She wakes to the text from Finn the next morning, her phone buzzing on the floor where it had fallen out of the back pocket of her jeans.
It’s only a little bit a lie, but she feels guilty. Chances are, Bebe will know she’s off with her fuck buddy. She wonders if Bebe will connect it—that she and Ben disappeared together last night at the same time. She wonders if Lando will have told anyone.
Why don’t you want people to know? she wonders. She looks over her shoulder at Ben. His arm is thrown over his face, blocking out the faint golden light streaming through his curtains out of his eyes.
Because it’s mine. It feels like something to keep secret, to keep safe for the time being, before the scrutiny and judgement come rolling in. Because she knows that it will. She can just imagine Finn’s horror that she’s been fucking Ben Solo this whole time—much less that she’s…
She takes a deep shuddering breath and lets the phone fall onto his rug again. Then she curls up next to him, nuzzling into his neck and feeling his pulse beating strongly against her lips.
His arm tightens at her waist. He sighs. He pulls her close.
Time moves in a blur.
She spends most of the day in Ben’s apartment. She bakes him a banana poppyseed loaf that makes his eyes roll into the back of his head. He kisses his way along her neck and tells her a bit more about growing up with LCJ and Lumpy.
They kiss, they eat, they curl up on the couch and are quiet for a little while. She borrows his copy of The Prisoner of Azkaban because she doesn’t have anything to read but she wants to sit there, tucked against his side.
And then she’s at Naberrie, dealing with brides and birthday parties while Finn and Jannah joke around in the trenches. She still wishes she were out there with them, especially when one particularly intense mother spends a good hour and a half detailing her son’s allergies no fewer than four times.
She spends more nights at Ben’s than she does in her own apartment—and not just because he has an air conditioning unit, which gets more important as New York creeps its way towards July. He has a better oven, a shorter commute to the shop, and a bed that smells a lot like him when she flops on it for a nap. She feels safe there. Wanted. At home.
Things feel easier because of Ben. And she senses that he feels the same way about her too, because for the first time—ever—she hears him complain about work.
“He’s just an asshole sometimes,” Ben says as he cooks them both dinner. She likes watching him cook, watching him maneuver around the stove, pouring olive oil and spices into a saucepan to prepare it for what comes next.
“How so?” Rey asks, trying to sound casual.
“He’s a little…” Ben takes a deep breath. “He tells you he wants one thing done; you do it; then he acts like it’s not good enough. Like this Soho shop,” he says, stirring the veggies in the pan with a wooden spoon, “All the work that’s going into getting it set up—the lease, working with contractors, getting publicity out there—it was all well and good at the beginning, but now that things are coming down to the wire, he’s saying that my heart’s not in it.”
“Is your heart in it?” Rey asks him.
He glances over his shoulder at her. She’s sitting on the floor of his kitchen, a glass of wine in her hands. She almost never drinks wine, but she does with Ben. Ben’s got good wine, and he likes to drink it while he cooks.
“I might be…” he pauses and his eyes get soft as he looks at her. “I might be distracted lately.”
She grins up at him and raises her wine glass. Good. She likes being his distraction. She likes distracting him. She likes his attention, his arms around her, how she feels safe in his apartment.
“But—I don’t know—I don’t know.”
“I think you do know,” Rey says to him and he gives her an annoyed glare. “I think you just don’t like admitting it to yourself.”
Because he doesn’t.
Now that they’ve started actually talking about things like feelings and fears, his family comes up a lot. And not in the blisteringly angry way that it had when they’d started screwing on the side. In a confused way—first upset, then forgiving, then angry, then nostalgic.
He’s always felt things really deeply. I don’t think that went away. I just think he hides it. Han had said that when he’d stopped by Naberrie what feels like ages and ages ago. She gets it now. She sees it in the way his jaw sort of rolls and the way he’d clung to her and cried that night she’d said she didn’t hate him, and the way that she catches him looking at her sometimes, like she’s going to go up in a puff of smoke.
He finishes cooking in silence.
They end up in bed—as they tend to do—and after he’s made her come so hard she’d lost control of most of her abdominal muscles for a few seconds there, he asks, “You really think…”
“That it might be different?”
She looks at him and sighs. “Maybe,” she says. “Isn’t there a compromise between the way thing were and the way things are?”
“Why do I always have to be the one to compromise?”
“Isn’t the point of a compromise that both sides have to change?” she shoots back at him. “They have to accept you and you have to accept them? No more trying to force anyone to be who they’re not?”
He doesn’t say another word before she drifts off to sleep.
“Want to go take a look at it?” Luke asks her when he stops by the back office.
“Look at what?” Rey asks. She’s knee deep in Facebook comments right now. They’d just posted pictures of their Fourth of July special cupcakes and everyone is very excited.
“The new Snoke’s site.”
Ben had shown her pictures on his phone the day before, but Rey gets up and a few minutes later she and Luke are walking through the humid heat.
They stop together on the street corner across the way, staring at the cupcakery. There’s a line out the door, and a sign in the window promising a free scoop of ice cream with a cupcake order today only. She sees people taking selfies, and is sure that Instagram is about to be flooded with more publicity for Snoke’s. It makes her sick, thinking about the Facebook comments she’d been going through that morning. There were plenty of them, enough that she’d felt good. But nothing like this.
“I’ll never forgive him,” Luke says bitterly.
“Snoke?” Rey asks.
“Ben,” he replies in a clipped tone.
And Rey flares.
“You know, maybe you should work on forgiving him more and acknowledging that you drove him away,” she snaps. “That success—do you really think it’s Snoke’s?” It could have been Naberrie.
Luke stares at her for a long while. Those clear blue eyes are so unlike Ben’s.
“You don’t know what you’re talking about,” he says at last. “Ben wanted to break everything we built—”
“Instead of letting it die the natural death that’s coming?” Rey demands. “Or do you want us to lose all our business? How is that his fault?”
She whirls and heads back to the bakery, her hands shaking. I’m going to get fired. I’m going to get fired. I’m going to get fired.
She finds, somehow, that she doesn’t care.
Luke doesn’t follow her back to the shop. He doesn’t return all day and by the time Rey is saying goodbye to the evening shift people and pulling her phone out of her pocket to text Ben, she wonders just how much trouble she’s in. Luke only ever doesn’t come back if he’s gone to talk business with Leia.
Rey stares at the words. She’d been invited too—Leia had sent an email making sure that she and Finn and Finn’s guest all knew how to get out to Long Island.
Rey frowns. Somehow, she suspects this will only have gotten worse if Lumpy knows that Ben gave Han a heart attack.
He doesn’t reply right away. Rey gets on the train and ends up back at her apartment before her phone buzzes again.
Rey takes a deep breath before replying.
She texts him her address and then looks around the apartment.
It’s not exactly messy, but his apartment is much neater. For a moment, she’s tempted to franticly clean it, but no. No, she decides not to do that. This is me, she tells herself. And it’s not like it’s gross it’s just…lived in.
Ben arrives forty minutes later, looking so exhausted that when she steps into his arms, it feels like he’s dropping his entire weight onto her.
“Hi,” he mumbles into her hair.
“Hi,” she replies.
They don’t talk right away. They don’t move right away either, but when they do, it’s down her hallway, his lips on hers until he pauses and looks around and says, “I don’t know which one’s your room.”
She leads him into it and sits him down on the bed and settles herself between his legs and kisses her way down his stomach until she’s tugging him out of his pants. He’s not hard right away, but it doesn’t take him long.
She licks her way along him while his fingers brush their way through her hair. They feel unsure and when she glances up at him, her nose pressed against the side of his cock, she sees that his jaw is tight and his gaze is distant.
“Relax,” she tells him and his eyes snap to her.
“I—” he begins before cutting himself off.
He doesn’t really relax, but his fingers do tighten in her hair as and soon his uneven breathing gets a little more uneven and he’s choking out a groan and coming apart in her mouth, his hands clenching on her bedspread and his back arching slightly and that familiar relief that comes with his tangy bitter cum in her mouth spreading through her. She lets him go with a gentle pop from her lips and crawls up the bed to lie there next to him. He turns to face her and kisses her, lightly, gently, before taking a deep, shuddering breath.
“Sorry,” he mutters to her, pulling her into his arms. “I—”
“Needed that,” Rey finishes evenly. She kisses him again and his lips chase hers as she pulls away, his breath tickling at her upper lip.
“Yeah,” he said. “I like what you do to me.”
“I like what you do to me too,” she replies automatically, the words hitting her harder than she expects as her breath catches in her throat.
“You’re going? To the barbecue?” She can tell he’s trying to ask casually. She can tell he wants it not to matter, that he wants it not to hurt.
“Yup,” she says. “Finn and I are taking the train out at around noon.”
Ben nods before asking, slowly, “Finn still doesn’t know?”
“I’ll tell him,” she says.
Ben just shakes his head. “In your own time. I can pretend to bump into you on the train.”
“I’ll tell him,” Rey repeats. “I should have told him already. I should have…” her voice trails away.
Finn had never been anything but honest with her about Rose. From the get-go. I lied to him.
It crashes over her like a wave and she buries her face in Ben’s chest, trying to make the guilt go away.
Finn doesn’t question it more than that. He arrives a few minutes after Rey does, a shoulder bag out of which peeks a pair of swim trunks and a towel. He’s wearing sunglasses, even though they’re underground, and orders an iced coffee while Rey fiddles with the paper wrapper of her banana muffin.
She’d told Ben to come at 11:45. She has fifteen minutes.
“I have something to tell you,” she says in a low voice and Finn looks up at her over the tops of his sunglasses.
“Yeah,” she says. “I’m—” she looks around. “I’m seeing someone.”
Finn’s face cracks in a smile. “Look at you!” he says happily. “What’s he like?”
“Ben Solo,” Rey says, watching Finn’s brows crumple in confusion. “I’m seeing Ben Solo.”
She can’t see his eyes behind those sunglasses. She can’t see his shock, can’t see his anger, or confusion, or disappointment. She can’t see anything at all. She twists the paper between her fingers and it breaks.
Finn lets out a long, low hiss of air, and leans back against the counter of the coffee bodega in Penn Station. He doesn’t ask her if she’s joking, doesn’t ask her if she’s serious. He just stares at her.
“Ok,” he says at last, and he takes a sip of his iced coffee. “Ok.”
“That’s it?” Rey asks, her voice sounding a little small.
And suddenly Finn’s arm is around her shoulder, squeezing her to his side. “What do you want me to do—flip a table? I don’t know him, I just know what people say about him. But I know you. And I trust you. And if he hurts you, I’ll kill him.”
“LCJ won’t like that,” Rey tells him.
“Then LCJ and I will have a problem, because you’re my ride or die.” Rey sags as relief washes over her. Finn doesn’t hate her. Finn’s still here. Finn’s not going to leave her behind.
“He’s the guy you’ve been fucking for a little while?” he asks.
“Yeah,” She replies. “How’d you know about—”
“Even if you didn’t show up with hella hickies and cum in your hair that one time—” Rey squeaks. “Yeah, there was cum in your hair. Bebe mentioned something to Poe, and Poe mentioned something to me. We all figured you’d get there in the end—telling us, I mean.”
“He’s coming to the barbecue,” Rey says and Finn’s eyebrows shoot up over the tops of his sunglasses.
“Is he now?”
“Just waltzing in?”
“His parents invited him.”
“Damn,” Finn says.
“And he’s coming?”
“I just said—he’s getting here in a few minutes.” Finn stiffens.
“He’s riding the train with us?”
She looks up, her brows furrowing. “Is that ok?”
Finn takes a sip of his coffee. “It’ll be fine,” he says slowly. “Just—thanks for the head’s up.”
Rey bites her lip and looks down at her phone. Almost as though he knew she’d be looking, a text from Ben sails through.
“It’ll be fine,” Finn tells her firmly, even if he doesn’t sound exactly happy. “I’m just—you dropped a lot on me.”
“Sorry,” she mumbles. She can’t bring herself to look up and see the disappointment on his face, even if she can’t see his eyes.
“It’s fine.” Finn repeats. “Better late than never. Like I said—you’re my ride or die. Let’s go.” He shoulders his bag, and together, they leave the bodega.
“He’s coming for you?” Finn asks as they weave their way through the crowd, clearly trying to forge ahead. She’s grateful for that. If he’s asking questions and forging ahead, then she doesn’t feel quite as much like an asshole for not having told him sooner.
“He’s going because he wants to go,” Rey says. “He’s not—” Happy. “It’s not because of me.”
“It’s a little because of you,” Finn says with narrowed eyes. “Something tells me he wouldn’t even consider going if it weren’t for you.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” Rey demands.
“Oh come on,” he laughs. “You have the same info I had until you started fucking him. Let’s pretend you haven’t been seeing him—would you honestly think he’d show up to his parents’ Fourth of July party, even if they invited him if you weren’t involved?”
“It’s not like that,” Rey says, because it’s not. She’s not making him do anything. She somehow doubts that anyone can make Ben Solo do anything.
“I doubt that very much. You kick his ass, don’t you?”
“Shh,” she hisses. He’s halfway across the dimly-lit atrium standing by the train schedules, but she can still see him. And even if there are hundreds of people between them, she doesn’t doubt he’ll know that they’re talking about him. Indeed, his eyes have landed on her and Finn, weaving their way through the crowd of people towards him. She sees his shoulders get tense.
“Hi,” she says, and she takes his hand. He’s looking down at her, as though he’s trying to read her mind. “Finn, Ben. Ben, Finn.” She smiles at both of them as hopefully as she can.
Ben extends the hand that’s not in Rey’s and Finn shakes it, nodding determinedly.
“Just waiting on Rose?” he asks carefully. Finn nods and tugs out his phone, but even as he does, Rey sees hands sneak around his waist, and Rose presses her lips to the side of his neck from behind.
“Hi, you,” she says softly, and then freezes, her eyes landing on Rey’s hand in Ben’s.
“Shall we?” Ben asks, cutting through the way that Rose is staring. Without waiting for a reply he turns and leads them towards a track.
“They haven’t posted the track yet,” Rey says.
He shrugs, but he’s not wrong. Just as they reach the entrance to the track, the sign lights up and there’s their stop listed right on the wall.
Ben navigates the platform and train with practiced ease, finding them a four-seat section facing one another to sit in which is sort of magical, given just how many people seem to all be trying to cram themselves onto this exact train. He sits on the aisle so he can stretch his legs out a bit, and Rose sits opposite him, since she doesn’t really need legroom at all.
It is blisteringly awkward. As the train shoots out to the Jamaica changeover, none of them really say anything at all. Finn and Ben glance at one another, Rose shoots Rey a combination of confused, commiserating, and are you sure? looks. And Ben’s hand is viselike in hers.
After they transfer trains at Jamaica, Finn mercifully asks, “You going to that thing of Lando’s this weekend?”
Ben grimaces. “Probably. Have to make up for picking my parents over him, which I vowed I’d never do again.”
And just like that, they’re small-talking. Awkward, awkward small talk, both of them focusing as much as they can on Lando Calrissian Junior, and as little as they can on the fact that Ben’s hand is in Rey’s. But it’s something. Rey tilts her head back against the seat, relieved and it’s only when Ben’s gently shaking her and telling her that it’s time to get off the train that she realizes that she’d fallen asleep.
Finn and Rose are already standing by the train doors and Rey looks up at Ben, who’s got her bag on his shoulder next to his. “Everything ok?” she asks him.
He half-shrugs. “Not the most painful part of my day, I’m sure.” His face softens when he sees the concern spread across hers. “It was fine. You snored and we made fun of you.”
“I do not snore,” she snaps.
“Listen, you snore a lot,” Ben says. “And it’s adorable, and I find it increasingly difficult to fall asleep in a quiet room because of it. But you definitely snore.”
The house is right on the beach, old and huge. The Atlantic rumbles against the sand and Rey sits on the beach with Rose and Finn, drinking a beer and laughing. To Finn’s absolute delight, Poe is there too and the two of them go off and splash each other in the water, laughing and joking loudly.
She doesn’t know where Ben is. She doesn’t know where Leia is. Han is grilling, and laughing with Lumpy and Lumpy’s dad. Lumpy had thoroughly ignored Ben from the moment that Ben had arrived, not that that had mattered much because Ben had gone off with his mother—Rey checks her phone—forty-five minutes ago.
“Dogs?” Han calls to them, waving his barbecue tongs in the air.
“Yes please!” Rey says happily, getting to her feet and making her way over to the grill. Han hands her a plate and rests his hand briefly on her shoulder.
“Thanks,” he says quietly.
“He’s here because of you.”
“I didn’t make him come,” Rey says quietly.
“No,” Han agrees. “But you did chew Luke out one pretty good.”
“Where is Luke?” Rey asks.
“Back in Manhattan. Can’t tell if he’s huffy we invited Ben or if he’s trying to be penitent, but he decided last minute to stay at the shop and oversee sales. Doesn’t trust the newbies, since we got all our senior staff out here.” Han winks at her.
“How’re you enjoying retirement?” Rey laughs.
“Wouldn’t trade it for anything,” Han says as he puts hot dogs on plates for Finn and Rose. “The ticker’s doing ok, too,” he says, tapping his chest. Then he gives Rey a look. “Did you…”
Rey shakes her head. “Not mine to tell,” she says, giving him a look that she hopes says, Please tell him at some point, though. Han pats her on the shoulder again, and his gaze drifts past her.
Ben and Leia are walking along the beach in the distance. Ben’s hands are jammed in the pocket of his swim trunks, Leia’s hair has freed itself of her braids and is blowing a bit in the wind. They’re still too far off for Rey to be able to tell what their expressions are. Leia’s wearing sunglasses anyway, so it’s not as though she’d be able to gauge much anyway. But she watches them closely as she eats her hot dog, and it’s not long before they’ve reached the grill.
“Hot dog?” Han asks his son with a sort of forced bravado. Ben doesn’t say a word, but takes the hot dog from his father and covers it with mustard before going and standing out ankle deep in the waves. Rey watches him go. He hadn’t looked at her, hadn’t given her any indication of how the conversation had gone. Indeed, it was like he hadn’t noticed her at all.
“He ok?” Rey hears Han ask quietly.
“He’s Ben,” sighs Leia. “Is he ever really ok?” Rey’s half-inflating with indignation when Leia continues. “He’s trying, though. He’s listening, and—and I listened.”
“He’s not quitting that old monster any time soon?”
“He doesn’t seem any happier there than he did in his last few months at Naberrie. I don’t think he likes working for anyone, in all honesty.”
“Gets that from you,” Han says fondly.
“Or you,” Leia retorts. “He said he’d—he said he’d call more, though. So it’s a start. And—” she doesn’t continue though, and when Rey sneaks a glance out of the corner of her eye, she sees Leia watching her. She sighs, and gets to her feet, throws out the plate she’d been eating on and wipes her hands on her legs before going to join Ben by the water.
“It’s cold,” she complains.
“It’s the Atlantic Ocean,” he replies a little tartly. She slips her hand around his waist and leans against him. He doesn’t lean back, keeps standing as tensely as if he’d been in a fight. Except he hadn’t been in a fight—he’d gone on a walk with his mother. But he hadn’t looked at her when he’d come back from it, and still hasn’t looked at her, and is standing almost like he doesn’t want her to touch him now.
“On a scale to we’re leaving now and we’re staying forever, how are you doing?” she asks him. She’s got a weird feeling gnawing in her stomach. It’s like he’s gone, somehow. Like he’s left her behind, even though he’s right there. She wants him to look at her.
He doesn’t reply right away, but he does tilt himself a little sideways to rest his head on the top of hers. It’s something, even if the rest of his body is still tense. “I hate that I don’t trust them to actually follow through on any of it,” he mutters at last. “I hate that I hear her saying we’ll try and listen more and all I hear is we didn’t mean to and you should accept that more than anything else.” He takes another deep breath, though. “But it was ok. I don’t know. If I believe her, it was really good.”
“But you don’t believe her.”
“I don’t know if she knows how to let me just be me. Like, I’m not going back to Naberrie. So what does that mean for her vision of me? She doesn’t know. I don’t think she knows how to let it go. All she ever wants to do is to fix stuff. Fix…me. And hell, maybe I’m broken, but I’d rather fix myself than have my mommy do it for me.” Finally, finally, he looks down at her. There’s almost a wistfulness in his face. “I like you kicking my butt.” Maybe it’s the forced smile on his face, or the way he’s still only barely touching her even though she has her arm around him but the words feel a little hollow. Like he doesn’t feel them, like he doesn’t feel anything at all. He just had a hard conversation with his mother, she thinks desperately. That has to be it. He’s just tired and feelings are hard.
And yet he’d clung to her as though afraid she’d leave when feelings were hard before. The weird feeling gets worse.
“I like you kicking mine,” she forces herself to reply. The salty sea-wind buffets a bit at her face, and she looks out at the horizon. The sky is clear, the sun is warm, her belly is full of food—all things that should set her at ease. Instead, she feels as though she’s about to fall.
“Something wrong?” Ben asks her. It’s unnerving, how quickly he’s learned to read her like an open book. And yet the question sounds empty, even now. If there’s concern there, it feels perfunctory. Or maybe that’s just what she’s expecting to hear because she’s so on edge?
“I don’t know,” she whispers. “Just a—a feeling. Does that ever happen to you?”
Be barks out a laugh. “Only all my life.” He kisses her temple. “And definitely right now too.”
She nods and takes a shaky breath. He’s just feeling really tired now. That’s all.
When they make their way back to the sands, she sits down with Finn and Rose and Poe and they drink their way through several beers. When it starts to go dark and fireworks flood the sky, she snuggles back into Ben’s arms, buzzed enough to have beaten that edginess into submission.
She dozes on the train ride back to the city, her head resting on Ben’s shoulder until she wakes and finds it’s resting against the window and Ben’s gone. When she looks around for him, he’s standing by the door, his phone pressed to his ear, talking quietly. Snoke, she knows somehow. It’s his day off, he shouldn’t be talking to Snoke. He should be here with her, relaxing, and easing his own stress from seeing his parents for the first time in ages, from trying to talk things through with his mother. Why can’t Snoke just let him be? Why did he get up to talk to Snoke when she’d been curled up next to him?
The weird feeling comes back as she watches him, her eyes prickling more than she wants. His back is to her and he’s so far away and for the first time since he came back from his walk with Leia, the words float into her mind and they are devastating.
He’s leaving you behind.
He’s not, she replies fiercely, rubbing her stinging eyes. He’s just tired. And a workaholic. He’s not leaving me behind. He wouldn’t.
Wouldn’t he? Everyone does. Even Finn.
When the train approaches Jamaica, Ben hangs up the phone and comes back to where she’s sitting “Cab back to mine?” he asks, and they leave the others with the train.
“Did it go away?” he asks her as he unlocks the door to his apartment.
Rey shakes her head. She wants him to pull her into his arms. She wants him to kiss her, or take her to bed, but instead he goes into the kitchen and pours himself a glass of whiskey. His hands are shaking a little bit.
Her stomach pits out.
He takes a shot and looks at her and she’s never seen him look so frightened in his life. “I can’t get this thought out of my head,” he says at last. “And I’m scared of it, of what it means, but I’m more scared of letting it fester and go south and ruin everything.”
This is it. He’s leaving me, is all Rey can think. He’s leaving me, and everything, he decided it wasn’t worth it.
“Rey,” he says slowly. “I think we should start our own bakery. No Snoke. No Naberrie. I do the business stuff, you get to bake whatever the fuck you want, whenever the fuck you want. I want you to join me.”
No. He’s not leaving me.
He’s asking me to leave them.