The house is different from what she’d expected.
As soon as she gets out of her car, she’s greeted with a sight that makes her stop dead in her tracks and she’s suddenly overwhelmed by a pang of longing so clear it takes her breath away. She has to lean against the frame of the car for a moment just to take the building in.
It’s a small stone cottage in the little town of Naboo. The building looks old, as if it had been taken out of an ancient tale, and yet it feels surprisingly welcoming, as if the red-brick exterior called to her somehow. A side of the facade is covered in vines and climbing roses, their petals a vibrant shade of red and white against the stone building, and there’s a pebbled path that leads her to the porch, surrounded by a small garden that is alive with all kinds of flowers.
It’s – it’s beautiful.
Her heart twists a little bit at the sight. It looks like the kind of house she would dream for herself back when she was in Jakku and she desperately wanted to escape its deserted landscape. It takes her breath away for a moment, as if the explosion of wildflowers around her feet as she makes her way to the porch had elicited some kind of yearning she wasn’t aware of and that she couldn’t quite abate.
She didn’t know what she expected when she applied for the position of stenographer to Ben Solo, best-selling author of Kill The Past and Shake The Stars. Something different for sure – an expensive condo in a big city, something sleek and modern and minimalist, where the never-dimming lights of the city cast their shadows on the endless rows of bookshelves. A dark place, made of sleepless nights in front of a computer screen and the weird glow of the neon sign of the 24/7 supermarket down the street.
Not this. Not a place where things can grow.
The path stops right where the porch starts. She takes the three steps and then she breathes in and out and rings the doorbell, willing her nerves not to have the best of her.
It’s not easy. Her heart is a fluttering thing inside her ribcage and she can’t stop twisting her hands at the thought that she’s about to meet the man whose words have become a beacon of light and hope in her darkest moments.
Anyone would be at least a little bit nervous, she thinks, even though she can’t, for the life of her, fathom why a best-selling author such as him would ever need someone to type his book for him. Maybe that’s a thing writers do. She wouldn’t know – the only thing she’s ever written is her grocery list, when she remembers to.
It takes Ben Solo a few minutes to get to the door. She first hears heavy footsteps, then a deep voice saying something she can’t pick up and then something paws , almost aggressively, at the wooden surface of the door. Then, the door falls open, and before she realizes, she’s being tackled by a ball of fur that vaguely resembles a dog. It’s only by luck that she manages not to topple backwards and fall on her ass.
“Ouch,” she breathes out before she can stop herself.
The dog currently tackling her enthusiastically wags its tail, sniffling her over and pressing its snout against her hand, as if asking her for pets. It feels almost automatic to bring her fingers to its head, scratching it behind its ears.
“Chewie, no, oh my God,” says the deep voice she’s heard from the other side of the door. “I’m sorry, he’s a little bit too enthusiastic. I hope he hasn’t scared you.”
It takes her by surprise. Ben Solo, her favorite author, has a dog who likes to be petted. It’s such a mundane thing she can’t wrap her head around it, as if this anchored him to this reality, made him a person, instead of a nebulous image in her mind.
He has a dog. A very enthusiastic dog, who’s currently pawing at her best pair of jeans. She doesn’t know why, but the thought makes a giggle bubble on her lips.
“No, it’s fine,” she replies, as Chewie leans further into her touch, his tongue hanging from his mouth. She giggles again. “I was just surprised.”
The man, whose feet she’s currently staring at, stays silent for a moment, as if to absorb her words, then clears his throat. “Still, I’m sorry,” he says, softly.
His voice is deeper than she’d expected, twisting at some heartstring she didn’t know she possessed. She’d listen to him talk for the whole day, she realizes, and though she’s spent the better part of the last few years reading his words, it feels surprisingly dull now that she’s heard his voice. A voice like that, she thinks, is made for telling stories.
“Miss Niima, I presume?”
She nods, finally raising her eyes. “Yes, that’s me.”
She’s aware of three different things all at once.
First, best-selling author Ben Solo is terribly young. She doesn’t know what she expected, but he looks barely a few years older than her – and there’s something boyish about him, too. Something that makes him look even younger as he stands there on the front porch of his cottage, wrapped in a woolen cardigan that looks both soft and terribly warm.
Second, he’s beautiful. There’s a special kind of beauty about him – a beauty that comes from the mix of his angular features and the softness of his plush lips and dark, luscious hair. He’s tall – he easily towers over her, and he seems almost too big for the small doorstep of this cottage, his shoulders broad and muscled even as they’re hidden by multiple layers of clothes. There’s a scar that bisects his face, going from his forehead to the other cheek, that instead of dimming his beauty seems to heighten it.
Third, she finally realizes why he needs someone to type his book for him.
Ben Solo, best-selling author of her favorite books, is blind.
The inside of the cottage is just as breathtakingly beautiful as the outside. She has spent a long time imagining her future home when she was a kid, and this cottage looks like every dream she’d conjured late at night when she was scared and desperate and she longed for a place that was entirely hers.
This place – it feels loved. That’s the most beautiful thing about it. It’s lived-in, the way a home normally would be. This is a place where a family could live – she can imagine someone at the stove cooking a meal, the fireplace in the living room crackling pleasantly as they sit on the floral-patterned couch all wrapped up in a blanket. The wooden pavements are clearly old, but well kept, covered in big, soft rugs.
The kitchen is so luminous it takes her breath away. The light of the sun filters through the windows and casts a warm glow over the stark-white cabinets and the wooden countertops. There are wildflowers, probably picked from the garden outside, in jars all over the place. A door left ajar grants her a peek in the rear garden, as luscious and as full of flowers as the front one.
“I’m still sorry about Chewie,” Ben Solo is saying, running a hand through his dark, soft-looking hair. He presses his lips together, then, a faint trace of red spreading on his cheeks. “We don’t get many visitors here, so he’s always a bit… too much.”
The way he says it makes something in her chest ache and she wonders if he’s still talking about the dog. Even though she’s just met him, Rey has the feeling Ben Solo is not really used to talking to other human beings. Chewie, for his part, is currently splayed on the floor next to Mr. Solo’s feet, but his eyes are fixed on Rey and every time she looks at him, he wags his tail. She feels her lips twitch in a smile.
“It’s fine, Mr. Solo,” she replies, quietly. “I don’t mind it. I’ve always wanted a dog when I was a kid and I think he’s adorable.”
There’s a little exhale that could pass for a laugh. It’s almost sweet, the way this man seems to allow himself a huff of breath that masks his amusement.
“Now, that would be a first. I’m pretty sure Chewie is many things, but adorable had never crossed my mind before,” he tells her. He runs the hand through his hair again, and she wonders if that’s a gesture born out of nervousness. “Please, make yourself comfortable. Can I offer you something? I just made coffee.”
“Sure,” she replies with a smile. She knows he can’t see it, but she can’t help the way her lips curve, out of their own accord. Maybe he can hear it in her voice. “Coffee would be great.”
He nods once. Her eyes never leave his frame as he moves around his kitchen – he does it effortlessly, and it’s almost mesmerizing to watch. It’s clear that he’s memorized the layout of the place, because he has no trouble recovering a mug and it only takes him a few tries to close the cabinet. His hands slide down the kitchen counter as he walks until he reaches the coffee pot and then he carefully, methodically pours the beverage in the mug.
“Here,” he murmurs, holding out the cup. “I’m sorry, I can’t tell– I don’t know where you are.”
She clears her throat. “Oh, right,” she says, then steps closer to him and closes her fingers against the mug he’s handing her. In doing so, her fingers brush against his and he looks almost surprised, as if the whole idea of a human touch came as a foreign concept to him. “I’m– well– sorry.”
He blushes a bit. “No, it’s– it’s okay.”
The mug rests in her hand now, steam rising from it, and she brings it to her lips, taking a sip of the coffee. It’s a little too sweet for her tastes, but it’s exactly what she needed after the car ride from Coruscant to this quiet little town, so she won’t complain.
He pours himself a cup of coffee too, then a brief silence falls on them. She clears her throat again, suddenly nervous because she realizes that this is Ben Solo. The Ben Solo. She’s sharing a room with him and he’s an actual person – he breathes, talks, and drinks coffee that’s a bit too sweet and maybe he’s waiting for her to just say something. She’s read his books over and over again in the past few years, she’s scribbled his words in her journal, she’s fantasized about meeting him to tell him how much his stories meant to her.
And now she’s here and she doesn’t know what to say.
“This place is beautiful,” she tries, lamely, but surprisingly those words elicit a small smile from him.
It’s the first one she sees and it’s – breathtaking. His full lips seem to be made for smiling, and the hint of a dimple appears on his cheek, unexpected but welcome. It fills her with the same awe she felt upon seeing this cottage for the first time – a longing for something she’s always wished for.
“Thank you,” he replies, so softly. She’s never met someone who was so quiet and soft-spoken as this man, a stark contrast to his books, which seem to be drenched in a raw, feral yearning that she’s never had any trouble relating to. “It belonged to my family. I used to spend all my summers here when I was a kid.” He shrugs, then, sinking his hands in the pocket of his cardigan. It’s hard to imagine him as a kid – he looks like the kind of person who springs into the world just like this. “I liked the peace, you know? I found out it helps with the– uh, the creative process, I suppose.”
The creative process. She’s suddenly reminded that she’s not here to be swayed by this attractive, surprisingly soft man, no matter the fact that his smile seems to tug at her heartstrings in unexpected ways. She’s here because she needs a job.
“Mr. Solo,” she starts, hesitantly. Her fingers tap against the mug, nervously. She bites down her bottom lip, then exhales, deeply. “About the job–”
“Ah, yes. The job.” He leans against the kitchen counter, sipping on his coffee, his empty stare fixed on the wall in front of him, as he probably mulls over the words he wants to say. He takes a deep breath before talking, as if he were preparing himself for a fight, which somehow, judging by how little she knows of him from his books, both surprises her and doesn’t at the same time, if that’s possible. “As you can see, I’m in a bit of a predicament.”
She nods, then realizes he can’t see her, so she lets out a non-committal sound.
“I–” He works his jaw, then presses his lips together in what resembles a pout, chewing slightly on his bottom lip. “I had an accident a while back and– well. I was spared, but my sight–”
A grimace twists his features. He doesn’t need to explain it – his empty stare is enough of an explanation for her, but she doesn’t want to interrupt him and he looks like somehow he needs to put this down into words, so she quietly waits for him to continue.
He sighs, again. “I’m still sensitive to the light, at least. I can still tell when it’s dark outside but– of course, it’s not enough. Anyway,” he continues, his voice somehow lighter. “I need to write a book but, as you can probably guess, I physically can’t. Vocal transcripts are useful for short things, but can’t do much for a book, unless I want to turn in a manuscript with more spelling mistakes than my first-grade homework, and as my agent has reminded me, she doesn’t want to read a first-grader’s version of a book. She’s getting kind of insistent. It pains me to admit it, but I do need help.”
By the time he finishes his monologue, he looks breathless. It’s the longest she’s heard him talk ever since stepping into his house and she’s got the distinctive feeling that this is the longest he’s talked in a while. It may be a trick of the light, but there’s a slight pink tint on his cheeks that makes the moles scattered on his face stand out darker.
Before she realizes, she’s speaking. “I can do it,” she murmurs. Her voice is barely above a whisper, but he turns into her general direction all the same, as if to hear her better. A few strands of black hair fall on his forehead, making him look even younger. “I can promise you a mistakes-free manuscript, so your agent will stop pestering you about it.”
His lips curve in another small, heart-wrenching smile. “It’s gonna be a little rough,” he warns her, then. He presses his lips together again in what looks like the beginning of a pout. A new flush rises in his cheeks and he clears his throat. “I mean– I’m on a tight deadline. Are you comfortable with staying here in Naboo for the time it will require? I seem to recall from your emails you’re based in Coruscant.”
The light of the sun streams through the windows, bathing the kitchen in a golden haze. She can’t hear anything for miles, except for the slight buzzing of the bees coming from the garden, and the occasional chirping of a bird. It’s so quiet and peaceful here that she almost forgets there’s a whole world outside of this small, private bubble.
She smiles again. This time, she hopes he can hear it in her voice. “Yeah, sure,” she replies. She shrugs, then. “I don’t have much going on for me back in Coruscant, anyway.”
He nods, his expression somehow somber and mindful. He’s so quiet – it’s weird to think he’s the same person who’s written her favorite words in the universe, when he uses so few of them in real life.
“Of course, I’ll be paying for your lodging at the local b&b,” he tells her, as a matter of fact. He runs a hand through his hair again, then shifts his weight from one foot to the other. His hand slowly slides lower, resting at the base of his neck as a small smile takes hold of his lips. “Maz, the owner– She’s a lovely lady. I’m sure she’ll adore you. You strike me as the kind of person she likes.”
It’s such a sweet thing to say. She doesn’t think she’s ever been the kind of person anyone could like because no one had stayed long enough to even try, and it comes as a surprise, the fact that she could be. That someone would want to try.
Along with the beauty of the town and the quietness of this cottage and the way his smile elicits some kind of unexpected yearning, it seems like all of this is trying to burrow its way into her heart.
She can’t help the grin that spreads on her face. “Sounds perfect.”
It’s easier than she’d expected, getting used to her new routine, almost as if she’d done this her whole life.
She gets up early in the morning. She grabs a cup of coffee and a muffin at the breakfast table and then she gets in the car. She knocks at Solo’s door at 9 in the morning, when he’s already up and about and going through the work of the day before while he scratches Chewie’s head. They smile at each other and exchange a few pleasantries as she drinks her coffee and pays Chewie the attention he demands. Mr. Solo often asks her about Naboo – does she like it? Is she enjoying her stay? Does she finds it too quiet and suffocating or–
She always reassures him, before she reaches for her laptop and gets to work. He’s got a nice voice – she realized it the first time she met him, but hearing him weave a story is a whole other thing, and she’s a little bit in awe of the way he talks, the effortless way the words seem to fall from his lips even as he takes his time to think about them. They work for hours, only stopping by lunchtime to eat something like sandwiches, and then they continue working until the sun starts to set and she drives back to the b&b, stopping by the convenience store on the way to pick up the dinner she’ll eat while reading all curled up on her bed.
It’s not much of a life, and yet she likes it. She likes the freedom that comes with it and the beauty of this small town – the flowers in bloom that follow her everywhere she goes, the warmth of the sunlight that shines on her face without bumping into obstacles, the quiet of the night when she sets for the bed.
Maz, the owner of Takodana Castle, the local b&b, turns out to be as lovely as Ben Solo fashioned her to be. She’s an old lady, so petite and delicate, with a pair of glasses so big it almost seems to engulf her whole face, but she’s also so fiercely energetic it’s hard not to get dragged into her orbit. She’s – larger than life, and yet so charmingly easy to talk to, always with a story to spin for her. She’s also the kind of person who’s hard to say no to, and whenever she insists for Rey to take a second serving of breakfast or to sneak a cinnamon roll or two in her bag, she can’t exactly refuse her.
Not that she’d be the one to turn down free food.
The moment Rey tells her she’s working for Ben Solo, Maz’s face breaks in the biggest smile she’s ever seen and her eyes almost disappear behind the glasses. It gives her face a new luminosity, which makes Rey’s lips twitch in a smile, too.
“Oh, I’m so glad he’s got someone now,” she tells her one morning over breakfast, as she pours Rey her usual cup of coffee. She shakes her head, pensively. “That boy has been alone for way too long.”
There’s such tenderness in her voice when she talks about Mr. Solo that Rey’s taken aback and she feels almost as if she’d intruded on something not meant for her.
She takes a sip of her coffee, wondering if she should ask. “You mean–" She bites down on her bottom lip, not sure how to continue. "Ever since the accident?”
She doesn’t mean to pry – she doesn’t think it’s her business, what happened to Ben Solo, and she has no right snooping around. But – there’s something that inevitably tugs at her heart, whenever she’s around him. As if a piece of him called to her, as if his loneliness were a mirror of her own. The more she gets to know him, the more she feels connected to him, the way she felt connected to his books when she first read them.
Maz lets out a deep sigh, then shakes her head. Her glasses fall down her nose a little bit, making her look like an overgrown owl. She’s silent for a moment, and it surprises her – in the weeks Rey’s known her, Maz has been a loud, bright presence at the edge of her vision, a flare of light at the outskirts of her consciousness.
“No. Not exactly,” she replies, then, quietly, adjusting her glasses on her nose. “I mean, sure, ever since the accident he’s been even more reclusive, but– he’s always been like that. I remember when he was a kid– he was always with his head inside a book and barely paid attention to the rest of the world around him. I rarely saw him talk to anyone. Smart kid, sure, but so lonely. I’m glad he has someone to keep him company lately.”
Her gaze falls on Rey. It’s almost unsettling – it feels as if she were trying to read deep within her soul and Rey wonders if she can see the stirring emotions that have been bubbling in her heart for a while.
If she does, she says nothing of it.
Rey nods, a soft smile on her face. “I’m happy too,” she finds herself saying, and she’s not lying.
She’s the happiest she’s ever been.
Ben Solo, she’s learned in the span of a few weeks, is nothing if not determined.
He works himself relentlessly – by the time she knocks at his door, he’s already working, a cup of coffee on his desk as he listens to the work they’d done the day before. By the time she’s about to leave for the day, he’s made himself another cup of coffee and he’s recording a few notes on how to go from there. He rarely leaves his study during the day and he scarcely eats , with the exception of the sandwich he chews on during lunch.
He only stops working to pet Chewie, which she finds both adorable and worrying.
And it’s not he’s wasting away, because he’s not. He’s – well, she has spent a considerable amount of time staring at his broad shoulders when he’s started to trade his cardigans for simple black t-shirts, or at the way the muscles of his back flex whenever he stretches after a day spent at the desk. But she worries, anyway, because that’s the instinct she’s never grown out of – worrying about not eating enough.
Only, it’s the first time she worries about someone else other than herself.
So one day, as she grabs her usual cup of coffee and wishes Maz a good day, she steals a few extra slices of banana bread (she knows Maz won’t mind and she’s got the feeling that if she told her it was for Ben Solo, Maz would be happy to bake her another piece of it), wraps them in a napkin and puts them in her tote bag, before heading to her car.
By the time she’s at the cottage, Chewie is waiting for her on the porch. It’s starting to become a habit of his – Mr. Solo often leaves the door ajar so she can let herself in and Chewie has taken to sitting quietly on the porch, jumping as soon as he notices her car rolling around.
He comes to greet her now, wagging his tail and giving her a few sloppy kisses when she kneels to scratch him behind his ears.
“Hi, sweetie,” she coos, which prompts another round of kisses from him. Rey can’t help but giggle at his enthusiasm, and she thinks Chewie likes it, because he stares at her adoring eyes. She gives him one last scratch, then stands up. “Come on, love. Let’s go. Your human must be already at work.”
She lets herself in as loudly as she can to make sure not to take Mr. Solo by surprise, Chewie following her quietly.
“Good morning,” she says, cheerily, as she walks into the study.
Ben Solo is already there, sitting at his desk, his usual cup of coffee in front of him and a jar of freshly picked flowers right next to his laptop. In these few weeks, she’s learned he likes to pick flowers from the garden outside, which makes her chest ache for him, even as she tries her best not to be swept away by these feelings.
He nods in her general direction, his lips curving in a smile. “Good morning, Miss Niima,” he tells her. The light of the sun streams through the windows, giving his dark hair a faint halo. “How are you today?”
She throws her bag on her chair, then removes her jacket.
“Fine,” she replies, then. Her gaze falls on the flowers resting on his desk, and she can’t help but smile. “I like the flowers today. They smell nice.”
His smile deepens and two dimples appear on his cheeks, making him look almost boyish. “They’re lilacs,” he tells her, softly. Then, he does the mouth thing he always does when he’s in deep thought, pressing his lips together and slightly chewing at the inside of his cheek. “At least, I think they are. It’s hard, going by smell alone.”
She lets out a soft giggle and he turns into her direction, as if surprised. It makes her blush, but she doesn’t think she minds.
“Well, whatever they are, I like them. Now, before we start–” She reaches for her tote back and retrieves the slices of banana bread, putting them on the table near his hands. In doing so, she brushes against his skin and he inhales, sharply. She’s quick to let him go. “Here. For you.”
Ben Solo frowns, as if deeply puzzled by this turn of events. A wrinkle appears between his eyebrows as he studies with his fingers the package she has deposited in his hands.
“What is it?” he asks her, then.
“Banana bread,” she announces, finally sitting down on her chair. Mr. Solo doesn’t seem any less puzzled, so she adds, “I sneaked it out of Maz’s.”
His eyebrows shoot up. “What?”
Another giggle escapes her lips at his stunned expression.
“Relax, I’m sure she’d be okay with it. She always gives me a second serving of breakfast. I reckon she thinks you aren’t letting me eat in here,” she says, with a dismissive wave of her hand. Then, when he doesn’t seem convinced, she frowns. “I just thought you could use something to eat with the way you’re working yourself. You aren’t allergic or anything, are you?”
The sun shines kindly on him as he quietly shakes his head, his hair falling slightly on his forehead. It takes all her strength not to reach out and brush those strands away from his beautiful face and let her fingers trace his scar.
“No, I’m not.” Then, he lets out a deep sigh, sagging against his chair. “Did Maz put you up to this?”
She blinks, surprised. “What? No! Of course not,” she replies, staring at him with a puzzled expression. “Why would she? I mean, I know she’s a little–” She trails off, not knowing how to finish the sentence, and she scrunches up her nose, even if he can’t see her.
Surprisingly, Ben Solo lets out a deep exhale that, she’s learned, is his version of a laughter. It makes her insides do funny things and she wants to do something stupid and irrational, like surge forward and press her lips to the dimples that take hold of his face whenever he smiles. She wants to tickle him, to be as silly as she can be, to blurt stupid jokes just to make him laugh.
She’s got the feeling he doesn’t laugh very often and that’s a shame, because he’s got the most luminous smile she’s ever seen.
“Yeah, she definitely is,” he convenes, shaking his head again, but this time he’s still smiling. “You know, she stops by, once or twice a week. She brings me groceries and something she’s baked for me and– I suppose she wants to make sure I’m not wasting away or something. Sorry if I–” He brings a hand at the base of his neck and lets out another deep breath as he nervously rubs his skin. “I was rude. You were being extremely kind and I was an asshole about it. I apologize.”
She waves her hand again out of habit. “You don’t have to apologize, it’s fine,” she tells him, with a smile she hopes he can hear in the way her voice curls around the words. “I just– I’ve read somewhere that breakfast is the most important meal of the day and you shouldn’t skip it. You barely eat anything, I figured you could use something to munch on. Also, you seem to add an obscene amount of sugar to your coffee, so I thought you had a sweet tooth and–” She realizes she’s been rambling for the past five minutes and a blush starts to creep high on her cheeks. “You know what, I’ll stop talking.”
The most surprising thing happens – Ben Solo laughs. She hasn’t said anything even remotely funny – she’s just being her chaotic, embarrassing self and talking about food, of all things, and yet he laughs. It’s such a pure, life-changing sound – his laughter is deep and rumbling and it evokes the crackling of a fireplace, the warmth of a home.
She realizes that this – this cottage, this room, this man –, this is home. She feels a lump in her throat at the thought, and thinks about the way her heart will break when she’ll have to let this go.
“Sorry, I just–” He shakes his head, and it’s becoming ever more difficult not to lean in and brush the hair out of his face. “You’re very kind. Thank you for worrying about me.”
He says it as if she’d just performed some extraordinary magic, when in reality, she’s just brought him a few slices of banana bread she stole from the b&b buffet. It makes her chest constrict, because she knows the kind of intense loneliness that makes you consider someone worrying about you something eventful.
So she smiles. “No problem,” she replies. “You can tell me what you actually like and I’ll try to smuggle it back from Maz’s next time.”
He laughs again and oh, she thinks she might love the sound.
A comfortable silence falls on them. He munches on his banana bread with a stoic expression that makes the corner of her lips twitch in a smile and she retrieves her laptop and prepares the document they’re working on even if part of her still can’t believe she’s granted the privilege to peek into his process and see the story unfolding bit by bit.
Then, as she’s about to ask him if he’s ready to start, he clears his throat.
She barely raises her eyes from the laptop. “Mh?”
“I was thinking–” He works his jaw again, then presses his lips together. “Would you like to stay for dinner tonight? I could make something if– if you help me a bit, that is. As a thank you.”
There’s a moment of silence in which she’s too stunned to say anything because her favorite author (and probably her favorite person in the world) is inviting her to dinner and volunteering to make her something, but before she has a chance to reply, he lets out a strangled sound and–
“I mean,” he starts, sounding panicked, his voice oddly high-pitched. “You don’t have to. And– I guess, it’s not much of a thank you if I ask you to help me but– I don’t want to accidentally cut my fingers but I’d like to make something for you if– if you’ll allow me to. I think Maz might be right, I haven’t– I haven’t exactly let you eat that well, haven’t I? I’m so used to be alone that– Oh fuck, I should just stop talking, shouldn’t I?”
She blinks once, then twice. He’s flushing red by the time he finishes his rambling, and there’s something in the sight of this big, broad man who’s rendered her speechless with his sentences so many times before and that’s now blushing and stuttering over his words that makes her heart soar.
In the future, she’ll wonder if this is the moment that makes her fall in love with Ben Solo.
Her lips curve in the biggest smile. “I’d like to stay for dinner,” she tells him. “But only if you stop calling me Miss Niima and start to call me Rey.”
The smile that breaks on his face is as bright as the sunshine and she finds she can’t look away. “Alright,” he murmurs, then, adds, softly, “But only if you call me Ben.”
That night, instead of leaving for the day as the sun starts to set, she stays behind and follows him in the kitchen.
Mr. Solo – Ben, she reminds herself – is as quiet as ever as he moves easily around the counter. By now, she’s learned that he’s memorized his way around and that there’s a mark on the furniture for every object, so she doesn’t accidentally store it someplace else where he can’t find it or where he could trip on it. It’s devastatingly easy, getting used to it.
“I was thinking I could make pasta,” he says, softly, drumming with his fingers against the wooden countertops. He looks almost uncertain. “Would it be okay?”
Okay? She’s never had someone to make her pasta before, or any kind of meal for the matter, and the thought that this man – this kind, wonderful man who loves flowers and his dog and this peaceful cottage – would want to feed her makes something in her chest twist.
She hopes he can’t hear the way her voice wavers, when she replies, “Of course!” Then, as she takes a deep breath, she adds, “Just tell me how to help you. I’m not much of a cook but I can learn.”
He laughs again. It’s astonishing how quickly she’s getting used to it.
They end up working side by side, Chewie pawing at their legs in the hope of getting something out of it. It elicits a giggle from her, which always seems to come as a shock to him. He often turns into her direction with a surprised expression on his face and Rey feels her cheeks heat up at that.
She does most of the work, to be honest, but she doesn’t mind, especially when she’s got Ben to guide her. It’s clear that he’s a bit hesitant at first, but if he wishes he could do it himself or if he’s frustrated about it, he doesn’t show it, though she can feel some of it in the tension between his shoulder blades.
He says nothing about it, though. Instead, he tells her how much oil to pour in a pot and how to work his stove, and as she cuts the onion and the garlic and later she lets the sauce simmer on the flame, they talk about everything and nothing.
It feels surprisingly easy to talk to him. She tells him about her room at the b&b and about Maz. He tells her about his childhood here in Naboo, about Maz pestering him to socialize, about endless summer afternoons spent in the rear garden of the cottage, his back on the grass and his head buried in a book.
It makes her want to share something of herself with him. He’s doing it, almost effortlessly, and so she tells him about her life back in Jakku, glossing over the saddest parts, and then the one she left back in Coruscant – how she left it behind with no regrets, how she always felt like she didn’t really belong, as if Coruscant were a dry, barren soil where she could not bloom.
He laughs at that, but it’s a soft laughter, almost intimate. “Before moving up here, I’ve lived in Coruscant for– hell, almost a decade, I think,” he confesses, as she helps him set the table. “And I’ve felt the same. I like it better here. I feel– alive , in a way.”
She’s starting to realize she does, too. She wonders what she’ll do, once the book will be done and he won’t need her anymore. Maybe she could ask Maz if she needs a hand at the b&b. Maybe she could still hang around Ben Solo, even if just for a few minutes every now and then. It makes something in her chest ache, the thought of leaving him behind.
By the time they sit down to eat, she’s famished and the smell coming from her plate is making her stomach rumble. When she brings the first forkful of pasta to her mouth, she thinks she has a religious experience – it’s delicious . She doesn’t think she’s ever eaten anything half as good as this and she almost weeps .
“Oh my god,” she almost moans, catching his attention. “This is amazing. I– I have no words. Amazing.”
Ben, for his parts, blushes furiously as he slowly chews on his pasta. He looks weirdly adorable with his cheeks flushed red and his hair a bit disheveled from all the times he’s run his hands into it. She likes it a little bit too much.
“Well,” he starts, a smile spreading on his beautiful lips. “To be fair, you did most of the work.”
“Yeah, because you told me what to do, otherwise I would have set the kitchen on fire,” she tells him, waving the fork around as if to make a point. She scrunches up her nose. “Where did a best-selling author learn how to cook like this?”
The corners of his lips tug upwards in another devastating smile. “Surprising as it may sound, best-selling authors do need to eat.”
She tilts her head to the side, staring at him with raised eyebrows and a smile on her lips. “Do they?” she asks him, teasingly. “I wouldn’t know. The only one I know seems to run on terribly sweet coffee and nothing else.”
The giggle he lets out sounds almost like happiness and it takes her a moment to recover from it.
“Touché.” He brings another forkful of pasta to his lips to chew on it, then when he talks again, he’s somehow more serious. “Believe it or not, I do eat. I–my parents were very busy people while I was growing up. My mother is a senator and my father was a pilot back in the days, so– you know, they weren’t around much and I had to learn how to take care of myself. I mean, they were great and they made sure there was always someone keeping an eye on me, but–”
Her heart feels too big for her own chest when she replies, her voice barely above a whisper, “You were left on your own.”
She knows all too well how that feels, and the loneliness that tends to drench your soul when you’ve been on your own for way too long.
“Yeah,” he breathes out, pressing his lips together in the familiar pout she’s starting to realize it’s his way of releasing the tension. “I learned how to take care of myself and that included cooking. I admit I haven’t been doing much of that in the past few years, though.”
He gestures vaguely, pointing at his eyes – empty and unfocused, as they linger on the wall in front of him without seeing it. He doesn’t talk often about it, if not at all, and she knows better than just to ask – but it makes her heart twist in her chest all the same. She’s never met someone who could make her feel so much just by existing, and she knows he’ll leave a permanent mark on her heart when she’ll have to say goodbye.
“I– I had a few rough years, to be honest,” he admits, his voice barely above a whisper. “After the accident, I was so angry and scared and I– I felt lost, I think. I stopped writing and I just– I just locked myself in my apartment and refused any help. I even skipped my orientation lessons. I couldn’t– I couldn’t believe it was happening to me, you know?”
He looks terrified of his own words and she wonders if he’s ever told any of it to another human being before, or if she’s the first person he talks to ever since everything happened.
“After a few months, my mother came to see me and she suggested I moved here for a while. Just to learn how to live again, away from the city. Maybe I could find a way to write again, she said. But I found out that, even if I couldn’t write, I liked it here. So I stayed. And now I–” He takes a deep breath, his cheeks flushing red. “I’m writing again. And I like having you here.”
She knows this has the potential to destroy her, but she doesn’t think she’s ever been wanted before. No one had ever liked having her around – she’s felt like a dead weight her whole life, something people dragged around more out of habit than because they valued her. Her parents got rid of her at the first chance they had and her long string of guardians have scarcely paid her attention, in the best-case scenario. She’s learned to like herself, to want herself, but still – it’s surprisingly wonderful, to be wanted by someone else, even if for just a few weeks.
She can’t help but place her hand on top of his, gently as if not to startle him. He turns into her general direction in surprise and it almost seems as if he wanted to look at her. It almost feels as if he could.
She gulps, feeling a lump in her throat. “Well,” she starts. “I like being here."
It feels way more poignant that it should be, so she’s quick to add. “And, by the way, you can cook me dinner any time you’d like. I won’t mind.”
The laughter he lets out is warm and delicate and precious, and she’ll treasure it for the rest of her life.
She starts to stay for dinner. She doesn’t mean to – he asks her a few times after the first night and then it becomes a habit and it worms into her routine and now she spends the evenings at the kitchen counter, following Ben’s careful instruction and helping him with the recipes he comes up with.
It’s surprisingly domestic, and it takes her a while to realize that she likes the intimacy and warmth of it all – the way they bicker over the right amount of sugar to put in the coffee (none at all, according to Rey, far too much according to Ben), the fact that she knows where everything is in his kitchen, the laughter Ben lets out whenever Chewie rasps against his legs asking for a treat.
It also takes her a few days to realize that he seems to have taken the habit of picking the same flowers day after day. She only notices when the smell starts to become a constant in their quiet days, hitting her senses as soon as she enters his study.
She brushes her fingers against the delicate lilac petals and tilts her head to the side. “You’ve been picking lilacs a lot,” she comments, then, looking at him.
He shrugs, quietly, but his pale skin turns a bright shade of pink. “I figured you liked them.”
It’s pointless, by now. She thinks this man has burrowed his way into her heart and it should scare her, it should make her want to run away, but instead – it doesn’t.
It’s a quiet, rainy day toward the middle of June, in those special few days in which summer looks a little bit like autumn and the clouds have taken over the sky, when Ben groans, takes his head into his hands and lets out a deep, shuddering breath.
“It’s not working,” he says. His voice is muffled by his hands, but she can hear the frustration in his tone all the same. He groans again and he sounds almost on the verge of tears. “It’s not– I can’t do this.”
It’s been a few bad days. They’re at the mid-point of the book where the story he’s weaving is starting to come together and it’s been – well, difficult. They’ve been sitting at his desk for a few hours now and though they’ve made progress, it’s nowhere near significant. He’s been stumbling over his words for a while and it’s not unusual for him to be a little bit insecure about it, as she’s learned, but he looks sincerely stricken about it now, as he takes his face into his hands.
“Ben,” she starts, hesitantly, shutting down her laptop for a moment and reaching out across the desk, as if she could reach out for him like this. There’s something within her that compels her to wrap her arms around him and hold him against her chest, but of course she doesn’t. “Hey. It’s okay. Of course you can do this. You’re a great writer. It’s just a bad day.”
He shakes his head, the heels of his hands digging against his face. “I can’t,” he replies, and he sounds genuinely pained, as if someone had just driven a knife into his chest. “It’s bad. I don’t know why I even bother with this book, I– I can’t make it work, I can’t find the words, I– I just can’t–”
The hurt in his voice makes her heart ache. Before she realizes, she’s standing to her feet and she’s coming around the desk to kneel in front of him, taking his hands into hers and pulling them away from his face as tenderly as she can.
He jolts at the contact, as if she’d burned him, but doesn’t let go when she slowly brings his hands down and intertwines their fingers. She gives his hands a gentle squeeze.
“Hey,” she tells him, softly.
There are a few tears running down his cheeks and she lets go of one of his hands only to brush them away from his face, gently. He doesn’t say anything – he’s almost rigid when her fingers brush against his skin, but doesn’t pull away. Instead, he leans into her touch when she rests her palm against his cheek for a moment, before letting her hand fall away.
“I’m sorry,” he murmurs, then. His eyes are fixed on the wall behind her, and yet she feels the weight of his gaze as if he’d been looking at her. He lets out another deep breath. “I just– I don’t know how to do this. It’s bad.”
“It’s not bad. It just needs adjustments. No one’s first draft is perfect, anyway. That’s why it’s called a draft,” she reminds him, gently. Her thumb comes to brush against his knuckles in a reassuring movement and he exhales, loudly, as if he weren’t used to being touched. Maybe he isn’t – after all he’s been alone in this cottage for years, with only the sporadic visits of his parents and Maz to keep him company. “We can fix it later. But you can’t fix something you haven’t written yet. It’s okay if it’s bad. The most important thing now is that it is.”
He lets out another shuddering breath and then his shoulders sag, as if he’d lost all the fight. It unsettles her to see him like this. In the span of these few months, she’s learned to know him and his fierce determination, and seeing him defeated is a pain she hadn’t anticipated.
“I don’t know why I keep doing this,” he murmurs, shaking his head. The lines of his face twists into a grimace and his hand trembles in her grip. “It’s not even natural for me. God, I wish it were natural and effortless. I wish I were the kind of person who can say they’ve been writing ever since they were kids because it felt natural and easy and words just came to their mind. But I’m not. I’m just the kind of person who writes because I don’t know how else to deal with this–”
He brings his free hand to his chest, clawing at his t-shirt as if he wanted to tear his heart out of his ribcage.
“And it’s not– It’s not fucking easy. Every time I write– it’s like I’m fighting a war,” he says, the words tumbling out of his mouth one after the other and she lets him talk, because she knows he needs it right now. “I’m fighting against the words, I’m fighting to search for the words that I need to tell the story I want to tell, but I can’t ever find them and I have to settle down for what I manage to grasp. It’s like trying to hold onto a cloud. It’s– God, it’s almost painful and I’m not even sure I enjoy it. I just do this because I love the story I want to tell more than I hate the process of telling it.”
He’s breathing heavily, but he seems nowhere near finishing, his breath coming in short pants.
“And it was already so fucking hard back then, but now it’s even harder because I can’t even see the words and if I can’t see them I’m not sure they’re even there and– it’s been years since I actually wrote anything and what if I can’t do it anymore? What if I only was able to do it because I kept pushing myself back then? What if I lost my ability along with my sight and–?”
Before he can spiral further, she takes his face into her hands, even if she doesn’t know if she’s allowed. Still, the words immediately die on his lips and he jolts again at her touch, as if it came as a shock to him, but doesn’t pull away. His eyes instinctively search for her, and even if he can’t see her, her breath hitches in her throat the moment his gaze settles on her.
“Ben,” she murmurs, then. Her thumb smooths the skin of his cheekbone and he shivers, opening his mouth to let out a strangled little sound. “Breathe. Come on. Breathe. Focus on me. In and out, there you go.”
He doesn’t say anything. He just breathes in and out, deeply, trying to follow her lead, his chest rising and falling with every breath. Her hands fall away as soon as he seems to calm down and she offers him a soft smile she hopes comes across in her voice.
“Do you want me to make you some tea?”
He doesn’t speak, but he nods, so she pats his hand one last time and raises to her feet.
Chewie perks up as soon as she enters the kitchen and stands by her as she makes tea, as if to keep her company, and then follows her as she walks back to the study with the mug in her hands.
“There you go,” she announces, as she settles the mug on the desk, next to his hands. Ben seems to have regained some semblance of control in the brief time she’s been away, because he notices Chewie pawing at his legs and leans down to pet the dog beneath his ears, almost automatically, earning a few licks from him. Rey smiles again. “I hope I have put enough honey in it.”
His lips quirk up in a tentative smile. “I’m sure it will be fine,” he says, his voice faint and hesitant, but a touch of humor in it all the same.
“I don’t know,” she says, scrunching her nose. “I do think you are the world’s largest consumer of sugar.”
He exhales, loudly. “Shut up.” He presses his lips together in the usual pout, but it’s clear to see that he’s trying his best not to smile.
It does something to her, this intimacy.
A few minutes pass like this. He reaches for the mug and carefully brings it to his lips, sipping on his tea while he keeps petting Chewie. He doesn’t even comment on the honey, which Rey can’t tell if it’s worrying or not.
Then, after a while, she takes a deep breath and sinks again in her chair.
“I think you’re a very talented writer, Ben.” His head shoots in her general direction, surprise etched to the lines of his face, his lips parted, his eyebrows raised. “And I’m not saying it just to make you feel better. I truly believe it. It may not come easy to you, but I think you have the ability to put down in words things I always felt and never knew how to explain. The first time I read Shake the Stars I– I felt Kylo’s loneliness and anger and it made me feel less alone and terrified. I think that’s talent, whether it comes easy to you or not.”
He stays in silence for a minute, as if to absorb her words, and she wonders if she’s been too forward, but then he clears his throat.
“You–” he starts. “You read my books?”
She blinks at him once, then twice. Her eyebrows arch up out of their own accord. “Ben, you were on the Coruscant Times Best Seller list for, like, ages,” she reminds him, disbelief clearly audible in her voice. “You sold millions of copies.”
There’s a slight pink tint to his cheeks that makes her heart do weird things inside her ribcage. He looks almost embarrassed, which she finds adorable and she knows she shouldn’t, but she thinks about kissing his flushed cheeks and brushing her fingers against the dimples that appear every time he smiles.
“Yes,” he says, quietly. He takes another sip of his tea, before adding, almost uncertain, “But you read my books?”
She can’t help but let out a little giggle and he reacts as he always does – turning into her direction as if she’d performed some incredible magic trick. As if the concept of laughter were foreign to him.
“Of course I did,” she replies, then, tilting her head and looking at him with a soft smile. “Ben, you’re, like, my favorite author. I have read your books so many times I can probably quote them back to you. I love your books, they– they made me feel like I wasn’t alone, back when I needed it. Back when I was on my own with my thoughts and Coruscant felt like an alien world where I didn’t fit in. So yeah.”
Ben Solo, best-selling author of her favorite books, gulps and then breathes out a simple, “Oh.”
A breathless laughter escapes her lips at the sight of his flushed cheeks and pink ears peeking through his disheveled hair and then she shakes her head and– he smiles. He flashes her a glimpse of that luminous, devastating smile that seems to have made a home out of her heart, and Rey thinks, this is it.
This is the moment that seals her fate.
“You know how to tell a story,” she tells him, then, softly. “It may not be easy, but you have a way with words and that’s not a thing you lose. Maybe you just need a break right now. What did you usually do back then when you were stuck?”
At this, his skin flushes even more red and he runs a hand through his hair, making even more a mess of it. She’s tempted to just lean in and fix it for him.
“I, uh–” He frowns slightly, the familiar wrinkle appearing between his eyebrows. “I pushed through it until I managed to finish what I was writing and I was mentally exhausted?”
She stares at him again and for a moment the rain falling against the window is the only sound in the room.
“Ben,” she starts, solemnly. “Hasn’t it ever occurred to you that maybe that’s why it’s so painful to you?”
He makes a stranded sound in response.
A sigh slips past her lips and then she comes around the desk again, grasping his hands and lightly tugging at it. “Come on, you need a break. Teach me how to bake something.”
He looks almost torn. “But the book–”
She tugs at his hand again. “Cinnamon rolls.”
The laughter he lets out is as warm as ever and it makes even more a mess of her heart. “That’s a weird pet name, but you know what, I could get used to it,” he replies, arching his eyebrows.
She rolls her eyes, but at least she doesn’t have to tug at his hand anymore, because he’s standing up to his feet. She doesn’t let go of his hand, though; instead, she intertwines their fingers and the corners of his lips tug upwards in a smile.
“You told me you know how to bake cinnamon rolls,” she reminds him. “Please? I suddenly have a craving. You can’t let me down.”
There’s a moment of silence, and then he lets out an exaggerated sigh. “Alright,” he says with a shrug, without letting go of her hand. “Anything for you.”
It’s hard to keep her heart from fluttering, at that.
After they have gone through the whole process of baking cinnamon rolls – which is uselessly complicated in her opinion, but at least it got Ben to stop thinking about his book – and have put the rolls in the oven to bake, they finally sit on the couch and there’s an ease about him that wasn’t there before.
She likes to think it was her doing.
It still hasn’t stopped raining, but the sound it makes against the windows is pleasant and there’s something about being inside when it rains that makes her feel safe and warm and happy.
“Thanks for earlier,” Ben tells her, as she curls on the couch. He sits at a respectable distance – not too close, nor too far away – and it would be absurdly easy to lean in and run her fingers through his hair, but she doesn’t. “I needed that. I know I can get stuck in my own head sometimes and– Thank you.”
She desperately wants to reach out and grasp his hand, intertwining their fingers again. “No problem,” she tells him, instead, leaning in to poke him in the side, eliciting a surprised sound from him, followed by a breathless little laugh. “Always count on me to call you on your self-destructive patterns and then force you to bake.”
This time, he laughs. He throws his head back when he does, which is a thing that always sends her heart into chaos, and she can glimpse a bit of his ears. Why is that, the thing that floods her chest with warmth, she has no idea, and yet it is what it is.
“I’m firmly convinced you just wanted an excuse to get those cinnamon rolls,” he teases her, out of breath and with those wonderful, devastating dimples on his cheeks. Then, his eyebrows rise up. “So. Your favorite author, uh?”
She can’t help the laughter that bursts from her lips at his sheepish expression and she realizes she’s laughed more in the past few weeks than she ever did in her life. It doesn’t surprise her that much, but it comes with a warm, tingling feeling in her chest, as if he’d somehow jump-started her heart and she were still reeling from the tension coursing through her.
“You’re still thinking about that?”
A lovely flush spreads on his face as he shrugs. He opens his mouth and he looks like he wants to say something , but he’s fighting against himself. Then, he shakes his head and sighs and she wonders which part of him won that battle.
“Not really. It was just– nice, I suppose. Hearing all those things you said about me. I’m not– used to it.” He frowns, slightly. “I mean, yeah, there were a lot of good reviews back then, but– no one had ever told that to my face, you know.”
He shrinks into his shoulders, as if he could disappear like this, big and broad as he is, and Rey feels the sudden urge to wrap her arms around him and tell him how perfect, how incredible he is. What a pride the Earth must feel, for having created something as extraordinary as Ben Solo.
“Plus,” he adds, before she can try her best to turn those feelings into words. “I– I just like making you laugh. I love your laugh.”
This, she was not expecting.
All her words die on her lips and she stares at him in disbelief because he sounds – so earnest and vulnerable and she doesn’t know how to silence the voice that keeps on telling that this can’t be real, because it feels very much real and she isn’t used to good things happening in her life.
She turns red, a blush coming to dust her cheeks, and she has to fight the urge to hide her face into her hands. He can’t see you, you idiot, she has to remind herself, but somehow that’s not exactly true. It feels like, in some ways, he can see her, because she’s always felt like a ghost in her own skin and no one has ever paid attention to her, and yet Ben does. He sees her and, even more surprising, he likes her. He doesn’t think her faulty or useless – he genuinely enjoys her company and wants to spend his days with her.
“Oh,” she says, dumbly. “You do?”
He nods, quietly.
“Yeah, I do. I– you know, a common misconception about blindness– your other senses don’t become sharper . You just pay them more attention. It’s like– the energies you used to see must go somewhere, I suppose.” He shrugs, but his cheeks are flushed red and she feels her heart fluttering at that. “And I– the day we met, when I first opened the door and you were there on my porch– you were laughing. I guess it was because Chewie was being Chewie, but still, you were laughing and your laugh– God, it felt like sunshine.”
There are no words to describe what she’s feeling right now. After all, she’s no writer – she’s just a girl from nowhere, sitting next to the man she’s starting to love, trying her best to keep her fluttering heart from clawing its way out of her throat.
All that she manages to say is a breathy, “Oh.”
Ben, predictably, blushes even more and twists his hands in his lap, nervously. “Am I making you uncomfortable?” he asks, softly as usual, a touch of tentativeness about him.
She shakes her head, then, in her stupor, remembers that he can’t actually see her, so she makes a weird, throaty noise that she immediately regrets. “No,” she manages to say somehow. “Not at all. You– you love my laugh?”
There’s a beat of silence and then he turns into her direction and though he can’t see her, his gaze is heavy and warm and full of things she can’t name, but that elicit an ever more desperate fluttering of her heart.
“Rey.” He says her name almost as if it were a sacred word and it makes her shiver. “There’s not a thing that I don’t love about you. I’ve tried, really, but you– well, you’re you. You always smell so nice, like honey and flowers and– your laughter is the most beautiful sound I’ve ever heard. And when you touch me, I– I feel present. Alive. You are so– so beautiful, Rey.”
It’s such a wild thing to say. He can’t even see her – he doesn’t know the color of her hair or how many freckles she’s got on her face or how she tends to scrunch her nose wherever she’s embarrassed or irritated – and yet, it feels like he’s telling her the truth. She is beautiful to him and she doesn’t know what to say at that, because she’s never been beautiful before. She’s never had someone to talk about her with such a fondness in their voice, or a warmth on the lines of their face.
It’s terrifying, yet wonderful.
She leans in, following her instinct, and brushes his hair out of his forehead, then trails her fingers down his cheek, slowly, following the line of his scar. “You’re beautiful, too.”
At her words, he lets out a scoff, but he doesn’t pull away from her touch. Instead, he leans into her hand, his eyes fluttering closed for a moment as if he wanted to lose himself in this feeling.
“Just because I can’t see myself now–” he starts, raising his eyebrows, then. “It doesn’t mean I don’t know how I look. I don’t think I’ve changed much in the last three years.”
Before she can second-guess herself and lose her resolve, she takes a deep breath and swings one leg over his and comes to straddle him. Ben lets out a surprised little sound and his hands hover in the air for a moment, as if he were uncertain about it, but then he breathes out and melts into her, his hands tentatively resting on her thighs, his grip feather-light.
“You–” she starts, bringing her own hands to his face, tenderly cradling it. “–are beautiful.”
This close, she can feel the way his breath hitches on his lips the moment she talks. She can see the almost imperceptible shift on his features, as if a hopeful expression had taken hold of his face for a fraction of second, before being replaced by the pure, unadulterated surprise she can see now. She can even hear his heartbeat, as she leans in.
One of her hands travels upwards and she cards her fingers through his hair, which is just as soft as she’d imagined.
“Your hair is so soft, it feels like silk between my fingers,” she tells him, then her hand trails down, following the lines of his face, tracing the scar that bisects it. She takes great care into covering it with her fingers, as if she could fill it with love and tenderness. “Your laughter is warm and perfect and it feels like home,” she continues, traveling down, studying him as if she wanted to memorize him, as if she could see him, truly see him, like this. “Your voice is so nice and deep, I’d listen to you talk all day. And your lips–” She lingers a bit there with her fingers, following the shape of his mouth, brushing with her fingertips against his bottom lip. “They’re made for kissing.”
He shivers, but doesn’t pull away. Instead, his hands slowly travel upward, tentatively, until they come to rest loosely around her hips. She likes the feeling that comes with it – the warmth of his palms, the fact that they’re there, on her body, touching her, making her feel present.
“Rey,” he starts, again, and he sounds almost tormented about it. As if the simple mention of her name brought with it a wave of feelings he didn’t know how to face. “Rey, I know I hide it well and that I’ve gotten a bit better, but– I’m so full of rage and bitterness and fear–”
“So am I,” she interrupts him, softly. She takes his face into her hands again, as if to better look at him. “We all are. That’s what you said in Shake the Stars, remember? That’s how we cope with being alive. Those were your words.”
Surprisingly, he laughs. It’s a quiet, little thing, echoing in the small space between them, but she likes the way his body shakes against hers. It feels domestic. It feels like home.
He pokes her in the ribs, so gently it feels more like a caress. “You can’t use my own words against me.”
She laughs too, just as softly. “Too late, I already did.” She bends down so that her face is a breath away from his and he inhales, sharply, but doesn’t ask her to move. Instead, he leans in, almost unconsciously, as if he were a sunflower, following his sun around. “We’re all a little broken, Ben. It’s okay to be. I want you anyway.”
The things her words do to him – she can read in his unfocused eyes everything that passes through his mind, as if they were a portal through his most guarded feelings. She sees the shock, the surprise, the incredulity and even the guilt, fleeting briefly in the back of his gaze, and then he–
“Hey,” she tells him, softly. She wipes his tears and caresses his face, tenderly. A sob escapes his lips even as he leans into her touch and she surges forward to press a kiss to his forehead. “Hey, it’s alright. Was that too much or–”
He gently shakes his head, then leans in to rest his forehead against her chest, as if to feel her. “No,” he whispers, his voice still wavering a bit. “No. It’s just– I don’t think I’ve ever been wanted. Not like this.”
“I know, sweetheart,” she tells him, gently. “I don’t think I’ve ever been wanted either.”
At this, he cries harder, and Rey thinks he’s crying for her too. She wraps her arms around him, slowly running her fingers through his hair as if to soothe him. His tears are hot against her blouse and his hands, resting on her hips, tighten their grip, as if she could disappear somehow and he wanted to prevent it from happening, and his sobs are the only sound in the room, along with the rain hitting the windows. She whispers sweet nothings just to reassure him, holds him through it and when he’s done, she takes his face into her hands again and rests her forehead against his.
“I do want you,” she tells him, pouring all the love she feels into these words. “The good and the bad and everything in between. I want you. If you’ll have me.”
She’s never been good at expressing her feelings, mainly because she’s spent her whole life bottling them away and pretending they didn’t exist, but now she feels as if her love for him had washed over her like a wave and, contrary to her expectations, she’s not drowning – she’s floating in it. She feels alive, as if she’d started to breathe only when the water had filled her lungs.
Ben lets out a deep, trembling breath. “Of course I want you.”
This time, it’s almost awfully easy to believe him. The words are a whispered thing, but they make her heart soar and she realizes that someone wants her. Someone likes her. Someone has seen her as she is and yet has not run away, has not thought her unworthy of love and affection. Someone has chosen her.
After a whole lifetime spent running from place to place, passed down like secondhand clothes that don’t really fit, she thinks–
She thinks she’ll stay.
“Ben,” she murmurs. “I really, really want to kiss you. Is that alright with you?”
Ben, beautiful and bashful and terribly dear to her, just nods, a mess of trembling breaths and shaking hands.
When she finally surges forward to kiss him, though, he’s not trembling anymore. Instead, he brings a hand to the back of her neck, sinking his fingers in her loose hair and gently massaging her skin and oh, it feels so good to be held, it feels so good to have him, like this, underneath her, solid and real and breathing heavily against her mouth. Her hands trail down, coming to rest on his chest, and she can feel his heartbeat underneath her palms, frantic and erratic because of this, because of her and she thinks she’d spend her whole life like this. Kissing Ben. Feeling at home in the circle of his arms.
She takes her time kissing him – as if she wanted to explore this moment, as if she wanted to freeze it in time, forever captured in a photograph. Their tangled limbs on the couch, the flowers scattered in jars all around them, the faint sound of the rain hitting the windows. Ben’s lips, soft and sweet and urgent at the same time. His hands, warm against her skin. His breath mixed with hers, his eyelashes fluttering against her cheeks when he slowly pulls away and opens his eyes.
It feels like all of eternity condensed in a single moment.
Then, as she slowly comes back to reality, still basking in the safety of his embrace and reeling from the kiss, the oven goes off.
It takes her a minute to make sense of that sound. “Oh,” she breathes out, stupidly, as she tries her best to make her brain work. It feels like a massive feat even to utter, distractly, “Oh, the cinnamon rolls.”
Ben, flushed red and yet so terribly adorable with his lips curved in a smile that leaves dimples in his cheeks, lets out a little chuckle. “I’d tell you to leave them be–” he starts. “But I know you too well and I won’t ask you to give up on food for me.”
He jokes about it, nuzzling his nose against her hairline, and yet the fact that he truly knows her floods her chest with warmth. He knows her. She’s someone worth knowing. She doesn’t know why – or maybe she knows it all too well –, but the idea is enough to bring tears to her eyes.
So she shakes her head, laughs and gets off his lap and then tugs at his hand so that he may stand on his feet and it’s so terribly easy and domestic and familiar in a way she hasn’t anticipated. Before she can take another step toward the kitchen, though, he tugs back at her hand and draws her closer, his arm enveloping her in a warm embrace that makes her insides do funny things.
Home, she thinks. She’s home.
“Rey?” he asks, tentatively, as if he was testing this newfound intimacy.
She presses a kiss to his chest, just because she can. She can feel his heartbeat, jumping through his shirt. “Mh?”
It’s easy to hear the smile in his voice when he speaks again, and she knows it’s one of her favorite smiles. Dimpled and devastating and utterly beautiful. She can feel it when he presses a kiss to her forehead, too.
“I’m glad you came here,” he whispers, softly, a confession etched on her skin.
She can’t help but smile too and let out a little laughter that, as Ben said, feels like sunshine. “I’m glad too.”
It’s the truth. She’s glad she came here – here, to Naboo, to this quiet little cottage, to this soft-spoken man who knows her and loves her anyway.
After all this time, she finally thinks she’s found a place to bloom.