“So,” Rose says, one day, while standing over in the gravel-lined section that contains the plants that shares her name: “Glasses, huh?”
“Shut up,” Rey says, not looking up from double-checking the tags for the variety she’s currently pruning: Great Maiden’s Blush. Fitting.
Rose just laughs. “Of all the things…”
Rey glares up at her friend. “It’s not a thing, it’s just—”
“Solo got glasses, and now you’re super horny for him,” Rose finishes with a grin. “It’s reasonable, I’m following along quite easily.”
“Urgh,” Rey groans, and looks back down at the plants in their neat rows of ten-gallon black pots. Each pot is marked with the Skywalker Gardens Logo on it, as is both Rey’s pale blue t-shirt and Rose’s peach one. The sun isn’t really that high in the sky, but she can already tell it’s going to be a hot summer’s day.
“It’s fine to have a type,” Rose continues on, teasingly calm and pointedly ignoring Rey’s discomfort. “I mean, he’s not my type, but… he’s got that brooding thing, I get it. And the glasses, it’s very ‘naughty professor.’”
“I don’t have a type.”
“Yes you do,” Rose says, “And it’s him.”
Rey doesn’t even dignify this with a response.
Ben Solo has been ever-present in her thoughts since she hired on with the Skywalker Gardens team, mostly because he not only works here, but is the owner’s nephew. So she’s noticed him before: How could she not? He’s kind of hard not to notice, being so tall, and broad, and fun to watch when he hefts the 20-gal pots around and breaks out into a sweat.
She’s always had a concept of him as one particular thing: He shows up to work in his pickup truck, wearing one of his many black or gray Skywalker Gardens logo t-shirts that they’re all required to wear, and he works, and he helps, and he moves heavy things and gives plant advice, and then he goes home. What he does in his spare time, she has no idea. He’s kind of like a cryptid to her: The literal strong, silent type. Easy to categorize, so she’d thought, into one specific thing.
Then he’d shown up for work bright and early on a Monday morning wearing a new pair of glasses, and Rey had taken one look at his familiar and, frankly, not unattractive face, and felt something in her body just… clench.
So she was into guys who wore glasses.
Well, no. She wasn’t. Not guys , just… that one.
She’s maybe a little into the glasses, and the face beneath it. It was kind of a paired thing. Like Ben Solo had been a delicious moist cake the whole time, only now there’s frosting on him, and with his cute moles acting like sprinkles she finds herself drifting off into a world where he lets her—
“Rey?” Rose calls out to her, clearly the second or third time she’s tried to get her attention.
“I said I’m going in to refill my water bottle,” Rose says, with a flick of a glance up over Rey’s shoulder and a little behind her. “And you should too, it’s going to be hot today.”
“I will,” she says. “I’ll just finish this row.”
Rose nods. “It’s important to stay hydrated, you know. Especially since it looks like you’re about to dehydrate, thinking about a certain someone—”
“Just because I want to jump into Ben’s arms and lick his neck doesn’t mean I’m going to do that!” Rey exclaims, pushed past the breaking point under Rose’s friendly prodding. “It’s nothing, okay? I should never have said anything.”
Rose’s eyes go a little wide, and she nods, turning and scurrying away down her row. At first, Rey feels a little bad for snapping; she enjoys their teasing banter, the way she and Rose have a whole host of in-jokes and funny memes and ways they communicate at work that might seem like too much to people who didn’t get their sense of humor. Rey’s certainly teased Rose about her crush on Finn, back before they’d hooked up, and she knows she can give as good as she gets. It’s just that this is a tender spot for her, a place where she’s truly and unexpectedly vulnerable, and Rey can’t find the words to explain why she—
The sound of a pointed clearing of a throat behind her makes Rey stop.
Slowly, she straightens up, and turns around.
“Hi,” Rey says.
“Hey,” he manages.
She stares at his face, taking in the familiar lines of it, the dark eyes, the mouth, the stubble on his face, and the new addition of the tidy, rectangular, half-frame glasses which sit on his strong nose, somehow tying the whole of his face together.
He clears his throat again.
“You need to get a drink of water,” Rey says, dumbly. “Rose just—”
“I’m checking on an order for—” he starts, looking down at the paper slip in his black-gloved hands, then flicking his eyes back to meet hers. “Sorry. Yeah. I heard, she…”
Ben nods vaguely in the direction of the main nursery building.
That means he probably heard Rey’s declaration of wanting to lick his neck and jump into his arms. So that’s great.
Rey hopes her blush can be hidden under the general squint-inducing brightness of the day.
“Yeah,” he concludes, awkwardly.
“The— which order?” Rey says.
“Oh,” Ben says, looking back down at the paper. “Ackbar. Water-lilies, Creeping Jenny, Cardinal Flowers, Iris… but he had down ‘Iris’ here, and I didn’t… did you know if it specified which variety?”
“Oh! No. I remember when he came in… Rey frowns a little. “Can I see the order?”
Ben hands it over to her. For the briefest moment, her hands slide along the well-worn black leather of his favorite pair of work gloves, and she takes the paper. It’s got a diagram and plants labeled. She considers it for a moment. “I think he left it up to us. For where it’s placed, I’d go with a dwarf, maybe Eye-Catcher?”
Ben nods at this. “Okay. Thanks.”
He folds the paper and goes to tuck it into the back pocket of his jeans, half turned away from her as her eyes slide guiltily down to his cute ass and long legs.
“Ben, wait,” Rey says.
He stops, and looks back at her.
“I’m… Rose and I tease each other, it’s a thing we have, and it’s not…” Rey grapples for the right combination of words that will make him understand, make him not hate her, make him see her the right way, not like a weirdo who—
“It’s fine,” he says.
But even she can tell that it’s not fine at all. Not from the tone of his voice, not from the downcast look in his eyes.
She doesn’t know what to say.
So she lets him walk away, and she watches him go, enjoying the view but feeling like a stone’s just settled in the pit of her stomach.
Rey likes Ben.
Ben… doesn’t feel the same way.
That much is painfully clear to her as she moves away from the Roses and heads over to the area with the dwarf heavenly bamboo plants. Someone has clearly dragged their plant cart through the row of them, and she crouches down to set the pots right, tug them back into order, makes sure there’s no damage.
She doesn’t even quite know how she feels but it’s clear that he doesn’t feel the same way. Because if he had heard her, wouldn’t he have said, ‘Yes, Rey, I want you to jump into my big, strong, manly, plant-carrying arms, hoist your frame against my rock-solid torso and lick the sweat off of my skin’ right then and there?
Well. Maybe not.
But he would’ve said something about it, right? Something positive and encouraging.
Rey frowns down at the Nandina domestica.
Ben Solo is… not exactly known for being either positive or encouraging.
He’s not precisely a team player; there’s a reason why his favorite place to hide is back by the rows of mature trees, hiding amidst the Acer palmatums and trying to do as much work as he can while interacting with as few people as possible.
Before, she’d seen him one way.
Now, with the glasses, his stare is that much more piercing. His eyes sparkle—how is that fair? Is that even allowed?
Somehow him, plus glasses, equals emotionally compromised.
Rey pulls in an empty and abandoned plant cart from back by the ornamental evergreens, helps four customers find their shrubs, and still can’t get the thought of Ben Solo peering down at her in those fucking glasses out of her mind.
The day wears on.
Rose says nothing at all about her earlier teasing. Rey makes a mental note to let her friend know that she doesn’t have any hard feelings about it. A joke is a joke. She can take it. This is just what they do.
Summer evenings are warm and lazy-hot, and when the sun finally slips beneath the stand of evergreen trees, bathing the nursery in shade, Rey sighs and feels the relief in her whole body.
The last of the customers are checking out now, and Rey is doing one last loop around the perimeter, looking for any carts to return; they seem to always end up over by the evergreen hedges for some reason, and nobody knows why. Some sort of gravitational pull.
Not at all the same thing that Rey feels.
For no reason at all, she seeks out the familiar sight of Ben Solo, clad in his black shirt and his dark jeans and his black work gloves, and she finds him, down one row of beautiful green and gold eight-foot maples.
Her shoes crunch on the gravel.
She can’t speak.
She wants him so much, she can’t breathe.
His dark hair is a bit wavy, pulled and tousled by the wind. His face—he must use SPF 1000 because he never burns or even tans, much, being outdoors as much as he is… His hands flex in their black gloves, and Rey can’t not see the way his forearms flex, too, and his biceps, straining against the short sleeves.
“I’m sorry,” Rey blurts out.
He frowns. “What for?”
“For making you uncomfortable, earlier,” she says. “For saying— I’m sorry.”
“You didn’t make me uncomfortable.” Ben holds his hands at this side a little awkwardly as he stands there, just a few yards away from her. “It’s fine, really.”
“I just didn’t want you to think I—”
“Rey,” he says, “I’ve been made fun of before, it’s fine.”
Now it’s her turn to be confused. “I wasn’t making fun of you.”
At this, he laughs, but there’s no mirth in it whatsoever. Suddenly, he can’t meet her eyes.
“No, I’m serious,” Rey says, taking another step closer, intent, now, on making sure she’s perfectly understood, because for some reason—maybe the same reason why the hedge plants collect abandoned carts and why kids are fascinated with carnivorous plants—she needs him to understand her. She needs him to know.
“You said you wanted to…” Ben sighs, and adjusts his glasses. “Rey, really. People don’t think those sorts of things about me. People like you don’t think those things about me.”
Does he really not know?
Rey stares at him, bewildered and feeling a sense of calm determination fill her.
The wind is in the trees and her heart hammers in her ears, and Ben Solo—the absolute dipshit, who has no idea of the effect he has on women, on her—is standing there like…
“Well, fuck this,” Rey mutters to herself, and then closes the last few feet between them, launching herself into his arms.
Ben is shocked, but he catches her easily, holds her, like he’s as stable as a mature oak. His hands clasp around her waist and he doesn’t even take a half-step backwards, just holds her, his eyes wide through his glasses as he stares down in disbelief.
“People don’t think those sorts of things about you?” Rey asks him, her voice lower than the water table.
“Rey.” He doesn’t say her name so much as groan it.
And he doesn’t put her down.
Her senses scream at her; what the hell is she doing, jumping into his arms like this, just to prove a point?
But then he hoists her up, propping one of his booted feet onto the edge of a sturdy 25-gallon pot holding a beautiful coral-bark maple, effectively making Rey straddle his thigh.
“I guess they do,” Ben says, his voice low and rough and full of wonder.
The moment seems perfect—and then, perfectly fragile.
He can’t honestly want a woman sitting on his leg like that, Rey thinks. Isn’t it uncomfortable?
But as she moves, Rey can’t help it when a little groan escapes her lips; dragging back across his thigh makes the seam of her jeans rub right on her clit, and it’s just… too much.
She gasps; his eyes widen.
“Ben…” his name falls from her lips on a whimper, and oh, the way his pupils shift when he sees her…
Those broad, gloved hands are still on her hips; slowly, he pulls her close again, dragging her easily, repeating the motion. Rey bites her bottom lip, and the expression of pure feral pride that blossoms on Ben’s face is utterly pure and perfect.
He doesn’t think she’d ever—
But she wants to. Oh, she wants it so much.
So she leans forward, breathing in the scent of him, that sweat and earth and greenery, fresh-warm-alive scent of him, sees it as he tilts his jaw away from her, revealing his neck. The challenge, the invitation, is clear as day.
She licks him.
Just the tiniest flick of her tongue against his neck.
Ben groans, deep and low in his throat.
She licks him again. Kittenish at first, hesitant—and then again, a broad swipe, his right hand coming up off of her hips to cradle the back of her head. He tastes like sweat—she knew he would; they’ve been working outdoors all day, and she’s sweaty, too—but also something sweet, something deep underlying his taste.
His hand tightens on her hip, like he’s afraid she’ll float away if he lets go; her licks change to sucking kisses, and his groans become even more obscene, and if anyone comes looking for them they’ll get caught, making out between two beautiful, two hundred dollar trees, the ones she’s seen him carry, his muscles bulging as he lifts them, muscles she’s now caressing, feeling for herself how strong and solid he is.
She’s not going to float away. And he’ll never let her fall.
Rey grinds herself against his thigh again, hears him murmur in response: “That’s it, that—sh… Rey, are you—?”
She pulls her mouth from his skin, tugs his face down to meet hers so she can have his mouth instead. Now that she’s tasted some of him, the idea of not tasting all of him is incomprehensible.
He kisses her back like he’s starving, half-mad, awestruck. This feels like a first kiss, and a second, third, and fourth kiss; this feels intimate and raw and she can’t stop kissing him, can’t stop grinding—not with the way his hand falls on her hip. The other one, the one at the back of her head, tightens slightly on her low ponytail, and then he pulls back, breaking the kiss, looking down at her as his chest heaves, putting the fingertip of the black leather between his teeth, biting down and pulling it off.
Rey doesn’t even dream of getting down from her very comfortable, very sturdy perch.
His right hand—bare, now, and searching up under her shirt—finds the skin of her belly and splays out there like he can feel the way her breathing catches when he flexes his thigh between her legs.
“Shh,” is all he says, and then his fingers dip below the waistband of her jeans. There’s no one around, but she wants to be quiet for him, wants to show him that she wants it just like this. Taking exactly what he gives her.
And she’s wet, when he finds her. Sticky and slick for him, from what he’s done—from what they’ve been doing.
It’s all moving too fast, but Rey can’t stop herself. Neither, it seems, can Ben. But one shift of his hand—it’s awkward, her jeans are tight, this isn’t an easy way to move to get his massive hand between her legs—and she winces, just a bit.
“Is this…?” he starts to say.
Rey just shifts, tilting her hips so his hand can move where she needs him, and rises up to kiss him again.
She’s halfway there when he finds her clit and starts to rub it.
There was no indication when she’d come to work this morning that she’d be coming at work by nightfall, but here, it seems, they are: Ben Solo, peering at her through those new, deeply dangerous glasses, his one hand down her pants, color high in his cheeks as he rocks her into him with his other, is whispering filthy things into her ear as he helps her ride her way to a fast-approaching climax, right here in front of his uncle’s trees…
“...knew you’d feel this good,” he’s saying, half to himself, half to her as she grinds into his fingers, “Knew you’d feel—fuck, Rey, feel so good on my hand, wanna be inside you—”
“Oh my god,” she groans. She wants that, too. The idea of him slipping just one of those thick fingers inside of her is beyond comprehension, never mind all the other things he can try it with.
They can’t do that here, can they?
The thought of getting caught right now fills her with dread and glee and a fearful, heady rush that Rey can’t hold back.
“...feel you come all over my hand,” Ben says, kissing her temple as she buries her face against his neck again, licking and tasting his sweat as she cries out as softly as she can. “Like that, just like that, please let me feel…”
Who knew, Rey thinks, as she edges closer to the peak of pleasure. Who the fuck knew that strong, silent Ben was a talker? Who knew that plush mouth was so filthy, or those hands, in those gloves, could do this.
Rey cries out when she comes, turning and muffling the noise against his sweaty skin, right into his shirt. She shudders against his hand, letting him feel, giving over to him, to the sensation. His gloved hand holds her hip, pets her sweetly over her jean-clad skin, and between her legs she’s undoubtedly soaked enough to have left a mark on his thigh.
She doesn’t care.
It’s so good.
And he’s just holding her, as she comes down from it. Steady and strong, like one of the trees that surrounds them. It feels surreal—or hyper-real. Salt in her mouth and sweat on their skin, the smell of loamy earth and sunlight fading above them, like the row is a cathedral, like Eden itself, and she has so much more knowledge than she did just moments before.
She rubs her hand down his front, feels how hard he is, under his jeans.
And then she squeezes, and Ben shudders, his control utterly gone.
Three things happen in very quick succession, after that:
Ben gasps and his leg—the one she’s been sitting on—twitches to the side.
Rey tilts and goes sliding.
Ben reaches for her, trying to catch her—
And gets a branch right across his face.
“Oh shit!” Rey cries out, as Ben covers the right side of his face with his hands, gloved and bare. “Oh my god, are you okay?”
“Fuck!” he cries out—though clearly not at her; he’s turned away from her, trying to hide the injury.
“Ben, let me see, I’m so—”
She finds her footing on the ground; he’s standing on two shaky legs now, erection likely fading, face covered. When he turns back to her, it’s clear that those new glasses likely saved him from gouging out his eye. Because the branch… it’s caught him from the middle of the forehead all the way down his cheek, a huge bleeding mess of a gash.
“It’s…” Rey can’t lie to him and say it’s not that bad. “We better get you to urgent care.”
“It’s not your fault,” he says, when they’re sitting in the exam room together at the urgent care clinic.
Rey twists his black leather gloves in her hands, body filled with nerves and regret and profound unease.
“Rey,” Ben says her name again, and even gives her a smile—albeit a one-sided smile, because the other side of his face has been taped and even stitched together. “Really. I’ve never run into a tree before, because of a woman.”
“That’s not really the kind of first I was going for,” she says.
His half-smile widens. He reaches out with his hand—Rey blushes to remember where it was, and what he did with it, and how she very much hopes they'll get another shot at that and more—and clasps hers in it.
“What can I say? You leave quite an impression on me.”
“Oh my god.” Rey lets her face fall into her free hand, uncertain whether to laugh or cry.
“No, I’m serious,” Ben presses, his tone remarkably light for someone who’s just had his face sliced open. “You break it, you bought it. We have to date now. Otherwise how am I going to explain this—”
“Ben, shut up.”
When she looks up at him, he’s grinning—wide and open, injured face and all. “Make me.”
So she kisses him.
Very, very gently.