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169 Days

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She smiles at him. People at work don’t smile at him. Ever. They mercifully avert their eyes and mutter the usual sentiments under their breath. Ben has heard it all before—“weirdo,” “loner,” “jerk.” He couldn’t really argue with any of them.

He had spent his entire adult life cultivating a very specific persona with an attitude that would be just intimidating enough that he’d be able to work and function like a fairly normal adult member of society, while at the same time ensuring he maintained the things most precious to him—privacy and solitude. The scar helps.

Her smiles unmoor him.

He isn’t particularly fond of happy people. He sees their joy as some affront to the reality of life. While most smiles that come his direction—usually from well-meaning customer service professionals—make his eyes twitch in an effort to keep them from rolling to the back of his head, Ben finds that her smiles, well, he actually sort of likes them.

******

It’s been almost a month since Rey Johnson started as the coordinator for company events at Supremacy Realty. He knew she had heard things about him. His reputation always preceded him. Everyone knew to “stay away from Solo.” Luckily, in his position, it was easy enough for people to keep their distance. Being in IT meant Ben could accomplish plenty of tasks with minimal interactions with his coworkers. He’d remote in, fix the issue and never have to utter a single word to them.

Rey hasn’t stayed away, though. Exactly 29 days since she first dropped by his cubicle to introduce herself, she still goes out of her way to walk by his desk every day and bid him good morning with a big toothy smile that, at first, he found disconcerting. Now that early morning smile might be the thing he most looks forward to in his day. Actually looking forward to something is a new sensation he is still trying to make sense of. It excites and terrifies him in equal measure.

So when, on that 29th day, Rey corners him in the breakroom, he’s sure his heart is bound to stop. This was new. He felt an arrangement had been established and he was becoming accustomed to it. Normally, she drops by and leans over his cubicle wall in the morning, never venturing in. She makes small talk about something happening at work or something she read or saw on t.v., and after a few minutes she smiles, wishes him a good day, he reciprocates—the good day, and sometimes even the smile—and she’s on her way to her office. But the change in location and proximity of today’s particular encounter sets Ben to overthinking—as per usual. I can smell her perfume.

“Hey Ben!” she says cheerily while holding a platter of cookies. “Would you like to try one? They’re chocolate chip. I made them as a practice batch for my roommate’s birthday next week. Rose has celiacs, so these are gluten free.”

Ben grabs a cookie while his brain quickly tries to calculate how to handle this situation without making a total ass of himself. He takes a bite. “Mmm. It’s good.”

“Really?! You aren’t saying that just to be nice?”

Ben doesn’t ever say anything just to be nice. “No, Rey. They really are delicious. If you didn’t mention it, I’d have no idea they were gluten free. Just tastes like a really great cookie.”

“Oh my god. That was exactly the right thing to say. Thanks, Ben!” She gives a slight tug on the sleeve of his Oxford as she says it.

Ben can feel the blush bloom from his chest to the tips of his ears. He is quite certain he has never heard that combination of words in his entire life. That was exactly the right thing to say.

That he hears them for the first time from Rey makes some sense of pride or maybe excitement swell in him.

“You want another one?” She asks as as she starts to make her way past him back towards the other cubicles.

“Yeah. Thanks.” He grabs another cookie and she gives him a smile on the way out.

The walk back to his desk seems interminable. Ben is playing through what just happened in his mind and he’s just about to round the corner when he sees Poe. Ben groans internally. If there was ever the living embodiment of everything Ben wasn’t, it was Poe Dameron. Poe is handsome, friendly, popular and despite all these qualities, he’s still a fairly decent human being. Talking with Poe was like looking in a mirror that showed every inadequacy you’d rather avoid.

“Hey, Solo.”

“Dameron.”

“So, I saw you talking to Rey in there. I noticed she hangs around your desk in the morning too. You guys have something going on?”

“Real funny, Dameron.”

“No, bro, I’m serious. She’s at your cubicle every day and she calls you Ben for fucks sake. Anyway, she’s cute and I’d be interested in asking her out, but I wouldn’t want to step on any toes.”

Ben suddenly realizes that Poe is being serious. What the fuck?

“You’re good to go, Dameron. There’s nothing going on.”

Poe softly punches Ben on the shoulder. “Excellent, man.” Ben watches Poe walk away wearing his patented smug smile.

As Ben walks to his desk, he’s somewhat surprised by the wave of sadness that washes over him. What the hell is wrong with me? He knows there’s nothing going on between him and Rey, but he just now realizes, maybe he wants there to be.

 


 

It’s exactly 47 days after Rey was hired when she steps inside Ben’s cubicle.

Ben got in a little early and is working on an issue with their payment portal when Rey walks in.

“Good morning, Ben.”

He swings his chair around and she’s got two cups of coffee in her hands.

“I noticed you usually drink it black when you grab it from the break room. Hope that’s okay.”

“No, no. That’s perfect. Thanks, Rey.”

She steps in and settles into the spare chair he keeps tucked right inside the entrance to his cubicle.

Ben talks to Rey every morning at work, but this is the first time she’s ventured into his work space. His eyebrows instinctively raise out of shock and maybe a bit of anxiousness.

He sees her shoulders tense instantly in response. “Sorry, I didn’t even ask. Is this okay? For me to sit?” She goes to stand back up and he stops her with a touch of his hand to her wrist.

“Rey, it’s no problem. I swear.”

She relaxes and slumps back into the chair.

“Is everything okay?” he asks.

“Yeah. Yeah. No, everything is good. It’s just … what do you know about Poe?”

“Dameron?” Of course, Ben, he chides himself. Who the hell else is named Poe?

"Yeah, the guy in Marketing and Publications.”

“He’s a nice enough guy. I don’t really hang out with anyone here, but he seems well meaning enough. Why?”

Ben knows where this is going and he can feel his chest constricting. His tie is suddenly too tight, and the cubicle, too warm.

“He asked me out yesterday.”

And just like that, the air leaves his lungs and the crushing disappointment creeps in.

“Oh. That’s nice. Like I said he seems like a decent guy. Unlike a lot of the people here, he’s never talked shit about me. At least not to my face or loud enough for me to overhear him.”

She winces.

Great job, Solo. Way to emphasize how much of a pathetic asshole you are.

“Well, I said no.”

“What?” Ben feels relieved and confused all at once. Poe’s a handsome guy. He’s charming and nice enough, and he was obviously into Rey.

“I’m not really interested. I was just wondering if you think he’d be weird about it. Like, is he going to be a jerk because I turned him down?”

“Umm. Yeah. No. I don’t think Poe would be a dick just because you said no. So, I think you’ll be okay.”

She lets out a little sigh of relief. “God, that’s good to hear. I wouldn’t want it to be awkward around here.”

“You’ll be good.” Ben reassures her.

“Well, I’ll get out of your hair. I’ve got this big meeting in a little bit about the holiday party.”

“Already? That’s four months away.”

“Yeah, from what they tell me it’s a bigger deal this year. They’re inviting the developers of those new subdivisions they’re building out past the quarry. I think they’re trying to make a good showing hoping to get in early on the market out there. Anyway, talk to you later, Ben.”

“See you, Rey.”

She makes her way out of his office and it takes Ben less than 10 seconds to come to grips with just how thoroughly fucked he is. She said no to Dameron . The unmitigated feeling of relief he felt when she told him she turned down Poe was enough for him to know he was in very big trouble. Another 30 seconds later, his relief is tempered by reality. If she said no to Poe, he’s got absolutely zero chance.

 


 

It’s exactly 79 days after Rey was hired when she surprises him.

Ben is not in the best mood. It took every bit of finagling to get out of dinner with his mother today and talking with Leia before work means a guaranteed bad attitude for the rest of the day.

Rey has been out sick the past three days, so that doesn’t help his situation either. Between being concerned for Rey, but not being able to do anything about it, and having to come up with excuses to give Leia this morning, Ben is on edge.

He’s so far in his inner thoughts he doesn’t hear Rey enter the cubicle.

“Earth to Ben.”

He startles and swings around to see she’s sitting in her chair, already holding out his cup of coffee. His mood is instantly lifted.

“Shit, Rey, you scared me. I didn’t realize you’d be back today. How are you feeling?”

“Better. Still not 100%, but definitely better.” 

“You know you can take the time off, Rey. If you’re still not feeling well, you probably should be resting.”

“Well, who would have guessed that scary Ben Solo would be so concerned with his coworker’s well-being.” She smiles brightly and it dawns on him how much he’s missed that smile the last three days. He’s used to not seeing her on the weekends, but being in this place and not seeing her didn’t feel right.

“Ha-ha, Rey. Maybe, I’m just looking out for myself. Wouldn’t want you spreading contagions around my cubicle.”

“Could be. But, I don’t think so. I have a sneaking suspicion you might have a mushy middle in there somewhere. I can sense it.”

Ben laughs.

“Good god. I even got you to laugh. Ben Solo is capable of mirth. As I live and breathe!”

“If you’re done busting my chops, you really should think about going home until you’re feeling better.” He’d be sad to see her go, but he wants her to take care of herself.

“Like I said, I’m feeling much better. I’ll survive. Plus, I wouldn’t want to miss today.” She rifles through her satchel and pulls out a wrapped present. “Here. Happy Birthday, Ben.”

To say Ben is shocked would be an absolute understatement. He has never told anyone at work about his birthday. He’s anxious enough on a daily basis without the idea of people being fake nice to him for a day just because it happens to be the day he was let loose on the world.

“How… how did you know?” Ben tries to control the emotion in his voice as he grabs the present from her outstretched hand.

“Oh, as the events person, I have a list of all the employee birthdays. It’s how we do those cake socials for the birthdays.”

“Yeah, I don’t really go to those.”

She chuckles. “I’ve noticed. Anyway, no need to worry about the cake social. I didn’t tell anyone it was your birthday. I figured you’d prefer it that way.”

“Thanks, Rey. This is really sweet of you and totally unnecessary, of course.”

“Shut up and open the present, Ben.”

Ben stares down at the package. It’s wrapped with black paper and there’s a red ribbon bow.

“Black wrapping paper - black as my soul??”  

She scowls. Then smiles. “You going to open it, or just stare at it, Solo? I’m getting impatient.”

Ben tries to hide the tremor in his hand while he opens the gift. Despite Leia’s attempts over the last few years, he hasn’t actually celebrated his birthday in ages. And he hasn’t received a present from someone who isn’t Leia, in so long he honestly can’t remember when he last did. When he’s done unwrapping, he opens the lid and there’s a beautiful silver pen with his name engraved in italics Benjamin Organa Solo .

“It’s a fountain pen. I noticed you have a preference for them.”

“It’s wonderful Rey. I mean. Really. Thank you so much.” Ben still can’t raise his eyes from the pen to look at her. He’s scared he might cry if he does. It’s just a pen, but it’s a gift on his birthday . His heart aches.

“Well, I’m going to get going. Happy birthday.”

He finally composes himself enough to look up. Rey has grabbed her bag and is standing. Ben stands and walks her the couple feet out of his cubicle. She reaches out and squeezes his forearm. “Hey. I didn’t upset you, did I? I didn’t mean to. I hope I didn’t overstep.”

“No. Of course not, I’m just surprised is all. It’s been a long time since I got a gift from someone who’s not my mom.” Ben cringes internally at how sad it makes him sound.

“Gotcha. Well, that’s what friends do. Anyway, I’ve got … things. Enjoy your day, Ben.”

“Yeah. Thanks again, Rey.”

She gives him one last smile and makes her way towards her office.

 


 

It’s exactly 114 days after Rey was hired when she convinces him to do something completely crazy.

Ben is making his way out of the break room when Rey comes skipping up to him. “Ben! My buddy! My pal!”

“Uh-oh. This can’t be good. What do you want from me, Rey?”

She’s gasps in pretend shock, feigning a look of disbelief. “I resent the implication.”

“Rey. What did you do?”

She smiles.

“Okay, so I know you don’t do hanging out. BUT, maybe I just accepted a bet from Kaydel that you play a little bit of a role in. You can totally say no. It won’t be the end of the world, but it would get me Hozier tickets for his sold out show and Rose would absolutely lose her shit if I came home with them. Kaydel won them and she won’t be in town to use them, but she’s trying to get extra concessions out of me before she’ll hand them over.”

“What’s a Hozier?”

“Not important, Ben.” She steps in places her arm in the crook of Ben’s elbow as they make their way back toward his cubicle. Ben’s brain short circuits for just a minute before he gets back to listening to the words coming out of her mouth. “Anyway, you know the Halloween party…”

“No.” The reverie his body was experiencing just a second ago as a result from the feeling of her warm body so close to his is instantly shut down.  

“But, Ben…”

“Rey. I’m not going to that party. I mean why the hell does Connix even care if I’m there. Are they planning on pulling a Carrie and dousing me in pig’s blood?”

She uses her arm in his to stop him in his tracks. “You really are the most cynical human on the planet. These people really aren’t all that bad. You’re just grumpy towards them.”

“Grumpy. With good reason. Anyway, what’s Connix’s deal?” Ben is trying to suss out what game Kaydel is playing at.

“I kind of told her we’re friends and she didn’t believe me.”

“You told her we were friends?”

“Well, yeah.”

“Why?”

“Well, for one, we are and two, because she was asking questions.” Rey’s eyes dart from his to the floor.

“What kind of questions?”

“She was just being nosy. Listen, you don’t talk to anyone around here except me and maybe Dameron. They think I’m the Solo whisperer or something. Anyway, I think they just want to see you out of the confines of your cubicle. Maybe they’re curious if the rumors are true.”

“Rumors?” Ben asks with a furrowed brow.

“You know. That you eat babies.” Rey smiles.

Ben huffs and Rey just laughs.

“Come on, Ben. All joking aside, it’ll be fun. If you don’t want to talk to any of them, you don’t have to. I’ll be your buffer. I’ll save you from any annoying conversations, you’ll get me some Hozier tickets and I’ll get to see you outside of the confines of Supremacy Realty too. What does Ben Solo look like without a tie?? It’s a mystery I’d like solved.”

The thought of hanging out with his coworkers isn’t of particular interest, but the thought of spending time with Rey outside of the office is awfully enticing.

“I don’t know. Don’t we have to dress up for this thing? It’s two days away. I don’t have anything.”

“Come on. Go to one of those pop-up Halloween stores. There’s like ten million of them this time of year. Hell, don’t even dress up. Just come as yourself. It’d be like seeing Bigfoot for most of these people.”

“I’ll think about it.”

“You are the best, Ben.”

“I didn’t say yes.”

“Yeah, you did.”

She smiles.

 


 

It’s exactly 116 days after Rey was hired when Ben realizes he might actually be falling in love with her.

Ben seriously considers the fact that he might be losing his mind. He’s actually going to a party. Ben isn’t a fan of socializing with his coworkers or really socializing at all. Ever since the accident he finds it easier to avoid interaction than to deal with the curiosity or worse, the pity, the scar typically draws out of people.

This is a chance to spend time with Rey outside of work, though. Their workday conversations and interactions over the past few months have made him the happiest he’s been in as long as he can remember. If he’s being honest with himself, he also has to admit that her arguing on behalf of the others lessens his anxiety just a bit.

“These people really aren’t all that bad. You’re just grumpy towards them.” Rey’s words from a couple days ago had stuck out to him. She was right. He thought back to when he started at Supremacy Realty and realized from day one he made a concerted effort to keep everyone at a distance. It was learned behavior at that point in his life. It kept him from getting hurt.

So, with the newfound belief that maybe Rey was right and he ought to reevaluate some of his interactions with his coworkers, Ben walks into Maz’s on Halloween night.

“Holy fucking shit!” He hears Poe Dameron’s voice loud and clear over the din in the bar.  

Ben makes his way towards where Poe is standing with a girl he’s sure is from Sales. “Dameron.”

“You a Three Musketeer or something, Solo?” Poe is an obvious play on Maverick from Top Gun. No longer the center of Poe’s attention, the girl from Sales heads towards the dance floor.

“Eh, close, I guess. I’m Inigo Montoya.”

Poe stares at him in silence for about 10 seconds straight before Ben realizes that first and foremost, Poe is hammered and secondly, he’s got no idea who Inigo Montoya is.

“You know, from The Princess Bride?” Ben proffers.

“I got absolutely nothing, Solo.”

“Seriously Dameron? It’s a classic, you uncultured swine.”

“Whatever, Solo.” He shrugs. “You know, Kaydel said you might show tonight and I thought she had lost her damn mind. I guess Rey really can get you to do anything.”

Ben blanches and Poe must notice his reaction.

“It’s cool, buddy. Although you could have saved me a little bit of embarrassment by being upfront when I asked you before.”

“There really is nothing going on.” Ben knows no matter his feelings towards Rey, their relationship has remained very clear. They’re friends. They talk and spend time together at work. That’s it.

“But, maybe you want there to be? Here’s my somewhat …  okay maybe very drunken advice - you should go for it, Solo. She puts up with you. Even likes talking to you. It’s a mystery to me, but she actually gets you to smile, so that’s got to count for something.” Poe claps his hands together and turns back towards the bartender. “Anyway, that’s all the free relationship advice you get from me. The rest is going to cost you. Buy the next round?”

“While talking to you about my lack of a love life sounds like a wonderful time, I’m going to pass.” Ben takes a look past Poe and starts scanning the bar. “So, have you seen Rey?”

“When I saw her last, she was in the back by the pool tables.”

Ben turns to leave. As he’s making his way towards the back of the bar, Ben hears Poe yell as clear as day, “Godspeed, Solo!”

Ben can’t help but smirk. Thinking on what Poe said, Ben already knows he does want more. He’s known for some time. He wakes up to thoughts of Rey. He comes to thoughts of her, too. But, Ben is practical above all else. She’s perfect. Beautiful, sunny, sweet and he’s a scarred disaster with social anxiety and absolutely zero experience with relationships. It isn’t going to happen and he has already resolved himself to that fact. He can be content if all he ever gets is the chance to be friends with her. There’s no denying she’s already turned something around for him.

His eyes are trained towards the pool tables as he makes his way to the back. Suddenly, he’s almost knocked down. It takes a second to process what’s happening when he realizes, it’s Rey. She’s hugging him.

“Ben Solo, you are a sight for sore eyes! I was hoping you would come!”

“Yeah, yeah. You get your tickets.”

“What?” She asks with a crook of her brow.

“The concert tickets. The ones from Connix.”

“Shit, yeah. I forgot about that. Anyway, the more pressing issue is—what do you think of my costume?” She steps back so he can finally see what she’s wearing. She’s looking dead at his face and the way she asks the question, somehow feels like a challenge.

She’s wearing this brown skin tight faux leather corset, with a gold chest plate. She’s also got on a tiny skirt made up of hanging straps of the same faux leather as the corset. The look is rounded out by arm bands and an aluminum chakram. Ben instantly recognizes her as Xena Warrior Princess.

“Well, you look absolutely amazing. I’ll also have you know that Xena was a pretty hardcore crush of mine when I was a kid.” What the fuck are you saying, Ben? Have you lost your mind?!

“Christ, Ben, you really are perfect! You know how many people have asked if I was fucking Wonder Woman? Too many. If you don’t know Xena and Inigo then you ain’t shit.” She gasps and covers her mouth. “Sorry! You don’t know this, but outside of work, I’m known to have a pretty filthy mouth.” She smiles and winks and Ben’s cock twitches in his leather pantaloons. I’m in trouble.

“Come on. We’re getting you a drink and then you’re going to tell me where you got this Inigo costume, because it’s so good. I mean are those real leather pants? Jesus.” She grabs his hand and leads them to the bar.

“What do you want to drink?” She’s leaning against the bar when she looks over her shoulder at him. He’s trying really hard not to stare at where her long, tan legs peek out from the bottom of the straps of faux leather that make up her skirt.

“Umm, scotch. Neat.” He averts his eyes and thinks chaste thoughts.

When she turns back around, there’s a beer in one hand for her and a scotch in the other for him. “Here. Let’s go outside. It’s loud as hell in here.”

They step out onto a wooden deck. The temperature is fairly mild and it’s actually a welcome reprieve from the somewhat stifling conditions in the bar. Too many people in too small a space. The outside area is obviously where the smokers come to congregate. “Are you okay out here?” Rey asks as soon as they’re out the door.

“No, this is nice. A little less overwhelming.”

“Cool.” She leads them to a little bench downwind from where the smokers are chatting.

“So, Ben. I’m really glad you came. I was hoping, but I wasn’t sure if you would. And you came looking amazing, too. When you go for it, you go for it hard, eh?”

“I figured if I was actually going to do this, I might as well go big or go home. Tonight was pretty much going to determine whether party-going was something I’d ever be interested in again for the rest of my life.” Ben takes a swig of his scotch and laughs nervously.

“So, why Inigo?”

“Well, it’s one of the greatest movies ever made. It’s got comedy, action and romance. Also, it was an easy costume on short notice. Evidently, ‘swashbuckler’ turns into Inigo Montoya quite easily with the right accoutrements. I just needed the fake mustache and the outfit. I’ve already got the hair and the scar. ”

“Where’d you get it?” she asks as she takes a sip of her beer.

“One of those pop-up Halloween stores on MacCarther…”

“Sorry. I meant the scar.” There’s a casualness about the way she says it that lets him know she doesn’t understand. He has let her in so much compared to everyone, but he still has kept this part of himself shut away. She doesn’t know because she couldn’t possibly.

Ben stops short. This isn’t a conversation he has with people. Ever. The memories associated with this particular permanent memento are ones he’s actively avoided since that day. But, this is Rey.

“It was an accident. My dad was a pilot. He was in the Air Force and then we he retired he took it up as a hobby. He took me out for my 17th birthday. We went up in a classic—his World War II trainer. Small thing. It was one of my dad’s favorites. Unfortunately, this time there was some mechanical issue. We suddenly started losing altitude. He did his best. We crashed in a field. He died. I lived. And I have lots of scars to show for it.”

There it was. It was out. He said the words to Rey and somehow felt relieved. It was another barrier removed from who he is right now and who he felt, more and more recently, he wants to be.  

“Hey, I’m really sorry Ben. Fuck, I’m an idiot. I shouldn’t have brought it up at a party. I didn’t think it’d be…”

“Hey,” Ben said crouching down to try to catch her downcast eyes. “It’s okay, Rey. It’s honestly probably good for me to talk about it instead of just keeping it all in. I swear it’s fine. I mean you’re the only friend I have...”

“I am?” she asks tentatively.

“Yes. You are. And if I can’t share it with you, who can I share it with?”

There’s a moment of silence when she finds his eyes again.

“Really, Rey. I just don’t want it to ruin the night.”

He can see the tension slowly release from her shoulders.

“Okay. Okay, Inigo. Come with me. We’re going back in there and we’re going to order however many scotches it takes to get you out on the dance floor with me.”

“Yeah, that isn’t going to happen. I’d be dead from alcohol poisoning before I drank enough to dance.”

“We’ll see about that.”

The evening goes by in a whirl. Rey is like his bartender, bodyguard and P.R. person, all in one. She keeps his buzz at a respectable level, she saves him from conversations she can tell start to make him uncomfortable and she introduces him to several coworkers. Some he knew and some he didn’t.

Before the night is through she shows up at his side while he’s talking to Poe and the girl from Sales, who he now knows is Jess. She’s got two shots in her hand. “One of these is for you and one for me. And after we take these, you will be dancing with me.”

And he does. Just one dance. Something fast that he’s never heard before and under any other circumstance he would feel so awkward, he’d crawl out of his skin, but tonight, right now, Rey is smiling at him. She’s smiling so hard he can see all her teeth, her nose scrunches in the most perfect way, and her eyes crinkle at the edges.

So he dances. And before he heads out to his Uber, Rey hugs him. “Thanks for coming tonight, Ben. I had so much fun.”

Ben walks out into the slightly cooler night air. Right now, Ben is actually happy.

 


 

It’s exactly 137 days after Rey was hired when Rey extends an invitation.

Ben isn’t even in the building yet when Rey is walking up to him in the parking lot.

“Hey, Ben,” she says with an absolutely beaming smile. She’s squinting her eyes against the sun trying to look at him, so Ben steps in closer to shade her face in the shadow of his body.

“Morning, Rey.” Ben notices she’s carrying an additional bag on top of her usual satchel. “You need help with that?”

She follows Ben’s line of sight to the bag hanging from her shoulder. “Oh. No, I’m good. It’s not that heavy.”

They start to make their way through the parking lot to the entrance.

“So, did you get all your grocery shopping done last night?”

“Most of it. They were out of the gluten-free bread I use to make the stuffing for Rose, so unfortunately I have to brave the ‘night before Thanksgiving’ crowds when I get off work tonight. I just have to get one thing, so it shouldn’t be too bad.”

“My mom keeps telling me I don’t have to bring anything, but I feel weird about showing up empty handed, so I’m bringing some good wine.”

“And flowers.”

“What?” Ben asks as he moves ahead to open the door for Rey.

“You should bring flowers. Your mom would like them.”

“Yeah, that’s a good idea. Thanks.”

They stop in front of his cubicle.

“I’ve got to go drop this off in the breakroom,” Rey motions to the bag she’s carrying. “So, I can’t chat this morning, but you want to do lunch with me?

“Works for me.” Ben says and he can’t hide his smile.

“Noon, good?”

“That’s perfect.”

“Excellent. I’ll drop by then.”

“What are we ordering?” Ben is hoping it isn’t Vietnamese again. Rey loves it, but Ben could do without another spring roll for the rest of his life.

“It’s a surprise!”

 ******

“Hey, Solo! Time for grub.”

Rey is right on time.

“You order already?” Ben asks.

“Lunch is ready in my office.”

“Oh, your office and not the breakroom? I’m starting to get nervous. Are you trying to get me alone so you can harvest my organs?”

“Shut up!”

“No. I got it. You couldn’t find a turkey when you went grocery shopping last night, so you’re planning to serve me with some fava beans and a nice Chianti tomorrow. Am I right?”

“God, Ben! If you want the sudden uptick in people thinking you’re not actually that weird to continue, you might want to cut down on the cannibal jokes.”

Ben breaks out into full-throated laughter.

“What Rey, normal people don’t make Hannibal Lecter jokes?”

“You’re ridiculous.”

“You like it.” Ben doesn’t know what possessed him to say that out loud.

“Maybe just a little.” There’s a slight upturn in her lips as Rey tries not to smile. Ben likes it.

They get to her office door and when she opens it, there are two plates of traditional Thanksgiving dinner at her desk.

Ben takes in the plates of turkey, mashed potatoes, green beans and cranberry sauce, then he looks back at Rey. He can tell she’s fighting down the smile she really wants to let loose, until he says something.

“Rey. Wow. This looks incredible. You really shouldn’t have.”

At his words, she stops biting down her smile and really lets it blossom. It’s one of those smiles you can see in her eyes.

“I figured for lunch we could do a mini, early version of Thanksgiving.”

“I love it. It’s a great idea. I can practice how to not be awkward around my mom tomorrow.” He gives a half-hearted smile and runs his fingers through his hair.

Rey punches him jokingly on the arm. “Don’t be dumb, you’re going to be fine. Now, come on. Let’s eat before it gets cold.”

They take a seat. Ben is constructing his perfect first forkful when Rey breaks the silence. “So, what’d your mom actually say when you told her you were going over for dinner?”

“She was excited. Happy.” Ben doesn’t tell Rey that Leia cried. Leia has called to invite him every year since he went to college and every year he made an excuse not to go. Leia, being Leia, never stopped asking, even though she knew what the answer would always be. So, when she asked this year and Ben said yes, she cried.

“See, I told you she wouldn’t be resentful. She never stopped trying, Ben. That means something.”

Rey told Ben about her childhood a couple weeks ago over their morning cup of coffee. Ben was discussing his disconnection with Leia, and Rey shared that her parents abandoned her when she was five—left her in a convenience store and never came back. It made Ben realize that some people didn’t even have what he had. He had lost his father, but his mother never let go of the idea of him.

“Yeah, I think after a few years it turned more into me not wanting to go because I was beating myself up for denying her all the time. She lost him just the same as I did, and then she lost me too. I shouldn’t have shut her out.”

“Well, you’re changing that and from the sounds of it, she’s happy about it.”

Ben is happy about it too. There’s was something about how his friendship with Rey helped make it easier for him to open up to even more people. Maybe it only took one person who didn’t remind him of what he’d lost, to break through that wall he erected in his mind to keep from feeling that kind of hurt again.

“She’s definitely happy. So, how about you and Rose? Got any big plans beside making her gluten-free stuffing?”

“As a matter of fact ... no.” Rey laughs. “Actually it will just be me, Rose and Finn.”

Finn is a name he’s heard more and more in the last month or so. He doesn’t know what exactly Finn’s relationship is to Rey, and Ben is too afraid to ask. He knows that as of a couple weeks ago Finn is not Rose’s boyfriend because that was his first question when Rey mentioned this new man. Rey called him a new friend when she first mentioned him and Ben can’t help but wonder if Finn is a friend in the same way Ben is. A friend who loves her more than a friend should. A friend who dreams of her laugh, and her future, and the way her ass looks in those wrap dresses.  

“Rose doesn’t know how to boil water and Finn’s a guest, so I’ll be doing all the cooking. This was my practice run, so to speak.”

“Well, they’re in for a treat.”

“Yeah?” Rey’s looking at him like she’s trying to suss out whether he’s being honest or just kind.

“Really.”

She seems satisfied with that answer.

“Ben, I was wondering if you knew what you were doing for Christmas. Are you spending it with your mom?”

“I don’t usually do Christmas, but when I was talking to my mom about tomorrow she mentioned she was going to visit my uncle in Maine. So, I’ll be here. Why?”

“Well, I was wondering if maybe you wanted to join me, Rose, and Finn.” She’s pointedly refusing to look him in the face. Opting to move around green beans on her plate instead.

“Seriously?”

“I mean you don’t have to if you had other plans, but I figured if you weren’t busy maybe you’d come. Rose’s parents rented some cabin in the mountains for us since they went to Mexico and it would be Rose’s first Christmas without them. It has four bedrooms and you’d even get your own bathroom. But, like I said if you don’t want to, it’s…”

“No. I want to. I’d like to meet Rose. You talk about her so much, it’d be nice to meet her in person.” Ben is not going to turn down the chance to spend Christmas with Rey. He was already dreading the days away from work when he wouldn’t see her.

“Cool. So, I was wondering if I could get a ride with you. Rose and Finn are going up there three days before with some fancy car service her parents ordered, but I can’t because we have the big holiday party with the developers that night. I’d drive my Fiat up there but I’ve never been to the mountains with it and your car’s a little bigger and might be better suited.”

“Oh. Sure. No problem.” That explains it. She needs a ride. Of course . Ben tries to school his face to hide the wave of disappointment that hits his heart. He obviously doesn’t do an effective job because Rey suddenly has a look of concern on hers.

“Hey, Ben, if you can’t or don’t want to come, you don’t have to. I just thought it’d be nice. I don’t want you to feel obligated.”

“No, it’s okay. I was just trying to remember when my last oil change was.” It’s a lie. Ben was trying to figure out how he’s going to get through spending Christmas in the mountains with a woman he’s in love with, but who doesn’t love him back. “How far out of town is it?”

“It’s a few hours. It’s in the Blue Ridge mountains.”

“Got it. Yeah, I’ll make sure the car’s good to go before we leave.”

They finish up lunch and Rey walks him to the door.

“Well, now I officially can’t wait for Christmas.” She says it with such genuine enthusiasm, Ben feels guilty. She’s happy. She’s happy, and he’s ruining the opportunity to relish in her happiness because he can’t let go of the idea of something more.

“I can’t wait either.”

 


 

It’s exactly 169 days after Rey was hired when Ben finally tells the truth.

It’s noon, two days before Christmas and Ben’s waiting in the parking lot at work. It’s freezing . Literally. Below freezing is much more accurate.

He sees Rey’s car pull up and he’s grateful she asked him for a ride. There was no way her car was making it to that cabin in this cold weather.

As soon as she parks next to him, he pops the trunk and steps out to help her with her bags. In addition to her luggage Rey has presents to put in the back. Her things join his duffel and the gifts he brought. They make quick work of putting the items in the trunk and hurry back into the car.

“Holy fucking shit! It’s cold out there,” Rey practically screams. She rubs her hands in front of the car vents in a desperate attempt to warm them.

“You are not wrong. Christ. It has never ever been this cold anywhere I’ve lived. We have fucked up the Earth and she’s out to kill us.” Ben double checks to make sure the heat is turned up full blast. It is.

“I mean what the hell is a polar vortex anyway? It doesn’t even sound real. It sounds like something a Captain Planet villain would unleash.” Rey is still warming her fingers near the vents.

“You should have worn gloves.”

“I had some. They were trash. They’re made for regular cold weather not a calamity unleashed by a dastardly villain. The polar vortex laughed in the face of my garbage gloves. They’re shoved into one of the bags in the back. “Skin on skin is warmer anyway,” she says as she rubs her hands together.

“Fair enough. Most everything is closed, so I doubt we’ll be able to get you a decent pair before we head up.”

“It’s okay. All the plans for fun, mountainside, outdoor activities went out the window once we saw the weather forecast. The place has a landline, so Rose called this morning and said the cabin is really nice and it’s cozy. Cozy better be code for hot as the surface of the sun because that’s what I’m going to need in order to not die. Every fireplace in that place better be blazing by the time we get there.”

Ben unlocks his phone. “Punch in the address for me.”

“I’m putting it in your phone, but I also printed out a copy because Rose said service gets shoddy up there.”

“You got it on you?”

“Yep.” She pulls several sheets of folded paper out of her coat pocket and sets them in the center console.

“You ready? Nothing you’re forgetting? ”

“I’m good. Fair warning - if your music selection sucks, we’re using my playlist.”

Ben pulls out of the parking lot and they’re on their way.

******

They’re only 45 minutes from the cabin when the car starts acting strangely. It sputters and shakes on an incline and when it won’t stop after a few minutes, Ben starts trying to get through to roadside assistance. Once they’re on the downslope, he pulls off the road, afraid of getting stuck and rear ended.

Ben keeps dialing the number and when the calls actually manage to go through, the line is busy every time.

He doesn’t stop trying and after 5 minutes or so, he gets someone on the line. “Yes, we’re about half a mile past mile marker 162.” He tells the operator. “Yeah, the car is still running for now . I can tell when a car is about to stall out and there’s no question this car is about to stall out.”

Ben looks over at Rey and can see the concern in her eyes. She has already gathered her coat from the backseat to put it back on.

“Okay. I understand. And, yes, I have one in the trunk.” He hangs up the phone and turns to Rey.

“I’m assuming by the look on your face that it’s not good news.”

“They said that this is happening all over the county. Some people are in worse off condition than we are. They’ve been sending rescue out, but they’re inundated with calls. They said it’d be hours.”

“Well, at least the car is still running.”

About half an hour after Rey says those words, the car stalls out. 

 *****

Ben is trying to remain calm. The temperature in the car has dropped so much that anxiety is setting in. He’s already pulled out the safety blanket from the emergency kit he keeps in the trunk and although he and Rey are sharing it, he can tell Rey is still too cold. Anytime there’s a lull in the conversation he can hear her teeth chattering. She’s shivering.

“Ben?”

“Yeah.”

“I think the blanket would be more effective if we both get in the backseat. We’ll be closer together and it’ll help keep in our body heat.”

Shit . Ben knows she’s right. It makes total sense, but he’s more than a little concerned that even in the life or death situation they currently find themselves, being that close to Rey will result in a very embarrassing situation for him. For them. He already had to avert his eyes as soon as she started rubbing her thighs for warmth earlier. If he can start to get hard from that , huddling together under a blanket is a recipe for disaster.

“You sure?”

“I’m freezing, Ben. I can tell you’re cold too. I just really need to warm up some. I promise I won’t bite,” she says with a smile.

“You’re right. That makes sense. Body heat is important.”

Rey is the first to climb in the backseat. After a bit of maneuvering Ben joins her.

As soon as they’re seated, Rey closes the gap between them. She presses her side against his as he pulls the crinkly mylar blanket over them.

“How long do you think it’ll take to warm up some more?” she asks, still shivering.

When he looks over at her to answer, he’s struck by the fact that it’s the closest his face has ever been to hers. He can see every single freckle that graces her cheeks and nose. It’s mesmerizing.

“Ben?”

“I’m sorry, what was that?” he asks trying to hide exactly how hopelessly enamored he is with each tiny freckle on her face.

“I was wondering how long you think it will take to warm up.”

“Oh, yeah. I’m really not sure.”

The answer ends up being ‘too long’ for Rey. After another half an hour of them shivering under the blanket, Rey makes another suggestion. “Okay. I’m still freezing. We’re both still shaking under here. I’m going to say something and I don’t want you to freak out.”

Ben is already freaking out.

“I think we should take off our clothes.”

“What?!” Ben chokes.

“You know they say body heat is good for this kind of thing and we’re not sharing our body heat if we’re both bundled up. You’ve got a lot more surface area and you’re basically holding out on me right now. I’m dying here. I mean, it’s actually starting to hurt.”

“Oh, God. Fuck. I’m sorry Rey. Yeah, I’m okay with whatever you think will warm you up. I just don’t know what we’re supposed to do.”

“So we’ll take off our clothes…” Rey starts.

“All of them?”  

“I mean, ideally, I think that’s what we’re supposed to do—you know the whole skin to skin thing—but if you don’t feel comfortable, we can at least strip down to our under clothes. What exactly do you have going on under there?”

The real answer is a burgeoning hard-on being kept at bay only by the cold and his anxiousness.

“Um, I’ve got on a sweater and some long underwear and my boxers.”

“Perfect. We’ll just strip down to our long underwear. That way we can still be comfortable.”

Ben and Rey go about removing their clothing trying to stay under the safety blanket as much as possible.

“So, basing this solely on several very B rated movies I’ve seen, since I’ve never actually been in a situation like this, we’re supposed to cuddle basically.”

“Cuddle?”

“Well, yeah. I’m thinking it’s best if you lay down and I lay down on top of you. It’ll give us the most surface to surface contact.”

Ben’s brain loses all cognitive function for about 10 seconds at her words.

“I lay down and you lay on top of me?”

“Yeah. I promise I’m not that heavy, plus honestly it looks like you can handle it.”

Ben is pretty certain what’s going to end up happening once her body is pressed against his in that way, but the embarrassment can be endured if it means Rey gets color back in her lips and her teeth stop chattering. Ben tells himself he is in control here. He’ll think virtuous thoughts and hope for the best. Rey needs him right now and he can’t let his damn cock get in the way.

“Okay. Let’s do this.”

“Really, Ben? Oh my god. You’re a fucking saint.”

Rey slides off the backseat to allow Ben to lie down. His legs are too long to lay flat, so they’re slightly bent at the knees. As soon as Ben is as comfortable as he can get given the circumstances, Rey climbs on top of him. She lays her hands on his chest to brace herself while she straddles his hips. Once she’s seated on top of him, she lowers her chest to his and Ben brings up the blanket to cover them. For good measure, he places their jackets on top of the blanket.

They both eventually get comfortable in their new positions and silence descends in the car. It somehow feels right, this moment. Ben tries not to let his mind dwell on how perfectly Rey fits, or how amazing she smells, or how she’s humming with contentment now instead of chattering because of the cold. Despite the still frigid temperatures inside of the car, he feels he’s finally starting to relax.

The quiet and the comfort start to lull Ben into sleep when he suddenly feels Rey move her hips.

This is not good. “Hey, Rey.”

“Yeah.”

“It’s probably a good idea if you don’t move around too much.”

“Oh. Okay. I was just trying to get comfortable.”

“I get it. It’s okay. But, maybe we don’t move around so much. Conserve our energy, you know?” Yeah, conserve our energy and my dignity.

Ben quickly realizes the damage is done. The movement of her hips on his has made him acutely aware that the very pronounced heat he feels directly over his cock is Rey’s core separated from him by only a few thin layers of fabric. That realization is all it takes for his cock to grow unbearably hard in record time.

Rey chooses this exact moment to start making those small movements with her hips again.

“Rey.” His breath is shaky and he can see it when it leaves his body.

He can feel how hard her nipples are against his chest. Her hips are set perfectly over his. Her head is laying right over his heart and he can see the wisps of condensation every time she takes a short, shuddering breath.

He’s trying to slow the rapid, incessant drumming of his heart, but this situation is quickly spinning out of control.

They’re lying there and he knows she can feel it . He’s harder than he’s ever been in his life, and if she doesn’t stop moving her hips like that, this whole situation is bound to get even more embarrassing.

“Rey, please. Listen, I’m sorry about his whole thing. I’m sorry we’re stuck like this. I hope rescue can get here soon. But, I’m really fucking embarrassed right now and if you keep moving like that, this is just going to get even more awkward.”

He feels her take a shaky breath and then she rubs her warm core on his hard cock again .

Ben can’t suppress his moan. As soon as it escapes his lips he grabs her hips hard, to still them.

“Rey, I’m trying to be tactful about this...”

“Stop,” she interrupts. “Stop trying to be tactful , Ben. I can feel how hard you are. I can feel your heart racing. I know you feel it too.”

“What? Feel what, Rey?”

“I think you want me … and I want you too, Ben. I have for so long. And ... fuck, this isn’t how I wanted this to happen.”

“I don’t understand.”

“That’s because you’re the most oblivious man on the planet, Ben Solo. In case I haven’t made it perfectly clear these last few months, I like you. So, so much. You never said or did anything that let me think you wanted more, so I let it go. I knew you had trouble letting people in in that way and I didn’t wanted to push. I wanted to wait until you were ready. You’ve done so well lately, I thought maybe this trip would be our chance.”

Genuine confusion sets in for Ben. “But, why? Why would you like me?”

She lifts her head to look him in the eyes. Her brows are furrowed, but they soften and reverence replaces confusion in her face.

“Well, you’re beautiful, for one.” She brings her hand up and traces a finger over his scar. Ben trembles beneath her.

“I’m not.”

“You are. Don’t argue with me.”

She brings her hand back down into the mild warmth of the nest they’ve made of their jackets and the emergency blanket, but she keeps her eyes on his.

“But, it’s mainly because you made me feel special.”

“I did?”

“I’d heard all these stories about you, but you were always so nice to me. You never really talked to anyone else in the office … I don’t know, I thought you liked me too.”

There’s a tinge of sadness in the way she says it and he can’t let it stand.

“God, Rey, I did. I do . I swear it. It’s just … Fuck, I’m such an idiot. I don’t know what I’m doing. I don’t ever do this and I just figured a woman like you would never be into me. You deserve better, Rey. You’re so perfect and I’m an asshole.”

“But, you’re not. You’ve never been to me. And you’re not to other people anymore, either. I know why you did it, Ben. Why you pushed people away. I did it for a long time too. When I was younger I wouldn’t let anyone in. I figured if my own parents didn’t want me then who ever would? What was I worth? You lost someone you loved so much and you built the same wall I did once. You have to let it go, Ben. Just be here with me. Please .”

There’s such earnestness in her eyes, he can barely breathe. He lets go of the hold he has on her hips. He bows his head and she raises hers. He can feel the warmth emanating from her mouth and when their lips meet, Ben is sure he’s never felt more right . His anxiousness ebbs and he can get out of his own head long enough to truly savor the feel of her soft, warm lips moving against his. She opens her mouth more to deepen the kiss. The slide of her tongue against his, and the tug she gives his lower lip with her teeth are enough to get a moan out of him. Her mouth is so warm. He never wants to stop.

She starts to move her hips again. Moving herself in small circles against his erection.

He breaks the kiss and finds her eyes. “I don’t know what I’m doing, Rey. I mean I haven’t ever…”

“It’s okay. Let me make it good for you.”

She grabs his hand and moves it between their bodies. She lifts her hips and pulls his hand under the long underwear she’s wearing. She pushes his fingers past her panties to let him feel her. She dips one of his thick fingers into her entrance.

“Fuck, Rey.”

“You feel that, Ben? You feel how wet I am? You did that to me.”  

She brings his fingers up to circle her clit slowly and keens.

“There, Ben. Touch me there.”

He moves his fingers in small circles like she showed him. She lifts herself to sitting and he immediately misses the warmth of her chest pressed against his. He stills his fingers for just a second.

“Don’t stop, Ben. Don’t stop touching me.”

Ben moves his fingers again and feels her whole body shiver.

“It feels good, Ben. You’re doing so well for me.”

She shimmies her long johns and panties down. She can’t get them off completely with both of them in the tight space of the back seat, but she lowers them enough to give herself range of motion and for him to finally see his fingers buried between the folds of her cunt.

“Fuck, Rey. I don’t know if I’m … You’re so fucking beautiful. I don’t know if I can hold on.” His voice is strained and it’s taking everything in his willpower to not come just from seeing the way his fingers glisten with her arousal when they move around her clit.

“Just close your eyes, Ben. Hold on a little longer. Wait for me.”

Ben closes his eyes, but doesn’t dare stop touching her. His sense of hearing heightened, he hears the soft little mewls that escape her mouth whenever he presses just right. Her breath is coming out in short, sharp pants. He can hear how slick she is when he rubs against her. The sound shoots straight to his cock.

He can’t believe she’s letting him do this to her.

Suddenly he feels her fingers reach for the waistband of his long underwear and he can feel her start to pull them down. His cock twitches. She taps his hip. “Lift.”

He lifts his hips enough for her to bring down his long underwear and his boxer briefs with them. He gasps as the cold hits the skin that’s previously been warmed by her lithe body pressed against it.

“Don’t worry, I’m going to warm you right up.”

She grabs his cock and strokes it languidly in her small warm hand. “Ben, your cock is so perfect.”

He groans. Between the words coming out of her mouth and the way her fingers are working up and down his length, he’s coming up on a precipice and he doesn’t want to fall off. Not yet.

“Oh, my God. Fuck, Rey. You’re amazing. But, I’m close. I won’t last long.”

“I’m close too, Ben. You’ve done so well.” She pulls his hand from her clit and moves it to her hip. She shifts her body and he can feel her positioning his cock at her entrance. He can feel how wet she is. How warm.

“Open your eyes, Ben. I want you to see how you split me open. It’s so warm in there. I can’t wait for you to feel it.”

He opens his eyes and before his addled brain can really process what she said, she slowly lowers herself - enveloping him in her warm wet heat.

Ben feels like he’s about to fall apart at the seams. She’s looking into his eyes with such adoration, his heart can barely stand it.

“Rey.” He utters her name like a shaky benediction as she takes him inside.

She lowers her eyes to where they’re joined and gasps. Her thighs already shaking.

“Look, Ben. Look at what you’re doing to me.”

She starts to lift her hips. Lifting enough so he can see where they’re joined as she moves up and back down to the hilt. He can see the way his cock is stretching her. Her cunt gripping him as she raises and lowers herself. He can feel every inch of the inside of her as she moves atop him.

“Fuck, Ben it’s so much. I’m so full.” Her short breaths come louder and faster and every time she moans, Ben feels it directly in his cock. “I’m going to come, Ben. Touch me again. Like before.”

His hand moves back to work her clit as she slides up and down his length.

“God, Rey you feel so good. So fucking perfect.” He can feel her cunt clenching around him as he works his fingers while she rides his cock. Her thighs are shaking even more and Ben can’t hold out any longer.

“Oh, god, Rey. I’m sorry. I’m going to come.”

“Come in me, Ben. If you come, I’ll come. I need to feel it.”

Rey quickens her efforts and Ben follows suit. For every punishing bounce, his thumb strums her clit. The fluttering of her cunt sends Ben over the edge “Rey .” He paints the insides of her cunt with his come and is still coming down when Rey’s entire body goes rigid and she goes completely silent. He feels the tight clench of her climax on his cock. “Ben .” It’s barely above a whisper. She opens her eyes and finds his. She lowers her face and kisses him, breathing heavy through her mouth. Her body softens and the grip she had on his undershirt loosens.

She slowly lifts herself off of him and he’s able to pull up his boxers and long underwear while she also redresses. She leans back over him. Lying back on him like she was when this all started. Her chest pressed to his. After a few quiet moments she says, “I love you, Ben Solo. It might seem crazy for me to say it, but I do.”

Ben strokes his hand along her back. “It’s not crazy. I love you, too.”

After a few moments of blissful silence, Rey looks up and chuckles before laying her head back down. “You know we made an absolute mess in here.”

Ben laughs.

“Rescue is going to get here and as soon as we step out all they’ll smell is sex. No hiding it.”

“I’m thinking statistically speaking, sex while stranded in a life threatening scenario has to be fairly common. They’re probably used to worse.”

“I guess that makes sense. Hey, Ben.”

“Yeah, Rey?”

“I’m happy you accepted the invite.”

“Me too.”

It’s exactly 169 days after Rey was hired when she tells the truth too.