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Paradise Island

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Week One: Day One

It’s a beautiful, sunny day in the Riviera Maya, the perfect kind of day for a bunch of young, attractive singles to gather together for six weeks of competition — heartbreak, drama, and possibly even love. People will come in and out of the beautiful oceanside villa, vying for attention and affection, to see who will be the strongest couple in the house.

A Jeep pulls up with the first person arriving to the villa standing in the back of it, her smile as bright as the sun overhead. She’s dressed for the tropical location; she’s donned a red bathing suit — one piece, but with a completely open back — paired with some short shorts and Converse. It’s a practical outfit, probably the least sexy out of what all the girls will wear, but she’s never been anything but herself.

Rey’s hair is pulled back in three buns down the back of her head, and she wears oversized sunglasses to keep the sun out of her eyes. She looks beautiful, glowing in the bright sunlight of Mexico, apprehensive yet ready for the weeks ahead.

She enters the villa with her smile plastered on her face, the excitement outweighing any nerves she may feel. Inside, she receives a text on her mobile phone instructing her to get comfy and dip her feet in the pool, and get ready to meet the rest of the cast who’d be arriving shortly. Eagerly, Rey kicks off her Converse, grabs a glass of wine, and sits by the edge of the pool, leaning back to soak up the sun.

It doesn’t take long for the next guests to arrive — Pamich and Bazine enter together, arm in arm. Pamich says right away she prefers going by Pam, and she ties her tight spiral curls into a ponytail atop her head. It’s hotter outside than any of them expected. Pam wears a beautiful magenta bikini. At her side is Bazine — tall, thin, beautiful Bazine who makes Rey feel incredibly self conscious.

Bazine’s bikini is pastel coloured, a gorgeous contrast to her tanned skin and dark hair. Her gaze is intense, and both women put Rey to shame as they walk in wearing skirts tied around their waists, high heels that accent their thighs and bums, and makeup of the likes Rey could never hope to achieve, ever. Suddenly, Rey realizes just how big a tomboy she really is.

The women are kind to her, though, and together they sit at the edge of the pool, the womens’ high heels abandoned back by the doors to the villa in favor of soaking up the sun and enjoying the cool water against their feet. They’ve barely gotten past introductions and first discussions about who they are and what they do before two more women arrive.

Jessika walks in, followed by Phasma, and both women instill the same insecurities in Rey as Pam and Bazine had. Jessika looks a little more like Rey, at least, in her Adidas sneakers. But she wears a strappy white bikini and a see-through lace dress over it, and it makes the look far more feminine than Rey’s.
And then there’s Phasma.

Phasma is tall — taller than the rest of them by a lot — and wears a shimmering silver and red bikini with a black mesh kimono over it. Her strappy black heels make her even taller, and she’s the only one who’d dared to wear striking red lipstick with her look. Rey is both envious of her and a little attracted to the look. It’s obscene.

They get introductions out of the way, and then it’s time to relax. Once they’re all seated together by the pool, sipping some wine and cooling off with their feet in the pool, someone’s mobile phone dings.

It’s Rey’s, and she opens the message to read it aloud to the group: “Welcome, ladies. It’s time to meet your men. Line up on the hearts in the pool. As the men enter, they’ll couple up with one of you based purely on physical attraction. They can steal you away from someone else. If they do, that person chooses once more at the end, and cannot steal someone who’s already coupled up. Good luck.”

She looks up at the other women, and together they set down their glasses of wine and line up on the hearts in the shallow end of the pool, where the water drifts up to the grass of the yard behind the villa. Though they’re incredibly nervous, the women stand tall and hope that how they’ve dressed that day is enough to catch the attention of the men who are about to arrive.

The first man through the doors to the backyard has the brightest, most joyful smile any of the women have ever seen. His dark skin and dark hair contrast beautifully to his pastel colored swim shorts and white linen button-down shirt, left unbuttoned to reveal his very toned abs and chest. “Hi ladies,” he says, smiling and waving at them all.

He looks so pleased to be there, with just a hint of nerves at being the first one. “My name’s Finn. I’m… really excited to be here. A little nervous, too. So…” he trails off and looks down the line of women.

“I guess I’m the first one to choose, so let’s see…”

Finn grimaces a little as he looks them all over, and he confesses as he does, “It feels kind of creepy, picking you just based on your looks… I’m sorry. I’m sorry. I promise, I really like to get to know people and not judge on looks, but… here we are.”

Eventually, he settles his eyes upon Rey, and he gestures to her. “What’s your name?”

“I’m Rey,” she says, putting her hand above her sunglasses to block the stray beams of sun blocking him from her view.

“I’d like to choose you, if you’ll let me,” he replies.

Rey smiles brightly; she hadn’t been expecting to be chosen first. Nodding eagerly, she says, “Please. Yes. Thanks you.”

Finn kicks off his shoes before wading into the shallow water to stand next to Rey. He doesn’t touch her, isn’t sure if that’s proper or allowed yet. She hugs him, though, grateful to have her anxieties quelled, at least in the short term. Once they’ve gotten their greeting out of the way, they wait for the next man to arrive.

In walks probably the man most opposite to Finn as anyone could have imagined. He’s pale and shorter, with dark hair and a bit of a skittish look about him. But behind that worry and insecurity is a handsome man, the trick will be to pull that out of him. “Hi everyone,” says the man. He even sounds timid, his voice not carrying as well as Finn’s had. “I’m Dopheld Mitaka, but I just go by Mitaka, so please just call me that.”

He looks up and down the line of women, reacting the same way Finn had as he brazenly looks them over. Mitaka’s eyes linger on Rey for a moment before drifting to the woman standing next to her: Pam. “What’s your name?” he asks her.

She introduces herself to him, and they have a quick chat wherein she agrees to be coupled up with him. He wades into the water to her, gives her a hug, and they stand together, arms around each other’s waists as they wait for the next person to arrive.

As soon as he walks in, Rey’s heart skips a beat. She curses herself for it, because she’s lucky Finn chose her; he’s handsome and sweet, and she feels much better knowing he’s there and she doesn’t have to worry about whether she’ll be chosen or sent home right away. But this man’s dark curly hair, olive skin, and winning smile surrounded by the slightest hint of scruff is doing things to her.

His shirt is open just as Finn’s was, though his is printed with tropical leaves, and everyone can see the gentle trail of dark hair disappearing into his neon-colored swim trunks. His outfit doesn’t match at all, and a few of the girls giggle about it. “Hey, hey,” he says, waving awkwardly with both hands.

“I’m Poe,” he grins and lifts his aviators to perch atop his curls. His eyes sparkle as he smiles. “Wow, you’re all — you look amazing.”

Clearly he doesn’t have as much of a problem with leering as the other guys had. But his gaze doesn’t feel skeevy or make the girls feel uncomfortable; his gaze is warm and he’s smiling at them all in turn. “Well. I get to pick a girl here, even if she’s taken. If I steal from someone, there’s no hard feelings, alright?”

Mitaka and Finn awkwardly don’t say a word, and Rey switches her weight to her other foot as she watches him look up and down the line. She wonders if he’s talking about her, can’t help but get butterflies as she looks at him, locking eyes for just a brief second.

“What’s your name?” he asks, nodding to her.

Rey looks at him, dumbstruck for a moment, before she responds, “I’m Rey.”

Poe nods. “Nice to meet you, Rey. Would you be terribly offended if I stole you away from him?”

Rey’s smile drops and she turns to look over her shoulder at Finn. As she does, Bazine speaks up and says, “It doesn’t matter. You get to decide, not her.”

“Hey, nothing wrong with taking her feelings into account on this,” Poe responds.

Finn looks unhappy about it, but he nods graciously to her. When Rey turns back, she shrugs and says noncommittally, “Sure?”

Rey feels an anxious twist in her gut as Finn steps away, off to the side to a bench where he’ll now have to wait until the end, to see who’s left. Poe approaches, taking his place next to Rey. As he does, he swings his arms around her neck to envelop her into a big, warm hug. He lets the hug linger, and leaves his arm around her shoulders as he stands with her.

That was just an exchange between strangers and already Rey feels weighed down; if dating around for six weeks is going to feel like this, she’s not sure she’s ready for what lay ahead. She tries to remind herself of his warm, sweet smile, and the way she’d felt when he first walked in. That’s the feeling she should want to chase — she just has to hope that Finn understands.

Before she can worry too much about it, in walks the fourth man. He’s got the fairest skin of all of them, but he’s tall and lean and looks far classier than anyone else who’s walked in so far. He wears boat shoes, olive shorts, and a pale blue polo shirt. His red hair is combed back just a little, one strand falling in his eyes, in front of his black Ray Bans. Head to toe he screams prep, but that’s bound to be someone’s type.

He introduces himself as Armitage Hux — he goes by Hux, so that’s two men now who go by their family name — and asks Phasma if they can pair up together. Though asking isn’t required, that seems to be the trend, much to the womens’ delight. Phasma enthusiastically agrees, and that leaves only Jessika and Bazine left to be paired off.

That surprises Rey, who’d thought Bazine would have been first pick. She looks like a model, and Rey truly can’t figure out why she was chosen before Bazine.

The final man who enters immediately looks at her though, so Rey feels like the world has tilted back on its axis. He comes in and introduces himself, sounding a bit cocky as he does. His name is Temmin, but his nickname is Snap, and he’s a pilot. That may explain the cockiness. He pairs off with Bazine, and then Finn joins Jessika.

Once they’ve each picked someone, their phones buzz, all with the same message. Bazine reads it out loud:

“Congratulations Islanders. Now that you’ve paired up, spend the night getting to know your new significant other. Don’t take anything for granted.”

She looks around, and immediately Hux asks, “What does that mean, don’t take anything for granted?”

“Things are going to change soon, I imagine,” interjects Phasma.

“That’s always how it works,” adds Bazine.

The couples look around for a moment, but once that brief beat of we’re actually free to do as we please settles over them, they begin to disperse.

“D’you want to go over there?”

Hux points to a bed situated outside, facing the pool but underneath a sun shade. Phasma nods and follows, her black kimono blowing in the breeze behind her. On the way, they each collect a drink — Phasma grabs her wine and Hux picks a beer from the cooler. Eyeing it on their walk over, Phasma waits until they’re settled on the plush mattress before observing, “A craft beer?”

“I’ve got expensive taste,” Hux responds.

Phasma lays back against the pillows, propped up only enough so she can sip wine without spilling it down her front. “I can see that. You’re preppier than I usually date,” she comments.

Hux lays on his side, propped up on his elbow next to Phasma. “What kind of guy do you usually date?”

“Doesn’t have to be a guy,” she corrects. “But usually really buff, quite tall if they’re men. Athletic but girly if they’re women. And I like someone sensitive.”

Hux snorts and takes a sip of his beer. “I’m afraid this may not work out for us, then,” he confesses. “That is definitely not me.”

“My point exactly,” Phasma replies. “But we’re here, we might as well give it a fair shot, right?”

“Indeed,” Hux agrees.

He holds up his bottle of beer in toast, and Phasma raises her wine to meet it. The glasses ding as they meet, and the two of them take a drink. “So, what do you do?” he asks as he swallows.

“I’m a stunt person,” Phasma says.

Hux’s eyebrows raise almost comically high. “Really? That’s the last thing I would have expected.”

“What did you expect?” she presses.

He shrugs. “Something more… corporate.”

“Just because someone dresses nice doesn’t mean they work in the corporate sector,” she answers. Looking up at Hux, Phasma smirks and says, “Though I’d be willing to bet money that you do.”

Hux brings his finger to his nose and taps a few times, shaking his head at how predictable he’d been. He looks away at the yard, at the other couples within eyesight: Finn and Jessika lounging by the hot tub, Bazine and Snap in the hammock, and Mitaka and Pam dangling their feet in the pool. Poe and Rey are nowhere to be found.

“So what is it you do, exactly?” Phasma presses.

Sighing, Hux says, “I work at my father’s investment company.”

“Ah, daddy’s money and everything,” she says, amused.

She sips on her wine and watches Hux for a moment, trying to get a better read on him. “You’d rather not work for him, I’d guess?”

“How could you tell?” he asks, astonished.

“Your face.”

Hux looks at her boredly and shakes his head. “I’m not that easy to read.”

“Fine,” Phasma concedes. “Lucky guess.”

She drops her free hand to the bed between them, to see if he takes the bait. Thankfully, Hux is more perceptive than she’d expected, because almost immediately he drops a hand to meet hers. Their eyes meet, but neither says a word for a moment, as they get used to this strange development.

Earlier conversation completely forgotten, Phasma changes the subject to something a little more romantically charged. “What was your last relationship like?” she wonders.

Hux rolls his eyes and shakes his head. “You don’t even want to know,” he mutters.

She squeezes his hand and watches as he takes a sip of beer before giving details. Phasma doesn’t intend on letting the conversation move forward until he answers her.

“It was only a few months ago,” he says.

His words are clipped, his tone tight. He avoids her gaze at all costs. “She said I worked too much, while insisting I spoil her at every possible opportunity. It was exhausting.”

“Who called it off?”

“I did, of course,” Hux answered. “She wasn’t happy with me.”

Phasma looks amused. “I can’t imagine so. How much did you spoil her?”

A smirk plays on his lips and he gives a very mysterious answer. “More than I should have, but enough to keep things interesting behind closed doors.”

“Really?” Phasma asks, her interest now piqued.

“That’s all I’m telling you,” Hux insists, pointing at her warningly before bringing the beer bottle to his lips.

Phasma sips her wine again, but then sets it aside and does the same with his beer. “Alright. Let’s give this a real shot, yeah?” she asks.

She looks mischievous, and Hux only hesitates for the briefest of moments before he gives in; this is a competition, after all, and nobody he knows is quite as competitive as him. The other couples don’t stand a chance, not so long as he’s got somebody as quick-witted as Phasma on his side.

Chapter Text

Week One, Day Two

The couples wake bright and early the next day, still getting used to the new environment in the luxurious villa set aside just for them, for six weeks, on the beautiful beaches of the Riviera Maya. Each couple has to share a bed, and for some that was more comfortable than others.

Hux and Phasma had cozied up to each other pretty quickly after meeting, and as a result ended up waking arm in arm, Phasma curled up around Hux. He’s grateful for the blankets curled around the both of them, hiding him from view so the room can’t see him being the little spoon. Mitaka and Pam wake the complete opposite, as far to the sides of the bed as possible.

Finn wakes curled at the far edge of the bed, but only because Jessika is sprawled out taking up far too much space on the bed. Poe and Rey have much the same situation going on, though they both appear to be sprawled out and trying to steal the space from the other.

The first to wake are actually Snap and Bazine, who take the privacy of the morning to share a few secretive kisses beneath the duvet. Though they’re hidden from sight, the microphones and cameras pick up on it, the sound just enough for the mics to pick up. Bazine keeps it playful and light, not letting Snap get any further than a few kisses.

Before he can see how much further he gets to go, someone’s mobile phone beeps quite loudly and repetitively. It startles most of the islanders in the house, waking them up.They flail about, but the person whose phone it is — Poe — keeps snoring away until Rey elbows him to make him stop the beeping.

“I’m tired,” he groans.

“Make it stop,” Rey groans right back.

Eventually he sits up to fetch the phone, to see what’s going on. Poe rubs his eyes and looks over the message a few times.

“What’s it say?” Pam asks eagerly.

“I hate suspense,” Hux grumbles, only his hair peeking out from the stark white blankets.

Poe groans and clears his throat, still rubbing the sleep from his eyes. He yawns, and then takes a moment before he reads it out loud: “Poe. Enjoy a date outside the villa with a girl of your choosing. A car will pick you and the lucky girl up at noon. Choose wisely.”

The guys all clap and cheer, and a few girls straighten up their hair as Poe looks appraisingly around the room. Rey is the only person not sitting up at this point. She’s still lying down, her hair a haphazard mess over the pillows. It genuinely surprises her when he turns to look at her and asks, “D’you want to go on a date with me, Rey?”

“Aww,” Bazine coos from her bed with Snap.

Rey blinks a few times, forcing herself to wake up properly. She rubs at her eyes and tries to wrap her mind around the conversation and the fact that on her second day in the villa, “I… sure. Yeah.”

Nearly everyone else in the room claps for them, save for Hux, who’s too tired to do anything but nestle beneath the blankets, and Finn, who still isn’t quite over Poe stealing Rey away from him on their first day.

As they get up to get ready, Rey disappears into the women’s restroom to brush her teeth and shower. She looks at her reflection in the mirror and frowns, suddenly incredibly self-aware of what she looks like and the things she brought to wear. “Everything alright?” Phasma asks as she brushes her teeth.

She spits the foam into the sink and rinses it away as she turns to face Rey properly. “I don’t know what to wear,” Rey confesses.

Jessika and Bazine overhear, too, and before long, Rey has girls around her, talking about her hair and makeup and clothes. Pam joins in as soon as she emerges from the shower, and it’s practically a Cinderella moment for Rey, having four women doting on her, helping her get ready for this date.

When she meets Poe downstairs, she doesn’t even feel like herself. She’s all dolled up — mascara, some light eyeshadow, a nude lipstick. The girls talked her into leaving some of her hair down, just tying half up in a ponytail instead of all three buns she’d worn the day before. Then, instead of her overalls or shorts and tank tops — the only clothes she’d brought with her — she’s in a sundress courtesy of Pam, beautiful pastel blue with pink flowers on it. She still wears her Converse though, the true mark that she’s still herself.

As soon as she enters the foyer, all eyes are on her. The men stare with a combination of shock and awe that the tomboy they’d met the day before now looked so dolled up and beautiful. “Hey,” Poe says, greeting her with a bright, sparkling smile.

“Hi,” she answers, feeling a bit shy.

“Let’s get out of here,” he says taking her hand straight away.

Rey happily obliges, glad to be away from all the eyes on her. She’s never had so many people looking at her at once, ever. It’s unnerving, and she’s grateful for the reprieve. Sure enough, there’s a car outside the villa waiting for them, and the two climb into the backseat, eager to see where they get to go for some private time.

The car ride is relatively short, and before long they find themselves being dropped off at a gorgeous beach. Several crew members off-camera point them in the direction of where there appears to be a blanket and picnic basket waiting for them. Poe is sweet to Rey, taking her hand and leading her slowly towards the blanket, letting her take her time gawking at the scenery.

“It’s been awhile since you’ve been to a beach, huh?” he observes.

Poe waits for her to have a seat on the blanket before he sits down next to her and makes easy work of popping open the bottle of champagne already sitting on ice for them. Rey holds the champagne flutes and whips her head to the side to get the hair out of her face. “Since I was very young,” she confesses.

Rey had arrived in paradise with the stone-cold determination that she wasn’t going to open up about her past to just anyone, that they’d have to earn it, and she’d be lucky if she could find one person she trusted enough by the end of the six weeks.

But somehow, she already feels that peace and trust with Poe. It terrifies her.

“That long, huh?” he asks, carefully pouring them both some champagne.

He takes one of the glasses from Rey, and they toast to their date. Rey doesn’t respond until after she’s had a sip of champagne. The bubbles spark at her throat, and she’s surprised by the dryness of it. She coughs in surprise.

“Long time since you’ve had champagne, too?” Poe wonders.

Rey shakes her head. “I’ve never had champagne. But yes… it’s been a long time since I’ve been to the beach. I just… never had time. Or someone to go with,” she confesses. It’s the truth, though it omits quite a lot.

She tucks her legs beneath her, taking care not to let her dress blow up in the wind. She’d worn a bathing suit underneath, just in case, but still doesn’t want to be that exposed when she’s not ready for it. Poe reclines back on the blanket, resting on his elbow. His eyes sparkle as he looks up at her and asks, “So where are you from?”

“Wolverhampton,” she replies easily. “You?”

“Cali,” he responds.

“Wow. And you came all the way here to date people?” she wonders.

Poe chuckles. “You came further.”

Rey shakes her head and smiles, enough to make her dimples show. “I didn’t actually think I’d get in. I applied as a joke,” she says.

Shaking his head, Poe says, “Watch. You’ll win this whole thing, all because it was a throwaway application you never thought would get a second look.”

“No I won’t,” Rey says immediately.

She knows herself, knows the walls she’s put up and how firm those walls are. Winning sounds nice, but Rey’s too practical to ever let her head float into the clouds like that. Besides, she’s far from the most desirable girl in the villa. The men just seem to need more time than most to see that.

“You should have more faith in yourself,” Poe admonishes. “You’re gorgeous.”

Rey shakes her head. “You’re just saying that to flatter me.”

“Nah, it’s the truth,” he insists. “You’re beautiful. I picked you for a reason.”

She quirks her head to the side and squints in the bright sunlight. She can already feel her skin burning slightly under the harsh rays of the sun. “You picked me purely because of how I look?” she asks.

Poe knows immediately that her question is a trap and he has to be careful how he answers it. “That was the whole point!” he says defensively. “But now that we’re here, let’s make it not so shallow. That’s what you want, isn’t it?”

Rey is quiet; she hadn’t expected him to answer that quite so well.

“So let’s get to know each other, then,” Poe insists. “What do you do?”

“I work at a daycare,” she explains. “Not as a teacher or anything, I haven’t got the degree for that sort of work. I just help the teachers. You know, clean up the crayons, gather everyone to wash their hands for snack time, that sort of thing. It’s not really my dream job, but it’s nice. The kids seem to enjoy being around me.”

“Of course they do,” Poe responds kindly. “From what I can see, you’re a really nice girl.”

Rey sips her champagne and eyes him warily, though she can’t fight the smile threatening to spread across her face. “You’re good at knowing what girls want to hear,” she observes.

“Can’t a guy just show interest in a girl?” Poe asks, mocking offense.

“You understand my skepticism,” she responds. “This is a competition. There’s a lot of prize money on the line. You can’t blame me for being a little apprehensive about your lines and your smiles and your attention.”

“Rey,” Poe says. “I would be smiling at you and giving you attention whether there was money at stake or not. You’re beautiful. Why don’t you believe that?”

Rey shrugs and looks down. She watches the bubbles in her drink, takes a moment to enjoy the sound of the waves of the ocean lapping up on the shore. Poe is quiet, studying her. Rey tries not to look over, to acknowledge that she knows he’s watching her. She doesn’t want to give him the satisfaction, nor would she particularly enjoy finding out what line is at the tip of his tongue.

“Tell me about your last relationship,” Poe prompts, trying to get more information out of her.

Sighing, Rey confesses, “I haven’t had a relationship. Ever.”

Poe whistles. That explains not only why she was cast, but why she seems so awkward about having a man’s attention on her.

“That’s alright,” he reassures her. “Absolutely no judgment here on this one, but — have you done anything physical with someone?”

Rey shakes her head, now absolutely avoiding his eyes. “I mean, a boy kissed me on the playground when I was nine, but aside from that, no,” she says. “I don’t even think that should count, if you ask me.”

“It doesn’t have to count,” Poe insists. “You get to choose that.”

She scoffs and looks over at him. “Am I still attractive?”

“Same as you were when we got here,” Poe says. “Which, I’d like to point out, isn’t what some guys would say.”

“I know,” Rey nods. “Someone as innocent as me… nobody wants to deal with that.”

It’s a thought that had been planted in her head during the interview process, and one that she hadn’t been able to shake throughout the days that led up to her arrival at the villa. But rather than agreeing with her, Poe says, “Nah. Some guys are trash and think that makes you hotter. They get all weird about it.”

“Right. They’ll want to take my virginity or something?” she asks.

“Hey, I’m not like that,” Poe insists.

He drinks the last bit of champagne in his glass and then sits up properly, crossing his legs as he faces Rey. “Look, I picked you because you looked different than the other girls. Now that I’m talking to you, I still like you just as much. More, even, but not because of the innocence thing. You’re honest and self-aware and you’ve got a damn nice smile,” he says.

Poe takes the glass of champagne from Rey and sets it aside. Taking her hands in his, he looks into her eyes and says, “I won’t pressure you to do anything, and I promise that even if we don’t couple up, I won’t let any other guys get away with pressuring you, either.”

“That kind of you,” Rey responds. “But you should know that I can stand up for myself. I wrestle toddlers daily.”

He chuckles. “I have no doubt you can take care of yourself. But things’ll be different here than in a daycare,” Poe says.

She looks skeptical, but doesn’t argue. She’s never had someone offer to defend her, before. Usually she has to take care of herself.

“D’you want to go have a swim?”

Rey looks out at the waves. “I’ve never been in the ocean,” she confesses.

“Well then get up, we’re going.”

Laughing, she follows his lead and stands up. She easily pulls the sundress up and over her head, and watches as Poe unbuttons his shirt and tosses it aside. He’s toned and tan, just like some of the other guys. He looks amazing, and Rey catches herself staring. Swallowing past a lump in her throat, she kicks off her shoes and follows Poe down the beach and into the surf.

The water is cool against her warm skin, a welcome reprieve from sitting beneath the unforgiving sun all morning. Poe takes her hand again — it doesn’t surprise her as much as it had the day before, which is already a big change for her — and together they wade into the waves of the ocean.

Rey feels a bit self-conscious, wearing a bikini loaned to her by Pam, who as it turns out is the exact same size as Rey. It’s as bright and beautiful as the dress Rey wears, a pale yellow with lots of straps and ties at her hips and against her back. It covers next to nothing on her body, and though Rey expected to want to curl in on herself and hide from the world, she doesn’t.

Because Poe isn’t looking at her body, he’s looking at her face, and that makes a big difference. He leads her further into the water until Rey shrieks as a wave laps at her bare stomach, the chill of the water startling her. Their hair is all over the place as the wind picks up, but the moment is perfect. Rey couldn’t have asked for a better first date in paradise.

As they tread further still, so the water is up to their waists and then their chests, Rey starts to shiver even under the warm blanket of the sun overhead. “Come here,” Poe says, pulling on Rey’s hand and dragging her closer to him.

She’s surprised by the gesture but moves easily through the water, her hand effortlessly falling to his shoulder as he releases her hand in favor of hugging her around her waist. “How are you so warm? The water’s cold!” Rey shrieks.

“Talent,” he laughs. “I’ve got you.”

“This isn’t fair,” Rey complains. “Did you know this would happen?”

Poe looks into her eyes and grins. “Would you believe me if I said no?”

She doesn’t answer. Rey’s too busy looking into his eyes, startled by how warm and inviting they are and also how close his face is to hers. Poe wraps both of his arms around her waist, pulling her so her stomach is flush against his as they walk out into the water. The tips of Rey’s hair gets wet, they’ve gone so far into the ocean, and Poe grins at her as he lifts her off her feet, spinning them around.

As he spins, he loses his balance, sending both of them tumbling into the water. He keeps a good hold on her, though, and as they regain their footing, she’s there in his arms again. Rey worries for a moment that her makeup is smearing and that she looks ridiculous, but Poe’s smile only grows, and not in a way that would indicate she now looks like a clown. No, he’s looking into her eyes like she’s the only person that matters, and Rey feels it deep in her chest.

She wonders if this is what it feels like, being attracted to someone. She wraps her arms a little bit tighter around his shoulders, both for warmth and the odd primal instinct she feels in her gut, the voice in the back of her mind saying get closer to him.

Poe’s eyes dart down to her lips, then back up to meet her gaze. “Can I?” he asks.

Rey’s flattered that he bothered to ask, that he’s being such a gentleman about it all. Her curiosity too much for her as she becomes totally wrapped up in the moment, Rey nods.

Poe brings one of his hands to cup her face, just the slightest hint of pressure at the back of her neck guiding her forwards. Rey goes, pliant and eager, leaning forward and trusting him completely.

Her breath catches as their lips meet, the feeling unlike anything Rey could have anticipated. His lips are plush and soft against hers, each move gentle and tender, Poe taking his time as he shifts his lips above hers, becoming more comfortable for the both of them. Rey feels his scruff against her face, is surprised at how much she doesn’t mind the feeling.

She moves on instinct, her hand playing with the soft, wet curls at the back of his head as she tilts her head to the side. The kiss deepens, Rey’s heart thrumming a vicious, wonderful rhythm against her ribcage, the thrill of the moment almost more than she can bear.

Rey loses herself in the kiss, in Poe’s strong hands on her body and his mouth against hers. He moves tenderly, thoughtfully, his mouth against hers and his hands on every inch of her body he dares touch. Poe doesn’t venture anywhere too intimate, keeps his hands in proper places against her back and waist. Rey’s grateful for it, while also wondering just what it’d feel like to do more.

The curiosity she feels welling inside her terrifies her, and she has to slow it down for a moment. When she breaks the kiss, she rests her forehead to Poe’s, taking deep, steady breaths.

“Everything okay?” Poe asks.

Rey nods, then explains, “It’s… a lot.”

“I’m sorry if it was too much.”

His voice is soft, whispered just between the two of them, and Rey can hear his concern in his voice. “It wasn’t,” she insists. “I promise. It was perfect.”

“Good,” Poe replies. “Good.”

Rey blinks and takes a deep breath before meeting his gaze again. She’d worried it would be weird, but it isn’t — she doesn’t imagine it ever could be. Poe is relaxed, easy to get along with, and so considerate of her. Rey smiles at him, reassuring him once more that they hadn’t gone too far, that she felt good with what they’d done and where they were at.

Before they can come to a natural next step for the date, the cameras stop rolling for a moment and they’re told it’s time to go back to the villa.

Rey and Poe take their time walking out of the ocean and back to the beach, and as they put their clothes back on, Rey can’t stop smiling or sneaking glances at Poe. He catches her more often than not and she blushes, every time. At this point, she’s not sure whether she’s blushing or sunburned.

He holds her hand the entire car ride back to the villa, and before they pull into the drive, Rey asks, “So… what do we tell people?”

Poe glances to her. “I don’t know. What do you want to tell people?”

She shrugs. “The truth, I guess.”

He nods in agreement. “Yeah. Trying to keep a secret here seems like a bad idea.”

“Yeah,” Rey replies. “So… if they ask, we can tell. I won’t go around bragging, but… you know what I’m trying to say.”

“I do, yeah,” Poe nods.

The car pulls into the drive, to the front of the magnificent villa. Rey still can’t believe this is her life, even just temporarily. Together, they get out of the car, and Rey tries her very best not to react when Poe doesn’t take her hand.

It’s a silly thing to notice or react to. They just met the day before… they’re not exclusive. That’s not how paradise island works. It’s a hard thing to remember, but Rey swallows her pride and does it anyway.

Besides, the attention they get from the rest of the islanders when they return is more than enough to put a bashful smile right back on her face. Though she never thought she’d be the type to kiss and tell, Rey finds that sure enough, she feels ready to burst with the news that she’s had her first kiss, and that it was so perfect.

It takes no time at all for the women to sweep her to the side, ply her with wine, and start trying to get every possible detail out of Rey.

From the other side of the yard where he’s been pulled away by the guys, Poe looks up and meets her gaze. He grins and winks at her, causing Rey to blush. She smiles back, all dimples and sparkling, happy eyes, and that’s that. It’s time to tell their story. There’s no room for secrets at the villa, that’s for sure.

Chapter Text

Week One, Day Three

Rey is one of the first to wake on day three, snoring from the other side of the room waking her up, along with just how cuddly Poe had gotten with her since they’d returned from their date. He’s handsome, and their date had been wonderful. Rey couldn’t have asked for anything better from a first date and a first kiss. But unlike their first night in the same bed, Poe had chosen to cuddle up close with Rey.

She’d enjoyed it, at first, feeling safe and warm in his arms. But when he turned into a human heater overnight and made her toss all the blankets aside, it had been harder to sleep. She just had to keep reminding herself: it was a small price to pay to ensure her longevity in the villa.

Rey tiptoes downstairs in shorts and an oversized tee shirt, putting on a kettle to brew some tea while she waits for others to rise. It’s odd, having an open kitchen in the backyard; Rey’s never lived anywhere so grand and so full of people. Though the sky is overcast, the weather is warm and she contemplates pulling off the tee and wandering around in shorts and sports bra like the other girls were doing the day before.

She doesn’t know how to just be in a place like this. It’s so strange. Everything’s just a little different than what she’s used to on the outside.

Once her tea is ready, Rey settles into a lounge chair in the yard, soaking up the few rays of sunlight peeking through between the clouds. It’s peaceful, serene. She’s left with her thoughts and she certainly has a lot to contemplate.

Before she can get too caught up in it all, Rey is joined in the backyard by Mitaka. The two of them haven’t had much of a chance to speak yet, but he greets her warmly. After pouring tea for himself, he takes a seat next to her. “Hi,” she says kindly.

“Hello.”

Rey glances over at him, watching as he sips at the steaming hot tea he’s made for himself. “Are you usually an early riser?” she asks.

Mitaka nods. “Yes. Are you?”

“No,” she shakes her head. “Someone was snoring, and I got too hot.”

“Yeah, that’s Snap. According to Bazine, that’s his worst trait, so far,” Mitaka quips.

Rey snorts with laughter. Poor Bazine has been stuck in a bed next to him; Rey’s shocked that she’s not awake and downstairs with them, if that’s the case.

“I hear you had a good date, yesterday,” he comments, for lack of anything else to talk about.

Blushing, Rey looks down into her tea and nods. “I did, yeah,” she says. “What did Poe tell you guys?”

“Not a lot,” Mitaka confesses. “He said you guys had a good time, and that you’d kissed at the beach.”

Shrugging, Rey says, “That’s really about all it was.”

“Do you like him?”

Rey’s quiet as she takes a sip of tea. She closes her eyes as she swallows, trying to make sense of what’s in her mind. “He’s nice,” she says, treading carefully. “He’s treating me well.”

“That doesn’t sound promising,” comments Mitaka.

Rey frowns. She looks over at him, uncertainty clear across her face. “I mean, do you like Pam?”

He’s quiet. Clearly, they’re in the same boat.

“It’s too early to be head over heels for someone,” Rey says. “Yesterday was amazing. It’d be easy to get lost in how he made me feel yesterday.” She sighs and leans back against the cushions of the lounge. “It was all eyes on me. And he was so respectful about how inexperienced I was. And that’s great. But when it comes down to it, I’ve barely known him for two days.”

Mitaka nods. “Everything is so new.”

“It is,” she agrees.

It doesn’t take much longer for more people to join them; Rey’s gone through two cups of tea by the time all ten islanders are gathered around the backyard. Once they’re all sitting around, waking up and having their breakfast, someone’s phone dings. It’s Finn’s.

“Finn and Snap: Today, you’ll be representing all the islanders as you welcome two new guests to the villa. Prepare your menu - the guests arrive in two hours for a double lunch date. Islanders, you can watch from inside and upstairs. Have fun.”

Eyes go wide and shock crosses some faces as Finn and Snap realize what this means: two new girls are likely going to arrive that afternoon, skewing things in the guys’ favor. When the end of the week rolls around and everyone needs to couple up, two of the women will be sent home, easy as that.

And Finn and Snap get first dibs on the new girls because of this date.

Bazine and Jessika look the least pleased, and though Rey would prefer to stay out of all the drama, she feels obliged to go talk to them, to try to make them feel better. Rey loves fixing things that are broken, restoring things that have been tarnished.

She joins them by the cushioned wicker bench by the hot tub, offering them both a hug before she has a seat with them. “It’ll be fine,” Bazine says with a fake air of disinterest.

Her expression betrays her though, the worry clear in her eyes. Jessika doesn’t bother trying to hide it as she pulls one of her knees to her chest and sighs heavily. “I won’t be surprised if Finn picks one of the new girls,” she confesses. “He’s only with me because I was the only one left.”

“Jess,” Rey sighs. “Finn’s a nice guy.”

“How do you know?” Bazine challenges. “You’ve barely said two words to him.”

Feeling a bit defensive, Rey argues, “He’s a gentleman. They all seem to be.”

“They’re going to choose the girls who are exciting and sexy,” Jessika says. “That’s you,” she gestures wildly at Bazine. “Not me.”

Bazine puts her sunglasses atop her head, holding back her dark hair. “Yes, well, I won’t be on this date, the new girls will be. They can both leave us and if they do, there’s nothing we can do about it,” she argues.

“I’m sure you have nothing to worry about,” Rey says, to try to help.

Both girls look at her, frustrated. Rey is taken aback; she’d gone into the conversation with much better intentions than either girl seems to think she had. “You’ll forgive us for not taking your word for it on things,” Bazine says coolly. “Of everyone here, it sounds like you’re in the most solid relationship. You don’t have room to talk and give us advice.”

“Fine,” Rey says flatly. “Good luck.”

It didn’t take long for someone to get upset with her, in a way that could very well start drama. But Rey doesn’t take the bait, and instead storms across the yard to the kitchen. She rifles around the cupboards, looking for something to eat. She hadn’t had anything with her tea earlier in the day, and maybe eating will make her a little less angry.

Apparently she caught the eye of Phasma as she poured herself cereal and milk with more aggression than was entirely necessary, because moments later Phasma was right there next to her, ready to have a chat. Hux followed her, the two of them looking quite well-rested after their night in bed together.

“What’s wrong?” Phasma asks, leaning against the countertop and watching her with amusement.

Rey props herself up on the countertop and eats a massive spoonful of corn flakes, ignoring the question for a moment. Unfortunately, Phasma and Hux don’t drop it. With a mouth full of food, Rey rolls her eyes and responds, “They’re mad at me because I tried to talk to them when they were all upset about the guys getting to meet the new girls.”

She gestures wildly to Bazine and Jessika. “Why are they mad?” Hux asks.

“Apparently I have the most stable relationship in here,” she replies. Rey shovels another spoonful in her mouth before adding, “Which is crap, by the way.”

“Your relationship is crap, or the fact that they think it’s the most stable is crap?” Phasma asks for clarification.

Hux sets to work brewing more tea, but neither leaves Rey alone. She’s honestly surprised by the attention; she hadn’t expected these two to give her the time of day. They’re too high class for her.

“I met him two days ago,” Rey says in response.

She doesn’t want to start a rumor that she doesn’t like him. Poe is sweet and kind, and she couldn’t have asked for a better person to pair off with. Rey knows that it’s time to be very careful what she says or she could lose him and be eliminated from the show.

“He’s cute, though,” Phasma comments.

Rey nods, chomping down on more of her cereal. “He is. He was really sweet yesterday.”

She pulls one knee to her chest, propping her foot up on the countertop which earns her quite the look from Hux, who finds such a thing rather disgusting. Ignoring him completely, Rey looks back at Phasma and says, “I like him. I do. I just don’t like spooning, I guess.”

“Really?”

Rey nods. “He gets so warm. I can’t sleep when I feel like I’m inches away from a bonfire,” she says. “But like, swimming with him and having a drink with him was nice.”

Phasma looks back over at Bazine and Jessika, who’ve now looped Pam into their conversation as well. Rey frowns and looks down into her bowl. She stabs her spoon into the soggy cereal to stuff more in her mouth. It’s difficult to explain why she’s so upset; she’d gone into the villa expecting the beautiful girls to cast her aside as an outsider. The problem is, she just expected it to take longer to happen.

“Don’t let it bother you. They feel threatened. You’re safe,” Phasma says.

Rey furrows her brow. “No I’m not. I could lose him to one of these girls, too. The date today could be a total flop and the minute they meet Poe, that’s it,” she argues. “Nobody is safe, except maybe you two.”

Phasma glances at Hux, who’s pouring some milk into his tea. “I suppose we are, aren’t we?” she comments.

He looks up at Phasma, and then over to Rey. “There’s very little these women possess that could make me change my mind about who I’m with,” he says simply.

Rey smiles sadly, pleased for Phasma but still worried about the day ahead. After breakfast, everyone but Snap and Finn are sent indoors. They can watch from their massive group bedroom on the second floor, through the massive windows that overlook the back garden.

Predictably, Bazine and Jessika say they’re fine, and that they don’t want to think about it, but they get a play by play from everyone else at the window anyway.

“They are gorgeous.”

It’s Poe who announces it, and Rey tries very hard not to react to his words, especially when she feels several sets of eyes on her.

“I don’t want to know,” Bazine says in a singsong voice, sitting as far away from the window as possible.

Jessika and Pam sit with her, but Rey has kept her distance. Instead, she’s sitting on her own bed, right next to the bed where Phasma and Hux have staked a claim. Hux is sitting with glasses on and a book in hand, ignoring everything going on outside and all the commentary on it happening indoors.

Poe, however, seems to have taken it upon himself to provide a play by play of what’s going on on the double date.

“Two girls. One brunette, one with blonde hair and dark roots. They’re both kind of short, cute,” he continues. “Finn went right for the one with the blonde. Like right for her.”

“Poe,” says Mitaka warningly.

“Rey, go shut up your man. He’s upsetting the others,” says Hux, not even bothering to look up from his book.

Phasma smacks him on the arm and looks at Rey, “You don’t have to.”

“Yeah, I think both guys want the one with blonde in her hair,” Poe continues. “You can just tell. They can’t stop staring.”

Annoyed, and with the express motivation to make Bazine and Jessika hate her a little less, Rey climbs off her bed and crosses the room to the window. She stands next to Poe at the window and slides her hand into his. “I know you mean well, but I think you should stop,” Rey says softly, just between the two of them.

She presses a kiss to his bare shoulder and then looks up at him as he turns his head. “You’re upsetting the other girls,” Rey whispers.

He looks back over his shoulder at Bazine and Jessika, at how Pam is trying so hard to comfort them, and then looks back at Rey. “Let’s go downstairs,” she suggests, giving his hand a squeeze. “I don’t want to sit here and watch the date and you shouldn’t give them a play by play. If people want to know what’s going on, they’ll watch.”

“That’s no fun,” he grumbles, quiet enough that only Rey hears.

“Spending time with me, downstairs, possibly alone isn’t fun?” she asks.

Rey doesn’t particularly want to do anything physical or high-intensity, but the possibility of it may be enough to lure him away — or so she hopes.

“That’s not what I meant,” he protests.

“Well, let’s go, then,” she says.

Poe leans down, planting a gentle kiss on the tip of her nose before leading her towards the stairs. Rey looks over her shoulder at everyone in the room, and her eyes lock with Jessika’s for the briefest moment before she’s out of sight. Rey can’t tell if the girls are grateful or not, but if they’re going to criticize her for being in a relationship, they can at least be grateful it means saving them from the situation.

Mitaka takes a moment to glance out the window, and he’s surprised to see that Finn won out over Snap when deciding which girl would sit with which guy. The cute girl with the blonde hair is sitting across from Finn, smiling and flirting. Even though they can’t hear what they’re all saying, it’s clear as day.

The girl is interested in Finn, and if Finn’s smile is any indication, he’s just as interested in her, too. Snap looks content with the other girl; he’s being kind, offering a toast with their brunch cocktails, but it’s not quite the same. His smile isn’t quite as stunning, not like when he’d chosen Bazine.

In the end, the date looks like it goes spectacularly well, which means it’s only a matter of time before shit hits the fan and drama strikes.

Nobody in the villa is prepared.

Chapter Text

Week One, Day Four

After their dinner with the new girls, Finn and Snap had brought them in to introduce them to everyone else. The blonde’s name is Kaydel, and the other girl’s name is Cova. They’re now there vying for attention from the other guys, meaning the guys are outnumbered.

It was pretty clear as soon as they walked inside that Finn was absolutely smitten with Kaydel. Cova, however, hadn’t hit it off quite as well with Snap. Still, Bazine was upset with him for looking so pleased to have gotten the date, and she’d given him the cold shoulder the rest of the night.

That evening, she’d made him sleep on the sofa downstairs because she refused to share the bed with him. Though Kaydel and Finn had hit it off, he still had to have a conversation with Jessika about it, so Kaydel and Cova had shared the sixth bed in the room, which had been left empty the night before.

In the morning, there’s no text to wake them up, so everyone gets to take their time. Unlike the day before, when Rey tried to squirm away from Poe the furnace, this time he woke. “Where you going?” he asks groggily, whispering into her shoulder.

“I’m really warm,” Rey whines. “Want some tea.”

“Just a few more minutes,” he begs, sliding a hand beneath the hem of her sleep tee.

“You’re a furnace,” she mumbles into the pillow.

Poe chuckles. “I can’t help it.”

Rey is stubborn, and she’s annoyed, her hair sticking to the beads of sweat on her forehead. “Come have tea with me,” she counters.

He groans, but when she starts to climb out of bed, he has no choice but to follow. They’re the first awake, again, and as she walks to the kitchen in the backyard, she shakes the sleep tee she’s wearing to try to cool off. “You know — and I don’t mean this in a pervy way — you could do like the other girls and just wear your underwear to bed,” Poe suggests.

Rey groans as she fills up the kettle to make tea. That’s the last thing she wants to do in a room full of strangers. Especially with a guy she’s known for three days. He seems to understand what her non-answer means, though, and scoots in to give her a kiss on the forehead and apologize. “Sorry. Boundaries, I understand,” he says.

“Thank you,” she replies.

Their morning is fairly mundane after that, as they make tea and eat breakfast. Poe hovers near Rey for most of it, giving her gentle touches on her hand, or her back. That’s the sort of contact she doesn’t mind; it’s when he’s wrapped completely around her and heating her up in the middle of the night that she wants him to bugger off.

Things are slow as more people wake up and gravitate downstairs; shortly after the last person wanders into the yard — Bazine, looking cold and distant towards everyone now, not just Rey — someone’s phone dings.

It’s Mitaka, and he holds it up and gets the group to silence before he reads it out loud: “Islanders - Welcome to Mexico! Tonight, you will turn the backyard into your own private club. Dress to impress and get ready to dance.”

There are mixed reactions to the message; given that there are five men and seven women, things are bound to get a little crazy if the backyard turns into a club for the night. There’s no two ways around it, though, so everyone gets to spend the day anticipating what’s to come.

After a long afternoon of sunbathing and some cuddling, everyone heads upstairs to begin showering and getting ready for the night. Girls are getting set up with flat irons and makeup and for some, a full wardrobe of clothes to choose from.

Though Bazine is more reluctant to help Rey, Pam is still there and being kind, and she convinces Rey to put on a cute backless halter dress in a dark grey color that really beautifully accents Rey’s skin tone. She doesn’t go nearly as overboard as the rest of the girls with her makeup, but she lets herself be talked into wearing high heels. From what Rey has seen on TV, girls usually kick their shoes off right away, anyway.

The sun sets as everyone gets ready, and before long the girls hear shouting from downstairs; the guys are already in the yard where a DJ has set up his gear. They’re ready to dance and party, they just need the girls.

Rey follows the rest down to the back yard, teetering a little in the shoes she’d been talked into wearing. She feels so unlike herself, yet is caught up in the moment as soon as the guys cheer at their entrance. Drinks have already been prepared, and Rey is half a glass deep in sangria before she can even think about it. They’d been upstairs getting ready for so long, and she’s parched.

Poe’s eyes sparkle as he takes in the sight of her, and as soon as people start to pair off, she feels his warm hand in the small of her back. Her skin is sun-kissed and warm, too, and Rey is pleased for the contact. It’s comforting.

She looks out at the crowd, as most of the girls start to dance with the guys who aren’t spoken for. Rey smiles, amused, as she notices Phasma and Hux already settled in at the kitchen’s bar, sipping on their own sangria and pointedly not joining in the festivities. Club dancing doesn’t seem to suit them, she thinks.

Poe is patient, but Rey can tell he’s buzzing to dance. He taps his fingers against her spine and sips on his own drink, occasionally smiling at or cheering on those who are dancing to the club music in the yard. Bazine is trying very hard to keep Snap’s attention, but Rey notices right away how he keeps gravitating toward Jessika instead.

The interesting development is when that causes Bazine to gravitate towards Mitaka, whom Rey would never have expected her to try to pair off with. She’s taller than him in her sleek pumps, but she kicks them off to align their bodies better, his hands unabashedly falling at her hips as she grinds back against him.

Rey’s cheeks flush; is that really how she’ll be expected to dance?

Jessika and Kaydel are more modest about it, not quite grinding against their partners but certainly letting their hands wander along the mens’ strong abs and biceps. “Do you wanna dance with me?” Poe asks, leaning over to speak into her ear so he’s heard over the loud music.

Rey hesitates, but nods. She’ll give it a try.

But just like wading into the ocean and kissing, Rey finds that things are less intimidating with Poe there to ease her into it. She appreciates that he keeps a respectful distance at first, resting a hand on her waist as he starts to move to the beat, poking Rey’s side or dancing his fingers over her hip to tickle her in order to get her to move and loosen up.

Those tricks do it, and before long Rey is straddling his thigh and laughing as she moves her body in ways she thinks are supposed to be sexy, rolling her hips and arching her back, embracing the way that the shoes and the dress she wears seem to trick her brain into thinking she’s sexy, even if she doesn’t usually think so.

Soon enough, Poe’s warm hand finds the small of her back, and Rey closes her eyes as the music fills her ears. It’s so loud she can feel it in her bones, moves her body to the rhythm and tries to let her guard down and lose herself completely. The alcohol certainly helps, too.

She hears shouting off to the side, and that’s all it takes to pull her out of her daze.

Poe keeps his hold on her, but both of them stop dancing in order to see what’s going on. Bazine is shouting at Snap, her words slurring together, and Rey frowns. She doesn’t like conflict, but at least she’s completely removed from it. The newest development, though, is that Pam is shouting — and none of them had expected Pam to raise her voice.

They’re shouting at each other, at Snap and Mitaka, and soon enough everyone but Rey, Poe, Phasma and Finn are in a massive circle, shouting.

It’s embarrassing for everyone involved, and Rey steps further back, staying out of it. “You alright?” Poe asks her.

Rey nods. She sways a little on the spot, but other than feeling a bit dizzy has no complaints. Phasma is there almost immediately, offering Rey a glass of water. Rey sips on it, watching as the drama unfolds.

Someone throws a drink and someone else tries to walk away, and that’s when Rey says to Poe, “Do you want to get out of here?”

For a moment, his expression perks up, like he thinks they’re going to go do something, but then Rey yawns and he realizes what she’s really asking: Do you want to go to sleep?

The shouting and anger indicates the party is probably over, anyway, so he nods and agrees to walk away from it all. Rey’s grateful; she doesn’t want to hear the shouting, and doesn’t want to see the tears. She’d tried to help, but was turned away. This isn’t her business anymore.

——

Week One, Day Five

“It was such a mess. I just wanted to get out of there.”

Mitaka sits on a wicker lounge chair, cushioned by massive throw pillows. He’s in the interview room, facing a camera and talking about what was happening, away from everyone else. Prompted by someone behind the camera, he begins to explain what had happened the night before.

“Bazine was mad that Snap took an interest in Kaydel. I can’t really blame her, because those two had paired up and she’s depending on him to stay around in this house,” he says. “But instead of just talking about it, she started dancing with me.”

He glances over to the side and brushes his hands over the smallest dusting of scruff beginning to grow across his cheeks and mouth. “I knew she was only dancing with me to make him jealous. I wasn’t delusional that she’d actually want me,” he continues. “But then that set Pam off, who is also depending on me in order to stay around.”

Shaking his head, Mitaka says, “They all just want to stay. We all do. But the fact is, the men hold the power and we get to decide who stays. And right now that confrontation was really ugly and I think both Bazine and Pam have something to worry about. We don’t want to keep people who are going to start drama. I already talked to the other guys about it. Well — Finn and Snap, at least. I think Hux and Poe have their minds made up with their girls.”

He takes a deep breath.

“I don’t know who I’m going to choose, but I’ll have to decide soon, I suppose,” Mitaka says. “I’m not looking forward to hurting someone, that’s for sure.”

The camera stays focused on him even as he stands and leaves the room, for dramatic effect.

He leaves the room to see Bazine waiting for him on the sofa. Everyone else appears to be snuggled up on the outdoor daybed, gossiping, or sunbathing in the backyard by the pool. They’re alone, and immediately Mitaka’s guard is up.

“Can we talk?” asks Bazine.

She looks like a puppy with its tail between its legs, like she knows full well that she’s done something wrong and needs to own up to it. Truthfully, she has. Mitaka nods his agreement and takes a seat next to her, leaving plenty of space and making it clear that he’s trying to keep his distance and protect himself.

Her frown deepens as she notices, and she says, “I’m sorry about last night. I shouldn’t have acted like that or brought you into it. I was mad at Snap.”

“Yes, you were. And now I’m in trouble,” Mitaka responds.

His expression indicates that even he is surprised at the boldness with which he replied. Bazine takes a sip of water from her water bottle before she answers him.

“I don’t want you to think that I was using you,” she continues. “I don’t want to lie and say I felt some sort of immediate spark when we met, but… I think we can at least agree that we can get along as friends, right?”

Mitaka frowns. “You just want me to pick you, don’t you?”

“Look,” Bazine argues. “You don’t really like Pam all that much, either. I can tell. So why don’t we keep each other in this until the people we’re really meant to be with get here?” She sits up straighter, trying so hard to convince him to team up with her. “And we could try it!”

“I don’t want to force anything,” he interjects.

She hesitates. “I mean, it wouldn’t be forced forever.”

“How do you know?”

Bazine is quiet. She doesn’t know, truth be told. And there’s not much either of them can do about that. “I don’t,” she confesses finally. “But I know that I trust you more than Snap.”

Mitaka raises an eyebrow. “The bar is quite low for that,” he remarks.

Frowning, Bazine shakes her head. “I just think it’s smarter for us to pair up than to risk something with them.”

Though Mitaka wants to be a gentleman and agree, he ends up shaking his head and standing. Things in the house are strange, and he can’t just commit. Not when there’s other girls to think about.

“I’ll think about it,” he says finally. “But I’m not going to promise anything. Not right now. I need to talk to Pam, and…”

Bazine nods. “It’s fine. I understand.”

She stands too, and steps closer to him. She sways her hips as she approaches, definitely showing off her body in the stringy yellow bikini she’s wearing, tempting Mitaka in a way she knows every man can’t resist being tempted.

He leaves the room, trying not to reveal too much to Bazine, and is greeted almost immediately by Rey. It’s only been a few days, but she’s quickly become his closest friend in the house — somebody he knows will never be a romantic interest for him, but someone who can speak to him plainly, who sees him as a human and doesn’t try to walk all over him because he’s not as bulky or outspoken as the other guys.

She offers him some water and together they go sit by the pool, dipping their feet into the water. “So, how are things?” Rey asks with a knowing smile on her face.

It’s clear he’s stressed, and that Bazine was trying to manipulate him to stay in the villa. “This is hard,” Mitaka confesses.

Rey chuckles and nods. “Yes, yes it is,” she agrees.

“Let’s not talk about my pitiful love life. Tell me about yours, instead,” he wines.

Shaking her head, Rey says, “There’s nothing to say, really.”

“Is he still a furnace at night?”

Almost immediately, Rey had confided in Mitaka about that, complaining to him because she trusted that he wouldn’t tell a soul. So far, he hadn’t, and Rey’s trust has no reason to be shaken. She nods. “Yeah. I even told him that, but he told me to wear less to bed,” she argues.

“Well that’s a little pervy,” Mitaka says truthfully.

Rey nods. “He meant well, though. I can’t be mad about that. It’s honestly what everyone else does,” she admits. “I did it last night. I got a little drunk.”

Her face is red as she glances over at him. Mitaka’s eyes are wide, and he whistles in surprise. “I didn’t sleep with him though. That’s not going to happen,” she says, straight up.

“Not at all, or not with him?” Mitaka wonders.

Rey’s quiet. She kicks her feet in the water, watching the ripples that cascade across the surface as she contemplates how to answer his question. It’s hard, and she doesn’t know what to say. There’s no way to know if she’s going to feel ready to take that step for the first time, not until she’s in the moment.

And then there’s her feelings about Poe. Complicated, overwhelming feelings. He’s always going to have a special place in her heart now that he was her first date, her first kiss, the first man she’s ever shared a bed with. And yet she can’t help but wondering if there’s more, or something else out there.

But Poe’s sweet, and he’s a good start. And he’ll keep her in the house until one of them finds someone new. If she’s lucky, they both will. Though they don’t have an immediate spark, they do have some sort of chemistry, and Rey is ready to explore that with him, to see what comes of it.

Mitaka clears his throat, and Rey is pulled back to the moment. All she does is shrug, which gives him all the answer he needs. He bumps his elbow against hers and says, “That’s alright. Dunno if I’ll do it here, either.”

“Have you ever?” Rey wonders.

“Had sex?” Mitaka clarifies, to which Rey nods. “Yeah. Just once, though. Uni, second year. A girl I was dating at the time.”

Rey chuckles. “I think I’m the only one here who hasn’t dated before.”

“Yeah, probably.”

He doesn’t beat around the bush, doesn’t ease into it. He’s almost positive she’s the most innocent in the villa by a long shot, and there’s no use denying it. Rey laughs at his immediate response, and then kicks her foot in the water, splashing it up at his face. “Be nice!” she warns.

Mitaka laughs. “I’m being serious,” he says. “It’s true.”

“And you know that for sure?”

He raises an eyebrow. “Please. Look around at everyone else here and how they’re behaving. Tell me they’re virgins.”

Rey hesitates. “Well… Finn might be?”

Mitaka bursts out laughing. They spend the rest of the afternoon speculating on which of their roommates in the villa have lost their virginity, and it’s very easily the strangest conversation either of them have ever, ever had.

Chapter Text

Week One, Day Six

The next day, while Hux and Phasma have taken up station on the outdoor bed and most everyone else is sunbathing by the pool, someone’s phone dings. “Text!” Phasma shouts to the group as Hux looks down at the mobile phone in his hand.

“Islanders. What better way to get to know your roommates than with a game of beer pong with a sexy twist? Wear your best beach gear and head to the garden. It’s guaranteed to be a good time,” Hux reads. He scowls at the text. “Well that’s a lie. It certainly doesn’t sound like fun to me.”

“So, you were clearly cast to be the downer of the group,” Poe says, clapping Hux on the shoulder. “Sounds amazing to me.”

“Well, we all have to play, so it doesn’t even matter,” Phasma counters, standing up from the bed.

Hux reluctantly follows, and the group gravitates to the back of the yard, where a small garden is fenced off. Usually it’s reserved for the crew members of the show, but they’ve cleared out to make room for this challenge, cups of beer out on the table in a triangle at either end. There are signs at either side of the table signaling who is on which team, and instructions for both to read.

Phasma takes hold of the instructions card and reads it out: they’re to play beer pong, but each islander gets unlimited attempts to get the ball in. Once they do and the person on the opposite team drinks the beer, they then have to look on the bottom of the cup and do the dare that’s been provided — no exceptions.

It’s a version of beer pong that none of them, most certainly, have ever played before. After splitting into teams, the game begins. It starts out mellow enough, with Jessika only taking two tries to sink the ping pong ball on the other side of the table. Rey drinks it and immediately blushes when she reads the dare on the bottom of the cup: give a sexy massage to someone who isn’t her partner.

Out of fear of giving a man she hasn’t spoken to the wrong impression, Rey chooses Mitaka. Both blush furiously as she straddles his back on a lounge chair, rolling her hips a little as she drifts her hands over his bare shoulders and down his bare back. After only a few awkward minutes, she’s cheered on by most of the other islanders and her turn is thankfully over.

Pam tosses the ball and as a result, Jessika has to suck on the earlobe of the person on her team she finds most attractive. Rey’s heart sinks when Jess picks Poe. She looks away, pointedly avoiding everyone’s eyes. She can feel their pity, can tell that they all feel bad for her, and that’s the last thing Rey wants. It stokes flames of anger within her, which she hates because she knows they’re not even that warranted, given she’s on the fence about whether she wants to stay with him.

What she needs is to just stay with him until the first recoupling and elimination is over.

After that, Bazine tosses and Cova has to give a lap dance to someone who isn’t her partner. She chooses Snap, igniting the fury of both Kaydel and Bazine. They’ve barely made a dent in the cups on the table and already there’s plenty of drama.

When dared to kiss someone of the opposite sex on the opposite team, Pam chooses Mitaka, and based on his expression, that surprises him beyond measure. Why it shocks him, nobody is quite sure, because the two had been coupled up since the beginning.

Sometime between when Mitaka returns Pam’s gesture and follows through with his dare by kissing her on the neck, and when Snap has to take a body shot off of Hux because he’d been the one to toss the ball, someone hands out more sangria.

Rey’s never had this much alcohol this frequently, before. It’s not required, of course, but it’s a party — the entire six weeks in the villa will be a party. Plus, it’s free — half the reason she’s never gone out partying is because of how expensive it gets. Deciding to think less and drink more, Rey tips back her glass and downs a significant amount of sangria before she’s summoned to the tabletop for someone else’s dare.

“What am I doing?” Rey asks, wriggling her toes in the grass beneath her bare feet as she smiles around at the group.

“Phasma’s been dared to kiss someone of the same sex that she’s attracted to,” Mitaka explains, sounding almost apologetic about it. “She’s picked you.”

Rey’s eyes widen in surprise. “Me?” she asks in shock.

Nodding, Phasma steps nearer to her. “Is that alright?”

Rey glances over to Hux, who nods at her, his cheeks an unflattering tint of red after being in the sun, and perhaps having a few too many drinks. When she looks back at Phasma, Rey finds that even though she had her first kiss just a few days ago, and this is a lot really fast, she’d absolutely kiss Phasma.

“Sure,” Rey says, grinning at the prospect.

She’s never kissed a woman, but she’d be a liar if she said she’d never thought about it. Phasma smiles at her and leans down, laughing as their lips meet and she realizes that Rey’s standing on unsteady tiptoes. Phasma drops her hand to Rey’s waist and they both laugh into the kiss, too tipsy to really take it seriously. It’s a kiss, though, and it gets a massive round of hoots and hollers. When the kiss ends, Rey feels a little dizzy, and she laughs as she looks up into Phasma’s eyes. “That was cute,” Phasma says, amused.

Blushing furiously, Rey looks away, nearly walking straight into Poe. He catches her, hands steadying her at her waist, and asks, “You good?”

Rey nods and leans against him, taking a deep breath as her head spins. She drapes her arm around his waist and uses his shoulder as a pillow. Poe is warm and kind, and for once, she doesn’t mind his literal, physical warmth. “We should get you some water,” Poe says, leading her away towards the kitchen.

“After the game,” Rey pleads. “I don’t want to miss anything.”

He chuckles. “Well, you’re missing Bazine licking whipped cream from Finn’s abs, so…”

“What!?” Rey shrieks and turns, making both of them stumble as they look over at the game.

She takes a deep breath and closes her eyes, trying to clear her head. Apparently sangria is stronger than she’d thought.

Poe keeps an arm around Rey’s waist and holds her steady at his side as he tosses the ball, and as a result has to let Cova suck his finger, prompting Rey to burst into a fit of laughter. She nearly falls over from it, but when Poe tries to catch her, Rey waves him off. “I’m alright! I’m good. I promise,” she insists. “You — Finn’s saying your name. See what he wants!”

As it turns out, he wants to fulfill his own dare, one similar to the one Phasma had to do: kiss someone on the opposite team of the same sex. So, just as Poe had had to watch Rey kiss Phasma, Rey gets to watch Poe kiss Finn. It’s probably less hot, though Poe puts his all into it, cupping Finn’s face in his hands.

Rather than feeling jealous, Rey just laughs. When their kiss ends, Rey begins to calm down, the number of cups on the tables pretty low at this point. There’s only a few dares to go before they can return to sunbathing, chatting, and cuddling up.

The real drama starts when Phasma steps up to toss the ball. Somehow, she makes it on her first try, taking out the last cup on the opposite side of the table from her. Kaydel drinks the beer and looks to the bottom of the cup, reading it to herself before she reads it out loud. She stares at it for long enough that several people chime in, asking, “What’s it say?”

Kaydel swallows and laughs nervously. “Kiss someone you want to couple up with,” she says.

A hush spreads over the group. Though everyone knows at this point who she’s going to choose, but until this moment it’s all been speculation. Having her confirm that she wants to be with him is a step that nobody thought would happen quite this soon — and a step that could very well make enemies in the villa.

Kaydel sets the cup down on the table and turns directly towards Finn. He glances nervously to Jessika, but also knows that the whole point of the villa is finding love and a connection that matters. Even after just a few days, he knows that Jessika isn’t going to be that person for him.

She steps towards him and the party stays quiet as she stands across from him, the two of them toe to toe. Kaydel raises an eyebrow was though to ask if it’s okay. Finn swallows thicky and nods. His hands fall to her waist as she stands on her tiptoes to kiss him, one of her hands resting against his pec. Rey covers her mouth with her hand, shocked at the sheer chemistry between them.

In fact, the kiss goes on for so long that Hux has to whistle — and not the cat call kind of whistle — to get them to stop. As she steps away, everyone sees the blush across Kaydel’s cheeks, and she steps as far away from Jessika and Bazine as she can. Finn looks around, rubbing his thumb across his lower lip, and that’s enough to make Jess completely turn around and stalk away from the garden.

“Wait! There’s one cup left!” Snap calls out.

“Who hasn’t thrown yet?” asks Pam.

Poe laughs. “Rey,” he says, leading her towards the side opposite the cup.

Rey furrows up her brow and takes the ping pong ball Snap offers to her. She looks at the cup, deep in concentration; it’s very unlikely she makes this, with how much she’s had to drink. But she’s stubborn and determined, and she will get it. Hux stands at the other side, ready to drink the beer and complete his dare to end the game.

Surprisingly, it only takes Rey two attempts to get the ball in the cup. Hux drinks it back, making a face at the taste of the cheap beer that was used for their game — warm and no doubt unsanitary after sitting out for so long. When he finishes drinking, he flips the cup over to take a look at the dare on the bottom.

“Oh for fuck’s sake,” he mutters.

Phasma grins wickedly. “What’s it say?”

“Do a three way kiss with two other islanders of your choosing.”

Immediately, Rey bursts out laughing along with several others. Of all the people in the house, Hux would be the least likely to comply with such a dare, or want to do such a thing willingly. So much so that a few have already voiced their confusion at his being cast for the show at all.

Eventually, he settles on who he’d like to choose.

“Phasma and Rey.”

“Ah, that’s convenient. He’s already kissed Phasma, who’s kissed Rey. Just close the loop,” Poe comments.

Rey looks to Poe, who nods to her — though of course, she’d be able to kiss anyone she wanted if she chose, and Poe couldn’t say two words about it. Though they were coupled up, they weren’t exclusive. That sort of commitment came only with time and familiarity and trust, something none of the islanders had built up in their couples yet.

As soon as she’s near them, Rey reaches out to steady herself, grateful that Phasma’s there to support her. Hux’s hand finds Rey’s other hip, and as she leans forward, she finds herself vaguely worried about the fact that in just a few short days, she’s gone from kissing nobody, to now having kissed three different people. But she’s had enough to drink that as soon as she feels lips against hers — Phasma’s, Hux’s, she can’t tell whose are whose anymore — she’s smiling and enjoying herself.

Rey finds that if she can get out of her head and stop overthinking and worrying, she really has a great time. When the awkward kiss ends, Phasma and Hux both look at Rey and ask if she’s alright. “I’m great,” Rey insists. “I’m good, I promise.”

“We should get you some water,” says Hux.

“Already on it.”

Behind Rey is Poe, and he’s got a glass of water in hand, extended to her in hopes of getting her to drink it as soon as possible. The sun dehydrating everyone combined with the alcohol with very little food in their stomachs, everyone’s feeling a bit tipsy or even beyond that, as Rey is.

“Let’s go have a lie down in the shade, how about that?” suggests Phasma.

“I’m fine, I promise!” Rey insists.

Poe drapes an arm around her shoulders and says, “Nobody’s doubting you, babe. It’s just time to relax, is all.”

Rey pouts, but she follows the other three, letting Poe guide her to the same bed Hux and Phasma usually hang out on, the one beneath an awning outside the villa, tucked into a corner. It’s in the shade, and it looks plush and luxurious, and Rey can’t wait to plop down on it.

She doesn’t know how long the game had gone on or what exactly everyone else had done during it, but she’d had a good time. She’d gotten to kiss Phasma, and Hux was thrown in there for good measure, and now she was curled up in the shade with Poe. He was humming a tune in her ear, something private for just them to hear, and it’s comfortable and nice. He’s quite a good singer.

There’s no spark, no racing of her heart like she’d felt on her date, but Poe is safe. He’s warm and gentle and caring, and that’s all Rey could have hoped for. Not to mention, Phasma and Hux seem to also feel okay with forging a friendship, just as Rey has already done with Mitaka. It occurs to her that she’d never expected acceptance or friendship of this magnitude when she’d agreed to do the show. She’d expected people to get bored of her and leave her behind, to get sent home in week one.

But she feels safe. Popular, almost, though she’d never dare say the word out loud. And as she finishes off her massive glass of water, the spinning in Rey’s head relents just enough that she can get a good bearing on the situation. “Thank you,” she says softly to Poe, as her blinks grow longer.

It’s only midday, but Rey is ready for a nap. She’d feel weird about it if Poe wasn’t right there with her, yawning. “Anytime, Rey. You know I’ve got your back,” he says.

Rey smiles, quite content. She wants to say something more, to maybe have another conversation with him and get to know him better, but she figures that can wait until after a nap. Very little in life is more important than a nap.

——

Inside the villa’s interview room, Finn sits in the cushioned wicker chair in front of the camera, frowning.

“I didn’t expect it to be this hard,” he confesses, brushing his hand down his face and wincing as he thinks about it. “Jessika’s great — she’s beautiful, and she’s been nothing but kind to me. But Kaydel is… wow. I don’t know how to explain it. She just —”

Finn hesitates, isn’t sure what exactly he wants to say — or perhaps he is, and doesn’t want to sound like a bad guy for saying it.

“The minute she walked in, nothing else mattered. All I could focus on was her,” he says finally. “I know how shallow that sounds and how bad it makes me look. But then when we started talking, she was somehow even more amazing. And I don’t know what to do now. Jessika is wonderful, but… there’s just something about Kaydel that I need to explore. I need to spend more time with her. I…”

Finn shakes his head.

“I don’t know what I’m going to do. I just have to hope that I —”

But before he can finish his sentence, his phone dings and he looks at it. He’s got a text. Muttering a curse under his breath, he stands and leaves the room. As he walks into the backyard, he announces to everyone that he’s got a text.

When it seems like everyone’s paying attention, he reads aloud.

“Islanders. The first recoupling is tomorrow. Any girl who isn’t coupled up after the rose ceremony will be sent home. Make your last move, and good luck.”

Chapter Text

Week One, Day Seven

After Finn’s less than stellar news the day before, the tone in the villa has been morose at best. Bazine and Jessika have kicked it into overdrive, chatting with and flirting with as many men as possible. Several — namely, Poe and Hux — are having none of it. Though they seem ill-suited as friends, the companionship between Rey and Phasma mean that the men find themselves hanging out and being civil, more often than not.

But Bazine has really stepped it up with Mitaka, taking the time to get to know him, to chat with him. She even made him tea that morning. Pam and Cova are trying hard too, but it’s early enough that everyone can see where the infatuations lie, and those two have stiff competition in Jessika and Bazine.

The guys respond in different ways, some with enthusiasm and others with boredom. As he sips the tea Bazine made him with too much sugar and not enough milk, Mitaka tells Rey that he feels more like he’s being used than like she actually wants to date him. But while Rey would like to sabotage Bazine, she also remembers how kind she’d been before realizing Rey was a threat, the way Bazine had helped her with her makeup as she’d prepared for her date with Poe.

“She’s a nice girl,” Rey reminds Mitaka as he sips his tea. “Even though she messed up your Earl Grey and makes you feel unwanted — she’s panicking. And maybe once you get past this rose ceremony, you two will be able to find something good. Something better.”

Mitaka eyes her warily. “Something like you and Poe have?”

Rey hesitates, but says, “Better, even.”

Raising an eyebrow, Mitaka asks, “That’s possible?”

Only after she’s looked around the yard to be sure she’s not going to be overheard does Rey ask, “Isn’t there supposed to be more of a spark? I don’t get a spark. He’s just… comfortable.”

“Comfortable is better than the alternatives,” he reminds her. “You’re really lucky. Don’t screw that up just because you don’t see fireworks every time he kisses you.”

Rey glances over, making sure Hux and Phasma are well out of earshot. “He is the best kisser here as far as I know,” she confesses.

Mitaka smirks. “You would know. You’ve kissed a lot of people so far.”

“Hush, you,” Rey says, smacking his arm playfully. “I’m sure others have kissed more. Snap, at the very least. Or maybe Finn.”

“You’re up there,” Mitaka reminds her.

Rey shakes her head, blushing furiously. She hopes that having kissed three people by the end of week one doesn’t somehow lose favor with people — in the house, or viewers on the outside. It’s all fun and games, most of it. Poe is the only really serious one, the most romantic of all the kisses.

They get dressed up that afternoon, but Rey’s too nervous to be talked into wearing any sort of dress. She puts on her denim cutoffs and a dark green tank top, her hair back in those three buns she’d had when she’d first arrived. Unlike the other girls, she wears no makeup, didn’t even bother tying her Converse. She’s just tucked the laces in her shoes, ready to kick them off as soon as this incredibly stressful rose ceremony is over.

The guys all sit on a curved bench around the fire pit, a rose in each of their hands — thorns removed, of course. It’s time for each of them to choose a girl to couple up with, the woman they’ll share a bed with and stay paired up with until the next rose ceremony, barring total disaster.

The girls are lined up on the grass facing the men, each in various states of dress — from Bazine, in full makeup and a skin-tight dress, to Rey in her shorts and sneakers with absolutely no makeup at all. Clearly, they’re nervous, and they stand next to each other, hand in hand as they wait for the guys to get started.

Even though she knows she’s safe, that Poe will pick her without a doubt, Rey’s heart still races in her chest; nothing is for certain, and though she wants to trust Poe with her whole heart, there’s still the fact that they only just met. They’ve been coupled up for a week. There was no guarantee in that, no trust built up.

Rey knows she’s easy to leave behind.

Poe is the first to stand, and as he twirls the rose in his hands, he just grins. Rey doesn’t want to be cocky, but the tension in her shoulders dissipates just a bit.

“Alright. So. I picked this girl because she’s cute, and she looks quirky and fun and like she doesn’t take herself too seriously, and I was totally right about that,” he says. He glances up at Rey through his eyelashes, eyes sparkling. “She’s got the biggest heart of anyone here, I’m sure of it. So I want to couple up with her again and see if this goes places. So — Rey, will you accept this rose?”

Rey grins, suddenly feeling relieved. Again, she hadn’t needed to worry, but her insecurities were front and center in her mind: everyone leaves her, eventually. It would be perfectly logical for Poe to do it, too.

She smiles and nods, and walks towards him to accept the rose. They hug, and she whispers a soft, heartfelt thank you into his shoulder. As she leans away, he sneaks in for a little kiss, and then they have a seat together on the bench by the fire. Next up is Hux.

He looks great, with his red hair combed back and his best preppy boy clothes on — all white from head to toe, save for his beige boat shoes. Unlike Rey, Phasma doesn’t look worried in the least; she has a smirk on her face and watches him almost like she expects him to fumble over his words or say something stupid.

“Well,” he says as he stands. “The person I’d like to choose has been by my side since day one. We get along, we have things in common, and she makes life in this villa far more bearable, so…” he trails off; his speech was much shorter than Poe’s, yet just as sweet. “Phasma, will you accept this rose?”

She nods and smiles, walking towards him right away. They don’t share a hug, but as soon as she takes the rose, they have a seat and their hands meet on Phasma’s thigh, fingers intertwined. Then, it’s Finn’s turn, and the mood becomes far more morose.

“Well,” he begins, taking a deep breath. “This is the hard part. I’ve met and connected with two really great girls. I really don’t know what I can say to either of them at this point that won’t hurt somebody.” He looks down at the rose in his hand, twirling it between his thumb and forefinger. “The girl that I’m going to pick has just stunned me from the moment she walked in. Her smile is gorgeous, and her resilience in a really tough situation has really impressed me. I want a chance to get to know her better, so…” he hesitates and then looks between Kaydel and Jessika. “Um — Kaydel, would you accept this rose?”

Jessika’s eyes fall, looking down at the ground as she watches Kaydel beam at Finn and step forward. “Yes, of course,” Kaydel responds, beaming a smile so bright her eyes sparkle in the sun.

She approaches Finn and he gives her a hug — something modest, lasting only a few seconds; nothing like the hug Poe and Rey had shared. Looking back at the group, Jessika is frowning deeply and avoiding looking anywhere near Finn and Kaydel where they sit on the bench, Kaydel right next to Rey, the two of them sharing a polite smile.

Then, Snap stands.

He looks at the girls who remain: Bazine, whom he’d originally paired off with. Pam, whom he’d only spoken to once or twice. Cova, whom he’d spoken to a little more, but confessed in the interview room that he held no feelings towards. And Jessika, who looked absolutely devastated that she hadn’t been Finn’s first pick.

“The girl I’m going to pick is the strongest girl I’ve met. She’s beautiful and she’s kind and honestly it’s a shame that she hasn’t been picked yet because any guy here would be lucky to have her,” Snap says, impassioned with his words. He looks so determined to drive a point home; already, several know who he’s going to choose. “And I’m not going to let a good one get away, so, I know exactly who I’m going to pick, and I’m not going to ruin my shot with her. So Jessika, will you accept this rose?”

Her eyes widen; of all the islanders in the backyard, she’d been the least likely to expect her name to come from his mouth. Why would he pick her? He’d coupled up with Bazine at the start. But she’s not going to lose her shot at staying and finding love, so she immediately nods and steps towards him, the shock evident on her face.

Snap wraps her up in a warm, sweet hug, letting it linger as long as she needs it to in order to feel comforted and validated. He’s saved her from being sent home in the first week, and she’s eternally grateful to him for it. Snap kisses her on the cheek and together they walk to the bench that circles the fire pit, letting the moment settle again.

For being such a player, Rey thinks Snap has done something absolutely romantic and sweet. Maybe they’d misjudged him.

Then, all that leaves is Mitaka, and he looks absolutely terrified to make his choice.

He stands and looks at the three remaining women, at the one he’d paired off with at the start, at the one he doesn’t know, and at the one he’s been speaking to more in the past couple of days. It’s a difficult choice, one he doesn’t know how to make, but must make anyway.

“The girl I’d like to couple up with is… someone I’ve just begun to get to know. And I’d like to choose her because there’s a lot more depth to her than I initially expected, and I’m curious to see what else I can learn about her. This… isn’t an easy decision,” he looks at all three women standing before him. “You’re all great,” he adds, so nobody thinks poorly of themselves. “Um — Bazine, will you accept this rose?”

Everyone’s expressions turn to shock and surprise. Even Rey hadn’t known who he was going to choose. She’d expected him to choose Pam, the safe choice. They’d been coupled up since the start, and if he was feeling stressed, it might have made the most sense that he’d choose her. But instead he’d taken the risk and decided to give Bazine a chance.

Bazine looks like she could cry, she’s so relieved as she steps forward. They share a hug before Mitaka hands her the rose and looks guiltily at Cova and Pam. They weren’t chosen, so now they’re going to be sent home. He steps forward to give them hugs, but both women sidestep him in order to say goodbye to the remaining women.

Mitaka frowns, and Rey makes a point to approach him and pat him on the shoulder. He swoops in for a hug with her, instead, and Rey says softly in his ear, “You did what you had to do. It’s okay.”

He nods into her shoulder, but Rey can just tell he feels guilty about it.

Everyone gathers in the foyer of the home, seeing Cova and Pam off as they take their bags and leave the villa. There are some sad goodbyes and plenty of hugs, and when the doors close and the women are gone, the ten remaining islanders stand for a moment, stunned. That was the first of many rose ceremonies, and it had been more difficult than they’d anticipated, and they could only imagine how much more difficult it would become.

——

Week Two, Day One

The next morning, nearly all the couples take their time getting up and out of bed. Only Hux and Phasma opt to get up and leave the massive room where they all sleep, choosing instead to sit outside with some tea, blocking out the sounds of Finn and Kaydel kissing and Bazine snoring.

Mitaka makes every effort to stop the snoring or at the very least stifle it, like sliding an arm around her shoulders to get her to roll towards him and nestle her face against his chest. She follows, and it actually manages to do the trick and muffle the sound. The gesture was just enough to wake her, though, and she ends up dancing her fingers over his abs as they slowly wake up.

She’d said it a dozen times the night before, at least, but that doesn’t stop her from whispering to him again, “Thank you for picking me.”

Mitaka nods sleepily and mumbles, “Mhmm.”

Bazine kisses his neck and hooks one of her legs over his beneath the blankets. Mitaka doesn’t shy away from it, but he hadn’t chosen her so they could hook up right away; they’ll need to talk about that once they’ve had some caffeine and properly awoken, he knows.

He turns his head and accepts a few kisses, though. They were there to date, after all, and he wanted to give her a chance. Bazine was beautiful, and if Rey thought there was something worth exploring there, he’d give it a try. Mitaka loses himself in kisses with Bazine, ignoring any giggles or sounds from Finn and Kaydel in the bed next to them.

They don’t emerge from the blankets of their bed until they’re forced to — by Poe tossing pillows at everyone in an act of childish rebellion. Rey is laughing and joining in, purely to taunt Mitaka just a bit. Both couples who’d been taking their time waking up with their faces pressed together grumble at them as they separate from each other, but their coy smiles say they’re not angry, that it’s all in good fun.

Soon enough, they all end up gathered in the backyard, eating breakfast, sipping tea or coffee, and applying sunscreen. As they’re doing so, someone’s phone buzzes. “Text!” Bazine announces.

She holds up her phone and waits for the crowd to gather around her.

“Girls: Tonight you will be speed dating. Dress to impress, and get ready to welcome two new men to the villa. Men, you can watch from upstairs. Have fun!”

The initial reaction to the text is shock, of course — they hadn’t expected such a fast turnaround between the rose ceremony and the new arrivals. A few islanders seem indifferent — namely, Hux and Phasma — but others look concerned. Mitaka is one of them, and watches as Bazine and Jessika both excitedly smile and chat about what the men could possibly be like.

Rey notices, of course, and walks towards Mitaka without thinking twice. She sits with him on the bench next to the fire pit and says, “It’ll be okay, you know.”

“They’re going to meet the new men and I’m going to get sent home.”

That’s everyone’s fear, of course, and Rey doesn’t want to invalidate that. She’d been feeling that very worry the week before, even with a more secure relationship. It’s difficult to put herself in Mitaka’s shoes, but she can empathize.

“You’re an attractive man. You’re going to be just fine,” Rey insists.

He shoots her a look of ire. “Can’t you just choose me, instead?”

She laughs and nudges him with her elbow. “You don’t need to rely on me. You can get a girl on your own. I never thought I’d get a guy, and now look at me,” she says.

Mitaka sighs and looks around at the backyard. He doesn’t see himself as being on the same level as the other men there, and he’s confessed as much in private interviews inside the villa. He knows he looks different, doesn’t have their same confidence or physical stature. He’s just… average.

“Look — just be yourself. Reciprocate that effort Bazine was putting in last week. You’re going to be just fine. I can even put in a good word or two for you, if you want,” Rey says. “But don’t worry so much! If you get so caught up in your worries, you’re not going to have any time to build a relationship and then you will be going home.”

He shakes his head. “Stop being right. It’s annoying.”

Rey laughs, bright and melodic, and for a moment everything seems okay. The two of them get in the pool for a quick dip, Rey completely ignoring the whole “dress to impress” requirement of the text. She’s unapologetically herself; she’ll put on the sundress Pam left behind for her, she’ll put her hair up in three buns, and she’ll slip on her untied Converse. That’s who she is, and that’s who she’ll present to the new guys.

There’s no point in being someone she’s not.

Chapter Text

Week Two, Day Two

Morning comes quickly, too quickly for the mens’ taste, and the women get to dress up and go on a speed date with some new men. It’ll be like the week prior, but even worse because all the girls will be downstairs on the date, not just two of them.

As they’re getting ready, the guys pester them — except Hux, who is perfectly content to sit and sip his tea in the shade as Phasma curls her platinum blonde bob. They’re solid, at least for now, and pestering women has never been Hux’s style.

Jessika sits at her vanity in front of the mirror, looking at her reflection very seriously as she applies some soft pastel eyeshadow to the lids of her eyes. Snap is leaning against the vanity, facing her as she works. “You’re worried, aren’t you?” she observes.

She hovers her hand over the curling iron on the vanity, waiting for it to warm up to her preferences. It’s still not ready, so she reaches for her eyeliner. The last time she wore eyeliner, it was her first day in the villa. Snap notices, and he changes the subject by saying, “You’re getting awfully dolled up.”

“Well, I have to try, don’t I?”

“I told you, I didn’t pick you out of pity,” Snap insists. “You are beautiful, and you are strong, and I do want to get to know you.”

Jessika’s eyes snap up to meet his. She looks incredibly skeptical, and she’s also well aware that Phasma is sitting right next to her, doing her own primping and preening. Blessedly, Phasma is pretending she’s not hearing a word.

“I find it hard to believe you considering you started out with Bazine but also were all over Kaydel for a bit there,” Jessika responds.

She hovers her hand over the curling iron and this time it suits her. Picking it up, she turns her gaze to the mirror and begins curling her hair.

“You’re not even giving me a chance,” he argues.

“Well, if you’re still the most interesting guy here after speed dating this morning, I’ll give you a proper chance,” Jess says. “But until then, you’re going to give me space.”

Snap frowns and looks around, rubbing a hand down his face. He takes a minute to compose himself and then says, “Alright, if that’s what you want… okay.”

As she wraps her hair around the rod of the curling iron, Jess says, “Look — I do appreciate you looking out for me after that stupid beer pong game, and what Finn did to me. That meant a lot and I hope you don’t think I’m totally ignoring what you did for me.”

Snap frowns. “It feels like it a little, to be honest,” he confesses. “But if you really want to go for it with someone else, then… I won’t stop you.”

Jessika glances up at him, then back to her reflection. She lets her curl fall over her shoulder and she moves onto the next, frowning as she does. “I’m not going to apologize for keeping my options open,” she says stubbornly. “It’s really hard for me to trust people and all you’ve done so far is sort of swoop in to save me. And again, I appreciate it. But — I came here to find someone and I’m not going to just not try today because you were kind to me for two days.”

It’s not easy to hear, but Jessika is stubborn and it’s clear he’s not going to be able to plead a case for himself. “Alright. Well, have fun,” he says, pushing away from the vanity.

“Snap.”

He stops and turns to look at her, but doesn’t say anything.

“You set the bar really high. Just remember that, alright?”

Snap nods and walks away, leaving Jessika to finish getting ready in peace.

Once all the girls are ready, they’re brought downstairs, the guys left in the second floor bedroom of the villa to watch out the windows as each girl meets the new guys coming in. They sit in a random order, backs to the backyard entry to the villa, waiting for the first guy. There’s a bell on the table, and if they want to end the conversation before their three minutes with the guy is up, all they have to do is ring.

Bazine will get to meet each guy first, and then he’ll move on to Rey, then to Jessika, then to Kaydel, and then end with Phasma. They sit in varying degrees of excitement, until finally the first guy comes out. He sits down with Bazine, and the first thing the girls hear is his voice.

“Hey, love.”

He’s British, and he’s smooth. His voice is like butter, the perfect balance of warm and exciting that makes them each smile, no matter what their relationship status.

“Hi,” Bazine responds with a bright smile.

He’s got piercing blue eyes and smooth combed-back brunette hair, and he’s tall. Arguably the tallest man in the villa, if they choose him.

“I’m Starck,” he says.

“Bazine,” she responds.

He grins, his perfect white smile almost brighter than the sun. Bazine visibly reacts, taken by surprise at just how lovely he looks. “It’s a pleasure to meet you,” he says.

“Likewise.”

Bazine learns that he works for the London Tube, doing maintenance work and other mechanical tasks, keeping the trains running on schedule. He hasn’t had a serious relationship before, but he’s looking to have one for the first time. On top of that, he’s working to earn his pilot’s license.

It’s safe to say that by the time Bazine’s time is up, she’s sufficiently enthralled with him. His suave attitude wears off the further he gets on in the tables, until he reaches Phasma who dings the bell before he even sits down. “I’ve heard what I need to know, darling,” she says, causing him to spin on his heel and walk back towards the exit.

Next up is a guy who’s significantly shorter than Starck, but has a smile just as bright and winning as him.

“Hey, I’m Slip,” he says.

Bazine fights a laugh. “Is that a nickname?”

He’s a good sport about it, nodding as he chuckles and says, “I promise it’s better than my real name.”

“Which is what?”

Shaking his head, he says, “You don’t want to know.”

“Ah, are you going to make us keep you around so we can find out?” Bazine teases.

“Maybe,” he teases back.

Bazine laughs, and though their interaction was nothing to scoff at, she decides to ring her bell and send him along to Rey. She’s very polite when she speaks to him — she has no patience for his skirting around sharing his real name. She does, however, manage to get him to explain that he lives in Connecticut and that he’s going to be starting law school in the fall.

“You’re smart,” Kaydel comments when it comes to her turn. “I like that.”

“Yeah, thanks,” Slip says, grinning from ear to ear.

Kaydel crosses one leg over the other under the table and asks, “So, how’d you get your nickname?”

She figures if they can’t get his real name out of him, they can at least figure out what his nickname means. Slip laughs and shakes his head. “That’s a long story. Much longer than however much time we have left.”

He’s clearly trying to build intrigue, to try to get the girls to vote for him to stay, but in the end it’s ending up annoying them. When she doesn’t get an answer, Kaydel sighs and says, “That’s too bad.”

She leans forward and dings the bell.

And of course, Jessika and Phasma make no progress either — and Phasma went in hard to try to get intel. Upstairs, Hux’s muscles tightened and he raised an eyebrow as he watched Phasma really have a conversation with the guy. He didn’t know what they were saying, though, so understandably he thought she was interested in him.

But then Slip’s time is up, and the girls assume they’re done. They added two girls last time, so it makes sense that two guys would appear now. But then — a third man walks in and sits down with Bazine.

Her jaw drops.

He’s built — far more muscular than any other man in the villa, except for maybe Finn — and he looks incredible. He has a winning smile complete with dimples and the slightest bit of scruff, and his dark skin gleams in the sunlight beneath the white button down and khaki shorts he wears with some shiny new white Nikes. “Hey, I’m Nines.”

“Another nickname, huh?” says one of the girls down the line.

Bazine, however, can’t form words. She’s just staring in disbelief at the man before her. He puts the other two to shame. Hell, in Bazine’s eyes, he puts the rest of the guys to shame. “Bazine,” she stammers out.

“Hey, breathe,” he says as he takes a seat.

Bazine does just that, heaving her shoulders and shaking her head to try to ward off whatever impure thoughts have flooded into her mind.

Though they talk for the full three minutes, a wonderful balance of him asking Bazine about herself, and Bazine managing to remember to ask him a few things in return.

Rey doesn’t react even remotely like Bazine did; she asks polite questions like what he does and where he lives. He’s a personal trainer from Florida — but not the retirement community and theme park part of it, he clarifies for her — and he was recently dumped. “Really?” Rey asks incredulously.

Though something about him just doesn’t quite do it for her the way it does for Bazine, she still can’t help but think that’s shocking, that any girl would let him go.

Their time ends next, and the rest of the women get a chance with him. He’s dashing and sweet with all of them, making sure to balance the number of questions they ask of him with questions he asks them, too. He wants to build that personal connection with each of them. And, unlike Slip, he’s not afraid to tell them that his real name is Tobin and his nickname was just his football number in college: ninety-nine.

Once he’s done speaking with Phasma, the girls gather up by the fire pit and discuss. There’s a shocking amount of conversation that happens considering the mix of reactions to each men, but finally they come to a conclusion and all three men are brought out to the fire pit to stand in front of them.

Rey stands to deliver the news.

“So, it was really nice to meet all of you. We really appreciate you coming here to chat with us and tell us who you are.”

Jessika snorts.

“After discussing, we’ve come to a decision of who we’d like to have join us in the villa. That person is…”

Rey looks around at all of the men, who stand tall and brave next to the pool. They’re all trying to act like no matter what the women decide, they’re fine. Finally, she says the answer.

“Nines.”

He politely shakes the hands of Slip and Starck, giving them a proper goodbye before turning to face the women with a stunning smile. Slip and Starck walk back into the villa and leave, so the women are left downstairs with the guy they’ve chosen. They fold into a group hug around him, rustling the feathers of pretty much every man upstairs — even Hux can’t hide his displeasure, though at least he’s glad it’s not the man Phasma had been speaking to the most.

After the girls have a chance to properly talk to Nines, the guys are allowed downstairs where they almost immediately crowd around him and ask him questions. Poe is the only guy who doesn’t show any animosity or skepticism towards Nines. Rey can’t decide if he’s being cocky, or if he’s just that trusting. Either way, it makes her gut twist uncomfortably because for a fleeting moment, she’d wondered if that racing heartbeat she’d felt when he sat down at her table meant anything.

Rey pushes the thought from her mind, and she sits with the rest of the islanders around the fire pit as they all chat with Nines and get to know him better.

That night, instead of encroaching on anyone’s territory, he opts for sleeping on the sofa instead of trying to steal a girl away on his first night. Apparently, if he’s planning to start drama, he’s chosen to wait until the next morning to do so. It’s oddly considerate of him, and puts all the guys on edge.

Chapter Text

Week Two, Day Three

The islanders wake on their own, still getting used to the fact that the competition has started all over again. Nines is downstairs, already putting the kettle on and brewing a massive pot of coffee, trying to appeal to everyone to start off on the right foot. He can only imagine from watching previous seasons of the show that there’s a date coming, and he’s going to upset some couple or other when he makes his choice.

After making his own strong cup of coffee, he disappears inside, looking a bit sleepy in his old college hoodie as he sits in front of the interview camera. He pulls one knee up as he cups his coffee mug in his palms, sighing. “I don’t know who I’ll choose for a date, if I’m being honest,” he confesses. “They’re all gorgeous. I know that Phasma isn’t everyone’s type, but she’s definitely mine. They all are, in some way or another.”

Prompted by some questions on the other side, he continues, “I think I’d probably have to pick Kaydel or Rey though. They’re small, cute. I like that Rey doesn’t really care what anyone else thinks, that she’s not always in makeup or bikinis. She’s a bit of a tomboy, just like Phasma. I like that.”

He’s quiet, pensive. “I’d probably pick Rey, yeah. I want to go on a date with Rey.”

Nines goes back outside, glad to see that pretty much everyone has dragged themselves out of bed by this point. Living in the villa has made all the days sort of flow together, and all the hours seem a blur. They could be waking at nine in the morning or they could be waking at noon — they’re not bothered, really. If they need to be up for something, their phones will buzz.

Sure enough, shortly after everyone has gathered around the backyard, Nines’ phone rings.

“I got a text!” he shouts, holding up his phone.

He walks towards the pool, where most of the group is lounging on lawn chairs, soaking up the sun. Then, he holds it up and reads.

“Nines, the public has voted and decided who you will spend your first day with. You and Phasma will be going on a date — get ready and have fun!”

Nines looks shocked, and when he glances up at Phasma, she has a smug smile on her face. As soon as he’d read the words the public has voted, she’d assumed she wouldn’t get chosen, so hearing her name was a massive shock. She glances to Hux, whose arms are crossed. He’s wearing a sour expression, but could be due to not having finished his tea yet.

She smiles at Nines, though, and seems to glow a little, having the attention on her. He flashes her a smile in return, and the two of them go up into the villa to get ready. A few of the guys follow him upstairs, which surprises him. Hux, however, is not one of them.

“How are you feeling?” Poe asks as they wander into the men’s restroom, their own space all set up with vanities and hairspray and whatever else they need when they get ready.

“I’m stoked,” says Nines honestly. “Super stoked. Phasma is gorgeous.”

“You really think so?” asks Snap.

Poe and Nines both look at him oddly. In defense, Snap says, “She’s just not my type. She’s not ugly by any means.”

Chuckling, Poe shakes his head and says, “You’re gonna have to be careful. Hux is not happy at all.”

“What’s the deal with those two, anyway?” Nines wonders.

Poe shrugs and sits down on the bench next to Nines, where he works on combing over his dark hair, bringing out the waves in it. “Not sure. They haven’t been caught hooking up or anything, but they’ve been cozy,” he says. “Take from this what you will, but he’s the small spoon. He thinks we all don’t know, though.”

Nines snorts.

“Don’t worry about him, though,” Snap adds. “Pretty sure he’s all bark and no bite. Just go on this date, have a good time, and if you steal Phasma from him… so be it.”

“She doesn’t seem like the kind of girl who’d allow herself to be stolen,” Nines comments. He leans forward in the mirror, looking over his hair to make sure it looks exactly how he wants it to. “Nah, she’ll either pick me or she’ll pick him. I’m just here to make my case.”

Poe pats him on the shoulder. “You’re probably not wrong about that.”

“Interesting the public picked her, though,” Snap says. “There’s a few girls here who haven’t really had a solid relationship. I would have guessed it would be one of them.”

“Why would you want that, though?” Poe asks. “That’d mean Jessika.”

Snap shrugs. “Yeah, I like her, but she’s here to find someone she’s interested in and between you and me, I don’t think that’s me.”

Nines shakes his head. “I would have gone for Kaydel or Rey, to be honest with you both,” he says. “If I’d had the choice. But I guess yeah that makes sense. Kind of interesting the public picked Phasma.”

Poe’s smile fades a little. “You’d pick Rey?”

“Who wouldn’t?” Nines responds. “She’s gorgeous, and she’s really the only tomboy here.”

“You find that attractive?”

Snap and Nines both look at Poe like he’s crazy. “It’s unique. It’s something no other girl here does, except maybe Phasma. Rey is fucking gorgeous, Poe,” Nines says.

“Yeah,” Snap nods and agrees. “And have you seen her working out?”

Poe laughs and nods. “Yes, yes I have. Pretty sure she can lift more than me.”

“That’s because you’re the biggest lump here,” Snap mocks. “Everyone else works out but you.”

“I have abs,” Poe argues.

“Guys, guys,” Nines interrupts. “All of that is great or whatever, but what matters here is I’m going on a date with Hux’s girl, and he very much might kill me when I get back. And Poe is oblivious to just how hot Rey is, but that’s neither here nor there.”

Before the guys can say something else, there’s a knock on the doorway to the restroom and Phasma stands, ready to go. She’s wearing a sundress, a little white thing with lots of blue flowers all over it, and she looks quite excited to be going on this date. “You ready?” he asks, looking up at her.

“Yeah, let’s go,” she responds.

Nines grins at Poe and Snap, then stands to leave the room.

Downstairs, Hux is pretending nothing is wrong, completely ignoring that Phasma looked pleased, or that she’s left the villa with some other man. He sits on the bed beneath the awning, hiding in the shade as he usually does, sunglasses on his face and a book in his hands. For the first few hours, the group leaves him be, assuming that he’s going to end up joining them later in the day.

But after the girls go for a swim and entice all the remaining boys but Hux to get in the water, it’s clear that he’s bothered by the fact that Phasma is out on a date. Dripping wet from the pool, Rey wanders over in her red one-piece bathing suit and has a seat on the bowl chair next to the bed where Hux is lounging. She pokes him in the thigh with her toes until he closes his book, though he doesn’t deign to remove his sunglasses.

“It’ll be okay, you know,” she reassures him.

“Oh please,” Hux responds critically. “Nothing here is solid, you know that.”

Rey shakes her head; she doesn’t let his tone faze her. “I think you’re not giving her enough credit,” Rey says simply. “Phasma doesn’t do anything she doesn’t want to do. Even though she was voted by the public to go on this date, she’s been loyal to you since we got here.”

“Yes, ten days of loyalty says a lot,” he says boredly. “Besides, the public voting for Phasma must say something about me and our relationship.”

“Are you scared?” Rey asks.

“I’m most certainly not scared,” Hux snaps.

Rey smirks and fights laughter. “Uh huh,” she responds. “Whatever you say.”

They sit in silence for a while, Rey keeping him company as he sits, staring out at the yard and sipping water from his water bottle. He hasn’t returned to his book, which leads Rey to believe that he’s fine if she says one more thing that’s on her mind.

“Just… when she gets back, make more of an effort than you have so far,” she suggests. “Give her a massage, compliment her, make her something to eat. Be sweet.”

Hux scoffs. “Me? Be sweet?”

Rey smiles brightly. “You can do that. I know you can.”

She gets up and traipses away from the shade, doing a cannonball right back into the pool, much to the delight of some of the other islanders — Poe, in particular.

Hux glowers the rest of the afternoon and into the evening, and pointedly spends the rest of the day on that bed, reading his book, even when Phasma gets back. She’s got a bright smile on her face and she seems perfectly happy to gush about the date to the other women in the villa — to anyone who’ll listen, really — but doesn’t say two words to him.

That night, though, she still climbs into bed next to him, Nines still on his own downstairs on the sofa. Hux doesn’t say a word to her, but turns to face her, draping an arm over her waist as he drifts off to sleep.

——

Week Two, Day Four

When Phasma wakes the next day, Hux is nowhere to be found. She’s risen before almost anyone else, though, and opts to go downstairs rather than lounge around in bed. Their massive shared bedroom with the other couples is steamy hot, and she doesn’t particularly want to hang around wide awake, just in case someone decides they want a little morning romp.

She pulls on a sheer kimono, tying it loosely around her waist to halfheartedly cover the black bikini she’d slept in the night before, before sliding on some black sunglasses and wandering to the backyard. The sun beats down on her already, but the sunglasses do much to block it out. She continues her walk all the way to the shaded outdoor kitchen, unsurprised to find Hux already in the kitchen cooking.

He’s got two mugs out on the counter, tea in each of them, and he slides one across the counter to Phasma as she sits at the counter bar, watching him. “Good morning,” she says coyly.

“Hello,” he responds, keeping his focus on the pancakes he’s making.

“What’s the occasion?” Phasma continues.

He looks up, sounding a little disoriented as he asks, “What do you mean?”

Phasma sips her Earl Grey before she explains, “You don’t usually make breakfasts that require such effort. Why now?”

Hux shrugs, nonchalantly explaining, “I just wanted to.”

She smirks over the rim of her mug. “Mhmm. Okay.”

It’s clear that he’s making enough for the both of them, and Phasma happily takes a plate of freshly-made pancakes with maple syrup drizzled overtop. He joins her at the counter bar to eat their breakfast, and Phasma eyes him with intrigue. Something has shifted in him — she’s not stupid, she knows its jealousy — but seeing his own personal brand of it is incredibly interesting to her. Hux hadn’t seemed like the type to get jealous, and yet there he is, making her breakfast in an effort to keep her attention focused on him.

“Thank you for the pancakes,” she says when she finishes.

“Yeah, of course,” he nods.

Phasma rests her palm on his thigh, brushing her thumb back and forth in what she hopes is a reassuring manner. The gesture, meant to comfort, actually causes him to stand and retreat back into the kitchen to put the dishes in the dishwasher. It’s clear that meaningful gestures and communication are not Hux’s strong points.

Given he’s being standoffish and odd, Phasma opts to go upstairs for a shower. She has no patience for a man who wants to skirt around what’s really on his mind.

“How’s Hux today?” Rey asks Phasma as they both stand in bath towels in the bathroom, dripping from the showers they’ve just taken.

Phasma laughs. “He was pining yesterday, wasn’t he?”

Rey clicks her tongue. “Yes. Very much so. I tried to chat to him, get him to relax, but it didn’t really work,” she explains.

“He made me breakfast,” Phasma says. “We had pancakes and tea. But he’s doing that stupid thing guys do sometimes — not talking about it. And honestly, he’s the one who’s got to be making an effort at this point. The date was nice, and if Hux wants to continue to be considered, he needs to continue trying. A win here won’t be handed to him on a silver platter.”

“I know. I think he knows that. He’s just stubborn,” she says.

Ridiculously stubborn,” Phasma adds.

Laughing, Rey nods her agreement and starts to shuffle through her closet. She opts for a blue one piece, this one with nothing but mesh between what would be the separate bikini top and bottom pieces. It barely counts as a one-piece at all.

“Do you want me to talk to him more?” Rey offers. “I could.”

Phasma shrugs. “It’s a game. I’m playing the game, he ought to, as well. Why else is he here?”

She chooses her own bathing suit, pulling a powder blue bikini from a whole basket of them she’s got in her closet. The same sheer black kimono she wears most days gets swung overtop, and Rey watches her for a moment before she says, “I know. But what if he’s taking your happiness about the date as disinterest?”

“Then he should talk to me about it. On his own,” Phasma responds. “He’s a big boy. He can do it. I don’t want you meddling — if I’m going to date someone, he’d better be strong and independent and stand up for himself if he wants something.”

Rey smiles. She’s really begun to admire Phasma for all her strength and level-headedness.

“Alright,” Rey agrees. “I promise not to meddle.”

“Thank you,” Phasma replies.

She gives herself one last look-over in the mirror, unlike Rey who doesn’t particularly care how she looks because it’s not as though these people haven’t already seen her all covered up, all exposed in a small bikini, and all manner of stages of drunkenness. She has nothing to hide from them now.

Together, they go downstairs, the two of them doing a little sunbathing with the other girls before Phasma decides to go to her usual hangout on the bed beneath the canopy where Hux is, sure enough, lounging as he reads a book.

“Hello,” Phasma says, tossing herself onto the bed.

She rests upon her side, propped up on her elbow facing Hux. He slides his feet aside, away from the general vicinity of Phasma’s face, and lifts his sunglasses from where they’re perched atop his nose. He slides the sunglasses to the top of his head, holding back the few strands of red hair that had been falling across his forehead as he’d been reading.

“Hi,” he responds.

“You’re being weird today,” she observes.

She says nothing more; if he wants to know what she thinks or feels, he’s going to have to ask. But Hux is tired and cranky, so he opts not to, instead just shrugging and replying, “I didn’t sleep well.”

“You tried to be the big spoon,” Phasma says. “That’s not what we usually do. We broke routine.”

“You broke routine before that,” he argues.

Phasma grins. “There we go!”

Bitterly, brow furrowed up in annoyance, Hux asks, “What on earth is that supposed to mean?”

Playfully, she swings a foot at him, jabbing him gently in the arm. She continues, trying to get a rise out of him, until he flails his arm and grabs her leg to try to stop her. Laughing, Phasma wiggles her toes, and Hux sighs and feigns annoyance before sitting up a little straighter on the bed. “Alright, fine,” he groans, sounding quite put-upon.

He begins to massage the sole of her foot, thumbs sliding lines with just the right amount of pressure from heel to toe. Phasma smiles, her expression relaxing as she watches Hux keep his focus on what he’s doing. He has deft fingers, applying just the right amount of pressure to keep it from being too heavy to be comfortable but too light to be more ticklish than anything.

As he’s rubbing circles along her heel and arch, Phasma sighs contentedly.

“You’re an idiot,” she says softly, her voice almost holding a hint of tenderness.

Hux raises an eyebrow. “Do you want me to stop?”

“No,” she replies.

She looks around to make sure nobody is within earshot — namely Rey, after the conversation they had that morning. Thankfully, Rey is splashing around in the pool playing a game of chicken with Poe, Kaydel, and Finn.

“I’m playing the game. You should be, too. But if you’re worried, just have a bloody conversation rather than brooding in your dark corner over here,” Phasma says simply.

Hux’s lips purse and he switches to Phasma’s other foot. “You enjoyed your date,” he says flatly.

“Yes, and I’ve enjoyed the past ten days with you, as well,” she responds. “It’s not about one outing, it’s about the sum total. For me, at least. Others might be swayed more easily.”

Phasma closes her eyes and lays back on the bed, arms tossed out at her sides. “Just stop giving me the cold shoulder,” she says finally. “That’ll make me lose interest very quickly.”

Hux sighs. “What do I even say?”

“What did we talk about before?” Phasma prompts. “We gossiped. We discussed life on the outside. We ignored the competition. But here you are, letting one guy get in your head. You’re above this, Armitage.”

Frowning, Hux puts more of his focus into the foot massage he’s giving her. He feels weak for having let Nines get in his head so easily, for being so worried about Phasma leaving him. Hux is stronger than what he’s been showing the past forty-eight hours, and he needs to work on that before he makes a total fool of himself on television.

“In the end, it’s just a game. We’re arguably one of the strongest couples here,” Phasma says finally. “I won’t tell you about the date if you don’t want to know, but you should hear it from me that absolutely nothing happened, hand to heart.”

Hux takes a deep breath and releases her foot. He sits up, crossing his legs to lean forward and make eye contact with her. “Yes, but you still went on the date,” he argues.

“I had no choice. The public voted for me to go,” she argues right back.

He’s quiet. He doesn’t want to say what’s on his mind, doesn’t want to be seen as weak to the entire bloody country, but if it means keeping Phasma, perhaps a moment or two of weakness is alright.

“Yes, but they voted for you for a reason,” he responds. “Perhaps they don’t see us lasting.”

“Or maybe they just wanted you to stop being so up yourself and confident that I wasn’t going anywhere,” Phasma says simply. “We don’t know their reasons and we don’t have to. It doesn’t matter. We know ourselves better than those lot out there do. So you’re either in this, criticism be damned, or you’re not.”

He thinks about it for a moment, about what he wants to do and needs to do to stay in this game and stay on Paradise Island.

Hux extends his hand, reaching for one of Phasma’s, a silent indication that he’s in this, criticism be damned. He’s told her what he’s worried about, he’s tried to show that he’s still interested… he’s doing far more in the villa than he’d ever done outside of it.

Rather than taking hold of his hand, Phasma instead lifts her leg and places her foot back in his palm. “More of this massage, please,” she says, grinning wickedly. “It’s really earning you brownie points before the next rose ceremony.”

Hux rolls his eyes, but doesn’t fight it; it’s a little gesture that will go a long, long way.

Chapter Text

Week Two, Day Five

The islanders wake bright and early to the sound of someone’s phone ringing, a relentless dinging noise to notify them all that they’ve received a text message. Nines grumbles from the extra bed that was added to the room, down at the end past Jessika and Snap’s bed. Several islanders are a little jealous that at least for now, he doesn’t have to share his space with someone — Rey more than anyone.

She wakes easily, damp and uncomfortable from sweat after having Poe curled up so strongly behind her in bed. She knows he means well, understands that he can’t really help what he’s doing because he’s asleep, but it’s beginning to drive her insane. Even sleeping in her bikinis or in her underwear haven’t been helping. But there’s no polite way to sleep somewhere else, so in a bed with Poe she remains.

“Answer your damn phone,” Finn shouts gruffly across the room.

Everyone slowly shuffles around, looking for the phone making the offending noise, until finally someone says, “It’s me. I’ve got a text.”

Finally,” Rey huffs into her pillow.

Jessika clears her throat, sounding groggy and hoarse as she reads it aloud. “Islanders: It’s time to see who has the luckiest lips. Brush up and get ready for the sauciest challenge yet. Get to the garden in an hour.”

Several groans echo throughout the room. “Their use of the word saucy makes me incredibly scared,” Hux complains as he tosses back the blankets on the bed.

He climbs out and walks to the restroom, ignoring Kaydel’s rather innocent question of what could possibly be done with sauce in a challenge. There’s some grumbling and some hesitation, but once the girls are all gathered in their restroom and closet area — it’s a massive, sprawling thing with sinks and showers in the back, a wall of small closets, and of course their vanities where they’ve spent many afternoons and evenings gossiping already — they continue discussing the challenge.

“The description worries me,” Bazine says, looking through her closet for something to wear. “Will it be messy?”

Phasma pulls out a stringy black bikini from her closet. “Just wear dark colors, it’ll be fine.”

Rey looks into her own closet and rummages through the bathing suits she’d brought with her. She ends up pulling out a pair of denim shorts and a tank top, until Kaydel swoops in. “I have something you could wear, if you want! It’s going to be hot today, you don’t want to wear that,” she says.

“Like what?” Rey asks.

Phasma grins wickedly. “I love dressing up Rey. It’s always exciting to see her in something unlike what she usually wears.”

Rey chews on her lip and asks Kaydel, “What did you have in mind?”

“It’s a one-piece, don’t worry,” Kaydel responds with a mischievous smirk on her face.

She offers Rey the burgundy one piece, but the way she’s talked about it fills her with skepticism. But she’s worn strappy one-pieces before, so this can’t be that bad, right? Rey disappears into the restroom to put it on, and when she emerges a couple minutes later, she’s holding a tee shirt to her stomach. “This is the most impractical one piece I’ve ever seen,” Rey says.

“I bet you look amazing in it, though,” Kaydel says. “Just… move the shirt. Let us see! You can always change again.”

Nervously, Rey drops her hand to her side, tee shirt dangling loosely from her fingers. It fits the way any one-piece bathing suit would. The only thing that makes Rey self conscious is the massive circular cutout in the center of the suit, starting just below her navel and ending above the bottoms of her breasts.

Though she’s aware she hasn’t got much in the way of breasts, the suit makes it look like she does, and though it’s more revealing than anything she’s ever worn before, she can’t help but feel a little rush of something as she wears it. When she looks at herself in the mirror, trying to block out the cheering and gushing of the other women at how good she looks in it, Rey finds that instead of feeling average like she usually does, she feels attractive. She feels like in this kind of bathing suit, she might actually stand half a chance of winning.

“I know you’re self-conscious but you have absolutely no reason to be,” Jessika says to Rey, peeking in at her over her shoulder.

“Who knew you had such a body hiding behind those clothes,” Phasma adds.

Rey bites her lip and looks herself over. “If you don’t feel comfortable in it, you don’t have to wear it,” Kaydel insists. “Honestly, it’s only an offer.”

Pensively, Rey turns to the side, studying herself. “Your ass looks fantastic,” Bazine chimes in.

She turns back to look at herself front-on, still shocked that in something so revealing, she feels something other than self-conscious. She feels as sexy as the women say she is.

“I’ll wear it,” Rey says. “It’s okay. I… I want to.”

Phasma grins. “There we go. Show off that body you’ve been working on in the gym so often.”

After a couple of the guys — mostly Finn and Nines — Rey is the most frequent user of the gym in the villa, which is situated in a back corner of the yard. She consistently lifts weights and does pull-ups, and people have begun to notice.

To balance out the incredibly sexy bathing suit she’s wearing, Rey foregoes makeup altogether, and opts to put half her hair up in a ponytail at the crown of her head. She feels a bit more like herself in that way, and once she’s done that, she’s ready to go out to the garden with the rest of the women.

Rey blushes furiously as a few of the men whistle as the girls enter; she notices that Poe is not one of those guys, though he does applaud a little. There are little pedestals lined up along one side of the garden, enough for each woman. Atop the pedestals are things that look like sleep masks.

At the front of the yard, Hux has already taken his station with cue cards in hand, having read them ahead of time. They’re all gathered in front of him as he reads. “Ladies. You’ll each stand on a pedestal and put on the mask. Whilst blindfolded, you will be ranking each man on his kissing abilities. At the end, whomever has the highest rating will win the first night in the hideaway with the female of his choice.”

The women get lined up, and only once they put their blindfolds on does Hux reveal the scoreboard — with one more name on it than anyone expected to see.

Ben.

The card that the men read before the women arrived warned them that once blindfolds were on, only the person leading the challenge could speak. This means that none of them are allowed to say a word when right at that moment, another man walks out the back of the villa towards the garden.

He’s tall and broad — massive in almost every sense of the word. His abs are toned his pecs are toned, and he’s taller than anyone else in the villa. His expression is stony and serious, his dark wavy hair and intense dark gaze intimidating the rest of them almost immediately.

“Women, I’m going to send the first guy your way. You’ll each get to rate them out of ten at the very end, so remember your choice,” Hux instructs. “Guy number one, you’re up.”

The girls stand on their pedestals, anxiously awaiting the first kiss.

For a few, the thought of kissing men they don’t know or aren’t romantically attracted to is a little disconcerting, and they don’t exactly look forward to it. But at the same time, there’s a certain thrill to it, not knowing who they’ll get or what they’ll think of it. And the fact that they don’t have to see the guy’s face before it happens does a lot to quell their nerves.

Rey isn’t as nervous as she’d expected herself to be, partially because at this point, she’s kissed several people in the villa — more than arguably any of the others, though she hasn’t exactly been keeping perfect track of things. She’s the third girl in line, but hears no reactions whatsoever from Bazine and Jessika, who are before her.

She clasps her hands in front of her bare stomach, wondering and waiting for this first kiss, what it’ll be like and how she’ll react to it.

Whoever it is, he’s strong and a little commanding; he kisses her gently, but with his fingers curled just so around the back of her neck to hold her there, to convey a very solid sense of I’m in charge, I’m here to take care of you, and for Rey, it just doesn’t do the trick. He’s not sloppy by any means, so it’s perfectly commendable in that sense, but he’s not someone she’d ever want to kiss again, truth be told.

It’s easy for her to rate that kiss.

At the end, after Phasma and Kaydel have also been kissed, Hux asks, “Ladies, we’ll go down the line and each of you will rate guy number one. Bazine, you go first.”

“Seven.”

“Jessika?”

She giggles. “Nine.”

“Rey?”

“Four.”

She hears people moving, but nobody says a word — they’re not allowed, after all — but clearly her low rating has ruffled some feathers.

“Phasma?”

“Six.”

“Kaydel?”

“Six.”

Hux nods and writes each of the numbers on the board in the column labeled ‘Snap,’ who tries not to make any vocal reactions as the ladies rate his kissing abilities. It does, however, fill him with a renewed sense of confidence about his and Jessika’s relationship given that she ranked him so highly.

“Guy number two, you’re up,” Hux says.

Rey takes a deep breath and tries to keep an open mind as the second man makes his way down the line towards her. He’s very different than the first, with a gentle, almost hesitant demeanor. He cups her face in his hand and she almost feels like porcelain beneath his touch. His lips are plump and smooth, and he doesn’t try to take too much or deepen it beyond what she’s comfortable with. All around, it’s the best of the day so far. It doesn’t get her heart racing, but it makes her feel special, and that’s something.

“Ladies, please rate guy number two,” Hux says again.

Finn stands next to Hux, wringing his hands as the women rate his kissing. Four, six, five, six, seven.

For the second time running, the guy’s significant other has picked him as the best kisser. It’s a pattern that seems likely to continue.

Guy number three goes next, and he does much more to get Rey’s heart racing. Instead of holding her face, he rests a hand on her upper arm, his kiss commanding like the first, but he doesn’t hold her in place; he gives her the freedom to move and respond as she’d like. His kiss is exciting, a bit playful. When it ends, Rey is smiling; she knows the other men can see, but doesn’t care one bit. That kiss was lovely.

“Ladies, please rate guy number three,” Hux says, now recording the ratings for himself.

Six, five, nine, seven, six.

“Next up is guy number four.”

Rey has a few guesses about who’s kissed her so far and who hasn’t; she’s not expecting anything mind-blowing after the first few, not given her attraction to the men in the villa so far. But the minute this man’s lips meet hers, Rey’s head is spinning. She reaches out to hold onto his arms, steadying herself as he kisses her with more feeling and more passion than she thought any man in the villa capable of.

She kisses him back eagerly, standing on her tiptoes to try to follow him as he leans away; she’s not ready for it to be done yet. When he’s finished, she takes a moment to try to catch her breath and wrap her head around what just happened. That was incredible; she cannot figure out who in the villa it could be. All she knows for certain is that it wasn’t Poe.

A few minutes later, Hux prompts them all to rate that man’s kissing abilities. Eight, seven, ten, seven, nine.

Rey knows she’ll get flack for rating someone a ten, especially someone she’s not dating, but in the moment it feels right. Whoever that man was — she’s been missing out on something with someone, that’s for sure.

As Ben walks away from where he’d been standing next to Hux, listening to his ratings, he watches Rey pensively. He hadn’t taken the time to look at any of the women, really, but knowing she was so attracted to him on kissing alone did a lot to catch his eye. It also genuinely surprised him; he’d expected lower ratings, given that all the women were currently coupled up.

“Guy number five, it’s your turn.”

Rey is surprised by the next two men — they’re very similar in feeling with their scruff and the way they tangle their hands in her hair when they kiss her — but one feels so drastically different than the other. She rates guy number five a three, but rates the sixth guy a nine. Her second-highest rating of the day, and it’s very possible that it was Poe. One of the two guys was, she knows that for sure.

Guy number five receives the following: Seven, six, three, four, six.

But then guy number six receives the highest consistent ratings yet: Nine, eight, nine, eight, eight. He’s the clear front runner, with guy number four close behind.

“Alright ladies, there is one more guy you’ll have to judge. Sometime after you walked in, a seventh man joined us in the villa. You may or may not have already kissed him. You’ll get to properly meet him when we’re all done. But first — you need to rank the seventh and final guy,” Hux says. “Guy number seven, please have a go.”

Rey tries not to be too distracted, but can’t help it. There’s a new guy. Maybe she still has a chance to find love. It’ll be difficult, of course, given that she’s afraid to tell Poe that what started out wonderfully isn’t quite so great anymore. Guy number seven is sweet; he’s a good kisser, gentle and polite while still clearly trying to knock her socks off. Rey rates him a six, his lowest score.

When they take off their blindfolds after kissing and rating guy number seven, all the girls immediately look for who the new guy is.

The moment Rey’s eyes find him, she freezes. He’s stunning. He’s intense and standoffish and something about him intrigues her. But then she sees Poe standing next to him, frowning and looking at her with hurt and betrayal in his eyes, and Rey gets the sinking feeling that she’s massively hurt his feelings without even knowing or trying.

“Alright, here are our standings. In seventh place, with twenty-six points, is Poe,” Hux says, not looking hurt in the least to have to deliver such terrible news.

Poe makes eye contact with Rey for a second, but then looks away. According to the board, she’d rated him a three out of ten: the lowest score of the day, the lowest score she’d given all day, and likely what brought him down so low.

Sixth place is Finn with twenty-eight points, fifth is Snap with thirty-two, Hux is fourth with thirty-three, Nines comes in third with thirty-five, and new guy Ben comes in second with thirty-nine points.

Which leaves Mitaka, the winner, with forty-two points.

Nobody looks more shocked by this development than Mitaka himself. He stands, shell-shocked, as he looks over the leaderboard as though there’s been some kind of mistake. Meanwhile, Rey looks over the board to see who she’d ranked the highest; she already feels guilty about ranking Poe the lowest, but seeing that she’d ranked Ben a ten, and Mitaka and Hux both with nine is quite shocking to her.

“This means that Mitaka, you get to choose one of the ladies to spend the night with you in the hideaway tonight. Who will it be?”

Bazine had been making such an effort with him, and had promised they could try to see if there was something there, so his gaze instantly goes to her. She’s looking down at her lap, but when she looks up, she smiles at him.

“Bazine,” he says simply.

The other islanders cheer for them, but Rey can see something in Bazine’s eyes. She’s not focused on Mitaka anymore, not now that Ben is in the picture. She has her sights set somewhere else now, and Rey already knows that poor Mitaka is going to get his heart broken.

When they leave the garden to go back to the villa and to their own business, Rey notices immediately that Poe has left her behind. Granted, she knows she probably deserves it, but they should talk about this.

But difficult conversations aren’t pleasant and if he wants to ignore what’s going on, well then, she can do that, too.

Chapter Text

Week Two, Day Six

Ben’s arrival the day before left a lot of people uneasy, nobody more than Poe. He avoided Rey for most of the day, hurt by how low she’d ranked him in terms of kissing ability. He thought they’d had a good first date — the first of anyone in the villa! — and that they were getting closer as a couple. He didn’t understand why she was always so opposed to physical affection, and now, why she was so opposed to his kisses.

He’s at the pool with Finn and Nines, the two other men dangling their feet in the water as Poe relaxes beneath the waves, his arms propped up on the edge of the pool. “I don’t get it,” Poe confesses to them. “I thought we were good. Me and Rey were — our date was great.”

“Yeah but things can change,” Finn says easily. “You saw what happened with me and Jess and Kaydel. Like — the minute I met her, I was crazy about her.”

Poe shakes his head. “This can’t just be Ben, though. She’s been weird for a few days now. Like, she gets mad that I want to cuddle,” he says. “Why? What kind of girl doesn’t like that?”

“They don’t all like the same things, man,” Nines replies. “Maybe it’s some like, childhood trauma or something.”

“Nah,” Poe says. “Couldn’t be. She would have told me. Besides, what’s so bad that she wouldn’t want to cuddle?”

Finn and Nines are quiet; there are plenty of reasons, but they don’t know what Rey’s are, and they don’t want to speculate. Poe splashes his feet out in the pool in frustration, wondering what is going on with Rey and what he’s doing wrong. He’s never had dating troubles like this before — ever. It doesn’t make sense to him, and it’s frustrating beyond all reason.

“You just have to talk to her,” Finn says finally. “I had to have a serious talk with Jessika and yeah, it sucked, but now she’s with Snap and they seem really happy.”

“Yeah, but like, this is all on Rey. She needs to come talk to me, doesn’t she?”

Nines sighs and says, “Look, you want answers, you’re going to have to go looking for them.”

Poe shakes his head. “She’ll talk to me. She won’t just leave me to try to figure it out myself. She wouldn’t do that to me,” he insists. “Nope. It’s on her.”

Finn opens his mouth to argue, but before he can say a word, Poe is swimming away.

“I mean, neither of them seems to be all that great about communicating,” Nines says. “They still shared a bed last night and everything. They just need to talk.”

Chuckling, Finn says, “I agree. I don’t see it happening anytime soon though, unfortunately.”

Nines just nods his agreement before following Poe’s lead and jumping into the pool, too. It’s too hot for him to waste the day on the edge, just dangling his feet into the cool, refreshing water.

Across the lawn, Rey is having a day not much better than Poe’s.

By midday on Ben’s second day in the villa, Rey has already given up on ever having a chance to speak to him. Every time she tries to pull him aside or approach him in any way — even in the morning as she’s brewing her tea — Bazine interrupts. It’s confusing for Rey, who’d thought that the night Bazine spent with Mitaka in the hideaway would have prevented something like this from ever happening. She was very clearly mistaken.

After her fifth failed attempt to get time alone with Ben, Rey wanders to the bed where, predictably, Phasma and Hux are lounging. Mitaka is on the round chair next to the bed, and Rey feels perfectly comfortable flinging herself onto the bed at their feet with all the drama of a young, overheated Victorian woman in the heat waves of summer.

“Hello there,” Phasma says, amused.

Rey groans.

“I said it this morning over tea and I’ll say it again: just talk to him,” Hux instructs.

Rey narrows her eyes at Hux and then tosses herself back on the covers of the bed.

“She’s here looking for sympathy, be nice,” Mitaka says.

“Distract me,” Rey begs. “Mitaka, tell me what happened in the Hideaway.”

Phasma snorts.

“Literally, absolutely nothing,” Mitaka says. “All that effort for nothing.”

Rey sits up, confused. “Really?”

He nods. “We had a dinner out on a private balcony where you couldn’t see us, and then we had champagne in the Hideaway, but after we toasted, we just went to sleep,” he says. “It wasn’t for lack of trying. But I’m fairly certain she’s all eyes for Ben now, and fuck everyone else.”

“I’m sorry,” Rey frowns.

But her frown goes beyond sympathy for Mitaka. Her entire expression plummets to full-on disappointment and apparently it’s enough to make Mitaka climb from his chair to the bed to sit next to her.

“You’re attracted to Ben,” Phasma observes simply.

Rey takes a breath and looks down. She shakes her head, but they all know it’s true — even she knows it’s true — she just doesn’t want to admit it. Because admitting she’s attracted to Ben means having to hurt Poe and probably also Bazine just to try to get some time with him.

“So, Rey,” Hux interjects. “Why don’t you want to talk to Poe?”

She shrugs. There’s no good answer, really. “I’m afraid?” she says. “I don’t exactly have a huge circle of people around me in my life. The last thing I want to do is chase away anyone who bothers to get to know me. Especially when they’ve been so kind to me.”

“If he’s been so kind to you, you should return the favor and just be honest with him,” Phasma argues. “It won’t be easy. Difficult conversations are called as such for a reason.”

Rey sighs and shakes her head. Just the thought of it makes her feel sick. Mitaka puts an arm around her shoulders in a bid to comfort her, but it does very little to quell all the nerves within her.

That evening, after everyone has climbed into bed and the lights have been switched off, Rey rolls to face the center of the bed. Poe is there, topless and facing away from her, scooted as far to the edge of the bed as possible.

Gently, she rubs her hand over his back to try to get his attention without disturbing anyone else in their massive bedroom. She hears him sigh, but is grateful when he rolls over to face her. Rey pulls the duvet over their heads and it feels like it’s been days since they’ve made eye contact. “Hi,” she whispers.

“Hey,” he whispers back.

Rey swallows past a lump in her throat before she says, “I’m sorry.”

She speaks in the softest whisper possible; both of them do, given there are couples in every other bed. Ben and Nines got stuck sharing a bed as well, which several found to be absolutely hilarious.

“For what?” Poe asks.

Rey knows there’s a lot she could apologize, but she can’t bring herself to spell them all out. Besides, she doesn’t feel she should have to apologize just for being attracted to someone. She settles on, “For the kissing thing. I didn’t know it was you.”

He sighs. “Doesn’t exactly bode well for us, does it?”

“It was a weird situation,” Rey argues. “Don’t take it personally.”

Poe still looks crestfallen, but he nods and reaches out for her. His hand is warm and heavy on Rey’s bare waist, but she lets him lead her towards him in the bed. Poe wraps his arm around her shoulders and she uses his chest as a pillow. He seems to relax once she hooks one of her legs over his and drapes her arm around his waist.

She knows she’ll wake up sweaty and uncomfortable and get a terrible night’s sleep because of it, but it’s the least she can do to try to make it up to him, to hopefully smooth things over and get them back to at least not being awkward around each other.

Hopefully.

Rey wakes in a sheen of sweat to the sound of heavy breathing on the other side of the room. As quietly as she can, she sits up a little to try to see what’s going on. Down the row, in the bed Kaydel and Finn have been sharing, the blankets are moving up and down in a tell-tale rhythmic pattern that can only mean one thing.

Her eyes widen when she realizes, and she manages to catch Hux’s gaze before she tosses herself back down on the pillows. Poe’s hands drift around her waist making her squirm just a bit, mostly because she’s ticklish, but also because she does not want to cuddle again. Hux and Rey lock eyes and he rolls his eyes and then smirks; clearly, he’s been sitting up in bed reading for a while now — since before the sex began.

It’s the first of many times someone will have sex in the room, Rey knows, but it’s still a shock to her that of all the couples, it’s Kaydel and Finn. It makes sense though, she supposes, given how head over heels they’d been as soon as she entered the villa. She’d been all eyes for Finn the moment she walked through those doors, and Finn seemed to have a similar reaction to her in response.

Rey burrows back under the blankets at the insistence of Poe’s grabby hands. “Wha’s happ’nin?” he mumbles against her collarbone.

He’s now curling up against her rather than the other way around as it had been the night before. Rey rolls her eyes, knowing he won’t see. “Finn and Kay are hooking up,” Rey whispers into his curls. “Listen.”

Poe chuckles, his breath hot against her bare skin. “Good for them,” he mumbles.

His lips tickle as he whispers, his mouth grazing her skin, too. He’s so close to her in almost every possible physical way. She thanks her lucky stars that nothing’s pressing into her hip as he curls up around her, making it clear that she shouldn’t get out of bed yet.

They haven’t fixed things — Rey still very much has an interest in at least attempting to speak to Ben — but she has at least talked to Poe about the bigger elephant in the room, which was her critique of his kissing abilities. Which, to be fair, was not entirely her fault because she’d been blindfolded, but it was what it was.

After a few grunts and gasps clue them in to the fact that Finn and Kaydel have finished their act, several couples begin to climb out of bed, Rey and Poe included. They’d just all been respecting their privacy. That may not last long as the days wear on and more couples are overcome with urges like those, but for now it’s a small blessing for #finndel.

As the lads stand around their bathroom brushing their teeth and getting ready for the day, a few of them applaud Finn on being the first in the villa to get laid. Rey notices that Ben isn’t one of the guys cheering Finn on; instead, he’s opted to sit at the edge of his bed, toothbrush stuck in his mouth as he ties the front of his black swim shorts.

Just as she’s about to summon the courage to approach, Bazine swings into view, her fingers drifting over his arm as she smiles and greets him. Rey rolls her eyes — it seems to be the day for that — and walks away.

She adjusts the straps of her bikini — she’d opted for her simple floral one, not nearly as skimpy as what some of the other girls were wearing, but still more revealing than usual — and goes downstairs to the yard. In the kitchen, Phasma and Hux have taken up station brewing coffee and tea again, like they usually do. By now, they’ve memorized how most of the islanders take their morning beverages, and Rey is grateful for the large mug of Earl Grey with milk (no sugar) handed to her by Hux.

“You look like you’ve had better days,” he observes.

Rey sighs in frustration. “Bazine again. I honestly cannot tell if she despises me or actually wants to be my friend,” she says. “I just — she’s got Mitaka! She’s just spent a ton of effort trying to convince him that they have things in common and could be a good couple, only to completely ignore him now that Ben is here.”

Phasma looks knowingly at Rey as she hands off some coffee to Jessika. “Are you sure you’re not just upset because you want time with Ben?”

“Of course I’m upset because I want time with Ben!” Rey shrieks. “He’s the first guy in here who’s like… who there’s a…”

She can’t put into words what she felt, or what his presence and his kiss did for her. Not without completely humiliating herself. His kiss had left her weak at the knees. He’d practically — No. She won’t think about any other effect his kiss and his intense gaze had on her. It’s not proper, and not something she wants to tell Phasma and Hux.

“There’s a spark,” Jessika finishes for her. She extends an arm to wrap Rey into a protective hug.

“If Ben’s worth anything at all, he’ll try to speak to more women than just Bazine,” Hux says simply.

“Besides, Mitaka is desperately trying to pull Bazine away from Ben for you,” Phasma adds.

Rey groans into Jessika’s shoulder. “She’s a pain, we know,” Jess says empathetically.

Even though Jessika appeared to be on Bazine’s side last time, Rey appreciates that Jess can see reason and can empathize with different people in each situation. It makes her feel less worried going forward of cliques or factions forming between the women.

“I don’t even know why I’m bothering. I never get like this over guys, I…”

Rey stands up straight and sips from her mug of tea. It’s perfect; it always is when Hux makes it, and if he wasn’t so solidly with Phasma, Rey might have considered going after him instead. She had rated his kisses rather highly, after all.

“I’ve never dated before I came here and now that I am, I bloody hate it,” Rey grumbles. “Makes me into a mess. And it’s not even fun.”

“Oh,” Phasma says sympathetically, joining in on the hug between Jess and Rey. “That’s enough of that. One bad day in the villa shouldn’t make you stop dating forever.”

Rey frowns; it’s been more than one day. It’s been days of disappointment and frustration, only compounded by the fact that Bazine doesn’t seem to want to let anyone else near Ben. It’s not fair of her, and Rey can’t help but dwelling on thoughts of what if?

What if she could actually speak to Ben? What does his voice sound like? What sorts of things make him tick?

His gaze was so intense, his kiss made her knees weak… that has to mean something.

But as she watches Ben and Bazine walk to the hot tub hand in hand, having a conversation, Rey fears that she truly may never know.

Chapter Text

Week Three, Day One

It’s the start of week three and Rey is feeling as discouraged as ever. Poe hadn’t cuddled her the night before — a mixed feeling if she’d ever had one, because she could finally sleep without sweating, but it said a lot about his feelings towards her. To make matters worse, Bazine refuses to leave Ben’s side, and he seems content to let her stay there.

Poe and Snap decide to grill for the group since it’s a particularly beautiful but not too humid day, making for the most comfortable afternoon they’ve experienced in days. Right after they’ve served up cheeseburgers and chips on the massively long picnic table next to the kitchen in the yard, Mitaka’s phone dings.

Everyone shares looks of surprise, and then he retrieves his phone from his pocket. “Read it!” Snap shouts.

“I — okay!” Mitaka says, cupping his phone over the top of the screen so he can read it in the sunlight. “Poe and Mitaka. Today you will be getting out of the villa for some beers and lad time. Hashtag bros before hoes.”

Rey snorts with laughter, Phasma and Jessika joining her. “What’s so funny?” Mitaka asks.

“You just said hashtag bros before hoes,” Rey chokes out between peals of laughter.

Mitaka rolls his eyes. Nobody’s saying it out loud, not yet at least, but the possibility of Mitaka and Poe meeting new girls while they’re away is incredibly high; Rey should be very worried. But she tries to push that away by eating a hot dog and laughing with Jess as Phasma passes around glasses of sangria to anyone who’ll take one.

Rey indulges, trying her best to ignore the excitement on Poe’s face as he and Mitaka finish eating and go inside the villa to get ready for their day on the outside.

“You excited?” Poe asks as the two of them walk into their closet to pick out their clothes for the day out.

Mitaka shrugs as he opens the armoire. “I suppose. Not entirely, though,” he confesses.

“Why?”

He pauses his perusing of his clothing to send a bored look Poe’s way. “Are you serious?”

Poe glances over, and then pulls out a tacky Hawaiian-print shirt from his wardrobe. “Oh, you mean because of Bazine? That’s a tough break,” Poe says. “She’s obsessed with Ben.”

“Unfortunately,” Mitaka responds bitterly. “I should have known better than to save her last time.”

Sighing, Poe replies, “Hey, what’s done is done. And who knows… maybe we’re going to meet some girls on this outing.”

Mitaka pulls a navy blue button-down tee from his closet and slides it onto his bare torso. “You really think?”

“Yeah. You and I have had the worst luck with girls out of every guy in here,” Poe says.

Mocking confusion, Mitaka asks, “You’ve had bad luck?”

Poe shakes his head. “I shouldn’t say that.” He pulls on the shirt and adds, “Rey’s really sweet. But like, we started off good and it hasn’t really gone anywhere.”

“You’re not pressuring her for sex, are you?”

“Fuck no. My god, what kind of guy do you think I am?” Poe asks.

He kicks off his swim shorts and pulls on some white shorts, the color looking even more striking against his skin now that he’s spent weeks tanning in the backyard.

Mitaka frowns. “I’m sorry. I just, you can’t expect a girl to do that after two weeks.”

“I don’t,” Poe insists. “I really don’t. But like, she doesn’t want to cuddle at night, she barely kisses me anymore, and then that kissing challenge? Like, I was her lowest rating. Lowest.”

Mitaka changes into some black shorts as he says, “Being the best doesn’t exactly win you anything great, trust me.”

“You didn’t get any?” Poe asks as he walks to the mirror.He sprays a little mousse into his palms and then combs it into his hair with his fingers, styling it just slightly.

Mitaka actually snorts in response. “No way.”

“Man, that’s rough. I’m sorry. I woulda thought the Hideaway would do it for you,” Poe responds.

Mitaka walks to Poe’s side and studies his reflection in the mirror for a moment. He brushes his hands over his face appraisingly, as if he’s not sure whether to shave or not. “Just leave it. Put the long stuff here up in a knot and you’re good,” Poe says, grabbing at the hair atop his head.

Poe fumbles around on the countertop until he finds a hair tie. “Here,” he hands it to Mitaka. “Just trust me.”

Though he looks skeptical as he does it, Mitaka combs back his hair into the smallest of ponytails atop his head. He thinks it looks silly, but he remembers Rey telling him weeks ago — or was it only days? Time is warped in the villa — that it would look good, too.

He laughs to himself. That might be the only thing Rey and Poe have agreed on since meeting.

They leave together and hop in the Jeep waiting for them outside, a driver up front ready to take them to wherever they’re going to go. It’s a beautiful, sunny day in Mexico, and even if there aren’t any girls, it’s nice to get out of the villa and see new places.

As they walk into the garden of the small restaurant they’ve been taken to, it’s clear that they won’t be there alone. Two girls — sisters, by the look of it — sit side by side sipping glasses of wine and chatting excitedly. They perk up when Mitaka and Poe walk in, and immediately stand to greet them.

Hugs and greetings go around, and after everything settles, Poe takes a seat next to Paige and Mitaka sits down next to Rose. They are, in fact, sisters, and both are hoping to find a partner in the villa.

“So you’re coming back with us, then?” Poe asks playfully.

Paige laughs. “Maybe not for you, but yeah, we are,” she replies.

His arm drapes around the back of Paige’s chair and he holds up a pint of beer that had been poured for him. “Good, I’m glad to hear it,” he says. “We could use some fresh faces around there.”

“Don’t you have a girl?” she wonders.

She isn’t afraid to put him on the spot, apparently, and she looks at him critically over the rim of her glass. Poe winces, but then nods and says, “Alright, alright, I deserve that. But between you and me, I don’t think she plans to keep me around much longer.”

“Has she told you that?”

He shakes his head. “No, but it’s pretty obvious.”

“So what’s your plan, then?” Paige challenges him. “Are you going to ditch her?”

“I’m going to spend time with you and see what happens,” Poe responds. “Nothing bad. Don’t sound so appalled!” He laughs and nudges her knee with his own. “Give me a little credit.”

“I don’t even know you,” Paige argues. “If you’re this willing to ditch your girl, it worries me a little.”

Poe sets down his beer and combs his hand through his curls. “It’s not like that,” Poe says. “It’s a mutual thing. We’re not as into it as we were when we first met. We had a date on our what, second day in the villa? Things are so different now.”

“I’m sure she’s a nice girl.”

“She is,” Poe agrees. “But she doesn’t like to cuddle. I do.”

Critically, Paige raises her eyebrow. “That’s a dealbreaker for you?”

“A little, yeah. I mean, is it really so bad to want someone to snuggle with?” he asks.

Paige sips her wine. “I guess not.” She leans against him a little, just enough to imply to him that she’s flirting, before she adds, “For the record, I love cuddling.”

Poe grins.

Across the table, Mitaka and Rose sit together, though not as cuddled up as Poe and Paige are. He’s kind and respectful, as is Rose. She doesn’t look like the kind of girl he’d usually go for — she’s tomboyish like Rey, at least a little, if her denim overall shorts and tank top are any indication. But she’s wearing makeup, she’s got adorable curls framing her face, and when she smiles, it brightens her entire expression.

And for the first time in a while, when she looks at Mitaka, he feels like he actually might mean something to someone.

“So tell me about your time in the villa so far,” she prompts.

She’s got one leg crossed over the other, her espadrille sandals tickling his calf as he tries to figure out how to explain it with more than laughter. He sips his own pint, trying to decide how on earth to describe it.

“It’s been alright,” he says finally. “I’m shocked I’m still here.”

“Oh?”

Clearly Rose wants more, so he chooses his words carefully as he explains. “I started out pairing up with this really nice girl, Pam. But she was really quiet, and it felt very platonic. And then Bazine showed interest so I gave her a chance. It felt like there could be something there. She seemed insistent on trying, at least. But that was clearly, in hindsight, a ploy to stay. Because her guy picked some other girl. So… I fell for her trick, picked her, and now I’m pretty sure the new guy we got yesterday is gonna steal her away,” he says.

“Would I be a pity pick?” Rose asks. “If I wanted to couple up with you, I mean.”

Mitaka shakes his head. “No. I’ve learned how not to do things.”

“So how wouldn’t you do things?” she presses.

He smiles. “I’ve had a lot of alone time to think about this,” he replies, resting his arm on the back of her chair.

Mitaka leaves her some space, but lets it be known that, at least physically, he’s attracted to her. Rose is beautiful: cute, yet somehow sexy at the same time, and he likes that she’s not afraid to ask the hard, pressing questions in their conversation. There’s depth to what they’re talking about. He appreciates it more than he’d thought he would.

“I wouldn’t try to rush into anything. Diving in head first doesn’t work out, as I’ve seen with Poe and Rey,” Mitaka explains. “But like, not have my guard up too much like Phasma and Hux.” He sips from his beer. “Oh, and not so much hard to get and trying too hard like Jessika and Snap.”

Rose snorts. “Is there a couple you do want to be like?”

It seems like all he’s learned is what not to do and how not to behave — and really, he’s been watching a lot of people make some stupid decisions. Mitaka shrugs and confesses, “Finn and Kaydel, I think. They had sort of an electric start, as cheesy as that might sound, but after that they’ve settled in and sort of become the really reliable couple. Like, we don’t doubt them staying together anymore. They’re solid.”

“So you want someone reliable and solid?” Rose asks. “That’s not too much to ask.”

Mitaka laughs. “Wait until you get to the villa. You’ll see. It kind of is.”

Rose shakes her head and takes another drink of her wine. “You don’t give yourself enough credit,” she says. “I’ve been watching the show, Mister Top Kisser.”

“Oh bloody hell,” Mitaka looks down at his lap, blushing furiously.

He lifts his pint to cover his face, blocking it from view as Rose laughs. The sound of her laugh is beautiful, and is probably one of the only things that convinces him to lower his drink and look her in the eye again.

There are many smooth things that any other guy probably would have said, but Mitaka stumbles over the thought of them, never mind actually saying them. Instead, he can’t find a single word to say at all, leaving it to Rose.

“It’s alright! It’s cute. Unexpected. You’re the dark horse,” she says. “I like that.”

“I’m still mortified that happened,” Mitaka replies.

“Everyone rated you highly. That’s very impressive. Everyone else was all over the board.”

He hides his face with his pint again, but Rose covers his hand with her own and guides him to lower his drink so she can look at his face. “Stop being so shy! You gotta like… be more confident. Girls like confidence,” Rose says.

“Yes, be confident, but don’t be cocky. It’s difficult,” he argues.

Rose rolls her eyes. “Then get yourself a girl who can compensate.”

“Is that meant to be you, then?” he quips.

Both he and Rose seem surprised by how he kept up with the banter, and it paints a gentle blush across her cheeks. “Maybe,” she teases.

He laughs. “I’ll have to wait and find out, I suppose?”

“Of course,” Rose says. “I can’t put all my eggs in one basket, can I?”

Though she keeps up the air of mystery, Rose doesn’t hesitate to take his hand as they walk into the villa after their date. It’s a bold way to enter a place with so many other people, but after hearing how many times Mitaka has been cast aside or used in the villa, he deserves to walk in looking like a big man.

There’s of course shouts of surprise and cheer and a few groans of frustration as the islanders realize their group has grown again. Now there’s an even balance of seven men to seven women.

As the sun sets on the villa, Rey watches as Poe spends almost the entire evening pasted to Paige’s side. He doesn’t look her way once. Rather than making a big scene, Rey opts to take a shower and pull on her coziest oversized shirt and sleep shorts. As she brushes her teeth, getting ready for bed long before anyone else in the villa, Phasma sneaks up on her.

“I don’t wanna talk about it,” Rey says with a mouth full of toothpaste.

“Not tonight,” Phasma concedes. “I just came to tell you, you can have mine and Hux’s bed tonight if you’d like. We’ll sleep on the bed downstairs.”

“Outside?”

Nodding, Phasma says, “We spend most of our time there, anyway. Unless you’d rather have that? We weren’t sure if you wanted to be totally alone.”

Rey shrugs and spits the toothpaste out in the sink. As she’s rinsing her mouth, Phasma adds, “Or, you and I could take up on the bed downstairs. Hux will stay up here alone, he doesn’t mind.”

“I’m not splitting you two up,” Rey sighs as she stands. “I don’t need pity.”

“Poe’s mugging you off!” Phasma argues, sounding incredulous. “I’m not going to let you deal with this alone.”

Shaking her head, Rey says, “I’m fine. I don’t want to talk about it, nor do I want to be coddled.”

Nodding, Phasma takes a step back. “Alright. You take our bed up here, then. We’ll stay downstairs.”

Their eyes meet through the mirror over the sink, and for a moment Rey wonders if Phasma’s going to try to make her talk about it, anyway. She really doesn’t want to; it all hurts far too much and she doesn’t want to have to try to work through the ache in her chest. Not yet.

Rey successfully evades any sort of physical contact as she leaves the bathroom past Phasma, and retreats to the bed she’s seen Hux and Phasma use every night since arriving in the villa. While everyone else is downstairs, Rey settles into bed, a sleep mask over her eyes and the covers pulled up to her chin. She tries desperately to block everyone out and fall asleep, and actually manages, for a few hours, at least.

——

Week Three, Day Two

Rey wakes as the moon hangs high outside. There’s colors streaking the sky out on the horizon, the impending sunrise still hours away. She wakes to the sound of voices at the other end of the room.

Barely sitting up, she sees that Paige and Poe are down at the other end, sitting atop Poe and Rey’s bed, chatting. Still. Still.

There’s not a doubt in her mind at this point that they’re over. That Poe has left her behind. And even though she wasn’t happy with him, she’d thought they’d get around to the conversation. She’d thought that one of them would have had the guts to talk about it before something like this happened.

But she’d thought wrong. She blames herself, for not having the courage to bring it up, for not being brave enough to just tell him what she felt or didn’t feel. The ache she feels deep in her chest is a familiar one — an ache of regret and loneliness, one she’s felt dozens of times before.

Frowning, Rey climbs out of bed, her bare feet slapping lightly against the tiled bedroom floor. She feels Poe and Paige’s eyes on her, their conversation growing hushed. Tears prickle at Rey’s eyes and she takes a deep breath, pointedly ignoring them as she walks down the stairs and out into the garden. It’s dark; all the string lights and production lights have been switched off.

She retreats to the gym in the corner of the yard. She lifts weight in the darkness, pushing through as she lifts weights just a bit too heavy for her. Her mind goes blank save for push, push, push as she does rep after rep.

Her arms feel like jelly by the time sunlight first streaks across the lawn. She puts on a kettle for tea and drapes the nearest blanket she can find around her shoulders. She’s cooling off in the morning breeze, and between the sweat and the darkness, a chill has shot down her spine.

Hux joins her in the kitchen and doesn’t say a word. He pulls out a mug for each of them, sets the milk on the counter. Rey mixes them both up some tea and hops up onto the counter. “You were up early,” he observes.

He’s stopped admonishing her for sitting on the countertop; he knows there’s nothing that can be done about that habit of hers anymore. “Yes, well, if some people hadn’t been up talking all night,” she says harshly.

Rey’s shoulders slump. She stops speaking rather abruptly and chooses instead to take a sip of tea. It’s not time to get angry, especially not at Hux, who is clearly making an effort with her, to try to make things better.

“Look, you weren’t into him anyway. Why does this bother you so much?” he asks.

Rey looks away. There are bags under her eyes and her hair is a mess; she’s certainly looked better, this she knows for sure. But Hux is still there speaking to her, so she supposes she should be grateful. She could be left all alone to deal with this mess.

“He didn’t even talk to me,” she says, her voice cracking ever so slightly. “I know we needed to talk about it but I thought we’d have a little more time. I was going to, I swear! But he didn’t even bother saying something to me when they got back. It’s literally been like… he forgot about me.”

Hux frowns. “Full disclosure, I’m shit at giving advice. All I’m good for is listening,” he says. “But he didn’t forget you.”

Rey opens her mouth to argue. “But,” Hux interrupts, not finished with his train of thought. “I do agree that he should have spoken to you when they got back, if he really did want to crack on with Paige.”

Rey pulls her knees to her chest, heels digging into the edge of the countertop. “Am I really that forgettable? Why is it everyone finds it so easy to walk away?” she asks.

When Hux looks up at her, he can see the tears pooling in her eyes, how glassy her gaze is and the way her lower lip is already beginning to tremble. He frowns and holds out an arm. “Come on. Let’s go settle in with Phasma, have a chat.”

Reluctantly, Rey hops off the counter and hands another mug to Hux. They both know they ought to make Phasma some tea before joining her on the daybed. When they have a seat, Hux quickly catches her up on what it is they need to discuss: Rey apparently feeling like she’s easy to abandon.

“He’s a prick,” Phasma says simply. “I told you last night and I’ll say it again: he’s mugging you off and it’s not fair.”

Rey sniffles and looks at her lap. “That still doesn’t explain why. Honestly, pretty much every person in my life has had no problems walking away from me and not looking back. I am so tired of being lonely. I thought if I came here…”

I wouldn’t be lonely.

The words hang unspoken between them all. Phasma and Hux don’t have the full story, not yet at least, but they can see that there are things in Rey’s past making the situation more difficult for her to handle than most others would find it to be. They coax Rey into sitting between them on the bed, the blankets pulled up over all of them. “You need sleep,” Phasma says. “You’re too tired, it’s making you overly emotional.”

“I’m not lying about any of this,” Rey protests stubbornly.

“I know,” Phasma says. “But you’re just going to cry and get angry until you get some sleep and can think with a clearer head. Now come on, it’s nap time.”

Boredly, Rey says, “It’s like eight in the morning.”

“Yes. And the rest of the villa won’t be alive until at least noon, so come on then, let’s get a good night’s rest. I know your workout wore you out,” Phasma instructs.

Hux settles into bed under the covers, shockingly cavalier about the fact that Rey is currently nestled between the two of them, sharing a bed with the couple. Rey ends up rolled facing Hux, her face buried in his shoulder as Phasma spoons her from behind. It should feel strange, but in that moment, all Rey feels is comfort.

Though Poe may have shrugged her off like she was nothing, and Bazine won’t let Rey within ten feet of Ben, at least she has her friendships to get her through. Phasma and Hux, along with Mitaka, have given Rey the most companionship she’s felt in years. So even though her heart is aching at being cast off so easily by the man she’d been coupled up with, she reminds herself that it could be worse — she could have foregone friendships in order to pursue him, and that would have hurt even more.

At least, for now, she has her friends.

Chapter Text

Week Three, Day Three

The morning is slow-going, Rey now taken up permanent respite in Hux and Phasma’s bed for the time being. Though Poe and Paige aren’t allowed to sleep in the same bed until they’re coupled up, the rules say nothing about sitting on the bed and talking for hours, which is how Rey ends up sleeping outside to avoid the loud whispers and obvious stares.

Everyone’s been watching her since he started hanging out with Paige. They’re waiting, watching. Occasionally, someone is bold enough to ask Rey if she’s going to confront him. But she doesn’t want drama. Especially not when she’s still holding onto a shred of hope that she’ll have a chance to speak to Ben.

Just as the last dish from lunch is put into the dishwasher, someone’s phone dings. “I’ve got a text!” Rose shouts across the lawn.

For as small as she is, she is loud and commanding. She’s a presence to be both feared and appreciated in any scenario. Rey feels a little intimidated by her, but given that Mitaka seems head over heels for her, Rey thinks she can open up and start talking to Rose more; she wants to make more friends, build up a community. It’s just more difficult than she’d expected.

“Islanders, today you will be competing in a challenge as a group, to win a prize for the villa. It’s time to see if you can predict what the viewers are saying about your fellow islanders. #muggedoff,” Rose reads.

She looks up at the group, eyes sparkling as she beams with excitement at the rest of the group. There’s a follow-up text that she doesn’t have to read aloud, saying that Rose and Paige will be leading the challenge since the viewers haven’t really had time to say anything about them, yet.

Out in the garden, there’s a table full of mugs with what appears to be cold tea in them, and then there’s a long bench opposite that table. In the middle, there’s a scoreboard and some cue cards for Paige and Rose, with a special sealed envelope by the scoreboard. There’s some hushed whispers of what this could possibly be about, and how they’re going to win, and of course what they’re going to win, but the uncertainty is clear.

“Alright,” says Rose, getting the islanders to quiet down.

Though Paige is older, Rose is clearly the more outgoing one of the two. Rey notices this with intrigue, given how reserved Mitaka can be, how much he doesn’t seem to want to be in the spotlight. It’s a surprising match; she wonders if it’s just infatuation, or something more.

“So, what’s going to happen is this: we’ll read out a tweet with one or two names redacted. When it’s your turn, you have to grab a mug of tea and splash it into the face or faces of whomever you think the tweet is about. Each name is worth a point, so if you only get one of the two names in a tweet correct, you still get a point. Get them both correct, and you get two points. Any questions?” Rose asks.

The group of islanders shake their head, so Page calls up the first person. Hux stands facing the group and listens as she reads, “Wow, I did not expect blank to go so far so soon. Girl, that’s a lot of trust for someone as easily swayed as your man…”

Hux looks up and down the line of people. It’s pretty obvious who it’s about, so he takes a mug and walks towards Kaydel. He hesitates before thrusting his hand forward and splashing the tea all down her face and front. She sputters, but nods like she thinks the tweet was valid or something. Finn looks at her, concerned.

“I’m fine,” she says to him under her breath.

Finn pushes a damp strand of hair out of her face and sends a warning look Hux’s way, anyway.

“Phasma, are you ready?” Rose asks.

Phasma smiles and stands, walking out to the table of mugs. She waits in eager anticipation.

“Alright, here we go,” Rose grins. “Does anyone know if the people who get kicked off are looking for a date? Asking for a friend. Also how long do you think until blank gets dumped. This is unrelated.”

Frowning, Phasma furrows her brow and said, “Well that’s not fair, is it? Could apply to anyone here!”

“Yeah, but who do you think has been thirsted after the most?” asks Nines.

“You, probably,” she responds.

“Well,” he holds his hands out, ready and willing to take a tea to the face for a tweet like that.

Phasma nods and goes for it, tossing the drink right into his face without hesitation. It splashes everywhere and makes his skin shiny and glowing in the sun underneath the moisture. “I’m sorry,” Rose says. “The tweet was actually about Finn. Nines can’t get dumped because he’s not currently coupled up.”

“Well that’s really not fair,” Phasma protests again. “But fine.”

She takes a seat next to Hux and waits for the next person to go. It’s Mitaka’s turn.

“Alright,” says Paige. “Mitaka, here’s yours. Talk about boring. Blank is so sweet and naive, she must be fake. How blank can stand her is beyond me. So you need to toss two drinks and get them both correct in order to earn full points.”

Mitaka grabs two mugs from the table and sighs. He hates that he knows the answer to this, knows exactly what the public would think. He looks apologetically at Rey. “First name, go,” Paige instructs.

Mitaka splashes the tea in Rey’s face. He does it halfheartedly, so most of it misses her face and lands on her chest and stomach, dripping down to her lap. She sends him a look that hopefully shows she’s not mad, but isn’t entirely sure what her face is doing at that point. Then, Paige prompts, “And the second name?”

This time, with much more energy and veracity than the first time, Mitaka splashes the drink from his cup all over Poe’s face. It drips from his curls and over his skin, but it doesn’t quite look as good as it had on Nines. And it wasn’t supposed to; Mitaka isn’t exactly an aggressive person, but when given the opportunity to lash out at someone who’d been hurting his friend, he’s going to do it.

“Correct!” Paige exclaims. “That’s two points for Mitaka, bringing the group’s total up to four!”

Mitaka sits down on the bench between Phasma and Rey. He looks at Rey with a deep frown on his face, but before he can apologize, she says, “It’s okay. It’s alright. I’m fine.”

He looks disbelieving, but doesn’t press it; he can talk to her about it more later.

She stands up, with it being her turn next. Pushing her tea-damp hair out of her face, Rey tries her best to stand tall and look disaffected. She waits for Rose to read her the next tweet.

“Okay, Rey, here’s yours,” says Rose. She giggles before she reads, “I would like to climb blank like a palm tree and fondle his coconuts for some milk.”

Under her breath, Bazine mumbles, “Well we know who Rey doesn’t think that’s about.

Rey’s expression falls, and then her brow knits as she tries to look like she’s thinking it over or considering. It’s a risky move, but she opts to walk right up to Ben and toss the tea in his face. “Yes!” exclaims Rose. “It was Ben!”

Phasma cat-calls, and Rey’s whole face flushes red. “Stop that,” she mutters, sitting back down on the bench next to Mitaka.

Rey can feel eyes on her, including Ben’s, but says nothing and doesn’t dare look his way. Though the words hadn’t come from her mouth, she’d reacted pretty quickly; it’s obvious she agrees with the tweet and that realization makes her blush furiously.

Next up, is Nines, and there’s some oohs and ahhs as Paige reads aloud, “Blank is boned and not in a good way. Sorry bruh, I been there for sure.”

Incorrectly, he guesses Mitaka, and the points total remains at four after five islanders have made their guesses. Next up, Jessika incorrectly guesses a very generic tweet about thirst at first sight which was actually about Nines. She’d thought it about Snap, much to her mortification.

When Snap stands, Paige eagerly reads the next one. “Alright, this is a juicy one. A little easier to guess, I think,” she prefaces. “Why is everyone hating on blank? She obviously knows what she wants, and she wants to win!”

He looks out at the group, his eyes lingering for quite a while on Rey. That shocks her, because it is most definitely, very obviously not about her. She’s been all over the place and she’d be blown away if somebody read that as knowing what she wants. No, in her mind, there’s only one answer that makes any sense at all, and that’s —

Snap tosses his mug of tea in Bazine’s face with such strength that she screams a little as it hits her; she hadn’t been expecting it, and it shocks her. “Correct!” shouts Paige. “That’s five points now!”

Bazine gets her revenge in the shape of tossing tea at Snap and Jess in response to the tweet: Blank is going to get her heart broken, she deserves better than blank.

“Well, I disagree,” says Jess as she blinks repeatedly, the tea dripping from her lashes into her eyes.

She looks to her left to kiss Snap, right there in front of everyone. A few islanders cheer for her.

Ben stands next, and Rose chokes on her laughter before she reads the tweet out loud to him.

“Okay,” she laughs again, the tweet apparently too hilarious for her to withstand. “Poor blank. Don’t worry baby, I’ll ride you like a backpack. #bigspoon.”

Rose and several other islanders laugh hysterically. Phasma, Rey, and Mitaka all look down the line at the person it’s about, which turns out to be a good thing because Ben hasn’t exactly had the opportunity to take in the sleeping habits of his fellow islanders — at least not the one this is about.

His gaze is intense and catches with Rey’s for a fleeting moment; it’s more than she can bear, because she can’t tell if he’s glaring because she’s given it away or if it’s his odd way of saying thanks. He makes his approach and dumps the tea over Hux’s head, making his coiffed hair flop into his face like wet noodles.

Hux sighs and looks very much like he’s trying to keep his cool; clearly he’s unhappy being covered in tea, but also with the tweet. Rose excitedly adds another tick mark to the scoreboard. There are only three tweets left, and there’s still no knowing whether they’re going to win the mysterious prize at the end.

Next up is Poe, still pointedly ignoring Rey’s gaze. “Alright, Poe,” says Paige, shooting him a very coy gaze before reading, “Here’s yours. Blank is the queen. She can step on me.”

He tosses up his arms in defeat. “That could be anyone!” he exclaims.

Rey relaxes just a little and looks down at her lap; she knows this couldn’t possibly be about her. But then Mitaka’s hand flies to her thigh and she sees a flash of something, and the next thing Rey knows, she’s blinking tea out of her eyes and sputtering. She hadn’t been expecting that at all.

“What the fuck?” asks Nines.

“It could have been her!” Poe protests. “I don’t know! Honestly, like… you heard the last tweet, people think she’s really sweet.”

“It could have been about anyone,” Bazine adds.

Ben looks at Bazine incredulously, and then turns to watch Poe through narrowed eyes as he sits down on his other side. Poe continues to protest that it could have been about any girl in the villa — any at all. Meanwhile, Rey dabs her palms at her eyes, trying to get the tea out of her eyes. Nines soothes his hand over her back, and Mitaka keeps his hand firmly on her leg to try to reassure her.

“That was wrong, by the way,” Paige says. She looks far less coy, now torn between being fine with Poe to being slightly put-off by him. “The answer was Phasma.”

“That was obvious,” Hux says, just loud enough for Poe to hear.

Again, Poe protests, “It was so vague. It could have been about any girl in this place.”

“Alright, that’s enough!” Rose shouts over everyone. She holds out her arms to try to calm the argument. “We have two tweets left, let’s keep it together, yeah?”

Timidly, Kaydel stands and walks to the table with mugs of tea. She takes a deep breath, worried about just how much drama her tweet could start.

“Here we go,” Rose says. “Poor blank. When will he realize he’s being played for the group idiot?”

She looks decidedly less excited as she reads it, and Kaydel purses her lips and looks up and down the bench as she weighs her options. She’s been there for a couple weeks now and has watched a couple of different guys get mugged off by their girls. Kaydel’s eyes linger on Poe, and she wants to toss the tea at him just to get revenge on Rey’s behalf, but her urge to win is just too strong.

After several moments of consideration, Kaydel approaches Mitaka and half-heartedly tosses the tea at him. He ducks his head when he sees it coming, and then nods, accepting it. Given that the earlier one wasn’t about him, this one probably is by process of elimination. When he looks up, Rose is already adding a tally mark to the scoreboard; she’d gotten it right.

“Finn, you’re last up,” Paige says. “Here we go: Oh wow, I knew blank was playing blank but I never expected him to basically admit it to the other guys!”

With two mugs of tea in hand, Finn looks at the group sitting on the benches. He knows exactly who it’s about. Rey looks up at him and frowns; she hopes it’s not about Poe, but given how the day has been going, it’d be just her luck that it is. In quick succession, Finn tosses tea at Poe, and then goes down the bench to toss tea at Rey.

Paige looks reluctant when she says, “That is correct. That’s two points, bringing your grand total to ten.”

At this point, Finn takes a seat and Paige and Rose walk out in front of the group, carrying the giant sparkly envelope. “Now, we get to see how many points we needed in order to get the prize,” Rose says excitedly.

She and Paige wrestle with the envelope, and when they finally open it, they start to cheer. “Eight! You did it!”

Nearly everyone starts cheering in excitement, only Rey and Mitaka sitting behind on the bench as the rest of the group starts to head back to the villa. “Come on, let’s go back, you can have a shower and we’ll just lounge on the daybed with Hux and Phasma,” Mitaka says gently.

Rey sighs and looks up, her expression hardened. “I don’t know why I’m letting this bother me. I shouldn’t. He’s nothing,” she says harshly. “He’s absolutely nothing.”

“Rey —”

She looks at him, and all that hardness, those walls, come crumbling down. Shaking her head, Rey stands up and says, “It’s just a stupid game.” She frowns and as she does, her lower lip trembles. “I don’t care.”

“Let’s just go back,” he says.

Blinking furiously, Rey nods as he stands and walks towards her. Mitaka’s arms are outstretched and she willingly accepts the hug from him. It’s exactly what she needed after a day like that. She’d maybe had an inkling that he wasn’t into her, but the fact that he’d do something like that — humiliate her during a group game — really hurt her. It’s one thing to be left behind without a word, but to be left behind with a drink flying at her face as he speeds off with a new girl just hurts beyond measure.

At least she gets the last of the tea out of her eyes as she cries into Mitaka’s shoulder. Silver linings, and all that.

Chapter Text

Week Three, Day Four

Rey wakes on the daybed outside, nudged between Phasma and Hux. She likes sleeping outside; it gets cooler overnight, and Hux runs cold. She ends up curled up against him, happy to have Hux’s cool skin countering Phasma’s warm skin. She doesn’t burn like a heater in the way that Poe does, though — it’s a relief. But memories of the day before and that horrible sinking feeling in her chest return to her, and she scrunches her face up in displeasure.

She notices that they’ve slept in later; she can see several islanders in the kitchen already, making up tea and coffee and eating their breakfast. It’s odd for her to not be the first one awake since she has been for so many days in a row. Spotting Poe and Paige near the kettle, Rey leans back against the pillows and decides she’s not going to get out of bed yet.

“Do you think you’re going to speak to Ben today?”

Hux’s whisper is hushed and startles Rey; she’d thought they were both still asleep.

Rey sighs. “I think I’ll try, but I won’t have much luck,” she whispers back.

He nods. “Bazine is definitely laying it on thick,” he commiserates. “I can try to figure out why, if you want.”

“I mean, we all know why. She’s playing the game,” Rey responds. “That’s all anyone is trying to do here, right?”

“He could also try to sneak away and talk to someone else.”

Rey shrugs and nestles a little further beneath the blankets. “Maybe he’s just not interested in me. That’s a completely possible scenario.”

“Are you guys like, a thing now?”

Rey feels Phasma startle awake behind her, and she looks up to see Snap standing at the foot of the daybed, blocking the sunlight from view. “Who?” Hux asks.

“You two,” Snap gestures between Rey and Hux. “You’ve been cuddling pretty much every night, now.” He tilts his head to the side. “I can see it. You’d work together.”

“That’s not what this is,” Rey says, sitting up in bed.

She brings her knees to her chest, letting the blankets fall around her ankles. Hux remains lying down, as does Phasma. “Should I be worried about what’s going on over there?” she asks jokingly.

“They were whispering and sharing secrets,” Snap says. “Wouldn’t be surprised if they were planning to crack on and leave you in the dust.”

“Stop it,” Rey mumbles.

Snap looks at her curiously. “You need to cozy up to someone if you have any hopes of staying, don’t you?”

“We’re evenly matched right now,” Hux says. “She’ll be staying. Everyone will.”

“You gonna pick her for it?” Snap wonders. “I don’t see anyone else chatting with her or showing interest in her.”

Through gritted teeth, Rey says, “I’m right here.”

Shrugging, Snap says, “I’m just saying. It’s probably time you start putting yourself out there and really trying to get something going. We’re in week three. You’re here to find love, right?” Rey nods. “So stop laying in bed with an established couple and start meeting other people.”

Rey scowls. It’s not as though she hasn’t been trying. But Bazine is hard to get away from Ben, and now that Mitaka has Rose, he’s far less motivated to try to score time with Bazine. “Ignore him,” Hux says to Rey.

She shakes her head. “I didn’t ask you for advice, thanks,” she says to Snap.

“Fine, then,” he says. “It’s just what I’ve been hearing around the villa. We’re all concerned. Thought you’d want to know.”

He walks away bare-footed across the lawn, leaving Rey seething in bed. “Ignore him,” Phasma echoes.

“I’m not trying to get in the middle of your relationship,” Rey says to them both.

“We know that,” Phasma insists.

She notices that Hux is curiously silent; Rey is too focused on her own thoughts to really notice. Instead, she sighs and says, “I’m going to get a pity pick.”

“But then you’ll be around and have more chances to meet the love of your life,” Phasma reassures her. “We’ll get you time with Ben, promise.”

Rey looks incredibly skeptical and opts to climb off the bed and wander over to the kitchen. Poe or no Poe, she wants tea and toast and she wants it now. As a bonus, she sees that Ben is in the kitchen, and Bazine is nowhere to be found.

He’s by the coffee maker, so Rey decides to mix it up and edge in with her mug. “Is there any left?” she asks.

Ben turns his head, his shaggy dark curls a mess atop his head; he’s clearly just rolled out of bed. He nods and pours some coffee into her proffered mug. “Do you want milk?”

Rey doesn’t usually drink coffee, so she’s not sure, but given she usually has milk in her tea, she nods. “Yeah, thanks.”

The conversation is awkward, stilted. She hadn’t actually expected to be able to say a word. Usually, by now, Bazine has intercepted the conversation and started filling his time. Ben pours some milk into her coffee, and as he does, Rey says, “I haven’t actually gotten to speak to you since the day you got here. I hope what I did during that challenge wasn’t weird.”

“What, rating me a ten?” he asks.

Rey blushes and nods.

“It was flattering,” Ben replies. “I didn’t expect it.”

Rey can nearly feel his voice in his chest, the deep rumble of it, the richness of the bass. His voice suits his size and stature. She feels soothed, at ease around him. It’s wonderful. “I hope Poe hasn’t gotten too angry with you for it,” she says. “He seemed quite upset.”

“I can handle it.”

It’s not clear whether that means he’s said rude things or not, but Rey finds that she doesn’t really even want to know. She’s trying to put Poe behind her, close that chapter of her time in the villa.

The silence between them hangs uneasy, but Rey desperately wants to say more. It’s just that now they’re standing face to face, all words have left her mind. She doesn’t know what on earth to say.

“So you’re cracking on with Bazine, then?” she asks.

He shrugs. “I’m keeping my options open.”

“Oh,” Rey says in surprise. “You just spend a lot of time with her. It’s been days and this is the first chance I’ve had to speak to you.”

Ben is quiet, like he’s contemplating what he should say.

“Sorry. We’re all just here to find love, I just —”

“She has a lot in her head,” Ben says. “I can’t tell you any more than that, but… I’m sorry you feel like I’m not here.”

“Oh.”

He turns to her, waving over Rey’s shoulder to Bazine, who is approaching with a lazy walk across the lawn from the villa. “I can’t tell you any more than that. You should talk to her. But… I’m not really spoken for, if that’s what you’re asking,” he adds.

“Hi Ben,” Bazine says as she approaches.

She wraps an arm around his broad shoulders, leaning in for a hug. “Hey,” he responds.

He hands her the coffee mug Rey had assumed was for himself. She frowns as the two of them leave her behind in the kitchen. “No coffee for yourself today?” Bazine asks as they walk to the sun loungers next to the pool.

“Guess I just didn’t brew enough,” he lies.

Ben glances over his shoulder at Rey, who’s taking a careful sip of her coffee. Once reclined on the loungers, Ben asks, “How are you doing today?”

“Better,” Bazine confesses. “I think it was just the shock of it, more than anything.” She sips her coffee. “Bet you didn’t think you’d be working on your holiday in the villa, did you?”

“It’s no big deal,” he responds. “I knew my therapist skills would come in handy here.”

Bazine raises an eyebrow. “Perhaps they cast you on purpose, with you being a therapist and all?”

Shaking his head, Ben says, “I doubt it. That would diffuse the drama. They want as much drama as they can get.”

“I suppose,” she concedes.

“But really, how are you feeling today?”

Bazine sighs. “Fine. Better than yesterday.”

“Have you heard anything more?”

She shakes her head. “I haven’t gotten any news since that first call after the Twitter game,” she explains. “I’m assuming no news is good news, but… who knows.”

“Your dad will be fine,” Ben says. “Like you said, he’s strong. And if something goes wrong, your sister will call and you’ll know.”

Bazine is quiet, blinking quickly as she looks up at the sky. Shaking her head, she says, “But we don’t know that for sure.”

“You’re thinking about all the possible negative outcomes. Try focusing on the positive ones.”

She fixes him with an exasperated gaze. “Easier said than done.”

“I know,” he nods.

Ben wants to help her through, but has also picked up on the fact that all the help he’s been giving Bazine is keeping him from building relationships with others in the villa. “I know you don’t want to, but maybe you should reconsider trusting others in the villa. They may know a thing or two about loss or the fear of loss,” he suggests.

Bazine shakes her head, frowning in disappointment. “I told you, I can’t trust anyone.”

“You trusted me,” he reminds her.

“You’re different,” she argues. “I’m interested in you.”

Ben combs a hand through his hair. “We’ve talked about this,” he says. “I… after our conversations, I can’t see you that way. I just can’t.”

Bazine frowns.

“You’re too good to be true, Ben Solo. You’re gonna break hearts.”

——

Week Three, Day Five

Rey is lounging on a pool float, soaking up the sun, when someone shouts from the kitchen that they’ve got a text. She’s taken by surprise when someone starts to push her floatie towards the edge; she hadn’t realized anyone else was even near her in the pool. Someone had been swimming laps, but she’d been too blissed out beneath the sun to really pay attention.

She’s shocked when she sees that it’s Ben, and he has a glint of amusement in his eyes at having shocked her. He holds the float steady as she climbs up onto land, and before she can thank him, she’s being nudged along by Jessika, to where Mitaka stands with his phone in his palm.

“Islanders. It’s time for a rose ceremony. Please get ready and sit around the fire pit. #nowornever #timesup.”

He looks up at the group as they stand in stunned silence. This rose ceremony, there’s a lot at stake. Though there are even numbers of guys and girls, a recoupling means that people who’ve clicked now get to share a bed together, leaving others — namely, Rey — sharing with people they’re not romantically interested in. It makes her feel a bit sick to her stomach.

As the group of islanders go inside to get ready for the rose ceremony, Rey notices that Phasma and Hux hang back, whispering seriously to each other. When they catch Rey’s eye, they turn away. The gesture, though probably not malicious, stings deeply, and Rey can’t help but swallow past a lump and blink back tears as she goes upstairs to dress up just to be let down.

Several of the girls seem quite excited to recouple in the rose ceremony, or to reaffirm their relationship. Rey can’t blame them; she’d love to be in their shoes, but things didn’t work out for her and Poe. Even though he hasn’t said as much, as cowardly as that may be, Rey knows that he won’t choose her. And if it’s down to the girls to choose the guys, she’s sure she won’t choose him.

Her options are limited, so she sees very little reason to dress up, but goes to a decent amount of effort regardless. She pulls on a simple powder blue dress, something with sheer cutouts in the midriff and a hem that ends mid-thigh. It’s not as sexy as what some of the other women are wearing, but Rey feels good in it. She lets Kaydel twist her hair up into messy buns down the back of her head, imitating a faux-hawk kind of look, and even lets Jessika apply a little makeup for her.

Rey feels like an entirely different person as she walks downstairs with the girls and has a seat around the fire with them and the guys. She chooses to sit next to Phasma, down at the end of the bench, and together they wait with bated breath to find out what happens next.

Then, Kaydel’s phone dings.

“Islanders. This week, the girls will choose the guys. Guys, line up on the grass. Girls, go down the bench starting with Kaydel and pick who you’d like to couple up with. Good luck everyone.”

The guys stand up and walk out to the grass, most of them looking confident and collected. Rey sits at the other end of the bench, knowing full well she’s going to get the last pick and end up with whichever guy is leftover after the rest of the women get their choice. That means no Ben, definitely no Poe, and probably nobody else she’s familiar and comfortable with.

Kaydel stands first, twirling a rose in her hands. “Alright, so the guy I’d like to couple up with has been so sweet and gentlemanly to me since I arrived in the villa. He’s handsome and genuine and I know that what we have is something special. So, Finn… will you accept this rose?”

“Yeah, of course,” he grins, walking towards her.

Finn wraps her up in a hug, spinning her around on the spot before giving her a gentle kiss on the lips. They sit together on the bench, indicating to Jessika that she’s up next, and that she should stand.

As she does, she flashes a coy smile at the guys. Snap winks at her, and Rey feels endlessly jealous. She wants something like that, something flirty and fresh and fun. Frowning, she listens as Jessika speaks.

“The guy I’d like to couple up with has honestly surprised me so much. What started as what I thought was a pity pick has actually become something really great and special to me. We’re just getting started but I have a feeling that this is going to lead to something amazing. So, Snap, will you accept this rose?”

He does a little cheer and leap on the spot, and then sprints over to her to cup her cheeks and kiss her. “Yeah, babe,” he responds.

Snap takes Jessika’s hand and together they walk to the bench and sit down. Rey’s almost angry at how easy it is for everyone to couple up. She pointedly ignores all the sweet things Paige says about Poe before choosing him, and tries not to feel too jealous when Rose waxes poetic about how she and Mitaka are perfect complements before choosing him. Rey should be happy for him, but is a little jealous that he’d found someone before she did.

Then it’s Bazine’s turn. When she stands, she looks serious, but more than that she looks a little sad. “The guy I’d like to couple up with has been a lifesaver since arriving here in the villa. I don’t know what exactly is going to happen from this point on, but I’d like to choose him to see where things go,” she looks down, and Rey wonders what’s running through her mind to make her look so sad. “Ben, will you accept this rose?”

He doesn’t smile; neither of them look very happy. But he nods and steps forward, accepting the rose and his place at Bazine’s side. They’re sitting on the bench together, but noticeably not as lovey-dovey about it as the other four couples.

That just leaves Phasma and Rey.

Phasma stands, looking every bit the boss bitch that she is. She looks pointedly at Hux, and then to Nines. They all nod, looking serious and determined.

“Right, well,” she begins. “I think we all know what the obvious choice here is. But what we’ve all failed to consider is Rey’s feelings about the situation. Some of us haven’t spoken to her, or allowed her to speak to many other men. Whatever the reason, it doesn’t matter. But I’d like her to feel comfortable in the days ahead with someone she’s familiar with, so to that end — Nines, will you accept this rose?”

Rey’s jaw drops.

That means —

She stands and can’t really find the words to say. When she looks over her shoulder at Phasma and Nines where they sit on the bench looking just like good friends, she raises an eyebrow. Both give her reassuring smiles and nod to her.

When Rey turns back to look at Hux, she feels a bit silly having to go through the spiel, especially because she’d already prepared some words for whatever she’d need to say to choose Nines — the guy she barely knew.

“Well… I guess this is an easy choice for me,” she says, a halfhearted joke. “The guy I’d like to couple up with has been a wonderful friend to me, just like others here in the villa. I’m really grateful for him, and… I dunno what else to say, really.”

Rey still feels like this was all done out of pity — she deserves none of their kindness or their help. It was her problem, not playing the field as she should have done. But this is her bid to stay in it, and to be able to sleep in the bedroom again, and she knows her friends were just trying to do something good for her.

Friends, looking out for her. It’s been a while since she’s had that.

“So Hux, will you accept this rose?”

“Of course,” he nods, stepping forward right away.

Rey gratefully accepts a hug from him, and ignores the strange looks she’s getting from Snap and Poe in particular as she takes a seat on the bench.

They wait in silence for a few moments until someone’s phone dings. It’s Paige’s, and she stands to read the message.

“Islanders. Congratulations on your recoupling, and for winning yesterday’s challenge. Your prize will be a massive pool party tomorrow afternoon. Best get a good night’s sleep and get ready to party hard. #beachbums #funinthesun.”

There’s some excited chatter between the islanders, but Rey tunes it out. Instead, she watches as the group disperses, Nines included. As he’s away, Rey looks to her left, at Hux, and then to her right, at Phasma.

“You guys didn’t have to do that for me. I don’t want to come between you,” she says.

“Don’t be silly,” Phasma insists, looking amused. “We can’t have you sleeping outdoors or on the sofa every night. You’ll be comfortable in bed with Hux, and I can handle sleeping next to Nines.”

Rey looks at Hux. “Are you okay with this?”

He nods, and then glances up as Nines approaches with four champagne flutes in hand. He passes the drinks out, and together the four of them toast.

It’s probably the strangest rose ceremony outcome Rey could have anticipated, but she’s not going to look a gift horse in the mouth.

Besides, she’s glad she won’t have to wake up in her own sweat again. Hux is a far better bed-mate than Poe ever was or ever will be.

Chapter Text

Week Three, Day Six

There’s a buzz throughout the villa the next morning as everyone gets ready for the pool party they’d won. There are all manner of animal shaped pool floats out on the water, bowls of fresh fruit and pitchers of sangria spanning the countertops of the kitchen, and sun loungers all set out next to the pool. There’s a massive sound system in the villa, and once most of the islanders are down in the yard, music starts to boom.

Right away, the party starts, Finn and Kaydel dragging Jessika and Snap out to the lawn to start dancing, goblets of sangria in hand.

Rey had been surprised, waking up next to Hux in her shorts and tank top, completely comfortable. She wasn’t sure she’d be able to do that in a bed with Nines, and as nice as he’s been to her, Rey didn’t particularly want to find out. But she’d been sleeping next to Hux for nights already, and they’d all seen that and recognized that.

She’s been so focused on how badly she wants to talk to Ben that she hadn’t bothered attempting to couple up with anyone — not that there was anyone else in the villa who caught her eye. The only guy she’d been able to think about since he’d arrived is Ben. Her few moments of conversation with him in the past few days had been absolutely amazing, but she wishes they could have real conversations.

With the kiss, there’d been a spark.

She desperately wants to explore what that spark was, what it means.

In an attempt to catch his eye, she’d borrowed a bathing suit from Rose, a little off-the-shoulder white bikini with black polka dots. It accents how tanned her skin has gotten while sunbathing the past three weeks, and she feels really attractive in it. She slides her Converse on her feet and her hair is tied up in a bun, and with her sunglasses on she goes right for a sun lounger.

As she’s walking towards the lounger, she’s intercepted by Rose, who excitedly skips across the lawn with Mitaka walking behind her, both looking incredibly excited. “Where do you think you’re going?” she asks.

Mitaka offers a goblet of sangria to Rey, smirking over the rim of his glass as he takes a sip of his own drink. “I was going to sunbathe,” Rey says, confused.

“Nope,” Rose giggles, shaking her head. “You’ve got basically the whole villa at this point wanting to see you and Ben spend a little time together, so we’ve arranged for you to sneak away.”

Rey raises an eyebrow. “One, why does anyone care whether I speak to him? And two, how could someone possibly sneak away in a place like this? There’s nowhere private,” she argues.

“Okay, so there’s about three people we’ll have to distract at any given time, but that’s not the point,” Rose says. “Phasma and I were plotting all morning, and —”

“Phasma’s been doing a lot of that lately,” Rey comments.

And,” Rose continues, “we’re going to keep those three people busy down here, so you can go up to the rooftop terrace and have a nice chat with him. Because everyone wants you two to meet. I got to see the episode, and… the spark was obvious. Everyone watching could see it.”

Rey’s cheeks turn bright red and she looks horrified.

“No, no, in a good way!” Rose reassures her. “Really. It was hot. If anyone had doubts about your feelings for Poe, there were zero doubts after that.”

Glancing over Rose’s shoulder to Mitaka does nothing to reassure Rey; he looks like he’s in total agreement with Rose. But accepting that would mean accepting that people all over the country can see how much she seems to care for Ben after one kiss and two short conversations.

“Go on up, then,” Mitaka says to Rey, smirking devilishly.

“I can’t believe you’re in on this,” Rey says. “You’ve disappointed me.”

He pats her shoulder. “You’ve wanted to have alone time with Ben for days. Now’s your chance. You’ve got most of the villa on your side helping you out, so don’t waste this.”

Rey nods, looking around the yard. “He’ll meet you up there,” Rose says. “Just head on up.”

Taking a deep breath, Rey nods and clutches the goblet of sangria Mitaka handed her before going back inside, wondering vaguely to herself if she ought to dress up a little more before Ben joins her on the terrace. She decides not to, given that Phasma, Rose, and Kaydel went to such lengths to help her get as dressed up as she already is.

She sits nervously on the rooftop terrace, the sound of the music from the speakers still booming, but now at a faint sound in the distance rather than echoing enough for her to feel it in her chest. The sun is high overhead, and Rey realizes with horror that she doesn’t actually know what she’s going to say to him.

She hadn’t thought that far ahead.

When the door to the small terrace opens, Ben stands there, broad and looming. He looks surprised, even with his dark Ray Ban’s on his face. His skin is shining in the sun, coated in a layer of sun cream, and his hair is as swooping and wavy as the day she’d first set eyes on him. He looks incredible.

“Hi,” she says breathlessly.

“Hi,” he answers back.

Ben walks towards Rey and takes a seat a respectable distance from her on the same bench as her; there are benches lining each of the half-walls of the terrace, all with a plush pillow atop them for comfort. Rey pulls one of the throw pillows onto her lap as she crosses her legs and faces him properly.

“I hear you’ve been trying to talk with me for a few days now?” he says, getting right to the point.

Rey swallows past a lump in her throat and nods. “It’s just —”

“I’ve wanted to talk to you, too.”

She looks up, shocked. “You have? Then why —?”

He sighs. “It’s complicated. It’s not my place to say.”

“But you’re coupled up with Bazine now.”

Ben is quiet. Rey can tell there’s something he’s not saying, that he’s not going to say no matter how much she might ask. “That’s complicated, too,” he replies finally.

“Everything’s complicated in here,” Rey says, frowning.

They’re both silent. Rey eyes Ben strangely, wondering why he’s not responding, or why he hasn’t tried to change the subject. She almost wonders if perhaps he’s not interested anymore.

“Um,” she begins.

“So what made you rate me a ten?”

Rey’s face reddens and she fidgets with the corner of the throw pillow on her lap. “It was a good kiss,” she says, skirting around the subject.

“There’s more to it than that,” Ben says simply. “Say it.”

Rey looks up at him, awed. He’s so straightforward, so intense — his words match his gaze, his demeanor. “I can’t describe it,” Rey says finally. “There was something… I’ve never felt anything like it before. I couldn’t even see you but you were everywhere. I thought I was going to fall over.”

Ben is quiet; he shifts his sunglasses up to the top of his head. Rey tries not to shrink under his gaze, the intensity of his dark eyes and the way he’s so immediately focused on her and her alone. “All that?”

“I literally couldn’t breathe afterwards. I… if you hadn’t been holding onto me, I might have fallen over,” Rey says. “It was the best kiss I’ve had in my life.”

He tips his head to the side. “I hear you didn’t have many before me.”

Rey brings the pillow up to cover her face. “That’s all anyone talked about, isn’t it?” she asks, her voice muffled by the pillow.

“Not all,” Ben says, “but a lot. It seemed a big deal that you went from nothing in twenty-three years to trusting Poe like that on day two.”

“Yes, well, I’m not entirely proud of that,” she confesses, lowering the pillow to her lap again. “You can see how it’s worked out for me.”

He shakes his head. “It’s fine. Honestly. Let them say whatever they want,” Ben says. “What matters is you’re here, and you do what you want to do.”

Rey bites her lip. “That’s easier said than done,” she adds.

“We’re up here alone,” Ben tells her. “If you could do anything you wanted to, right now, what would it be?”

She shakes her head. She’s not going to do that, to give in to his odd, intense flirting and the pressure to say what everyone is going to assume she’ll say. It takes her a moment to get past all the flustered feelings she has swelling up in her to come up with a good response.

“You go first,” she says.

“Nah, I asked you,” he responds.

He looks cocky, and it annoys her. But at the same time, Rey feels like this is more emotive than he’s been with anyone else in the villa, at least as far as she’s seen. She chews on her lip and brings a knee up to her chest, arms wrapping around it like she does when she’s nervous.

“I mean it. Do it. If you could do anything right now, what would it be?” he presses. “Show me.”

Rey shakes her head. “I don’t think you want me to do that.”

Ben’s eyebrows perk up curiously. “You don’t know that,” he responds.

She’s quiet as she studies him, the way his gaze never leaves hers, the way his whole chest seems to expand and contract with each steady breath he takes. Ben seems content to sit there all day and urge her to act on her impulses. Narrowing her eyes, Rey says, “Alright. I’ll do it.”

He nods, “Okay, then.”

In a surge of confidence, Rey casts aside her throw pillow and crawls down the bench towards him. Unceremoniously, and not nearly as smoothly as she’d hoped, Rey slides her hand into his smooth dark hair and pulls him forward into a kiss. It’s heated, almost frantic, like a dam bursting. It’s only been mere days since they’d last kissed, but it feels like a decade.

Rey loses her courage and leans away, but in an instant, Ben’s hands are on her, pulling her into his lap and not allowing her to break the kiss. She’s shocked by the gesture, but catches her balance easily. He’s warm and broad, her legs spread around his waist as she kisses him deeply. Wisps of her hair fly around the both of them and she drapes her arms around his broad shoulders. Ben’s grip on her hips is firm, but kind. He wants her there, but doesn’t get so possessive that she doesn’t have an out.

And his lips against hers — she can’t think, at least not about anything other than staying right there pressed against him, straddling him on the terrace where anyone could look up from the garden and see them.

Sure enough, someone cat-calls them, and the moment is destroyed.

Rey gingerly touches her finger to her lip, at the dampness there. She can taste Ben in her mouth, can feel the flush across her cheeks and the way her head spins just a little from it all.

That spark is definitely still there, and given his reaction to the kiss, she’d wager that maybe it’s not only in her head. “So…” she whispers.

“I’m just friends with Bazine,” he insists. “That’s not going to change.”

Rey nods; she’s seen how quickly things can change, won’t believe him until they have the chance to couple up with each other. But she understands the position he’s in, and feels it when she responds, “Same with Hux and I. He’s solidly with Phasma. He was just…”

“Looking out for you. Both of them are,” Ben says.

Rey nods. “A lot of people are, based on the fact that we could actually get time alone up here today,” she explains.

“You may not see it, but you mean a lot to many people here,” Ben says.

“Yeah, you’ve got that outsider’s perspective, haven’t you?” Rey asks. “Anything else I should know?”

Ben shrugs. “There’s lots of praise about you because you’re not afraid to be yourself. You wear your sneakers when the other girls wear heels. People like that,” he says.

Shrugging, Rey asks, “Do you like that?”

The smallest of smiles plays on his lips, the first one she’s seen on him, and it makes her heart race. “What do you think?”

Deciding to throw his earlier trick back at him, she says, “I asked you first!”

His smile grows. “Fair.”

Someone downstairs shouts at them to go back down and join the party. Rey rolls her eyes and stands up, raising an eyebrow at him, a silent question.

“Yeah, I like that about you,” he says before standing and leading her off the terrace and back down to the pool party.

Ben and Rey are barely down in the backyard before someone’s phone dings. “I got a text!” Poe shouts, holding up his phone.

Everyone gathers around Poe, who’s got an arm draped around Paige’s waist, and she holds his drink for him along with her own as he reads the message aloud. “Islanders, please gather around the fire pit immediately,” he says somberly.

The fire pit can only mean one thing: a recoupling, or a dumping. But it couldn’t possibly be a recoupling, not so soon after they’d just done one. Everyone seems so content with the people they’re with. Rey is filled with dread as she sits down next to Hux; everyone has to sit next to the person they’re coupled up with. She looks across the half-circle bench that curves around the firepit at Ben, who looks just as somber.

Whatever’s about to happen next, it’s going to hurt.

Another phone dings. Nervously, Jessika stands. “Islanders: Since your recent recoupling, the public have been voting on who their favorite new couples are. Couples with the least votes risk being dumped from the island,” she reads. “The couple with the most votes will win a night alone in the Hideaway.”

She sits, and the group waits in silence again to hear who will get time alone together. The Hideaway is a romantic, private bedroom in the villa, away from everyone else where they can do whatever they want. Cameras are still present of course, but whatever happens in there, they can keep secret until someone comes in and spills the secrets to the rest of the group.

Ben’s phone dings next, and he stands. “The couple with the most votes, securing 27 percent of all votes cast, who will win a night alone in the Hideaway is…”

He pauses, waiting for the next text to come through. Then, he reads it aloud.

“Rose and Mitaka.”

Mitaka sits still, looking stunned, and Rose’s eyes go wide. She starts blushing almost immediately as the rest of the group applauds with varying degrees of enthusiasm. Snap even goes so far as to whistle and let out a whoop of joy.

Ben sits down, and now they wait. That can’t be all there is to it. Next, Paige’s phone beeps, and she stands to announce that the couple in second place, with 22 percent of the votes, is Rey and Hux.

Both look shocked, and Rey can see the budding disappointment in Ben’s eyes. It doesn’t bode well for anyone when the public votes for a couple who isn’t currently interested in anything more than friendship. She looks to Hux, who is very obviously trying not to give anything away with his expression.

Third is Nines and Phasma with 13.5 percent of votes, which is just as confusing as Rey and Hux’s votes. It begins to plant seeds in peoples’ heads, if viewers see potential there. Hux and Phasma aren’t making eye contact. Ben’s brooding gaze is focused on the flames of the small firepit in front of them, making him look dangerous, a little terrifying.

Fourth place is Ben and Bazine, with 12.5 percent of votes, closely followed by Finn and Kaydel with 12 percent of the votes.

Rey’s phone beeps next. When she looks at it, her stomach sinks. She stands and reads, “Islanders. The two remaining couples must now walk to the green in front of the firepit to face the others.”

Slowly, Jess and Snap rise, hand in hand. Poe and Paige are right behind them. Their grips on each other’s hands are tight as they stand before the five couples who have been deemed safe. Then, Rey continues to read, “These couples are at risk of being dumped. Safe couples: you must now discuss with your partner which person from each of the two couples standing before you that you want to send home. One half of each couple will be dumped from the island tonight. You have five minutes to discuss, and then must come together to deliver your votes to the two at-risk couples.”

Rey’s voice cracks as she reads the message, delivering the news to the group. Snap and Jess have taken a step closer to each other, knuckles white as they hold hands. Poe is grimacing and looking down at the ground. When Rey turns back to face the other couples, she nods; they need to get to it if they’re going to make a decision.

She sits next to Hux, closer than she’d been sitting before. Whispers and thoughts from earlier when they’d been voted a popular couple aside, Rey needs something to comfort her, to remind her that this shitty situation isn’t one she’s going to have to handle alone. He’s kind to her and takes her hand.

“Well, we clearly know who to send home between Poe and Paige,” Hux says. “Snap and Jess will be the issue.”

Rey nods; though she’d been disinterested in Poe, as well, the fact that he’d done all of it behind her back was something that Rey couldn’t look beyond. She was upset by his decision to do that, and didn’t plan on forgiving him for that, at least not now. Not when they hadn’t even talked about it. This will be the only way she can get her retribution.

Snap and Jess, though… they’re a wonderful couple. Rey doesn’t want to have to break them up. They don’t deserve that. She can’t even fathom how they didn’t get the votes. Was it just because they settled into their relationship and then avoided the drama? Sure, Snap can be brash at times, but…

“Rey. We’re running out of time.”

“Sorry,” she shakes her head, clearing her mind of those thoughts she’d been mulling over. “I just — I don’t know who to choose.”

Hux looks at her for a moment. “It has to be Snap.”

“Snap? But why?”

“Easy,” Hux replies. “He’s only kind to you about half the time — doesn’t give me the time of day at all, most days.”

“You know you don’t mind that,” argues Rey.

Hux shrugs. “Still. How many times have you said you’re borrowing clothes or something from Jessika, or she’s given you advice or help you get ready for things?” he asks.

Quietly, Rey ponders his question. He makes a very good point; Jess has been like a sister to her, helping her to get all dolled up when they need to, offering clothes since they wear the same size. She doesn’t want to see her go. “But what do you think she’ll do if he’s the one to leave?” Rey asks. “I don’t know if she’ll just bounce back. It’ll break her.”

“This is part of the game,” Hux reminds Rey. “She’ll be fine. She’ll find a way to get past it, or she’ll choose to leave.”

“Or,” Rey argues, “she’ll stay, she won’t be coupled up with, and that’ll be two painful things that sent her home instead of just one.”

Hux sighs. “I suppose, but think of the alternative,” he continues. “If she is sent home, he’s going to crack on with someone new and she’ll be heartbroken from home. Either way, she’s hurt. This is going to hurt someone Rey, you need to just accept that.”

His tone as he finishes his sentence is harsher than she’s ever heard from Hux. It alarms her a little, makes her recoil just slightly and wrap her arms around herself.

She has no idea that Phasma has witnessed the exchange from across the bench.

“Fine. We’ll pick Snap, then,” Rey says curtly. “But you have to deliver the news.”

“Fine.”

She leans back on the bench indignantly, annoyed with the situation for making them break up couples like this, but also annoyed with Hux for getting so short with her. It’s not wrong of her to want to minimize the pain others feel. It’s not wrong for her to want to make the right decision.

But she also doesn’t want to get into an exhausting fight with Hux in front of everyone. She needs to let this go.

A phone beeps, and Mitaka announces to the group that it’s time for them to vote on who to send home between Poe and Paige. The votes are unanimous, which sends a shot of guilt through Rey: Poe is going home. He’d hurt her, deeply, and she knows she’d hurt him, too. But the fact that every couple sitting in front of him unanimously chose to send him home is overkill. It’s brutal. He’d been a jerk, but he didn’t deserve that.

Rey frowns and looks down at her lap, feeling sick with guilt.

Then, Nines receives a text that they must now vote on who to send home between Jessika and Snap. One by one, each couple stands to deliver their vote.

Snap. Jessika. Snap. Jessika.

By the time they reach Hux and Rey, seated at the other end of the bench, it’s a tie and it’ll come down to the two of them. Rey’s already angry that it’s come to this, that they have to break up the couple and that her friend is going to be hurting so badly at the end of this, no matter the verdict.

She knows who’s going home, knows who they chose, but it still brings tears to her eyes as Hux says to the group, “We’re choosing to send home Snap.”

Jessika’s eyes are damp and she turns to him, ignoring everyone seated on the bench. She holds him around his waist, her face buried in his shoulder as she absolutely clings to him, like she refuses to let him go. “Shh, it’ll be alright,” Snap whispers into her hair.

She can feel all eyes on her, but she doesn’t care. This is a moment for her and Snap. Jessika would rather she’d been sent home. That way she could be away from all the drama, all the whispering. But now she’s going to have to figure out what to do when new people arrive, but all she wants is Snap. “I don’t want you to go,” she whispers to him.

“I know,” he says, stroking his hand soothingly along her back. “I don’t want to go, either.”

“What am I supposed to do?” she asks sadly. “We just — I’m so sorry I didn’t give you a chance earlier. I was so stubborn, I’m always so stubborn and it always hurts me in the end, I —”

Snap kisses the top of her head. “None of that. You were just trying to protect yourself,” he reminds her. “You’re going to stay here, and you’re going to do what you need to do. If you meet someone… go for it. We’re not boyfriend and girlfriend, not yet anyway.”

“But —”

“We can be when you get out, if you don’t meet someone else,” he tells her. “But you came here for love.”

“Yes, but with you —”

“Don’t close yourself off to something new here. Don’t do that for me. You’ve only known me what, two weeks?” he continues.

He’s disappointed, sure, but he’s trying to be strong for Jessika. She’s taking this hard; he knew she would. He’d known as soon as it was announced that he’d be the one to go, and it would hurt Jessika immeasurably.

“Stay. Have fun. Meet people. If I’m still the one you want when you get out, we’ll jump back in,” Snap says to her. He keeps his voice gentle and calm, soft so only she can hear. “But if I’m not the one you want at the end… I won’t be angry with you.”

“Why?” she asks sadly. “That’s a horrible thing to do.”

Snap wraps his arms around her, holding her comfortingly close. “That’s what this game is, Jess,” he reminds her. “You do what you’ve got to do. Follow your heart.”

She snorts; it’s the cheesiest line he could have ever used. Fitting, sure, but cheesy and lame. But that’s exactly the type of person he is, and why she likes him so much. He’s a dork, trapped in a very handsome man’s body.

“No matter what, I’ll see you on the outside,” he says, coaxing her to look up at him. “You can’t get rid of me that easily.”

Her eyes are wet, and he wipes the tears from her cheeks as the group begins to crowd in, offering hugs and condolences and apologies. They’d been put in a shitty situation, but that was the game.

As per the text Jess and Snap had been oblivious to during their conversation, the two islanders who have been dumped, Snap and Poe, have only thirty minutes to pack their things and say their goodbyes. They’ll be leaving right away.

Rey hangs back, away from Hux and Jess and everyone else, watching as these men try their best to look brave and tough. “Everything alright?” Phasma asks.

Rey jumps; she’d thought she was alone. There’s an edge to Phasma’s voice that Rey doesn’t like. She can’t tell if she’s being paranoid, or if there really is something now, a barrier. The fact that Rey and Hux were voted as one of the top couples in the villa by viewers was a very unnerving thing for them both. Rey had hoped it wouldn’t affect their friendship, but fears that it has.

“Yeah,” Rey nods.

She says nothing more, and doesn’t make eye contact. She feels like she’s about to cry, her heart twisted and aching at what they’ve just done.

Poe completely ignores her, even as she steps closer to him to try to stay something. They need to clear the air; Rey’s going to feel like shit if they don’t at least give themselves some closure. But there’s no chance for that now. He’s going to devote his time to saying goodbye to Paige, and to the people who matter to him.

That’s not Rey anymore.

It’s frightening, how quickly their feelings towards each other had changed; Rey wonders if the same thing will happen to her and Ben. If relationships fizzle out like that, what’s even the point? She crosses her arms and leans against the wall in the living room as Poe and Snap say their final goodbyes, a taxi cab out front to take them to the airport.

People say their farewells; Snap at least acknowledges Rey and gives her a light hug in farewell. He asks her to take care of Jessika; Rey promises that she will. As Snap and Poe walk down the front walk to the taxi, Rey drapes an arm around Jessika’s shoulders. It’s next to nothing in terms of comfort, but Rey wants Jess to know she’s not alone in this. That even though he’s leaving because of Rey’s decision, she didn’t want to do it. Nobody wanted to hurt Jess and Snap like this.

For starting on such a high note, the day ends in the worst possible way. It’s hard to picture how they’ll all be able to bounce back from this. Rey doesn’t even bother trying to imagine.

Chapter Text

Week Three, Day Seven

Jessika sits in the wicker chair of the interview room, a massively oversized heathered grey hoodie on, a few tear stains on the sleeve of it. It’s Snap’s, and she looks devastated. She’s got her knees to her chest and her eyes are red and puffy. “I swore I wouldn’t do this,” she says miserably. “I said I wasn’t going to cry over a guy.”

Sighing, she pulls the sleeves of the hoodie over her hands. “It’s only been like, two weeks. But Snap… he was different. I thought he was this massive player and he wasn’t. He acts all tough but he’s really sweet and I… I honestly thought we’d make it to the end,” Jessika continues.

She sniffles and dabs at her eyes with the sleeve of his hoodie again.

“I just… I don’t know what to say. This is the game and I knew that, but it sucks,” she mumbles. After a deep breath, she confesses, “I thought about leaving with him. I like him that much. Like, I can’t imagine meeting someone new and just moving on with them like nothing ever happened. Not after someone like him. He didn’t even make me feel like a second choice, when I was all upset when Finn ditched me for Kaydel.”

Jess’s voice cracks and her lower lip starts to tremble.

“And like — it wasn’t even physical stuff. The most we did was kiss and cuddle,” Jessika continues. “Maybe that’s why? We weren’t like Finn and Kaydel. They’re just so out there. Not afraid of PDA or hooking up before we’re all properly awake. Snap and I… we just talked. We got to know each other. I feel like…” She sniffles again. “I feel like he and I know each other better than a lot of the couples in here do. Is that mean to say?”

She shakes her head and readjusts how she’s sitting on the chair, lowering her legs to the ground and leaning forward, elbows on knees. Burying her face in her hands, Jessika takes a deep breath.

“I just miss him so much.”

Behind her, the door to the small room begins to open, and Rey peeks in before apologizing and moving to leave. But when she sees who it is, Rey walks further in; Jess looks like she could use some company.

“Are you alright?” Rey asks hesitantly.

Immediately, Jessika shakes her head and says nothing. She looks absolutely miserable, so Rey sneaks the rest of the way into the room and moves towards her. The seat in front of the camera is large enough for two, and Rey settles in right next to her without even asking. Jessika is grateful for it, and leans towards Rey for a hug right away. Arms around her shoulders, Rey gives as much comfort to Jessika as she possibly can.

“I’m really sorry,” Rey whispers, frowning as Jessika wraps her arms around her waist and leans closer for a hug.

Jess sniffles. “You did what you had to do.”

Rey is quiet; she’s felt awful ever since they delivered the verdict, watching how much it was affecting Jessika. “I just… didn’t want to say goodbye to you,” Rey says. “I was selfish.”

“It’s alright,” Jess whispers. She releases a shaky breath and adds, “Now I can watch you properly fall in love.”

Frowning, Rey holds Jess closer; she still feels awful about what she’s done, and the fact that these tears are, in part, due to a decision she made. It’s been a guilt weighing on her, making it difficult for her to sleep the night before. Even soothing circles against her back from Hux in bed — she’d been facing away from him, it’s not like they’d cuddled up — hadn’t done the trick.

“We should go downstairs,” Jess says softly. “Time to see what chaos today will bring.”

Outside in the backyard of the villa, Jess retreats to the kitchen to have some coffee, and Rey goes out to the lawn where several brightly colored bean bag chairs sit occupied next to the pool, a couple empty ones basically begging her to have a seat.

Especially because Mitaka and Rose are sitting there with Paige, chatting, and Rey wants the dirt.

She grins and has a seat on the hot pink bean bag chair next to Mitaka. “So… how was the Hideaway?” she asks with a playful smirk.

“You’re the fifth person to ask us that,” Rose says dryly.

That doesn’t stop the massive grin from spreading across her face, though, and Rey notices it immediately. “You didn’t!?” she asks incredulously.

“No, we didn’t,” Mitaka interjects, but even he’s grinning, so obviously something happened.

Paige rolls her eyes, “They totally did. Even if they won’t own up to it. They’ve just decided to keep secrets which is totally unfair.”

Rey sends a look Mitaka’s way that says she will get him to talk about this later, but he looks away, feigning innocence. To save him some face, Rey turns her attention to Paige. “How are you doing?”

Paige shrugs. “Fine, I guess,” she responds. “I didn’t exactly have a ton of time with Poe to begin with.”

Nodding, Rey says, “Yeah, that’s true. Just a few days.”

“You had more time with him,” she says, acknowledging that Rey had been coupled up with him for the first time.

In fact, this might be their first conversation since Paige’s arrival. “Doesn’t mean I knew him well,” Rey responds. “You saw how easy it was for him to just… get rid of me.”

Frowning, Paige says, “I’m sorry about that. I didn’t know you two hadn’t spoken.”

Rey shrugs. “We were both avoiding it,” she replies. “And then we ran out of time.” The silence is awkward, hanging over the group for a moment. Rey glances to Mitaka before she adds, “For what it’s worth, he seemed much happier with you than he did with me.”

“Doesn’t matter now though, does it? He’s gone,” Paige responds. “But from what I’ve heard, it’s not shocking at all that the vote was unanimous.”

It’s difficult to read Paige, to figure out if she’s upset or has actually come to terms with the situation. Rey doesn’t particularly feel like asking, because the villa has had enough drama for a lifetime. Instead, she just asks if anyone wants to go for a swim. Paige takes her up on the offer, and together the two dive in and do some laps, instead of partaking in the usual gym workout most islanders stick to if they want to get some physical fitness in.

Meanwhile, over in the corner on the daybed, hidden from the harsh rays of the sun, lay Hux and Phasma. Nines has busied himself nearby in the gym, leaving the two to finally have some alone time. It’s been days since they’ve shared a bed, and things are tense, to say the least.

“We ought to talk about what happened, I suppose,” Phasma says, breaking the silence.

“I don’t think that’s necessary.”

They don’t look at each other, but they do remain leaned towards each other, propped up on pillows as they watch the scene in the yard unfold. Unbeknownst to Rey, Ben is watching her swim laps up and down the pool next to Paige. Bazine is in the kitchen, brewing herself some tea. Mitaka looks quite pleased to be seated next to Rose, who’s been walking funny all day. It’s funny, the things you notice when people forget they’re being watched.

Sighing, Phasma, says, “It is. Because I think look out for Rey might have meant something different to you than it did to me.”

Hux glances at Phasma from the corner of his eye. “Jealous, much?”

“You know as well as I do that it wasn’t necessary to comfort her like you did after we dumped Poe and Snap,” Phasma says. “And don’t lie to me — I saw you rubbing her back and getting all cozy with her.”

Snorting, Hux argues, “We’ve cuddled with her, and yet you’re upset about a little back rub? It wasn’t even sexy.”

“Do you think there’s anything to be said for the public’s votes?” Phasma asks, abruptly changing the subject. “Why on earth did you and Rey get such high numbers? And I cannot even begin to fathom why Nines and I got votes. We spoke maybe twice before the rose ceremony.”

“I don’t know,” Hux shakes his head. “I couldn’t be bothered with what the public thinks, to be honest.”

Phasma gazes at him wryly. “You’d care if they said shit things about you.”

“Yes, but they haven’t,” Hux says. “The tweets were mocking, at best, and this vote means nothing. I can almost guarantee you that they voted for Rey and I solely because they like Rey.”

Leaning back against the pillows, Phasma says, “You’re probably not wrong about that.” She lazily toys with the lid of her water bottle. “Everyone loves Rey.”

“She’s also made it clear that her affections lie solely in Ben,” Hux replies. “You’d do well to remember that.”

“Lecturing me now, are you?” she asks, amused. “Don’t get too ahead of yourself. If your theory is true, about the public only voting for you two because of Rey, then the moment she gets to couple up with Ben, you’re fucked.”

Hux’s brow furrows up, his irritation clear. “Oh, am I?”

Phasma sits up in bed and crosses her legs, facing him. “Unless you think we can get back on track?” she asks.

“I haven’t got a clue what we actually are, never mind what back on track might mean,” Hux responds. “A couple? Friends? Conspiratorial frenemies?”

Now it’s Phasma’s turn to snort in laughter. “We’re whatever you want us to be. We’ve kissed, it wasn’t weird.”

Her eyes glances up fleetingly to the gym, where Nines is hanging out. As Hux turns his head to glance over his shoulder, his expression sours.

“Ah. I see.”

“Oh, now who’s jealous?” Phasma snaps suddenly.

She looks sour. Hux can’t be bothered to reply. Instead, he stands from the bed and grabs his water bottle from the side table before walking bare footed towards the kitchen. Bazine is still there, finishing up her tea, as Hux sidles up to her.

“Is there enough for another cuppa?” he asks.

Hux stands on his tiptoes to grab a clean mug from the top shelf, before turning to properly face Bazine. “Sure,” she says, turning the kettle so its handle is facing Hux. “Earl Grey?”

“Of course,” he responds.

She pulls a tea bag from the box on the counter and opens it, dropping the bag into the mug Hux had fetched for himself. “Thanks,” he says, slowly pouring the water into the mug.

He fills it most of the way, leaving just enough room at the top for the amount of milk he prefers in his tea. Rather than walking away, Bazine chooses to linger near the countertop, watching him.

“You know,” she says, tilting the mug towards her lips and taking a sip before continuing. “I don’t think we’ve spoken this much before, ever. And we’ve both been in the villa since day dot.”

Hux glances up at her as he stirs his tea. She has a point. He doesn’t bother looking over at Phasma before he asks, “Is this you wanting to remedy that?”

Coyly, she responds, “Perhaps.”

He’s certainly never thought he’d be attracted to a woman like Bazine — she’s strong and independent just like Phasma and Rey, sure, but she’s far more glam than the women he’d previously gone with. He likes the women with a masculine side to them, not Bazine, the woman who wears cherry red lipstick more often than not, just for dramatic effect. Bazine, the woman with fake eyelashes and skin-tight dresses that leave absolutely nothing to the imagination.

“Shall we?” he asks, nodding to the shaded table nearby.

“Sure,” Bazine agrees.

Together, Hux and Bazine walk to the picnic table adjacent to the kitchen and settle in. To the rest of the islanders, the conversation looks dull, just based upon their expressions (or lack thereof). So much so that hardly anyone pays them any mind; there’s no juicy gossip there, as far as anyone else is concerned.

Ben’s eyes stray only slightly from Rey as she swims, just enough to see Bazine showing the faintest traces of a smile as she speaks to Hux. The sight fills him with a renewed energy for the villa, for life on the island.

Since she seems just fine, Ben takes a seat on the bean bag chair next to Mitaka, and across from Rose. If he wants any sort of chance with Rey, he’s going to have to connect with her people.

This is the first step.

Chapter Text

Week Four, Day Two

It’s odd to Rey, waking up in a bed next to Hux, not feeling like she’s in a sauna. It’s wonderful, but at the same time Rey finds herself wistfully wishing she could be in Bazine’s place, in the bed by the window with Ben at her side. Would he cuddle her? Would he keep his space like he does with Bazine?

She hasn’t been able to stop thinking about it since their kiss up in the rooftop terrace.

Things have gotten quite complicated in the villa, though, and Rey is already prepared for there to be some conflict on the horizon. Phasma, Hux, and Nines all plotted to look out for Rey, Phasma choosing Nines on purpose so Rey wouldn’t have to share a bed with a near stranger. She could have handled it, of course, but the sentiment is sweet.

But now Hux and Phasma seem cold toward each other, and Rey can’t help but feel like she’s to blame. She says as much as she sips coffee in the kitchen outside with Finn and Kaydel, the only other ones awake so far.

“I don’t think you need to worry,” Kaydel offers.

“It’s their relationship, not yours,” Finn adds. “If they can’t handle sharing beds with other people while they’re dating, maybe they’re not meant to last.”

Frowning, Rey asks, “Yeah, but in here, we can’t just get away from drama. What if one of them resents me for it? What if they both do?”

“Then they weren’t true friends,” Kaydel says simply. “And honestly, anyone who’d act like that towards you is missing out. You’re probably the nicest girl here.”

Rey’s brow furrows. “Nice?”

Finn nudges her comfortably. “Hey, Ben likes it.”

She looks at Finn skeptically. “Poe liked it too, and did you see where that got me?”

“Poe was a dick,” Kaydel blurts out. “You can’t let that define how you approach the rest of the relationships in here.”

Rey looks from Kaydel, to Finn, and then back to Kaydel. “We can’t all be as lucky as you two,” she says eventually.

“Who’s lucky?”

Mitaka wanders into the kitchen with Rose behind him wearing one of his tee shirts, a simple black bikini bottom peeking out from beneath it. Their hands are clasped, but as they reach the kitchen, they let go, for Rey’s sake.

“You,” Rey says bluntly, smirking at him.

“You guys ever gonna admit you hooked up in the Hideaway?” Kaydel teases as she pours Rose some coffee.

Mitaka opts for starting some water in the kettle, pointedly ignoring the question. “Why are you guys so obsessed with whether or not we had sex?” Rose asks.

“Someone’s gotta get some aside from these two over here,” Rey says, jabbing her thumb in the general direction of Finn and Kaydel.

“It’s only a matter of time for you, I’m sure,” Rose says to Rey, wiggling her eyebrows.

Before Rey can vehemently protest and insist that she and Ben will never get to that point — she’ll be lucky if they get a chance to couple up, at this rate — Bazine enters the back yard with her phone in the air. “I got a text!” she shouts.

Behind her, a trail of half-awake islanders walk into the backyard, ready to hear what the text says. Once everyone is gathered around her, she reads out, “Bazine. The public have voted, and today you are going on a blind date. Please get ready to leave the villa. #newbeginnings #wineanddine.

Hux and Jessika turn to look at Ben, who doesn’t seem that upset with the text. Bazine turns to look over her shoulder at him, and he nods to her in return.

“Wait a minute,” Paige says, realization dawning on her. “That means new guys. We’re getting a new guy!”

Just at that moment, another phone dings. This time, it’s Phasma’s. She reads it out, “Phasma. The public voted, and they want you to go on a blind date. You will leave the villa in an hour. #thirdtimesacharm #powermove.

Immediately, Rey looks over at Hux. Not only was the person everyone assumed he was still in a couple with — Phasma — going on a date, but so was Bazine, who he’d spent most of the day with the day before.

Then, a third phone beeps. Everyone looks around for a moment until Rose says with surprise, “Oh. I have a text.” She doesn’t sound particularly excited about it, but reads it out anyway.

“Rose. The public have voted and chosen you to go on a blind date. You leave in one hour. #keepyouroptionsopen #welcomewagon.

She frowns and looks up at Mitaka. “It’s nothing,” she says. “I’ll be nice, but I’ll let him know.”

“Let him know what?” Kaydel asks curiously.

Mitaka and Rose glance to her, and then back at each other. “We want to stay together,” Rose says.

“You’re boyfriend and girlfriend!?” asks Finn excitedly.

In the villa, being coupled up with someone doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re dating them. Couples still have to go to the trouble of becoming official, and last the islanders had heard, nobody was in a committed boyfriend/girlfriend relationship. Mitaka and Rose would be the first, if, in fact, that’s what they’re talking about. Rey eyes them curiously; she wouldn’t expect Mitaka to go quite that fast, but as it turns out, he’s surprised her quite a lot so far.

“Not yet,” Mitaka says. “But we’re not exactly shopping around, either.”

Hux whistles. “Who knew the Hideaway could have such an impact.”

“Ladies,” Phasma interrupts, a smug smirk on her face. “So sorry to interrupt, but shouldn’t we go get ready? We’ve got dates in an hour.”

Though Phasma was speaking directly to Rose and Bazine, all the girls except for Rey go upstairs with them, to help. An hour later, the group sees them off at the doors, Bazine and Phasma looking far more dressed up than Rose.

All three women get into the same vehicle that takes them away from the villa. As they ride in the car, Phasma leans forward to peek between the front seats at Rose, who’s been curiously quiet all morning. “Are you really not going to try to meet someone new today?”

Rose raises an eyebrow. “I’m going to meet someone new today,” she says. “And I’ll be nice. But I’m not going into this to try to find someone to couple up with. I’m happy with Mitaka.”

“Was he your first time?” asks Bazine.

Rose scoffs. “One, that’s none of your business, but no. Two, what is so hard to believe that we’ve just actually really hit it off?”

Phasma leans back in her seat. “Well for starters, you’ve only known each other a couple of weeks. Not even that. Didn’t you meet like a week ago? Five days?”

“One week,” Rose says. “But it’s gone well enough that we want to fight for this. We really get along, and enjoy each other’s company.”

After a moment of silence, Bazine cuts in. “Wait — so you two did hook up in the Hideaway?”

Rose rolls her eyes and sounds exasperated as she says, “Would you all stop asking me that!? Yes, we had sex. It was great. I fully understand why he’s been given the ranking of best kisser in the villa. Happy?”

Phasma and Bazine both grin in the backseat. “Yes, very,” responds Phasma happily.

They arrive at the location where they’ll each be having their date, and it’s a little park overlooking the ocean and some jungle-like areas along the coastline. There are three tables set up, and a man at each. The driver of the car only tells them to walk in following the order they got their texts, and those are the men they’ll be on dates with.

Dutifully, they line up — Bazine first, then Phasma, and then Rose. Then, they enter.

Bazine has gone above and beyond that day, really trying to take Ben’s advice into account. She wears a white lace top, something that ends just beneath her breasts to show off her toned stomach. The halter top ties around her neck and midriff, and she wears simple light colored jean shorts with it. She’s opted for some white and tan heels, sandals that tie up her calves, and her long dark hair is falling in waves over her shoulders. With her skin, tanned from weeks in the sun in the villa, she looks absolutely stunning.

The man she’s been set up with stands and gives her a warm hug and a kiss on each cheek in greeting. “Hi, nice to meet you,” he says.

Bazine notices that he’s several inches taller than her; she likes that a lot. “Nice to meet you, too,” she says, taking a seat opposite him at the table.

He’s a very thin guy, tall and lanky, with a face that makes him look quite young. “I’m Jasper,” he says, introducing himself. He notices her eyes on him and adds, “And I promise, I’m not a child. I’m twenty-four.”

“Still young,” she teases. “I’m twenty-eight.”

Jasper smiles and picks up his wine glass. Bazine copies, and they toast as he says, “Well, it’s only four years. Let’s not count anything out just yet, shall we?”

Next to enter is Phasma. She looks stunning in a black dress with what appear to be chrome accents, with a sheer cutout across the midriff. She’s opted for flat metallic sandals, and her blonde hair is in curls around her face. As usual, she wears her red lipstick. She’s greeted by a smiling man with dark skin and eyes that sparkle in the Mexican sunlight. “Hi there,” she says.

He reminds her of Nines, but less muscular. He’s tall and slender, with broad shoulders and a thin waist; closer to her type than Nines, for sure. “Hey,” he responds, standing up to say hello.

Phasma accepts a polite hug from him, and then they both take a seat. “Well, you already know my name, but what’s yours?” she asks.

“I’m Bastian,” he responds. “It’s really great to meet you.”

“Yes,” Phasma says, her smile never fading. “You as well.”

He leans back in his chair, glass of wine in hand as he studies her curiously. “So… you’ve had quite a time in the villa so far. How are you feeling about all of it?” he asks.

She laughs, bright and loud. “That’s a long story.”

“Alright, we can save it for another day if you’d like,” he says smoothly. “I just have one question about it all that I’d like answered now, if you don’t mind.”

Phasma raises an eyebrow and watches him curiously. “Depends on what that question is.”

He chuckles. “Are you spoken for?”

She takes a sip of her wine and mulls over his question. She hadn’t really considered that, not so outright. She’s not particularly pleased with Hux at the moment, though she’s not all that attracted to Nines either. In fact, she’d even gone so far as to telling Hux that he may have something to worry about at the next recoupling — something she’d blurted out without really thinking about it much.

Finally, she settles on her answer. “At the moment, no. I just haven’t found that connection I’m looking for, yet.”

Bastian grins and holds up his wine. “I’ll toast to that.”

Last to enter is Rose, who’s opted for less of a “bombshell” look than the other two girls. She wears a simple blue sundress with white flowers on it, her hair tied back in a messy bun. Rose doesn’t plan on snubbing anyone, but she does hope to make it clear to whomever she’s on this date with that she’s very happily coupled up already, and doesn’t plan to change that anytime soon.

She takes a seat at the third table, smiling politely at the man across from her.

He sits up when she enters, looking more interested than he had been just moments before. “Hi,” he says, looking a bit put out that he’d missed an opportunity to give her a hug in greeting. “I’m Brance.”

“Rose,” she responds with a smile. “But you probably already knew that, right?”

He shrugs. “Maybe.”

Rose, though still looking amused, narrows her eyes at him, trying to get him to fess up.

“Alright, alright, yes,” he concedes. “I also know you’re pretty tight with Mitaka.”

“Yes,” she nods. “I was going to talk to you about that, actually.”

Brance takes his wine glass and sips from it. “No need,” he says. “I understand.”

“You do?” she asks.

He smirks. “I saw the date in the Hideaway. It was the last episode I saw before I actually traveled to be here,” he explains. “I saw everything. I don’t think a single person could come into this villa and turn your heads.”

Rose looks both surprised and embarrassed. “That’s… did they really show that much?” she asks.

“Rose, you forgot to take your microphone off. That’s the clearest recording of people hooking up I think this show has ever gotten, ever,” he explains. “It was hot. And it also made it super obvious to everyone that you aren’t going to be pulled from him.”

“Well,” she says, trying not to look too embarrassed. “I appreciate you not coming in here to try to turn my head anyway. Some guys would, and…”

“Nah,” he interrupts, shaking his head. “You’re a gorgeous girl and if you were single, you bet I’d be trying for my chance with you. But I’ve had people try to break me and someone else up, and it fucking sucks. I wouldn’t do that to you guys.”

Brance is blunt and straightforward, sounds like an East Coaster from his accent, too, and Rose would probably be attracted to him if she wasn’t all eyes for Mitaka. She can admit when she’s met someone handsome, though, and she says, “Well, I appreciate that a lot. You’re a handsome guy. Not the type I usually date, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t have worked if timing was a little different.”

He grins and holds up his wine. “So, friends, then?” he asks. “And you’ll introduce me to your attractive single friends?”

“Yeah,” Rose nods. “Friends. And… I’ll try.”

They toast, and then have a sip of their wine, Rose feeling much more at ease about the date now that the two of them have had their serious conversation about what will and won’t happen.

The dates are over far too soon, and the now six islanders are shuttled back to the villa. As soon as they walk in, most of the new islanders crowd around them. Rose notices that Ben and Rey are curiously absent. It’s a flurry of greetings and introductions as the new guys all introduce themselves to everyone gathered around them.

Jessika retreats inside, letting the guys smile and hug the other girls in the villa, the ones they’re actually interested in. She looks near tears as she disappears into the small room with the wicker bench, to chat with some person on the other end, in the interview room. She crosses her legs and slouches back in the seat, looking dejected.

“So um… now I’m really wishing I’d gone with Snap when he got sent home,” she confesses. Jessika heaves a heavy sigh and pulls her dark hair over her shoulder. She plays with it absentmindedly as she says, “Three guys, and not a single one of them wanted to go on a date with me. Not one.”

She looks up at the ceiling and blinks in quick succession, willing the tears not to fall from her eyes. She doesn’t want to cry on camera. Not again.

“I guess it’s fine, though,” she shrugs. “I can leave on my own, or I’ll get sent home in a rose ceremony. Either way… I don’t think I’m going to be here much longer. Rey saved me for nothing.”

Jess takes a deep breath and glances to the door. Outside of it, she can hear everyone laughing and talking and otherwise having a good time. If she didn’t know exactly where Rey was, she’d consider seeking her out so they could talk. But Rey and Ben snuck away to have another chat on the rooftop terrace, and their time alone is coveted and precious, and in short supply.

So, Jess sighs and stands up, deciding to avoid most of the group and go upstairs to have a shower. The hot water and steam will help her relax… maybe.

Chapter Text

Week Four, Day Three

Bazine wakes bright and early to the sound of rustling blankets and bare footfalls against the tile of the bedroom floor. She blinks her eyes open just in time to see a flash of red hair turning the corner to leave the room. Her heart does a funny little jolt in her chest, and she has to remind herself that they’re not a couple, that he probably only thinks of her as a friend. That doesn’t stop her from climbing out of bed, though, and changing into a bathing suit as quickly as she can manage.

By the time she gets downstairs, he’s put on a kettle and already mixed himself a cup of tea. He looks up as soon as the door opens and Bazine steps out. Before she even gets within earshot, Hux reaches into the cupboard to grab her a mug. He then mixes her up some tea as well, greeting her with his best half-asleep half-smile, saved only for the most important people in the villa.

“Morning,” he says, offering her a mug and some milk.

“Morning,” she responds, giving him a coy smile.

“It’s nice not being the only early riser,” Hux comments casually.

Bazine smiles. “I’m not usually, but Ben takes up a lot of space when he sleeps,” she says, trying to avoid mentioning that it was actually Hux getting up and out of bed that woke her. “Every once in a while, he jostles me, so… here I am.”

“Rey is the same,” Hux says. “She doesn’t know she does it, though.”

Bazine snorts. “God, those two sharing a bed is going to result in a black eye, I bet,” she says.

Hux snickers at the thought. “It’s only a matter of time, I suppose,” he says. “Assuming you don’t choose him at the next rose ceremony.”

Shrugging, she responds, “I don’t know if I’d have the choice, even if I wanted to. Girls picked last time, so it’s got to be boys this next time, I figure.”

“Ah,” Hux says with a smirk. “But if we’ve figured out the system, they could throw a wrench into the plans.”

Her eyes sparkle with mischief. “Well then, let’s challenge them.” She looks up at one of the cameras. “Fight me!” she says playfully.

Hux glances up and laughs. “Come on,” he says, squinting in the sunlight. “I’m going to get burned. Let’s go to the daybed.”

Without waiting for her to agree, he begins to walk; he makes the assumption that if she’s interested at all, she’ll follow. Sure enough, she does. He takes a seat on the bed pointedly towards the center, watching to see where Bazine chooses to sit.

He’s pleasantly surprised when she scoots up on the bed right next to him, so their thighs are touching and their bodies are fully shielded from the sun. “So… you and Ben?” he asks, apropos of nothing.

“We’re friends,” she says simply. “Just friends.”

“But,” Hux supplies, waiting for the other shoe to drop.

Bazine shakes her head. “No, there’s no ‘but’ — he and I are just friends. He made it very clear that he’s only romantically interested in Rey.”

“Really?” Hux asks, shocked. “He doesn’t strike me as the type to be that upfront about anything, ever.”

“Once you break past his weird wall of silence, he’ll talk,” Bazine explains. “I was actually pretty proud of myself when I got him to open up.”

“Is he interesting, at least?” Hux wonders.

She shrugs. “I guess. He’s a therapist. He’s an only child. He’s a good listener but not really a good talker. Puts his foot in his mouth a lot, that kind of thing. So I guess he’s interesting, yeah. Unless you think you’re more interesting?”

Bazine turns to look at him, eyebrow raised. “Is that your not-so-subtle way of asking me about myself?” he asks.

She grins. “I don’t know. Did it work?”

He smirks back at her in return. “Depends on what you want to know.”

Bazine and Hux both take a sip of their tea, Bazine watching him from the corner of her eye, and Hux pointedly trying not to look at her. As they lower their tea to their laps, neither can fight a smile. Even better is the fact that Hux doesn’t have to worry about Phasma seeing or having a single thought about them — not that it’s any of her business — because she’s still fast asleep next to Nines upstairs.

Phasma and Nines haven’t kept as much space between them, literally, in bed the past night or two, since Hux and Phasma had their falling out. The sound of others getting ready in the next room over wakes the two of them, and they stay curled up in bed for a moment. Phasma smiles at Nines, who smiles sleepily back. “Hey,” he says groggily.

“Morning.”

Gently, she places her hand over his. He’s not her usual type, but it seems he’s her best shot at a romantic coupling at this point in the game, what with Hux cracking on with Bazine. The gesture shuts down the moment almost immediately though, and Nines withdraws his hand. “Phasma… we should talk.”

She grumbles. “At least let me have some tea first.”

Tossing back the covers of the bed, Phasma stands and looks around for her sheer black kimono. She shrugs it on over the shorts and sports bra she’d slept in and wanders off to the kitchen. It’s too early to have a serious conversation, nor does she particularly look forward to what he’s going to say.

Nines ends up downstairs in the kitchen just a few minutes later, wearing nothing but his gym shorts and some sunglasses. His dark skin glistens beneath a thin layer of sun lotion, and the waves in his hair are still perfect. He looks amazing, for having just rolled out of bed.

Phasma adjusts the sunglasses on her own face, massive dark frames with chrome accents that glint almost painfully well in the sunlight. She stirs her tea enough to splash the countertop beneath the cup, but doesn’t care. She also ignores the way Ben is watching her curiously.

“Want some toast?” Nines asks her as he wanders into the kitchen.

He’s holding the bag of bread in his hands and rummaging in the cupboard for some jam. “No,” Phasma says simply.

He sighs; clearly this is going to be more difficult than he’d anticipated.

He waits until she’s on her second cup of tea and he’s had a significant amount of coffee before he approaches her. She’s settled in on the bench by the firepit, a place far less foreboding than it is at night, when they’ve got to re-couple. Nines sits a safe distance from Phasma and says, “We need to just talk about this like adults.”

“Well then, speak,” Phasma responds.

She’s wearing her sunglasses, still, so it’s unclear whether she’s actually looking at him or listening. But Nines speaks anyway, because if he doesn’t, he may be waiting forever.

“Look — I know things with you and Hux are rocky right now. And I’m sorry about that. It sucks,” Nines says. “This whole thing with the public votes and mixing it up to protect Rey has done a lot for the relationships that we didn’t think they would. Which fucking blows. But it is what it is and we have to be adults about this.”

Phasma glances over by the pool, and then turns her head in his general direction; it’s the closest thing to looking at him that he’s going to get. “I am fine staying coupled up as friends if you and Hux don’t work out,” Nines says. “Like, we can stay coupled up in that way so when someone that’s more our type comes in, we have a chance. But… I can’t see you like that.”

“I can’t see you that way, either,” Phasma says bluntly. “I was tired, it was an accident.”

Nines frowns; it’s a front, obviously. Given her mood and the way she’s been treating him since she’d tried something romantic on him that morning, Phasma is very clearly upset that he’s not even willing to try.

“I’m sorry,” Nines says finally.

Phasma plasters a bright, fake smile on her face. “No need to be sorry, dear,” she says; every word is dripping with false kindness. It makes his skin crawl. “Just friends. Absolutely lovely. Exactly what I was hoping you’d say.”

She clicks her tongue and lifts her water bottle to take a drink of water. “Anything else?” she asks, saccharine sweet.

“Nope,” Nines says, standing up. He sighs in disappointment. “Good talk.”

The sarcasm is unmistakable, but he can’t be bothered to hang around while Phasma’s in her mood. He crosses the lawn to the gym, rifling around in the pile of gym shoes for his own so he can slip on his Nikes and get to work. Phasma crosses one leg over the other and takes another sip of water, trying to look nonchalant.

Truthfully, she’s incredibly disappointed and doesn’t really know how to process that feeling. Before she can really wrap her head around what just happened, Ben approaches. He’s in black shorts and a black tee shirt; how he’s not already sweating under the sweltering Mexico sun, Phasma can’t fathom.

She doesn’t greet him; it’s hard to tell if he’s sitting down just to get away from the crowd of people by the kitchen, or if he’s sitting down to speak to her.

She gets her answer when he speaks.

“You alright?”

Phasma sighs. “I’m brilliant, thanks,” she responds, a forced smile on her face.

“You know I can see right through you, right?”

Though he can’t see because of her sunglasses, Phasma rolls her eyes. “Oh God, are you going to tell me you have some sort of mind reading power or something? Does that chat up line even work?” she asks, fully defensive at this point.

“It’s not a chat up line,” Ben responds, his voice low and monotonous. He sounds almost bored with how defensive she’s being. “But given that Hux and Bazine are cuddling over on the daybed and Nines looks annoyed, I’d say things haven’t been going your way.”

Phasma is quiet. She doesn’t want to talk about this, not with Ben. She hardly knows him.

“Look, someone’s going to come in and knock you off your feet. It’s happened for a few people, and it can happen for you, too,” Ben says.

Dryly, Phasma asks, “You don’t really believe that, do you? Especially in week four?”

Ben sighs. “You’re getting defensive,” he observes.

“You’re bloody right I’m getting defensive,” Phasma snaps back. “My whole life I’ve been the girl who doesn’t look like the rest of the girls. I always get passed up by the attractive men because I’m too tall for them, or too broad. Like I don’t deserve to be in a bloody couple, too. I don’t even ask for that much. I don’t want them to fall in love, I just want them to stick around a bit, be a consistent fuck buddy or something. Go on dates with me. But no. None of that happens, ever.”

Ben is quiet as he studies Phasma. He’d sworn he wasn’t going to come into the villa to be a therapist — that was his job outside, and his time in the villa is meant to be a break from all of that. But habits are hard to break, and Phasma does seem to need someone to talk to. It’s probably better it’s him than almost anyone else.

“You don’t want romance, you want sex?” he asks for clarification.

“I’ll take what I can get at this point,” responds Phasma derisively.

Ben sighs. “Have you always felt that way?”

She’s quiet, thinking about the question. At least he’s intrigued her enough to get her to lower her defenses ever so slightly. Finally, she says, “I just think all that romantic stuff is stupid. I don’t get butterflies, I don’t want someone to tell me how much they love me and dote on me with flowers and romantic gestures. I like companionship and I like sex. That should be easy.”

Ben keeps quiet as he mulls over what she’s said. There are a lot of possibilities, reasons why she’s feeling the way she is, and it’d take a while to figure it all out. But he talks through some of it with her anyway, tossing thoughts and ideas at her with Phasma’s walls slowly lowering as she responds back. It becomes a very companionable conversation, a clear shift to anyone who’s watching them from somewhere else in the yard.

“Are you worried?”

Rey snaps out of her thoughts abruptly. She turns her head and looks over at Rose, who’s standing next to the countertop where Rey is perched with a water bottle in one hand and a slice of watermelon in the other.

She quirks an eyebrow. “Why would I be?”

“He and Phasma look pretty cozy,” Rose comments.

Sighing, Rey says, “I wouldn’t say they look cozy. But they’re getting along.”

“And you’re not concerned at all?”

Rey shrugs. “He’s a grown man and can do what he wants,” she says. “Besides, he’s a therapist. How do we know he’s not in therapist mode all over again?”

“I’m just saying,” Rose warns. “Phasma is ruthless, and I think she’s been dumped if that smile on Bazine’s face is any indication. So be careful.”

Rey looks like she’s holding a massive secret as she glances over at Rose and says, “I really don’t think I have anything to worry about.”

Eyebrow quirked, Rose asks, “Does this have anything to do with why you two weren’t down here when we got back from our dates yesterday?”

“Maybe,” Rey says in a singsong voice.

“Tell me!” Rose prompts.

Shaking her head, Rey says, “It’s nothing, really. We just went up to the rooftop and talked.”

“Your usual place, at this point,” comments Rose. “What’s with you two and being under the stars? It’s so romantic, but so cliche.”

Rey shrugs. “I don’t know. It’s quiet up there. Private.”

Rose wiggles her eyebrows suggestively, but gets a smack on the shoulder for it. “We might have kissed once or twice, but really all we did was talk. About like, what we do, who we are… what we’re looking for. And because of that talk, I don’t think I have anything to worry about with Phasma.”

“Wow. And you’re really that sure?”

Rey nods. “He’s a serious guy,” she says. “There’s a lot to him and… he’s very determined not to turn out like his parents. He’s taking this whole process very seriously. Yet at the same time, he’s still very guarded.”

“So how do you know you can trust him, if he’s guarded?” Rose wonders.

Rey swallows. “I can’t put it into words,” she says. “And maybe I’ll get my heart broken, in the end. But I feel something when I’m with him. It’s nothing he’s said or done, but… it’s just here,” he presses her hand to her heart, “and with him I just feel safe. Understood.”

The kitchen grows quiet as Rose watches Rey as she trails off, caught up in her head. She thinks she should say something, but doesn’t know what to say. Sure, Rose understands a strong attraction; she feels the same way with Mitaka. But what Rey describes sounds a bit naive. It makes Rose worry. But before she can think of anything to say, they’re interrupted by Mitaka who approaches with an odd, unreadable expression on his face. “Can I interrupt? I just want to talk to Rose for a minute.”

“Yes, talk,” Rey says, smirking. “Have fun, kids.”

Mitaka sends Rey a look that says it’s not going to be all that playful, which makes her raise an eyebrow at him. He subtly shakes his head, a signal that he’ll talk to her about it later. Or so she hopes.

Mitaka takes Rose’s hand and the two of them walk across the lawn towards the villa. He leads her through the villa and out to the rooftop terrace, where the sun is shining down on both of them; it’s a beautiful day, which is a direct contrast to the odd, somber expression on Mitaka’s face.

“What’s wrong?” Rose asks almost immediately after they’ve sat down.

“Nothing’s wrong, I just —”

“You’re scaring me.”

“Sorry, I —”

Mitaka stops, and Rose blessedly doesn’t interrupt him again. He takes a deep breath and holds her hands in his own. “I know we’ve only known each other for like a week, so I’m perfectly ready for this to be too much too soon, and scare you away, but I wanted to talk about us. What we have. Like… what we’re doing,” Mitaka says, rambling through his thoughts.

“Oh,” Rose responds, looking surprised. “That’s… not scary at all, actually.”

“Really?”

Mitaka looks shocked. Rose nods. “Yeah, really,” she says. “I hate when people just like, skirt around things they want to talk about. Just up and say it, you know?”

He nods. “Right. Yes. Exactly.”

“Oh god,” Rose says all of a sudden, realization dawning on her. “You’re not going to dump me, are you?”

“No!” Mitaka responds immediately. “Of course not, no. Not after —”

Rose sighs in relief. “Good. I’m glad.”

“You are?”

“Yes, of course,” says Rose. “We’re talking in circles. It’s — sorry, I’ll stop interrupting. What did you want to talk about?”

Mitaka chuckles nervously. “Well,” he says, reaching between them to take her hand in his own. “I just… I wanted to talk about where we stand, and how I feel. Because it’s important that you know. I really need you to know.”

“Okay,” Rose nods. “I’m listening. I promise I won’t interrupt.”

He smiles. “Thanks. It’s simple, really.” Mitaka shrugs. “I’ve sort of known since our first date, when you and your sister first got here, but especially after the Hideaway… I’ve never really felt like this before. For anyone ever, not just anyone in the villa. I haven’t a clue if it’s infatuation or love or what, but you should know that… I’m going to be that cliche who wants to put all their eggs in one basket, really soon. I’m absolutely, one-hundred percent into you. And since we don’t know what’s going to come next, I want you to know that no other new girls are going to turn my head. I’m staying loyal to you for as long as I can. Until you tell me you don’t want me to be, really.”

Rose beams at him and squeezes his hand reassuringly. “That means a lot to me,” she says. “Thank you.”

Mitaka is silent. The word but plays on repeat in his head as he waits for her to say something else, to shoot him down like others he’s dated have done.

“I like you, too. A lot.”

Mitaka looks at Rose, the surprise clear on his face. “You do?”

“Of course!” she laughs. “Why wouldn’t I?”

“No, I’m glad you do, I just…” he trails off, recollecting his thoughts. “This isn’t usually how these conversations go, for me.”

Rose leans closer to him, scooting against his side, prompting him to release her hand in favor of wrapping an arm around her shoulders. “I maybe should have said this before, so everything made more sense to you, but…” she looks up at him and smiles, her eyes sparkling in the sunlight. “I only sleep with people that I really, really like.”

Mitaka’s whole face reddens. “You know, for deciding not to tell the whole villa, quite a lot of people in the villa now know about that,” he comments.

Rose laughs. The sound makes him smile. “Well… it’s hard to keep secrets here, to be fair,” she replies. “Plus, I think we’re both kind of bad liars.”

“Kind of?” he teases.

“We’re terrible liars,” Rose amends.

They look into each other’s eyes, so close their noses nearly bump. Rose scrunches up her nose and smiles, prompting Mitaka to lean forward and drop a sweet, gentle kiss at the tip of her nose. Then, he leans in further, pressing their lips together. Rose drops a hand to his thigh and leans into his touch, so grateful to have found someone so quickly.

She can only hope the same happens for her sister, and soon.

Chapter Text

Week Four, Day Four

It’s not often that there’s a dull day in the villa. This one is an odd day, a day in which the islanders lounge around wondering if someone’s going to get a text — if there’s a recoupling on the way, or new islanders, or a dumping. But there was nothing, until about midday when Rey got a text saying that there’d be a party that night, complete with a DJ and stellar cocktail mixes. Everyone is expected to dress to impress.

As the sun sets outside, the girls all sit around their dressing room getting ready. “D’you think there’s going to be a surprise dumping or something?” Jessika wonders as she curls her long, dark hair.

“Perhaps,” Phasma says, leaning forward as she angles an earring through her earlobe.

Rey stands back by the wardrobes, browsing the clothes in front of her. Rather than each having their own, at this point the islanders have sorted items by size, and all started sharing clothes.

Rey opts for what appears to be one of Phasma’s tunics, something slinky and black with an open back and silver strings to tie however tightly she’d like. It’s much larger on her than it is on Phasma, and Rey finds that though it’s a bit short, ending in her upper thighs, she likes the way it looks. It’s baggy over her arms, it slides off her shoulders if she slouches just enough, and the open back goes all the way to the top of her panties.

Rose whistles when she sees what Rey has chosen to wear.

“Well, we know who’s trying to fuck Ben tonight,” Phasma teases.

Rey’s face turns bright red. “I don’t know if I want to do… that,” she hisses. “But I’d like to go to some sort of effort for him, yes. This is the first party we’re going to where we’re... a thing.”

“You look incredible,” Paige adds from where she sits at another vanity, applying some eyeshadow.

It’s clear that Bazine hasn’t said anything or paid Rey any mind, but Rey doesn’t want to ruin the night by bringing up whatever thing Ben and Bazine had previously. It hasn’t gone unnoticed by Rey, however, that Bazine has been spending more time with Hux. She’s wearing a shimmery silver crop top and tight black skirt, clearly going to the same sort of effort for Hux as Rey is for Ben.

Their time to get ready is over before they know it, and all the women walk out into the backyard to see that the guys have already started making them cocktails. Ben hands Rey a glass of sangria, holding a beer in his own hand, and looks her over. From the front, the dress is pretty simple, perhaps even modest. But when Rey turns around to wink at Hux as he hugs Bazine, Ben’s eyes bug out. He sees the hem of lacy black panties, and he sees nothing but her smooth, perfect skin between the thin, loose ties at the back of the dress.

“You’re welcome,” Phasma says to Ben, before walking right past him and up to Nines. “Can we chat?”

He nods, offering her a glass of champagne. “Sure,” he says.

The two of them walk off to the bench that curves around the firepit, sitting just as they had the day before, a safe distance from each other. It’s awkward, at first; Nines has no idea what she wants to talk about, and isn’t sure whether he should ask. Thankfully, Phasma speaks and he doesn’t have to worry anymore.

“I need to apologize for yesterday, first of all,” she says. “It’s not fair of me to be upset with you for your honesty, and for not wanting to waste either of our time forcing something that isn’t there.”

Nines nods. “Of course. I’m sorry I upset you.”

Phasma takes a sip of her champagne and then says, “The second thing I wanted to talk to you about is a little more serious, I suppose. I had a long conversation with Ben about it yesterday.”

“You two are…?” he asks, shocked.

“Oh, god no,” Phasma laughs derisively. “He is most certainly not my type,” she says. “No, but he’s a therapist, and took up that role with me whether I liked it or not, so I’ll have to be sure to pay him for that eventually. But…”

She’s quiet, and Nines patiently waits for her to speak. He doesn’t have a clue what’s coming, just knows it must be a bit deal if it was a revelation thanks to Ben and his impromptu therapy session.

“It’s come to my attention that I might potentially be of a different… sexuality than I thought,” Phasma says. “Though I’m not entirely sure that’s even the right word to describe it.”

Nines tips his head to the side. “Oh?” he asks.

“Yes. Well, it’s no secret that I don’t mind getting physical with someone. I haven’t exactly done it in here, but speaking about it, it’s obvious that… well,” she hesitates.

“You’re not afraid to discuss sex,” Nines says. “A bold and refreshing approach from a woman, if you ask me.”

“Thanks,” Phasma says, her shoulders relaxing ever so slightly at his apparent understanding. “Well, I don’t know for absolute fact yet, but I suspect that I may be aromantic. So… fine with sex, not interested in romantic attachments. I think. It’s all very new to me.”

Nines raises an eyebrow. “Ben didn’t tell you definitively that you are though, right?” he asks. “Because —”

“No, he didn’t,” Phasma interrupts. “He just explained it to me, after I nearly had a meltdown trying to work through why I’m having such a difficult time in here.”

Sighing, Nines nods and says, “That’d make it challenging, for sure.”

They’re both quiet for a moment, sipping on their drinks as Nines takes in the news, and Phasma tries not to worry too much about her place in the villa, or what comes next.

“Thanks for trusting me,” Nines says after a moment. “I can only imagine how difficult this is for you to work through.”

“Of course,” Phasma nods. “Though we’re coupled up as friends, I would say now that you’re probably one of the people I’m closest to here in the villa.” She sighs and says, “I’m not going to pressure you for a physical relationship, I promise.”

Nines shrugs. “That’s not what yesterday was about,” he says. “I’m just not sure we’d work out romantically. Now, clearly, we know at least part of why that is. But… I’m not repulsed by you or anything.”

“Wow, high praise,” Phasma says dryly.

“I’m trying not to be a total perv here,” Nines responds, chuckling.

The corner of Phasma’s mouth turns up in a smile. “What’s the fun in that?” she asks playfully.

He narrows his eyes and looks at her curiously. “Are you…?”

“Flirting? Yes. Clearly.”

Nines snorts into his drink.

“C’mon,” Phasma says. “You can’t deny that it’s the dream to have a woman sat across from you, offering absolutely nothing but sex. Honestly.”

He shrugs. “You’re not wrong.”

“So?” she asks, quirking an eyebrow.

Nines laughs and shakes his head. “You’re unbelievable,” he says.

“That’s not a no,” Phasma continues, looking rather pleased.

His shoulders shake with laughter. “We can try it. Friends with benefits while on Love Island? I never would have guessed.”

“And,” Phasma says, pointing to him with the hand in which she holds her champagne, “if you find a girl who strikes your fancy, you can duck out, no harm no foul. Promise.”

His laughter dissipates ever so slightly, growing more serious as he thinks about the sort of thing she’s saying. If he finds someone he likes, she’ll step back, and by extension, risk being dumped from the island. “You’re a good woman, Phasma,” Nines says.

He holds up his glass in a toast. Phasma tips her glass to his, the small ding of the glass echoing between them. “Yes, yes I am,” she says smugly.

Across the lawn, echoes of cheers and laughter break them out of their conversation. Curiously, they look up and Phasma asks, “Shall we go see what’s happening?”

Nines nods. Together they stand and cross the lawn to walk to the kitchen, where the rest of the islanders stand around. Excitedly, Jess and Paige pour champagne for everyone. “What’s happening?” Phasma asks, extending her flute for a refill of champagne.

“Finn and Kaydel are official!” Rey explains, a massive grin on her face.

“Boyfriend and girlfriend, finally,” Finn says, positively beaming that Kaydel had said yes.

“Our first official couple,” Paige adds, looking so pleased for them.

Off to the side, though she’s poured everyone celebratory drinks, Jess looks a little disappointed. Undoubtedly, she’s thinking that it should have been her and Snap. But they’d sent him home, and now she was dealing with the lonely, frustrating consequences.

Nobody even thinks twice when they get a text message saying they get to choose a couple to spend the night in the Hideaway. Unanimously, Kaydel and Finn are voted as the couple to go, and as everyone retreats to the villa to get ready for bed, they cat-call and remind them to be safe as they wave goodbye to Kaydel and Finn.

She’s blushing furiously as the door closes behind them, but everyone knows she won’t be nearly that shy as soon as they’re all alone. If the two were bold enough to hook up in the communal bedroom, there’s no doubt whatsoever that they’ll take full advantage of a private bedroom for the night.

And speaking of couples taking advantage, Hux and Bazine find themselves a little tipsy, and far more in favor of sharing a sleeping space with each other than with Rey and Ben. However, the rules of the villa only allow them to share a bed with the person they coupled up with in the last rose ceremony, which means… not each other.

But that doesn’t mean there isn’t anywhere else to sleep. Hux gives Rey an apologetic shrug before following Bazine out of the bedroom and into the backyard, to the daybed where he’s spent the night with Rey and Phasma before. Only this time, it’s just him and Bazine, and she’s wearing no makeup, and some shorts with a sports bra, and she looks more irresistible than ever.

“Are you sure about this?” she asks. “Rey won’t be mad?”

“I could ask the same about Ben,” Hux responds as he climbs into bed, wearing shorts and a plain white tee. “But we both know they don’t mind.”

She seems unsure, but Hux suspects it’s got nothing to do with Rey and Ben. “What’s on your mind?”

Bazine is quiet as she lays in bed, blankets pulled up her whole body, tucked beneath her crossed arms. She looks up at the night sky. “Are we moving too fast?” she asks.

Frowning, Hux says, “I don’t think so, but if you feel like we are, perhaps this isn’t the best idea.”

“No,” she says immediately, reaching out for him as he moves to get out of bed. “Sorry. I just…”

“This is new,” Hux reminds her. “New can mean frightening.”

Bazine frowns. “Then why don’t you seem afraid?”

He shrugs. “I don’t know. I haven’t been this sure of anything in a while, truthfully.”

She’s quiet, not sure how to respond to what he’s said. While Bazine is sure that she and Ben are only ever going to be just friends, she’s not entirely sure that she’s ready to jump into something else. Hearing that Hux is actually surprises her a little; he very rarely seems to show emotion around the rest of the islanders, including her.

But then Hux is lying down next to her, giving her space, and she feels more at ease. “Sorry, just… this whole thing has done my head in,” she mutters. “Ben and Rey and the thing happening with my father and… all of it.”

He rolls onto his side, facing her. “It’s alright,” he reminds her. “We’re in a very odd situation.”

“I just really fancy you, and I’m worried about fucking things up, just as I have with every other guy that I’ve coupled up with, and…”

Hux chuckles. “Your Yorkshire accent gets thicker after you’ve had a few drinks,” he observes.

Bazine covers her mouth with her hand, suddenly self-conscious about speaking. “No,” Hux says, coaxing her hand away from her mouth. “I like it. Keep talking.”

As he pushes her hand away from her face, she turns her hand and laces their fingers together as their hands drop between them. “I dunno what to say now,” she says, her Northern English accent growing stronger still.

Hux used to mock people with those accents, preferring his posh accent instead. But when Bazine speaks, it’s different. He finds himself not only okay with the accent, but attracted to it. Bazine has gotten him to reconsider quite a lot about himself in the past few days.

“What do you want me to say?” she persists.

He finds himself speechless for a moment, distracted by her eyes and the way they’re sparkling in the moonlight. “Anything you want,” he says finally, his voice hushed and soft.

Bazine swallows thickly. Only one thing comes to mind, and she’s not sure if she should say it aloud.

“Kiss me.”

She blurts it out anyway, surprising herself as she does. Hux nods and leans forward, closing the distance between them. The kiss is slow and chaste; though they’ve kissed before, in the challenge that feels like it was weeks ago now, it was good. But this — because they want to, rather than because they have to — it’s perfect. It feels like everything that was missing in the past few weeks has finally come forward.

Bazine smiles, breaking the kiss to scoot closer to him in bed. She pulls the duvet up to their shoulders, and Hux loops his arm around her shoulders, holding her to him. She kisses him again, taking her time like there’s nothing that could possibly ruin the moment. The stars are in the sky overhead, there’s a gentle breeze blowing through the warm summer air, and she’s curled up in Hux’s arms, kissing him. She couldn’t ask for anything better.

——

Week Four, Day Five

“I’ve got a text!”

It’s midday, and Bastian is immediately excited when he gets a message on his phone. He stands in the backyard, waiting for everyone to gather around to hear what the message says.

“Islanders, today you will be participating in a team challenge. Whichever team wins gets a special treat that won’t be shared with the opposing team. Please get into your bathing suits and have seats on opposite sides of the pool. Bastian will be leading the activity. Five minutes — go!”

Those who aren’t already in bathing suits — mostly the men — disappear upstairs to get changed. Five minutes later, just as instructed, everyone is gathered at the pool. Bastian holds his phone in hand and reads, “Team Love, over on my right, will consist of Brance, Jessika, Rey, Kaydel, Mitaka, Hux, and Bazine.”

“Aw, why do they get to stay in their couple,” Kaydel whines playfully, gesturing to Hux and Bazine.

“You got a night in the Hideaway with Finn last night, you have no room to complain!” says Jessika.

At the perfect moment, stopping any argument that may be about to happen, Bastian speaks. “That means that over here,” he gestures to his left, “is where Team Lust will be. Members of this team are Rose, Phasma, Paige, Ben, Finn, Jasper, and Nines.”

Phasma whistles and looks at Paige and Jasper, who’ve been quite cozy the past few days since his arrival. “Looks like we’ve got a couple on each team,” she observes.

“Two, even,” adds Nines, smirking mischievously at her.

After the group breaks into two teams, it’s time for the challenge to begin. Bastian reads out the rules, saying that he is keeping score, and he has a list of challenges in hand. Once he reads them out, each team has to do them, and whichever team finishes the challenge first gets the point. At the end, the winning team will get a special prize, to be revealed at that time.

“First challenge,” says Bastian. “Someone on your team must plant ten lipstick kisses on a boy’s abs. GO!”

Everyone looks around, a bit frantic. Kaydel squeals and rushes upstairs, sprinting as fast as she can. On her heels is Rose, looking determined to win this. Kaydel makes it downstairs first, and she’s got lipstick smeared all over her lips as she rushes to the first boy who stands up: Brance. She’s got three kisses on his abs by the time Rose is in front of Finn on her knees, kissing his abs with magenta lipstick.

“That point goes to Team Love! Good job Kaydel,” Bastian grins. “Rose, that was close, but not quite close enough.”

Both women are blushing as they stand around with the rest of their team; it’s so odd, doing something so seemingly intimate with someone who isn’t their partner. At this point, some couples have been together for weeks, and are quite solid.

“Next,” says Bastian. “The first boy and first girl on each team alphabetically must kiss for at least five seconds. GO!”

Both groups circle around, immediately thinking over who that would be. “Ben and Paige! Ben and Paige! Go!” Rose shouts.

The way she’s bouncing up and down and generally just cheering indicates that she’s a very competitive person, serious when she needs to be, and quick-thinking on her feet. Though Ben looks reluctant, he’s just competitive enough to give in. He leans down and presses a kiss to Paige, who holds him at the back of the neck as the group counts to five. Over on the other team, Brance and Bazine are kissing, and Hux is pointedly looking away.

“Team Lust! Great job, you guys,” Bastian shouts eventually, marking the score on the scoreboard.

Now, it’s a tie. There’s a buzz of competitiveness and excitement out in the yard of the villa that day, and it’s a nice change from the tension and drama they’ve all been experiencing lately.

“Next challenge,” says Bastian. “Everyone on your team must lie down and spoon in one long line — in height order.”

Immediately both groups begin sorting themselves by height. It’s a very close call by the time everyone has laid down on the grass, arms looping forward around whoever is in front of them.

“Okay, let’s take a look,” Bastian walks towards Team Love first. “From shortest to tallest we have Kaydel, Jessika, Rey, Bazine, Mitaka, Brance, and Hux. Aww, look at that bromance!” He laughs. “And then over here on Team Lust, we have Rose, Paige, Finn, Jasper, Nines, Ben and then Phasma. Who would have thought Ben would be the little spoon, huh?”

Across the lawn, Ben can hear Rey giggling — her laughter is unmistakable, and he’s only keeping himself from flying off the handle because it’s her. “It was a close call, but Team Love got it first! They have taken the lead.”

Next up, the oldest boy and oldest girl on each team have to kiss for at least five seconds — Brance and Bazine again for Team Love, and then Ben and Phasma on Team Lust. When the kisses end and Ben and Phasma’s team are declared winners, Rey catches Ben’s eye. He looks guilty, but she gives him a smile to try to reassure him.

They’re a couple, yes, but this is a game. They’re both competitive people, and will do what they have to do in order to win. Besides, Rey has already kissed Phasma, and will not hesitate to remind Ben of that fact later, when the game is done.

Next, each team must send a couple into the pool to have an underwater kiss. Immediately, Paige and Jasper run for the water, grinning and laughing. It takes a moment for Team Love to choose who to send; they end up telling Bazine and Hux to just go.

Paige and Jasper win the point for their team, putting Team Lust in the lead with three points to Team Love’s two points. Though they win, the cheers end up being aimed at Bazine and Hux, though, who end up having a far more romantic kiss than was probably intended. The kiss began underwater, but moments later they break the surface, Bazine’s arm around Hux’s shoulder as he stands, holding her by her waist and lifting her up. Their lips are still connected, and there’s a hint of a smile on her face as they stand up and he lowers her down so her feet can touch the bottom of the pool.

Several whistle and cheer, including Phasma, though Rey’s voice is the loudest. It takes a moment to get back to the game after that; though he desperately wishes he wasn’t, Hux can feel himself blushing furiously at the attention.

“There are only two challenges left!” Bastian announces excitedly. “Team Love, you have the chance to tie things up and make it much closer over a game. Team Lust, if you pull ahead, you will be the winners. Let’s do this!”

Both teams cheer and wait for him to say the next challenge. It’s the opposite of one earlier: the youngest boy and youngest girl on each team must kiss. “It’s us — it’s us!” Rey shrieks, knowing they’ve had the conversation about age earlier, and that she’s one of the youngest there.

She nearly knocks Mitaka over in her rush to kiss him. He laughs into the kiss, hands on her upper arms as she cups his face and kisses him the required five seconds.

“Team Love gets the point! It’s a tie game!” Bastian shouts.

Rey jumps up and down as she cheers with the rest of the team, though undoubtedly she and Kaydel are the ones with the most enthusiasm for the game. Standing in their groups, the teams look at each other, hearts racing as they face the tie-breaker challenge.

Bastian grins as he reads the challenge before he reads it out loud. “Alright. Three people from your team must jump into the pool —”

Right away, Rey starts to run towards the water, and Rose is on the other team doing the same thing.

“Completely naked,” Bastian adds.

Rey hesitates for only a moment before she reaches for the waistband of her bathing suit. If she angles herself just right, nobody will see much of anything. Rose is far less conservative about it, tossing the bathing suit to the side without a care in the world before jumping into the water. She’s joined by Phasma almost instantly. Rey leaps in, and doesn’t realize until she resurfaces that Kaydel and Jessika have joined her.

One last splash — from Finn, member of the other team — tells everyone what they need to know: Team Love has won.

Bastian shouts the results to the islanders, but Rey is already cheering excitedly, well aware of their victory. She never wins things, both in the villa or out. It’s a huge deal. Rey, Kaydel, and Jessika gather together for a group hug, forgetting for a moment that they’re completely naked. When they realize, they laugh it off, and swim to the edge of the pool to find the pieces of their bathing suits and pull them back on.

“Missing something?” Ben asks, holding out the pieces of Rey’s blue bikini to her.

She blushes furiously and nods. “Thanks,” she says, grabbing them.

It’s not the most graceful thing she’s ever done, but she manages to get the swim bottoms on while standing in the water. Then, she plants her hands on the edge of the pool and pushes up and out; her top is all strings, and there’s no way she can tie them in the water.

Ben helps her, tying the string behind her neck first, and then the one at the center of her back. “Congrats on the win,” he says, finding her excitement to be quite cute.

“Thanks,” Rey grins. “It was fun.”

He raises an eyebrow. “Kissing Mitaka was fun?”

Laughing, Rey says, “Not as fun as kissing Phasma. Been there, done that. Not bad, huh?”

Ben’s eyes bug out a little. Rey doesn’t tell him the story, not yet at least, because the group is gathering around Bastian again to see what their prize is going to be. Rey looks absolutely over the moon when she hears that the prize is a night out, grabbing pizza and beers at a local place. “God, I can’t wait to have someone else make me food,” Rey says happily.

“And pizza? It’s my favorite,” adds Kaydel.

Grinning, Jessika adds, “Totally worth skinny dipping.”

Rey nods and says, “I’d skinny dip for pizza any day.”

Even after the drama of Snap leaving, of couples changing, the excited vibe from the challenge lingers on in the villa. It’s an incredible change of pace, refreshing and joyful, and completely changes the mood of the place.

The only uncertainty remaining is how long that peace will last.

Chapter Text

Week Four, Day Six

The day starts about as average as any other day. Everyone wakes on their own, goes downstairs, grabs tea or coffee, and begins to lounge around the yard. Challenges are the exception rather than the rule, and with one having just been completed, it promises to be a quiet day. Nines is swimming laps in the pool, Ben and Rey are sporting sunglasses and sunbathing next to the pool looking cooler than everyone else in the villa combined.

It’s no shock, then, when someone’s phone dings.

“I’ve got a text!”

Jasper is standing next to the daybed where he’d been seated with Paige. Most people just look up to find him, rather than walking to him to be closer. After he’s sure he has everyone’s attention, he reads, “Men, tomorrow you will have a big decision to make. It is up to each of you to vote for two men you want to see dumped from the island. Women, you will have no say in the final voting. To influence who is or is not sent home, you must discuss with the men of the villa. At tomorrow night’s party, two men will be dumped.”

Suddenly, the casual, relaxed vibe of the villa is gone. It’s been replaced with anxiety and fear, of the unknown, of what could happen to everyone else in the villa. The women are frowning; they have no say in which men are to be dumped, yet they’re the only ones dating them. It seems unfair, to say the least.

Immediately, Rey turns her head. “Please don’t send Hux or Mitaka home. They’ve finally found the women they’re meant to be with,” she begs.

“I won’t,” Ben replies simply. “I was thinking Nines and Brance.”

Surprised by how easy he made it sound, she asks, “You had your mind made up already?”

Ben shrugs. “I don’t want to overthink it. I look at it this way: Nines is coupled with Phasma for friendship. Bastian seems to be flirting with her which makes me think they might have a chance — more of a chance, if Nines is out of the picture. Jasper has been spending a lot of time with Paige. Which leaves Brance as the odd one out, not in a couple or with a potential couple. That’s all there is to it.”

Rey smiles. “You make it sound so easy.”

“It is,” he says. “Save the couples. Not a difficult strategy.”

“True,” Rey agrees. “What’ll be difficult is convincing the others to do the same.”

Across the lawn, Jasper sits down on the daybed, frowning after having delivered the bad news. “It’s fine,” Paige says, resting her hand on his forearm comfortingly. “They know you’re only the messenger.”

He frowns and shakes his head. “It’s more than that, though,” he explains. “I’m pretty new here. I haven’t had a chance to really make friends with the other guys. I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s reason enough for them to send me home.”

“But they know you and I are a thing,” Paige argues. “Ever since Poe got sent home, people have been trying to find someone for me. Same with Jess after Snap was dumped. Now that I’ve finally found you, why would they send you home?”

Shrugging, Jasper argues, “Well, they haven’t exactly been told outright that we’re together. At the next recoupling, assuming I’m not sent home, we’re choosing each other.”

“Do you want me to tell them that? I’ll tell everyone in this villa right now that we’re coupled up, if it’ll make you feel better,” Paige offers. “I won’t let them send you home just because they don’t know you that well yet.”

He looks unsure, but doesn’t say yes or no to her offer. Paige scoots closer to him on the daybed, snuggling up next to him. Jasper’s arm drapes around her shoulders and he looks down at her. Paige looks so sure of their relationship, of his status in the villa; Jasper only wishes he could have the same certainty. Her hand is warm and comforting as she rests it on his chest before leaning forward to kiss him. It’s slow and chaste, but puts him at ease, though only temporarily.

“I’ll talk to everyone,” Paige says. “Mitaka will be an easy vote, I just have to talk to Rose. But I’m sure I could convince the others, too.”

“Just be careful,” Jasper warns. “This is all a game. If they think you’re laying it on too thick, they might actually vote for me when they weren’t planning on it.”

Paige sighs. “If they send home yet another one of my partners in here, I’m going after one of them and destroying their relationship, hands down,” she says, her voice growing tense and strained. “I had to deal with them getting rid of Poe, I won’t deal with them getting rid of you, too. If I have any chance of staying here until the end, they either have to leave well enough alone and let me have my guy, or they’re going to have to pick me.”

Though he doesn’t exactly like the thought of Paige being with anyone else in the villa, he laughs anyway. “I like your determination,” he says.

“Well I like you,” she replies. “And I will not let them ruin what we have.”

He kisses the top of her head and holds her a little closer. “Thanks, love,” he says; Paige smiles at the sound of his accent. “I appreciate you trying for me.”

“Of course,” she nods. “I’ll just… do it after we have a nap.”

Paige yawns, and it’s so cute Jasper can’t resist having a bit of a laugh.

Across the lawn, as Nines works out in the gym with Finn, Bastian sees an opportunity to sit down and have a chat with Phasma. “Hey there,” he says as he slides down onto the bench next to her.

Phasma, classy as ever, is nursing a mimosa, even though it’s barely past noon. She’s wearing chrome and black sunglasses and her lacy black kimono over her black bikini. Even on a lazy, relaxed day, she looks more dressed up than most women in the villa.

“How are you doing?” he asks.

“Alright, and you?”

Bastian shrugs. “Not bad. I haven’t gotten to speak to you much since our date.”

An amused smile crosses Phasma’s lips. “This is true. It’s been a busy couple of days.”

“How are you feeling about things?”

Phasma is quiet, trying to figure out how much she wants to tell him, or what she’s going to say. Opening up to Nines was one thing, as they’re coupled up and it makes sense that he knows a lot about her. But Bastian — they went on one date, and they had a nice time flirting and having drinks — he’s new, and he’s unfamiliar. And trusting strangers isn’t something Phasma takes lightly.

“I’m weighing my options,” she says diplomatically.

“Like Nines?”

She sighs. “Yes, he’s a factor,” she confesses.

“Where’s your head at with him? Like, are you two romantically attracted to each other, or…?”

He trails off, and Phasma wonders if he’s even sure he knows what he’s asking. She certainly doesn’t know how to respond. Shrugging, she says, “I’m just seeing where things go. He’s a good guy.”

“I know,” Bastian says. “I am, too, though. And I thought we’d talked about getting to know each other better.”

“We flirted,” Phasma laughs. “I flirt with everyone.”

Bastian frowns and asks, “So I have no chance?”

“Darling,” Phasma responds. “I’m not the one you need to be speaking to about all of this. This vote is part of the game, and the vote is going to be done by the other lads in the villa. If you want to stick around, chat to them, not to me. I’m going to sit back, let the chips fall as they will, and see who’s left.”

“You’re not going to ask for anyone to be saved?”

She shakes her head. “Half the fun of this bloody game is the uncertainty. I want to see what happens. Leave you boys to it, pick up the pieces when it all falls apart at the end of the dumping,” she says simply.

“What if you’re left with nobody?”

Phasma shrugs. “I didn’t expect to make it this far. Going home now wouldn’t bother me one bit.”

Confused, Bastian asks, “But what about the money?”

“I think you’re the only one I’ve met so far who seems to care about that,” Phasma responds.

She stands, clearly finished with the conversation. “Best of luck,” she says sweetly, before walking away.

Dinner that evening is a tense one, with everyone opting to make food and disperse throughout the villa. Some nights, they gather together and everyone eats around the same large table, but this week, that seems a rare occurrence. Both because of the night before, when half the villa was out for pizza and beers, and now, when they could cut the tension with a knife. It’s clear the guys are nervous — some more than others — at the thought of their fellow men in the villa sending them home. There’s been conversations all over the lawn and in the villa itself, guys making alliances, or pleading their cases.

Shortly after eating, Rey and Ben disappear as they usually do, up to the rooftop terrace that has, in effect, become theirs. “This is becoming our nightly thing, isn’t it?” she asks with a coy smile.

Ben is seated in the corner, looking calmer than he has all day. Rey approaches him and sits next to him, draping her legs over one of his. HIs arm drapes around her shoulder as he replies, “It’s nice.”

“It is,” she nods in agreement.

They’re both quiet, enjoying each others’ company just as they had in nights previous. They’re good at sneaking away, at hiding up on the terrace while everyone else is down in the yard, doing whatever it is they do at night.

“I wish we could share a bed,” she sighs wistfully.

It’s a thought that’s been on her mind for days now, especially now that Hux and Bazine have taken up company on the daybed outside; it’s the only one, and she’s forever jealous that they’ve staked a claim to it. Rules state that beds in the villa are for couples who are officially coupled up only. Even though Ben and Rey’s partners have chosen to share a bed outside the villa bedroom, the two of them aren’t allowed to share in the bedroom. They have to make other arrangements.

But Ben is too tall to sleep on the couch, so they’ve been in separate beds, all alone, having to get their alone time to cuddle or kiss up on the terrace before it’s time for bed.

Ben rubs her back and says, “There has to be another re-coupling soon. It’s been a while.”

She nods, but it’s not enough.

“Why do you want our own bed so bad?” he asks.

Rey blushes; there’s a lot implied in wanting to share a bed with someone, at least in the villa. They’ve kissed plenty, but it’s always been so innocent. They never take it too far for fear of being caught, or interrupted. What they do alone is nobody’s business but their own — at least, Rey thinks, until they’re in the bedroom sharing a bed just like everyone else.

“No reason,” she says in a singsong voice.

They both know exactly why, though. Ben sits up a little straighter and moves her legs off of his. “What —?”

“Come on,” he says, reaching for her hips to guide her onto his lap.

Rey’s cheeks blush furiously, but she follows his lead until she’s straddling his lap and looking down at him. Her pupils are blown and she’s biting her lip, clearly holding back some desires deep within her.

Ben’s hands are warm and comforting on her hips, sliding down over the curve of her bum, and along her thighs. “There. Was that so hard?” he asks.

Rey smirks, eyeing him curiously. “You’re awfully flirty tonight.”

He tips his head upwards, his nose bumping hers. “We’re all alone. This is nice. I —”

Before he can even say what was on the tip of his tongue, Rey closes the distance between them. She steadies herself with an arm around his shoulders, her free hand cupping his face as they kiss. His hands are large, covering her whole back as he pulls her body closer to his own. They’ve hidden in the back corner so nobody on the lawn can see them, which is good, because Rey does not particularly want to be interrupted in that moment.

Kissing Ben is unlike kissing anyone else — not that she has much experience to begin with — and it sets her whole body alight in sensations she’s never quite experienced before. Poe was gentle and sweet, but Ben is electric and exciting, both comforting and dangerous all at once. She can’t wrap her mind around how such a thing is possible.

The thought disappears from her mind as his hand slides up the inside of her sequined crop top; she can’t focus on anything, not really, not when he seems to consume her completely even as she’s the one seated on his lap, holding him there on the bench.

The things she’d do with him… she swore she’d never do them on the telly, where the whole world could see. But unlike the rest of the islanders, she doesn’t have a family back home to disappoint. She doesn’t have friends who’d judge her for doing such a thing. Rey is independent, and she feels like she’s about to burst from the wonderful sensations shooting through her all thanks to Ben.

Rey has half a mind to drag him to the shower, or the nearest closet, just to have her way with him even if it’s nothing near what she’d imagined for her first time. But she manages to keep herself controlled, at least a little. She doesn’t mind the way her skirt has bunched up around her waist, or how much of her bare skin is exposed to the cameras, to Ben’s hand, to his mouth. He could have it all, if he deigned to take it.

Her head tips backward as his kisses trail from her mouth, to her jaw, to her neck. The softest of moans escapes her lips, fingers tangling in his hair, before the cameras fade to black and viewers get to see no more.

——

Week Four, Day Seven

The mood in the villa is somber the next morning; though the men have all had conversations, they don’t know for sure who’s staying and who’s going. Nobody will know until the dumping that evening.

The solid couples spend most of the day curled up together — Ben and Rey end up spending much of the day sunbathing as Rose and Mitaka sit in bean bag chairs nearby, the four of them carrying on lazy conversations when the mood strikes. Hux and Bazine are solidly situated on the daybed; they haven’t moved much from it, aside for food, and if they’ve done more than kiss, they’ve managed to cover it up very well by making the bed each morning. Paige and Jasper have spent some time in the pool with Kaydel and Finn, laughing and playing chicken and lounging about on the pool floats — to viewers, it looks completely normal.

But the islanders aren’t speaking much, and there’s a thick tension in the air that no amount of forced laughter or extra bottles of alcohol can change.

The tension only grows as the day wears on; even though the girls are removed from any of the high-stress things like having to choose someone to send home, or being at risk of being sent home, they’re still worried. The guys can be unpredictable, and after they were asked to submit their votes via text earlier that afternoon, the tension only grew.

Rose burns her hand on a curling iron, and Jessika accidentally stabs her eye with her mascara, and it’s an all-around difficult time, even as they get ready for the party.

When the party starts, everyone makes a beeline for the alcohol without making much conversation. Couples cling to one another, making the odd guys out feel even more tense. They sit in the backyard, nursing their drinks and wondering with knotted stomachs when the text will come through, when they’ll find out the results of the vote.

Finally, a text comes through. “I’ve got a text,” shouts Hux from his seat on the daybed. He doesn’t even wait for everyone to gather before he reads it aloud. “Islanders, please gather around the fire pit immediately. Men, please line up on the grass.”

There’s hesitation, but eventually everyone begins to stand and walk to the curved bench. Nobody, not even the women, look happy. After sitting in tense, nervous silence for some time, another phone dings. Jessika stands.

“Islanders,” she reads. “The men have voted on which other men should leave the villa. The two men with the most votes will be dumped from the island immediately.” Jessika pauses and looks around, waiting for another message to come through. “The first two men who are safe are…”

She looks around. The tension is stifling. “Finn and Mitaka. Please have a seat.”

Both men look absolutely gobsmacked to be first names read aloud, as men who are safe from the dumping. Finn walks to Kaydel, who wraps him up a warm, comforting hug. Rose does the same to Mitaka, and gives him a kiss on the cheek, as well. Both couples hold hands and wait anxiously for more news.

Next, Kaydel’s phone dings. Her hand is trembling as she holds her phone in her palm and reads.

“The next two men who are safe are…”

She takes a deep breath and closes her eyes before reading the next message that came through.

“Nines and Ben. Please have a seat.”

Nines looks shocked; his eyes go wide and he just stands there for a moment. As he does, Ben crosses the short distance from where they’d lined up, to walk directly to Rey. She wraps her arms around his shoulders and kisses him subtly on the cheek before they turn back to face the four guys remaining: Hux, Bastian, Jasper, and Brance.

Ben keeps an arm wrapped protectively around Rey’s shoulder, the tension in the air still thick and stifling. On Rey’s other side sits Bazine, looking absolutely terrified. Rey takes her hand and gives a reassuring squeeze. Hux has to be safe. He has to be. Another phone dings.

This time, Phasma stands. She looks at the four remaining men and then reads, “Gentlemen. I will be reading in just a moment the names of the final two men who are safe. If you do not hear your name called, you will be dumped from the villa immediately.”

There’s nothing but the sound of the crackling fire as Phasma waits for the news to come through. As soon as she reads it, her shoulders relax. The outcome must be what she’d been hoping for.

“Jasper and Hux. You are safe, please have a seat.”

Bazine stands, looking shell-shocked, as Hux approaches her. “I thought you were going,” Rey hears her whisper to Hux.

“Me too,” he whispers back.

They embrace, as do Jasper and Paige, and the final two men are left standing all alone. Most look apologetic; the guys hadn’t wanted to send anyone home, really, but they’d had to, and they’d done it strategically.

Ben was quite an influence, whether he realized it or not.

Hugs and apologies are shared before Brance and Bastian head inside to start packing their things. Bastian seems a bit angry, avoiding Phasma at all costs. Brance, on the other hand, had really gotten to know people. Though he hadn’t clicked with anyone romantically, he’d been a positive and very handsome presence, and quite a few people had taken a liking to him.

“Sorry I didn’t have anyone to set you up with,” Rose says as she hugs him goodbye in the foyer of the villa.

“It’s alright,” he says. “You all seem very happy.”

He’s riding on a much more positive mood than Bastian, who appears to just want to leave as fast as he can. The time passes by in a blur, until the two guys load up into the Jeep that came to pick them up, and their ride disappeared into the distance.

Mitaka frowns as they turn to walk away from the front door. “That was really tough,” he says.

“I can’t believe they made the guys eliminate a guy, that’s so odd,” Jessika comments.

A few others voice their agreement. But what’s done is done, and now all they can do is hold their breaths and wait to see what the next week has in store. A whole month has passed in the villa, and only two weeks remain before the winners are chosen. For many, it feels like they arrived just yesterday, and none of them can fathom what possibly comes next.

Chapter Text

Week Five, Day One

The islanders barely have a chance to shrug off the intense stress of the previous day before something new comes to add a twist. When Rey hears Paige shouting that she’s got a text, she hopes in her heart that it’s a recoupling, that she and Ben can finally pair up together and share a bed and be as lucky as the rest of the islanders.

Instead, Paige reads, “Boys, today you will be welcoming three new women to the villa. You’ll get to speed date them in the garden just like the girls did at the start of your time in the villa. Two lucky girls will get to stay and join the rest of you. Please get ready for the day. Girls, you will spend the morning upstairs, able to watch the dates if you’d like. #mixitup #watchfuleye

Rey pulls a knee to her chest and looks over at Ben, who’s on the sun lounger next to hers, out by the pool. “You have nothing to worry about,” he says simply.

It’s so easy for him to give such blunt affirmations to Rey; she’s often taken aback by it. She’s not used to someone communicative and respectful of her feelings. It’s probably what comes with the territory of his job, but she’s quite happy for it.

Similar conversations happen across the garden — Jasper promising Paige that he’s only got eyes for her, Mitaka reminding Rose that they’re solid, and Finn reassuring Kaydel that he’s going to tell each new girl right away that he has a girlfriend. Even Hux puts an arm around Bazine on the daybed they’ve essentially claimed as their own, and says that he’s not interested in meeting new girls.

“One could catch your eye anyway,” Bazine reminds him.

Hux shakes his head. “Relationships take effort. Why would I go to the trouble of putting so much effort in with you, only to give that up so quickly?” he reasons. “You’ve nothing to worry about.”

He kisses her for full effect, but she looks unsure. Given how many times she’s been passed off to someone else, he supposes it makes sense, but Hux would quite like it if she’d trust him. At this point, the best thing for him to do is to prove his devotion, so he resolves to do just that.

The guys get ready and dress well, even if most of them have no interest in dating one of the new women. Most wear a button-down tee shirt or polo shirt with some shorts and boat or lace-up shoes. They look great, and only a few of the girls opt to get dressed at the same time. Most just gather in the second-floor group bedroom with swimsuits on. Rey is seated on her bed, cross-legged and looking boredly at her fingernails.

“You’re not worried?” Rose asks, planting herself on the bed next to Rey.

Rey shakes her head; it’s an easy answer. “Ben is a good guy. He wouldn’t hurt me like that.”

Rose is quiet, unsure.

“He’s not Poe,” Rey says stubbornly. “I trust him.”

Nodding, Rose says, “Alright. You know him better than I do. I just don’t want you to get hurt again.”

That puts a small smile on Rey’s face. “I won’t be, but I appreciate that,” she says warmly.

Rose hesitates and waits a moment before she speaks again. “So… I think the next recoupling will be a big one for you. And it could happen any day now. So… how do you feel about getting a little fancy for it?”

Rey frowns and furrows her brow up in confusion. “What?”

“Can I paint your nails? Please?”

It’s such a simple request, she can’t help but laugh. “Really? That’s all?”

Rose grins. “Will you let me?”

Rey hesitates; she’s always thought it was too much work, thus why she’s never done it for herself, but if someone’s offering… she’d be stupid to say no. Besides, Rey has absolutely no interest in watching out the window like the other girls are doing.

“Sure,” she agrees. “Yeah. That’d be nice, thanks.”

Squealing with joy, Rose launches off the bed and rushes to her closet to find her bottles of nail polish.

Downstairs, the guys all sit in an array across the lawn, six tables all in a row, the guys with their backs to the villa. They’ll each get three minutes per girl, but can ring the bell on the table before that time is up if they’d like to send her along to the next guy early. Several of the guys may be tempted to do that for everyone, so the test will be whether they politely take the time to speak to the girls anyway. Two of them will be joining them in the villa, after all.

The first girl to enter is a beautiful dark-skinned woman with bright, sparkling eyes. She wears a tan dress that looks entirely made of lace, with a bikini underneath. She wears high-heeled sandals and her hair is braided over her shoulder.

She and Nines carry on quite a lively conversation, one that causes Phasma’s lips to purse and her arms to cross. They’d agreed that if they find someone they’re romantically inclined towards, one can leave the other, no harm no foul. But it doesn’t exactly make her feel good, knowing Nines is far more likely to get to stay in the villa at this point.

There’s a bell that rings over the loudspeakers of the yard, signaling that the first round is over. “It was really great to meet you, Tabala,” Nines says with a dashing smile.

“My friends call me Tabby,” she says. “And it was nice to meet you, too.”

She stands and moves on to the next table — across from Mitaka — as another new girl enters. This one is the opposite of Tabby in almost every way. She’s short, with blonde hair and blue eyes, and she’s much more reserved. It’s harder for Nines to get her to open up and speak, but not as much work as it might take others. Nines is easy to talk to — it’s probably why he was so successful when he was in their shoes.

That’s mostly what he and the girl, Tallie, talk about. She’s nervous, almost to the point of being sick, so he puts her at ease and insists that everyone in the villa is very nice. Her shoulders relax, and he’s proud of himself for lifting her up before sending her along the line to meet the other guys.

Finally, the third girl enters and, just like the rest, goes to the table where Nines is seated. Her tanned skin glistens under the bright sunlight. She wears aviator sunglasses and her tightly-wound curls are in a huge bun atop her head. A few strands hang down to frame her face. She wears a pale blue sundress and some stilettos, and she looks much more confident than Tallie.

“Hey there,” Nines says brightly as soon as she sits down.

“Hi,” she flashes him a warm smile. “I’m Korr.”

“Nines,” he replies. “Welcome to the villa.”

She looks around and shakes her head. “I still can’t believe I’m here,” she says. “It’s such a dream. And honestly, like… there’s a chance I won’t even get a night here but just setting foot in this place is incredible.”

“Well, don’t count yourself out of the race yet,” Nines reassures her. “You’re making a great first impression so far.”

She smirks. “What a charmer. I thought maybe the show editors exaggerated that fact but I see it’s just who you are,” she laughs. “I like it.”

“What else have you seen on the show?” he wonders.

Korr launches into an explanation of it all, mostly staying relevant to Nines and what he’s been up to. “There’s a ton of people out there who are hoping you’ll find a romantic relationship. Of course everyone’s happy for Phasma and support whatever she discovers about herself, but this is Paradise Island. People come here for romantic love,” Korr says. “And I don’t mean that in a bad way against Phasma. I’m just saying — you shouldn’t forego that just to be a good friend. You have to think of yourself, too.”

Nines’ smile has fallen a little, but he’s nodding and really thinking over her words. “I appreciate your honesty,” he replies. “I’ve been thinking about the same things, but… this is a lot for Phasma.”

“I know,” Korr nods. “That’s what makes it so challenging, and I understand you’re in a bad place. It’s a lot to think about and no matter what, I think someone loses. But… just know that there’s a whole group of people out there who want you to find love. And they’re confident that you can do that here, and Phasma maybe just needs some time on the outside to think more about who she is, what she wants, and where to go from here.”

The bell rings overhead. Nines stands with Korr and gives her a lingering hug. “Thank you. This chat has been… not what I expected, but really nice,” he says.

“Of course,” she replies, smiling brightly again. “Now don’t forget about me.”

Korr winks and walks away before he can say another word.

Nines sits and waits as the rest of the guys get a chance to talk to the rest of the girls; he finds himself hoping like hell that he can talk the guys into keeping Korr. After the final date, when Ben says goodbye to Korr, the girls all go inside to wait in the foyer while the six guys gather around the fire pit and have a chat about who they want to keep and who will be sent home.

“Guys…” Nines says as soon as he approaches.

“Right, so —” Hux begins

“Well there’s only one question we have to ask so we can decide,” Finn interrupts, speaking simply. He turns to Nines. “Who do you want to pick?”

Nines was the last to the group, and had no idea that the guys were all chatting about this before he got there. But they’re all standing and nodding, watching him earnestly and waiting for an answer. “I — you guys have thoughts too, right?” he asks.

“We’re all with someone and happy,” Mitaka explains. “You’re in a friend couple with Phasma.”

Nines opens his mouth to speak, but Ben interrupts him. “You said it’s friends with benefits but none of us have seen or heard of those benefits happening.”

“We’re not sure they’re ever going to happen,” adds Jasper.

Shocked, Nines looks at the other five and takes a breath. “I… I’d pick Korr, honestly. I want Korr to stay.”

“Well then it’s decided,” Finn says, grinning as he claps Nines on the shoulder. “We choose Korr. Then we have to decide between the other two. Lads?”

There’s some hushed discussion as the guys weigh Tabby and Tallie’s odds of finding love or success in the villa.

Once they’ve reached their decision, the guys call the girls back into the yard from the foyer, and they stand in front of the fire pit where the six guys are sitting and waiting to deliver the news. Nines, ever the smooth talker, was nominated to stand and tell them what was decided.

“So, you’re all really incredible girls. We’d be lucky to have any of you here to join us,” he says. He looks between the three very nervous women. Tallie, yet again, looks like she’s about to be sick. “After having a conversation about who we think has the most potential for love as well as who’d just get along with everyone else super well, we’ve decided that the first girl we’d like to invite to join us in the villa is…”

He takes a deep breath, and the yard is scarily silent.

“Korr.”

She smiles, her expression sparkling and joyous. Bounding across the yard to him, she wraps him up in a hug. Then, Finn stands to speak to the remaining two girls.

“We really wish we could keep you both around, because we think you’re both amazing,” Finn says. He grimaces as he says, “But we have to send one of you home and keep the other. I’m so, so sorry to hurt anyone, but… the second girl we’ve decided to keep is… Tallie.”

She looks genuinely shocked, and stands stock still on the grass for a moment as she’s wrapped up in a hug from Tabby.

The rest of the guys rise to give consolation hugs and goodbyes to Tabby as well. Given that most people are already in relationships, it truly did come down to the guy stuck in a friendship relationship, to give him an opportunity for love.

Once Tabby says her goodbyes and leaves the villa, the girls are allowed to go downstairs to meet Korr and Tallie. Nearly everyone rushes across the lawn eagerly, ready to get to know these new girls and gauge whether or not they’re going to be a threat.

Phasma lingers at the edge of the group, watching as Nines and Korr exchange some of the brightest smiles she’s ever seen. When she makes eye contact with Nines, she nods to the fire pit. Nines nods back, understanding what she’s aiming for, and together they walk away from the rest of the group to have a chat.

She’s not as tense as she had been while she’d been watching the speed dating from the second floor of the villa; in fact, she seems almost content with the situation.

“Congratulations,” Phasma says, before they even sit down.

Nines pauses a beat before he opens his mouth to speak. “So I uh… I assume you know what I’m about to say, then?” he asks.

She nods, a knowing smile on her face. “Yes. I knew the minute you said hello to that girl that she’d caught your eye,” she replies.

Nines sighs heavily and looks away; Phasma is being almost unreasonably calm and cool about this. He doesn’t know what to say — he wants to thank her, but isn’t sure that’s the thing to do. “How are you not mad?” Nines wonders. “Any other girl in here would be so pissed.”

Phasma shrugs; there’s something on her face that he can’t read, and it’s unnerving. She flashes him a smile, all crimson lipstick and secrets, and says, “I’m really happy for you. This is what we wanted, right? For one of us to find love?”

“It should be both of us,” he says fiercely. “Phasma —”

“Really, I’m fine, I promise,” she responds. “I’m very happy for you.”

He looks unsure, but asks, “Really?”

Smiling warmly at him, Phasma nods. “Really.”

After a moment in which Nines tries very hard to figure out whether or not she’s lying, he nods and stands up, arms outstretched. Phasma stands and accepts the hug, smiling as she turns her head away from the group of people watching them, and lets her smile fade for a moment. Not even the cameras can catch her expression.

She’s smiling back at him as she steps back to meet his gaze, and they stand awkwardly for a moment. Then, Phasma says, “Let’s get back to the group. I imagine your new girl is missing you.”

“Don’t do that,” he says. “Don’t be mad.”

“I’m not mad!” she insists. “She’s cute. You two look good together.”

“Her name is Korr. You’d like her.”

Phasma doesn’t respond; as soon as they reach the group, she allows herself to be whisked away by Rey, who looks equal parts concerned and angry. Meanwhile, Korr approaches Nines looking just as concerned, but for other reasons.

Others in the group have already dispersed across the lawn; on the daybed, where Hux and Bazine have taken to sleeping lately, two couples have taken up camp for the day, avoiding the harsh sunlight beating down on the villa. Kaydel sits on the bed, her head propped on Finn’s shoulder as they laze in their bathing suits. At the foot of the bed, Mitaka lies on his side with his head on Rose’s lap. Her fingers lazily comb through his dark hair, which has grown quite long over the past four weeks.

“You know, I thought by now we’d all be pretty settled up in our couples,” Finn confesses. “Like… half the couples aren’t officially coupled up, and I think we just got another new one.”

Rose sighs. “I’m just glad my sister found someone.”

Mitaka nods his agreement, messing up his hair a little in the process.

“When do you think the next recoupling will be?” Kaydel wonders aloud. “We haven’t had one for a while. It’s odd that we haven’t had one yet.”

“It’s freaking me out,” Rose says. “Like, I just want everyone to be in their couples and get to share beds and not to have this weird situation where like… it feels like the couples shouldn’t be together when they totally can be.”

“Like Bazine and Hux sleeping down here?” Kaydel asks.

“I sure hope they haven’t had sex on this bed,” Finn blurts out.

Rose looks horrified while Kaydel and Mitaka laugh. The less they think about that and seek the actual answer, the better. “I mean it, though!” Rose interrupts after a moment. “Like how Ben and Rey have been sleeping in separate beds? You know they want to couple up together. Hell, they’d probably have hooked up by now if they could.”

“Nobody’s stopping them,” Mitaka interjects.

Finn furrows his brow. “Well, no, but it’s not like there’s a lot of privacy.”

“Besides, the rules only say you can’t sleep in a bed with someone unless you’re coupled up. They say nothing about using the bed to hook up and then sleeping separately,” Kaydel adds.

Frowning, Rose says, “Yeah but like, don’t you just want to have a good rest afterwards? Curl up naked in bed together?”

Finn whistles. “Well, know we know what you two get up to at night.”

“If anyone’s heard us, they haven’t said anything,” Rose replies stubbornly.

Kaydel laughs. “Oh, we’ve heard you,” Finn says.

“Well, we’ve heard you, too,” adds Mitaka.

“That’s just what this place is,” Kaydel says. “People get loved up and they hook up and some of them date. Easy. Can’t fault us for having sexual urges.”

“Right, so what I’m saying is, I bet Rey and Ben have them, too, but can’t act on them as easily because they don’t share a bed,” says Rose. “And sure, they could sneak away to the terrace or the shower or something but it’s way more fun to do it in bed where you can cuddle up afterwards and just sleep.”

They’re quiet for a minute. After a beat, Finn says, “I see what you mean. But something tells me Rey wouldn’t do something like that here. Poe was a lot of firsts for her, and I’m sure Ben is even more firsts. I can’t imagine her going from not kissing anyone to having sex all in the course of six months.”

“It’s not unheard of,” Kaydel interjects.

“Besides, what makes you so sure it hasn’t happened already?” says Mitaka with a smirk.

All three turn to face Mitaka, wide-eyed and curious. Rose even stops combing her fingers through his hair, to try to get his attention. “What do you know?” she asks.

He rolls inward towards the mattress, avoiding their eyes. He already knows he’s said too much. Rose tangles her fingers in his hair and pulls gingerly; he protests with a yelp. “Tell us!” Rose begs.

“It’s not my place! I said too much, I’m sorry!” he responds.

Across the bed, Kaydel and Rose catch each other’s eye. They nod dutifully, and together they climb off the bed in hot pursuit of Rey. “Mate, I don’t think you realize what you started,” Finn says.

Mitaka groans and shoves his face into the nearest pillow. “I know.”

Chapter Text

Week Five, Day Two

Rey waits impatiently as she sits on the counter next to the refrigerator, avoiding the horrible heat wave striking them in the villa that week, as Hux brews tea for a group of them. She’s shoving cereal into her mouth — sugary, crappy stuff that Ben grumbled about as he poured her a bowl, before helping himself to the much more reasonable choice of raisin bran. She thanked him with a smile and a mouth full of Captain Crunch.

“You know, I’m a little disappointed we haven’t been sent a text about a recoupling lately,” Rey confesses through a mouthful of cereal.

“You and me both,” commiserates Bazine.

Rey sighs and says, “Please? Someone? Anyone? Shout that you’ve got a text. Please.”

In an almost terrifying stroke of luck, just ten minutes later, Tallie comes out into the backyard holding her phone up in the air and shouting that she’s gotten a text.

“Islanders, to celebrate the arrival of Tallie and Korr, tonight the lads will be throwing a white party and serving drinks and appetizers to the ladies. Ladies will get to go shopping for new outfits. Please get ready to leave the villa,” Tallie reads. “#partyhard #yolo.

Ben, still half-awake with rumpled hair sleepy eyes, grumbles under his breath, “I don’t want to go to anything if it’s advertised with the word yolo.”

“Just focus on the cooking, like I am,” says Hux, who seems equally displeased with the choice of hashtags.

“This will be fun,” Bazine says, forcing a smile.

It’s clear that the group of them are all disappointed that there’s not going to be a recoupling — not yet, at least. But a party means drinks and opportunities to sneak away for privacy, and that’s something that both couples are desperately in need of.

After breakfast, the guys gather to go shopping for food and drinks to serve at the party that evening, and the girls gather to shop for new outfits. It takes most of the day, and when they return, the girls take over the upstairs bathrooms to shave and preen while the guys prepare most of the food.

Rey peeks out the window, nothing but a towel wrapped around her, as she sees all six guys milling around the kitchen. “I hope they don’t pick any food too colorful or messy,” she says. “This dress is so nice. I don’t want to spill.”

“White is the most dangerous color,” Kaydel agrees.

“Yes,” says Tallie. “But it’s also quite romantic, don’t you think? White like a wedding dress?”

Rey blushes. “I hadn’t thought of that,” she confesses.

Kaydel whistles and Tallie says, “I know it’s meant to be like a club down there tonight, but I have a feeling it’ll get quite romantic.”

“White does have a certain implication,” Phasma agrees. “Come on, love. Let’s get your makeup done.”

She rests her hand on Rey’s shoulder and leads her over to the dressing room. The women blow-dry their hair, apply their makeup, and carefully pull on their white outfits — all dresses — as the sun sets outside. By the time they’re walking downstairs, all of them confidently walking in high heels for once, the sun has set, and the garden is illuminated with strands of lights overhead and along the fencing.

The guys look just as dapper in their all-white outfits. Rey’s eyes immediately seek out Ben, because she’s never seen him in any color other than black. He looks incredible, his dark hair contrasting to the white shirt in a way that makes her feel giddy inside. White is meant to be romantic for the women — implying a wedding gown, in a way — but on him it looks absolutely amazing. It’s so unlike him that the fact that he’s gone along with it means the world to her.

“You look great,” she says earnestly, reaching an arm around his waist to hug him.

Ben is silent for a moment as he hugs her, and Rey briefly wonders if she messed up somehow, went too over the top with her dress and heels and hair and makeup. Her dress may look modest from the front, with a high neckline and a skirt that ends mid-thigh, but the top is held up only by two straps that wrap around her arms; the entire back is exposed, and Ben wouldn’t have realized that until hugging her. With it, she’s wearing strappy white heels, and her hair is tied back in a bun at the nape of her neck.

“You’re beautiful,” Ben blurts out suddenly, startling her just a bit.

Rey blushes and smiles as she looks up at him; she feels silly, suddenly, with her smoky eye makeup and earrings. Dressing up like this has never been her style. That she’s done it to try to impress a man who has already made it abundantly clear that he’s attracted to her feels like overkill. But his pupils are blown and he can’t take his eyes off of her, and it sends a thrill through her. She hadn’t expected him to react in the way that he has.

“C’mon, have some snacks! We worked hard on these,” Finn shouts from the kitchen.

Kaydel is already at his side, nestled in next to him. Rey glances up at Ben and asks, “How much of this do I risk spilling all over myself and staining my dress?”

“A lot,” he says honestly. “But you probably won’t be the only one, if the way Nines is digging in is any sign.”

Ben takes hold of Rey’s hand and together they walk with the rest of the group to the kitchen. The array of food looks very impressive, and Rey doesn’t hesitate to dig in. Shockingly, she only manages to spill a bit of water on her dress as she washes down a particularly delicious cheese, meat, and cracker combo.

Moments later, Bazine decides it’s time to pop the champagne. She and Hux set to work opening a few bottles, and Rey thinks nothing of it. Nobody does, at least not until they hear Bazine scream in shock.

When they turn to look, they spot her standing with her arms out, an off-white and slightly bubbly spill all down her front. She’s just spilled champagne all over herself. “See? Told you you’d be fine,” Ben says.

“Did not,” Rey argues with a smirk.

Hux hands off the bottle he’s just opened to Nines, and Tallie swoops in to take the half-empty bottle from Bazine. “My dress,” Bazine wails in disappointment.

“It’s alright,” says Hux. “You’ve just got to change. Do you have another white dress?”

Unlike some of the girls, Bazine brought a whole closet full of white and black dresses, just in case the situation would arise. She nods, and he takes her hand to lead her into the villa. She’s still blushing in embarrassment, and she grumbles when she realizes that the tips of her hair are damp as well. It’ll be all sticky and knotted later.

“Stupid white party,” she mumbles. “Should’ve gone black tie instead.”

“Oh, I agree,” Hux says simply. “These are literally the only two white garments I own, and I’d hoped I wouldn’t have to wear them together.”

Bazine glances over at him, a smile on her lips. “What’s with you and your goth look, anyway?”

“I wear color on occasion,” he argues. “Greens and blues go well with my hair color.”

She hums. “Yes. You should wear those colors more often,” she suggests.

“It’s not as though it’s cold enough to wear much of anything in this place,” he argues. “The fact that I go shirtless as much as I do around here is a bloody miracle, let me tell you.”

Bazine laughs. “And you’ve only gotten a little bit sunburned. That’s quite a feat.”

They walk up the stairs to the bedroom and closets so she can find one of her several white dresses. “You should wash up, as well. If it soaked through, you’ll be all sticky,” Hux says as they walk together into the bathroom.

“You think of everything, don’t you?” she asks coyly.

Before he goes to the sink to grab a washcloth, she turns around and lifts her hair. “Unzip me?” she asks.

Hux hesitates just slightly; if she’s planning to change right in front of him, that’s going to take their relationship to a level it’s never been to before. “Don’t get all blushy on me,” Bazine teases. “You’ve seen me in a bikini. This is practically the same thing.”

His fingers are cold as he tugs at the zipper at the back of her dress. As he drags the zipper lower and lower, he realizes something.

“Yes, only this time there’s nothing on your upper body underneath the dress. Last I checked, you don’t swim topless,” he comments.

Bazine smiles and turns her head. “I mean, if you want me to cover up, I can,” she teases.

Hux’s mouth goes dry, and he tries his hardest to keep his composure. “That won’t be necessary,” he says curtly.

“That’s what I thought,” she grins.

When he’s finished unzipping her, he rests his hands on her hips and leans forward. She turns her head to the side and they share a gentle kiss before he gathers up a damp cloth for her. She lowers her hair and lets her dress fall down to her ankles. Sure enough, she’s only wearing a thin barely-there thong underneath the dress. She drapes an arm across her chest to half-heartedly cover her breasts as she rifles through her closet.

Hux tries not to stare as Bazine stands before him in nothing but some silver pumps and a skimpy thong. He offers her the cloth, and she wipes it down her front. Bazine’s skin glistens where the moisture is left behind, but her gaze stays fixed on Hux. She smirks mischievously and steps closer to him. “See something you like?” she asks.

“I —” he hesitates. “I think I’ve made my feelings towards you perfectly clear.”

“You have,” she nods and takes another step towards him. “But why don’t you show me?”

He quirks an eyebrow. “Now?”

Bazine shrugs. “We’re all alone. Why not?”

Hux glances around; he can hear the music downstairs, someone must have found the speakers and turned on some hip hop. It’s distracting, but at least it guarantees the rest of the group will stay busy downstairs for a while.

“You’re a little minx tonight,” he comments, the hint of a smile on his lips.

Bazine grins and brings both hands to frame his face, leaving herself exposed in front of him. “Yes, I am,” she smiles. “And I think that you like it.”

Hux drops his hands to her waist and pulls her forward. Her stomach is still a little wet from washing off and he can feel it through his white linen shirt. Their lips meet, and Hux forgets where he is, or how many people could walk in and interrupt them; nothing matters except for this precious alone time with Bazine, and showing her just how much he’s grown to care for her.

——

Week Five, Day Three

After spending some alone time in the bathroom, Hux and Bazine had joined the rest of the islanders the night before, for too many drinks and way too much dancing. The next morning not a single person seems to want to get out of bed. Hux and Bazine had, of course, claimed the daybed for themselves that night, opting for a round two when they were finally alone.

Rey had kicked off her shoes halfway through the night, too tipsy to stay balanced in them, and by the end of the night Ben had used a bridal carry to bring her up to bed. She’d kissed him long and hard in front of everyone in thanks.

But now, not a soul wants to move, no matter where they’re sleeping. It’s too bright, and even with next to no noise, it’s too loud.

They wake slowly, with nothing to rouse them but the sounds of other islanders getting up, brushing their teeth, and dressing for a day of lazily lounging by the pool. Rey is the last to wake, and only does so because Ben has made his way to her bed and knelt next to it.

He brushes a strand of hair out of her face as he says her name, but she doesn’t stir.

“Rey,” he says, louder this time.

She still doesn’t respond; she continues to snore lightly, her mouth dropped open rather unflatteringly. At least she’s not drooling, as she does sometimes. “It takes a lot more than that to wake her up,” says Rose from the doorway to the bathroom. “But be careful. If you startle her, she’ll smack you.”

Ben frowns. “Isn’t shaking her awake startling her?”

Grinning, Rose says, “Yep.”

Ben barely manages to reach out to rest a hand on Rey’s shoulder before Nines walks into the room and shouts, “Hey everyone, Phasma wants us all to go downstairs.”

“Is it a text?” Tallie asks from the dressing room.

“Just come downstairs,” Nines says.

When Ben looks back at Rey, she’s blinking awake. She sleepily smiles at him before slowly climbing out of bed with only the smallest of groans. Whatever it is, Rey know she’s too tired to pay attention, but she’s grateful that Ben will take her hand and walk with her downstairs to the yard where Phasma stands, waiting for everyone to gather. She doesn’t have a phone in her hand.

“What’s going on?” Rose asks immediately upon arriving within earshot of Phasma.

“Is this everyone?” Phasma asks.

She looks around the yard at the record number of islanders — a whopping fifteen, including her. After a moment, when she’s sure that everyone has arrived, Phasma takes a breath and begins speaking.

“So, as you all know, my journey to find love here has been… less than ideal.”

A few islanders exchange glances, including Hux and Bazine. She steps closer to Hux, who looks like he’s trying very hard to keep a neutral expression. His efforts seem to be failing, though, and he looks concerned.

“It’s come to my attention, with the help of severals in the villa, that this is perhaps my fault. Well — fault isn’t the right word, is it?” she looks up at Ben, and then over at Nines. Both are shaking their heads. “Right. No. It’s more of my… me. Who I am.”

The islanders are all exchanging concerned glances now; they have no idea where this conversation is headed. All they know is that at this point, there’s no text. This is just Phasma wanting everyone’s attention. Rey grips Ben’s hand tightly and steps closer to him.

“I’m not sure I’m romantically inclined towards people in general, never mind all of you,” she confesses. “I want to be honest about this, because it has influenced a lot of decisions I’ve made so far, even if I wasn’t consciously aware of it.”

Rey takes a moment to really look Phasma over. Her sunglasses are atop her head, pushing her platinum hair out of her face. She’s not wearing lipstick or makeup, and she looks absolutely exhausted. For once, she’s properly dressed in shorts and a tank top, even sneakers on her feet. In her eyes, though, Rey sees the conflict and sadness. But even then, she doesn’t expect what Phasma says next.

“I think at this point, what’s best for me is to duck out of the villa and leave you all to it.”

There’s an audible gasp from next to Rey, but she’s unsure who it is. Her hand flies to cover her mouth, shocked to hear what Phasma’s just said. Is she giving up?

“Nobody is allowed to pity me,” Phasma says sternly, the signs of a smirk playing on her lips. “I really need to just work through what’s happening in my head and my heart. I’ve had a really incredible time with all of you, but… I’m never going to settle down with any of you. It’s clear that at this point, love isn’t going to happen for me here. And that’s not a slight against anyone.”

Rey is only half listening at this point, but grateful for the way Ben has released her hand in favor of dropping his arm to hold her around her waist in a comforting half-hug. Phasma’s eyes fall to Rey for a moment, who looks devastated, before scanning over the rest of the group.

“We all know a recoupling is approaching. It’s been putting us on edge for days,” Phasma continues. “If I stay, I risk the show producers throwing in some shenanigans for drama and I don’t want to be in the way. I’m honestly one of the only people here who could seriously throw a wrench into any of the relationships — and I don’t want to do that. You don’t want me to do that. So I’ve decided to go. I’m going to let you all carry on, and I’m going to go home and figure out what the fuck is going on in my head.”

For a moment, everyone assumes she’s done. Rey and Rose are already stepping to approach Phasma with massive hugs.

“And no crying!” Phasma shouts as she sees the women approaching her.

It’s not worth bothering, really, Phasma knows. There will be tears shed for her departure because she’s made some wonderful friendships. And she’ll shed tears, too, but only once she’s gone, when the islanders can’t see. She swore she wouldn’t cry on the telly, and she’s very close to achieving that goal. Phasma accepts the hugs from Rey and Rose just moments before the rest of the group approaches. They wrap her up in the biggest goodbye hug — even the new girls, and even the standoffish guys like Ben and Hux — which lasts for longer than Phasma could have ever expected.

She didn’t realize she’d made such an impact.

It’s difficult, but Phasma manages to keep her emotions in check as the girls help her pack her bags and the guys prepare her some breakfast to take with her. It’s only once they’ve all waved goodbye to her at the front doors, and she’s made it down the drive and to the crew who’s set up next to a taxi with cameras, that she begins to crack.

“I’m going to miss them all very much,” Phasma confesses to the cameras.

It’s her last interview for the show, and something about that strikes a chord deep inside of her. She takes a deep breath, and the cameras catch the hint of a wobbly lower lip. “These people are as close to a family as I’m ever going to get. I —” her voice cracks, and she touches her fingers to her lips to try to ward off the tears. “I’m going to miss them all so much. They’ve all been so understanding, too.”

Her eyes look glassy as she looks into the camera. She was so close to keeping her goal of not crying, but the friendships she built in the villa were just too much for her to contain.

“And Nines — I’ll miss him the most, I think. After Rey,” Phasma says. She blinks in quick succession and a tear slips down her cheek. “He was so understanding and so patient. I’m really, really glad Korr has come in for him. He deserves so many good things. They all do.”

Off-camera, someone asks, “What about you? Do you deserve good things?”

Phasma shrugs. “I hope so,” she says. “When I work through everything in my head. It’s so jumbled and messy right now. But —” she takes a deep breath, steadying her voice and blinking back the tears threatening to fall, “I’ll get there. One day.”

She takes a deep breath, stands tall, and in moments looks like she hadn’t shed a single tear, save for her slightly glassy eyes. Phasma flashes a bright smile at the camera and says one last thing before retreating to the taxi.

“I always get through. This is no different. I’m going to be just fine.”

Chapter Text

Week Five, Day Four

Shortly after all fourteen islanders are in the yard, wandering beneath the sweltering sun in bathing suits as they drink their tea and eat their morning toast, a telltale sound echoes from the kitchen. Excitedly, Nines holds up his phone and shouts, “I got a text!”

Eager to hear what it says, everyone gathers around the kitchen bar, more attentive towards the text than they have been in a long time. “Islanders, it is finally time for a rose ceremony. Please gather around the firepit immediately,” he reads. “The men will choose, and the two women not chosen in the recoupling will get to go on a date with two new men tomorrow night.”

The girls all look around with excitement on their faces, eager to get this done and over with. Results of the recoupling are obvious at this point, the ceremony itself is just a formality. The islanders practically run over to the fire pit and take their places, the men on the bench and the women lined up in front of them.

Though most of them know the results already, there’s still a sense of nervousness and anxiety in the air as the first text is received and Mitaka stands.

“The past few weeks feel like months. The best months of my life, honestly,” he confesses. “I’ve had a lot of fun getting to know this girl, and I’m really excited to see what lay ahead for us. So that said… Rose, will you accept this rose?”

The group chuckles at the slight joke. Beaming, Rose nods and walks towards him. She wraps her arms around his neck in an eager embrace and kisses his cheek. “Yes,” she smiles. “Of course.”

Finn, of course, chooses Kaydel, and Nines surprises nobody when he chooses Korr. There’s an excited buzz when it’s Ben’s turn to stand.

“I’m not a man of many words,” he begins, “but I want to try, for her. I came in expecting to meet people, maybe find someone who’d make conversation and try to win. I didn’t think it was in the cards for me to meet someone I’d actually feel this strongly for. I can’t explain just how much I care for this girl already. I thought I’d be scared, but I’m not. So… I’m not going to let her go without a fight.”

He looks up, his intense dark eyes locking with Rey’s lighter, brighter ones.

“Rey, will you accept this rose?”

She nearly squeals with excitement as she rushes to him, feeling so relieved. Her arms wrap around his shoulders and she takes a leap, allowing his arms to keep her lifted from the ground as they hug. “You’re going to make me cry,” she mumbles, her lips brushing the scruff on his cheek.

He turns his head and kisses her as he sets her down. They take a seat on the bench with the other three couples. That leaves just two men left. Jasper speaks highly of Paige and expresses excitement to see what lay ahead, and that leaves Hux facing Bazine, Tallie, and Jess. They stand hand in hand, though they’re already well aware of the outcome. Hux stands, the group hanging off his every word.

“Like Ben, I came here not expecting to actually find someone I could see a future with,” he begins. “And truth be told, until about a week ago, I still thought that would be the case. But after spending time with this girl, I’m feeling more optimistic. Yes, me, optimistic,” he says as several other islanders laugh.

“So, because of that… Bazine, will you accept this rose?”

She beams and steps forward, and the two of them share a kiss in front of the entire group. It’s the most PDA they’ve ever shown, and it garners hoots and howls from the rest of the group.

When the noise dies down and Hux and Bazine take a seat next to the rest on the bench by the fire, someone’s phone dings. Kaydel stands.

“Jessika and Tallie. You two have not coupled up. Because of this, you will get to go on a double date tomorrow night,” Kaydel reads. “Until then, please enjoy your time as single ladies.”

She takes a seat. Before they can disperse, another phone dings. This time, Rose stands. “Before spreading out to enjoy time in your new official couples, you must vote,” she says. “One lucky couple will get to spend the night in the Hideaway, later today after your challenge. Please discuss amongst yourselves and decide by the time the challenge ends. Couples: good luck!”

“Oh, a challenge! Yes!” Korr cheers. “I’ve been waiting for that!”

“Yeah they’re fun, but who’s getting some private time tonight?” Rose asks, smirking mischievously.

“Who hasn’t hooked up yet?” asks Kaydel. “That’s a good place to start.”

Everyone sitting in the circle looks around surreptitiously, nobody saying anything in particular. Some even avoid each other’s eyes. Still standing at the front, Jess says, “Alright, everyone stand up.”

The couples do as she says, standing together, several couples holding hands as they do. “Now, sit down if you’ve had sex with your partner,” she adds, a sparkle of mischief in her eyes.

Predictably, Kaydel and Finn sit down, as do Mitaka and Rose. Then, in a move that causes quite a few shouts of surprise, Bazine and Hux take a seat as well. “When!?” shrieks Kaydel excitedly.

Hux’s face turns almost as red as his hair as Bazine turns her head to hide from them all, her forehead resting on Hux’s shoulder. “We’ll find out,” Finn says with a smirk. “Sooner or later, we’ll know.”

“The new guys who come in to date Tallie and Jess will tell us,” Rose says confidently.

“Let’s get back to the issue at hand,” Hux says in a desperate attempt to distract them all and shift the attention away from them. “These three couples haven’t had sex yet. Let’s send one of them to the hideaway tonight.”

“We don’t have to decide now. But I agree, one of these three,” says Mitaka.

Nines looks to Korr, who’s blushing furiously. Jasper and Paige are whispering to each other about something the rest can’t hear, and Ben and Rey are being very calm. “Wait — you two haven’t hooked up yet?” Kaydel asks, pointing between them.

Rey shakes her head. “No. When would we? There’s no privacy,” she says.

“But —” Kaydel looks at Mitaka and points accusingly.

“I never said —!”

“Mitaka!”

Rey steps towards him, almost like she’s ready to fight, her expression caught somewhere between hilarity and anger. Ben holds her back, and then drags her away to the hot tub. “We’ll decide after the challenge, then!” Kaydel calls out across the lawn after them.

A couple of hours later, after everyone’s eaten and gotten dressed up for the day in a new bathing suit — and in the girls’ case some makeup — a text arrives on Hux’s phone, alerting them to head to the garden for their next challenge.

As everyone is walking over, Tallie and Jess receive a text telling them that they’ll be leading the challenge, and tallying up the scores for the other couples. There are six of them, and there’s absolutely nothing in the garden to give away what the challenge will be, so immediately they all begin to mutter and speculate.

There’s a blackboard on an easel, for keeping score, and in front of it are some note cards that Jess and Tallie pick up with instructions. Everyone stands in their couples in a line down the lawn, waiting for instructions.

“Islanders, welcome to your next challenge,” Tallie reads from a note card. “Today, you will be tested on your naughty knowledge. We are going to read out the name of a sex position, and you all need to physically imitate it right here, right now. The couple that does this fastest will get a point. The couple with the most points when we reach the end of the list will get a special summer prize. This is separate from whichever couple you vote to stay in the hideaway.”

“Alright, so, let’s get started, shall we?” Jess says, grinning as she looks at the cards in her hand. “The first position you all need to imitate is… doggy!”

In a flurry, the six couples get into position. Korr shocks everyone by being the fastest, getting down on all fours immediately. Nines almost costs them the win by being so surprised by her speed. In no time, the first winner is declared, and Nines and Korr score the first point of the game.

“Okay, here’s an easy one!” says Tallie, giggling. “Sixty-nine. Go!”

“But I’m wearing a dress!” Rey wails.

“Just…” Ben lays down on the grass and practically manhandles Rey.

She’s still on all fours, but now overtop of him, just as the rest of the women are doing to their men. Only down at the end has someone mixed it up, and it’s Nines on all fours over Korr. “What?” she asks, as Tallie and Jess give a point to Bazine and Hux. “You lose a certain amount of control when the guy’s on top. Some people like that.”

Rey is blushing furiously as she climbs off of Ben and stands up next to him again. She’s grateful that he knows what he’s doing, because aside from the few she knows because of popular media, Rey is well aware of her shortcomings in this department. She’s confident everyone has more knowledge on the topic than she does.

They do okay at first, though Finn and Kaydel win a point for getting the cowgirl position first, and then Mitaka and Rose promptly catch up by scoring for the reverse cowgirl position. Bazine and Hux score another point for being the first to imitate the missionary position, and Rey is beginning to feel very frustrated.

Her hair is falling from the buns she’s styled it in at the back of her head, and regardless of what sort of awkward position she puts herself in with Ben — positions that would otherwise probably have a thrill of excitement shooting through her — she’s too competitive, and she’s getting annoyed. “I just — this isn’t fair,” Rey grumbles as Jasper and Paige score a point for correctly showing the spooning position.

“Things are about to get a little more difficult,” Jess says as the group gathers their composure again. “Now for the advanced positions.” She winks, and then holds up a note card. “Next position you need to imitate is… The Notebook.”

Unlike the other times, everyone stands there for a moment, frozen. “The what?” asks Hux critically.

“The Notebook!” Jess repeats. “I can’t give you any hints without totally giving it away.”

The six couples look back and forth between each other for a moment, and then suddenly Ben lets out a mangled sound. “What?”

“Hold onto my shoulders,” he says to Rey, as quietly as possible so as to not help the others.

She does as he says, and shrieks when his hands firmly grasp her ass. “Jump,” he instructs.

Again, Rey does as instructed, and next thing she knows he’s holding her up in the air, and she’s wrapping her arms around his waist to stay steady.

“Yes!”

“They’re on the board!” Tallie cheers.

The other five couples stare. “Oh, like the movie!” Paige says after a moment. “That’s how they start their whole sex scene thing! It’s up against a wall I think, but… good enough.”

Rey looks down into Ben’s eyes, smiling curiously. “You’ve seen The Notebook?”

“My grandma asked me to watch it with her. What was I going to do, tell her no?”

Gently, Ben lowers Rey to the ground. Now the only couple who has yet to win points is Paige and Jasper. They both seem as shy and inexperienced as Ben and Rey, so Rey feels a little better being in good company there.

“Bazine and Hux are in the lead, with two more positions to go!” Jess shouts to the people in the backyard. “The next position you must act out is…” she looks at the group of couples mischievously before reading, “Amazon!

Again, just like with The Notebook, the islanders stand around for a moment, contemplating. Then, after a brief moment, Kaydel pushes Finn until he’s lying down on the ground. He groans when she makes him bend in ways he never thought he could — pushing his legs up so she can stand between them and crouch over him, like cowgirl, but with his legs up in the air. It looks awkward and everyone is laughing hysterically, but over all the laughter Jess shouts, “Yeah, you got it!”

“Oh my god,” Paige covers her face, embarrassed for them.

“That looks so uncomfortable,” Rey says as she leans over to speak to Ben.

He nods in agreement. Finn needs help getting up from the ground, not used to bending in half like that. But once they’re standing, they check out the scoreboard: Everyone has one point except for Kaydel and Finn, and Bazine and Hux.

“Now it’s the tiebreaker,” says Tallie. “We’re just going to have our two couples who are in the lead compete in this one.”

“Oh thank god,” Ben breathes.

Rey smiles up at him and takes his hand.

“For the final sex position, we want to see which of you can do this one the fastest, to win the prize which you will receive tomorrow afternoon,” Tallie explains. “Ready?”

The couples nod.

“The position you need to show us is…” Jess says. “Saddling.”

Finn and Kaydel exchange a confused glance. “Isn’t that just cowgirl?” Kaydel asks.

Jess and Tallie exchange a grin, and before Finn and Kaydel can even so much as sit down, Bazine and Hux both drop to the ground. She seems to know more than Hux, but all he has to do is sit. She pushes his legs apart just enough so she can sit between them, and then hooks her legs over his and around his waist. They’re facing each other, and she scoots closer to him just for effect.

“Yes!”

The group cheers, and Bazine hugs Hux, burying her face in his neck at the embarrassment of having been dubbed the couple who knows the most sex positions.

“You two will win a prize, to be given to you tomorrow afternoon,” Jess says. “Congratulations.”

“Yeah, congrats on the sex,” Nines says through peals of laughter.

Slowly, Bazine and Hux rise to their feet. As they stand, Rose says, “So, we should pick who gets to go in the Hideaway now, right? I don’t know about you guys, but I vote Ben and Rey. They hardly knew anything, let’s give them some alone time to practice.”

She looks over at Rey and winks.

Rey’s whole face goes red hot, and she has to look away. “Good idea,” Finn agrees. “I’ll vote for that.”

“Yeah, me too,” Nines chimes in.

The whole yard erupts into statements of agreement, until Ben and Rey are standing there faced with the reality of the situation: their fellow islanders have voted for them to have alone time because they were too innocent to know some very freaky sex positions. Rey looks up at Ben. “Do you want to?” she asks.

“Do I want a night alone with you?” he echoes. “Of course.”

She smiles, her heart pounding in her chest at the implications. With that now lying ahead of her, she doesn’t know what to do with the rest of her day other than panic a little. What if he wants to have sex? What if she wants to have sex? The day’s challenge really put a lot of thoughts in her head that she was perfectly content not having.

“So it’s agreed, then,” Tallie says. “We vote Ben and Rey get the night in the Hideaway.”

With one more chorus of agreement, the decision is made, and the butterflies in Rey’s stomach go into overdrive.

——

The evening party is just like any other — they all get dressed up, have a few drinks, and then split up in couples to chat. The only difference is, after doing a toast at the beginning of the night with the rest of the group, Ben and Rey are free to disappear to the Hideaway. They make polite attempts to hang out with the rest, but Rose and Kaydel especially are very insistent that the couple go take advantage of their privacy for as long as possible.

Blushing furiously, Rey takes Ben’s hand and nods, and then the two of them depart the backyard party.

Rey is quiet the whole walk inside, down the corridor they’re not usually allowed to use and into the bedroom at the very end. As soon as she steps inside, her jaw drops. The space is immaculate, with beautiful sheets on a massive bed, champagne chilling in a bucket of ice next to two glasses, and a bowl of chocolate covered strawberries nearby. There are candles lit and rose petals on the floor, and it’s almost sickeningly romantic. Rey’s stomach twists, and she looks over at Ben, unsure.

“Is this alright?” she asks.

He nods. “Of course. Are you alright?” he wonders.

Rey nods and walks towards the champagne. She’s nervous, her hands trembling just a little, as she fumbles with the wrapping. Ben follows her over, giving her a moment to unwrap the cork and twist the wire. The room is filled with a tense silence, and Ben can’t for the life of him figure out what’s going on.

The sound of the cork popping from the bottle startles him, and he gives Rey her space as she pours them each a glass. He sees her unsteady hand and immediately begins to frown. “Can we sit?” he asks.

“Sure,” Rey nods, handing him a glass.

Together, they sit down at the edge of the bed. Rey takes a sip of champagne, but can’t drink more than that. She’s looking down at the bubbles within the beverage, too nervous to even look at him. The Hideaway is a big deal. There are a lot of implications.

“Rey,” he says.

Right away, she looks up; she can’t deny Ben her attention or focus, not when he’s been so kind to her, and when his voice sounds so warm and gentle.

“What’s wrong?”

His large hand gently soothes circles into her back, the lightest yet most reassuring thing she’s felt in days. She looks back down at her lap and shakes her head. “It’s silly.”

“No it’s not,” Ben argues. “Tell me what’s on your mind.”

“It’s just…”

But as soon as she tries to vocalize what’s going on in her head, she can’t. She doesn’t really know how to say what she wants to say, not without sounding like she’s uninterested, anyway. So, she finds herself resigned to saying it anyway, because she wants to be honest with Ben.

“I’ve never had sex before,” she confesses. “And I don’t know if I want to do that tonight.”

Rey winces as soon as the words are out, and she’s unable to bring herself to look up at him to see his reaction. Given the type of show they’re on, and what most of the islanders get up to, it’s not unreasonable for Rey to wonder if what she’s just said is a dealbreaker. If anyone would understand and be kind about it, it’s Ben, but there’s always been that pressure looming over her, just due to the nature of the show.

“We don’t have to,” Ben says reassuringly. “I’ve only done it twice. Same girl, but it’s been a while.”

Rey glances over. “What happened?”

“What do you think?” he asks. “She broke my heart.”

Frowning, Rey offers, “I’m sorry.”

Ben shrugs. “It’s alright,” he says. “If it wasn’t for her doing that, I wouldn’t be here, so.”

That puts the smallest of smiles on Rey’s face. She leans into him, resting her head on his shoulder. Ben presses a kiss to the top of her head. “Let’s sit and talk,” he says. “Like most normal relationships start.”

“Okay,” Rey agrees.

They scoot back on the bed, still holding their champagne, but largely neglecting it in favor of talking. They talk about Ben’s past relationship, but then the conversation takes a turn and focuses more on Rey, and she begins to get nervous again.

“So once I was old enough to leave the foster system,” she continues, having regaled him of her many years as a child and teenager in foster care throughout England, “I moved out and did the best I could. Helping out in a kids’ classroom was the closest I could get to teaching with my education, and I like the work. It was a good compromise.”

“But you just go home to an empty apartment, and sit alone?”

Rey elbows him. “You make it sound so depressing.”

“Isn’t it?”

She’s quiet. After setting aside her empty champagne flute, Rey scoots up closer to him on the bed. She nestles into his side, thankful that he’s larger than her, and warmer too. He casts aside his own champagne flute as well, to hold Rey in both arms. Again, he kisses the top of her head, and this time he can see her smile as she looks up.

“I don’t think it’s depressing,” she admits. “It’s all I’ve ever known. I’m good at it. Some days are tough, but for the most part I think I’m fine with it. I’m good at being alone.”

“You’re not alone,” he tells her. “Not anymore.”

Smiling, Rey tilts her head upwards and pulls him in for a soft kiss. “I know,” she says with a smile. “And neither are you.”

They share another kiss, slow and gentle. Together, in the dim light of the flickering candles of their room, Ben and Rey kiss until they can barely stay awake before nestling beneath the blankets in their underwear. It still feels intimate, almost frighteningly so, but with sex off the table, it’s much easier for Rey to relax into it all.

Wrapped up together, Ben and Rey fall asleep for the first of hopefully many nights together in the same bed, with the person they want to be with, thankful for the privacy of a night away from the rest of the group. Now, they just have to hope they can make it the next week and a half without something coming in and throwing a wrench into the happiness they’ve finally found in the villa with each other. The end is in sight — the only question left is what will happen to them along the way.

Chapter Text

Week Five, Day Five

The sound of heavy breathing from nearby pulls Bazine from her slumber. She rolls over, bumping Hux accidentally. It’s nice, waking up next to him indoors, where the chill of the evening hasn’t wiped over them, making him even colder than he usually is. Whoever it is having sex in the room, they don’t hear her, and continue moving.

Half-asleep, Hux moves with her, wrapping an arm around her shoulders as she scoots closer to him on the bed.

The heavy breathing continues, and Bazine finally deigns to sit up just enough to see what’s going on. Just across the walkway from their bed, the blankets of Finn and Kaydel’s bed are moving up and down in a telltale rhythm. “Just ignore them,” Hux whispers groggily.

In any other scenario, Bazine would find the soft, sleepy side of Hux absolutely adorable and very unlike him, but in that moment, she was annoyed at the early awakening, and wished they’d save that sort of thing for a more private place. “But —”

“Shh,” Hux whispers, leaning in to kiss her.

He doesn’t even open his eyes as he leans away, trying to catch a few more minutes of sleep. “I can’t sleep now,” she whispers back, before climbing out of bed.

Bazine doesn’t take any cares to be quiet; whoever chose to have an early morning fuck is the real reason everyone else is going to wake up — if they’re not heavy sleepers, of course — and she feels no remorse.

As she’s walking into the bathroom to brush her teeth and get ready for the day, she hears laughter coming from one of the showers — followed by two voices.

“Oh for fuck’s sake!” Bazine exclaims.

Mitaka and Rose peek out from behind the shower curtain, trying to see who caught them. Mitaka looks positively mortified, but Rose is smiling too widely to seem all that embarrassed. “We’ll be out in a minute,” Rose says, grinning. “Promise.”

Annoyed, Bazine storms right back out of the bathroom. On her way out of the villa, she grabs a hoodie that was strewn over the railing and stomps out into the backyard. She can’t even totally pinpoint why she’s annoyed, because she can finally sleep next to Hux indoors. They’re together. They’re officially coupled up and things should be perfect.

It’s probably the lack of sleep, and the worry about her family, and…

“Hey.”

She turns around, pausing what she’s doing at the kitchen counter to see who it is. It’s Ben, and she’s surprised to see him out of the Hideaway so early in the morning.

“Hi,” she responds, before going back to making tea.

Though nobody else in the villa probably deserves it, for waking her up so early, she puts on a full kettle of tea. After her outburst, the yard will be flooded with islanders in no time, she’s sure of it.

“Tough night with Rey?” she asks.

Confused, Ben says, “No. Why would you think that?”

He stands in front of the fridge wearing his swim trunks and a rumpled tee shirt. His hair is a mess, and he still looks half-asleep.

“You’re down here awfully early,” she comments. “I would have thought you’d enjoy as much alone time as you can.”

“I’m making her breakfast,” he says dumbly, pulling eggs, cheese, and mushrooms out of the fridge.

Kettle switched on, Bazine turns around and leans against the counter, watching him. “Oh. That’s nice of you.”

He nods. As Ben sets to work making breakfast for Rey, Bazine watches with curiosity. There are a lot of things she wants to say to him and ask him — if it wasn’t for Ben’s companionship, she very well might have left the villa weeks ago — but doesn’t know how to start.

“What did you guys do last night?” she asks casually.

She listens to the sizzle as he cracks some eggs into a frying pan, waiting patiently for him to answer. “We didn’t sleep together, if that’s what you’re asking,” he answers. “Rey isn’t ready for that.”

“And you’re okay with that?” Bazine asks.

“Yes.”

There isn’t an ounce of hesitation in Ben’s voice, and Bazine can tell he means it. Rey’s a lucky girl, snagging the attention of someone like Ben. While she’d been hopeful at first that she could catch his eye, Bazine is grateful for how things shook out for them. Hux makes her happy, and Ben has too good of a heart to be with someone like her. He’d let her take, take, take without giving him much to match. Hux is different — it’s a tug of war, to see who can take and give better, who can maintain the lead on both.

“How’s your dad?” Ben asks.

It takes her a minute to figure out what he’s asking. When she wraps her head around his question, Bazine responds, “He’s good. Better. Out of the hospital, at least. Bills are piling up, but that’s a worry for another day.”

“That’s good,” he says. “I’m glad you stayed. So you could meet Hux and stuff.”

“Yeah, me too,” Bazine agrees.

The kitchen is quiet again, nothing but the sizzling of the eggs Ben’s making for Rey. The kettle dings as he’s beginning to put the food on a tray, and she’s surprised to see a third plate out on the countertop, separate from the tray. He made her a fried egg.

Bazine pours tea for Ben and Rey as well as herself, and flashes him a grateful smile before he goes upstairs to be with Rey some more. Bazine takes that moment to enjoy the solitude of the kitchen, thankful that nobody else has come downstairs yet. She washes her plate when she’s finished the egg, and then wanders over to sit on the daybed with her tea.

The tea is still too hot so she sets it aside and promptly forgets all about it, instead drifting off to sleep for an early-morning nap, thankful for the silence and not having to hear her house-mates hooking up before the sun has even properly risen.

A few hours later, Bazine wakes to cool fingers pressing her dark hair gently out of her face. When she blinks her eyes open, the backyard is brighter and warmer, and Hux sits right in front of her. “Hello,” he says when their eyes meet.

“Hi,” she responds groggily.

“Feeling a little better now?”

She’s quiet, pulling her knees to her chest where she lays curled up on her side in bed. He’s sitting at the edge of the bed, patient and relaxed. Bazine groans and nods, but takes her time fully waking up.

“Your tea went cold so I put on a new kettle,” says Hux. “I also got a text just now… we leave in an hour for our date.”

“Our date?” Bazine asks sleepily.

“Yes, the one we won for knowing all those sex positions yesterday,” Hux replies.

He’s wearing a smug grin on his face, and she smiles coyly up at him as she sprawls out across the bed. She’s much more awake now than she was before, and the thought of leaving the villa for a little bit is too exciting to ignore. “Did it say how we’re supposed to dress?”

“For the beach, so… as usual, I suppose,” he instructs.

“Got it,” Bazine smiles. “Time to get ready, then?”

Hux nods. “Yes. And for the record… both couples you saw this morning were apologetic for all the noise,” he says.

She shakes her head. “I don’t really care. But if you want to get revenge by doing it right back to them… you know where to find me.”

Bazine stands and winks at him before crossing the lawn to the villa. In the doorway, she runs into Jess, who is just about to bring tea up for her and Tallie as they get ready for their own date outside the filla. Excitedly, the three go up into the dressing room and begin picking out their outfits and putting on their makeup.

“I wonder if they’ll be like, really good guys?” Tallie asks. “We’re so close to the end, it feels silly to meet someone now.”

Jess shrugs. “For me it’s just hanging out, at this point,” she says. “I was actually kind of hoping after the last recoupling that I’d be sent home. I want to see Snap again.”

Bazine looks over at Jess who sits in front of a vanity mirror. Jess is applying her winged eyeliner as Bazine drapes a few dresses over her arm. “You really liked him, didn’t you?” Bazine asks.

Like,” she clarifies. “Present tense. I know we weren’t together for very long, but he’s a really good guy. He was always sweet and a total gentleman.”

“He started out a player though,” Bazine reminds her. “Are you sure he hasn’t been sleeping around since the minute he left?”

Jess frowns and puts down her eyeliner. “No,” she admits. “But he never gave me a reason not to trust him.”

Sighing, Bazine argues, “But you saw what he did to me.”

“That’s a reason for you not to trust him,” she argues back. “He was always really sweet to me. I trust him.”

Done arguing, Bazine returns to rifling through her closet. She looks at a couple different clothing pieces before settling on a white bikini with some acid wash denim shorts and a white floral crop top. When she sits down at her own vanity, she glances to Jess and says, “Look, I’m sorry if I was harsh, but I don’t want you to get hurt. Give one of these guys a chance. Maybe he’ll surprise you and you’ll be way better off than you would have been with Snap.”

Jess frowns and ignores Bazine in favor of going to her closet to choose an outfit. She opts for a simple teal dress and a silver chain belt that clips loosely around her hips. Tallie re-enters the room wearing something lacy and pink, a dress that ends fairly high up on her thighs. “Ready?” she asks excitedly.

“Yes,” Jess nods. “Ready as I’ll ever be.”

“Have fun on your date, Bazine,” Tallie says with a smile before leading Jess out of the room.

Downstairs, they wave goodbye to the rest of the islanders and then head out to the Jeep sitting out front waiting for them. Both are filled with excitement as they cruise through the hills of Mexico towards their unknown destination.

They arrive at a little beachfront restaurant, something with a beautiful awning and some private tables overlooking the ocean. There are two empty tables, and the girls take seats separate from each other, facing the ocean. Behind them, once the girls are situated, two men begin to approach, both of them wearing massive grins. One man in particular moves with much determination, and as soon as he’s within arm’s reach of Jess, he’s touching her shoulder gently.

When Jess turns her head and looks up, her eyes go wide.

“Snap?!”

He grins as she stands and launches herself at him, arms around his shoulders in a warm embrace. “I missed you so much,” she mumbles into his shoulder, barely audible in the mic.

Snap ducks his head and holds her close. “I missed you, too,” he replies.

“When they sent you home, I —”

“It doesn’t matter,” he interrupts. “I’m here, and you’re here and single, and…”

She leans away just enough to press her lips to his. The kiss is heated and passionate, making up for what feels like forever, but in reality was only two weeks’ worth of time apart.

With no build-up, no fancy speech whatsoever, Snap blurts out against her lips, “Be my girlfriend?”

Jess beams and nods, not hesitating for a moment before replying, “Yes. Of course.”

He spins her around, both of them grinning from ear to ear at having been reunited. It’s an incredible feeling, and one that makes Jess feel a whole lot better about her fate in the villa in the days to come. She’s coupled up again — even if not officially through a ceremony — and she cannot wait to bring him back to the villa and prove to everyone that her loyalty totally paid off.

Across the small patio, Tallie waits nervously for her guy. She hears a shriek from Jess’s table, but resists the urge to look over. If this is meant to be a really great surprise, she’s going to wait for it.

After another moment of tense anticipation, someone finally sits across from her.

Tallie isn’t as pleased as Jess, but wears a polite smile anyway.

“Poe.”

“Hi,” he responds with a dashing smile.

He’s got more scruff than when he’d been on the show previously, but his hair is still as beautifully curly, and his smile is just as bright. Though Tallie has no experience actually speaking to this man in person, she’s on her guard; she saw from watching the show what he’d done to Rey. Given how late it is in the game now, the likelihood of him doing that to her is very low, but it still leaves Tallie feeling a bit nervous.

“What’s your name?” he prompts.

As Poe lowers himself into the chair across the small table from her, she replies. “I’m Tallie.”

“It’s good to meet you.”

Nodding, she says, “You too.”

Poe takes the liberty of pouring them each a glass of wine — something lightly colored and fruity, probably very refreshing beneath the unrelenting summer sun. They toast their drinks and take a sip before Poe breaks the ice.

“You’re nervous.”

It’s more of an observation than anything, but Tallie is grateful that he’ll acknowledge it. She nods shyly and tucks a strand of hair behind her ear.

“I know I didn’t make the best impression on folks the first time around,” Poe confesses. “Rey and I were really bad at communicating and that reflects really badly on me. I get that. If that’s why you’re nervous, I mean.”

Nodding, she says, “Admittedly, yes. I don’t want to just be forgotten and ignored.”

Poe frowns. “Nobody should be. I shouldn’t have done that. But to be fair, she is not totally faultless in this either,” he says.

“Are you going to speak to her about it, when you get back to the villa?” Tallie asks.

There’s something in her tone that indicates to Poe that there’s actually a right answer and wrong answer to this question. “Yes, of course,” he says.

“Good,” she responds. “I know I didn’t see the full situation because I only watched what was on TV, but it was hard to watch. And after that challenge with the tea… you did not look good.”

“I get that. I understand,” Poe nods. “I’m lashed out and I shouldn’t have, and I’m sorry. I hope you’ll still give me a chance.”

Tallie sips her wine and contemplates what he’s saying. It’s fair of her to have her guard up, sure, but it’s not fair to count him out of the running before he can really show her who he is, or what he’s all about.

And he is really fucking handsome.

“I’ll give you a chance,” she says. “We’re here for the same reason. Who knows if that’s in the cards for us or not? But we need to try.”

Poe smiles again, though not as brightly as before; he’s nervous. Tallie likes that she’s made him nervous, made him aware of just how poorly he reflected when the show played back to audiences. He’s an adult, and in relationships he needs to act as such.

“So… can we start over?” he asks hopefully.

Tallie makes him wait, contemplating the question for a moment. She could make him work for it — a lot — but the effort that would require is almost too mean. Besides, they’re running out of time. She can only play hard to get so much before it starts to affect their chances at making it through until the end.

“Yes, let’s,” she agrees.

Poe nods and stands up from the table. He walks away, and Tallie laughs. That wasn’t exactly what she’d meant, but she’ll take it. She sits in her chair, leaning against the backrest with one leg crossed over the other. Kicking her leg casually as she waits, she resists the urge to look behind her to see what Poe is doing.

A moment later, she feels a hand on her shoulder and looks up. He’s smiling down at her, the sun streaming down from behind him, and he offers his hand to her. “Hi, I’m Poe.”

She places her hand in his. “Tallie.”

Poe leans forward, kissing the top of her hand. “It’s nice to meet you,” he says softly.

Still leaning forward, he looks up to make eye contact with her. It’s intense — more than she expected — and it makes Tallie’s heart race. Her words come out breathless as she replies, “It’s nice to meet you, too.”

Poe grins. He can see the effect he has on her, and it looks as though he likes that knowledge… a lot.

Perhaps Tallie found the love she came to the island for, after all.

Chapter Text

Week Five, Day Six

The morning after Tallie and Jess went on their date, they still hadn’t returned, and the islanders all noticed. They sit in their beds in the communal bedroom, looking around at the strangely empty spaces.. “Did they get kidnapped?” Nines asks, only half joking.

Rey rolls over in bed, curling up in Ben’s arms. He’s warm, but not nearly as much of a furnace as Poe had been. She appreciates that about him, among many other things. “I am getting a little worried,” Rose confesses.

“Maybe they got to leave town?” Mitaka suggests.

“Or what if they did get sent home, after all?” Paige wonders.

Right as she says that, a loud laugh from the backyard catches their attention — they look around the room and take inventory, realizing that nobody has left the bedroom yet — and then it registers. “Was that a man’s laughter?” Bazine asks.

One by one they climb out of bed to flock towards the massive floor to ceiling windows overlooking the backyard. Sure enough, there are Tallie and Jess, each with a man. Rey’s eyes go wide; she’d recognize that hair anywhere.

“Is that Poe?” she asks bluntly.

“And that’s Snap!” exclaims Rose.

Just as quickly as they’d flocked to the window, the islanders headed downstairs to greet the new — or returning? — arrivals. “Hey!” Snap shouts as soon as he sees them.

He throws his hands up in the air and is a little surprised by how quickly some of the islanders rush to greet him. Predictably, Poe’s welcome isn’t quite as warm. Ben stands protectively with Rey, clasping her hand in his much larger one, and they hang back after she has the chance to say hello to Snap.

“Did you guys just get back?” Nines asks.

Jess nods and smiles, hooking her arm around Snap’s waist to stand close to him. She’s glowing with happiness, and everyone can see it. “You guys are so cute, it’s gross,” says Rose playfully.

“So how were your dates? What happened?” Bazine asks.

Hux’s hand drifts over her waist as he walks past her to the kitchen to make tea.

“We went to this cute little place on the sea,” Tallie begins. “And these guys showed up and totally surprised us. So then we got to have dinner and hang out, and then after that we stayed on some houseboats overnight. It was beautiful.”

“Did you have to share one?” Mitaka asks.

Jess blushes and Poe says, “Thankfully no. I think those two were rocking the boat all night, if you know what I mean.”

A few in the group cat-call Jess and Snap. She buries her face in his shoulder from embarrassment. “Oh yeah?” Bazine asks, a mischievous sparkle in her eyes. “I wonder why?”

“We made it official,” Snap says, pulling her a little closer and kissing the top of her head. “So there you have it, Paradise Island’s second official couple of the season.”

Rose and Mitaka exchange a glance. “Are you sure about that?” Rose asks.

“What!?” Rey exclaims.

“Fine, we’ll take third,” Snap concedes. “Good for you two.”

Bazine crosses her arms and smiles. “Three official couples with one week to go. Who would have thought?” she asks. “Everything seemed like a mess there for a while.”

Rey feels Ben squeeze her hand a little, and when she looks up, she sees in her peripherals that Poe is watching her. His gaze drifts to her right, where Paige stands with Jasper, but returns to her. “You two moved on then?” he asks, pointing between them.

Rey sighs. “Yeah, we did.”

“We were together like a day,” Paige responds.

Poe frowns deeply and glances over at Tallie. “I mean, things worked out,” he says to her.

She smiles politely at him, but Rey can see the cracks in their relationship already. She probably doesn’t trust him — and for good reason.

“Rey, can we talk?”

It’s the conversation Rey hoped she’d never have to have, talking with Poe about her shortcomings and why they failed. But she knows if they don’t do it now, it’ll never happen, and she needs to be the responsible one. She needs to do this.

“Sure,” she nods.

Ben gives her hand a reassuring squeeze, and then together they walk towards the bench by the firepit. Rey keeps a safe distance from him the whole time, making it clear that she’s not comfortable around him, not really. He’s understanding about it, at least insofar as he chooses not to call attention to it. They sit about a foot apart, and for a moment neither of them speaks.

“We kinda fell apart there, didn’t we?”

It’s not exactly the best conversation starter, but it’s something. Rey sighs and nods, “Basically.”

“Neither of us were all that great at communicating.”

Again, not exactly fostering communication, but it’s the truth and she agrees. “It was hard to talk to you sometimes,” Rey explains. “You’re just so cheery, and you’re really good at always being surrounded by people.”

Poe frowns. “You could have asked me to go talk.”

Rey pulls a knee to her chest and wraps her arms around her leg. “I didn’t want to call attention to the fact that we weren’t doing well,” she says.

Sighing, he says, “I think by trying not to do that, we did that anyway. They could tell we weren’t happy.”

Rey shrugs. “I don’t know what you want me to say right now,” she confesses. “We didn’t talk. We weren’t happy. You humiliated me on TV.”

“You humiliated me, too.”

She narrows her eyes angrily at him. “That was a challenge. I was blindfolded and had absolutely no idea which of you was which!” she says defensively. “You can’t be mad at me for that.”

Poe shakes his head. “Really? I’m the only one here with scruff and you didn’t know which one I was?” he asks.

“Don’t put this on me,” Rey responds. “It was just a game.”

“Well, it really hurt. I was embarrassed,” he says.

“I’m sorry you felt that way, but the other girls rated you higher,” Rey reminds him. “It wasn’t like all of us said you were terrible at it.”

He huffs quietly and leans back against the bench. Before he speaks again, Poe rubs a hand down his face and calms himself down. “Look, I’m sorry for how I treated you. I shouldn’t have done that. It started out good and I was disappointed when it didn’t stay good,” he admits. “But I don’t want there to be any bad vibes between us. There’s only like a week left.”

Rey nods. “I don’t want to fight,” she says. “I can’t promise we’ll be friends, but we can be civil.”

“That’s all I’m asking. We put it all in the past and move on.”

Rey studies him for a minute, wondering if this will actually work. She shared some firsts with him, and he’s always going to have those. Going into the show, Rey knew it was possible for this very thing to happen, someone who isn’t her forever person getting a lot of her firsts and having bad memories tied up in those. But now that she’s here talking to him, and they’re moving on, it feels a little more okay.

Finally, she nods. “Okay,” she agrees. “It’s all in the past, and now we can move on.”

He’s the first to stand from the bench, and when he does, he stretches his arms out as if going in for a hug. Rey hesitates, but agrees, putting her arms around his waist in a civil hug. They’re going to be living in close quarters for the next few days, it’s best to just rip off the bandage and make it normal now.

When they return to the group, Ben is at her side immediately, but Rey just flashes him a smile and whispers, “It’s okay.”

Though Ben doesn’t look convinced, he takes her at her word and nods. He offers her a cup of tea, and together they sit down next to the pool, their feet dangling into the water as they drink their morning beverages. Rey can smell Ben’s coffee and she seriously considers asking him for a sip, it smells so good.

“Can we have a serious talk?” Ben asks. “I feel like that was hard for you so if not, that’s okay.”

Rey looks up at Ben, eyebrow quirked in curiosity. “A serious talk? Should I be worried?” she asks.

He shakes his head easily. “No. Not at all.”

She frowns and uses both hands to lift her tea to her lips. After she takes a sip, she says, “I can handle it.”

Ben nods. “Good. Well… I’ve been thinking a lot about us. And our relationship and where we’re going,” he begins. “The other night in the Hideaway, hearing about your childhood… the foster homes and the loneliness… I don’t want you to miss out on anything.”

“Ben…”

Rey rests her hand on his thigh, worrying her lip between her teeth. “Just let me get this out,” he mumbles. “I promise it’ll be okay.”

Rey opens her mouth to protest, but closes it again. She wants to give him a chance to talk, even though she’s afraid of what he’s going to say.

“So… where was I? Oh right,” he says, glancing up at the sky and kicking his foot out in the water. Then he looks over and says, “You deserve a life full of all the best things. I’m okay with taking it slow with some things, but with others… I guess what I’m saying is that I’d really like to be your boyfriend, if you’d have me. I want to stay together when we leave here. I want to make this work.”

In just a moment, Rey went from terrified to overjoyed. She smiles and looks over hopefully. “Really?” she asks. “You’re sure?”

He nods. “Absolutely. Is that a yes?”

Rey beams, her eyes sparkling with so much joy in the sunlight. Her heart soars and she feels like she’s going to burst. “Yes, of course.”

Ben reaches out, combing a hand into Rey’s hair as he pulls her in for a kiss. They smile into it — even Ben — and Rey feels more belonging and contentment than she’s ever felt before. She hopes deep in her heart that the feeling only continues.

——

Week Five, Day Seven

It’s nothing new or exciting when the islanders get texts now. Instead, it fills most of them with a sense of fear and dread, because they have no idea what comes next. It could be good news, but it’s far more likely to be bad news.

That particular afternoon, as they’re all lounging around in the yard soaking up the sun, Ben announces that he has a text.

“Islanders. Tonight, you must all dress to impress for a special surprise. Meet by the fire in three hours. #timesarechanging #makeitorbreakit,” he reads.

Rey frowns. “Those hashtags don’t sound good,” she observes.

Instead of inciting excitement or enthusiasm, the text puts a damper on the whole backyard. Whatever the special surprise is, it probably won’t be good based on the hashtags in the text message. The group tries to continue relaxing — they have a long time left before they need to start getting ready — but it takes no more than thirty minutes for people to start heading inside.

Rey has a sinking feeling in her gut that this could very well be her last day in the villa. There are some very strong couples in the house, like Finn and Kaydel, and Mitaka and Rose. Those couples are solid, and likely have a strong fanbase as a result. Rey and Ben… they’ve had a rocky road. They’ve left other people in the dust in order to pursue their relationship. To be fair, those other people have also pursued other people with varying results.

She’s still not sure how she feels about Poe being back, either.

It’s strange, seeing him again. That time in her life wasn’t realistically that long ago, but it feels like ages just given how much happens in the villa. With all the challenges and drama and gossip, it’s no surprise that her relationship with Poe feels like it was years ago. She muses on that, telling herself it’s probably a good thing, because it means it doesn’t hurt to see him again.

As the text instructed, Rey dresses to impress. She gathers with the other women — all eight of them — and together they swap dresses and earrings and makeup and hair advice in order to look their best.

Rey opts for simple and classy, wearing a pastel blue dress, tight enough to accent her curves without looking totally trashy. With it she wears her sneakers — given the hashtags, she assumes something crazy will happen and would like to be comfortable when it does. The other women, for the most part, opt for high heels, but Rey doesn’t feel left out. Ben knows who she is, and they’re solid in their relationship. From this point on, anything that happens to them as a couple is out of their control.

The sun is setting as the group gathers outside by the fire, as instructed by the text message earlier. They sit in their couples and try desperately to figure out what’s going on and what comes next.

They’re shrouded in mystery until finally someone’s phone dings. It’s Paige, and she stands up. “Islanders: The public have been voting for their favorites, and tonight, two couples will be dumped from the island,” she reads. “Everyone, please stand. It is time to see who won the public’s affection, and who is going home.”

There’s an audible gasp across the group as they realize what’s going on. Not only is there a surprise dumping, but the audience has chosen who goes and who stays, meaning they’re powerless. At this point, all they can do is wait and see what happens next. Slowly they all rise to their feet and look around nervously.

Mitaka’s phone dings next, and he reads aloud, “The couple with the highest number of votes, and safe from this dumping is…” He waits for the second text to appear. When it does, he nods and says, “Ben and Rey.”

The result shocks Rey, but nobody else seems surprised. She happily takes Ben’s hand and sits down, but looks around at the rest of the group very nervously. Poe’s phone goes off next, and he announces that the couple with the second highest number of votes is Mitaka and Rose, and they are also safe. Third place is Hux and Bazine, and tied for fourth place are Finn and Kaydel, and Snap and Jess.

The three remaining couples stand nervously. Ben receives the next text and stands to read to the group, “The last couple who is safe, and will remain on the island into week six is…”

Crickets chirp in the distance and a soft breeze blows through the backyard. Rose is looking on, worry in her eyes that her sister and Jasper are at risk of being sent home. Bazine is chewing a hangnail, and Jess is clinging to Snap with tears welling in her eyes. They don’t want to say goodbye to these people.

Ben tries to keep a neutral expression as his phone dings, another message in his inbox. He takes a deep breath and reads it aloud.

“Nines and Korr.”

Rose lets out a soft sob, Mitaka hugging her as she tries to deal with the fact that her sister is about to leave the villa. Though Paige and Jasper were solid, they just weren’t fan favorites, so their time is up.

Poe and Tallie, on the other hand, are a less surprising choice. Poe made a lot of decisions in his time on the show the first time around that may still have viewers upset. Rey frowns, disappointed that Tallie had to bear the brunt of that. She deserves a chance at true love, a love she probably won’t find with Poe, but now there’s no way for her to find it, at least not in this way.

“I should have known coming back was too good to be true,” Poe says, trying to make light of the uncomfortable situation at hand.

Ben pockets his phone and looks frustrated at the fact that he’d had to deliver the news. He doesn’t, however, seem all that remorseful about the fact that Poe is going home. It’s just the others that he feels bad about.

It’s difficult, saying goodbyes at this point in the villa. Everyone’s made lasting friendships — Paige and Jasper especially — so there are plenty of hugs and tears as they all come to terms with the results.

Rose is apologizing profusely to her sister, saying it’ll be okay and they’ll see each other soon, but Paige seems shockingly calm about it. “I have Jasper, and I know you’ll be in it, and I’m just really happy for you, alright?” Paige says as the two of them pile clothing into her suitcase.

Rey and Bazine help Tallie pack up hers, and she’s also quite good-natured about it. “I knew I was doomed, being coupled up with Poe,” she says. “He has a bad reputation. I can’t actually expect to make it to the end with him.”

Curiously, Bazine asks, “Are you going to keep seeing him on the outside?”

Tallie shrugs. “Maybe. We exchanged numbers. But we only knew each other like three days, that’s not exactly enough to build a relationship on,” she says. “He’s cute, though. I’ll give him a chance.”

Rey smiles. “That’s really good of you,” she says.

As they fold up the rest of Tallie’s dresses, she smiles at them. “Thanks. And good luck to you two. I think this last week is going to be really interesting — I can’t wait to watch it.”

“Do you know who’s going to win?” Bazine wonders.

“I don’t know anything,” Tallie corrects. “But I can’t even begin to guess what’s going to happen. You’re all six very strong couples. And who knows how close those votes were?”

Bazine and Rey both nod. Once Tallie’s suitcase is closed, they share a hug, and then everyone gathers in the front foyer of the villa. They say their last goodbyes, giving hugs and well wishes before Jasper, Paige, Poe, and Tallie exit the villa.

Now down to only six couples, the real test is on… who is going to win, and will they choose to win for love, or win for money? In only seven days, the public will have their answer.

Chapter Text

Week Six, Day One

Instead of waking on their own, or to the ding! of a text message, the remaining six couples in the villa wake to the sound of babies crying.

“What the fuck?” Hux grumbles, rolling over to bury his face in a pillow.

Rey sits up immediately, concerned. She wonders for a moment if she’s dreaming — that wouldn’t be the strangest thing she’s ever dreamed about.

At the foot of each couple’s bed is a crib and inside, a doll. Rey crawls to the end of the bed to look in, confused. “What’s going on?”

“It’s the baby challenge,” Rose says from the bed across the way.

She’s scooping her baby out of the crib, Mitaka at her side gathering the bottle and blanket each baby came with. Along the wall, while they were asleep, someone set up a table with an array of baby clothes.

Viewers of the show, including islanders who’d watched past seasons, were aware of the baby challenge. For twenty-four hours, each couple has to care for a baby doll that registers how good (or not good) they are at caring for the dolls. They’ll cry for different reasons, like if they’re hungry or tired or have a dirty diaper, and will register if and when their “parents” change them and care for them.

Nines reaches for their baby first, Korr more interested in padding across the room to pick out clothes for the baby. Bazine and Hux both grumble back and forth to each other about who should get the baby, which doesn’t bode well for either of them succeeding in the challenge. Rey very tenderly lifts the baby from the crib, aware of Ben’s presence behind her, peeking over her shoulder. “Bottle? Blanket?”

“Let’s try bottle first,” she suggests.

Looking around at each of the couples and their babies — even Bazine deigned to pick up their doll from the crib — Rey notices that whoever dropped them off took care to make each doll look somewhat like each parent in the couple.

Rey puts the bottle to the mouth of their baby doll and it quiets almost immediately. Two beds down, Bazine and Hux aren’t having the same kind of luck. She’s holding the bottle to her baby’s mouth, but the crying just keeps going.

“Ugh, I hate this,” Bazine grumbles.

She nearly tosses the bottle across the room, causing Hux to interfere. “Why don’t you go pick out some clothes?” he suggests, taking the baby from her.

“I don’t even know if it’s a boy or a girl,” she says angrily.

“Well, maybe we need to change its diaper so why don’t we check,” he snaps back.

“Tea anyone?” Mitaka suggests hopefully.

Rose smiles and nods. “Coffee too please, if you don’t mind,” Nines chimes in.

“Sure thing,” Mitaka nods.

He scurries from the room before anyone can ask him for anything else. Finn looks right at home with his and Kaydel’s baby in his arms, feeding the baby with a fake bottle.

Hux does the best he can to change the diaper, revealing the sex of their baby to Bazine in the process. “It’s a girl.”

She busies herself with the clothing table at the end of the room, leaving him to put a diaper on the doll and then offer her a bottle. He sits at the edge of the bed, his hair a disheveled mess, a strange look on his face as he watches the child. Their bed is nearest to the windows, and he faces them as he cradles the doll. It feels absolutely ridiculous, but at least he’s managed to get it to stop crying.

Bazine’s disinterest is actually a little frustrating to Hux. He knows better than to think this is a little, innocent challenge. There’s going to be more to this, and there could be real negative consequences for the two of them if she doesn’t help care for this baby. Or — if at least one of them doesn’t step up.

He seems to be filling those shoes, though he has no knowledge of how to care for children. But, he doesn’t want to fight, so he lets Bazine put out a few clothing options as he feeds the baby. He nods and shrugs, showing his clear indifference as Bazine expresses opinions about what their baby will wear. As other couples discuss names, Hux just looks to Bazine, who shrugs.

“Alright. Well, then, what about…” he trails off for a moment, considering it. “Eleanor? Michelle?”

“Eleanor’s fine, I guess. Very posh,” Bazine comments.

They exchange a glance before Hux smirks and says, “Eleanor it is, then.”

Bazine rolls her eyes, but she’s smiling, so they’re at least gaining better ground between them. It’s going to be a challenge more difficult for them than the rest, if the other couples’ clear interest is any indication, so they’re going to have to work their problems out as soon as possible to prevent any later issues and of course, repercussions.

As the couples finish dressing and naming their babies, they begin to head downstairs. There are hats and blankets and strollers, but only a few couples opt to put sun hats on their dolls.

“I don’t think babies are supposed to be exposed to direct sunlight,” Finn tells Kaydel.

“But the hat looks weird,” she argues. “Just like… put sunscreen on? That should do it.”

“I don’t know if the doll will notice that,” he says.

She quirks her head to the side. “Will they notice if they’re not wearing a hat?”

The two debate back and forth until finally deciding to just put the baby, sans hat, in a stroller. The strollers all have awnings over the seat where the baby will go, so it keeps baby out of the sun.

Crisis averted.

As the couples make their way downstairs, they’re met with freshly brewed tea and coffee compliments of Mitaka. The group thanks him and Rose both, since she took on extra work with the baby to make it possible. Turns out, as he’d been brewing coffee and tea, he’d also cooked up a pan of eggs and stuck a pan of bacon in the oven.

“Have I told you lately how incredible you are?” Rey says, taking a seat on one of the barstools along the long kitchen counter. “Because you, Mitaka, are incredible.”

She takes a long, happy swig of the tea he’d prepared for her as Ben stands behind her, cradling the quiet, sleeping baby in one arm and sipping his coffee in the other. “Thank you,” he says, his gratitude of the same magnitude, but his enthusiasm much lower than Rey’s.

“You’re welcome,” Mitaka replies. He nods to the baby in Ben’s arms, which looks comically small with his massive muscles. “What did you name them?”

“Her name is Jayla,” Rey says with a smile.

Mitaka raises an eyebrow. “Family name?”

“No,” Rey shakes her head.

“We just liked it,” Ben adds.

“What did you guys name your baby?” Rey wonders.

Mitaka looks over at Rose, who currently occupies the daybed with Jess as they change their babies’ diapers. “We named him Tucker,” Mitaka explains.

Rey smiles. “That’s cute! Rose seems to be taking well to fake motherhood,” she observes.

He nods. “She’s made it very clear from early on that she’d like to have kids — someday,” he adds, seeing the alarm in Rey’s eyes. “Nothing immediate.”

“And how do you feel about that?” she wonders.

Mitaka shrugs. “Fine, I guess. No reason not to, right?” he says. “I’ve always wanted to be a father, though never quite thought I’d be good at it. I figured I’d learn from my spouse.”

“Well, you’ll have plenty of learning to do today after you feed us all,” Rey says jokingly. “Which — thank you, by the way. It’s like you’ve adopted over a dozen hungry humans. But at least you don’t have to change our diapers.”

Groaning, Mitaka says, “That’s a mental image I never needed.”

Rey laughs and says, “Well, once you feed us, you can go take care of Tucker with Rose. We’ll clean up.”

“Excellent,” he grins. “The worst part.”

Inside, Hux and Bazine have taken up residence on the sofa. The babies are a perfect excuse not to have to go outside, an excuse which Hux has been looking for since he arrived. After Bazine chose an outfit for the baby and they got it to stop crying, things have been easier. She even held the baby.

Her disinterest is clear, though, and Hux finds himself cradling the doll again, feeding it, and watching as Bazine braids her hair. “You realize if you don’t start to help me with this baby, we could get sent home, right? And lose?” he says.

She sighs and rolls her eyes. “You’re being dramatic.”

“I’m really not.” The baby whines, so he puts her upright against his shoulder to burp her.

“Fine, next time she cries I’ll hold her,” Bazine says simply. “At least they don’t actually dirty their diapers.”

“True, I suppose.”

He’s quiet for a moment, and Bazine figures out almost immediately that she needs to say something, or explain to him why she’s so indifferent.

“Look — I hadn’t really wanted to talk about this while I was here but I guess I have to,” she says, turning to face him on the sofa.

She puts her feet up on the cushion next to her, arms draped around her knees, and she leans forward, her head on her arm.

“I’m not forcing you to do anything,” Hux reminds her.

Bazine nods. “I know.”

She’s quiet, contemplating whether or not to actually say what’s on her mind. “I guess… I just really hate this challenge, because…” she looks around to make sure nobody else is near. Softly, she confesses, “I can’t have kids. So this is like torture for me. One day of something I can’t have even if I wanted it. Even though I don’t know if I want it. It kind of doesn’t matter. And now I’m babbling. Fuck.

Hux is still, observing Bazine as she tries to muddle through the thoughts in her head. He frowns. “I’m sorry.”

Nodding, she says, “Thanks. Now look, I’ll take care of the baby if you want me to, but like…”

“You don’t have to,” he interjects.

“I’m just afraid that if we do this, it’ll be like playing pretend but for something I can’t ever have, and that’s really disappointing,” Bazine says. “What if we do a really good job, but it doesn’t matter because we couldn’t have this one day anyway?”

The baby doll burps and interrupts the moment. Hux lowers the baby, cradling it again, and crosses one leg over the other. He looks relaxed on the sofa, wearing his swim trunks and a polo shirt, a pastel blanket around the doll he never thought he’d be caring for quite so attentively. “I’d not planned on telling anyone this, but I think this warrants an exception, just as your secret did,” Hux says. “You should know… how do I put this?” He pauses and tilts his head to the side, contemplating. “I rarely want for anything.”

Bazine looks at him in confusion.

“My father works for a very large company, one I can’t name because of the show,” he says. “But… it means my family is quite well off. I’ll be inheriting a lot, and have earned a lot in my own right, working in investment banking.”

“So you really did come here for love?”

Hux nods.

“Why are you telling me this?” she asks.

He’s quiet for a moment, contemplating whether or not to actually say what’s on his mind. It’s a lot, given how little time they’ve actually spent together. It feels right, though, so he says finally, “Because if we do this — stay together on the outside — it means I’d have the funds to do what it took to start a family. Adoption, surrogacy, whatever…” He pauses. “There are options.”

Bazine watches him closely. There’s an unreadable expression in her gaze and she doesn’t speak, at first. Hux wonders if he’s crossed a line, but doesn’t voice his concern; he’d rather let her process his offer in her own time.

“Okay.”

She wears the first signs of a smile on her face as she scoots across the sofa to sit next to him. He lifts his free arm, prompting Bazine to sit in his embrace. She looks over at the baby doll sleeping in his arms. It feels silly, but somehow a doll has brought them incredibly close together as a couple. Hux turns his head and kisses her forehead. He may not show positive emotions or affection around most of the islanders, but alone with Bazine, he feels comfortable doing so. Especially after a confession as big as hers.

She smiles and looks up at him, the two of them leaning in together to share a kiss before she turns to look at the doll in his arms. It feels ridiculously domestic, but the ache in her chest isn’t as big as it was before… and she appreciates that.

The couples get the hang of caring for the babies as the day goes on, for the most part. Nines and Korr struggle the most. Their baby and Rey and Ben’s baby both cry a ton — the only difference is, Nines and Korr aren’t quite as good as getting the baby to quiet down again. She even snaps at him, suggesting something he’s already tried, and he is not afraid to tell her that.

“It doesn’t matter, try it again!” she shouts.

He glares at her and looks down at the crying baby in their stroller. They’ve fed it, burped it, and changed it, with no results. “Why don’t you try something? You haven’t held him all day!” he shoots back.

They’re tense and in a huff for the rest of the night, a drastic difference to Ben and Rey, who have been dealing with similar issues with their baby.

Baby Jayla cries — a lot.

Ben silently fumes more than once, but he manages to keep everything under control, unlike Nines and Korr. Rey has the patience of a saint, doting on the baby in an overprotective way that makes Ben wonder what, exactly, is going through her head.

As the sun sets, their baby begins crying for the ten-thousandth time that day, and the two of them retreat to somewhere more private. This particular time, the baby woke due to a loud burst of laughter coming from the daybed where Rose, Mitaka, Jess, and Snap had taken up residence. In an attempt to find somewhere far quieter, Ben and Rey disappear up to the rooftop terrace.

“It’s weird being up here and not making out,” Rey says as she sits in the corner of the bench, cradling Jayla in her arms and bouncing her gently to try to get her to quiet.

Ben looks amused. “That could have gotten way out of control, and then we’d be here,” he gestures to the baby.

Rey laughs and shakes her head. “We’d be more careful than that, I’m sure.”

“Do you want me to hold her for a while?” Ben offers.

Smiling warmly at him, Rey smiles and shakes her head. “I’ll quiet her down. When she’s sleeping, I’ll give her to you. Easier that way,” she says, patting the baby’s bum to try to help quiet her.

“Can I try something?” Ben asks. “Please?”

Rey is quiet for a moment before realizing that she’s hogging all the time with the baby — it’s only fair of her to give Ben a chance. She just realized that his patience was wearing thin earlier, and doesn’t want him to be in that situation again. He’d looked so guilty when he’d snapped at her unexpectedly.

She nods and passes the baby to Ben, who relaxes against the bench so he can lay the baby on his chest. Rey drapes the blanket over the baby’s back, and Ben’s large hand covers the entire back of her head. Then, oh so softly, he begins to hum.

There’s no discernable melody, as far as Rey can tell. It’s simply just noise — soft, soothing noise. It doesn’t seem like it’d work, at least not on a doll, but sure enough the baby doll stops crying. Rey feels her heart do something funny in her chest, watching Ben handle the baby so well. Fake baby or not… he’s better with her now than she was before, and Rey realizes he probably just needed a bit of practice.

And now, sitting there with him on the terrace in the moonlight, sleeping baby on his chest and his humming to serenade them both, Rey has never felt more content.

Chapter Text

Week Six, Day Two

Sometime in the middle of the night the dolls stop crying. In fact, they disappear entirely. The islanders wake up to silence in the villa, babies removed as they slept more soundly than they had in days. Babies are exhausting.

Bazine glances down, half-awake, and sighs wistfully. Hux wraps his arms a little tighter around her shoulders and kisses her forehead. “Someday,” he whispers, a secret only for the two of them.

She nestles closer to Hux and nods, hoping to catch a little more sleep. Eventually the islanders begin to rise, slowly flocking to the kitchen for tea and coffee, like usual. It all feels like a comfortable routine - breaking that at the end of the week is going to be difficult.

They get a text later that day, after eating breakfast and settling in to sunbathe, that there’s going to be a party that night.

There’s no purpose for the party — as far as the text informed them — aside from celebrating their survival of the baby challenge.

The six remaining women really work hard to get ready for the party, choosing and sharing their best dresses. Rey shocks everyone by opting to wear one of Kaydel’s skin tight tube top dresses. “Are you sure?” Kaydel asks. “You can’t really wear a bra with that.”

Rey is blushing furiously, but nods. “I’m sure.”

Jess cat-calls Rey and they all wait anxiously to see what she looks like once she’s dressed. Rey, like all the girls, looks absolutely stunning. She wears a simple necklace and some pumps borrowed from Jess, and takes pride in the way Ben stares open-mouthed at her as she approaches. Given the way she walks in heels, it’s no secret to anyone that she’s not wearing a bra — even a strapless one.

Bazine stuns in a glittery shift dress, tiny spaghetti straps holding it on her body. Usually she doesn’t mind when people gape at her appearance — it used to happen all the time — but something about the way Hux does it makes her feel butterflies in her stomach and a rush of excitement.

Snap and Finn hand out drinks to everyone, an array of wines and champagnes for everyone to choose from. They spread out around the backyard chatting, not really expecting much else to happen that evening.

But then Snap gets a text.

“Islanders. Please gather around the fire pit immediately.”

Suddenly, the mood in the yard totally changes. Smiles are gone, drinks are consumed in an unhealthily fast manner. The group all band together as they sit down around the fire, hand in hand with their partners, and wait nervously. “What could they possibly send us home for?” Rey asks fearfully.

“I’m not sure I want to know,” Mitaka answers.

Bazine looks worriedly at Hux. “Could it have to do with the babies? What if you were right, and I messed it up for us?” she asks.

He shakes his head and puts an arm around her shoulders. It’s not worth thinking about. Finn receives a text as they are all sitting and waiting, and he stands up to read it. “Islanders: Yesterday, you cared for baby dolls. They transmitted data telling us how well — or not well — you did in caring for them. The following three couples passed the test, and are safe. If you do not hear your names read, please stand up. You will be at risk of being dumped from the island,” he reads.

“Mitaka and Rose.”

They both let out sighs of relief, Mitaka leaning in to kiss her, clearly proud of her efforts.

“Jess and Snap.”

The two visibly relax, tension disappearing from their shoulders.

“Ben and Rey.”

Ben puts an arm around Rey’s shoulders and hugs her, pleased with the results. The other three couples, however, stand up, and suddenly they’re all faced with the very real prospect of saying goodbye to one of these couples.

Rose’s phone dings. She stands, hand trembling, and reads, “The next couple who is safe is…” a pause, as she waits for the text to arrive, “Finn and Kaydel.”

That leaves Hux and Bazine standing next to Nines and Korr — and one of those couples will be sent home. Rey looks up at Hux, teary-eyed, hoping that they’re not sent home. She’s made such a connection with Hux — and had connected with Phasma, too — she isn’t ready to say goodbye to yet another one of them. Not yet.

Her phone is the next to ding. She steels her expression and tries to look calm. Ben is reluctant to move his hand from her, but does so anyway — she has to stand and deliver the news. Rey’s hands shake and she nearly drops her phone as she opens the text. After taking a deep breath, she reads, “The couple with the lowest score in the baby challenge, who will be dumped from the island tonight is…”

Rey blinks in quick succession and tries to keep her composure.

“Nines and Korr.”

Bazine and Hux embrace, the mic she’s wearing picking up the faintest of sniffles as she buries her face in his shoulder. She’d been so afraid that her attitude at the start had totally ruined things for them — she never would have forgiven herself for that.

Moments later, they’re all forming a massive group hug around Nines and Korr, who look devastated, but also unsurprised. They nod, accepting their fate, but happily accept condolences from the others.

The mood is somber as they sit by and help Nines and Korr pack. On their way out the door, Rey thanks Nines for being so kind to her before she and Ben got together, and he smiles warmly at her. “Of course,” he nods. Then, he leans in to whisper, “My vote is on you two to win.”

As he leans back, he winks at her, and together he and Korr leave the villa. The bedroom that night feels a little less joyous, and a lot more tense.

——

Week Six, Day Three

“It’s odd, not having Nines around,” Rose says sadly.

She’s standing in the kitchen with Mitaka, Rey, and Hux. Bazine is upstairs showering and Ben is in the gym. Rey watches him out of the corner of her eye as he does bicep curls as she sips her tea.

“Yeah,” Mitaka agrees. “I didn’t realize just how much life he brought to this place.”

Hux delicately stirs some milk into his tea. “He’s not constantly taking up space in the gym.”

Rose snorts. “Like you use it all that much?”

“Regardless,” Hux says, turning around to lean against the countertop. “It was a bit obnoxious.”

Slowly, Rey turns to look at him. “You do miss them though, right? Isn’t it hard for you to say goodbye to people?”

Frowning, Hux takes a deep breath. “I think you and I have very different reactions to people leaving, truth be told,” he says. “It’s all I’ve known, my whole life. I’m rarely affected by such a thing. He was a decent person though. I never wanted to shove him in the pool or stifle him with a pillow so I do suppose he was a good man.”

Mitaka eyes Hux warily, but Rose and Rey chuckle. Though Hux sounds serious, they don’t think he could ever actually hurt someone. Not now that they’ve seen how tender he can get with Bazine.

Before their conversation is able to continue, Finn approaches, phone in hand. “I’ve got a text,” he announces.

“Text!” Rose shouts.

Ben nearly drops his barbell in alarm. Finn waits until everyone is gathered around before he reads. “Islanders, today you will be participating in your very last challenge in paradise,” he says. “Please grab your partner and head to the garden. Instructions will arrive there. #strongertogether #willtheywontthey.”

There are two huge signs hanging above two separate benches, one that says “Boys” and the other that says “Girls.” Finn’s phone goes off again and he reads, “Please sit across from your partner and grab a whiteboard and marker. Today we will be seeing how well you really know your partner. I will read out a question, and you will have to answer either for yourself, or your partner. If a couple’s answers match, they get a point. The winning couple will get to spend a night together in the Hideaway tonight.”

The islanders follow the instructions, each grabbing whiteboards and markers. Sitting across from their partner is equal parts intimidating and fun. They can see their reaction to the questions, and watch them write an answer. A board at the end of the way has each couple’s name, and Finn will give them tally marks when they get something correct.

“Alright, we’ll start by asking the guys some questions. First: how many people has your girl slept with?”

Everyone looks down at their boards and starts writing. Ben and Rey are done first, with other couples close behind.

“Bazine?” About 20. “Hux got it right!”

“Kaydel?” Two. “I… got it wrong.”

“Rose?” Five. “One point to Mitaka!”

“Rey?” Zero. “Ben is correct!”

“Jess?” 10ish. “Snap said ten, so… technically, he’s correct!”

The game continues on in a similar fashion. Some questions are absurd, like the strangest job their partner has ever worked, or what their favorite sex position is. Questions range from very easy to very difficult, and in some cases only one couple gets it right. In other cases, they all do.

Ben seems to know nearly everything about Rey, so she feels a little guilty when she doesn’t know Ben’s parents’ names, or what his dream job was when he was a child. They keep a pretty good lead in the standings though, regardless. Hux and Bazine do well, but nobody can even compare to Jess and Snap, who get a perfect score.

“Somehow… Jess and Snap got literally every question correct,” Finn says, looking at the scoreboard. “That’s a really impressive win. How did you do it?”

Jess bushes, and Snap says, “It’s easy. We talk.”

“Hey, sex is fun, too,” Kaydel argues.

“Yeah, it is,” Jess agrees. “But relationships are more than just sex.”

Kaydel pouts, but it’s only because she and Finn came in last, two points behind Mitaka and Rose. Finn accepts his loss humbly, though, and says, “Alright. Well, congratulations Jess and Snap! You’ve won a night in the hideaway.”

Rey wiggles her eyebrows at them, and Rose cat-calls. There are cheers and applause all around… until someone’s phone dings.

Ben opens a text message on his phone and stands, looking worried. “Islanders: there’s a catch. Not only did today’s challenge determine who got a night in the Hideaway, but it also determined which couple would be dumped from the island,” he reads. “The couple who scored the lowest must immediately pack their bags and prepare to leave the villa. Their time in Paradise is up.”

An uncomfortable silence spreads across the backyard. Smiles fade, laughter is caught dead in its tracks. Finn’s shoulders slump and Kaydel buries her face in her hands.

Finn and Kaydel have been dumped.

Rey’s hands fly to cover her mouth. She gasps in shock and doesn’t know what to say. Nobody knows what to say. Finn has been around since day one, and Kaydel came in shortly after. They’ve been there for what feels like forever, a staple of life in the villa.

Rose and Rey are the first to leap towards Kaydel, enveloping her in a tight hug. Bazine and Jess are close behind, doing their best to comfort her as she lets out a sob.

The dumping came out of nowhere. It could have been any of them. They hadn’t known the stakes of the competition and now… they had to say goodbye to two really great people. When the group hug around Kaydel begins to disperse, Rey makes a beeline for Finn. He looks like he’s definitely had better days, but accepts her hug willingly. He seems almost desperate for it, and Rey hopes she can provide even a modicum of comfort for him.

Going inside to help them pack is difficult. Rey disappears to the tiny room on the first floor, to sit in that familiar wicker chair and give an interview.

When she sits down, she doesn’t speak at first. She pulls the blanket from the chair around her shoulders and brings her knees to her chest, her move of comfort. Holding her legs to her chest, Rey takes a few deep breaths. Her lower lip starts to tremble, and she lets out a soft sob before she says anything.

“I didn’t think anyone leaving would hurt this much.”

Rey takes a deep breath and hastily dabs her fingertips at her cheeks, trying to dry the little damp spots where she’d blinked a few tears free.

“Everyone here… they’ve started to feel like family to me. I’ve made more friends than I’ve ever had in my life, and… Finn…” She swallows past a lump in her throat. “He’s like the brother I never had. I don’t want to say goodbye.”

She looks away from the camera and inhales, trying to steady her breathing and slow the tears threatening to well up in her eyes. It’s a lot of emotions to contend with, especially mixed with Nines and Korr leaving the night before, and the end of Paradise looming in the near future.

“I’m sick of people leaving. They always leave, and I —”

Before she can finish her thought, the door to the room opens just a few inches. The camera can pick up Ben’s features in the shadows, the prominent nose and soft lips and dark, intense eyes. “Rey?” he asks.

“Yeah?”

She tries to sound tough and strong, but her voice comes out wobbly and tearful. Immediately, Ben pushes the door open to walk in. He closes it behind him and moves determinedly towards the chair. “I’m almost done,” Rey says, wiping her tears from her cheeks.

“Are you alright?”

Rey nods, but it’s clear to Ben that no, she’s not. He taps her leg and urges her to scoot over on the bench. As she does, he slides in next to her and puts an arm around her shoulder. “Were you talking, or were you just having some alone time?” he asks.

She’s quiet and takes a breath. “Both.”

“You’ll see them again,” he tells her. “I know it’s hard to say goodbye, but…”

“What if I don’t, though?”

He’s silent for a minute.

“What?”

Rey drapes her legs over one of Ben’s and lays her head on his shoulder. She frowns deeply as she asks, “What if I don’t see them again? People always leave and then never come back.”

Ben is silent, stunned at her raw display of emotion. He wonders if she realizes this isn’t behind closed doors, that this is front and center in front of a camera, the footage very likely to end up on television.

“We’re different here,” he says finally. “Finn thinks of you as a sister, and Kaydel was already asking everyone for their Instagram handles and phone numbers.”

Ben presses a kiss to her forehead to try to reassure her.

“I’m just so tired of feeling alone.”

Nodding, Ben says, “I know. Me, too.” He rubs his hand up and down her arm to try to warm her and reassure her. “But… you’re not alone.”

Rey glances up at him; she looks exhausted, both emotionally and physically. “Neither are you,” she says softly.

Ben leans down to press a kiss to her lips, something slow and reassuring, tender in a way most kisses on the show are not.

They take a few more moments of privacy before they hear shouting outside. It’s time to say goodbye to Kaydel and Finn; they’re about to leave the villa.

Rey keeps the blanket wrapped around her shoulders as she follows Ben out of the room. Kaydel has clearly been crying, too, and she falls into an embrace with Rey beneath the blanket, the two of them both sniffling as they say goodbye.

But what really makes the tears fall is when Finn gives Rey the biggest, warmest hug of her life. She feels such comfort, such support from him — she always has, but now, especially — and it hits her that while they’re saying goodbye now, this isn’t the end. It can’t be. Whatever bond they’ve formed is just too strong.

“We’ll see each other again,” she whispers to him. “I believe that.”

She feels his chin bump her shoulder as he nods. He doesn’t say a word. Words must be failing him just as they’re failing her. It’s hard, figuring out what to say or do in this situation. Goodbyes are not something Rey has ever been good at.

Ben puts an arm protectively around her shoulders as they watch Finn and Kaydel separate themselves from the group and gather their bags. When they walk out of the villa, Rey leans against Ben and sniffles as she waves, watching until they’re completely out of their line of sight.

That night, Rey doesn’t sleep well at all, even with Ben’s comforting presence next to her. They only have four days left in this place before saying goodbye, for what could quite possibly be forever. The thought makes her feel sick, and sleep doesn’t come easily to her.

Chapter Text

Week Six, Day Four

“Congratulations, Islanders, on making it to the final four. Enjoy the next couple of days in peace. The weather will be great, and each couple will get their own date outside the villa — an entire day of just you and the one you love. Mitaka and Rose, and Bazine and Hux, please get ready to leave the villa. The rest of you, enjoy your time alone, and look forward to your dates tomorrow.”

Rey lowers her phone and looks out at the dismally small group still standing before her. She’d waited longer than was necessary after shouting that she’d gotten a text, forgetting that lately, so many had left them. She smiles at Ben, who’d talked about going for a swim that afternoon. Rey doesn’t mind waiting another day. They’re so close to the end, she could go home now and be satisfied.

And not just because it means she can talk to the islanders who’ve already been dumped.

Mitaka and Rose are the first to leave on their date, and wait out front as a Jeep pulls up to drive them to their destination. Mitaka wears khaki shorts and a black short-sleeved button-down. His hair is now officially long enough for the best man bun the villa has seen, and Rose curiously doesn’t mind it one bit. She wears denim shorts and a purple tank top with flowy shoulder straps and accents. They look good together, tanned and refreshed and relieved.

Knowing that all that lay ahead is a date gives the two a sense of security. They’re still nervous about it, of course, because there could be twists like the awful one the night before, but… the text said every couple would get a date. There were four couples left.

They’d made it to the final, right?

“What do you think we’re doing today?” Rose asks, making conversation as they drive to their destination.

Mitaka shrugs. “I’m not really sure what’s going on,” he says. “I don’t really know what to think.”

Rose nods. “I know. It’s been tough. Saying goodbye to Finn and Kaydel was hard, they were your good friends,” she acknowledges.

Nodding, Mitaka says, “Yeah. It sucks that they didn’t make it through.”

Gently, she takes his hand in hers and gives a reassuring squeeze. “But on the bright side, we knew enough about each other to keep us safe and get us through to the end, and that’s a good thing,” she says.

“Yeah,” he agrees. “That’s true.”

Rose smiles. “It means we’ve got a chance.”

Mitaka looks over at her and raises an eyebrow. “Of course we do,” he says. “I didn’t ask you to be my girlfriend just to break up with you as soon as we got on the outside.”

“I know,” she says, scooting closer to him on the seat. “I don’t want to break up.”

“Well then, we won’t. Easy,” he smiles.

The Jeep pulls up to what appears to be a small ranch, the sights and sounds of a beach out in the distance behind it. They’re greeted by a very friendly rancher who tells them they’ll get to go horseback riding on the beach. “I’ve always wanted to go horseback riding!” Rose exclaims.

Mitaka looks nervous, but for the sake of Rose does his best to stay brave.

Rose looks totally at home, riding around on horseback on the beach. It takes a while for Mitaka to even begin moving, but Rose’s confidence boosts his own. He finds that she does that for him a lot, helps him try new things and see the strength he holds.

It’s one of the many reasons he enjoys being with her, being her boyfriend.

“I’ve always wanted to do this,” she says with a smile as the two of them ride on horseback down the beach.

Mitaka looks over at her, squinting in the sunlight. “I can tell. You’ve said so at least a dozen times already,” he teases.

He studies her for a moment. “You look very happy right now,” he observes.

Rose smiles; he thinks she’s blushing, but it’s hard to tell when she’s silhouetted against the sky like that. “I am happy,” she echoes.

“To be horseback riding?” he asks, fishing for the answer he knows she may not give. It’s risky, but he has to do it. He needs to know, wants that reassurance.

“With you, dummy,” she says playfully.

He wants to ask her why, but before he can, Rose is leaning over to talk to her horse and pat its light brown mane. She’s clearly good with animals, and has a love for them that Mitaka can’t understand. He doesn’t remember loving anything quite that much, save for maybe the calm and the order by which he lives his life.

Rose has definitely changed him for the better. She’s urged him to be spontaneous and brave and try new things… everything he used to avoid with great effort.

Her laughter echoes around them as they ride down the beach, Rose getting the horse to trot a little. When Mitaka catches up, her eyes are sparkling in the sun, and he has no concept of how long they’ve been out here, hair blowing in the wind. He’s smiling so wide his face hurts, but he wouldn’t change a thing.

The sun begins to touch the horizon when they finally climb off the horses and walk to a blanket set up for them, a wicker basket and a bottle of champagne chilling in a bucket of ice lying atop the blanket.

Mitaka pours them drinks and serves up the sandwiches that were packed for them as Rose kicks off her shoes and braids her hair out of the way. He hands her a glass of champagne when she’s ready, and they toast to a lovely date outside of the villa.

After a couple of sips, Rose looks over at Mitaka curiously. “Is everything okay? You’ve been kind of quiet today.”

“Of course,” he nods.

He glances over to see Rose staring at him skeptically. “Alright, fine… I guess if you must know, I just find myself wondering why me?”

She scrunches up her face in confusion. “Why you what?”

“Like, why did you choose me?” he asks. “I’m not nearly as handsome as the other men. I’m not very tall, I’m not all that muscular.”

“But you’re taller than me, and I can be the muscle of the relationship,” she says, trying to lighten the mood by showing off her own toned biceps.

Mitaka doesn’t laugh. It’s too serious of a conversation for that, and he wants an honest answer. “Right, sorry,” she nods, lowering her arm. “I guess…”

She hesitates, but Mitaka tells himself to stay calm. He put her on the spot with a question that isn’t easy to answer without preparation. Her voice and expression are softer as she says, “You’re sweet and thoughtful. I’m not sure how you do it, but you manage to make me feel special even in a whole room full of people. You’re gentle and kind and… it’s hard to find words for how you make me feel, alright?”

He’s quiet, mulling over her words.

“And I like your man bun. And you are taller than me, so your height really shouldn’t be a concern.” He opens his mouth, but Rose interrupts, “You’re taller than me even when I wear heels. Hush.”

Mitaka laughs; it says a lot about their relationship that she already knew the argument he was going to make.

“Do you want to be with me on the outside?” he asks.

There’s a fear in his voice that Rose hasn’t heard before. Her smile fades a little, and she looks at him seriously. She doesn’t hesitate before she nods and says, “Yes, of course. Real life is challenging and may make things harder for us but I like you. A lot. I want to be with you and make it work.”

Mitaka looks stunned. “And I hope you want to do the same with me,” Rose adds, looking a little scared.

He nods immediately, and leans in to kiss her forehead. “Of course I do.”

“Good,” she hums, leaning up to look him in the eye.

Their noses bump and Rose beams at him. Mitaka steals a kiss, and then another, and then another, until Rose is giggling against his mouth and the kiss is hardly anything at all. She leans into him, head on his shoulder, and they look out at the sunset together, warm and content.

——

Shortly after Mitaka and Rose leave, Hux and Bazine receive a text alerting them that their own ride is waiting out front. She’s dressed in a navy blue sundress, a lacy shawl around her shoulders. Hux wears black shorts with a white linen button-down, the two of them looking quite fresh and classy. His boat shoes tap on the front steps as he leads her down, Bazine wearing plain strappy sandals instead of any fancy heels.

Together, they climb into a sleek black sports car, which takes them away from the villa at alarming speeds. Between them on the seat, Hux and Bazine’s hands are clasped, though they look out opposite windows to watch the scenery pass them by.

The mood between the two of them has been odd for a while, ever since the baby doll challenge. It was an odd thing, talking about babies and the possibility of having them — or not. Hux hadn’t really thought much on the matter, but he knew of people’s options and knew it mattered to many people. He always assumed he’d make the decision once he understood the dynamic of himself and his partner. Some couples weren’t meant for it, and some were.

Hux hopes that a date out, just the two of them, will lift her spirits. Being taunted with a future she may never have was difficult for Bazine and he didn’t want to rush her through coping with it, but they had a few days left in paradise and he wanted her to enjoy it. Real life would come calling as soon as they went home.

They pull up outside a busy looking town, the streets lined with carts that appear to be piled high with food. Smoke and steam rise from grills behind the countertops of the carts, and the scents of delicious food wafts towards them.

It’s nearly lunch time, and it was apparent to both of them that they were going to be treated to authentic Mexican street food. Bazine’s expression brightens at the sight, and she climbs out of the car right away. Their hands meet again between them, and she looks out at the street to take in their options.

“I don’t even know where to start,” she says as she leans over to him, like it’s a secret to share.

“Let’s just walk and try a little of everything?” Hux suggests.

Bazine nods, and together they begin to walk towards the carts. The food smells incredible, and Hux doesn’t hesitate to swoop in and buy little dishes here and there for them to try. Bazine nearly cries from the heat of one of the dishes, and laughs hysterically when Hux’s face turns bright red from the very same thing. They cool off with a slushy mango-type beverage with a tacky umbrella in it and everything, and laugh and eat and generally enjoy themselves as they walk down the street.

The sleek car they climbed out of what feels like just minutes before is waiting for them at the other end of the massive city block. Hux and Bazine’s stomachs are full and their skin is pink from the sun and the heat of the food, and they’re more than ready to sit down for a while and relax.

They expect to be taken back to the villa, so Hux and Bazine are in for a surprise when they instead end up parked out in the countryside, nothing but a massive field in front of them.

And in the center of that field? A hot air balloon.

“Oh god,” Bazine says, squeezing Hux’s hand.

“What?” he asks curiously.

She looks out the window, and then back at him. “That’s… going to go really high up.”

He smiles knowingly. “Not a fan of heights?”

Bazine doesn’t even hesitate to shake her head no. “That’s alright. It’s why we’re going up together,” he says.

She sits back in the seat for a moment, so Hux takes the liberty of opening the door on his side of the car and climbing out. When he notices that Bazine isn’t following, he extends his hand into the car and says, “Come on. Let’s go. It’ll be fine.”

He says it so simply, which Bazine just doesn’t understand. How can he be so cavalier about something so scary? But, Hux is persistent and she knows this, so she places her hand in his and climbs out of the car.

Together they walk in the warm breeze towards the hot air balloon — a massive rainbow-striped thing that’s already beginning to inflate. In the basket stands a very kind looking man, a cameraman, and an interpreter — they are definitely not going to have any privacy. Bazine doesn’t mind, though. She’s too afraid of falling or being too afraid to look down to really worry about much of anything else.

Hux helps her into the basket and then follows her in, noticing the way Bazine doesn’t really want to let go of him now that they’re in the basket. “Are you sure this is safe?” she asks, looking at the man filling the balloon with more hot air.

The interpreter speaks for her, and the man controlling the balloon just nods and smiles calmly. “See? You’re fine,” Hux says, dropping her hand in favor of holding her waist.

Bazine steps immediately closer to him, wedged as far against his side as she can possibly manage. Her hand grips his linen shirt enough to wrinkle it right away, and he finds himself chuckling at her reaction. “He said it’s safe,” he reminds her.

“It’s so high up, though. What if we fall and die?” she asks.

Hux can’t really see much of her face since she’s looking down and laying her head on his shoulder, but he has a sneaking suspicion that her eyes are closed. He leaves her be for a moment, his arm protectively wrapped around her shoulder as they begin to take off from the ground.

He waits until they’re really up in the air, the sunset clear out on the horizon, before he tries to get her to look. “Hey,” he whispers, tapping her shoulder. “Look.”

She mumbles something garbled against his shoulder.

“Seriously, look, Bazine,” Hux says again. “It’s gorgeous.”

Slowly, she turns her head to see what all the fuss is about. Sure enough, she sees the splash of colors on the horizon, behind the cliffs and the ocean and the trees. There’s purples and blues and pinks stretching all across the sky, beautiful colors with a new view — it’s unlike anything she’s ever seen before.

“See? Worth looking at,” Hux says.

He’s never been one to appreciate nature — he’s always considered himself more of a city boy — but there’s something incredible about a view of the sunset from hundreds of feet up in the air. Having his girlfriend at his side doesn’t hurt, either.

Bazine looks up at him and he can feel her trembling slightly, clearly afraid of heights. “It’s alright,” he reassures her. “You’re not going to fall. We’re safe.”

She turns to face him fully, now both of her arms wrapped around his waist as she holds tight to him in the basket of the hot air balloon. “It’s a little cold, too,” she argues.

Hux chuckles. Of course she’d try to play it off. He wraps his arms around her a little further, the two of them embracing in the basket of the balloon. It’s easy, after weeks in the villa, to ignore the video camera and the mic overhead. It doesn’t feel like they’re on a reality show at all. When Hux looks down into Bazine’s eyes, all he can think about is that this was the last thing he’d ever expected to find.

Something about the expression on Bazine’s face makes him wonder if she feels the same.

“Will you stay with me, on the outside?” she asks.

Hux doesn’t hesitate. He nods. “Of course.”

Bazine looks nervous for a moment. “Even after… everything?”

“After you shared with me that you can’t have children, but want them? And all your irritability while unable to sleep because your father was in hospital? All the difficult things some couples don’t experience until years into a relationship?” Sheepishly, she nods, to which Hux says, “Yes, after all of that.”

She frowns and looks away, to the center of the basket so the heights don’t spook her. “You just… when I first met you, I guess I just thought…”

“That I was here for money, not love?”

Slowly, she brings herself to meet his gaze again. “Yes, that,” she says.

“A fair assumption,” he says. “While I never needed the money in the first place, I truthfully came on the show to see if it would be possible to win in that way. But after meeting Phasma, I began to open up to the idea of love. After meeting you… everything changed.”

Bazine smacks his arm playfully. “That’s so cheesy.”

“It’s your fault,” he reminds her.

Her eyes sparkle with mirth as she looks up at him, happier than he’s seen her in a while.

“I’m not one to get sentimental, but I suppose I’m in this for love now.”

Bazine’s jaw drops and she looks absolutely thrilled.

“That’s a secret,” he insists. “No telling.”

She laughs, her head falling to his chest as she does. Hux tries to fight his own laughter as he feels her shaking with it. “What’s so funny?” he asks.

“You’re trying so hard to seem tough, not wanting people to know you’re here for love,” she says through small bursts of laughter. “You’re ridiculous.”

“This coming from the woman who’s terrified of a little hot air balloon?”

“Hey!” she protests, looking up at him indignantly. “Heights are a legitimate fear!”

“So is the fear of getting your heart broken.”

Bazine looks up at him, her laughter suddenly ended. Instead, she just looks concerned, and a little sad. “H-has that happened before?” she asks.

Hux is quiet; it’s his turn to gaze out into the distance, only he’s not afraid to look at the sun setting behind the cliffs. As he looks off at nothing in particular, he says, “Just once. I was at university. She chose another man.”

“I’m sorry.”

“It’s alright,” he says. “I wasn’t what she wanted. I’d rather find out before marriage, than after.”

“You two were that serious?”

Hux is quiet and nods. He brings himself to look down at Bazine, who seems heartbroken at the thought of Hux being hurt. “Yes. We’d discussed it. In the end, she met someone who made her feel alive, as she put it. I was safe. Boring. Though I was far more open with her than I’d been with anyone in a long while.”

“I’m so sorry.”

He’s quiet, and Bazine gives him a moment to process his thoughts and emotions. After a beat, he says, “I’ve always been open with you.”

“I know,” she nods. “I’ve been the same with you.”

“I know. I appreciate that.”

They don’t seem to need any other words; they know how they feel, and the honesty they’ve shared with each other, and that’s more than words could describe, anyway. Gently, Hux leans in to press his lips to hers, the two of them riding off in the hot air balloon in the sunset — the perfect end to the perfect day.

Chapter Text

Week Six, Day Five

Both couples with dates the previous day had stayed up late telling the other four about what they’d done. Though they didn’t divulge all the more serious, intimate conversations they’d had, their stories did nothing but excite the remaining two couples, leaving them eager to see what the next day and their own dates would bring.

Jess and Snap left first, the two looking ready for a day at the beach as their text message told them to. Snap wore his dark swim trunks and a plain white tee shirt, while Jess wore a pastel pink floral dress over her white bikini. She tied back her long, dark hair, donned a wicker sun-hat and sunglasses, and laughed as Snap angsted for at least five minutes over which pair of sunglasses to wear.

They looked incredible, and they couldn’t wait to see what their date held in store.

In the car, they held hands, Jess opting for the middle of the backseat in order to be closer to Snap. They’d lost so much time, just by virtue of him being sent home. Words can’t describe how thrilled she is to have him back. Her hat lay on the empty seat to her right, her left hand clutching Snap’s as she leans her head on his shoulder. “I’m so glad you’re back,” she muses.

She says it infrequently, but enough that Snap just smiles and looks over and kisses the top of her head. “We got lucky.”

Jess nods, totally content to be with him even just there in the car, away from the villa, in a place that actually feels relatively normal.

The car pulls up near a beach and the two climb out. Together, they walk towards an aquarium on the water where staff wait for them to arrive. “What’s this?” she asks, putting her hat back on her head.

It’s odd, having an actual cameraman following rather than just cameras hanging from every surface; it’s almost like they could forget they’re being watched. Inside, they’re introduced to their guide and told that they’ll get to swim with dolphins.

Excitedly, Jess claps and does a little jump in place. “I’ve always wanted to do this!” she exclaims.

Her enthusiasm is all Snap needs to feel just as excited; it’s contagious and adorable. They follow the staff through the aquarium, to a room where they choose wetsuits and then can go change. Jess looks absolutely ecstatic when she emerges, and they pose for a photo before going towards the water.

“Snap, I’m so excited,” she says again as they stand at the edge of the water.

The aquarium spans out into the ocean itself, somewhat like an infinity pool. The water is cold, but the wetsuits help. As they swim out further, they’re met with a dolphin handler who smiles kindly at them as they approach.

Together, Jess and Snap learn how to interact with the dolphins. The first time she touches one, Jess’s lower lip begins to tremble and she looks like she’s about to cry. “Jess, babe…” Snap says, patting her on the shoulder.

“I’m touching a dolphin!” she exclaims.

A few fat tears roll down her cheeks, but her smile never fades. The moment is clearly very important to her, as is spending time with Snap outside of the villa. One of the crew members who isn’t in the water takes some photos for them, mementos for when Jess is a little less teary-eyed from happiness.

The experience lasts longer than originally planned, but Jess’s emotions and reactions — and Snap’s subsequent reactions to those — give the filming crew all kinds of good footage for airing on television.

Hair damp and faces full of joy, Snap and Jess leave the aquarium hand in hand. The car out front picks them up and takes them into a nearby city. The sun is just beginning to complete its arc in the sky, and the two of them happily walk together up a spiral staircase to a rooftop garden restaurant.

It’s empty save for the two of them, and the setting is romantic and so picturesque. Tropical plants adorn every possible surface that isn’t reserved for eating, and soft music hums in the background. There’s already food on the table, and Jess and Snap sit down excitedly, stomachs growling.

“This is so much better than just cooking for ourselves,” Snap says, groaning in delight as he helps himself to a rather large serving of food.

“Agreed,” Jess nods.

To start, their dinner is relatively quiet. Only one camera rolls as they stuff their faces with food, eager to appease their hunger. As their stomachs begin to fill, the sun sets in the distance. Sipping on margaritas and basking in the soft glow of dusk, the evening begins to slow.

“This was really nice,” Jess comments as she takes a sip of her drink.

Smiling, Snap nods in agreement. “It was. I wish we could take trips like this more often.”

“Outside the villa?”

Shrugging, he says, “Or just in general. I don’t make a whole ton of money, so traveling isn’t exactly something I get to do a lot.”

Jess smiles wistfully. “I don’t, either. Travel a lot, I mean. I wish I could, but it’s hard to do when you’re alone.”

“What do you do for work?”

“I’m a researcher,” she says. “I work at a pharmaceutical company doing clinical trials of new drugs, mostly.”

Snap whistles, impressed. Somehow, they hadn’t broached this topic of real-world things like jobs and education yet. It felt out of place, almost too late for this sort of conversation. But at the same time, nothing about how they’d met or started dating was conventional at all. It was the best they could do, and better late than never.

“What about you?” she asks.

“Nothing that cool,” he says, shaking his head. “I work at a gym part time, then I work in a coffee shop part time.”

Jess smiles. “Somehow, that suits you.”

“Ouch,” laughs Snap. “I’m trying. I flunked out of college the first time I tried it. I’m getting my shit together a little before I go back.”

Nodding, Jess says, “That’s respectable. Mature. What do you want to do one day?”

His silence speaks volumes. She nudges him a little with her pointer finger. “It’s okay if you don’t know,” she says. “It doesn’t happen for everyone right away.”

"Yeah, it's hard to know what you want to do when you're eighteen years old," Snap says.

Jess smiles and leans in to give him a gentle kiss. “As long as you're happy," she muses. “That's all that matters."

"I'm very happy," Snap says. "I have you."

Jess’s face turns bright red and for a moment, she has to look away. Being with Snap makes her the happiest she's ever felt, and already she can't imagine a life without him. Though they've only known each other for six weeks, they already know a great deal about each other. It saddens Jess to think about not being with him on the outside.

“What's on your mind?"

Jess shakes her head. "Nothing," she says in a singsong voice.

Snap laughs. “You liar.”

He scoots his chair closer to her and drapes an arm around her shoulders. “Talk to me, baby,” he says with a playful smirk.

“Well, it's just that…” Jess sighs. “Are we going to stay together on the outside? I really like you, and we just got back together… I don't want to lose what we have.”

Snap smiles. “We're not going to lose what we have, babe. What I do is easy to walk away from. I would move across the damn country for you.”

Jess looks surprised. “You would?”

“Hell yeah.” Snap leans in and kisses her forehead. “There are a lot of things I would do for you, you know that right?”

Jess looks up into Snap’s eyes. The sun is setting behind him, and the whole day feels like a dream. She doesn't know what she did to deserve being in such a beautiful place. He smiles at her, his eyes sparkling in the light of the candles, and her heart does a funny jump in her chest.

“You’re sweet,” she says finally, cheeks blushing crimson.

He leans in to steal a kiss from her, something playful and light, drawing a giggle from her lips in the process. “I love you,” he whispers.

Jess audibly gasps in surprise, hushed only by another playful kiss, before she replies.

“I love you, too.”

——

Shortly after Jess and Snap left the villa, Ben and Rey were picked up by a shiny black Jeep. It’s rugged, and the two of them donned shorts and tee shirts with sunglasses and sneakers for what promised to be an active date. They knew nothing other than what to wear, which in their case, gave much away. Everyone else dressed for the beach and for romance — the two of them, however, did not.

As the wind whips through their hair in the back of their open-topped ride, Rey laughs and cheers, leaning her head back and tossing her arms in the air to really feel the wind as it breezes by them. The Jeep speeds through the hills of Mexico, on gravel roads, until they pull up to what appears to be a field of ruins.

It’s beautiful. Breathtaking. Rey just stares as it comes into view.

As they approach hand in hand, a sign reveals their location: Tulum Archaeological Site. With nothing but some guide maps in hand, Ben and Rey begin their trek around the ruins. “Is that a temple?” Rey asks.

“Let’s look,” responds Ben, following her as she’s already begun to approach it.

The sun beats down on them from above, but Rey’s curiosity is fascinating to Ben. He watches her with curiosity as she stares with wonder at the limestone rocks piled high, stretches of moss and grass peppering along the stone, the brilliant blue ocean in the distance. It’s picturesque; they couldn’t have asked for better weather, or a better day. They’ve really been lucky to have so much great weather during their time in paradise.

Moments later, Rey stands in the middle of a decrepit stone palace, the roof wide open, the floors smooth from the footfalls of tourists from all over the globe. As she looks up and around, Rey’s jaw drops. It’s just a pile of stones, older than she can imagine, but the fact that the structure has withstood the test of time and persevered through countless storms coming in off the sea… it’s incredible. She’s awestruck by the wonder of it all.

Ben stands a few feet away, hands in his pockets. His dark sunglasses hide the fact that he’s watching her closely, his heart beating faster in his chest as he watches every emotion pass across Rey’s face. She’s so expressive, so full of wonder. He wants to know why, wants to unearth all the little things about her — why she loves nature, why she’s so in awe of a place like this, why an adult woman has such a child’s curiosity. All of it endears him to her, makes him even more attracted to her if that were even possible.

After a moment, Rey looks to Ben, aware for the first time that he’s watching her. “Oh. Sorry. Come look!”

She beckons him over. As he approaches, he says, “Don’t apologize. It’s great that you love this place.”

“Just, stand here,” she says, pointing to the center of the floor where the limestone bricks are shaped in a circle rather than in a line. “Imagine years and years ago, someone big and strong and powerful standing right there, where you are now,” she says, pointing to his feet as he stands where she directs him. “How incredible is that?”

“You mean I’m not big and strong and powerful already?”

He looks over with a serious expression, but Rey catches the way the corner of his mouth ticks up in the smallest of smirks. She laughs, melodic and sweet. “You are. But you have modern day things like a cell phone in your pocket. The person who first stood here wouldn’t have had the foggiest what on earth a cell phone even is!”

Ben’s smile grows.

“What?” Rey asks, crossing her arms in front of her chest.

“Your British-isms.”

Rey looks scandalized for a fraction of a second before shaking her head and walking back towards the stairs leading to the rest of the site. “You’re obsessed,” she laughs.

“A little,” he confesses.

He follows her down the mossy stone steps towards what appears to be a platform of stone overlooking the sea. The water is crystal clear and blue, the sand on shore a pristine sparkling white. She stands, her hair blowing in the breeze, and Ben waits off to the side for a moment, taking in the sight of her.

Rey looks over her shoulder, her expression shifting to something akin to embarrassment when she finds him staring again. “What?” she asks.

Ben shakes his head. “Nothing.”

She tips her head, beckoning him over, and Ben obediently follows. He stands behind her, hands falling easily to her hips, and looks out at the sea over her shoulder. “You keep staring at me.”

“I’m watching you,” Ben says. “I haven’t seen you outside the villa.”

Rey crosses her arm over her stomach and touches her hands to his, where he holds her. She tips her head to the side, forehead resting against his chin. “Is it bad?” she asks.

“What? No. Impossible.”

Softly, she confesses, “Well then, what’s so interesting to look at?”

“Hmm,” Ben hums in her ear. “Aside from how beautiful you are?” Rey shakes her head and looks down immediately. She’s not used to hearing things like that, isn’t sure she ever will be. “Your curiosity and awe is… something else.”

Rey’s brow scrunches up. “What does that even mean?”

“It means…” Ben takes a breath, trying to figure out how to describe it. “You look at the world differently than other people I know. It’s like you’re seeing everything for the first time.”

Rey steps away from him and turns on her heel. When she faces him, Ben sees the discomfort in her expression, the sadness. Something he’s said has touched a piece of her, deep inside, that he has yet to fully acquaint himself with.

“I am seeing everything for the first time.”

He’s quiet, allowing Rey to explain as much as she feels necessary. He won’t press for too much, or ask too many questions. This feels like a sensitive topic for her.

“Well, you know I was orphaned when I was younger, and… that was hard. I lived with my grandparents for a bit, and then they passed, and… I didn’t really get to explore much beyond my hometown,” Rey explains. “Coming here for this show… it started as a way to travel. See the world. I didn’t have a passport until I was cast.”

She glances around. “This is the first and probably only time I’ll get to travel like this. I never imagined in my wildest dreams that I’d get to be in a place so beautiful and so old,” Rey continues. “The only old places I get to visit are ones near where I live. And… that’s just something I’ve come to accept about my life.”

Hesitantly, she makes eye contact with Ben. “I’m trying to commit it all to memory because this will never happen again.”

Ben nods. “I understand,” he says, stepping towards her. Rey immediately folds into the hug he’s offering her. “We can travel together. You and me, we —”

“Ben.”

Rey steps back. Her hands rest on his shoulders, but she appears to be trying to step away. “Don’t promise that. When we’re on the outside, you don’t know if —”

“I do,” he says stubbornly. “You can come with me, I —”

“I have a life in England, Ben.”

“A lonely one.”

Rey frowns. “It’s alright when I say it, but when you say it, it just —”

“I’m sorry,” Ben says. “I didn’t mean to hurt you. I just meant that — we work together. We can do anything. And… it makes more sense for you to move to America with me.”

He frown grows deeper. “We just met.”

“Crazier things have happened.”

She takes a couple steps back from him and takes a deep breath to ground herself. “I — I don’t know,” she confesses. “That’s a big move. What if it doesn’t work out? Things don’t work out for plenty of couples on this show. Uprooting my life like that… I don’t want there to be resentment, and if we break up, how will I afford to go back? I just —”

“We won’t break up.”

Rey stands quietly, facing Ben as the breeze whips past them. She looks like she’s about to put her foot down and shout, so he’s relieved when all she does is sigh in defeat. “Can I think about it?”

It’s a calm, rational response — one he doesn’t expect, but is more than happy to concede to. Nodding, he replies, “Yes, of course.”

“Thank you.”

They stand for a moment, letting the tension dissipate. Rey knows it’s not fair to Ben, in a way. He’s just trying to look out for her, but she doesn’t trust people to do that. When they do, they eventually leave. Always. It’s easier not to depend on anyone.

Finally, Ben offers his hand, hoping to get them back on track. Rey places his hand in hers, and together they walk the rest of the ruins, the two of them enjoying a picnic dinner complete with wine and delicious chocolate dessert, before returning to the villa.

It’s time to face their last few days in paradise before returning to reality.

Chapter Text

Week Six, Day Six

Full days of dates outside of the villa have put into relief for the islanders just how little time remains. Reality looms on the horizon, a life with nothing but work and day to day living — and perhaps one or two folks recognizing them on the street. But more than that, the looming end of the process leaves Rey feeling sick for an entirely different reason.

“It’s family visit day.”

She whispers it against the smooth skin of Ben’s shoulder as they lay in bed, the sun rising through the massive window to the backyard. Nobody else has made a sound, so they’re likely the first ones awake.

“I’m sorry,” Ben whispers.

He pulls his arm out from underneath the blankets and wraps it around her shoulder, pulling her closer to him. She rests her head on his pec and takes a deep breath. She finds comfort in the press of his lips against the top of her head.

“I’m not going to have anyone to come visit me,” she laments.

Her words are secret fears whispered into his skin, something for only the two of them to share. Ben rolls to face her in bed, completely enveloping her in an embrace. “It’s alright,” he says. “If it’s any consolation, I don’t really get along with my parents.”

Curiously, Rey asks, “Is… why?”

“We’re just very different,” he replies simply. “Not a lot in common.”

Rey nuzzles against Ben, tucking her head beneath his chin. “It’ll be okay. We’ll get through this.”

Across the room, they have no idea that Hux and Bazine are experiencing similar emotions. Bazine is worried as to whether her father is well enough to travel to see her, and Hux — well, his mother is dead and his father has no interest in interacting with him. The prospect of a dismal family day puts them both in a dour mood.

The villa feels quiet, abnormally so, in a way that gives everyone a sense of dread for what lay ahead. They’re almost done in the villa, their six weeks gone in the blink of an eye.

They hang around in little pods in the kitchen, sipping tea and coffee and eating the scrambled eggs Mitaka made for everyone. “What am I going to do when you’re not here to cook for us anymore?” Rey laments.

Mitaka says nothing, and everyone just laughs sadly. It seems not even a joke can lighten the mood, but Rey is grateful for it. She appreciates being able to express her emotions without feeling like she’s being a downer.

The first person to receive a special visit from their family is Rose, who squeals excitedly when Paige returns, their mother behind her. Rey hangs back, watching as the Tico family greets each other, and then walks off to chat together.

“Must be nice, huh?”

Rey whips her head over to the source of the words: Bazine. They haven’t spoken much, so it’s surprising that they are now. There’s always been far more animosity between them than any sort of friendship.

But Rey doesn’t want to argue. She wants to put everything in the past and just move forward with her life, and with whatever these last few days of life in the villa have to bring her.

“Yeah,” Rey replies wistfully.

Bazine sips from her tea. “I won’t ask, just in case you don’t want to talk about it,” she says. “But if you do… I’m here.”

Her words are surprising, and Rey could very well be stubborn and insist on not trusting someone who once made her feel miserable in the villa. But she wants to put that in the past. It was her hope that she’d gain friends out of this experience, and she’s not going to achieve that if she’s stubborn and grumpy.

“I just don’t have anyone to visit me,” Rey shrugs. “It’s not a big deal.”

Bazine is quiet, and to break the silence Rey opts for climbing up to sit on the edge of the counter. It makes it harder for eye contact, but also shows that she’s not going anywhere, not backing down from this conversation.

“Rey…”

“I don’t want pity.”

Sighing, Bazine says, “I don’t pity you. This is empathy. I — I can’t imagine what today feels like for you.”

Rey shrugs and pulls a knee to her chest. “It’s fine. I’m used to not having parents around when everyone else does. It’s happened to me my whole life,” she says. “It’s why I want to settle down and have a family so bad.”

Now it’s Bazine’s turn to go silent and not continue the conversation. It takes a moment, but after a beat in which the silence is less than companionable, Rey realizes she’s said something wrong.

“I’m sorry,” she frowns. “Whatever I said, I —”

Bazine shakes her head. “It’s alright. You didn’t know,” she says. “I can’t have kids. I don’t really want to get into the details in front of cameras and have it broadcast on the telly, but… I can’t. So it’s hard. The baby challenge was hard, and so is this. But you didn’t know. I’m not upset with you.”

Her statements are clipped, short. Rey realizes that she’s touched a nerve, but appreciates that Bazine is letting her know she’s not upset with her. It’s still difficult, though, to hear just how tough this week has been for not just Rey, but for everybody.

“Did you talk with Hux about this?” Rey wonders. “You should talk to someone.”

Nodding, Bazine takes another sip of her tea. “I do therapy back home. It’s not like I’m not getting treatment or anything,” she says. “But yes, I talked to him. He was really sweet about it.”

“That’s good,” Rey nods.

“I’m sorry I used your boyfriend for a free therapist here, by the way,” Bazine says. “I know that bothered you.”

Stunned, Rey asks, “What?”

Turning to face Rey properly, Bazine says, “Yeah. When he first got here, and we spent all that time together? I was basically going to him for therapy. My dad was ill — might still be, I’m unsure — and I didn’t know what to do. I almost left.”

“Oh.”

“Did you think I was trying to date him?” she asks.

Rey hesitates, but given how honest they’re being, figures honesty is the best policy now, too. “Well… yeah. I did.”

Bazine shakes her head, smiling sadly. “No, I wasn’t. Well, I might have thought it at first. But then we talked and he said that he can’t do that, not when he’s taken on the role of therapist in my life. So…” she shrugs. “Anyway.”

“I’m sorry to hear about your dad,” Rey offers.

“Thanks,” Bazine says sadly. “I don’t think he’ll be here, so I’m just sort of hoping someone else from my family comes with good news.”

Nodding, Rey says, “I hope so, too.”

They’re quiet, and for a moment Rey thinks that Bazine is about to walk away. But instead, she sets her tea on the countertop and then boosts herself up to sit next to Rey. “I’ve always wondered why you did this so often,” she confesses. Her legs dangle over the edge of the counter. “This is fun.”

Rey nods. “Yeah. I don’t know why I like it so much,” she confesses.

They’re quiet, watching as Rose says goodbye to her family and is almost immediately greeted by Mitaka’s family. They all look as small and mousy as him, but his father has broad shoulders and his mother looks so warm and kind, and Rey feels a pang of jealousy.

“What did Hux say when you told him about the baby thing?” Rey blurts out. “I mean — if you want to answer. You don’t have to. I just —”

“It’s alright,” Bazine says. “He was really sweet about it. Said that if we stay together and get to that point, that we have options. We could figure something out. Adoption or surrogacy or something.”

Rey smiles warmly. “He said that?”

“Yeah,” replies Bazine. “He’s such a nice guy. It’s hard to see it because he doesn’t like to trust people, but when he does trust someone, he’ll say really sweet things and…”

“You really like him, don’t you?”

Bazine nods easily. She doesn’t hesitate one bit, feeling very sure of her feelings for him. Rey smiles, happy for her.

Rey spends most of her day after that sipping on tea or water, curled up inside on the sofa with Ben. He’s kind, just holding her and letting her lounge around. It’s a difficult day, but not one they need to talk about; he understands Rey’s desire to be away from the others who get to see family members — they curl up as Jess’s family arrives.

She can hear the frivolity of the conversation being had, the laughter and excitement, and folds a little closer against Ben’s chest. He rubs her shoulder comfortingly, reminding her that whether or not someone comes to visit her bears no weight on how he feels about her.

They don’t discuss what comes next, how his confidence in what they have sizes up against Rey’s fears and hesitations. They haven’t discussed anything remotely close to that since their argument at Tulum. Everything feels very precarious, but they choose to enjoy the small amount of time they have left instead of working through it.

Out in the backyard, after Jess and Snap’s parents have left, the remaining two couples sit in their own spaces, nervously awaiting their families’ arrival — or who will be showing up in place of them, in Hux and Rey’s cases.

Hux and Bazine are curled up on the daybed beneath the shade of the awning when they hear footsteps and shouts. When they look up to see who it is, Bazine’s eyes go wide.

“Oh my god.”

She clambers off the bed, nearly tripping in the process, and sprints as fast as she can across the yard. There, in the doorway of the house, stand her parents. Her mother and her father. Bazine nearly knocks them over as she wraps her arms around both of them, clearly emotional at the sight of her father standing right there in front of her.

Hux approaches at a slower pace, giving Bazine time to properly say hello and work through her emotions. She’s no doubt full of them, seeing her father here, in person, in front of her. When she finally steps back to properly look at them, Bazine is dabbing at her cheeks. “Mum, Dad…” she begins, but can’t find the words to say.

“I’m okay, Poppy,” her father says, smiling fondly at her.

Right away, Bazine’s mother looks up at Hux and says, “He used to call her Poppet all the time when she was younger, and that just morphed into Poppy.”

They speak to him like they know him; it’s odd for Hux. In a way, they do know him, they’ve seen all the moments he and Bazine have shared. But at the same time, he’s never spoken to them before. It’s the strangest feeling in the world.

“Mum, Dad, this is Hux,” Bazine says, her arm still around her father’s shoulder. She seems reluctant to let him go.

“Nice to meet you,” Hux says formally, reaching out to shake her father’s hand.

Mr. Netal laughs jovially and steps away from his daughter, arms outstretched. “None of that handshake business,” says Mrs. Netal in explanation. “In our family, we hug.”

Her parents are old, much older than Hux would have imagined, but that only makes their hugs better. Or so Hux remembers, from the few years he shared with his mother’s parents before they passed away. He awkwardly accepts hugs from both Mr. and Mrs. Netal, and then steps back to look at them. “Bazine is a wonderful girl.”

“You’re sweet,” says Mrs. Netal. “You’re very good to our Poppy. We knew from the start that you were the one for her.”

“Mum…”

“Thank you,” says Hux awkwardly.

He’s not used to people liking him — especially when he tries very hard to make himself unlikeable to prevent people getting attached. But he’s grown attached to Bazine, and finds that he feels a certain pride in his chest at the approval of her parents.

“I’m so glad you’re okay, dad,” Bazine says. “How did you get cleared to fly? I thought —?”

Mr. Netal pats her on the shoulder and says, “You worry too much, Poppy. Let’s not talk about my heart. Let’s talk about yours instead, shall we?”

Her parents remind Hux of the warm, kind old Italians in the movies. They welcome him and embrace him without hesitation — a surprise to everyone, but most of all Hux. He finds that by the time they’re all saying goodbye and Bazine is telling her father to please be safe, and that she loves him and she’ll see him soon, he doesn’t want them to go.

They sit together on the bench by the firepit, waiting anxiously to see who walks through the door. Hux is next, but there’s great uncertainty.

Nobody is more shocked than Hux when one woman walks through the doors.

Tall, with dark curly hair streaked with waves of gray. She dresses twenty years younger than she is, with tight black pants and black boots, and a crimson and black leather jacket. Hux’s jaw drops.

“Rae?”

“Hey.”

She grins at him and crosses the lawn to him as he stands, incredibly surprised by her appearance. She’s the epitome of a tough, independent woman — and the exact opposite of what someone would expect to see walking through the door for Hux.

They embrace as soon as they’re within arm’s length. “Hey, kid,” she grins into his shoulder.

“What are you doing here?”

Leaning out of the hug, she laughs and says, “Judging your life choices. Meeting this girl that you’re head over heels for.”

She glances over his shoulder at Bazine, who stands timidly off to the side. “Come here,” says Rae, beckoning her over. “I’m Rae Sloane, this kid’s almost-aunt.”

“You basically are,” he corrects.

“I worked with his dad, and saw him all the time when he’d get dragged along to the office,” she explains. Bazine smiles, hearing someone so fondly speak about Hux. He’d made it sound like he had no family or anyone to care for him.

“It’s really nice to meet you,” Bazine says.

“You too,” replies Rae.

They walk over to the bench and have a seat near the fire pit, Rae sitting on one side of Hux, Bazine on the other.

“You two are cute,” Rae observes. “I’m glad you found each other.”

“Did you expect it from the start?” Hux asks, thinking back to what Bazine’s parents had said earlier.

Tipping her head to the side, Rae considers it for a minute. “I gotta be honest, no,” she replies. “At the start, especially when Rey and Poe got a little rocky, I wondered if you’d get with her,” she says to Hux. But then she gestures between them and said, “I like this better, though.”

Bazine tucks her hair behind her ear and says, “I don’t think we expected it, either.”

“I’m happy for you two,” Rae says. Turning to Bazine, she adds, “It’s been a long time since I’ve seen him so happy.”

The statement is surprising, but fills her with much confidence. She reaches over for Hux’s hand and smiles at him.

Their conversation mostly focuses on their journey in the show, and in too short a time, Rae has to leave the villa. When she does, Hux and Bazine look far more relaxed than they had earlier, and seem far more confident, too.

Now, the only couple who has yet to see their family is Ben and Rey — and nobody knows what to expect from either of them.

Inside, Ben and Rey stay cuddled up on the sofa until the very last minute, when someone walks through the door.

“Excuse me, I’m here for Rey?”

As soon as she hears the voice, Rey sits up on the sofa. Her eyes go wide, Ben reaching out to pull the blanket out of her way so she doesn’t trip on it, and in seconds Rey is launching herself across the room.

Phasma has returned for the express purpose of visiting Rey, and nothing could have thrilled Rey more than seeing someone so kind and supportive come back for her, even just for a little while. As they embrace, Ben stands from the couch and approaches as well. Phasma looks good — much better than she had in the days leading up to her departure — and she appears absolutely ecstatic to be there.

“I’ve been instructed to chat with you all out in the yard where everyone else can see and gossip, so shall we?”

Phasma gestures to the door leading to the back where everyone else is lounging by the pool. As soon as they walk out, there are shouts and cheers, and everyone makes their way over to greet Phasma. “Now, now, it’s good to see you all, but I’m here for one very important person,” Phasma says to them all.

She grins at Rey, and together they walk towards the fire. Just the two of them alone, Rey explains her conversation with Ben the day before, at the ruins, and how he’d been so sure that she’d just pick up her things and leave with him, to move to America to be together.

“It’s quite scary to think about, I imagine,” Phasma comments. “Uprooting your life is never easy.”

Rey sighs. “I don’t even really think it’s that,” she confesses.

“What do you think it is, then?”

There’s a silence that floats between them, not one entirely uncomfortable or unhappy, but one in which Rey tries very carefully to choose her words, to accurately put forth her feelings. “I don’t want to end up depending on him,” Rey says finally. “I don’t even know if that’s all of it. But it’s a lot of it. He’s a great guy and I’m really happy with him, but…”

“But you have to remember, too, that you live in different countries,” Phasma says gently. “And between the two of you, he does make more. And he can’t just up and move his practice overseas.”

Rey frowns. “But if I move in and it’s too soon, and there’s resentment, and we fight, and I have to go back to England —”

“Then you’ll settle in with me until you get back on your feet,” Phasma says. “No matter where I’m at in life. I will help you out if that’s what it comes to, if you take my advice and just take this leap of faith.”

Curiously, Rey asks, “Why are you so sure about this?”

“Darling,” Phasma says with an amused laugh. “Everyone is sure about this except for you. It’s time you open up and trust and just see what happens.”

Though Rey looks unsure, she glances to Ben who sits a fair distance away, trying his hardest to pretend he’s not watching them. He looks worried, stressed. “I’ll see how it goes with his family,” she says finally. “If that goes well… then maybe.”

Phasma smiles, satisfied. “That’s a good idea.” She pats her hands on her thighs. “Speaking of, I’d better get a move on so you can meet the Solos, huh?”

Rey doesn’t respond, prompting Phasma to stand and hold out her arms. “Come on, Rey. Chin up. You’re so close to the end — enjoy the last of it!”.

They embrace, and reluctantly Rey says goodbye. Shortly after Phasma walks back through the villa and out the front doors, Rey sees an elderly man and woman walk into the yard. Slowly, Ben approaches.

Rey keeps her distance at first, watching the way that he doesn’t hug them, that he actually seems pretty uncomfortable around them. But then his mother — significantly shorter than him, which Rey doesn’t understand — peeks out from behind him and immediately locks eyes with Rey. Her whole expression lights up as she waves. Rey looks to Ben, who tips his head to beckon her over.

Her stomach is a jumble of butterflies as she crosses the lawn. Immediately, she’s swept up in a hug from his mother, and the sense of comfort Rey feels from this is unlike anything else she’s experienced. “Rey, my mother Leia Organa, and my father Han Solo,” Ben says awkwardly.

Leaning back, Rey beams at both of them. She’s nervous, but they seem just as much so, and that makes her feel better. “It’s really nice to meet you both,” Rey says. “Ben is wonderful. He’s been so kind.”

Han looks to Ben, and then back to Rey. He seems surprised. “Good, good,” Han says gruffly. “And this whole place is… fun?”

“Dad.”

“Yeah,” Rey nods. “Better once Ben got here.”

Leia looks warmly at her son, who seems uncomfortable beneath her gaze. “That’s great to hear,” she says. “He asked us not to watch, but we couldn’t resist.”

“Mom.”

“You two have definitely had your PG-13 moments, haven’t you?” she teases.

“More than that, if those soundbites they have are anything to go on,” Han adds.

Rey’s whole face turns red. “We haven’t done that,” Ben says stubbornly.

Leia looks at her son, expression turning stern. “Oh, calm down,” she says. “We’re just teasing.” Turning back to Rey, she adds, “We’re just glad he found someone. We know he’s a bit difficult to get to know, so we were nervous.”

“You don’t have to protect me,” Ben says flatly.

Rey is confused by the Ben she sees now, versus the Ben she’d gotten to know over the past few weeks. She wants to understand why they don’t get along, what animosity there is behind it all. It’s there, an undercurrent to everything they say, making every word a little more uncomfortable than it ought to be.

They sit down by the fire pit and chat about how things have gone. Ben and Rey get to tell them about the date the day before, and Leia extends a long-standing invitation to Rey to come and visit them anytime she’d like. They don’t live in the same city as Ben, but they’re a day trip from his apartment, so it could easily be done. Rey thanks them, and by the time they’re leaving, she feels like part of the family.

Looks like she’ll be reconsidering Ben’s invitation, as she’d promised to Phasma.

After all the parents have left, the four remaining couples have a quiet dinner, thinking on the fact that they have only one more day left in the villa. It’s a morose mood, filled with bittersweet toasts at dinner, and bedtime kisses between couples before the lights are switched off.

Rey wants to talk with Ben, to work through the questions in her head and the decisions she’s made, but that can wait another day. She’s never been good at starting tough conversations when she cares about the person’s feelings, and what’s one more day, really?

Chapter Text

Week Six, Day Seven

The islanders take their time waking up on their final day in the villa. It’s astonishing, how quickly six weeks have passed. Nobody rolls out of bed, even as a phone beeps to signify that they’ve received a text, or as they’ve started to whisper between themselves on the final morning before they find out who won.

“What’s the text say?” Rey asks groggily.

It wasn’t her phone that went off, though she has no idea where the sound came from. A moment later, Mitaka says, “It was Rose’s phone but I’ve been instructed to read it.”

The rest of the group laughs before he says the text out loud. “Islanders, today you will be preparing for a private dinner before your going away party begins. Ladies, you’ll be going on a spay day and dress shopping. Gentlemen, get ready to learn to dance and to get your suits tailored. After dinner, you’ll get to change to your best party outfits and will be joined by a crowd of fans to find out who wins the fifty thousand dollar prize. Good luck, and have fun,” he says.

Rey curls up closer to Ben. “The thing I won’t miss is dressing up all the time,” she says. “You should know, I don’t usually do that.”

He smiles fondly. “I know. You’ve made that abundantly clear.”

In the bed across the room from them, Bazine hooks one of her legs over Hux’s and breathes against his chest, taking her time to wake up. “You should get a black dress,” Hux whispers. “You’d look great in black.”

Bazine grins. “I have all kinds of black dresses,” she whispers. “What if I find something better?”

“Like what?” Hux asks.

“White.”

They’d dressed up for the white party, of course, but that wasn’t a gown. A white gown… the moment Hux began thinking about it, his heart began to race. Bazine grins at his silence, taking it as shock and surprise.

“White it is, then,” she laughs.

Hux just pulls her closer to him.

Mitaka and Rose are the first to climb out of bed, followed soon after by Jess and Snap, who retreat to the shower together.

Unlike earlier in their time in the villa, things feel less sketchy when couples disappear for some private time. Mitaka and Rose use the rooftop terrace for their private breakfast once it’s made, and Ben and Rey take up residence in the kitchen.

That leaves Hux and Bazine, still curled up in bed, reluctant to separate. All alone, they don’t have to, and Bazine smiles as she slides her leg a little higher where it’s hooked over his. They’d begun sleeping in nothing but their underwear, the villa too warm even with the aircon running. “You tease,” Hux breathes out softly.

“Nobody’s around,” Bazine reminds him.

She turns her head and presses a kiss to his bare pec, and then looks up at him, feigning innocence. “Is there a problem?” she asks, grinning sweetly.

His eyebrow quirks, and he reaches over to hook his fingers behind her knee to pull her leg across his body. Bazine lets out a playful squeal as she’s pulled over him, straddling his waist. She can certainly feel beneath her that there is absolutely no problem at all. Or rather, no problem she can’t handle.

Grinning, she leans down, her hair falling to one side, and connects their lips. Hux moans against her mouth and grips her hips with white-knuckled hands. They take full advantage of an empty room that morning, much to their delight.

Once all the couples have gotten up and eaten, Bazine receives a text saying that the car is ready out front for the women to go shopping. They give their partners kisses goodbye, aware that the next time they see each other will be at a fancy dinner, the group of them all dressed up, just hours away from finding out who will win.

“What do you think you’re going to wear?” Rose asks the other three women as they ride into the city.

“Hux told me to get a black dress, but when I mentioned white he got all quiet and shy,” Bazine says, smirking. “I think I’m going to try to find something white.”

Rose cheers and claps. “That’s brilliant!” she says. “I’d say we all should, but we don’t want to scare the guys away right before the end.”

Rey laughs and shakes her head, “No. Ben and I have been having such serious conversations lately, I’d be afraid that’d be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.”

“Oh?” Jess asks. “What have you been chatting about?”

Rey launches into an explanation that takes them up until they reach the shops. Just like on the dates, cameras follow them inside, to a little boutique place on the corner that it appears the show reserved just for the four of them. There are racks all around the store in a rainbow of colors, and the girls disperse almost immediately to begin browsing.

Rose finds something pale pink and form fitting, a nice complement to the purple strapless dress that Jess has picked out for herself.

Rey finds herself drifting along the wall with flowing beige dresses, near to where Bazine is sizing up the white ones. Among those dresses is one that she’d never imagined herself wearing, but for some reason is drawn to. It has short cap sleeves, and looks like it’ll end mid-calf, but the colors catch her eye unlike anything else in the store.

It’s beige, covered in beautiful pastel florals. The dress sweeps across the front to tie off at the side of her hip, ruffles around the neck forming a v-neckline. As soon as she pulls it off the rack, Rey knows it’s the one she’s meant to wear. It’s soft and gentle, so unlike her, yet… something deep within her says it’ll look nice on her, that Ben would like to see her in it.

She tries it on for posterity but knows deep down it’s the dress she’s getting no matter what she needs to do to make it fit. It gains the approval of the girls, and together they leave the store, dress bags handed off to crew members of the show as they’re transported down the street to a spa.

Their hair is trimmed, their fingernails and toenails are painted, and they get full facials and massages. Making it to the end of the six weeks in the villa has never felt so good. They end their girls’ outing by visiting a restaurant where they’re given cocktails and appetizers and sheets of paper. On it, they’re to write love messages to their boys, to read aloud at the dinner that evening.

Rey frowns as she looks down at her paper. It seems so easy for the other women — Bazine is scribbling furiously, and Jess’s loopy handwriting flows down the page. Even Rose is excitedly putting her thoughts to words.

At the end of the table, Rey chews on the cap of her pen, wondering just what to put on the page. After her most recent conversations with Ben, she’s not really sure what to do, or how solid they are. It’s her own reservations that seem to have put a wall between them. The question now is what she does with those reservations, and everything she’s learned from Ben and Phasma over the past day or two.

There are butterflies in Rey’s stomach as she climbs back into the car with the other girls and they make their way back to the villa. The men are out in the backyard, tucking away pieces of paper and pens in what the girls only assume is the same thing they’d done earlier, and the topic quickly changes to the dance lessons the men had gotten.

They’d had to pair off and learn how to dance a simple ballroom dance: the waltz. While getting lessons from professional ballroom dancers, they’d taken turns leading to get sufficient practice, and the girls begged — though unsuccessfully — to get the guys to demonstrate. Snap and Mitaka dancing together, and even more so, Ben and Hux dancing together, was something the girls wished they’d gotten to witness.

“We’ll watch it online later,” says Bazine mischievously. “I’m sure someone will upload it.”

But before too long, they’re retreating upstairs, the caterers invading the backyard. There are decorations to be set out, a stage to prepare, food that they won’t have to cook, and of course, the DJ and fans that will be let in eventually. The yard needs to be prepared to hold a lot more people than it had in the past six weeks.

Getting ready for their final event in the villa is a difficult one. There’s lots of reminiscing about what happened for the different couple, as well as speculation about who might win. “I hope the past islanders can come to the party tonight,” Rey says absentmindedly. “I’d like to see them all again.”

“At least we got to see Phasma,” Rose offers from where she sits at the vanity table next to Rey, the two of them working on their makeup.

While Rey applies the slightest bit of eyeshadow with the tip of her finger, Bazine stands behind her, curling her hair. “It’s true,” Bazine nods. “Though seeing the others might be nice. I miss Kaydel.”

“Yeah, and I miss my sister.”

“At least you know you and your sister will always keep in touch,” Rey reminds her.

The sun is setting by the time the women are fully dressed for the evening. The lighting is perfect, and the guys stand out on the lawn, each of them next to a table, waiting with a flower pinned on the breast of their suit jacket for their girlfriends to join them in the yard.

There are hugs and kisses all around as the couples reunite. Hux goes tongue-tied, seeing Bazine in all white with her hair in simple curls and some diamond jewelry to accent. Just as Rey expected, Ben tells her right away that she’s beautiful, and the look in his eye says he really likes the dress she’d chosen. Snap and Mitaka seem just as impressed with their girlfriends’ extra efforts as well.

The four couples sit down, each of them at a table for two with a candle in the center and a small bouquet of roses. There’s soft music coming from the speakers, and a buzz of nervous energy in the air. In front of the tables is a small stage and a wrought-iron arch decorated with vines and flowers. It looks horribly romantic, and is no-doubt for the speeches they’ll be giving to their significant others in just a moment.

Jess and Snap are up first, and they face each other with shy smiles, pieces of paper in trembling hands.

“When I first got here, I definitely thought you were a player,” she says, to a soft round of laughter. “You couldn’t make up your mind who you wanted to be with, and that was hard for me. But the moment you chose me, I didn’t look back.”

Jess swallows past a lump in her throat and vaguely registers the sound of a photographer clicking away with a camera behind her. As the other three couples sit and listen, Mitaka reaches over and takes Rose’s hand in his, rubbing soothing circles with his thumb.

“I thought our chances were over when you got sent home, but I stayed loyal and held onto hope because our connection when you were here in the villa was absolutely incredible. I’ve never felt like this with anyone before. Part of me thinks I should be scared, but I’m not.” She looks up at Snap, a smile on her face. “I trust you completely.”

He smiles back and reaches out to tuck a strand of hair behind her ear. “Seeing you come back to the villa was one of the happiest days of my life. And now, whether we win or lose, I know that I’ve lived my six weeks here with absolutely no regrets,” she says confidently. “I love you, Snap, and I can’t wait for all the adventures that await us on the outside.”

The other three couples applaud her speech, and Snap leans in for a kiss that they were instructed to save until the very end. He can’t resist; he’s on cloud nine just hearing what she had to say.

“Well, mine isn’t going to be that good, but I’ll read it anyway I guess,” he says, to a round of laughter.

“Jess… it took a lot of girls coming and going from my life for me to finally find you,” he says. “I know how that made me look. But you were willing to look past that to see the guy underneath, the one who just sort of wanted to find a cuddly girl who was cute and sexy and wouldn’t mind that I can’t cook for shit.”

Jess nearly doubles over in laughter; she’s seen him try to cook. He does his best, but it’s never spectacular, no matter how hard he tries.

“Getting to come back and try again with you was probably the best thing that could have ever happened to me here, other than just finding you in the first place. You’re everything I’ve been looking for and more, and I love you like, a stupid crazy amount,” he says with a massive grin. “So… that’s the end of my speech. I’m about as good at speeches as I am at cooking.”

Still laughing, Jess reaches out and stands on her tiptoes to wrap her arms around his shoulders in a warm embrace. Snap leans into it happily, turning his head to kiss her cheek before she leans back properly to kiss him. “Love you,” she whispers against his lips.

“You too,” he whispers back.

As the others applaud, Jess and Snap take their seats, waiting to hear who goes next. Ben receives a text that says he and Rey are up. He offers Rey his hand and together they walk to the front. She’s so nervous about what she’s written, knows that it’s not going to be funny like the last ones were, so hopes she’s not in trouble for putting a damper on the mood.

Standing in front of the beautifully decorated awning, Rey looks up at Ben, who watches her with intense, swirling brown and amber eyes.

“A lot of people may not know that my whole life, I’ve had to go it alone. My parents have died, my grandparents passed shortly after, and foster homes never quite stuck,” Rey begins. “I came into this experience expecting people to leave me, as well. That I’d give it a go, but in the end, it’d be how most couples go and I’d be on my own after a year.” She takes a deep breath. “But I think I was very, very wrong.”

Rey looks down at her paper and reads carefully, “I’ve always been so lonely, and even after coming here I still felt that loneliness. I’ve made friends, and for a while Poe and I had something, but it never made me feel like I’d truly found my home, a place to plant myself and let roots grow.” Swallowing past a lump, she says, “I’ve always dreamed of finding someone who makes me feel that way.” Rey looks up at Ben through her eyelashes, and then tips her head up to look at him. “You make me feel that way. And like I’m not alone. That I’ve finally found a place and a purpose in this world.”

Ben blinks; Rey can see that his eyes have become glossy, but that he’s trying his hardest to stop too many emotions from showing. It makes her smile, and gives her a renewed confidence to finish her speech. “I’ve treasured every moment we’ve shared here, and look forward to the many, many moments that lay in our shared future in America.”

His jaw drops and his eyes widen; they hadn’t talked about it since their argument, at least not with each other. But She wants to do it — needs to try, at least — because what they have is unlike anything she’s ever experienced before, and she’d be a fool to let that go. Rey smiles warmly at him, hoping that she didn’t derail his own speech too much, and that her confession was alright.

“That… Rey, that’s…” he stammers.

She just smiles.

It takes him a moment, but after a beat he’s holding his own speech in front of him and reading aloud. “Just like you, I’ve never felt like I had a place where I belonged. I didn’t quite fit in with my parents, nor did I ever fit in with peers at school,” he reads. “I was a loner, just like you. And I think that’s why we work so well together.”

Ben breathes, trying to keep his breath steady and his emotions in check. “From the moment I saw you, I knew you were someone special. We understand each other on a deeper level than I could have ever expected to find here. I’m confident that no matter where we live, that we can work. You are too special to let go of, and I’d wait forever for a chance to give you a place where you belong.”

Rey blinks quickly, and everyone can tell she’s about to cry. When his gaze meets hers, she offers him the best smile she can manage while trying not to fully break down into tears in front of him. He smiles knowingly. “You’re an incredible woman, Rey,” he says, so soft the microphones can hardly pick it up. “You don’t need a man to lead you through life, but I hope you’ll let me be by your side anyway.”

She beams, a few tears leaking out from the corners of her eyes, as she steps forward and hugs him fiercely. Their embrace is warm, Rey’s arms around his torso and Ben folding around her. They fit so easily together, it’s a beautiful sight to see. The other couples applaud them, and then Ben and Rey take a moment to regain their composure before taking a seat and letting Mitaka and Rose have the stage.

“I really appreciate how you’ve proven me wrong so many times,” Rose begins. Mitaka snorts. “I mean it! Even though people may say I wear the pants of this relationship, you’ve honestly taught me so much and proved to me that what I thought I knew was sometimes very, very wrong.”

He raises an eyebrow, so Rose explains, “I came here thinking I wanted a man who looked like Ben. I wanted tall, and I wanted muscular/, and I didn’t really come in here thinking about what I wanted from a man on the inside.” She takes a deep breath, turning things more serious as she does. “But what you taught me was that my expectations of what I’d find here were totally and completely wrong. Now — you may not look like Ben, but you are still very attractive. I’m especially fond of that man bun you’ve grown out.”

Rose grins as Mitaka reaches back to smooth over his hair and make sure it’s still all in place.

“You’ve taught me that tall doesn’t necessarily mean sexy, and vice versa. You’re brilliant and kind and I’ll never get tired of you making me breakfast in the morning. In fact, that’s one of the things I’ll miss most when we leave, aside from not seeing you every day,” she confesses.

“But no matter how much I joke around, I want you to know that I care deeply for you, and I want to make this work when we leave here. You’re all I could have ever hoped for in a boyfriend and more. Plus, my family loves you, which was a test you didn’t know you had to pass,” Rose says with a wink. Mitaka looks flustered. “Love you, babe.”

He smiles at her, his earlier worry totally gone at the sound of her words. How many times they’d said them to each other, the rest of the couples weren’t sure, though it didn’t go unnoticed that Ben and Rey hadn’t said them to each other.

Rose reaches out to take his hand in her own, giving a squeeze of reassurance, before Mitaka pulls a piece of paper from the breast pocket of his suit jacket and begins to read.

“I’m not a man of many words, so I’ll keep this short,” he begins. “It felt a long shot coming on this show because, as you mentioned, I don’t exactly look like the type of man women come on this show to find.” He swallows nervously. Public speaking has never been something he’s enjoyed, or been particularly comfortable doing. “I thought I’d be gone by week two, but in fact, I feel as though I’ve won solely because I met you. Thank you for showing me my worth, and for lifting up not only me, but everyone else around you. I’m in love with you, Rose, and so excited for the future.”

He shrugs, tucking the paper in his fist nervously. It’s painfully obvious that he didn’t write as much as anyone else that day so far, but Rose doesn’t seem to mind. She’s grinning from ear to ear, and she pulls him into a kiss before he can worry that he didn’t fully do his part. The other three couples applaud, and that leaves one couple left.

The least likely couple. The couple who, unbeknownst to the rest, have had the most growing to do both individually and together.

Hux and Bazine, tall and thin and glamorous as ever, stand at the decorated arch facing each other, blocking out the rest of the world to share their innermost feelings and emotions with the other.

Bazine hesitates before she begins to speak, so much so that Hux ducks his head to catch her eye, to ask if she’s okay. Bazine nods and clears her throat.

“For me, these past six weeks have been some of the most difficult weeks of my life,” she begins. “My father was ill and nearly died, and for a while I didn’t think I’d find anybody. Ben was clearly meant for someone else, as was Snap. I was ready to give up. On several occasions, I almost left the villa.”

Bazine looks up at Hux and opens her mouth as if to speak, but finds that she forgets the words when her brown eyes meet his green. She looks back down at her paper and continues to read, “It’s only been a few weeks, but we’ve had harder conversations than I remember ever having with any of my exes. And that means a lot to me. We’ve grown a lot in the past few weeks, and it leaves me feeling confident about the future. My father is okay. We get along. We don’t live far away from each other. It feels like we have reason to be cautiously optimistic that we might, just maybe, make it.”

She smiles and looks up at Hux. “I can feel myself falling in love with you. And even if we can’t have children that are a mixture of you and I, or even if we get to the outside and find that there are just too many things working against us, or… any of it,” she shakes her head, looking back at her paper to try to figure out where she left off. “I’m going to feel proud because we tried so hard. And we gave it a real shot.”

Her voice shakes as she says, “I’m excited to see what awaits us on the outside. And I hope you are, too.”

When their eyes lock, Hux nods; his expression is serious, but he offers the slightest, most secretive of smiles just for Bazine. She smiles back. The butterflies are still in overdrive in her stomach, but she already feels better, knowing that she’s gotten all those words out of her head and into the open, so he knows.

“Love is never something I had, growing up.”

Hux begins his speech with a statement that, while a few suspected, nobody knew for sure. And it sends a hushed, worried silence across the yard. It’s a rather ominous beginning to what should be an uplifting speech.

“I certainly wasn’t optimistic coming into this villa,” he continues. “Love seemed like a lie, even as I embarked on this unconventional journey to see if I could find it anyway. Just as you, I’d written it off as a possibility after a few difficult weeks. But out of nowhere, this hit us both, and how that feels was beyond anything I could have imagined, or expected.”

Hux smooths his fingers over the crease in the paper and says, “Though the skeptic in me does not want to get ahead of myself in saying this, I would like you to know: where I used to think love was a lie, or something that would always remain beyond my grasp… you have changed my mind. With you, love feels like a possibility, and regardless of what happens on the outside, that is quite a feat — and I thank you for that.”

Bazine’s eyes are glassy as she looks him in the eye as Hux slips the paper in the breast pocket of his jacket. “Really?” she asks hopefully, raising an eyebrow.

“Yes,” he nods, saying it as though it were the easiest thing to ever confess. “I am falling for you, too.”

Hux never expresses his emotions so clearly, without hesitation. It means the world to Bazine, and she wraps her arms around his shoulders, teary-eyed and ecstatic. They receive the loudest round of applause, and it takes some time for that clatter to die down before the couples get to stand and dance.

The men do their best to impart their recently-acquired knowledge of the waltz to their dates, but after a mere ten minutes, they’re all laughing and dancing in a haphazard manner, something one could only expect from four couples whose cozy, sheltered lives in the villa are about to change completely.

After enough film is captured of the couples dancing, they’re sent upstairs to get into party attire for the last time. They’re instructed to stay upstairs after they’re ready, and that they’ll be asked to remain upstairs on the second floor balcony as each couple is announced, in order from lowest votes to highest, to reveal who wins.

Upstairs, the mood of the bedroom is one of nerves and excitement. After the serious speeches and confessions of feelings, nothing lay ahead but celebration. “At this point, I’m not even sure I care who wins,” Rose confesses. “I mean, I’d like it to be me, but everyone in here deserves it. Look at us. Who would have thought with all that drama that we could narrow it down to four happy couples?”

“It’s true,” Jess nods. “I certainly didn’t expect to be here.”

“Me either,” adds Bazine.

“I think we all knew Rey would be, though,” Mitaka says. “For a while, I was worried nearly every man in this villa was going to be vying for her attention.”

Rey glances up from where she sits at the end of her and Ben’s bed, lacing up her high-tops. “You’re exaggerating,” she says, laughing off his statement, her cheeks red.

“Not really,” Rose says. “I thought the same thing. You were the only girl at the start that all the guys were kind of fighting over, even on day one.”

Rey rolls her eyes and tries to laugh it off. “That’s purely based on appearance. As soon as they’d have gotten to know me, they would have gone off to other women. Remember? Poe did it.”

“Poe was a dick,” Hux says simply. “And that’s an insufficient data set from which to draw a conclusion.”

Bazine grins and wraps her arms around his waist as she sneaks up behind him. “Mmm, talk nerdy to me,” she grins, kissing his shoulder before he spins around in her arms.

He’s raising an eyebrow and looks almost playful as he asks, “That does it for you?”

Bazine just smirks and glances over to the side.

“We are not having sex before the party. We have no idea when they’ll want us downstairs!” Hux exclaims.

“Please, save the sex for after the party,” Snap says, wandering in wearing only a pair of jeans. He’s drying his hair off with a towel and says, “We get one more night here before we fly out in the morning. We can all fuck after this.”

Rey pointedly ignores the conversation to go take a peek outside. The yard is filling up with people she doesn’t recognize — fans, probably, all of whom likely have opinions about them that she’s sure she doesn’t want to hear.

Sure enough, they’re sent a text with a five minute warning, and the next thing they know they’re standing out on the balcony, looking down at a massive cheering crowd. The couples all stand together, and out front is TV personality Amilyn Holdo, her purple hair the only distinguishing factor among the crowd of fans that they can see. But they can hear her, the microphone hooked up to speakers that project onto the balcony.

The couple in fourth place is Jess and Snap. Together, they walk downstairs to be interviewed as the other three couples sit around the bedroom. Rey is picking at a hangnail nervously, Ben’s hand on her thigh to try to relax her. Where the money may not be a big deal for the others, it is to her. She could put it into savings. She could get a teaching degree. She could do so much with half of the prize… the other half going to Ben of course. She wouldn’t dream of stealing all of it from him, like she could do if they win.

But she has a sneaky feeling that they won’t. It’s surprising to her that Jess and Snap placed so low, as it is. She’d assumed they’d be the favorite, having had their dramatic separation and then subsequent reunion. Now that they’re out of the running for the winners, Rey is putting her money on Hux and Bazine. They’ve had such a journey, and it’s been a lot more heartwarming than Rey’s.

“Relax,” Ben whispers, pressing a kiss to her temple.

With his free hand, he pulls hers away from her mouth. “No matter what happens, we’re together, and we’re happy. No votes could change that,” he reminds her.

Rey nods; she knows it’s true, but knowing and accepting are two completely different things.

Time seems to drag on forever until they’re summoned to the balcony again, this time only three couples remaining. Mitaka and Rose’s names are called next, the 3rd place couple, who will now go downstairs and be interviewed by Holdo while the remaining two couples get to sit and stress over what in the world comes next.

Who will win?

Hux and Bazine sit side by side on the edge of their bed, watching and waiting as Ben and Rey seem just as anxious as they are. The wait seems even longer than the last, probably to build suspense.

When the two remaining couples are summoned to the balcony once more, they feel like they’re going to be sick. “I never thought something like this would make me so nervous,” Hux says as they line up.

“Agreed,” Ben nods.

Together, they stand out on the balcony, Holdo just a purple dot across the yard as she reads cue cards to announce which couple received the second highest number of votes. Rey is so nervous she can hardly stand upright; she’s grateful for Ben’s strong arm around her waist.

Hux and Bazine’s names are called, and they’re brought downstairs to be interviewed. Rey stands, shocked and unmoving at Ben’s side. He, too, seems surprised by the outcome, and he shakes Hux’s hand as he and Bazine leave. Rey gives Bazine a hug, as well, before the two of them are left alone upstairs.

“This has to be a mistake,” Rey says as soon as they’re inside. She begins to pace in front of the foot of the bed, thinking out loud. “Did she say second place, or did she say the winners? Because sometimes shows will just grab the winner when it’s down to the top two, and…”

“Rey.”

Ben puts his hands on her shoulders and makes her stop walking. “Relax,” he says. “We won.”

She looks up into his eyes, and his chest hurts when he sees the confusion in them. “But why?” she asks.

“Is it that hard to believe that people believe in us?” he questions. “That they’d see as much potential in us as we do?”

Rey doesn’t reply; quite frankly, yes, it is that hard for her to believe. But saying so might hurt Ben, which she doesn’t want to do. He frowns and tries to reassure her, “This means people all over the world support us. More people than we can imagine. They picked us.”

“You’re the only one who’s ever picked me,” Rey says, still trying to get it all to make sense in her head.

“Not anymore,” he says simply, shaking his head.

She looks so unsure, but the moment they’re summoned downstairs to chat with Holdo, Rey gets to see what an effect she had on the viewers. Echoes and screams of cheer ring in her ears as she and Ben walk across the backyard toward the gazebo where cameras are set up with an armchair for Holdo and a loveseat for whatever couple is up next. She’s standing to greet them as they approach, and Rey nearly trips as she climbs the two steps necessary to join her.

“Welcome, welcome!” Holdo says with a big grin on her face. “Congratulations to this year’s winners of Paradise Island! How does it feel?”

Rey is speechless, and Ben thankfully is not. He leans forward to say, “We’re shocked. We did not expect this.”

“Really?” Holdo asks, seemingly confused by their befuddlement.

“Yeah,” Ben nods. “Anyone here would have been perfect to win.”

“Did you have a couple you wanted to win over any of the others?”

Ben shakes his head, and when Holdo turns the microphone to Rey, she does the same. “Alright well, before we have a seat and chat, why don’t you two come over here? Let’s see what you decide to do with that fifty thousand dollar prize, shall we?” she instructs.

They walk to a platform at the edge of the property, the pool and all the fans behind them. There are two envelopes on a table, both red and glittery and sealed closed with a heart sticker. “Each of you, please take an envelope and stand on either side of me,” Holdo instructs, standing behind the table.

Ben gestures to Rey for her to pick one of the envelopes. She takes the one on the bottom, leaving Ben the one on the top. They then stand at opposite sides of Holdo and await more instructions.

“Okay, now,” Holdo says. “Ladies first, shall we?” Ben nods in agreement, prompting Holdo to walk over to Rey. “Alright now Rey, open your envelope and show it to the cameras, but don’t let Ben see what it says, alright? You’re either going to open the $50,000 envelope, or get nothing. But you can share with Ben if you say you came here for love and not money, and then you two will split the prize fifty-fifty. Alright?”

Rey nods; her hands tremble only slightly as she opens the envelope and shows it to the cameras.

$50,000

“Now, Ben! Same goes for you. Open your envelope and show it to the cameras, but don’t show it to Rey. If you open the $50,000 envelope, you can keep all the money to yourself if you came here for money, or you can share with Rey if you came here for love,” Holdo repeats. “Go ahead and open it!”

Ben opens his envelope, furrowing his brow grumpily when it takes a try or two to get the sticker to unseal.

Nothing.

Holdo leans over to look at both envelopes. Grinning, she says, “Alright. Rey has won the prize, and Ben gets nothing. But, Rey… would you like to share?”

A second later, there’s a microphone in front of Rey’s mouth and she feels incredibly overwhelmed. “I’ll share,” she says. “I came here for love. I found Ben… who needs a prize at all? With him, I already feel like I won.”

The words and emotions tumble from her mouth before she can stop them, causing the whole backyard to erupt into a deafening wave of cheers. Rey vaguely registers Holdo taking the envelope from her; she’s only focused on Ben, and where he is, and what he thinks. In moments, he’s there at her side, smiling at her and wrapping her up in a hug.

His arms hold her around her waist and lift her from the ground. They spin on the spot, and Rey finds herself laughing into his shoulder.

The whole evening feels like an out of body experience, one she hardly remembers at all even hours later, as the four couples are climbing into bed for the last time. They’re all packed, ready to leave at the crack of dawn to fly back to their respective homes, but they have their phones back and can exchange numbers, can see all the messages they’ve already gotten from friends who were in the villa with them, but sent home early.

It’s a flurry of excitement and sadness and emotion; there are congratulations exchanged between all the different couples. As they’re washing off their makeup and getting ready for bed, Rey has a moment alone to talk to Bazine, and when she does, she apologizes.

“Why are you sorry?” Bazine asks. “You had no say in the decision.”

“I just… you and Hux really deserved it,” Rey says finally. “I shouldn’t pick favorites, but I did, and you two are just really good together. After everything…”

Bazine sighs and pulls her hair all over one shoulder. “When you say it like that, I’m glad we didn’t win,” she says. “I wouldn’t want the prize if it was just some pity thing, because of the babies or because my dad almost died. I’d want it because we were genuinely the strongest couple here. But you and Ben had that by a mile.”

Rey frowns.

“Besides, Hux and I both have a decent amount of money,” Bazine says. “We didn’t need that, either.” She smiles warmly at Rey. “Enjoy it. You and Ben really deserve this, and I wish you’d stop being so scared or worried what others think — just celebrate.”

“I —”

Before Rey can argue, Bazine leaves the bathroom. Rey takes her time brushing her teeth and by the time she returns to the bedroom, the lights are already off. She hears heavy breathing, sees the steady motion of blankets on beds. There are the sounds of hidden kisses beneath duvets — Rey is fairly certain all three couples are having sex, or about to, and that leaves just her and Ben.

She climbs into bed next to him and snuggles up to his side; as she does, she hooks a leg over his and rolls in towards him. “Hey,” he whispers.

“Hey,” she whispers back.

“Everything okay?” he asks.

Rey nods; she closes her eyes, but understands that sleep isn’t going to come to her for a while. Not with all the intimate moments she can hear, or the way Ben’s heart is beating wildly in his chest.

His heart isn’t usually so fast; the rhythm is often enough to put Rey to sleep.

“Come with me,” he whispers, before tossing back the blankets.

They tiptoe out of the room, ignoring the other three couples as they do. Rey holds Ben’s hand and follows him out onto the rooftop terrace. There’s a bit of a breeze, but it feels nice; it raises goosebumps on Rey’s flesh. She stands in a sports bra and shorts, and does not pull her eyes away from Ben in his boxer briefs.

Bazine was right. Rey should just accept the win, and appreciate what she has with Ben. She should be happy.

She is happy.

Ben takes a seat on the bench lining the wall of the terrace, and only then does he release Rey’s hand from his grip. He looks up at her in silence, watching and waiting to see what she chooses to do.

Boldly, Rey climbs onto his lap, straddling him. She drapes her arms over his shoulders and leans in, smiling brightly for the first time in hours. Or maybe she smiled when they celebrated their victory — she doesn’t entirely remember. What matters most is that she’s smiling now, and happy to celebrate with Ben.

“Hi,” he whispers.

Rey beams. “Hi.”

His warm hands smooth up the bare skin of her back, pulling her body against his. The stars twinkle overhead, the perfect weather for the perfect night. “We won,” he whispers.

Rey leans in, close enough to feel his breath on her lips as she nods. “We won,” she echoes.

Their lips meet slowly, almost teasing in nature, but it makes Rey’s heart thrum a mile a minute in her chest. “I’m sorry I was so out of my head earlier,” she whispers.

He kisses her again, wrapping his arms tighter around her waist.

Ben kisses across her jaw, lips moving down her neck until he feels her shiver beneath his hands. He pays special attention to that spot on her neck, savoring the way Rey tips her head back, mouth dropped open in pleasure. “I — I’m glad we won,” she whispers. “I — oh.”

She feels his teeth graze against the tender skin of her neck and she forgets her train of thought entirely. As the softest of moans tumbles from her lips, Rey finds great relief in Ben choosing to take her outside for this, keeping the moment private, just for the two of them.

For the briefest of moments her eyes flutter open and she sees the stars twinkling overhead. She decides with the last bit of rational thought she has left that there’s nowhere in the world, not even the galaxy, that she’d rather be.

Being there, with Ben, is enough. It will always be enough.