There’s a vampire sitting across from her. A real, actual vampire.
It’s fine, technically. Because #vampirerights or whatever other hashtag happens to be trending this week and because technically vampires are accepted members of society now and technically vampires mostly drink bagged blood these days and technically there’s been some government shuffling to legalize blood-drinking across the Republic.
Technically, Rey doesn’t care. She hates vampires. Right now, she hates Poe a little for bringing Ben to their weekly lunch.
No one else seems to care. Finn and Rose had greeted Poe’s childhood friend with smiles and handshakes as if he isn’t an actual, literal monster who actually, literally drinks human blood to survive. That’s, like, cannibalism or something.
Rey had decidedly not greeted Ben. He’d held out his hand and she’d frowned at it intensely until he’d slowly dropped it again.
“So, Ben, Rey here is going to Coruscant U, too.” Poe, bless him, is trying so hard. He really is. He sounds strained but that’s possibly because he is sitting directly between Ben and Rey, the latter of whom is attempting to send killing vibes to the former.
Ben clears his throat and adjusts the dark sunglasses obscuring half his face. It’s not even that sunny out. Freak. “Maybe I’ll see you around, then.”
“It’s a big campus,” Rey answers flatly and stabs the remnants of her sandwich with Finn’s fork.
Awkward silence descends on the table. Part of Rey feels bad for ruining their lunch and just - just for generally being a jerk right now - but Poe knows how she feels about vampires. He knows. And he brought Ben anyway, without even bothering to warn her.
Under the table, Rey rubs the heel of her palm into the overlapping scars that form a raised pattern across her left forearm. Her skin suddenly feels too tight and prickly and she can’t do it. She can’t sit here, across from a leech, for one more minute.
She isn’t a total monster though, so she makes a show of looking at her phone before gathering up her purse and jumping to her feet. “Sorry, work needs me. Tallie called out. I’ll see you guys later?”
They all know she’s lying. Poe sighs. Finn gives her a pained, sympathetic smile. Rose pins her with a disapproving look. Even Ben knows she’s lying; she can tell because he seems to sink further into himself, hiding behind his glasses and his hood.
Rey hates lying but she needs to leave. Right now. Immediately. With a hurried promise to Venmo Poe the cost of her lunch, she all but sprints from the cafe and down the street.
She barely makes it a block before she has to stop and lean back against the nearest building. She ignores the crowd bustling by her, ignores how gross the textured concrete is against her hair, and just focuses on breathing steadily.
They might have manipulated and convinced the rest of the world but Rey knows what vampires really are. She won’t be fooled.
Once she stops shaking, Rey calls for an Uber to take her back to the tiny apartment she shares with Finn. Normally, she’d just walk the two miles back home but the thought of accidentally running into another bloodsucker when she already feels so raw makes her nauseous.
She’s going to go home, take a hot bath, and veg out in front of the TV for a few hours before her real shift at Maz’s starts.
Hopefully, she’ll never have to see Ben ever again.
Poe brings Ben to every. Single. Outing.
Rey would like to say that she is principled enough, stubborn enough, confident enough to lay down an ultimatum: him or her. Rey or Ben. No overlap, no compromise.
But she isn’t. She is, in fact, terrified of her friends leaving her and being all alone again because they like Ben more than they like her. Poe and Rose have already made no secret of the fact that they think her distaste for ‘people who just have different dietary requirements’ is ridiculous and prejudiced and awful.
So, she spends the next three weeks pretending he doesn’t exist when he hangs out with them. She ignores him, he eventually gives up on trying to engage her, and they coexist like binary stars; ever orbiting the same circle but never intersecting.
And that’s how Rey finds herself standing in the lobby of a movie theater, alone with Ben Solo. They’d all stopped to pee before the movie but apparently the two of them are world record pee-ers while the other three are dribblers.
Ben slouches against the wall across from her and Rey thinks he’s trying to look smaller than he is. Because he isn’t - he isn’t small , he’s a fucking giant and all the hunching over in the world isn’t going to hide his height or how broad his shoulders are.
It’s the first time Rey has seen him without his hood up and his sunglasses on. It makes her hate him a little more because he looks… good . He doesn’t look like a monster. He just looks like a handsome man with long, regal features and shaggy, black hair that is almost certainly nicer and better maintained than her own.
His eyes are dark and soft and mournful every time he peeks up at her. Which is something he does, like, a lot and she only notices it now because he’s not wearing his sunglasses.
“I’m not going to hurt you,” he says suddenly and Rey jumps, startled by the sudden break in their truce. He is crossing no man’s land after weeks of a peaceful stalemate. How dare he.
“You always look like you’re afraid of me.”
“I am not afraid of you!”
Rey is absolutely, unequivocally afraid of him. If she’s being honest with herself, the better word would be terrified . More than once, she has nearly jumped out of her skin just because he went and shifted his weight or reached for a napkin.
It’s still rude of him to point it out.
She huffs and crosses her arms tightly over her chest, if only because it means she’ll stop clinging to the wall opposite him like a frightened spider. She doesn’t want to prove him right.
He looks at her like he doesn’t believe her at all - probably because she’s lying - and opens his mouth to say something else but their friends choose that moment to walk out of the bathroom.
Poe immediately slings his arm across Rey’s shoulders, grinning widely despite the suspicious look he darts between her and Ben. “Everyone getting along out here?”
His arm tightens around her until it feels less like a hug and more like he’s preventing her from running away. Rey rolls her eyes and refuses to look at Ben as they all head past the ticket taker and down the long, carpeted hall leading up to theater eleven.
As always, they sit her and Ben at opposite ends of the group. Everything will be fine as long as he stays on his side of no man’s land from here on out.
Everything is not fine.
Watching dinosaurs eat people would typically make Rey’s night. She’d begged Rose, Poe, and Finn to come see this movie with her for weeks .
But now, they’re all standing around the lobby waiting for Rose to get out of the bathroom (again) and Poe has said something that makes Ben laugh. It’s a weird, deep, snorting, chortling noise and Rey thinks - she thinks it would be cute except -
She can see his teeth. Ben has always been careful to keep them covered, she assumes, because she’s never seen them before now. They’re kind of crooked, actually, and the overall effect is a little goofy and genuine and she likes it a lot but -
He has fangs. Of course he does, he’s a vampire . But now Rey can see them and she breaks out in a cold sweat and her throat closes and all she can picture are a dozen pairs of fangs glinting beneath an oily yellow light in a dim, smokey room, and a strand of drool stretching and stretching before those fangs sink into her arm...
Rey doesn’t realize she’s still staring at Ben until he abruptly stops laughing and covers his mouth with his hand.
Next to her, Poe groans and rolls his eyes. “ Seriously , Rey?”
The frustration in his voice is what does it. Terror and self-loathing churn together violently in her stomach. Rey whirls on her heel and retches into the nearest garbage can, throwing up the entire giant popcorn she’d stuffed in her face only an hour and a half before.
Dully, she stares at the half-digested kernels. She hates wasting food. She’s distantly aware of Finn rubbing comforting circles into her back as she wipes her mouth on the back of her hand.
Poe looks torn between concern and irritation, his heavy brows drawn over his eyes and his hands propped on his hips. “What’s wrong, Rey? What is this?”
“What’s wrong? ” she repeats sharply and she finds herself staring at Ben again. “What’s wrong is that my foster father sold me as a blood bag to the highest bidder from the time I was eight years old until I finally escaped when I was sixteen! Is that what you wanted to know? Does that suddenly make it okay for me to be upset?”
Her voice has grown progressively louder until she’s practically shouting. Everyone in the lobby stares openly, including Rose, who freezes as she’s coming out of the bathroom.
“Rey…” Finn sighs in a way that tells her she’s done something dumb again.
Ben looks - well, he’s always pale but now he looks a little green and sallow on top of it. His lips tremble and his jaw moves back and forth. Rey can’t quite tell if the expression on his face is horror or rage or something altogether different.
She doesn’t plan to stick around and find out, either. She is exactly one thousand percent done with this conversation and with her friends. “Thanks for coming to see the movie with me,” she snaps before turning on her heel and stalking out of the movie theater.
Rey fully plans to sweep out dramatically and call herself an Uber but that doesn’t exactly work out because she forgot that vampires can move really, really fast. She pushes past the glass doors and out into the cool night, sucking in grateful gasps of polluted Coruscant air. She feels clammy and hot all at once and her mouth still tastes like vomit -
Ben is already outside. He stands at a safe distance from her, hands held in stiff, awkward fists at his side. “I didn’t -” He cuts himself off. “I meant what I said, Rey. I won’t hurt you. And if anyone else tries to, I’ll kill them.”
He leans forward as he speaks and his eyes are so dark, burning against his pale skin, that Rey finds herself rocking backwards instinctively. He’s serious. Deadly serious, if she’s any judge, and it’s a little - a lot - creepy but she actually believes him.
Her mouth feels dry and cottony and all she can do is gape at him for several seconds. “Okay…” she says slowly, mostly because she’s not sure what else there is to say. How does one respond to a proclamation like that? Is this some sort of weird vampire blood pact? “Okay,” she repeats more firmly.
Ben seems to realize he’s being uncomfortably intense because he raises a hand to scrub awkwardly through his hair and his eyes are suddenly just normal-dark instead of murder-dark. “Okay,” he parrots back and if this is what the conversation is bound to devolve into… “You don’t need to leave. I’ll go. You should stay with your friends.”
Somehow, Rey finds that she is now less concerned with his fangs and more concerned with the fact that she would very much like the ground to open up and swallow her. This is painful . He’s awkward, she’s awkward, and clearly neither of them are capable of interacting like normal, human(ish) people.
“I don’t want to stay,” Rey says, firmly mastering the urge to fidget. Instead, she squeezes the strap of her purse, folding the worn canvas again and again. “I’m just gonna go home but… Thanks, Ben.”
The words sound dragged out of her all unwilling but it’s the most she’s ever spoken to him since they met.
Ben looks like he’s in pain but he nods. He takes a shuffling step back before turning on his heel and melting into the darkness without another word.
“Creepy,” Rey grumbles under her breath before pulling out her phone and calling for an Uber.
Poe is persistent in a ‘her phone won’t stop ringing until she silences it and buries it under the couch cushion’ kind of way. Rey manages to ignore him for two whole days before he simply shows up at her apartment door with a giant dish of baked ziti.
Rey is weak for baked ziti.
She sits at the table in their dingy kitchenette and grumpily shoves a truly appalling quantity of ricotta into her face while Poe and Finn lean against the formica counter across from her and stare.
“I’ve known Ben since we were four,” Poe announces with zero preamble.
She is not impressed. She snorts to show him as much since her cheeks are still bulging with masticated pasta.
“He’s been through some shit in the last few years but he’s a good person, Rey. I wouldn’t have brought him around if he wasn’t.” Poe hesitates. “I really thought you guys would get along. He was excited to meet you.”
Rey can only scowl at him in disbelief because she knows Poe isn’t that stupid.
“I also might have mentioned that you’re single.”
Flecks of gooey meat sauce spray across the table as Rey chokes on her next mouthful of ziti. She tries to wheeze past the ground sausage lodged somewhere in her sinuses and glares at Poe and Finn - ostensibly her best friends - through watery eyes. “What the fuck? Why would you even - with a vampire --”
It’s Finn who interrupts her sputtering. Finn, who is always so kind and gentle with her. Finn, whose expression is currently hard and unbending. “You treat Ben like garbage every time we hang out,” he says. “Rose’s friend Kaydel stopped coming around because you were so rude to her.”
“What happened to you was terrible, Rey. It was awful .” Finn ducks down a little to catch her eye when Rey tries to stare mutinously at her plate. “But it doesn’t excuse the way you treat other people.”
Rey wants to let herself get angry and insist that leeches aren't people . They’re monsters. She doesn’t have to feel bad over monsters.
But she does feel bad. A little. Because Finn is the best person she knows and he’s never led her astray. So if he says she’s being awful, maybe she’s being awful?
And Ben has been maybe, kind of, a lot less terrible than she’d expected. He’s never snapped at her, no matter how horrible she’s been. He’s stayed quiet for her comfort. He hasn’t pushed himself on her. He’d promised to protect her. And he has - those lips --
“Besides,” Poe interrupts, sounding gleeful enough that she just knows he’s about to say something to ruin the moment, “don’t think I haven’t seen the way you look at Ben when you think no one’s looking.”
Her whole face flushes with heat and Rey responds in the only logical way she can. She flings her sauce-covered plastic fork directly at Poe’s hair.
He shrieks and ducks, raising a hand to protect his signature curls, while Finn dives for cover beside him.
And just like that, all is forgiven.