Chapter 1: Chapter One - Bleak Days and Perfect Strangers
That was how one might describe the weather outside. The sky was overcast, heavy with clouds in various shades of grey ranging from a pebble grey to a dark charcoal.
It was also how one might describe the situation Rey found herself in.
Nowhere near home, purse lost or probably snatched up by now, so no money or phone, car broken down and pouring smoke from the hood, and to cap it all, a wailing two-year-old on her hip.
Yeah, things looked bleak.
“Are you alright there?” a deep baritone voice echoed behind her as she attempted to reassure the wailing infant.
“What?” Rey turned quickly, the tone did not suggest malicious intent, but Rey was already mentally working out what she could use as a weapon and where she could run. Old habits.
What Rey’s eyes found was a tower of a man, broad of chest and with raven locks that would rival a Disney princess. Yes, the princesses would be jealous. His face was unconventional – his nose was a little big and his lips obscenely and unfairly full and plush – but handsome. His eyes though were soft, rich brown like good coffee or melted chocolate, but flecked with amber and gold – like someone had dropped whisky or honey into them.
The eyes, the eyes drew her in. They felt familiar somehow. Like she’d lost herself in them before.
“I asked if you’re alright there Miss. Looks like you’re having a bit of trouble.” Mr Tall Dark and Handsome nodded towards her still smoking car.
“Oh uh… yeah I suppose I am in a bit of a pickle… Shush sweetie, it’s ok.” Rey never liked to play the damsel in distress.
She had never been one for pity even as the abandoned child; even as the teenager covered in bruises and scars; even as the college student dumb enough to get pregnant from a one-night stand. Not that she would trade her son for anything. Never. But that did not mean it had been easy.
“Bless him. Not your day today. Have you got help coming? You know, it looks like snow, you guys should probably get out the cold. There’s a coffee shop nearby or I can take you somewhere.”
Rey was a little caught off by his gentle tone and understanding. She glanced him over again. His coat alone looked like it cost more than her entire outfit combined.
“I… I lost my purse… I think I left it at the gas station…” She spluttered, suddenly struggling for words. “My phone, my cards…”
The man’s eyes softened and he offered her a smile.
“Here, use my phone, call anyone you need to.” He handed her the device that was clearly a very new model. “I’m Ben by the way.”
Rey hesitated for only a moment, adjusting her son on her hip.
“Rey. Thank you. Umm… Do you know any garages or tow trucks that could help?”
She asked awkwardly. She hated feeling so helpless. Once upon a time she would have dived into the engine and fiddled about until she could limp it somewhere, but Rey had a child to look after now, and the heavy smoke and bang before it put her off doing too much.
“Sure, want me to call? You look like you have your hands full there.” Rey hoisted her son up and thanked him. “Mind if I take a quick look under the hood?” Rey shook her head.
She could hear Ben on the phone, talking to the mechanic, relaying what he could see.
“Thanks Mike, yeah I’ll make sure she gets somewhere safe, just call my number for now – her phone is lost. Thanks.”
Ben closed her hood with a slam.
“Right, Mike is going to bring a tow but I’ll be honest, it doesn’t look great in there. Were you heading somewhere? Anywhere I can help you get to? Or is there anyone you can call?”
“I… I was heading to my friend’s house. We were going to catch up before Christmas…”
“Ok, you want to call them?”
Rey could not remember the number.
“Ok, where were you meeting? I could give you a lift if you’d like?”
“Ummm… She… she lives on the Dantooine estate?”
“Oh that’s great! Well I can give you a lift there if you like, my sister lives there too. I was going for a surprise visit myself. It’s not a huge estate, I can drop you guys there no problem. Then I can give you my contact or something to sort your car out. Mike just has my number right now.”
“A lift would be great.” She finally conceded.
“No worries, I take it he has a car seat?”
“Yes, but they’re a pain in the neck to get in and out… let me…”
“It’s fine, Rey. My niece uses a car seat and I’ve had to move hers a few times.” Ben gave her a smile and moved to get the car seat into his car.
Rey was surprised by how easily he manoeuvred the bulky awkward thing into his vehicle.
“Right then, let’s get you two out of here.”
“That’s hers!” Rey exclaimed with relief, spotting a pale pink bug parked outside a house, adorned with cheesy bumper stickers.
A face answered the door, dark blonde hair tumbling around a heart shaped face.
“Oh my god Rey! Where have you been? I tried calling you!”
“I lost my bag and the car broke down and…”
Rey was suddenly barrelled out the way as Kay’s small daughter, Sophie, ran out barefoot.
“Uncle Ben!” She squealed, throwing herself into Rey’s saviour’s arms. Rey turned surprised and Kay let out a shriek.
“Ben! What are you doing here?! Oh my gosh, two of my favourite people in one day!”
“Kay is your sister?” Rey asked Ben, dumbfounded as he joined her at the door, Sophie now on his hip.
“My sister is your friend?” He asked grinning. “Small world, I guess. And lucky chance.”
“Wait, you two know each other?” Kay asked looking befuddled.
“Ben here came to my rescue when the car went.”
“Ah! Some of mum’s lessons did stick! Well get in here both of you! It’s freezing out!”
When the children were settled and playing, Kay fixed them all hot drinks in the kitchen.
Sophie’s voice could be heard bossing Rey’s son, Grayson, around. Kay shook her head with a laugh.
“I don’t know where she gets it.” Kay sighed dramatically looking at Ben with a teasing grin.
“You.” He retorted.
“Errr excuse me Mr Big Boss CEO. I think you’ll find she gets it from you.”
Rey sipped her drink with a small smile, watching the siblings bicker and tease.
She was surprised to learn Ben was Kay’s big brother. They looked nothing alike. Kay was petite and blonde where Ben was tall and dark.
Kay was thrilled to see both Rey and Ben. Evidently Ben had not been around to visit for a while. ‘Always too busy!’ Kay had said teasing.
Talk soon turned to other topics such as how much the little ones had grown and Rey’s disastrous journey.
Sophie, apparently having grown bored of Grayson alone, soon appeared to demand her uncle come play too.
It gave Rey and Kay a chance to really catch up on things, only keeping half an eye on the little ones.
“Mummy look!” Sophie squealed, pointing to the window.
Snow was falling down, covering everything it touched in glistening white dots and fast working on blanketing everything.
Rey had only seen snow a handful of times and Grayson had never seen it himself. The two-year-old trailed after Sophie and tried to heave himself up to see the miraculous white stuff himself. Sophie scrambled onto the arm of the chair and leaned into the window as Grayson plopped back onto the floor.
“Take it easy Soph!” Ben laughed, scooping Grayson up so he too could see out of the window. “There you go little man, now you can see.”
“Uncle Ben carry me too!” Sophie demanded. Kay rolled her eyes.
“Sophie, you’re fine there! Let Grayson…”
“Magic word?” Ben asked. Sophie batted innocent eyes at her uncle.
Chuckling, Ben adjusted Grayson to one hip and allowed Sophie to scramble onto his other side, holding both toddlers with ease.
“Tree.” Kay muttered but she was watching the scene with a fond smile.
“Does Ben have kids?” Rey asked Kay.
“Oh god no. Married to his work. He never dates, no kids, no time. But he does dote on Soph. He’s great with her.”
“What’s the age difference?”
“Ten years. Yeah, it was not planned.” Kay said smirking into her tea. Rey vaguely recalled meeting Kay’s parents at college graduation. She did not recall Ben being there though and voiced as much.
“No, he did come to see me, but he and our folks don’t get on. Falling out years ago. He was my age. He avoids contact with them now.”
Rey was shocked by this. But then, Rey could never imagine such a situation. Growing up without parents, it was all she’d wanted. She said nothing on the matter, simply watched Ben with her son as he reached out to touch the window.
“Snow?” Came his quiet voice.
“That’s right buddy. Snow. This your first one?” Ben asked Grayson, glancing at Rey for confirmation.
“Well then, Soph, I think we need to find some warm things and take this little man to play in the snow!”
“Yay! Can we build a snowman uncle Ben?”
“When there’s enough snow, sure.”
“Come on, Rey. I’ll dig out some spare gloves for you guys.” Kay offered.
Grayson, now wrapped up in Ben’s huge scarf and hat that kept dropping over his eyes, stared at the white world as they opened the garden doors. Sophie charged out full of energy and excitement, leaping in the air and twirling in the snow.
Grayson turned his head to the skies to watch it flurry down and blinked rapidly as a single cold snowflake landed on his nose.
His dark eyes widened in surprise and he gasped at the chill before his face split into a wide grin.
Soon he was bouncing around in the snow too.
It was pure magic to watch.
Ben threw a snowball at Sophie who squealed and began chasing him with a handful of the stuff.
Grayson tried to follow but promptly tripped and fell into the snow with a shriek.
“Oh! Hey buddy, it’s ok!” Ben stopped running and dropped down by Grayson before Rey could reach him. “Look, when we fall in the snow, it’s the perfect excuse to make a snow angel!” Ben lay his huge body in the snow and began to wave his arms up and down before crouching back by Grayson. “See?”
Grayson just stared for a moment, then giggled, flopping back and waving his arms madly. Sophie, not wanting to be left out, quickly did the same.
“Go play, Rey.” Kay insisted, nudging her playfully. “Have fun in the snow!”
Ben seemed to decide this was good moment for another snowball, whispering conspiratorially to Grayson before throwing the ball at Rey.
“Oh! That’s it, it’s on!” Rey grinned and began to make snowballs of her own.
The fight soon escalated to include Kay after Ben dropped snow down her back, causing Kay to scream and Sophie to shriek with laughter. Grayson finally landed a hit with his own snowball on Sophie who immediately chased him giggling madly.
They played for a good twenty minutes before deciding that the shivering children had had enough for one day.
After warm baths for the kids (which meant a water fight that soaked the adults), dry clothes, dinner, and hot drinks, all was finally calm again.
“Well, this flurry is practically a blizzard now. I don’t think any of us are going anywhere tonight.” Ben commented, looking out the window as he closed the curtains.
Rey tensed, she’d known it was a possibility they’d be stranded given the car situation, but it still made her worry.
Kay squeezed her shoulder.
“That’s fine. You can all stay here tonight; we’ll make it work. Tomorrow they’ll start clearing the roads and we can make a plan.”
Ben nodded and stepped out to take a call as his phone rang.
“Work probably. Always is. Come on, let’s get these two monkey’s upstairs and we’ll make up a bed.”
Rey was pressing a kiss to Grayson’s head when Ben’s long shadow appeared in the doorway.
“Night Uncle Ben!” Came Sophie’s voice.
“Night your highness, night Grayson.”
Grayson gave a mumble of something in his sleepy state. Chuckling softly, Rey brushed his dark curls back before she slipped out the room.
“Rey, that was Mike.” Ben said quietly.
“Oh kriff. How bad is it?”
“Well it’s not going to be cheap. And he’ll need to order a part.”
Rey rubbed her temples and groaned.
“Come on, let’s go back downstairs and we can figure something out.”
“What about renting a car?” Kay suggested as she set down drinks for them all.
“It’s too expensive. Especially this close to Christmas.” Rey was pulling at a thread on the sleeve of her sweater.
“Well, you are welcome to stay here until the car is fixed.” She offered.
“Thanks, but I can’t crash your holidays. Besides, the car sounds like it’s going to be really expensive.”
“Not to mention there could be delays in getting the part if this snow keeps up.” Ben added in. Kay flashed him a glare. “I’m just being realistic.” He said, holding up his hands.
Rey groaned again, her head dropping to the table. Kay looked at Ben over Rey and tried to convey a message silently.
“How about this, I’ll drive you and Grayson home as soon as the roads are open.” Ben offered.
Kay beamed at him and Rey’s head shot up to look at him in surprise.
“But, we live two hours away…”
“It’s no problem, Rey, honestly. I don’t live round this area anyway, and I’ve got a few errands to run that way before the holidays really begin.”
“I couldn’t ask you to do that…”
“Well, you’re not. I’m offering. You just need to decide if you’re accepting the offer.”
Rey chewed her lower lip. She hated needing help. Hated being a damsel in distress. That said, she had her son to think about. If Ben could get them both home safely, and he was happy to do it…
“Thank you, Ben. I’ll find a way to pay for your gas.”
“Rey, it’s not necessary.” He held up a hand to stop her. “I would feel awful if you were left struggling home. And your Kay’s best friend. She’d never forgive me if I didn’t help. As for the money, I’m serious, don’t worry. I make enough, and at least I’m doing something good with it.”
Rey was still worrying her lower lip. She really hated taking handouts.
As if she could read Rey’s mind, Kaydel said “It’s not a handout, Rey. Ben is offering to help you out since he’s got things to do that way anyway. It’s not a weakness to accept help. Especially in the season of goodwill and giving!”
“I wouldn’t offer if it was a problem, Rey.”
She nodded, she’d never been great at accepting help, but this was about getting Grayson home too. There was nothing Rey would not do for her son.
“Great, that’s settled then. Ben will take you both home as soon as it is safe to do so.” Kay said matter-of-factly, rising from the table to clear away the mugs.
They stayed up for a while longer, chatting about everything from the girls college days to Christmas plans.
“You can always come home for Christmas Ben, Soph would love it if you were there… And mum and dad…”
“It’s not happening, Kay. I love you both, but I’m not doing it.” Ben said firmly, without looking up from the sink where he was washing the dishes from earlier. “What about you, Rey? You and Grayson braving a family dinner?”
Kay tried to stop him, but the words were already out.
“Errr no… We don’t… I… I don’t have a family to visit. Former foster kid here.”
Ben almost dropped the dish in his hand and Kay slapped her forehead.
“Sorry, god I really put my foot in it there. I’m sorry about that, Rey.” Ben looked at her, his gaze sincere.
“It’s been a long time, it’s fine.” Rey said quietly.
“So… quiet Christmas for you then?”
“Yeah, just me and Grayson.” Ben nodded at her response, obviously feeling awkward about the family comment.
“You know you would both be welcome to come have Christmas with our family Rey. Dad always makes too much food.” Kaydel said, glancing at Ben – the unspoken fact that Han always prepared enough food in case Ben ever came home lingering. Ben turned away and resumed washing up.
“That’s sweet of you, Kay, but Christmas time is family time. I can’t gate-crash that.”
“Well, the offer is always there, ok? Just turn up. Christmas Day, Boxing day… it’s all fine.”
Ben chose not to spend Christmas with his family, owing to personal differences, but he felt bad that Rey did not have a family she could choose to spend the holidays with.
“Right, I’m going to go upstairs to shower before bed. You guys going to be ok down here?” Kay asked as she stood up.
Ben and Rey nodded.
“Ok, thanks for your help today Ben, and for rescuing my best girl.” She kissed her brother’s cheek and then hugged Rey tight. “It’s so great to have you here, Rey. I’ve missed you.”
She blew them both a kiss before going upstairs. It was quiet for a moment, only the sounds of the dishes clanking in the sink and water sloshing to be heard.
“I hope you don’t find this to be an insensitive or impertinent question, but if it is, please do tell me where to shove it. I couldn’t help but notice that you said it is only you and Grayson for Christmas… His father isn’t around?”
Rey shifted in her seat. It wasn’t something she tended to discuss with strangers, no matter how handsome and perfect they are, but it was not something she was ashamed of.
“No. One night stand in college.”
“Ah. I would say, like Kay, but as far as I’m concerned Sophie was conceived by immaculate conception and Kay is the Virgin Mary.”
Rey laughed aloud at that.
“Yeah, she had Sophie the year before I had Gray. I missed her when she went home towards the later stages of pregnancy.”
“Did you stay in college?”
“I had to. I had aged out of foster care by then. If I didn’t stay, I would be nowhere. It wasn’t easy, but I got through.”
Ben could not imagine going through all that on your own. Trying to study and carry, birth and raise a baby.
“I was in my final year by then anyway. But we do ok, me and him.”
“So, was it a frat boy, nerd… professor?” Ben waggled his eyebrows at her, teasing her. Rey threw an orange at him. “I’m teasing!” Ben laughed. “Don’t kill me with fruit!”
“Not that it’s any of your business, but no! None of those!”
“Oh?” Ben raised a brow again.
“If you must know,” Rey shifted in her seat, she hadn’t thought about that night in a long time. “I went to a party, not a college one. There was a masquerade thing going on in a local bar and I fancied going. Kay had gone home for the weekend, so I went alone.”
Ben was watching her now, leaning against the sink.
“It was fun, I met a guy there, he was charming, handsome. One thing led to another and…” Rey shrugged.
Ben was grinning at her.
“Got to love the intrigue and mystery of a masquerade. Everyone have a mask on?”
“Yeah,” Rey couldn’t help but smile. “Mine was gold and green. His was dark with small hints of red. Very mysterious. What can I say, he intrigued and charmed me.”
“Did you take him back to your dorm room? Or go to his?” Ben teased.
“Neither actually…” Rey could feel a blush creeping onto her cheeks.
“Oh? Oh, you saucy thing! Where?” Rey threw another orange at him. Ben just dodged and laughed. “Alright! So, you never got the masked man’s name?”
“Well, he gave me a name, but I’m pretty sure it was fake. I’d been using a fake name all night myself. Partly because one creep wouldn’t leave me alone, at least until this guy turned up. He was a pretty big and intimidating looking guy.”
Ben couldn’t help but smirk watching her blush grow.
“So, what made you think his name was fake?”
“Because it sounded fake! But you know how it is, you’re caught in a moment, you don’t think about that. You certainly don’t expect to wind up with a baby from it.”
“No, I guess not. I presume being caught in the moment meant there were no precautions taken?” Rey shook her head. “Ah well… these things happen. I try to be careful myself.”
“Yeah well, the one time I wasn’t. But I wouldn’t trade Grayson for anything.”
Ben smiled at her and resumed washing the final dishes.
“So, what about you? Kay says you don’t date?”
“No, I’m afraid I’m a bit of a stereo-typical bachelor. I work all the hours under the sun, live in a single man’s apartment that is definitely far bigger than I need and occasionally I might make time for my sister and niece.”
“Sophie doesn’t make you want kids?” Rey teased him.
“You met that little bossy boots? She’s enough to scare anyone off kids!” Ben joked. “Nah, I’ve not really thought about it much to be honest. I guess it might not be horrible to have a family one day, but then again, mine is a disaster so maybe it’s best I stay single.”
“What happened? With your parents? If you don’t mind me asking.” Rey said, feeling a little bad about being so nosy.
“We fell out. They had certain expectations of me, I did not plan to conform. All through my childhood I was largely ignored or used as a prop. My parents were both in the public eye. Came as a shock when they found they were expecting Kay. I hated her to start with. But she wouldn’t quit. She made me love her. That’s why I don’t cut her out.” Ben set the last dish to dry and sighed. “I fell out with my parents years back now, since Kay had Sophie, I’ve had a little more contact, mostly because I don’t want it to affect Soph, but I avoid it when I can.”
Rey nodded, still not really understanding but taking the hint that this was as much information as she was going to get.
“I get doing what you have to for Sophie. There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for Grayson.”
“Yeah, she’s not even mine and she’s got me hook line and sinker.” Ben smiled a little. It was obvious he loved his niece a lot. “I was pretty mad when I found out Kay had got herself pregnant, but I couldn’t stay mad. Though I’ll admit I doubted she’d be able to be a single parent. But she insisted she didn’t want the frat boy involved and he didn’t want to be. I’d still like to knock his lights out but, I wouldn’t trade Soph.”
Rey offered a soft smile in return.
“I often wonder what Grayson will think in years to come, if he’s going to want to know who his father was, I mean, let’s face it, those dark curls are clearly not from me. Sometimes I wonder about Kylo, what he’s doing now, would he have wanted to know? Should I have tried to find him?”
Ben choked on the coffee he’d just made.
“Yeah!” Ben choked out, spluttering still, his heart hammering. “What did you just say?”
“I wonder if I should have tried to find Grayson’s father?”
“No, the, the name.”
“What Kylo? Yeah, made up right?”
Ben’s head was spinning. Made up… yeah… he made it up years ago when he decided to make a career with a new name that would not link him to his family.
He could feel his heart thundering in his chest. He’d gone to see Kay at college at times. And now he thought about it, he recalled going to surprise her one weekend only to learn she was home for the weekend. He’d got himself a hotel room and, on a whim, decided to go to a masquerade party, picking up a mask from a costume shop on the corner.
It couldn’t be though… surely?
“Ben? You ok there?” Rey’s soft concerned voice echoed through to him in that pretty British accent of hers.
Oh, fuck it was coming back to him now. A beautiful brunette in a delicate golden and green mask, her voice sweet like honey. A slightly dingy corridor with her short green dress pushed up to her hips, that British accent moaning his name.
“Ben?” A gentle hand touched his shoulder and Ben jumped, dropping his coffee.
“Oh shit!” He exclaimed as it smashed on the floor. “God, I’m sorry Rey.”
“It’s fine, let me help you clear it up.”
Ben’s heart was still racing as they cleaned up the spilt coffee and the porcelain shards. It could not be coincidence but how on Earth could he say anything about it to her?
Rey stretched and yawned.
“I think I’m going to turn in myself. Thank you for everything today, Ben. You’re my hero.”
The smile she graced with made his stomach flip.
Tomorrow, tomorrow he’d try and figure out how to deal with this startling new revelation.
Chapter 2: Chapter 2 - Revelations and epilogue
Ben, Rey and Grayson hit the road.
Will Ben tell Rey what he's learned?
(See the end of the chapter for notes.)
“You sure you won’t stay longer?” Kay asked, hugging Rey tight. “Or come for Christmas?”
“No, thank you though. It’s really sweet of you.”
“And Ben, you’re sure I can’t persuade you to come for Christmas?” Kay asked, hugging her brother tightly as Rey hugged Sophie goodbye.
“I’ll try come see you and Soph again over Christmas, ok?” He kissed the top of her head. Kaydel sighed.
“I’ll take what I can, I guess. Take care of Rey and Grayson.”
“I will, I promise.”
Final hugs and kisses were shared and then Ben led Rey and Grayson back to his car.
“Last chance to back out of driving us home.” Rey teased him lightly. Ben forced a laugh.
“Not happening, sweetheart.” Sweetheart? Where did that come from?
Rey did not seem to mind though, she smiled and him and turned to check on Grayson in the back.
“Right let’s get going, first stop is that gas station to pick up your purse.”
“I still can’t believe it’s still there.”
“Must have got lucky, some good-natured person saw it and turned it in.” Ben smiled, and started the engine. “Right, you’re DJing.”
Rey laughed brightly.
“I hope you like Christmas music and Disney.”
“As a matter of fact,” Ben pulled the car out the street, Kay waving from her drive. “I love it. Take it away!”
The drive had not actually been overly awkward so far. Ben was great company and made interesting conversation. He tolerated the constantly repeated Christmas songs and Disney music, even when Grayson wanted ‘Into the Unknown’ played four times in a row.
Ben had stopped without complaint every time Grayson needed the bathroom and picked them all up food when Grayson said he was hungry, even though Rey had her purse back.
Rey was quietly impressed by how tolerant and patient Ben was. They were not far from home now and Grayson was napping in the car seat.
“Thank you again, for getting us back.”
“You’re welcome, again.” Ben smiled. “It’s honestly not a problem.”
Michael Buble’s Christmas album played quietly in the background.
Ben himself was anxiously trying to work out how to broach the subject of Kylo and Grayson. He glanced in his rear-view mirror at the sleeping boy.
Grayson slept sweetly; a head full of dark curls that Ben had seen in all his own childhood photos. Freckles peppered his nose, those were clearly from Rey, he could even see a large ear poking out from under his hair. Ben knew those ears too well.
“He’s a sweet kid.” Ben said gently.
Rey beamed, turning in her seat to look at her precious boy.
“Well, I certainly think so.” Rey replied, turning back to Ben. “But thanks.”
“You’re clearly an amazing mum.”
“I er… Yeah. You’re clearly great. He’s a happy kid.” He couldn’t do it. Not here in the car. They’d have to keep driving in awkwardness if he told her.
Maybe he’d say when they arrived.
“Oh, if you come off here, it’s a bit easier to get to our little place.”
Shit, he didn’t have much time to compose himself for this then.
“Then next left, then second street on the left. First house.”
All too soon they were pulling up outside. Ben knew he had to say something.
“It’s been a long drive, why don’t you come in for a bit? You’re welcome to stay for dinner if you wanted.” Rey offered, pulling at her sleeve again.
Ben smiled at her.
“That would be wonderful, thank you.”
That bought him some more time.
Rey smiled as she got out the car.
“It’s not much, but it’s enough for us.” She said bashfully as she unlocked the front door. Ben carried Grayson inside.
“I’m sure it is, sweetheart.” Sweetheart again? Really?
Walking into the living room, it already felt cosy. Small, yes, but Rey had clearly done what she could to make it a home. Plants hung on shelves and on the windowsills, pictures were hung up on the wall of a baby with a mop of dark hair growing into a little toddler. Brightly coloured blankets and pillows were thrown on mismatched sofas and chairs and strewn across a bright rug were a series of wooden trains and toy cars.
Ben grinned. It was lived in. It was a world away from his own place, which was all immaculate, shades of grey and black and largely untouched furniture. This was not perfectly tidy, how could it be with a two-year-old, it was bright and cheerful. Everything about it felt homely.
“Where shall I put the little man?”
“Oh, he’s still sleeping? I thought we woke him when we got him out.” Grayson was now sound asleep on Ben’s shoulder, mouth hanging open.
The look on Rey’s face was one of pure love and adoration. It definitely did not do things to Ben. Definitely not.
“His room is upstairs. Do you want me to..?”
“Nah, it’s ok, I’ll take him.”
Rey’s smile grew a little brighter. Ben’s stomach definitely did not somersault.
“His is the first door on the right. I’ll make us something to drink, black coffee, right?”
Her cheeks flushed with colour and Ben felt his own cheeks warming so he quickly moved to the stairs.
Grayson’s room had a little wooden bed in, a wardrobe and chest of drawers. There were several cuddly toys sat on the bed and across the floor there were dozens of toys scattered. In the corner of the room was a rickety rocking chair beside a bookshelf and lamp.
Ben dodged the various toys and pulled back the duvet before tucking Grayson into his bed. The boy instinctively reached out for a cuddly toy. Ben grabbed the one that had rolled off when he’d moved the bedding. A strange creature with wings and huge eyes and a little mouth with bird feet. Grayson snuggled into it and stayed sound asleep.
It was a sweet sight. It made Ben’s heartstrings pull as he thought about the fact this was his son, most likely, and this was the first time he was putting him to bed.
He had to talk to Rey.
When he arrived in her kitchen, she was just setting down a mug of coffee.
“Perfect timing.” She commented with a smile. “I doubt he’ll sleep too much longer.”
How the hell do I bring this up? Ben wondered.
“As long as he’s happy. And he really does seem like a happy child.” Ben took a seat at her little dining table, the chair wobbling precariously as he sat down.
“I do my best with him.”
Ben glanced around the kitchen, looking at all the mismatched bits of crockery, the mismatched and patched up chairs, the scattered toys on the floor and the drawings pinned to the fridge.
“Must be hard though, being a single parent.”
Of course, it is hard you idiot. And Rey doesn’t have family help and support like Kay does. Stop putting your foot in your mouth.
“Sorry, I know it must be hard. And we’ve already established that and I’m just rambling…”
Rey though, humoured him.
“It’s fine, Ben. Honestly. It’s not easy, I’d be lying if I said everything had been wonderful and perfect. I’ve cried and screamed plenty. I’ve felt like a terrible parent. I am constantly afraid, permanently tired. But I know that if I don’t take care of him, of myself, no one else is going to. So I pull myself together and get on with it. And there are wonderful moments too, and they just get you through the bad days.”
Ben felt a pang of sympathy for Rey. He felt guilty that she’d been alone all this time. That she had to endure everything without help. She was tougher, stronger than anyone he had ever known. And his own mother was a force of nature.
“So err… you… you mentioned the father? What was the name again?” Ben’s heart was in his throat, thundering painfully against his Adam’s apple. Way to bring it up casually. Subtly.
Rey raised an eyebrow, looking at him quizzically. Yeah, even she knows it’s weird to bring this up again.
“Kylo. Why?” She looked very suspicious. Ben was pretty sure his ears were burning red. Thank god he wore his hair long.
“Well, ummm…” He ran a nervous hand through his hair.
“You know the guy or something?”
Ben took a shaky breath, gripping at his hair. Just do it. Say it. It cannot get more awkward surely? Surely it cannot get worse?
“I guess… I guess you could say that…” Say it you Nerf-herder!
Rey raised the eyebrow higher and folded her arms, staring at him. God she had the look down. Grayson stood no chance if he ever acted up.
“Kylo… Kylo is the name I use at work… Kylo Ren.” He finally breathed out on a shuddering breath. He felt calmer for a moment, finally having got the words out. That lasted barely a heartbeat.
“You, you go by Kylo?” Rey questioned. Her voice was not panicked, nor shocked. It was unnervingly calm.
“Yes. I started using it when I was… what 23? Only my family, Kay and Soph really, call me Ben still. And now you.”
“You introduced yourself to me as Ben.” She stated, matter-of-factly. That was what she was focussed on? Not the fact he was the one-night stand that knocked her up?
“I… I did… I … I do not know why. Maybe I just thought… Kylo Ren is an ass, intimidating and harsh… Ben, Ben is an uncle and can be gentle… I guess subconsciously I just thought you needed Ben, not Kylo.” He stuttered. She made him nervous, why was she so calm?
“So, you, as Kylo Ren… went to a masquerade party around three years ago in Starkiller Bar?” How was her voice so level and unaffected? Was she mad? Horrified? Was she shocked? Upset? He could not tell.
He nodded, running a hand through his hair again. He had not delivered this well.
“I went to surprise Kay, but when I called her, she said she was home for the weekend. So, I got to my hotel and tried to find something to do. I’d been to Starkiller Bars before, they’re good. So I picked up a mask from a party shop and decided to go. There was this beautiful brunette in a little green dress. I was instantly charmed.”
Rey stared at him, her face gave nothing away. Ben began to panic.
“Rey, I’m so sorry! I swear, I never meant to lie to you! Then, I really was Kylo. I certainly did not mean to cause you any sort of trouble or difficulty. And maybe I should have said nothing… but when you told me the name of… of your… encounter… I knew it couldn’t be coincidence. I have not been able to stop thinking of it and I had to say something. I’m sorry if that was the wrong choice. I just…”
Rey held up a hand to stop his rambling.
“Ben, if you don’t mind me still calling you that,” Ben shook his head vehemently. He did not mind at all. “Then, Ben, stop. Breathe. It’s… it’s a shock, but it’s not necessarily a bad one. I’ve never really known what kind of man Kylo was. I’ve never needed to. I have a beautiful son from it, who I love with all that I am.”
Ben’s hand was buried in his hair, tugging slightly in his stress.
“But Ben, I’m… I’m glad you told me. I don’t have to wonder anymore. And if one day, Grayson asks, I can tell him. If you don’t mind me telling him that is.”
Ben paused in the pulling of his hair. Telling Grayson? One day?
Life suddenly flashed before Ben’s eyes. Different ways it could go – a grown up Grayson who hated him for never being there; a young Grayson running to his arms as he came home, Rey beaming from the doorway; seeing him graduate and grow.
Ben looked up at Rey, her expression was a little more nervous.
“I don’t want that.”
Her face fell and she looked crestfallen.
“I don’t want him to find out one day, because he asked. I want him to know his whole life. I want him to know me. I know maybe I’m asking too much; you’ve raised him alone for two years, we barely know each other… But I do not want to be the absentee Dad who didn’t care.” He was surprised himself, but the images flooded his brain, and he could not stop now. “I want to help; however you will let me. I do not want you to have to do this alone entirely. I want to know him if you’ll let me. I… I want to give him, give you, a family to belong to. To help make things better for you both.”
Rey’s expression was hard to read.
“I’m not suggesting you can’t do it alone, because you have done, and marvellously, but… what I mean is, I don’t want you to have no choice. I would love to be involved in everything, but I understand if you don’t want that. But if I could just have some contact, help to support him…”
Was he rambling? Begging? He was not even sure himself anymore. He just needed to say it all. If he had a son, he wanted to be part of his life.
“I know… I know this is a lot… I’m still trying to get my head around this myself… And I know I’m asking a lot… But now I know I have a son, I can’t pretend otherwise. I can go, if you want… You’ve got my number now… And whatever you decide, I’ll accept… But I just… needed to say it.”
Ben stopped, trying to read her face and then pushed his chair back.
“I’ll go. Um… thank you… for the coffee… and err… Merry Christmas…”
He quickly rushed towards the front door, feeling panicked and awkward. He did not hear Rey push her own chair back and follow him.
“Ben, wait!” She called, reaching out to grab his coat and stop him leaving. Ben could not quite bring himself to look her in the eye, turning but keeping his gaze off her face. “Ben, do you really mean that? Everything you said, did you mean it?”
Her voice was earnest and sincere, her touch gentle if a little hesitant now he had stopped trying to flee.
Slowly, he raised his gaze to meet her eyes. Those beautiful hazel orbs were wide, sparkling with questions and imploring him.
Ben nodded slowly.
“Yes… I meant everything.” Rey took a deep breath and rocked back a little. Ben was unsure what she was going to say or do next.
“Are you certain? Because I do not want to have to explain if you walk out in six months, a year, five years… I have been left, abandoned. I do not want that for him.” Her voice was calm, serious, but there was no judgement. No expectation.
Ben nodded again.
“I do. I cannot stand the idea of him learning about me when he’s grown up, hating me for not being there. I cannot imagine going back to my normal life and carrying on as normal. All I can think now, is how much I’ve already missed, how I can help you both. How to be there.”
Rey nodded and rocked on the balls on her feet for a moment. Ben waited, terrified for her decision.
Ben was sure his heart was going to burst from his chest.
“Ok?” He questioned.
“Ok. If you’re sure you want this, then ok. We’ll make it work. Whatever that means for us. We’ll figure it out.”
Ben was unsure if he was still dreaming up possible futures or if this was real.
“Yes, if you want to be in his life, then you should be. It’s more than my parents wanted. And if Grayson can have two parents who want him, then he deserves it.”
Ben couldn’t help the smile that spread across his face, dimpling his cheeks. Rey looked at him and her own smile grew.
“So, do you want to come back in to talk some more?”
“Yes, yes, very much so.”
Rey held out her hand and led him back to the kitchen. Her fingers were warm and soft as slowly they entwined with his, her smile shy and bashful as she glanced at him. He squeezed her hand.
For the first time in a long time, Ben wanted something. And for once, he was actually hopeful for the future.
One year later
“I still can’t believe you knocked up my best friend.”
Ben rolled his eyes at his sister’s comment as Grayson played on the rug with Sophie.
“Twice, Ben!” Kay exclaimed as though this was more likely to get a response.
Ben just smirked.
“Mummy look at the car Grandpa gave me!” Grayson beamed as Rey walked into the room, glowing.
“Wow honey! That’s such a cool car!”
Leia followed behind Rey carrying a tray laden with cakes and biscuits.
“Gramma can I have a cuppycake?” Grayson asked as she set the tray down.
“I want the pink one!” Sophie insisted.
“There’s enough for everyone!” Leia chuckled, ruffling Grayson’s mop of hair.
Rey sat herself down and Ben pulled her into him. Kay made a sound of disgust, but he could see her smiling. His hands came to rest on the small round bump, smiling to himself as he did so. It was obvious now, but Ben had been marvelling since before there was anything to see.
“Mummy does the baby need a cuppycake?” Grayson asked sweetly.
“No sweetie, you enjoy your cupcake.” Rey assured him.
“But grab Mummy one of the chocolate ones, she needs it.” Ben added and Grayson quickly grabbed the biggest one he could and presented it to Rey.
Han chuckled as he settled in his old worn armchair.
“He’s going to be a doting big brother.” Han said fondly. “Hey kid, come over to grandpa and let’s eat some cake.” Both Grayson and Sophie rushed over, scrambling onto his lap causing him to let out an ‘oof’.
Leia smiled as she took a seat beside Kay.
“Your uncles will be here soon, Kay, Ben.” Ben groaned. “Oh hush, they’re all so excited to see the kids again. I’m pretty sure Chewie is bringing a bagful of gifts.”
“It’s not Chewie I’m worried about.” Ben grumbled. Rey kissed his head and squeezed his hand, the ring on her finger sparkling in the light.
“Luke will be fine. He’s so happy to be able to see you again and meet Rey and Grayson.”
Ben mumbled, hiding his face in Rey’s neck.
She giggled softly and rubbed her bump where baby number two was growing.
“I can’t believe it’s been a year already.” She said softly as she looked at the scene around them.
“Yeah, me either.” Kay muttered. “Clearly my brother works fast.” The smile on her face betrayed her though. “Still, at least I get to call you my sister now. And I am actually an aunt to Grayson now!” She said brightly before bouncing up as they heard the door. “Uncle Chewie, Lando and Luke are here!”
“It is crazy though.” Rey said as they watched Grayson slide off his Grandpa’s knee to go have ‘Wookie’ hugs. “This time last year we were just figuring things out, learning that we were both his parents and telling your family. Now here we are, doing family Christmas, engaged and expecting our second.”
“Definitely crazy, but… I wouldn’t change a thing.” Ben nuzzled her hair, kissing her temple.
The children were tearing off wrapping paper, the adults hugging and catching up. Even Uncle Luke was friendly.
Ben watched it all; looking at his parents, his uncles, all with happy faces as they watched their grandchildren; his sister laughing as she sat with Sophie on the floor opening her gifts and squealing in delight; and watching his future wife, his beautiful Rey, sitting there, radiant, one hand on her bump, one around their precious son who’s dark curls bounced as he babbled animatedly about the new car he’d opened.
He could never have pictured this when he pulled up on that bleak midwinter day to help a lady with her car. Could never have considered this would be his life.
But it was. It was theirs. And it was perfect.
Happy New Year
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