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The universe hates me.

I start to sense it when Ben’s an hour late picking me up for the airport and we end up sweating our way through security and then bolting across the terminal to our gate.

I become more convinced when we manage to make the flight but then sit on the tarmac for two hours because of bad storms over Cleveland; never mind that we’re flying to Chicago, not Ohio, and surely the United States is big enough that there must be some way around. Never mind that sitting still for so long on a good day makes me antsy and today, with Ben bloody Solo at my side and four days of academic and professional pressure ahead, is not in any way good. I can’t even argue with Ben to pass the time; he passes out the minute we pull away from the gate and basically snores the whole time we’re going nowhere and at least he’s in the window seat so I only have to crawl over one skinny white guy to make it to the bathroom before we finally fucking take off. That’s something.

My suspicion about the universe’s intentions only hardens when my checked bag is the last one to come down the belt. Ben’s, of course, was near the front, and he’s spent the 20 intervening minutes gorging himself on peanut M&Ms and chatting up an eco-rhetorician he met in the mad dash to disembark. He hates eco-rhetoricians—or any rhetoricians that hitch themselves to a hyphen—but you’d never know it, the way he carries on with the guy, laughing at his Jenny Rice jokes and performatively listening to his interpretation of Latour which I know for a fact Ben doesn’t agree with but this is apparently the Ben Solo I’ll be dealing with all weekend: Mr. Professional, Mr. Always On, Mr. Nods Thoughtfully and Buys You a Coffee Before He Drives in the Theoretical Knife. I much prefer the everyday version: the one who pops off in class, who sneers when someone invokes Foucault, who fills our office with the smell of his fancy-ass coffee and one too many pieces of Nicoderm, chased by the guilty stench of the cigarette he thinks no one saw him smoking as he walked up the Drillfield. He’s a dick, the everyday Ben; self-centered and arrogant and the most fundamentally insecure person I’ve ever met and up until three days ago, I thought I was in love with him and he was halfway to loving me and that this trip, this forced slog out of the mountains and up to the lakeshore of Chicago would hold in its sweaty palms the promise of possibility: that after nine months of crossing swords over our shared office fridge and outpacing each other in class and ignoring the way the tension between us isn’t entirely bad, something would finally happen in the confines of the conference hotel.

But three days ago, I drank too many mai tais at the end-of-term party and kissed him; laid one on him right there in Dr. Kanada’s backyard in the shadows between her back fence and the gazebo and for this long, perfect instant, the bastard kissed me back. He dropped his wine glass in the dirt and curled his hands around my face and it was like the nine months of ego clashing and sharp words in seminar and no small bit of competitive drive had all led inexorably to this: each of us holding on to the other for dear life.

And then it was like the wind had shifted, like the ground had suddenly cracked at our feet, because Ben let me go. 

“I can’t,” he said, the fairy lights from the gazebo catching in his hair as he backed away from me. “Rey, I’m sorry. I just…I can’t.”

“Oh,” I said, as if that made any damn sense, and then vroom: he was gone and I was alone, the rum on my tongue burned away by the taste of merlot.

And all that would’ve been awful enough, but not ten minutes later, as I tried to find my way out of Kanada’s funhouse of a home, I opened the door straight on Ben, perched on the edge of the bathroom sink with an armful of Rose, a sweet, smiley second-year who I’d never seen him even speak to. But her hands were on his face like she owned it, curved around his five o’clock shadow, and she was tucked between his knees, her silly summer blouse pressed to his KMFDM t-shirt as she licked into his mouth and for one awful, sinking moment, I was made of marble. I couldn’t move, couldn’t speak, couldn’t think enough to get the fuck out. And then—then he saw me standing there gaping, one big dark eye fixed on my face as Rose petted his hair and I bolted, my face burning as I ran down the hall and banged out the front door, got as far away from Ben fucking Solo as I could.

I hadn’t seen him since. Not in our office or in the student center or on Prospect Street as he whipped his bike around some unsuspecting undergrads. Nowhere. 

But I knew I’d have to today; we’re the only ones in our program who got into the Emerging Scholars breakfast seminar, held on day one of Rhetorical Studies Association conference; so, lowly first-years or not, we had to get here tonight, a full day before anybody else. If we were adults, one of us might’ve changed their plans, but we’re not; we’re grad students, so when the department agrees to pay your way somewhere that’s all the say you get. 

He hasn’t said a word about what happened, which I appreciate. Now if only I could forget it.

We take the El to the conference hotel. It’s dark and the sway of the train is kind of soothing. The lights of the approaching city are lovely and I forget what the real world is like sometimes. Going to grad school in the middle of nowhere is sort of the perfect isolating experience: there are very few real people around to remind you that there’s a life beyond academia, that most people on the planet don’t care how many words you’ve written this week or how much you haven’t read or that you don’t have strong feelings about the social turn in composition studies in the mid-1990s. And it’s nice to be in a place again with sidewalks and good restaurants and taxis. Just knowing the possibility exists for a long walk or a good meal or a trip across the city that involves multiple streetlights and a congestion charge is honestly soothing.

I may have complained about Dublin the entire time I was at Trinity but moments like this, moving seamless into a city with the whole of the lakeshore laid out in front of me, I miss living in civilization. I really do.

By the time we make it to the Marriott, I’m bordering on cheerful. Which is of course when the universe makes its boldest and cruelest stroke: 

They’ve lost my reservation. As in, there’s no record of me in their system. At all.

“But you’ve got Ben’s!” I say to the night clerk, Anton, a nice-looking guy with beautiful dreads and sympathetic eyes who nonetheless cannot charm my name from his computer. “And the school made our bookings at the same time. With the same credit card!”

Ben, for some reason, hasn’t fucked off to his (no doubt extremely comfortable) room. Instead, he’s lingering at the end of the counter, listening in on my humiliation. It’s awesome.

“I’m sorry,” Anton says, and I actually believe him. “This kind of stuff happens more than you’d think. Especially when we’re slammed like this. It’s not just your conference here this weekend; there’s also an anime thing that starts tomorrow, and a Rotary Club shindig on Friday, so I can’t even lock you into a different room and oh, sweetheart, are you crying? Please don’t cry.” 

“It’s just been a long day,” I say. I hate it when people I don’t know call me pet names but I can tell it’s coming from a good place with Anton, the same place that makes him hand me a tissue and cast a stink eye at the impatient guy in line behind me. “A really long freaking day and I’m sorry, too, Anton. I know it’s not your fault.” 

“Hey,” Ben says, and oh great, let’s add Solo to the mix, universe. Let’s. “You can stay with me.”

“What?”

“Just for tonight. Paige will be here tomorrow, right? And Dr. Holdo? I bet you can bunk with one of them the rest of the time. I’ve got a double anyway, right Anton?”

“Yep. That’s what your reservation said.”

“So it’ll be fine.” Ben juts his chin behind me, taking in the angry guy and a bonus frazzled girl. “And you’re holding up the line.” 

A few days ago, I’d have seen this as a gift. A sign from the gods that Ben and me should be together—or at least have really excellent sex. But now, it doesn’t; now it seems like a jab in the eye and I’m too tired even to care. He’s offering a chance to put my head down and close my eyes and make this truly spectacularly crappy day fade away once and for fucking all and right now, that’s at the top of my wish list.

“Yeah,” I say, reaching for my bag, shoving the water from my cheeks. “Ok, fine.”

But it’s not until Ben keys into the room and swears loud enough to shake the doorframe that I know for certain, beyond any reasonable doubt, that the universe cannot fucking stand me.

“There’s only one bed,” I say, stupid.

“Really, Rey?” he snaps, spinning on his heel and scowling. “I hadn’t fucking noticed. Thanks.” 

I drop my stuff and shut the door and resist the urge to bang my head against it. It’s not easy. 

“What are we going to do?”

He stares at me like I’ve got three heads. “What would you suggest? You heard the clerk. There’s nothing else free.”

“Maybe they have a cot,” I say, because I prefer solving problems rather than surrendering to them, thank you.

Ben’s face does something I’ve never seen it do before: blush. Like a full-on carpet of red from his collar up to the tips of his ears and if I wasn’t so off balance, it might almost be cute. Almost. He says: “The bed’s plenty big. I’ll have my side. You’ll have yours. It’ll be fine.”

“You sure?” I don’t know why I’m hedging. The thing is huge, like three times the size of my single at home. And it looks incredibly comfy. I hope he’s not waiting for me to volunteer to sleep in the bathtub. 

He dumps his suitcase on the desk and rips his TSA baggie of toiletries from the front pocket. “Would I have said so if I wasn’t?” 

“I have no idea.”

He gives me a half-hearted sneer and zips past me into the bathroom, hits the light. “I’ll even let you choose which side is yours,” he says, the split second before he shuts the door in my face.

I roll my eyes and give the door my middle finger. Fantastic. I’m so glad we’ll be able to deal with one another like adults.

I set my duffel on the suitcase stand like the civilized person I am and claim the two top drawers of the bureau, along with 75% of the hangers. I uncork my laptop from my backpack and grab the best outlets, pull out my notes for the Emerging Scholars breakfast in vague hopes I’ll want to review them, and toss my stuffed corgi BB on the bed. The whole operation makes me feel a thousand times better. The room looks like mine now, no matter whose name is technically on the reservation.

Lord, Ben’s been in there a long time. I can still hear the shower running. I’m sure he’s fine. 

Oh no. My brain wraps itself in the notion of Ben under the shower head, the water beading on his chest and shoving its way through his intransigent hair and see, this is the worst part of it, knowing what I know about him now. Last week, I would’ve embraced these meanderings; welcomed them, even. I’d have let my head go where my hands haven’t and my hands where his hadn’t and it would have been a little embarrassing, after, but god, in the moment, it would’ve been good.

I could kick myself for dragging my feet for the last nine months, working my way up to a crush, because maybe if I hadn’t spent so much time last fall wanting to actively murder him with my bare hands, we could’ve—

The water’s stopped. I can hear the sink running now, the tap tap of his fancy-ass razor on the rim. I only know that it’s “a proper blade,” as he calls it, because he insisted on telling me back when we were in our “maybe we can actually be friends” phase. I also know that his dad is kind of a dick and his relationship with his mom is complicated, all the more so since he chose to come to this PhD program and not the one she runs at Purdue, which makes sense to me. Weird enough to be in the same obscure academic field as your mother; weirder still if you chose to study under her. That sounds very nineteenth century to me.

Everybody knows his mother’s name. I wonder if that’s why he uses his dad’s surname instead, even though he lived with his mother after the divorce. Up until undergrad, the rumor mill goes, he was Ben Organa, but as soon as he started uni, he changed his name back to Solo. I’ve always assumed he flipped so he could make his own way, his own name, without relying on her sway but I never asked him, and now that we seem to have slipped back into the “wary cats pretending to ignore each other” phase that we inhabited so brilliantly last fall, it would feel strange to even mention his parents, much less to dig into his reasons for identifying with one and not the other.

Ugh.

I hop up and hurry into my pajamas: a beat-up pair of sleep pants that I stole from my roommate Finn and an old Tatooine Rangers t-shirt my uncle gave me this past Christmas as a joke. The joke being that I hate football and could not care less about his favorite club and so of course he bought me an entire ensemble: hat, shirt, socks, and an atrocious travel cup that played their fight song. Or it did until I ran it through the dishwasher one too many times.

“Rey,” my uncle said when I told him, playing at patient, “you’re a smart woman. You damn well better be; I raised you. And I know you can read. Don’t you study words for a living?”

I stuck my tongue out at the webcam and saw the little box of me on Skype do the same. “Yes, Luke.”

“Then why did you put a thing that clearly says Not Dishwasher Safe in the dishwasher?”

“You memorized the warning label? Is that what you’re doing for fun these days out there in the great back of beyond?”

He smirked and held up his own cup, terrible twin to my own, and waggled it at me. “It’s either that or chase the sheep all day and Chewie’s got that pretty much handled, don’t you boy?”

At the sound of his name, the great beast leapt up, planted his paws on the table, and leaned his dark, shaggy head on Luke’s shoulder. 

“There you are,” I said singsong, “the one I really called to talk to. How are you, my sweet boy?”

Chewie stared at me, baleful, unsure if I was really there with treats in my pocket or an electronic ghost without them. Luke slung an arm around the dog’s neck and mirrored his expression and suddenly, I was more homesick than I had been in ages and I yearned to be across the table from the two of them, the cats warm and snug beside to the Aga, the windows open and the sounds of the sheep calling to each other in the last of the afternoon sun.

It must’ve shown in my pixelated face, how I was feeling, because Luke said: “You’re still coming home for the summer, right? No plans to run off with some American nob who thinks football involves cheerleaders and a pointy ball, right?”

“Yeah,” I said, sniffling. “Right after my conference in May.” 

“Excellent! Chewie misses you. As do Cee and Three; my lap’s just not as comfortable as yours is, I guess.” Luke grinned at the webcam, his smile almost as bright behind his beard from three thousand miles away as it was in person. “And sometimes, sunshine, I miss you, too.”

God, I can’t wait to get home. I’ve already packed most of my stuff already, so when we get back from Chicago, it’ll only be a matter of grabbing what I can carry and letting Finn drive me to the international airport in Charlotte. What a relief that’ll be, stepping off the plane in Shannon and taking my first deep breath in almost a year. That’s what it feels like, now more than ever: like I’m suffocating, not just here, with Ben, but in academic life in general. It’s not what I thought it would be.

I’m under the covers with my Kindle propped on my knees when Ben finally deigns to emerge from the bathroom. I’ve crammed myself as far to the side closest to the door as I can; maybe the possibility of a quick escape comforts me. I don’t know. Anyway, Ben’s hair is wet and he’s shirtless and before my brain can properly process that, he’s fetched a clean shirt and such from his suitcase. And he’s glaring at me. 

“Don’t you want to wash your face or something?” he says, the isn’t that what girls are supposed to do? loudly implied.

“Depends,” I say, flipping back the sheet and making a beeline for my bag. “Is there any water left?”

When I step out ten minutes later, he’s on his side, his hipster horn rims perched on his nose and a stack of articles on his lap. The readings for the breakfast tomorrow, no doubt. He’s already read them, twice at least, and I’m so annoyed with his super student pose that I almost miss it: he’s got BB propped up on a pillow behind him, like BB’s reading over his shoulder, and before I think better of it, I’m smiling.

He notices and grins back at me, the bastard, and for a second, I forget to be mad at him. I forget that he almost made us miss our flight. I forget that he fled to the hinterlands the moment after I kissed him, the moment after he held my face in his hands and sighed and brushed his tongue over mine, a soft electric shock that made me feel grounded, like lightning that’s scorched a place in the earth.

For a second, I forget all of that everything and ache to crawl over the covers he’s already rucked up and tuck myself into his arms and kiss his big, beautiful mouth once again.

For a second, I’m certain that he wants me to.

Then somebody bounds down the hall shouting, their voice ringing down the corridor, and it brings me right back to where we are, when, and I can’t do this to myself again. No. I can’t.

We’ve always had this odd relationship, Ben and me. Not quite friends, not quite rivals, but the closest thing to a kindred spirit that either of us has found in the program. I mean, from a grade-wise perspective, we’re equals, though he’s too fond of Plato for my tastes and my affection for the sophists makes him ill. We’re both good writers, too, and strong scholars, and if you believe Finn, even the second-years find us intimidating. I suppose that will happen when you get into a shouting match in seminar the third week of term over the nature of kairos. And in Dr. Snoke’s class, no less.

Snoke, of course, was delighted; the old man lives for conflict, I think. Back in the day, he was one of those Angry Young Men determined to strip our field of the trappings of postmodernity and return it squarely to the lap of ancient Greece. It’s Aristotle’s words that matter in his mind, not our interpretation of them. He abhors any attempts to make what’s old new again; he just wants everything to be old. Needless to say, he adores Ben. Hell, the whole faculty does, even the progressive profs who should know better. Right before the term ended, they invited him to practice his RSA talk before the entire program. And everybody came, even the mysterious fifth-years that we never see because they’re off dissertating. It was standing room only.

I got into to RSA, too; I have a talk that could have seriously used a dry run. But no. The faculty asked Ben. And he, of course, was brilliant. I didn’t agree with a word of his argument, but it was so well constructed and cleverly presented that I could see why somebody might want to.

He may be a simple first-year like me but there’s no question that Ben’s the golden boy, the paragon of the program, everything that they want a PhD student to be.

It’s hard not to resent him, sometimes. But conversely, he’s the only person in the whole place who takes me seriously, who understands why I get annoyed when a paper comes back with a good mark but few comments, or when conversation in class lingers on the weekend and not on the readings, or when we’re forced to read lazy writing.

That’s why it felt like we were friends the last few months, I think, because there was this mutual recognition of respect. We don’t agree about much, but we both think about things too deeply, take ourselves a little too seriously, and we’re both damn good at what we do. I like that I can call him on his bullshit in class and he’ll come right back at me. I like that he never lets me get away with anything, that even when I say something in seminar that he agrees with, he’ll find that one weak point or tremulous definition and push me on it, force me to think it all the way through. I like that he can read me a sentence he’s working on and ask for my opinion and be just as pleased when I rip it apart as he is when I tell him it’s great, and vice versa.

Most people in the program aren’t like that. Most people in the program are scared--scared of saying something stupid, of not being good enough, of writing something with an actual original thought--and it’s not that Ben and me are free of those fears, but we’re not afraid, either, in part because we have each other. For all of his asshattery, I trust that Ben will be honest with me, that he’ll tell me what he really thinks, and I guess that’s what my drunk brain was defaulting to at Kanada’s. 

It was the annual end-of-term party, an event preordained to border on painful: one that forced you to be in the same space with people you’d spent all term trying to avoid, dumped booze into the mix, and still somehow expected civility. Madness.

My pedantic ex Hux was there, for example, eyeing me disdainfully between the tequila shots he was marching through. We don’t speak. We haven’t since we broke up. We don’t, even on those rare occasions when we still end up in bed together. It’s for the best.

I never could talk to him the way I can to Ben and maybe that’s what set my inhibited brain going, what convinced me to tow Ben away from sweet old Dr. Akbar and pull him down the deck stairs into the soft green of Kanada’s backyard.

“Where are we going?” he said.

“Here,” I said. “Back here.”

It was the only place private in the yard, behind the gazebo, and I dragged him there with abandon.

“Rey,” he said, amusement battling impatience, “what’s going on?”

“Ben?” I blurted. “I really like you.”

He looked startled, flushed, his face colored with wine and the late afternoon sun. “Since when?”

“Since, I don’t know. Since I decided.” I reached for him, still caught up in my own giddy; slid an arm around his neck and tugged him close. To my surprise, he didn’t pull away; I felt his hand swing to the small of my back, press in there, stay. “There are some days when I think, hmmm—” 

His mouth lifted. “You think hmmm? Careful now. I don’t know that the world’s ready for an idea as profound as all that.”

“I think,” I said, pointed, “I think: hmmm, I might actually love you.”

His eyes were softer than I’d ever seen. “I find that hard to believe.”

I pulled at his curls a little and his face flickered, the slim distance between us filled with his breath, with mine. “Yeah,” I said. “You would.”

“Rey,” he murmured, the split second before I kissed him, and there was so much turned up in that word, so much meaning, that it dipped into my heart and lit up something beautiful in me, something that had me holding on to him tighter as his hands drifted up to my face, cupped it, held me steady when he opened his mouth and stroked my tongue with his. He leaned back against the gazebo and pulled me with him, our bodies pressed together, the sound of the party, of our classmates, of the real fucking world, lost beyond the fairy lights.

One moment he was holding me, licking sweet between my teeth, but by the next, he’d shoved me away, stepped back in the grass looking spooked.

“I can’t,” he said. “Rey, I’m sorry. I just…I can’t.”

Now, in Chicago, a thousand miles from that moment, I stare at him stretched out in this big fuck off bed and no matter how gorgeous he is, how much I want to reach for him again, I can’t shake the sound of him saying: “I’m sorry. I just...I can’t.”

So I don’t kiss him. I stop smiling. I crawl under the covers on my side of the bed and turn my back to him, tuck myself in. Say: “Good night, Ben." 

There’s a pause. “Will the light bother you?” he asks. 

“Yes, probably,” I tell the pillow. “But it’s fine. Do what you have to do.” 

There’s a pause, the sound of paper, and the room goes mercifully dark. I can feel him shift, the bed shake as he works his way into its ridiculous softness. “Good night, Rey.”

“Can I have my stuffed dog, please?”

He snorts. “Sure.” In a moment, there’s a furry weight on my head. “There you go.”

I snatch BB and curl my arms around him, the smell of his worn fur even more of a comfort than usual. Except now he smells like Ben, just a little. Just enough to get my face red again. 

He’s right there. Ben Solo is in bed with me, not three feet away; all I have to do is turn over and twist and I’d run into his hands, the solid strength of his body. His mouth. Something flutters in my gut. Damn it. 60 seconds with his mouth is all it took and now, I can’t even look at him when he talks without wanting that again, wanting him.

I hate everything about this. I hate that fate chose today of all days to fuck with me.

I hate that he doesn’t want me.

“What’s wrong?”

I freeze, afraid for a second that I’ve Austin Powered my thoughts out loud. “What’s, uh, what?”

Ben turns over towards me. “Rey,” he says. “You’ve been acting fucking weird all day.”

“Me?” I squeeze BB harder, grit my teeth. “No, I haven’t.”

“You have. Honestly, you’ve been off for a while. I figured it was finals, but—”

“Finals?!” He cannot be serious. “Ben, what in the actual fuck.”

“What?”

“I’m not upset about finals! Jesus. I’m not a fresher.”

“Then what the hell’s wrong with you?”

“I’ve been acting ‘weird,’ as you call it, because if you recall, not three days ago, I said some things to you in a state of Bacardi-induced idiocy and then I kissed you and then you fucking took off like Usain Bolt.” 

He gets really, really still. “Oh.”

“And, and, this is the best part, not ten minutes later, I saw you snogging Rose—Rose! Who you once called ‘a Lisa Frank drawing come to life’—in Kanada’s downstairs powder room so if anybody’s behavior has earned the moniker ‘weird’ in the last few days, Ben, it’s you.”

“Rey—”

“No, please. Spare me.” 

But of course he doesn’t. “You meant that?” he says. 

“What?”

“What you said at the party.”

I can’t help but laugh. “Of course I did. Why else would I say it?" 

There’s a pause, one that’s so deep I can hear the gear in his great big head working. “I don’t know. I guess—I thought you were dicking around with me.”

Ok, what planet does this guy live on? I sit up. “That makes absolutely no sense. No joke is worth that level of personal humiliation. Do you really think any of that was easy for me to say?” 

“Huh. I don’t know. Nobody’s ever said anything like that to me.” 

“What?”

“It was a first for me, ok? Like you said, you were drinking. So was I. So I figured there was no way you were actually being sincere.”

“I kissed you! How in the world could that not read to you as sincere?”

All at once, he’s upright, too. “God,” he snaps, “let’s see: you spent the first three months we knew each other actively hating me, followed by détente, followed by a couple months this spring when I thought we were actually friends, but every time I let myself like you, let myself think that you might like me back, you’d do something that made me think I was crazy." 

“Like what?”

“Like going out with Hux again. What the hell was that about? You hate that guy.”

“Yes, exactly,” I say, “it’s called a hate fuck for a reason.” 

“Or my mom,” he says, and holy non-sequitur. “You didn’t have lunch with my mom and me when she was in town last month.”

“I wanted to! But Dr. Holdo had me covering her lit class that day, which you knew, and you asked me literally at the last minute. Like ten minutes before class started.”

But he’s on a roll now. “And you never responded to any of my texts.”

“What texts?”

“Oh, please.”

“Ben, I’ve never gotten a text from you. Never.”

“When I was in Minneapolis for the FemRhet conference,” he says, “I sent you a bunch.”

“How lovely for you,” I say, “but I didn’t get a damn thing.” Then it hits me. “Wait. Wait, you didn’t send it to the 0411 number, did you?”

“To your cell phone, yeah. It’s the only number I have.”

“I got a new phone over spring break. Changed carriers so my number changed.” 

“You—? Why didn’t you tell me?”

“Why the hell would I have thought that you cared?”

He starts laughing, a low, all-consuming sound that in seconds is shaking the headboard. “Christ.”

“Why didn’t you say anything? Ask me if I’d gotten them or something?” 

“What in the fuck could I have said that didn’t make me sound pathetic?”

“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe something along the lines of I like you?”

His knee knocks mine under the covers. “Yeah? How’d that work out for you?” 

“Terrible,” I say. “Because the person to whom I foolishly said it chose not to believe me.” 

“I tried to find you,” he says. “After I’d untangled myself from Rose.”

“Can I ask why you chose to entangle yourself in the first place?”

He chews on that for a moment. Then he says, very quietly: “I wanted the taste of you out of my mouth and cheap rum didn’t cut it.”

Oh god. My heart flips over. “That sounds like a line from a country western song.”

“Does it?” He turns towards me and our shoulders brush. Fuck, he’s close.

“Yes,” I say, ignoring the sink of heat in my chest, the way my hands are itching to reach out and grab, but then he touches my cheek, this hesitant, uncertain brush, and my self-restraint goes right out of our 17th story window.

I want to say something alluring, something sexy like Let’s not let this big bed go to waste or It must be fate or I want your mouth on me so bad that it burns but the only words that come out are: “Kiss me.”

He’s a force, a living tidal wave, and he turns over me, presses me into starched sheets and gives me what I’ve asked for. His tongue is softer than I remember, more insistent, and he’s so fucking big, god, and gloriously heavy. I spread my knees and clutch at his hair and move against him, lift my hips as much as I can to rub myself against the thin scrim of his boxers.

One kiss bleeds into another like watercolors on glass and then he rears up, leans back, tears off his shirt, reaches for mine, and fuck, skin to skin is both better and infinitely worse, especially when he ducks his head between my breasts and bites at my nipples, licks them, sucks, and it isn’t gentle or sweet, what’s happening, and I’m not either. I’m so wet that I can’t fucking stand it.

“Please,” I hear myself say, the word faded and torn. “Please put your mouth on my clit.”

And then I don’t know anything except his hands on my thighs, pinning them, my sleep pants lost somewhere in the sheets. He’s thrown the covers back and I can hold his head as he devours me, fevered strokes of his gorgeous tongue and we’re both groaning now, great sullen sounds that intertwine in the air around us. There’s no sense anymore, no thought, only the chase of his mouth against my cunt, the sudden press of two broad fingers in, and I come so hard I can’t make a sound and he keeps fucking me, his wrist twisting as I cry out and come again, a sharp shock that has my fists in his hair, my legs squeezing his shoulders.

“Ben,” I gasp, “you need to fuck me.”

He moans, burying the sound in my cunt, and raises his head, shakes it. “I’m not going to last long enough for that.”

“No?”

“Fuck no.” He pitches up and kisses me, his fingers still buried inside me, one hand plunged into the pillow, and I reach between us and draw out his cock. “Oh, shit,” he says. “Shit, honey. You don’t have to—”

“Tell me how you’d fuck me,” I say. “If you weren’t about to lose it all over me.” 

He growls. “I’d turn on the light and pull you on top of me. Watch you sink down on my dick.” 

“Yeah? You want to watch me take it?”

Ben’s head snaps back with a hiss. “Yes.”

“And what would you do? Just lie there?”

“Is that what you want?"

“No,” I say, working him faster, “I’d want you to touch me.” 

“Yeah?”

“Yes. Your hands on my breasts, huh? Playing with my nipples, pinching them, while I stroke my clit.” 

His cock jerks in my hand and pulls himself out of me, wraps his sticky fingers around my own. “Oh, fuck. Fuck,” he pants. “You feel so fucking good. You’d look so pretty riding my cock.” 

I pitch up blind and kiss him, sink my free hand into his hair, and the sound he makes, the way his hips shake--it feels like he’s flying apart, like my grip on him is the only thing keeping him earthbound. Even in the dark like this, only able to see him by touch, he’s beautiful.

I tell him that, whisper it in the split breath between sweeps of his tongue over mine, and when he comes, it’s with my name in his teeth, his seed jerking hot over my belly. 

His forehead falls to my shoulder, his arm trembling as he tries to hold up his weight. His breath pounds my skin, a warm ragged wave, his cock still trembling in our shared fist. I pet his neck, scratch my nails at the top of his spine. And it’s quiet. Quiet quiet, the sort of silence you settle into when everything feels right with the world.

Then he kisses my cheek, turns his arms around me and rolls us over, two boats in the same tide. We share a pillow, our shoulders dug parallel into the bed. I can’t keep my hands from his face. I touch his eyelids, the soft turn of his mouth, his jaw, the jut of his chin. He sighs like a cat as I stroke him, humming little scraps of sweet nonsense.

My chest is wet with him, my stomach, and I only realize this when I feel his fingers skating between my ribs, over, up again to the curve of my breasts. His thumb turns in gentle, persistent circles, rubbing himself into my skin. It makes me shudder, the thought of it, makes me ache for the fill of him. His fingers. His cock. I don’t care. I want something of him inside me.

“Ben,” I say, barely more than a whisper.

He chuckles, finds my mouth lazy but I don’t let it stay that way. One nip at his lip and a moan and he answers back, gives up a low, heated sigh. 

“What do you want?” he asks.

“You.” 

He grins like a sated tiger. “Yeah? You want to come again?”

I reach for his thigh, turn his knee inside my own and spread myself, spear my fingers through the wet he left there, the heat. “Depends,” I say. “You think you can make me?" 

He traces down the line of my arm and slips his hand beneath mine. Cups me, makes a hot little sound when I whimper. “Yes. Definitely.”

He’s merciless, relentless, reads my every twitch like a book. He’s far too good at this, at keeping his mouth on mine as he rubs at my clit. Oh fuck. I squeeze his bicep and open myself as much as I can, my hips chasing the turn of his fingers, begging for him with my whole body.

“Like that?” he says. “Mmmm, yes. That feels good, doesn’t it?”

I don’t say anything. I can’t. Words, words, words, they fade into the background, lost beneath the pounding of my heart, the hungry shove of his fingers as they sink in, the soft suck as he draws them out, pushes in.

His voice, almost reverent: “Goddamn. You’re so fucking wet.”

I’m already desperate, halfway over the edge as I pick up his work on my clit and fuck myself down on his fingers, grab his wrist and push him in deep.

“Yes,” he says, “yes. Oh, shit, you know just what you need, don’t you?” 

I close my legs and hold him there, my whole body centered on his fast, dirty slide, and I’m keening, hot pops of sound that I can’t swallow, can’t stop, my free hand teasing my nipples, my skin a living flame.

And then he’s kissing my neck, a dozen hot blossoms. “Rey,” he says, his voice hitching up happy. “Oh shit. Rey, Rey.”

Then I can’t move, I can’t speak, I can’t think because everything shatters, a hundred pieces of rose-colored glass that spill from the tips of my fingers and fall from the base of my throat and then Ben’s mouth is on mine, molding my lips to the shape of his smile as I clutch at his shoulders and try to breathe again, breathe.

The next thing I know I’m curled against on his chest and his arms are wrapped around me, his chin resting on the crown of my head. 

“I love you,” he whispers.

I try to say the same, I want to, but my tongue feels like an anchor and I realize how exhausted I am. Fuck, it’s been a long day. I’d almost forgotten. All the awfulness, the tricks of a world determined to frustrate me, they’re all gone, swept away by this, only this: the catch of Ben’s lips on my forehead, the sweep of his hand in my hair, the weight of his thigh tucked next to my own. The soft still of his body as he slides into sleep.

I lie there, feeling the morning creeping up on the last of the night, and I think: I love Ben bloody Solo. Promising scholar. Occasional idiot boy. Perpetual pain in my ass for almost a year; my enemy first, then my ally, and now, now, it seems: the accidental love of my life.

Dreams reach for me. Dreams of green fields and chatty sheep, of Luke and Chewie, of Ben beside me in the kitchen doorway, watching the sun rise over the southern hills, my hand, my heart, wound in his.

How did this happen, he and me? God, it’s a mystery. Maybe only the universe knows.