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Out with a Bang

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Out with a Bang

By Newer & Berry

 




*****

 

“Rey, can we talk?”

 

There’s only a drip of rosé left in her wine glass. She tips it back with a nod, holding up a finger while Mitaka waits.

The empty glass lands firmly on the tabletop and Rey grins at her roommate. The air is warm, night sky bright with stringed lights. The celebration around them is noisy, boisterous fun that deepens her buzz. Draping her arms into a lazy pretzel over one knee, she looks at him with raised brows.

 

“Sure. Shoot.”

 

She watches his head swivel, eyes darting as he looks around the rooftop bar. His Adam’s apple bobs behind his stiff collar, catching her eye.  

He’s nervous. He does this when he’s nervous. When he needs her rent check, or can’t find his favorite mug, that sort of thing.

 

The music throbs, a simmering roar heavy in her ears. She’s waiting, but he’s distracted? Definitely nervous.

“I –” He breaks off, looking around, blinking too many times. Rey’s eyebrows raise higher. This might be good.

“I just -” He’s tugging the bowtie off-center as his jaw swings side-to-side, stretching.

She leans in closer.

 

“Mitty, what’s up?”

“Nothing. I mean, er - something’s up. Just not. You know. Nothing bad. At least, I hope it’s not bad. It’s just... I –”

 

God, he really is nervous.

She frowns, placing a hand on his forearm, smiling gently. “Hey. It’s me. Whatever it is, it’s okay.” His eyes land on her long enough that Rey watches the nerves recede, and he heaves a sigh.

 

“It’s just - it’s just I’ve wanted to tell you for a long time. A really, really long time, but just because I need to get this off my chest doesn’t mean it has anything to do with you.” He rolls his eyes hard, shaking his head at the night sky above them. “What am I saying, of course it has to do with her, for the love of - ” he mutters.

 

“Mitaka. Honestly.” She chuckles, hoping to lighten the mood.

Whatever he needs to tell her can’t make that much difference anyway. She’s out of here in four months. She has the degree. She’s tossed the graduation cap. She’s still wearing the sleeveless shift dress, damp after sweltering inside a black robe during the muggy D.C. commencement.

“Okay,” he exhales. “Okay, fine.”

He glances at Rey, then back to the heavens. He’s speaking more to the navy sky than to her. “If this is where it has to happen, then this is where it has to happen.” Leaning forward, he balances elbows on both knees and looks at her imploringly.

Rey frowns. Her brows knit tighter and she cocks her chin his direction. He’s always been one for rambling monologues, but this is getting worrisome.

 

“Rey, I - ”

“Yes?”

There’s a bit of wine left in his glass, and he drains it in one swig. “In vino veritas, and all that,” he says, wiping his lips on the wet napkin he’s holding.
He blows a long breath through pursed lips, cheeks round with pressure, eyes squeezed shut tightly. “I’m in love with you.”

 

His eyes are still closed once he’s expelled the words. Slowly, they peel open, one at a time. He gazes at her, eyes wide as plates. The song changes and the party roars approval. Someone bumps Rey’s chair on the way to the dance floor. She swallows. His palms rub methodically against his thighs, watching for her response.

 

Damn. Damn, damn, damn.

“Oh. Christ.” This was - not what she had expected.

“I know.”

He cringes visibly, looking apologetic, and Rey leans back in her chair. “That is...not what I thought you were going to say.”
“Yeah.”

“Christ,” she repeats. She’s been nibbling at her bottom lip, tearing the skin without realizing it. When she reaches for her wine glass she’s disappointed she’s already emptied it.

Damn. That would’ve helped this bit.

 

“I’m...sorry?” His forehead sparkles with perspiration, and compassion bubbles under her ribs. Sweet Mitty. Goddamn it all, this is exactly what she was hoping to avoid, sharing a house with a single guy during the last year of college whom she was exactly zero percent attracted to.

 

“No. I mean. You don’t have to apologize…I just thought you were going to complain about my clothes mildewing in the washing machine again. Or, the fact I’ve been using your bottled water for my potted plants.”

“You’ve been using my filtered spring water to water the plants?”

“Yes?” She winces.

“Is that why they’ve looked so robust?” He smiles weakly, full of hope.

 

Cold discomfort climbs her spine. There’s several more hours of this, and Rose already slunk away with her fiance, Hux. Probably to make out or shag in a bathroom stall or hell, take off to their love nest eleven blocks away where they live happily shacked up.
No threat of perpetual weirdness for the happy couple. No awkward nice guy love confessions after graduation for them.


Normally, Hux and Rose’s mutual obsession with one another was couple goals. At the moment, Rey had to forgive them of abandonment in absentia.

“Are you - is that okay? That I told you?”

He’s waiting. She’s making him wait and it’s the most uncomfortable thing she’s endured in an age. If it’s this weird right now, it’s impossible to imagine another four months living under his pleading gaze.

There’s a bullet to bite, but he’s chosen a public place for this moment. Rey turns slightly, pulling her graduation gown and purse into her lap.

Her mum’s nearby for the weekend, likely sporting bifocals and a bun while she cackles at Jimmy Fallon on the TV in her hotel room.


“Yeah.” She blinks a smile she hopes looks appreciative and shakes the shock away. “Yeah, of course. It’s fine.”

“Re- really?”

“Really.” His eyes twinkle, and she feels her heart race with panic. “You’re a good friend, Mitaka.”

 

His eyes dim, hands falling gracefully to his lap.

“Like a brother.”
He nods slowly, watching as she pulls the purse strap onto a shoulder. Another couple minutes and she’ll be in an Uber. She hasn’t slept beside her mum for years, but she thanks the universe there’s a believable, last-minute excuse to bail on her roommate tonight.
“Mitty, I’m sorry…” He holds up a hand, cutting her off and lifts his chin, closing his eyes.
“Rey. Please. I’ll...I’ll be okay.”

“Still friends,” she offers. “Right?”

“Totally,” he says hurriedly. “You’ve been the best friend a guy could ask for in a roomie. Except - maybe for the mildewing clothes.”

“And the water,” she reminds him.

“And the water.” He chuckles and she stands, clutching the black gown to her chest, a shield.
“Rey, do you - is there a chance you could ever…”
She takes a step away, bumping someone, swaying slightly as she moves to leave.
“I’m staying with my mum tonight so, I won’t be home - er, at the apartment tonight. Don’t wait up!”
She waves goodbye quickly, already swallowed by the crowd as she hurries to the exit.

 

She’d wanted to go out with a bang as she finished her college career, but this wasn’t exactly what she’d had in mind.


******

Late morning light blazes through the wide apartment windows, summertime lemonade spilling into the living room. Rey looks at Finn at the other end of the couch and explains with wild hands.

“You don’t know the half of it. The last three days he’s been mooning like a teenager. Following me around the apartment.”

She grabs another taco, unwrapping as she props her feet on the coffee table beside his. Finn crunches a hard shell taco and listens. He reaches for a drink, shaking his head sympathetically.

 

“Oof. That sounds intense."

"It's sort of terrible, Finn. Now he's taken to asking whether there's any chance for us. Repeatedly. Like could I change my mind, or ever see it happening." She watches as Finn hisses in faux pain and nods vehemently as he curls up on the couch, clutching his flanks. "Exactly! It hurts! Keeps asking whether he can change for me. Can you believe that? It's too uncomfortable to express to you, I swear to God."

"Ugh," he groans. "Fucking miserable. Bloody hell. Poor bastard."

“I know,” she whines. “I really liked the guy, that’s the worst of it. As friends. You know? Chums. But this?” She shakes her head. “It’s bloody awful.”

“I remember telling Dylan Jenkins I liked him in ninth grade and - whew. Did not go well, let me tell you.” He laughs wryly, eyes widening as he takes a huge bite of taco.

“But you didn’t live with Dylan Jenkins.” Rey takes a drink of her iced tea and wipes at her lips with a napkin. “Didn’t worry about coming out in a robe or putting a face mask on in front of an admirer who won’t stop watching you with sad eyes.”

“True. But you’re not saying you’re - like, afraid. Are you? At home?”

“No. Not afraid.” She takes a bite and swallows, thinking. “Uncomfortable. Yes. Definitely not cozy, the way one wants their home to feel, but not fearful.”

 

Finn reaches for another taco and douses it with hot sauce. He motions to the office across the hall and looks at Rey.

“You can always move in here with me and Ben. You’re only in D.C. for another what - three? Four months, and then off to Berkeley anyhow? Could always crash with us if you need to bail on Mitty.”

She snorts and licks the grease off her fingers, wiping them on the paper napkin in her lap.

“Yeah, right. Like Ben Solo wants a woman roommate. I’m sure.”

“Ben’s not so bad.”

Rey tilts her chin, folding her arms over her chest and smiles, waiting.

 

“What? I mean it,” Finn argues. “He might not be the world’s softest marshmallow, but he’s cool.”

Rey raises her brows and he continues.

“I’m serious!” he laughs, launching a balled napkin at her. “Plus, who would turn down another roommate paying rent? He’d probably be thrilled about that fact, not gonna lie.”

 

Rey shrugs and reaches for another taco. “I’ll take your word for it. The Ben Solo I met last year was...charming, let me tell you.”

“I’m sure. He’s cool, though, Rey. He’d be down with you crashing here until you head out to California in a few months.” Finn watches her gaze around the room. “He’s never around, anyway. You know that. Works like a madman.”

“I dunno, Finn.” She picks at the cushion cording, the contrasting thread holding the buttery leather couch together. “I don’t want to be an imposition.”

Feeling uneasy in your apartment with a lovestruck roommate was one thing, being odd-woman-out in a new living situation was another. Was it jumping out of the frying pan and into the fire?


“Peanut, no way would you be an imposition.”

She eyed him suspiciously, remembering Ben Solo at that party.

Tall.
Moody.
Steamy and angry and hot and irritating. He’d gotten under her skin in no time, and was that better than Mitaka swooning over her? Or worse?

 

“Thank you. Really. It means a lot to me that you even offered.”

“Just think about it.”

“I will.”

“No one should have to live with the threat of awkward encounters in their own home. You want to be able to fart and put your feet up and let it all hang out when you’re at home.”

“Nice.”

“Oh, please. Like you don’t fart.”

“You can’t prove anything.”

 

She’s too busy throwing the napkin back at him to hear the door open, but when it slams closed she’s grinning like a fool, dodging Finn’s assault. The living room shrinks as Ben Solo walks in, drenched from working out in the summer heat. All heaving muscles and slick skin, he drops into an armchair across from the couch and Rey looks away.

It’s been nearly a year since she’s seen him, and their introduction hadn’t gone well.

 

“Hey,” he says with a nod.

“Hey.” The word gets caught in her throat as her cheeks burn.
Rey runs her tongue over her teeth to check for food and Finn gestures around and pipes up. “Ben, you remember my best friend, Rey.”

“Fine Rey,” he says, tossing sweaty hair out of his face. Like a douchebag. “How are you?”

“Good. Great,” Rey smiles tightly.

He hasn’t forgotten their encounter last year, clearly. The memory comes rushing back to her like a tidal wave, a sandy ocean floor of annoyance stirred to life in her veins swirling hot and gritty.
He hasn't forgotten, huh?

Fine.

 

Neither has she.


Chapter Text

Out with a Bang

By Newer & Berry

 

*****

“Benjamin, we need to talk about your future.”

 

His mother’s Senatorial drawl still rings in his ears, so he turns up the playlist on his AirPods to drown out the memory.  Ben picks up the pace, big feet hitting the pavement, frustration acting as a running coach.

The summer humidity in Washington, D.C. is so thick you can almost wear it.  That’s what you get when you build a city on a swamp, he thinks. Ben weaves around the tourists who act as obstacles in bone-white sneakers.  There should be a word for the special kind of torture of inhaling air the precise temperature and humidity of your lungs. Hell, maybe that’s the word, Ben thinks as his big feet hit the pavement.  As a recent magna cum laude finance grad, he’s used to Hell.

His lanky body shifts into long-distance mode.  It feels good to move and expel some of the tension from his call with his mother.  Family angst is evidently an excellent workout motivator. File that away to discuss with his therapist.  He’s better about selectively releasing his anger now. Ben pounds out his frustration on the wide city sidewalks instead of the walls in his apartment.  Working on your beach body is a vast improvement over draining your security deposit any day. 

His mother’s words manage to filter through the music and settle in his ears.  

 

It would be an excellent opportunity to get to know your Uncle better.

You’d be two steps ahead on your career, you’d be a fool not to take it.

Time to get serious now about your future, Benjamin.

 

He fills in the unspoken lines from the conversation himself. 

Make my donors happy.  

Maintain the family name.

Don’t fuck this up, Benjamin.

 

Left turn at Farragut North, and then he turns to head back home.  This route is a little longer than his old one, but he needs a good seven block avoidance zone around his ex’s place.  Just to be safe. Six months has done remarkably little to lessen the sting, and he really doesn’t need an “encounter” today on top of everything.

Feeling pent up, Ben sprints the last few blocks back home.  The rush of blood and pounding of his heart is a welcome break from the loop of obligation and recrimination that rolls like tape in his mind.  This feels right, moving feels right, if he just keeps running he doesn’t have to face the wall of expectations looming up behind him.

 

Don’t think.  Just keep running.

 

******

 

Ben climbs the stairs two at a time to the small brownstone that he shares with Finn.  It’s an old home in a transitional neighborhood, but a ten-minute walk one way and he’s in Dupont Circle and fifteen the other, Adams Morgan.  It’s a perfect crash pad for two single guys. 

He opens the door and walks into a peal of feminine joy.  He turns the lock on the door and lopes into the living room to find Finn sitting with a friend.

Not any friend, he realizes with a jolt.  Her.  

 Shit.

 

She looks the same as he hazily-remembers.  Soft brown hair, sparkling hazel eyes, pretty as all get out.  A smart mouth, too, and wide smile that fades to a frown when she sees him.

“Hey,” he says noncommittally, testing the waters.

 

“Hey,” she replies and won’t even look at him.

 

Finn pipes up, “Ben, you remember my best friend, Rey.”

 

He certainly does.  Most of the details of that night are fuzzy or missing, but she’s a solid memory made more indelible over time.  Her sexy look of reproach is burned into his memory. 

From the fog of his memory, a name pops up.  “Fine Rey,” he says and tosses his sweaty hair from his eyes so he can see her reaction.  He’s dying to know if she still can’t stand him and has the same heat and fire as that night.

 

“Good.  Great.”

 

Yup, sure does.  Fine Rey hasn’t forgotten.

Neither has he.

 

******

 

It was New Year’s Eve, a time for new beginnings, and Ben was primed to go out with a bang.

 

He had a new roommate, Finn, a solid guy.  He’d have his finance degree in six month’s time and was already lining up a prestigious internship for the summer.  Then off to New York City and his life was just beginning. It was gonna be an epic last semester of school. 

Then the rug got pulled out from under his feet.  

 

Bazine dumped him.   Hard.   Three years invested, gone overnight.  Not the “let’s be friends” kind of way, more the “I’ll start dating your (now ex) best friend and then block your number” kind of way.  It had hit Ben like a boomerang, once with immediate and staggering force, and then again and again, bam bam, an emotional knockout punch.

Bazine was his first and only real girlfriend.  He didn’t know at the time if he’d call it love, or even real, but once she dumped him he realized it had been a game to her.  He was a game, and one she was bored playing. It didn’t make it any easier to realize that.

 

Lucky for Ben, he didn’t have to spend New Year’s alone wallowing.  He had Finn, a keg, and 60 of their closest friends and acquaintances.  He would wash it all away and ring in the New Year right. 

Ben proceeded to get thoroughly, completely wasted.

 

He got so blitzed that night that not only couldn’t he walk straight, he couldn’t see straight, either.  The ball dropped and so did he. On the first morning of the year, Ben landed in a heap on the corner of the sofa.  Head in his hands, he prayed for his liver and for the room to just. stop. spinning.

 

“Are you okay?” a cautious voice beside him asked.  A girl.

 

Ben groaned in response, not able to move.

 

“If you’re going to be sick, I can get you a rubbish bin.”

 

That made him look up and blink to clear the haze.  Rubbish?  

 

Are you a foreigner?”

 

His eyes finally focused on a lovely pair of eyes in an even lovelier face.  They were decidedly unamused. “Brilliant deduction. Was it my accent or use of proper English that gave me away?”

 

“Your accent,” Ben slurred, sarcasm detection a much higher brain function than he could manage right now.  Skeptical eyes came in and out of focus. He was so far gone that he doubted he’d remember anything of the night, other than it happened.

 

The girl regarded him openly and cocked her pretty head.  “You don’t look so good. Sort of pale.”

 

“I’m always pale.”  Ben said, brushing the hair from his face and leaning forward for inspection, as if to prove that this was his standard level of pallor.  Baseline pallor, if you will.

 

“I can tell, but this seems is a deeper shade of pale.”

 

“How can pale get deeper?”  He asked, smirking. “And isn’t that a song or something?”

 

“No, actually it isn’t.”  She set her perky chin in her hand.  “For a drunk, you are highly contentious.  Shouldn’t you be off giggling or something?”

 

After an extreme bout of vertigo, and deep belch, Ben was suddenly very grave.  “I have nothing to giggle about.”

 

“Oh, that’s too bad.”  She didn’t sound very sorry to him.

 

“My girlfriend dumped me, if you must know.”

 

“Well, I mustn’t know, but I cannot imagine why.”  He looked back at her and she was scanning the room, not really looking at him.  He suddenly felt the inexplicable need to share his misery with her.

 

“Me neither.  Now she’s dating my ex-best friend.”

 

“Ouch.”  She grimaced in a surprisingly attractive manner.

 

Ben lurched forward and pointed, suddenly adamant, and the girl leaned back from his long finger.  “Yeah, ouch. Fucking ouch, man.”

 

“Well, I think this is the part where I say there’s lots of other fish in the sea.”

 

“I wanted that fish.”

 

She didn’t have an answer for that.

 

“It doesn’t matter anyway.  Women are all more trouble than they’re worth.”  He waved a hand dismissively.

 

“Oh, really.”

 

He turned back, his heart still aching in his chest.  He shared the words he wished he could’ve told Bazine.  “Yes, definitely. Women waste your time and lie. There’s no point.  It’s not a sound investment.”

 

“Excuse me?”

 

“I could take the money I invested in my girlfriend for the last three years, and in another three I would have the down payment for a house.  I know, I ran the numbers.”

 

“But you can’t take a house to the movies,” she said.  

 

True enough.

 

Ben waved his hand.  “Anyway, she’s happier now.  Fine. I wish them both the best.  Dating is stupid anyway. Good riddance to the both of them.”

 

“Now that’s the spirit!”  The girl said and put a hand on his shoulder, tentatively.

 

Ben started to cry.  He ducked his head in his hands.

 

“Oh.  Oh, gosh,” she said, and her hand landed softly on his shoulder.

 

He sniffled pathetically.  He was a mess, and he could tell he was a mess, which made him even more of a mess.  Why was he talking to this girl so much? Fuck, what a loser. It was all Bazine’s fault.

 

“God, Bazine is such a cunt.”

 

The girl removed her hand.

 

“I knew she’d do this again, but I took her back.  What a pathetic fuck I am.”

 

“There’s nothing wrong with being forgiving.”

 

“There is when you forgive the wrong people.”

 

He wiped his nose on his sleeve and sat up.  “I’m done. Sorry, I’m done now. Done with her, done with him, done all of it.”  He waved his hand dramatically.

 

Ben tried to stand up but a dizzy spell overtook him and he fell down on the couch with a deep “oof.”

 

“I gotta move on and forget her.  There’s only one thing to do then,” he said as his head spun.  

 

“And what is that?”  

 

Ben turned to the girl and for the first time noticed how uniquely gorgeous she was.  Perfectly round face, delicate bones, a delicious mouth pulled up into a cautious smile.  She was hot.  Damn.

 

“I just gotta fuck her out of my system,” Ben said, drunk off his ass and thinking he made perfectly logical sense.  It was all talk, but the girl didn’t know that. It sounded manly, right?

 

She frowned and her eyes turned cold.  “How very mature of you.”

 

“Yeah.  That should do it.”  He looked around the room.  How would a newly-minted Lothario act?  He’d only ever been with Bazine.  He searched the room for likely candidates.

 

No one matched the beauty or the sympathy of the girl sitting next to him.  Ben sighed. He unfolded an arm on the back of the sofa behind her and smiled.  Before he could even form a word, she started shaking her head.

 

“No, thank you very much.”

 

“I didn’t ask you anything yet!”

 

“Still not interested, chum.”

 

“What’s your name anyway?”

 

She narrowed her eyes as if he was playing a trick.   

 

“It’s just your name!” Ben cried out.

 

“Fine, Rey.”

 

“Hi, Fine Rey.”  The scrunching of her nose was so angry and cute, that Ben burst out laughing.  He found himself hilarious.  Rey seemed less convinced.

 

“You’re terrible.”

 

“Terribly handsome?  Why yes, I am.  Or did you mean terribly ripped?”  

 

Finn walked into the room and interrupted them.  “Oh good, you met. My two besties in all the world.”

 

“Ugh,” Rey said, scowling as she pushed off the couch.  As she stood up Ben got an eyeful of her impressively round and juicy ass.  He licked his lips and Fine Rey scowled harder.

 

“I’m going to get a drink.”  She flashed a forced smile at him as he blinked up at her.  Her fury was mesmerizing. “Good luck in life,” she said, and left him there.  Ben leaned over to watch that perfect ass walk away from him.

 

“Bye, Fine Rey, don’t forget my offer!”

 

“What offer?” Finn said, crossing his arms.  His warm brown eyes were sympathetic and friendly, even as he looked down in disapproval.  

 

Ben burst into tears again.  

 

“Jesus, man, you’re so done.  I’m putting you to bed.”

 

Finn yanked him off the couch and helped him stumble back to his bedroom.  He toppled onto the bed spread-eagle and passed out, fully-clothed. When he woke in the morning with a splitting headache and a vague sense of self-loathing, he had only a fuzzy memory of the night before.   

That was the first time he met Rey, and the last time she had spoken to him.

 

******

 

“So, Rey has a problem,” Finn was saying.  Ben brings his attention back to the living room.  He takes a gulp of water and grunts in acknowledgement.  Rey’s absentmindedly picking lint off her jeans and it’s distracting.

“Her roommate has developed a bit of a crush.”

Rey throws Finn a look, tilting her head and rolling her eyes.  There’s that spark again.

 

“Okay, her roommate has fallen head-over-heels for her, and it’s awkward as fuck.”

 

“Yeah, that would be,” Ben says, not really paying attention, focusing more on the way Rey’s fingers trace along the inner seam on her thigh.

 

“So, I was thinking she could stay here for the summer.”

 

Ben rivets his eyes on Finn.  He has his full attention now.

 

“Pardon?”

 

Finn swallows and looks to Rey.  “We have the office, it’s just full of junk.  She doesn’t have much, and you’re never here anyway.”   

 

Rey pipes in, shifting as she meets Ben’s gaze.  “I’d pay my way, of course. A third of rent and utilities.  I’m moving to California in September, so it’s just for the summer.”

“Um.  Huh. But don’t you–”  How can he put this–you hate me?  Isn’t that a problem?   “After your last situation, you really want to move in with two guys?”

 Rey’s eyes narrow as her defiance rises.  “I’m not worried. And we can come up with some house rules.  Like, no hitting on your roommate while disgustingly drunk, for instance.”

 

He clenches his jaw.  Yeah, for instance.

Finn laughs nervously.  “I think you two could play nice for a few months.  You probably won’t even see each other very much.  Ben’s always out.”

 

Rey’s eyes turn steely.  “How lucky for the ladies.”

Ben recognizes that look.  It's when somebody thinks they have his number and dismisses him.  He hates it.  Ben has the sudden urge to become a homebody, just to prove her wrong.  Before he answers, he stands and strips off his shirt, and wipes his sweaty face with it.  

 

“It’s fine with me. Rey can move in. If she’s not uncomfortable.” 

Fine Rey looks extremely uncomfortable at the moment.  She’s squirming in her seat, cheeks the lightest shade of pink, and won’t look at him or his bare chest.  Ben smirks.  Maybe he has her number, too.

 

Fuck it, he’s out in a few months.  Let her stay here and save him some cash.  He may even have a little fun with this.

 

Let the summer games begin.

Chapter Text

 

Out with a Bang

By Newer & Berry

 

 *****

“Rey, you want more chicken?”


Finn raises his eyebrows, holding a speared chunk of seared white meat above his styrofoam box. With anyone else, she might try for a modicum of dignity, but this is Finn. They’ve been friends long enough Rey doesn’t have to pretend she’s ever more than a missed meal away from hunger.

Once you know that reality as a child, you never unlearn it.

She holds up the take-out box in her lap and he drops the chicken inside, never missing a beat as he chats with Hux. They’re wiped. She’d unwittingly chosen the hottest day of the year to move apartments, and her friends had helped, like the angels they are.

Dinner is her treat, and it’s a privilege to feed them all well from the place down the street. It may all still be boxed up, but her belongings are finally in the small office she’ll convert to a short-term bedroom for the summer, and she can relax for the first time since graduation night.

They’re sprawled around the room, stuffed and lazy as Rey’s eyes fall in an affectionate gaze on Finn, Rose and Hux. It’s a gift to have friends like this - comfortable, broken-in friends.

Especially after the awkward last two weeks with Mitaka.

 

They’ve finally cooled off enough to bear sitting on upholstered furniture. The sweltering city summer day has burned off to a simmering dusk.
Londoners aren’t built for the thick mugginess of a D.C. summer. Like a wet, wool blanket pulled over your head. While sweltering in a sauna.

Hibachi steak and fried rice in shrimp sauce permeates the apartment’s living room, and the sun falls behind the building a block over.

“Toss me the paper towels.”

“Can I have another beer? You guys don’t mind?”

“Thanks again for all your help today, guys. You’re the best.”

 

Rose laces her hands around her knees and leans back against Hux’s shins. “What are friends for? Besides, I have a wedding dress fitting in the morning. Every burned calorie counts.”

“You’re perfect the way you are,” Hux murmurs, running his fingers through her silky, black bob. Finn smiles at Rey, and she tips back her beer, eyes on the ceiling with a smile. They’re so in love, Hux and Rose, no one could help but be mesmerized.

Rose looks over her shoulder and Hux gazes down at her.

“You’re just saying that because you’re my fiancé.”

“I’m saying it because it’s true.”

 

Finn nods to the engaged couple and speaks to Rey. “They always like this?”

“Pretty much,” she nods.

“Huh.” Finn shakes his head and raises his eyebrows. “Wow.”

“What?” Rose asks, meeting his eyes. “What’s wrong with being in love?”

Finn holds his hands up in defense. “Nothing! Nothing! Just never seen it up close before, I don’t think. It’s sort of…” He trails off, looking at Rey for help, but she grins around another sip of beer and leaves him to finish his own thought. “Unreal, I guess.”

 

Rose’s brow furrows. “You don’t think we’re for real?”

“No. Just like - it’s a rare thing to see. Like something mythical. Like a two-headed dragon. Or a liger.”

“Ligers are real,” Hux interjects. “They’re half-tiger, half-lion.”

“Exactly,” Finn says, holding a hand out as he presents evidence. “Real...but rare.”

“Magical, he means,” Rey smiles at them. “You two are something magical.”

 

Rose grins back before turning to smile at Hux. He brushes a hand through her hair, tucking wisps behind her ear and for a moment, it’s clear they’ve forgotten anyone else is around.

“So does that make me the tiger? Or the lion?”

“You’re the tigress, my sweet, little flower. And you make me a lion.”

 

“Ooo-kay.” Rey stands and takes her plate to the kitchen. “Don’t make any cubs here on our living room floor, you two.”

The water pressure in the new apartment is so far superior to her last place. The flow mesmerizes her the moment Rey turns the faucet, and she fills the sink with hot, soapy water to the brim. Glasses, forks, flimsy, mis-matched plates and a knife all drop into the suds silently.

Car lights flash outside the window. Pale clouds and a bright, crescent moon hover. A few people walk by on the sidewalk, disappearing around the corner below before Rey is finished washing dishes.

“We do have a dishwasher, you know.”

A deep voice she shouldn’t know so well by heart reverberates through her like a tuning fork. She trains her eyes outside, focuses on someone parallel parking badly before responding. “Hand washing is more effective. Saves water.”

“Dishwashers disinfect. More sanitary.”

 

Rey turns over a shoulder, looking Ben in the eye. “Hello to you, too.”

“Hey, roomie,” he deadpans, stock still. She breaks the tension and looks back to the sink.

He’s dressed for work. Light blue button-down rolled to the elbows, tie yanked off-kilter. He reaches to pick up a forgotten piece of steak from her plate, and pops it into his mouth. “Mmm,” he smirks. “Wok and Hibachi. My favorite."

“You care about germs so much, why are you eating off someone’s plate?” She tsk’s him, hating the role his behaviour demands of her. She’s the free spirit, damn it. Not him. He snags the last piece and she grabs the dish as he tosses it into his mouth. Something about his informality makes her blood move. She stiffens her back and plunges the dish into the water.

“Hungry,” he mutters, pulling the fridge open. She watches his reflection in the window over the sink. His muscled back is made only broader when he bends at the waist, peering into the refrigerator. He looks as wide as it does.

When he stands again, towering over everything around them, he’s clutching a gallon of milk. Her eyes track him to the pantry, where he chooses a massive Tupperware bowl, suitable for transporting family-sized meals, and watches as he pours the largest bowl of cereal she’s ever seen.

“You’re just going to eat cereal?” She’s still washing utensils as he shovels a huge bite into his mouth. He nods and she can’t look away, can’t believe how big his actual mouth is. Metaphorically and literally.

Everything about him is huge. Well, maybe not everything, he's positively massive and she hasn’t even seen everything, yet... wait -what?

“What?” She blinks at him and focuses.

“I said, you get everything moved in?”

“Oh. Yeah.” He’s being civil. Still cocky, staring at her while he burns through a bowl of cereal, but civil. She can’t decide if that makes it better than drunken flirtation or worse.

“Thanks. Ya know. Letting me move in and all that. I was in a pickle.”

His dark eyes are bright, maybe amused. “A pickle?” He smiles, and she looks away.

“Yeah. My situation was...it was intolerable.”

 

Behind her, he hops to sit on the countertop, and takes a bite of cereal, holding her stare. She looks back at the sink and rummages for silverware. It’s mostly clean already, but she cleans each utensil again.

“Uncomfortable. For both of us, really. As nice a guy as Mitaka is, he wouldn’t stop trying to get me to change my mind about us. And there wasn’t ever going to be an us.”

Ben’s still chomping, listening, watching as she digs into the water to her elbows. She meets his eyes in the window’s reflection.

“I already have a date to fly out to California in September. Just wanted to leave on a good note. You know. It’s a transitional time. Better to do it now, before it really hurts…”

She trails off as he takes another bite, not speaking.
Clearing her throat, she nods in agreement with herself. “Don’t put down roots where you don’t intend to grow.”

He’s just listening, and it’s unnerving. His crossed ankles dangle, knocking against the cabinetry. He takes another bite of cereal. Thick thighs in dark grey slacks are splayed slightly, and Rey looks away as her eyes trail them towards his belt. Shit.

“You were in a pickle.”

“Exactly. I was in a -“ Wait. He’s smirking, which means he’s teasing. It must be lovely to have the upper hand. Obviously, he’s just going to keep finding ways to pick on her, and no thank you.

“Anyway thanks.” She lifts her chin, conversation over. She’s thanked him. Done.

He brings the huge bowl to his lips and his whole head disappears behind as he lifts it, chugging the milk. Rey holds a hand out for his bowl as she waits, reserving sudsy water for him. Roommates share responsibilities. It’s fine. Normal.

He opens the dishwasher instead and bends, dropping the bowl and spoon inside. Smiling, he straightens and the dishwasher clicks closed.

“Sanitary.”

“Water-wasting,” she calls to his retreating back.

 

He’s already pulling his tie free, joking with her friends instead of arguing the point, so she drains the sink and grabs a pad of paper and a pen from the junk drawer. They’re gonna need some ground rules if she’s going to live with Ben Solo all summer long.

That much is clear.

 

*****

 

“We should divide up chores. Decide who’s going to take out the rubbish and whatnot.”

Her pen hovers over the paper. Ben is sprawled on the couch with his feet up, one hand behind his head. He takes up the whole of it, one end to the other accommodating his huge frame. Rey watches for his reaction from the safety of the armchair Finn vacated when he locked up behind Rose and Hux as they left. The evening has deepened to night, the humming AC cooling what leftover sun-drenched summer had remained of the day.

“I do the trash already,” Ben says. He rakes a hand through his damp hair, wet from his shower.

"I'll bet you do." It's barely a whisper under her breath, but he still caught a whiff of her meaning. 

"What's that?" He looks at her while her eyes stay on the paper, doodling chicken scratch. "Oh - nothing." Ben stares her down while she studiously avoids him, and Finn looks between them several times. 

“So,” she tries again. She just needs to get them started. After that, it’ll flow. “How about laundry? Dishes?”

Finn shrugs. “We normally just do our own stuff. And the other person’s if it’s sitting right there.”

“Most of this stuff works out on its own,” Ben agrees. He stifles a yawn and Rey swallows, feeling foolish for calling a roommate meeting. He’s tired. They’re all tired.

“Yes, well...okay. What about when one of us brings home a guest? Do you have house rules about that sort of thing?”

Ben’s hands lace over his chest and his eyes are on the ceiling. “I’d say yes. You’re allowed to have guests.” It looks like he’s chewing on the inside of his cheek. Rey cocks her head.

 

Ass.

“I’m not asking permission, your Highness. I mean, what do you do in terms of consideration for roommates if you have a ladyfriend over?”

“I extend my invitation to your ladyfriends,” he says. The smirk clear as day on his face can’t be hidden anymore.

“Not my ladyfriends,” she says. Her cheeks are burning. How does he do this to her? “Yours. All your conquests. What happens when one of them stays over? Hmm?”

“What - you want to share?” His eyes glitter at her with amusement and trouble.

“Oh no,” she says. She raises her eyebrows and trains her eyes on the paper pad innocently. “I don’t share my ladyfriends. But, I’d be happy to take over any of yours once they tire of your mouth.”

 

Finn snorts and Ben twists with violent speed to look at her.

“What?” She blinks at him innocently.

Ben lays back down slowly, and Rey hides her delight at his discomfort. “No one’s complained about my mouth so far,” he shrugs.

“Is that a fact?”

“Is that a challenge?”

 

It’s her turn to blush, and it burns the back of her neck.

She scribbles on the paper and looks at her roommates. “Be hospitable to guests. What else?”

“Oh,” Finn pipes up, “no running the water when someone’s in the shower. Goes icy faster than you can imagine.”

“Okay. Got it.” She scribbles quickly, and looks back at them for additions. “What else?”

Finn sighs. “Um, I don’t know, Peanut. That’s a pretty good start, I’d say.”

“Alright.” She stands and moves to the kitchen, pulling tape from the junk drawer. One piece in each corner and it’s secured. “I’ll just add one more down at the bottom…” she mutters, scrawling in pen.

“No hitting on roommates,” Ben reads aloud over her shoulder. “Gotta remind yourself to keep a leash on it, Kanata?”

 

He’s far too close when she turns around, arms knotted over her chest. “I was thinking more of you, actually.”

“You do that often - think of me?”

“Yes. Yes, I do. Every time I need a cautionary tale about the dangers of strong drink, I do.” She smiles at him and blinks quickly. He smells good, damn him. Whatever he’d sprayed after his shower clung to him like a come-hither invitation for womankind.

He holds out a hand, palm up and raises his eyebrows. “May I?”

“What do you - ”

“The pen.”

“Oh.” She places it in his palm and steps away as he bends to add to the house rules.

No blubbering drunk bedroom invites.

She raises a single eyebrow at him. “Nice.”

The pen lands in her hand with a smack and he nods as he steps away. “You’re welcome.”

Finn slips into the kitchen and pulls a bottle of water from the fridge while they’re still locked in a stand-off. He leans against the door and cracks the water open, pointing between them after he swallows. “What’s going on?”

“Ben added to the house rules.”


They’re still staring at one another when Finn speaks again. “Are we not supposed to add to it?”

“Yes.” Rey drops her arms and looks at him. “Or, I mean, don’t. Whatever. I’m not the mom here, I just thought it would be helpful. It’s not meant to be a binding contract. More like general suggestions. Boundaries.”

She glances at Ben and moves away. “It was really pretty ghastly living with someone who wanted to make a move on me. I’m just trying to be focused. Honest. You know? Full disclosure and all that.”

Maybe they’re too tired for all this tonight, anyway.

“I get it,” Ben says. He takes the pen from her and adds a rule to the list.

Take care of each other.

 

She nods and takes back the pen.

Good. They’re getting somewhere.

“Platonically.” Ben says. Rey looks him in the eye and Finn snorts two seconds later. He goes on as she rolls her eyes hard. “In other ways we just take care of ourselves. If you know what I mean.”

“Is this what it’s going to be like, living with two guys?” Rey mutters. Ben smirks and looks at her. “You’re the one who dreamed this up, sweetheart.”

“Don’t call me sweetheart.”

“Here. Let me have the pen. I’ll put that on the list.”

 

Her nostrils are flaring when Finn steps between them again and shakes his head. “I’m going to bed. You two play nice.”

“Me too,” Ben says. “I’m beat.” He yanks off his t-shirt and flips his hair out of his eyes.

“That’s another one, right there,” Rey says, adding a rule to the growing list.

His hands grip the top of the doorframe as he turns to look back into the kitchen. His height is dizzying, stretched to take up the entire entrance casually.

Put on a shirt occasionally.

 

Her look at him can’t be considered anything but confrontational.

“Does that bother you?”

“What - your shirtless habit?”

He nods. His torso sways in the doorframe, yards of muscles and pale skin, all man on display. She could scoop him like ice cream. He’d taste like vanilla.

“Nope.” Her lips pop on the word as she ducks under his arm and heads to the office to set up her bed.

 

“Need any help?” He follows her to the office entrance and stops like a laserbeam barricades the threshold.

“I got it,” she grunts, shoving a box aside.

“You sure? I can help you - ” He takes a step inside and she tenses, standing straight. Frozen with his hand outstretched, she plants her hands on his chest and pushes him back out. He’s plenty fit alright, carved like a Roman god’s statue. Holy -

“I got it. Really.”

“Okay, okay.” He chuckles, a hand running through his hair. “G’night, Fine Rey. Sleep tight.”

 

The apartment is silent in moments, and when she falls onto her sweet, little nest of quilts she grins at the ceiling. It’s weird being in a new place. She should be used to it, probably, but she’s not. Maybe moving isn’t something you get used to.

 This will feel good. As soon as the weird tension with Ben wears off and they settle into whatever good-natured camaraderie she’d felt when he’d offered to help her.

Maybe she can figure out how a straight-laced finance major like Ben turns into a tease in his downtime, and how a community development free spirit like her turns into a mother hen who keeps him in line.

 

Maybe there’s a way to make that a rule.

She’s still choosing the rule phrasing when a dream turns in on itself, tugging her under to sleep.


******

Chapter Text

Out with a Bang

by Newer & Berry

 

 

“Ben, are you on some sort of special diet?”

 

He swallows and looks up from his phone.  Rey stands at the sink, hand on the curve of her hip, lovely hazel eyes catching his.  It sends a spark through him every time she does that, which is pretty damned inconvenient when you happen to live with those hazel eyes now.

 

“Whaddya mean?”

 

“I’ve only seen you consume breakfast cereal and table scraps in the two weeks that I’ve lived here, and I’m wondering how you aren’t riddled with jaundice or scurvy.”

 

“Can someone be riddled with jaundice?  Does jaundice riddle?”

 

Her eyes are just as gorgeous when they roll at him.  Ben can’t decide what’s more enticing, when she smiles or when she scowls.  Since Rey mostly scowls at him, he’d have to pick that one.

 

“I have no idea how someone as large as you can survive on so little.  It’s a mystery, like blue whales living on krill.”

Ben licks his lips.  This one is just too good to pass up.  

He leans back in his chair and folds his hands behind his head.  Since he’s wearing a short-sleeved t-shirt, his biceps flex on display for her.

 

“Oh, so you’ve noticed.  I have been working out.”

 

Rey tries to set her jaw and flash that “shut up” stern look at him that he knows by heart now, but she can’t hide the pink on her cheeks.  Her blush makes her freckles pop.  Bingo.

 

“I’m going to the market, do you need anything?” she asks, changing the subject and grabbing her keys.   

 

“Cereal?”

 

She snorts.  “I’m not buying you more cereal.  I won’t support your malnutrition.”

 

“Meanie.”  Ben smiles.  “Thanks for asking, though.”

 

“Sure.  See ya.”  Rey flashes a tight-lipped smile as she straps on her crossbody bag then she’s gone.

 

Ben dips back into his Honey Bunches and tries very hard to not imagine her real smile breaking free for him, unencumbered by this little push-pull dance they’ve got going on.  He doesn’t know why they’ve fallen into this pattern, but he loves getting a rise out of her.  If Rey wore her hair in pigtails, he’d probably yank one or dip it into an ink well or something.  It’s bizarre and very not him. It’s also the most fun he’s had in months, and Ben’s been due for some fun for awhile.  

 

Without even thinking about it, he’s finding excuses to hang out around the apartment more.  

 

******

 

Living with Rey for a few weeks has been… illuminating.

 

Ben’s never had a girl roommate before.  Never had a sister, or a girl cousin, and he and Bazine only dated on and off, never lived together.  Rey’s totally different from Bazine, anyway.  

 

So there are certain things Ben doesn’t know about living with a woman.  Like, how many beauty products they own.

 

Rey seems like a low-maintenance girl.  She dresses casual, sort of a hippie, hair in loose waves and braids and stuff like that.  Yet overnight, their shared bathroom is turned into the make-up counter at CVS. Bottles, tubes, brushes, and creams spring up on every horizontal surface like fungus.  

 

He has four bottles of stuff and when he reaches for one, he knocks down the entire shelf of her shit with his big hands.  It’s infuriating.  To make matters worse, one day he finds his expensive hair goop, his one luxury, left out on the counter, opened.  Rey used it.  

 

She has an entire cosmetics department worth of crap spread around like booby-traps, and she uses his stuff.  Unbelievable.  You better goddamn believe that one is going on the list:  Do not use other people’s stuff without asking.  Bam.  

 

And her smell.  Rey has a smell.  Probably from her many products, but it seems to just emanate from her, even when she just wakes up and pads into the kitchen with tousled hair.

 

He can’t pin it down.  Coconut.  Lime.  Childhood.  Something like that.

 

Even when she’s not in the apartment, Ben can smell it now.  On the sofa cushions.  On the hand towels in the kitchen. One time he walked into the bathroom after a run and it was still steamy from her.  Rey smell ground zero.

 

He beat off in the shower, which was not new, but smelling Rey all around him while he came definitely was.  Ben has to get a fucking grip.  On something other than his dick, that is.  

 

******

 

He opens the lid on the washer one Sunday to find it full.  Then the musty smell hit him and he scrunches up his nose.  Ben peers in to discover the identity of the slacker.  He hooks something blue on his finger, lifting it up slowly like it may be toxic. 

 

A tiny scrap of sky blue lace.  A thong.  So, not Finn.

 

Fuck.

 

“Rey!” he hollers.  “Your laundry’s done!”

 

“She left, man, she’s with Rose,” Finn yells from his room.

 

“She left all her wet shit in here!”

 

“So move it.”

 

“It’s girl stuff!” Ben replies.  As soon as the words leave his mouth, he realizes how sixth-grade they sound.

 

Finn cracks up.  “I’m sure you’ve touched girl stuff before, bro.”

 

Ben licks his lips and sighs.  Well, if he must.  Piece by delicate piece, he lifts out her intimate items.  He knows enough from his mom that anything delicate doesn’t go in the dryer, it gets hung up.

 

A few minutes later, Ben stares at a collection of Rey’s intimates strung up on hangers like a filthy Christmas tree. Bras, thongs, cheekies and bikinis hang on the wire with care.  Ben resists the mighty urge to smell them.  He does take a photo, for reference and potential future teasing.

 

He puts the rest of her stuff in the drier and starts it on medium, then dumps his workout clothes in the wash.

 

Although his hair is still drying from that morning, he takes another shower, because, you know.

 

******

 

Ben hears the front door close a few hours later.  He’s sitting on his bed, legs extended and crossed at the ankles, as he types on his laptop.  The internship at World Bank is prestigious, impressive, and dull as a pile of bricks.  He should care more about these numbers, but they manage to both bore him to tears and enrage him simultaneously.

 

Suddenly, his door pushes open with force and Rey storms in without knocking.  She holds up a hanger full of panties, her face contorted into a sexy fury.

 

“What the hell is this?!”

 

Ben tries very, very hard not to laugh.  He focuses on her anger.  She’s mad. It’s not cute.  Or hot. Very, very serious business.

 

“Is this a trick question?”

 

“You touched my clothes – ”

 

“You’re welcome.”

 

“ – like some sort of creep?”

 

His scowl matches hers now.  He wants to protest - Hey, I didn’t even sniff them! - but that doesn’t sound uncreeplike at all.

 

“You left your clothes to rot.”

 

“I didn’t!  It was just for an hour or so.”

 

“You’ve been gone for three hours, Rey.”

 

She narrows her eyes.  “Are you tracking my movements?”

 

“No, I’m tracking my laundry.  Which is what you should do if you don’t want to smell like a walking trash heap.”

 

Her jaw drops.  “So you decide to make modern art out of my knickers?!”

 

Oh, God, when she drops British on him in her angry voice, he doesn’t stand a chance.  Her accent spikes when she’s mad and it goes straight to his crotch. Ben takes a deep breath and wills his dick to be cool.

 

“So they could dry.  I followed a rule: Take care of each other.”

 

“What about not using other people’s stuff without permission?”

 

“I didn’t even use them!”  The silence grows long enough for Ben to realize how bad that sounds.

 

Her scowl is unwavering.  “And you shrunk a pair of my pajamas.  They shouldn’t have been dried!”

 

Rey walks forward holding pink shorts that look pretty tiny, even for her.

 

“Here. Touch.”

 

“Um, you just said not to touch your stuff.”

 

“Feel them!”

 

“I might be more into this if you weren’t yelling.”

 

Rey groans.  “Anything that is this silky-soft material is jersey.  It has rayon.  You can’t dry it, it will shrink.”

 

Ben smiles and shakes his head vaguely.  “You lost me after asking me to touch your shorts.”

 

Rey drops her head back and screams in frustration.  “Never mind! You are impossible, Solo!”

 

He gets up off the bed.  “I was trying to be helpful!”

 

“Yeah, well, keep your help to yourself.”

 

She storms out and Ben has the sinking sensation he pushed a little too far this time.

 

******

 

Ben’s known Phasma since Sophomore year, another finance major like him.  Tall, icy blonde, bi. She’s the perfect wingwoman when he goes out. Which is not as often as people suspect.

 

Finn’s right about him never being at home, but that doesn’t mean he’s out making “conquests,” like a certain somebody assumes.  But Ben’s used to people making judgments about him, he lets them think what they want.

 

They’ve closed down the bar at The Big Hunt, or as Phasma nicknames it “The Big Cunt,” in Dupont and Ubered home with giant slices from Joe’s Pizza ‘cause they’re too lazy to walk.  Phas rolls into his apartment giggling.

 

“Shh, my roommates are asleep.”  He says, dropping his keys in the bowl.

 

“Oh, Finn loves me, go wake him up.”

 

“There’s another now, Rey.”

 

“Ray?  Who’s he?”

 

“She.  Little brunette firecracker.”

 

Phasma smiles like the Cheshire cat.  “Oooh, definitely go wake that one up.”

 

Ben shakes his head.  “She already hates me enough, I don’t want to add to her list.”  

 

Phasma giggles again and waves her hand.  “Who could hate you, Benji boy?”

 

“She has a literal list. Look,” he points to the fridge.

 

Phas walks forward and reads the list. She covers her mouth with her hand and then bursts out laughing.

 

“Oh, God, I do think she hates you.”

 

“Told you.”

 

Phas finishes her slice and opens the fridge on the prowl.  “You didn’t tell me you had cake.”

 

Ben is scrolling through his phone and not paying attention to her.

 

She opens up a plastic container and picks it up with her fingers.  “Oh, chocolate. This is so good.”  She licks her fingers loudly. “You’ve got to try it, it’s rich!”  Phas leans over and stuffs a bite in his mouth as Ben groans.

 

“A bit hungry after all the debauchery, are we?”

 

Ben looks up and Rey is standing at the doorway, her arms crossed over her chest.  She’s wearing a camisole and tiny striped sleep shorts. Her face is scrunched up like grumpy cat blinking against the kitchen light.

 

“Hey, Rey, this is Phas–”

 

“Is that my cake?”

 

Ben freezes.  Phasma licks her lips and looks down at the carton.  She smiles and shrugs.  “Oops?”

 

Rey presses her arms tighter to her chest in outrage.  Under normal circumstances, Ben would appreciate the addition to her cleavage, but Rey's boiling anger distracts him.

 

“Decided to rampage through the fridge with your girlfriend?  Taking whatever you want?”

 

Phas giggles again, and Ben shakes his head.

 

“Nah, it’s not like that.”  

 

“It’s none of my business what, or who, you do, but can you not eat my food?”  Rey turns on her heel and walks back to her room before he can answer.

 

“Nice meeting you!”  Phasma calls out after her.  

 

Ben runs his hands through his hair.

 

******

 

He walks Phasma down to pick up her Uber as she heads back to Capitol Hill.  From the street, Ben notices Rey’s bedroom lights are off.

 

The apartment is quiet and dark when he opens the door.  Ben heads to the kitchen to clean up, but stops short in the doorway.

 

Rey is standing at the refrigerator door, leaning over in profile.

 

The light shines across her golden skin, bathing her in a warm glow.  Her shorts are faintly translucent now so he can see the curve of her thighs and ass through the thin cotton fabric.  Ben’s literally stunned.  Rey rises to standing, and the light reflects off her eyes and the smooth skin of her cheeks as she looks through the fridge.  It looks like she’s lit from within, both very young and ageless, all at once.  A beam of light in the darkness.

 

Rey sees him and the moment passes, as her face twists again in disgust.

 

“I’m sorry.”  He’s surprised at how vulnerable his voice sounds.  Ben realizes he’s been a drunken ass to her again and hates that he’s the one who makes her pretty face turn sour.  It’s a particular talent he has for fucking up, an almost inborn trait.

 

“I wasn’t paying attention to Phas, she means no harm.  She was just hungry.”

 

“I guess Amazons require a lot of calories.”

 

He doesn’t know if that means he’s forgiven or not, but at least she noticed his apology.

 

Ben takes a step inside the kitchen.  “Yeah, Phas can put down some food.  You two could do some damage.”

 

Rey closes the fridge and looks down.  “I don’t think I’ll challenge your Amazon girlfriend to an eating contest.”

 

“She’s not my girlfriend.  Just a friend.”

 

Rey shrugs but looks him in the eyes again.  

 

He has an extra giant slice.  It’s roughly the size of her head.  He holds it out to her.  “Want my pizza?”

 

A peace offering.  

 

“You sure?”  She seems surprised.

 

“Yeah.  It’s the least I could do.”

 

“Hmm.”  Rey takes it from him.  The corner of her mouth curves slightly, in what may be the start of a genuine, honest smile.  He doesn't want to push his luck.

 

“Goodnight, Fine Rey."

 

“Goodnight, Monster,” Rey says offhandedly as she sits down to eat.

 

Ben walks back to his room smiling.

 

Chapter Text

Out with a Bang

By Newer & Berry

 

*****

“Rey, you okay?”

She’s been dipping the tea bag into her cup so long, the movement is on autopilot. Finn pulls a chair out from their small table and spills a thimble-full of cream into his coffee, watching Rey while he stirs. She shakes her head free of the dream she’s been piecing together.

Snatches of anxiety - her mum’s face -her dad’s. Screaming at her father till she was breathless. Couldn’t find her stuffed lizard. Something about London, but it wasn’t London.
The dream floats out of reach and she brings the teacup to her lips.

“Yeah. Sorry. Didn’t sleep well.”

“Everything okay?”

“Oh - ” She smiles and wraps her hands around the cup, curling legs underneath her. Finn’s so dear. “Yeah, really. I’m fine. Just a bad dream, I think. Can’t quite remember.”

“Hate when that happens to me. Hey - ” Finn breaks off to greet Ben, who stomps into the kitchen, fresh from his morning run. “We still going out tonight?”

Sweat drips from Ben’s black mop of curling hair onto glistening, round shoulders. He nods vigorously, yanking the fridge door open while he pants. He holds up a finger to Finn while draining the entire liter of chocolate milk in one fell swoop, standing in front of the open fridge.

Honestly.

It would be worth noting how energy inefficient it was to hold the door open like that, but the chill sweeping through the morning-warmed kitchen felt nice. And watching a large guy like Ben Solo chug a carton of milk was like something out of a cartoon.
Like Homer Simpson and donuts. Horrifying, but impressive.

He lifts the hem of his bedraggled t-shirt and drags it over his lips, crushing the empty jug in his hands when the fridge slams closed.

“Yeah. You still cool with me being there?”

“Dude, yes. I told you. I want you there - at least for a minute.”

Rey watches Ben nod, and she places her teacup on the table. “What are you two doing?”

Ben wipes a paper towel across his red face and drops it into the trash can. “Set Finn up with one of my work buddies. Supposed to meet him tonight at The Madhatter. Drinks after work - you know.”

A slow grin spreads across Rey’s face as she turns to Finn.

“Why didn’t you tell me?”

“There’s nothing to tell yet,” he laughs and leans back in his chair, balancing on two legs.“I don’t even know if he’ll be into me.” Finn’s trying hard to be dismissive, but it’s transparent. His shy smile makes Rey grin.

“Oh, he’s into you,” Ben snorts. “Trust me.”

Rey meets his eyes and smiles widely. This is exciting. Finn hasn’t been on a date in four months, hasn’t gotten laid in nearly that long, she’s pretty sure.
“Oh yeah?”

Ben’s grin brightens. His crooked teeth are visible, sort of disarming. His dental imperfections don't match his rich boy pedigree. “Oh yeah.”

It’s too easy for her to beam up at him when they’re on the same side of an issue - like they’re teammates, actual friends. She bites her lip and looks away, shoves Finn in the shoulder when he chuckles shyly.

“Quit it,” Finn laughs. “You can’t know that for sure.”

“Oh, hell yes, I can. Trust me. That guy’s been into you since the first time I showed him your Snapchat.” Ben shakes the wet hair from his face and leans over, wrapping oversized paws around a chair.

“What? Come on. Shut up, man.”  He won’t meet their eyes, focusing on the table. It’s adorable.

“I’m serious, dude. He’s in. I know that look.”

Finn sips his coffee and shakes his head. He’s too modest to push, but Rey knows how much this must mean to him.

“What look, Ben? How do you know?” She meets his energized, brown eyes, and she can track his gaze as he scans her. Full, parted lips quiver and then flinch, like he’s choosing words, and finally Finn looks up at him, too.

 

Ben clears his throat and turns back to the fridge, opening it again. His tone is unmistakable smartass when he speaks again.

“That look’s the same one I make when they deliver my halfsmoke order at the Chili Bowl.  It’s lust, my friends. Pure, unadulterated lust.”

 Finn stands and waves a have at him, dismissing the assumption. Rey gulps her cooling tea and watches them trade a right hook, a left uppercut, a sucker punch to the gut before Ben lumbers off.

“I’ll smuggle in breath mints in case you need me to slip you one on the sly,” he calls from the hallway. He’s stripping that filthy t-shirt over his head while he walks away, one huge hand tugging it over sweat-damp waves. Ignoring the simple and clear rules posted right on the fridge he was raiding. It’s infuriating. She hardly wants to watch at all.

“And condoms!” Ben shouts from the living room, “I’ll bring a shit ton of condoms!”

“Shut up, man!” Finn laughs loudly, echoing through the apartment.

“I’m a good wingman! What?”

Rey smirks at Finn as she rinses her teacup, leaving it in the sink for later. Time to hustle or she’ll be late to her internship at the Public Housing Authority. There are too many people to find homes for, and it means too much to Rey to be flippant with attendance.

A knock on the apartment door catches her attention as she’s hurrying to the shower. Who knocks on their door this early? Rey pulls open the door and wishes she'd been two minutes faster into the shower.

Mitaka blinks back at her, looking stunned even though he’s the one knocking.

“Oh! Mitty.” She opens her mouth, but nothing more comes out.

“Rey!” He gulps and opens his arms, stuttering towards her. He tugs her into a lopsided, awkward hug. She’s pulling into herself automatically, and then feels guilty about it. Shit.
“Hi - uh. I’ve missed you!” he stammers. “I mean - how, um - how are you?”

Rey places a hand on the doorknob and lifts her eyebrows with a bright smile. “Good! Yeah, thanks, Mitaka. Very good. And - and how are you?”

“Fine, fine.” He glances past Rey, scans the apartment behind her, looking around. “Bit lonely, to be honest. It’s quiet.” He glances at her face and then behind her again, taking it all in. “Sort of sad, really. Alone like that. No one to say goodnight to. Share a bag of popcorn with. That sort of thing.”

Her brow furrows. Rubbing her lips together, she stifles the urge to glance at her watch. Time is ticking, but God love him, Mitty’s here and hell, when did this get so bleeding cringey between them?

“I get sole use of the remote control though!” He perks up, shoving his hands into his slacks pockets. Must be on his way to work. “And my laundry smells like a Bavarian mountainside again.” He grins at Rey, and she smiles back. He’s such a good guy. It’s all a shame, really.

“You haven’t - um - ” His eyes dart behind her, back to her face and to the floor quickly. He’s nervous. Which makes Rey nervous, which tends to confuse him, which makes him even more nervous. “Haven’t changed your mind then? About - ” he glances at her briefly, “anything?”

She lays a hand on his shoulder and cocks her head. “Mitty…”

“Because if you just needed some space then maybe this arrangement has been worth it, because - ”

Ben slides into place beside her before she can cut Mitaka off. His shoulder is inches in front of her, one large hand extended to the guest in the doorway.

“Ben Solo,” he interrupts. “Resident Xbox champion. And you are?”

Mitaka glances at Rey, confused and reaches to shake Ben’s hand while his mouth hangs open. “I’m - I’m Dopheld Mitaka. Former roommate of the lovely Rey here, and I - ”  

“Ah!” Ben pulls Mitaka’s hand to his chest, and Rey is relieved he’s put on a clean t-shirt, even if it’s sleeveless, hanging open from armpit to waistband on the sides. “The dude I’ve heard about! Come in! Come in!” He wraps a hand around Mitaka’s shoulder, herding him to the couch before the smaller man can refuse. “Come on, I need a partner for Rainbow Six Siege. Grab a headset.”

Ben drops to the couch and ignores Rey, who takes the opportunity to check her watch. Mitty stutters, trying to decline because of the time - he needs to get going - but, Ben yanks him back onto the sofa by the shoulder. When Mitaka relents, pulling a headset on, Ben meets Rey’s eye over his shoulder and nods at the bathroom.

Go.

The message is clear as day. He’s rescued her.

Well, then. Don’t need to tell her twice.

 

She’s snuck away when she hears Mitaka pipe up, remembering what brought him over. She stills in the hallway, listening.

“Oh! I just remembered, I brought Rey one of her earrings. She left it at the apartment and I - “

“Meh, leave it. She’s got work, or something, I think. Here. Use Finn’s login. He’s shit at this level anyway. We’re gonna crush this squad I’ve been tracking all week.”

She smiles when it hits her while she’s shampooing- he’s followed a rule. Taken care of her. It almost makes her rethink her use of his fancy hair creme. Almost.

 

*****

 

When she goes home to change for a fundraising dinner, she stops in the kitchen, first. There’s a small, sprinkled cake that needs to be popped into the fridge with Ben’s name on it. It’s from the bakery in Georgetown Rey flees to when she needs to eat some feelings. A secret favorite.

She adds a rule to the list on the fridge - Do not eat food labeled for personal use - and hopes Ben finds the rule and the cake before Finn.

Or Ben’s blonde, Amazon goddess arm-candy.

 

*****

 

Knock, knock, knock.

“Thanks for the cake.”

For all his annoying traits, Ben hasn’t set foot over her room’s threshold since she’s moved in, except for the first night’s offer of help. Rey looks up from her bed where she’s sitting criss-crossed and peeks at him over her hand-held mirror. Liquid liner has never been her forte, and a winged eye takes precision. Her words come out odd while she concentrates on keeping her hand still.

“Thanks for rescuing me this morning. With Mitaka. I was - shit - I was definitely going to be late for work if you hadn’t swooped in so I could escape.”

Ben shrugs, leaning against the doorframe. “No big deal. Besides, I needed a second player for Rainbow.”

Rey blinks up at him and starts on her second eye.

“I’m serious. I take gaming very seriously.”

She looks at him and the edge of her smile curls up in spite of herself.

“I mean it! I wasn’t doing it for you. Did you -” He holds a hand to his chest. “Uh oh. You didn’t think I was doing it for you. Did you?”

“Sure, Solo.” She’s smiling outright now, grinning at her reflection as she traces the black line on her lid.

“You did?” He hisses through a clenched jaw, apologizing heartily. He puts a hand over his heart. “No, sorry, I just really, really wanted Mitaka to come over and talk about the sexiness of chemical engineering.” He frowns at Rey while she breaks into a wider smile at him before looking back at her reflection.

“And I wanted to hear him say ‘that’s gonna leave a mark,’ every time I took out a sniper.”

Her shoulders shake gently when she chuckles, and she catches his eye. They shine, his eyes. They’re dark as pitch in the poor lighting of her room this time of the evening when the sun sets over the building beside theirs, but somehow his eyes are luminescent.

“Here.” Ben digs a dangling earring from his pocket and holds it out to her. “He came to drop this off.”

She opens her hand and the earring falls into it, sparkling. Might work for tonight, in fact. Dropping the mirror into her lap she meets his eye.

“Thanks.” She reaches to fasten the earring when Ben stops her. “You’re not going to wear those. Are you?”

Her smile fades. “Excuse me?”

He takes a step closer. “Are you wearing that necklace tonight?” He points to the bedazzled six-strand hanging from her throat. “Because you can’t wear statement earrings with a statement necklace.”

“I beg your pardon, I can where whatever the hell I want, thank you very much.”

“Uh, no. You can’t.” His tone is decisive. Rey looks up at him, shocked. What the -

“It just isn’t done. Like you don’t wear a smokey eye with a red lip. One or the other,” he says. He looks over her small dresser top, rifling through her glass tray of baubles. Most of the pieces are from Marshall’s and TJ Maxx, but he holds up the pearl studs her mother had given her for high school graduation. The only significant article of worth on the entire surface, and he holds them to his ears. “See?” he asks. “Isn’t that better?”

Rey’s speechless. He is a massive, lumbering finance major with a douchebag air of confidence and an arrogance that could rival a crowned prince, offering styling advice like he’s on Queer Eye. Holding out a hand, she’s still searching for words when she fastens the pearl studs and holds up the mirror. He’s right. Woah.

“Gorgeous.”

She feels the blush climbing her cheeks. Her voice is close to a whisper. “Thanks.”

“Just because you can take liberty with accessories doesn’t always mean you should.”

She shakes her head at him and searches his face. This is a side she’s never seen before. “How do you know all this? What - you’re some sort of closet fashionista, or something?”

The lopsided grin is back, and Ben looks out her window at the graying sky turning to dusk when he hands go back inside his pockets. “Only child. Used to sit and watch my mom get ready for work events. Political fundraisers. Ya know.”

Rey nods as if that’s what her childhood was like. He’s a mystery in some ways, this big, irreverent person she lives with.  She studies his profile, Roman and enigmatic. She has basically no understanding of him whatsoever.

“She never got her daughter, so I picked up whatever breadcrumbs she dropped along the way, I guess.” Something an awful lot like self-loathing, unmistakably bittersweet bleeds through his smile when he faces her. His hands are balled up in the pockets of his jeans. “Anyhow, I know all sorts of useless shit like that. Occupational hazard of being invisible when I was little.”

 

Oh. It’s not something like sadness. It’s right there on the surface, close enough to touch.

“It’s not useless to me,” she says softly. “You just saved me from making a faux pas.” She smiles up at him and he looks down at her more softly that she deserves. The moment freezes, and Rey can’t look away. When he speaks again, the sadness is burned off and dry humor colors his words.

“You’d still be the prettiest girl in the room, Kanata. Don’t act like you don’t know it.”

She jumps off the bed and nods at his jeans and black Polo shirt, smelling the cologne on him when she’s close enough. He looks good enough to eat. Whatever is in the fridge is no competition for him, a tall black forest cherry layered cake.

“And where you off to tonight?” she asks too quickly.

He turns and she immediately wonders whether she should regret her inquiry. There’s curiosity in his gaze, like he’s weighing her words carefully. She watches his mouth work for an answer. His eyes are only on hers, not the rest of her. Just her eyes.

“I’ll be around later.” He walks away slowly, hands in his pockets. “If you miss me that badly.”

Rey watches, wishing she had something to throw at the back of his cocky head. Just because. He’s clearly about to go have a night on the town. That’s fine.

So is she.

 

******

 

It’s close to midnight when Rey toes off her heels underneath the booth between Paige and Jyn. The fundraising dinner was a smash success, and the silent auction raised a ton of cash. Her team’s passion project initiative is about to be introduced to the D.C. Public Housing Authority and it’s definitely time to blow off steam.

She orders a beer and munches a handful of tortilla chips while they wait on the server to return. Her feet feel excruciating. Nothing but sandals from here on out. Why would anyone choose a career where you were required to wear heels?

 

“Can you believe Senator Goodwin won the Hamptons weekend for ten grand?” Paige says, reaching for the chip basket. “You think he’ll take his wife or his mistress?”

“Beats me,” Jyn says. “As long as he pays for it, I don’t care if he takes both.” 

The server appears with beers and a massive pile of cheese fries, and Rey forgets her aching feet. Thank God she came out with her co-workers tonight after the event. Crudité and bruschetta are nice, but they don’t beat wings and cheese fries.

“To equal opportunity,” Paige says, holding an icy bottle aloft.

“To fair housing and income sustainability,” Jyn says, hoisting her beer.

“To grad school,” Rey smiles, clinking her bottle to theirs.

All three new college grads sip their beers, tired and satisfied. They’ve worked hard to educate the rich patrons and political movers and shakers around them about gentrification, community development and the prison pipeline. Now it’s just up to the board to approve it, and Rey won’t be here in the fall to see it anyway.

A shout at the bar catches her ear and Rey’s head jerks up. It's just someone shouting at the TV. She’s about to reach for the fries, but her eyes snag on a familiar set of shoulders. Wide and muscled under a black shirt. Dark hair, a frame too big for the bar stool. Ben’s back is to her, but Rey can see his profile when he leans to hear what the woman beside him says.

He loops an arm around the woman’s slim shoulders and speaks close to her ear. It looks familiar. Rey shifts in her seat. Must be a well-rehearsed move he’s using, because the woman leans her head to his shoulder. Her long hair falls over his arm. Rey can see his lips move, talking. She tries hard not to imagine what he’s saying.

“Rey? Did you hear me?”

“What’s that?”

“I said, when are you leaving for Berkeley?”

“Oh - um, end of summer.”

“Like August? Or - ?” Jyn trails off, and Rey drags her eyes from the tender scene at the bar. Asshole. He’s found a pretty girl in this room already. Clearly.

She answers and excuses herself to the bathroom where she wipes an errant liner smear from her cheek. Pulls her hair into a bun. Mutters to herself to stop being ridiculous in the mirror. She resolutely avoids looking at the bar on her way back to the booth, sliding her shoes off again with a smile.


The server arrives a moment later with another round of beers. “From the guy at the bar,” she says, nodding behind her. Rey glances up and Ben holds his drink up, a long-distance cheers. The woman beside him is talking, leaning over to sip her drink with a stirring straw. Rey schools her face into an expressionless facade and looks back to the server with a kind smile.

“No, thank you. We’ll pay for our own drinks.”

The waitress lifts her eyebrows and retrieves the sweating bottles, taking them away and Ben’s smile fades. Rey looks at him while the woman at his side keeps speaking. He can only be half-listening to her, and his eyes are on Rey’s across the bar. It’s an asshole move. Rey is not impressed. She’s even less pleased when the woman puts her hand on his arm, and Ben leans close to give her his attention.

“What’s that all about?” Jyn asks. She looks between Rey and Ben twice. The tension between them is icy.

“He’s my roommate.”

Paige’s eyebrows are at her hairline. “And you won’t accept a beer from him?”
“He’s just trying to make nice with me.”

“And - you...don’t want to make nice with him?” Jyn asks, looking back to the bar where Ben sits. “Looks like a nice enough guy to me.”

Rey shrugs and reaches for a cheese fry, ignoring him. “He can speak to me at the apartment if he needs to.”

“You look like he pissed you off,” Paige says.

“Yeah,” Jyn agrees. “Sounds like he needs to make something up to you.”

“I’d say let him make it up to you with his body,” Paige snickers, and Jyn laughs out loud.

Rey shakes her head at them. “It’s not like that. Really. He’s just - just a guy. Short-term roommate. Nothing major. It’s not like that.”

Jyn and Paige exchange a look, and Jyn shakes her head into her beer bottle as she takes a drink. “Whatever you say.”

“Besides,” Rey says, “I have bigger fish to fry. California is right around the corner and I am all systems go, do not stop. Do not collect $200. Green lights all the way.”

“So, you’re pretty excited then, I take it, huh Rey?” Paige says. “It sounds like an amazing opportunity.”

Rey looks at her beer bottle and peels the label while stealing glances at Ben. He’s turned away fully, hunched over the bar. She sees the woman steal one of his french fries.

“I am. I really, really am. You guys know how important this career is to me. Ever since I was a little girl, raised by a single mom.” She looks at Ben Solo at the bar, expensive watch glinting in the dim lighting, glossy hair shining under florescent lights. “When we left London and came to America where my mom grew up, we lived in her car for almost a year. I thought it was how all Americans live - bathing at a campground, sleeping next to my mom in the back seat of our Oldsmobile.”

Ben meets her eye over his shoulder and Rey looks away quickly. “I’m too passionate about equal opportunity housing, and the blight of homelessness to be distracted now. I have to follow my dreams. And if they take me even further from London, all the way to California?”

She turns further away from him.  “Even better.”

 

*****



Chapter Text

Out with a Bang

by Newer and Berry

Original commissioned art by @ClaraGemm.

 

 

“Ben, are you even listening to me?”

No.  No, he isn’t listening to Michelle, Phasma’s ex.  He’s too busy scowling at the three longnecks lined up like soldiers reporting for duty.  Rey sent them back with a polite ‘no, thank you,’ according to the waitress.

He was being nice.  What the hell?

“Sorry, Chell.  What?”

“I said you can’t just throw away three years. Three years, Ben.”  She’s grabbing his forearm again, like she has all night, to make her point even more emphatic.  “And Gwen’s throwing them away, just like that.” Chell tries to snap, but misses.

“Hmm.”  Ben agrees in theory.  Except he knows they spent as much time apart as together during those years, always one fiery argument away from a break up.  This isn’t a surprise to him.

 They were just kids when they met, still figuring things out. Now they’ve all graduated.  Time to grow up and get serious.

“I don’t understand how she can just, like, walk away?”

Chell starts to crumble again, and he pats her back.  This sucks. He likes them both. Phas won’t pick up the phone, so Chell called Ben. Like the sucker he is, he dropped his plans to meet up with her.

The bartender smiles amiably.  “Another round, folks?” He eyes the beers in formation on the bar.  “Guess not for you, huh?”

Ben smiles wryly. “Yeah, I’m set.”  

The waitress who delivered the news is ringing up another customer behind the bar and glances at him with a smile. “You can’t really blame her, can you?” she says.

His brows crinkle in confusion.  “Huh?”

“I mean, you’re on a date and buying a round for a bunch of girls?  Bold move.”

“This isn’t a date,” Ben mutters, waving a finger between him and Chell as she sniffles. He leans over to reach for more cocktail napkins for her and stage whispers to the waitress, “It’s a mission of mercy.”

She chuckles. “Oh.  Well, it looks like one.”

 

Ben pauses. He turns back to look at Rey, who’s still stubbornly ignoring him. Something clicks into place, finally, as he runs over the events of the night.   

He helped her get ready.  Called her the prettiest girl in the room.  Said he’d be around later if she missed him.  Then they ran into each other while he’s sitting with a redhead she doesn’t know, and . . . wait a minute.

Huh.  Rey is jealous.

Oh, fuck, Rey is jealous.

 

It’s all he can do not to turn and grin at her like that naughty little girl in the burning house meme.  Oh, man. This is good.

He knows from experience that there’s nothing a girl wants more than an item she thinks may be in someone else’s basket.  Like a sample sale or Ebay, the greatest signal of desirability to a woman is when someone else wants it.

 

“Come on, Chell, I’ll get you an Uber,” Ben says.

He has a feeling that his price just went up with Rey.  He can’t wait to find out if he’s right.

 

******

 

Over the next few days, Rey makes it very difficult for Ben to determine if she is, in fact, into him.  Primarily because she avoids him like he’s contagious. 

Rey wakes up early and leaves for work while he’s still on his morning run.  That night, she takes her dinner to her room and shuts the door with her music turned up loud in the universal sign of bugger off.   He can’t seem to pin her down long enough for a conversation.  

The chill factor drops considerably in the apartment, and it’s not the thermostat.  In fact, an unseasonably early heat wave pushes the old AC unit in the brownstone nearly to its breaking point.  Even on high, it registers 79 degrees. Finn goes shirtless now, too, although Rey doesn’t get on him about it, Ben notices.

He waits in wicked anticipation for Rey to join the club.  So far, no such luck.

 

On the second day of her silent treatment, Ben opens the fridge to find a bright yellow sticky note on top of the cake container she bought for him.  There are only about three bites remaining under the clear plastic. He was saving them.

In her chicken scratch handwriting, Ben deciphers: “Are you going to finish it?”

Well, if Rey’s gonna freeze him out, two can play that game. He clicks open a pen and writes underneath:   “Maybe.”   You know, like a mature person.

The next morning, he sees Rey added on.     

 

“When?”

“Dunno.”

 

That evening:  “It’s taking up space.”

“Same space as when it was full.”  

 

The next morning:  “Are you torturing me?”

At least she’s talking to him.  Sort of.

“A bit.”

 

That night: “Eat it.”

Make me.”

 

The next morning her red ink makes him laugh out loud.

“Ass.”

 

Ben amends the last line, so instead it reads:   “Nice Ass.”

 

He walks to work with a spring to his step.  He can’t wait to see what she does with that one.

 

******

 

After a long, shitty day, Ben shuffles home on steaming concrete sidewalk.  The air is so thick you can taste it. He cannot wait to get out of the stiff-collared work shirt and tie and crack open a cold one.

His days at work are a slog.  Ben’s pretty sure a robot or a calculator could perform just as well, or more likely better, than he does.  Moving numbers from column A to column B isn’t exactly his life’s dream. It’s a stepping stone to a larger stepping stone.  His future in finance is bright, everyone tells him so, but so far it just feels like another set of requirements to check off.  

He turns onto his block and checks his phone when it buzzes.  He missed a call from his mom while on the metro, probably to pester him about the internship with Uncle Luke again. Great. 

Ben suddenly remembers the cake and Rey.  He smiles, and his feet feel lighter as he flies up the stairs to see what she’s added now.  

He drops his messenger bag by the door and notices the cake is sitting out on a plate on the kitchen table with a fork next to it.  No note. He looks around the kitchen and notices that the fridge list has a new rule.

 

Don’t be a tease. Finish or toss leftovers.

Ben shakes his head.  She’s a tough nut to crack.  He can’t say that he minds though.  Rey’s the only girl who gives him as good as she gets.  Ben would never admit it, but he finds that hot as hell.

He changes into running shorts and saunters back into the kitchen bare chested to write another rule underneath hers in the muggy apartment.  He adds an asterisk after her “put on a shirt occasionally” and at the bottom of the page: Clothing optional while AC is broken.  

Let’s see her sweat now.  Literally.

 

Finn walks in behind him and leans over his shoulder to read it.  He cackles. 

“Ooh, son, you’re aiming for a smack down!  She’s gonna go British on your arse.”

“I fucking hope so,” Ben says.

“Why you like to rile her up like that?”  

“It’s fun.”

“Hmm.”  

 

Ben turns to see Finn looking at him closely. Ben shrugs and shifts on his feet.  “What?”

“I thought you guys didn’t like each other,”  Finn says, slowly. Considering.

“Clearly.”  Ben taps the list with the pen.

Finn narrows his eyes as his grin grows.  “To that I say– hmm.

Ben laughs.  “Rey can’t stand me.”

“After New Year’s, can you blame her?  You were an asshole. Remember?”

 

The tingling of a memory rises, but the details are still fuzzy. “I don’t remember anything except her frowny face.” 

“She told me after.  You called Bazine a cunt.”  Finn pauses for effect. “Said there was no point in dating women, that they weren't -” Finn uses air quotes, “‘worth it’."

“Really?”  Ben grimaces. He knows he was drunk off his ass, but that is pretty awful, even for him.

“And you tried to hit on Rey.”  

“Oh, shit.” Ben rubs the back of his neck as his stomach sinks. “I’m surprised she talks to me after that.”

“Well, it did take six months, bro.”  Finn laughs. “Rey’s a great girl. Heart of gold. But she doesn’t take shit.”

 

Ben looks at him, curious.

Finn grows serious. “She never had anything easy. You ever seen her waste food?”

Ben shakes his head.
He thinks about the refused beer at the bar, the ignored cake in the fridge. Shit.

“Nope, and you won’t either,” Finn nods. “Rey grew up on food stamps, with a single mom, all of that. She’s worked her ass off to get where she is now.”

Ben doesn’t know what that’s like, to lack for things.  He’s had everything handed to him in life, even though he never wanted any of it.

He meets Finn’s eyes as an understanding sets in.  “I’ll ease up on her. I was just playing.”

Finn nods. “It’s cool, man. Just make sure Rey’s having fun, too, is all.”  

 

He leaves Ben alone in the kitchen with his cake.

 

******

 

The AC sounds like it’s about to kick it’s mortal coil for the great utilities’ trash heap in the sky.  Either that, or three large house cats are battling to the death inside. It’s getting intolerable. The landlord promises he’s sending out a repairman, but it’s going to take another day or two with the Fourth coming up.

Ben walks home from work thinking about Finn’s words.  About what it must be like for Rey, having to leave that situation with Mitaka and then Ben busting her balls each day.

He feels a small flare of guilt.  It’s an uncomfortable feeling.

 

The CVS on their block has a sale on oscillating fans.  He stops short and gets an idea.

An hour later, he’s put together the fan and set it up in Rey’s room with a yellow sticky note attached to the center.

 

“For my hot roomie.”

It’s not much, but he hopes it helps Rey feel comfortable in her new home.

 

******

 

The next morning, it’s already scorching by the time he wakes up. Way too hot to run.  Ben skips it and steps into the shower early. Finn’s off to his gym to work out and shower there, so it’s just him and Rey in the apartment.

After he towels off, Ben wraps it around his waist and finger combs his hair  with the magic hair goop. Ben cracks the door to let out some of the steam and brushes his teeth.  When he finishes, he goes to grab the door handle and it flies out of his hand.

Standing on the other side of the door wearing only a towel is Rey, every bit as startled as he is.  Their eyes lock for a moment in mutual surprise.

Rey’s lips part as her cheeks turn a delicious rosy pink, forcing her freckles out of hiding.  She lowers her gaze to his chest, and her eyes widen even more before she glances away and blinks like a scandalized Victorian as she clutches her towel.

 

Confirmation: she digs him.

 

Ben’s lips curl into a victorious smirk.  He watches the blush pour down to her collarbones and the gentle swell of her cleavage where it rises from the towel.  

“Sorry, um, I thought you were out,” Rey manages to say.

“Am now.”

“Okay, err.  Sorry.”

“No worries.  It’s all yours.”  

She steps aside to let him leave.  As he passes, he pauses when their chests are mere inches apart, and looks down at her.

He meets her eyes quickly before heading down the hall.

 

“Oh - Ben.” He turns when he hears his name. It sounds good coming out of her mouth. She grips her short towel tighter to the top of her chest when he faces her. “Thank you. For the fan. That was . . . really sweet.”

“Don’t mention it.”

It almost looks like she’s about to say something more, but he nods to the bathroom instead while she hesitates.

 

“Go on. I warmed it up for you.”

He thinks he can see her shiver, but he walks on to his room without turning, in case she wants to watch his backside without shame.  It’s the least he can do for his hot roomie.

 

******

 

The Fourth of July is a D.C. tradition.  The National Mall, the grassy national park between the Capitol and the Lincoln Memorial, is covered with picnic blankets and visitors enjoying the day-long activities culminating in the big fireworks show over the reflecting pool after sunset.

When people first move to D.C., that’s where they go.  Rookie mistake. The best viewing location, the gold standard, is on the water of the Potomac, if you’re lucky enough to have a friend with a yacht.  But what most locals do is find a rooftop. If not an apartment, a workplace that hosts a party for employees. No crowds and plenty of bathrooms and beer.

Which is why Finn invites Rey and Ben to join him at his buddy Snap’s office near the Smithsonian metro stop.

Rey is carrying a tray of brownies and Ben a case of beer in offering to the potluck.  They step on the elevator and rise to the eleventh floor to hit the open air, hot but starting to cool already, and take in a clear, unimpeded view of the Washington Monument.  

The rooftop is already packed.  Finn slips away to find Snap, leaving Rey and Ben standing somewhat awkwardly by the buffet table.

Nowhere left for her to hide from him.

“So,” she says, looking around, holding an elbow in one hand and a plastic cup with a margarita in the other.

“Hmm,” Ben agrees.  She looks lovely, he thinks.  A white top, is that eyelet or lace, he gets them confused?  Open-backed and tied up over high-waisted denim cutoffs. No one else would look good in that outfit, he thinks.  Just her.

“What do you think of this holiday?”  He asks, curious.

“Oh, I love it.  Bring on the pie.”

He chuckles. “So, you don’t think it’s like- painfully American?”

She shrugs. “Well, I’m half-American.  My mom’s from here, you know. So, I get it.  Independence and all that. Land of opportunity and freedom.”

He nods. “The whole American dream,” Ben says. Having a grandmother who led a Daughters of the American Revolution branch, he has a different view of heritage. It’s generationally loaded. And heavy.

Rey lifts one shoulder in a shrug and looks out over the Mall.  She sips her drink and Ben peeks at her from the corner of his eye.

“I think so,” she says. There’s no guile in her voice, no cynicism. She catches him looking, and continues. “There’s something beautiful about freedom, don’t you think? I mean, it might sound sort of corny, but - ”

 

She meets his eye and shakes her head. “Nevermind. You probably think I’m ridiculous.”

“No, I don’t.”

“Yes, you do. You must, with a list of relatives a mile long. Probably went to Disneyland as a kid. Bet you know the U.S. like the back of your hand.”

Her gaze skips around nervously while she speaks. She’s pulling at a string on her cutoffs.

“No,” he repeats. “I really don’t think that.” She meets his eyes briefly. “I think it’s sort of refreshing, actually, how you see things." 

She snorts a laugh. “You think I’m refreshing?" 

He can’t help it when the corner of his smile morphs to a gentle smirk. “Refreshing...icy…whatever...” Rey slaps his shoulder with a laugh and he grins broadly down at her. “I’m kidding. But, yeah - it’s nice to hear someone with a fresh take.”

“Really?”

He nods and stares at the people gathering on blankets in the grass. “Sure. I’m surrounded by all these starched shirts at work. Coldhearted, boring motherfuckers. All sitting on trust funds. Legacy assholes like me whose uncle’s secretary’s sister got them a job in finance like their fathers before them.” He sighs and catches Rey looking at him. “Nice to hear somebody see the world differently.”

She’s meeting his eyes, and she looks open. That’s the only way to describe it - open.

 

“I didn’t know you felt that way about your job.”

“Doesn’t everyone?”

“I don’t.” She says it like it’s the most natural thing in the world, the most obvious life choice, to just pick what you do for a living. “I actually can’t wait to get to work everyday. I can’t imagine doing a job I hated.”

“Yeah, well.”

 

He doesn’t have a rebuttal. How do you summarize legacy expectations?

“What do you like about your job?” he asks, instead. “Isn’t it depressing working in the inner city?”

“No way!”

 

Her eyes are shining. She looks out at the darkening sky and launches into a description of her work so excitedly, it’s infectious.

Ben’s smiling too, just watching her talk so affectionately.  The way her arm slices through the air when she discusses equal opportunity.  The ferocity in her eyes when she talks about gentrification. She positively lights up when she talks about foster kid housing and family reunification.

 

Rey has something he’s never had about anything.  Passion. She cares, deeply, about what she does and the people she helps.  

She knows their names.

 

It’s something he’s never experienced, checking off boxes in school to create the perfect resumé.  It’s risky, in some ways foolhardy, to throw yourself so completely into your career to turn it into a mission.  It’s ripe for heartbreak and disappointment.

 

Ben’s fascinated.  Someone so completely in love with what they do, especially when it doesn’t benefit them personally, is unheard of.  He’s jealous. It goes beyond respect, he thinks, and firmly into admiration.

 

“How did you get this way?” he asks, stunned by her.

“What way?” She’s almost breathless with joy, talking about what she does in the community.

“This -” he motions to her entire self with a wave of his hand. “This energy. This fuel inside you. Is your mom like this?”

Rey smiles and tilts her head, rubs a hand down her perspiring margarita glass. “My mom’s adorable. And she probably did help make me the way that I am, yes.”

 

She looks at him, and he keeps his own face available, zips his lips tightly so she continues.

“She raised me by herself. Well, after I was five when my dad left. Brought me back to the States when he walked out, to lick her wounds, I guess.”

Her voice is softer now, remembering. “And she did the best she could. She did amazing, actually. But, it was hard for a long time for us, for her.” She smiles and inhales, shoulders pulling back. “Even after we could afford a home of our own, she always stopped to give a sandwich to someone hungry on the street. That sort of thing makes an impression when you’re growing up. So, yeah. I guess you could say she made me like this.”

She smiles. Rey’s upbringing couldn’t possibly have been any more opposite of his own. She’s almost his polar opposite in every way. 

The brass band begins to play down on the street and they make their way to the edge of the rooftop as the fireworks display begins.  Ben and Rey are separated by the crowd at opposite ends of the wall, but he looks over at her as the rockets lift off.

 

The city night is thick and muggy, but floors above there’s a light breeze that flutters the ruffles on her shirt as he watches.  Her hair blows back from her face as she smiles in amazement at the raining sparkles in the night. The colors reflect off her eyes, full of wonder.

 

A loud bang goes off down below as the canons start going off and the fireworks reach the finale.  Ben’s hardly been watching the sky. Rey flinches and giggles, slapping Finn’s arm as he slides up beside her.

She turns to see Ben looking and her smile wavers for a minute, but stays.  He has the urge to waggle his eyebrows or make a face, but instead Ben just wiggles his fingers and gives her an earnest, closed mouth smile.  

 

Rey smiles back.

The city night lights up behind them in celebration, but Ben only sees the reflection in her eyes.

 

Then Finn wraps his arm around her shoulder and pulls her away out of sight.  Ben looks down at the mass of people below as they rise and wander home in the darkness.  His smile lingers.

Chapter Text

Out with a Bang

by Newer & Berry

 

 *****

 

“Rey, thanks again for all your hard work on the initiative.” 

Ms. Johnson is a bit warmer now that graduation is over, but she’s every ounce as professional on the phone as in class. 

“I’m just so thankful I got to be a part of your team, Ms. Johnson. Thank you again for the opportunity and the letter of recommendation. I’m sure it was a big part of why I was accepted into the Berkeley grad program.”

“You deserve it, Rey. Get out there and go make a difference.”

“I’ll do my best, Ms. Johnson. And thanks again.”

 

One by one, Rey’s responsibilities are ticking off as summer slips by. The weeks are dwindling, but the days are longer than ever.

There’s an orange sliver of sunshine blazing directly through the window in her room, catching dust particles that hang suspended. The AC blows cool, thank God it’s working again. Rey pulls up a pair of yoga shorts and a slouchy t-shirt over her ratty jogging bra that gives her a uni-boob. No one’s home tonight but her. She’s got a date with a Netflix binge and sushi takeout.

 She jumps to answer the knock at the apartment door as soon as she hears it, grabbing her wallet on the way.

“Coming!”

The face that greets her shocks her so fully, it takes a minute to retract the handful of cash she’s already holding out.

 

Tear-stained and red-nosed, Rose tumbles into her arms, crying noisily.

“Rose!”

Rey wraps her arms around her friend, kicking the front door closed. She drops her wallet on the hall table and guides Rose to the living room couch, patting her shoulder as she weeps.

“What happened? What’s wrong?”

Rose cuts her off, sobbing as she looks up at Rey with waterlogged eyes, nose running and words broken by cries.

“We -” she sobs, gasping for breath before she tries again, “we broke up.”

 

Fresh sobs wrack her body as she buries her face in Rey’s neck.
They curl up on the couch together and Rey rubs her back. Rose is crying bitterly, soaking Rey’s shoulder with tears when Ben stomps into the living room. Rey’s head jerks up in surprise. He was supposed to have plans - he shouldn’t even be there right now.

He freezes, brow furrowing as he looks at the weeping woman on the couch beside Rey.

Rey shakes her head, still unsure what’s going on herself yet, and tries again with Rose while Ben observes with a grimace. He awkwardly bends to tiptoe out, hunching his oversized body cartoonishly.

 

“Who broke up, Rosie? Not you and Hux?”

“Yes. Me and Hux,” her friend wails into her neck. Her words are muffled, but clear enough. “We had a f-f-fight and the wedding’s off, Rey. It’s off.”

A new round of tears starts as Rose covers her face in her hands. Rey lifts her eyebrows at Ben imploringly, and whispers across the room while he creeps towards the kitchen.

“Tissues?”

His paralysis breaks, and he flies back down the hall. A minute later, Ben drops an entire roll of toilet paper into Rey’s hands, and she mouths thanks at him. He nods, shoving hands in his pockets and begins a slow retreat from the room.

 

“If he didn’t want me to invite his father to the wedding, he should’ve helped with the invitations when I asked! Right?” 

Rose looks from Ben to Rey and back again. No way is Ben getting out of this conversation now. Rose’s fierce look demands agreement, and he nods obediently.

“I asked Hux if he wanted his father invited,” says Rose, hands waving, “and he said ‘he won’t come.’ So, I invited him anyway, because why not? Since he won’t come anyway?” Rose looks at them and takes a breath. “But then Hux got mad at me!”

 “He said I don’t listen to him. And then I said something about how he should use his words.” Rose stops and blows her nose and looks at Ben. He nods for her to go on like he’s a marriage therapist. 

Rey quirks a smile at him. He raises his eyebrows back at her helplessly.

 

“So, Hux said I should know him better than that after four years of dating,” she goes on, voice cracking. “And I said, ‘if I don’t know you then maybe we shouldn’t be getting married!’” 

She huffs at the ceiling angrily. Tears run down her cheeks. Rey’s heart aches for her.

“So, he said fine. And I said fine, and then I started crying.” Her bottom lip trembles, and a tear falls into her lap. “And then he just grabbed his keys and left.” By the time Rose finishes, her face is in a tissue again.

Rey pats her friend’s back while she sobs, pushes her hair behind an ear. Hux and Rose never fight. It sounds like wedding planning stress has finally caught up with them. Rey glances at Ben. His brow is furrowed like he’s been paying attention, and he slides from the arm into the seat of the chair.  

Rey chews her lip and leans her head to rest on Rose’s. It’s heartbreaking, hearing her cry.
Rose is solid and sweet, like a chocolate Easter bunny. She’ll break your teeth, and give you a cavity doing it, a kick-ass-sweetheart combo whose fierce loyalty endears everyone to her. Seeing Rose fall to pieces feels all wrong.

 

It’s too much like Rey’s mom.

Comforting a sobbing woman whose man has walked out. The wrecked face with ruined makeup. Shredded tissues and recapped arguments. Rey has been here before and it makes her want to run and hide with her stuffed lizard. Make it all stop, make them love each other again, be good so they’ll make up.

 

But this isn’t her mom and dad.

This is Rose and Hux, and no one has impregnated their London barrister co-worker. Rey’s a grown-up. She has distance from people who broke her heart. And a degree, and friends. She’s okay.

And it works.

Mostly.

 

“Do you know where he went?”

Rose meets her with blazing eyes, flaming hot. “I don’t care where he went! He doesn’t love me enough to work it out. Just walks ou-ou-out the door like he - he…”

She dissolves into a puddle, anger cascading into tears. Rey leans closer, cooing. Someone else pounds on the front door. Ben and Rey look at one another, and he holds up a hand.

“I got it.”

Rey smiles gratefully. “Money’s in my wallet by the door!” she calls as he strides away. She listens while he accepts her dinner, walks it into the kitchen and peeks his head around the corner.

Rose sniffles, lifting her head and looks at Rey, craning her neck to see Ben inside the kitchen, too.

“He was wrong, wasn’t he? Don’t you think he was wrong?” she calls.
Ben peeks out the kitchen doorway again, and Rey opens her mouth to speak. Her brows knit while she determines how to feel, eyes locked on Ben. He nods at her, and then they both nod emphatically at Rose.

“Of course we do, Rosie,” Rey says. “Right? Ben?”

Ben walks back carefully into the living room, hands sliding against the denim on his thighs. He steps like the floor is made of lava.

“Uh. Yep. Sure do.”

Rey looks between them several times, quickly. “Really? You don’t think I’m a heinous bitch?”

“You’re definitely not a heinous bitch,” Rey smiles. She takes Rose’s hand, warm and soft. “Sounds like it was just a misunderstanding.”

 

Rose looks up at her with sad eyes, and rests her head on Rey’s shoulder. “It was awful.”

“I know. I’m sorry.”

Rey risks a peek at Ben. He’s opposite the couch, knees splayed wide. He rubs his hands together, then crosses his arms over his chest. Biceps strain, demanding Rey’s attention, so she looks away, plays with Rose’s hair. Rose sniffles against her shoulder.

 

“But, Ro,” Rey says softly, “Why'd you say you broke up?”

She can feel the heat of Ben’s penetrative stare, but Rey looks dutifully at Rose when she lifts her head. Her friend needs her right now, needs her devoted attention.

And Ben Solo looks way too distracting, sitting right over there with his perfectly coiffed hair, and his stupidly too-handsome face. And his big arms too visible in his heather gray pocket t-shirt hanging just right over faded jeans that probably hug his round arse too nicely.

 “He left. He walked out on me. Just walked out.” Rose chokes on the words. New tears course down her cheeks, and Ben clears his throat. 


His eyebrows lift when he speaks, deep and kind.

“You guys ever broken up before?”

Rose shakes her head, and Rey does, too.

“Never once. Not since senior year of high school when he asked me to prom. You know that was our first date? Senior prom?”


Rey nods, Ben shakes his head, and Rose lights up a bit.

“He’d been working up the nerve to ask me out since tenth grade. Mr. Hallinan’s science class.” A tiny smile plays on her lips as she rolls the tissues. “I had no idea. He was so shy. And so cute…”

She pauses. “We’ve been together ever since. But, we’ve never once fought like we did today.”

Her silky, black hair hangs in a curtain around her face. Rey chews her bottom lip. She’s so far out of her comfort zone, she’s speechless.

 

Rey knows how to insulate. How to funnel challenge into energy, how to find independence - hell, how to heal, even.

She can do those things, could give a lecture on how to change the world, fight for freedom, stand your ground.
But how to stick? Negotiate? How to patch a broken heart and hand it over to someone else? How to give them permission to tear it to bits again?

Can’t relate.

“You two sound like you were made for each other,” Ben says.

His voice tugs Rey out of her own head. She nods at her friend in agreement. They really do.
Rose looks at Ben, and then Rey.

“You think so?” she sniffles.

“Sure,” Ben says. “Child of divorce right here. Very familiar with relationship toxicity, and this ain’t it. That’s an everyday habit, not a one time wedding-stress thing.” 

He looks at Rose as he speaks, unguarded. Real.

The sun is setting behind the next building and the floor lamp beside him lights him like an oil painting. His hair shines like black glass, lips soft-looking and baby-smooth. His face does this sweet thing when he speaks - a faint rumble of emotions flickering. It’s hypnotizing.

Rey can’t look away.

 

She curls bare legs underneath herself, yanks the neck of her t-shirt up over her exposed shoulder. Next time, she’ll make sure she knows exactly who’s going to be around before she chooses the uni-boob jogging bra, for Christ’s sake.

“How can you know for sure?” Rose asks. She looks at Ben like he holds the secrets of the universe, and he lifts a hand with invisible evidence.

“How can you doubt it?” he asks. “Haven’t you been together all these years? Able to stand one another? Without a break?”

Rose nods, but Rey just listens. She’s got nothing to add, doesn’t trust herself not to say the wrong thing and wish Rose a lonely, untethered singleton like herself.

 

“Well, there you go,” he says, refolding his arms. He leans back further into the armchair. “People who don’t want to be together, aren’t. Simple. You two have been together too long not to want it.”

It’s quiet. Music filters up from another apartment, a car horn sounds in the distance.

“Yeah.” She’s barely whispered her response, but Rose is no longer crying. The tissues are wrapped around her finger, and she looks up at Ben. “But, how can you know?”

“I’ve seen some nasty shit go down between people who don’t belong together. That’s how. I was at a bar last week with my best friend, Phasma’s ex. Chell.” He looks Rey right in the eye. “You remember. You saw me there, I think, Rey. Right? With the redhead?”

 

Bar...redhead... shit.

Christ.

 

He sighs, eyes swerving back to Rose. “They’ve been seeing each other, like three years at this point. Constantly at each other’s throats. Looking for a way to get out the whole time. Would they admit it? Naw. But, did the rest of us know it? Yeah.” He nods, closing his argument. “Hell, yeah.”

 

She blinks up at Rey. “What do you think? Do you think we’re over?”

Rose looks downright miserable. Absolutely shattered, grasping for hope. Only a monster would wish her to be without the love of her life.

“I think,” Rey laces her fingers with Rose’s. She holds their hands in her lap. “If you want to go for it - just rip off the Band-Aid, I’m here for you. One thousand percent.”

Rose watches her. No response.

“We’ll be single girls. Together. Take the city by storm.” Rey says.

No movement.

 

Right, then. Just like she thought.

 

“But, if I know you, what you want more than anything is to go call your fiance’.”

 

Clouds part over her face. Rose looks like someone breathed life into her. She perks up, listening.

“I think you’d be fine without Hux. Eventually. But, it’d be a shame to have to find out.”

 

Rose smiles - the first time in a half hour she’s actually smiling, and her dark eyes sparkle again.

“Thanks, you guys.” She looks at Rey, and then Ben, sniffling one final time. “I really needed that. I don’t even know why - ”  

Another knock on the door, and Hux’s frantic voice rings through the small apartment.

 

“Rey! Rose? Are you in there? It’s Hux! Rey? Can you open up, it’s me!”

 Rose leaps off the couch, tearing to the door before he’s finished alerting all the neighbors of his arrival. She pulls the door open and launches into his waiting arms before Rey can stand from the couch.

 

“Oh! My love! I’m so sorry!”

“No! No, I’m sorry!”

“I love you so much!”

“I love you so much!”

“It was all my fault!”

“No, it was all my fault!”

 

Rey sucks the inside of her cheek to keep from grinning. The old t-shirt keeps slipping down her shoulder, so she wraps her arms around herself to hold it in place. Ben slides up beside her. He smells like cinnamon and musk and good leather. If she weren’t his roommate, this is when she’d look up at him beside her, see if the face was as delicious as the scent. 

She feels his arm bump hers when he shoves his hands inside jeans pockets, warmth radiating off him like a living furnace.

 

The sooner he leaves the better. It’s been too long since she’s gotten off and goddamn that Ben Solo, he’s not making this any easier. It’s been too long.

She needs privacy, some tension relief - preferably when the apartment is empty and she can moan wantonly without him hearing.

It’s barely been five minutes since Hux arrived when Rose kisses Rey’s cheek goodbye. Her eyes are wet and full of happy relief. No one will have to worry about eating the cost of the bridesmaid’s dress, the way Hux and Rose are hanging all over each other.

 

She collapses onto the couch and Ben locks the door. It’s quiet again. He’ll leave too, in a minute. Rey will be alone with her boxed dinner and reality TV binge.

A little earlier, that had sounded amazing. Watching her best friend fall in love with her fiance’ all over again though, it feels a bit like an echo.

Ben sits down in the chair opposite the couch again. Rey’s gaze falls on the coffee table between them. He’s probably going to be late. Most likely has a date. Someone to sweep off their feet. He probably doesn’t want to sit here with Rey and her sad uni-boob and her cooling box of take-out.

 

“Don’t you -”  She meets his eyes, but they’re too dark. Too warm. She looks away and starts again. “Don’t you have plans?” 

Ben shrugs. “Yeah. I mean - I sort of do, yeah. What are you doing tonight?”

 

Nothing, she wants to say. Nothing and no one, that’s what I’m doing.

She looks around, pretending to care about the wall color.

“Little night in. Finn’s at Poe’s. You’re - doing whatever it is that you do. I need a good night’s sleep, anyhow.”

 

He’s silent. Watching her. The AC hums, and she shifts on the couch.

 

“That was really nice of you. By the way. How you took care of Rose like that,” he says.

Rey looks up at him in disbelief. “Me? You!”

He chuckles. “Me? What did I do?”

“You saved their entire marriage!” Ben laughs out loud, cheeks dimpling and Rey continues. “I mean it! All that ‘you two are made for each other’ stuff! That was incredible!”

He shakes his head, rolling his eyes playfully. “It was just common sense. No big deal.”

Rey shakes her head and her cheeks heat. She looks away.

“Yeah, no. It is. And you did it last week with your friend and her ex, too, and I -”  She braces. This requires a heaping serving of humility. “I’m sorry. About the drinks. Sending them back, I thought - ”  

 

“You thought I hit on you when I was on a date. I get it.”

She nods, and licks her lips. Risks a glance at him.

 

“Makes sense,” he says. “After the party last year -”  

“No. It was stupid. I - I’m not good at…” she waves at the ghosts of Rose and Hux, model engaged couple of the year, “boy-girl interactions.”

 

He’s smirking again. Amused, maybe chomping his gum a little.

“Boy-girl interactions,” he repeats.

She nods, eyes down. Jesus. Did the AC go out again?

“Why’s that?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” she exhales. “Daddy issues. Abandonment issues. Fear of intimacy issues.” She yanks the elastic from her hair and runs her fingers through it to the ends, looking at the window over his shoulder. A star blinks back, silver in the black sky. “Issues in general? I guess?”

Ben nods. He crosses one ankle over a knee and leans back, looking at Rey.

 

“Ever been in love?”

Rey’s eyes fly to his face. He’s asking - really curious, not just being an ass.

“Like that?” Rey asks, pointing to the apartment door. “Not even close.” She wraps the hair tie around her wrist. “You?”

“Thought I was. Once. But...no. Not like that.”

“I don’t know if love like that exists for me,” she says softly.

 

She meets his eyes, and he doesn’t look away. Just lets her look until she’s had her fill, which may be impossible because his eyes look fathomless, endless like an ocean.

 

“Why’s that?” It’s a gentle rumble - all gravel and thunder, his voice.

She shrugs. There’s another star now, blinking behind Ben in the summer night sky.

“I don’t know if that happens for everyone. No guarantee it’s coming.”

 

Ben looks at her, and she can see the gears turning in his head. She tries hard not to wonder what he’s thinking, what he’ll say next. He probably needs to get going anyway. Enough spilling her guts, acting pathetic in front of her insanely good-looking roommate. He has a date. Surely.

 

“Anyway, I’m used to being alone. Might be what I’m good at.” 

Ben considers her a moment longer, and then plants both large feet on the ground. He takes a step towards Rey and holds out a hand. He’s smiling, something sweet and secret. A dare.

“Come on,” he says.

 

It’s maybe the first touch. She tries to find a memory of taking his hand before, but this is probably the first time. It must be - she’d have remembered, she thinks, as she places her hand in his.

He pulls her to her feet. “Let’s go.”

“Where are we going?”

He drops her hand and walks to the kitchen, popping her dinner into the fridge. Slamming the door, he glances at the watch on his wrist and braces both hands on the doorframe with a smile.

“Go get dressed,” he says. “I have an idea.” He nods at her bedroom door. “Let’s go be lonely together.”

 

******

Chapter Text

 

Out with a Bang

by Newer & Berry

*****

 

“So, where are we going, Ben?”

Even though she’s almost a foot shorter, Rey has the legs to keep up with him.  Long legs, lean legs, probably very smooth legs that smell like coconut cream and–

Don’t be a Mitaka, Ben thinks to himself.  He’s just trying to make her feel better.    

“You’ll see.”  He throws a closed-mouth grin over his shoulder.  Rey looks at him curiously and returns his smile. It’s nice to see her brightening again after that lost look in her eyes back at the apartment.  It feels like a win.

Ben tosses the hair from his eyes as he swerves around a stationary pod of tourists taking photos.  

 

“You have your metro card?  We’re gonna get on at Farragut North.”

Rey skips a little to keep up.  “Isn’t West closer?”  

“Yeah, but we need the Red Line.”

She quirks a delicate brow when he doesn’t elaborate.  It’s fun, keeping her in the dark. He can tell she likes the little game, too.  

The sun just set, but it’s still hot as blazes.  The heat rolls off the wide concrete streets in waves.  The humidity must be roughly that of a tropical jungle.  

Rey keeps close to him in the crowds.  So close he catches a whiff of lime and sweetness, the trademark essence of Rey.  She’s wearing a cropped tank and cut-off shorts, which he assured her was appropriate for where they’re going.  To be honest, Rey looks good in anything, so even if she turned the living room curtains into a toga, he’d only nod and help her pick out matching accessories.

Ben looks down at her browned shoulder, a bit shiny from lotion maybe.  There’s a faint dusting of freckles that he’s never seen before, and why is that so ungodly hot?  It’s just a shoulder.  Part of an arm. Ben licks his lips and wonders what it would taste like in his mouth.

Rey’s tanned as if the sun kisses her awake each morning, meanwhile Ben looks like a mortician on the night shift.  What a pair they must make.  

He shuffles faster so they won’t miss what he has planned for her.  

They arrive at the Metro and take the escalator down to the platform.  Rey looks adorably perplexed again when he leads her to the Glenmont side, but he can feel her underlying excitement.  Rey’s a girl who likes adventure and new things.  

It feels like a reward when he can surprise her.  Like when he explained that the girl in the bar was Phasma’s girlfriend and not his date.  The wash of realization as Rey stared at him afterwards, like she was seeing him in a new way?  Absolutely priceless. Ben wants to earn that look some more.

The sign says the next train is in six minutes.  He checks his phone, they have plenty of time. Ben knows the way by heart now after taking this train a few times a week since December.

 

“Any hints about our destination?” Rey asks.  She holds her crossbody bag across her waist and looks out at the tracks.  

“Nope.”

He grins at her when she turns.  She rolls those big, pretty eyes and shakes her head lightly.  She steps in a little closer as the platform fills up. 

It’s only a six-car train, so it’s gonna be packed.  The doors chime open and they slide in through the mass of bodies to stand by a pole near the back of the car.  Ben reaches up to hold onto the overhead bar. Rey reaches an arm around him to hold onto the pole in almost a one-arm hug.

The doors shut and the train begins to move forward before breaking suddenly.  She falls against his chest. On instinct, Ben grabs Rey’s low back with his free hand to steady her.  She fits in under his arm like she was made to.

 

“You okay?”  He asks, looking down with concern.

Rey bats her lashes up at him.  Ben watches as her freckled cheeks turn from tan to rosy pink.  

“Yeah, thanks.”

The train starts moving again.  They’re all wedged in tight, hot bodies heating each other up.  Ben doesn’t move his hand from her back. Rey doesn’t say anything about it and neither does he.  They sway against each other with the shifting of the train.   

 

******

 

The summer night is warm and thick when they step outside again in Silver Spring.

The cicadas are thrumming in tides as the stars peek out shyly from the indigo sky.  The worst of the day’s heat may be gone, but the echo of it feels like a warm embrace.  A slow energy builds as the city night turns on around them.

They walk downtown with him leading the way.  Rey still hasn’t guessed where they’re going yet.

 

“How long have you lived in D.C.?”  She asks.

“Four years, just for college.  I grew up in New Jersey.”

“Oh, right, Finn said.  Your mom’s a politician?”

“Yeah.  And her mom before that.”  Ben points to tell her they’re crossing the street.  

“That’s incredible.  To have that kind of - history.”  He can tell she’s picking her words carefully. 

“Mmph.”  That usually ends this line of inquiry.  Most people figure it’s something he wants to brag about.  When he doesn’t rise to the occasion, the topic typically changes.

It doesn’t work on her.  Rey stops dead still as if she’s dropped something.  Ben stops too.

“‘Mmph?’”

Ben shrugs.

“That’s it?  You’re a second-generation politician’s son, and both were women to boot, and all I get is a ‘Mmph’?”  She teases.

“Uh.  I don’t know what else to say.”

“But, that’s amazing!  Aren’t you proud of them?”  

 

Ben reaches around to scratch the back of his neck.  “I guess I’m proud my Mom does something she’s good at and seems to like.  But I don’t consider it to have anything to do with me.”

Rey’s brow creases as she smiles, disbelieving.  People think it’s a good thing to have a family name to uphold.  That’s because they haven’t felt the weight of it themselves. 

They cross the street and there it is.  A giant, bright building lit up like a cube from within.  It takes up a full city block. Rey stops to read the sign.

Ben’s stomach suddenly lurches with nerves.  What if this is a terrible idea? What if he misjudged her?  She might think this is stupid and he hadn’t considered before how much that would sting if she hates it.

The thought vanishes when Rey looks back with a bright smile.  “American Film Institute? Is this where we’re going?”

He nods.  “Yup. Follow me.”

They walk around the side of the building and up to a brightly-lit marquee.  It looks like something out of a 1950’s movie, the type of movie theater that girls in poodle skirts and ponytails run to with their letter-jacketed boyfriends.

Which is exactly why Ben loves it.

 

Rey stands in front of a poster outside.  Katharine Hepburn and Humphrey Bogart stand on a boat staring back at her.

Ben walks up beside her and explains.

“AFI plays movies every night of the week.  Current films, but also classics. Movies that you can’t see on the big screen anywhere else.”
He sticks his hands in his pockets and looks away.  It’s hard to keep his train of thought when she looks at him directly like that.  He looks at his shoes instead, a safer bet.

 

“They also do screenings and interviews with filmmakers, stuff like that.  I got a season pass.”

Rey looks like she just figured out a complex math problem and thinks she has the right answer.  

“You come here a lot?”  She nibbles her lip. “Alone?”

“Most of the time, yeah.  Not everyone likes old movies.  Bazine hated them. After we broke up, I started coming a few nights a week.”

Rey looks back at the poster.  “You want to see this one - The African Queen?”

He can’t pin down her tone.  Is she not into it? He can’t tell.

“Yeah, but only if you want to.  They also have new movies-”

“I do!” Rey says.  She puts her hand on his forearm.  “I do,” she repeats, quieter.

He meets her eyes and swallows down the bubbles of relief and excitement. 

“You sure?”

Rey grins.  “I’m sure. I want to.”

He shoves his hands in his pockets, feeling twenty pounds lighter.  “Okay.”

 

Ben leads her to the box office and buys her ticket.  Rey protests, but he insists. She’s his guest, after all.  

He lets her buy the popcorn.  They find the theater and take his favorite seats– middle of the middle row.  It’s Friday night and nearly deserted. They almost have the place to themselves.  

The classic previews start.  Ben laughs at a Three Stooges short, losing himself in time.  The stress of work, of his mom’s voicemails, of making a crucial decision about September fall away in the glow of the black and white.  He reaches for some popcorn and glances over at Rey to see if she’s enjoying herself.

She’s got a funny look on her face.  He can’t quite place it, halfway between puzzled and sad maybe?  It’s hard to tell in the dark lights.

He leans closer and whispers.  “Are you okay?”

She nods quickly and whispers back.  “Yeah, I’m good.”

He licks his fingers.  Smiles. “Good.”

 

The movie starts.

 

******

 

They spill out onto the street afterwards.  He’s dying to know what she thinks. The streetlights glow orange against the backdrop of the dark clouds forming overhead, like giant fireflies.

“Well?”

“That was not at all what I was expecting,” Rey says thoughtfully.

“Yeah?”  He tries to keep the hope out of his voice, but some seeps in.

“I always thought old movies were kind of…  boring I guess? But that was actually wild!”

Ben chuckles.  “When you pay attention, you start to notice a lot.  There’s so much subtext. They couldn’t say as much back then, so you have to read between the lines.”

Rey turns to him smiling.  “Yeah, they totally did it on that boat.”

Ben guffaws.

“At first you think Katharine Hepburn was going to be uptight and annoying, but she was actually a lot braver and bolder than he was.”  Rey takes out a hair tie and loops up her hair in a high bun. It shows off the curve of her neck, where a single tendril curls, stuck to her skin.

Ben looks forward again and gulps.

“Yeah. A lot of old movies are like that.  The odd-couple bickering leads to romance. The big oaf guys get reformed by a wise woman, who is stronger than she knows.”

Ben rakes a hand through his own hair.  He’s steaming again already and wishes he could strip off his shirt.  Rey is smirking at him for some reason.

“Oaf, you say?”  Her eyes sparkle.

“Yeah.  But it’s a strong woman who typically saves the day.  Especially Hepburn, she’s an icon. She made everyone around her better.  Bogart won his first and only Oscar for that movie. It was filmed on location in Africa, which was unusual for the time.”

They stop at the curb to wait for the light to change.  “You know a lot about movies, huh? You must really love them.”  Rey says. The corner of her mouth curls up into a sweet smile.

The heat on his skin settles elsewhere.  “Yup. My Dad and I used to watch Westerns at his place on the weekends.  That may have started it.” He kicks the curb and looks down. “I even used to make my own home movies as a kid.”

“You did?”

Ben grins.  He hasn’t admitted that to a living soul in years.  “Terrible, but true.”

“You have a passion,” Rey says as they walk up to the Metro.

“I wouldn’t go that far,” he demurs, stepping behind her on the escalator.

“No, you do.  I can see it in your eyes.  You really love this stuff.”

 

Rey’s eyes twinkle green in the amber tunnel lights.  Like emeralds, he thinks.  

Ben shrugs and looks away.  “I enjoy it. But it’s just for fun.”

She persists.  “It doesn’t have to be.  If you love it.”

His smile starts to fade.  Even in the middle of summer, Fall and the rest of life seems just around the corner.  “It’s not practical.”  

“Why does love have to be practical?”  She cocks her head quizzically at him.

 

He looks down the tunnel, because if he doesn’t he may step closer to her.  He may be tempted to wrap his arms around her small waist and ask her to say that again, slower, as he dips her back and stares into those emerald eyes.

Maybe he’s seen too many movies lately.

“Love doesn’t.  But I have to be.”  Ben answers. Not what a leading man might say, but he’s no Bogart.  

The moment passes and they board the train for home.

 

******

 

When they exit at Farragut North, the skies are crackling with heat lightning.  The clouds are blowing in and he can feel the temperature has dropped.

“We better hurry,” Ben says.

They’re about 5 blocks away when the heavens open.  The rain pelts down fast and hard. Rey squeals and Ben grabs her hand on instinct, to pull her along as they make a run for it.

The streets empty out and he dodges umbrellas as a peal of thunder rolls in the distance.  They’re both drenched when he pulls her under an overhang two blocks away.

They laugh and pant as they look at each other, like two drowned rats.  Ben shakes his hair at her and Rey swats him back as she closes her eyes.

“Monster!”

Ben grins.  “Yes, I am.”

He can’t help it when his eyes slip down.  The thin fabric of her tank is made sheer by the water and it clings to her chest.  Two firm nipples poke out from the swell of her firm tits and he has to rip his eyes up.

She notices.  Rey bites her lower lip and holds her shirt out from her skin, waving it like a flag.  As if it will help.

He exhales and tugs his shirt over his head and hands it to her.

 

“Here.”  

Her chest heaves with her breath as she stares at him.  He’s already soaked, but at least the shirt will cover her from any prying eyes.  Especially his.

“Thank you.”

She slips it on and it hits her mid-thigh, longer than her shorts.  It makes it look like she isn’t wearing anything else. Somehow that’s fucking worse, seeing her like that in his shirt, and Ben has to pretend to look down the street to adjust his fly.

Fuck.

“I think it’s easing up.  We can run the rest of the way?”

“Yeah.  We’ll need to shower when we get home.”

Ben looks at her sharply, mouth dropped open.  Her eyes lift from his chest to his face, and she squirms and blushes as he smirks.

“I mean individually shower.  On our own. A one-person show, separately.”

“Sure.”  His chest swells with a deep breath and he rolls his shoulders back.  Rey tugs on the hem of his shirt.

He looks back at the sky as the sheet of rain starts to thin.  He licks his lips, but his smile grows bigger.

Ben reaches out a hand to her.  “Okay, ready?”

She takes it and smiles back at him.

 

“Ready.”

 

They run back into the shower and hurry home, hand-in-hand.

 

*****

Chapter Text

Out with a Bang

By Newer & Berry

*****

 

“Hey Rey, do you like pepperoni?” 

Ben’s voice carries into the bathroom. Rey tugs her drenched tank top over her hair, slings it to the ground and peeks her head around the bathroom door. He’s marching down the hallway, phone in hand to order pizza. He meets her eyes and pulls up short. Rainwater drips off the curling ends of his wet hair, trailing down firm pecs. His jeans are navy blue, so low on his hips it should be illegal. 

She drags her eyes from the faint trail of dark hair climbing down past the waistband of the boxers that peek tauntingly above his indecent pants. 

“Um, yeah. Anything but anchovies.”

“K.” 

He nods, but stays still in the hallway, seven feet away. 

The shower water is running, and she’s topless behind the creaky, wooden door. Her phone dings. Shaking her head back to reality, she shuts the door firmly and leans back against it. 

“Whatever is fine!” she shouts. “Be out in a minute!”

Her shorts skip down her thighs as she shimmies free. They land with a thud on the linoleum. 

 

Final fittings 11AM tomorrow!

I’ll be the one in white!

Lunch after - NOT BEFORE - my treat

Love ya

Rose’s wedding is two weeks away. A bridesmaid’s job is never done. Yanking an arm through her wet bra, Rey flings it atop her bedraggled clothes and taps a response. 

 

will be there

wouldn’t miss it

luv u 2

 

The bathroom’s humid and warm. 

Rey steps under the scalding water and her skin pebbles. The rain had chilled her to the bone. The water hits her scalp with a tingling warmth that spreads through her limbs and down to her toes. 

Ben would probably like to warm up, too. He’s waiting, half-dressed and chilly. 
Her belly flips, remembering the way he’d taken her hand - didn’t hesitate, just reached for her because it felt right. He’d licked his lips and smiled, like he was going to race the rain - a little boy about to splash through puddles with his playmate. 

And now she’s naked, only steps from him and it‘s...doing things to her. Her skin feels flaming hot, even under the rushing shower. 

Maybe he’s in the kitchen, long legs hidden inside dark jeans, leaning his muscled back over the open fridge door. Or, maybe he's stripped off the soaked jeans already, down to the boxers that had teased her. Maybe he’s naked right now, too.

Nothing from the waist down - his cock probably hanging heavily. He’s always moved like he’s packing. Ben has to be proportional, she’d bet money on it. 

Maybe he’s touching himself. Hard and needful, maybe he’s thinking of her in the shower, wet and slippery. Her mind twists with wicked thoughts so fast, she can barely keep up. 

 

She risks a single finger just to check. The glossy mess in her traitorous folds is a dead giveaway.

There’s water-wet, and then there’s just wet. 

No question - imagining Ben Solo’s big, strong body and smartass, arrogant mouth is to blame. Her body is ignoring her better judgement with every filthy image parading through her brain. It’s a dirty slideshow of roommates gone wild. Exactly the kind of thing that would break every last house rule in existence. 

Rey bats them away like smoke, trying to clear her mind. 

Mom’s pot roast. Metro germs. Ice Capades. 

 

Nothing helps. Every drag of her fingertips, every drop of the shower water is Ben’s touch. His hands would be warm, sure of how Rey wanted to be handled. Possessive and a little bit tender, the way he’d been in the rain. 

She’s shivering, eyes closed, lost to him touching her. Maybe he’s moving in time with her - maybe he’s thinking about her, too, an endless loop connecting them. He’s so goddamned good looking is the problem. That perfect hair and that sinful mouth - those eyes. 

Her phone chimes on the sink, rudely interrupting. It ruins a perfectly good self-love session exactly when she needs it most. She huffs and wrenches the handle till the stream ends. 

It’s nearly too warm when she steps past the curtain. The whole bathroom is steamed. She wraps a towel around herself, knot secure under an arm, and swings the door open enough to sneak out. She’ll keep all the warm air trapped inside for Ben. 

Sprinting to her room, she shouts, clutching a towel to her chest. 

“I’m out! All yours!”

The ground shakes a bit when he stomps by her bedroom door. He’s too big, he’d crush her if he was on top.

Wait. What? 

Rey drops her towel and rolls a clean, old tee around her wavy hair, squeezing hard. Whatever made her phone buzz before, chimes again. She picks it up and scrolls, trying to ignore the sound of the shower turning back on. 

Water dripping down Ben’s body. Sluicing down his chest, running into the thatch of dark hair tucked between his massive thighs. He might be wincing, touching himself. One arm pressed against the tile, forehead leaned against the wall. He’s watching his big hand wrap around himself and- 

 

Dear Ms. Kanata, the email begins. 

She dries her hair and reads. Orientation is one month away. They’re excited to introduce her to Berkeley, to the beauty of their campus, to the inspirational educators who will greet her with enthusiasm. 

It should send her spiraling into the heavens. She’d worked her ass off to graduate summa cum laude, and fought her way tooth and nail into this grad school program. After all the hard work she’s put in the last few years, the email should make Rey jump up and down on her bed with glee. 

Instead, it just makes her tired. It’s been a long day. Berkeley and grad school will keep until tomorrow. 

She drops the phone at the bedside. Enough emails. 

She’s hungry. 

 

*****

 

Of course, he would choose this evening to wear a shirt. 

Ben saunters down the hallway and catches Rey’s eye just as she’s raising a massive slice of pizza into the air. The melty cheese makes her mouth water. She looks away from Ben’s clean man body. She downs a tumbler of flat water quickly, refills more from the tap and downs that glass, too. 

 “Thirsty?”

Rey nods. He has no idea. 

“Uh huh. Popcorn. Must’ve made me, uh -”  She loses the thread when Ben walks past, leaning into the open fridge to grab a beer. He smells like crackling fire and leather and something citrus. The kind of thing only a man wears. She clears her throat and tries again. 

“Uh, thirsty. Super thirsty. Yeah.” 

She turns to gobble down dinner before she can say anything more inane. Ben pops open the beer. He’s still standing close enough to Rey that she can hear him gulp it down. Why that sounds mesmerizing, she has no idea. Must be the heat. Or the way he lit up watching the old movie like a little boy on Christmas morning. 

She’d sat beside him at the movies, trying hard to focus on the screen, but tuned into his little noises, anyhow. His deep chuckles. The palpable delight. 

Every time she’d reached into the popcorn bucket for a handful, she’d peeked at his face. The film had flashed in front of them, but it may as well have been playing inside Ben. He was illuminated, beaming. A celluloid halo glowed around his broad shoulders. 

That smile of his had been totally unguarded. He looked like a different person, like maybe she was meeting the real Ben Solo for the first time in the dark. She’d had to look away before he caught her staring. Her own cheeks had ached from smiling so widely. 

Rey clears her throat in the kitchen and scarfs down another bite of pizza. Ben taps on the fridge. The house rules list is smudged and torn in one corner. He clicks his tongue and sits down next to her. 

“You broke a rule, ya know.” 

He lifts a piece of pizza to his lips and tears a huge bite. Rey’s chewing slows, and her eyes widen. 

“What?” Her mouth is still full of pizza. 

“The rules. You broke one.” 

She swallows the bite of pizza and turns to eye the list, then turns back to Ben. 

“Which one?”

“Towels,” he says. The smirk is back, even if it’s half-hidden behind a mouthful of food. “Number seven.” He points to the fridge. “Take a look.”

Rey drops the crust and stands, moving to the fridge. The whole rules list thing was her idea. If anyone should be following them, it’s her. 

“No wet towels on the floor,” Ben recites. 

“Oh.”

She’d added that one during her second week in the apartment. Kneeling, rummaging in the back of the cabinet for her tampons, she’d been irate. Ben’s damp towel was under her knees. She’d flung it into the washing machine and marched straight to the kitchen to add to the list. 

Cringing, she sits back down and picks up her crust. She’d definitely broken that one. 

“Sorry.” 

Ben shrugs and snags a pepperoni off her pizza. He pops it into his mouth without asking and grins. 

“Didn’t really bother me.” 

Rey looks up sheepishly and he sips his beer. 

“Smelled like you,” he says. He shrugs and tips the bottle back to drain the bottle. “Actually, I broke one, too,” he admits.

“Did you, now?” 

“No touching Rey’s clothes. Number nine.” 

Shit

“Did I leave them in the bathroom, too?”

“Mmhmm. All over the floor. Had to toss them in the washer with my wet stuff.”

It’s nonsensical that is turning her on. Their rain-soaked clothes twisted into each other, her panties and his boxers tangled up together. Ridiculous. 

“Even though I’m not supposed to touch.”

Christ

“Yeah. Sorry about that. I got an email and I -” She watches, lifts her eyebrows as Ben snatches another pepperoni off her pizza. “Hey,” she says, wide-eyed. “What the - so, you can just take whatever you want now?”

“Yep.” 

Oh. So, he wants to play. 

 

“That’s actually not the only rule you broke.” 

His Adam’s apple bobs as he swallows the pepperoni. 

“Oh yeah?”

“Number eight.” She points over her shoulder at the fridge, waiting as he stands to walk past. He reads it aloud. 

“Put on a shirt occasionally,” he says. “But, I am wearing a shirt.” 

“I know.” Rey smiles at him over her shoulder. “It says occasionally. Not all the time.”

There’s shock on his face, and God was it worth it to earn that. His mouth hangs open slightly, and Rey pushes back from the table. She can keep him at a distance, but she’s just one human woman, after all. 

It’d been hours since she’d been trapped against him on the steamy metro into the city, rocking against him. The movie habit revelation, Ben’s adoration of black and white movies - the whole evening hadn’t done anything but make him more attractive. And then the shower? The way he smelled? The way he looked at her. 

Something needs to be done. 

Rey's nothing if not pragmatic. 

 

She wipes her mouth on a napkin and leaves the dishes on the table. It’s okay to break the house rules if they’re equally guilty of breaking them, right? 

“Want to watch a movie?”

She drops to the sofa and clicks on the TV. Finn’s Netflix account is still active. A stand-up comic option starts playing immediately. Ben moves past her, to the far end of the couch. 

He looks uneasy, like she’s making him nervous. It’s like gasoline on a fire. Her nerves light ferociously. She’s not used to having the upper hand with Ben Solo. It’s heady, like getting keys to a sports car and given miles of open road. 

“Thanks again for taking me out tonight.”

Ben nods at the TV, and glances at her. His hands are in his lap, fingers laced. He looks like he’s waiting to be yelled at. 

“You’re welcome.” 

“Did you have fun? With me?”

His eyebrows furrow in a flash and release, and he turns to meet Rey’s eyes. “I always have fun with you, Rey.” 

“You do?”

“Yeah.” His shoulders turn to face her more, and Rey feels her tummy flip over. “I feel like you’re the one who’s normally annoyed with me,” he says. Her cheeks heat up like a flame under a pan. She glances down at her fingers and rubs her lips together. 

“I - I think I haven’t really known you very well. Until tonight. And what little I did know - “ 

“You didn’t trust,” Ben finishes for her. He looks at the TV. Rey can feel the weight of how she’s misjudged him. It lands like an anchor in her heart. 

“Only because I didn’t know who you were yet.” 

She smiles at him gently when he looks at her. She wants him to hear her, to see how she’s letting a wall crumble for him. 

He smiles back, the same smile from the theater. 

“To be fair, I did proposition you when I was stone cold wasted that one time.” 

Rey rolls her eyes and tosses a pillow at him. “Yeah, that one time. You did.”

 

The crowd laughs at the comedian on TV, and Rey licks her lips. Her body is betraying her, and she can feel it with every heartbeat. 

There are rules for this express reason, and they’ve kept things from being awkward. 

On the other hand, she’s already feeling awkward. 

 

It might be time to find some relief. 

 

“Hey, Ben?”

“Yeah?”

“Can I ask you a question?”

“Shoot.”

“Do I make you uncomfortable?” 

Her voice nearly breaks on the words. It feels like she’s stripped off her armor, made herself vulnerable to attack. 

Ben’s hands land on his thighs and he turns to face her. The TV flickers like the images in the movie theater. He looks her in the eye and exhales. 

“Extremely, Rey. Yeah.” He blows a curl of damp hair off his forehead and looks at the ceiling. “If I’m honest? You make me extremely uncomfortable.”

 “Oh.”  

Just as she’d thought. He hates her. The Ice Queen, unapproachable and hard-nosed. 

“You’re too damn pretty.” 

His eyes are still on the ceiling when Rey’s head jerks up. She watches as Ben crosses his arms over his chest. Shock robs her of speech. 

“Those goddess legs of yours, and that smile. Smelling like heaven on Earth or - fucking lemon pie on a plate. ” He sighs and runs a hand through his hair. She’s watching him with rapt attention, but his eyes stay focused on the TV. “Pretty fair to say you’re driving me bat shit crazy, Kanata.” 

She stares at him so long he finally catches her eye. 

“What?” He looks like he doesn’t know why she’s surprised. “What’d I say?”

“Nothing, I just,” she shakes her head a little and tries again, “I’m sorry.” 

“It’s just the kind of power you wield, sweetheart.” 

She blinks at him, fighting the bashful urge to fidget. 

“Still sorry.” 

The corner of his smile lifts and his hands lace behind his head. His chest widens as he takes a breath, draws her eye as it expands. 

“Forgiven,” he says. 

“Thanks.” 

He sighs and she’s still studying his face. 

“That’s another one you just broke, you know.” 

“Another one already?”

“Called me sweetheart.” 

“Well, you are.” He smirks at her outright. His eyes twinkle and her heart skips a beat. It almost hurts, it’s so sudden. “Sure make my day sweeter.”

It’s not fair. She’s coming apart at the seams, ready to throw herself at him and he’s barely moved a muscle. All this time holding him off, and she’s about to toss a match on the whole thing. Go up in flames for him. 

His delicious scent wafts too freely when he sits like that. She looks at the TV too, tries to focus. Her hand trails from the end of her damp hair to her neckline and she tugs at it absently. The AC helps, but sometimes the old house is still warm.

She sees it the exact moment she catches his eye. He tracks her hand and her belly turns over again. He’s watching her. She rubs at her throat lightly, drags her nails over the curve of her collarbone. 

 One finger dips into the bottom of her throat and she watches him swallow hard. 

This is madness. What is she doing? 

Both his eyes are on her hand as it trails over her sternum. She freezes, takes a deep breath - runs her hand over a breast and pinches a nipple through her shirt. When he drops a hand to his lap, over what Rey hopes is an erection, she bites her bottom lip. 

“I - I - “ 

She’s reduced him to stuttering, and nothing’s ever felt so empowering. She’s getting drunk on it. 

Her hand slips over the thin material of her tank, and she crushes the other breast. His eyes are wide. He hasn’t looked at her face since she started touching herself, and it makes her grin wickedly. She’s hypnotized him, won his full and complete attention. 

It’s crazy, what’s happening between them, but she doesn’t want to stop.

 

Her hand inches to her waistband slowly.

There’s a twitch of his head - not really a nod, but a movement she sees well enough. And then her hand dips into her panties and - yeah. Both his hands fall to his groin and press. It’s got to be getting too tight in those sweats. 

Ben’s lips part and she exhales in a gasp. 

Just the way he’s looking at her - the movement of his hand over the bulge in his pants is enough. He glances at her face, and Rey finds the strength that gave her that 4.0 average all through college. It boosts her confidence in just the right way. 

He shudders when she moans. She gets to see his eyes slip closed.  She’s touching herself, memorizing the way he looks when he’s captured by desire - the way his ears flush and his jaw flexes. When he opens his eyes, he looks bothered in the best way. Tortured. 

He moves so fast, eyes locked on her hand inside her panties, she almost misses it. He’s thick and hard and leaking into his hand before she can speak. She sort of gasps. A moan escapes her and she rubs her clit inside her panties, watching his big hand. 

He’s huge. As large as she’d known he would be, tall and hot and holy Christ on a cracker, it’s been too long. 

“Gorgeous.” 

He’s struggling to talk, but she hears him anyway.

Her finger brush at her cunt, throbbing as she drags slick around her clit. Ben groans, leans his head against the back of the couch and meets her eye. 

He’s jacking off to her rhythm, watching her hand as it moves inside her panties. 

 

“Isn’t this breaking the rules?”

Fuck the rules, she wants to say. 

“Take care of each other,” she breathes. It’s too entrancing, watching his beautiful, huge hand wrap around such a massive, pretty dick. “That’s on the list, too.” 

“Yeah,” he grunts. “But -” He’s panting a little, lips parted and she’s getting off on the sounds he makes, imagines how she’d bite his round shoulder. Thinks about sucking on his lips. “What about no drunken bedroom invites?”

Her eyes are glued to his hand. His pretty cock. It’s unreal, like part of a statue in a museum. If people knew how perfect this man’s package was, they’d be beating down the door to get a lick, touch it a little, feel it’s perfect weight in their palm and shove it inside. 

“Not drunk,” she says. “Not a bedroom.” 

She’s panting, too, she realizes. One hand travels under her shirt to touch her breasts and Ben groans again. She tugs a nipple outside her bra, pulls her tank up and lets him stare. She’s hard under her fingertips, imagining his wet mouth sucking on her there.  Her hips thrust, and she fucks herself on her fingers in front of him, while she holds his gaze. Her last word is more a wheeze, she’s so close. “Not even touching.”

“Can I see? God, Rey - let me see? Please?”

He only has to ask once, and she’s tugging her yoga pants to her ankles. Her fingers dip into her core, rubbing and watching him. Her mouth is open - she can almost taste him from here. She wants to see this - every twitch of his eyebrows, every flick of his tongue on those lips, she wants to memorize everything. Hoard it all. 

He watches her face and her hand, muttering and Rey lets herself be loud. Moans and grunts and jerks her hips to the cadence of his sounds. 

“Fuck - fuuuck - holy. Oh my God - fuck - “ His voice sends her over the edge. 

He’s coming when she opens her eyes again and that’s never been desirable to her before. Never wanted to do the whole “cum inside me, baby,” thing before, but it feels like she’s missed out on something when she drifts back down to earth. His cum paints his hand, and he’s wiping it up with his shirt. His breathing is labored, and something makes her want to hear it closer to her ear.

His eyes are closed, and Rey slips her pants up over her ass, tucks her hands between her thighs and crosses her legs. By the time his eyes flick to hers, she’s already reproached herself a hundred times. 

This is insane. Completely and utterly insane. She must be nuts to have started this. What happens now? What should she do?

She jumps up and makes a break for the bathroom. Sweat breaks out on her forehead and she stumbles away before Ben can say a word. 

“I gotta pee!” 

She slams the door and drops her head in her hands. I gotta pee? Since when does she say things like that to Ben Solo? Every word she’s spoken the last half hour comes flooding back in a tidal wave of regret. She buries her face in her hands, shakes her head at the woman in the mirror. 

Christ. 

She opens the door and peeks out, then runs full speed to her bedroom. 

Holy shit, RoseMarie

I have to talk to you

Tomorrow

Alone

Oh my God

 

“Rey?”

Ben’s voice from the kitchen makes her jump. She throws her phone onto the bed like she’s been caught, and hurries to the hallway. 

“You okay?” 

He’s dressed and standing in the kitchen, again. A huge bowl is cradled in his hand. He takes an oversized bite of cereal, and his eyebrows lift. She’s been falling apart in her bedroom, freaking out, and he’s eating. 

“You’re seriously eating again?”

“What?” He shrugs and crosses one foot over the other. He looks relaxed and amused, if the smile on his face is any indication. “Worked up an appetite.”

Her phone chimes. Rose must still be awake. No chance she’ll wait for details till tomorrow if she’s seen Rey’s text. Ben takes another bite of cereal, dark eyes watching from the kitchen. 

“I just have to - “ She motions back to the bedroom. “It’s Rose. I think. I’d better - “ 

Ben nods and keeps eating. He’s clearly thinking, but mercifully says nothing. 

“Good night, then,” she says. 

“Night, Fine Rey. And thank you for - everything.” 

One last peek around the doorframe, and she smiles at him. When’s the last time she let herself do that? Has she ever let someone see her the way Ben has seen her now? 

 

“G’night, Ben.” 

She leans against the door, and listens. He must be switching off lights, rinsing a dish, making sure the front door’s locked. She’ll lay down in a minute and try hard not to imagine her roommate in the next room. 

She’s used to it. It’s fine. She’ll use self-discipline, take herself firmly by the shoulders. They’ve gotten it out of their system. 

No worries. She’s got this. 

 

Something whispers though, sleep may be hard to find.

 

******* 

Chapter Text

Out with a Bang

by Newer & Berry

 

+++

 

“Benjamin. This is the third message I’ve left you this week. Unless you plan on spending Thanksgiving in your car, you’d better return this one.”  

 

Click.  Shit.  

 

Ben recognizes that exasperated tone in his mother’s voice.  It’s the same one she had when he got suspended from Prep School for a week for smoking in the bathroom.  Despite her annoyance, he swipes right to delete the voicemail and slides his phone back into the pocket of his trousers.

 

Dodging a tour group on segways that look distressingly unstable, he turns down his block just as the sun’s rays filter through the top windows of the buildings.  They reflect gold on the city streets below. It’s August in D.C., the hottest month of the year, and he’s just not ready to talk about Luke and the Fall yet.

 

Ben feels the weight of the decision he needs to make.  It’s the only logical thing for him to do– move to New York and go into finance, like his family wants.  His future is bright, but he’s too distracted to think of that right now.  

 

In fact, he’s too distracted to think of anything right now . . . except Rey.  

 

For three days straight, ever since that night on the couch, she’s taken up any white space in his brain.  His mind has a mind of it’s own now, and it’s filled with images of Rey.   Or to be more precise, with her delicate fingers slipping down the waistband of her panties and fitting inside that pretty little pussy.  Fucking hell.  

 

Any minute he’s not thinking of anything, his brain defaults to Rey.  On the Metro. In the weekly staff meeting. As he watches the Nationals play ball with a buddy and a beer.  It’s like she’s become his mental home page. It’s ridiculous, he’s never had it this bad for any girl. He’s got a clear case of ADRD ( Attention Deficit Rey Disorder), which seems to be comorbid with RIBS ( Random Inappropriate Boner Syndrome). 

 

The lady in question is certainly not helping matters, what with her long legs and furtive looks, and the way she’s made herself noticeably absent from the apartment after that night.  They haven’t had the opportunity to be alone because Finn’s home studying for a work certification, not that he’s counting the 64 hours and 37 minutes or anything. He overheard Rey telling Finn that “wedding stuff with Rose” was keeping her busy, but he has his doubts that’s all it is.  

 

He just hope she doesn’t regret it.

 

Ben’s only regret is he didn’t get to touch her.  It was hot as hell, and one taste only made him hungrier.  He’s not surprised Rey’s feeling shy, because she’s a girl who needs rules and boundaries.  She’d stretched them deliciously that night with him, and he can’t stop thinking about it.

 

Ben would happily snap every single rule in half if meant having her in his hands, but he won’t make a move unless Rey welcomes it.  If he ever made her cringe like Mitaka, it would gut him. He’s not going to be that guy who makes her feel uncomfortable in her own home.  No fucking way.   

 

Each night, he hears the buzzing of the fan he bought her through the wall.  Ben stares up at the ceiling, arm folded with his head in his palm, wondering if Rey’s asleep or awake.  Is she restless like him? Half-naked in the muggy summer night? Alone and unsatisfied? 

 

Her fan buzzing one room away is a reminder she’s right there, but just out of reach.  

 

Torture.

 

+++

 

Ben comes home Thursday night to find Rey standing in the kitchen.  There’s a thick haze of smoke accompanied by the smell of something burning.  Her summer job has ended, so she’s in pajama pants and a white tank top that’s splattered with something.

 

Rey looks up like she’s been caught.  It’s hard not to bark a laugh at the deer-in-the-headlights look on her face.  Then Ben realizes what he sees is panic.

 

“What’s wrong?” he asks.  The urge to step in and touch her is so strong he flexes his hands.

 

“They’re ruined,” Rey says, face pale as a sheet.

 

“What’s ruined?”

 

“The penises.”

 

Ben blinks.  Several times.

 

“The what, now?”

 

Rey sighs and swipes the back of her hand across her forehead, leaving a dark smear.  He steps closer and squints, and through the smell of burning he catches a whiff of . . . chocolate.

 

“The dick cakes for Rose.  I burned them, but they’re also raw in the middle somehow?”  She shakes her head. “I dunno, I totally bungled it.”

 

Ben wraps his lips inward over his teeth and bites down to seal them shut.  He won’t laugh in her face, not when she looks so absolutely pathetic. His chest starts to vibrate with his suppressed chuckles.

 

Rey looks up, and her eyes flash with annoyance.  “What?”

 

“Nothing.  You burned the dicks.”

 

She crosses her arms.  “Clearly.”

 

“For Rose.  Rose’s penises are ruined.”

 

Rey’s mouth begins to wiggle at the corner, and she bites the side of her cheek.  “Yes. That’s the situation. I fucked up the dicks.”

 

They stare at each other for a beat, then burst out laughing simultaneously.  It’s like a steam release valve or lifting the lid off a boiling pot. The simmering tension and uncertainty between them rolls free with the laughter.

 

He catches her twinkling eyes.  Her face when she grins that way– like a lighthouse in the middle of a stormy night– it makes his heart hurt a little.  He wiggles his eyebrows to keep her smiling.

 

“Stop it,” she swats his arm playfully.  Ben turns his shoulder, playing like her cute little paw actually hurt him.  

 

“This is seriously bad, Ben.  The bachelorette party is tomorrow and the cake pops aren’t done.”

 

“Yes, very serious penile business.  I’m so sorry for your loss.”

 

Rey swats him again, still smiling, and his eyes dart to the smudge on her forehead.

 

“You’ve got something– uh– c’mere,” he says, waving at her.  Ben steps closer and licks his thumb. He cups her jaw lightly with one hand and reaches to gently brush off the traces of chocolate off her skin with the other.

 

Rey holds still.  Her eyes close as she circles the wrist holding her jaw for support.  He rubs her skin gently, so it won’t hurt. Once the mark is gone, Ben doesn’t let go.  His gaze traces over her face, pretending to see if he’s missed anything, happy for the excuse to touch her and breathe the same air this close.

 

Rey opens her eyes and looks up at him, waiting.  Her lips part and she licks them. Her hand holds his wrist like a chain connecting them together. 

 

“Is it good?” she asks finally.

 

His eyes settle back on hers as he murmurs agreement. 

 

Ben still doesn’t want to let her go.  She doesn’t move to make him. The moment stretches, and if she doesn’t say anything soon he’s going to–

 

Rey swallows and asks, “do you know anything about baking?”

 

“Not a bit,” he admits.  He finally drops his hands from her face, but not before sucking off his thumb for the last traces of sweetness.

 

She exhales and the skin of her cheeks flushes.  

 

“I guess I better call the cavalry,” she says in a voice that sends his stomach in a spiral.  

 

Rey feels it too, he has no doubt anymore.  Ben’s shoulders loosen even as a current races up his spine.  She wants him.

 

She walks to her phone on the counter and starts to dial.  Her smile takes a wicked turn. 

 

“Want to eat some burnt dicks?”

 

“I thought you’d never ask,” Ben says and smirks.  He can afford to be playful. She wants him.

 

Rey unpeels a small penis cake from the pan.  It crumbles in her hands like it’s been in some terrible kind of accident.  Ben takes it and shakes his head like it’s disappointed him. He takes a tentative nibble.  

 

Rey grins and says into the phone, “Mom?”

 

+++

 

“So, Ben, what are you doing this Fall?”

 

He clears his throat.  Mrs. Kanata is a sweet woman with glasses, an eclectic dresser like her daughter.  He can see flashes of Rey in her, the same strength and bright spirit despite the small size.  Before he realizes he’s doing it, he’s trying to make a good impression.

 

“I’m still finalizing my plans, but I’ll be going into finance.”

 

“Oh, that sounds nice.  Here in D.C.?”

 

Ben looks at Rey, who’s standing at the counter mixing up a new batch of batter.  She doesn’t turn, but he can tell she’s listening.

 

“New York City, probably.  My Uncle has a company there.”

 

“Oh, nice.  I tried to get Rey to consider New York.  It’s a much closer flight to the U.K., but she wanted more sun.” 

 

Rey puts the spoon down on the counter with a loud clatter.  “That’s not it, Mom! Berkeley has a better program, and I got a scholarship.  Plus, I have no need to fly back.”  

 

Ben looks between the two women, sensing a repeat of a conversation they’ve had many times before.  Unfinished business.

 

Mrs. Kanata looks at her patiently over the rim of her glasses.  “Well, your father’s family is–”

 

“Like I said, no need,” Rey cuts her off in a terse voice.  Very much closing the book on that line of inquiry.

 

Ben clears his throat.  “I get it. There’s something to be said for distance.  Spread your own wings, so to speak.” Rey looks over at him, clearly grateful for the support.  He returns her small smile of solidarity.

 

He continues.  “I’d rather stay in D.C. actually, but for me it just depends on the best opportunity.”

 

“Right.  Berkeley was the best opportunity for me.  It’s too good to pass up.” Rey starts to pour the fresh batter in the penis pans her mom just greased.  “You should come out there, Mom. The weather in California is wonderful.”

 

Mrs. Kanata sighs.  “Maybe I will. Once you’re off, there won’t be much holding me here.  It’s just a big change.”

 

Rey finishes filling the cake pop molds as Ben pours himself a bowl of cereal.  He intently listening to her talk to her Mom, even if he’s not showing it.

 

“You need to learn when to let go of the past.  Focus on the future. Don’t let old things hold you back.”

 

Mrs. Kanata mumbles agreement, but seems unconvinced.

 

“Don’t plant roots where you don’t plan to grow.  That’s what I think,” Rey says from behind him.

 

Ben looks over his shoulder at Rey.  He can’t tell what she’s thinking. It strikes him suddenly that she’s going to be leaving soon.  The summer will end, and they’ll both move on. It feels like the shutting of a door.

 

He’s surprised how much it pisses him off.

 

“Won’t you miss D.C. a little?  When you leave?” His voice comes out a little harsher than he meant it to.

 

Rey looks up at him, and her eyebrows rise.  When she starts to speak again, she looks where the wall and ceiling meet, as if reciting a speech.

 

“I will, yeah.  I have a lot of good memories here.  But when it’s time to move on, you have to let go.”  She shifts on her feet

 

Ben looks down at his bowl and swishes his spoon.  Letting go has never been his strong suit.

 

“Okay, dear, let’s grease the pans before you pour.  You want your little phalluses to pop right out when they’re ready,” Mrs. Kanata says cheerily.

 

Ben chokes.  As he sputters, Mrs. Kanata slaps him on the back while Rey laughs.  

 

+++

 

Somehow the reminder that summer is ending soon sets them both on edge.  It’s almost like an unspoken dare, and the dance between them changes.

 

It may be a coincidence, but Rey begins showering later.  Now she’s still in the shower when he gets back from his run, warming it up for him.

 

The first morning that she steps out of the bathroom in only a towel, emerging like a freshly-baked pie straight out of the oven, Ben almost spits out his water.  Rey stops dead in the hallway, glistening, and her sly smile and direct eye contact tell him she knows exactly what she’s doing to him.  She slips back into her bedroom as he watches.

 

Fine.  If Fine Rey wants to play this game, bring it on.  

 

Ben becomes allergic to shirts.

 

After work, he strips off his shirt first thing, as if he’s taken a sudden vow of nudity.  His pants drop in favor of basketball shorts that hang low on his hips. He hangs his pull-up bar on his open doorway instead of his closet, to give her an unobstructed view of his back.  After he’s worked up a shine, he turns to face out for chin-ups, adding in a bit more pectoral flexing than is strictly necessary.

 

Rey goes into a coughing fit in the kitchen that carries into the living room.  She clears her throat several times, and Ben hears Finn ask, “What’s wrong. You have allergies?”  

 

Rey stutters out a reply as Ben smiles.  He knows what she has a case of.

 

When Rey passes him on her way to the bathroom, if he happens to grunt a little more enthusiastically than usual– well, a guy’s gotta work out, right?

 

+++

 

It’s only a matter of time until Finn remarks on their cold war of attraction.  There’s only so many undergarments you can keep laying around like landmines before it’s obvious something’s going on. 

 

Finn’s eyes bounce between them one morning as they pointedly avoid each other.  His eyebrows are raised in a look of bemused confusion. After Rey leaves, Finn turns to Ben with a pointed stare. 

 

“What’s going on with you two?”

 

Ben plays dumb.  “Whaddya mean?” he says, taking a big sip of water.

 

Finn crosses his arms over his chest.  “You’re both acting funky.”

 

Ben wipes his mouth with the back of his hand.  “Don’t know what you mean.”

 

“Really.”  Finn cocks his head and narrows his eyes.  “Where’s your shirt?”

 

“It’s hot.  I put it on at the last minute.”

 

“Hmm.  It’s been hot all summer, but you used to wear clothes.”

 

Ben shrugs and walks back to his room to get dressed before Finn can see his grin.  He’s never had a good poker face.

 

+++

 

That evening after work, Ben heads to the kitchen for a bowl of cereal.  Rey’s already making dinner and Finn isn’t home yet, it’s just the two of them.  

 

She’s stretching up on tiptoes to reach for the top shelf of the cabinet.  Her tiny jean cut-offs rise up to the top of her thighs, hugging her pert ass perfectly.  Ben hesitates for a moment to take in the view. Then his eyes land on the mixing bowl she’s reaching for, just out of range,  He remembers the rule: Help one another.   

 

Ben sidles up behind her and places a sure hand on her low back, murmuring, “here, let me.”  Rey freezes and then lowers down on her heels. His other arm reaches past her for the bowl, pinning her in against the counter.

 

If Ben was unsure before how she’d take the proximity, he isn’t once he hears a shaky breath escape her lips.  She doesn’t move away. He can feel her warmth, so he knows she must feel his.

 

“The yellow one?”  he asks quietly to the crown of her head.

 

“Yes,” Rey exhales.  Her voice sounds as breathless as he feels.  Ben can’t see her face, but he does see her hands grip the counter edge.

 

His hand rises as slowly as is humanly possible to lift the bowl off the shelf.  It may appear to an observer, maybe even to Rey herself, that he’s slow because he’s trying to be careful.  Of course that’s not it. Ben wants to stretch this out for as long as he can, because he hasn’t touched her in days.  Even his hand on her back makes his internal temperature spike ten degrees.

 

The bowl finally floats down to the countertop.  The job’s done, but instead of stepping back he moves in closer.  Rey’s breath is coming fast enough that he can see her shoulders move with it.  It’s an encouragement. Ben’s palm flattens on the countertop next to hers, as if he’s comparing the size.  His fingers spread on the granite as he leans forward so his lips are mere inches from her ear.

 

The hand on her low back begins a slow circumnavigation around to her waist.  Maybe he’s the one who finally closes the gap between their bodies, but it’s hard to tell, it could be her– because his mind goes a little fuzzy at the contact when he finally feels Rey’s weight shift back against him.  His chest presses her against the counter, caging her in with his arm.

 

It feels good.  She feels so damn good.  He can’t possibly move.

 

“Was that it?” he asks quietly into her ear.

 

“Yeah.”  Her voice is barely a wisp.

 

“Do you need anything else?”  His voice becomes even deeper.

 

“Umm–”  Rey’s ass moves back, not by much.  Maybe only an inch. When it connects against his crotch, the perfection of the fit makes him bite back a groan.

 

Their bodies are fully connected now, like standing spoons.  His chin hooks over her shoulder. He turns to look at her profile and resists the urge to take an earlobe between his lips.

 

“What do you need, sweetheart?” he whispers.  He sees her lashes flutter. She inhales to speak –

 

The front door slams.

 

Rey flinches.  Ben snaps up and steps back, rearranging his fly as he steps away from her.

 

Finn calls out from the doorway, “I passed it!  Thank God in heaven, I passed!”

 

He turns the corner to find them both standing feet apart.  Rey’s arms are crossed over her chest and Ben’s are held in front of his waist.  They must both look like they swallowed canaries, because Finn cocks his head and quirks an eyebrow.

 

“Well, okay then.  Let’s go grab a drink and celebrate, because I am officially done!”

 

Rey becomes unstuck first and moves forward.  “Congrats! You worked so hard.”

 

“The best news!”  Ben says, patting his back as he hurries from the room.   “I gotta grab a shower first.”

 

You know.  For reasons.