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How To Care For Your Omega

Chapter Text

Rey first learns about the place over a bowl of cereal, skimming the newspaper for work. 

The reporter lauds the concept as remarkably progressive - empowering Omegas to improve their futures on their own terms, transforming their relations with a whole new generation of Alphas.

She snorts and rips out the page to save for later. Her hamster's cage will soon be in need of some fresh newspaper.

Several weeks later, when her last paycheck from Plutt bounces for the third time, she finds the article still tucked behind the cereal box in her otherwise empty pantry.

New Alpha Academy.

- - - - - - 

"We're full."

The young woman at the counter hardly looks up at her, typing loudly on her keyboard.

Rey frowns. “You don't even know what I'm looking for."

The woman's eyes snap up. "Sure I do. You're looking for a job. Just like the four other Omegas who've been in here this morning." She looks back at her computer. "We don't have any more available."

"But you've only just opened." Rey holds up the newspaper balled tight in her fist. "This article says -"

"Seeking Omegas for immediate employment," the receptionist finishes. Not that Rey doesn't remember - those words have been stuck firmly in her mind since she first read them at her kitchen table. "We were. Three weeks ago." She studies Rey’s face, and her eyes soften a bit. The typing stops. “Look. There's a temp bureau a block over. They might have a few positions for an Omega, but we've already got everyone we need here."

"I don't need to find a job for an Omega," Rey says, irritation rising. “I only need a job. Don’t you have any other positions available?”

“Not the kind you’re looking for.”

“And how would you know what I’m looking for?”

“Even if we had any positions available — which we don’t —“ She gives Rey a look. “You just wouldn’t be a good fit for this, if you know what I mean.”

“Actually, I don’t know what you mean,” Rey says hotly. “And if there were any positions available —“

“Which they’re not.”

“—well, if there were, then you should know I could do them just as well as any other person, regardless of designation!"

“Jannah, what’s going on here?”

A new woman has emerged from the hallway. Older than the receptionist, with short gray hair and a commanding presence. Clearly an Alpha, Rey immediately decides — and one in a position of authority, judging from the way the woman named Jannah immediately straightens behind the desk. 

“I’m trying to explain we don’t have any more assistant positions to fill,” Jannah finishes, not looking at Rey.

“That might have just changed.”

Jannah’s eyes widen in disbelief, and they glance over the older woman’s shoulder down the hall. “Again?”

But the Alpha is now studying Rey with a curious expression on her face. With some effort, and a little self-disgust, Rey tries her best to soften her posture and expression into something she imagines a good, helpful Omega would assume.

“Can you start immediately?” the woman asks.

“Immediately?”

“Immediately. Today. Right now.”

“Leia,” Jannah says quietly, “if we’re talking about who I think we are, I don’t think she’s the sort of person that—“

“Oh, I think she’s exactly the sort,” says the Alpha named Leia, her eyes glittering. “I think she’s the sort we’ve been looking for all along.”

“Pardon me.” Rey is growing uncomfortable with the way they’re talking about her, as though she were a particularly interesting racehorse instead of a human being with perfectly functioning ears. “I’ve got several other interviews to get to this morning, and if there’s nothing available here —“

“Cancel them,” Leia cuts her off. “We need you to begin immediately.”

Before Rey can reply, the other woman has turned on her heel and begun striding purposefully down the hall.

Behind the desk, Jannah sighs. “I hope you know what you’re getting yourself into.”

“I already told you," Rey says with a flash of irritation, "I’m prepared to do whatever job you have for me here.”

“I wasn’t talking about the job.”

“Let’s go!” Leia calls from down the hall.

As eager as she is to press for clarification, Rey decides to follow her new boss down the hallway instead. 

Whatever she’s talking about, it can’t be worth losing a job — any job — on her very first day.

- - - - - -

”We'll be throwing you right into things today," Leia is saying as they round a corner. “One of our assistants — former assistants — left us in a bit of a pickle this morning, and you arrived at just the right time.”

“A pickle?“ 

“Our assistants typically attend a week-long orientation,” Leia continues. “But we’ve already started a round of students with your predecessor, and we’ll have to get you started right away. No worries — the instructor you’ll be partnering with is quite capable.”

“Wait.” Rey’s got about a million questions, and she’s struggling to keep up with the woman’s quick pace. How could they possibly think Rey is the perfect person for the job without even an interview? Why have several people already quit when the center has only been open for three weeks? How can she be expected to teach anything when she has no idea what the program is even about? But when she opens her mouth, what comes out is: “How much does it pay?”

Leia throws her a sly smile over her shoulder. “It’s rewarding work in its own right, of course, but…” She winks. “We make it very worth your while.”

That’s all she needs to hear. Or at least, Leia must think so, because she stops abruptly in front of a door and throws it open.

Rey takes a steadying breath — and immediately stops in her tracks.

Any thoughts of negotiations or employee satisfaction or even the testy receptionist evaporate from her mind in an instant.

Oh.

Pine. Smoke. Rich, fragrant earth. Rey inhales deeply, which is an immediate mistake. Her lungs aren’t working the way they usually do. A battle is waging between the fierce desire to trap that delicious scent within them for as long as she can manage — and the impulse to greedily draw in huge gulps of air, until there’s nothing but rich smoky Alpha-scent coursing through every part of her, crowding out anything else that might take up precious neurons that exist only to soak up that incredible —

“… a solution to our problem,” the woman is saying, sounding much too cheerful and very far away. “May I introduce our newest Assistant.”

A beat passes. Too long. Rey becomes vaguely aware she is expected to do something. Blessedly, her feet decide to carry her into the small conference room, without any input from her scent-drunk brain necessary.

In the same way, her eyes find him immediately.

Even if she weren’t already reeling with the smell of him, Rey thinks her eyes would be drawn to him first regardless. His presence is the sort that demands the attention of anyone that encounters him. He takes up all the air in the room — not simply with his scent (god, his scent) — but physically, too. His body is too broad for the space it occupies, wide and tall and simmering with tension. There is a crackling, fiery energy about him, intensified by his surly mood, which Rey detects even before he turns his dark expression upon her. 

A long, heavy beat passes. And then he looks away.

“Her?”

His voice is extraordinarily deep. Resonant. Rey would want him to continue, if she weren’t dreading whatever might come out of his mouth next.

“Perfect, isn’t she?” the woman says, beaming. “She's turned up at precisely the right moment.”

“Is that all we’re requiring from our job applicants these days? Feet to carry them into our building?”

“The advertisement also specified that I must be an Omega,” Rey interrupts, flush with irritation.

“An Omega with feet,” he says, with another dismissive glance. “Explains why we’ve been so successful in our search.”

“Or perhaps it’s the people doing the searching,” Rey says, unable to stop herself now that she’s started.

His dark eyes swivel back to her — and this time, they stay there. 

"I'll let you handle the interview," Leia says, sounding far too cheerful. “Don’t be long. Next class starts in an hour.”

And then, with a click of the door, Rey is alone.

With him.

Alone, with him, and his terrible, suffocating, intoxicating scent.

"Sit."

He dips his chin toward a chair at the table. Rey tries not to think about how much closer they are as she moves to the table and sits down.

A scrape of a chair, louder than hers, and he is seated directly across from her. Even sitting down, he is enormous. Imposing. Delectable.

"You don't want this job."

Any shred of attraction is immediately drowned in the rush of indignation that comes over her.

"I don't even know what this job entails,” she says, feeling defensive. 

"Exactly." He folds his arms, and Rey struggles not to stare at the way it makes his dress shirt strain. "This position is highly demanding."

"My schedule is completely clear."

"I'm not talking about your schedule," he says sharply. "This institution is transforming the future of an entire generation."

"Sounds very important," Rey says, in a tone that will likely jeopardize any chance she had at working at this place. She finds she no longer cares. "All I've heard so far is about how difficult and taxing this role is, but no one will tell me what it actually involves."

"Then let me have the pleasure."

There is, of course, nothing pleasurable about the way he's looking at her — except the dark, earthy scent still surging like a current through her body. But she's doing a pretty good job of ignoring that. She thinks.

"This job," he says slowly, "involves commitment. The performative aspect of this academy’s curriculum means you must maintain your role from the moment you walk through the door and every moment thereafter. Our trainers provide a living example of ideal behavior for our students. You must uphold this ideal in everything you do here. With no exception.”

“And who determines my ideal behavior?”

“Your Alpha.”

Her breath catches. “My training partner, you mean.”

“Your Alpha,” he continues, with a note of warning, “will be your guide in every aspect of your tenure here. Since you won’t have the benefit of an orientation, he will also guide you in your own training as an assistant. And, like this job, your Alpha will demand your absolute, unwavering commitment.”

“Will he?” Rey says, amused by his seriousness.

“He will.”

“Sounds very taxing.”

“You don’t believe me.”

“It’s just that I’ve had far more demanding jobs than whatever you’re describing.” Rey leans back in her chair. “You ever tend bar on the north end?”

His nostrils flare. “You shouldn’t be anywhere near the north end.”

“I grew up on the north end,” she says tightly. “And I’m not worried about whether I can fool some impressionable young Alphas into thinking I’m sweeter and softer than I am. I don’t need an orientation to teach me to pretend to be a good Omega.”

“You could have fooled me.”

Ignoring the sharp stab of hurt in her chest, Rey rises to her feet. “That’s because I learned what I needed to do so that I don’t have to pretend anymore.”

“Then why come here to keep pretending?”

“I need the money,” Rey says. “And I’m good at it.” Or, well, she usually is. Something about this particular Alpha makes it difficult to pretend to be anything but the raw, visceral feelings he inspires in her.

Not that it matters. 

She has clearly screwed up this interview enough to ruin any chance at working here — not as an Omega, a dishwasher, or anything in between.

“I’d better get going," she says, pushing away her chair. "I’m sure you’ve got a pile of other interviews lined up this morning for this thrilling opportunity.”

“We don’t.” His expression is inscrutable as he studies her. “And even if we did, it wouldn’t matter. The job is yours.”

Her mouth drops open. “What?”

“You have the job,” he repeats. “We have no other options right now. So it’s yours. Contingent on your performance during a trial session today.” 

A trial session. So they’ll judge her performance. Unexpected elation mixes with a sudden, burning desire to know if he’ll be the one doing the judging. A trial session. Will he be in the audience? Watching? Her stomach squirms at the image. She wouldn’t want him there, of course — she hopes she never has to be anywhere near this intolerable Alpha again — but she can’t help but wonder what he would think, if he were watching her. Nonsensical, urgent Omega thoughts begin to whirl in her mind: Would he be impressed by her performance? Would he think she is a good Omega, an ideal Omega, a perfect, sweet, desirable Omega for an Alpha just like —

She needs to get out of this room.

Now.

“Thank you,” Rey manages. She nearly knocks the chair over as she walks backward, knees like jelly. 

He watches her intently as she leaves. "Looking forward to it."

The air in the corridor outside is as fresh as springtime. Leaning against the wall, Rey takes a deep, steadying breath, allowing it to clear her head of the Omega voice still spinning tales in her muddy brain. She can't remember ever being so unmoored by an Alpha — and such an insufferable one at that.

As she heads down the hall, away from him, Rey finds herself unexpectedly grateful. No matter how awful her new teaching partner may be — and this person must be pretty awful, if they've already frightened off multiple Omegas before her —

They can't possibly be as awful as him.

And if that arrogant, obnoxious, intolerably attractive Alpha in the conference room wasn't enough to send her running, Rey can take anything her partner might throw at her.

She's sure of it.

Chapter Text

Rey frowns at the syllabus in her hands. “Is six weeks really going to be enough to cover all this?”

“It’s certainly an intense schedule,” Rose says sympathetically. "The condensed nature of this program keeps the students engaged with the material, but it requires a lot of commitment from everyone involved.”

Commitment.  

Rey hears the word echoed in the deep tones of her Alpha interviewer, and her face suddenly feels hot. 

Maybe she shouldn’t have been so dismissive of his warning. 

“Don’t worry. You’ll have it easy today.” Rose points at the line that reads week one. “See? Scenting. You’ll only need to stand there while he points at your glands.” 

Well, that sounds more than a little awkward. She imagines standing on a pedestal while her unknown teaching partner prods at her wrists and throat. But she supposes it’s better than the cringeworthy images her mind had conjured when she first imagined an academy to teach new Alphas how to care for their Omegas. 

Of course, those images would be a lot less cringeworthy if they were featuring an Alpha she were actually attracted to. Her mind is quick to recall those images now — except this time, they’re starring the Alpha from the conference room. His big hands undressing her, explaining in that deep, resonant voice exactly how he plans to make her come…

“Who did you get paired with, anyway?”

Rose’s voice jolts Rey out of her guilty imaginings. She peers at the top of her paper. “Ben Solo.”

Judging from Rose’s visible wince, Ben Solo is nothing like the fantasy her mind has just provided. “Armitage already threw in the towel, I take it.” Rose sighs. “Well, don’t worry. You can always request a new partner after this semester.”

That doesn’t sound promising. But Rey tries to look encouraged all the same, if only to get Rose to stop looking at her with so much pity.

“Your class is in room six,” Rose says. “The nicest room, naturally. Only the best for Ben.”

Rey wants to ask why they would reserve the nicest room for someone that everyone dislikes — someone who clearly can’t even do his job properly — but instead, she says, “And where’s your classroom?”

“Oh, me?” Rose laughs. “I’m just a materials coordinator. And a Beta, so I don’t think anyone’s interested in what I have to say.

Rey’s not so certain they’ll be interested in anything she has to say, either.

“Hey. You're gonna be great.” Rose gives her a reassuring smile. “Today, you just have to stand there and wave around your glands. Not even Solo can mess that up for you.”

------

When Rey arrives, though, Ben Solo isn’t at the classroom yet. Neither are any of the students. But she finds herself grateful for the opportunity to get her bearings when she finally gets a look at where she'll be teaching.

As it turns out, the classroom isn’t so much as classroom as a small auditorium. A very small auditorium, at least — there are maybe a dozen seats in the seating area, and the stage features a wide set of steps in front, making it easily accessible to the floor. But she still wasn’t expecting herself to be quite so… on display. 

Then there's the bed. Positioned in the corner of the stage, and clearly planned for a later session — but it’s still there. There are more innocent items, too, of course — posters, with clinical descriptions of Alpha/Omega biology; a small, round table with two chairs.

But it’s the bed her eyes keep going back to.

She hopes she has a chance to actually speak to this Ben Solo before they need to use it.

If he ever actually shows up.

A door at the rear of the seating area slams open, making her jump. A group of four young men come strolling in, smelling heavily of newly presented Alpha hormones - the thick, chemical scent of a fire that’s just started burning. Rey scrunches her nose in distatse.

The sound of their conversations drops off abruptly when they see her standing on the stage.

“Damn, another one?”

“That’s the third one this week.”

“And the last one,” Rey calls out, her voice carrying easily in the resonant space. “I’ll be here for good.”

The incredulous expressions they give her say they’re less than convinced. “With all due respect, miss, the assistants haven’t been the problem,” says the tallest one. “The problem has been him.”

He doesn’t need to say the name for Rey to know who he’s talking about.

For the next few minutes, she pretends to busy herself with her papers at the table, irritation growing. How terrifying could this Solo be? Who the hell does he think he is, making everyone say his name in such hushed tones? Driving away all the Omegas unfortunate enough to be paired with him?

Well, he won't send her running. No, sir. Rey doesn't scare easily, and she certainly isn't about to start today with some pompous, pig-headed Alpha. Maybe she'll be the one to send him running. Rey allows herself to marinate in this fantasy as the rest of the class streams in. Yes. Ben Solo will be preaching about how meek and subservient Omegas are, and Rey will embarrass him in front of all his students.

She's just starting to enjoy herself when the door opens again.

Everything comes abruptly to a halt.

He's here.  

The traitorous Omega thoughts come rushing in as quickly as his scent, making all the fine hairs on her body stand straight up. Alpha's here, he's here, he came for me, he couldn't keep away —

Rey struggles to recall her irritation at having to deal with this man twice in one day, but it's difficult to think clearly. He must have come to observe her after all. She is struck by momentary, unwanted giddiness at the thought. Maybe he'll get to watch her make a fool of this Ben Solo everyone is so afraid of. He'll see that she's a good Omega, she thinks, a little deliriously — that he was right to choose her for this job, that she can handle anything he might desire from her —

With disgust, Rey pulls herself away from this flurry of manic Omega fantasy. Looking up from her papers, she expects to see him slipping into a seat in the back of the room — and is surprised instead to see him striding directly toward her.

Panic briefly slices through her. Has she done something wrong? Is he coming to tell her they've made a mistake — that she's unemployed after all, and she'll be rationing her remaining ramen packets for weeks until Plutt finally emerges with more work?

It's not until he turns around to face the students that it hits her.

"Class," he says.

Oh.

Oh, no.

For the first time, Rey notices the room has fallen utterly silent. 

"As you may have noticed, we have a new Omega here to assist us."

We. We have a new Omega. His words loop in her mind as she desperately tries to find some other explanation, but it all makes too much sense. We - this class - that he is presumably a part of, because that means he is actually — oh god

"What happened to Armitage?" someone calls out.

"Mr. Hux will not be returning to the Academy," he replies briskly.

“But I liked Armitage,” another student says.

“Well, Armitage didn’t like you,” Solo snaps, and they fall silent. Sitting behind him, Rey can see that his shoulders are very tense. “Rey Niima will be our assistant now. And unlike the others, she will not disappoint.”

He finally looks back at her, and their eyes meet. 

Rey wonders what on earth she’s gotten herself into.

------

As he begins to lecture, though, Rey starts to understand why he is afforded so much special treatment here. 

He's good at it.

Really good. 

The deep, smooth tones of his voice weave an instant spell over the room. Rey finds herself leaning into the rhythm of his words. Captivated. He paces the front of the stage as he speaks, and from the safety of her chair, Rey allows herself to watch. 

“These four glands release the most prominent output." Facing the class, he rolls up the sleeves of his dress shirt, and Rey unconsciously leans forward in her chair. “On the wrists." He holds his forearms up for the students. "And two more on the throat." He rolls his head, the corded muscle of his neck and shoulder coming into relief. 

The movement makes his scent roll backward in a steady, head-spinning wave. 

Rey thinks her mouth might actually start to water.

"They're a bit more difficult to pick out on your Omega." He looks back at her again. "But not if you know where to look."

Her heart lurches.

Here we go.

Without needing him to summon her, Rey moves across the stage. Her feet seem to float, carrying her directly to his side.

They are closer like this than they were in the conference room. Much closer. This new proximity allows her to appreciate for the first time how much he truly towers over her. Rey is still trying to figure out how this makes her feel when he gently grasps her wrist and lifts it into the air for his inspection. 

"While an Alpha's glands are usually very prominent,” he says, more softly than before, "an Omega's must be coaxed to the surface."

For their ridiculous size, his fingers are quite deft. They make quick work of the button at her sleeve, and then, slowly, he begins to roll up the fabric.

She knows he is only baring her forearm, but the sensation of cloth sliding across her skin, combined with the intense way he's studying each inch of naked skin, makes the gesture feel incredibly intimate. As though he's undressing far more. 

With unexpected tenderness, Solo turns her arm over, so that the vulnerable underbelly is exposed.

"We can already see the shape of it," he explains. "Right along the delicate little bones here." Softly, his fingertips trace their path, following the line of her racing pulse directly to the sensitive gland beneath her palm. "But with a bit of stimulation..." 

Rey's face feels very hot as he begins to slowly, slowly trace its edges with his fingertips. The way he is staring at her — eyes dark and fierce, soaking in every shift in her expression — makes her feel impossibly warm. She wants to squeeze her eyes shut, to lean into his touch, to tear her hand away — but she can only watch him. Entranced, and full of sensation.

"There we are."

She tears her eyes from his face to the dizzying sight of his hand engulfing her wrist. The small, pink gland there has now turned swollen and hot. 

"That's all it takes," he murmurs, almost to himself. He sounds surprised. Deeply pleased. His thumb passes directly over it, more firmly than before, and Rey thinks she might fall over.

Then he releases her. Her skin is left tingling and bereft where his fingers just were.

Her relief is only temporary, however. Next, he moves to stand directly behind her. Rey can’t decide if this is better or worse than before, now that she can’t see the way his eyes burn as they watch her.

“Her throat,” Solo continues, “is a different matter."

The heat of his body, his scent, rolls over her — and oh, this is worse, infinitely worse. Without him in her line of sight, she is hyper aware of the sensation of his hand lifting her hair, cool air kissing her neck as he exposes her.

“To the side, Omega,” he murmurs, soft enough for only her to hear. His fingers press gently against her temple, and she follows their coaxing, tilting her head toward her shoulder. 

Baring her neck to him.

A long pause follows. Rey is starting to wonder if she’s done something wrong, when Solo clears his throat behind her.

“The glands on her throat,” he says, a little hoarsely, “are more sensitive than the ones on her wrists.” He isn’t touching her this time, but Rey can still feel the cool wash of air across her skin as he gestures with his hand. “Located just below and behind the ear. This gland is near enough to the mating gland at the nape of her neck that it can create a short-lived bond, if one were to bite it.”

Rey shuts her eyes in a fruitless effort to strangle any images of what might lead to such an occurrence.

She is unsuccessful. 

“Scenting,” Solo continues behind her, “is a secret language. Our bodies use these glands to communicate important messages, without needing to give them voice. They betray our emotions. Our fears.” He pauses. “Our desires.” 

Solo raises his arm again, and Rey catches sight of the gland at his own wrist. “They are also an instrument of possession. We leave our scents on our partners to communicate to the outside world that they belong to us. So that no one else attempts to claim them.”

Carefully, he mimes the movement of his wrist, inches above her throat, in a mockery of the real thing. 

“When you scent your Omega, it’s important that her glands have been teased to the surface, the way hers are now.” Another gesture at the distressed patch of skin at her throat, which is surely on fire with all his attention. “Your mark will last longer on her this way. And it’s best to be thorough. Multiple locations are better than one.”

She’s not sure if she’s imagining it, but she thinks he hesitates before allowing her hair to fall back over her throat, covering her again.

“Of course, after you find and mark your mate with a lasting bond”—and here, the most private gland at the nape of her neck, hidden safely beneath her shirt, feels hot enough to burn straight through the fabric—“You won’t need to scent her anymore. Though you may still find pleasure in doing so.”

When he steps away, Rey has to physically restrain her body from moving to follow him. She breathes deeply, focusing on the feeling of her feet grounded on the floor, and tries to think about something that’s not Ben Solo rubbing his scent all over his mated Omega for pleasure.

“That will be all for today.” He is walking across the stage, away from her, and Rey feels utterly, nonsensically lost. “We begin courting rituals next class. Don't neglect the reading.”

There is a desk at the far side of the wall, and Solo sits there as the students gather their things and file out. To her surprise, they don’t sound like they’ve shared the life-altering experience Rey just endured. In fact, they might even sound a little bored.

“At least this one will last longer,” she hears one of them mutter as the room clears.

When the last of the students have emptied the room, Rey takes a slow, steadying breath before turning to face him.

Solo is still sitting at the desk, writing in a small notebook. Ignoring her. Rey is grateful for the way this makes her blood boil from something other than dumbstruck Omega brain.

“You didn’t tell me you’d be my instructor,” Rey says.

He doesn’t look up. “That shouldn’t be a problem.”

“The interview was the problem. Why give me all that rubbish about my Alpha expecting my total commitment?”

“Because I do.” And god, the look he gives her — Rey isn’t sure if she wants to flip the desk in his face or have him flip her over it.

“You’re my teaching partner,” she says through clenched teeth. “Not my Alpha.”

He only stares at her.

“And the only reason I’m staying in this job,” she continues, “is because I have no other options right now.”

Something in his jaw twitches. “Obviously.”

“So whatever it is you’ve been doing to terrorize those other Omegas — you should know right now. It’s not going to work on me.”

Solo blinks. Something flashes across his face, too raw to be anger. “I have no interest in terrorizing anyone.” 

“Sure you don’t.”

“Least of all you.”

“Oh, so let’s settle for a little public humiliation on my first day instead.”

“So that’s what you’re worried about.” Amusement quirks his mouth, and he leans back in his chair. “You shouldn’t be. Those students must take a rigorous course of blockers to even set foot in this building. Your secret is safe with me.”

Rey’s face grows very hot. “I don’t have any secrets.”

“We all have secrets, Ms. Niima.”

“Then what’s yours?”

His stare turns impossibly darker, tense with that same crackling energy Rey has felt since he stepped onto this stage with her.

“Better run, Omega,” he says. “Before someone gets terrorized.”

Rey shoulders her bag and gives him the fiercest look she can muster. “I’ve already told you,” she says. “You won’t be able to.”

------

When Rey can finally breathe again, on her way to the bus with a check larger than six weeks of her usual pay, she allows herself to think that she is maybe just a tiny bit worried that he might be able to after all.

But, even more worrisome, is how much she doesn’t think she'd mind.

Chapter Text

The academy is quieter today. There are no classes, which means there are no students hurrying in and out of the front doors. Rey can take some time to admire the tall glass exterior of the building, the shiny new metal lettering, only recently installed: New Alpha Academy.

She’s never worked somewhere like this before. Somewhere with offices and a mission statement and large, reliable paychecks for its employees. It feels… unexpectedly good. But also a little terrifying. Like she’s cradling something precious and delicate in her hands, with the knowledge it may shatter the instant she moves too carelessly.

Rey is pretty good at being careful. She’s had to be, with a childhood spent in foster homes and odd jobs to keep her stomach full.

But something about Ben Solo makes her feel very careless. 

Out of control.

Her eyes trace the lettering of the new sign out front, and she promises herself she won’t let him break this for her.

When Rey enters the building, Jannah is stationed at the large front desk again, typing rapidly.

"We're full," Jannah says, and then glances up from her computer. "Oh. It's you." She relaxes. "You came back."

“Well, yeah. I work here now."

"I guess you do. They paired you with someone else, then?"

"They paired me with Ben Solo.” Rey makes sure to say this with great nonchalance, just for the satisfaction of her reaction.

Jannah raises her eyebrows, clearly impressed. “You've already made it longer than Number 2. She didn't even get through the morning."

“I’ve dealt with plenty of Alphas like him before.” Rey, of course, has never met anyone remotely like Ben Solo in her life, nor any other Alpha who has inspired such a wide range of emotions in her. Nevertheless, she adds, “I know how to handle him.”

“You must've caught him on a good day." Jannah leans forward, tone suddenly conspiratorial. "The last one — the redhead? Solo got in a shouting match with him after their second class together."

Rey remembers the interaction they shared after class and supposes she should be grateful there was at least no shouting. But really, the way he'd been speaking to her — low, urgent, so very deliberate... it had definitely been more intense than any shouting match Rey has ever participated in.

She would know. She's been replaying every moment of that lecture in her mind ever since.

“I can understand why they decided to leave,” says Rey, not entirely truthful.

“Oh, they didn’t leave.” Jannah gives her an odd look. “Solo kicked them all out. He wanted nothing to do with them. Of course, they didn’t want anything to do with him either, after they’d been stuck with him for a few days. But don’t worry. The semester only lasts six weeks, and —"

Jannah's eyes catch on something over Rey's shoulder and widen. She abruptly returns to her computer.

“Hello, Ms. Niima."

His voice is as deep as she remembers it. Rey turns and tries not to breathe in his scent too deeply, lest she lose any of the scant respect she’s garnered from Jannah over the past few minutes.

Ben Solo is standing in the mouth of the hallway, a jacket slung over his shoulder. He looks utterly, infuriatingly delectable.

“Mr. Solo,” Rey says, as coolly as she can.

“You got my email, I presume.”

“I did.” Her eyes dart to his jacket with some confusion. “I thought we were going to meet.”

“We are. Let’s go.” But instead of turning to lead her down the corridor, Solo walks straight toward the exit. A head-spinning cloud of his scent rolls by as he passes. When he reaches the door, he gives her a glance over his shoulder. “Well?”

Rey looks at Jannah for assistance, but the other woman is ogling at them as though they’ve both sprouted several new limbs in the last minute.

“Take care, Jannah,” Rey says, her voice a little higher than usual.

She follows Ben Solo out the door. 

------

He doesn’t speak as he leads her down the sidewalk. It’s probably for the best; he walks with long, purposeful strides, without checking to see if it’s a comfortable pace for his companion, and when they arrive at the end of the block, Rey is a little breathless from keeping up with him.

“No thanks,” she says, when she notices they’ve stopped in front of a cafe. “I’ve already eaten.”

"I haven't." His eyes pass slowly over her body, and she isn’t blushing, she tells herself. It’s just the cold.

“Sounds rough.”

“And you could eat a little more.”

“I’m fine.”

“Don’t lie to me, Omega.” He gives her a firm look. “I can tell.”

“Fine,” Rey says, flush with irritation. “But I’m paying.”

He opens the door… and then holds it there for her. Waiting. It makes Rey prickle with annoyance, that he believes she can’t handle opening her own doors — but also with something much warmer, from the way it makes her body brush along his as she walks past. 

She makes sure to reach around and give the the door her own push as she passes. Just to assert some control over the situation. 

It’s not until they’re inside that she notices it’s one of those new bougie cafes, with table service and a wine list instead of a crowded counter full of pastries. At least it’ll be more difficult to smell him in here, with the sweet aroma of fresh coffee and cured meats mingling in her nose. With some reluctance, she follows him to a table by the window.

“Is this going to take long?” Rey asks as they sit. “I’ve got work to do.”

“No, you don’t,” Solo says matter-of-factly. “I’m the one who gives you your work.”

“Well, I’ve got… other work. Obviously.”

That didn’t sound very convincing to her ears, but Solo’s expression tightens. “If you have another job, you should give them notice. This position is very time-consuming.”

“Oh, yes. It will take me hours to decide between all these cappuccinos.”

“That wasn’t a joke, Rey. If you have another job —“

“I don’t have another job.” It comes out too forcefully, and she exhales unsteadily, through her nose. “Haven’t had one in weeks.”

Silence falls over the table. Rey stares at the long list of obscure caffeinated combinations and tries not to grip the menu too tightly.

“It won’t take long,” Solo says, and there's something in his tone she can't quite place. “The next lecture is on the subject of courting rituals. I thought we might... prepare together.”

“I’m guessing you need my help with that.”

“Your help? Of course not.” He has the gall to sound offended. “You need direction.”

Mouth falling open, Rey finally looks up from the menu. “I need direction?”

He’s looking at her very sternly. “Yes.”

“I need direction,” she repeats, “on how an Omega would like to be courted.”

“You need direction on the curriculum.”

"And your curriculum’s already taught you everything you need to know about what Omegas want?”

“Yes,” he says evenly, “I believe it has.”

“Do you think your curriculum might teach you how to be a little less arrogant?”

His jaw clenches. “I designed it myself.”

Shit. “So that’s a no, then.” Stop talking. “To both questions.” Stop talking stop talking stop —

Mercifully, the server appears to rescue her. A young man with a broad smile, he explains several of the day’s breakfast specials while Rey wonders if this place might be looking to hire any unemployed Omegas who can't stop blurting out the first stupid thing that pops into their heads.

“Just an espresso,” Solo says tightly, when the server has finally stopped talking. “Black.”

“And for your lovely Omega?”

“This one, please,” Rey says in a rush, and points at a random item on the menu of drinks. She decides to spare Solo the embarrassment of correcting the server’s assumption, since she’s already insulted him multiple times before they’ve even ordered coffee.

When the server walks away, Solo breathes out slowly and folds his hands on the table. Rey stifles the urge to crawl beneath her chair.

“Ms. Niima. I understand this teaching arrangement is…” His jaw twitches again. “Less than ideal.”

She doesn’t expect the slice of hurt that cuts through her at these words. It shouldn’t be a surprise. Of course he would think she’s less than ideal. This man has already rejected multiple assistants in the past week. Why on earth would he choose to work with Rey when she can’t even hold a civil conversation with him?

“But I need a competent assistant. Otherwise, this current round of students will need to wait until next semester.” He pauses, and his tone softens. “Just for the next few weeks. Until they can pair you with… someone else.”

“Right.” Her throat feels too thick. “Someone else.”

“Until then, we’ll need to imitate a mating bond for the benefit of our class." Solo straightens in his chair, sounding more serious. "This institution teaches by example. And a consistent demonstration is key for the students to recognize healthy behavior in a true mated pair.” His mouth tightens. “Many young Alphas do not have an ideal representation of such a bond in their home life.”

Rey would know all about that last part, at least. “So does your curriculum explain how to demonstrate a mating bond?”

He gives her a loaded look. “Our teaching partners typically share some level of… chemistry.” 

“Right.” Rey’s not sure precisely what he means by chemistry, but she’s pretty certain she already feels it in ample supply. Even if he doesn’t feel the same way. “Well, I’m good at pretending.”

“I’ve noticed.”

“You’ll just have to get better at it too.”

He looks at her so long and hard that the traitorous glands on her throat start to burn. “It won’t be a problem.”

------

Their conversation comes a little more easily, after that. Part of this may be the huge amount of pancakes the server brings for them to share, so that Rey’s mouth is too full to make any more of a fool out of herself.

“I thought you weren’t hungry.”

The sound of his voice, clearly amused, makes her look up. With a jolt of embarrassment, Rey realizes that he’s barely touched the plate at the center of the table, which is now nearly empty. More importantly, she remembers exactly how each one tasted going down.

Her face grows warm. “Didn’t want them to go to waste,” she says, and gives him an accusing look. “Weren’t you supposed to be the hungry one?”

Something shifts in his eyes. “Don’t remember saying that.”

“Pretty sure you did.”

“There’s whipped cream on your lip.”

“What?”

Before she can react, Solo reaches across the table and swipes his thumb gently across her upper lip. 

Rey must be utterly dumbstruck, because she swears he lingers there for a moment too long. The only clear explanation is that her brain has stopped working.

He pulls away. 

“I thought good Omegas weren’t wasteful,” he says, examining the cream on his finger.

Good Omegas. Rey bites her lip, still tingling from his touch. “That’s not what I said.”

“Didn’t say it was.”

He wipes the cream on his napkin, and Rey’s stomach flutters at how small the cloth looks in his hand.

When they finally leave, he doesn’t let her pay.

But Rey makes sure to reach the door first, so that she can at least open it for herself this time.

------

It’s not until later, when she’s home and remembering, that she realizes they didn’t go over courting rituals.

Or maybe they did, and she just didn’t notice.

Chapter Text

An hour before his lecture starts, Ben Solo paces the length of the stage in his classroom.

He's already been here forty minutes. The floor has been swept, the stack of mediocre essays on his desk graded. The table in the center of the stage was already outfitted with place settings when he arrived, but Ben pauses there now and adjusts the utensils for a third time.

The room still smells like her. It's been several days since she last set foot in here, and the sweet scent of her still teases him with all the things she wanted him to do to her that day. It makes his nose itchy, his palms sweat.

What he would give to have her here again, right now. Alone.

Such thoughts are... inappropriate. And unfair. To her, of course, that she's been paired with such a beast of an Alpha. She can’t be blamed for the way her body responds to him — the way she melted in his arms as he was stroking the tiny, aching gland at her wrist.

But it’s also unfair to him. He has hardly been able to think since the moment that conference room door opened and revealed her — enchanting, radiant, and full of disdain. It’s utterly unfair that he must not only endure her presence, her contempt, her maddening scent – but also the relentless thoughts of all the ways he might make her melt like that again.

How is he supposed to teach with someone who so clearly despises him?

Someone he can hardly look at without needing, needing to touch her?

With great agitation, Ben runs his hand through his hair. He needs to pull himself together. He needs to stop staring at the door. He needs to stop searching for the scent of her in each breath, each burst of conversation carried in from the hall.

He’s not even supposed to be here. Teaching is humiliating, menial work. Creating the curriculum, he didn’t mind so much — Ben has always had a penchant for research. And he’s found a deep and satisfying sense of revenge in creating a school so completely opposite to the hellhole where he has wasted the last decade of his life.

But his uncle, who is funding this whole circus, insisted.

Not that it was supposed to matter. Ben was supposed to destroy any chance of finding an Omega willing to partner with him. He’s never had much trouble convincing people to dislike him. It should have taken a week, at most. Perhaps sooner.

He nearly succeeded.

Then Rey Niima walked through his door.

The students are starting to arrive. Ben sits at the desk, then rises to straighten the tablecloth, then sits down again. He shuffles through a few of the essays, frowns, and lowers a grade at random. His knee bounces under the desk.

“Mr. Solo?”

One of the Alphas has approached the edge of the stage. He is not much younger than Rey.

“Are we beginning soon?” the young man asks, a little warily. “Class was scheduled to start three minutes ago.”

Ben’s fist clenches around his pen. “Momentarily. Go have a seat.“

“But we’ve got a lot to cover,” he goes on, as though Ben doesn’t know that. “Is it possible that… y’know. She’s not coming back?”

The plastic pen cracks beneath his grip.

“I told you,” Ben says, “to sit down.

“Sure thing,” the young man says quickly, and goes back to his friends. But now the thought is there, and it’s not going away. Ben stares down at the pieces of the broken pen, wracking his mind. Surely, she would have told him if she decided not to return. She’s been very explicit so far about how strongly she dislikes him; why would she suffer through the remainder of their breakfast together if she were planning on quitting?

Unless… his stomach drops. Unless something is wrong. Terrible images begin to whirl in his mind, each more grisly than the last. She might have been in an accident. She might have gone for a walk around the north end — he told her she shouldn’t go near there – and been picked up by some stranger. Would she even have anyone to call, if she were in trouble? How could he not have gotten her goddamn phone number?

His Alpha is approaching full-blown panic when the door in the back of the classroom slams open.

“Sorry — so sorry —“

The smack of her scent — even laced with worry — is enough to put the breath back in his lungs. Ben tries to unclench his jaw as he watches her hurry up the aisle. The students hardly pay her any notice, still chattering amongst themselves.

“Did I miss anything?” she says, a little breathlessly. The tip of her freckled nose is pink from the cold. Ben is briefly struck with the ridiculous urge to cradle her face in his hands until she is warm and glowing again.

“Next time you’re going to be this late,” he says instead, “you will give me some warning.”

“I’m not that late,” she says, glaring up at him as she unravels her scarf.

“This class was scheduled to start”—Ben glances at the clock, and it’s only six minutes past the hour. He is losing his goddamn mind. “Several minutes ago,” he finishes, a little lamely. “This can’t happen again.”

“My bus was running off schedule,” she says through clenched teeth. “And I’ll text you next time if you’ll stop making such a scene in front of your class. Aren’t we supposed to be demonstrating a mating bond or whatever?”

A bus. She takes a bus. He feels inexplicably offended – she should have her own car, or at least someone to drive her – but he doesn’t think this is a point he should be arguing on stage, in full view of his classroom. Half of which is now watching them with open shock.

“Courting rituals,” Ben announces, a little too loudly, and forces himself to face his students. “Let’s see who did the reading.”

Out of the corner of his eye, Rey shrugs out of her coat, and he catches a glimpse of the gland beneath her ear.

It’s going to be a very, very long morning.

From the seats below, a few students begin to offer a list of terrible first dates straight from the textbook.

“A frozen yogurt shop. So the Omega doesn’t get anything solid stuck in its teeth.”

“A library. Libraries are nice and calm — perfect for Omegas.”

“A walk through a quiet neighborhood. One without any cars.”

“What sort of neighborhood doesn’t have any cars?” says Rey, far too loudly. Ben’s head snaps to look at her, and the room falls silent.

“I imagine,” he replies, “ones with plenty of seedy busses.”

“And how exactly is an Omega supposed to get around without a car or a bus?”

“Excellent point, Ms. Niima.” He turns back to the class. “An Alpha should ensure his Omega always has safe transportation.”

“As they travel for a stroll in a neighborhood with no transportation.”

He turns to look at her sharply.

“Just want to make sure I’m clear," she says cheerfully.

Ben feels his jaw twitch. “Crystal.”

“What a revolutionary course this is. Whoever created it must be a real expert on Omegas.”

“Enlighten us, then,” he says, through his gritted teeth. “What exactly would you suggest for a first date?”

She looks around the stage, and her eyes linger on the table in the middle. “Probably… a meal.”

“A meal.”

“Oh, you know. Something casual,” she says lightly, and gives him a sly look through her lashes. “Like breakfast.”

His mouth is suddenly very dry. “You don't think that might be… too casual?”

“Right, because a walk through the library is the pinnacle of romance.”

Ben can think of several ways he might make a trip to the library more interesting. Just the two of them between the dark, silent stacks… struggling to contain her little whimpers...

He clears his throat. “That brings us to the next part of our lesson. Meal etiquette.” With enormous effort, he turns away from her and back to the class. “What did the reading teach us about this important stage of courting?”

“And let’s skip the bits about the pureed foods, please,” Rey calls. “Omegas have perfectly functioning teeth.”

The rest of the lecture passes largely without incident. She doesn’t seem to have as many strong opinions during his explanation of the order of silverware or basic table etiquette. Of course, when he pretends to open a door for her, she strides deliberately around him to mime opening her own, second door. But she at least allows him to pull out the chair for her — and god, he must be going completely mad, because just the sight of her staring expectantly up at him from below — just this — it’s enough to make his tongue feel thick in his mouth and his words to falter.

He loses track of his thought mid-sentence and must look away to find it again.

------

When class has finished, he's pleasantly surprised to find that she lingers again as the last of the students clear the room.

It's easier, without the stink of their students crowding the air, for him to savor the sweet, mouthwatering scent of her. The way it seems to blossom when he catches her eye, the way he is right now, across the empty, silent stage. He knows he shouldn't — god, he shouldn't — but he finds deep pleasure in imagining how it might begin to change, were he to spend a little more time with her. He wants to lock her in his bedroom, envelop her in his sheets and clothes and hands and skin until she absolutely reeks of him.

“Let me take you home,” Ben says, before he can stop himself.

She blinks. “I’ve already got a ride.”

“A bus is not a ride.”

“A friend,” she says. “With a car. I know, I know — very frightening for us Omegas, those cars. But I think I’ll make it.” She pauses, not looking away. “Can I ask you a question?”

Anything, he thinks. Everything. “Of course.”

Rey gives a vague gesture at the table behind her, brow furrowed. “Why the meal?”

Ben looks at her for a long moment, considering. “There are few greater satisfactions than providing for your Omega,” he finally says. “Feeding your Omega, watching her savor what you’ve offered… It’s a profoundly gratifying experience.”

A fine blush crawls up her neck. “I meant the other day,” she says. “With me. Why bring me to that cafe?”

He’s already answered this question. So he tries again: “They have good pancakes.”

“They do.”

“And fresh whipped cream.”

“It was a good breakfast.”

I want to make you breakfast every single day, he doesn’t say. I want to open all your doors and drive you wherever there are roads to drive and fill you with food until you can’t remember how it felt to be hungry.

She bites her lip. “Well, maybe we might…. have another breakfast there sometime. A breakfast meeting. To continue practicing our mating bond, and all that.”

Ben’s not sure what captures the attention of his hindbrain more: hearing her talk about their mating bond, or trying to determine what all that is supposed to include. “Practice is good.”

“Unless you’d rather practice at the library.”

God, she has no idea. “I wouldn’t want to deprive you of your pancakes.”

“I thought Alphas weren't supposed to deprive their Omegas of anything."

"Only if they're good," he says, without thinking. But oh, the way her scent spikes, even across the stage... Ben knows immediately, deep in his bones, just how good this Omega would be for him.

"Only if they're motivated," Rey says in response, but she is betrayed by the breathless edge in her voice.

He can already think of plenty of ways to motivate her.

After she leaves, Ben returns to his desk. He breathes deeply, enjoying the unfamiliar calm of this moment — that strange and flickering burn of hope in his chest.

He notices, for the first time, a new piece of paper on his desk.

With the broken pen, someone has scribbled a phone number there.

Chapter Text

"So let me get this straight." Finn sounds utterly perplexed on the other end of her phone. "You show up every day. You let him talk about dicking you down on stage in front of a bunch of nerdy Alphas. You get a fat paycheck." A pause. "And this somehow isn't sex work."

He's missed a few key details — namely, the giant bed that hovers at the edge of the stage and, more recently, her constant daydreams — but Rey decides to let it slide. "It's completely academic," she says.

"You just spent ten minutes describing the shape of this dude's hands."

"I did not."

"I timed you."

"They're very big hands. There's a lot to describe."

"I know," Finn says. "You already told me. In excruciating detail."

Rey opens her freezer door. She takes a moment to savor the unfamiliar sight of its bulging shelves, frosty air radiating from within. "I don't see what my thoughts about his hands have to do with sex work." Wedging the phone against her shoulder, she extracts one of several pints of loaded gelato she picked up at the grocer today.

"He's literally paying you to pretend to be his mate."

"False. He's not the one paying me." Not technically, anyway. Rey peels a thin film from the top of the pint, frowning. She's not used to buying ice cream like this, with the fancy plastic film on top.

"It doesn't matter who's paying you."

"You're right. It doesn't." The freezer door shuts with a thunk, and Rey grabs a spoon from the dish rack. "What matters is my bank account, which is no longer in the single digits."

"And this doesn't strike you as the least bit shady."

"The programs they run down at the First Order are shady," Rey says. "This place is trying to be something... different."

"By making Omegas mate with a stranger."

"He's not a stranger." She marvels at how easily her spoon cuts through the gelato. It doesn't even need to thaw. "He bought me pancakes, you know."

"Man, you really set a high bar."

"And we're not mates," she adds, her face inexplicably hot. "It's just pretend."

"Yeah? And how exactly do two strangers pretend to be mates?"

Rey thinks of the liquid heat in his eyes, blazing straight through her across the stage. The sensation of his fingertips, tracing sparks across her wrist. She swallows. "It's easier than you'd think."

"Just watch yourself, okay?" He sounds so concerned, and Rey feels a flutter of affection for her best friend. "If this guy tries anything —"

"I'm definitely not worried about that," Rey cuts him off, with too much force. "It's just pretend." Because it is. Even if she might mistake the tiniest spark between them, she knows it's just the visceral chemistry of their bodies reacting to the roles they're playing out. Just her mindless, needy Omega, making dangerous assumptions and sabotaging an Alpha who wants nothing to do with her.

Nothing more.

She chases the bitter taste in her mouth with a spoonful of ice cream.

"You're terrible at pretending," Finn says.

"I can't be so bad, if they're paying me to do it."

"They were also paying you to pretend to be nice to those drunks down at Rudy's."

“I was perfectly nice to them.”

"You poured beer all over that guy's head."

“That didn’t count. He was a Snoke supporter."

"See? Terrible at pretending."

"Believe what you want." Her futon creaks as she settles on its end, searching for more cookie dough in her gelato. "You're speaking to a real life professional pretender now."

"You and your pretend mate and your pretend feelings about his hands."

"They are, objectively, very big hands."

"For the fourth time, Rey, you already told me."

Still crammed against her cheek, her phone suddenly vibrates. Since she's already speaking to the only other person who might be texting her, Rey frowns and extracts her phone from her shoulder to check.

The number isn't in her contacts. But she instantly knows who it is.

Heat, giddy and unwanted, pools in her stomach.

"I've gotta run," she says, staring at the message.

"What? It's almost midnight."

"Work stuff."

"Is your mate sending you a booty call?"

"He's not my mate." Her phone buzzes with a second message, and her stomach flips. "And it's not a booty call."

"Oh my god. He totally is."

"Goodnight, Finn," Rey says, her voice higher than usual.

Her apartment is strikingly silent after she hangs up. Rey chews her lip, reading and re-reading the texts on her phone.

Miss Niima.

Are you awake?

Rey has a feeling Solo is a little too old to understand the implications of such a question at this time of night. It makes her stomach squirm anyway.

Depends, she finally types back. Is this a work question?

The little typing bubble in the corner of the screen appears and disappears several times over the course of the next minute.

Yes.

Oh. Rey isn't sure how she feels about this. Before she can decide, he continues:

I wanted to review the next lecture in advance.

Since you had so much to say about the last one.

Irritated, she decides, glaring down at her phone. Definitely irritated.

The last one was complete rubbish.

Omegas are perfectly capable of eating solid food and driving cars.

Those students are lucky to have me there.

I agree.

She blinks.

But in that classroom, you are my mate.

And mates do not openly challenge one another in front of their students.

So we will discuss it here.

Privately.

Despite herself, heat coils in her stomach.

Fine.

What’s the next lecture on?

Communication.

She almost snorts. The next generation of Alpha youth is definitely in trouble if they're depending on this man to hone their communication skills.

Reaching for the stack of folders on her coffee table, Rey rifles through some papers and finds the printed packet he's included on the subject. Her eyes skim over the first page, and her frown deepens.

This is all wrong.

Omegas don't like to be spoken to like this.

Like what?

Rey scowls at the packet, eyes flying over each line. Speak in soft tones, so the Omega is not frightened. Remind the Omega often that she belongs to her Alpha. Avoid violent or vulgar humor. Tell your Omega regularly how good she is being for you.

Well. She wets her lips. Maybe that last one isn’t so bad.

But the rest…

Simmering with annoyance, Rey reaches for her phone again.

Like they need constant reassurance.

Like they’ll burst into tears at the slightest offense

So Omegas enjoy being offended?

Wouldn’t that be lucky for you.

Tell me how you’d like to be spoken to, then.

The air in her apartment suddenly feels very warm.

Might be easier if we just practiced, she types out quickly, before she can lose her nerve.

Practice how?

You show me how you think Omegas want to be spoken to.

And I’ll tell you how you’re wrong.

Her heart beat is very loud in her ears as she waits for his response. He doesn't make her wait long.

Are you alone?

Yes.

Good.

I’ll need your full attention.

Without thinking, Rey puts her ice cream on the coffee table. It stirs some deep, unconscious satisfaction, this small gesture of obedience. She wonders where he is. If he’s in his apartment, and how different it might look from her own one-bedroom walk-up – or if he’s still in his office at the academy. She wonders how large his bed is, and if he’s sitting there now, phone swallowed by his hand, staring down at the screen with such intense focus. The way he always looks at her.

Solo is still typing.

My Omega would not enjoy being offended.

But she might like to be teased.

Not sure we agree on the definition of teasing.

We don’t need to.

For me to know how she likes it.

Rey shifts on the futon, a movement that is too much like squirming.

Aren’t we supposed to be practicing?

I can’t tell you how you’re wrong if you won’t show me.

Patience, Omega.

I’m showing you now.

She breathes out in a harsh exhale, feeling hot and restless in her pajamas.

An Alpha and his Omega speak a silent language together.

As an Omega, you are gifted with glands to communicate your every need.

And your Alpha with the capacity to fulfill them.

She only realizes she's touching the patch of skin at her wrist from the itchy heat blooming beneath her fingers.

What does teasing have to do with fulfilling an Omega's needs?

Teasing my Omega pleases me, which pleases her.

You think Omegas are pleased by cruelty?

Anticipation is a powerful amplifier, Rey.

It makes it all the more satisfying when I finally give her what she wants.

Her breath is very loud, but she can't seem to steady it. The gelato on the table is melting. She doesn't think they're talking about the same kind of teasing anymore.

The reading says to tell your Omega whatever she wants to hear.

No. Needs to hear.

Important distinction.

And you can tell the difference.

Yes.

She wants for me to say that she's a good little Omega.

To describe how sweet my girl is, when she's listening to her Alpha.

How she's lovely and obedient and mine.

Rey's entire body is buzzing now, her skin tight and hot. He's not saying these things about her, of course — but god, how she wants to pretend he is. That raw, ancient thing deep inside her is preening, whining, thirsty for more of his praise.

But what she needs is someone to tell her exactly how she can be good.

Anything else would be a disservice to her.

Maybe she doesn't want to be good.

Her Alpha will make it worth the effort.

Unruly Omegas always find the deepest satisfaction in handing over their control.

Rey shakes her head, trying to clear her mind of (oh Alpha her Alpha will be patient Alpha will help her be the very best for him) its thick stench of Omega-thoughts. It's an impossible challenge. Taking a shivery breath, she taps out instead:

Let's talk about you now.

About me?

It takes two to communicate.

Shouldn't we go over what Alphas want to hear too?

I won't need to tell her.

There are many other ways to get my Omega to say what I want.

Even if she's unruly?

Especially if she's unruly.

The apartment feels very small, and very warm, but she is struck by the thought that it would feel even smaller and warmer with him in it. Taking up so much space, the way he does. Taking up all her air. He isn't talking about her — she knows he isn't talking about her — but she almost wishes, a little madly, that he were here after all. Showing her precisely how he would drive her out of her mind until she was begging him, exactly the way he means. The way he wants.

I think Alphas enjoy being teased too.

Only so they can enjoy making you regret it later.

Regret isn't the word I'd use.

That's because no one's made you feel it yet.

Her head is spinning. This conversation is edging far too close to flirting — or something even filthier than that, from the way her thighs are sticking together as she shifts on the futon.

I don’t think we can use this for the lesson plan.

You’re right.

We’ll just have to practice more in person.

Oh.

Oh god.

The warm coil in her abdomen tightens even further at the thought. She has no idea how she’s going to remain professional if she’s listening to his low, urgent voice speak to her this way. She should tell him as much. She should tell him that he’s making her feel things he probably doesn’t mean to, that he needs to put another ad in the paper and find a teaching assistant who can actually control herself.

But because she has completely lost her mind, Rey writes back:

Great idea.

We’ll practice more next week.

A long pause.

Looking forward to it.

Goodnight, Rey.

Goodnight, Alpha, she types, and then deletes it before she can press send.

On the coffee table, her gelato has turned to liquid in the cup. Pieces of cookie dough are swimming at the surface. Rey decides to bring her phone to her bedroom as she curls up under the covers, if only to read through their message thread a few more times and pretend it’s his deep voice murmuring in her ear instead.

Just so she can be extra prepared for whatever the hell she’s gotten herself into.

Chapter Text

"No. Absolutely not.”

Sitting at his desk, Luke has the nerve to look flabbergasted. “You didn’t even look at them.”

“I don’t need to,” Ben says. “We are not replacing our classroom seats with rubber balls.”

“Bouncy balls,” Luke corrects him.

“Any kind of balls.”

“It says here they helps keep the students engaged.” His uncle points at a page in his catalogue of ridiculous classroom fads. “Our Alphas need an outlet for their energy, don’t they?”

Ben’s teeth clench. “The entire purpose of hiring me was so that I could tell you what our Alphas need. And it’s not a rush-order of five hundred rubber balls.”

“Bouncy balls.”

“The minimum age of enrollment here is nineteen years old, Luke.”

“Ah, but the art of student engagement spans all ages.”

Ben grabs the glossy packet from his uncle’s desk and points to the cover. “This catalogue is for elementary schools.”

“Is it?” Luke frowns and snatches it back. “Huh. I hadn’t noticed.”

“Besides, if there’s room in the budget, we should put it toward something useful. Like some changes to next semester’s curriculum.”

His uncle perks up at that. He places the catalogue back on the desk and levels Ben with a thoughtful glance. “I thought you only wanted to do one semester here.”

Shit. Ben’s ears feel inexplicably warm beneath his hair. “I haven’t made a final decision yet.”

“It sounded pretty final when you were shouting it across my office.”

“You always think I’m shouting.”

“Because you usually are.”

“Then I don’t see how it’s relevant to whether or not I’ve changed my mind.”

“So you’ve changed your mind, now, huh?” Luke leans back in his chair. “Interesting.”

“I just haven't made a final decision yet.”

“A decision on whether or not you want to — and I quote — ‘train a dozen idiot Alpha-children for a single day longer than necessary.’” His uncle gives him an incredulous look. “I can see why you’re so torn.”

“I didn’t say I was torn.”

“Well, I always said you’d come around to teaching.”

“Didn’t say I enjoyed doing that, either.”

“So another reason, then.” Luke’s expression turns calculating. “Very interesting.”

Ben feels his temple twitch, he’s clenching his jaw so hard. “It doesn’t matter,” he says firmly. “My Omega has suggested several changes —“

“You mean Armitage?”

“No. God, no. I meant Rey Niima.”

“Rey Niima,” Luke repeats thoughtfully, and steeples his fingers. “Your Omega?”

“My Omega teaching assistant.”

“That’s not what you said.”

“It’s what I meant. Obviously.”

“And this Omega teaching assistant. She’s the reason you want to stay?”

“Her suggestions.” God, he hopes his uncle doesn’t notice the way his ears are burning. “Someone needs to see them through.”

“I’m sure she’s very suggestive, to make you change your mind about teaching.”

“I already said that I haven’t made a final decision.”

“Sure you haven’t.”

Luke’s eyes have gained a disquieting sparkle to them, a look that has never boded well for anyone, and definitely not for Ben.

He stands up abruptly. “Expect those recommendations in writing.”

“This Omega of yours,” Luke says, ignoring him. “She’s already lasted two classes, hasn’t she? That’s longer than the others.”

“We’re going to be late for your faculty meeting.”

“Ah! How could I forget.” It’s a poor distraction, but it works. Luke follows him to his feet, grabbing his catalogue of the world’s most terrible teaching ideas on the way. “Such a fun presentation we have in store today. Can’t waste a minute.”

Luke’s use of the word “fun” here is an immediate red flag, but Ben decides not to argue as he follows him out of his corner office. He’s just grateful to have successfully steered the topic away from Rey.

Rey.

He hasn't texted her since their late-night exchange on Friday. And she hasn't reached out to him, either. The weekend between has been long and restless. It was difficult for him to sleep, with the knowledge that she’d be waiting at the other end of it.

His uncle is still trying to convince him of the merits of his overpriced rubber balls when they arrive at the lecture hall. The usual seats have been replaced by a dozen round tables. The room is already crowded with his colleagues, mingling over coffee by the machine in the back.

Ben’s eyes find her immediately.

Her scent, of course, would make it impossible not to notice her. But she’s also laughing, a sight Ben is not familiar with, and his eyes are drawn to her like she is something blinding. An eclipse he can’t look away from. It does something to the ache she’s opened deep within him, to see the way her face transforms when she smiles. With enormous effort, Ben rips his eyes away from her, lest Luke notice his step falter. But the sight is still burned into his eyelids as he finds an empty table.

She’s speaking with two women — the receptionist, he thinks, and the short one from human resources. They’re both Betas, but Ben still feels his stomach twist with envy, that they have the light of her attention. That she smiles at them so easily.

It’s a good thing, he tells himself. Rey should meet people – other people, people better than him. People who aren’t haunted by all the obscene ways they want to defile her. He carries them with him constantly now, lurking right beneath the surface of his skin — his very worst impulses simmered straight to the top. The drumbeat of his yearning, always such a clawing, desperate thing, has now become his constant companion. Awakened by an Omega who does not want him back.

It doesn’t matter. He’s used to sitting at these things alone. Whatever nonsensical activity his uncle has in store for them, Ben will be able to carry it out without anyone’s help.

As if on cue, a clanging gong rings out on the speakers overhead. Several people jump. Ben fights not to roll his eyes.

“Eight thirty, everyone! Let’s get started.”

The grating sound of Luke’s favorite New Age playlist follows the gong, the hum of a drone with tinkling bells overhead. The room hushes as people find their seats. Ben closes his eyes with the rest of them, struggling to shake his keen awareness of her scent moving through the room.

It doesn’t work. In fact, it only seems to get stronger.

With increasing agitation, Ben opens his eyes — and finds her standing right next to the table, hovering uncertainly.

He blinks.

“Anyone sitting here?”

Is she mocking him? The table is completely empty. Ben glances down at the two vacant seats at either side of him, and then back up at her. “You'll just have to stand.”

Something flashes across her face before it hardens. With some panic, he realizes she is turning away. Before he can think better of it, his hand shoots out to grab her wrist.

Rey freezes. They both look at his hand, engulfing hers, and Ben immediately releases her. It was only an instant, but his fingers burn where they were just touching her skin.

“It was a joke." He has to remind himself to keep his voice down. "Sit."

There is no one in this building who wants to sit anywhere near him. Except for her, apparently. He expects her to settle in one of the other half dozen empty seats at his empty table.

Instead, she slides into the one directly beside him.

Rey leans toward his ear, and he is briefly dizzy with how lovely she smells, how close she is. How badly he wants her.

“Any idea what’s going on?”

“Luke’s group meditation,” he replies in a low voice.

“He called a faculty meeting at this hour for a meditation?”

“We should only be so lucky. There’s usually another at the end.”

Her eyes rove across his face with curiosity. “Do people usually scowl like that when they meditate?”

“I wasn’t scowling.”

“You’re doing it right now.”

“I am completely relaxed.”

Ben doesn’t think he’s said something funny, but she stifles a laugh, and it doesn’t matter. His heart trips over itself in his chest anyway.

From his cross-legged pose at the front of the room, Luke must hear the whispering, because his eyes crack open. He shoots a stern look in their direction — and then does a visible double-take when he notices its source. Great. Rey, at least, doesn't seem to notice the delight in his uncle’s eyes; she sinks back into her seat. His good Omega, he thinks, despite himself.

The song fades away a moment later. Luke allows a few moments of silence to linger for dramatic effect before he climbs to his feet.

“Happy morning, future-builders.” His uncle bows to the room. In the seat beside him, Rey’s eyebrows climb up her forehead. “And what an important morning it is. Today, we continue tending to the vibrant garden of teamwork we began planting last week.”

Ben thinks he might be scowling again.

“On each table, you will find two boxes of one jigsaw puzzle. A puzzle,” Luke pauses, “with a very significant message.”

Definitely scowling.

“Each member of the table will take turns placing a piece of the puzzle,” Luke continues, very solemnly. “Until meaning emerges, and we all create one picture. One message. Together.” He nods. “Begin.”

The room is filled with the low noises of people shuffling around, scraping chairs, and awkwardly negotiating which way a puzzle should be facing at a single round table. Ben is grateful that it’s only the two of them. Partly because they will get through this ridiculous exercise more efficiently, but mostly because he gets to have her completely to himself.

Rey, for her part, is still gaping at the front of the room. “Is he always like this?”

Ben’s mouth twitches as he spills the puzzle across the table. “Yes. Sometimes worse.”

“And we do this every week?”

“During orientation, it was every day. You’ll never catch up, I’m afraid.”

He must be speaking a little too loudly again, because Luke sweeps another sharp look across the room. “Focus, future-builders!”

Rey shoots Ben a sly look as they flip over the puzzle pieces. “Only my second week here, and you’re already getting me in trouble.”

“You’re forgetting, Omega. I’m the one who decides when you’re in trouble here.”

Her breath catches audibly, scent spiking beside him. God, she smells good. Ben is suddenly envious of her apartment, that it was there to watch all her exquisite reactions during their conversation Friday. He wonders if her cheeks turned pink, the way they do when she’s pissed at him. He wonders if her tender little scent glands got achy and hot while she was reading his words. If she was having as much trouble breathing as he was that night.

“Pretty sure I’ve been in trouble with you since I got here,” Rey mutters, as they finish gathering the pieces.

“Pretty sure you would know if you were.” Ben places the first piece in the center of the table. “Your turn.”

There aren’t a lot of pieces, which is a blessing. He has even less patience than usual for his uncle’s ridiculous team-building activities today, with her standing right next to him smelling like that. Squirming like that.

Her eyes rove the table as she searches for a matching piece. “And what would happen if I were?” She pauses. “In trouble, that is.”

Rey doesn’t look at him as she says it, but there is color high in her cheeks. It makes his head swim with dangerous thoughts.

“Keep coming to class late,” Ben says, “and you’ll find out.”

“You’ll have to do better than that, Solo. If you want me to be good.”

Ben looks up sharply from the puzzle to find her staring at him. There’s something wild in the way she’s looking at him. A silent challenge.

“Be careful, Omega.”

She gives him a coy smile. “But I thought you wanted to practice in person.”

Oh.

Just the thought of it makes that hungry, aching part of him stretch and lick its teeth.

If she wants better, he will provide.

Standing very still, Ben returns his gaze to the puzzle. It’s hard to keep his breathing even, but he manages. His Omega has made a request, after all. He keeps his voice soft, as he searches for the next piece. Deliberately casual.

“If you were my mate,” he tells her, “I would teach you what it’s like to be kept waiting.”

“Is that supposed to be intimidating?” Rey sounds amused. “I’m very patient, you know.”

“Not with this, you wouldn’t be.”

Her scent hitches, wanting, in the air, and Ben’s mouth waters with it. Oh, yes. He can see she wouldn’t be very patient at all.

His eyes slide over to her, a heavy look. “Your turn.”

Rey’s attention snaps back to the table. She bites her pink bottom lip as she searches. Ben imagines how soft it would be, the give and feel of it, if he were to sink his own teeth there.

“Some of us don’t often get what we want,” she says, but it's a little too breathless to have any edge. She fits another piece in place. “I’m used to being patient.”

“In the beginning, you might try to be.” Ben savors the way her scent rolls over him with each word. “Always so willful. It wouldn’t matter. We would take as much time as you needed to get there.”

Another piece. He snaps it firmly into place, just so he can look up at her, see the way her mouth has parted. God, yes.

“Are you sure about that?” Rey asks. Her tongue peeks out, wetting her lips, and Ben feels the Alpha within him twitch and shudder. “You don’t strike me as the patient sort either.”

“I have tremendous patience, when it comes to this.”

Her breath is distinctly uneven as she looks back at the table. He pretends to be looking with her, but every molecule in his body is sharply attuned to the thick, intoxicating scent of her beside him. To the little tremble in her fingers as she leafs through the few remaining pieces.

Ben leans a bit closer, to help her find it.

“The thing about craving,” he continues in a low voice, “is that we all crave something different. But once someone takes the time to find yours, they can make you do a great many things for it.”

Rey’s hand hovers over the piece, unsteady. He slides it toward her with one finger.

“It doesn’t matter how patient you are, Rey. We’d take however long you need to find the thing that makes your teeth ache.” He pauses. “And then, I’d make you wait for it.”

He finally allows himself to look at her, and she is already staring right back, her face wide open and vulnerable. The flush in her cheeks, he notices, has spread right down her throat. Brushing the pink, shiny edge of her scent gland.

The crash of the gong over the speakers nearly makes him jump out of his skin.

“Time’s up!” Luke claps at the front of the room. Breathing hard, Ben wonders how far he could throw the table from here, and if it might reach Luke with enough force to knock him over. “Let’s go around the room now and read our special messages.”

With gritted teeth, Ben turns to the puzzle on the table, which only has one piece left. It reads, in bright block letters, one word:

SYNERGY!

His fists tighten painfully. Synergy? That is the message Luke has interrupted them for? Ben struggles with the urge to smash the puzzle into enough pieces that this particular puzzle will never synergize again — and then, beside him, he notices someone is laughing.

It’s Rey. Rey is laughing. And it’s even better than before, because she looks from the puzzle, then back him — then covers her mouth, as though she is helpless to keep it inside her.

All the anger rushes out of him. She’s laughing, and Ben’s fingers twitch with the urge to grasp her hands and pull them from her face, so that he can better see the way she’s smiling at him.

When they sit back down, their knees touch under the table.

------

Blessedly, the meeting ends with no second meditation. Perhaps his uncle felt an entire session filled with work-poster adjectives was enough spiritual fulfillment for one morning.

Ben is still trying to find an explanation for his behavior when Rey turns to him.

“I’ll see you at class tomorrow," she says. "Though… I’m not sure you can expect me there on time.”

He catches the look on her face, and the breath suddenly gets stuck in his throat. "No?"

"In fact,” she adds, giving him a look loaded with meaning, “I think you'd better plan on me being late."

Rey leaves him gaping like that, still standing at the table over his uncle’s stupid puzzle.

He finds he didn’t mind this meeting so much as the others.

Chapter Text

On her commute across the city the next morning, Rey isn't bothered by the lack of seats on her bus, or the stinking armpit of the Alpha she gets stuck standing directly beneath.

She feels a bit like she’s floating. Like she’s become something light and buoyant, about to lift straight off into the sky.

It's because of this new job, she thinks. She's not used to such steady employment, especially at a place that won’t turn her away when she arrives looking for work. A place with direct deposit and regular paychecks.

A place where, for the first time, they make her feel like she actually belongs.

Rey isn’t used to belonging anywhere. She’s not sure if she’s belonged to anything her entire life.

This is, she suspects, the source of at least some of her giddiness. But deep down, Rey knows a lot more of it has to do with something else.

Something that smells like pine needles and fresh earth and deep, smoky Alpha.

The Omega within her, usually such a source of agitation, has been positively incandescent with bliss the past few days. For so long, she's given it no reason for happiness. Crushed its impulses with a brutal twist of her heel, buried it under heaps of self-loathing and practicality. Rey has never had time for anything resembling a relationship, with the life she leads. Never thought she’d even have any interest in one.

But since she started teaching here — teaching with him — her long-silenced Omega has finally begun to peek its timid head out.

And it’s been very, very interested.

He is, objectively, very interesting, as far as Alphas go. He towers over her in a way people rarely do, and Rey — she doesn't hate it. She also doesn't hate how wide his shoulders are. The way his thick upper arms probably wouldn't fit through one of her pant legs. The visible power of his body is packed into a frame that practically vibrates with the energy required to contain it. In her weaker moments, Rey likes to imagine what it might feel like, to have her entire body pinned beneath all that solid mass. To have it provide for her in the way an Alpha's body is designed to provide.

No. She definitely doesn't hate it.

And that's exactly the problem.

The attention he’s given her has only encouraged the fantasy further. She knows, logically, that it’s only natural, given the roles they’re pretending to play. Any mistaken attraction she might pick up from him is completely out of his control — the same way her own body betrays her, sparking like a wire at the slightest glance from him. It doesn’t actually mean anything, if his eyes feel like they’re slowly smoldering through each layer of her clothing – if it feels like he’s imagining how she’d look on his bed, in his lap, in his hands (god, his hands). None of it is actually real. And the parts that don’t feel so pretend — well, that’s just the pheromones playing tricks on her.

It doesn’t stop her Omega from latching onto the fantasy and basking in it.

The glow of it seems to fill every part of her. It makes Rey a little indulgent — a dangerous feeling, and also unfamiliar, when she’s always needed to be so careful in a world bursting with unreachable temptations. But she’s found it can feel quite good to indulge.

She is, in fact, so busy indulging such thoughts as she enters the building that she nearly runs straight into a large box on the floor — one of a huge pile of boxes that has materialized in the building’s lobby overnight.

“I already told you. We didn’t order these.”

At the front desk, Jannah is speaking to a man in a brown uniform in the same tone she used with Rey on her first day.

“I hear you, ma'am. And if you call this number here,” the man points at a paper in his hand, “you can initiate a return.”

“A return? And what am I supposed to do with five hundred boxes while I’m waiting for a return? Leave them in my lobby?”

“We can put them in storage,” calls a third voice from a walking stack of boxes near the hallway. Rose Tico’s face appears from behind the precariously stacked pile, and Rey realizes she is carrying them. “We’ll deal with the return later.”

Fortunately, Rey reaches her before the boxes can topple. She takes the top one from Rose’s arms; it’s surprisingly heavy.

The delivery man takes advantage of the distraction to make a hasty exit. Still standing behind her desk, Jannah glares at the entrance doors as they close.

“I haven’t got a clue how this place is still open,” Jannah says.

Rose sighs heavily. “Whatever it is, I’m sure he thinks it’s a good investment.”

“Oh, yes. Just like renting that giant blimp. Or those weird diet shakes he keeps trying to feed us. Or the therapy pig.”

“At least the therapy pig was cute.”

“Except for when it was shitting all over the student lounge."

"Other than that. The cutest. Oh, Rey — you don't need to do that."

"I don't mind," Rey says as she hoists up one of the boxes. "I've done a few jobs unloading deliveries before. Animals, too." Just last year, Plutt had her working a few overnight shifts at a warehouse uptown, hauling questionable containers from some dicey-looking semis. That is, until she arrived one night for her shift and the entire place was completely empty. To this day, Plutt still pretends he has no idea what she’s talking about when she brings it up.

In other words, Rey is not unfamiliar with physical labor. Or hauling boxes that may or may not contain contraband animals or jugs of mysterious powder labeled dietary supplements.

"Well, at least there are no pigs today." Rose gives one of the boxes a shake, as if to emphasize the absence of animal noises within. Which, in Rey's experience, isn’t always a good thing.

She chooses not to point this out as the three of them set off down the hall together.

To her surprise, the room where they lead her is almost already completely full, walls lined floor to ceiling with parcels of all shapes and sizes.

Rey blinks. “This is… a lot of boxes.”

“They’re not even all from today,” Jannah says. “Look. These have last week’s shiny object. Gland-shaped keychains.”

Rey peers into one of the open boxes in question at the obscene contents within. Rose must catch the horror on her face, because she laughs. “Don’t worry. Solo poured cold water on that idea real quick.”

“Thank god for Ben Solo,” Jannah mutters. “Never thought I’d be saying that.”

“Me neither,” says Rey, though the reasons for her gratitude might be slightly different from theirs.

Her co-workers exchange a serious look.

“Why don’t you get going, Rey?" Rose says. "We wouldn't want to make you late for class.”

Rey is suddenly struck by the memory of Solo's voice, explaining in precise terms what he would do if she were late again. Her stomach squirms. “That wouldn’t be the worst thing."

Rose gives her a sympathetic frown. "That bad, huh.”

“Oh, you know,” Rey says vaguely. “About what I expected.” Except for the part where she can’t stop wondering if her fingers would touch around the thickest part of his bicep. Even with two hands, she is leaning toward probably not.

“At least you won't have to deal with it for much longer," Rose says.

“About that.” Rey tries to strike a casual tone. “I’ve actually been thinking quite a bit about next semester.”

“Who wouldn’t be?” Jannah snorts. “With a partner like Solo, I’m sure next semester can’t get here fast enough.”

She bites her tongue. “Actually, I was just thinking about how… awkward, it might be, for me to have to request a new teaching partner.”

“Well, then, have I got some good news for you.” Rose grins at her. “You won’t have to.”

She blinks, thrown off. “What do you mean?”

“Solo’s already made the decision for you.”

A cold, hard pit is beginning to form in Rey’s stomach. “What decision?”

“The decision to be reassigned.” Rose winks. “No awkwardness involved.”

The floor feels a bit like it’s shifting under her feet. Rey struggles mightily to keep her face calm, even as the sharp, familiar sting of betrayal wells up within her. “He asked for a new Omega?”

“God no. I don’t think there’s an Omega left in this city who would work with him. He’s been planning to get out of here as soon as the semester’s over.” Rose smiles. “Which leaves you free to find a new partner.”

A new partner. The idea tastes like sulfur in her mouth. “Did he give a reason why?”

“Does he need a reason?” Jannah raises her eyebrows. “It’s been one disaster after the next with these assistants of his.”

“Including me.”

Jannah starts to laugh. “Rey, it’s got nothing to do with you. The man’s walking Omega repellant.”

“I wouldn’t take it personally,” Rose says gently. “I heard they threatened to take back his share of the school if he didn’t make things work with you.”

Of course they did. In her head, the disjointed pieces are beginning to fall into place, colored with new and sinister meaning. The breakfast. The text messages. He’s only been trying to make this as tolerable as possible for both of them so that it’s easier when he leaves.

The way everyone always leaves.

“The school will be better off without him,” Jannah goes on, waving her hand. “He doesn’t exactly hide how much he hates this place.”

She’s right, of course. Rey can still picture the way he frowned at her across the cafe table. I understand this teaching arrangement is… less than ideal.

Solo’s been frank with her since the beginning about his feelings. His view of their partnership.

If Rey was starting to think otherwise, it’s no one’s fault by her own.

“Yeah,” she says numbly. “Of course.”

As she heads to the lecture hall, she feels curiously detached from her body, like she’s watching someone else move down the corridor. A foolish stranger who allowed herself to get swept up in some silly fantasy about an Alpha that wants nothing to do with her.

This is exactly why she didn’t let herself get attached. She should be proud, she thinks. She’s done a great job staving off her Omega’s urgent impulses to the contrary. And the impulses have been strong.

She should be proud. She is proud.

She just doesn’t remember pride feeling quite so much like her heart breaking.

------

Rey arrives at the lecture just as it’s about to start.

Sitting at his desk, Solo’s head snaps up the moment she walks through the door.

Rey does not look back at him. She does not notice the way his scent drifts, reaching for her, across the room. She definitely doesn’t notice the sweater he’s wearing today, or how it somehow makes his shoulders look impossibly wider beneath the fabric.

To her frustration, he doesn’t seem to notice her not noticing. Or maybe he does, and that’s why he rises and crosses to her as soon as she walks up the steps.

“Miss Niima.” He says her name softly, as the chattering students settle into their seats below. “Looks like you can get here on time after all.”

Rey does look up at him then, her mouth a thin, tight line. “I take my work commitments very seriously.”

He blinks. “Did I imply otherwise?”

“You tell me,” Rey says, a little too sharply. “Why else would I be late?”

On the floor below, the students' conversation is starting to falter. Solo gives her a long, inscrutable look.

Before he can answer, Rey turns abruptly away from him. Facing the class, she calls out, “Let’s get started, shall we?”

They look up at her in surprise. Solo is clearly surprised too. She can feel his prickle of irritation without looking at him, her nostrils flaring with it. Good.

“We shall,” he says, stepping beside her. “Good of you to ask, Miss Niima.”

“I wasn’t asking.”

“For today’s lecture,” Solo presses onward, even as the scent of his irritation flares into full-blown agitation, “we’ll be jumping straight into the Omega heat cycle.”

Oh. Rey needs to take a deep breath in an effort not to react to the sound of Ben Solo’s voice saying the words heat cycle.

It doesn't work.

Solo, thank god, doesn't seem to notice. "Let's go over some of the ways we can tell an Omega is entering heat.”

The students shift uncomfortably in their seats below before they begin to offer their ideas.

“They get… emotional?” someone says.

“They need more attention than usual.”

“They eat a lot of chocolate.”

“The correct answer,” Rey calls out, unable to contain herself, “is that you can’t tell. Because Omegas are perfectly capable of handling their natural bodily processes privately. Without chocolate. Or attention.”

The room falls under an uncomfortable silence. At her side, she can feel Solo’s eyes boring into her.

“Though Miss Niima has a point,” he says slowly, “an Alpha must learn how to recognize the many signals that his mate is entering heat. An important biological process, so he can give her the attention that she does, in fact, require.”

Rey shoots a glare at him. “And what signals would those be?”

"The earliest is usually nesting.”

She bristles. “She doesn't need to show an Alpha her nest.”

“She has no other reason to build one.”

“Sure she does. For herself.”

“An Omega’s nest is a safe space for her to spend her heat,” Solo says. “Which, by definition, she shares with her mate.”

“Not necessarily.”

The wild look in his eyes — Rey would shrink back from the blazing ferocity there, if she weren’t finding so much enjoyment in defying him.

“That brings us to our next point.” With obvious reluctance, Solo tears his gaze away from her to look back at the class. Rey feels like she can breathe again. “The important role of the Alpha in his Omega’s heat cycle.”

And just like that, her lungs are back to not working properly.

“When your Omega is on the edge of her heat," he says, "you must be prepared to make arrangements for your other responsibilities. Your heat-struck Omega is the only responsibility that matters.” He begins to pace the front of the stage as he speaks. “This is not only because it will be impossible for you to be separated from her. She will be utterly dependent upon you to satisfy her needs. This is very important. Without her Alpha there to see her through it, an Omega in heat is at risk of going mad.”

Rey can’t help it. She laughs out loud.

At the front of the stage, Solo goes completely still.

“That’s wrong,” she calls out for good measure.

He turns to silence her with a piercing glare. “Excuse me?”

"Plenty of Omegas go through their heats without an Alpha there."

“That would be extremely unpleasant.”

"Heats aren't supposed to be pleasant."

"Oh, but they can be."

There is something predatory in the way he’s looking at her. Despite herself, her stomach flutters.

“Omegas in heat are designed to be cared for," he says. "Let's go over all the ways.”

“Oh, yes.” Rey meets his gaze steadily. “Please. Educate us.”

This time, he doesn't look away from her as he starts to speak, slow and deliberate. “It begins with the fever. Her body gets hot. Tender. She starts to ache — first her muscles, and then deep inside. Her rising temperature pours out pheromones to attract her Alpha’s attention. Because her body knows she needs him. Immediately.”

“Still not seeing the connection here.”

“Patience, Omega. We’re getting there.”

Rey’s face feels very warm, but she doesn’t look away.

“The changes her body makes — every single one of them is for her Alpha. To open herself for him. She gets feverish, so that he knows she needs him. She makes slick," and god, he pronounces the word with obscene precision, "to make it easier for her Alpha to fit inside. It’s important that she fits all of him in there, you see. Or else that deep, terrible ache turns into something far more painful."

Rey’s toes curl in her shoes. “None of that sounds pleasant.”

“It isn’t. Unless her Alpha is there to care for her.”

“Just like you, to think Omegas can't take care of their own bodies without a big, strong Alpha to help them."

Solo’s eyes flash. “Any Omega would be a fool to suffer that alone.”

"Well, I suppose I’m a fool then,” she snaps, too loudly. “I’ve certainly never had a problem with it. The reality is that an Omega doesn't need a mate to survive her heat. She doesn’t need an Alpha. She doesn’t need anyone but herself."

The lecture hall falls under a heavy silence. Rey is suddenly aware that she is breathing heavily. On the floor below, the students are staring up at them with expressions of open bewilderment and shock.

Solo looks… god. Rey’s knees feel a little weak.

He looks furious.

“Class dismissed,” he says tightly.

There are the hushed sounds of shuffling papers, of chairs scraping and whispers as the students empty the hall as quickly as they can.

Some brave soul — far braver than Rey — approaches the edge of the stage. “Sir, the reading for next week…”

The look Solo throws him — the young man visibly shrinks in his shoes.

“Ask me tomorrow,” he says in a tone that invites no further questions. The young Alpha hurries away.

And in just a few moments — just like that — they are completely, utterly alone.

The door clicks shut.

Solo is standing very still as he looks at her.

“We had an agreement.” His voice is very soft. A little dangerous, even.

Rey tries to look unaffected. “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

"You defied me in front of the class."

“Am I supposed to just stand there while you give out misinformation?”

“It’s not misinformation. These are indisputable facts.”

“And I have indisputably never needed an Alpha during a heat to keep from losing my mind!”

Shit. She’s raising her voice again. But it’s hard to stay unaffected – to stay calm – when Solo is looking at her like that.

“This is a class for Alphas, Rey,” he says, very softly. “To teach them how to be good partners.”

“Because you’re clearly such an expert on that.”

“It’s a little hard when my own partner refuses to be behave.”

“Your partner? Is that what you think I am?”

"Of course you are."

“Am I really?” Rey takes a step forward. “Or am I just an Omega prop for you to parade around when it’s time to show off my glands? Waiting around to be used whenever that—" she gestures vaguely in the direction of the goddamn bed "—comes into your curriculum?"

His mouth drops open. He looks to the bed, and back at her. "That's..." He falters, clearly thrown off-kilter. “You think that’s there for us?”

“Who's it for, then? Me and the students?"

“No! God, no. Christ." His face briefly distorts with disgust—is she really so repulsive?—before hardening again. "That's only for — the more compatible teaching pairs.”

Something crumples in Rey’s chest. “So not us, then.”

Solo's nostrils flare. "That's not what I meant. Those sessions are volunteer-only. And I assumed—"

"That I wouldn't be up for it?" Is that why you’re leaving? she doesn’t ask. Is that why you don’t want to stay?  "You didn't think I would do a good enough job, is that it?”

"Of course not. You would be—" His jaw clenches, hard. Every muscle in his body looks tight with restraint. "Christ, Rey. I only assumed you wouldn’t want to.”

“I never said I did.”

His expression is completely unreadable. “So... you don’t, then.”

“I didn’t say that either.” She raises her nose in the air. “I’m perfectly indifferent.”

“Really.”

“I am.”

His eye takes on a new glint. As if he’s putting something together that she hasn’t figured out yet. “Then it shouldn’t be a problem,” he says, very casually. “Since you’re so indifferent.”

The silence in the hall takes on a different quality, tense with something she can't place. “I thought we were incompatible.”

“We are very compatible, Omega.” His throat moves around a swallow. “Professionally, that is. When we’re not yelling at each other.”

She’s pretty sure they’re still compatible then too, but she nods anyway. “Professionally. Yes.”

He pauses. “And this would be – extremely professional. If you were willing, of course.”

Indifferent, she thinks. She is completely indifferent. Can she be indifferent and extremely, enthusiastically willing at the same time?

“I am.” Rey shifts on her feet. “Willing.”

“You are?”

“Yes.”

“Good,” he says, and his voice comes out deep and gravelly. “That’s very good.”

The way he’s staring at her – he doesn’t look like a man who’s planning on leaving. But that’s just the pheromones talking. And Rey — Rey is completely indifferent.

She is.

She bites her lip. “So… how would this work? Would they all just be… watching?”

“No. God, no. Just me.” His eyes darken. “It’s a recorded session. Here. After hours.”

“Oh.” Rey isn’t sure if that’s better or worse, to be completely alone with him. “And we would be… covering what, exactly?”

“Basic anatomy.” His eyes are almost black. “Female pleasure. Aftercare. Purely educational.”

Her brain is still stuck on female pleasure. “Purely.”

“Are you busy Friday? Around eight?”

“Only if you start texting me about the curriculum again.”

“I won’t need to text you, if you’re here.”

“Right.” Her face is definitely burning. “Friday at eight, then.”

“And if you change your mind beforehand —“

“I won’t,” Rey says quickly. It comes out like a squeak.

She feels his eyes on her back the entire way out of the room.

The air out in the corridor, fresh and unpolluted by his scent, is cool against her hot face. She takes a deep, shaky breath, filling her lungs with it.

This is a good thing, she tells herself. She’ll satisfy her Omega’s curiosity, and she’ll never have to see him again. Best of both worlds, right? And when he leaves at the end of the semester, she can wave goodbye without a shred of regret, because none of it meant anything to either of them.

She doesn’t care about him leaving, so she certainly doesn’t care about this, either.

If she tells herself this enough times, she thinks, she actually might start to believe it.

Chapter Text

Friday arrives with a crisp, buzzing energy in the air, the scent of an impending storm. Except the storm is building within him, and Ben is helpless to do anything but stand in the eye of the swirling clouds with the knowledge he might meet a wall of high wind at any moment.

Even worse, he is tempted to dive straight into it.

He can barely keep his thoughts in order. He sits through office hours with his students, correcting their misunderstandings of the material, deeply questioning the life choices that led him to this moment. Until he remembers what will follow, the moments waiting after this one, and any regret is swallowed by the churning storm within him. There is only temptation and terror — and Rey.

She has not been far from his thoughts all week. He has composed, then deleted, half a dozen text messages to her. Asking if she wants to meet earlier, or if she wants to delay; asking if she even wants to do this at all. Asking why she looks at him like she despises him (does she despise him?) when she also smells like every possibility he’s never allowed himself to imagine. Why she bites her lip whenever she looks at his mouth. Why she smiles when she smiles, and how can he stop making her shut down so quickly afterward.

There are other questions, too. Questions that burn hot within him late at night, when he can no longer distract that dark, possessive corner of his mind she occupies so frequently these days. He longs to know how she likes to be touched. If she will still be so fierce with him when he’s stroking between her legs, and how much it will take before she starts to beg him.

God, he wants to know.

The idea that he might find out all these things tonight, at once — it’s almost too much for him to bear. By the time the final student leaves his office, Ben has cracked most of the pens in his desk, made at least one Alpha cry (it’s always hard to tell with these types) and written his uncle four angry texts, to which Luke has only responded with a single glittery gif containing the phrase: “Friday? Fri-yay!”

There’s a knock on his door.

Ben grimaces. “Office hours ended at five.”

To his irritation, the door swings open anyway. But it’s not a student who pokes their head through his door.

“You’re here late,” Leia says, frowning.

"I hadn't noticed.”

“Shouldn’t you be… I don’t know. Out with friends?”

His mother knows perfectly well he doesn’t have any friends. “Is there something you wanted?”

“Just curious what my only son is doing here so late on a Friday night.”

“Working.”

“You usually can’t get out of here quick enough.”

“I usually don’t have so much work.”

“Mmhmm.” Leia sweeps a pointed glance across Ben’s desk, which is completely empty. He usually takes pride in his tidiness, but right now, it only feels incriminating. “Well, if you happen to have anyone else meet you after hours for your work, just keep in mind they would need to use the keypad to enter the building.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“This week’s code is in your email.”

“I know the code perfectly well.”

“So you are having someone meet you here.”

“I’m working,” Ben says through gritted teeth, sitting at his empty desk.

“You might also find a fruit basket in the kitchen,” she adds. “If you’re interested.”

“I’m not.”

“And a bottle of wine.”

“If that will be all?”

She winks. “Don’t work too hard, Benjamin.”

He waits a few long moments after she leaves to make sure she's truly gone before he pulls out his phone. Scowling, he finds the email and sends the code to Rey.

He doesn't ask her any of the other things he's typed and erased over the past several days.

Just a little longer, he thinks.

And then he will find out himself.

------

This isn’t the way he would have chosen to do this with her, the first time.

Ben considers this as he secures the camera to the tripod at the end of the bed. He frowns at the picture on its small, pixelated screen: the darkness of the stage, the empty bed thrown into bright relief from the lights overhead. His frown deepens. He will need to turn those down.

The idea of anyone seeing else her like this makes his stomach clench with something primal and unpleasant. But it’s also unexpectedly satisfying, to know he’ll be there with her. So that anyone lucky enough to see his Omega in the throes of her pleasure will know exactly who is giving it to her.

The building is empty. Ben has already been through every hallway to check. He doesn't want anyone disturbing them. He certainly doesn't want to give her any reason to think she needs to be quiet.

So when the door to the lecture hall opens a few minutes after eight, he knows exactly who it is.

The smell of her would give her away regardless. Ben has spent entire evenings contemplating her scent, that exquisite blend of honey and fresh grass, a springtime rainstorm. Tonight, though, she smells potent. Volatile. Like electricity on the horizon, unmistakably eager.

“I brought coffee,” she says, her voice a little high as she approaches the stage.

“It’s eight o’clock.” Five minutes past, actually.

“I wasn’t sure how long this would take.”

Rey takes the steps two at a time, buzzing with nervous energy. She is holding two cups from the bodega down the block, and she’s clutching them as though she doesn’t know what she’ll do with her hands otherwise.

Ben plucks one from her grasp. “You thought I’d have trouble keeping you awake?”

Color rises in her cheekbones. “You might.” She suddenly becomes very interested in picking at the paper cozy around her cup, affecting a cool, casual tone. “It takes a lot to keep me entertained, you know.”

“I’ll think of something.”

He doesn’t look away from her as he takes a long sip. It’s too sweet, but he finds he doesn’t mind the sugar on his tongue as much as he usually does.

“So we’re really doing this, then.” Rey looks around the stage, clutching her coffee cup. “Here.”

He wishes it weren’t here, actually. He wishes he could have her in his apartment, stretched out across his sheets. Naked and willing and his, until he decided to let her leave. Already, he feels the rage swelling his chest that he will need to watch her go when he’s finished with her tonight.

“Yes,” he says — and then, because she is clearly nervous, and he has clearly lost his mind, he forces himself to add: “If you’re still interested.”

Her eyes flit up to his face, then to the bed, where they linger for a long, heavy moment. “I am.”

“You are?” He tilts his head, unable to help himself. “Won’t be too boring for you?”

“I didn’t come all this way with coffee to cancel.” She throws back the rest of her own coffee and then places the empty cup on the desk. “I’ve got your number, if you remember.”

“I remember.”

The knowledge of her number, available to him at any moment, threatens to burn a hole straight through his pocket these days.

He watches her walk around the stage, inspecting the camera, the wires. The bed.

“I assumed we would need to use this in front of the class.” Rey’s voice comes out a little higher. Like she’s trying to be casual, making small talk about the bed where he’s going to make her come.

“We only do pre-recorded sessions,” he says. “More intimate, that way.”

“I always imagined it would be – awkward, being intimate in front of an audience.”

“Imagined it often, have you?”

It’s meant to be a joke, but Rey bites her lip, and the way she looks up at him – fuck. She's imagined it at least a little. And that’s all he needs.

“Shall we get started?” she asks, a little too quickly. So much less brazen than she was the other day, starting his class without his permission.

“You’ll need to take off your coat, first.”

Rey nearly leaps into action, as though grateful for the direction. Until now, he’s only seen her in her work clothes – button-up blouses, slacks, boots that somehow make her legs look even longer than they are. But tonight, she’s wearing a pair of leggings and an oversized sweater, so large she is nearly swimming in it.

She must see him noticing, because she shifts on her feet.

“I hope this is all right. I figured it wouldn’t matter very much, since… well.”

Since she’ll be naked soon. She doesn’t say it, but the sentiment hangs in the air, thickening like molasses, sweet temptation on his tongue.

He clears his throat. “The rest of it, too.”

With a tremble in her fingers, she reaches for the hem of her shirt, and Ben must turn around. He has no other choice. He cannot watch her strip, or he might be unable to stop himself from crossing the stage and tearing off her clothes the way he’s thought about since the day she first walked through his door.

Instead, he slowly sets his coffee cup on the desk. He shrugs out of his blazer, first one arm, then the other. He hangs it across the back of his chair, and forces himself to count to ten.

Only then does he let himself turn and look.

All the air seems to rush out of the room.

Rey is sitting, completely naked, at the edge of the bed. Her sweater is draped over her lap, but his eyes are free to drink in the rest of her. She is looking directly back at him, brave and vulnerable and lovely in a way that makes something in his chest throb. He is staring, he realizes. He doesn’t care that he’s staring. He wonders if this is what it feels like to have a stroke.

Somehow, Ben manages to tear his eyes from the sight of her (smooth and naked and waiting fuck she is waiting here for him) – and crosses the stage to the camera. His body is tense with restraint. The Alpha lurking in his most primal parts has bolted awake at the sight of her — of Rey, his precious Omega, trembling and waiting for him to take care of her, oh god, he’s going to take such good care of her – and it takes every ounce of his willpower to remember what he is supposed to be doing, and why it doesn’t involve putting his hands on her, everywhere, right this very moment.

Soon, he promises himself, and hunches to look at the camera.

As he adjusts the settings, he takes the opportunity to enjoy looking at her a little more through the viewfinder. Her long, bare legs, surprisingly muscular. The firmness of her stomach. Her breasts, small and soft and mouth-watering.

He must be taking too long, because she begins to shift on the bed, impatient.

Ben presses a button, and a red light glows on.

She is… nervous, he thinks, as he approaches the bed. But underneath her nerves, there is something else, something sweet and heady, filling his lungs. He stops directly in front of her, blocking the view of the camera. She has to tip her head back to look up at him now. Arousal, he realizes, and it’s like a smack of heat to his gut. That sweet, heady scent is the smell of her arousal.

He glances pointedly at the sweater in her lap, then back up at her face.

“I said all of it, Omega.”

Her shoulders rise with the next breath she takes, deep and steadying. She doesn’t look away from him as she drops it to the floor, a whoosh of fabric.

Fuck.

"Good."

His voice is already raspy. He needs to get his shit together if he’s going to survive the evening.

“Now lie back. On the pillows over here.”

Rey moves further up the bed, leans back on her elbows, and then hesitates. Her eyes stick on the camera.

“Try not to think about it,” Ben says, as gently as he can. “The video will be edited afterward.”

She bites her lip. “How is this going to work, exactly?”

“You’re going to lie back on the bed,” he says. “I’m going to explain what I’m doing each step of the way, so nothing will be a surprise. And then I’m going to touch you until you come.” Several times, he doesn’t add.

Her breath hitches, the sweet scent of her anticipation spiking in the air again. Ben’s heart feels as though it might pound straight out of his chest.

“And you’re so sure you can do that?” she asks.

“Do what?” he says, because he suddenly needs to hear her say it.

“Make me come.” God, he loves the way she blushes.

“Lie back, sweetheart, and I’ll show you.”

Her eyes are very dark. It makes heat coil in Ben’s stomach, urgent and possessive.

And then she lies back, obediently, on the bed.

So she can listen after all.

He wants to cover her with his body, to pin her there until she’s squirming beneath his weight. He wants to bring her over the brink so many times she can’t see straight.

Instead, he begins to speak.

“Tonight, we’re going to discuss the most effective means of pleasuring your Omega.” He is grateful to note that his voice comes out more clearly than he expected. “As her mate, this is the most powerful way you can provide for her. Our approach will be thorough. Methodical. So that we can bring the Omega’s body to its full capacity for satisfaction.”

Rey is staring up at him the way she often does during his lectures, like she is entranced by the sound of his voice. Except this time, there's no one else in the room, and she's naked on a raised bed, and Ben is going to forget what the fuck he's supposed to be saying if he lets himself stare back for too long.

He takes a deep breath.

"An Omega is best prepared gradually. Give each sensation time to build, and her body will take the time to open. The same way we must tease her glands to the surface, we must tease the pleasure out of her, slowly, until it's clear she's ripe enough for what she's asking."

"But I haven't asked for anything," Rey says, sounding put out. It makes his lips quirk.

“This Omega,” he says darkly, “is already very impatient. I haven’t even started touching her and she’s already whining.”

“I’m not —“ she begins, indignant, but the denial is cut off by a whoosh of air as he finally allows himself to begin.

He starts with just one finger, tracing the line of her jaw. The soft cartilage of her earlobe. Rey’s wide eyes are fixed on his face like an anchor. She must be holding her breath, she is lying so still for him. When he reaches her throat, it moves delicately beneath his fingertip as she swallows. Her neck is so small here, he would be able to encompass it with one palm, if he wanted to. God, how he wants to.

He's already hard. Fuck.

“You'll remember our discussion about scent glands,” he continues. “Sensitive little things. But there are other places your Omega is sensitive, too."

She seems to be very sensitive, this Omega. The fine pink blush across her freckled cheeks has begun to crawl down her throat, chasing the movement of his hand. She finally lets go of the breath she’s been holding as Ben gently runs his fingers along her collarbone, the round tops of her shoulders.

"Arousal," he says softly, "makes her even more sensitive.”

Her nipples are already hard when he reaches them. Ben’s mouth waters with how badly he wants to lean down and lick them. But he won’t be able to continue narrating if he puts his mouth on her — he doesn’t think he would be able to come up for air again, not until he’s kissed and licked and sunk his teeth into all the soft parts of her body. So it’s only his fingers that get to skirt across the slight swell of her breast, to feel the softness of the skin underneath.

“Look how tight and achy these are.” Ben uses the tip of his finger to flick across her nipple, quick little strokes. Rey’s mouth falls open, short hitches of breath to hold back any noise — and no, that won’t do at all. “Tell us how it feels, sweetheart.”

Her eyes flash, wide, as they lock on his face. “How it feels?”

“Yes.”

“Oh. Ah. It — it feels —“ Her breath is coming quicker now, chest rising and falling rapidly. “Tight. Sensitive.”

“Poor things.”

He can’t resist rolling it briefly between his thumb and forefinger, the slightest pinch of pressure. She rewards him with a whine that Ben can feel all the way in his toes.

“Better?”

“You – ah – you’re being cruel.”

“Am I?” he says, and pinches her again. She hisses through her teeth.

“Isn’t this supposed to be about — feeling good?”

“But your little nipples are so tight and needy, aren’t they? It would be cruel if I didn’t give them attention.”

Rey thrashes her head on the pillow, gasping. “It’s cruel because you’re teasing.”

“So you want a little more, then.”

He slides his hand across her other breast, filling it with his palm. Can’t have it feeling neglected, after all — but he finds her pebbled flesh is already pink and tight and straining when he starts to pluck here, too.

Another pinch, and Rey arches off the bed, her back a perfect bow. Ben's other hand nearly encompasses the width of her abdomen, pinning her back down to the mattress with little effort.

“Watch the way she’s squirming.” His voice is very husky. “If your Omega can't keep still, you might need something to hold her down."

It’s supposed to be a threat, but the wild, wanting look in Rey's eyes when they find his face again… He doesn’t think she would mind.

His dick twitches, hard, in his pants.

“This is also how you know she’s ready to continue.”

Rey exhales, a shuddering sigh of relief, when he releases her. Without thinking, he brushes the back of his knuckles against her flushed cheek. Her eyelashes flutter, and it makes something hot and possessive stir deep in his abdomen, watching her lean into his caress. His – the word echoes like another pulse in his veins, irrational and irresistible. His, his, his.

“Are you?” he asks her softly. “Ready to continue?”

Her eyes snap open, and they meet his gaze, lucid and fierce. “Don't know,” she says, too breathless to have any true edge. "Shouldn’t we ask the expert?"

“True.” He finally, finally allows his palm to slide along her thigh, soft and smooth. “Spread these open for me, so I can share my professional opinion.”

Ben already knows what he’ll find, just from the way she bites her lip, clearly caught out. But it still doesn’t prepare him for the sight of her thighs parting for him, wet and sticky, a fine glistening string of slick tremoring between them before it breaks.

Fuck. The pleasure of the moment rolls through him, hot and heady.

“You look very ready to me, Omega.”

It takes every molecule of restraint in his body to keep himself from bending down and lapping up the gift she’s offering him, pink and wet and sugar-sweet between her thighs. He made her like this, he thinks, the possessive roar in his ears climbing to a fever-pitch. He did this to her. No matter how she feels about him otherwise — her body made this for him.

"Look how wet she is." With effort, Ben forces himself to address the camera. "There is no greater pleasure for an Omega than being knotted. And that’s what all this slick is for. A nice, thick knot.” His voice is so low, he barely recognizes the sound of it. “Your job is to help her make as much as possible."

Rey's fingers grasp at the sheets a little. He keeps his touch feathery as he follows the curve of her inner thigh, wet and quivering.

“Let’s go over a few ways to pleasure her now.”

His fingers trace the damp crevice between her thigh and her pelvis, and her breath hitches delightfully. She is so pretty here. Pink and shiny and delicate. Ben can't think of a more captivating sight in the world. Except for her face, he decides — open and vulnerable and holding his gaze as he teases her.

“Don’t touch her directly yet,” he murmurs. "Start with stroking just outside. Up here, like this. From the thigh inward. Gentle, rhythmic pressure. Notice how indirect stimulation can pull and tug at the places she is craving your attention."

Rey’s mouth drops open, wordless, but she doesn't need to speak for him to know what she's feeling.

"We're going to spread her open a little now — that's it, baby. Very good. And we're just going to keep playing with her outer lips here. Build a little rhythm with it."

She is delectable like this. Completely at his mercy. Ben could drink in the sight of her like this for hours, the way her eyes won't leave his face. The way her mouth trembles a little when she's trying not to gasp.

Ben wants to make her gasp.

“Indirect pressure," he goes on, very huskily, "builds anticipation in her little clit here. She can feel each stroke tugging at her. Any stimulation of this kind will have a similar effect. Touching through her underwear. Rubbing against a thigh. We can even slide two open fingers around her, one on each side, and sloooowly pull them together. Just like that."

She is having trouble breathing now, his poor girl. Little twitches in her fingers, her hips, her legs. Ben smooths his other hand over her thigh, and god, it makes him feel things, the way his palm curves over her skin. The feeling of holding her gently to the bed while he plays with her sweet, honey-slick cunt.

“Ben,” she gasps, the sixth time he pulls his open fingers together, outside in.

“Yes?”

“You — you said something about — a knot.”

“Did I?”

“Can’t we just…” The color in her cheeks gets even rosier. “Skip to that part?”

“But I thought you were so patient.” He taps her clit with one finger, and she almost cries out, toes curling. “We haven’t even made you come yet, little one.”

Rey either can’t find the words or the breath to respond, because he doesn’t lift his finger again, letting the tip of it roll against her in tiny, slow circles.

“Each angle feels different here,” Ben continues for the camera. “Take your time. Start on one side, and roll your finger in little circles, just like this. Yes, sweetheart, I know. Find where she’s sensitive. And then try another one. We can explore every inch this way.”

Stretched out on the bed beneath him, Rey is starting to pant. She keeps her legs wide open for him — such a good, good girl — but he can smell the way her urgency is starting to build in the air. The Alpha in him is beginning to pace, restless. Keen to give his Omega what she needs from him.

“Ben,” she gasps again. He realizes it’s only the second time he’s ever heard her say his name — he’s usually just Solo, a noise of sharp irritation. He decides he much prefers the sound of it like this, stretched between her harsh breaths and whimpers.

“Watch the way her thighs tremble. How she’s struggling to breathe. She’s starting to get close already, isn’t she? Just from this.”

“You —“ Rey’s eyes snap open, and the way her lips purse and quiver as she glares up at him — Ben’s cock aches for him to slide it into her mouth. “You don’t know.”

So defiant. The ache only intensifies when she gasps, a peek of her pink tongue, after he starts to tap her sweet clit again.

“What was that, Omega?”

Rey curses. Ben doesn’t stop tapping, tiny rhythmic points of impact with the tip of his pointer finger. He has to tighten his grip on her thigh to keep her still on the bed.

“We can start to build her up this way,” he continues, voice gravelly and low. “Keep a steady rhythm. Hold still, baby — you don’t want me to stop, do you?”

Rey fucking whines, pressing the side of her flushed face into her pillow. As though all that tension thrumming in her body is the only way she’ll stop herself from arching into his hand. He is certain he has never been harder in his entire life.

“She’s going to come already.”

“I — I’m not —"

“You are,” Ben growls. “I can smell it.”

“I —ahhhh—"

He grasps her knee, pulling it wide open and pinning it to the bed. Leaning over her, he finally begins to touch her in earnest, back and forth, with focused, singular intent.

Her reaction is immediate. She arches, and Ben is grateful for his hand on her leg, so he can keep up his rhythm. There is nothing in the world that could make him stop touching her right now. His body is alive in a way he’s never experienced, full of churning tension. Carried on a current older than either of them, directing exactly where and how he needs to move his fingers to satisfy her.

Rey’s eyes are desperate, locked on his face. He realizes distantly he is still talking to her — obscene words of encouragement, hoarse and urgent — that’s it and almost there and my sweet, filthy Omega. He realizes this only because she is babbling, too, desperate noises and whines.

“Please, god, please, Ben, I’m — ahhhh — going to —"

The smell of her tipping over her peak makes Ben’s eyes nearly roll back in his head. He forces himself to focus, continuing to touch her, even as she spasms and cries out beneath him. Her face is so lovely, flushed red and scrunched up with pleasure. Every bone in his body aches with the unexpected urge to lean down and kiss her.

She is beautiful like this. Of course, she is beautiful all the time — but the special knowledge of how he’s unraveled her is creating a stream of whirling, nonsense thoughts. He is struck by how badly he wants to make her look like this, every single day. Multiple times a day. Here, over his desk, in his bed, on his couch, in his lap — as often as she’ll let him.

Speaking of which. She’s already coming back to earth. And he’d like to send her off again as soon as possible.

He smooths his palm over her, radiating heat.

“Still good?”

Rey’s eyes blink open. Her expression holds so many different things as her eyes roam his face, curious and wide. Like she’s just met him for the first time.

“No.” She is still a little breathless, but there is something sly about the way she looks up at him through her lashes. “You promised I would get knotted, Alpha.”

Ben feels himself pulse in his pants.

“Needy thing,” he says, nearly purring with pleasure. “We’re getting there.”

A visible shiver ripples across her skin, goosebumps of anticipation.

His fingers slip down, where her slick has made such a mouth-watering mess of her. They part wet heat, tracing the rim of her entrance, still spasming weakly from the ghost of her orgasm.

“First, I’m going to use my fingers.”

Rey’s pupils are very large, looking down at his hand between her legs. He feels light-headed with arousal, touching her here. This small, soft, perfect entrance to her body.

He needs to remind himself to keep talking for the goddamn camera.

“She needs to be stretched a little before we go any further,” he says roughly. “Omegas are often much smaller than their mates. Her body needs to be prepared to fit him.”

Her cunt parts for him like hot velvet. Ben slides in just to the first knuckle at first, testing the give of her body, even as it tempts him like a vice, tugging. A small “oh” escapes her parted mouth as he begins to move in and out, a slow, slippery slide that he feels in every inch of his throbbing cock.

“An Omega’s body constantly craves the sensation of being filled,” he continues. “It’s her most natural state of being.” Rey attempts a glare in his direction, but she has a hard time looking threatening while he’s fucking her with his finger. “And when you fill her at the right angle…”

Ben curls his finger inside her, searching. He knows he’s found it by the way her body nearly seizes, the colorful swear that escapes her. They’ll have to edit that part out, he thinks deliriously, as he starts to stroke her there, deep inside.

“When you find it,” he says darkly, “you’ll make her come again. Just takes some firm, steady stroking.”

Rey’s mouth falls open as she looks up at him, utterly betrayed. “But — but — oh, god, that feels — I thought you said —"

“So impatient.” Ben slides his hand possessively across her lower stomach, pulling it taut. “Just one more, angel. You can give me one more — you’ve been so good, haven’t you? Yes, you have. And then you’ll get your knot.”

It’s easier to keep stroking that spot inside her like this, with his hand on her belly. Milking the pleasure from her generous little body, which clearly has so much pleasure to give. Ben slips a second finger beside the first — and fuck, it goes in so easy, she’s so slick for him — and begins a rocking motion, wet, obscene noises filling the room.

Rey’s chest is completely flushed pink now. He finds he enjoys the way her little tits move and quiver with the rhythm of his hand. He wonders how they’ll bounce when she’s being fucked in earnest. He wonders if he might actually come in his pants, just from pleasuring her like this.

It doesn’t take long for her to get there, especially on the heels of her last orgasm. But it still knocks the air out of him, watching her tumble over the edge a second time. The wet heat of her body grips his fingers, squeezing him, making his head spin with lurid fantasies of how she would feel coming on his lap instead.

Ben is still moving his fingers lazily in and out of her, his movements a messy slick-smooth glide, as she comes back down a second time. Breathing hard, her eyes lock on his face, wild and near-black with her urgency.

“Now,” she says, and it’s nearly a whine. “Please, Alpha. You promised.”

When he pulls his fingers out of her body, the keen, wanting noise she makes… it’s dangerous, really, the way she’s making him feel. The thoughts she’s giving him. Ben has never felt so wildly out of control — and so deeply in his element. The Alpha inside him is stalking with anticipation. Confident. A predator ready to savor his meal.

It’s an enormous challenge for Ben to pull himself away from her, even for just a moment, to cross the stage back to his desk. Just long enough to pull the box from the drawer and bring it to the bed, where she is now sitting upright, wide-eyed and fearful. The sight of her face like that — the slight terror in her eyes, at the mere thought he might be leaving her — it gives him a deep, perverse pleasure. His sweet, needy Omega, yearning for him.

“Yes.” Ben places the box beside her on the bed and opens the lid. “I think you’re ready now.”

Rey peers inside, frowning.

“What’s this for?”

“Fucking you.” He enjoys the way she sucks in a sharp breath of air, even when he’s already defiled her so thoroughly. “And knotting you. This is what we’ll use for the demonstration.”

“This?” She plucks the thick, heavy toy from the box for her examination. "I thought you meant..." Her eyes flick back up to his face. “You know. A real one."

He blinks.

Did Rey think he was going to…

That they were going to….

A crushing wave of head-spinning heat washes over him. Ben has to force himself to breathe.

“A real one?” he repeats, a little thickly.

“Yes.” She is nearly pouting. “A real knot. Yours. Specifically.”

The knot in question nearly starts to swell on its own, just from the way she’s asking so sweetly for it. He clenches his fist so hard he can feel his nails digging into his palm.

“I know it’s… disappointing,” Ben says roughly, and god, how his cock agrees with that statement. “But one of us needs to keep our head for the camera. And it's not going to be you."

With a frown, Rey’s eyes rove across his face. And then something in her expression turns calculating. Sly.

"I guess you're right." Rey turns the dildo in her hands, studying it intensely, and Ben is captivated by how small her fingers look wrapped around its girth. The filthy way she's fondling it. "I'm so glad to have a big, strong Alpha here to keep his head for me."

She brings it eye-level for her examination. Ben is briefly struck dizzy by how obscenely large it looks next to her pretty face — by how badly he wants to rub it against her pink little mouth and push. "But does this even have — oh. Over here." Her fingers have found the swell of the knot at its base, and she starts to fucking stroke it. "It seems a little... small, doesn't it?"

He nearly growls in frustration. “Careful, Rey.”

“I’m only saying.” Her eyes slide over to meet his. "Is this really the best we can do?"

He plucks it from her grasp, chest roiling with agitation. “Let me show you what I intend to do with it. And then you can tell me.”

To his significant relief, she stops attempting to goad him. When she moves to lie down, however, Ben halts her with a hand on her shoulder. “Other way, sweetheart. On your knees.”

Rey’s lips part with surprise. Face reddening, she turns over to face the bed, obediently raising her hips in the air for him.

Fuck.

Ben takes advantage of her momentary distraction to adjust himself, out of view of the camera. She is an absolute vision. It occurs to him that he could stare at her like this for hours, still flushed from her other climaxes, wet and waiting for him. Utterly debauched. He is struck with the sudden, ridiculous urge to smash the video camera, so that no one else might see her like this.

He can’t resist running a palm over the perfect curve of her ass, enjoying the way it fills his hand. Rey makes a small, breathy noise and turns her head restlessly on the mattress.

“Now we’ll demonstrate how to help your Omega take a knot.”

He holds the toy up for the benefit of the camera, rotating it.

“You may think this looks a little too large for her,” he says, with a sharp glance at Rey, who still has the nerve to pout. “But she enjoys being stuffed as full as possible, doesn’t she? Prepare her well enough, and she will take you easily, for as long and as hard as she needs to be taken.”

Ben’s fingers dip between her legs, gathering some of the slick there. He holds it up for the camera, even though his fingers burn to travel instead to his lips, so that he might taste her. Or better yet, to her lips — so that he might push against her slick little tongue and fill her mouth while he’s also filling her —

“As you can see,” he forces himself to continue, his voice gravelly and foreign, “this Omega did a very good job getting nice and wet for me. We’ll make it fit, no problem.”

He runs his palm along her spine. Holding her steady, while he brings the toy between her thighs.

For all her posturing, she still gasps, body tensing, when he pushes the bulging head of it into her body.

“Fuck,” she hisses. Ben decides he doesn’t care about the camera anymore.

He begins to fuck her with just the tip, in and out. Stimulating her poor, swollen little entrance. Rey’s fingers grasp at the sheets, her breath quickening rapidly.

“What do we think?”

Rey makes an incoherent noise.

“Omega.” His hand slides from her spine into the softness of her hair, a gentle warning. “I asked you a question.”

“It feels good,” she gasps. “Is that what you want me to say? It — it feels very good.”

“But I thought it was too small.”

Rey tosses a fierce glare over her shoulder at him, her face very flushed. “You know what? Maybe it is.”

Ben stills his movements, leaving just the head impaling her. She looks wildly back at him again, this time in shock.

“We had an agreement, little one.”

She makes a needy, furious noise. “You said I was being good.”

“Good Omegas ask nicely if they want a proper fucking.”

Several emotions flicker across her face. Intense arousal — surprise — agitation. Her face finally settles into a glare, her mouth a thin line. “Then you’ll just have to do your job and teach me.”

“What do you think I’m doing right now?”

Her mouth drops open. But nothing comes out. Ben releases the toy completely, allowing it to protrude, quivering, at the entrance of her empty cunt.

“Alpha,” she says quickly, jumping into action. “Please. I — I’d like you to…” He didn’t know she could blush any more, but it’s spread all the way to the back of her neck now. “Fuck me properly.”

“Good girl.” He grasps the toy again, rocking it further into her body. “That wasn’t so hard, was it?”

“Oh – god –"

“Good Omegas get what they ask for.”

The next thrust, he pushes it all the way in, from tip to base. Rey's head throws back with how she nearly cries out.

“Ben,” she gasps. “That’s — that’s deep.”

“Sorry,” he says, not feeling sorry at all.

Mostly because she doesn’t look like she minds so much, either. Her hips lean back into it, fingers grasping at the pillow. Adjusting to the girth of the toy. It is rather thick, he realizes, a little guiltily – though not quite as thick as he is. Or as deep, he thinks, with a thrill of possessiveness.

But there was truth to his monologuing earlier. Her body has been made soft and welcoming from how thoroughly he’s prepared her. And after he gives her a moment to adjust, she is already starting to rock back toward him again. Searching for more.

“Greedy girl.” Ben begins to move again, and Rey whimpers in response, pushing back even further.

It doesn’t take long for him to find a rhythm. His hand stays in her hair — her scent spikes each time his fingers clench her there, and he is completely unable to deny her anything in this moment — and he keeps her steady like that, as he moves the toy in and out of her body. It’s obscene, the noises it’s making — the slick running down her thighs. Ben yearns to bury his face there and drink his fill of her. He doesn’t think he would ever have enough.

It’s both deeply satisfying, to pleasure her like this — but it is also an unbearable sort of torture. Ben is deeply envious of the way her little hole clenches visibly around the girth of the toy, tiny spasms. He knows intimately now how hot and soft she is inside, and it’s enough to drive him straight out of his mind, imagining what she would feel like around him. Beneath him.

That is definitely not what she signed up for.

Ben may be a terrible Alpha, in more ways than he can count. But he’s not about to exploit his teaching partner that way after working her up to such a state.

Which is why he notices the moment her whimpers start to carry a note of distress. The agitation spiking in her scent, mixing with her intoxicating arousal.

“Rey.”

She whines, a sound of pure need, as she arches her back toward him. He falters.

“Too much?”

“No,” she gasps out, and the anguish on her face when she looks back at him makes his chest twist and throb. “Please, Alpha, I — I’m trying, I need — it’s — not enough —”

It happens too quickly for him to stop it. His Omega needs him — she’s begging for him — and he’s simply standing here, denying her —your Omega needs you she needs you right now 

Something inside him snaps. One moment, he’s beside the bed. The next, he’s on top of her — causing something to crash loudly behind him along the way.

“Shit – Ben, the camera —“

“Fuck the camera.”

Wrapping one arm around her, Ben flips her deftly onto her back. Rey blinks up at him, eyes wide with shock and arousal.

“Legs up, little one. There we are.”

His fingers grasp one of her ankles, keeping her spread wide, and he pushes the toy back into her body in one smooth slide. It’s a better angle like this, easier for him to reach where she needs him. As if to verify this, she cries out the moment he sinks inside, her head thrown back onto the pillow.

“Yes. That’s better, isn’t it?” His voice is nearly a growl as he pumps the toy in and out of her body. “Gonna make you come again like this, baby. I’ve got you.”

But the sound she makes is unexpectedly distraught. Her hands reach up, grasping his shoulders.

“No, no, please Alpha — I need it to be you."

Fuck. “Rey —"

“I — I can ask nicely. Like you said. I’ll be — ahhhh — I’ll be good, I’ll be so good.” Rey gazes up at him, her face open and vulnerable. “Don’t you want to?”

The roar of blood in his ears makes it hard for him to hear anything else.

“You have no idea,” he says roughly, "no idea how badly I want to, Rey. The things I’ve thought about doing to you, since you came here — it’s all I can fucking think about.”

His breathing is very harsh as he starts to fuck her with the toy again in earnest, making her cry out. “But I already told you this is all you’re getting. And you’re going to take it — and you’re going to come — like a good — fucking — girl.”

He sets a brutal rhythm. It’s enough to steal the breath from her lungs, so that she doesn’t have air to beg him for things he can’t give her. It’s enough for him to channel his frustration, his need, his bottomless desire for her — to show her how he’d take care of her, if she really let him. If she really wanted him, in the way normal people want each other, and not this pathetic mockery of a relationship they’ve been playing out.

And it’s enough to make her come again. Her eyes desperate and grateful, her mouth stuck around his name, her lovely body twisting, arching, shaking.

Beautiful, he thinks again. She is so, so beautiful.

His trembling thumb finds the trigger at the base of the toy, and the knot swells inside her on the next thrust. A sad imitation of the real thing. Artificial and hollow. She is aching to be filled with his spend, he thinks furiously — not some rubber toy with a fake, bulbous knot.

But he knows that, despite what she might ache for right now, she won’t ache for him when they’re finished here.

None of this is real.

When he withdraws the toy from her body, she winces visibly. A stab of guilt shoots through him. He was too rough with her. He was too everything with her.

Rey opens her eyes, looking dazed and flushed. She glances down her body — at him, practically lying on top of her — as rational thought seems to return to them both.

“We… we broke the camera,” she says weakly.

Fuck.

Ben climbs off her. The reality of his behavior washing over him is like freezing water pouring down his body. The camera was the only rational excuse he had for the way he was talking to her, the way he ravaged her — and he destroyed it, just like everything else. She must think he’s a complete monster.

“It was my fault,” he says hoarsely. “I got carried away.”

Understatement of the century.

Rey sits up, pulling a pillow awkwardly onto her body. Covering herself. Ben feels like he’s been punched in the stomach.

“So did I,” she says.

She can barely meet his eye.

What the fuck was he thinking?

Panic is beginning to climb up his throat. He climbed into bed with her. On top of her. He told her — oh, god. He told her he’s been thinking about fucking her since they started working together like the absolute pervert he is.

Has he lost his entire goddamn mind?

He failed her. Nausea squeezes his stomach. Rey was depending on him to keep control of the situation. She put herself in a position of extreme vulnerability, and he completely failed her.

He bends to examine the broken pieces of the camera, feeling utterly nothing for it. The screen is dangling off the side, a crack down its center.

“Do you think it’s… salvagable?” Her voice is very small.

Ben wants to laugh. Or scream. He’s not sure which. Even if the camera hadn’t broken, there was nothing about that recording that was salvagable for teaching a class, anyway.

And of all the things he’s ruined spectacularly tonight, the piece of shit camcorder would be very last on his list of things he cares about salvaging.

“I’ll see what I can do,” he says, a little numbly.

“I… shouldn’t have asked for you to do that. Before.” Her voice is still rough from her pleading. “I don’t know what I was thinking.”

Ben swallows. He tries to remember how to speak casually. How his voice sounds when his heart isn’t breaking, listening to her regret the things they just shared together. “You weren’t in your right mind.”

“I guess not.”

“You must understand, Rey… I would never..." But the words are running away from him. I would never hurt you. I would never do something you didn’t want. I would never do the terrible things I imagine doing to you late at night, the things you’d never want with someone like me. “It wasn’t what we agreed on,” he finishes lamely.

“It wasn’t. Of course.” She looks like she’s about to cry. Ben feels like throwing up.

Instead, he walks to the desk, his back to her as she rustles around for her clothes. He pretends to be leafing through papers, but the words on the pages are meaningless. Blurry.

“You’ll be compensated for… working late,” he says, and he hates the way the words feel on his tongue. Like this was all just transactional, and not a ground-shifting experience he will think about every day for the rest of his life.

“Great. Wonderful.” Rey’s voice sounds high-pitched and false behind him. He turns around, and she is already fully dressed.

“Do you… have a ride?”

“I do.” She shifts on her feet. “Not the bus, you’ll be happy to hear.”

He isn’t happy. He is the complete opposite of happy. He should be the one driving her home — or better yet, to his apartment, where he could show her that he can be a good Alpha, if he’s really trying. He wants to try. He has never felt further from happy in his entire life. She shouldn’t be getting in some other person’s car, reeking of sex, her cheeks ruddy and hair a mess because he’d been — he’d been holding it in his fist like a beast, hadn’t he? Fuck. No, he doesn’t think he’ll ever be happy again, now that he’s had to stand in front of her while she looks at him like that.

“I am,” he hears himself say.

Rey is gone before he can do anything to stop her. A blessing, probably — he doesn’t seem to be making the best decisions in her presence — but it still feels like the worst thing that’s ever happened to him, her absence. The quiet that follows.

He feels numb, as he strips the bed of the sheets. Puts the stupid dildo back in its box. Hauls out a box fan from the closet, in hopes of clearing the room.

It doesn’t help. The stench of her regret still hangs in the air, in his lungs, tainting whatever might remain of her desperate pleasure.

Ben opens the windows wide before he leaves.

Chapter Text

Rey sleeps too much that weekend.

She thinks she might be getting sick. This is, at least, what she tells herself — an excellent reason to burrow herself in bed all day and keep the curtains shut tight. But it also has the convenient effect of smothering her thoughts before they can stray too far from her. A dangerous thing, when they keep straying back to Friday night.

There’s quite a lot for them to stray to.

She won’t let herself think about it. She refuses. She lies in bed and watches watery curtain-light move across her ceiling and doesn’t think about the way his eyes looked, like a man starving while she was laid out before him. The way he touched her like she was something precious. Something to be treasured and cherished and adored.

For a handful of fleeting, transcendent moments, she was no longer Rey from the north end: too hungry, too angry, too thin for all the emptiness she carries around inside her everywhere she goes. 

The way his hands felt — his eyes felt — tracing all the sharp lines of her body —

She felt like she might actually be something worth caring about.

I would never, he said, looking down at her.

Never is a heavy word. As a rule, Rey doesn't put a lot of weight in heavy words — never, always, forever. She's been told before that someone will never leave her, that she can always depend on them, that they will be around forever.

The only time never has ever held any truth is that such sentiment never lasts.

They always leave.

This is the way the world has been forever.

Now, she has another exception to add to her very short list.

I would never, Ben Solo told her. And he meant it.

Rey has seen enough people lie to know how they look when they're lying to her. And there was not an ounce of anything false about the way he was looking at her that night. His face held nothing but raw, unvarnished regret. Disgust. Pity, even.

Rey knows what people look like when they're pitying her, too.

She’s already promised herself long ago she would never put herself in a position where anyone might pity her again.

Rey watches dusk swallow the shadows on her ceiling and wonders if perhaps she allowed herself to want too much, with him. That’s always how these kinds of disappointments happen — when she wants too much, too fast, too fervently. A job. A warm bed. A family. Far safer not to want anything at all, because then no one can disappoint you.

Her Omega is made up of nothing but feelings. One big, miserable ball of neediness. But Rey is not her Omega. She’s never had any trouble before, keeping the voices at arm’s lengths. The churning, the aching, the bottomless, gasping fever-heat.

But then Ben Solo looked at her like (I would never) like he was wishing away all the radical ways he’s shifted her world since the day she met him. And Rey realized just how far into that black, endless Omega-pit of feeling she’s allowed herself to fall, without even noticing.

So she spends the weekend sleeping. She fills the emptiness as best as she can, the only way she knows how – by looking firmly in the other direction. 

If she can keep from looking at it long enough, she’ll go back to forgetting it’s even there.

Only this time, she plans to leave Ben Solo with his scent and his hands and his heart-stuttering touches at the very bottom of it.

Rey doesn’t put much weight in heavy words. But as night blurs into another sunless morning, she vows to never look over the edge of that treacherous cliff again.

------

Finn, she's found, is another exception to her rule. He is a forever friend. A provider of nothing but mutual, unconditional devotion since the day they first met at the city foster camp a decade prior.

Which is why Rey doesn't think to put on any airs when he pulls up at the curb in front of her building Monday morning. Similarly, Finn doesn’t attempt to hide his expression of horror as he rolls down the passenger window.

“Christ, Rey. You look like shit."

She climbs into his passenger seat and slams the door. "How nice of you to notice."

“I’m not kidding. Are you coming down with something?"

"I'm fine." But from the way Finn is looking at her, he clearly is going to need a better explanation. "I haven't been sleeping."

"For at least a week, from the looks of it."

“All this flattery is going to make me late for work.”

He puts the car into drive, frowning. “You’re sure you don’t want to call out?”

Just the thought makes her grit her teeth. That would be as good as admitting defeat. “No. Everything is perfectly normal.”

Rey rolls down the window as he heads down the road. The cool air feels fresh on her face. Invigorating.

Finn keeps throwing her wary looks as he drives. “I’m pretty sure they have… you know. Sick days, for this kind of thing.”

“I’m not sick.” She tilts her chin up, facing the open window. “Just haven’t been sleeping.”

“Right. And I’m sure this has nothing to do with Mr. Hands.”

Just the thought of Ben Solo and his terrible, ridiculous hands makes her stomach flutter. With disgust, Rey tells herself. Obviously. She arranges her face into a scowl. “Mr. Hands is now Mr. Hands Off.”

“Wait. Did we upgrade him to Mr. Hands On?”

“It’s useless, really, for someone to have hands that size.”

“You’re not answering my question.”

“Matches his stupid ego.”

“Oh my god. We did upgrade him.”

“Turn left here at the light.”

“Is that why you’re like this?”

“I’m not like anything, Finn. I just haven’t been sleeping.”

There is more activity than usual in front of the academy as they pull up at the curb. People ogling at its glass exterior, pointing at the landscaping. 

Below the sign by the road, a large banner reads, Open House: Today!

"Shit. I completely forgot." Rey turns to Finn with sudden excitement. “You should come inside with me. Take a look around. There’ll be free breakfast.”

“What?” He looks at her like she’s grown another head. “But I’ve got plans with Poe.”

“At noon. It’s hardly nine.”

“Rey, it’s an open house. That means it’s a tour for potential parents.”

“So?”

“So I’m not the parent of an Alpha!”

“They don’t know that.” She tries to soften her face. “Besides. It’s open to the public. You're the public."

“Who’s flattering who now?”

"And my best friend. Don’t you want to see where I work?”

He sighs heavily. “Fine. But only because there’s breakfast.”

“I knew you were proud of me.”

“I’m always proud of you, Rey.”

------

Inside, the academy is buzzing with excitement.

The lobby has been decked out with streamers and decorations. Promotional materials hang on large poster-boards — glossy photographs of the lecture halls, testimonials from students. One poster features multi-paragraph biographies of Luke and Leia — who, Rey is surprised to learn, are apparently siblings.

She is relieved to see no photos of Ben Solo’s surly face hanging anywhere.

As Finn feigns polite interest in her animated narration, Rey finds she is grateful for the open house’s distraction. It almost makes her forget she’s going to have to look at that face again at some point today. And not just in a photograph.

“Down the corridor is my lecture hall.” Rey’s most recent memories of that particular lecture hall threaten to surface, but she manages to crush them before her thoughts get stuck on their barbs again. “And that right there is the bathroom.”

“Fascinating,” Finn says fondly, and she elbows him.

“You said you wanted a tour.”

“I said I wanted breakfast.”

“Lucky for you, we can do both.”

They follow the stream of families down the hallway, toward the large auditorium where last week’s staff meeting took place. The doors are wide open today, providing a view of yet more streamers, and — bizarrely — tables surrounded by large rubber bouncing balls instead of chairs. 

She can only contemplate this for a moment, however, before they step through the doors and all rational thought rushes from her mind like air being sucked out of a room.

Alpha. Her mind buzzes with the word, every molecule of her awareness teeming with it. Alpha. Alpha. Alpha.

He’s here.

She knows he's here. 

His scent fills her like something alive and pulsating. The answer to every question she’s ever asked. Alpha. Rey has to close her eyes for a moment, the way her head is starting to spin — but can she blame herself? There must not be a person here capable of resisting that call — Alpha — how could anyone keep themselves from being paralyzed by the pleasure of it, the irresistible yank and pull and need for it? But this thought also makes her recoil, makes her want to bare her teeth and snarl — because why the hell is she still standing here when she must find him, right now — she must find him, mark him, claim him so that no one else can know him the way she knows him — Alpha — the way his Omega craves him, occupies him, possesses him

“Rey?”

Her eyes snap open. 

She realizes she has planted herself right in the mouth of the doorway, and they are holding up the flow of foot traffic. Beside her, Finn is staring at her with an expression of deep concern.

“You all right?”

“Great,” she says, but it comes out like a squeak. “I’m great.”

“You were going to show me the… uh…” Finn looks around. “The bouncy ball room.”

“The auditorium.” Her head is still spinning, but she forces her legs to start moving. “This is the auditorium. Where we do staff meetings, and…” Is it usually this hard to breathe? “… puzzles.”

“Puzzles.” Finn frowns. “And eat breakfast, I hope.”

“Yes! Breakfast. We eat breakfast sometimes.” This earns her another worried look from Finn, so she keeps talking, the words like a faucet she can’t turn off. “And today. Especially today, we eat breakfast.”

But the long table crowded with muffins and pastries and fruits is also crowded with people, and Rey is currently refusing to look in that direction, because she knows — Alpha — she knows that’s where it’s coming from. His scent. Which means that’s where he is, and where Rey most definitely should not be.

“Let’s find a table first, shall we?”

She grabs Finn’s arm before he can argue and drags him to an empty table in the corner, as far away from the breakfast line as possible. 

“You sure you’re okay?”

“Why do you keep asking me that?”

“There are at least three tables closer to the food. You always sit right next to the food.”

“But have those tables got goody bags?” Rey plucks one of the plastic baggies from the tabletop, giving it a little shake.

“I’m pretty sure all the tables have goody bags.” Finn frowns as he leans in for closer inspection. “Are those keychains shaped like… glands?”

“I’ve always wanted a gland-shaped keychain, haven’t you?”

“I don’t think there’s anything I’ve ever wanted less than a gland-shaped keychain.”

“How charming. They’ve even got the name of the school on them.”

“Do they have a ticket to the breakfast line?”

“Look, an informative pamphlet. Let’s read it together.”

“Rey. In the corner over there. That’s him, isn’t it?”

Him.

It is, her mind responds with immediate, revolting enthusiasm, it’s him, it’s him, I know it’s him — 

Against all her better judgment, Rey finally finds her eyes surrendering to the magnetic pull that’s been tugging at them since she walked through the door.

Ben Solo is standing, predictably, alone. He is easily the tallest person in the room, but that’s not why it’s so easy for her to find him. Luke and a group of parents are chatting nearby, but Ben is decidedly not part of their conversation.

No. Instead, he's watching her.

Their eyes briefly meet, and it's like looking straight at the sun, bright and scalding. It's just a flash — Rey looks away just as quickly — but it's too late. The sight of him has already burned itself into her retinas.

"How did you know?" she asks, sounding as disinterested as possible while her heart is attempting to pound straight out of her chest.

"He hasn't stopped staring at you since we walked in here."

“Hmm. Doesn’t sound like him.” She pretends to examine the very boring pamphlet she’s holding. “Are you sure it wasn't the size of his enormous hands?"

“You know, now that I can see them, they're really not that big."

"They're bigger once you get up close."

"I have zero desire to get any closer, thanks. Does he always look like that?”

“Like what?” 

Like he wants to peel off every piece of clothing concealing you from him. Like he wants to wring each bit of delirious pleasure your body has to offer, drop by aching drop — then hunt for more in places you didn’t even know had the capacity to store it.

“Like he’s ready to separate someone’s head from their body with his extremely average-sized hands,” Finn says.

"The closer you get, the angrier he looks,” Rey replies. “And the bigger his fingers. I'm telling you."

"Gee, I can see why you're so attracted to him."

"I never said I was attracted to him."

Finn gives Rey a look that makes her think she’s going to have to practice that line a few dozen more times in front of her bathroom mirror.

“Well, I wouldn’t say the same for him.” Finn doesn’t seem to share any of her difficulty with looking back across the room at him. “Getting some serious territorial vibes from this guy.”

Something flutters in her ribcage. She doesn’t look up from her pamphlet. “There's nothing for him to be territorial about."

“He's been glaring a hole through my head for the past five minutes."

"He must be looking at someone else."

"You made us sit in the very back of the room. There's literally no one else over here."

"Then he must find the wallpaper interesting."

"Rey."

"That floral pattern was a pretty daring choice, don't you think?"

"Rey, he's walking directly toward us."

Her stomach erupts in butterflies, and despite her best intentions, her moronic Omega-brain begins firing at full-speed again: Alpha is here, Alpha has missed you, Alpha can see how badly you've needed him – 

“Ms. Niima.”

It should be illegal, the effect his voice still has on her, even after his humiliating rejection last week. But it’s difficult, when she remembers all the things that came before it. After all, she now knows exactly how that voice sounds whispering filth in her ear, methodically working her body to orgasm after orgasm after —

Rey takes a deep, steadying breath and faces him. 

"Mr. Solo."

His eyes are scorching, and god, he has no right to look at her like that. It sparks something wild in her, furiously defiant.

"This is Finn.” And because her brain has completely turned off, she adds, “My date.”

Finn throws her a wide-eyed, panicky look. Rey ignores him.

"Your date," Solo repeats slowly, like he’s never heard the word in this context.

“That’s what I said.” She lifts her chin a little. “My date.”

"Really more of a ride than a date," Finn interjects.

She glares back at him. "What kind of date would this be if you didn't give me a ride?"

"A pretty garbage one, considering we are literally at your place of employment."

Rey doesn’t know how to respond to this, since the bulk of her romantic experiences have now taken place inside this very building. So instead, she turns back to Ben.

“Finn, this is Ben Solo. My..." Alpha, her brain provides unhelpfully, my Alpha – along with a vivid stream of images from the last time she called him that: Alpha, silky sheets fisted between her fingers —please Alpha — panting, begging, vibrating with (please Alpha I need it Alpha please) — "My teaching partner.”

His face is completely unreadable as he looks down at her.

“I need a word.”

“Great!” Finn replies, at the same time that Rey says, “That’s too bad.”

Something in Solo’s jaw twitches. “Now.”

“Even better,” Finn says quickly. “I’ll just go grab some food. And leave you two to talk about… teaching.”

He is gone before she can stop him. Rey suddenly regrets choosing a table so far away from everyone else. There’s no where for her to direct her attention except for him, towering over her, smelling of dark, churning agitation.

“Is this going to be quick?” she says, a little too sharply. “I’ve got to get back to my date.”

“Your date. That you brought to a tour luncheon.”

"My date's allowed to see where I work."

"Your date seems very interested in the girl from Human Resources."

Rey glances at the breakfast table, where Finn has struck up a conversation with Rose. Warm delight spreads through her chest at the way Finn is beaming at her.

She turns back to Ben with a carefully blank expression. "It's an open date.”

"You didn't strike me as the type."

“Didn’t know I struck you any way at all.”

His jaw clenches visibly.

“I called you,” he says, voice tense. “Over the weekend.” 

“Did you?” It’s harder to pretend to be indifferent, when she has to meet his eye. “Must have missed it.”

“Six times.”

“My phone was on silent.”

“For the entire weekend.”

“Am I expected to take work calls on the weekends now?” she says, bristling. “Because you might want to mention that to your next teaching assistant. Set some very clear boundaries up front.”

He exhales sharply through his nose. “That’s exactly what I wanted to talk about. Boundaries.”

Her stomach drops. Shit. So they’re going to do this now. “Boundaries.” She can do this. “Of course.”

He looks, for a moment, like he’s searching for somewhere to sit. But there’s only those ridiculous rubber balls around the table — and Ben Solo strikes her as the sort of person who would sooner sit on the floor than straddle one of those contraptions. He turns back to her, his expression like steel. 

“What happened between us on Friday was…” His throat bobs. “Unprofessional.”

Rey would choose to describe the experience in slightly more positive terms — at least, all the things that came before the end. But then again, that’s exactly what he’s talking about, isn’t it? “You don’t have to worry,” she replies, face burning. “It won’t happen again.”

A muscle in his face twitches, his jaw is working so hard. “It won’t.”

“We need to make it through the semester, after all.”

“Exactly.”

“It’s just… it’s a bit — difficult, to be professional, when you’re…”  Calling me your good girl. Making me come harder than I’ve ever come in my life. Looking at me like you're feeling everything too. “I don’t know what you — what you expect from me, exactly.”

He blinks. “What I expect from you?”

“Yes.” Her chest hurts. Why does her chest hurt? “To fulfill the role. Professionally. I thought you wanted me to be — a good Omega. I was really trying, you know.”

“But you were,” Ben says, and his face cracks, and the way he is suddenly looking at her — he looks like he’s in agony. “Christ. You are, Rey. The perfect Omega.”

Her head spins. “Then… then why…?”

“How could you you think... I wasn’t talking about you. I’m the one who —“ 

He stops speaking abruptly. His nostrils twitch; he frowns, takes a deep inhale — and then his pupils dilate rapidly as they rove across her face.

“Omega." His voice is very soft. Like he’s just recognizing her for the first time. The sound of it reaches deep into her core and settles there, hot and liquid. "You're looking rather flush today, aren't you?"

She rubs her arms, self-conscious. “It’s quite warm in here.”

“Is it?” Something has changed in his eyes, the way he’s looking at her. “I didn’t notice.”

“I don’t see what the temperature has to do with anything.”

Whatever explanation he’s about to provide is swallowed by the sound of a finger tapping on a microphone from overhead, followed by Luke’s cheerful voice. 

“Everyone, please find your seats — or your balls, so to speak — and we can get started.”

Ben nearly snarls. “He’s been waiting all fucking week to make that joke.” Teeth bared, he looks from Rey to Luke back to Rey again. “I’ll be right back, Omega. Don’t move.”

And then he turns and heads to the front of the room, leaving her standing there. Stunned.

The sound of conversation diminishes as people begin to find their tables. There are at least a few expressions of horror at the keychains. Head still whirling, Rey attempts to balance herself precariously on a rubber ball beside the table. 

To her relief, Finn chooses this moment to reappear with two heaping plates of food — and a grinning Rose at his elbow.

“Rey, this is Rose.”

“Please. We’re well acquainted.” Rose sits beside her. “If it weren’t for Rey’s quick thinking the other day, I would have been crushed by a leaning tower of bouncy balls.”

“Then I suppose I might forgive her for almost getting me crushed by her Alpha.”

“Oh, I wouldn't take it personally," Rose says. "Solo’s like that with everyone. Well, except for Rey, of course.”

Disoriented, Rey blinks down at the plate Finn slides in front of her. She is surprised to find she has no appetite for any of it.

“Speaking of which…“ Rose starts digging into the satchel on her hip, from which she is constantly producing handbooks, branded pens and release forms. “Solo left this with me over the weekend. The file was corrupt — the camera must have powered down while it was still recording. But I ran it through a repair, and it should be as good as new. Well, up until the camera shut off, anyway.”

The memory card she’s holding is far too small to contain everything that happened that night. Rey gapes at it, color rising in her cheeks as she begins to understand. A whirlwind of emotions surges within her — shock, excitement, humiliation. “Does that mean you…”

“Oh, hell no. I didn’t watch it.”

“Watch what?” Finn says suspiciously, around a mouthful of raspberry muffin.

“Figured I might as well give it to you,” Rose tells her with a wink, “and you could pass it along to him.”

Him. Rey’s eyes snap up, as though drawn by his sudden awareness. Ben is still at the front of the room, where Luke is talking to him animatedly — but he isn't even pretending to pay attention. His eyes are fixed on her. On the memory card in her hand.

The room suddenly feels unbearably warm. Claustrophobic, even.

Before she realizes what she’s doing, Rey is on her feet.

“I’ll be right back,” she says, and flees the room.

Fresh air, she thinks. She just needs some fresh air. Unpolluted by the terrible, devastating stench of him. Just a little fresh air, and she’ll remember how to think clearly again.

She barely makes it around a corner before she hears a door slam behind her.

”Rey!”

His voice booms down the empty hall. It only makes her pace quicken, her focus narrowing — driven by some ancient, animal instinct to flee.

She rounds another corner, blood roaring in her ears. The wrong way, if she’s looking for the exit, but it’s too late now — she hears him, smells him, close on her heels. Blindly, she chooses a door at random and flies inside.

Beautiful, blessed darkness awaits her. The air is cooler here. Sterile. She takes a deep, cleansing breath of it as her eyes adjust to the low light, and she realizes from the towering shape of boxes that she’s in the goddamn storage room.

She has no time to reconsider. There is the sound of footsteps from the corridor, and Rey has all of five seconds to dash down a row of boxes before the door swings open.

There’s a nook in the corner here, between an old dresser and the wall. Rey presses herself against the wood, breathing hard. The memory card presses a plastic indent in her palm, clutched to her chest.

The door clicks shut.

“I know you’re in here, Rey.”

God, his voice. How could she possibly think it would be any better, to be alone with him again? At least in the big room with all those people, there were other sounds, other scents, to distract her. Here, there’s only dusty corners and the familiar silence of sad, rejected things, and her entire consciousness seems to constrict to her awareness of him. His voice. His large, powerful body, moving, predatory, through the room.

“I knew the minute you walked in the building. Smelling like that. You think I won’t find you in this tiny little room?”

Rey’s eyes flutter shut. She tries not to breathe.

“But that's because you're not trying to hide, are you?"

The floor creaks. 

“No. You want me to find you."

The worst part, of course, is that he’s right. It almost feels easier this way — so that she can’t be held responsible for whatever happens next. So that it feels more like a surrender than a decision, the inevitable conclusion to an ancient story whose ending was written long before she had any part in it.

There is movement to her left, and then he is before her, wide and looming and the very best thing she’s ever smelled. The sheer size of him makes him crowd her against the dresser — not touching, but she can feel every tiny inch of volatile air that separates them. Her pulse races, like it might stage its own escape without the rest of her. 

“I told you not to move.” Ben’s eyes are nearly black in the dim light, focused intently on her face. “Didn’t I say something about pinning you down if you can’t keep still?”

Rey bites her tongue to keep her body from tilting into his. “That’s not very professional.”

“I have a professional interest in keeping you still, Omega. We weren’t finished talking about how warm you’ve been feeling.”

“I thought we were talking about boundaries.”

His face twists, and the air sparks and crackles with his agitation. “Yes.” He seems to be fighting to temper his expression. “Boundaries. That’s right.”

He leans away from her. But only slightly. Breathing deeply, he runs a large hand over his face.

“This… thing between us. It’s becoming a problem.”

“Whatever do you mean?"

“Your Omega,” he nearly growls, “and my Alpha. These impulses they share. That’s the problem.”

“Sounds like a you problem, honestly.”

“God damnit, Rey. You have no idea.” That feral energy is threatening to spill out of him again, fingers clenching at his sides. “You walk into the room, and I can no longer think. The way you keep looking at my mouth. The stink of all the things you’re imagining. How badly you want me to lean down and lick that pretty little gland on your neck.” His gaze is a physical weight as it slides to her throat. “I’ve been thinking about it all weekend, you know. How I didn’t get to taste you. And that’s the real problem, isn’t it? I don’t recognize myself around you. The things I want to take from you — I feel like I’m losing my goddamn mind. There’s nothing professional about the way you make me feel.”

“Well, you’ll just have to figure it out on your own,” she says, feeling wild and breathless and suffocatingly warm. “I have no impulses toward you, Ben Solo. Professional or otherwise.”

“Really.” He leans toward her — why does he have to be so goddamn tall — so that her entire body is pressed flush against the dresser. “So there was nothing impulsive about the way you begged me to fuck you that night.”

Rey looks him directly in the eye, even as her frantic heart crawls up her throat. “It’s not an impulse if I’ve already been thinking about it.”

He goes completely still. 

“This is exactly what I’m talking about,” he says, voice low and rough. “You can’t possibly mean that.”

“I think about it all the time, actually.” Her mouth feels completely beyond her control, feverish words pouring out without her permission. “On my way to work. When you’re lecturing the class. At night. When I’m alone. Especially then, I like to think about it.”

He groans, a low, broken sound. “You don’t know what you’re asking for.”

“I recall being very specific about what I was asking for, actually.” Rey looks up at him, pulse racing. “I still wouldn't consider it a problem, exactly. Since I can just find it somewhere else.”

The snarl that transforms his face — it makes all the fine hairs on her body ripple to attention, standing straight up. “Your little Beta date won’t be capable of that.”

"I already told you,” she says coolly. “We're open.”

"If you had an Alpha to give you your knot, he would not allow you to be open."

“Or maybe he just didn’t attend your backward school with its outdated curriculum.”

His eyes flash. “Want to know what I think?”

“Not particularly.”

“I don’t think that Beta is your date.” His scent is growing dangerously thick around her. Suffocating. “I don't think you have an Alpha waiting, either. And even if you did, he wouldn’t be able to soothe that ache we’ve put there, would he? There’s only one person who can do that.”

“How convenient for you.”

“There is nothing convenient about any of this,” he hisses. “Which is why one of us needs to enforce some goddamn boundaries.”

“And that’s you, I’m guessing. Also convenient.”

“You don’t smell capable of enforcing anything right now.” His eyes start to rove across her face again with new urgency. “Your cheeks are very warm, Omega.”

“It’s too dark for you to see that.”

“I don't need to see. Your body is radiating heat.”

Heat. Rey’s body stirs and shivers at the word. “I’m fine.”

“You’re not.” He lifts a hand, and his knuckles brush against the back of her face. Her knees tremble at the touch, like she's been waiting all weekend for it. “You’re burning up, little one."

"Must be catching a cold."

He doesn't remove his hand from her face, his knuckles gently tracing her cheekbone. Without her permission, her face tilts into his caresses, eyelashes fluttering.

"Tell me how long you've been feeling like this."

"I'm not feeling like anything."

"Don't play games with me, Omega." 

There’s so little space between them, she can taste his breath on the air between them, sweet and musky. It's making her dizzy. "If you're suggesting what I think you are, it's not time for that yet." She tries to sound annoyed, but her voice comes out too much like a whine, breathless and tight.

“Answer my question.” His fingers gently grasp her chin, turning her face to meet his gaze. "When did this start?"

"Nothing is starting," she says shakily. "I take suppressants. It's been years."

"Years." His voice is like gravel. Deep and hungry. "You haven't had your heat in years."

"That's right, and it's certainly not starting now.” 

“I told you not to play games with me.”

“I’m not,” she says weakly.

“Is this why you’re saying all these things? Talking about my knot?” Still cupping her chin, he strokes his thumb up and down her jaw. Her breath hitches. “You’re not thinking clearly, sweetheart.”

She’s not. She can practically see the Alpha staring back out at her from behind his eyes, following her movements with the black gaze of a predator. It makes something smolder inside her, hot and simmering; the final wisps of her control over the situation threaten to evaporate under the heat of it. 

She closes her eyes.

“You need to be taken care of,” he murmurs, and she feels herself nod, a small, helpless movement of her face in his hand. “I know you do. Why don’t you give me that card you’re holding, and then we can talk about how to make you feel better.”

The reminder of the card in her hand and the evening it holds is like a hard, vicious shove out of a fever-dream. 

No.

Her eyes fly open. This isn’t supposed to be happening. She promised herself this wouldn’t happen again. She doesn’t want this. He doesn’t want this.

She yanks her chin free from his grasp. “I don’t have any card.”

He blinks, taken aback. “But I watched her give it to you.”

“It doesn’t matter. It cut off at the end. She couldn’t fix it.”

“Then I’ll destroy it.”

“I’m perfectly capable of destroying it myself, believe it or not.”

“Omega —“

“Stop calling me that.” She runs her palm over her hot face, so that she doesn’t have to look at him. It's hard to look at him. “God. You were right. I’m not thinking clearly.”

He doesn’t want this. It’s difficult to remember that when he’s looking at her like — god, like something is breaking inside of him. But he told her, didn’t he? He said it was a problem, all the feelings she’s giving him.

Your Omega, and my Alpha, and the impulses they share.  

Ben Solo is not his Alpha. He’s certainly not hers. He wants boundaries. If he’s struggling with any impulse to take care of her, it’s only because of her stupid Omega-scent — not to mention her stupid, runaway mouth verbalizing every stupid thought that pops into her stupid brain.

It’s only because he pities her.

“Finn was right.” She rubs her forehead and finds it clammy beneath her fingers. “I think I’m getting sick.”

“You’re not sick," Ben says, and there's an edge of panic to his voice now. “Please, Rey. You'll need help.”

“I need sleep. And an advil, maybe.” With effort, she peels herself from the dresser, side-stepping from where he’s cornered her. “I’ll take care of the card.”

“Forget the fucking card.” For a moment, she thinks he might lunge after her. But instead he only stands there, breathing hard, fists clenched at his sides. “I can help you," he finally says, sounding hoarse. "Let me help you. Please.”

"I can help myself." Rey takes a deep, shuddery breath and looks away. "Don’t expect me in class tomorrow.”

It feels terrible, walking away from him. But it doesn’t feel as terrible as she felt Friday, when he couldn’t even meet her eye afterward. Or as terrible as she would feel later, if she allowed her Omega to do this to them both again.

The light in the hallway is too bright when she emerges. Her head is spinning, more than before — so much that she barely even notices the large group of families passing by. At their front, Jannah is providing a monotonous description of the academy’s teaching methods.

Trailing at the back of the group is Finn. His eyes catch on her, grow wide with shock, and then he is at her side, blocking her view from the passing tour.

“What the hell, Rey? You look like shit.”

“Think you already mentioned that.”

“Well, you really look like shit now.”

From the closed door behind them, Rey thinks she hears something heavy crash against the wall and break.

“I’m going home,” she says, a little weakly. “You were right.”

“You know, I’ve been waiting a long time to hear you to say those words. Always imagined it’d be a little more satisfying.”

“Don’t get used to it.” Rey manages a small smile. “Gonna go catch the bus.”

“Like hell you are.”

She blinks. “But Poe…”

“Poe can wait for me to drop you off at your apartment.”

Her chest is hurting again. She follows him down the hall, away from the tour, the storage room, the lecture hall with its incriminating bed. Away from Ben Solo. She won’t let herself think about the next few days just yet. She definitely won't think about the possibility that Ben was right.

She doesn’t need help. She’s not going into heat.

And even if she was, she's never needed anyone but herself to endure it.

She follows Finn to his car with her fist still clenched tight, the flat shape of the memory card burning a hole in her palm.

Chapter Text

Her first mistake is watching the video.

This, she later determines, is where the trouble starts. 

Of course, one might argue that the trouble began even sooner than that. Going to that open house with a raging fever, for example, and allowing him to corner her in the storage room — probably not one of her brighter ideas. She never does quite get the smell of him out of her lungs the rest of the day, and it's enough to drive a person mad on its own, the mind-melting taste of him on each breath she takes.

Or maybe it started even earlier than that — the things she let him do to her on Friday, perhaps. If she hadn't suggested it (because it was her own terrible idea in the first place, wasn't it, to record that video) — if she hadn't suggested it, she might not have ever allowed him such vulnerability as she did on his stage that night, stripped bare and raw and real for him. His good Omega, just for an hour.

If she hadn't suggested it, the video in question might not exist at all.

Or it could be even earlier: in a hundred tiny moments preceding. His hand over hers, gently guiding a puzzle piece into place. His eyes narrowing whenever she contradicts him in front of his class. A hint of a smile on his mouth, wiping a dollop of cream from her lip.

A newspaper classified tucked behind her cereal box, waiting to spark a chain reaction that would land her here, hot and restless and squirming in front of her old laptop.

No. When she looks back, she will remember this as the moment the trouble truly started.

Rey uses her phone for most things these days. She hasn't needed her computer since her aborted stint in the city's public higher education system. But when she gets home from the academy that morning, clutching her memory card and reassuring Finn for the hundredth time that yes, she’s sure, she will be fine — she remembers the tiny slot on the side of the computer stuffed in her closet. 

The sketchy guy she bought it from at Rudy's made a big deal out of it at the time. It almost cost her fifty more credits, the privilege of having a laptop with this tiny slot — but she had no camera to use with it, so he gave her a break on the price. Right before he got arrested for selling stolen speeder parts to some undercover officers.

Now, four years later, she finally has a memory card to put it to good use.

For the remainder of the morning and most of the afternoon, Rey simply allows this knowledge to sit with her, heavy with promise. She refuses to act on it, employing the few remaining functional brain cells that weren’t obliterated by the brush of his knuckles along her cheek in the storage room earlier.

But as the day wears on – and her fever does not abate, despite taking more than the label’s recommended amount of advil — she starts to wonder if it can’t hurt, to try something different. She has been rather restless since their conversation that morning, after all. Lightheaded. Uncomfortably warm.

Rey is vaguely, reluctantly aware that this video may even be the source of some of the agitation she’s experiencing. She might as well get some enjoyment out of this too, right? 

She deserves that much, at least.

This is the flawless logic that eventually compels her to dig the computer from the back of her closet, tear through several drawers of cords to find the matching charger, and wait for the laptop’s excruciating start-up process to finish. 

Half an hour later, sitting at her kitchen table in front of a glowing screen, Rey finally removes the memory card from her pocket and pops it into the port.

A new folder appears on the desktop.

With a deep breath, Rey moves the cursor and clicks.

The first several files, she quickly finds, are filled with recordings of Luke Skywalker rehearsing what appears to be a low-budget commercial for his school. She imagines Solo might find this amusing — or irritating, in which case she would find it amusing — but thinking about him smiling right now makes her chest tight and heavy. 

She scrolls past these clips to the very last one on the camera.

The one dated Friday.

For a long moment, she only stares at the file name. The tiny text below informs her that it's fifty-six minutes long. Fifty-six blissful, devastating minutes. Rey isn't sure if she's more surprised he spent so much time with her — or that it wasn't far longer. It felt like he was touching her for hours that evening. Time lost any meaning with his hands on her skin, meticulously identifying each place on her body capable of edging her closer to her climax.

Fifty-six minutes.

She supposes she might have fifty-six minutes to kill.

Rey opens the video and presses play.

------

It begins with an empty bed.

The screen first glows bright white, and then very dark, as though someone is adjusting the settings. There is a muffled curse, to which Rey’s body immediately responds, prickling with interest: Alpha, she knows, the same way she knows the rhythm of her own heartbeat in her ears, the hazy shape of the skyline, the map of stars high above that occasionally reaches, piercing, through the smog. That’s him.

As if to verify this, Ben moves suddenly into the frame, looking even larger for the low angle of the shot. He folds his arms and frowns at the lens.

Rey leans forward a little. Just to get a better look.

Apparently satisfied, he moves out of view again. There is the sound of rustling off to the side, and then he returns to put something on the bed. 

Rey squints, leaning closer to the screen. 

Is that… 

A fruit basket? 

Ben steps back, examining his handiwork for a long moment. He relocates it to the pillows. Then to the foot of the bed. Then he swears again and removes it completely, storming away.

There is a metallic clattering that Rey recognizing as the large trash can just off stage.

Ben next returns to straighten the sheets. A laughable concept, considering what a tangled, dripping mess she’ll make of them when he’s finished with her — but he seems almost endearingly concerned with their arrangement, fluffing the blanket, adjusting the pillows.

With a flutter in her chest, it occurs to her that — in this video, anyway — Ben Solo appears to be nervous.

It’s easier for her to notice, watching him through a screen. In person, she struggles to think clearly through the thick cloud of Omega-wanting that blankets her mind at the barest whiff of his scent. Not to mention the way his eyes lock onto her whenever they’re together, following her every movement with the stillness of a predator waiting to pounce.

Without all that, though, she finally has the space to truly see him. The way he keeps pushing his fingers through his hair. The repeated glances from the door to his wristwatch — 6:10, the timestamp in the corner reads.

6:10.

She leans forward to double-check, mouth dropping open.

He was waiting there for her for nearly two hours. 

A warm, trickling sensation spreads through her chest. She's having a hard time applying any of her usual explanations for his behavior to this situation: Ben Solo, completely alone, choosing to spend the two hours before her arrival fluffing blankets and re-positioning a fruit basket.

This fever must really be getting to her. 

The screen suddenly goes back. A brief pause, and then the timestamp reappears at the corner.

8:10.

Rey suddenly can't breathe.

That's her. On the bed. Completely naked, which is far more than she’s ever revealed on camera before. She is perched at the edge of the mattress, looking uncomfortable and impatient. Rey frowns at the screen, trying to decide if maybe she has already had enough of this — and then there is the sound of Solo moving behind the camera. 

She remembers this part as unbearably awkward, the interminable waiting while he set up the camera. But to her surprise, the frame suddenly narrows. Zooming in.

There is a low whoosh of air as Solo exhales unsteadily behind the viewfinder. The lens traces the curve of her thighs, up her too-sharp hipbones. He lingers at her chest, where a rosy, traitorous blush is already emerging. Then up to her face, full of irritation — but also something far too close to arousal, as she tosses him a sidelong glance. 

She may not be so good at hiding that as she thought.

He refocuses the frame back out to the bed, so that it captures her entire body again.

This is the part where she should turn it off. She’s seen enough. She experienced this herself, after all — she doesn’t need to live through it again.

Ben moves back into the frame, slowly approaching her. 

Rey doesn’t stop watching.

------

The winter sunlight has vanished behind her curtain, replaced by the glow of street lamps, the occasional twin beams of yellow headlights drifting across her wall.

Rey is still sitting at her kitchen table, now wearing considerably fewer clothes than when she first sat down. She has only gotten up twice, both times to throw open the windows in an attempt to cool her stifling apartment.

It hasn't helped. The room is still suffocatingly warm. Her body is still shivery and achy and on the verge of something unspeakably significant.

She’s still alone.

Fifty-six minutes have somehow morphed into 112 minutes. Rey has watched the entire thing twice, just to make sure she didn't miss anything. It was, after all, a little difficult to catch every detail while attempting to follow his very explicit instructions all by herself. And now the sun is gone, the day has departed, and she still finds herself trapped in sweltering skin that vibrates with envious longing, that she too might be touched the way he touches her on that screen.

She realizes two things at once: she hasn’t eaten all day, and for once, she isn’t the least bit hungry.

At least, not for food.

It's been years since her last heat. Three years, specifically. It didn't take long after starting her suppressants for Rey to realize she could simply skip the little blue pills at the end of each pack, the ones that would trigger her cycle. Why would anyone willingly subject themselves to a week of hormone-induced agony when modern medicine has discerned a way to skip such miseries altogether?

At some point, of course, the disinterested clinic doctor informed her that her next heat, when it finally arrived, would be a particularly gruesome affair. Worse than the ones she's suffered in the past.

But that has always been a problem for Future Rey. In the meantime, she has very much enjoyed the convenience of not needing to schedule heat breaks between her work opportunities, sporadic and underpaid as they are. 

Today, though, it seems that Future Rey has finally arrived to collect her dues. 

And she finds herself utterly unprepared for it. 

The gland on her throat is beginning to throb. The same one he pretended to mark that first day in his classroom. It stings sweetly at the memory, the ghost of his wrist hovering over her throat. She imagines, dangerously, what it might have felt like, had he closed the inches between their skin and slid his wrist along her throat. Scenting her.

She puts her fingers to her neck and finds the gland already swollen — as swollen as she can ever remember it being, from the puffy shape beneath her fingertips. Sensitive little things, he had said, and at the time, she had only glared.

Now, fingertips pressing into her throat, the memory makes her whine.

Rey thought it might help, to have him here to guide her in this video. It should have been the best of both worlds — her Alpha, strong and firm and knowing exactly what she needs — without having to face the humiliation of his indifference afterward. His pity.

She sees now what a terrible idea this was. The video cuts off just as he climbed atop her in bed, and Rey has not been able to finish, now that she knows what the rest of it is like. It makes her sob with frustration the second time it happens, her fingers cramping, her thighs shaking, the deep throbbing in her core utterly unfulfilled.

It's impossible, now that she knows. Especially when she remembers what it was that she really, truly needed from him that night.

She needs it now. She can see that clearly, some 112 excruciating minutes later. She doesn't think she's ever needed anything more in her life than she needs Ben Solo at this moment. Dosing her pleasure in the precise increments he desires. Watching her avidly, as though he can extract some divine knowledge from her reactions to understand exactly what she needs. Finishing her. Repeatedly. She would even take that cursed dildo again, as long as he was the one using it.

Before she can change her mind, Rey’s trembling fingers find her phone.

------

Ben has endured a host of tasteless appetizers, most of an entree and at least four glasses of spring water.

And he still has yet to figure out what the hell they want from him.

His mother and uncle have been making vapid small talk for almost an hour now, completely indifferent to the fact that Ben has not participated in a single word of their conversation. He has instead taken to curling his hands around the napkin in his lap, twisting it into increasingly tighter ringlets beneath the table.

The tension required to hold it fast feels good. It gives his fingers something to do, when they are otherwise so preoccupied with where they long to be instead.

He cannot think of that right now. Not in front of his mother and uncle, and certainly not before he's figured out how they're planning to ambush him here. There's no reason they would coerce him into dinner like this — over his very adamant objections, considering the fucking day he has had — other than some ill-conceived plan to force him into a discussion with no option for escape.

Not that he has anywhere particularly compelling to escape to. There is only his apartment, cold and vacant and full of all the ways he wishes she might fill it — the same way she fills all the cold, vacant parts of Ben whenever she smiles at him. Or looks at him. Or stands in the same room as him. 

Just the knowledge of her existence, really, is enough to do it for him most days.

Take right now, for instance. He's so caught up in his infatuation with Rey Niima's existence that he doesn't realize the conversation has stopped until he notices the very serious expressions they’re both wearing, watching him in silence.

Ben arranges his face into a matching glare.

“So. We've arrived at last." It's the first time he's spoken since they ordered. "Are we finally getting to the point of this now?”

Luke examines him over his steepled fingers, leaning back in the chair. “We didn't want it to come to this, nephew. But we believe it’s time.” 

He looks very seriously at Leia and then back at Ben.

"We’re staging an intervention."

Well that's... unexpected. "But I don't drink.”

“Not for drinking." Luke gives him an odd look, as though he's surprised Ben might reach that conclusion. "For your behavior. At the academy.”

This again? “Fine. Tell me the name of the student who complained.”

“No complaints,” Leia says. “There’s been a startling absence of complaints in your classroom over the past two weeks, actually.”

“Really.” Ben feels a glimmer of pride, that he has finally made himself sufficiently intimidating to stave off the steady stream of reports his delicate students have been filing since the semester began.

“Yes. Really.” Leia puts her fork down, watching him carefully. “This is about your temperament.”

His temperament? Ben’s scowl deepens considerably. “There’s nothing wrong with my temperament.”

“You wrecking the storage room today,” Luke interjects. “That’s what’s wrong with your temperament.”

“I did no such thing.” Ben is actually quite certain of this, because he put tremendous effort into hurling handfuls of those hideous keychains against the wall, with disappointing results. Resilient little fuckers.

“I was in there earlier, Ben.” Leia is speaking very gently, with the same voice she’d use whenever she found him bruising his knuckles against the battered wall of his childhood bedroom. “It was completely destroyed.”

“Destruction suggests something of value was damaged. There was nothing of value in that storage room.”

“Except for my poster collection,” Luke says, frowning deeply.

“As I said. Nothing of value.”

Leia gives him a firm look. “Rey Niima is something of value. Whether you think so or not.”

Rey. Just the mention of her name makes all the muscles in his body tense. The memory of her in that dim, musty room rises immediately in his mind’s eye, impervious to the many hours today he has struggled to keep it at bay. He thinks of her face, pink and flushed, leaning into his touch. The hopeful quiver of her mouth when he said he would take care of her.

Never mind all the worthless junk in the storage room. Rey Niima is the only thing of value in this whole city. Perhaps the only thing of value in his entire godforsaken life.

“If you are implying that I’ve — damaged her, in some way,” and god, even just saying those words tastes like hot acid on his tongue, the idea is so abhorrent to him — “Never. I would never.”

“Not her, exactly.” Leia’s expression turns stern. “But her chances of continuing to work at this school.”

Oh. The room sways. Something significant threatens to crumple in Ben’s chest. “She quit.”

“Not yet. But from the way she looked leaving today, she may be coming close.”

“But…” It’s his heart, he realizes. His heart is crumpling. “She left because she wanted to.”

“Because of whatever you said to her in that damn room!” Luke snaps. “You can’t just go throwing my motivational posters at your teaching assistants, Ben!”

“I didn’t throw anything at her!”

“I saw what you did to my teamwork-makes-the-dream-work print.” Luke leans across the table, wagging his finger. “That is the opposite of teamwork, Benjamin. It’s no surprise she was offended.”

“I didn't find your useless box of posters until after she left,” Ben says through clenched teeth.

“It’s still offensive! Offensive to me!”

The phone at his hip starts to vibrate.

Luke is still ranting, but Ben no longer can make out the words. His attention has shrunk to the buzzing weight against his thigh and all the unlikely possibility it contains. Pulse quickening, he pulls the phone from his pocket.

His heart lurches.

It's her.

Hello

I know it’s late

But if you're around

I've got a quick work question

Ben stares at the screen for a long moment, trying and failing to discern some alternate meaning in her words.

She can't be serious.

A work question?

He doesn't want to answer her fucking work question. He wants to know what she's feeling. If the fever pouring off her body earlier meant she was as close as she smelled. If she's found someone else (and god, he can hardly bear to think of it, it makes him want to flip this table and rage and bleed and hurt) — someone else to see her through it.

Go ahead.

"You're not even listening," Luke says.

"I am so," Ben snaps.

"This sort of behavior might have been acceptable working under Snoke, but it's not here."

If Ben were still working under Snoke, he would have burned down Luke's entire goddamn school by now. But that's neither here nor there. His phone is still vibrating in his palm.

The other day

We didn’t get to finish the lesson

The one about heats.

Every single molecule in his body stirs to attention.

Do you have a suggestion

(purely hypothetical)

that might help an Omega

if she were in heat?

The rush of blood in his ears is nearly deafening. Without hesitation, he taps out a rapid response to her.

I would instruct her to tell her Alpha where she is

Immediately

So that he can find her and take care of her.

"Ben.” It's his mother, this time. “The feedback from your students has improved significantly since she started. You don’t have to like her, but it seems she's a damn good teaching partner.”

"She's an exceptional teaching partner," Ben says furiously. "The best I've ever had. Where are you going with this?"

But what would you tell her

Hypothetically

If she couldn't do that?

He nearly snarls at his phone in frustration.

Are you alone?

The wait for her response to this question feels like an entire century. He almost begins to regret asking — but surely she wouldn't be texting him, if she were with (he tastes blood from biting his tongue so hard) someone else? No. She wouldn't. Not even he deserves that. 

Yeah

I'm alone

He slowly breathes out again.

"Who are you even sending messages to?" There is a distinctly suspicious quality to Leia's voice now. "I've never seen you use that phone so much before."

He rises so quickly the chair clatters. "I'll be right back."

"You've gotta be kidding," Luke says, but Ben is already halfway across the restaurant, weaving between tables with narrow focus. 

The bathroom is by the kitchen, and Ben immediately flips the lock on the door once he's inside. He checks each stall, metal doors slamming open like a rapid volley of gunshots. When he's certain it's clear, only then does he allow himself to open his phone.

He takes a deep breath.

I would tell her what a good girl she is.  

Waiting for me.

The typing indicator appears and disappears for a long moment.

I think she'd like it

Hearing that

He leans against the tile wall, loosening his tie. This will be fucking torture. He can already taste the bittersweet agony of it, sharp and throbbing on his tongue. But if it is the only way she will allow him to help her right now, he will do the best he can.

I'd know everything she likes.

But you already know that.

What is this Omega having trouble with

Specifically?

Her answer is instantaneous.

Coming

She can't come

He has to close his eyes for a moment to keep hold of his bearings.

She needs to be worked up first.

Don't you remember?

Of course I remember

I have the video

The video. She's watching the fucking video. Ben groans into the heel of his hand. 

It's not helping

Still can't come

Coming is only a small part of it.

Omegas in heat need to be filled.

I know they do

hurts without it

A furious growl is ripped from his chest. 

It doesn't need to hurt.

Her Alpha would make it all better.

He would make her feel the way you did on that tape, Rey.

As many times as necessary.

There is a long pause before she finally responds:

She doesn't have an Alpha.

It's like a hard kick to his stomach. But he's her Alpha — he's here, he's ready, he has everything she could possibly need to see her through this. And even if he didn't, he would lay waste to entire cities to obtain it for her. 

Ben turns on the faucet so that he can splash handfuls of icy water on his burning face. He needs the clarity, if he's going to avoid descending into a full-blown rut in the bathroom of this shitty restaurant from this conversation.

Then we'll have to be creative.

Does this Omega have something else she can use to fill herself instead?

A pause.

There's a toy

it's been a while

She doesn't know where it is

This Omega needs to be fucked, Rey.

Right now.

Go find it.

The wait that follows is a long, slow erosion of his sanity. Ben begins to pace the bathroom, back and forth. Six, long strides from wall to wall. His tie is starting to itch the gland at his throat, needy for its Omega, so Ben takes it off completely, tossing it over his shoulder. When his phone finally buzzes again, he nearly hurls it across the room, so high is his agitation.

found it

Relief floods through him, mixed with deep satisfaction. His sweet, obedient Omega.

Good.

Now we’re going to use it.

More silence follows. Ben begins to regret giving her such a vague instruction. She needs to tell him how it feels. If it's getting her close. The mere thought of her, alone and damp and gasping as she tries to fuck the ache from her belly, struggling to mimic what he would feel like inside her — it threatens to drive him out of his entire goddamn mind.

Two agonizing minutes later, a flurry of new messages begins to appear in rapid succession:

not enough  

it's not enough

i'm trying Alpha

trying so hard

it's not the same as when you did it

Then she should fucking let him do it, he thinks furiously. Why won’t she let him do it? The Alpha in his chest is starting to roar, the sound mixing with the desperate rush of blood in his ears: Let me, let me, let me, please —

The screen lights up again. His rage stutters to an abrupt halt.

Incoming Call: Rey Niima

Ben doesn't think he has ever answered the phone so quickly in his life.

"Omega."

For a long moment, there is no answer. Just the thin, tiny sounds of her breathing, etched in high-pitched color.

“Rey,” he says again, and fuck, his voice is hoarse. “Answer me.”

“I’m here,” she replies. Her voice is so small and distant in his ear, but just the sound of it, even laced with need, is enough to make the air travel a little easier to his lungs.

“I didn’t expect you to call.”

There is a long, tense silence. “If… if it’s not all right…”

Jesus Christ. “It’s more than all right.” He runs a hand over his face. He needs to stop fucking this up. He cannot possibly fuck this up. “Tell me what’s wrong.”

“It’s just… It’s hard to type,” she says breathlessly. “While my hands are… while I’m…”

“While you’re touching yourself.”

There is a high, reedy sound. She’s whining, he realizes. “Yes.”

“That’s good, Rey. It’s good that you called me.” She can call him every single time she touches herself, he wants to say. She can call him any time of day, for any reason at all. He will cancel every appointment, every stupid dinner meeting in his calendar, just for the opportunity to listen to her breathe in his ear.

“Are you…” Her voice is unsteady. “Alone?”

“I am now.”

“Does that mean… you weren’t before?”

“It doesn’t matter.” He tries to sound gentle, but it’s difficult when he feels so goddamn helpless, when he’s locked in a public bathroom and she’s all alone in her apartment and her whimpers keep leaking out on every other breath. “I need you to tell me what's wrong.”

 “I’ve been trying for hours.” Frustration seeps into her tone. “Hours, Ben. But I can’t. I just can’t. I think I need… I need…” 

“Tell me.”

“I think I need help,” she manages, and she sounds so small, so ashamed, his heart would splinter into a thousand tiny pieces in his chest if it wouldn't prevent his useless body from taking care of her.

And he will take care of her.

There is nothing more important in the world to him right now.

Ben takes a deep, grounding breath.

"Here's what going to happen." His words are slow, deliberate, to make sure she understands each and every one. “I’m going to tell you how to fuck yourself on that toy. I'm going to stay on the phone until I hear you come. And then you're going to tell me where you are, so that I can come and find you.”

"Yes," she says, voice watery and soft, “Okay. Yes.” — and Ben's entire world constricts to the sweet sound of her voice wrapping around that single word. 

Yes.

His chest swells with the giddy, breathless triumph of it. Yes. Yes, she will let him make her come. Yes, she will allow him to go to her — god yes, he will go to her, he will stay with her, he will never, ever leave her for as long as she will let him. Yes, he will have the privilege of tending to her through her beautiful, glorious heat. Yes, yes, yes.

He tries to remember how to breathe. Breathing is required for talking, after all, and talking is required to get her there as quickly as possible. 

So that he can get there as quickly as possible. 

“Put the phone on speaker. You’ll need both hands for this.”

There is some rustling, an unsteady breath: “Okay.” 

Her voice is a little further away than before. A necessary sacrifice, he decides, so that he can soon hear it where it belongs — hot and humid and gasping into the crook of his neck while he fucks her.

“Describe it to me. The toy.”

He imagines her holding it, the way she held the dildo. “It’s a vibrator. Not as big as the one you used.”

“Does it have a knot?”

“No.”

“That’s too bad. We'll fix that soon enough. But we need to make you come first, don’t we?”

She makes a small, pleading noise. “Yes.”

“Slide your fingers in and tell me how wet you are."

Tiny-slick sounds travel over the earpiece, personally designed to drive him insane.

"Very," she breathes. “I’m very wet.”

“Of course you are. Watching that video must have made you very messy."

"I liked it.” The confession is almost shy. “Watching you take care of me. Except…”

His chest constricts. “Except what?”

“The ending. I wish the camera hadn’t turned off, when you climbed on top of me. When you made the knot pop open.” Plaintive longing fills her voice. “I wish I could have watched that part.”

Fuck. He strangles a deep, helpless groan on its way out his chest. “I know, little one. I know you do. I can show you again. Would you like that?”

“Please.” Her breath hitches, and god help him, he can hear the way her fingers are moving through her heat-slick. “Please, Alpha. I’ll be good. I swear. So that maybe I can have — a real one, this time.”

“Yes. Fuck yes, Rey. Whatever you want.”

“I really need one, I think.” The desperation in her voice is gaining a new, frenzied quality that he feels in every single one of his fingernails, biting crescents into his palms. “I thought I would be okay. I tried — I really tried to be — grateful for what you gave me, Alpha, like you said —“

“Fuck what I said.” He begins to pace the room again, body tense with snapping, furious energy. “I should have given it to you that night. I should have never let you fucking leave.”

Rey whines. “I just wanted to be good.”

“You are,” he says, and fuck, his teeth ache with regret that he hasn’t told her that enough. That he could have ever made her believe otherwise. “You couldn’t be any better, Omega. My good, perfect girl.” 

It’s incoherent, the noise she makes in response to this simple praise. Ben thinks he might rip one of the sinks from the wall and shatter it against the tile floor.

“It’s time,” he says raggedly. “Take your fingers out and get that toy for me.”

The wet noises stop at once. So fucking obedient. He rolls his neck with pleasure.

“Tell me when you have it.”

“I have it,” she says immediately. 

“Good girl. Now put it between your legs.”

Her breathing quickens. Another pause. “Okay,” she says, voice trembling. “It’s there.”

“Rub it against that pretty pussy. You see how blunt it feels?”

“Hnggh. Yes.”

“Savor it for a moment. I won’t let you stay empty like this very long over the next few days.”

Another whine, sharper this time. He slides a palm to his slacks, squeezing roughly at his cock, painfully hard through the fabric. Soon.

“Did you savor it for me?”

“I — I did.”

“Good. Now we’re going to push it inside. Slowly. As far as it can go.”

She holds her breath for a long moment. Ben does too. The entire world seems to balance on the earpiece of his phone, a spinning top that quivers with anticipation.

“Oh,” she breathes, very softly.

“That’s it.” Ben closes his eyes, basking in the sound of his Omega’s pleasure. “How does it feel?”

“Smaller.” Rey sounds like she’s pouting. Ben can picture vividly the indignant jut of her lower lip, plump and pink and pleading for his teeth. “It’s — smaller than the one you used.”

“I know, sweetheart. We’ll give you something bigger to put there soon. This is just for now.”

A helpless whimper escapes her. "Fine."

"That's my girl. Do you have it all the way in there?”

“I — I do.”

“Good.” He inhales slowly, preparing himself. “Now turn it on."

The slightest stutter skips across her breath. Then, his earpiece is filled with the sound of the low, steady noise of the vibrator.

She swears. 

So does he.

His palm is kneading the bulge in his slacks again, restless.

"Tell me how it feels."

"Better," she tells him on a whine. "It's better."

"Of course it is. You know why?"

She makes a strangled, gurgling noise.

"Because I told you to put it there.” The roughness in his voice takes on a dark, possessive quality as he continues to speak. “The heat that's coming over you, Rey — I put that there too. The slick. The fever. That burning, empty ache. All of it. Your body wasn't satisfied before, because it didn't know if I was satisfied. That's how this works now, sweetheart. Your Omega won't let you come until I allow it."

She is panting into the phone now. He imagines what she looks like, lying in her bed. Impaled. Squirming, no doubt — she squirmed so much last time, but god, he’ll hold her fast, when he next gets his hands on her. He’ll hold her and fuck her and fill her little body until her eyes roll back into her head, until she is paralyzed with the blinding, scorching pleasure of it.

“I want that,” she whines.

“Oh? You want to come?”

“N-no — ohhh, god I mean, yes, but —" Her voice is trembling, feverish. “You, Alpha. I — I want to satisfy you. Please, let me, please —"

He can’t hold back his groan this time. It’s ripped from his body, a deep, animal noise he barely recognizes. “If you want to satisfy me,” he says raggedly, “you’ll start fucking yourself with that toy properly."

The change in her is instant; the pitch of her whines, the clawing desperation of her breathing. Distantly, he can hear the wet noises of her fingers, pushing the toy in and out of her body. Ben feels a bit like he might faint.

“Nghhh — ahhh — it’s — it’s not the same —“

“I said properly, Omega.”

“I’m — I'm trying —“

"The way I would do it," he hisses, because god, how he fucking yearns to do it. "Get it all the way in there each time. That's it, baby. Yes. You want to feel the whole thing sliding in and out of you."

"Ohhh god oh god oh god yes yes yes —"

It happens so quickly he almost might not recognize it, had he not spent so much time the other night learning how her voice changes when she's on the edge of coming. As it is, he has just enough warning to reach down and grab himself, hard, at the base of his cock, which is at very real risk of ruining his slacks and joining her. His knot still manages the world's weakest pop into the emptiness of his boxers, the most unsatisfying thing he's ever felt, when he hears her finally, finally, finally tumbling over.

Ben leans against the wall above the sink, palm flat to the cold mirror. His shoulders heave with the effort of taming his harsh, irregular breaths. A haggard stranger glares back at him, eyes wild and pitch-black with need.

"I did it." The blissful sound of her voice finally floats to him over the phone, such a small thing to contain so much wonder. She gives a weak, watery laugh. "I actually did it."

"I knew you would." He only notices the smile on his mouth when he sees how it curls in the mirror. "You did so good, little one. Everything I said."

"I did," she says, and god, she sounds utterly blissed out. It eases some of that churning urgency in his chest, just to hear her so content. 

"You can turn it off now."

The vibration stops. "Can I... can I still leave it in there? Just while I close my eyes."

"Of course, angel. Anything you want." He'll be there soon to fill and fill and fill her some more afterward. Until she doesn't remember what it feels like without him there inside her. His swollen knot gives a pathetic, throbbing twitch. 

"Feels good," she mumbles. "Thought I was — that I was dying before. Thank you, Alpha."

His chest twists painfully at the thought. "I should have never let you leave. On Friday, too. I see now how that might have been — confusing, for you." He begins to pace again. "It's like that for me too, sometimes. Confusing. I look at you, and I've never felt so much at once. You make me feel... so many things, Rey. Everything I've ever felt, and some things I haven't. Things I thought I'd never feel. It makes it — difficult, sometimes, for me to know what to do."

He runs a clammy hand over his face and straightens his spine.

"But I know now. I can see it clearly. Tell me where you are, Rey, and I'll show you."

There is a long silence. One that grows more awful the longer it gets.

"Rey...?"

Nothing but the sound of his own furious heartbeat, crawling steadily up his chest, his throat.

"Was that... too much?" He waits. And waits. Until he can't bear to wait any longer. "God damnit." He runs a hand through his wild, too-long hair. "This is exactly what I meant. Just — forget I said any of that, okay? Fuck. We can just — we can keep this about the sex, if that's what you want. Whatever you want. Please. Just tell me where you are, sweetheart, so I can come take care of you. Before it starts to hurt again."

The terrible silence on the other end of the line stretches on and on, a black hole waiting to swallow him, time shrinking with each agonizing breath the nearer he approaches. And then:

The smallest, sweetest snuffle of whistling air. 

She's...

Is she snoring?

Ben thinks he might start to cry. Or laugh. He bites his knuckles to keep any other moronic confessions from escaping. His body sags a little on the wall, leaning back against it. He feels as though he's aged twenty years in the past two minutes.

In his ear, the soft, steady rhythm of her breath slowly convinces his heart to match it.

This is fine, he thinks. Everything is fine. She needs to rest — she must be so tired, his poor girl, with so many hours spent aching and burning and pining for him. It must be exhausting, how badly she needs him.

It doesn't matter. He doesn't need her to tell him where she is. 

He will still find her.

He will be there when she wakes.

He will tear apart the entire goddamn north end if he needs to.

Ben waits several minutes like this, just to make sure she doesn't awaken. Then, with great reluctance, he ends the call.

His tie is crumpled in the middle of the floor. It must have fallen off his shoulder at some point. He scoops it up as he walks by and stuffs it into his jacket pocket.

Out in the restaurant, his mother and uncle have finished their entrees and moved on to several desserts. They stare at him with undisguised shock as he weaves through the restaurant like a fast-moving storm. He must look like shit. He couldn't care less.

"Would you look at that." Luke grins up at him as he approaches. "It worked."

"What worked?" he snaps, because after thirty-four years he still has not learned how to resist his uncle's bait.

"Our intervention."

Ben slams a hundred-dollar bill on their table. The utensils jump a little as he walks away.

When he's made it to his car, he sits in sweet silence for a long moment, watching the way his breath clouds in the night air. He pulls out his phone and taps out one final text, just in case he's not already with her when she reads it.

Stay put, Omega.

I'm coming to get you.

Chapter Text

The first thing she notices, when she wakes, is the burning.

Rey thought she already knew what this part was like. The itchy heat crawling over her skin. When she returned home the day before (and god, how far away that feels now, as distant as a stranger's secondhand memory) — she recognized the changes coming over her. Whether she acknowledged them is another story, but deep in her heart, at least, she understood. The clammy face. The fever like a furnace stuttering to life; the steady click-click-click of hot metal, slowly making room for new warmth.

Rey sees now that was only smoke, smoldering in a forest of ripe tinder. Poised to ignite.

There is no doubt within her, when she finally wakes.

She is ignited.

The fire in her body is everywhere. Flames lick at every inch of her, inside-outside-in. Mindless, she clutches her arms, her face, her torso, but her fingers are slippery on too-humid skin — the vain efforts of her body's perspiration, attempting to squeeze out all the (Alpha) need straight from her pores. It's not working. A geyser has been struck open deep within her, at the heart of her molten core, and there's simply too much to expel. A bottomless supply of high-toxicity fuel, waiting to erupt.

She's in bed. She knows this, because she can no longer bear the suffocating sensation of the top sheet on her body. It takes tremendous effort to tear it off; she must have tangled herself in the night, and it sticks now to her kicking legs, the dampness of her skin.

Everything hurts.

The thin amber tendrils of dawn have begun to creep through her curtains. Rey squints at the window, struggling through the pounding haze to remember what led her to this moment.

There had been a dream. A dream so lovely, she wishes she might fall back asleep to return to it. Might dreams be capable of throwing a person into heat? If so, she thinks, this one would do the trick. Her Alpha had been here with her. In her bed, and whispering such hot, filthy endearments in her ear. Guiding her with steady patience toward delirium.

But... no. That wasn't right. Rey screws up her face, trying to remember. She… she doesn't have an Alpha. Does she? Her Omega protests mightily at this — (you do, you do, you have the strongest, biggest most fearless Alpha to care for you) — but Rey remembers this much, at least. She doesn’t have an Alpha — not truly — and he wasn't here in bed with her, either. Only his voice, reaching for her through the speaker of her phone.

Her phone.

Rey sits up so quickly she nearly yelps at the resulting flood of sensation, the wash of new air across over-sensitive skin.

She called him.

Shit. Shit, shit shit.

She called Ben Solo last night.

His name is like an injection of lucidity, yanking the world into sharp, sudden focus. Just long enough for her to remember. She doesremember. She called him last night, in a desperation-fueled stupor. She... oh god. She told him she was going into heat, didn't she? She interrupted his evening to plead with him, that he might help her finally come.

And he didn't disappoint.

The memory makes her stomach cramp, a charge of oxygen to the fire beating inside her. He made her come so hard she could barely move afterward. He might have even promised (and here, her eyes squeeze shut, her entire body vibrating at the possibility) to see her through the rest of it.

She should feel shame. Disgust, even, with how easily she crumpled. Instead, there is only deep, tingling satisfaction spreading over her as she remembers. The way he spoke to her with such tenderness. How much it pleased him, when she came. She pleased him. She worked and work and worked so hard to get there for him, to be good, so that Alpha might be pleased (and yes he was yes he was groaning his pleasure for her, raw and guttural in her ear) — so that he might come and find her. The way he said he would.

So that she might please him.

But then...

Rey's chest constricts.

Then where is he now?

Struck with sudden desperation, she begins digging through her blankets, searching. When she finally finds it, stuffed beneath her pillow, she almost cries with relief — then with aching, infinite frustration.

The screen of her phone remains black as she mashes the buttons at its side.

It's dead.

Her eyes are wet, and she scrubs at them furiously. There's no time for her to charge it. There's certainly no time for her to get all weepy. Rey may not have many previous heats to compare this to, but staring down the vast and terrifying abyss of what awaits her, she can already see how different this will be from the others.

She will need to keep her head clear, if she's going to find him in time.

And she needs to find him.

As soon as humanly possible.

It's the most difficult thing she's ever done, climbing out of bed. Rubbing a towel between her thighs, damp and shivery. She ends up needing two, she’s gotten so messy (and this would please him too, she thinks, his messy Omega, she wants him to positively ruin her).

Somehow, she manages to pull on a shirt and a pair of joggers – the least likely items in her closet to make her feel like she's going to suffocate in their fabric prison. But the discomfort of scratchy cloth rubbing all her skin is still excruciating. It goes against every instinct she has. She should be naked (because how will Alpha get to her through all these clothes when he told her, he told her to take off all of it Omega) — not dressing her aching body with shaking fingers. She should be in bed, the easiest place by far for him to fuck her, knot her, fill her god yes please — not walking away from it.

Her Omega nearly refuses to allow her such atrocities, kicking and thrashing within her chest. But Rey knows the only thing more important than following these vital instincts is making sure her Alpha is here to watch her do it, too.

Her useless pack of suppressants sits on her kitchen counter, right near the laptop that started this whole mess. Rey puts a pill under her tongue, then a second for good measure.

As she unlocks her apartment door, she prays they will take the edge off long enough for her to find him.

------

The street in front of the school is completely empty when Ben's car whips around the corner.

It's already half past seven, but the winter sky has only just begun to stir, the beginnings of a frosty yellow-orange dawn. The street lamps still glow and flicker overhead as the car brakes, a little too abruptly, right in front of the school.

Ben does not bother reaching for the jacket in his rear seat before he climbs out. He is not cold. His blood pounds hot and roaring through his body, a current driving him urgently forward.

He might be grateful that it's kept him awake these last many hours, if it had brought him any nearer to her.

As it is, he has not slept since he hung up the phone in that fluorescent bathroom. He has not rested since he began pacing the streets of her neighborhood.

And he is still no closer to being with her than when she first called him.

The car door slams behind him with such force that it shudders in its frame.

She has not answered the text he sent after hanging up, nor any of his increasingly frantic messages in the early morning hours after. When he finally attempted to call her again, a little after two, it delivered him straight to her voicemail. This was both deeply soothing, these few stolen moments of her soft, lilting accent in his ear — and also more fuel for the growing apprehension within him. Fear begins to gnaw at him with tiny, vicious teeth, that perhaps (and please, god, no, he can barely stand to think of it) — perhaps she’s changed her mind.

He spends the entire night in such turmoil. The dark creep of uncertainty wages a constant battle with his supreme confidence in his mission. The longer he spends sleepless and searching, the fiercer both of these things become. Self-doubt clouds each moment, each breath, each heartbeat spent without her — and is then eclipsed by that bone-deep, crazy-making urgency to find his heat-struck Omega and give her the fucking she so desperately needs.

Because she needs it. God, she needs it. The way her voice broke on that call (please Alpha, please, I thought I was dying) — Ben thinks he might crawl straight out of his skin, his agitation is so unbearable. She is desperate with heat that he planted inside her, and it is his obligation, his right, to tend to it.

The thought of her desperation is intolerable to him. The idea that she may be immersed in such bottomless need, with no one there to pull her out again — it makes his palms itch and sweat. When he finds her (and he must find her), he will plunge her so deep into that ocean she can no longer see the surface. So that every direction only looks like a black and endless more.

But such indulgence must be at his whim alone. Not just because he should possess every shimmering ounce of his Omega’s pleasure (of course he should) — but because she will also need him to return her to the gasping surface when she’s ready for more air.

These are the thoughts that ultimately drown his insecurities. They are what propels him tearing through every street, every corner, every alley of the northern neighborhoods of the city; and then, hours later, back across town to the school, where the arrival of dawn means his answer might soon be here instead.

It is the very last place Ben would typically go for help. But he is long past caring.

He punches the code in the door and walks inside.

------

His uncle arrives at eight each morning. Today, Luke is whistling as he rounds the corner to his office. His step falters only slightly when he sees Ben standing outside of it.

“Yikes.” He gives Ben a top-to-bottom, raised-brow appraisal as he passes. “You’re looking fresh today.”

“We need to talk.”

“And here I was just thinking I didn’t see enough of you yesterday.” Luke’s keys jangle as he unlocks his office door. “Afraid it’ll have to wait. My schedule is already booked full.”

“You never have anything on your schedule.”

“I am a busy man, Benjamin.” The door swings open, and Luke flips the switch on the wall, flooding the cramped office with light. Ben follows close behind, hardly two paces away. “My morning mantras. A loving-kindness meditation. We have an energy therapist coming at eleven, you know.”

“An energy therapist.”

“A parent from the open house yesterday. Not that you would know. Since you were too busy, you know. Throwing a temper tantrum in my storage room.” Luke begins unloading his bag onto the chaos of his desk. “She’ll be cleaning out all the negative energy cluttering up this place. I’ve got to tell you, I was shocked to hear how much has been hanging around here.”

Ben’s jaw aches from clenching it so hard. “A disturbing amount, I’m sure.”

Luke glances up to look over him again, frowning. “If she’s finished early, we’ll have her take a look at you too. Lots of bad juju coming off you today, nephew.”

“If you’re so concerned about my juju,” Ben snarls, “you’ll give me five minutes to talk.”

“Maybe sometime this afternoon."

“This afternoon will be too late.”

Slowly, Luke sits behind his desk. He leans back in his chair, examining Ben with a cryptic expression. “You know, I think I'd like to tell you a little story."

“I thought you had no time.”

“Oh, it’s a quick one.” Luke waves his hand dismissively. “You see that open space on my wall right there?”

“No.”

“Next to the ribbon-cutting photo.”

“You’ve covered every inch of this room in motivational paraphernalia, Luke. There is not a single bit of open space in here.”

“Oh ho ho, not if you know where to look.“

His uncle hops to his feet, so that he can jab his finger at a few scarce inches of naked wall between the framed photograph (in which Ben stands at the furthest corner, glaring), and a whiteboard so cramped with Luke's scribbles it gives Ben heartburn just to look at it.

“The other day, it hit me.” Luke rubs his chin as he examines the wall. “What might best fit this space?”

“Not very much,” Ben says, impatience rising. “A small bookmark, perhaps. A very short receipt.”

“No, no, after I rearrange, of course.” Luke continues to consider the wall. “What would truly capture the aura of my workspace?”

“If you’re looking for decorating advice, I believe there are irrevocable differences in our tastes on this subject.”

“That won’t be a problem. The answer already came to me during my vinyasa practice. It was a poster. A poster that found its way to me through a catalogue last week. Do you want to know what it said?”

Ben does not trust himself to answer this question.

“It said —“ and here, Luke spreads his hands through the air, as though picturing the letters following his fingers, “cooperation.”

“Profound.”

“Exactly what I thought!” Luke returns to his chair, nodding. “I thought it would serve as the perfect reminder for our future builders on the meaning of this very important value. But tragically, it will never fulfill its unifying destiny on my wall here.”

“Because it’s physically impossible for you to cram another piece of decor into this office?”

“Because someone had a tantrum in my storage room.” Luke finally meets his eye again and shrugs. “I have to say, I just don’t know if I’m feeling very cooperative without it.”

“Is that what this is about?” Ben didn’t realize it was possible for him to feel any more murderous than he’s been the past several hours, but he clearly has not spent any of those hours with Luke Skyewalker. “I will personally replace every poster in that box if you just answer my fucking question.”

Luke’s mouth curls into a smug little smile. He leans back in the chair. “And?”

And? Is he fucking kidding? “And… we can add that second staff meeting to the weekly schedule.”

Luke tilts his head, eyebrows raised expectantly. Ben clenches his fingers into fists to keep them from wrapping around his uncle’s throat.

And I’ll participate in your stupid fucking commercial. That’s it. That’s all you’re getting.”

“Well I’ll be damned.” Luke shakes his head with a shit-eating grin. “I had no idea you could be such a team player. Go ahead and ask your question, Ben. It must be pretty important.”

Ben has to take several long breaths before he can remember how to speak without shouting. “Rey Niima’s address.” His voice is dangerously soft around the precious shape of her name. “Give it to me.”

His uncle frowns. “Now, we both know I can’t just go giving out our employees personal —“

“I’m not fucking around, Luke.” Ben takes a step toward the desk. “This is urgent.”

“I see.” Luke’s frown deepens. “Well, unfortunately, I’m not going to be much help there. Rose Tico should have that in her file, but — whoa, hold on a second! She doesn’t come in until noon today.”

Ben, who is already halfway out Luke’s door, whips around at the second half of this sentence. “Until noon–?!”

“Yes, but — look, I’m gonna need you to calm down, all right? The timing of this couldn’t be any better. You can teach your class at nine, cleanse your energy at 11, and deal with your little emergency at 12. Wait — Ben — you’ll still do the commercial, right?”

Luke shouts this last part out into the hallway, because Ben is already rounding the corner in long strides.

He doesn’t bother answering.

His class. How could he have forgotten about his class? He’s now wasted almost an hour, between waiting outside Luke’s office and then being strong-armed into more of Luke’s goddamn group meditations. His students will begin arriving any minute. It's too late for him to send an email to cancel.

And Rey is still waiting for him.

Starting her heat.

Alone.

When he finally bursts into his lecture hall, the noise that escapes his throat… it’s not quite a whine, but it’s closer than he’d like. The raw, anguished sound of a limping animal. It still smells like her in here. The things they did Friday. He stripped the bed afterward, but her scent must have penetrated the mattress, the floorboards. Or maybe it’s just that he carries it with him everywhere now, leaking out his pores, and just the slightest ghost of her, the tiniest suggestion of her presence, will incapacitate him this way.

The classroom is still empty, so he doesn’t hesitate to head straight toward the bed on the stage, snatching a pillow there. He presses it to his nose, inhaling, before he is able to stop himself. Fuck. Eyes falling shut, he allows himself to cherish the memory of her flushed little face, scrunched up and thrashing (here, right here) while he made her come on his fingers.

This is fine. Everything is fine. He will wait for his students to get here, and then he will dismiss them. He will muster the courage to call her again and pray her phone rings this time. He will extract the number of Rose Tico from his useless uncle and require her to report to the school immediately, so that she may deliver Rey’s address to him.

It is harrowing, all this waiting. The most difficult thing he’s ever had to do. But he will endure it, so that he might be with her.

The students wandering in don’t engage in their usual chatter today. They throw him fleeting, nervous glances as he fights the urge to pace back and forth across the stage. He must look a bit mad, even without the pacing. He’s still wearing yesterday’s clothes. His hair is a little wild from how often he’s been running his hands through it.

At a minute to nine, Ben crosses to the front of the stage, unable to wait any longer. The room, already quiet, falls into immediate silence.

“Today’s lecture will be abbreviated. Since you all did the reading, there should not be much to discuss.” He sweeps a stern glance across the room. “I’ll return your essays from last week, and then you will go. If you have any questions, ask them now.”

One of the young men raises his hands.

“Where's Miss Niima?”

It smells so strongly of her, and it only gets worse, hearing someone else speak her name. Ben takes a slow breath, fighting to banish a fresh onslaught of (please Alpha I’m trying so hard but it’s ahhh it’s not the same as when you did it please please please I need —)

A muscle in his temple twitches. “Miss Niima is indisposed.”

“Is she… all right?”

(– want that Alpha I want to satisfy you I want to please let me please you let me –)

“I don’t how she is,” he snaps, too harshly. The students shrink visibly in their seats. Ben runs a hand over his face. “Your concern is unnecessary. She will be fine.”

“But… with all due respect, sir…” And here is the brave one, the young man in the front row who always speaks out of turn, looking up at him with plain confusion. “Isn’t it her mate’s job to make sure of that?”

It's awful, considering this question. His chest throbs sharply, a knife twisting between his ribs. “That’s correct.” Ben’s mouth feels numb as he attempts to answer. “But sometimes... when an Alpha is…” Fuck. He needs to look away. “Inadequate. When an Alpha is inadequate… he may fail her. Even when he doesn’t intend to.”

Even when he’s doing everything, every single possible goddamn thing in his power, to try not to.

He still fails her.

“Any other questions?”

At the back of the classroom, the door creaks open.

Ben feels every part of his body snap to buzzing, single-minded attention.

He breathes. Her scent rushes into his lungs again (his poor Omega, craving, crying, begging him to knot her) — but he realizes this time that it’s not the wishful trappings of his imagination, not a reaction to her name or her memory arching naked beneath his hands.

She is here.

She is actually, truly here.

For a long, dumbstruck moment, Ben only stares across the room at her, a small, shivery thing in the doorway. It can’t be possible — how on earth did she get here? — but she is. She really is. Her hair is knotty and damp. Her skin — all that he can see of it anyway, which is not nearly enough — glows pink, everywhere, with fever.

She is the most beautiful thing that has ever stumbled into Ben's entire world.

Rey stares back at him with wide eyes, watery and pink — but even from here, he can see how her pupils have grown fat and dark. She looks intoxicated, heat-drunk with need for him.

It is suddenly intolerable, the amount of space between them. Ben moves swiftly, a direct path across the room, and then he is before her, breathing her, smelling her, drinking in the sight of her. His unsteady hands gravitate to her face, a tiny, blazing sun in the cradle of his palms, and he doesn’t care if the students are staring. He has never felt such giddy euphoria in his life.

“You’re here," he says, sounding broken.

“Couldn't wait anymore,” she tells him wetly. “I... I was — trying to be patient, Ben, the way you told me, but I — I couldn’t.”

“You shouldn’t have had to.” He feels completely wrecked with awe for her. “You did so good, coming here. My good, clever Omega. I should have known you’d find me.”

Rey blinks up at him, eyes full of shining vulnerability. “I woke up and it was… the way it’s burning, Alpha… I — I need—”

“Shhh.” With aching tenderness, his thumbs touch the dampness at the corners of her eyes. “I know, little one. We’ll get you what you need now. No more waiting.”

The shiver of this promise trembles across her entire body. It snaps his attention to the way her thighs are rubbing together — tiny, restless movements that immediately lodge themselves in the deepest parts of his hindbrain.

“Yes,” Rey whispers brokenly, “please,” and she sounds so afraid that his chest starts to ache with the nonsensical wish that he might burrow her deep inside it, nestled safe and warm beside his heart.

The Alpha inside him is near-delirious with the pleasure of the moment. She’s here. His Omega is here. She’s found him. She didn’t change her mind. The reality of her, standing here before him, is almost too much for him to process. Rey Niima, beautiful and stubborn and fiercely witty, the loveliest person he’s ever known — pleading to spend her heat with him. With him. To pass every moment of some several sprawling resplendent days, spread open for his pleasure. For him (she chose him) to lick and fuck and fill and knot and oh god, he’s going to knot her, he’s going to make her sweet little Omega-womb fucking messy with his cum —

It’s unimaginable, the size of all the things she makes him feel. It’s obscene.

Behind him, the students are whispering, ogling openly at them both. It floods him with a dark, hissing fury. He longs to scoop her in his arms, to clutch her tight to his chest and snarl at any other who dares to look at her like this. He wants to tie her to his bed, board up all his doors and windows so there is no other world for her but the one he spins from her pleasure.

With an unsteady hand, Ben reaches into his pocket. He finds her wrist and presses the key flat to her palm, curling her delicate fingers around it.

“Look at me,” he says, and Rey’s eyes immediately find his face. His sweet, obedient girl. “My car is parked out front. I want you to walk straight there. Speak to no one. Once you're inside, you will lock the door and wait for your Alpha with your hands at your sides. Is that clear?”

Her eyes quiver as she pouts. “You said no more waiting.”

“Class is almost finished.” Ben strokes her cheek, warm and smooth against his thumb. “They can’t see you like this. Just another minute, little one. You can give me that. Then we’ll get you somewhere I can knot you.”

She looks, for a moment, like she might argue with him, that familiar flash of obstinance brightening her eyes. But then she closes them and lolls her head, blindly searching, into his hand.

The movement brings her throat dangerously close to his wrist. But that seems to be her intention. The realization is like a dizzying punch of arousal to his gut, so overwhelming that he doesn’t trust himself to do anything more than stand there, watching. Rey presses to her toes, eyes closed, as she rubs her slender throat (her gland, her swollen, precious little gland) along the raised patch of skin beneath his palm. Ben can feel his own pulsate beneath her attention. He experiences another mind-melting flood of her heat-scent; not from the air this time, but injected directly into his veins from the place where she rubs and rubs and rubs against him.

A deep, shuddering breath is released from his lungs. “Omega.”

“Just one more minute,” Rey murmurs, and god, he can feel her breath spilling across his skin, his wrist, his furious throbbing fucking gland. “You can give me that, can’t you?”

His fingers find her hair, tightening, in a desperate attempt to halt her teasing — but she only shivers delightfully. Ben bares his teeth. “One more minute, and I won’t be able to stop myself from fucking you in front of this entire classroom.”

Her eyes fly open, black and wide as they find his face. “Here?” she breathes. “You would do it here? Right now?”

She’s going to give him a fucking heart attack.

“In the car,” he says, and his voice is a low, dangerous growl behind gritted teeth. “Lock the door. Hands at your sides, understand? No touching. Now.”

Rey bites her lip. Very slowly, he loosens his fist in her hair. With a final smoldering glance at him, she turns once more to his wrist; but this time, it’s the tip of her nose that nudges at his gland. The softness of his Omega’s sharp little mouth, pressing a slow, chaste kiss there.

He will not be nearly so gentle with hers, once they’re alone together.

“Fine.”

Rey is shivering, as she slips from his grasp. He takes an instinctive step to follow her — he needs to follow her — then clenches his fists at his sides, as hard as he can, to stop himself.

“One more minute,” he promises, very softly.

Rey nods.

And then she leaves.

Ben needs to close his eyes for a long moment to get control of his breathing again.

When he turns back to face his class, they are completely silent. Several have their mouths dangling open.

“The essays.” His students straighten in their seats as he passes, strides purposeful and long. “You will retrieve them in alphabetical order, and then you will leave. No more questions today.”

And no more waiting, he thinks, the promise settling hot and deep in his stomach.

------

When she leaves the lecture hall, Rey does not go to his car.

She fully intends to, when he first tells her. She burns with her desire to please him right now. Even before her heat settled over her, smothering any trace of rational thought, Rey has always experienced a deep, resonant satisfaction in obeying his instructions — though it is at constant odds with the electric thrill that courses through her whenever she succeeds at defying him.

Most days, she struggles to decide which she likes better: Ben Solo, dark and menacing and nostrils flaring with agitation she caused him; or crooning in her ear about how fucking good she is.

The decision is often made more difficult by how easily he vacillates between the two, and how each seems to feed off the other.

This might explain why she walks not toward the lobby, but instead follows the indulgent path of his scent, wandering down the corridor. Perhaps he will be pleased, that she is able to find it so easily through the stench of all the other human bodies in this building. A clean, vibrant line of Ben, traveling from the air to her windpipe straight to her racing heart.

She will go to his car afterward, she thinks.

If he can ask her to wait a minute, he can wait a damn minute himself.

His musky scent leads her to a part of the school she’s never been to before. The hallway is smaller back here, with a line of closed offices at either side. Including, it turns out, the one she’s headed toward, located at the very end.

Ben Solo, reads the plaque on the door. Dean of Curriculum and Instruction.

Fancy, Rey thinks, with great amusement — but it’s almost immediately crowded out by the voice of her Omega, babbling with pride: Her Alpha is so powerful, with his important, commanding title — how well he will provide for her, guide her, keep her safe and fed and full and fucked and —

Rey pushes into his office. The scent waiting for her within, more potent for how long it’s been trapped in such a small space, is the only thing significant enough to cut off her Omega’s incessant pining.

But only because it robs her of her capacity to think of anything other than how good he smells.

Her mouth positively waters with it. Usually, Rey would be fleeing as quickly as possible to recover some shred of coherent thought — but this idea is repugnant to her right now. She needs more of him. As much as she can possibly fill herself with. Until there’s no part of her left untouched by her Alpha’s perfect, delectable, bone-tingling scent.

Rey shuts the door behind her and leans back against the wall, inhaling deeply. Yes. Her fingers reach, unsteadily, to find a light switch, and a floor lamp in the corner switches on.

Even if she didn’t know this was his office from the plaque on the door — or from the smell of him, permeating every inch of this place — she would be able to guess from its contents. It's offensively sparse. The only furniture is a spotless desk and its high-backed, broad chair, clearly designed for wide bodies. There are no other chairs, as though he wants to discourage visitors from lingering any longer than the length of a standing conversation. The only personal touch he has allowed the walls is a set of shelves lined with books from end to end, arranged by content and then author. Rey removes one at random and slides it beside another, just to imagine how it will make his fingers twitch with irritation later.

She likes imagining him here. Filling this space. Everything suddenly feels much smaller, when she pictures him moving about the room. Breathing the air. Here is where he paces, the way he does when he’s thinking or teaching or saying something important. This is the chair that holds him while he sits; the desk where he drums his fingers and grades his papers. Here is where he escapes between meetings, where he reads all these books (has he truly read all these books?), where perhaps — her breath catches — perhaps he even thinks about her.

Does he think about her? Rey sinks into his chair, big enough to hold at least two of her, and ponders this. Does he think of her often, the way she thinks of him — a constant, urgent whisper in the back of her head, wondering where he is, what he’s doing, all the different ways she might please him? And if he thinks of these things, does he try to crush them the way she does, the moment they rise to her conscious awareness? But this thought makes her chest squeeze unpleasantly, and there are so many more pleasurable feelings arising right now, here in the chair that holds him while he maybe, possibly thinks about her.

For once, Rey chooses to focus on the pleasure.

Does he think about pleasure here, too? She wonders, suddenly, what he did the night he sent her away (Alpha said he regretted sending her away), after he’d wrung her body of every pleasurable feeling it had to offer him. She wonders if he returned to this little room, reeking of his glorious scent, and touched himself. The possibility feels dangerous, too exquisite to imagine — but it’s too late, because she’s already imagining it in colorful, precise detail. His body filling the chair she’s sitting in, his hand (so large) wrapped around himself. Remembering how he touched her.

There is a high-pitched noise Rey vaguely understands is coming from her throat. She is so hot, and although his scent is soothing — god, it’s soothing — it’s not nearly enough to combat the cramping arousal that washes over her at the thought of Ben (Alpha) sitting here too. Pleasuring himself. His shoulders would heave, she thinks, the same way they did that night when he climbed atop her on the bed. Except this time, he would be thinking about doing all the things he denied her.

She’s touching herself too, she realizes. And only because her fingers feel so inadequate, pushing desperately into her body. Rey shucks her joggers down her thighs for better access, her foot finding the edge of his desk. She tries a little harder, imagining him struggling this same way in this same chair. Maybe — just maybe — she can eke out one small, tiny orgasm, drowning in the scent of this room, before she joins him in the car. Yes. That would be good, wouldn’t it? He doesn’t even have to know. It will help her be good for him, she thinks wildly, the way he told her to — yes — with her hands at her sides in his passenger seat. Obedient.

The smell of him is so heavy in here, the image of his pleasure so vivid, that she might even succeed — if the door didn’t swing open at that very moment.

Rey freezes, the deep-rooted instinct of a prey caught, frozen, in high-beams.

If she thought his scent was potent in here before, it absolutely deluges the room when the door opens, a great Alpha flood that saturates every molecule of air full to bursting.

Only now, it’s cut through with the deep, sulfurous roar of his wrath.

Ben Solo fills the entire doorway. He stares across the room at her, breathing raggedly. The tip of his large nose is a little rosy with cold — he must have gone outside to the car, she thinks. Where he instructed her to wait for him.

Oh.

Oh, shit.

He does not take his eyes off her as he steps inside. A backward nudge of his heel, and the door swings shut behind him with a gentle click.

Trapping her.

“I told you,” he says quietly, “to wait in the car.”

“Must have gotten lost,” Rey says, but it comes out false and trembling instead of the cool, casual observation she was aiming for.

“I did not give you permission to move yet, Omega."

Rey, who is shifting to close her legs, goes completely still at the danger woven in his tone.

His eyes slide down her body, settling heavily between her thighs. She feels paralyzed under the weight of them, a small, trembling creature pinned beneath a burning bulb for his inspection.

“How else will I see what a mess you've made without me?”

She tries to remember how to breathe as he slowly walks around the desk, his eyes never leaving the space between her legs. When he reaches her, he nudges the chair so that it rotates, slowly, to face him. Her foot trembles on the edge of the desk, thighs spreading even wider for him.

“You ruined my chair.”

Fuck. Her heart lurches; she shifts to get up — but his hand flies to her ankle and keeps it firm against the desk. Stopping her.

“I just told you,” he says, “not to move.”

“But your chair,” she blurts out, “I don’t want to — to ruin it even more.”

“How considerate.” For the first time, Ben’s eyes travel back up to her face, which burns hotter than she’s ever felt it. “Strange, how that didn’t occur to you when you decided to come to my office. Instead of the car, like I told you.”

A whoosh of air as he crouches between her legs, and Rey’s head starts to whirl with how close it brings him to her sex, her incriminating fingers still trembling at its edges.

“If I didn’t know better," he says softly, "I'd almost think you don't really care. At least, not until you know it’s going to get you in trouble.”

The air feels very thin. She tries to remember what he said would happen, if she were in trouble. He told her this — she knows he did — but it's hard to recall the specifics, when his eyes and breath are washing over all her wet, needy places.

“I couldn’t help it,” she says, a little weakly. “Smelled so good in here. Just wanted to see, and I — I couldn’t stop thinking about you.”

“Yet you still failed to listen. Perhaps I haven’t given you enough to think about.”

There is a threat hidden in this message, but Rey can’t quite figure out what it is. It’s so hard, when he is just sitting there. Studying her. Her fingers twitch along their resting place at the perimeter of her cunt, and oh, the way he breathes out so sharply in response — a puff of warm, unintentional air across throbbing skin — it makes her brave enough to start to rub.

His next exhale is more forceful. Ben's eyes remain fixed on her, pupils dilating rapidly.

“I didn’t say you could keep touching, either.” His voice is so soft. “In fact, I remember saying exactly the opposite.”

But he looks utterly spellbound, the way he’s staring between her legs. He certainly doesn’t look like he wants her to take her hand away.

Watching him beneath hooded eyes, Rey continues her tiny, breathless touches. “Don’t wanna stop.”

“The longer you keep touching, Omega, the more you’re going to regret it later.”

He sits patiently between her legs like this, waiting, for many long moments. The tension builds within her, along with a rising sense of danger — the Omega in the back of her head sounding an alarm that quickly becomes impossible for her to ignore: Alpha is displeased, he is so displeased, something very very bad will happen soon if she doesn’t listen —

With a furious, snarling moan, Rey rips her hand away.

“Fine,” she bites out, and she grasps at the armrests to keep her fingers from gravitating back to where he’s forbidden her.

“There we are.” His shoulders roll, oozing satisfaction. “See? That wasn’t so difficult.”

“It was, actually,” she snaps, but she refuses to let the frustration welling in her eyes roll down her cheeks. She is stronger than that.

Ben notices anyway. Clicking his tongue, he wipes at her eyes, ignoring how she yanks her face furiously away from him.

“Poor little Omega.” His voice is crooning, a sing-song mimicry of tenderness. “Only wants to do whatever she feels like. Thinks that consequences don’t apply to her.”

He strokes her cheek, eyes roaming over her face.

“You’ll understand soon, little one. I am your consequences now.”

The shudder that passes over her is unwilling. Her fingers grasp restlessly at the armrests of his chair. “Can’t we do consequences — later?” Rey can barely recognize the sound of her voice, whining and strained. “The way it… it burns, Ben. It feels so empty.”

“But those are exactly the consequences.” He leans back to look down her body again. “Your poor little hole needs a knot. If you had only gone to the car like a good girl, I'd have you in bed already. You’d have one inside you at this very moment.”

With a single finger, he pulls the straining waistband of her joggers back even further, as if she weren't already spread and visible for him.

“But now you’ve gone and worked yourself up like this. No, angel. I can't bring you anywhere now. Not until you’re taken care of first."

She doesn't need to be taken care of. She needs to be knotted. Rey tips her head back in frustration. "Why do we need a bed? I could — I could bend over the desk. We could do it that way."

His single finger turns to a white-knuckled fist around her waistband, clenching the fabric so hard it digs into the soft skin above her knees. "If I bend you over this desk, Rey, I'll start thinking about some very different kinds of consequences." The words sound like a warning, low and dangerous, but she can smell the dark pleasure undulating from him at the thought. "We need to get you home before there's time for that."

He releases her waistband — Rey squirms in his seat — but it's only so he can smooth one large palm over her hip. Holding her still, while he leans in for a closer look.

"And we need to get you home very soon, don't we? Your heat is getting stronger. Look at all this slick you've made."

Rey's eyes find the ceiling as she tries to remember how to breathe properly. "Was because of you... The way it smelled in here. Made it worse."

"I know, baby. We'll make it better. Just need to squeeze a quick little orgasm out of you, and then we'll get you in the car."

As he speaks, Ben is gently lifting each of her feet, one from the floor and the other from the desk, so that he can roll her joggers methodically down her calves and over her trainers. As if he has undressed her a thousand times before this way.

"There we go. Bend your knee for me. Good."

Once she is naked from the waist down, he moves each foot back to its previous place with precise care, the way she's been spread since he walked in here. His eyes are positively wild as they fix between her legs, as he settles on his knees between them.

"That's better, isn't it?" His voice is raw, like it's been scraped out from the deepest part of his chest. "Now I can see how messy you are."

He spreads her, wide, with two blunt thumbs.

"Very messy. Such a shame. All this slick, and nothing to do with it."

Rey feels another warm, thick dribble trickle out of her at his attention, cooling quickly against the naked air. Ben swears.

"Wasteful little Omega." He leans closer, transfixed. "This is supposed to be for my knot."

"It is for your knot," she hears herself say, quivering, mindless agreement. "Made it so you can knot me."

"If only you had listened, I already would be. But perhaps we can find another use for it yet."

One of his thumbs cuts a long, slow glide through her wetness, bottom to top. Rey's breathing is very loud while she watches him raise it before his face for his inspection. He dips his thumbnail into his mouth, testing, and releases a long, shuddering sigh around it.

"Fuck. Rey. That tastes..."

His eyes close as he brings it directly beneath his nose, inhaling deeply.

"Tastes like heat." When his eyes open again, they are blown out, wild and full of wonder. "My Omega's tasty heat-slick. I'm going to milk so much of this from you. Every last drop I can find."

Rey thinks she might pass out, her head is spinning so quickly with her arousal. Or maybe it's from his own, thick and fat in each breath she sucks into her lungs. She makes an incoherent, whining noise that he seems to take for agreement, because he leans forward again, vibrating with anticipation.

"That's right. Just sit still while I clean up this mess, and then we'll get you home. Can you do that for me?"

Ben doesn't wait for her answer this time.

He starts at her thigh. His nose drags through all her stickiness, followed by the wet heat of his mouth, slow, torturous kisses that burn a searing straight line pointing directly to her cunt. But when he (finally, yes, finally) arrives, he only grasps her other knee with one large hand and moves his mouth there instead.

"Ben," she whines, "I need —" but he pinches her under-thigh with two fingers, a sharp warning that causes her back to arch and jerk.

"I said to sit still, Rey."

The sight of his dark eyes, glaring up at her from between her legs, makes her Omega shudder with desire to please him.

She bites her lip and tries to count the breaths until he returns to kissing her.

He does. He gives her his kisses, higher and higher, until Rey is whimpering with each huff of air and he is hovering over her sex again.

"Wanted to do this so badly, the other night," he murmurs. And then he begins to lick.

Rey cries out, the sensation like a streak of fire across all her waiting flesh. There is no time to recover; he is lapping at her hungrily now, hands wrapped around her waist to hold her down and open for him. Firm, broad strokes of his tongue, and she can't keep herself from babbling, a nonsensical stream of pleas pouring from her mouth.

It is at once everything she needed and not nearly enough. Her Alpha, groaning deep against her clit, gorging himself on her – but she is now ablaze again with that empty ache inside her, further inflamed by how near her Alpha finally is to where she needs him. God, how she needs him. Her whole body prickles with it. She wants to open herself as wide as possible for him. She wants to clamp her legs around his head and never let him go.

Before she knows what she's doing, she slides her hands into his hair, pressing down.

Teeth sink sharp into her thigh, and Rey cries out, spasming in the chair. Large, strong fingers come for her wrists, pinning them forcefully back to the armrests.

"Tell me what I said before."

Rey can't remember how to form words herself, never mind putting together pieces of his own. She thrashes, whining, aching for his mouth.

His hand releases her wrist, but only so that it can slap, a stinging shock of pleasure, directly over her cunt. Rey arches, her mouth dropping open in a soundless shout.

"Where do we put our hands, Omega?"

"Wherever you tell me," she gasps out desperately, as he begins to rub her with the heel of his palm.

"And where – did your Alpha – tell you?"

She struggles, frantic, to remember. "At my — ahhh — at my sides, Alpha. My sides."

"Good girl." He croons the words, leaning into each one for her, and Rey thinks she's going to die from how good it feels, to hear him say that. To have pleased him. "So willful. You just need a little direction."

Direction has never sounded so intensely appealing before. It usually makes Rey bristle with indignation, when he tells her what to do – but like this, pinned beneath his hands, his lips red and glistening with her slick – the Omega currently occupying her brain quakes with eagerness at the thought. Her Alpha will show her what he needs from her, she thinks deliriously. He will help her be the very best Omega, he will shape and coax and mold each part of her body until she is remade for his satisfaction. An existence entirely to please him.

Large hands slide beneath her bottom, and suddenly he is lifting her straight off the chair, weightless. The sharp edge of the desk digs briefly against her thighs as he slides her onto it.

Ben looms over her, his expression fierce and wild. "You must understand some things, Omega, over the next few days."

Two of those large, magnificent fingers enter her so swiftly she can't find the breath to answer him: anything, Alpha, all of it. Rey only prays he notices her nodding before he begins to pump them in and out of her, and she can no longer even do that.

"We are not pretending anymore, while you are in heat," he tells her, as he begins to fuck his fingers in and out of her body. "I will be your Alpha. You come when I tell you. You spread your legs when I tell you. You keep your hands at your sides or above your head or in your cunt when I tell you. While you are in heat, I am your pleasure, your consequences and everything in between. Do I make myself clear?"

Rey can't speak. Each time she tries, the words get tangled up in her whimpers, her gasps, as the sweet burn of his fingers fill some of that vast, throbbing emptiness within her. His palm smacks the desk beside her, making the drawers rattle, and Ben leans forward on it, surging over her.

"Answer me."

By some miracle, she manages to find her voice again. "Yes, god yes, Alpha, whatever you want, I’ll do it –"

A third finger pushes in, sliding beside the other two, and that's all it takes.

Rey comes apart with a cry, shaking on his desk – the room constricting to the bright-white blistering flood of her pleasure.

Of sweet, mind-numbing relief.

She feels a little boneless, coming down from it. Her entire body sags against the desk, like her skeleton has forgotten all the usual ways it keeps her solid and has left her, exposed, in this liquid puddle of sensation.

The fist beside her head has softened, fingers stroking through her hair with aching tenderness.

When her eyelashes finally find the strength to open, she finds him staring right back down at her.

His eyes hold so many things, as they roam across her face. Wonder. Arousal. That guarded flicker of his uncertainty, increasingly familiar to her now.

When they drop to her mouth, they seem to get stuck there. Lingering.

For a long, heart-stopping moment, Rey wonders if he's going to kiss her.

A sharp cramp wracks her stomach, and her eyes squeeze shut, damp at the edges. The anguish in his scent is immediate, followed by his knuckles, stroking her cheek. Soothing.

"You're hurting." The sound of his voice like that is painful to her, teeming with distress. "I should have been quicker. We need to get you home." He falters, jaw tightening. "That is, if you... still want to do this. With me."

Rey can't help it. She starts to laugh, a broken, wheezy sound. "Ben Solo," she says, when she can speak again. "Do you honestly believe I dragged my heat-drunk ass out of bed, took a bus across the city –"

"You did what?!"

"– got kicked off the bus, then walked eight blocks to this school... so that I could spend my heat alone?"

His body is very still, looming over her. "Tell me the name of the bus driver."

"You're missing the point."

"That's a very important point."

"I could barely remember my own name, Ben. Never mind the bus driver."

"I should have driven you myself." He looks so distraught. "I looked for you, Rey. All night long. I haven't slept." His fingers are shaking, she realizes, as they trace her face. "You're really here."

A warm, tingling sensation starts to spread across her chest. She is struck with longing to smooth the agony from his expression, but she doesn't know how to reach for him, where to start.

"I wasn't about to try this on my own," she says, a little weakly. "You did this to me, don't forget."

"I'll never forget it, Rey."

Oh. Her throat suddenly feels too tight to swallow the sincerity in his expression. "Wouldn't be very professional, I guess, to leave your mate by herself to deal with something like this."

Ben's jaw starts to work again. He exhales a sharp breath. "Of course not."

"Then we should probably get going." She chews her lip. "Unless you really do plan to knot me over this desk. Or... whatever else it was you were talking about."

The air between them shifts suddenly back to safer ground – even if there's nothing safe about the look he gives her, black and scorching.

"Careful, Omega."

"I think you like when I'm not careful."

His hands slide under her back, the room tilts, and she is suddenly hauled into the air again, back onto his chair. "I may," he says, eyes glinting, "but you certainly won't, if you keep testing me."

She sits and watches as he retrieves her damp, crumpled joggers from the floor, observing with muttered disapproval how cold they'll be; as he tenderly guides her feet into each leg and rolls them up her thighs again.

When they walk out into the winter morning together a few minutes later, through the building's back entrance, Rey lets him open the door for her.