It’s freshman year, and it’s the first time Rey has ever been drunk.
“This is the first time I’ve ever been drunk!” she yells into Finn’s ear.
He pats her on the back. “Yeah, yup, you told me that five minutes ago. And like five minutes before that.”
She grins at him sloppily, throwing her arm around his shoulder. She loves everything about this night. She loves the late September wind on her cheeks, loves the chaos of the other drunk people milling around on this lawn, loves how infinite the sky seems when she looks up. Her phone’s a piece of shit, but if it weren’t she would take all the pictures she could of this moment, preserving it all in her memory — the lights twinkling on the deck, Finn’s familiar grin, a cold cup of stale beer sloshing in her hand.
“Ugh, I just want to bake this night into a pie and eat it,” she says.
Finn cackles. “Shit. You are drunk.”
Without warning he casts her arm off of him and takes her beer from her, setting it on the table. She opens her mouth to protest at him — she’s drunk, but not that drunk — but then she sees the wicked grin on his face, and in the next second he has leaned down and thrown her over his shoulder.
“Finnnn!” she half-shrieks, half-giggles. She throws her hands up, the balmy air whipping her hair in her face as he runs across the yard with her in tow. People start cheering, and she waves at them, blowing kisses.
He sets her down and they both tip over in the process, rolling over each other into the damp grass, a mess of drunk limbs and giggles. When they finally untangle themselves they are both wheezing, laying on their backs and staring up at the stars.
“That hot guy, that what’s-his-face Dameron,” says Rey. “He’s been looking at you all night.”
Finn shoves his open palm into her head, messing up the side of her ponytail. “No he hasn’t.”
“He has,” Rey sing-songs. “Poe! That’s his name. Poe Dam — mmggfgg!”
Finn has plucked someone’s sweater up from the lawn and unceremoniously dropped it on her face. “For the love of god, Drunk Rey, keep your voice down — ”
“Fine, fine,” she says, hoisting herself into a sitting position. She glances over to the table where Finn set her beer and sees that it’s already disappeared. Ah, well. She’ll grab another, just as soon as she — “Oh, shit.”
Finn’s eyes follow her gaze and immediately snap on every college freshman’s nightmare: their R.A. At a party. A party at which they are both decidedly intoxicated, and rolling around in the grass like a bunch of idiots.
“We are so screwed,” Rey breathes, feeling her heart start to hammer rather inconveniently in her throat.
“He hasn’t seen us yet,” says Finn, scrambling to his feet, sloppily pulling her up by the wrists. “Come on, we can still get out of here before he — ”
Ben Solo’s eyes lock on Rey with surprising sharpness; she cannot remember a single time in the last few weeks of living on the same floor with him that he has ever made eye contact with her, and it’s a little bit like slamming into a brick wall, except that she kind of … likes it? Something unexpected in her stirs, and in the back of her drunken mind and beneath the very real terror of getting suspended, she might actually think their brooding, antisocial, hardass R.A. is kind of hot.
And then he starts walking over to them, and he’s anything but.
“Run,” says Finn.
She grabs him before he can. “Don’t be ridiculous,” she says. “Just, uh — act sober. We’ve got this.”
At that specific moment she loses her footing in the mud and slips as unsober-ly as possible. A hand grabs her elbow and rights her, a hand that she immediately and instinctively knows does not belong to Finn. She gulps and looks up into the very solemn face of one Ben Solo.
“Um, hi,” she says weakly.
“We are not drunk,” adds Finn.
Rey closes her eyes to summon whatever patience she needs to stop herself from smacking her best friend upside the head. When she opens them, Ben’s face is jarringly close to hers, his hand still bracing her elbow.
“Please?” she says pathetically, because it is the only thing she can think of to say.
He rolls his eyes and releases her. “I technically don’t see you with any alcohol on your physical person,” he says in that clipped voice of his. “Might I suggest, however, that the two of you are both securely in your dorms and acting like functioning individuals before I return.”
Rey’s mouth drops open. She once saw him shove a kid’s textbook off the common room table for sticking gum under it. She can hardly believe their luck.
“On it,” says Finn, yanking Rey away in an instant.
The two of them run the entire two miles back to the dorm.
It’s sophomore year, and it’s Poe’s 22nd birthday. The theme is “End Of The World,” and the small crowd gathered in the living room of the house are more than enthusiastically embracing it. Rey has to admit she’s pretty proud of the ambiance she helped create — Armageddon is playing on loop in the background, “Till The World Ends” is blasting on the stereo, and there is CAUTION tape strung up all over the walls. There’s even a drink mix they concocted and dubbed “Apocalypse,” because Rey is on her third and feeling downright giddy .
But the piece de resistance is by far the clock on the wall, counting down to the “End Of The World” at midnight. It’s only a silly prop, but even the suggestion of it seems to have gotten the whole party into a different vibe. Maybe it’s just the “Apocalypse” talking, but Rey feels like this party definitely has more of an edge to it, more of a boldness, and by that she means more people blatantly necking and grinding and shouting weird truths on top of the couch than usual.
Even Rey feels a little bit different tonight. She dressed for the occasion in in a pair of ripped up boyfriend jeans and a crop top with a water gun strapped into a holster belt around her hips. She feels like a badass. She feels invincible. And very much like it’s the end of the world, she feels like whatever the hell she does tonight doesn’t count.
Which is all well and good until Ben Solo walks through the door.
It is ridiculous how her body seems to respond to his, before she even fully sees him in the doorway. It is primal, like a drunk magnet, like every nerve in her body is screaming in his direction.
She feels a gentle hand wrap around her upper arm and flinches out of her drunk reverie. When she looks up, she sees Poe standing next to her with a knowing smile.
“Play it cool, Rey,” he says.
She flushes like the very volcano that is supposedly going to end the world at this party. There is no point in pretending she doesn’t know what he means; Rey’s fluster around Ben has become iconic at this point. She spent the back half of freshman year catatonic anytime he happened to come out of the showers in his towel, her heart beating like an anvil during every floor meeting, coveting every tense minute they two of them spent alone together when the rest of the hall cleared out for school breaks.
In her defense, none of this was aggressively obvious to anyone aside from Finn and Poe. She hardly ever looked at Ben, and almost never talked to him. Rey already knew that a guy like Ben Solo wouldn’t want someone like her — he was too Ben, and she was too, well, normal — but it gave her a quite necessary distraction from the stress of her studies until they all inevitably moved out of the dorms freshman year.
And she honestly hadn’t thought of him that much since. She was not the type of girl to get hung up on a guy, even guys who stumbled out of the showers with dumb hot eight packs at 3 a.m. when she was trying to study for finals. It isn’t until now that that part of her, that Ben Solo-flavored ache, has risen anew.
But she listens to Poe. She plays it cool. When Ben spots her she waves, and he nods, and she heads into the kitchen to grab another “Apocalypse” before the last one loses its buzz in her ears.
Playing it cool becomes astronomically more difficult as the night progresses. She can feel Ben’s eyes on her the entire night, heavy like there is weight in his gaze; he is blatant, unapologetic, sweeping her form in that solemn, undefinable way of his. Every time she happens to look near him it sends a shiver up her spine.
At some point she is on the dance floor and turns into his chest; he is standing in front of her, an unmistakable hunger in his eyes. She is paralyzed by it, certain she is dreaming, when suddenly his hands are on her waist and her body is responding to his touch like a limewire. They dance together for the next few songs, wordless and staring at each other as the party gets rowdier and rowdier around them, as the countdown to the end of the world starts to wind down.
Ten seconds away from midnight, she does something so very un-Rey-like that she can hardly believe her own audacity.
“If it were really the end of the world,” she asks, pressing her lips to his ear, “what would you do with me?”
He tightens his grip around her waist, pulling her closer to the heat of his body. His answer is swift and crashes into some impossible place in her: “Nothing you’d be ready for.”
He is gone soon after that, and the party can’t end fast enough. The moment everyone has gone home she locks herself into her room, strips of all of her apocalypse gear, and touches herself to the sound of his voice thundering in her ear.
It’s sophomore year, and —
“Are we really doing this again?”
A breathless question, a pointless one, swallowed in the darkness of Ben Solo’s bedroom.
He advances on her, the answer blunt: “Take off your shirt.”
Rey licks her bottom lip, dragging her eyes up and down the length of his tall body, settling on his eyes in defiance. “Make me.”
He moves forward with his usual astonishing speed, yanking her up by her bottom and depositing her on his mattress so easily that she feels like she is made of air. He straddles her, his lips crashing into hers, the two of them tasting like the bottle of wine they left out on his porch. His hands are rough and warm, grazing her stomach as he finds the hem of her shirt and all but rips it off of her, pulling it up over her shoulders and casting it somewhere into the dark void of his room.
She digs her fingers into her back and drags them along his spine, gasping as he sucks her neck, her collarbone, the space between her breasts. His hand meanders to the throbbing between her thighs, and the ache of it is so demanding, so unthinkable —
“I need you inside me,” she is gasping, “I need you — ”
He presses his length against her, and her entire body responds to the hardness of it, releasing a visceral moan. Her hands are shaking the way that they always do as she fumbles with the zipper of his pants, gracelessly shoving them down his thighs; he makes much quicker work of her shorts, freeing her in one swift instant until she is entirely exposed with her back down on the mattress and those dark eyes sweeping every inch of her.
She swallows, something coiling and uncoiling in her stomach, a familiar desperate feeling pulsing in her skin.
It is the fifth time they have done this. It started during Christmas break; they ran into each other at the library, and the next thing she knew, they were making out in the stacks like the most fuckingest cliché she could possibly conjure. Another week after that he texted her in the middle of the night, summoning her to his apartment; she came willingly, gave every part of herself to him, gave way to the silence and the enigma and the solidness that was Ben. She walked through the next month delirious in the aftermath of it, and then there he was, showing up after one of her track practices and dropping her off the next morning with a hickey that wouldn’t fade for days. After that she called him, twice, and he never picked up; a few weeks passed and there he was again, knocking on her apartment door, soaked to the skin and smelling like rain and something that stirs in a part of Rey that is too deep to name.
The pattern repeats itself. It is he who summons her , never the other way around. But she is too hungry for him to care; she knows what kind of person Ben Solo is, knows better than to ask for more than this, and she will take whatever of this she can get.
She presses her open palms into his shoulder, raking her hands down his arms, relishing the warmth in her belly where his bare member is pressed against her. His thumb finds her nub, presses it, teases it — she is gasping when he pulls his hand away.
“Please,” she murmurs into his neck, her vocal chords making some primal, whining noise she doesn’t recognize. “ Ben .”
He stops so suddenly that it nearly knocks the wind out of her. She is afraid right then that it has happened — that he is bored of her, of whatever this is, and he is going to leave.
“Are you drunk?”
She can barely see him in this dark, save for his gleaming eyes, searching her quietly. She is very used to the ferocity of his gaze, but there is something different about it tonight. Something gentle. Something wary.
“And you want this?”
There is nothing teasing in the question, no ulterior motive. After a beat she understands — every time they have done this in the past, for all their indiscretion, they have both been entirely sober.
She reaches up and touches his face, feeling the stubble of the day in the tenderness of her palm. “Very much,” she assures him.
He does something even more unexpected then, and kisses her on the forehead. Some unknowable part of her heart cinches at the warmth of his lips, and for a moment the feeling paralyzes her. It fills her up too much. She doesn’t know if she likes it.
So she pushes it back, swallows it down, back into the recesses of her heart. She props herself up by the elbows and kisses him with that same urgency they usually do, and after a moment they fall back into their same rhythm as if nothing has happened. She feels his length slide across her entrance, grazing her, teasing her; she hooks her arms under his shoulders and pulls him into her, gasping sharply as he fills her up, spreading her, unraveling her, brimming her over the edge.
When it is over she is dizzy and senseless, staring up into the blackness of his unlit room, a satisfying weakness in the marrow of her bones. She lays there, trying to be still, knowing better than to try and work her way into the crook of his arm or rest her head on his chest. She is not that kind of girl to him. This is not that kind of love.
She doesn’t know whether or not he is asleep when she finally pries herself out of his sheets, but he doesn’t say a word, and neither does she.
It’s junior year, and Rey is out with a boy. She has gone on three dates with David now — the first out for coffee, the second for dinner, and the third on this Saturday night in her favorite bar, where she is two beers in and decidedly buzzed. They’re watching a football game, one that David is a lot more emotionally invested in than she is, but she likes it. She likes the way he gets all worked up and enthusiastic. She likes the way he cares about something, even if it’s something dumb. She especially likes that when he reacts to something, he’s always looking back at her — Did you see that? Can you believe that? — letting her into his world.
The Giants score a touchdown and win in the last second of the game, and David sweeps her up from the bar stool and plants one on her. The bar cheers and Rey swats at him, laughing.
“You’re such a dork ,” she tells him.
He grins, all wide and uninhibited, like his face is used to grinning. Another thing she likes about him.
“Want another beer?” he asks.
“Let me get this round,” she says, hoisting herself up from the chair and walking over to the bar. One of David’s friends starts talking to him and he doesn’t follow, which is for the best — the last time they both went up to the bar they were both so distracted talking to each other it took a half hour to get their drinks.
“Two Bud Lights,” she says when the bartender nods over at her.
“Who is he?”
Rey practically jumps out of her skin at the sound of Ben Solo’s voice rumbling in her ear. It cuts through everything else in the bar, stirring that in that familiar place in her, wrenching her out of the present. She closes her eyes before she turns around, almost hating him for it — for reminding her that David will never do this to her, whatever the hell it is Ben is doing right now.
Without fully turning to look at him, she says, “His name is David.”
“Is he your boyfriend?”
The bartender hands Rey the beers before she can give the hotheaded answer she was going to give. She takes a breath, takes a sip of her beer, and turns to look at Ben. Shit , he’s tall. She knew that, of course. She knew that from day zero at this university, when he checked her into her dorm and gave her a key and unwittingly became her teenage wet dream.
She looks up at him and sighs, just tipsy enough to pretend that he doesn’t have that effect on her anymore.
“I haven’t seen you in months, Ben,” she says. “So I’m not even sure why it matters.”
He doesn’t have anything to say to that, still brooding and purse-lipped and enigmatic as always. She walks away. It’s for the best. He’s graduating soon anyway, and then she’ll be spared that weird flip in her chest every time she sees a tall, dark-haired guy on campus, that unwelcome hollowness when she checks her phone in the morning and sees that nobody has called.
Ben must leave the bar after that, because when she turns around a few minutes later he’s gone. Rey has another beer, and then another, until her smile feels stretched out and wobbly and she has to go to the bathroom to splash water in her face.
“You don’t care about Ben Solo,” she says to herself in the mirror.
A drunk girl claps her on the back. “You said it, girl.”
Rey recognizes her own intoxication well enough to kiss David goodbye and get herself into a taxi. It’s raining by the time she spills out of the bar, that thunderous, sweet, earthy kind of rain that only comes in the summer. She is immediately drenched, but she kind of likes it. It makes her feel like a little kid again.
The apartment feels different with Poe and Finn gone for break. When she gets there she hovers in the kitchen for a moment, trying to decide between drunkenly microwaving herself several portions of mac and cheese or going to bed, when there’s a sharp series of knocks on the door.
At first she just blinks at it like it has come to life. It’s midnight. There’s no way somebody’s —
And then it happens again. The knocking is louder this time, loud enough to wake the whole damn complex.
“Who is it?” says Rey, reaching for her cell phone.
“Open the door, Rey.”
In all the time she has spent with Ben, she can’t ever remember him saying her name. She knows she would remember if he had, because she is so immediately weak at the sound of it that it feels like someone has blown a warm breath into her veins. She swings the door open, and there he is, soaked to the skin and standing in her doorway. She lets herself look at him, really look at him in a way she hasn’t even in the times they made love in the dark. He is so striking that she forgets herself.
“Is that what you want, then?” he asks her, the wind gusting up his hair, the rain splattering on his back. “A boyfriend? ”
Her tongue suddenly feels thick. “And what’s the matter with that?” she asks.
A crack of lightning strikes somewhere beyond them, illuminating the back of him like some dark archangel. For a moment she feels like she’s in a dream. Then she remembers that she is just Rey, and he is just the R.A. who got bored of her.
“I’m not going to apologize,” she says. “It’s — it’s not wrong to want that, to be normal, to feel loved — ”
“You never told me.”
Her breath hitches as he takes a step forward, into the threshold, so close to her that she can smell the rain on his skin. Every nerve in her body is screaming to be closer to him, to the storm in his eyes, the angry set of his brow.
“When was I supposed to tell you?” she asks. She shakes her head, tearing her eyes away from him again, laughing a little to herself. “What would it have even mattered? You never thought of me that way — ”
She gasps at the touch of his hand under her chin, lifting her face up to his. There is nothing gentle about it, or in the words he says in a low growl: “You have no idea of how I think of you.”
Oh, Jesus. Oh, shit. Her heart is hammering so mercilessly that it almost feels like it’s drowning out the storm. It takes every fiber in her being to stand her ground, to not fall into him so easily, to not give him everything she has so willingly offered without abandon in the past.
“Then tell me,” she breathes.
He kisses her then, awakening some long dormant creature in her, some hunger that had dulled but is now more demanding and present than ever. He hoists her up and she wraps her legs around him, gasping at the momentum, the two of them both slippery with rain as he kicks the door shut behind him with his foot and presses her up against the wall.
“I think of you here,” he says, “in that tiny little bed of yours, falling asleep in those big floppy shirts.”
His lips graze the crook of her neck and she shivers, weightless and suspended between him and the wall. Then he presses his mouth to her ear again: “I think of you coming back from your runs, panting and red-faced and covered in sweat.”
He pulls her away from the wall and she gasps at the sensation, at the rush of his arms around her, carrying her over to the couch. Distantly she is aware of the pact she and Finn and Poe made to never have sex on this couch, but knowing them they have broken it together a hundred times over. The thought is swallowed up in an instant by the warm solidness of his palms cupping her breasts, by the aching sensation that swells in her.
She can’t stand it another second more, reaching for the hem of his shirt, pulling it over his —
His hands wrap around her wrists, stalling her. She doesn’t resist as she pushes them back, pushes her arms up over her head.
“I think of you like this,” he says. “How it sounds when you breathe. How it sounds when you come …”
He releases her wrists, and she stares up at him, stunned as though he has knocked all of the air out of her. It isn’t real. This isn’t real. Even in the few fantasies she allowed herself, deep in the privacy of her own mind, he never talked to her like this. Never touched her like this. Never with this kind of reverence, with this kind of passion.
His expression is suddenly solemn, gazing down at her.
“I think of you outside the dorms on that first day, with nothing but that orange duffel bag.” He takes his hand and pushes the wet, tangled hair off of her forehead, his touch lingering there. “Even then, you were beautiful to me. Even when you shouldn’t have been.”
She doesn’t know what to say. It all sounds flimsy and inadequate. It all sounds like too little, or too much — she could tell him the truth, or she could tell him nothing at all. There is no in between with Ben Solo. There never has been.
“I only want you,” she whispers. “That’s all I’ve ever wanted, Ben. It didn’t matter how. I just … want you.”
The thunder rumbles someplace beneath them as he leans down and presses his lips to hers. “Then you have me.”
It’s her senior year — well, what’s left of it, anyway. Three hours ago she collected her diploma, and Ben collected his Master’s, and in the morning they are packing up the car and taking a road trip across the country for no reason other than they can .
Right now, though, they are sprawled on the couch on his porch, staring out as the sun sets over their hilly campus town. The sky is lush with pinks and oranges and purples, the sun sinking with a delicious slowness into the sky. Rey can feel the exhaustion of the day in the curl of her toes, in the ache of her lips, but it’s a satisfying kind of exhaustion. They made it.
“You’re the best thing that ever happened to me, you know,” says Ben, cutting through the silence.
When she looks over at him his smile is a little crooked, his lips stained from the wine. She reaches out and snakes her hand through his, feeling the familiar warmth pulse into her own body.
“You’re drunk,” she tells him affectionately.
But his eyes are steady on her, the smile not wavering in the slightest. She can sense the slightest shift in the air between them, something nameless taking shape. Before she can decide if she likes it, the words are falling out of his mouth: “I’m going to ask you to marry me someday.”
She looks away from him sharply, barking out a laugh. “You’re really drunk,” she says.
And he is. But then he squeezes her hand in his, and she is compelled to look back at him — look back and see the raw honesty in his eyes.
“I mean it,” he says. “I can’t imagine spending my life with anyone else.”
The truth is, neither can she. The truth is, in the the rare moments she has let herself think toward the future, she has never been able to conceive one without Ben since that first time they kissed. It is Ben she imagines waking up to, Ben whose hand she feels in hers; Ben she meets at the end of an aisle, Ben who reaches into the cradle in a sleepless night; Ben who is by her side, always an arm's reach away, constant, steady, hers.
She leans over and kisses the corner of his lip, lingering in the warmth, the beauty of this moment. “Then don’t,” she tells him. “Because someday … I’m going to say yes.”