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Summer Heat

Chapter Text

“There aren’t any bears around here, are there?” Rey asks.

The water taxi driver—Finn, he said his name was—dumps the final box of food on the chipped Formica kitchen counter. He has a nice smile and kind eyes under the shade of his blue baseball cap. “Bears? Never seen one myself, but you see signs of them sometimes. We have the shy kind around here, they won’t try to break in for your food or anything.”

Rey doesn’t feel brave enough to ask what the “signs” of a bear are.

“You should worry more about the bugs anyway,” he continues. “Lucky you missed blackfly season back in May and earlier in June. Now it’s just mosquitoes until August—they die down a lot then. Keep your screen doors closed all the time. The windows all have screens, so you’re safe there. You might want bug spray if you go walking in the woods.”

She thinks in dismay of the single can of bug spray she brought. It sounds like she’ll be dousing herself in it daily.

Finn pulls a phone out of his pocket. “Hey, let me give you my number for when you need a ride.”

She fumbles around in the rucksack she dropped to the floor on one of their trips up into the cottage from the boat. Surprisingly, her phone’s signal is at five bars. “Good signal here,” she mutters as she looks up her new number to give him in return. It hasn’t stuck in her head yet, the Canadian mobile phone numbers unfamiliar compared with the British.

“Yeah, they put a tower up on Cary’s Island a couple years ago. You can use it for internet too, but it’s slow as hell. Check your email, that’s about it.”

It’s no different than she expected. In fact, it’s better—she thought she’d have to make use of the internet cafe back at the marina for everything.

Numbers exchanged, Finn says, “Want a hand with turning on the power and getting the water pump going and stuff?”

It hadn’t occurred to her that such things needed turning on. Power and water just … were. “You’re not too busy?”

“Nah. Most of our traffic is on the weekend. They’ll call me if they need me.”

While Finn is fiddling with the electrics, Rey takes a look around. The main living area is an open room. At one end is a sturdy wooden table with mismatched chairs around it, and at the other, a wood-burning stove. A cluster of wicker chairs face the large window that looks down the steep stone steps to the lake. Cutting some of the trees back in front of the cottage would give a better view, but the shade they cast is pleasant and makes the cottage itself very private, hardly visible from the water.

A kitchen with basic appliances and open shelves is off to one side, and a dark hallway leads off to the bathroom and two bedrooms at the back. The smaller bedroom has built-in wooden bunk beds she would have loved sleeping in as a child; even now she’s tempted to climb the somewhat rickety ladder to sit up high on the top bunk. The master bedroom has windows on two sides and a heavy, antique-looking wooden bedstead covered in a faded patchwork quilt.

Everything in the cottage looks old and worn. Rustic would be the kindest description. It’s all so different to the interchangeable foster homes she grew up in, one grey housing estate after another, hardly a tree in sight. Here the cottage is part of the the dense forest outside, redolent with pine and leaf mould, the scent of fresh water carried on the breeze. Crouching between trees and water, her wooden house clings onto the rocks under the thin soil, filled with artifacts of the grandfather she knows so little about.

Being surrounded by so much wood gives a unique sense of warmth. The narrow wooden floorboards are smooth underfoot and there’s no ceiling, the wooden roof support frames visible overhead. Neat rows of unfinished planks line the sloping roof interior. She can see the skeleton of the building, the bones her grandfather assembled to create it.

Finn spends the afternoon helping get her settled in. Soon the power and water are on, the fridge is happily cooling itself and all her food is put away. He shows her the woodpile and how to get a fire going in her stove: the arcane arts of kindling and log placement. Apparently a fire will be welcome at night and in the early morning, except on the hottest summer days.

After all the work is done, they share a drink of filtered lakewater on the deck, allowing her to collect her first mosquito bites. The water tastes soft and alive in a way she’s never experienced before, as if she’s been having some synthetic version all this time and this is the real thing. She can’t imagine what a cup of tea will be like, but the cool water tastes good in the late afternoon heat, watching the sunlight glittering on the lake.

“I should be going,” Finn says finally.

She fumbles for some cash in her pocket. “How much do I owe you?

“Twenty for the taxi.”

“You’ve been here for hours,” she objects. “I’d be stumbling around in the freezing dark and contracting cholera from drinking raw lakewater without you.”

He laughs and shakes his head. “We look out for each other around here. Call me anytime you need a ride, or have any questions. Oh, by the way, your neighbour’s registered. Friendly enough, but you never know, right?”

Registered? She’s unwilling to reveal her ignorance about yet another aspect of Canadian cottage life, so she just nods. Her purpose here is to work, not make friends with anyone, though Finn has been pleasant company.

She stands on the dock and looks on as he springs into his boat with a grace she knows she sorely lacked when she lurched onboard. The huge motor growls and water churns heavily, sending chaotic eddies to splash against the rocky shoreline. With a wave and a smile, he turns the boat around and heads out. Soon enough, he disappears around the bend at the end of the bay into the next, and the sound of his motor fades into the distance.

After dinner she goes out on the dock again to see the sunset. The sun is a glowing orange ball that looks like it’s resting on the treetops of the island that guards the entrance to the bay. It lights up a brilliant pink-orange path across the washed-out blue of the water, tiny waves rippling to disturb the surface. The path looks like it’s aimed right at her, like she could follow it right up into the sun itself, and she has to fight the temptation to stare directly at the dazzling light, to get lost between the shadows and the orange flame.

A bird calls repeatedly in the distance, a strange stuttering cry, and she squints to try to see it. As she looks around, she notices for the first time that a man is standing on the end of the dock of her next door neighbour’s cottage. With the light behind him, all she can see is that he’s tall and lean. His arms make a sudden movement and something long and thin flashes in the air. He stills and his silhouetted shape becomes clearer—he’s holding a fishing rod.

Their docks are just about close enough that she could call out a greeting to him, but far enough away to make it awkward. He doesn’t turn to look at her, so after a moment she makes her way back inside.




She thought she would stay awake longer, listening to the forest sighing around the cottage, her drift into sleep broken by the occasional sudden drop of an acorn onto the roof. But in the complete darkness and quiet she falls asleep more quickly than normal, and wakes more refreshed than she has in a long time.

Before she gets dressed she heads down to the lake, eager to see the water again. It’s early, before eight o’clock, and the water is as still as a mirror, holding dark reflections of the trees that stand over it. The smooth surface is so impossibly calm that she kneels on the dock and leans down to place a hand on it, so expecting to feel a solidity there that she is almost shocked when her fingers slide into cool water.

Peering deeper, she can just see the dark brown sand at the bottom and a few small fish weaving their way between the dock foundations and bright green strands of seaweed with fine needlelike leaves. The lake is deep: even here, no more than a meter or two from the shore, the water would be almost over her head.

The air is already warm, promising a hot, sunny day, and despite the coolness of the water, the temptation to slip under that polished surface is too tempting. She glances back up at the cottage, thinking of putting on her swimming costume, but… Who will see her? Only a few birds calling in the trees break the silence. No one else is around. A bubble of excitement swells in her chest as she quickly strips off her dressing gown and pyjamas.

Her ungainly leap in is far from an elegant dive, and she gasps at the shock of cold water. Seaweed touches her foot and she yelps, kicking hard and fast to swim further out, only stopping where the water is too deep for it to grow. All she can see is darkness when she looks down. The light on her skin in the dark water is strange, like her body hangs suspended above a fathomless expanse of black. The water’s not murky, though; it’s fresh and perfectly clear when she cups some in her hand to see.

She’s never swum in a lake before, and she feels like she should be troubled by the mysterious depths below. But she isn’t. Instead, she watches her breasts float, her nipples pebbled hard in the chill. Her hair swirls around her shoulders, the heady smell of lake filling her nose. When she opens her legs, the cool water enters her, but it’s not unpleasant.

She closes her eyes and turns her face like a flower to the sun. For a time, the only sound is her breath and the blood rushing in her ears. Her only sensations are the soft cool water pulling at her as she slowly moves her limbs to keep afloat, and the contrasting warmth of the sunlight on her face. She is made of everything the world is: air, water, light. She breathes. In and out. In and out. Alive.




A few days later, she’s tired of staring at her laptop screen and decides to brave a forest walk. After a liberal dousing in bug spray, she sets off on a slightly overgrown path that climbs up and away from the lake, further into the forest. Her head is full of warnings from a guidebook she found on the bookshelf. Poison ivy, porcupines, skunks, rattlesnakes. Bears. Canada would be a terrifying place if the forest wasn’t so calming.

She’s never really considered herself a nature person, never had much opportunity to be immersed in it like this. But already in the days she’s spent here, she’s eaten with better appetite, care of her twice-daily swims, and she’s slept soundly with no distractions from bright lights or traffic noise. In fact, she’s been eating so well she’ll need to call Finn in a day or two and get him to pick her up so she can go grocery shopping.

With her head down watching the sides of the path for errant snakes and poison ivy, and busy making a shopping list in the back of her mind, she doesn’t see the dog before she hears its loud bark, startling her so badly she jumps backward, shrieking in fright.

“Bear,” a deep voice snaps and she looks past the dog, a chocolate lab, to the tall man a few paces behind it.

Her neighbour, it must be, though she’s surprised she hasn’t heard the dog before now. As she warily approaches, she sees just how tall the man is, well over six feet. Broad shouldered, too, with a muscular chest and arms. He wears a white T-shirt covered by an unbuttoned red plaid shirt and faded jeans. His face is dotted with dark moles, and he has a large nose and full lips framed by a slightly messy goatee. A handsome face, she decides after a moment. Strong featured, but his eyes are soft and warm. He has shoulder-length dark hair, part of it pulled into a ponytail high on his head.

He’s surveying her, too, eyes flicking over her plain T-shirt, skinny jeans and trainers. “You must be Rey,” he says after a moment. The dog sits down beside him, looking up at him adoringly.

She can’t control her flinch. How does he know her?

He’s visibly dismayed by her reaction. “Sorry, I just—I knew your grandfather. I heard you were coming.”

She leans forward this time. “You knew Obi-Wan Kenobi?”

He nods. “Yeah. He and my grandpa built the two cottages together in the fifties. Anakin Skywalker?”

“I’m sorry, I’ve never heard the name. My mum didn’t keep in touch with Obi-Wan. After he and my grandmother split up, she moved to England with my mum, so I grew up there. This is my first time in Canada.”

“Oh. I’m Ben, anyway. Ben Solo.” He looks at her like she might recognize his name, though she doesn’t know how she would.

“Rey Kenobi.” Shaking hands would be odd, and they’re still standing a bit too far apart for that, so she makes an awkward gesture with her arm that’s something like a wave.

“I have some pictures of Obi-Wan with my grandpa if you ever want to see,” he offers, politely ignoring her strange movement.

“Is now a good time?” It’s good to see another human face after days in total isolation. She’s used to being alone, but it can’t hurt to spend a few minutes chatting to someone friendly.

The outside of his cottage is stained a similar dull deep red to her own. It blends in with the reddish bark of the pine trees surrounding it and the bed of dried orange-brown needles and leaves that cover the forest floor. Inside, the furnishings are more modern and in better condition than hers, and the walls and ceiling are all enclosed and insulated, making it habitable in winter. A delicious smell fills the air, warm and enticing, like a batch of gingerbread has just come out of the oven. The smell is so strong, in fact, that she casts a quick look around the kitchen in search of a rack of baked goods, but only a few dirty dishes sit in the sink, and the surfaces are bare.

The dog, Bear, settles down in front of the wood stove, though no fire is lit. Open doors lead to a small sunroom that juts out from the cottage. The trees near the shore have been cleared away to allow spectacular views of the lake. A deep sofa stands in the room, and Rey can imagine losing herself sitting there for hours, watching the lake change and shift as the sun travels over it.

“Here,” Ben says, from where he’s been searching on a bookshelf on the other side of the living room. He hands her a photo album and she sets it on the dining table to look at it.

The first few pages show the two plots of land from various angles, before any work started. Then several photos feature boats piled high with lumber and sacks of cement mix. She tries to imagine bringing all the required building materials over in trip after trip. Several pages later has the first shot of the two men together. She barely recognizes that the bearded man is a young Obi-Wan. A slightly younger man, with a mane of thick hair not dissimilar to Ben’s, has his arm slung over Obi-Wan’s shoulder.

“That’s Anakin,” Ben says, pointing one long finger. His sleeve pulls up from his wrist to reveal a smooth band, which she first takes to be a smartwatch or fitness tracker. But the band is metal and has no display, only a number engraved on it and a symbol she has to stare at for a second to make sense of.

She sucks in a breath. “You’re an alpha.”

He jerks back and pushes his sleeve down to hide the wrist-tracker. “I thought you knew.”

“How would I have known?” Vaguely, she remembers Finn saying something about her neighbour being … registered, was it? That must be the word for it here. In the UK, they called it listed.

She’d actually known of an alpha before. Before his designation presented, he’d attended a secondary school she went to. Even when she was there years later, long after he’d been sent away, his school photo was pointed out to every new student. He had been lucky enough to find a mate, an extremely rare male omega. His family lived across the road from her foster home, and she’d recognized him from his distinctive bright red hair when he visited once. A bonded alpha was given much more freedom than most, they could travel with permission, even hold down a job. He had one hand possessively at the lower back of a shorter dark-haired man as he guided him into the house. Shockingly, the dark-haired man’s belly had been unmistakably round with pregnancy. It had been like seeing a unicorn, or a dragon. Something mythical.

“I thought someone would have told you,” Ben mutters.

She takes a step back. Suddenly, she’s aware that they are very alone, and she’s ready to turn and run, except the thought of turning her back on him makes her neck prickle with fear.

“Please,” he says and reaches out a hand. She gasps and flinches away, though he was nowhere near touching her. “Please. I’m not—I wouldn’t. Don’t run. I promise—I would never hurt anyone.”

She looks up at him. His face is too soft, too open. Ready for her to reject him, call him one of the ugly names people reserve for alphas, to remind them of their place as primitive remnants of an old system that most people have evolved past, outcasts who have to be controlled. He’s already wounded without her having to wield the blade.

She tries to steady herself. “You startled me,” she tells him. Her heart is pounding in her chest, but every quick breath draws in more of the spicy-sweet air around them. The smell fills her head and it’s so warmly comforting that she can feel herself slowly relaxing. It helps that Bear is sprawled out on the floor and Ben hasn’t moved again, standing hunched and miserable, half turned away to the photo album.

“I’m sorry,” he says, not looking at her.

“I should go.” Her neck still tingles at the thought of putting her back to him, so she performs a complicated series of backward side-steps until she’s near the door they entered only minutes before.

“I could’ve gone over there anytime, you know,” he says, just as she’s reaching behind herself for the doorknob.

She pauses. “What?”

He stands straighter, pulling himself up. “I left you alone. You came on my land, didn’t you see the marker with the Alpha symbol?”

She shakes her head with confusion. The scent seems to be telling her that she’s safe, but it sounds like— “Are you threatening me?”

His eyes widen. “No! No.”

“So I should be grateful you haven’t come to my cottage to—to—” The plot of every trashy thriller she picked up over the years comes back to haunt her.

He takes a step toward her. “I’m saying I’ve had every opportunity to hurt you if I wanted to—”

“Oh, that’s making me feel so much better, thank you!”

“—but I haven’t. And I won’t.”

Somehow they’re standing quite close together, having met in the middle of the room. He’s glowering down at her as she glares up at him.

“Well, Alpha—”

Don’t call me that—”

“Thank you so much for protecting me by not attacking me. I’m extremely grateful.”

“You’re welcome, Beta,” he sneers.

“Beta is hardly an insult. I bet you wish you were one.”

Her voice is too harsh and he reels back, stung. Bear has come to stand by them now, whining at the raised voices and tension in the room. Ben places a large hand on Bear’s head and he calms immediately. She stares a moment at his long fingers as they gently fondle Bear’s silky ears. Ben is looking down at the dog and he’s curled back into himself again.

“I’m sorry,” she says quickly. “I shouldn’t have said that.”

He takes a slow breath. “I used to spend a lot of time with Obi-Wan when he was here in the summer—I’ve been up here since I got out of the alpha school. My grandpa had a rare form of dementia that hit him young. My whole life I saw him disappear. I never really knew him, the real him. Obi-Wan was—” He shakes his head and clears his throat.

“I miss him,” he continues after a moment. “This is the first summer I won’t see him since I was eighteen. I couldn’t get permission to go to his funeral…” He swallows heavily. “He was like a father to me. I would never hurt anyone connected to him.”

“I’m sorry,” she says again, awkwardly. Without thinking, she touches the side of his forearm in sympathy and he stiffens, leaning away from the contact.

“Yeah, well. Just—don’t be afraid. I’ll leave you alone.”

“Okay. Good.” That’s all she wanted, isn't it? This time she has the confidence to turn away from him to make her escape. “I’ll see you around then.” She opens the door and heads off before he can answer.

As she follows the path along the shoreline back home, a red squirrel scolds her from high up in the trees. Its chittering call is the only sound other than her own footsteps on the soft ground and the gentle roll of waves against the shore. She keeps wanting to look back; it feels like she’s leaving something behind. This place is taking things from her; she’s spreading parts of herself around in a way she hasn’t noticed happening before. Little pieces of emotion or thought, sprinkled here and there. Maybe it’s always been like that, but no one else’s tracks cover her trail here, so her prints are obvious, like footsteps dried into hard clay.

Finally she gives in and looks back to Ben’s cottage, but the trees are already shrouding it, and it’s no more than a few sharp angles glimpsed between foliage. She’s better off alone. She always has been.

Chapter Text

Ben is struggling to wake up, yawning at the ceiling as he works up the energy to get out of bed, when his phone pings with a message.

PDam-mit: Hey! New link up for u. Sry only a preview for now…

Ben opens his fileshare app. The little blue icon swirls around, sluggishly trying to download the video file Poe shared with him.

KyloRen: Thanks can’t wait

It’ll probably be ten minutes at the speed he gets, so he drags himself up and heads off to the kitchen to make a coffee, rubbing the sleep from his eyes. Bear pads along behind him, looking up hopefully.

“Yeah, I got you bud. Don’t worry.”

He pours a heap of kibble into the stainless steel bowl on the floor and Bear eagerly thrusts his nose into it.

His phone pings again with another message.

PDam-mit: This is the real thing. Ur gonna luv it.

Ben met Poe through an international alpha connect program back when Ben was in alpha school, and they kept in touch ever since. Poe’s from Guatemala, where the registration laws are stricter than in Canada; he lives in a detention facility that’s one step away from being a prison. But he has internet access, fast internet access, and he takes full advantage.

Ben’s cup of coffee is half gone before the icon changes to a green tick.

The video is less than thirty seconds long, but the quality is pretty good. It starts zoomed in on a woman’s pussy from behind, her knees spread wide where she kneels on a bed. Her inner lips are glistening with a thick discharge that runs down the inside of her thighs.

“You ready for me, baby?” a man asks gruffly.

Her cunt contracts at his words, and another pulse of slick slides out to drip down onto the bed.

“Shit,” Ben breathes. That looked real. He’s watched enough alpha-omega porn to have seen every trick there is to fake it.

Yes,” the woman hisses, drawing out the s.

“Look at me, then.”

She turns over to sit on the edge of the bed. The camera moves out to show her whole upper half, including her face. She’s young, early twenties, with shoulder-length brown hair and tanned skin. Her nipples match her mouth, both stained a dark rose. Pleading eyes look up at the person holding the camera.

Tell me what you want.

“I want you, Alpha.” She flicks her hair back over her shoulders, revealing a scar on her neck under her jawline. Either they had a true artist work on it or that’s a real claiming mark.

Ben can feel his cock filling out. He’s only wearing loose boxers for sleeping and his cock easily tents them. He sighs as he reaches his hand in to curl around it, only meaning to pull himself up more comfortably.

What do you want me to do?” The man’s voice is rough with desire. The camera shakily zooms into the woman’s face.

She looks away from the man, right down the barrel of the camera lens. “Knot me, Alpha. Please.”

Ben’s cock twitches heavily in his hand. It’s fully hard now, the head standing proud of his boxers and already leaking a drop of pre-come.

The video fades to black.

He’s already hitting the replay button as he collapses on the couch, awkwardly pulling his boxers down with one hand. He watches again, his hand wrapped unmoving around his cock as the woman looks right at him.

Knot me, Alpha. Please.

Oh fuck. He can’t help himself. He presses replay again, then pauses the video on the woman’s soaking cunt. Annoyingly, his lube is in the bedroom, and for a second he wants to go get it, but he can’t take his hand off his cock for that long.

Instead, he hurriedly spits into his palm, and spreads the thin saliva over his head and down his shaft. A poor substitute, and nothing like the hot slick an omega would coat him with. He replays the woman’s words over and over, imagining her begging him for his knot. I need you, Alpha. Please. Fill me up. His hand is a little too rough, and his spit is rapidly drying, but he’s lost in thoughts of a desperate omega panting beneath him, and he speeds up his strokes, sliding his thumb over his slit.

“Please, please,” he whimpers, not knowing what’s he asking for, only that he won’t get it.

A final twist of his hand is enough to bring him off, and he’s moaning as his come spurts uselessly onto his belly, not into the warm cunt of the omega in his mind. His cock swells a little near the base, but as usual, it disdains inflating to a full knot. Why would it bother? It knows his knot is unneeded.

He un-pauses the video and watches again. His cock gives a final twitch at the last few seconds. The woman is unfamiliar. He knows every single omega who has ever done a video with their mate. Omegas are so rare, and bonded pairs willing to film themselves together even rarer. Any video that does exist is greedily passed around the online alpha community.

After a quick cleanup with some tissues, he picks his phone up again.

KyloRen: Where’s the rest? I need it.

PDam-mit: Lol. Knew you’d love it. Full vid coming next week. New pair.

Jealousy stabs him sharp in the gut. The number of alphas who find an omega mate is vanishingly small. Sometimes alphas get together with betas, but it’s a toss-up if it works out or not. He hardly ever meets anyone of any designation, so the chances of him ever being with someone are almost nothing.

The only new person he’s met in months is Rey, and he did an excellent job of driving her away. Obi-Wan would have been horrified at the things Ben said; hell, Ben is disgusted with himself. He should be looking out for her in Obi-Wan’s place, not acting like a creepy asshole. His shame over it must be the reason he can’t stop thinking about her.

He tries not to dwell on the smile she gave him when she asked if she could come look at his family photos. That was the before smile. He’s seen it many times. It doesn’t come back.




Finn comes by an hour or two later with Ben’s weekly laundry and grocery delivery. His Blue Jays cap and dark sunglasses shield most of his expression, but his teeth flash in a broad smile. Finn’s so nice that Ben can never decide if it’s fake or not.

“Hey, bro,” Finn says, like always. So fucking friendly. “Maz says they’re out of potatoes, so she put in a bag of frozen home fries instead. Hope that’s okay?”

It’s not like Ben can say anything about it, so he grunts an acknowledgement. Bear is busy greeting Finn enthusiastically, tail wagging, sniffing at Finn’s pockets for the treat he knows will be there.

“Here you go, buddy!” Finn pulls out a doggy biscuit and tosses it in the air for the dog to snatch. Bear settles on the dock beside them, gnawing away at his prize.

“So,” Finn says, after they’ve unloaded everything from the boat and tossed Ben’s dirty laundry bag in, “did you meet your new neighbour? Rey?”

Ben can feel his cheeks heating. “Yeah.” Watching Bear chew on his biscuit becomes intensely fascinating. Finn is silent, which Ben absolutely hates. He always stays quiet until the silence stretches too long and Ben admits whatever stupid thing he’s thinking. “She didn’t know,” he mumbles at last.

Finn half steps back in surprise. “Oh, shit! Sorry, bro. I kind of mentioned it, but she seemed confused.”

Ben’s gut churns at the thought of Finn being the one to warn Rey about him: beware the monster creeping in the woods. I could’ve gone over there anytime. I’ve had every opportunity to hurt you. Shit. Okay, yeah. He’s just not used to talking to people, to a woman. Seeing that before smile. It twisted him up.

“It’s fine.” It isn’t. “She keeps to herself anyway.”

Finn nods. “Yeah. She didn’t say much when I helped her out the other day. Reminded me a bit of Obi-Wan. Prettier, though.” He laughs easily. “Cute accent.”

The little curl of jealousy isn’t unexpected, but the shot of rage that accompanies it is. It’s just that Finn has everything Ben wants, and this is yet another way for Ben to lose out. Ben takes a long slow breath. His hands are shaking. Bear lifts his head and looks up at him. Ben squats down and pats him until the urge to slam Finn against the side of the boathouse subsides. He can’t afford another sanction. He can’t.

A few minutes later, Finn and Rey zoom past him in the water taxi on the way to town, Rey standing close enough to shout in Finn’s ear over the growl of the motor. Ben tries to imagine himself in Finn’s place, her hand resting trustingly on his arm as he bends down so her lips can reach his ear. The jealousy is more like a stab to his gut then, like when Poe told him about that newly bonded pair.

The dream fizzles away. Nothing about it is real, starting with Ben not being allowed to drive a fucking motorboat and ending with him standing alone on his dock, his fists clenched.

It takes some effort to release them.




It’s not like Ben’s listening for her or anything, but it’s just the two of them at the end of the bay, and when he hears her splash into the water, the sound carries right to him. If he then ends up standing in a particular corner of the sunroom that has a decent view of her dock and where she’s swimming in front of it … that’s coincidence. Even if it happens twice a day. Especially after he wakes up early once and happens to see her slip off her robe and pyjamas in the bright morning light, then plunge naked into the still water. So maybe he starts getting up a bit earlier and hanging out in the sunroom, Bear blinking at him in confusion at his deviation from a schedule that’s lasted as long as Bear’s lifetime.

He draws the line at getting the binoculars out. Well, after the one time. Lots of birds out early to see that day. And an expanse of warm tan skin, lean curves and long legs. Small perfect breasts and a beautiful rounded ass that would fit right into his hands.

His phone pings.

PDam-mit: 22 hot minutes. I didn’t last 5.

Ben thumbs the fileshare app. The full video is there waiting to download. Great, only seven hours or so to go.

KyloRen: Let u know in 7 hours...

PDam-mit: Lol ouch. Sorry man. Worth it tho. How’s it going?

KyloRen: Okay. There’s a girl here. New neighbour.

He pauses, thumb over the keypad. Then adds quickly, I want her, and presses send before he can think too hard. It’s easier than he thought to admit it to Poe. A relief to let that swirling tension in his gut settle into a confession.

PDam-mit: Beta?

KyloRen: Obviously.

PDam-mit: Feel you man. Must suck being alone. I have a thing with another alpha here. Doesn’t feel right but it’s something.

Ben knows. He had that back at the alpha school, too. In between the endless hormone-fuelled battles, they all clung together for comfort as they were forced to accept what their lives would be. He hated it and he misses it.

His phone pings again with another message, but he shoves it back in his pocket. Rey’s getting out of the water, and he doesn’t want to miss it.




Later that day, Bear barks at the knock on the door. “Quiet,” Ben tells him firmly, and he sits.

Rey is standing awkwardly a few feet away. Her expression is worried and she glances back over her shoulder towards her cottage.

“Hey,” he says, and she turns to look at him. Her eyes slide down to Bear at his side, then catch at the tracker on his wrist.

“Can you help me?” she asks in a rush. “My water pump is making an awful noise. It’s been going for hours even when I’m not running any water and Finn is off helping with a septic tank installation and I’m worried it’s going to catch fire and—” She stops abruptly. “Please. Finn said you were good at fixing things.”

It takes a moment for him to figure out what she’s saying. “Yeah. Sure. I can help. I’d love to.” Oh fuck. Why the fuck did he say that?

Her eyes widen and she takes a step back.

“I mean, I’d be happy to.”

“Right,” she says nervously. “I found a toolbox in my boathouse…”

He’s already pulling the door shut behind him. The walk to her cottage is silent, but as they draw closer he can hear the pump grinding away. He fixed it up last year for Obi-Wan. The line connection needs replacing, but the pump is old enough that replacements parts aren’t available. It had lasted out the summer and Obi-Wan had been planning to get a new pump this year.

“I’ll turn the power off. Sorry, I should have done that already. Finn showed me how, but I got into such a panic…” Rey rushes off inside, and a few seconds later the rattling pump stills.

The cottage is set into the steep ground rising up from the lake, the front door opening onto a wooden deck that’s almost a full storey high. The area below the cottage is open and holds the store of firewood and the water pump. At the entrance the ceiling is almost high enough for him to stand upright, but the ground rises quickly, and he has to kneel to access the pump itself, his head in danger of knocking against the beams of the floor above him.

“Are you all right in there?” she asks, watching him fold himself in half to fit.

“Yeah, fine. Do you have a flashlight?”

“A what?”

He turns to look at her. She’s holding a toolbox out and on top is a black metal flashlight. He grabs it and turns it on. “Flashlight.”

“Oh, you mean a torch.”

Her little laugh makes him brave enough to tease her. “No, it’s a flashlight.” She goes quiet and his heart sinks. His words must have come out harsher than he meant them to.

She doesn’t leave, though. After they establish that a spanner is a wrench, she is quick to hand him the tools he asks for without further miscommunication. He manages to fix the pump up, and it works smoothly when she turns the power back on. When he re-emerges into the light he tells her about Obi-Wan’s plan to get a new one.

Her face falls. “That sounds … expensive. Any chance this one will last the summer? I’m going to have to sell the cottage after that. I can’t afford it, and I need to finish uni back home.”

“It might hold up, but it could go anytime.” He tries for a casual tone, like her words didn’t just make his heart clench. The idea of strangers here is unthinkable, they’d probably knock down the place and build some hideous luxury home instead. He should have expected it. How would a young woman from England be able to keep up a cottage in Canada? He ignores the little voice inside that tells him it’s not just the cottage being sold that’s making him feel so low.

Bear looks up at him and then longingly towards the lake. He’d sat patiently under the cottage while Ben worked, but now is clearly wanting a swim. Ben wipes the sweat off his forehead. He’d like a swim, too.

“Can I get you a drink?” Rey asks him. “It’s so hot. It must have been stifling under there.”

He should go. “Sure, yeah. Thanks.” Okay, so he’s not going.

She disappears inside again, and he can hear the slam of the fridge. When she comes out, she’s holding two bottles of beer. His mouth waters at the thought of the taste. It’s been years now.

“Ah sorry, I uh, can’t drink.”

“Can’t?”

“They passed a law a few years ago…”

She stares at him, her forehead wrinkled in confusion.

“Alphas aren’t allowed to buy or consume alcohol. Random testing anytime. Automatic sanction.”

Her expression turns horrified. “Oh my god, I’m so sorry.” She darts back into the cottage and returns with two cans of coke.

He grabs a stick as they head down to the dock and tosses it in the water for Bear, who leaps joyfully in to retrieve it, starting a game that will only end with Ben walking away or his arm falling off in exhaustion.

“What’s a sanction?” Rey asks after they watch Bear swim back and forth a few minutes.

“A mark on your record. If you get more than two in six months, it’s automatic jail time.”

And good luck getting out of jail without more sanctions. They were just the government's way of jailing alphas who tried to live free. He knew a few alphas who ended up with sentences that should have been weeks, but somehow, they stretched further into months, then years, as the sanctions piled on in prison. Ben got one a couple months ago for getting into an argument with some asshole in town who thought everyone’s attention should be on the alpha walking around minding his own business. He hadn’t hit the guy or anything, but just telling him to fuck off was enough.

“How do they test you when you live out here?”

“They send someone out every few months.”

She shakes her head. “No alcohol. Can’t imagine how that would go over at home.”

Bear jumps out of the water and carefully deposits the stick at Ben’s feet. He’s practically bouncing on his toes as he waits for Ben to throw it back in. Ben throws it as far as he can, down towards the swampy area at the end of the bay.

“I’m sorry about the other day,” Rey says. She looks up at him, watching his reaction. “I was rude. Thank you for helping me today.”

He blinks. It feels like the first time she’s looked at him full on that afternoon, and he forces himself to meet her gaze. Her eyes are solemn and her face is flushed red from the heat of the day, wisps of hair curling by her cheeks and sticking to her sweaty forehead.

His tongue is heavy in his mouth and the words come out rough. “I’m sorry too, I acted like a dick and said all those weird things.”

She half smiles. “I appreciate that you’ve respected my privacy.”

Fuck. Not a good time to think about the binoculars or all the time he’s spent watching her swim like a gross creep. “Sure,” he manages.

“Want to go for a swim? It looks like you’re wearing your swimming trunks.”

He looks down. “Yeah, I was going to go for a swim earlier.”

She lifts the edge of her shirt up like she’s about to pull it off, revealing a sliver of flat belly, then pauses. “That was a yes, wasn’t it?”

He can’t look away from the patch of skin. It takes everything he has not to reach out to touch her, to see how smooth and soft she feels. “Yeah,” he breathes.

In a swift movement, she pulls the T-shirt off, revealing a turquoise bikini top underneath. His mind struggles to adjust. Of course she’s wearing her bathing suit. It’s not like she was about to strip naked in front of him.

Hastily, he pulls off his own shirt and kicks off his shoes, not looking as she wriggles out of her shorts.

Bear climbs out of the water and shakes himself briskly, showering them in cold water. Rey yelps and takes a step toward Ben, so they’re almost touching. She squats down to pick up the stick and then throws it hard out towards Ben’s cottage.

They’re still standing a bit too close, he can smell a faint sweetness around her, overlaid with the pungent chemical tang of bug spray. She flicks her hair back over her shoulder and looks up at him. His eyes are drawn to the column of her neck, to the gland where her scent is strongest. He can feel himself leaning towards her and he stiffens his back to stop himself.

“Shall we?”

The water is refreshingly cool, and it slows his pulse back down. They swim out a bit, away from the edge of the lake where the overhanging trees shadow the water, into the warmer water where the late afternoon sun is shining down.

Rey ducks her head under and comes back up with her eyes closed. The sun catches in the droplets on her skin, and her face sparkles. A slow tightening in his belly makes it hard to breathe. When she opens her eyes again she smiles, a wide grin that creases her eyes and shows her teeth. A before smile.

The tightening becomes a throb; in his cock, and inside him, a longing that aches and aches. He can’t imagine what his expression is, sure that his desperation is written all over his face.

“Do you want to go canoeing?” His voice is too loud and her smile fades.

“Now?”

“It’s better in the evening just before dark. When the water is calm.”

She looks unsure. “I’ve never tried it before.”

“I’ll show you how. You can mostly just sit anyway, we’ll just drift around the swamp a bit and I’ll steer.”

“All right.” She smiles at him again. “It’s so peaceful here. I love swimming and the lake and the forest. You’re lucky to live here.”

“A beautiful prison.” He meant to sound wry, not so bitter.

The little frown that wrinkles the area between her brows is back. “I’m sorry. It’s different when you’re stuck here.” She pushes her wet hair back over her shoulder. A nervous habit, it seems.

“It’s better than some places. In some countries we’re locked up. Or worse.”

“Worse?”

He regrets bringing it up now. Talk of hormone treatments and castration is hardly something she’d be interested in.

“Nothing you’d want to hear about.”

Her eyebrows shoot up. “You think I’m some sheltered child? Or it’s too unpleasant for the ladies?”

Oh, shit. “No. No.”

She grabs his shoulder, her fingers digging into the muscle and he’s dizzy with how fast his blood rushes down to fill his cock. It’s been half-hard since she put her head in the water, and now swells uncomfortably against the wet fabric of his swim shorts. With difficulty, he restrains himself from looking down to check if it’s obvious.

“I’m not delicate,” she says firmly. Her fingers relax and she draws her arm back, her fingertips trailing down his upper arm. His cock jerks and he has to bite back a whimper. The feeling of the press of her hand on his shoulder remains, a tingling on his skin.

“No?” He’s staring at her mouth and they’re treading water so close together he could easily slide his leg or arm against hers and it would appear to be a complete accident. The urge to dunk his own head in the water grows. He needs to break the spell that is weaving him to her closer and closer by the minute, but he remembers just in time how much his ears stick out when his hair is wet. His face is ungainly enough without her noticing that particular feature.

The moment is broken by Bear swimming eagerly in a circle around them, delighted that the humans have joined him in his watery paradise. The stick floats between them.

Rey laughs. “He doesn’t give up, does he?”

“Nope. Now you’ve set yourself up as a thrower-of-sticks, he’s never going to leave you alone.”

She laughs again. “Well, Bear,” she tells the dog, “you can come over anytime your master is worn out and I’ll throw a few.”

Bear opens his mouth and it looks like he’s smiling.




Ben escapes back to his cottage without completely humiliating himself, with the promise of returning later for the canoe trip. As he pulls off his soaking shorts in his bedroom, he remembers the video and he picks up his phone to check the download progress. It’s finished, so he sits down on his bed naked, leaning against the headboard, legs stretched out in front of him.

This time he wants to be prepared, so he grabs his bottle of lube from the bedside table. His skin is still cool from the water, but inside he feels hot and tense. The video will be the perfect distraction from the temptation of Rey.

The scene opens in the same bedroom as before with the woman sitting at the end of the bed. She’s naked and her face is flushed, eyes sparkling.

When did your heat start, baby?” the man behind the camera asks.

This morning.”

And how do you feel?”

She sighs. “So hot, empty.” Her fingers trail down her chest, heading down to her open legs.

“No touching,” the man warns, but his voice is playful, not severe. “Show me where you need me to fill you up.”

She stands up and kneels on the bed. This is where the preview started: displaying her wet cunt, just begging to be fucked.

“You ready for me, baby?”

That pulse of slick has Ben’s cock contracting in time with her cunt and he opens up his lube. The brand is Omega Slick, endorsed by bonded alphas who claim it feels like the real thing. He pours a generous handful and groans as he slides his hand down his shaft, spreading the thick lube everywhere, a strand of his own precome joining it.

Yes.

“Look at me, then.”

She turns over to sit on the edge of the bed.

Tell me what you want.

“I want you, Alpha.” With a jolt, something clicks in Ben’s mind that should have before. The young woman looks a bit like Rey. The way she pushes her hair behind her shoulders... His cock grows and hardens in his hand.

What do you want me to do?

She looks into the camera lens. “Knot me, Alpha. Please.”

Ben groans and starts stroking himself. He tries to keep it slow, stopping occasionally to run a finger underneath the flared head of his cock or to play with his balls. The smooth slide of his hand over his skin is too good to stop for long, though.

The video cuts and the camera is now fixed, with the man in view. He’s tall and well built, the perfect alpha specimen. But he kneels down on the floor in front of the woman and holds her waist gently.

I want to taste you first,” he tells her and she closes her eyes and leans back as he buries his head between her legs.

Ben imagines himself in the man’s place, the rich flavour of his omega’s arousal on his tongue. His lover becomes Rey, a transition so natural he can only whimper helplessly at the thought. The sounds Rey would make, her British accent imperious as she orders him to make her come before he’s allowed inside her. Show me you can please me. Prove you’re worthy of me, Alpha. Her sweet scent fills his nose as he laps at her soft skin and suckles gently on her clit. Yesssss, she hisses as he pushes a finger inside her, stroking her slick walls.

His hand tightens on his cock and he pumps rhythmically, watching the quick rise and fall of the woman’s breasts as she pants out her lover’s name. With her head thrown back, exposing just her jawline and claiming mark, he can easily pretend it’s Rey, hear her calling his own name instead.

Ben’s orgasm is approaching fast, his balls tightening and tension coiling at the base of his spine. He closes his eyes and Rey smiles at him, droplets of water gleaming on her skin. Knot me, Alpha. Please.

She’s so small next to him, her bones fine and fragile. “I don’t want to hurt you,” he whispers.

She laughs, eyes bright. I can take you. I’m not delicate.

He squeezes his cock hard, imagining burying it inside her tight heat, his knot swelling to lock them together as she moans at the stretch.

It’s enough; he’s coming with a drawn-out cry, almost a howl, as his cock pulses again and again, hard enough that long splashes of his come stripe all the way up his chest. Under his hand his knot inflates, more than it has since he was a teenager. It feels good, even more so when he fists it firmly.

In the video, the woman is sucking the man’s cock now. His hands are buried in her hair and her fingers dig into his sides. Ben’s cock throbs and the knot swells a little more. He turns his phone off and tosses it beside him on the bed.

The knot keeps his cock hard and he strokes it lightly, running his fingers up and over the hard swelling, teasing himself at the edge of oversensitivity. Eventually it goes down, and his cock softens to lie curled and sated against his thigh.

He has been careful to avoid thinking of Rey when he jerks off. Okay, so sometimes watching her skinny-dipping is him enough to get going, but he has been able to keep his focus on the women in the videos, or the shadowy omega who lives in his head. For the first time he’s given his fantasy omega a true face and voice and it scares him how much better it was. Now it will be even worse when Rey leaves after the few weeks of summer.

Angry, he grabs a handful of tissues and roughly cleans himself up. He won’t think of her like that again.

Chapter Text

“Push down and back.” Rey can feel the rumble of Ben’s words through her back, the heat of his chest pressing against her.

They’re standing at the edge of her dock for her paddling lesson. His hands are huge, engulfing hers completely where she grips the wooden paddle at the top and bottom of the shaft. It isn’t that heavy, but her lungs feel constricted, like she can’t get in a full breath. Her arm wobbles slightly, though she’s only paddling air to get her form right. He pushes down with her, giving her just a taste of his strength. That warm spicy scent surrounds her. His smell, she’s realized. Alpha pheromones.

You’re safe, they assure her. Relax, and let the alpha look after you. A silly evolutionary leftover from a time when alphas were leaders instead of outcasts.

The next stroke is straighter, and after another two good efforts, he steps back and watches her as she fiercely paddles into nothing, pretending that the loss of his warmth behind her isn’t a loss at all.

“I think you got it,” he says finally. “You should try for real, get a feel for the resistance of the water.”

She gets down on her knees so she can reach and dutifully attempts a few strokes in the lake. It’s much harder with the water dragging at her paddle and her shoulder and arm are already beginning to ache from the unfamiliar movement.

While she’s busy, he carries the green wooden canoe out from the boathouse and expertly angles it into the water. He disappears again and returns with lifejackets that he throws into the canoe.

“Step in the middle and kneel on your lifejacket. It’s going to feel really tippy, but I won’t let you go over.”

She believes him, even when it feels like the canoe will flip as soon as she puts one hesitant foot down. After a series of wobbles and lurches she’s kneeling in place, resting against the little wicker seat. He hands her the paddle and settles himself in easily at the back, pushing them away from the dock.

Now that they’re moving it’s much easier to dip her paddle in the water and push back. More rewarding too, when the feedback is so direct. Paddle harder, go faster. She twists around to look back at Ben, wanting to share her delight, but the canoe rocks dangerously at her shift in weight and she immediately turns to face forward again.

“It really moves,” she says over her shoulder.

“Yeah. Faster than you think.”

Ben steers them down towards the end of the bay away from both their cottages. The lake becomes much shallower, and she can see clearly to the bottom. Seaweed grows thickly here, a mix of lush leaves, bare cord-like strands and the fine green needles of the type that grows near her dock.

“You can stop paddling now,” he tells her, and she’s grateful for the rest, laying her paddle across the top of the canoe, the blade leaving a trail of drips behind them.

Near the lake edge the water is only a couple feet deep, and the seaweed is replaced by waxy green lilypads, ornamented with white and yellow water lilies, all closed up to sleep. The sun has disappeared behind Cary’s Island and the sky is a mellow lavender, giving everything a soft blue hue. It’s fuzzy, like things have lost their solidity, melting at the edges.

The lake is smooth as glass, and the air is just as still. Ben has stopped paddling, too, and the only sound is the whisper of the canoe sliding through the lilypads until a splash breaks the silence.

“Beaver,” he says behind her. “Or muskrat.” His voice is hushed and low.

She closes her eyes and breathes. His scent still teases at her, inviting, tempting. Above that is the green of the forest, of the lilypads, the seaweed. The lake winds its way through everything, the fresh water calling to something hidden inside her cells. Her hands grip the smooth wood of the paddle. In the dark quiet the touch of the wood grounds her, connects her to the water they float on. Wood, then water, earth, rock—fire eventually, if she could sink deep enough through the layers.

She’s always lacked a connection. Everyone else seems to be born with a cord all ready to plug into a kind of web that joins people together in some mysterious way that she can see, but not access. Her cord dangles uselessly beside her, a constant dragging reminder that she’s alone. The worst of it is, people can tell when they look at her that she’s not part of them. Her plug is the wrong shape. She doesn’t fit.

If she can’t be part of that web, she can be part of this place. Here, she’s acutely aware of her insignificance. The trees aren’t concerned with her, the water will flow whether it’s over her limbs or not. Yet that has a grace in itself—the tree doesn’t mind her hand on its bark, the water is happy to hold her weight. She can be connected to these elements if she chooses. When she sits on ancient rock under pine trees and allows the wind to stir her hair, her presence is accepted without question. And Ben is part of things here, too. He is connected to her, through the wood and the water. The same blue light illuminates his skin, the same heady lake-scented air fills his lungs. It’s enough.

The sky is rapidly growing dark, and he turns them around. Cool evening air is fresh on her face as they head back to her dock. The trees on either side of the bay are cloaked in shadow, but it doesn’t feel threatening. It feels like coming home.

Getting out of the canoe breaks any lingering reverie. Her graceless scramble onto the dock has Ben chuckling. She hasn’t heard him laugh before. It’s not unkind, though, even if it’s at her expense.

He easily hefts the canoe back out of the water to rest on a rack on the dock. Together they take the lifejackets and paddles back to the boathouse. They pause for a moment there, quite close together, and she risks a glance up at his face.

He’s staring down at her intently, and the pit of her stomach drops. She swallows and pushes her hair behind her shoulder. His breath catches and she knows if she moves towards him—an inch would be enough—they’ll be collapsing into each other. This thought keeps her body still, but her eyes fall to his lips. His are full and soft. She wonders how they’d feel pressed against hers, if his scent is also his flavour.

They’ve been silent too long, it’s obvious now that they’re both aware of the pull between them and that neither of them are moving toward or away from it. His scent thickens in the enclosed space, and her cunt throbs in response, a slow flexing inside her that makes her aware of how empty she is, how good it would feel to be filled.

Alphas like it rough and hard. They’re insatiable. They fuck like animals. Or so it’s said. It’s not difficult to imagine him pounding into her, his deep growl in her ear. She could do it. Take that step forward into his arms. Feel that muscular chest against her, those strong arms holding her tight.

Then the boathouse creaks around them and the spell is broken. No matter his powerful pheromones, Ben is a stranger. One fixed water pump, a swim and a canoe ride do not add up to leaping into his arms. She brushes past him out the door, allowing her arm to slide along his.

Well, she’s only human.




In the light of the morning, she can almost believe she imagined the canoe ride at dusk, the pull of him in the boathouse. But the green canoe rests on the rack on the dock, a reminder that she came close to allowing herself to be swept into a kind of madness. Kissing an alpha. That was something for cheesy romance novels or a particular niche of porn that she may have investigated previously. Out of curiosity. But the alpha’s enormous throbbing cock and the whining desperation of the omega had been off-putting rather than arousing. No, she knows what she likes, and it’s not submitting like a bitch to some aggressive bear of a man. Not that her experience has been vast, or all that satisfying if she’s honest, but being rutted isn’t her sort of thing.

Last night in bed, she had lain awake for some time, uncomfortably aware of her pulse between her legs. Her pyjama bottoms were damp from her arousal, and it had taken everything not to give in and touch herself. She’s not sure why it was so important that she didn’t; it was as if doing so would mean admitting that her attraction to Ben was serious enough she had to take some action to deal with it. Ignoring it would make it go away much more quickly. In theory.

That led to a restless night. The air was sticky hot and motionless, and the bedroom windows flung open wide didn’t seem to call any breeze inside.

Her morning dip in the lake is more welcome than ever, even if it does call to mind her swim with Ben the day before and his powerful body. She had been distracted by two little pools of water that settled in the dip above his collarbones. Tiny moles are scattered across his shoulders, and she’d been unable to resist touching him, wanting to brush the droplets of water away that obscured them so she could make a count. He is intriguing; it’s safe to admit that much. She’d like to add him up, make sense of the equation of his beautiful long limbs. Maybe that’s how she can stop thinking of him. Once she solves him, his mystery will be gone.

In the afternoon it’s too stifling hot inside the cottage to work, so she coats herself with bug spray and settles with her laptop onto a lounge chair on the deck. The bug spray is fairly effective, but the mosquitoes seem to love the heat, and her. Hordes of them hover nearby, put off by the spray yet tantalized by her blood.

The sound of someone scuffing through the woods has her looking up as Ben and Bear come into view. Ben stands at the bottom of the wooden stairs up to the deck, but Bear has no such compunction and scrambles up to greet her like an old friend.

“How’s your pump?” Ben asks. He’s not quite looking at her, more at Bear who’s sitting beside her, tail waving enthusiastically as she fondles his ears.

“Good. Working, anyway.” The uncomfortable tension that grew between them the night before in the boathouse rises again.

“It’s going to rain soon. Probably a thunderstorm.”

“It is?” She frowns up at the sky through the trees. The foliage of needles and leaves is so thick overhead it’s almost another roof. The sun still flashes on the lake below. She’s been in Canada for a few weeks now and hasn’t actually seen it rain yet in the daytime. It’s been one hot sunny day after another, hardly a cloud in the sky.

Ben rubs the toe of his shoe on an exposed rock. “Yeah,” he mutters at his feet. “Wind’s changed direction. See how the waves are going the opposite way to normal?” He hitches one shoulder in the direction of the lake without looking himself.

She steps closer to the deck railing and leans over to peer through a gap in the trees. He’s right: the waves usually come in from the direction of the setting sun, but now they’re moving the other way. It’s strange, like she’s looking at a reflection of reality.

When she turns back to look at Ben, she catches him staring at her backside. His eyes drop hurriedly away, but she’s certain of it.

“Don’t go swimming in the rain. Stay inside and make sure you have your torch ready in case the power goes off.” The corners of his mouth lift and his eyes meet hers when he says “torch.”

She finds herself returning his smile. “Is that likely to happen? The power going out, I mean.”

“Happens quite often, yeah. Usually only for a few hours. Keep your fridge and freezer shut and it should be okay. Fill up some jugs with filtered water.”

Oh. Right. The water pump is electric, too.

An image comes to her mind of the two of them huddled together in the dark, his golden brown eyes soft in candlelight. She scoffs inwardly at such a ridiculous thought. It’s frustrating how drawn to him she is, how his scent tells her to trust him, to let him keep her safe. And isn’t it such an alpha thing he’s doing now, telling her how to protect herself? Checking up on her? She should be annoyed at him, but her annoyance is more self-directed. She wants to do as he says, feels grateful for his mumbled advice.

“Okay, thanks.” Her tone doesn’t invite further discussion. She doesn’t mean to be rude, but she has work to do and she’s irritated by her weakness to him.

He doesn’t take the hint. Instead, he runs his hand through his hair, pulling it back to reveal a large ear that sticks out from his head rather endearingly. “Do you want to go swimming?” he asks abruptly.

Her stomach flips and she has to take a shaky breath at the thought of seeing him without his shirt again, those thick arms and dark nipples on pale skin. Bloody hell. He’s just a man. She’s seen plenty of men shirtless before. “I’d love to.”

She manages to keep her hands to herself this time. The water is refreshing in the muggy heat, but as he predicted, the sky is rapidly clouding over, and they get out after only a few minutes. He searches around under the cottage for some buckets and fills them up for her from the lake for some extra wash-water just in case, carrying them right up to place them on the deck outside her door.

They’re standing close again. He put his T-shirt back on, but refused her offer of a towel, so it clings wetly to him, emphasizing the curve of his pectoral muscles. She’d like to trace her finger around them, feel the heat of his skin through the damp fabric.

“You better get back before it starts raining.” She is not going to invite him in. That would only lead to disaster.

His face flashes with hurt before he tightens his lips. “Yeah.” He turns away. “Come on, Bear.”

Only a few minutes after she’s brought her buckets inside and changed back into her clothes, the heavens open. Raindrops pounding on the roof break the usual quiet of the cottage. With the open ceiling, only a layer of planks and shingles separates her from the downpour. The lake has turned a steely grey, and she can scarcely see it through the curtain of rain. Then the thunder and lightning start. Jagged forks and blinding sheets are followed by great booming cracks that have her jumping with a squeak more than once. It’s thrilling. She’s never felt so inside a storm before, so attacked with a violence that comes from all directions, overwhelming her senses with its power.

For all the rage of the storm it burns itself out quickly. The sun soon peeks out again from behind the clouds, and the lake calms its restless churning. While the rain has stopped on the lake, a steady patter still falls on the roof, thousands of overloaded leaves releasing water down to her like a blessing.

Thankfully the power doesn’t go out, but the air cools enough that she sets her first fire in the evening. She takes a picture with her phone of her successful effort. Not that she has anyone to send it to, but she’s been trying to document her time here. To have something of the water and the trees to take back home with her.

As she lies in bed the trees are still dripping, more intermittently now, the occasional loud drop keeping her from sleep. She found an extra blanket in the cupboard made from a heavy green wool. It looks like the mice also found it suitable bedding; it’s riddled with small holes. The blanket has an old smell, of wood smoke and cool summer nights. She imagines Obi-Wan sleeping curled up under it, his old bones eased by its weight. Or perhaps her mother slept under it as a child, Obi-Wan carefully folding it in half to spread over the narrow bunkbed.

Rey doesn’t often think of her mother, and least often of her mother as a child in Canada. How she must have hated being taken away to England when Rey’s grandmother, Sabé, left Obi-Wan. Sabé had died young, leaving Rey’s mother an aimless young woman who had no contact with any family back in Canada. When Rey’s mother then died, leaving Rey behind at the age of six, Rey was passed from foster home to foster home, completely ignorant of her grandfather in Canada. It wasn’t until the executor of his will tracked her down earlier this year that she learned of her family here.

Rey has no idea what sort of man Obi-Wan was, if he would have wanted to take her in as a child. She’s piecing bits of him together from the things he left behind: the worn decks of cards, the battered old coffee percolator, the books on the shelf—a mix of field guides to Canadian flora and fauna and flimsy paperback detective novels. A few of his clothes are in the cupboard and in the drawers. Worn trousers, a thick plaid shirt that smells like the green blanket. She tries to imagine him lying in this bed, resting his head on the same thin pillow she is.

Ben knew him. She will ask Ben about him. The idea is so obvious she can’t believe she hasn’t thought of it before. With that thought set firmly in mind, she sleeps.




The next morning a mist is rising from the lake. The sun is out and the sky is clear again, promising a warm day. She's standing on the dock in her pyjamas and robe, staring at the water, sure that it will be freezing cold from the rain, when Ben appears on his dock.

“Do you want to go canoeing?” he calls to her. He hardly has to raise his voice, the sound travelling easily over the water.

The idea appeals more than swimming so she calls back a yes and heads up to the cottage to put on some clothes. By the time she emerges Ben has the canoe in the water, and their paddles and life jackets ready to go.

“I was up early, saw you on the dock.”

She slides a glance his way, wondering if he’s ever seen her skinny-dipping in the morning. But his expression is blank, giving nothing away.

“I like to swim in the morning,” she says innocently.

His fist clenches on the paddle in his hand. Suspicious. Her eyes narrow and he clears his throat.

She decides to drop it. His cottage is far enough away that he wouldn’t be able to see much of her even if he had seen her. She’ll wear her swimming costume from now on, though. Just to be sure.

“There's another swamp around the point,” he tells her hastily, pointing to the headland across the lake from them. “It’s bigger and has a beaver dam you can see too.”

“Another swamp.” She smiles up at him. “Ben, you take me to all the nicest places.”

He laughs, a startled rumble in his chest. His cheeks flush, but he smiles back, showing crooked teeth. He doesn’t seem to know how to respond to her teasing, instead kneeling down to hold the canoe steady for her to get in.

This swamp is bigger, filled with old tree stumps and fallen logs lying under the water. They spot the beaver busily building up his dam, and other wildlife: a heron elegantly wading in the shallows, tortoises sunning themselves on a rock, and a fat frog sitting on a lily pad. The water lilies are open wide in the morning sun, their petals adorned with droplets of the mist.

On their return, he casually asks her if she’s ever fished. She hasn’t, and he invites her to fish off his dock that evening. And so it goes. He turns up every day or two with an invitation for some outdoor activity or another. Swimming, canoeing, fishing. Once they go for a hike in the woods, ending up at a small pool attractively framed by smooth granite boulders. She’s about to wade right in when he casually mentions something about leeches, his eyes dancing at her outraged cry.

She smacks his shoulder in retaliation for the late warning and he pretends to wince, grabbing her wrist gently to keep her from doing it again. Then his thumb strokes once, twice down the thin skin of her wrist and her whole body lights up. She swallows and steps away. He drops her arm as if hers were scalding hot. On the way back, she stares at his broad back as he strides in front of her, dropping her eyes to the forest floor whenever he turns to check that she’s following.

They’ve become friends, of a sort. The sort that have an unspoken understanding not to be alone in a room, that stand too closely together sometimes and look just a little too long into each other’s eyes. She likes him. He’s easy company despite his awkwardness. But he’s an alpha who lives in a country far from home. It doesn’t make sense to fall for him. No sense at all.




That evening he offers to barbecue her some burgers. She brings a salad and some ginger biscuits she bought on her last shopping trip, the smell reminding her of him. After they eat, they sit on the dock watching the sun go down, and she asks him about Obi-Wan.

“I was named after him. Ben was his nickname in the war. He and my grandpa were in the same battalion. Obi-Wan saved his life a few times. They were best friends.”

“I didn’t know that. I know almost nothing about him. What was he like?”

“He was quiet in his later years. I guess ‘cause he spent a lot of time alone. My mom said he loved to talk and laugh when he was younger, always had a quick comeback to any sass she or my uncle gave him.”

“Did they spend a lot of time up here as kids?”

“My mom and uncle? No, they were fostered out pretty young. Friends of the family looked after them. My grandpa couldn’t.”

“Because of his dementia?”

Ben pushes his hand through his hair and she catches sight of the tracker on his wrist from under his sleeve. “Yeah.” He hesitates. “He was an alpha. My grandmother was his omega. She died in childbirth. That triggered his illness.”

She absorbs this. “That doesn’t always happen, does it? When one of a bonded pair dies?”

“No. It was rare. He went a bit mad after she died, Obi-Wan told me. It coincided with all the new alpha control laws, and the UN resolution that no alphas could be in government anymore. He should have been on the board of his company, but they wouldn’t let him. Then alphas couldn’t be managers anymore, then they could only do certain jobs, then … nothing.” He waves his hand in a sweeping circle that encompasses his solitary cottage and himself.

“I’m sorry,” she says.

An unstoppable tide of anti-alpha sentiment swept the world after the two world wars. Too many of the key players in both conflicts were alphas, using their countries to battle for dominance. It had always been so, but the scale of the carnage, the scope of the ideologies became too much for the world to bear. For the first time, betas banded together against their alpha leaders. They created the UN, forced the alphas out of their positions of power, and brought them to heel.

“Yeah. Well.”

“What happened to all the omegas?” she wonders, half to herself, thinking of all the isolated alphas, their kind slowly disappearing. The only omega she ever saw was the one with that alpha who went to her school. She’s never even heard of another.

Ben shrugs. “No one knows for sure. There are theories that they need to be—”

He stops when she shivers, a full body thing. The sun is almost down and for once the lake isn’t completely calm, a cool breeze lifting the water into smooth-topped waves.

“You’re cold,” he says, and leaps up. “I’ll get you a blanket.”

She hadn’t noticed him observing her so closely. The obvious thing would be to go inside, but that’s a line they still haven’t crossed since the day they met. He hurries back, almost stumbling in the dim light, as if anxious she might leave.

The blanket is a soft light knit, and she’s immediately warm as he carefully drapes it around her. His hands rest a moment on her shoulders as he leans over her and he takes a careful deliberate breath before straightening and sitting back down. The blanket wraps her completely in his scent and she’s momentarily dizzy from the strength of it. He smells so good that her knees go weak.

“What do your parents do?” she asks to distract herself from the thrumming pulse between her legs.

He doesn’t answer right away, and she’s about to repeat the question when he speaks, his voice rough and low. “My mom is a senator. She was appointed a few years ago. Before that she ran a human rights charity, specializing in global alpha rights advocacy. My dad,” his tone sours, “is a team manager in Formula One.”

She sits up. “Is your dad Han Solo? The racing driver?”

He snorts. “He used to be.”

“One of my foster dads was a die-hard Formula One fan. He used to go to Silverstone every year. He was always talking about the older drivers like your dad, how much better they were.”

“You were in foster care?”

“Yeah. My mum died when I was six. I never knew my dad.”

“I’m sorry.” He reaches out and brushes her blanket-covered arm. “Obi-Wan talked about your mom sometimes. He wished he kept in touch. He didn’t know about you, or I’m sure he would have wanted to give you a home. He was a solitary guy, but he was always kind to me. I miss him a lot.” Ben’s voice is shaking a little and he clears his throat.

Any impact of his words is lost in the weight of his hand still resting lightly on her arm.

“Ben,” she says. It’s almost full dark and she more senses him looking at her than sees it.

“Yes,” he answers definitively, like she’d asked a question.

“Could I—” She has to touch him. She needs it. She stands up, takes a stumbling step towards him, clutching the blanket to her. The alpha smell tells her it will be all right. That he feels it too.

“Come here.” He holds out a hand. Their fingers touch, then slowly slide together. He pulls her down, lifting her legs so that she’s sitting sideways across his lap. She leans into him, resting her head at the junction between his shoulder and neck, and he brings his arm around to nestle her in close.

She noses at the spot where his scent gland sits under his jawline, fighting the urge to lick the stubbly skin there. Waves of pleasure wash over her and she realizes she’s trembling. She runs her hand up his chest and oh, it feels so solid and warm. He growls, deep in his chest, a sort of warning rumble. She’s awakening something, something that she might not be prepared for. The hardness under her leg that she thought was his thigh is not just that, and he is shaking too, the hand lightly resting on her knee quivering and damp against her bare skin.

“You smell so good,” she mumbles into his neck.

He takes a shuddering breath, but doesn’t say anything. He turns his head so she can feel the warm air from his nose on the side of her cheek. His lips brush her skin and she wants to both huddle into him and bring her mouth to his for more.

It’s too much to do anything other than breathe him in, his scent a flavour on her tongue. He strokes her leg gently, running his fingers over the outside of her thigh. Gradually they both stop shaking, and their breaths slow until they are in unison. In the complete darkness the sky is ablaze with stars, the distant moon no more than a pale sliver.

They sit for a long time, until she’s drowsy and it feels like they’ve sunk together, their limbs fusing to one another's. She’s never felt so safe until he whispers in her ear, “Stay with me tonight.”

The quiet night is shattered by her racing heart, her gasp against his neck. He slides the hand on her thigh higher, and his cock pulses under her.

“Please,” he whispers. “I won’t hurt you.” His long fingers tease the soft skin of her inner thigh under the hem of her shorts. Her cunt throbs in response, and she notices then how wet she is.

It takes everything she has to sit up, to pull her head from where it belongs on his shoulder.

“I should go,” she says clearly.

His whole body reacts, a tight recoil at her rejection. He lifts his hand off her leg and drops the arm that was holding her close to him.

“Shit,” he mutters under his breath.

It takes far too much effort to disentangle herself from him, especially as he does nothing to help, sitting wooden with his arms slumped at his sides.

She fumbles around under her chair for her torch, flicking it on low towards the ground away from them. As her eyes adjust to the sudden light, she can make out his feet, pointed in awkwardly, one piled on the other. He doesn’t move or react to her soft, “Good night.”

The walk back is necessarily slow as she steps over the small rocks and tree roots lying in wait to send her sprawling if she’s not careful enough. It feels wrong, every sense screaming that she’s made the wrong choice. Another version of her—a more reckless one—took his hand, drew him up and followed him into his cottage.

She’s doing the right thing, she tells herself. The sensible thing. That path only leads to heartbreak.

It’s not until she falls into bed that she realizes she’s still wrapped in his blanket, and she can’t bring herself to do anything other than sleep. Later she’ll think of Obi-Wan and the home she could have had, of the dangers of being wanted. Of wanting.

Chapter Text

It shouldn’t hurt this much. That’s what he keeps thinking over and over, the words scraping a rough groove into his mind. She’s nothing to him. Worse, he’s nothing to her. I should go. He’s always been left behind, deserted some place he doesn’t want to be. Those words are every car door slamming, every motor fading into the distance as he’s alone again. Reaching out, and never touching anything or anyone.

Bear is the one to rouse him from his stupor, licking at Ben’s nerveless fingers hanging over the side of the deckchair. He whines at Ben’s lack of response and presses his cold nose against Ben’s hand.

Finally Ben manages to drag himself up, stumbling through the darkness into his cottage to fall into bed. He lies blinking in the dark, covering his face as his eyes fill with tears. It’s been a long time since he cried. Not since his first winter here, when he felt like the only person alive in the world.

That was before he got Bear. Usually Bear sleeps on his dog bed in the sunroom, but now he jumps up onto the bed beside Ben and Ben reaches out a shaky hand to run it down the smooth fur of his back. With the warmth of the dog beside him, Ben sleeps.

In the morning Bear is gone, and Ben is sprawled out over the covers, still in his clothes from the day before. His cock is achingly hard, hot and angry where it’s trapped against his leg by his jeans. He gives in and allows himself to think of Rey in his lap, of the silky softness of her skin and the feel of her lips against his neck. You smell so good. He moans, remembering the subtle smell of her arousal and the feel of her shifting against his cock. She fit perfectly in his arms, her weight a solid reassurance that she was really there.

He pumps himself hard, welcoming the roughness of his hand against his sensitive skin. It stops him from thinking, letting him stay in a world where Rey smiles at him and says she’ll stay. His orgasm hits quickly, his come streaking across his rumpled T-shirt.

As soon as his heart rate settles back to normal, reality sinks in again. He can’t stop himself from remembering how things really went—how she pulled away, her steady footsteps as she left. Stay with me tonight. He’s such a fucking idiot. Of course that wouldn’t happen. She doesn’t want him. And he had to show her how fucking needy he is.

She won’t want to see him anymore; his chest tightens at the thought. He’d never been so eager to get up in the morning before he met her. Somehow he’d kept getting his courage up to ask her to hang out, and she kept smiling and saying yes. The days they’d spent apart, because of her trip into town, or because he’d forced himself to be cool and give her a break from him, had been awful. He’d paced around, unable to settle to anything. Eventually he found himself wandering the woods, only fooling himself that his circuitous route wouldn’t bring him to her cottage. The little beep his tracker gives when he steps off his property a betrayal.

It isn’t just having company that’s made him so happy, either. When Uncle Luke comes up for a visit, after the first week Ben can’t wait for him to disappear again. He’d loved spending time with Obi-Wan, but he never woke up excited to go see him. And it’s not just that he’s horny and she’s the only woman around and she’s fucking beautiful. Oh no, it’s Rey herself. He likes her. Really likes her. Shit.

He should go over and apologize. Maybe he could brave it out, put a friendly mask on and pretend he isn’t devastated by her rejection. Yeah, sorry I propositioned you last night. It didn’t mean anything. I’m just desperate and you were sitting on my boner.

Fuck. No way. No mask can hide his longing, or his pain. It shouldn’t hurt this much, but it does.




He’d half hoped that Rey might come to see him in the following days, that she’d flash that before smile and it would all be okay again without either of them having to say anything.

She doesn’t.

Ashamed of himself, he’d already stopped watching her swim, but by the third day without her, his shame no longer outweighs his need. He spends the entire afternoon on the couch in the sunroom hoping to see her. Eventually, she comes out on the dock in a bathing suit he hasn’t seen before—a black bikini with white polka-dots. Before he has time to take in much more than a flash of her toned midriff and the length of her legs, she’s jumping into the water with a big splash.

Just that little glimpse of her is enough to have his heart beating faster and his cock hardening. He palms himself through his jeans and thinks of watching the video. He’s intimately familiar with the entire thing now, usually managing to keep the omega’s face in his head when he jerks off, rather than Rey’s. Usually.

He pretends to himself for a minute that he won’t do it, already knowing he will. He just needs some relief. Somehow his phone finds itself in his hand and he’s loading the video and dragging the progress bar to the part where the alpha slowly fucks into his omega from behind. The alpha is holding the camera again, focusing it on the length of her back and at the point where his cock slides into her.

He puts himself in the man’s place, imagines thrusting deep and hard into tight heat. The woman moans brokenly. Ben wonders how Rey would sound, how hot and wet she would feel around him. No. Not Rey. How an omega would feel. He strokes himself slowly as he watches, eyes caught on the man’s thumb rubbing slow reassuring circles where he grips her waist. I’m going to knot you baby, the man growls, fill you up with my come and keep it inside you.

Ben could knot Rey a little, maybe. Even though she’s a beta, his body might not know the difference. The base of his cock swells at the thought and he stops stroking to squeeze tightly there, imagining how her walls would clutch at him as he poured into her. Knot me, alpha. He rocks his hips up and fucks into his hand. No, he can’t think of Rey. Not Rey.

No, not—but he’s so close, he just needs—no, he shouldn’t, but—oh fuck, yes—Rey is riding him, her face twisting with pleasure as his knot swells, tying them together—and he’s coming hard. Yes, Rey…

Fuck.

Changing his T-shirt for a new one is so depressing that he falls face forward onto the bed. This is it. All he has now are fantasies he can’t control and a pile of come-stained shirts.

At this particularly low moment, his mom decides to call.

“Ben, honey, how are you?

“Fine,” he croaks, sounding very much the opposite. He hasn’t spoken aloud since the other night, not even to Bear.

“What’s wrong, honey?

He clears his throat. “Nothing. Just haven’t talked in awhile.”

“Oh, Benny.” He can imagine the frown on her face perfectly. Shame and guilt and impatience, all wrapped up in a few wrinkles on her forehead. “What about the girl you told me about? Obi-Wan’s grand-daughter. Rey, was it? The other day it sounded like you were spending a lot of time together.”

In a moment of weakness he’d mentioned Rey when his mom called last time. He’d tried to keep his enthusiasm in check, but is miserably certain she saw right through him.

“I haven’t seen her in a couple days.” He attempts nonchalance, but is horrified when his voice cracks on the end of the sentence.

“Something happened?” She waits, her question hanging in the air.

He tightens his lips. He won’t be undone by her concern. He won’t.

“Benny? Did something go wrong?

To his dismay, a choking sound escapes him. Very clearly a sob. “No,” he whispers.

“You didn’t—” She stops.

His blood chills, an ice cold lump filling his throat. His own mother thinks— “I wouldn’t hurt her,” he snarls.

“That’s not what I was going to say.” It was though. It was.

“We don’t need to spend every minute together. We’re just friends.” He can’t control the bitterness, it spills out all over him, acid burning the cold away.

“I see.”

He closes his eyes. If she’d just give up on him it would be easier. His dad had. Han had never got over the shame of having an alpha son, though what did he expect with Anakin’s blood being passed down? In the old days, it was a sign of prestige having an alpha in the family, not something to break up a marriage over.

“Honey, I’ve got a meeting to get to. But I’m going to come up to see you this weekend. I’ll be there Friday evening, okay? Tell Rey I’d like to meet her.”

Great.




He wakes the next day filled with an aimless rage that’s all too familiar. From experience, he knows it will only go away from exercise, so he spends the morning lifting weights and pummelling his punching bag. When he’s working himself hard enough, everything fades away into the heave of his lungs and the rush of blood in his ears. He’d like to have been a boxer, maybe. Occasionally there’s talk of allowing alphas to have their own class for boxing or MMA, but it never comes to anything. Too risky.

When he was a kid, he used to do karate. He loved the discipline, channeled to explode into a kind of controlled violence. After he presented, that all stopped, of course. No contact sports or martial arts allowed at the alpha school. Also too risky.

He and some friends started an underground fight club at the school. Whenever a few of them could get away, they would meet at the edge of the property where a couple of large trees hid all manner of illicit activities. They called themselves the Knights of Ren for some reason he’s since forgotten, and they all had fighter names—that’s where his screen name came from. Those fights are some of his best memories, when he could become what he’s really supposed to be.

He had this fantasy that an omega in heat was watching the knights as they fought, and the winner would have the privilege of claiming her as their mate. The idea of it was endlessly stimulating, and he used to jerk off in the showers after he won a fight, lost in the thought of knotting the mate that he’d earned. My alpha, so strong.

Uncle Luke, headmaster of the school, had put a stop to it after one too many of the knights turned up to class with unexplained black eyes and broken knuckles. Ben had kept the fantasy going for awhile, but it had faded away without the fuel of his unleashed aggression and the fight for dominance where he proved himself worthy. He thinks of it now as he punches into the bag, and this time it’s Rey’s wide eyes that watch him battle, her mouth hanging open a little in the daze of her heat. He has to win, only he can look after her, he’s the one she needs.

He lands one vicious punch after another, his shoulders aching and hands singing with pain in his gloves. It’s only when he pauses for breath that he realizes he’s repeating over and over, “Please, please, please.”

Pressing his forehead to the bag, he cries out, a rough, ragged sound that has Bear anxiously circling him. He can’t stop thinking about her.

Before he met Rey, his life had often seemed hellish, filled with monotonous frustration and loneliness. But that had only been purgatory, a taster of how bad things could be.

He drops to his knees and smashes his fists against the wood floor. The whole cottage shakes in response. Good. Something notices him. Good.




She’s smaller than he remembered. The sharp bones of her face are lit by sun filtering through the trees, and she’s heartbreakingly beautiful. He can barely look at her, lifting his hatchet to land another blow on the log in front of him. His heart is racing.

After his breakdown at the punching bag, he’d gone for a hard swim, all the way out to Lone Pine Island near the end of the bay that opens up to the main part of the lake. It lives up to its name, a single pine tree gripping onto bare rock. He’d pulled himself up onto it for a few minutes to catch his breath. Pining under the pine. Fucking ridiculous.

The itch under his skin still hadn’t been scratched, so he’d taken out his hatchet and gone into the woods looking for fallen branches. He dragged a few smaller ones back and was in the process of hacking them into firewood when she suddenly appeared.

“Ben,” she says softly, interrupting him mid-swing.

He lowers the hatchet and thrusts his hand through his hair. It’s matted and dripping with sweat again. He took his shirt off when he started chopping and he’s red-faced and disgusting.

“I’m sorry about the other night. For leaving so...” She trails off. “You seemed really hurt. I feel terrible.”

He stares at the ground in front of her, a dried oak leaf curling up over the front of her flip-flop to touch a toenail painted dark pink. A fist has climbed up the back of his throat and grabbed it so tightly he can’t speak.

I’m sorry, too, he wants to say. I fucked up by wanting too much again. I can’t figure out how to stop.

He dares a glance at her face. Her brow is wrinkled, but he can’t help noticing her eyes don’t meet his either. Instead they dart over his bare chest and arms. It’s not the first time he’s caught her checking him out. For all that he has a weird face, his body is typically alpha, fit and muscular. Not unattractive. A little burst of hope fills him and he’s ashamed of how hard he clings to it.

“I—I won’t be here that long. It doesn’t make sense—” She sounds almost angry and he tries to puzzle out what she’s trying to say. “I’d like us to be friends. I’m sorry I … misled you the other night. I shouldn’t have leapt on you like that.” She looks up at him.

He struggles to draw in air. Friends. “Friends. Yeah. That’d be … nice.” The words are sticky on his tongue, trying to glue his mouth shut on the lie.

Her brows lift, skeptical.

He tries for self-deprecation. “I don’t have a lot of other options here.” He winces. That’s it, make her feel really special.

When he peeks at her face, she isn’t scornful, she’s sad. “Me neither,” she murmurs. Then her eyes widen. “That sounded awful. What I mean is: I like you, Ben. I like spending time with you.”

His heart twists painfully. “I like you, too,” he says, before he can think better of it.

She smiles wide and open and his chest squeezes tighter. Friends. He is so completely fucked.




They start again, tentatively. Canoeing to the swamp, fishing off the dock, swimming. He tries not to stare at her like he’s craving her, to look only when she doesn’t notice. This is enough, he tells himself. Friends for the summer. It’s not like she’d quit her education to stay with him, and he’s not allowed to leave the country, so … she was right. It doesn’t make sense.

After a few days things relax. She pretends not to notice his eyes lingering too long on her. He tries not to read anything into the brightness of her smile, the before one that lights her up like a beacon he’s following home. That charge still hums in the air between them, but now they’re both pushing down hard on it, keeping it under wraps.

Late Friday afternoon, they’re sitting on his dock. She has her laptop with her and is reading through one of the mountain of articles she’s supposed to classify for a project he doesn’t quite understand. He’s throwing a stick into the water for Bear, who jumps in eagerly after it and can’t contain his joy when Ben tosses it again and again, long past the time he would usually have given up in boredom.

It’s good to be with someone. Okay, it’s more than that. It’s good to be with her. He feels better when she’s around and he knows that she’s okay. It would be even better if she was with him all the time so he wouldn’t have to worry about her alone at night, which is stupid, but he can’t stop thinking about holding her while she sleeps and it’s got all twisted up in his head and he just needs to see her sleeping and… Yeah, he’s driving himself crazy.

Rey’s wearing a Blue Jays cap that Finn gave her, and the brilliant blue looks great next to her tanned skin. Ben tries to keep his eyes off her long legs, but he can’t stop stealing little glances. Her denim shorts are really short. He touched the skin of her inner thigh just below the hem, can still remember how silky soft it was. His cock is stirring in interest as he imagines her sitting in his lap again. That’s something friends might do, right? Cuddle up together and— Shit. He crosses his legs to hide the tent in his shorts.

“Can I get you anything?” he asks to distract himself. “A drink? Or do you want some chips or something?”

She blinks at him from under the brim of her hat. Her eyes don’t go lower than his shoulders, but for an excruciating second he’s sure that she can see his erection.

Then she smiles. “Still working on my water.” She indicates the half-full glass balanced on the arm of her wooden deckchair. “And your crisp flavours are disgusting. Ketchup.” Her nose wrinkles.

“Like pickled onion is a flavour anyone would ever want,” he snorts, and she sticks her tongue out at him. He laughs. They had their first almost-argument over whether chips or crisps was a better name for them, before they even got into the weird flavour variations. “Do you want some cookies or something?”

“I’m fine, thank you.” She smiles again and looks back down at her screen.

These urges are new to him, to look after her, protect her. He knows he’s overdoing it to the point of fussing. The instinct doesn’t go away though, a constant tightness in his chest that he first mistook for the frustration of being close to her without being allowed to touch like he wanted. But it eases when he helps her into the canoe, or gets her something eat or drink, or finds the perfect cushion for her to rest her laptop on, or any of the other little things he can do for her. An alpha thing probably, though he’s never felt it around anyone else before.

He becomes aware of the distant roar of a motorboat and he looks over to the entrance to the bay as the sound gets louder. He’s been half-expecting Leia not to turn up, so he hadn’t mentioned the proposed weekend visit to Rey. Often enough Leia cancelled long after the last minute, like a day late, when she finally came out of whatever crisis was holding her captive.

Rey looks up at the growing noise. “Who’s that with Finn?”

The water taxi is zooming toward them, a huge wake behind it. Finn waves at them and Rey waves back enthusiastically.

“My mom.”

Rey drops her arm and turns to him. “Oh, I should go. You’ll want to have some time with her.”

The thought of his mom meeting Rey fills him with anticipation, rather than the anxiety he expected. He can’t wait to show off his—his friend to her.

“No, it’s okay. She was hoping to meet you.”

Before long Finn is helping Leia out of the boat and handing her duffel bag to Ben. Leia draws Ben into a tight hug, wrapping her tiny frame around him. She’s gone softer with age, and every time he sees her he notices the wrinkles around her eyes and how grey her hair is getting.

He has to resist an urge to put his arm around Rey’s shoulders as he introduces her. Leia greets her warmly, pulling her in for a hug like an old friend. Rey always seems so small to him, but she towers over Leia. They pause, taking each other’s measure: Leia with her polished senator’s smile, Rey more hesitant in the face of Leia’s welcome.

“See you on Tuesday, Peanut,” Finn says to Rey, grinning as he unties the boat.

“That’s your name, not mine,” she protests, laughing. Finn laughs too, then he guns the motor and heads off.

Ben’s hands have clenched themselves into fists without him noticing. Peanut? Of course Finn and Rey have nicknames for each other already. Even though Ben has seen her almost every day and she’s only seen Finn a handful of times.

“You’re looking very fierce, Ben,” Leia says and she touches his arm. Rey is standing behind her, so she misses the warning look Leia gives him.

He breathes out. “Just the sun in my eyes.”




Leia Organa is a forcefully charming woman who doesn’t take no for an answer, which is how Rey ends up staying for dinner. Ben barbecues some steaks, and they drink a sparkling grape juice Leia brought instead of wine. He was never a big drinker, but he misses it at the moments where it fits, like now. Sitting on the patio watching the light of the evening sun on the lake cries out for a glass of wine.

Leia brings out the photo album Ben had been showing Rey on their disastrous first meeting, and they flip through the pictures of young Obi-Wan and Anakin with their wives. Anakin met his wife Padmé when she was a member of parliament fighting for alpha rights. Rey’s grandmother Sabé worked with Padmé; she and Obi-Wan met at a dinner Anakin dragged his best friend to.

By the time they’re finished eating and Leia has exhausted her bank of stories, the sun is going down and Rey has been saying she should be going for the last half hour. Finally she stands up and picks up their empty glasses. Leia’s is still almost full, distracted as she is by feeding scraps to a delighted Bear, so Ben picks up the plates and follows Rey into the cottage.

As she crosses the living room on her way to the kitchen, Rey’s flip-flop catches on the edge of the rug. She cries out as she stumbles forward, and one of the glasses drops from her hands to smash into a million tiny fragments on the hardwood floor all around her, the other following a moment later as she struggles to stay upright.

Ben doesn’t think, just sticks the plates on the dining room table and reaches over to Rey, seizing her by her waist and lifting her away from the broken glass before she can cut herself. His heart is pounding and he’s shaking from a sudden rush of adrenaline. Rey’s face is a little above his, he lifted her so high, and she steadies herself by putting both hands on his shoulders.

His whole body burns where they touch, blood rushing to his groin so fast he goes lightheaded. She feels perfect against him, her small breasts crushed to his chest, her slender waist almost spanned by his hands. Her eyes are wide with shock, and they stare at each other for a long moment.

Then she whispers, “Ben.” Her eyes drop to his mouth and she licks her lips.

Fuck. Oh fuck, he needs to taste her. She dips her head and he’s bursting out of his skin, she’s going to kiss him—

The screen door bangs as Leia comes in, and he has to let Rey slide down his body far too quickly to really enjoy it.

“Watch out for the glass,” he says as she steps away from him, and he grabs her arm, pulling her closer again. He can feel the delicate bones of her wrist beneath his hand, and the flutter of her pulse.

She has to half wrestle her arm from his grip while Leia is looking back and forth between them with her eyebrows raised.

“I tripped and dropped the glasses,” Rey explains. She’s flushed dark red with embarrassment. “I’m so sorry. Do you have a dustpan and brush?”

“I’ll get it,” Leia says.

He forces himself to clean up the rest of the dinner things as Rey and Leia painstakingly gather up glass shards. He wants to shout, or break something himself. Seeing Rey almost hurt herself, then being able to hold her… He’s all over the place.

Finally, everything is cleared away and Rey hovers by the door, Leia waving off her repeated apologies for the broken glasses.

“We’re going into town tomorrow. Would you like to join us?”

He’s just as surprised by this as Rey appears to be. Leia must have gotten permission for him to go. But would Rey want to come with them? Be seen with him in public?

Rey flicks a glance at him. “I wouldn’t want to impose,” she says uncertainly.

“Not at all. We’ll just go to the grocery store and maybe some clothes shopping for Ben. He’s been wearing the same jeans for centuries now.” Leia eyes them with distaste. “Anyway, there’s a department store in the mall so you can have a look for something for yourself. No need to tag along the whole time. We could get some dinner together, there’s a great Greek place we always go.”

“Well, I suppose so? If you’re certain?” Rey looks at him, plainly seeking his approval. He smiles slightly, and she relaxes.

“We’ll see you tomorrow afternoon then.” Leia hugs her warmly again, and Rey slips out the door.

“A sweet girl,” Leia says as soon as Rey is gone.

“Yeah.” It shouldn’t matter that his mom likes Rey, but he’s relieved that she does.

“You’re in love with her.”

He can’t control his flinch. “What?”

“You’re about as subtle as a house on fire. You can’t take your eyes off her. Or your hands, apparently.” She stares thoughtfully at the spot where the glasses broke.

“We’re just friends.”

Leia laughs. “Your dad and I were friends like that in the beginning.”

Ben would rather not think about that. “I hardly know her,” he says lamely.

“Oh Ben, I know alphas. They fall hard and fast and it doesn’t let go.”

He hates it when she acts like she knows more about his biology than he does. Even if she spent years helping alphas fight for their rights, she doesn’t know him. Not really.

“That’s why I invited her to come tomorrow. She should see what it means to be with an alpha. She likes you too, you know.”

He swiftly crushes the hope that rises in him. “She’s leaving after the summer. She lives in England, Mom.”

Leia is unrepentant. “Plans change.”




That night in bed, he checks his email, looking for the day trip permission from his caseworker for tomorrow. Snoke delights in his control over Ben: denying him permission to go to Obi-Wan’s funeral was only the latest in a long string of petty cruelties over the years. Family members only. As if Obi-Wan weren’t family.

It wouldn’t be the first time Snoke turned down a day pass for some minor error, but the email is waiting in Ben’s inbox, and he taps to open it. Leia has learned to be meticulous in her requests, leaving Snoke little room to manoeuvre. Ben scans over it to make sure everything’s in order. His skin prickles unpleasantly seeing Snoke’s name at the top, and he has to tamp back down the familiar dull rage to where it lives in the pit of his stomach.

Below all the relevant information detailing the length and purpose of trip, destination addresses and the like, Leia’s name is listed as chaperone with a link to the signed legal forms that allow her to supervise her adult son in public. She can be held responsible for any damage he causes, like he’s an unruly pet. It all looks fine, so he scrolls down past all the warnings and legal notices to get to the bottom, where his confirmation link is.

The acceptance takes forever to load at his internet speed, so he leans his head back against the wall while he waits and tries to imagine a future where Rey is the one filling out the permission request so the two of them could go somewhere. If they were together, she’d have all her freedom as a beta, but he’d still be trapped here, except for the few times a year she could get permission to chaperone him on a day trip. Only alphas bonded with omegas were considered low enough risk to be out in the world, and even then, the tracker would stay on his wrist, his every movement watched and recorded so he didn’t overstep.

It’s impossible.

He should be happy that Rey will see how bad things are out there for alphas, that she’ll understand what he is to everyone else: exactly what she thought when they first met. She’ll hate all the staring and whispers; it’s easy to picture her face twisting in disgust. Good, it’s just what he needs to shut down this—this fucking—yearning. Her face in his mind changes, reshaping from disgust to the wide-eyed expression she had earlier, her head dipping down as she breathed his name, her warm body soft against him.

Deliberately he pushes the thought away, ignoring the little spike of pain as he dismisses it. It’s not love. It’s just—just. Not love. Not that. It can’t be that bad, he won’t allow the possibility that he’s as fucked as Leia thinks he is.

The page finally loads up with a list of warnings and threats about what will happen to him if he breaks the rules on his day trip. His active sanction is noted, the expiry date still months away.

His thumb hovers over the button to turn off his phone screen, but he hesitates. Instead, he opens his messaging app.

KyloRen: My mom came up for the weekend. She sends her greetings

Poe replies immediately.

PDam-mit: Nice! Say hi from me <3

Leia had gone on a fact-finding trip to Central America for the UN Human Rights Commission a few years ago. As far as Ben could tell, the only fact they found was that being an alpha in Central America sucked to varying degrees, which would have been obvious from a five minute search of any alpha subreddit. Poe’s detention centre in Guatemala was nowhere near the worst place she inspected, though for once, she was tight-lipped about the things she’d seen. As usual, her team made recommendations that disappeared straight into the black hole where any beta compassion for alphas went. Nothing changed.

The only good to come out of it was Leia meeting Poe so she could give him something from Ben. Ben hadn’t been sure Leia would even see Poe on her visit, but she managed to slip him the card Ben sent. It wasn’t much. He’d enclosed a few photos Leia got printed for him of the lake and the cottage; him and Bear on the dock in the snow. It hadn’t felt like enough, so Ben had gone out into the woods and found a perfect maple leaf, fiery red with autumn colour. He put it in the envelope with a cluster of green pine needles. Real things.

KyloRen: We’re going to town tomorrow

PDam-mit: Keep it cool dude. Stay away from assholes

Ben doesn’t know the last time Poe got to go out, maybe not since he presented. Uneasily aware of his own freedom, such as it is, Ben hasn’t wanted to ask. Poe knows about Ben’s sanction, though; can probably guess the rest.

KyloRen: The neighbour is coming too

PDam-mit: Shiiiiiiit. Family date lol

Ben struggles between wanting to say something cool or admit how terrified he is. He types out my mom thinks I’m in love with her, then deletes it for being like something a teenager would say.

KyloRen: Yeah…some date

Fuck the friends thing, with Poe at least he doesn’t have to pretend that’s all he wants.

PDam-mit: She’s gonna see the dark side then

KyloRen: Fuck. Guess so

PDam-mit: GL bro

KyloRen: Thanks :/

Poe’s understanding of the seriousness of the situation is less reassuring than Ben had hoped. He doesn’t know what he was looking for exactly; maybe for Poe to say everything would be fine, which is stupid because it obviously won’t be. Like Leia said, Rey will see what it’s really like to be with him. The only change he can see coming from it is that they won’t be friends afterwards at all.

It’s good, he tells himself again. Their friendship—or whatever it is—is already feeling so much more dangerous by the day that it might be better to slice cleanly through whatever flimsy thing is holding them together before it’s too late.

He has the sinking feeling that it already is.

Chapter Text

Ben gave her some of Bear’s food to put out in an old tin plate Obi-Wan had, and almost every night a fat mother raccoon comes snuffling with her litter of five kits to investigate it. She hunches over the plate, greedily grabbing each piece with her little hands and stuffing them into her mouth. Her babies hover, clinging to the trunks of nearby trees, hoping to sneak a bite before she can eat it all.

Rey is fascinated by their sleekness, the pointed little faces blinking up at her as she peers through the window to see them in the dim porch light. They look so soft and cuddly, she longs to pick up a baby and bury her face in its fuzzy fur. On the ground, they move slowly, their long striped tails dragging behind them. But once, when she opened the door to throw out a handful of food in hopes of the babies getting some, the speed at which they shot up into the trees astonished her. Another time she spotted one sleeping, lazily draped over a branch high up in a pine tree. She looked again later and it was still there, undisturbed.

Later, when the raccoons have shuffled off for the night, she lies in bed and replays the sound of glass breaking and strong hands lifting her by the waist, heady alpha pheromones filling her senses. The spicy smell is not just in her memory; she’s wrapped up in Ben’s blanket, the one he gave her on the dock the night she fell into his arms and almost—disastrously, she reminds herself yet again—into his bed. He hasn’t asked her to return it, and she’s managed to convince herself that it’s too late now. Anyway, his warm scent is comforting. It makes her feel safe, helps her sleep. He wouldn’t mind that.

Tonight though, his scent is linked with the feel of his hard body against hers, the way he so easily lifted her, the heat in his eyes. If Leia hadn’t come in Rey would have kissed him; she wouldn’t have been able to stop herself.

Everything shifted that night on the dock. Since she went to apologize a few days later, wretched with guilt and unable to keep away any longer, she’s been dimly aware of a part of her just waiting for an opening to continue where they left off. It’s shameful how tempted she is, how just the sight of his soft eyes and full lips leave her hollow with want. Ben’s lingering looks haven’t gone unnoticed, either. His watchfulness is a weight that settles over her, making her languid and heavy. Their slow circling has been binding them together over these past days, retreat becoming impossible as the knots tighten, only a final space in the centre waiting to be filled.

Her eyes drift shut as she thinks of him so close. Waiting. Her hand creeps down between her legs to tease herself through the thin layer of her pyjama shorts. She’s wet, enough to dampen the fabric. In her mind, Ben’s hands are at her waist again, his face at her neck, long nose slowly grazing over her gland as he scents her. You smell amazing, he whispers, his voice a low rumble through their connected chests.

Impatiently, she wiggles out of her shorts. She sighs as her finger dips between her folds to feel the wetness there, imagining it’s Ben’s much thicker finger, his moan in her ear as he finds how ready she is to take him. The bed underneath her becomes a wall, Ben’s blanket his body holding her against it. She pushes a finger inside herself, arching as her cunt contracts in pleasure. Slowly, she strokes herself inside, the soft skin there sensitive and needy. A whimper escapes her as Ben’s lips move over hers, his hot tongue licking into her mouth.

She brings wetness from within up and around her clit, her body jerking as she circles it, then fits her first two fingers to either side of it, squeezing and rubbing in quick, firm flexes of her hand. In her head, Ben lifts the hem of her shirt to bring his hand underneath, trailing his fingers up over her belly to find her breast. He rolls and pulls her hardened nipple between his long fingers while she throws her head back and keens. Alone in her bed, she does the same, her own hand guiding her mental version of him.

She writhes against the wall, Ben’s fingers working her clit and nipples, his breath heavy at her neck. Her hand finds his cock, and he hisses as she curls her fingers around it, one at a time, then brushes her thumb over his slit, circling there to spread his pre-come over the smooth skin. His cock pulses when she closes her hand around him, velvety soft skin hiding his thickness. Fuck, he chokes. I want to fuck you so bad.

Her moan is loud in the silent room, as is her fumble for her vibrator in the drawer of the bedside table. She thinks of Ben lifting her again, his large hands rough on her waist as she wraps her legs around him. His groan as he sinks into her, her body gratefully welcoming him in. The silicone surface of the vibrator is cool to the touch, nothing like Ben’s hot cock, but the contrast between the heat of her cunt and the cool hardness stretching it open is exquisite.

She flicks the dial onto a low buzz. The vibrator is curved up to press against her g-spot, and the vibrations carry through to her clit on the other side. Her fingers at her clit bring her higher, and now she’s full of him. She imagines Ben, drawing out and then grinding back in as deep as he can, his hands tight at her hips, her fingers shoved down between them to touch herself. Fuck, you feel so good, he moans. His hips stutter as he tries to control his thrusts, shoving her against the wall.

Her fingers press hard beside her clit, roughly circling so that she occasionally touches it directly, pleasure spiking at her over-sensitivity. She’s spiralling now, and she reaches down to push the vibrator in more securely, turning it up to halfway. I’m going to come, she tells Ben, looking into his dark eyes. She’s hanging on the edge, a pressure building inside at her g-spot, her heart pounding as she arches into the feeling, so close, so—

Yes, he breathes. He leans down to lick at her neck. My omega, so sweet.

She cries out as she comes, her hips lifting as her cunt contracts hard around the vibrator again and again, the buzzing pressure at her g-spot lengthening and intensifying her orgasm. With shaking hands, she reaches down to turn off the vibrator before it gets too much. Her walls contract again a final time as she fumbles with the control, jostling it inside her before she pulls it out and stands it on its base on the bedside table.

Bloody hell.

She lies sprawled on the bed with Ben’s blanket half over her while her heart rate comes down. Where did that come from, the omega thing? She’s never thought of anything like that before. It must be the blanket; she was stupid to get herself off with Ben’s scent surrounding her and not expect to fall into some sort of pheromone-induced fantasy featuring him. It’s a mistake to use him to comfort herself, to even think of him at all.

Yet her attempt at summoning up any amount of self-directed anger fails miserably. It’s too tiring to go over her mental list again of why sleeping with him is a terrible idea when the smell rising from his blanket keeps reassuring her it isn’t. To her frustration, she can’t even bring herself to kick it away.

If he were one of the boys at uni, she already would have fucked him and moved on, maybe, the same as any one of the interchangeable lager-soaked lads she pulled in nightclubs over the past few years. They all smelled of the same things: sweat underneath cheap body spray, hair gel—beer, of course. Dissatisfaction.

She kept telling herself to stop going out; she hated it, really, didn’t know why she queued up so many nights to stand uncomfortably on the cobbles in her highest heels, no coat and bare legs even in the damp chill of winter.

She does know why, though. Inside, under the pounding music, bodies heaving around her in an endless wave, alcohol rushing through her veins—she’s connected. Even dancing alone in a crowd plugs her in to everyone else somehow; finally she’s part of something. That feeling is more intoxicating than any drink, utterly addictive. The jagged fear of losing it all again gets lost in the rhythmic movement, limbs melting under smeared lights, clothes sticking to her skin, the throbbing bass that fills her so completely she can’t be empty anymore. She can’t be.

The boys were no more than a pitiful effort to keep her emptiness filled, to hold on a little longer to the idea that she might not be herself anymore when it’s all over.

In the light of day, she knows the music weaves a fantasy as unreal as her lust-created Ben calling her his omega. Both are impossible. Both a risk. Thinking of Ben is an indulgence she can’t afford; the price is too high. He’s nowhere near interchangeable. He’s utterly, temptingly, sweetly, himself. She can’t hide from him in the dark, can’t take her blurry, insufficient pleasure from him and then stumble off back to herself. He sees her.

And that’s where the real danger lies: that their slow-motion collision into each other will forge some connection she won’t be able to unplug from, that she won’t want to. But he will.

Troubled, it’s awhile before she can sleep. When she does, she dreams she’s dancing in a dark club. Bodies press in around her, but it’s Ben who’s leaning over her from behind as she grinds on him. His lips move against her neck, his breath hot as he pants into her sweat-dampened skin. He says something, but the rumble of his voice is lost to the deafening music that’s somehow just her heartbeat and his together, the thump thump drowning out all her fear.

Her waist turns to glass then, and Ben is gripping her tight enough that she shatters. I’ll put you back together, he promises, shouting it over the echo of their combined pulse, but he never quite does.




Her uneasiness lingers through the morning, and she’s not sure if she should be regretting her acceptance of the proposed trip into town that afternoon. She’s been with Finn a few times now; he’s good company as he ferries her around in his dad’s SUV. With Ben and his mom, it’s going to be different. It’s a bit more like a date despite Leia’s presence, or even because of it, Leia taking them out like a pair of teenagers under her watchful eye. Rey frets over lunch, finally deciding she’s working herself up over nothing. An outing with her friend and his mom will be just that, a day out, with no more meaning attached to it. If she doesn’t allow it, anyway.

To her dismay, Ben is pale and serious and will barely look at her when she meets him and Leia at their dock, making her uncertain all over again. It’s not the first time she’s seen Ben in a low mood, however, so she tries not to read anything into it. Leia makes up for his silence with friendly questions about how Rey is finding Canada, and the cottage more specifically. Rey had found herself warming quickly to Leia during the meal the night before, and her enthusiasm as she talks about the lake and the forest is unforced.

Finn smiles widely to see her as he pulls up a minute or two later. “Hey, Peanut,” he says and offers her a hand into the boat after Leia. His face changes as he glances at Ben behind her, his mouth tightening at what he sees in Ben’s expression. As Ben climbs in, Finn pulls Rey into a tight hug, something about the way he sets his chin on her shoulder a challenge to Ben’s sour mood.

When he steps back, his nose is wrinkled, “Don’t know what the bug spray companies are going to do without you funding them next year.”

She slaps his shoulder. “Shut up, the mosquitoes are everywhere.

Leia settles into the seat beside Finn, leaving Rey and Ben with the bench at the stern of the boat. Ben sits first, crowding himself into the corner so she has plenty of room. Rey slides in beside him, not too close, daring a glance up at him. He’s unsmiling as he looks down at her, and his eyes are dark. So sweet. She hurriedly turns to look out at the lake to hide her blush. It’s a windy day, and the waves have tiny white caps like they’re dressed up as real waves on an ocean.

“Let’s hit it!” Finn says, and the motor starts up with a growl.




In such a small town, of course Ben is known as an alpha. The reason for his sombre mood today becomes increasingly obvious as they walk around, and Rey is ashamed of her naïveté in not predicting it. People recognize him, stare at him. The first time she hears dog muttered behind them, Rey isn’t sure she heard right. But she hears it again, and worse, all said just quietly enough to make it impossible to confront. People hurry across the road to avoid him. Perhaps they have business elsewhere, just like how a man who spits as they walk past could have needed to empty out his mouth at that exact moment and the woman waiting at a bus stop who shrinks away from him and folds her arms protectively over herself might only be chilly on this sunny July day. Rey’s own initial reaction to him had been no better; to see it reflected back to her from the other side is unnerving.

Leia acts like nothing’s wrong, walking so briskly on her short legs that even Ben has to lope along to keep pace with her. He strides stiffly, his shoulders rolled forward so that he stares at the ground and misses the worst of it.

Rey can’t unsee it the way Leia is able to, and she won’t ignore it. Instead, she can’t help seeking out and cataloguing every person who so much as looks at them, like she’s making a list of faces for later revenge. By the time they walk into the department store her jaw aches from how hard her teeth are clenched.

A woman is standing by the entrance giving samples of perfume, but as soon as she sees Ben, she develops an urgent requirement to be behind the makeup counter. Rey glares fiercely at her, moving close enough to Ben that their hands brush. He startles at the touch and stumbles over his own feet. Rey glances up at him to see he’s frowning down at her, lips parted in something like surprise. She turns back to the woman, who meets Rey’s eyes and pastes on a bland professional smile that’s all white teeth surrounded by blood red lips and nothing more.

Leia doesn’t seem to have noticed anything. When they get to the menswear department, she says, “Feel free to go do your own shopping, Rey. Does Ben have your phone number?”

They haven’t exchanged them so far. Ben has his phone in his hand ready to add her before she can say anything. She pulls hers out too, still unsure of the number, and he enters it as she reads it out, carefully poking at the screen with his thick fingers.

“It’s Rey with an ‘E’,” she corrects him, after watching him type in Ray.

“Ben is with an ‘E’, too,” he says helpfully and she giggles almost manically for such a poor joke.

A man on his way to the door veers away from them and rushes off.

Rey’s giddiness abruptly dissolves and with it, any intention she had of leaving Ben to his own shopping. “I don’t really need anything, actually. Maybe I can help find sizes for Ben.”

Leia smiles pointedly at him, and there’s a gleam in her eye that has Rey wondering what she’s missing. Then, suddenly remembering she needs to buy a gift for someone unspecified, Leia wanders off, leaving them alone.

Rey starts digging through disorganized piles of jeans, babbling something about working at Topshop as a teenager and her nightmares about tidying endless heaps of clothing, just to fill the air. Ben joins her wordlessly, head bent as he slowly works through the selection. Near the customer service desk, a security guard keeps a wary eye on them, his attention burning into her skin.

“Do you like these?” Rey holds up a pair with pre-cut holes in the knees, desperate to distract them both.

“Nah, I can do the distressing myself.”

She laughs at his effort, and then everything is easier. After gathering up a few things to try, they head to the fitting rooms. Leia returns in time to instruct him to give them a fashion show of everything, and she and Rey discuss the benefits and flaws of each pair of jeans as Ben shifts self-consciously in front of them. For the first time Rey notices Ben’s a bit bow-legged, which is endearing enough to divert her attention from his strong thighs and the fit of tight jeans over his arse. She’s never shopped with a boyfriend—no, a boy friend—before. It’s a bit odd to have his mum here as well, but Leia has a sly sense of humour and a warmth that draws the three of them into a safe little circle.

It continues onto dinner, where conversation flows easily and Rey can nearly forget everyone else in the restaurant is half-watching them. Even Ben is almost relaxed. Whenever she catches his eye he gives her a crooked smile that’s only a little dimmer than usual.

In the supermarket afterwards, Leia goes off to choose Ben some fruit and vegetables—”you never eat enough”—leaving them in the cereal aisle. Rey wanders down the aisle with their shopping trolley to examine the selection. When she looks back, a man is standing beside Ben.

“Hey, alpha,” the man says. He’s in his early forties maybe; thinning dark hair, beer belly hanging over his long cargo shorts.

Rey’s heartbeat is suddenly loud in her ears, the hair on the back of her neck prickling. Ben grabs the box in front of him and turns to walk away.

“Hey! Don’t turn your back on me, dog.”

Ben’s spine stiffens and the cereal box creases under his tightening fingers. He’s facing towards Rey now, but his head is bent so she can’t see his expression, his long hair falling forward to cover his face.

Pressure is building in Rey’s chest, the anger from earlier rushing back like it had just been waiting to be called on.

“Dog. You’re just an animal aren’t you? They should keep animals like you on a leash where you belong. Fucking ra—”

Rey doesn’t think, pure instinct has her barreling down the aisle toward Ben with the shopping trolley rattling noisily in front of her.

Up close she can see the tension rolling off him in waves.

“What’s going on here?” she demands, her question aimed more at the man than at Ben, who won’t look at her.

The man smiles. He has a small gap between his front teeth. She’d like to punch him there—the thought is instant and vicious in its intensity. Her eyes dart to Ben, his left arm folded tight over the cereal box, tracker obvious on his wrist. His other arm hangs straight at his side, muscles straining, fist clenched. Her hands curl over the plastic bar of the trolley; she hangs onto it like a lifeline that could save her, or the man from her, she doesn’t know which.

The man’s smile is friendly. “This dog here is a registered alpha. The government lets them just walk around wherever they want like they’re still in charge of us.” He speaks calmly, like he’s talking about an animal in front of them, like he’s trying to help her out. “They should lock them all up to keep our girls safe. You should stay away from him, he’s dangerous.”

Ben hunches even more, folding in on himself in a way that shouldn’t be possible for a man of his size. Rey is shaking with adrenaline, ready to explode into motion, everything around them a little too bright and loud. No part of this seems like anything true to life, that she’d be contemplating violence in the cereal aisle of a supermarket, that Ben would be the one needing her protection.

Ben. Ben needs her. Her fury can’t protect him, she has find another way that won’t end in either of them being arrested.

Ignoring the man, she turns to Ben, smiling at him, sharp and bright. “Did you get the cereal I wanted, darling?” she asks. She steps away from the trolley, closer to him, and slips her arm around his waist. He jerks as she pulls him close, still awkwardly clutching the box. His T-shirt sticks to where her arm presses against his sweat-damp body.

The man falters, the smug look on his face wiped away to be replaced by confusion.

Rey pinches Ben’s side subtly, making him jump. He tosses the cereal in the cart, then puts his arm around her. He’s shaking too; it feels like they’re clinging to each other, holding each other up.

“You got my favourite.” She reaches up and brushes his hair away from his face, rubbing her knuckles gently against his cheek to try to bring him back from the place the man’s ugly words took him. His face is collapsed as she tries to catch his eyes, wounded. Humiliation holds him captive.

“But you—you’re—you’re a beta! Mating with an alpha. That’s disgusting.” All the man’s false friendliness has twisted into revulsion.

Ben’s arm tightens around her and for the first time, he looks up at the man. Rey finds it hard to breathe, both from Ben squeezing her ribs and the hatred in the man’s face.

“A beta with an alpha.” The man is disbelieving, like it’s an impossibility. “You actually like it. Being fucked by an animal. A dog. You’re just a slutty bitch, aren’t you? Do you pretend you’re in heat so he can—”

“Stop talking, beta,” Ben spits, his voice a low growl that seems to rumble in the air around them like a distant kind of thunder. Something else is behind it, a note of command that has all the hair on Rey’s body standing on end. Obey, it warns her, an alpha speaks.

The man’s mouth snaps shut and he almost chokes on the words now trapped on his tongue.

Crushed to Ben’s side, she’s bruised all over, the man’s every word a blow that left her reeling. Involuntarily, her own tongue moves in her mouth, testing out her ability to make a sound and finding herself capable when a tiny whimper escapes her. Ben’s scent is powerfully strong around him, and she takes a gulp of it for comfort. It’s all wrong though, nothing like the soothing warmth of the blanket. Strangely, she can sort of smell how he’s feeling, perhaps because they’re so close. A part of her brain she didn’t even know existed interprets the wafts of pheromones from his neck: rage, humiliation, distress.

Away. They need to get away before whatever old magic that’s holding the man silent wears off. He gapes at them, wide-eyed and red-faced, visibly trembling. Only now does she notice the basket held in his hand, the wire handles clacking together.

“Come on, Ben,” she says to Ben, and tries to pull away from his restraining arm. He’s staring back at the man like he can’t quite believe whatever unknown alpha power he used worked. The man blinks then, his expression firming back up into fearful outrage. “Come on,” she repeats, squirming until she manages to free herself.

She grabs hold of the trolley, glad for the solidity of it, the only thing real here. Ben doesn’t move. “Ben,” she says. No response. “Ben!” Nothing. “Ben, I need you to come with me.”

Ben shakes his head slowly like he’s coming out of a dream.

The man puts down his basket. “I should call the police on you,” he mutters to himself, fumbling in his pockets for his phone. “You can’t do that to me, you can’t—”

Ben lurches forward, crowding the man back against a shelf. He must be almost a foot taller than the man and he towers over him, menacing, seeming to grow larger and darker as she watches. “Don’t tell anyone,” he orders in a low voice. “Leave us alone.” His words hang in the air, some power lingering that presses against the base of her skull.

The man’s face changes, the anger draining away like a plug was pulled. He frowns, then pats his pockets like he’s looking for something. Finding his phone in his hand, he slots it back into a pocket and picks up his basket again. Ben moves aside as the man walks off; it’s like he doesn’t even see them anymore.

When he’s gone, Rey takes a gasping breath, unaware she’d been holding it. She leans over the trolley and rests her forehead against the handle.

A gentle hand settles on her back and she turns her head to see Ben looking at her with concern. “Can I—?” he asks, and she leans into him. His arms wrap around her and, for a few moments at least, she can feel safe.

Her head rests on his shoulder, putting her nose close to his scent gland. The grating note of his anger gradually drifts away as they stand entwined, and she can hear his heartbeat slowing. His hand tentatively strokes down her back, then rubs a slow circle at the base of her spine. She closes her eyes. His scent is contented now, softer. It washes over her, fogging her mind so she almost forgets where they are.

“I didn’t know you could do that,” she says at last.

He tilts his head down and kisses her forehead, taking a long breath in her hair. She wonders if he has this same power to smell her emotions, if her righteous fury carried to him with the scent of flowers from her shampoo.

“Neither did I.”

After a minute she becomes aware again of where they are, the boxes of cereal on the shelf with their brightly-coloured cartoon characters promising delicious whole grains underneath their sugar coating, tinny pop music playing over low-quality speakers, the hum of freezers in the aisle next to them. She forces herself to give Ben a final squeeze and his arms drop to his sides as she pulls away. Their eyes meet and she half-laughs in relief that they made it, that together they vanquished a foe and escaped, mostly unmarked. Ben smiles, lopsided, and his eyes are warm and soft.

They meet Leia in the cookie aisle, where Rey selects another box of ginger biscuits. She devoured the last ones and needs more.




Leia insists they stop at another few shops to get Ben some things on the way back, so it’s dark by the time they get in the water taxi with all their bags. Rey and Ben were both quiet during the endless errands. Now that the euphoria of their victory in the supermarket has worn off, Rey finds herself more shaken than she thought, longing for her quiet bedroom in the forest where no hard eyes are watching and hating. Ben seemed exhausted, sinking lower and lower into his seat in the front of Leia’s SUV.

Leia takes the front seat of the taxi again, leaving Rey and Ben in the back. The night is cloudy, hiding the moon and stars. Once they’re away from the marina it’s pitch black, the only light coming from the boat’s headlamps and the occasional light escaping the depths of the trees from cottages they pass.

Ben’s shape at her side is barely visible, even as she strains her eyes in the darkness to see him. His body radiates heat to her, drawing her in closer to chase away the cool wind that rushes over them. It feels like he’s peering back at her, like their eyes are locked together in the dark.

Her hand creeps towards him, almost of its own volition. He startles when she touches his forearm. Her fingers slide down his skin, over the smooth metal of his tracker, to find his hand.

She makes a fist in his palm and he closes his fingers over it to engulf it completely, like he’s hiding some part of her, protecting it. The tracker brushes her wrist and she shivers. His shoulder lifts and bumps against hers, an offering she’s glad to accept. Gratefully she rests her head against him, thick muscle under the side of her face, so warm. He rubs his cheek against her forehead, the evening’s stubble rasping and then catching on the thin wisps of hair at her hairline.

Her eyes slip closed, the darkness she sees behind her lids unchanging from when they’re open. His thumb slowly strokes over hers, tracing a tingling the path on her skin. Her breath comes short, and between her legs she’s softening, aching. His shirt under her nose smells like everything she’s ever wanted. Home.

Too soon Finn is pulling the boat up at Ben’s dock. A light at the end of the boathouse clicks on when they get close and she and Ben both recoil from the blinding glare. The shock of it jolts Rey upright. Ben opens his hand and she takes her fist back from his keeping, his warmth lingering around her fingers. The sudden light illuminates the events of the day in a whirl of disconnected images: red lips and white teeth, the man’s revolted face, Ben’s unsure smiles, mistrustful eyes watching, watching, watching.

Rey has her own bags of shopping, and Finn offers to take her right over to her dock rather than have her stumbling through the woods. Ben is busying himself with gathering up his bags when she wishes him and Leia goodnight. He doesn’t look at her.

“I hope I’ll see you again, Rey,” is all Leia says in response to Rey’s repeated thanks for the day out.

The sounds of Ben and Leia taking everything up into their cottage carry clearly across the water as Finn pulls into the boat parking spot by her dock and ties up.

After he helps her bring everything up into the cottage, she invites him to stay for a drink. The idea of her quiet bedroom no longer appeals; she needs some distraction to chase the day away.

“Just one, then, don’t want to drink and drive.”

The mosquitoes are too fierce to sit outside, so they take a seat in the armchairs that look out towards the lake. The light in the room against the dark outside turns the windows into mirrors. Rey examines her face in the shadowy reflection, searching for any sign she’s been altered in some way, damaged perhaps. Her muscles are stiff from tension and her entire body aches, but all she can see is that she looks tired.

“How was town?” Finn asks.

Rey watches herself frown, then stares down at her beer to avoid her own gaze. “Interesting, I suppose.”

“Oh?”

“Ben doesn’t go to town often, does he?”

Finn leans back in his chair. “Ah. I wondered what you’d think about it.”

“People hate him.” And her. No, perhaps that’s the wrong word for the man’s reaction to her. Betrayed is more accurate, like she’d deserted her own people to embrace a beast. An abomination.

“Yeah. They do.”

The question she’s been evading all day finally rears its head. “He’s never … done anything, has he?” She isn’t sure what would be worse: that he had done something and was fully deserving of the spite directed at him, or that he hadn’t, and people were just that cruel.

“What? No, no. I mean, he has a sanction from a couple months ago. But that was nothing.”

Ben hadn’t told her that. “What for?”

“Verbal assault. Told some douchebag who was making a scene about him being an alpha to leave him the fuck alone.” Finn takes a swig. “Complete bullshit.”

She wonders if it was the same man, or if the town contains more than one of that particular brand of arsehole. Ben had told her that two sanctions in six months meant jail time. The man today could have sent him to prison if Ben hadn’t been able to send him packing. Rage rises again inside her; she doesn’t know where to put it.

“What do you think?”

“Of what?”

“I don’t know.” What is she trying to ask? “Of him, I guess. Ben.”

Finn lifts the edge of the label on his bottle with a short fingernail. “Ben’s a solid guy. A bit weird from living out here on his own, but what you see is what you get.”

“You’re not friends, though.”

“Why would you think that?”

Rey shrugs. “Just the feeling I get.”

Finn tips his bottle back and drains it. “We get along fine. Ben likes to keep to himself, that’s all.”

“But he’s a good guy, right?” she presses. “You trust him?” Everything hangs in doubt after today: her determination to remain just friends with him, whether she should have anything to do with him at all.

Finn looks at her, hard. For a moment she’s afraid he’ll ask why, but then he smiles. “Obi-Wan loved him, and he didn’t take shit from anybody.”

Rey breathes out. “Right. Thanks.”

“I better be going.” Finn stands up. “Thanks for the beer, Peanut. Take care, eh? See you Tuesday.”

When Finn is gone she gets another beer and sits by the window with it, watching as moths and insects collect on the other side of the glass, drawn by the light inside. Unwillingly, she replays the scene at the supermarket in her mind. The voice that Ben used disturbed her—almost more than the man’s ugly words—even if its effect on her seemed limited.

And what of her effect on Ben? Instinct had driven her to his side. She’d smelled it herself when his distress faded into something good and familiar when he held her. My omega, so sweet. Fantasy is a dangerous thing to play with—for both of them. It doesn’t mix well with reality, whether she was able to soothe him today or not.

Yet he’s been drawing her inexorably into his orbit since that night on the dock, or earlier, when he held her wrist and his gentle touch had her burning, or even before, the muscle of his shoulder firm under her hand in the water. Perhaps she needs to rewind all the way back to the beginning, to what she saw in his face in the woods when they met. Hope.

Hope has always been her currency; she’s paid for everything with it over the years. That more than anything is what they share. Once or twice she lost it, but she earned it back. Carrying hope around is a delicate undertaking. Overfill the container and it will crack under the weight of longing, leaving nothing but fragments. He knows that, too, but still, he dares. Meanwhile, she wastes her time hoping for some perfect connection, always turning away from anything good because it’s not quite good enough.

It is good with him, even if she can never fit him perfectly. As she thinks of him, the memory of his hand over hers leaves a ghostly warmth in her fingers. Her fist fit well enough in his palm, and he’d held it gently, like it was something precious. He’ll be getting in bed now, perhaps curling up on his side, long limbs folded up for the night. Her throat aches to think of him alone to nurse the wounds of the day, to think of her own solitary bed, though she has the solace of his blanket. An unfair thing, she now sees. She tells herself she’ll bring it back next time they meet, already knowing she won’t.

Perhaps she’s overcomplicating something that should be easy. Beyond the physical attraction, his pull on her is more into a kind of comfort than anything. If she could offer the same, she wouldn’t need to fear being hopelessly lost to him; that they don’t quite fit would keep them both safe. He, at least, has always been unafraid of his desire, even as she backs away from hers. His hand has never wavered, open and waiting for her to take it.

Maybe she should.

Chapter Text

Leia is already up drinking a cup of coffee in the sunroom when Ben stumbles out of his bedroom the next morning.

“There’s more in the pot,” she calls, and he manages a grunt in response.

Bear’s bowl on the floor has been heaped with food—Leia always spoils him—so after he fills his mug, Ben comes to flop on the couch beside her.

She’s never been good at being quiet in the morning, or any other time, and before he can even lift the mug to his lips, she’s saying, “You were pretty subdued last night.”

He takes a small sip, then a bigger one when he finds the coffee only lukewarm. It must have been sitting around long enough for the warmer to time out. The clock on the wall reads near ten thirty when he squints at it. Leia has always been an early riser, so she must have been sitting here for hours waiting for him to wake up.

“Just tired.” He takes another sip. The day after any trip out is always terrible, almost worse than the stress of the trip itself. Today is no different. His whole body is sore, like every set of suspicious eyes landed a blow as they glared at him. Thinking of the man in the grocery store hurts the most; Ben is bruised inside from their confrontation, his stomach aching like he’s been gut-punched again and again.

Despite his exhaustion the night before, he’d lain awake for hours, then tossed and turned through restless dreams of staring eyes and whispers of dog, Rey absent except for a shadow of her that lingered around him, untouchable. Several times he woke, heart pounding, only to find himself as alone as he dreamed he was.

Any idea he’d had before the trip of cutting himself free of her had disappeared the minute she slid an arm around his waist and stood with him. When he held her after the man left, her body tight against his, draining away everything except a desire to be closer still, he’d known he was hopelessly ensnared. The rest of the evening was a haze until those heady minutes in the taxi when she sought him out again. He’d tried to comfort himself in the night with the memory of her small hand in his, assuring himself that it must mean something. It had to.

“Sleep okay?”

He makes a noncommittal sound. Leia knows this weakness he has to being bruised from afar, but he’d rather pretend he’s undamaged. She knows him well enough to play along. It’s embarrassing that he’s always such a mess from only a few hours of being watched, even if the watchers do treat him like he’s an evil beast stalking the innocent townsfolk. He should probably be glad they don’t come at him with pitchforks, just ugly looks and uglier words.

“You and Rey seemed to get along really well yesterday.” Leia’s looking down at Bear, who’s resting his head on her leg, eyes slitted in bliss as she indulges him in a thorough scratch with her long nails.

Ben manages not to flinch. He scowls into his almost empty mug, determined to reveal nothing she can hook onto.

She tries another tack. “I saw that man in the store, the one who got you a sanction.”

Ben stiffens. It’s really too early for this. Why can’t she ever ask him things straight out? Stop coming at him from all these different angles, confusing him so that he trips over himself. She can never stop being a politician, not for one fucking second.

“Did he see you, honey?”

She can’t possibly know. What the man said, what Ben did. He risks a glance at her, but she’s still looking down into Bear’s adoring eyes.

“No,” he lies, cringing at how unconvincing he sounds.

She turns to look at him and his ears feel hot, which means his cheeks are red. He’s always been a terrible liar.

“Did he bother you?”

Ben heaves himself up, swigs down the last of the almost-cold coffee.

“Ben? Did he say something to you? To Rey?”

That does make him flinch, then he curses himself for being so easy to read. He turns away from Leia and walks back to the kitchen. Predictably, she follows him.

“Honey, I told you last time we can try for a restraining order—”

He barks out a laugh. “Like that’s going to happen.”

“There are precedents, Ben. I’ve been working on a case where—”

“It’s fine. Rey’s fine. I’m fine. The asshole is fine.” He hopes. If the man had gone to the police right away yesterday, they’d already have dragged Ben off early this morning. If it took him longer though, if he stewed over it a bit, or if whatever thing Ben did to him wore off after a while… Ben’s skin is itching, he needs to do something, hit something. These worries have been on repeat all night, and his head aches when he goes over them again.

He must have said it forcefully enough, because Leia holds her hands up. “Okay, okay. I trust you to tell me if you need help. You will, right?”

Fuck, she always does this. Twists him right up in her switch from nagging into caring. “Yeah, right,” he mutters.

Mechanically, he starts a new pot of coffee. He’s going to need a hell of a lot more to get through the day.




The day is baking hot with only the lightest breeze, and Leia joins him in the water for one of her rare swims. She floats for awhile on an inflatable raft before getting out to sit on the dock with her phone in hand, throwing a stick into the water for Bear in between furiously tapped messages. Her throws are always surprisingly far, considering her lack of attention, and Bear is thrilled to have a new playmate. He greets Ben joyously in the water every time they meet on his way out and in again.

Ben can’t help glancing over at Rey’s cottage, wondering if she might come out to swim if she hears them. He’s swum halfway in that direction before he catches himself and stops. The boundary marker stands just a metre or so ahead of him on the shoreline. He’s all too aware of the limits of his cage, of that betraying beep from his tracker when he leaves it. Snoke already sent him one email asking why he was visiting a “dead man’s property” so often. Ben had been forced to explain Rey’s presence, feeling dirty at bringing knowledge of her to Snoke, who’d been less than impressed with Ben’s excuse that he was helping her out at her cottage.

She probably needs some space anyway. Seeing him today would just be a reminder of the upsetting day before, and she’d mentioned yesterday that she had a ton of new work to get through. Turning up on her dock from the water to say hi would be weird.

Longing swells in his chest. He’d like to see her, just for a minute. Say sorry about the day before, get some reassurance that her support was a sign of something other than pity.

In between worrying about the police knocking down his door, he’d thought again and again of the way she bore down on the man with her shopping cart—her beautiful face hot with fury—like she would have run right over him if she could have gotten away with it. He’d never seen that before: someone angry for him, instead of at him.

And fuck, the feel of her in his arms. Her hair smelled like flowers and lakewater, and holding her was like touching sunshine. Not a blazing heat—something much softer. The kind of drowsy afternoon sun that always makes him want to close his eyes and rest in the warm forever. He’d gone cold when she pulled away, only warming up again when she snuggled into his side in the boat and he took her small fist in his hand, hardly daring to breathe so he wouldn’t disturb the delicate thing he held.

He waits a moment more, treading water, willing her to appear. When she doesn’t, he turns around, kicking hard to get back before Leia notices where he was going.




Leia makes waffles for lunch from Obi-Wan’s recipe. He used to make them almost every Sunday over the summer, Ben having a standing invitation for brunch and Leia or Luke joining whenever they were here. The first bite hurts, the sweetness of the maple syrup they’re drenched in burning his throat where a hard lump has formed.

After they’ve both stuffed themselves, Leia raises her glass of orange juice. “To Obi-Wan. If his ghost is listening: we miss you.” She takes a heavy gulp and then busies herself with bringing the plates to the sink. Obi-Wan was her friend, too.

While they’re doing the dishes, she tells him about a new committee she’s chairing on alpha rights abuses in prisons. Ben only half-listens. He appreciates her work, he does, but it’s so depressing hearing about it when it could be him locked up in solitary for years because alphas are considered too dangerous to be in the normal prison population and the number of alpha units in the province is too few.

“I’m going to have to call for a ride now, honey,” she says when everything is put away. “I want to beat at least some of the traffic and I have a conference call later.”

Ben nods. “Yeah, sure.” It’s a relief that she’ll be leaving early. His restlessness hasn’t been cured with a swim, and he needs to get on his punching bag or he’ll run right over to Rey’s as soon as Leia leaves. Be cool, he reminds himself. Not needy. Right.

By the time Leia’s called the taxi and packed up her stuff, Ben’s got himself back under control. Mostly. He carries her bag down to the dock and they stand, awkward, waiting for the boat to arrive.

Leia sighs, and Ben braces himself. “Your dad called me last week.”

Not this. Not again.

“He’s visiting your uncle in between the Hungarian and Belgian Grand Prix.”

“Uh huh,” Ben says, already knowing what’s coming.

Leia sighs again, long-suffering. “He wants to see you.”

It used to be a personal invitation, before Ben blocked his number and email address.

“I’m sure he’d like to meet Rey—”

“Fuck that,” Ben says, before he can think. The thought of Han fucking Solo doing that—that—thing he does whenever he meets an attractive woman, Ben can’t bear it. Han’s ability to charm women is legendary, except for Leia, who says she hated him on sight. It would have been better if it stayed that way, though obviously, that would put Ben’s own existence into question. Hard to tell if that’s a bad thing or not sometimes.

“Ben, really. He wouldn’t have to meet your girlfriend—”

“She’s not my girlfriend.”

“Fine, okay, forget that. He wants to see you, Ben. It’s been years—”

“No.”

“Ben.”

No.”

“He loves you, honey, he misses you.”

Ben snorts. Right. Han was really good at missing things. Like his embarrassing alpha son who wasn’t allowed to drive a fucking car, much less race one, leaving them with nothing to talk about, from Han’s point of view at least. He missed Ben so much he could never make it home to visit whenever Ben was on a school break. Somehow the schedules never quite matched up. Some-fucking-how.

“I know you don’t believe it, but he—”

“Just fucking leave it.” Ben finds himself searching inside for whatever power he accessed the day before, not to actually use against her, but, well, kind of. He hadn’t known what he was drawing on then, or how. Whatever it was, it’s absent now, even when he’s itching inside for a fight and tired of having this conversation yet again, when his answer is always going to be the same.

Leia gives him a look. “Don’t swear at me,” she says in her mildest tone, which tells him how pissed off she is.

He glares down at her and she meets his gaze fearlessly until he has to look away. “Fuck,” he says, just to be contrary.

“Ben, let’s not leave it like this. We had a nice weekend, right?” They both tended to flare hot and quick, though she was better at cooling herself back down.

He runs over the past days in his head, scoring them. The weekend was, overall, maybe not the worst ever. Which is an achievement, considering the trip to town.

She lifts her arms and he leans down to hug her. “I’ll come up again soon, okay? Maybe when Luke’s here—would you like that?”

“Yeah, sure.”

The water taxi appears around the bend into the bay, Finn’s dad at the wheel on Finn’s day off.

“I hope I’ll see Rey again, too. I’m sure Luke will love her.”

That’s an easy prediction. Luke seems to like almost everyone, or is at least able to find something to like about them.

The day stretches on with no sign of Rey. He exhausts himself at the punching bag and with another hard swim—away from Rey’s cottage—out towards Lone Pine Island, where he’s forced to accept that he’s pining again. Hard.

Standing in the shower after, he contemplates jerking off, knowing he’ll just end up thinking of Rey and needing her more. That doesn’t stop his cock from springing up, like it was just waiting for a mental mention of its obsession. Fuck it. This morning he was admitting to himself that he’s completely gone, why bother trying to hide from it now?

He pours a dollop of conditioner on his hand and makes his strokes long and slow as he builds a fantasy of fucking her in the lake, the cool water around them only making him hotter as he rocks into her, her arms around his neck and face tilted back, droplets of water sparkling on her skin under a mellow afternoon sun. He groans helplessly as he comes, his knot swelling a bit under his hand.

Once he’s out from under the disorienting influence of falling water, it turns out his instinct was right. He does feel worse.

Later, he sits on the couch with a plate of leftovers from their dinner the night before and texts Poe. Without planning on it, Ben tells him everything. About how good and awful it was to have Rey out with him, about the dinner when he felt for a few minutes what it would be like to have a normal life, and of course, about the grocery store. What the man said. The voice Ben found inside himself. Rey offering her hand on the boat ride back. How sick with longing he feels.

PDam-mit: Shit man. That’s some crazy shit with the voice. You ever do that before?

KyloRen: Nah. It’s like something from a fairytale

PDam-mit: Yeah, like the one where the alpha knight defends the omega from the dragon with a powerful shout that makes the dragon sleep? That kind of thing. Hang on, lemme ask this older guy here about it brb

Ben finishes his dinner while he’s waiting for Poe to reply again, taking the time to wash his single plate and fork instead of leaving it in the sink like he usually would. He’s halfway through a DVD when his phone finally buzzes.

PDam-mit: Okay I talked to this guy in his 60s who had a/o parents. He said one time some asshole was talking shit to his mom and his dad did a thing like you did. Forced the guy to fuck off. He thinks it was something that only happens when an alpha’s mate is threatened. Not like some superhero mind-control shit

It’s a relief to hear that he’s not unique in this, even if it means that apparently some animal part of him considers Rey his mate.

KyloRen: Ha too bad I can’t rule the world

PDam-mit: If you could convince yourself the world is threatening your girl maybe you could ;)

KyloRen: Ha yeah. Thanks for asking him. Does the...effect wear off after time? I’m shit-scared this guy’s gonna come for me

PDam-mit: ...good point. I’ll ask if he knows

This time Poe’s back sooner.

PDam-mit: He said the guy who was bothering his mom never came back again but guess it depends on what you said. In that fairytale the dragon never wakes up, does he?

Don’t tell anyone. Leave us alone. The words are etched so deeply into his brain that it seems impossible they could fade from anyone else’s. Half-remembered anecdotes and old stories aren’t much to put his confidence in, but they’re all he has.

KyloRen: No I don’t think so. Funny how this wasn’t covered in the a/o sex ed we had at school :P

PDam-mit: Lmaoooo yeah like they’d ever teach us that. That’s fairytale stuff!!!

KyloRen: Yeah right

PDam-mit: So Rey is your mate then

He doesn’t know what she is. He may be lacking in the social skills department, but he’s pretty sure that friends don’t hug like that or hold hands all snuggled up together.

KyloRen: I wish

That itch under his skin still hasn’t gone away. The thought of her alone and unprotected in her cottage is constantly poking at him. If it’s true that a part of him is thinking of her as his mate, it makes perfect sense that it’s driving him crazy.

PDam-mit: Come on man you can make it happen. You got it baaaaad and sounds like she likes you

While he’s contemplating if it’s over-dramatic to say I’m dying for her in reply, his phone pings again with a message, but it’s not from Poe.

Rey: Hiya I hope you had a good day. :) I meant to text earlier when your mum was still here to say thanks again but I got wrapped up in work. Soooo many new articles to get through. Can you let her know? Cheers x

His heart is pounding. She’s okay. She’s busy, but she texted him. He just needs to be cool now and not say anything stupid or needy.

Ben: Hey! Yeah it was a pretty good day. I’ll let my mom know when I talk to her next time.

His thumb hovers over the send button. That reply is so impersonal. It would be totally cool to invite her over, wouldn’t it? The sky is almost dark, but maybe she’d come sit inside with him. He has to swallow down a burst of excitement at the thought of her cuddling up beside him on the couch. His cock is interested again too, struggling to fill out in his jeans. It doesn’t take much to imagine her sitting on his lap, kissing her as she squirms against him.

He types out want to come over? and deletes it. No. Too much. Instead he adds, sorry you got so much work and hits send before he can say something that scares her off again.

Rey: Yeah :( I’m still at it. Missed going out in the canoe or swimming today.

Is she saying that she missed him? Hope rises and he seizes it like a lifeline.

Ben: Want to go out canoeing tomorrow? We could go all the way round the bay like we were talking about if we start earlyish

Rey: That would be amazing! :D

Ben: Great :) I’ll come over around 6:30

Rey: I’ll look forward to it. :) Goodnight then

It’s a date—feels like one at least. He’s smiling stupidly at the screen, about to type in his own goodnight when a last message appears.

Rey: <3

His hand shakes as he presses send on his reply.

Ben: Goodnight <3




Knocking on Rey’s door the next evening, he has the absurd feeling that he should have brought flowers or something to mark this as their real first date. She might not be thinking of it that way, though, and he can only imagine the hideous awkwardness of her trying to let him down gently.

She slips out the door, only opening it the minimum to avoid a mosquito invasion. As the door closes, he gets a waft of sweet-smelling air from inside. It smells like ripe fruit, ready to be eaten. Good—really good.

Her bright smile distracts him then, and her greeting is as warm as always. A weight that had been sitting on his chest eases, leaving him light with relief. It’s a perfect evening: the water is glassy calm, the air warm and humid. The sun hangs low in the sky, and the soft light catches the gold in Rey’s hair, making it gleam.

They make their way around slowly, Rey peering up at the other cottages. The lake’s been getting busier now that it’s July and school is out. Water-skiers come down the bay once or twice a day, and the sound of children playing carries across the water. They stop a few times to say hello to people sitting on their docks, enjoying the evening. Everyone knows him here, and people are happy to meet Obi-Wan’s grand-daughter.

By the time they get back to her dock, it’s almost dark and he’s glad Rey thought to leave her outside lights on when they left. In the gloom of the boathouse they can barely see the rack to hang up their paddles or the hooks for their lifejackets.

As Rey turns around, she bumps into him and he grabs her upper arms to steady her. Instead of pulling away when she finds her balance, she steps closer. In the small space he can smell her hair again, a lake filled with flowers, overlaid with the ever-present bug spray that frustratingly blocks her own scent.

It seems like the right time to say, “I’m sorry about Saturday. Thank you for uh … helping me.”

It’s hard to think when she’s standing so close. Then her hands come up to cup his jaw and it feels like the boathouse has come loose from the rocks and is lazily floating out onto the lake. His feet can’t find purchase, and the only way he can keep himself upright is by wrapping his hands around her waist and drawing her to him.

She makes a soft sound and runs her thumb over his bottom lip. He doesn’t know anymore if the darkness in front of his eyes is from the night or because he can no longer see. His blood roars in his ears, almost drowning out their ragged breathing. His only points of reference are the soft curves of her hips that fit perfectly under his hands and the drag of her thumb across his mouth.

Her hands move to the back of his neck and she pulls his head down. His nose bumps against hers and he wants to find her lips, can’t imagine anything he’s ever wanted more than to kiss her right now. But she dips her face down against his neck and places a soft kiss on his scent gland. He shudders in response, hands tightening on her.

She continues down his neck, placing one deliberate kiss after another, each one overlapping the previous. He tilts his head to the side, bending to give her better access. Each kiss marks him somehow, a tiny sweet brand. When she reaches the junction between his shoulder and neck, her teeth sink in and she sucks gently. He’s panting, cock aching in his jeans, a damp spot already growing in his underwear.

She licks a little circle where she bit him, warm breath ghosting over damp skin, then licks slowly back up his neck, tracing her path of kisses to his scent gland. She bites there too, and he can’t hold back a moan. The sound is loud in the quiet, but he moans again when she sucks on his gland and his hips jerk.

“Is this all right?” she whispers against his neck.

He’s far beyond speech now so he nods fervently, hoping she’ll feel the movement in the dark. Please don’t stop. Please.

He turns his head to nose at her cheek, nudging her to look up at him, and he captures her lips at last.

Once, in the early spring, he fell through the ice right by his dock. It had been a cold April, and he’d thought the ice was still strong enough to hold him. His disbelief that it was instead cracking under his feet was nothing compared to the sharp shock of frigid water, needle-like teeth tearing him into a million pieces. Pain couldn’t even begin to describe it. Panic didn’t come close to what he felt. He couldn’t breathe. Couldn’t think. The cold was a perfect agony. He felt alive.

He’d saved himself by grabbing onto the frozen rails of the dock ladder—a new kind of pain that made his palms burn. He grips onto Rey like that now: he’s drowning, and she’s his anchor. She is pure heat when he’s been so long in the cold.

He runs his tongue over her lips. She tastes sweet and full of promise, like that delicious fruit he smelled earlier. His world has cracked and she’s that crystal-sharp shock, flooding his dark places. Except she’s soft. So soft. He’s sliding under, and he can’t seem to figure out how to breathe and sink into her depths at the same time. He’s gasping into her mouth and hers is open and their tongues touch, stroking against each other, and he’s filled with Rey.

She moves closer still, sliding her arms around his waist. A sound of satisfaction vibrates through both their chests and he isn’t sure which one of them made it. He lifts one hand to cup the back of her neck, tangling his fingers in her hair. His whole body is tight with tension, thrumming with the knowledge that finally he’s kissing her. She’s biting at his lip, then soothing it with slow licks. He growls and nibbles on her bottom lip in turn, careful not to bite too hard. She can do whatever she wants to him, but he can’t imagine hurting her.

Then she pulls away from his mouth and he’s whimpering at her loss, a humiliating sound that has her kissing his cheek—in sympathy he thinks at first—but she continues to kiss along his jawline until she reaches his earlobe. He squeezes his eyes shut as her mouth closes on the sensitive flesh there.

“Please,” he whispers helplessly.

She sucks, her teeth pinpricks that spear him to her. “Please what, Alpha?”

The word drops like a hot stone right into his core. He groans and finds her mouth again, this time fitting his hand to her ass to snug her body against his, his cock grinding into the softness of her belly. He licks desperately into her mouth, his cock throbbing and twitching in his soaking underwear. It’s fucking embarrassing how close he is. He could easily come like this, the rough friction of his underwear just this side of painful. If she’d call him Alpha again… Once, twice, a hundred times. He’d never get tired of it, would do anything to hear her say it.

This time when she pulls away, she steps back and it takes him a moment to realize it’s over. His fingers clench in her hair and she touches the back of his hand with the tips of her fingers. Her hand is shaking.

“Ben,” she says, and he lets her go.

“Don’t. Please—” Not like the last time. Please, not like that.

“Let’s just… Can we take things slow?” Her voice is timid, like she’s afraid he’ll say no. Or worse, like she’s afraid of him.

His heart sinks. He wishes he could see her face, but it’s almost completely dark in the boathouse now, only a distant glow coming from the cottage light. He wants to touch her again, badly. Just to reassure her. Nothing more.

Yeah. Right.

Instead, he draws himself up and away from her. “Of course.”




He’d forgotten that the following day Rey would be going into town with Finn. After leaving the boathouse they hadn’t talked, just traded soft goodnights. His sleep was deep and dreamless, and he woke this morning eager to bounce out of bed, still high on the excitement of the night before.

Seeing Rey zoom past in the water taxi with Finn brings him crashing back down to earth.

Until he came to live on the lake, he didn’t really know jealousy. But after finishing alpha school, he was tossed, alone, into a world he could never be part of, and it was here that jealousy became his constant companion. He learned the hot acid burn of it in his gut, the bitter taste on his tongue. He’s found plenty to be jealous of over the years. It usually comes back to the one thing he has to lose, but can never win: freedom.

Today, the jealousy has a darker burn, tinged with the kind of helpless rage he felt when facing the man in the grocery store. It physically hurts to see Rey drive off without him. With Finn. She doesn’t even look to see if Ben’s there watching when they pass his cottage. Friendly fucking Finn. He likes Rey, too. Ben saw it.

The whole day he’s in a frenzy of agitation, unable to settle with Rey so far from him. By the time it’s dark, his instincts are screaming at him to go find her. Something’s wrong with his ma— No. She’s not that, even if his biology is convinced otherwise. Something’s wrong with her. She’s never been back this late before. He needs to know that she’s safe, but she’s impossibly out of reach.

He ends up sitting in the sunroom, lit only by the dim glow of his phone screen, staring at her number with his thumb hovering over the call button. He has no right to call her. He can’t be this fucking needy. Okay, apparently he can be. But he can’t show her how needy he is. That’s the most important thing. Yeah. Be cool.

He throws his phone to the side and groans, putting his hands over his face. Bear comes over to nose at him and Ben plays with his soft ears for a minute. Then he picks up the phone again and checks the time. Almost ten p.m.

Finally he can hear a motor in the distance, and the thin beam of the water taxi’s headlights pierce the ink-black night. Ben hunches by the open window as the boat stops at Rey’s dock, his shoulders so tight they ache. He presses his cheek against the screen and strains to listen, but the low drone of the idling motor hides what they’re saying. Rey’s laugh rings high above it for a few seconds, and Ben clenches his fists. She sounds happy.

Get away from her, he thinks at Finn. Rey doesn’t seem like someone who’d kiss one guy after another, but she’s so irresistible, he’s sure Finn would like to try.

Then the motor cuts out abruptly, leaving the night strangely silent. Ben’s heart stops. In the quiet, he can clearly hear Finn clattering onto the dock, and the hushed sound of their voices as they walk up to her cottage. She giggles and this time, Ben can hear Finn’s lower answering chuckle.

His stomach is churning as he sinks down to the floor. Rey is his. They had something last night. He wanted to spend the day in blissed out memory of it, not like this, huddled on the floor by the window, clutching his phone so he can obsessively count the minutes that Finn is inside her cottage, a place that Ben has never been invited to enter.

Ben touches the spot on his shoulder where Rey’s teeth sank into him. The little purple marks her teeth left are beautiful. He felt wanted when he saw them in the mirror this morning. Like he mattered enough to her that she would give him something of herself. He tries to hold onto that feeling, to ignore everything in him that says Finn would be so much better for her.

Bear comes to lie down at Ben’s side, confused why Ben is on the floor. Even his presence, usually so calming, isn’t enough. Ben sighs, and rests his head on his drawn up knees. If he could just see Rey and know that she’s okay… He thinks again of holding her as she sleeps, waking up in the night to hear her soft breathing beside him. That’s all he ever wanted, just to have someone to watch over.

Twenty-three eternal minutes later, Rey’s cottage door opens and closes. Within another minute, the boat’s motor is running and Finn drives off slowly into the night.




The little ping of his phone alert wakes Ben from a deep sleep and he squints at the screen for several seconds before his eyes open fully.

Rey: Do you want to come over for breakfast? I got everything to make a proper full English! :)

He swallows and rubs the back of his hand over his eyes. It’s nine-thirty in the morning and he feels like he barely slept.

Sounds good, he types. He’s dying to see her again, but the jealousy from yesterday is still clawing at him. It does help that she’s inviting him to her cottage after Finn was there yesterday. Be there in 10, he adds and hits send. His hand is shaking.

He dresses fast after a quick shower and shave. His goatee is getting long and needs a trim. He wonders if Rey would prefer him without it. That makes him think of kissing her and then his heart is pounding at the memory of the other night and the thought of doing it again.

Outside, it’s overcast and the waves are going in the direction for rain. A few stray drops land on his face as he walks the short distance over to her cottage. Climbing the wooden steps of her deck reminds him of a thousand visits to see Obi-Wan, how he’d look up over his reading glasses from his chair by the window and smile to see Ben.

Ben knocks, peering through the window in the door to look inside. Everything looks pretty much the same, and if it weren’t Rey coming to the door, he could imagine Obi-Wan was in there waiting for him.

“Good morning.” Rey smiles brightly up at him. After a second, she stands on tiptoe to kiss his cheek, resting one hand on his chest for balance.

For a second, his fear of what happened with Finn the night before rises, but then her smell hits him and he’s utterly lost. When they’ve been close before, her bug spray was assaulting his nose or they were swimming and her scent was lost to the lake. Now, she’s leaning up against him in the room where she spends most of her time, and her scent is overwhelming.

Without conscious thought, his arms wrap around her and he barely hears her startled yelp as he’s lifting her so he can get his nose into her scent gland. She smells so fucking good, that ripe fruit smell he got a whiff of the other day, but more intensely sweet, like the most delicious dessert. It should be cloying, sickening. Instead it’s heaven, every breath he takes of it as fresh and luscious as the last, driving him wild.

He wants to devour her, again and again. His chest is rumbling with something between a purr and a growl and he has to taste—oh, fuck, yes. Her flavour is rich, sweet temptation. He wants to work his tongue under her skin to take more of her in. She’s everywhere inside him already, but he’ll never be able to get enough.

He circles his tongue around her gland and he’s making a sort of whining sound that should be deeply embarrassing, but all he can care about is that she’s gone soft against him and her chin is tilted up and away so he can get right to the spot he wants. Her chest heaves into his and she moans.

Then the toaster pops, and they both jump.

“Ben,” Rey says roughly.

He licks her gland again. She tastes so good. “Hmm?”

She pulls away from his mouth and wriggles against him. His cock pulses where it’s trapped by his jeans as her thigh slides over it.

“Breakfast?”

He blinks hazily at her. “What?”

“Do you want some?”

Yes.

“Breakfast. It’s almost ready.” Somehow she’s escaping him and hurrying into the kitchen, talking a mile a minute about getting real bacon, and how in the store she saw baked beans with maple syrup in them—”So Canadian!”—and did he want his eggs scrambled or fried?

She sounds … nervous. His thoughts are sluggish whenever he tries to think of anything but getting her back in his arms where she belongs. She’s looking at him, waiting for him to respond to something. Her cheeks are flushed and her eyes are sparkling, but she doesn’t quite meet his gaze.

“Whatever you want,” he says, hoping that makes some sort of sense.

“You can sit down,” she tells him, then turns busily back to the stove, where food is sizzling away in the cast-iron frying pan.

He should offer to help, but his hands feel clumsy and huge, and he’s sure to mess things up. Instead he sits down in Obi-Wan’s old wooden dining chair. The back curves all the way around to end in two smooth armrests. He grips them tightly and stares at the shiny surface of the dark brown teapot on the table.

Rey puts a plate in front of him piled high with food: back bacon, scrambled eggs, fried mushrooms, baked beans and half a tomato that’s been seared on one side. She goes away and comes back again with a plate of toast and her own plate, similarly filled.

“I’m missing black pudding and sausages, but I couldn’t find the right kind of sausages and I don’t think the butcher at the supermarket had ever heard of black pudding. Did you want fried bread? I always find it too greasy, but I should have made some so you could try it…”

She twists her hands in front of her, looking down at the table.

“It looks great.” His mouth feels like it’s full of cotton, but her eyes flick up to his and she smiles hesitantly.

“Right. Good.” She pushes her hair over her shoulder—not helping his state of mind at all—and breathes out.

It takes Ben a moment to figure out why he feels a burst of shock when she sits down in the chair to his right. Something feels wrong about it, and at first he thinks it’s because that’s where he would usually sit, with Obi-Wan at the head of the table in the chair he’s now sitting in. Then he realizes it’s really because he had some crazy idea that she would sit on his lap to eat so he could hold her close and take puffs of her scent with his food, like she’s some kind of drug he needs to inhale to live.

He doesn’t want to lose the flavour of her that he still holds in his mouth, and he’s barely hungry—for food anyway—but he sets to eating with determination so he won’t say something stupid.

Rey alternates between gobbling down huge bites where she takes a little bit of everything on her fork at once, and babbling away about her previous day with Finn. The food is a lead weight in his belly that he keeps adding to, bite by bite, as he listens to how much fun they had. It’s all silly stuff, like mishaps in the laundromat, and Finn making fun of her complaints about the food she can’t get here. Apparently he invited her to dinner—with a few friends, which makes Ben feel a little better.

She doesn’t mention inviting Finn inside, or what happened during those twenty-three minutes when Finn could drown in her scent like Ben is. Then he happens to glance over at the kitchen counter and sees two empty beer bottles, and something cracks inside him. Everything he can’t have in two brown glass bottles, the familiar white labels of Molson Canadian perfectly lined up on both to face him, the red of the maple leaves a direct taunt. She and Finn match, just like those two bottles. It would be obvious to anyone.

“Do you want some tea?” Rey asks.

His plate is empty and his stomach is heavy. The food was good—he thinks. She asked him once if it was okay, and he’s pretty sure he at least grunted a yes. He looks at her hand curled around the handle of the teapot. Her nails are painted an electric blue, and he can’t remember now if they were like that the last time he saw her.

“Yes,” he says automatically. Yes to anything you have to offer. Yes. Please.

She pours into his mug. Penarth Lake, it says on the side in black writing, beside a drawing of a loon. Ben gave it to Obi-Wan as a birthday present one year, having to ask Finn to buy something from the marina for him to give. Fucking Finn. Ben hates him, he decides. He always has. Just—Finn is his contact with the outside world, so he confused his hatred with gratitude.

“Milk and sugar?”

He doesn’t really like tea made with the lake water, even filtered. “Yeah, both. Please.”

She’s put milk into a little porcelain jug that Ben is sure he never once saw Obi-Wan use. It matches the more familiar sugar bowl. He dumps some of each in and then stirs, possibly a bit too aggressively. The cup rings from the spoon bouncing off it again and again, and Rey says, “Ben,” and then grabs his wrist, stopping him. He allows the spoon to fall, and to his disappointment, she draws her hand away.

If he could just hold her, he knows that everything would be fine. His skin itches all over from being close to her without touching. Every time he breathes he’s sucking in more of her exquisite smell, and his head is swimming with it.

“Ben, you’ve hardly said anything after you … came in. Is everything all right?”

She pushes her hair back over her shoulder again and he closes his eyes. Please what, Alpha? Shit, don’t think of that now.

“You smell … really good,” he says with difficulty. It’s the most neutral sentence he can put the words together for what he really means: I never want to smell anything but you again.

She smiles. “You should try being around an alpha.”

The last time Ben smelled another alpha was at the school. The stench of a couple hundred teenage alphas in one place permeated everything; even now the sense-memory makes his skin crawl with remembered frustrated rage. He knows that betas find alpha pheromones attractive, but he’s always heard the smell described as comforting, nothing like this intoxication. And he’s certainly never heard of a beta smelling anywhere near this enticing. It must just be because he’s hasn’t smelled her properly until now, when he’s desperate for her.

His need to touch her again has passed the line where begging for it would be shameful. “Can I hold you? Please.”

He thinks of the mark on his neck she gave him, faded already, and the thought of sinking his own teeth into the skin at her scent gland is so arousing that his mouth floods with saliva and he has to take a ragged breath so he doesn’t whimper. His cock has barely softened since their embrace at the door, and it jumps against his leg.

Their eyes meet. Hers are dark and give away nothing. He can’t imagine how he must look, sweaty and red-faced, mouth half-open as he pants for her.

She stands up. Like before, on the dock, their hands slide together, her slim fingers twining with his thicker ones. She folds onto him, the high armrests forcing her to sit with her back to him, at a slight angle. He wraps his arms around her waist and pulls her to his chest, hissing as her ass drags over his cock and settles on it. She shifts slightly, and the little movement has him moaning in her ear.

He buries his face in her neck again, brushing her hair to one side so he can snuffle right into her gland. Sighing with relief, he nuzzles her there and she relaxes against him.

“Finn said—” she starts, but he interrupts her.

“I don’t want to talk about Finn.”

“Oh, right.”

He’s wondering if it would be okay if he slid his hand up inside her shirt to cup her breast, but she stiffened a little when he said Finn’s name—yeah, okay, maybe a little angrily—so instead of doing that, he says something monumentally idiotic. “He was here last night, wasn’t he?”

“He dropped me off, yes.” The warning in her voice is clear enough, but all he can think of is those twenty-three minutes where they had a beer and who knows what else happened.

He juts his chin in the direction of the kitchen counter. “No, he was here.”

She sits up, turning her head to look at the incriminating bottles. “How do you know those haven’t been there for days?”

“I heard you last night, okay?”

She springs up at that and turns to face him, slipping away before he can clutch her to him. “Were you spying on me?”

“It was late. I was worried about you.” She’s too far away now and his eyes are fixed on her neck, where he can practically sense her gland deliciously throbbing for him. He licks his lips.

“I don’t need anyone to worry about me.”

He blinks slowly. Her arms are crossed and she’s frowning. His cock is aching hot and it’s so difficult to think of anything except how she smells and feels and tastes. He stands up and the chair scrapes on the floor behind him as he pushes it back with one foot. Leaning down, he aims for her neck again and she huffs in frustration and brings her hands up to his chest to keep him away.

“Ben, would you stop humping my neck for one bloody minute! I’m trying to talk to you.”

She’s rubbing over his pecs in little teasing circles though, and then her thumbs find his nipples and he jerks as she runs her short nails over them.

“S‘not helping,” he slurs, and she drops her hands with a startled squeak.

“Sorry, sorry.”

He tries to rewind the conversation, but the thread of it trails away somewhere in the distance. “What did you want to talk about?” he mumbles. His hands are fisted at his sides, but inch by inch, he’s leaning closer to her, like a tree falling in slow motion.

“Why were you spying on me and Finn?”

Oh, yeah. Why the fuck did he tell her that again? “Wasn’t spying. Just heard you come back together.”

“And apparently, that he came in for a couple minutes.”

“Twenty-three minutes,” he corrects her, knowing the second the words tumble out of his mouth that he’s made a terrible mistake.

She actually gasps, and he freezes. “That’s a very precise number of minutes for someone who just happened to overhear.” Her voice is wintry cold.

Shit, shit, shit. “I, um—” Great defense.

“Where were you? Were you hiding in the woods or something?”

“No. No! I was in my cottage. You know how the sound carries here.” His brain is finally coming into focus on the crisis he’s created.

She puts her hand on his chest again, halting his forward collapse onto her, and this time her hand is hard and unyielding.

“And what, exactly, do you think was going on during those twenty-three minutes?” Her voice is dangerously calm.

He would very much like to erase this entire conversation from the universe and start all over again. Her eyes have caught his, and they’re burning into him. He shifts against her hand and even with her anger and his fear it feels so good that she’s touching him. “I don’t know,” he says in a small voice.

“Something like this?” And then she’s dragging his head down and kissing him savagely, biting at his lips and thrusting her tongue hard into his mouth. She tastes of milky tea, and of that sweet flavour that’s all Rey.

Before he can pull her close again, she’s shoving him away and wiping her mouth with the back of her hand. “Is that the sort of person you think I am? That I’d kiss you one day, and Finn the next?” They’re both breathing hard and her rough kiss only intensified his need.

“No, no—”

“I’m not like that! I can’t believe you think I am.”

“Finn wants you.” Finn being here, smelling her like this… It’s impossible he wouldn’t have been tempted.

She snorts. “We’re friends.”

Friends. Like us?”

Her whole face flushes and her eyes drop to his mouth. “Not like us.”

He bends down and kisses her. Tenderly this time, running his tongue soothingly over her lips until she opens for him and her tongue comes to meet his. She sighs, her breath soft on his skin, and he slides his hands down her hips to cup her ass.

He breaks their kiss and instead peppers her cheek with kisses, finding his way back to her gland. She’s frustratingly short, and he has to lean way over to get his nose under her jaw. “Not like us?” he whispers.

“No.”

“Good.” With her taste filling his mouth again, his brain fuzzes with pleasure and he thinks of biting down. Of claiming. “You’re mine.” He laps at her gland again, only gradually noticing she has gone completely rigid.

“What did you say?”

It had sounded good in his head. It really had. Why the fuck can’t he keep his stupid mouth shut? He hasn’t said one useful thing since he was overwhelmed by her scent at the door.

“I can’t believe you! This is why they warn us to stay away from alphas, isn’t it? I don’t belong to you. First you’re spying on me, then accusing me of being a slapper, then wanking yourself on my neck. And you think I want to be yours?

She shoves him hard away from her and he stumbles back into the chair, half falling into it.

“I’m sorry,” he croaks.

Her lips are pressed together into a hard line, but her eyes are wet. “Why are you being like this?”

He stares at her, one long, stretched out moment. Desperately trying to think of something to say that will fix this. He wants to fight for this thing that’s been growing between them, but he never learned how to fight without hurting someone.

She examines him closely in return, her eyes scanning his face like he’s a puzzle she’s trying to solve. It feels like she’s gotten inside his head and can see all the fucked up things he’s imagined doing with her, all the need and want that’s a huge ball filling up his chest. It feels like someone has seen him, for the first time ever. “You’re afraid.”

Immediately he shakes his head in denial, but she’s right. Of course she is. He’s fucking terrified.

She reaches out, brushing her fingers over his cheek, and he wants to lean into her gentle touch and sob out his fears. Instead he closes his eyes for a few seconds, and takes a shaky breath.

“Have you ever wanted something, longed for it, knowing you would never get it?” His voice is too raw, revealing too much. Alphas are supposed to be strong. Stoic.

Her face softens into a kind of sadness he knows, a resigned expression he sees in the mirror when he allows himself to really look. Pain consumed for too long, the taste filling his mouth, flavouring everything that touches his tongue. Her scent is the first thing that’s blocked that bitterness, and he’s already half-addicted to it.

“Yes.” She leans against the end of the table, and it creaks as it takes her weight.

“You’re afraid, too.”

She looks at him sharply, then her shoulders slump. “Yes.”

“Of me?” He holds his breath.

She frowns. “You’re intense, Ben. I don’t like hearing that I belong to someone I only met a few weeks ago, or how weird and jealous you’re being. I don’t know if it’s some alpha thing, or if you’re just … too much for me. I haven’t got the best history with relationships and this has to be short term ‘cause of the summer, and then there’s this extra thing with how we smell to each other and… It’s a lot.”

“I’m sorry,” he says again. “Finn is … I saw how he looks at you, and you’re so perfect I just couldn’t imagine how he wouldn’t want to … you know. I don’t think you’re like that. I don’t.”

“I’m far from perfect.” She’s half-smiling though.

“You are.” Slowly he stands. Don’t fuck this up, he tells himself. Don’t. “You’re amazing.”

She stands too, pushing away from the table. “I don’t know how this can work.”

He’s aching to pull her into his arms again. “I don’t know either. But I want it to. I can keep the alpha stuff under control.” He hopes. “I’m sorry about today. I’ve never smelled you before like this and it went to my head.” Or somewhere lower. His cock is somehow still rock hard, like he’s gone into rut or something just from her scent. A ridiculous idea.

It’s like she heard his thoughts because she looks down at his groin. His eyes follow hers and he wants to groan with embarrassment at the sight of his cock clearly outlined where it’s straining against his jeans. He looks at her face, and then she licks her lips and her eyes widen as his cock pulses visibly. Shit. So much for being under control.

Their eyes meet, and he’s sure that his cheeks are as red as hers. “Well,” she says shakily. “I’m behind on my reading, and much as I’d love for you to hang about here while I work, I think you might be a bit too distracting.” Her eyes drag down again and he has to clench his fists to stop from using his hands to cover himself.

“Can we do something later?” He’s already panicking at the thought of walking through the door, not knowing when he’ll next see her.

“Let’s leave it until tomorrow?” she suggests. “Emotions are running a bit high. I’d like some time to think.”

His face must show his fear that she’ll reject him all over again, because she steps forward and wraps her arms around his waist loosely, only barely brushing her body against his. She presses her face into his chest and takes a deep breath. He doesn’t know where to put his arms, finally deciding on draping them lightly around her shoulders.

“I’m not pushing you away, Ben. I just need some space. Intense, remember?”

He dips his head down to breathe her in and pulls her in closer. Intense. Yeah.

Chapter Text

The main drag of the lake lies just beyond the bay entrance, a large open area full of motorboat traffic and waterskiers in the summer. Cary’s Island half blocks the entrance, its tightly packed pine trees keeping the bay private. To the south of the island, a channel leads out towards the marina. On the opposite side, a much smaller rocky island rises out of the water between Cary’s Island and the lakeshore. Too small to be given an official name, Ben’s family calls it Picnic Island.

As they slowly approach in the canoe, Rey judges the island’s surface area to be no larger than the floor plan of her cottage. Covered mostly in scrubby grass and coarse juniper bushes, only a few trees are hardy enough to feed off the thin soil. It does boast a natural landing spot for a boat, a broad flattish rock only ankle-deep under the surface of the water with a convenient tree stump for tying up.

Ben had made it all sound simple: he would manoeuvre the canoe up to the landing and she would leap out to tie them up. He hadn’t wanted to leave her alone in the canoe in case something went wrong. That leaves her to make what turns into a desperate scramble over the side, almost overturning the canoe as she fights for balance on the slippery rock. She’s clinging now onto the bow of the wobbling canoe for dear life, the occasional ominous scraping sound as the bottom of the canoe and rock meet only increasing her panic.

“Ben!” she squeaks.

He’s crouched in the back of the canoe, keeping his own balance without visible effort as it rocks from a combination of her shaky grasp and the higher midday waves on the lake.

“You can do this.” His voice is calm and low. “Bend your knees—good—now take the rope in one hand and reach out for the stump. It’s right beside you.”

She doesn’t look away from him as her fingers make fluttering contact with the stump, the dead wood dry and age-smoothed under her hand.

“You got it! Good.”

Somehow she gets the rope around the stump and ties it, carefully looping the rope through itself again and again in the chain knot he taught her. Once it’s secure, he crawls halfway up the canoe, then easily steps out in a move that’s a polar opposite to her undignified shrieking tumble.

“I like docks,” she says once they’ve climbed up onto the island and she’s sitting on a sunbaked rock, resting her shaking legs. “They’re a wonderful invention.”

Ben laughs. He’s already kneeling down and gathering loose rocks to make a circle for a campfire so they can cook their lunch of hot dogs and s’mores. He’d been scandalized that she’d never sat around a campfire, much less cooked over one; she hadn’t even known what s’mores were. Before long he has a crackling fire going and he’s threading frankfurters onto long metal forks.

The hot dogs are good, even if hers end up a little charred in places, underdone in others. The marshmallows are fun to roast too, if highly flammable, and are delicious gooily sandwiched with chocolate between graham crackers.

She’s licking her fingers clean when she notices Ben staring. They haven’t spoken about what happened at breakfast the day before. He’d texted later that evening, apologizing again and inviting her for this picnic. The intensity of the previous day had hung awkwardly in the air between them when he turned up at her cottage this morning, laden with a bucket full of firewood and a cool bag full of food, towel slung over his shoulder. With his hands being full and then the canoe preparations keeping them busy, they hadn’t had an opportunity to touch.

Now, his eyes are glued to the finger she has in her mouth. She draws it out slowly and smiles. His lips part.

“Do you want to go swimming?” he says, all in a rush. “On the other side there’s kind of rock steps into the water.”

He does this all the time, she’s noticed. When he gets flustered, he blurts something out to distract them. Not yesterday, though. Yesterday he had floundered, unable to resist whatever bait the gland in her neck had been luring him with. It was a part of her body she’d given little thought to in the past, but now just thinking of his tongue licking and licking there as he whimpered in pleasure has her feeling hot. A swim would be good before she leaps on him.

“Yeah, all right.” She stands up and offers him a hand. His is marshmallow-sticky, but so is hers, and it’ll all wash off in a minute. Once he’s standing, it feels natural to step forward and wrap her arms around his waist. His stomach muscles flex against her as he inhales sharply, but his arms wind around her shoulders and he pulls her in closer.

He tilts his head down and noses at her hair. She tenses, thinking he’s about to go for her neck, but he doesn’t. “You smell like bug spray again,” he grumbles.

She rubs her cheek on his shoulder. “Let’s go wash it off then.”

The stone at the edge of the water does have a series of descending ledges, more like the narrow steps on a ladder than a staircase. Most have been smoothed by the water over time, but a few are still rough at the edges, only lightly cushioned by the layer of slippery algae that covers them. She kicks away carefully, but within a few metres the water deepens out of reach of her feet and she can safely swim. The waves are higher here near the centre of the lake, and wakes from the motorboats they can hear in the distance roll toward them every so often.

Ben keeps length with her until she stops. He does too, treading water beside her. His hair is wet, curling around his big ears. He smiles at her, a wide goofy grin she hasn’t seen very often. “You have chocolate by your mouth,” he says.

She licks her lips and he shakes his head. Pulling his hand from the weight of water, he rubs at a spot below her mouth, just out of reach of her tongue. He doesn’t drop his hand when he’s satisfied she’s clean. Instead, he cups her cheek and brushes his thumb along her cheekbone.

“Can I kiss you?” he asks. His smile is gone now, his eyes dark and serious.

She takes a quick breath as her stomach turns over. It’s different here in the full light of day, those stolen moments in the dark of the boathouse like a dream. What that makes their breakfast yesterday and his frantic mouth at her neck, she doesn’t know. Not a nightmare, nor a fantasy. But it seems as unreal.

Her hesitation has his face falling into resignation. He turns away, swimming back to the island. A large wave washes high up over the back of her neck—no, she’s just sinking. In her reverie she forgot to tread water. She sputters a little and powers her frozen limbs up again.

Ben has already reached the rocky steps, his broad shoulders hunched as he grabs his towel down from the rock above and rubs over his face and hair. She can’t bear it. Can’t bear him thinking she’s rejected him again, can’t bear his dull acceptance of it as his due. She swims towards him, the metres feeling like kilometres. If he gets out, something will be broken. She’s sure of it.

“Ben,” she says desperately as he raises himself on his hands, ready to pull himself out of the water.

Finally she’s close enough to touch his shoulder. Her feet manage to find purchase on a rock in the shallower water. He twitches and drops down into the water again, but doesn’t turn to her.

“I keep fucking this up.” His fist pounds down on the rock edge and her hand jumps in sympathy.

“Ben.”

His head turns sharply to her like his name is a leash yanking on him. “Don’t pity me,” he snarls. “Don’t be fucking nice. I fucked everything up. Trust me, I have enough self-pity for both of us.”

“Ben, come on. Turn around and talk to me.”

He does then. His eyes are wet, mouth downturned.

“What are you doing?” she asks, trying for gentle, but fearing she sounds more impatient.

“I have no fucking idea what I’m doing, haven’t you noticed that yet?” he shouts.

She takes a step back in the face of his frustrated anger, but her foot slides on the rock and she scrabbles for purchase, her head going under. He makes a grab for her arm and pulls, too hard, so that she ends up smacking into him, pushing him back against the jagged steps. He grunts in pain once, and again as she steps on his foot in her effort to stand back up.

Then his hands come around her waist and he hauls her up and off her feet, pulling her in close. She’s floating, her toes grazing the front of his calves. Automatically, she wraps her arms around his neck. They stare into each other’s eyes for a long moment, then her legs are coming up to curl around his waist and their mouths are crashing together and oh God, it’s so good.

Her face is wet and his is dry, a strange contrast that makes her feel like she’s getting him dirty when it’s the opposite. She bites his lip and he makes a desperate sound, his tongue sweeping over her lips until she opens for him and he’s inside her mouth. He tastes like he smells, spicy-warm, now overlaid with the sweetness of chocolate and marshmallow.

His hands slide down over her hips and underneath her, so that he’s cupping her arse, his long fingers pressing into her, dangerously close to the area between her legs that’s already throbbing and going soft. She anchors one hand in the hair at the base of his skull, and he growls when she yanks there, shudders when the fingers of her other hand find his nipple and pinch.

He resettles her a bit further down his body, and for a moment she’s so lost in kissing him she doesn’t register that her cunt has met new hardness, her clit right up against the hard tip of his cock. It pulses, sending a shock through her and she twists his nipple in response, tearing away from his mouth to kiss her way down his neck. She finds the shadow of the mark she must have left the other night in the boathouse and bites down, hard.

He makes a strangled cry, his fingers tightening on her. “Yes, please, yes,” he babbles until she bites again and sucks, overlapping the edge of the bruise with a new one. She moves along his muscled shoulder to mark him, the hot smell of his desire filling her nose.

When she comes back up, he nibbles at her lip before he kisses her long and slow, the feel of his mouth on hers filling her senses, a roaring darkness in her mind blocking everything else out. His fingers trace along the edge of her bikini bottoms between her legs, making her squirm against him as he grinds into her, the pressure perfect on her clit, leaving her panting into his mouth.

“Fuck, I want to make you come,” he breathes. “Can I?”

“What?” Her brain is slow, stupid. She opens her eyes to see his are glassy dark, like the lake in the evening.

“I want to lick you until you scream.”

“Oh my God.” Any remaining conscious thought deserts her. “Yes. Right. Yes.”

With a show of strength that has her toes curling, he smoothly lifts her up out of the water to sit on his heaped up towel on the rock.

Awkwardly, she wriggles out of her bikini bottoms and rearranges the towel underneath her. He kneels on one of the stone steps and pulls her legs up over his shoulders, his head at just the right height to fit between her legs.

He stops to look at her. She’s always hated being vulnerable like this, like she’s open for inspection. Usually because it preceded some sloppy drunken licking that was anything but satisfying. From the higher angle she’s sitting at, arms stretched out behind her for support, she can’t see Ben’s face. For the first time she wonders if he’s done this before.

He turns his head to kiss the inside of her knee and looks up at her. His lips are dark red and his eyes hungry. “Okay?”

“Yeah.”

Any worries she had about not being wet for him disappear when he tentatively parts her lips and the tip of his finger slips easily inside her.

“Fuck,” he whispers. Then his tongue is on her and she cries out at the sudden heat on her lake-cooled skin. He’s greedy, his tongue working in between her lips to lap at the wetness inside her. He breaks away for a moment, breathing hard. “Fuck, you taste so good.”

At first his licks are too wide, too eager. “Slower,” she tells him, reaching down to push his hair back from where it’s fallen into his face.

He stops and looks up. Their eyes meet. His are glazed and heavy-lidded, then they flutter shut, and he licks a slow stripe to her clit, delicately tonguing at it. She jerks, her arm falling away from him to support her again.

He tests her responses: nibbling, licking, sucking. She teaches him with her cries and shudders what she likes. Her body vibrates from his constant moaning. The rock is rough under her fingers, the sun hot on her bare skin. But her world has narrowed to his full lips and soft tongue, the tension coiling so deliciously in her belly, the ache in her cunt as it longs to be filled.

“Ben, can you”—she gasps as he flicks his tongue over her clit, making her shiver—“can you put your fingers—”

Thankfully, he understands immediately. A long finger slides into her and she clenches around it.

“Another. And curl up—”

The second finger is enough to get the feeling of fullness she needs to come. His fingers crook and press firmly at just the right spot and his tongue is back on her—then she notices his other arm is moving rhythmically under the water and the thought that he’s so turned on by what he’s doing to her that he can’t keep from touching himself pushes her right over the edge.

She rears up, legs slamming closed around his ears as her orgasm hits her and he sucks hard enough on her clit to have her shrieking, her cunt contracting around his fingers, his long nose huffing hot breaths over her skin.

He tenses and groans, his arm pumping under the water as he spills there. Her legs fall away from his face and he turns his head to rest his cheek on her hipbone.

“You taste so—” He leans in again, licking up her slit from where his fingers are buried inside her to the edge of her sensitized clit. “Delicious.”

She flops back on the rock. Her wet hair is lying in pine needles and dirt, but she can’t bring herself to care. Slowly he pulls his fingers out and gently lowers her legs so her feet are dangling in the water. The sun feels good on her bare skin and it’s enough to lie in the warmth and breathe. After a minute, she sits up. Ben has washed around his mouth, but didn’t dip his entire head back in so little wisps of hair at the top of his head are already drying, lifted by the wind to hover around him.

He squints up at her, smiling uncertainly. She holds out her arms like a child asking to be lifted and he carefully eases her back in.

She wraps herself around him again and pulls him into a kiss. His mouth tastes like her, but sweeter than she expected. Something prods at the back of her thigh—he’s still hard? She leans away from him and raises her eyebrows, nudging his cock with her leg.

Adorably, he blushes. “I kind of knotted a bit … um … a lot actually. It’ll go down in a few minutes.”

“Can I feel?” The question comes out before she realizes what she’s asking.

He swallows. “Yeah.”

She reaches underneath her leg, finding the head of his cock through his swimming trunks and slowly tracing down the hard length until she reaches a pronounced swelling. It’s not quite as hard as the rest of his cock, but thick enough that her hand can’t span it. He chokes when she prods curiously at it.

“Hurts?”

He shakes his head.

It’s awkward reaching down behind her like this, so she unwraps herself from him and searches with her feet until she finds a steady rock to stand on that brings her face almost level with his. She puts a hand on his shoulder to steady herself and strokes over his chest under the water with the other.

“Can I see?” Her initial explorations have made her bold.

The expression on his face is hard to read, a sort of disbelief mixed with longing. He nods, a sharp jerky movement and pulls off his swimming trunks, throwing them up onto the rock where they land with a wet slap. In the distance motorboats hum, while around them the air is filled with the sigh of wind through pine needles from Cary’s Island and the uneven rhythm of waves washing over rock.

She looks down through the water to see his cock standing tall and proud, so pale in the darkness it floats in. Her fingers brush over his skin, tracing over the fat head and he makes a soft noise, his eyes closing.

The shape of the knot is distorted by the moving water, thickening and narrowing like a beating heart. It doesn’t matter; her fingers can see more than her eyes. She strokes the knot gently, the skin smooth and warm. Carefully she curls her fingers over it one by one and then squeezes, massaging the firm flesh.

He groans and his arm comes around her, pulling her into his side. His head drops to her shoulder.

“Too much?”

His lips move against her, but no words come out. She moves her hand away and he makes a tiny whining sound. “No. Please. More.”

She brings her hand back and ripples her fingers over the knot, enjoying the strangeness. It’s larger than she expected. Her cunt contracts when she thinks about it swelling inside her, locking them together.

“It’s hard to believe this is going to fit inside me,” she murmurs.

He noses at her gland and shudders when she squeezes his knot again, the shaft above it pulsing. “We don’t have to—I mean, I don’t have to—inside.”

“We’ll figure it out.” She hopes.

Her hand finds its way up higher on his cock, so thick and hard still that it seems natural to take a firmer grip and start stroking, the drag of the water keeping her movements slow. It jerks in her hand and fills out even more. He rocks his hips to match her rhythm and his mouth latches onto her gland. His soft suckling is making her dizzy and hot; the cool water lapping at her cunt only increasing her arousal.

She loses sense of time, closing her eyes to see that rushing blackness again. The only things that exist are his greedy mouth on her neck and greedier cock pushing into her hand. Lazily she twists her hand on the upstroke and rubs her thumb over his slit, slippery with pre-come even under the water, on the down. He’s panting into her neck, his mouth urgent.

Then his arm moves under the water and the bottom of her fist bumps against his where he’s taken hold of his knot, his long fingers reaching all the way around it. Her strokes falter as her eyes open in surprise.

“Don’t stop,” he mumbles into her neck. “So close.”

She’d always assumed the legendary alpha recovery periods were highly exaggerated. It appears not. She takes a firmer hold and strokes faster. “Is this good?”

His stomach muscles are flexing, his arm like iron where it’s wrapped around her. His moan is affirmative, but his whole body is beginning to shake as he hovers on the edge. For the first time, his teeth graze over her gland and the shock of how good it feels has her moaning too, a deep longing unfurling in her chest.

“Alpha, please.”

He bites down on her as he comes, almost howling as his cock pulses out hot come again and again into the water between them.

As he returns to himself, his head snaps up from her neck. “Sorry, sorry. Fuck. I didn’t mean to bite you.”

She releases his cock and pokes gently at her gland. It’s only a little sore and when she splashes some water over it there’s no sting. “It’s fine.”

Her cunt aches and the knowledge that he’s still hard has her mind turning to thoughts of taking him inside her, finding out just how true the legends might really be. She shivers.

He frowns, misinterpreting. “You’re getting cold. We should get out.”

Her eyes are drawn to his cock, the fat bulb of his knot teasing her. “Yeah,” she says. “That might be a good idea.”




Getting back into the canoe from the water is as bad as getting out of it and involves copious swearing and severe threat of capsizing. Ben calmly talks her through it again and somehow she manages to clamber in. The paddle back in the hot sun tires her, even with the wind behind them.

“Want to come in?” she asks when everything is put away. “I’m dying for a drink.”

He grimaces. “I’m not sure I can stop myself … I mean, I really want to, but…”

It takes her a second to identify the shrinking feeling inside her belly. Disappointment. “Right. So this is more of an outdoor thing then.” Her voice is sharper than she intended, but he’d promised he could keep his alpha side under control. She’d believed him, had hoped they could spend time together without all the intensity of their scents intruding.

He flinches. “I’m just trying to be honest. Come over to mine if your self-control is so much better.”

She narrows her eyes at him and he looks at her, challenging. So that’s his game then. “Fine.” It will be, surely.

It won’t.

His scent crashes over her like a warm wave when the door opens to reveal an excited Bear, all tail-wagging smiles and eager circling. She crouches down to pet him so she won’t throw herself at Ben.

Ben puts down the bucket and cool bag and heads into the kitchen, filling up two large glasses from a jug in his fridge.

She drinks desperately. Her body feels hot and her skin tight. He’s in arm’s reach, but too far away. “Your water doesn’t taste like the lake,” she says, anxious for any distraction.

He smiles down at her, completely at ease, the bastard. “I have a well. Can’t pump out water from a frozen lake in the winter.”

Of course. She’s being stupid. The smell is so strong and so good she wants to roll in it, drag him down with her so she can rub herself on him too. She’s dizzy from it.

“Want to watch a movie or something?”

“What, like Netflix and chill?” She raises her eyebrows, waiting—hoping?—unsure what her response will be if he invites her into his bedroom.

He laughs uncertainly. “No Netflix, the internet is too slow. I have satellite, though.”

Sitting beside him would be … a problem. An armchair stands in the corner, to the side of the sofa. It’s at a right angle to the telly as well, but she gratefully claims it, firmly crossing her legs like that will quiet down the plaintive cries her cunt is sending her to see if that fat knot will fit inside it.

It’s his turn to raise his eyebrows, and his lips quirk—bloody hell, he knows—but he flops down on the sofa, pointedly leaving enough room for her to sit beside him, and turns on the telly. It lands on a sports channel.

“What do you want to watch?” A Formula One advert starts, and he flips over to the next channel, which is showing some nature documentary.

“This is fine.”

They watch in silence for a few minutes. His scent seems to thicken in the air until it feels like she’s immersed in him, peering over at him through a fog of alpha. Her leg jiggles underneath her and she can’t get comfortable, crossing and recrossing her legs, leaning on one side or the other.

He looks perfectly relaxed, leaning back against the sofa with his legs spread slightly. When she sighs, he glances at her and their eyes meet. He frowns.

“Rey. Just come here.”

Her leg bounces harder. “I’m good here, thanks.”

“Come here,” he says again. His deep voice is soft, but holds some note that has her whole body snapping to attention. She’s up out of her chair and fitting herself beside him, her nose in his neck before she can even think.

Fucking alphas.

He drops his head down and nuzzles at her gland too, licking tenderly over it in a way that should be disgusting, or patronizing in some way, but instead is incredibly soothing. It’s like her fur had been sticking up in all directions and he’s smoothing it right back down. Her arm slides across his belly and she takes a fistful of his shirt to secure herself to him. Her head settles down on his shoulder and he wraps an arm around her and everything is right.




Much later she wakes up with a start to find she’s been drooling into his T-shirt. The telly is off now and and the room is dim, cool grey light spilling in from the sunroom. Ben’s half lying down and she’s sprawled across him, being slowly lifted and lowered by the rise and fall of his chest. He’s asleep, his long hair fanned out around his head, face soft and relaxed. Carefully, she sits up. He frowns in his sleep, but doesn’t wake.

She’s dying for the loo, so she creeps off down the hallway toward a half-open door that looks promising. The vanity is messy: covered in hair products, shaving cream and razor, circles of toothpaste that weren’t properly rinsed away. It isn’t anywhere near as bad, but being in a strange bathroom reminds her of the manky bathrooms in student houses she’d find herself in the morning after a club night. All musty towels and black mould, stale smoke lingering in the air and fag ends in the bin, an empty loo roll hanging lonely on the holder with no refills in sight.

Her hair is in an absolute state. She helps herself to his hairbrush and works it back into a single ponytail. No sound emerges from the living room when she comes back out, and she thinks about just leaving. Sneaking out in the early morning is one of her specialities and it would round out the day to be just like any other one-off thing she’s had in the past. Meaningless bad sex. Except the sex was really good. And she’d actually quite like to repeat the experience, which is different in itself.

Still. Behind the haze in her mind of safewarmgoodalphawilllookafteryou, a distant alarm is sounding. Too close, it warns. Her reluctant feet carry her over to the door, and she’s wondering if she really can get away with it, when she hears from behind her, “Rey?”

She freezes, then turns.

He sits up, rubbing at his eyes and yawning. “You’re not going, are you?”

Her arms cross themselves over her chest and she avoids his gaze. “I have a lot of work to do, I didn’t mean to fall asleep.”

He runs a hand through his hair, the artless waves falling perfectly into place. “But—” His face, still wrinkle-soft with sleep, screws up in confusion. “You were just going to leave without saying anything?”

“You were asleep…” she says weakly.

He stands up and oh no, she’d thought she was getting used to his smell being everywhere, that she could wade through it out the door without it trapping her again. But around Ben, an awake Ben, it swirls with a kind of hypnotic power that has her taking a step away from the door back towards him.

His forehead creases with hurt, but he doesn’t seem to know what to say.

They stare at each other for a moment. “Do you want—” he starts at the same time as she says “I’m going—”

They both laugh nervously. “You first,” he says.

“I’m going jet skiing with Finn tomorrow.”

He goes very still. She watches as he blinks slowly, once, and again. He folds in on himself then, one shoulder hitching up higher than the other. His fists clench at his sides. “Finn.” He bites the word out, snapping his teeth shut on it.

“Yes.”

The silence stretches again as he visibly struggles to get himself under control. She thinks of what he said the day before: You’re mine. She’s never belonged before. Not to anyone or anything. Maybe with her mum, but she can barely remember her.

In her first year at uni she’d gone out a few times with a lad who’d turned jealous when she even talked with anyone else. For weeks after she dropped him he’d watched her morosely from across lecture halls and sent her sad texts filled with Twenty-One Pilots lyrics that he no doubt thought were meaningful. Eventually he’d found someone else to fixate on and left her alone, much to her relief.

Ben wouldn’t be finding someone else. The thought is so obvious it’s startling. All these fears she’d had about him not caring enough, moving on when he’s tired of her like everyone else always has, when the opposite might be true. He’s the one who would plug in tight to her and she might be the one flailing for her freedom.

She needs to get out. If she touches him again, she won’t be leaving his cottage tonight. The thought of his tongue lazily licking over her neck, that long thick cock in her hand… It’s her turn to shut her teeth tight on a whimper. Their earlier exploration has only made her more eager to map him out, to learn his taste too. Her mouth goes wet at the thought of the heavy weight of him on her tongue, those big hands wrapped gently in her hair as he writhes and moans above her…

Bloody fucking hell. She whirls, grabbing the handle to the outer door, rattling it in desperation when it won’t open. “Let me out,” she says and her voice is high with panic.

He’s close suddenly, leaning over her to fiddle with the knob, but her hand is in the way and she’s turning, turning the knob, but it won’t open.

“Let me out, let me out,” she repeats until he grips her around the waist and turns her to him.

“Rey, stop. Why are you freaking out?”

“I’m not—I just need to get out—I have so much work to do—”

“It’s okay. The door just gets jammed up sometimes. I’ll open it, but you need to move out of the way.”

She can’t move when he’s holding her. He’s right there, right in front of her, and she can’t move away from him. It’s impossible.

Instead she reaches up and pulls him down to her so she can bury her nose in his neck again. She can smell his worry. She knows she can lick it away the same way he did hers and she has to press her lips tight to her teeth to stop herself from doing it.

Frustrated tears well up in her eyes. “This is too much,” she whispers.

His hand is gentle on the back of her neck. So gentle. His fingers brush over the fine hairs at her nape and his thumb rubs over her gland, massaging it, which is almost as good as when he licked it earlier.

It’s all too much, though. His thumb and hand and fingers, the warm scent of him under her nose, the sheer size of him. His presence. She needs to get away.

“It’s okay,” he says again and the worst part is, she believes him completely. You’re safe here with your alpha, the pheromones tell her. Why would you want to be anywhere else?

“Please, let me go.”

He drops his hands immediately. When she doesn’t move he takes a half step back and she follows, clinging. “You’re holding onto me,” he points out.

“I’m having trouble letting go,” she admits. Ah. There it is, like always.

“What do you want me to do?”

“What do you want?”

He’s still leaning down so she can reach her arms around his neck. His breath huffs out over her forehead. “I think you know what I want.”

Somehow that’s the catalyst she needs to unhook her fingers from each other and slide her arms down, palms gliding over his broad chest until her arms land at her sides. He straightens and steps away.

“That worked,” he mutters. Not bitterly, but with the same resignation as before.

Wordlessly, she steps aside so he can reach the door. He lifts and twists the doorknob just so. It opens smoothly, leaving only the screen door between her and freedom.

“Goodnight, then,” he says. This time he is bitter, she can smell it even.

A prickle at the back of her mind demands to know why she’s leaving her alpha in such distress. It’s all wrong.

“What are you so afraid of?” he asks when she lingers, her hand half reached out to push the screen door open. “Me? Do you think I’ll hurt you?”

In the darkening room, he’s a shadow. She can just make out the width of his shoulders, the size of his hands at his side, the coiled power resting in his hard muscles. He could take whatever he wanted.

The pain in his voice tells her differently. The gentle way he touches her. Even when he was overcome with her scent he managed restraint. Searching inside herself, she can’t find any fear of him, not that way, at least. When she looks up at him, he draws back into the dark, but not before she sees the pain on his face.

“No,” she says finally.

He lets out a long breath. “Good. I wouldn’t. I couldn’t.”

“I know.”

With supreme effort, she turns from him and takes a step towards the door. Pushes it open. Outside, she sucks in a breath of forest air, mercifully free of alpha. Or horribly empty of alpha. Depending on how she thinks of it.




The morning is bright and hot again. In her foggy imagining of what Canada would be like, endless warm sunny days hadn’t featured at all. She yawns as she stumbles outside to the clothesline—a rope strung up along a line of trees—for a dry swimming costume. Her head aches and her belly is a bit tender, like she’s getting her period, except she hasn’t had one in years, not since she’d started getting the contraceptive injection. She’d ended up working quite late the night before, so she’s probably just tired.

The lake water has warmed up since she arrived a few weeks earlier. It’s still cool, but less refreshing, as Ben likes to describe it, than before. She floats awhile on her back, staring up at the clear sky overhead, not allowing herself to think of anything except that blank blue. Her ears are underwater, muffling the birdsong from the forest and amplifying the sound of her breathing, the pump of her heart. She spreads her arms wide like she’s offering an embrace. To what, she doesn’t know. The water, the sky, the warm light creeping up over the trees.

If only this were enough. It should be. She never had this much before, all to herself. Even if she’s on borrowed time with Ben, she can take this with her. When she’s back in grey England, she’ll know this sky exists just beyond the heavy clouds swollen with the fine drizzling rain that keeps everything green and cool and soft. The softness of the water is the same in both places at least. Familiar. England does have her own beauty, a tamed kind with the wild hills hemmed in with stone walls and the soil underfoot safely paved away under cobbles and tar and cement.

Canada has its dismal parts too—she caught glimpses on the trip from the airport to here. Endless lines of electricity pylons, factories pumping out thick smoke, ugly concrete squatting beside traffic-choked motorways. Her view since has been overly influenced by the rugged beauty of the lake and the pines and rock that surround it.

Finn said he’d come by on the jet ski sometime this afternoon, and she has plenty of work to catch up on from yesterday, so she drags herself up the wooden ladder out of the water and back up to the cottage.

Later, she’s hard at work, sitting at the table tapping out a report, when a knock comes at the door and she looks up to see Ben’s face peering through the screen; she’d left the inner door open so fresh air would circulate.

“Come in,” she calls, standing up.

He enters slowly, carefully pulling the screen door shut behind him, even though it’s on a spring.

“Hey,” he says. He takes a clumsy sidestep to lean against the wall beside the door. It appears casual, except he’s got his palms flat to the wall and he’s hanging there, like she’d have to scrape him off it.

She takes a step towards him and he tenses, sucking in a short breath. His tongue comes out to lick across his lips. His eyes are wide and dark.

“Hiya.” She’s in front of him now, within arm’s reach. Close enough she can smell him. She finds herself leaning forward to catch a better scent. Need, her mind translates. She takes pity on him after finding herself similarly overcome in his cottage the day before. “Do you want to go outside?”

He shakes his head. “This is fine,” he says firmly.

“Is it?” This close she can see he’s already trembling. His gaze is a laser on her neck, her gland burns from it.

He shivers, one hand lifting from the wall before he slaps it back again, the sound of his palm smacking the wood loud in the silence of the room. “Fuck,” he whispers, wincing.

She should apologize for leaving so hurriedly. Once she was away from the overwhelming alpha pheromones, her urgency had seemed strange, silly even. At the time it had felt like if she stayed she would have never been able to leave. He didn’t know that, though, had probably just assumed she was rejecting him again. Yet here he is.

He clears his throat, finally dragging his eyes up to meet hers and launching into what’s obviously a prepared speech. “I just wanted to say that I’m sorry that I didn’t handle you telling me that you were going to spend time with Finn very well. It’s totally fine. You don’t need my permission or anything anyway. Just—it’s fine. Everything is fine. I’m sorry I—” He squares his shoulders. “Everything is fine.”

He’s watching her hopefully, so hopefully. How long did he spend rehearsing this? His face is drawn, tired. The thought of him lying sleepless, trying to fit the shapes of words together to build this apology, makes her chest hurt.

She can see her teeth marks on his neck, neat purple circles that mark her territory. You’re mine. “Did you eat lunch yet?” she asks abruptly.

“No.” The hope on his face shifts to confusion, then back to hope again. She’s never been good at the performance of forgiving, at saying it’s okay, when it almost always wasn’t.

“You’ll have to peel yourself off the wall if you want to eat. Food is served at the table.”

She turns away and walks over to the kitchen, rustling around for some bread and things to make sandwiches. After a moment, he manages to separate himself from the wood and wanders over to stand on the opposite side of the counter. They’re both safe with it between them.

Silently, she hands him a plate and takes one for herself, loading up her bread with some chicken breast, mayonnaise and lettuce. This time she places herself at the head of the table and he slips into the seat at her right in an unspoken agreement to position themselves differently from last time. If he weren’t exuding a musky odour of near desperation, everything would indeed be fine.

“How’s your work going?” he asks after he’s eaten half of his sandwich in large, nervous bites.

She tells him about the report she’s writing and he appears to listen attentively, asking questions in the right places and nodding along. And if his eyes keep lingering on her neck, if his hand twitches towards hers on occasion, if his colour is a little higher than normal—these things at least, she can forgive.

They’re eating some cherries—grown right here in Ontario, he tells her, not without some pride—when the buzz of the jet ski motor approaches.

She glances up at the clock. “Oh bollocks, I meant to be ready when Finn got here and I need to put on a swimming costume. Can you go tell him?”

Ben nods, his face set. Only one way to find out if everything is as fine as he says. As she races out to the clothesline again, she can see Ben stepping down to the dock out of the corner of her eye. Unable to resist, she watches as he greets Finn, his tall body hunched over in a way that could be read as submissive, or intimidating, depending on the expression on his face, which she can’t see. Finn is smiling though, and he looks past Ben and waves, holding up a strange black shape in his hand.

Ben takes it from him and starts the walk back up. Feeling as if she’s been spying, she turns away and goes back in through the side door to meet him coming in the front.

“Wetsuit,” he says, offering the black shape to her. Now it’s in her hands she can see the arms and legs in soft black neoprene with a couple of flashes of fluorescent pink highlights. “It gets cold out on the water if you’re wet and the wind is on you.”

“Oh, cheers.” It was thoughtful of Finn to bring it.

She takes it into the bedroom with her swimming costume, fumbling all the straps of her bikini top as she hurries to put it on. The wetsuit is nearly impossible, clinging to her limbs and refusing to stretch up over them. She’s all too aware of Ben on the other side of the wall, the open ceiling letting him hear every little grunt of effort. By the time she emerges from the bedroom with the wetsuit on, but not yet zipped up, she’s sweating and embarrassed, sure that Ben will be laughing at her.

He isn’t. He’s leaning against the wall again like he’s not sure he’s allowed to be there, head down. He looks up when she’s in front of him and his eyes are glassy again, his bottom lip red and swollen like he’d been biting it.

“What a faff,” she says, trying for cheerful.

He doesn’t smile. Instead he takes a step forward, so he’s right in front of her. His hand reaches to her, wavering a moment, then, when she doesn’t move away, his fingers brush her bare belly, sliding over her skin until he works his hand inside the wetsuit, his large hand curving over her waist. His other hand follows suit and he pulls her in close. He’s hard, his thick cock prodding at her belly through his shorts.

She leans into the contact and he makes a tiny sound, no more than a hitched breath, and then his lips come down to hers, firm and greedy and her nose is full of needy alpha. The scent is hotter up close, the spiciness almost a burn on her tongue. Her mouth opens and their tongues slide together. She sucks on his and he whimpers.

He pulls away from her lips to kiss down her neck to her gland, where he licks and nips, his teeth grazing over it in a way that makes her want to claw at him while pulling him even closer. Her arms have wound their way around his neck and she holds him in place as he groans into her skin.

Dimly, she remembers that Finn is waiting for her outside, that she’s already taken so long wriggling into the wetsuit that he might be on his way up to find her. “Ben,” she says, her voice throaty and strange.

“Mmm,” he agrees, and then his mouth latches onto the skin just below her gland and he sucks, hard. She can’t help imagining his teeth piercing the skin at her gland, bursting the tender blood vessels that hold her weak beta pheromones so his mouth is full of them and she’s marked for good as his. Just the thought of it has her feeling soft inside, her body an open ache that only he can fill.

Then the reality of how disappointing he’d find the taste is enough to have her releasing her tight hold on him. His mouth comes away from her neck with a soft wet sound that has her cunt throbbing in sympathy.

“I need to go,” she says.

He licks over the spot he marked, then lifts his head. Gently, he kisses her mouth. “Maybe I can help you take this off later.”

She laughs a little breathlessly. “I might take you up on that.”

He smiles, then his head dips down again and he carefully, deliberately, drags his scent gland up from the edge of the open wetsuit to her gland on one side, then the other. When he’s done, she feels oddly safe, the smell of her alpha all around her.

He gives her one last caress, his fingers dancing over her spine, then he slips his hands out from inside the wetsuit, the tracker on his left wrist catching slightly on the zipper before he pulls it free.

He smiles again and his scent around her is satisfied, content even. He’s awfully happy for being so insecure only a few minutes before. His smile widens as her fingers trace over the mark on her neck. The skin is tender and hot. It’s closer to her scent gland than she’d thought, almost right over it.

“Hey, Rey?” Finn is at the bottom of the deck stairs. “You doing okay with that wetsuit? I got some shoes for you too. Don’t forget some sunscreen, eh?”

“I’ll be right out,” she calls back. “Just need to do my sunscreen.”

She zips up the wet suit all the way, the high collar tightening around her neck. Her fingers come to the mark again, and she realizes it must show completely above the collar line. Even with the suit closed she can still smell Ben around her, like he’d—

“I’m not your territory,” she says, outraged. He’d scented her. Rubbed his pheromones all over her so anyone could smell she belonged to him. Marked her skin so they could see it, too.

He frowns. “What?”

“You marked me. Scented me. Why?” Because of Finn, of course. She feels betrayed, like his apology and attempts to seem like any normal beta were all a front for letting him close enough to do what he really wanted.

“I—” He’s floundering again, but she won’t be distracted.

“Can’t you stop being an alpha for one fucking minute?”

He reels back, hunching into himself like she’d kicked him in the gut.

She turns away from him, striding off to the bathroom. Angrily she picks up a flannel and runs it under the tap, then scrubs at her neck, erasing him. The love bite at her gland is huge and already dark purple, no way to hide it.

Ben has shuffled after her and hovers in the doorway, watching her. “I can’t,” he says.

“Can’t what?” she asks her reflection, refusing to look at him. Grabbing her bottle of sunblock, she squeezes some out and spreads it briskly over her cheeks. Her skin is blotchy red with a combination of anger and arousal. Even now her cunt is soaked and ready and she’d like to take him, ride him hard while she tells him that she belongs to herself, no one else. The contradiction within the little fantasy is absurd. If she’s that gone, he must be struggling a hundred times harder against his raging hormones.

Still, she can’t forget that smug smile, his pleasure that Finn would know.

“I can’t stop being an alpha.”

His words startle her. She’d been so lost in thought she’d forgot she asked him the question at all. She snorts. “I know that.”

“Do you?” He leans his head against the door frame when she looks at him.

“I can’t deal with this—jealousy—this possessiveness. Whatever it is. I know it’s an alpha thing. But it’s too much—”

“Do you not want Finn to know about us?”

Us. What are they when they can't be in the same room without alternating in madness?

“That’s not the point,” she snaps. “You did it on purpose so he would see.”

“I didn’t—”

“Really.”

“Well, not like, consciously. It just felt … right.”

“It’s not right, though. You do see that, don’t you?”

He swallows. “I’m sorry. I can’t explain the urge I got. Being here with you makes me feel drunk or something. I can’t think, just—fuck, like right now, all I want to do is touch you. It feels like a part of me is missing when we’re not touching, it’s driving me crazy.”

“You told me you could keep the alpha stuff under control.”

“I thought I could!” Then, quieter: “I hoped I could.”

“I don’t want to be marked like I’m your property. I don’t want to be drenched in your scent.” The second part is a lie. Already she’s regretting her furious scrubbing, like she’d washed some layer of security away and now she’s vulnerable, raw.

“What if I do?” He yanks down the neck of his T-shirt, revealing the line of bites she’d given him the day before. His finger draws a slow line up and down the marks, reverent. “This means something to me. It might just be some stupid alpha thing to you, but it isn’t for me. I fucking love it. I want to smell like you. I want you to mark me so everyone knows I’m your alpha.”

A quiet voice in her head reminds her of how mad she was for him yesterday, how her need to touch him was just as overwhelming. Her alpha. That’s how she’s been thinking of him without even noticing the shift.

“I’m sorry that I didn’t ask or think about what I was doing,” he continues, “but I don’t remember you asking or doing much thinking either yesterday.”

Caught, she looks away, watching in the mirror as the redness in her cheeks deepens.

“I can’t figure out what you want from me, Rey. You’re either pushing me away or coming back for more, all while you pretend that I’m just some beta that smells good. I’m not. I can’t stop being an alpha, ever. Not for a minute. Not even to make you happy.”

Her throat is closing, crushed by some emotion she struggles to label. Fear, then, like always. She’s not enough, can never be. “I’m just a beta—”

“I don’t fucking care about your designation. I like you. I thought you felt the same.”

“I do. But all this—intensity. I can’t match it.” Out of the corner of her eye she catches his disgusted look.

“You’re lying.” He straightens up and drops his hand, his T-shirt snapping back into place. It only covers half of the marks, several clear on his skin above. Finn will already have seen them, will have immediately understood what, apparently, she isn’t able to.

He turns to go.

“Ben, wait.”

He pauses. She doesn’t know what to say. At her silence, his shoulders slump and he walks towards the door. She follows on his heels, throat tight on feelings she doesn’t know how to form into words.

Finn is hovering just outside the door. Ben shoulders past him and is clattering down the deck stairs and striding off on the narrow path to his cottage before she can think of what she could possibly say to him in Finn’s hearing. Who knows how much of their argument Finn overheard already?

When she turns to him, Finn’s eyebrows are raised and his eyes flick over the mark on her neck. But he says only, “The wetsuit fits well. Ben reminded me last night to bring one.”

Her surprise breaks the chokehold on her voice. “He did?”

“Yeah. Said he checked the weather and it was going to be windy. He was right.”

“Did he say anything else?” She has to ask, wincing at the thought of Ben subtly threatening Finn, or not so subtly even.

“Just that he hoped we’d have fun.”

Oh. Finn seems sincere, unworried. She looks over to the path, but Ben’s broad back has disappeared into the trees. Running after him won’t do any good now. Later she’ll go to him and say sorry, once again. All they seem to do is take turns needing to apologize. It seems impossible they’ll ever be able to come together when they both bruise so easily, the matching marks on their skin the least of the wounds they’ve traded.

Her headache from the morning is back with a vengeance, but she attempts a smile at Finn. “Let’s go, then.”

His eyes linger on her neck. She draws herself up, thinking of Ben wearing his marks from her as a badge of honour, daring Finn to comment.

Finn gives a tiny shake of his head and smiles back. “Let’s go, Peanut.”

All afternoon, as they race over the waves, a thought circles in her mind. You’re mine. Would it be so bad to belong to Ben, if he belonged to her too?