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I Know

Chapter Text

This is it!

The day finally came. She’s been waiting for this lifestyle change, it seemed, for all her life. Time to move. As she packed the last of her boxes away into the rental truck she sighed in relief. Living by herself in south Florida had its perks. No odd roommates leaving their “pets” places. No issues with shared rent payments… but where it really mattered while moving out… that sucked. Then again, she didn’t have to worry about whether or not her things would be damaged by the hands of someone else. If it was her mistake, she could swear at it and promise it would be fixed when they got there.

Rey did well for herself there, her place was on one level and cut from the same cloth as every other house in the development. It made being her special place feel less special. At the time, petty things like these didn’t bother her. She was more concerned with how far her commute was to home, what the traffic was like and above all else, she wanted to know that take out was a mere block away if she absolutely needed to walk.

Over the past eight years she was on her own, she hadn’t been entirely on her own. She did have friends, acquaintances really. They would wave to her from across the street, give a half smile and go on with their lives. Most of them were older and entertaining the lovely world of peace and quiet with gardening or lounging around the community pool playing gin rummy with others who she assumed were around their same ages. There was a time that she tried to mingle with them. Mingling was a strong word. Really, she just wanted to sit at their table or next to it to feel like she had been a part of something there, but it never seemed to pan out.

Rey even allowed herself to have a boyfriend. Well, three if she counted that one guy that she saw for more than five dates. To her it didn’t count. He was just looking for someone to get back at his girlfriend… ex-girlfriend with, she corrected her memory with. That was embarrassing. On more than one occasion the idiot called her by the wrong name too. She should have been on the ball but at the time it didn’t matter because she was lonely too. The other two were slightly better. She met Chad when she was fresh out of high school and he was good enough as jocks go. The guy was hardly a man though, giving her pleading eyes when she’d cockblock him only to sit and pout about her rejection while she’d have her period. Rey rolls her eyes at the memory… and then there was Jack… nope. She stopped her thoughts entirely, not wanting to waste another moment on that asshole.

No, no… this was good. Moving felt right. It was right. It was just time to go.

Picking her new location was a little more strenuous than loading the truck she reminded herself. Rey would have an entire eighteen hours on the road and if she didn’t get going now, she would be driving through the worst traffic in a handful of hours.

“Let’s go, let’s go, let’s go…” Rey chanted before she could change her mind.

It wasn’t exactly like she could though. She had already made all of the preparations getting in good with a landlord through email who allowed her counteroffer over giving her the option to rent with the option of owning instead of having to flat out purchase the place. In her email she went on about not enjoying the potential of roommates. She wanted to and knew she could handle it on her own. If her ranch in Florida was any indication that she could handle this small Cape Cod in her current salary bracket, she was positive she could handle being the only tenant there too. Living alone just made things easier, she told him.

His response seemed to come too soon, agreeing with what she had to say. Rey was then informed that all that was left to do when she arrived was head to J&R’s Reality, located just outside of town to sign off on the lease. A lease of which he said he could terminate at any time.

Rey knew his kind. The threat seemed just as empty as his wallet when she realized she had to pay both the usual month and a half rent, as well as a second month in advance. He said it was for back up in case there was an issue with the expenses for both the ride up and the realization that life in New Jersey was just more expensive than most.

It was a pompous thing to suggest that she was getting in over her head before she came but he had been there all his life he said. He also said the house was old and needed work that he would gladly allow this man to change. She scoffed when she read that email. Clearly that was a typo. He didn’t really think Rey was a man. Then again, did it matter? He wasn’t going to be at J&R’s for the finalization of this transaction either so what did it matter what this guy thought?

Climbing into the cab of her rental, she set the GPS and got settled in for the ride.

__

 

Rey had more than enough time for her mind to wander on the ride up. There were plenty of areas where the radio would glitch, unable to find anything for miles on end. The sound of the tires on the warn down pavement was hypnotizing to a point, pulling her right back down into the memory of why she chose New Jersey in the first place.

It was just after she caught up with Jack’s past that she had to go. The man was married! But it wasn’t just that. Who was she kidding? It was mostly that. It hurt. It hurt that she could be classified as a homewrecker. Rey was anything but that, she thought so at least. She had seen it so many times with other girls around her age aiming for the older man. Jack… he wasn’t older… he didn’t look older. Her brow furrowed while her frown increased its depth on her lips. He used her. It wasn’t even that either. Sort of. Yeah, okay it was. But she wasn’t alone. She wasn’t the only one he “promised” himself too.

The first girl she came in contact with assaulted her, calling her all sorts of names in strings of curses she could never come up with on her own. The second Rey was ready for. She didn’t know how, intuition she could guess, but Rey made it out of the house with a metal shovel, a perfect size for swinging, jabbing, or slapping people with, and best of all, its dark metal surface had baked in the sun all day prior to the woman showing up. Going forward it was hate mail, random people calling her at work and finally when a family and wife showed up, Rey was done fighting for this man. Instead she was ready to kill him.

The relationship didn’t seem to end after that. Jack still showed up. He still called, and the one night she tried pretending she wasn’t home, the man broke in and found her. Rey shook her head at the memory, relieved when a bit of country music came up on the station again. While it wasn’t her true cup of tea, it was certainly better than what garbage she was allowing herself to process again.
Boy did she process it.

Each time it cycled through she became more boisterous, yelling at her imagination, telling him off as she should have. Each time it seemed like she could do it and just like that the frustration of it all would ebb.

She could do this, she chanted. She could change this. She did change this… The change was coming. Mile by mile it came.

Her memories flit back to the way that the laminated map felt under her fingertips when she landed on her new location. At first, she scoffed at her blind fold telling it that the Atlantic Ocean was no place to live. The moment she lifted her finger off of it she found the tiny little state under her pad: New Jersey.

That would be the location, as it was set in stone the moment, she saw it.

There was no backing out.

Only research.

It happened to be the most interesting research of her life. This tiny place seemed to be everything rolled into one. The closer to the coast she got, the more it seemed more her speed. That was the point though, to get to a place that was far from that. Looking at the city and their prices for renting alone made her cringe. A simple studio ten minutes from a popular train hub meant a renter would be paying anywhere from twenty-five to thirty-two hundred dollars a month… and it didn’t even belong to them. What a scam!

The more she studied the north the more she felt like this could be it. She could enjoy deciduous trees, the life cycle of seasons and their changes making a mental note of needing to purchase a coat when the time did arrive too. Settling on a home was a little more difficult. Houses on the market were snatched up in a day or less. She figured some were either real people looking to be homeowners, while the others were either people that were worried about their properties and not ready to sell, or bots looking for a quick scam.

 

She found none of this with Mr. Solo’s property. The Cape Cod was cozy looking, grey with a stone façade, white trim, dark roof thatching, a currently white door that if it was hers, she was quite interested in painting red. Her first thought was yellow or gold but those were quickly denied when she came across the shade of red that would just work perfectly with the monochrome pallet it was already sporting. She also found that it may look just perfect with the changing seasons. Maybe the only one that might clash was Saint Patrick’s Day, but in all honesty, she wasn’t Irish and felt odd celebrating something she most certainly did not understand how to do properly.

She already had plans for the picket fence, provided it was hers. It needed to be cleaned, but one thing was for sure, if it wasn’t wood, it wasn’t staying. Plastic had no right in a garden. That much she knew was true. She learned it from her mother at least. The plants didn’t deserve the intrusion and if she had any say in it, she would address the fact to the neighbor.

Pictures didn’t do the house justice, that much she knew was true. The place had a history that she was just dying to know more about.

Her mind drifted as the daylight faded into dusk. Pavement turned from the purply grey haze of the remaining sunset to black, the only light sat at her headlights reaching out into it by the foot until it too was swallowed by the unknown. She should have felt panicked, afraid, but she didn’t. Rey felt less like she was running with every mile that passed and more like her future had reached out it’s invisible hand to support her changes.

She reminds herself as the stars begin to peak out from the lingering thin cloud cover that this is it. This is her new beginning.
___

New Jersey is… well… different. Unlike her research, she found that certain places really needed help, run down, barely being held together, and then there was the built-up places not even twenty minutes down the road. Sure, there were pockets of developments that looked similar to the homes and apartments made at home – in Florida, but then there were older homes that looked more like cottages and everything in between. It’s nice, Rey nodded at herself.

Her new hometown adorned flags on each telephone pole, celebrating their one hundredth year since their foundation. It was interesting enough to look up at each as she drove in on the only road in and out of the valley. Rey, who was never big on architecture, rather enjoying the smaller DIY projects that the HGTV channel sported, couldn’t pick out what models the houses were specifically. They all, however, looked like they belonged in one way or another. Some were fancier than others what with their multiple floors looking more like mansions or overdone landscapes that she was sure no one actually did themselves anymore. While others were either stacked on top of each other or spread out with land to spare.

As Rey made her way further down the road she prayed for wide open spaces. She wanted to be able to run in any direction if the situation arose but instead came across her promised house and space very close to the neighbors. Her initial drive by showed enough space on either side of the house to park a car, if she wanted too.

This is fine, she tells herself. All fine. It’s her own space away from Jack. He doesn’t even know yet. That word drops from her lips with such weight that if it were a solid bell, she’s sure it would have been a ton or two. The thought of him showing up uninvited makes her swerve, deciding against parking in the driveway and startling a figure in the early morning shade.

Breathing out a sigh of relief that she didn’t hit the…man? Person. The person, she decided, since she wasn’t paying enough attention past her nerves to know any different, never made a thud sound against the vehicle. Therefore, she didn’t kill the person but may need to apologize with pizza later if they’re still around for move in day. Pizza was a good apology food, wasn’t it?

Food, she knew, said things… so why not, “I’m sorry for almost killing you with this U-HAUL?”

Town seemed nice enough as far as quiet places went. Little traffic both vehicle and foot related at this hour too, which seemed nicer now than before. At the time she initially noticed it, she thought it may be the hour that had her recognizing it. Not the case. It was just…quiet. Dare she say, perfect even.

Shops lined Main Street, piping her interest in what coffee was like here outside of a chain like Dunkin’ Donuts and then why on earth people had bagel shops. There literally was one on nearly every corner. Maybe pizza wasn’t the best way to apologize if this boiled dough trend was really that important to these people. Rey found herself stopping in to purchase one of each and too coffees, just in case.

J&R’s Reality’s office was just as quiet as the town. Nothing out of the ordinary here, except for the fact that the office was made out of a home instead of an actual office. That detail had her hair standing up. What if this really was a scam? What if she left Florida on a prayer that this would turn her life around? Her questions seized her as each moment passed until she said the heck with it and pressed herself onward through the door.

Despite the slow atmosphere, J&R’s is anything but. They had her ponies up and signed enough paper to create a deconstructed sapling before giving her the keys and all but kicking her out. It all happened so fast she was sure the coffee was still the same temperature as was from where she left it as.

It was.

Having no interest in really over analyzing that whole rodeo, she started then engine, heading right back down the road.

——

She was right. The house had way more to offer. A sizable open plan for the downstairs which made her want to stretch out her arms and spin until she hit the foot of the stairs. Stairs! That’s right! Rey ran up the stairs finding a sizable master, a bathroom in the hall itself, and two modest rooms on the other side but the coolest thing she noticed was the moment she looked out the bathroom window was acreage upon acreage of land, as far back as the eye could see.

It was too good! She had to go out into it... run in it. Yes! That’s where she’d go, she thinks as she remembers to touch every stair on the way down to it. Rey passes the kitchen out into a large room she most clearly missed when she initially scanned the place. It isn’t quite a sunroom... more like a room encased in glass.

It’s a... greenhouse? No... sort of? It did remind her of one, but the pitched glass came in panels separated by thick metal beams for support, had been built into the side of the house. Large slate pieces make up the floor suggesting that the space could be used as either an indoor or outdoor space.

If she didn’t have neighbors on either side that could potentially see her every move while in that room, she’s certain it would have been her bedroom. Still, she weighed it as an option. What if the houses on either side were empty? Or their tenants were extremely private and never came out? She supposed she could get away with it being a lounging space. Maybe pass it as a living room? Add a day bed and some chairs? Maybe a little stand and a television? Around the walls of it could be potted plants for the winter months... Rey nodded at her vision, settling on where things should go when she looked up once more to see the picket fence again.

“Ugh! Is that acreage not mine?” she noticed how the fence and pages lined up against it cut off the view. “It isn’t, isn’t it...”

Suddenly the things in her truck took the back seat. She would pay for the extra day if it meant fixing this problem right now. She didn’t care that she just emptied her pockets on this place. Having space and then it being just out of reach was not her thing. What was a worse thought was the possibility that the owner didn’t want to sell—she could maybe only live with the idea that it might be state owned private property and wouldn’t be used for anything. That calmed her a little but now that it was in her head she needed to know if it could be hers.

Chapter Text

- A Month Ago -

Keeping two properties is hard.

Hard isn’t the right word. It is financially burdening to be correct but at the time it seemed like the obvious choice.

His elderly neighbors had informed him that they were moving to a ranch in the south. It made more sense for them being that the couple had a hard enough time getting up and down the stairs daily, not to mention all of the seasonal work they’d have to do or hope they could get a neighbor kid to do weekly. In the fall, while the surrounding tree cover was beautiful, it was also a lot of upkeep. It wasn’t just the weight of the leaves but the acorns too, and once that passed there would be snow. Early on they had help as the kids around the block were ready and willing to shovel a short driveway for ten dollars, no matter the amount. There could be three feet on the ground, and they would still have someone willing to help. By the spring Ben noticed that they were rarely outside. Their gardens were overgrown and wilder than the grounds that stretched to the horizon.

That out there was a mess.

Ben was the first they told of their plans to sell and move out. That was a blessing. Given the fact that he craved space, the man knew he would need to snatch this up in a second. Not giving them the ability to put it on the market, Ben gave them an offer they wouldn’t refuse. Not only did he gain their home but also the land. There was so much of it too. The property stretched from their little white picket fence all the way back to the tree line which had to be at least a half mile or so away and stretched out past his fence as well as the neighbors to the left of them for the same distance
To Ben, he thought he just won the lottery, even if he had to pay for it.

Now however… Now he had a crisis. How was he going to pay for two mortgages and the biannual tax on his new land? How could he have overlooked this? He was so focused on not having neighbors, he just royally screwed himself.

How would he be able to fix this, he wonders.

And how he wonders.

Ben’s spent the better portion of two months figuring out his best plan of action which burns him at the beginning of each one having to pay the mortgages for both properties. This issue and the one he’s been dabbling in have been eating up all of his assets. This, unfortunately, isn’t a new concept for him. There have been so many times he’s had to pull himself out of the hole, and damnit all if he’s going to give up on this so quickly. He decides that it will be the secondary house that goes first, not his dream vineyard.

He had enough of having to give up his projects for the greater goal. In this case, living next to someone was less of a problem given the fact that the test vine in his garden was doing well. It took him years to figure out the right pH balance in the soil, where the best ratio of sun to shade was, how much water down to the last centimeter the vine took in the event that it had rained. He knew how it would affect its growth, and how it could damage the plant altogether. But above all, he knew that he was successful.

Ben’s first ever bottle of Kylo Ren Pinot Noir was created last year using his favorite, black grapes on a single vine that nearly died thanks to a late snowstorm that dumped two feet of snow on the tristate area in April. Not to mention the drought Ben’s plant suffered all summer long. Had it not been for his flexible schedule he may have given up that year.

Ben works for the town, which explains his options in staying close to home to baby his plants. His size and strength had him helping with maintenance for most things which was more up his alley rather than being stuffed in a suit and tie sitting in some corporate headquarters somewhere. Outside is where he is meant to be. Had to help put up decorations for the town? Move debris from storms or remove a critter –or deer from the road, Ben was their guy.

His salary isn’t some glorious amount, but it is livable given that he’s on his own. No extra mouths to feed, well no human mouths anyway. He does have a chocolate lab that seems to understand him better than his own family but that’s beside the point. The point is, he concludes, that he doesn’t have the capability to keep up his living arrangements, and so...Ben posts a listing of the house up for sale with high hopes that a normal person will want it.
Ben scoffs at the word he’s picked to describe people.

Normal isn’t a real word. Everyone is just at a similar level of crazy, he thinks.

*-* PING! *-*

The sound of email ringing through his speakers brings him back to reality. It has to be spam, he thinks. There’s no way someone is replying to his post.

[Re: 1950s Cape Cod for Sale $350K…]

No way.

Ben opens the email reading:

From: Rey Niima RN_ornever@myemail.com
To: Ben Solo SoloB@myemail.com

Hi. My name is Rey and I’m interested in your listing. Can you tell me more about the place? I’m not super picky. Pictures look nice. I just need a place sooner than later and need to know if the place requires work…

Ben continues to read the email. Being the only one that he got that specifically went over the square footage with him, asking if the amount was based on the proximity to the city or other amenities had him wondering if this person could be a decent neighbor. Not that he was going to disclose his location or information leading up to a conversation such as that, but it did warrant a response.

The two talked about the land, who it belonged to before Ben bought it, which opened up another can of worms he needed to explain. Ben, however, took the short route telling Rey that he had too much to look after which is why he set it up to sell it in the first place.

 

[Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: 1950s Cape Cod for Sale $350K…]

From: Rey Niima RN_ornever@myemail.com
To: Ben Solo SoloB@myemail.com

That makes sense. I can completely understand even though I’ve never had two properties to take care of. I can’t imagine it being easy.

Sent from iPhone.

Their conversation carried on into the morning when Ben found himself looking up the benefits of the rent to own possibilities Rey brought up. There are forums all over the internet explaining pros and cons, but when it comes down to it, Ben seems to agree. He gives Rey the ability to move in under a contract of a year that expresses the capability to continue in a rent to own status. He notes that would be able to collect a substantial amount from him up front. A month and a half’s rent is a normal cost for any apartment in New Jersey, but this isn’t an apartment. It would be seen as the minimum which would allow him to request a secondary month advancement to be used as the security payment, telling Rey that this was precautionary in the event that after the move he couldn’t keep up with his payment.

It seemed to settle the conversation for what felt like hours. Hours… did he just fuck up the sale?

By morning Ben is relieved to hear from Rey again with his response.

[Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: 1950s Cape Cod for Sale $350K…]

From: Rey Niima RN_ornever@myemail.com
To: Ben Solo SoloB@myemail.com

It is a lot, but honestly, I can manage that.

Sent from iPhone.

Ben blew out a breath he didn’t know he was holding. All the other responses were clearly from bots offering more than his asking price or people that couldn’t spell to save their lives. If they didn’t know how to do basic things, how in the world would they be able to take care of the house? It wasn’t that Ben necessarily cared about the house… but he did care about what nonsense he would have to deal with going forward, and Rey was the only person that fit his fancy.

[Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: 1950s Cape Cod for Sale $350K…]

From: Ben Solo SoloB@myemail.com
To: Rey Niima RN_ornever@myemail.com

Great! I will have your contract made up and sent over to J&R’s Reality for when you’re ready. Just stop there before you come so you can get squared up and get your keys.

Do you have any more questions for me

Sent from iPhone.

Ben rereads his emails confirming that he’s been quite thorough. Instead of conversing anymore, Ben reads about Rey’s gratitude and how this move will be life changing.

It’s the last time he hears from him leaving Ben to wonder when he’ll be up.
----

It’s been a week. A whole week since he last heard from Rey and the very thought that this sale had gone through makes him nervous. He was coming up on the biannual payment for the land and was increasingly worried that he may not have the money to pay for it.

He’s worried himself into a tizzy, checking his phone constantly for email updates on where this guy was and if he would have to relist the home.
“Just relax,” he coached himself, reading his last email to the man. “I did tell him to just go to J&R’s… and that everything would take off from there.”
His morning crept by slowly. So painfully slowly he could watch the bands of light shining through his mini blinds move with each passing minute. He needs to get a grip. He needs… he needs to take Chip for a walk or he’s sure his dog is going to squat in his shoe again.

Their walk was just as ordinary as any other. Chip made it important to mark every last piece of the block even if it meant squatting for nothing or crop-dusting yards. On good days, their walks could go for the better portion of an hour while one rainy days Ben would rush through a block just to get him to go in his yard. The worst places to go though were the streets, especially if it wasn’t just outside their house. Today… it magically happened just outside their house.

Being that it was early enough, the streetcleaner had just been through and was fresh for fertilization he’s sure Chip thought. Ben, who knew he’d only be able to get most of it up with the bag, sent Chip inside with a biscuit, and walked around the side of the house looking for the hose.

There’s a sound of someone hitting the curb, driving over and back down it that startles him enough to dive back in towards his landing. A flash of orange and a boxy shape passes the corner of his eye, but he misses the rest. All he can do is curse at the proximity of that crazy driver and that he would find him—it of course is an empty threat, but how would they know?

____

Present Day

Now happy to note that he has gotten the confirmation email that the funds were being processed and would be on their way later that morning, he reaches out to Rey to see if he was on his way.

[Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: 1950s Cape Cod for Sale $350K…]

From: Ben Solo SoloB@myemail.com
To: Rey Niima RN_ornever@myemail.com

I take it you’re in the area?

Sent from iPhone.

This message just like his email last week, goes unanswered. Ben figures he is obviously in the area. He did just pay for Ben’s stipulations, how wouldn’t he be in the area, Ben chides himself.

Then he wonders what his neighbor looks like. What ethnicity would the name Niima come from? It didn’t matter right? At the very point, New Jersey had been a melting pot for years now, which meant Ben couldn’t guess anyone’s really.

Chip whines through the door calling Ben back in and so he gets ready for his day.

____

Rey had already made it back to the house with all of her paperwork, the bagels, coffee, and practiced choice words that she wanted to start with while formulating an apology for whomever she nearly ran over. Even if it wasn’t as sincere as she wanted it to sound, “Sorry I almost hit you with this rental,” really made her seem like she had exactly no control. If Rey learned anything during this trip, she certainly learned self-control.

Under no circumstances was she supposed to contact Jack. That was a given. That could be branded into her skin being the way that she felt now. Rey had no more patience for him or his bullshit. She wasn’t going to be pushed around or into a relationship with a psychopath and Jack embodied that entirely. It didn’t matter he was good to her in bed or otherwise… she just couldn’t deal with the status that dating him put her in.

Her second rule was no phone use while driving… and if that meant she needed to drive all day to avoid using the phone, that’s just what she did. Mastering eating finger food’s such as chicken nuggets while placing the dipping sauce in the door was a perfect maneuver, keeping her from stopping to dine which also kept her off of the phone. The only time she did stop was if she needed to pee which was far less than she would have being in the high heat. Living in Florida meant “Stay hydrated or die”. Traveling to the north set her up for some big changes and peeing less often is a welcomed one.

Now that she’s here, her first order of business is to find the guy she nearly flattened. Rey cringes when she realizes that it may have been the neighbor.
“Way to go, Rey,” she mutters to herself while reaching for the bag. “Inadvertently trying to kill someone my first day is not what I would call a successful relationship goal.” She rolls her eyes at herself… relationship goals

She tries to swallow her nerves walking up to the house next to hers. Her guess was as good as any’s in terms of the style of the home. All she knew is that the home itself is white, looking more like a canvas for light and shadow from the sunlight poking through the shade trees. There are two levels, no porch unlike hers, and she wonders if that sucks in the rain. It probably does. The next thing she notices are the contrasting black shudders beside each window, overfilled gutters and a yard that’s seen better days. She takes it that he might not be one that takes care of his things… and that’s just fine for her.

Birds swoop down from the trees, dive bombing at her to get away from the unseen nest. One and then another had collided with her exposed shoulder, cutting it just so and makes her squeak. She had never been a screamer. That, she figured was for special events like emergencies. Instead she allows the little sound to slip from her, dropping the bag as she goes. Both the coffee and bagels fall to the ground while she make a run for it before ever knocking on the door.

———

There was no time to worry about it now; she figures she’ll have all the time in the world to find out about her neighbors later. She had been in and out of the house assessing where things would go, pulling out box after box and putting it inside immediately. Her neighborhood back home had her worrying about fire ants and other bugs that could get into the items she brought home. Not to mention the two times she caught her older neighbors stealing her toilet paper right out of the backseat. Was it a thing old people went through? A bucket list thing? Maybe it was something to do to prove that they weren’t going through a midlife crisis. Whatever the case, Rey didn’t need to be losing her things being in a new state, so she wastes no time bringing them inside.
The, Cape Cod, as it was describe in the listing was roomy for one, maybe two if she ever needed a roommate or dated, she scoffed at the thought. Dating really should have been the last thing on her mind but when she was with any of those idiots, she felt less alone, even if she was the only one in it.
Grumbling about the choice of thoughts, Rey opts for music while she tackles the task before her and even though she felt like blasting it, she didn’t. Instead it played off of her phone, traveling around with her as she moved in her back pocket for most of the morning.

Weather today, here in her new digs, is warm but unlike Florida, there’s no humidity at all and better still, a cool breeze pulls her from her work reminding her to enjoy this life. Her attention would float around from her work to the other people starting their day. There were neighbors out watering their plants, walking their dogs, one in particular that was walking his cat. Rey blinked at that trying desperately hard not to laugh. To each their own, she reminds herself as she goes back to emptying the truck.

She stops at the sound of laughter at her neighbor’s doorstep. Opting to peak around the wall of the trailer, she sees the guy with the cat picking up the bagels. He doesn’t look quite as tall as the guy she nearly hit but matched the rest of her memory’s description. Maybe he wasn’t that tall. Maybe it was all in her head.

“Ya know,” she hears the man say as he opens the door to let himself in. “If you’re trying to get rid of the birds, I don’t think feeding them is the smartest thing...” his voice trails as he makes it inside.

“I’m not feeding them, Poe,” a voice called back to him from somewhere in the house.

“Oh, gods,” she rolls her eyes, now she started an argument. She wonders for a moment if fate messed with her “To Do” list:

1. Move
2. Almost run someone over.
3. Fail at an apology.
4. Anger same neighbor.

So perfect.

Rey opts to stay in the truck, fiddling with a set of end tables and her bed’s components just to stay hidden which also gives her a chance to email her landlord.

“I’m not really hiding...” she tells herself. “Because that’s ridiculous...”

Pulling up her messages she notices a bunch from Jack which has her counting backwards from fifty just to calm herself down, deleting each one as she went. Just his email address alone makes her skin crawl. How could anyone treat another person like that, she wonders once all of them are gone. Instead of thumbing through all of the replies to Ben Solo, she decides to start up a new thread.

[Just Wondering…]

From: Rey Niima RN_ornever@myemail.com
To: Ben Solo SoloB@myemail.com

Is there anything you want to tell me about the property? Am I allowed to paint? Can I remodel at all while I’m renting?

Also, do you know who I can contact about the land? I saw how small the backyard is and just want to know if that space is owned by the town or available for sale. Do you know?

Sent from iPhone.

___

Ben bickered for the rest of the morning with Poe about the bagels he swears he did not put in the front yard. The two of them bellowing from room to room made Poe’s eight-year-old orange tabby on high alert for thrown items which didn’t wind up happening. Poe thinks its because he saw his friend stop short to answer the incoming email alerted to him by his unmistakable pinging sound. It sounded way to feminine for the guy but thanks to Finn, Ben could not figure out how to make it stop.

It gives Poe the edge to zing him with just one more comment, but he refrains, which to Ben is weird. The very fact that Poe is silent pulls Ben from being capable of a response to the email that Mr. Niima sent to find out what has stopped his friend in his tracks.

“I thought you said you were renting to a dude,” Poe starts.

“I am,” Ben counters.

“Dude,” Poe says watching this girl move heavy furniture from the back of the rental like it’s nothing. “That ain’t no guy.”

Instead of waiting for a response, Poe is out the door leaving his cat behind to help her leaving Ben unsure of what to make of this turn of events. What if Rey is a woman? He physically shakes his head thinking there’s no way this chick’s name is Rey. What if the guy had a girl friend? Maybe that was it. Maybe he was off somewhere, and she was… doing… the … heavy… lifting… herself…

What a douchebag!

[Re: Just Wondering…]

From: Ben Solo SoloB@myemail.com
To: Rey Niima RN_ornever@myemail.com

I thought you said it was only you who was interested in the property.

Why is there a girl here moving your shit in for you?

Sent from iPhone.

Ben watches through the window while Poe helps her lift the mattress which would have otherwise had grass stains all over it if she did it herself, he scoffs. As douchey as he feels for not helping, he has to know who this girl is, without asking her of course, and why she’s here and Rey isn’t.

Another ping startles him from his thoughts. The quick swipe of his thumb has him dumbstruck, reading:

[Re: Re: Just Wondering…]

From: Rey Niima RN_ornever@myemail.com
To: Ben Solo SoloB@myemail.com

Where are you that you know there’s a woman moving in?

[Selfie Picture Sent]

I’m the woman renting this house. Only me. And who else is going to bring in my shit?

This better not be a problem.

And can you answer my questions from before?

Sent from iPhone.

___

Rey wouldn’t have responded like that, not to her landlord who is completely capable of kicking her out without notice, or anyone else for that matter. Except… she accidentally clicked on an incoming text from Jack and that sent her anger through the roof.

Poe had some amazing idea to block the guy but not without calling the number back with some threatening message her rage seemed to miss. This was only going to piss Jack off, she thought. He would come find her… and then what?

“Hey,” Poe soothes her with his calming voice. “It’ll be fine. He doesn’t know where you are and if he ever does, you can count on me. I’m around,” Poe says, adding his phone number in her contacts.

Without another word, he adds another and then another, setting her up with some of the best take out in town, finally finishing with his partner’s telling her that he would be there too if anything happened.

“He might be slower considering he’s part of the school system up the street, but I’m flexible.”

Rey quirks her eyebrow at him suggesting that he explains himself.

“Oh no, not like that. Finn and I are not looking for anymore. This is a party of two,” she watches him tap the band wrapped around his ring finger.
“So, what is it you do?” Rey furthers her question.

I am a consultant for agricultural maintenance.”

“You made that up.”

Poe’s jaw drops assuring her that it’s real. He even pulls out his business card showing her all of his skills as if she was really looking for proof.
“I did not make this up,” he says adding, “Are you not aware that you’re now living in the Garden State?”

Rey rolls her eyes.

“I highly doubt an agricultural specialist is needed to grow flowers…”

“Are you seriously undermining my career choice? And gardening is only sort of about flowers. Most plants need the blossoms to create the food you eat and drinks – if you aren’t drinking water, something made that ‘natural flavor’.”

“Alright, Poe…”

Poe goes on justifying his career path explaining his whole procedure. When he gets to the point where he fixes the problem, his face lights up. He’s told her about multiple farms that have gone from nothing to boundless crop, making him some sort of hero around here.

As their conversation dwindles Rey receives three separately subjected email threads titled, [This Changes Nothing], [Remodeling Dos and Don’t's] and [Land]. This, Rey thinks, is going to be a long renting session.

Chapter Text

Ben can’t believe he misinterpreted Rey’s gender. Well, he can, but he can’t believe how rude she had been in her reply. Real women don’t talk back he thinks, his guilt creeps in at the very second his last syllable is used. ‘Jersey girls are not push overs and he knows that if she were of true native blood, she would have found and killed him where he stood. Despite his flawed response, Ben now has to manage a fiery spirit such as the girl next door’s and avoid being seen by said woman. 

It can’t be done, he thinks. There’s no way that he’ll be able to live next to Rey without getting an earful from her when she finds out who he is. There goes his dreams of owning his own vineyard—she’ll probably stop that too! Ben whines, actually whines about this but before it can go much further, he’s startled by the door opening. 

“What the hell was that, Solo?” Poe asks incredulously.

What?

Poe quotes him on the subjects of his emails and the weight of his words. 

“You’ve got the girl paying out the ass for that little place and you won’t let her paint with specific shades?” 

Ben just shrugs as if it’s of no matter to him. She did sort of lie to him, if the sexless statement of her name could even be considered lying. Then there was that snotty tone in her emails... his defenses are lacking, this much he knows, but who cares what Poe says about it? He surely doesn’t. Poe would drop everything to be the hero no matter whether or not the person needed saving. There. He said it. Albeit in his mind so it was sort of out... 

Who is he kidding? Ben wonders. 

“Did she tell you how she responded to me?” Ben wiggles his phone in front of his buddy’s eyes like it should fix his current predicament.

Yes.

Poe’s attitude shouldn’t bother Ben the way it does... but it does. He can almost see the way Finn’s hips snap to the side as he waves his finger around his precious personal space bubble. 

“Listen man— she’s going through enough bullshit to write a book about and boy—you do not want to be in that book!”

Ben grumbles, rolling his eyes as he moves from one room to the next. Why on Earth did it matter if he made that book or not? What could one disgruntled woman do? 

 

——

Boy did he regret those questions immediately. Rey was back at him with every email. Photo messages and problems with the amenities he listed like the central air and heating units, refrigerator, and Maker if she didn’t check the status on the water heater after that. Those things are like ten grand to replace.

Thankfully it isn’t that yet, but it is everything else.

Of course, she’s nitpicking everythingtoo!  The woman sent him samples of paint swatches informing him of the darkest colors on the wheel. When he would say no to one she’d take it as a yes to another, sure to respond with the image of the new swatch in comparison to the old. Each time was more pretentious than the last, especially after she said she might create a mural in her room with the various shades of red he approves of. The only response he had came within seconds, surely flagging their email chain as he referred to making it look like a slaughterhouse. That was far even for him but it didn’t seem to phase her. 

After the majority of her painting is done, the refrigerator is reimbursed out of the next month’s rent, as well as just about everything else she’s had to replace, she has him seeing stars when she records a walkthrough video. Even though he had been an ass, nitpicking every last activity, she still managed to make each room equal parts as inviting as it was cozy. He likes to think it’s his sacrifice on color, but it’s not.

Her home has a balance that his is still struggling to find. The very thought is infuriating, but fine—all fine. So long as she didn’t out do his backyard’s setup, it really didn’t matter much to him. 

Besides the starter black grape vines that were beginning to take off for this season, he also had an arrangement of sorts that spanned his fences in white peonies and black roses. His mother’s choice, of course, but they were so well kept for years, even if they’d been overgrown, the bees could find them, which meant they would pollenate the vines which was a total win-win. So long as she doesn’t manage to fuck with his yard, he would be okay.

____

 

Work rarely keeps Rey from enjoying decorating her home which has her moving on into her favorite space of all, the greenhouse. Of course, it isn’t really that. It’s still considered her living room, well sitting room since it really doesn’t cater to the amenities of a traditional space such as that. Her television isn’t even in here. Instead, Rey lined the glass walls with tables, none of which matched the other but all had either a potted plant or an arrangement of candles floating in a ceramic bowl of water to set the mood. She made sure she had chairs for Poe and Finn and a perch for BeBe if they ever came over like they promised they would, and a daybed for her. She never really was one for couches, and if she was being exceptionally honest with herself, she left the one she owned on the curb in Florida to rid herself of nearly everything Jack ever touched.

Replacing her bed would have to wait given the very fact that Ben Solo had been jacking with her spending abilities, what with his inaccurate notes on how old the unit’s refrigerator was and other things she found herself replacing. Once her wallet took another critical hit, her gloves came off expecting that he either reimburse her for the replaced goods on her part, or take a deduction off of her next rent payment. He reluctantly obliged, but the very fact of his willingness to work with her makes her feel a little less confronted, and a little more like this man might be feeling out of his league with her.Good, she thinks. Serves him right. The more she gets into his emails, the more she plays with him, even if he doesn’t quite take it as playing. However, now that she’s all caught up and can sit down, Rey realizes that she’s not done yet.

The yard is sparse, only showing the whitewashed picket fence that honestly has seen better days, and finally a ping from Ben about the land.

It’s his.

Of course, the land is his…

Why wouldn’t it be?

[Re: Re: Land]

From: Rey Niima RN_ornever@myemail.com
To: Ben Solo SoloB@myemail.com

Are you looking to sell it?

Sent from iPhone

[Re: Re: Re: Land]

From: Ben Solo SoloB@myemail.com
To: Rey Niima RN_ornever@myemail.com

Not all of it.

Sent from iPhone

[Re: Re: Re: Re: Land]

From: Rey Niima RN_ornever@myemail.com
To: Ben Solo SoloB@myemail.com

So, are you saying you’re flexible?

Sent from iPhone

___

 

Ben stares at the last email unsure of what to say. Yes, he wants to drop some of the responsibility on this girl, but what if she keeps up with the shenanigans? What if this could be a bigger mistake than renting to her in the first place? Well, renting to her hasn’t been all bad. She pays her bills and isn’t the type of neighbor that bakes something and shares it with every neighbor around her home… which also means they have never actually met in person before. The very fact is welcome even though he can’t help but admit she’s pretty and kind of wants to. Meeting is inevitable but he’s sure that he could swing this to avoid her ever finding out who he is if they did cross paths.

Ben imagines being outside, under his navy blue canvas umbrella, sitting comfortably at his table, a drink in his hand, his bare feet on the large stones of his patio, listening to the sounds of nature all around him, just to be interrupted by this …girl… She’d be doing something too. Ben’s almost positive she doesn’t stop moving… and it’s then when he looks up to see her in the sunroom of sorts lighting a few more candles at the wall closest to him. A thick support beam runs horizontally, shielding the location of said tiny light onto a surface he cannot see which honestly throws him into a slight panic.

Ben watches on from his kitchen window as the scene unfolds, but she too, disappears behind that line to where he cannot see.

Shit.

The only thing he can think to do is find another window overlooking her property and fast! She could be in danger!

A voice in the back of his mind tries to slow him asking why he cares. She’s been a thorn in his side this whole time.

Upstairs he thinks. Upstairs… the bathroom, he coaches himself finding it just in time to see that she’s fallen asleep.

Maker! There’s fire in the house and she’s asleep!

Ben first pulls out his phone ready to email her, but all too quickly decides against it. There are so many reasons that flash through his mind, one not being able to go outside ever again, two that she would then know who he is and that he was spying on her, that would be a warrant for a restraining order, he’s sure of that. Ben could stomach being called anything, but a creep certainly wouldn’t fly. Not for him. His next issue with email was if she was a heavy sleeper, would the email ping wake her? And even if it could, how does he know if her sound was even on. All Ben knew was that his time was ticking. The very fact that there isn’t a full-blown fire already taking down the house is beyond him.

Running down the stairs to his door and being chased out with Chip along side him, Ben find Rey’s door, noticing the color change and note on it alerting people about the wet paint. The note is certainly an afterthought as Ben watches it fall while he pounds on her door, calling her name.

That was a mistake!

There were so many mistakes. So many he could try to polish out later.

Right now he needs to get her attention and get her out of danger.

_____

 

Rey’s nodded off for less than five minutes, though not much can be said for her face when she gets up. She’s unaware that her hair is disheveled, her arm has fallen asleep or that she still had a glistening patch of smeared drool off to the left of her chin when she gets up to handle the lunatic at the door.

She’s almost certain she’s heard her name but it could have been “Hey” –she was still too exhausted to register it anyway. It has her thinking on her way to the door though. The only person that knows her name, besides her new friend Poe, is Ben Solo, but they’ve never met. Mildly frightened now, Rey opts to stand on the side of her door rather than in the middle of it in the event Jack did find her. The man said he would hunt her down for leaving, and that very image coupled with the booming voice outside made her only assume the worst.

Instead of answering, Rey sends Poe a quick message filling the bubble with flashing rescue light emojis and recording the man saying “You’re in danger. Please, open the door!”

It’s then when she realizes it couldn’t possibly be Jack. He would never look out for her, or ever say “please.” The man would have stormed the door by force, because of this Rey opens the door when Ben’s fist comes down on it again, throwing the man off balance. She takes note of his features, all of which are burdened with worry.

“Can I help you?” Rey asks carefully.

___

 

Ben’s mouth goes dry and feels like it’s filled with cotton. He’s here. She’s here. There’s no significant burning smell or climbing fiery columns of doom in her home, which he can hardly believe.

“Mah’ham” he tries to sound like hes got everything under control. Clearing his throat for now the fourth time since she’s opened the door, Ben’s finally able to inform her of his location as a neighbor, and that he had seen her light a candle and walk away.

“I could only assume the worst, Miss,” he called her even though he knew her name.
Watching as her brow furrows, she looks past him at the house to her left.

“Oh, no, that one has been foreclosed on. No one lives there.” Ben’s inner voice screams at him. Litterally ready to take him down with his own sword while he continues directing her eye to the white house to her right.

It might be the cutest thing he’s ever seen any woman do, yes, he just categorized her as cute… but watching her put the pieces together while still groggy is pretty amazingly cute.

“Oh! OH MY GODS! Please tell me you aren’t the guy I almost hit with the moving truck!”

Their whole conversation is gone after that, now totally focused on the fact that she shouldn’t have a license if she can’t stay on the road; totally destroyed any bridges he made trying to look out for her.

Well that’s just perfect, Ben thinks. Now she’s going to see my face, know where I live and think I’m a complete lunatic. His last saving grace is that she still doesn’t know his name.

How on Earth is he going to keep it that way?

____

 

“What is it with these people?” Rey grumbles as she heads back to her favorite space. She’s counted six out of ten of the candles that have already burned through to the end of their wicks, now soaked through their centers never to be used again.

She wonders idly why her neighbor decided to come over tonight and then directs her attention at the backyard again. Now that she’s been so stirred up she’s unable to rest. His deep voice is already engrained in her memory like an etching in glass, she’s sure she’ll never be rid herself of that sound. If he hadn’t been so abrasive, maybe she would have even asked him in.

But here she is all worked up and alone again. No one to yell at, no one to verbally spar with… just her and her thoughts which thankfully wander out into the yard trying to come up with a plan as to how to make it better.

[Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Land]

From: Rey Niima RN_ornever@myemail.com
To: Ben Solo SoloB@myemail.com

Do you have an offer for the land or not, Solo?

Sent from iPhone

Depending on what he says, Rey is ready to work out what she wants to do with the space. She already knows that she can propagate the roses that are poking through both her fence from her odd neighbor’s yard and if it’s doing that on her fence, who’s to say it isn’t doing on the back of his? Next she has herself eyeing her tool kit as well as saws under one of the tables, thinking of how she’s going to modify the fence to open. Deciding on a double door gate, she starts a list of all the things she would need to pick up on her way from home tomorrow to get it done. Then, she adds a few bags of potatoes and propagation powder, as well as Miracle Grow to give them a jump start. Finally, she contacts Poe to see if she can borrow a wheel barrel.

All kidding aside, she was almost ready for him to ask her where she needed to burry a body, but was pleasantly surprised when he strolled up with one instead.

The next few days go as planned. Rey has done everything she sought out to do, being stopped constantly by her obnoxious neighbor. How many times has he stopped her today? Rey rolls her eyes when she starts to count. There were just too many times he interrupted for her taste. Several times he told her gloves were better to use while planting, which made her wonder if he ever really did do any yard work. Then he was there to lecture her about how to use the saw like she’d never used one before, and after that about every tool in her work belt which had her tilting her head just so to prevent herself from telling off her neighbor.

If she had been desperate, she could have seen herself allowing the tall drink of “I never stop talking about myself” help her in more ways than one, because, who was she kidding? The man was both built and attractive. But the more he spoke the dumber she felt, like he was doing it to her on purpose. Surely, a man like that knew his stuff, right? Gods, why spend all of that natural beauty on a man and not give him a brain?

____

 

What Rey failed to see was how affected he was while she was around him. The more he spoke meant the more she might speak and that was something Ben craved. He wanted to know her. When she’d wield a tool all of the blood in his body would rush south. None of the women he knew had a clue as to what the different screw drivers were for and had even tried to use the handles as hammer heads on more than one occasion. It made him feel like a genius. But here, with Rey? Every breath he spewed information on made him feel like the world’s biggest idiot.

Maker, he felt that down into his core. A woman, a smart woman, barely putting up with him because he was her neighbor messed with his masculinity. It made him want to out do her. One upping Rey felt wrong and right and the only way to balance him again.

He needed to get under some sort of control.

All throughout the day he found that excusing himself for odd reasons got him out of seeing her face for a bit was calming and that worked well enough until she screamed. Her shriek was filled with fear as if she’d been brutally attacked by wildlife here. It called to him somewhere deep within his mind to run to her, only to find her running from nothing.

“Hose! Hose?!” she yelps, swatting bugs from her legs.

Ben obliges, shooting both her legs and the ground for good measure.

“What’s the problem?” His tone flirts with worry.

“Red ants!!” she screams again as if the color should mean something to him here in the north east.
 
“And?”

Ben stills looking at her he knows he should push her but it was just too funny not to. Soaking her for no reason is far more entertaining than stopping to explain it to her instead. But here goes anyways...

“Red ants aren’t the same here as the south. What you really need to worry about are big brown ones... they take huge bites.”

He doesn’t miss how she shudders and runs towards the house, soaked to the bone. That manly voice inside of him pats him on the back for his ability to pass knowledge, but why doesn’t he feel like he got through?

 

 
 

 

 

 
 

Chapter Text

He shouldn’t have laughed, he knows this. His mother raised him better. Maker, he could hear her voice in the back of his mind raging on about how he had been treating her. He’s sure she would have a wooden spoon waving above her head, trying to look more threatening than she already was. Ben rolls his eyes at that. The only thing she could do to look threatening was jut out her chin and lean her body towards her target. This worked until he was taller than her, stopping altogether when his father made some comment about it being longer than her nose.

The house became quiet for a time after that.

Ben and his father Han with his thick south western accent, bonded over side jokes which had everything to do with the size and shape of features they should have known to avoid. Why they didn’t get tortured in their sleep is still anyone’s guess. For a moment he wonders where that time had gone. Han used to tell stories about their move but why they did in the first place was still left unanswered. He wonders what was so special about this place that they stayed.

His thoughts drift to Rey, pulling up Poe’s contact instead.

[-Ben-]
Poe.

[-Poe-]
Ben.

[-Ben-]
Why’d she move?

[-Poe-]
??

[-Ben-]
Why’d Rey move?

[-Poe-]
She had to.

[-Ben-]
But why?

[-Poe-]
It’s a scrolling background man.

[-Ben-]
What??

[-Poe-]
Super Mario Brothers.

Poe could get on Ben’s nerves and level him out in a moment’s notice, especially when he wanted answer “A” and got answer “W”.

[-Ben-]
That’s not what I mean!
Why did Rey move up here?

[-Poe-]
Hang on, let me get her.

Ben’s face gets hot all of a sudden. She’s with them and he’s going to talk to her.

[-Ben-]
I’m asking you!

Ben notices how his breathing starts to change seeing those three little dots move in the texting screen. They taunt him, constantly. His skin feels hot, clammy even, and oh, Maker there’s a response… Should he even look. Ben wills himself not to, needing to make sure that she’s home or a light is on somewhere in the house so that he can talk himself down out of the panic he’s created.

Moving towards the window he sees movement in her sunroom.

Again, he breathes a sigh of relief, ready to check the message that had appeared.

[-Poe-]
Left for sanity. Nasty ex. Needed a new start.

The only trouble with this was he couldn’t be sure and didn’t exactly want to call attention to not wanting to lead on that he might not know everything, Ben pretends he knows replying with an “Ah, makes sense.”

But it didn’t make sense. Ben was never in a position where he felt like he had to leave. Okay, there was that one girl that couldn’t take a hint or a direct “no,” but it was finally handled when he blurted out something about not being her type. It was his last attempt before looking like a complete idiot and getting a restraining order on some petite lady that couldn’t have weighed more than one hundred pounds soaking wet. Maker, he would have never lived that down. While his mother would have gone on and on about how he could have done it nicer, his father would have asked what took him so long.

Ben’s almost positive that last woman that he met around the same time he met Poe was the last one to hear his accent. From that day forth he made sure no one would ever hear that again. It got him in quick with the ladies but in all cases made him feel like he was drowning in this area’s competition of “who’s got the better toy”.

As if he didn’t learn from that, Ben did his best to summon that piece of him. Maybe Rey would warm up to him.

Warm up…

What did she say about the red ants?

“Red ants…” he says out loud as if he needed to hear it to remember what to look up.

Tapping in the search engine, he knew red ants bit people, but they were called something else he thought. A list of websites offered ads of how to get rid of fire ants… then several images pop up and he nods to himself about their color. Again, he thinks of what happened and how upset she was about several of them on her leg when he comes across a video explaining the buggers. The first one made him feel like an ass. Then the second one had him intrigued in the little things… the more he watched the more he wanted to know, to see, and then he heard her shrieking in pain. It is all he can remember.

Ben thinks of what he said, as if it could have helped her at all. He thought he was helping by differentiating the color and what they do. All of it falls away now and he's getting a sinking feeling that he just aided to the list of things that might scare her.

His mind is a potent thing, diving deeper within his own pit of self-loathing when he links her fear and the thought of whomever made her feel the need to leave her home. What an idiot he’s been.

By the time he finally gives up for the night, he’d already tried a few “y’alls” and “howdy’s” trying to reach someone worth setting right those wrongs.

_____

 

The moment Rey ran inside until the point she texted Poe about what she had to be on the lookout for in terms of creatures, she had been very much aware of how the man next door laughed at her. Red ants are nothing to laugh at, she scowls.

“I’d like to know what he thinks of them when a hundred are climbing up his legs and gnawing him to the bone,” she winces at her cattiness.

No one really deserves that.

“Even if he was being an ass,” Rey rolls her eyes at her inner voice who claimed she should really change even that statement. “Oh, alright, a cute ass…happy?”

Had anyone been listening, Rey’s sure she would have been admitted. Certainly not in the addition of the word cute, because really, one would have to be blind not to see him as an attractive man. More so that she’d been talking to herself and her conscience. That could go for borderline insane around here, she’s sure of that at least.

Doing her best to bat her feelings down, Rey text’s Poe once more about hanging out with him and Finn, finally deciding on staying in since he wasn’t well. At least they were kind enough to say so. Rey doesn’t do sick well. Besides, there was so much to still do.

Rey found out that there was a crawl space of an attic she was dying to look around in. Especially if the home could possibly be hers, she wanted to know everything about it. Poe opts to FaceTime with her through the whole adventure constantly telling her how he wishes he was doing the same.

“We have an unfinished basement, so it smells like wet socks all the time.”

“I think you might want to get that checked, Poe.”

Rey’s found that she likes to hear him laugh. He’s got this smug, sure of himself, laugh she could get used to. He’d be that guy that thinks of her like an older brother but unrelated, obviously. Her mind wanders to Finn, being she hasn’t truly met the man, she doesn’t really know how to accept him into her family circle… the one she’s building at least. The only other person she knows is her neighbor, minus his name, because of course she could know everything about his setup except for the most important part. Leave it to Rey to have left that detail out.

Tomorrow, she thinks. Tomorrow she’ll ask.

“What’s that box over there?” Rey hears Poe’s voice carry with interest.

“Which? What?”

“The box? That one with the hole in it…hole?... Rey maybe you want to get out of the attic.”

She heard concern but couldn’t leave the box alone. The closer she got to it she realizes it wasn’t a hole. It was the inner shell of an old helmet casting a shadow through the center of it.

“Poe, I think these are from a war.”

“Better not handle them too much.”

“Do you think Ben Solo knows?”

“If he didn’t know about your fridge, I’m pretty sure this is a no.”

Bringing the treasures back downstairs with her, she finds old World War II goggles, one exceptionally damaged, and another in working condition. A couple of priceless single shot pistols, and what looks like shoes.
A thought flits by before she sends an email to Ben about her finds that has her thinking that maybe he would show up if he knew what she found. Maybe she would learn who he was, and they could move past all of this nonsense, maybe even be friends someday. None too soon after she sends the pictures, she took of the items that were found did he email her right back telling her about the owners. He told her to put it where she knew it wouldn’t be damaged by anything and he would contact the original owners about the items being nearly absolutely sure that they would prefer the items back.

This Rey can get behind. There’s no back and forth banter only working together and she must admit, this is kind of nice.

____

What an odd thing to find in an old house, Ben thinks. On one screen he pulls up their number looking to speak with them about it. On the other he looks up what these items must be going for on eBay. It’s not like he would sell history, per se, but he is interested in the monetary amount that they may be able to fetch if he ever had to. If they were ever going to be his that is.

The response he gets is almost immediate, the spouse telling him to get rid of it, donate it if he has to, but it’s only ever brought anyone pain, is what she said. That was a hard thing to hear. The amounts on screen had been blurred by the sound of every war movie he’d ever seen. Now sickened with the thought of gaining anything from this, he tells Rey to donate it to a museum in his name.

That started a fight.

He was still the owner, but she found it, at the very least they should be on it together.

That silenced his thought process making Rey think he must really only be looking out for himself all over again.

So much for coming together, he groans.

___

Later that week Rey finds herself back to it, long pants on, her pants tucked into her socks. Long sleeves, despite the weather and the gloves her neighbor suggested one of the first times he spoke to her, dressed up her arms and hands. She looked like it was her first time outside, to be honest, but damn it all if some… brown ants of the north were going to stop her from her goal.

Today is propagation day! Positive that her neighbor won’t mind her pruning his overgrown rose bushes, she decides to lay the clipped bunches on a beige colored towel. Black petaled roses are such an odd thing to see she thinks. While she’s clipping them, she’s managed to alleviate weight of the bushes themselves, making them seem fuller. Maybe it was an optical illusion, but it just seemed so much nicer now that they were. Of the ones she took, most of the branches weren’t even flowering. It really only mattered that the stems were taken so that they could be introduced to the next host fulfilling its root system’s growth. She’d seen it work so many times with smaller flowers like violets, so why not these?

At the very least, his plants were getting the grooming they needed to flower more.

Once the entire side of her fence and back of his had been cleaned up, Rey gathered her branches, sure to sweetly call them saplings, even if they weren’t exactly that, to come inside with her like children. Chalk that up to be one more reason to have her admitted, she thinks.

Between her and her conscience, they knew that this place, even being next door to an oddball such as himself, this is the place she belongs.

The very thought of it has made her happier which has helped her take her walls down. Poe and Finn have been by on the regular to check out what she’s done with the place, and now she can honestly say Finn might be her best friend forever. Sure, he could be a brother too, but he knows how to rock those hips into a sass-o-copter so fine—she’s almost certain he’s her other half.

Rey figures she could ask the two of them just about anything now, what with them being the acting accomplices plotting out and digging holes for each of the plants that would separate her and her neighbor’s property line. Originally, she thought maybe she should get a companion, maybe a dog that could be her best friend but felt bad leaving them at home all day. Besides, she’s almost positive Finn would take that as being replaced and gods, she did not have to have a reason to talk that man down. No, her boys were good enough as companions went and BeBe thought he was a dog, so at least she had that going for her.

Picturing BeBe’s face the first time she saw him has her thinking. If Poe knows her neighbor, then maybe he would give her his name. Rey high fives herself and proceeds to walk the line they made with her plants in their wheelbarrow. This was so much easier than how she assumed she’d be doing this. Her best idea was to keep them in a towel and drag the lot of them. It would t have worked. She would have lost them in the grass or damaged them along the way. That wouldn’t have worked, and she would have to reach into his yard for a replacement.

Rey presses her lips together again knowing full well that the man seemed like the type to hook up cameras to make sure whatever that leafy thing was wasn’t getting eaten throughout the day. At the rate he ran his mouth she’s pretty sure he would capture offending critters and talk to them until they promise never to return.

It’s certainly an image, she nods at herself.

It’s late in the day when she meets up with Poe and Finn near the tree line. Rey’s all smiles when she announces she’s planted the last one now.

The boys congratulate her making comments about having to wait now for the other side. It’s true, she did thank about that when she had planted her seventh plant, but the line looked so good she nixed the idea figuring she’d have to rebuild some bridges or burn them completely. That seems a little extreme, even for him… that’s right, she was going to ask.

“Poe?” Rey questioned the way that he had been sizing up the space.

“Yeah?”

“You know the neighbor.” Her statement was just that but felt more like a question, to her anyway.

“What about him?” the man’s eyebrow lifts in interest.

“Do you know his name?”

A faint buzzing sound grew behind them and so did a familiar voice’s swears… just loud enough to carry over the land to them.

“Oh, you must mean,” Finn starts.

“Ben,” Poe gapes at his friend as he watches his friend’s large figure have an all-out pissing match with a rose branch roughly the size of his hand.

“Maybe just turn and look away.” Finn offers.

But no, Rey can’t look away. And what’s worse is she’s hoping to all of the gods in the known universe Ben isn’t Ben Solo, her landlord. That maybe it’s just a coincidence. It could be couldn’t it? She recalls a time where all of the people she knew were either Keith or Michael. This could be just another repeat of that. Yeah… another repeat.

____

Ben makes it up to where they are, his hands bloodied from the numerous thorns that had pressed through his flesh. The first one made him sound like a wounded child, yelping youthfully, which he had been thankful no one was around for that. Poe wouldn’t let him live it down, and Maker if Finn put his flare on one more thing Ben did it would be the death of him. But now seeing the three of them, dirty, tired and enjoying their successes has him ready for a new fight. Sure, he just yelled at plants for the last hour and a half, but he was knew he was going to throw down with whoever’s great idea it was to steal from him to do it.

“Why?” Ben asks, gesturing at the ground.

“Why, what?” Rey was just too quick now. She had been caught up in other arguments with him before, believing she could outlast this one with her own quick wit. The flowers had been destroyed, branches broken, not totally irreplaceable, but certainly not something she had the energy to fix then.

“You know why!”

“I’m not sure I do. Why don’t you tell me?”

Ben’s eye began to twitch as he focused on her.

“This was your idea wasn’t it?” he says cryptically low.

Rey has heard that tone before, but she wasn’t having it. Ben isn’t Jack and she wasn’t going to bend for a man that disrespects hard work. Who the hell does that?

“It was,” she challenges him, sticking out her chin, her fists tightening and knuckles hitting her hips. “What’s it to ya?”

“They aren’t yours.”

Ben could tell she wanted to throw a punch and of course, if she had he would catch it just to teach her a lesson. His skin prickles at the sound of that putting his mind at a clear disadvantage. She’s said something, and then something else, her lips – those pretty lips he wished were his keep moving as she marches up into his space, the property line between them.

“But it doesn’t matter because you’re too selfish to see what you’re doing. You don’t care!”

He’s only heard “You don’t care!”

“Yes, I do!”

“Then prove it!”

Prove it? That he cares about her wanting the plants? Fine!

“Buy them from me and then you can have them, scavenger!”

A higher than normal pitched “Hmmmm? You did not just—girl!” Finn’s head drops to the side as he juts his hip out far to his right, firmly planting his open hand upon it. “You better not take that crap, Rey. And So—lo?” his voice hit a few decibels higher than usual, “You are done in my book, boi!”

Chapter Text

The three of them leave the wheelbarrow, disgusted with Ben, telling him he could have them.

“Man,” Poe stays back just enough to try to whisper to his seething buddy. “That was really low. They’re plants, man.”

“But she didn’t ask!”

Ben had grown up knowing he was to ask for things and when people bullied their way through or took without asking, the simplest form of curtesy, it made him see red.

Poe sets down the wheelbarrow in front of him at that.

“You wouldn’t have known they were there if she hadn’t trimmed your bush,” he smirks a little at how that came out. “Did you even look to see where they came from?”

Silence rises between them and Poe knows to just drop it, sighing as he goes.

Ben only saw the black buds and knew they were his. His mother’s in fact, but his from his yard. His anger simmers as he picks up every last one on his way back to his house, slowing only to notice how much cleaner it looks. She really did do him a favor.

Maker, it makes him feel like more of an idiot.

 

——-

 

Rey refuses to buy the roses, obviously. Why would she? And why did he have the gall to call her a name? Didn’t he hear what she said? Is there a way to know if a man is listening?

Finn ranted on the whole walk back pulling her from her own thoughts. He spoke to her as if they knew each other for far longer than the month and a half she’d been there. The man just has no filter. Anything on his mind came out in a rush and he sure could back it up with enough shoulder shrugs and gestures to give an aerobics instructor a run for their money.

As crappy as it was to go home after that with the weight of knowing Ben Solo was her landlord and her neighbor, Rey felt welcomed in her space. Finn’s mouth was still running in the background while she padded to the fridge for water bottles to cool down with. She really had nothing else. A run to the grocery store was in her future… maybe a day or so out but the moment Poe got in Finn announced they would be all going out.

“This calls for a Jersey favorite,” he said giving Poe a look.

“What’s a Jersey favorite?” Rey asks downing her water.

“Come on, we’ll show ya,” Poe locks the back door and ushers them all out through the front.

“Where are we going?”

“A diner.”

“Not just any diner, sweetheart. The Tic Tock diner,” Finn adds, like it was supposed to mean something to Rey.

She winds up only blinking at him in response, getting an ear full of all of the celebrities that have been there, and regularly go.

“I wonder if Armie is still there…”

“Nah, I think he went on to be a cop or something.”

“For real?” Fin cocks his head to the side.

Rey just listens to them go back and forth. A cop friend would be nice, she thinks. In the event that she needed that kind of protection. She shakes her head, again, promising herself that it’s all over and that she’s fine. She has Poe and Finn, and maybe even Ben at his craziest. Unable to stop the questions from coming, let alone forming, Rey asks them everything that flows from her mind.

“Why didn’t you tell me Ben Solo was my neighbor Poe?”

Finn looks at him with suspicion.

Poe grips the wheel a little tighter as he huffs through a sigh saying, “I honestly thought he would have just said ‘Hello, my name is Ben’ when you were all moved in.”

“Why didn’t he come when you did?”

“The guy is shy.”

“He didn’t seem shy when he came banging on my door the other night,” she snorts.

They talk about it as if they weren’t called about it that night, going on and on until they arrive at the diner. As fun as it was to hash things out with them about something that had already happened, Rey found herself enjoying their new spins on it.

“Dude,” Poe starts, “I think he likes you.”

“Open your eyes, Poe,” Rey groans. “He’s a grown man, throwing a fit, on my property, over sticks of roses bushes he didn’t even know were there. A grown man, Poe!”

“Alright, easy there.” Poe puts his fingers up signaling a table for three but is ushered into a booth with the two of them instead.

“Armie on tonight,” Finn squints at the new girl’s name tag, “Rose?”

Her face froze a second knowing if she should disclose that information with these people.

“Armie?” she asks quietly.

“Armitage,” Poe flashes his smile at the girl, and she blushes.

“Oh, well. I don’t know if I’m supposed to—”

“Hey!” a booming voice rang out behind them. Rose catches a glimpse of her boss shaking an officer’s hand. “It looks like you did it! Congratulations, my boy!” the man says.

Poe leans across the table to Rey, pointing up at the man all clad in his cadet uniform. His hat held tightly by his side, she drank him in a little less discretely than she should have, as if she was trying to commit this man’s form to memory. He was clean cut, no facial hair at all, looking more like a younger man than he held himself to be. His hair was a brilliant orange color under their lights, and just as he turned their eyes locked.

As quick as it was, he couldn’t help but need to shrink down lower in her seat. Unfortunately for her though there was no escape. He was coming over.

No, no, no, no…

“Hey buddy!” Poe looks all too thrilled.

“Poe, Finn,” Armitage nods at his friends before fixing his gaze on Rey herself.

“This is Rey, we’re neighbors.”

“I thought your neighbors were fairly settled,” the man said.

“Yeah, they are, she’s up the street next to Solo.”

“Pity, you could stand for better company I’m sure,” he says extending his hand to her.

Pity was right, she swallows. He never seems to see she’s doing the best with what she’s got. In fact, she thinks about it a second more realizing he’s never said anything nice or supportive to her.

But she can’t help but say, “I’m sure he’s not all bad.”

“No one really is,” he adds, his hand still holding hers.

“You,” Finn raises his eyebrows high on his forehead, “want to sit down, Armie?”

It’s then when he remembers himself.

“I’d love to but I’m on patrol tonight. Can’t really have it known that patrol means sitting at a diner all night like the two of you can.”

Rey giggles at him calling attention to herself. It was a short and sweet bubbling laugh that caught Armie by surprise. It has him offering his number, saying, “If you ever find you’d like to go out, I’d love to take you. Out, I mean. I’d like to take you on a date maybe soon?”

Rey can only agree. Not only is he handsome but he’s also a cop. Everything about it screams safety, it’s all she found herself ever wanting.

Of course the guys can’t leave her alone about it, bringing up how they know Armie, where they went to school, that Ben and Armie had men rivals in school but never anything too dramatic, which brought her back to wanting to know her land lord and why he was such a prick.

Oof, that has them looking at her as though she was playing the field.

“I just don’t understand what I did to him, ya know? I feel like I’ve been trying to correct a wrong this whole time and it’s just stressing me out.”

Poe, of course, brings up the U-Haul incident as Rose comes back around with menus and water to start.

“Oh, we don’t need...” he waves his hand at the menus. “Three waffles with, what kind of ice cream you want, Rey?”

“Strawberry?”

Rose nods taking it down.

“And two vanilla,” Poe continues. “You can get coffee if you want but I find it ruins it.”

Rey, at a loss, smiles at Rose, thanking her as she goes.

“Why wouldn’t we just go out for ice cream?”

“Because this is way better.”

“It comes out all warm, and with the ice cream it’s just heaven. After today, you deserve something better than just some waffle cone somewhere,” Finn promises.

“So, about your landlord,” Poe continues telling her everything he knows. “He wasn’t always like this. I think the area got to him.”

“But you guys have always been good to me.”

“Not everyone is like us. And I think he’s been burned a lot by women. It sucks, but not everyone is playing at the thrush card.”

“I know how that goes,” Rey snorts. “Why is he hyper protective over his stuff? Like the flowers?”

“Well those are his moms.”

Rey slaps both her hands on the table and leans in, “and you just let me cut them?”

“Well yeah, did you see them after you pruned them? I couldn’t count the buds but I’m pretty sure we have like a week before they open. He won’t know what to do. They’ll be everywhere —a wall of black and white.”

The continue talking about his dreams of distilling his own brand of whine, the struggles he’d been through with it all to only come out with one bottle last year.

“It’s all got to do with the amount of honeybees in the area. Like I said, we wouldn’t have what we do without them.”

When Rose returns, she sets down their plates adding extra napkins and letting them know someone asked for waffles but didn’t want as much butter as you had.

“Clearly,” Finn laughs, “they’re not from around here.”

Rose shakes her head, leaving them to enjoy their treat.

They all cut into their waffles and Finn instructs Rey to get equal parts ice cream to waffle as if it’s the end of the world. But equal is better. It’s far better than her first, mostly waffle bite. The flavors and warmth all exploded on her tongue and she’s sure she promised it’s the best thing she’d ever had. Both men smile triumphantly as they get into their desserts as well.

“So, yeah, I mean, there’s never been a situation that I could help the man with the problem until now. I man if you agree.”

“Agree with what?”

“What are your plans for all that land?”

“This is going to sound dorky.”

“Nothing is dorky. We’re all just people, going through our own things, Rey.”

“I like the space. It makes me feel like if I ever had to get away, I can. I’m not confined. I can get out. I can run,” Rey sucks in a breath thinking maybe she’s said too much.

The two of them stop eating, each taking one of her hands.

“You’ll never have to run, peanut,” Finn assures her even though she’s quirked an eyebrow at him due to his use of a nickname.

“You’re safe here. I’m not going to tell you how to feel or what to do with the space, I just thought it might be helpful.”

“What were you thinking?”

“Well, we need to plant something else there to be ready for them, but I thought about a few hives, as in bee keeping. You have the space and it would be really an aid to the community as a whole. I mean, if you don’t want to take care of it, I can,” he offers, watching her price this project together. “It was just a thought. We don’t have to.”

“Will it improve my neighbors attitude problem?”

“There’s a chance at that.”

Rey takes the last bite of her treat, puts the fork down before leaning in.

“What do we need to do first?”

 

——-

 

Ben cannot fucking believe what he’s seeing when he wakes up the next morning. Albeit it was a shitty night’s rest, but he’s sure he wouldn’t be seeing things over it. But there they are...multicolored hydrangea plants all in a row all up the line.

“Maker, why??” He groans out loud.

It’s such a weird thing to look at, the line separating their space. But it’s there. Ben searches the space for them wondering if this was an overnight or morning project. Poe had no limit on time and he’s sure Rey didn’t either. It’s Monday though and he makes it to his kitchen making some breakfast to see her doing the same. Rey doesn’t look up. She has no reason to. Instead he thinks she’s on the phone at the way she’s responding to whatever it is she’s doing in there.

It’s not much longer until she looks stressed and realizes the bus is on its way. Ben can almost hear her flustered sounds as she runs off, wondering why he can even remember them.

By the time she leaves, Ben takes another walk up the property line out of curiosity, finding nothing but lines of flowers.

“What is she up to?” He questions out loud.

 

———-

 

Rey’s spent her whole commute talking to Poe. And to her surprise, Armie too. The man even asked her out on Friday saying it was his night off and he’d like to get to know her better. He implied movies were for kids, asking her out for a night of dinner and dancing, which she said yes to, of course.

This got Finn all in a tizzy of what to wear and that they just had to go shopping which meant less time in the yard this week.

“That’s fine,” Poe encourages this. “You need time for you too. I mean I’m impressed; you turned your life around and happen to be going on a date after all that...” he waves his hand obviously talking about the ex.

“Thanks Poe.”

The two talk a little more about their plan deciding that the weekend would be ideal to plant wildflowers around the property too.

“You don’t have to do the whole thing, but you’re guiding them. Pretty much telling them where the food is.”

“We might be doing more if this per paycheck unless wildflower seeds are cheap. It’s not like it’s just my back yard.”

Poe laughs again.

“You don’t have to go crazy, just guide them and it’s best around their home so they don’t have to go too far at first.”

 

——

 

Poe sets up the first few boxes they believe they can manage in her space, making sure to secure them to the ground, and extract overflow honey with a special device they can handle monthly if they have to.

This is exciting to him. He can help his friends and the environment at the same time, and! And his “Poe Tax” will get him a few pieces of the filled comb. The man’s mouth waters just thinking about it remembering years ago when he first had a piece. The texture was just awesome, and the honey was fun sucking out of the cubbies. Overall, best snack he ever had.

He really thought about making sure Rey knew how much this meant to him...but what could he do other than try building Ben’s nice guy reputation back up? Poe lets the question hang their as he finishes the third one, marking the land that there are bees beyond this point in and around her yard. Taking a picture is last thing he does for now, until a hive is transferred.

Poe reassures Rey that they’re all in this. He’s already started sprinkling wildflower seeds all over the grass hoping birds don’t eat it.

Sure, enough they have changes in the grass over the next few weeks. Tall, grass appears and flowers bloom everywhere it seems.

Ben’s has some choice words over it but hasn’t asked how it’s even come about which Poe is thankful for even if he’s being a prick about land he sold.

“Man, why can’t you just be happy for her? She’s enjoying something.”

“But it’s a mess.”

“You’re a mess, Solo.”

He’s friend paces back and forth on his side of the fence.

“If you would just get your head out of your ass, you could see she’s just trying to live as peacefully as you are or were...”

“I wouldn’t exactly call this peace, Poe. I keep waking up to changes. My whole world is different, daily.”

“Is it really that bad?”

Ben just looks at Poe.

It looks like a mess all over what was perfectly good grass. All he can see is how long it’ll take to fix and yet all he can do is sigh.

“I really hope you know what you’re doing, Solo. I don’t understand why you don’t just take a chance on her.”

That was the last straw.

“What?! I have been! She lives here doesn’t she?! Why do you keep painting me out to be the asshole here? You’re supposed to be on my side Poe. You’re my friend! And you just forget me for some girl!”

“There are no sides in this! That girl is smart, and cute, and funny and stupidly into you but you keep pushing her away with your tantrums. I get to hear all of it because I made myself out to be a person she could trust. A person, the first person, in a new state, that gave a damn about her wellbeing! Do you get that? You’re her neighbor, Ben, you should be able to see how you affect her. But you don’t even try... you can’t even see it. I bet even now you can’t see what she’s doing for you.”

Poe pauses ever so briefly, “I bet you won’t either until the day you lose her. What then, Ben?”

Chapter Text

Ben fights down the urge to cause a scene when his old friend Armitage pulls up outside Rey’s house. It was as if Poe knew. Poe did know. He did, he had to know, Ben scowls at himself. It’s not to say he didn’t watch her rush around from her sunroom and out of it for the past hour. The more she fussed over herself, the more he wanted to stop her. Stop her from what? He recalls Poe basically telling him that he ruins her life with his little temper tantrums and this time would be no different. The fire in his heart out did his intelligence and often.

Ben remembers when he was younger , there was always an easier way to get what he wanted, even in childhood, but here and now he is a full-grown adult, still lashing out. It isn’t entirely lashing out though, he assures himself. Ben thinks he learned this from his uncle who quite honestly had a mouth on him, and when he felt like speaking, he would always have some sarcastic spin on whatever came out of him. At the time Ben enjoyed it, unless of course, it was directed at him.

Being the recipient of the teasing always did him in. It’s why he lived so guarded. It’s why he only allows some of himself to rise above the sheltered walls of his heart. Its why he never really opened his mouth when he was ever dating, its why people always managed to take from him… it’s just why he ruined relationships before they ever had the chance to start. He was always picking at the little things… always. It’s why he knows the exact pH color of his soil everywhere in his back yard. It’s why he knew when Rey used Miracle Grow on the hydrangeas just outside his fence…

It’s then when he realizes all of the times he picked at Rey. He had been doing it from the first email. It’s a wonder to him now that she ever agreed to renting from him.

Poe was right, he had been doing that to her. The woman really had no reason to trust him. The very thought of it makes him sick.

And now, of all people, Armitage is here for her.

Here for her…

He kicks himself for this thinking it should be his turn with a nice girl. He’d show her a good time, tuck all of her smiles away for him to keep. He’d share the world with her and his creations of which could stand to be fruitful too. Being now halfway through his season and he hasn’t managed to produce much more than a sixteen-ounce bottle to show for it. It’s just as pathetic as his love life, he thinks.

To drown his thoughts, Ben pulls out his phone checking the latest dating apps, swiping through, and simply hating the fact that he is. The one for him is there… or was, he frowns looking up from the white glow of his screen to his living room window. When did they get out to his car? Ben wonders as they make to pull away. He hadn’t even seen her make her way outside. Did Armitage get out to retrieve her or honk like he used to when they were in high school together? Ben tries to think through his suffering. We’re there any sounds? He thinks he briefly heard the sound of her voice a little bit ago, but that was it.

Next Armie’s engine roared, pulling away with her and the girl of his dreams. Damn it.

Ben stews for hours that night. The day shifted to darkness and so did his feelings about Armitage. They were friends. Friends weren’t supposed to claim things that were his. Armitage was supposed to respect his space, his girl, but in reality, Rey isn’t his girl, and he can’t believe he let her slip between his fingers.

Poe spent a good portion of the night texting Ben, telling him he had no rights over her, and furthermore that it was one date. What if she finds she can’t stand the way he cleans his teeth, or the way he nods afterwards everything that happens around them. Ben knew what Poe meant. The man was a ticking time bomb for motions. If someone sneezed around him, he was the first to wipe it up with a wet-nap and nod at it. If someone started talking, his head would tilt back as he listened to every last word before he dropped it again, nodding it only a few more times. It was just his thing.

These thoughts only snowball into wondering if Armitage ever learned to hold a girl close without tensing up. He wonders if Rey is actually enjoying herself. Just then the thought of holding her close to him takes over. Ben imagines her warm, soft body against his believing that it could happen. It could be right. He can make it right, can’t he?

His mind threatens to run away with him imagining her against himself. He’d find a way to hold her close, make her feel cherished, protected... Why was it she wanted those things? None of the girls he ever knew wanted them… they didn’t cost a thing. Those women seemed to only want his wallet… but not Rey… Rey was thickening it. She made him feel like he could handle anything—financially at least. Here is a girl making it on her own, wanting only simple things, according to Poe…

Ben frowns at this. What does Poe know about the ex? His hand strokes his side in a comforting way as if his imaginary Rey was still by his side. If this mindlessness is any indication of what he wants, what he’s dreamed of, then he isn’t sure what else is, he tells himself.

His message to Poe winds up going unanswered which forces him to notice the time. It’s late and he’s probably asleep, Ben groans knowing he will be left waiting until morning to learn anything else about her and their situation.

The absolute last thing he can think to do is one he hasn’t done in such a long time…Ben opens his email and types out an apology.

[ Roses: ]

From: Ben Solo SoloB@mymail.com
To: Rey Niima RN_ornever@mymail.com

I’m sorry. About the roses. And everything else. You really did me a favor. My fence looks good from the back. And it made the bushes look taller somehow. So, thanks.

Sent from iPhone

She doesn’t reply like she usually does. It makes sense though. She’s—

A car door closes just outside startling him from his thoughts. She’s home. And he’s... walking her to the door.

“That’s great, very chivalrous. That’s super. Ugh... and she smiles at him. I bet he’s over doing it just to get in. There’s that cheese eating grin of his... don’t let him in Rey. For the love of all of my sanity,” he groans, sinking away from the window.

She let him kiss her. Ben, as dramatic as he’s being, feels like he’s dying. The man manages to sink onto the floor like one giant deflated bounce house. If anyone came in, they would have called it in. That sat him back up. Armitage would see him destroyed by their happiness, being literally next door, and a small piece of Ben thinks the guy would enjoy that.

No, he can’t be found like this.

Instead he sits up marginally wondering how long they’ll be.

That’s a fucking image, he groans again. Just like that he’s on to imagining them—together. What a cruel thing the mind can be.

———

Summer nights in the north east still bear a certain crispness through the dewy humidity the August night provided. Rey thinks it’s odd but comforting that not only her space is new but it’s evolving. Ever changing. It was their first night out together and it had already been more than Jack had ever done for her. That was a strange attraction she’s sure she’ll never play into again. The one sidedness of it all bloomed in red hot waves with each passing moment Armitage would hold her close. Jack would never. He’d always have a hand in her back pocket, showing off who owned her. Not Armie, he was sweet and painfully honest at times. The very message of it made his cheeks burn and the corners of his mouth turn down so as not to be overwhelmed in a fit of laughter.

On more than one occasion she caringly cradled his cheek, thumbing over the color there, telling him that she liked a man who could be open with her. Each time he’d capture her hand with both making her feel cherished in that simple action. She could feel the warmth of his heart the way he’d hold onto her, his heat radiating from his hands. Armitage found the link she hid so far away… the one that craved this. The one that needed to feel like she was more. Her heart skipped a beat when their eyes would lock, or he’d hold her close and the best part was that she didn’t just feel like some object to him. That’s new.

It’s why she leaned into kiss him at her front stoop in the first place. Rey can’t be sure why she felt such a surprise when their lips locked but found that it certainly melted away as he took two steps closer to her. Armie filled her space, not that she didn’t want him to, but it was a rush. He was there, but she was leading this, she could feel it.

It must have been the second time a moth flew at their faces that Rey reached up to slow him, her body protesting at the sudden halt but had she not her next breath would have captured a small bug between them.

Rey wants to gag at the thought of something flying around in her mouth or their little legs wiggling over her tongue but just the thought has her on edge. And then, leave it to Rey to lose her composure. One awful sound after another alerts Armitage to step back and here it comes. Of course, it does but her date is right there settling her.

“Do you, would you like to come in?”

She watches Armie nod, keeping his lips sealed tight so as not to relive that oral bug invasion again.

Feeling courageous, Rey did her best to put the kettle on asking if he wanted tea or coffee.

“Or there might be a water bottle left in the fridge. Or mouthwash in the bathroom… that might be better.”

Her jokes seemed to keep him laughing throughout their date too which made her want to pat herself on the back for each one.

“You know, I might have if you didn’t kiss me,” he says shyly.

“Oh?”

Armitage made his way to the kitchen, following her around the peninsula to the stove where she lingered clasping and unclasping her own hands.

“Yeah. You see, I’d be erasing your flavor with it, and I can’t be having that.”

He put a rest to her fidgeting hands with one while turning off the stove with the other. There were no words… nothing to say between the two of them that could be spoken in a language so primitive. She felt it, the pull to him, praying that this wasn’t some fallacy. Hoping she wasn’t latching on to just anyone who gave her the time of day, Rey wanted to know if this was real, or if with time, if it could be.

_____

How long had it been since Rey allowed him in? Ben wonders to himself. It’s not like even BeBe was there to give him company. At least then he didn’t have to feel crazy. Sitting on the floor and moaning about her happiness made him feel like such a slug, and even worse so when he figured out, she met Armitage because he was being a shit in the yard.

“This is all my fault!” he roared. “All of it. They wouldn’t have gone anywhere if I wasn’t being such an asshole! Poe’s usual is sitting at in ground firepit, sucking on a slice of lime stuck in the neck of his corona. She could have just come over… This is just perfect. Argh!”

*-* PING *-*

Ben doesn’t hear his phone going off, he’s just too deep in his self-pity that it even registers as an email. Swearing that if it’s Poe again, he was going to bury the phone in his yard, but of course he has no chill so he picks it up to see a new message from Rey.

[ Re: Roses: ]

From: Rey Niima RN_ornever@mymail.com
To: Ben Solo SoloB@mymail.com

I’m sorry too, Ben. I didn’t know that they were your mothers or that you would be so upset about something you couldn’t see, but that’s no reason for me to take without asking. If you’ll accept my apology, I think maybe we could be friends? You know… start this whole thing over, aside from going through the first month and a half rent and then some, I think we’ll be good.

Sent from iPhone

Ben’s eyes stay glued to her first four words. “I’m sorry too, Ben.” Her comma placement and the use of his name made it hard for him to focus. All he can hear is the way she would say it. Would it be breathy? Or soft? Or natured in her tone for “as a matter of fact”? Does she think like that? Does she respond to her writing the way that he does? Does she think of his Ben-isms when she reads what he’s written? Or are they all just words?
When he gets through the rest, he finds only one way to respond for the better part of an hour. His response isn’t the right one. He knows this. It has to change, become more refined or he has every ability to muck this up again.

As the night progresses into early morning, Ben wonders if Armitage had left or stayed over. When he sees her alone in her sunroom, he can’t help the joy that’s spread across his face and deep within his heart. It’s excitement and numbing all at once. Armitage isn’t there, which is his relief, but she’s still alone.

“Good girl,” he can’t help but praise her. Ben’s girl wouldn’t be fast, even if she wasn’t his girl at all.

His mind ran wild with the aspect that it didn’t work out. Maybe it’s her reason as to why she’s emailing him at this ungodly hour because of it.

Ben smiles gleefully, maybe there’s hope here for him yet!

[ Re: Re: Roses: ]

From: Ben Solo SoloB@mymail.com
To: Rey Niima RN_ornever@mymail.com

What’s the plan now? You seem to always have something up your sleeve. I just want to know if I should have a pacemaker put in going forward.

Sent from iPhone

[ Re: Re: Re: Roses: ]

From: Rey Niima RN_ornever@mymail.com
To: Ben Solo SoloB@mymail.com

We’re probably not at a pacemaker quality surprise yet but there are a few in the works that I’ll disclose when you find them.

Sent from iPhone

Is that a kissy face with a heart for him?

Does she have any idea what she’s doing to him? That he’s leaning on the doorframe for support at the sight of a little yellow circle with a heart floating away from the number three which is also supposed to be taken as a pair of lips? She has to. Why else would there be a devil face?

Ben takes a screenshot of the email as if it was a picture of them together. He wanted to keep it, betting on that tiny face as some sort of indication of having something with her.

The last thing he remembers is making it to his bed and whispering, “Please.”

———

Intense humming thunders in her ears even in her protective gear during her first interaction with her hives. Oddly, even though she’s human, Rey entertains the idea of being the queen bee, snorting at the idea of having that many children.

Not her thing.

Having kids never really crossed her mind, especially not with Jack, ugh, or Chad, but this newfound closeness with Armie has her thinking of the possibilities. While they hadn’t yet blessed her sheets, at her request that they take it slow, her exact words to him were “to savor this,” Rey knew she was jumping the gun.

Her thoughts come to a halt when Poe signals her over with a slow wave of his hand in his matching suit, letting her know they were ready for the transfer. Bees swarm around them similar to the cartoons, but surprisingly settle somewhat when they’re placed into their new homes.

“I’m going to start you with three chests. If we find they do well here, maybe we’ll add one more.” Poe’s voice strained as he tried to talk over the hum. “I don’t want to overpopulate the area because people will start spraying their yards and kill the hive—can’t be having that...”

Unsure of what to say back, Rey gives him a thumbs up instead.

Once they’re done, the two walk back down the property line together deciding on a cycle plan that would work best for them since she’s still so new to keeping when she notices movement at Ben’s. Rey pulls Poe down into the tall grass, flailing as she succeeds. Of course he protests but is silenced by her mischievous grin.

“Here’s the plan…”

Poe groans, rolling from his back to his stomach, still flat on the ground.

“But you guys were getting along so well.”

“That doesn’t mean I can’t mess with him.”

“No, that means you shouldn’t mess with him.”

“Oh, don’t be a party pooper. He’ll get over it. He did say sorry to me and all. I’m pretty sure he can handle some fun...”

“Not at his expense. Just make sure he’s not holding something he can throw at you, because he’ll do it.”

“Shh, Poe!” she whisper shouts behind her, making her way over to his fence in the worst free-form sort of army crawl Poe has ever seen.

He knows he has no choice but to follow the girl, promising her that she’s taking the fall for this when they get caught.

After a heated whisper fight Poe finally agrees to lift her by her hips, straight up for as long as he can so she can stare at him with her bee shield still on.

“You’re really fucked up, you know that?” Poe groans setting her back on her feet.

“It’s all in good fun.”

“You know it’s dark enough freak Finn out too?”

“Should we get him too?”

“Not unless you want half the block knowing you can’t be trusted,” Poe laughs.

“Not even for extra cuddles?”

Poe’s laugh slows enough to think this over.

“As tempting as it is, when Finn is pushed to one side, it’s hard to get him back. The man did not like BeBe for years for pooping in his slippers. If he can hate a cat for that long, he can hate you too.”
Rey quirks an eyebrow but shrugs off her suit piece by piece before making it back into her yard.

———

After several rounds of being surprised by a dark figure in the fields behind his house, Ben decides to put up cameras to keep an eye on it. They happened sporadically, he thought at least, then again, looking at his calendar he finds the pattern. It happens a couple of times every two weeks. Being the town’s maintenance guy has perks, he reminds himself. Ben has the ability to find out if work is being done all around the area.

Some work was scheduled across town on manholes, grinding up roads by the elementary school to the west end was in progress, but had nothing to do with him in at the north by the reservoir. Not even the dam had scheduled maintenance, so what the hell was going on in his back yard?

Not thinking to ask Poe on this, he happened to email Rey about it.

[ Weird Shit ]

From: Ben Solo SoloB@mymail.com
To: Rey Niima RN_ornever@mymail.com

Hey. Have you been noticing anything weird after dark?

Sent from iPhone

*-* PING *-*

[ Re: Weird Shit ]

From: Rey Niima RN_ornever@mymail.com
To: Ben Solo SoloB@mymail.com

Nah. Just the bear by the woods. I think it’s a dog, but I might be wrong. It’s never come close enough to tell.

Sent from iPhone

[ Re: Re: Re: Weird Shit ]

From: Ben Solo SoloB@mymail.com
To: Rey Niima RN_ornever@mymail.com

So, no...people… in suits

Sent from iPhone

*-* PING *-*

[ Re: Re: Re: Re: Weird Shit ]

From: Rey Niima RN_ornever@mymail.com
To: Ben Solo SoloB@mymail.com

Like Agent J and K from that movie years ago? No, I haven’t seen any men in suits.

Sent from iPhone

“Men in suits? Did she just reference that alien movie? Did I say people or men? I said people…wait,” Ben’s mind rushes in all directions trying to believe her when she called what he saw a bear or a big dog, but then she said men in suits… “Did she see them and doesn’t want to own up to it?”

[ Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Weird Shit ]

From: Ben Solo SoloB@mymail.com
To: Rey Niima RN_ornever@mymail.com
Ha ha.

Sent from iPhone

Ben takes a while to mull this over. She’s done enough in the past to indicate her screwing with him.

And now there’s nothing that can deter him from believing that she knows. He presses his lips together promising the next time he sees that damned figure he’s going to jump it. Watch it try to disappear this time, he nods at himself.

Chapter Text

By early fall Ben’s managed to shout at the figures out in the lawn. Sure, he sounded like a crazy person, but he was being egged on by now two creatures of the night. One shout would drop one low enough into the grass where he could only see the top of his—hat? And the other would crouch as if the hugeness of its figure could suddenly disappear while standing there long enough.

Each time he’d get closer though they seemed to disappear, making him wonder if they we even there at all.

It isn’t until one decides to go out alone that he watches it with binoculars. Now he’s convinced that the figure is in fact real and taking something that’s out there. The man is stealing from his neighbor!

Ben feels a certain surge course through his veins that he can’t quite name. Fury? Could it be that?

“No one takes from Rey,” he says under his breath, rolling up his sleeves, and getting ready for one hell of a beat down.

Ben waits patiently, creeping slowly through his gate to her yard, and then towards her fence, just low enough not to be detected, like an animal hunting it’s prey. It’s a hard feat for Ben being so big but he manages, flying an imaginary flag as a proposal to protect Rey at all costs before he charges the unsuspecting character.

Taking several strides towards the person, Ben leaps towards the figure all clad in bee keeping gear while holding filled mason jars of golden honey. Midair his conscience shrinks inside of him, immediately regretting this decision as he collides with the person, pinning them and the sticky substance between them to the ground.

Please don’t open. Please don’t break he prayed. Ben always found honey okay in small amounts, but this seemed like whoever was under the veil was supplying honey for shelves at the local grocer.

It isn’t until he shifts over the person that dread sets in. It’s not a man. It’s the theme of his life. Will the concept of a man’s form always haunt him? Will he always see this first and then that?

“Ben?” Rey groans, “What the hell?”

Unfortunately for Ben, Rey’s able to move him even when the shock paralyses his form. He feels her large gloved hands grip the best that she can at the sides of him to keep him settled he thinks making him see stars. Heat fills his core draining him of all rational thought, his breath short, his mouth dry, Ben tries to say anything—anything at all. Feelings, wants, his deepest desires only ever being her, and yet he feels her knees at his chest and the bite of their disconnected bond.

She kicked him off.

When did that happen?

How long was he on her?

He does his best not to grin like an idiot, because being a teenager about landing on top of her would send all of his wildest dreams out of him like a cannon. No, instead he finds himself biting the inside of his cheek to control it.

“I thought you said I wouldn’t need a pacemaker for your next surprise,” he huffs. “I’m pretty sure I need the strongest one they’ve got.”

Clinking jars roll and settle off to the side of her giving her enough space to move about while still firmly laying in the deep body nest her long grass had made for her. One glove followed by the next hit his face, followed by a look that would scare small children, Rey holds up her arms waiting for him to get his shit together and help her up.

It’s lovely holding both of her dainty hands. Did he just think of using the word “dainty”?

Instead of yelling at her like he used to, Ben tries, really tries to keep his calm about all of this.

“Did Poe put you up to this?” he waves over her outfit.

“No?”

“Then it was you? This whole time? You’ve been spooking the shit out of me?”

He watches her try to suppress a grin despite being sore all over.

“You were weren’t you?” His eyes widen trying to tell her that it’s a terrible idea to do that. “You had me stressing out so bad about men in my yard, I think I started sleep walking again.”

Rey’s laugh is contagious. He doesn’t want to join her at first but does.

“I’m sending you my bail balance if I ever wind up streaking or banging on neighbors doors about aliens coming to take their brains.”

“That’s zombies.”

Ben purses his lips together trying terribly hard not to knock her back down.

“Yeah, yeah...”

Rey winces once bending to pick up her gear. Feeling entirely responsible for her pain, he scoops her up when she’s gotten the rest of it

“You can’t be serious.”

Shock written all over her face, for what? Him helping her?

“What?”

“Lifting me with all of this—“

“You’re not much heavier than a doe.”

“What? Please tell me you don’t just go lifting wildlife like one of those Go Pro idiots for internet fame.”

“You got me,” he teases her. “No, no. I work for the town. It’s usually a carcass. So when I say that, you could probably be about three quarters of the deer.”

“Ew! Ben!”

His eyes close to hide the roll he can’t help but go through with. He knows he’ll never tire of her using his name. Now if he could only get her to drop Armie he’d be set.

___

Ben kicks himself at the thought as if his dreams were ever important enough to be answered.

Armitage had all of her attention for months and it’s just awful... for Ben that is. Rey seemed good with their times together even if she didn’t see him all the time, what with his weird schedule working four days in a row and then getting three off after.

It killed Ben how comfortable Rey was with this. If he had the chance to date her, he’d make the time. He’d see her every night, even if she was sick of him, just to ask her how her day was. It’s a far cry from where they started but the more time they spent together, well, were outside at the same time, her on her side of the fence, him on his, the more he felt like they had something. Not to mention she didn’t avoid him after their situation in the field. She could have destroyed him, he could feel it… but she didn’t want to. It was like she felt it too.

Instead of dwelling on this as much as he would have liked, Ben focused his time with his grape vines to the best of his ability. It seemed like the more one goal became unreachable, the other started to flourish. Bunches ripened from light green to red to deep purple otherwise known as black. Harvesting became a ritual every few days he would have another bunch ready to press. Treating each one as if he’d found the holy grail, Ben would cradle the snipped bunch from the vine into his home to start his cleaning process.

Once he finished pressing the latest one, Ben happened to look up right when Poe stopped by.

“What are you doing?”

Poe says nothing, scooting around his friend to the back door, grabbing the juice stained strainer just as he left.

“It’s a little dirty but it’ll have to do. Did you find him?”

“Find who?” Ben calls after his friend.

No answer.

“I don’t know if a –”

As Ben’s door swings closed behind Poe, so ends the conversation. Panic sets in when Ben pops up to see where they are. Rey, dressed in her bee suit, is infiltrating his vine patch, for what? The man is absolutely ready to scream at them, marching outside to see Rey triumphantly holding the smallest damned cup with the biggest damned bee he’s ever seen inside of it.

“You’re insane!” Poe exclaims.

“What did you do?” Ben can’t hid the bewilderment in his face.

“I captured the hornet that burrowed just under your last vine.”

Her brow furrows as she waits for praise, it seems she likes that, he thinks but Ben still cant get over the size of the creature in the mouth wash cup trapped with cellophane.

“It didn’t get you did it?”

Again, confusion riddled her mind. Of course it didn’t, Ben could clearly see what she was wearing. It was obvious she was fine… and yet he still asked.

“Any of that wine done? I think we need to celebrate…” Poe shifted gears for them.

“And what’s the toast to?” Rey asked dryly.

“To not getting our faces eaten off by that big sucker. Which reminds me…”

“Reminds you of what?”

“If ants can eat through plastic bags, what’s to stop that… thing… from…”

“Can you stop being weird?” Rey double checked what she had in her hand.

“Ha ha, made you look! Let me go get my bat from the car. We can take care of this thing once and for all.”

“I thought you liked bees.”

“Not those. They do nothing for me…”

___

By the end of the season his vines produced two more bottles of what he did the previous season.

“Un-bee-lievable,” Ben snorted happy to hold the final pressed bottles, one in each hand on the way into his house.

He did his best to stay focused on the success in his hands but the emptiness in his house had won out. It was dark when he got in. No one there to congratulate him on this huge success no one, not even Poe was around. That was hard to believe. The man loved using his bathroom and walking his cat back and forth to his house. But Poe was out too… not even a note in his wake.

Well, that’s just great.

Ben does as he found himself doing since Rey moved in, he checked her yard for the group of them, surprised to find only her wrapped in a thin blanket, staring up at the sky on her wicker patio chair. She looks comfortable but cold in the chilly autumn air. A half a second later he’s made it outside and is doing the best he can not to mess this moment up for him. Them. For them.

“Hey,” he tries a little too softly, motioning to try again, Rey’s already turned to him.

She looks…drained. He hopes she hasn’t been but its all there written in her dimmed spirit that she’d been crying. Heat from his rage fills his heart. No one should ever make her cry. Not her. Not his Rey. Ben wonders first if she’s sick, or Armitage finally said something stupid, as he is known for that... But then she’s on her way over into his space, his fence, their only barrier.

“I thought maybe I’d share this with you if you like,” he says, opting to skip the obvious depressed state she’s in. He had been paying attention, studying etiquette the way some would another language, just for a chance to feel civilized with her. “You don’t have to, I just thought I kind of owe it to you since you did help and all.”

Rey stops his babbling asking, “How’d you find out?”

“Well,” Ben grits his teeth not wanting to share his embarrassment. “Remember when I offered to cut the grass back there?” He motions to her lawn, opening his gate to her.

“Yeah?”

“Well, I didn’t ever mark what halfway was, so I went pretty far back.”

Her watches her eyes go wide, selfishly enjoying her concern. It makes his heart skip beats at a time but then she’s asking how many times he’d been stung, worrying over him like some injured animal.

“I’m okay,” he promises. “Most were on my arms and back, the worst one is right at the top of my head though. That I can do without.”

“I’m so sorry.”

“Don’t be. I didn’t listen; it’s my fault.”

Speaking of thoughts, he wants to ask about why she started it in the first place but it slips by him. Instead he stupidly asks about Armitage.

Heavy sighs... those aren’t good right?

“I mean it’s Saturday night and you’re here—I mean,” he puts up his hand in desperation to stop her from leaving.

“It’s fine. He’s working on becoming a state police officer so there’s more that goes with that or something,” she waves it off like it doesn’t bother her to be alone or promised a night out only to be let down an hour or two later.

On those nights she sits with a bag of chips or some ice cream, starring out of her glass box, wondering when her life would really take shape. It’s been happening more and more now but as much as it hurts, it isn’t anything like Jack. She’s never honestly felt safer even when Armie isn’t there. So why does it still hurt so much, she wonders.

Rey’s motioned to drink his first bottle of Kylo Ren straight from it but Ben isn’t for that. This was his blood, sweat and tears into these bottles, and he’d be damned if she drank it like a wine cooler. Instead he got “fancy” with her, grabbing glasses from his bar just inside, handing her his fleece lined flannel jacket so she wouldn’t get sick under his supervision.

Her appreciation was soft, just like her acceptance of his offer this evening. A far cry from where they were this summer. Ben could feel his heart pound knowing she was wearing something of his.

“Keep it,” his voice floats just above a whisper.

“Oh, I couldn’t possibly...” he hears her protest but stops her mid-sentence.

“Please? At least while you’re out at night? You’re going to get sick with that thin little blanket...”

He stops talking when she agrees, making sure he thanks her for agreeing to keep it.

Next he offers her a chair close to his fire pit hoping she’ll stay for more than the wine. Not necessarily “more” more... but wouldn’t it be something to have his arm around her he mused. She probably felt wonderful, like the best cuddle he could ever receive, wrapped in something of his. The very fact that she agreed to keep his jacket has his inner man practically jumping for joy. After what feels like hours of celebration, he can move again, brushing his fingers with hers when he finally gives her the glass.

Ben could absolutely die happy tonight. She’s in his space, sitting in one of his chairs that he vows to only ever sit in again, his glass resting at her lips, the neck pinched slightly between her fingers. Maker, why can’t he be held in such a way? Why do his things get to touch her? But then the most satisfying sound is the way she hums in approval at the wine he’s managed to make.

She likes it!

She likes something he did! Well… there were a lot of things he did… and she came over and hasn’t gone running for the fence… his heart hammers in his chest trying to make sense of it all. But then the sight of her cloudy eyes trying to clear up for him is a message he can’t unsee.

Fuck Armitage, he thinks, placing another log on the fire. Fuck him and making his girl wait, making her upset, she didn’t deserve that. She doesn’t deserve to be alone. Not tonight, not ever. And so, Ben can’t help but ask her to everything that’s coming up.

There were smaller indoor events for the holidays that he wanted her at as his date but would let it slide if they could be really good friends that joked around and often. He then invited her to help him next season. He wanted to start using the land properly, making his own vineyard, and there she could trap all of the scary as shit hornets she wanted.

“You would probably do best if you were just off to the sides of the hive. You know like, give them their space? It’ll be pretty intense for you to harvest if you’re right in their territory, you know.”

Ben nods, swallowing the last of his serving, “Oh, don’t remind me.”

Her laugh fills their space, and as it does he finds he cant look away, but then, when has he ever wanted to? Her eyes sparkle in little stars and flecks of glittery hearts that he can see even in the low glow of the fire. Finally settling back on him, he feels the need to keep talking. If he doesn’t, he knows he’ll give in to the rush of his needs crashing through his veins. Ben struggles but finally brings up his next point.

“Next season, if it’s anything like the last one, I was wondering if maybe you wanted to start coming with me to the farmers market. It’s a lot of branding and getting your name out there.”

“But I don’t have anything to sell.”

“You have honey.”

“I hardly think I have enough to sell on its own, Ben.”

And there it is, the way she said it, so soft and wonderful, he can’t stop himself from promising she does. He finds he’ll promise her everything, the sun, the moon? Everything so long as she always say his name like that.

“Maybe you could make something to pair it with my wine. Drizzle it over cheese and crackers or whatever you like. You could—we could have a table together. Me and you.” He hears it slip, his ‘me and you,’ wincing a little when it comes out.

If she’s aware, she doesn’t lead on that she knows how he feels, instead, he knows enough to stay silent when she speaks.

“Or you could just be mine, I mean work with me. You could, I mean, if the vines do well… I’ll need you… your help… I’d need…”

Rey’s shy smile pricks the corners of her eyes, “I’d love to, so long as you show me what to do. And don’t get mad that I take a Rey tax.”

“A Rey tax?”

“Yep.”

“And what might that be?”

“I’d like to have some right from the vine,” she says innocently enough for him to wonder.

Chapter Text

That’s not what she means.

Not by a long shot.

In fact, she even took a few from the vine on the way back to her house. He doesn’t know what’s worse. Being wrong about what she said or the fact that she picked them off his plant in front of him. At least she wasn’t being sneaky about it. Still, Ben has it in his right mind to protest but remembers himself, he did agree to it after all.

Watching her go was hard enough. She could have stayed, he snorts to himself, it’s not like she’s far from home. Even now that she’s gotten in, she waves through her glass door. If she locks it, he can’t tell but hopes she stays safely tucked away from the world when he isn’t with her. His jacket remains on her shoulders, zipped to the top and hanging far past her bottom which does things to him. It makes him wish she was still with him or at the very least, that he had been invited inside. There he could watch her take it off, showing him exactly how small she is inside his things.

His mind wanders to wondering what she’s up to. Maybe finding her sleepwear and climbing into bed was her next move. Ben imagines the mural she painted in the master bedroom just over her dressers, finding himself trying to figure out her set up. For as long as he can remember, he’s never seen a light on in that window. In fact, she’s never turned on lights up there, only downstairs. His brow furrows wondering why. Maybe it’s a blown fuse or a wiring problem he thinks. But then he’s startled by sheer forest green curtains fluttering over the spans of her greenhouse windows, covering what she can reach.

Ben swallows praying to the Maker himself that she doesn’t sleep in there as he watches her form fade from view.

——

Ben had been true to his offer, reminding Rey about their conversation weeks ago when he asked her to go with him to an event around Christmas time. She played into his excitement with her own, never being invited out so far in advance and then to be remembered after that had her screaming with joy. Ben did not forget her.

They had been through a lot all the way up until now. She wondered if anyone would have ever believed their story anyway. Going from all of their misunderstandings and little battles to now, dressed to impress at this holiday festival combining two of her new favorite things, discovering ice sculpting and Ben Solo by her side.

That new warmth for him growing in her belly sprouted first in her heart. The night he shared his hopes and dreams with her made her feel like someone worthwhile. At first, she thought he was just being a good neighbor despite what she was actively putting him through, what with intentionally messing with him or sort of still dating Armie, she couldn’t help what was changing in her heart.

The man is shy.

Noticeably so. But he still manages to introduce her to people and explore the Christmas light displays meant to entrance the children that attend. His presence is constant, making every indication that he doesn’t know what to do with his hands being that he isn’t hers. Ben, for the most part wound up shoving his hands in his pockets or swinging them by his sides to avoid touching her instead. She found it sweet enough to still his movements, looping her arm through his despite the look he gives her.

This simple act confuses her though. It was meant to be sweet and soothing, calming his nerves, but why did it amp hers up? She pauses feeling the warmth radiate from his bicep, wondering if he feels the hum of electricity tingling his senses too. It’s equal parts just as exciting as it is scary but since she’s reached for him, Rey feels almost a desperation inside of her begging her never to let go.

And so she doesn’t.

Continuing on as if this is a normal thing friends do, Rey asks Ben to show her around inside where they can warm up.

“Usually, I don’t have anything to show,” Ben starts pointing out different vendors’ tables as they make their way to the hall.

Multiple spaces had been booked for the festival separating halls that catered to food and drink as well as artisan crafters from activities for kids that included visiting Santa.

“But thanks to you, I do.” Rey hears the way his voice drops to a whisper, his eyes wide as they stay trained on her.

She wonders why, turning only slightly to him catching him staring. The very fact he’s doing it makes her feel powerful and weak all at once.

“What?” she whispers, now worried she’s upset him.

“How long have you not been wearing pants?” Ben can’t seem to control the volume of his voice calling the attention of several other party goers to their conversation.

She had chosen to wear his flannel jacket which was far warmer and longer than anything she ever had, but that doesn’t give him the right to practically shout about her not wearing clothes. She was—is! She knows she is. Whispers start wandering through her space finally provoking her enough to open the jacket to him showing off the shimmering silver fabric of her dress. It had even hung out slightly under his jacket even though the longest hem had only reached just above her knee.

“You said this was semi-formal, Ben. To me that means a dress,” her eyes darting to his telling him not to challenge her with technicality.

All he can do is suck in breath after breath, all painfully harder than the last. Doing his best to nod, Ben looks away only to have his knees buckle remembering the sight of her. It isn’t really the dress itself as he doesn’t know much about them, but the very fact that she chose to wear one out with him has Ben seeing stars. Figuratively and literally, especially when the light hits her just right. Why didn’t he notice her shoes? Was it too late to look now? Maybe he could glance at them on the way... oh.

She wore crappy brown Uggs that had seen better days out with him and brought her shoes with, silver ballet flats, but still… how was he supposed to know? Now? Now it makes sense as to why it had been such a surprise—a good surprise, he nods at himself, but still a surprise.

Clearing his throat and adjusting his collar, Ben is uncertain with his attire. It’s not that he feels underdressed in slacks and a collared shirt, but Maker, does he want to go home and change now standing next to her. It’s too late for that and by no means is he looking to leave her here just to find something better to wear but it doesn’t make him feel any less like she should be here with anyone but him.

“So?” she asks, “Where’s your booth?”

Isn’t that the kicker? They never set one up for him. Perturbed, Rey makes short work of a nearby table asking for all he’s brought, finding not much more than the open bottle they had together and the sealed one, then the honey he nearly destroyed months before still in the mason jar. How it hadn’t cracked is still a mystery to her.

Next she was pulling him by the arm around the hall asking vendors to sample it.

“Do you think you could pair it with anything at your table?” Rey asks curiously, each vendor giving her the time she requests. “Would you be willing to give us a few samples that we might be able to serve along with it? We’d be giving you and your shop credit for your pairing of course.”

Ben is mortified but as each station agrees to this madness, he finds himself joining her spontaneity. The two of them now have more food than they do table space and, Maker, where are they going to put it all now?

Ben finds it absolutely adorable when she puts up her finger while deep in thought. She’s on the move, but to where? The moment she makes it back, she spooks him just like she had in her bee suit.

“I found these in the artisan crafts section,” she grins, holding two rather large gold chargers. “But I didn’t find much for drink samples, so I got shot glasses. I hope that’s okay. I can always wash them in the bathroom when we get low.”

Ben swallows hard at the sound of her plans. She’s gone and done all of this for him and their evening hasn’t exactly started yet. Still, she’s rushing around to make sure he... What? How does he deserve this? She could be doing anything else but she’s here with him, making sure he finds the right connections, building him up when no one else really would. Where he’s felt alone in the past, he feels included, complete, and it’s because of her.

“I’ll take care of them,” he promises. “You’ve already done so much for me.”

That’s not a lie either, whether she applies it to this evening or when she became his neighbor taking a permanent place in his life, she’s helped him in so many ways he can’t possibly count. And yet she’s still trying, turning to him as she has this whole evening. Checking him as he goes from patron to patron asking if they’d like to try pure happiness in a bottle... anything, Maker, she says anything to make him smile. Ben finds he loves that about her.

Love... the word teeters over his tongue, sure to make an escape far too soon. She’s still with but not sure of Armitage, his absence makes him aware of this. It stings the both of them, for her it’s because she’s come to trust that’s how relationships are, and for him? He knows it’s just the type of person the man is.

Armie means well but has always searched for himself past the needs of a physical relationship. The bond seemed to be eluding him, as if it wasn’t as necessary as breathing, but even as much as this is true, Ben knew Rey doesn’t deserve it. His love for her had been building past infatuation after he thought he’d lost her...that first date nearly killed him. And now here as the object of her attention he doesn’t feel quite complete. She’s not his, he’s not hers... and yet he feels it. Fate. She’s meant for him. Made for him.

“Maker, give me a sign. What would you have me do to make her mine?”

——

The week before Christmas Rey’s found time to get a few wreathes, a Christmas tree, and lights—so many lights.

“What?”

Ben shakes his head trying to conceal his grin.

“I like lights. They remind me of stars...”

“Why don’t we line your beams with them? Give you the stars when it snows? That way you can always see them, even when you can’t?” His questions are soft, pulling at the strings of her heart. She knew what he meant. Telling her that he will always be there even in her darkest nights. Maybe she was leaning into it a little too much, but maybe not. Rey learned of Ben’s little bursts of character ever since the party. It was there before, but if she was really being honest with herself, she was trying to ignore it. Armitage didn’t deserve being dumped based on Ben’s interests. It wasn’t fair to him... but as the months rolled on, and she was tossed aside, she knew it wouldn’t be long before they fizzled out.

Instead, Rey accepted his flirting, raising him one as they did when she first moved in. Although, that wasn’t flirting. That was down right one upping the other for the sole purpose of the other’s frustration. She likes to think she won but Ben was all for the game. It reminded her of those fishing competition shows she’d never be a part of. He’d set the bait, then the line and she’d tease him by yanking it or bumping his metaphorical boat.

It was perfect really. He’d been the only man that she could be herself around, that she is attracted to at least. Poe and Finn, as lovely as they are, don’t count in this charade, Rey rolls her eyes. A smile on her lips as they plan how to do go about this task together.

“What a brilliant idea, Ben,” she says. His smile warms her heart. “What do you need from me?”

He thinks for a moment wondering how it could possibly hold, opting for the least destructive method for the time being.

“Do you have any tape? Packaging tape might do it... and a ladder?”

Rey grimaces a little.

“Well the ladder might still be upstairs from when I painted last... and packaging tape is down here in the drawer closest to the sink.”

Ben perks up hearing the word “upstairs”. He could go get it, look around while he does. Answer the breaker problem he thinks she’s having while he’s up there too. Unless it’s not really a problem. What if she’s not using it? He has to know where she’s sleeping if she’s not up there, to fix her problem if he can.

“It’s okay, I can get the ladder,” he offers.

“You really don’t mind?”

“Not at all,” he watches her smile grow. “Besides, I’d do anything to hang the stars for you.”

Ben watches as her pupils dilate, knowing now she feels it too. He can feel his heart hammer in his chest, his pulse thundering in his ears watching her respond to him.

Her lips part just so, ready to speak but at a true loss for words, Rey can only stare at him.

It’s been only moments but feels like hours pass before she can ask, “Do you mean that?”

“Every word.”

Gone. She’s let go. There’s a fire blooming in her heart she’s dying to feed, a love she’s dying to nurture. Rey finds herself closing the distance between the two of them, her mouth salivating at the thought of pressing her lips to his own, tasting him, giving all he can take before her courage flakes out on her. Before it leaves her wanting like a fool.

She’s only inches from him and all he can see is all the ways he can screw this up for himself. He’s imagined this moment, not here in particular but a moment such as this, her lips glistening in the soft light of wherever they are together, her eyes fluttering closed, her head tilted back just to help reach him. He hears the slightest whimper leave her lips before his meet hers. His hands cradle her head urging her to him. Her appreciation is apparent, her hands wandering slowly over his stomach, up over his chest before finding the nape of his neck. Her fingertips move steadily up from there to tangle in his hair. Every nerve ending in his body feels as though it’s misfiring, his skin hums as he does when she’s bold enough to deepen their kiss.

Maker, he could die happy tonight, in this moment... in her arms... and he would have felt as though his life had been completed. He’s just starting to slide one of his hands down her spine when there’s a sharp knock at the door, slowing his administrations. Despite his ragged breath evident of how he feels, he asks, “Were we expecting someone?”

Rey’s lips brush his own as she speaks, not interested in pulling back, she replies, “Finn and Poe.”

“They can wait,” Ben presses his lips against hers again feeling how her tongue welcomes him.

“It’s cold outside.”

Another pass of her tongue against his builds evidence of his need deep within him.

“They have each other,” he huffs.

“Mmhmm they do,” she smiles against his mouth. Another knock brings them back for long enough for them to remember themselves. “And we have each other too,” she adds with the most precious smile he’s ever seen. “Come on, once this is done, you can show me how soft you can really be.”

“You think I’m soft?”

“Only the best kind of soft.”

“And what’s the best kind of soft?”

“You are,” she grins. “Now, why don’t you get me that ladder so you can light up my world?”

Chapter Text

Ben finds himself licking his lips constantly, or more so than normal at least. She kissed him...really kissed him. His body shivers with both the anticipation of what’s to come and remembering where she’s been. Maker, the way she makes him feel isn’t like any other that came before her. He can almost still feel the paths her fingertips created as if the very action burned them into his memory forever. Ben knew she was it, that there would never be another.

The flight of stairs made him obviously aware that he had a job to do. After? After he’d let his imagination run wild with him until the guys left. Maybe she’d let him hold her hand, touch her openly, maybe not the way he’s dying to but simply wrapping his arms around her seems perfect in every way. There they could be together in front of their friends, he could revel in her warmth and she could find comfort in his closeness. It could—will be perfect. But first, the ladder.

Besides being painted, the upstairs looks unused, simply not lived in. It’s strange. His whole house is lived in. There’s not one single place where there isn’t something out of place. If there’s an open surface, there’s something on it. Clothes, mail, crap from the day... in fact, the only place that remains a certain level of clean is the kitchen. It’s where the magic happens, so it has to be clean. This? This isn’t clean... it’s more like it’s in the process of being forgotten.

He makes his way to her room where she said the ladder would be, finding what he thinks is her bed against the wall. Odd. He wonders if she just never had time to put it together being that she was so involved in saving him, he shakes his head. Ben decides it’s time to make this right... wherever she was sleeping needed to change, and it would change tonight. It didn’t mean he’d rush her to share it with him, no, he just wants her comfort. If she didn’t have sheets, he knew he had a few spare sets she could have. The thought of sharing his things with her makes him feel special. Since she loves his jacket so much, maybe she’d enjoy his flannel sheets too. They’re so soft and warm he’d know she’d be just fine this winter—if she’s ever without him, Ben wiggles his eyebrows at himself like a kid sort of patting himself on the back for the way this panned out. He truly feels relieved to be hers... so much so that there’s no reason to hide any aspect of his feelings for her.

The bed frame goes together easily enough, then Ben makes quick work of the box springs, then the mattress, taken back by what he sees. She must not have known when she moved it in. But how wouldn’t she have seen it? Ben licks his lips again before turning to listen for Poe or Finn, their boisterous voices should have been carrying through her home by now, but they aren’t. Again, he trains himself to listen for her, marching himself right out of what should be her room, down the stairs catching some stranger in her home calling her baby.

Ben’s jaw works from side to side, the written message still clouding his vision. Her mattress had been tampered with and he can’t understand how she didn’t know. It was so big. Deliberately written.

“I OWN YOU”

How didn’t she see it?

Unless she did. He tries to piece it together. Why wouldn’t she have thrown it out? Was there someone there, stalking her? No one in their right mind would write such a thing, not on a mattress... Ben blinks, his vision coming back into focus.

Rey has been struggling or at least it looked like she was. He couldn’t see the way some man had her pressed up against her front door, but knew he’d kill him for touching her. His thoughts stop abruptly hearing the man speak...

“Who the fuck is this?”

“Ben,” Rey whines as the man’s grip on her throat tightens.

“Baby, this better not be my replacement,” the man croons against her cheek.

The sight of it makes Ben’s stomach churn. She had just—they were just—this? How is this happening?

“I am not yours” Rey snarls through gritted teeth. “I was never yours. You...” she struggled in his hold. “You were never the man you promised to be.”

The realization of who this man is crashes through Ben. As the pieces come together, the paralysis of watching him control her melts away. His anger radiates through his body ready to make a move when the asshole stops him again.

“You’re going to leave... Ben. Forget you ever saw this. Or her. You’re going to leave. You’re going to go or I’m going to snap—“

“For what?!” Ben roars. “From trying to get away from a controlling psychopath?”

The man ignore’s Ben, lingering on the word, psychopath.

Jack’s head tilts to the side in disappointment, clicking his tongue as he does. His dirty blonde hair shines in the light of her home. His eyelids flutter closed as he sighs in her face. The stench of his breath catches in her throat gagging her from the inside, too. There’s nowhere that the essence of this man can be without killing her in some way.

“Baby, didn’t you call me a monster? That day on the phone? Did you really think I wouldn’t find you? I own you.Didn’t I make that clear?”

A tear rolls down her cheek. She tried, really tried to stay strong against this man, but fear got the better of her.

There were so many times during her drive she believed it but never said it out loud. Giving her thoughts a voice meant they were real. Jack was a monster. She thought he was normal up until she confronted him about the women that kept showing up. At first, he assured her that these people were only wounded exes, but that wasn’t the truth. She knew he got jittery when he lied and if she questioned him again, he’d frighten her before moving on. It could be a look or a nod, whatever it was made her nervous enough to just run. It’s why she went in the first place.

Poe called him a monster. He typed it out faster than a wildfire could overtake the land. Poe said a lot, silencing her hatred, calming her enough to find herself again. She should have known it wouldn’t last. This place had been heaven, and now? Now she was falling from grace captured by the devil himself.

“N-no. I didn’t call you a monster.” Rey forcibly swallows trying desperately hard to remove his grip from her throat. The motion has been seeing red. Rey wasn’t in a position of power. They don’t have the upper hand, and so he feels like he’s breaking her heart when he shuffles around, gathering his stuff to leave.

“Use the back door,” he says, nodding at it.

“Can’t. It’s jammed,” Ben retorts, the neck of his wine bottle fisted under his jacket. “You’ll need to move if you want me to leave.” His eyes locked on Jack’s challenging him silently, doing his best to ignore Rey’s pleas. If he caves for her his plan will be lost. Having only one shot at this, he stays trained on Jack.

“Fine. C’mon baby.”

Ben sees the way she flinches when Jack calls her baby wondering what else had happened when they were together. He promises himself he’d cleanse her of this, making his move toward the door. Out of desperation she’s spit in Jacks face, taking a slap in its wake. The force he used slapping her cheek on her echoed like thunder through their space, loud enough to silence Ben’s strike.

His bottle’s thickness was that of the commercial standard for wineries across the country which he knew would withstand the blow Ben give. He wasn’t the gangly man he started out as. His job bulked him up as he aged. For years he wondered what it was all worth but as that bottle connected with Jacks skull, he knew this was what he was made for, protecting his love.

Adrenaline sped up his thoughts, feeling as if he could see the future, Ben knew his follow through would cause Rey to fall with Jack on top of her. There’s nothing he can really do to stop it, but the fact that he’s released his grip around her neck makes him feel like a hero. each breath rushes in and out of him cleansing him of his fury. He promises himself, his teeth clenched, knuckles white, still gripping the bottle, that she’ll never know fear again. As Ben’s arm swings back for another strike he feels little finger pads embrace the length of his arm, light and carefully like the falling snow showers outside.

“Ben, please...” she whispers. “You got him. Please don’t continue. Don’t go this way.”

The red in his eyes fade while the bile in his stomach rises. Is she protecting this man?

“Please? Ben, there are plenty of ass-h-oles,” her voice trips as she’s trying to speak. “Don’t join him. Please, love. Don’t go this way.”

Ben’s heart hammers in his chest, quickening when she touches his face, pulling his line of sight from the puddle of a carcass on the floor to her. Her moist eyes remind him of the time he caught up with her just outside. There, he knew she’d been hurting, here she knew there was physical pain evident now with the light bruising on her neck.

Ben works his jaw looking to swallow his emotions finding his throat ready to close up based on the word she just used.

“I want to kill him for touching you,” Ben’s voice shudders through the stress of remembering her in such a vulnerable place. “You’re everything to me, Rey,” he does his absolute best not to show the emotion he feels. He could break down now. She’d hold him, he knows she would. And yet his grip loosens on the bottle, lowering his hand from the air listening to her coach him down from his fury.

“I’ve never been everything to anyone, Ben,” she leans against him now, weak in the knees. “But you make me feel worthwhile. Like I have a purpose past surviving.”

The bottle falls from his fingers, crashing to the floor. Neither of which is alarmed by the sound, both of them encouraging the other to take what they want. Locking lips now as opposed to before set them at a new pace. Slow and steady, deep and worry free, they’d take care of this mess of a body on the floor later, for now it’s time to explore this new world together one devouring kiss at a time.

 

_____

 

“Woah-ho-ho!” Poe exclaims holding his cat and a container of cookies from their neighbor down the street. “Listen I’m all for weird stuff, but I can tell you a bear skin rug does not look like an inebriated man—“

Finn covers his mouth at the sight of them barely slowing for the arrival of their friends. The man, squeals. Squeals with delight, praising the sweet baby Jesus in heaven that they finally gave in to each other.

Poe, the only one with any sense left in his brain, calls the police, making sure to take pictures of Jack from every angle, the bottle that was used. And a testimonial from the both of them when they finally slowed, their lips squeaking slightly from suckling on the others.

“I’m sorry Rey, but I do have to ask. Ben, do you think you could show how Jack held her?”

“No,” Ben answers vehemently.

Time slipped away from them while he panicked through his moves in that short time Jack had her in his grip. What felt like hours were simply minutes, the longest minutes of his life. Hearing Poe ask such a transparent question had him seeing red again.

“You can clearly see where he had her. Welts line her neck in the shape of his fingers. There’s no way the authorities won’t pick this up.”

Just as he finishes speaking two young officers pull up. One stays on outside surveillance while the other enters her home. Neither offer their names which Poe finds weird, but Rey knows the one in her space. Officer Wexley was in the academy with Armitage, studying to be a detective.

“Gods Rey! What happened to you?” He asks genuinely worried for the both of them as she recounts her side of the story.

“I think you should see what I found upstairs too,” Ben says darkly.

Officer Wexley’s brow furrows wondering what could possibly be important about upstairs if the pair was safe downstairs.

“Why don’t you show me, Ben?”

Ben nods looking to move forward with Rey still locking fingers with him.

“What was upstairs? I thought you went for the ladder.”

“I did,” Ben swallows telling her what he thought. Shamelessly adding the bit about the flannel sheets, he thought she might like. “They’re really soft and I thought you might like sleeping,” he tries clearing his throat of his nerves, “I thought you might like sleeping in them.

Again, her eyes twinkle, wanting desperately for this commotion to be over for their night to begin, and yet she’s pulled back by Officer Wexley asking about what he found.

Approaching the stairs, the group followed Ben closely.

“I don’t think you want to see it, sweetheart,” he says.

But it’s too late. She saw it. Her hands cover her mouth in fear, repeatedly asking how that got there.

The largest thing she owned that could have possibly made a mark like that was a Sharpie marker. This looked like a paint brush, his strokes as uneven as Jack’s personally.

“Was it him? Love, did you find anything else anywhere else?”

Ben holds her close, promising he’d only been in that room, while Officer Wexley checks around the space for any other signs that the objects in her room had been tampered with.

After a few hours and a fine-combed search, he finds some of the smallest tactical cameras used as bugs hidden all throughout her house, especially in her greenhouse.

“Is that how he knew I am ‘his replacement?’” Ben asks. A puff of pride strikes him learning that Rey chose him but struck a chord with him horribly knowing that this asshole had been stalking her in her own home.

“Replacement?” Officer Wexley quirks an eyebrow.

Ben tried to speak but Rey spits out her answer first.

“Yes, you see,” she looks so innocent looking up into his big brown eyes, “he’s my boyfriend. The only one for me.”

“Oh—congratulations. I... thought you were still with, it’s not my business...” the man shakes his head waving his hands just over it.

“No, but if you must know, the decision was mutual.”

Her friend nods, “ I’m happy for you. Really, but in the wake of all of this, I would suggest you sleep elsewhere tonight,” he says cuffing Jack’s limp body before hauling the man to their cruiser.

“But this is my home. I worked hard for this,” Rey complains.”

“You can stay so long as you guys have a good support system. The stress of something like this alone will make you lose your mind if not temporarily,” says Officer Wexley. “I can’t send a unit out without probably cause that there is something actually going on. You need someone to stay with you or you need to go. It’s just that simple.”

Poe and Finn raise their hands as volunteers, and then BeBe’s paw to make three.

“What about you, Solo?”

“Don’t you think it’s obvious he’s going to stay, Poe? That’s his girl. He’d have to be stupid like Armie—“ Finn starts.

“I thought you loved Armie, Finn.”

“That was until I found out how dumb he was being with little Miss Sunshine here.”

The two bicker until the officers clean out the rest of the evidence.”

“Oh, Officer?” Ben calls to Wexley stopping him in his tracks. “Can we get rid of the bed now? I’d do anything to help her forget this.”

“We have the imagery, evidence, your testimonies, and the perp. You can do with it what you like.”

“Even burn it?”

“If that makes it easier to move on, just have the decency to call the fire department when you want to start a controlled burn. Can’t have the neighborhood going up in flames.”

 

—-

 

Settling down in her favorite space again, his arms wrapped securely around her body, he feels her breath shudder. She’s so close, her head pressed comfortably against his chest, nuzzling to feel just that much closer. And still the trauma bites at her memories. It just happened, Ben thinks, she won’t be able to let go of it soon if it doesn’t last the rest of her life it’ll be a miracle.

He’s tried kissing her, erasing the sites now bruising around the column of her neck. Even though she leans into him, accepting his touch, the warmth of his lips roaming her skin, he can’t help but still feel the way she trembles.

“Can I ask you a question?” Ben nervously asks.

Rey nods, her eyes fluttering open to look into his.

“I just, I noticed you have curtains in here.” He pauses knowing this is a lie but she didnt need to know he’d seen them before. Now he's not sure if he should go on and ask but finds it rolling off his tongue anyway, “Why do you need them in here?”

It seems like the safest way to ask if she’s been sleeping downstairs —out here this whole time.

“Oh,” Rey bows her head, her eyes drifting past him to the floor.

Ben tries to soothe her, promising she doesn’t have to tell him.

“It’s where I find the most comfort,” she swallows. “So...”

“You sleep out here?”

“Usually.”

He’s quick to observe that the door leading to her backyard has deadbolt and at least an additional lock she secured to it.

“And that’s why you’ve never used the upstairs?"

Rey shakes herself from her thoughts, answering his question. “I just always preferred this room since the day I moved in, I just felt—free. It’s the most comforting room in the house. I can see my world changing, living around me... that alone has been the greatest gift to fall asleep to and rise to,” she assures him. “And now I have you.”

Ben smirks at this. The thought of waking up to her makes his heart sing.

“And the couch?”

“Daybed.”

“Honey,” he starts, his voice warm and soft, “you can’t sleep on a daybed.”

“But I have been... all that’s new to this is you.”

“Okay, I can’t sleep on a daybed. Have you seen the size of me?”

It was meant to be rhetorical and yet she slipped just as he did.

“No, but I’d like to.”

Maker! Damn Jack and vandalizing her bed upstairs. Damn him to the last level of hell!

Chapter Text

“You want to do... what?” Poe asks when Ben returns with an axe with the expectation to eliminate this nightmare.

“I think it’s pretty obvious. We’re going to hack it up and burn it out back.”

“Didn’t you hear the officer?”

“It’ll be fine. The fire pit is big enough, in ground with a wall. You’ve used it enough times to know it’ll be fine.“

Finn laughs, “He’s got you there. Didn’t you guys cook a pig in it?”

A pig is not a mattress,” Poe corrects Finn.

“If we break it down, the pieces will be far smaller than the roast. We can handle this...” Ben grips the handle whirling the blade around his fist

“Handle what?” Rey’s caught the boys wielding weapons upstairs. The message still blatantly there, worry catching in her throat. “What are you doing up here?”

We are going to do some home improvement,” Finn grins.

Rey’s mouth drops open, “You want to do this, inside, well past one in the morning?”

“Well, we were going to take it outside...” Ben starts.

“But this is Jersey...” Poe snorts. “You don’t need someone thinking you’re—"

“Okay stop, I don’t need to picture it,” she says although she already has.

Something about it makes her think it could be portrayed as a backyard crime scene, and the cops had already been by. But, the thought of three of them in the pale moonlight peaking from thinning grey clouds overhead, erasing her past for the good of her future comes to mind. As intense the feeling is, she can’t help but think she should have a hand in it. Rey reaches to take the axe from Ben, swallowing as she does.

“I call first swing.”

A look of admiration passes between the two as the grip on his gives way to her. It’s apparent she hasn’t used an axe or hasn’t in some time that her first swing, as deliberate as it is, isn’t as effective as she would have liked it to be. Ben however knows not to teach her now. She’s connecting with something internally. He can see it in her eyes. Her intensity, the little snarl that has the three of them wondering if doing this inside was, in fact, the right choice.

A thud after her fifth back swing startles her.

The boys cringe at the same time.

“Maybe that’s enough for you,” suggests Poe.

Rey gives a defiant look, her hair falling just so over her brow, challenging him where he stands.

“Or maybe not,” Finn bites his lip, not sure of what else to say.

“We can change it all, sweetheart,” Ben promises. “It doesn’t just have to be the bed. But, maybe wait until it’s warmer out to start hacking at the walls.”

Her brow shifts just so lifting her mood. Swinging the axe, destroying her past, it was all cathartic... and here Ben is in the middle of it all promising their future, even if he meant it as a subtle joke. She just knew he would be there every step of the way and the thought brought her so much joy she could weep.

She doesn’t though. Her eyes have since dried from the fear that coursed through her just hours before. All that’s left of her emotionally is laughter, cresting high in her chest as she starts to giggle.

“Alright, alright. I think you’ve had enough,” Ben croons as he makes his way to take the tool she so obviously got used to.

The bed has seen better days, and while she gave it her all it wasn’t exactly enough to decimate it or remove pieces small enough to bring downstairs, let alone burn.

“Why don’t you take a turn, Ben?” suggests Poe, nudging Finn out the door. “We’ll, ah... we’ll get the fire going, okay?”

“But I want to...”

“I’ll get you a log you can chop, okay?

“A log is far less fun than this!” Finn whines.

“If you don’t move, I’m filling your slippers with kitty litter.”

“WHAT?!

“C’mon BeBe, I have a nice fluffy place you can stuff your poo.”

“Fine!” Finn drops his head back to his shoulders, dragging his tool along the carpeted floor and out the door. “Fine, fine, fine, fiiiiine...

The moment the guys finally leave, Ben’s rolling up his sleeves. His message is clear, wanting her to watch him. He wants her to see his rage, feel his anger.

“This,” he points his finger at the mess of a bed she made, “This is never happening again.”

Rey’s eyes well up while he speaks.

“No one’s ever going to hurt you again. No one--because I’m here. I’ll always protect you. You aren’t mine like some object,” he says as his lips bow downward. “You aren’t some-thing. You’re alive— you make me feel alive, you make me feel like more than myself and I won’t have you believing you aren’t that to me. Maker, Rey, I don’t know how I got this far without you... but you’re here now. And all I can think of is a future with you.”

Rey hears the way his voice shudders as if it took all of him to promise a fate, he can’t yet process.

A future with you…

The way he’s admitting this to her makes her want to hear more. A look passes between them pressing him for it and he gladly obliges. Tendons in his arms tighten as he grips the axe keeping his sights fixated on the bed. His only target, her heart, needs to witness this destruction. He feels he needs her to know that nothing would stop him from protecting her. And so, he does.

With each strike of the metal head, each crack of wood, screech of spring coils protesting around them, he bellows a promise she needs to hear. By the time the bed’s been broken, the stench of his sweat over-powering the room, she’s found her heart has never been so full.

When the last piece hits the floor, wood chips sprinkled on his sweat drenched skin, all she can do is shake her head back and forth. Her lower lip caught between her teeth she knows she’s at a loss of what to say. He’s promised her love, protection, a home even though she pays him rent but it’s not what he means. He’s promised her a future… he’s promised it so many times, but his softest admission with his last blow takes her breath away.

“These arms will hold you, keep you safe from your memories. You’re the strongest woman I’ve ever known, I don’t want to make you feel weak… but I’m here for you. I’ll always,” he trails when he looks over to her. Rey’s crossing the room, coming towards him, carefully stepping around the mess trying not to injure herself.

She has that look in her eye, that crazed need she tried to quench before this night had spiraled so terribly out of control. She’s only a few steps from him, reaching for his hand to help her over but he’s paralyzed in her stare. Standing like a statue, his lips popped open, unable to control his need for her. His memories, the only things that holds him together, repeating to him never to use the word baby unless they had some, and now trying to level his mind, weighing everything that’s transpired here tonight.

What a great time to have a conscience, he thinks.

But she’s there, pressing herself against him, guiding him back towards the new free space on the wall her mattress was on. He barely feels her fingertips at his sides until they’re overtaken by her palms. She’s pressed him back several steps until he’s found the wall. Rey wanted to be clear of this mess. She needed him to hear her too. Evidence of his need had been written all over his face, but she stayed silent in the mix. Rey thought maybe he needed to get it all out… to show his power… to show that she would be safe all while floating in the promises he had to release without her input. But now, now it’s her turn and she needs his undivided attention.

“Ben,” her voice carries her message softly to him. The look in his eyes are dark and wanting, begging her to admit something, anything, to match them –make this feeling true. “I feel it too. The pull to you. The need to be around you… it’s there. It’s always been there. It’s why I was such a shit about these, warm, dark colors, changes to the house, all of it.” She slides her fingers into his pockets, only pinching the fabric, pulling him off the wall to her a little. His large form only sways forward a little, but it’s there—noticeable.

Whoever he’s awakened with his admittance of the love he has for her, Ben finds it both excites and terrifies him—in a good way.

“Sweetheart?” Ben hesitantly asks.

“Love?” she uses her chosen pet name for him for the third time. Each time is easier to hear but still a surprise.

His breath shallows feeling her stretch up to claim his lips as hers again. He knows she’s unable to totally reach him but finds himself wanting to know what lengths she’d go to get what she wants. It isn’t a second more that he’s awakened from his stupid thoughts when she hoists her leg around his waist. Ben groans loudly at the feel of her climbing him. He’d never been climbed before. It seemed like a strange concept, not sexy in the least until it opened up a new angle to him.

Rey’s thigh lines up to his hip awkwardly at first, exposing her covered center to him. Her leggings playing a torturous game of dare, double dare with him. The thin fabric could barely be represented as pants and were begging him to drown his fingers down there. He could do it too. Rip a hole at the seam that ran along her folds. Test her. Tease her the way she is now that she’s leaned against him. Ben hums with need and Maker does she listen…

His body is met with her full weight when she moves to grip his shoulders, while her other leg wraps around him. Oh, how he revels in the way she feels positioned like this. Ben feels the frantic need to stop waiting and start taking, his hands move over her firm backside, palming each of her cheeks as he goes. He’s testing her now, kneading her flesh under that laughable excuse for pants. He doesn’t mind now though, not now that he’s got her in his hold. He can’t help the sounds coming out of him, his moans each compiled with her own melody of need. Ben finds himself pressing her center to his length, his vision whiting out in the process.

Ben doesn’t dare believe this is true. He’s at home, he thinks, hallucinating through his usual string of wet dreams, rocking himself against another folded pillow. This isn’t true. She’s not here, not with him, not his… but then he feels her mouth on his. Ben swallows his fears of being alone allowing his skin to flush under the roll of her body. He feels the way she moves, so much more fluent than he could have ever managed by himself. The way she drags herself down on him has him lost to reality.

He finds himself gyrating back onto her, trying to spread her open despite still being in those damned sausage pants.

Her lips faulter against his, her tongue slips back to her own mouth, begging against his lips for him to touch her.

“A-are you sure?” he gasps as she rolls her hips against him again.

“Yes, ah,” she moans feeling him shift them, forcing her back against the wall. His shoulder pins her to it, shifting just so. He needs that connection, to touch her, but how?

“Tell me what you want, Sweetheart. Tell me everything you like,” she feels her body shiver at the feel of the pad of his thumb resting between her folds. He’s ready but waiting, dying in the process. Her pants betraying her readiness compiled with her silence has him wondering if he’s been too forward.

“Rip a hole or tear them off,” she whines. “I need you to touch me, please. Tell me how I make you feel. I want to know,” her head rests on the wall behind her.

Had she not heard him? It’s all he’s done. All night he’s—wait.

Her sigh rips right through him, he’s moved ever so slightly at her core awakening him. Ben blindly follows a path where words stumble and trail off... where her moans pair with promising curses, goading him on for more without the need to hear her ask for it by name. Their muscles dance through spasms of pleasure, shuddering desperately seeking the other’s silky skin melting into their own.

She doesn’t have to ask twice. He can’t bear the thought of making her beg. Although her sighs are of the sweetest sounds being just close enough.

Ben’s length, still trapped within his jeans, throbs painfully, and yet all he can think of is exploring her. She calls to him, her own passionate song rips through her, promising herself, her world to him, it’s powerful. Her urgency pushes him over making him unable to recount his actions.

At one point he knew he shredded her leggings. Ripping a clear hole exposing her wet heat.

“Maker!” He groans at the sight of her clothes torn open.

Ben babbles everything to her... and she? Rey, his bright star, swears just as much, if not more. She always gave more… her all. The man would no longer feel pain, she’d take it just as he’s taken it from her. It’s just right, he agrees with his inner self, he’ll give her his life, all his passion, his devotion she clearly needs.

His hands drop to her waist when he decides he can do this. Promising it to himself she’ll love his surprise and be able to support her weight just right. Ben has no desire to take the easy way out and sit for this either. No, he has a pressing matter to handle in his pants. The man needed friction. He needed her hand wrapped around his shaft, pumping him. But his lady’s attention needed to be handled first, and maybe he could find a little relief throbbing against the wall.

He set her just high enough to comfortably sit partially on his biceps. His huge form keeps her legs from touching the floor which shouldn’t be as surprising as it is. Having never been suspended before she really had no idea of what to make of this or how to help in general.

As Ben’s body supports Rey, his eyes lock with hers, bracing her safely on to him with her hips pinned to the wall. When his forearms tightening around her, Rey feels the cool air swirl around her thighs. The anticipation keys her up Ben notices, working his jaw while he watches her shift, looking for friction. Her eyes are blown wide, her teeth sinking into her bottom lip shift enough to release it acts as if it were a green light signaling him to go.

His large hands curl around her thighs, opening them wide to him, praising her as he goes.

“You’re so pretty,” he breathes, licking a clear stripe through her folds, resting the flat of his tongue on her bud before letting it draw a stripe down his tongue too. He stops briefly, pressing the tip of his tongue against her clit, testing it, tasting her, finding her rhythm.

There’s no time for teasing, he’s waited long enough and knows he’d only be torturing himself by teasing her now. Ben dies a little needing her touch, rocking his hips ever so slightly up against the wall. It’s enough, he whines at himself, for now.

In all honesty, it’s pure torture, pinning her here instead of the floor, or damnit, the bed! Maker how he wanted to use his own, pounding her relentlessly into the mattress... but here they are doing their best with what they have.

It’s not to say she doesn’t look pretty spread out in front of him, hyper responsive and needy, over satisfied with every stroke of his tongue over her tight bundle of nerves. It has him seeing stars, groaning when he feels her heels find his back trying to pull him closer to her. It’s not enough, he knows this.

She’s searching for him. It makes him swell with pride.

Her back bows off of the wall seeking more when he finally snakes one arm around her back, resting his hand over her thigh. His free hand surprising her as he plunges one long finger into her core. Rey’s hands which had been seeking purchase on anything at all land in his long, damp obsidian waves when he does. Rey’s breathless but still gives it a hard tug towards her, wailing his name in the process.

Ben is neither fast nor slow. Instead he’s needy, feeding on every sound that escapes her, every lust hazed roll of her eyes, even how limp she feels in his arms has him exploring new heights with her.

“Ah, Ben!” Rey stiffens when she comes, holding him tightly in place. It’s heavenly knowing he was able to do this to her.

Male pride courses through Ben, who’d been dreaming about this moment since, well, since he learned she wasn’t a dude. Ben smirks at Poe’s description, his hot breath at her thighs calling her back from which ever astral plain she had reached.

As much as he’s loved watching her pleasure from this angle, he has to put her down… he has to stand, and when he does, Ben grimaces a little. His unit is painfully hard making him, shifting when he stands. Ben knows if he so much as lets her touch him he’s going to come. While it’s dark and she knows she wouldn’t tease him for it, the guys would when he does the walk of shame back to his house for a fresh pair of pants.

He would never live it down.

“We should get you something a little warmer as far as pants go and finish what we started.”

It’s not what he wants right now, at all, but it needs to be done.

“But,” she tries to protest now standing before him, her pants reflecting some new age skirt design. “W-What about you?” Rey asks, still mesmerized by her high.

“Oh, sweetheart,” he nuzzles against the crook of her neck, whispering all too calmly considering what they’ve just shared. “While, I’m sure you’d give me anything I’ve asked of you, I’d rather our first time slow and memorable under the stars I still want to hang for you.”

Chapter Text

Not a word passes between their group given the new couple’s lapse in time. Not a single look. Nothing.
 
Instead they hand each other off, Rey to Finn and Ben to Poe, each asking for the other’s assistance. Poe and Ben venture to Ben’s house to move his bed into Rey’s greenhouse, while Rey and Finn make it back upstairs to handle the mess.
 
“Dayumn,” Finn admires the destruction, dipping his chin to his chest and leaning to one side. “I’m sure you’ve seen his pit,” he pauses letting Rey catch up. The man obviously knew she was still floating around in dreamland. 
 
“Hmm? His pit?” she blushes when she’s brushed past the wall they shared. Gods, she can feel the way her heart raced as if he was back between her thighs. Was he? She actually checks. Damn it all, she curses under her breath that he’s not. A split second more, Rey happens to look up, right into Finns widening eyes. 
 
“What?” she asks. 
 
“Heeeee,” Finn starts to shrug his shoulders, giggling like a schoolboy.
 
”What?”
 
“Gurrrl, you’ve got it bad!” 
 
“And I don’t deny it either,” she sticks her tongue out with her hands on her hips.
 
For once Finn is at a loss for words. Laughing in soft long “haaaa’s” morphing from that to “hurs” until he can finally refocus himself. 
 
Rey knew he was trying his hardest to come up with a good line to reopen his gossip chain, but it’s over before it begins, bringing him and his cherry tinted cheeks back to the present. 

“He really went to town. This’ll go up faster than you!”
 
Rey groans trying hard not to encourage him.

“So sure, if yourself, are you?”
 
“Oh, girl! Not only am I sure you’ll win, but I’m sure you’ve won!”
 
“What that supposed to mean?”
 
“You came in her ready to squirt on a memory—buh, buh, buh” he stops her, waving his hand in front of him like her reasons were unimportant gnats. “You’re already gone for Solo, and now nothing’s stopping you from ruling his world. He’s basically just gave you the keys to his heart...”
 
“And you’re basing this off of an orgasm?”
 
“Oh, honey, that wasn’t just some orgasm...when you feel like that, dear, when you feel weightless and wanted even on your worst days... that’s love!”
 
——-
 
“Are you sure she wants you to move in today? I mean, you guys just kind of became a ‘thing’ tonight. Like… maybe at most six hours ago.”
 
“She’s sleeping on a daybed.”
 
“Have you slept on a daybed?”
 
Ben turns to his friend slowly with a sarcastic glint in his eye.
 
“Have you seen me? Do you really think I’d fit on a daybed? Aren’t they smaller than twin beds and meant to be little couches for people that can’t afford them?”
 
Poe shakes his head, “No, dude. They’re real beds. You’re thinking of futons. Daybeds aren’t bad… they’re like couches with one arm.”
 
Ben scrunches up his nose at the idea, reiterating his question.
 
“Do you really see me being able to sleep on a couch with one arm, Poe?”
 
“Depending on your acrobatics before bed, I’m pretty sure you could sleep in a dog carrier.”
 
Ben knows he won’t be getting anywhere with Poe so he should really just stop trying now, but the two bicker like a married couple all the way through the steps of taking his bed apart, making it out of his house, maneuvering themselves and the mattresses around his garden and out of his fence without damaging any of it, all the way to her door. It seems like a lot of space between the houses in their listed description of necessary obstacles, but it’s really not. Their property is relatively close together, so close that if they were to go on for forever with this relationship, Ben wonders if they would be able to simply join the houses together.
 
Of course, he pockets this idea waiting for a less stressful time to be thinking about their futures. Right now, all he can think about is not setting the mattress on fire, doing his best not to disturb his sleeping plants, and making it past the gate to safety. After a trial run with the bedframe that happened to jam, the two of them found that lifting the pieces just made more sense.
 
Finally, inside, Ben’s task moves from situating his bed in the middle of the room and actually asking if the guys would prefer building the bed or hanging the lights. Rey’s brow furrows wanting him to do it like he said he would but finds him tapping his forefinger at his sincere, tight lipped smile telling her to wait.
 
“Oh no! You are not sticking me on lights,” wailed Finn from the kitchen. “Mm ’mm, no BeBe is a cat-hole about them…”
 
“A cat-hole?”
 
”Yes!”
 
“What the hell is a cat-hole?”
 
“Think about it, Rey. I can’t just call it an asshole because it’s clearly a cat… therefore, cat-hole, duh!
 
“I think you may need to lay down. Two in the morning isn’t a good shade of insomnia on you.”
 
It’s now Finn’s turn to be confused by this.
 
“Insomnia is not a shade, Rey. You of all people should know that, Little Ms. Swatch checker.”
 
Rey’s eye’s roll at her friend, grinning as she does.
 
“What about you, Poe?” Ben asks.
 
“I’m not into ladders and if it’s for outside it’s going up in a ball just like Joanna’s.”
 
“Who?”
 
“The older lady next door with the chimney,” Poe tries to jog Finn’s memory. “She told you to make the lights look like a big “X” so planes that flew by would see it?”
 
“That was not her reason,” Finn’s lip tightens about it. It’s the first time since Rey’s known the guy, that Fin has everbeen quiet.
 
“Oh, that’s right...”
 
“Poe!”
 
“Anyway, it’s why we came with cookies...”
 
“What cookies?” the two bicker. “You didn’t say anything about cookies!”
 
“They’re over there... but it’s late and you don’t do well with food after midnight.”
 
“Like a gremlin?” Ben asks.
 
“You-fucking-know-it!”
 
“You know what? I think I may be done. You mind if I sleep on your couch?” Finn asks.

“Sure, Finn.”
 
Ben finds himself helping the guys, reassuring them that if they wanted to stay at his house, that it would be open to them. It doesn’t fly though, the both of them reminding Ben that they offered to stay and protect like Boy Scouts. That started a flurry of conversation, as the two took up residency for the night in her living room leaving Rey alone in her favorite space with her favorite person.
 
“I knew they wouldn’t,” he says smiling smugly at his girl. “Besides, I promised you, didn’t I?”
 
Ben moves to uncoil the lights from his forearm and shoulder, drinking in the mesmerized look in her eyes. He encourages her to try out his bed and the very suggestion dries his throat, disabling his ability to speak. Ben does his best to remind himself that their friends are off in the other room. The thought isn’t quite as sobering as he hoped it would be watching her firm form crawling not just into a bed, but his bed has him dying to taste her again.
 
Stars? How are stars in this room? He blinks back what he assumes is insanity to find that they’re just the tiny lights in his hands. Their glow coming back into focus past the flowery explosion of petals faded back into its center. Ben takes this as a cue to try reaching into her thoughts about her future.
 
Wanting her went without saying, but wanting her hopes and dreams, wanting her determination and satisfaction, wanting her to reach all of her successes felt like a more powerful complement than making her feel like a quick fuck. With that he finds asking her what she wants for their future together is just as satisfying as setting up rows and rows of her faux galaxy.
 
Once all of the strands they had cover both the beams and windows, Ben’s confirmed with her that it could all happen.
 
“You’ve wished upon all these stars, haven’t you?”
 
He watches her smile at him. It’s a soft, slow rise in her cheeks. So slow he wonders if he’s the first to have given her what she truly deserves—his attention and time.
 
“You know you’re important to me, right?” Ben’s smile lingers as he leaves the last rung of the ladder, setting it on its side underneath one of her tables.
 
Rey’s quite sure he’s read her mind, asking him to turn off the lights in there, all except for the ones he hung. Her heart hammers hard in her chest while he crosses the room to get to her. A lovely balance between the lights and darkness from the early morning hours envelop him, even as he peels off his shoes, then socks, shrugs off his sweater followed by his jeans. She shouldn’t be but is still surprised that he hasn’t at least shrank a little from the hulking man she’s come to know him as.
 
Ben’s still huge and adorable, his smile reaches his eyes when he’s finally close enough to join her.
 
“Thank you, Ben. For doing this, I mean...” she shakes her head, sitting back on her knees to reach him. “No one’s ever been so good to me.”
 
“And no one ever will,” Ben says finally joining her.
 
Rey knows he’s joking, that he means it’ll only ever come from him. His affection will become the only treatment she’ll ever need, but he doesn’t need to be so cheeky about it. She means to push at his chest playfully but once her palms land on his sweat drenched T-shirt unable to help the way she grips at him, she’s gone for. Rey’s falling under his spell, his rhythm, Gods—she can feel him there again! And yet he hasn’t touched her. He hasn’t with his hands at least, his eyes though, oh his eyes have roamed her all evening. She could practically feel the way he wanted to touch her. And now that they’re connected, she can’t help the way she feels, her wandering hands now reaching over his shoulders and down his back finding the hem equally wet.
 
“No clothes in the bed,” she whispers, pulling the fabric back over his head, revealing his finely sculpted body to her. “How weren’t you taken?” she gasps at the sight of him, running her fingertips over his hard stomach appreciatively. “You’re the whole package. Sweet, funny, gorgeous, mine…” she hums, closing the space between them.
 
She finds herself wanting to give him every complement she can muster and yet she knows she can’t, they’ve only started forever. There would be time for that later. Here, there isn’t a panic, there’s no reason to rush, it’s… freeing.
 
He must know as his own pace has changed. He’s not demanding now. As fun as it was, as memorable… she rolls her eyes at herself inwardly knowing she’ll never be able to forget that, this much is true. But now? It’s different. His touch is careful. Slow, patient, wonderful, and she finds she wants to give him everything. She does her best matching his generosity, his need and gods if it doesn’t call to her.
 
Ben swallows his name which rolls from her tongue, breathily and expressive, it’s the sweetest sound he’s ever heard. His hands roam over her skin, squeezing then releasing her only to press her down onto the mattress. There’s tension there though, she’s fighting it. Her body bows off of the soft surface opting to cling to his own.
 
“Mm, not like this...” Rey sighs guiding him onto his back instead. “I can still feel you, Ben,” she recounts their activity upstairs admitting she’s never felt like that before.
 
Part of this terrifies her, but if she hasn’t learned anything else, she knows he was successful with her by listening to him. Whether or not he fantasized about it is his doing, but that was their absolute first time together, how else could he have ever guessed that would have been mind blowing? It could have been a complete failure, but he wasn’t. The thought of it and the weight of his stare has her wondering just how well she could listen. Hoping she could be just as good for him too.

Would he tell her? Would he be understanding if she needed practice?
 
Sweet as he is, he hasn’t expected sex. The thought comes to her in the casual way while he lays before her, a bashful smile on his lips, his arms now stretched wide beside him like a welcoming starfish. It seemed so, natural. Like this is meant to be. It makes wanting to preform for him exhilarating.
 
Of course, she didn’t plan to have him remove his own boxer briefs but it’s a welcomed gesture and gods does she love his bashful smile when he’s figured out he’s completely bare before her. If blush could be considered clothing, her man was certainly wearing a cowl of sorts, maybe a long scarf and earmuffs.
 
His questions about her appraisal die on his lips watching her as she descends again. The heat of her clothed body is muted enough to make him speak up.
 
“No clothes in bed,” he mirrors her.
 
“I,” her words pause with the press of her lips in a trail starting from his jaw, “wouldn’t” she continues down his neck, “dream,” again another kiss, “of it.”
 
Ben’s breathing is ragged which only adds to her pride. His chest heaves as if it’s painful but he just had to stop her. It takes all of his leftover coordination to help her disrobe too, which is frustrating. Swearing while he tries his best to multitask Ben finds his feet help her pull off the pajama bottoms she borrowed from him.
 
The sound he makes realizing she’s bare underneath them is borderline mournful.
 
“Next time,” he half promises himself, “Next time leave them on…” he all but chokes out when she’s removed her long flowing t-shirt.
 
“Why?” Rey purrs, returning to her administrations. The press and drag of her lips leading up to his erection delays his train of thought.
 
Several times he’s choked on his reasons, all barely explaining why he wants to keep her clothed. There’s a reason, she knows he’ll admit to it when his cognitive thought returns to him, but for now Rey simply enjoys disabling her man. His body seems to follow suit when she finally touches him, sending shockwaves rippling underneath his skin from the lightest pressure.
 
Humming with satisfaction, Rey tests him the way he did her, finding she would do anything for this, his pleasure. Her one hand travels up his length while she supports herself on his thigh. At first, she thought she may not have to, it always seemed like such a chore with her other boyfriends, but Ben made her feel loved. He put her far before himself and deserved all she could give.
 
Ben’s flush skin gave way to a thin sheen of sweat as she pumps him. Another sound escapes him, this time it may have been her name. To be sure she asks him to repeat himself but when he does, he can’t control the volume of his voice. Rey blush reddens her cheeks so deeply they burn not only because of what he says but because she knows they aren’t alone.

“Fuck,” he hisses through his clenched teeth, thrusting through the opening her little hand. “Put your,” he struggles to tell her. “S-sweet-h-heart...ah!”

The flat of her tongue curves over his head, collecting his precum as she goes, effectively silencing him for the moment. It’s all he can do to grip her hair with one hand, steadying himself even though he’s on his back, with the other while she moves with him.

His volume of course, returns to him shouting what he wants at every pass. Ben’s eyes are screwed shut begging for his release, slinging her name around filthily filled with promises of how well she’s doing and how he’s going to fuck her brains out after, stilling completely at the feel of her drenched center enveloping him.
 
“Rey?!” he panics.
 
“Ben,” she moans on her way down. “Fuck…”
 
Bliss overcomes her. The roll of her head evident that she hadn’t imagined that this could possibly be happening spikes his pride once again, but he is deathly still. When she can focus again, Rey tilts her head questioning his resistance.
 
She watches him gasp when he says, “I don’t have a condom.”
 
“You said forever, did you mean that?” she asks fully seated now.“Yes,” his pupils swallow the color in his eyes nearly completely wanting to know where she’s going with this.
 
“I’m on the pill and was tested when I found out I was the other girl,” Rey tries pushing the hurt away.
 
Ben’s arms wrap around her again, carefully rolling her over, so she’s pinned beneath him.
 
“You’ll always be the only one for me, Rey,” he works his jaw in a way she’s come to realize is the physical equivalent of him trudging through his emotions.Rey nods accepting this. Accepting him.

“I know its early and I’m probably being an idiot for admitting it now… but I love you, Ben Solo.”
 
“I know.”
 
“Is that right? You know...as in I just said it and now you know? Or you have some list some where that you’d like to share with me?”
 
He does his best to try not to laugh, spoiling his excitement, but he can’t help himself. The sound of it is so soft and wonderful, she half expects not to learn about when he found out he loved her.
 
But then he speaks…
 
“I knew for sure that I did when you came with me to the party. I’ve never known anyone to do what you did for me. I have so many contacts now. So many people interested in the wine… I could never have done that without you… but it was so much more than that. You just, you kept your heart open for me… and I found that I didn’t want anything more than to follow you for the rest of my life…”
 
It’s an odd time to sob, Rey thinks, joined with him but it’s absolutely beautiful. The lump in her throat, the pain she’s endured to get here… to be loved by this man… it’s all too much.

Rey rolls her hips to call him back to her.
 
“You’ll always be important to me… even if you happen to spear me in the field or tell me I’m threequarters of a dear carcass…”
 
“I’m never going to live that down, am I?”
 
“Doubtful… but its definitely memorable… just like upstairs…”
 
Ben smirks at this.
 
“I still feel it, you know…”
 
“Is that right?”
 
It’s as if he suddenly remembers himself, his location. The two of them mirroring the other with need. He’s been buried within her for long enough to move and, oh, how he moves. Rey swears she’ll get him next time as she excepts each forceful thrust each with its own unforgettable signature while her body sings for him.
 
The depth is amazing. Matched with his little swivel of his hips she’s sure she sees more than the stars he hung for her as he mindlessly rubs himself against her clit. It’s too much… far too much…
 
“Ben! I’m—I’m so close,” she moans as his pace becomes erratic.
 
“You’re so… so… fuck…” Ben explodes before her doing everything in his power to help her find her release too. His high begins to cloud his vision as he works her through hers just in time.
 
___
 
 
Ben has since moved in with Rey. Their plans aren’t perfect but working together with someone that shares his vision is like living in a fairytale. He’ll never own up to saying that out loud but it’s there… and she just knows.
 
Sharing their mornings as they always have since that night, Rey cuddles up next to him. It’s the telltale way she moves that he knows she’s planning something.
 
“So, I was thinking…” she starts.
 
“Uh oh.”
 
It’s taken him years to figure out he should not say those two words and hold a beverage at the same time. Instead, he’s got her. His one arm around her side pulling her to him while the other holds her hand closest to him.

He’s also learned that she loves this.
 
The simple things.
 
She’s proven to be exactly what he needs for n life, and the man couldn’t be any more in love than he already is.
 
“What do you think about joining the houses?”
 
“Like what? A tunnel?”
 
“No, you dork.”
 
“Because we could make it look like a Super Mario Brother’s pipe…”
 
“Ben,” she presses on him more urgently, the sunlight shining brightly in their space capturing his attention now.
 
The rays dance around her, cascading shadow in his face when she moves to get up. She must not know what he sees as she’s still pressing for this conversation.
 
“I just thought we could maybe make like a joint garage or something. A place for all of our tools and equipment. Your truck wouldn’t get destroyed in the fall…”
 
He can feel his chest rise and fall with each breath he takes. She’s really getting into this he thinks and can’t help but need to know just how far her thought process has gone.

“I figured since you live here with me, maybe we could turn your home into a shop. You’re doing so well out there,” she turns her head to motion to the vineyard they’ve created together. “I thought that maybe we could make it a real thing.”
 
When she looks back at him, he can feel her admiration. He’s not sure what he’s done to deserve this but whatever it is he vows, even now, to continue.
 
“It is a real thing,” he confirms.
 
Apparently, it’s not the answer she was hoping for, so he continues.
 
“Can’t you see what we’ve made together? This life, this growth happened because of the love we share. You, Rey. You’re the most dedicated woman I’ve ever met. You’ve been working on me this whole time… ever since you came into my life, even when I thought I was talking to a guy…” he pauses to let that sink in.
 
“You really thought I was a guy?”
 
“Your name wasn’t all that telling, sweetheart.”
 
It’s her smile followed by the way she shoves him back down on their bed that has him laughing.

“You can’t deny it either,” he chuckles.
 
“No, I suppose I can’t, just like I can’t deny you,” she admits now hovering over him.
 
He can feel his skin flush under her in anticipation.
 
“I’d hope not. You’re all I’ll ever want—need,” he sighs. “It’s all yours, love. My heart. This place… it’s all yours. Make the plans and we’ll make the changes, just like we always have.”
 
A pit forms in her throat. She knew. She did, but hearing it feels different. The way it flows so effortlessly off his tongue makes her so much more aware of it now. This is what love is. The weight of it is striking, her soul entwining with his, here in this moment. It roots her with finality to him, as if it were ever a question of who she truly belonged to, her body followed searching for the renewal of the foundation found here.
 
He lies so perfectly beneath her; his hair flows softly around his face in waves that match their ruffled sheets. His breath still tinged by sleep pulls her back from her admiration, he’s so free with her, even with his morning breath, he’s comfortable and willing. Throwing caution to the wind as she always has, she leans in finding his plush lips ready and waiting, his hands carefully supporting her on her descend, only to wrap around her tightly, settling her in place.
 
As ‘in control’ as he feels, he never seems to be totally. He’s embarrassed himself before and so has she, neither dwelling too horribly on it. Through practice, they’ve found their rhythm. The pair opting to be bright like the sun, growing their relationship past the unfamiliarity of the past. Their passion grows as wildly as the far reaches of their garden, a place they’ll never wander far from, and never one without the other.