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“You’re going to be late.”

Rey glances at the clock hanging on the wall across the diner. “Shit.”

“Hey, you don’t say that mama, that’s a bad word!”

She casts an apologetic look to the scrutinous little four-year-old staring back at her from the corner booth. “I’m sorry, honeybear. You’re right.”

Ren shakes his head, returning to his coloring, and Rey doesn’t miss the smirk Poe gives her from the kitchen window. “Still going to be late.”

“I know, I know,” she huffs, pulling her apron over her head and tossing it over the counter. “Are you sure you’re okay to watch him?”

Armitage scoffs as he pushes through the swinging door as he saunters out from the back. “I’m half-certain the little hellion likes me better than you.”

Rey opens and closes her mouth, deciding against arguing. She’ll never know why Ren is so taken with the snarky ginger, but she can’t exactly argue with him. “Fine. I shouldn’t be more than an hour or so at most.”

Poe sets a plate out for Kaydel to grab. “Are you sure? I thought these things went on forever.”

“It’s pre-K,” Rey counters. “What could there possibly be to extensively parent-teacher about?”

“Still.” Armitage scooches Ren over in the booth, grabbing for a black crayon and waving it nonchalantly. “If you go over, we’ll just take him home with us after closing.”

“Okay.” She strides across the black-and-white checkered tile, leaning over the booth to cradle her son’s face in her hands. “You be good for Poe and Armitage, okay?”

She brushes his chestnut hair from his eyes, too long already even though he just got a haircut before school started three weeks ago, and starting to curl much like hers did when she was his age. She kisses his freckled nose, grateful for the millionth time in his life that he looks everything like her and nothing like the deadbeat asshole he’ll never meet.

Maaaama.” He tries to squirm out of her grip. “You’re squishing my face.”

“Be good, little man,” she reminds him. 

He nods resolutely. “Uncle Armie promised to draw me a dragon.”

“Uncle Armie is a good boy,” she coos, casting a sly grin in the direction of her now-frowning red-haired friend. 

He snorts as he shakes his Crayon at her. “I allow it with the gremlin, but that’s quite enough from you.”

“Okay, okay,” she concedes. “I’ll be back soon.”

“Have a good day at school dear,” Poe yells from the back.

Rey is still rolling her eyes as she walks out the door.


 

Ren’s school is across town, and Rey has to swap buses twice just to get there. The note in Ren’s backpack last week had certainly worried her, asking her to come in tonight for a parent-teacher conference, and she wishes she at least had some inkling as to what to expect. 

Ren doesn’t have much to say about school when they talk about it, hardly wanting to talk about what they’re learning or how is day went when the bus brings him to the diner every night. He’s even taken to telling her that school is scary—which of course is worrisome, but it’s only their third week after all. It’s all so new for him, having spent the first two years of his life staying with Maz while she worked, and then with Armie a lot when Maz’s age caught up to her. She knows it will take time to adjust to it all.

Ren’s teacher, he tells her, is nice at the very least. She has to admit she’d been a bit thrown to find out that the pre-K teacher was a man, but the limited things Ren has to say about him all positive, so she thinks that’s a plus. 

She navigates down the long hallway of clean, white tile—mentally ticking off the doors she passes in search of the correct one mentioned by the secretary in the office. The door is closed when she finds it, and a peek inside reveals a woman a little older than her sitting across from a large man in a beige dress shirt, the only thing easily recognizable being his head of dark hair that is just a bit longer than she would picture for a teacher. 

Rey notices a little chair outside of the classroom, and she settles into it while she waits, studying the little cork board on the opposite wall that is littered with little handprints of paint that have little names attached to each one that look to be written by the actual students. She picks out Ren’s after only a moment, smiling to herself at the wobbly writing beneath the bright red handprint that is just a little larger than any of the others.

Ren has always been a big boy for his age.

She notices a grease stain along her thigh, frowning as she licks her thumb to dab at it, knowing it will do no good, but hating that she will be meeting her son’s teacher for the first time in her dirty work clothes. Not that she ever has time or reason to dress any other way. 

She’s still fiddling with it when she hears the turn of the door handle, the woman that went before her offering up her thanks as she steps out. A deep voice kindly responds, and Rey’s ears perk up at the pleasant timbre of it, quickly ceasing her useless efforts of stain-fighting and straightening in her chair as the other woman turns to go. Her eyes land on buttons that look a little like they might be in pain, gaze settling unwittingly at mid-chest level, having had no idea she would have to crane her neck to look up at the teacher’s face. 

Rey doesn’t think she’s ever gawked at a person in her entire life—but she’s gawking a little now. 

He’s smiling at her—full lips (and she means full) curling at the corners as he hangs halfway out the door endearingly. “Hi, are you Ren’s mom?”

She might have forgotten how to speak. Rey hasn’t looked at man with anything remotely resembling interest since, well, in a very long time—but she can’t seem to look away from this one. 

He’s Ren’s teacher for God’s sake.

“Y-yes,” she manages, rising from the chair and only wobbling just a little. “Yes, that’s me. Hi.” 

He motions his head inside the classroom, signalling she follow. He moves to let her step inside past him, and she doesn’t mean to brush against his chest as she goes, but he is just so damned big. He fills up the door and perhaps even the room, she thinks.

He closes the door behind her, and she stands frozen on a colored mat that is littered with various shapes and colors, her tongue still a little glued to the roof of her mouth. What is wrong with her?

“I’m Ben.” He offers her his hand. “Ben Solo.”

She takes his hand, marveling at how it swallows up her own. “Rey. Rey Jackson.”

He really shouldn’t smile like he is. In fact, she thinks maybe that it should be illegal. She watches as he takes a seat behind his desk, leaving her still standing like a statue on the damned carpet. He gestures to the seat across from his desk when he notices her gawking, still smiling at her politely. “You can have a seat if you like.”

She shakes off her strange new sense of dumbfoundedness, quickly moving to the seat he’s pointing to and settling into it. “Sorry,” she mutters, her cheeks feeling a little warm. 

“Thanks for coming,” he tells her. “I’m sorry we didn’t get to meet at orientation.”

“No, no.” She shakes her head. “That’s my fault. I was working a double every night that week, and I just couldn’t get away.” 

“It’s okay,” he offers. He cocks his head curiously, and she forces herself not to count the spray of beauty marks across his face. “Are you a nurse?”

God, his voice. 

Surely there is some sort of moral hazard regarding impure thoughts about your son’s pre-K teacher, right? She stamps down those wayward musings, trying to focus only on the conversation. 

“Nothing so grand.” She can’t help but give a little snort, tapping at the diner’s logo on her chest. “Waitress.”

“Hey, people have to eat.” Another one of those little smiles that are making it very hard to keep her less-than-pure thoughts locked up tight. “Nothing wrong with that.”

“Right,” she laughs. “But I’m sure I smell like a grease trap, so. Sorry about that.”

“I smell like Purel and Juice boxes most of the time, so. No judgments.”

She laughs a little, tucking her hair behind her ear in a nervous gesture. “You know, I have to say, I was a little thrown when I learned the pre-K teacher was a man.”

“Yeah.” He huffs out a little laugh. “I get that a lot.”

“Can I ask how you…?”

He blows out a breath. “It's a… long story. I just enjoy it.”

“Fair enough.” She nods slowly. “Well, Ren says nice things about you,” she offers. “When I can get him to actually talk about school.” 

“That’s actually what I wanted to talk to you about.” He reaches into his desk drawer to pull out a little stack of papers. “How Ren is adjusting.”

“Oh?”

“He’s not… taking to the whole thing as well as we might like at this point.”

“It’s only been a few weeks,” she offers, concern creeping up into her stomach. “Surely it takes a while, right?”

“That’s true… but it’s the way he isn’t taking to it that concerns me.”

“What do you mean?”

“Has he ever been in any sort of structured environment like this? Daycare or the like?”

“No.” She wrings her hands in her lap, suddenly feeling as if she’s about to be scolded. “He’s always stayed with family and friends while I work.”

“Ah.” He frowns a little. “That explains a little, at least.”

“Is it that bad?”

He leans over the desk, brow furrowing. “It’s not bad at all. It’s just an adjustment, like anything else. It’s only that Ren seems to be very withdrawn during class activities and when engaging with the other kids, and I just can’t seem to get him to really open up for me.”

“What do you mean?”

“For example, every morning we have circle time where I ask them all to sit in a circle on the carpet there—” He points to the wide carpet she’d been frozen on moments earlier. “—and before they can leave to sit at their tables I will ask them to find an object that starts with the letter we are studying that week.”

“And Ren…?”

“Refuses to participate.”

“Oh, no.” She feels her heart sink. She had no idea. “He’s not—is he just not understanding?”

“That’s the thing.” 

Ben leans back in his chair, running his fingers through his hair and frowning in thought. Her emotions are at war with worry for her son and fixating on the way his bicep strains against the fabric of his shirt. “I think he knows the answers, he just… well. He says he’s scared every time I ask. Sort of withdraws, and sometimes he even cries.”

She feels her heart breaking a little. Her poor baby. “Is that normal at all? Have you ever seen it before?”

“In degrees. I think Ren is a bright kid, there’s just some that you can tell, you know? He’s very articulate and some of the details he picks up on… well. I’m sure you know.”

She does, she nods to tell him so. “So what can I do?”

“There are ways you can work with him at home. I think what's happening is a bit of social anxiety. If he’s never been in this sort of environment before I think that is even more likely. It’s a culture shock.”

“Yes, of course. I can do that.”

“You could devise some sort of point system for when he correctly identifies the numbers or letters we are working with, even if it’s working towards something small like a candy, maybe? Just something to give him some incentive. Make the whole thing more positive for him.”

“Absolutely. I can do that.”

Her worry must read all over her face, because Ben leans back over his desk looking concerned. “Hey. Things like this happen. It’s not the first time I’ve seen it, and it won’t be the last. I just wanted to make you fully aware. At his age, I’m assuming he isn’t communicating any of this.”

Rey shakes her head. “I feel like I did something wrong. That I should have prepared him better.”

“Hey. Hey.” He reaches across to pat her hand, surprising them both, she thinks. “You did nothing wrong. Things like this happen sometimes, Mrs.—”

“It’s Miss.”

“Pardon?”

She blurts it out without thinking, completely interrupting him, and she feels her cheeks heat a little further. “Sorry, I just—it’s just Miss.”

“Oh. Miss Jackson. I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have assumed.”

“It’s okay.” She shakes her head. “Ren’s father isn’t… well. He couldn’t even tell you what color eyes Ren has.” Her own eyes widen a little, surprising herself. “I have no idea why I just told you that. I’m sorry.”

He looks at her for a few seconds longer than necessary, and the warmth in her belly blooms a little deeper. “Ren is a special kid,” he says finally, quietly, carefully, even. “He’s lucky to have you, at least.”

“Thank you,” she half-whispers, a sudden tension between them that she isn’t sure if she’s imagining or not. She clears her throat finally, her nerves getting the best of her. He is Ren’s teacher. “Anyway, I’ll be sure to start working with him every night that I get home in time. I’m sure his uncles and grandmother would be more than willing also.”

Ben smiles that slow, quiet smile that makes her dizzy. “I’m glad there’s a support system for you both.”

“We’re lucky in that way, at least.”

He grabs for the little stack of papers he withdrew earlier, sliding them across. “These are the worksheets I printed out with the numbers we’ve been working on, as well as the three letters we’ve started with. We’re teaching them to recognize capital letters versus lowercase as well.”

“Perfect.” She takes them stack, flipping through it idly. “Could he do any of it?”

Ben points to the marked areas. “So, he recognized these two numbers, and all of his shapes—but refused to tell me what these letters were.”

Rey frowns as she takes in each red x that Ren missed. “I promise I’ll spend all my spare time with this. I hate to think of him getting behind.”

“Don’t stress,” he urges. “It’s not the end of the world. Just something we want to stay on top of.”

Those words are innocent, she reminds herself. She shouldn’t be squirming at stay on top of. It’s ridiculous. “Right. Thank you.”

“Also…” He grabs for a post-it from his desktop, jotting down a note in what she can see even from across the desk is handwriting much neater than her own. “Here’s my cell. I want you to call or text me with any concerns, and I’ll be sure to send you some updates about Ren going forward.”

“Wow, that is…” She tells herself that he probably does this for all the parents. That it doesn’t mean anything. “That’s really nice of you. Thank you.”

“Of course.” She’s going to go into cardiac arrest if he doesn’t stop smiling at her like that. “I’m just glad to help.”

She reaches across the desk to take the post-it from him, the extension of his arm making the sleeves of his shirt ride up a fraction of an inch. There’s a flash of inked color there that wraps all the way around his wrist, and she has to suppress her surprise from reading on her face because how far does that go up? And he isn’t wearing a wedding ring. Not that it matters. Not that it’s important. 

Suddenly it’s a thousand degrees warmer in the room. 

“I really appreciate it, Mr. Solo.”

“Ben is fine,” he murmurs. 

“Ben,” she echoes. Her clothes feel a little too tight, and she awkwardly rises from the chair with a need to separate herself from this ridiculously good looking man who is good with children and may or may not be littered with tattoos under his too-tight button down. “Thank you.”

Ben rises with her, smoothing a hand over his stomach to straighten his shirt, she thinks, but all it does for her is accentuate how firm his stomach seems to be. God help her. 

He follows her to the door, reaching for her elbow as she opens it to halt her. She stares down at where he touches her with wide eyes, and he quickly releases her with a somewhat dazed expression as if he hadn’t meant to touch her in the first place. “Please don’t hesitate to use my number,” he offers quietly, clasping his hands behind his back instead. “If you need me.”

“I’ll do that,” she assures him, throat dry and heart pounding with something she hasn’t felt in a very long time. Something ridiculous, because he is Ren’s teacher. “If I need you.”

“Have a good night, Miss Jackson.”

“Rey,” she tells him softly. “Rey is fine.”

“Rey.” That fucking smile. “Right.”

She makes a fairly hasty exit, and at this point, she isn’t sure if she’s running away for his benefit or her own. 


 

“Come on, honeybear.” She pats his mattress. “Time for bed.”

“But I want to watch Ryan.”

“No, no.” Ryan’s Toy Review is going to be the death of her. “Ryan will be there tomorrow.” 

Fine,” he huffs, flouncing onto his bed.

“Did you have fun with your uncles?”

Ren wrinkles his nose. “Uncle Poe made me watch football.”

“Yuck,” Rey chuckles.

“Yeah, it’s not my favorite.”

“Did Uncle Armie draw your dragon?”

“Yeah. It had purple wings. It was awesome .”

“I’m glad you had fun.” She runs her fingers through his hair as he settles under his Paw Patrol sheets. “You know… I talked to your teacher today.”

“My teacher?”

“Mr. Solo. He seems nice.”

“He gives me stickers,” Ren says proudly, “and cookies.”

“Wow, that’s awesome.”

“It is awesome.”

“So you like Mr. Solo?”

Ren shrugs. “Yeah. I guess so.”

“He says you’re scared to do what he asks you to do.”

Ren looks down at his hands, giving another half-hearted shrug. 

“Ren…” She kisses his hair. “School isn’t scary.”

“It’s not my favorite,” he whispers.

“Are the other kids mean to you?”

“I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?”

Another shrug. “I don’t know.”

“Ren. Talk to mama.”

“I miss mama and grandma Maz and Uncle Armie and Poe.”

“Oh, honey.” She squeezes him tight. “Everyone has to go to school. It’s just part of life.”

“School is scary.”

“It’s not scary,” she urges. “You like your teacher, right?”

Ren nods. “He’s nice.”

“You have to do what he asks, okay?”

“But it’s—”

“Baby,” she chides gently. “When you’re at school, you have to listen to Mr. Solo just like you would me, or grandma Maz, or your uncles. Do you understand?”

His little lip pokes out, and she feels her heart clenching in her chest. “I understand.”

“You don’t have to be scared to do what he asks. He just wants to teach you things. You’re my smart boy, right?”

“I guess so.”

She kisses his temple. “Okay. Go to sleep now. We’ll practice your letters in the morning before school, okay?”

“Okay.”

“I love you.” She puckers up her lips, making him giggle.

He gives her a smacking kiss. “I love you.”

“Night, honeybear.”

“Goodnight, Mama.”

She tucks the covers around his shoulders, sliding out of his bed and hitting the lights. She gives him one last look before she closes his bedroom door, smiling to herself as the gravity of how much she loves this tiny human hits her full force. It’s hard, knowing he’s growing up, and she reminds herself to enjoy the little moments like this with him. That one day he’ll be too big. 

She’s climbing into her own bed a short time later, her eyes flicking back and forth between the clock at her bedside table and her cellphone in her hands. It’s only 8:30–surely it wouldn’t be too late? And she does want him to have her number as well, so that he can give her updates for Ren like he mentioned. It’s innocent, she tells herself. Completely innocent. 

She taps out a quick message, offering her number and thanking him again for updating her on how Ren was doing. Completely casual. Nothing about it that could be construed as invasive. 

And if her heart rate picks up by a dozen counts when her phone sounds with an answering alert? Well. That’s just coincidence. 

I’m really glad you came by. I think Ren is going to be fine. Try not to stress too much about it.

Rey bites at her lower lip, tapping out a thanks again— quickly plugging up her phone and settling under her covers. It’s too early to sleep, really, and she’s more than likely going to stare at her ceiling for a half hour before she passes out with the knowledge that she’ll be crawling out of bed at five am to get her and Ren ready—but her mind races and her chest flutters and it’s ridiculous that she’s sitting here thinking about her son’s teacher but he’s so nice and caring and Jesus Christ the tattoos. He could only have one, it’s likely, even—but her imagination has already fully run away from her. As it has done with every other aspect of Mr. Solo—Ben. 

Rey thinks about that little flash of color at his wrist for the rest of the night.

Chapter Text

Rey is trying her hardest not to be frustrated. She takes a deep breath, pointing again to the bold 3 on Ren’s worksheet. “Come on, baby. You know this. Can you tell mama what number that is?”

His lower lip quivers a bit. “I can’t, ” he whines. “It’s too hard.”

“You’re not even trying.” She keeps her tone soothing. “Can you just try for me?”

“I don’t want to.” His eyes glisten with tears. “I’m scared.”

“Why are you scared?”

“Cause school is scary.”

“It’s not scary,” she sighs. “Everyone has to go to school. Don’t you want to learn things?”

He shakes his head petulantly. “No. Don’t want to. I want to stay with you and Mimi.”

Rey casts a pleading looking to Maz, who looks over her coffee cup with concern. She leans in, patting the back of Ren’s hand. “Now, boy, you know you can do this. You’re as smart as a whip.” He doesn’t say anything, simply tucking his chin into his chest, and Maz squeezes his hand. “Now you tell Mimi where the three is.”

Ren’s eyes dart across the paper as he chews at his bottom lip. He lifts his finger slowly, letting it hover over the worksheet for a few seconds before letting it drop to the bold 3. 

Rey can’t help but squeal in delight. “Good job!” She ruffles his hair before pointing next to the 5. “Now, Can you tell me what this number is?”

Ren immediately shuts back down, lip pouting and eyes welling and her momentary elation crumbles back into frustration. “ Honey. You know this. You know this number.”

Maz pats the back of Rey’s hand lightly, shooing it away before she scoots her chair closer to Ren’s. “Boy, tell me where the five is.”

Ren sniffles as he looks up at her, eyes cutting across to the paper before he slowly points it out.

Rey’s brow furrows. “What does that—”

Maz waves at her to be quiet. “Now, show me where the two is.”

Maz repeats this process for all five numbers that are jumbled in their little row, and to everyone’s surprise, he is able to point out every single one. Rey can’t make sense of it, seeing as she’s just spent half an hour trying to get her to tell her what they are—not knowing what the difference between telling her and pointing them out is. 

“What do you think that means?”

Maz gives a shrug, taking a sip of her coffee. “I’m not a teacher.”

Rey grabs for her phone, opening it to the video camera and pointing it at the paper as she repeats the painful process of trying to get Ren to name the numbers. She quickly switches to Maz’s method—recording Ren point out each one when given the name, then switches the camera off to open a message.

She glances up at the clock to find it’s only just after six, and the frantic worry in her doesn’t allow for her to overthink her decision. She quickly sends the video to Ben, tapping out an explanation as to what Ren is doing and tacking on a query for insight. She chews at her thumbnail as she waits for it to deliver, and then still for the handful of minutes until she sees dots dancing across the screen. 

Hm. I can’t really say why he could do one and not the other, but at least he knows the material. 

I just can’t figure out why he gets so upset when we try to work with him.

Don’t get too stressed about it. Sometimes these things happen. At least now I have a little more to go off of going forward. I’ll work with him in the morning. 

I really appreciate you putting up with my neurotic text messages. 

I’m here for all your neurotic text messages. 

It probably shouldn’t make her stomach flutter, something so simple, but there’s a flapping inside that’s hard to staunch as she grins back at her screen. 

“What did he say?”

Rey quickly turns her phone back down on the table, schooling her features as she looks up at her adopted mother. “He said he will work with him more tomorrow.”

“You’ve been texting that teacher a lot this week.”

“And?”

Maz raises an eyebrow. “Always smiling down at your phone when you do.”

Rey gives her a shrug, looking nonchalant. “He’s helping me with Ren.”

“Mhm.” Maz takes a slow sip. “Is he attractive?”

Rey feels a blush creeping up her neck. “I don’t know.”

“You don’t know?”

“I mean, objectively speaking—I’m sure there are people who would consider him—not that I’m looking—” 

Maz rises from the table, shaking her head as she moves for the hallway, a sly grin at her mouth that she sports the entire way out of the room. 

“He’s Ren’s teacher!” Rey calls after her. 

She scowls when Maz shouts back, “Keep telling yourself that!”

Rey blows out a breath as Ren tugs at her sleeve. “Mama, can we go home now?”

“You’re ready to go home?”

He nods. “I wanna watch toys.”

Rey gives a little laugh under her breath. She’s never seen a little person so enthralled with YouTube. “Sure. Go give Mimi love.”

He bolts down the hall after her as Rey begins to gather his things. “Okay!” 

They both wander back into the kitchen moments later, Maz pressing a kiss at his hair and pulling him in for a hug as she promises him cookies when he gets home from school the next day. Rey loves seeing them together—Ren already rivaling the older woman in height, so much that Rey thinks in just a few short years it will be Ren who has to bend down to hug his grandmother. 

Maz regards her next, shuffling over to rub her arm in comfort. “Don’t get yourself in a tizzy over this,” she tells her. “He’s only four. He’ll get it.”

“I just hate the idea of him being behind.” Rey frowns. “He’s already so skittish about the whole thing. I hate the thought of him falling behind on top of that.”

“It’s still only been a few weeks,” Maz reminds her. “Give him a little more time. He’s just got to warm up to it is all.”

Rey nods if only to assure herself that Maz is right. “Yes. Yes. You’re right. I know. It’s just so nerve-wracking.”

“Well,” Maz chuckles, reaching to the floor to grab for Ren’s backpack and depositing it into Rey’s hands. “At least you have the might-be-attractive teacher to help.”

Rey is still blushing minutes later when she is loading Ren into the car. 


 

Friday evenings are always fairly busy for the diner, and Rey is grateful that her son is so self-sufficient, content to sit in his little corner booth coloring while Rey and the other waitresses deal with the multitude of waving hands and excuse me’s floating around the dining area. They take turns checking on him—Poe or Armitage or even Kaydel, when Rey can’t. There’s at least another hour left in her shift, depending on whether or not these crowds clear out, and already Rey wishes she could slide off these shoes and sink into a warm bath. 

But that will have to wait. 

She doesn’t think much of it when the bell over the front door chimes to signal a new entry—so she hardly looks up from her ticket book when she tosses a be right with you over her shoulder. To their credit, they don’t huff or make a show of it like some of them do, just stands quietly in the entry as she finishes hitting down her last order to hang it up in the kitchen window. 

She straightens her apron then, turning to give the new customer her attention. “Sorry about that,” she says distractedly, trying to tuck her pen into her apron pocket. “How many do you...”

She doesn’t mean to trail off dazedly, mouth ajar and eyes wide. It’s only that she thinks in her mind she’s been able to downplay a bit just how good he looks. In the week since she’s seen him, she’s been able to pretend that she imagined the way his shirt clings to him, the way his hair begs to have fingers run through it, or even the way his mouth begs for something decidedly more than that. 

“Just me,” he informs her, shrugging his shoulders a bit in his dark grey Henley and making them seem larger than they are. 

She swallows thickly, trying to paste on a more professional expression than dumbstruck awe. “Ben.” Her voice is still off, too breathy. “What a surprise.”

He gives her an easy grin, and that little row of slightly imperfect teeth shouldn’t elevate his entire face to otherworldly proportions—but tell that to the fluttering in her chest. 

“I was out walking and saw the sign,” he says easily. “I remembered the logo from your shirt. Got curious.”

“Right,” she answers distractedly. Of course he didn’t come here looking for you, you idiot. “Well, this is it.”

“It’s cute,” he tells her, making a show of letting his eyes sweep around the room just before landing back on her. “I think I’ll stay for dinner.”

“R-right.” Get a grip, Rey. “There’s an open table just over—”

“That seat taken?”

He points across the way to the little booth where Ren is now glancing up with recognition. He gives a wave at his teacher, paired with a toothy grin, and Rey gapes between them for a handful of seconds. “You want to sit with Ren?”

“Sure.” His smile widens a fraction. “If that’s okay with you.”

“Sure,” she answers airily. “Of course.”

Ben plucks a menu from the little stand as he strolls across the room to tuck his too-large body in the bench seat across from Ren. Her son is immediately excitable, perking up and half-leaning across the table to regard his teacher. Rey watches this from a few feet away, her insides twisting with a heat she can’t quite name. 

What? Mr. Solo! What are you doing here?”

“I got hungry,” Ben chuckles. “Isn’t that why you’re here?”

No,” Ren huffs. “I color while Mama works.”

“Oh, shoot. I guess you can’t tell me what’s good to eat then. Can you.”

Ren’s little face scrunches up in thought just before his eyebrows shoot up. “I like cheeseburgers.”

“Yeah? They’re good?”

Ren nods emphatically. “Super amazing.”

Ma’am, can I get a refill?”

Rey has to tear her eyes away from what might be the most charming thing she’s ever witnessed—pursing her lips before she turns back to the pair of them. “I’ll be right back to take your order,” she assures Ben. “What to drink?”

“Water is fine.”

She gives him a nod, forcing herself to walk away from their chatter and moving to tend to the other guests. She refills cups and takes payment, settling up with the families and couples that had already been seated—trying and failing not to sneak glances at the little booth in the corner where Ben is still listening attentively to what she is sure is an elaborate rambling from her son. He doesn’t look uninterested though, in fact, he looks… content . To be sitting there. As if he actually enjoys it. 

Rey thinks her ovaries do a somersault. 

She’s filling his glass of water behind the counter when others take notice of what’s going on. 

“Who is that?”

She looks up to find Poe leaning out the kitchen window, hardly even being subtle as he gawks at Ben’s massive form seated across from Ren.

“That’s Ren’s teacher,” she mutters back. 

Armitage’s mop of ginger hair joins the little gawking party, poking out the little window as well with an open mouth. “That’s the teacher?”

Rey nods. “Mhm.”

“What is he teaching them?” Poe snorts. “How to maintain a six pack?”

Rey shushes him violently. “Shut up.”

“He looks like he could fill an entire pre-K class with the love children all the women begged him to make with them,” Armitage chimes in.

Rey groans, closing her eyes and shaking her head. “Cut that out. I have to go back over there.”

Poe waves a hand out the window to halt her. “Is he single?”

“I’m sure he isn’t,” Rey mutters. “There’s no way he is.”

“Wedding ring?”

She purses her lips. “Not… that I saw.”

“So you were looking,” Armitage says with a little ah-ha.

Rey grabs for Ben’s glass of water, stomping away from the pair of them before the blush in her cheeks rises to astronomical proportions. She just manages to calm herself when she approaches the table to set down his glass, heart lurching violently in her chest when he looks away from Ren to give her that smile that makes it a little hard to think.

She clears her throat. “Did you decide what you want?”

“Apparently, I have to get a cheeseburger.”

Rey flicks her eyes to her son, who is nodding emphatically. “Oh yeah?”

“They’re super amazing,” Ben laughs softly. 

It’s really not fair to my ovaries for you to be doing that, sir.

She just manages to not swoon like an idiot. “Great. Anything else?”

“I heard the milkshakes are pretty good, too,” he says. 

“They’re so good,” Ren pipes up. 

“Can I get two?”

Rey’s brow furrows. “Two?”

“Yeah.” Ben points across the booth to the gleeful looking little boy. “I have to pay him back for steering me in the right direction.”

“Oh, you don’t have to—”

“It’s fine, Rey. I want to.”

Rey looks at him a second too long, because what choice does she have really when he looks like that—just managing to scribble down his order, and assure him it’ll be right out. 

“You be good over here,” she tells Ren. 

“Mr. Solo is going to draw me a chicken.”

She can’t help but laugh a little then. “Careful,” she tells Ben. “He’ll have you drawing the entire animal kingdom if you let him.”

“I’m a terrible artist,” Ben says with a little wrinkle in his brow that Rey wants to smooth with her fingers. “But I’ll do my best.”

Her ribs are going to crack with the way her heart is pounding. What is wrong with her? “R-right,” she manages. “I’ll be right back with your food.”

That fucking smile. “I’ll be here.” 

Rey walks away from the table before she does something really stupid. Something really stupid she’d very much like to do, she thinks. 

She reminds herself he is Ren’s teacher— but honestly, at this point… it’s doing very little to help.


 

It is Kaydel who takes Ben’s order to him after everything—Rey preoccupied with another table, and she would like to say that the glances she sneaks in that direction are wholly for Ren’s benefit, but she can’t do that without being a liar. Ben never looks disgruntled to be the victim of Ren’s incessant chatter. He listens attentively, playing along with his antics, and Rey has no idea why he’s here, why he would subject himself to this even after school hours—but she can’t deny what it does to her. Seeing a man other than his uncles show him such kindness and attention. 

It makes her think all sorts of impossible things. 

Ben’s plate is empty by the time the dinner crowd has begun to thin, pushed to the side as he chats with Ren who he slurping down the last bit of his milkshake, and she can’t help it, she thinks. Making her way over there. To check on Ren, she assures herself. 

Right. 

“So how was it?”

Ben crosses his arms against the table, grinning. “Great. Ren knows what he’s talking about.”

“I told you,” Ren flaunts between sips. 

Rey sweeps her son’s hair back from his forehead. “Have you been good for Mr. Solo?”

“I was good.”

Rey cocks an eyebrow in Ben’s direction, and he nods assuredly. “Perfect.”

“It was nice of you to sit with him,” she offers. “He…” Her eyes flick down with guilt. “He spends a lot of time here. His grandma gets tired, you know? She can’t keep him every day.”

“You do what you can,” he says with understanding. “That’s all you can do.”

“I… also wanted to thank you.” His brows raise in question, and she clears her throat. “For indulging me this week. I know I’ve been sort of bombarding you with all my worry.”

The corners of his mouth hitch up, and it’s hazardous to her health—how cheerful he is. “You can bombard me anytime, Rey.”

Her mouth parts a little, her pulse pounding away in her ears because it’s been a very long time since a man has flirted with her—so long that she can’t be sure if that’s what’s happening here, but oh, what it does to her. 

She knows her face must be flaming, but somehow she only manages to stammer a little when she asks to take his plate. He reaches to grab it and hand it over, his outstretched arm making his sleeve pull back at the wrists and there is more color on this arm as well. 

Illegal, she thinks. He should be utterly illegal. 

She feels sensations deep down in her belly that she hasn’t felt in a very long time—and she knows later tonight she will be locking her door after Ren goes to bed to deal with them, something that only makes her blush further. 

“Did you see the permission slip in Ren’s backpack today?”

She halts what was about to be a quick retreat, turning her head. “No? I haven’t gotten to go through his backpack yet.”

“Ah. Well. We want to take them to the museum next week. We’re studying dinosaurs.”

“Oh, that sounds fun.” She cuts her eyes nervously to her son who is now trying to noisily suck that last little bit of his shake from the bottom of his glass. “Do you think it’s a good idea considering…”

“I think it would be great. Give him something positive to associate with school.”

“Right.” She nods time herself. “Yes. You’re right. I’ll sign it tonight to send back Monday.”

“Great! I think it will be really fun for the kids.”

Rey gives a little snort as shakes her head. “You’re braver than I am, wrangling all those four year olds.”

“I can handle it,” he laughs. “I’m bigger than all of them.”

Don’t look at his chest. Don’t look at his chest. Don’t look at his chest. 

She does. Just a little. 

“Yeah. Anyway…” She holds up his empty plate. “Better get this to the kitchen.”

“Right.” He moves to slide out of the booth. “I’d better get going anyway. Ren?” He holds out an open palm across the table to the little boy who promptly high-fives it. “Thanks for helping me out, buddy.”

Ren waves with gusto. “Bye, Mr. Solo!”

She takes a step back to allow his large form to unfold from the booth, and he straightens just before giving her one last look. “There’s also a signup sheet for chaperones with that permission slip.” His smile is quiet now, and yet it’s so much louder than the rest—or maybe that’s just the pounding of her own heart. “If you’re interested.”

He offers her a goodbye then, and she thinks she answers—but honestly she’s too dazed to be sure. Surely he isn’t—surely he can’t be—

She jumps when a finger pokes into her side, finding Armitage just watching her watch Ben walk out the door as he smirks through it all. “You’ll catch flies if you let your mouth hang open like that.”

“Shut up,” Rey grumbles, pushing past him towards the kitchen. 

She hears Armitage dramatically accusing Ren of replacing him as he slides into the other side of the booth—but it all sort of fades away as she spares one last glance out the wide window to catch a glimpse of his dark hair and his wide shoulders disappearing down the sidewalk, telling herself not to look into it too much. Maybe he’s just being nice. Maybe he’s just looking out for Ren. It is his job, after all. 

Still, despite everything inside telling her why it can’t be anything more than that—Rey thinks about Ben’s quiet little smile for the rest of the night. 

Chapter Text

Rey can’t describe the elation she feels when the picture comes through. 

She grins down at her phone, seeing Ren beaming back at her proudly as he holds the tiny treasure he’s been rewarded. She rubs her thumb across the screen lovingly, the caption beneath offering a bit of relief from the rocky journey they’ve had. 

He did the morning exercises today. I let him get something out of the treasure chest.

She has to admit that she’s been down. Ben had sent a video only two days ago of him attempting to get Ren to participate, showing her firsthand how hard it is for her son to join in—but this tiny bit of progress, even if just a picture, gives her hope that things will get better. 

“What are you smiling at?”

Rey quickly presses her phone to her chest, whipping around to find Armitage standing behind her with a sly grin. Rey purses her lips, turning up her phone to maximize the photo of Ren and show him.

“Ren participated this morning.”

“Hey, that’s awesome!” Armitage snatches the phone before she can stop him, looking closer. “He looks stoked.”

“I know,” Rey smiles, subtly trying to take her phone back. “I think maybe he’s doing a little better.”

Armitage cocks an eyebrow. “So… his teacher seems really… helpful.”

“Don’t start.” She manages to swipe the phone away, frowning as she tucks it into the pocket of her apron for the moment. “He’s just Ren’s teacher.”

“Ren’s ridiculously hot teacher.”

She can’t exactly argue, so she doesn’t attempt to. She hasn’t been able to get that damned smile of his out of her head for days. “It doesn’t matter. He’s just doing his job.”

“I went to school once. I don’t remember all this one-on-one attention.”

“Maybe you just had terrible teachers.”

“Maybe you’re just in denial.”

“No, I’m not.”

“Oh, come on, Rey. He likes you! I’ve only drooled over him once, and I caught it.”

Rey chews at her bottom lip. “There’s no reason to think he means anything by how nice he’s being. He seems to really love his job.”

“And I’m sure he does,” Armitage counters, “but it’s not so far-fetched to believe he also finds you attractive.”

Rey snorts. “Right. Guys are lining up for the single-mother waitress in Keds.”

“Don’t fucking do that,” Armitage chides. “Don’t belittle yourself. Not everyone is like Ren’s asshole father.”

She casts her eyes to the floor. Truth be told there have probably been opportunities over the years for her to date—but the idea of putting herself out there again, the possibility of being hurt again, of being left all alone—it’s terrifying. Because it isn’t just her emotions that are at stake now. She has to think of Ren, too.  So yes, she’s guarded. But is that such a bad thing to be considering everything she’s been through?

“I don’t know,” she sighs, finally. “Even if he did like me, and I’m not saying he does—the fact remains that he is Ren’s teacher. If it didn’t work out, it would be awkward for everyone involved. It’s probably best not to risk it.”

Armitage shakes his head. “Sometimes you have to take risks to be happy. You can’t push everyone away without giving them a chance.”

“I am happy,” she urges.

“You’re satisfied,” he counters. “I don’t think it’s the same thing.”

“I—”

“And you deserve to be happy,” he keeps going before she can argue.

Rey bites at her bottom lip. She feels emotion well up in her chest she hadn’t been prepared for, thinking on lonely nights unbidden and disappointment and heartbreak and all of the things she’s climbed over since she first saw that positive pregnancy test—and it’s too much, she thinks. Too much to think about right now.

“I promise you,” she says quietly. “I’m okay. Really. There’s Maz and you guys and Ren— we have everything we need.”

Armitage lets out a deep breath. “If you say so. I just worry about you.”

“And I love you for it, Armie,” she teases.

“Now, now, I don’t love you that much,” he grumbles.

“Sure,” she laughs. 

He rolls his eyes as he wanders back to the kitchen, and she resists the urge for a few seconds, telling herself that she meant everything she said. That it’s not a good idea, whether or not Ben’s kindness means more than what it seems like. But temptation wins the day, and within a minute Rey is pulling out her phone to pull up that same thread, smiling down at the photo and Ben’s text beneath it, staring doing at the words as she tells herself to leave it at that. Even if she knows she won’t. 

He did the morning exercises today. I let him get something out of the treasure chest.

This makes me so happy. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate you.

And she thinks that it’s perfectly fine. A perfectly fine response that can’t be read into and can’t be mistaken for anything more—it’s fine. 

Until his reply comes through. 

I’m sure you could, if you put your mind to it.

Rey’s mouth gapes a little as her heart begins to pound, cheeks heating from only this because there is no other way to take this except playful. Flirty, even. 

She wonders if Armitage is more perceptive than she gives him credit for. 

But even if her heart is racing, even if the blood rushes in her ears, even if she has to press her thighs tighter together only from a sentence— she knows deep down that what she told Armitage is true. It’s not a good idea. There are too many things that could go wrong, and then where would they be? 

So she doesn’t respond, even though she desperately wants to. She types out at least a dozen possible answers, deleting each one before finally stowing her phone away to forego a response altogether. 

She would like to say that she doesn’t think about the text for hours after, that she doesn’t continue to consider a number of things she might say in return, that she doesn’t fantasize about even upping the ante a little and downright flirting with this ridiculously good-looking man who is wonderful with children and seems to have walked out of a catalogue—she would like to say that.

She really would.


She would also like to say that she doesn’t think about the weight of her phone in her pocket throughout the lunch shift, but she does. 

She thinks about Armitage’s words, knowing somewhere deep down that he’s right— that she does push people away before they have the chance to hurt her. It’s a habit she picked up naturally, given the last person she trusted proved to be a whole other level of disappointment. 

The only thing he left her with was the little cartoon dust cloud in his wake after she’d told him she was pregnant. 

Well, that and her crippling trust issues, that is. 

If it weren’t for Ren—if it weren’t for that one bright spot in a giant blend of awful— she might not have made it through. It’s the only thing that keeps her from devolving into a morose cloud of darkness. She is grateful, at least, for that. Ren is something to be grateful. 

Even if the deadbeat will never know that. 

But none of that matters, she tells herself. It doesn’t matter because this thing with Ben—not that she can even call it a thing— and honestly, that’s the crux of the matter, isn’t it?

There’s nothing to consider. Nothing more than a few smiles and a few lip-biting texts that hardly amount to anything. Someone who looks like Ben… well. Surely he won’t have trouble getting over her blatant dismissal. Someone like him could have whoever he wanted.

Which only makes her wonder why on Earth he’d even want her in the first place. 

Self-doubt. She might almost laugh. Maybe the dirtbag left her with more than she thought. 

She startles a bit then with her phone begins to hum in her pocket, but she lets it vibrate away, given that she’s in the middle of carrying out an order. It goes still before she can get to it, and a good number of minutes pass before she’s done passing out the plates she carried, only able to check it when she gets back to the kitchen to stow the tray. 

A lump forms in her throat when she glances at the missed call log— Ben staring back at her in bold. What could he be calling for? The time reads just after one, and there are a few hours yet till school is out, which instantly makes her worry. She pushes further back into the kitchen until she’s near the freezers, quickly tapping his name to call him back.

His voice isn’t one she’s prepared to have directly in her ear, and for a moment it jars her. Was it always that low?

“Rey?”

She shakes it off, even though her heart rate has picked up a little. “Hi. I’m sorry I missed your call—we’re still in a bit of a rush at work and I—”

“That’s okay,” he interrupts, the frown on his face apparent by his tone. “I called because there’s a bit of a situation here.” He pauses for a moment, and her heart jumps into her throat. “A situation with Ren.”

Her heart is racing now—and it has very little to do with Ben and his voice that makes her a little breathless. “Is he—is he okay?”

“Yes, yes,” he assures her. “He’s fine. Mostly. He’s just very upset.”

She stumbles back into a lone chair near the rickety old desk Poe does the books in, grasping the arm for support. “What happened?”

“Well, I don’t know how to sugar-coat it, so I won’t—he bit another kid.”

Rey blinks a few times. “He bit someone?”

“Yeah. Listen, it’s not the first time it’s happened, but—”

“Ren has never bit anyone in his entire life! What happened? Where were they?”

“On the playground. I didn’t actually see it—I was with another kid at the slide—but the other attendant tells me—”

“You didn’t see it? Was no one watching them?”

“Now, Rey, there’s a lot of kids, and sometimes they—”

She feels heat flood her chest despite the irrationality of it all. “That’s ridiculous! Someone should have been keeping a better eye on them. Something must have happened. Ren wouldn’t just bite someone.”

She knows she’s being harsh, and a little ridiculous—but embarrassment floods through her that wars heavily with the worry that already lives there.

And Ben… Ben never gets upset. He gives her a second to get her bearings, and when he speaks again, it’s just as calm. Just as soothing. It makes her upset with herself for her outburst even more.

“Rey,” he says quietly. “I’m sorry. I know this is upsetting, but you know I’m doing my best.”

She takes a few steadying breaths, closing her eyes and nodding even though she knows he can’t see her. “I know that,” she answers, contrite. “I’m sorry.”

“Don’t be sorry. I know how frustrating this is.”

She swallows thickly. “What… what happened?”

“He won’t tell us, and the other kid won’t either. When we ask him why he did he just—”

“What? He just what?”

Ben sighs. “He says that he, ‘just wanted to go home.’”

She feels her heart break a little. “My poor baby.”

“Don’t,” he tells her, seeming to sense the dread in her voice. “He’s still adjusting. This isn’t anyone’s fault. The principal had a talk with him, but he—”

“God, the principal.”

“Hey. Hey. It’s really okay. I promise you. This isn’t the first bite I’ve dealt with, and it won’t be the last. I just wanted to make you fully aware.”

She feels her lip quiver a bit. “What about the other parent?”

“I’ve already called her. She was very understanding, considering.” He laughs a little. “And don’t worry, she gave me a lot worse of an ass chewing than you did for not seeing it happen.”

She can’t help the little bubble of laughter that escapes her, the knot in her chest unwinding and how on Earth did he do that?

“I’m sorry,” she says again.

“Don’t be.” He clears his throat. “I did think it might be a good idea for you to come get him. He’s very… withdrawn and upset.”

She glances at the hanging clock, thinking of the diner full of people still outside. “Kaydel won’t be in for another forty-five minutes,” she mourns. “I can’t get there for an hour, at least.”

“That’s okay,” Ben soothes. “This next hour is my planning period. I’ll let him sit in here with me while the others nap. I think he’s too wound up to sleep.”

Some tight emotion bubbles up in her chest, and her eyes are a little wet with gratitude. “Thank you,” she breathes. “Really.”

“It’s not a problem,” he tells her. “It really isn’t. I’ll see you soon?”

“Yes. Yes, I’ll see you soon.”

“Don’t worry, Rey. I’ve got him.”

Rey can’t tell him what those words do to her—doesn’t think he can possibly understand what it means to hear him say them, and she stares down at her phone for far longer than she can afford to after she hangs up. 

Don’t worry, Rey. I’ve got him. 

She wonders if he knows that in this instance, in doing so—he’s got her a little, too. 


She’s rushing, by the time she reaches the school—flying down the halls with hurried steps in search of Ren’s classroom. Ben is waiting for her outside in the hall, and it’s odd, the relief this brings her. 

“Hey.” Her eyes dart behind him to the closed door. “Is he—?”

Ben holds out his hands. “He’s okay. I just wanted to talk to you first.”

“Okay.” She bites her lip, tapping her toe a little anxiously. “About?”

“You sounded… distraught. On the phone. I wanted to make sure you were okay.”

“I’m fine. I just want to see Ren.”

“I just want to make sure you aren’t too hard on yourself about this. Or on him.”

“He bit someone, Ben. I mean, I’m worried about him—but still. Biting someone?”

“I understand,” Ben says calmly. “But you have to understand that he's just acting out. Kids don’t process things like we do.”

“I’m not going to punish him,” she sighs. “I just want to get to the bottom of it.”

“I know, I know.” He places a hand on her upper arm, in comfort, she thinks, but it makes her tense with something else. “And you should— but maybe just… not tonight. He’s already so upset. I’m afraid pushing him on the matter might just make it worse. Maybe save it for tomorrow.”

She purses her lips, wrestling with both the prickling sensation of someone giving her advice about her child and also knowing that most likely—he’s absolutely right. She blows out a breath, nodding softly. 

“Yeah. Okay. No. You’re probably right.”

“I don’t mean to pry,” he offers. “I’m just trying to help.”

“I know you are.” She smiles a little to herself. “You’ve been doing a lot of that.”

The corner of his mouth hitches up in a grin. “I get the sense you aren’t used to that.”

“Not… outside of my family.”

“That explains why you’re so wary of it.”

He’s still giving her that little smile, and her chest flutters in a way that’s become synonymous with him, swallowing around her tongue which is now a little dry. 

“Well, you know…”

She doesn’t. Not really. She doesn’t even know what she was going to say. 

“I also wanted to talk to you about the field trip on Friday.”

Rey grimaces. “Oh. Oh, right. I’m sure you don’t want him coming now.”

“What? No.” Ben shakes his head. “Of course I do. Ren could use the positive experience.”

“Oh. Okay. Yes. Of course.”

“But I think you should come too.”

Her mouth falls open a little. “What?”

“We still have an open slot for a chaperone—and I think Ren would benefit if you came with him. It would help him relax, I think.”

She chews at her bottom lip. “You think so?”

“I do. Plus…” He turns his head both ways down the hallway, finding her face again as his eyes move over it. “I’d really like it if you came.”

Her breath catches a little. “You would?”

“Yeah.” He nods slowly. “I would.”

Nerves well up inside, and there are words on her tongue that she needs to get out—ones that explain why he shouldn’t say things like that to her. Why he can’t— and he’s still looking at her like that, and—

“I just meant I think you could use a day off,” he tells her, cutting through her anxious thoughts. “Have some fun with Ren.”

Oh. Oh . Of course that’s what he meant. She’s such an idiot. A laugh bubbles out of her, but it sounds self-deprecating to her own ears. She nods down at the floor. “Right. Yeah. You’re totally right. I’m sure I can get Kaydel to cover for me. She sort of owes me one, anyway.”

His tiny grin splits into a full-blown smile—and it almost knocks the damned wind out of her. So much that she has to avert her eyes just to keep from doing something really stupid—like kissing it off his face. 

Get a grip, Rey. 

“So.” She clears her throat. “Ren?”

“Right.” He motions past him towards the door. “He’s just drawing at his table. He really likes to draw, that one.”

She grins. “Yeah, he does.”

“So I can put you down then? For Friday?”

She tells herself she’s imagining the hopeful look in his eyes, because she probably is, but she nods all the same. 

“Yeah,” she tells him. “Yeah, I’ll be there.”

His eyes crinkle are the corners, and no matter what she makes of it—she definitely doesn’t imagine that, at least. “I’m glad to hear that.”

She opens the door to a toothy grin and a collision-type hug—holding her son close as she kisses his hair and holds him tight. She catches Ben’s eyes from over Ren’s head, a look in his eyes that makes her warm all over, and… well.

She doesn’t think she imagines that either.

Chapter Text

Rey rides the bus several times a week, but it is a far cry from what she’s experiencing today. 

There is excited chatter all around her—shrieks of delight and squeals of stop touching me at every turn, but she’s oddly happy to be a part of it all. She’d been surprised when a little girl had asked Ren to sit with her, and even more surprised when he’d agreed, leaving her to sit alone in a bus seat, trying and failing to not sneak glances at the both of them. 

But that’s not the only problem she’s having.

A dark head of hair sits in the seat just in front of her, and it has this tendency to keep turning in her direction—leaving her a frazzled mess mostly.

“Ren might end up being a little heartbreaker. You’d better watch out.”

Rey purses her lips, cutting her eyes to the couple in question where the little girl is offering up a cookie to share with her son. “Am I supposed to feel like this?”

Ben laughs a little. “He’ll always be your baby. Thankfully, there’s nothing to worry about but cookies and bad jokes right now.”

“True.” She’s still watching them absently. “I’m glad he’s making friends.”

“Kira is a sweet girl,” Ben tells her. “She’s always been nice to Ren. Calls him her boyfriend.”

Rey groans. “Oh, God. It starts.”

“She did have to sit through timeout last week because she pulled a boy’s hair who took Ren’s crayon. If it makes you feel better.”

“That’s my kind of girl,” Rey grins, finally allowing herself to turn and look at Ben. 

Mistake.

He’s wearing a button-down again, something he seems prone to when he’s on the clock—but with the way he’s turned to lean against the bus window, head swiveled fully in her direction to leave a gap at the collar where that last button just can’t seem to stay done—Rey can see one lone swirl of ink touch the end of his collarbone. She knows he can’t see the way her thighs press together, knows it’s definitely not appropriate that she’s having to do so given where they are, but he’s smiling now, opening his mouth to say something, and she’s definitely wondering how she’s going to survive this field trip. 

“I’m surprised you chose to ride the bus,” Ben laughs softly. “The other chaperones drove themselves.”

“Ah, well,” Rey shrugs. “No car. So.”

“Oh.” Ben’s brow furrows. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to—”

She waves him off. “Don’t be. I would have anyway, I think.” She spares another glance at her son, who is laughing now at something Kira just said, feeling something in her chest unwinding with his apparent happiness. “I just worry about him. All the time.”

“A parent’s curse, I’m sure. Not that I’d know… but still.”

“So you don’t have any kids of your own then?”

Ben shakes his head. “Never really got that far.”

“I’m sorry if his is horribly inappropriate, but that is… very surprising.”

Her cheeks heat when his lips curl, not missing the way his eyes flick over the lines of her face. “You think so?”

“Well.” She clears her throat. “It’s just that you’re so obviously good with kids.”

“Right.” He’s still smiling, and she’s fairly certain she’s as transparent as the glass in the windows. “I don’t know. I wasn’t always… well. I was a lot different when I was younger.”

“Because you’re so old,” Rey chuckles.

“They do say thirty is the new twenty-one.”

“Oh, do they?”

“Sure. Somewhere. Probably.”

She can’t help the way she’s grinning, can’t help how easy it is—just like she can’t help but feel a little fluttery with the knowledge that he’s only six years older than her. Not that it matters. Of course not. Right. 

“So.” She clears her throat, needing a change of subject. “What can I expect on this field trip?”

Ben smiles in earnest then, and it’s blinding, it’s terrible, it’s impossible to look away. “It’s an enclosed space with two dozen four-year-olds.”

“And?”

He shakes his head, turning more fully to let his chin rest on the arm that’s draped over the back of the seat. “Chaos, Rey. You can expect chaos.”


She’s not watching him. She’s not

It’s mostly true, considering he’d been more than right about the utter chaos that is so many just-more-than-toddlers running around a structured building with exhibits that they’re not really supposed to touch. But she still finds herself sneaking glances as she follows the little wrangled group of Ren’s classmates, listening intently to every word he directs at them. 

He stops just beside a large fossil skull, bringing his finger to his lips in a shushing motion so that the children will quiet down. “Now, does anyone know what this is?”

A handful of voices call out, “T-Rex!”

“Close!” Ben clicks his tongue. “This is an Allosaurus skull. Very close to a T-Rex, but smaller. However—” Ben grimaces, casting an overly exaggerated wary-type glance in the skull’s direction. “It could still easily eat me.”

There is a collection of playful shrieks throughout the group, and Kira—who has become a permanent fixture at Rey and Ren’s side—gives a playful growl as she grabs Ren’s arm, resulting in Ren dissolving into a fit of giggles. Ben ushers them along, highlighting each exhibit with nothing but whatever he’s memorized in his own head. He takes them through meat-eaters and plant-eaters (Ren repeats that they’re herbivores, mama)— working their way through the natural history section of the museum until the reach the interactive exhibits. 

Ben directs his attention to the entire group, casting a stern look at the bouncing battalion of preschoolers. “Now I want everyone to stay in the roped area—we’ll play here for the rest of the hour before we take a break for lunch. Stay with your buddy! The adults will be by the entrance.”

There’s a chorus of yes, Mr. Solo—and then a stampede of little feet as they move about the area to play with each interactive exhibit. Kira drags Ren off by the hand, and Rey doesn’t know how she feels about him not even sparing a glance back at Rey as he scampers off to join his classmates.

“That’s progress, right?”

She doesn’t jump at his voice, but a lot of that is probably accredited to the fact that she’s hyper focused on her son who is currently checking out the digital cooking table. 

“I’m currently rethinking how much I wished for it.”

Ben laughs beside her. “It’s a good thing. He’ll still come back to Mom when the fun is over.”

“For now,” she grumbles.

“He seems to be having a lot of fun. I haven’t seen him this relaxed all semester.”

“He really loves stuff like this. I caught him trying to memorize those dinosaur classifications from a YouTube video he found.”

“He’s a smart boy,” Ben hums thoughtfully. “When he figures out the rest of this school stuff, he’ll be a little force.”

“I’m glad I came,” she murmurs. “It’s nice. Seeing him like this.” She casts a glance to the side, taking in the way Ben is intently watching her expression in a way that almost seems embarrassing considering where they are. “I don’t…” She takes a deep breath. “We don’t get to do stuff like this. Not with my job and everything. There’s just no time.”

He must sense the guilt in her voice, and for a moment his hand rises from his side in a way that makes her think he might touch her in some way, and her heart pounds with the idea of it—but in the end he merely crosses his arms across his chest tight. 

“I don’t have one,” he starts, “but what I’ve learned in this job is that raising a kid is hard. It’s hard with two parents. You’re doing it with one. You should be proud of yourself. Ren is a great kid, Rey.”

She is not going to get emotional from casual conversation in the middle of a crowded room while other parents linger not few yards away. She isn’t. For whatever reason, his words make something tight inside her relax—some knot that she hadn’t even known was wound. She tells herself it’s because she’s hearing it from someone other than family—but some small part of her wonders if it’s only because it’s Ben.

She takes a steadying breath, nodding. “Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it.” Ben notices a little boy struggling to reach one of the entrances to the jungle gym, and his arms uncross with a signal that he’s needed elsewhere. He takes one step before pausing for a moment, giving her a pointed look and lowering his voice a fraction to offer, “For the record—” Ben’s eyes don’t really hide anything, too warm and expressive, and it’s impossible to explain away the look he’s giving her in the way she’s desperately done for every other sign he’s given her. “I’m glad you came, too.”

He walks away then, and Rey stares after him open-mouthed for a moment before frantically swiveling her head to make sure no one else heard. The other parents are chatting amongst themselves or helping out the kids or what have you—leaving only Rey to pick apart his words and his looks as she returns her attention to his retreating figure. 

It’s not a good idea, and it probably isn’t the most ethical—but her entire body warms as she for once unabashedly lets her eyes take in the way his shirt fits him. The way everything fits him. She drinks in the chiseled line of his jaw and the what-is-sure-to-be-inherent softness of his hair, and she wants, she realizes. She hasn’t wanted anything in a long time—but she wants to believe that Ben Solo, for whatever reason, wants her as much as she apparently wants him. 

She watches as he lifts a little boy up to help him climb up into the tube entrance, and it does nothing but solidify this fact—her ovaries seeming to do little somersaults because how is it fair that he is the way he is? So yes, she wants her son’s teacher. That much is clear. 

She just isn’t sure what to do with that information. 


They eat lunch in the grassy area behind the building near the excavation exhibit—a picnic of sandwiches and juice boxes on blankets brought from home, and Rey passes out each one to the total of two other members of her blanket, one bright-eyed little girl with blonde ringlets and one dark-haired boy who keeps casting glances at her. 

It’s taking years off Rey’s life is what it’s doing.

“Are you guys having fun today?”

“I saw a Velociraptor,” Kira exclaims, curling her fingers like claws and growling. 

Ren giggles, shrinking away from her. “That’s not my favorite.”

Rey ruffles his hair as he pulls the plastic away from his straw with his teeth. “Which one is your favorite?” 

“Um…” Ren contemplates this, his little brow furrowing. “A Brach—Brach-e-o—”

“Brachiosaurus.”  Rey looks up at the massive figure standing at the edge of their blanket, holding a wrapped sandwich and a juice box that looks like it might disappear completely if he enclosed his hand fully around it. He nods down at where they’re sitting. “Got any room? The other blankets are full.”

“S-sure,” Rey manages, eyes darting around and wondering if anyone might think it odd. If they do it isn’t apparent, the other chaperones too busy making sure their little groups are eating instead of throwing their food. 

Ben plops down on the blanket, his too-long legs spreading out in front of him as his thick fingers begin wrestling the little straw adhered to the front of the juice box. 

“These things,” he mutters, eyebrows knitted pensively as he struggles to open it. 

“Here,” Rey laughs. “Let me.”

She plucks the little box away, deftly unpacking the straw and jamming it into the slot before handing it back to him. His long fingers brush against hers as he takes it back, and she shivers a little at the contact before she’s quickly distracted by his plush lips wrapped around a very tiny straw. 

He makes a little smacking sound when he’s done, shaking his head. “Should have brought my own drink, I think.”

“I have a feeling you’ll have to go through a lot of those,” Rey muses.

He smiles at her, that same one that makes her a little weak, and she quickly averts her attention to the kids if only to hide her blush. “We still get to dig for dinosaur bones before we leave… That will be fun, right?”

Both of the kids nod fervently, and Kira gives her a determined: “I’m gonna find a sharp tooth!” 

“There’s no teeth in there,” Ren huffs.

Kira’s face scrunches. “Yes, there is!”

“Mr. Solo,” Ren directs. “There’s no teeth in there, right?”

Ben shrugs, grinning playfully as he takes a bite of the sandwich he’s just unwrapped. “Who knows?”

Mama,” Ren says exasperatedly. “Is there teeth in there?”

Rey bites back her own grin as she looks between the little fresh faces and the smirking man beside her. “No, baby,” she chuckles. “I’m sure there’s no teeth in there.”

“Bet there is,” Kira snorts.

Oh, boy, Rey thinks. This one is a handful. 

Rey thinks she might sort of love this little girl. 

She hears the telltale sound of an empty juice box beside her, and turns her head to find a frowning Ben. “These things really don’t go very far.”

“They do if you’re not the size of a refrigerator,” Rey mumbles, immediately clapping a hand over her mouth, having had no intention of saying that out loud. 

Ben just chuffs out a laugh, setting the empty box down on the blanket. “Can’t really argue with that, can I?”

“Sorry,” Rey offers sheepishly. 

He shrugs, still looking amused as he takes another bite. A silence falls between them, the two children chittering amongst themselves, and Rey isn’t quite sure what to say amidst the quiet. It’s disconcerting now, having acknowledged whatever this… thing is between them. She isn’t sure how to act, or what to do, certainly not what to say— the whole thing is leaving her all sorts of addled.

Ben takes it upon himself to end the silence for them. “So what was your favorite?”

“Hm?” Rey wipes a bit of something from the corner of her mouth, and Ben’s eyes follow the movement of her thumb. “Oh. Um. I liked the ocean exhibit. The big predator. What was it called?”

“Mosasaurus,” Ben tells her. “I like that one, too. Did you know the name literally means Meuse Lizard, because the first specimen was found near the Meuse River in Europe?”

Rey cocks an eyebrow, smirking a little. “Someone did their homework.”

Ben shrugs, taking another bite of his sandwich, nodding thoughtful before he swallows to add, “Nothing gains you respect amongst four-year-olds better than dinosaur facts. Rule number one.”

Rey laughs. “I’ll need to brush up on my facts, I guess.”

“Probably a good idea,” Ben tells her seriously. “Monsters, the whole lot of them.”

“You love it,” she teases.

Ben sighs. “I do. Weirdly. Even the finger-painting.”

“You have pretty adequate tools for it, at least.”

Oh, God. In her head it had sounded completely innocent, and it is probably—but now she’s thinking about how thick his fingers actually are, and she’s definitely blushing furiously now, and she can’t even look at him, and he—

Ben places his spread palm flat on the blanket, resting only an inch away from hers, so close she can feel the warmth of his hand as her face turns down to it to gape. 

“You think so?” His voice is quieter, and she knows no one can see what’s happening right now with where they’re sitting, and nothing really even is happening—so why is her pulse racing like it is? “A lot bigger than yours, that’s for sure.”

God, they are. Images creep up unbidden of those hands all over her, touching her in ways no one has since—

She quickly draws her hand in her lap, face flushed and blood pulsing in her ears as she laughs nervously. “Yeah, well. That’s not much of a competition.”

“Guess you’re right,” Ben says just as softy. She won’t look at him, she can’t— knowing that everything she’s feeling is most certainly written all over her face. She hears Ben give a little sigh, and then he’s pushing from the ground to stand. “I guess I’d better start rounding everyone up. We’ve got a lot of teeth to maybe-or-maybe-not find.”

Ren chooses this moment to exit his own babbled conversation to tune into theirs. “There’s no teeth!”

“There might be teeth,” Kira argues.

“No,” Ren huffs. “No teeth.”

“We’ll see,” Ben chuckles. “Won’t we.”

Rey finally finds the courage to look up at him then, and it’s all over his face, she thinks. This thing that she’s been pretending wasn’t there. She thinks she recognizes it because she knows it’s all over hers too. Now isn’t the time for it, and she’s not even sure when the right time will be—but she knows at some point, she’ll have to acknowledge it fully. 

She’s not sure yet how she’ll do this, or where or when, but she thinks maybe there’s a chance that Armie was right about her. About all of it. 

You deserve to be happy.

She’s never really considered that she might not be happy—not until she was faced with a situation like this. Because she has a lot, she thinks. She has Ren and Maz and Poe and Armitage—she’s happy. Sure. In her own way. But she’s forced now to get a good glimpse of what a different kind of happiness might look like. One where someone might want to take care of her for a change. 

It’s terrifying. 

But as Ben pats Ren on the head as he passes, as he throws her one last soft smile over his shoulder that she can’t help but return—Rey thinks maybe it would be okay to pursue that. Maybe she does deserve that. 

She just has to decide how to go about it.

Chapter Text

She thought maybe she would have said something before the field trip ended, but in the end—the damage of years alone seemed to win the day. 

She rode the bus home with Ren napping in her lap, tuckered out from his long day and not really allowing for much chatting between her and Ben, given that he also was preoccupied by the stragglers who couldn’t seem to wind down. 

Even after, when he’d offered to give them a ride home—something she couldn’t do, something that for whatever reason she wouldn’t do—she’d been too nervous to actually do anything about her newfound revelations in regards to Ren’s teacher. 

In the week that followed she’s imagined texting him a dozen times, each instance fizzling out into nothing because apparently she is little more than a coward in this regard. There have been messages, sure—little updates on Ren’s progress just like normal, but she hasn’t done anything to encourage anything more. In fact, she’s been almost dismissive. 

She can’t help wondering what she might do if she’s wrong somehow. If for whatever reason Ben actually doesn’t want to actually pursue anything with her. What sort of embarrassment might she be subjected to if she were to put herself out there and just be wrong?

There is a part of her that recognizes that this is the lingering bit of self-doubt instilled in her by her past experiences, but it doesn’t do anything to dim the heaviness of it. The way it consumes her. 

So her phone sits silent on the kitchen table, just as it has since she last saw him. It’s harder now, being all alone like she is—Ren having begged to stay the night with Armitage and Poe since it is the weekend. There’s just nothing to distract her from her crushing disappointment with her own self. 

She’s about to push away from her table and trudge into the living room to watch bad television when her phone begins to vibrate—and her heart rate picks up by a dozen beats when she turns it over to see Ben flashing across the screen. The last time he called her it had been to bear bad news, and for a moment she just stares at the little device with an open mouth as she wrestles with whether or not to answer. 

But her curiosity wins out, and even now at six o’clock on a Friday with no discernible reason as to why he might be calling—her heart hammers away because he could just be calling for her. 

“Hello?”

“Rey.”

She hasn’t heard his voice in a week, and somehow the absence seems to have done nothing but amplify its effect on her. 

“Hey,” she offers. “Everything okay?”

“Everything’s fine,” he assures her. 

“Oh. So…”

“Right. Sorry. I was calling because—”

She’s holding her breath, blood pulsing in her ears and fingers gripping the phone tight because is he—?

“—Ren left his backpack at school today. I stayed over to set up class for the science experiments next week, and I just found it.”

Everything in her chest seems to sink into her stomach. Of course. “Oh. Yeah. Right.”

“I just thought you’d want to know, since there’s homework in it. It’s just practicing his name, but—”

“I could catch a bus out,” she sighs, “but it’ll be awhile. Maybe I can just have him practice on paper here? He’s not home tonight, but tomorrow I can—”

“I was actually going to offer to bring it by.”

Her mouth goes dry. Ben? Here? Her eyes sweep around her tiny kitchen, and she wonders if he would even fit in here. More importantly though— Ben. Here. Here in her space while Ren isn’t home. That’s… not a good idea, right?

Or is it? 

Her good sense is very much at war with her newfound want of him. Surely a little time with him wouldn’t hurt. It’s not as if he’d want to stay and chat or anything—

“Rey?”

“Sorry,” she manages. “You don’t have to. It’s really no big deal if I—”

“I don’t mind, Rey,” he tells her pointedly. 

She’s having a lot of trouble remembering how to breathe—and she realizes after a few seconds he’s expecting an answer. 

Something inside still whispers that it isn’t a good idea, but it’s drowned out by a much louder chant of: sayyessayyessayyes. 

“Okay,” she answers quietly. “If you’re sure that’s okay.”

“I’m sure,” he tells her, and if she isn’t imagining things… He sounds almost pleased. “Do you want to send me a pin to your place?”

“Y-yeah,” she stammers. “Yeah. I’ll do that.”

She thinks she can almost hear that smile in his voice when he answers, “Great. I’ll see you soon, Rey.”

“Okay.”

Rey looks around her place after she hangs up, still a little stunned that in a short time Ben will be here. Her heart is still racing, and her mind is doing far more than that—and she tells herself that it’s fine. It isn’t as if he’ll want to stay for awhile. Most likely he will just drop off the backpack and head out. 

At this point she’s not sure which she prefers.


She’s a bit of a mess by the time a knock sounds at her door, having straightened and then re-straightened things that had barely been out of place to begin with, changing her clothes twice before settling on the same t-shirt and jeans she started in after concluding that she was, in fact, ridiculous. 

It’s not like it matters, she lies to herself for what has to be the tenth time.

Still her chest flutters with nerves as she reaches for the door handle—exploding into a full-blown parade of mutant butterflies when it swings open and he’s there, dressed in that same type of button down she’s come to know but vastly different because now the sleeves are slightly rolled up, and she can see… so much more than usual. 

She tries not to stare, she really does—but she’s left dumbfounded by colors and patterns that wrap around his wrists and creep up over his forearms to disappear under the rolled sleeves of his shirt. It does things to her that she never thought possible. She didn’t even think she liked tattoos. 

But she does. She absolutely does, apparently.

At least on Ben.

He holds up the backpack with a little smile, and that is enough to pluck her from her stupor as she takes it just a little too hastily. 

“T-thank you,” she manages. “I’m sorry you had to come all the way out here.”

“It’s not that far out of the way, actually,” he offers pleasantly.

“Oh.” She’s still stealing glances down at his arms when he tucks his hands into his pockets. “That’s… good then.”

He shuffles his feet a little on the doorstop, and she realizes he’s still just standing outside her front door. “Yeah.”

“I appreciate it,” she tells him lamely. Should she invite him in? Is that… too forward? Would he expect something? Does she want him to?

“It’s seriously not a problem,” he assures her, mouth still wearing that little smile. 

For a moment they just look at each other, and Rey can feel the tension between them, feel it heavy and weighted and so thick— and she’s momentarily at a loss for what to do. She sees the moment his face falls a little, and her tongue feels glued to the roof of her mouth, and she just needs to say something.

“Anyway,” he says quietly. “It was good to see you, Rey.”

“Yeah,” she mumbles weakly. “You too.”

Say something. Say anything, you dolt. 

“Goodnight, then,” he offers.

“Yeah.”

He starts to turn, having every intention to go, and something inside her snaps like a rubber band drawn too tight—her foot taking a step and her hand reaching out beyond her control until before she knows it, his sleeve is in her hand, and the bicep beneath feels so solid, and she—

“Wait.”

He turns back with an expectant expression, and she panics momentarily because what even was her plan here?

“Yes?”

“You can—” She swallows around the growing lump in her throat. “Would you like to come in? Maybe for some coffee? You went out of your way. It’s the least I can do.”

She says all of this in a jumbled rush, but she thinks it doesn’t matter because the way he grins with it—no. She doesn’t think it matters at all.

“That would be great.”

And she can’t look at him really, when she turns around to let him follow inside; the click of her door shutting behind him is louder than it should be, and her panic grows because honestly—

A laugh bubbles out of her, and it’s a lot more manic than she would like. She turns in place to offer Ben a helpless expression, and he laughs a little when she throws her arms up, sort of at her wits end.

“What is it?”

She’s still laughing. She can’t seem to stop. “I don’t… have a coffee pot. Or coffee.”

“Seriously?”

She’s ridiculous, she absolutely knows that, so why is she still smiling? “Nope.”

His lips curl into a brilliant grin, and he covers his mouth with his hand a little to stifle his laugh before he reaches to rub the back of his hair. “I don’t… drink coffee.”

She’s still smiling, and so is he—and she thinks to herself that this says a lot for the both of them. She thinks that signs don’t really get clearer than that. 

“I have a kettle,” she offers instead. “And tea?”

And she isn’t sure if he drinks this either, isn’t sure if he actually wants it—but he gives her a light nod, and a heavy look, and his voice is quiet when he answers: “That would be great.”


If he hates the tea—he gives her no indication. He sips it stoically, his large hands wrapped around her tiny little cup and distracting her thoroughly as he sits across the table. 

“I’m dying to know,” she starts.

He raises an eyebrow, taking another careful sip of the steaming liquid and drawing her eyes to the way his full lips curve around the rim. “Hm?”

“Oh, um—” She struggles to collect her thoughts, blushing a little for whatever reason. She nods her head down to his arms, her voice softer. “You don’t see a lot of teachers with… all of that.”

His mouth forms a tight line as he lifts an arm to turn it idly, his eyes drifting over the patterns there with a resigned look. “Yeah. I… got all these when I was younger. Late teens, mostly.”

“Ah, were you a bad boy?” she teases.

She regrets it immediately when his lips turn down in a frown. “Mostly, yeah.”

“Oh. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean—”

He waves her off. “It’s okay. It happened.” He sighs as he sets his cup down to rest against the table. “I was… a very... troubled kid. My parents weren’t really around much—both had these high-profile jobs that kept them traveling all the time. No one to really watch me. No one to care, really.”

She thinks back to her time before Maz found her—fourteen years of fending for herself, and her heart goes out to him a little because no child should have to. “I’m sorry, Ben.”

“Don’t be.” He takes another slow sip. “I mean, I probably would have ended up dead in some dirty hotel somewhere—I fell into an awful crowd, you see—but then…”

His eyebrows furrow, and his cup again comes to rest against the table, and he looks… sad. It makes her heart hurt, and she reaches across the table to put her hand over his much in the same way that he did when they first met. She doesn’t think it bothers him, in fact, she’s almost certain she feels his thumb brush against the back of her hand. 

“My dad died,” he finishes. “And I don’t know, I guess it was… sobering? Somehow? It was a real shock to my mother—I think maybe it was sobering for her, too. Maybe she realized I was all she had left… I don’t know. She settled back home and put me in some fancy rehab program the first chance she got.”

“How old were you?”

“I’d just turned twenty.”

The same age she was when she had Ren. How strangely funny that both of them had such life-altering experiences at the same point in their lives.

“And your mom? Is that still strained?”

He shrugs. “It’s okay. We’ll never be spending the day together in the park or anything—but we talk fairly often.” He smiles a little then. “She would love you.”

Rey blushes furiously at the idea, clearing her throat in an attempt to change the subject. “So how did you…” She thinks on how to pose the question. “How did you end up…”

He saves her with a wider smile. “Going from a strung out teen to teaching four-year-olds?”

“Yes.” She nods. “That.”

“I was in the program for over a year—and when I left I joined an outreach program that had connections with the facility to ensure I stayed busy.” His fingers form air quotes for this last bit before he shrugs. “It’s their way of making sure you have a purpose so that you don’t fall back off the wagon. I don’t know. I got shuffled into the after school program because all the others were full. It’s a chaperoned program, you see—an attendant from the facility comes with.”

“What did you do?”

“Mostly just helped kids with their homework,” he tells her. “I was terrible in the end—but I was always smart before that. They thought I’d be a good fit because of my grades back in High School. Before I really went off the deep end.”

“And you… liked it?”

He laughs a little. “I didn’t think I would. A bunch of bratty little kids? Sounded like a nightmare, to be honest.”

“So what changed?”

“Me, mostly.”

She turns her head. “You?”

“Kids don’t…” He shrugs a little. “Kids don’t see all the bad stuff. They don’t really see what the world sees. If you’re kind to them… they just see you for the best parts of yourself.”

Her mouth parts a little, knowing the feeling all too well, and yet somehow still completely floored by the sentiment. “Yeah,” she says softly. “Yeah, they do.”

“So, yeah. I don’t know. It just seemed like a good path moving forward.”

“Still,” she laughs. “Pre-K? That’s very brave of you.”

He chuckles under his breath. “Complete accident. It was the only position available for an entry-level like me… I thought it would last a year—two, tops.” He smiles against the rim of his cup. “I never expected to love it so much.”

Rey clears her throat, trying to stamp down the fluttering in her belly. “Well… you’re very good at it.”

“I appreciate it.” He sets his cup down, his eyes roaming over the lines of her face without any attempts to hide their movement. “So what about you?”

“Me?”

“What’s your story?”

“There’s nothing really to tell.” She shrugs. “There’s nothing so interesting about me.”

“I think it’s obvious at this point that I find all sorts of things interesting about you, Rey.”

It takes her by surprise—the casual way that he says this, and she feels heat creeping up her neck as she is trapped under his gaze that is just as warm. She averts her eyes when it becomes too much—knitting her fingers together nervously. 

“I don’t know… I bounced around the system until I was fourteen. Never knew my real parents… but after Maz found me… I stopped wanting to, really.”

He nods thoughtfully. “And Ren’s father? Where is he?”

Her jaw tenses. She doesn’t begrudge him the question, not after he’s told her so much about himself—it’s just that she’s spent so long pushing him as far from her mind as she’s able that it’s almost hard to even recall everything.

“I met him when I was eighteen. Classic story of young love.” She laughs bitterly. “At least for me. We were together for over a year… and I thought we were going to get married and have babies and all of those things girls dream about when they don’t know any better.”

Their hands are touching again, and she can’t bring herself to look at where his fingers rest over hers, knowing it will only make her blush further. 

“Anyway,” she goes on a little more breathlessly. “Turns out he had a different future in mind—and a surprise pregnancy didn’t fit into that.” She snorts as she shakes her head. “He was practically gone before I finished peeing on the damned stick.”

Ben is quiet for a moment even as she continues to laugh a little with derision, ending with a sigh.

“As far as I’m concerned,” she continues. “There was no father. I carried him, I gave birth to him, I raised him.”

She feels a squeeze at her hand then, and she is finally able to bring herself to look at him—that warmth still in his eyes that she feels deep down inside. 

“He missed out. For the record.” Another squeeze of her fingers, followed by a slow stroke of his thumb, causing her breath to catch. “On you.” His voice goes a little softer. “On both of you.”

She doesn’t breathe for a moment, feeling a flush spread down her neck and chest and lower— warmth pooling low in her belly as he just… looks at her. Not like he expects something, not like he wants anything from her; Ben looks at her like he just wants her. 

Had she really not realized at first? It seems… so obvious now.

“T-thank you,” she stammers, unsure of what else to say to something that makes her feel like she does in this moment. 

Silence stretches between them that she wants to fill—but for some reason her tongue seems to be stuck to the roof of her mouth again. Ben looks up at the clock on her wall, letting out a breath through his nostrils as he frowns. “I guess it’s getting late.”

“Oh.” Her eyes dart to the round little monstrosity that ticks away their time together. “Right. Of course.”

He moves to stand, pushing away from the table and only accentuating the flex of his forearms as a collage of intricately connected gears disappears up under his rolled sleeve, forcing her to swallow thickly. She scrambles after him, taking their cups awkwardly and depositing it into the sink, walking him to the door with slow, unhappy steps as disappointment floods her system at having not gotten more time with him. 

He turns at the door, still looking at her in that way he does that she now thinks just means he likes looking at her—and she feels her cheeks heat as she wrings her hands anxiously. 

“I really do appreciate you bringing his bag by,” she offers quietly.

“I really didn’t need to,” he admits, “but trust me, I wanted to.” Her mouth parts a little at the implication, and she thinks she’s standing there gaping—but honestly, she has no idea what to say to that. She’s simply unused to this sort of attention, or maybe it’s only that it’s been so long that she’s forgotten what it feels like.

Ben reaches slowly to tuck a stray curl behind her ear, and just that tiny brush of contact is enough to send a shiver down her spine. “What would you say if I told you I wanted to see you again?” He grins down at her. “Outside of school or backpack subterfuge, that is.”

“I…” She can hardly collect her thoughts for the whirring in her own head, her brain seeming to be doing some sort of ecstatic little jig in time with her racing heart. “I wouldn’t mind that.”

Not the best thing she’s ever said, but it will do.

Ben’s smile is brilliant, lighting up his whole face, but then again—when isn’t it?

“Good. Maybe tomorrow? We could take Ren to the pier… see the carnival?”

She’s going to catch flies with the way she’s still staring at him slack-jawed. “You… want to bring Ren?”

He chuckles under his breath, his hand ghosting down the length of her arm until his fingers just tease hers. “In case it’s not as glaringly obvious as I think it is—” She’s not really breathing, and she still can’t look away— but neither can he, it seems. “I don’t want to,” he tells her quietly. “Miss out on you, that is. Either of you.”

Anxiety bubbles in her chest because it’s all so much so soon and it’s terrifying, these things she’s feeling. She considers what people might say or think or if it can even work— but she swallows down the rising nerves to collect herself.

“So you—”

“Have wanted to kiss you since I found you in the hall? Yes.”

“Oh.” So much for collecting herself. She might actually be a puddle on the floor right now. She can’t be sure. “I… wouldn’t mind that, either.”

Hell. She’d welcome it. How long has it been after all, since someone has wanted to?

He takes a step, just a small one, but then again, he’s so large— it takes nothing to bring him closer. So close. “Would you mind it right now?”

She can’t really speak (who could, with someone like Ben inches away and winding his fingers through theirs?), but she feels herself shaking her head even as one large hand finds her jaw to cradle it. 

“Thank fuck,” he mutters, and she feels it all the way down to her toes because it’s such a filthy word from his normally mild-mannered mouth. Not that she has any time to dwell on it. 

Not with the way his mouth crashes against hers.

She thinks maybe she imagined this would be soft. That it would be light and testing and sweet, and it is. Sort of. Sweet. But it’s also so much more than that. 

It’s desperate and seeking. It’s a heavy swipe of his tongue and a slanting of his mouth so he can take more—and she’s not even sure when his hands found their way under her thighs, but somehow she’s against him now, and there’s a wall at her back, and he’s still kissing her like it’s everything he’s thought about. 

She knows the feeling. 

Her fingers find his hair to tangle there, and it’s just as soft as she imagined. So thick and silky—and she gives it a tug for good measure, an action that draws a groan from deep in Ben’s chest that makes her want to do it again. She does, immediately, and his finger flex against her hip where they’ve found a place to rest. 

He’s gasping when he breaks away, and Rey is still sort of chasing after his mouth—but his eyes find hers with blown pupils and hooded lids, and she imagines she’s not much better off.

“I’m sorry,” he rasps. “I didn’t… mean to get carried away. I’ve just… been thinking about that… since the first day you walked into my classroom.”

“It’s okay,” she answers hoarsely. “So have I.”

She sees his lips curl before she feels them, his mouth pressing against hers with a softness neither of them could manage moments ago. “Tell me to go,” he begs thickly. “Tell me to put you down and leave. Tell me you’ll see me tomorrow. I will. I promise. If you tell me.”

There’s a strained edge to his tone, and she knows he means it. That if she asks him to—he’ll put her on her feet and walk out her door and happily return tomorrow without being the least bit put out about it.

But Rey doesn’t want that, she realizes. 

She doesn’t want that at all.

Her lips press against his jaw, breathing words against his skin. “Ren is gone all night.”

His hands grip her tighter, and she thinks they might even be shaking a little. “Rey.”

“You could—if you wanted—I mean, if it doesn’t make me seem—”

Rey,” he grates. “I want to be the good guy… but if you ask me to stay… I don’t think—” His hands are so tight it’s just at the edge of painful, but somehow it’s so good. “I’m not strong enough to say no.” 

“Then don’t,” she whispers, her mouth just brushing against the corner of his. “Don’t say no. I still think you’re the good guy.”

There’s a rumble in his chest just before he shuffles her around with an ease that makes her squeal a little in surprise—and then she’s draped across his arms with one large hand under her knees and another holding her to his chest. She murmurs directions to her bedroom—the same one no one has ever been in besides her and her son, and he carries her down the hall as if it’s nothing. As if she weighs nothing at all—and it’s fitting, she thinks, because in that moment… Rey has never felt so light. 

Chapter Text

She expects to feel those same nerves when he lays her on the bed.

She expects knots in her stomach and whispers in her head, but when her back touches the softness of her comforter—so gently he lays her down—she doesn’t feel anything but the weight of his gaze. The heat of it. 

And how he’s looking at her now. 

He’s looking at her like he can’t decide what to do with her. As if he wants to do everything all at once. She feels the bed dip with the weight of his knee, and his hand comes to rest over her navel—fingers spreading so wide he nearly covers the entire width of her—his thumb sliding against the last of her ribs to trace the length of it. 

“Do you have any idea what you do to me?”

She doesn’t. She doesn’t have a clue. But oh, how she wants to. She shakes her head, hearing in her own ears the raggedness of her breath, and he’s only touching her a little. 

“Would you like me to tell you?”

“Please,” she breathes. 

He slides his hand a fraction higher, the tips of his fingers just brushing along the underside of her breasts. Can he tell yet that there’s nothing underneath her t-shirt?

“Your mouth is the worst,” he tells her roughly. “Or the best? I’m not sure.” He lets his hand rise higher until it settles on her sternum, the spread of his fingers too wide to avoid lightly resting against the soft swells on either side. “It’s the way it wraps around words. The way I can see just a little bit of your tongue. It makes me want to give it something else.”

He’s so focused— just watching the way he’s touching her, and he’s touching her so little, but his words make it feel like so much.

“I thought maybe it was because it’s been a while,” he murmurs, bringing his hand back down the same path he’s forged until it covers her belly. “I thought maybe that’s why I couldn’t stop thinking about fucking you over my desk that first day. You were so sweet.” She can see the way his throat bobs heavily with his swallow, and his breath is ragged now, too. “It didn’t take me long to realize.” He finds the edge of her shirt, dipping his fingers beneath as his nails scrape lightly at her skin. “Didn’t take me long to realize that it was just you.”

She doesn’t think she’s ever been spoken to this way—doesn’t think anyone has ever just said everything they’re feeling—so she couldn’t be prepared for how much she absolutely craves more of it. 

She reaches out to let her fingers collide with one of the infuriating buttons that have taunted her for weeks—flicking up her eyes as she bites at her lower lip. 

“Can I—?”

He crawls over her slowly, hands coming to rest on either side of her as his large body blocks out her ceiling, and there is only him— leaning in press his lips to her throat. 

“You can do anything you want to me, Rey.”

Her fingers are shaking now as he pulls away to watch her try to undo his buttons—and it’s difficult. More so because every little piece of skin she uncovers only reveals the entirety of a picture her mind has been desperately trying to piece together since she got that first glimpse. 

She lets her hands slide beneath the parted fabric over the clean lines of black and grey, pushing aside the pieces to bare more of his wide chest to her sight. She can make out the base of a mountain range spanning across his entire chest, jutting up into a swirling night sky that is littered with little white points of some constellation. Beneath the mountains reads as above, so below—and she runs her fingers across the dark text slowly as she lets her eyes drink it all in. It’s sort of beautiful, actually. 

Her eyes flick up to his, seeing how he watches her explore, and she slides her hands up and over his shoulders beneath his shirt slowly. “Can I see the rest?”

She’s distraught for a moment when he pulls away from her, but then she notices the way he’s looking at her—knees straddling either side of her hips and hands reaching for the part in his shirt, pulling it from his shoulders easily as she watches more of him come into view. 

There’s too much all at once to focus; she catches patterns and shapes and colors—a bright red rose on his forearm just above the gears she saw earlier, an antique clock face at his bicep, some sort of old battle helmet just above the inside of his elbow—so many pieces she wants to explore. 

But she’s distracted when she notices the way his abdomen tightens with his movement, drawn to two clean lines of typewritten script resting between his hips bones, nestled at the smallest point of the v shape that she sort of wants to run her tongue against. 

She sits up so that she can reach out and touch him there, tracing the words with two fingers as she reads them silently.

I should have been a pair of ragged claws

Scuttling across the floors of silent seas

His body tenses under her touch, and when she flicks her eyes up he’s still just watching her—gaze dark and heated and wanting— reflecting everything she feels. It makes it easier to give in to her urges.

She leans in to press her lips under his navel, closing her eyes as she breathes against his skin. She’s not sure what the words mean, has no idea where they come from—but she thinks maybe it’s not important right now. Not with the way his fingers brush over her temple. Not with the way his breath catches when she lets her own tease at his zipper. 

“I think it’s your turn,” he murmurs, voice ragged and so low. 

She laughs a little, the nerves creeping back in. “It’s not as interesting under my shirt as it is yours.”

“Ah.” He flashes a wide grin as he ducks down to grab for the hem of her shirt. “I think I’ll be the judge of that.”


His fingers are shaking. He can’t remember a time when he’s felt like this. It’s something like anticipation—some frenetic energy that he feels vibrating beneath his skin because how he’s wanted this. Wanted her. Since that first day. Every day after. There isn’t anything he hasn’t imagined doing to her pretty little body—and now he thinks he can do them all. He will, eventually. He’ll do everything to her. 

She’s trembling under his hands when he begins to lift her shirt, and he knows the feeling. He inches up the soft fabric inch-by-inch, and when she lifts her arms for him, her abdomen drawing tight—he sees the curves of her pretty little tits and soft, pink nipples that make his mouth go dry. When he tosses away her shirt to watch her tousled waves rest against the bends of her shoulders—Ben doesn’t think he’s ever seen anything that looks better than she does right now. 

He can tell she’s struggling to resist covering herself—tell by the way her fingers clench at her sides and her lip rests between her teeth, but Ben… Ben doesn’t think he’s ever seen anything as mouth watering as she is. He brings his hands to her ribs, feeling his cock twitch at the sight of them swallowing her up—sliding them higher until his thumbs trip over her nipples that are hardening right before his eyes. 

It’s easy to urge her back against the bed; she’s such a tiny thing after all, and he watches her face as he lowers his head to graze his teeth beneath the swell of her breast. Her breath catches in a sharp inhale, releasing on a soft whimper when he licks at the place his teeth have just been. 

His hips tilt instinctively when her fingers thread through his hair, pinning her deeper against the bed, because she’s pushing back the thick strands; she wants to watch what he’s doing to her. Her normally bright hazel eyes are murkier now, hooded and deep as she watches him suck one nipple into his mouth. It’s reactive, what it does to her—mouth peering wider and fingers tugging tighter—and he enjoys the slow process of getting her ready for him. 

Because that’s how he wants her. Ready, that is. He wants her soft and pliant and ripe for him. 

“Rey.” He flattens his tongue against the underswell of her breast, ending with a nip at the soft skin that makes her jolt. “Can I see the rest?” His finger glide down the length of her, finding the hem of her jeans to tease there. “I want to see everything.”

Her nod is slow, and just a little dazed, and he pushes up to find her mouth as his fingers work at the tiny button amidst the denim. She opens for him just like she did that first time, and the heat of her mouth, the wet of her tongue—it’s like a direct line straight to his cock which is thickening with every passing moment. 

His breath stutters into her mouth when he feels the soft cotton beneath the gapped denim, letting his middle finger press between the lips of her cunt that even now has the fabric of her underwear damp and hot. He has to pull away to work her pants down her legs, and every inch of lightly freckled skin is only more that he wants to touch and taste and own. 

He is the dazed one now when he tosses her jeans away from the bed—frozen, because he wants to touch all of her. All of her all at once. 

“Look at you,” he breathes, reaching to smooth his palms over the rounded curves of her hips. She’s so soft here. She’s so soft everywhere. “You’re everything I thought you’d be.” He swallows around the lump in his throat, growing with every passing moment that he’s allowed to drink her in like this. “You’re more.”

His thumbs dip between her thighs, urging her to spread them—and he can see now how the thin pink cotton of her underwear is stained a darker rose at her center with the dampness of her. He reaches to let his knuckle press there, stroking it heavily through her folds as her breath leaves her shakily. She gasps when he hooks a finger into the side, pressing against the slick little hole underneath and teasing her entrance with the tip of his index finger. 

“Fuck, Rey,” he groans. “You’re so wet.”

“Ben,” she sighs, pulling her lip between her teeth as her brow wrinkles. He can’t stop dipping his finger inside, just easing it in to the first knuckle as she tenses. “Ben, I haven’t—”

He pulls his hand away dazedly, bringing it to his mouth and sucking away her fluids, practically purring with it. The taste of her. It’s heady. Its intoxicating. He wants his mouth on her. He wants to feel her sweet little cunt trembling against his tongue as her thighs go tight around his ears.

He realizes she’s still looking at him as if she needs to say something, and he recognizes that his voice is far more rasped than it was a moment ago. “What is it?”

“I haven’t”—she’s still half-chewing at the inside of her lip—“been with anyone.” Ben feels his heart rate pick up a fraction. “Not since Ren was born.”

He holds her gaze for a number of moments—some primal urge inside that tells him to fuck this sweet woman within an inch of her life, because how is he so lucky to be the one she chose? His blood pulses in his ears as he lets his eyes sweep down the length of her nearly-nude form—then reaching for her underwear with a new sense of urgency.

He hears her draw in a heavy breath as he begins to tear them away. “What are you—?”

“Making you come.” He meets her eyes deliberately as he pulls the flimsy scrap over her thighs. “Right now.”


Rey isn’t breathing. Not really. She is, however, watching. She’s watching intently. 

Because there isn’t anything more enticing, she thinks, than Ben Solo pushing apart her thighs slowly with his large hands. His shoulders flex and roll with the movement of him settling between them, and he closes his eyes as he presses his lips to her inner thigh. Rey watches as the patterns and colors that creep over his shoulders move with him, and Rey again feels that fleeting urge to trace each one with her mouth.

“Has anyone ever had you like this?” She feels the flick of his tongue followed by a nip of his teeth. “Rey?”

“N-no,” she answers breathlessly. “No one.”

She hears him emit a low hum, then there’s a kiss just at the crease of her thigh. “But you’re so pretty here.” His fingers tease through her folds. “So pink and wet.” Her breath catches when he turns his head, brushing his nose back-and-forth through the neat curls there. “And the way you smell. Everything about you is sweet.”

Her eyes flutter closed at the warmth of his breath against her bare cunt, and she feels his wide palm slide underneath her to squeeze, forcing her open.

“I want you to watch, Rey. I want you to see everything.”

And she does. Watch. She watches dark eyes holding hers as he dips his head. Watches the way his tongue loosens to slide through her already-drenched folds. 

Ben.”

“Fuck, the way you taste.” 

His hands find their way under her thighs to curl around them, forcing her legs wider apart. He licks through the slick crease of her messily—more intent it seems to continue tasting her than anything more in the moment. His lips tug softly at her labia, the sound of it filling the room to blend with the guttural moan that escapes her. 

He flattens his tongue to drag it up the entire length of her, and she can’t help the way her fingers find his hair to tangle there. He groans when she tugs it softly, finding her clit to suck it into his mouth as she tilts her hips instinctively. Ben is there to meet her, pulling her closer by her thighs and pulling the swollen bud deeper into his mouth. The sounds he makes are obscene, and she can’t tear her eyes away from the sight of his plush lips flush against her. 

She tenses all over when she feels his finger press against her entrance, and her mouth falls open in a gasp when he eases it inside to slide it in and out of her. His tongue swirls heavily, his finger pressing deep and curling inside to touch some place she hadn’t even known existed— and her back bows from the bed only to be held down by his strong grip holding her tight against his face. 

Ah. Ben. I—”

He breaks away, catching his breath as he presses a wet, sloppy kiss to her vulva. “Can you come for me like this?” He twists his finger as he withdraws it. “Wanna taste it. Want you to come all over me.”

She gasps when he adds a second finger, dipping it inside slowly as he attempts to stretch her. “Need you”—he wraps his lips around her clit to suck it into his mouth for one long second before releasing it with a wet sound—“ready for me.” He withdraws his fingers at a lazy pace as he watches them slip out of her. “It feels so good inside you.”

He holds her gaze as he leans in, finding her clit to suction to it wholly as some satisfied sound rumbles in his chest. There’s no pretense now—just the lewd, wet sounds of his mouth and the desperate cries he’s drawing from her and it feels so good and she never wants it to stop. He’s stroking inside her steadily now—curling his fingers to rub that place inside that makes her breathless—all the while tugging at the sensitive bundle of nerves with everything he has. 

And she feels it now, that steady building of something.

She feels it down in her toes and creeping through her limbs to settle warm and thick in her belly—and she is shamelessly pressing her cunt deeper into his mouth, but Ben doesn’t seem to mind. She feels his tongue moving against her with every long pull from her clit, and the tightness of her body winds more and more until every muscle in her body is drawn taut and she’s so close and he’s still taking everything he can and she—

“Ah. Ah. Right there,” she whines, tilting up her hips as her grip on his hair tightens. “Right there.”

If it weren’t for the all-over euphoria that hits her like a warm wave—she might be embarrassed by the little gush of fluid that rushes out of her. Might be appalled by the way Ben laps at her after like she’s some sort of meal. But she’s boneless, and sated, and still struggling to remember how to breathe— and the only thing she can really register is the wet press of his lips against the soft skin of her inner thigh. 

She feels his finger still teasing through her folds—sliding through the slick remnants of what he’s just done to her lazily as he coats himself in them. Her eyes go wide when she sees the way he draws his now-wet finger over her thighs to follow after his mouth, humming against her skin.

“You said I had adequate tools for this,” he murmurs. “Did you know this is what I thought about then?” He drags his finger in a slow, wet circle at the inside of her thigh. “I thought about how many I could fit inside you. What they’d look like here.” His tongue flicks out to clean away the lines he’s painted. “I think you might be my favorite canvas.”

She can’t help the little whimper that escapes her—not when he’s looking at her the way he is while he actually paints her with her own fluids. She doesn’t think she’ll be able to forget that image for as long as she lives. Still he swirls his finger languidly, content to touch her like this until she’s little more than a squirming mess. 

She doesn’t know how much time passes before he leaves one last kiss between her legs, moving up her body to leave similar presses of his lips over her skin before he finally finds her mouth. She opens to take his tongue, enjoying the way his large body settles against hers, and how she can still taste herself from his mouth. She can feel the thick length of him slotted between her legs, and she tilts her hips eagerly to seek more of him. 

He hisses against her cheek when her fingers find the button of his jeans, and he pulls away with hooded eyes that are so dark. “Rey.” His breath is labored, and his lip rolls between his teeth as he shifts his hips. “There’s something—” He groans when she works the button apart, deeper still when she inches a finger beneath to brush against the base of him. “Something a little different.”

She stills. “Different?”

“Mhm.” He pushes up on his hands, staring down at her as he takes over unbuttoning his jeans. “Let me show you.”

She can’t look away when he begins to work them apart, sitting up on his knees, never taking his eyes off her as he starts to push them down his legs. She can see the hint of more ink at his thigh, and the way it makes her pulse race—Rey thinks she might be completely fine with any sort of surprise he has in store for her. 

She thinks she might even welcome it at this point.


Honestly, he hadn’t thought about it. He’d been too preoccupied to do so, and who could blame him, with the taste of her cunt on his tongue? He can still taste it now, the heady flavor lingering in his mouth and driving him to distraction.

But he’s thinking about it now. 

How can he not, with her looking at him like that? She watches intently as he pushes his jeans down his thighs, noticing the way her eyes dart to the large sailing ship inked into the side of one. He’s more than noticed what they do to her—and for the first time in a long time he’s glad for them. He’s happy for anything that makes Rey look at him like that. 

She sits up suddenly to run her hands up his thighs, surprising him when her fingers bat away his own to take over. The slim little digits curl under the band of his boxer-briefs, and she looks up at him with those bright eyes of hers as she begins to inch them down, down over the length of him that begs to be let out.

His cock is so hard now that it’s painful, only worsening with each second that she’s touching him, that she’s looking at him. Her palms slide down each thigh as she pulls away the dark cotton, and he strains against it, needing her to touch him—and he holds his breath when she finally works him free. 

She’s staring at him with wide eyes, mouth parted slightly, and he tenses when she reaches out to touch. She runs her finger from one silver ball to the other just under the flared head of his cock.

He doesn’t miss the way she swallows thickly. “Did that… hurt?”

“Not too bad,” he answers roughly, distracted by the press of her fingers that are as soft as they are curious. “It was years ago.”

“And you kept it after everything?”

He nods slowly. “Seemed a waste not to, considering that bitch of a healing period.”

Her mouth opens and closes slowly, and then there’s a flash of pink as her tongue darts out to wet her lower lip. “Thank fuck.”

He doesn’t even have time to process the effect of her echoing such a dirty sentiment back to him—because Rey, his sweet Rey—doesn’t give him a chance. She leans in, replacing her fingers with her lips as she kisses at each point of his dydoe piercing lightly. Her mouth is soft against the head of his cock, and Ben thinks he might lose it like this, thinks he might want to—but then her tongue slides against him, warm and wet, and Ben does lose it a little. 

He can’t actually endure this—the heavy press of her tongue swiping across his cockhead as she explores the distance between each of the little silver beads—and he thinks if he were forced to it would take far less time than he’d like to finish her in her mouth. Somewhere that, at least for the first time, he doesn’t want to finish at all.  

He scoops her up like it’s nothing, because it isn’t, she’s so fucking tiny—slamming her back against the bed as he kicks away his jeans and underwear, finding her throat to taste her there. She arches against him, the sweetest of sounds tearing from her throat as he grips the entirety of her hip in one hand. 

He shudders when his cock slots against her center, sliding through the slick crease of her easily. “This is all I’ve thought about,” he murmurs against her skin. “Feeling you wrapped around me. I knew you’d be perfect. Knew you’d be perfect for me.”

“Yes. Ben. So have I—I wanted—”

She’s trying to wrap her legs around him, trying to bring him closer— and for a moment he almost forgets himself. He feels her teeth at his ear, her tongue just below, and the head of his cock just catches at her entrance before he remembers himself.

“Rey. Rey. In my wallet. Just let me get—”

“You don’t—birth control—if you want to—we can—”

He feels every syllable like an exposed end of a live wire, and he buries his face in her hair. “ Fuck, Rey. I’m going to ruin you.”

It’s easy to pull her thighs further apart, even easier to pull them up tight against her belly and dip his hips between them. She makes a breathy sound when his cock nudges between her legs, and he watches her face when he starts to push inside. It’s slow at first, Ben allowing himself to enjoy the warm stretch of her cunt as it swallows him up, and he does his best to savor it. To memorize every sensation of the way she takes him, because she takes him so well. 

He knows she can feel it, can see it all over her face—and he’s beyond grateful that he kept the piercings all these years. Because the little o at her mouth, the little wrinkle in her brow, all of it—he thinks maybe it’s worth every moment he went through to get where he is right now. 

He thinks he’d do it all again for her. 

She takes every inch of him just like he knew she would, takes every bit until he’s buried deep to the hilt and all of him is seated deep inside her. Until she’s full of him. And he can see it if he looks between them, see her stretched around him so snug that she nearly overflows with it—and he doesn’t think he’s ever felt anything better than this. Doesn’t think he ever will. 

He lowers his mouth to hers, feeling her arms wind around his neck, feeling her hands slide over his shoulders to touch everywhere she can reach—and for a moment he is content to just revel in the touch and taste of warmth of her. So tight and wet around his cock. So soft against him. Ben tangles his hands in her hair. He takes a deep breath. 

Then he starts to move.


She’s so full. So impossibly full. She holds tight to his shoulders, the tips of her fingers colliding with the softness of his hair as he drags his cock from inside her slowly. She can feel the way the little silver balls slide against her inside—forcing an all-over shiver as he pants against her neck. 

Rey. You feel—”

She nips under his jaw as he slams into her. “So good, Ben.”

“I—” He shudders as he props up to glance between them, watching the way he sinks into her. “I want to—”

He’s moving slower now, content to watch, she thinks, but it’s been so long. Harder. Please, Ben. I won’t break.”

“Fuck,” he growls, finding her lips, licking into her mouth hungrily as he grabs her hip to drive into her with more force. “I want to break you.”

“You can,” she gasps, feeling him so deep it’s as if he is. “I want you to.”

His forehead rests against hers, the warmth of his breath washing over her mouth as he rocks her deeper into the mattress. “You want me to—fuck—want me to break you?”

“Yes. Yes.”

She has to reach above her to wind her fingers around the slats in her headboard, but Ben is relentless now, grabbing either side of her waist as he strokes into her again and again. “You want me to split this sweet little cunt wide open?”

God.” It’s not something she ever could have anticipated, enjoying the filthy words that fall from his mouth, but she’s finding now she can’t get enough. “Yes. Yes, Ben. I want that.”

“I’m going to,” he promises roughly, hands sliding down her thighs to push them further apart. “Break you for anyone else. Don’t want you to want anything but this.”

“Yes,” she whimpers. “Just you, Ben. Just you.”

And she believes it. She thinks that there will never be anything that can come close to this. As his mouth slants against hers with a hunger she feels to her core, as his hand glides over her belly to let his fingers roll against the already-sensitive bud of her clit—Rey thinks there nothing will ever compare. Nothing will ever compare to him.

“Want you to come again,” he groans into her mouth. “I want to feel it.”

“So close,” she breathes. “Don’t stop.”

“Never.” His pace is brutal now, slamming into with everything he has, but she welcomes it. “ Never, Rey.”

And he’s kissing her, so much that it steals her breath, but she welcomes that too. She relishes in every slide of his tongue, every tease of his fingers, every stroke of his cock—she loves every bit of it. 

“Ben. Ben. I’m— yes, I’m— right there—

“Come for me,” he urges thickly. “Come.”

It’s not something that he can command, she thinks, but her body doesn’t seem to be aware of that fact. She’s simply too sensitive, too on edge—and she can’t be sure if it’s his mouth or his hands or his voice or all of it—but she finds herself clinging to him tighter as she falls apart. She trembles beneath him even as he continues to dip into her, albeit a little erratic now, his groans filling her ears and the continuous slide of his hard length and the harder piercings at the head of him filling everything else. She can feel those little points of silver against her overly-sensitive channel, and it draws wave after wave of aftershocks until she's breathless with it.

His entire body shakes when he follows after—a flood of warmth inside as he holds her closer, as he pushes deeper. His lips trail across her jaw and her throat and everywhere else they can reach, making a lazy path across her skin as his hips shift mindlessly to stir up the mess he’s made of her. 

Even now she can feel muscles she hadn’t realized she possessed feeling stretched and so used—but it’s a good sort of ache. One that she knows will have her smiling quietly to herself tomorrow. 

Ben is still trying to catch his breath when he leans up on his elbows, and she pushes the sweat-dampened strands of his hair away from his forehead before he leans in to kiss her thoroughly. She whimpers into his mouth when he pulls out of her, the sudden emptiness a shock to her system—but it morphs into a satisfied sort of hum when he rolls to pull her against his side. He kisses her temple and her hair, his fingers trailing down her spine until his entire palm rests possessively against the curve of her ass. 

“We’re going to do that again,” he murmurs.

A little laugh escapes her. “Are we?”

“Mhm.” He nuzzles his nose against her hair. “Just give me a little bit.”

“I don’t know if I’ll survive another round of that,” she chuckles.

“Oh, you’ll survive several,” he rumbles. “I assure you.”

“Mm. Don’t you have any more backpacks to deliver tonight?”

“Funnily enough… I don’t make it a habit to deliver backpacks after hours.”

“Oh, wow. I must be very special.”

She says it as a tease, but the way his wide palm envelopes her cheek, the way he tilts her face to let his thumb slide across her skin, the way his eyes find hers to hold them warmly—there’s nothing teasing about that. “Yes, Rey,” he says lowly. “You’re very special.”

She swallows around the lump forming in her throat, warmth flooding in her chest because the way he’s looking at her. “So what happens now, Ben?”

“I told you,” he grins. “We’re going to do that again.”

She smacks his arm lightly. “You know what I mean. What about after?”

“Well.” He folds her closer against him, his hand smoothing over her hip idly in thought. “Tonight, I’m going to fuck you until we’re too exhausted to do anything but sleep.” She shudders under his touch, and he squeezes her for good measure. “And then tomorrow, we're going to navigate the pier with a five-year-old, which I have to assume will be more tiring than anything I could do to you in this bed.” 

She laughs at his wide grin, her mirth quickly dissolving into nerves that he doesn’t miss, tilting up her chin to force her to look at him. “What about after that, Ben? What happens then?”

“I don’t know,” he tells her honestly. “But we’ll figure it out.”

She can’t help her hopeful tone. “Will we?”

“Yes.” He presses his lips to the little crease between her brows. “We will. I told you, Rey.” He inhales deeply, rubbing his nose back-and-forth across her forehead. “I don’t want to miss out on you.”

It’s such a simple thing, as far as sentiments go—but she feels it deep down inside. She believes it, she realizes. She believes in Ben.

“I don’t want you to, either,” she answers quietly. 

He hums contently, tucking her head under his chin as she nestles in there. “Then we have all we need.”

And she believes it, she realizes. For the first time in a long time—Rey thinks she does have everything she could ever need.


It’s bright when Ben wakes, and he’s exhausted just as he promised Rey they would be. He runs his hand across the opposite side of the bed, finding it still-warm but very empty. He groans as he turns to look for her, having thought to himself that he could sneak in one last round before they inevitably have to leave this little nest they’ve made, but when he finally forces himself into a sitting position, he finds there is no trace of her anywhere in her bedroom. 

He blinks back the harsh rays of sunlight, looking around for his jeans for a moment before locating them draped over a chair in the corner. He spots discarded articles of her clothing strewn about the room as well, and it makes him smile as he remembers getting to take them off of her. He shuffles into his own jeans lethargically, rising from the bed to stretch his arms above his head before he rubs at his tousled hair lazily. 

He doesn’t find her in the attached bath, a slight disappointment as his brief fantasy of stepping into a shower with her dissipates into nothing—and after rinsing his mouth in her sink—he leaves the confines of her bedroom to make his way down the hall in search of her elsewhere.

It’s only when he’s at the end of the hall that he realizes they aren’t alone here, but there is little he can do by the time this fact occurs to him. He hears the voices too late, and there’s no going back really—not when he finds himself standing in Rey’s kitchen without a shirt as several pairs of eyes (including Rey’s that are as wide as saucers) staring back at him. The redhead he recognizes from the diner is positively gaping at him—but Ben is more concerned with the confused little boy staring at him from behind the counter. 

“Mr. Solo?” Ren cocks his bead to the side in that way that only curious little boys can do. “What are you doing here?”

The redhead (Arm—something or another?) leans over the counter to prop his chin on his fist, grinning wickedly. “Yes, I’m very curious also.”

Rey pulls her robe tighter around her. “Mr. ah—” She clears her throat, and even from here Ben can see the flush creeping up her neck. “Mr. Solo came by to bring your backpack. Isn’t that nice? You left it at school.”

Ren nods thoughtfully before scrunching his nose. “What happened to your shirt?”

“Yes,” the redhead coos, not hiding the way his eyes sweep down Ben’s body. “What did happen to your shirt, Mr. Solo?”

Rey’s eyes widen. “He—well. He uh—”

“Spilled tea on it,” Ben saves her, blurting out the first thing that pops into his head. “Your mom is washing it for me.”

Oh,” Ren answers as if this is perfectly acceptable. “I got ketchup on my favorite Batman shirt one time. Mom put that magic spray on it to get it out.” Ren turns to his mother in concern. “Did you put that magic spray on it, mama?”

Yes, Rey,” the other man presses gleefully. “Was there any magic spraying?”

“Armitage, so help me God,” Rey mutters before directing her attention back to her son. “Yes, baby. I sure did. It’ll be clean soon.”

“Good.” Ren nods resolutely, then turns his attention back on Ben. “You’ve got a lot of pictures on you.”

Ben glances down at his chest warily. “Ah. Yeah. I do.”

“Will I get pictures on me?”

“Well, sure you can,” Ben starts. “Maybe when—” He catches Rey narrowing her eyes across the space, and he clears his throat. “I mean no. They hurt too bad. You don’t want any.”

“Oh, okay,” Ren shrugs easily. 

Rey looks relieved, and her friend, Armitage, looks positively delighted. So,” he starts. “Do you think this counts as extra credit?”

Rey huffs exasperatedly, shooting Ben a look of apology before turning her frustration on her friend. “Okay. I think it’s time for you to go.”

“Oh, come on,” Armitage whines. “This is too good. Just wait till Poe—”

Rey pushes him from the counter, urging him towards the door. “I’ll talk to you later, Armitage.”

“Oh, right,” he chuckles. “I’m sure you’re very busy—”

Rey has him on the doorstep with the door slammed shut behind him before he can quip anything else. She leans against the frame with a sigh, shooting Ben a helpless expression as her eyes dart between him and her son. 

“I’ll just…” Ben tries. “I’ll just go see if my shirt is clean.”

Rey nods heavily, moving attend to Ren as Ben disappears back down the hall. He’s fully dressed when he returns, and Rey is busy making breakfast at the stove when he sidles up next to her.

“I’m so sorry,” she whispers. “Armitage has an earlier shift, and I didn’t see his message since… well…”

Her cheeks stain in a blush, and Ben knows exactly what kept her so distracted. “It’s okay,” Ben mutters back, feigning interest in her fridge. “I think we ah, covered it okay.”

Rey snorts. “For Ren at least.”

“Yeah,” Ben chuckles. “You’re definitely going to be hearing it from your friend.”

“I’m used to it,” she sighs. “It’s worth it.” He catches her grin, and it’s easy to return it, because he feels it deep down inside. Even watching her like this, doing something as simple as cooking in her little kitchen—feels him with a warmth he hadn’t even realized he’d been missing. “Do you want to stay for breakfast?”

His smile widens. “That sounds amazing.” 

“I figure the jig is mostly up now, anyway,” she laughs.

Which reminds him.

He finds Ren settled on the couch in their living room, and he plops down beside him to ruffle his hair. “Do you mind if hang out for a bit?”

“I guess.” Ren shrugs. “I’m watching toys.”

Ben notices some child not much older than Ren literally playing with toys on the television. Is this what they’re watching now? “Is this any good?”

“It’s super awesome,” Ren exclaims.

Ben makes a mental note to evaluate Ren’s standard of the term. “You know,” Ben starts. “I thought we could go to the carnival on the pier later. You, me, and your mom. Would you like that?”

“What!” Ren whips around excitedly. “The carnival? That sounds so awesome!”

Rey steps into the living room, eyeing the both of them. “What’s all the squealing about?”

“Mr. Solo says we’re going to the carnival,” Ren exclaims. 

Rey beams. “Yeah? You want to go?”

“Yeah! That sounds super awesome. The carnival is my favorite.”

“Well. After breakfast we’ll get you ready.”

Ren gives another gleeful shriek. “Yay!” 

“Ben?” Rey is still smiling bemusedly, and when he looks up at her he finds her nodding her head towards the kitchen. “Can you help me with something?”

He’s on his feet immediately, scrambling after her and trying not to dwell on the fact that there could very well be nothing underneath that robe of hers. He’s barely rounded the corner when she has him backed against the wall—rising up on her toes to press her lips to his even as they curl in a grin. 

“I’m… really glad you’re here,” she tells him.

He wraps his arms around her, and if his wandering hands don’t deceive him—she is definitely not wearing anything underneath this robe. “The feeling is mutual.”

“And you’re sure you want to brave the pier? It’s… a lot to navigate with a five-year-old.”

“Mm.” He covers her mouth again for a lingering kiss. “I literally can’t think of anywhere else I want to be today.”

“I guess I can spare the time then,” she sighs playfully. 

He ducks his head to mouth at her jaw, a low rumble sounding in his chest. “You’ll regret that later.”

Her voice is breathier now, and he’s already thinking about how and when he can be inside her again. “You know? I don’t think I will.”

Ben breathes in the scent of her, registering her softness and her sweetness and all the things that come with her—and no, he thinks. Neither of them will regret it. Ben thinks there’s nothing he could ever want more than what he’s holding right here. Because he meant what he said, when he told her he didn’t want to miss out on her. 

He won’t miss out on either of them.

Chapter Text

“—and then Kira said that there’s a dinosaur in that lake. I told her the dinosaurs are dead, but she says it swims in that lake, and there are pictures. Is there a dinosaur in there, Ben? Because you said that—”

Ben looks up in the rearview mirror, grinning at the babbling little boy sitting in the middle of the backseat in his oversized car seat. He doesn’t answer yet, and that’s mostly because Ren hasn’t actually stopped talking long enough to allow him to. When he finally stops to take a breath, Ben laughs a little to himself.

“Ren, I think Kira is talking about the Loch Ness Monster.”

Ren gives a dramatic gasp. “There’s a monster in there?”

“No, no.” Ben shakes his head, still laughing. “It’s just what people call it. It’s not actually real.”

“But Kira said—”

“I think Kira has been watching the Discovery channel again. I promise you, there are no more dinosaurs left.”

Ren nods heavily, and Ben can’t help but think he looks a little relieved. “I’m going to tell Kira you said she’s full of bologna.”

“Now, I didn’t say that,” Ben laughs. “A lot of people believe in it.” He notices the way Ren’s eyes widen in the rearview, and he gives the little boy a pointed look of assurance. “But between you and me,” he lowers his voice conspiratorially. “They are full of bologna.”

Ren giggles good naturedly, and Ben can’t help but grin at the bright eyed little boy who has completely stolen his heart. Not that Ben ever stood a chance. From either of them, really.

“Did you have a good first day of Kindergarten then?”

Ren nods. “I drew a spaceman!”

“Wow,” Ben praises. “I can’t wait to see it.”

“It’s for mama,” Ren tells him pointedly, “but tomorrow I’ll draw you something, too.”

“I’ll try not to cry too much then,” Ben sighs. 

Ren giggles, launching into some recount of something or other that happened in class, and Ben can’t help but marvel at what a difference a year makes. Even when Ben was nothing more than a teacher to him, he could see how he struggled. Looking at him now—you’d never know it. 

It’s funny how he had nothing to do with creating Ren, but still loves him as if he’d been there for the entirety of his life. 

“Ben,” Ren asks him after finally exhausting every available highlight of his day. “Where are we going?”

“To pick up your mama.”

Oh,” Ren exclaims, breaking into another fit of giggles. “Mama is at school, too.”

Ben nods, turning on his blinker so he can make a turn. “She is.”

“That’s so weird,” Ren huffs.

“It’s not weird,” Ben tells him. “She’s in adult school.”

“Do they learn colors there, too?”

Ben chuckles softly. “Something like that.”

“Mama says you made her go to school,” Ren says matter-of-factly. 

“I didn’t make her,” Ben corrects, knowing he’s repeating something he’s misheard from Rey’s teasing. “I encouraged her.”

Ohhh.” Ren nods to himself for just a moment before his little brow furrows, turning back to cock his head at Ben in view of the rearview mirror. “Ben, what does encouraged mean?”

“Well, it means I asked her to go because I knew she wanted to. I supported it.”

Ohhh. Okay.”

Ben is still smiling when he pulls into the parking lot of the community college, feeling it widen when he sees a familiar figure sitting on a bench outside, her expression brightening when she looks up to see their car pulling up beside. She pulls open the passenger door to climb inside the SUV, leaning across the console to grab for Ben’s tie and pull him in for a kiss.

There’s an emphatic ewww from the backseat, but Ben hardly registers it with the way her mouth fits against his. With the way he never seems to tire of just this.

“Hi,” she murmurs with a grin.

“Hi, yourself.”

“Mama,” Ren pipes up. “Ben didn’t make you go to school. He encouraged you to go.”

Rey barks out a laugh, raising an eyebrow at Ben before turning around in the seat. “Is that so?”

“Mhm.” Ren nods knowingly. “And I encouraged you, too.”

“I think someone learned a new word,” Rey chuckles.

Ben huffs out a little laugh of his own. “It might have come up.”

She’s shaking her head as she turns back, but there’s a smile at her mouth, too. “Thank you for coming to get me,” she tells Ben, settling back into her seat and reaching for the seatbelt. “I could have taken the bus.”

“I told you,” Ben huffs. “You’re not taking the bus anymore if I can help it.”

“You can’t always pick me up.”

“Which is why I said I should just buy you your own—”

She snorts. “Ben Solo, I told you that you are not buying me a car.”

“And I told you I’ve hardly touched my inheritance in the last decade, and I can’t think of a better reason to use it than this.”

She rolls her eyes playfully. “I’ll be fine.”

“It would make me feel better knowing you aren’t stranded somewhere in your condition.”

“In my condition,” Rey chuckles. “You know this isn’t my first time, right? Bus and all.”

“Well it’s my first time,” Ben grumbles. “And I would feel a lot better if—”

She grabs his hand across the middle console, squeezing his fingers. He can feel the smooth underside of her engagement ring pressing against his skin, and it calms him, as it always strangely does. “We will talk about a car,” she assures him mirthfully. “Maybe after. We sort of have other expenses to worry about right now.”

Ben can’t help the wide grin that spreads across his face, as it always does whenever he’s reminded of it. He reaches across the seat, resting his hand over her belly that has just begun to swell. He can feel the slight curve there under her dress, and it fills him with a warmth he could never have fully anticipated. Not to mention the way it affects him in… other ways. Just seeing her like that. Knowing he did that to her—well. 

He’s very grateful Ren’s new room is on the other end of the house. 

“Have you felt anymore kicking?”

Rey blows out a heavy stream of air past her lips. “She was practically doing somersaults the entire last hour of class.”

“Maybe she’s just stretching.” He rubs his thumb lovingly across Rey’s dress just over where her belly button rests—her belly much larger right now at six months pregnant than it was when he first met her. He feels a little thump against Rey’s skin as if his daughter is agreeing with the sentiment, and his chest feels tight. “She’s active.”

“She’s probably going to be freakishly tall like you,” Rey snorts. “By the time I give birth they’ll have to extract her, I bet.”

Ben laughs. “You’ll survive. You’ve met my mother. She’s smaller than you, and she made it.”

“Yeah, yeah.” 

She rests her hand over his, stroking the back of it lightly with her thumb, and damned if everything he’s ever wanted isn’t right here in this little enclosed space of the car.

“Can I tell the new baby about the Loch Ness monster?” 

Rey’s brow furrows in confusion at her son’s question, turning to give Ben a questioning look to which he just shrugs. Rey shakes her head. “Kira?”

“Kira,” Ben sighs.

“I love that girl,” Rey chortles, “but she’s going to be the death of me.”

“One day someone might be saying the same about this one.” Ben pats Rey’s stomach lightly before finally pulling his hand away to wind his fingers through Rey’s over the middle console. “You never know.”

Rey smiles. “Is it weird that I sort of hope so?”

“No.” Ben pulls her hand to bring the back of it to his mouth, lips curled against her skin. “It’s not weird at all.”

Ren launches into another retelling of his day then, and Rey listens intently—never once releasing Ben’s hand as he continues on their way home. His life is so different than it was a year ago, and there isn’t a single part of him that can find any regret for it. He didn’t think happiness like his existed, but he’s more than happy to be proven wrong. He’s happy to know that he didn’t miss out on either of them.

He knows he won’t miss out on anything ever again.