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Conscience and Unconciousness

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Rey had planned her wedding to the man in the corner booth a hundred times over. Sometimes, she pictured it at City Hall. Sometimes, she pictured in upstate, on an apple farm. She always shook her head and shook herself out of the fantasy when it came time to walk down the aisle. There was no one to walk her down the aisle, even in her fantasies.

She didn’t know his name, and he didn’t know she existed. He didn’t even look up when she brought him his customary order – ham and sausage, four eggs – or refilled his coffee. He didn’t seem to notice that she’d memorized his order, or that his cup was never cold or even half-empty.

He looked like a Kyle, she decided, watching him from behind the register. Kyle – as it were – was right on time today. Six o’clock – it was a weekday. He was wearing his uniform – a dark suit, a dark tie. If he weren’t wearing that, she’d think his long, wavy hair made him look like a hippie. Shined shoes. No wedding ring. She’d checked, a hundred times.  Big hands. He chewed methodically, his eyes scanning the newspaper spread out on the linoleum-topped table in front of him. His knees didn’t really fit underneath it.

Some days, Rey guessed that he was a stockbroker. Other days, she determined that her workplace was too far uptown of Wall Street for him to frequent it, and that he must be a lawyer, instead. Whatever he did, it was glamorous, she was sure. He was well-educated, and well-traveled, and well-heeled. He probably went to cocktail parties at art galleries and had a house in the Hamptons.

And yet, he ate here, at the greasy spoon where Rey made minimum wage and scrounged for tips. That fascinated her. He fascinated her.

She fantasized, privately, that if he ever looked up at her across the empty diner, he’d find her fascinating, too. He’d ask what a girl like her was doing working a cash register and waiting tables (the answer was: her student visa had expired, her whole life was in America, and the owner hadn’t checked her immigration status).

He’d spirit her away to the Hamptons for the weekend. He’d have a big family – lots of brothers and sisters, and doting parents who welcomed her with open arms – and they’d spend weekends around a bonfire together. Everyone would have interesting things to say, and they’d all be interested in what she had to say. Christmas would be something out of a Hallmark commercial. He’d give thoughtful gifts – not necessarily expensive ones, but heartfelt ones.

He’d be an above average kisser. An excellent kisser, even. He’d be totally different than any of the jerks she’d dated before. Eight-inch penis, at least. A generous lover. He’d be a good cook, and he’d have a good sense of humor. He’d ask her how her day was and hand her a glass of wine every evening. He’d be close to his mother. A Scorpio. At least, he looked like a Scorpio.

It was a silly infatuation based on fantasy, but a harmless one. It helped the time pass, even if her best friend teased her mercilessly about it and tried to coax her to go on dates with real men, who might really be interested in her. She didn’t have time for that. She had too many intimacy issues for that.

Rey rubbed her clammy palms on her worn, too-big jeans before she grabbed the industrial-sized coffee pot. Her footsteps seemed very loud on the floor as she padded over to him, the light from the neon-sign bleeding through the windows. It was six twenty-seven; in approximately three minutes, the stranger would shrug on his beautiful wool overcoat, leave cash on top of the black book, and leave before her second customer of the day even arrived.

“Um.” Rey stuttered, her hips bumping the metal edge of the table. She’d walked right into it, distracted by the way he chewed his full lower lip and ran his hands through his hair as he read. Now, she was just standing there, like an idiot. “Coffee?”

The man nodded, distractedly, without looking up from the pages of the New York Times. That irked her, even if it was par-for-the-course. She as a waitress, and mousy, besides. She had hashbrown grease on her jeans, a frizzy bun on top of her head, and dark circles under her eyes. He’d never noticed her before.

For some reason, after she’d poured more steaming, slightly-burnt coffee into his chipped mug, Rey blurted out, “Merry Christmas.”

His head jerked upwards, and he gave her an odd look. For a panicked moment, Rey wondered if she’d missed Christmas. Maybe it had passed her by – she spent it alone, after all. Or maybe he was Jewish or atheist.

“Merry Christmas.” Kyle said, finally, looking at her like she had two heads. He pushed the black book across the table-top towards her. “Keep the change.”

Rey nodded, dumbly, and feeling dumb, and snatched up the black book. She retreated behind the counter and ducked her head down as she flipped open the book.

Instead of a few crumpled bills and stray change, inside was a crisp, one hundred dollar bill. Far, far too much, even if the strange man was particularly generous and it was the holidays. His meal had cost him eight dollars and ninety-nine cents. Surely, this was a mistake.

The little bell hung from the door hinge tinkled.

“Wait!” Rey bolted out from behind the counter. “I think you made a mistake –”

The door slammed behind the stranger as he left. He either hadn’t heard her, or he’d ignored her.

It was five days until Christmas, Rey remembered, when she rushed outside without a jacket on, wearing just a thin t-shirt and her server’s apron. Her teeth chattered so loudly, surely the stranger could hear them from even a block away. Wrapping her arms around herself, Rey looked up and down the street.

He cut a tall figure on the corner, hunched over his cell phone in the glow of the street lamp. He was walking slowly across the street.

“Sir!” She broke into a run, clutching the one-hundred dollar bill.

The stranger half-turned, stopping in the middle of the road. He looked back at her, and as he did, a truck rounded the corner. He was backlit by bright lights as it roared towards him. He looked almost like an angel, standing in the bright light, his coat and hair blowing in the wind.

And then, suddenly, he wasn’t standing anymore. The truck side-swiped him, swerving wildly out of the way, and he was falling onto the concrete, rolling towards the curb and hitting it with a sickening crunch. The vehicle’s tires screeched on the road as it stopped, but somehow, Rey beat the driver to the battered body by the curb. She scraped her knees as she fell to them, her fingers scrabbling in the wool of that beautiful topcoat.

She grunted with the effort of rolling him over. He was heavy, a dead weight – fuck, don’t let him be dead, she prayed.

“Sir?” She almost caught herself calling him Kyle. She patted his cheeks, tentatively, and then, growing more frantic, slapped his chest, ineffectually. His face was slack and blank, and his eyelids didn’t so much as flicker. He had, she noticed, stupidly, beautiful, long lashes. It was a completely inappropriate time to notice that, but they were casting shadows on his cheeks. “Sir, are you okay?”

***

When the ambulance, heralded by sirens, arrived on the scene, everything began to happen very fast. Someone tugged Rey away from the injured man and wrapped her in a foil blanket – she tried to explain that she wasn’t in shock, she was fine, and that she didn’t even know this man’s name. She answered questions numbly, her teeth chattering fiercely, and somehow, the fact that she didn’t know the injured man from Adam didn’t come up.

The man looked huge on the stretcher as they loaded him into an ambulance. Gentle, coercing hands pulled and pushed her into it, too, and she let them. Perhaps she was in shock, or perhaps her natural curiosity about the strange man had gotten the better of her common sense. She had an inexplicable urge to stay near him and make sure his heart kept beating. It’s beep beep on the monitor was reassuring.

The world wobbled around her as the ambulance took the corners quickly en route to the hospital. Rey curled into the foil blanket, crowded in the back of the ambulance, and watched the emergency medical technicians hover over him. He was very pale in the artificial light of the ambulance. When she looked at her reflection in the slotted back window the vehicle, she saw that she was pale, too.

At the hospital, the stretcher was lowered and whisked away, towards the swinging doors of the emergency room. Rey broke free of the nurse who tried to help and followed it, doggedly, dodging people waiting with broke arms and high fevers.

“Is he – ” She called out to his doctor.

A doctor waved her off, gripping the edges of the metal gurney and wheeling it towards the ominous swinging doors of the Intensive Care Unit. He didn’t answer her question. “Sorry, family only.”

The doors swung shut, with an air of finality. Rey deflated. She had no real reason to be upset by this man’s ill-fortune. All she knew about him was what he ordered for breakfast. Everything else was her invention – a perfect man that didn’t exist. She was pathetic for daydreaming about him, and she was pathetic for feeling like the fantasy she’d been holding on to and holding out for was gone.

To no one in particular, Rey said, with a short, gallows-humored laugh, “Fuck. I was going to marry that man.”

The nurse stopped short at her elbow, giving her a sympathetic look. “Oh, honey.”

***

Rey folded and refolded her arms around herself, nervously, as she stood at the foot of the man’s hospital bed. He’d been stripped of his lovely, expensive clothes, and he was in a hospital gown. It looked too small for his frame. He looked comically long and large in the white, tilted bed. His hair stood up, mussed by the bandage around his head. The steady blips and beeps of the machines he was hooked up to were the only signs he was alive, and not a beautiful, prone marble statute.

“So.” Rey cleared her throat. She felt silly for addressing a man who is, as far as she could tell, a vegetable. “This is… awkward.” The man didn’t react. Of course he didn’t. Through the open door, a nurse threw her a sympathetic look. She couldn’t hear what Rey was saying – perhaps she assumed that she was whispering words of love. Instead, she repeated, “Very awkward.”

The room was deadly silent, save the steady beeping. Rey cleared her throat. For some reason, she felt the need to explain herself. She’d let the nurse lead her by the arm into the intensive care unit. She hadn’t said anything, but she hadn’t disabused the kindhearted woman of the notion that she was engaged to this stranger. “I just wanted to make sure you’re going to be okay.”

Beep. Beep.

Suddenly, a petite woman bustled into the hospital room and moved past Rey like a gust of wind, rushing to the man’s bedside. “Oh my God, Ben!”

Just behind her was a grizzled man in a worn leather jacket. He looked like the sort of man who’d driven motorcycles and played guitar in his youth, and still did, to his wife’s disdain. Behind him was another man, equally gray-haired, bearded and wearing a patched sweater. He was gripping a rolled-up newspaper. The New York Times.

This was Kyle’s family – no, Ben’s. The woman had called him Ben. That name didn’t quite suit him, Rey thought, but what did she know? His family was not the Cape Code frequenting clan she had imagined. They looked middle-class – they weren’t as glamorous as he was. If he was a consummate Manhattanite, they were from Brooklyn. Not a trendy area of Brooklyn, but… Bushwick, or some place like that.

Rey tried to shrink into the corner, wondering whether her shirt and jeans blended into the wall. Her red face certainly didn’t.

Trailing this motley crew was a doctor with a clipboard and dark circles under his eyes. He was trying to explain something about a coma, and a traumatic brain injury. “The prognosis is hopeful, but – ”

“Leia, don’t yank his wires, Jesus.” The man in the leather jacket reached for the petite woman’s arm, and she threw his hand off with a little wail.

Rey exhaled, slowly, unable to hold her breath any longer. She inched along the wall, towards the open door. She could slip out, forget this embarrassing mix-up had ever happened, never tell anyone, and –

“Who are you?” The man carrying the newspaper asked her, scrunching up his brow. He looked her up and down, completely befuddled.

One by one, the other man, the doctor, and the stormy woman turned to look at her. They wore almost identical expressions of confusion. For a moment, it overshadowed their anxiety and despair. Rey blinked, speechlessly. The appropriate answer was a waitress, or a stranger, or even a crazy, perpetually single woman who’s been hopelessly, inexplicably in love with your comatose son for weeks.  “I’m –”

Behind her, the nurse huffed, cocking her hip. As if it was obvious, she said, “She’s his fiancée.”

Chapter Text

Beep. Beep.

It was deadly silent for a moment, and Rey bleated, horrified, “I’m not – ”

“Oh my God.” The short, brunette woman started sobbing in earnest. She stood, rooted to the spot, by the hospital bed. She had a beautiful, dignified face, even when she cried. “Oh my God.”

Rey blinked at her, and then looked at the man in the leather jacket. He looked – remarkably unalarmed by the woman’s tears. “Is she…?”

“She’s very dramatic, yes.” The man told her. The crying woman made a wet, angry noise, and then flew across the room towards Rey. Rey flinched, instinctively. Surely, this was the part where she was slapped for playing a totally inappropriate prank (a preferable alternative to having the police called on her, for sure).

Instead, with surprising ferocity, the woman threw her arms around Rey. Her grip was viselike. Rey opened one eye, gingerly, after a moment, and looked at the man in the leather jacket. He was grinning, like a cat who’d eaten a canary.

“You’re engaged?” The woman sniffled, drawing away only long enough to grasp Rey’s cheeks with her tiny, powerful hands and look searchingly into her eyes. She looked at her as if she wasn’t quite sure she was real. “To Ben?”

“Uh.” Rey said, helplessly. She knew she should speak – deny it, explain, apologize – but the woman’s grip on her face made it almost impossible to move her jaw. That, it already seemed too late to explain the ludicrous sequence of events that had led her to this moment.

“I think there’s been a mistake.” The man in the jacket said.

“Yes.” Rey seized on that. There had been. A terrible mistake. And this man could see it; he could see right through her. Her mortification and guilt must be written all over her face.

The man’s face split into a roughish grin. “Ben convinced you to marry him?”

Rey couldn’t help herself. She looked at the man in the hospital bed, the silent spectator to this insanity. Handsome. He was handsome, even with a slack jaw and a little bit of drool in the corner of his generous lips. Even with a blossoming bruise on his temple.

Before Rey could explain that no, he hadn’t convinced her to marry him, and that it would have been no feat at all for him to convince her if he’d wanted to, because he was beautiful and glamorous and the only good thing about her day, most days, the woman interjected. “Han, she has to come to Christmas.”

Keeping a straight face, Han – that was his name, then – turned to Rey. “You have to come to Christmas.”

Leia swatted his arm and elaborated. “We have a family dinner on Christmas Eve, every year. You have to come.”

“I have…” The lie died on Rey’s lips. She didn’t have plans; her best friends had inconveniently fallen in love with each other and were going upstate together. She didn’t have any family in the city, let alone the country. “I have to work.”

“On Christmas?” Leia looked almost offended by this excuse, whether or not she couldn’t tell it was an excuse. Her grip almost crushed Rey’s hand. “You have to come. Since Ben can’t be there.”

“Not that he would have.” Han muttered.

“Han! You can’t say things like that.” Leia snapped. “Ben’s in a coma.”

“Exactly. He can’t hear me.” Han had the crusty, grumpy air of someone who acted heartless to protect his own heart. Rey knew that type – she was that type.  “And he’s not dead, Leia, we can still speak ill of him.”

“Han!” Leia screeched, and Rey got the feeling his name was a familiar refrain.

“What? His secretary sent you a fruit basket for Christmas.”

“He was busy.” Leia hissed. She jerked her head in Rey’s general direction. “Getting engaged.”

“And he didn’t bother calling his mother when he got engaged?”

Leia drew herself up to her full, unimpressive height. “And where do you think he got that from, Han Solo?”

Rey looked at the collision course in front of her with something of a fascinated horror. These two people were nothing like she had imagined, and now, she gathered, Ben was nothing like she had imagined. She’d thought that surely his parents wouldn’t believe she was son’s fiancée, because surely they would have met their son’s fiancée. The man she’d fallen in love with from afar would have brought his fiancée to Sunday dinners, to make sure his parents approved, before he’d even shopped for a diamond.

Ben was not the man she’d fallen in love with. He wasn’t close to his mother. He didn’t send thoughtful gifts. His parents weren’t beatific, khaki-wearing Cape Code goers. He was all but estranged from his parents, he – no, his secretary – sent fruit baskets for the holidays, and his parents were hot-tempered Brooklynites who didn’t seem to have any qualms about yelling at each other in front of a perfect stranger.

Except, she wasn’t a perfect stranger, anymore. She was their future daughter-in-law. Their fake future daughter-in-law.

Someone coughed in her ear, and she half turned. The grey-bearded man favored her with an inscrutable little smile and spoke at last. “I’m Ben’s uncle, Luke.”

“I’m Rey.” Rey said, weakly.

Luke lifted a bushy brow. Together, they watched Ben’s parents bicker from either side of Ben’s hospital bed. He leaned towards her, and whispered, conspiratorially, “Welcome to the family, Rey.”

***
“Rey, are you out of your mind?” Finn sputtered. Rey buried her face in a throw pillow and made a muffled sound that was supposed to be yes. “He’s vegetable!”

“I know.” Rey moaned, rolling over on the couch. “But his parents are very much awake and they think I’m their new daughter-in-law.”

“And you think they’re still going to believe you when he wakes up and doesn’t recognize you?” Finn pointed out the major flaw in her loose and probably very immoral plan.

“Finn.” Rey floundered. “I don’t want to be alone on Christmas.”

Finn’s face softened for a moment. Only a moment. “I know, but… this is crazy.”

“He might not wake up.” Rey reasoned, propping her chin on her hands. She'd gone, against her better judgement, to Ben's hospital room twice, as if returning to the scene of the crime. He was unchanged, except paler and paler every time. 

Finn gaped at her. “You’d better hope he doesn’t.”

“Finn!” Rey sat up, indignant. She’d be lying if she said she hadn’t recognized the fact that Ben Solo slipping peacefully into death would get her out of a sticky situation. Still, she had an irrational emotional attachment to him. “Of course I hope he wakes up.”

Finn shook his head, groaning. “He’ll wake up and he’ll call the police. I wouldn’t leave it to chance. You know what I would do? Pull the plug.”

“You’re sick.” Rey informed him, primly.

“I’m sick?” Finn sputtered. “You’re pretending to be engaged to a vegetable.”

***

The Solo family compound was not the Nantucket white clapboard sprawl she’d imagined. It was a brick rowhouse in Bensonhurst. To Rey, who lived in Manhattan, it looked squat at only two stories. It was on a quiet, tree-lined street – too quiet. No sirens, no car horns, no buskers. An owl hooted.

Rey stood on the stoop for a long time, clutching the bottle of wine she’d towed with her. It was far out of her usual alcohol budget, but this was a special occasion. It was Christmas Eve, and she wanted to make a good impression on her fake future in-laws.

She laughed out-loud at that thought, her breath forming little clouds in the night air. When she’d worked up her courage – or shoved down her guilt and incredulity at her own bad decision making – she rang the doorbell.

The door opened as if Leia had been hovering on the other side of it, waiting for her to arrive. She shouted, over her shoulder, “Rey’s here!”

A cacophonous mob descended on the narrow foyer. Hands – whose, she didn’t know – drew her into the house, and took the wine from her. Kisses were planted on her cheeks, and hugs wrapped around her.

“Rey, this is Maz. She’s Ben’s great-aunt – well, not by blood, but her husband, Chewie – Chewie! Come introduce yourself! Chewie is Han’s business partner. You’ve met Luke, and Han. Grandma Paddie is asleep in that chair over there, she’s almost one-hundred. And this is Lando, he lives next door and he’s Ben’s godfather.  Oh!” As if remembering something, Leia spun around. “And the cats! Artoo, and Threepio. Don’t ask. Ben named them, years and years ago. Come in. Someone get her a glass of wine!”

***

Rey only ate intermittent bites at dinner. Every time she lifted her fork to her mouth, someone asked her a question.

“So, Rey-originally-from-London,” Ben’s grandmother was wizened, but her eyes were sharp over the rims of her glasses. She had a full glass of whiskey in front of her, too. “How did you and Ben meet?”

“We, ah, we met at work.” That was, after all, the most common place to meet someone. Rey decided it was a safe bet.

Chewie cut in. Rey had thought Ben was huge. He wasn’t. Chewie was huge. “You’re a lawyer, too?”

So she’d been right about one thing. Ben was a lawyer. “No, at my work. I work at a restaurant.”

Leia nodded, approvingly. “Ben can’t cook. He eats out. Can you cook?”

“Not really.” Rey lowered the spoonful of mashed potatoes she’d been trying in vain to eat. If she was pretending to be a fiancé, maybe she should pretend to be a good fake fiancé and pretend she could cook. “Just breakfast food.”

“Breakfast food is his favorite.”

Rey saw an opportunity, and she hated herself for taking it. What was the harm, though, if she was already playing the part? “Sausage, bacon, and eggs, every morning. And black coffee.”

A slow, sly grin spread across Han’s face. “Been cooking my son breakfast every morning, have you?”

Rey realized what he was implying, a second too late to deny it. She reached for her glass of wine, blushing. Everyone else at the table whooped and hollered, but it felt like they were laughing with her, not at her, so she laughed, too.

***

Ben’s bedroom was small, tidy, and musty. It was as if no one had stepped foot in it for years. Rey had the sneaking suspicion that Ben didn’t sleep in it when he came home – if he ever came home.

“He was a pitcher.” Leia said, fondly, when she saw Rey pick up a framed photograph.

“He was…” Rey cocked her head at the photographs. He was all ears and a bad haircut and nose and acne in the picture, even if his lanky, athletic body was conventionally attractive by any standard. He’d certainly grown into his features as a grown man, but he hadn’t yet, when this picture was taken.

“You can say it.” Leia laughed.

“Gangly?” Rey flushed. “No – ah, no wonder he’s never showed me baby pictures.” She felt awful as soon as she said that; she knew the real reason Ben had never shown her baby reasons. It was because she was a stranger.

“He’d probably be mad if he knew I was showing you these.” There was something sad in Leia’s voice as she passed Rey another photograph – this one, of a chubby, dark-eyed baby with a full crown of hair, sitting in a bathtub. Rey took it, grinning despite herself.

“Especially the naked ones?”

Leia laughed. “Well, it’s nothing you haven’t seen before.”

“Oh.” Rey felt her cheeks burn. “Um.” She set the baby picture down with all of the rest; the common theme among them was that they were taken years and years ago. Ben as a baby, Ben as a toddler, Ben as cocky high schooler. None of Ben as an adult.

Leia squeezed her elbow. “I’m going to go make up the couch for you.”

“Oh, I can leave – ” Rey faltered, even more embarrassed now. She’d worn out her welcome in this crammed-full and full of life house. It had been a shock to her system to be surrounded by so many people, all of them talking over each other and stealing food off of each other’s plates and yelling about politics good-naturedly. Once the shock had worn away – somewhere between her second and third glass of wine – she’d liked being there. It felt, in a voyeuristic way, like being part of a family.

“It’s too late.” Leia cut her off. “You can stay here, or Han can drive you, and Han’s drunk.”

Rey laughed, despite herself. “Okay.”

“I’d let you sleep in Ben's room, but – ”

“No, I understand.” Rey supplied. This room was a shrine, in a way, to a son Leia feared she might lose. In some ways, maybe she already had lost him.

“Take as much time as you need up here, though.” Leia tucked a piece of hair behind Rey's ear, and then, as if acknowledging that none of the pictures of Ben were recent, she added, “Ben hasn’t come home in a long time.” She paused, and her brown eyes were very bright. “Maybe, now that he has you, he will.”

***

Rey walked down the creaky stairs, slowly. As she crept through the living room, she saw the couch made up – a pillow, sheets, a thick woolen blanket. It was just a couch, but a lump rose in her throat. It had been made up for her. She was welcome, in this cramped house with mis-matched furniture, outdated television, and endless bookshelves. Welcome in a way she’d never been in orphanages and foster homes.

In the glow of of the Christmas tree, she saw, next to the couch, above the fireplace, was a row of embroidered stockings. Dad, Mom, Chewie, Maz, Lando, Luke, Grandma, Ben.

Rey.

A brand-new, probably hastily bought stocking was hanging next to Ben's, with her name on it. Her throat closed and her eyes pricked. 

She had to tell them. She had too. This had gone on too far, already. These people had opened up their home to her, with such verve and warmth that her chest hurt. This wasn’t the house she’d imagined, or the people she’d imagined. This was better. They were real people, and they were treating her like she was a real member of their family.

She couldn’t bear to imagine their faces when she told them the truth. Especially not Leia’s.

Rey crept towards the foyer, knowing it was cowardly to just slip away. She wasn’t just a liar, she was a coward. When she passed the kitchen, she heard low, murmuring voices.

Han and Leia were washing dishes together, side by side. Their motions were perfectly in tandem, as if they’d been doing this mundane task together for decades. Somehow, they made it look intimate and romantic, like dancing.

Leia’s shoulder’s shuddered, suddenly, and she stopped scrubbing. A soft, strangled noise of despair escaped her, and then Han was drawing her into his arm. She sobbed into his chest, and Rey knew she’d intruded on a terribly private moment. “What if he doesn’t wake up? He’s my baby. He’s my only baby. I’ll never had grandchildren, or see him get married, or – ”

“He’ll wake up, princess.” Han kissed her head. “He will.”

Chapter Text

“Mrs. Solo!” Rey heard the name echo down the dim, empty hospital hallway, but she didn’t respond. She didn’t realize the nurse was talking to her wasn’t until he bellowed, louder, far too loud for a five o’clock in the morning, “Mrs. Solo!”

Rey stopped short, wincing – not because she hated the sound of the name, but because she hated herself for liking the sound of the name. She turned around and crossed her arms over her chest. She didn’t care that she looked hostile; let the nurse think it was because she was despairing over her comatose fiancé.

“Your husband’s things.” The nurse thrust a cardboard box into her arms. Rey let out a low growl, the guilt getting to her. It had been bubbling under the surface since she’d departed the Solo’s house on Christmas morning – not before they’d shoved hastily wrapped gifts into her arms and insisted she open them, and laden her down with banana pancakes and hot chocolate.

“He is not my husband.”

The nurse blinked, cocking his head to the side. “I’m sorry. Your… fiancé?”

Rey bit back a thousand obscenities, and took the cardboard box. She trudged down the hallway with it, its weight made greater by the nagging wrongness that had followed her around for hours.

“Hi, Ben.” Rey plunked the cardboard box down on the foot of his bed, unceremoniously. “We need to talk.”

Beep. Beep.

“Okay, I’ll talk. You listen.” Rey didn’t sit down quite yet. She’d already invaded his life, and his privacy enough. It seemed fitting to maintain some distance now. She gripped the white plastic foot of the hospital bed. She took a deep breath. “Do you believe in love at first sight? I bet you don’t. You're probably too practical. But have you ever seen somebody, and known that, if that person only knew you, they would… they would realize you were the one that they wanted to grow old with.”

Beep. Beep.

Rey exhaled, slowly. “That’s how I fell in love with you.” She paused. “And I didn’t even know you.” She thought about the fruit basket he’d had his secretary send to his mother, and about the beautiful red cashmere sweater his mother had obviously picked out for her last-minute and the home-knitted hat Grandma Paddie had made her. “Now I’m not so sure I’d even like you at all, if I really knew you.”

Beep. Beep.

“But I really, really like your family.” Rey sat, slowly, on the foot of the bed, watching his chest rise and fall. It was somehow comforting. “I never had a family.” Her eyes were hot and itchy, and she told herself it was just the dry air in the sterile hospital wing. “So thank you, for letting me spend Christmas with yours.” Rey leaned over, and smoothed a wrinkle out of his blanket, instinctually. She didn’t realize how familiar the gesture was until she did it. “It meant a lot to me.”

Beep. Beep. As if he understood.

“But I know they want you back. They miss you.” Rey wiped her cheeks with her bunched fist, sucking in a deep breath. She looked down at her tear-dampened hands and felt so, so ashamed of herself. “So you can wake up now.”

“Rey.”

Rey screamed, falling off the foot of the hospital bed. When she scrambled to her hands and knees and looked wildly around, Ben was as still and pale as ever. Beep. Beep.

She whirled around. Luke was sitting in the armchair in the farthest, dimmest corner of the hospital room. He was settled deeply into the chair, as if he’d been sitting there for hours, watching his nephew breathe, in and out.

“I can explain.” Rey managed to choke out, pressing her hand to her heart. Luke raised his brows and she rushed to do so. “I work at this restaurant. And I see Ben, every day. And then I saw him get hit by a truck. I was just talking to myself, and that nurse overheard me.” She trailed off, realizing how insane she sounded, and added, lamely, “Next time I talk to myself, I’ll tell myself I’m single, and end the conversation.”

Luke gave her a long, inscrutable look, and then leaned back into the chair even deeper. Calmly, he told her, “You’re not single. You’re engaged to my nephew.”

Rey was anything but calm. She barely heard him. “I’m going to tell the family, I swear.”

“Don’t.”

Rey stopped short. “What?”

“Don’t tell them.” Luke leaned forward, bracing his elbows on his knees. “My sister has a heart condition.”

“Jesus Christ.” Rey blurted out.

“If you tell her, it’ll kill her.”

Rey stared at him, incredulous. She was sure that Luke was playing some sort of elaborate practical joke on her. She deserved it. She was a monster. “When he wakes up – ”

If he wakes up, she’ll be so happy, she won’t care.” Luke said, flatly. “And if he doesn’t – ”

“That’s a terrible thing to say.” Rey muttered, under her breath, although she was in no place to judge.

“ – they have you.”

It was an admittingly tempting thought. More than tempting. It was everything she’d ever wanted. “But – ”

 “Leia always wanted a daughter.” And Rey had always wanted a mother. And a father, and an uncle, and a grandmother. A family. She hesitated. “After Ben, she couldn’t have any more children. If she loses him, she’ll lose everything.”

“Are you serious?”

“I’m serious.” Luke drew his brows together, almost sternly. “But if you’re going to do this, Rey, you’ve got to really commit to it.”

***

Rey sat the cardboard box down on her bed and sat next to it, cross-legged. She eyed it nervously. It seemed wrong to go through his things, even if she had his uncle’s blessing.

Her curiosity got the better of her. She dumped the box over and rifled through it, nervously. Keys. A wallet. A sleek black credit card, inside. No pictures of a girl, to her relief. No condom, either. His driver’s license picture was annoyingly perfect – he really had gotten more photogenic since puberty. His birthday was July 2nd, 1987. Twenty-nine years old – seven years her senior.

Rey studied the license for a moment, committing the information on it to memory. She dug back into the jumble of possessions. Gloves. Tangled earbuds. A battery-dead iPhone. A metro card. A key.

***

Ben’s apartment was only four blocks from her café. It was on the fifth floor, but there was a doorman and an elevator – untold luxury. Rey unlocked the door with the copy of Ben’s key that she’d made at a hardware store. She’d waited for the metal to be cut, trying to not look like a criminal.

The apartment smelled vacant. Boxes were stacked in the corners and there was no art on the walls. It was as if he’d just moved in. That explained why he’d mysteriously started showing up at the diner for breakfast every morning a few months ago. She’d attributed it to an accident of fate, or good luck, on her part.

Ben’s furniture was as elegant as he was – midcentury, in rich colors like navy blue and tweedy grey. For all of his taste in furniture, though, he was messy. Another flaw she’d discovered in the seemingly perfect man. There were coffee grounds, ice cold, in the coffee machine. Produce had spoiled in the refrigerator. In the freezer was two gallons of mint chocolate chip ice cream. Dirty laundry on the floor. Hairs in the sink, from shaving.

Ben’s bed was, suitably, enormous. Rey hesitated for a moment, and the flopped down on it. She made a snow angel in the messy, unwashed sheets, reveling in the fact that when she spread out both her arms and legs, she still couldn’t reach the edges of the mattress. She privately reveled in the scent of the sheets, too – masculine, like cologne and, faintly, like sweat.

This was most assuredly a bachelor pad, and that – that would not do.

Rey rose off of the bed, a woman on a mission. She’d framed a picture of herself. Finn had taken it, in Central Park. She was grinning at the camera. She thought she looked like she was in love. She hoped she did. She put it on his bedside table, guessing that he slept on the right side of the bed. That pillow was more indented.

His shampoo was nondescript. She added a woman’s shampoo bottle. He had only beer in the refrigerator. She put a bottle of white wine next to a six-pack.

And now, the final touch. His fiancée would leave clothes over at his house. She tossed a t-shirt and shorts into his laundry hamper, and then fished the last articles of clothing out of her purse. She’d brought panties with her, a few pairs. Her prettiest pairs, of course. She found his underwear drawer after a little bit of searching, and opened it. Black briefs on black briefs. Her lacy red and purple underthings would stand out among them.

Before she could stop to feel guilty, she shoved her underwear into the drawer.

***

“Rey,” Finn told her, exasperated. “You are born into a family. You don’t join them like the Marines.”

There was one similarity between joining the Solo family and joining the Marines, though. Boot camp. Rey took it upon herself to go through the boot camp of Ben. She snooped through his desk and found he took work home. She called his office (blushing furiously and trying to keep a straight face the entire time) and explained that he was hospitalized. His secretary’s name was Gwen. She seemed stunned to hear that Rey was Ben’s fiancée, but such hot gossip, Rey was sure, would spread around the law firm like wildfire. Plenty of witnesses, ready-made.

His computer wasn’t password protected. His taste in pornography was rather tame. His taxes were done early. He didn’t send dirty emails. He didn’t answer his mother’s emails. His bills were on autopay.

In a stroke of genius, she threw away his phone. If anyone ever charged it up and looked at it, they’d find no evidence of her. She couldn’t have that. She’d say it was lost in the shuffle of his emergency.

Rey became a fixture at Sunday dinner at the Solos. Luke smiled encouragingly at her over his drink as she listened, raptly, to stories about Ben’s childhood. She memorized them, internalized them. She did so in an effort to, in Luke’s words, really commit to the part she was playing.

She also, inexplicably, was still fascinated by Ben. She wanted to know more about him. He was good at chess, although that had always embarrassed him as a teenager. He ran, three times a week, fast.

She washed dishes with Leia. She listened to Grandma Paddie wax poetic about the fifties. She let Maz bake her banana bread and cookies and waved to Lando when she parked on the street. She helped Han fix up the old junker he’d bought twelve years earlier. It had been supposed to be a gift for Ben. He liked classic cars, he’d been seventeen and desperate for a car, and Han had wanted to fix it up together, father and son. It was a project car. Twelve years later, the car was still junk. Rey didn’t ask why, but she gamely handed Han wrenches and slid underneath the belly of the beast to look at its guts.

Her narrative started to take shape. It clarified a little more every time Ben’s family asked an offhanded question. When had they met? How had he proposed? Did they have a date set? What was it about him that caught her eye?

Rey’s complicated web of lies took shape in her head when she was alone, in bed, too. She couldn’t sleep, for the nagging sense of guilt. The longer Ben remained comatose – two weeks, now –  the easier it was to slip back into her initial fantasy of him. She’d tweaked it, to allow for his wonderful, wonderful family that she adored.

The longer he laid in that hospital bed, as if he was asleep, the easier it was to tell herself that Luke was right. She was doing the right thing. What the Solos didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them.

The longer he slept, the easier it was to believe that this little white lie, spun wildly out of control, this long con, would never hurt them. He would never wake up.

***

But one day, Ben Solo woke up.

***

The Solo family convened on the hospital. Rey went along, as if she was being dragged to the gallows. Every step was a missed opportunity to tell them the truth.

Somehow, she found herself smack dab in the middle of the family, at the foot of his bed, when he opened his eyes, groggily, for the second time. His beard had grown, and he looked decidedly less glamorous than usual. Less glamorous, and more confused.

“Mom?” His voice cracked. It was as deep as she remembered, but rather more bewildered-sounding. Leia promptly burst into tears, but she nodded through them. Han squeezed her hand, and wrapped his other arm around Rey. She resisted the urge to tear free and run away. Luke was between her and the door, and he gave her a look that made it clear he would tackle her if she tried to do so.

“Dad?”

“Hi, kid.” Han’s gruff exterior cracked. “You had us scared for a minute there.”

Ben’s eyes flickered closed for a second, and he wet his lips. “A minute?”

“It’s January 15th.”

Ben made a soft noise of surprise. When he opened his eyes, his gaze seemed to skim over Rey. She shrank back away from it. “Uncle Luke.” Luke gaze him thumbs up, beaming behind his beard.

And then, all of the sudden, Ben’s gaze sharpened and reverted to Rey, as if something had clicked in his memory. Rey’s stomach plummeted. He studied her for a moment, his brow creasing. It seemed as if it took him quite a bit of effort to speak. “Who are you?”

Rey closed her eyes, the weight of all of her terrible decisions settling in her belly. 

“My God.” Luke materialized at her elbow before she could speak or faint or run away. His face was a perfect mask of shock and pity. “He’s got amnesia.”

Chapter Text

“I have amnesia?” Ben asked, brow creasing under his overgrown hair.

“He has amnesia?” Leia’s voice pitched upwards, with panic.

“Amnesia?” Han sounded skeptical.

Amnesia?” Rey narrowed her eyes at Luke once she remembered to close her mouth. Under her breath she added, her voice dripping with sarcasm, “That’s awfully convenient.”

“Honey,” Leia perched on the edge of his mattress. “What’ the last thing you remember?”

Ben’s gaze flickered over to Rey and he looked almost worried. For a moment, Rey thought that he would say the last thing he remembered was a shy waitress overfilling his coffee mug and awkwardly trying to make conversation by wishing him a merry Christmas.

After a long moment, Ben’s admitted, “I... I don’t know.”

Behind Han and Leia’s backs, Luke’s smile was that of a cat who’d eaten a canary.

***

“Retrograde amnesia isn’t totally uncommon after a traumatic brain injury.” Ben’s neurologist  explained, patiently, out in the hallway. Rey only half-listened. Maybe Ben really did have amnesia – he didn’t remember his new address, or what his plans had been for the holidays, or the day of the accident. He didn’t remember the accident at all, and surely, something that significant, he’d remember.

He’d also remember something as significant as getting engaged – or rather, he’d eventually remember that he never had.

Rey chewed her thumb as she looked through the glass partition in the wall of Ben’s room. He was looking at the ceiling with a look of great concentration on his face, as if he was trying to remember something.

“How long will it last?” Leia asked. Luke slipped away, into Ben’s room.  Rey watched him go with great suspicion. Now that Ben was awake, she felt it was only right that she confess to him, alone, rather than his mother and father. And, it would be easier than telling  Han and Leia the truth. She wasn’t even sure she’d like Ben. She knew she adored Han and Leia.

Luke seemed bound and determined to keep her from unburdening her guilt, though.

“It’s difficult to say. Sometimes, post-traumatic amnesia lasts for weeks. Sometimes, just hours. About a third of amnesiacs have what we call islands of memory.” The neurologist’s gaze flickered to Rey, and she suddenly had the uncomfortable notion that he pitied her. “They have memories, but some things are just… missing, until a full recovery is made and he regains continuous memory.”

“How does – ” Leia gestured to her own head. “I mean, why does he remember some things, and not others?” Rey could think of an explanation. She stayed silent. The neurologist raised his clipboard and lowered it, in a gesture of surrender.

“We don’t know.” He smiled, sympathetically, at Rey. “The important thing is that he’s alive, and that you have many years ahead of you to make new memories.”

***

Han and Leia decided chicken noodle soup and crackers were in order – privately, Rey thought Han needed to talk Leia down a little – so they went to the cafeteria. Rey lingered in the hallway, feeling like an intruder, for a moment longer.

Maybe, she thought, Luke was telling Ben the truth. Maybe he was softening the blow. Taking the blame. Convincing Ben not to call the police or try to have her committed.

She drifted into the hospital room. Luke was perched on the edge of Ben’s hospital bed. If he was aware that she was within earshot, well, that didn’t seem to stop him. He was in the middle of a tangent.

“You got a good education. You’re very popular with those friends of yours. You make a nice living. And everybody knows you’re a good-looking kid.” Luke paused. “But Ben, you’re a putz.”

Ben looked even more bewildered, if that was possible. “I’m a what?”

“Look, I don’t have any kids of my own. I couldn’t love you any more if you were my own kid.” Luke clapped his knee through the scratchy hospital blanket. “But the fact of the matter is, you´re… well, you´re a putz.”

Ben gave him a wary look, his cheeks turning a pretty shade of pink. It suited him. He was, after all, unreasonably pretty for a man. Rey felt her cheeks burn correspondingly. She didn’t look as attractive when she blushed, she was quite sure. “ls there a point to this?”

Rey.” Luke leaned back. “Ben, there’s something you should know about Rey.”

“What?” The tinge of suspicion to Ben’s voice confirmed Rey’s worst fears.

“She… well, she’s – ” Luke stopped for a second, and Rey had the sinking feeling Luke wasn’t going to do her dirty work for her. He was going to dig her a deeper hole. He was going to make this worse. Much, much worse. “She’s something special.”

Ben looked at his hands, and when he spoke, he sounded almost angry at himself. “If she’s so special, why don’t I remember her?”

Luke glossed over that little detail. “You’ve been given a – a second chance at life.”

“I don’t remember my own fiancé?” Ben’s voice rose, and Rey heard a little bit of Leia’s temper in him.

“Two weeks.” Luke implored. “If after two weeks, you’re not madly in love with Rey, break it off.” Ben was silent. “But if you see what the rest of us see in her, you’ll marry her before she can get away.”

Rey exhaled, through her teeth. She’d been right. Luke had made it worse. Much, much, much worse. Rey cleared her throat, mortified with embarrassment, and, as if he’d known she was standing there all along, Luke looked over his shoulder. He winked, remorselessly. “You know, if l was a few years younger, l´d marry her myself.

“Can we have a moment alone?” Rey asked, frostily.

Luke grinned, good naturedly, and patted Ben’s leg. “Don’t blow it, kiddo.” As he passed Rey in the doorframe, he muttered, “And that goes for you, too. Don’t blow it.”

Rey narrowed her eyes at him, and when he was gone, she shut the door. The last thing she needed was Leia and Han interrupting this awkward but inevitable conversation, or Luke bursting in with tickets to their honeymoon and a wedding date set.

“I have to tell you something.” She decided delay would only make her lose her nerve. She braced her hands on the foot of his hospital bed. His feet nudged her fingers – God, his body was long – and made her jump away.

“Are you pregnant?” Ben asked, straight-faced.

Rey blanched before she realized he was joking. “You’re… you’re funny.” She hadn’t realized that.  She wouldn’t have guessed it from the seriousness with which he read the Times and drank his black coffee every morning.

A little smile crossed his face under his scraggly beard. “Then whatever you have to tell me can wait. Can you bring me some ice cream?”

“Ice cream?” Rey asked, in disbelief.

“Yes.” Ben looked very serious. “I’ve been dreaming about it for weeks. Literally, for weeks.”

Rey laughed despite herself. “Mint chocolate chip?”

Ben’s brows rose. “How did – oh.” He settled back onto his pillow, his hands playing with the facial hair surely he wasn’t used to, either. He wasn’t used to the word he used next, either. He worked it around in his mouth a bit before saying it, carefully. “You’re my… fiancée.”

***

“That’s contraband.” Rey handed Ben a pint of mint chocolate chip ice cream and a spoon, and then sat, gingerly, in the chair next to his bed. “Don’t tell.”

“I won’t call security on you.” He grinned, propping himself up on the pillows with some effort.

Rey knew she ought to help him sit up, but she didn’t. It was too familiar, and she felt her stomach twist with guilt. He should be calling security on her. “Ben, I – ”

“How long were we seeing each other before I proposed?” Ben asked, abruptly, through a mouthful of bright green dessert. She stopped short in her reluctant confession.

Rey knew, exactly. She remembered the first time she’d seen him. This wasn’t a lie, then, exactly. An omission, yes, but not a lie. “Three and a half months.”

“That’s fast.” He said, pausing with a spoonful halfway to his mouth.

“You have no idea.” Rey muttered.

“Ice cream?” He offered her his spoon, licking the back of it clean. Rey hesitated for a moment before taking it. It felt odd to share a utensil with him. It wouldn’t, if they were actually engaged. She needed to tell him –

He grasped her hand, as she reached for the spoon, and studied it. When she tried to tug it away, his grip was surprisingly strong, even after weeks of atrophy. “Why aren’t you wearing your ring?”

“My what?” Rey looked at her bare hand. It looked very small in his. The lie came easily to her. “Oh. I…I don’t wear jewelry.”

Ben frowned at her ring finger. “I didn’t propose with a ring?”

Rey faltered. “It was... all very fast.”

“And you’re sure you’re not pregnant?” He teased, dropping her hand, finally.

“I’m positive.” Rey said, vehemently.

Maybe a little too vehemently, because Ben asked, next, “We have had sex, haven’t we?”

In her own private fantasies, they had. Without directly answering the question, she hedged, “…we’re engaged.”

Ben looked almost relieved, as if his masculinity had been reaffirmed. “Are we good together?” When she didn’t answer, he wiggled his brows, and that reminded her of his father. “Kinky?”

That question, she knew the answer to, from peeking at his browsing history. She tried to sound nonchalant. “You’re vanilla. But I like vanilla.” She took another spoonful of his ice cream. “It’s my favorite kind of ice cream.”

Ben gave her an oddly sad look. “I didn’t know that. Well – well, I did, didn’t I? Before the accident?”

“I don’t know.” Rey’s lie was touched with a bit of honesty. “I don’t really know if you noticed little things like that.”

He took a massive spoonful of ice cream, and she wondered, vaguely, how he wasn’t overweight in the slightest. “Like what?”

***

As he tucked into a pint, Ben asked Rey a series of questions about herself, and about their supposed relationship. At first, it felt like an interrogation – a test she might fail. After a while, it felt like a game.

“Who does the dishes?”

“You. But not because I cook. Neither of us cooks.”

He nodded in agreement. “Where was our first date?”

Rey reached across the hospital bed to steal another spoonful. “Central Park.”

Ben scoffed. “Tell me I didn’t pack a picnic.”

“You’re not that romantic.” Rey laughed. It was just a hunch, but a good one.

Ben grumbled softly, rooting around for a chocolate chip at the bottom of the pint. He looked like he was going to argue with that, when suddenly his head snapped up. “You have a British accent.”

“I… ah, yes?”

He looked like he’d finally figured out a frustrating puzzle. “Are we getting married for a green card?”

“Ben!” Rey flushed. She almost denied it, and then the traitorous part of her thought: it made sense.

Ben’s eyes widened. “That’s why we got engaged so fast, isn’t it? Your visa was expiring.”

“My visa already expired.” Rey admitted.

They sat in awkward silence for a moment, and then Ben, seeming to think he’d offended her, said, apologetically, “I didn’t mean…”

“It’s okay.” Rey shifted nervously. She’d lost track of time, playing this little game. They had an easy, natural rapport, as if they’d known each other for years, somehow. “I’m going to be late for work.”

“Wait.” Ben suddenly looked uncomfortable, as she stood. “Can you do something for me, first?”

“What?” Rey thought of the two gallons of mint chocolate chip in the freezer of his apartment, and wondered if he wanted more ice cream snuck in.

“They took my catheter out.” His cheeks darkened. “And my legs are kind of… wobbly.”

 ***

“Do we pee with the door open yet?” Ben asked, over his shoulder, as he relieved himself. His hospital gown was comically small, covering only half of his thighs and splitting open up the back. She’d bunched it up with one hand, standing next to him and holding his IV rolling cart, while he used his arms to brace himself on the wall. He was as good as naked, and somehow, that embarrassed her even more than the fact that he was urinating in front of her. She tried not to look down at his exposed groin – instead, she looked at the wall, the ceiling, anything else, her ears hot. She’d seen his ass already – couldn’t help it, really – and it was as pale and perfect as the rest of him. “I mean, it’s only been three months.”

“I guess we do now.” She answered, with a self-conscious laugh.

He cursed under his breath after a second. “It’s kind of hard to aim like this – ”

“No.” Rey snapped, blushing furiously. She almost dropped the handful of hospital gown she was holding out of the way. “I am not aiming your penis.”

Ben laughed a little too hard at that.

***

They moved carefully, like a strange four legged, ungainly beast, back towards his bed. Ben sunk onto it with wobbly knees, exhaling slowly. Rey hesitated for a moment, and then tugged his sheets and blankets back up his body.

 “I remember you.” He covered her hand with his, keeping it on his abdomen. His voice was soft, all of the sudden. Rey looked up at him, confused. “I don’t necessarily remember proposing to you, but I remember you.” A slow smile spread across his face. It somehow managed to be as perfectly wicked as it was silly. She wondered whether his newest round of intravenous painkillers had kicked in. “You were very hot.”

“What?” There was something undeniably sexy about him, lying on his back like that and looking at her like that. It affected Rey’s ability to think straight.

“You were very beautiful. You are very beautiful.” He repeated himself, patiently. He looked her up and down, and for a moment, Rey forgot that she’d just helped him walk and stand and use the toilet. In that moment, he was totally in control, and she was totally weak-kneed.

“I’m…”

Ben ignored her and went on, as if explaining himself to her. She should be explaining herself to him. “If I thought you could be the one, and your visa had expired, I wouldn’t let you get away. I proposed so I’d have the chance to find out if you really were it.” He let go of her hand, settled back onto his pillow, and crooked a long, thick arm behind his head. His eyes flickered closed.  “Now I get a second chance.”

***

Outside of Ben’s room, Rey flattened herself against the wall and closed her eyes. Her breath came unsteadily. She’d thought Luke had made things worse, and then she – she’d gone and made things even worse.

She’d fallen in love with a fantasy caricature of Ben Solo, and that had gotten her in this mess. Now, she’d met the real Ben Solo.

And again, she had the feeling of falling.

Chapter Text

“Do you need me to bail you out?” Finn got right to the point when he answered the phone. Rey exhaled heavily, walking slowly down the street and clouding the surface of her cell phone in the chilly January air.

“No.”

“They didn’t call the police?”

“No.” She didn’t elaborate.

“Did you tell them?” Finn’s voice tilted with suspicion, as if he already knew the answer to his question.

Rey fiddled with the zipper of her jacket. Through the phone, she heard Finn’s gusty sigh. “I… I like him, Finn.”

“Rey! If you like someone, you ask them on a date.” Finn made a strangled, frustrated noise. “You don’t pretend to be their fiancée.”

“I know!” Rey moaned. “I know. I just… he’s…”

Finn’s voice softened a little. She’d divulged to him, after one too many glasses of wine, her unrequited crush on the stranger in the corner booth. “Everything you thought he’d be?”

“He’s nothing like I thought he’d be.” Rey confessed. “He’s different.”

“Different, how?” Finn’s curiosity had gotten the better of him.

Different in that he wasn’t perfect, or particularly suave, or gentlemanly. He was a bit awkward, very blunt, and inexplicably distant from his gracious, loving family. But..

“Better.”

***

The next day, Rey went to the hospital resolved to tell the truth. She’d been plagued all night with nightmares that Ben’s amnesia would resolve. He’d glare at her the moment she walked into the room. She steeled herself for it.

“Hi…” Ben cocked his head to the side, sticking his plastic spoon into his pudding and wiping the back of his mouth. “Uh, honey?” Rey’s face must have betrayed her, but thankfully, he misinterpreted her expression. He asked, ruefully, “I don’t call you honey, do I?”

“No.” Rey held her coat in front of her body like it would protect her. He was stretched out on the hospital bed, the mattress tilted up so he could balance a tray of food on his belly, but she still felt very small and cornered when he looked her up and down.

“What do I call you?” He asked, plaintively.

Rey drew on the only source material she had – Han and Leia. Han called Leia sweetheart, or princess. Princess didn’t seem quite fitting for Rey. She was all hard edges and no grace. “Sweetheart.”

Ben’s brows rose incrementally. He gave her a funny look. “That’s what my dad calls my mom.” For some reason, that seemed to surprise him. He recovered himself and ventured, “Another question.”

“You ask a lot of questions.” Rey couldn’t help but sound reproachful. He was keeping her on her toes. Her lying toes.

“I have amnesia.” Ben deadpanned. “Humor me.”

“Go ahead.” Rey begrudged. She prepared herself, sifting through her fabricated backstory. Maybe he would ask about their first kiss, or whether they’d picked a date for their wedding.

“You didn’t kiss me, yesterday.”

“That’s…” Rey blinked. That hadn’t been what she had been expecting. “That’s not a question.”

“Why didn’t you kiss me?”

Rey faltered. She searched frantically for an excuse. Any other woman – let alone his fiancée – would have fallen into his arms on the hospital bed and kissed him senseless upon his miraculous recovery. She hadn’t. She could chalk it up to politeness – his parents had been standing right there – but she’d been equally as shy when they were alone. She hadn’t had the nerve to commit physically to her character. “I… I don’t like your beard.”

“My beard?” He looked like he was trying not to smile. It was an impish expression.

“It’s… scratchy.” Rey croaked. She could tell he didn’t quite believe her.

They stood there, awkwardly, inapposite, and then Ben asked, formally, abruptly, “Do you want to go on a date?”

“A date?” Rey giggled nervously; that was unlike her. She never giggled. She was never flustered. Except, apparently, when she was near Ben Solo. She remembered what Finn had said: if you like someone, you ask them on a date.

Maybe he liked her, too, and not because he thought he was supposed to.

“We could go to the cafeteria. They have powdered mashed potatoes and chocolate milk in plastic sacks.” Ben kept perfectly straight face. “Or, we could go for a walk.”

***

The fourth floor of the hospital was a continuous loop. In a bid to prove he could be discharged, Ben shuffled along it, clutching his IV with one hand and Rey’s arm, with the other. The first time they attempted a loop, it took them fourteen and a half minutes. The first lap was silent, Ben’s breathing a bit labored. Ben looked utterly ridiculous in his hospital gown. 

“You’re not decent.” Rey had managed to choke out, when he’d gotten out of bed. He’d rolled his eyes and turned around, exposing a strip of his pale back and paler backside to her. Blushing furiously, and glad that he couldn’t see her face, Rey had tightened each knot on the open back of the gown, covering as much of him a she could.

The second loop – after a pudding cup for fortification, and a bit of rest – wasn’t as strenuous. It only took twelve minutes. Still, Ben was sweaty and red-faced when he laid back down on his hospital bed. Rey was red-faced, too, partially from her near-constant state of embarrassment when she was in the same room as him, and partially because he was heavy.

“Do you need me to call the nurse?” Rey asked, a little out of breath. She didn’t need anything else on her conscience.

“Maybe.” Ben panted. “Or you could give me my sponge bath.”

Rey froze. “What?”

“I’m kidding.” Ben laughed, huffing a bit.

Rey turned around and pretended to fix the blind. She was suddenly aware that if she kept this charade up – against her better judgment – she’d eventually see a lot more of him than a strip of spine and ass through a hospital gown. She’d have to keep a straight face, and act as if she’d seen him naked a hundred times. She’d have to get naked in front of him.

“Rey.”

“What?” She sounded almost hostile, she was so jumpy with nerves.

“Don’t be mad.” A smile played on the edge of his mouth, almost as if he had a secret. His eyes danced, the way his father’s did when he told an inappropriate joke. “I don’t really ask the nurse to give me sponge baths.”

“I’m not the jealous type.” She told him, relieved that he had mistaken her silence for jealousy, and not for discomfort.

“I am.” He told her, bluntly. “But you know that.”

 She hadn’t, of course, and now, she wondered what he meant by that.

***

The next day, when Rey came to visit Ben, he was in bed with his knees propped up. A towel was draped over them, and a hand mirror was balanced against them. He was scowling at it, trying to shave with one hand and keep the mirror upright with the other.

“What are you doing?”

“Shaving.” He frowned. “Or trying to.”

“Why?” Rey knew, from the voicemail his secretary had left her, that he’d be on leave of absence for at least another three weeks.

“For you.” He said, simply.

She’d used his beard as an excuse not to kiss him. Perhaps she hadn’t thought through the implications of that excuse fully. Rey made an exasperated noise and sat on the edge of his hospital bed, tucking her leg under her bottom. She took the mirror out of his lap, and held it up against her chest.

Ben let his legs slide down to the mattress, using two hands to manipulate the damp skin around his chin as he glided the razor over it. “Thank you. I narrowly missed my jugular a few times doing this with one hand.”

Rey tilted the mirror for him as he lifted his chin to shave under it. He grunted in approval and kept shaving. His motions were precise as a surgeon’s, and his gaze was honed in on the mirror. Rey realized, flushing, that it was tucked right in between her breasts.

When he was done, he rubbed his face in the damp towel, making a wild, muffled noise into it. He emerged from the terrycloth fresh-shaved and flushed.

“You have some – ” Rey paused, her hand half outstretched. He waited, expectantly, a speck of shaving cream on the corner of his full mouth.

Skin-to-skin contact seemed too intimate. Rey took the towel from him, wrapped it around her fingers, reached forward, and wiped the spot of shaving cream off.

His hand settled over hers, cupping it to his cheek. His fingers worked through the folds of the towel to find hers. There was something about his gaze – as if he was daring her. “Kiss me, sweetheart.”

Rey had no good excuse not to kiss him. In retrospect, she knew she shouldn’t have kissed him. She should have told the truth, since she had nothing else to say.

Rey shifted her weight back onto her ankle, her throat hitching. Ben waited, patiently. She smoothed the pad of her thumb over the soft half-moon under his eye. When she leaned forward, precariously, she lost her nerve, and pressed her nose into his cheek, rather than kiss him. He smelled warm and clean, like shaving cream and soap, not like a sterile, disinfected hospital. She’d imagined that he’d smell like cologne, but he didn’t.

It turned out that Ben’s patience was not endless. He turned his face, looked into her eyes for the briefest of moments, and then kissed her, himself. Thoroughly. If she’d eventually worked up the courage to kiss him, it would have been brief, shy, and unconvincing. He kissed her like he was convinced.

Oh.” The syllable was muffled and lost in his mouth. When Ben wrapped his hand around the back of her head and kissed her again, Rey was, too.

***

The next day, walking the circumference of the hospital floor only took eleven minutes. Ben’s questions had thinned out, but they’d become more loaded.

 “How many kids do you want?” He asked, looking at her out of the sides of his eyes.

“I hadn’t thought about it.” Rey answered honestly. Not even in her elaborate fantasies about him had she envisioned children. She wasn’t sure she wanted any, even if she had a perfect specimen of a man to produce them with. She didn’t have much of a metric for parenting, but she doubted she’d be any good at it. Clearly she didn’t have enough of a moral compass.

“You do want kids, right?” Ben sounded almost offended.

“You do.” She realized, as she said it.

“Don’t you?” He pushed.

“We haven’t talked about it.” Rey hedged. That was the truth, at least.

“Well, let’s talk about it now.” Ben said, pigheadedly, leaning persuasively into her. “I want three kids.”

Three?” Rey sputtered.

“At least.” From his half-grin, she wasn’t quite sure whether he was teasing her, or toying with her. It was a feeling that crept into her belly often, around him. It was disconcerting, considering that she was the one manipulating him.

***

On the third day, their circuitous route around the hospital only took eight and a half minutes. “Can I ask you a question?” Rey ventured, on their second lap.

I’m the one with amnesia.” Ben retorted, not unkindly. “But go ahead.”

“Why…” Rey stopped short. It was easier to ask this question walking side-by-side, arm-in-arm. She didn’t have to look him in the eye. “Why didn’t you introduce me to your family?”

Ben was silent for a moment. Finally, he said, “I know the answer to that question, even if I don’t remember.” They walked along in companionable silence for a minute. “Dad always thought I would work for him. With him. He thought I’d eventually take over the family business.” Ben paused. “I wanted to go to law school.”

 Rey gave him a furtive glance as she navigated a sharp corner. She’d expected something more dramatic. “…and?”

“And they couldn’t afford to send me.” Ben laughed, ruefully. “I wanted more – you know, an Ivy League degree, lots of money, a trophy wife, an office in a skyscraper. And they knew that I was… ashamed of them. That how they’d raised me wasn’t enough. I made that clear to them.” He cleared his throat, awkwardly. “So that’s it. That’s why.”

“And did you get it?” Rey asked, tentatively. “Everything you wanted?”

“Everything but the trophy wife.” He teased.

“Hey!” Rey slapped at his shoulder, and he ducked away, almost falling.

“I just mean that you’re not the kind of woman I normally date.” He righted himself with some effort, bracing himself on her arm. “You’re… you’re a lot like my parents.” Once he was straightened up, he let go of her, and stood stock still for a second, all on his own, his arms outstretched for balance.

“You mean I'm not like you.” Rey noted, feeling inexplicably hurt. If he and his parents lived in different worlds, well, then, she lived in a different galaxy. She’d known that from the moment she’d poured his coffee and took his order. It still made her feel small and insignificant to say it out loud. She held out her arm again, crooking it formally.

“No.” Ben agreed. He didn't take her arm. He settled his arm around her shoulders, instead, tucking her under his bicep and against his ribs, and smiled down at her. That smile was a balm to her self-consciousness. It made her feel important. “Maybe part of me wants what they have.”

Chapter Text

“Are you sure you don’t want to come home with us for a few days?” Leia fretted, as Ben painstakingly bent over to tie his shoes. He was in jeans and a t-shirt – clothes Rey had never seen him in before. She’d only ever seen him in a tailored suit or in a state of undress. Jeans made him look young – among other things. “Rey, sweetheart, you can stay, too.”

“I don’t think Ben fits in his old twin bed, let alone Ben and Rey.” Han teased.

Rey felt her ears flush. “I can take the couch.”

Luke snorted in the corner. Rey shot daggers at him.

“I’m sure you two want to be alone.” Han interjected, and, at the same time, elbowed Rey in the ribs. She jumped a mile. “Take it easy, though, okay? Don’t slosh his muddled brains around in his skull too much – ”

 “Han!” Leia looked like she was trying not to laugh. Ben did laugh, bent double over his shoelaces. It winded him a little. She knew where he got his inappropriate sense of humor from.

“ – or put him into cardiac arrest, or anything.”

“You’re supposed to stay – ” Rey started.

“I’m not going to go into cardio arrest.” Ben interrupted. “I haven’t been doing all those laps for nothing.”

Han snorted. “That’s my boy.”

“ – in bed.” Rey finished, somewhat cross over being interrupted. Everyone was silent for a moment – rare, when she was surrounded by the Solo family – and then Han snickered. Ben just grinned, smugly. Rey felt her cheeks heat. It had been an unfortunate choice of words, given Han and Ben’s penchants for innuendo. Sputtering in her haste, she added, “Resting.”

“We’ll see.” Ben said, under his breath, and wiggled his brows suggestively, when his mother wasn’t looking.

“Have fun, lovebirds.” Luke said, smugly.

***

“Do we live together?” Ben asked, abruptly, when they were in the taxi his parents had called, after he’d refused to let them brave Manhattan traffic in their boat-like old Chevrolet any longer than they had to. They sat on opposite sides of the vehicle. Rey awkwardly knotted her fingers in between her knees, excruciatingly aware of Ben’s hand. It was extended towards her, resting casually – too casually – on the backseat of the taxi, as if he expected her to take it in hers.

Rey had always thought that holding hands while doing mundane things – like riding in taxis, grocery shopping, or walking down the street – was silly. Perhaps that made her unromantic. She was beginning to suspect Ben was a bit more romantic than he claimed to be.

The cabby’s eyes flickered to Rey’s in the rear-view mirror, when she didn’t answer Ben’s question. He was curious. Rey realized, as she made brief eye-contact with him, that she and Ben had never really been alone. They would be, once traffic cleared and they were at his apartment.

“No.” Rey thought, with longing, of escaping to her studio apartment on the Lower East Side. While he’d been hospitalized, she’d had the stamina to keep in character for hours at a time because when she went home, she was alone, and could be herself.

“Why not?”

“I’m… traditional.” Rey said, primly.

“But… we have sex?” Ben sounded confused.

“I’m not that traditional.” Rey flushed. The cabby looked bewildered. He tried to pretend he wasn’t listening to them, and failed miserably. Ben didn’t seem bothered.

“So what do you mean by traditional? Do we do it missionary-position, with the lights off, or what?” Ben needled her mercilessly.

Rey glared at him. “Can we not talk about this?”

“No dirty talk, then?” Rey glowered at him. Now, she was almost sure he was just teasing her, rather than genuinely curious. He confirmed her suspicions by adding, “You’re very cute when you’re embarrassed.”

Pointedly, Rey turned away and looked out the window. She’d observed Leia use this tactic on Han. When a Solo was on a tear, it was best to just ignore him. Ben wanted to get a rise out her; she wouldn’t give him the satisfaction.

“I know why you won’t move in with me.” It took a great effort for Rey not to respond. Ben went on, nonetheless, patronizingly. “You have intimacy issues.”

That hit a little too close to home. Rey scowled at her own reflection. “Do not.”

“Do, too.”

The taxi driver made a sound like he was trying not to laugh.

***

Ben wandered around his apartment like he was lost in a museum, looking at everything. He examined the dust on the television screen, and the books on the shelf. He tested the locks on the doors and windows. In the galley kitchen, he looked for the knives and forks, opening multiple drawers and slamming them. He ran his hands over the counters and ducked into the fridge. When he emerged with a beer in his hand, Rey snatched it, frowning. “You’re not supposed to drink.”

“I’m a grown man.” Ben informed her. He took the beer back and cracked it open with emphasis. “I’ll drink beer and… and have sex with my fiancée, if I want.” He almost sounded as if he’d nearly lost his nerve, when he tagged that last phrase on.

“You have a traumatic brain injury.” Rey tried to sound stern. She tried to emulate Leia. Ben kept his eyes on her as he took a deep draw of beer, his throat bobbing. “You’re not supposed to be… bouncing around.”

“I’ll lay very still.” His lips twitched, and he licked a drop of beer off of them. His voice dropped, enticingly. “And you can do all of the… bouncing.”

Rey blinked. The blatancy of his proposition stunned her, considering they’d only shared one kiss, and a few, slightly nervous, perfunctory hello-and-goodbye pecks. It took her a moment to respond to it. “No! Your ribs are cracked.”

Ben reached for her belt loop and tugged it, pulling her hips towards his, with his free hand. He batted his lashes at her, innocently. “Blow job?”

“No!” Rey almost screeched the word. “You’re supposed to be in bed.”

“You can give me a blow job in bed.” Ben whined, following her out of the kitchen. “Please?”

Rey whirled around, and they almost collided. She planted her hand in the middle of his chest to stop him, and he loomed over her. “Asking nicely will get you nowhere.”

Ben cocked his head to the side. “Please, sweetheart?”

“Neither will calling me sweetheart.” Rey felt her resistance crumble, a tiny bit, when he used that pet name, and she knew she needed to end this argument before she lost it. “Get in bed.”

Ben pouted. “I smell like a hospital.”

No, he didn’t, Rey thought to herself. He smelled masculine and clean and… enticing. He was still standing very close. She cleared her throat. “Then take a shower.”

***

“Rey!”

Rey jumped when she heard her name. She was perched on the edge of the sofa, planning her escape. It was too suspicious to slip out while he was in the shower; she’d make an excuse and leave once he was in bed. Which excuse he’d accept, she wasn’t sure, since his stubbornness knew no bounds.

“Come here!” Ben called again, from the bedroom. He waited a beat, and then added, sarcastically, “I swear I’m not naked.”

Ben was telling the truth, though he very nearly was naked. His long, hairy legs stretched out on the mattress. He was propped up against the pillows, and a small, soft pouch of fat settled in the bend of his stomach. His hair was wet. He was on top of the covers and sheets, wearing nothing but underwear and reading glasses. There was an open book perched on his thighs. “I’m trying to find my place.”

“What?” Rey stood in the doorway, feeling an odd reluctance to intrude on this scene.

He turned the book over and showed her the cover. Crime and Punishment. “I don’t remember what page I was on.”

Rey eyed the thick spine. “You’ll have to start over from the beginning.” 

Ben’s gaze flickered over her. His voice was weighted down with more meaning than she’d anticipated when he responded, “I don’t mind.” He closed the book, gently, and rested it on his stomach. Looking at her over the tops of his glasses, he asked, “Come to bed?”

Rey felt her stomach tighten. “I was going to go back to my place.”

“Come to bed.” This time, it wasn’t a question.

“I don’t have any pajamas.” She bleated, feebly.

“Good.” Ben smiled. He gestured down at his bare legs.

“Nice panties, by the way.” Rey made an attempt at humor to disguise her rush of panic, and to distract him from his single-minded stubbornness.

“I could say the same.” Ben rummaged in the sheets, and then lifted up a long finger. Dangling from it was a pair of her panties – red, lacy ones. The ones she'd planted in his drawer. “Are you wearing anything this sexy right now?”

“No.” Rey answered, honestly. She was wearing plain white briefs. She hadn’t been planning on anyone seeing them, least of all Ben.

Ben bunched up the underwear in his fist. “What are you wearing?”

“Very unsexy underwear.” Maybe that would deter him.

“I doubt that.” Ben bent an arm behind his head, her panties still clenched in his fist. His legs sprawled out, comfortably, as if he had no shame – he didn’t, after all. The book on his belly moved up and down as he breathed. He took off his glasses, and she surmised that he was far-sighted. “Let me see.”

 “They’re really not sexy.” Her voice wavered. She wished he was nearsighted, instead.

“I was right. You do have intimacy issues.” He said it like a dare.

Rey narrowed her eyes at him. He didn’t blink. He stared her down, shamelessly, and she had the feeling he would stare at her naked body just as shamelessly if she took off her clothes. And he was right – she did take issue with that. It was too intimate.

Damn him.

Rey turned away, bracing herself on the edge of the dresser for a moment. She might have intimacy issues, but she wasn’t one to beg off a challenge, or turn down a dare. She didn’t know when to say when – that was abundantly clear, considering that a few weeks ago, she’d told a stupid lie, and now she was in Ben Solo’s bedroom.

Fumbling under the hem of her shirt, Rey unbuttoned her jeans and unzipped them. The sound of the zipper was very loud in the bedroom. Ben exhaled, behind her, and then it was totally silent as she shimmied the denim over her bottom and hips, and to her knees. It puddled around her feet, and she stepped out of it.

Rey could all but feel his gaze, as if he was counting each vertebrae, when she pulled her shirt off over her head. She heard a soft noise, one that sounded like it had come from the back of his throat, when she tossed it on the ground. Her clothes comingled with his there, as if they’d been torn off in the throes of passion.

“Sweetheart.” Ben repeated himself, again, with the utmost patience. He didn’t quite play fair, using that word. He isolated each word, for emphasis, the timbre of his voice dropping with each one. “Come. To. Bed.”

Rey turned around, pressing her arms to her sides to stop herself from covering the crotch of her thin white panties and the worn straps of her cheap black bra. Ben braced himself on one elbow and crooked a finger at her. He didn’t repeat himself, and from the look on his face, he wouldn’t take no for an answer.

Rey stood stock still for a second, paralyzed by discomfort, and then sunk down and grabbed his t-shirt. She yanked it over her head, inhaling the scent of him. The smell was oddly comforting, in and of itself. She told herself she was only comforted because she was covered – from her shoulders to the tops of her thighs, at least.

Mollified, Rey crawled onto the mattress, carefully. She perching on the edge of the bed and kept her thighs tightly pressed together. She leaned back on her heels, trying to contain herself in the smallest space possible.

By contrast, Ben spread out even further. He separated his legs more, and, slowly, pointedly, patted the mattress in-between his knees. He waited until she inched forward on her knees, and knelt between his. Then, he reached out and played with the hem of his t-shirt. “You really do look cute when you’re embarrassed. And you look even cuter in my clothes.”

“I’m not embarrassed.” Rey squeaked. The character she was playing – his fiancée – wouldn’t be, after all. She’d be comfortable undressing in front of him. She’d be comfortable in his bed.

Ben arched his brow, as if he didn’t believe her, and hoisted himself off the pillows. He sat up, and rested his elbows on his thighs, hunching towards her. Rey found herself staring at his lips. “Spooning?”

“What?” Rey asked, her voice embarrassingly breathy. She’d half-expected him to kiss her again, really kiss her. Not a peck. A proper kiss. She wanted him to. If they got a little carried away – and they would, without heart rate monitors and nurses to supervise them – then so be it.

“Spooning?” Ben repeated. “Back to back? Pillow wall in between us?”

“Oh.” Rey laughed, awkwardly, running her hand through her hair. The moment, and all of its sexual energy, was lost. Ben patted other side of the bed – ostensibly, her side of the bed. “I sleep on my stomach. On that side of the bed.”

“No cuddling?” He sounded almost as if he found her obstinacy as endearing as she found his annoying.

“I’m British.” Rey flushed. “We’re not… cuddlers.”

Ben snorted, looked as if he was going to argue with her, and then just shook her head. The last look he gave her before he turned off the bedside lamp was bemused. Rey scrambled under the covers in the dark, flinching when her bare legs brushed his.

***

It might have been minutes later, or hours later, when Rey spoke into the darkness.

“I do have… intimacy issues.” It was easier to admit that, in the dark. It was even easier when she was sure he was already asleep. She felt him, just inches away. His weight made the mattress shift and creak. His breathing was steady and slow. It was an oddly excruciating torture to be so close to him, but not to touch him. “I grew up in children’s homes or foster homes. Nobody hugged or kissed me, or paid any attention to me. My friends came and went because I changed schools so much. And boys didn’t like me. I had spots and a flat chest.”

It was silent, and Rey was almost relieved. He was asleep, after all.

“I like you.” Ben wasn’t asleep, and he didn’t seem surprised that she wasn’t, either. His voice was a low, sleepy rumble. His hands fumbled around under the covers for a moment, groping at her. Somehow, though, despite his advances and inappropriate jokes, Ben’s hands weren’t lecherous. When they found purchase on her shoulders, he tugged her towards him, tucking her against his chest. He pressed a soft, dry kiss to her scalp. “I like you, and I must have loved you, before the accident." He kissed her head, again. His voice was thick with sleepiness and painkillers. "I think I probably will again."

Chapter Text

Ben’s windows were doubled-paned and he had air conditioning. Both, little luxuries in New York. Those amenities stifled the noise of the city – as much as they could, on a weekday – and Rey slept in. Normally, she woke up to the insistent buzzing of her cheap, plastic alarm clock. She slammed it off with unnecessary force and it flew across her tiny apartment. She associated the smell of it with coffee and hash browns and flickering neon lights – time for work.

In a sense, then, she didn’t quite realize she wasn’t still asleep when something warm and wet touched the side of her neck, right below her ear. She squirmed it off, scrunching up her face. It persisted, tickling her, tracing the shell of her ear and the soft, untouched skin behind it.

She was aware of a moist, smacking little noise between each tickle. Her efforts to evade the tickles were met with something twining around her waist like a snake, warm and muscular. Left with no escape, she grumbled, in protest, “Mmph.”

A chuckle tickled her jawline. “Good morning.”

And then, Rey knew she was awake. Stupidly, the first thing that she thought was: I’ve overslept my alarm. The second was: I’m in bed with Ben.

The third: Ben is kissing my neck.

Rey jolted upright, her limbs akimbo in panic. She wasn’t sure what she heard first, Ben’s grunt of pain, or the unmistakable thwack of her bony elbow colliding with his cartilage and soft tissue.

“Fuck!” Ben cupped his nose, recoiling from her. Again, louder, he snapped, “Fuck!”

“I’m sorry, I’m so sorry.” Rey scrambled for the sheets, feeling overwhelmingly guilty, about falling asleep in his bed, waking up in arms, and elbowing him in the face.

Ben scowled at her behind his fingers. “I know you said you’re not a cuddler, but Jesus – ”

Cheerily – almost too cheerily, for first thing in the morning – Ben’s phone began to vibrate and ring, scooting itself across his bedside table. Still pinching the bridge of his nose, Ben reached for the phone with his other hand. He glanced at the glassy, flat screen, threw Rey an inscrutable look, and then answered the call, flopping flat on his back on the mattress.

“Mom?”

“How are you feeling?” Leia’s voice sounded fuzzy and far-away through the phone. She skipped all niceties.

Ben rested his chin on his breastbone, craning his neck to look down the length of his body. Rey’s gaze followed his. The sheets were tented up between his hip-bones. In her horror at smacking his nose, Rey hadn’t had the chance to notice his first-thing-in-the-morning erection and be horrified by it. He looked over at Rey, his lips twitching, as if he knew she was. “I think Rey broke my nose, but otherwise, good.”

“How did she – never mind, I don’t want to know. Are you in bed?” Leia crackled.

“I thought you didn’t want to know?” Ben snarked, readjusting his head on the pillow, folding an arm behind it. Rey found her eyes drawn to the way the cord of muscle along his bicep strained and bunched as he did that.

“I made some soup.” Leia buzzed, through the receiver. “Do you want me to come check on –”

“No.” Ben answered, flatly.

“I – ”

 “Don’t come over.” He told her.

“Oh.” Leia paused, and the line crackled, as if she’d exhaled heavily onto the mouthpiece of her phone. “Oh. Give Rey the phone.”

“Don’t tell her I stayed the night.” Rey hissed, scooting away as if the phone would burn her.

Ben started to hand her the phone, and then seemed to think better of it. He punched the speakerphone button. “You’re on speaker, Mom.”

Rey buried her head in her hands, rolling onto her stomach. She forgot, momentarily, that her borrowed t-shirt had ridden up, and that her bottom was upturned and exposed.

“Rey, is Ben behaving?” Leia asked, a little too loudly.

Ben, for his part, seemed fascinated by something. He propped himself up on his elbow and craned his neck. Rey realized what it was he was staring at – and flinched – when he and reached over tugged the hem of her t-shirt up. He examined the elastic waist-band of her panties, and the way the frayed edges of them bisected the cheeks of her ass. With Leia on speakerphone, she couldn’t retaliate. No. Definitely not behaving. “Yes.”

“Is his nose really broken?”

Leaning over and moving his hand up the back of the large, worn t-shirt, Ben kissed the round of her shoulder. His nose smushed inelegantly against her neck as his kisses – messy, wet tickles – traversed from the edge of her shoulder to the crook of her neck.

“His nose isn’t broken.” Rey tried to squirm away when he traced her hip under the fabric of her underwear, his thumb hooking under it and crossing the mound of her bottom. His nail scratched her lightly, and she gave him a dirty look over her shoulder. “But breaking it would probably be an improvement.”

Ben laughed, low in his chest. His tongue darted out and into her ear, making her bite back an undignified noise that was half-surprised, half-disgusted, and perhaps, a little turned-on.

“Are you sure you don’t want me to bring over some soup?”

Ben shook his head, vehemently. Mercilessly, Rey responded, “I have to go to work in an hour or two, why don’t you come keep him company?”

Ben made a face.

“Perfect.” Leia’s voice warmed. “Thank you, sweetie.” The way she said thank you made Rey wonder if Ben had ever invited his mother to his apartment. Judging from his disgruntled expression, he hadn’t.

When the line clicked and went silent, Ben asked her, skeptically, “You invited my mother over?”

“You told her I broke your nose?” Rey shot back, rolling over and away from his wandering hands. She swung her legs off of the mattress and steeled herself for the inevitability that when she stood up, he’d get a good long look at her bare legs.

Ben grinned, devilishly, at that, his ire forgotten. “She probably assumed the headboard broke my nose, not you.”

Completely at a loss to respond to that, Rey changed the topic, lamely, “I’m going to take a shower.” She stood up and tried not to walk too quickly – so she wouldn’t look too self-conscious – to the bathroom.

“Rey.” When she turned, Ben was sitting up, his feet on the floor.  He tapped a long finger, exaggeratedly, against the side of his nose. “Kiss it and make it better.”

“What?”

“Kiss it.” Ben explained. “My nose.”

Rey paused, weighing her options. He was baiting her. She could play along and beat him at his own game, or give him the satisfaction of making her uncomfortable – and risk exposing the truth.

Rolling her eyes, Rey strode over to the bed, bent – not far, because even sitting, he was still enormously tall – and kissed the side of his nose, gently. She didn’t need to be nervous and clumsy and accidentally head-butt him, actually breaking it.

“Any other boo-boos?” She asked, sarcastically.

Without blinking – or grinning, though she suspected he wanted to – Ben touched the tip of his index finger to his lips.

Rey looked at them. They were pillowed and pink, altogether too pretty for a man’s lips. She tilted forwards, balancing herself with one hand on his shoulder, and kissed them, chastely.

To her surprise, he didn’t try to make the kiss anything but chaste. He let her kiss him and then withdraw, modestly.

“And here.” Ben touched his neck. Emboldened by his restraint, Rey pressed her lips to that spot, her tightening grip on his shoulder the only sign – she hoped – that her heartbeat was quickening and her cheeks felt hot

“Here.” The notch where his collarbones came together. That spot tasted sweet and a little salty. She lingered, her tongue filling the little divot.

Wordlessly, Ben touched the pad of his finger to his chest, just left of his nipple. She kissed that place, and felt his heartbeat thud against her lips. His was faster than it should be, just like hers.

Then, his navel. It was soft and clean-smelling, and Rey had the oddest urge to nuzzle her nose into it, into the only part of him that was soft. She had to sink almost to her knees to do it. When she’d done it, she leaned back on her heels, and looked up at him.

Ben hesitated, rubbing his index finger against the pad of his thumb.

“Anywhere else?” She wasn’t sure why she asked. She was asking for trouble. She was asking for him to reach into his black briefs and ask her to kiss his cock. That kiss, she knew, wouldn’t be chaste and dry.

His hand settled around the back of her neck, and for a dizzying moment, she thought he was going to draw her between his knees and show her where he wanted to be kissed. Instead, he tilted her face upwards, bent towards her, and kissed her mouth.

She’d been right. It was a distinctly unchaste kiss.

***

Ben’s shower was a marvel of engineering. It was a slick-walled marble temple, heady with steam and expensive smelling shampoo. Rey basked in it. She stalled, if she was honest with herself.

When she could stall no more, she put her dirty clothes back on. She had clean underwear, just steps away. She wasn’t brave enough to fetch it in just a towel – and she didn’t trust herself enough.

She’d half-expected her bad patient to be on his feet, when she went back into the bedroom. He wasn’t. He was on his back, in bed, sprawled out. For a moment, she thought he was asleep.

But his breathing was much too ragged for that.

Ben was touching himself, purposefully, but not hurriedly – not as if he was afraid she would walk in on him. In fact, he craned his neck to look up at her, his mouth hanging half-open as his right hand worked up and down. “Hi.”

“I… uh, hi.” Rey blurted back. She felt her cheeks heat, unable to tear her gaze away from his hand. It was like watching a car wreck. A beautifully pink, veined car wreck, with a rounded, ruddy head – she shook herself out of it, physically jerking her head back and forth to clear her head. “What are you doing?”

“It’s almost impossible to jerk off in a hospital.” Ben told her, not altering his rhythm. “Nurses everywhere.”

“But.” Rey stopped short, when she saw a little bead of precum glisten between his fingers at the farthest point of his upward stroke. It occurred to her that this – her standing there, shocked – was turning him on. She stated the obvious, anyways. “I’m right here.”

Ben shortened his stroke, suddenly, twisted his hand around the head of his cock and stopping it for a second. He looked down at himself, breaking eye contact. “I wish you were right here.”

Rey hesitated for a second, and then moved purposefully towards the bed. Ben’s eyes widened, as if he thought for a moment, that his wish was granted. She wasn’t going to, although the idea of tugging down her jeans, moving the unsexy white panties to the side, and sliding slowly down onto the swollen, perfectly erect appendage, her thighs framing his hips and trapping him as she rode him, was surprisingly tempting. It was something she might think about, later, when she was alone and she shoved her hand into the unsexy panties.

Instead, Rey grabbed a stray pillow from the foot of the bed, and threw it at his face. Ben had to let go of his cock to catch it.

He bounded off the bed, stark naked, penis jutting towards her as aggressively as he was moving. Rey froze like a deer in headlights, and before she could unfreeze, he’d caught her. “Ben!”

With barely a grunt, and no ceremony at all, he picked her up, took three quick steps, and slung her onto the bed. “Ben!”

“Keep saying that.” Ben knelt over her. “You can throw in a few fuck yes’s and you’re so good’s.” Rey laughed despite herself. His weight seemed to crush the laugh out of her lungs. “And finish up with I’m going to come.”

“You are, without a doubt, the worst patient, ever.” Rey told him, trying to be stern. His cock was edging under them hem of the borrowed shirt, leaving a damp, tickly spot on her abdomen.

Ben’s eyes were very bright. “We can do that, if you want.” He shifted his hips above hers, and the wet head of his cock moved against her belly. “You be the nurse. I’ll be the bad patient.”

“Ben.” Rey tried to laugh, and failed. She remembered that he’d asked her to keep saying his name, and stubbornly, out of spite, closed her mouth tightly. If that was all she could seem to say, then she wouldn’t say anything at all.

Ben’s hand caught hers, and dragged it down his belly. “You come in to check on me. Adjust my blankets.” He pressed her palm, inelegantly, to his erection. “And you feel this.”

Rey swallowed hard, and, despite herself, adjusted her hand so that it wasn’t just pressed up against his member. She wrapped it around his member, her little fingers straining to circle the appendage and slipping down to its even thicker root.

“I was lying there, thinking about you.” Something changed in Ben’s voice – something told her he wasn’t just teasing, or talking dirty. “I really was. I thought about you all the time.”

“What…” Rey moistened her lips. Part of her – the immoral, curious part – needed to know what, specifically, he thought about her. She rubbed her thighs together, almost unconsciously. They felt sticky, and unsexy or not, her underwear was soaked. “What – ”

His phone rang again – no, her phone. The ringtone was different. It was a particular ringtone she’d assigned to a caller. Rey scrambled out from under Ben and across the mattress, feeling as if she’d been caught by the closest thing she had to a disapproving older brother, and snatched up the cell phone. “Finn?”

“Peanut?”

“Who’s Peanut?” Ben asked, the tone of his voice entirely changed. It was harsher now, and deeper. “And who’s Finn?”

Rey scrambled to her feet, her face flushing. She cut Finn off, before he could say something that she couldn’t explain away. “Finn, give me one second.”

Ben’s eyes narrowed. “Tell him it’s not a good time.”

“One second.” Rey repeated herself. She wasn’t sure whether she was addressing Ben or Finn. The latter asked why, nervously, and the former made a soft, dangerous, annoyed noise as she fled. In the bathroom, Rey turned on the faucet. She didn’t put it past Ben to listen by the door. There had been something bizarrely posessive about his pointed questions when she'd taken Finn's call - well, not totally bizarre, if they were supposed to be engaged. Unsettling, none the less. She perched on the toilet and said, “Finn?”

“Where are you?”

Rey fidgeted. “Ben’s bathroom.”

“Oh.” Finn dragged out the syllable, with what sounded like both delight and horror. “Peanut.”

Chapter Text

Ben was hovering at the bathroom door when she emerged, guiltily. She wasn’t quite sure why she felt guilty – her relationship with Finn was platonic, and her relationship with Ben was, well, fictional. He was dressed, his hands planted on his jeans-clad hips. It was an accusatory stance, one she imagined parents assumed when their teenagers stayed out late.

“I guess you don’t have as much of a one-track mind as I thought.” Rey joked, lamely. She’d half-expected him to still be naked.

Ben ignored the attempt at humor. He readjusted his hands on his waist. “Who’s Finn, and why does he call you Peanut?”

“Never mind, you do.” Rey sighed. “Finn is a friend. Peanut is a nickname.”

“It’s a pet name.” Ben answered, shortly.

“That’s the same thing.” Rey creased her brow, confused by the distinction.

“No, it’s not.” Patronization crept into Ben’s tone. “Ben is a nickname. It’s short for Benjamin. Peanut is a pet name. Like sweetheart.” He spat the word out.

Rey’s mouth opened and closed several times, in rapid succession. “It’s not like sweetheart. It’s… it’s platonic.”

“It’s… it’s an inside joke, isn’t it?” Ben sputtered. “Something I wouldn’t get.”

“I… yes.” Rey stopped short. “Why does it matter?”

“Because sweetheart isn’t like that.” Ben looked equal parts angry at her and at himself. “We don’t have inside jokes. I don’t call you some… some pet name that nobody else would understand.” They were silent for a moment, and then he added, sounding as if he’d given up, “Or maybe we did. And I just can’t remember.”

“Ben.” Rey felt the knot of guilt in her gut twist tighter. It was impossible to be indignant or defensive when he looked so defeated. She ought to tell him the truth – the real reason he couldn’t remember her. “I – ”

 “We were about to have sex.” Ben barged on, as if he was embarrassed by showing any emotion other than anger or jealousy. “You shouldn’t have even picked up the phone.”

Now, she could be indignant again. She’d been sorely tempted, but she could lie to herself – and to him – and deny that they’d been headed down that road.  “We were not about to have sex.”

“Yes, we were.” Ben’s rebuttal brooked no argument. Rey got the sense that if that fateful phone call hadn’t come, he wouldn’t have let still-healing ribs or a traumatic brain injury stop him. He crowded towards her, and she was suddenly aware of how large he was. “And then Finn called.”

“Is that why you’re angry?” Rey couldn’t help the exasperation that crept into her voice. “Because we didn’t have sex?”

“I’m angry because you left me in bed and hid in the bathroom to talk to him!” Ben exploded.  “Anything you have to say to him, you can say in front of me.”

“No, I can’t!” It was the truth – although not in the sense that he understood it.

“Is that why you won’t move in with me?” Ben looked as if he’d just realized something. “Because you’re keeping secrets from me?”

Rey didn’t even realize that he was standing altogether too close to her, or that she was reaching out, until she shoved his chest, ineffectually, to get him away from her. She was so shocked by his transformation from awkward and charming to irrational and aggressive that she didn’t recognize that this was the point of no return. She was keeping secrets – or one secret, rather – and this was her chance to end it all.

The doorbell rang. After a long moment, Ben said, sounding no less hostile, “You had to invite my fucking mother over, didn’t you, peanut?

The endearment was flung out like a barb. Rey flinched. “Don’t call me that.”

“Why not? It actually means something.” Ben threw the last words over his shoulder. “Unlike sweetheart.”

“Sweetheart does mean something to me.” Rey said, softly. Ben was already answering the door, pretending he was fine, pretending they were fine. She was almost sure he didn’t hear her.

***

When Rey’s shift ended, at nine in the evening, she was too tired to be angry anymore. She knew she ought to go back to Ben’s apartment. That, and he’d probably hurt himself, left alone.

She should go to his apartment, confess that she was keeping secrets, she was hiding things from him, and that she was sorry. She went to her apartment instead. 

When she’d made it past the sticky lock installed in the building’s door, crept past the creepy super’s office, and up the four flights of stairs, she stopped short. Ben was standing outside her door, pacing back and forth. He was too tall and broad for the low-ceilinged, narrow hallway. In one of his hands was a folded cardboard box, and in the other, a bouquet.

Rey bought herself flowers from time to time – just because she liked them – and she always sought out the cheapest bouquets. These bouquets were small and homogenous, made up of all of the same, simple bloom. The extravagant bouquet, held carelessly in his left hand, must have cost fifty or sixty dollars.

“What are those for?” Rey asked, lamely. It felt trite to say hello, so she didn’t.

“To apologize.” Ben wouldn’t quite look her in the eye. He sounded gruff, still, as if his throat was sore.

“And what is that for?” She gestured to the box.

Ben lifted it up, gesturing with it. “I thought I’d help you pack the first box.”

“Oh.” Rey fiddled with her key, nervously.

“To move in with me.” Ben clarified, as if she wasn’t quite bright, or as if he hadn’t been quite clear. “The flowers were my mom’s idea. The box was my idea.”

Rey smiled, despite herself. “I just worked a twelve-hour shift. I’m kind of tired.” 

Ben gave her a crooked, cajoling grin. “Just one box.”

***

Rey decided to put her books in the box. It had the appropriate dimensions to fit them all. She had a collection of exactly seventeen books. They were lined up on her windowsill, neatly. Ben passed them to her, sitting by her makeshift shelf and offering commentary on each title as he passed it down to her where she sat on the floor, the box in between her legs.

“I only kept my favorites.” Rey explained, when she’d repeated the words that’s my favorite four times.

Ben cocked his head at her. “What?”

“I moved from foster home to foster home.” Rey explained, pretending to rearrange the books on the bottom of the cardboard box, to avoid making eye contact. “I only got to bring a backpack and sometimes a garbage bag with me. So I only kept my favorite books.”

Ben weighed the next book in his hand, as if he was looking at it in a new light. “Why is this one your favorite?”

“Because it’s about a woman who lives life on her own terms.” Rey took Pride and Prejudice from him, and packed it. “And she still gets a happy ending.”

Ben hummed softly, picked up the next book, and flipped open it’s cover. “You stole this one from the library, I see.”

“I was naughty.” Rey admitted.

Ben’s lips quirked. “I hope you still are.”

Rey flushed. She’d lived in America long enough to know that connotation that word had amongst Americans, and she’d known Ben long enough to know he couldn’t resist the opportunity to needle her. “I don’t mean like that. English people – ”

“I know.” Ben took the last book down, and handed it to her. He took out the roll of tape and started to pick at it, looking for the end of it. Rey felt an odd reluctance to tape up the box and pack away her most constant companions.

“Reading helped me escape.” Rey heard herself saying, as she traced the corrugated edge of the cardboard flaps. “Helped me imagine all of the places I would go.”

Ben stood up with a little huff, and took her light-up globe off of her bedside table. She used it, alternately, as a night-light, a lamp, a dream-catcher. He examined it, spinning it gently. “Where do you want to go?”

“Everywhere.” Rey said, wistfully. “I used to pick a spot on that globe and imagine what it would be like, there.”

Ben played with globe, twirling it around faster with his fingers. “Where do you want to go for our honeymoon?”

“Florence.” Rey responded, automatically. She’d imagined it, already, after all. They’d bask in the Tuscan sun, eat pizza and pasta without regard for calories, and make love with the windows open, during the day.

Ben found Italy on the glob and examined it. Then, without comment, he set the globe down, and then knelt and taped the box. She’d half expected him to ask why she’d picked that city, but he didn’t. He tore the tape, and smoothed down the loose end, and then lifted the box of books, testing its heft. “See? That wasn’t so hard. One box at a time.”

Rey laughed, awkwardly, climbing to her feet, as he moved towards the doorway. “Where are you taking my stuff?”

“Back to my place.” Ben turned back to her. He didn’t set the box down, as if he could lure her with it. “One box at a time.”

Rey tucked her hair behind her ear, nervously, and thought about his ribs. “You’re going to carry that all the way back to your apartment?”

Ben gave her an oddly hopeful look. He shifted the box in his arms. “Or you can carry it.”

***

Ben didn’t let her carry the box – citing his mother, and saying she’d kill him if he did. They walked in companionable silence under the streetlights. Every block or so, Rey offered to take the box, and Ben refused.

When they were seven blocks from his apartment, Ben said, his breath creating clouds in the night air, adjusting the box in his arms, “Tell me about our first fight.”

“What do you want to know?” In all of her fantasizing, this wasn’t something Rey had dreamed up. Of course she hadn’t – she’d idealized him. She’d created an ideal relationship in her head.

“What started it? Who started it?”

“You.” Ben laughed, and didn’t protest. He hadn’t been exaggerated when he said he was the jealous type, or rather, the possessive type, so Rey drew on that. “And my building super.”

“Mr. Plutt?” Ben interjected. “He asked me why I was loitering outside your door.”

“What did you say?” Rey asked, dreading the answer.

“That you’re my fiancé, and that it was none of his goddamn business.” Ben gave her an odd look over the top of the box. “Why did we have a fight about him?”

“You thought he was too friendly.” Rey fabricated. It wasn’t a stretch – Unkar Plutt was too friendly. “And I wouldn’t let you beat him up.”

Ben barked out a laugh. Surely he was picturing Plutt – greasy, overweight, balding in his mid-thirties, and wondering why Rey would defend him. “He’s…”

“He knows I don’t have a green card.” Rey toed the sidewalk. "I have to stay on his good side."

“Did I apologize?” Ben asked, frankly, after a moment.

“No.” Rey laughed. “You’re not good at that.”

“I apologized, this time.” Ben said, sounding disgruntled.

“You brought flowers.” Rey pointed out. “That’s not the same thing.”

“I’m sorry.” Ben stopped, making her turn to face him on the sidewalk. He looked very serious. “I overreacted.”

Rey felt something heavy settle in her stomach. It felt wrong to accept his apology. “Ben, I – ”

“It’s hard for me to trust you, when I feel like I don’t know you.” Ben struggled for a second, his voice raw. “So – so many things drive me crazy. I don’t know how many guys there were before me. I don’t know your friends. You won’t wear a ring. You don’t live with me.”

“I’m sorry.” Rey managed, through chapped lips. She wanted to be able to say you can trust me, but she couldn’t. Because he couldn’t. That, and she knew, intellectually, that if he were really engaged to her, it would make a certain sense for him to react the way he had. She hadn't been thinking like an engaged woman when she'd taken Finn's call, left Ben alone in bed, and hid in the bathroom. She hadn't thought about how it would look to Ben, or how it would make him feel. 

“I want to meet him.” Ben went on. “If he’s important to you.”

“You mean you want to size him up.” Rey supplied.

Ben looked down at the cardboard box in his arms to hide his smile. “And I want you to wear a ring. Preferably one visible from space.”

For some reason, the idea of Ben spending money on a ring – an expensive ring – was where Rey drew the line. Her moral compunctions reared up. “I don’t like jewelry. Especially not… flashy jewelry.”

“If you go ring shopping with me, I could be persuaded to buy a plain band.” Ben’s mouth twitched. “If you’re going to be stubborn, I will be, too. Two carats. Minimum.”

For some reason, a plain band – like a wedding band – seemed even more intimate. Rey shuddered.

“How did we make up?” Ben changed the topic, as they approached his building. “The first time we had a fight. Obviously, I didn’t buy you jewelry.”

Rey smiled down at her feet. That, she could imagine. Ben was a single-minded, passionate man in all ways. “You know how.”

Ben grinned, almost as if he was pleased with himself. “Make up sex?”

They were at the stoop. The doorman was just inside the glass door, waiting for them. For some reason, Ben hesitated. He shifted the box, as if, were he not holding it, he would reach for her.  “Do you want to do that, tonight?”

“I thought we already made up.” Rey didn’t answer the question, because she wasn’t sure of the answer. No – she knew she wanted to. She wasn’t sure if she should.

 “I take back what I said. I’m not sorry.” Ben said, straight-faced. When Rey laughed, startled, he went on, bending to set down the box. “I mean it. I don’t want to be his friend. I still want to kick his ass. I want you all to myself.” He took a step forward, and rested his hands on her hips, feather-lightly. He looked her up and down. “Now let’s go upstairs and make up.”

 

 

Chapter Text

There were no lights on in Ben’s apartment when the lock clicked behind them. Rey stood, awkwardly, by the door, not quite sure where the light switches were. She heard Ben set the box down, and she almost tripped on it.

“Easy.” In the dark, Ben steadied her on her feet, his hands a reassuring brace on her ribs. Then, he kissed her, wrapping his arms slowly around her body and hunching over her. Rey felt her back bend to accommodate his height, and thought it might break, along with her resolve.

“Ben…” She realized she said his name a lot, with varying degrees of helplessness. She felt helpless around him. Helpless to tell the truth.

“Stay right there.” His voice was husky and she felt the words against her lips, rather than heard them. He disappeared in the dark, and Rey toed the box, nervously.

A lamp flickered to life across the room.

Rey expected him to cross the room to her in three long steps. She half-expected him to pick her up, toss her over his shoulder, and take her off to bed. It seemed par for the course. He didn’t. He stood across the room, regarding her. His eyes were very dark in the lamp’s glow.

“There’s something about the first time.” His eyes moved down her body, exquisitely slowly. He took  a step forward, leisurely. Rey had the distinct impression of being stalked by a large cat. “Not when it’s the first and only time. When it’s the first time and you know you’re going to keep having sex with that person. You might even fall in love with them.” His hand found her arm, and ran up and down it, very lightly. His eyes flickered to hers, a question in them. “There’s something about that.”

Rey knew what his next question was before he asked it. Her breathing shallowed. He’d asked about her favorite foods. Her least favorite type of music. Her pet peeves. Their pet names. Their first date. Their first kiss. Their first fight.

“Tell me about our first time.”

“It was awkward.” Rey tried to crack a joke; her voice cracked, instead.

Ben smiled at the floor. He rested his hand on her hip, his thumb playing with its arc. “Were you on top?”

“You were on top.” He would be; there was something dominant and primal about him, even if he seemed fully domesticated, with reading glasses and dress shoes.

“Lights on or off?”

Rey’s eyes flickered to the lamp. He’d turned it on so he could see her – that supplied her answer. “On.”

“Did you come?” He was looking, very intently, at her mouth.

“Yes.” That was an easy one; she felt like she might the second he touched her. Heat was curling up from her belly into her chest and down into her groin.

He half-smiled. “More than once?”

“No.” Rey decided to keep his ego in check, at least a little bit.

Now, a whole smile. “You will tonight.”

Rey tried to think of a clever retort – he was being awfully cocky – but she couldn’t. For one part, she was having trouble thinking at all. That, and she had the feeling he would make good on his promise, if she let him.

His finger crooked, like a fishing hook, in the front of her jeans. The button strained against it. “The first time, were you wearing your unsexy panties?”

“Yes.” Rey watched, with something akin to numb fascination, as he flicked the button open. Her panties – the sexy ones, they’d been all she’d left at his apartment – peeked out, in all their purple glory. “I wasn’t planning on sleeping with you on the second date.”

Ben nudged the zipper down. His breath was very warm on her neck. “Why did you?”

Rey knew the answer to the question. “You make me make bad choices.” She tilted her chin up. “Bad choices like this.”

It was the first time she’d kissed him; she was almost as surprised at herself as he was. It was a bad choice, but it felt good. His hands winding around the small of her back and then gliding over her bottom felt good. His tongue in-between her lips felt good.

 “Were we drunk?” Ben asked, against the sensitive skin of her neck.

“No.” Rey felt quite intoxicated enough. Her knees shook as if she’d run a hundred miles.

“Did you spend the night?” His fingers curled up between her thighs, making her nerves prick.

“We – we were at my place.” Rey stuttered. His handsiness hadn’t been lost on her over the past two days. It had made her nervous. Tonight was no exception.

Where at your place?” The question was hot through the fabric of her shirt. His hand spread out all of the way, somehow large enough to catch each cheek of her bottom and the crease under her thighs.

“On the couch.”

Ben pulled back, his hands settling, much more respectably, on her waist. Rey was sorry to see them go. “Do you want to get on the couch?”

He waited, more patiently than she’d ever thought he could, for her answer. It wasn’t the ultimate question – did she want to have sex? – but they both understood it as a proxy.

This, Rey knew, was one of those bad choices she’d spoken of. It felt like an inevitable one. All of her choices over the past weeks had led her to this moment. She couldn’t back out now, not with the way Ben was looking at her. She’d lied, at first, because of a ridiculous crush. Then, she’d lied because she’d wanted a family. Now, she was lying because she wanted to be wanted. Ben was looking at her like she was wanted, unequivocally. As if she wasn’t in his arms under false pretenses.  

Rey’s conscience was no match for that. She glanced at the couch, looked back at him, and said, “No, but you can take me to bed.”

***

Rey didn’t let Ben carry her to bed, batting his hands away when he tried. “Your ribs.”

“I promise.” He chased her, groping gently at her as she twisted and flitted away from him. When she crawled onto the bed and towards the headboard, he followed her. “If you re-fracture my ribs or concuss me, I won’t tell the doctor how you did it.”

Rey laughed, covering her mouth with her hands. He grabbed her wrists and pulled them away from her mouth, so he could kiss her on the lips. “You won’t tell your parents, either?”

“Oh, no, I’ll tell them.” Ben grinned, sitting back on his heels at the foot of the bed. “My dad will get a kick out of it.” Rey screwed her up face at him. He leaned forward, braced on one arm, and kissed her scrunched up skin, smoothing it out. “You really are very cute when you’re embarrassed.”

“You need a haircut.” Rey told him, trying to change the subject and reaching out to play with the hair that was falling in his face. It seemed like something a fiancé would do – say something mundane during sex.

Surprisingly, that didn’t seem to annoy Ben. His expression was oddly affectionate, as if she’d said something sweet and tender. He tugged at the ankles of her jeans, pulling them down, and, with a little squeak, Rey reached for the headboard so that he didn’t pull her down the mattress, part and parcel with them.  

Bravery – or foolhardiness – led Rey to point the tip of her left foot, stretching her body even further out. As Ben balled up her jeans and threw them over his shoulder, she brushed the tip of her big toe to the seam at his crotch. He set her foot aside, undeterred, and hooked his fingers in her underwear. Stubbornly – or maybe in a moment of blind panic – Rey pressed the ball of her foot against his belly.

“Stop trying to distract me.” Ben’s voice was low and good-humored, as he pulled the skimpy scrap of lace down her legs and patiently disentangled it from her protruding foot. “I said you were going to come twice tonight.”

Rey’s legs twitched, helplessly – that feeling, again – as he settled in between them and kissed the insides of her thighs. When his lips were near her knees, his kisses tickled. She squirmed. As he moved upwards, incrementally, she squirmed for an entirely different reason.

Rey’s detailed fantasies had never included this. She’d imagined that he’d be a generous lover, but the way he ate her out was anything but generous. He did it selfishly, as if he was doing it for his own sake, and not for hers. His teeth scraped against the outer lips of her sex, and his tongue delved deep. Soft, wordless noises were in the back of his throat. They manifested themselves against her folds and her clit and made her choke.

When Ben’s finger crooked up inside her - making a squelching sound that would have made Rey blush if she’d been in her right mind - he was halfway to keeping his promise. Her hips rose up off the bed of their own accord, the muscles of her belly quivering. The force of it smushed her sex into his face. But, if Ben had been aggressive, and even messy, before, now he was precise. He held her in place, and his perfectly-placed kitten licks were designed to draw out her sweet, well-deserved torture.

When Rey’s pelvis sunk back onto the mattress, and she came back to earth, Ben looked up at her, a self-satisfied smile playing on his lips. Pieces of hair were sweat-plastered onto his forehead. One particularly errant lock was in his mouth, caught between his slickened, swollen lips. All Rey could think to say – besides, perhaps, thank you – was, “You really need a haircut.”

Ben laughed out loud, ducking his head, the muscles in his arms bunching as he pushed himself off the mattress. “I like when you nag me.” He told her, unceremoniously stripping at the foot of the bed. “It feels like we’re already old and married.”

When he was naked, Ben clambered back into bed and settled his weight onto his back with a little grunt, lying perpendicular to her. Leaning back against the headboard, Rey peered through her lashes at him. She was so distracted by the thought of marriage – what if they actually got married? What if she actually went through with it? – that she didn’t move.

Ben patted his bare belly. A shiny drop of pre-cum had fallen onto it. A second drop dangled tantalizing from the tip of his cock. He looked patient, even if his erection looked anything but. “C’mere.”

Awkwardly, Rey eased her leg over him, and hovered over him. It was better to sit over his belly like this – his erection was behind her, nudging up between the cheeks of her ass, getting the v-shaped hollow of her tailbone all sticky. She didn’t have to look at it and pretend it wasn’t a novelty to her. She didn’t think she could act as if she’d seen it a hundred times. It was so new.

“I won’t break.” Ben laughed, softly, settling his hands on her hips and pushing her down onto his abdomen. Rey planted her hands on his chest, her hands sinking into surprising softness. She didn’t tell him that she might – she might just break down and tell him the truth.

Together, they fumbled her t-shirt off and bra over her head. Ben looked at her breasts like he was seeing them for the first time – and he was, Rey reminded herself. He didn’t have to pretend that this wasn’t all new. He put his hands on them, much more gently than she expected, and then gripped her hips, and lifted her up, slightly.

Torturously slow, his cock slid through the wet folds at the apex of her thighs, until it split her lips open in the front. Rey exhaled, almost in relief, that it hadn’t gone inside her yet – she hadn’t crossed that line, yet.

But Ben was frowning, just slightly. He lifted her again, and this time, his aim was better. The head notched into her, and either she sunk down, or he pushed her – Rey wasn’t sure. She couldn’t keep a straight face for this, couldn’t pretend that it wasn’t new and equal parts exhilarating and terrifying.

Ben wasn’t looking at her face. Her secret was safe. His eyes were trained on his member, sliding up into her body, until it was fully sheathed. Only then did he look up at her face, his hands fluttering at her hips like he didn’t know quite what to do with them.

“Am I hurting you?” Rey managed to ask, her voice sounding very far-away, as if it was someone else’s. That other person had already started to move, rising and falling and rocking back and forth on his cock. That person wasn’t Rey.

“Sweetheart.” Ben shook his head, lolling it back and forth against the pillow. He tilted his hips up against hers, experimentally. His voice was a low rumble in his chest, like the purr of a predator. “You’re not going to hurt me.”

Guilt stabbed Rey in the belly. She stopped moving, for a moment. She looked down at him. He looked utterly at ease. He trusted her enough to close his eyes and let her make love to him. “I’m afraid I’m going to.”

Ben opened his eyes, slowly. He rocked up into her, holding onto one hip. The heel of his other palm slid down her belly and past the trimmed, dark hair between her legs. It found her clit, somehow, between sticky, slippery, swollen folds, and moved in figure-eight motions. Rey’s last thought, before she couldn’t think anymore, was that she didn’t deserve this. She didn’t deserve to feel that good. She didn’t deserve him.

When she sunk onto his chest, exhausted from her orgasm and from fighting herself, Ben wrapped his arms around her, and rolled them over, driving deeper into her with a hiss of pleasure.

“Your ribs.” Rey repeated, helplessly, even as her ankles locked behind his lower back and her knees framed his ribcage, of their own accord.

Fuck my ribs.” Ben huffed, red-faced. “I need to fuck you.”

He did, though not for very long. His faced scrunched up in a way that made him look like a little boy, although the words he used as he came certainly weren’t childish.

“Fuck.” Ben shook his head, back and forth, as his hips jerked. She’d be sore from laying on her back and letting him pound into her – maybe even as sore as he’d be, and he had cracked ribs. Rey didn’t care. “Oh, fuck. Fuck.”

Ben was even heavier than he looked.  When he collapsed on her, Rey made a choking, gargling noise. With one more fuck, and a little grunt of pain, he hoisted himself up on his elbows and rolled off of her, only to roll right back over and rest his face on her sweaty chest.

Playing with his hair – maybe, she thought, the haircut could wait – Rey couldn’t resist asking, “Did that feel like we’re already old and married?”

“No.” Ben’s words tickled her skin. He pressed a sleepy, sloppy kiss on the place where her heart was beating. “That felt like the first time.”

Chapter Text

Rey woke up to a sense of panic she hadn’t felt since she was a teenager.

As a teenager, she’d gotten drunk, lost her virginity, and hadn’t used a condom. She’d also gotten very lucky – her period had come a week and a half later. Back then, she’d chalked her mistake up to inexperience. She’d assumed he would take care of it. She’d been a little unsure of the mechanics of how to even put a condom on. She hadn’t known how to broach the subject.

Last night, there had been no good way to broach the subject. Engaged, monogamous, in love people didn’t use condoms. Ben hadn’t offered, or asked.  He’d probably assumed she was using birth control, because of course she would be, if they were engaged and she didn’t plan on giving him the first of his at-least-three children.

Seeing as they weren’t actually engaged, she certainly didn’t plan on that.

“Fuck.” Rey whispered, to herself, laying flat on her back.

As if agreeing with her, Ben made a soft, grumpy sound that sounded suspiciously like a snore. With a total lack of regard for her no cuddling rule, he rolled over and curled his very large, very naked body around her, almost in a fetal position. His arm curled around her chest, and his leg draped over her thighs. It would have been endearing, if it hadn’t made escape impossible – and if his member hadn’t been erect and poking her in the hip. She glanced down at it, blushing despite herself. She’d insisted on putting on his shirt and her panties before they went to sleep – he’d rolled his eyes as he brushed his teeth, unapologetically naked.

A pharmacy. Rey needed to get to a pharmacy. Preferably before he woke up and tried to convince her to get naked again.

Barely breathing under the weight of his limbs, Rey stretched her arm out. Her fingers flailed at the edge of the nightstand, grappling for her cell phone. She almost dropped it, but by some miracle, caught it between two fingers.

She texted Finn, her fingers flying and misspelling. He’d understand. Not that he wouldn’t pass judgment – he would – but he understand. 

Ben would not understand. She wiggled, experimentally, under his arm. He huffed in his sleep, and nuzzled his face into her hair. His breath whooshed along her scalp. Bracing two arms against his thigh, Rey pushed it off her legs, with a little huff of effort. As soon as she was out from under it, she twisted her lower body to the side, dodging as it fell back down to the mattress.

Vise-like, Ben’s arm tightened around her torso. His face was still in her hair, but she heard him, nonetheless, when he said, his voice equal parts sleepy and exasperated, “Will you stop squirming and let me cuddle you, woman?”

Rey froze, her eyes widening behind his forearm. She’d thought for sure that he was asleep. The first excuse she could think of was: “I have to go to the bathroom.”

With a grumble, Ben let her go. Rey rolled off the mattress and crept into the bathroom. In there, she tapped her foot and ran the sink for a few minutes. When she was almost sure he’d fallen back asleep, she poked her head out to look.

Ben was on his belly, his bare back gently rising and falling. The coast was clear.

She almost fell over when, as she was balancing on one leg trying to put her jeans on, Ben asked, “Why are you putting pants on?”

“I…” Rey steadied herself, her jeans half-way up her thighs. “I have to run to the store.”

“For what?” He sat up, propping himself on his elbows. If Rey hadn’t been terrified of being caught, she would have laughed at the state of his hair. It was swept across his forehead, and standing up on one side.

“Orange juice and eggs.” Rey blurted out, thinking of his empty refrigerator. He gave her an odd look, and she realized her mistake – Ben never made breakfast. He ate at her restaurant.

Ben sat up, and patted the sheets puddled in between his thighs. When she sat, perching like a nervous sparrow, on the edge of the mattress, he kissed her, his hands twining through her hair. He sucked her lower lip into his mouth, sleepily and sloppily. “Take off those pants, and get back in bed.”

Rey tugged against his grip on her hair; without hurting her, he held her in place. “You’re not hungry?”

Ben grinned at her, his eyes half-hooded. “Not for orange juice or eggs.”

Rey laughed, despite herself. As she ducked her head forward, embarrassed, Ben pressed his forehead against hers. “I walked into that one, didn’t I?”

Ben made an affirmative noise into her mouth as he kissed her again. Now that they’d had sex, he seemed to want to kiss her more often – all the time, really –  and he did so with more confidence. For her part, Rey was less self-conscious, too. It was hard to be nervous about kissing someone once they’d seen you naked.

“I have to go.”

“Stay.” Ben tried to kiss her again; it took a great deal of willpower to dodge him.

“I need lady… stuff.” Rey finished her sentence, lamely. It wasn’t entirely untrue, but she hoped he’d assume she needed tampons or Advil, not a morning-after pill.  

“What?” Ben looked utterly mystified.

“You don’t want to know.” Rey told him, straight-faced. The truth was, she didn’t want him to know.

***

Finn met her in front of the automatic glass doors of the nearest Duane Reade.

“Okay, crazy.” He handed her a slim cardboard box. Rey turned it over and exhaled with relief. She ripped it open and popped a morning-after pill into her mouth, not caring that she was on the street corner. Better strangers see her than Ben. “Here are your oh shit pills.”

“Don’t look at me like that.” Rey opened the carton of orange juice next, and took a swig to wash the miracle pill down. “I don’t need a real baby with my fake fiancé.”

Finn crossed his arms over his chest. “Was your fake fiancé good in bed?”

“He was…” Rey hedged, screwing the cap back on the orange juice to avoid answering. She pretended that she found the ring of plastic fascinating. “Intense.”

Finn’s brows rose. “What, did he tie you up or try to put it in your butt or something?”

“No!” She wouldn’t put any of that it past him, though – and she wouldn’t trust herself to resist, if he tried. “He wasn’t kinky. It was just… a lot.”

“A lot of him?” Finn teased, his façade of disapproval cracking.

“Finn!” Rey laughed, not bothering to deny that that was true. “Stop.”

Finn sobered, slightly. “I would tell you to stop, but I have the feeling you won’t.”

Rey’s smile faded. “I will. I just don’t know how to tell him.” Especially now.

***

When Rey bent to put the orange juice and eggs in the refrigerator, she thought better of it, and snuck another swallow of juice. As she was tilting the carton back, arms snaked around her waist.

“Drinking straight out of the carton?” Ben said, in mock disapproval. “Disgusting.”

“You kiss me.” Rey argued, flushing. She’d nearly spat out her juice and dropped the carton when he’d snuck up behind her. “It’s basically the same thing.”

“Hmmm.” Ben trapped her between the open refrigerator and his chest, bracing his arms on either side of the appliance. He pressed his mouth to hers, slowly and deliberately. “You’re right. That’s disgusting. Filthy.” He kissed her again, biting gently into the meat of her lower lip. “Good thing I am, too.”

Maybe she’d been wrong, Rey thought, dizzily, when she’d told Finn that Ben wasn’t kinky. He maneuvered her around the refrigerator door and pressed her up against the countertop, bending his knees comically to keep his face level with hers.

Her t-shirt landed in the sink, among dirty dishes. She scrambled up onto the counter, or he lifted her, ribs-be-damned, and then their pelvises were grinding together, arrhythmically. Everything was so much faster than it had been the night before, as if now they knew each other’s bodies properly and knew what to do with them. Everything was so fast that Rey nearly forgot the panic that had jolted her awake that morning.

“Ben, wait.”

“Bed?” Ben shook his hair out of his face, lifting his head from the crook of her neck.

“No…”

“Good.” He smushed his mouth to hers, inelegantly. “I want to fuck you on every – ” he punctuated the words with short kisses in between each one “ – surface in this apartment.”

This – this was very bad. Rey wished he weren’t standing in between her thighs. Then, she could rub them together to try and get some friction. She certainly couldn’t use him for friction. She’d just rushed to the pharmacy to take a morning-after pill.

There was one way out of this predicament. “Do you still want that blow job?”

Ben blinked and leaned back, bracing his hands on either side of her thighs, as if he was bewildered by his good luck. “Really?”

“Really.”

He opened his mouth, and then snapped it shut. His eyes narrowed suspiciously. “Is this because of the lady stuff?”

“Are you asking me if I’m on my period?” Rey asked, trying not to laugh. She hadn’t put two-and-two together, but clearly, he had. It was a good excuse, even if it wasn’t true. It would buy her a few days to sort out birth control – no, she told herself. It would give her a few days to tell him the truth. She couldn’t keep doing this.

“I mean, we’re engaged.” Ben sounded as if he was trying to seem nonchalant, when he clearly wasn’t. His ears were red under his hair. “We can talk about… uh, stuff. Lady stuff.”

“I won’t subject you to that.” Rey assured him.

“Thank God.” Ben laughed, awkwardly, running a hand through his hair.

Rey touched his bare chest, tracing the little swirls of scant chest hair between his pectoral muscles. “Did that kill the mood?”

“No.” Ben shook his head, almost frantically, as if he was suddenly afraid she would rescind her offer. “No, no, no. And to answer your other, question, yes.”

“Yes, what?” Rey played dumb.

“Yes, I still want that blow job.” He grinned, his embarrassment forgotten.

Rey hid her smile, toying with the elastic band of his briefs. “Yes?”

Fuck, yes.” He sighed, as she slipped her hand inside and cupped the firm length of his member. It prodded out the top of his underwear, clear, slippery liquid already leaking from its tip. It poked up towards his navel as she tugged his briefs down to mid-thigh. Rey leaned forward, and kissed his fluttering pulse point. She slid down and grasped his hips, turning his pliant body around and pressing his back against the countertop.

Ben’s hands moved lightly over her hair, petting it, almost, as she sunk to her knees. For the first time since she’d known him, Ben seemed… nervous. She couldn’t fathom why. She tugged his underwear down to his ankles, and obligingly, he lifted one foot out of it so she could edge in between his calves.

He was too big, almost, to fit into her mouth, but the buckle of his knees next to her cheeks when she gagged a little was gratifying. The faint taste besides his skin – her taste, she realized, with a shameful little jolt – was acrid in the back of her throat. It made her eyes water – or maybe that was the nudge of the head of his cock against the softness at the back of her throat.  

“Sweetheart, I’m not going to last.” Oh. That was why he was nervous. For some reason, the word sweetheart stuck with her. She was used to feeling a little dirty, and a little used, when she did this. The word sweetheart made her feel cherished.

Rey worked, diligently, even if it didn’t quite feel like work. His hands stopped fluttering, and found purchase. They tangled in her hair, tugging it in time with her bobbing – but never yanking. When she withdrew, almost all the way, and pressed the stiffened tip of her tongue against the weeping slit at the head of his member, Ben hissed through his teeth. The saltiness in her mouth was slippery. She used it to draw the flat of her tongue across him, hollowing her cheeks.

A litany of curses spilled out of his lips, and now, he yanked. “I’m sorry, I – ”

He didn’t have to finish the sentence. Rey knew, from the tremor in his hips, what he was trying to say. At the last second, she panicked a little, and drew back. She never swallowed. It felt too servile.

Sweetheart. He’d called her sweetheart, while she’d sucked his cock. His first spurt of come was hot on her cheek, and Rey thought better of her rule. Or rather, she decided that he was the exception to it. She took him back in between her lips, and let him finish in her mouth, trying to keep her jaw relaxed.

After a moment, Ben’s shaking hand smoothed her hair off of her forehead. With lazy, uncoordinated movements, his other hand grabbed her shirt from the sink and leaned down to wipe her mouth off. It was damp. His voice was hoarse. “Do you need to come?”

“No.” Rey pressed her thighs together where she knelt. She did, desperately, but she wouldn’t. That would be fitting punishment for her.

She was a terrible person.

***

“Where should we go to dinner?” Ben asked, when the shadows of midtown were long and golden. They’d spent the day together. They’d held hands and made fun of modern art at the Guggenheim. They’d window-shopped for wedding rings. They’d eaten donuts and tried to skip stones in Central Park, shivering and catching snowflakes on their tongues. It had been like some sort of romantic movie montage. It had been like one of the fantasies she’d had before she’d known the real Ben.

Rey considered, for a selfish moment, suggesting a place she couldn’t really afford. She hadn’t been on a date – a proper date – in a long time. Ben seemed more than willing to wine and dine her. But, she had a better idea. It was Sunday. “I know a place.”

***

Rey.” The corners of Ben’s mouth turned down when she gave the taxi driver a familiar address in Brooklyn.

Ben.” Rey wondered whether he would try to roll out of the door of the moving cab. He suddenly looked deeply uncomfortable. It was a stark contrast – he’d been relaxed and smiling, even giddy and silly, all day.

“I know what you’re trying to do.” It was odd that he could be so comfortable with her, when he’d known he for only a matter of days, but that he was so clearly uncomfortable with the idea of spending Sunday evening at his parent’s home.

“I’m not trying to do anything.” Rey argued. That wasn’t entirely true –  her perfect, fantasy day with Ben wouldn’t be complete without this. Family dinners with the Solos were wonderful. They could only be more wonderful if Ben was squeezing her knee – or, more scandalously, her thigh – under the table, and stealing kisses as they washed the dishes the way Han and Leia did. “I haven’t missed Sunday dinner since you were in a coma.”

“I’ve missed it for seven years.” Ben said, under his breath.

“And they’ve missed you, that whole time.” Rey didn’t mean to sound resentful, but she did. They were silent the rest of the way to Brooklyn.

***

They let themselves into the house, quietly. It was unlocked, as always. Luke, Leia, and Han were all sitting around the dining table. Maz and Chewie were there, bearing their usual gift – dessert. Pie, this time.

Rey cleared her throat, and they all looked up from their plates. “You started Sunday dinner without us?”

Leis looked almost as if she’d seen a ghost. She was looking at Ben, not Rey. “We didn’t think you were coming.”

“It was Rey’s idea.” Ben muttered, looking at the somewhat threadbare rug, rather than at his mother.

Rey made eye contact with Luke. With a knowing little smile, Luke raised his glass to her.

Chapter Text

Ben was quiet, hands in his lap in between bites of chicken cacciatore. Leia kept looking at him as if she wasn’t quite sure he was real. Han’s joke’s kept falling flat.

Perhaps this had been a terrible mistake, Rey thought. She was trying to fit Ben into a mold he simply wasn’t made from. She was trying to make him into fantasy Ben. Real Ben didn’t have dinner on Sundays in his parent’s dining room.

She reached under the table and squeezed his knee, because that was the only way she knew to apologize. After a long moment, his palm covered hers, on his leg, and rubbed concentric circles onto the back of her hand. He didn’t look at her. His gaze was focused on a random spot on the wallpaper – not one of the framed photographs, but a random spot.

Luke reached over, after the longest, most awkward five minutes of Rey’s life, and filled Ben’s glass with merlot. Ben hesitated for a second, and then downed half of it in one gulp.

“Do you have,” He asked, stiffly, and formally, “Anything stronger?”

Without otherwise reacting, Han got up, silently, and left the room. For an awful moment, Rey thought he was angry – that, maybe, there was some unspoken family secret. Maybe Ben had an alcohol problem. Maybe Han did. Maybe –

Thunk. Han had come back with a fifth of Scotch and two crystal glasses. He’d set them down on the table. As he opened the bottle, he said, looking Ben directly in the eyes for the first time all night, “I think we could both use some Scotch.”

For the first time that night, Ben smiled a little. He reached out and gripped a glass as his father poured, and then brought it to his mouth. Slowly, he tilted it back and sipped the amber liquid.

“Oh, hell.” Leia sighed, her composure faltering. “Get me a glass, too.”

***

“Rey?” Han gestured, with the three-quarters full bottle, after he’d poured Leia and Luke a glass each, and topped off Ben’s glass.

“No, thank you.” Rey ran her finger along the rim of her water glass.

“You’ve been picking at your chicken.” Leia observed, after a moment. “That’s not like you.”

Everyone at the table stopped eating – whether that meant, that, like Han and Chewie, they just stopped chewing, mid-bite or, like Maz and Leia, they set their forks down.

Rey muscled her way through a huge mouthful, to make a point. Leia wasn’t wrong. She usually had a voracious appetite – especially for something home-made. The tiny, magic little pill she had taken that morning had made her nauseous all day. She nearly gagged on the chicken, but managed to swallow, and croak, “Actually, I think I will have a sniff.”

Everyone exhaled as Han poured out some Scotch for her. Rey knew what they were thinking. Not pregnant. She wondered whether everyone had been thinking that all along. It gave her an unpleasant feeling in her gut, unrelated to the little pill. Maybe everyone thought that was the only reason he would be with her.

Leia, she thought, looked a little disappointed as she swallowed down some Scotch.

***

By the time Han had re-filled his glass three times, Ben was gesturing, when he spoke. It wasn’t Leia or Han’s wild gesticulation. He seemed to catch himself every time his large hands got too expressive, and draw back in on himself.

Han matched Ben, drink for drink. Leia beamed. She held her liquor surprisingly well, for a woman of her stature.

“So, have you set a wedding date?” She asked.

Rey hadn’t had quite enough to drink for that question. She choked on the rim of her glass, knocking her teeth against it. She’d thought about a wedding – before she’d even met Ben, she’d pictured their wedding, and, if she was honest with herself, she could still picture it, now that she knew him. She hadn’t grappled with the idea that it could actually happen. She’d been sure she’d slip up, or develop a conscience – since she apparently didn’t already have one – and confess before they disastrously wound up at the altar.

Ben was unfazed. He leaned back in his chair, looping an arm around the back of Rey’s. “We’ll probably just elope.”

“Elope?” Luke, still nursing his first drink, interjected. He looked truly offended. “You can’t elope.”

Rey wished she could shoot him a murderous look. She had to just smile, blandly, instead.

“Upstate is lovely in the fall.” Leia added.

“You could use our cabin.” Chewy rumbled. He was a man of few words, but somehow, even he needed to chime in on this. “Maz can bake the cake.”

“I can only do two flavors, though, vanilla, and chocolate, and it would have to be only two tiers.” Maz told Rey, conspiratorially. “Very moist and fluffy.”

“The leaves are beautiful upstate in the fall.” Leia forged on. “But I’m not sure you want to wait that long.”

“Lando’s ordained, isn’t he?” Han asked, directing the question to no-one in particular. To Ben, he added, “He did it online. One of those fake churches.”

Everyone was talking at once, now, and talking in circles, seemingly caught up in wedding fever. Helpless, Rey sunk deeper into her chair, and tried not to panic.

Ben caught her eye. To her surprise, he didn’t seem annoyed, or upset, or gun-shy. He winked. Under the table, his hand found her knee, and when he leaned over, he whispered in her ear, “Let’s elope.”

***

In the kitchen, after dinner, Ben ambushed her. She’d volunteered to wash the dishes – insisted – and had half-hoped she could do so in solitude. She needed to clear her head a little – to stop imagining white dresses and vows and start living in reality. She was beginning to forget what reality was.

“You’re drunk.” Rey admonished Ben, gently. She couldn’t really be annoyed; it was too enjoyable to watch him trip over himself and slump down in his chair, relaxed.

“I have to be drunk to put up with my parents.” Ben told her, matter-of-factly. He pressed her against the edge of the sink, and ran his hand along her hip, dipping his fingers into the waistband of her pants. “And to do this in their kitchen.”

“Ben!” Rey squirmed away from him and his wandering hands. “Help me wash the dishes.”

“You know the real reason I never cook?” Ben asked her, rolling up his shirt-sleeves and pressing a chaste kiss to her cheek. “I hate doing dishes.”

That’s the reason you don’t cook?” Rey flicked soap bubbled at him. “You don’t know how to cook.”

“I can make pasta.” Ben protested. “With red sauce. Or white sauce. Any sauce, really, as long as it comes in a jar.”

“We can have pasta every night, and I’ll do the dishes.” Rey turned back to the sink, dunking her hands to the elbows. She could feel Ben’s eyes on her. It wasn’t like when she could feel his gaze, predatory and heavy. He was watching her with that almost-amused tender look on his face. She could tell.

After a moment, Ben’s arms snaked around her waist, and a soft kiss was deposited on the vertebrae at the nape of her neck. “For you, I’ll do dishes.”

Rey ducked her head, grinning, as his slippery fingers entwined with hers under the sudsy water. “You’re not helping, you’re hindering.”

“Hey, kid,” Han poked his head into the kitchen. Ben craned to look over his shoulder, not bothering to unwrap his arms from around Rey. For her part, Rey jumped, and if she hadn’t been pressed between his stomach and the sink, would have jumped away from him. “Rey and I did some work on the Falcon. If you want to see.” Seemingly to deflect his own nervousness, Han added, sarcastically, “If you’re not too busy making your own kid in here.”

Go, Rey mouthed at Ben, twisting in the circle of his arms. He gave her an exasperated look, but he was drunk, and pliant.

“Okay.” It was one word, and it was begrudging, but it was a start.

***

Ben and Han were in the garage for a long time. Luke kissed Rey on the cheek, surreptitiously, in the hall. “I won’t ask you how you did it, but you did it.”

Rey gave him an exasperated look. They were alone – relatively speaking. “I didn’t do anything.”

“Sex.” Luke clarified. “I mean sex.”

Luke.” Rey hissed.

“Keep up the good work.” Luke grinned, remorseless despite her red cheeks. “Love suits him. And you.”

***

“Fuck, that’s cute.” Ben said, when she crept into his cramped upstairs bedroom wearing his old pajamas.

Rey fingered the hem of the frayed, worn Batman pajamas – they fit her, comically. They were even a little short on her wrists and ankles. “These must have been from before you hit puberty.”

Ben laughed, crooking his arm behind his head. He barely fit in the twin-sized bed, pushed up against the wall. Rey wondered, for a moment, whose bedroom was on the other side of that wall.

“So,” Ben changed the subject. “You helped my dad rebuild that old piece of junk.”

“I’m good with my hands.” Rey perched on the edge of the mattress. There was no way she would fit, too. “And it is not a piece of junk.”

Ben reached for her hand, dragged it across his thighs, and pressed it to his crotch, with a wicked little grin. He didn’t seemed perturbed by her indignance. There weren’t any pajamas to fit him; he was wearing just his underwear. “Oh, really?”

“Ben!” Rey feigned.

“Come here.” Ben tugged her down onto the mattress.

“It’s too small.” Rey resisted, out of principle. Ben raised his brows, and looked down the length of his body. Flushing, Rey realized her hand was still on his groin. “Not that.”

Too small or not, they managed to wedge together on the mattress, against the wall. Secure under his arm, Rey relaxed, even if she was only an inch from the edge of the bed. Absently, she rubbed her hand across his belly, as he traced her spine under the back of his pajamas. She fought with herself, for a long moment, and then asked, point-blank, “Do you want me to take these pajamas off?”

After a beat, Ben answered, “Leave them on.”

There wasn’t room on the bed to lay side by side. At first, Rey thought Ben had only wedged his thigh between hers for convenience. When he gyrated it, gently, against the apex of her legs, her eyes widened. “Oh.”

Fumbling the waistband of his briefs over an erection that had suddenly, out of the blue, become very prominent, Ben put her hand back on him. Rey stroked, absently at first, more focused on the pleasant, rolling pressure of his thigh against the front of her sex. Her hand got slick, and his belly, too, when she started to rub her thumb in a little circle under the ridge of his head at the top of each tug.

Ben’s thigh shifted underneath her, as if he was squirming, and uncomfortable. His face was almost in a grimace. She knew better. He was throbbing between her curled fingers and her palm, the same way her sex was throbbing against the muscle of his leg. She was getting the pants of his pajamas damp. She wondered if he could feel it through the fabric.

Rey had thought their limited space didn’t allow for anything else, but Ben was more creative than she gave him credit for. He tugged the pajama top up and over her breasts, latching onto one with an obscene sucking sound. His tongue swirled, and she made an embarrassing noise, one she hoped no one overheard.

Her hand sped up on his shaft, and then suddenly, he was wrapping his hand around hers and squeezing tight. He bit out an obscene word, and wrapped his free arm around her back, awkwardly tugging her down onto his belly. When they were skin-to-skin, she realized he’d finished. His spend got the pushed-up hem of the borrowed pajamas and her stomach sticky as she rubbed over his thigh, more frantically now.

As she came, a few moments later, Rey bit into the bunched fabric of the neckline of the pajamas, her foot jerking out, of its own accord, and banging the wall. Whoever was on the other side of the wall had to have heard that, even if the pajamas had muffled her moans.

Panting, she stripped off the pajama top and mopped up their bellies and hands.

“That is the dirtiest thing that has ever happened in those pajamas.” Ben said, sounding smug. “Twelve-year-old me would be very happy.”

“Really?” Rey snorted, still out of breath. She picturing his hormones – the hormones of a pimpled, gangly, lonely twelve-year-old – run amok in this bedroom. She balled the filthy pajama top and threw it across the room, curling up against him in just the too-short Batman pants.

“Really.” Ben grinned. She could hear it in his voice. “Like you said, I outgrew them before I hit puberty. This bed on the other hand – ”

“Ben!” Rey smacked at his shoulder. He'd outgrown the bed, too. She barely had room to strike at him in jest. “Did you lose your virginity in this bed?”

“No.” Ben made a soft noise, as if he was remembering something. “I almost did. My mom was a cockblock.”

“No, she’s not.” Rey had weakly tried to lay out a pillow and blanket on the couch; Leia had rolled her eyes, four glasses of whisky deep. “I offered to take the couch.”

“She likes you.” Ben sounded sleepy, and lazy. “And she wants grandbabies.”

“And a wedding.”

“Mmmm.” Ben kissed her shoulder, tucking her into his abdomen and curling around her. Now, she was less than an inch from falling off of the mattress. She held onto the band of his forearm for dear life, but he showed no signs of dropping her, even as his body melted into the mattress. “I meant what I said. Let’s just elope.”

Rey traced the vein on his forearm. Something was missing. He should be asking her about their wedding plans, or – or about something. Every day, he asked her questions. Sometimes the questions were a long string, interconnected. Sometimes, they were random, peppered throughout their conversations. She had to be ready for them, at all times. “You… you didn’t ask me any questions today.”

Ben was silent for a moment. His voice was very low when he spoke. “I don’t have any more questions.”

Rey faltered. She hadn’t been prepared for that. She wasn’t that convincing. “What… what do you mean?”

“When I woke up, part of me didn’t believe…” Ben trailed off, as if he was admitting a secret. “That you and I were in love. I had questions. At first, I thought you were pregnant, or you just wanted a green card. Or that there’d been some sort of misunderstanding.” He laughed, softly, and it tickled the sensitive spot behind her ear. “Or that I was dreaming, or living in an alternate reality.”

Or living a lie, Rey almost supplied. She didn’t.

“But it was so easy to fall in love with you again.” Ben went on, sounding almost wistful. His voice was tender enough to break her heart. It might have, a little. “So I don’t have any more questions.”

Chapter Text

Rey lay awake for hours.

Ben’s breathing was steady and slow, the rhythm of a man perfectly satisfied and comfortable. Her heartbeat echoed in the drums of her ears. It was out-of-sync with the rise and fall of his chest. The sweat and stickiness on her skin made it crawl.

Sometime between midnight and dawn, she couldn’t stand it anymore. She climbed out of bed and out of his arms – navigating precariously over his prone body; he’d wedged her against the wall.

Topless, Rey stood by the window and pressed her torso to it. It was still cold outside – it was barely February – but it felt stiflingly hot in the little bedroom. The glass of the window was frosty. It was a relief. She fogged the plane up with her breath, studying her own distorted reflection.

Light from the street-lamp filtered through the blinds and illuminated the nooks and crannies of the cramped bedroom. There were books – crime thrillers, science-fiction, even some non-fiction – lining the shelves. There were posters on the walls – not dirty ones, but dorky ones. Half-tucked behind a lamp was a ragged stuffed animal. The boy who’d lived here was so different than the man who lived in Manhattan. She liked him, better. She might even...  

Rey shook her head, her throat welling up. Not that. She couldn't bear that, if it were true. If she did love him, she'd have to tell him the truth. 

Ben rolled over, with a little moan, and wrapped his arm around his pillow. He hugged it close to his chest, as if it were her, and snuffled into it. His hair was sticking to his forehead. If it was really hot in the bedroom – and it wasn’t just her guilty conscience – it didn’t seem to bother him. He looked like a little boy. A very large little boy.

Rey crossed the room, and smoothed the hair off his forehead, but she didn’t get back in bed. She didn’t feel she had the right too, now that she’d made up her mind to tell him the truth. She wasn’t sure when she had – but she had, while he was sleeping.

***

Coffee. Rey smelled coffee. It was morning, then – albeit that greenish, early part of the morning during which sensible people were asleep. She’d lost track of time. Perhaps she’d been awake all night. She padded down the stairs in Ben’s pajama pants and her own t-shirt.

It wasn’t Han or Leia who had made coffee, but Luke. Rey blinked at him. Luke brandished a chipped enamel mug. “Coffee?”

Rey took the mug. “You couldn’t sleep, either?”

“I slept like a baby.” Luke joked. He must have seen a look cross her face – or, at the very least, seen the dark circles under her eyes – because his smile faded. “I take it you didn’t.”

Rey watched little clouds of steam rising off her coffee. The mug was a made of pottery, glazed over. It had clearly been painted by a child’s hand – sloppily, with little fingerprints in thick green paint, and three letters: B, E, and N. Ben had made this for his mother. Speaking more to herself – or to those three letters – than to Luke, she said, “I think… I think I love him.”

Luke didn’t seem surprised. She’d surprised even herself, saying that out loud. “I think he loves you, too.”

Rey sunk into a chair at the kitchen table. “You say that like it’s a good thing.”

“It is.” Luke sat across from her. “I’ve never seen Ben so happy.”

Rey flinched. It was easy to keep a secret from a stranger. It was hard to keep a secret from someone she liked. It was impossible to keep a secret from someone she might love. Her better angel hadn’t won out.  It wasn’t that her conscience had finally made itself known. It wasn’t guilt. It was the impossibility of the thing – of keeping a secret from him, or of hurting him. He’d looked so peaceful and young, asleep in the twin bed, breathing evenly and deeply. Luke was right. He looked… happy. Even his dreams, she’d guess, were happy. Watching him sleep, she’d been overcome with a need to protect him, even from herself. “I have to tell him.”

“Don’t.” Luke almost spat out his coffee.

“I’m going to tell him.” Rey exhaled onto the top of her coffee, making it shimmer. “Leia doesn’t really have a heart condition, does she?”

Luke’s lips twitched under his bushy beard, guilty. “…no.”

“Luke.” Rey’s elbows sunk onto the worn table-top. She rubbed the bridge her of nose, suddenly exhausted by all of this. “Why me?”

“Because Ben needs you.” Luke said it as if it was obvious.

“No, he doesn’t.” Rey felt like shouting. Somehow, she – the woman who’d lied and manipulated someone into falling in love with her – was the voice of reason. It was utter insanity.

“He’s a putz.” Luke sounded almost indignant.

“I don’t even know what that means!” Rey snapped. She caught herself and lowered her voice – not that it mattered now. She’d made up her mind. She was going to tell the truth. “No one in my generation knows what that means.”

“Ben knows what it means.” Luke’s mouth set into a line. “He’s from Brooklyn, even though he tries to pretend he’s from Manhattan.”

Rey exhaled, noisily. “Fine. What does it mean?”

“Well, strictly speaking, it means penis in Yiddish.” Luke told her, matter-of-factly. “But it really means he’s...  he’s not doing anything. He’s just putzing around, letting life pass him by.”

“You mean he’s single.” Rey realized what he meant, now, by putzing.

“Rey.” Luke looked exasperated. “He’s perpetually single.”

“What do you mean, perpetually single?”

“Does your generation not know that word, either?” Luke snarked, sounding, for a moment, remarkable like his nephew.

“I know what it means.” Rey retorted. “I just don’t believe it.” She’d lusted after Ben from afar. Surely women lusted after him up close, too. One or two of them must have snared him, at least for a few months. 

Luke leaned forward. “He’s never had a girlfriend. Not a serious one.”

Rey paused for a second, and then giggled, despite herself. It was an inappropriate, nervous giggle. She didn’t know how else to react. The idea that Ben – handsome, smart, sexy Ben, had never had a serious girlfriend – was almost funny. “What? Why?”

Luke exhaled, heavily.

“For a few years, Han and Leia were fighting so much that he came to stay with me, when he was a little boy. Just for a few days at a time.” He smiled as if he was remembering something. “I let him watch inappropriate movies and have ice cream every night.” He looked down at his hands. “I never got married. And one day, Ben told me he wanted to be like me. He never wanted to get married, because he didn’t want to be sad or always be fighting." 

Rey shifted, uncomfortably, in her chair. She felt badly for laughing, now. She couldn’t imagine Han and Leia fighting. Bickering yes – constantly. But not fighting. She couldn’t imagine them sending their only child away, either. “Maybe he was happy… putzing. Maybe he was making a lot of money and he liked leaving the toilet seat up and sleeping with whoever he wanted and he didn’t want to be tied down.”

“He was so busy trying not to make the same mistakes his parents made, that he made the same mistake as me." Luke suddenly sounded almost angry. “He wasn't happy. I know, because I'm not happy. I regret not marrying. I regret spending so much time in the office. I regret not having children of my own. Ben is the closest thing I have. I don’t want to see him to be like me.” He flicked his finger at a piece of dust, and sounding a little bitter, added, “An old putz.”

They were silent for a long time, and then Rey said, finally, “You didn’t answer my question. Why me?”

A smile – one of Luke’s mischievous smiles – crossed his face, and Rey knew the time for telling deep, dark family secrets was done. She thought she understood Ben and Luke better, now, in any case. She understood why Ben had had so many questions - why he'd wondered how they'd fallen in love and gotten engaged in only three months. “You were crazy enough to tell the nurse you were engaged to him. I knew you’d be crazy enough to go along with it.”

Luke.” Rey despaired. “I’m not crazy. I’m just…”

“Lonely?”

“Yes.” She admitted.

“I overheard you that night at the hospital, and I knew.” Luke became more serious. “That you needed him, too.” He reached across the table, and held her hand. “That’s why you.”

***

Luke read the Times, silently. Unable to sit still, Rey stood up from the kitchen table and paced around the room. As a matter of habit, she opened the refrigerator and looked inside. She did it out of habit, and because she felt comfortable in Han and Leia’s house. She felt at home here. It was a good feeling. She tried to swallow it down, but she couldn’t. She didn’t want to give it up, either. It would leave a hole in her chest.

Irrationally, Rey wished there was a way she could show her gratitude to Han and Leia for welcoming her into their home, and to Ben, for welcoming her into his heart. She had no right to be in either of those places.

There were eggs, and ham, and sausage in the refrigerator. She couldn’t thank them – not without crying or telling the truth – so she did the only thing that seemed sensible. She made them breakfast.

***

Ben was loud on the stairs. He stomped down them, drawn, doubtlessly, by the scent of frying pork and brewed coffee. His hair was standing up, and his eyes were bleary. He was moving with stiffness she could either attribute to the narrow, hard mattress in his childhood bedroom, or his bruised ribs.

“Honey, your hair…” Leia reached, ineffectually, towards his mussed mop. He ducked, though he didn’t need to – she wasn’t tall enough to reach his hair, in any case.

“I’m thirty, not thirteen, mom.” He said, disgruntled. He caught Rey’s eyes across the room. His voice thick with sleep, but his eyes crinkled up a little when he saw she was still wearing the Batman pajama pants. It was as if they had a dirty little secret. He sounded far less grumpy when he spoke to her. “Nice pajamas.”

Rey stopped where she was standing, holding the spatula. She’d told Luke that she thought she loved him. She didn’t think she loved him, looking at him across the crowded kitchen. She knew she loved him. Despite the impossibility of it. 

“Good morning.” Rey crossed the room to him, stood on her tip-toes, and kissed him on the mouth, even as he was mid-yawn. Ben bent down for her, so she could kiss him. He didn’t duck away. She said, quietly, teasingly, against his lips, mimicking his mother, “Honey, your hair…”

“I promise, I’ll get that haircut.” Ben’s lips twitched. He didn’t seem annoyed, when she said it. He leaned into her hand as she wound her fingers into his long hair. “You made breakfast?”

“I made breakfast.” Rey confirmed, gesturing with the spatula.

“You never cook.” Ben told her, as if she didn’t already know. “What’s the occasion?”

“No occasion.” It slipped out before she could stop it. “Just… I love you, and I wanted to make you breakfast.”

Ben, to his credit, didn’t react – much. His brows rose, and his jaw worked, as if he was trying not to smile. After a moment, he sat heavily at the kitchen table, and leaned back in his chair. He watched her, his eyes warm and a smile playing on his lips, as she heaped food onto his plate. It was the kind of smile he only gave her - tender, almost shy .

“Breakfast.” Rey stated the obvious, setting the colorful ceramic plate down in front of him, and tucking a newspaper under the corner of it. “And the Times.”

Ben looked down at his plate, frowning a little. Then he looked up at her, leaning slightly farther back in his chair. “Ham and sausage?”

“That’s what you always order.” Rey said, without thinking.

Ben paused, his fork halfway to his mouth. He looked as disoriented as he had right when he’d woken up, all of the sudden. “What?”

Horrified, Rey tried to cover her tracks. “For breakfast.”

Ben’s head cocked to the side, minutely, as if he were remembering something long-forgotten. “I always go to the same place for breakfast.”

Rey took a stumbling step away from him. He looked at her like he was seeing her for the first time. Ben sounded more confused than ever. “And I always order the same thing.”

“Ben.” Rey felt light-headed, all of the sudden. “I can explain.”

Abruptly, Ben pushed back from the table, and stood up. His chair screeched across the floor, and the room went dead silent. Leia, Han, and Luke all stopping chattering, and looked at them, their smiles fading. 

Ben clenched and unclenched his fists, twice. His voice was pitched and tight. “It is you.”

Chapter Text

“I can explain.” Rey repeated, futilely. Her words sounded hollow. They were. How could she explain herself? How could she explain the horrible, deep hole she’d dug herself into him. She’d lied to his parents. She’d lied to him. She’d slept with him.

It was silent in the kitchen for a moment, and her words rung. They echoed off of the dated backsplash and linoleum floors. Then Ben told Rey, in a low voice, that somehow resonated just as much, “You’d better.”

Rey’s jaw flapped, uselessly. She didn’t have the faintest idea of where to start. Perhaps with her hopeless, pathetic crush?

“Ben, it was my idea.” Luke voice was more gravelly than usual.

Ben looked sharply at his uncle, and then back at Rey, as if he couldn’t quite believe it. “He put you up to this?”

“Yes.” Luke tried in vain. Leia and Han turned to him, incredulous.

“No!” Rey’s conscience had been wayward for weeks; suddenly, it reared its head. The guilt that had hung over her head like a pallet of bricks was crushing her, now. She was a outsider. Let Ben hate her. Luke was his uncle. She couldn’t drive a wedge in between them, not when they’d only just reconciled.

Everyone’s eyes were back on her, and she felt like she couldn’t breathe.  

“Is this some sort of fucked up joke?” Ben’s face twisted, as he looked between her and his uncle. His voice was uncharacteristically high-pitched. “Or did he pay you?”

“What?” Rey choked. She’d expected him to call her crazy – maybe she was – but she hadn’t expected that accusation. She was a liar, but not a prostitute. She didn’t have any ulterior motives, besides the intangible ones she couldn’t explain. “Pay me?”

“To… to pretend to love me?” Ben looked almost bewildered. For a moment, his anger segued into hurt, and that – that hurt. “To make love to me?”

Shame flooded Rey. She couldn’t look at his parents. “Ben, it wasn’t like that.” It was real.

Ben’s nostrils flared when she said his name. “You expect me to believe you did all of this for a green card?”

“Ben, I said it was my idea.” Luke tried to get in between them; Ben very nearly shoved him.

“Shut up.” He rounded on his parents. “Did you know about this?”

“Ben, calm down.” Leia’s grip was white on the back of a kitchen chair. “Luke, what is going on?”

“Shut up, Luke.” Ben repeated, cutting Luke off, without looking at him. “I need to hear it from her.”

Rey looked wildly around, as if she might find the words. She thought, irrationally, that Leia or Han might take her side. They were staring at her, dumbfounded. Somehow, it was easier to tell them this twisted, pathetic tale. They’d been there. Ben had been sleeping, for lack of a better word. And, as much as she loved them, it was marginally easier to betray them than to betray Ben. Ben, who loved her. Knowing that he loved her was the only thing that made it bearable to tell the truth. Not an excuse, but the truth, as inexplicable and unforgiveable as it was.

“Do you remember that day at the hospital? What – of course you do. There was a…” She sucked in a deep breath. “Misunderstanding.”

“Hell of misunderstanding.” Han muttered, under his breath.

Rey felt a muscle in her jaw twitch. “They wouldn’t let me see him at the hospital. I said something stupid – so stupid, and the nurse believed me.” She saw something flicker in Leia’s eyes, as if she was putting together little pieces of a puzzle. “And the nurse told you that I was Ben’s fiancée. Only, I was never engaged to Ben.” Rey’s ears roared. “He didn’t even know I existed.”

“Why didn’t you say something?” Leia asked, after a long silence. She looked almost compassionate. Rey couldn’t fathom why.

“It was my idea – ” Luke tried again, and Rey knew he was trying to soften the blow. It had been his idea to keep up the ruse. He’d convinced her to keep lying. Still, this was ultimately her fault. It was all her fault.

This time, Han and Ben cut him off, in tandem. “Shut up, Luke.”

“Everything happened so fast.” Rey whispered. She still couldn’t look at Ben. “I couldn’t tell you the truth. And then I didn’t want to tell you the truth. Because the truth is… the truth is, I fell in love with you.”

Han’s brows rose. He pointed to his own chest, and Rey realized she’d been looking at him. She’d been looking at both of them, wanting to make them understand. “Me?”

“No.” Rey laughed. It was a watery, hopeless laugh. Somehow, she could find some gallows humor in all of this. “Yes. All of you.” She looked back at Ben, although she could barely bear to. “Especially you.”

Ben’s eyes flickered away, for a moment, as if he could barely stand to look at her. His hand rose to cover his mouth and the lower half of his face. It was shaking. She couldn’t see his lips, but she wondered if they were trembling, too, or if he was holding them tight the way he did when he tried to control himself. Her voice broke. “I went from being all alone to being a fiancée, and a daughter, and a grand-daughter, and a niece, and a neighbor, and a friend. I got to be part of a family. And I hadn’t had that in a really long time.”

“You haven’t had that in a long time, either, Ben.” Luke murmured. “I thought the two of you would be good for each other.”

For a short, shining moment, Rey thought that Ben was going to forgive her. She’d told the truth, the whole truth, and he was silent. It was mercifully quiet in the kitchen. It was the calm before the storm.

Ben sputtered furiously for a moment before he could spit out his words. “What the fuck? Listen to yourself! If you thought - you could have set me up on a blind date instead of – ” 

He stopped himself, as if he was about to say something he’d regret. Turning, he hunched over the kitchen table. He swept his forearm across it, his fist clenched. The plate and pancakes crashed to the floor. The ceramic shattered, the coffee spilled, and the eggs, and sausage, and bacon were ruined.

Rey almost flinched when Ben rounded on her. She half-expected him to lash out at her. He didn’t. Her voice was a pathetic, broken rasp. “Are you going to call the police?”

“No.” Ben’s jaw worked. He braced himself on the table. “I’m going to call a mental institution, because you’re a fucking psycho.” Rey flinched, in earnest, then. Ben rounded on his uncle. “And you – ”

“Oh for Christ’s sake.” Leia erupted, getting in between him and Luke, as if there was a real possibility he’d physically hurt his uncle. He’d already ruined breakfast. “We all knew there was something going on, but we were so happy you’d finally found someone.”

“Jesus Christ.” Ben raked his hands through his hair. He glared at his father, over his small but formidable mother’s shoulder. “What about you?”

“It seemed… a little too good to be true.” Han cleared his throat, awkwardly.

“We all just wanted what’s best for you, Ben.” Luke went and stood between Han and Leia, as if they could protect him. Alone, on the other side of the kitchen, Rey felt totally exposed.

“You all lied to me!” Ben roared.

“We love you.” Luke tried, again.

“No, you don’t!” Ben shouted back. “You just feel sorry for me and want to fix me. Don’t you dare feel sorry for me!” Turning to Rey, as if he’d briefly forgotten that she was there, Ben saw that she was crying. She wasn’t sure when the tears had started – sometime after the plate had cracked on the floor – and now she couldn’t stem them. They dripped down her cheeks.

“I never meant to hurt you.” It was true, but it sounded incredibly hollow, in the context of his anger and pain.

Ben waved a finger at her, in a vaguely threatening way, repeating himself. “Don’t feel sorry for me. You have no right to. You’re – you’re the crazy person.”

That, Rey could tell, wasn’t just something he’d said in the heat of anger. He didn’t just feel betrayed.  He meant it. He thought she was crazy. He hated her. He didn’t have to say it for her to know it. Just as she’d known that he loved her from the way he looked at her, soft-eyed and tender, she knew he hated her. Even worse – he was looking at her like she was a stranger.

Rey turned, and ran.

***

Ben was right. She was a crazy person. She looked it, too – running down the street, barefoot, in his old pajamas. Her chest hurt, from the cold morning air, and from the effort of not crying. She ran as fast as she could, as if she could outrun the looks on their faces.

Six blocks away, she stopped short, doubling over and bracing herself on her knees. It was eerily quiet; the way Manhattan never was. Bird chirped. Traffic buzzed pleasantly in the distance. What was missing was the pounding of footsteps on the concrete, or the squeal of tires.

No one had followed her. Not Luke, who’d tried to take the blame. Not Leia, who always tried to send her home with leftovers and tutted nervously about her safety in the city. Not Han, who wouldn’t let her take the subway after dark and always drove her home, playing golden oldies in the car.

Not Ben.

***

“Peanut?” Finn opened his door a crack.

He saw the look on Rey’s face. She’d tried not to cry on the subway, knowing she already looked ridiculous enough in a little boy’s Batman pajamas and no shoes, but under the fluorescent lights, in the swaying train, surrounding by strangers, she’d sobbed. Her eyes were red-rimmed and tell-tale.

“Finn.” She choked out. She couldn’t say any more without crying again.

Finn’s face softened, and he opened the door to let her in. Like always, he understood. “Oh, Peanut.”

***

“Stay the night.” Finn entreated, seven hours later. “I’ll order Chinese and there’s some cheap red wine.”

“I should go.” Rey needed to be alone – not just to mourn and lick her wounds, but to accept that this was her life. She was alone. She came home to a dark, tiny apartment. She ate frozen meals. She laid awake and listened to traffic. At Christmas, she fussed over a foot-high artificial tree and ate Chinese food. On Sundays, she made herself breakfast, and ate it. Alone.

“Peanut.” Finn held her by the shoulders, squeezing them comfortingly. “I really am sorry. I thought you would feel better once – once this wasn’t hanging over you.”

But I don’t, Rey supplied. She lied, “I do.”

“Peanut.” Finn knew she was lying. He always did. For all of the lying she’d done, she still couldn’t lie to him.

“I will.” Rey amended. She had to.

***

As Rey trudged back up the stairs to her apartment, Unkar Plutt poked his greasy head out of his office. Usually, she tried to avoid him, sprinting around the corner and up the stairs. He flirted with her, or harassed her about late rent, like clockwork, if he caught her. Tonight, she was too tired, and the shoes she’d borrowed from Finn were likely to make her trip on the stairs.

Plutt gave her a disapproving look from under his stained sweatband. She was still wearing the Batman pajamas. “Your fiancé came by.”

“He’s not my – what?” Rey almost fell down the stairs in the midst of denying that he was her fiancé and giving herself a reality check. She gripped the banister for dear life, her palms suddenly sweaty. “Ben?”

Her landlord shrugged. “Tall. Asshole.”

It took one to know one; Unkar’s assessment didn’t surprise Rey.

Ben.” Rey turned and sprinted up the stairs. Her breath came in panicked wheezes as she ran up the flights of stairs. Ben was here. She didn’t care if he’d come to scream and yell. She didn’t care if he’d brought the police, or a psychologist. She could explain, really explain. She could beg his forgiveness. She could – what, beg him to take her back? They'd never even been engaged. She’d cross that bridge when she came to it.

On the landing, she stopped short, as if she’d run straight into a brick wall. Her chest tightened, painfully, and she wished she’d stayed at Finn’s. Maybe this would have been easier to face in the morning. Tonight, it crushed her.

Sitting outside of her door, forlorn on her worn-out doormat, was the dog-eared card-board box full of her favorite books.

Chapter Text

Rey stood behind the cash register, fiddling with the strings of her apron. It was that dark, quiet hour before the daily commute roared to life. It used to be her favorite hour of the day – or, at least, it had been for three months.

She glanced at the corner booth. Every time someone sat in it, Rey had to bite back the urge to say, no, not there. That’s his place. I’m saving it for him. I’m hoping he’ll come back.

At this hour, the booth was empty, just as it had been every morning for two weeks. At first, she’d told herself that Ben was still on leave from work because of his ribs and concussion. He was probably sleeping in every day, complaining that he was bored, and lounging around the apartment in his underwear. Once he went back to work, he’d resume his routine. He’d sit in the corner booth, drink his coffee, read his newspaper, and eat the same breakfast, day in and day out.

He didn’t. Now, this hour was the loneliest of her day. Hardly anyone ever came in. The little bell at the door never jingled. The line cook’s tuneless humming was the soundtrack to Rey’s melancholy early mornings.

***

“I’m thinking of going back to England.” Rey told Finn, out of the blue, one night. They were watching reality television together – some dating show. It was so fake, Rey thought cynically. She should know.

“England?” Finn set down his carton of Chinese take-out. He’d ordered her to come over, and then ordered greasy comfort food. For the past hour, he’d watched her pick at hers, disapprovingly.

“I am English.” Rey didn’t look away from the screen. “And my visa’s expired.”

Finn shifted on the creaky old couch. She could tell her wanted to argue with her, and convince her to stay. Instead, he offered, softly, and half-jokingly, “You could marry me.”

Rey looked down at her sweet and sour chicken. Her appetite was well and truly gone, now.
“I think I’m done with fake engagements.”

***

The next morning, the bell tinkled. Rey set down her chipped ceramic mug, and almost spat out the mouthful of hot black coffee she’d been nursing.

A tall, pale man with red hair and an impressive topcoat was stepping through the door. Well-groomed and wearing an expensive watch, he looked out of place in the old diner. He looked almost as out of place as –

“I’d rather go somewhere else.” Ben was behind the red-headed man. Whereas the first man had swept imperiously into the restaurant, Ben was ducking his head as if he wanted to disappear under his topcoat. Rey had a mad urge to sink behind the cash register and make herself disappear.

“No, I’ve heard this place is really good.” The redheaded man was saying, obstinately, as he unwound a luxurious-looking scarf. It had to be cashmere.

“It’s nothing special.” Ben muttered, toeing the linoleum floor. The redhead man tossed his scarf onto the tabletop of the corner booth, Ben’s booth. He slid into it, beaming.

“Reminds me of a simpler time. Back before I made six figures.” The man stretched his legs out under the table. Ben scowled at him, and then slid into the booth, hunching over. He didn’t look over his shoulder. Rather, he curled in on himself, like he was trying to make his massive body smaller.

Rey’s fingers were trembling so much she nearly dropped the two coffee-mugs she was carrying when she worked up the courage to go to the corner booth. She didn’t; she did spill on the red-head man’s pristine white shirt. “I’m so sorry.” I’m so, so sorry, she added, silently, to Ben.

“Son of a – ” The redheaded man looked down at his soaked, stained shirt, and then back at her. “Oh.” All of the sudden, he didn’t seem angry. That was suspicious – he  looked like the kind of man who demanded perfection from secretaries and waitresses alike.

“I’m so sorry.” Rey repeated herself, flushing scarlet. She couldn’t look at Ben. Fumbling for her towel, she tried to dab at his shirt, ineffectually.

“Well, if you insist.”

As she dabbed, awkwardly, Rey was very aware that Ben was looking at her – at her left hand, to be precise. At her ring finger, to be even more precise, as if he expected there to be a diamond there, winking under the fluorescent lights and saying stay away.

“What can I get you?” Rey straightened up, winding the towel around her ring finger and hiding it.

“More coffee.” The red-headed man held up his mostly empty cup. She’d spilled almost all of his coffee. “And some sugar… for my coffee.”

Rey blinked, confused by the pause he’d inserted between the two phrases. He was flirting with her, that much was clear. Why, she couldn’t fathom. She had circles under her eyes, coffee stains on her apron, unwashed hair, and a distinct aroma of frying oil. “Nothing to eat?”

 “What’s your favorite?” The red-headed man seemed oblivious to Ben’s glowering, or perhaps he attributed it to his general malcontent.

“Pancakes.” Rey felt the head of Ben’s glare on her left cheek. “Just plain buttermilk pancakes.”

“Simple. Classic.” The man nodded. “Pancakes it is…?” He trailed off, and Rey realized he was waiting for her to supply her name.

“Rey.” Ben growled the syllable. It emerged from between his teeth, angry-sounding. Hearing it gave Rey the courage to look at him. He looked as handsome as she remembered him, but there was something different about him. His cheeks weren’t quite so close-shaven. Dark circles formed half-moons under his eyes.

The ginger-haired man looked between the two of them, his brow creasing. Rey knew what he was thinking – why would Ben be on a first-name basis with any waitress, let alone a waitress at a diner he purported to dislike.

“I already know what you want.” Rey said, stupidly.

“You memorized my order.” Ben responded, flatly. He ignored his colleague.

“You came in every day.” Rey whispered, humiliated. Not because I’m crazy, she wanted to add. I wasn’t obsessed with you. I just liked you. Loved you.

“I thought you said you didn’t like this place, Ben?” The other man asked, his lips curling.

Ben looked down at his folded copy of the Times. “I used to.”

He didn’t look back up at her.

***

Rey tried to be as unobtrusive as possible when she ducked out of the kitchen. She couldn’t hide in there with the disgruntled line cook for the duration of their meal. She crept, meekly, from the kitchen, staying somewhat obscured behind the counter.  

“Unusual name.” The redhead was saying, quietly. Ben cut into his breakfast sausage almost viciously, stabbing his knife against the plate. He didn’t answer. “Isn’t that your ex-fiancée’s name?”

Ben didn’t deny it. He continued mauling his food with single-minded purpose. That seemed to confirm the red-headed man’s suspicions. He asked, leaning closer and whispering, “A waitress? You were engaged to a waitress?”

“Don’t be so fucking elitist, Hux.” Ben snapped, a little too loudly. He was gripping his knife as if he might stab the man – Hux – with it.

“She must be great in the sack.”

Rather than stab the other man, Ben set down his knife and fork with more force than was really necessary; the table rattled. “Don’t talk about her that way.”

Hux leaned back in his half of the red vinyl booth. “She’s – ”

“She’s my ex-fiancée.” Ben’s grip on his utensils was white-knuckled. “And stop flirting with her.”

With a rattle of her own, Rey set down a stack of plates on the countertop. It made a jarring noise. Almost as if he couldn’t help himself, Ben looked over at her, sharply. They made eye contact for the briefest of moments, and then both looked away. Rey wasn’t sure who had lost their nerve first, but her knees were shaking.

***

Rey passed through the swinging silver doors into the galley kitchen, and pressed her hot forehead against the cool wall. The line cook said something snide, but she didn’t hear him. Her ears were ringing a little.

His ex-fiancée. She wondered if it was just easier to call her that than to explain, or if he really thought of her that way – if he really thought of their relationship as a real relationship that had ended. Somehow, that hurt less than him thinking it had all been a lie.

***

The next day, when Ben slouched through the door of the diner, he was alone, and Rey was ready. She didn’t hyperventilate or hesitate. Without taking his order, she brought him eggs, and bacon, and sausage.

It was a strange moment. It was almost as if it was December again. Rey wished it was. Given the opportunity to go back to December, she would have point-blank told him that she was attracted to him. He might have laughed in her face, but her conscience would be clear.

It was almost March, though. The city was thawing. Her conscience would never be clear, but at least she could do one thing to ease it.

Next to his plate, Rey placed a crumpled one-hundred dollar bill.

Ben picked it up and studied it, impassively. For a moment, she thought that he didn’t remember leaving it for her, the fateful morning of his accident.

“I tipped you because I thought you were…” His throat bobbed for a second. She remembered the two words he’d used: hot, and beautiful. She preferred the second. His eyes flickered to the window, as if he was embarrassed, as he tried to hand the crumpled bill back to her. “Keep it.”

“I can’t.” Rey backed away, holding her coffee-pot between them like it would protect her.

***

When the bell tinkled for the second time that morning, the sun was rising. Rey walked back to the corner booth, slowly, to clear it off. He hadn’t finished his breakfast – that was unlike him.

Next to the merchant’s copy of his receipt was the hundred-dollar bill. It was smoothed out, and tucked neatly next to the receipt. She almost expected a note to be scribbled onto the receipt. There wasn’t one. Just as before, he’d left the hundred-dollar bill, wordlessly.

Last time he had left her a tip that big, she’d run after him. She’d been sure it was a mistake. This time, she folded the bill into her hand, and clenched it tightly. She pressed her fist to her heart.

***

The next week, an Amazonian blonde trailed Ben into the diner. Like Hux, she was well-dressed. She seemed less charmed with the worn-out old diner than Hux had been, and even less charmed with Rey. She gave her a curt once-over, and said, brusquely, “Egg white omelet please. No cheese.”

They spoke in low voices over their breakfasts, leaning towards each other so Rey couldn’t hear. Rey told herself that she didn’t want to hear – that she wasn’t jealous of the intimacy of their conversation, or of the blonde’s hand near his on the tabletop. Still, she was jittery and tense even without her second cup of coffee.

Rey ducked her head and folded silverware in napkins with maniacal speed, her hands shaking. Between each sloppily wrapped set of silverware, she looked across the diner. Ben caught her, once. The next set of napkin-wrapped silverware looked more like origami.

After she’d polished off her offputtingly healthy breakfast, the blonde checked her sleek wristwatch, made a disgruntled noise, and swept off. Rey waited, with baited breath, for her to kiss Ben on the cheek, or touch his hair or shoulder. She didn’t.

As she brought Ben his check, Rey mumbled, “I’m glad.” She had to force herself to say it. It was a lie.

“What?” Ben’s head snapped up. He must have gotten used to her pretending he was a perfect stranger every morning.

“I’m glad you’ve moved on.” The words tasted like sawdust.

“Moved on from what?” Ben sounded as if he was almost making an effort to be cruel. Rey flushed. She wished she hadn’t said anything, or tried to be the bigger person. Damn conscience – she’d listened to it once, and now it wouldn’t shut up.

“I’m glad you’re dating.” She ground out. He was forcing her to say it, and she hated him for it.

“I’m not.” He leaned back in the booth, crossing his arms over his chest.

“Oh.” Rey faltered. The tall blonde had been a one-night stand, then – the kind she suspected Ben had entertained when he was lonely, year after year. The kind with no strings attached. Apparently, Ben was considerate enough to buy early breakfast after such a dalliance. 

“Are you jealous?” Ben asked, bluntly.

“Don’t be ridiculous.” Rey responded stiffly. If he’d moved on, she could pretend that she had, too. “We were never… you were never really mine. It wasn’t real.”

“You’re jealous.” Ben flattened his palm on the sticky tabletop.

You were jealous when your friend flirted with me.” Rey parried, without thinking. Ben didn’t bother to deny it. He looked down at the table and at his cold coffee.

“Because, to me, it felt real.” He said, finally his gaze fixed on the dark abyss of his coffee mug. His long finger traced the rim of it. Rey swallowed, hard, over and over. He didn’t look at her, even though she was surely making odd, gulping sounds like a fish as she tried not to cry. “You were really mine.”

Chapter Text

Two weeks later, two minutes after the bell tinkled, heralding Ben’s silent, sullen departure from the diner, the door swung open again. Luke stood in the doorway, his hands tucked into his pockets, as if he needed permission to come in.

Rey held a plasticized menu up to her mouth for a moment, to hide her expression, and then gestured, silently, to an empty booth – not Ben’s booth, but a different one. Luke sat, and folded his hands on the table. When she approached him, he reached across the tabletop and patted it with his palm, signaling that she should sit down.

It was still early, and there was only one other person in the diner – a geriatric, glaring pancake-eater. Rey slid into the booth, wrapping her arms around herself protectively. “You just missed him.”

Luke reacted, his brows crinkling together. “Ben?”

“He always leaves at six-thirty.” Rey told him.

Luke took the menu from her and pretended to read it. “I didn’t know this was the only place in Manhattan that served breakfast sausage.”

Rey gave Luke a look over the top of the menu. She was equally unsure why Ben kept coming back to the corner booth. He rarely acknowledged her existence. If she was lucky, he grunted when she brought him fresh coffee. He did tip, though – sometimes twenty dollars. Sometimes ten. Sometimes fifty. Rey collected the tips in a jar in her apartment, and wished he’d leave a note on his receipt instead. “It’s hard for Ben to… change.”

“He has, though.” Luke set the menu down. “I’ll have the waffles. He’s been coming to Sunday dinners.”

Rey couldn’t help herself. She thought of the tall blonde, and wondered if she’d dragged Ben to Sunday dinner. Or worse, if Ben had wanted to show her off, and introduce her to his family.  “By himself?”

“You mean without you dragging him by his ears?” Luke’s mouth quirked. “Yes. You should come, sometime. Leia saves you a plate.”

Rey looked down at her hands. She imagined the plate – meatloaf, or spaghetti, or roast beef. It wasn’t the food that she longed for. It was the hands, handing her the plate. It was the feeling of tucking her chair close to the table and listening to everyone chatter. “I’m going back to England.”

Luke blinked. “England?”

“I’m English.” Rey explained, patiently, as if he didn’t know from the lilt of her voice.

“But…” Luke sputtered. “Your life is here.”

“I don’t have a life.” Rey corrected him. She thought about the embarrassing number of frozen dinners she’d accumulated in her cramped, undersized refrigerator.  “And I don’t have a visa.”

“You could get a green card.” Luke argued.

“I’d have to marry someone to get a green card.” Rey said, pointedly, unable to resist sharpening the word and making it into a weapon.

“I know a guy.” Luke quipped, deflecting her remark. Rey laughed despite herself. They were companionably silent for a moment. She was almost surprised that he didn’t try to change her mind. “We’ll miss you, Rey. We miss you.”

Rey blinked, frantically. Her eyelids suddenly felt very heavy. “They don’t hate me? Han and Leia, and Paddie, and Chewie, and Maz, and Lando?”

“No one hates you, Rey.”

“Ben does.”

“Ben hates that he doesn’t hate you.” Luke said, cryptically. “We fell in love with you too. All of us.”

“Thank you.” Rey exhaled shakily, feeling some of the guilt that had been rotting in her belly melt away. She reached across the table and squeezed his hand. “Tell them goodbye, for me? I never got to.”

“I will.” Luke hesitated. “Ben, too?”

Rey swallowed hard. She was tempted to say that no, she could do it herself, that she was brave enough and strong enough. Instead, she said, her voice cracking, “Ben, too.”

***

“Rey.” Finn traced the tape on the top of the cardboard box of her favorite books. She’d never unpacked it. She’d brought it right inside, the night she’d found it on her door mat, and left it by the door. It was stupid, she knew. She should have unpacked it, and accepted that this lonely, tiny apartment was home. “This is the craziest thing you’ve ever done.”

“This is the second craziest thing I’ve ever done.” Rey corrected. “I pretended to be engaged to a guy in a coma, remember?”

Finn slouched over to her couch, and threw himself onto it. He watched her pack, frowning. His silence and inaction were a form of protest: he refused to help her move so that she could leave the country. Rey my shuffled around the apartment, tossing things into boxes: a spatula, a frying pan, a pair of winter boots that it was getting too warm to wear.

“We could do something even crazier.” Finn said, when her back was turned.

Rey zipped up the suitcase she was filling with clothes, and straightened up. The sound of the zipper closing seemed so final. She winced. “What?”

“Offer still stands.” Finn braced his elbows on his knees. He looked perfectly serious.

Rey pretended to be stupid. She knew what he was talking about. She fiddled with the roll of packing tape, picking the loose end with her fingernail. “What offer?”

“We could get married.” He told her, earnestly.

“You’re gay, Finn.” Rey reminded him, gently.

“And you’re English.” Finn lobbed back. “You’d get a visa. I’d get my conservative Nigerian parents off of my back about the whole I’m-super-gay-thing. We’d be a perfect fake couple.”

Rey laughed, morosely. She drifted to the window, and thought about what it would be like to be married to Finn. It wouldn’t be a real marriage – no sex. No kissing. No pancakes in the morning or sharing pajamas, or going to his parent’s house for dinner every Sunday.

But none of that had been real, either, Rey reminded herself, tamping down the self-pity she’d been trying desperately not to wallow in for weeks. That had been a fake relationship. She’d lied to Ben to make him love her.

She wouldn’t have to lie to Finn. He loved her, unconditionally. He loved her in a different way, but he did love her. If she married him, there’d be someone to call if a truck hit her, or if she couldn’t make rent. She wouldn’t have to duck questions about her immigration status and turn into alleyways when she saw police officers. She could stay in New York.

Ben was right, she thought, dully, as she turned back to Finn. She was crazy.

Finn saw the look on her face, and grinned. Maybe he was just as crazy.

***

The next night – a Tuesday – was unseasonably cold. Rey slowly, methodically wiped down every table in the diner at eight-forty at night. When she turned off the lights and locked the doors, she’d walk home to her apartment, where she’d eat a frozen meal and watch traffic through the window. That routine wouldn’t change after she met Finn at the courthouse early the next morning. She’d still be alone on her wedding night. They would go to a dinner she couldn’t afford, a split a bottle of champagne, and toast to their convenient nuptials, and then he would go to his boyfriend’s apartment, and she would go home alone.

When the diner door was wrenched open, the bell was shrill with disapproval. The metal and glass slammed into the wall with an unpleasant sound. Frowning, Rey turned around, flicking her damp towel with annoyance.

Ben stomped into the diner. He stopped in his tracks when he saw her, nostrils flaring, and seemed to weigh options in his mind. As if he couldn’t think of anything to say or explain his untimely pretense, he turned on his heel and strode over to his booth.

On wobbly knees, Rey brought him a menu. She was disoriented – she doubted that he’d want his customary breakfast meal this late at night. “Coffee?”

“It’s almost nine o’clock at night.” Ben said, shortly. It was the first time he’d addressed her in days, rather than eat his breakfast in silence. It was as if the world had turned upside down and inside out. “No coffee.”

“What do you want?” Rey asked. Her seemed to understand what she meant – she didn’t care what he wanted to eat. The line cook was closing up the kitchen, in any case. She wanted to know why he’d come here, unannounced and unexpected.

 Ben ground his teeth for a moment. When he spoke, it was with great effort. “You’re going back to England?”

Rey frowned. Her whirlwind decision to marry Finn seemed so inevitable. She’d almost forgotten than before she’d made that decision, she’d been on the verge of spending all of Ben’s tips, saved up in the little jar, on a plane ticket to London. She’d almost forgotten she’d asked Luke to give him her goodbyes. “I’m not.”

Ben’s shoulders relaxed, just minutely. He sounded almost accusatory. “Luke said you were going back to England.”

“I changed my mind.” Rey played with the menu, tracing its metal-capped corners.

For a moment, Ben looked almost hopeful. He cleared his throat, and tried to sound gruff. “What changed your mind?”

“I’m getting married.” Rey blurted out the words before she could lose her nerve.

It was dead silent, and she wondered whether Ben had even heard her. He didn’t react. His jaw worked for a moment, as if he was trying not to laugh. She half-expected him to, but when he spat out a word, it was clipped and angry. “What?”

“I’m getting married.” Rey repeated herself. “Tomorrow morning.”

“What…” Ben stopped himself. “Who are you marrying?”

“Finn.” Rey remembered, too late, Ben’s terrible jealousy. She remembered how he’d shouted and circled when she’d taken Finn’s phone call, rather than let him cajole her into sex. She remembered the hurt on his face when he realized Finn was the keeper of her secrets.

“Finn.” A flicker of hurt crossed his face; it panged her. Then, it was gone. His voice rose in pitch the way it always did when he yelled. “Are you insane?”

“Am I insane?” Rey set the menu down with more force than was necessary. It thwacked the edge of the table, making him jump a little. “I work at a diner. I go home to an empty apartment. I can barely make rent. I’m about to be deported. A kind, good man asked me to marry him, and I said yes. That makes me a total raving lunatic.”

Ben’s eyes narrowed, and for a moment, she thought he would repeat the words that had cut her so deeply: you’re crazy. You're a fucking psycho. 

Instead, he shoved violently away from the table and stood up, the silverware clattering. He shoved past her, jostling her, and all but ran out the door, without ordering anything. Rey stood by the empty booth for moment, and as Ben passed, she made eye contact with him through the storefront window.

Ben looked bewildered, and hurt. She knew he’d come to say goodbye before she left the country, but a small, traitorous part of her – the delusional part she needed to learn to ignore – wondered if he had come to say something else.

***

Rey dressed up for her wedding, even though it was probably a moot point. Finn didn’t appreciate the way she looked in a dress the way Ben would have. Still, she picked out a floral one, one she rarely wore, and put on lipstick. She might as well look the part.

She met Finn of the steps of the courthouse. He’d gotten her a little bouquet. When he handed it to her, shyly, her heart almost burst with gratitude for him. “You are the best friend I could ever have.”

Finn hooked his arm through hers. “I’ll be the best husband you could ever have, too.”

Rey tried to smile, and tried not to compare him to Ben. She ignored the twist in her gut as they climbed the last few steps of the courthouse.

***

The disinterested judge had barely asked their names and adjusted his glasses on his nose, clearing his throat to begin the brief formalities, when the doors to the courtroom creaked and then slammed as someone burst in. Rey twisted, her heart stammering in her chest.

“I object!” Ben was out of breath, red-faced and flustered. His tie was crumpled across his chest. He looked as if he'd been running, or shouting, or both. 

“I’m not to that part yet.” The judge said, wearily, from the bench. “And I just ask that question as a formality. I don’t really – ”

“Well, I object.” Ben repeated himself, obstinately, striding towards the judge. “I have to object. She can’t marry him.” He turned to Rey, catching his breath. “You can’t marry him.”

“Why not?” Rey’s grip tightened on her makeshift bouquet. She felt like she might vomit. She’d been feeling that way all morning, but seeing Ben made it worse.

“Why not?” Finn asked, trying to step closer to Rey and being bodily blocked by Ben.

“Why not?” The judge asked, over the tops of his glasses.

 “Because she’s engaged to someone else.” Ben gripped the judge’s wooden bench. He stood in between Rey and Finn like his life depended on keeping them apart. His knuckles were white, but he spoke with absolute conviction. “She’s my fiancée.”

Chapter Text

The judge looked, for a moment, remarkably unperturbed. He looked over his glasses at Ben, and then Finn, and then, finally, Rey. He cocked his head to the side, narrowing his eyes at her. “Well, this is new.”

“We’re not engaged.” Rey told the judge, gesturing helplessly to Ben with her cheap bouquet.

The judge’s brows rose. “He seems to think you are –”

“We are.” Ben said, obstinately.

The judge glanced at Ben, and added, sounding a little bemused, “ – or that you should be.” He looked at Finn, sidelong. “You aren’t going to punch him, are you? I’ll have to hold you in contempt if you do.”

“I’m not going to punch him.” Finn stammered, at the same time that Ben spoke, his voice dangerously low.

“I will if she marries him.”

“Ben!”

“Well, young lady,” The judge adjusted his glasses. He looked like he was trying not to laugh. He leaned back in his wing-backed chair, crossing his arms across his black-robed chest. “When you decide who you’re engaged to, I’ll be in chambers.”

***

On the steps of the courthouse, Rey stopped short three steps above Ben, so that she could look him in the eye as she smacked him in the chest with her bouquet of roses and gardenias.

“What was that for?” He ducked her next blow, staggering back a step.

“What was that for?” Rey gestured back towards the door of the courthouse. “You interrupted my wedding.”

“No, no, no.” Ben stepped up, so that he towered over her once again. “You interrupted my whole life.” He drew himself up to his full height. “You don’t get to take the easy way out now and marry Finn.”

“It’s none of your business who I marry.” Rey tilted her chin up, refusing to be intimidated, even as her knees wobbled. “And we’re not engaged.”

“You should be thanking me.” Ben ground out. “I’m stopping you from making the biggest mistake of your life.”

“Marrying Finn?” Rey sputtered. “The biggest mistake of my life was – was pretending to be engaged to you.”

Ben scoffed. “No, that was the craziest thing you’ve ever done. This is just stupid. It’s stupid.”

“It’s not – ” Rey was about to protest that it was practical, it was mutually beneficial, it was a reasonable consolation prize, but he cut her off.

“No, listen. If you can look me in the eye and tell me that you didn’t mean it when you said you loved me, that I was just – just a means to an end –  then go ahead. Marry him. Get your green card.”

Rey opened her mouth, and then snapped it shut. She wanted to lie – to say that it made no difference to her who she went to the courthouse with. She wanted to lie and say that Ben had just been a convenient solution to all of her problems.

“You can’t.” Ben’s shoulder’s slumped, with relief, and she realized he’d been afraid of her answer. “And you can’t marry him. You don’t love him.”

“Why do you care?” Rey found her voice, finally.

“Because you loved me.” Ben said, plaintively. “And you shouldn’t settle for less.”

Rey looked down at her feet, her eyes welling. He was right, of course. She had no illusions about the fact that she was settling. She also didn’t have any options. In her despair – it was swirling, sucking her down – she lashed out. “You aren’t my fairy godmother. You aren’t just here to help me do the right thing out of the goodness of your heart.”

“I miss being engaged.” Ben suddenly lost his bravado. His explanation surprised her, as did his posture. He looked young, all of the sudden, and she felt as badly for him as she did for herself.

“Then find someone else to get engaged to!” Rey wiped her eyes with the back of her hand, her bouquet starting to fall apart. That was a fitting metaphor, to be sure.

“It’s not that simple!” Ben threw up his hands for a moment, and then dropped them, limply back to his sides. “I miss being engaged to you.”

That admission should have made her happy. Somehow, it didn’t. Her words came out watery and bitter. “So this is a grand romantic gesture.”

“It was supposed to be.” Ben looked embarrassed, now.

Rey sniffed. “What was your plan? Sweep me off my feet and and convince me not to marry the perfectly nice and available man who proposed to me, and – and…” She trailed off for a moment. “Marry you instead? ”

Ben exhaled slowly. “It sounds crazy when you put it that way.”

“I would know.” Rey said, stiffly, wrapping her arms around herself. Marrying Ben would be as much a mistake as marrying Finn. Their relationship was based on lies, and that was even worse than convenience. The tears came in earnest when she realized that she really was all alone. He’d stormed in to save her from herself, but he couldn’t. They couldn't just pretend that she hadn't lied to him for weeks. They couldn't pretend that he hadn't called her crazy. They couldn't pretend they were engaged. “I can’t marry you. I can’t marry you any more than I can marry Finn.”

Ben nodded, slowly, and she knew he understood why she couldn’t accept his proposal. His eyes were as wet as hers, but he cleared his throat and looked away, rather than cry. He let her cry, knowing, somehow, that she needed to.

After she’d mastered herself, he asked, looking at the steps, “Will you not marry me, then?”

“What?” Rey squinted at him, her eyes swollen.

“Will you not marry me?” Ben repeated. “Just… have dinner with me, and breakfast the next day. And have sex with me, in between dinner and breakfast.”

“That’s called dating.” Rey told him, hiccupping.

“Will you date me?”

Rey blinked heavily. “I might be deported.”

“Then I’ll follow you.” Ben tried to grasp her waist as she backed away, his hands nervous and fumbling.  He stepped onto the same step that she was precariously perched on, and suddenly, they were standing very close. His eyes were dark and earnest. “I’ll chase you down at the airport. I’ll run past security. I’ll take the next flight to London.”

Rey settled her hands over his on her waist; she meant to push him away, but she didn’t have the physical or emotional strength to do that. “That’s crazy.”

“You should know.” Ben pointed out, repeating her sentiments. His fingers bunched in the fabric of her dress at her hips, keeping her from running away. “Love makes you do crazy things.”

“You don’t love me.” Rey whispered, looking up at his face, so beloved to her.

“No.” He agreed, gently. His next words were familiar, but she couldn’t quite remember when he’d said them before.  “But I did. And I think I probably will again.”

***

“This is the part where we make small talk.” Rey traced the rim of her wine glass. She’d expected to be finishing off a bottle of champagne with Finn, by this hour, celebrating their convenient nuptials. She’d expected to be going home alone. Now, she wasn’t quite sure.

 Ben faltered for a moment. She understood why. It was hard to make small talk with someone you’d had sex with, she always thought. It was even harder to make the sort of polite, distant small talk that was appropriate on a first date with someone you’d had sex with. “You look nice.”

Rey glanced around the restaurant. It was dark, ambient, and expensive. She’d ordered pasta, because it was the cheapest thing on the menu. She wasn’t quite sure if he was going to pay the bill, or if she should let him. “This is a nice place.”

“It is.” Ben shifted awkwardly in his chair. He’d cut his hair, she realized. She wondered if it was because she pestered him about it. “I’ve never been, but I heard it’s good.”

“Right.” Rey managed. She didn’t have much in the way commentary on a place like this; it was the kind of place that made her fidget underneath the white tablecloth.

They were silent for a moment, and then Ben cracked, laughing at himself. “Now that that’s over with…”

 “Yes.” Rey slumped with relief. It was bizarre to have first-date jitters, sitting across the table from him.

 “Can I ask you a question?” Ben leaned back in his chair.

Rey catalogued, immediately, through all of the questions he’d already asked her. He’d asked exhaustive questions about their fictional relationship, when he’d woken up and been diagnosed with amnesia. That, and he’d asked her about herself. What was her favorite color? What was her favorite meal? How would she vote, if she was a citizen? Cats or dogs? Did she hold grudges, or have a temper? Did she see herself in the suburbs, driving a minivan? No one had ever asked her so many questions. No one had ever paid that much attention to her.

“Ask me anything.” Rey told him. “I… I promise to tell you the truth.”

Ben’s lip twitched, as if he was hiding a smile. “This might take all night.”

“We have all night.” Rey responded, without bothering to decide whether that meant he would take her home, or follow her to her apartment.

“It might take weeks.”

“We have weeks.” Rey paused. “Well, as long as I don’t get deported.”

“Well, then.” Ben leaned forward on his elbows. He was smiling to himself, as if at a private joke. She wondered whether he was remembering his silly promise to chase her through the terminal, or all the way to London. That was a grand romantic gesture, if she’d ever seen one. More romantic than his misguided proposal. “We’d better get started.”

***

They didn’t have all night, as far as the restaurant was concerned. The maître d’ began giving them pointed looks and blowing out candles at ten o’clock. Ben finally paid the check – he’d been distracted by an extensive recounting of the British foster and children’s home systems – waiving away her feeble offer to split the bill.

“This is a first date, remember?”

Rey tucked her wallet back into her purse, guiltily. She remembered the statuesque blond, and wondered whether Luke was wrong about Ben. “Do you… do you go on first dates often?”

“No.” Ben signed his name on the check. “I go on second dates even less.” As they walked out of the restaurant, he elaborated, “I hate dating, but I liked… I liked being engaged. I liked knowing I was wanted and loved, without having to go through all of this awkward shit.”

Rey laughed despite herself. His assessment rung true; it didn’t offend her. “This was awkward.”

Ben laughed, tucking his hands into his pockets. She’d half-hoped he’d hold her hand, but that was something couples did, not strangers on a first date. She played along. He walked her to her stoop; she let him.

When he followed her past Unkar Plutt’s office and up the stairs, she realized he’d follow her all the way to her bed, if she let him. At her door, she pivoted and pressed her palm against his sternum. They hadn’t touched all evening – he jumped a little. “I’m not going to sleep with you on the first date.”

Ben looked like he wanted to argue – she would have humored his arguments; this wasn’t really a first date in any traditional sense of the word – but instead, he asked, “What are you doing tomorrow night?”

“Nothing.” Rey responded. “Why?”

Ben shifted on his feet, and thrust his hands into his pockets, as if to keep them from wandering. Rocking back on his heels, he looked her up and down. “I’m hoping you’ll sleep with me on the second date.”

“Ben.”

He kept a straight face, but there was an impish gleam in his eyes. “If not, I can wait for the third date.”

“How about the fourth or fifth date?” Rey challenged, crossing her arms over her chest. She knew she couldn’t hold out that long, but if he wanted to play this game – to pretend to be strangers – well, two could play.

“How about a goodnight kiss?” Ben changed the subject, and stepped closer. “People do that on first dates, don’t they?”

Rey nodded, tilting her head back. Ben pressed his mouth to hers, unhurried. It didn’t feel like a first kiss. It felt like coming home, like kissing a long-lost lover. He tasted just like she remembered. His hair felt just like she remembered, like spun silk between her fingers. Everything was just as she remembered, and she forgot to breathe. She forgot that this was supposed to be a first date.

“Not like that, they don’t.” Rey whispered, when he finally let her breathe, pressing a soft, sweet kiss to her forehead.

She felt his smile against her forehead. “Goodnight, sweetheart.”

“You don’t say that on a first date either.” She told him, curling her fingers into the long hairs at the nape of his neck. It was surreal to be standing here, like this, with him. She wasn’t quite sure he was real; she had to touch him to prove to herself that he was tangible. She hoped his ribs weren’t still bruised, because she was holding him tight enough to hurt.

“No?” Ben drew back, smiling self-consciously.

Suddenly, she was afraid he’d stop kissing her. In a hurry, she drew his face back down. He kissed her brows, her cheeks, and finally, her mouth. “But don’t stop.”

Chapter Text

Rey did sleep with Ben on the second date, if it could even be considered a date.

They went to a pizza place and ordered a bottle of wine. There wasn’t any awkward, stilted conversation. That is not to say either were comfortable – they sat silently, each jiggling their knees under the table.

Rey swirled her wine in her glass – her second glass – lost in thought. Ben had pecked her cheek, politely, gentlemanly, on the sidewalk outside the restaurant. She’d wanted him to be ungentlemanly, the way he’d been outside her door the night before. He’d pressed her against it, his hands smoothing under the hem of her sweater. His thumbs had met in her navel and his fingers had spread out, and out, and then up.

She’d let him caress her breasts under the rough fabric of her sweater, but she’d stopped him when he’d tried to pull it off and over her head, admonishing him not in the hallway. He’d tried to open the door then, kissing her sloppily while he fumbled for the knob behind her, his other hand groping her ass. Her response to that had been not on the first date.

They both knew that the second date would be different. Ben kept catching her eye, and then looking away, bashfully. She could feel the table practically vibrate from the force of his knees, knocking together. From that, she gathered that he was buzzing with anticipation as much as she was. She wondered if he’d touched himself the night before. She had, not even bothering to turn off the lights and get under the covers the way she normally did, as if she was embarrassed in her own presence.  She wondered if he’d watched the tame porn in his search history, or if he’d thought about her and that had been enough.

 When the waiter asked Rey what she wanted to order, she jumped, startled. Her leg kicked out, likely bruising his. Rey felt her cheeks heat. She felt like she’d had much more than two glasses of wine to drink.

“Miss?” The waiter stood, pen poised over his pad.

Ben saw her red cheeks , and cleared his throat. He caught her eye again, and this time, he didn’t look bashful. He looked like he was trying not to smile and give away their little secret – if it really was a secret. Rey thought they were being terribly obvious. She didn’t much care. She exhaled in a little whoosh, and nodded. Ben turned to the waiter. “We’ll just take the check.”

***

The box of books had been sitting by the door, taped up, for almost two months. She’d never unpacked it. As Ben lingered by the door, he toed it, nervously. He put his hands in his pockets, looked down at his. His chin almost rested on his breastbone.

Rey fidgeted, wondering whether he was going to ask why she hadn’t untapped and unpacked the box. He didn’t. When he looked up at her, she suddenly remembered something else she hadn’t done. She hadn’t changed out of her practical, plain underwear. “Give me a second.”

Ben shuffled, amiably, across the room, as she fled to the bathroom. After a few moments, she heard his deep, gusty sigh and the creak of the couch.

Frantically, Rey knelt and rifled through the cabinets. No condoms.

“What are you doing in there?” Ben’s voice reverberated through the tiny apartment, and through the closed bathroom door.

Rey straightened up and hiked her skirt up. Hopping one foot as she dragged the ugly, worn underwear down, she responded, “I’m taking off my unsexy underwear.”

She thought she heard the huff of a laugh.

When she opened the door, the breeze blew against her legs and up her skirt, brushing against her naked crotch in a way that made her shiver involuntarily. She hadn’t realized how wet it was until the cool air tickled it. Her thighs were sticky and she wished she had a condom. 

Ben was sitting on her couch, his hands on his knees, as if he was bracing himself. His jeans were unbuttoned and unzipped, and she realized, with a jolt, that he had an erection.  “You wore your unsexy underwear?”

“I was hoping they were a self-fulfilling prophecy.” Rey explained, twisting her hands in front of her body. “Until I had that second glass of wine I thought… I thought this wouldn’t happen until the third date.”

Ben’s lips twitched. “You should have known I’d want to have sex with you even in your unsexy underwear.”

Rey played with the hem of her dress, suddenly stricken with nerves. It wasn’t sex, per se, that she was nervous about. Her voice cracked painfully. “Even though I lied to you?”

Ben cocked his head to the side and studied her. She felt terribly exposed, and she hadn’t even taken her dress off yet. He deadpanned, “You told me I needed a haircut. You told me you’d always do the dishes. You told me you have intimacy issues. You told me that I call you sweetheart, and I do. You told me that when it comes to fighting, make up sex will fix just about anything. You told me I don’t look good with facial hair. It wasn’t all lies.”

Rey laughed despite herself, but the laugh died in her throat. “The important stuff was.”

 He added, softly, “You told me you loved me.”

“That wasn’t a lie.” Rey admitted.

Ben nodded, slowly. His voice dropped an octave. “And you told me that our first time was on your couch, on the second date. But you told yourself you weren’t going to sleep with me on the second date, so you wore your unsexy panties.”

“That part wasn’t true.” Rey reminded him.

Ben crooked his finger at her, and she was helpless to disobey. When her kneecaps bumped his, he reached out and drew her onto his lap. Her dress pooled around them as she straddled him, and the open zipper of his jeans ribbed against the apex of her thighs. The friction was uncomfortable, and the metal was cold. Suddenly, she wished he wasn’t wearing jeans at all.

“Everything you told me was the truth.” Ben told her, seriously, resting his hands on the jut of her hip-bones. He kissed her very softly. “Or at least it turned out to be.”

Our engagement could have turned out to be true, too, if you’d accepted his proposal, you idiot, a traitorous voice whispered in Rey’s head. She ignored it, gripping the collar of his shirt and kissing him back. She squeaked with surprise into his mouth and her arms were drawn up in the fabric of her dress; he was pulling it off over her head. The neckline tugged her hair, and it spilled from her bun and down her neck.

Rey reached into his open jeans and unwound his underwear from around his cock as if she was unwrapping something precious. He grew impatient with her painstaking, careful handing of him, and closed his hand around hers, dragging it roughly up and down his shaft once it poked free of his fly. Warm, wet precum dribbled over her fingers and onto his. Ben didn’t seem disgusted. He watched, his mouth hanging slightly open. His eyes flickered to her breasts, and then he licked his lips.

Rey rose up on her knees, just a few inches, so that he could lick more than just his lips. Her breasts swung close to his face and he caught one, sinking his teeth, lightly, into it. She hissed, and sunk back down to her haunches with surprise. When she did, his cock eased, slippery and hot, up between the cheeks of her bottom. The wet tip of him tickled her tailbone. “No teeth.”

“I’m sorry, sweetheart.” The physical heat of Ben’s apology reached her nipple, and made it contract. He rubbed the small of her back, coaxing her back to her knees so he could rain fluttery, soothing kissing on the bite mark he’d left. When she lifted her hips and undulated them, his erection sprang back between her thighs, and bounced heavily against his belly. It left a wet spot on the white, white skin there. With her thumb, Rey wiped it off.

As she sucked her thumb clean, Ben swallowed hard, seemingly at a loss for words. That was unusual. Rey knew what words she had to say – ones that would break the spell. She had to. “Do you have a condom?”

Ben leaned back onto the couch, exhaling in a long, slow gust. It tickled her nipples and the little hairs on her arms. His arms went slack around her. “No.”

Rey sat back on his firm thighs. Ben’s member struck up into the space between them, obliviously erect despite their predicament. As they stared at it, unsure of how to deal with it, it twitched, indignant at being ignored. A fresh bead of precum materialized on its red-flushed tip.

Rey burst into laughter, despite herself, covering her mouth with her hand. Ben groaned, covering his face with his splayed hand. His voice was muffled. “Where’s the closest Duane Reade?”

***

Laying on the couch, Rey had second thoughts – or third, or fourth thoughts. She hadn’t been able to shake the suspicion that this was too good to be true. They were good together – in bed, at least. She couldn’t deny that. But maybe she was rushing headlong into sex, desperate to have him back and willing to do anything to get him back. Maybe he was taking advantage of her desperation.

Ben’s heavy footsteps were a dead giveaway. So was the distinctive rumble of his voice. When he opened the door of her apartment, a white plastic bag in one hand and a cell phone in the other, he mouthed, silently, it’s my mom.

Rey laid back down on the couch, watching him pace as he talked to his mother. He tried to cut off the conversation – a mundane one – several times, rolling his eyes at the ceiling.

Finally, he said, “Mom, this isn’t a good time.” A pause. “Okay.” Another pause, this one more deliberate. “By the way, I’m bringing a girl to dinner on Sunday.”

Rey heard Leia’s reaction. It was loud.

“No, Mom, I’m not – Jesus, do you not have any boundaries? It’s just not a good time. Yeah. I’ll see you then. We’ll see you then.” Hanging up, Ben threw his phone into her tattered old armchair. He took a little cardboard box out of the plastic bag, ripped it open, and took out a condom. Holding it between his lips, he stripped his shirt off over his head.

“Sorry.” Ben mumbled around the condom. Without further ado, he kicked off his shoes. Taking the condom packet out of his mouth, he unzipped his pants and wiggled his hips until they fell to his ankles, and then grasped his penis. It was half-soft, flopping lazily in his hand as he stroked it. He looked down, and chuffed with embarrassment. “That phone call was a boner-killer.”

Rey just blinked, not quite trusting herself to talk as he unceremoniously undressed. She must have made an odd noise, because he looked up at her, and his brow creased with worry. “Why are you looking at me like that?”

When she didn’t answer, Ben bent over and started tug his pants up again. Rey shook her head, vehemently. She didn’t want that. She wanted those pants off. Still, it took her a moment to find her voice. She held her arms out, like a child. He crawled onto the couch and into them, kicking off the offending pants and settling the weight of his body between her thighs.

The wrapper of the condom crinkled between them, and then his hands were fishing around between their bodies. This would be easier in a bed, Rey acknowledged, but she wanted to stay here, on her cramped, sagging couch. She wanted this part of her lies to come true. She wished this was really their first time, because now, there weren’t any secrets between them.

 “I won’t last.” Ben told her, nudging against her. The slippery latex felt foreign, and she regretted, irrationally, asking him to wear it. As he eased in with shallow, awkwardly angled thrusts and a little groan, he felt anything but foreign. He felt familiar, as he settled deep inside her. It didn’t feel like the first time.

Evidently, Ben felt the same way – he told her, his voice strained, “It’s been too long.”

Rey agreed with that sentiment, wholeheartedly, but his words made some other emotion leap in her chest. She remembered the blonde woman – beautiful, glamorous, suited to Ben. “You didn’t... sleep with her?”

Ben rocked slowly, looking down at her, confused. Then, it dawned on him who she was talking about. “No.”

Lightheaded, Rey closed her eyes. Her body felt weightless, somehow, as if it might fly away. Only his weight on her belly and his hands cadging her head kept her in place. “You didn’t bring her to Sunday dinner?”

“No.” Ben pressed a sloppy kiss to the corner of Rey’s jaw, and hitched her legs up around his waist. He arched up over her, the muscles of his arms and stomach tensing. A look of utmost concentration came over his face, and he moved with purpose. The couch creaked with every thrust, and every thrust moved Rey further up the couch.

His fingers were frantic in between her thighs, as he braced himself, preciously, with one hand, on the edge of the couch. His other elbow was crammed against the back of the sofa at an awkward angle, just so he could rub her slippery, tight nub. His cramped and fumbling efforts weren’t artful, but they were sincere, somehow. He was determined that she would come, and she did. A ripple of pleasure arched her back and made her moan shamelesssly, unconcerned by her paper-thin walls.

The couch cushions seemed to swallow Rey as she came down from the heights of her orgasm. Only then did Ben’s concentration shatter. He bit into the web of muscle between her neck and shoulder – ignoring the no teeth rule – and shuddered, his groan muffled by her newly-brusied skin. His tongue and his whispered endearment soothed her bruise as his hips slowed and stilled. "I love you, sweetheart."

Rey's breath hitched. "Again?"

Another soft, almost apologetic kiss on the love-bite, and another whispered word. "Still."

The couch seemed even smaller when their exhausted, sweaty limbs splayed out post-coitus. It was quiet in the apartment, but loud in the city outside. Rey traced the nape of his neck, and didn't say anything. She couldn't think of any more questions to ask him, or at least, she couldn't think of any that were as important as the ones he'd answered already.

***

“Are you going to the diner?” Rey fiddled with the hem of her robe, watching Ben hunt down his shirt on her apartment floor the next morning. It was early, it was a weekday, and he had to work. He’d told her as much, reluctantly, when he’d woken her up with a line of feather-light, apologetic kisses along her neck.

“Do you have the morning shift?” Ben stood, the balled up, dusty shirt in one hand.

“No.”

“Then I have no reason to go.” Ben said, matter-of-factly, as he tugged it on over his head.

“You don’t like the food?” Rey asked, as he shoved his feet into his shoes.

“Not particularly.” Ben told her.

“Why – ” Rey stared at the back of his head, wondering why he'd come to the diner, day after day, then.

“I like you.” Ben told her, over his shoulder, as he walked towards her door. For an awful moment, Rey thought he was going to leave without a proper goodbye – without a kiss, or a hug, or even a few sweet words she would dissect all day.

Short of the door, Ben stooped over. He grasped the box of books, still tightly sealed with tape, and hoisted it up with a little grunt. “I’m taking this with me.”

Rey blinked at his back. “Why?”

Ben shrugged. He pivoted around to face her. Holding the carboard box, he couldn’t hug her, or touch her cheek, or even kiss her without awkwardly bending over it. He didn’t have to, though, to make her knees wobble. Before he left, he told her, “One box at a time, sweetheart.”

Chapter Text

Ben rang the doorbell of his parent’s house, formally. They stood in front of it, not quite holding hands. Their littlest fingers brushed against each other and then they jumped apart like teenagers.

Leia had always insisted that Rey let herself in, saying that the house was never locked and that she was always welcome. Now, Rey wasn’t sure she was welcome at all. She wished for a wig, or hair dye, and glasses. Anything to make her look different, so that she could pretend she was just a girl being brought home for dinner by a boy for the first time. That would be less nerve-wracking than this.

The door opened, and she flinched, like a coward. Ben’s arm settled around her waist, and his palm spread across her lower back, bracingly.

Over his reading glasses, Luke peered out the door, the Times in one hand. He seemed utterly unperturbed. He looked at Ben, and then at Rey.

“Huh.” Luke lowered his glasses a little, looked back at Ben, and cocked his head to the side, repeating himself. “Huh.”

“Is that Ben?” Someone called from inside the house. There came the banging of dropped pots and pans in the kitchen.

“I took your advice.” Ben told his uncle, still standing politely on the stoop like a stranger. “To not be such a putz.”

Luke gave him a odd look, and, without responding, yelled back into the house, “It’s Ben, and he’s married.”

Ben blinked. “We’re not – ”

“No, no, no –” Ben and Rey both spoke at once, but the damage was done. It seemed the entire family had converged upon hearing the doorbell; they spilled out the door now.

“Married?” Leia lurched towards Ben, arms flailing. The word ended in a high-pitched squeal that was utterly uncharacteristic.

Not married yet.” Ben protested, holding her off. Rey couldn’t help it – her heart squeezed tight, as if it was in some invisible hand, at that little, one-syllable word. Yet.

“What’s going on?” Han grumbled, beer in hand, stretching.

“Ben and Rey are engaged.” Leia supplied, gleefully, having completely misinterpreted Ben’s words. She tried to kiss her son’s cheek, and he ducked. “Why didn’t you tell us? We would have gotten champagne. You just said you were bringing some girl to dinner –”

Ben exhaled, exasperated. “She is a girl, and we’re not –”

“No, she’s our girl.” Leia interrupted him, and kissed Rey’s cheek. Rey was shorter; she couldn’t duck away the way Ben could. “Beer will have to do. Han, get your future daughter-in-law a drink.”

“Hey, Maz.” Han said, over his shoulder. “Wedding planning’s back on.”

Rey’s face burned. “No –”

“About time.” Paddie, wizened and wrapped in a shawl, but beaming, said. She had her own drink – not beer, she scoffed at beer, but instead whisky – clutched in her wrinkled old hand.

Chewie slapped Ben on the back, making him grunt with the force of it. Maz was saying something about cakes and layers. It was almost as overwhelming as the first night Rey had ventured to Brooklyn, when Ben had been lying in a hospital bed.

She caught Ben’s eye, and he held up his hands, as if in surrender, getting everyone’s attention – no small feat. “We’re not engaged. This is my girlfriend.” Ben gave Luke a reproachful look. “Not my fiancée. Not my wife. Just my girlfriend.”

The family fell silent. Luke took off his glasses, squinting and looking skeptical. “My advice was to marry her before she could get away.”

Ben put his arm around Rey, looking down at her. His voice was unexpectedly thick. “I’m not letting her get away.”

 “And I’m not going anywhere.” Rey told him – just him, even though the rest of the family was still crowded around. Except, she privately acknowledged, England, if immigration authorities tracked her down.

“Putz.” Luke muttered, sounding not the least bit disappointed.

***
“No.” Leia’s mouth twitched, but she drew herself up with authority, when Ben and Rey began to mount the staircase. “Girlfriends sleep on the couch.”

“Oh, come on.” Ben stopped on the second stair, leaning on the bannister. “I’m thirty.”

“And I’m serious.” Leia retorted.

“You’re just trying to get me to propose.” Ben sighed. That, Rey knew, was true – Leia had dropped hints between every slice of pie and tipsy game of cards. Perched on the fourth step, she looked down at Ben.

“I would never force your hand like that.” Leia said, primly.

“She would.” Han supplied, from in the kitchen, where was washing dishes.

Leia ignored her husband, but she had the grace to blush. Ben rolled his eyes, his shoulders slumping with resignation.

Rey stepped down, passing Ben on the narrow stairs. As she did, she couldn’t resist brushing her hand along his belly. He caught it in his. “I’ll take the couch.” In her ear, he added, in a whisper, “Because I know which steps squeak.”

***

Ben did know which steps were squeaky – Rey didn’t hear him sneak upstairs. But there was nothing he could do to stop the old, narrow mattress from creaking when his weight settled onto it.  He tip-toed across the floor of his childhood bedroom, a comical thing for such a large man to do, kicked off his jeans, and crawled under the covers, nuzzling his face contentedly into Rey’s neck.

“Hush.” Ben smothered her half-hearted protests with a kiss, rolling her onto her back and awkwardly settling on top of her. The mattress groaned in protest but the heat in Rey’s belly roared in approval. Recklessly, she tucked her fingers under the waistband of his briefs, and found him hard as rock.

“You’re supposed to sleep on the couch.”

“I will. I didn’t come up here to sleep.” Ben rasped. He picked a spot on her neck, seemed to determine there was something special about it, and sucked it into his mouth. In her hand, his member throbbed and twitched.

The excitement of sneaking around was contagious. Rey’s inhibitions were no match. She wrapped her legs around his hips, using her feet to push his underwear down. His pelvis ground down into hers, enthusiastically, as their tongues collided. The mattress creaked a little as their bodies moved in a crude imitation of sex. He thrust impatiently against her underwear, is if he could move right past it and into her.

The tangled, soaked strip of fabric separating them was easy enough to move aside. The head of his cock rubbed against her, tantalizingly, for a moment. Then, with a quick, regretful kiss, Ben clambered off the bed and rifled through his pockets. Her heartbeat seemed incredibly loud, and Rey wondered, for a nervous moment, whether anyone else was awake.

Ben didn’t seem to share her qualms. Condom in hand, he straddled her thighs on the bed. In his eagerness, he didn’t bother moving slowly or carefully settling his weight onto the old mattress. The springs squeaked, indecently loudly.

On the other side of the wall, someone smacked the plaster, making a thudding noise that reverberated through the bedroom. Ben froze, half-way through ripping open the foil packet. He looked, for a moment, like a teenager caught doing something he shouldn’t.

Leia’s voice was muffled through the wall, even though she was shouting. “You’d better be on the couch or engaged by morning, Benjamin!”

Rey covered her face with her hands, wondering whether, after all the mortifying things that she’d done, this was the most mortifying. For his part, Ben crouched his body over her, muffling his laughter into the pillow and into her halo of hair.

“What are you laughing about?” Rey asked, accusingly, peeking out from between her fingers. He propped himself up on his elbows again.

“It’s good to be home.” Ben chuckled. He leaned down and kissed the very tip of her nose. The moment might have been ruined, but it had become an entirely different kind of moment – one fraught with tenderness and humor, not urgency. There was something very contented about Ben's smile. “Isn’t it?”

***

On the last day of her lease, Rey woke up in her lumpy bed and stretched, lazily. The sound of her shower had woken her up gently. It eased off, and a few moments later, her boyfriend walked out of the bathroom, stark naked. He was rubbing his wet hair with a wash-cloth.

“Why are you naked?” Rey groaned and stretched.

“We packed all of your towels.” Ben looked around the room. It was almost empty – a few boxes lined the walls, here and there. Most of her things had been carried to his apartment, true to his word, one box at a time, over the past three months. “I don’t know why you insisted on spending the night here.”

Rey didn’t quite know the answer to that question. This apartment was hot or cold, at inopportune times, was guarded by an overzealous and uncomfortably friendly landlord, and smelled faintly of Chinese food. Still, leaving it was the end of an era. She’d never lived with a boyfriend before.

The word boyfriend meant more to Rey than fiancé ever had, because she’d earned the right to call Ben that. She’d earned it by making chicken noodle soup when he was sick, and by suffering through stiff cocktail hours with his colleagues. She’d earned it with fights and make-up sex, negotiations over dishwashing and the remote, and hundreds of questions.

It seemed the word boyfriend wasn’t good enough for Ben, though. He asked her the same question he always did, as he put his pants on. He asked it nonchalantly. The first time he’d asked it, he’d stammered and flushed and been horribly nervous. Now, he asked it almost by habit, as if he was wondering what the weather forecast was. “By the way, can I propose to you?”

“No.” Rey laid flat on the bare mattress, and looked at the water-damaged ceiling. She always said no, when he asked. The first time, he’d been angry. But then she’d kissed him and entreated him that she didn’t want him to propose because he missed something that hadn’t been real. She wanted to build something real, no matter how long that took. No matter how painstaking it was.

After a moment, Ben loomed over her, gently pressing his bare foot against her hip to get her attention.

“Why not?” He asked, patiently – remarkably patiently, considering how many times they’d had this conversation. “We’re moving in together. I thought you were traditional.”

“I’m not that traditional.” Rey folded her hands over her belly and looked up at him – all the way up at him. The mattress was on the floor, her bed long sold.

“It’s been three months.” Ben said, obstinately.

“That’s fast.” Rey deadpanned, knowing full-well what he meant. She gave him an exaggeratedly nervous look, knitting her brows together. “I’m not quite certain that you aren’t still suffering the effects of a traumatic brain injury. I can’t imagine any other reason you’d want to –”

With an exasperated huff, Ben dropped onto the mattress to smother her in kisses. “Because I love you, you little idiot.”

“And I love you.” Rey told him, tucking his wet hair behind his ear.

Ben tucked his lower lip under his upper one, pouting. “How long are you going to make me wait?”

“I…” Rey thought for a second. The answer was until I am sure that you are sure. She didn’t know when that would be. Some days, she still wondered how he had forgiven her, or whether he really trusted her, after what she’d done. She wouldn’t have been able to. She resorted to sarcasm, instead of being honest. “Until I need a green card, or I get pregnant. Whichever happens first.”

“Very funny.” Ben pecked her chin, and stood up, with an oof. As he pulled his shirt on, he told her, “Remind me to hide your birth control pills and call immigration on you.”

***

A handsome man in a dark suit sat in Ben’s booth at the diner that morning. Rey frowned at him from across the register. Ben didn’t come into the diner as regularly now – when he did, she got glares from the line cook for giggling and neglecting her other tables – but she still thought of that booth as his booth.

Collecting a menu, Rey trudged across the checker-board floor. “Coffee?”

Instead of answering, the man countered, “Rey Kenobi?”

Rey blinked. She wasn’t wearing a name-tag. “How do you know my name?”

“I guess it’s only fair you should know mine, too. Officer Dameron.” He held out his hand. His smile was friendly, and white, but her stomach still clenched in panic. This wasn’t a policeman. Policemen didn’t wear dark suits. “From Immigration and Customs Enforcement.”

Chapter Text

The letter was wrinkled and damp with sweat. Rey worried it between her hands, over and over, in the alleyway behind the diner. She was framed, on either side, by garbage, and for a moment, she wanted to throw the letter into a dumpster and pretend she’d never seen it.

Leaning against the brick wall, Rey smoothed the letter out again, and re-read it. Under intimidating letterhead and an explanation of her deportable status were two words that almost made her laugh: voluntary departure.

She had ninety days before her departure would no longer be voluntary – if it could ever really be. Either on her own, or in the custody of immigration agents, she would board a plane and sob the entire way across the Atlantic.

The immigration agent had been patient. Even nice. He’d handed her a tissue and let her cry. He’d just been doing his job, Rey knew.

She should have said yes, Rey reflected, dully, when Ben had asked her if he could propose. She should have said yes the first time. She’d have a ring on her finger and a passport, if she had. She wouldn’t have a voluntary departure date.

Crumpling up the letter, Rey swiped at her again-leaking eyes with the back of her hand. She sniffled, pathetically, wondering whether Unkar had turned her in. She’d handed him her keys, that morning, as Ben had shouldered the last box and carried it to the curb. She’d never hand him another rent check. That alone was enough incentive to stop protecting her from the federal government – never mind that he’d never get to ogle her again.

Maybe Unkar hadn’t turned her in. Maybe her boss had, afraid of being fined. Maybe this was karma.  Maybe she’d just jinxed herself, joking with Ben that –

Rey stopped short, uncrumpling the letter in her shaking hands. She may have been joking, when she’d said that she would accept a proposal if faced with the prospect of deportation, but Ben hadn’t been joking when he’d asked if he could propose. He’d been serious. He was a romantic, even if he said he wasn’t.

This would be unromantic, but the idea of kissing Ben goodbye at the airport was unbearable.  

***

Han’s birthday was an occasion warranting a trip to Manhattan, and dinner at a swanky restaurant near Battery Park. The celebration was to be had under protest – Han insisted that after the sixtieth birthday, birthdays were depressing.

The hostess gave Rey a pained look when she rushed in like a hurricane, clutching a piece of paper on letterhead. She hadn’t bothered to change out of her old jeans, grease-stained sneakers, and black, well-worn t-shirt. What she was  about to do felt too urgent – she had ninety days, but that seemed like no time at all.

Ben didn’t seem to notice how out of place she looked, or how frantic she looked. He stood up as she approached, smoothing his suit down with one hand and drawing her closer with the other at the small of her back.

“Hello, sweetheart.” Ben pecked her cheek – the only time he ever kissed her so chastely and politely was in front of the whole family, and the whole family was there, even the honorary members like Chewie, Maz, and Lando.

“We need to talk.”

Ben kept a straight face. “Before or after cake and champagne?”

Cake and champagne made Rey think of weddings, and her face flushed. She didn’t have time for all of that. She had to run to courthouse, get married, get a green card, and beg for mercy. It wasn’t what she’d imagined. She’d imagined something like Leia and Maz had been scheming up – upstate, two-tiers, all of the people she loved. “Now.”

Obligingly, Ben let her lead him to the corner. When they were out of earshot, Rey blurted out, before he could ask her why she was acting like a crazy person, and before she could lose her nerve, “I will marry you.”

Ben’s brows rose. His voice was remarkable measured. She’d expected him to surprised, or exuberant, or confused. He wasn’t. He crossed his arms over his chest. “I haven’t asked you to marry me.”

“Ask me.” Rey demanded. His brows rose even higher and she thought – she thought – she saw his lips twitch. She took a deep breath, and amended, “You can ask me. And I’ll say yes.”

“You were always going to say yes.” Ben told her, cockily. Now, she was sure his lips were twitching, the way they did when he tried not to smile.

Rey exhaled, exasperated. He was right, but she was too proud to admit it. She was almost too proud to go through with this. “Go on then.”

Ben looked at his feet for a second, seeming to measure his words. “I left the ring at the table.”

Without thinking, Rey started back towards the table. Somehow, Ben’s hand found hers. Ben was smiling in earnest now, thinking that she wasn’t looking at his face. It wasn’t a smile of pure elation. It was a smile of self-satisfaction. That was her first clue.

It took Rey a moment to realize what he’d said, and what it meant. She stopped short, a few feet from the table. “Wait – what?”

Ben jumped a little, like he’d been caught, and he had. There was only one reason he would have a ring with him, tonight of all nights. He’d known she would come to him, ready to accept it. He had the grace to look a little ashamed. “I…”

“You called immigration on me?” Rey’s voice rose.

Ben seemed to consider his words very carefully. “I… did not.”

“Then how…” Rey trailed off. She scrabbled for the voluntary dismissal letter and unfolded it, scanning the letterhead. There was something odd about it. There was no seal on it. Come to think of it, Agent Dameron hadn’t shown her his badge, or put her in handcuffs. She lowered the letter, her voice tinged with disbelief. “You tricked me into – into thinking I was going to get deported?”

“I was getting desperate.” Ben held up his hands in surrender. “I had to get you to marry me somehow.”

In her heart of hearts, Rey knew she had no right to be angry – not considering the circumstances under which they had met and fallen in love. Still, she sputtered, helplessly, “That is – that is – ”

“You can say it.” Ben told her, chuckling at her impotent rage. She knew that he knew she couldn’t really be angry. It would be the height of hypocrisy, and in any case, she didn’t really want to be angry. She wanted to throw her arms around him.

“Crazy.” Rey choked out, her face coloring. It was as crazy as pretending to be engaged to a comatose stranger. Turnabout, it seemed, was fair play.

Ben grinned, unrepentant. “Well, it was Luke’s idea.”

“Guilty.” Luke supplied, lifting his champagne glass.

“Unbelievable.” Rey turned on Han. “Is it even your birthday, Han?”

“Also guilty.” Han mumbled, into his Scotch.

“Was that your idea, too?” Rey glared at Luke, hands on her hips.

“No, it was my idea.” Leia cut in. “We all wanted to be here.”

Rey frowned. Everyone was beaming, all of the sudden. “For what?”

Behind her, Ben cleared his throat. She turned, and, instinctively, pressed her palm to her heart. Ben was holding a little velvet box. It was small in his large hand, but unmistakable.

“Oh my God.” Rey managed. Suddenly, she was light-headed, and weak-kneed. She’d expected to get engaged tonight, in the most unromantic way possible, but nothing could have prepared her to see that little box.

Ben passed the black box between his hands. “Rey, I have a question to ask you.”

“Yes?” Rey whispered.

“I’m not asking permission.” Ben told her, very seriously.

“Get down on your knee.” Leia hissed, behind her. “It’s more romantic.”

“Leia, let him do it.” Han shushed her.

Rey laughed, despite herself. It bubbled up, and came out watery. She clapped a surprised hand over her mouth, embarrassed, but she couldn’t stop laughing. She wondered if she was becoming hysterical.

Ben caught her eye. With a little smile, and very deliberately, he got down on one knee. 

Chapter Text

Ben waited until his parents were tipsy before he snuck upstairs. Han and Leia were playing Heart and Soul together on the piano in the hotel lobby – if it could even be called a hotel, it was really a motel –  quite sloppily. The manager would probably would probably creep out from behind his desk and ask them to be quiet in a matter of minutes, but in the meantime, he could slip away and use the key card he’d secreted out of Rey’s purse during the rehearsal dinner.  

The motel was in the middle of nowhere – somewhere near Poughkeepsie, to be exact – but it was just down the winding road from Chewie’s cabin. It was low-slung and hadn’t been updated since 1964, but it had a bar. It was the perfect place to hole up and drink before what Leia called The Big Day.

On the second floor, Ben was confronted by Finn and Poe. They were as tipsy as his parents were, walking arm and arm down the dim, carpeted hallway. “We’re headed out on a Taco Bell run.”

“You aren’t driving, are you?”

“Driving?” Poe scoffed. He’d been forgiven for his role in Ben’s elaborate scheme to trick Rey into a proposal. And, once he’d been forgiven, he’d been invited to their engagement party, where he’d met Finn. “This is New York. No one drives.”

“This is upstate New York.” Ben didn’t have the heart to tell them there wasn’t a Taco Bell for miles. “I’m going to bed.”

“Liar.” Finn slurred.

“What?” Ben asked, innocently. The key card in his pocket felt burning hot.

“Your room is on the first floor.” Finn waved his beer bottle, almost threateningly. “It’s bad luck, you know.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.” Ben said, straight-faced. He wasn’t nearly as drunk as they were, so they shuffled past him, good-naturedly. Finn, in particular, was good at keeping secrets, but Ben waited until they had rounded the corner before he pulled the key card out.

The door of Room 120 clicked open with satisfying ease. It was dark inside. As if someone might hear him sneaking around, Ben shut the door softly behind him, and tip-toed over to the bed. The shiny, cheap duvet shone in the moonlight coming through the windows. Upstate, they didn’t have to close the blinds to get some sleep. They were surrounded by trees and the void of night.

Ben peeled his shirt off over his head, standing at the foot of the bed. The lump under the covers didn’t move. He kicked off his shoes. Still, Rey didn’t stir. The click of his belt buckle was what woke her up.

“You aren’t supposed to be in here.” Rey said, groggily. She didn’t turn on the light, but she rolled onto her back, clutching the pillow to her chest.  “It’s bad luck to see the bride before the wedding.”

“It’s dark.” Ben shimmied out of his briefs, and she sat up, as if she was suddenly more awake. “I can’t really see you. And you’re not in your wedding dress yet.” He crawled onto the bed, folded down the coverlet, and rested his hand on where he thought her thigh was. It was warm and bare. “You’re not in much of anything.”

“Ben!” Rey protested, holding the pillow closer to her chest. “You’re not supposed to have sex the night before.”

“That’s what makes it so hot.” Ben told her, leaning over her and mouthing at her neck. The lumpy mattress creaked indecently. “Cheap motel, sneaking around…”

“It’s tradition.” Rey said, weakly, as he tugged her panties down.

“We’ll do the traditional thing tomorrow. We’ll say our vows and I promise I’ll act surprised when we get naked afterwards.” Ben took the pillow from her and placed it aside, all business. He sat back on his heels and squinted to see as much of her as he could in the low light. He wanted to turn the lamp on, but he didn’t press his luck.

Rey made a soft, disgruntled noise that might have been a laugh, but she beckoned him in the dark. Relieved, Ben sunk down onto her, wiggling his hips to wedge them between her thighs. He’d been thinking about this all day – as they’d arranged flowers, counted bottles of champagne, and stood in the magical spot under the trees that they’d picked to exchange vows, practicing them.

For all that he’d cajoled her into something illicit, this wasn’t a raunchy romp. Ben kissed his way down her body, feeling inexplicably tender towards her. He’d been wondering, recently, whether things would change once she was his wife – whether sex would feel more sacred, and less silly or adventurous.

All of her half-hearted protestations aside, Rey hooked her knees over his shoulders and spread her thighs for him. Her hand knotted in his hair – freshly cut for the occasion – as he wiggled the tip of his tongue in between the velvety, downy lips of her sex. His fingers curled and crooked into the wet cleft between her legs, making her quiver. When his teeth grazed the tight nub in between those lips, and he sucked it into his mouth, she sighed, happily, grabbing the pillow and pressing it to her face.

“What are you doing that for?” Ben lifted his head, still easing his fingers in and out of her.

Rey peeked out from under the pillow. “We’re sneaking around, aren’t we? The whole family’s staying at this hotel.”

“Everyone’s downstairs drinking. Or looking for a Taco Bell.” Rey laughed, smothering the sound in the pillow. Then, she tucked the pillow under her head, and looked down the length of her own body. Ben couldn’t see her face well, but imagined she was smirking, in that sexy, half-embarrassed way she did when she wanted something. Reverently, he kissed her hip-bone, and then smoothed his free hand, the one that wasn't knuckles deep in her cunt, down over her flat belly, as if he was a blind man seeing her body with his hands.

Rey’s voice was throaty whisper in the dark. “Ben?”

Ben lifted his head. “What?”

“I just…” Rey huffed, and he could tell she really was embarrassed, now. “We’re not boring married people yet.”

“You think I’m boring?” Ben knew better than to be offended. Her body was responding to him, radiating heat and dripping viscous liquid down his fingers. She liked this, and anyways, he liked it when she told him exactly what she wanted. His cock twitched and strained towards his belly with anticipation.

Rey’s words were impossibly soft. They sounded like a dare. “I know you’re not.”

Ben pretended to consider her words for a moment, before he reared up and grabbed her arm, yanking it across her body and rolling her onto her belly. Keeping his grip on her arm, he held her in place almost violently. Her breath left her in a startled rush, muffled by the pillow and bedding, her back arching unnaturally, as he drove deep into her and drove her deeper into the mattress.

***

“Can I turn on the light, now?” Ben asked, softly, stroking her hair. They’d been lying awake in the dark for some time, naked and lost in their own thoughts. Ben’s thoughts were only of the wedding. Nothing much could go wrong; it was a simple, no-nonsense affair, but still, they’d planned it in only four months. Had they missed some detail?

Rey lifted her head off his sweaty chest. “Why?”

“I got you a gift.” Ben told her. Rey made a noise of assent, and he rolled away from her, flicking on the bedside lamp. In its light, she was rumpled and pink-faced, and beautiful.

He fished the blue velvet box out of his jeans pocket, and then clambered back onto the bed, arranging his long limbs and leaning against the headboard. Cuddling up to him, Rey slung an arm over his belly, toying with his hip bone.

“They were my mother’s.” Ben explained, opening the box with one hand and showing her the pearl earrings inside. “Dad gave them to her on their wedding day. That’s a tradition, too. One I don’t mind following.”

Rey blinked heavily, and then looked at the clunky alarm clock. It was twelve minutes past midnight. “It’s our wedding day.”

Ben pecked the tip of her nose. “Then you can have them now.”

Rey took the little box and curled her hand around it. She wasn’t one to expect gifts – usually, she accepted them under protest – but she held onto the box as if it was precious to her. “I got you a gift, too.”

“I liked it.” Ben told her, his voice laced with innuendo. She looked confused for a moment, so he traced her collarbone, wiggling his eyebrows suggestively.

Rey’s confused expression smoothed out. She slapped his hand away, laughing. “Not that.”

“What else could a man want?” Ben teased.

Rey kissed his chin. “You’ll see tomorrow.”

“Today.” Ben corrected her, interlacing their fingers and kissing the back of her hand. “We’re getting married today.”

***

After their vows were exchanged – something that took remarkably little time, considering how important it was – the precious few people they’d chosen to invite upstate for the wedding converged on the back porch of Chewie’s cabin.

Han cleared this throat, clinking his fork against his champagne glass a little too hard. “I’d like to make a toast.” As everyone fell silent, he lifted his glass in Rey’s direction. “To our girl.” Ben felt Rey’s arm snake around his waist; he settled his arm around her shoulders.

Han took a deep breath. He looked dapper in his suit, but suddenly, old. He sounded a little gruff. “I could go on and on about her, but I was told on no uncertain terms to keep this short.” Everyone laughed. “So, Ben, I’m keeping it short. You got a good one. And you’re…”

Han’s face screwed up for a second, and for an awful moment, Ben thought his father was going to cry. He didn’t want to see that – he didn’t think he could handle it, so he tipped back his glass, hurriedly, and drank. Somehow, it seemed harder for Han to articulate his feelings for his son, than his new daughter-in-law. Those feelings were still raw, after years of conflict.

Han cleared this throat, with emotion. “You’re also – you’re a good kid, too.”

Rey smiled up at Ben, tucking her cheek against his chest. “The best.”

“A putz no more!” Luke broke the tense emotion of the moment, lifting a whole bottle of champagne. Chewie made a raucous noise, and everyone else followed suit. Han moved, surreptitiously, to the buffet, so no one could see his face.

Ben took another sip from his champagne glass, slowly, thoughtfully, and looked down at Rey. She was wearing a white dress and his mother’s earrings, and she’d never looked so lovely to him before.

“What?”

She’d caught him staring. Ben cleared his throat, and then tipped his champagne glass against hers, saying, softly, “You’re beautiful. Here’s to you.”

Rey’s cheeks pinked. She held her champagne glass in one hand loosely, clinking it against his, but she didn’t lift it to her lips and take a sip even as he gulped his. Her glass was still full.

“No champagne for me.” Rey bit into her lower lip, her eyes dancing. “That’s your gift, by the way.”

“What?” Despite the champagne, Ben’s mouth was suddenly a bit dry.

“I can’t drink.” Rey clarified. “Not for the next eight months.”

“What?” Ben repeated himself, sounding stupid even to his own ears. He understood her implication, but it hit him like a freight train and made him gawp like an idiot. For a moment, he thought she was playing some sort of prank on him. “Are you being serious? You’re not – you’re not just fucking with me, are you?”

“I’m not.” Rey laughed so hard she almost doubled over. “What makes you ask – never mind, don’t answer that question.”

Ben clutched his champagne glass so tightly he almost shattered it. Somehow, he managed to keep his voice hushed. “You’re really pregnant?”

“No, I’m not really pregnant.” Rey kept a straight face. “I’m only four weeks pregnant. I’m barely pregnant.”

“Four weeks?” Ben looked down at the flat plane of her belly. Her dress didn’t stretch across it. “You’re four weeks pregnant?”

“Four weeks.” Rey confirmed. She rested her hand on her abdomen, for a fleeting moment, and Ben had an urge to sink to his knees and take a good look at it through the lace of her dress. He couldn’t – his whole family would know. Leia already hoped, or maybe even suspected. And this, this should be their private joy, at least for a few more weeks.

Suddenly, Ben remembered another secret. He’d been preoccupied by this particular secret for days, but Rey’s surprised had completely eclipsed it.

“Goddamnit.” Ben blurted out.

Rey froze, her smile fading. “What?”

“Can you still fly?” Ben asked. He didn’t know the first thing about pregnancy, except that his fiancée – no, his wife, was pregnant.

Rey’s brow creased. “I’m pregnant, not ill.”

“I bought tickets to Florence for our honeymoon.” Ben told her. He’d had the idea to buy the tickets the night she’d shown him her light-up globe and told him that if she could go anywhere, she’d go to Florence. As soon as they’d set a wedding date, he’d bought them. Keeping it a secret had been killing him. Now, the tickets seemed insignificant. “It was a secret. It was supposed to be a surprise.”

“It is a surprise.” Rey’s face softened.

“Not as good as yours.” Ben grinned, utterly unable to be disappointed despite her oneupmanship.

“You think?” She looked suddenly nervous, as if she wasn’t quite sure that he was happy, despite his smile.

“Yes.” Ben realized he hadn’t kissed her yet; he leaned forward and did it. He felt her melt with relief under his lips. “Do you think we can go to Florence, come home, and pretend this is a honeymoon baby?”

Rey laughed. She squeezed his hand, her eyes mischevious. “It'll be our little secret."

"Ours." Ben repeated the word, looking down at her belly. He'd give the secret away, if he wasn't careful, he knew, even though she wasn't showing in the slightest. He looked back up at her face. "Our very little secret."