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(I Want to See You) As You Are Now

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“Ben, c’mon, you promised.”

“I’m sorry.” His voice is slightly tinny over the phone, without that pleasant rumble that accompanies so many of his words in person. “Some stuff got moved around in my schedule today. I’ll still be there, just later. Sorry I can’t drive you.”

Rey huffs, phone awkwardly pressed up to her ear with one shoulder while she scrubs at the dishes in her sink. “Fine. I can see if Finn can come get me. There’s no way I’m hauling three trays of lasagna on the bus. Also, who the hell requests lasagna for a party?”

“Poe Dameron. The inscrutable fuck.”

“Mm. Well, I’ll forgive you if you promise to go to brunch with me tomorrow. No matter how hungover we are. I already want waffles.”

“You’ve got it.” Ben’s voice is going even thinner over the line; his connection must be getting worse. “I’ll see you tonight. Good luck with the lasagnas.”

“Jesus. See you, Ben.”

She hangs up and takes a deep breath and stares at the dishes now nestled neatly in her drying rack. See? She did fine. Not even a single butterfly this time. If she just keeps trying, she’ll eventually be able to actually convince herself she hasn’t been head-over-heels for Ben Solo for the past six months.

Occasionally she lets herself suspect he might like her, too. The way he looks at her, sometimes—but no, going down that line of thought never helps. Rey re-focuses, punches in a quick text to Finn to see if he can pick her up to take her and the lasagnas to Poe’s place.

The foil trays of lasagna are keeping warm in the oven, and the dishes are done. When Finn’s confirmation text comes in, Rey hurries to finish getting ready. A quick shower to get the sweaty baking-multiple-lasagnas-in-her-tiny-kitchen-with-no-AC-in-August funk off herself, a speedy application of a little makeup, taking her suppressants, throwing on a sun dress and shoving a cardigan in her bag in case the night gets chilly. She does an excellent job of not thinking about Ben until she slides into the passenger seat of Finn’s car, three trays of lasagna stacked carefully on her lap, and he grins at her and says, “Ready for the inevitable shenanigans of Poe’s birthday?”

On the outside, Rey grins and says, “Yup. I plan to get half-stupid on cider and eat a whole tray of this by myself.”

On the inside, she’s reminded that Poe’s birthday last year was the first time she met Ben.

 

——

 

Nobody has to tell her Ben is an alpha for her to know. It’s obvious, when Poe introduces him as his childhood friend and Rey shakes his hand. He’s tall as fuck, broad-shouldered and solid-chested, and she can catch a whiff of his scent. It’s faint, but the tone of it is definitely alpha.

He must not be on blockers—there’s no trace of that vague chlorine-like scent that always signifies blockers—so the faintness of his scent must mean they aren’t particularly compatible, biologically. That’s good, at least. Keeps things simpler.

“Nice to meet you,” Rey says, smiling up at him, because his eyes look very soft even if his face looks nearly stony. She recognizes something in that softness, though she can’t quite name it yet.

“Likewise,” he says, and his voice is a pleasant low rumble.

She loses him for a while, hanging out with Finn and Rose in the living room, laughing with Paige and Tallie in the kitchen, peeking at Jessika’s cards over her shoulder while Finch unsuccessfully tries to win this hand of poker. But eventually she wanders onto the back porch for some air, and he’s out there.

Ben’s not standing with the circle of smokers off in the grass. He’s sitting on the porch steps, head craned back.

Rey plops down unceremoniously next to him, just a bit spinny-drunk. “Whatcha doin’, Solo?”

The corner of his mouth quirks in the ghost of a smile. “Finding constellations.”

“You know constellations?” He’s kind enough not to laugh when her tongue is a bit thick to form the last word. “Show me?”

His smile broadens, though still tight-lipped, and he lifts one arm and points up at the sky.

 

——

 

They get there a bit early, only a handful of folks already there. Rose, of course, since she and Finn had arrived together before Finn came all the way back out to pick up Rey. Nix, Finch, and Paige are setting up the drinks table, Tallie is running a vacuum (she briefly shoots Rey a can-you-believe-this look, but Rey isn’t surprised Poe didn’t think to vacuum), Poe’s little red-and-white corgi Beebee is following her at a safe distance and watching the vacuum like it’s going to attack any moment, and Snap and Jessika are out in the back yard with Poe, trying to set up a net for—Rey’s first thought is badminton, absurdly, but it’s probably volleyball. That’s new.

Over the next few hours, enough folks will trickle in that eventually the place will be packed, but for now, it’s nice. Airy, even.

“Poe!” Rey hollers out the open back window. She hopes he’ll close that and turn the air conditioner on before too many people get here. “Should I put these in the oven?”

“The lasagna!” He’s all boyish delight, abandoning the net (Jessika throws some choice words at his back) and bounding up the back stairs, bursting into the kitchen. “Rey. Rey Johnson. Angel of the noodle, goddess of the sauce, patron saint of the cheese. I’m so glad you’re here.”

She rolls her eyes but can’t help smiling. Poe’s very good at making people smile. “You don’t need to butter me up. I already brought them.”

“Oven is fine, until folks get here. Or for the whole night. What d’you say—you and I sneak back to the woods and eat it all ourselves?”

“Ben would kill you,” Tallie quips, walking by with the vacuum in tow. “He loves Rey’s lasagna.”

Rey turns to the oven, ducking her head and letting her hair fall over her cheek to hide the flush she feels blooming. It doesn’t mean anything. She knows everyone loves her lasagna. (And she loves feeding it to them. Food, once she could access it reliably, quickly became her love language. Food means you’re safe and taken care of, and she wants her friends to feel that way.)

But part of her whispers, you make him happy .

An even smaller, quieter part of her whispers, you make your alpha happy .

No. Shoosh. Shut up. Rey takes a deep breath. Ben isn’t her alpha. Won’t ever be her alpha. Because she doesn’t want an alpha, and even if she did, he doesn’t want her. And she can barely smell him. And he’s her friend. A whole litany of reasons to absolutely not think in those terms.

“So. Cider?” she says, once the lasagnas are in and the oven set to warm. Because the sooner she gets some alcohol in her, the sooner she can stop thinking about Ben in all the wrong ways. She hopes.

 

——

 

Rey’s heats last four days, like clockwork. Her suppressants have managed to regulate them somewhat, for which she’s unendingly grateful. The first two days are… bearable, as heats go. Which is to say she’s feverish and miserable and constantly masturbating to the point of soreness, never feeling satisfied no matter how many times she comes, lying in cool baths to try to take the edge off, carefully sipping ginger ale and eating nothing but oranges—the only thing she ever wants, for some reason, during heat—to not make her stomach rebel. Itchy and cramping and too constantly wet and squirmy to stand leaving home. She hurts , and her own efforts aren’t enough to make it stop. But at least her mind is clear. She tells herself it’s no worse than a flu, just different symptoms. (This isn’t really true, but it helps her get through it.)

The third day is the day that makes her absolutely hate being an omega. She usually sleeps a little, the night of the second day, a bit restlessly and too hot, but she sleeps. But then she snaps awake, before dawn more often than not, absolutely burning up from the inside out. Shaking and dizzy and scared. She knows the only thing that fixes it is a knot, and her reliable knotted dildo helps soothe the heat and pain a little. But if the forums are to be believed, toys are nothing like the real thing. Which might be why she ends up spiking feverish again, over and over, crying into her pillows and begging someone who isn’t there to help her, to take care of her, to take her. She can hear herself, begging and whining and weeping. It makes her feel alien to herself, but she can’t stop it. No matter how many times she comes, she can’t stop it.

The fourth day is better, but only because the worst of it breaks. She still can’t sleep, and she’s exhausted from the roller-coaster of hormones, muscles tired and aching from the strain of chasing so many never-good-enough orgasms. She can’t even think of eating or drinking on the third day, which leaves her feeling fully hung-over the fourth. But she puts an ice pack between her legs and lies in bed, sipping ginger ale even more carefully. Dozing, no longer feverish but wrung-out in a whole new way, still aching to be—well, to be mounted, knotted, and impregnated. That’s what heats are for. But by the fourth day it doesn’t hurt as much, and she’s so tired and the fire has burned so long she just lies there, her body always wanting something she’s too exhausted to give it, and waits for it to be over.

She tries to be grateful. Before her suppressants, every day of her heat felt like that third day. It’s better, now. The edge is taken off, just a bit. Just enough. But it always still leaves her stupid and mewling and vulnerable and spent.

She refuses to let anyone see her like that. Least of all someone she actually likes.

 

——

 

Rey does, in fact, pace herself. Poe’s parties tend to run late, and she doesn’t want to get sloppy if she can help it. She plays a round of volleyball, kicking her flats off into the grass and getting way more into it than she should in a dress without shorts underneath; she dances with Rose and Pammich in the living room for what feels like a solid half an hour, giggling and cheeks flushing; she means to go upstairs for the bathroom up there, since someone is in the downstairs one, but sees Kaydel coming down and ends up sitting in the middle of the steps with her for a while, because Kaydel just got some houseplants to try to freshen up her place and everyone knows that Rey, with her army of ferns and parlor palms and pothos, is the resident house plant expert. “Oh god, get rid of the snake plant,” she says earnestly. “You have cats. Give it to me, I’ll trade you one of my peperomia. They’re cute and won’t make your kitties sick.”

She’s flopped on the couch, drinking her third cider with her legs flung over Finn’s lap while they talk aimlessly, when she realizes she hasn’t seen Ben yet.

“Um.” She breaks into one of the brief lulls in their conversation. “Did Ben get here yet? I don’t think I’ve seen him.”

Finn’s brow furrows. “I don’t think so. I haven’t seen him either.”

“He said he’d be late, but I thought he just meant he wouldn’t be here for setup.”

An eye roll from Finn. “Maybe he’s off having a temper tantrum at some cashier who forgot to ring up his pack of gum or something.”

“First of all,” Rey says, carefully, “he doesn’t get angry like that very often anymore. Only when he’s all—you know. Alpha-y.” If her cheeks flush, she can, at this point, blessedly blame it on the cider. “And second of all, even when he does get all testosterone-ragey, he never yells at customer service workers. It’s one of his best points.”

Finn snorts. “Of course you’d say that,” he says, but not unkindly. “Since you’re all in love with him.”

Oh. Her face gets hot in a way she definitely cannot blame on alcohol. “First of all,” she says again, much less carefully, “rude. Second of all—I am not in love with him.”

Finn looks at her with something very nearly approaching pity. “Hon. There’s no way you’re still in denial about that.”

“I,” Rey says, “am going to put my foot in your face if you don’t shut up. And I was barefoot in the backyard. There might be Beebee poop on my toes.”

“Gross.”

“You were rude, I am gross. This is why we’re best friends.”

He breaks into a smile at that, and thankfully, he lets the thing about Ben go.

 

——

 

“This is…”

Rey is in Ben’s apartment for the first time, and she’s immediately wondering if it’s a mistake.

It’s very clean. But there’s broken glass on the kitchen floor and a shattered table lamp scattered across the living room carpet, both of which she can see from the rug in the entryway.

Ben isn’t meeting her gaze, like he hasn’t since he opened the door. “I told you it was a bad time.”

“Um.” Rey holds out the glass bowl in her hands carefully. “Well, I brought the stuff like I promised. The—uh, the rice is nice and fluffy. And the tofu is in a sweet chili sauce.” Why is she babbling about the dish like some kind of living menu? “The thing about tofu is—it’s nice, because it has such a neutral flavor, you can make it taste however you want. And since you’re new to it, I figured, why not highlight that with something bold?” Yet apparently, she’s going to keep going. “So I hope—I hope you like—sweet chili…”

His back is almost completely to her. “Thanks.”

She isn’t sure if she should joke. She tries anyway. “The bowl’s glass, so, you know, be careful of those butterfingers.”

Ben doesn’t laugh. He reaches up and rubs the back of his neck, carefully keeping his fingers away from his scent gland. Rey tries not to stare at the size of his hands. Recently she’s been noticing how big his hands are. How nice they look. She’s not sure what to do about that.

“It wasn’t butterfingers,” he says. His voice is flat, but he can’t hide the emotion in it. He’s embarrassed, she realizes. “It was rut.”

“Oh—oh.”

“Not that that’s an excuse. I don’t get to be an asshole just because my hormones are fucking with me.” He turns just enough that she can see his profile. There’s a tight, humorless smile making his face look hard. “It took me a lot longer to realize that than it should have. I’m glad you met me five months ago instead of a year ago. You wouldn’t have liked me.”

“I’m sure that’s not true.”

He makes a small noise. “No. Maybe not.”

Rey shifts from one foot to the other. “It’s not the same thing,” she says, softly, “but I know how it feels. Being at the mercy of your biology. Becoming—not like yourself.” A heavy pause. “It sucks.”

Ben takes a while to respond. Eventually he nods. “Yeah. It does.” He turns, then, and holds out his hands. Rey gives him the bowl of food, and he almost smiles at her. “Thank you.”

 

——

 

Two pans of the lasagna are gone and it’s pushing close to nine when Rey chances a glance out the front window and sees Ben’s car pulling onto the street. Her heart leaps. “Down, girl,” she murmurs to herself, taking a deep breath and centering herself.

He seems to take forever to make his way into the house, but Rey makes sure she’s drifted into the living room, within sight of the front door, by the time he finally comes in. Even across the sea of people she can see his shoulders are tense and his brow is furrowed, but that’s nothing new. It’s a little strange that his eyes are darting around like that, but maybe he’s just—

Oh. Oh . It hits her, sudden and warm and wafting, a deep, thrumming note hanging in the air. Not in sound, but in scent. It’s rich and smooth and rolling over her and it’s Ben, oh fuck it’s Ben —it’s his scent, the scent she’s noticed before so small and faint, but now it’s bigger and firmer and making every single nerve ending in her body spark.

Rey swallows. Her throat is very dry. The same can’t be said for other parts of her anatomy, just now.

And then he sees her staring at him. Her heart pounds, stutters; but then Ben turns away, ducking off into the dining room, but not before Rey sees his ears burning red behind his hair.

She takes a deep breath and plasters on a grin and follows.

She catches up to him in the kitchen. “Hey! You finally made it!” Her tone only sounds a little forced, which she’ll take. “I was starting to worry you’d—um, you know. Forgot. Or something.” Fuck, she’s having trouble thinking straight, between being so caught off guard (since when does Ben Solo smell like this?) and the way his scent is making her legs wobble and her belly twinge.

Ben shrugs. “I had some… issues.”

And Rey is struggling to think what to say next, to pretend she’s not half-dizzy from him out of the blue, when Poe sails in, eyes and smile shining, saying, “Solo, you made it—” and stops, balking, leaning in to dramatically sniff Ben (which is rude, but Poe is drunk) and instead saying, “Dude, why aren’t you on your blockers?”

“Blockers?” Rey hears her own voice come out a bit faint.

Now Ben’s cheeks are flushing, too. “I missed—I didn’t call in my refill soon enough, I’m—”

“You’re on blockers?”

“Well not right now, obviously,” Poe snorts.

“You can’t be on blockers. You never smell… like a swimming pool.”

Ben opens his mouth to answer, but Poe jumps in. “You know Solo. Good job. He can afford Barripro.”

Ah. High-end blockers. Rey’s never known anyone who uses them—or so she thought, anyway—and she’d always figured the claim they don’t leave any trace blocking scent was an exaggeration. Apparently not.

She really, really wishes she’d known. Because incredibly embarrassing things are starting to happen in her underwear and she’s at a party, for fuck’s sake, in a sundress, and the last thing she needs is to soak her own lubrication through her skirt in front of everyone—

Ben’s gaze snaps to her. He inhales sharply, involuntarily.

Rey sees his eyes dilate.

His scent grows fuller and richer.

Oh no. Oh fuck.

Oh fuck .

“Have you tried the lasagna?” she tries, desperately. “I put extra—”

“Can I talk to you?” Ben’s voice is low. Poe is watching them, gaze ping-ponging back and forth between them, but Ben’s staring at Rey, hard. “Outside? For a minute?”

“Um. Sure.”

And he reaches out and lightly, very gently, touches her elbow, to turn her and steer her toward the door, but it makes her stiffen and sends an electric thrum up her entire arm and she shivers visibly and this is the most mortifying thing and thank god for the fresh air outside, heavy and warm though it is, because being in a closed-in room with him was starting to make her—

Rey leans away from his touch and skips down the stairs. The smokers are not out here in their circle right now; everyone is still inside. “So. You—normally are on blockers. Didn’t—didn’t know that.”

He’s keeping his distance, hands jammed in his pockets. His jaw is very tense. “Didn’t you—didn’t you wonder why you couldn’t scent me?”

“Well, I could. Just—only a little. Faint. It was, um, it was nice. But faint. So I thought…” She isn’t looking at him now. There’s a park at the back of Poe’s neighborhood; she can see it through the trees if she stares hard enough, and she’s staring hard enough right now, so she doesn’t stare at Ben. Who is her friend. Who isn’t into her (except just now, apparently, because her scent had to have spiked just then in the kitchen, and he clearly smelled it because he clearly got aroused and oh shit oh fuck this is a nightmare).

“What?” Ben’s voice is very soft, now, behind her.

“I figured we weren’t compatible. Biologically.”

“Considering that once you smelled me, your scent spiked enough for me to catch it full in the face through your suppressants, I’d say that’s not accurate.”

She whirls around. “Please don’t be a smartass right now. I’m—I’m really embarrassed.”

“Why?”

“Because!” Rey gestures between them helplessly. “We’re friends, Ben.”

His eyes are dark in the night, in the yellow glow from the windows. “Friends are allowed to be attracted to each other.”

“But it’s not—it isn’t me ,” she finally manages to say. It hurts, twists in her throat, but that’s the point, isn’t it? “You’re not attracted to me, you’re attracted to my scent. And I hate, I hate being attractive as an omega, not as a person. I hate it, Ben, and I couldn’t stand it from you.”

He doesn’t answer her right away. The crickets are loud. There’s a burst of laughter from inside the house, over on the dining room side. The thrum of the music is audible, if muffled. Rey wraps her arms around herself and stares at the ground, feeling her cheeks burning.

“Rey.” His scent shifts. Rey looks up; when did he get so close? He’s staring down at her, gaze heavy, brow furrowed. “You think I’m only attracted to your scent?”

Her lips part. She feels her own brow furrow. A quizzical pair, the two of them, goggling at each other in confusion in Poe Dameron’s backyard. “Aren’t you?”

Ben’s eyes fall closed, and he swears softly. “Maybe we should talk.”

 

——

 

Poe, Paige, and Rose slide into one side of the booth without even discussing who’ll sit where, and Tallie slips right in up against the window on the other side. Rey’s next, has to be next, because Ben is behind her and she’s not exactly going to make a scene about where she sits.

But before she can climb into the booth, a steady hand curls around her wrist. “I’ll sit in the middle,” Ben says in his easy rumble, holding Rey in place as he steps past her.

Is—is her face getting a little warm? She shakes it off by crinkling her nose at him teasingly. “You’ll never fit in the middle, you tree.”

He looks down at her with a small, easy smile. “You hate sitting in the middle.” And before she can even reply, he folds himself up in middle of the bench next to Tallie.

She’s never said that. She’s never once said out loud that she hates sitting in the middle. But she does. And Ben noticed. Her heart squeezes up into her throat a little, and she sits down slowly, feeling different, suddenly.

Ben is way too tall to be in the middle, with how narrow the booths are at this diner. His legs keep bumping Paige’s under the table, which makes him frown a little. (He’s always very aware of his size; “I’m too big,” he had told her once, quietly, while driving her home from a big friends’ dinner at Jessika’s for which she’d made a pasta primavera that had half her friends nearly swooning. She had held the empty bowl in her lap while Ben explained, “Most of the time it feels like I take up too much space, like there’s nothing made to fit me,” and she knew he meant friendships and relationships and emotional regulation, not doorways or roller-coaster seats, so she had forced her voice bright and light when she said, “Don’t say that. You’re just the right size.”) Rey notices his discomfort but doesn’t know what to say. He’d insisted.

Poe debates with Tallie over which of them should get the trash hash (as the diner affectionately names their mess of fried potatoes, sloppy joe meat, bacon, and jalapenos, all topped with full squares of melty yellow cheese) and which should get the hotcakes, since they both want both and plan to just eat off each other’s plates. Rose quickly settles on an omelet and folds her menu cheerfully before asking her sister what she’ll get. Paige, who just came off her heat and still has dark circles under her eyes, answers Rose’s inquiry with “Oatmeal and the fruit cup, I think. Tea sounds good.”

Rey means to be reading the menu, but she’s hyper-aware of Ben trying to keep his legs off Paige’s. She realizes it’s partly his discomfort with his own size but partly—she realizes when he spares a furtive glance at Paige—trying to be nice. Trying to give her space. To not be some alpha all up in her business.

That makes Rey’s heart squeeze again, but deeper, in a way she decides she’s not ready to examine.

Eventually he shifts his weight, adjusts how his legs are sitting. His right knee bumps up against Rey’s left knee and stays there, and she takes in a little gasp of breath at the contact, which frankly surprises herself.

He glances down at her, and across the table, Rose furrows her brow. “What’s up, Rey?”

They’d heard the gasp. “I just noticed,” she says, pushing her voice bright. “They have waffles with peanut butter stuffed inside.”

Ben inclines his head closer to Rey’s. “Dark chocolate chips and whipped cream on top? If you don’t order that, I’ll order it for you. I’ve never seen anything more Rey.”

The warmth spilling against her neck from his breath only makes her shiver because it’s such a contrast to the diner’s air conditioning. It must be. But she can’t think of a similarly convenient excuse for why the sound of her name in his voice, now, all of a sudden, after months of friendship, is setting butterflies loose in her tummy.

He made sure she got the seat on the outside.

Rey, of course, orders the waffle.

 

——

 

Ben says they need to talk, but then he just… stares down at her. Goosebumps prickle along the back of Rey’s neck, along her bare arms, even though the night is warm. His gaze is dark and heavy. “Are you drunk?” he asks, softly. A gentle question, not an accusation.

She shakes her head. “I was a little bit earlier. It’s pretty much gone now.”

“Okay.”

And he still doesn’t talk about… it. Them. Whatever he wanted to talk about. He swallows noticeably and his hand twitches at his side. Rey is trying to figure out how to start this conversation, but he’s standing close to her and his scent is all in her nose, in her eyes, in her hair, it’s like he’s everywhere and the way he smells matches the way she feels about him and it’s too much. Both her heart and her body are freaking out, and that makes it harder for her brain to get a word in edgewise.

She tries anyway, flinching when her voice pitches up into nervous squeakiness. “So you did say you want to talk, right? Because you’re currently doing a very good impression of… of someone who doesn’t talk.”

Ben snorts. “That was not your best quip.”

“Well pardon me, it’s hard to think straight when you smell so good.”

“I know,” he says, quite softly. “Me too.”

Rey’s breath comes a bit thin when she replies, “You can’t think straight because you smell so good? Narcissist.”

His mouth twitches sideways into half a smile. “That was a better quip.”

“Thank you. I tried.” One side of his face is illuminated in the warm glow from Poe’s back windows, but the other side is washed in the moonlight. It falls softly on his dark hair, his dark eyes, his pale skin, his full lips. She takes a slow breath in, then pushes onward. “So you… were you implying you’re not only just attracted to me because of… how I smell?”

He shakes his head slowly. “You… are an amazing person. Everything about you is attractive.” He glances upward. “Although I’m a little mad your suppressants work so well, if you smell this amazing too and I’ve been missing it all this time.”

Oh that’s not even fair, the way that makes her breath catch, the way it makes her heart flutter. But she can’t—she doesn’t want to—“Do you like me?” she asks, needs to hear him say it clearly. “Not as an omega, but as a person?”

Ben leans in closer. The moonlight looks right, on him. “I like you. As a person.”

“I like you,” she nearly whispers. “As a person.”

And then his eyes flutter closed and he lets out this huge sigh and he brings both hands up to gently cradle her face, his forehead leaning down even lower to rest against hers. He doesn’t say anything, just holds her face and breathes softly, hands warm against her skin.

Rey lifts her own hands to rest her fingers lightly against his cheek. Ben shivers at her touch. Rey can feel the thin sliver of space between their faces, can feel the electricity of it. “I really want to kiss you,” she says, “but I’m worried it’s not a good idea.”

“Kiss me anyway,” he murmurs, “and tell me why it’s a bad idea after.” Her fingers shift against his cheek. “Please.”

And how could she refuse, when his voice breaks like that on the last word? Rey closes her eyes and cups his face and finally, finally, finally kisses Ben.

His lips are warm and firm and pliant, moving perfectly against hers, responding to every touch. Rey’s core shivers and tightens, and her hands slide back to weave fingers into his hair, and he hums against her lips, his thumbs brushing her cheeks, and god, her heart feels so full she can’t feel a thing that isn’t Ben.

Then he parts his lips against hers, and when she opens her mouth for him, everything goes hot and swift.

The soft kiss turns hungry. His scent—it’s not just his, but hers, too, both of them flaring as Ben’s hands (good hands, large hands, steady hands) move down her sides to her hips, to curve around her back and press her closer to him. The fabric of her sundress feels paper-thin, the heat of his hands searing against her, and he leans in even closer, craning her neck back, and Rey curls her fingers hard into his hair and moans against his mouth.

Ben’s scent spikes, his fingers press harder into her back, and he makes a low noise that’s almost a growl and oh, Rey’s legs start to shake and the sharp twinge in her core amplifies until her cunt clenches and she feels the slow drip of slick down her thigh—

She pulls away, gasping. Ben stares back at her, eyes wide and wild, lips and cheeks flushed, chest heaving. “I’m—” Rey shakes her head and takes another step. He smells too good. She can’t—“When will you be back on your blockers?”

And his face crumples in the most horrible way, sad and hurt and ashamed, before he draws the familiar stony curtain over his features. “Tomorrow.” (His voice is still too hoarse for the stony-faced tactic to work, especially since she knows him so well, knows what it means.) “I can pick them up first thing.”

“I just—” She needs to make sure the sadness and the hurt aren’t what she leaves him with. “I need to be able to talk about this clear-headed. You know?”

And she’s pretty sure he doesn’t, based on the way his gaze is lingering on her lips, the way his hands are clenching restlessly at his sides, the dark shine in his eyes that’s betraying his attempt at not showing what he’s feeling. She’s pretty sure he wants to throw her over his shoulder and take her upstairs to the guest room and show her how he feels instead of telling her. But that’s exactly why she needs to wait.

“Okay,” Ben says.

She doesn’t step in closer, but she does take a deep breath, letting her shoulders relax, trying to wipe the tension from her own face. “I want to talk about it. I just need—I need a clear head.” And she can tell he still doesn’t understand, but she can’t get her thoughts in order enough to explain it, which is the whole problem. But he nods, although his gaze drops away and he starts his tic where he moves his jaw, mouth pressed tightly closed. “I think I’m gonna head home. But you can—when you have your blockers, you can stop by tomorrow, if you want.”

The invitation to her place is the best she can manage at the moment to help him understand she’s not rejecting him. It seems to land as his face clears a little. “I’ll text you,” he says, and Rey nods.

Then the back door bangs open and Jessika comes out onto the porch, Finch and Ronith in tow with packs of cigarettes and lighters already out. “Fucking finally,” she says with a grin, staring at the two of them, and Rey remembers with a hot rush of embarrassment that the kitchen windows look straight out into the back yard.

She feels her face go bright red as she mumbles, “See you tomorrow,” and hurries inside, past Ben, away from the cloud of his delicious, overwhelming scent, to hide in the bathroom to clean herself up and call an Uber home.

Chapter Text

“So do you just take literally every opportunity to throw a massive house party?”

Poe grins at Bazine, who’s languidly slouched against Ronith (and positively oozing alpha pheromones, which are making Rey’s nose itch, though she refuses to show any discomfort; Bazine seems like the type who takes private satisfaction in seeing her impact on people, and Rey doesn’t feel like giving her that). “Pretty much. Stick with Blario long enough and you’ll get to enjoy the splendor of my Halloween parties.”

“There’s no splendor,” Ben cuts in, cracking open a beer. “He plays Monster Mash on repeat until everyone gets too drunk to care.”

“If you had a recipe as good as my Graveyard Punch, you’d throw a whole damn party for it, too.”

Rey grins and turns her head, mostly to catch the warm breeze, but it has the effect of shifting her gaze to the driveway just in time to see a sleek red car park and two tall figures to climb out.

“Ugh.” Rey has zero desire to mingle with Hux and Phasma—who she’s pretty sure only show up at Poe’s, on the rare occasions they do, to feel superior to everyone else as some kind of ego-building exercise. She does a quick scan of the yard for Finn, but he’s up on the porch, leaning against the railing with Rose, looking about two seconds away from full-on making out. He’ll be fine, then. Rey, for her part, immediately gets up, brushes grass off her cut-offs, and grabs the nearby bag of lime tortilla chips and heads off for the trees behind the yard.

“Where’re you going?” Poe calls after her.

“Away!”

She’s not quite to the trees when Ben jogs up next to her. “Mind company?” he asks. “I’d rather avoid them, too.”

Rey shoots him a grin. “I’m gonna go swing. You down?”

“I’ll come with you. I won’t swing.”

“Party-pooper.”

“You’re the one who just literally walked out of the party.”

She deliberately crunches into a chip as they walk through the trees. “So did you. My point stands.”

They make their way to the other side of the trees, down to the park. There’s a row of swings along the edge, and Rey sits in one. Ben, after a moment, sits in the one next to her. She settles the bag of chips upright between them in the mulch and kicks off, pumping hard. The air whistles past her ears, her thighs burn with the effort, and soon she’s swinging so high it feels like her heels could knock right up against the clear blue sky.

Eventually she slows down, stops pumping her legs, and lets her momentum peter out until the swing settles. Ben is watching her, eating a tortilla chip.

“Enjoy the show?” she asks cheekily, sticking out her long, bare legs.

Ben’s ears flush as he rolls his eyes. “You just looked happy, that’s all.”

She smiles and leans her head against one of the swing’s chains. “I was. I like swinging. The group home I stayed in as a kid was up the hill from a park that had good swings. Sometimes they’d take us down there and I’d just… swing as long as they’d let us stay. It’s like nothing can touch you, when you’re sailing up there like that. Everything else just falls away for a while.”

Ben’s twisted the swing, twisted the chains above his head, so he can turn sideways to face her. He’s far too large for the swing; the rubbery seat barely fits under his ass. “Did you ever sneak out to swing by yourself?”

“Mm. No.” Rey leans down and gets a handful of chips. “I never wanted to make a fuss or get in trouble. I wanted to get adopted, or at least into a good foster home.” And she forces herself to say the next bit, because it’s a detail she hasn’t let slip to Ben in nine months of friendship, but she cares about him enough that she kind of wants him to know: “I also kept thinking—clear up until I aged out of the system—I kept thinking maybe my parents would come back for me after all. Or find me again. And if I behaved, that made it feel more likely.” She crunches into the chips. Salt and lime sting her tongue. “I would’ve loved sneaking out to swing, though,” she adds, with her mouth full. “The group home sucked.”

For a while, they’re both quiet. Ben doesn’t quite look at her, although he’s facing her. Rey eats some more chips and digs patterns into the mulch with her toes. Eventually he untwists the chains on his swing, letting himself spin and settle back to face forward again.

“Sometimes,” he says, after a while, and when Rey looks up he’s still not looking at her, “you seem lonely even when you’re surrounded by people.”

That—that hits, somewhere. Rey feels herself go very still.

He finally meets her gaze. His eyes are soft. They usually are, even when his face goes hard. They always have been. Rey’s heart feels warm and she thinks that if she wasn’t already at least half in love with him, she would be now.

“So do you,” she says. Ben leans his head to the side, resting it against the swing’s chain in a mirror of her own posture.

Wordlessly, Rey reaches out a hand between them. Ben only hesitates a moment before he reaches out to meet her, twining his fingers between hers. They stay like that, quiet, until they decide to go back to the party.

 

——

 

It’s barely nine o’clock on Sunday morning when Rey wakes up to the text tone on her phone. Blearily, she reaches out, fumbling for it on the bedside table, then pulling it close to her face to squint at the screen.

It’s from Ben. Can I head over?

Before Rey can even unlock her phone to reply, a follow-up text comes in. I got my refill.

Ah. Right. Shit. The entirety of last night comes rushing back in full technicolor song-and-dance detail. How incredible he had smelled. Frozen in the kitchen, fumbling for words. Staring at each other in the backyard. Making out in the backyard. And Rey, running away like a scared little rabbit without properly explaining herself.

Her thumbs fly over the keypad. Yep! Give me half an hour, just woke up.

She didn’t shower last night. (She’d come home, still burning with embarrassment and itchy with unsatisfied arousal, changed into her pajamas, and eaten cold leftovers while sitting on her couch, trying very hard to neither go get herself off thinking about Ben nor keep her phone glued to her side in case he texted her. She succeeded on the first but not the second, but Ben hadn’t texted. Until now.) Rey rolls out of bed, rubbing her eyes, and makes her way to the bathroom.

Teeth brushed and out of the shower, she rubs at her hair with a towel and debates whether she should wear something nice. It’s sorely tempting to dig out another sundress, to pat on a little makeup. But the point of this isn’t seduction or flirtation, it’s honesty. So she squashes down the impulse and dresses how she would any other time she hung out with Ben on a Sunday morning: hair tied up, shorts, a t-shirt.

She’s debating whether she should make some eggs or something for them when Ben knocks on the door.

Her heart very much not leaping, thank you, not at all, Rey goes and unlocks the door and opens it to reveal Ben holding up a takeout bag.

“I also brought waffles,” is the first thing he says.

Rey really, really wants to kiss him. Instead she smiles, takes the offered bag, and steps back. “Come on in.”

When he passes her on his way inside, she sniffs as subtly as she can. The rich, overpowering scent from last night is gone. He’s back on his blockers, true to his word—she can still scent that faint hint of him, but nothing like last night. It surprises her to realize she misses it.

With napkins and a bottle of syrup in tow, she meets Ben on the couch. The containers of waffles are opened on the coffee table, and Rey slathers entirely too much butter on hers, then drowns it in syrup until the center is soggy but the edges are still crisp, just how she likes it. She tears off one of the quarters of it and curls up the couch, eating her waffle like a slice of damn pizza, one hand underneath it to catch any syrup drips.

Ben, who’s using a fork like a normal person, raises his eyebrows at her. But he doesn’t say anything. He knows her—he probably knows she’s going into the posture that makes her feel safe, curled-up and self-contained.

He’s a third of the way through his waffles and Rey is rapidly approaching three-fourths done when she finally says, “You brought me waffles.”

“You did make me promise,” he said. “When I bailed on driving you last night. Which was because I wasn’t on blockers and it seemed rude to trap you in a car with me.” He cuts a piece off his waffle very carefully. “I didn’t know you’d react how you did. But it seemed… discourteous, regardless whether you would like it or not.”

Rey licks syrup off her fingers and thinks. It’s easier to do that, this morning, when she’s not dealing with a double-whammy of suddenly realizing how good Ben smells and then on top of that being incredibly aroused by how good he smells. “Thank you. I don’t—I think you know I don’t like when I can’t be in control of myself and my choices. I had no control when I was a kid, no say in where I could go or what I could do. If something was bad for me or hurt me, I didn’t have the choice to leave it. I just had to endure it.”

“I know,” he says softly.

“And especially being an omega.” She picks up her last quarter of waffle but doesn’t eat it right away. “Living in a group home full of teenage omegas, all of us hitting puberty and starting to present… I know they were trying to protect us, but it felt like being a prisoner. And heats make me feel like a prisoner. I can’t stop them from happening, can’t stop myself from being… from being so unlike myself. But at least I can control whether or not anyone else sees it, now.”

Ben looks up at her, his brow furrowed. Rey finishes her waffle, and he still seems to be waiting for her to clarify, so she wipes her hands and carries on. “I’ve never had an alpha help me through my heat. I’ve never had anyone help me through my heat. I don’t like feeling out of control like that, and I don’t want anyone to see it. Which—” and she tries to take a deep breath, tries to settle the nerves in her stomach “—is part of why I kind of ditched you last night.”

“Tell me what you mean.”

He does that a lot—phrases his questions as commands instead of proper questions. Sometimes it comes across entitled (and she’s never hesitated to tell him so), but a lot of the time, like right now, it’s soft. Like he’s trying to show that he’s open to whatever the answer might be.

“You’re an alpha,” Rey says, tucking her feet closer to her hips. “If we—if you like me, and we do something about that, would you really be okay with just… leaving me alone during my heat?”

He cocks his head. “Is that what this is about?”

“Come on, Ben. Can you really tell me it wouldn’t drive you crazy? And I—all this time I didn’t think for a second you were into me, or ever would be, so I didn’t really deal with this part of my feelings, so it’s just kind of a lot, right now. So I ran away. Which was maybe rude. But I don’t…” She bites her lip, fingers coming to twist together. “I like you,” she blurts, feeling her face flush. “So much. And you said you like me. And now I feel like our stupid biology is going to mess everything up, and I hate that.”

Ben stares at her for a moment, then lets out a huge breath and leans back on the couch, one hand coming up to pinch the bridge of his nose and cover his eyes. Rey watches him, heart beating hard, until he finally drops his hand, turns his head to look at her, and says, “That’s why you’re upset?”

Yes . Don’t use that condescending tone on me.”

“It’s not condescension. It’s disbelief. Rey.” He shifts, drawing a knee up onto the cushions and turning to face her. “If we start dating and you don’t want me there during your heats, I won’t be there.”

She blinks, clenching her fingers. “You won’t?”

“No, not if that’s what you want. Yes, it would be frustrating. Biologically. But I don’t like to be ruled by my designation either. You know that. Why wouldn’t I respect that?”

“I guess so.” She shakes her head. “No, you’re right. I do know that.”

“I’m just—” He rubs the back of his neck. Rey notices his fingertips skimming just shy of his scent gland. Now that she knows how wonderful he smells, it makes her chest flutter to notice it, to have the fleeting impulse to lean in and press her face against it. “I’m not sure that’s actually what’s best.”

 

——

 

“Thanks for the ride.”

“Any time.”

“I promise I value you as a friend and not just as a chauffeur.”

“And I value you as a friend. Which is why I wasn’t going to let you spend an hour and a half on the bus dragging home Ikea shelves.” Ben glances in the rearview mirror. “For more plants.”

Rey laughs. “I can’t help it. When I see those poor ferns wilting at the grocery store, I have to rescue them.”

He smiles, eyes back on the road.

Rey leans her head against the seat, watching him. “Why don’t you ever give Kaydel a ride? Like to Poe’s parties and stuff? Doesn’t she live right by you? I know she doesn’t have a car either.”

He shifts in his seat. “She’s never asked. I’ve never offered.”

“Maybe you should. It’d be a nice gesture.”

Ben chews his lip for a long moment “Not many people trust me.”

“What are you talking about? You’re a good driver. What’s not to trust?”

“Not just with driving. But also driving. This isn’t—can we talk about this some other time?”

“No. I have you trapped in the car with me. If we push it to some other time, you’ll just avoid it forever.”

Ben glances in his mirrors again, switches lanes smoothly, avoids a pile of the ever-present February slush. She’s not flattering—he is a good driver. Always controlled, never speeds. “I have a couple DUIs,” he says, so low and flat she almost misses it.

Oh. That… oh.

When she doesn’t reply, he swears softly. “That shit’s in the past, Rey. But people remember. I wasn’t kidding when I told you I’m glad we didn’t meet sooner. I was a mess for a long time. I’ve always been… I don’t know, angry.”

“Too much testosterone?” she offers, voice smaller than she’d like.

“No. I can’t blame it all on being an alpha. C’mon, Rey, you know not to do that.” He sighs. She watches his hands tighten around the wheel. He flicks on the turn signal and carefully merges over to the exit ramp. “Ruts don’t help, but I was just plain fucked up and didn’t deal with myself well. I made bad choices. I took things out on people. Now I’ve been in therapy for a few years, and people have started to actually like me again, which is a goddamned miracle. But they don’t really trust me.”

“I trust you.” She says it without thinking. But it’s true.

Ben’s ears flush. He swallows. “Well, you might be the only one.”

 

——

 

Rey sits up straighter. “Are you about to tell me what to do with my own body? Because you know that’s going to be a problem.”

“I’m not telling you what to do. And it’s not about your body, is it?” Ben’s eyes are dark and serious, fixated on her. “It’s about the control. You’re terrified to show even a second of vulnerability.” She opens her mouth to retort, but he keeps going. “I’ll never make you do anything you don’t want to do. But have you ever considered that it might be good for you? To let yourself be vulnerable sometimes, if it’s with someone you trust?”

Oh. Oh . That softness goes over his eyes, that careful stillness comes into his mouth. And Rey realizes, feeling very stupid and self-centered, that this isn’t just about her.

“Of course I trust you,” she nearly whispers.

“I know,” he says. But he still has that kicked-puppy look in his eyes.

So Rey presses up onto her knees and crawls across the couch, nearly into his lap. His eyes widen, but she leans in anyway, hands on his knees as she kisses him, lightly, on the lips, then softly on his cheek, just under his now-closed eye. “I trust you,” she whispers. “I know you would—keep me safe.” Her thumbs brush back and forth over his knees. His eyelids are fluttering, he keeps blinking them back open to look at her. “But I never—heats make me needy. And I don’t like that. I can take care of myself.”

Ben huffs out this little cloud of a laugh and brings his hands up to cradle her face. “You think I don’t know that? Rey.” He leans in to meet her, kisses her lightly, briefly. “I don’t want you to need me. I just want you to want me.”

“I do.” She kisses him, pressing closer. “Ben, I do.”

His arms come around her as she climbs into his lap, thighs falling open around his hips as his hands trail down to her waist. He turns his face and kisses her neck and murmurs, “Then what are we waiting for?” And Rey melts against him, hands on his shoulders and up his neck and fingers winding in his hair as he trails his mouth down the side of her throat. He rubs his nose against her scent gland and she gasps, pulling at his hair, and he makes a soft whine against her skin, fingers digging into her hip bones.

“Please kiss it,” she whispers. Ben presses his lips against her gland, and she full-body shivers, feels her thighs quivering and her underwear going beyond damp to wet. His hands skate around to press into her back, pulling her even closer, and he trails kisses across her throat to the hollow between her collarbones. Lips tongue teeth on her already sensitive skin, and she makes a sound low in her throat as her hips roll involuntarily against his lap. Against the increasingly-hard bulge in the front of his jeans.

Ben murmurs her name and tips up his head, catching her in another kiss. Rey lets go of his hair to wrap her arms around his neck, chest coming flush against his, grinding down against his hardness and breathing hard against his mouth, his cheek. “My heat,” she manages, feeling the chafe of her soaked underwear, chasing the bliss of the friction she’s getting against him. “It’s in a week. I want—I want to have sex before then. So we know— ah! —so we know it’s not just—just biology.”

And he laughs, soft and low and scattered against her neck. He brushes his nose against hers. “I was hoping we’d have sex now. If that’s okay.”

“Yes. Very. Please—”

He cuts her off with a kiss, hard and searing. His hands grip her ass and she bucks against him, whimpering against his mouth, feeling the coil of tension, bright and clear and close, so close…

A cheerful melody cuts through the air, and Rey’s phone vibrates noisily on the coffee table with the incoming call. She just catches a glance of Finn’s name on the screen before Ben growls against her and reaches over to silence it. Then his hands are back on her ribs, his mouth pressing up against the line of her jaw, murmuring “Yes, please, come on, Rey, come—”

And she does, shuddering, head falling back and fingers digging into his shoulders as everything unravels.

He’s leaning her back, laying her down on the couch as she breathes hard, hands creeping up to stroke his face, his hair, as he leans down and peppers her face with kisses. When he pulls back and looks down at her, she sees his lips kiss-swollen, his cheeks flushed, his pupils blown wide, and he’s never looked as beautiful. “You’re so beautiful,” he says, echoing her thoughts in a tone approaching reverence. “Holy shit, Rey.”

The way he says it, the way he’s looking at her—it fills her heart with so much joy she can hardly stand it. She grins at him, kisses him once, and cheekily runs a hand down his chest to cup his erection, making his breath hitch. “You seem to like it.”

“Rey, I’ve been I in love with you for almost a year. Of course I like it.”

That stops her, stills her. Her hand leaves his cock and settles against his hip. “You love me?”

His mouth quirks sideways in a small, wry smile. “I thought it was obvious. Seems silly to pretend, now.”

But there’s tension in the smile and a guardedness in his eyes, and she can’t have that, especially not now. So Rey presses up on her elbow to kiss him, then looks him right in the eyes when she says, “I love you, too.”

And then his smile blooms into something more real, more full, more free, until it finally cracks open into the beautiful full-on grin she sees so seldom but adores so much, his whole face beaming and her heart soaring at the sight. He gathers her in his arms, rolling onto his side and cradling her against him, and presses his face into her neck. His hands are large and warm and safe against her, and Rey kisses just above his ear. He smells so, so good, even if the blockers make it faint. “And,” she says, “you should really take me to the bedroom now. You’re way too tall for us to fuck on this couch.”

He laughs, warm against her skin. Then he rolls off the couch and scoops her in his arms in one surprisingly smooth movement, depositing her a bit wobbly onto her feet. But his hands on her waist keep her steady. “I want to make you come again,” he says, leaning down to kiss her (it’s like he can’t stop kissing her, like now that he gets to he can’t stop, and she knows how he feels). “First with my tongue. Then with my cock.”

“Good.” On the next kiss, she bites at his lower lip, and oh the way that makes him shudder and take in a sharp breath and tighten his hands against her. “I’m going to make sure you make good on that promise.”

And, to her endless delight, he very much does.

Chapter Text

“Do you think he’s cute?”

Rey turns in her chair, meeting Poe’s gaze. “What?”

“Ben. You know Ben. Tall. Dark. Is he also handsome?”

He looks a hair’s-breadth away from a shit-eating grin, and Rey isn’t sure why. “Are you trying to set me up with him or something?”

“Nope. Just taking a survey. Compiling data on the perceived hotness of my friend group, as reported by other members of my friend group.”

Rey laughs and swivels back to her computer. “Larma really needs to give you more assignments.”

“So do you? Think Ben’s good-looking?”

She stares firmly at her screen, but she lets her mind wander across six months of friendship. Ben’s small smiles, rare laughter. His conspiratorial smirks when he nudges the last of the communal bowl of chips-and-salsa towards her while everyone else is distracted with a playful argument. Riding in his passenger seat, teasing him about his music choices, trying to make him smile for real.

His dark hair always falling in his eyes. His eyes, honey-warm in the sunlight and dark as his hair when it’s dim. The soft line of his full mouth, the constellations of beauty marks on his face and neck like the constellations he showed her in the sky on the night they met.

This past Sunday, when he’d taken the middle seat in the diner booth at brunch because he knew, somehow, that she hates being stuck in the middle.

“Yeah,” she says, trying to sound like she’s considering it for the first time. “He’s a handsome guy.”

 

——

 

Ben makes good on both his promises, coaxing a second orgasm from Rey with his (beautiful, broad, precise) tongue, then once more when he’s inside her, over her, thumb rubbing her clit and lips against her scent gland until she keens and bucks up against him and he chases her back down, coming so soon after that she knows he must’ve been trying so hard to hold it back for a while.

And after, with his strong arms so gentle around her, with him stroking her back and sighing pure contentment against her hair, Rey leans her head on his chest and listens to his heartbeat settle back to steadiness. “You’re really good.”

A small huff that passes for laughter. “Because it’s you.” Rey starts to protest, but Ben stops her. “I mean it. I’ve only been with two people before you.”

She hates that she wants to ask, but she does it anyway. “Omegas?”

He kisses the top of her head. “No. Betas.”

That stills the rush of jealousy. It doesn’t really make a difference who he’s slept with before, except that, to parts of her, it does. Rey looks up at him, shifting against him to bring her face up closer to his. “I’ve never been with an alpha,” she says.

She wants to try to name all the things that flicker over his features in response to that. Relief—pride—comfort. “Good,” he says, soft and deep and very firm. Rey’s spine prickles at the sound of it; she sucks in a sharp breath. His eyes go gentler. “Sorry. I didn’t mean to… use the alpha tone.”

“It’s okay.” She kisses him, trailing her fingers along his collarbone. “I liked it.” She pauses. Then: “I love you.”

Ben kisses her forehead, strokes her hair away from her face. “I love you, too.”

They lie quietly for a while. Rey listens to his heartbeat, to his steady breathing, to the fan humming in the window. As the afterglow fades, her mind starts to turn again, and the conversation on the couch resurfaces.

“I’m sorry,” she says. “For not being sure about my heat.” Because she’s not sure anymore. She had been—ever since her first heat, safe but miserable in the group home, when she’d realized how deep it took her—she’s always been sure she doesn’t want anyone to ever, ever see her like that. But Ben sees things in her she isn’t ready to see in herself. And it’s making her reconsider, which isn’t easy. It’s so much easier to feel safe.

“Rey, you have nothing to apologize for.”

“I guess. I just—it’s not that I don’t want you. You know that, right?”

He chuckles. “Considering the things we just did? I have a pretty good idea.”

That makes her smile a little. “Okay. Good. I’m just—I have some walls, you know?”

“I know, sweetheart.” A warm thrill runs through her at the endearment. Ben’s hand strokes her back, up and down. “I just want to be your safe place. Where you don’t need the walls.”

“I know that. I do. It’s just... scary.”

Ben kisses the top of her head, and she thinks she feels him smile. “Well, you’re pretty much the bravest person I know. If that’s what you decide, then I know you can do it.”

Maybe she can. The way he’s holding her, the way her heart feels so safe—a new kind of safe—maybe she can.

He stays most of the day (for a movie, and for lunch, and for making out and another couple rounds of sex and cuddling, endless cuddling, Rey wants nothing but to be snuggled up against him even though it gets warm in her apartment, and he seems to be on the same page) but can’t stay the night—he covers her in apology kisses, he has to get into work extra-early tomorrow and it’s trash night and a bunch of little things. “As soon as you want me to,” he promises. “Let me know when.”

“Tomorrow?” She holds his hands as they stand in the doorway. “You can bring your toothbrush and everything. I can cook you dinner.”

The big, full smile, all bright and easy, appears on his face. “I’d love that.”

“Text me.” Rey presses up on her toes (she’s not short, but god, neither is he) and kisses him. “Goodnight?”

“Goodnight.” His lips linger against her forehead again; his hand lingers on her hip. When he leaves, he keeps turning back on his way down the hallway to grin at her; Rey leans against her door frame and waits until he gets into the elevator, beaming back at him all the way.

It’s not until he’s gone that she goes back inside and checks her phone, finding two missed calls from Finn and a text reading You. Me. Tacos tomorrow. I want to hear about this.

Rey feels herself blush as she types her reply.

 

Can’t do dinner. Ben’s coming ov er

Then coffee or w/e after work

Ben is what I want to hear about

Jess said you guys made out?

🍆💦 ???

FINN

GROSS

 

She laughs, though, blushing harder. They make plans, and Rey makes herself something to eat, and when she goes to bed, it’s on sheets that still smell like Ben, her face nestled down against the pillow he’d laid on.

On Monday, she thanks every single lucky star that Poe has a vacation day because there’s no way he’d let her get through the workday without teasing her to the moon and back. Instead, she’s able to keep her head down and breeze through her work. (Getting laid and finally getting to be with the person you love, it turns out, really improves your mood.)

She’d gotten in a little early so she could then clock out early and make it to the coffee shop in time to meet Finn. Ben’s coming over at seven and she wants to have dinner close to ready by then, but she wants time with her best friend, too.

He’s already waiting when she gets there. Rey flashes him a smile, goes to order a decaf, and then finally slides into the chair across from Finn. He’s watching her with an expectant look. “How was the rest of your weekend?” She tries not to flinch at how her voice pitches up too high.

“Good. How was yours ?”

Rey can’t stop herself from grinning. “Ben and I talked.”

“About?”

“Thoughts. Feelings. Emotions. Hormones.”

“And?”

She bites her lip. “We’re together now. Like, actually together.”

Finn shakes his head, sips his coffee. He’s smiling, though. “And you’ve sworn as long as I’ve known you that you’d never date an alpha.”

“But it’s Ben.” She leans her elbows on the table, leans in. “He feels the same way about his designation that I do about mine. So he gets it. He’s understanding.”

“Did you guys—”

“Shut up, Finn.” Rey takes a sip of her drink. “Yes.”

He laughs. “I knew it. I couldn’t smell him on Saturday, obviously, but everyone who could was convinced you guys were gonna hook up.”

That makes her splutter into her cup of coffee. “What?! Does everyone know that we—”

“Have been totally in love with each other for months?” He raises his eyebrows. “Yes, Rey. I mean, not literally everyone, but those of us who are closest to you guys have been able to tell for a while.”

Oh her face is flushing way too much right now. “So much for trying to play it cool,” she mutters.

Fingertips touch the back of her hand. She glances up at Finn, who’s reaching across the table to her, eyes serious. “But you’re happy? This is what you want?”

Her heart softens. She smiles, curls her fingers around his. “Yes. Completely.”

“All right then.” He leans back in his chair, glances out the window, drinks his coffee. Then he squints at her. “Is there any not-rude way to ask if he’s going to help with your heats now?”

“Not really. But you get a pass on account of being my best friend.” Rey turns her cup around and around in her hands. “I think so. Yes. I always—I always hold on so hard to this narrative of taking care of myself. Because I had to, for so long. It started to feel safe. But it does get tiring. And lonely. And he’s someone I can trust to carry me, even when I’m vulnerable.”

“Damn.” When she glances up again, Finn’s chin is in his hand. “That’s romantic as hell, Rey.”

She scrunches up her nose and smiles. “Shut up.”

 

——

 

It’s the fourth day of Rey’s heat. She’s spent the past thirty hours or so in a haze of need and burning and wetness, cramping and crying and begging to the empty air. She settles back into herself, like something clicking into place, sometime early Monday morning.

Her cunt aches. Her uterus aches. Her head aches. She’s pretty sure she pulled a hamstring, and her right hand is cramped. No surprises there.

She’ll get up as soon as she can to clean herself up. Maybe lay a towel underneath her on the bed. She’ll still be hot enough today that she’ll drip slick all over the place, so changing the sheets would be silly even if she had the energy for it. But a towel would be nice. Clean, soft clothes. A glass of water and a ginger ale. Brushing her teeth.

All of that will come soon enough. For the moment, Rey just lies there, resting, trying to relax in the dull, empty moments that span between the urgent fires of the third day fading and the more routine aches and desires of the fourth day start to flare.

Her phone is still plugged into the wall next to the bed, forgotten since Saturday evening. She reaches down, wincing at the shift in her hips, and unplugs it.

Not too many missed calls or messages. It’s embarrassing when her friends know when her heat is, but at least it means nobody worries when she doesn’t answer their texts, and they know not to bombard her with too many. But there are a few. She taps through them idly, only half-reading them, mostly trying to distract herself.

There’s a message from Ben.

Fresh embarrassment heats her cheeks. They’ve only known each other a few months, even if they became fast friends. (There’s always been something in his eyes she recognizes. A loneliness, a wanting to be seen, to be valued. She sees the same thing in him that echoes in her own heart. She doesn’t exactly believe in fate, but she’s pretty sure Ben Solo was meant to come into her life.) This is the first heat she’s had since they met, and he’s an alpha besides, and all of it makes her flinch.

She opens the message anyway, curiosity getting the best of her.

It’s a cute cat video. An adorable, sleek black cat batting a tiny pumpkin around like a ball.

Underneath it, a message:

 

I’d say sorry you missed Poe’s Halloween party, but it was exceedingly lame

Not a jack o lantern in sight

 

Rey surprises herself by smiling. She knows Poe’s Halloween parties are just yet another thinly-veiled excuse to get blasted rather than a proper theme party. And the last time she’d seen Ben, she’d waxed nearly poetic about how it wasn’t Halloween without at least one snaggle-toothed jack-o-lantern. She’d even babbled on about how cutting out the bottom instead of the top made it last longer and how real candles were better than LEDs because you could smell the pumpkin more, all clean and vegetal in an autumnal way she really liked, with a real candle.

It was nice he hadn’t mentioned her heat directly, and it was nice he’d tried to cheer her up.

She surprises herself again when she starts to cry.

But maybe it’s just the hormones. She can already feel her cunt clenching as her skin prickles hotter. Her hips slightly grind down into the mattress unconsciously. She’s too damned tired to masturbate any more than half-heartedly, but she also won’t be able to concentrate much soon. So she quickly types out a reply before turning her phone on airplane mode and tossing it on the floor as her body washes with another wave of need.

 

We should have our own Halloween party next year

With proper pumpkins

I’m holding you to it

 

——

 

Ben stays over at Rey’s on Monday night, and she stays over at his on Wednesday. She likes sleeping next to him. He’s so warm and solid and smells so good. They always fall asleep spooning, the rise and fall of his chest pressing into her back as it evens out as he drifts towards sleep. By the time she wakes up, she’s always rolled onto her back, Ben’s head pillowed on her chest or stomach, his arms around her hips and his face gentle and still in sleep.

She likes the way the bed smells a little bit like both of them.

On Thursday morning, when she’s stepping out of the shower and getting dressed at his place (entirely too early, but when either of them stays over with the other it doubles their commute to work, so she needs the extra time), he’s already in the bathroom with her, brushing his teeth. A true champ, waking up at the asscrack of dawn with her even though he doesn’t need to yet.

“My heat’s due to start on Saturday,” she says. “I already put in for my leave.”

Ben rubs his eyes and turns to her. “Do you want to be alone?” he asks, voice thick with sleep.

Her heart beats steady when she says, “No.”

A pause. Then he steps in closer and takes her hands. He lifts them to his face and kisses her fingertips. “Do you want me to stay on my blockers?”

No .”

She can feel and see his smile. “Okay. Tell me anything I need to know.” Rey opens her mouth to protest—“I know you need to get to work now. Text me. Or call me tonight. Send me an itemized e-mail. Whatever will help me be there for you, Rey.”

The sound of her name in his mouth always makes her heart feel so full. “I will.” Something occurs to her. “I won’t be done until Tuesday. Can you—”

“I have sick days.” He lets go of her hands and steps towards the shower, tugging off his boxers. Rey bites her lip at the sight of his ass when he steps into the still-flowing water. “I don’t get leave for rut, but alphas get a few extra regular sick days.”

There’s another pause, during which she hears him open the shampoo bottle behind the shower curtain, during which she tucks her camisole into her skirt and shrugs into her lightweight cardigan that shouldn’t make her too too warm before she gets to the office’s air conditioning. “We don’t get heat leave unless we’re mated,” Ben says, suddenly, from behind the curtain.

Rey takes a deep breath as she pulls her hair back from her face. “Okay,” she says. Her heart and stomach are doing a number at that thought, even though she knows it’s not for now, not quite yet. (But maybe not so far away as it would be in other cases; they’ve known each other a year; they’ve loved each other half as long, even if they didn’t realize it was mutual.) “Then Monday and Tuesday.”

“Do you want me on Wednesday?”

“No. I mean, yes, but I’ll be going back to work.”

“I’ll stay with you Tuesday night,” he promises. His voice is starting to sound clearer, more awake. “I can drive you to work the next day.”

“Thank you.” The timer on her phone beeps at her. “C’mere.” Rey leans in near the shower. Ben pulls back the curtain just far enough to let loose a cloud of steam and poke out his face. His wet hair is pushed back from his forehead, and he smiles all lopsided and sweet when she kisses him. “I’ll text you.”

The next two days pass in a blur. She stops her suppressants on Thursday, which should make her heat kick in on Saturday. She makes sure the waterproof liner is on the mattress and clean sheets put on. And she makes herself dinner on Friday night, just scrambled eggs and rice, filling and nourishing but plain and easy to digest, because once her heat starts food gets tricky. She goes to bed on Friday night with her phone in her hand, her messages with Ben pulled up. (She had asked him not to come over until Saturday; it was her last vestige of control, her pre-heat routine, and besides, he smells so incredible off his blockers that she’d never get any sleep tonight, and she needs all the rest she can get before this starts.)

I love you. I’ll be there in the morning.

Rey wakes up at ten o’clock to a wet spot in her bed and an itchy fever spreading across her skin. Between the soaked state of her underwear and the sweat sticking her tank top to her back, she wants a shower. Ben’s going to be here soon. She has to smell nice. Has to look nice. Has to—

Shaking her head, she presses up onto her elbow. The box fan in her window is humming, but it’s still warm in her room. She should change the sheets again before Ben—her boyfriend—her alpha—gets here. They were clean last night, but now there’s the wet spot and her sweat and— fuck . She clutches at the sheets and bows her head lower, moaning softly as she feels her uterus swell, cramping and twinging.

She’s only gotten as far as peeing and brushing her teeth when she hears the knock on the door.

Rey creeps out to the living room, carefully, so she can make sure it’s Ben before she opens the door in this state. But within five feet of the door, there’s no question. He definitely stopped his blockers. She can smell him on the other side of the door, deep and rich and ready for her.

Half-dazed, she unlocks the door and opens it.

He’s standing there, cheeks flushed, a big canvas grocery bag over his shoulder and his scent rising so thick around her it makes her dizzy.

Rey, in her tank top and panties and bare feet, shivers as her core cramps, clenches, and drips slick down the inside of her thigh.

Ben’s eyes go dark. His scent spikes. He steps inside, one hand on her elbow, guiding her as he closes and locks the door and steers her into the kitchen with him. He’s breathing hard but doesn’t say a word as he sets a bag of oranges on the counter, water bottles and a six-pack of the fancy ginger beer Rey loves and can technically afford but always talks herself out of because old habits die hard, places a stack of folded towels and clean clothes on the table. He moves with purpose and precision, putting everything carefully in place. Preparing.

The efficiency, the care of it, makes Rey’s breathing come shallower.

“Ben,” she whispers.

And he turns her to, eyes dark and blazing. His scent is all around her as he closes her in against the doorway, hands reaching down to grip her ass, hook under her thighs, strong arms hauling her up as she winds her own arms around his shoulders and he kisses her, kisses her, tastes like home and safety and future. “I’ve got you,” he murmurs against her mouth. “I’ve got you.”

He carries her to her bedroom. He lays her across her bed, gently, even though now she’s squirming and pulling at the sleeves of his shirt. The itching cramping fever that plagues her, constant but manageable when she’s on her own, is spiking hotter and sharper in his presence, under his scent, feeling his muscles and hearing his voice and the alphaness of him, the strength of him—

“Please,” she says, quietly, grabbing his face and pulling him down to kiss her.

And he does, he does, his lips firm and warm, his tongue swift against hers. He shoves her tank top up, broad hands cupping her breasts, and she arches against him when his thumbs circle her nipples. She’s tugging at his shirt, at the waistband of his jeans, wanting to feel his skin. Ben is nothing if not observant of her needs. He shucks off his jeans, pulls back from her just long enough to tug his shirt off over her head.

He’s not wearing underwear, and Rey already knows what his cock looks like, but it makes her shiver all over again when she sees him hard and ready. Ben pushes the crotch of her panties aside with his thumb and presses two fingers into her—more than he’s ever done to start so far, but she’s in heat now and two fingers are nothing. But the way he curls them against her walls isn’t nothing.

Rey’s hips buck. She’s sweating, she’s hot, her uterus aches and her cunt stretches open and it hurts. His scent is everywhere, soaking into the sheets with her. “ Please , Ben, fuck—”

He pulls out his fingers and presses in his cock, sliding into her open, warm, welcoming center as easy as breathing.

Everything softens. The hard edges, the aches, they don’t disappear but they soften. This— this— this is what she needs, what she’s always needed, what she wants. Her fingers press into his shoulder blades and her legs wrap tightly around his hips as he bows his head until his hair tickles her cheek, his lips brushing her scent gland on the side of her neck. Pleasure ripples through her. “Please,” she half-sobs, because he hasn’t started to thrust.

“You are,” he says, voice low and thick and wavering, “so incredible.”

And then he thrusts.

It doesn’t take long, not like this. He’s inside her and above her and around her, murmuring something in her ear, and Rey keens and then goes silent with a gasp as she comes, pulsing around him, each continuing roll of his hips another wave of pleasure.

“Rey—” Ben’s voice breaks against her shoulder. “I’m gonna—do you want me to knot you?”

Through the haze of oncoming afterglow, through the relief washing over her in waves as her body relaxes and calms from not only her orgasm but the fullness of him inside her, she pulls her thoughts together. She’s never been knotted, not for real. She can tell, by the size of Ben’s cock, his knot is going to put her dildo to shame. Nervousness flares, and she says, “I think not yet?”

He sighs in a hot rush that moves her hair, then pulls out just a little when he tightens and lets her name break across his tongue. He comes inside her, but not pushed full inside; his knot is outside, hot against her vulva.

It surprises her how much she yearns for it. But his semen inside her is calming, even if it’s not being pumped directly through her cervix (everyone says that makes it so much better, though she wouldn’t know). And when Ben calms, he’s able to nestle his head against her chest like he does when they sleep. He couldn’t do that if his knot was caught inside her.

Rey strokes his hair in the warm quiet of her room. Listens to their breathing slow and the fan keep humming. Feels her nerves relax, the fever subsiding for a while. She feels—

“This is different,” she says. “Normally coming isn’t enough to make me feel better. But I feel better. I feel good.”

Ben tips up his face to look at her. His hair is in his eyes, and his eyes are wide and dark and soft. He always looks so boyish and sweet, peeking up at her like this. “You feel better?”

“I do.” She hums, playing with his hair, taking in a deep breath. “You smell so good. It makes me feel safe.”

“Mm.” He turns his face, pressing it against her chest, kissing between her breasts. “What do I smell like?”

It’s hard to describe. “Rich,” she says. “Warm. Deep. Full. Like—you don’t smell like wet earth, but it reminds me of wet earth. Or dark coffee. Or—or really juicy ripe black cherries. You don’t smell like those things, but those are what it reminds me of.” Like home, she wants to say, but six months of thinking she’d never get the chance to do this still hold her tongue, just a little, like a reflex.

Ben kisses her sternum again. “You smell fresh and clean,” he says. “Not like soap. More like a garden in the sun. Warm and green and fertile.”

“I do?” Her heart does a little flutter.

“Mmhm.” And then he’s crawling up on his forearms, kissing her, languid and soft. “You smell amazing,” he says. “You smell like home. You smell like mine.”

A wave of pleasure, of rightness, rolls over her body. Her hands find the sides of his face. “So do you,” she whispers, and she feels him smile against her lips.

That’s how Saturday passes. He brings her water and ginger beer and sliced oranges in bed. When her body starts to get hot again, her entire reproductive system starts to cry out for him, he’s there. He fucks her well and steady and deep, and he doesn’t knot her because every time she shies away at the last moment, but he still comes inside her and it’s enough to get her through.

She sleeps lightly Saturday night and wakes up sweating on Sunday. Ben is still asleep, and Rey is grinding against his thigh that’s between her legs before she can even form a coherent thought. He wakes with a sharp inhale, and his own scent spikes, and in moments he’s licking the glands in the creases of her hips, three fingers curling inside her, sucking her clit because she can let him do this for a little while, on the first two days, and then he slides inside her and brings her back down to cooled and centered and calm.

Sunday passes the same as Saturday. She’s sweaty, but so is he, and their sweat together smells beautiful and good and right. He braids her hair back from her face at one point while holding her, and she asks where he learned to do a French braid, and he tells her how he used to help his mother with her hair, and Rey nuzzles against his chest.

She can’t quite fathom leaving her bed, especially not with him in it; but during the times she’s feeling good (which last so much longer with him than they ever have by herself), they cuddle and watch movies on her laptop. Things they’ve seen before, because Rey can’t really focus enough to properly follow a storyline, but the familiarity is comforting. Ben’s soft kisses on the back of her neck and shoulder while he spoons her are, too. When she really, really has to pee but doesn’t want to leave him, he follows her to the bathroom when she asks him to. Rey isn’t completely lost to her instincts, so she has him just wait outside, but asks him to talk to her the whole time so she knows he’s there.

“I’m sorry,” she says, washing her hands, her legs shaky. Ben comes into the bathroom, then, and slips his arms around her waist, his hips pressing against her ass. “I know this is so stupid, it’s just—right now, it’s like I can’t stand the thought of you going away.”

“I know.” Ben lowers his head to kiss her shoulder. “It’s okay.” He breathes in deeply; his arms tighten around her, and she feels his cock twitch, and she smells his scent bloom. “You’re almost ready again.”

“It doesn’t hurt yet—”

“You’re almost ready,” he says again, in the tone that brooks no opposition.

Rey melts. They go straight back to bed.

After what passes for dinner (at nearly ten o’clock, consisting, again, of an orange and a few sips of ginger ale), Rey presses her face against Ben’s scent gland on the side of his neck and murmurs, “Can I rub your back?”

“Anything you want, love.” He kisses her cheek (she feels him smiling) and lies down on the damp sheets, turning his head to the side.

Rey bites her lip as she smiles, swinging a leg over him to straddle his hips. His back is still a little slick with sweat from the last time, and her hands glide easily over sculpted muscles. “You’re so fit.”

“I like to work out.” His voice is half-muffled, cheek pressed into the pillow. “Well. No. I don’t always like it. But I feel better when I do it.”

“I know.” She bends down, kisses between his shoulder blades. She purposefully aims it at the bottoms of his scapulae, well below the flushed gland higher up between them, but he shivers anyway. Rey licks her lips. “I know you do.” And she works her fingertips and the heels of her hands into the muscles of his neck and shoulders.

Ben makes a low sound at the increased pressure. Rey isn’t sure how much of the firmness she’s feeling is tension and how much is just well-defined muscle (she’s hardly a knowledgeable masseuse) but she’s nearly humming with pleasure as she kneads her hands into him.

God, she can smell him so much. All around her. In the air, in her bed, on her own skin. Taste him in her mouth. “You’re so good,” she says, hands sliding down his back, pressing now on either side of his spine in smooth strokes. “So good to me. So good for me.”

“Rey.” It’s almost a question, but not quite. A little too much of a groan. She must be giving a good massage. Or—she realizes, belatedly, that she’s rolling her hips against him, grinding against his ass, which is slick and slippery from her.

“I love you,” she intones, voice steady even as she runs her hands along him and sparks pleasure and need through her core with every stroke of her clit against him. “I love your voice. I love your scent. I love you here with me.” Her head starts to bow forward; her hands slide back up again, gripping his shoulders. Rey arches forward, voice finally breaking as she thrusts against him. “I—I would—keep you. Keep me, you keep me. Keep each other in—in our own—I could make—” She’s breathing hard, she sees his hands fisting in the sheets, his scent everything everywhere—“Ben—”

And he rolls over underneath her, grabs her hips, and sheaths himself inside her. Rey cries out, snapping her hips down to meet his when they rise. Her hands reach for purchase, and his leave her hips to grab onto hers. They hold together, in the air between them, and Rey lets go and rides him until her vision whites out.

And then she’s blinking, cradled against his chest. Which is heaving, his heart wild under her hand, her cheek. “Thank you,” she whispers. His only answer is a kiss to the top of her head. “I’m sorry. I don’t know what I was trying to say. It was…”

“Don’t even say ‘stupid.’” Ben’s voice tremors a bit as his breathing recovers. “You’re getting close, Rey. You said the third day, right?”

“Mm.”

He strokes her hair. “How do you feel now, though?”

“Better.” She turns her head to kiss his chest. It tastes like salt and Ben. “Calmer. Sleepy.”

“Then sleep.” Ben reaches down and pulls the sheet up over them. The fan is blowing on them, and it’s a little cooler now, at night. “I’ll be here. I promise.”

Rey nestles closer against him. This might be her last window of actual clear thought until Tuesday, so she says, “I meant it when I said I get needy. I go full omega-space. All babbling and begging. This… consider this a preview, just now.”

From bottom to top, his fingers trail up her spine, then start drawing small circles against her shoulder. “That’s why I’m here,” he says. “To make all of that feel better. And to keep you safe. I know you, sweetheart. I know what’s Rey and what’s instinct.” His hands are so gentle. How can he possibly be so gentle? “I’m learning where they overlap. And I’m not judging you for any of it.”

Her eyes sting hot, and she blinks hard against it. She’s coming up on everything she’s ever feared about sharing her heat, and impossibly, he’s making her feel so safe. “I know,” she says, and hopes he knows how much she means it.

She’s starting to drift off when Ben says, carefully, “I might rut. Tomorrow. Seeing you like that, smelling you. Is that—is that okay?” She pauses, and he hurries to add, “I won’t—I have enough control of myself that I won’t do anything you don’t want me to do. But I might be—different, too.”

“It’s okay.” She knows it’s true when she says it. Rey finally tips back her head to look up at him. Ben’s brow is creased, eyes shrouded. Heart melting, she reaches up and brushes sweaty hair off his forehead. “It’s the same. Everything you said about me, that’s the same way I feel about you.” A small smile tugs the corner of her mouth. “Just don’t break any of my glassware.”

The tension clears in his face, and he smiles back, gathering her up close to kiss her. “Not a chance,” he whispers.

Chapter Text

“Holy shit.”

Rey grins, biting her lip. “So you like it?”

Ben’s eyes have fluttered closed. He slowly drops a fist down onto the tabletop, like a gentle, slow-motion banging. “God. Damn.”

She sticks out her tongue between her teeth, a pleased giggle bubbling up.

“I can’t believe we’ve been friends for two whole months and you’ve never had me try this fucking lasagna before.”

“I like to keep it in reserve. Gotta vet new friends before deciding they’re worthy of such majesty.”

He’s going in for another forkful. “I’m not kidding, Rey. This is better than sex. How do you do this?”

“It’s a secret,” she sing-songs, still grinning like a loon. It’s making her heart so warm and happy to see him so happy. To have made him so happy. He doesn’t smile enough.

Ben shakes his head, swallows another bite. “God, you’re gonna make someone so happy someday.”

 

——

 

Rey doesn’t remember dreaming. She barely remembers sleeping. All she knows is that everything is too hot, and her womb is swelling to the point of strain, it hurts, she hurts, it’s never going to stop hurting. Tremors set in throughout her legs, and her breath comes shallow, and she’s sweating and this is it, now, this is her, this is how she’ll burn up and die.

All of this passes through her consciousness in one quick moment.

Then, in the next: Ben.

His scent is everywhere. In the air, in the sheets, on her own skin. Even her own slick smells like him because he’s come inside her so many times already.

Desperately she scrabbles out one hand, skating over a round shoulder, down a broad bicep. “Ben—” Her voice comes out hoarse. Then it breaks into a sob. “Ben.”

His scent changes and the mattress dips and then he’s there, holding her face in his hands. “It’s all right. I’m here.”

“I can’t, I can’t, I can’t—”

“Yes you can. It’s all right, Rey.”

Everything is heavy and stretching and she keens softly in pain. Not just the pain in her body but the pain of the emptiness, of the need. She can’t stop grabbing at him, trying to pull him closer. He’s on top of her, all pressed up against her, but it’s not enough, not close enough. She needs him inside, all the way inside, under her skin until there’s no room for anything else anymore.

Her legs shift around him, feet dragging along the sides of his thighs. She writhes, trying to get further under him. “Please—fuck, please—”

“Rey. Stop.”

And her eyes snap open. Ben is staring down at her, still holding her face, and his voice, his scent, his hands, all of it commands her and holds her still. She breathes.

“I’m here, Rey. I’m going to take care of you. But you need to let me.”

She nods. She’s still breathing.

And then he shifts away

“No!” The absence of him is too much, too cold, too empty. “Ben—please, Ben, I need—”

“Shh.” A hand under her knee, lifting her thigh. “I know what you need.” A kiss on her forehead. “Trust me.”

“I do, I do .”

Her throat hurts from constricted breaths, but he kisses that, too, right next to her pulse. Her glands throb. “I’ve got you, gorgeous.” And she feels him, feels him, feels the heat of him pressing against her center. It makes her cry. “Let go. I’ll follow you all the way down.”

And he enters—

—and everything is blurred but so clear, too hot but still soothing. His cock filling her even with how wide she’s stretching. The gush of slick that coats both of them, the wet sounds of their skin meeting as he fucks her. His hands stroking her hair back, stroking down her throat, thumbs pressing into her glands until she cries out. Ben, Ben, everything is Ben, his scent so deep rich firm blooming around her, and then he presses the heel of his hand against her clit, just one moment of firm pressure and she—

Falls apart. She’s crying and her cunt clenches around him and he makes this sound, this guttural sound that sets all her nerves even more on fire.

“Rey—” he grunts, through gritted teeth. The waves of orgasm rolling through her body, bright and humming, give her just enough clarity to see him, her Ben, breathing hard above her. “Do you want—”

“Yes.” Her hands fly up from his back and curl around his face, fingers in his hair. “Knot me, knot me, please, I need it, I need you—”

And Ben’s eyes squeeze shut. His breath stutters. His hips stutter. And then—hot, thick, pressing in and—

Oh .

Rey feels him expand inside her. She stretches and stretches to hold him, to keep him safe in her. And then Ben lets out a hoarse cry, and she feels him pulse inside her.

And it’s like—like a wave. Like at the ocean, when the water comes up onto the sand, but then it pulls back out and drags sand and shells and stones back out with it. Like the waves rolling back out into the ocean, everything recedes. The fever, the ache, the need, the burning. It all rolls away as Ben’s seed pumps into her, straight through her cervix and into her womb. She’s coming again, riding the tail of the last time, washed in pleasure, but a softer, deeper kind, flushing every inch of her warm and pliant. And then everything relaxes, and she goes limp except for her legs, which stay firm around his hips.

Ben breathes hard above her. A bead of sweat drips from his forehead onto her cheek. Slowly, he lowers his head and kisses her cheek, just under her eye, just above where his sweat fell. Then his arms scoop under her back and he carefully rolls over, pulling her on top of him.

Rey shifts over him, settling, feeling the tight pull of his knot inside her when they move. She cuddles against his chest, and he holds her there, fingertips tracing up and down her back. Her own slick is on her lower back and the backs of her thighs, from how much has gotten onto the sheets, but he doesn’t seem to mind. She doesn’t, either. Nothing matters now except this, here, warm and safe with him inside her.

She listens to his heart slowly calm and feels both of their breathing even out. After a moment, Ben’s arms tighten around her. “How do you feel?” His voice is low. It rumbles in his chest, under her ear.

Rey tips her face up to peek up at him. He’s watching her, the look in his eyes making her heart warm. “Wonderful.” She runs her hand over his shoulder, down his chest. “Right.” She taps her fingers lightly on his chest. “What about you? How do you feel?”

“Calm. It’s nice.”

“Mm.” Rey’s fingers sleepily trace up to the side of his face; she taps the side of his head above his temple. “It’s always so busy up here.”

“It’s quiet, now. Because I know I did the right thing. Everything is what it’s supposed to be.”

“It is,” Rey says softly. And she lies there with him, feeling the fan blow over their cooling skin, feeling their hearts beating.

She dozes off at some point. When she blinks awake again, she’s lying on her side, Ben spooned behind her. His arms are strong and safe around her waist. She feels his breath stirring against her neck, not slow and even enough to be asleep.

“I knew you were going to wake up,” he murmurs. He sounds—amazed. “I could smell it. I can tell—there are so many things I can tell about you, by your scent.”

It pleases him. She can smell that on him, on his own scent blooming rich and thick around her. She pleases him.

“Tell me what to do,” she says. Her voice sounds so small. That’s okay. He’s so large and strong. Capable, efficient, like when he put the groceries away so neatly and then picked her up so easily and then fucked her so well. She wants to shift, to press back against him, but she waits, even though the waiting starts to coil heat in her core. “Tell me how to please you.”

Ben laughs softly, more breath than sound. “You already are, sweetheart.”

“But…” Her fingers trace the length of his forearm. “I want… I want you happy. I want you to keep being—pleased with me.”

And delicious, rich, his scent shifts again. It’s bigger and fuller and more pointed and it makes her body flush. Cold sweat prickles her lower back and she feels her core spasm.

“You want to please me?” he asks.

Rey can’t stop herself—she whines, low and needy, and arches back against him, grinding her hips back. She’s wet, she’s so wet. His voice is low and powerful and it makes her need him so much more. “Yes. That’s all I want. Alpha—”

His mouth is on her neck, teeth scraping delicate skin. She cries out and jerks against him when they graze over her scent gland. “I can tell you what to do,” he rasps. Rey is trying so hard to listen, must listen, must hear every little thing he wants of her, but it’s so hard the way he smells now, his scent growing wilder and wilder every second. “I can tell you what I want.” He’s rubbing against her gland, marking her with his scent, and she loves it, loves it, loves him. “Do you want that, Rey?”

“Yes.” Her hands grasp his forearms and she nearly sobs when she feels him, hot and hard, finally at an angle where she can rub her slick, swollen clit against him.

Ben hisses in a breath at the contact. “You have no idea how you smell. How you sound. How you feel.” One hand trails up her stomach, her chest, flattens against her collarbones to hold her against him. “Everyone would want you, if they knew.” His nose nudges her temple, his voice hot in her ear. Rey rolls her hips weakly, keening softly. It’s not enough, it’s not enough, but the sound of his voice—“But I wouldn’t let them touch you. Nobody. Never.” His other hand slides down, spread broad over her belly. He presses it firm against her and she feels herself aching under his hand, deep inside, aching as she swells, because he’s her alpha and he’s falling into rut and he’s going to give her his seed and she’s going to take all of it, all of it—“Because you’re mine,” he growls, and Rey feels dizzy. “All mine. Do you want that, omega?”

Pleasure, pure and sweet, washes over her. She shivers, going still against him. “ Yes .”

One hot, wet kiss against her shoulder. Then Ben pulls away, his heat leaving her back, and Rey whines and starts to tremble but she’d promised, she’d promised she’ll do what he says, do what he wants.

His voice, strong and clear, tells her, “Get on your knees.”

Rey turns onto her belly and pushes up to her hands and knees. Her fingers press into the sheets, wet all over again with the slick coating her thighs. She shivers, with the coldness of his body leaving hers and with the heat of her own fever and with anticipation and with arousal and she can’t help it, she chances a peek back over her shoulder.

Ben is on his knees behind her, and she’s never imagined he could look this way. His gaze is dark and piercing, cheeks flushed and hair mussed. Every muscle in his body seems to coil as he strokes his cock, slow and deliberate. “Good girl,” he says, his gaze holding hers.

And Rey—very nearly comes from the words alone, his tone, his eyes on her, the way she can smell on him how pleased he truly is. She bites her lip and lets her head fall, eyes squeezing shut at the wave of sensation. She pleased him. She pleases her alpha.

She yelps when his hand cups her sex. The surprise makes her nearly jolt away, but she holds herself, leans back into his touch. “You’re so wet.” That same tone, heavy and heady. “You’re soaking, even for heat. You want this, don’t you? You need this.”

“Y-yes.” It’s hard to talk with her breath coming so shallow.

Two thick fingers slide easily inside her. She bites her lip, fingers clenching the sheets, as he presses them deep into her cunt until she feels the knuckles of his other fingers digging into her labia. “You want me,” Ben says. He isn’t touching her with his other hand. Why isn’t he touching her. She wants him to—He curls his fingers, and she gasps. “ Don’t you .”

Yes .”

He pulls out his fingers and Rey trembles, arms weak, but she stays where she is. The moment seems to stretch too long, the fever’s peaking into pain, she needs him. But she can bear it. She can bear it because she needs and wants to please him as much as she needs and wants him to fill her.

And then he’s there, but not touching her. Leaning over her, arms reaching down on either side of her, bracing himself against the mattress. He hovers over her, so close she can feel the heat of his skin, but not touching her.

“I know, love,” he says when she moans. “I can smell it. I can feel it. You’re being so good for me. So patient. So sweet.” She moans again, her cunt clenching and pleasure rolling through her. “My good girl, so warm and wet and ready.” His breath skims over her shoulders—she jerks in surprise and a sharp hot point of sensation when it brushes past her mating gland—and down her shoulder. She feels him looking her over, drinking her in, and she would stay here forever, aching and burning and needing, if it pleased him. And it is, it is, she can smell how pleased he is with her. “So good for me. Waiting even though she needs me.”

Rey can only nod, trying to swallow with a dry throat.

Ben lowers his head and speaks directly in her ear. “I’m going to fuck you now.”

Please .” It’s more breath than speech. She can’t stop shaking.

“And I’m going to knot you. And I’m going to make everything feel better.”

And he grabs her hips and thrusts full inside her.

Even with how wet and open she is, the friction is divine. A throaty, warbling cry escapes her and her arms give, her face and chest press down against the bed as Ben fucks her. His hands are holding her so he can drive into her, and the swollen, hard head of his cock keeps striking against the front of her walls, sparking through her nerves from her belly up to her chest. She can smell both of them down here in the sheets, his scent and hers melded together, like they always will be, now.

“Come on, gorgeous.” His hand, big hand, broad strong hand that keeps her his, is on her shoulder. He pulls her back up onto her hands. “Come on.” That hand twists through her hair, wraps it around, and tugs. Rey gasps as he pulls her head back, arches her spine, feels herself tighten around his cock. “ Yes ,” he hisses, “you like this, don’t you? You like when I take what I want?”

“Yes, alpha— fuuuck —”

One more tug and her hands lift from the bed, pain and pleasure course through her, and he hauls her back against his chest. One hand comes up to press against her chest, holding her against him like he did when they were lying down; the other flies to her center, fingers circling her clit without hesitation. Rey sobs out a cry, leaning her head back against the curve of his shoulder, her hands folding over his on her chest and clutching his fingers as he keeps thrusting up into her.

“You’re so beautiful,” he says, voice breaking where he murmurs against her ear. “I love how you smell. I love how you feel. I—fuck—I love seeing your pretty little ass in the air for me. I love what a mess—what a mess you make with wanting me.”

“Ben,” she gasps, she’s dizzy, her body is on fire and he’s still rubbing her clit and it’s making it hard to say even so much as his name. “I—”

“So good,” he rasps, hips snapping against hers, cock sliding hard and deep inside her. “Such a good girl—” And Rey comes, hard, too hard to even cry out, shivering into stillness even as he keeps fucking her. “ Thank you .” Ben’s voice pitches up. “Thank you for coming for me, my omega, my love, my gorgeous girl, but you’re not done, are you, you still need me, still need this knot—”

If he’s babbling, she doesn’t care. She can feel him starting to swell inside her. Everything is blurring but Rey drags herself back from the precipice just far enough to stutter, “Please—let me see you—hold you—”

He’s so quick to respond, to answer her every need. He shoves her back down onto the bed and pulls out completely, just for a second, just long enough to turn her over onto her back, but it’s long enough to make her whimper at her sudden emptiness—but then he’s there, he’s back, he’s inside her and above her with that same piercing heat in his eyes. One hand supports him as he fucks her into the mattress, riding them both to the edge, dirty words and heady promises spilling from him under his breath, too scattered and lost in the haze of need for her to understand and he probably doesn’t either, but his other hand finds hers, holds hers, and squeezes—

And he groans, primal and guttural, as his knot swells inside her, pushes his cock even deeper, locks himself inside her.

It’s singing, and floating, and flying. Rey spirals up out of herself to meet him somewhere else, somewhere higher, every nerve lighting up as the sheerest, purest pleasure coils up from her core and washes through her body, up through her belly and chest, down into her thighs, up into her head making her head rush and go fuzzy with bliss.

And then the wave, the wave that rolls out, taking all the pain and fever and panic with it. All that’s left behind is calm and ease and safe and home and yes, yes, yes.

For a while, neither of them move. All there is between them is the rush of their breaths and the slow calming of a deep hormonal shift. Then, just like last time, Ben carefully turns them onto his back, Rey cradled against his chest. He kisses her forehead, the top of her head, soft, fluttering, tender kisses, so different from his tone just moments ago. His hands caress her back, gently stroke her damp hair.

“Thank you,” is what she manages to say when she’s able to command her tongue enough to speak. She lies boneless and warm against him, comfort in every inch of her body as his cock slowly pulses inside her.

He brushes her hair back behind her ear, fingers lingering on the fine bones of her brow, her cheeks. “No,” he whispers. “Thank you.”

Rey is almost asleep, lulled off by the exhaustion of heat and the rush of happy-making hormones, when she notices the change in his scent. Blinking heavily, she turns her head, resting her chin on his sternum so she can look up at him. “What’s wrong?”

His lips press hard together as he works his jaw, but he doesn’t glance away from her.

“You can tell me.”

“I just…” Ben’s hand firms against her shoulder, squeezes her lightly against him. “I’m sorry.”

She blinks again, this time in surprise. “What for ?” She almost laughs. He’s just given her absolutely delicious orgasms, the best heat experience of her life, and is currently soothing her soft and safe against his chest while knotted to her—what in the world could he be sorry for?

“I’ve never…” His voice is so small. “I’ve never let anyone see me like that, either. I don’t… I know you liked it then. I don’t know if you still like it now.”

“Ben.” Rey shifts against him as much as she can, reaches up to stroke his face softly, from temple to jaw, then lets her hand rest against his cheek. He leans into her touch, eyes fluttering closed. “I like it. I’m very into it. Especially when my heat is at a fever pitch. But yes, I still like it. I still love you.”

He swallows. “It’s—aggressive. I’ve tried so hard to stop being so aggressive.”

She hears the echo in his words. I’m too big. Like there’s nothing made to fit me.

She has room for him. He fits with her.

“How do you feel right now?” she asks. “When you take away the part where you’re nervous about that, how do you feel?”

Ben lifts one hand from her back to curl around her hand against his cheek. “Like I’m where I’m supposed to be.”

“Doing what you’re supposed to do.”

“Yeah.”

She smiles. “I feel the same. I need you and I want you. Just like this. Just as you are.”

A ghost of a smile tugs at his own mouth. “I wanna kiss you for that.”

“Mm.” Rey leans her head back against his chest. “You will. When you’re done filling me up with baby juice.”

The surprised laugh that escapes him, free and clear and resonating through his chest under her ear, makes her heart glow. Success. “I can’t fucking believe you just called it that.”

Her smile spreads into a grin, tongue peeking out between her teeth.

Ben grins back. “You’re incorrigible.”

“You love it.”

“I do. And I love you.”

Rey kisses her fingertips and reaches up to press them against his lips. He catches her hand, holds it there, kisses her fingers. The light in his eyes is back, his anxieties calmed. And again, she knows—this is it. This is home.

She has a feeling her fourth day is going to feel much better this time.

 

——

 

The last days of July are always the heaviest part of summer, but today is especially heinous. Rey spent all day lying flat on the floor, trying to keep cool in her no-AC third-floor apartment—and hoping it cools down before next week because she promised Poe she’d make three trays of lasagna for his birthday, but turning on her oven in this heat is out of the question—until Ben texted her. (I know you live a little far from me but you’re the one person I can count on to never turn down ice cream, his text had read. Rey had grinned until her cheeks hurt.)

They’re sitting on a picnic table at the ice cream place—sitting up on the table itself, feet resting on the bench—under the shade of a massive tree. Ben has a scoop of cappuccino fudge on a cake cone. Rey, who will freely admit ice cream is nigh unto divinity to her, has a scoop of banana and a scoop of dark chocolate peanut butter in a waffle cone. It’s absolutely melting all over her hands, in this heat, but she doesn’t care.

“Stop judging me,” she says when she catches Ben staring at her while she licks melted chocolate off the back of her fingers. “I’m a powerful, determined woman, and I will finish this ice cream before it’s a puddle.”

The corner of his mouth quirks into a smile. “I have no doubt about that.” His gaze flicks back to his own cone. “Your commitment to ice cream surpasses all else. Woe betide whatever poor man marries you.” He licks his own ice cream, and Rey fidgets at the sight of his broad tongue. “You should put it in your vows. ‘I promise to love and cherish you, but just know that you’ll always play second fiddle to ice cream.’”

She laughs, shoving her shoulder against his. “Dick.”

“That I am.”

Rey is nothing if not honest about her own appetite: she’s almost done with all her ice cream as Ben is finishing his smaller portion. Her chest twinges a little. She’s not ready to go home yet. Not only because Ben’s car has air conditioning, though that helps. But mostly because—well, because it’s Ben. However much they hang out, it never feels like quite enough. Not when she feels the way she does about him.

“You know what we haven’t done in ages?”

“What?” he asks, wiping his hands on the too-tiny ice cream parlor napkins.

“Star gazing.” Rey slurps the remnants of the banana ice cream out of the bottom of the cone, then crunches the last sugary bite. “It’s been months. The constellations move, right?”

He makes a low noise of assent. With his large, careful hands, he wads up the napkins and holds up the ball of them, moving it in a circle. “When the Earth orbits the sun, different constellations come more into view over time.” Then he tosses the napkins to the nearest trash can; the wad of paper lands inside easily. “They won’t have changed too much since the last time we went out. But I can test your knowledge.”

“I know I can find Orion.”

Ben arches an eyebrow. “Everyone can find Orion. Impress me, Johnson.”

“Is that a challenge, Solo?”

“Obviously.”

He’s leaning closer to her, and it’s one of those moments when Rey wonders if maybe, maybe he feels anything like she feels. Because there’s something heavy in the air between them.

But maybe that’s just the humidity.

All the same, she isn’t going to shy away from any moment she can share with him. “All right, then,” she says, leaning her shoulder against his once more. “Take me to the country, Ben. Show me all the stars.”

And when he does—when, hours later, they’re sitting in the grass at the edge of a field, gazing up at the night sky, peeking at Ben’s astronomy books under flashlights, his knee bumping hers and the sound of crickets all around them and her heart so full of joy and calm—Rey wonders if she could ever possibly be happier than this.

 

——

 

“It’s easy,” Ben says. “You’re just not paying attention.”

“I am so.” Rey scrunches up her nose at him. “You’re just a bad teacher.”

One hand catches her hip, pulls her in against his side. “The way of the fitted sheet is mysterious,” he murmurs, very seriously, against the top of her head. “There’s no shame in taking time to learn it.”

Rey nuzzles his shoulder. “You literally just said it was easy.”

“It’s possible I’m switching up my story to make sure I don’t actually piss you off. I like when my girlfriend is happy.”

She tilts back her head and he leans down like instinct. Rey kisses him, soft and light. “I am.”

It’s Wednesday evening, and Ben is helping her wash the soiled sheets that smell like both of them at their headiest and wildest, peeling off the mattress liner and putting on new, clean sheets. The only snag has come now, when the once-dirty sheets are fresh from the dryer and Ben is hopelessly trying to teach Rey how to fold the fitted one nice and flat instead of balling it up in the back of the closet.

He’s back on his blockers, and she’s back on her suppressants. It’s definitely better that way when she’s not in heat—they love each others’ scents far too much to get through life coherently otherwise. But there’s still something. Something that wasn’t there before, something that goes beyond the simple fact of having transitioned from friends to dating. Even something more than having fucked each others brains out enough times that Rey literally lost count.

She takes another try at folding the sheet and very nearly gets it this time. Then, Ben says, quietly and almost like he’s scared to say it, “It feels different, now.”

Rey turns as he sits down on the edge of the newly-made bed. He’s watching her, something careful and hopeful in his beautiful eyes.

“I know,” she says. “I feel it, too.” She leaves the sheet and steps over to him, standing between his knees. It’s easy as breathing to reach up and play with his hair. Ben’s eyes flutter closed, a soft sigh escaping him as her fingernails drag lightly along his scalp. “We made something together.” She leans in, resting her chin against the top of his head. His hands settle on her hips, heavy and warm and secure. “You were right.”

“About what?”

“About this being the right choice. Sharing my heat with you. Letting you through all those walls. Everything feels different now. Better. More solid. Like how it’s supposed to be. And maybe we wouldn’t have—clicked right into this if I hadn’t opened to you that way.”

Ben turns his head, resting it against her chest. “Literally.”

She laughs. It’s the half-surprised laugh they both fall into when the other drops a joke in the middle of a serious conversation. She always loves it. “Literally. And figuratively.” Her arms wind around him, resting on his shoulders. “I’m glad.”

“I didn’t want to bully you into it,” Ben says. It’s hard to see his face at this angle, but a glance down shows her a little furrow in his brows as he tightens his arms around her waist. He sounds almost shy, and she strokes his hair. “But I was pretty sure I was right. I’m glad you ended up feeling the same.”

“Me too.” And Rey bows her head, holding him close. She’s glad of so many things. His friendship. His love. His banter and his praise of her cooking and his astronomy lessons. The way he kisses her and the way he fucks her and the way he holds her. The way he smells when they’re together, even now so faintly behind his blockers, so strong and secure and calm. The absolutely centered, grounded way they feel.

Standing in the dim light of her bedroom the night after her heat, calm and clear once more and still wanting this man and his love and this thing they’re building together every bit as much as she did then, Rey has never felt so damn glad.