixing her tea, and bites her lip to make sure she doesn’t make a sound.
“Well, that’s never stopped you before.” Luke breathes out and after a few seconds of rummaging, she can hear him return the contents to the bag.
As Luke leaves the breakroom, Rey can see Ben pull out a seat, throwing a book onto the table as he grabs his lunch from the fridge.
She knows she should just leave well enough alone, but the words are already bubbling up out of her throat before she can stop herself.
“Nice bookmark.” She turns and leans against the counter as Ben punches time into the microwave. He glances over at her but says nothing.
“I watched a lot of Star Trek growing up,” she adds, and he gives her a non-committal nod. Biting her lip, she pulls her teabag out of her oversized mug and eyes him as he pulls his food out of the microwave and heads to his seat.
“Are you more of an Enterprise or Voyager fan?” She prompts him and he looks up, his eyes locking onto hers maybe for the first time since he’s been here.
“We don’t have to do this.” The intensity of his voice startles her, the unwavering hold of his stare making her feel very small. Insignificant. Like he took all the sound and air out of the room with his words.
“Do what?” She asks, hands vibrating with unexpected nervousness.
“Pretend to get to know each other,” he answers simply and returns his attention to his book as if she wasn’t there at all. She can feel her face flush as she clears her throat.
Right. So much for this experiment. While she tries to bite down on her rising temper, she can feel white-hot flashes of anger spiking into her veins. Is it really so bad to have a conversation with her? With a clipped sniff, Rey collects her things.
She pauses as she hits the door frame, unable to let him have the last word.
“The right answer was Next Generation, anyway,” she bites out and leaves the breakroom in such a dark mood that she can almost feel the heavy weight of it until she gets home.
Rey fiddles with her overall straps as she makes her way over to the disassembled cockpit. She hits shuffle on her phone and Lust for Life begins to float out of the speaker.
Out of the corner of her eye, she sees Ben drop the tool he was holding, and she quickly averts her gaze. She’s got a lot to do today and the last thing she needs is to get sidelined by another painful interaction with the miserable giant. The bookmark incident happened over a week ago but his harshness still stings as if he had just waved her off like a gnat in his face.
The flight deck needs to be rewired and it is a tedious task. Pulling out her pliers and other tools for intricate work, Rey hums softly under her breath. She instantly falls into a familiar and comfortable headspace, the hum from the overhead fans soothing the restlessness of her thoughts.
In these stolen moments, the world is mine.
There’s nobody here, just us together.
Her voice echoes around the cockpit and she hears a sudden thud, so loud that it thunders in her ears as she looks up. Her eyes find Ben and he’s whipping off his welding shield and throwing it against the wall with another sharp crack. It falls next to his toolbox, which is clearly the culprit of the first bang. Rey snaps upright.
Before she can ask what the hell is going on he’s advancing towards her. His faded navy coveralls don’t cover the bump from his ankle monitor and the look in his eyes is dark. Rey scrambles out of the cockpit and wipes her hands on a spare rag.
Maybe he looks a little bit intimidating, but she is used to people who are used to intimidating people. She draws herself up to her tallest and most rigid posture. Arms crossing over herself in defence.
What could she have possibly done from the opposite side of the hangar? And yet, his eyes are focused on her and nothing else, fury beginning to cloud over his features. Should she call out for Luke?
Ben’s brows are drawn and his mouth is set, “Do you listen to anything other than Lana Del Rey?” His voice is low and exhausted and annoyed.
She laughs from nervous relief, “Is that what this is about?” She breathes out and feels the tension leave her body - how does he even know the name, Lana Del Rey? He watches her, a different look now taking over his features.
“It’s calming to me,” she turns down the music, “it helps me stay focused.” He closes his eyes in irritation.
“I can’t take any more of it, I swear to you anything else would -”
“Hey!” Luke’s voice shouts from the top of the stairs. “What is going on?!” He looks accusingly at Ben and then to Rey in search of answers. Ben immediately deflates, running his hands through his hair and curling in on himself.
As Luke descends, Rey smiles up at him, “Everything is okay. Ben is just tired of my playlist.” It catches Rey by surprise when Luke’s frown deepens. It’s not that serious.
“What did I say about talking to Rey?” Luke demands of his nephew, no answer required.
“Listen up, Ben, if she wants to listen to dolphin noises on a loop, that’s tough shit for you.” He looks furious and Rey starts to think maybe she shouldn’t have said anything at all.
Ben is silent, staring at the floor with tired eyes. The line of his shoulders is depressed and he’s vibrating like a wild animal in a cage.
“And what the fuck happened here?” Luke motions towards the scattered toolbox.
“It was an accident, Luke,” Rey tries to diffuse the tension. “Honestly, everything is fine.” It takes a beat, but finally Luke softens. He glances between them in silent concession.
“You don’t have to change your music, Rey, he can deal with it.” Luke finishes and sends another pointed look at Ben, who hasn’t lifted his gaze off of his feet. As Luke heads back to his office, Rey turns towards Ben’s statue-still form and blinks.
“What kind of music do you like, then?” She asks as if nothing had happened and his eyes dart up.
When he doesn’t answer, she sighs. “Or does this fall into the category of getting to know each other?” Rey’s voice goes quiet and Ben shifts, his body coming back to life.
“Something like that.” He answers above her head and he turns back to his station with a deep exhale.
Rey watches him, his retreating form burning into her retinas until she can see his outline when she closes her eyes.
And I know that love is mean, and love hurts,
But I still remember that day we met in December.
She is getting to know him, though. It is a silent exchange of information, but it is happening. Slowly but surely, each day that passes inadvertently reveals something new. Rey finds herself needlessly invested in figuring out everything there is to discover. After all, there is a lot to learn about a person, and it has nothing to do with what they tell you about themselves.
She has a mental list. Or lists, to be specific. There are apparent facts:
- He likes his coffee black.
- He reads books on his breaks: mostly science fiction and thrillers.
- He prefers noodles over rice.
But there is also the not-so-obvious:
- His body moves like it doesn’t know how big it is.
- He doesn’t let her get close often, but when he does she can’t help but notice that he smells earthy and deep and rich.
- He’s frustrated. She can see it in every movement. Every look. Every exhale. He walks around with enough tension that she’s sure his muscles will snap if he moves the wrong way.
- He’s not a morning person.
- And he’s not much of an afternoon person, either.
When Luke calls her into his office with a sheepish look on his face and asks Rey to take Ben to his parole check-in, she finds herself jumping at the opportunity.
“Sure, when do I need to take him?” Luke’s eyebrow hitches at her easy acceptance.
“I didn’t think you’d agree so quickly. I was going to bribe you with chocolate,” he laughs, and Rey shrugs.
“I don’t mind helping you out.” Right. She’s helping Luke. “I’ll take that chocolate though.” Rey takes the treat, already unwrapping it as Luke continues.
“I have to meet with a buyer this afternoon, otherwise I’d never ask. Ben’s meeting is at three.” She glances out of the office window. The view from up here gives her access to everything. She can see Ben’s body shift under the thick fabric of his coveralls, a spray of welding sparks shooting in every direction as he works on a piece of the aircraft interior.
He stops and flips his hair out of his eyes. Rey looks away quickly.
“Here is the address and the parole officer’s name. You’ll have to wait for Ben, but it shouldn’t take more than an hour. Tops.” Luke passes over the parole officer’s card and Rey turns it over in her hand.
“Have you told him yet?” She asks, and Luke’s grin takes over his entire face.
“Yeah. Made for a deeply unpleasant drive this morning, but I think he has cycled through the stages of grief by now.” Luke laughs, but Rey can’t help but feel a pang of something bitter in her chest. Is she really that difficult to be around?
“I’ll try to make it as painless as possible for him,” Rey rolls her eyes and Luke’s smile fades.
“You’re doing me a favour, but this is entirely for his benefit. Don’t take any of his shit.”
“What makes you think I’d start now?” She asks with a smile and Luke leans back in his chair, eyes searching his ceiling.
“Who knows. Maybe you’ll rub off on him. Would do him some good.” Rey seriously doubts it.
As she heads down the stairs towards her station, she can feel Ben’s eyes on her. She ignores it and throws herself into her work, turning her Lana playlist up. Shades of Cool takes over her thoughts as she hums along, heartbeat slowing.
But you...are invincible. I can’t break through your world.
‘Cause you live in shades of cool.
Your heart is unbreakable.
She hears a “Jesus fucking Christ,” come from his side of the hangar, but she decides to ignore that too.
Rey sits in her car, throwing bits of food wrappers and other junk into the backseat to clean up for him. She turns on the radio, not her Lana playlist, and pops a giant strawberry sucker in her mouth as she waits for him to join her.
When he comes into her vision he is wearing a suit. No tie, but a suit nonetheless. It’s all black and he sticks out like a sore thumb against the landing fields. His pitch-black RayBans hide his line of sight. She guesses that it is important to look put together for these meetings, but it still takes her by surprise. For a second she can see the person he might have been in another life.
Not wanting to gawk, she pulls on her own shades and waves as he approaches the car. He does not wave back. Her mouth waters - from the sucker, not Ben - and she decides to keep her eyes on the steering wheel.
As he slides into her passenger seat, he swears loudly, immediately pulling the seat release that sends his seat back - she realizes too late her tiny car isn’t going to be all that comfortable for him. She winces as he adjusts her passenger seat for himself, a silent ordeal that he completes as if he has done it a million times before. He probably has.
“Sorry,” she mumbles, the office address already in her GPS. He stares out the window and she waits for him to fasten his seatbelt before she takes off. When he briefly glances at her, she can feel his eyes narrow on her sucker.
The silence is less pronounced while the radio spits out today’s top 40, and every once in awhile Rey adjusts her sucker, glancing at him out of the corner of her eye like he will make a break for it any second or rip her strawberry surprise straight out of her mouth.
At a stoplight, she pulls her sucker out of her mouth with a pop, “How often do you have to go to these?”
He turns his face ever so slightly in her direction, “We don’t have to talk.”
She anticipated something along these lines but it makes her hackles rise nonetheless. She nods, as a “cool, cool, cool,” is let out under her breath.
Thank god for her candy, at least it gives her mouth something to do other than word-vomit for the entire 36-minute trip.
When she pulls up to the door she bites her lip to stop herself from speaking.
“I’ll be out within an hour.” He seems to reluctantly communicate. And then, as if he wasn’t sure he should mention it, “You’ll stay in the car, right?”
The question catches her off guard and she slowly lowers the sucker from her lips.
“I was going to go for a walk.” Not that it is any of his business.
“Just stay in the car.” He slams the door shut and takes off before she can respond, and more importantly, tell him she will do what she wants. Instead, all she can do is stare at his back as he disappears into the building.
You’re welcome, dick.
Rey does wait in the car for a bit - 16 whole minutes to be exact - before she is all but vibrating out of the car with anxious energy. She guesses that she can walk around the building complex at least a few times before Ben emerges so she takes off with a bounce in her step, her sucker down to a small nub. It isn’t the nicest day, that’s for sure. The clouds cover most of the sky and it is colder than she expected. She shivers as she rounds the back of the building.
There are a few guys smoking around the back and they don’t spare her more than a glance. They aren’t in conversation with each other and she pulls out her phone to give her something to do other than stare. As she passes, she notices a bird’s nest pieced together in a hole in the building’s exterior. She stops and opens her camera, capturing the burst of life in the concrete landscape.
“Hey, whatcha looking at?” A deep voice calls out as one of the smokers gets in front of her. She jumps a bit and laughs at herself.
“Oh, it’s just a bird’s nest.” She points up and he stops to look too, an appreciative nod taking over his face. He looks old enough to be her father. Tired eyes and weathered skin. His running shoes have seen better days. He is wearing a button-up shirt, faded, and it is hastily tucked into his jeans. Rey wonders if he is here for the same reason as Ben.
“My mom used to volunteer at an animal shelter.” He hasn’t looked away from the nest but Rey instinctively nods to confirm she’s heard him.
“You know, it’s not true what they say,” he finally looks down towards her, “about picking up baby birds. Their parents won’t abandon them.”
“I didn’t know that.” She follows his gaze as he goes back to the nest, the fluttering of feathers and a quiet coo makes her smile.
They stand in silence for a stretch, just staring at the small nest lost in thought.
“What’s your name?” Rey asks, extending her hand, “I’m Rey.”
The man smiles at her warmth, “Get out of here. My name is Ray, too.” Rey laughs as he shakes her hand.
“What are you doing out here?” He asks, attention back on the birds. “You’re not here for an appointment, are you?” He gestures towards the building with a doubtful crease in his brow.
She shakes her head, “No, but I am waiting for someone.” She feels him nod in understanding.
“This is a terrible neighbourhood. Even I keep one eye over my shoulder ‘round here,” his lopsided grin a little tight. “Something tells me you can handle your own, though.”
Rey turns to him, a small smile on her face. Broken recognizes broken. “I can,” she breathes in confirmation.
A dark blur enters her periphery and she hears a loud bark, “Rey!”
She turns as Ben barrels towards them, mouth in a line and he pushes up his sleeves. “I told you to stay in the fucking car,” he yells and Rey blinks, eyes narrowing into slits.
“Will you calm down? We found a bird’s nest.” She points to her new friend and he gives a cautious wave.
“Who the fuck is this guy?” Ben grabs her upper arm and pulls her towards him. Rey digs her heels in and pushes him off.
Before she can answer, Ray raises his hands in mock surrender, “Hey, big guy, I’m not looking to start anything. I have a niece her age, I was just checking to see if she was okay.”
Ben’s shoulders drop a bit but his grip tightens. He glances between them and Rey’s eyes are wide with warning.
Ben’s face dissolves into a reluctant resolve. After a moment he takes a breath, “Sorry.” He nods at Ray who nods in return.
“It was nice to meet you,” Ray says, already taking a step back. They share a smile and Rey waves as he heads back to the smoking pit. Ben hasn’t loosened his grip and it hurts.
She turns to him but his eyes refuse to meet hers.
“You’re cutting off my blood supply.” She tugs her arm and he lets go of her abruptly.
“I told you to stay in the car.” She can tell he’s frustrated, but it takes every effort not to roll her eyes at him.
“Not everyone is out to get you,” she says instead and his eyes snap up. “There are still good people out there.” She frowns and begins walking to her car, Ben trailing a step behind.
When she slides into the driver’s seat Ben braces his hands on the closed passenger door, bent over and breathing deeply. In your own time, she thinks to herself as she fiddles with the radio and needlessly adjusts her mirrors.
After a moment, he enters the car and pushes his hair out of his face. He silently buckles in and Rey takes off, preparing for another silent ride.
“I shouldn’t have been so rude earlier,” he starts and Rey can’t help but wonder which earlier he is referring to, “on the way over here.” He starts. Ah. We don’t have to talk, “and also before that.” He adds. We don’t have to get to know each other.
Rey is quiet, and he takes a deep breath, “When Luke drives me it is a solid lecture the whole way there and back. He never actually stops lecturing me, which is...” He palms his eyes and tilts his head back as if in pain. Rey doesn’t guess at how he would have finished that sentence.
“I just -” he looks like he’s trying to create words out of thin air, like he’s never said them before, “I just need a break from talking sometimes. But I shouldn’t have been so rude. To you.”
Rey stares ahead, a little shocked. And like icing on the cake, he adds, “I’m sorry.” His voice is low and quiet and Rey shifts into happy disbelief.
“I forgive you,” she says with a cheeky grin. “Does this mean I can talk to you now?” She chances a glance at his face, which to her surprise seems relieved and he huffs out a stilted breath.
“What’s your favourite food?” She asks, almost giddy to be given permission to know things about him.
“Uh,” he shrugs a bit, “I guess tacos.”
This fact tickles her and she feels her face warm. “Really? I would have never guessed you’re a taco guy. Soft or hard shell?”
She swallows and moves on, “Do you prefer salsa or guacamole?”
“Sour cream.” He answers, more relaxed. For some reason this detail makes her feel light-headed. Suddenly everything she’s ever wanted to know feels a quick question away and the infinite options are paralyzing.
“What’s your favourite food?” He asks in return and Rey is surprised that he asks.
“Hmm, this is a tough one for me. I love pizza and Vietnamese subs and butter chicken and have you had those triple stuffed potatoes Luke makes?” She is rambling, but he seems unbothered.
“It’s been a while. But yes, I’ve had them.” He picks at his pants.
“Those took me to a whole other level.” She smiles and he laughs, a real genuine laugh, and it makes Rey feel like her insides are made of melted caramel.
“So what do you do when you’re stuck at Luke’s?” She knows it’s a strong pivot from his sharp inhale but he powers through her clumsy transition.
She can feel him thinking next to her.
“There really isn’t much I can do. I have burned through most of the Netflix catalogue,” he pauses and shakes his head, “I guess Luke puts me to work on the house most days. Cleaning gutters. Fixing things.” He goes quiet and Rey can’t help but feel the boredom seep through his words.
“How have you not gone crazy?” She asks, imagining how cranked up she’d get if she could only go to work and stay at home.
“Well, compared to prison, it’s a five-star vacation. Or so they say.” His tone disagrees with his statement which leads Rey to think perhaps their living situation is as dire as she thought.
“Sorry,” she apologizes for her line of questioning but he brushes her off.
“I know Luke’s kept you well informed.” He doesn’t sound as bitter as the words do as they repeat in her head. She knows a thing or two about having your story written and rewritten by someone else.
She takes the opportunity to lighten the mood, “So what’s better? Luke’s or prison?” He laughs and answers without a beat.
It’s just over a week later when Rey is coming down from Luke’s office when she catches Ben staring out at the field behind the hangar. She doesn’t dare interrupt him, especially after he told her how much he appreciates silence. But she does wonder what he thinks about.
He isn’t nice now, necessarily. But he is less miserable.
She can tell when Ben and Luke have had a rough night. Bloodshot eyes and grim mouths in lines as they bolt out of Luke’s truck, not sharing a word or a look as they enter the hangar.
He is still easily frustrated. Once a day she will see a tool or a glove fly away from his work station as he swears in irritation.
But every once in a while he will talk to her. Maybe in response to her cheerful good morning, or to ask to borrow a tool. But he’s no longer acting like interacting with her causes him physical pain and anguish. So, small victories.
A week after that, something truly miraculous occurs. Rey wheels herself out from under the plane and catches Ben humming along to her playlist.
Keep making me laugh, let’s go get high.
She stops moving entirely as she catches him singing under his breath.
The road is long, we carry on,
Try to have fun in the meantime.
Looking back, my past, it all seems stranger than a stranger.
So, let’s dance in slow motion.
Tear it up, tear it up.
The elevator in Rey’s apartment is down for maintenance - again - and Rey’s shoulders slump as she heads towards the stairs.
It has been a long day and the sooner Rey can get into her pyjamas, the sooner she can curl up with a bowl of ramen and start watching funny movies until she falls asleep. She moves slowly through the hallway and as she approaches her apartment her blood runs cold.
Her door is ajar.
No, she thinks, kicking the door open and taking in the mess inside. Her stuff is everywhere and her living room lamp is in pieces on her floor.
Swearing, she steps over the debris, poking around to confirm she wasn’t walking in on someone mid-robbery.
Convinced she’s alone, she shuts the door, although the lock is broken and it doesn’t latch properly. A silent stream of tears begins to fall over her cheeks and she sniffs, dropping her bag and checking on her valuables.
Whoever had robbed her probably had a terrible shock when they realized how little she owned.
Her laptop is gone. It was ancient, but it was all she had. They took food, some perfumes, CDs, and her Bluetooth speaker.
With a sigh, she pulls out her phone. Is there any point in calling the police? She doesn’t have rental insurance. She knows she’s never getting her things back.
Her eyes fall to her underwear drawer which is completely destroyed. Her anxiety spikes. What if they come back?
She calls Luke’s cellphone and tries to keep it together. After what feels like hours, his voicemail picks up. He’s notorious for forgetting his phone in his truck. He’s probably at home anyways.
She calls his landline and groans in frustration when there is no answer there either. So she hits redial and begins to pace, her throat coated with tears.
Pick up, pick up, pick up.
Every time the recorded voice fills her ear she curses and hits redial, her heart beating faster and faster with every failed attempt.
Suddenly the ringing is cut off by an annoyed voice, “Hello.”
It’s not Luke.
“Ben?” She sniffs into the phone. “Is Luke there?” She knows she sounds a bit frantic.
He is silent for a second.
“Rey. What’s wrong?” His voice is strong and she latches onto it, a flood of relief that someone answered. She can’t stop the sob from breaking out of her throat.
“Someone broke into my apartment,” she begins and his voice cuts through her wobbling explanation.
“Are you hurt?” He asks, and she cries harder.
“No, but I really don’t feel -” she sucks air into her lungs, “when will Luke be home? I can’t…” Her voice trails off because she doesn’t want to tell him, I can’t stay here tonight. She can hear him moving on the other end of the line. And then it goes quiet. So quiet it sounds like maybe the call was disconnected.
“Come over here.” His voice is almost demanding and a quick glance at her watch gives her a guess as to why. It’s after 8. He can’t leave the house. He clears his throat. “You can wait here for Luke,” he clarifies,” if you want.”
She doesn’t hesitate, a waterfall of gratefulness coating her veins. “Thank you,” she whispers, wiping at her face. “I’ll head over there now.”
Rey has never moved faster in her life. She grabs a few pieces of clothing from the disaster pile in her room and her toothbrush from the bathroom before she runs to her car, an urgency bubbling in her chest to get far away from her apartment. Because now it doesn’t feel like hers at all.
She calls her landlord from her car. He doesn’t answer, so she leaves a message to explain what happened and that she needs her lock fixed as soon as possible, please. She can barely see through a blur of tears and it feels like she is hitting every red light.
When she finally pulls into the driveway, the front door opens and Ben emerges, heading around to her car door to pull it open.
“Everything is going to be okay.” He helps her out of the car, which is fine if a little concerning that she needed help to get out of the car. He takes her bag as he locks the car and gently guides her to the foyer. The whole thing feels like it is ripped from a fever dream and she can’t quite make heads or tails out of his sudden kindness.
She toes off her shoes and looks up at him. He’s wearing a white t-shirt and grey sweatpants. It almost makes her smile. He looks comfortable. And damn if those pants didn’t suit him like they were made for his hips.
Ben’s eyes are wide like maybe he didn’t get further than this moment in his mind, which is fine, because neither did she.
“Do you want some water or something?” He asks and she shakes her head. She just wants to sit somewhere and feel safe for a few moments.
Wiping at a fresh string of tears, Rey sniffs and gestures towards him, “What were you doing before I got here?”
Ben smiles lightly, “Watching Netflix.”
Rey nods, breathing in deeply for the first time since she saw her apartment door. “Then I just want to watch Netflix with you.”
She follows Ben into the basement where the giant TV is paused and an older looking sectional has a few blankets tossed over it. She had never been in Luke’s basement before and now she knows why. It is an unfinished space that Ben clearly took as a way to have some privacy. A double bed sits on the concrete floor a few steps away from the “living room.” With a shy sniff, Rey realizes she is in his bedroom. Her back straightens.
It smells like him. A completely unplaceable smell that is refreshing and luxurious all at once. She glances around at all the workout equipment scattered around the room. Maybe working out really is his only hobby.
“What do you want to watch?” He asks, motioning for her to sit. She gingerly sits on the edge and stares at the screen.
“What are you watching?” She asks and his cheeks go pink.
“I am re-watching The X-Files.” His mouth twists in embarrassment but Rey doesn’t blink. Scully was her idol growing up.
“Which season? Season five is my favourite.” She scoots back a bit and Ben stares at her as he comes around the sectional to join her, grabbing the remote and sitting about an arm’s length away.
“Midseason four, we aren’t far off,” he breathes and presses play. She recognizes the episode and pulls a blanket around herself, inhaling his scent and letting the weight of the knotted wool press out her worries.
Her breath stops hitching a few minutes in, and she burrows deeper into the couch as if she could burst through the other side with a little more effort.
“Are you going to file a police report?” He asks, not taking his eyes off the television and she shakes her head.
“There’s not much point, really.”
“Do you have insurance?” She can’t fault him for the question, but it makes her want to dissolve into the concrete slab beneath them.
“No,” she sits up slightly, “honestly, I didn’t have much worth stealing so I never bothered.” In retrospect, that had been a mistake.
He is quiet and she burrows in again, eyes heavy from crying.
“Well, what did they take?” He asks and she frowns at his conversational tone. What difference does it make?
“Um. I guess my laptop. A few odds and ends. My Bluetooth speaker,” she adds with a hint of sorrow.
He laughs, “Well, that won’t do.” When she sends him a questioning look he elaborates, “How else will you listen to Lana Del Rey on repeat every moment of every day?” He’s joking. A surprised laugh escapes her throat and she focuses on the episode, pointedly avoiding his eyes.
“Don’t knock it till you try it,” she mumbles and he breathes out a soft laugh that makes her chest feel light.
“I was thinking about ordering food. Are you hungry?” His face is buried in his phone, but he sounds too casual for her suspicious intuition.
“I didn’t know you had a phone,” Rey observes and Ben finally looks up at her, his face pained.
“Luke only lets me use it in the house. We’re on a family plan so he can make sure I’m being good.” The word seems to reverberate through the air. A silence falls over them as he returns to his device and Rey studies her nails.
“You don’t have to feed me.” She feels bad enough that she invited herself over.
“I'm starving, and it is impossible to order take out for one,” he explains and she can’t argue because she knows it’s true.
“Okay. Well, I’ll eat anything.” She pulls the second blanket around her and he shoots her a look out of the corner of his eye.
“Are you cold?” He asks, the food order momentarily forgotten. His suddenly observant interest in her wellbeing is a shock to her system.
“Yes, but I am always cold.” She explains quickly. Ben pushes off the sofa and heads over to his makeshift closet. She watches him with uncertain eyes as he pulls a comfy looking sweater out of a bin.
“Here.” He tosses it at her and it lands on her head more than she catches it, but she pulls it on regardless. It is soft and way too big, which makes it perfect.
“So what food will it be?” He asks, settling into the couch again. She feels lightheaded from the extremes of the last hour.
“Well, rumour has it you might know a decent taco place,” she deadpans, and Ben smiles into his phone.
“You just made the best decision of your life,'' he calmly declares and Rey laughs. Her voice fills the basement with a happy and carefree sound. She almost doesn’t recognize it.
Ben’s phone dings and as he reads the message his face creases. “It’s Luke.”
“Oh? Will he be home soon?” Rey asks, and she pushes down the pulse of disappointment.
“No,” Ben’s brow furrows, “He says he’s glad you’re here and you can stay as long as you need, but he’s out with a friend.” Rey can see the question marks in Ben’s mind.
“A friend?” Rey asks, sounding out the words like she’s never said them before, “As in a girlfriend?”
Ben looks hopeful, “God, I hope so. It would give him something else to focus on besides me and my absolute failure of an existence.”
Rey bites her lip before she breaks out into laughter. He’s funny.
At some point after tacos and getting five episodes of The X-Files under their belts, Rey falls asleep. She must have because she wakes up in utter darkness in a bed that is not her own. A few things float to the surface of her consciousness:
- Ben must have carried her because she certainly did not get here on her own.
- She is in his bed.
- He is not in his bed.
- She is absolutely freezing.
She feels around for additional bedding but the thin blanket appears to be all he sleeps with. Weirdo. She shivers and stumbles a bit as she gets to her feet. From memory, she pads on hesitant feet to the couch. Her ears pick up on his soft breathing and she reaches out blindly - her hand landing on the soft fabric of his t-shirt.
“Ben.” She whispers, body shaking.
He doesn’t stir.
She reaches out and gently nudges what she hopes is his chest. He’s hot to the touch. No wonder he doesn’t need blankets. He is an inferno with legs.
“Ben.” She tries to shake him awake again. She can feel him move under her hand and she presses harder.
He jolts awake and grips her wrist tight enough to cause her to yelp as his free hand grips her jaw. A second passes, and then another, and her heart is beating loud enough to make her chest hurt.
“Jesus Christ, Rey,” he breathes out and she can sense the fog lift from his mind. “I could have snapped your arm in half. What are you doing?” He drops his hands from her body and she kneels beside his legs for support and to keep her feet off the concrete.
“I’m sorry,” her voice cracks, “I‘m just so cold and I -” She stops, mind still reeling and he sits up a little bit. His legs are warm to her touch and she leans against him.
“How are you sleeping without a blanket?” She whispers and shivers against him.
“I run hot.” His quiet explanation feels unnecessary now that she’s nearly in his lap. She’s doubled down on absorbing his heat through osmosis, but he hasn’t stopped her so she doesn’t stop herself. His hand reaches out and lands on her knee.
“You are freezing.” He murmurs. His hand leaves her to grab the blankets she had left behind on the couch and he haphazardly pulls them around her.
All she wants is to be warm and to be asleep.
“Is this helping?” He asks and she shifts, trying to find a position that allows her to have as much contact with his burning body as possible.
“Can I just stay here for a bit?” She asks, already lying down beside him. He shifts to give her a bit of room. Or to get away from her. She’s not sure.
He doesn’t reply, but Rey takes his silence as approval so she shimmies into him, and sighs as her nose hits his chest. She nearly moans, or maybe she does moan.
The heat seeps into her bones and she breathes deep, the comforting smell of him is so much better at the source. She can feel the heaviness of sleep return to her and she goes limp against him.
It’s like heaven taking the place of something evil.
And letting it burn off from the rush.
Rey wakes slowly, limbs stretching slightly as she presses herself into the sturdy warmth beneath her. She can’t remember ever feeling this comfortable - a little bit of reality crashes in and she freezes.
She’s on top of Ben, but a quick glance at his face confirms he’s still asleep. Thank god. His hands are loose at her sides, falling just above her ass. She blushes and turns to extract herself from the situation.
In a flash Rey sees a man sitting opposite of them on the sectional and her body jumps as she swears bloody murder. Instinctively, Ben’s arms come around her to hold her tight and still against his chest.
Luke stares at them, hands clasped, his mouth in a line and his expression unreadable.
“We need to talk.”
It’s like smiling when the firing squad’s against you.
And you just stay lined up, yeah.
I hear the birds on the summer breeze,
I drive fast, I am alone at midnight.
Been trying hard not to get into trouble,
but I, I’ve got a war in my mind.
“Luke,” Rey whispers and tries to move away from Ben, whose grip tightens, “this isn’t what it looks like.”
Her horrified expression must eat away at Luke’s anger because she can see the lines on his face soften after a moment.
“What did he do?” Luke asks, and Rey successfully lifts her upper body off of Ben. He stirs and as his eyes blink open he twitches as he sees Luke.
“Oh, Jesus fucking Christ,” he groans, hands immediately leaving Rey’s body and diving into his hair. Rey hops off of him and shakes her head at Luke.
“No, he didn’t do anything, I was cold, -”
“You were cold?” Luke asks - the disbelief radiating off of him.
Ben begins to sit up, fear in his eyes, “I swear to God, Luke, I didn’t -”
“Ben didn’t do anything,” Rey interrupts, “this is entirely my doing.” Luke casts his eyes between them, full of disappointment. It makes Rey’s stomach sink.
“I basically assaulted him against his will,” Rey tries again and Luke lets out a mirthless laugh.
“Oh, I very seriously doubt that,” Luke spits and glances at Ben, whose face begins to flush a very appealing shade of red.
The three of them stare at each other in silence, Rey shifting on her feet, playing with the sleeves of Ben’s borrowed sweatshirt.
It is a punishingly tense standoff and she can almost hear the two of them think, thoughts racing in opposite directions.
After an agonizing beat, Luke shakes his head. “What am I trying to do here?” He asks himself, exasperation and surrender in his voice. “You’re adults. I can’t stop you.” He braces his head in his hands.
Rey wants to say, “Don’t worry, there’s nothing to stop.” But the words won't form in her mouth.
“Can I talk to you upstairs for a moment?” Luke stares at Rey and she hears Ben curse. She nods and grabs her bag, too embarrassed to look at Ben even though she can still feel the warmth from his body lingering on her skin.
Following Luke into his kitchen, she tries to think about what to say, how to explain, but her mind buzzes with static.
“I told him you were off-limits,” Luke starts, his exhausted tone mirrored in the way he pinches his nose. “I just want to keep you out of all this,” he explains. Rey nods without really understanding.
“I failed him. Before,” Luke continues, pouring them both glasses of orange juice. “I can’t fail him again. And I don’t want to fail you.”
She feels like she’s only hearing the epilogue of the story and she can’t quite catch the thread of his thoughts. She takes a gulp of juice and clears her throat.
“I would never betray your trust,” she assures and hopes he can feel the sincerity in her promise. “If you want me to… distance myself from him, I will.” She immediately feels a bitter loss at the thought. Luke meets her eyes, and she knows he hears her as if she said it out loud.
“I know you want to see the good in people, Rey,” Luke leans back against the kitchen counter, ”I don’t want to choose for you,” he relents, a heaviness pressing into his features, “just, please, be careful.”
She doesn’t know if Luke is worried more about her or Ben in that statement, but she nods quickly as if she does. She wants to ask him a thousand questions. She wants to ask Ben even more than that.
Luke smiles out of the corner of his mouth.
“All right, let me change and let’s go get your apartment sorted.” He tosses back his juice and Rey pulls out her keys.
Before she leaves the kitchen she scribbles a note on a scrap of paper, dropping it into Ben’s work boot.
In case you need new Netflix recommendations - 555 642 3874
Without giving herself time to think better of it, she slips out of the house with Ben’s sweater still hanging off of her frame.
Rey tries not to be utterly devastated when the weekend comes and goes without a text from Ben. Maybe it was too forward to assume he’d even want her number.
But who else is there for him to talk to, exactly? Ugh. This means he would rather interact with no one rather than talk to her. Maybe she overestimated her ability to make friends.
It wouldn’t be the first time.
As Monday morning crashes through her dreams, Rey hits snooze on her phone with blurry eyes. A few seconds later she realizes there was a notification and she lifts herself up, unlocking her phone with a yawn.
I wish I had found your note before I spent the weekend falling into a true-crime spiral.
Her eyes widen. The text from the unknown number stares at her from the palm of her hand. It must be Ben. It has to be. With a slow realization, she puts it together. She had left her number in his work boot. Of course, he wouldn’t have found it before heading to work.
Suddenly Rey is very awake and has to make an effort not to reply immediately. She showers with a smile and just before she loads her toothbrush with toothpaste she texts him back.
Need something funny to watch to cleanse your palate?
Her phone buzzes as she brushes and she waits until she’s finished with her mouthwash to look at her phone.
It feels like her body has been pumped full of helium and she is beyond grateful no one is around to witness the way she floats out of the bathroom.
He can’t have his phone unless he’s at home so it gives her some time to think about what she’d want to recommend to him. She doesn’t have to worry about him asking her in person, as he seems to mostly steer clear of her. It doesn’t bother her much, she knows Luke is Ben’s personal panopticon and there’s no reason to agitate the situation so closely after Luke found them twisted together on his basement sectional.
The thought of it burns at the inside of her skin.
To distract herself, she turns Lana up and hums along, refusing to let the problems for future-Rey slip past her playlist.
It takes even less time than she would have thought for texts to evolve out of what to watch on TV (The Good Place, The Death of Stalin, and Snatch is the first round she gives him) and into other topics. Not that she minds.
After a few nights of back and forth, her phone starts ringing as she is getting ready for bed. The sound actually startles her and she moves her blankets around to find her phone.
She’s more nervous than she has any reason to be as she accepts the call, her heart beating like she’s run a marathon.
“Hey. Death of Stalin was great. I think The Good Place is too cute for me, though.” He jumps into the conversation so quickly it takes her a second to understand what he said. When she does, she laughs, pulling her sheets back and sliding under her duvets.
“It is cute, but you should give it a chance. It always makes me feel better.”
There is a disbelieving draw of breath from the other end of the phone, “Maybe I‘m just not the right audience for it.” His voice is low and steady on the other end of the line.
“You can’t give up so quickly,” she sniffs and snuggles into her bed as she tries not to focus on the fact that she’s wearing Ben’s sweater. In her defence, he hasn’t asked for it back yet. And she’s still cold.
Ben makes a non-committal noise and continues, “Also, don’t you have any friends?” He asks with genuine confusion and Rey switches gears, feeling like she missed part of the conversation entirely.
“Well, that’s one way to change the subject,” she huffs, and when he doesn’t respond she sighs, “I do have friends, thankyouverymuch. They are just… not around at the moment.”
Ben laughs, “Sounds fake.” She can hear his teasing tone through his words and she rolls her eyes.
“My best friend Finn and his girlfriend Rose moved to Japan for a year to teach English.” She misses them and just saying their names out loud causes a tiny bubble of hurt to form in her chest.
“You only have two friends?” He is more surprised than intentionally insensitive.
“Why? How many do you have?” She asks with a smile and he swears.
“You got me there,” he replies with a deep and self-deprecating drawl. And then, “You just seem like the kind of person who would have a lot of friends.”
“Oh. Well… I‘ve moved around a lot,” she offers in explanation. “And it is hard to make friends when you aren’t used to having any.”
She winces as she says it. “What’s your excuse?” She asks to take the heat off of her. Ben laughs before sucking in the air through his teeth.
“I don’t even know where to start,” his voice is resigned. Rey bites her lip, knowing his story is as dark as hers. For very different reasons.
They talk about a few more things that aren’t related to their respective pasts. How Rey met Finn, how Luke waits inside the bathroom when Ben has to pee in a cup, how they both hate cucumbers, how funny it is that Luke has full conversations with himself.
“Shit. It’s late,” Ben’s voice is low and Rey shivers as she takes a look at her phone. It’s after midnight.
“I should let you go,” he continues and Rey is surprised she’s gotten as far as she has.
“Yeah, you’re probably right,” Rey stifles a yawn. “Goodnight, Ben.”
There’s a slight pause. “Goodnight, Rey.”
The phone call disconnects and Rey’s face hurts from smiling.
I’m tired of feeling like I’m fucking crazy.
I’m tired of driving until I see stars in my eyes.
It’s all I’ve got to keep myself sane, baby.
So I just ride.
I just ride.
If he’s a serial killer, then what’s the worst
That can happen to a girl who’s already hurt?
I’m already hurt.
Things seem to be heating up with Luke and his mystery woman. Or at least Ben seems to think so. After a week or so of observing Luke’s nighttime behaviour, Ben found himself keeping up with his keeper.
“He didn’t get home until after two in the morning,” he whispers, filling his coffee to the brim.
“That is pretty damning evidence,” Rey agrees and tries to cover her yawn.
“I am mostly just shocked that he is willing to leave his guardpost for more than an hour at a time,” Ben’s voice is testy as she stirs her tea.
“Should I be keeping a better watch on you? I always thought I would make a good warden.” Rey pulls out her teabag and adds her milk slowly. When she turns to look at him, his eyes are already on her.
He clears his throat, “Will Lana Del Rey be used for inmate torture? If so, I’ll stick to Luke.”
Rey rolls her eyes and follows him out of the tiny break room, whispering under her breath, “She’s got a huge discography and is a literal poet…”
Their laughter is cut off as Luke rounds the corner and gives them both a look.
“Morning!'' Her voice is chipper, even to her, and Luke’s expression softens.
“Morning. Hey, I meant to ask you if you’re still going to Poe’s barbeque this Saturday?” Luke starts pulling out bits of collected knickknacks from his pocket as Ben interrupts from behind her.
“Dameron?” His voice cracks and Luke sends him a glance but ignores the question, putting his attention back to Rey.
“Ah, well... I guess I should, shouldn’t I?” She asks and Luke shrugs.
“I think one of us should and it isn’t going to be me.” He levels a shit-eating grin at her and Rey sighs.
“Why? Do you have a hot date?” Rey can’t help but joke, sipping her tea and looking at Luke with wide eyes.
“Sorry, are you guys talking about Poe Dameron?” Ben asks, now a little huffy from being ignored.
Luke exhales, “Yes, Ben. Poe Dameron,” he shifts back to Rey, “and no, it is not a date. But I promised a friend of mine I would help her work on a welding project she has been struggling with.”
Rey’s eyes narrow, “A friend, huh?” She sips at her tea as Luke blushes.
“Alright, that’s enough.” He makes a beeline for the stairs to his office but Rey can’t bite back the teasing affection she has for the situation.
“Don’t forget protection!” She calls out and Ben spits his coffee as Luke freezes on the stairs. Rey taps her head and continues, “You know, your welding helmet. For all the work you’ll be doing.”
She smiles sweetly up at him and he shakes his head, ducking into his office before she can catch him laughing.
She finds herself nervously anticipating Ben’s call each night. For no real reason, she keeps thinking that tonight will be the night he forgets or has something better to do. But he always calls. So she keeps looking forward to it.
When Friday comes around, she is in bed when her phone rings. Already smiling into the sleeve of Ben’s sweater when he tells her there has been an update.
“Luke’s girlfriend has a name,” he says, sounding almost proud to share this information.
“No way. What is it?” She asks, pulling up her blankets.
“Mara,” he answers conspiratorially, and then in case that wasn’t enough, “I heard him call her that last night when they were chatting on the phone.”
“I just can’t believe it,” Rey laughs, lightheaded from her continued role as secret-keeper.
“I guess there’s a first for everything,” he says, then breathes in and Rey can feel a topic change coming. “Are you still going to Dameron’s thing tomorrow?” He asks and Rey coughs in surprise.
“Yeah, that’s the plan.”
He makes a noise of discontent but doesn’t say anything.
“Why, do you have something against hotdogs and potato salad?” Rey aims for levity but he remains silent. She nearly asks him if he’d like to come but she’s sure Luke wouldn’t allow it and thank god she catches herself.
“Just... be careful,” he finally breathes.
“Careful of what, exactly?”
“Why do you have to go, anyway?” He ignores her and she sniffs.
“I don’t have to go, but we did some work for Poe on a few private planes that he flies and I know he’s a family friend-”
“He’s not my friend,” Ben interjects as if that would make a spot of difference.
“Well, if I am limited to the barbeques I can attend based on whether or not you are friends with the host, I might starve to death.” She tries for a laugh but it is met with silence.
“That was a joke, Ben,” she finally clarifies when he doesn’t reply. She checks her phone to make sure he didn’t hang up - he didn’t.
“I just don’t trust that guy,” he finally answers, but it sounds like he had to wrangle the words out of himself.
Rey blinks a bit into the darkness of her room. She can hear there’s more to what he isn’t saying. Her gut reaction is to tell him he’s being ridiculous, but she hates when people tell her she’s being ridiculous just because she’s uncomfortable about something. She doesn’t know Poe that well but she’s sure he’s completely harmless.
“Okay, well,” her mind races to think of a solution, not even sure why she feels she needs to find a solution, “I told Luke I would go and network. But...I can call you when I leave Poe’s?”
She hadn’t meant for it to come out like a question and as soon as the words leave her mouth she immediately regrets it. Why would that even help?
“Sure,” Ben replies quickly. “Just to let me know you’re alright.” He can't see her brows knit, but they do, and she doesn’t want to let herself imagine why he cares.
“Okay,” she breathes, hoping for casual but settling for confused. “I’ll talk to you then.”
The barbeque is exactly as tame as Rey thought it would be.
It’s a sunny day so she has a sundress on and allows the heat of the sun to seep into her skin. She goes back for thirds and after an hour or so of eating her weight in food, she slouches onto a picnic table, exhausted.
“Well, aren’t you a sight for sore eyes!” Poe slides into the seat in front of her and bites into a loaded hamburger. She smiles through her food-coma.
“Thank you for inviting me. Luke sends his best.” She sips some lemonade and Poe’s eyes crinkle.
“I hear Benny boy is back in town.” Rey freezes a little, but recovers when Poe continues, “You know we kind of grew up together?”
“He’s always been a lone wolf, though.” Poe swallows and she finds herself nodding. Suddenly she feels like she’s on the defensive. Was this why Ben was so uptight about her coming here? Worried that a ghost from his past would spill his secrets?
“But you two are working together now, isn’t that right?”
Rey smiles and shrugs a bit, “Yes, but I don’t work that closely with him.” Poe smirks anyway.
“I’m sure it’s enough for him to take notice of you.” She blinks, opening her mouth to dismiss the idea -
“How could he not? You’re an absolute stunner.” Something tightens in her chest, but the easy way the compliment rolls off his lips makes her eyes narrow, trying to find the source of his flattery. Maybe Ben’s discomfort was focused on a conversation, much like this one, between her and one Mr. Megawatt-Smile Dameron. Rey finds herself slipping into a soft smile.
Poe’s eyebrows raise, “Or maybe you’re the one who’s taken notice?” He bites into some coleslaw as Rey’s blood runs cold. The smile drops from her face.
“I don’t know what you mean -”
Poe cuts her off, “He’s an absolute mess, but the man is delectable.” Rey chokes on her lemonade and his laughter ignites his whole face. What did he say?
Her brain goes into double-time trying to figure out just what in the hell is happening. Her confusion must be written on her face as Poe smirks and leans in as they were sharing a private joke.
“He’s so hot it’s almost vicious, don’t you think?”
Her mouth drops open at his unexpected candor, and she’s not able to stop the blush or the smile from clawing onto her features.
“He has that kind of raw energy that makes you want him to rip you apart and disintegrate you until you’re a shattered version of yourself.” He smiles as he pops a carrot into his mouth and Rey realizes she has been nodding slightly.
“I don’t really know—“ Rey is stammering as she sees Poe’s eyes light up and he gives someone behind her a wave. For a moment her blood leaves her body, but of course, he can’t be here.
A thin man with neatly styled red hair saunters over.
“Rey, this is my boyfriend, Armie.” Suddenly everything clicks into place. She smiles with ease, extending her hand. “Armie” takes it and turns to Poe.
“I thought we were just fucking?” He laughs as he says it, and Poe bites the man’s lower lip. “And please, just call me Hux,” the man says to Rey with an annoyed huff directed at Poe.
“We were just talking about how hot Solo is,” Poe explains as Hux takes what’s left of Poe’s hamburger into his hands.
The redhead groans. “Right?!” He takes a bite and immediately continues, “I just want him to step on my throat and break my fingers.” Poe nearly jumps out of his seat.
“Ha! What did I say, Rey?” Poe asks, pulling his boyfriend into him and kissing his temple. “It is a vicious kind of attractiveness.”
Rey’s amusement slowly fades into mild horror when she realizes she agrees.
As Rey heads to the sidewalk she pulls out her phone, dialling Ben’s number with one hand and carrying leftovers in the other. Her Uber is 4 minutes away.
To say that today was enlightening would be an understatement. While Poe made the rounds she and the too-stylish Hux fell into conversation about all kinds of exciting details of Ben’s life - directly and indirectly. As the door prizes were announced, Rey had mentioned that Ben got weird about her coming today.
“Oh, that’s definitely because of Poe,” Hux had turned his eyes to the ball of charisma shaking hands with someone in a suit.
“Before me, he’d fuck anything he could reach.” There hadn’t been any judgement in his statement, just a soft look of affection that made Rey’s heart hurt.
Ben picks up on the second ring.
“Hey - hi. I’m still alive,” she laughs but he remains silent. She glances at the time - it is earlier than she expected it to be.
“Was there a decent spread?” He finally asks, and Rey feels the tension melt from her body.
“Definitely decent,” she replies quickly.
Maybe she has a contact high from watching Hux and Poe follow each other’s every move like moths to a flame, but the question is out of her mouth before she can filter it, “I’m actually kind of near Luke’s - feel like watching some Netflix?” It isn’t until she finishes speaking that she feels genuinely nervous about what his answer will be.
He is quick to answer, “I’ll have to clear my schedule,” his drawl makes her laugh, a delirious feeling floating through her veins, “but I am sure I can fit you in.”
When she gets to Luke’s she hops out of her Uber and Ben is already opening the door, leaning against the frame as she wishes the driver a good night. The look Ben gives her sends a shiver through her whole body.
She nearly bounces up to him, “I smuggled out some pie.” Rey produces a box of someone’s untouched strawberry rhubarb and Ben looks at it, stunned.
“You brought me a pie?” He takes the box and lets her into the foyer, giving her space to remove her shoes.
“I brought us a pie, since you got dinner last time.” He stares at her, unmoving, as she sheds her thin jacket and eventually meets his eyes, hands resting on her hips with uncertainty.
After a beat, he reanimates, letting out a breath and nodding at nothing in particular.
“Make yourself comfortable, I’ll grab some forks,” Ben’s voice is low and as he heads towards the kitchen. Rey descends to his makeshift room downstairs.
She can feel the cold of the basement on her legs and through the thin fabric of her sundress before her toes hit the concrete. She quickly burrows into the couch and pulls a blanket over her, staring at the freeze-frame on the TV. It looks like Bojack Horseman.
She can hear Ben on the stairs, his form coming into view with every step and she smiles before she can stop herself.
“You took my spot.” His mouth twitches as he places a plate and fork on the coffee table in front of her.
“Do you need it back?” She teases, and Ben smiles as he serves himself a large helping of pie.
“I’ll live,” he sighs and unpauses the TV. It is Bojack. “So how was the barbeque?” He asks, not quite casually. She rolls her eyes at his attempt to extract more information.
“It was pretty good,” Rey shrugs and helps herself to some pie as well. “What exactly do you worry happens at corporate barbeques?”
His face is expressionless, “I really wouldn’t know.”
Rey’s head tilts, “But you were worried?” He sighs and avoids meeting her eyes.
She can’t help but tease him, even though she understands it a bit more now. Maybe she would be worried too if Ben spent the afternoon with people from her past. And one of them had a reputation for being a charming harlot. Who’s to say?
“Worried is the wrong word,” he clarifies, “I was just…” he trails off and finally looks at her, eyes a bit pained. “Maybe worried is the right word.”
“I don’t know what kind of trouble you think I get into, but I promise I’m not that dangerous.” She takes a big bite of the pie as Ben’s brow hitches.
“I wasn’t worried about you,” his muffled voice makes her bite her lip, preventing herself from asking any more questions as she shivers from the cold.
“I had a good conversation with Poe, though,” she doesn’t react when Ben’s eyes land on her like an unbearable weight, “and his boyfriend, Hux.”
Ben coughs around his pie and Rey keeps her eyes on the screen, ignoring the way Ben openly stares at her.
“Hux?” Ben asks. “Pale, ginger, permanent stick up his ass?” He asks, the disbelief in his voice is tangible. Rey turns and smiles brightly at him.
“The very same. They just celebrated their two-year anniversary,” she answers, and Ben blinks. He remains as still as he is silent until his brow unfurls.
“I thought they hated each other,” he mumbles to himself before digging back into his pie, the tension in his shoulders evaporating before her eyes.
They eat and watch a few episodes with sporadic conversation - Rey asks him how his day was, what movies he’s watched recently - and he seems perfectly content to answer her. Each time, he has a question for her in return - what was her favourite dish at the barbeque, has she signed up for renters insurance - which no, she has not.
It makes her feel a small balloon of light expand in her chest. She didn’t want him to break her fingers, but taking in the features of his face, she understands what Poe had meant. There is a viciousness to the way she feels when he holds her gaze. When the deep bass of his voice fills her head -
She burrows further into the couch, “Can I borrow a sweater?” She asks, and Ben’s eyes glance over to her, a slight smile on his lips.
“Will I get this one back, or will it meet the same fate as my last one?” She tries not to let the heat flood her cheeks.
“Oh, I had forgotten about that,” lies, her mind whispers at her as he pushes himself off of the couch and saunters over to his bins of clothes.
She calls out to him, “I'll return them, I promise.” He nods, a non-committal kind of reaction and pulls out a giant grey sweater for her. She beams as she pulls it over her head - it is ginormous and so comfy she could purr.
To her credit, she doesn’t pull the fabric up to her nose in front of him, so at least that’s something. She yawns as she gets conformable, a warm lull beginning to spread through her limbs. She moves to sit beside him, which he doesn’t protest.
Vicious and an unmistakably gentle, she amends in her head as her eyes get heavy. Total balance.
Rey wakes up with a start. She is leaning against Ben’s shoulder, his passed out body limp against the couch.
Are you still watching?
The television asks her, and even though the side table light is on, it feels darker and she knows it is the middle of the night, instinctively. She pulls away slightly, the loss of heat causing a rush of cold within her as she checks her phone. 2:48 a.m.
“Ben,” she whispers lightly, not wanting to startle him like last time. “Ben.” Rey nudges him and his head rolls, eyes blinking open.
“What’s up?” He asks, voice full of sleep. She bites back a smile.
“It’s so late. Can we go to bed?” Her voice is a whisper and her heart is in her throat.
“Yeah, go for it. Take extra blankets, there’s only a sheet on there.” His head leans back against the sofa as he seemingly drifts right back to sleep and she frowns at his corpse-still form.
Rey glances at the bed before she sighs and nudges Ben once more, her mouth pulled into a defeated grimace.
As his eyes blink open again in confusion, she takes a sharp breath, “Can you come with me? Please?”
He sits up, rubbing his eyes and cracking his neck before steadying himself.
Please let the gods above strike her dead. She’s come this far, so it is pure madness that gives her the courage to repeat herself.
“Can you come to bed with me?” She gestures at his sad, blanketless bed and face flushes, suddenly feeling very stupid for asking. She can see the surprise flash across his face before something more helpless takes over the crease in his brow.
He doesn’t say no.
He doesn’t say anything, actually. Eventually, he stands and grabs a few of the blankets before extending a hand to her as well, which she takes to pull herself off of the couch.
Her heartbeat is loud in her ears as they move. He clicks off the lamp and turns off the TV which sends them into blackness. Rey freezes and only exhales when Ben reaches her again and tugs her forward with the confidence of someone who has made this trip in the dark many times before.
When her knees hit the bed she quickly slips under the sheet, already shivering. Ben drapes a few blankets over her vibrating form and silently slides in on the other side, his warmth prickling at the edge of her senses. They settle in, and Rey shifts a bit closer to him, desperate for heat. She is positive that she is pushing her luck, but he laughs - she can feel his smile despite the dark - and he pulls her flush against his body.
“Is this okay?” He asks into her ear and she shifts so that her back is moulded to his front in a proper spooning position.
“Yes.” It is a sigh of relief more than a response. She is instantly surrounded by heat - so much heat - and she melts into him, boneless and calm. His bed smells like him and she is delightfully overwhelmed. It’s euphoric, the way all of the stress and worry bleeds out of her, replaced by something steadfast and soothing.
Rey lets a part of herself- a small part - believe that perhaps she isn’t alone in the feeling of rightness that pools in her chest.
She finds the pattern in his breathing, his breath ghosting at her temple. It hypnotizes her until colours swim beneath her eyelids and reality bleeds out of her consciousness completely.
If he’s as bad as they say, then I guess I’m cursed.
Looking into his eyes, I think he’s already hurt.
He’s already hurt.
When she is back at work on Monday, her heart flutters out of her chest when she catches sight of him. Get it together, girl.
The morning-after wasn’t as awkward as it should have been, which maybe makes it worse. Rey Ubered home before Luke got in, and she left Ben with a handful of new shows to watch, his hair mused and eyes unfocused.
An unfamiliar kind of dread finds its way into her fingertips as she adjusts the settings on one of the cockpit seats, as she becomes acutely aware of four things:
- She has never had a better night’s sleep in her life than she did with Ben’s abnormally warm arms wrapped around her.
- Despite it not making any sense, Hux was right. She wants Ben to step on her throat and break her fingers.*
- *Or just kiss her. Really, really, kiss her.
Poe and Hux's completely understandable and vicious fascination with Ben is shared by none other than John Oliver who has mentioned our "rudely large" bae three separate times on his show. Check out the time I am referencing here if you wish. Shatter my knees, you fuckable redwood.
Lights, camera, acción, I’ll do it on my own.
Don’t need your money, money,
to get me what I want.
When Rey gets to her work station Tuesday morning there are two boxes she has never seen before. Amazon Prime tape is curiously wrapped around each of them, although they are altogether inconspicuous. Maybe they are parts?
Normally Luke does the honours of opening deliveries and updating inventory. Rubbing the sleep out of her eyes she shrugs and looks around the hangar to find it empty. Pulling box cutters out of her front pocket, she neatly slices the largest box open and sits at her workbench. As she pulls out the contents, her heart freezes.
It’s a laptop.
She shakes out her confusion and turns the shipping box around in her hands, searching for information, and her whole body stills as she sees the name printed on the order label.
Her mind stutters to a complete halt as she remembers telling Ben about her missing items from the robbery. He wouldn’t. She grabs the second box with a nervous flurry of limbs, fingertips numb as she pulls out the second item, already knowing what it will be.
A Bluetooth speaker stares back at her. An unhelpful mix of gratitude and embarrassment and something altogether unidentifiable fills her chest. Why?
Rey’s phone vibrates on the workbench and she bolts to answer it, disappointment filling her as she sees it is a text from Luke.
Morning Rey! I am out on the landing strip with Ben replacing some lights. See you at lunch.
Convenient timing. She can’t help but sniff as she tosses her phone back onto the bench. She isn’t some… charity case. She doesn’t need anyone to pity her. She dismisses a deep tug in her chest. She really doesn’t want to be pitied by Ben.
Even though she can’t explain it, she feels it. It is a sinking feeling that remains even as she works through the morning, the Amazon boxes on her workbench like neon lights. Catching her eye no matter what she does to distract herself.
By the time lunch comes around, Rey feels like she is shaking as she warms her container of leftover stir-fry. She tentatively sits at the table as if it might disappear from right in front of her eyes and the earth will suck her into its molten lava core.
When Luke and Ben enter the lunchroom it takes an insurmountable amount of self-control to pretend like she is in deep concentration on her phone. She desperately hopes Luke will take his lunch to his office - as he often does - so she can properly interrogate Ben.
She’s not so lucky.
“Rey, how are ya, kid?” Luke’s voice is light but his eyes are tired. She chances a glance at Ben, his tense shoulders and narrowed unfocused eyes revealing enough for Rey to guess it hasn’t been a fun morning for them.
“Hey Luke.” She tries to inject a smile into her words.
“How was your morning?” He asks, his genuine interest pulling her away from her mood. Her shoulders relax and she leans back.
“Full of surprises,” she answers and absolutely takes notice of how Ben’s eyes flicker towards her.
Oblivious that she isn’t actually talking to him, Luke starts pulling together his lunch with a laugh. “Hopefully good surprises.”
Rey shrugs, “I’m not sure yet.”
Luke stops and sucks some mustard off his finger, eyes narrowing on her. “God, you both are so evasive today, did I miss a memo?”
Ben rolls his eyes and Rey swallows a wave of guilt. “Sorry, I didn’t sleep well last night.” She tries to remedy the situation. Ben’s eyes return to her and she pointedly avoids him.
“That I can relate to,” Luke sighs and pulls up a chair, much to Rey’s growing annoyance. “Hey are you busy Sunday? I thought we could have dinner.”
Rey does a double-take. Who exactly is included in we? Luke glances at Ben before continuing, “I was thinking maybe I could introduce you two to a friend of mine.”
At that, Rey and Ben meet each other’s eyes, their loose investigation serving up an opportunity on a silver platter.
“Yes, of course,” Rey answers quickly. “Who is the lucky girl?” She can’t keep her smile from splitting her face in half.
Now it’s Luke’s turn to roll his eyes. “I knew this was a mistake.”
“No!” Rey nearly shouts, and recovers by adopting a clearly put upon indifference as she tries again, “I’d love to know who will be joining us for a completely typical and non-momentous dinner.”
Ben lets out a huff of laughter and Luke pinches the bridge of his nose.
“Her name is Mara,” Luke answers, face turning an ever-deepening shade of red. Ben sits back in his chair and Rey tries to stop herself from smiling at him.
After a beat, Rey nods, as if this was not Important Information at all. “Well, I would love to come for dinner on Sunday. I’ll bring dessert.” She steals a glance at Luke out of the corner of her eyes as she shoves a forkful of noodles into her mouth and is warmed by the relief that is painted across his features.
Luke lets out a breath, “Right. Then it’s settled.” Luke stands, grabbing his sandwich and making a move for the door. “And don’t even start,” Luke directs to Ben, whose mouth falls open.
“I didn’t even say anything,” Ben’s voice is low, and Rey’s eyes stay on him as Luke leaves them in a too quiet space. He takes up space beyond his body, and she straightens her back against the invisible force of him.
After a beat, Rey clears her throat. “Thank you,” she starts, unbelieving that this is how she started the conversation, “but you didn’t have to do that.”
His eyes burn through her.
“Do what?” He asks, the faintest smile ghosting his lips.
“Replace those things,” she starts, and fiddles with her food. “How do you know I haven’t already replaced them?”
He doesn’t flinch. “Have you?”
She purses her lips, ignoring the question. When she doesn’t reply, his voice brings her back to earth.
“Then what’s the problem?” He asks, and she frowns. What is the problem? Her face feels hot and the weight of his stare begins to push the sense straight out of her veins.
“I didn’t need your help. I can buy things for myself,” she answers quietly, and the smile that was threatening to take over Ben’s face wins out. She can’t help but notice how his face changes and her stomach twists into knots.
“I didn’t buy it because I thought you couldn’t,” He answers, and her suspicion must be screaming off her face because he continues, “I bought it for you because I wanted to.”
But why? Her mind screams, and she opens her mouth to ask exactly that when he cuts her off.
“You act like you’ve never received a gift before.” His voice is clear and cuts through the air. She makes a point not to stare at his mouth.
She studies her stir-fry for a second, thoughts whirling past her too quickly to grab a hold of anything in particular.
She can feel herself flush down to her chest, “Obviously I have received gifts before.” She had, hadn’t she?
“Obviously,” he answers fast, his stare too focused on her to be comfortable. “So then you know,” Ben continues, “that people give gifts for lots of reasons.” She nods even though she has no idea where he is going with this.
“People give gifts because they owe someone, or because they want someone to owe them, because they have to, or because they are trying to kiss ass,” Ben stands and grabs a granola bar out of his backpack, already heading towards the door, “or in the rarest of occasions, it is just because they want to.”
As he heads out of the breakroom, Rey sits as still as a statue and doesn’t let herself focus too hard on the category her gift falls into. Or why all of the heat in the room burns into her cheeks.
When she blinks, everything is a kaleidoscope of dark blue and Ben Solo’s unwavering outline.
By the time her phone rings that night, it is later than usual and she pointedly doesn't engage with the flood of relief that hits her. It’s a quickly forgotten feeling because as soon as she hears Ben’s voice she knows something is off.
“Wait. What’s wrong?” She is met with a stilted silence that is followed by a slow exhale.
“I… Nothing is wrong,” he starts, and tries to change the subject, “have you set up your computer yet?” He sounds as tired as he normally does, but this time she can hear something familiar; disappointment.
She debates letting it go, for his sake. But it nags at her. She pulls her duvet up to her chin and settles into bed before pushing, “Ben. It doesn’t sound like nothing is wrong.”
She can hear him shift on his end of the line. Enough silence follows that she can’t help but check to see if he is still there.
“It’s…,” he trails off and the sound of laughter fills her ears, “I was going to say complicated, but it is actually pretty simple.”
“Okay,” she prompts.
“Luke doesn’t want me to visit Han’s grave,” he explains and Rey holds her breath. He’s never talked about Han or what happened before . It makes her heart skip a beat. She wonders if this is how secret keepers in Harry Potter feel. Simultaneously elated to be chosen and horrified at the prospect of having the burden.
“It will be three years in a couple of months,” he continues, a certain detachment following closely behind each word, “and my mother was planning a small thing.” He doesn’t elaborate, and Rey tries to fill in the blanks.
He wanted to go.
“I’m sorry,” her voice sounds hoarse.
“I don’t understand how I can change things,” Ben trails off and Rey imagines his face on the other side of the line, waiting silently before he finishes a moment later, “if he won’t let me change.”
Rey doesn’t pretend to understand the complicated, and frankly cursed, history of Ben’s family. Or his strange relationship with Luke. But she might understand how Ben feels.
Before she can respond, he abruptly changes tracks, “How the hell did you even get stuck with Luke?” This time she lets him steer the conversation to safer territory without a fight.
“I wouldn’t say stuck.”
“What would you call it, then?” He asks, and she can’t tell if she imagines the accusation in his tone.
She laughs to steady herself. What would she call it? The most stable and healthy period of her life to date. That’s what it is.
“I enjoy working with Luke,” she answers instead.
“For Luke,” he corrects, and she inhales a sharp breath, definitely not mistaking the harshness in his voice this time.
It reminds her that there is still so much she doesn’t know about him. About what happened to him. About why his instinct is to pull himself so far away from people that they can no longer reach him.
“Ben. You don’t have to pick a fight with me. I know you’re upset.” Her voice has gone quiet and she is met with silence.
After a beat she hears him swear. “I’m sorry,” he breathes in and dark laughter fills her ears, “again.”
A strange tightness fills her chest as she remembers his first apology in her car.
“I forgive you,” she replies softly, “again.” She can almost feel the tension leave his body through the invisible phone connection.
“If you want to see your father,” she begins, just a ghost of hesitation edging into her words, “I can take you, you know.” What she wants to say is: you’re not alone in this. If you can trust me enough, you’d have someone to fight with you through this.
He starts to speak but cuts himself off like he’s forming and reforming his thoughts in rapid succession. After an agonizing pause, he answers.
Rey takes it as a win.
He doesn’t leave her thoughts, even long after they say goodnight. It keeps her up. Strangely awake and oddly alive despite the dead hour of the night.
Her mind races for so long that minutes or hours pass and she temporarily forgets the exact pitch of his voice, the particular colour of his eyes. Sleep and memories and hope makes everything razor-thin and out of reach. The echo of his answer reverberating through their small slice of time and space.
On Thursday she decides that she’s proving nothing by leaving the computer in its box, untouched on her coffee table like junk mail. Especially when the universe gives her two good reasons to bring it to life: Finn and Rose.
She had forgotten how important it was to Skype and listen to them share stories of their temporary home in Japan.
“I am so excited for you two to come home,” Rey whines into the camera.
“We miss you too, Peanut.” Finn smiles, and Rose pulls out a handful of small and intricate treats.
“Does it help to know I’m collecting a lot of adorable Japanese snacks to bring home to you?” Rose holds up a few packets to the camera and Rey laughs.
“Bribing me with food, now?” Rose laughs and nods enthusiastically.
“It has been proven effective in the past!” Rose exclaims before the three of them burst into laughter.
Rey’s heart bursts as she listens to them talk about all the food they have been eating, and the students they have developed relationships with. She can tell from looking at them that they are happy.
Really, genuinely happy.
It warms her even as her heart hurts. It is a familiar feeling that’s not envy, but feels an awful lot like it as she watches Finn squeeze Rose’s shoulder.
If there is anything wistful seeping through her smile, Finn and Rose don’t notice it.
Boy look at you, looking at me,
I know you know how I feel.
You don’t ever have to be stronger than you really are.
When you’re lying in my arms.
And honey, you don’t ever have to act cooler than you think you should.
You’re brighter than the brightest stars.
Sunday comes fast and Rey stares at her closet, a wave of something tight crashing into her rib cage with every breath. She made an apple crumble and splurged on real French vanilla ice cream, hoping Mara’s sweet tooth is even half as insatiable as hers is.
Everything she owns seems too casual or way too formal. She doesn’t ask herself why it matters.
Who am I trying to impress anyway?
After spending too much time playing with her hair and applying lipstick - then hastily removing it with toilet paper - Rey leaves the house before she can spiral further.
She knows exactly who she is trying to impress.
When she parks in front of Luke’s house she spots a compact hybrid in the driveway - Mara is already here. Her heart is beating loud in her ears and she feels a bit dizzy as she makes her way out of her car, for reasons that have nothing to do with meeting Luke’s dinner guest.
Is she nervous?
No, that’s ridiculous.
She knocks on the door with a shaking hand and shifts on her feet. When the door opens, Ben’s frame fills her vision.
“Thank god you’re here.” His voice is low and he steps outside, closing the door behind him. She realizes she’s smiling, unhinged and far too enthusiastically because her cheeks start to hurt.
“Luke has been a nightmare today, I could use a bit of a buffer.” Her stomach hits the floor. Right. Of course.
She looks up at him with a much less aggressive smile and says, “Not to worry. Backup has arrived.” He smiles back and takes the crumble out of her hands, his eyes not leaving hers.
For a second she thinks he might say something, but just as quickly his face resets and he steps back, his hand already on the doorknob. “I hope you like Italian. It’s Mara’s favourite and Luke really took that to heart.”
As they step into the house, Rey’s stomach practically growls with excitement. It smells like heaven.
“Rey! Come on in.” Luke tosses a dish towel over his shoulder and Rey finally sees the mysterious Mara. She’s gorgeous. “This is Mara,” Luke says as he motions to the redhead. “Mara, this is Rey.”
Rey likes her instantly. Her eyes sparkle like she knows a secret and she has that aura about her where you can just tell she’s the real deal.
“Rey, Luke never stops talking about how wonderful you are. It is nice to finally meet you.” Rey takes Mara’s hand, feeling slightly dumbstruck.
“It’s nice to finally meet you, too,” Rey says as she smiles at Luke, who has taken on a few shades of red.
“Well, come on, then.” Luke ushers her into the living room and Rey’s eyes bug out of her head when she sees the charcuterie board on the coffee table. It looks like enough food to feed the whole neighbourhood.
As she and Mara take their seats on the couch, she glances at the kitchen. Luke takes her apple crumble out of Ben’s hands as he speaks to him, too quietly for Rey to hear. Ben’s face is pinched and he runs his fingers through his hair, tense as he snaps something back to his uncle, equally quiet.
“So, Luke tells me you’re quite the natural with planes.”
Rey nods, trying to ignore the silent altercation in the kitchen. “I love working with Luke. He’s one of the best teachers I could ask for. What do you do?” Rey asks, already loading a plate with cheese and meats.
“I’m actually an accountant,” she leans in, full conspiracy mode, “by day anyway. By night I am an industrial artist.” This catches Rey’s attention.
“Industrial artist?” Rey tries to avoid speaking with her mouth full. Mara laughs lightly.
“I like to collect found objects and create sculptures or art installations. They tend to include large scale items like cars...and sometimes planes if I’m feeling adventurous.” Mara pops a piece of cheese in her mouth as Luke joins them.
“She’s being modest, Rey, her installations have been featured in galleries all over the city and she just completed an art installation at the Museum of Arts.”
Rey’s jaw nearly hits the floor. She didn’t even know that this was an option. As Luke and Mara share a smile, Ben takes a seat, if a little hesitantly.
“I think I want to be you when I grow up.” Rey beams at Mara before Luke’s laughter catches her attention.
“I am sure Mara would be happy to show you her studio sometime,” Luke volunteers and Mara quickly nods in agreement.
“To be fair it is less of a studio and more of an abandoned barn.” Mara gives Rey a small wink before turning her attention to Ben.
“Has plane restoration always been a passion of yours, too?” Rey’s eyes fall to her plate, suddenly worried for Ben even though she knows she has no right or reason to be.
It takes Ben a second to realize someone is talking to him. “Oh, uh. No, I guess not. Not really.”
Mara doesn’t miss a beat, “So what are your passion projects then?”
Rey’s ears perk up, curious to know as well. Ben looks like someone just pointed a spotlight directly on his face, and for the first time since she’s met him, he looks...young. Unsure.
“I am not sure I have figured that out,” he answers slowly, “yet.” Mara beams at him.
“Ah, a blank slate,” she breathes in like she’s remembering something. “I have a cousin about your age. He’s really into slam poetry. Ever tried it?”
Rey can hear the playfulness come through her words and she laughs lightly, imagining Ben taking the stage.
“I can’t say that I have had the pleasure,” Ben answers, a small smile pulling at his mouth.
“Well, you certainly have the right aesthetic,” Rey pipes up and takes a bite of her cracker as she gestures to Ben’s familiar black on black (on black) outfit.
He rolls up his sleeves, and the movement seems to make his form take up more space than usual.
Then his eyes meet hers and for a split second, she thinks maybe she’s offended him. But his smile breaks into a huff of laughter, and he doesn’t look away when he answers.
“This is my summer look.”
When Rey bursts out laughing, even Luke cracks a smile.
By the time they gather around the table, it is nearly eight. “The sign of a good dinner party,” Mara laughs as Luke rushes around the kitchen. Mara uncorks the wine and motions to Rey.
“Malbec?” Rey nods as the dark red liquid fills her stemless wine glass. Mara motions to Ben, “Ben, would like some as well?”
Before Ben can answer, Luke’s voice carries over from the kitchen, “No.”
It startles Rey as her head whips in the direction of the kitchen. Realizing her mistake, Mara closes her eyes, a blush blooming down her chest.
“I am so sorry,” she whispers and Ben is already waving her off. Suddenly Rey’s lungs feel frozen.
“Please - don’t be. Alcohol was never my vice anyway.” Ben’s grip on his glass might be the only thing that reveals the tension beneath his cool exterior.
“Ben, can I have a word?” Luke’s voice is sharp and Ben barely disguises his annoyance as he stands, his frame filling Rey’s vision like the darkest cloud.
As Ben disappears into the kitchen, Mara curses and sits down next to Rey, “I feel terrible.”
Rey hopes her face reveals the depth of empathy she feels. “Things between them have been kind of tense lately, I wouldn’t worry.”
This isn’t even the worst they’ve been this week.
“Still,” Mara adds, “I should have been more thoughtful.”
Rey studies the woman’s face. Her concern seems to be focused on how Ben might have taken the exchange, and Rey finds herself relaxing out of the protective mental stance she hadn’t realized she’d taken.
When the men come out of the kitchen, carrying multiple dishes that Rey is very eager to examine, Ben’s face is hardened. Rey’s stomach drops. She wants to reach for his hand, to nudge him under the table the way people do in that secret shared language she’s only ever observed. Thankfully she snaps out of it as Ben places a few bowls in the centre of the table.
Despite the fact that this might look like the world’s most awkward double date - it isn’t even that. Ben is all but a prisoner and she...well she doesn’t even know how she fits in here.
Rey laughs a bit at her delusions of grandeur and tries not to look at Ben more than necessary as he takes his seat in front of her.
“Wow, is this really all for us?” Mara asks and Luke beams. Rey can already feel the warmth from the wine hit her bloodstream and she sits up a little straighter to counteract the floaty feeling in her limbs.
“I guess I went a little overboard but it’s always nice to have leftovers.” Luke smiles and Rey tries to smile back. Ben is an adult. She doesn’t need to worry about him, or about what happens with Luke.
Despite this, Rey can’t help but think about all the times she wished someone had cared enough to worry about her.
Luke goes about explaining each Italian creation, and dishes out a very healthy portion of each onto everyone’s plates. Rey sneaks a piece of garlic bread and sets out to pound as many carbs into her body as physics will allow.
After a moment or two, she catches Ben’s eyes on her and she pauses mid-bite.
“What?” She asks, swallowing, eyes focused on his face.
“I have never seen someone eat with such...aggressive vigour.” His lips are pulled up in a half-smile and Rey sets her fork down, clearing her throat.
“I didn’t say to stop,” he adds, and her whole body pulses with heat. To avoid lingering in the feeling for more than absolutely necessary, Rey changes the subject hard and fast.
“I used the laptop to Skype with my friends in Japan…thank you. Again.” Now he’s the one who looks away, the faintest pink colouring his face.
“You mean your fake friends who don’t really exist?” Ben teases and Rey laughs.
“The very same. When you meet them you’ll eat your words.” She wraps spaghetti around her fork and feels a tingle of awareness.
She quickly realizes Luke’s stare is fixed on her as if she’s got her hand in the cookie jar. Rey doesn’t really understand it, but just as quickly it disappears, his attention pointedly on the subject of focaccia versus french bread.
Rey takes a sip of wine to give herself something to do, the bitter warmth seeping into her chest.
It doesn’t fade through dinner.
Or when Luke starts filing containers of leftovers for her.
And when Rey realizes that she isn’t going to be able to come up with an excuse to stay over, the bitterness turns into something cooler, her fingers beginning to prick with ice.
Because Ben doesn’t come up with an excuse either.
Rey takes a tentative step outside, the night air waking up each cell in her body.
“Would you believe that went better than I thought it would?” Ben leans against the side of the house, eyes unfocused. Rey can’t help but agree, all things considered. Her Uber is a few minutes away and she braces herself against the tight feeling that builds within her.
Ben is relaxed, calm. It is the opposite of how she feels and she truly envies the way he can seemingly detach from anything that doesn’t suit him. That kind of self-preservation would have helped her more than once growing up.
His eyes search her face, and she can’t help but look back. There is something unknowable about his features - like they change every time she looks at him. She doesn’t know if this is because she can’t keep it straight in her own mind or if she is noticing something new every time she looks at him.
“I like the way you eat,” he says, voice breaking her out of her thoughts. A surprised laugh escapes her and she wraps her arms around herself, his amused smile sends all of the blood in her body rushing to her face.
He follows her movements, arms crossing around himself, eyes focused on her.
Rey clears her throat, eyes narrowing. “Are you messing with me?”
“I’m not known for my sense of humour.” His deadpan voice echoes around her and she can’t stop herself from smiling.
“And yet, you’re the funniest person I know.” Her head falls to the side, unsure if she just paid a compliment to him or not. She shivers in front of him, and he moves slightly in her direction.
“I’d offer you a sweater, but I think you have all of mine.” He isn’t teasing this time. She thinks. He’s asking a question, but she can’t figure out what it is.
“Hilarious and selfless.” Rey’s voice is light and clear, her defensive humour beginning to feel like a cast instead of a shield even as the words leave her mouth.
Ben doesn’t miss a beat, his hand clutching at his chest.
“You forgot humble.” His smile annihilates whatever defence she thought she was building. One hundred sentences form and die on Rey’s tongue before she forces herself to speak.
“And those aren’t even your best qualities.” She isn’t quite teasing either. No, it’s far worse because she might just be flirting. Despite this, she can’t help but notice the way his face softens, surprise settling into his features.
It’s a deeply endearing look that pulls at her chest until she feels herself closing the space between them, eyes scattering over his face, unable to rest in a single spot. She wants to ask him, “Would you like to know what I think your best qualities are?”
She doesn’t. But Ben nods, just so, as if he heard her all the same. And maybe she loses her mind for a fraction of a microsecond - but that’s all the time it takes to unhinge yourself from reality.
It is so easy, so natural, to press up on her toes, and before she can consider the consequences of her actions, her mouth is on his - and he is hot to the touch, exactly like she thought he’d be, and the way his full lips slot into hers is criminal. She lets herself run her fingers up his arm and it’s like gripping a tree trunk. And then Ben tenses.
As quickly as the fever dream took hold, Rey is shattered back to reality.
“Oh my god, I am so sorry,” she whispers, pulling away from him slowly. The world feels twice as cold as before.
He is completely still against her, like corpse -still. Rey’s heels hit the floor and her body burns with embarrassment and rapidly escalating anxiety. She has made a colossal miscalculation. The world tilts slightly, and Rey can't believe millions of years of evolution could lead her body’s instincts to fail her so utterly and completely. Isn’t this type of idiotic, Darwin-caliber fuckery the exact thing her ancestors should have bred out of existence by now? Apparently not.
Rey steps back as if the distance can correct her mistake when a hand wraps tight around her wrist and Ben’s voice cuts through the air.
His voice is so low she almost doesn’t hear him.
“I’m sorry,” she tries again, but she’s cut off by the harsh tug on her arm, and then -
Ben’s mouth is on her, no longer immobile, but frenzied and forceful and Rey is nearly knocked over by the force of him - like an entire forest descending on her and she can no longer tell which way is up. This time she can feel him. Feel the light scrape of his teeth dragging across her lip, the weight of his body anchoring her in a way gravity only wishes it could, and the curling smell of Ben that makes her toes feel like they are filled with helium.
He pulls at her until she is flush against him, his grip pulling at her as if he can dominate physics and merge her into his very being. It takes Rey’s breath away and she gasps against him, heat pooling at her core. His lips slow, and it is just enough for her to breathe before he presses her firmly against the side of Luke’s house - oh my god, Luke - hands travelling up her sides as she opens her mouth to him.
The rumble in his chest sounds like laughter, and all she can feel is the hot slide of his mouth from her lips to her jaw, his hand bracing her neck as he pushes himself forward. His weight framing her with perfect symmetry against his body. It robs her of her senses and the air in her lungs, a happy forfeit that she is all too willing to accept.
Suddenly Ben pulls away, hearing something she doesn’t, and when she opens her eyes she can see the panic on his face. Half a second later she hears the front door crack open and she realizes why.
“Oh good, you’re still here!” Mara’s eyes bounce between Rey and Ben, who most definitely appear too flushed to ignore.
Mara manages to do it, though. Clearing her throat she lifts the forgotten containers of leftovers, “Luke thought you left without them.” Rey blinks and tries to find her voice.
“Thank you,” she replies, breathless and stunned. Rey can’t ignore the way Mara smiles, even though she bites her lip to hide it.
“Well, I’ll...leave you to it, then.” Mara winks at her before disappearing into the house, leaving Rey slack-jawed and frozen in place. For fuck’s sake.
Beside her, Ben swears.
She glances at him, and the panic has reached his limbs. He paces a bit, running his hands through his hair over and over.
Rey opens her mouth to speak, but is cut off by Ben’s voice.
“Rey,” he starts, eyes wide, and all the blood in her body stops. He’s going to say it was a mistake.
Suddenly the lights from her Uber turn into the driveway, blinding her. Ben curses and takes a deep breath.
“It’s okay, -“ she begins, fully prepared to absolve him, but Ben’s voice is sharp, a bit too quick.
“No matter what happens with Luke, I’m not sorry.”
Rey meets his eyes and tries not to give herself undeserved hope.
The Uber honks, and Ben’s head snaps to the car’s attention.
“Give us a minute,” his voice barks into the darkness. Rey pinches her nose. She won’t be able to take his rejection, no matter how he goes about it.
“It’s okay, Ben.” She’s nodding and doesn’t know why.
“It’s not okay,” he answers, steady and sure. “Will you let me do this over?”
She blinks up at him. Do what over?
“Please,” he adds, mistaking her pause for uncertainty.
“Yes,” she whispers, not fully sure what she’s agreeing to but too struck to care. The Uber honks again and Rey’s body vibrates with nerves.
Ben drops his hands from her shoulders and it’s only then that Rey realizes he was all but keeping her upright. She sways slightly on her feet and steps towards the Uber in hopes of silencing its horn.
“I’ll text you,” she manages to get out before she slips into the Uber. The driver takes them out of the driveway before her seatbelt clicks into place.
Before she makes it out of Luke’s neighbourhood, her phone pings. With shaking hands she fumbles to get it out of her purse, knowing without looking who it is.
Next time, I won’t let us be interrupted.
You’re scared to win, scared to lose.
I heard the war was over if you really choose.
The one in, and around you.