Ben didn’t even bother to turn around to see who the voice belonged to, he already knew. With a roll of his eyes, he moved a couple of inches to the side but never kept his eyes from the stars above.
As soon as she was beside him, he blindly handed over a slice of lukewarm pizza that she immediately began to enthusiastically devour.
“Han and Leia say hello,” Rey with a muffled, pizza-induced mumble and a smile.
“That’s kind of them,” Ben chuffed with a shake of his shoulders. His parents loved her - truly. It wasn’t surprising, considering that Rey Sands had been a fixture in the Organa-Solo household for as long as he could remember. So, when he sat on the roof like he did most nights when the weather permitted him to, they’d never bat an eye when his very best friend walked through the door and made her way upstairs like she owned the place.
Rey let out a soft sigh as she polished off the crust of her slice. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the way she chewed her lip and knew in an instant that something was on her mind.
“What is it?”
He knew her. Could read her like a fucking book. Being friends for their whole lives had to be good for something. Countless nights spent together and neither of their parents thinking anything of it when Rey would trudge down to eat breakfast in their kitchenette. It was what they did. It was what they had always done.
Her hazel eyes, somehow magically lit by the soft, pinkish glow on the horizon from the early summer dusk, looked so impossibly far away. Ben could tell that there was something on her mind and, in normal circumstances, he would have demanded that she say what it was, or tickle it out of her.
But they were older. They were different. Sort of.
Things were about to change in a big way and Ben could feel the weight of it over them, precariously hanging on a frayed rope the longer they waited to talk about it. They weren’t little kids anymore, skinny dipping in the pool before they knew any better not to.
A smile bloomed on her freckled face, but Ben could see through it. He couldn’t resist it though, he never could. It had got him in trouble more times than he could count, but it wouldn’t trade any of their wild memories for anything.
Rey looked over over the front yard of the Organa-Solo house and toyed with a strand of long hair around her finger as they watched the slow, staccato blinks of fireflies floating lazily over the perfectly trimmed yard.
“Do you…” She breathed, looking to him for a moment before scooting closer and laying her head on his shoulder, “Do you ever feel like we are on the edge of everything? Like...like we are about to get everything we ever wanted?”
“I mean...I guess so,” Ben shrugged, laying his cheek gently atop her head and slowly inhaled the smell of her flowery shampoo with a flip of his stomach. “Almost everything, anyway.”
They settled into a silence that was...normally a comfortable one. That wasn’t to say that it wasn’t , but Ben couldn’t help but think of everything that he wanted to say to her. Everything he’d been waiting to say, but surely was far too late to do so. There were so much bigger things ahead of them. Graduation. A summer that would certainly fly by as they prepared to, for the first time in their young lives, go their separate ways - chasing their dreams to opposite sides of the country. And Ben couldn’t bear to think about it.
Avoidance was key - a talent he’d inherited from his dad - and Ben was never more grateful for his busy schedule come fall of their senior year. There wasn’t time to talk about it. Not when they had grueling rehearsals and drills to run come August to prepare for the upcoming marching band season. The piles of music were a blessed distraction, requiring their memorization as both the section leader of the drumline - and the drum major of the entire band.
By the time Christmas rolled around, along with the expansive studies they’d piled on for their senior year and the holiday concert series that kept them busy in the evenings, there still hadn’t been the time or the place to say what he wanted to. He wanted to abandon the thought, leave it behind, and just be friends the way they had been as long as he could remember. But all it took was one look across the band from the trombone section to see her deep in concentration as she gently hammered a smooth roll on the timpani, silencing the sound at its peak with a soft press of her fingertips against the drumhead, and Ben was lost all over again.
It was wrong. He shouldn’t like her like this. But, the pucker of her brow as her eyes roved over the sheets of music on her music stand, the soft parting of her lips as she moved her body from drum to drum for each expertly played note, or the subtle smile when her eyes met his, told him that he didn’t just like her. He loved her.
I love you. I’ve loved you my whole life, and I don’t want you to go.
They spent Christmas break at his family’s cabin just north of the city, and Ben wished they could have stayed there forever, but it was too much of a coward to speak up beyond their normal. What was he supposed to say? What was he supposed to do? Look up from a vigorous snowball fight after he’d tackled her into a snowbank and tell her how beautiful the flush of her cheeks looked beneath her freckles? Was he supposed to tell her that all the quiet afternoons they’d spent curled reading up on the couch together - with her using his chest as a pillow - had meant so much more to him than she knew? That, with her so close-by and her soft body in line with his, he could barely concentrate beyond the beating of his own heart, let alone the words on the page.
There was a moment. One single second when, fresh from falling snow outside, Ben had reached out and wiped a single snowflake from her cheek with the pad of his thumb. Her breath caught in her throat and for an instant, he felt something , but like the way the delicate snowflake melted away from the heat of his touch, the moment did too. The moment was lost, squandered away by him, and all too soon, they had to drag themselves away from the blessed little retreat and go back to Chicago.
Three-Thousand Eighty One.
The number of miles from Harvard to UC Berkeley was staggering. He knew because he’d looked it up the moment his acceptance letter from the legendary university had arrived in the mail late that March. The weight of it in his hands was more than he could bear as he teetered on thrilling excitement and the urge to puke as soon as the thought of leaving her behind crossed his mind.
He wanted to hold onto the news for a few days, but the moment he saw her in the cafeteria the next morning, and the subsequent one after that, when she squealed and threw herself excitedly in his arms with a letter from Berkeley in her hand, Ben knew that they only had so much time left - but not enough to say what he truly wanted to say.
“It’s going to be fine,” Rey stated, reaching over him to capture another slice of pizza, “There’s email and Facebook, and I swear that I heard your mom say that she was replacing both of our Razr’s with iPhones as a graduation present so we can text with an entire keyboard.”
“Yeah...fine,” Ben nodded, giving her a tightlipped smile, lingering in her gaze for a moment as all the things he was too much of a coward to say swam in circles in his mind. She blinked slowly with a swallow of her pizza, parting her lips like, she too, had something she wanted to say, but promptly looked away with a broad grin.
“You going to Poe’s party tomorrow?”
Ben hung his head with a loud, drawn-out groan, “Do I have to?”
“Come oooon,” Rey elongated the vowel, giving his shoulder a push with her own, “It’s the last one of the year. Everyone will be there.”
“Yeah, cause hanging out with a bunch of jocks is what I want to do on a Saturday.” Ben gave her a pointed look.
“Ben,” Rey gave him the tiniest pout - the same kind of look that would always ensnare him in whatever wacky plans that would always eventually get them in trouble...the same one that he could never say no to - with a slow bat of her thick eyelashes, “I was really hoping that you’d go with me. We’ve always done everything together-”
“...not by choice…”
“We have always done everything together and,” Rey paused to breathe a soft sigh, “It’s the last time we get to do this...and I don’t want to do it without you. I know...I know that I’m gonna have to start to learn how...I just don’t want to if I don’t have to. And you’re right here. ”
“ Fine ,” Ben grumbled with a frown that just couldn’t stay put when Rey let out an excited squeal and threw her arms around him. His practically thrummed when she pressed her lips to his cheek and he let out a trembling sigh of his own, wrapping his arms around her in return with a quiet thought.
Maybe he should swallow his pride and stop pretending that he didn’t need anyone because he did. He needed her. And she was right there in his arms, so warm and so right...what did he have to lose?
“Shut up, it’s only been five minutes.”
“Five minutes that I’ve been out here waiting for you, Sands. Are you ever going to be on time for anything in your entire life?” Ben queried with a lopsided grin as he leaned against the old Chevy Falcon with his arms crossed over his chest as he watched her precariously walk across the lawn from her house to the Organa-Solo driveway next door.
“I’m not always late,” Rey answered with a frown, holding a ridiculously small purse type thing between her teeth as she reached behind her to lift her chestnut hair from her shoulders with a twist of a pencil.
“Watch,” Ben reached out and held open the door for her, “You’re going to be late for your own wedding.”
“Doubt it,” Rey answered with a sly grin, “For the right guy, I’ll be early.”
“First time for everything, I guess,” he grumbled, shutting the door as she swung her legs inside.
He walked around the hood of his dad’s precious car, thankful that he’d trusted him enough to take it out to a party, of all places. Sliding into the driver’s seat with a huff, Ben turned the key in the ignition with a roar and threw his arms across the back of Rey’s seat like it was second nature. Except, there wasn’t anything second nature about the way her bare skin felt against his fingertips, sending a frisson of goosebumps up his arms as he dexterously cranked the wheel and back out of the driveway.
They sat in silence with only the quiet hum of Snow Patrol playing from his iPod against the low thrum of the engine. He spared a single glance across the front seat and clenched his jaw when he fully took in what Rey was wearing.
“What is that?” He snapped, sharper than he intended.
“What’s what?” Rey cast him an amused look, and Ben couldn’t help but notice the black kohl that lined her lashes and made the green in her eyes stand out in a way they never had before.
“What are you wearing?”
“A dress,” she chuffed with a roll of her eyes.
“Steve who? ” He wished that he didn’t feel the scorching coils of jealousy in his chest, but the more glances he spared, the more unbearable they became. The converses on her feet were the same ones she always wore, faded and well-worn, but everything else was different. Ben could swear that her legs couldn’t possibly be as long as they looked, but they looked like they went on for miles and miles, too long for the impossibly short dress she wore to cover. He could tell that she was nervous about something, with the press of her knees together and the way she fiddled with the ruffled hem of her skirt - painted with soft swirls of turquoise and plum - but he couldn’t put his finger on what. “Who are you so dressed up for?”
“None of your business, that’s who.” Rey snapped, turning in her seat to look out the window with a whisper, “Maybe this was a bad idea.”
Ben could hear the thumping of the music as they pulled up to the stately brick home. Rey opened her own door and they walked in silence up to the front door. She leaned forward and pressed a finger to the doorbell, and Ben sighed in the heavy quiet that followed.
He turned to her for a moment and let her name fall from his lips, softer than it ever had before, “ Rey… ”
She lifted her eyes in an instant, lips parted softly as she waited for him to speak, and oh how he wished that he did, because as soon as he opened his mouth to speak, the door flew open.
“Talk later, okay?” Rey nodded towards him as Rose Tico reached out and tugged her inside. Ben watched her get sucked into the fold of people, wishing that, for once in his fucking life, he could turn off his brain and just dive in with both feet.
He stepped inside and milled through the crowd, idly wondering if the entire Class of 2007 had been stuffed into Poe Dameron’s house. Familiar faces filled every corner and time began to blur as he moved from conversation to dull conversation, always watching her from his vantage point above the crowd.
It began to thin as the night wore on and Ben couldn’t help but roll his eyes when Bazine Netal, the most popular girl in school, sidled up beside him.
“Hey Benny,” she cooed, brushing her fingers across the red flannel sleeve of his shirt as he stared into the bottom of his red Solo cup.
“What do you want?” Ben sighed with a purse of his lips before taking a sip of lukewarm Pabst Blue Ribbon. He offered her a glance, tearing his eyes away from the smattering of people that had gathered in the center of the basement living room.
Tall and willowy, it hadn’t really been a surprise when the head cheerleader had been offered a modeling contract. Sure, she was pretty, but she’d never spared Ben a second glance as they grew up, not until he’d made it through his awkward and gangly phase, grown out his hair to cover his ears, and learned that Crossfit was a great way to channel his simmering temper. He was still awkward, but in a completely different way - and most of the girls had noticed.
“We’re playing a little game, and I want you to sit by me,” Bazine purred, coiling her arm through his as she held up a dark green, glass bottle with a wiggle, “Maybe you’ll get lucky.”
“Oh,” Ben chuffed with a roll of his eyes as he watched the group of teenagers circle up, “Don’t you think we’re too old for these games?”
“You’re never too old for Seven Minutes in Heaven, silly,” she grinned up at him. It melted away when she realized that she wasn’t going to get him to participate - not the way she wanted - and she promptly handed off the bottle to a passing friend.
Bazine lingered by his side as the game began with a round of raucous cheers when couple after couple disappeared into a coat closet at the bottom of the stairs. He didn’t make a move to get away from her, too distracted by the sight of Rey in the center of all her other friends, laughing loudly at something one of them at said. His breath caught in his throat when she glanced towards him and her smile melted away.
Something in his chest clenched when he watched her eyes move to Bazine, and the way her arms were twined around him, and back to his face for a split second. Rey drained the rest of her drink and strode forward to snatch the blindfold from Kaydel who’d just breathlessly emerged from the closet with a red-faced Paige Tico in tow.
“My turn!” she reached up and tied the blue scarf around her eyes with a broad grin and pulled the door shut behind her.
Ben’s mind raced and his jealousy ran rampant as the bottle at the center of the circle spun, and spun, and spun, and spun , slowly coming to a stop on Poe Dameron. The cocky bastard let out a triumphant yell, and Ben felt sick when he thought of what he’d like to do to Rey in the darkness of that closet, blindfolded without any idea of who was in there beside her. He couldn’t let that happen. He shouldn’t. She was his best friend, his soulmate if that was a thing, and there was no way in hell that he was letting anyone get in that closet with her. Not anyone but him.
Before he knew what he was doing, Ben threw his hand out and abruptly fisted the fabric of Poe’s Hollister tee, flung him around, and pressed him against the wood-paneled wall.
“What the fuck, Solo?” Poe’s dark eyes were wide as Ben held him firmly in place.
“Fat fucking chance I’m letting you go in there with her, Dameron. Go back to your shitty beer and leave this alone. Leave her alone. ” Ben rumbled with a growl that would have raised the hair on anyone’s arms.
Poe threw his palms up in mock-surrender, “Jesus, fine . I won’t go in, but someone else will. She’s a hot piece of ass and there’s plenty of dudes who wanna hit that before she takes off to Berkeley. What are you going to do then, go hide in her dorm to keep her from getting laid? You know for a fact that it’s only a matter of time before she finds herself a hot ass boyfriend who isn’t afraid of her guard dog.”
Ben’s blood boiled as he looked from the jock’s smug face to the closed door where Rey was waiting.
“Aren’t you afraid that you’re holding her back?” Poe drawled with a sly smile, “I mean...if she was my best friend, I would have tapped that a long-ass time ago. So, what’s stopping you?”
Ben loosened the grip on Poe’s shirt for a moment, looking to the door again with a sigh.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” Poe sneered and immediately wished he hadn’t when Ben’s eyes flashed and, with a furious swing of his fist, pummeled him in a single, dizzying punch. The room around them went wild, but he didn’t give them the satisfaction of giving in to a full-on fistfight.
He turned around with a glare and the room grew quiet when Rey’s voice called out through the closet door.
“Hello? You didn’t forget about me, did you?”
Ben let out a huff of air, releasing Poe from his iron grip as he pivoted towards the sound of her voice, rubbing the palms of his hands on his black jeans as he tried to quell the rapid beating of his heart.
The voices in the room were hushed for a moment, but the din steadily grew as everyone lost interest in the sudden rush of drama, quickly going back to things that were of greater concern, like the depth of the beer in their plastic cups.
Ben reached with a trembling hand to grasp the doorknob, taking in one last breath before pulling it open and stepping into the darkness. The door shut behind him with a perfunctory thud , sealing out the sound, and leaving them in at the center of a charged silence.
With every blink, his eyes slowly adjusted to the darkness, and he was suddenly so painfully aware of how close they were to each other. There she was, face tilted towards the ceiling with her eyes hidden from view and a shy smile playing on her lips.
Ben watched her for a moment, unable to make a move, or even a sound, as he tried to think of what to do next. He knew what he should do - announce his presence, take off her blindfold, and save her the humiliation of his interference. Maybe they could go back to his house and spend the rest of the night on the roof outside his bedroom window like they’d done countless nights before. Maybe it would turn into one of their traditional sleepovers, where he’d roll over - like he’d done more times than he could count - and find her curled up in the bed beside him. Maybe, he’d pluck up the courage to wake her with a kiss, the way he always imagined he would whenever he would watch the early morning sunlight warm the contours of her face.
But he couldn’t.
He couldn’t because she was there right in front of him. Fate was there too, spurring him on as they stood in the darkness.
Her voice was the first thing to break the silence, delicate and wavering as she stood there in her feigned confidence, slowly twirling a stray strand of chestnut hair around her finger.
“You can kiss me, you know. It’s okay.”
Ben smiled softly in the darkness, slowly reaching up to gently brush the pad of his thumb over the curve of her bottom lip. Rey’s breath hitched at the intimate gesture, offering her own smile as she leaned into his touch. With her so close, and the moment so right, he wondered, just for a moment, if he just might do it. Just this once. Just a taste.
So he did.
Ben lifted his other hand and held her face in the palms of his hands, gingerly tilting her chin towards him as he ever so slowly leaned down and, with his heart thudding wildly in his chest, pressed his lips to hers.
In the span of a single moment, they rode the wave of the instantaneous thrill. Ben coiled his arm around her waist, relishing the feeling of the thin fabric of her dress beneath his hands, pulling her flush against his chest as he held firmly to the curve of her jaw, spurred on by the quiet whimper he summoned from her.
He knew kissing her would be good, but Ben never dreamed it would be as amazing as this. They were attuned to each other, effortlessly intertwined with each slow exploration of their hands and fluid movement of their mouths.
Rey was the first to deepen the kiss, letting her hands skim over the fabric on his chest as she bent up on her tiptoes and brushed her tongue over the seam of his mouth. Ben answered her with a low groan, reaching to pull her closer, but she balked at the sound and instantly tore herself away.
His heart hammered away like a runaway freight train as she tore the blindfold from her eyes and looked up at him with a wide-eyed look.
“ Ben ?”