Chapter 1: Signs
There'd been signs, but Ben hadn't wanted to see them.
His previous neighbor, Doris, the sweet old widow who'd perhaps just had a few too many cats, had been quiet, only disturbing him and his writing time to hand over tupperware containers of home-baked cookies. She was the perfect neighbor, but she'd had a fall and although she'd been lucky to sustain minimal injuries, it was enough for Doris's son to decide it was time for her to move in with him and his family.
(After he'd heard the news, Ben had spent too much time panicking about the day he may need to live under the same roof with either of his parents again.)
Two weeks later, he'd met his new neighbors.
They'd seemed nice at first. Pleasant, even, as they unloaded a surprisingly small amount of boxes from Armitage Hux's car - that had been unexpected. He'd lost touch with Hux after college, and the fact that his girlfriend, Rose, would be Ben's new neighbor was just a reminder of how small the world was.
The other woman - the one with an odd three-bun hairstyle - was the unknown quantity, but since his parents owned the duplex he rented half of, and she was one of his father's employees at the garage… Han, the man with highly questionable judgement, had vouched for her.
That should have been the first sign.
Rose, in cute high-waisted short-shorts she'd almost definitely stolen from Rey's closet, waggled her eyebrows as they passed by each other - she was headed into their new place with a box of kitchen stuff while Rey was walking toward the car to get another armful.
She rolled her eyes and grabbed a box unhelpfully labeled "Misc." while she repeated her new mantra -
I will not stare at Ben Solo. I will not stare at Ben Solo. I will not stare at Ben Solo.
She wouldn't, either. Wouldn't even take a second glance in an attempt to burn him into her memory for later (and she blushed, at that thought), and she absolutely wouldn't comment on the endearing penguin-decorated socks and brown sandals combo.
It was rude and being attracted to him would be far too complicated - he was doubly off-limits. Being her neighbor would make it weird enough, but he was also Han and Leia's son, even if they hadn't mentioned him before (an odd thing, but it wasn't her business to ask why), and she had to keep professional boundaries.
Rey turned back toward the house they were renting half of and squinted in the mid-July sun as she looked up at the patio that stood a story up. He was still there, watching. She swallowed, her mouth dry despite the water she was chugging in the hot weather.
And then she repeated the mantra, in her head, all the way into her new kitchen.
The second sign came concerningly early, within the first two days of his new neighbors moving in.
His Thursday started just like any weekday would. The alarm went off at seven, and Ben hit snooze until he cracked a bleary eye at his phone and saw it was nearly eight. He tore himself from bed and went for a run, making sure he was back at his desk - with overly sweetened coffee - by quarter to nine.
He logged into the computer he'd been meaning to replace ever since it'd started making grinding noises, ready to read up on the morning's news over coffee before he started working away at his daily two-thousand word goal. As usual, a little pop-up in the bottom corner of his screen informed him that his computer was connecting to-
And then, at two minutes to nine, Ben choked on his coffee.
Just under his own network's name (the usual fourteen-character name that came preprogrammed), was a new network, and his computer was asking which it should connect to.
Did he want to connect to "CumOverHereNowBen_Secured"?
"What the fuck," he whispered, staring at the screen.
Because he was an idiot, his next move was to down the rest of his coffee and - before he could second guess his decision - walk out the sliding door to the shared deck. He knocked on the glass of his neighbor's sliding door, politely casting his eyes down so he wasn't staring into their lemon-yellow and white kitchen.
She answered the door. The unknown quantity, questionably vouched for by his dad… the three-bun'd neighbor of his.
And she slid the door open with a smile, freckles stretched across a petite nose, and a heart-stopping cobalt sports bra and tight black shorts combo. "Hi! Ben, right?"
Ben blinked, reconsidering every life choice that had led him to knocking on the door of his neighbor with the intention of asking if she was hitting on him via wi-fi network.
Her head tilted, his name coming from her mouth again in that lilted accent. "Ben? Did you need something?"
"I- uh- no." He shook his head. "No."
She - Rey, he thought - gave him a funny look. He got lost staring at the wisps of hair that had fallen out of her buns and stuck to the sweat on her skin.
"Is everything okay?" She crossed her arms over her chest, looking more concerned. "Sorry if I've been making too much noise - I've just been unpacking, and I thought some music might be nice."
"Oh, it's fine. It- it wasn't that." Ben worked his lips together. "Is everything okay with your internet? And uh, the wi-fi? Nothing's acting up?"
Her eyes narrowed. "No… why?"
"No reason," he lied. A soft grin pulled up at the corners of her mouth, and he swallowed, then blurted out, "I should go."
Within a minute he was back in the air-conditioning of his own apartment, and he fell into his desk chair, groaning at his own idiocy. He sighed and wiggled the mouse on his desk, ready to stop wasting time, but then he noticed a new notification from his computer.
The network name had been changed, and now his computer wanted to know if he wanted to connect to "CumBackBen_Secured".
He leaned back in his chair with a huff, and a frown. Through the thin wall, he heard the music start again, and he heard a woman laughing.
That should have been the second sign.
"Rey, you need to ask that guy out. He's hot."
They'd only lived there a full four days, and it was the seventh time Rey had heard that exact set of sentences from her best friend. This time it was while they were fully unpacking Rose's bedroom, and Rey looked over at her bed, wondering if she should give into impulse and dramatically throw herself onto the surface. Or just jump out the window.
Anything to avoid having this conversation again.
She squeezed the bridge of her nose between two fingers, and closed her eyes, sighing in frustration. "Rose, for the last time, he's off-limits. Do you have any idea how awkward it'd be if we dated and Han and Leia found out? Or what if we broke up? I'd have to work with my ex's dad every day - worse, I'd live next door to my ex."
"You've barely exchanged words and you're acting like I want you to marry the guy," Rose muttered, grumbling as Rey pointed accusingly at yet another one of her tops the woman was about to put in her own closet. "I'm just talking about a date. And I swear you never wear this," she said, holding up the strappy-back purple tank. "It's basically recycling."
"Fine, but I'm borrowing it if I want to wear it."
"Yeah, yeah," Rose waved off, "back to the issue at hand. Mister Broody McMuscles. He's an old friend of Armie's and it sounds like he's a nice guy."
Rey dropped to sit on her roommate's bed, not bothering to keep up the charade of helping unpack. "Yeah, he seems it, but even if it's just a date, if he says no, it's kind of awkward. Then, as long as we live here I'll be that neighbor he wasn't into who asked him out. It's weird. Like, one of those cardinal dating rules. Don't date coworkers, roommates, people you'll see every day…" She shrugged. "You know."
She stared up at the functional but dated popcorn ceiling, giving Rose time to wrap her mind around what she'd said. There was no doubt that her best friend would find a way around the wall of no way in hell she'd built up, and part of her welcomed that. As predicted, Rose sat on the bed next to her, grinning like she'd just figured out some undeniable answer.
"What if he asked you out?" she asked. "Then you'd know he was into you, so there's no reason to worry about rejection. You can cross the what if we break up bridge if you ever get to the DTR phase."
Rey sat up, frowning as she ran the worst-case scenarios in her head. She opened her mouth, ready to object, but...
It wasn't a bad idea.
Her mouth closed in another frown, and she narrowed her eyes at Rose.
"You're not allowed to interfere. No going over there and telling him to ask me out. And no more messing with our wi-fi network name! He seemed so confused the other day. You should have told me."
Rose held up her hand. "Scout's honor. Won't happen again."
"No way were you a girl scout."
"Of course not," she rolled her eyes. "But I promise, I won't go tell him he's the guy you're imagining breaking your dry spell every night when you-"
Much to Rey's horror, the woman burst out laughing. "I'm kidding! Well no, I'm not kidding, we both know it's true. But I mean it. I won't go tell him."
It was a relief, but a new thought crossed her mind as Rose shrugged, and added in an innocent tone that was anything but, "Though… I'm sure it wouldn't take much for you to get his attention."
Ben figured it out after the third sign.
It happened almost exactly one week in, around seven in the evening, after he'd sat down in front of his TV with a bowlful of leftover pasta since he'd been feeling too lazy to cook. He hadn't had any more run-ins with the neighbors, and they both kept busy with work during the days - as far as he could tell, they both worked long days during the week and took weekends off.
He hadn't dared to take another look at the wi-fi options.
Settling into the couch, Ben spent the obligatory five minutes clicking through the queue of new and interesting options before going for a sixth watch-through of NCIS. It seemed like a normal night, but less than two minutes in, he was subjected to what could only be described as an aural disaster.
Bluetooth speakers had seemed like a great idea three years earlier. They were convenient, easy to use, and his old neighbor didn't even know what Bluetooth was. But as the lyrics started-
"I wanna see your peacock, cock, cock-"
Ben dropped his fork and realized he now had a neighbor who not only knew he used Bluetooth speakers, but had also figured out that he hadn't secured them.
"Your peacock, cock, cock!"
While the music got louder, making him cringe, he finally saw the signs - someone in the apartment next door was purposely playing games he wanted no part in.
Chapter 2: Warning
I think we're definitely drifting into "crack" here. This might be the most ridiculous story I've written.
Rey's first apartment had been a tiny studio (one she'd unwillingly shared with mice), owned by a miserable slug of a man named Plutt, whose retirement plan seemed to rely on charging the maximum amount he could get for what could only be described as a slum. The change to a clean, safe, multi-roomed apartment owned by people she trusted not to let themselves in to rummage through her belongings for valuables would take adjusting to.
The change from having a boisterous, cranky old man living across the hall who liked to yell about the goddamned noisy kids of the neighborhood to sharing a wall with a walking, breathing marble sculpture of a man come to life was the more difficult modification.
By the time they were ten days post-move-in, she and Rose finally finished unpacking and had started settling in - nesting. Not just putting things where they'd go, but hanging photos on the walls, determining which areas would likely accumulate clutter, and leaving sticky neon-colored notes with cute, positive messages in places the other would come across unexpectedly.
It was so much change, and unlike Rose, Rey wasn't convinced she was ready to add dating to the list, especially when Rose's idea for her would-be dating-life involved the previously mentioned walking marble sculpture. But that didn't mean she couldn't think about it.
Think about it, consider it… fantasize about it.
She let out a long sigh, then pulled up her covers and relaxed, thankful for the upgrade from a futon mattress on the floor to a proper box spring and mattress combo that sat within a bed frame. The job she'd taken at Han's garage had been a blessing in more than one way.
Despite the comfortable bed, the cool air of the summer night drifting in her open window, and how relaxed she was from her post-work shower, Rey couldn't fall asleep. Something (someone) tugged at the edge of her mind, just enough to frustrate her.
They'd run into each other again, and she'd wanted to say so many things.
Sorry my roommate messed with our wi-fi network name, I promise I'm not stalking you.
My roommate's taste in music is questionable, please accept my apologies and some earplugs.
How much do I have to pay you to keep going for runs without your shirt while I'm eating breakfast on the porch?
Please, please, please tell me it's true, what they say about proportions and height, shoe size, and hand size.
Of course she'd said none of those things, because he'd just returned from his morning workout, all messy-haired and panting, and he wasn't wearing a shirt, and he was dripping sweat. Whatever he'd said to her had gotten lost in the haze of her body reminding her she hadn't had sex in almost a year.
To her chagrin, their run-in that morning had been limited to those thoughts, the image of him she wouldn't be forgetting any time soon, and a brief moment of clarity during which she'd flushed and said a quick goodbye before escaping back into her apartment.
Rose would have either laughed or scolded her, had she not already been at work.
But now, while she was alone with her thoughts and behind the safety of a closed door and a blanket, one of her hands slid down, slowly over her stomach, and down the front of her boxer-style pajama shorts.
Rey let out a soft sigh at the feeling of her fingers sliding and circling lazily where she wished his would. He'd be good at this, she thought. Maybe he'd be next to her, whispering sweet, filthy things while he watched her.
"Not yet," he'd say. "Just tease."
His hand would rest on her lower belly, caressing her inches above where she wanted him, and he'd kiss her neck, breathing against her skin. "Slow. Don't come yet. I'll tell you when."
She closed her eyes, slowing the circles and strokes of fingers through her folds until it was only light teasing - just a faint reminder of what she needed. If he were here, she'd tuck into him, under his chin, and whimper, maybe even ask for more.
"Please," she whispered to an empty room. "Please, please-"
"Not yet," he'd say again, this time more firm, and with a scolding laugh. He'd mouth at her collarbones, lick and kiss at her neck, his soft lips only making goosebumps rise on her. "Look at how good you're being. How wet you are for me."
She swallowed at the thought, her hips lifting off the bed. If he were there, would he hold her down, one massive hand, stretching across the space between her hips? Rey hummed, swirling a fingertip in tighter circles.
"Please?" she whispered again, more desperate than ever for release.
She'd feel his hair brush over her chest as he'd dip his head to add to her sweet torture, licking and nipping at her breasts, and she'd try not to come yet, thought she could so easily. "No," he might murmur, in that deep, silky voice.
In her bedroom, Rey could feel the cool breeze coming from her open window, but sweat built on her brow as she struggled to obey the man who wasn't there. "I'm- I'm so close," she gasped, feeling the slow build surprise her with how it'd snuck up.
He'd whisper in her ear, "Do you want to come for me?"
Lost to her thoughts, she answered the voice in her mind. "Yes, yes, please."
He'd be right there, by her side, telling her harder and faster, and You'd feel so good on my cock, sweetheart-
"Please," she breathed, "Please, Ben-"
Maybe it was the name that shocked her out of it. She knew exactly who she'd been thinking of, but the name spoken aloud? Rey clapped a hand over her mouth in response, and felt her legs shake as the exquisite burn became something else, cresting into an overwhelming wave.
(He'd be all over her then, finally kissing her, and climbing over her, so happy she'd listened, and been good.)
As she came down from the high, catching her breath and blinking up at the ceiling, Rey let out a short, humorless laugh, and then groaned at the realization that she'd feel incredibly weird the next time they ran into each other.
With his back against a pillow, Ben sat in his bed with his legs stretched out in front of him, the long-forgotten book that was part of his normal bedtime routine by his side. He was still catching his breath, having spilled onto his stomach and hand while listening to her cry out, though the sound was muffled.
His bedroom shared a wall with hers, apparently. It hadn't been an issue before, back when his old neighbor certainly hadn't gasped and begged, and then said his name, of all things.
The walls were much thinner than he'd expected.
A minute or two later, he frowned as he heard her clap. His own bedside lamp, the only light currently on in his room, flicked off. Huffing, Ben clapped twice to turn it back on. It felt a little too voyeuristic, sitting alone in the dark of his room after just having heard her.
He swallowed as he felt the mess on his stomach and hand cooling, and he tried not to think of what he'd just heard and what it had done to him. Behind him, Ben heard his neighbor laughing, and, oddly, he heard more clapping. His light went off again, plunging the room into darkness.
"What the hell," he muttered. Another two claps from him and it was back on, producing more laughter from the other apartment as his demoness of a neighbor clapped again, reversing his efforts. "You've got to be fucking kidding me."
She only laughed harder, and Ben had a sinking feeling that this had all been some sort of prank. The Bluetooth speakers had been quiet for six solid days so he'd thought it was over, but it was absurd that she'd now mess with his bedroom light. How she'd figured out he used a clapper, Ben didn't know, but another two on-and-offs later and he swore loudly, the more interesting events of the night forgotten.
Finally, he called it quits.
Ben grabbed some tissues from his nightstand, cleaning himself up in the dark, and accidentally knocked his phone off the little table in the process. He sighed, and slid further into bed, grumbling until he fell asleep trying not to think of how breathy and pleading and real it had all sounded.
But it hadn't been, and he'd only make himself feel more foolish for wishing it had.
The next morning, she foiled his normal routine again.
He'd woken up with the intention of putting it behind him, thinking that if he simply didn't react to any of the purposeful annoyances, eventually the woman would get bored with him and move on to confusing and driving someone else up a wall.
But then he walked out onto their shared porch, planning to go on his usual morning run, and while stretching his calves, he saw her.
By now she likely had a clue as to his routine - maybe that's why Ben's initial reaction was to be suspicious. Either that, or it was because most people didn't sun themselves in the nude at eight in the morning in a yard they shared with a relative stranger.
Rey was on her front, on a cheery yellow towel she'd spread over green grass near their in-ground pool, and his eyes landed on the buns she kept her hair in, and traveled down her spine. Her arms were propped under her while she read a book, so he could see the side of the soft curve of her breast, and his eyes flicked to her perfectly peach-shaped ass that he could just-
"Oh, hey, what's up?" a voice behind him asked.
Ben made a strangled noise and spun on a dime, giving a casual hello to his other neighbor, Rose, as though he hadn't just been nearly drooling over the woman's friend. She, at least, was clothed, in yoga pants and a loose, cozy-looking green t-shirt.
Her eyebrows raised at his reaction, and her mouth curled into a grin. "Having a good morning?"
"Just got back from a run," he blurted out.
It was clear she didn't believe him, but she laughed. Then, her expression drifted into something more thoughtful, and she gestured toward Rey, who he pointedly did not look at.
"Look, it's not my place to say this," she said quietly, "But uh, be careful there. Please." Rose hesitated, and added, "You seem like a nice guy. I just don't want anyone to get hurt, y'know?"
"Of course," he nodded. "I understand."
He didn't, not entirely, but he was in a rush to get back inside, so he said a polite goodbye, then got into his apartment and slid his glass door - and blinds - closed behind him.
Rey had seemed nice at first, sure, but with the little mind games and now with her friend even warning him away?
He sighed, leaning against the inside of his door, and muttered to himself, "Nice job, Ben. You sure know how to pick them."
Just then, music blared from his once-silent speakers, and he nearly jumped out of his skin.
"I want the jaw droppin', eye poppin', head turnin', body shockin'-"
He groaned, sinking to the floor while the speakers blared lyrics with a thinly-veiled innuendo. With Katy Perry ringing in his ears like an unwelcome blast from the not-too-distant past, Ben swore he'd get his revenge.
Chapter 3: Evil
...I can't promise the chapter count won't go up.
It was easier to manage, now that he knew the truth of her intentions. All the little signs - plus the subtle, but effective warning from Rose - led him to the simple conclusion that Rey, the unknown quantity vouched for by his father, was unknown no longer.
She was pure evil in an intoxicating form, set to the soundtrack of nauseatingly peppy, innuendo-laden pop.
Ben stared out from behind the blinds that hung across his sliding glass door. She was outside, relaxing next to the pool in a bikini, tiny and white against tanned and freckled skin, and her nose was scrunched in laughter at something she'd been reading. If he didn't know any better, he'd have said she looked stunning - adorable, even, as she laughed.
He knew better, though. Oh, did he know better.
It'd only been four days since the nude sunbathing incident, and twice since he'd heard her through the wall they'd both put their beds against. Both times he simply reached for noise-cancelling headphones, no longer interested in playing her game.
Focusing in on what was going on outside, Ben only felt slightly creepy as he noticed nobody else was around - Rose was either inside or at work, and… and maybe this was a bad idea. He'd been considering blaring music or maybe doing one of the hundreds of neighbor-pranks he'd found online, but… maybe stooping to her level wasn't right.
Suddenly unsure, Ben stepped back from the door, and sighed. A minute later, he was splayed out on his couch, sipping a beer and searching for something decent to watch while he tried to get her out of his head.
Before he went through the cycle of looking for new options before wondering if he should play a video game instead, someone knocked lightly at his door. He frowned in the direction of the sound, and then it got louder, more insistent.
"Just a minute!"
He'd never put a shirt back on, having previously been planning to go out to the pool (before seeing she'd beat him to it), and given that it was almost August and humid, he didn't bother putting one on for whoever was knocking. When he slid the door open to Rey, who took one look at him and let her eyes go wide as saucers, he was glad he hadn't.
She flushed deeper than could be blamed on the sunlight and summer heat, and that was when he figured out his plan for revenge.
Leaning toward her, he stared down, pointedly letting his gaze wander before he asked, "See something you like, Rey?"
Hazel eyes flicked to his in surprise, and the corner of her mouth turned up in a soft, satisfied smile. Narrowing her eyes up at him, she asked, "Think you'd want to come swimming? The pool's a perfect temperature. I could…" She took a step further and looked up at him with innocent doe-eyes. "I could use the company."
Oh, she was good. He didn't know exactly what her endgame was, but no doubt, if he let her have her way she'd find some way to drive him crazy, and not in a fun way.
So naturally, he nodded.
Rey grinned, undoubtedly happy he'd fallen for whatever prank or trick she had in store, and he followed behind her, all the way down the stairs to the grassy, well-manicured lawn, and over to the wood-grain patterned porcelain tile that surrounded the pool his parents had insisted on keeping when they'd bought the place.
In a bold move, he caught her hand and spun her back toward him, stepping in close as she turned back. He watched Rey bite her lip while she looked up at him, one hand pressed to his chest for balance, and tentatively, he tucked an arm around her waist, hearing her sharp inhale.
She was close. So close. Had the situation been different - had she been a neighbor he actually liked, Ben knew he would have ducked down to kiss her. Her lips were full, and pink, and even if parts of him urged him to kiss her anyway, he knew it would be a mistake.
So he didn't. Instead, he grinned, and almost laughed when she smiled back, oblivious to his plan.
He picked her up with ease and lifted her over one shoulder while she yelped and giggled.
"Wha- Ben!" she laughed. "What are you-"
And then he very carefully tossed her in the pool.
Sputtering, she rose to the surface, brushing wet hair out of her face while she gripped the edge and glared at him. "Ben! What the hell was that?"
He knelt by the edge, briefly admiring the newfound transparency of her bikini, and winked.
"Don't play games with me, sweetheart. You won't win."
Not bothering to hear her rebuttal, Ben stood, turned, and went back to his apartment.
"I don't know what the hell his problem is!" she snapped. Glancing up at Rose, who seemed more puzzled than anything, Rey shivered, tugging a thick fluffy towel around herself. "Did he say anything to you last week? You talked to him, right?"
Rose frowned and leaned against their kitchen counter. "He seemed fine," she shrugged. "Maybe caught off-guard by the sunbathing? He didn't say much, but he was definitely staring. I-" she paused, and Rey looked up at her, gesturing for her to continue. "I might have done the best friend thing and sorta told him to be careful. It wasn't anything that would have pissed him off, though. I just told him I didn't want to see you get hurt."
She tightened the towel around her shoulders and sighed. "Well, I really don't think that would have caused it. It was so strange, Rose. One minute he was all flirty, and the next he literally picked me up and threw me in the pool. And then - okay, this was the weird part." Rey rolled her eyes, annoyed by how easily she could still picture those dark eyes and broad shoulders. "He said don't play games with me."
"Games?" Rose's brow furrowed. "What the hell does that mean?"
"I don't know! I thought he might have been talking about the wi-fi thing, but that was a couple weeks ago - plus, you changed it back, right?"
Rose nodded. "It was only like that for maybe a day."
After a minute, her best friend huffed. "Honestly Rey, he sounds like an asshole. I know Armie made him out to be a nice guy, but maybe he's more of a… nice guy, you know?"
"Yeah, maybe," Rey agreed, a little hesitantly. "It's just strange."
Rose studied her, tapping her nails on the counter to her side as if she was trying to decide what to do. Finally, she lightly slapped her hand on the surface and said, "Okay. You, go get dried off. We're going to get in pajamas, find a movie, and pop that giant bottle of wine Leia left us, and then we're going to forget about our asshole neighbor for the night. Tomorrow I'll check in with Armie and see if he was being sarcastic when he said Ben was friendly."
"That sounds good," she sighed again, letting her shoulders droop. Heading toward the stairs, she stopped, and looked back. "Hey, mind if I use your Bluetooth speakers? I think I'm going to take a shower before we watch a movie and I feel like listening to something. I want to get my mind off this. Off him."
"Yeah, of course, they're on my nightstand. They've been kinda weird lately, though."
Rose nodded, having turned toward the cabinets to make a snack. The woman never missed an opportunity to whip up something delicious, even if it was just for a movie. "Been going in and out. I think I'll have to buy a new one. I've been on a Katy Perry kick, and one minute my phone will be connected and music will play, and the next minute it'll sound really distant and echo-y. I don't know," she shrugged, "I think the speaker's just getting old. Go ahead and use it though."
Feeling a little despondent, Rey murmured her thanks, and took the stairs slowly. Thinking of what Rose had said, she shuffled through her music until she landed on the artist she hadn't listened to much lately. It wasn't really her thing, but some of her stuff was light, fluffy, upbeat, and that's exactly what Rey needed.
Maybe it'd help.
Ben almost cried when he heard the song again. The song that would haunt his dreams and his every waking minute for as long as he lived. Hell, at this rate they might as well play it at his funeral. It was unfathomable, he thought, that anyone could handle listening to such an inane, peppy song so often. It made him want to beat his head off the nearest surface.
"Are you brave enough to let me see your peacock? Don't be a chicken, boy, stop acting like a-"
He let out an aggravated sigh, figuring it had to stop at some point. Didn't it? They'd have to turn it off and sleep eventually, right? Until then, he'd keep his noise-cancelling headphones on.
Peace returned to his apartment when he put them on, and Ben closed his eyes and sighed in relief. He reclined on his couch with a book, lamenting for a minute over the fact that he hadn't been sleeping well, and he got through barely a chapter before he'd drifted off into a nap.
He awoke some time later to the sound of someone pounding on his door. It had to be loud if he could hear it with the headphones on, and he jerked up off his couch, bounding toward the door. Whoever it was seemed desperate, and he slid the door open quickly.
To his surprise, it wasn't someone bleeding out, nor a police officer. In fact, the guy at his door looked more annoyed than anything - his only urgent issue seemed to be the giant stack of pizza boxes he carried in both arms
"You Ben Solo?" the guy asked. He grumbled the question and shoved the boxes toward Ben before he could confirm. "Been waiting here for ten minutes."
Reluctantly, and against his better judgement, he took them so they wouldn't fall, but said, "Sorry, there's been a mistake. I didn't order pizza."
"Yeah," the guy sighed, "Sure, buddy. We hear that all the time. Ten large jalapeno, garlic, pear, and goat cheese pizzas? I think I'd regret that too, but it'll be $198.42… plus tip."
Ben cringed and then laughed. "You're kidding. That sounds disgusting. Nobody would eat that."
"Hey, I'm not here to judge taste," the guy said, holding up his hands defensively.
"You're missing the point," he argued, "There's no way I ordered this. You've got the wrong address."
"Look, the call came from a Ben Solo at this address. Is that you, or not?"
Knowing he wouldn't win this fight, Ben groaned, dropping the boxes on a little table that stood in his entry, and stepped away from the door to grab his wallet from the kitchen. Muttering curses, he pulled out a few bills and handed them over, ordering, "Look, I don't care who calls you or what name they give - don't deliver pizza here again, okay? Not to either apartment. No more pizzas."
"Yeah yeah, sure, whatever you say."
Ben rolled his eyes and slid the door shut, wishing for once that it was the sort he could slam.
Unsurprisingly, he could hear laughter from next door, confirming his suspicions that his neighbors were responsible.
Glaring at the pizza, he shook his head in disgust, and took twenty whole minutes to figure out a way to shove it all in his fridge. He couldn't imagine eating it with those toppings, but letting it go to waste seemed just as bad, so he decided to leave the decision until morning.
Ben nearly fell into bed after that, not bothering to read as he usually would. She - the evil pizza-ordering temptress-slash-demoness - was ruining any sort of normalcy he'd grown used to, and worse, she was doing it all with a beautiful, soft smile, and a genuine laugh that could light up a room.
With his head still face-first in a pillow, he raised his hand and hit it on the bedside table twice as a substitute for his normal clap. His lamp flicked off.
Not a minute later, Rey clapped on her side of the wall, and it flicked back on.
With a deep, calming breath, he slapped his hand down twice, hard enough to rattle the lamp, and his room went dark.
Two more claps from the other room, and his bedroom brightened.
Ben wailed into his pillow before yanking his lamp's plug from the wall.
Chapter 4: War
Ben watched the woman across the table from him lift a slice of reheated pizza, sniff it daintily, and then set it back on its plate, sitting straight in one of his dining room chairs.
"Well," she said politely, her accent similar to, but not an exact match to that of his mortal enemy. "This is… lovely."
He rolled his eyes. "It's terrible, Phas. You can say it."
"I'm sure once I remove the jalapenos it may be edible." Phasma, his long-time friend and editor, frowned and adjusted her thin evergreen sweater that had to be too warm for the season. It was likely just an excuse to busy her hands to put off eating.
Ben had already worked his way through one of the pizzas and had managed to rid himself of seven more of them. Thankfully Poe and his boyfriend weren't picky eaters.
She started picking at the slice in front of her. "Not that I'd complain about a free lunch, but can I ask - were you drunk when you ordered these? The pear and goat cheese, I suppose, is fine. You could make a case for the garlic, but the jalapeno? You must have been drunk, I know you have better taste than this."
"I wasn't, and I was hoping you could help me with that."
Blue eyes met his, narrowing and not missing anything. She pursed her lips and tucked a chunk of blonde curls behind one ear.
"Help you with what?" she asked, seeming to know he wasn't talking about the copious amount of pizza. "What sort of trouble have you gotten into now, Solo?"
With annoyingly perfect timing, his speakers blared to life right in the middle of what he'd come to think of as Katy Perry's most obnoxious song. Out of surprise, Phasma dropped the slice she'd just picked up, and blinked as she glanced around, searching for the source of the noise.
"Good God, what on earth-"
Ben sighed and took a long drink of his beer before answering. He pointed up, in the direction of one of his speakers. "That," he said flatly, "is my problem. I have the neighbor from hell, Phas," he laughed, though at this point the laugh was more delirious than genuine. He grinned, the perfect picture of sanity. "It's horrible! Absolutely horrible!"
Over the music, Phasma cleared her throat and said, "Ah. Yes, I can see that. Maybe we should go elsewhere?"
He nodded, and in just a minute or two they were sitting at a table by the pool where they could barely hear the music. Phasma tilted her head toward the house. "Do I want to know what you've gotten yourself into?"
"A prank war, I think? She is..."
When Ben looked up, Phasma's eyebrows were up near her hairline. Since she had a habit of trying to set him up with every woman they knew, Ben wasn't that surprised.
"She," the woman murmured through a grin. "Why don't you tell me about her."
Ben looked at her tiredly. "Phas, I don't need dating advice. What I need is closer to an exorcism. It's not just the music, or all the pizzas. It's like she's figured out exactly what she needs to do to ruin my life."
"Ruin your life?" Phasma scoffed. "Isn't that a little dramatic?"
He leaned forward, dropping his hand to the table. "No! She- she turns off my light, Phas!"
"I'm not sure I understand."
"My- my light, my clapper, she's constantly turning it off and on when I'm trying to sleep."
The woman in front of him pressed her lips together, giving him an odd look. She opened her mouth, and then shut it again, taking another moment to consider what he'd said. Finally, she said kindly, "Ben. You know I'm always here to help, and because I consider you such a good friend, I've got to be honest. You're sounding a tad unhinged."
"Unhinged? I'm sounding unhinged?"
Ben sat back in his chair and closed his eyes, then took a few deep breaths. "It's not just the light. It's a lot of little things. At first I thought she was flirting with me, but then she acted like she had no idea what was going on. Then all of this started. The hijacking my speakers, ordering pizzas to my place, messing with my bedroom light - and some of these things happen almost every day. I'm at the point where I don't know what to do about it."
She was quiet for a moment, and when she spoke again her voice was hushed. "You genuinely feel that what she's doing is malicious? That things have gone past innocent joking?"
"I think it went past that when I paid $200 for pizza."
Phasma let out a laugh and nodded. She hummed. "Well, there's always revenge."
Slowly, his lips curled into a grin. "Why do you think I called you?"
Rey had just stepped out of the shower when someone started knocking on the door. Work had been hot and sticky, and her first instinct had been to throw herself in the pool, clothes and all, but she'd managed to force herself inside and into a proper shower instead. It'd been worth it, and now her skin was scrubbed pink, the sweat and grime long gone.
"Just a minute!" she yelled, rushing down the stairs as she tugged on and tied her robe. It was a pale pink light cotton, and at the bottom of the stairs she happened to look down and realize it was quite a bit more revealing than intended.
She slid the door open, crossing her arms over her chest.
"Hey, sorry, I was in the shower. How can I-"
Her mouth shut when she saw it was him. Him, the perpetually and inexplicably angry man from next door, who'd tossed her into a pool three days earlier. "You," she hissed. "What do you want?"
Ben put up his hands defensively. "I'm here to call a truce. I think we should talk."
Rey huffed, but stepped away from the doorway, gesturing for him to come in. "Okay. Talk."
He smiled, and something about it was off-putting. It was soft, but it wasn't that same sort of smile he'd given her when they'd first met. It wasn't genuine, Rey thought.
Keeping her arms crossed across her front, she rested her hip against the kitchen counter. He was a few feet away, staring at her with a concerned and sorry expression. "I think we got off on the wrong foot. With the pool? I never should have thrown you in. It's just…"
Ben took a step closer, and murmured, "It's just that beautiful women make me nervous."
Glancing up into deep brown, sad eyes, Rey dropped her arms, and she stepped toward him. "Is- is that all it's been?" she whispered. "Why didn't you just say something? Why would you toss me in a pool? You were just… nervous?"
His eyes widened in surprise at her reaction. "I'm not sure you realize how… intoxicating you are. Of course I've been nervous. Obviously it didn't warrant that, but..."
He rested a tentative hand on her hip, backing her up until she was pressed back against the counter. Rey forgot for a minute that he was kind of a jerk who was sending mixed signals, because then he ducked his head, bypassing her lips to press his mouth to a spot at her neck.
She sucked in a breath, pressing her hands to his chest, and tilted her head to try to kiss him properly. Why, she wasn't sure, but she wanted to.
Ben seemed hesitant, but he leaned closer until his nose brushed her cheek, and his lips were a fraction of a tiny measurement away from hers.
It was like a bucket of ice water when someone knocked on her door.
Rey jumped, and pulled away. "Sorry, I should get that."
Ben stepped back, wearing an odd expression. "I need a minute, anyway."
As he walked off, out of the kitchen, Rey frowned. Then another knock came at her door, and she turned toward it, opening it to a towering blonde.
"Well hello," the woman enthused with all the energy and cheeriness of a head cheerleader on her third espresso shot, "You must be the new neighbors!"
"Uh, sort of. We moved in almost a month ago," Rey answered, holding her hand out to greet the woman.
She caught Rey in a big hug instead. "Oh, not here! We're huggers in this neighborhood! I'm Phasma!"
"I'm Rey," she said, though it came out muffled thanks to the unexpected hug. Rey pulled away, narrowing her eyes at the guest. "It's… nice to meet you. You live around here?"
Phasma nodded, grinning like a scary clown minus the makeup. "Yes, yes I do. Isn't it lovely?"
"Uh, yeah, it's nice."
Something was off. She glanced back toward where Ben had walked off and felt a sneaking suspicion. Turning back to Phasma, she asked, "You must know Ben, then, if you live around here… you wouldn't happen to be a friend of his, would you?"
Phasma's smile faltered for a moment, but it was enough. Rey spun on her heels and yelled, "Ben! Ben! Get out here! What are you doing in my apartment?"
The conniving snake of a man appeared in her kitchen doorway within seconds, his face the picture of innocence. He put his hands out, palms up, as if to say What, me?
The glare she gave him was withering. "I swear if you did anything-"
"I would never," he promised, putting a hand to his chest. "Never." Then, like the asshole she now had confirmation he was, Ben winked. "See you later, sweetheart," he snarked, just before following tall, blonde, and enthusiastically-bitchy out the door.
Rey stood there, scowling at her closed door in silence for a whole minute.
And then the beeping started.
Rose was hours late getting home, but it was for the best reason. As a surprise (the sort there wasn't any reason for), Armie had picked her up after work with a bouquet of red tulips and vibrant pink stargazer lilies. Just because, he'd said, and they'd gone to dinner - a burger joint, just the type of not-fancy she loved.
Really, it was a good thing she'd had a wonderful evening, because at around eight that night, he dropped her off at the door with a long kiss and an apologetic explanation that he had an early meeting at work, and Rose walked inside to find her roommate having what probably could have been described as a meltdown.
"I hate him, I hate him, I hate him!" Rey blurted, not offering any explanation. She shrieked something nonsensical and continued pacing. "That stupid snake of a man! Must have been adopted! Han and Leia couldn't have- have- have made that!"
Rose took a moment to adjust to everything that was going on, because Rey wasn't the only thing she'd noticed upon walking in. She winced at the noise.
The beeping wasn't harsh, exactly. Maybe the biggest issue was that the beeps seemed random and unpredictable, both in pitch and timing. It wasn't as glaringly obvious as a fire alarm, but it was the sort of noise that made anyone nearby start looking around for whatever was making it.
"What's going on?" she finally asked, trying to stay calm. It was hard when Rey was so obviously flipping out.
"Ben Solo," she screeched. "He came here claiming he wanted to apologize, nearly kissed me, then had some woman distract me while he planted those- those things in our apartment." She turned to Rose, her face suddenly serious. "Did you mean it, when you said you'd help me bury a body?"
Rose laughed nervously. "Very funny. Hilarious. Anyway, uh," she gestured up and around at the apartment. "Dare I ask?"
"He did this."
"Yeah, I gathered that," Rose sighed. "But, what is it, exactly?"
Rey groaned. "I have no idea, they just won't stop beeping. I don't even know where they are, but it's everywhere. I can't even pee without hearing beeping."
She tried. She really tried to hold it together, but after a minute, Rose burst out laughing. "I'm sorry, I'm so sorry," she worked out between laughs. "It's not funny, I know, I know it isn't, but c'mon Rey, this is ridiculous. What could we have possibly done to make this man be such an asshole?"
"Did I tell you, he barely even lets me sleep lately?" her friend sniffled. "I had to take out my clapper! He kept clapping at it through the wall!"
Rose's laughing got harder until she caught Rey's glare and calmed herself, taking deep breaths. "Okay honey, here's what we're going to do," she said softly, "We're going to put some music on and maybe a loud movie, and we're going to order some pizza, okay?"
Rey nodded, and stepped forward to hug her, muttering, "I think I hate him."
Rose patted her back. "I know. He sucks. Go pick a movie and I'll order a pizza."
She watched Rey walk off into the living room, and Rose sighed again, trying to ignore the incessant beeping. She made a note to ask Armie if his friend was possibly evil in human form, and then grabbed her cellphone, pressing in the number of a local pizza place she'd gotten a menu for.
"Rogue Pizza, pick up or delivery?" a young woman asked.
"Delivery," Rose answered. "Can I get a large supreme, hold the mushrooms?" She glanced into the living room, where Rey was angrily staring down a vent in their ceiling as though she'd found one of the sources of the beeping. "Maybe breadsticks, too. And wings."
She gave the woman their address, and seconds later heard a quiet "Oh."
"Everything okay? I think we're within delivery distance."
"You are," the woman confirmed. "But we've been asked not to deliver any pizzas to that address."
Rose tilted her head. "Sorry, what? Why not?"
"Well, one of the residents at your address has asked that we stop any deliveries, according to the note in our system," she apologized. "I'm so sorry, but my manager's saying we can't deliver. You'd have to pick up if you want to order."
She worked her lips together in thought. "That's fine. Have a good night."
Rose hung up and tapped her fingers on the counter. The beeping continued. It almost seemed louder that it'd been before. Before she could think better of it, she walked out into the living room with her hands on her hips. Rey looked up at her curiously.
Tapping her foot, Rose muttered, "Okay. I think it's time we considered payback."
Chapter 5: Kink
Summer's miserable heat came with a building humidity and with building tension. Ben could feel it in the air, same as he felt the humidity. It'd been four days since he'd placed the annoy-a-trons Phasma had found online, and he hadn't seen either of his neighbors since. He could hear the beeping, faint through the wall, and in the days since getting his revenge, he'd been both worried about the incoming retribution, and worried that he'd gone too far.
He could have had Phasma distract Rey long enough to put the little devices in her apartment without touching her. There'd been no reason for him to press her against the counter. No reason to put his lips on her skin.
No reason to almost kiss her.
Ben had thought he'd sleep better after getting revenge. He'd thought it would be satisfying, but he'd been wrong. Sure, it'd been funny, hearing them complain and curse him through the wall, but then he'd gone to bed, and he'd heard her slam a door - her bedroom door.
And then, ten minutes after she'd stopped cursing his name and family line, he'd heard her, and the soft, frustrated pants that had slowly turned into sighs, and moans.
He'd tried not to listen. It had felt creepy to listen to the woman he hated-
If you hate her, why did you almost kiss her? a little voice in his head had asked.
Ben had ignored it, ignored her, and put his headphones on. He'd fallen asleep to white noise, and since that night he'd only felt more and more guilty whenever he noticed the faint beeping that still came from their apartment.
To lessen that guilt, Ben had decided to give her space. In the meantime, he did something else that raised his anxiety rate - inviting his parents over for dinner.
Since pizza was no longer an option after he'd called Rogue Pizza and demanded to speak to a manager, and since it was still hot enough to make running an oven uncomfortable, Ben picked up take out from his parent's favorite Indian restaurant. By the time he'd made it home, they were waiting for him in the driveway, and as reluctant as he was to see them, he could appreciate that they didn't use their key to get into his apartment.
Ben rushed to his front door in the sudden and unexpected rain, waving at them to follow him, and once they were all inside and dripping on his kitchen tiles, he slid the door shut, and nodded a hello. They looked like home, with his dad's old leather jacket and his mother's knowing smile and intricate braid.
"The place looks nice," his dad gruffed. "Good. Looks good. Knew you'd be a good tenant."
His mother scoffed. "Of course he is." She wrapped him in a big, unexpected hug. "You didn't have to get dinner. We could have just come to visit, you know."
Being near home was a big change, and even though he'd been there for over a year, it was still… a lot. Still, he'd take the awkward adjusting any day over the hell that had been his former boss, and his former life in the high paced world of unknowingly facilitating corrupt business dealings.
They'd spent years warning him about Snoke, and he'd never listened - only stopped coming home, and stopped calling. It had taken longer than it should have to see the light of the situation.
Ben shook his head as though it would help him forget, and he smiled down at his mother. "I know," he nodded. "I'm glad you're here."
The three of them took places at the square table he'd placed against a wall, and he hadn't even gotten them plates and silverware when someone knocked on his door. Ben halted halfway and frowned at it, but his mother spoke up. "Go get it - no need to leave someone waiting in the rain. The food's too hot right now, anyway."
A creeping feeling of dread snuck up his spine, but he did as told, and regretted it the moment he opened the door to a livid-looking Rey.
She was dripping wet from the rain, wearing now-soaked jean shorts and a bright green hoodie, and the look she gave him was something akin to a death glare. He was about to say please let's not do this now, because clearly she'd missed that his parents were a dozen feet away at most, but then she'd moved just out of their line of sight… and winked.
The voice she spoke in sounded almost heartbroken, and she laid it on thick. "Ben Solo, I can't believe you'd do that over text! You- you can't just end this without talking to me!"
He blinked and stood there while he processed her words.
Rey sniffed, and if he hadn't been so shocked and confused, he might have given her credit for her acting skills. "I- I love you, and- and- I can't believe you'd dump me over a text! A text, Ben? Am- am I supposed to return the ring? How am I supposed to explain this to my friends? Ben, you're the best thing that's ever happened to me."
His eyes went wide. "Ah, maybe we should talk later-"
"No, please," she begged. That's when the fake tears kicked in, and Ben sighed, covering his mouth in resignation. "Please, just talk to me. I'm sorry I used my safe word - it just freaked me out when you called me mommy, but I promise we can try it again if that's what you need."
Ben groaned, hearing his own damn mother gasp from the other room.
That's when Rey's expression morphed into an evil grin. Her voice stayed the same, and she added, "Ben, please think it over. We already have kids names picked out and- and I already asked Rose to be my Maid of Honor, please."
She was obviously having trouble not laughing at this point, and weirdly, he was just about to join her because this had to be the most ridiculous situation he'd been in.
"I just love you so much, honey-bun," she said, her eyes sparkling with mischief, and a hint of a laugh slipping into her words. "I'll be next door, waiting for you. Please reconsider. I can't imagine not spending the rest of my life with you."
Rey winked and slipped out the door, and he was left staring out after her, wondering how the hell he'd ever top that.
A throat cleared from behind him, and Ben sighed, closing his eyes in an attempt to center himself before the incoming onslaught Rey had just earned him started. Turning back toward his parents, he almost started laughing.
His mother - his poor mother - was pale as a freshly bleached sheet, but his father looked like he was ready to commit murder.
Without comment, Ben sighed again and walked back to the table, dropping into a chair. He gestured out toward his parents. "Go ahead. I'm sure you have plenty to say."
"Did you break that girl's heart?" Han demanded.
Ben frowned, looking over at his father. "Trust me, I didn't. She probably saw your car and decided it'd be funny to make a scene. This… it's a thing she does, I guess."
"Funny?" his mother asked. "That poor girl sounded so upset, Ben. You should go talk to her, I'm sure you can work out your…" she cleared her throat, "Preferences. Please try - Rey's such a wonderful girl."
"She is," Han nodded. "Fantastic kid. I didn't know you two were dating, or that you were so serious, but-"
"We're not," Ben interrupted. "We're really, really not."
Leia huffed. "Clearly not anymore, but that woman is lovely, Ben. She's like a daughter to us, you know. Here I was thinking of setting you two up and I find out you've broken up with her over a text message? Ben, we taught you better. When you patch things up, I expect you to use your grandma Breha's ring. Rey will love that."
Not for the first or last time that night, Ben groaned, and rested his head on the table in front of him.
Rey had, without a doubt, won this round.
The day after Rey had gotten her delicious revenge, it was still pouring. It wasn't hard enough to be concerning, and miraculously it'd come without the thunder and lightning they'd normally get in the summer.
Lounging beside the pool, she lamented that her three full days off had been during the rainiest days of the summer. Earlier that day she'd gone to work and had been met at the garage's door by an uncomfortable-looking Han Solo, who'd given her a large container of Leia's incredible snicker-doodle cookies and an order to go home and take a long weekend, clearly feeling bad about her "breakup."
She'd felt guilty, of course, but then she'd yawned and been reminded that, thanks to Han's asshole of a son, she hadn't gotten a good night's sleep in almost a week.
Sliding further in the lounge chair, she pulled her feet a little closer so all of her was under the generous umbrella. Even if they were in the middle of a rainy stretch, it was better than being inside with the incessant beeping. Plus, the umbrella kept her and her book dry.
A half-hour and a few chapters into a romance novel Rose had left for her to borrow, Rey looked up at the sound of a splash, and she scowled at the black mop of hair that rose to the top of the pool.
Ben Solo popped up, flipping wet hair back as he stood in the pool. He'd jumped in at the deep end and hadn't noticed her yet (the yelling hadn't started), so she took a moment to soak in the sight.
He walked toward the shallow end, near where she sat, and as rain hit him and rolled down, joining the pool water, her mouth went dry.
Was it possible to hate someone and also want them to bend you over every nearby surface?
At that thought, his eyes flicked up, and widened in surprise as he saw her. Unexpectedly, he closed the distance, perching his elbows up along the tile that surrounded the pool near where she sat.
"Isn't it a little rainy to be out here reading?"
Rey's scowl deepened. "You've made my apartment unlivable, so I'd rather be in the rain." She shut her book, crossing her arms over her chest. "We've found four of those stupid little beeping things and it hasn't even made a dent. How many did you leave?"
He threw his head back in laughter. Genuine laughter - a kind she hadn't seen from him. It softened his expression and took years off him (not that he didn't already look young for being in his thirties). Miraculously, it made him look nice.
"They're called annoy-a-trons," he explained. "My friend's idea."
"Mm. Your friend. The tall blonde?"
"Phasma," he confirmed. He snorted and shook his head. "About the other night. You know my mother's now hounding me about giving you my grandmother's ring? That was… evil. Brilliant, though. It sucked, but I have to give you credit."
Rey grinned and leaned forward. "Your dad felt so bad he gave me the rest of the week off." She put a hand to her chest, "After all, you broke my heart, all because I wasn't into your kink."
The noise that came from him was a cross between coughing and choking, and when he splashed pool water up at her, Rey flinched, cowering further under the umbrella.
"Hey, if you got in the water you wouldn't have to worry about getting splashed," he shrugged. "Plus, you'd be one step closer to drowning me. I know you want to."
She hummed. "Tempting, but this book is much more interesting than you."
"What are you reading?"
"Why do you care?"
Ben's eyes narrowed, and she desperately tried to focus in on the words she was reading and not on how his muscles flexed when he lifted himself partly out of the pool to get a better look. A slow smirk grew over his face, and she hid behind the paperback.
"Her Carnal Desires? Really. That's more interesting than me?"
Had he not been in a pool she might have thrown it at him, but she settled for muttering, "Yes."
Ben didn't reply, and she made it a whole page before seeing movement over the top of her book. She frowned, glancing out over it, and swallowed as she noticed that he'd turned his back to her. He was stretching his arms as though preparing to swim laps, but all the movements did was show off impressive toning.
That's when it hit her - what he was doing.
It only took her a moment to decide to play his game. She stood quietly so he wouldn't hear her and set her book down. Originally she hadn't planned to swim, so she'd left the apartment in yoga pants, a white tank, and a sweatshirt over the tank. Rey bit at the inside of her cheek and concluded that the look on his face would be worth it.
She dropped the yoga pants and sweatshirt, leaving plain light pink panties and the tank top. And then, before she could chicken out, she left the dryness of her umbrella.
Ben only noticed and turned around once she'd sat at the edge of the pool and slipped into the water. His eyes clearly shot down before flying back up to her face. The rain was soaking through her hair and the top half of her tank-top that hadn't yet met pool water, and Rey made quick work of tugging her buns out of their elastics.
While he stared, she ducked under the water and came back up, pushing her wet hair back and away from her face. When Rey opened her eyes again, the expression Ben wore was something akin to awe, and it made her blush more than knowing he could almost definitely see every bit of her.
After a minute he shook his head and looked away.
Rey laughed and noticed him roll his eyes. "What?" she asked, echoing words he'd used. "See something you like?"
"Good. It's mutual then."
One of his eyebrows quirked as he looked back to her. "Really? Why aren't you still reading, then? Didn't you say your book was more interesting than me?"
"Oh, absolutely," she nodded, keeping a serious face on.
Ben stepped closer, and suddenly it was just like that moment from the kitchen. Her back pressed against the pool wall, and he gripped the edge on either side of her.
He let his eyes wander. "What, does this work for you?"
"Shut up, it's cold."
"No, it isn't. Want to know what I think?"
"Not really," she said dryly.
"I think you're lying. I think I'm much more interesting to you than that book. If I wasn't, you wouldn't be trying to drive me crazy."
"Trust me, the book is much more satisfying."
"Interesting choice of words," he murmured. "You know, some things you said in front of my parents just came out a little too easily, don't you think? Impressive improv, but I can't help but wonder-"
She didn't think. She just knew he needed to stop talking and the easiest way to do that was- was-
It didn't even register until he was humming against her mouth that she'd pulled him down into a kiss. That seemed to have been the permission he'd needed, because he grasped her hips, keeping her close while his lips worked over hers, slow and hard.
And then her sanity returned, and Rey's eyes flew open, just as she shoved at his chest. "Hey, what-"
"Did- did you just kiss me?" he asked, sounding dumbfounded, as if he hadn't just kissed her back.
"Well I had to shut you up somehow!" she blurted. "As if - I wouldn't actually kiss you in- in a million years! You're not my type, trust me."
He was quiet, and the only sound she could hear was them catching their breath, and the sound of the rain lightly pattering on the pool and the surrounding tile.
After a moment, Ben snorted. "Not your type, huh? Dunno, Rey, seems like I'm your type, for how often I hear my name through your bedroom wall."
No. No no no no no.
She blinked up at him. "You... you can hear-"
"Every word. Or, maybe every moan is a better way to put it."
Rey froze and then heard herself let out some sort of squawk before she splashed water at him angrily.
"You asshole!" she shouted, storming out of the pool. "Utter asshole!"
"It's not my fault we've got thin walls, sweetheart," he called back.
Rey spun back toward him and shrieked, "I am not your sweetheart!"
Ben only laughed. "Sure thing… sweetheart."
As she glowered, the bastard winked.
Chapter 6: Clapper
Rey shuffled out of Han's garage a full hour later than she normally would. Oddly, the man had requested she stay late, despite their normal-sized workload. He'd seemed in a rush to get somewhere and had given her firm instructions to stay until six in the evening with a promise to pay her overtime.
It was weird, but she wasn't one to turn down extra cash, and with the beeping that was still echoing through her apartment (they'd found four more little hellish devices, but the nightmare wasn't yet over) Rey wasn't in a rush to get home.
She also wasn't in a hurry to risk running into him.
Her cheeks had been stuck in a perpetual deep red since finding out that he'd heard her. She'd skipped past shy, flirtatious pink blushing and had arrived smack in the middle of mortification-red. And so she'd been avoiding him more so than usual, for four days. Hadn't gone to the pool, hadn't sat on the patio, hadn't sunned herself in the returned sunlight – she'd barely left for more than work and checking the mail.
The tension low in her belly had built up to a frustrating fullness, because there was no way in hell he'd be hearing her again through that stupid, thin wall.
Rose honked from the lot outside Han's garage, and Rey waved in her direction, thankful for the ride. Her own car was in the locked building behind her, in desperate need of some work, and she didn't feel comfortable driving it until she'd finished the job. She walked over and let herself into the passenger seat of her roommate's car.
"Thanks for the ride," Rey sighed, buckling up as Rose drove them out of the lot. "Diagnosis on mine was worn brake pads. Too worn to drive, I think."
Rose cringed. "Ouch. Could have been worse, though. Movie tonight?"
They relaxed in comfortable silence for the few minutes it took to get to the duplex, and Rose parked in her usual spot, frowning at the surrounding view. "Is someone having a party? Look at how many cars there are."
She was right – their usually quiet street was lined with cars. Not to the level you'd see in a city, but there were maybe a dozen more than usual. "Weird. Maybe a cookout?"
"Mm, maybe, it's the right time of year for it," Rose nodded.
Rey didn't think much more of it until they'd walked around to the porch and saw the party-slash-cookout was happening in their own backyard. Two large grills were set up, manned by Han and a charming friend of his, Lando, who frequented the garage. Oddly, there was a large white tent of sorts, except it was sideless. It housed half a dozen tiny outdoor tables and chairs, and around its four legs were romantic bunches of pink, red, and white flowers.
It seemed to be a Solo-Organa gathering of sorts, but as she and Rose got closer, Rey saw her – or rather, her and Rose's – friends. Poe, Finn, Armitage… they were all milling around with drinks in their hands, visiting and looking a lot less confused than she felt.
"Rose, what the hell is going on?"
The woman next to her shook her head. "I have no idea. I mean, I know Ben knows Poe – they're old friends, known each other even longer than Ben and Armie, but this is weird, right?"
"Definitely weird," she agreed.
They stared for a moment, and Rey felt a creeping suspicion that they should get inside and pretend they'd never seen anything, but then he spotted them.
Ben, the scourge of her existence. The blight of her life, in a plain white t-shirt and jeans.
And he smiled. It wasn't a smirk, and it wasn't that grin he gave just before teasing her like an overgrown jerk on a playground. It was wide and happy, unrestrained. A smile for his audience, she thought, as he walked toward them.
When the cheesy romantic music started playing, Rey almost turned and ran, because she had a very, terrible feeling about this. He caught her hand and said loudly enough for everyone to hear, "Rey, darling, my Rey of sunshine-"
She almost gagged.
"My love. The light that illuminates my darkness."
The look she gave him was tired and withering, especially when she noticed him biting back a laugh. Ben kept his back to the little crowd, which (much to her dismay) gathered to watch whatever he had planned. She could see confused and curious looks shared between her friends, and she felt the sudden need to push Ben into the pool. Or off a cliff.
While she was debating which – the pool or a cliff – Rey heard gasps from the crowd, and she frowned and looked around.
He was down on one knee in front of her.
"Oh for fuck's sake," she muttered under her breath.
It didn't seem possible, but his smile widened, and he winked.
"Rey," he started dramatically. "You're everything to me. I can't believe I was foolish enough to let you go and I can't thank you enough for helping me see the error of my ways last week. You were right. We're meant to be," he sighed, through that huge fake smile she wanted to wipe off him. "So please, Rey…"
She covered her mouth with her hand and groaned as he took a box out of his pocket and opened it, holding up an impressive engagement ring she guessed belonged to his grandmother.
Rey took a deep breath and leaned down, cupping his face in both her hands. Keeping up the charade, at least for a moment, she sniffed, pretending to be moved by his words.
"I'm going to murder you," she ground out through a happy grin. "Already picked out a nice spot in the backyard for your body. Rose'll help, but the last thing you'll ever see is me, and a very large knife."
His expression didn't falter, and without moving his mouth, he muttered, "Just calling your bluff, sweetheart. Go ahead, we both know you'll say no. Then you get to explain it to my parents."
She hummed, pushing the livid rage down into a box she could ignore. Working her lips together, she considered the situation and decided the best course of action was the one he didn't expect.
Wiping at imaginary tears, she nodded. "Yes! Yes, of course! Of course I'll marry you!"
The rapid rate at which Ben's jaw dropped was deliciously satisfying.
Thirty minutes. Ben had been plunged into a new, undiscovered circle of hell for an entire half-hour, and he wanted nothing more than to go back in time and punch himself in the face for thinking this idiotic plan would work out in his favor.
She was wearing the ring. Wearing the ring.
Ben had facepalmed when it'd fit her perfectly, and when his mother had sniffled and said something about that being a sign that they were meant to be. Since she'd slipped it on her finger and wrapped him in an unexpected hug (she'd whispered more death threats in the process), he'd been dealing with the hell that was explaining this to all their friends.
Poe and Finn had probably been the most confused, especially since he'd spent an hour bitching about Rey to them when he'd dropped off most of the pizzas she'd ordered to his place. Poe kept trying to pull him inside to interrogate him, but Ben kept dodging his attempts. He didn't know how the hell to explain this mess.
Next to him, Phasma was still laughing her ass off, and he shook his head. "Will you give it a rest? This isn't funny, Phas. She was supposed to say no!"
"Oh, it is funny," she snickered. "You two deserve each other. I think I might love her. That was ballsy, saying yes."
Ben grumbled, "It wasn't ballsy. She just figured out a way to fuck me over and took the opportunity. I'm starting to think that's her specialty."
The woman beside him hummed. "All the more reason to consider it."
"Consider what?" When Phasma gestured vaguely toward Rey, and Ben rolled his eyes. "Right. Yeah, great idea that'd be. Let me just go walk over and see if she wants to drop the act and do this for real. Excellent plan, Phas."
"There's this line... " she waved her hand, "Something, something, doth protest too much?" She tsked. "Shakespeare was never my thing. You get the idea."
Before Ben could argue, a blur of black shorts and dark blue t-shirt rushed toward him, and he looked away from Phasma to see the woman of the hour walking hastily in his direction. She seemed as stricken as he felt, gnawing away at her bottom lip, her hands in tight, nervous fists.
"Okay so I might have made things worse," she blurted. "I- I might have been trying to, y'know, add fuel to the fire or whatever, and I was talking to your mom about baby names…"
To his side, Phasma chortled.
"Oh, come on, seriously?" he groaned. Waving around at all the friends and his family, he asked, "This isn't bad enough?"
Rey laughed nervously. "Well, that's not the bad part. So anyway, I told her if it was a girl we'd go with Hanna, after your dad and she started crying. Happy tears, I mean."
"You've got to be fucking kidding me," Ben deadpanned. He eyes flashed up to his. She was bright red in the cheeks, had been since she'd put the ring on, and she was breathless with panic.
Rey cringed. "It gets worse."
"Worse? Rey, how could it be worse?"
Phasma broke out into loud belly laughs and clapped a hand over her mouth. At his glare, she turned and walked off, her shoulders still shaking.
"So, she thought the name Hanna was lovely, but asked what we'd name a boy. I didn't really know what to say, so I just said we wanted to name him after her father - your grandpa - and..." Rey huffed, and mouthed the word yikes.
Ben slapped a hand to his face, groaning again. "Oh, wow. Yeah, you weren't kidding, that's worse. He… he wasn't the best dad, let's just leave it at that. People don't normally name their kids after grandparents charged with multiple counts of murder."
"What?" Rey blinked and then let out what sounded like a long whine. She glanced over her shoulder, "Shit. She said she wants to start wedding planning tonight. Tonight, Ben! How the hell are we getting out of this?"
"We?" he hissed. "What do you mean we? You're the one who said yes!"
"Yeah, yeah, I was there, I remember, now shut up and help me figure out how to get out of this! Look, obviously this isn't going according to either of our plans, so we might as well figure this out together."
Ben nodded reluctantly and took a quick look around at all their guests. They all seemed absorbed in discussion, or waiting for food.
Seeing an opportunity, he asked, "Want to get out of here?"
Rey quirked an eyebrow up at him. "You want to ditch our… what is this, anyway? An engagement shower?"
"I guess? I've got beer. Meet me at my apartment in ten minutes?"
She shook her head. "Make it five. My apartment. Beer isn't strong enough. I'll share my whiskey on one condition - you help me find the beepy things that are left. I can't handle that and this headache."
He considered it, landing on the decision that being stuck alone with her and alcohol was still preferable to explaining things to everyone, or dealing with his parents.
Rey's apartment was a mirror image of his, just inhabited by people with a keener eye for decorating. She'd lived there a year less than he had, but a stranger would have taken a look at both apartments and only called one of them a home. Pictures hung on almost every wall, in every room, displaying smiling faces of all their friends. Even his own parents.
She'd been talking and for a minute he'd been listening, but then the photo had caught his eye.
Now she was still talking, but Ben was just standing in her kitchen, staring at a photo of his own parents, on her wall. The frame was a cheap plastic wood-grain one, but the picture was beautiful. Three wide smiles, effortlessly caught in the middle of laughs - Rey had been between them, and they hugged single arms around her while the three of them all stood under the maple tree he recognized from his parent's backyard.
In the oddest way, it mimicked a photo he'd had taken with his parents years and years earlier, back before he'd left and gotten caught up in what he now thought of as his old life.
"-even listening? Ben, you said you'd help me find those annoyer things."
"Annoy-a-trons," he corrected absentmindedly. Gesturing to the picture he said, "Uh. This-"
Rey came up to stand beside him, getting a look at it. "Oh, that's one of my favorites. I swear, it's impossible to get your father to smile without it being a smirk. I think this is the only one I have where he's properly smiling."
He went quiet for a moment, hearing a few beeps from further in the apartment, and then murmured, "Last week, after you left, my mother said you were like a daughter to them. I assumed my mother was just being dramatic about everything." He glanced over at her and tilted his head.
"They've done a lot for me," she nodded. "Gave me a job, helped me fix up an old car to use," She gestured around the apartment, "let me rent this place. They're good people."
"They're going to be really upset."
Rey sighed. "Yeah, I'm realizing that. You didn't have to ask, you know?"
"Well, you didn't have to come over while I was having dinner with them and put us dating in their heads."
"That's nowhere near as bad," she scoffed. "I left them thinking we'd broken up! You proposed."
Ben muttered a response of, "Yeah, but you said yes."
She groaned, clutching her head. "Fine, fine, we both messed up. Now, would you help find those things you left here? I think I've had the same headache for weeks."
As it turned out, she'd missed one he'd tucked into an air vent, and two more, both stuck under the thin top layer of potting soil in a couple of the plants she and Rose kept in the living room. He'd only gotten a brief look at the place before, but Ben couldn't help but wish his own apartment was that comfortable.
Their couch - a study dark brown overstuffed sofa - was covered in throw pillows in shades of cream and deep purple. It was centered in front of a tv, but the giant stack of board games that sat to the right of the TV, coupled with the big coffee table in front of it, suggested they did more than watch Netflix. The space that wasn't filled with stacks of books was filled with vibrant green plants.
Ben was sure they had more belongings in their living room than he had in his entire apartment, but it wasn't cramped. It just felt lived in.
Their heads pivoted as they both heard Rey's front door slide open. The buzzing of chatter from everyone at the cookout-slash-engagement-party grew, and he heard his mother call, "Rey? Ben? You two in here? You can't disappear from your own party!"
Rey's eyes shot wide. She turned to him and held a single finger to her closed lips.
They stayed silent, but when he heard his mother walking through the kitchen, Ben guessed she was on her way into the living room. Rey must have come to the same conclusion, because she grabbed his hand and yanked him toward the stairs. Quietly, they crept up toward the second floor while his mother continued to look for them.
"My room," Rey whispered.
He followed behind her, judging himself for the lengths he was going to just to avoid his own mother, and Rey pulled him into the room he knew had to be hers. The door shut behind him, and Ben turned to lock it. It was doubtful his mother would ever come upstairs to look for them, but… better safe than sorry.
Behind him, Rey clapped twice.
He frowned. His mouth opened, then shut again. "Huh."
Ben narrowed his eyes and turned around. "Why did you clap?"
She was sitting on the foot of her bed, looking exhausted and in desperate need of a hug. She shrugged. "Clapper."
"Clapper." He said the word slowly, while he processed. "You… have a clapper."
"Of course," she shrugged again. "Wasn't that one of your little pranks? You kept turning mine on and off? Actually, that one was pretty funny. At least it was at first, but after you tossed me in the pool, I realized you were just being a jerk, and then it got annoying."
Ben blinked. There was dread tingling somewhere in him, and for the hell of it, he asked, "Hey, do you listen to a lot of Katy Perry?"
She didn't take the bait. No wide eyes, no laughing, no sign that she'd been caught and called out for messing with him.
"Eh. Rose has been listening to her a lot lately. It was getting to be a bit much, but her Bluetooth speakers have been in and out - she swapped over to earbuds, so I haven't been subjected to much of it in the past week or two."
Rey's head tilted. "Why do you ask?"
Ben stared at her, reframing their interactions.
Then he swore.
Chapter 7: Deal
The invited but not-so welcome guest in her room didn't answer her when Rey asked again, "Why are you asking about my clapper?"
She didn't care much about the answer. Not really. Mostly, Rey was focusing on the question and eventual answer so she wouldn't need to think about the problem that was brewing beyond her door. The engagement. Or, not-engagement, technically.
Rey frowned at Ben when he, again, didn't answer. Rather than explaining the point of his odd questions, he stood in her bedroom, mouth gaping and hands clasping at nothing as if their hellish reality had finally dawned on him all at once.
"Hello? Earth to Ben?"
She snapped her fingers. Once, twice. Then the clapper - reinstalled maybe a week earlier, once she'd decided not to let him win - flicked off and shook Ben out of his trance.
"You really have a clapper," he breathed. "I'm a moron."
She snorted. "At least we have one thing we agree on."
Rey knew something was serious when he didn't snap back. "You're freaking me out. What's going on?"
"I have one, too. A clapper."
She was about to make a comment about that possibly being their only similarity when the implication of his words clicked, and she crossed her arms. "Huh. Have we just been turning each other's lights on and off?"
"That's not all. You said Rose's speakers have been weird? They go in and out? Have they sounded echo-y?"
"Yeah," she confirmed, a suspicious feeling creeping over her. "Are you going to tell me what's going on before someone starts trying to break my door down? We've got to go back out there eventually, but I think I deserve an explanation."
"You do, you do. I have Bluetooth speakers set up in my apartment," he explained, starting to pace back and forth in front of her bedroom door. "Lately they've been playing a lot of Katy Perry."
"It's been playing over there?" Rey clapped a hand over her mouth. "Oh my God, I'm so sorry. I swear, we had no idea." Ben continued his private muttering and pacing while she considered what, exactly, that meant. "Wait…."
She hesitated, and Ben turned toward her. "What?"
"Is that what you meant when you tossed me in the pool and told me not to play games with you?"
A few feet away, Ben nodded helplessly, and unexpected anger surged through her at the motion.
"Let me get this straight." She stood, hands on her hips, and ticked the offending events off on her fingers. "First, you thought I was messing with your light. Then, you thought I was messing with your speakers, and rather than asking me to knock it off you decided to pretend to flirt with me so you could toss me in a pool? And then you thought it was appropriate to keep going and have someone distract me so you could plant things in my apartment? Seriously? Isn't that overkill?"
"Technically the music happened first," he said defensively, then shook his head. "That's not important. I was going to leave it at the pool, but pardon me for being a bit bitter about paying two hundred dollars for pizza."
"Pizza? What's that got to do with it? I can't even order pizza delivery anymore thanks to you."
"Well, when someone orders me two hundred dollars of the worst pizza ever, I think I'm entitled to ensure it won't happen again!"
She leaned in, narrowing her eyes. "What are you talking about?"
"The pizza!" he blurted, frustration and desperation bleeding into his tone. "Pear, goat cheese, garlic, and jalapeno?"
"That sounds awful," she cringed. "Nobody would eat that."
"Wasn't that the point?" he laughed humorlessly.
"I wouldn't know. I didn't order them," Rey insisted.
He was quiet for a moment and asked, "You're absolutely sure? You honestly didn't?"
"No, of course I didn't! You pissed me off but I'm not the type to waste food and I wouldn't want to risk getting stuck paying for that much pizza."
His eyes shut, and he let out a long breath. "Okay. Had I known that, I never would have put those annoy-a-tron things in your apartment. Which means you never would have felt the need to retaliate, and we wouldn't be in this mess. That's… great. Fucking perfect."
Silence fell between them until the distant chatter of their uninformed guests buzzed on and reminded her of their current mess. She scoffed. "I think you mean to say that if you'd just knocked on my door and asked me to stop turning your light on and off - if you'd communicated like a mature adult - this wouldn't be happening."
"Hey, you're one to talk," he snapped. "How mature was it of you to storm over and inform my parents of a kink I don't have? Was it mature when you kissed me in the pool just so I'd shut up?"
"By many rating systems, definitely," she said dryly.
Ben rolled his eyes. "Just… look at it from my point of view for a second. I kept getting messed with and I could hear you guys laughing through the wall, so-"
"Oh, how dare we laugh about things! We were probably watching something funny on TV."
"You're missing my point," he groaned. "I thought you were laughing about messing with me. Obviously I was wrong, but can you see why I was so ticked off?"
Rey stared him down and said in her best slow, scary low voice. "Let's review. I caused you some embarrassment in front of your parents. You threw me in a pool, faked flirting with me, cost me hours - hours - of sleep, and then proposed to me in front of our friends and your family."
"Well, you're the one who said yes."
Ben stopped halfway through his pace, wincing at his own words, and she scrunched up her mouth and then shrieked in frustration. "Fine! Fine, you know what? Yeah, I said yes, but now you can be the one who clears everything up with them since you got us into this mess."
One of his eyebrows quirked in her direction, and she uttered, "I'm serious. You're fixing this. Go downstairs and tell them whatever the hell you have to tell them to make this go away."
Once he'd seemingly gotten past his initial surprise, his laugh was full and genuine. "No way. Not a chance. Trust me, there's no good way to explain all of this to them. They're going to be heartbroken. If you'd said no, we could have claimed it was a breakup because of irreconcilable differences or something but I don't know what to tell them now."
"Well I'm not telling them."
Ben shrugged. "Me neither."
Outside, the weather was lukewarm, a big improvement on the sweltering heat they'd had most of the summer so far, and the predicted rain was holding off. Per Han's decree, some people had started swimming, and the others were either eating food from the grill or the tables someone had set up under a tent, or socializing.
Rose was doing none of those things. She was leaning carefully against a pole that supported the white sideless tent, the smell of roses in her nose, and she was observing, hoping she'd magically find answers in the little crowd.
Rey had disappeared a while after the surprising and suspicious proposal, and if Rose had to guess, Ben had gone with her. Leia had left to find them, but otherwise people were celebrating - even Poe and Finn, who were confused but happy for Ben and Rey.
Everything was normal for an engagement party.
Except for the part where it was all bullshit, and the part where the so-called soon-to-be bride and groom hated each other's guts.
Her fingers tapped an anxious beat against her thighs, and while she contemplated what may have led to whatever was going on, Rose heard familiar voices behind her.
"I don't know where they've gone off to," Leia grumbled. "That boy better not have-"
A smooth, feminine voice interrupted in a reassuring croon, "Oh, those two are so in love, I'm sure they'll be back soon."
Rose turned, spying a woman with short blonde curls, bright eyes, and a warm smile. The woman winked at Leia, adding in a hush, "I'd bet they're… celebrating."
At that, Leia laughed, and nodded. She looked back up at the house, laughed again, muttered something about grandchildren, and walked off toward her husband. The blonde who'd covered for Ben and Rey - in a way Rey would have despised - grinned as though she'd just accomplished a well-thought-out chess move without her opponent realizing.
She took a step, heading toward the pool, and Rose slid into her path, glaring up at her.
It was then that Rose realized the woman had to be over a foot taller than her. It only caught her by surprise for a millisecond, and then Rose schooled her face back to the glaring stare she hoped looked threatening.
"That's bullshit, and I think you know it."
The woman paused, and then laughed something haughty, but amused. "Of course it is, but do you want to tell her the details of the situation Ben's gotten himself into?"
That was a good point. She shook her head, but still frowned. "Does that mean you know what's going on? I'm Rose, by the way."
"Phasma," the woman nodded. "Idiot-number-one's friend. Rose? So, Idiot-number-two's roommate, right?"
"I think she'd prefer Rey."
Phasma shrugged. "One of them proposed to the other in front of twenty-something people, and the other accepted despite them never dating. What would you call them?"
"Okay, that's… fair," Rose admitted. "So is this just another one of Ben's pranks?"
"Something like that, I think," Phasma hummed, sipping at the glass of wine she held. Rose narrowed her eyes at it. As far as she'd seen they'd only had beer and spiked lemonade, and considering that her first reaction after that proposal had been to get a drink, Rose knew she'd scoured the area for a bottle of wine.
"Where did you get wine?"
The woman's mouth curled into a half-smile. "Stole it. Ben's got a nice little collection. Less nice now," she laughed, lifting the glass. "Split a bottle with me inside? We can chat."
"Please." Rose sighed in relief. "Maybe we can figure out a way to help them out of this mess."
"Oh, they need help, but not that sort of help."
Rose tilted her head. "What do you mean?"
She hummed again. "Wine first, then we'll talk."
While watching her fiance slash soon-to-be first murder victim continue to pace, Rey found a new level of fury. If the pillow in her hands had been something alive, it would have been strangled to death ten times over by now.
"What do you mean," she gritted her teeth, "Fine?"
Flippantly, Ben shrugged. "I mean fine. I'm not telling them. If you want them to know the truth, go ahead and tell them." He gestured toward her door, "They're right outside. Nobody's stopping you. Ultimately, we wouldn't need to tell them anything if you'd said no."
The fiery inferno inside her was stoked as some little part of her lizard brain noticed, yet again, the broad shoulders that lifted and fell uncaringly as he shrugged for the billionth time.
She jumped up off her bed. "That's not fair! What, so by your brilliant plan we'll just get married?"
Ben had the nerve to laugh, and she considered agreeing to the marriage just so she might have the opportunity to smother him with a pillow. "Obviously not."
He said it as though it'd be the worst thing in the world, them being married, and Rey took comfort in knowing they agreed on that.
It dawned on her then. "No, no, of course not. You'll chicken out well before any wedding happens."
"What, are you thinking we make this another game?" He rolled his eyes again. "I don't like games, Rey."
"It's not a game, asshole. It's the last game, and don't forget, I haven't even been playing these stupid games." Rey shook her head, and then held her hand out. "At least this time we both know what's going on. First one to give in and tell someone the truth loses."
Ben stared down at her hand. "What do I get when I win?"
"When I win," she scoffed, "You move out. I think that's fair. You're a dick, and we've got weird, stupid chemistry that neither of us want, so let's make this the deciding factor. Loser moves out and we never have to see each other again."
"Loser moves out," Ben repeated in a murmur. A slow smile crept over his expression, and he took her hand. "My mother loves event planning, you know. She'll be over here all the time, planning everything for what I'm sure will be a meticulously detailed wedding. You won't last a week. I'll pick you up some boxes and packing tape."
Rey slapped his hand away, retracting her offer of a handshake, and she glowered up at him. "It's 2019. Men help plan weddings now, and I think your mother would be very disappointed if you felt differently. Believe me, you're going to regret not ending this the easy way. First one to own up to what's really going on moves out, yes?"
He smirked, and she wanted to slap the expression off his face.
"Fine," she snarled. "Deal."
Chapter 8: Plotting
Just a head's up, there's brief mention of possible pregnancy. Nobody's actually pregnant, and nobody in the fic will be - it's just a brief mention.
"It'll be fine," Rey assured herself, her voice hushed and frantic in a way that proved she was anything but fine. "Totally fine. Completely, one-hundred percent fine."
The devil himself had already left her room, winking and making a gross stamina-related comment about waiting long enough, since he'd decided that would be their cover story for leaving the party.
Rey fake-gagged, as though she hadn't touched herself to the thought of him multiple times. Then she scoffed at herself and took a long drink of the whiskey she'd stashed away. It burned beautifully, and she narrowed her eyes at the clear bottle, debating, and took another swig.
"Yeah, this is great," she muttered to the empty room. "He um. He's gonna lose. I just have to…"
She'd been hoping she'd magically produce the answer, that the sentence would helpfully finish itself, but no. Dropping back down onto the bed, she drank more, admitting to herself that she was long past the point of using a glass.
Rey knew she needed a plan if this was going to work. Pranks were the first option crossed off the list - Ben had proven beyond a doubt that he wasn't above doubling down on a prank war, even if his opponent wasn't aware of the arrangement. Certain options, like getting friends in on things to help her out, were out of the question because of the nature of their agreement.
He had to back down. That was the only obvious - and only feasible - solution she could think of.
Rey whined softly, knowing what she had to do, and she finished what was left of the little bottle and left her room.
Everything outside was almost just as she'd left it. Beautiful warm summer weather with a light breeze, bright green freshly cut grass, the smell of barbeque in the air, and trouble brewing thanks to the little war she'd gotten herself involved in.
A few people, including Poe and Finn, were splashing around in the pool and fighting over a human-sized inflatable dolphin she'd never seen before, and it appeared people had already either eaten, or were talking over plates of food under the tent.
She didn't see Ben, and she sighed with relief.
"Oh there you are!"
Rey turned to the woman who'd come up behind her and readied herself for what she had to do. Despite not usually being much of a drinker, she was beyond thankful for the warm buzz she was feeling. The liquid courage would be her saving grace, Rey thought.
She let Leia take her arm, and she grinned. "Hi, Mom."
Leia looked like she was about to burst into tears, and an unexpected sharp dagger of guilt cut at Rey's heart.
"I love that," she sniffed. "I've always wanted a daughter, I just never thought I'd be lucky enough for it to be you."
She was just so nice. How did someone so nice produce a total jerk?
"Oh." Rey swallowed. "That's… such a sweet thing to say."
Focus, she reminded herself, after pointedly looking away. Leia wasn't the target for this, just one of the steps. She took a deep breath and began to enact her plan.
"So about the wedding."
Leia perked up. "We can plan whenever you want. Oh, I have so many ideas. I could see it happening under a gorgeous dark wood trellis with white silk and whatever you choose for flowers, though I suppose that depends on the season. Maybe your hair in a braid, and there are so many dress styles that would-" She paused and glanced over at Rey with a laugh. "Well, it's your wedding of course, but I'd love to help, and-"
"That's perfect," Rey interrupted, "I love all of that. I would say we'll need lots of your help, if you don't mind. See, the thing is…" She stopped, just for a second. Long enough to wonder if what she was about to say was really a good idea. Then the whiskey made the decision for her, and she continued, "The thing is, your son is just so excited for the wedding. He wants to do most of the planning with you, and I think he'd like to make this happen sooner rather than later, and I agree."
The woman's face lit up like a Christmas tree strung with enough lights to cause a major house fire. She got closer and whispered, "We can rush this… if we need to."
"That'd be great," Rey sighed, smiling appreciatively. "I know Ben would love that."
Leia nodded. "Of course." Then she winked, and as she started to walk off toward her husband, who was flipping Hux's veggie burgers on the grill, she said, "I'm thrilled for you two. It'll be our little secret."
Confused, Rey tilted her now-fuzzy head and watched Leia walk over to stand beside Han, and tug him down to whisper something in his ear. Han's face split into a wide smile that directed itself toward Rey, and he gave her an excited thumbs-up.
Rey returned the gesture, shrugging it off, and went to find Rose.
Three steps later, the words bounced around in her brain, organizing themselves in a simpler, more obvious way, and she stopped short, realizing what she'd implied. She groaned, just as the idiot of the hour walked up toward her, wearing a devious expression that dropped when he saw her clap a hand to her face in frustration.
"What is it?" Ben asked suspiciously.
Rey sighed. "Trust me, honey, you don't want to know."
He narrowed his eyes, but she didn't bother explaining. Knowing Leia, he'd find out.
"Are you going to explain why we're in here drinking wine while that is going on outside?"
Phasma rolled her eyes in the direction of Armitage Hux, long-time friend of a friend (Ben Solo, specifically), and explained dryly, not for the first time, "Because Ben's always had lovely taste in reds."
"That's not what I mean, and you know it," Hux muttered. "Last I heard, Ben was being a dick to her and now they're engaged? Have they even dated? I don't recall-"
He was interrupted by Ben's sliding door opening, and Phasma watched him look to the mischievous smile of his girlfriend, who'd made a run out to the grill to get them sustenance for their battle planning.
"Did you tell him?" Rose asked her.
Phasma shook her head and started to open another of Ben's bottles. "I decided to wait for you. I have a feeling it'll be easier to explain with your help."
She gestured to an empty wine glass, offering to pour one for the woman, but Rose waved it off and took the seat next to Hux, leaning in to meet him for a kiss just a tad too long for comfort. Phasma cast her eyes to the side, focusing on her wine, and sighed.
A throat-clear from her broke up the unexpected make-out session, and Rose sat back in her seat with a healthy flush across her cheeks. "Uh, so, Ben and Rey… "
"Finally," Hux sighed, "Yes, please, will one of you tell me what that insanity is about? Since when were they dating?" He looked to his girlfriend, "I thought he was giving Rey a hard time. Did something change?"
Phasma couldn't help the snort. "Oh, something changed."
"Sort of," Rose nodded. "I think?" She fidgeted in her chair, and admitted, "I think Rey was really into him when we moved in, but he started being kind of an asshole. Weird stuff. Like, he got all flirty with her and then threw her in the pool and said something about how she shouldn't play games? And then he got into our apartment and left these beepy-"
"Annoyatrons," Phasma interrupted. "I am sorry about that part. It was my idea, but I was under the impression you'd set him off with all that pizza, so it seemed like classic revenge. How was I to know the idiot would let this keep building until… this?"
Rose opened her mouth to reply, but Hux spoke first. "Pizza?"
"Mm, the girls ordered ten pizzas to his apartment," Phasma explained with a grimace. "Awful ones. I helped him eat one and I think I was nauseous the rest of the day." She looked to Rose, who was frowning, and said, "It was a funny idea. Disgusting, but funny."
"That wasn't us," Rose said defensively.
Phasma raised an eyebrow in disbelief. "Really?"
"She's not lying," Hux laughed. "Really, she's not. They didn't order those - I did. I can't imagine why he assumed it was them since I pulled the same prank in college."
When Rose looked over at him, gaping, he shrugged. "You said he was being a jerk. That seemed very in-character, and I thought he'd appreciate some pizza. Personally I thought that combo sounded quite…" he struggled to keep the grin off his face as he said, "Interesting. I was wondering why he hadn't called to yell at me."
"You ass!" Rose playfully smacked his arm. "Why didn't you tell me? Ben's revenge was all those beeping things! Why do you think I've been sleeping over so much?"
"I'll have to thank him, then."
Phasma groaned. "Lovely side effects aside, these little pranks have gotten them here, somehow."
"To engagement?" Hux asked, sounding befuddled. "How?"
"Excellent question," she sighed. "Unfortunately, you're making the mistake of assuming they're thinking logically. Logical would have been a conversation about acceptable neighborly manners, but these two… Well, I think, based on what Rose and I know, that they're essentially in a game of-"
She stopped and looked to Rose. "How did you put it?"
"Chicken. They're playing chicken," Rose snorted. "At least, I think that's what's going on. See, Rey pranked him by going over while Han and Leia were visiting. Apparently she really embarrassed him, too, acting like they'd been dating, and he'd dumped her over text because she wasn't into his mommy kink."
Phasma choked into her wine glass. "Rey said that? In front of Leia?"
The three of them went silent around Ben's dining room table and then burst into laughter.
"Oh, oh that's wonderful," Phasma breathed, still recovering. "Ben must have been mortified. So, this proposal was his response, then?"
Rose shrugged. "That's my guess."
"That's evil. It almost makes me feel bad for him," Hux chuckled. "But if they're trying to one-up each other, they're about to hit an upper limit. This has to come to a head soon." He looked to Phasma, "Is that what your plan is? Putting an end to this? I suppose someone has to save them from themselves."
She hummed, swirling the burgundy liquid in her glass. "That wasn't quite what I was thinking."
Hux looked to his girlfriend, who shrugged again. "She hasn't told me the full plan yet."
"What do the close friends of an engaged couple do when there's going to be a wedding?" Phasma mused, leaning in and planting her elbows on the table. "Don't they help make sure a wedding happens without a hitch?"
Rose quirked an eyebrow. "Sure? In a normal situation, yeah. But what are we going to do?"
With another laugh, Phasma answered, "We help make sure a wedding happens."
She grinned slowly as she saw Rose and Hux meet wide, surprised gazes. After a moment, they both looked back at her.
Hux snickered. Rose wore her mischievous smile.
Phasma had a good feeling about their odds.
Rey had made herself another drink, not bothering to measure much, but it was supposed to be a Long Island Iced Tea, which Rose called lethal. It seemed fine to her. Chatting with her not-future-in-laws came much more easily as she sipped at it, but some time after Leia started talking about bridal lingerie (there wasn't enough alcohol in the world for that conversation), Rey made a break for it, and was stalking around the outer edge of the party, drink in hand.
She spun and nearly ran when she saw the look on her not-fiance's face. Putting on her calmest and most innocent expression, she replied sweetly, "What is it, honey?"
Ben's grim frown turned murderous, and he gestured toward an area to the side of the house where they were still in the yard, but where they could talk without being overheard.
His voice was an angry hiss when he spoke again. "Why do my parents think we're having a kid? What the hell did you tell them?"
"I have no idea," Rey lied. "I never said that."
"So who told them that? Because they seem pretty convinced! My mother's already emailed me a list of preschools in the area!"
She bit her lip, holding back a laugh. "Okay, so I might have implied that you'd prefer the wedding be soon, and I think your mother misunderstood. I may have accidentally confirmed her suspicions. Look, I'm sorry but it wasn't on purpose."
"Sorry?" Ben let out a frustrated huff. "Seriously? Because this engagement thing isn't crazy enough, you added that to the mix? What the hell, Rey, are you going to let them house shop for us, too? Maybe let them move us in together? Pick out our nonexistent-future kid's preschool? Even-"
"On that note," she interrupted sheepishly, "they may be under the impression that we plan to buy this house from them after the wedding. I don't know how that happened, but there was whiskey, and your dad and I just got talking and then somehow we were talking about what sort of deal they'd give us and how we could knock down a couple walls and turn it into one big house."
Ben pinched the bridge of his nose between his thumb and pointer finger, and he let out a long breath. "Wow. Okay." He dropped his hand from his face and nodded, as though he'd made up his mind. "Okay, so that's how this is going to go?"
"Smile, honey," she said through a fake smile. "People are watching."
A wide smile that clearly didn't meet his eyes spread across generous lips, and he snaked an arm around her waist, pulling her against him.
"If this is how you're going to play it, fine. I can play, too, Rey."
Without warning, he cupped her face, ducked his head down and held her in a firm grasp as he caught her mouth in an unexpected kiss. She bit down on his bottom lip, but instead of pulling away as she'd expected, he groaned and deepened the kiss, slipping his tongue across the seam of her lips.
When he let her go a minute later, she caught her breath and wondered if it was possible that she'd been too confident.
Chapter 9: Vow
Ben was still sitting at his desk a full twenty minutes after his self-set work hours had ended for the day. Since the sham of an engagement party that'd been four days earlier, he'd buried himself in his latest novel, hoping the work would put everything out of his mind. Instead, his lead character had slowly and confusingly started to resemble her, and every re-read of what he'd written lately was met with a chorus of his own groans and the popping of multiple bottles of much-needed wine.
From his pocket, his cell rang, and he answered it with hope. Maybe it'd be her. Maybe she'd come to her senses.
Or maybe it'd be his parents, clued in and demanding an explanation.
Feeling like gambling, he picked up without seeing which of the options it was. "Hello?"
He almost held his breath until Hux replied with his own greeting. "Hey. I don't recall talking with you during the party, but-"
"That's because you holed yourself up in my apartment and stole my wine," Ben interrupted. "Want to know how much you owe me for the bottles you drank?"
"Not really. Phas has good taste, and it was her idea to abscond from your little ruse of a party. Send her the bill."
Hux had said it as though that would go well, but Phas would take one look at any half-serious bill he came up with and drop it in a shredder while staring him down.
Then Hux's words caught his attention, and Ben asked, "Ruse?"
"Wasn't it?" Hux laughed. "Don't tell me you genuinely proposed. I have it on good authority your relationship is more incendiary than romantic."
"Whose authority?" Ben demanded. "Did someone tell you? Did Rey tell you it was a ruse?"
When Hux spoke again, he sounded curious. "No. You remember I've been dating Rose for almost three years, don't you? We talk, as couples sometimes do. She made it sound like you were being an asshole, which is a shame since she was trying to set you and Rey up." Ben didn't know how to respond, but Hux saved him from needing to. "I think you've gotten in over your head," he sighed. "Rey would be a good match for you, I think. She'd challenge you. I didn't expect her to challenge you like this, though."
"You and me both," Ben grumbled. He eyed the bottle that sat next to his keyboard and decided his mind was fuzzy enough. "So you know what happened, then? How it was all misunderstandings? Except the pizza. I still haven't figured out the pizza, but she insists it wasn't them."
"I do," he answered. "And about the pizza…"
Ben frowned at the powered-down monitor in front of him. "What? Is she lying?"
"No, she's not. I thought you'd remember - I didn't expect you to blame them, and I'd heard from Rose that you were being difficult, so I thought a little well-deserved retribution was in order."
"It was you?"
The voice on the other end of the call died down, just as Ben remembered something similar happening years earlier, though it'd happened while he and Poe were sharing an apartment and neither of them had known for sure who'd been the target.
Hux cleared his throat. "I wouldn't have done it if I'd thought it would lead you to fake-proposing to a woman you've known and disliked for two months, in front of your family. How could I have predicted that?"
He considered snapping, or maybe yelling, but Hux had a point. The pizzas hadn't made him get down on one knee.
Ben slumped in his chair. "She's wearing my grandmother's ring, you know."
"You are the one who gave it to her," his friend pointed out. "I've known Rey for a little while now, and I think she's one of the few people I know who's as stubborn as you. If you're waiting for her to give it back and come clean with everyone about this, it won't happen. I suspect she's too afraid to upset your parents. She probably thinks they'll fire her or something if they find out this is all a game."
"They'd never do that to her," Ben scoffed. "They're just going to blame it all on me."
Hux paused, and then continued in slow measured words, "I think you're both wrong. I also think unless one or both of you stop to consider why you're not coming clean, you'll end up married. Though," he mused, "I suppose that wouldn't be the worst outcome."
A new call cut his surprised reaction short.
"Sorry, I've got to take this," Ben told him, not bothering to see who it was. A telemarketer would be a welcome reprieve.
He hung up and accepted the new call without another word.
Rey sat on the edge of her outdated but functional pale mint green bathtub-shower combo while she waited for someone to pick up and rescue her from the nightmare she was partly responsible for.
Somehow, work had been uneventful all week. There'd been a few extra-bright smiles from Han, and Leia had hugged her the day before when she'd come by to drop off Han's lunch, but otherwise everything was normal.
(The hug had been warm and just like she'd imagined a mom would hug. She'd almost expected a follow-up of milk and cookies and a peanut butter sandwich with the crusts cut off.)
Normal. And then - then this had happened.
She shot up from her seat and paced across the bathroom's matching mint tiles, phone in hand, muttering, "Pick up pick up pick-"
"Ben! You need to get over here!" she whisper-yelled, glancing up at the bathroom door. Leia was still on the other side of it, and Rey said in a softer whisper, "Your mother is here to plan the wedding and she just scolded me off wine and I swear if you don't show up and fix this I promise you'll never hear another song that isn't Katy Perry in your whole life!"
"I wonder if it's too late to call Hux back," the man on the other side of the call grumbled. "My mother stopping you from drinking is your own fault. I'm not the one who implied that we're having a shotgun wedding."
Rey hissed, "Please just shut up and get over here! I've been in this bathroom for ten minutes, she's going to start worrying."
"Are we really doing this?" he sighed again. "Wedding planning?"
"Not if you tell everyone the truth."
"We already established I'm not going to."
"Well I won't either!" she shot back. "Look, if you don't show up it'll look suspicious."
Ben sighed, "Yeah, I know."
"If I have to deal with this than so do you!"
"I get it," he snapped. "I'll be over in a few-"
"Wait! Remember the rules?"
His eye roll was practically audible. "Yes, dear. No more kissing. You've made that very clear."
"Plenty of normal people in relationships aren't constantly all over each other," she reiterated. "If anyone asks, we're just uncomfortable with PDA, okay?"
"I'll be sure to shake your hand at the end of the wedding."
Rey huffed. "You'll give in long before then."
"Whatever you say, darling," he drolled, and Rey wanted to smack him for all the unnecessary pet names he liked to add in - she was convinced he was doing it just to piss her off. "Can't wait for that moment when they say you may now kiss the bride and we just go 'Oh, sorry, that's not really a thing we do.'"
"Fuck off," she snarled.
"You say such sweet things, darling."
"Try me one more time, we'll see what-"
The line clicked, indicating he'd hung up on her, and Rey shut her eyes, dropping her encased phone to the floor as she buried her head in her hands and took in a deep breath. After three or four more of those, she heard her own front door slide open, and an excited greeting from Leia as he arrived.
There was no way they'd go as far as actually getting married.
"I'll murder him before then," she muttered to herself.
Ben watched from behind the postage-stamp sized table they had in place of a full-sized dining table as Rey ducked out of her downstairs bathroom holding two empty wine cooler bottles.
She snuck past his mother, who was facing him, and he heard the clink of her bottles as she hid them and then walked back out toward them with a flush across her cheeks.
"Anyone want a wine cooler?"
"Dear, should you be drinking those?" his mother asked, and Rey shot him a desperate look.
His frown deepened, but a little voice reminded him Rey would be less shout-y if he did her this favor. Clearing his throat, Ben said, "Ah, about that, mom. I think maybe you misunderstood. We're not expecting. You see…"
A thought popped in his mind, and he struggled to keep from letting a smile creep across his face. He walked around the table and took Rey's hand, caressing it affectionately as she glared daggers at him. "It's a bit of a long story. See, Rey and I broke up before because of compatibility issues. Remember?"
He paused, giving Rey time to look confused, and his mother nodded sympathetically. Ben sighed, "Well, Rey decided we should consider a vow of chastity throughout the engagement, and I've decided to support her needs. That's why she wants the wedding to happen so soon."
His mother - his poor mother, Ben thought both regretfully and with amusement - pursed her lips. "Ah. Okay, well… I'm sorry for the misunderstanding, Rey. Can't blame a woman for wanting a grandchild, right?" Leia laughed.
"Of course not," Rey gritted through her teeth.
When Ben glanced down at her with a toothy grin, he was sure Rey would have kneed him if they'd been alone.
Leia broke the tension when Rey stormed off and came back with another fruit juice flavored 'wine' and said, "It depends on the wedding you two have in mind. If you want the quickest option, you could be at the courthouse within a week. The larger the event, the more time I think we'd need." She paused, and rested a hand on Rey's shoulder, and smiled, "Dear, we'll all support you if you need to focus on less physical aspects of your relationship, so please don't let that be the reason you rush wedding planning. After all, it's only a matter of months and you'll have the rest of your lives together. I hope you only ever have one wedding, and Han and I would be honored to pay for it, so please know that you can have whatever sort of wedding you and my son would like."
He froze. That wasn't something he'd considered. Messing with his parents emotions like this was awful enough, but having them pay for a wedding that wasn't going to happen? One look at Rey indicated similar panic, and Ben blurted out, "Thanks mom, but I'm paying for it. Royalties are higher than I'd thought - I'd feel better if I handled it."
"Oh." She seemed taken aback, but smiled. "Well, if that's what you'd prefer." With a wink, she whispered to Rey, "Just don't complain if we give you a big gift."
Clear guilt crossed Rey's face, and he heard her murmur, "You don't have to…"
"I know that," Leia laughed, wrapping an arm around the woman next to her. "I know, but we're just so happy you two worked things out! So," she sighed, gesturing at the countless wedding magazines strewn across and piled up on the table, "What sort of wedding were you thinking of? Once we know more about that, we'll have an easier time setting a date."
He watched Rey consider it, and she tilted her head, looking up at him with the barest hint of a smirk. "Honey, you're sure you can manage the budget?"
"Not a problem," he confirmed, regretting the word the moment her grin widened.
"Well, if I'm being completely honest," Rey drawled, smiling over at Leia, "I've always wanted a huge wedding. It's always been my dream."
His mother clapped excitedly. Ben only saw his bank accounts draining, and the mischievous look in Rey's eyes.
"That's wonderful," Leia gushed. "I've got a friend who can help us with the planning. It might take us a little longer to plan, but maybe a Fall wedding? I know that's not as soon as you may have liked, but-"
"It's perfect," Rey interrupted with glee. "A big Fall wedding! We can invite everyone, have it catered, maybe even a band?"
Quietly, his mother added, "I'd like to take you dress shopping, if you don't mind. And I know Han would love to walk you down the aisle. He and I were talking about it the other day, and I don't mean to pressure you if you had someone else in mind, but it'd mean a lot to him, if that's what you want."
Ben watched his mother's words hit Rey, and the fake smile she'd plastered on fell, and was replaced with something more solemn and more genuine.
"That- that'd be very kind of you both," she breathed, her voice no longer saccharine. "I didn't have anyone else in mind."
Her eyes met his and then shot down to the ground, and Ben couldn't help but think there was probably quite a bit he didn't know about his not-fiance.
Thankfully his mother left by nine, saying about six different goodbyes before she was out the door. Ben stayed behind to keep up pretenses, and leaned against Rey's kitchen counter, watching her as she guzzled down her fourth or fifth wine cooler of the evening. He'd have been worried if they hadn't had the same alcohol content as a watered-down light beer.
Against his better judgement, he interrupted the oddly agreeable silence that had fallen between them. "What'd you mean, when you said you didn't have anyone else in mind? To walk you down the aisle?"
The silence turned hostile with a single glare, and she changed the subject. "Vow of chastity, huh? Well, at least that's accurate. I definitely won't be sleeping with you."
Ben shrugged. "It was the first thing I thought of. At least now they won't worry about you drinking."
"Sure," she deadpanned, "but now they think I'm so desperate to fuck you, I'm trying to move up the wedding date. Is that really better?"
"I think it's much better," he hummed. "More accurate, as you said."
Rey groaned loudly, and grabbed another wine cooler from her counter, ignoring the way he cringed at it.
Again, he tried asking, "So, why does my dad want to walk you down the aisle?"
"No." She shook her head. "No, we're not talking about that."
"Aren't we expected to know things about each other if we're claiming to be engaged?" He scoffed. "If you're going to take joy in draining my bank account for a fake wedding, I think I deserve to know."
Rey gestured toward the door. "Goodnight."
She stepped up to the door and slid it open for him, nodding to it. "Goodnight, Ben."
Ben stopped and stared down at her. Something flashed in her eyes. Not anger, but a steeled determination, and he knew she had no intention of telling him. As the seconds passed, she blinked, and he watched tears well in her eyes.
It felt wrong, leaving with such an upper hand and while she was visibly upset. He decided on a different course of action halfway through the door and turned back to her, bracing a hand on the door frame.
"You know, I think I really would have liked you," he admitted. "If we'd gotten off to a better start."
Rey's jaw set in a harsh line. "Yeah, well we didn't."
"What if we still could? What if we could both win?"
He saw it then - the briefest hesitation that gave him a speck of hope, and he put an end to the evening before she got scared or angry. She'd said no more kisses, so he only cupped her face, and ran a thumb under her eye, wiping away the tear he'd seen.
"Think about it," he whispered. "Goodnight, Rey."
Chapter 10: Concern
The rest of August's last week passed with a blur, as did the sticky-hot weather. It was still warm that Saturday, even into the evening, but the humidity had lessened and for one of the first times since moving in, Rey turned off the AC before hiding away in her bedroom.
It wasn't like she enjoyed avoiding Rose - it was just easier than lying, and Rey suspected her friend had dozens of questions, ready to pounce and bombard her with them the next time they were in the same room.
Rey hadn't seen her since the event she'd deemed the engagement party from hell, and for the first half of the week it hadn't been tough. Rose often spent two or three consecutive nights at Hux's, often enough to make Rey wonder when they'd move in together, but normally Rey would be in a rush to greet her when she came back.
Now, it was different. Now, Rose was home, and she was cowering in her room, hating the feeling.
She flopped back onto her bed, already having swapped her grimy work clothes for a shower and an oversized Galaxy Battles t-shirt that brushed the bottom of her cotton shorts, and she sighed. Maybe it wouldn't even be necessary to lie to Rose. Rose had to know she wasn't actually engaged to their nightmare of a neighbor, right?
As if she could read Rey's mind (a skill that would have come in handy, at least for this specific situation), Rose appeared in her bedroom doorway, knocking softly at the open door. Like an angel, she held a pint of Chunky Monkey and two spoons.
"Mind if I come in?"
Rey sat the rest of the way up, somehow feeling both relieved and nervous. "Please. I haven't seen you in forever."
"I know," Rose frowned. She dropped onto the bed and shoved a spoon in Rey's hand, popping open the pint. "Time to spill. Don't try pretending you don't know what I mean."
Hesitantly, Rey tested the waters. She'd always prefer to be honest with her best friend whenever possible, but she and Ben had agreed to very specific terms.
Rose quirked an eyebrow at her. "Seriously?"
She shrugged, keeping her face blank while praying Rose would call her out on what was really going on so she could own up to it. That seemed like a justifiable loophole. She couldn't tell Rose, but if Rose guessed maybe that was fine?
The woman next to her rolled her eyes, shoving a massive spoonful of ice cream in her mouth. A moment later, she said, "You're the worst liar, I swear."
She knew. She had to know. Rey almost sighed with relief, nerves gone, until Rose continued. "That's why I'm so impressed you and Ben kept it quiet for so long."
Rey blinked. "Huh?"
"Yeah," Rose nodded, wiping her mouth. She handed Rey the pint. "So impressed. I had no idea. You had me thinking you guys hated each other! I still can't figure out how you got away with it for so long, and I was annoyed you didn't tell me, but," she shrugged, "I'm over it. You two are way too cute to be mad at."
Rey could only stare as her friend laughed and kept going. "Even ditching your own engagement party to make out was actually kind of adorable. I'm glad it isn't a secret anymore and Rey-"
Her expression went from amused to something sweet and loving. Rose turned on the bed so they were facing each other and took her hand. "I had no idea you were dating, but I thought you'd be cute together but now you're getting married? And I know how much you love Han and Leia. I- I just-."
Rose seemed lost for words, and Rey understood the feeling. She, too, didn't know what the hell to say.
She let out a nervous laugh. "Yep. That's us. Cute. We're… thrilled. So happy. The happiest."
"I can tell," Rose sighed, oblivious to her internal screaming. "And, I know this is weird to say about your fiance - oh my god, that's so crazy, your fiance - anyway, this is weird to say, but he's… dreamy. Is that the right word? Don't tell Armie I said that."
"I- Ah-" she started, at a loss for a response. After an eternity, Rey shrugged. "Yeah, very dreamy."
More like a nightmare, she almost added, but caught herself.
Rose let out another happy, sappy sigh, and relaxed back against Rey's half-dozen pillows. "If you need any help - anything, wedding planning, bridal shower stuff, a bachelorette party, moving in with Ben, whatever, I hope you know I'd love to help." She paused and smiled. "He just seems so sweet. Not to be weird, but I was just getting home the other night when he left, and I saw you guys saying goodnight. Adorable."
Rey glanced over at her, curious to know if Rose had heard and not just seen. But her friend just grinned, and something about that confused her.
Actually, it was possible Rose was too cheerful about it all, given the hell Ben had put them through. There was no way Rose could think the beeping-device prank was the act of a well-intentioned fiance.
Tilting her head, Rey said cautiously, "I'm a little worried he's playing games with me."
It was true, too. On top of the actual game they were both locked in, she'd started suspecting he planned to play dirty.
What if we could both win?
He'd whispered the words through lips she knew were soft, leaned in close enough to kiss her, and it had almost worked. Rey knew better, though. She'd had to remind herself of how he'd done something similar more than once just to stop herself from breaking her own rule and closing the distance between them.
But he had done something similar. He'd almost kissed her, then tossed her in a pool. He'd been all over her in her own kitchen, just to distract her as some half-baked revenge plan he'd made with Phasma.
It had worked twice, but it wouldn't work a third time.
Rose's smile fell. "Why would you think that?"
Shit. Did she really think this was real? Was she high?
Tentatively, Rey suggested, "The pranks? Or, um..." Fishing for words, she came up with something that seemed vague enough to not outwardly give it away, "Well, sometimes I get the impression that he's afraid of this commitment and advancing our relationship quickly because he thinks I'll get scared and call it off - that way he won't have to feel bad about ending things himself."
That was close enough, she figured, without being the exact truth.
"Oh, Rey, no. Or- I don't know," she said, her frown deepening. Rose put the ice cream down and took Rey's hand in both of her cold ones. "Here's what I do know, though. I've heard Ben isn't the best at communicating, but I don't think someone proposes unless they want to be with whoever they're proposing to. And, I think you aren't always the best at trusting people."
Before Rey could argue, Rose shot her a look. "You know I'm right. You aren't good at trusting people, especially when you haven't known them long, and I know you have good reasons for that, but it's still true." Rey watched her chew at her lip before adding, "I think you can trust Ben, though."
She studied her best friend closely, eyes narrowed, hoping for some sign that Rose was ready to burst out laughing and then chide her for pulling this fake-engagement stunt.
When that didn't happen, Rey's shoulders dropped. "Sorry, I'm just being kind of insecure. The engagement's making me nervous. Prematurely cold feet, I guess."
"It's normal," Rose assured her. "You just need a distraction. Movie night? I've got popcorn, and I think we still have brownies. We could do brownie sundaes?"
Rey gave her a tight smile and nodded.
"I don't like this," Rose hissed into her phone. "Are you sure this is something we should do? I thought it'd be fine, but this feels too manipulative."
The woman on the other end of the line sighed tiredly, as though they'd had this conversation a dozen times already. Rose gave her a death glare despite them not being face-to-face, and tucked the phone between her head and shoulder, freeing her arms so she could cross them over her chest.
Phasma drawled, "It'll be fine."
"Can you guarantee-"
Rose froze, hearing her friend's bedroom door close, signalling Rey's imminent arrival downstairs. Quickly, she shuffled into the kitchen and called out, "I'm working on the popcorn, find us a movie?"
"Yep!" Rey called back, from the stairs.
She returned to the phone, whispering, "Can you guarantee this is a good idea? Lying to Rey sucks, and it isn't easy, pretending this engagement situation isn't bonkers."
"Isn't she also lying to you?" Phasma pointed out.
Rose considered it, answering with unease, "Yeah, I guess. But-"
"And didn't she start this mess, along with Ben? And if she truly wanted to, couldn't she put a stop to it? I'm sure it wouldn't take more than a phone call to end all of this."
"That's… probably true," Rose admitted. "But you don't know Rey."
She peeked out of the kitchen, watching her best friend scroll through movie options.
Rey's hair was back in three buns, and it still squeezed at Rose's heart to see the hairstyle and understand its purpose. It'd been like that when they'd met, all the way back when Rose was an engineering student and Rey was a part time barista during the weekdays and stripping cars for Plutt on the weekends to pay off her rent.
Of course, Rose hadn't known that when they'd met. At the beginning of her sophomore year, Rey had just been the nice barista who remembered her order after only three mornings, and they'd bumped into each other too many times over the first few weeks that semester to not talk. She'd assumed Rey was a student, and considering how brilliant she was with anything mechanical, she probably should have been on scholarship.
Rose had been curious about her, but she'd never wanted to pry, and it wasn't until they'd been friends for over a year that Rey had admitted the truth about her scummy semi-legal situation with Plutt, her ex-foster father and then-landlord.
While Rose considered her, Rey leaned back on their couch, relaxing, and said, "Hey, what about Stranger Things? We're not caught up."
"Yeah," she managed, "That's fine. Popcorn's almost done."
Rey nodded, her eyes still on the tv, and Rose ducked back into the kitchen, murmuring to Phasma, who was waiting patiently on the phone, "I still don't like this. Rey… I didn't realize how much lying this would involve and I don't want her getting hurt."
"She won't," Phasma promised.
"Are you sure? Can you guarantee he won't hurt her? Can you guarantee Han and Leia won't be so upset when they find out that they fire her or something? They're like family to her - I'm sure she's worried about that."
Phasma hesitated, and the flippant, haughty tone disappeared from her voice as she said, "I don't believe he would. Not intentionally. I've gotten the impression he regrets how things started off between them. And I know for a fact his parents would never do that."
"What if your plan backfires?"
Rose shook her head. "But how do you know that?"
"Simply put? I've got an entire stack of aces up my sleeve."
Post-girls night, Rey felt both better (because of the distraction) and worse (because somehow Rose didn't know the truth), and wondering how Rose hadn't figured things out was driving her insane. It was on her mind throughout work the next day, straight through to the end of her shift. Now, she was still thinking about it while playing with a stray thread of her shirt.
Leia was driving her home and thankfully hadn't yet mentioned the wedding.
"Thanks for driving me. I'd have asked Rose to pick me up, but I didn't know Han would keep my car overnight."
"Not a problem," Leia waved off. "I know he's mentioned you enjoy working on it yourself, but I think he likes doing nice things for his future daughter-in-law." She looked over at a red light and grinned. "Since I have plans tonight, that old fool would rather be tinkering in his garage than be home alone."
"I don't blame him," Rey admitted. "I love working there."
"And we love having you work there, dear," Leia sighed, just as they pulled into the driveway of the duplex.
Rey couldn't help but wonder if Leia would still feel that way once she found out the truth.
With a hand at the car door, Rey paused, and swore quietly. "I gave Han my keys. Car keys, but my house keys are on the same ring. Crap. It's a Saturday, I doubt Rose is coming home tonight."
"I'll let you into Ben's," Leia shrugged. "I don't have the keys for the house on me, but I know where he keeps the spare. You can wait for him to get home?"
The idea was less than appealing - both seeing him and possibly being blamed for anything that happened to go wrong in his apartment. Though, now that she was thinking about being alone in his half of the house, prank ideas were popping up in her mind.
She chewed her lip and then nodded. "Perfect. That'd be great, thanks."
The spare key turned out to be tucked predictably under Ben's welcome mat, and Rey frowned when she realized Leia could have simply told her that. Instead, the woman had walked up to the house, found the key, unlocked the door, led Rey through the kitchen, and-
She shrieked and jumped back, eyes wide as she took in the state of Ben's living room. There weren't too many people. Just Rose (looking hesitant, but happy), Phasma, a tall lavender-haired woman she'd never met, and slim woman with straight blonde hair she couldn't place.
It could have been worse, but she was sure white, red, and frilly wasn't Ben's idea of tasteful decoration, yet everything - everything - in the room was at least one of those things. Dozens of clear balloons filled with confetti read "Mr. and Mrs." and covered the floor, diamond rings the side of her head, constructed from honeycomb-patterned paper hung from the ceiling, and-
"No," she whispered, too quietly for anyone to hear. She touched her hand to her mouth in horror. "No no no no no no…"
A giant sign rested in front of the TV, exclaiming, "HAPPY BRIDAL SHOWER!"
Chapter 11: Party
A minute of horrified staring later and Leia laughed at her. "Oh, relax dear, we didn't hire any strippers. Maybe for the bachelorette party."
Rey redirected her horror from the HAPPY BRIDAL SHOWER! sign to the woman next to her, who was smiling widely with a mischievous sparkle in her eyes. Leia leaned closer, and said, "Don't worry, I cleared this with my son. He didn't mind us hosting it here. He thought it was a lovely idea."
"I'll bet he did," she laughed, nervously.
"Now, come on," Leia said, looping her arm through Rey's, "Let me introduce you to Amilyn and Kaydel."
Rey spent the first twenty minutes on edge, having politely greeted everyone while on autopilot (because on the inside she was alternating between sheer shock and inexplicable maniacal laughter), and when she came to her senses, she found she was sitting between Rose and Phasma's girlfriend, Kaydel, on Ben's couch. She was wearing a white paper plate on her head - it was covered in ribbons, hanging off the plate like a veil made with items found in the trash at a party supply store.
The other women in the room were chatting, and numbly, she glanced over at Rose. "Did you know about this?"
Brightly, Rose nodded, and then said the dreaded words, "I helped Phasma pick the games!"
"Games?" Rey felt the blood drain from her face and toyed with the ribbon hanging down over her shoulder. "Games?"
"Yeah! NNow that you mention it, we should start on one!"
Rey let out a burst of frantic laughter, enough to earn an odd look from Kaydel, but Rose ignored it, standing up to announce, "Hey everyone, are we okay with a game? Maybe we can start off easy?"
The living room buzzed with happy agreement, just as someone shoved a wine glass in her hand. Rey blinked at it, and glanced up to see Phasma, wearing pressed raspberry-colored slacks and a creamy white fitted sweater. The woman winked at her, but didn't say a word as Rey downed the contents of the glass - a rich red with hints of cherry and vanilla.
Rose was explaining the game, but Rey was feeling the warmth of the wine, clutching the glass like it was the only thing keeping her from dashing out the door. It likely was.
"-make guesses, and then the bride gets to pick two! The funniest, and the most accurate. Everybody ready?"
Rose sat back down next to Rey, perky and excited. "Okay, first round! If you know the answer, don't guess, okay? How do we all think Ben and Rey met?"
That was when Rey started paying attention, and spoke up, "Wait, you guys are guessing how we met?"
"Yep," Rose confirmed, shuffling through the little notecards she now held. "That's just round one. We'll guess a bunch of stuff, and each round you get to pick two of our guesses - the funniest one, and the most accurate. Then you'll tell us the truth."
Her throat went dry. "The truth?"
"Yeah, like, at the end of round one you'll tell us how you actually met."
"Right, right." Rey cleared her throat, sitting up straight. "Perfect. Yeah, let's do this."
Amilyn, the woman Leia had introduced as her oldest friend, raised her hand. "I'll go first. Unfortunately Ben didn't think to tell his Aunt Amilyn he was dating anyone, let alone engaged, so I don't know how they met. I'll guess they…" she paused, narrowing her eyes at Rey as she came up with something, and then grinned, and snapped her fingers. "I'll bet they met because Rey accidentally hit him with a car."
"Close," Rey laughed, through a tight smile.
Well, maybe not close, but she'd wished on at least one opportunity that she could hit him with a car.
"I think they met in a coffee shop!"
Phasma wrinkled her nose at her girlfriend. "Too pedestrian. I'd guess they met at a bar - a nice, classy one. Maybe they each got stood up, and their eyes met across the room. It was fate," she said dramatically, then laughed.
Rey struggled not to roll her eyes. It seemed to be Leia's turn next, because she hummed and suggested, "I think you met before moving here. It only makes sense, otherwise you've only known each other for a couple months and I don't think you'd rush into an engagement that quickly. So I'll guess you met… Hmmm. Maybe you're a fan of his books! Yes!" She clapped, excited with her answer. "That's it. You were a fan of his books and met him at a signing."
"Could be," Rose drawled. "Are we ready for the bride to pick the winners?"
A murmur of agreement went through the mini-crowd, and Rose turned, angling herself toward Rey. "Okay, why don't we start with the real story! How did you and Ben meet?"
Rey paused for dramatic effect and used the time to think over her options. It seemed nobody in the room truly knew the answer, which was… good, she supposed. A sneaky thought popped up in her mind. Maybe Ben wasn't here, but the man had known she'd have to suffer through this.
But what if she didn't have to? And what if she could get some payback?
A warm buzz settled over her as she smiled like a cat who'd just spotted a bird stuck in a cage, and she said, "How did we meet? Oh, that's a good story. It was February. I thought I'd been invited to a normal anti-Valentine party. You know, the kind of party where single people on Valentine's get together and celebrate being happily single?"
There were a few confused looks from the group, but she continued, "Well, Poe must have misunderstood what Ben meant, because it turned out the party wasn't my scene. Ben was hosting a… well, let's call it a bacchanalia. Specifically for unattached folks who were looking for companionship for the night."
"A what?" Leia asked, frowning.
Phasma's expression split into a massive grin. "I think your generation called them orgies."
"Ah. That's… quite a story."
"It is! I agreed to keep letting him host them as long as he doesn't take part." Rey grinned. She looked to Rose. "Anyway. Ready for round two?"
Curiously, Leia asked, "Does… does he host them here?" She subtly removed her hand from the arm of the chair she was sitting in.
"Oh, all the time," Rey nodded. "They used to be smaller, but I convinced him to lower the entry fee a bit, so now he gets a bigger crowd. The money he makes from them is excellent."
Phasma raised a well-maintained eyebrow. "Entry fee? Doesn't that make it more of a brothel?"
She shrugged, then looked around the room and held up her empty glass, trying not to laugh at the expressions she saw. "I suppose? More wine, anyone?"
The small cafe a few miles from home had a surprisingly good atmosphere for writing, and even though Ben preferred his desktop with his mechanical keyboard, he'd gotten down more words on his rarely used laptop than he'd been expecting. It'd been such a productive afternoon than he was shocked at how much time had passed when a polite barista showed up at his table in the corner, explaining that they were closing for the evening.
Luckily, the late hour meant the bridal shower would be over. He wasn't trying to torture Rey, but she'd been avoiding him all week and when his mother had suggested a party, who was he to deny her the opportunity?
Rey being pissed off at him was somehow better than her ignoring him, Ben thought grimly, as he got out of his car and walked up the stairs to his entry.
Katy Perry was blasting so loudly he could hear it from outside, and he winced. Apparently the party hadn't ended by 8 PM like his mother had guaranteed it would. He was half a second from turning away and hightailing it anywhere else when someone spotted him through the sliding door and waved.
Rey, looking bright and cheery, bounded over to the door wearing a mess of ribbons in her hair and over her gray t-shirt. They were wrapped around each of the buns in her hair, and she had bows, like the kind you'd put on a present, stuck all over her.
She slid open the door with a massive grin - the kind that worried him.
"Hi, honey," she crooned, her voice as over-the-top as the decorations he could spot from the door. "Come join the party!"
He sighed, wondering if he could escape before anyone else saw, but then Phasma came up next to Rey, wrapping her arm around the smaller woman in an oddly friendly way. "Oh, Ben! You're here!" Her expression was full of wicked amusement. "We've just been enjoying your reds. You wouldn't believe the things Rey's come clean about."
His gaze jerked to Rey. "Come clean?" he repeated hopefully. Had she given in and told everyone?
"Yes, honey," she laughed, "I told them all about how we met, and our first time, first kiss - you know."
Phasma burst out into giggles, and he stared at her in disbelief. Phasma didn't giggle.
"It's all been quite entertaining," his friend emphasized. "Who knew you were such an entrepreneur! Your mother sure didn't."
"Entrepreneur? What? What are you talking about?"
When they didn't answer, he brushed past them and entered his apartment, trying not to groan at the decorations and the pounding music that was blaring from his speakers. A little ball of energy tackled him in a hug, and Ben frowned down at the woman.
"Rose? Why are you hugging me?"
She was bright red and clutching one of his nicer bottles, which had been drained.
"You're marrying my best friend!" she shouted up at him, clearly drunk. "You have so much wine!"
"I had so much wine," he corrected, politely tugging out of her hold. "Tell me you didn't get my mother drunk."
Rey came up behind him and explained, "Nah. She and Amilyn left when the bridal shower ended, but we're having so much fun, we're following up the bridal shower with-" she lifted another one of his bottles, "A bachelorette party!"
"I still have to call the strippers!" Rose shouted.
"No, no, no strippers!" he blurted, shooting Rey a look. "No strippers needed, right, darling?"
"I don't know, honey. What's a party without lots of nudity?" she asked innocently. "Isn't that what you're always saying?"
"When have I ever-"
"I have a better idea," Phasma interrupted. She turned, suggesting to Rey, "Why don't you show your fiance the presents we got you? Rose and Kaydel and I will take the party over to your place and you can join us later." She leaned in, and added with a wink, "I think Ben would love that. A little private time for the happy couple?"
Rey hesitated. "I-"
"Excellent," Phasma clapped, "It's been decided. Ladies, follow me!"
They'd left not two minutes later, with a few more of his bottles, and Ben stayed, standing in the middle of his garishly decorated living room, wondering how he'd ever rid of all the glitter.
Rey had her arms crossed over her chest, pouting only slightly, and he stepped in her way as she turned to go.
"If you go back to your apartment now, they'll wonder why," he pointed out. "You're stuck with me for a while. Care to tell me why there are garters all over my wine collection?" Ben asked, gesturing toward a little rack of his nicer bottles, which were covered in white silky scraps of fabric.
Rey's only explanation was a dry, "Bridal showers are hell."
"I gathered. What was that about presents?"
Her cheeks flushed, and he knew he was onto something when she started babbling. "What was what? Presents? What presents? Anyway, how was your day? How um, how are you? How have you been?"
Ben quirked an eyebrow, pointing to all the bows and ribbons she still wore, and then to the boxes and bags that littered his coffee table and the surrounding floor. "Nice try. A for effort, but now I'm even more curious."
He walked past her, peeking into one of the open bags, and a slow smirk grew on him as Rey rushed behind him, insisting, "It's nothing you'd be interested in, I-"
"Oh, I disagree," he interrupted, lifting a scrap of something black and strappy out of the bag with a finger. "So when Phasma said to show me your presents…"
Rey scowled, folding her arms over her chest. "In your dreams."
"Hopefully," he winked. "The real thing would be better, though."
She rolled her eyes. "No way in hell."
Ben pushed his luck, rifling through the other bags and boxes. Finally, he came to a set of light pink lace that killed him to imagine her in, and he swallowed, handing her the little box it was in.
"You'd look amazing in anything," he admitted. "But if I had to choose..."
Narrowing her eyes at him, she put a hand on the box and looked inside, then frowned. "That's the one Phasma brought. It's nice, but I'm putting it on for you."
They were both still holding the box between them, a hand on it each, and Ben absentmindedly reached out a finger, caressing the side of her hand in a feather-light touch. She looked up at him, all ribbons and bows, hazel eyes and pink cheeks.
What he wouldn't give for the ability to go back in time so he could knock on her door and ask her to turn the music down.
His voice came out softer than intended. "Rey-"
But she was already stepping away and clearing her throat, breaking the moment and changing the subject. "So, I'd had a few drinks by the time your mother mentioned it, but I believe she's intending for us to all go on a trip? She mentioned a place your uncle has?"
It was like being doused in ice water.
Ben took in a slow breath, willing himself to listen to the whole story before reacting. "Did she say anything specific about it?"
"No." Rey shook her head, oblivious to his inner panic. "She just said to have you call her to work out the details."
"Great, okay," he muttered, taking out his cell.
The phone was ringing within seconds, and his mother picked up. "Benny, honey, we didn't leave too much of a mess for you did we?"
"This is how my apartment normally looks," he snarked. "It's fine, but what's this about Uncle Luke? Isn't he still on Ahch-To?"
She gasped, sounding excited. "Oh good, Rey told you! I have amazing news. You know how your uncle's got that amazing land on Ahch-To, right? Gorgeous views, waterfront, you know?"
"Uh, huh. What's this about a trip?"
"Well," she continued, "he's started running a retreat! I told you this, right? He has corporate groups rent the place out for a week at a time for team-building exercises?"
Ben frowned. "I thought he worked in counseling."
"He does, he does, it's just that now he's combined the two! He has the corporate groups come in because they pay better, but what he's doing really well at are the couple's retreats!"
There was a sinking feeling, low in his stomach, and he stared at Rey, slowly becoming more and more horrified as he connected the dots.
"That's what's so exciting," his mother said. "There was a cancellation! We're all leaving next week!"
Weakly, he asked, "We?"
"It's intended to be for premarital couples, but we're all going! Luke's got the place booked for all of us - your father and I, you and Rey, Armitage and Rose, Poe and Finn, and your friend Phasma, and her girlfriend! Isn't that wonderful? We'll all have so much fun!"
Rey was looking at him with more and more concern, but the only thing he could think to say was, "Great idea mom, but Rey has to work."
His mother laughed. "I cleared it with the boss - I have a little sway with him. It's just a long weekend, anyway. Only four days. We leave Thursday!"
Thursday. Less than a week away.
"Great. That's great. So… so great."
He ended the call and sighed, then met Rey's eyes. "You sure you don't want to come clean with my parents?"
"You first," she scoffed. "I already told you - I'm not giving in."
With how sure she sounded, Ben guessed his mother hadn't explained her couple's retreat plans, and that meant Rey was clueless about what they were in for.
Newfound confidence surged at the realization, and he hummed. "We'll see."
One day at Luke's, he predicted.
One day, and she'd be running to his parents to fess up.
Whatever little game they were playing, he'd basically already won.
Chapter 12: Island
Ben's hands gripped the steering wheel as his car hurtled down highway 82, headed south toward the place he hadn't expected to visit again. His parents had welcomed him back into their lives with open arms - even if Ben himself been hesitant - but Luke was another story. He hadn't seen Luke in almost a decade, and another decade may have been too soon.
It'd be worth it, he kept telling himself, and he'd been trying to convince himself of that for every minute of the five days that had passed since he'd heard the dreaded words premarital counseling and Ahch-To.
It'd be worth it if it put an end to this insanity, he hoped.
"Are we going to talk about how ridiculous this is?" Rey asked, her voice dry and unamused from the passenger's seat. Her bravado concerning this long weekend had waned and then whooshed away when she'd discovered it wouldn't be the island getaway she'd been imagining.
Ben shrugged. He was still trying to act nonchalant about it. "It's not crazier than the proposal, agreeing to the proposal, taking part in a bridal shower, wedding planning… We passed ridiculous miles ago."
"Maybe that's my point," she interrupted. "Each thing is just a little crazier and at some point one of those crazy steps will be to getting married, and I'm not marrying you!" She slumped further into her seat, propping one of her feet up on the dashboard. He was about to scold her about the potential safety issue of her new position when she muttered, "This highway to hell needs an off-ramp."
"Why would you think I want to marry you, anyway?" he grumbled, in a way that went against his new charm the pretty girl plan.
Not that he had a plan or something that went beyond a convoluted mix of:
1. Flirt with Rey;
2. Get Rey to come clean with his parents.
Ben wasn't sure how to accomplish both, but his flirting seemed to push her closer and closer to the second part of his so-called plan. The truth was, his head spun whenever he was around her, a little too much to play the weird, teasing, chess-like game they were attempting.
Rey scoffed, bringing him out of his thoughts, then held up her hand between them and wiggled her fingers. Sunlight caught on the diamond she wore. "You're the one who proposed."
He groaned. "Why do I feel like we'll still be having this conversation when we're eighty?"
"As if. Remind me why we're all driving separately? You and I will be stuck with each other all weekend. Did we really need to start with a long drive, just the two of us? Wouldn't this have been more fun with Poe and Finn?"
"But then you would have had to put your game face on, honey." He said the last word sweetly, winking over at her while she made a face.
"Ugh. Good point."
Between them, in the center console, her phone buzzed from a cupholder and Rey sat up to grab it, answering quickly as though she was hoping it was someone who'd rescue her from the car ride that wasn't half over.
She shrank back into the seat. "Hi, Leia. Yeah, let me put you on speaker."
His mother's voice filled the car a second later, at the near-shouting level people seemed to think was required for speakerphone, and Ben cringed.
"Hey kids! This drive is so long and I had an idea. Why not put the time to good use?"
Ben glanced over at Rey, and they exchanged an ominous look before his attention returned to the road.
"What do you mean, Mom?"
"I found you a caterer!" she answered. "Now, I don't know what you had in mind, so I haven't signed anything, but this caterer is well-rated. His name is Dax, and the menu looks standard - you'd pick four or five types of hors d'oeuvres, two or three options for dinner, and then dessert could be just the cake, or you could add on platters of mini-cheesecakes? Or those specialty cupcakes? Are those still popular? Or, you know..."
He knew if they didn't stop her soon, his mother would go on for the rest of their trip, and a little throbbing headache was starting to form toward the back of his skull.
"What sort of options are there for the main course?" Rey asked.
Leia paused, humming as papers shuffled on her end of the call. "Well, there are the regular options like chicken breast with white wine cream sauce, then the pricier options - steaks, lobster… they also have vegetarian and vegan choices. Have you thought more about the guest list? I think we might have a few vegans on our side."
When Rey spoke again, her voice had taken on that silkier, happier tone that meant she was pleased, and again Ben regretted agreeing to pay for everything. "Are three courses enough? And why don't we pick lots of options for the main course?" she suggested. "At least three. Four, maybe? Steak, lobster, and why don't we pick at least two vegan options. I'd hate for them to only have one choice."
He almost jumped when her hand landed on his thigh and squeezed. Rey was grinning over at him. "Wouldn't that be nice, honey?"
"Very," Ben agreed, seeing the dollars bleed out of his account.
It sounded like Leia was clapping from her end of the call. "Wonderful! I'll get a quote. Are we still sure about the December date? I know you were aiming for Fall, but I think December is the right call. This way we won't need to rush the planning."
Rey sighed dramatically. "I wish it was sooner, but December will be nice for pictures if there's snow."
"I think so, too. Are you still okay with December, Ben?"
He worked his lips together, then blurted, "Are we sure it can't be October?"
Rey smacked his arm, giving him an are you kidding me? look of disbelief, but his mother only laughed. "That would only give us a month to plan, Ben. It's sweet that you want to push the date up, but I don't know if we can pull everything together that fast."
"December is perfect," Rey confirmed, through gritted teeth. Her glare dared him to argue, and he only smirked in response.
"Oh good," his mother said, sighing with relief. "You had me worried! October would be lovely, but I just don't think that'd be enough time." She paused, and it sounded as though she was rifling through papers before she added, "I think that's all for now. Maybe sometime this weekend we can complete the guest list so the invitations can go out. Talk when we get to your Uncle's?"
"Sounds perfect, mom, thanks."
Rey murmured a goodbye, and the call ended.
They were silent for long enough to make Ben wonder if they would avoid talking again for the rest of the trip. He could only take so much though, and he interrupted the quiet peace.
"We should get our story straight. If my uncle has premarital counseling plans for us, we need to be on the same page about certain things."
She shifted in her seat, fiddling with the temperature controls. "What did you have in mind?"
"The basics. How'd we meet, when did we start dating, what sort of things do we enjoy doing together…" he shrugged again. "Basics."
Next to him, Rey snorted softly. "Ah. I may have already told everyone who came to the bridal shower how we met."
"Oh?" Ben looked over at her, raising an eyebrow. "Do I want to know?"
Her reaction scared him a little. She bit her bottom lip while the corners of her mouth curled up, and a playful, mischievous glimmer shone in her eyes.
She laughed. "You don't want to know."
"Probably not, but we need to have our stories straight."
"You sure? Oh-kay," she said. "I might have implied that we met while you were hosting an orgy. Or maybe running a brothel? I never specified. I think my exact words were that I'd accidentally gone to an orgy and met you, and you were running it and charging a fee for entry. Phasma was the one who used the term brothel."
"Well that's perfect," he deadpanned. "Wait, is that why my mother suggested a cleaning lady who might be helpful with sanitizing the apartment?"
Rey burst out laughing, and he rolled his eyes at her, trying to focus on being pissed off. But her genuine laughter was just a little too infectious, and the absurdity of everything caught up to him.
Ben shook his head and laughed.
The motor on their boat was making concerning clanging noises by the time they reached the shore of Ahch-To and even if the boat operator - an odd and silent tiny woman wearing what looked like an all-white nun outfit - didn't seem to be worried, Rey was glad when she and her duffle bag were safely on shore.
It wasn't a sandy beach. It was light gray rock, and she waited next to Ben and his parents while another boat came closer, carrying everyone else. She was on edge already, and it had nothing to do with the company - it was more related to the realization that this was not the sort of island she'd been expecting, like the sort with a bridge stretching over the water from the mainland people could drive over and the sort with shops and houses and hospitals.
There was no bridge here. No roads either, as far as she could tell. In fact, it seemed to Rey that the boats, like the one that had dropped her off and was now speeding away, were the only way on - and more importantly, off - the island.
The moment his feet touched down, Finn said what she was thinking.
He stepped onto the rocky shore, wincing into the sun as he looked around, and Finn blurted out, "This is some real Stephen King bullshit." He glanced at her. "Where are we?"
"I know as much as you," she said defensively. "Trust me, I wasn't informed."
Han and Leia seemed unconcerned and unsurprised, which was either a relief or a sign that they'd been grooming her to be a sacrifice on this creepy death-island.
Even Phasma, the woman who was usually calm and collected, grimaced as their boat took off back toward the mainland. She sighed and said dryly, "This is the last time we let the Organa-Solos make vacation plans. I was promised an island getaway, not a spot on Survivor."
Ever the optimist, Poe pulled a large backpack on, gripping its shoulder straps, and smiled. "Oh, come on, haven't any of you been camping? This is basically that!"
"Exactly!" Rose nodded. "I'm sure it'll be fun."
"We didn't bring tents," Finn pointed out. "Or sleeping bags, or-"
"Okay," Han interrupted, a wide, boyish grin on his face, "C'mon kids, Luke's waiting. Don't worry, it'll be fun. Last time we came we spent a weekend drunk off our asses on Corellian whiskey."
Silently, they filed behind Han while Rey ignored the amused look on her not-fiance's face.
"Oh good," she heard Hux mutter, "We're going to get drunk on murder-island. That's better."
It was lucky she'd dressed in shorts and sneakers, as had everyone else except Phasma, who was grumbling about her sandals not being the sort she'd have picked if she'd known hiking was necessary. The pathway that took them toward the middle of the island was steep, and some parts were made of staircases carved into the stone. The view, at least, was stunning - the higher they went, the more stone turned to grassy land under a perfectly blue sky, and finally, after almost a half-hour, they came to what Rey thought was the very top of the traversable part of the island.
It was still rocky around the edges, but covered in lush emerald grass, and a lone man stood at the edge of it all with his back to them, donning sand-colored robes. By the time Rey spotted him, they'd all stopped to rest and look around.
Curiously, she unzipped her duffle bag and took out a bottle of wine she'd nicked from Ben's stash and approached the man she guessed was Luke. She cleared her throat, and held out the bottle - a very nice bottle, according to Ben's complaining - to him.
"Thanks for having us," she said, a little awkwardly. "This place is beautiful."
The man turned, frowning down at the bottle through his bushy gray and brown facial hair. The wind caught at his outermost robe, billowing it behind him, and he took the bottle from her hands. He held it in his hands for a moment.
Then he scoffed and tossed the bottle while walking past her.
"This is a dry island," the man stated. "No alcohol."
"This was a bad idea," Ben admitted, not five minutes after they'd arrived at their room.
Except it wasn't a room. It was more like a circular hut made of lots of stones, with a small wooden door. In place of windows, there were small gaps high on the walls that let in fresh air and sunlight. There was a small bathroom attached, and Rey had sighed with relief to see it was a functioning bathroom with a light and running water.
There was only room in the main section for one large bed, and Rey groaned. "Of course there's only one bed. Also, you're just now deciding this was a bad idea? Haven't you been here before?"
"At least the island has electricity now," he shrugged. "That was a nice surprise."
"You mean you let me agree to this while you still thought this place had no electricity? No wi-fi is bad enough. Do you realize," Rey hissed, "if one of us gets hurt out here we're basically dead? No phones? No way off this island except by boat? This is a nightmare waiting to happen."
Ben sighed. "I'm sure it'll be fine. Probably."
"Oh wow," she groaned again. "I swear, if you brought me here to push me off a cliff…" Rey covered her face with her hands, muttering, "This is hell. I'm in hell, fake-engaged to the devil, and he's hot, and-"
"You think I'm hot?"
Rey dropped her hands and stared tiredly in his direction. "Is that the only part you heard?"
Letting out a laugh, Ben came around to where she stood on what would be her side of the bed, and he gestured for her to sit. When she did, he sat next to her, and said calmly, "I won't push you off a cliff. I promise."
Rey eyed him wearily, and he continued, "I didn't know we'd be sharing a room, and I didn't know Luke would have a problem with any of us drinking. Last time we visited it was more of a girls bunk-guys bunk setup and I think my parents spent the whole time drinking with Luke while I wandered around on my own. This isn't what I expected, either. It's probably safe to say that the next few days will suck."
"Probably," Rey sighed, her shoulders drooping.
"So, let's call a truce for the weekend."
"A truce?" She quirked an eyebrow at him. "What are the terms?"
Ben hesitated, then said, "Like I said, this weekend will probably suck more than either of us expected. I'm guessing there'll be counseling plus a lot of talk about the wedding, and that'll all be bad enough without adding on the stress of us pissing each other off. So let's not."
"It's not a bad idea," she admitted. Flopping back onto the bed, she stared up at the stone ceiling over them and laughed. "We should have just fake-eloped. That would have at least gotten us out of wedding planning."
Ben was silent for a moment, and then breathed, "Rey. That… that's brilliant."
She propped up on her elbows and looked over at him. "I was kidding."
"But think about it. What if, sometime before the wedding, we tell them we've eloped. It'd be a win for both of us," he whispered. "Neither of us would have to tell my parents the truth. We wouldn't have to wedding plan, and we wouldn't be paying deposits for a caterer and band and all the wedding stuff we don't need."
Rey narrowed her eyes. "So, we'd just let your parents think we're married? Wouldn't they wonder why we haven't moved in together?"
"We could always break up," he suggested. "Maybe a month after the elopement? We could tell them we disagreed on something big that we should have discussed before the wedding, like where to live or something, or that we realized we love each other but we're not in love, or whatever. That could work."
After a minute, she let out a long breath. "They'd understand that. I bet they'd be a lot less upset about it, too. I can't believe I'm saying this, but that's not the craziest idea. Okay," she nodded, "let's do it."
Then, because she couldn't help herself, Rey pushed her luck. "It'll be over soon, then. And since this was your idea, I'll consider that a win for me. You can finish your lease before you move out." She hummed, "Maybe I can that guy who works in your dad's garage to move into your half. Mitaka? He's sort of cute."
Ben scoffed. "I'm not moving out. And Mitaka? Right. Totally your type."
"You don't know the first thing about my type," Rey argued.
To her surprise, he grinned, and then turned more toward her, placing a hand on the bed next to her. Slowly, he leaned down over her, and teased, "Unless you have a particularly great vibrator you named Ben long before we met-"
"Oh fuck off," she scowled, putting a hand on his chest, intending to push him off.
He leaned further over her, and she hadn't pushed him away, despite her intentions. Dark eyes slid across her face, studying her until she felt fully exposed.
"We're dealing with all the downsides of a fake engagement," he murmured, letting his hand land at her waist. "Why not enjoy the benefits?"
Her breath caught in her throat. "This is a bad idea."
"Then tell me to stop."
He'd breathed the words over her collarbone, and her eyes fluttered closed just as he kissed the skin there.
It was so tempting, and it would have been so easy to let him keep going. Just like it would have been easy to fall under his spell every other time he'd done the same thing - flirted with her, touched her, just to get what he wanted. But each time he'd done that, what he'd wanted hadn't been her.
She couldn't keep falling for it.
"Stop," she whispered. "Ben, stop."
He was off her in an instant, but she could still feel the burn of his lips on her skin, and part of her wondered if it wouldn't be worth it to let herself be drawn in, just to be his.
As she saw the confusion on his face, she reminded herself of what he'd done in her own kitchen. Of how good his touch had felt then, too. Of how close they'd gotten, and of how it had all been a ruse. Of how he'd laughed and left her there as the beeping had started. Left her, confused and upset - as soon as he'd gotten what he'd wanted.
And he didn't want her, she had to remind herself. He only wanted to win, and he didn't care if she got hurt in the process.
Chapter 13: Truce
Ben sat on the edge of the bed - which was surprisingly soft for a bed in a stone hut that had somehow made it onto a remote island - and wondered where he'd gone wrong. For half an hour now Rey had been showering and freshening up before they needed to leave for dinner, and he knew when she came out he needed to ask her what had happened.
Had he misread her and the situation? She'd seemed almost upset when she'd asked him to stop. Despite their tenuous interactions, upsetting her wasn't his goal - far from it.
The bathroom door creaked open a hairsbreadth, and she called out, "Hey, can you cover your eyes? Rose and I walk around in towels after showers and I'm not in the habit of bringing clothes in with me. I forgot."
He clapped a hand over his eyes, a little regretfully. "All set."
"You really aren't looking?"
"I'm not a complete asshole," he muttered. The sound of her feet padding across the stone indicated she'd left the bathroom, and he heard her bag unzipping.
Rey snorted. "Could have fooled me."
"I can still hear you even if I can't see you."
"I wasn't trying to be quiet."
Ben sighed and moved on. "My mother stopped by while you were in the shower and I'm wondering if she's punishing us on purpose."
There was a whooshing sound and a zipper, and Rey asked, "Why? Oh, it's safe to look now."
He cracked an eye open and the words he'd been about to speak died as he glimpsed the plain maroon dress she wore. Thin straps went over her tanned and freckled shoulders, and the top was fitted to her waist, then flared out to a skirt.
"Why?" she repeated, and Ben worked his lips together, trying to figure out what she was asking.
Rey tilted her head, grabbing a sweater that didn't match her dress out of the bag. He got back on track, answering, "She said we're playing a version of the Newlywed game at dinner. That's- uh. That's a great dress."
"I packed it thinking this would be more of a vacation-island than roughing it. It's not warm, but it has pockets," she explained, pleased. "The Newlywed game, huh? Isn't that one where it tests how well we know each other?"
She dropped the sweater back to the bed. "Shit."
"Yeah," Ben said again, "I don't get why she's insisting on this, and on the counseling, and all the group activities. It's so frus-"
"Nice," Rey interrupted, giving him a pointed look. "It's nice. I know I've gotten overwhelmed by this stuff and I've gotten frantic about your parents lately, but they're good people. This sucks, I know, but they're only trying to help. They'll be sad enough when we announce our breakup after fake-eloping - there's no point in upsetting them now by refusing to take part."
Reluctantly, he agreed. "Yeah, I know. I'm still not looking forward to dinner. You know they'll think something's up when they realize we're basically strangers."
She laughed, seeming to be in a much better mood after her shower. "I'm not looking forward to it either, if that makes you feel any better. Maybe we can make an excuse to leave early?"
Ben nodded. He stayed on the edge of the bed while she took out a different sweater - a thicker white one this time, with buttons up the front, and walked toward the door. Against his better judgement, he caught her hand as she walked past him.
Rey stopped mid-step, and she looked at him questioningly.
"Can we pretend I'm not someone you hate tonight?" he asked, wondering if that was akin to asking for a miracle, despite them going a whole two minutes without snapping. "Pretend I'm just your neighbor, and we didn't get off to a bad start?"
"I think you're an asshole," she admitted, "but I don't hate you."
"I'm sure I've heard you say you hate me. More than once." While talking, he caressing her hand where it rested wrapped in both of his.
"I don't. Really, I don't. But I think it'd be easier if we hated each other."
His eyes flashed up to hers. "What's that mean?"
"Nothing. Nothing." Rey shook her head. "Come on, we should get to dinner."
Ben wanted to ask. Wanted to skip dinner just to get the full story on what that meant, but she was in a rush to get to dinner, so he followed her out of the hut and down the path toward the voices of their friends.
The well-worn path led them out to a small clearing lit only with a purple-blue sunset and dozens of tiny white lights strung up around a table. It was like a picnic table, but set high enough that a shorter person's feet wouldn't hit the ground when they sat at it, and it was long - easily twice the length of a normal picnic table.
Rey was still holding his hand as they arrived.
From the head of the table, Luke motioned for them to take seats. The only spots open were between his mother on one side and Rose on the other, and with a little difficulty, they squeezed into the spot.
His uncle had a spread of fish dishes with platters of cut fruits and vegetables, and a pasta dish that looked vegetarian that sat between Finn and Poe.
They were the last to arrive, and once they were both sitting, Han cleared his throat, "I was going to make a toast, but-"
"We can toast with water, Han," his uncle sighed, clearly having already had this discussion. "It's not the end of the world for you to go three days without liquor."
His father's jaw tightened, and the man muttered, "You were a lot more fun in the '80s. Island life's loosened a few screws, huh?"
"Oh-kay," Leia interrupted. She held up her deep blue glass, identical to the other ten glasses on the table, and plastered on a smile, "Here's to a lovely long weekend to help us kick off celebrating the upcoming marriage of-" she sniffed, "Of my son, and… and this wonderful young woman."
Leia gave them a tight smile, and Ben could feel Rey, shrinking back as though she was trying to hide behind him.
"We're all thrilled for you two," she continued, then gestured to everyone else. "And of course, thank you all for celebrating with us, especially on such short notice. I think this weekend will be a wonderful one, and I'm honored you're all here to spend it with us."
Poe clinked his glass to hers first, with a wide smile and a, "Couldn't have said it any better!"
Similar sentiments echoed around the table, and slowly, Rey relaxed next to him, nodding her thanks to Leia. His father and uncle had been scolded a suitable amount; they also clinked glasses, if a bit reluctantly. Ben pretended not to see his father glare at the water, but otherwise it was a successful toast.
Two minutes later, his plate was overflowing with freshly cooked (and likely caught) white fish and island-grown veggies, and the table was silent while everyone ate. Ben thought for an entire ten seconds that they might escape an awkward dinner, but then Hux ruined that dream.
The man gave Ben a little smirk from across the table, and then clinked his fork against his glass. Next to him, his mother laughed, and then joined in until the whole table was doing it.
Neither he nor Rey reacted and Hux pouted like a child who'd been promised an extra dessert, only to find that dessert was actually his least favorite vegetable.
"You're supposed to kiss!" he chided. "Don't you know the tradition? I was told that was a tradition!"
Ben glanced over at the woman next to him and found her cheeks were close to matching the maroon of her dress. She looked up from her plate and over at him, silently pleading for him to put a stop to all of it.
"Someone misled you. That's for the wedding reception," he told Hux. "We don't kiss on demand unless you come to the wedding and bring a present."
"Aw, come on," Phasma teased. "Not one kiss?"
Ben raised an eyebrow at her, wondering what her game was, but she only winked.
"Just one?" she asked again.
"Fine, fine." He sighed as though it was a huge inconvenience, then made a big show of wrapping his arm around Rey's waist. She stiffened, but let out a sigh when he kissed the top of her head.
"That's as good as any of you are getting until the wedding," Ben laughed. "We're not big on PDA, okay?"
He ignored Hux's eye-roll, and everyone returned to talking and eating a moment later, and again Ben made the mistake of assuming the rest of dinner would go smoothly.
Not halfway through his serving of perfectly cooked fish, his mother put down her fork and said, "How do we feel about a little game over dinner?" She turned back to a bag that was on the ground behind her, fishing out two erasers, a smaller bag, and four book-sized white boards. "Each couple take a board and a marker - the markers are in the little bag. Han and I are exempt from the game!"
"You didn't want to play?" Rose asked curiously.
His mother laughed. "We've been married almost thirty years. I think we're over-qualified for the newlywed game."
"I can ask the questions," Luke offered, gesturing to the notecards his sister held. "This game is a nice idea. A good start to our weekend of bonding."
Ben gripped his whiteboard, hoping he'd at least be able to guess an answer or two. He cursed his past-self for wasting a six hour car ride - they could have been practicing for this.
"Let's just remember," Luke said, "Whether you know the answers, this isn't a measure of your relationship. If you do poorly, think of this as an opportunity to get to know your partner better. Okay?"
Nods went around the table, and his uncle smiled. "Good. Okay. Let's go over the rules. Since only one person from each couple has a white board, I'm thinking I'll ask a question, and if you've got a white board, write down how you would answer that question. You can't show it to your partner, because they'll try to guess your answer. When they've guessed, the whiteboard gets flipped and we can see if the answers match." Luke glanced to his sister. "Did I get that right?"
"You did," she confirmed. "The winning couple gets a dinner for two at that fancy new Thai place that opened up near home."
"High stakes," Luke teased. "First question, starting off easy. What is your significant other's favorite comfort food?"
Rey didn't know what his favorite comfort food was, and the odds she'd guess a grilled cheese with tomato inside were slim. He tapped a nervous rhythm on the whiteboard and looked up. Everyone had already written their answers.
They were waiting on him.
He glanced over at Rey, wishing they had telepathic abilities, and he was caught off-guard by the mischievous glimmer in her eyes.
On a whim, he scribbled down an answer he thought she might guess, and then he looked up at his uncle, indicating he was finished.
"Okay! Now remember," Luke instructed gravely, as if the game had suddenly become life or death, "if you've got a white board don't show it to anyone until your partner has guessed. Let's go around the table."
Luke gestured to Finn, and the man said, "Easy. My guy's a mac and cheese fan. Not even the good homemade stuff. I haven't been able to get him off the boxed kind!"
Poe threw his head back in laughter, then flipped his board, which read in tiny letters: Boxed mac and cheese, sorry Finn.
"One point for Finn and Poe," Han announced, writing it down on a little pad of paper Leia had given him.
They went around the table, with Phasma correctly answering that Kaydel's comfort food was egg drop soup, and Hux arguing that brownies was specific enough to cover chocolate-mint brownies with ice cream, which was the answer Rose had written.
It got to them, and Ben saw that his partner looked hesitant.
He prepared to look like an idiot.
Luckily, Rey answered, "Well, there's this new pizza he's gotten attached to. Pear, goat cheese, garlic, and jalapeno. That's my answer."
Ben flipped the board, showing the same answer. A few people around the table let out mocking gags, and for a moment he felt relieved they'd gotten it right.
But then Poe said, "Huh. You like that kind? But… that's weird. When you brought a bunch of them over I thought you said-"
"Oh wow, I've suddenly got a terrible headache," Rey interrupted, clutching her head like the worst actress in the world. "So strange, it came on so unexpectedly." She gripped his arm, "Honey, would you show me back to our room? It's so dark, I'm afraid I might walk clear off a cliff if I go alone."
He almost leapt off his seat, helping the angel who'd saved them to her feet. "Of course, let's go, I'm sure we have Advil. It's been a long day."
"Exactly," she nodded, "Truly. Very long day, goodnight everyone! Time to sleep!"
Most of their friends looked either confused, concerned, or like they assumed he and Rey were leaving for more deviant purposes, but Phasma and Hux seemed unphased. It was possible they weren't even reacting. Instead, they were whispering to each other, and...
No, that couldn't be right.
Before anyone could ask another newlywed question, Phasma excused herself from the table, claiming she wanted to make sure Rey did, in fact, have Advil - even if everyone there was assuming the headache was only an excuse for the so-called happy couple to sneak off together.
She caught up to Ben and Rey halfway down the path that led to the little huts that were a far cry from the hotel or cabins she'd been expecting, and when she stepped on a stick Ben spun, stepping in front of Rey, adorably ready to defend the woman behind him.
Phasma put her hands up, then realized they couldn't see her well in the dim light only the stars provided now that the sun had gone down.
"It's me," she whispered, "Just me, I'm not here to murder you. No hooks for hands, no axes. No deep-seated psychological traumas that would cause me to snap and go on a killing spree."
"Shit, Phas. It's scary enough out here without someone sneaking up behind us!"
"You're not kidding," she agreed. "We should have brought flashlights."
"Or just not come to murder island in the first place," Rey muttered behind him.
Ben snorted. "Are you leaving dinner early, too?"
"And miss all that fun?" Phasma snarked. "No, I was hoping to talk with you. Just you?"
Phasma wasn't sure why they all felt the need to be quiet, but Rey whispered, "That's fine. It's a straight shot from here, so I can get back to the hut on my own. I think I can use my phone for light."
Even in the dark, Phasma knew Ben was frowning, but begrudgingly he agreed. "Okay. Be careful - if you really do fall off a cliff I'll be the first suspect," he teased.
She heard Rey scoff and reply, "Asshole."
But then she walked away, and her footfalls became more distant, and Phasma took her phone out of her pocket, lighting up the surrounding area with its flashlight setting.
Ben was still frowning, and he winced at the light.
"What's up, Phas?"
Phasma hesitated. She hadn't determined precisely what Ben needed to know, but if she told him everything he'd put an end to the whole situation - the fake engagement, trying to flirt with Rey (assuming that's what he was doing), wedding planning - all of it.
While that was the simplest path, she had a better idea.
Carefully, she asked, "How are things going with Rey? Last we talked you were frustrated with everything and now we're all on an island planning your wedding. Elucidate. Please."
"Right." Ben laughed humorlessly, looking like he needed a drink or five. "It's… tense."
Phasma hummed. "Can I give you some advice?"
"If it has anything to do with another prank, I don't think-"
"It doesn't," she interrupted. "The opposite. You need to stop playing games with her."
His eyes narrowed at her. "I'm not anymore. She knows that."
"I doubt it." When he rolled his eyes, she switched tactics. "Why haven't you put an end to this? I know you've said whoever loses has to move out, but why is that an issue? We've both seen your royalty checks and I know your accountant suggested investing in property. This isn't about you not wanting to move; I doubt you intend to live in your parent's investment property forever, so what is it?"
"I think you like this game," she stated, trying not to grin.
"Or maybe," she suggested, "You just like Rey and you haven't figured out how to get time alone with her without taking part in this train wreck."
Ben let out a breath, scowling at her. "Do you have a point?"
"No. I only wanted to confirm it for myself." Now she did grin. "Don't be too annoyed, I'm about to help you."
"Help me? What, do you grant wishes now?" He slumped against a tree, arms crossed, and sighed. "I screwed something up. I know she's into me, but she's upset about something."
"She thinks you're still playing games," Phasma drolled. "Obviously."
"But I'm not! I told her I'm not. I even asked for a truce."
How could someone so brilliant at putting words down on paper be such a bumbling fool? Given what she'd heard from Rose, she wasn't surprised Rey was so hesitant, but she couldn't tell him that. If Ben knew she and Rose were talking about it, he'd get suspicious.
It was all far too convoluted for her taste.
"Tell me what's happening between you two," she ordered instead.
"I thought…" he started. "So, earlier, in the hut, I was about to kiss her again. I thought we both wanted it, but she stopped me." He sounded despondent. "I felt awful - I thought she was interested, and then she ended up saying she didn't hate me, but she thought that would be easier. What does that even mean?"
Phasma knew the answer, just like she knew all the answers to her planned line of questions. The key was getting Ben to know them.
"You've kissed her before?"
"And what happened before, when you kissed? Or, when you got close to kissing her?"
He shrugged. "The first time, I still thought she was messing around with things. She was in a bathing suit and pissing me off, or so I thought, so I threw her in the pool."
"Uh, huh. And the next time?"
He thought about it. "Just before the annoy-a-tron prank. I almost kissed her in her kitchen, before you knocked on the door."
"Are you seeing a pattern here?" Phasma asked dryly.
Please, she thought, please see the pattern, you utter buffoon.
Ben's brow furrowed. "I've almost kissed her a few times? That doesn't seem like a pattern. Are you trying to say I should have been more daring, and actually kissed-"
"No, of course not," she interrupted, struggling not to consider pushing him off a cliff. There were certainly enough of them nearby from which to choose. "Some days I wonder if you might be hopeless. Consider it from her point of view. Every time you've tried to make a move it's probably seemed like you've been manipulating her, as a part of a game. As far as Rey knows, you don't like her - you like winning."
He opened his mouth, about to say something, then just gaped at her.
"Oh. I need…" He gestured toward the huts. "I need to go talk to her. Shit."
Phasma waved him off, rolling her eyes at his back.
This was going to take more of a guiding hand than she'd been expecting.
When she arrived inside the hut-room-whatever, Rey flicked on the little fire-hazard of a lamp that had a fraying wire, and it lit up the small space with a warm glow. She walked around the bed, closing herself in the bathroom with a pair of warm pajamas.
Since the sun had gone down the temperature had plummeted. It was freezing for mid-September, and she changed quickly, pulling the weather-inappropriate dress over her head and swapping it for fuzzy-lined gray sweatpants and a thick, soft cotton long-sleeved shirt of deep purple.
Through the bathroom door she heard Ben come into their hut.
She closed her eyes and pressed her forehead against the smooth concrete wall of the bathroom. The part of her forehead that touched it was near the part he'd kissed, and Rey felt a weird pang of something - gratitude? - that he'd brushed off their friends the way he had. It didn't escape her, that he could have kissed her at dinner. He could have, and it would have been left to her to either put up with it or stop it and then possibly look like a jerk.
Still, respecting her boundaries didn't mean he was a good person with good intentions.
Rey took a deep breath and backed away from the wall, letting her hair out of its usual buns before leaving the bathroom.
Already having changed into pajamas, dark flannel pants and a black waffle-knit shirt that caught around his shoulders, Ben was pacing around their room, more frantic and off-kilter than he'd been not ten minutes earlier.
He turned to her with wide eyes the moment she stepped out into the room.
"Hey, can we talk?"
Rey frowned. "Sure?"
"Good, good," he nodded, then sat on the edge of the bed they…
Oh, were they sharing that bed tonight? Rey hadn't even thought to ask, but the floor was made of stone and it seemed cruel to expect either of them to sleep on it, especially since they'd be there for a few nights.
"I need to know what you think is going on here," he blurted out. "Exactly what you think my intentions are. I think I've given you the wrong impression."
Confused, she replied slowly, "Wrong impression? How so? I think it's been clear."
"You tell me. If you don't mind. I won't be offended if you think something awful about me," he promised, "But I need to know what impression I've given you."
She crossed her arms and took a seat by him on the cloud-soft bed, pulling her leg up and turning so she was facing him. "The absolute truth?"
Ben looked at her with worried umber eyes. "Yes. Please."
Against her better judgement, she uncorked the bottle of truth she had ready for him and their insane situation. "Okay. I think you know how attracted to you I am, and I think you're taking advantage of that. Every time you try to kiss me or touch me or… I don't know, tempt me, I think you're just trying to win, or get the upper hand. It's a sick game," she said, shaking her head. "It's awful, and I don't want to play it. I don't think you care what you have to do to win, and I don't think you care if it ends up hurting me."
He swore under his breath and then turned to mirror her position so they were facing each other. He gestured out with his hands hopelessly. "What if I told you I'm just a complete moron who screwed up how we met and who thinks you're beautiful, and I'm so flattered you'd be into me that I can't stop thinking about it? If I told you I've never meant to hurt you, and that at this point I want both of us to get out of this situation in the most convenient way possible."
Her frown deepened. "I wish I could believe that, but how am I supposed to know you mean it and you aren't just messing with me? Again? What if this is just how you're going to try to win?"
"Win what? Rey, as it is, I'll be spending thousands on this wedding if we keep going the way we are, and this whole situation has thrown me through a loop just as much as it has for you. Look, if it's what I have to do to prove I'm not playing mind games with you, I'll move out - I'll take the blame, even."
The look in his eyes was desperate, and his hands were still out, palm-up.
She reached out tentatively, and took them in hers.
"I didn't want to play games with you," he explained quietly. "That time by the pool and the time in your kitchen - I was ticked off, and I wanted to get back at you, and I couldn't figure out why I kept leaning in. Why I wanted to kiss you. I promise, every time I've touched you it had nothing to do with any game."
"So every time you've almost kissed me, or flirted with me… that was real?"
"And whenever you mentioned hearing me," she blushed. "You weren't making fun of me?"
Ben's eyes went wide. "Making fun? Fuck. No, of course not, that was- that was unbelievable."
At that, her gaze flicked up to his, and she found his cheeks were burning, likely a match to hers. She cleared her throat. "You're being honest about all of this, aren't you?"
"I promise I am. If you need me to move out or go tell my parents to prove it, I will. I swear."
Rey let out a long breath. "No. No, you don't have to do that, but where does this leave us? I'm glad we're on the same page, but your parents are still planning our wedding, and all our friends are here, and we're still stuck on murder-island for premarital counseling, so…"
He winced. "This is a mess."
"But it'll be easier now, right? If we aren't arguing we'll have an easier time getting through this. We can work together, and we won't keep raising the stakes on each other. Why don't we stick to the elopement plan," Rey suggested. "In a couple weeks or a month we tell them we eloped. We pretend to be together for a while and then we fake a break up?"
Ben was quiet for a minute. "Is that what you want?"
"Yeah, I think that's the easiest solution, right?"
He didn't answer her right away, and she felt his thumbs sliding back and forth across the skin of the backs of her hands.
"Sure. Whatever you want, Rey."
Chapter 14: Questions
As she tossed and turned, Rey decided September should never be so frigid. She'd been in bed for hours trying to sleep, and while she was pleased to see that she and Ben both fit in the bed with generous amounts of room to spare, it turned out space wasn't the issue.
Her long-sleeved shirt and sweatpants did little more in the cold than the tiniest scrap of lingerie, and she rolled over on her side, curling into a ball while she shivered.
In the dim light of the stars that shone through the windows (which were just open gaps in the walls that let in chilly breezes), she could see her own breath.
"Seriously?" she hissed. It was September, why could she see her own breath?
A couple feet away, Ben sighed in exasperation. "Go back to sleep. It's still dark."
"Don't you think I'd prefer to be sleeping?" Rey winced at her own tone, and followed up with a grumble. "Sorry, but how can you sleep? My own teeth chattering woke me up."
His weight adjusted on the bed as he shifted closer. "I know you're anti-PDA, but what's your stance on spooning?"
"In this temperature? Very much in favor, if you're offering."
When he didn't move, she added, "Are you offering?"
Just as she got the question out, warmth surrounded her- his front pressed to her back, and one of his arms slung over her like a safety blanket.
"Lift your head for a sec?"
Rey did, and his other arm replaced her pillow, pushing it onto the bedside table at the edge of her side. Thick muscle covered by waffle-knit made for a much better pillow, anyway.
She pressed back into all the heat he offered until he was hugging her, with his face nestled into the back of her neck. Just above the collar of her shirt, the warmth of his slow exhale landed on her skin.
Tired, and finally comfortable, Rey closed her eyes. Her sleep-deprived mind focused less on the temperature and more on his heartbeat, steady and sure against her back.
"Better?" he asked softly.
Rey murmured a lazy, quiet confirmation, and before she fell asleep a thought popped into her head.
Maybe she'd been wrong, and maybe…
Maybe he did want her.
It couldn't have been much later into the night when the body mass behind her jerked and let out an "Oof" loud enough to stir her from a pleasant dream.
She cracked a bleary eye, and it registered that the room was still pitch-black. "What? What's wrong?"
"You elbowed me," he gasped. He made a sound that was something like a whine.
Rey rolled to face him, and she cringed. "I'm so sorry. Where?"
"Chest," he breathed, clutching the area around his sternum. "Fuck."
"Sorry! I'm not used to sharing a bed. I guess I move around a lot." She sat up at the same time he did, and her hands landed near his shoulders, then slid down to the middle of his chest. "Are you okay?
He nodded, then hesitated and covered her hand with one of his own. "I'm fine, that's just not a great way to wake up."
"Should we try facing each other?" She didn't dare to address the elephant in the room that was her hand on his chest, and his mouth just inches from hers. "That way I don't elbow you again?"
"That might be better. My arm was falling asleep."
They'd agreed, which meant they should have been adjusting into the agreed upon position, but neither of them had. They both stayed there, sitting up with the heavy gray comforter pooling at their waists. With her hand on his chest, his warmth bled out to her through the thick shirt.
She could feel him taking breaths as her hand rose and fell with them, and even in the dark and while staring at their hands, Rey knew his eyes were on her. Her sleep deprived mind lazily wandered between thinking how good it was to be close to someone, and how easy it might be to just…
Just be with him, and let this be her life, and-
That was what snapped her out of it.
Rey took her hand back, sucked in a quick breath, then slid back down under the blanket. Unless she was imagining things Ben's shoulders fell, but he settled next to her and tugged her back into his hold until she was using his chest as a pillow.
"Goodnight, Rey," he murmured.
There was disappointment in his voice, and she stayed awake in his arms, restless for a long time thinking about that. Replaying the exact despondent way he said goodnight Rey and wondering what she could have done differently.
The obvious answer came annoyingly late– the man next to her was already sleeping by the time she figured it out.
She should have kissed him.
The morning air was crisp, and she'd bundled up in a plain dark gray sweater and jeans that offered more protection from the chill than the dress she'd had on the night before. Even so, Ben kept a flannel-wrapped arm around her waist over breakfast.
"We're terrible at sharing a bed," she quietly admitted to him over their helpings of fried eggs, buttered toast, and bowls of fruit. There were glasses of green-tinted milk, too, but Rey had no intention of drinking it. "Did you mean to smother me in your chest? I couldn't breathe for a while."
His cheeks tinged pink, and he shoved a mini-muffin in his mouth before shaking his head. Every time the two of them interacted, Leia grinned over at them and sighed contentedly. Every once in a while she'd elbow Han, nodding in she and Ben's direction like they were zoo animals performing just as she wished.
Rey didn't mind. Han and Leia being happy meant their plan to portray a couple in love was working, and hopefully it meant they'd buy the elopement story.
When he finished the muffin he muttered, "At least I didn't tickle you. Every time you grabbed at my sides I woke up laughing."
"You're ticklish?" she breathed through a wide smile, trying to be quiet. "That's great. I'll use that in the future if you annoy me."
He was about to say something, but next to Leia, an exhausted-looking Hux clinked his fork against his glass of grapefruit juice.
Luke was off preparing something and the others were sleeping in, so it was only Han, Leia, and Rose who joined in on the clinking, demanding a kiss. From his side, she watched Ben work his lips together, trying to figure out a polite and clear way to decline.
"I brushed my teeth," she blurted.
The words and their implication surprised her just as much as they seemed to surprise him, and she flushed, then started babbling. "I- I mean, if that was your hesitation. I did. Brush. I brushed. So you can kiss me. If you want. You can."
Ben paused, bemused by her rambling, and she kept going despite the voice in her head that was begging her to stop.
"Not that you need to, but I noticed you brushed too, so if that's the hang up we're covered, and I've decided PDA is fine, because actually-"
He ducked his head, silencing her and the clattering glass noise by pressing his lips to hers.
It was unhurried and gentle where their previous kisses had been dominating and almost frenzied, and Rey wound her arm around his neck, reveling in how soft his lips were and how they molded to hers in the best way.
Logically she knew the glass-clinking tradition only demanded a peck, but she still sunk into the deep, sweet kiss he offered, lazily sliding her mouth over his.
Someone's throat cleared, and Rose let out an "Awww", but Rey didn't pull back, choosing instead to trace the seam of his lips with her tongue.
It could have gone on forever for all she cared, audience be damned.
A second throat cleared, and Ben let her go, pulling away with a confused expression, mixed with a warm smile. Rey blushed when she came to her senses and saw she was nearly in his lap. She shifted, turning back to her now-tepid breakfast.
One of Han's eyebrows was somewhere near his hairline, but he didn't comment, choosing to drink his juice since Luke didn't keep coffee on the island.
Predictably, Leia was beaming, as was Rose.
Rey returned to eating. In the awkward silence, or maybe polite conversation (after that kiss she wasn't paying attention), she alternated between taking bites, and shyly glancing over at her not-fiance.
It was surprising to see that Ben looked just as off-kilter as her. He kept looking over at her, too, baffled and dazed.
At some point she began to ignore her breakfast, her mind replaying the dreams and occasional fantasies she'd had starring him and his broad shoulders, large hands, strong-
"Rey?" Leia asked, "Is everything okay?"
Ben nudged her, and she blinked at the eggs she'd been staring at for who knew how long.
"Hm? Yeah, fine. Fine. Just tired. I'm useless without coffee."
Lying to Leia was miserable, and Rey didn't enjoy adding even the smallest lie, but it was preferable to explaining how she was fantasizing about the woman's son over breakfast because she'd also lied about their sexual involvement and they had not, in fact, had sex, which meant it had been a long time since she'd actually-
"My brother said the closest he has is decaf peppermint tea," Leia said, interrupting her thoughts and nodding sympathetically. "He's been on a health kick for a while, and that appears to include caffeine. I was asking when you planned to move."
Ben was drumming his fingers on the table next to his untouched green milk. "Move in together," he clarified. "Mom was wondering when we're moving in together. Remember how you told her we might be interested in buying the house and remodeling it into a single family home?"
"Right." The bubbliness in her chest sublimated into a single feeling of oh shit. How many other lies would come back for a surprise bite in the ass? "Right. Uh, gosh. We're just so busy. I wish I could move in soon, but with all the wedding planning-"
Next to her, Ben nodded emphatically. "Exactly. Exactly, the wedding planning is taking up so much time. She's moving into my side, but Rey was saying she wouldn't have time to until after the wedding. Right, honey?"
"Yep, that's what I said. I'd love to," she reassured Leia, who was looking confused. "Trust me, if I could snap my fingers and be moved tomorrow I would in a heartbeat."
"Mm, definitely," Ben agreed. "We can't wait to live together. Waiting until after the wedding will be awful, but it's okay. We'll survive."
Rose perked up. "That's perfect, because Armie's asked me to move in with him!"
"Oh- uh-" Rey stammered, staring at her roommate wide-eyed. "When? But, we- it won't be for a while-"
"Well since you and Ben want to move in together, you just need help," Leia winked. "There's no need to wait until after the wedding since you'd both prefer not to. Let me see what I can do."
"That'd be great," Rose confirmed. "I've loved being your roomie, Rey, but Hux's place is closer to work, and-"
Rey ignored the rest of her explanation, choosing instead to panic internally.
Of all the hellish, nightmarish things Ben would have imagined being on murder-island's activity to-do list, the ropes course in front of him wouldn't have been one. It was shoddy and promised the need for a tetanus shot for every participant, but his uncle beamed at it like the thing was his pride and joy.
He pushed out the thought of Rey being moved into his apartment (and that he couldn't bring himself to dislike the idea) because he could only handle one mess at a time.
Poe and Finn were gleefully excited, and the two of them didn't bother waiting for Luke's go-ahead before wandering off toward the adult-sized monkey bars. Halfway to the half-dome of metal bars that sat in the middle of the small grassy meadow, Poe called out, "First one to the top is the King of Ahch-To!"
Next to him, Phasma's stormy mood only worsened, and she asked, "Who do I have to backstab to get voted the fuck off this island?"
"Ignore her," Kaydel said lovingly. "She didn't sleep well. We forgot the white-noise machine at home." Then the woman tugged her long blonde hair up into a ponytail and ran after the adult-sized children who were already climbing.
Rey pressed into his side, and under the guise of keeping up appearances he kissed the top of her head, then asked, "Afraid of heights?"
"More like I'm afraid of dying," Ben grimaced.
While Luke explained an activity Phasma leaned in toward them and whispered, "Did you sleep okay? I had the worst night's sleep. You know there's no coffee on this whole island?"
"I slept well once I warmed up," Rey shrugged.
Phasma smirked. "I bet."
Ben rolled his eyes, "Phas, she didn't mean-"
"Ben, you sound like you'd like to go first!" Luke called out.
He paled. He didn't even know what the activity was, and knowing Luke it was something like jump off a cliff, the water will cushion your fall unless it's your destiny to drown to death!
"Why don't we all go," Rey suggested. Hopefully she'd been listening better than he had.
His uncle considered it and nodded. "Okay, everyone join your partner. I assume we know how trust falls work?"
Ben relaxed almost immediately. As long as they weren't trust-falling off a ladder he'd be fine. Everyone nodded in answer to Luke's question and began talking amongst themselves, determining who'd go first, and-
Rey quirked an eyebrow at him. "You'll catch me, right?"
He shrugged. "Isn't that the point?"
She hummed and grinned adorably. "A week ago I would have assumed you'd let me fall. You know, back when I thought you were a jerk."
"Oh? And what do you think of me now?"
Flirting with her was ill-advised when whatever it was between them was up in the air, but he'd spent the night with her in his arms and gotten to make out with her over breakfast. He couldn't help himself.
Rey blushed, and he took that as a good sign.
Turning her back to him, she readied herself to fall, but Ben caught her around the waist first. On a whim, he left soft kisses at the side of her neck, sighing at the light scent on her skin of the body wash he'd left in the shower.
He whispered in her ear, "Who knew a trust fall was all I had to do to get you to fall for me? Had I known, I might have done this the day I found out you weren't pranking me."
It'd been too forward, too quick, and he realized it the moment she looked back at him over her shoulder, her expression panicked.
A stone sunk in his stomach, and he saved her from what was bound to be an awkward rejection. "Kidding," he laughed, "I'm kidding."
Slowly, Rey nodded. "Oh. Okay. That's… good."
It hurt more than he'd expected.
Throughout the atrocious ropes courses and so-called team-building activities, Ben felt more and more disconnected, to the point where, when Luke called a break for lunch, he begged off, claiming he was suffering from a pounding headache. Caffeine withdrawal, he claimed.
It was more like a withdrawal from what had turned out to be an imaginary world where a woman like Rey might have wanted him in a way that wasn't only physical. It was flattering, but every minute next to her added another drop in the I think I like-like her bucket, and now that bucket was looking more like a lake, or maybe an ocean.
And it wasn't even just kissing her - though every kiss they'd shared bumped another non-Rey kiss from his top-however-many best kisses.
It was the little stuff. The way she teased him, the babbling she did whenever she was nervous. The outrageous lies she came up with on the spot, like telling his mother about all the orgies he wasn't having.
The light freckles splattered across the bridge of her nose, and the tops of her cheeks.
Her bubbly laughter.
Rey was pure sunlight in a stunning form, and for her, he might be willing to listen to peppy, innuendo-laden pop music.
Ben might have laughed at that, if it didn't cause him to wince when reminded of his reality.
Now she was at lunch with their friends, joking with them and smiling at them with the sweet grin he'd dreamed was just for him, and he was here, in the bed they'd shared, realizing he'd fooled himself.
They barely knew each other, Ben reminded himself. They were basically strangers, and it was just the situation that was getting to him - he couldn't be so worked up over a woman he'd only known for a few months, especially since he'd spent over half that time hating her.
Ben sighed, letting his head fall back on the pillow behind him. Just as he considered turning and screaming into it, the door to their hut burst open with a loud bang!
He jerked up, jumping off the bed, and saw Rey press her back and palms against the door. She was taking deep, gulping breaths, like she'd been running.
"We need to go," she breathed. "Now!"
It seemed he didn't have time to argue, so he grabbed his phone off the wobbly little nightstand and shoved it in his pocket while Rey cracked open the door.
"It's clear," she whispered. "C'mon, we need to run."
"Rey, what the hell-"
She grabbed his hand, not bothering to explain, and pulled him out the door. It slammed behind them, and Rey broke out into what only translated into a mild jog for him.
Again, Ben tried to get answers. "Hey, are we in danger? What's going on?"
Rey shook her head, but didn't explain.
They were headed away from the huts and away from the clearing where they'd all been eating. Ben doubted she'd even been to the area they were headed, and Rey seemed to be aimless, so he stopped, and grabbed her by the shoulders.
"Hey, you're freaking me out. Where are we going?" he demanded.
"We're hiding!" she hissed. She caught her breath, and her gaze darted around, checking their surroundings. "Your uncle told me to come get you," she explained. "He wants to do a couples' therapy session. I figured it'd be better to hide." Her expression grew aghast, "He mentioned sex therapy. Apparently your mother told him about our… problems."
Ben frowned. "Problems?"
"The uh… mommy kink stuff?" Her cheeks turned beet-red. "Our so-called incompatibility?"
"Right," he laughed, humorlessly. "Great. Just what I want to talk to my uncle about."
It took him mere seconds to decide. "I know a place. I don't care if we have to sleep there, we're not dealing with that shit."
Rey murmured a string of thanks as he took her hand and rushed around the path's curve, through a thick patch of bushes, and toward a giant moss-covered boulder that sat next to a few tall trees. It wasn't the perfect spot, but the boulder was tall enough so they didn't have to crouch behind it, and the trees gave them extra cover.
He peeked out from behind it, trying to make sure they weren't visible from the path.
"We're good," he whispered, turning back to Rey. "Hiding was a good idea. That would have been hell."
She nodded. "He'll come looking. I tried pretending I had a headache, too, and he made a comment about headaches becoming contagious. He didn't buy it. I don't think anyone did."
"What's everyone else doing right now?"
"Swimming. Poe and Hux said they wanted to try fishing, but everyone else is swimming."
A short distance from them, there was whistling, and they both clapped their mouths shut. Ben poked his head around the boulder, and ducked back behind it the moment he saw Luke walking by on the path, looking curious and amused.
"Kids?" he called out. "You around here?"
Rey's eyes went wide, and he mouthed it's okay. And really, it was. It wouldn't be the end of the world if Luke caught them, but it would mean he'd have to sit through one of the most awkward experiences of his life next to a woman he was pretty sure he had a massive crush on.
"Rey? Ben? This would be a good time to talk! Are you around?"
Trying to make sure they were as out of sight as possible, Ben looped an arm around her and pulled her close so they took up less space. While he was busy trying desperately not to notice that she was pressing into his chest, Rey let out a tiny squeak - one that, in any other circumstance, he may have found adorable.
Ben pressed a hand to her mouth and shushed her.
Off in the distance, he heard his uncle huff, and grumble, "Must've gone swimming."
They stayed that way for a few minutes more, and then Ben took his hand off her mouth and sighed.
"He's gone," he whispered.
She stayed in his arms as he rested back against the rock, and she replied quietly, "Want to stay here a little longer? Just in case?"
He nodded, flummoxed while her hands slid up and tangled in his hair.
Rey didn't give him long to wonder about her unexpected affection before she tugged him down for a searing open-mouthed kiss so intense it made his head spin. He pulled back in surprise and stared down at her hazel gaze - the one that grew more and more uncomfortable the longer he went without speaking.
His brain restarted just as it looked like she would run, and he cupped the side of her face, his thumb sliding feather-light over her cheek.
Slowly, her eyes fluttered closed.
Ben's mouth met hers, softer and gentler than before, and he thought nothing could have prepared him for the way she kissed him back. When he traced her bottom lip with his tongue, she sighed, letting her weight rest against him, and something in him hummed with contentment.
He licked into her mouth. Sucked at her lips. Felt her run her fingers through his hair.
But above that, Ben realized he was utterly at home with her in his arms.
And then he pulled away abruptly, backing away from her as he caught his breath and let his mind race.
His thoughts combined into a concise question.
"Why?" he whispered.
Rey frowned up at him with swollen lips, flushed and puzzled. "Why what?"
"Why did you kiss me?" he clarified. "Why are you letting me kiss you now? I can make sense of you letting me kiss you in front of the others," he explained. "I figured that was because now that you know I'm not an ass, you're okay with PDA to keep up pretenses."
Ben gestured around at the foliage, "But there's nobody here now. So, why? I'm not complaining, I-" He swallowed, and murmured, "I just need to know why."
She took in a slow breath. "I'm attracted to you. I thought we'd established that was mutual."
"Yeah, we did," he nodded. "But I need some clarification. Attracted, like you think we should enjoy the benefits of being engaged while we're dealing with this mess, or... "
This was stupid. So stupid. He should have just kept kissing her and dealt with the fall out of unrequited feelings if needed, but- but he had to know.
Ben blurted out, "Or attracted like you're starting to wonder if our situation might not be a bad thing we need to find a way out of?"
"Not a bad thing?" Rey echoed, as if processing when he'd said.
Her eyes widened, and Ben whispered, "Either way, I need to know."
Rey's mouth opened to answer.
"Ah!" a voice called out. "There you two are!"
Ben spun, and saw Luke walk out from between two trees, waving at them like he had no idea what he'd just interrupted.
The man laughed. "I should have known you'd gone off somewhere together. You're as bad as your parents were! Come on," he gestured toward the worn path, "We've got a session together."
He sighed and turned back to Rey. "Shit. If we don't go he's going to think something's up, but this is something we need to talk about."
"Yeah," she nodded. Her eyes were still wide, and now worried, and Ben wanted nothing more than to take it back and hug her, and tell her she didn't need to answer, and he was fine with whatever.
Except he wasn't fine with whatever. He wanted more than whatever.
"Yeah," Rey repeated. "We'll… we'll talk. After the session?"
"Come on kids," Luke called out, already walking away. "Don't you want to be done in time for dinner? It's just a little sit-down."
"After the session," he confirmed.
Before they left to follow Luke, Ben took her face in both hands and met her lips for another soft kiss.
Chapter 15: Counseling
"I'd like to start this informal session off with an opportunity to ensure we're all on the same page," his uncle announced.
They sat on an old worn blue loveseat opposite him, and Luke reclined in an old leather chair that had to have been a pain in the ass to get into the tiny office he'd set up. They were near the peak of the island, in a hut no bigger than the one he and Rey were sharing, and Ben decided less than a minute into an unneeded and unwanted counseling session that it was tragic the island was dry.
Maybe his father had snuck some whiskey in with him.
Luke cleared his throat when neither of them responded. "I'm told you've broken up before over compatibility issues, and that you're forgoing an intimate relationship until after the wedding?"
"That's not relevant," Rey laughed awkwardly, waving the man off.
"It is," his uncle said kindly. "Marriage is all about communication, and that includes discussing your intimate life and any potential compatibility issues you may have. Now," he turned to Ben. Ben wanted to disappear into the loveseat. "Your mother mentioned-"
He winced. "Can we please not mention my mother and my sex life in the same conversation?"
"See, now it's interesting you say that," Luke mused, much to Ben's horror. "I want to discuss the mommy kink. And, Ben, it's nothing to be ashamed of. Before your mother and I found out we were siblings-"
"Wow," Ben blurted out, "Wow. No, no, we don't-"
"She was gorgeous," his uncle continued. "We were nineteen, and see, we didn't know yet that we were twins who'd just been adopted by different families. Anyway, long story short, I understand the attraction, but I'm not sure it's healthy for you to roleplay that when you're with this wonderful young woman."
Rey, stunned beside him, breathed out, "A mommy kink doesn't mean he's attracted to his actual mother."
Luke stopped talking and frowned. He sat back in his chair, looking puzzled. "Ah. It doesn't?"
"No," she emphasized. "No, no, not at all. It's kind of like a daddy kink. Just more… nurturing? More about being taken care of? It has nothing to do with Leia."
His uncle glanced over at him, and Ben was ten seconds from running out and jumping off one of the nearby cliffs. "So, you aren't attracted to your-"
"Please don't say it," Ben interrupted. "Please. I'll already need real therapy after this."
Luke huffed. "Okay, so that issue is settled, but I'm still concerned about how you communicate. Let's try a little exercise. Now, Ben, why don't you tell Rey something you'd like to do to her."
"Do… to her?" Ben blinked.
"Yeah," his uncle shrugged. "Pretend it's your wedding night and the chastity vow is over. Tell Rey what you'd like to do to her."
Ben stared blankly at the man, wondering if he was kidding. A minute passed, and Luke, gestured out with his hands as if to say, we're waiting.
He flushed red, unable to meet Rey's eyes. "I'm not doing that. I'm absolutely not doing that in front of you."
"Just one thing?"
"I'm a professional," Luke pointed out.
Luke rolled his eyes. "I'll put on headphones. They're noise cancelling." He reached down into the cream-colored tote bag next to his chair and fished out a large pair of over-ear headphones, and made a show of putting them on, then yelled, "See! Can't hear you!"
Next to him, Rey muttered, "This is ridiculous. Are we sure he's not crazy?"
"Are you saying it?" Luke asked. "Wave when you're done!"
Ben sighed. "You can't hear me?"
When Luke didn't respond, he turned toward Rey, and she raised an eyebrow, asking, "Are you actually doing this?"
"No, of course not," he scoffed. "I just want him to think I am. Yes Rey, why don't I explain in explicit detail exactly how I'd like to-"
"You kids done?" Luke half-yelled. "All set?"
Rey groaned. "Wow, this isn't awkward at all." She waved to his uncle, nodding to indicate they'd finished with his little nightmare of an exercise.
"Great. Do we feel better now that we've been open and honest?" Luke asked.
Through a tight, fake smile, Rey said, "Definitely, yes. All better now. Thank you for that."
"It's my job, dear," he replied, not picking up on a hint of her sarcasm. "And, Rey, I know about your background thanks to my sister, and Han, and I'd like to discuss why you might be afraid to set firm boundaries in your relationship with Ben."
Ben looked over at her, wondering what that meant, but her expression had twisted into something serious.
"Background?" she breathed. "And… what sort of boundaries? What are you trying to say?"
Luke relaxed back in his chair, a thoughtful expression on his face, "Well, your relationship ended before because of a perceived compatibility issue, but that could have been avoided if you had explained to Ben what your boundaries were. In that case it was a sexual boundary, but whether or not a boundary is sexual, every couple needs to be honest about things that make them uncomfortable."
"Uh… huh. And why would I be afraid to tell Ben if he makes me uncomfortable?"
There was an edge to her voice he hadn't heard before. Had it been directed at him, he might have been nervous. As it was, he was leery of where the conversation was headed, and of how casually his uncle was adding to it.
Luke hummed. "Well, dear, this may be hard to understand, but you don't need to be afraid of Ben leaving. He loves you very much. I know my nephew, I can tell."
Ben shifted, increasingly uncomfortable with the conversation.
"So I mean it when I say that he won't leave you in a box at the door of the nearest business just because you set some boundaries with him."
He froze, his gaze focusing in on his uncle. "What? Why would you say that?"
The man across from him frowned. "I was just drawing a connection between her being abandoned when she was a child and the fear of abandonment she may have now. I assumed that was clear."
Next to him, Rey sucked in a breath, and Ben stared over at her, his heart sinking at the new tear-track that ran down her face. She stood and cleared her throat.
"I- I don't-" she shook her head. "No. We're done here."
His mind was still reeling when she spun and stormed out of the makeshift office, and slowly, Ben turned back to his uncle.
"Why would bring something like that up?" he demanded. "She- she didn't even tell you that herself, why would it be an appropriate thing to talk about? Don't you think that might be something she considers private?"
Luke's expression grew conflicted, but when he didn't respond right away, Ben scoffed. "You want us to be better about setting boundaries? I'm setting one now. Don't talk to her about that again unless she brings it up first. You can psychoanalyze me and my past all you want, but don't touch hers."
He shook his head and left.
The water was dark, a spectrum of indigo bleeding into violet, reflecting a breathtaking sunset. A brisk wind made the waves lap onto the rocky shore, one after another, as steadily as a beating heart.
In the distance there were white and gray seabirds calling and diving into the water to fish, and she watched them as she rested her chin on the folded legs she had tugged up to her chest.
The birds and the waves were the only sounds Rey could hear, and she looked out, staring at the rosy glowing line where the sky kissed the water.
It was as close to true, peaceful silence as she thought she'd ever get.
At least it was, until a voice murmured behind her, "I like this view, too."
She wasn't sure how long he'd been standing there, but he settled next to her, bracing his weight on hands planted behind him.
"It always makes me feel small," Ben said. "Makes my problems feel small."
"Everything falls away," she whispered. "It's gorgeous."
They stayed in a comfortable quiet for a while, watching the sun lower and the blues and purples in the sky deepen, but the magic had to end, eventually.
Rey spoke first. "Are you going to treat me differently now? Like I'm broken or something?"
"You'd hate that."
She nodded. "I would, but it wouldn't be the first time. I'm not. Broken, I mean. I'm happy with my life, not including the fake engagement part."
Next to her, Ben sighed. "We all have shit in our past. Maybe this is pessimistic of me, but I've always figured anyone who hasn't dealt with stuff is either lying to themselves, or they've gone to therapy."
"Which are you?"
He hummed, and when she looked over, he was messing up his hair. Another nervous habit of his.
"Therapy." He tilted his head at her, wincing against the dying light. "Okay, I know your secret now, so here's one of mine."
Rey turned toward him, crossing her legs so she wasn't wrapped around herself, and gestured for him to go on.
"Did my parents ever mention me? I know you got close with them, but before you moved in did they mention me?"
"No, not really." She frowned. "I didn't know they had a son until they told me they had a place Rose and I could rent, and that you were the other tenant."
Ben nodded as though that was the answer he'd been expecting. "I was gone for a while. Years. I moved away for college and during my MBA program I had this guest lecturer who took an interest in me. Ever heard of James Snoke?"
"I don't-" Then she paused and racked her mind for an answer. "Wait. Was that the guy involved with that First Order mess?"
"My parents spent so long trying to tell me he was bad news. Every time I came home, every holiday, every phone call, all I heard was how concerned they were, and how they'd heard rumors about his business practices. So I stopped coming home. Stopped picking up."
"Wasn't he convicted of embezzling?"
"Something like half a billion dollars," Ben nodded. "I didn't know it was going on, and the scary thing is he'd kept talking about bringing me under his wing and teaching me the business. As much as I argued with my parents about it, the things they said made me cautious, and I kept my distance while I worked for First Order."
He huffed. "Obviously I don't work there now. I quit before he was arrested and I moved back here. Got back into writing, with help from Phas. My parents have been trying to give me space. This is the most I've seen them since I left for college."
Ben looked over at her and shrugged. "The hard part was, he was my mentor. I sat there like an idiot, thinking someone believed in me- like someone finally understood me. And it turned out, my parents had been right the whole time."
"That… really sucks. I'm sorry," she said honestly, "I don't know what else to say."
"That's where I am with your thing," he admitted. "It's awful, and there's nothing I can say to make it better. I'm sorry Luke brought it up, and I didn't like that I knew something about you and-"
"This is you leveling the playing field?" Rey guessed.
"Something like that."
"Mmm. Let's make a deal. We ditch the group activities or bonding or whatever's on this evening's itinerary, and we stay here. For every question you answer, I'll answer one, too. You've been suggesting we get on the same page," she reminded him. "This seems like a fair way to do that, and if you're up for it, it's your turn. Ask me something."
Ben smiled at her, and something curled tight in her chest when she saw it. Awkward conversations of family history aside, she'd had trouble getting her mind off the way he kept kissing her, and the question he'd asked her before their session.
Or attracted like you're starting to wonder if our situation might not be a bad thing we need to find a way out of?
She'd expected he'd ask that question again, but he asked, "If you don't want to talk about it, that's okay, but that stuff Luke mentioned… is that why my dad wanted to walk you down the aisle?"
"Yeah," she nodded. "I met your dad when he came into my ex-foster father's chop shop. I guess Plutt'd stolen a car off him and I was about to strip it for parts when he showed up, all pissed off and ready to kill someone."
"Wait, wait, wait," Ben interrupted, "Was it the Falcon? Your foster father was the guy who stole the Falcon?"
"Ex foster father, but yeah, why?"
Ben laughed, "He told me all about that when I moved back. He's had that Falcon since before I was born."
"He was furious," Rey snorted. "Came in yelling, then saw me in front of it with its hood popped and flipped out that I'd touched it. On his way out I followed him outside to apologize, and he just said to me why are you working here, kid? You're wasting your time. I told him I didn't have any better offers."
"And he offered you a job?"
"He did, yeah. Within a month your parents were inviting me to Sunday dinners. They're good people." She cleared her throat, trying not to think of how much she was lying to those good people, and changed the subject. "My turn. Have you told anyone the truth? About our so-called engagement?"
Ben shook his head. "Phasma knows, but only because she was around for some of it. Poe and Finn are confused because I gave them some pizzas and told them it was thanks to a prank you pulled, but I haven't actually told anyone." With a laugh, he admitted, "When everything was first happening I had a meltdown in front of Phasma and I complained about you messing with my clapper. She said I sounded a tad unhinged."
"Unhinged?" She burst out into laughter. "To be fair, I threatened to stab you to death in the middle of your proposal, and that's pretty unhinged."
"Definitely unhinged, but I think I kind of liked it?" he joked. Rey watched him work his mouth, and then he asked, "What's the first thing you noticed about me? Other than the prank-stuff."
The mischievous look in his eyes suggested he was fishing for a specific answer. Rather than giving it, Rey readjusted herself, resting her back against the flat rock under them. It wasn't the most comfortable surface to relax on, but it let her stare up at the darkening sky.
"You wore penguin socks," she finally answered. "These adorable penguin socks with your sandals, the day we moved in."
There was a rustling sound, and Rey looked over to see Ben had moved to lay next to her. He, too, was staring up.
"I noticed your three buns," he mumbled. "They're cute. Charming."
Her smile fell a little. "It's the hairstyle my parents left me with. I… got a little attached to it."
Ben didn't pry, and for that she was beyond thankful. Steering things back to less serious territory, Rey asked, "What would you have said, if Luke hadn't been there?"
His grin was audible when he answered, "That I can't stop imagining the things I heard through my wall. That I keep wondering what it'd take to get you to make those sounds, and I'm hoping you put me out of my misery and let me try."
Rey cleared her throat, knowing her face had to be red. "Uh, hey, do you want to go swimming? With the air as cold as it is the water might not seem as bad."
She turned her head towards where he'd propped himself up on his elbows, and the look he gave her was curious, and deepening with the urge to add to what he'd said.
Not that she didn't want to hear it. Him saying things like that with a deep, silky voice curled her toes, but it was just… quite a bit to think about, and the situation was already rapidly complicating.
So whether or not she had company, Rey was diving in, and she stripped off her warm, thick clothes, trying not to think of how he was seeing her in boring teal panties and a sports bra. At least they weren't white.
Three steps closer to the water, and she jumped.
Cut through the water in a clean dive. Let all the air out of her lungs.
Rey rose back to the surface and kicked her legs lazily so she was treading with her head and shoulders out of the water.
Ben sat on the rocky ledge, and she tilted her head. "Come in. It's not bad."
That wasn't a lie, either - she'd been right about the water feeling warmer than the air, and while he looked distrustful, he still stood (albeit, with a grumble) and undressed to black boxer-briefs that were perfectly fitted to him.
Even with endless gallons around her, Rey's mouth went dry, and she turned her back to him in favor of watching the rest of the sunset.
A splash near her indicated he'd jumped in, too.
Rey almost screamed when something grabbed her around the waist, imagining a massive sea creature come to drag her under. Rational thought kicked in when the sea creature wrapped around her and laughed in her ear.
"You ass," she breathed. "That scared the hell out of me."
Wet hair fell against her back, warm lips pressed to her shoulder, and he murmured an apology against her skin there.
And that scared her for an entirely different reason.
Ben stood on a rock underneath them, and she let him hold her so she could stop kicking. Telling the nervous little voice inside her head to please shut up, Rey turned around and wrapped her legs around his waist. He caught one of her thighs, sliding his hand further until he was supporting her.
"This situation is awful for you, isn't it?" he asked seriously, "Because you're so close to my parents?"
"It helps," she added. "Us being on the same side now. It seems like now there's a better chance of getting through this without them burning that bridge. I-" she paused, and looped her arms around his neck, asking, "If I say something dramatic and maybe childish right now will you judge me?"
Ben rolled his eyes and hugged her tighter. "The only thing I might judge you for your taste in music."
"It's just… you've got this amazing family, and they're so happy you've found someone, and I keep wondering if this mess doesn't seem like the end of the world to you because they'll still love you no matter what. Like, if we walked over to them right now and told them everything, they'll still love you. You'll still be their son."
His eyes narrowed, and she continued, "But I'm not their daughter. If they find out the truth and get angry, there's no reason they- no reason they still have- have to-"
The word caught on her tongue when she saw the stricken expression on his face, and she shuddered out a breath. Hot tears landed on her cheeks.
"Hey, hey," he whispered, raising a hand to cup her face. "Hey, it'll be fine. I promise."
"Love me," Rey choked out. "No reason they still have to love me. They're so much more than employers to me, but what if they're only so friendly because they pitied me, and now what if it's just because I'm with you? What happens when they find out? What- what if-"
Maybe Ben hadn't known how to comfort her, or maybe he'd just wanted her to shut up, or…
Or maybe he'd known what she needed, because he caught her in something Rey couldn't have called a kiss.
It had to be something else, because she'd kissed men before. Kissed women, even, and kisses - at least the good ones - were fun and sweet, and hot, and sexy.
But as she rested back against the strong arm around her and let Ben work over her mouth slowly and tenderly, Rey realized something.
Being kissed had never felt like coming home, until now.
After a hellish morning of alleged team-building exercises, Phasma had spent her afternoon the way she'd intended to spend her promised island-paradise vacation.
She'd found a reclining beach chair, undoubtedly one belonging to Luke that she wasn't allowed to take, and she'd found a quiet patch of beach. It was a step below what she'd had in mind since she was short a gin and tonic or a fruity concoction in a fancy glass, but given how her morning had gone, Phasma wouldn't pass up a relaxing afternoon spent sunning herself.
Her troubles had disappeared. Literally, since Ben and Rey had been nowhere to be found after lunch. With any luck they'd gone off discovering the extent of their undeniable chemistry, but Phasma had doubted they were that smart.
Dinner was what she waited for, to see how they'd act. As of late, most meals involved Ben doing a great deal of staring, or perhaps more accurately, pining.
This dinner was different. There wasn't a touch of dolefulness or unsurety in his gaze tonight, and he wasn't the only person staring over plates of cooling, freshly caught fish. Poe and Hux were boasting about the substantial haul from their fishing expedition, but the two soon-to-be newlyweds seemed to be in their own world.
Rey was tucked under his arm, leaning into him with a half-hug, and Ben couldn't seem to keep his lips off her forehead.
For a moment, Phasma wondered if it was time to crack the back-up bottle of champagne she'd brought, but then she remembered what had happened to the last bottle Luke had seen (may it rest in peace) and she thought better of it.
But she must have missed something, because the next thing she noticed was Rey standing and leaving the table, and Phasma frowned questioningly at Ben. He tilted his head, gesturing toward the huts, and mouthed the words can we talk?
Odd. It was all very odd, and she nodded emphatically, curious to know what had changed.
As subtly as they could, she and Ben excused themselves, too, and she followed him just past the clearing. He stopped in the same area in which they'd talked the previous night, and since it was just as dark as it had been then, Phasma ran into him.
"Sorry!" she whispered. "I didn't know you'd stopped. Pity nobody brought flashlights."
Ben's phone lit up, not as brightly as a proper flashlight, but it was an improvement. She waited for him to say something, explain things, anything, but he only whispered, "I need advice, Phas."
The sarcastic bitch in her wanted to say something rude about him needing more advice than he knew, but like a good friend, she bit her tongue and gestured for him to continue.
"I don't know what to do about any of this," he admitted. "About Rey."
That was vague. Eyes narrowed, she asked, "Can I assume you took my advice and cleared things up with her? She knows you've been genuine about your interest?"
"It's gone way past that."
"Past that? How far past that? Past that, as in-"
"It might be mutual. For both of us. Feelings, I mean. If that wasn't clear."
Phasma snorted. "Ah, well, having feelings for the person you're engaged to is generally-"
"Phas, I'm not joking around," he interrupted. "I mean it. She… I think I could see myself with her. Like this. For real. We spent all afternoon together, just the two of us, and-"
"Oh my God, did you…" She made a crude gesture.
He shook his head. "We just talked. And… stuff. I just need someone to tell me I'm not crazy, because, wasn't it just a couple weeks ago that I still thought she was annoying and a pain in my ass? And now… fuck," he breathed. "Phas, every time we're together my head spins."
Momentarily, she was taken aback. Was it truly that easy? Was her job over?
"Does Rey know this?" Phasma asked hesitantly.
When Ben paused, she considered pushing him off a cliff for how frustrating he was being, but then he answered, "I think so. I didn't say it, but she has to know."
Well, it wasn't the worst-case scenario.
"What sort of outcome are you looking for?" she asked. "You've got a wedding date in three months. It's time to make a plan and make sure Rey's on board with it. Or, wait. Hold on. If the game's over and you don't care about winning, why are we continuing the charade? Come clean. Date the woman. Isn't that more sane?"
"It's not that simple." He said it as though he wished it were. "She's concerned about making sure my parents aren't upset if they find out about all of this."
"I wouldn't be too worried about them," she hummed. "I'm sure they'll manage."
Ben snorted. "You're kidding, right? They'll be pissed. We were planning to tell them we eloped - that way we didn't need to plan and pay for a wedding that would end up being cancelled, and in a few months we could tell them things didn't work out, but now I want to see where things go, so-"
"You're adults," Phasma interrupted. "You like her, she undoubtedly likes you. Stop being so high school and tell the pretty girl you've got a crush. The rest will work itself out."
She watched his gaze dart back to the hut Rey was in, waiting for him, and he nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, you're right. I need to tell her."
"Good," she sighed, relieved. "In the morning, tell me how it went and we'll figure things out from there. I'm just relieved we're getting off this island."
Ben seemed too distracted to reply, and she smiled faintly. He jumped when she put a hand on his shoulder.
"It'll be fine," she murmured. "Just be honest."
"And what if she doesn't want the same thing?"
Phasma had seen the way the idiots had looked at each other, and her odds of winning a lottery ten times in a row were better than Rey not feeling similarly.
"Then you've got an excellent collection of wine bottles waiting to be enjoyed," she still offered, "And a friend who's more than willing to help you with them."
Ben laughed. "You've had enough of my wine."
"That's not possible," she deadpanned. "Now, go."
Softly, he smiled. "Thanks, Phas."
She nodded her reply, and gestured toward the hut, urging him on until he turned and walked away.
With any luck, Phasma thought, everything would be cleared up by morning.
Chapter 16: Voyeur
I feel like I owe you all an apology for this first scene but my tags say "author makes no apologies".
Just know, if I was going to apologize for anything, it'd be for how ridiculous this chapter is.
Something had changed, and Rey didn't think she'd be able to define it with a lifetime of introspection.
She didn't like undefined things. She liked steady truths- honest friendships, a regular job, solid ground beneath her feet, and those things directly opposed the unanswered, undefined, terrifying questions in her life: Where had her parents gone? Did Han and Leia consider her family? Did her job depend on them still liking her?
And most recently: What was she to Ben Solo? An inconvenience? A situation he was choosing to make the best of? Or something else?
Rey was in bed, trying to but not sleeping when Ben came into the hut after dinner. The sting of their so-called counseling session had been too fresh, and she'd left early after her food started to turned to ash in her mouth whenever Luke spoke. More so when the man suggested they work on "sharing their truths".
"Are you still awake?" Ben whispered over the rustling of him changing into pajamas. "Rey?"
She sat up in bed, looking in his direction despite the blackness of the room. Clouds were covering the stars, and what little light the bright pin-pricks had offered through their windows were snuffed out for the night.
"I'm sorry I left early," she whispered back.
"Don't be." Ben slid into bed next to her, feeling around until his hand found her side, at the bottom of her ribcage. "Today was a lot." He hesitated. "You probably don't need to deal with anything else today, hm?"
She leaned into him and rested her head on his shoulder. Let out a breath. Then she reached over to turn on the bedside table light. The lamp flicked on, casting a dim glow into the hut.
Next to her, he winced at the light. His hair was tousled and curling from air-drying after their swim, and she had the intense urge to run her fingers through it and kiss him.
"Most of it was good, thanks to you," she admitted. "It was still a lot, though."
Ben hummed in understanding. "Well, even discounting how it ended, that therapy session was…"
He mouthed the word Yikes, and Rey laughed.
Ben was staring with a saccharine half-smile when she grinned over at him, and he moved toward her cautiously, as though he thought he might scare her off.
Maybe it did scare her, a little.
He caught her mouth, and the hand at her side curled around her. She sunk into him, letting him tip her head back and stroke into her mouth with his tongue. It took Rey half the kiss to put a word to the way his lips worked over hers, the way his hand gripped her and held her close.
He kissed her ardently, as though he'd never wanted to kiss anyone else and she was what he was starved for. It was perfect. A perfect moment Rey wished she could bottle up - a moment where she felt truly wanted, and cared for.
It was perfect… until it wasn't.
Right around the point when her hands made it into his hair, running through the soft curls like she'd wanted to, someone started knocking at the door and the two of them split away like teenagers caught making out, although they were adults and everyone on the island thought they were engaged.
With kiss-swollen lips, Ben glowered at the door like it offended him, and his expression grew stormy when, through the door, Luke said, "Hey kids, have you gone to bed yet? I was hoping we could talk."
Ben glanced over at her and shook his head rapidly, and she mouthed in response, "No way."
"Kids? Looks like your light's on? Can I come in?"
Seeming more panicked by the second, Ben opened his mouth to reply, but Rey clapped a hand over it, silencing him. She whispered, "Trust me?"
His eyes narrowed.
Her idea was… evil. There was no point in lying about it, and Rey couldn't enact it with Ben looking at her, so she moved the hand from his mouth and put it over his eyes.
"Oh, Ben," she moaned loudly, "Yes, right there!"
Quickly, he grabbed her hand, pulled it from over his eyes, and stared at her in disbelief. His jaw was hanging.
A voice sounded from outside their door, "Oh, are you two… busy? I-" Luke coughed. "I thought there was a vow, or-"
Ben grimaced at the door.
"Play along," she hissed. "He'll go away!"
He rolled his eyes and reluctantly looked around. His eyes settled on the headboard, and he sighed, then took ahold of it and started banging it against the wall.
She let out another dramatic moan. "Yes, please! Harder! I love your perfect, massive-"
Out of nowhere Ben smacked her with a pillow, and shook his head, clearly embarrassed. The poor guy was bright red.
Luke cleared his throat and dared to knock again. "Maybe in a few minutes? I'll wait."
Ben turned to the door, stunned, and whispered, "Is he seriously waiting?"
"Are you surprised?" she scoffed. "Ready to play along better?"
He took a deep breath, then covered his eyes as though he couldn't bear to see her reaction and replied in an equally fake groan, "Oh Rey, you're so tight, I'll split you open."
Rey burst out laughing, both at how red he'd turned, and how his exaggerated voice sounded like he was in a bad porno. She had to shove a pillow over her face so it wouldn't be audible. Ben saw her and started laughing, too.
"Please, please," she half-begged, half-laughed, "I'm ready for your cock! Please fuck me!"
Ben quirked an eyebrow, gesturing to how he was still banging at the bed frame. "Aren't I already?" he half-yelled, as though he was unsure.
"Oh, right! It's so good!" She snorted, and fell over on the bed, holding her stomach as she tried to giggle quietly.
His shoulders shook in silent laughter. "Where- where do you want it... uh… baby?"
"I'm not sure?" Rey tilted her head. "Do you mean… did you want to try anal?"
Ben looked like he was slowly losing his mind. "Where do you want me to finish?" he clarified, flustered. "All over your perfect...uh. Chest? Or in your pretty little-"
"I want you to spray it all over the room!" she interrupted, struggling not to die from the absurdity. At this point she almost hoped Luke was still listening. "I know marriage is about being open and honest, like your uncle said, and my truth is that I want this whole room covered in your cum! All over me, and the bed and everywhere!"
She could just imagine how Luke was cringing at the mess they were supposedly making.
When she glanced over at Ben, his eyes were watering with unshed tears, and he was biting at his lips. "Whatever you want, honey."
"Yes, yes! Harder!" Rey blurted out before she had to smother herself again to prevent giggling. With a deep breath, she sat back up and begged, "Fuck me harder! Pull my hair, like that! You're so big, it's like a whole forearm!"
"Setting some pretty unrealistic expectations there," he mumbled. "Might not want to get your hopes up that high."
Rey had to bite her lips closed to stop the laugh threatening to bubble up.
Ben took a moment to compose himself and increased his already enthusiastic bed frame banging. "I- I uh-" he searched for what to say, and half-yelled, "I love it when you choke on my cock!"
Rey blinked. "But... I'm not giving you a blowjob?"
"No, yeah, I know." He looked like he wanted to die, and somehow his blush intensified. "I'm just that deep!"
She clapped a hand to her face. This… wasn't going smoothly.
"Oh, right!" she exaggerated, "You're so deep, with your super huge monster cock! I'm so glad we brought all this lube!"
There was a loud cough from outside. "Maybe we should talk in the morning, kids. Have- have a good night."
Rey moaned again for good measure, and looked over at Ben, who'd ceased the loud assault on the bed frame. There was a moment of silence when she hoped she hadn't initiated something that was about to make everything between them awkward, but Ben cracked a wide smile and chuckled.
She face-planted forward into the mattress, cackling.
"Holy shit," Ben breathed through tears, "I can't believe he didn't leave sooner. I can't believe we did that."
"That might be the worst thing I've ever done," she giggled. "Or maybe the best?"
Ben shook his head, and they met gazes, and Rey couldn't help but remember how he'd been kissing her - how tenderly he'd been kissing her, just before they'd gotten interrupted.
They needed to talk, but instead of bringing that up she sighed happily and laughed with him.
There'd be plenty of time to talk.
It was frigid and a little before nine the next morning when Ben snuck their bags down to the dock where they'd catch a boat back to the mainland. Rey was right behind him, and they were doing anything necessary to avoid whatever talk Luke wanted to have with them.
The water lapped against the edges of the rocky shore, and it sent him spiraling into thoughts of the swim they'd taken not twenty-four hours earlier. Thoughts of her bare legs wrapped around him, her arms around his neck. Her mouth on his.
Rey nudged his arm, an eyebrow raised. "Hey, everything okay?"
That was when Ben realized he'd stopped a few yards from the dock and started staring off into the distance. He nodded. "Yeah. Is it weird if I'll miss being here?"
"A little?" she laughed. "I think I could have done without most of it."
"Mm, me too. But I got to kiss you here."
The forwardness seemed to surprise her, and Ben watched her cheeks go pink.
"Oh. Well, as it turns out," she sassed, "You can kiss me anywhere."
"Anywhere?" He grinned, then leaned down and whispered the word again, this time in her ear, "Anywhere? Is that a promise?"
"If you ask nicely enough."
He laughed and followed her down the rest of the way to the dock. Luckily, his uncle wasn't there, ready to jump out and dredge up old traumas or cause new ones. The only people waiting were his parents and Phasma.
Ben frowned when he arrived at the little group. "Where's everyone else?"
"You're here," Han greeted dryly. "Funny. We took bets to see if you'd sleep in after the night you had."
His mother cleared her throat, shooting his father a look that screamed shut up. "Poe and Finnegan left early," she explained. "They mentioned dinner plans they needed to be back for."
"Kaydel agreed to cover an afternoon shift at the bookstore, so she left with them," Phasma chimed in. "Rose and Hux haven't come down yet."
Next to him, Rey nudged his shoulder, gesturing toward a massive rock that stuck out from the shore. "I'm going to go sit over there while we wait. I think it'll be a good spot to take pictures from."
He smiled and leaned in to kiss her forehead, but Rey lifted on her toes and intercepted the kiss with her lips, humming against him.
And then she dashed off toward the rock like she hadn't just wrecked him a little.
"I think that's an excellent idea," Leia said. She gestured toward the rock and said to Han, "Come take a picture of me with my future daughter-in-law?"
Han grumbled an agreement, and followed behind her as they headed toward Rey, leaving just him and Phasma.
In the interest of leaving as early as possible, Ben grabbed their bags and piled them in a tidy pile with everyone else's luggage. With any luck, the boat would be there soon and this nightmare of an island would be far behind them.
A voice cleared. "Congratulations on your super huge monster cock," Phasma deadpanned. "How nice that must be for you."
Ben blanched. "You heard that? Uh. We were messing around so Luke would leave us alone. We weren't even undressed. Luke kept knocking on our door and the counseling session with him didn't go well, so…"
"Uh, huh. Did you not realize the entire island heard you?"
No. No he had not.
He stared blankly at her, hoping, praying that wasn't true.
Phasma nodded, as if she could read his mind. "Don't worry, your parents were fine once your father broke out the contraband whiskey. Did you speak with Rey about you told me last night?"
"I… got distracted," Ben admitted. "After he left we were laughing and she'd had such a weird, awful day, and it was really good to see her happy. I didn't want to risk adding to the weird, awful part."
Phasma considered him for a minute. "Don't you think it's more likely you'd have added to the happy part? Don't you think this situation would be simpler if you both had feelings for each other?"
Behind them, Hux spoke up. "Are we talking about how weird last night was? Good grief, it sounded like you were killing the poor girl."
Ben grimaced, and turned back to roll his eyes at his friend, who continued with a smirk, "Though, I guess with a super monster cock the size of a forearm-"
"No," Phasma interrupted, "I believe Rey referred to it as a super huge monster cock."
"Oh right, how could I have forgotten," Hux snarked. "It's not like she didn't yell it loudly enough."
He groaned. "You both know that was fake, right? Just to scare off my uncle?"
Hux stared at him tiredly. "Don't flatter yourself, obviously I assumed that, but the whole ordeal still gave me nightmares. You're buying me coffee when we get back to our cars."
"Fine," Ben sighed.
He glanced back to the others, looking for an excuse to change the subject, and he saw his mother waving the three of them over to the rocks where Rose had now joined Rey and both of his parents. From where he stood it was hard to make out what his mother was saying into the phone she held, but her once warm smile had fallen.
When she waved again, Ben walked over toward them, Phas and Hux in step behind them.
"I'm not sure I understand," his mother was saying when they arrived, "Let me put you on speaker."
She clicked a button on the screen and held out the phone, and a bubbly, high-pitched voice sounded out, "-was saying, Mrs. Organa, was that we've had a cancellation!"
"A cancellation?" Leia repeated. "What do you mean?"
"It's great news for your bride and groom!" the woman on the phone assured, "I remember you'd mentioned they preferred an October wedding but the soonest booking we had available was December? There's been a cancellation! A couple eloped, and you're my first call."
Ben nearly stopped breathing. "Are- are you saying you've moved the wedding to next month?"
"Not yet!" the woman said, "But we're offering you the booking for a discount. The catch is that I need to know now, because-"
Across from him, Rey glanced around at everyone, and breathed out, "That's great. We'll- uh. We'll take it."
Phasma met his gaze with wide eyes, mouthing, "No," but Ben froze in place.
"October," his mother repeated. "I'm sure we can pull something together…"
He watched Rey panic. Nobody else saw it, but he did. Still, she choked out, "I- yeah. October's great. Right, Ben? We wanted October anyway, right?"
The air left his lungs all at once as she stared up at him.
There were a million things he wanted to say. Things he should have said, but the only thing he could stomach was, "Is that what you want?"
Rey looked around at all of them, and nodded, plastering on a wide fake smile.
"I think that's a yes," Leia murmured.
The employee or wedding planner, whoever she was, exclaimed, "Wonderful! I'll email all the documents with updated dates, along with the new invoice amount. Do you have any questions?"
His mother shook her head. "No, that's all. You've… done plenty. Thank you."
The phone call ended, and out of nowhere Phasma grabbed his arm and started dragging him away, explaining, "Excuse us, I need to speak with the groom." She laughed with faux cheerfulness, "With a wedding date so soon we need to discuss the bachelor party! Don't we, Hux?"
Maybe Hux nodded, but Ben missed it. He was too busy staring at Rey and seeing the smile on her face - the one that was fake and so unlike any she'd given him - slowly fade to something sad and hopeless.
They were well out of earshot of Rey, Rose, or his parents when Phasma stopped, and leaned against a tree, lost in thought.
"That was not part of the plan," she admitted.
Ben's eyes narrowed. "What plan?"
"It doesn't matter anymore," Phas waved off. "What matters is that your timeline just shrank from three months to one."
"I can't believe she agreed to that. Phas filled me in," Hux explained. "I always thought you two would make a nice pair. It makes sense, but Rey agreeing to October doesn't."
Phasma shook her head. "I don't understand it either."
"I do," Ben said quietly. "At least I think I do. She was nervous. She kept looking around at everyone before she answered. I guarantee she gave the answer she thought would make my parents happier. There's no way she'd want to risk upsetting or disappointing them."
Phasma swore under her breath and sank until she sat with her back against the tree. "What now?" She stopped and looked over at him. "You'll still tell her how you feel, won't you?"
"I have no idea," he sighed.
"This may not be the best time to bring it up," Hux muttered, "But your mother hired people to move Rey into your apartment while we've been here. I only know because I'll be moving in with Rose. My lease it almost up - Rose intends for us to stay through the end of the lease she and Rey signed, but we'll likely buy a house at that point."
It wasn't a shock based on the conversation they'd had with his mother, combined with the woman's predisposition to helping people to death.
Ben let out a long breath. "So you're telling me Rey's will be living in my apartment… indefinitely? Until she decides to leave? And we still have to figure out a new plan for the October wedding?"
"Wait," Phasma blurted. "Wait. I know what you can do."
He and Hux both stared down at her, awaiting an answer, and she grinned. "Get married."
Ben groaned. "Phas, if it was that easy-"
"No, listen," she interrupted. "Have the ceremony. Claim that since the date has been advanced, you need to keep the event small. That's how you'll save money - only invite this group, perhaps a few others, and skip the reception in favor of a group dinner."
"Phasma, he can't just go to Rey and say looks like we need to get married, sorry," Hux pointed out.
"No," she agreed. "But does anyone at a wedding insist on inspecting a marriage license?"
Understanding dawned on Hux's face, but Ben still frowned at them. "I don't get it."
"That's perfect. If they don't have a marriage license, it won't be a legal marriage. It'll only be a ceremony." Hux turned to Ben and said, "You'll need to make sure the officiant knows."
"It's perfect," Phasma breathed. "This means you and Rey will appear married to everyone and you'll tell Rey you can fake a breakup months later. You'll be living together, and maybe-"
"After a few months she won't want to fake a breakup," Ben finished for her.
"It gives you time to find that out," Phasma added. "And time to determine how you feel, too."
Ben nodded numbly, only half-listening, because it hit him how real everything was again.
Wedding plans, games, and secrets, deadlines, stress...
And all he wanted to do was kiss her.
Just as she'd feared - though, feared was probably the wrong word considering the developments in their relationship (was relationship even the right word?) - every single one of her belongings had disappeared from her apartment.
Rey had to give Leia credit. The woman worked quickly, and she was thorough. She had to have hired someone, but Rey couldn't figure out how they'd known the Galaxy Battle Trooper salt and pepper shakers were hers, or which pictures were hers, and she was really trying not to think of someone packing up certain drawers.
It was a nice surprise when she got home from Murder Island. A nice rotten cherry on top of a shit-sundae that had been her day - one which had involved a shocking new wedding date (though she could admit that one was on her), and Ben ignoring her for an entire five hours of their six hour car ride.
Not that she blamed him. She'd ruined their annulment plan, but in the final hour of the trip he'd swooped in with a reluctant sigh and a mention of a new plan. One that involved an unofficial ceremony, and no marriage license.
It seemed more underhanded than the fake-elopement, but Rey didn't think they had another option.
She racked her brain for any other plan that would make her feel less awful as she waited for Ben to answer his door.
The glass door slid open to reveal an annoyed looking Ben in the same black sweater and jeans she'd watched him put on that morning. He sighed again when he saw her there, holding the bag she'd brought from the island which was full of her only belongings that hadn't taken up residence at his place.
"I was wondering how long it'd take," he muttered. "My mother-"
"Works quickly?" Rey offered, attempting to be generous.
Ben huffed a dry laugh. "Sure. Let's call it that."
He stepped out of the doorway, gesturing for her to come in, and explained, "Someone moved your things in while we were on Ahch-To. I don't know who she hired, but they unpacked it all."
That was obvious the moment Rey stepped inside. Her pictures, including the one of her with his parents, hung in his kitchen. Her salt and pepper shakers sat on his counter. She wandered through the first floor, seeing subtle changes from the way it had been during her bridal shower. It wasn't anything crazy - a photo here, a little stack of magazines there. Her little braided rug in front of his sofa. A cozy yellow blanket tossed over the back of a chair. Some of her books mixed into his on a bookshelf.
It looked… normal. Natural.
Rey wasn't sure why, but she'd expected her things to stick out like unfortunate stains under a black light - so obvious it'd take no time at all to separate them back out again.
But as she stared at the bookcase, Rey realized there were some books she wasn't able to parse out. She glanced around again.
Had those coasters been hers?
"Weird, right?" Ben asked.
Rey turned back to him, shrugging a shoulder. "It's… odd. Not what I expected."
"Before you knocked I kept staring at the bookcase," he admitted. "I can't figure out if the Orwell books are yours, or mine."
"Mine? I think?"
Ben hummed. "Maybe it doesn't matter."
"Yet," he clarified. "It doesn't matter yet. We'll only need to split things when you move out, right?"
"Oh, right," Rey nodded. "Right. Yeah, that's true. No need to worry about it now."
They fell into an awkward silence, and she looked around more. Before, during the bridal shower, she might have described the place as a little cold. Sterile, even. There'd been a throw pillow or two, but it looked lived in like a staged house was meant to look lived in.
Now it was warm. Softened around the once-sharp edges.
Ben cleared his throat. "So, they unpacked your things into my bedroom."
"Seriously?" she asked in disbelief.
"Well I use the second bedroom as a home gym, and they think we're engaged. And uh-" he paused, and the red of his cheeks deepened. "They may have heard us breaking that chastity vow."
"Oh, did they? That's… perfect," Rey sighed. Then she laughed. "Just perfect."
Ben laughed, too, and she took a step closer, smiling up at him. She shrugged as if to say may as well make the best of it and reached up to kiss him.
At his widening eyes, she paused. "Is this weird? For us to share a bed? And all the kissing? And being... casual, while this is going on?"
"Is uh- is that what we're doing?"
"I… guess so." His shoulders sagged a little as he wrapped his arms around her, tugging her close and burying his face in the crook of her neck.
Rey turned her head and kissed him. Chastely. Barely a peck.
It still felt like coming home. But it wasn't home, she reminded herself again. It was temporary. An inconvenience, especially for him. In two or three months she'd be on her own again, out a roommate since Rose was shacking up with Armitage (not that Rey wasn't happy for them), and moving out would be bad enough.
Casual fun was one thing, but she didn't need to tack on a broken heart.
"So it's not weird?"
Ben pulled back, frowned, and tilted his head. "My perception of weird has changed dramatically since I met you, so I can't say."
"Okay, so I know it wasn't one, but I'm taking that as a compliment."
He smiled softly at her. The sort of smile that riled up the butterflies she kept trying to kill. "It was a compliment. You've made things interesting."
"Interesting? Interesting? This is the level of insanity we have to get to before you use the word interesting?" she teased. "We couldn't have just found a good movie?"
Finally, his light smile cracked into a proper grin, and he leaned down to kiss her with something a little deeper than the testing peck she'd given him.
Between kisses she murmured, "So that's a yes to your offer of benefits, in case I wasn't clear."
Rey had been unsure at first, whether or not it was a good idea, but after their weekend it felt almost inevitable. Plus, as he'd said, they were suffering the downsides… why not enjoy the benefits?
She regretted mentioning it though, as soon as Ben backed away, flinching.
"I don't know," he said reluctantly. "You set some very high expectations." He gestured to his forearm. "Wouldn't want to disappoint."
Filling with instant relief, Rey burst out laughing. It took a minute, but Ben joined in, laughing fully and genuinely.
And for a moment, it seemed like everything might be okay.
Chapter 17: Date
It seemed like everything would be okay.
It seemed that way all afternoon, even when Rey followed her new roommate into his - well, their bedroom, and found her sweaters and dresses hanging in his closet. Her pillow next to his. Her favorite toys in the nightstand on what was apparently her side of the bed.
(Ben had smirked at that).
It seemed like everything would be fine, even as she wandered into his attached bathroom and saw her toothbrush in the same shiny silver holder as his. When she found her towels in the closet, all in a shade of emerald that went well with his dark gray.
Rey was a little weirded out by how not weird it all was, but the other shoe dropped, and if she hadn't started reeling from the news Leia delivered, she might have been relieved that she was right about it all being a little too easy.
The news came in via a phone call when they'd returned to the living room, and Ben waved her over as he said, "Wait, what day?"
A second later, Leia's voice rang out on speakerphone. "October 14th."
Rey blanched. She had a bad feeling she knew what was on October 14th, but, she asked, "What's that, Leia?"
"The wedding! They sent over the documents to my email. I forwarded all of it to you two. When can we sit down to plan this out? I know we mentioned going small, so-"
"That's in three weeks," Ben interrupted.
She didn't chime in, only because she'd already done the math and she was trying not to freak out about it. Ben looked like someone had slapped him.
Rey took his hand as he sat down on the couch, squeezing it in a way she hoped was comforting. "It's okay," she whispered, too softly for Leia to hear, "We've got a plan."
"Just over three weeks," Leia confirmed. "That's why we need to get planning. If you still want my help."
"We do, we do. It's… very soon," Ben murmured.
Guilt surged through her, and she cast her eyes down. She couldn't bear to watch how much this was stressing him out. That was her fault. It would have been so much easier to have laughed and said, no, no, that's so soon, or she could have lied and claimed they'd sent out the invites already. But now Rey was left with the annoying inner voice nagging and asking her why, why, why had she agreed to the October date?
A single finger came up under her chin and lifted it until her gaze met his again, and that inner voice was silenced as he pressed a gentle kiss to her mouth while his mother went on about what they still needed to cross off their list.
It was barely anything. It was everything.
And there it was - the reason this was all so risky.
Rey was sure he had intended it to be a quick, reassuring kiss, and it was, but then she grabbed his face and pulled him back to her, ignoring Leia and thoughts of a wedding in favor of sucking on his bottom lip. He dropped the phone, as far as she could tell. Something clattered to the floor and both of his hands were free to grip her hips and tug her into his lap.
"-bouquets could still be lovely for pictures, and- Oh, are the two of you still planning to have anyone in the wedding party? Rey, didn't you mention Rose had agreed to be the maid of honor?"
She was in heaven, straddling his lap, her fingers in his hair and his tongue mapping her mouth while his hands slid… everywhere, really, and not for a second did Rey think to answer any of Leia's questions.
"With a smaller wedding would you prefer no wedding party? Just the two of you?" Leia prodded. "Or, is that a yes to the wedding party? Rey? Ben? Hello? Did the call drop?"
Ben had the good sense to pull away, looking as dazed as she was, and he cleared his throat. "Sorry mom, I think I muted us. Ah- wedding party…"
"Yes, sure," Rey thought to add. Her head was spinning, and she felt like a live wire, noticing how his hands were still splayed across her lower back, grasping and pulling her closer even now. "Uh, Ben, didn't you say Hux-"
He nodded. "Hux, right, yes. We've got a best man and maid of honor."
"That'll be nice for pictures," Leia agreed. "We'll look into bouquets and boutineers, too. Have you two picked colors yet? I'm not sure we'll need to make Armitage and Rose too matchy, but it might be nice if his tie matched whatever dress you pick for her, and-"
Rey was too distracted for this. She let her hands slide down the sides of his neck, over his shoulders and down his chest, and she marveled at how little it took before he closed his eyes and let his head fell back against the couch.
She interrupted on his behalf, because it seemed like he was only seconds from moaning and Leia really didn't need to hear them doing anything - fake or not fake - again. "Leia, could we call you back? You're so right about the colors, but we've got something on the stove and I want to be able to give you my full attention."
Ben groaned as her hands roamed back up toward his shoulders, and she held her breath, hoping Leia hadn't heard.
Just her luck, the woman laughed and replied slyly, "Oh, of course, dear. You call me whenever you're done… cooking."
A flush rose on Ben's cheeks. He lifted his head and cleared his throat again. "Sorry mom, I uh- made your famous Alfredo sauce for Rey and it's too good - I don't want it to burn. We'll talk to you later!"
Leia hung up mid-laugh at his poor excuse.
They both paused for a moment, but then Ben stood, taking her with him, and she yelped at the sudden change, grabbing at him for support. He silenced her with a kiss, firm and insistent, and he held her as he walked to the stairs.
It was odd, being held with only her legs wrapped around him and hands gripping his shoulders guaranteeing she wouldn't fall. His hands were under her, holding her steadily, but Rey wasn't even good with trust falls, never mind being carried.
The trip to the stairs ended when he sat her down on a surface. Frowning, she pulled away from his mouth and realized he'd put her on his bare dining room table.
"Didn't think we'd make it to the bed," he murmured.
Then he kissed her again. Her lips, along her jaw, down her throat, and Rey could only sit there on his table, panting and clutching at him while he teased.
She silenced the pesky little voice that kept asking probing questions like Are we sure this is casual? or Wouldn't it be so easy to stay?
Or worse, the voice that reminded her of the situation's impending expiration date.
Rey hushed them all, focusing on the man between her thighs, because truthfully, no it didn't feel casual, and yes, it would be easy to stay.
And yes, there was an expiration date.
His hands slid up her legs, up to the top of her jeans so he was toying with their buttons, and between kisses he breathed out, "Can I? Please?"
From her pocket, her cellphone began to ring, blaring tinny, bubbly pop from the space between them.
"I wanna see your peacock, cock, cock, your-"
Ben's face dropped to her shoulder, and he groaned. "Seriously, Rey?"
"You set that as your ringtone?"
"Blame Rose, it was her idea."
He laughed. "That song haunts me, y'know. Like, there are some nights I swear it's the soundtrack for my nightmares."
"Oh, and here I thought it'd be our song," she hummed. "No?"
"Definitely not, there's no-"
Ben was interrupted by a knock this time, and he turned his head to frown at the door. Whoever it was knocked again, and he huffed. At a third knock, Rey face-planted into his chest, stopping for only a moment to appreciate its firmness.
"We should get that, shouldn't we?"
He sighed. "Yeah."
Ben backed away enough for her to get off the table, and she followed him to the door, curious to see who she'd be annoyed with for the untimely interruption.
Her anger dissipated when she turned the corner and found an excited pair in Hux and Rose standing outside the sliding doors with two pizzas, presumably to share. Ben slid the door open, offering a small wave, and Rose nearly tackled him in an unexpected hug before turning and doing the same for her.
"You're here!" Rose said. "We picked up pizzas. I tried calling, but we were hoping you guys could do a date-night-in with us?"
"I just moved my board games over," Hux offered, smiling after his girlfriend. "We have a few we can't play without another person or two if you'd like to join in."
Rey glanced to Ben, trying to get a read on his thoughts, and he gave her a half-shrug, then smiled at how Rose still had her wrapped in a hug.
"Yeah," he nodded. "We didn't get to spend much time together on Ahch-To, so that sounds… nice. Come on in."
Maybe it should have been disappointing, and maybe she should have been annoyed by the interruption, but as Rose left to get a game and as Hux took the pizzas into the dining room, Ben leaned in to kiss her tenderly.
"Date night sounds nice," he commented. And then he smiled and kissed her again.
Rey couldn't find it in her to be disappointed or annoyed.
It was the mirror image of the upstairs bathroom she and Rose had shared, and for a minute, Rey paused and squinted at the room, making sure she hadn't imagined things and found her old bathroom, newly renovated while she was on the island.
After all, if Leia could have all her belongings moved in a weekend, Rey wouldn't put it past her to have a little renovating and redecorating done.
Then she came to her senses and remembered this was Ben's half of the house.
Like its twin on the other side of the duplex, this bathroom had tiling in swirling shades of gray, the sort that cleaned easily and was forgiving if you still didn't clean it often. One wall held a wide double-sink white vanity with enough room for curling irons, straighteners, and hair dryers, makeup bags and products. Directly opposite was a generous shower, large enough for the occasional bubble bath.
That's where the similarities ended, because while Rey and Rose had been in a never-ending cycle of who's turn is it to clean this week?, this bathroom was spotless without even a single water spot on the mirror from aggressive teeth-brushing.
The only products visible hadn't been bought in the form of massive bottles on sale for cheap, and they were organized like they were ready for someone to come in and buy them. Rather than a bright yellow and pink flamingo'd shower curtain and bathmat, there was a stark white shower curtain and a gray cotton mat that was more like a small designer rug.
For a bathroom it was beautiful, but Rey was still dazed, staring at her toothbrush.
It was such a simple, silly little thing to notice.
Her brush had taken up residence next to his, in the same shiny silver holder she'd noticed during her first tour, just hours earlier.
Maybe it was all starting to get to her, or maybe it was thanks to the many drinks she'd had with Rose over Clue, or maybe both of those things, but this silly little toothbrush - only a hunk of helpfully shaped plastic and bristle and battery sitting next to another one like it - had her reeling.
Rey blinked and shook herself out of the stupor she'd fallen into, then stripped and started his shower as she'd intended. Without testing the temperature of the water, she stepped under the stream, her fuzzy mind half-wondering why she hadn't invited Ben to join her.
He'd gotten her so worked up all evening. A subtle touch to her hip, a soft kiss to her hair, a whisper into her ear when nobody was paying attention - he'd driven her crazy without a single suggestive comment. It was how close he stayed, always within her orbit, always within reach.
She wanted him closer. She wanted to crash into him.
It seemed the movers hadn't determined which shower products were hers, and Rey double checked the suctioned-on shower shelf for them with no luck.
Ben's looked pricey, like everything else he had, but Rey didn't think he'd mind, so she popped open one bottle and started lathering with a product that claimed to contain hibiscus extract and promised to have an irresistible scent with notes of vanilla, sandalwood, and passionfruit.
Maybe that was why she often had the urge to lick him.
"You know you left the door open, right?" he asked from the doorway, sounding amused. "Did you drown in there?"
It was the liquid courage still running through her system that replied, "Why don't you come in and find out?"
He didn't reply right away, and Rey tilted her head back under the water to rinse, sighing louder than necessary as the suds washed out and ran down her body.
Ben cleared his throat. "Am I smelling my shampoo? If you're using it, try the conditioner, too."
"I never use conditioner. Wouldn't know how much to put in. Come show me?"
When he didn't reply, she poked her head out of the shower, not caring as her hair dripped on the floor, and quirked an eyebrow at him. Feeling daring, Rey pulled the shower curtain fully aside.
"Are you sure you don't want to join me?"
"I didn't say-"
Then Ben saw her and made a choking noise in the middle of whatever he'd been about to say. He spun toward the mirror, met her eyes in the reflective surface, and turned red and swore quietly before he turned to stare at a wall.
"Should I not have done that?" she asked hesitantly, plunging into a pool of self-doubt.
He worked out the words faintly, "It- uh. I just wasn't expecting it. You're-"
"Too forward? I'm sorry, I thought-"
"Beautiful," he breathed. He glanced back at her over his shoulder, and turned back slowly, letting his eyes trail up and down before he swallowed.
Had anyone ever reacted to her that way before? Rey couldn't remember. Everybody seemed to enjoy breasts but had anyone ever just stared at her body and taken in a quiet, trembling breath?
"I don't even know if that's the right word," he said softly.
He tore his gaze away again and asked in a rough voice, "So how much did you have to drink tonight? You and Rose seemed pretty tipsy by the end of the first game."
"Four? Five?" Rey winced and ducked back behind the curtain in search of the conditioner he'd suggested. It matched the shampoo bottle, so she popped it open, guessed at the right amount, and smoothed it through her hair. "I'm not sure."
"I figured. Uh, leave the conditioner in for a minute before you rinse. I'll find pajamas for you."
"You're not coming in?" She looked back out at him, trying not to seem desperate, or sad.
Ben shook his head, but walked over to her and reached around the shower curtain to take her face in his hands. He kissed her sweetly and murmured, "Ask me again next time. When you're sober, and I know for sure you want me to."
Rey was annoyed, almost to the point of pouting, and he let out a quiet laugh.
"It's tempting," he sighed, and that helped. "Very tempting."
Slowly, his hand slid down, ghosting over her skin in a path over her neck, gliding over her collarbone, brushing over one of her breasts.
Then he snapped out of what seemed almost like a trance and backed away.
"Ask me next time," Ben promised. "Or in the morning. Any time when I know… when I know for sure. Okay? For now, I'll get you pajamas."
Even with alcohol in her system and the memory of his touch burning on her, Rey couldn't be annoyed by that. The longer she spent rinsing her hair, drying off, and changing into the unfamiliar but soft and cozy gray t-shirt he left out for her along with some of her pajama shorts, the more she knew he'd been right.
She even admitted it to him when she climbed into bed and realized her head was pounding, and contrary to what she'd feared, he didn't tease her for coming onto him or make her feel guilty for drinking too much to have sex.
Ben only smiled, handed her a glass of water, and gestured to the bottle of ibuprofen that was now sitting on her nightstand. After she had some he covered them with a heavy comforter, shut the lights off with two claps, and curled around her.
And it all felt so very much like she imagined home would feel.
Ben was dreaming. He had to be dreaming.
He just didn't get this lucky. Sure, he got lucky enough to win a dollar or two when his mom stuck a few scratch-off lottery tickets in his stocking over the holidays, and lucky enough to catch a great sale now and then at his favorite bookstore, but he never got this lucky.
That was why, when he woke up next to Rey every morning for the better half of a week, Ben was convinced he had to be dreaming.
They'd gotten better at sharing a bed. Rather than smothering each other or pushing each other off, they tangled together. She'd taken to using him as her pillow, and his heart ached every time he wondered if he'd need to get used to sleeping alone again at some point.
Unfortunately, he hadn't seen her much all week - sharing a bed was the only time he reliably saw her, and his father had already called to apologize for keeping her so busy. They'd had a sudden influx of customers and one of the regular mechanics was on vacation, so every night Rey came home covered in dirt and grime and grease, only with enough energy left to shower and drop into bed.
It was a relief when Friday night came, because his mother had texted them both a time and address, mentioning something about a wedding-related thing they needed to be at. She'd even gotten Han to let Rey out of work early.
Now Ben, dressed up in slacks and a weather appropriate (but nice) sweater per his mother's very specific instructions, was waiting for Rey at the address. It was a small park, close to where they lived. The sun was setting with a lilac sky, and as he stood next to an old white gazebo with Victorian-style trim, Ben looked around, not noticing anyone.
What sort of "wedding-related thing" took place in a park at sunset and didn't involve anyone else who was helping to plan the wedding?
He frowned and checked his watch. 6 PM, on the dot, and nobody else was there.
Was it weird that the park was deserted?
Feeling increasingly paranoid, he checked the address again, but that only confirmed he was in the right place.
Ben was about to call his mother for clarification when a figure appeared in his peripheral vision, and he turned to see Rey, bounding toward him in a short wine-colored dress that wrapped around her and tied at her waist.
Her hair was in buns, and it looked still damp from a shower.
That got him thinking about seeing her in the shower, and Ben swallowed, feeling annoyed that he hadn't yet followed up on what they'd discussed while she was naked and dripping.
But then she smiled at him and came close enough to lean up and meet him for a kiss.
"I'm glad you're here," he greeted. "Did you see anyone else? Are they still in the parking lot?"
She shook her head. "Han was still working when I left, so I don't think he planned to come tonight. Isn't your mother supposed to be here?"
"I assumed so. She sent you the same text she sent me, right?"
Rey shrugged, and took out her phone to show him the text with the park's address, the time, and instructions to dress up in something pretty, but warm.
His eyes narrowed. "Okay, this is weird. I'll call her."
He was half-way to pressing his mother's phone number when a series of texts came through from Phasma, and Ben took a moment to read through them.
-I asked your mother for help on something.
-As usual, she may have taken it a bit far.
-I'm told you'll need to wait there for a few minutes.
-You'll thank me, I promise.
Rey tilted her head. "What? What's going on?"
"I'm not sure. Apparently we need to wait a few minutes."
She sighed tiredly and surprised him by walking into his arms and resting her head on his chest.
"This week's been awful. Not like, specifically bad - the extra cash is great, but the garage has been getting slammed with customers."
"I'm sorry." He held her closer, nuzzling against the top of her head. "I missed you. I know you've been home every night but I don't think we've had the chance to talk at all."
Her words were muffled into his sweater. "We haven't. I'm just so tired." She pulled back a little to look up at him and sighed again. "It's not even the kind of tired that sleep would fix. Like, mentally drained, you know? I'm not missing sleep - I need to sit in front of a tv and shut my brain off for a night or something."
"How about tonight? We can pick up takeout on the way home, put on a movie?"
Rey fell face-first against him and nodded into his chest, mumbling, "Perfect."
Suddenly, the surrounding lights flicked on, as if controlled by a timer. Ben glanced back to see that the gazebo behind them was now lit up with previously unnoticed tiny strings of white lights.
He quirked an eyebrow as the pieces started to fall together, and when soft music started playing from what had to be a hidden speaker, he snorted.
"Uh. I think I know what's going on here."
"Oh?" Rey lifted her head. "What?" Then she noticed the lights, and her eyes narrowed. "What's with the lights?"
"I, uh… I think they sent us on a date."
"Uh, huh. Think about it," Ben said. "She told us to dress up. We're here, alone. There's romantic lighting and music."
After a moment, Rey laughed. "They sent us on a date. That's- well. Hm."
Ben was dying to hear the rest of that sentence. Good? Terrible? Amazing? He was on the amazing end of things, and as a thank-you there was already a bottle of wine in his apartment with Phasma's name on it.
But that didn't mean Rey thought this was a good idea.
"Dance with me?" he asked hesitantly, trying to gauge her reaction.
He held his breath until one corner of her mouth tilted up. "Well I did get all dressed up. I guess I shouldn't let it go to waste."
Rey took his hand and walked into the gazebo. With weird, perfect timing that made Ben wonder if they were being watched, the music changed from something quiet and instrumental the moment he put a hand at her waist and pulled her closer to dance.
The new song wasn't ideal music for slow dancing.
Unless Ben was hallucinating, the soft melody had been replaced with ABBA's Take a Chance on Me.
They both froze in the middle of the gazebo.
Slowly, a wide smile grew across Rey's face, and her shoulders started to shake as she broke down into a fit of giggles. Ben let go of her to laugh into his hand and shook his head as ABBA kept insisting they take a chance!
Between giggles, Rey worked out, "At least it's not Katy Perry?"
It felt like one of those moments - the type he knew he'd regret not taking advantage of, so with a half shrug, he grabbed her hand and spun her, only adding to how much she was laughing.
They ended up in a weird, half-slow dance half-goofy ridiculousness that caused more laughter than he'd expected from the night, but ABBA ended after a few minutes and was replaced by a song that was sweeter, and softer.
The awkwardness was gone, though, and maybe that'd been part of the plan.
Rey still smiled, and she tucked back into his arms, stepping with him as they swayed and turned slowly.
Her head rested on his chest, and she commented wryly, "I think I've seen this rom-com."
"Oh?" He kissed her forehead, murmuring, "So then, you must know what happens next. The plucky, beautiful heroine dances with the charming guy she's in a convoluted situation with, and-"
"Charming?" Rey snorted.
"-she starts to wonder if they could have something real, which is great timing because he's starting to wonder the same thing."
The humor left her expression, and her mouth opened, and for a minute Ben worried she'd run, or panic, or do something worse.
"Oh." She stared up at him with wide eyes. "Is that what I'm thinking?"
"I was hoping you'd tell me," he whispered.
"I wasn't," Rey admitted. "Thinking that, I mean."
When his heart was readying itself to plummet, she added, in the softest breath, "I might be now, though."
He swallowed, seeing how terrified she looked, admitting that, and decided not to push it.
Instead, he stopped the dance to cup her cheek, running one of his thumbs gently over her bottom lip before leaning in to press his mouth to hers. Rey was still for a moment, and then sighed into him while he devoured her, slowly and thoroughly.
When they had to break for air, Ben rested his forehead to hers and asked, his voice rough, "Want to get out of here? Don't the best dates involve takeout and sweatpants?"
"Marry me," she groaned. Then she clapped a startled hand to her mouth.
Ben tried not to grin. He did, but it wasn't possible. "Think you can wait a few weeks?"
"Oh, how will I ever survive the wait?" she said dryly, scoffing at him through her blush.
Boldly, he replied, "Lots of sex with your fiance?"
The red on her cheeks deepened, and she rolled her eyes. "Would you just take me home already? I'm holding you to that promise - takeout and sweatpants."
Ben hummed. "It's a date."
Her eyes flashed up to his, suddenly serious and maybe even afraid.
"Okay," she nodded after a minute. "It's… a date."
Chapter 18: Feelings
I think we all knew where this "date" was going.
Trepidation— that trembling, quivering fear that rose bumps on his arms flowed through Ben while he shuffled through his Netflix queue. Their date night had been a dream so far, but he was thankful for the moment alone while Rey changed into pajamas.
It gave him time to calm down. Time to think. Though at the moment, it seemed like he'd used the time to panic.
He landed on The Princess Bride, assuming a classic was a safe bet. It was the fastest he'd ever picked out something to watch, which was impressive given all the second guessing he would normally do, and now he was alone in the living room with nothing to do but ponder what she'd said.
I wasn't. Thinking that, I mean. I might be now, though.
Ben's nerves mixed with something more like giddiness.
Had she meant it?
"Ooh, I love this one," she gushed, surprising him out of his daydream-like trance as she appeared in the living room.
Part of him had devilishly wondered when Rey had said something about changing into something more comfortable, if she'd come back in the lingerie she'd been gifted. Something lacy or transparent. Something designed to be pretty until he tore it off. It was presumptive of him to think anything would happen tonight, but it was the first time they'd had a chance, and it was possible he'd gotten his hopes were up.
He was dying to see her in the lingerie, but somehow reality was better. She'd swapped her dress for bright yellow pajama shorts, much like short, tight boxers that were decorated with smiling suns, and the t-shirt he'd given her after their game night double date.
The shirt was hers now, apparently, but Ben didn't mind, and it stoked some deep caveman urge to claim her as his.
The corner of her mouth tilted up as she took a seat next to him on the couch, turning toward him and stretching her legs across his lap like she was a cat lounging. "Have I told you how comfortable all your furniture is? Everything here is so comfy. Though I'm still wondering what your mother did with my bed."
His hand landed on the bare feet to his side, and he quirked a grin at the bright orange paint on her nails, decorated with messy, but cute white flowers. "Ah, storage? She didn't mention a bed, but I assume when she said she stored some of your furniture, that includes your bed. If you want, we can swap some of your things in for mine," he offered. "If that'd make you more comfortable."
"Your things are nicer," she shrugged. "All the important stuff's here, anyway. Books, photos, my laptop."
"Okay, if you're sure. Hungry yet? We can order whenever you want. I'm not sure what you want for dinner but I called Rogue One and got the pizza delivery ban lifted, so that option's back on the table."
"Pizza is perfect. As long as we get one with jalapenos, garlic, pear, and goat cheese," she said seriously. "That's the only pizza I eat now."
"No way in hell," Ben laughed, and she joined in, cackling.
Rey curled up laughing, pulling her feet back toward her, and Ben grabbed them, tickling while she gasped and started squirming. "Don't you dare!" she giggled. "I hate-"
"Sorry, I didn't hear that," he teased, "Did you say you loved this? Okay, I'll keep going."
She thrashed, laughing hard while he wiggled fingers over the bottom of her feet, and breathed, "You suck- worst- awful- hate you-"
"Hm? Aren't you the one who came over here and put your feet in my lap?"
Rey pulled her feet away and launched forward at him, grabbing his shirt and yanking him to the side until they were rolling, rolling, rolling clear off the couch. His knees landed on carpet, and she landed on her back, still giggling.
Ben caught himself before he crushed her and propped himself up over where she'd landed on the floor, laughing underneath him.
And fuck, she was beautiful like this, wide-grinned and dimpled, eyes bright and full of laughter.
She was still mid-laugh when he got closer and closed his eyes. His mouth brushed hers, and Rey's breath hitched, as though she was surprised by the kiss. He pulled back, only for a moment, and she chased after him, hooking an arm around his neck to keep him close.
Her mouth on his was dizzying, sublime, and soft.
Ben almost fell toward her, but he steadied himself with a knee on either side of her hips, and spread kisses over her cheek, jaw, and neck.
"So," she sighed, "we're alone. No phone calls, nobody's knocked, no last minute surprise wedding planning, I think."
"And you're sober," he added against her neck. "Are you sure? Do you want to?"
Rey snorted and started pulling his shirt up as an answer, and he sat back on his heels over her, yanking it off and tossing it somewhere behind him. "Is that a yes?"
"Of course it's a yes," she breathed.
Ben hummed, but then paused and stared down at her.
At her flushed cheeks, at her loose and mussed up hair, at her in his shirt, at the sweet-looking shorts sliding up her thighs, at her kiss-swollen lips.
At the ring— the very one he'd slid onto the finger of the hand that rested on her stomach.
And he thought, for a minute, that maybe this was how it was supposed to be. Maybe this was what he'd never understood and had always scoffed at. This brightness, this bubbly, comfortable, warm, and safe feeling.
Maybe this was what he'd been missing.
He swallowed, and whispered, "Okay."
Rey was down to only the cotton shorts she'd put on when Ben's hands stilled at her sides, gripping her below her breasts. He stared down at her like she was something he planned to eat, all dark eyes and open mouth, almost looking stunned. It was beyond flattering, especially since she couldn't keep her eyes off his toned chest and thick, muscular... everything.
Through his hanging jaw, he let out something that sounded like a whimper before diving to nip at the skin of her stomach. Anything she'd been about to say died in her throat while his lips worked up, higher and higher until he was between her breasts, nuzzling her there.
"What do you like?" he murmured. "What do you want? I'll do anything."
Rey tangled her hands in his hair and closed her eyes. "Anything. You. All of this."
Goosebumps pricked up on her skin when he laughed, his breath falling against her chest. "Anything? That's very trusting of you. I might be into some crazy stuff."
"I'm betting you're just into me," she hummed. Propping herself up on her elbows, she shrugged, teasing, "Or I'm wrong and you're about to run off and get your tentacle strap-on. I guess I don't mind being surprised."
Ben blanched, and she cracked up. He rolled his eyes. "You're not wrong. I mean— you're wrong about the strap-on." He stopped, and laughed, his shoulders shaking under her hands. "Can we not have one moment when one of us is trying to call the other's bluff?"
"You started it. But I-"
He silenced her by trailing kisses over her chest, until he caught one of her nipples with his lips, sucking and then licking at it, and one of his hands cupped her other breast, kneading it gently. Rey squirmed, whispering, "Yeah, like that. Ben-"
Everything he was doing stopped, and he let out a breath over her nipple, wet from his mouth. Rey shivered.
"Hearing you say my name like that— it's uh…"
Ben huffed sort of a disbelieving laugh, and moved over to her other breast, kissing a circle around it before nipping at her, forcing a breathy oh from her mouth.
"That. That sound," he groaned. "I want more of that."
Rey rested her head back on the carpet, and her eyes closed again, just as his nose slid along the side of her throat.
He breathed her in.
It was like being consumed.
While he worked at her neck, leaving marks and stealing her breath, the word rolled around in her mind, reminding her how long it'd been since she'd been consumed. Years, probably, and never that well, but...
"I want your mouth on me," she admitted. "If- if that's okay."
Rey felt him grin, and he kissed her again. "My mouth is on you."
Before she could bother blushing through the specifics of where she had in mind, Ben sat up again and his mouth curled up.
"After all our misunderstandings, being on the same page is important," he teased. "Did you want my mouth..."
He leaned down and pressed a kiss to the inside of her knee. "Here?"
"Ben," she whined. "C'mon."
"Right, right," he interrupted, and then kissed an inch or two higher, at her inner thigh. "So, here?"
Rey bit at her lip, because he licked there, right at her upper thigh, and stopped before reaching the bottom hem of her shorts.
"Hm. No? Here?" He pulled up the nearly non-existent leg of her pajama shorts and left a kiss there, a few inches from where she wanted him. It was slow and open-mouthed, his tongue swirling around her skin.
"No, but-" She sighed, relaxing as he worked higher. "But this is adequate."
Ben scoffed, and backed away to tug her shorts off, humming for a second, probably because he'd noticed her lack of underwear. "Adequate?" he muttered. "Doesn't seem like the right word."
She grinned cheekily. "You could always prove me wrong."
He got closer, and Rey thought he was about to stop teasing, but then teeth nipped at her thigh and she yelped.
"Don't think I won't," Ben murmured, the faintest hint of threat in his words.
And then he stayed there, his face only a breath away from her, with no indication of progressing further. She squirmed with pent-up energy and lust, but Ben only let out a soft, breathy chuckle she could feel against her skin.
"I've been waiting to do this for a while, so be patient," he ordered, sounding amused.
An arm slid over her hips and held her in place while he kissed her thighs and lips, teasing with his tongue. "I could eat you. Every bit of you."
He readjusted himself, sliding his hands under to cup her ass, and rested on his stomach. Thumbs parted her folds, and he sighed. Their gazes met as he lowered his head and breathed her in, and Rey watched his eyes flutter closed as he pressed his face to her, licking a burning path up. At first he seemed hesitant, but then it was like a switch flipped - he dove in, moaning into her, working his lips and tongue.
Rey had to watch. She needed to see him, because she couldn't believe it was him between her thighs, making her dizzy with just his mouth. She propped back up on her elbows, staring down at him as she moaned his name again, and at the sound of it his eyes met hers, and he pulled away from her for a moment.
"Fuck, you're perfect," he whispered.
One of his hands moved from underneath her, and a finger circled her, pressing in while Ben stared down at what he was doing to her.
"I wonder how well you'll take me," he mused. "You're so little. So tight." A large, blunt finger pushed into her, curving and sliding through the dampness he'd caused. "Do you feel that? You're already squeezing around my finger."
She flushed at seeing him between her thighs, staring at her there, eyes wide.
"Are you watching?" he asked, his dark gaze flicking up to hers. A little smile curled up at the edge of his lips, and at her hesitant nod, he leaned forward to plant a wet open-mouthed kiss over her clit.
A pattern emerged— quick, wet laps over the little nub, and a massaging, curling inside that stretched and ached.
Rey ran a hand through his hair and he pulled back to rest his cheek against her thigh. His red lips shined from her, and he grinned lazily.
"How am I doing so far?"
"So well," she sighed. "I don't usually come from this, but it feels so good."
Ben's eyebrow quirked. "That sounds like a challenge."
She laughed, and shook her head, and then sucked in an unexpected breath when his lips latched around her clit, sucking it into his mouth with no intention of stopping.
"Oh- oh, okay," she gasped, "Okay, that's-"
Her hips jerked as he slid another finger into her. The effect he was having wasn't even fair - he was still partly clothed, and she was bare, falling apart on his fingers and mouth. She clenched around him, biting at the hand she'd clapped over her mouth when she'd taken a second finger.
She realized then, while his fingers curled and tongue swirled, that she would come with him there, and this time he would be there, and not be a dream or a voice in her head urging her to come.
Rey tugged at his hair and rolled her hips, moaning, and his head jerked back. His fingers stilled.
"Don't come yet. You can't. I'll tell you when."
She glanced down at him and swallowed. "Did you really just say that?"
"Is that a problem?" he asked lowly. "I thought you didn't come from this."
"I… don't, usually. But you saying that— that's something…"
Her face was hot. Between her legs, Ben tilted his head, and she could see the moment he figured it out, because a slow smile spread over his face.
"You've thought about me," he murmured. "Like this. Saying that."
"Pretty close, yeah," Rey said shyly.
"I think I want to hear more about these fantasies. Later."
The tip of his tongue circled her clit, and she whined again. It wasn't real, the way he touched her. The way his tongue lapped her, the way his fingers scissored inside her.
There was pressure, so much pressure, readying to burst, to make her snap and float off the bed.
She squeezed her eyes shut. "Ben."
His fingers still curled in her, and a fingertip took over for his tongue, gliding over and around her clit. "I've been waiting to do this," he murmured. "Give me a little longer."
"I can't- I- I'm going to-"
He slowed his movements, just enough to keep her on the edge, and she shuddered, feeling like he'd set her on fire. The way he looked up at her, it seemed like he couldn't believe what he was seeing. Quietly, she pleaded, "Please. I'm so close."
His tongue flicked over her again, once, twice, and his response was muffled against her skin, "Come for me, then," before he returned to mouthing over her and massaging the spot inside her.
It started slow, and gentle, not the sort of intense quick-bursts of pleasure she'd give herself. This started with a quiver in the thighs Ben had put over his shoulders, and a catch in her breath. With a burning between her hips, and a begging whisper of, "Please don't stop."
Ben worked her through it while her breaths came out in stuttering gasps, and while she panted his name.
Lips found hers, kissing her tenderly as she adjusted to the feeling of her limbs turning to jelly. Rey hummed, cracking open her eyes to see that he'd sat back on his heels and was gazing down, his lips shining from her.
Her reaction seemed as instinctive as breathing.
She sat up, faster than she'd expected she'd be able to, and she climbed into his lap, straddling his thighs.
Ben held her around the waist, steadying her, and she wordlessly reached between them, tugging his pajama pants down far enough to grasp him, thick and ready. He made a choking noise as she stroked him, and he buried his face in her hair, swearing quietly.
"Are we good to just- uh-" Rey asked breathlessly, gesturing down. "Anything I should know?"
He shook his head. "Clean. You?"
"Clean, birth control. We're good on my end."
Ben mumbled something into her shoulder that sounded quite a bit like, "Thank fuck," and she laughed, then positioned herself over him.
She sank down, adjusting to him, and his grip on her tightened into something rigid as he lifted his head to capture her mouth, kissing her hungrily. They both stopped and broke from the kiss the moment she'd lowered onto him fully, and she shuddered.
"Oh," he breathed. "Oh, Rey."
And then his mouth was on her again, his tongue finding hers, one of his hands raising to hold her face as she lifted and slid down, riding him slowly.
Rey clutched him with an arm wrapped around his back, her other hand grasping at his shoulder for leverage as she picked up the pace. He held her tightly, so tightly, his fingers digging into her, and they kissed, sucking and nipping at each other.
She didn't think she'd come again, not so soon, so Rey let herself get lost in all the little sensations that might have fallen away - the way her breasts dragged over his chest, the way her heart was pounding, the way he held her and worked his jaw unhurriedly, like he was desperate not to rush things.
The way he pulled away to stare at her, and the way his breath fanned over her face.
"Ben, this is so-" she whispered.
The words got choked up in her throat when he tilted his hips and thrusted up, changing the angle and burying himself as deep as he could go. She made a soft noise, and he caught her mouth again in something achingly perfect, his lips working over hers with the sort of gentleness that made her want to cry.
Fingertips slid between them, circling her clit, and Ben dropped his head to her shoulder, panting, "One more, please, please, I want to feel you come again, on me-"
His fingers kept working her while she rode him, her arms still clutching around his back, and Rey nearly sobbed into the crook of his neck, overwhelmed and overstimulated.
But then he said it again, so softly and desperately, like his world might end if she didn't come around his cock. "Please, Rey?"
She rolled her hips, and the pressure burned. Her stomach clenched, and she squeezed her thighs around him, crying out her release against his skin. Ben trembled, and groaned, and tightened his hold around her as their movement slowed, and stopped.
All she could do was focus on breathing. On breathing, and on the heartbeat she could hear hammering, but she didn't know if that was hers or his. He was so warm against her.
Ben sighed, his fingertips ghosting down her spine, his lips pressing tender kisses to her forehead, nose, and cheeks. Carefully, he got to his feet, bracing an arm under her, and he moved from the floor back to the couch, still holding her on his lap.
"Everything okay?" he murmured into her hair.
No, no it wasn't, she wanted to say. It wasn't— couldn't be, never would be again, because she couldn't fathom feeling like this, not with him, not with anyone, not ever.
Her safe place, her home— it wasn't in someone else's arms. It couldn't be.
Yet he held her, so safe and so close, and it was enough to rock that hard-held belief.
She sniffed, burying her face in his chest to muffle the noise. Ben tensed. A finger tilted her chin until she was staring into wide, concerned eyes, and he asked again, "Hey, are you okay?"
It was too much— too intense, too many feelings all at once.
It was like she was standing in front of an ocean, having finally been confronted with the absolute truth of a nearly infinite amount of water when she'd been raised to only know of puddles.
"I've just never felt like this," she blurted, and sucked in a breath at the admission. She added in a whisper, "I didn't even know I could feel like this."
Ben's normally expressive face froze, and for a moment Rey worried she'd just made a fool of herself. An absolute fool who'd be stupid enough to grow feelings in the middle of an absurd and short-lived situation.
But then his mouth was on hers, hotly and desperately working over her lips, filling her with relief.
"I know," he breathed, minutes later when they'd finally stopped for air, with his forehead pressed to hers. "I know, Rey. I know exactly what you mean."
The rest of his words were murmured against her mouth.
"I feel it, too."
It was almost a week later, after work, when she flopped back on Rose's bed, now decorated with fewer throw pillows and clothes their owner had tossed around while trying to pick what to wear. Rey hadn't seen the place since Armitage had moved in, and the change to it being spotless was almost unsettling. Or it would have been unsettling, if Rose hadn't seemed so blissfully happy.
Ben had agreed to a suit fitting with his best man, and the two had gone off to wherever Leia had sent them, so it was just her and Rose now, finally hanging out again like they hadn't recently had a chance to do.
Not being able to tell Rose the specifics was annoying, but she could at least say some things under the guise of gushing about her fiance.
"Do you ever get overwhelmed when you look at Armitage, like you just can't believe this person is choosing you?" Rey asked, choosing her words carefully. "Like you're so overwhelmed with how you feel for them, you think you might drown, but you aren't afraid because they're right there to save you?"
Rose sat up next to her and stared at her, almost dumbfounded. She blurted out, "Holy crap, Phasma was right. You guys are totally in love."
Rey sat up and blinked at her best friend, and that seemed to be when Rose figured it out, because she clapped a hand over her mouth.
"You know?" Rey screeched. "We could have been talking this whole time? I've been going crazy here wishing I had someone to talk to about this! How long have you known? Who told you?"
"Okay, okay, slow down," Rose calmed her, reaching out to grab her hands. "Yes, I do. I've known the whole time. Phasma and I have known what was going on since the proposal."
Rey scowled, and shot her friend a displeased, accusatory look.
"Don't look at me like that. You've been lying, too," Rose pointed out.
She wanted to be mad. Wanted to storm off and be angry, call Rose a terrible friend for letting her think she couldn't talk to her about this mess, but she was too damned happy, both with Ben and with the fact that she could now talk to Rose about things. Rey huffed, still displeased, but Rose had a point - of the two of them, Rey had lied considerably more.
And anyway, the annoyance she felt over it didn't make a dent in all the happy, sappy, fluffy wonderfulness that was still surging through her.
"Why didn't you tell me you knew?" she asked quietly.
"Because I was trying to encourage things? It was easier to encourage you being with Ben if I acted like I didn't know that you guys were pissed at each other. But now it sounds like things are… different?"
"Yeah," Rey nodded. "Yeah, they are." She sighed. "Fine, okay. I'm not mad. I've lied a lot, too."
"Oh, really?" Rose asked sarcastically. When Rey rolled her eyes, the two of them laughed.
Rose's voice softened. "Sounds like things are going well. With Ben."
"Things are amazing," Rey admitted.
"So… not fake?"
Rey waved a hand in a so-so gesture. "The wedding part is. The dating, no. Not fake. The feelings are… intense. We haven't put words to them, exactly. Living together is great, and-"
"Okay, you've got to answer something for me," Rose interrupted. "Are you sleeping in the second bedroom?"
She hesitated, and grinned a little as she replied, "He uses that room for working out. There's uh. Only one bed."
Rose smirked. "I take it you're not using the couch, then?"
"We did use the couch for some things."
One of her friend's eyebrows quirked, and then they both shot up. "Get out, did you guys-"
"Rose, I really like him," she interrupted softly. "It's never been like this with anyone. Like, last Friday Leia sent us to this park a few miles away— we thought we were doing wedding planning or something, but we'd been set up on a date, probably because I'd been so busy, and it was the sweetest thing. It should have been awkward, but then he asked me to dance, and…"
She sighed again, and next to her Rose smiled.
"He knows, right? You've told him?"
"He knows," she reassured Rose. "He has to know."
Rose groaned. "Could you make sure? For my sanity, tell him how you feel? This whole situation is like a massive cluster of lies and we don't need one of you having a big misunderstanding. Just, go tell the poor guy, okay? Be really clear. Because he's not fooling anyone— it's super clear he's crazy about you, but you can be hard to read."
"He isn't subtle, is he?" Rey blushed. After a pause, she whispered, "I talked with him about my parents. Not much, but it was more than I've ever told anyone, other than you."
Her best friend's smile grew into something more akin to awe. "Wow, Rey. I thought you meant you kind of had feelings, but that sounds serious."
"We're living together," she half-shrugged. "I think it is serious, whether or not we intended it to be."
They settled into a quiet, comfortable silence until a thought popped into Rey's mind. She frowned, and asked, "Hey, who else knows about this? Phasma knows, and if you do, too, does that mean Hux knows? Does anyone else?"
Rose frowned. "As far as I know, it's just the three of us."
One of the things Rey loved about her best friend was how rarely the woman lied. Rose always gave an honest answer to almost every question - even when a lie might have been kinder.
She studied her friend, but it seemed Rose was being honest, so Rey let herself fall back into the fun, cheerful giddiness she'd been caught up in.
When they rested back on the bed Rey had spent many movie nights in, she closed her eyes.
Rey paused, and then whispered the question she'd been desperate and terrified to ask.
"What does falling in love feel like?"
Rose didn't answer, and Rey looked over, hoping her friend wasn't about to laugh and tell her it was way too soon, or that she was being silly, or overreacting, confirming the things Rey was already telling herself.
She didn't, though. Rose only took her hand and squeezed it, and answered softly.
"I think you know."
Chapter 19: Misunderstanding
The fic is tagged MILD angst for a reason, so don't worry, and trust me. ;)
What does falling in love feel like?
I think you know.
The words were still bouncing around and echoing in her head days later, and it had been all too easy to sink into a new routine that involved admitting to herself that Rose was right.
Every minute she spent with him proved it. Every time she came apart around him, every time she fell asleep in his arms, every time they laughed at some silly, stupid thing one of them had said. It all built up to prove something very real and very terrifying.
She was falling in love with Ben Solo.
Rey thought the three words one cold morning at the beginning of October. She'd been keeping a mental tally of the days, though they weren't as relevant now, and there were nine of them left. Nine days until she fake-married the man she was starting to think she may want to real-marry someday.
She turned in their bed, carefully so as not to wake him, and she stared. Let out a disbelieving breath.
Ben was beautiful. Like most people, she associated that word with women— she thought of men in terms such as handsome or hot, or sexy, but there wasn't any other word that captured him as accurately as beautiful did.
In sleep he was relaxed, breathing softly with half his face resting on the cozy fleece-covered pillow under him, his glossy hair a mess. With the sunlight streaming in and landing on him, she could see the hint of brown in his dark curls.
Like most mornings, he was facing her, and if she wasn't in his arms when he started to stir, he'd be reaching for her, searching, and he'd pull her close.
And Rey was so… so painfully in love with him. Even a foot away, she longed for him. It was like she could never, not in a million years, be close enough or have enough of him.
How did anyone manage this?
She wanted to scream, wanted to cry. Wanted to let the feeling rip her apart, because there was so much of it, it was threatening to burst out of her, anyway.
Ben grumbled something unintelligible, and right on schedule, an arm reached out toward her, probing for the warm thing he was used to wrapping around. She smiled and scooted closer, tucking into his chest while his arms tugged her against him.
He pressed his face into her hair, breathing her in and sighing.
And this is how it was, every morning.
So excruciatingly perfect.
Ben woke that same morning, about an hour later, wrapped around her and smiling, every bit as content and rested as he'd gotten used to being since she'd moved in.
He nudged Rey awake, and she whined, "Go back to sleep. I was up earlier. I need more sleep."
"I'll make you breakfast," he offered.
Rey nestled further into his chest, shaking her head.
Ben huffed, taking it as a challenge. He kissed a path from her forehead, down the side of her face, over toward her ear, and murmured, "What if I want you for breakfast? You'd look so pretty, spread out on the dining table."
He couldn't help but grin at the slow, shaky breath he heard.
"I didn't get enough in the shower last night," he added. "What do you think, Rey? I could put you on that table and sit with my head between your thighs and not let you leave until you can't form sentences. How does that sound?"
A well timed finger sliding down her spine made her shiver. Rey cleared her throat, mumbling, "That sounds… fine."
Rey tore herself from his chest, a red tint obvious across her cheeks. "More than fine," she admitted. "Do you ever get bored with saying things specifically designed to make me blush?"
"No," Ben laughed.
And I never will, he thought, but he didn't say it.
Rey rolled her eyes at him and he took a moment to soak her in, all sunshine and gorgeous and shining eyes, and amusing bedhead.
"As much as I love the idea, I'll have to ask for a raincheck." She frowned a little. "I told your dad I'd be at the garage in-" She turned, narrowing her eyes at the phone charging on the nightstand behind her. "Twenty minutes. Damn. I'd rather stay."
Ben's hand slid to her hip. "Then stay."
"We can't all set our own hours."
He leaned in, ducking his head to suck at one of her collarbones. "Stay," he murmured.
Rey slid a hand into his hair, tugging the way he liked. It was incredible how easily they'd learned each other— how she'd found the right spots to kiss and lick and nip, how he'd learned to read all the little gasps and whines she made.
"I- I could be a little late," she stammered.
He hummed, working up her neck, and Rey relaxed, rolling under him while he climbed over her.
Distantly, someone knocked on the door. It was far enough away to make Ben assume someone was knocking for Rose and Hux, because nobody would dare to interrupt them again.
It was possible that he'd had a little chat with their friends regarding unannounced visits, so there was no way in hell-
They knocked again. Rey groaned, and it wasn't from anything he was doing.
Ben sat up, frustrated, and stared at their bedroom door. "I'll get it," he muttered. "I'll have a nice talk with whoever it is."
"Oh stop," she laughed, squeezing his shoulder, making everything right again. "I should go anyway. When I showed up half an hour late last week with hickies on my neck, your dad was awkward all morning. A repeat of that so soon wouldn't be good."
"What if I keep them to your thighs?"
She smacked his side with a pillow, and he chuckled. "Fine, fine," he sighed. "I'll get the door."
He was almost all the way off the bed when Rey caught his hand, tugging him back for a soft kiss. "Tonight?" she offered. "I'll be home by five."
Ben kissed her again and tossed on a white t-shirt, ignoring the two more knocks while he took a moment to watch Rey strip her pajamas off. He was staring at her bare chest when she raised an eyebrow at him, gesturing toward the door.
Reluctantly, he left the bedroom and made it down the stairs, out through the living room, and into the kitchen, at which point he glared at the redhead on the other side of the sliding door.
Hux waved innocently, probably knowing what he'd interrupted.
Still, Ben slid the door open. "If I'm in a shit mood all day it's your fault. What's up?"
"Yes, yes, all my fault," his friend said, waving him off. "I tried calling four times. Look, I'm heading off for a conference for the next few days and I wanted to check with you before I left. Have you told her yet?"
Ben frowned, starting to feel the need for caffeine. "Told who? What?"
"Your mother. The woman planning your wedding?"
When Ben still didn't understand, Hux sighed, exasperated, and started pacing. "You're exhausting sometimes. Have you told her the truth about everything? Is everything out in the open now? Didn't you say you were putting an end to all of this?"
"Oh." He crossed his arms, leaning against the counter behind him. "Right. I thought about it, but Hux, it'll crush her if she finds out how much I've lied to her."
"You need to come out and be honest about things," Hux argued, not unkindly. It was more like a good friend, prodding with unwanted but true and important advice. "All of this… it's not really fair, is it? You need to tell her."
Ben grimaced. "I can't. She's so emotionally invested. She'll be heartbroken if she finds out this was all a game." He paused, wondering how much to share, and added, "Or, at least that it was a game."
His eyes flicked to his friend, and it was clear Hux could tell he had something else to say. When he gestured for Ben to go on, Ben explained, "I don't think there's any need to tell her. I know, I know I said a couple weeks ago that this fake-wedding thing wasn't the best idea and that I was wondering if we should come clean about everything, taking the blame, et cetera, et cetera, but I don't think I need to now."
Hux narrowed his eyes. "Why?"
"Because," he smiled. "Things with Rey… they're real now." With a disbelieving laugh, Ben shrugged. "Maybe not the wedding, not this soon, but I love her. And I know what you're going to say. It's ridiculous considering the way things started, it's too soon, it's just the mess we're in, how could I know already, and trust me it's all stuff I've said to myself, but-"
"I wouldn't say any of that," Hux interrupted. "In fact, I was about to congratulate you on not being a fool for once in your life."
Ben snorted. "Nice."
"I meant every word," Hux vowed. "Have you talked to Rey?"
"So you haven't talked to her?" Hux groaned. "I'm taking your silence as confirmation."
"You've told her? You've said the words?"
He hesitated again. "Well-"
Hux looked like he wanted to strangle something.
Instead, he replied carefully, "You're probably afraid of scaring her off, but you need to be very clear with Rey and your intentions. Look-" his expression got softer, "if what I heard from Rose is any indication, there's a very good chance she feels the same way. You should be honest with her."
"I will be," Ben promised. "I swear."
His friend let out a long breath and shook his head. "You two, I swear. Morons. You deserve each other."
"So sweet," Ben mocked. "Will you say that in the speech at our wedding?"
On his way out, Hux made a crude gesture.
Rey was going to be sick. Overdramatic or not, she'd left out the back door, gotten into her car and she was halfway to work before stopping to think how potentially dangerous it was to be driving in her state.
Her eyes were blinking away tears when she pulled off the road and into the parking lot of a restaurant that hadn't yet opened for the day.
She struggled to focus. Struggled to not cry.
It'll crush her if she finds out how much I've lied to her.
She's so emotionally invested.
She'll be heartbroken if she finds out this was all a game.
Rey gasped for air.
This was what it felt like to drown.
She hadn't heard it on purpose— she'd been about to join Ben in the kitchen to kiss him goodbye for the morning.
Rey gripped the steering wheel and rested her forehead on it, letting out a dry sob.
Was this what love was like?
Nobody had warned her it could feel like her world was falling apart.
By the time she made it to work, she was a mess, ready to dissolve into a million tears at any moment. Han grumbled about her being late, though it was clear he wasn't actually annoyed. She almost fell apart all over again when he gave her a reluctant smile.
"Am I gonna have to have a talk with my son about making my favorite mechanic late to work?" he teased. Han's smile fell when he got a better look at her. "Hey, you okay kid?"
Rey nodded, feigning allergies well enough for him to buy it.
Then she put her head down. Put her heart away.
Much to her displeasure, Leia stopped by with lunch a few hours later. Normally it was a sweet gesture she made once every week or two, but unlike Han, Leia didn't leave someone alone if she suspected something was wrong.
Rey was under the hood of a cherry red Pontiac Firebird from the mid-70s— the well-loved and cared for car of one of their regular customers, when Leia surprised her with an enthusiastic, "Hello there, future daughter-in-law!"
Before turning to face the woman, Rey winced. Knowing what she knew now, Rey was faced with the reality that her heart would be broken and Han and Leia would be hurt. The situation was worse than she'd expected it to get, but she still mustered up a ghost of a smile.
The woman's smile disappeared in an instant. "What is it? What's wrong?"
She grasped Rey's hand, not hesitating at the grease covering her fingers, and tugged her over to a bench. Rey clenched her jaw. She wouldn't cry. Wouldn't break down. Wouldn't blurt out how she'd stupidly fallen in love with someone when she'd known the whole time she shouldn't.
"What's wrong?" Leia asked again, "Sweetheart, you look one harsh word away from crying. Is everything okay?"
Rey nodded, not meeting her eyes.
"That's obviously not true," Leia prodded. "Did… did something happen? With Rose, or another friend? Or-" she hesitated. "Or with Ben?"
She shuddered at his name, curling into herself, and Leia wrapped her in a tight hug. The sort of hug she'd expect from a mom. Leia even patted her back.
"It's okay," Leia said softly. "It's okay, I'm sure everything will be fine. Do you want to talk about it?"
"I- I don't think he feels for me… the way I feel for him," Rey whispered, letting tears fall. "I thought he might, but-"
Leia hushed her, "He does, dear. He does. I've never seen my son so in love."
"I don't know, Leia."
"Then you need to talk with him," Leia told her. She pulled a little packet of tissues out of her purse and dabbed at Rey's face, sighing. "Trust me, Solo men fall hard, and he's fallen. If he's acting strangely, it might be nerves. The wedding's so soon, it wouldn't be unheard of for either of you to be a little off."
Rey sniffed, wishing that was the case. "Thanks, Leia."
The woman smiled and took her hands again. "You're family. Wedding or not, that won't change."
The words squeezed at her heart.
She hoped that was true.
Her car had been sitting outside the duplex for almost an hour before Rey pulled herself together, hardening the shell she'd spent her whole life building. She wanted to be mad, wanted to be livid. Wanted to hate him.
Desperately wanted to hate him.
That she couldn't was perhaps the worst part of it all.
Rey sucked in a breath and got out of the car. He was there, waiting in the kitchen when she slid the front door open. Wide smile, warm expression, open arms, lying mouth.
And why, oh why, was her heart so ready to beat faster the moment she saw him?
Ben didn't seem to sense her trepidation. He took three steps toward her, and hugged her tightly. "You're home," he sighed, as though he'd been waiting all day to hold her again. "I missed you."
Didn't you say you were putting an end to all of this?
She huffed. "Did you?"
"So much." He paused, and added, his voice laced with worry, "Hey, I heard you didn't have a good day. Is everything okay?"
How did he sound so genuine? How did he sound so concerned? And worse, why did he seem so intent on making this harder for her? He had to know drawing things out would be worse, didn't he?
Ben tucked her under his chin, and she wasn't, wasn't going to cry. She couldn't let him see that, not when he'd made a comment about how invested she'd let herself get.
How did he still feel so safe?
That was when it hit, painfully, right at the center of her chest.
Their first night together, not even two weeks earlier, she'd gotten so emotional, and she'd been terrified she'd made a fool out of herself for growing feelings in their situation. Now, she realized that had been true.
She was a fool.
Ben tipped her chin up, and she knew right away that he was going to kiss her.
"Is everything okay? I was worried about you," he said softly.
He'd kiss her, knowing she had feelings, and while planning to end things.
Her heart sank.
Rey swallowed hard, pushing down all the emotional reactions that were climbing to the surface, and she didn't stop him when he lowered his head, catching her mouth with his.
Soft, slow, sweet.
Did he know he was chipping away at her with every kiss? Taking pieces of her with every touch? Rey couldn't reconcile the way he kissed her with the words she'd heard, so she didn't.
Instead, she pulled away and blurted out, "How can you kiss me like that? How- how dare you? Do you think that's fair, somehow? Is this another game for you?"
Ben blinked. "What? What are you talking about? How was I kissing you?"
"Like- like you weren't telling Armitage this morning that it would be hard to end things— end things, Ben— when I'm so 'emotionally invested'! I heard you!"
He froze, as she'd expected him to. But then he laughed.
Laughed, like he wasn't breaking her heart.
Rey bit her lip, stopping the inevitable sob threatening to rise, and squeezed her eyes shut. She pivoted with plans to head to the bedroom and pack an overnight bag.
Ben caught her upper arm and spun her back, his face now far from full of laughter.
"Rey, wait," he said seriously, "I'm sorry I laughed. I thought you were joking, but… is that what's wrong? Is that what you were upset about today?" He shook his head. "You can't possibly believe that's what Hux and I were talking about. How could you ever think I would end what we have?"
Her heart had the nerve to hope she'd been wrong.
"But weren't you? He asked you when you were going to end it, and you said it'd be hard to do now that I'm-"
"No, we're not doing this," he interrupted. "No more misunderstandings. We already wasted time on enough of them. Come here."
He didn't give her the chance to move closer, and instead, swept her up, catching her with an arm under her knees and another around her back.
"Ben!" she yelped, and gripped at his shoulders, "You can't manhandle me in the middle of an argument! Put me down!"
"Shut up for a sec, okay? And don't pretend like me holding you won't calm you down."
Rey scowled as he walked them to the couch. "Excuse me?"
Ben sat down, still holding her, and sighed. "Sorry, that was rude, but I'm not having another misunderstanding with you. You mean too much to me."
"Talk, then," she snapped. "What did I misunderstand?"
Ben gave her a look, and her scowl turned into a reluctant frown. She readjusted herself, trying to get comfortable.
He flushed at her movements, muttering, "As much as I'd love a lap dance from you, maybe now isn't the best time." At her glare, he sighed again. "At what point in the conversation this morning did you hear me say your name?"
She stopped, recalling what she'd heard. "I… didn't."
"No, you didn't," he said softly. "If you'd started listening earlier, you'd have known I was talking about my mother."
"Your mother? How does that make any sense?"
Ben started stroking a hand down her back, calming her, and he explained, "When Hux and I were getting fitted for suits we started talking and I admitted to feeling guilty about my parents putting so much time into wedding planning. He suggested we should come clean with them since we're not playing games with each other anymore. He stopped by this morning to ask if I'd talked with my mother yet."
"But you said…" Rey paused, considering what she'd heard. The mention of lies, and games, and emotional investment. "Oh. You were telling Armitage you're worried about coming clean because you're afraid your mother will be upset about the lies, and because she's emotionally invested in… the wedding? In us being together?"
He nodded, lifting a hand to brush some hair back from her face.
Rey took a moment, and let herself fall forward against him, pressing her forehead to his chest while she breathed. "Wow, okay. I think I just had one of the worst days of my life. I felt horrible, Ben. Like I was numb, or sinking, or something."
"So why didn't you talk to me?"
"Because I thought you were going to break my heart," she answered honestly.
Ben let out a disbelieving scoff and pulled her closer. "Okay, let me be clear about a few things." He tilted her chin up, and she stared into dark, watering eyes. "Let me tell you very, very honestly what I think of you, and what I want with you, because we need to get on the same page."
He paused, and blurted out, "I think you're a terrible cook. You can't spice things to save your life, and someday I'd like to teach you that more isn't always better, especially when it comes to pepper. I also think you're a terrible dancer, but in a really cute way. I think you should stop setting so many alarms since you sleep through them all, anyway. It drives me insane that you've added so many movies to my Netflix queue, because it's recommending weird things now."
Ben continued while she stared at him curiously, wondering where he was going. "I think if you're going to use my conditioner you should stop using half a bottle at a time, and I think you should let me braid your hair before bed, because it's soft and smells amazing but I don't love waking up with a face full of your hair every morning. It's even gotten in my mouth, and that's not the part of you I enjoy eating."
"Are you… getting somewhere with this?" Rey asked hesitantly. "It's not exactly flattering."
"Flattering?" He repeated, tilting his head with a grin. "Okay, flattering. Well, I think you have the most incredible tits I've ever seen and I think my life improves with every minute I get to have my hands on you. I love the way you sing when you're trying to cook or do dishes or take a shower, like you think I can't hear you. I think your freckles are adorable. I think your laugh is my favorite sound in the world."
He stopped then, and cupped her face, swallowing before he added, "But the thing I really need to tell you— the thing I can't believe you don't already know, because I thought it would be painfully obvious, is that I love you. And that I'm so in love with you, it physically hurts me to think you spent a whole day thinking otherwise."
The way he said it was so genuine it took her breath away. The hand that cupped her face slid toward her jaw, and his thumb caressed over her bottom lip.
"If you had kept listening this morning," he whispered, "You would have heard me telling Hux that I love you, and that someday, I want to ask if you might marry me for real."
Rey went rigid in his lap, and his eyes widened. She cleared her throat, sliding her hands down to brace against his chest.
"Did… did you say you-"
"You'll have to give me a minute," she said blankly. "I came here expecting to get dumped, and this is…" She exhaled, eyes wide. "Not that. I'm still processing."
Rey swallowed. "You are not ending things, and actually, you love me."
"Very much, but I'm not expecting you to feel the same way," Ben murmured. He was looking at her like he was stunned that she hadn't run screaming. "I'm putting it out there so you don't misunderstand how I feel. I love you, and I'm not going anywhere."
Rey spent minutes perched on him and pressed against him and staring into his eyes, before she put her head down on his shoulder and shuddered out a breath. She sniffed, curling her hands in the front of his shirt, and everything she'd held in all day broke out in the form of a sob, quiet and wet.
"Hey, are you crying?" he asked softly.
"Of course I'm crying!"
Ben's face nuzzled into her hair. "Are those good tears?"
Rey sat back, wiping at her face with the sleeve of her shirt.
"What do you think?" she laughed through her tears. She felt weightless, like she could float, free of all the fear and worries she'd gripped on to. Giddy. "Not only are you not ending things, but you love me back."
His expression softened. "Back?"
She watched his reaction, the slow smile that grew on his face.
"Rey," he whispered, "You said that 'I love you' back."
She nodded. "Yeah. Yeah, I did."
Ben made a soft noise, and leaned forward, capturing her mouth in a kiss, deep and slow, like he was every bit as desperate for her as she was for him. Against her lips, and her cheek and jaw and throat, he murmured a dozen, "I love you"'s.
"I love you, too," she breathed, sniffing, and grinning a ridiculous, sappy smile.
He sighed. "You know, when I heard you'd had a bad day, this wasn't how I thought it'd go."
Rey leaned back in his arms, deliriously happy, and laughed. "I guess we owe your mom a thank you."
"My mom?" Ben tilted his head curiously. "Why my mom?"
"Because…" Rey stopped, and asked, "Well, who told you I was having a bad day?"
"I'm not supposed to say."
Her eyes narrowed. "What do you mean?"
Ben hesitated for a moment and sighed. "Okay, okay, it was Phas, but don't tell her I told you. She didn't want to betray your confidence, but she told me you were upset. Obviously she didn't tell me why you were upset, or I would have showed up at the garage. I should have guessed why— she told me if I had feelings for you, it was time to come clean and say something."
"How would Phasma know how my day went?"
It was his turn to frown. "I assumed you'd seen her today. Met for coffee or something. Or texted her, I guess?"
She shook her head slowly. "The only people who knew I was upset were your parents. The only person I told why was your mother. I haven't seen or texted with anyone else today."
Rey considered it, and murmured, "What does that mean?"
"So," he said slowly, "My mother knew you were upset today, and she, what, asked Phasma to tell me? I didn't even know she had Phasma's number. And why wouldn't she tell me herself?"
After a moment, Rey inhaled sharply. "Because she knows. Fuck. She knows!"
"What? Why would you think that?"
"Think about it! Why wouldn't Leia tell you herself? Because if she's pretending like she's clueless, she can't call you up and say 'Hey kid, maybe it's time to tell Rey how you really feel.' But if she asked Phasma to do it, you know Phasma knows, so Phasma's free to say more, like the part about coming clean about your feelings."
Rey watched the blood drain from Ben's face.
"She pushed wedding planning," he blurted out. "She didn't freak out about me running a brothel from a house she owns. Thanks again for that."
Rey might have laughed if she wasn't too busy thinking. "She barely blinked at all the weird sex stuff we talked about."
"She set us up on a date after I'd complained to Phas that I missed you."
"Remember on Ahch-To?" Rey asked. "How she was happy, like, unreasonably happy every time we kissed at dinner?"
Ben nodded. "She had all your stuff moved in. And... and Phasma, when I told Phasma we were worried about my parents being upset, she almost laughed. Said something like they'll manage."
"They totally know," Rey breathed. "Everybody knows. What now?"
They stayed on the couch, her in his lap, for a few minutes, silently considering the situation before Ben offered, "We could tell them we know. End it all? Keep dating normally, press pause on the wedding stuff?"
"We could," Rey nodded. "Or…"
Slowly, she smiled. "Or, we could play one more game. Us versus them."
Ben quirked an eyebrow. "I'm listening." Then he tilted his head. "Actually, no. Revenge sounds perfect, but tell me later. This can wait. Sorry, I'm still reeling from the part where you said you love me, and I'd rather focus on that right now."
She laughed, and wrapped her legs around him, twining her arms around his neck as he stood.
"Bed?" he murmured.
Rey sighed happily. "Sounds perfect."
Chapter 20: Last Game
I'm not going to lie, Ben and Rey's "last game" is ridiculous and very, very crack. I feel like I should apologize for this, but I also feel like it's very in line with the fic.
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
It was a chilly Thursday morning, less than a week before the wedding, when Rey climbed out of the passenger's seat of Leia's car and winced at the shop they'd parked in front of. She zipped up her fleece, shivering. This part had been inevitable and oddly, not an event she was looking forward to.
"It's lucky you want something simple," Leia commented, coming up alongside her and looping her arm through Rey's. "We'd have a tough time getting anything custom, or any alterations done this close to the wedding. It's a shame Rose couldn't come."
Rey nodded. "She had a work meeting this morning." With a shrug, she added, "Plus, Rose knows I get overwhelmed by lots of options and opinions. Fewer people helping means fewer opinions, and it's such a small wedding I'd rather not make a big deal of things."
What Rey didn't say was that she couldn't enact the beginning of her and Ben's plan if Rose was there, because Rose would freak out, and for good reason.
"Well." Leia smiled fondly and patted Rey's arm. "I'm honored I'm the person helping you with this. My mother wasn't there to help me pick out mine, and I'm sorry your mother isn't here for this, but I'm glad I'm here for you."
If Rey wasn't sure their little scheme was relatively harmless, and that she and Ben wouldn't likely marry for real some day, she would have felt guilty. The truth was, though, that this woman really was the closest she had to a mother, and Rey had little doubt Leia would someday be her mother-in-law for real.
But maybe there was still a little guilt.
Rey swallowed and smiled back at the woman. She sniffed. "Thanks, Leia."
"Oh, don't get emotional on me yet," Leia scolded. "We still haven't found your dress. Dress first, then the happy tears." Rey laughed, and let Leia lead her inside the little wedding dress shop as she explained, "This is where I bought mine— Maz has been in business for years. She's got a knack for picking out the perfect one for anyone who comes in."
Inside, the store was much bigger than she'd expected. The soft cream carpeting lent to the ethereal lightness of the room— the only color Rey saw was in the deep brown hardwood shelving and hangers and body mannequins that displayed the dresses, which were in every pale shade from fresh snow to light blush and champagne.
Rey was dizzy with options within a minute.
Leia went straight for a display of strapless dresses that had Rey panicking with thoughts of body tape and wardrobe malfunctions, and she followed behind, whispering, "What should I be looking for?"
The woman laughed. "Dear, this is your wedding. Look for whatever you want to wear. What kind of dress did you picture wearing?"
It was an excellent question. "Something with pockets?"
Leia laughed harder, and turned back to the rack she stood in front of, rifling through the dresses. "Since we're wedding dress shopping, I take it things are better with my son?"
At the mention of him, Rey's brain played a brief but blush-worthy compilation of memories, some from as recent as that morning.
Ben, almost whimpering while she swallowed around him. Ben, taking her on the stairs because they were too impatient to get to the bed. His hands gripping her hips. His mouth biting down and sucking at her shoulder.
"Hm? Oh. Yes," Rey blurted. "Yes, much better. It was cold feet, like you'd suggested, but we talked and… well, we're on the same page now."
Leia hummed and pulled out a dress. It was a stark white strapless ball gown Rey likely never would have bothered with in a million years, because that amount of skirt seemed impossible to manage. Not that it wasn't stunning.
"Try this one?"
Someone swooped in just in time, chiding, "No, no, nothing like that for this girl."
Curious, Rey turned to see a short, wide-eyed woman with massive, thick-rimmed glasses. The woman gave her a once over and cracked a smile. "So, Ben's getting married, hm? I've been wondering when you'd bring in a nice young lady."
"He is," Leia gushed. "Maz, this is Rey, my future daughter-in-law. Rey, this is Maz— she's the woman who owns this shop."
She started to say something, to return the greeting, but Maz silenced her with a hand and took her chin, pulling her closer to get a better look. Rey let her, frowning and a little shocked that a relative stranger had grabbed her face.
Maz studied her, humming. "Outdoor wedding? Something simple? Small group? No reception?"
"I- yes, that's exactly right," Rey stammered. "We're having a small dinner instead."
"Mm. Thought so."
Rey stayed still as the woman continued hemming and hawing, looking between her and the various racks of dresses, until she announced, "Three-quarter sleeves, high neck, tea-length. Diamond white. I have just the one."
"Okay, Ollivander," she muttered, when Maz released her chin and stalked off toward a different rack.
"I heard that!"
Rey shut her mouth quickly, much to Leia's amusement. In a minute flat Maz was back, carrying the exact dress she'd described. It… wasn't awful. At the very least, it was better than any of the ones she'd noticed so far.
It wasn't that the dresses weren't gorgeous. The issue was that Rey could imagine herself stumbling and falling face-first in a mermaid dress, and she could see herself tripping on or at least getting frustrated by a big skirt. She could see herself spending the whole day worrying about accidentally flashing all their friends.
The dress Maz handed her was… well, it wasn't one Rey could instantly see an issue with. It was simple. Just a little bit of overlaid lace to add to the design, and the sleeves themselves were loose, and airy, and also made of lace.
Rey narrowed her eyes at it. "Does it have pockets?"
Leia snorted, but Maz only grinned, and answered, "Of course."
"I'll take it."
"Not so fast," Leia laughed. "Try it on first!"
The two women shepherded her behind a pale pink folding screen in the back corner of the shop, and Maz adjusted the three-paned screen so she had plenty of privacy, then hung the dress from a hook on the wall by Rey so she could reach it easily.
"Tell us when you need help with the buttons," Leia told her, sounding excited.
Rey took a deep breath and undressed. This part was very real. More real than she'd been expecting, and it was truly starting to sink in that with a word to Ben, the wedding in less than a week could probably be a real one. But it was so soon.
From the pocket of the jeans she'd left pooled on the floor, her phone dinged with the sound she'd set only for Ben's texts, and Rey fished it out, checking the text while she tried to shuck off her shirt.
-Did you tell her yet? Luke's OK with the plan.
She gnawed at her lip. Even if it had been her idea, this little plan of theirs would take guts. Or at least, it'd require her to not burst out laughing.
-Not yet. Nervous. I will now. xox
-Come home soon. I miss you. xox
Rey sighed, smiling at the text. She put her phone with her clothing and took the white dress off the rack, trying to determine which way would be easiest to put it on. It was only delaying the start of her plan though, so Rey squeezed her eyes shut and lied, "Oh Leia, I wanted to tell you… Ben and I were going through a box of my old things, and- and I came across a letter I didn't realize I had."
"Oh? What sort of letter?" Leia asked from the other side of the screen.
"One from my birth mother. I'd never wanted to go through the box I had of old things, but Ben helped me, and the letter was inside."
Leia gasped, but said nothing, so Rey continued, "It didn't say much, just a generic sorry I'm leaving you. Not the sort of info I'd need to find her, but it was nice to find."
"I'm sure it was," Leia whispered. "I'm glad you found it."
Rey hummed, and before she could back out, tacked on, "Me too. Her name was Mara Jade, apparently. The letter mentioned my dad was adopted, too, but it didn't say anything else about him. I got the impression that she never told him about me."
She carefully pulled the sleeves on, and hesitated before asking, "Leia? Are you still out there?"
A throat cleared. "Yes, yes, I'm still here. Did you say Mara Jade?"
"I did. Isn't that pretty?"
"Very," Leia replied faintly.
Rey was already dressed, minus the buttons that trailed up her spine, but she took a moment to pull herself together and added, "It was nice to find, but I'm not going to look for her, or my father. I think you guys are my family. I've just— I've always felt this deep familial connection with you and Han, and now... Luke, too."
Leia coughed a few times. Rey wasn't sure she could face the woman without coming clean, but still, she walked out from behind the screen and smoothed her skirt out, smiling at her stunned future-mother-in-law.
"How does it look?"
"Lovely," Leia said, a little blankly. She shook her head, as if waking herself from a reverie, and smiled. "Lovely. Maz nailed it."
Rey turned toward the mirrors that waited for her, sucking in a surprised breath by how perfectly the dress fit and flattered her. Leia hadn't lied- Maz really had nailed it.
Behind her, Leia buttoned up the back, and asked not-so-subtly, "Dear, where was it you said you were raised?"
"Hm? Oh. Jakku."
Leia let out a sigh of relief.
Until Rey followed up with, "Though, for a few years I lived in Tatooine."
The woman's fingers stilled. "Oh?"
"Yeah, but I was very young. Barely in school. I lived with a family friend, but he passed away and I was transferred to Jakku."
"You don't… you don't happen to remember that family friend's name, do you?"
"I always called him Mr. Kenobi, but I remember he wanted me to call him Obi-Wan."
Leia let out a choked noise, and Rey bit her lip to keep from either giggling or admitting the truth, that this was all complete bullshit, mostly suggested by Ben. A few minutes later, post Maz's approval, Rey went back behind the screen to change back into her own clothes, and she typed out another text.
-She bought it.
Ben waited for his roommate-girlfriend-possible-fiance (they hadn't exactly discussed labels yet) in the kitchen, tidying it until he heard car doors shut and steps up the staircase to the house's entry.
Not a moment later, Rey slid the door open. Sunlight streamed in behind her, haloing her in a glowing warmth that took his breath away, but that was on par for Rey. He greeted her with a soft kiss, keeping it closer to chaste because his mother was right behind her, looking stricken and concerned.
"Any luck finding a dress?" he asked when they'd both come in and slid the door shut behind them.
Rey nodded. "Maz said she had time to make a few alterations, so I'm not picking it up for a few days.
His mother cleared her throat. "Yes, we found a lovely dress. Ah… Rey mentioned you had something you wanted to discuss with me? I think I might know what this is about, and-"
"Yeah, we want you to be there when we get the marriage license," Ben blurted, enacting the next step of the plan— leading his parents, and thus Phasma, and the rest of their friends, to believing the wedding was legitimate, rather than the charade they all expected it to be.
He watched Rey bite her lips closed, and she buried her face in his chest, trying not to laugh.
"You want me to be there when you get the license," his mother echoed. "You're… getting a license? From the clerk's office?"
"Of course," Ben shrugged. "It wouldn't be a legal wedding if we didn't." Leia stared at him for a moment, and he added, "It would mean so much to us, mom. If you were there, as a witness."
"I- It's just-"
"I have to use the bathroom," Rey interrupted. He quirked an eyebrow at her as she backed out of his hug and noticed she was bright red from holding back a lot of laughter. "I'll be back. Soon. Bye."
She almost ran out of the room, leaving just him and his mother, who looked so deeply affected by what she'd "learned" that she didn't even notice Rey's odd behavior.
After a minute, Leia cleared her throat again and began, her voice gentle, "Ben, there's something we should discuss. About Rey, and Rey's family."
"I'm her family."
Leia stopped in an instant. "You… know?"
He feigned a frown, struggling to keep cool. "Well, at least I hope she thinks of me as her family. Maybe we haven't been together long, but I love her enough to know I don't care who her birth parents are, or what her background is. I love her and I want to be her home. Her family. I've felt such a deep connection to her since we met, and-"
Leia muttered something along the lines of that's my concern, and he had to cough to cover up a laugh.
"Rey and I… we're so happy, mom," he grinned. "We can't wait to be married, and it would mean so much if you were there when we got the license. We're going the day before the ceremony— do you think you can make it?"
She took in a slow breath, and he watched her plaster on a smile that didn't meet her eyes. "Of course, sweetheart. For now, though, I need to get home. I've got to… make a few calls. Long to-do list today, you know how it is. Tell Rey goodbye for me?"
Ben nodded and gave her a quick hug goodbye.
As soon as she was out the door and down the stairs, he burst out laughing and called out, "Rey? She's gone. You can come back out!"
She came back into the kitchen, her face red, and she muttered, "We are so going to hell for this. Hell. Hell. Your poor mother, oh my God."
"You remember this was your idea, right?"
"I know! But now she thinks we're cousins, and-"
Ben cringed, and interrupted, "Yeah, let's not think too hard about what we're implying and just be happy it's bullshit, okay?"
"That's probably for the best," she agreed, and then she smiled again and aimed directly at him.
It made his heart ache with how perfect it was.
Ben pulled her into his arms, leaning back against the counter, and nuzzled at her shoulder. "So you found a dress? Do you think you'll keep it and wear it when we actually get married?"
"When?" she repeated, the word muffled a little by her face being his sweater. "Not if?"
"When. Not if. Definitely not if."
She hummed. "I like the sound of that. I've been thinking of this wedding as a test run, anyway. And yes, considering the price tag and the pockets, I'm keeping the dress. No point in picking out another one."
Ben turned them and slid his hands to her hips, lifting her up to sit on the counter. She leaned in once she was sitting and kissed him, twining her arms around him and her fingers through his hair. She sighed against him, squeezing at his middle with a knee on either side of him.
This was what he'd come home to everyday. This was his life now— this crazy reality where the woman in his arms loved him and wanted the same future he wanted.
Rey sat back, her expression softened into something sweet. "Can I make a request?"
"Anything," he promised.
She seemed apprehensive, but reached up and one at a time, took her buns down, and shook out her loose chestnut waves. "Your mother and I were discussing styles for the wedding. I happened to mention I'd always liked the braids she wore her hair in, and she said you know how to braid."
Ben tilted his head curiously. "I do. I haven't offered because I thought you preferred the buns."
He knew she did, because she still wore them every day, as though she was hoping her parents might run into her at a grocer or a bookstore and recognize the style.
"I think I'm done with the buns," she whispered, toying with the collar of his shirt. "I was hoping you'd start braiding it. Or that you'd be willing to teach me."
It was her expression that got him. Vulnerable and wide-eyed, like she was asking him to be her first kiss or something. Ben swallowed, suddenly a little nervous, and he cupped the back of her head, leaning closer to touch his forehead to hers.
"I'd love to. I can teach you, but I'd love to do it myself. Every day, if you want. I can do it for the wedding, too."
"Yeah," she smiled. "I'd like that."
Ben was over her, kissing her and nipping playfully at her when his phone rang. Neither of them had bothered yet to climb out of bed and get redressed— they'd stayed there, resting in each other's arms, kissing and touching and tickling, rolling over each other and sighing as though neither of them could have imagined ever being so happy.
The interrupting phone call surprised neither of them, and Ben answered it with a smirk.
"Hey, Phas. What's up?"
For the hundredth time in the previous couple of hours, Rey found her hand glossing over the braid he'd put in her hair. It wasn't elaborate, just a fancier French braid per his description, but it was new. Different, in the best way. She kept playing with it while Ben put the call on speaker so she could listen to Phasma.
The woman's voice was hesitant, "Hello. Is… everything okay?"
"Why wouldn't it be?" Ben asked.
"Ah. No reason, I suppose. How are things with Rey?"
He looked over at her, pulling her a little closer, and answered, "Great. Amazing. So amazing that I took your advice and told her how much I love her. It turns out she feels the same way, so we're going to get married for real, Phas."
Phasma was silent for a moment, and said tightly, "That's… excellent." Her tone suggested it was anything but. "So the wedding next week— that'll be for real?"
"It's not even a full week," Ben pointed out. "And I can't thank you enough for convincing me to tell her. Us getting married is all thanks to you. We both really owe you."
At the humorless laugh Phasma let out, Rey buried her face into Ben, snorting and giggling at their evil little plan.
"Oh, please don't thank me," the woman said, all in a rush. "It- uh. Don't thank me, because, I've been thinking. Isn't it awfully soon? How much do you and Rey know about each other? Wouldn't it be more prudent to wait longer? Most engagements are a year or more, and plenty go longer. Nobody would blame you if you wanted to take more time. More time to get to know each other, meet each other's families, things like that."
Ben hummed as though he was thinking it over. "Nah. We'd rather get married now. We've talked, and- and you know, we both feel such a deep connection to each other. Like we're connected on a really basic level, almost as close as two people can be, stuff like that."
He was much better at keeping a straight face, Rey decided. She wouldn't have been able to keep a straight face through any of that, especially when Phasma's reply was so strained, and thin.
"That's very sweet, Ben, but maybe there's a reason you feel-"
"Anyway, thanks for calling to check in," he interrupted, "But things are wonderful. Couldn't be better. In fact," he paused, and his voice took on a low, suggestive tone. He gave her a wink, "Rey's stepping into the shower now, and I'm going to go join her. Talk to you later, Phas."
The noise that came from the other end of the call was something strangled. "Uh… be safe. Make- make good choices."
"Eh, we'll see," Ben shrugged. "Bye!"
He hung up, tossing his head back in laughter.
"Make good choices?" Rey cackled. "Okay, okay, I thought this game might be going too far, but that was priceless."
He nodded, grinning. "And now we know for sure that they're passing info to each other. Quickly, too. That only too, what, two hours?"
"Oh, this is brilliant. You talked to Luke, right?"
"Yeah." Ben laughed again. "He was under the impression that the whole situation on Ahch-To was real. He wasn't in on any of it, and he actually felt awful about that therapy session when I explained everything. When I told him about this plan he thought it was hilarious."
Rey sighed, face-planting contently into the man next to her. "And we're super, super sure this is all fake, right?"
"Luke said he and Mara were over years before you were born," Ben reassured.
"Thank God. Not that I thought it would be true," she explained, "It just would have been the worst luck in the world."
Ben sucked in a breath. "Uh. Yeah. It's one-hundred percent fake. Oh, and Luke agreed to officiate. I figured that'd be easy, since he's in on the plan. So we'll have the license but since he's not ordained, the license will expire and…" he shrugged again. "And we can just be together. No crazy wedding stuff, no schemes overshadowing our real wedding, whenever we want to have it. We can take our time."
"Assuming our plan works and they all freak out at the wedding," Rey pointed out. "Or at least own up to knowing about everything. What should we do if they let it go and don't say anything?"
Slowly, he grinned. "Oh, they won't let it go. Believe me, my mom's not the type to let anything go."
Rey laughed, and he caught her mouth, interrupting with a long, sweet kiss. He worked over her lips before he moved along her jaw and around her throat.
"Now, about that shower," he breathed, "Any chance we can make that happen? After, I can braid your hair again? Or brush it out?"
She relaxed into him, nuzzling her nose into the hand that was cupping her face, and said, "Yeah, that sounds amazing."
They stayed there, unmoving and unwilling to break the perfect, silent peace that had fallen over their— their bedroom, but then Ben uttered, "Five more days, Rey. Five more days, and you're… mine. No games, no weird situations. Just us."
Sometimes his candid, genuine feelings took her breath away. Maybe more than sometimes. It seemed like a daily, or even hourly thing. Sometimes it was every time he looked at her, or touched her, or kissed her.
Rey sniffed and kissed at his jaw.
"Just us," she whispered. "I can't wait."
Chapter 21: Reveal
Last chapter will be an epilogue!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
The date came more quickly than she'd expected, and that morning, Rey stared at her reflection in their bathroom mirror. She stayed still, perched on a little three-legged stool Ben had brought in, while he brushed out her hair and began weaving it in some intricate pattern he'd decided on.
"Isn't it bad luck for you to see me this morning?" she asked, somewhere between a whisper and a tease.
In the mirror, she could see the corners of his mouth curl up. "That's only for real weddings."
There was a little twinge in her gut. A little reminder that today wasn't real.
It felt real, though.
It had felt real when they'd been at the clerk's office the day before, handing over birth certificates and photo IDs while Leia wrung her hands. Real, when she'd picked up her dress from Maz and cried when trying it on again. Real, when Ben had kissed her an hour earlier and wordlessly handed her a wedding band that matched his grandmother's ring, which she hadn't once taken off.
Rey patted at the overwhelming happy tears that pricked at her eyes, glad both because she hadn't yet done her make-up, and because Ben was too focused in on her braid to notice her crying.
They kept going like that, her tearing up, him braiding her hair, pausing every few minutes to tilt her head or grab another bobby pin from the bowl in front of her.
"This isn't a traditional braid," he commented with a subtle grin. "I hope that's okay. It's… you'll see."
She closed her eyes while he finished it, pinning a few more spots.
Ben's mouth landed at the spot behind her ear, and he kissed her softly, then whispered, "All set. See what you think. I can always take it out and do something like a crown braid if you don't like this."
"I'm sure I'll-"
Rey fell silent when her eyes opened. He was still in pajama pants, blessedly shirtless, and he held up a mirror behind her, making it easy to see his work. She took in a shuddering breath and let out a sob, grabbing for the tissues.
Ben's smile fell. "I thought you'd like it. I'm sorry, I can take it out."
"No, no, please don't," she sniffled. "It's perfect."
She wiped her eyes, studying it in the mirror. At first glance, from the front, she might have guessed it was another French braid, but when her head turned, it looked entirely different.
"The first thing I noticed about you were your buns," he explained. "I thought they were cute, but I love your hair in braids, too. This seemed like a nice middle-ground." Ben hesitated, and pointed out the small braids banded across, between each bun, "Rather than three separate buns, they're all part of one braid, if that makes sense."
Rey nodded. "It's perfect."
He smiled and turned her around to face him. She tugged at the sleeve of her fuzzy green robe, wiping with it at her eyes, and looked up just in time for him to kiss her.
Ben's mouth slid over hers, tenderly and achingly slow, as though he was trying to tell her something he couldn't say. He'd said it all, though, as had she—Rey knew they were both so in love it hurt. So in love that it was stunning and desperate and beautiful in a way she hadn't known love could be.
She hooked one of her legs around him, pulling him closer, and that was when Ben lifted her up and pushed the stool out of the way so he could sit her on the bathroom counter. He kept kissing her and tugged at the string of her robe until it fell open.
He backed away to ask, "Do we have time before Rose gets here?"
"I think so." She pulled at the drawstring of his pajama pants, trying to work them down and off him, and she wasn't being anywhere near as gentle as he was. His fingers slid over her bare skin, skating up the sides of her abdomen and brushing over her breasts and collarbone so faintly it was like Ben was afraid he might shatter some spell.
When his lips were at her neck, she whispered, "Do you wish today was for real?"
The words shocked her, even though they were her own. She'd been thinking them, but hadn't expected them to leave her mouth.
Ben's exploration of her stilled. She felt a soft puff of breath against her neck before he murmured back, "Yes." He paused, and stood back up, staring down at her curiously. "Aren't we waiting for a while, so we can get married without any of these games?"
"Oh, we are," she nodded. "Even if we wanted today to be a legal wedding, we'd need someone ordained, so I know it's not a viable option. I guess I'm saying I want to marry you. Any time."
His expression softened, and his hands slid up from her collarbones to cup her face. He met her mouth for a slow kiss, and murmured against her lips, "I want to marry you, too."
"Our marriage license is good for ninety days," she blurted out.
Ben pulled back, blinking, and stared at her in awe. Before he could get any words out, someone called up the stairs, "Rey? Where are we getting ready? You said here, right?"
She sighed, or maybe groaned, and dropped her head to his shoulder.
"Rose is here."
"Mm. I noticed." He sounded dejected. "Real wedding or not, we need a real honeymoon with no interruptions. Next week?"
From the stairway, Rose asked again, "Rey? Are you here?"
"I promise you I'm not kidding," he muttered. "I already texted my father to get you out of work."
Rey laughed, mostly at how grumpy he sounded, and called back to Rose, "I'm here. Give us a minute!"
"Us? Ben isn't here, is he? That's bad luck!"
The man rolled his eyes and kissed her one more time, then murmured, "I love you."
"I love you, too." The words slipped from her mouth with a telling ease. "See you at the altar?"
A hint of his smile returned with a hint of blush, and he stole another kiss before ducking out of the bathroom. Rey cracked up as she heard Rose scold him, and then suddenly the woman was in the bathroom with her, dressed in cozy yoga pants and a sweater, carrying a make-up bag made to look like a TARDIS. It seemed appropriate considering how much make-up Rose fit in the thing.
Rose took one look at how she was sitting on the bathroom counter in her underwear, robe open, no less, and smirked. Realizing how on display she was, Rey pulled the fabric back around her, rolling her eyes.
"What, couldn't wait for the wedding night?"
"Oh, shut up."
They laughed together for when Rey hopped off the bathroom counter. Rose quieted, smiling softly at her.
"I can't believe it, you know," she admitted. "You're getting married. It's so crazy. It feels like it was only a few days ago we were complaining about our asshole neighbor."
Maybe it wouldn't be today. Maybe it wouldn't be tomorrow, or a week from then, but Rey still grinned, and nodded.
"Yeah... I'm getting married."
The venue that had landed in their laps wasn't so much a venue as it was a grassy spot at the edge of what might have been a dangerous cliff, had the caretakers not put up beautiful carved railings. It overlooked an ocean Ben had been staring out at for ten minutes. The sight of sea foam waves gently lapping up on the sandy beach was stunning, but he barely noticed. He was too focused on breathing.
There was no reason to be nervous, he kept telling himself. No reason at all. He should have been struggling not to laugh at the fact that their little audience of friends and family either thought they were marrying for real, or thought that and believed they were unknowingly cousins.
It should have been funny. Should have been downright hilarious that he'd seen Phasma frantically waving her hands around while talking in hushed tones with his equally worried mother. Should have been amusing, seeing his mother keep looking from Luke to the spot between two white birch trees where Rey would walk in, as though she was wondering if she'd start noticing a family resemblance. But Ben couldn't keep his thoughts straight, nevermind find anything funny about the day.
After Rose had arrived that morning, he'd gone over to the apartment next door where Hux was waiting with their suits and a strong drink Ben wasn't sure he needed. Now, the man was standing next to him, and Hux elbowed him.
"Music's starting," Hux whispered, and Ben's wide gaze snapped from the water to those two birch trees.
Luke was standing to his other side. The expression he'd been wearing all morning wasn't subtle. The man looked like he was about to laugh like an evil villain at any minute, surprisingly entertained by the prank they'd pulled him into.
But at the moment, Ben wasn't looking at him, nor at Hux. His eyes were fixed on the spot where she'd be.
The music was something instrumental and sweepingly melodic. Something he would have liked to dance to with her, but for now, he watched patiently as Rose appeared in a fluttery-sleeved berry red dress, walking toward them through the handful of people they'd gathered. He wanted to smile back at her and thank her for whatever role she'd played in pushing him and Rey together, but then he caught a flash of white.
Rey's step faltered when their eyes met.
There wasn't a word for how she looked. Ben was too overwhelmed with the intense feeling that she was choosing to be with him, of all people.
He didn't know why she had. He was just extraordinarily thankful for it.
It felt like a decade later when she'd made it halfway to him, and Ben stepped toward her, planning to wrap her in a hug. A hand— Luke's probably, caught his shoulder, and the man chided quietly, "Let's let her come to us, yeah?"
The noise Ben made at the thought of waiting was probably strangled, but then she was there in front of him, making the world right again, staring up with wide and shining hazel eyes like somehow she was the lucky one in this scenario.
Rey reached out for him, and Ben clutched her hands in his, ignoring whatever Luke was telling everyone in favor of pulling her closer. He leaned in and kissed her like it was the thing he needed most in life. Maybe it was.
She chuckled against his mouth, and pulled away, her shoulders shaking with laughter.
Between them, Luke cleared his throat. "Ah, kids, normally that part comes after the vows."
Ben bit his lips closed before he could tell his uncle that tradition was stupid.
"Why don't we get to the vows, then?" Rey replied. That was when he realized she was every bit as affected as he was. She was practically vibrating, and knowing that calmed him down.
He squeezed her hands, and her eyes flicked up to his. When he nodded slightly, trying to reassure her, she closed her eyes and took a breath, relaxing a little.
Luke hummed. "Okay, the vows. Ben, you'll repeat after me, and-"
"I've got my own," he interrupted, both to his own surprise and everybody else's.
Rey's brows went up. "You do? Was I supposed to-"
"No," he croaked. "No, but I want to say something first. We can do actual vows after. I'm… winging it."
From behind him, Hux muttered, "Oh, I'm sure that'll go well."
Considering the things they'd already said and done in front of the sparse audience, blabbering on for a minute about how incredible and amazing the woman in front of him was didn't seem embarrassing in the least, so Ben took a deep breath, and began.
"If someone had told me I'd be here three months ago," he started, "I would have laughed. I would have said there was no way, because I'd never marry a woman with that sort of taste in music, or who would order me a dozen inedible pizzas or show up while my parents were having dinner to claim I'd dumped her for a really embarrassing reason."
Rey huffed a laugh. "Some of that wasn't my fault!"
"I know, I know," he grinned. "But I never would have believed I'd follow all of this through to an actual wedding, but now that we're here, none of that is the reason I find it unbelievable. Now, I have a hard time believing we're here because…"
He shook his head, staring at her. "Because I'm still surprised I get to love you. I think it's the best thing I'll ever do. I know these vows are supposed to be a big deal, this big thing that some people would struggle to commit to, but I still can't fathom the idea that I get to be here with you, saying all of this."
Rey's currant-painted lips opened, surprised, and he added, "Sorry I interrupted things. I just wanted to say that. We can do the vows now."
"No," she breathed. "No, I want to say something, too."
She was quiet for a moment, almost like she was deciding what to say.
"For a long time I assumed my family would come back for me," she whispered. "I hoped they'd find me. I spent years—my whole life, holding on to that. I've been waiting for strangers to come for me, and I've assumed my life would be perfect once they had."
Her hands tightened on his, and if he hadn't been so intent on holding on, he would have reached up to wipe the drops forming in her eyes.
"I was wrong," she stated. "Wrong… and a little right. My family did find me. They just weren't who I thought they'd be."
"I can be your family," he murmured.
Rey laughed. "Yeah, that's what I'm trying to say. I'm saying that…"
She swallowed, and looked up at him, the tears now freely rolling down her cheeks. Possibly mirroring his. "I'm saying that family can be the person you choose, and I'm choosing you. I'll always choose you. You were the family I was looking for—it only took me a little while to realize it."
Ben tugged a hand away to cup her face, and worked out the words, "I'll always choose you, too," before meeting her for another kiss, rules and traditions be damned.
Someone was sniffing, and it wasn't either of them. They pulled apart after a minute, though it was a struggle, and that was when Ben noticed his own uncle, the not-officiant, was tearing up. He laughed, as did the woman he'd pulled into a hug.
"Sorry Uncle Luke," he said sheepishly. "Uh. Should we do the vows?"
Luke shrugged, still wiping at his face. "Weren't those vows? I can skip to the end." Rey nodded rapidly, seeming as overwhelmed as he was, and Luke nodded, too. "Okay. We only need to do the declaration of intent, and the pronouncement."
Ben quirked an eyebrow, a little impressed with how official his uncle sounded, but that was overtaken by the brief yet emotionally heavy I do's and the words I now pronounce you husband and wife, and then he was kissing her again.
Kissing her softly and passionately while his mind raced with a million different thoughts, ranging from ones of disbelief to ones of joy.
The loudest, though, was his wish that Luke's proclamation had been real.
Rey was a little surprised when they all made it to the private backroom of the nearby Italian restaurant without anyone (Leia or Phasma, specifically) causing a ruckus. The two looked shell-shocked post-ceremony, as though they'd just witnessed a preventable train wreck and did nothing to stop it.
Which, she supposed, they had. At least from their points of view.
Ben clearly couldn't care less about the game they were supposed to be playing. He was too busy keeping her close, tracing fingertips over the lace that covered her arms, and kissing her. It was bliss.
Once appetizers Leia had hand-picked—a delicious mix of veggie tarts, stuffed mushrooms, and mini plates of crudites, were served, Rey tucked a deep burgundy cloth napkin over her lap, and then reached for her glass of wine, only to almost choke on her sip as she heard Phasma ask dryly, "Does anyone know the deadline for the annulment process?"
Poe, mystified, stared agape at her, as did most of the table. "Why would you ask that?"
"Just curious." She shrugged in a very Phasma-like manner and downed the rest of what Rey thought was her third glass of wine.
At her side, Leia tried a more subtle approach while the rest of the table shook off Phasma's ill-timed question. "So, you two. I'm sure it's early to be wondering about grandchildren, but…"
Rey knew why the woman was asking, but she wasn't prepared for Ben's massive, mischievous smile, nor his answer of, "Oh, we want loads of them. At least four or five."
That was when Rey realized she should have started with something stronger than wine.
Leia blanched. "Are… are you sure that's a good idea? I must be the only mother to say this, but gosh, I'm not sure I need grandchildren. Please don't have them on my account. I'll adopt dogs! It'll be so nice. Think of all the money you'd save."
She'd said it loud enough to get the attention of both Armitage and Rose, who were both glaring at her, shocked at the nerve it took to say such a thing at her son's post-wedding dinner. Rose's eyebrows were at her hairline, and she spoke up, "Uh, excuse me, but isn't that their choice? And don't you think they might want to enjoy dinner and celebrate today without discussing it?"
Amused, Ben grinned over at Rey and chimed in, "Oh I don't know, our wedding dinner seems like a perfect time to discuss all the unprotected sex we're having, right sweetheart? That's always a nice family-friendly topic."
Rey did choke on her wine that time.
Leia looked like she was about to faint, and Rey saw Han sigh and go for the flask in his pocket.
Finn cleared his throat. "So, nice weather today, hm?"
"Yeah, yeah, it was gorgeous," Kaydel nodded. "Very temperate for October. Ideal wedding weather." She kept glaring daggers at her girlfriend, who was searching the table for another bottle to crack open. It seemed Phasma hadn't clued her in to what she thought was going on.
Luke had been one step away from cackling since they'd sat down, and Rey almost excused herself from the table when he sighed wistfully, and said, "I never had children, but Rey, getting to know you these last few weeks has made me wish I'd had a daughter like you." He winked. "I'll settle for a niece, though."
The saner people at the table aww'd at that, but Leia took a long drink from her wine and stood up, slamming it back down on the table.
"That's it," she blurted out. "I can't do this."
From across the table, Phasma's eyes shot wide, and she hissed, "Sit back down. This is not what we discussed!"
"I don't care what we discussed!"
"Leia, now is not the time!"
Ben's shoulders were shaking in laughter. Rey was watching, half-horrified, half-entertained, and it became clear that Phasma and Leia were the only two who had heard tell of the "Rey Skywalker" prank, because the rest of the table was a mix of shock and confused.
Leia took a steadying breath and announced, "I'm sorry to do this, but the truth needs to come out. Luke, you did have children. Or, a child. Just one, as far as I'm aware." She swallowed.
Luke waited patiently, his hands folded in his lap like the troll he was.
"Rey is your daughter," Leia admitted. She turned to Ben, "Darling, I'm sorry, I shouldn't have let you go through with the ceremony. You need to get an annulment. Rey is family, but not in the way you both wanted. I'm so sorry. I'm sure holidays will be awkward for a while, but-"
Rey clapped a hand to her mouth to stifle her laughter. Ben, to his credit, had managed to hold his back, but at the table's collective gasp, he burst out laughing, especially when Han yelled, "What the fuck is with you Skywalkers!" The man gestured to his wife, "First you and Luke, now this?!"
It was a lucky thing Leia had gotten them a private room.
Rey couldn't hold it in anymore. She fell face-first into Ben's chest, cackling and giggling like a madwoman while the room broke out into chaos as their friends all "discovered" their relation.
"-cousins! Don't they do blood testing before weddings?"
"This is some Game of Thrones wedding shit!"
"They don't even resemble each other!"
After a minute the racket died down, and Leia asked numbly, "Why are you three laughing? Ben? Rey? Aren't you upset?"
The two—well, three, because Rey looked over through tear-filled eyes and saw Luke had also lost his composure—struggled to calm their laughter. Ben was the first to catch his breath.
"No, mom, we're not upset," Ben snorted. "We're also not getting anything annulled."
"Why?" Leia demanded. "What's going on?"
Luke spoke up, sighing and wiping his eyes. "Oh, you kids, that was a good one." He laughed again and grinned at his sister. "Leia, Mara Jade and I never had a child. Rey is not my daughter."
"I also never lived in Tatooine," Rey added. "And I've met no one named Obi-Wan, though he sounds like he was a very kind man."
At that, Phasma muttered, "Inconsiderate bastards," and dropped back into her chair, swiping Finn's half-full glass, guzzling it.
Leia stared between them. Then she groaned and threw her hands up. "You nerfherders! I've been worried about this for days! You have no idea! I'd tried so hard to get you two morons to own up to your feelings over the last month, and then- and then I thought I had to break you up, and-"
Rey's grin turned into more of a smirk. She turned to the man next to her, and fist-bumped him in celebration.
Leia groaned again.
The ruckus died down maybe ten minutes later, once everything came out and everyone discovered the truth of what that had happened between the happy couple. That was when Luke let himself enjoy a bit of whiskey with his old friend.
Luke sighed, and admitted to Han, "Those two make a nice pair. I really wouldn't have minded having a kid like Rey."
Han nodded. "She's a good one."
His usually roguish grin fell, and Luke could see pity on his face. "Don't worry," he waved the man off, "They pulled me in on this little scheme early on. Rey's wonderful, but she's not my daughter. Mara and I split years before she was born." He hummed, "Might call her now, though. She'd get a kick out of this story."
"You were in on it the whole time?" Han laughed. "Should've known."
"Of course! Lucky thing, too, 'cause Leia kept calling, trying to convince me to not officiate for real. She kept saying it couldn't be a real wedding. Didn't say why, but I knew." He winked, "Those two were smart to bring me in on things. Nice of them to ask me to officiate, too. I haven't gotten to use my license in a while."
Han's head titled curiously. "I didn't know you did weddings."
"Oh, sure. Sometimes people come to the island for remote destination weddings. It's easy enough to get ordained."
Han frowned. "Didn't the kids just say this one was for practice?"
"Maybe you misheard," Luke shrugged. "I already signed off on the papers."
"Huh. Well," Han held out his little glass of amber liquid, "Cheers."
Luke grinned and clinked his glass to Han's.
Chapter 22: Epilogue
Just a short and sweet epilogue. Thank you so much for reading this silly, sort of crack fic!
(See the end of the chapter for more notes.)
Turning off his computer, Ben left the bedroom they'd made into his writing office. Hux and Rose had gotten engaged over the winter, complete with a New Year's proposal, and had since moved into a moderately sized ranch-style home twenty minutes away. Last he'd dared to ask, they were buried in wedding planning and Rey was doing her best as Rose's right hand to help dig them out of a mountain of venue options, wedding favors, invitation font choices, and dresses.
It was weird not having neighbors they shared a wall with, but the extra space they'd gained from buying the place and knocking down a few walls was convenient. Ben passed a still-empty guest room-slash-"let's put a pin in that conversation for now" bedroom and hooked a right at the area they'd made into their master suite, then rambled down the stairs.
He couldn't help but stop and smile at the photos of them she'd hung-ones from the holidays they'd now shared, ones from their honeymoon, and a few candids from the times he'd tried to teach her how to cook. They were all framed next to the ones of her with his family.
Rey was waiting for him outside in the mid-July heat, wearing drool-worthy purple shorts and a cream-colored bikini top. She was leaning against the railing of their balcony and looking out into the yard their friends and family had filled. He came up behind her, putting hands on the balcony railing on either side of her, and kissed the side of her head.
They were quiet until he murmured, "It's been a year, you know. Since you moved in."
She huffed a laugh. "Good thing your parents weren't strict about the terms of my lease."
"Speaking of," Ben gestured down toward the grill. "I should see if they need any help. If not, want to swim with me?"
A smile quirked up at the corners of her mouth. "No surprise proposals this time, right?"
Rey threw her head back in laughter, and it rested against the front of his shoulder. Rather than tease or roll his eyes, he stared down at her and then caught her mouth mid-laugh in a kiss. She sighed into him, turning to wrap her arms around his neck.
A yell came from the pool. From Poe, if he wasn't mistaken. "Hey, you two, get a room!"
Rey pulled away and rolled her eyes. "We have one!"
"Use it! God, you guys are worse than newlyweds."
They both laughed at that, and reluctantly let each other go, only keeping their hands clasped together as they walked down from the balcony and out into the grass.
Han was manning the grill and most of the group had already retreated to the refreshing chill of the pool, but Luke and Leia had opted out of swimming. The two were sitting at a picnic table waiting for food, and he and Rey stopped by them to say hello before diving in.
"You know," Leia started off, wearing a grin, "I was just telling Luke there was a proposal here last time we all got together."
Ben snorted. "Don't worry, there won't be another one."
He didn't miss the way his mother's smile fell, just a little, but she recovered quickly, and sighed. "You're lucky I knew about that little scheme from the beginning, minus the last bit about Mara Jade. Some of the things you two lied about might have given me a heart attack otherwise, but I knew my son would never propose to someone so publicly. That's not you."
"No, it's not," he agreed, pressing his smile to Rey's hair. There was a mischievous glint in her eyes, and Ben had to try not to laugh at the little secret only a few of them knew.
Han dropped two plates off between his wife and brother-in-law, each with burgers, one with cheese and one without, and nodded a hello to Ben and Rey.
"Well, proposals aside, we're happy for you no matter what," Leia said kindly. "But no more fake weddings! Next one better be real."
Ben opened his mouth and shut it again, unsure of how to reply.
Han quirked an eyebrow, looking at his wife oddly. "Fake wedding? Whose wedding was fake?"
Silence settled over the little group while the others were splashing away in the pool, completely unaware of the amusing situation Ben was watching unfold.
After a long moment, Leia replied slowly, as if talking to an idiot, "Your son's? Remember the wedding we went to? Last October?"
"And how was that a fake wedding?"
Leia shrugged. "Well, I was there when they got the license, and since they said at the dinner afterward that it hadn't been a legal ceremony, I assumed Luke wasn't ordained."
Luke looked half a second from cracking up. It seemed he'd figured out the source of the confusion. Rey had too, and she laughed, leaning back into his chest. Ben took the opportunity—like he always did—to hug his arms around her her bare abdomen, while he watched the mini-meltdown that was about to happen.
As Ben predicted, Han shot him a questioning look. "Luke said you were married."
"No they aren't," Leia corrected, "That wedding wasn't real. That's what I'm trying to tell you." She sighed, exasperated. "You never listen to me!"
Ben laughed into the skin of Rey's shoulder. He rested his chin there, then asked, amused, "What makes you think it wasn't real?"
Dryly, Rey added, "What makes you think it was intentional?"
Leia shut her mouth and blinked at them.
Post-fake-wedding life was… bliss.
As blissful as Ben imagined real post-wedding life would be. Exhausted with interruptions and distractions, they'd holed up in a beautiful home he'd found that was available to rent a week at a time, nestled near the mountains that stood a few hours from them.
Of course, Luke had offered them their same hut on Ahch-To, but they'd politely declined.
The A-frame looked like it belonged as part of a fancy ski-lodge, and Ben supposed people often rented it just for that purpose, but for now there was no snow—only the bright leaves in every color from ruby to gold.
At Rey's request, they'd shut off their phones the moment they'd walked in through the door, having only provided his parents with the number for the house's landline in case of emergency. They'd shut the phones off, put them in a basket he'd found in the entry, and then he'd spun her around, picked her up, and went in search of a bedroom.
They'd found one. They'd also found a large tub. And a couch. A wall, even.
Neither of them turned their phones back on until their luggage had been repacked a week later, when they were loading it back into his car. Rey's powered up first, and she frowned at it.
"Hm. Do you know this number?"
He looked at the screen she'd put in his face and shrugged. "No, why?"
"They called me three times."
Ben thought it was odd, but didn't think much of it until he turned on his phone, too, and saw he had a voicemail from the same number. He played it on speaker, holding the phone between them, and quirked an eyebrow at the static-y message, only catching, "-riage certificate is ready for pickup. It can be mailed to you for an additional charge."
Rey's head tilted, and his eyes caught on the dutch braid his own fingers had weaved. She was so beautiful it sometimes hurt to look away, and he leaned down to kiss her, forgetting the message.
They made out against his car for a few minutes until the rain started, at which point they started laughing and got in, cranking up the car's heat before either of them started to shiver.
"What was that message about?"
Ben shrugged again. "No idea."
He'd thought it didn't matter, and truthfully, nothing mattered more than Rey, so he kissed her again and started their drive home.
It did matter, though.
Ben didn't realize that until weeks later, after he received another call from a secretary at their local courthouse. She had questions, mostly concerning whether he and his wife ever intended to pick up their marriage certificate.
Ben had quite a few more questions than she did.
He didn't believe a word of it until he drove to the address she'd rattled off, and entered the building, only to not find his mother and Phasma standing there with smirks and a Fooled you!
The only thing waiting there for him was a desk, and a secretary behind it, ready to hand him a marriage certificate.
Ben walked back to his car, numb, and got in, staring at the sheet of paper in his hands for a solid half an hour, trying to process how it had happened and what it meant. It hadn't sunk in by the time he got home.
Rey was waiting for him, freshly showered after work and already bundled in pajamas, her wet hair ready to be brushed and braided. She greeted him at the door with a long, sweet kiss and a murmur of, "I missed you. I love you so much, did I say that this morning?"
"You did," he breathed, still disbelieving of how incredible his life had become. "I love you, too. But we need to make a call. I think there was a misunderstanding."
The word had her frozen in place, and he added, "Not between us, and nothing bad… exactly. Don't worry. I'm not sure what's going on, but it'll be okay either way. I promise. You might… you might even think it's good. I hope."
Rey narrowed her eyes at him, but her shoulders relaxed. He took that as a good sign.
He slipped his phone out and called the number of the only person who could clear things up. The phone rang twice before his uncle picked up.
"Hey Ben! How was the honeymoon?"
Uneasily, Ben replied, "Good. Hey, I've got you on speaker. Rey's here, and it's the weirdest thing. I picked up our marriage certificate today. It looks… very official."
Rey's eyes shot wide. "What?"
Maybe he should have warned her, but it was too late now.
"Yeah." He took the paper out of a crisp white envelope and put it on the counter for Rey's inspection. "Uncle Luke, what's going on?"
"That's odd. Usually they're ready for pickup within a week. I wonder why it took so long. It's been almost a month!"
Ben blinked at the phone. "That's not the part I'm confused by. Maybe you misheard. I picked up a marriage certificate. As in, Rey and I-" He stopped, glancing up at her, and let out a long breath before continuing softly, "Rey and I are married."
"Uh, yes Ben, that's normally what happens when you have a wedding," his uncle said dryly. "Was that not clear? I thought that was common knowledge."
Rey let out a humorless laugh. "But wouldn't you have to be ordained for us to be legally married?"
"Of course," Luke agreed. "Which I am. Have been for years. Didn't you kids know-"
"Thanks Uncle Luke," Ben interrupted, "We just wanted to make sure. Everything's good. We'll talk to you later, thanks for everything."
He hung up before the man could say anything else.
It was like the air had been sucked out of the room. He and Rey stared at each other for a minute, until Rey swallowed, and laughed awkwardly. "So. We're… married."
"We're married," he confirmed. "I think it's my fault, too. We were so all over the place with scheming and games… I can't remember if I ever told Luke we didn't want a legal wedding. Did you?"
She shook her head. "No, I didn't. I figured he knew since we filled him in on everything."
"So we're married," he repeated, like he was stuck on a loop. "Really, for real married."
"I- I mean-" Rey fish-gaped, gesturing out with her hands. "Yeah, I guess. What now?"
That was a good question. It wasn't one he'd asked himself yet, but at this point it was the only relevant question for their situation. What now?
Well, what now?
Ben loved her—that wasn't in question. Ben wanted to marry her. He'd been hoping throughout their not-fake-fake ceremony that it'd been real, so…
"We could look into annulment, divorce even, if you want," he said reluctantly. To his relief, Rey recoiled, and he grabbed her hands, squeezing them in his. "I'm only saying we could. But I don't want to. It's your choice, and I'd do it if that's what you wanted, but it'd break my heart."
She let out a sigh of relief. "I don't even want to think about it."
"Do you think… maybe you'd be okay with being married to me?" he asked softly.
The corners of her mouth quirked up. "Is that your way of proposing?"
"I'll get down on one knee if that'd help my odds. Do you want-"
"Ben," she interrupted in a whisper. His eyes flashed up to hers, and he saw the tears in them. "Ben," she said again, "I love you. Of course I'm okay with being married to you. Are you okay with being married to me?"
There wasn't a ring to slip on her finger—wasn't a crowd to celebrate the answer, nor a wedding to plan, but somehow that only made it better. Ben pulled her into his arms, hugging her tightly and nuzzling into the crook of her neck.
"Yeah," he breathed, his words muffled as he kissed them into his wife's skin. "More than okay. I love you, too."
"Wow. Okay… I know we should celebrate right now and that this is the last thing we should worry about," Rey hesitated, "But how are we going to tell everyone? Shouldn't we tell your parents?"
Ben considered it, but then shrugged.
"They'll find out eventually."