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Last Week, Tonight, and Forever

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“Niima, the writers’ meeting has been moved to one o'clock.”

 

Rey jerked her head up, her brow furrowing. “What do you mean? The meeting’s not supposed to be until three.”

 

Finn, a friend from production, lifted his palms. “I just heard them discussing it in the breakroom. Rose seemed really stressed, and when she mentioned that you didn’t know, I volunteered to give you the heads up.”

 

“But…” she glanced down at the script she was working on, panic making her breath lodge in her throat, “I can’t finish this in twenty minutes.”

 

Rey thought she had a couple more hours to fine tune the quips in her script, and ensure the pacing would reflect the show host’s rapid delivery style. If Finn was right about the time change, she would just have to wing it. She was perfectly capable of thinking on the fly...she just preferred not to, if at all possible.

 

Annoyance set her teeth on edge. “Do you know why they changed the time? They had to have known how it would fuck with all our schedules.”

 

“Sorry, Peanut, I don’t.” Finn squeezed her shoulder. “John probably had a schedule change and needed everyone else to adjust theirs to compensate.”

 

“Probably,” Rey sighed, the words on the page blurring before her eyes.

 

“I’m sure whatever you have will be great. You know John likes your stuff, so he’ll probably be happy with whatever you have, whether it’s ready yet or not.”

 

Dragging a hand down her face, Rey attempted a smile. “Let’s hope so.”

 

“Good luck,” Finn offered, his wave of goodbye quick, his dark eyes commiserating.

 

Rey studied the red-marked sheets of paper before her, taking in the notes she’d scribbled in the margins. In her three years as a writer for Last Week Tonight  she’d worked on all sorts of episodes, from segments on conspiracy theories, to sports stadiums, to vaccines. It was a challenge to tackle tough social, political, economic, and environmental topics, and do so in a witty manner that made the audience laugh. For that humor saw them through the often brutal, unfair truths, and had them cheering when John, the host, delivered his scathing critiques. Rey fancied she excelled at explaining complex, often controversial issues, with humor, a fact she took great pride in. Working with a fantastic team of fellow writers and researchers was a bonus, and their thrice-weekly meetings were usually the highlight of her day.

 

That was, until John had inadvertently found her ridiculous list of irreverent thirst remarks about Galaxy Wars actor, Ben Solo, and a whole new bit was born. John had insisted they incorporate her ridiculous comments into the scripts of the shows, in which John himself uttered her nonsensical come-ons as if he were the one thirsting after Ben Solo. The first bit had proven awkward and more than a bit uncomfortable, but eventually it had caught the attention of the actor’s rabid fan base. Rey had enjoyed scrolling through their reactions on Twitter, of which most were positive, and she'd chuckled at the many creative memes that had been created. 

 

Thus the bit continued, and Rey was expected to deliver the thirst goods, and since they were planning the season finale, she knew John would want to include it.

 

Nibbling on her lip, she glanced at the clock. If she hustled, she’d probably be able to make the changes she’d already outlined. Straightening her shoulders, Rey opened the document and got to work.

 

Twenty minutes later she dashed down the hall, her flats clicking rapidly against the linoleum tile. In her time as a staff writer, Rey had never been late for a meeting, never missed a deadline. Pausing outside the conference room, she sucked a calming breath into her lungs as she tugged on her blazer, and when the room erupted into laughter, she slipped through the door, hopeful the occupants would be too distracted to notice her late arrival.

 

“There you are, Rey. I was wondering when you’d get here.”

 

Her shoulders met her ears as she cringed. Rey allowed a second to tick by as she frantically composed herself, before she pivoted.

 

“Sorry John, I got here as soon…”

 

Her words trailed off as she focused on the person sitting next to her boss at the conference table. All explanations or even coherent thoughts descended into static as her gaze was ensnared by a pair of intense brown eyes she had only ever seen in the movies or on her TV screen.

 

“Rey’s the one you’ve been waiting for, Ben.”

 

Ben Solo, the actor she had lusted over, no matter the role he played or the patchy beard he grew, was sitting at the end of the table next to her boss. The boss she should be directing her attention to, no matter how impossible of a task it proved. Focusing on John when Ben Solo sat beside him was like asking her to ignore a Mary Ellen Mark photograph in favor of admiring a yellowed Polaroid of someone's high school prom. Rey was not that disciplined.   

 

Clad in a black t-shirt and worn denim jeans, Ben looked like he could have wandered in off the Manhattan streets...if one ignored how the cotton stretched over the sloping breadth of his shoulders and clung to the expanse of his chest, which Rey was helpless to do. His unruly curls brushed along his stubbled jaw when he tilted his head to study her, his dark eyes keen as they drifted over her face.

 

How was it possible for him to be even better looking in person? Rey had worked in the industry long enough to know that the camera usually brought out an actor’s inherent charm. But it seemed to her that the camera lens had only blunted Ben Solo’s appeal.

 

A small smile tugged on his plush lips. “The writer that came up with the thirst bit?”

 

There was nothing small about John’s answering grin. “Not only did she come up with it, she’s written every single thirst line.”

 

Oh God . Every one of Rey’s limbs, her tendons, even the muscles that controlled her smile or the lift of her brows solidified into ice. No, that wasn’t right. Salt . She’d been turned into a pillar of salt, and Rey was certain that a strong breeze–or another one of Ben Solo’s gravely chuckles–would scatter her into nothingness.

 

Break my fingers, you brooding mountain. Shatter my knees, you fuckable redwood. Choke slam me to hell, you nasty shed. They were all things she had written about the twice-Oscar nominated actor. Silly lines that reflected her crush on his immense talent, unorthodox attractiveness...and her willingness to turn him into a punchline.

 

But now her punchline was scrutinizing her in a manner that promised humiliation and groveling apologies.

 

“Impressive.” Ben leaned back, crossing his stupidly thick arms across his stupidly vast chest. “Is that your script for this episode?”

 

Rey blinked. And blinked again. Ben Solo was going to read her script? A ringing pealed in her ears, and she reached out a hand to steady herself, grasping the nearest seat back.

 

“Rey, didn't you say you had some great new lines to share today?”

 

Jerking her gaze away from the dark-eyed man who considered her with a challenging tilt to his head, Rey tried to focus on Rose, her friend and fellow staff writer.

 

“I-I…,” she cleared her throat, “I do have some material to share.”

 

Despite how her legs quaked like she’d just been thrust onto land after months at sea, Rey stepped forward to slide a printed copy of her script to John, Ben, and the head writer, Poe. Pressing her lips together, she shouldered her way into the line of her colleagues queued against the wall, determined to blend in as much as possible. With her heart pounding in her throat, Rey stared at the clock on the wall, willing the minutes to fly by in some Quantum Leap level technology.

 

John’s dry chuckle snapped her gaze up.

 

Pull my hair and slap my cheeks, you gangly Paul Bunyan. I’ll be your big, blue ox,” John managed to get out around a laugh.

 

“Which cheeks?” 

 

Ben Solo’s eyebrow arched in question, and Rey’s throat was abruptly as parched as the Jakku desert she grew up in. She swallowed convulsively. 

 

“I suppose…” she coughed into her hand, “that’s up to the audience to decide.”

 

The corner of Ben’s lips curved up ever so slightly, yet that simple show of emotion loosened her muscles a tad.

 

“But surely you had an idea in mind when you wrote it,” he pushed.

 

Rey fought the urge to cover her own cheeks with her hands, desperate to hide the telltale sign of her unease. “I assure you that the only cheeks I was thinking of were the ones on the face…” She paused, biting her lip, “but if John emphasizes cheeks in his delivery, well then the audience would be reminded there’s more than one kind of cheeks that can be slapped.”

 

“If you doubted that I wouldn’t play up cheeks , do you even know me?” John drawled, brandishing his copy of the script to showcase how “cheeks” had been underlined multiple times.

 

Rey joined the chorus of snickers, even as she snuck a quick peek at Ben, who was considering the script with a pucker between his brows. 

 

Run me through with your lightsaber, you brooding emo fuck boi.” His delivery was droll, and Rey tried not to shiver as his smoky voice seemed to scrape the words along her spine. “That one seems a bit more on the nose.”

 

“Do you think so?” Rey tapped her chin with her finger, pretending to consider his words. If he was going to put her on the spot, well then she was prepared to dish out as good as she got.  “Why do you think that?”

 

His black brows almost disappeared into his hairline, and Ben blinked several times as he stared at her. His mouth twitched for only a second, but the fleeting movement was almost enough to break Rey’s feigned solemnity. 

 

Relaxing back into his chair, Ben tapped his long, graceful fingers on the tabletop. Rey tracked the movements like a well-trained pointer dog.

 

“Run me through with your lightsaber? That’s a dick innuendo if I’ve ever heard one.”

 

“And you’ve heard many?” Rey held his stare, a hint of a smirk playing on her lips.

 

He flourished a palm. “Seeing as how I used to be a teenage boy once upon a time, I’m sure I’ve heard most of them.” 

 

“Yeah, but I read fanfic, so I’m pretty sure I have you beat on that front.”

 

Several of her fellow writers chuckled at that response. Rey smiled, because it was common knowledge amongst the show writers that fanfiction possessed the best smut lines in the business.

 

“What sort of fanfiction do you read?” Ben asked. The tone of his voice was casual...but the slight narrowing of his eyes made the hair on the back of her neck stand on end. 

 

Rey shrugged, dropping her gaze. “Oh, this and that.”

 

“She reads Galaxy Wars fics.”

 

Jerking her head about, Rey shot Rose her most lethal glare. Her friend flashed her brief, mischievous grin, before adding, “She’s a big Kiralo shipper.”

 

Would God be so kind as to turn her back into that pillar of salt? Surely the absolute horror she was experiencing at that moment was enough to see her smited down by a vengeful deity. Ben played the character of Kylo Ren in Galaxy Wars , the Byronic anti-hero to Kira, the fierce protagonist, whose journey to understand her past, but more importantly her purpose and place in the future, was the center of the movies. Fans had shipped the two characters from the first movie, and Rey had not been immune to the draw of an enemies to lovers romance. The connection between Kylo and Kira had seeped through every line of dialogue, every longing look they exchanged, and when Kylo had chosen power over a future with her, Rey had felt Kira’s pain as if it were her own.

 

Ben cleared his throat, and it was an herculean effort for her to meet his gaze again. “I know some fans had hoped for a romance between Kylo and Kira, but…” he frowned, “I just hadn’t given it much thought past that.”

 

Rose scoffed. “Oh, my sweet summer child, Kira and Kylo are living their best lives together, in fanfiction.”

 

“I’m very happy for them.” Ben barked a laugh, the sound warming Rey down to her toes. 

 

“Okay team, let’s return our focus to the segment,” John interjected, in his most proper British accent, “and away from Rey’s fanfiction love for kink and–,” 

 

“Wolf mating smut,” Rose called.

 

“Hey, don’t knock A-B-O fics. They’re hot,” she grumbled, earning another laugh from her co-workers.

 

“I'm sorry, but did you say wolf smut?” John’s eyes practically bulged behind his glasses. “What outlandish wonders have you been withholding from me, Rey?”

 

“A-B...what?” Ben murmured, his forehead wrinkled again.

 

Poe smacked his hand on the tabletop. “As interesting as I’m sure A-B-O is to some of you, maybe we should get back to the script.”

 

“Right. Of course.” John smoothed his hands down his shirt, then abruptly pointed a finger at Rey. “But I fully expect you to explain this interesting literary development later.” 

 

Ben slid his eyes to her then, and she lifted a shoulder and flashed a quick grin.

 

The rest of the meeting was spent reviewing the remaining lines of her script, and considering how the bit could fit into the larger episode, which was centered around the presidential election. Rey watched Ben covertly as he listened to the discussion, sometimes sharing his opinion on the lines and offering suggestions. Overall though, he appeared entertained by his behind-the-scenes glimpse of the show. When the conversation began to wane, he turned to John.

 

“So how did you see my appearance in the episode playing out?” 

 

John turned to look at Rey, and her tongue stuck to the roof of her mouth. “I thought you and Rey could write the dialogue and figure out the script together to ensure it fits into the larger narrative she’s already created. Does that work for you?”

 

Ben swiveled his head to her, a bit of a challenge in his raised brow. “I’m confident we can find a way to work together.”

 

Rey jerked a nod. John wanted her to work one on one with Ben Solo? After all her thirst segments, he expected her to be able to sit across from him at a table and form sentences? Witty, coherent sentences?

 

She worked for a sadist. John's lips twisted into a harlequin smile when she glared at him, slapping his hands on the desk as if he were playing imaginary drums. 

 

Definitely a sadist.

 

After the meeting was adjourned and her colleagues filed out of the room, Rey held her position against the wall. She kept her eyes fixed on the notebook in her hands when only her and Ben Solo remained. Alone. Her elaborate daydreams had made such a scenario seem titillating because of course she wasn’t horribly awkward in her fantasies. 

 

She cleared her throat, her fingers fiddling with the frayed edges of her notebook. “We can work here in the conference room, or we can go to my office. Do you have a pre–”

 

“Does your office have glass walls?”

 

“Uhh,” Rey glanced at the glass panels that made up two sides of the conference room. She shook her head. “It’s no bigger than the size of a Chinese takeout container."

 

God, she’d forgotten the way his eyes crinkled at the corners when he was amused, so when they did so now, it felt as if she’d been kicked in the stomach.

 

“I’d opt for a Chinese takeout container over a fish bowl any day.” Rising to his feet, he gestured with a hand to the door. “Lead the way.”

 

Good God, did his hand need to be so big? Crush me with those big bear paws, you hulking boulder of a man. Her fingers twitched for a pen so she could scribble down the line–

 

“Rey?”

 

Her name on his lips made her jump, and she desperately tried to refocus her gaze on him. It proved annoyingly hard with her heart racing like an out of control subway car. But when he cocked a brow at her, Rey seemed to unfreeze.

 

She nodded. “Right. This way.”

 

Gripping her tattered notebook to her chest, she strolled casually from the room. But seeing as Rey had never strolled...or been casual in her life, she wasn’t certain she succeeded. When Rose scrunched her face at her as she passed by where her friend stood at the copy machine, she knew her casual stroll was a failure. Thankfully she reached her office not long after that, and all but sighed in relief when she slid into her chair behind the desk. 

 

Sucking a bracing breath between her teeth, Rey raised her eyes to find Ben hesitating just within the doorway of her office. 

 

“You weren't joking when you said it was the size of a takeout container.”

 

“Why would I lie,” she snorted, “and to you of all people?”

 

Ben quirked his head to the side. “To make me feel comfortable?"

 

Rey propped her elbows on her desk and carded her fingers together, biting back amusement. “Have I done anything to make you feel comfortable up to this point?”

 

Those ridiculously full lips of his curved up. “No.”

 

“Well, there goes your theory.”

 

He chuckled, stepping forward to pull the extra chair she kept in the office out from under the outer lip of her desk. Rey watched in barely concealed glee as he tried to fold himself into it, his large frame making such maneuvers all but impossible.

 

After he had managed to contort himself into a pretzel-like position, Rey asked, “You know, we could always go to that coffee shop over off 10th Ave.”

 

Ben narrowed his eyes. “Do they have tiny ass chairs, like this one?"

 

“Wow, I’m so sorry,” Rey crooned, reaching across the desk to pat his hand. “It must be hard navigating the world as a veritable Sequoia.”

 

Ben glanced down to where she touched him. Dragging his gaze back to meet hers, his mouth crooked up. “Aren't Sequoias protected? You would think such a designation would warrant a bit of respect.”

 

“You would think.” Reaching for her tote, Rey slipped her notebook inside, and looped it over her arm. “But then when have science or nature mattered to society?”

 

“Good point,” he huffed. “How depressing.”

 

Rey paused in the doorway of her office, glancing back at him with a sad smile. “It’s also infuriating. And if we can find a way to make people care about the infuriating things through laughter at the ridiculous things, then my writing isn’t wasted.”

 

***

 

When Ben had opened his eyes that morning, he hadn’t imagined he would be sitting across a table from the writer responsible for the bits that had been poking fun at him for the better part of a year.

 

And yet he couldn’t say he was disappointed.

 

Ben had agreed to do the Last Week Tonight finale because his agent told him it was wildly popular, and he was not above mocking himself. He enjoyed comedic acting, and aside from stints as the host on Saturday Night Live, he rarely had a chance to do it.

 

Fiddling with the white plastic lid on his coffee cup, Ben contemplated what to say to the woman sitting across from him. He knew she was a fan of his work, but his roles weren’t really who he was, and he’d tried to keep his personal life out of the spotlight. Did he want to give her a glimpse behind the curtain?

 

What Ben was certain of, even after knowing her for only a couple hours, was that this stunning spitfire would pounce on any mistake or misstep he made. Just because he’d acted in various movies and been nominated for awards didn’t mean his tongue had any damn notion of what to say in the presence of a pretty lady.

 

And Rey was pretty...although pretty seemed grossly inadequate. Stunning. Effervescent. Razor-sharp. Ben studied her as she took a sip of her coffee, in which she had added two pumps of oat milk and an exorbitant amount of sugar. When her greenish brown eyes met his, he swallowed.

 

She was fucking beautiful...maybe more so because while her smile was warm and sincere, her tongue eviscerated all in sight.

 

“Tell me truthfully, Ben. Are you upset about all of this?” Rey grasped the script from her bag, with its array of scribbled notes, and plopped it down on the table between them. “I can imagine my silly thirst bits have rained down the full force of the Ben Solo Brigade on you.”

 

He frowned. “The fans seem to like it, from what I’ve been told.”

 

Rey chuckled, the sound dry. “Well, now they do. But after the first thirst segment aired, your most vocal fans circled with their pitchforks, and tweeted and emailed angry messages to John and the show...and then they hitched their thirst wagons to the train.”

 

Heat crept up his neck. “Why would anyone have a reason to be upset by a silly show bit?”

 

It didn’t make any sense. Ben knew his fans were loyal, maybe even rabid on occasion. But why they would take offense at something so obviously done in jest was beyond him.

 

Closing her eyes, Rey took a sip of her coffee. Ben tried not to be consumed by how even when she was relaxed she still seemed in motion, like the rise and fall of waves on the open ocean.

 

“I’ve been in various fandoms for a long time,” Rey mused, running a finger around the lip of her cup. “Some stints were short lived, and some I’ve been involved with, in one variation or another, for over a decade. I’ve long since learned to ignore the crazed fans, because if you’re not consistently fawning over their favorite, nothing will appease them.”

 

Which made sense. After six years playing Kylo Ren on Galaxy Wars, Ben knew this. The fans that made the movies a success, the ones whose support he was thankful for, could also be problematic. And yet the fandom had snagged fans like Rey, who turned around and penned bits on popular cable shows that went viral and delighted his publicist to no end. That sort of push and pull dichotomy was why Ben refused to engage in social media. He was better off learning the pertinent details from his agent.

 

Pointing to the wrinkled stack of pages before them, Rey said, “So the premise is that John is going to engage in another one of his Ben Solo thirst rants, when you surprise him on set. The camera will cut to you prowling on stage, John will feign shock...maybe even horror. You proceed to chastise him. Does that work for you?”

 

He nodded. “Absolutely.”

 

“Good.” She plucked a pen from her bag. “So then let’s sketch out how your confrontation with John will go. I can pretend I’m John, and we can workshop the scene, note our lines, and then revise them from there. What do you think?”

 

“I think,” Ben began, his mouth twitching with a smile, “this should be fun.”

 

The next hour flew by in a flurry of notes, deep belly laughs, and blinding smiles. Rey was wicked smart, coming up with snarky lines and mimicking the right inflection needed to deliver them on the spot. She quickly scribbled out the dialogue as they acted it out, filling in the details between their chuckles, her ease with the process comforting as well as conducive to his creative process. Ben was so used to reading the script he was given, crafting his characters on nonverbal cues and their tie to the greater storyline. But with Rey, he was in a position to dictate that storyline from the ground up. It was a satisfying sensation.

 

“You said, Let me build a nest in your branches, you Orc-crushing Ent. Really John? An Ent?”

 

Rey dipped her head, her cheeks blushing prettily, as if she truly were embarrassed. Maybe she was. “But they destroyed Isengard, and helped thwart Saruman. It’s a compliment.”

 

Ben stared at her. “You’re ridiculous.”

 

“I-I,” her voice trailed away...until she looked up at him through her eyelashes. “I suppose I am. I’ve been very naughty.”

 

Her lovely lips worked around the word in a way that transfixed him. And the manner in which her lovely accent enunciated each syllable made his cock twitch. Ben shifted in his seat to hide his growing arousal. Rey appeared nonplussed, scribbling notes in her hasty scrawl, until she met his stare. Ben bit back a groan when she slowly arched a brow.

 

“Do we need to take a break?”

 

That fucking sparkle in her eye was going to be the death of him.

 

Leaning back in his chair, Ben stretched out his legs along the side of her chair, crossing his ankles. Propping his hands in his lap to hide his semi hard cock, he faked a nonchalance he didn’t feel. 

 

“Do you really think John will agree to that last line?”

 

“I do.” Rey tossed her pen down, planting her elbows on the table and waving a hand about. “He’s recited all the other nonsensical lines I’ve written.”

 

Nodding, Ben dropped his gaze to the tabletop.

 

“It embarrasses you. I can’t say that I blame you.”

 

“No?” He murmured, risking a glance up. 

 

She frowned. “Of course not. I’d be mortified if someone referred to me in the ridiculous ways I’ve referred to you.” She paused, licking her lips. “It’s just, when I wrote these silly bits, that’s all they were. Silly. You were a real person, of course, but also a means to generate a laugh. I’m sorry I made you the brunt of the joke.”

 

Ben had not expected an apology. And he was sure he didn’t want one. Working his jaw, he studied Rey’s downturned head. The way her fingers fanned the pages of her notebook. How her leg bounced up and down under the table. She was a sharp, witty writer, and she shouldn’t apologize for utilizing inspiration wherever she found it.

 

"For whatever it's worth, I've never felt like the brunt of the joke. My publicist is thrilled with the segments, and I find them really funny. Completely ludicrous, but funny. You write satire, Rey, and I would be a fool to be offended by it."

 

Rey looked up at then, her pink lips tipped up into the smallest of smiles. "You're a good sport, Ben."

     

He chuckled. "You say that like it's a great feat or something."

     

She shrugged, organizing the script pages, messy with her scrawl, before she shoved them into her bag. "You'd be surprised."

     

Several minutes later they stood outside on the sidewalk, shadows beginning to swallow the weak sunlight peeking between the buildings. The city offered a plethora for the senses; the sharp wail of car horns peppered the air, lights flashed in multicolors from marquee signs, and the stench of exhaust and trash mingled with the smells wafting from the nearby hot dog cart, all creating an experience that was distinctly New York. A crowd of pedestrians rushed around them, like water swelling past unmoving boulders in the middle of a stream.

       

Ben noticed it all, but it was like white noise, comforting in its normalcy but not distracting him from the woman before him.

 

Rey fidgeted with the strap of her bag, shifting back and forth on her feet, her gaze darting from his face to a spot over his shoulder. She was nervous. He found it endearing.

     

Shoving his hands into his pockets, he asked, “So what happens now?”

    

“Oh, well, I'll make these changes and then share them with the other writers. Once the script is approved, production will reach out to schedule the shoot.”

     

“Okay." He cleared his throat. "Would you mind if I got your number? You know, in case I think of new lines or something.”

      

“Or something.” A wide smile stretched her lips, brightening her whole face. 

      

Rey rattled off the number and he programmed it into his phone. Slipping it back into his pocket, he studied her. Ben wanted to see her again. Wanted to make her laugh. Wanted to see her hazel eyes alight with amusement.

        

He wanted to learn if her smile tasted like sunshine.

        

“Thanks for your help today.” Her voice was soft, and he shouldn't have been able to hear it over the caphocony around them. “This is not at all how I imagined my day would go.”

        

“Me either.” Ben looked down at his feet. “But it was fun.”

         

“It was,” she whispered. “Please text me if you have any ideas for new lines...or something.”

         

Ben smiled. “Count on it.”

         

With a quick wave, Rey sauntered away. Ben followed her with his eyes, watching her weave in and out of the crowd until she disappeared from sight. His stomach twisted oddly at the loss.

        

When he got home thirty minutes later, Ben settled onto his couch with a glass of pinot noir in one hand and a notebook and pen in the other. He had some lines to write.

 

***

Rey hasn't expected to hear from him. 

 

Ben Solo had no reason to reach out to her. She assumed he asked for her number as a formality. Because they had written a segment together. Rey hoped, rather desperately, that he hadn’t noticed how her pulse raced the entire time she sat across that narrow cafe table from him, her eyes so often drawn to his elegant hands with their long fingers and neatly trimmed nails. He had artist hands, and Rey had fought not to rub her thighs together at the illicit thoughts those hands once again conjured in her lizard brain.

            

But that very night, as she munched on chips and guacamole in her narrow galley kitchen, a cold Dos Equis dribbling condensation over her fingers, her phone dinged with an incoming text. Licking her fingertips clean of salt, Rey grasped her phone, glanced at the screen, and gasped.

 

Ben Solo had text her.

 

9:06 PM: What if instead of allowing John to finish his apology, I just called him a ‘strange, depraved man’, and stormed off set?

 

Mashing her lips together to contain her glee, Rey paused to consider her response. 

 

9:08 PM: I mean, John is a strange, depraved man, so you wouldn’t be lying.

 

Hoisting herself up to sit on the countertop, Rey held her phone in front of her face, her eyes glued to the screen, nibbling on her lip as she waited for the three flashing dots to turn into words.

 

9:09 PM: I didn’t realize parody writers were so concerned about the truth. Is journalistic integrity a lesser known sister discipline?

 

Rey snorted. Fuck, he was such a sarcastic bastard...which made him unbelievably sexy. If she’d had a crush on the characters he brought to life before, it was nothing compared to the heat that warmed her extremities after knowing Ben Solo for a mere handful of hours.

 

9:09 PM: Parody writers are all that are noble and righteous. Doubt us to your perpetual infamy.

 

Their conversation carried on for the rest of the evening and throughout the next week. They swapped light hearted messages, or sent each other GIFs and memes. Rey’s heart lurched out of rhythm whenever Ben’s name flashed on her screen, and his texts had quickly become the highlight of her day. When she told him the writing team had loved the script they’d written together, he’d sent her a GIF of Will Ferrell pumping his arms, saying “Awesome! Yes!” 

 

His follow up message reiterated how much he enjoyed working through the segment with her. Even seeing his appreciation in text made her flush down to her toes.

 

2:32 PM: My agent just called. Filming is set for this coming Friday.

 

Her skin immediately felt clammy, and Rey pressed her hand to her mouth to contain her gasp. Glancing out her small office, she saw no one about, so she leaned back in her chair and grasped for a sense of equanimity.

 

2:34 PM: I had no idea. But I can’t wait to see the roll. You’re going to kill it.

 

The three dots flashed for several long minutes, and Rey climbed to her feet, tossing the phone on her desk and pacing back and forth, her hands knotted in front of her face. Once Ben filmed his segment, there really wasn’t a point for them to continue to communicate. She’d like to think they’d become friends, of a sort, but her regard could very well be one-sided. The thought of never hearing from him again made an ache spread under her ribs.

 

In the course of one week, Ben Solo had become very dear.

 

Her phone vibrated on her desk, and Rey latched her gaze on it, her heart beating in her throat. She picked it up with cautious fingers, a breath trapped in her lungs.

 

2:37 PM: After filming wraps, would you like to get dinner? With me?

 

A laugh burst from her mouth, and she didn’t bother to stifle it. Relief...and something akin to giddiness fired through her veins. With trembling fingers, she typed.

 

2:38 PM: I suppose I should let you take me to dinner for giving you all the best lines.

 

Ben did not make her wait for his reply.

 

2:38 PM: It’s the absolute least you could do. 

And I look forward to repaying you.

 

Rey closed her eyes and indulged in a full-throated squeal.

 

***

 

He was glad he didn’t see her before filming began. Although Ben was playing himself, he didn’t want anything—anyone—to distract him from why he was there: to convincingly take John Oliver to task. And if Rey had been there, that teasing smile curving her mouth, that mischievous glint in her hazel eyes as she watched him deliver the lines they wrote together, well, Ben wasn’t sure he would have been able to look at anyone else but her. Why would he want to?

 

Thankfully, they were able to knock out filming the segment in two shots, and the entire crew had a good chuckle when it was over. Ben lingered a bit afterwards to chat with John and the producers, all the while conscious that Rey was in the building at that moment, holed up in her takeout-container box of an office waiting for him to take her to dinner.

 

God, he’d barely known her for a week and yet he missed her smile.

 

Would he appear overeager if he appeared outside her office two hours before they were scheduled to meet? Yeah, it would be rude . He should probably walk around for a bit, maybe get her flowers, or a cup of coffee with an obscene amount of sugar packets. Ben smiled at the thought, and wondered when the last time a person had tied him up in knots this thoroughly. This quickly

           

Oh, his agent was forever hearing from the agents of Hollywood starlets with offers to appear alongside him on various red carpets or at industry events. They were beautiful, talented women at the height of their careers, and Ben knew and respected several of them. Yet he had never been tempted. Not once.

 

Not until he’d met a feisty writer whose words had skewered him before the whole world. Whose laughing eyes and flirtatious dimples reminded him how important it was to laugh, even if at himself. Her sense of humor was a potent aphrodisiac. 

 

“So where are you off to now?” John asked, pausing outside the studio doors. “A few of us are going to get drinks at the pub around the corner. Want to join us?”

 

Ben shoved his hands into his pockets and shook his head. “I’m actually getting dinner with a friend.”

 

John nodded, offering a friendly wave as he turned to depart. “Thanks again for doing this. You've been a swell sport. Tell Rey she did great work.”

 

Only after the man had disappeared down the hall did Ben realize John knew who his dinner companion would be. He couldn’t hold back his smile.

           

“What put that goofy grin on your face?”

 

It took effort not to jump in surprise. To will his muscles not to spasm or react in any way. Spinning about on his heel, his gaze fell on her. Rey. She was dressed casually in black leggings, a black tunic, leopard print flats, and a worn denim jacket. She looks comfortable. Stylish. Effortless.

 

So far out of his league even a NASA telescope would struggle to recognize him in her orbit.

 

Swallowing, Ben remembered she was due a response. “Perhaps it's there at the promise of meeting with you.”

 

One dark brow arched just so. “Well, I have been told I'm a rey of light.”

           

Ben cringed before he could think better of it. “Have you really?” 

 

A snort slipped free. “I have. Isn't it ridiculous?”

 

“Incredibly...but also embarrassing.” He smiled when she snorted again. “Or perhaps it's that snort of yours that's ridiculous.”

 

Her affronted expression did odd things to his heart. “Excuse me, Mr. Hollywood Man, but if you were truly trying to get into my pants, shouldn’t you say I’m charming? Maybe even witty?”

 

He damn near swallowed his tongue. Get into her pants? Jesus fuck. This woman knew exactly how to shatter his equilibrium like a dizzying uppercut to the jaw.

 

Ben cleared his throat, calling on all his training for just a smidge of aplomb. “You're all those things...plus savagely smart and crazy beautiful. Have I acquitted myself?”

 

Her irises went wide, but then she blinked and the moment was gone. 

 

“Acquitted yourself? Sometimes you sound as if you’ve stepped from a Jane Ausen novel.”

 

His face went hot. “Yes, well, I-I—”

 

“Ben,” Rey murmured, placing a hand on his arm, “I like it.”

 

He cocked his head. “You do?”

 

“A lot.”

 

He had to look away. The intensity of her stare, the earnestness he glimpsed there, stripped him bare. It was a wholly foreign sensation.

 

“Perhaps I should have my agent hunt out more scripts for period dramas.” Ben paused, pinching his lips. “Although I doubt I could nail the brooding hero quite like Firth or Macfadyen. Or even Armitage, for that matter.”

 

“But you already have.”

 

Ben jerked his chin back. “I already have what?”

 

“Nailed the brooding hero.” When he continued to blink at her, Rey smacked his arm. “Kylo Ren was essentially a space Darcy.”

 

“A space Darcy?” A chuckle burst from his mouth, and it took him a moment to recover. “I guess you’re right.”

 

Rey practically preened. “I usually am.”

 

“And very modest, too.” When she huffed, it was his turn to reach out and squeeze her arm. “I like it.”

 

Her dimples could be weapons of mass destruction.

 

Ben ran a hand through his hair. “You know, I’m really glad my schedule was open so I could participate in the episode.”

 

“Me too.” 

             

Her mouth, rosy and soft, shaped the words as if they were precious, and they were. Christ, they were.

             

Rey held his gaze for several seconds before her own skittered away.

 

Much the way his pulse skittered with her so near.

 

Ben walked with her back to her office, silently watching as Rey saved her last document and closed her laptop. Grabbing her purse, she looped the strap over her head, and paused within the doorframe to look at him. 

 

“So where are we off to?" Rey glanced down at herself, her teeth catching her bottom lip. "I thought I would have time to change before I saw you. I'm sorry."

 

“No, you look great.” Ben rubbed the back of his neck. “I'm sorry. We finished filming, and I was already here, and anxious to see y—” his mouth snapped shut, abruptly feeling awkward. And foolish.

 

“You were anxious?” Rey took a step toward him, stopping only an arm’s length away. But the intense way she considered him felt like a caress. “To see me?”

 

Incredulity, doubt tinted all three syllables, and a spark of anger flared to life in his chest. “This date...your texts...are the only thing I’ve anticipated in a good, long while.”

 

With her mouth slightly ajar, she appeared completely flummoxed. But her gaze cleared, and a small smile tugged at the corners of her mouth.

 

“You weren’t anticipating getting back at John for embarrassing you?”

 

Ben furrowed his brow. “You know, once I learned you were responsible for the segments, the wish to embarrass John sort of dissipated.”

 

Rey propped a hand on her hip. “And now you want to embarrass me?”

 

“I want to do all sorts of things to you, but I promise, embarrassing you is not one of them.”

 

His dark eyes gleefully tracked the blush that spread over her cheeks and down her neck, only to disappear under her tunic.

 

Lifting her chin, Rey speared him with a jaunty smile. “Well, let’s get out of here so you can tell me all about the other things you had in mind for me."

 

The roar of the tides seemed to sound in his ears, blocking out everything until every cell of his being, every molecule that existed in his body, focused solely on her. On Rey as she walked down the hall toward the lobby, the quick glance she gave him over her shoulder both questioning and teasing.

 

“Damn,” Ben breathed, and he hastened to catch up with her.

 

***

 

Ben Solo was so much more real than she ever would have imagined. This man who breathed life and light into characters across the film spectrum was himself like still waters, and he’d granted her a taste of his depths. And Rey could not stay away, not when the allure of drowning was so damn intoxicating.

 

Rey honestly could not fathom why he wanted to get dinner with her. Why he’d been texting her. Why his stupidly handsome face seemed to light up in the office when he’d looked down at her, a smile shining bright in his eyes even while his lips had only ticked up a fraction. This beautiful man could easily have an equally beautiful woman on his arm, and yet he seemed to want to direct his attention to Rey.

 

And she intended to bask in that attention, because while she may not be beautiful, she wasn’t a fucking idiot.  

 

He took her to a literal hole in the wall Puerto Rican restaurant that Rey had probably passed numerous times and had never seen. They sat at a booth in the back of the restaurant, and as she tucked into the most delicious pernil and arroz con gandules she’d ever tasted, Ben told her about his next movie project which was set to begin filming in a month. But he didn’t dominate the conversation, instead asking questions about her childhood and schooling, swirling the dark liquid in his glass around and around as he listened to her tales. 

 

The full weight of his regard was heady but never stifling. Rey had watched enough of his movies to have an idea of the power of his stare, but she’d never imagined she’d ever be subjected to it. That there would come a time that Ben Solo would look at her, truly look at her as if his brown eyes had never seen anything as interesting as Rey Niima. Being the object of his regard was a feeling unlike anything else.

 

When her stomach was full and she easily could have drifted off to sleep right there at the table, Ben paid the bill, tugged her up by the hand, and led her out into the busy New York streets. They stopped to watch an 80s cover band perform, Rey doing her best to entice Ben to dance with her by executing her most comical moves. But he just shook his head while his fervent gaze tracked her every movement.

 

After a time, he bought them Italian ices from a food cart, and they sat side by side on a bench near the park entrance, spinning absurd, fictitious stories about the people walking by. A flame had been flickering in Rey’s chest all evening, and it exploded into an inferno when Ben cracked a dad joke and looked down at her with a grin.

 

“Do you want to come back to my place?”

 

The laughing expression slipped from his lips as his eyes simmered with want. Contrary to that show of desire, Ben was all politeness when he said, “I’d like that.”

 

They walked back to her apartment in silence, but his grip on her hand was tight, his palm somehow scorching even while it eased her nerves. When Rey unlocked her front door, she stepped inside, pausing just across the threshold and blinking into the dark interior. She made no move to turn on a light.

 

The click of the door closing sounded behind her, followed by the turn of the deadbolt. The only other noise was his breathing. Vaguely she noted that hers was ragged and labored.

 

“We don’t—have to do anything more than talk, Rey. I just—didn’t want the night to end.” 

 

His hand gripped her shoulder, gently urging her to face him. Through the checkered light streaming through the window, Rey looked up at his face. Had she once thought Ben beautiful? It seemed like such a prosaic word for how he appeared to her now. In the span of the last week, Ben Solo had gone from being a beautiful, talented man she admired to something so much more. 

 

Tonight, he was everything.

 

Twining her hand in the material of his shirt, Rey tugged him down until they shared one breath. “We’ve done enough talking, don’t you think?”

 

And before he could answer, she pressed her lips to his.

 

His lips were soft, gentle, teasing at her mouth the way his words had been teasing her since they had met.

 

Rey was done being toyed with.

 

Threading her eager fingers through his dark hair, she hummed in the back of her throat as she marveled at the silky texture. Slanting her mouth, she deepened the kiss, tugging on his strands until Ben moaned.

 

Breaking free of his embrace, Rey gripped his hand and led him to her bedroom. In the dim lighting, she watched as Ben glanced curiously about the space. When he returned his gaze to her, she delighted in the way his eyes widened and his jaw went slack as he took her in. With his attention elsewhere, Rey had yanked her tunic off her shoulders, leaving her clad in her bra and leggings. Holding his smoldering gaze, she hooked her thumbs in the waistband of her legging and panties, and shimmied the garments over her hips and down her legs. 

 

Rey squared her shoulders as Ben’s hungry gaze traced over her. If this was their only night together, she would relish every last second of it. No matter what happened tomorrow, he was here now, with her, when he could be with literally any other woman in the world. Ben fucking Solo was hers for the night.

 

Climbing onto the bed, she turned to face him on her knees. “Come here.”

 

His throat bobbed, his irises swallowing his pupils as he stepped toward her. Her hands trembled as she reached for the top button of his shirt, holding his gaze as she slipped it free. As Rey made her way down his torso, plucking buttons loose at a languid pace that tormented them both, Ben’s arms remained locked by his sides, his hands curled into fists. When there were no more buttons left to free, she peeled the black material from his shoulders, smirking as his rapid breaths coasted across her cheek.     

 

“You’re not playing fair,” he growled.

 

She pulled back as she went to work on his belt buckle. “Not playing fair would be if I said something like, Ground me to dust and scatter me in the wind, you sexy Bigfoot.”

 

“What…,” his expression morphed from lust to confusion in the space of a heartbeat, “are you even talking about? Bigfoot? Really, Rey?”

 

“It-it’s hard to think when you’re in front of me, like this,” she mumbled, gesturing to his bare chest. It was so damn sexy she ached to explore all the dips and valleys with her tongue. 

 

Rey jerked her gaze to him when he slid his palm along her cheek, weaving his fingers through the hair at the base of her neck, and pulling her closer. His eyes were brindled pools of desire.

 

“You are the only woman who would think to say such an inane thing during foreplay.” His lips captured hers, his tongue sliding along hers and coaxing a whimper from her. “Christ, you’re amazing.”

 

Then Ben grabbed her by the waist and tossed her back onto the bed, prowling over her until his large frame caged her beneath him.

 

Her body heaved with the force of her breaths, an ache building deep in her core, yearning leaving her almost lightheaded. Rey licked her lips and ventured, “So what happens now?” 

 

“Well, if you agree to stop comparing me to a hairy cryptid, I, in turn, will fuck your pretty pussy with my fingers and tongue.” Ben smoothed his thumb across her bottom lip. “If that seems like a fair trade to you, of course.”

 

“God, yes,” she groaned, pulling him down for a blistering kiss.

 

Flames licked across her skin as Ben broke away and kissed down her body. After removing her bra, he nipped and caressed her breasts, before continuing down until he reached the juncture of her thighs. Ben lifted his gaze to hers, an unspoken question in his eyes. At her nod, the corners of his mouth tipped up into a roguish smile. 

 

Her eyes rolled back into her head at the first scorching swipe of his tongue. Soon Rey was twisting in the bedsheets, bucking and straining, unsure if she could handle the pleasure he subjected her to and yet desperate to have it. Ben offered no respite, draping an arm across her waist to hold her in place, while his other hand dragged a thick finger through her wet folds. Rey gasped when he slipped that finger, and then another, into her, thrusting them rhythmically until she saw stars. But when he sucked her clit into his mouth at the exact moment he crooked those wicked fingers inside of her, Rey threw her head back and arched her spine, clamping down on her lip to contain a scream. Her legs shook and her thighs clinched about his head, her orgasm rippling through her body like the devastating waves of a tsunami.

 

Lying motionless, her head filled with cotton balls as the most delicious tremors echoed through her limbs, Rey vaguely registered the crinkle of foil, only opening her eyes when Ben ran his nose across her collarbone and down her sternum, pausing to press a kiss to the spot above her heart.

 

“Do you want me to continue?” He whispered into her ear, holding his cheek against hers.

 

“Of course, you—”

 

Ben kissed her, cutting off her words. When he eventually pulled back, she giggled. 

 

“Thank you for not letting me kill the moment.”

 

He pecked the tip of her nose. “It would take much more than that to chase me from this bed, but let’s not push it.”

 

Any reply she would have made wilted on her tongue when he stroked his cock along her slit. Rey scrambled to grasp his forearms, locking her teeth together as currents of pleasure radiated from where he touched her. Holding her gaze, he pushed in slowly, and Rey’s back bowed as her body worked to make room for him. 

 

When his hips were finally flush with hers, Ben released a guttural exhale. 

 

Words were no longer necessary. Their association, their friendship, may have begun with the words she’d written about him, broadcasted to a national audience, but in this moment, with their bodies connected as deeply as possible, their shared looks, touches, and kisses communicated everything that needed to be said. The tightening of his fingers on her thighs as he held them wide to make room for his thrusting hips, the hitch of his breath when she squeezed around his thick flesh, the trembling of his lips as they claimed hers spoke louder, more clearly, than any words they could have uttered.

 

When she teetered on the precipice, Ben sensed it, massaging her labia around his thrusting cock with his long, agile fingers before he worked his thumb against her clit. And her orgasm was a wordless scream, an expanse of blinding white streaked with a kaleidoscope of light and mind-numbing bliss. Bliss, over and over and over again.

 

Sometime later, Rey found herself enfolded in Ben’s arms, her back pressed to his front. His fingers skimmed along her arm, his face buried in the crook of her neck, his steady breaths a lullaby that threatened to lull her back to sleep. 

 

“You stayed,” she murmured, before you could think better of it.

 

His fingers paused in their path along her skin. “Of course I stayed. Surely you know this is more than a one-time thing for me.”

 

Rey craned her head back to meet his gaze. "I had hoped it was, but...I wasn't sure.”

 

“We’re friends, Rey.” Ben fixed his gaze on her mouth, before he met her eyes again. “But I’m also crazy about you.”

 

“You are?”

 

He nuzzled her cheek. “Why do you sound so surprised? Do you think I spend time with just anyone who compares me to an Ent or Bigfoot?”

 

“You could spend your time with anyone.”

 

“But not everyone is you.” 

 

She exhaled as her heart seemed to quadruple in size.

 

Ben’s hand drifted over her hip to curl around her thigh, lifting it to rest over his own. As his fingers slid over her mound, he sank his teeth into her earlobe. “Now are you finally going to tell me what wolf smut fanfiction is about?”

 

Her laughter was quickly doused by his wandering fingers and determined lips.