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Nightshade & Sakura

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Nightshade & Sakura (ベラドンナと桜): Chapter 1: A Familiar Poison

 


 

 

“Rey?”

Rey froze, blinking. It was him. After eight years. “Ben?”

Her mother’s warnings danced around her brain. He’s not the same, Rey. Remember that. He caused the death of his father. Bastard. Liar. Don’t listen to a word he says. Don’t listen—

“Hisashiburi,” he whispered in Japanese. Long time no see. At least he’d used a word she knew. His amber-brown eyes trailed up and down her body, lips pressed together in a smug smile, one corner raised.

Her cheeks burned. It couldn’t be him. The Ben she knew would never stare at her like that, like he were peeling off her dress and stockings inch by inch. He’d never looked at her as anything more than a gangly, awkward teen—a child thrown into his family by the British foster care system. And the Ben she knew would never dress like this. His long black hair was too in place, posture too straight, dark blue suit too crisp.

Maybe her mother was right.

He didn’t used to be like this. Without any effort at all, she could recall the way his lips curled into a smile, the way his laugh reverberated off the walls of his tiny flat in Kyoto, head thrown back. No, even now, with that smug grin flashing across from her, it didn’t take long to remember that trip to Japan when she was thirteen years old and newly adopted by his uncle's girlfriend. 

Before he’d cut contact with his family, including her. Before, when he was just Ben in a pair of torn jeans and not Kylo Ren, Head Ambassador for First English, the Number One teacher recruiting company in Japan. Kylo Ren—the name, the mask that had consumed him. A man she’d once thought had such soft eyes. Before, when things were simpler, innocent, like those pale pink petals fluttering in the wind all that time ago.

She tugged at her blazer, straightened her shoulders, and reminded herself: she was no longer thirteen. She was no longer in love.

“You’ve gotten…” His eyes trailed across her body again, lingering for a moment then snapping back to her face. “Taller.”

Her cheeks burned more. “Yeah, nope, still short. But a lot has changed since you left. Not that you care.”

He looked over his shoulder in the direction of his mother. “I presumed I’d see you here when I heard Leia gave you the ambassador position for the English Resistance,” he said, his American accent stilted and cold. “How are you liking Tokyo?”

For two months she’d rehearsed what she was going to say to him if he confronted her. Wrote it down ten times and read it out loud, pacing her room. You destroyed everything. You bastard. You tosser. You liar. But now, with him towering above her, every vengeful word vanished.

She searched the room, locking eyes with her mother and then with Leia Solo, president of their company, the English Resistance, and Ben's mother. Today, she was Rey's escape. 

“Fine, thank you. If you’d excuse me, I need to get back to my table,” Rey said, walking past him. “But so good to see you.”

She had a presentation to give in front of the Tokyo Board of Education. In two weeks, the BOE would choose the recruiting companies that would provide English teachers to their public schools, and First English dominated the market every year.

Not for long. Not if she could focus and give the best presentation possible.

“Good luck,” he called after her. “The first time is always the most difficult.”

“Only if you don’t do it right," she replied with forced confidence. 

Behind her, Rey heard him chuckle. She pretended to ignore it, sitting down in the chair between her mother and Leia. First English was three tables from them to the right, and Ben, despite beginning to sit down, was still staring at her. What gave him the right? They hadn't spoken in years. No calls, no letters, not even a bloody text message. 

“What did he say to you?” her mother asked.

“Nothing.”

“I told you to let one of us go with you. I told you not to be alone."

“It’s fine, mum.” It had been a trip to the loo, hardly anything remarkable. 

“Are you okay? I should have gone with you.”

Leia touched Rey’s shoulder. “Mara, Ben has known Rey since she was a child. He wouldn’t say anything rude to her.”

Mara glared at Leia, but remained silent.

“I am twenty-one years old, thank you very much,” Rey said to Mara, brushing off Leia’s touch. “I did what you told me to do and left as soon as I could.”

“Your hands are shaking,” Mara said.

“I’m fine. I’m just nervous about the presentation. We’re on second.”

“You’re going to do great." A pause. "Stop looking at him.”

Rey wrenched her gaze away.

The conference started, the superintendent walking onto the stage and making a speech. But even if Rey could understand Japanese, she didn’t hear any of it.

Because First English—Ben—was set to present first after the opening ceremony.

She’d known she’d see him. Her mother had warned her and warned her and warned her. But a part of her wondered, why did it have to be now? After all this time? Why during a conference that was so important to the start of her career?

Her vision blurred with tears, but she didn't let them spill. No longer thirteen. No longer in love.

With the added height of the stage, Ben towered over everyone, further than he already did. Shoulders squared, he glided through each of his presentation slides, the Japanese flowing off his tongue like a native.

Meanwhile the memories bled behind her eyes. Piles and piles of Japanese language books on his desk making her dizzy. “This is how you write the kanji for ‘spring’ or ‘haru…’ Rey, your stroke order is perfect.” Cherry blossoms and crimson Torii gates. Water on the pavement. His hands shaking a frying pan. Noodles on her lips, burning her tongue .

Rey wanted to turn her back and look away, wanted to run from this room and forget seeing him again. But she didn't move. Her eyes remained fixated on his face, drinking in every detail. Numbly, she memorized how his mouth opened and formed every word, showcasing a set of crooked teeth. Those same crooked teeth smiling down at her. She used to try everything—tickling him, teasing him, dancing around clumsily—to make him smile. Despite eight years, despite being thirty-one, his features had barely changed. His nose was still angular, deep-set eyes fixed in a long face. Ben.

Was he really different? Was it true?

His eyes snapped to hers.

No longer thirteen. No longer in love.

And yet, she didn’t look away.

 


 

I look forward to speaking with you privately tomorrow.

Rey read that line over and over again, bleary eyes darting back and forth between two items. To her right—her laptop, an email with Kylo Ren's elegant business signature, written in English and Japanese kanji, staring back at her. To her left—the only photo of her and Ben together, its split edges showing through despite the frame. Under a sea of pink, Rey stood, arm hanging around his neck, brown hair whipped in the wind. Her mouth was open, all teeth showing. Beside her was Ben, lips half-turned, black waves disheveled, hands clinging to her arm. But neither were looking at the camera, their eyes locked on each other, for a moment frozen. The world, the beauty around them, ignored. Rey couldn’t even remember who took it. Her mother? Luke? Ben’s ex-girlfriend? All she remembered was him, his strangely handsome face staring down at her. Had she spent the last eight years idolizing a lie?

It wasn’t like Ben was everything. Eight years’ worth of photos lined Rey’s desk at work, placements a messy zig-zag across the surface. The first was a photo of her, Mara, and Luke, taken when she was fifteen years old, out at a restaurant celebrating her birthday. White formal dress, light brown hair spilling over her shoulder. No smile, tired eyes. It contrasted with Luke’s silly expression, mouth open, face beaming. Mara was the balance between them, a controlled but inviting smile, red hair curled around her ears. Rey’s first full year without Ben; her only wish to hear a simple Happy Birthday. A phone call that hadn’t come. Down the line of seven photos, Rey’s smile grew as the years spanned away from Ben’s abandonment. A photo of her and her best friend pulled into a tight embrace which made Rey’s eyes crinkle closed. Then another with only her and Mara wearing silly expressions and milk mustaches.

Today, a new addition. Rey moved the old photo of her and Ben under the cherry blossoms next to her laptop. A reminder from the past when she stared into familiar but wholly unfamiliar eyes. Never needed until now.

For the past eight years, Rey had settled into her new life with Mara and Luke, even had two boyfriends. It hadn’t been easy or simple, but she had done it—everything she and Ben had talked about her doing with her chance at, finally, a stable home life. She had studied hard, juggled friendships, and graduated university as early as allowed. During the day, she happily slaved away in a cubicle. At night, she watched telly like everyone else, the memory of Ben drowned out by some chick-flick or travel novel.

When Leia and Mara asked her to take over the representative position for the English Resistance three months ago, Rey had immediately said yes. She knew only a little about English teacher recruiting, but enough. In addition to First English and the English Resistance, there were numerous dispatch recruitment companies that provided English teachers to Japan. The teachers came straight from English-speaking countries, and the companies placed them in Japanese public schools to work alongside the Japanese teachers. Thus, in order to make money, the English Resistance had to secure teaching contracts with each Board of Education by placing a bid. If they won, they were allowed to place a teacher with that BOE. Schools in Japan usually started in March or April. Recruiting companies also helped with everything from visas to basic living issues. They made dreams of living in Japan become a reality.

Rey loved her job representing the English Resistance. She loved the teachers, the board members she spoke with. She loved her life, friends, and family. It wasn't a large family—Luke's parents had died before Rey came to them, and Mara only had a grandmother with Alzheimer's Disease and an aunt alive, but it was her family. After the system removed Rey from her biological aunt’s home due to neglect and placed her with three subsequent foster homes, it was a stable refuge, even if it hadn’t been perfect.

Even if it had meant losing Ben.

On her desk, Rey's phone buzzed with a text message.

 

Rose Tico

Hey, girl! Are you coming to see me before you leave? Lunch at our usual?

 

Rey replied quickly, telling her she was working through lunch, but the reality was that she couldn’t work efficiently today with the thought of speaking to Ben later. She ate a soggy sandwich at her desk (it had gotten crushed in her work bag), had her usual Monday meeting at 5 P.M. with her mother and Leia and replied back to as many emails as she could. Next month was booked to the brim with speaking engagements at universities. Would Ben come to London? First English did recruiting in the U.K., but not much. The English Resistance would have to do more in the United States if they wanted to compete. Her brain swam with images of him, the past and the present colliding, his many faces blurring together. Ben. Ben. Ben...

Ping!

 

Rey woke in a panic, head snapping up from her desk. She rubbed her eyes, once, twice, and looked around her cubicle.

Ping! Ping! Ping...

Where was that sound coming from? She glanced down at her watch. 7:03 P.M. Her meeting! She moved her mouse frantically, bringing her laptop screen back to life.

Video call from Kylo Ren. Answer. Decline.

She hovered her cursor between the two options, heart pounding. She could back out now. It still wasn’t too late. Send him a scathing email. Tell him to shove it. Not reply at all. All acceptable options for dealing with the person he’d become.

Ping, ping, pinggggggg. Answer. Decline.

She clicked the little green button, placing her finger over her laptop’s built-in camera. Holding her breath, she watched her screen fill with him—hair groomed, eyes focused straight ahead—determined, menacing, as was everything about Kylo Ren. She needed to get to a conference room, and quickly, judging by his mood. She craned her neck from her cubicle, the office silent. No one should be in the building at this hour other than the custodian, but she didn’t want to risk it. Mara would skin her hide, adult or not, if she knew she was talking to him.

Rey looked both ways before scurrying into the nearest conference room. And only when she’d shut the door and settled into a chair, did she remove her finger.

His lips twitched, eyes locked on hers. “I should congratulate you on securing five contracts with the Tokyo Board of Education,” Ben said, no greeting, no time for pleasantries, only a voice dripping with contempt. Mara had reiterated after Tokyo, “If he ever contacts you, come straight to me.”

And here she was. Once again doing the opposite of what she'd been told.

Yet when she looked in his eyes, there was something different, something she couldn’t place. Curiosity?

He folded his hands together and rested them on his desk. “Your performance last month was impressive.”

“Thank you,” Rey said tightly.

Despite the bad video quality, he still had that same smug smirk plastered on his face—the one he’d worn the entire conference in Tokyo when she’d kicked his, and his company’s, arse with her presentation. That smirk. Like he was planning, waiting for her to misstep.

“Truly, it was sublime. I’ve worked with this BOE for the last seven years, and I’ve never seen them so excited about taking on a small company. I’m impressed they even granted you time... without knowing any Japanese.” He smirked. “Let’s hope they don’t regret it.”

Rey took a breath. “You already congratulated me in your initial email, and I hardly think the pressing matter you want to discuss is my job performance.”

“And what a performance it was… Though, I didn’t think you had the assets to resort to coquetry.” He looked her up and down like he had in Tokyo, his smile growing. “But you certainly proved me wrong.”

Her chest stung. There it was. The type of comment she was expecting to come out of his mouth all along. The type of comment Mara had warned her about. She was an idiot.

When Rey received an email two days ago from him of all people, she’d almost thought it was spam, one of those junk emails offering discounted Viagra to anyone that clicked on its bogus link. And when she finally recovered from the shock of seeing his name, she’d choked on her coffee after she read that he wanted to talk to her, privately, via video call.

Now she wished she’d never clicked that link and put spam mail where it belonged—in the trash folder. If only that were so easy to do with her memories of Ben.

“Coquetry? Flirtation? Is this what you want to discuss?” she said, fighting to keep her voice even and polite. “Whether I have assets or not?”

“You know what I want to discuss. Surely you received the same email from the board two days ago requesting us to work together to bridge the gaps in training our teachers?”

She stifled a laugh. “I figured as much. Don’t tell me you really think us working together will go well.”

“If we don’t, you’ll lose the contracts in a year. I guarantee you that. First English has a proven method of transitioning foreign assistant language teachers to Japanese life and teaching styles.”

“Yeah, at the cost of a living wage. Have you even talked to any of your teachers? They’re miserable.”

The smug smile returned. “That’s a matter of opinion. This is my proposition. You keep the contracts you already have, I’ll give your teachers access to our Transition Program.”

“And the catch?”

He paused, studying her again. “You refer some of your recruits to us instead.”

She scoffed. “How about you keep your program, we’ll keep our recruits, and we can both forget this conversation ever happened?”

“I don’t think you understand the severity of this. You’ll lose the contracts. If you don’t remember, I worked for the English Resistance when it was the English Republic eight years ago as a teacher and recruiter. The company wasn’t big enough to handle its contracts. It failed. They couldn’t even manage my contracts properly, and the BOEs were pleased with my performance.”

“Oh, yes, the BOEs were so pleased that they had you fired.”

Ben’s attention didn’t falter, gaze calm and intense. Rey swallowed, remembering how intense his demeanor had been in person last month. But she wouldn’t let him have that satisfaction, knowing how he made her feel. She would sooner end up in his bed, tangled in satin, fingers weaving through his hair as he... than tell him.

“Is that what they told you?”

“Face it.” She shrugged and leaned back in her chair. Cool, calm. Breathe, Rey. You can do this. “You have nothing to offer us.”

He moved closer to the camera, the deep amber of his eyes coming into focus, making her heart beat faster. “Then let me offer it to you... Rey.” He lingered on her name, like he were savoring the feel of it on his lips. “Listen to me: the English Resistance will fail. And you with it. I could show you what real success looks like.”

“Right.” She swallowed. “And be loyal to a tosser like Alexander Snoke. Thank you so much for the feedback. It has been duly noted.”

“You’re not listening to a damn word I’m saying. You’re in way over your head.”

“And yet I still snapped up five of your contracts!”

“How so very difficult when you have other... angles to work.”

Her mouth hung open, eyes narrowed. “You’re a bastard.”

“No, I’m honest. If you don’t—”

“See you in Kyoto,” she retorted, slamming her laptop shut so hard the entire conference table shook.

 


 

“Who keeps calling you at this hour?” Mara asked, gazing at Rey from their tiny kitchen. “That’s the third time since you came home.”

Rey looked down at her buzzing smartphone on the table.

 

Kylo Ren

Come on, Rey. Let’s talk.

 

“No one important,” she said, silencing the device and turning it face down.

Mara put her hands on her hips. “If it’s a Japan-based call, you should refer the person to Amilyn. She’s on the same time zone as the teachers. You already do enough.”

“Yeah. I’ll do that.”

Mara opened her mouth to say something, but at that instant, the microwave beeped, and her attention was pulled toward the sound.

Rey looked away blankly. What part of her hanging up on him did he not understand? She wasn’t going to work with him. She wasn’t even going to look in his direction at the Kyoto Conference for English-Teaching Professionals. Not after what he’d said.

Mara set down a plate of reheated bangers and mash, the smell making Rey’s mouth water, despite the stomach ache she’d had since her call with Kylo.

“This was the surprise dinner I missed?” Rey said with a smile, taking a bite.

“I thought you could use a taste of home before you flew off to the land of fish with their mouths still open in horror.”

Rey laughed. “You know, I only just came across that in a pub in Tokyo. The man next to me ordered it.”

“British bloke?”

“Yup.”

Mara shook her head. “Traitor.” A pause. “That reminds me.” She picked up a length of black foil packets and threw them to Rey. “You won’t be getting any British sausage for a while.”

Rey caught the recognizable strip with one hand, turning it over. Want to see Big Ben? was written across each packet with the actual Big Ben shaped like a penis. She choked on her bite of food, pieces of chewed sausage flying onto the table. “What the bloody hell is wrong with you?” she said, tossing the condoms to Mara with a laugh.

Mara cackled and threw them back at her. “I know you’ve been talking to a certain Japanese gent. Rose told me.”

Rose, the English Resistance’s secretary and accountant, was probably about as close as Rey had to a friend. Next to Finn and Poe, who both handled the securing of their Britain-based sponsors. But none of them were good for shit when it came to keeping secrets. Rey had known Mara would find out eventually.

“It’s nothing serious. Just a guy I met on a language exchange app. We’re going to meet up in Kyoto.”

“Okay, but be smart.” Mara crossed her arms. “I’m too young to be a grandmother, and you’re too important to me and the business to be murdered by some psycho that gets his jollies shagging corpses.”

“Ha! That’s a lovely mental image, mum. But you don’t need me, really. I’m a new business grad. Hardly worth the trouble.”

“What are you going on about? We have five new contracts with the Tokyo BOE because of you. And if you’ve forgotten, I was there. You were amazing.”

Rey tried to listen to her words, but all she could hear was that smug, deep voice whispering,  "I didn’t think you had the assets to resort to coquetry."

The front door to their townhouse opened, revealing Luke, Mara’s boyfriend of nearly eleven years. When Mara adopted Rey, Luke had made it clear that he wasn’t interested in being a father figure. He’d promised to never have kids, and no one was going to ruin that. Rey had stayed up late listening to their conversation in the kitchen. "I think it’s great that you decided to open our home up to her, but you can’t expect me to start treating her like my kid."  Rey shook her head to clear the memory. And that’s where she’d decided her crush on Ben started. While Luke was cold, Ben would envelop her in his warmth and let her borrow his old heavy metal CDs. “You’re family, Rey. Fuck what Luke says.”  But why then, she wondered, did Ben leave and Luke stay?

Mara walked over to greet him, planting a quick kiss on his cheek. “Hi, love. How was—oh. Leia. What are you doing here? Did Luke talk you into tequila shots again?”

“No, no. I wanted to see Rey before she left.” Leia passed fully through the doorway, a tired smile on her wrinkled face. For being only fifty-three years old, her face was too lined, hair too grey, eyes too sad. But maybe Rey would look like her too if her son had cut contact with their entire family and caused the death of her father.

Rey stopped mid-bite, swallowing. “Did I do something wrong?”

Leia Skye was the head of the English Resistance and Luke’s sister. Rey rarely saw her outside of work hours and when she did, it usually meant bad news.

Leia laughed. “No, no. I’m sorry to disturb you. I just wanted to make sure you were okay and prepared to fly out tomorrow. Luke and I went out to grab dinner. He said he was going to teach you a little Japanese tonight before you left?”

“Oh. Yeah. I almost forgot,” Rey said, averting her eyes. But she hadn’t forgotten. She’d begged Luke for two months since Mara asked her to fill the Ambassador role for the English Resistance, texting him nearly every week and receiving no reply—to the point that Mara had to tell Rey to back off. “You need to respect that Luke doesn’t want to revisit that part of his past.”

So she knew she’d have to act like it was no big deal in front of Luke. It was only when she’d stopped pestering him that he’d agreed to help her.

“I’m sorry we’re interrupting your dinner,” Luke said, taking off his coat and walking into the dining area.

“That’s okay,” Rey replied. “I’m almost done.”

Luke followed Mara into the kitchen and slapped her bottom playfully when he thought no one was looking. Swatting him away, Mara smiled and drew him into a kiss, her whole body seeming to glow in his presence. Rey stared at them, pursing her lips. Would she ever have that? Would her eyes ever reflect that intensity, that passion?

“What’s that?” Leia asked, pointing to the strip of condoms still laying on the table next to Rey’s plate.

Rey picked at her food. “What?”

Leia sat down across from Rey and picked up the condoms, staring blankly at their vulgar message. Rey anticipated a small chuckle from her—the only woman Rey knew, next to Mara, that could make a joke out of the most trivial of matters, but Leia only finished reading and passed them back Rey in silence.

And that’s when Rey realized. Ben. “It’s just a silly joke. Mum thinks she’s funny.”

“I am funny!” Mara called from the kitchen, putting a dish out to dry. “I can still hear and see you, rotten child.” Then, to Leia: “I’ve gotta make sure my girl is prepared.”

Leia smiled sadly. “I haven’t seen those before.”

“Yeah, they sell them at a few chemists near the tourist traps.” Rey pushed her plate away, feeling worse.

“Don’t stop eating because I sat down.”

“That’s okay. I’m not feeling well.”

Leia shifted in her chair. “Nervous about going without us this time?”

“Ha. I have two days of vacation time before the meeting, thanks to you. So, not really. Just had a long day.”

“You earned the vacation time. You did well last month with us.”

“Thanks. I could have done better though.”

“The only thing you could have done better was steal all of that monster’s contracts,” Mara said, coming into the dining area and drying her hands with a towel.

Rey glared at her, indicating to Leia with her eyes.

“You know it’s true.” Mara looked back and forth between them. “Can we all stop pretending at this point there’s even a small hint of Ben in that monster? I’m tired of doing somersaults around his name when he has the potential to ruin everything we’ve worked for.”

The room fell silent, the aching in Rey’s stomach growing stronger, more urgent with every suspended moment.

“You’re right,” Leia whispered so abruptly Rey thought she might cry. But she only sighed. “Regardless, if you see my son, tell me how he’s doing... please.”

Rey nodded. “Yeah, of course.”

“Thank you.”

Mara threw up her hands and returned to the kitchen. “Fine. But if he says anything to you, come straight to me and—”

“I know, mum. You don’t need to tell me again.”

Rey’s phone buzzed for the fourth time. She breathed out, angrily flipping it over, fully expecting to see his stupid name once again. Instead, she was greeted by another’s—Haruki Nakamura, the guy she met on a Japanese-English language exchange app a month ago—and also the guy she was working to hook up with in Kyoto. Tomorrow you will come right? Shall we go to Midori? She smiled, beginning to type a response when her phone buzzed again.

 

Kylo Ren

We’re not finished yet.

 

God help her, she couldn’t stop her fingers from punching in a response, teeth gritted. 

Oh, yes, we are.

She hit send without another thought.

 


 

Empty. The seat next to Rey at the izakaya was empty. Her phone—no notifications, zero unread messages. She took a sip of her rum and coke, shifted in the bar stool.

She should have known Haruki wouldn’t show up, that he would get her hopes up only to crush them without a word. He was too perfect. A thirty-year-old business executive making more per year than she would probably see in her lifetime. How could she have ever thought he would want more from her—a twenty-one-year-old British girl still living with her parents? All she would ever be to him was a child. Stupid girl, you should have known.

A new song blasted through the bar speakers, a quiet intro morphing into the chugging of electric guitars. The lyrics, So make it real. Just make it real. Her lips instinctively mouthed the familiar words.

Dark eyes locked ahead, hands gripping a steering wheel. No fear, a smile playing at his lips. The song growing louder, instruments banging around in her head. Being in the car beside Ben, that same trip to Kyoto. Just the two of them. The road, the wind, the music. Calico by Alien Ant Farm. One of Ben’s favorite songs. Collisions hurt and abrasions bleed. It’s hard to deal when all you do is feel. Just make it real. He had always driven so fast, fields and low-lying mountains blurring together. But it never bothered her. She was with him. Safe.

The music faded, and with it, its spell over her. No text messages, not even from Ben. After Rey had told him off, the communication stopped. No more emails, chats, or video calls. The last two days, mostly spent on an airplane and in airports, had been silent.

Rey felt eyes on her back. She looked over her shoulder and met the gaze of a stranger who oddly didn’t look like a stranger at all. He was sitting at a low table behind her, saying something to another guy across from him.

She smirked. Probably some creep—one of those psychos Mara had warned her about. “Sumimasen!” she called to a waiter, the world spinning a bit. Excuse me. It was one of the more natural, automatic words for Rey. And if Haruki wasn’t showing up, she would at least eat, drink, and then pass out before exploring Kyoto tomorrow.

The waiter hovered over to her, an unintelligible garble of words flowing from his mouth. What were the words for “this please?” Kohe? Kori? That one should have been natural as well, but for some reason, it wasn’t.

Why should she care about having good Japanese? It was mid-evening, and she was already slipping into that light, weightless feeling after two drinks.

Rey pointed to her empty glass. “Kuso wo kudasai.”

The waiter hesitated, eyebrows raising. Had she said the wrong thing? She was about to attempt to order again when he snapped out of his daze, wrote down her drink choice, and proceeded to say more nonsense. However, from that nonsense, she recognized: tabemono. Food.

“Kuso wo kudasai,” she repeated, pointing to the picture of Japanese fried chicken— karaage —with chips.

The waiter smiled, but wrote down her choice and walked away.

Most restaurants in Japan used pictures in their menus. Something she was grateful for now, without Haruki to help her. She wouldn’t have picked this restaurant on her own, and a part of her, besides being disappointed, was angry with him for asking to meet at a place with a sign outside their door that said “we don’t have English menu.” Haruki had planned to take her to all the famous places in Kyoto, and now, she would likely be going alone.

The creepy man’s friend said something that Rey couldn’t quite catch, and he laughed, throwing his head back. Entranced, she studied how his mouth formed each foreign word, how his straight hair fell across his eyes, fashionably styled in the same way as numerous other Japanese men. But there was something in his features that drew her. She couldn’t place it. It was strangely familiar.

Her drink arrived, and she immediately took a swig, trying to figure out the conundrum. A buzz in her lap.

 

Haruki Nakamura

Sorry, I am late. Work was long. Shall we meet another day?

 

Rey breathed out. Maybe she had only been half-stood up. If that was a proper thing. Her eyes wandered to the creepy stranger again; he continued to smile at her.

She flashed him a sarcastic smirk and rolled her eyes, batting away cigarette smoke. For a Tuesday, it was packed. Haruki had listed it as one of the top ten izakayas to visit on the south side of Kyoto. And with this many people laughing around her, cigarettes in hand, he likely hadn’t been wrong. But regardless, Why did everyone feel the need to light their lungs on fire? It was one of those things she could never and would never understand about Japan. It brought back memories of one of her foster fathers, Plutt, sitting in his ratty chair by the window, chain smoking. The smell gave Rey an immediate headache and caused her throat to tighten.

Her food arrived, and she had just started eating when the creepy stranger’s friend turned around, phone to his ear.

“What the fuck do you mean we lost another contract with the Yokohama BOE?! They can’t back out now.”

Rey’s heart raced at the sound of that voice. Please don’t let it be him. Please, please, please.

She stole a quick glance, eyes meeting the side of a long face and black hair. Definitely him. Now, it all made sense—why that psycho had kept smiling at her. That psycho wasn’t a psycho at all. He had been sitting next to Ben at the conference in Tokyo. What was his name? Kenji Kaneko? Yuta Kaneko? She couldn’t remember, but she knew he definitely worked for Ben.

Rey took a sip from her drink. Maybe Ben wouldn’t notice her if she kept quiet.

“I talked to them last week! We have a teacher starting in three days! Three fucking days! I’m in Kyoto now... what? Yes, I’m in Kyoto now. We can’t go back to Yokohama. What? Yes! Yes, it is your fucking problem! What? No! Do you fucking understand me? It can’t wait a week. Fix it before Alexander finds out or you’re fired.”

Ben slammed his phone on the table and knocked back his drink, saying something to his friend in Japanese Rey couldn’t make out.

So, this was how they would meet again. She thought she would have had at least a good fifty-seven hours before she was face to face with the demon himself. Of all the places to see him again and all the times—right after getting stood up. She had to give the universe double points for this one. So far tonight: Universe-3, Rey-0. Knockout. Fried and served with a side of chips.

Chicken caught in her throat. She gasped fruitlessly for air and chugged her drink as fast as she could, shuddering. They had definitely made this one stronger. Throat clear, she breathed in heavily, pushing her plate away. If she thought she only had to worry about one stranger looking at her, now she had at least thirty, eyes locked in position and ready to probably Heimlich the hell out of her.

“Can’t handle your kuso?”

Rey tensed. Universe-4. Ben-1. Rey-0. “I’m more than capable of handling my liquor.”

“Is that what you thought you said?” Ben looked over at might-be-Yuta with a smirk.

“Kuso wo kudasai!” Yuta repeated loudly, laughing at what she now realized was her own expense. “I’d like shit, please.”

She wished she could bury her head in her hands, click her heels three times, and disappear. No wonder the waiter had given her such an odd look. Her ignorance of the Japanese language in Tokyo hadn’t been a major struggle with Amilyn translating, but here, on her own, it was apparent that she knew nothing about Japanese, despite her last-minute refresher.

She waved to the bartender. She needed something stronger, something that burned the back of her throat so much she couldn’t think about anything other than its sting. She flipped through the menu again, trying to find a picture of a tequila shot. Except there wasn’t a picture. What was the name for rum? Maybe the brand name would do. She had already made herself look stupid.

It occurred to her then that she could use her phone to look up translations. Why hadn’t she thought of that earlier? She had already dug a hole and buried herself. But this time, after checking her translator app, she smiled confidently at the bartender and told him she wanted a shot of rum.

When he left, she turned to  again and flashed him a how-do-you-like-me-now smirk. He rolled his eyes, clapping his hands in mock praise. Then, he did something she wasn’t expecting—he stood up and sat down in the stool next to her.

“That seat’s taken,” she snapped, glancing in the other direction.

“Doesn’t look like it. Yuto says you’ve been staring at it for thirty minutes.” Yuto. So, that was his name. She had only been one letter wrong.

She turned, searching the bar for a free seat away from him, wishing she could mention it was her company who had stolen that Yokohama BOE contract. The look on his face... But that would be a breach of her employment contract, so she held back.

“What are you smiling at?” Ben’s gaze followed hers.

Rey spotted it—an empty stool in the corner. But as she was about to move seats, the bartender appeared with her shot, and she immediately raised it to her lips. “Eat kuso, Ben,” she said, downing it without blinking.

“You should slow down. You’ll be on your ass before midnight.”

The stool in the corner was now no longer empty. She swallowed. “Not your concern. A lot has changed since I was thirteen. I can handle more than you think.”

“What are you doing in Kyoto so early?” His eyes burned into the side of her face. I will not look at him. I will not look at him. I will not look at him. If she looked at him, she would probably melt into a puddle.

“Just a few contracts to lock in before the convention,” she replied indifferently, coolly, channeling the confidence she had on their video call two days ago.  “Not that it’s any of your business.”

He paused, drawing in a breath. “Who stood you up?”

“No one. I came here alone... and that’s also none of your business.” When would he go away?

She gestured to the bartender again, pointing to her empty glass and holding up a finger.

“Seriously, slow down.”

“Why don’t you go back to your friend? I’m sure he’s missing your dick up his arse.”

He regarded her, a blank expression on his face. Oh God, I’ve pissed him off, and now he won’t go away. Going away would mean backing down from a challenge. She had started talking to him again last month, but she had learned that wasn’t Kylo Ren’s way. Why hadn’t she held her tongue? Her eyes darted to his, gauging his mood.

But the corners of his lips only turned up in a smile that she couldn’t place this time. Curiosity again, like during the call? No, it was more genuine, brighter somehow. Quickly, however, it changed, growing darker, severe, the mask falling over his face as if it had always been there. “Why did you ignore my texts?”

She rolled her eyes. “You mean your obsessive, oh please, my love, talk to me texts? I don’t answer to you. I told you. We’re finished. There’s nothing you can say that would make me work with you or First English.”

The bartender returned with one more shot. “Arigatou gozaimasu,” she said, now realizing that she had been too stressed to thank him properly. What was it about owning Ben that gave her confidence? Or was it the alcohol? No, it couldn’t be. The room wasn’t spinning, and she wasn’t slurring her words—at least she didn’t think she was.

Ben lit a cigarette, let it dangle on the edge of his lips.

“Can you go somewhere else and do that, please and thank you?”

He inhaled a long drag.

“Since when do you smoke?”

“I’ve always smoked on and off, but I didn’t do it around you,” he said, exhaling in the other direction.

Rey picked up her last shot of the night, turned it up, and let the harsh liquid burn the back of her throat. Wincing, she clinked the glass loudly onto the counter, making a writing gesture toward the bartender to indicate she wanted the check.

Ben inhaled another drag. “Leaving so soon?”

“The view has wildly deteriorated... as has my breathing space.” She stood up, pulling down her short dress. 

His fingers closed around her hand. “Stay.”

“Yeah, no, thanks.”

“I didn’t mean to…” He shook his head. “Stay. We haven’t talked in a long fucking time.”

“And whose fault is that?”

He put out his cigarette, finished off his drink. “Mine, I know.” His lips quivered around the last word. “Stay.”

Rey scoffed. “No, thanks. See you at the conference.”

Ben released her arm, and Rey followed the waiter toward the register at the entrance of the izakaya.

The waiter punched in her check, the total flashing back in green, digital numbers while Ben moved to stand beside her. She reached for her wallet at the same instant Ben set down a 10,000 yen note. “It’s on me,” he muttered.

“No, it’s not,” she tried to protest, but they weren’t listening to her.

“I’m a regular.” Ben said a few words to the waiter in Japanese, and her check was settled without them ever listening to a word she had said.

Rey bolted to the door and shoved it open with more force than necessary. If only she had better Japanese. She would’ve cleaned the floor with his smug face and paid him back for all the hurt he had caused her family.

Crisp spring air floated across her face, carrying the smell of fresh rain. She breathed deeply, cleared her lungs of the lingering smoke. Kyoto—her first time back in four years. Strangely enough, it smelled the same, a scent she couldn't describe. The dim city lights, tiny water droplets clinging to her hair and dusting her cheeks. She smiled.

“You forgot your jacket,” Ben called, placing it on her shoulders. “It’s cold out here.”

“Thanks.”

“At least let me walk you to your hotel.” He touched her arm; it sent shivers up her back. “Make sure you get there okay.”

“Where the hell have you been for the past eight years? Decide to care now that I have something you want?”

“I think you’ve misconstrued my intentions.”

“I have? Really? And what are your intentions?”

He grimaced. “To walk you to your hotel. That’s it.”

Rey paused, remembering her Mara's advice on men. Did it apply to him, to Ben? She'd known him for ten years. The street was quiet around her, but it was dark, and despite the safety of Japan, there wasn’t any harm in having him walk with her. It was a short distance away.

“Fine,” she found herself saying. “Just to my hotel.”

“Where are you staying?”

“Nightshade and Sakura.”

He raised his eyebrows in surprise. “That’s my hotel, too.”

That’s why he had been at Midori. Should she bother giving the universe any more points tonight?

“You’re in Kyoto early as well. Why?”

“Same as you. Work.”

It had to be a lie; the English Resistance didn’t an office in Kyoto. But neither did First English.

Silence followed as they crossed the street toward her hotel. All those silent years spanned before them, stretching as high as the buildings above. Rey didn’t know what to say. A part of her wanted to yell at him, recount what he’d done to her eight years ago and berate him for the way he’d treated her in Tokyo and on the video call. Another stronger, treacherous part of her wanted to curl into his chest, breathe in his scent, and let his arms fall around her. She could do it. His hand was so close to hers—a shallow breath’s length away.

Rey glanced up at the gothic architecture of Nightshade and Sakura. It was a historic, upscale hotel paid for by Leia herself as a reward for Rey’s performance in Tokyo. Together, they walked into the lobby, and Rey fought to keep her mind from wandering to him, memories from a lifetime ago. She longed to soak away the smoke and booze in the massive spa tub until her skin no longer held any traces of this disaster of a day.

“Are you calling it a night?” she asked when he entered the lift after her. She debated taking the stairs; the lift was an older model, not yet renovated. It shook slightly and made a strange whirring sound.

He nodded, brushing back slightly damp, matted black hair out of his eyes. “Seeing you, coincidence, yeah? What floor?”

“Three,” she said, her body tensing. Perfect. Now he knew what floor she was on. That would make it more difficult to avoid him.

The first floor ticked away. He looked over at her, smiling.

The lift halted before the second floor. “What was that?” she mumbled, trying to control the shaking in her voice.

“I’m not sure.” Ben punched the button to open the doors. “It’s not responding. He pressed the emergency button. Nothing happened. “Stay calm.” He pulled out his phone and placed it to his ear. “I’ll call the front desk.” The lift filled with the angry sound of his Japanese, and Rey watched him, holding her breath.

“They don't know what's wrong,” he said, hanging up the phone. “They said this happens occasionally. They'll send someone to figure it out, but until then, we're stuck.”

“For how long?”

He rubbed his face. "If they don't know what's wrong, they obviously don't know how long."

Not only was he staying at the same hotel, but now she was also stuck with him, in a small space, for an undefined amount of time. What were the odds? Exceedingly low, most likely. It had to be her luck, or lack of it, trapped with the one person she couldn’t stand. The second time in her life a lift decided to break down with her inside. At an upscale hotel, no less. A few moments passed in silence, with her stationed at one end of the box and he at the other. The lift didn’t move.

“Why did you leave, huh?” Rey’s voice cut through the stillness. The words flowed out, her tongue loosened by alcohol. “I texted you every day for weeks, and nothing.”

Ben’s eyes were locked straight ahead, jaw ticking. “I left because I had to.”

“Because you had to? Really?” Rey didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. She hadn’t seen him for almost a decade; she had held in that question for so long, and that was his response? “Why didn’t you at least call, text, anything? Do you have any idea what you did to me?” The tears stood in the corners of her vision, but she didn’t release them.

“It’s not that simple, Rey,” he whispered, his eyes far away.

With a frustrated sigh, she pulled a makeup compact out of her purse and used the mirror to wipe away her rapidly dissolving eyeliner.

“Seriously? You don’t need to fix your makeup.”

“Huh! That’s rich coming from someone that told me I wasn’t attractive less than two days ago.”

“What’re you talking about? The video call?”

She didn’t respond.

“That’s what you’ve been pissed at? I said I didn’t think you had the assets.”

“Yeah, well, I also don’t appreciate your implications.”

“Implications? What the fuck are you talking about?”

“Are you really that dense? Implying that I secured those contracts using flirtation? I’m not stupid.”

“I see women like you all the time.”

“How dare you! You don’t know anything about me.”

“But I do. Laughing at the right time. Making the right joke. Letting your hand linger a minute longer than necessary.”

“You think I’m going to fuck the board members to get contracts?” Rey shook her head, disgusted. “You know what I think your problem is, Kylo? You can’t stand the fact that my world no longer revolves around you. I’m not thirteen anymore.”

His eyes skimmed across her body. “Yeah, definitely not thirteen.”

And just like that—her cheeks were burning again. Her mouth hung open, unable to form words. Another sexually-implicit comment. Another she could add to his rapidly growing Kylo-Is-An-Asshole-Listen-To-Your-Mother Box.

He caught a glimpse of her expression, rolling his eyes. “I didn’t mean it like that.”

“Really? You of all people?”

He breathed out. “No. I meant... you’ve changed. You’ve…”

“Filled out? Have boobs? Have something you want to fuck? Is that why you offered to walk with me? Only attractive enough to get your dick off?”

“I think you’ve truly misconstrued my intentions.”

She snapped her compact closed. “No. You’ve dug your hole.”

His bottom lip twitched, determination vanishing from his eyes. It continued to fall, softer still into... into misery?

“Yeah, I guess I have,” he whispered. “What was it you called me? On the video call? A bastard?”

“Well, you are!”

“You never…” He laughed bitterly, eyes breaking away for a moment only to flicker back to hers, suffering tangled in amber. “You’re exactly like them. Exactly like them.”

“And you’re so misunderstood,” Rey spat, but his words echoed in her mind. “Don’t give me that rubbish.” She took a few steps backward and slumped down in the farthest corner away from him, pulling her knees to her chest. She clung to that picture of him from the video call, his eyes undressing her. Fuck this day. Fuck this lift. Fuck this trip. And she wanted to add, Fuck you too, Kylo fucking Ren, you insufferable prick.

Unsatisfied with her internal monologue, she waited for his response, shoulders tense, hoping he would give her more to throw in his face. She wasn’t going to back down this time. He was going to get it. All of it. Everything she had been saving since that video call.

However, there was only silence. She removed her hands from her knees, breath almost steady again.

Bang!

Her head snapped up at the abrupt sound to find he had smashed his fist into the wooden panel doors, pieces of plastic—likely his cellphone—falling from the door.

She jumped up. “What the hell?!”

He turned to face her, chest heaving. “Why can’t you be fucking reasonable?!”

“Me?!” She couldn’t hold it back anymore. It all threatened to come out, a release of burning tension. His abandonment, the emotions, everything she had pushed down since he walked away. She stomped toward him, teetering in her heels. “Fuck you, Kylo. Fuck, fuck you.”

The lift began to move upward again. They were saved. She was saved. She would—

It lurched and halted again. Rougher, more abruptly than before, a weightless feeling washing over her. She cried out, reaching for the handrail, heart hammering away in her chest.

Arms enveloped her waist, hands winding possessively around her abdomen. Like warm tendrils of wisteria and springtime and his arm in hers…

Ben.

Her skin prickled under his touch, the pressure of his fingertips like raw energy, as if they had the ability to awaken every desire she had tried to bury since the beginning. She attempted to form words, but they died on her lips.

“Are you okay?” he whispered, looking down at her, his eyes intense as always, but somehow softer, rigid arms holding her against him. A face flashed through her mind—a black waterfall of hair, those same arms fastened around a tiny waist. “ I’m Yuki, Ben’s girlfriend.”  Rey had looked away, holding back silent tears.

His eyes searched her face, almost as if... almost as if they were hungry. She furrowed her eyebrows, directly meeting his gaze. Had she imagined the softness in his voice?

“I’m fine,” she said, frozen in place. “You?”

Ben continued to stare intently at her, his eyes unwavering. “I don’t know yet.”

Rey knew this look. She had seen it, memorized it, traced its shape over and over for years in the eyes of other men. Yet, no man’s gaze had frightened her or made her feel this afraid of her own feelings. Not like this man. Never in the same way this man made her breath hitch and her heart pound.

His hand rose to her neck, sweeping damp hair away from her face.

“Earlier,” he stammered, his fingertips brushing her cheek. “I didn’t mean… You’ve changed. You’re different.”

She placed a hand over his mouth, stopping him from saying anything else. His eyes darted to her lips. Did he want to kiss her? She let her hand fall slowly away, watching as his attention tracked it, savored the movement.

His gaze moved back to her face, and he regarded her intensely, those same hungry, brown eyes burning, pleading with hers.

Ben pushed her against the wall, hands sliding across her waist, fingers exploring the curves of her body. The last time Ben had seen her, she was only beginning to fill out.

“Rey…” His lips lingered near her neck, leaving a light trail of kisses. “Is this… okay?”

She nodded, unable to stop herself. It was more than okay. It was… She entwined her leg around the back of his knees, unable to compensate for their difference in height. With the heels, she had a boost, but even then, the top of her head only reached to his chin.

Ben chuckled; a rare smile rose to his lips. It was a smile from the past, one that made her heart race more. “Need a ladder?”

“Shut up.” Rey traced fingers along his jawline. She had spent so long wishing she could touch him like this, have his face next to hers, the heat of his breath against her lips. Eight years later, here she was, in his arms. What she was doing? Was it the alcohol? It couldn’t be. She didn’t feel dizzy. Maybe a little tipsy, a little good, but not drunk. So, what was this?

Ben pulled her up onto the cold handlebar, his mouth parting. Every piece of him seemed to be intent on the breath escaping from her lips, on finishing their argument in a way she never could have imagined.

His lips collided with hers, desperate, frenzied. Water on her skin, slipping across her face in dizzy streaks. Fingertips on her cheek. His voice a whisper against her ear, echoing. It called her. To him. Home.

No one had ever kissed her like this before, with this much intensity. As if he wanted to meld his body with hers and become one whole being. All of her previous kisses from ex-boyfriends and drunken hookups faded away with his warmth, the feeling of his chest against hers.

More, more, more, her body begged. Heat flushed through her, pulsed between her legs. She furthered the exchange, messy, quick, tongue brushing against his. He tasted of whiskey and cigarettes and Ben. What she had always imagined he would taste like. But no—there was something more, something sweet, almost fragrant.

Ben slid a hand under her dress and found her center, eyes relishing the way she exhaled in pleasure when he pressed his fingers against it.

“Ben, wait,” she found herself saying between kisses and pants. “The camera. Lifts have cameras.”

Without stopping, he reached over her head and pushed the camera toward the ceiling. It was an old-style model, another thing it seemed the hotel hadn’t updated yet.

His attention didn’t waver; he sped up, increasing the pace of his circular strokes each time the breath flew from her lips.

Rey knew she should stop him. She hated him. They worked for rival companies. It was a breach of contract. None of this made any—

Zipping sounds. She looked down. His hands were fumbling with the clasp on his pants, a slight tremble in his fingertips. Was he…? Yes. He wanted to take her, like this, right here. In the middle of a lift. And she was going to let it happen. She was going to let Ben do this to her. The Ben she had spent almost a decade wondering about, listening to everyone tell her about the type of person he was. After he had turned his back on his family, morality, and her.

This wouldn’t end well. There was no way anything good could come of this, but strangely, Rey didn’t care. She slipped her underwear down her legs, smiling at the way his eyes trailed up and down her body. He had ruined her night, and maybe she couldn’t make him pay the way she wanted to, but it didn’t matter. It didn’t matter one bit.

Because she wanted him, too.

Run, every rational cell of her mind screamed. Are you stupid? Stop. Put those back on! She pushed the thoughts down, powerless to stop herself, captive to this new feeling igniting inside her chest.

She wanted more. She wanted to feel him, hard and pulsing inside her, wanted to scream his name until her voice died to a whisper.

“Condom,” he breathed against her face. “Should we use a condom? I mean I’m clean… I’m..."

“Yes, me too. Ju-just fuck me,” she panted. She knew what she was doing, what she was agreeing to, but all she could think about was him, raw, without anything between them. Besides, he could pull out. He would pull out, right?

Ben didn’t wait another moment. He pushed into her passionately, his lips finding hers again, that taste swirling around her tongue. Biting, pulling, he consumed her—his body thrusting harder and harder into her. She returned his vivacity with her own, a dance of her hips, encouraging him to claim and quell the heat flaring in her blood.

“Rey, fuck .” He nearly spat out the curse word. “You feel… fuck.” His hands snapped to her hips and compelled her to turn around. She thought about fighting him—pushing his hands off and screaming at him for treating her like she was his own personal marionette doll.

“Harder,” she demanded instead, slamming her backside into his hips. “Harder.”

Again and again, Ben took her from behind until her eyes stung from the force of his thrusts and her hands ached from gripping the metal bar. His fingertips swirled across her center, breath echoing in her ear—a song she both hated and wanted to play over and over until her senses deadened and failed.

The sensation intensified. Different from anything she had experienced before. She could feel him everywhere, a sharp edge to his thrusts, a fullness that left her slamming her hips harder against his pelvis.

“Rey… I’m…” A sharp intake of breath. “I’m… fuck .” His hand tightened around her hip, low moans ringing in her ears. His fingers paused on her center. Inside, she felt a dull throbbing, a warmth. So slight she almost didn’t notice it at all. Did he—

His fingers resumed gliding between her legs until she couldn’t hold back any longer. It was like he knew her better than anyone else—better than even herself. He seemed to know the exact places to touch, the right pressure. It was too much. The fullness of him inside her. His smell. His hips against hers. It enveloped her sweetly, tenderly. She was slipping, slipping, slipping, legs tensed, body shaking. In euphoria, she quivered around him, a fever of darkness dowsing her vision.

Ben collapsed against her back, gasped for air. “Rey.” His lips trailed across her cheek, hands cradling her face. “Rey…”

Her body. His body. They were locked tightly together, her pelvis fitted against his. He was between her legs. He had finished inside her. He was still inside her. The lights flickered slightly. He pulled out and began to button his pants, all without cleaning up or looking at her.

What had she done? Rey stared at him, pondering the new wetness between her legs, knowing just what it meant and how unbelievably stupid she was. “Do you have anything…” She cleared her throat. “Any-anything I can use to uh…?”

“I... Fuck.” He reached into his pockets, pulling out a handkerchief. He passed it to her; his hands continued to shake. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay.” Numbly, she cleaned herself up and pulled her underwear up her legs, the handkerchief limp in her hand.

Ben stared at the evidence of their stupidity, realization at last setting into his features. “You’re on birth control, right?” His voice was desperate, shaking. “The pill? Something?”

The lift finally moved, floors ticking away. Nothing. She felt nothing. She couldn’t. What should she do? What should she say?

“Rey?”

Her lips trembled, a cry coiled in her throat. She couldn’t speak; if she did, she would fall apart. She swallowed, silent, looking at the walls, the lights, her handbag—in every direction but his. How unbelievably stupid, how unbelievably… She needed a shower so scalding, so blistering hot to burn away the imprint of his hips against hers, that feeling as he released inside her. The tears spilled over. All of her previous boyfriends had used condoms or pulled out with no accidents. Ben was now the first to cum inside of her, and they weren’t together. What had she been thinking? How could she have been so stupid? Why hadn’t he pulled out?

The doors opened to her floor; she rushed out, nearly tripping over her feet. But before she could slip out of range, his large hand closed around her arm.

“Let me go,” she snapped, trying to yank herself free.

His grip tightened. “Answer me.”

“Let. Me. Go.”

“Answer me!”

She winced, the tears falling harder. “You’re hurting me.”

“I…” He looked down at her arm, which was turning red from the pressure. His fingers relaxed, tender now. “I'm sorry. Please don’t cry. Just answer the question.”

“No,” she said. “I’m not on anything. I thought you’d pull out. I tried the pill for a few months and it mucked everything up. Now, will you let me go?”

“What?” His face creased, lips trembling around the word. "But the condom. I asked. I thought when you…”

Taking advantage of his shock, she wrenched her arm away. The lift doors began to close.

He rushed for the button to keep the doors open, but it was too late. She had escaped.

Tears danced in the corners of her eyes as she ran to her room. What have I done? What have I — She fumbled with her keycard, trying it three times before the door registered it. Bypassing the shower, she fell into the hotel bed, letting white sheets envelop her and draw the tears out like her mother would do if she were still in London.

She smelled overwhelmingly like him, like expensive, earthy cologne that must have cost more than she made in a day. But that wasn’t the scent that concerned her. She reached down, running her hands along her ruined underwear, tracing the wetness that had seeped through the fabric.

Why hadn’t she used the condoms in her purse? Why hadn’t she been able to think of anything else the moment his skin touched hers? And when was her last period? She counted back on the days, eyes growing wider the longer she thought about it.

What could she do? She was in Japan, far away from a chemist that she could buy that little pill cheaply and discreetly from. Mara had warned her. Given her the condoms herself and told her how difficult and expensive it would be to buy if she made a mistake. She’d always been responsible, careful.

She took deep breaths, trying to calm the beating in her chest. She needed to talk to someone who wouldn’t reprimand her. She couldn’t call Mara. Or Rose. She couldn’t face them. She couldn’t stand to hear the disappointment in their voices through the phone. For a moment, she thought about texting them, but even that made her throat constrict. And Finn was completely out of the question. He wouldn’t keep her secret from them, and definitely not a secret like this.

Leia. She could call Leia. She wouldn’t judge or tell. When everyone condemned Ben, Leia always kept quiet, eyes far away. And if she did say something, she would remind them that he was still Ben, their family, despite it all.

Rey didn’t have to mention that it was her son she'd done this with. Or the body of what was left of him. Drying her eyes, she searched her purse for her phone. 12 A.M. It was 4 P.M. in London. Leia would probably be finishing up a meeting with Mara.

Without thinking any further, she pressed Leia’s contact picture and held the phone to her ear.

Leia picked up after the second ring, unusual for her. “Hello? Rey?” She laughed nervously. “You're calling late. Don't tell me you ran into Ben already?”

The question shattered every piece of composure she’d gained within the past three minutes. She sobbed into the mouthpiece, hand over her lips, shoulders convulsing with each cry.

“Rey? What is it? Are you okay? I can give the phone to Mara."

“No,” she choked out. “I need your help.”

Chapter Text

Kylo

Up and down Kylo paced floor three. Back and forth. Back and forth. Back and forth. And turn. Again. What room was she in? What room, what room, what room?

He stopped, running a hand vigorously over his face—one, two, three times, and then again.

Her eyes burning into his. The feel of her body closing around him... the way she… No. He needed to stop thinking about that.

It wasn’t the first time he’d done something stupid like this, but with her? With Rey? He’d known her since she was a fucking child. A ragged breath escaped his lips. You really fucked up this time. She hates you. You know that.

He had condoms in his wallet. It would have been so easy to do the responsible, rational thing.

Christ, he was thirty one years old. Yeah, thirty one years old and still fucking stupid, that ever-present voice whispered in the back of his mind.

He pulled out his personal cell phone and attempted to call her through his email again for the tenth time. And as he expected—no answer once again. Goddamnit!

He groaned and threw the phone on the floor, realizing his error a second too late.  

Fuck, fuck, fuck. That was the only one phone he had left. Frantically, he picked it off of the ground, turning it over and over. No scratches. No marks. He breathed out.

He really needed to get a case. He could already imagine the talk he’d have with Snoke about destroying yet another work cell phone. That’s the third phone in two months, Ren! And it’s coming out of your hide!

He pressed the side power button to wake up the screen. 1 A.M. He’d been pacing for well over an hour now—well once he’d finished chewing out the hotel staff for not answering their goddamn phone earlier and notified them about the faulty elevator. Now he had to—

Someone was coming from the stairwell. He walked leisurely, acting as if he were returning to his room. Thankfully, whoever it was ignored him and went in the other direction.

It was hopeless. She wasn’t going to come out any time soon. And he had no way to know her room number. What did he expect? What could he do? His head was pounding. He smelled of smoke, booze, and her. That sweet, floral smell reminding him of jasmine and lavender and…

He brought his shirt to his nose. How good her body had felt. Softer, hotter, better than he’d ever imagined. Better than anything he’d ever experienced.

Yeah, so good, in fact, that he’d ignored basic, common sense, and came inside of her. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

He needed a shower.

And maybe a fucking Prozac.

 


 

Where is she? Where is she? Where is—

Without thinking, Kylo took a sip of his tea, instantly coating his tongue in liquid fire. Damnit.

He looked down at his phone with bleary eyes. 6:30 A.M. The breakfast area of the hotel had been open for thirty minutes already, and he’d snapped up the table with the best view of the elevators, watching as each person that was clearly not Rey exit. What the fuck was she doing? Sleeping? How the fuck could she sleep after what had happened between them? He hadn’t slept a second. Hadn’t tried. He’d taken a shower and paced his hotel room, calling her fifty more times before finally giving up.

He took another swig of his tea, burning his tongue once again. The cup slipped from his grasp, covering him in scalding hot liquid.

There she was—coming out of the elevator, walking towards the dining area.

Dabbing at his clothes, he rushed to her, trying to control his breathing. She was dressed casually, but beautifully—jeans that clung to her curves. Those curves, pressed to him, dancing against his body. No, no, no. Focus. He shook his head, fixating on her face.

As soon as she spotted him, Rey froze, eyes growing wider. It was too late. He was faster.

“Why haven’t you answered my calls?” he blurted out.

Her eyebrows furrowed, lips raising into a sneer.

Yup, good going, Kylo. He looked down. “Sorry. Good morning.”

When she didn’t reply, he glanced back up, meeting her gaze, studying the bruised, dark circles underneath her hazel eyes, her face holding not a touch of makeup. If she hadn’t been sleeping, what the fuck had she been doing?

“What do you want?” she finally said, exhaling.

“We need to talk.”

She scoffed, trying—and failing—to move past him. “We have nothing to discuss. Now, will you get the hell out of my way?”

“Come on. I wanna talk about last night.”

She sighed, tired eyes meeting his. “You know what—fine. Let’s talk. You should have warned me that you had no intention of...” She looked around. “Pulling out.”

“Jesus, Rey, keep your voice down.”

“Oh? But I thought you wanted to talk?”

“You’re being unreasonable again.”

Her mouth hung open, and she attempted, harder this time, to get around him. “Let. Me. Pass.”

“This involves me too.”

She shook her head, looking in the other direction. “They make a little pill for situations like this.”

“You have to get it at a clinic here. It’s prescription only.”

“I know that, thanks.”

“We can go now. I’ll pay—”

“Ha! No, thank you. I’m not going to be potentially poked, prodded, and spread apart for no reason when I can get the bloody thing at my local chemist.”

“When you’re back in London? Won’t it be too late?”

“I have five days.” She put her hands on her hips. “Good enough answer?”

Kylo breathed out, searching her eyes. They stared back at him, wide and harsh, reflecting back his every mistake, his every slip of the tongue. Last night had meant nothing to her, he realized, feeling like an idiot. And perhaps it had meant nothing to him too. What did he know? There wasn’t anything between them, no. And feelings? Feelings were fleeting, meaningless. He may be stupid, but at thirty one, he’d witnessed the end of enough relationships to learn that.

They hadn't seen each other in eight years. A lifetime ago. When she was an insecure teenager, eyes mistrustful. But when she’d looked at him, when she’d looped her arm around his, he was the best person in the world. Like every awful thing he’d ever said was in a language she didn’t—couldn’t—understand yet.

Now, however, her eyes echoed back what he’d always feared.

He moved out of her way, and without another breath, she flew past him. He watched her go, confused by the ache in his chest. It was different, sharper than anything he’d experienced since that day eight years ago—that day when he’d killed every trace of Ben Solo —the weak person he’d been.

Or so he’d thought.  

But no, last night had been a mistake. That much was clear. Shaking his head, he walked out of the hotel doors, running a hand through his hair.

He knew the ache would pass. It always did. He lit a cigarette, looking out at the tall buildings around him, trying to blur and erase her face from his mind. Her delicate, soft features, hardened, cold.

He took a drag, left the feeling where he'd left all of the others, and breathed out.

 


 

“Ben?” A small, familiar woman said, English still impeccable and accent-free, walking toward where he sat on the patio of her restaurant. “What are you doing in Kyoto?”

“Yuki,” Kylo breathed, taking in her dark hair—still long, still smooth and well-kept. He forced himself to smile, a rare beam of late afternoon sunlight momentarily blinding his eyes. “Hisashiburi desu ne.” A memory—a memory from last spring threatened to pull him down. Last spring in Kyoto, tangled in bed. Yuki’s laughter. 

“Yes, it’s been a long time, ne? When Jun said that you made a reservation, I almost couldn’t believe it.” She sat down in the empty seat across from him, brushing hair out of her brown eyes. “Are you here for the conference?”

“Yes and no.” He brought his drink—whiskey, neat—to his lips, pausing before taking a sip, trying to calm the thoughts swirling in his brain.

He had made a reservation to this restaurant her family owned, Unmei, weeks ago, planning to see her as usual. How long had it been since he’d eaten here? And when was the last time he’d been to Kyoto? He vaguely remember his time with Yuki last year, but that seemed ages ago. He expected much of the same. Drinks after her shift and maybe a movie. Then she’d come back to his hotel. That was their usual push and pull. The way it’d been for years since they’d broken up.

But after last night and Rey, maybe they’d be the friends he’d always insisted they were and it wouldn’t lead to anything.

Yet, before he could open his mouth to say more, a shimmering glint caught his eye. He stared down at it, cocking his head to the side. “Are you engaged?”

She grinned, wide and wholesome. “Yes! Last month. I wanted to tell you but I didn't think you'd care."

He swallowed. “Congratulations.”

“Thank you.”

He’d known this moment would come sooner or later. After all, he’d been the one to end it with her years ago. So why did his stomach ache at the thought?

“I’d stay and catch up with you,” she said, standing up. “But I need to get back. It’s 5:30, and we’re busy. Good luck, and enjoy the blossoms. Peak season right now, ne?”

“Yeah, take care,” he choked out, sighing. “Good to see you.”

“Always. Call if you need anything.”

When she left, he put a hand to his face and massaged his eyes. Everything was always changing, shifting, while he stayed the same. Went to work. Secured more contracts. Practically ran First English for Snoke. Work. Contracts. Repeat. All the while having as much meaningless sex as he could get. And where did that leave him?

He caught a glimpse of shoulder-length brown hair and skinny jeans sitting on the park bench underneath a large cherry blossom tree, drink in hand.

He stood up and began to walk, entranced, intent on her. “Yuki?” he called through the front door of the restaurant absentmindedly. “Hold my table. I’ll be back in five minutes.”

Ben! her voice echoed in his mind—a vision from all that time ago. A vision he’d tried to bury and burn away with each woman he took into his bed, with each cigarette, with each night at an izakaya. Black suits, black dresses. Rain. Endless, unyielding rain.

She’d been the only one. The one who’d seen him standing far into the background at his father’s funeral—her eyes meeting his. No fear. No judgment. Still. Even after the news and despite what he’d done. She’d rushed toward him, arms outstretched. Ben! Ben! Ben!

He shook his head to clear the memory, focusing on the vision of her before him now.

He watched her chest rise and fall, eyes wandering over the canal, a smile tugging at her cheeks. Her gaze lingered on each sakura tree, as if she were memorizing every petal falling down from above like a canopy of pink raindrops.

He should turn now. Leave her alone. He’d done enough. More than enough. But he couldn’t stop his feet.

“The weather is shit, isn’t it?” he said before he could think better of it. “Too cloudy.”

Her face fell, but she didn’t look at him. “No. It’s beautiful.”

“It was better last year,” he said, not taking his eyes off of her.

“No.” She shook her head and pointed across the path, her smile returning. “Look.”

His eyes traveled the length of her arm, and then found what she was directing him to—a burnt orange glow streaming through thick clouds, bouncing off the fog and cherry blossoms alike as the sun set in the distance.  

She sighed, taking a sip of her to-go iced coffee, the magic vanishing from her features. “What do you want?”

He breathed out, sitting down next to her. “I’m sorry about last night.”

She shrugged. “So am I.”

That stung. He tried to hide it from her, to recover, but his breaths were still ragged nonetheless. “I have a table. A reservation. At Unmei. Right now.” He pointed to his table on the patio. “One of the most popular restaurants in Kyoto. Can I make it up to you?”

She sighed again. “What do you want from me?”

“Have dinner with me.”

“I’m not hungry.”

“Then coffee.”

She pointed to her cup like he were the biggest idiot alive.

“Then the pleasure of my company?”

“Ha! I hope you’re being sarcastic.”

“I was.” He smiled sadly, pausing.“I get it. I’ve wasted enough of your time. See you around, I’m sure.” He stood up and began to walk back to the restaurant.

“Wait!” she called out, sighing.

He turned back around, her eyes finally meeting his. Was he dreaming? He had to be dreaming.

“Dinner. Okay? Just dinner.” She stood up. “But I swear to God, if you mention last night, I will…” She shook her head, walking past him. “Let’s not talk about it. It didn’t happen, okay?”

“Yeah,” he muttered, staring at her back, heart thudding. “Sure.”

He caught up to her, and together, they walked to the patio. Nervously, he moved to pull the chair out for her, but then thought better of it. That would be...too eager. He couldn’t ruin it now.

Why did she accept his offer? Was it all a game—a heartless trick? No, it couldn’t be...could it? He’d expected her to laugh in his face and walk away. Or at the very least, coldly refuse. But accept? Now what was he going to do?

She sat down across from him, unfolding a napkin onto her lap and picking up the menu from the table. “So this is like a fusion restaurant? What do you usually get here?”

“The carbonara. It’s not very Japanese, though.” He reached over and pointed it out to her on the menu.

She looked down, nodding. “Hmm. That actually sounds quite good.”

“Yeah, and they make a pretty great peach tea for spring.”

“What’re you drinking?” Rey looked down at the near-empty tumbler in his hand.

He followed her gaze. “Whisky neat. You know you can get whatever you want. On me.”

“You’re drinking whiskey? After last night?” She rolled her eyes. “And you’re not paying again.”

“I don’t mind. I make more than you do.”

She stopped and took a deep breath, eyes glazing over. "Always about money with you, isn't it?"

“I didn’t mean it like that.”

“Yeah, you never mean it like that,” she said, closing the menu. She tapped her fingers on the table, and looked away, a palm supporting her face.

“So…” He cleared his throat. “How did you secure the ambassador position for the English Resistance?”

“Mara wanted me to help, and Leia wanted a newcomer—someone with ‘fresh eyes.’”

“Did they send you by yourself?”

“That’s none of your business.”

“It’s just a question.”

She sighed. “Yes. And I can handle it. Anyway, Amilyn is coming to the conference. To translate.”

He shook his head. “You’ve been in this business for what—two months? I wouldn’t do that to you if you worked for me.”

“This again? Alright, let’s hear it then. What would you do?”

He pondered the question, a hand to his lips. What exactly would he do if he had her? He could almost imagine her, typing next to him, her smile filling their sterile office in Chicago, brightening every blank wall. “I would ensure you were comfortable. Secure. I would be there with you, always. I’d pay you double, triple what you’re making now.”

She smiled tightly, guarded. “And do you sleep with all of your coworkers?”

He looked down, shaking his head. “You’re not my coworker.”

“Fair enough.” She paused, shrugging. “Shall we order?”

He raised his hand, attracting Yuki’s attention. She finished pouring water for another table, and then came over, notepad in hand.

“You didn’t tell me you were bringing a date!” Yuki said.

“I’m not his date,” Rey stated coldly.

He cleared his throat. “Yeah. No date. But uh... Rey, this is Yuki. Maybe you remember her?”

Rey shifted uncomfortably in her chair, not meeting Yuki’s eyes. “No, I’m sorry.”

“Rey! Hisashiburi ne! I thought you looked familiar. You’ve grown.” She turned to him. “Your cousin, right?”

“Somewhat,” he admitted, fighting to control his voice. “My uncle’s girlfriend’s daughter.”

“Right! Well, good to see you again. What would you like?”

“I’ll take another whiskey and then the carbonara. And Rey will have—”

“A peach tea, thank you. And the sashimi plate... and kebabs.”

“Sure!” Yuki wrote down their orders, took their menus, and left again.

Rey tapped her fingers on the table once more. “I see why you come here.”

“What do you mean?”

“To see your ex-girlfriend.”

He chuckled. “She’s engaged.”

“Bet that was disappointing for you.”

“Not really.”

“So, I’m curious. Why did you cut off my family?”

He paused, surprised. He’d known that question would come, but it seemed too sudden, almost forced. “You wouldn’t understand.”

“I understand far more than you think.”

“I doubt that.”

“You knew Han had a heart condition. And yet you still lashed out at him.”

He cocked his head to the side. “Is that what they told you?”

“It doesn’t matter. It’s true.”

“One, I didn’t know about his condition. Two, he wasn’t some damn hero. He didn’t come to save my soul. He came to yell at me for joining First English and not answering his calls like I was still a fucking teenager.”

“You’re lying.”

"I’m not.”

Her eyes seemed to relax at that, confusion dancing with the hazel, gaze direct and focused, thinking.

Their drinks arrived, the distraction breaking her stare. He studied her, watching as she avoided meeting Yuki’s eyes, her whole body tensing. He wondered at that, a finger pressed to his lips.

“You don’t like her,” he observed once Yuki was out of earshot.

“You’re delusional.”

Kylo chuckled, amused. “You’re jealous.”

“You’re jealous,” she mocked in a fake, deep American-accent. “Ha! Right. Real jealous. You can’t even speak proper English.”

He smirked, licking his lips, eyes narrowing at her playfully. “You didn’t seem to care about my…” He paused, switching accents. “Dreadfully improper English last night.”

She shot him an icy glance. “I was clearly off my trolley.”

“What?” he burst out into laughter.

“What? Why you laughin’? You’ve never heard that term? I was sozzled, smashed, clearly.”

“Sozzled?” he repeated back to her, trying his best to imitate her again. “Your accent’s come a long way.” He remembered how she’d sounded the first day Mara brought her home. That thick, Cockney accent like a pint-sized Adele. Although, he knew Rey couldn’t sing even if she somehow managed to swindle the best vocal coach in London. He shuddered, remembering her version of Britney Spears at karaoke. To say she sounded like a dying cat... that would be kind. She didn’t have that asset, thankfully.

She paused, shaking her head. “You left around the time I was trying to find a balance between my British accent and your parents’ American accents.”

"Then why do I remember you sounding like a pirate?"

Rey slapped a hand to her forehead, her cheeks flushing. "Out of everything you could possibly remember. It's not my fault! It was that stuuupid Disney franchise!"

“Or your obsession with Jack Sparrow?” He leaned forward, a smile on his face. “I was wondering why you were drinking so much rum last night, but it all makes sense now.”

Rey sat up straighter. “You promised not to talk about last night.”

“I made no such promise,” he said, his smile growing at her unamused expression. “Right. Right. No talking about last night.”

Eventually, their food arrived, steam rising. And as usual, Rey tensed when Yuki set the plates down, struggling to divert her eyes. It brought a smile to his lips. She couldn’t lie about her emotions. They were always displayed so plainly on her face—without a hint of guile. She didn’t seem to feel the need to hide them like most people did—behind a carefully constructed mask.

But still, she was every bit a woman. His heart raced. He shifted in his chair, trying to stop the desire from flaring, and passed her one of the disposable hand towels, hands shaking a bit. He couldn’t think about that now. It would never happen again. He knew that. And he couldn’t fuck it up again. 

“Oh, right. These,” she said, taking it from him. “Sometimes I wish we had these more in England.”

They ate in silence for a few moments. Him, focusing on the food and stealing glances at her, and her, looking in every direction but his, as if she were afraid of him. He’d been wondering about that, truthfully, but he wouldn’t verbalize it.

“How is it?” he finally said, putting down his fork.

“It’s quite nice. Thank you for the recommendation.”

“Yeah, no problem. I used to practically live here years ago. Was more my home than my actual apartment.”

“I remember coming here once I think with you. It’s different now, though.” She flashed him a quick smile.

“They’ve put more money into it since then.”

“That’s nice. So do you always hang around your engaged ex-girlfriends?”

He leaned back leisurely in his chair, putting his hands together, entertained. “You’re so easy to read.”

She didn’t respond; instead, she rolled her eyes and went back to eating, once again evading his gaze.

Silence fell after that, but this time, it didn’t concern him. Not at all. No matter how much she glanced in the other direction, he couldn’t stop thinking about that one, little detail she tried hard to deny and cover: she was jealous. Jealous of Yuki. And the implications of that? It brought a smile to his face.

For the first time in years, he felt…

Hope.

 


 

“That was quite good. Thank you,” Rey said as they left the restaurant, brushing hair out of her eyes.

“The view didn’t widely deteriorate with my presence this time?”

She cracked a smile, punching him playfully on the arm. “Stop mocking my accent. You’re not half bad when you’re quiet.”

Kylo chuckled and placed his hands in his pockets. “So… truce?”

She stopped walking momentarily, face serious. Was that too much? He was about to backtrack when the corners of her lips began to curl into a slight smile.

“Perhaps,” she said, tilting her head to the side and walking ahead of him. He watched her go, shaking his head.

She looked back at him. “Are you coming? Wouldn’t think you’d miss a chance to walk me back to my hotel.”

“I have permission now?”

“In five seconds you won’t unless you start walking.”

He caught up with her, chest lighter. What was it about her that made him feel like this? He couldn’t put words to it, but somehow, he felt more comfortable and at ease. Like he could breathe for the first time in years.

Beside him she walked in step, eyes glancing at the backlit trees in wonder, delicate, soft light floating across her face. He stared at her, wishing he could touch her, wishing he could—

“What you starin’ at?” she said after a moment.

He shook his head. “You. Just you.”

She stopped, taking a step back. “And insult coming in three, two, one...”

“No. You’re.” He shook his head again, fighting to keep the word contained. “Nevermind.”

“Go on, then. You’ve never hesitated to speak your mind before.”

“No, really. It was nothing.” Exquisite. Beautiful. The words hovered on his lips, but he wouldn’t release them.

Kylo Ren has nothing to say? Shocker.”

“Hard to believe, isn’t it?”

“Dreadfully,” she said, her face slowly widening into a larger smile than before, all her teeth showing.

He didn’t respond, turning to look at his feet, hands still tucked into his pockets. And soon enough, they came to the end of the trees, the dim, twinkling lights fading and blending into the orange glow of the city.

“Oh that was... beautiful,” she said, taking a breath.

“Yeah, it was.”

Nightshade and Sakura was in view now, so close to the park, and as he began to realize with every step, closer to the end of their night together and to when they’d part ways, perhaps for good.

They walked in silence for the rest of the way, and he fought to keep his eyes focused straight ahead once again. There was something there he couldn’t put words to.  She’d changed, yes, of course. How couldn’t she? He’d seen that last night at the izakaya, but tonight, there was something almost unguarded and raw about her eyes.

It didn’t matter. It was over. She’d leave. And who knew if he’d see her before the conference? A few coincidences and nothing more. Likely not to be repeated again. It had to be—

He pulled himself from his thoughts and opened the door to the hotel for her, the night air overtaken by the artificial, light smell of cherries—from whatever fragrance they were using.

“Thank you,” she muttered, walking through.

She pressed the button to the elevator, finally turning around to look at him for the first time since they left the park. “Early night for you too?”

“Yeah. I have some work to do tomorrow morning. To prepare for the conference.”

“Oh... I see.”

An older Japanese lady appeared beside them, bundled in her coat. She smiled at him, leaning on her cane slightly. “Samui desu ne,” she said.

He opened his mouth to answer, but Rey was quicker.

“Samui desu ne,” Rey said, flashing him a smug smile. Cold, isn't it?

The woman nodded her head, and the elevator opened. He and Rey moved to the back, letting the woman take priority in the front.

“My first point of the night,” Rey whispered.

“What are you talking about?”

“You can’t win at everything all the time, can you?” she said cryptically.

“Nankai desu ka?” he asked the woman, fingers hovering over the buttons. What floor?

“Rokkai,” she answered. Sixth.

He pressed the buttons for their collective floors, and then turned back to Rey. “Are you keeping score?”

“Maybe I am.”

Rey’s eyes grew wide. Kylo followed her gaze to the woman’s hands closing on the metal handle bar and chuckled, images from last night coming back.

Folding his hands behind his back, a laugh escaped his lips again, but he didn’t say anything. He’d promised, technically.

The elevator stopped at Rey’s floor, but she didn’t move. Instead, she stared ahead blankly. He wondered at that for a moment, deciding on what he was going to say.

Then he realized and pressed the close door button. 

Kylo reached a hand out, softly stroking her back, half expecting her to flinch from his touch. But she didn’t. She began to lean into him, the corners of her lips upturning. Back arching, lips pressed to his, fingers running, tearing, down his back, her eyes—

He shifted awkwardly, reaching down to reposition himself. She leaned harder into him, placing her lips next to his ear.

“Having problems?” she whispered, low, so seductively that he felt himself stiffen further. “My second point of the night! Thank you very much.”

He moved his hand lower and lower across her back until he grazed over her bottom. She gasped quietly, her mouth opening.

And by the time they reached the six floor, the desire had become more urgent and demanding. What game was she playing? he wondered, fighting to repress the hunger, fighting to stop himself from taking her here, now, when they were clearly not alone. Not yet.  

“Bye, bye!” the woman called to them, exiting at what had to be the slowest pace possible.

Finally, the door closed, and without another second, he pressed Rey to the wall, inching close enough for her to feel his desire in his jeans. “I thought last night didn’t happen,” he muttered, caressing her cheek with his thumb.

She shrugged. “Maybe I changed my mind.”

Smiling, he cupped her face, closing the distance between them... closer and closer... but she—

Turned her face away.

He looked down at her, fighting to control his confusion. “I thought you changed your mind.”

“No. I said maybe.”

He breathed in sharply, but backed away. So she wanted to play. Well, he could play too. And he had ten years on her in these games—more than enough experience to win.

And win he would.

The doors opened to his floor, and he began to walk to his room, amused to hear her footsteps close behind him. And when he arrived, she was still there.

Still. He stiffened more.

Rey entered after him, turning her back to shut the door. But before she could turn around, he was on her, body pressing hers up against the metal. “Don’t you have your own room to go to?” he murmured into her ear.

“I wanted to see how the man, who makes so much more than I do, lives.”

He pulled away, smirking and tossing his coat on the dresser. “What do you—” he said, beginning to turn around.

But when he did, he found her in front of him, hazel eyes looking up, mouth a straight line. She grabbed his shirt, undoing each button with precise determination, gauging his reaction. She let it fall to the floor and ran her fingers across his chest before finally reaching up to cup his face.

Then, her lips were on his with the same passion as last night. He clutched her face, pulling away just enough so that he could look into her eyes, disorientated, thumbs caressing her cheeks. “Are you sure?”

She replied by shrugging off every piece of clothing—coat, shirt, jeans, underwear, slowly, carefully, eyes never once leaving his, as if she were waiting. Until she stood. Bare. In front of him. The dim lights dancing across her features. She was indescribable, beautiful, magnificent, exqui—

He opened his mouth to say something, but quickly closed it again. She wanted one thing and one thing only from him. That was their arrangement, clearly. An arrangement he was well familiar with. He hadn’t had a relationship in eight years. Not since Yuki.

So, with that thought, he took her into his arms, breathing against her skin. Was this real? Was she…

And she. She reached down into his pants, taking all of him into her hands. “You’re better than average,” she said, stroking him.

He laughed. “Average?”

Rey shook her head, hands rushing to tug off the rest of his clothes. No sense of her earlier hesitation present, she crushed her lips into his. 

Locked together, he pushed her onto the bed, reaching down to run his hands across her center. “Condom,” she breathed. “We should use a condom.”

He pulled away from her lips, panting, but continued to rub her. “Why? I’m clean. And you’re taking the—”

“Condom,” she repeated, gesturing to her purse on the ground.

He rolled his eyes, but reached for her purse anyway.

“Wait!” She seized his arm. “We should use yours instead.”

“Okay, but why?”

“Let’s just use yours.”

She was hiding something. He liked that, but he wouldn’t allow it to happen. Disregarding her protests, he stuck his hand into her purse and quickly found a strip of foil packets, pulling them out and turning them over.

“What?” he laughed, hard, clutching his stomach. “What the hell are these?”

Rey glared at him, dark eyelashes fluttering in disapproval. “I told you to use yours.”

“So Rey, baby, I have a question.”

“Don’t you dare. Kylo, I swear to Go—”

“Do you want to see Big Ben?”

His entire body rocked with laughed. She stared at him, still unamused.

“Oh, come on,” he said, caressing her cheek.

Then, she too broke out into laughter, face finally brightening. “You are terrible.

Disregarding her comment, he tore into one of the packets and slid on the thin, strip of latex, heart pounding as her eyes watched his each and every move.

And then, he pressed into her, clutching her to him. She inhaled sharply, digging fingernails into his back, hips struggling to find and sync his rhythm. She was warm and wet. Perfect. But the more he thrust, the more he noticed. There was something not right, something off about the feeling.

As if she could sense his discomfort, she stopped, pulling back enough to look at him. “The condom,” she whispered, beginning to take it off.

“Are you... are you sure?”

Rey nodded and set it on the side table. “If I’m going to suffer from that stupid pill, we might as well make it count, huh?”

He smiled, kissing her gingerly, sucking on her lips. Then, he was inside her once more, the complete, beautiful feeling of her body back again, but this time—full force. “You are... God…”

Kylo took her, over and over again, like last night. But his eyes never left hers, never left those dancing brown-gold rings burning below him. How could they? He wanted to meld his body with hers in a way that he had never wanted to with any other woman. Never once. Not before her. He wished he could channel that savageness, that rage he always felt during sex, but he couldn’t. No, he couldn’t. Not when she was below him, staring at him like that.

Was this just sex?

Perhaps sensing his thoughts again, she compelled him to change positions, shifting so that she was above him, dominating him.

And he let her, mesmerized by the movement of her hips, the moans floating from her lips, each intake and release of breath. He wanted to memorize her, every single piece of her body. In case. 

Kylo didn’t let himself finish the thought. Instead, he gripped her hips and turned her around, entering her from behind with such force that she gasped. He ignored it and continued to drive into her savagely, trying to erase that position from his mind. Watching her like that, with her above him was not wise. Not if he wanted to maintain their arrangement.

She cried out, louder this time. He refused to care, replying only by thrusting harder, faster, erasing that memory of her with every push.  

“Ben,” she choked out. “Slow down.”

He tensed at the sound of that name. What gave her the right to use that name? Not after he’d tried for so long to bury it.

He sped up more, feeling the emotions surge through him—an intoxicating concoction of anger and pleasure that only turned him on further.

“Ben,” she repeated, more desperate now. “Slow... down. I’m not… going anywhere…” Another gasp. “I don’t want this to end too soon.”

He responded by thrusting even harder. Thrusting so hard that everything seemed to disappear into nothing but darkness, spots spinning across his vision. A little further, a little more, and he’d be there—lost in it all. Where he belonged. Where everything made sense, didn’t hurt anymore. That place where he could—

“Ben!” She untangled herself from him, turned around, and gripped his shoulders, shaking him a bit.

He stared at her, dazed. “What... what’s wrong?”

“It was...” She shook her head.

“What?”

She cradled his face in her hands, pulling him closer to her, the dusky light casting shadows across her sharp cheekbones. “Like you were somewhere else. Are you okay?”

He nodded, breaking eye contact. What had that been?

Her lips found his, the softness drawing him from the darkness entirely. Sweet, tender, like she were trying not to hurt him. He kissed her back and glided his tongue across hers, fingers brushing her face.  

No one had ever kissed him like that. Never this gently, as if she wanted to take and share every hurt, every piece of strife and perhaps make it her own.

He placed her on his lap, and softer this time, pressed into her, gripping her waist as tightly as he could. She, in turn, took his face into her hands and kissed him and kissed him until her breaths were shallow and ragged against his lips.

She tightened around him invitingly, beautifully, and he couldn’t hold back any longer. He pushed her onto the bed, longing to fuse her pleasure with his. Just a little more and he would—

Like last night, it was too much. He couldn’t control it. She was... she was too…

He was coming with no warning. Savage and raw, pulsing inside her, releasing every last bit of himself. He clutched her to him, gripping and holding onto the pleasure with a fervency that stole the breath from his lips.

She entangled her leg around his, pulling him in deeper as the sensation crested. He moaned against her neck, a hand tightening around her breast. Couldn’t think, couldn’t breathe, every sense heightened, on edge.

He fell against her chest, panting, shaky hands roaming across her face. He pulled her mouth to his and placed a clumsy kiss on her lips, out of breath.

He stayed like that for a while—locked to her, relishing and counting the sighs falling from her mouth. Like earlier, he wanted to memorize it, memorize her, every single part until there was nothing left to know. The shape of her, the feel of her. Until he could paint her from memory alone.

He could kiss her again, whisper things against her hair—things that he hadn’t told another person in years. He could do it, act on the urge. Make her look at him. It would be so natural.

It wasn’t right. He rolled over to the other side of the bed, one arm under her, both still breathing hard.

What had he been thinking? He stared at the dark ceiling, hands tensing. They laid like that, unmoving, not speaking. For how long, he didn’t know. But when he finally turned to face her, a million questions swirling across his tongue, he found her eyes closed, breath even, at peace. Delicately, he brushed his fingers across her face, studying the shape of her mouth.

How could she drift away like that? It was like she had nothing weighing on her shoulders, nothing left to be said, while his mind raced and raced and raced. But maybe with her lying beside him, warm and peaceful, he could pretend. Pretend that they weren’t rivals, that she didn’t hate him and wasn’t only using him for this.

And maybe pretend that she was his. If only for a night.

So, with that, he mirrored her breathing pattern, closed his eyes, wrapped his arms around her, and let everything fade to black.

Chapter Text

Rey’s eyes snapped open, settling on an unfamiliar, red upholstered chair near the window. Where am I? she thought groggily. This isn’t my room.

Last night. What they’d done. Brown eyes gazing across her body, mouth tasting, sucking on her lips, her neck, her shoulders. No alcohol to blame or dampen the blow. She pulled the blanket over her head. What time was it? Where was he?

Cringing, she lowered the blanket and tilted her head to the right, praying he was asleep. Now or never. She squinted and opened one eye.

He was gone. 

She needed to go before he came back. She sat straight up, pushing back the covers, and glanced around the bright room. Her underwear and bra were hanging off the chair, her jeans and shirt were on the floor next to the foot of the bed, and her coat was lying limp adjacent to the chair. She’d woken up like this before. Hadn't everyone under the influence of alcohol? One night stands weren’t her thing, but this wasn’t truly a one-night stand, was it? Not when she’d slept with the guy she was supposed to hate twice in a row.

Had they left the curtains open? She slapped a palm to her face. What if someone had seen?

The door across from the bed was closed, a strip of artificial light reflecting off the polished wooden floors between the two. He was taking a shower! Yes! Enough time to sneak out. Holding her breath, she listened, hearing nothing but the sound of the heater and her own heartbeat. He was out of the shower, probably getting dressed, and she was wasting time—like the idiot she’d been the past two days.

She scrambled out of bed and rushed to where her underwear lay on the back of the chair, hopping on one foot to put them on.

Something—warm and wet—trailed down her leg. She looked at her thigh and sighed. Great. That’s what condoms are for, her brain screamed. Which you’d know to use one if you weren’t an idiot.

Towel. Where was a towel? She glanced to her right and spotted a black robe. She grabbed it on instinct, rubbing it between her thighs to clean up the evidence from the night before. And without a second thought, she placed it back on the hanger.

But it wasn't a robe. It was... a dress shirt. A dress shirt with a dry cleaning tag still pinned to the cuff.

She brushed and brushed at the damp spot, her hands shaking. But no matter how hard she scrubbed, it wouldn’t go away.

So the points were starting early today. Universe-1. Rey-0. Once again. She scrubbed harder.

It was no use. Jeans, shirt, fuck it. She could run to her room barefoot as long as that was sorted. She had to get out of—

She was bra, shirt, and one ankle deep into her jeans when the front door swung open.

Great. She pulled on the rest of her jeans and swallowed. He hadn’t been taking a shower after all. Sigh. Universe-2. Kylo-1. Rey-0.

“Hey... good morning,” Kylo said, walking in with a tray, his hair damp and disarrayed. She breathed out. Even with messy hair, he was cool and confident in a muted polka-dotted button down shirt and black pants... while her sticky leg was already being rubbed raw by her jeans. It wasn’t fair. “How'd you sleep?”

“Fine,” Rey said, hands fidgeting. The truth was... she’d slept better, beside him—no less—than she’d slept in months.

He set the tray down on the table, the smell of food following him in. Tea and a full breakfast—by the look of it. Scones. Sausages. Fried eggs. On two plates. Her mouth watered.

She was half tempted to stay, but reason won out. "Well, I'm gonna go... so it's been... fun. Um, I guess I'll see you tomorrow?"

He looked over at her. "No time for breakfast?"

"I didn't think this was a... breakfast type of situation."

A pause. "It could be," he said, those dismal eyes boring into hers only to turn back to the food. "Since you’re here anyway."

Rey pulled at the corners of her coat. "Is that all this is to you? Some bit of messing about?”

“No. I—”

“Save it. I get it.”

“Would you let me finish?”

“No. Every time I let you finish…” Rey shook her head, becoming aware of the wetness on her leg again. “Never mind. I’m not in the mood.”

He ran a hand through his hair. “Let’s just eat and not worry about this right now.”

“Fine,” she snapped, sitting down. She snatched a scone from the tray, buttered it with hasty fingers, and slapped it into her mouth, chewing with more force than necessary.

He nodded and sat down across from her, looking away.

“I thought you wanted to have breakfast?” she said, gentler now, taking a sip from one of the to-go cups. Lady Grey Tea. It was cool enough to drink, and he’d remembered, though it'd been years. Her stomach throbbed. Why would he remember something like that?

He shook his head and breathed out. And he stayed silent while she ate without saying a word, her stomach aching more as the silence continued.

She should apologize. Second-night stand or not didn’t give her the right to be rude. But as she opened her mouth to say something, his cell phone buzzed.

He sighed. “I need to take this call. I’ll be right back.”

“That’s okay. I’ll go. You have to work.”

His lips pressed together. “No. Stay. Eat.” Then, he was gone, phone against his ear.

Rey looked around the room. It was better decorated than hers, but bigger, emptier without his large presence. Lonely. He was just being nice—asking her to stay—wasn’t he? He would come back and give her “the talk”—that talk about this being a no strings attached situation. But would she care? Was it more than sex to her? It likely wasn’t for him. He probably wanted her to join him, like usu—

Something on the tray caught her eye—something shaded a deep crimson. She picked it up, studying its petals. A lotus. An origami lotus. She smiled, twirling it between her fingertips. Had he done this?

No, it was the hotel staff, surely. This looked too complicated, too artsy for someone as straightforward and dry as he was.

Still, she carried it with her as she stood up and walked to her room. Still, she held onto it with tight fingers even as she laid down in her own bed.

And she only put it down to take a shower—slowly, reluctantly setting it on the dresser.

He’d been right about one thing from the video call. She was in way over her head.

But not in the way he’d imagined.

 


 

 

Rey looked around the spacious conference room, meeting the gaze of a man seated two tables down from theirs. A man with pale, paper-white skin. A man she’d only seen once in a picture online. But there he was—sitting next to Kylo, Yuto, and three other people she didn’t recognize. Snoke. Alexander Snoke.

“Rey?” Amilyn asked, placing a hand on her arm. “Are you okay?”

Rey looked down at her, blinking. “What?”

Then, she realized. She was standing in the middle of the aisle, like an idiot. Everyone else—Amilyn, Kaydel, Jessika, one of the English Resistance’s teachers, and practically every single person in the room had already taken their seats. Everyone except for her. Way to make a good first impression. Should she even bother starting the points system today? It was clear—she was going to lose.

Rey hurried to her seat on the other side of Kaydel. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Amilyn said, pointing to the paper brochure in front of Rey. “We have two minutes until it starts.”

Rey opened the brochure, sighing in relief. English. At least she wouldn’t need Amilyn to translate this.

But wait. Her eyes skimmed across the schedule. Oh no. “We’re presenting fourth? Why so soon?” she asked, heart pounding.

Kaydel pointed to the mark that read 8:30. “We have the opening ceremony first. That should go for about ten to twenty minutes. Then, a slight ten minute break to set up and prepare.”

“You’ve got this,” Amilyn added. “Do the same thing you did in Tokyo. A lot of the board members and investors can speak English, so act natural. You have the PowerPoint. You have the skill. Believe in yourself.”

Rey took a sip of her water. “But why is Alexander Snoke here?” Kylo had mentioned nothing about him attending this meeting. Her stomach sank. Wouldn’t he tell her that, at the very least? But no, he didn’t owe her anything. Dinner once and sex twice didn’t mean she’d become his BFF. To be BFFs with Kylo Ren. She wanted to laugh—imagining that thought.

“Rey,” Amilyn stated, tucking her slightly purple-tinted blonde hair behind her ears. “You embarrassed First English in Tokyo. Kylo is one of the best ambassadors in the business. No one takes contracts from him. Or First English. Snoke is just protecting his ass. Don’t let him intimidate you.”

Rey swallowed, turning her attention to the front where a tall Japanese man was walking to the podium. “I’ll keep that in mind.”

Then, the man at the podium was speaking, as always, in the unintelligible but beautiful garble that was Japanese. There wouldn’t be a translator for this part. Most of the representatives for the various English teaching companies were supposed to speak Japanese. Once again, Rey wondered what the hell she was doing here.

She bowed her head after each introduction, following Amilyn’s lead of showing customary respect. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu. At least she remembered that phrase—that untranslatable phrase so a part of Japanese culture. Please be kind to me. What did that even mean?

A few words. A few introductions. Rey couldn’t keep track of them—black hair, blue and grey suits blending together.

“The Kyoto BOE,” Amilyn whispered in her ear. “If we impress them, we could secure contracts for August this year and March next year.”

Rey nodded. They finished their introductions, but Rey didn't catch their names. She’d have to ask Amilyn later.

Next, the presenter went around the room to each table and had everyone introduce themselves in Japanese. Aelis—mostly a private English company. Helping Hand—a smaller business like the English Resistance. And then of course, First English. They stood, each person speaking in Japanese. Kylo was second after Snoke, dressed in a dark grey suit, almost black, shoulder-length hair styled and neat. Broad shoulders. Tall, imposing figure. As menacing and put together as he’d been in Tokyo. And yet, all she thought about while Kylo stood there and gave his short introduction was how he looked underneath the suit—how that raw image of him clashed with the one before her now. He hadn’t glanced in her direction at all this morning, as if everything that had happened between them had been nothing—only her imagination. Emotionless, cold. It made her stomach throb. Perhaps she should have stayed the other morning and apologized to him. He hadn’t called her yesterday.

“Our turn,” Amilyn said. Together, they stood, and Rey did her best with giving her introduction in Japanese, stumbling on the words slightly. But the one thing she remembered from Mara—smile, smile, smile. It played on repeat in her head over and over again.

Yet, no matter how much she smiled and tried to make herself appealing, Kylo didn’t look at her, facing his body in the opposite direction. Rey sat down and pondered that, tuning out the rest of the introductions from the other companies.

“Break time,” Amilyn eventually said, standing up and drawing Rey from her thoughts. “Ten minutes.”

Rey didn’t move, Kylo’s coldness still bothering her. “I’ve said it before... but shouldn’t you be doing our presentation? You speak Japanese.”

Amilyn smiled, her sapphire blue eyes locked on hers. “Language doesn’t mean much. Didn’t you learn that from Tokyo?”

Rey nodded. What had she learned from Tokyo?

She looked over at Kylo again. Snoke was saying something to him quietly, but he seemed uninterested, gaze locked straight ahead, a finger pressed to his lips.

Yes, Rey had learned that lesson.

But not from Tokyo.

And when Amilyn, Kaydel, and Jessika all stood up and left the conference room, Rey didn’t follow, stomach churning too much to move. Instead, she pulled out the origami lotus from her purse and studied its petals for the thousandth time that morning.

The break was over. And she’d spent it, all ten minutes, looking down at a meaningless, folded piece of paper that Ben may or may not have created in the first place. She’d never been one to get so lost in her thoughts that she forgot her surroundings—how could she? She was a product of the British foster care system. Not all of her foster care parents had been well-meaning. She’d remembered the time she’d mouthed off after doing something wrong. She was always doing something wrong. “You dirty whore,” Jocelyn, her foster mother had said. She’d held her under the shower—cold water sliding off her back, freezing her blood. It was the nature of the world. So, what was it about him that made her so inattentive? It was only sex, wasn't it? Another guy to sleep with and move on. 

It didn't feel like that. She’d spent most of the day wondering about him as she roamed the city and to Fushimi Inari—one of the most famous shrines in Japan, the Torii gates rippling above her like a crimson tide. Still, all she’d thought about was how empty it felt without him walking next to her.

Rey needed to get a grip—and fast. They were rivals. He didn’t matter.

She tuned out the first two presentations from Aelis and Helping Hand, trying to remember each part of her presentation. She could use the PowerPoint as a guide, but it would only help her so much. Over and over, she studied her notes, feeling calmer, more determined with each second. I can do this. I can—

Kylo stood and shattered every piece of composure she had.

He gave his presentation flawlessly, almost effortlessly—like in Tokyo, each Japanese word flowing off his tongue without trouble. Clicker in hand, gliding through each slide. Yet, still unsmiling, face still grave.  

Kaydel leaned over the table. “Captain Cuddles is at it again. Dude has a serious case of RBF.”

Amilyn furrowed her eyebrows. “What’s RBF?”

“Resting Bitch Face,” Rey answered, feeling a strange urge to defend him.

“New term for him, maybe: Resting Bastard Face,” Jessika chimed in.

Rey had to admit—she wasn’t completely wrong. And she had called him a bastard less than four days ago. But that was before she let him fuck her into the wall of an elevator. 

He stepped down, and the room erupted into polite applause. How could she beat that? First English had everything—a seamless transitions program, big offices in Tokyo and Chicago, thousands of teachers, and a much larger support system than the English Resistance. And they had him—Kylo. Perfectly put together and calculating, large ears and all. 

But do they have heart? Rey remembered Mara’s words. Think about the heart. Bigger doesn’t mean better.

With that in mind, she smiled, straightened her shoulders, and stepped up to the podium with measured, determined strides.

Only to hear a loud rip echo through the room. She looked down. Her blue pencil skirt now sported a rather large gash up the side, showing far more leg than she’d ever intended. If she hadn’t been able to secure his attention before, she definitely had it now—along with everyone else’s. She met Kylo’s unamused, solemn gaze. What was that stupid word he’d used? Coquetry?

Fuck. Alright, universe. You win. Universe-1000. And yes, you too, Kylo. Kylo-100. Rey-0.

Usually people were told to imagine the audience in their underwear, but she was certain the audience was now imagining her the same way—pretty pink thong and all.

Amilyn broke the tension, following behind her and setting up the PowerPoint on the community laptop.

Rey took a deep breath and straightened her skirt. At least they couldn’t actually see her underwear. Not yet, anyway.

Once the PowerPoint was up, she mustered up the biggest, warmest smile possible. “Ohayou gozaimasu,” she said. “As you know, my name is Rey Jackson, ambassador for the English Resistance—a company that has provided ALTs to Japan for over five years now. And this is Amilyn Holdo, my translator.” She gestured to where Amilyn stood near the laptop. “Thank you for this opportunity. Yoroshiku onegaishimasu.”

The audience responded in kind—a monotone, “Yoroshiku onegaishimasu.”

“At the English Resistance, we strive to provide quality English teachers that are excited and enthusiastic to work for any BOE they are placed with. We achieve this through a seamless preparation program suited to each teacher’s individual needs. Not only do we assist with housing and transportation, but our training also covers a complete cultural adaptation program which becomes important when a certain child decides to play a game of kancho with the new ALT.”

Everyone laughed. Rey breathed out. So that joke wasn’t too much. It’d worked in Tokyo and now she knew it worked in Kyoto too.

“Am I right?” she asked. The ALTs in the crowd nodded in response. “Now, I know what you’re thinking: ‘Every company has a cultural adaptation program! How are you different?’ Well first… let me take you through how we find the best, most qualified teachers in Britain, what we offer our teachers, and what this all means for you and your schools.”

She spent the next twenty minutes going through each slide, covering their recruiting process, sponsors, programs, and assistance, making any joke where appropriate and as dictated by the script.  

She came to the end. It was time. Time to sell the company as best as she could. She took a deep breath, remembering Mara’s words. “We may not be the largest company or the most popular. But we have something that sets us apart. Heart. We care for our teachers as much as we care for our BOEs. We guarantee fair wages and fair hours which means our teachers are happy to come to work, support their JTEs, and teach their students with peace of mind. Furthermore, our preparation program ensures we have unwavering faith in the quality and standards of our teachers.”

She paused, locking eyes with Kylo. “At the end of the day, money can’t buy heart. Money can’t educate or inspire students. But quality, satisfied ALTs? They will be the sparks that encourage and inspire students for generations to come. Thank you.”

The room broke out into polite, enthusiastic applause—from everyone except for the other English companies.

Yet Rey barely noticed. Because Kylo… Kylo was clapping for her, another rare smile breaking the seriousness of his face—unlike his smugness in Tokyo. And all she could see—dark hair. His even darker eyes. Staring across from her. He was all she could see—illuminating everything around her.

But then—then she looked to the right of him, meeting Snoke’s serious blue eyes and tight, indignant smile. Her skin crawled, hot and persistent. And all at once, she noticed her ripped skirt with an urgency that made her palms sweat.

She began to walk off the platform as Kaydel rushed over with her own long coat, placing it on Rey’s shoulders—likely to cover the rip in her skirt. “That was solid, Rey. Snoke is pisssssssed. Well done.”

But Rey didn’t feel like she’d done well. Not with Snoke’s eyes tracking her every movement—hunting her—as she walked back to her seat.

Waiting, watching, hungry. Like a spider weaving its web and setting a trap.

But she had no idea what the bait was.

 


 

 

“So, I hate to do this now,” Kaydel said, sliding something square and wrapped in brown paper across the table to Rey. “But Amilyn said it was urgent.”

When they broke for lunch, Amilyn led them to a tempura restaurant next to the hotel. Rey sat at a booth opposite to Amilyn and Kaydel, furrowing her eyebrows and looking back and forth between them. They’d already ordered, Jessika had just left to use the restroom, and Rey had finally managed to stop her hands from shaking.

Until now.

She reached for the package, tilting her head to the side. “What is this?”

Kaydel leaned in, lowering her voice. “Leia told us about your problem. Not in detail—don’t look at me like that—but enough so that I could get this to you.”

Slowly, Rey unfurled the paper bag covering the box and looked in. She froze, her eyes darting back to Kaydel and Amilyn. Although it wasn’t a U.K. brand, Rey knew that phrase— “one step.” She’d seen it at the chemist once, glanced at it with knowing eyes as it sat behind the counter on a shelf, and she’d sworn she would never be in a situation to be forced to take one of them.

Rey remembered Leia calling yesterday, but she hadn’t answered, too ashamed of her second encounter with Ben. Not after she’d lost her shit the first time.

She swallowed. “Thank you.”

“Don’t mention it,” Kaydel said. “I went back home to America last month and picked up a few of these to bring back. It’s the same thing you get in the U.K. I—We—” she looked at Amilyn — "made sure.”

Amilyn took a sip of her water. “That one is only effective for three days. So you need to take it tonight at the latest.”

“But it should have less symptoms than the five day pill,” Kaydel finished.

Rey nodded and shoved the box into her handbag, cheeks flushing.  

“Don’t be embarrassed, girl,” Kaydel added. “We’ve all been there.”

Rey nodded again. But have you been there twice in a row with the guy that tore your entire family, world, and heart apart? The guy whose mission is to end your company—and everything you’ve ever worked for—for good? The guy you’ve spent the last eight years comparing to every single man that has walked into your life?

Kaydel played with her pink sweater. “I had an… accident two years ago. It didn’t end well. So… I’ve been there.”

“I’m sorry,” Rey said, fighting back the urge to touch her, to envelop her in a hug—this woman barely knew but was now sharing something so personal with someone like her, like Rey. Rey—who knew all about being an unwanted child.

“No. Don’t be sorry. Just be careful. Don’t put yourself in the same situation. It’s not fun. And the after effects suck. Royally.”

Amilyn rubbed Kaydel’s arm. “You had to do what you had to do. It’s okay.”

Is that how her parents had felt, trapped? Unable to care for her? Doing the only thing they could—leaving a child on the steps of a fire station, for dead—injecting her veins with the lie that they’d return?

Jessika came back and sat down next to Rey. “The bathroom is super nice, y’all,” she said. “Like I know they’re all nice and stuff, but y’all. They had mouthwash in this one.”

The conversation continued in a similar fashion. But Rey—Rey wasn’t listening. Instead, she focused her eyes straight ahead, the box feeling like a deep, burning pit in her purse. It was supposed to be her savior, right? The exact thing to fix this entire mess.

But what if she didn’t want to fix it?

No. That was… That was crazy. She’d take it tonight. Kaydel was right. It had fewer symptoms than the five day pill. Besides, she’d be on a plane tomorrow back to the U.K. Take three sleeping pills, bypass all those nasty side effects, and be ready to get breakfast with Rose on Sunday.

 

Their food arrived—four tempura sets with shrimp, fish, vegetables, rice, and miso soup. Rey split a pair of wooden chopsticks and dug in without a word, head down.

“Rey?”

Rey jumped, mid bite.

Amilyn was looking at her quizzically, her head tilted to the side. “Are you okay?”

“Yeah,” she said, wiping her mouth on a napkin. “The big shrimp is good. What do they call it here?”

None of them were eating. Just staring at her. “What?” she asked.

“You haven’t said a word for like twenty minutes,” Jessika said. “What’s up?”

Rey glanced at Jessika’s long, black hair, and—suddenly—it became shorter, the face more elongated, the shoulders broader. If he were here, she'd ask him about Snoke. Maybe he’d tell her the truth, maybe he wouldn’t, but he’d make her laugh, smile, and want to kill him all at once—feel something. And she could talk to him about the pill and their issue and—

“Rey?” Jessika asked.

Amilyn poured more water in Rey’s cup. “Are you feeling okay?”

“Yeah. I think so. It’s been a rough few days.”

Amilyn smiled in that motherly, knowing way—the same expression she’d seen Mara wear multiple times. Once when she’d found a stray cat, Bee-Bee: ‘Look at that face, mum!’ She brought his mixed, smushy face to hers. 'He swindled me. I swear.' (She’d won that battle of keeping him despite Luke’s allergies.) And another when she’d picked up reclaimed wood from the trash and convinced Mara to let her build the headboard to her bed. Lastly, that same smile when Rey had showed up with her first car—a broken, rusted heap of a contraption that pissed off their neighbors with the guttural noises it made.

“Only a few more hours, Sarah Connor,” Amilyn joked. “Then, drinks?”

Kaydel threw her head back. “Goddddd, yes.”

Rey forced herself to smile, taking a deep breath. “Yeah… sure.”

Chapter Text


Rey — Kyoto, Japan

They say time flies when you’re having fun…

But what they never tell you: time also flies when you’re dreading something that might turn your insides out and make you wish you’d joined that convent in the third grade.

And that’s exactly how Rey felt as she went through the motions for the rest of the conference. 1 P.M. Teaching Workshop. Rey watched Jessika and a few other teachers present on new games and teaching methods, but she kept zoning out like earlier. 3 P.M. Presentation and Q & A about the changes to the English curriculum in Kyoto. Here, Kylo was all business, every bit of the ruthless business leader she’d expected him to be—organized, methodical. Each question rolling off his lips in Japanese with little effort.

And that was when she realized—truly realized. She could learn a lot from him. Whether or not she’d admit that… She shook her head.

“Almost done,” Amilyn said, yet again drawing Rey from her thoughts. “That’s the superintendent. Closing comments.”

Rey tried to listen, but she only knew enough Japanese to pick up a few words out of context. She really needed to learn more… Maybe she could ask Kylo…

“Finally,” Amilyn said, standing up. Rey looked up at her, realizing that the conference was over and she’d zoned out for most of it. But now she could relax, brea—

A cold hand clamped down on her shoulder. Frozen and arctic, like the feeling of a corpse left out in the London cold to stiffen and decompose.

Amilyn’s eyes grew wide, gaze fixed on something—or someone—standing above Rey.

“Miss Jackson, I quite enjoyed your speech. It was very… impassioned. Given just how sentimental it was, one would think the English Resistance is running a charity—not a business.”

Snoke.

Rey stood, turning around and shrugging off his touch. “Thank you for your kind observation. However, there is a way to run a business with compassion and make money. Something that First English would know nothing about, I’m sure.”

The corners of his thin lips curled into a crooked smile.  

Rey squared her shoulders and narrowed her eyes at him. Ready for his next dagger.

Amilyn stepped between them. “Alexander. We weren’t expecting you today.” A pause. “And alone. I assumed you always traveled with high security.”

“Ah, Amilyn Holdo. A pleasure. But I wasn’t addressing you.”

He tried to step around her, but she blocked him. “She has nothing to discuss with you. Now, I suggest you go back to your company and stop trying to intimidate a woman a third of your age. Before I inform the Board.”

“Sir,” Kylo called, walking up to them. “We have the after party now.” His eyes briefly met Rey’s, mouth a straight line. She smiled at him, but he only turned his attention back to Snoke.

“Yes, of course.” Snoke nodded, fixating his eyes one last lingering time on Rey before turning around and following Kylo in the other direction.

When he was gone, Rey breathed out, trying to calm her nerves.

“What the heck was that about?” Jessika asked.

Kaydel rolled her eyes. “Oh, just the king of creepy RBF.”

“Are you okay?” Amilyn inquired, looking down at Rey.

Rey nodded. “I’m fine. What’s his problem?”

“Dropped on his head as a baby,” Jessika said.

Kaydel laughed. “A face even a mother couldn’t love?”

“Enough, you two,” Amilyn chided. “That’s unprofessional. Stop being troublemakers.”

“But I thought you liked troublemakers, Ami,” Kaydel said, winking. “Weren’t you trying to get a certain guy transferred to our side of the world?”

Amilyn flashed a stern side glance at her. “That’s beside the—”

“The English Resistance!” a man called. Rey looked up, meeting the brown eyes of the superintendent—the one who’d given the closing speech. “Excellent work today. The Board and I were impressed.”

Amilyn bowed, saying something to him in Japanese.

The conversation continued like that—with Rey understanding nothing. She glanced at her fingernails, trying to resist looking in Kylo's direction. Kaydel and Jessika chatted beside her, but she tuned them out.

“Arigatou gozaimashita,” Amilyn said at last, bowing thirty more times before parting from him.

Rey stood, staring at the man's back. "What was that about?"

“Miyazaki-san invited us to the after party. A few investors want to speak with us about the private English market.”

“But Snoke will be there,” Rey protested.

Amilyn crossed her arms. “Don’t worry about Snoke. You’re not a fake blonde, dumb, or Japanese. He’s just protecting his profits.”

Rey nodded, but the ache in her stomach said otherwise.

 


 

Later, in the back of a restaurant, a man (she’d already forgotten his name) was filling up Rey’s glass with nihonshu—sake—and talking her into an oblivious daze.

She timed it. Laugh. Take a sip. Smile. Her eyes roaming to find Kylo’s at another table across the room. It’s better this way, she tried to convince herself. To have him over there.

But yet—

The pill still nagged at her. Still seemed to scream, take me take me take me take me, you idiot girl. She needed to talk to him. Wanted to talk to him, if she could find the courage to admit that.

“So where did you go to school?” Whatever-his-name-was was asking her. She looked over at him, meeting wide-framed glasses and a round face.

“South Bank University. Business Management. You?”

“Me too. But I studied at Kyoto University.”

“That’s nice,” Rey said.

On the other side of the room, Kylo had a finger to his lips as usual, nodding at whatever Yuta was saying to him. Rey took a bite of her food.

“The guy you’re talking to,” Amilyn whispered into her ear. “Emailed me two days ago about investing in the English Resistance’s private English business endeavor. Just be careful what you say.”

“Sure,” Rey said, turning back to the investor guy.

So she tried. Asked him questions about his work life, her hand pressed to her cheek. Took a bite of her karaage. Another sip of her sake.

Still, she watched Kylo more—the way his dark hair fell into his face, the way he laughed—showcasing crooked teeth and an uneven smile. When she was a kid, she’d tried everything to get him to smile. Aggravating him. Tickling him. Pinching and cupping his large ears. "Hey, now you’re Dumbo!" He’d batted her hand away and rolled his eyes. "What are you, five?"

She let the time pass. 6 P.M. 7 P.M.

Snoke was next to him, and even though he was watching her like the snake he was, waiting to snap, he almost seemed to fade into the noise of the surrounding restaurant. Because, he wasn’t her past. Not like Ben was.

Even so, the more she studied him, the more her stomach flipped, her feet itching to move, to go. To run somewhere far away from here. If only she could turn back time… Eight years would be her wish—her only wish.

She finished her drink, sighing. “Thank you so much,” she interrupted. “I’m not feeling so well. I think I’m going to call it an early night.” She pulled out one of her business cards and handed it to the man with a smile and two hands as was custom. “I forgot to give you my business card. I’m more based out of our British office, so Amilyn would be the one you should go to if you have any questions, but my supervisor would love to speak to you. Thank you again. It’s been lovely chatting with you.”

“I see. Yes. Get well,” he said, smiling back. “You have a great career ahead of you, and I look forward to working with the English Resistance.”

Rey stood, and Amilyn glanced at her quizzically. “It’s Friday. Going already?”

“Yeah, I’m just not feeling well. I think I’m going to go back to my hotel and lie down.”

“Oh. Feel better. And call if you need anything.”

Rey turned away.

But Amilyn grabbed her arm. “And don’t forget, okay? Medicine. Purse. If you have any bad bleeding or symptoms, call me. I know your flight doesn’t leave until 11 A.M., and I’ll still probably be spending the weekend in Kyoto.”

“Yeah, I’ll do that. Thank you for everything, again. I really don’t know what I’d do without you.”

Amilyn grinned. “You’d do just fine. You’re brilliant. Keep studying Japanese, and maybe you’ll take my position one day.”

“Ha! I’ll keep that in mind. Have a good weekend.”

“You too.”

Rey turned to Kaydel and Jessika, touching their backs. “Okay, loves. I’m out. You both did amazing today, but I need to get some sleep. Not feeling well.”

“Rey! It’s so early. Just stay a little longer,” Jessika pleaded. “It’s your last night in Kyoto. Let's go to another bar after this. I have some friends I want you to meet.”

“Oh, let her sleep,” Kaydel said. “It’s been a long day. She’ll probably be back in Japan in July for another conference in Sapporo. Taking over Japan, baby!” She raised her drink in the air. “Aren’t we?”

“Ha. Yeah, I suppose we are. See you.”

With that, she walked out of the restaurant, denying herself any further glances in his direction, the night air cleansing her flushed skin. She should feel accomplished, proud. According to Amilyn, she’d impressed the entire board and gotten them invited to the after party. But all she could think about was him, what they’d done, and that little box buried in her purse.

Before going back to her hotel, she stopped at a kombini to grab a water and a snack, paying and exiting as quickly as possible, the aching in her stomach only getting worse. She knew what she had to do. She’d go back, take the damn pill, and put an end to all of this—

“Rey.” That voice. That husky, deep, sensual voice.

And there he was. Leaning up against the side of the store. Cool, confident—just like when she’d left him yesterday.

“Did you follow me?” she asked, brushing hair out of her face.

“Maybe. Why'd you leave the other morning?”

Rey pursed her lips. “I don’t know. I thought…” She shook her head, letting the silence settle between them.

“You did really well today.”

“Thanks.”

“I mean it.” He pulled away from the wall, stepping closer to her, the scent of his cologne making her dizzy. “If I had you…”

She smiled. “You’d get sick of me, I’m sure.”

He scoffed, eyes burning into hers, the pale moonlight turning them a deeper, brighter shade of amber. “You’ve always sold yourself short.”

“What can I say? I’m a perpetual failure.”

His eyes narrowed. “You’re not. Not at all. You’re…” He shook his head, looking into the distance. “Do you remember when we went to Kyoto Tower?”

“Yes.”

“And you told me you were crushing on whatever that loser’s name was?”

Rey blushed. “I can’t believe you remember that.”

“I remember everything.” He cleared his throat. “And you said that you didn’t feel like he’d ever like you because you had braces and acne?”

“Yes, and?”

“And then you texted me a week later saying he’d asked you out?”

“You can’t use something that happened eight years ago as proof I’m not a—”

“Yes, I can.” He was so close to now, towering above her. Eyes intense, but soft at the same time. “And even if he hadn’t asked you out… You do amazing. You kill it. Every single fucking time. And then you talk shit about yourself. I fucking hate that.”

She averted her eyes. “I don’t know what to say.”

“Then don’t say anything.”

Silence. He continued to gaze at her intensely, and she began counting each of his moles, almost like stars in the night sky above him—stars that were subdued and shrouded by city lights. But here, on his face, she could trace them if she wanted to, run her fingers over each and every one, memorize them.

“I’m sorry about what I said the other morning,” she blurted out. “I didn’t mean to leave like that… I just. It’s a lot. This. You know?”

He sighed, briefly looking away. “You don’t need to apologize. I should have—” He ran a hand through his hair. “I should have called you. I shouldn’t have made you believe… It wasn’t... It wasn’t just a… hookup for me. You should know that.”

Rey’s breath caught, heart fluttering. But yet, she couldn’t force her lips to move. What could she say to that? He’d—

“What do you think—we haven’t been to Kyoto Tower together in eight years.” He tapped her arm. “It’s open till 9. Come with me?”

“You should be back at the party. I’m sure Snoke is wondering where—”

“Fuck him. Let’s go.”

And after spending all day wishing she could have him, there he was—his soft footsteps falling in line with hers, their arms entwined. So much like that spring together all that time ago... and still, so different. Quiet. Sure.

Without saying a word, they walked, entered the building, got their tickets, changed elevators, but his eyes—his eyes didn’t stray from hers, if only for a moment at a time, to hand the money to the woman behind the counter, to press the button to the elevator.

And then, there it was, the city unfolding for her, the lights—reds, yellows, oranges—glowing, glistening in the distance as far as her eyes could see. She’d never seen Kyoto at night, not like this. Not from above—replacing and surpassing even the brightest stars on a clear evening. And he—Ben—was there beside her, his hand reaching to touch the small of her back. After eight years without him. As if all that time didn’t stretch as wide as the endless night view in front of her. Not like before. Not like the first night.

“Why did you… Why did you leave?” she found herself asking. “I waited for you. I used to sit next to my phone… wishing.” She choked back tears, trying to focus on the lights. “Looking down at it… swearing I saw your name. I never believed them, you know. What they said about you. Not really.”

He took a breath, a cold spring chill blowing across his dark curls. “I don’t know what to say.”

“Then don’t say anything at all,” she repeated back to him, from earlier.

She turned away, swiping the tears from her eyes.

But then he—he grabbed her hand, lacing his fingers with hers. “I know what I did. To you. And I’m…”

When he didn’t finish, she glanced over at him. In the pale, dim lights, she noticed something odd, something strange—just the slightest dusting of moisture in his eyes.

She leaned into him, resting her head against his shoulder and squeezing his hand tighter in response.

He might never apologize. He might never tell her what really happened.

But somehow, with his hand in hers, she realized… Maybe none of that mattered.

She smiled. “How do you feel about putting pineapple on pizza?”

“What?” he asked, looking at her incredulously.

“Pineapple. On pizza. It’s the new thing, isn’t it? How do you feel about it?”

“Ruining a perfectly good pizza.”

“Of course you’d say that.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Mister ‘I’m so serious and allergic to fun.’” She switched to his gruff, American-accented voice. “I’m Kylo. I’m so posh. Just ruining a perfectly good pizza.”

He cracked a smile. “And what does that make you? Some kind of savage?”

“No. It means I’m normal. Your taste buds are just broken.”

He tickled her sides, sending a fit of laughter through her body. “We’re in public,” she said through giggles. “Stop, stop!”

He did then, drawing her closer against his body. “Question time.”

“Shoot,” she whispered, snuggling into him.

“Besides this… Who are you? What do you do outside of work?”

“That’s a bold question isn’t it: who are you?” She laughed. “I don’t know, honestly. I like to make things. I built most of the furniture in my room out of recycled materials.”

“Scavenger,” he said against her hair.

“Hey, saves money. What about you? What does the serious, brooding Kylo Ren do for fun besides taking candy from babies?”

He paused, pressing a kiss to the top of her head like he’d done it a million times before. “I paint. I don’t think I told you. I minored in art in college. You should... You should see my apartment in Chicago sometime. There are no white walls.”

“Kylo Ren paints?!” she said, turning around to look at him. She tried to recall his apartment in Kyoto eight years ago, but she didn’t remember any particular artwork coating his walls.

“Hard to believe?”

“You never talked about it.”

“My family told me art was a useless major. My mom, Leia, wanted me to take over the English Republic eventually. So I majored in business and didn’t paint for a few years after I graduated. But when I joined First English… I felt like it was okay then. I could be myself. So I paint.”

“I didn’t know that.”

He hugged her tighter. “You were young. I couldn’t tell you everything. And landlords in Japan have stupid fucking rules for the walls.”

“What do you paint?” Her eyes focused on the modern architecture of Kyoto Station in front of her, her mind wandering back to crimson Torii gates and gold-laden shrines.

“Japan. Chicago. Landscapes. You.”

She blushed. “Me?”

“At least what I remember of you. That day, when I took you to Maruyama Park to see the cherry blossoms. Do you remember?”

“Of course.”

He cleared his throat. “Yeah, so. I probably have a dozen paintings of you then.”

“Why? I was an awkward girl who knew nothing about life.”

“I hate how you talk about yourself. You were funny. You always made me laugh. Always.” He turned to look at her. “And you were beautiful… are beautiful.”

Her cheeks grew hot again. “How poetic. I didn’t think you had it in you.”

“It’s true,” he muttered, running his thumb across her cheek. “You were beautiful then, for a girl. But now—for a woman.” His eyes trailed up her body, haunting and somber, sending a shiver up her spine. “You’re....” He shook his head.

“I wanted to talk to you all day,” she admitted.

“Me too.”

“Ha! Hard to believe that. You’ve barely looked at me.”

“I thought you’d stay,” he said, voice quivering a bit.

Silence.

Then she whispered, “I didn’t think it’d mean that much to you.”

“Well it did.”

She rifled through her purse, pulling out the lotus stashed away from yesterday. “Did you do this?”

He nodded, smiling slightly. “I taught myself origami in high school.”

“It’s beautiful. Thank you.”

He breathed in. “I can teach you.”

“I’d like that.”

He smiled again, breaking the mood, his usual severe face brightening as she gazed up at him.

“Next question,” she said, Leia and Han flashing through her mind, always kind, always gentle—to her anyway. “If you could change anything at all about the way you were raised, what would it be?”

He looked out at the city. “Leia was always working. A career as a lawyer and politician doesn’t make for a present mother. And Han?” He chuckled. “Businessman extraordinaire. Could sell any cleaning product at any home show. Didn’t mean he was there. At all. Often on the road. We lived mainly in America, but spent every summer in England with my grandparents… until they shipped me off to Japan to live with Luke and his first wife during high school.”

“I’m sorry. I… didn’t know.”

He shook his head. “It’s okay. What about you?”

“Pretty sure you know. My parents left me at a fire station when I was three.”

“Yeah. But besides that, would you change anything?”

She laughed, unsure on exactly what he meant. “The system worked the way it should. I was put in different houses until Mara adopted me at 13. That’s life.”

“That’s not how it’s supposed to be. I’m sorry that happened to you. If I could, I’d make them pay… for everything they did to you.”

She shivered, his words echoing through her mind. Pay. It didn’t sound like an empty threat. “No. I had Mara. Your family. It was enough.”

“At least they were there for you,” he mumbled, mind seeming to be far away. “You deserved them.”

She looked up at him again, noticing he had tears in his eyes once again. “You did too.”

“Me?” He chuckled. “Do you know why I joined First English?”

She didn’t say anything, but he continued anyway.

“Snoke—Alexander. Believed in me. Was there for me. Always. He was a family friend. Or used to be. He’s rough around the edges, I know. Not the best guy. But he gave me purpose. Meaning.”

She drew in a breath, searching his face. “He’s not a good guy, Ben.”

“You don’t even know him,” he said, glancing away.

“I know enough. Listen to me.”

He looked at her then, eyes seeming to peer into her soul.

“He’s using you. You’ll build First English for him. And then he’ll crush you the second you stop being useful to him.”

He smirked. “Han said the same thing. But I’m not crushed. And First English is the top recruiter of English teachers in the country.”

“Then you're still useful or just lucky.”

He shook his head. “It’s not luck. It’s business. A business I could teach you about, if you’d let me.”

She didn’t respond, turning her gaze to the city again. This would be another issue they’d disagree on, then. So be it. She’d seen the kind of person Snoke was, even if only for a moment. Why couldn’t he?

He looked down at his watch. “It’s almost 9. Your hotel room or mine?”

She smirked, rolling her eyes. “You’re a presumptuous ass, you know that right?”

He took her face in his hands, breath against her lips, face serious. “I don’t want you just for that. Why don’t we go to the kombini, get a few beers, and watch a movie back at your room?”

She sighed deeply, lacing her arms around his neck, knowing, just knowing what the night would lead to, no matter what he said, but somehow, it was…

“Okay.”

 


 

“Try this,” Kylo said, holding an unknown chip-looking thingy between his large fingertips.  

“What is this 'this’ in question?” She looked over at the bag where he’d pulled the thingy from, trying to decipher its contents, but it was in Japanese. As usual. After leaving the tower, they’d raided their nearest kombini, and he’d grabbed a handful of Japanese snacks that she just had to try. (But he'd hidden the wrappers, to which she’d joked that he was trying to feed her laced snacks to get her into bed with him. He’d just stone faced her, clearly unhappy, and she’d laughed, hard). Then, once back at the hotel, he’d grabbed his toothbrush, a change of clothes, and his laptop. And now—

Here they were. Two packs of beer on the nightstand. Numerous snacks littering the duvet—comforter as Kylo called it in his improper American accent—brand names and titles that Rey couldn’t read even if she weren’t already two beers in. He sat centimeters from her on the bed in jeans and a dark gray t-shirt, hair loose and no longer frozen from whatever gel he used every day. She, in turn, had changed out of her ruined skirt and into a pair of comfy light-wash jeggings. Hair also loose, caressing her shoulders.

“Just try it,” he said.

She leaned down closer to the snack, sniffing. “It smells horrid.”

He flashed her a tired expression, his hand sagging a little. “Would you just try it?”

Glaring at him, she bit down on the chip, chewing and wincing, waiting for it to taste exactly like it smelled. But—

“Okay,” she said. “You win. That’s quite good. What is it?”

“Guess.”

“I don’t know. Something fishy? Squid?”

He shook his head, bringing the wrapper to her face. “Ebi-Mirin-Yaki.”

“In terms the poor peasant girl with a shitty public education can understand, please?”

He rolled his eyes. “You didn’t have a shitty education.”

“Just tell me what it is, Prince of the Gibberish-Sounding, but Kind of Hot Language.”

He scoffed and laughed, rolling his eyes again. “That’s not even funny.”

“You still laughed. And how can you even talk? I had nightmares about that Big Ben comment last night.”

“You know it was funny.”

“To anyone with only a fifth grade education, sure, maybe.” She took a sip of her beer.

“Didn’t you just call me the Prince of the Weird-Sounding, but Really Hot Language?”

“No, I called you the Prince of the Gibberish -Sounding, but Kind of Hot Language. There’s a difference. Don’t flatter yourself. So what was it, know-it-all?”

“A shrimp cracker.”

“Oh, God. Eww. I knew it was dehydrated seafood. Why the hell would you feed me that?”

He threw up his hands. “Hey. You liked it.”

“You bullied me into saying that.” She took another swig of her beer, finishing it off and wincing. “And why do you like this stuff? It tastes like straight piss.”

He glared at her. “And now who’s the posh one?”

“Still you, mate. I just happen to have good taste buds.”

“You’re so right… because I’m the one that likes fucking pineapple on a goddamn pizza.”

She punched his arm. “Says the guy that decided to change his name to Kylo Ren . Who do you think you are? A character from Star Wars?”

“You don’t even know what my name means,” he said, face grim now.

“Don’t need to. You’re probably one of those white people too edgy to pick a common name like ‘Kyle.’”

“Wrong.” He stood up and reached into his overnight bag on the dresser, pulling out a pen and notepad. He scribbled something on it, then held it out to her.

Kylo Ren was written on it in his neat handwriting. But above it—two phrases that Rey didn’t recognize. One in roman characters—Caelo, and the other appeared to be a Chinese character.

He pointed to Kylo and Caelo with the pen. “Caelo is Latin for ‘sky’ or ‘heaven.’ When I joined First English and decided to change my name, I was on an airplane to Chicago. I looked out the window… the sky was… beautiful, pinks and reds blended together in a way that I...” He sighed. “It felt like I was finally free—from it all.”

Rey swallowed, trying to stop herself from wincing. Free… even from me?

Avoiding her eyes, he moved the pen to Ren and the unknown character. “In Japanese kanji, this is how you write ‘Ren.’ It means ‘lotus.' And it’s also easier for Japanese investors and clients to pronounce since it’s an actual Japanese name.” A pause. He laid the paper on the nightstand next him and stretched his arms out. “So… yeah.”

“Yup. You’re definitely one of those edgy white people. You should be a poet.”

He stared at her for a while, face solemn again.

“Wha—”

He attacked her, hands viciously tickling her sides. Laughing, she tried to buck him off, but he only pinned her against the bed, his large body sitting on top of her.

“Kylo.” More giggles. “St-stop.” He tickled her everywhere—harder, faster—armpits, underneath her neck, her belly. “Mercy!” she cried, trying to ward him off. He ignored her. “Stop, stop. I surrender.”

He did then, his hands locked around her wrists, fastening her to the bed. His eyes roamed her face. Lips straight, unsmiling, silent. The only sounds—the intake and exhale of their lungs.

He let go of her wrists, reaching up to cup her face. The moment his fingertips met her cheeks, she sighed and leaned her face into his hand. At that, a weak smile touched his lips, and he bent down, face centimeters from hers.

“Everything about you,” he whispered, so close, so beautifully near her lips. “Everything…”

“What about me?”

He kissed her at last, deep and sensual, one hand gliding down to clutch her breast. Grabbing, pulling. He broke away, looking at her, breath already speeding up. “I’ve wanted to do that all day.”

She smiled, reaching up to kiss him again.

But he turned his face away. “Not yet. You have more snacks to try.”

“You’re a tease.”

“I told you,” he whispered into her ear. “This isn’t just sex.”

Then what was it? she wanted to ask.

 


 

She wasn’t sure when she’d drifted off, but there she was, yet again—waking up with a gasp, darkness consuming the room. A-bloody, freaking-gain. She reached over to the other side of the bed, feeling nothing but empty space.

Had he left? Heart lurching and dazed, she checked the time on her phone. 12:09 A.M. She’d been out for probably about an hour. He’d fed her all sorts of weird crisps and biscuits. Some she’d liked, some not so much. She'd teased him some more; he’d teased back. His favorite color—not actually black, but red, a severe, burning red like the color of the origami lotus he’d given her (she should’ve guessed). Favorite drink? Not actually beer or whiskey or wine. But a secret cocktail of his own creation he’d promised to make for her… someday. When they saw each other next.

So after all that, where was he?

She sat up, feeling her body and realizing—all of her clothes were still on. She really needed to stop passing out at random times. She’d blame it on the jet lag, but… Mara often found her like that—head to desk—on more occasions than she would openly admit. To anyone. Ever.

She pulled up his contact picture and began to text him.

But just as she was about to press send, she heard it—the shower. She crawled out of bed and turned on the light. His bag was still on the dresser. Open.

She released a shaky breath. He hadn’t left. He hadn’t left.

Thinking no further, she peeled off her clothes and stealthily reached for the handle to the bathroom. Unlocked. She tiptoed in, steam filling her lungs.

She peeled back the curtain and: “Boo!”

He was washing his hair, eyes closed, not the least bit scared—much to her chagrin. “Hello. I heard you come in.”

“Dammit. I thought I was quiet,” she said, bottom lip pouting.

“You were. I’m just that good.”

“Ha! I think the word you’re looking for is arrogant.”

He rinsed his hair, body turning away, hands moving down his scalp. Giving her a perfect view of him from behind. He was taller, bigger, and more toned than any other guy she’d been with. And someone like him, with his figure, though nice, had never really been her type. Mara liked big guys like him, big guys like Chris Hemsworth. "Bloody yummy," she’d said. "My new phrase, especially for him." And Rey had always been interested in more averaged sized men like Luke. Which is what Mara had ironically ended up with—happy and fat according to her.

But… it was him. Ben. And maybe… her Ben now. Rivals, enemies, it all—be damned.

She wrapped her arms around him, resting her face against his back, skin warm and wet.

“I’m sorry I woke you up,” he said, turning around and pulling her closer. “I couldn’t sleep, so I thought I’d take a shower.”

“Do you have trouble sleeping?”

“Yeah.” His jaw ticked. “Sometimes.”

She looked up at him, standing on her toes and pressing her lips to his. He opened his mouth to her without hesitation, tongue dancing against hers, hands rising to grip her face.

Then, she felt it—something stiff against her belly. She laughed. “There seems to be something between us.”

He answered by pressing her back against the wall, lips sucking on her neck. The something driving into her abdomen further.

Desire rushed between her legs, and she moaned softly, placing kisses across his cheeks, his face, his hair. He grinded against her, reaching down to stroke her center, fingers entering then stroking, entering then stroking. Passionate and lustful, but yet, subdued and almost gentle.

But then he broke away, his lips moving down her body. She tracked him, eyebrows furrowed. “What... what are you doin—”

His tongue caressed her, stealing the words from her lips. “I’ve wanted to fuck you like this all day,” he murmured against her. He drove harder into her, unfazed with how she thrust her hips against his face.

She moaned. “Ha! Except you ignored me all day.”

He responded by dashing his tongue across her faster, the desire building, building, building in her stomach. A little more, and she'd—

But before she could feel herself slipping into a climax, body clenching, he pulled away, wiping his lips.

“I really do hate you,” she said, panting.

“You wanna feel good? Make me feel good too.” He winked, glancing down at himself.

“I don’t do blow jobs.”

“What? Now who's the posh one?”

She shrugged. “Once again: still you. All goes back down to taste. Your stuff is too salty.”

“And yours tastes so great.” He nuzzled her neck, wrapping his arms around her. “Would you ever reconsider?”

“Maybe,” she said breathlessly, wiggling her ring finger in front of his face as a joke.

He didn’t laugh. Instead, his face was as serious as it always was. “We could do it.”

She gave him a little shove. “What? No. Are you insane? And this isn’t Vegas. Wrong country.”

“I’m serious. We could. If you want.”

“We could also do hard drugs, rip off all our clothes, and dive in front of cars for insurance money.”

He chuckled. “You have an overactive imagination. And also, wrong country. Difficult to find that hard shit here.”

“You’ve definitely lost your mind. Marriage for blow jobs? Seems a little excessive.”

“And other things,” he whispered, placing his arms on her shoulders.

“How many beers have you had?”

“I stopped drinking when you fell asleep.”

She froze. “Oh.”

“I’m just kidding.” He brushed pieces of hair out of her eyes, studying her. And with him looking at her like that—like she had taken all of him, possessed him—she couldn’t hold back any longer. It was too much, too excessive, too difficult. She rammed her lips into his, opening her mouth to him once more.

A mess of arms, legs, teeth, and then he was inside her, holding her up in his arms, legs wrapped around him, the warm water cascading down between them. Lips never parting, never leaving the other. She held onto him with tight fingers, fervently, like he were the only man she’d ever thought about, taken, desired. He was all she could see, wild black hair sticking to his face, amber eyes consuming hers.

They ended up tangled on the cold bathroom floor, wet, panting—bodies melded together. Neither speaking. Only breathing. Her back pressed to the floor.

He took her and took her and took her, tasting every inch of her body. Until finally, he was pulsing inside of her, eyes closed, mouth open. She grinded against his hips, trying to draw his pleasure out further, in awe of the way his jaw clenched and unclenched—how every muscle in his face relaxed. It was the only time. The only time she’d ever seen him fully at peace.

And when he opened his eyes, he was looking at her like that again. Like she meant everything … but no, he couldn’t feel that. Not yet. It was too soon, too early. Wasn’t it?

And yet, here she was, letting him come inside her again. Without hesitation. Which reminded her—

“I’m sorry,” he said. “You didn’t…”

She shook her head. “It’s okay.”

He placed a quick kiss on her lips before pulling out and hovering lower and lower across her body, stopping and sucking at few spots at a time—breasts, stomach, pelvis. Until he… Took her into his mouth again.

“But we just…” She gasped. “You just ca—”

He only pressed his face further into her, silencing her for good.

 


 

 

“What are we?” Rey found herself asking once they’d cleaned up and crawled back into bed.

She felt him smile against her hair. “Ah, there is it. The question every girl usually asks after sex.”

She rubbed her face into his chest, cheeks growing warm. “I think it’s a perfectly valid question.”

“Do you still hate me?” he questioned.

She rolled her eyes, her mind wandering to the image of him going down on her on the bathroom floor. “What do you think?”

“I dunno. Fifty-fifty at this point?”

She slapped him playfully. “You’re insufferable.”

“So that’s a yes. Knew it.”

“No, you idiot. I don’t hate you.”

He took a deep breath, then said, “We’ll figure it—us—out. You could come to Chicago. Next month or sooner. If you want. I have vacation time I could take. I’ll pay… for everything.”

She smiled, imagining a trip like that. She’d never been to Chicago, but had always wanted to go. And with him walking beside her as they went to see the Big Bean or ate pizza or sat by Lake Michigan…

“I’d love that,” she whispered. “But I have to work. I don’t get many paid holidays.”

“Okay. Maybe some other time then.”

But if he had vacation time, he could—

“Come to London,” Rey blurted out. “Leia… misses you. She asks about you all the time.”

He sighed. “Let’s not talk about that.”

She stared into the darkness of the room, rubbing her head into his chest again. She shouldn’t have said it... but didn’t it need to be said? After all that was happening between them? After she was thinking of… The pill flashed through her mind. She still hadn’t taken it, and she was late now—by at least an hour.

“But why?”

“Leave it, Rey.” He pulled away and rolled over to the other side of the bed.

She knew she shouldn’t press him, shouldn’t push the issue any further. But after he’d looked at her like… like she might be something more, maybe even his future, it needed to be discussed.

“I’d be with you if you're worri—”

“Leave it, Rey,” he repeated.

“What did they do that was so bad?”

“Enough! I don’t wanna talk about it.”

Rey took measured breaths, letting the silence settle around them. How could it all have gone wrong so quickly? Her mind wandered to the pill again. She knew she needed to take it, late or not, and it was no use talking to him about it. After all, he’d been the one to suggest going to the clinic as soon as she mentioned it. And she didn’t want to anger him further by bringing it up.

It was then that she realized. He wouldn’t leave First English. He wouldn’t leave Snoke or come to London. Any relationship they had would be complicated, difficult, one-sided. And bringing a child into all that?

She waited a while—until she thought he was asleep. Then, when she thought enough time had passed, she felt her way through the darkness and reached for her purse on the dresser, quietly pulling out the box. She unwrapped it, steadied her heartbeat, and tore open the cardboard, taking out the foil packet inside.

With even steps, she moved to the bathroom, turning the light on and filling up one of the complimentary glasses with water.

You can do this. You can do this. She stared at herself in the mirror—her messy brown waves, the crease in her brow. She couldn’t have a child with him. She didn’t even know him. Three days—that’s all it’d been. Whatever—whoever—he’d been eight years ago was not who he was now.

She gripped the sink, looking down at the time on her phone. Hit the power button. 1:09. Again. 1:17. Again. 1:25.

Enough. She was twenty-one years old. A child herself. She’d just graduated, started her career, and began her life. Mara and Leia were counting on her.

She took the pill out of the foil and raised the glass to her lips.

But at that same instant, his eyes flashed through her mind, the way he’d looked at her earlier. So gentle, so… as if he cared for her. As if he would stay with her, be with her. A small, weak thing with his dark hair—in her arms. Those same brown eyes, opening into hers.

The glass shook in her hand. Take it, she urged herself. You can’t have a baby with him. He doesn’t want that. Take i—

She needed to talk to him. Even if he didn’t approve. Even if he got angry again and thought she was crazy. She still had time to take the five day pill back in London.

She rushed out of the bathroom, finding the main light on. “Ben?” she called. No answer. “Ben?” she repeated.

He wasn’t in bed. His bag wasn’t on the dresser. It was all—

Gone.

“Ben?” she said, louder now, voice shaking.

She circled the room, turning over the sheets, the pillows, checking under the bed, the table. Until she gave up, picking up her phone.

He wouldn’t have left. Not after tonight. Not over one disagreement. Right?

The dresser. There was something on it—a piece of paper—underneath the empty cardboard pill box. She rushed over and picked it up. Why had he put it under the box?

Her heart stopped, a chill running through her body. It was the note from earlier, the one he’d written his name on. But… there was a new addition.

Two little words, scribbled in messy cursive—

I’m sorry.

She ran to the bathroom, the note crumpling in her hand. Over and over she read it, unfolding it and crushing it. Unfolding it and crushing it. Should she call him? Should she text him?

He’d really left this time. Just like her parents. Just like he’d done eight years ago. Stupid girl, you should've known.

She picked up the pill from the counter and downed it, wishing she could wash every thought away with a swig of water.

But nothing changed. Her stomach still ached. The tears still slipped off her chin and into the sink. She should feel relieved. Why didn’t she feel—

She sobbed, hard, low and raspy, cries shaking her entire body—her shoulders, her stomach, her chest. He’d left. She'd taken the pill. It was over.

She sank down against the door, wrapped her arms around her knees, closed her eyes, and let it all go.

But yet, that little girl persisted in the back of her mind, calling, pleading, Ben. Ben. Ben. Until the voice died to a faint whisper. Until she wondered if it'd ever existed at all.

And when morning finally came, as it always did, she dried her eyes, got dressed, and—

Left the crimson lotus on the floor.

Chapter Text

 


Kylo — Chicago — One Month Later

Kylo closed his eyes and took a sip of his whiskey. That taste. He hadn’t drank whiskey since last month. Last month when he’d sat across from her, watching her smile, laugh—cheeks red.

“Long day, man?” Mario, the bartender, asked him while making a drink for another customer.

Kylo finished the rest of his whiskey in one gulp. “Yeah, man. Always.”

His phone vibrated; he pulled it out, eyes squinting at the screen.

Yuki Yamamoto

Good evening. I hope work hasn’t been too busy lately, but I need to know if you’re bringing anyone to the wedding next month?

He rubbed his eyes, raising his glass slightly. “Another?”

A week after returning from Japan, he’d received a letter in the mail cloaked in a white envelope. But on opening it, he realized it hadn’t actually been a letter at all.

Sighing, he reached into his suit jacket pocket, pulling it out once again. Ornate cursive—Hiroto & Yuki. And that one word: Wedding. Yuki was getting married next month, and she’d invited him and reserved two places—one for him and one for a guest. Please RSVP as soon as possible.

Well now that soon as possible had turned into three weeks, and he still didn’t know who he could bring, other than her. The only one he wanted to ask. All month, he’d stared and stared at Rey’s email contact picture, dreaming of pressing the call symbol.

He twirled the invitation in his fingertips. He couldn’t. Not after what had happened. Not after he was determined to leave it all behind. She was his past. She was loyal to them. And she’d… He shook his head, remembering the shape of that box on the dresser. She’d somehow gotten the pill and taken it, without saying a word to him, without even checking to see if his feelings had changed. If she... it would be his too. And maybe he wanted that with her, maybe—

What was he thinking? He didn’t want children. Didn’t need to have a God awful baby wail in the middle of the night only to go to work the next day and be subpar. He had enough trouble sleeping without worrying about if he was completely fucking up another human being for life.

Yet, he’d stared at that box until his eyes were blurry. So he’d left, knowing that would hurt her the most and put an end to whatever they had, knowing he was doing the exact same thing that he’d done eight years earlier.

He put the invitation away, shaking his head.

It was better like this—with them apart. They couldn’t be together. How she’d asked about them and pushed the issue even after he’d told her and told her and then the pill—the final sting, the final reminder that she didn’t trust him, not fully.

Mario placed the second drink in front of him and tilted his head forward. “Your girlfriend’s here.”

“What?” Kylo turned around in his chair, Rey’s face flashing through his mind.

But it wasn’t her.

“Hey!”

It was Amber, one of the girls he occasionally hooked up with. She pulled him into a hug, her nauseating perfume filling his nostrils. “Good to see you again. I was wondering when you’d show your face.”

“Busy with work,” he replied, pulling away.

“You’re always busy with work.” She turned to Mario. “Cosmo, thanks.”

He looked her up and down, noting her four inch heels, skin tight dress, and nearly flawless makeup. Then smirked, remembering. Nude ballet flats and that low-cut sequined dress. Rey would never wear those heels. She preferred comfort, natural over fake. Subdued makeup. Yet, so beautiful.

“So what’s it this week? Japan? California? New York?” Amber probed, flipping her long blonde hair back. But all he could see was brown waves and her smile.

He needed to stop thinking of her, needed stop seeing her like a permanent ghost at his side. He’d done it the entire month—in the middle of meetings, at the grocery store, when getting a cup of coffee even. It was crazy. Obsessive. They were over before they’d even began and rightfully so. She’d never see what kind of people his family was. What kind of mother, if he could even call her that, Leia had been. So focused on her career, sending him to private school after private school until they all blurred together. “Look, this one teaches French” or “Look, this one has a great kendo program” or even “so many after school clubs here.” Nights spent with the caretaker they’d hired until he was fourteen. And then there was Luke… That kind of betrayal…

So he spent the rest of the night chatting, watching, flirting with Amber. And when she started snuggling up next to him at the bar, he settled the bill, kissed her cheek, and said, “Let’s get out of here.”

 


 

“Take off your dress,” he told Amber as soon as they walked into his bedroom.

She smiled drunkenly—eyes glazed and squinting. “What? No foreplay? No telling me how much you’ve missed me?”

“You know I’m not like that.” He began to unbutton his shirt, eyes glued on his fingers.

And he didn’t look at her until she slipped out of her dress, bra, and lace panties, until she stood bare in front of him. So different from Rey. Everything bigger—breasts, bottom, legs. Different from her slight, hourglass figure and petite breasts. Girls like Amber had always been his type. At least, that’s what he’d thought before Kyoto.

Amber undid the clasp on his dress pants, taking him into her hands. “Ready as usual,” she said.

She got on her knees, rolling a condom over him. He relaxed and smiled. He’d waited so long for this. They locked eyes, and she was just about to start, when he remembered. “I don’t do blow jobs.” Her face so close to his, each of her freckles like brown diamonds in the unnatural bathroom light. The way she smiled—all of her teeth beaming up at him.

He went soft. A feeling—like he’d been punched, unaware, in the stomach.

He couldn’t let Amber do this to him. It was wrong.

“What’s up with you?” Amber asked, standing up.

“Drank a lot.”

Her painted-on brows knitted together. “Never happened to you before.”

“Why don’t we just call it an early night? I have work tomorrow.” He pulled off the condom and put on his briefs and pants again, sitting down on the side of the bed.

Amber rolled her eyes. “We just started and tomorrow’s Saturday. Work again?”

“Yeah, well. Not all of us can fuck our way to money,” he said, looking away.

She stared at him for a long time, eyes narrowed. “Fuck you,” she snapped, putting her clothes back on.

Without looking at him, she snatched her handbag from the bedside table and stormed out, slamming the door behind her.

He rubbed his face. What the hell had that been? His first lay in a month, since Rey, and he couldn’t even stay hard. It wasn’t like he was jacking off every day. It wasn’t like he thought about the way her body curved into her hips, the way her lips felt against his, the way she’d tightened around him, her entire body quivering…

He looked down. He was hard. Just as hard as usual. He took off his pants and briefs again. Up and down, up and down. Her laugh. Her breasts. Her hips pressed to his. Her tangled up with him in the elevator, in the hotel bed, on the bathroom floor. Warmth. Her flesh, pliant and welcoming. His. All his. Rey. His Rey.

He came then, spilling onto the wood floor. Still stroking. Still wanting to remember. The way it’d felt—coming inside of her, giving her all of him. No cares. No talks about condoms or being safe. Her body—it all his, to do what he wished—to hold, to caress, to taste.

He breathed out in euphoria, muscles relaxing, and stopped, looking down at the mess.

He needed a drink. A shot. Something—anything strong. He went to the kitchen and poured himself some whiskey, downing the entire thing in one gulp. He poured himself another. Then another.

Fuck it. He grabbed the bottle and sat in his chair by the floor length windows, looking out at the city. Took a sip. Watched. The lights were nothing like that night at Kyoto Tower. Somehow, it was all bland and tired. Without her.

He pulled out his phone and clicked on her contact picture. The one she used for work—professional, a muted red painting her lips. Her smile—unreal, forced. Not like how she’d smiled at him a month ago.

He pressed the video call button, sipping directly from the bottle of whiskey. Ring. He wiped his mouth. Ring. Ring. Ring.

Nothing. Like she’d declined his call. He put a finger to his lips, breathing out. He deserved it, sure, after what he’d done to her.

So he did the most rational thing he could have done in this situation. He called her again. And again. And again.

 


 

Rey — London

Rey looked down at her phone, swallowing.

Rose Tico Where are u?

Be there in 10, Rey typed back, then put her phone back into her purse, eyes focusing on the rectangular box looming across from her.

Her stomach churned, but that wasn’t anything new. She’d been nauseous on and off since Wednesday morning when she’d woken up and nearly missed the rubbish bin next to her bedside table. At first, she’d thought it was only a stomach bug. But then it came in waves—after eating, after smelling certain foods like eggs or reheated sausages. Which were her favorites unfortunately.

And now it was Friday, and she was still sick—and had been periodically through the day. Her boobs hurt. Her head hurt. Even her eyes hurt. She was sure she could even fall asleep while standing now. Yet, those weren’t the symptoms that concerned her.

Her period was two weeks late. The first week she’d reminded herself over and over, that’s just a symptom of the morning after pill, and didn’t think about it further. But by the second week, that thought had turned to fear, and so when she’d seen the chemist sign on her way to meet Rose and Finn at the pub, she’d rushed in, feeling sicker than she’d felt all week.

And here she was once again—antagonizing over a box. A box she shouldn’t even have to think about since she’d been responsible in the end, late or not. A box that could connect her, for life, to a man that had left her in the middle of the night and whom she hadn’t heard from in a month.

She swiped it from the shelf and brought it to the checkout counter, avoiding the cashier’s eyes.

When that was done, she wandered to the pub she, Rose, and Finn had frequented for years since they’d met each other when Rey was eighteen—The Girl and the Goat, the mild early May air fanning her face and settling her stomach. It was different than that night in Kyoto with Ben walking beside her—of course it would be. Two separate countries on two separate sides of the world. Even so, the breeze held hints of that night. The night she’d tried hard to forget. Ben walking beside her, looking at her like that. Before it’d all fallen apart—like every relationship in her life. Twenty-one years old… Was it too late to join that convent? She made a note to google, “how to become a nun when you’re pregnant,” later.

“Rey!” Rose called, waving her hands.

Rey walked over to the table she, Finn, and Poe were sitting at, forcing herself to smile.

“Hey guys… and hey Poe. They didn’t tell me you were coming.”

“Nah, it was last minute,” Poe replied. “Sit. We’re only on our second round. What do you want?”

Rey shook her head, knowing and dreading what she had to do next. “That’s okay. I’ll go order at the bar. Be right back.”

She walked over to the bar and locked eyes with the bartender, thanking whatever deity listening that no one was within direct earshot.

“What can I get you?” he asked, flipping his dyed blond hair out of his eyes.

She read his name tag quickly, taking an exasperated breath and leaning against the bar toward him. “Okay, Matt. I hope you’re having a lovely evening, but I have a favor.”

He laughed. “I’ve heard that one before.”

“I’m going to order vodka and sodas all night, but I want you to make it plain soda water, okay? They’ll be extra for you.” She flashed him a twenty pound note before stashing it back in her purse pocket.

He raised his eyebrows. “I’ll have to charge you for the vodka. Otherwise it won’t show up on the bill.”

Rey leaned in closer. The gesture could've been considered seductive under other circumstances, but not for what she planned to say next. “I’ve thrown up twice today, I’ve got massive heartburn that I swear to God I can feel all the way to my toes, and with all of that comes the likely probability that I’ve screwed up my life for eighteen years, so charge me whatever you want. They,” she gestured with her head to her friends sitting at a table to the right of the bar, “just can’t know.” She knew she was over sharing—talking to this random stranger; something she rarely did. But the release felt good, natural, when she couldn’t tell her friends anything.

Matt threw up his hands. “Hey, no questions asked. Just wanted to let you know how it works.”

“I appreciate that. Thanks.”

“So vodka and soda?” He winked.

“Yeah, vodka and soda.”

“Some of those symptoms passed after the first trimester with my wife, by the way. You’ll make it.”

Rey chewed on her lip. “Yeah. Maybe,” she muttered.

Matt placed her finished drink on the counter. “Here you go. Our secret.”

Rey grabbed it and walked back to their table where Rose was smiling suspiciously at her.

“What?” Rey asked, sliding into the seat next to her.

Rose looked away. “Nothing.”

Rey’s heart beat faster. Had Rose heard her conversation? Did she notice the shaking in her hands? No, shut up brain. She had no way of knowing that.

“What?” Rey repeated, taking a long sip from her drink to calm down.

When Rose didn’t answer, Finn rolled his eyes. “Rose is setting you up tonight.”

“Finn! It was supposed to be a surprise.”

“It would be if you didn’t look at everyone like a serial killer whenever you have a secret. It’s creepy, babe.”

“You’re such a party shitter.”

“Don’t you mean party pooper?”

Rey laughed. “That’s her version. Best not ask too many questions or she’ll think of more and won’t shut up for the rest of the night.”

“First I’ve heard it,” Finn said with a smile directed in Rose’s direction.

“Speak of the man!” Poe exclaimed, looking at the door.

Rey turned around, meeting the light blue eyes of a man with a round face and bushy eyebrows. But despite that, Rey noted he was rather handsome. Average build. Nice, wide smile and short blond hair. Completely her type; Rose had done well.

However, for some reason, and curse her treacherous heart, she’d hoped for someone else entirely.

The man and Poe did one of those guy handshakes—clapping their hands together and pulling each other into a side hug.

“So I know all you lot,” he said, sliding into the chair next to Poe and turning to Rey. “But I haven’t met you yet. I’m Niall.” He extended his hand, and Rey took it hesitatingly, surprised by his strong grip.

“I’m Rey,” she said softly when they broke apart. “Nice to meet you.”

“Yeah, you too. I’ve known this tosser since junior high.” He gestured to Poe with his thumb. “But I just met those two a month ago. I think you were away in Japan when they had their house warming party?”

“Extravaganza,” Rose corrected. “Get it right, goofball. It was on the e-invitation.”

Niall chuckled. “Forgot. But yeah. Japan. How was it?”

“It was really great,” Rey said, scratching the back of her head.

“Except for that bastard,” Rose stated.

“What? Who?” All Rey could see was long brown hair and eyes. But Rose didn’t know about that. Rey hadn’t told anyone about Ben, about what happened, how he’d left.

“Whatever his name was. Haruki?”

“Oh yeah. It’s no problem. He just had to work late. He already apologized.”

“Yeah, ohhhkay.” Rose sipped her wine. “Not showing up and not calling for days afterward is okay.”

“That’s rough, mate,” Niall said. “I’ve seen that happen before. I worked as a bartender for five years. Recently got an office job slaving away like the rest of you.” He shrugged. “But you can’t do that kinda work forever, so good on you. Doing great things, eh?”

“Yeah, I suppose.”

“Rey’s a severe turbulent. Don’t mind her. She’s actually quite brilliant. She graduated last year at twenty with a degree in Business.”

“Business Management,” Rey corrected.

“See? Brilliant. Took me five years to finish uni, and she did it in two, so that tells you something. And because of her, our company’s doing ah-mazing, like really really ah-mazing.”

Rey shifted in her seat. “I’m alright, thanks. I just joined at a time when the boards were looking to try different companies. Coincidence.”

“Alright, now you’re the party shitter.”

“No, that’s awesome,” Niall interrupted. “Took a while to finish university myself.”

Rose raised her eyebrows, looking at Rey. “See? Now be quiet.”

“Ha! Yes, ma’am,” Rey said with a laugh, finishing off the rest of her drink.

“What can I get you?” Niall asked, standing up.

“Vodka and soda, but you really don’t need to—”

“Vodka?” Rose said with an incredulous tone. “Since when? You hate vodka. Ever since Evan’s house party where we all got sloshed and ended up dying the next day.”

Rey shrugged, rubbing her sweaty fingers together. “It’s been like three years. I just started drinking it again.”

“And what else are you hiding, hmm?”

If you only knew… she thought, remembering the pregnancy test in her purse.

“It’s just vodka. I tell you everything,” Rey said, the lie flowing off her tongue with little effort. Everything except for Ben.

It would all be okay if she could at least be honest.

Yet… she wasn’t so sure. Because all she could see, all she could think about, was Rose’s disappointed expression, the brows furrowed, mouth a straight line, when she whispered those two little words. And then there was Mara, Leia, Finn, Poe, Amilyn… How everyone, everyone who had believed in and trusted her would react.

Monday. She’d take the test Monday morning. One more weekend without worry. One more weekend before she’d know for sure.

Niall left, and Rey looked over at Matt, meeting his eyes briefly.

When Niall came back with a new drink, Rey took a sip, plain soda water slipping across her teeth again. Better get used to it now. She’d have nine months of no alcohol ahead of her if her suspicions were correct.

She shook her head to clear the thought. Monday. It was decided. That’s when she’d start to worry. Once it was confirmed and that plus sign stared back at her. Worrying hadn’t gotten her anywhere in Kyoto. Ben had still left; she’d still taken the pill. She couldn’t change the outcome even if she wanted to. That was the way of the world.

Thus, for the rest of the night, she laughed with her friends and showed an interest in Niall—if only to mollify Rose. Let herself pretend. Pretend that Ben didn’t exist. Pretend that her stomach didn’t hurt and she wasn’t drinking plain soda water for the first time in the history of her bar hopping days. Pretend that yet another box wasn’t wrapped tightly at the bottom of her purse.

Monday, Monday, Monday…

A ritual, a prayer.

And she didn’t think about it for a whole seven hours—until she was curled up in bed with her usual two fans on high blast. When her phone buzzed on the nightstand, waking her up, and she looked down and saw his name again.

 


 

Kylo

“What do you want?” came her sleepy voice over the phone. But he wasn’t processing. Because, here she was on, on his screen, surrounded by a dark room.

She’d answered his call. Finally.

“I just wanted to call you.” He swung the whiskey bottle back again.

She rubbed her eyes. “You’re drunk. I’m hanging up now.”

“Wait! Not yet. I…”

She stared at him, waiting.

“I’m sorry about last month,” he said lamely.

“Yeah, you already said that. I found your note.”

A few moments of silence then he said, “I miss you.”

“Ha! You miss me? You’re a great liar. I’ll give you that.”

“It’s not a lie,” he whispered.

“Right and so was all that shit about it not being about sex. You got what you wanted and left.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Once again—you’ve already apologized. Sorry doesn’t fix everything, Ben.”

He took another swig, tears starting to pool in his eyes. “I fucked up.”

She laughed. “You left in the middle of the night after one disagreement.”

“It wasn’t just one disagreement.”

“Oh, really? Then what was it? What stereotypical excuse do you have? Come on. You were afraid of your feelings? I meant too much too fast?”

“What? No.” He paused. “Why didn’t you tell me about the pill?”

“Maybe because it’s my body? Don’t tell me you left because of that. You wanted me to take it.”

He looked away. “You didn’t ask me.”

“We’re not even together, Ben.”

“You still should have fucking told me!” he shouted, throwing the bottle to the ground. It shattered; she winced.

“I don’t have to tell you anything!” she yelled back.

“I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have…”

“Save it. It’s been so pleasant chatting with you, but I’d really like to go back to sleep. It’s my one day to sleep in. Stop calling me.”

“Next month,” he blurted out. “Yu-Yuki is getting married. Come with me.”

“What are you going on about?”

He cleared his throat. “Yuki is getting married in Kyoto next month. I can bring a guest, and a few members from the various BOEs in the Kyoto Prefecture should be there. Come with me. It wasn’t just about sex. It never was. Let me make it up to you.”

“Why? So you can leave again?” Her eyes fluttered to his, glassy with tears. “No.”

“One hotel room.”

“What?”

“I’ll get one hotel room. So I can’t leave. I won’t leave. I promise.”

She sighed, eyes glazing over. “No. Now I’m going back to sleep. Goodnight.”

“Rey—”

But she was gone, and he was left staring at shattered glass, spilled whiskey, and an empty room.

 


 

He didn’t call her again for the rest of the weekend.

The hours seemed to drag. He sat in his chair, paced the apartment, tried to paint. Barely working. Barely eating. Unable to focus. All he could think about was her and how he could get her to go with him next month.

Alexander called him. Then Yuto. But he didn’t answer. He knew he’d pay on Monday at the office in the form of a verbal chew out, but he couldn’t speak. Not after talking to her on Friday night. Even if it weren’t advisable or rational or smart, he couldn’t think about anyone other than her.

And she didn’t want anything to do with him.

He went out to another bar on Saturday night, watching each girl that came through the door, thinking maybe this time he could do it—find someone for the night. Someone to get his mind off her. He attempted to talk to a few girls until he couldn’t take it anymore, went out to the smoking area, and burned through five cigarettes in one standing.

Afterward, he threw the rest of the pack in the trash and walked home. Smashed a lamp. Then had to do two hundred push-ups, take a cold shower, and drink half a bottle of whiskey just to calm down.

What had she done to him?

In the middle of the night on Sunday, unable to sleep, he stood in front of a blank canvas and tried to paint. But when he brought the brush to the canvas, his hand shook. Images in his head—ones of her smiling up at him. That’s what he wanted to paint. He looked around his room at the multicolored walls. Kanji of all kinds and meanings etched into the surface. Mountains with snow caps. Purple wisteria dripping from a trellis. Camilla, hydrangea, cherry blossoms, nightshade… But the last stood out to him—lotuses shaded a burning crimson red, in each corner of the room.

He put the brush down and grabbed some origami paper from the bedside table and made lotus after lotus until they covered his black comforter entirely. One corner, done. Next. Fold. Next.

It was almost soothing—the routine. In high school, when he’d struggled to learn Japanese, it was a release, something familiar. He could make hundreds of other shapes with the paper, but he always found himself going back to the origami lotus.

He picked up another piece of paper from the bedside table and began folding it, remembering how Rey had seemed to love them as much as he did. “Did you do this?”

He stopped; a plan formed. And before he could think any more, he was on the phone making arrangements for Monday.

 


 

Rey

Of course she’d answered after the fifth call because she was a masochist with atrocious taste in men. Now or never for open dialogue with him. Better to start early—get a few jabs in and show him how he wasn’t going to treat her from now on.

Regardless, the call ruined the rest of her weekend. Ruined it and put her in a bad mood she couldn’t shake. He actually had the nerve to ask her to go to Kyoto with him! After he’d left and ignored her for a month. “It wasn’t just about sex.” Like hell it wasn’t. He’d been drunk, alone, and without a fuck for the night. That’s what she told herself, at least, and it felt like the truth. Every relationship blogger certified and guaranteed it.

She missed breakfast on Sunday with Rose. For the first time in a while, she stayed in bed, the duvet pulled over her head.

Until Mara came in. And then she reluctantly lowered it. “What’s up, my love? Did you cancel on Rose today?” Mara asked, her face crinkling with concern.

“Just a bad night’s sleep,” Rey assured her.

Mara placed a hand to her forehead and fussed over her anyway with comments varying from “you feel warm” to “are you hungover?” to “you snogged some sick dude Friday night, didn’t you?"

Again, Rey assured her it was nothing to be concerned about—only a bad night’s sleep. Thankfully her stomach cooperated. The rest of the weekend passed like that—bad mood, nausea, throbbing boobs, heartburn, the urge to pee fifty thousand times. And hiding it all on top of it. She binge watched soap operas like a hermit and nibbled on saltine crackers, her latest restoration project—an old table—standing desolate in the corner of the room.

Despite it all, Monday morning came, and Rey woke up an hour early at 5 A.M., pattering to the shared bathroom in the flat, test in hand. This time she didn’t think or allow her mind to wander to what ifs. She wouldn’t have a repeat of those two meltdowns in Kyoto.

She read the directions once, peed on the applicator as instructed, and waited the required minute, the timer on her phone set and counting down.

She didn’t look at the test—only her phone. Fifty seconds. Twenty-nine seconds. Ten. Her stomach twinged, mouth filling with saliva. Fuck. She rushed to the toilet, retching as the timer blared. Third damn day in a row waking up and puking everywhere, even when she didn’t have anything but acidic bile to expel.

Flushing the toilet and wiping her mouth, she walked back to the sink counter where the applicator rested.

There it was—well shaded and undeniable.

A dark blue cross.

She glanced at it, numb, unable to do anything but stare and stare. Not blinking. At least now she knew for sure—false positives were rare, and with her symptoms...

She didn’t cry. Not this time. Instead, she grabbed a small plastic bag Mara used to store various stray hair bobbies from under the sink and sealed the test up. A reminder when she began to doubt if it’d all been a dream. Maybe she’d even take the passive-aggressive way of telling Ben—wrap it, bow and all, and ship it to him priority mail. She could already imagine the look on his face.

Turning sideways, she pulled up her nightshirt and glanced at her stomach in the mirror. She wasn’t showing yet; it was too early. But she was bloated, and somehow she just knew. The test was correct. The pill hadn’t worked.

She’d think about how to tell him later—if at all. If she didn't consider... the alternative option. So she jumped in the shower, got dressed, and cooked breakfast excluding the eggs, waiting for Mara and Luke to get up.

And when Mara emerged from her bedroom, sleepy-eyed and curious, Rey forced a smile and handed her a plate.

What was done, was just that—done. She had to work. The world wouldn’t wait. And neither would she.

 


 

At around five, Rey’s office phone rang. Caller I.D.: Reception. “Hey, Rose,” Rey said, chewing on her lip. “What’s up? I have a meeting with Leia and Mara in five minutes.”

“Urgent package for you. You need to sign for it personally.”

Who could that be from? Rey wondered. She never received packages at work. She didn’t work in immigration where they helped process the visas for their recruits.

Standing up and grabbing her I.D., she walked out to the reception area. 

“Rey Jackson?” the delivery man inquired. Rey glanced at the medium-sized, ordinary-looking package. Just a box. The usual. But Rey’s eyebrows furrowed anyway.

She showed him her I.D. and signed for it, saying a quick, “Thanks,” before taking it from him and walking back to her desk.

There was no return name—only an address. Chicago. Strange. She considered opening it later when she had more time, but curiosity nagged at her.

So she grabbed a pair of scissors and cut into it, turning the flaps up and peering inside.

Red tissue paper. The same color as—

She tore into that too, pulling out a lotus exactly like the one she’d left on the hotel floor in Kyoto. But this time, she had at least a hundred. They lined the box top to bottom, beautiful and impossibly red.

A new note—one much neater and put-together in his exquisite handwriting: I’m sorry. Can we try again?

Despite what he’d done, despite the call and ignoring her for the past month, she smiled wide—her cheeks naturally growing hot. It must have taken him hours to make all of these. But could she forgive him so easily? 

“Rey?” Leia called from her office. “Meeting?”

Rey jumped, the lotus slipping from her hand and falling to the floor. Leia tracked its descent, her head tilted slightly to the right.

“Be there in a second,” Rey said, tossing the fallen lotus into the box.

However, when she looked back up, Leia was now focused on her, staring with knowing eyes. As if she knew everything. About her. About Ben. Their relationship, the lotuses, the fact that she was carrying what would one day be her grandchild…

But Rey hadn’t told anyone about Ben. Leia couldn’t know that. Regardless, Leia’s eyes held a certainty and… worry. Worry Rey had never seen touch her features before. Rey didn’t know how much she knew or could know, but that made the feeling worse somehow.

It was then that she realized. She was six weeks already. Another six and her abdomen would be further distended—and not only from bloating. Another six after that and she wouldn’t be able to lie at all. She could hide it behind baggy shirts and dresses, but eventually, everyone would know, if they didn’t already suspect it from her increased trips to the bathroom.

Ignoring Leia’s eyes, Rey pulled out her phone, took a picture of the box’s contents, and typed a quick message to Ben.

Briefly, she ran her fingers across her abdomen, knowing what she needed to do. She had to. It wasn’t only her anymore.

 


 

Kylo

“Sit down, Ren,” Alexander said when Kylo entered his office on Monday.

“A meeting before lunch. Not our usual.”

“Yes, well.” Alexander folded his hands together, looking at Kylo sternly from his black leather chair.

It was almost lunch time, and Kylo had been dreading this meeting since he’d received the notification at 7 A.M. A random conference with Alexander never meant anything good.

Kylo glanced to the right, meeting stiff, short red hair and hard-set eyes. Huxley—Hux for short. Their assistant state-side representative, mainly in charge of helping Kylo recruit teachers across America.

“I thought you only wanted to meet with me,” Kylo said, sitting down.

“I won’t even address your lack of competence this weekend. We had an off-site meeting scheduled for Saturday which you disregarded.”

“I sent you an email. I wasn’t feeling well.”

“Yes… I saw.” Alexander leaned back in his chair. “But while you were pissing away your money at bars this weekend, I received an email from the Kyoto Board. Next year, they have unanimously decided to end half our contracts with them.”

“What? I just spoke with them two weeks ago. They assured me we shouldn’t worry about next year.”

“Perhaps if you hadn’t vanished from the restaurant on your last night in Kyoto and reminded them of the importance of First English, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.”

Kylo swallowed. “I doubt it has anything to do with that.”

“No… but your absence was noted.” Alexander glared at him. “Among other things.”

“We discussed this already,” Kylo said, his heart racing. “It’s business. The boards like Rey. If I had her as my assistant, I doubt we’d be losing any more contracts.”

“You know the issue is more complicated than that. For the last eight years, we have been the fastest growing company providing English teachers to Japan, dominating the public market.” Alexander stood, looking at the pictures of his family lining the bookshelf behind his desk. Family Kylo had only met once despite knowing Alexander for more than twenty years. “The boards want new blood. More competition, more choice. So they’ve turned to the English Resistance. How grand is that?” He paced right to left. “But we can’t allow this to happen. We must remind them why we became the top company in the country. And that starts with you… Ren."

“What are you talking about?”

Alexander gestured to Hux. “Huxley will be taking over your duties stateside.”

“What? He can’t. I have meetings planned with universities all over the country. They expect to see me.

“Your work visa is already in process. You’ll move to Tokyo next month. That’s final.”

Rey’s words rang through his mind. He’ll crush you. All those years, helping Alexander, being practically his second in command, and he didn’t even think to ask him how he felt about moving to Tokyo before arranging it.

Years of blind service. Bribes. Backdoor deals...

Something snapped. “Are you fucking kidding me? I’m not fucking moving to Tokyo.”

Alexander smiled invitingly. Before—

Bang! His hands smashed against the desk. Kylo winced.

“Only trash talks like that. But how could I blame you? Considering what family you came from.”

Kylo looked at his feet, but knew not to speak out of turn again. Why had he done that?

“You forget who bailed you out eight years ago. Had news of what you did reached the press, no company would have worked with you. You owe me everything.” He sat back down. “Now you will move or Hux will be replacing you entirely. And you will never use that language in my presence again. Am I clear?”

Kylo met his eyes, jaw clenched. “Yes sir.”

“Good.”

Hux glanced at Kylo. “It won’t be so bad, Ren. I hear you do well with the Japanese ladies.”

Kylo scoffed. “You’re so right.”

“Our dear Ren is only interested in one lady in particular,” Alexander said. “But you will end that, if you must, won't you, Ben?”

Kylo’s head snapped up at the sound. Alexander hadn’t called him that in years. “You have my word. If she won’t quit, then I’ll do whatever I can to ensure her career is short lived.”

“Very good.”

The room fell quiet, almost eerily so—the only sound the ticking of a clock somewhere in the room.

Buzz. Kylo’s phone vibrated in his pocket, breaking the aura. Buzz. Buzz. He sighed, pulling it out.

Rey Jackson sent you an image. He smiled, the lotuses he’d sent her filling his screen.

Rey Jackson How am I supposed to explain these, lol.

Then:

But thank you. Call me later? I want to talk about next month…

His heart raced, palms sweating. The gift had worked. His fingers reached for the letters on the touchscreen, already working to type a response.

“No phones during meetings,” Alexander snapped. “You know the rules.”

Kylo put his phone down. “I’m sorry.”

“You’re dismissed. We’ll have our usual meeting at four concerning our numbers for the month.”

Hux stood and left, and Kylo followed after him, pulling out his phone again. But before he could leave, Alexander called out, “And Ren?”

Kylo stopped, lingering at the door and turning back around.

“Do remind our lovely Rey that love has conditions and…” Alexander looked him up and down. “Consequences.”

Chapter Text

Gasp. Release. Gasp.

She's crying. Crying so hard and raw that her voice twists and changes to a faint scratchy sort of sound, the air wheezing in her lungs with each shuddering breath. So hard her eyes swell and throb, ticking with each beat of her heart.

Shrouded by ash trees, Ben stands, his eyes fixated on her. Her legs burn, screaming, run run run. But to him? Away? She doesn't know.

There is something familiar about this—about whatever this is. It reminds Rey of black suits and dark rain and that day. The day they said goodbye to a good man. A good man who'd only tried to get his son back. The day she saw him lurking behind the trees, doing his best to stay unnoticed by the large crowd behind her.

She runs hands across her swollen belly, trying to ignore how he stares at her—eyes wounded.

She's thirteen again, shouting his name, sprinting to him as fast as possible. But he leaves. Ducks out of sight. Into a waiting, black car.

And she's left in the rain.

Ceaseless, eternal rain. Rising and rising and rising until it swallows her, drowns her, steals the breath from her lungs. She screams and screams, but he doesn't come back.

He doesn't come back.

 


 

Rey — One Month Later

Rey rolled her neck across her travel pillow, chasing away the stiffness with each pass across its soft surface.

It was the second time this week she'd dreamed about him looking at her like that, with her hands on her stomach, wishing she could run to him. A strange collision of the past and… perhaps potential future that made her temples throb. A potential future where he knew and he—

Something was kicking the back of her seat and babbling away. Loudly. She looked around her seat, meeting the face of a small child with straight black hair and almond-shaped eyes.

She shifted in her seat; the kicking continued.

Ben had offered to pay for a seat in business class on the airplane, but she'd felt awkward having him spend that much money on her. So they'd argued, as usual, and she'd won, also as usual, paying for half this seat in economy.

There was a sense of pride in that—like she might be okay if he decided he didn't want their child. If he decided to not be a father at all. He still could, she hated to admit. There was the possibility that he'd want no part in his child's life. And she'd pick up the pieces.

The food cart passed her, that smell rolling through the air with it. Eggs. Rey's mouth filled with saliva. Not again, she thought.

She reached for the sick bag in time, vomiting what she'd eaten in the last few hours. Thump. Thump. The kid struck again. She almost swore he was squealing with delight. Mocking her.

She took a few breaths and sipped on her ginger ale. Ten weeks and still sick despite the anti-nausea medication her midwife had prescribed. Eggs. Always eggs. They did it to her every time. Any tiny whiff, and there she was—puking her guts out. It was hard to believe she'd eaten them nearly every day before—

Getting pregnant. Why was that still so hard to admit? A sonogram had already confirmed it. She'd demanded her midwife disregard the routine sonogram procedures in the U.K. (the first at twelve weeks, the second at twenty) and paid extra to have one done at eight weeks. That in itself had been a struggle as it went completely against the U.K.'s rules and recommended health procedures for pregnancies. She now had the pictures to prove it to Ben—a tiny weak thing that looked more like a bean pod than a baby, and she was already beginning to show—a slight rounding of her abdomen she noticed a little more every day.

And that heartbeat, fluttering and strong on the monitor. She'd cried and cried and cried for hours. A whole separate potential human being. Evidence of what they'd shared those three days in Kyoto. Half her. Half him. Teenage Rey who'd drawn hearts around her name as Rey Solo would've been so pleased.

But adult Rey? Adult Rey's hands shook every time she picked up that sonogram photo and thought about telling him. Adult Rey wasn't even sure if she wanted this. Especially with that kid still beating the back of her seat.

She turned around again and glared at the parents, but didn't say anything. They looked Japanese and might not speak English. And with that awful egg smell rolling back towards her, Rey was in no mood to attempt to speak Japanese.

On the tray table, her phone vibrated, lighting up.

Kylo Ren: Is your flight still on schedule? I'm leaving Kyoto now to pick you up.

She smiled, typing a response. They'd talked to each other at least once a week during the past month, but she still hadn't told him—hence the trip to Kyoto and going to Yuki's wedding, despite the whole idea making Rey cringe. It was easier telling Mara she was going to Japan to see a potential boyfriend and not Chicago. No one knew about Kylo's move to Tokyo yet. There was still time to stall.

Rey brought her travel blanket to her nose to soften the smell. Why did they have to serve omelets as their pre-arrival meal?

Another kick.

Two hours, she reminded herself. Two hours and she'd be in Osaka. With him.

The problem was—she didn't know what was worse. Being on an airplane with a kid kicking the back of her seat and the smell of eggs making her gag… or spending three days with a guy not technically her friend or boyfriend or lover, but also the father of her unborn child who didn't know it yet because she was a chicken and had spent the last month worrying all the way to Chicago and back.

It was no use. She took another anti-nausea pill, put her earbuds in, and tried to go back to sleep.

Only she couldn't. No matter what she did, no matter which way she turned her head, she couldn't drift off. The dream lingered every time she could almost feel herself slipping, haunting her mind like an omen.

Over and over, she ran through the ways she could tell him. He'd be the first person, other than her general practitioner and midwife, to know. And that visit itself hadn't been pleasant or comfortable.

"You do have options," her General Practitioner, Dr. Silverman, had said, her brown eyes softening underneath her glasses. Slowly she'd passed Rey a few pamphlets, her hands as gentle as always.

Abortion. Adoption. Abortion. Adoption. Rey had read those two words until the letters flipped and they blended into one smudge of black.

She didn't want options. She didn't want to be forced to make a choice like that. Not something this serious. She'd handed the papers back and replied with, "That's okay. I want to keep my baby," the whole time thinking, I just need to tell him. I just need to tell him. I just need to tell him.

But with that reoccurring dream, she wasn't so sure if telling him would help at all.

The loudspeaker crackled to life, the pilot announcing they would be landing soon. Rey removed the travel pillow from her neck, put the tray table back up, and looked at her phone. He'd texted her again.

Kylo Ren: I can't wait to see you.

She didn't reply. It was too much—the closer she came to Osaka. The closer she came to him.

The plane landed. She got off. Glared at that kid's parents some more. Walked to baggage claim. Everything stiff, robotic. As if she were marching to her own death sentence, her stomach a mixture of butterflies and leftover nausea.

She needed to pee. She needed water. She needed—

And there he was. On the other side of the baggage area behind the glass. Staring at her. Her stomach flipped, but she pretended not to notice him, watching for her bag on the conveyor belt.

And unfortunately, it came sooner than she'd hoped. She grabbed it, took a deep breath, and began walking to him, each step reminding her again of the death sentence thought from earlier. Maybe she was being dramatic. Telling him couldn't be that bad. Her dream had probably been that—only a dream.

"Hey," he murmured, taking her suitcase before she could protest. "How was your flight?"

She tried to calm her heart at the sight of him. He was wearing those same jeans and a dark button down, hair in place and long as always.

"There was some kid murdering the back of my seat the entire way, but I still slept," she said.

He stared at her, not saying anything. He was always staring at her, watching. Even on the video call a month ago when she'd agreed to come… after stating a few conditions.

"What? Why are you looking at me like that?" she asked.

He leaned in closer, his usual smell of cologne, spicy soap, and aftershave filling the air around her. Somehow it seemed to soothe, calm her stomach slightly.

Closer and closer, he leaned in, wrapping an arm around her waist and pressing his lips to her hair. "I missed you."

Her heart skipped again. I missed you too, she wanted to reply since he first told her that night a month ago. Oh God, I missed you too. Every day for the past month she'd thought of him—and not only because she was afraid of telling him the news. His voice, his face, his smell. They lingered like her favorite songs playing over and over again in her head. While sleeping. While eating. While trying to work. Smiling when she received a text from him.

But now, with him here, she found she couldn't say all of that. She rolled her eyes, but flashed him a tiny smile. "You know my conditions."

He mirrored her, rolling his eyes as well. "No sex. Separate beds."

"And?"

"No leaving." He paused, switching accents. "And if you do, I'll find and tell all the girls you hookup with that you gave me an STD."

Her cheeks burned. "Stop mocking me. I was joking."

"I know," he said with a laugh.

"But for real, Ben. Don't do it. If you want this, we have to talk."

"I know. You already told me. I don't plan to leave."

His arms tightened around her, and she felt something stiffen at her side. "We should probably leave the airport though," she suggested, blushing harder.

He shifted, pulling away and beginning to walk toward the exit. "Sorry."

"Do you ever stop thinking about sex?" she asked as they made it to the parking garage.

He looked her up and down, his eyebrows raised. "Have you seen yourself?"

She laughed, remembering how she'd thrown up on the plane. Remembering the heartburn and the nausea and the bloating for the past month. She wouldn't be able to hide it from him when they'd be sharing a hotel room and spending the next three days together. And she doubted he would be getting hard around her anymore after she told him the news.

He paid the machine, a loud and flashing buzzy-like thing that made Rey's head pound looking at it, and they headed for his car. A black Lexus sports model. Though Rey didn't know much about up-to-date cars, it looked new, expensive, and definitely not fit for a baby. Two doors with barely a backseat—if she could even call the small space behind her a backseat.

"Rental?" she asked, getting in.

"No, mine."

She shifted awkwardly in her seat. "I see." Great. She didn't have another sick bag. And she didn't think he'd appreciate freshly-made puke all over his nice leather upholstery if she got motion sickness. "How much did this cost?"

"Doesn't matter."

"I'm just curious."

He shrugged. "About eleven million yen. So that's what? Seventy thousand pounds in your language?"

Seventy thousand pounds. Seventy thousand freaking pounds. No wonder he didn't want to leave First English. Not with a salary that could afford cars like this.

"Almost forgot." He reached into the backseat and handed her a bag. "I thought you might be hungry and too tired to go to a restaurant tonight."

"Umm… thanks," she whispered, looking inside of the bag. Instantly, the smell of eggs poisoned the air, her stomach pulsating like a big, fat blinking NOPE sign. An egg salad sandwich. She tied the bag back up again, but the smell lingered, making her gag.

He smirked, driving out of the parking lot. "I remembered."

Indeed he had. It was her usual favorite—before he'd knocked her up. Now not so much. She wondered daily what the hell his spawn's problem was with eggs. The thing couldn't have inherited the aversion from her. No way. She'd always consumed eggs like the little East End orphan she was. They were easy, cheap, and available in every foster home. He was the one with the fussy, rich genes.

"Not hungry?"

She shook her head, looking out of the window, praying for the sick feeling to go away. Breathe. Watch the road. Breathe. His gaze burned the back of her neck, likely trying to figure out what was wrong with her. It would be the perfect time to tell him, but she couldn't do it.

She was such a coward.

"Are you feeling okay?" he asked, his voice strained.

"I'm fine. Just drive."

He seemed to listen, letting the sound of the car engine fill the silence between them. But she knew, he was thinking, trying to figure out the mystery of her illness. She wasn't sure how much he knew about pregnancy, but maybe he'd figure it out and she wouldn't have to tell him at—

Her stomach contracted. She seized his shoulder and shook him. She needed to get out. Now.

He searched her face, his eyes desperate, quick. "What's wrong?"

"Pull over!" she pleaded, tightening her grip.

"Rey! What's wrong?"

"Just pull over!"

He turned on the emergency lights and shifted to the side of the road. As soon as the car stopped, she rushed out, not bothering to close the door.

Her stomach flipped over and over again. Less than an hour with him and the thing was already trying to make itself known.

"Rey?"

She ignored him, her back turned. Back and forth she paced on the side of the road, a hand pressed to her mouth, trying to settle her stomach.

She felt his eyes on her, then his arms around her waist, so close to her distended stomach again.

"I'm fine. I just need a moment," she said, shrugging him off and continuing to pace.

"What did you eat on the plane?"

"They had these horrid omelets."

"Food poisoning?"

"Yeah, I think so."

"I have calcium tablets."

"I'm fine," she snapped without intending to. "Let's go."

And with that, she got back into the car and shut the door.

 


 

Rey didn't look at him the rest of the ride to Kyoto. But she did seal the plastic bag with the sandwich up and throw it in the backseat—far away from her.

If Ben noticed something, he didn't say. He kept his eyes straight ahead—on the road, while she focused on breathing. In. Out. Yet, with each rise of her lungs, the seatbelt dug further into her abdomen, and she felt it—a hum of awareness. An awareness she'd felt since seeing that blue, positive test a month ago. Another life. Inside of her. Relying on her, thriving while she sat there, mute, unable to find a way to tell its father it even existed.

Every kilometer, every quiet moment—the words rose more and more to the surface of her lips. The words that would end it all. But she stayed mute, afraid that if she answered even a question, she'd blurt out her news in the most ungraceful way possible.

When they arrived at the hotel, she jumped out and tried to keep her distance from him. Unable to look in his eyes. She knew he could see it all over her face—there was something off, something she wasn't telling him. How she planned to hold all of it in, she didn't know.

He led her to their room. It was flashier, more expensive than their rooms at Nightshade and Sakura. Yet there was one thing off. One condition he'd decided to disregard.

"One bed?" she asked, turning around to look at him. "Separate beds was the first condition."

He didn't hesitate; he wrapped his arms around her and pulled her close as she tried—and failed—to slip out of his grasp. "Where's the fun in that?"

"You know where it'll lead." She couldn't afford for him to find out that way—by looking at her, running his hands across her bare stomach… It was early, but he'd notice something different, off. The thing, the baby, was the size of a prune according to her midwife. And she felt it. Her pants were already tight.

"Is that so bad?"

When she didn't reply, he let her go and set her small suitcase on a luggage rack next to his.

He opened his mouth to say something, but she bypassed him and fiddled through her suitcase, pulling out her toiletry bag and night clothes. And head still pointed to the floor, she disappeared into the bathroom.

She tried everything to calm down—taking a shower, washing her hair two times, brushing her teeth another two times. The next three days. Sharing a bed with him. Why hadn't he listened?

When she finally emerged from the bathroom, he was lying there on the bed—shirtless, his lower half covered by the duvet. She averted her gaze.

"You better have something on under there," she warned. Or you're going to get an earful.

He raised his eyebrows, propping his head up. "Why don't you come over and find out?"

"Ha!"

Where was the rubbish bin? Where—

She spotted it in the corner on the other side and pulled it closer to the bed. Then, she crawled into the sheets beside him, taking her anti-nausea medication with a large gulp of water. All the while, the hair on the back of her neck prickled. He was watching her. Studying her.

And his gaze never faltered. Not even when she laid down, back facing him. She wouldn't break now. It wasn't the right time. After the wedding. Yes, that's when she'd tell him. Maybe she'd lay the sonogram photo and test on the bed and wait for him to find it.

The room went dark, and suddenly, she felt his hand on her back, fingers caressing her skin with soft, mindful strokes. "I did miss you," he whispered, his breath hot on her neck.

"Me or my body?" she replied quickly.

"Do you think I'd do all this for sex?"

"You are a guy."

He chuckled and reached for her once again, pulling her to him, his hands roaming across her stomach. On instinct, she tensed, holding her breath.

"I could get that without spending three grand… and driving four hours to pick you up."

No mention of the changes to her once flat stomach. Was he really that clueless? Why couldn't he put two and two together?

"You're arrogant," she said playfully. "I'm sure you've been with plenty of girls in the last two months."

He sat up, hovering above her, his face blocking the faint slivers of light streaming in from the window. "No. I haven't."

She looked up at him; she couldn't see his expression, only his silhouette. Only feel the way his hand trailed across the bare flesh on her stomach. The way it rested on her rib cage right below her heart. The way her skin tingled, as it always did, underneath his fingertips. "Why not?"

"That's not what I want anymore. Do you?"

"Not really your business."

"It wasn't your business to ask me why I haven't, but you still did. So you have. That's fine. We're not together." He sounded hurt, disappointed. She wondered if he'd feel that way after she told him…

"No. I haven't been with anyone else," she murmured. "That's not what I want either."

His grip relaxed, leaving his fingers barely stroking her skin. His breath on her face—calm, steady. The relief her words brought him. Gently, he leaned back, and she watched, transfixed, as the light hit his face. He was smiling—just slightly, but enough. Enough to make her heart beat faster.

Tell him. Tell him. Tell him!

With a chuckle, he brushed his lips across her forehead, tightening his hold on her.

She couldn't. It was the first time she'd seen him in two months. The first time he'd held at her like this since then. Since that night when it'd all fallen apart.

"I'm sick. You should probably stay away," she said.

"I don't care."

There was one thing she could offer him. One piece of the truth she'd held back since that first video call after Japan.

She lay there, not moving, letting his presence soothe her anxiety. His body pressed against her back, fitting—matching hers. Like a no longer missing piece.

Then, after a moment, she whispered quietly, so softly even she almost couldn't hear it—

"I missed you too."

Chapter Text

Kylo — Kyoto

Back in a bar. Back drinking whiskey. Back without her. Again.

How could she have kept something like this from him?

He finished his drink and ordered another, recalling the last two days together. Throwing up. Food aversions. Tiredness. He should've known, should've confronted her.

But she should've fucking told him as soon as possible! Not wait until the last day of her trip and a hospital visit. He gripped the glass tighter, red flashing across his vision.

If you want this, we have to talk, she'd said.

Bullshit. He knocked back the second drink, threw down a 10,000 yen note, and left.

Dazed and still seeing red, he walked to their hotel. Wanting to punch something. Break something. He'd promised not to leave again. But she'd also agreed to talk to him. Tell him things. Not wait one fucking month.

Weren't they just a pair of liars?

When he made it to their room, the red hadn't stopped. The feeling of betrayal—like hands tightening around his throat. He couldn't breathe. Every part of him wanted to get in his car and head to Tokyo. Leave this. Leave her—

He grabbed the telephone off the desk and threw it against the wall. And he didn't stop. The chair went next. Flipped over with one leg broken.

Something caught his eye. There on the made-up bed.

He moved closer, his eyebrows instinctively furrowing. He didn't know much about pregnancy or babies, but he'd seen enough movies to know what these two things were.

A pregnancy test with a blue, positive plus sign. The other a sonogram photo dated two weeks ago.

With careful fingers, he picked up both—one in each hand, studying the black and white grainy lines. It… the baby was only a blob, but he could make out a head and tiny, developing limbs.

And there on the pillow was a note in her handwriting.

This is my 8 week ultrasound. I'm sorry I didn't tell you sooner.

She'd planned to tell him when they got back to the hotel. She wasn't going to keep it from him.

The red vanished. And in its place?


 

Two Days Earlier

The smell of her hair. Floral. Soft. The feel of her skin pressed against him. Was he dreaming? He looked down at her sleeping form, studying the way her chest rose and fell. The way her brown hair painted the white pillow.

How long had he spent wishing, praying for this? For her? He ran a thumb across her cheek, smiling at the faint early morning light bathing her face.

Seeing her like this, well. He shifted, trying to quell the desire before it peaked. No sex, he reminded himself. This time together wasn't supposed to be about that—no matter how it'd started in the beginning.

Quietly, he sat up and rolled out of bed, trying not to wake her. That vision still in his mind. Rey, still in his mind. Never leaving. He walked to the shower and turned on the water, letting the warmth fall across his tense shoulders. And then he began his morning ritual, as he had done for the past month when thinking about her. He'd convinced himself that she wasn't his type at all, but his body always said otherwise. His hands, his breath always said otherwise.

He wondered if he'd ever known beauty like hers—the way she laughed, the way she smiled with all of her teeth showing. No one, anywhere, had ever smiled at him like she did.

Afterward, he stumbled out of the shower and got dressed, mindful of her sleeping form. Breakfast. No eggs. He remembered when making the order downstairs. She'd probably be better today, but he didn't want to risk it. Not after last night when she'd seemed so sick. He'd wondered about that, especially when she'd taken some type of medication, his mind going through a list of things it could be. Travel sickness. Food poisoning, like she'd thought.

8 A.M. He touched her shoulder gently, running a thumb across her cheek, and thought of kissing her face one part at a time.

"Ohayou," he whispered, smiling at her fluttering eyelids.

She grinned and opened her eyes fully. "Hey… good morning."

He leaned in to kiss her, but she turned her face away. "I'm sick, remember?" she said.

"Right. Forgot. Breakfast?"

He held out the plate, mirroring her sleepy expression.

She rubbed her face. "No eggs?"

"No eggs," he agreed.

She smiled wider. "You remembered."

"Sit? At the table?" He gestured to the chair across from the bed. "Or breakfast in bed?"

The smile didn't leave her face as she sat up and stretched. "Bed."

"Lazy," he said, crawling in next to her, tray in tow.

She swiped a piece of toast, taking a bite. "You're always up early."

He shrugged. "I hardly sleep. Did you sleep well?"

She nodded. "I was, umm, only sick once last night. Thank you… for this. For remembering."

"Always," he said, picking up a piece of fish with his chopsticks. "So today. Original plan? See the deer in Nara? If you aren't feeling too shitty?"

His carefully organized plans flew through his mind. Day one, Nara Park and dinner. Day two, the wedding. Day three… leaving. He might not see her for two months or more. It wasn't a thought he liked to consider. Eshajouri, he reminded himself, remembering its kanji, 会者定離, written on the walls of his apartment in Chicago. We meet only to part.

"Yeah. I think I'll be okay. I'll just take a few sick bags in case."

He touched her face with one finger, letting it trail across her cheek before stopping to rest on her chin.


 

Kylo clutched the steering wheel tighter and looked out. Past the sterile, concrete toll road. Past the blinking unnatural signs and traces of modernization. The mountains stood like low lying giants in the distance, their presence comforting. Familiar. It reminded him of being fifteen again. Of Luke and Ayane. Of high school in a country where he'd barely understood the language. All those years memorizing kanji and trying to fit in.

He'd been thinking about that for a while now—his life before First English. Rey seemed to do that. Remind him of a past he'd tried to bury.

But it hadn't all been painful. Not the memories with her anyway.

He glanced at his CD case resting on the console and wondered, did she still have the same taste in music? When she wasn't looking, he picked a CD, setting it on a specific track.

A few moments, then, "I haaate this song," she complained, reaching for the dial.

He swatted her away. "What the fuck do you have against Celine Dion?"

"It's so cheesy. Why do you like it?"

"Do you hear her voice?"

"A good voice doesn't mean anything. Listen to those lyrics." She paused, letting the chorus run for a few verses. "What's wrong with you? Don't you have a reputation to keep up?"

He chuckled, ejecting the CD. "Thank fuck that Slayer album I never got back had some impact on your music taste." He hated Celine Dion. Hated that whole fucking movie. Only had the CD to impress a girl he'd been hooking up with a few years back. But watching Rey's expression, the way she rolled her eyes and cringed, it was worth it.

"I knew you had to be messing with me," she said with a smile.

He gestured to the radio. "All yours. Though I don't have Taylor Swift. Heard enough of that when you were little."

"You don't know anything. What CDs you got?" She picked up his CD case from the center console and flipped through it. "Neurosis. Black Sabbath. Five Finger Death Punch… Venom? You're predictable."

"I never said I wasn't. Compromise?"

"What's this?" she asked, her finger landing on a burned CD with the letter, "R," written in permanent marker on the front.

He tried to take the case from her, but she pulled away, out of his reach. "Not that one. You wouldn't like it."

"But what's on it?"

He shrugged, but his hands tensed on the wheel. "Not your speed."

It was too late. She'd already put the disk in, the music starting to flood the speakers.

"You're such a hypocrite," she said, but turned the volume up. "Taylor Swift? Teardrops On My Guitar? Really?"

"I did say not that one."

She bobbed her head to the music and sang along. She still knew every word. And he remembered. Braces. Frizzy brown hair tossing in the wind. A pitchy voice echoing from behind a door.

"You still can't fucking sing," he said.

She punched his arm playfully, singing louder. "No one asked you."

He laughed and sang with her, his eyes shifting between her and the road, the late spring air whipping through her hair. She seemed to be feeling better today—smiling, laughing more, and she'd kept her breakfast down.

Before the song ended, he said, "I also now know why this was your favorite song."

She gazed out at the road. "I'm happy you didn't stay with her."

"She's really not that bad, Rey."

Silence. The song ended. It came back to this, he realized. Rey being jealous of Yuki. She'd only agreed to go to the wedding to see him and figure out whatever relationship, if any, existed between them. And what's more—he never realized how much she'd liked him at thirteen. What leaving had done to her.

And he'd done it again two months ago. He wouldn't put her through that a third time.

He reached down to eject the CD before the next song came on, but she was quicker and batted his hand away.

"The Goo Goo Dolls," she said with a smile. "Iris. This brings back a lot." She breathed out. "What else is on this CD?"

She clicked through it, listening for a bit each time, then changing to the next. Finally, when she reached the end, she turned to him, shaking her head. "These are songs I was obsessed with when I came to Japan to see you. Why do you have this?"

"They remind me of you," he offered, reaching for her. With gentle fingers, he entwined their hands together, resting them on the console.

A smile touched her lips. "I still have that Slayer album, you know."

"Again, thank fuck."

He let her control the radio for the rest of the ride, surprised when she settled on an Audioslave CD after listening to most of the songs on the "R" disk. He didn't let himself think of the reality of their relationship. Not again. They'd figure that out eventually. When he could talk about the past fully with her.

They arrived at the park—the sky bright and free of clouds. It was almost rainy season, Tsuyu. Soon he'd be lucky to see a day like this. Especially with her gone from his side and he stuck in his office in Tokyo. The days without her seemed to span before him like a blank wall mural. Like the mostly blank walls of his new apartment in Tokyo.

"Ben, look!" she exclaimed, tapping his arm.

He turned. There, just a little ahead were hundreds of deer. Some with antlers as long as his arm. Some lying in the grass, sunning themselves. Others eagerly trying to swindle people for a few deer crackers, their white tails flicking. It'd been years for him, seeing the deer up close. But this was the first time for Rey.

"They're so cute and not shy at all."

"There should be baby deer within the next month or two."

"Oh that's nice," she said absentmindedly. "Can we get some of those deer treats?"

"Sure. Be right back."

He found the stand and bought two packs, watching her from afar. With a smile on her face, she navigated between the deer, who paid her no mind since she clearly didn't have anything they wanted yet.

That all changed as soon as he handed her a pack of the deer crackers. They nudged, pulled on her shirt, and chased her until she gave up the goods.

"So pushy!" she said with a laugh.

Like this—happy, smiling, she was beautiful. He wanted, needed to, capture her like this. He pulled out his phone and snapped a few photos of her. And surprisingly, she didn't protest, but posed and smiled. At thirteen, she'd never wanted him to take pictures of her. She felt too awkward, he realized. She'd never considered herself beautiful, not like he did.

But it was different then. Simpler. No sexual attraction. And he hadn't hurt her yet.

Finally, she said, "Aren't you going to feed them?"

"No. You can have my crackers." He held them out to her, but she just rolled her eyes and pulled out her own phone.

"Pictures! Go feed one."

He glared at her. "No pictures of me."

"Quit your whining and pose. The deer's doing a better job than you are," she said. And when he didn't move, she continued, "Please? I won't share them with anyone. I just want something of you."

"I'm not going anywhere, Rey."

Her face fell slightly. "But I won't see you for a while after this." He didn't like that look on her—with her eyes downturned, disappointed.

He sighed, pulling out one of the crackers from the pack. "Alright."

The smile returned, and she took a few photos of him. But then she stopped, her body slumping in mock annoyance. "You really do have RBF," she said.

"What's RBF?"

She laughed, but didn't say anything. Instead she came around to where he was sitting next to a deer under a tree and turned the front-facing camera on.

"You're still not smiling," she complained, resting her head on his shoulder.

"What the fuck is RBF?"

"Resting bitch face."

He glared at her, his lips parted, thinking of something to say. And at that moment, she snapped the picture.


 

She didn't make it to dinner. In fact, she barely made it through lunch. Whatever bug she'd caught had come back with a bite.

After seeing the deer, he'd taken her to his favorite Japanese sweet shop in Nara, ordering two anko flavored taiyaki. A fish-shaped Japanese pancake she'd forgotten about.

She was laughing at his shitty jokes, smiling, when a few bites in, she suddenly tensed up and passed the rest to him, her eyes wide.

"What's wrong?" he continuously repeated, rubbing her back, but getting no response.

She ran to the bathroom, and after that, the nausea didn't relent.

He drove her to the hotel, and she fell into bed, the trash can pulled to the side.

He tried everything. "Do you want to go to the clinic?" She shook her head. "Do you want some medicine?" Another shake. She became colder too—tensing when he reached to stroke her arm.

However, when he brought her saltine crackers later in the afternoon, she sat up and nibbled weakly on them.

But she declined going to dinner. She seemed to avoid doing anything but sitting in bed and scrolling through her phone.

And it occurred to him again as it had last night. A brief moment of clarity as he watched the TV glow dance on her sleeping face. Food aversions. Sickness. Lethargy.

Could she be… no.

He chased away the thought, clicking through TV channels.

 


 

"It's in a church?" Rey asked, stopping to glance at the building where the wedding ceremony would be held in thirty minutes.

Kylo shook his head, placing his hand on the small of her back, his fingers sliding across pale blue lace. "Not exactly." But he paused with her, trying to see the building through her eyes. A tall, pointed roof. Bricks shaded multi-hues of brown. Crimson stained glass above a wooden door. To him, it was like any other chapel in Japan, used only for show and not something he'd paint. "Christian for a day," he said, repeating the phrase Luke had said years ago when they'd passed a similar one in Kyoto.

"I expected. I don't know. A temple? A shrine?"

"Everyone does. Are you feeling okay?" He studied her face, noting her darker, more even complexion. She wasn't as pale as she'd been that morning, but she had spent two hours painting her face and twisting her hair into a low bun. And her breakfast had been saltine crackers and water. Which meant the color in her skin was likely artificial. It concerned him, but he didn't show it.

"I'm fine. Stop worrying about me."

So he tried, stuffing a hand in his suit pocket and ushering her into the chapel. She'd still gone with him despite her illness and dislike of Yuki. And she'd avoided the color white to not "compete with Yuki on her day," instead opting for a knee-length dress that hung loosely on her body.

Again, he thought, could she be? And again, he pushed it away.

He led her to a pew, and together they sat down, his hand falling from her back.

"Ben?" came a voice to his right.

He knew that voice. "Ryoko," he replied. One of Yuki's friends. A great friend truthfully until a falling out. A falling out that he'd spent the last three years apologizing to Yuki for. Her hair was shorter and darker now, but her cheeks were still wide, makeup flawless.

"Hisashiburi desu ne!" she said. "Mokarimakka?" How's business? Kansai-ben. The dialect spoken in the Kansai area of Japan. It'd been a while for him—hearing it fall from a friend's lips. So long he'd almost forgotten the phrase completely.

He answered as culturally expected. "Bochi-bochi." Not good, not bad.

"And who's this? I don't think I've met her before," she continued on in Japanese, gesturing to Rey.

Rey's hands were fidgeting in her lap, her eyes turned to the floor. Maybe she wouldn't understand the word he'd use in Japanese.

"Boku no kanojo desu."

Rey's eyes snapped to his. And they didn't leave his face as Ryoko expressed forced surprise at him having a girlfriend. Animated as always, Ryoko fluttered between the standard topics and questions for a few minutes. How he and Rey had met. How the business had expanded since they'd seen each other seven years ago. How she was married now and had a son.

But when the conversation politely dwindled and fell silent, Kylo focused his attention on Rey, who was peering at him with wide eyes.

"Why did you say I was your girlfriend?"

"You understood that?"

Rey nodded, her facial expression neutral.

"I was gonna ask you last night," he admitted, tugging on his tie. "At dinner."

"Oh."

He opened his mouth to say something, but at that moment, the faint, lilted sound of a violin called the ceremony to attention. Highs, lows, the chords floating across the chapel. It was one of Yuki's favorite pieces, he remembered; she used to hum it under her breath on Sunday mornings while hunched over a frying pan. An instrumental piece that he'd always made fun of her for and tried to drown out with a Venom album. Some things didn't change.

And some things did.

What would Rey hum on a Sunday morning? Would she sing anything under her breath at all?

Yuki glided down the aisle, a simple lace dress sashaying with her across the floor. A dancer's grace. Years of pliés and going on en pointe, posture straight and poised. She was every part of the woman he'd fallen in love with all those years ago, but she was too perfect and put together. She had flaws; everyone did. But her shoulders never slumped like Rey's did, her face only occasionally holding traces of the emotions she felt.

Her. The room seemed to fade and vanish into nothing. Into the background of soft lights and filtered sunlight through stained glass. Vaguely, he knew the lights had changed, the music had died to a low cry, and Yuki had arrived to stand next to her would-be husband. But he didn't fully see it. Only her. Her head tilted to the side, her brown-green eyes taking in what he should have been watching. What he should have been translating for her. Yet, she didn't seem to mind. Her chest rose and fell, her shoulders following suit.

"Stop staring at me," she whispered, her eyes on Yuki and Hiroto.

He shook his head and slowly, gently, reached to take her hand in his, leaning in to brush his lips against her ear. "You're beautiful."

She smiled at that, swirling her fingers across his palm. "You're crazy… What are they saying?"

The vows. Yuki was speaking. Kylo listened and whispered the translations into Rey's ear. "When we first met, you told me there were three things you wanted in a girl. A girl that was kind, even when pushed down. A girl that eats and laughs a lot; someone to keep up with you on some far off adventure when the only you wanted to do was try every restaurant within five kilometers in two hours." Everyone laughed. "And lastly, a girl that would dance and sing with you at any time during the day when you felt like it, with or without music, during health… or sickness. Every day, I haven't had to try to be this girl. I just was. Because of you."

Rey didn't speak, her eyes welling with tears. It was Hiroto's turn. Kylo continued. "When we first met, you were afraid of someone leaving you behind and never being enough. You had no demands other than be gentle, someone to make you believe that love still existed and could continue to exist in a temporary world. But you never realized. You never needed me to do that. You were already whole. You were already healed. It was I who needed you. I was the broken one."

The tears in Rey's eyes spilled over, and Kylo reached up to brush them away. Not caring who noticed or saw.

Weddings and vows had always made him shudder. They felt forced, untrue. How could someone promise forever on something as fleeting as feelings?

But this moment wasn't about him.

Kylo envied Rey once again—how she could so easily connect to tender words and let her emotions paint her cheeks. Open, pure. Like a blank canvas waiting for that first dash of color. While he was a statue standing resolute and severe against wind and rain and hail.

Until she spoke. Until she smiled. Then, only then, could he breathe.

Yuki and Hiroto exchanged rings, and he leaned in for a kiss. But Rey wasn't looking at them. Her eyes were on him, on Kylo, the tears falling freely from her eyes. "Were you really going to ask me to be your girlfriend last night?" she asked.

"Would you have said yes?"

She paused for a moment, squeezing his hand tighter. Then she lay her head on his shoulder, her whole body relaxing into his.

Yuki and Hiroto stood at the front of the chapel, a married couple. Everyone clapped and brushed tears from their eyes.

But Rey tensed at Kylo's side. "I'm not feeling so well," she said, placing a hand over her mouth.

She gagged, and before he could say anything, she was rushing toward the exit, everyone's attention falling on her back.


 

The reception followed, held in the hotel beside the chapel. Kylo joined in with the rest of the wedding guests throwing white rose petals across Yuki and Hiroto's heads as they walked out.

But his eyes weren't on them.

"Is your girlfriend okay?" Ryoko asked in Japanese at his side. But he didn't know how to respond to that, so he only nodded, his eyes scanning the crowd, searching for Rey.

At last, after most of the guests had followed Yuki and Hiroto to the reception hall, she returned, her face noticeably paler despite a filter of reapplied makeup.

His shoulders relaxed. "Do you wanna go back to the hotel?"

She shook her head, reassuring him for the millionth time she was fine. It was only travel sickness or food poisoning or a virus. And for the millionth time, he wasn't sure if he believed her. She'd never been this sick before after traveling. Not for almost two days. But what could he do? Call her a liar?

Trailing behind, they followed a few other stragglers to a typical reception hall with high ceilings and gold-plated chandeliers. As was Japanese custom, he handed the reception workers an envelope with 50,000 yen and signed he and Rey in at the guestbook. Yuki had seated them next to Ryoko, her cousin, and a few of her other old friends. It was a strange, sort of deja-vu feeling for him, that. These were all people he and Yuki used to meet up with for lunch or dinner or dance and drink with on the weekends. He knew coming here would be facing a small part of his past, but wasn't it time? With Rey now in his life?

The paper name plates were everything Kylo expected them to be—simple, but elegant. Yuki herself had asked him to paint the cherry blossoms that now bordered his and Rey's names in cursive romaji script.

Rey sat down carefully, her legs shaking. "This is quite nice.”

He rubbed circles across her shoulders as Yuki and Hiroto came out, a projector welcoming everyone in that same cursive script. Pictures of them flashed through the screen. Yuki when she was a teenager at one of her ballet recitals. It was the picture from her parent's house. On the shelf above the TV. At one time, it might have been him beside her, walking out to meet their families here. If the world hadn't fallen apart.

Yuki and Hiroto moved to cut the cake.

"They cut cake at Japanese weddings?" Rey asked.

"Christian and Western for a day. Regardless, Yuki's grandmother is American. Yuki lived in California for the first six years of her life."

"I didn't expect that."

"She's human. Everyone has some background story. Fucked up, ordinary, or mixed."

"She just seems… like a perfect Japanese girl. I thought those of mixed races or cultures were treated differently here."

"Yeah, perfect. " He laughed at that. "No one understood when we broke up."

"Why did you break up with her?"

Briefly, Kylo met Rey's eyes. "It's complicated. Another time?"

Rey nodded at that, turning her attention to Yuki and Hiroto. Yuki who was stuffing her husband's face with white cake and making the usual, stereotypical-rite-of-passage mess. Hiroto, however, was more gentle and neat.

Afterward, the champagne. The waiter poured some into Kylo's glass. But when he moved to Rey, she politely declined, covering her toasting flute.

"Still feeling like shit?"

She rolled her eyes. "What do you think? It hasn't stopped all day."

His mind wandered to what she'd eaten in the past twenty-four hours. "Have you been able to keep anything down? Water?"

"Not really."

The room erupted into a spirited, "Kompai!" but Kylo didn't pick his glass up.

"If it doesn't stop, let me know. We can leave. It's not a problem."

She shook her head, looking like she might cry again, but her eyes didn't fill with tears.

Later, after the waiters brought out the first dish of the afternoon, Rey again refused to eat or drink. Eyes numb, she stared at the sashimi on her plate, her napkin pressed to her nose and mouth.

"You should try to drink or eat something," Kylo suggested. "Even if it's just rice."

"You don't understand," she said through the napkin.

Then, abruptly, like at the wedding ceremony, she stood up from her chair and sprinted to the exit.

He wiped his mouth on his napkin and followed her out. He wasn't going to let her go alone this time. This couldn't just be some travel sickness. But the alternative? Would she really wait this long to admit something as serious as...?

Heart pounding, he barged into the women's bathroom. "Rey?"

No answer. Only shocked stares from two women washing their hands. One was saying something to him in Japanese, but he wasn't listening. He couldn't. His ears were ringing, blocking out all language.

He followed the gagging sounds and found her in the third stall. She hadn't bothered to lock it.

"Get out," she retorted, head over the toilet.

"No. What's going on? We agreed to talk to each other."

Her head snapped up from the toilet, her eyes set on his. "I'm pregnant."

"What?" And there it was. That thought he'd tried to push down for two days. He couldn't be hearing her correctly. It seemed otherworldly, forced. Like a life not his own.

"I'm pregnant," she said, louder now, almost a shout.

He didn't respond.

"I'm pregnant! I know you're American and can't speak English, but for God's sake."

It was too much. He left the restroom as quickly as he'd came. A cigarette. A drink. Anything. He needed it. Now.

He found an outdoor area near the reception hall and lit up, his mind blank, staring out at the dusky red sky. The sun slipped beneath the horizon, reds and oranges smearing the blue then turning to black, but he didn't move. Instead, he lit cigarette after cigarette, losing count.

"Ben?"

He must have been gone a while—for her of all people to find him, but he only had a vague notion of the passing time.

"You should be at the reception," he said, taking a puff. "Your big day."

Yuki shook her head, her eyebrows creased with concern. She'd changed dresses again, her hair loose now. "Ben, what's going on? Dessert is almost finished, and Ryoko said Rey is sick and looking for you."

He scoffed. Took another drag. "Of course she is."

"Ben? Did you have a fight?"

He chuckled, finishing off his cigarette. "Rey's pregnant." He didn't know why he'd said it, why he'd admit something like that to Yuki, his ex-girlfriend. He wasn't even sure if it was his. Could it be his? He didn't want to think about it.

Yuki stared at him, her eyes growing softer. "Are you the father?"

"I don't know," he said, lighting another cigarette, dangling it between his lips. "She told me she hasn't been with anyone else so… I am or she lied."

"Is that why you left? Did she tell you just now?"

He nodded and took a drag.

"Don't hurt her like you hurt me."

"We're not together. She's my 'cousin,' remember?" He almost laughed at the thought. He and Rey were no more blood related than Yuki and her husband.

"Come on, Ben. Come on," Yuki whispered, reaching out to touch his arm. He pulled away.

"Everything has been so easy for you. Perfect family. And now a perfect Japanese husband. What you always wanted. Easy for you to say."

"Perfect? Do you know how many years it took me to get over you? My life isn't perfect. You walked away. You stopped answering your phone and changed your number. One day you were my boyfriend, and the next? You quit your job. Moved to Chicago, and I had to hear that you slept with my best friend. Do you know what that felt like? I… I didn't leave my house for months."

He scoffed. "Yeah, well you got your revenge. Sitting me next to her."

"I didn't do it to get revenge. I didn't think about it. I forgave you because I had to."

"You didn't have to."

"You're right. If you had never left to begin with."

Silence settled between them. He took another hit. At last, he said, "I'm sorry… for what I did to you. But my relationship with Rey? Not your concern."

"Is that what you want? To end up alone?"

He glared at her.

"Is it?" she continued. "Because Rey isn't me. She'll tell you no. I can see that. She won't wait for you to leave her. She'll just leave."

"You don't know her."

"I know enough. I know you… You love her."

"You don't know what you're talking about."

"Come on, Ben. Come on. You look at her like I wanted you to look at me. I know you. We were together for two years."

He shook his head, leaning on the balcony railing.

"Don't hurt her. You should take her back to your hotel and talk. Do things differently."

He considered Yuki's words, breathing out. "Okay."


 

With Yuki's advice swirling around in his head, Kylo walked to the reception hall and their table, finding Rey there and waiting for him—just before the speeches were set to be made.

"Ben… I think I want to go to the hospital now," she said, her skin a greenish hue that didn't match well with her makeup. No questions why he'd left. No judgment. Fact and statement. As if he hadn't left her at all.

On instinct, his hand sought hers, squeezing her palm for a second. She pulled away, but he noticed something strange—his fingers had left a pale imprint, the color drained from her skin.

He excused them from the table, saying a quick goodbye to Ryoko, who waved and watched them leave. He'd apologize to Yuki later, but after their previous conversation, he knew she'd understand.

He called a cab outside of the hotel, his mind a mixture of what he was going to say, what he was going to ask, what he was going to do, how he felt.

And the first question?

"Why didn't you tell me sooner?" he asked after a few moments in the cab.

Her head was leaning against the glass, her body turned away from him. As if she wanted to be anywhere but with him, like that first night two days ago. The orange traffic lights illuminated her face in sweeping rows. Orange. Darkness. Orange. Darkness. And now it all made sense. She was paler than he remembered in March and slimmer—her cheeks somehow gaunt, the bones more pronounced.

"Can we talk about this later?" The response was quick, short. "God, you smell like a bloody smokery."

He couldn't stop his heart from pounding or the red flashing across his eyes. He wanted to hold it in, to be supportive, but it flooded his vision. He'd spent three grand getting her here, a month of talking to her, two days of taking care of her, and she'd waited this long to tell him? And she wanted to talk about his smoking habits?

"No. I wanna talk about it now."

"Go on then," she taunted, rolling her eyes. "Go ahead and ask an arsehole question like 'am I the father?' Go on. I know you want to."

"How the fuck could I be? You took the morning after pill and didn't tell me. The whole goddamn reason I left."

Rey remained silent, looking paler with each moment.

He gripped the back of the passenger side seat and breathed in. The cab driver watched them from the rear-view mirror, his eyes meeting Kylo's. With gritted teeth, Kylo glared at the reflection, forcing the driver's eyes back to the road.

"Answer me!" he shouted.

"What do you want me to say, Kylo? 'Yeah, well it didn't work. So congratulations! You're the father?'"

"I want you to talk to me."

"What's there to say?"

"You had two fucking months to tell me and didn't? That's fucking awesome, Rey. Feels great. Feels fucking great."

Seething, he clutched the chair harder, both silent the rest of the way to the hospital. Either way he looked at it, she'd concealed information from him. If he wasn't the father, then she'd fucked another guy the two months they'd been apart. His chest stung at the thought. He couldn't fault her for it, no, but if that were the case, she'd still lied. And if she were telling the truth and he was the father? Somehow that thought was worse.

When the cab came to a stop in front of the emergency room, Rey barreled out the door and let him settle the fare, tripping over her feet.

Under the harsh LED hospital lights, her skin appeared sallower and more pallid, the white casting unhealthy shadows across the contours of her face. He tried to help her check in, but she pushed him away. It was Kyoto; the receptionist spoke enough English. She didn't need him.

Rey took the clipboard and walked to one of the many empty chairs, the pen shaking in her hand.

"Let me help," he said, reaching for the clipboard. But she pulled away, moved down a seat away from him, and began to write in English. She didn't need him to translate from Japanese, but with how erratic her fingers were, he wasn't sure if her handwriting would be legible.

Jaw ticking, he picked up a magazine and pretended to read it while she continued to overlook him.

Rey stood up to hand the form to the receptionist, yet again refusing to look in his direction or acknowledge his presence.

When she came back, he couldn't take it anymore. "Is that what you're gonna do? Ignore me?"

She shook her head, her chest quivering like she wanted to cry, but no tears came. "I think I'm dehydrated. I could lose the baby. Do you care at all?"

"Damnit, Rey. I didn't even know you were pregnant!"

An old Japanese woman in the corner narrowed her eyes at his outburst. He lowered his voice. "You lied."

She didn't respond once again.

"Ahh, I see. You fucked some other guy, didn't you?"

More silence.

Standing up, he gripped the magazine tighter in his hand and flung it to the ground. "Goddammit! Enough! Answer me!"

The receptionist called Rey's name, but she didn't move. Slowly, determinedly, she rose to her feet, matching his gaze with a look of her own, the corners of her eyes twitching.

"Leave," she whispered. Then louder, the tone sharper, "Leave! It's what you're good at it."

He froze, his chest stinging. What could he say to that? Deny it? How could he? It was the truth, and they both knew it.

He backed away to the exit. "If that's what you want."


 

So it came to that. Leaving. Not leaving. But didn't it always? Glasses shattered—their pieces jagged and scattered across a wooden floor. His mother's raised voice. "And don't come back!" How many times had he begged her not to say things like that? How many times had he watched Han leave, and not just because of business, but because he couldn't stand another second with his wife and son? With him?

Would history repeat itself?

Kylo thought about that after leaving the hotel with the sonogram photo in his pocket. The smell of bourbon on his father's breath. His hands sliding across a table, teaching Kylo to play rummy or poker. The burn of the sun on his lips in Chicago—the morning they'd shipped him off to Japan. The feel of his mother's arms tainted with abandonment. He'd gotten into too many fights at school. He was too angry, too messed up even for his own parents.

Leaving now before the child knew him would be the best decision. He should pack his things, pay the hotel for one more night, and head to Tokyo. He'd be there in six hours with tolls and it all behind him.

But he couldn't. He ran to the hospital, pulling out the photo. Han, Leia, Yuki, the past. None of it seemed to matter.

"Where is Rey Jackson?" he asked the receptionist in Japanese.

She refused to divulge on any information. Patient confidentiality. The same old drill. He wasn't her husband or family; he had no right to know anything, pregnant with his kid or not. A polite "fuck you."

His mouth dry, he fell into a chair across from the intake door and picked up his phone to call her. She declined it, but her text was almost instantaneous.

Rey Jackson

I don't want to talk to you.

Kylo Ren

I know. What's going on?

Rey Jackson

I don't want to talk to you.

Had she copied and pasted that? He took a breath to contain the anger.

Kylo Ren

Did they admit you?

Rey Jackson

No. I'm dehydrated. They're giving me fluids. Anything else?

He locked his phone, rested his face in his hands, and did the only thing he could.

Wait. And wait some more.

He tried every position to get comfortable, but sleep wouldn't come. So he found a vending machine and got a coffee, black. Paced the waiting room. Glanced at the picture again and again, trying to grasp the reality of what it meant.

He was staring at the door when she emerged nearly six hours after leaving her, looking tired but healthier.

She halted when she saw him, her face flashing a mixture of emotions. Her eyebrows pinched together then unfolded. "You came back," she choked out.

"Did I have a choice?" He walked to her, looking down at her stomach. "You've got my kid."

Her body relaxed a little, but her eyes remained wounded.

Kylo thought about reaching for her, pulling her to him, but decided against it. "Is the baby okay?"

"Yeah, everything's fine." She looked at her feet. "The doctor spoke English. He said there was a strong heartbeat, and besides being dehydrated, everything's fine."

"Good."

Awkwardly, he followed her to the receptionist. He wouldn't let her pay. It felt like his responsibility—the one thing he could offer her at the moment. And she didn't protest. Not with a new ultrasound photo in her hands.

"This is real, isn't it?" he said, looking at it over her shoulder. The same black and white grainy lines. But the form was bigger and more developed than the one in his pocket.

She nodded and handed the picture to him. No witty one-liner. No playful teasing.

In the cab, she was silent the entire way to the hotel, and he found he also didn't know what to say.

Back at the hotel, he ran a bath for her, both speaking only for necessity. "How hot?" and "The towel's there." After it filled up completely, he turned off the water and left her alone to bathe while he sat on the bed and compared the new and old ultrasound photos.

A slight whimpering sound floated into the room. At first he thought he was tired and imagining things, it being 3 A.M., but the sound increased, coming from the bathroom.

"Rey?" he called, opening the door, not bothering to knock. Privacy didn't exist between them now. Not after tonight.

She was hunched over in the bathtub, her arms wrapped around her knees in a tight ball. Sobbing hard.

His heart lurched. "Why are you crying? I'm not going anywhere."

"Can you…" Hiccup. "Come in the bath? Please?"

"I didn't think you wanted that. With no sex."

"Please?"

He didn't wait for her to ask again. Hearing her shaking voice, seeing her creased face, had awakened a primal urge inside of him. She was crying. He didn't like that. Make it better. He unbuttoned and slipped off his tie and shirt. Make it better. His pants and boxers next.

Bare, he sank into the bathtub behind her, his arms wrapped around her.

She turned around and sobbed into his chest, shaking in his arms. Every cord coming undone. "Pregnancy hormones." Sniff. "I'm sorry."

He shook his head and grabbed her chin, turning her face toward him. "Don't apologize. I yelled at you. Broke my promise."

"Why did you come back?"

He kissed her forehead, searching her eyes. "When I was kid, my parents were always fighting. Han didn't stay around long. I don't want that for me. Broken, shitty. And I guess that starts now."

"You believe me?"

"It's a lot, Rey. I never wanted kids. Didn't see much of a point. Fucking up someone else's life. But you said you haven't been with anyone else, so yeah. I believe you."

"If it'll make you feel better… we can do the umm test to confirm..."

"No, I believe you. You're a bad liar. I was just… it's a lot. This. Being a..." He choked slightly, trying to force the word out. "Father."

With a sigh, she melted into him. "Yeah, well. Look at me. The one time I have unprotected sex, I end up pregnant."

He chuckled. "It was three times."

"Fine, but the first doesn't count. We were drunk."

"I wasn't. And you said you could handle your liquor."

She blushed. "Okay. Maybe I wasn't that drunk."

He grabbed her face, drawing her toward him with two hands. Then he kissed her, hard, deep. Furthering the exchange, opening his mouth to her, gliding his tongue against hers.

"You don't want to…" she said between breaths. "Do that… I haven't brushed my teeth."

"I don't care." Harder, faster, the desire building against her back.

Muffled sobs. He stopped himself, opening his eyes. She was crying again.

"I'm sorry," she whispered. "I thought you'd left again earlier. When I told you to leave. I thought…"

He cradled her face, swiping the tears from her eyes. "I won't do that to you again."

She smiled, but the tears didn't stop.

"Rey, I won't do that to you again."

She nodded lethargically.

His fingers trailed across her abdomen, feeling it—a tiny curve on her stomach that hadn't been there two months ago. The primal, instinctive feeling returned. He wanted to kiss her—eyes, forehead, shoulders. Meld her body with his. Cradle her stomach in his hands.

Ignoring how she protested, he picked her up from the bath and carried her out, wet and dripping, the floors soaked. He didn't care. It didn't matter. Not now.

He laid her on the bed, sweeping his lips across her damp belly. He didn't know how to be a father. Didn't know anything about babies or parenthood or what sacrifices needed to be made. He imagined there'd be a list. But there was something about the feeling of knowing his child was inside of her. An awareness. An awakening.

Maybe it was belonging. Something to call his. Maybe it was something he wanted only with Rey. He couldn't describe it, put it to words. It was just there. It was just so.

He trailed his lips up her body one inch at a time. After two days of limited contact, the feel of her skin was like breathing again, taking air into his lungs with languid purpose. Her breasts, neck, cheeks. The desire was growing to be too much. He couldn't kiss her like that without... He pulled away.

But she pulled him back and took his arousal into her hands. Tears still flowing.

For a while, he stared down at their contact and tilted his head to the side. "You're breaking your own rules," he murmured, brushing wet hair from her eyes.

She answered with spilled tears.

He kissed her cheeks, welcoming the taste of salt. "Why are you still crying?"

More tears. "I found out five weeks ago. You're the first person to know. I wanted to tell you sooner. I didn't know how… I didn't tell you because I was afraid you'd le- leave again. I've felt… I've felt so alone."

He pushed into her, slow and careful. Each time her tears threatened to spill over he dabbed her eyes with his thumb, his other hand pulling her closer. Softly, he entered and released her. Entered and released. His eyes never leaving hers, studying the wonder that was her hips against his, her breasts pressed to his body. The feel of her chest with each intake of breath.

"Rey…" He brushed his lips across hers, his voice a whisper against her skin. English didn't have the meaning, the intensity of what he wanted to say. The intensity he wanted her to feel, though she might not understand. "Omae wa hitori ja nai…" He moved across her face. "Hitori ja nai yo. You're not alone."

And when they at last rose together, the delirium veiling their senses, Kylo remembered something from earlier. That one Japanese phrase.

会者定離. Eshajouri. We meet only to part.

A calm settled between them. He laid her against his chest, running fingers through her hair. Her breath became his breath. His breath became her breath. Their eyes never parting, not even for a moment.

With her here, with her looking at him like that, the phrase no longer meant the same. It evoked something different, deeper.

We meet only to part. Yes.

But sometimes only in death.

Chapter Text

Rey — Kyoto

Wetness. That was the first thing Rey noticed on waking the next morning. The wetness between her legs. From him. From what they’d shared.

It reminded her of their past—those first two days together. When the lines between them were hazy and complicated. Then the wetness was a reminder of her stupidity. But now…

Omae wa hitori ja nai. You’re not alone. Rey remembered the phrase Ben had said as he made love to her last night. More gentle and careful than he’d ever been. His lips falling on her belly. His hands entwined in hers. Thrusts—slow, steady.

She reached for her stomach, making contact with his arm instead. He was still there. Sighing, she dusted fingers across his skin in slow, deliberate circles, feeling slight hairs beneath her fingertips. His breath was even, his body turned toward her, face buried in her hair. She moved to trail fingers across his face, brushing past each mole as if drawing constellations in the sky. Would their baby look like him? Would it have his prominent nose and deep-set amber eyes? His crooked teeth and large ears that he hid behind a blanket of black hair? Would she have to console their child one day when kids did what kids did and teased him or her for it?

She closed her eyes, noticing the wetness again. How it sat between her legs. No longer a warning or omen.

You’re not alone.

No, with him sleeping next to her, with his baby growing inside of her, it didn’t seem to mean the same at all.

Her breath. Her hair. After last night, she probably looked terrible.

Quietly, trying not to wake him, she rolled out of bed and pattered to the bathroom, noticing one of the chairs. The leg was broken. She imagined him coming here and destroying the room in anger last night. Drunk. She couldn’t fully blame him for it, but the thought of his rage and intense outbursts left a knot in her stomach. She’d talk to him about how to handle it better before the baby came.

Teeth clean, she crawled back into bed with him and snuggled into his chest.

Ben stirred, his eyes finding hers, arm wrapping around her waist again. “Hey,” he said with a lazy smile.

“Hey, I woke up before you for once.”

He attacked her face with a flurry of kisses, his lips falling on every part.

She laughed and tried to jerk her head out of his reach, but it was no use. “Ben, no, stop, that tickles.”

He leaned back to look at her before pressing his lips to hers in the sweetest, longest kiss she’d ever experienced. It was nothing like how her ex-boyfriends used to kiss her—hastily and filled with lust. This one made her stomach flip and her pulse quicken in a way it never had before.

When he pulled away at last, his smile hadn’t disappeared, but had grown, now touching and crinkling the corners of his eyes. “How are you feeling?”

“Quite good, actually. Morning sickness doesn’t usually happen in the morning for me. My luck, right?”

He leaned in for another kiss, again attacking her face with kisses after he finished with her lips. She giggled and turned this way and that, but he wouldn’t stop.

She jolted upright. Her flight was today. “What time is it?” she asked, looking at the digital clock on the nightstand. 10 A.M. Soon she’d be on an airplane, far away from this room.

Far away from him.

She blinked back tears. “I need to get dressed. I only have a few hours before I have to be at the airport.”

Her voice must have betrayed her because he didn’t move. “Why are you crying again?”

And as soon as he said it, she was crying for the third time in twelve hours. She imagined how painful leaving him would be—when she waved goodbye and watched his form disappear behind airport walls. The idea made the tears fall faster.

He caressed her face and hovered his lips above hers. “Stay,” he whispered. “Stay.”

“I can’t…” She tried to stop crying, but it was no use. “I have… to wo- work. I can’t take the time off.”

“Stay,” he repeated, kissing the tears from her cheeks. “Tell them you were in the hospital.”

“I can’t… it’s too expensive to change flights.”

“Don’t worry about the money. Stay. Come with me to Tokyo.”

“I can’t… do that. It would give you more to lord over me,” she said despite the tears.

“Yes, because I’ve done that before.” He chuckled and tucked her hair behind her ears. “Stay.”

“I can’t.”

He kissed her, tender again. “Stay.”

“I can’t.”

He reached between her legs, rubbing her center.

“You’re cheating.”

He stiffened against her belly. “Soredemo issho ni ite hoshi.”

“Now you're begging me in Japanese?”

He removed his hand from between her legs and began kissing her neck, sending shivers through her entire body. “I hate when you do this,” she whispered but didn’t stop him.

He deepened his attack, biting and sucking. “Hate? Is that why you’re moaning?”

And as soon as he’d said it, she became aware of how her mouth hung open, the way low whimpers drifted from her lips. “It’s… sensitive.”

He placed his forehead on hers, reaching down to shift himself. Caressing her face, he pushed into her, her core filling with the full feeling of him.

“You’re already wet,” he said, thrusting in and out. His hands fell to the sides of her stomach and squeezed, lips parting.

“I wonder why.” She breathed out with him, meeting his advances with the slightest dance of her hips. He was tender, gentle, mindful of her stomach like last night. But yet, there was a new edge to his thrusts, a ruggedness she’d never known before. Unlike those first encounters and unlike last night. It made her want to tangle her hands in his hair and release the feelings caught in her throat.

“Stay,” he pleaded once again, colliding with her body, biting her neck. His whole demeanor dominant, commanding, but yet, he was begging her with the softness in his voice, the softness in the swing of his hips. As if that would draw out the answer he wanted.

When she didn’t respond, he fell on his back and guided her to him, on top. “Stay…”

Her stomach churned, but she pushed it down, rubbing herself against him. Pleasure. Nausea. She didn’t know which was stronger.

And she couldn’t stop him now.

This was the second time he’d allowed her to be on top, and the first of his own doing. The last time, his eyes had been unsure, his movements rough. He’d pushed her off and refused to look at her—his mind slipping into an unreachable world until she’d pleaded with him to come back.

But now his face was twisted in pleasure, mouth open, eyes set on hers. He was close. But she was close to doing something else entirely.

“Are you… almost there?” he whispered on cue, gripping her hips tighter. “I think…”

She needed to get off him. Now.

She covered her mouth, unable to stop the gags coiled in her throat.

Eyebrows furrowed, he released her, and she dove for the rubbish bin, her head nearly sinking into it. She didn’t have much to expel; she’d only drank a little water when he’d ran her bath last night.

He rubbed her back in circular motions, the breath-light touch of his fingertips soothing her stomach. “Kid’s already fucking things up.”

She laughed. “Imagine when she gets here.”

“Do you think it’s a girl?”

“I don’t know. I could possibly find out in five weeks when I'm sixteen weeks pregnant. You need a girl to soften you a bit.”

He scoffed. “Yeah. Maybe… Well I wanna be there to find out.”

“What?” She raised her head from the rubbish bin to look at him. “It'd be in London. You want to go to London?”

“Yes, absolutely.” A pause. “Fuck no… but I wanna be there for you.”

Rey reached for him, but then thought of her breath and stopped. “You don’t have to.”

She remembered her midwife mentioning sixteen weeks when she'd asked what the earliest time would be to find out the baby's sex. It would also be, like her ultrasound had been at eight weeks, against the polices on sonograms in the U.K., but maybe her midwife could be swayed again if Rey explained her work schedule, the conference she had in Sapporo at the end of July, and the father traveling a far way to attend the appointment. It would mean paying extra money and dealing with a disgruntled midwife, but it might be worth it.

“I told you. You’re not doing this alone.”

Her heart flipped. “I’d like that very much… I’m sorry about this. You didn’t get to finish.”

“Stop apologizing. It doesn’t matter. But there is one thing you can do for me.”

“What?” she asked, not completely sure why she’d said it. She knew what he was going to say. But… maybe it was the confirmation that he wanted her—asking her to stay again. A confirmation that he didn’t want them to be apart. The idea sent warmth all the way down to her toes. Stay. Stay. Stay. She could hear it again and again, a song on repeat, and never get tired of it.

“Let me take care of you. Make sure you’re okay. I don’t want you to be on a plane and sick again.” He pressed his lips to her forehead. “Stay. Just a week.”

Her mind went into a tizzy. She didn’t have the time off. She’d have to call Leia and take unpaid leave and even then Leia might not allow it and what about Mara and Rose and—

Ben grabbed her face, forcing her to look at him. Those dark eyes. Soft like last night. The war in her mind stopped.

“I want this time together. As a couple. For now,” he murmured.

“For now?”

“Yes, but… soon.” His hands fell to her belly, rubbing it as tenderly as he had last night.

“A family?” Not one she was adopted into. Not one where someone could make her feel like an outsider in. But one of her own making. Her family.

“Yeah. That,” he said.

“You’re going to make me cry again.”

“You’re already crying.”

She laughed through the tears, shaking her head.

“Stay.” He swiped at her eyes and kissed her cheeks. “Stay.”

She covered her mouth, suddenly remembering. “My breath. You shouldn’t get too close. Let me brush my teeth.”

“I told you I don’t care about that.”

Regardless, she stood up and went to the bathroom to brush her teeth for the second time, pondering his words.

When she finished, she stared at herself in the mirror. Her face was splotchy, eyes red-rimmed and puffy, hair disheveled. A disaster. But he didn’t care. Furrowing her eyebrows, she placed a hand on her belly and breathed in, tracking the movement in the mirror. Family. Their family. He was right—this time together was crucial. It would be their first week as a couple. Their first step toward being a family.

But first—

She walked back into the room and pushed him onto the bed, curling into his chest and reaching below his waist to take him into her hands. The nausea had relented. But the other feeling?

“You should rest,” he said, trying to pull away from her. “We can finish this later."

“I’ll stay. But only if…” She ground her hips into his. Gradually, with each pass, he hardened next to her, his eyes changing from concerned to aroused. “You finish what you started.”

And for the first time in weeks, his signature smug smile returned.

 


 

Staying. It had sounded so easy an hour ago when they were tangled in bed.

Rey picked at her fingernails, phone in hand, trying to find the courage to call Leia. Three times she’d typed a text message and three times she’d deleted it before sending. It felt wrong—taking that much time off and not trying to explain in a more personal way.

Now or never. She sat down on the bed and put the phone to her ear.

Leia answered after the second ring. “Rey? What’s wrong? Did something happen?”

Rey looked over at Ben. He was sitting down at the desk, typing away on his laptop, earbuds drowning out all sound. With her for emotional support, but not exactly tuned in. It was the only way to keep him near while she made the call.

“Hey, Leia. I’m sorry to bother you. I wanted to let you know that I won’t be in for the rest of the week.”

“I see. Did something happen?”

Rey paused, debating how much she should tell her. “I was in the hospital.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. Is everything okay?”

“Yes, I’m fine. Nothing to be concerned about. I just need a few more days.”

A pause. Then, “Is Ben with you?”

Rey’s pulse echoed in her ears. “Yes.”

It was out now. It needed to be. She had maybe a few more weeks before everyone would notice she was pregnant. And with that would come the question about the father. Leia should know first, and Ben wouldn’t tell her.

“I see,” Leia said calmly.

“How did you know?”

“The lotuses. Ben used to make those for me. I wasn’t sure, but I had a feeling. You two were attached at the hip before he… cut contact. And with the way he looked at you in Tokyo, I told Mara it was only a matter of time before something happened.”

The conference in Tokyo. Rey had tried to forget it. It was the first time she’d seen him in eight years, and a confirmation of all of her fears. All the fears Mara had fed her. A monster. Heartless. The last person to see Han alive. She didn’t know what was the truth and what wasn’t because Ben avoided talking about the past, but he was still Ben. Her Ben. He’d never left.

“I thought you might’ve suspected something. It makes sense now. Why mum made a point of telling me to stay away from him.”

“It was strange watching you and him back then. Like you both were on a frequency no one else could hear.”

Rey took a deep breath. She needed to tell her. “Well… there’s something else.”

“Yes?”

She was eleven weeks now and almost out of the high miscarriage rate window. And the doctor last night had confirmed the baby was fine. Healthy and developing normally.

“I didn’t just come here for a friend’s wedding… I’m…”  Do it, Rey . “I’m pregnant. Ben is the… you know.”

She hadn’t planned on saying it over a call, but somehow she felt like she needed to. Their child would be her biological grandchild. Her only biological grandchild.

“Oh, Rey…” Leia took calculated breaths. “Is... is he being supportive?”

Rey glanced in Ben’s direction again. His earbuds were now gone, his head tilted to the side. “Yes. More than supportive.”

Leia didn’t answer at first. “Are you… are you really pregnant?” she finally said, her voice cracked and ragged, like she were crying.

“Yes. Really.”

“I’m happy. I’m so happy,” Leia cried. “I never thought I’d be a…” She stopped, sniffling. “How far along are you?

“Almost eleven weeks.”

“Oh, Rey… I know this isn’t a good situation, but I’m happy. I’m happy he has you. I’m happy he’s doing the right thing. I’m happy you’re the one to…” She stopped. “Thank you for telling me, Rey. And tell my son: he may not…” A choke. “Think I’m his mother anymore, but I can still beat him if he hurts you.”

Rey laughed. “I’ll let him know. But he’s quite a big guy. Not sure how successful you’d be.”

“You should have seen him as a teenager. Always tallest in his class. And with Han’s ears. Worse than Han’s ears. At birth we wondered if he’d been switched.” She laughed. “He stuck out, especially in Japan. My poor kid. I wish I hadn’t…” She breathed in. “Well, it’s in the past. And now I know what I would have done differently. This is a special time between you and Ben. Enjoy it and don’t worry about the time off. It’ll be excused and paid as sick leave.”

“You really don’t have to do that, Leia.”

“I want to. We’re going to be family after all, right?”

Rey laughed. “A pretty dysfunctional one, but yes.”

At the mention of that, Ben rose from his chair and disappeared out the front door.

 


 

Rey found Ben exactly where she’d thought she would. Downstairs in the smoking area, half a burning cigarette between his lips.

“Why did you leave like that?” she asked, waving away smoke.

“Go back inside. It’s not good for the baby,” he replied sharply.

“No.”

“And the answer I expected.” He put his cigarette in one of the holes of the standing ashtray. “You shouldn’t have told her you were pregnant.”

“I work with her. She’d find out eventually. And it’s her grandchild.”

“Can we do this upstairs?” he asked, looking to his right where two men stood also burning holes in their lungs.

“No.”

“Do you ever fucking listen?”

“She has a right to know.”

“I don’t wanna talk about it right now. Can we drop it?”

“Why? So you can avoid it forever?”

He rolled his eyes and lit another cigarette.

“I really wish you’d quit,” she said.

He mumbled something under his breath, taking a puff.

She was so close. She could do it. Snatch that bloody death stick from his lips and crush it on the ground. “What did you say?”

“Can we talk about this later? Please?”

She thought about fighting him—giving him something to actually be mad at. But she didn’t want to start another argument. Not when they’d have to be in the car together for five hours. So she sighed and said, “Fine. I’ll get our stuff together.”

 


 

Ben was quiet on the way to Tokyo, back to speaking only when necessary. Between the off and on nausea and the nagging feeling of ripping his eyes out, Rey didn’t have much to say either. Music up, talking minimal. And he let her control the radio again. She pulled out the “R” disk for some of the way and quietly sang along. For the other part, she picked out a Slayer album and ignored how Ben raised his eyebrows at her.

She knew she shouldn’t be mad. She knew she shouldn’t make a big deal about it. He hadn’t yelled at her or left. It was progress.

But the issue sat in her mind, not leaving the whole way to Tokyo, even as he parked the car in an underground garage and led her into an upscale apartment building in Ginza. It’s not a big deal. It’s not a big deal, she repeated, but it didn’t help.

His apartment embodied everything that was Kylo Ren. Sterile floors. White walls. It felt impersonal, cold, and it was smaller than she expected for his kind of salary. To the left of the door was an open-concept kitchen with updated appliances and white counter-tops, and in front of them was the living room.

“Shoes off, please, or Yumiko-san will have my head.”

“Yumiko-san?”

“My cleaning lady and an old friend.”

As he brought their suitcases to the bedroom, Rey slipped off her flats, walked in, and stared at the blank walls, trying to figure out why the aura of the apartment felt off.

“No paintings?” she asked when he came back.

“Not yet. I want you to choose.”

“You planned this.”

“Not exactly. You could have chosen over video call.”

“Oh.”

“But I did plan on asking you to stay. The kid happened to give me a better excuse.”

Despite the tension lingering between them, Rey brushed his arm gently and wandered to the living room window. Ginza’s upper-class, uniform buildings unfurled below her, the sun reflecting off the glass. Designer stores—their names flashing with distinctiveness. Of course he would live in Ginza. Of course. Despite most of Japan being relatively middle class, Ginza stood out among the districts of Tokyo. How many of those brand names would show up in Ben’s closet?

“You can take the spare bedroom if you want,” he said behind her.

“Hmm? Why?”

“Your rules.”

“I don’t think they really apply anymore, do you? After…”

His arms found her waist, hands sliding across her stomach. “It’s been a hell of a three days.”

Rey closed her eyes and recreated his old apartment in Kyoto—a studio with barely enough room for Ben and Yuki. Red, cheap counter-tops. A one burner range with a fridge half the size of a mini. “Can I stay with Ben?” she asked Mara. “Please.” Mara’s green eyes turning to Ben’s. “Is that okay with you and Yuki?” Ben’s grin. “Always. She’s always welcome.”

Rey felt herself smile. She’d slept on a futon on the opposite side of the room from Ben and Yuki, praying she could switch bodies for one night with her. One night so she could feel his arms around her waist, his breath in her ear...

“What’re you thinking about?” he asked, kissing her shoulder.

“Do you remember the night Mara let me stay with you and Yuki?”

He nodded.

“It was childish, but I spent that entire night wishing I could be her. Be beautiful. Because then you would love me as much as you loved her.”

“Why? Yuki and I… We never worked. She’s beautiful, yeah, most girls are. But she had expectations... She wanted a house, kids, to stay in Japan. I never wanted any of that. I wasn’t good enough for her parents. They wanted her to marry Japanese. They thought she was wasting her time with me. She didn’t like it when I cussed or smoked or drank. She wanted a perfect boyfriend. I wasn’t ever gonna be that, obviously. So when I cut off my family, I included her in the equation.”

The reality of what he was saying set in. “You didn’t tell her.”

“No. I left without saying anything. I thought it’d be easier that way. No mental breakdowns. I couldn’t fucking take it after everything. So… you should stop being jealous of her. We didn’t work out, and I’m happy. She’s with the type of guy she always wanted to be with. Straight edge.”

“Boring,” Rey said teasingly.

“That’s funny. Didn’t you ask me to quit smoking this morning?”

“You’ve been doing it a lot.”

“Yeah, well. Stress. I know you’ve known for over a month now, but I haven’t. You being pregnant is a big fucking deal to me. I never wanted a family.”

“Why didn’t you pull out?”

He chuckled. “I’ve thought about it for months. Maybe it was the alcohol.”

“You said you weren’t drunk.”

“I was slightly inebriated.”

“Right. So it’s slightly now.”

“I don’t know if it was the alcohol. Or the way you looked at me when you…” He put his lips to her ear, sending shivers up her back. “Slipped off those…” He shook his head and pulled away. “I stopped thinking. I guess I didn’t wanna be careful anymore. I should’ve checked with you first though.”

“It was both our faults. I could’ve stopped it.”

“I’m glad you didn’t.”

She couldn’t hold back; she burst into laughter.

“What’s so funny?” he asked, kissing her neck again.

“I was so afraid to tell you. I thought you’d tell me to get rid of it and leave. And you’re happy I’m pregnant?”

“Not every guy is a jackass about their girl getting pregnant.”

“But I wasn’t your girl.”

“You are now.”

“I still haven’t said yes.”

“Excuse me. I forgot we’re in goddamn middle school. I’d let you wear my jersey , but I’m afraid having my kid will have to do.”

She smacked his arm playfully. “On your knees.”

“Are you serious? Fuck no.”

“On your knees.”

He shook his head, but lowered himself to the ground, his eyes locked to hers. The mighty Prince of RBF, Kylo Ren. On his knees in front of her. What was she going to do with him? She covered her mouth to hold back the giggles.

“Happy?” he asked.

“Very. Now what was it you wanted to ask me?”

He cleared his throat and took her hand. “Will you let me fuck you exclusively?”

She smacked him again.

“What was that for? That’s what a relationship is.”

“No, that’s an exclusive friends with benefits situation. Try again.”

A devious grin appeared on his face, one eyebrow raised. “Okay, will you fuck me exclusively and not be my friend?”

She crossed her arms and put her back to him. “You can stay exclusive partners with your hand then.”

The room grew quiet. Too quiet. Was he going to respond? She began to turn around again. It wasn’t like him to back down—

He tackled and pinned her to the ground. His eyes were like their second night together—playful, curious, waiting for her to give him anything to work with. Then, he kissed her as passionately as he had that morning, trailing his lips down her neck. “Can I keep my hand as a partner and fuck you on the side?”

“Ha. You’re really doing everything to avoid asking me nicely, aren’t you?”

He pulled back, running his fingers through her hair. “Be with me.”

“That’s a command, not a question, Ben.”

“So?”

“So…”

“You’re not gonna give up,” he said with a laugh. “Fine. Since we’re in middle school.” He kissed her eyes. “Will you…” His lips moved to her cheeks. “Do me the honor of…” Her chin. “Relieving my hand and be my girlfriend?” Finally, he pressed his lips to hers, pulling away with a small bite.

“You almost had it.”

He flashed her an impatient look.

“But yes,” she quickly said, rising to kiss him again. “I’ll be your girlfriend. On one condition.”

“What now?”

“Since we are in middle school. I want your jersey and a bag of sweets on my desk every Tuesday and Friday.”

He didn’t hesitate. “That’s two conditions. But done. Now will you let me fuck you?”

 


 

Later, when she lay in Ben’s arms on the carpet, bare and panting, Rey remembered their prior disagreement. “Are you ready to talk now? About what happened with the phone call today?”

Ben released her and rolled onto the floor, rubbing his eyes. “I have an idea.”

“What?”

“How about one question a day?” He turned to face her, propping his head up with one hand. “Until you leave on Saturday, you can ask me any question you want, one per day, and I have to answer it honestly. In return, I’m allowed the same. What do you think?”

“Why is the past so difficult for you talk about?”

“Is that your question?”

“I mean, no, but… I don’t understand you.”

“How often do you talk about how your parents abandoned you?”

“Never, but I also don’t remember it that well.”

“And that comes from not talking about it for years. When you talk about it, you speak the past back into existence. I don’t wanna do that. It doesn’t matter to me now. But if it makes you happy… One issue a day. I can agree to that.”

Rey studied him, then leaned in for a kiss, rubbing her thumb across his cheek. “Okay. Agreed. Why didn’t you want me to tell her about the baby?”

“Can I have a cigarette first? You aren’t gonna like what I have to say.”

“Just say it.”

“Yeah.... I’m gonna get a beer.” He looked down at himself, smirking. “And clean up for once.”

She stared at the ceiling, counting the blades in the fan as he stood and walked to the kitchen.

And when he came back and sat down on the couch, he had a large can of beer in one hand and a white rag in the other. He handed it to her. “You should clean yourself up too. That’s a new rug.”

“It’s your stuff.”

“Doesn’t mean I want it on my rug.”

She rolled her eyes, but cleaned up anyway. Once finished, she slipped on her underwear and almost handed the rag back to him, but then caught herself, shaking her head. The last time she’d done that had been after their first encounter in the elevator. The lines had been blurry, their senses deadened by alcohol. But here, sober, with him sitting on the couch half naked and drinking a beer, the action of cleaning up was also different.

She wondered at that, then brought the cloth to the kitchen sink and wringed it out a few times before returning to his arms.

“Okay,” Ben said. “To answer your question… I didn’t want her to know about the baby because I don’t want want her in my life. It’s not her concern.”

Rey pulled away. “What did she do that was so bad?”

“That’s two questions. One per day.”

“I know, but…”

“I have my reasons. I’ll consider it further, but for now, I’d prefer if my family didn’t know about our relationship and the baby.”

“That’s not possible, Ben. I live with your uncle and Mara.”

His jaw ticked. “I understand that. But I’d prefer if you didn’t say anything until you’re showing. This is our child. It’s between us, not them.”

“That’s not fair.”

He breathed out through his nose and took a long drink. “You asked me why, and that’s my answer. Do what you want with it.”

She stayed silent, unsure what to say. Leia’s face flashed through her mind. Her sitting in her office, grey-brown hair curled into a tight bun. Those familiar brown eyes—Ben’s brown eyes—staring back at Rey. She couldn’t think of a situation where Leia had been cruel or malicious. One situation where she’d done anything to deserve Ben’s hatred, except for focusing too much on her job when he was younger.

“Okay, your turn,” Rey finally said.

Ben smirked, looking her up and down. “How many guys have you slept with?”

“That is such a guy question. Why does it matter?”

“I answered your question, now answer mine. How many?”

Rey paused, pairs of eyes flashing across her vision. “Three. That’s including you.”

“Only three?”

“Yes. Why? Did you think there’d be more?”

He shook his head. “Our first time together… you…”

“I started it. I know. But we’d been drinking. Can we just decide we were both not in our right minds?”

He scoffed. “Sure. And I realize this is a second question, but… how old were you each time?”

“Are you jealous?” she asked, laughing at the thought. “Kylo Ren… jealous?”

“I’m not fucking jealous. I got you in the end. I just wanna know.”

“Breaking the rules already? Okay, I’ll tell you. In exchange for another question. Then we’re even.”

“Deal. But you answer mine first.”

Rey closed her eyes and brought to mind her previous boyfriends. “The first happened when I was fifteen. I’d been dating a guy Mara didn’t approve of. But I was curious about sex. So I did it. I told her I was going to spend the night with my friend Elizabeth. It happened there. At his house, in his room. It was awkward. The pain was... I bled for two days. Elizabeth ratted me out to Mara, I got in trouble, and the next week, he broke up with me. I cried for weeks and didn’t date anyone for a while after that.”

Ben wrapped an arm around her, caressing her skin. “That guy was a dickhead.”

“He was fifteen. He was immature, and I knew better.”

“I wouldn’t have treated you like that if I’d been your first.”

“Unless you’d been drinkin’. You couldn’t have known I wasn’t a virgin the first time.”

“I had a feeling. But yeah, you’re right. I didn’t know. But… you do realize it wasn’t only a hookup for me? I wanted you since Tokyo.”

“I didn’t know what it was. I wasn’t thinking at all. I hated you.”

“Yeah, hated me so much you took your underwear off and let me fuck you.”

She punched his arm. “I was clearly confused.”

“And the next time after that dickhead?”

“When I was nineteen. A guy I’d been dating for four months. We broke up six months later. It was… messy.” She laughed. “He cheated constantly. The last with my former best friend. That was the end. I cut up all of his t-shirts and burned the love notes he used to leave me. Quite dramatic, really.”

“He hurt you. It’s not dramatic. I’m sure you did the same when I left.”

She locked eyes with him, unsure what to say. Her mind fluttered back to the day it happened. The day Mara came into her room and told her that Ben was no longer working for the English Republic—that he had done horrible things. Eight years or not, the feeling in her gut…

She tried to find the words, looking away. “At first, I didn’t know what happened. I messaged you like normal about the things we used to talk about—Japanese and music and… you know. Stuff.” Things she’d only told him. How she never fit in with his family. School. Boys. “But my text came back undelivered. You changed your number, I guess.”

“Hey.” He grabbed her face, forcing their eyes to meet again. “I never wanted to shut you out. But I had to. You were thirteen. I was twenty-three. Our contact wasn’t appropriate to continue under the circumstances. You were too close to them, and I needed to put as much distance as possible between me and my family.”

“I know that. Mara explained it to me. I still cried for weeks. You were my best friend.”

He didn’t respond.

“And then… Han died. Mara didn’t tell me much. Just that he had a heart attack and that… you might’ve caused it because he died the night he confronted you.”

He nodded.

“You came to the funeral,” she continued, unable to stop herself. “And you left again.”

“I had to let go,” he said, staring past her and finishing off his beer. “I’m sorry. If it helps, the one thing I regret is hurting you. I know the damage I caused. You didn’t deserve it.”

Rey kissed him and pressed their foreheads together, smiling against his lips.

A few moments passed like that with Rey listening to the sound of his breath, letting it echo between them. “Sorry doesn’t fix everything,” she’d told him a month ago. And maybe that was still true, maybe the hurt would always be there, but there was something different about this apology, different in the way that he looked at her—after sex with nothing to gain by apologizing, only seeking to lessen the sting.

He assaulted her with kisses, drawing her laughter out again.

“Stop, stop… it’s my turn!” she said, batting him away.

He laid down on the couch and took her into his arms, forcing her to lay next to him and playing with her hair. “More questions about the past?”

“Maybe…”

He looked down at her. “What’s that facial expression for?”

She pursed her lips. “You’ll never believe this, but I actually want to know. How many girls have you been with?”

“Is fifty an appropriate answer?”

Rey swallowed. Was he being serious? She knew it was a high number, but a part of her had hoped it wouldn’t be. “Fifty? It doesn’t surprise me.”

“Wow. So much faith in me.”

“Ben, you looked at me like a snack in Tokyo.”

“You’d changed a lot. And I was testing you.”

“Right. Testing me. That’s why you kept looking at my chest.”

“Believe whatever the fuck you want.”

“I will, thank you very much. So how many was it? Fifty? Ninety-seven? Three-hundred and one?”

“Sixteen. Seventeen with you.”

She hesitated, feeling a bit guilty for being relieved. “Under twenty. I would’ve never guessed.”

He smirked. “Hookups, yes. One-night stands, no. There’s a difference.”

“Is there?”

He paused; his smirk increased. Then, without warning, he attacked her sides with his fingers, sending laughter through her body once more.

“Ben! Ben! Stop!”

After a few moments, he relented, still smirking.

“I don’t care how many girls you’ve been with,” she whispered. “As long as I get to be the last.”

His smirk transformed into a smile, eyes softening. “Done.”

Chapter Text

Kylo

Kylo jolted awake, his heart racing. Meaty, rough hands on his shoulders. Golden glinting wedding band, fourth finger, digging into flesh.

He rubbed his eyes. 3 A.M. Rey. She was here. Asleep, her face neutral, dreaming. He touched her cheek. Did she have nightmares like he did? Had anyone hurt her?

Shower. He stood under the frozen water and scrubbed his skin until it was red and raw and puffy. The pain in his belly. It was back. A sort of dull aching sensation that lingered long after the meaty hand had left his shoulder.

He caught sight of her toiletries—the culprit of her floral smelling hair, some English brand travel-size bottles. After their talk yesterday, she’d had only enough energy to arrange a few of her things in the bathroom. She’d wanted to see the paintings, but when Kylo came back in from the patio after smoking a cigarette, he found her passed out on top of the bed—not even under the comforter.

What question would she ask tomorrow, and what memories would it bring? Kylo wondered, turning the shower now all the way up to scalding hot and letting it sear his skin. Han had suggested therapy, or asked about it, the night he died. Alexander himself had tried for years to get Kylo to go, but Kylo never went. He didn’t need therapy. He’d dealt with the past in his own way. Eliminated the problems. Taken a new identity. One that was his and only his. When he couldn’t sleep, he dealt with it. Painting, push-ups, running three miles, jacking off, finding a girl for the night. Talking about it had never gotten him anywhere. He’d tried to eight years ago, and it had ended with more pain.

Kylo thought about jacking off now—letting his hand glide over himself, take away some of the aching memory in his stomach. They say the body doesn’t remember pain. But Kylo did. He could still remember those hands, the gliding, the pushing. Four years branded and stamped with it.

Towel wrapped around his waist and shivering, he walked back to the bedroom. He stayed only a moment, to grab a pair of clean clothes and watch her continuing to sleep peacefully.

Ginza was silent, the streets dead. Kylo wandered, puffing on a cigarette. He thought of Luke and his first wife, Ayane—adopting him at fourteen so he could live in Japan. His mother had stood in her designer blue dress and fed him that stereotypical bullshit of “a clean break.” But what she’d really meant was, a clean break for her. A break from her son who’d stolen money from her safe, jewelry from her bathroom, and alcohol from the bolted liquor cooler (Kylo had figured out where they’d hidden the key). Her son who’d stayed out all night popping ecstasy pills with his friends, and occasionally selling marijuana on the streets. The latter had resulted in his shipment to Japan.

A U.S. representative couldn’t have a son like him.

Cigarette finished, Kylo broke into a sprint—running so fast and for so long that by the time he stopped, darkness danced across his vision.

 


 

 

They didn’t have hash browns.

Kylo stared at the ravished food display case and wondered. How the hell do you tell a pregnant lady craving only hash browns that you didn’t get them because all the non-pregnant people had already snapped them up?

It was the third kombini he’d been to near his apartment—the breakfast rush had decimated each store’s food stocks. Rey would’ve gone with him, but she’d felt sick and went back to bed.

But not without leaving a specific list—two hash browns, a box of crackers, ginger ale, and a chocolate chip scone. He’d been in the middle of making hash browns no less when she’d wrapped her arms around him. “I haven’t craved anything this entire pregnancy. And I’m craving hash browns,” she’d said, turning up her nose at his homemade ones sizzling in the skillet.

Kylo didn’t want to think about when she left. Who would take care of her? What would she eat? Even her talking about it yesterday, seeing her eyes fill with tears at the thought of leaving had almost made him—

And that never happened. Not anymore. Not since…

He shook away the thought and moved on to the next kombini. He hadn’t thought about that in years, not since dreaming of it last night, the phantasmal images inspired by her.

At least the next kombini had one hash brown left. 

“Rey?” he called when he returned home, opening the door to his bedroom, the requested items in tow. But she was gone, the bed empty. “Rey?” he called again, his heart pounding

“In here!” came her voice. The spare bedroom. She’s okay, he told himself. Everything is okay.

Kylo found her sitting on the floor, his paintings strewn about around her. “Hey, I thought you were going to look later. Feeling better?”

She nodded, but her attention wasn’t on him. He watched as her fingers caressed the wooden frame of one of his favorite paintings. A painting of her, a few years after he’d left. For so long he’d kept it hidden in his closet in Chicago—propped up against the very back wall, buried beneath hanging pants and suit jackets.

“I see you found that one,” he muttered, sitting down beside her on the floor.

Her face lit up—bright, full, a mirror of her in the painting. “Mm. It’s beautiful. Why wasn’t it out with the rest?”

Kylo stared at it. The style was a much too real one—Rey under rows and rows of cherry blossom trees, her grin the widest he’d ever seen. A world, a universe, of pink.

And she at the center.

“I painted it five years after I left. I woke up one day, and I realized…” He shook his head. “I forgot what your smile looked like. Not the fake one. The real one. When you told me to fuck off for teasing you, when I’d put in a CD you liked, when I took you to the park that day without them… just us. I thought about you turning eighteen and me not there to take you out to get shitfaced like I promised, and I dunno. That one came to me. I never forgot your smile again.”

“Why you so obsessed with me?” she said in a sing-song voice. “Robbed the cradle, didn’t you?”

He glared at her.

“Oh come on, Ben.” She hit his arm. “I’m joking.”

He wrapped his arms around her from behind. “I know, but it pisses me off.”

“Why?” she asked.

“Is that your question today?”

“It’s not a question about the past.”

He stared out at the blank, white wall on the opposite side of the room. “Everything is a question about the past. It’s all connected. Our opinions and decisions are influenced by it.”

“That’s…” She shook her head. “Will you just tell me why it pisses you off?”

“Because it’s fucked up, Rey. To have that kind of relationship with a teenager.”

“But you didn’t think of me like that… did you?”

“Fuck no. The thought of anyone taking advantage of you or any fucking kid… It’s sick.” The pain was back. The hands. The ring. Breath in his ear.

“Then what are you worried about?”

“How everyone else sees it. You and me. I’m worried your family will give you shit when you tell them about us. And I know you will.”

“Leia wasn’t upset.”

“Leia is Leia. She doesn’t count. How do you think Mara will react? Or Luke? They’ll wanna know about the times you stayed with me back then. They’ll ask you… because you’re a girl, and I was an older man. If they haven’t already.” Girls. They were the only ones that got asked questions like that. Who gave a fuck about boys?

“They won’t do that. I mean, they asked if I had ever felt unsafe with you after you left, but… Our relationship was different back then. As Leia said, a connection. It wasn’t sexual. She knows that. I know that. I was only joking about the painting. Really, it’s quite lovely and extremely well-done.”

“They asked if I hurt you?”

“Yeah. If you ever drove drunk with me in the car, if you ever hit me or—“

“I don’t need to hear any more.” His hands balled into fists. He swallowed, trying to keep it all back. He’d been fine with the past for years. Accepted it. Moved on.

“You shouldn’t care what they think. I’m with you. We’re having a baby together. They’ll get over it.”

It felt real—her saying it out loud. Their child. His girlfriend, the first he’d had in eight years. The thought of someone hurting her, taking away that innocence and extinguishing that smile. “Did anyone ever abuse you?” he blurted out before he could think better of it.

A wrinkle lined her brow. “What kind of abuse? I had a few foster parents smack me on the bum or make me crawl across spilled rice as punishment or—”

“Physical abuse is not what I meant,” he said, knowing he should stop himself now.

“You mean… as in touching me or…?”

“Yes.”

“No, of course not.” She laughed nervously. “Maybe I was lucky? There were other girls I knew that had been abused, but most didn’t talk about it.” When he didn’t reply, she laughed again and said, “Okay… well have you? I guess that’s my question for the day.”

“Hmm? No,” he said, but fought to control the shaking in his voice.

Rey snuggled up to him. “Good. But why do you care about what they think about us?”

“Besides it being a conflict of interest between our companies? I don’t, but it cheapens everything.” He explored her eyes, his heart palpitating. When he thought of her, of what he felt for her, he couldn’t breathe. “Back then it was like you were the only person who understood me. Yuki never got it—why I allowed you to stay or why I took you to places alone, just us.” The words continued to flow out. “When I saw you in Tokyo… You’d changed. A woman. Your presentation… Fuck.” He chuckled. “I was in trouble.”

“Always thinking with your dick,” she said with a smile.

He raised his eyebrows. “I do a lot more than thinking.”

“You’re hard again.”

He couldn’t help it; he began to kiss her, taste her, his hand instinctively feeling her up—across her well-rounded breasts and stomach. A good distraction from the turn their conversation had taken. Is that all his life had amounted to since that time when he was a child? Distractions?

“Why are these on?” he demanded tugging at her shirt and pants.

“To keep from turning you on.”

Kylo slipped a hand under her bra, squeezing the soft flesh, his lips falling on her neck. “You think clothes will stop me?”

He unzipped his pants and rubbed against her.

“Ben. Paintings. No sex.”

“Why not?” he asked. Breathe. Kiss. Breathe. He deepened his attack on her neck. “You’re beautiful. I wanna fuck you.”

“Mm…” she moaned. “I’m sore from yesterday. And I’m still not feeling well.”

He stopped, but his lips lingered on her neck. “Still? Did you throw up again while I was gone?”

Rey shook her head. “No, thankfully. I’m much better than last weekend. I think the anxiety of telling you was getting to me.”

“You can talk to me,” he whispered, grabbing her chin. “Always.”

“Mm. I can talk to you, but you can’t talk to me.”

His eyes stung, but he didn’t cry. “I’m trying. I answered your question, didn’t I?” But he hadn’t, not really. “I’m trying,” he repeated. But he wasn’t, not really.

“I know.” She nodded, running a finger along the wooden frame of the painting resting in her hands. “Can I take this one back with me to London?”

“It belongs to you,” he said and wanted to add: It always belonged to you.

 


 

Everything, in reality, belonged to her. Kylo’s apartment filled with her presence—paintings she’d picked, her drained mug of tea in the sink, hair products in the shower. The picture of their growing child inside of her, stuck to the fridge. His sheets smelled like her; he smelled like her.

Together, they hung the paintings throughout the small apartment, Rey taking breaks when she felt dizzy or sick. He couldn’t stop touching her. The feel of her body against his, it was indescribable. It’d been different with Yuki. Not as urgent or passionate—why? He’d loved Yuki, spent two years with her. Thought about marrying her.

But Rey? Rey danced in the living room to heavy metal, waltzing like she was listening to classical. “Come on,” she called, holding out her hands after they’d finished with the paintings. “Dance with me.”

“You don’t dance to this music, babe,” he said, but took her hands anyway and let her lead him. “You seem happy.”

“I am. Your apartment doesn’t look like someone conducted an estate sale without you knowing.”

“My apartment in Chicago was nothing like this. I just hadn’t fully moved in yet here.”

They swayed for a few moments; he twirled her around the room, fumbling.

She laughed. “You are a terrible dancer. I can teach you.”

“So? Doesn’t matter in Japan. Dancing isn’t even done at weddings. And I do know how to dance, but you don’t dance to heavy metal.”

“Well I do, and you will too,” she said, falling into his arms. “I need to sit down now, I think.” She removed her hands from his and plopped onto the couch.

In her absence, his palm stung.

Tuesday afternoon bled into Tuesday night. He cooked her dinner, mindful of her aversions and developing cravings—baked chicken breast and miso soup. The color returned to her face; she was keeping food down and laughing at his horrible jokes again. Entwining their hands and breathing in his kisses.

At night, he made love to her, held her, thought about whispering his feelings against her hair, telling her everything about the past—disregarding the question system he’d established. But that thought lingered only for a moment, quickly replaced with the phantom pain he continued to push down.

Finished and spent, he cleaned her up and kissed her stomach. She dozed in his arms, and he shortly after with the scent of her hair filling his nose.

But by 2 A.M., he was awake, breathing hard again. The shadows of the past had never haunted him this much. Not for a long time. He stood under the shower, ran four miles, and painted. A violent, abstract painting, a face rising from blues and blacks.

 


 

“Are you okay?” Rey asked over a breakfast of kombini hash browns, miso soup, and Lady Grey tea.

Her hand ran over his painted-stained fingers, looping them together. Kylo barely touched his breakfast.

“Are you not sleeping?” she continued, reaching to cup his face.

He fell into her warm skin and kissed her knuckles. “I told you. I don’t sleep.”

They sat in the early morning silence, listening to the sounds of cars and construction. It seemed to Kylo that Japan was always under constant construction—perfecting the unperfectable. Was that what he’d done for eight years?

“I have a surprise for you,” he said, picking up her empty bowl and placing it in the sink.

“Oh?”

“If you’re feeling up to it. You didn’t leave the apartment yesterday.”

“The rest has been nice,” she said. “Where are we going?”

Kylo didn’t answer her question; he watched her dress and apply her makeup, silent as she glided through the routine.

“Where are we going?” she asked again when they made it downstairs.

He handed her a stack of crisp 10,000 yen notes. “Anywhere you want. I want you to find something nice to wear tonight. Formal.”

“I have the dress I wore at the wedding.”

“Something new, designer. We’re in Ginza. Prada. Versace. A brand you’ve never worn before.”

She tried, going into each designer store and quickly exiting. By the fourth one, she said, “Ben, really, I like the dress I wore at the wedding. These are all beautiful, but too expensive. You’ve spent enough on me.”

“I told you. Don’t worry about the money. I’ve been saving for years.”

“But I do. I won’t be able to wear any dress I buy in a few months. And you’re spending way too much on me.”

“Making up for lost time.”

The sun shone in her eyes, illuminating strands of brown. “You don’t need to make up for anything.” She stood on her toes and kissed him, lingering briefly against his lips. “I like vintage clothes though. Can we go somewhere like that?”

“Have you ever been to Harajuku?” he asked.

“Isn’t that the district with the weird clothes?”

Kylo smiled. “Something like that.”

 


 

“Where’ve you taken me?” Rey asked when they stood before the digital sign for Takeshita Street. “I’ve only seen this on TV.” She walked ahead of him, letting go of his arm. The streets were jammed thick with people; the smell of fresh crepes permeated the air, a scent like sickly-sweet perfume and fresh bread. The last time he’d been here was with Yuki, a month before it’d all fallen apart. Yuki used to occasionally dress up in the gothic lolita fashion like a few of the girls in the crowd now—Doc Martens, big hair bows, and platform heels, depending on the type of Lolita.

Rey walked beside him, looking in every direction. Her fingers fidgeted at his side until he brought them to his lips. Her smile—he could have never imagined she would smile at him like this. Nine years ago, when he’d first met her, he never expected their relationship to develop into this. She’d been a pseudo-kid sister to him, not someone he’d ever thought about having sex with. She wasn’t a kid anymore, and they were having their own. Together. It’d only been two days since she told him, and it felt like a lifetime.

Kylo led her past crepe stands, cafes, and clothing shops to one of the many vintage stores in Harajuku. But not without Rey demanding they get crepes and visit a cat cafe after shopping.

“The cats are tourist traps, but if you want to see them, we can. But you have a cat already, don’t you?”

“I’m afraid I’ll have to rehome Bee-Bee soon. Being pregnant, I can’t clean his litter box anymore. I’m sure Mara has suspected something, but I’ve feigned forgetfulness.”

Kylo pondered that as they walked into the shop. She rummaged through the jammed-packed racks, breathing in the smell of the old clothing. She found a few dresses and made a show of trying to hide them from him—crumbling them up and sticking them behind her back. “You aren’t telling me where we’re going, so you’ve lost clothes-judging privileges. You can wait outside, thank you very much. And get me a strawberry crepe. Your kid wants something sweet.”

He chuckled and threw up his hands. “Sure, blame it on the kid. Can you speak enough Japanese to ask for a dressing room?”

“Watch me.”

He looked her up and down, wishing they were at home so he could fuck her. That aggression—he liked that aggressive part about her, even as it made his jaw clench.

When he came back with her crepe, she was standing outside the shop, a smile on her face.

“Success?” he asked.

She smiled wider. “You’ll see.”

 


 

But he didn’t. Before they could leave the house, she wrapped in one of his long coats to hide her dress, she was sick again. “I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” she repeated, rushing to the bathroom and shutting the door.

He waited outside in his jacket and tie, gently knocking on the wood every minute or two and asking if she was okay. When she emerged, she was pale like on Sunday at the wedding and stripped down to her underwear. She fell into his chest and buried her nose into him. “You had reservations again, didn’t you?” she asked.

“It’s not a big deal, babe. I can reschedule. You should lie down.” He led her to the bedroom, gently undoing the intricate twist she had her hair up in and helping her take off her bra. “Sick and still don’t want me to see the dress, huh?”

“It was supposed to be a surprise… It’s in the bathroom,” she said. “Please don’t look.”

“I won’t, but I want you to see a doctor here in Tokyo.”

“I already have my doctor in London.”

It was too early, wasn’t it? To be thinking of a permanent solution—her living with him? That would require marriage. Golden glinting wedding ring. Wedding ring. Wedding ring. Wedding ring. Golden glinting. Fourth finger. He swallowed and tucked her in.

“You’re right, you do. But maybe a change in nausea meds?”

Rey nodded. “Can you get me some water?”

He took care of her the rest of the night, holding her hair when she felt the urge to vomit. By 8:30, she was dozing in his arms, the TV on some Japanese game show. Suddenly, she whispered, “I didn’t get to ask my question today.”

His heart pounded. He’d hoped she would forget about it. “Ask away.”

“I need to know.” She was wide awake now, hand propping up her head. Her eyebrows were furrowed, eyes reflecting back a strangeness, like she was remembering pain or the faint shape of it. Pain from the past. How she’d looked when he first saw her in Tokyo, but without the shock. And then she whispered the words he’d known were coming for two days, “Why did you leave?

“Maybe you should rest tonight?” he asked, tucking her hair behind her ears.

“Ben… I know it’s painful. I know it’s not a question you want to answer, but you told me I could talk to you. What happened… with everything? With the English Republic? With Han?”

“Why I left and what happened with Han? Those are two questions. One a day.”

“Then answer whichever one you want.” When he didn’t respond, she continued, “Please?”

“The key questions, right? What you always wanted to know. Why can’t you be happy that I’m here now? That I want to be with you. That I-I-I…” He swallowed. “That I love you.”

Her eyes filled with tears. “You love me?”

“You really think I’d be here if I didn’t? You scare the shit out of me.” He placed his hands on her stomach. “This scares the shit out of me. And the past? I wish I could erase it. What happened, I wish it didn’t exist.”

“When you said I wasn’t alone…” The tears spilled onto her cheeks. She paused, breathed. “Neither are you.”

He kissed her, relishing the softness of her lips, the taste of her tears on his tongue. He held her as tightly as humanly possible. She seemed to fit, to mold and meld with his body. He breathed in her kisses, their foreheads together.

“I know it’s painful. I know what I’m asking you, but I want to feel close to you. I don’t want to have this between us going forward. Please.”

“Okay,” he said. “Come out with me to the balcony? I need some air.”

She nodded, and he helped her out of bed. When they both were decently dressed, she in her only pair of pajama pants and one of his old t-shirts—the Slayer logo fading and dull—they moved to the balcony.

The lights were like fading emergency signals, the air humid and warm. Abruptly Kylo remembered a night on his balcony in Kyoto, Rey beside him, her hair damp from the shower , laughing at some joke he couldn’t even remember. Yet he recalled that sound. He always could.

He wanted a cigarette, wanted to feel the smoke as it glided into his lungs and released—a painkiller dulling his senses into numbness. But he didn’t light up. He took her into his arms, wondering at the feel of her stomach underneath his fingertips. It wasn’t only about him now. None of it was. Neither of you. Neither are you. Neither are you.

They stood in silence for a while, Rey gripping the railing, he onto her from behind.

His voice cut through the stillness. “I left because I had to,” he said. “I worked for the English Republic. I built it. Secured us meetings with boards across Japan. Tokyo. Kyoto. Sapporo. I was good at it. In two years, the company grew tremendously, but I felt like it wasn’t me. There were things… things that I was dealing with back then. Coming to terms with. There was an investor in the company I didn’t like, but Luke said we needed him. That the company wouldn’t grow. We wouldn’t be able to take sufficient salaries or train our teachers without his funds. I met Alexander who was then the ambassador for First English. He wanted a partnership between the English Republic and First English. It was an opportunity. We wouldn’t need that particular investor anymore. Luke and Leia didn’t like the idea of merging companies one day, not even the idea of working together as partners. But I knew we could grow the company faster if we did. Leia was handling the recruiting in the U.K. and America. Going to colleges and getting people interested in Japanese culture and coming to Japan. So I referred some of them to First English in exchange for contacts with the boards we hadn’t been able to get an audience with yet. They found out about it. And then there was Yuki and I. She was pushing me to get married so her parents would accept our relationship more. They didn’t like her staying the night with me all the time. I guess, dealing with the stress, I made a really stupid mistake. It was about three months after your visit to Japan. I got a D.U.I.”

Rey tensed underneath him. “A D.U.I.? Did anyone get hurt?”

“No, but Japan has a zero tolerance policy, and I was arrested.”

She tensed further, but didn’t say anything.

“I asked Luke if he would help me keep it quiet and try to get the case dismissed. Usually there isn’t a problem as long as it isn’t leaked to the media. Luke and Leia wanted me to enter a rehab facility in the U.K.” Kylo remembered that call home—first talking to Luke, then to Leia. Han had been away, as usual. You need to get help. Get help, they’d both said. Like he wasn’t their family, a criminal.

A monster.

Kylo continued, “I refused. Without agreeing to go, they wouldn’t actively try to keep the information out of the media’s hands or work to get it dismissed. But they weren’t only concerned about the D.U.I… Yuki and I got into a… physical fight the same night, and Yuki called Leia. That’s why I left the apartment.”

“Did you… did you hurt her?” Rey’s voice cracked.

“Yes,” he said without hesitating. “I pushed her. She fell into my table and cut her hand. She was shocked not mad, and the cut wasn’t deep. She begged me not to go, that she was alright, but I left anyway, and everything I’d worked for had the potential to be destroyed, because they wouldn’t help.” Kylo wouldn’t tell her about what else Luke knew, what else he’d covered and swept underneath threats of the company coming undone. It didn’t matter now. “That was the end of it. Alexander had contacts within the government and offered to pay off the right people if I joined First English. It was a good offer. I took it and the accusation was thrown out. I haven’t looked back.”

Yes, you have, his mind screamed. Liar. That’s what you’re good at. Leaving. Lying.

Rey breathed in and out, her stomach rising underneath Kylo’s fingertips. He braced himself for her accusations, for her to confirm what his family had that night, what his mother had since sending him off to Japan.

He closed his eyes, and when he opened them, she was there—standing on her toes, her breath in his face. “I love you too,” she said simply.

“Why? I told you I got a D.U.I. and hurt my ex-girlfriend.”

She tilted her head to the side. “Do you remember how I used to aggravate you and pull on your ears? Or how I would bite you really hard when you made me mad?”

“Dumbo I think you called me, and I think I still have a scar on my shoulder with your teeth marks. But that’s not the same.”

“I’m sorry,” she said.

“Don’t be,” he replied. “I deserved it. I liked to aggravate you too.”

“All those times I was good to you, and you to me. All the times I made you smile or helped you cook dinner. The times you took me for ice cream, how you would call me and ask about how I was adjusting with your family when no one else did. We were both good to each other. Should I disregard the 90% good for the 10% shit or even the 70% good for the 30% shit? Call you an alcoholic or an abuser for one night of lapse in judgment? What do you want me to say?”

“I hadn’t thought about it like that.” He paused. “But you hated me. In Tokyo.”

“I did. Because I didn’t understand where you were coming from. You left without saying anything. What was I supposed to think? Though, admit it, you were an arsehole in the beginning.”

“Fair enough.” He laughed. “That’s some deep shit. You sure you’re only twenty-one?”

“Why does age matter? You’re older than me, so what?”

He knew now what his question was going to be for the day. “Have you done anything in a relationship you regret?”

“Of course. Do you remember when I told you about my second relationship?”

He nodded.

“I don’t know if it was because I went completely insane, but... The more he cheated on me, the more unempathetic he was… I pushed him once or twice or hit him when we’d have a row. Nothing that left a mark, but wrong nonetheless. He never touched me.”

“Han and Leia would get into it sometimes. Mostly when he’d drink,” Kylo found himself saying. “Can I ask a favor?”

“Anything,” she said.

“I don’t wanna answer the question about what happened with my father. Not yet. I didn’t hurt him though, if you’re wondering. I’ll tell you someday, I promise. Okay?”

“Okay.” Rey turned her attention back to the city, gripping the handrail again. “Japan is always so quiet,” she said, her voice far away. “I think I understand why now.”

 


 

Time passed. At some points suspended, their highlights sticking out in Kylo’s mind like multi-colored page markers in a kanji book. Spring was fading. The humidity and heat in the air marked the turn to summer, purple wisteria petals withering against green grass, floating in puddles of light rain. On Thursday, the next day, Rey sat next to him, downing an ice cream cone. She was better than last night, and before he took her to the doctor, they wandered around the imperial palace gardens.

“Isn’t it a little early for ice cream?” he asked her when she pulled the premade cone from the freezer and paid the cashier.

“Tell your kid that,” she said, tearing off the plastic top and plopping the entire top of the cone into her mouth.

Rey relaxed into him on the bench and placed her head on his shoulder. Kylo wondered at that—the way she’d turned her body to face him or how she melted into him, closer and closer. Different after last night.

He eyed her ice cream. “You gonna give me a bite of that?”

She paused, looking back and forth between him and the treat.

“Sure.” She smashed it lightly into his face, the cold freezing his lips. “There. That’s for making me go to the doctor. Now sod off.”

“Saw that one coming,” he said, wiping off the mess.

“What was your first time like?”

He blinked. “What?”

“Your first time having… you know,” she said in a lowered voice. “I told you about mine. What was yours like?”

“We’re in public,” he whispered, looking around. “There are people who can speak English here.”

“Then you better be quiet. I’m curious.”

“Pregnancy hormones?”

“It’s not bloody pregnancy hormones,” she snapped. “Why do men always blame everything on hormones? I just want to know.”

He played with her fingers. “After the doctor, I’ll tell you.”

Kylo took her to an English-speaking doctor Yumiko recommended who prescribed her a new anti-nausea medication, and when they were back at his apartment, laying down in his bed, he spoke. Soft. Gentle. In remembrance. “You wanna know about my first time?”

She rolled her eyes and kissed his nose. “Finally.”

Kylo didn’t like to remember the first time he experimented with sex. The confusion, the distortion of what he truly liked. “My first sexual encounter was with a guy,” he said.

“A guy?” She laughed. “Oh God, you’re serious. You? With a guy?”

“It didn’t go well,” he admitted.

“Did you think you were gay?”

“For a while, I thought I might be bisexual. But then I experimented with women. And yeah… definitely straight. I don’t know what you call sex or a first time.” The first time having sex on his on his own accord or…?  

“All? What was it like?”

“I didn’t get far. I had to stop in the middle of it. Wasn’t turned on. Fucked up, right?” He remembered thinking he had a flaw in his code—when he watched violent gay porn and dreamed of acting out some of it. He’d asked his friend, who had also been questioning, to experiment with him. But while his friend had actually discovered he was gay from that encounter, Kylo shuddered when he remembered.  

“I mean, you like who you like. You can’t help that. Liking men or women isn’t wrong. It doesn’t say anything about you. It just seemed like you were only interested in women.”

“I am. I don’t like men,” he said, point blank, feeling her up. “I was confused.”

“I guess so. It seems strange for you though—experimenting with men when you’re so adamant about being straight.”

He grabbed her breasts, feeling himself react to her as he always did. “I don’t really know, Rey. I was confused. My parents were always fighting.” But that wasn't it; that wasn’t it at all. She didn’t question him further.

Later, after a light dinner, when they lay awake in the dark room both unable to sleep this time, he asked, “What do you remember about your parents?”

She rested her head against his chest. “Not much. Shadows here and there. A woman. A man.” She furrowed her eyebrows. “I was so young. I’m sorry. I don’t remember much.”

“It’s okay.”

“I remember painting a wall. I took off all my clothes because I think I didn’t want to get them dirty. Mara has the picture. It’s one of the few things I have from before.”

“Is that how our kid will be?”

“I don’t know. Maybe. If she takes after me.”

“Still think it’s a girl?”

“I have a feeling, and I want a girl.” She played with a piece of his hair. “A girl with your hair. You with a daughter. She’d be wrapped around your finger.”

He smiled at that, kissing her face. “No boys then?”

“Well we can’t choose, can we? I just think a boy would be harder.”

A boy. Kylo didn’t like to think about it. A girl would be easier; she wouldn’t be like him.

“Is there anything else you remember? Do you know what happened to your parents?”

Rey shrugged. “I don’t know the hows or whys. I do remember a woman and a man, but only a shadow of the man. It could’ve been anyone. I don’t know.”

“I find it hard to believe that they up and left you at a fire station. Without consequence.”

“It wasn’t without consequence. When they finally identified my birth mum, they found her dead. Her name was Hayley. Hayley Lee. It was a drug overdose they said. There was no father on the birth certificate, but I do remember a man. Somehow. He didn’t have any hair. It might’ve been a boyfriend, not necessarily my father.”

“I’m sorry, Rey.”

“Oh, it’s alright,” she said, kissing him.

He could press her for more information—ask her to recall the little she remembered, but it would be self-indulgent.

Kylo, more than anyone, knew there were some things better left buried.

 


 

Friday came. Her last full day. Tomorrow she’d leave. For only the second time that week, Kylo woke up with her, his arm wrapped around her stomach.

After breakfast, they dressed together, and he took her to the park near his apartment. “Tomorrow, you fly out of Narita at ten in the morning,” he said. “So we need to get up earlie—”

“Could we not talk about tomorrow?” She stopped walking and plopped onto a bench. Her face was unreadable, eyes focused straight ahead. “I know what time I need to get up. I don’t want to spend any of our last full day together talking about tomorrow.”

He sat down next to her and brought her fingers to his lips. “Then tonight? I rescheduled our reservations.”

“That sounds nice. If I don’t get sick again.”

“San dome no shoujiki. Third time’s the charm as the cliche goes.”

“The Japanese have it too? Well let’s hope it’s luckier than the English version.”

Kylo kept her busier than any other day. He spent the day showing her around Tokyo—first Sensoji Temple, the smoke from the purifying caldron thick and musty. He’d only been a few times before, but like her, he still wondered at its beauty, the ancientness around them.

Suddenly, she touched his arm. “What’s that?”

“Omikuji. Fortune papers. You draw a number written on a bamboo stick from that.” He pointed to one of the metal hexagon boxes on the counter. “Then you find the box with your number and retrieve your fortune. It’s a scam. An easy one-hundred yen for them.”

“I’m Kylo Yakuza Ren,” she mocked in his American accent. “Been on the streets since ‘99. I don’t do fortunes. They’re such a scam.”

He glared at her, but she continued to smile.

“Stop being so cynical. It looks fun.” She pulled him along toward building.

After he deposited the money in the collector’s slot, he showed her how to shake the box for her number. She gave it a couple good jerks and the bamboo stick popped out at the bottom.

“What’s it say?” she asked.

“Sixty-three.” He briefly explained the kanji to her, pointing to each character and saying its pronunciation. Together they found the matching box, and she pulled it open, retrieving one of the pieces of paper inside.

The kanji, “Kyo 凶,” stared back at them. Kylo was silent.

“What does it mean?” Rey asked.

“Bad fortune, a curse. Flip it over. There might be English on the back.”

And there was. Quickly, Rey read out loud, “It is hard to unravel a tangled thread. Oppressed with sorrow, you can’t tell whether it is right or not. You find yourself in hard, awkward circumstance like being caught in a fishing net. Even though you may have a lot of trouble and sorrow, everything will be alright if you are patient and have faith in Buddhism.” She stopped and pointed to the sentences with asterisks next them. “Are these all the possible bad scenarios?”

He nodded, reading to himself. *Your wish will not come true. *The sick person is hopeless. *The lost article will not be found. *The person you are waiting for will not come. *Building a new house and removal are both bad. *It is bad to make a trip. *Neither marriage nor employment is bad.

“The English is a bit wrong, isn’t it?” Rey observed.

“Japanese is very different from English. They try their best.”

“I wonder if I should cancel my flight, huh?

“It’s a stupid fortune. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s rare to get a good one.”

A few moments passed in silence before Kylo pointed to a section of horizontal metal poles and said, “Okay, now you have to tie it to there so it doesn’t follow you home as the superstition goes.”

He showed her how to fold and tie the curse. “Too bad we don’t believe in Buddhism,” he said, fiddling with the paper. “Maybe everything won’t be alright for nonbelievers.”

“I think Buddhism is actually quite fascinating,” she said and explained her interest in more detail. He found out that it intrigued her as much as it did him even if they both didn’t believe—how it spoke to her in ways that other religions didn’t.

But even with all the beauty of Tokyo and talks of religion the omikuji had evoked, a part of him wished they’d stayed in Kyoto. Going to the market, walking down Philosopher's Path, eating matcha parfaits and sitting in a cafe.

“It’s not red,” Rey said, staring up at the entrance to Yoyogi Park—a giant unpainted wooden Torii gate.

“Some of them aren’t,” Kylo replied, leading her through. “We can go to Kamakura if you want. It’s like a little Kyoto.”

“But would it be the same?”

He shook his head. “Nowhere in Japan is like Kyoto. But maybe we can make the best of it? Next time you come, we’ll spend a week in Kyoto. I promise.”

Rey was silent, eyes downcast. “Okay.”

Kylo found himself looking down at his watch more, each step resounding in his mind like the finality of a ring from an altar bell. They’d said goodbye numerous times already. It should’ve felt easy, but with her, it never was.

At lunch in a small cafe, he sat down next to her and not across, his hand glued to her thigh. The new medication seemed to be working—or maybe she was growing out of the nausea. Next week, she’d be twelve weeks. Almost out of the first trimester and three months pregnant.

From not wanting kids to being unable to stop touching her stomach. In only three months. From not having anyone in eight years to dating again. In three months.

 


 

Crimson red lace. Kylo stopped. Rey walked out from the bathroom and regarded him with rigid posture.

“Gave up on the coat?” he asked, his eyes wandering up her body—up the delicate floral lace to the smallest part of her waist cinched by the material.

“It’s too hot.”

He embraced her, staring down at her face.

“You seem to like this dress,” she observed.

He pulled back a little and studied the fabric again; it clung to her curves and flared near her hips. “The color is nice on you.”

“Your favorite. I remembered. And I see you’re wearing a yellow shirt.”

He pressed his lips to her hair. “You,” he whispered, not quite sure what he meant to say.

“Me,” she replied with a laugh, burying her face into his chest. They stayed like that for a while before he tried to pull back to look at her face. She didn’t budge.

“Rey? What’s the matter?”

He realized then that she was crying, low whimpers muffled against his chest. “Rey?” he repeated, still trying to pry her off. “You not feeling good? We can stay in.”

“It’s not that,” she said, finally pulling back. Her mascara was running down her face, nose red. “Sorry. Let me fix my makeup and then we can go.”

He didn’t know what to do or what to say the whole way in the taxi to the restaurant. She didn’t want to talk about tomorrow, and he knew it wasn’t wise if she was already getting upset.

He tried not to think of it, making sure to pull out her chair for her and place her purse in the holder underneath the table. However, she was quiet and her eyes wouldn’t meet his.

“I’ve never had udon,” she admitted, staring at the menu. “Or authentic udon, I suppose.”

“The curry udon is the best. It’s what I’m getting.”

She nodded. “I’ll have that too, I think. And a melon soda.”

Once they ordered, they both looked out at the city below them, he watching her from the corner of his eye, but she continued to avoid his gaze. “This is a really nice restaurant,” she said. “Spectacular view. Thank you.”

“It’ll only be for five weeks,” he blurted out.

“I know. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. I was so determined to do this—the pregnancy alone if you decided you didn’t want it. And now…” Her face scrunched up; she dabbed at her eyes with her napkin. “I’m sorry. I’m a mess.”

He reached into his inside jacket pocket, pulling out a red box. “I have something for you.”

“Hmm?”

He slid the box across the table. “Open it.”

Rey picked it up and carefully pried open the lid. Her lips curled into a wide smile. “Ben… It’s beautiful.”

Kylo stood and walked to her, placing the necklace around her neck. Against her skin, the silver shone radiant, each petal on the lotus pendant luminous. “I had it made about a month ago,” he said. “I was going to give it to you on Saturday at dinner.”

She looked down at it, fingers fiddling with the metal. “Thank you.”

“I meant to ask you formally,” he said once he sat down and brought her hand to his lips. “Will you be my girlfriend?”

Her eyes filled with tears again. “So you were going to ask me nicely.”

“I know I suck at all this.” He gestured to her hand against his lips. “But yeah. I was. You didn’t give me the chance.”

She sobbed quietly into her napkin. He knew it was a combination of hormones, the idea of being separated, and going through the pregnancy alone for the next five weeks, but thinking about the logic didn’t stop his heart from lurching.

He kissed her fingers. “Is that a yes?”

“Of course. Absolutely. Yes, yes, yes.”

“Good. Now you have to stop crying before everyone thinks I’m breaking up with you.”

She laughed. “I hate you.”

After that, Kylo distracted her with kanji, talks of astronomy, politics, and places he’d visited. The workings of the world he didn’t yet understand. She provided new insights like she’d done when she was a teenager, always a step ahead of him. He found himself staring silently at her, a finger pressed to his lips.

“There is something different about you. Otherworldly,” he muttered.

“Well maybe I am. Maybe we are. Maybe we are billions of years old. Rebirth, soulmates, and all that jazz. Maybe it exists. What do I know?”

Silently, he pulled out a pen, wrote the kanji for “Rei” (霊), and passed it to her.

“What’s this?” she asked picking it up.

“Your name in Japanese.” He took the paper from her and wrote it in roman characters underneath. “It can have other kanji associated with it, but this one means ‘spirit’ or ‘ghost.’”

It seemed to work—distracting her with topics or food. She didn’t cry again.

When they got home, he helped her out of her dress. He’d suggested they go out, but she was too tired. He knew the real reason, however. It was in every step they’d taken back to his apartment, in every word spoken. Everything numbered.

She curled into his chest on the bed, and the tears came again. “Rey,” he whispered. “You’re killing me. You gotta stop. It’s not tomorrow yet.”

She sobbed more.

“Why don’t we go out? What do you say?”

She shook her head and clung tighter to him. Was this how she’d reacted when he left her before? He pressed his lips to hers, letting them linger, lost in her eyes. Again and again, without intent or desire. She continued to cry, and looking at her, in those brief moments when he pulled away from her mouth, an aching settled into his body.

It was her this time that tugged off his boxers. Her that guided him inside her. Her that grabbed his hips and forced him to thrust harder.

“Your body is amazing,” he whispered, savoring the feel of her with each thrust. “Do you know that?”

The tears started again.

“Hey, hey, look at me,” he said, and she did, her eyes bleary. “It won’t be for long. I’ll be there for your appointment. I promise.”

She pulled him closer and buried her face into his shoulder. “It’s half that. I’m worried you’ll have second thoughts about us. That you’ll… you’ll leave again.” She broke down, soaking his chest.

“Hey, hey, look at me.” He grabbed her face and stared into her eyes. “You.”

“Me.”

“You,” he repeated, trying to force the words out. Two days ago, he’d done it, impulsively, but now, nothing came.

“Are you…?” She sat up, murky light falling on her chest. “I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to make you upset too.” She swiped at his eyes and kissed him, hard. “We’re a mess.”

When he didn’t reply, she grabbed his hips again, encouraging him to resume. The dance was different, their tears mixing and falling onto the sheets, onto each other. Her moans, her breath in his ear, the sound filled with pleasure. He wouldn’t hear it for five weeks, wouldn’t be able to feel how she tightened around him. With each pass of his fingers between her legs, she became tighter, wetter—her teary eyes glued to his. Her breath hitched; her mouth hung open. The light, the hazel in her eyes, strands of yellow and brown. Her skin, her hips, her, her, her. She was… The tension released, their moans blended together. He pulled her tighter, thrust harder, the euphoria falling over his mind like summer rain. All he could see was her. Her laughing. Her smiling. Her, her, her.

Coming down from the high, she settled against his chest, fingers running circles across his sticky skin. “You know, you’re quite good at this,” she said.

“Sex? Been doing it for a long time.”

“I worry if that’s all our relationship is. If this is all we’re good at.” She took a breath. “What was the worst thing that happened to you as a child?”

Kylo froze. “That’s a random dark question. Why?”

“Please answer it. Honestly.”

The pressure on his shoulder. Golden glinting wedding ring, fourth finger. Pain in his belly. He’d pushed it down for the past two days, slept, did well. But now it flew to the forefront of his mind. He couldn’t tell her because she wouldn’t understand. No one had. A different thing. Yes, a different thing. He needed a different story—any story. He told her of a few instances, how Han would sometimes yell at him when he was drunk, how he had few friends growing up, the way kids would make fun of him, pulling out their ears to mimic him. And finally, how a kid once pushed him down and caused him to break his arm.

“That’s horrible,” she said. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s okay. Why’d you ask?”

“Well.” She swallowed. “Do you remember how you asked me about being sexually abused? I lied to you. So I wonder if this is all we’re good at—having sex.”

“What happened?”

“I think one of my foster brothers tried to… you know. I was eight; he was fourteen. He started touching me at night sometimes through my clothes. He’d come into my room and tell me if I screamed that I would be in trouble. One night I woke up to him on top of me. This time was different. He pinned me to the bed and tried to take off my clothes. We fought; I got away and ran to the living room. I guess my foster mother heard us struggle. The last thing I remember is her running in. Shards of glass were embedded in my hands and arms. The pain was excruciating. I must’ve fell into the glass display case they had in the living room. I was moved to a new family after that.” She let out a nervous laugh. “I haven’t told anyone this. I’m sorry I lied to you. For years I thought it was my fault. Silly, I know, but it was the worst thing that ever happened to me.”

Kylo stared blankly at her, the throbbing in his chest back tenfold. If he told her, if he released the memories, could she understand? Would she believe him? And if she did, would she use it against him?

“I’m sorry, Rey,” he said instead. “That’s… he was a sick fuck.”

No, he couldn’t tell her—not tonight. Maybe one day, another day. But for now, he knew—she could possibly be the only person to ever understand him.

Maybe.

 


 

On the last morning, they hardly spoke. Kylo watched Rey go through the motions of packing, helping her when she asked, his mouth set in a firm line. He cooked her breakfast, made sure she ate most of it and took her nausea medication, but both spoke only out of necessity.

Rey was still silent on the way to the airport, her dry face pressed against the window. No music this morning. He knew it. She knew it. Better to delay it for as long as possible, to not speak and let the stillness fall over them.

He parked the car, grabbed her suitcase. Together they walked to her check-in point, she looking at her feet.

“Thank you for everything,” she said numbly in a low voice. Her eyes snapped to his.

All at once, they came together—fervently—their lips colliding, ignoring everyone else around them. “Five weeks,” he whispered between kisses. “Five weeks—that’s it.” He cradled her face, thumbs caressing her cheeks. “I’m not going to change my mind about us. Do you understand?”

Rey nodded, the held-back tears finally released.

“Do you think I want you to go?” He looked down at her, his eyes blurry. “You’ve got my kid, remember? You have…” He shook his head. Everything, he wanted to say.

She nodded again, bringing his hand to her lips.

“You’re not alone,” he whispered, placing a kiss on her forehead. “You’re never alone.”

“Neither are you.” She cried into his shirt, make-up and tears staining the fabric. He caressed her cheeks and reassured her over and over—he wasn’t going anywhere, apart or not. He told her about all the things they’d do in London, the restaurants they’d eat at, the parks they’d go to, repeating it until her tears dried and her lips transformed into a smile.

But then, eventually, his arms held nothing at all.

 

 


 

Kylo tossed his keys on the entryway table, walked to the kitchen, and poured himself a glass of whiskey. He leaned against the counter, sipping away. The apartment was quiet, empty, the only sound the slight whir of the air con. He went to pour himself another, but caught sight of the ultrasound picture and froze. The baby, growing inside of her for the next five weeks without him there. The grainy lines he’d ran his hands over for the past week, each memorized.

He paced the apartment, room to room. The paintings she’d picked stared back at him. She’d chosen mostly ones with flowers—cherry blossoms and lotuses, their petals delicate, brush strokes airy. The ones he’d painted when he thought of her.

He moved to the bedroom. There was something on the nightstand—a picture, some of the edges torn. He moved closer, picked it up. It was a picture from that spring. She’d had it all this time. Her teenage form stared back at him, dirty brown hair whipped into tangles, hands clinging to his arm. Endless pink enveloped them—rows and rows of cherry blossoms, their branches teeming with flowers in full bloom. Yet the beauty was ignored, their gazes fixed on each other.

There was something taped to the back of the picture. A note. A picture for a picture, it read in her neat print. I don’t need it anymore. His shoulders felt lighter—and heavier at the same time. The hand replaced with a new weight, a new thought. A permanence he hadn’t considered before.

Kylo smiled and looked down. He’d forgotten to take his shoes off.

Chapter Text

Rey

“Hello, love,” Mara said, enveloping Rey into a hug. “How was your flight?”

Rey breathed in her smell—a discontinued perfume that Luke always managed to find a bottle of online. Sweet and musky. It felt like home, her home, but right now it made her stomach churn with another bout of scent-triggered morning sickness.

“Mm. It was fine. I’m a bit jet lagged, but I was comfortable.”

Much more comfortable than the ride there with that kid kicking the back of her seat. It felt like ages ago, even if it’d only been a week. A week of being with Ben, of waking up to his kisses, learning about his past. Simply being with him. Rey had spent the entire flight back playing with the lotus pendant around her neck and trying to make sense of the last week. She’d taken that flight to Japan almost sure he’d tell he wanted nothing to do with her or their child, and she’d returned home his girlfriend. Ben’s girlfriend.

“You’ve barely called me,” Mara said. “I was worried sick when you told me you were in the hospital. "

“I’m sorry. It was so last minute—me taking off work. I must’ve caught a stomach bug, but I’m feeling better now.”

Mara pulled back, holding Rey by the shoulders. "Did you have fun with your friend?”

"Yeah, I had fun." Rey looked away.

Mara raised her eyebrows and gave her that look. The look that meant Mara was waiting for further explanation. Silence fell between them, an aching settling into the bottom of Rey’s stomach. Had Leia told her? How much did she know?

When they got home, Luke was cooking something strong, the smell putrid.

“Hey, Rey, how was your flight?” he asked, continuing to sauté whatever the vile thing was in the frying pan. “I thought we’d have an early dinner.”

Rey took a few deep breaths, covering her mouth. “Fine. I’m not feeling so well, though.”

“Is everything okay?” Mara asked, rubbing her back. “Why don’t you go lie down?”

Rey couldn’t hold her reaction back anymore. Without answering her, she rushed to her bedroom, threw her bags down, and stood over the bathroom sink breathing heavily.

“What’s the matter?”

Rey jumped at the sound of Mara’s voice. She’d been good at hiding the sickness for the past two months. There’d been a few occasions where she thought Mara was close to finding out—when Rey had to leave meetings early due to sickness or when she’d bail out of eating meals with Mara.

All those times before Mara hadn’t looked at her suspiciously. Today was different. Today, her mouth was straight, eyebrows raised, green eyes wary.

“A midwife's office called the home phone while you were gone because they couldn’t reach you. Is there something you want to tell me?”

Crap. What should she say? “A pap smear,” she blurted out.

“I see,” Mara said. “Aren't you too young? I also thought you went to a GP for those. Well that’s all fine, then.”

That dreaded word— fine. Mara knew there was something Rey wasn’t telling her, but fine meant Mara wouldn’t press her further. Fine was an hourglass quickly running out of sand.

Rey wouldn’t speak, not yet. She needed to collect her thoughts, collect—

Buzz! Rey jumped again and pulled out her phone.

Kylo Ren

Can I call you? I can’t sleep. I want to hear your voice.

“Who’s that?” Mara asked.

“Rose,” she said, typing out a not yet, Mara is suspicious and sending it quickly.  

“I see. Fine.”

Rey excused herself from dinner, calling out an apology to Luke. He waved her off. “Don’t forget, you have a Japanese test on Monday. I want to see results.”

“Thanks for reminding me,” she said, walking back into her bedroom and pulling out her phone to text Ben. “I’ll be ready.”

Rey Jackson

I think they know. I don’t know what to do.

Kylo Ren

Can I call you, please?

Rey Jackson

No, they’ll hear. Distract me.

Kylo Ren

What do you want me to do?

Rey Jackson

Tell me something that makes you happy.

Kylo Ren

You. ;)

Rey Jackson

No, something else.

Kylo Ren

Fucking you? ;)

Rey Jackson

You’re terrible. Shouldn’t you be sleeping?

Kylo Ren

Can’t.

Rey Jackson

Why?

Bee-Bee jumped onto her lap, purring incessantly. “Have you been hiding in my room? I’m happy to see you too.” She played with Bee-Bee’s smushy face and stroked her belly. “You are the strangest cat ever, do you know that?” Rey whispered. Bee-Bee loved her stomach touched; Rey had found out by risking it one day when Bee-Bee rolled over, showing the white, matted tufts on her belly.

Rey’s phone buzzed again.

Kylo Ren

You’re not here.

She smiled at that. She remembered him waking up in the middle of the night when he’d thought she was asleep. Were they nightmares or something else, something more sinister? She’d wanted to ask him, but it’d felt wrong. So, she’d pretended to be asleep.

Kylo Ren

Your turn. Tell me something that makes you happy.

Rey thought of his mouth, the shape slightly lopsided when he smiled, how his laugh had sounded when he twirled her around the sitting room. How it changed at the restaurant, eyes determined but soft when he asked her to be his girlfriend. Lips brushing across each of her knuckles, slight wetness on her skin. Thinking of it now made her eyes fill with tears. She thought of the painting wrapped and buried in her suitcase, his admittance he’d painted it when he forgot her smile. His body dancing in rhythm with hers, meeting her hips hungrily, gently. His grunts of pleasure, low and deep, him releasing inside of her, eyes wide, hands reaching up to cup her stomach.

She’d left it all behind.

Rey Jackson

I don’t want to be back home. :’(

She couldn’t answer the question, phone limp in her hand.

Kylo Ren

Are you okay?

Rey placed her phone on the bedside table, too upset to lock it. For the thousandth time within twenty-four hours, the tears were back, snot clogging her nose. Ridiculous . She was being ridiculous. She’d just spent the last week on vacation with him.

Buzz!

Kylo Ren

Rey? Talk to me.

Rey Jackson

I already hate this.

Video call from Kylo Ren. Answer. Decline.

She immediately hit “answer” and the screen filled with him in the muted light of his bedroom, head resting on his pillow. The place where she’d been less than twenty hours ago. The tears came down faster. “I know we gotta be quiet,” he whispered. “You’re beautiful. You know that?”

Rey laughed, rubbing her nose. “You’re not too bad yourself. Funny, I don’t think I’ve ever told you how attractive you are.”

“You didn’t need to tell me,” he joked with a wink. “Telling me to fuck you that first night together without a condom. Bad girl.”

She smiled, gesturing toward her stomach. “Yeah, well look where it got me.”

The happiness was brief. She fell apart again, the tears coming down harder.

“Rey? Look at me.”

She did as she’d done numerous time the past week. His eyes reflected the light from his dim bedside lamp, each slightly damp.

“I know this isn’t an ideal situation, but we’ll make it work,” he said softly.

Rey didn’t know how. She didn’t know how she’d keep her news from Mara and Rose, didn’t know how to handle the next five weeks without him. Ridiculous, she reminded herself. You’re being ridiculous.

If Ben agreed, he didn’t say, and the look in his eyes never faltered.

 


 

Kylo

Without her, going to sleep and waking up became a chore. Cooking became a chore. He’d spent the last eight years living alone, but after one week, he didn’t know what to do without her. So, he threw himself into his work, painted. Distractions, distractions, distractions. Anything to keep him thinking of her tear-stained face last night, eyes puffy and red.

Emails. Sunday or not, he needed to work. He had at least two hundred unanswered ones from taking off last week. Boards throughout Japan, most those ending their contracts with their current companies after the summer holiday in August. Issues with teachers at schools requiring a manager’s presence to smooth the damage done with the principals or vice principals. Fixing issues—that’s what he did. Yet, he couldn’t stop Rey from crying, couldn’t stop them from being separated for the next five weeks. And the nightmares would still happen. He could fix everyone else’s problems but his own.

9 P.M. Meeting with Alexander and Huxley. Kylo’s eyes and head hurt from staring at a screen all day. Alexander went down the list of universities Huxley was set to speak at. They discussed Kylo coming along for a few of the presentations—representing in part the Japanese branch of their company, convincing young college students to take a poor salary at the promise of experiencing Japanese culture. What he’d done since joining First English.

Meeting finished, Huxley signed off with his signature smirk on his face, and Kylo fought the urge to roll his eyes. Guys like him took business jobs like a dick measuring contest, he knew. Business was Huxley’s life, as it had been Kylo’s for so long. But now with Rey, it all felt off, a bit empty.

Kylo was about to sign off himself when Alexander said, “Wait a moment. We’ve hardly spoken. Tell me about your week off.”

Kylo made up some bullshit excuse about needing a mental break—with moving and then watching his ex-girlfriend get married. It was overwhelming, he explained. “I’m having dreams again,” he also found himself admitting.

Alexander pressed a hand to his chin. “I strongly suggest you see a psychiatrist if it is interfering with your ability to work.”

“And what would they do? Tell me to take some stupid fucking pill that makes me numb to everything? Fuck that.”

“Language, please.”

Kylo shook his head. “Sorry. Forgot. Look, I get it. You’ve suggested I see someone for years. Maybe you’re right, but I don’t want to. I’ve handled it myself.”

Alexander flashed him a tight smile. “Many people that have suffered sexual abuse at early ages struggle with the events long after. It is why I’m so protective of my children.”

Kylo barely recalled Alexander’s family—he’d only met them once at a work gathering, his wife occasionally dropping by the office to bring Alexander lunch or something he’d forgotten at home.

“You never told me the reason,” Kylo said, his stomach in a knot. Kylo had only known he was going to be a father for a week, but Alexander’s actions abruptly began to make sense. A baby, his baby, sleeping in his arms. She’d be here in six months. Six months and his whole world would change.

“Miyuki was perfectly content with the idea of being a stay-at-home mother,” Alexander said. “Love has conditions and consequences as I’ve always said. Miyuki and my children know my expectations. Following them prevents the consequences for both them and myself. To protect our children from the world is our greatest responsibility.”

Kylo nodded. To protect our children… is our greatest responsibility. His family had failed at that. He wouldn’t.

Alexander continued, “I have also been meaning to apologize for how abruptly I sent you away. I should have discussed the idea with you before, but if we continue to lose contracts, you and I will both be out of jobs.” He paused, chuckled. “I’m sure you understand. I need you to manage the Tokyo office.”

Kylo nodded again. “Yeah, of course.” Rey’s words rang in his head: “He’ll crush you.” That might be true, sure, but Kylo didn’t plan on becoming useless to Alexander. It was the nature of the business, one he’d participated in for years. Money was money. Business was business.

Then came the question Kylo knew Alexander had wanted to ask all along, “Any progress on our Rey dilemma?”

“Not exactly, but I will figure it out, I assure you.”

“Good. The boards seem to like her spunk.” A brief smile tugged at his lips, eyes far away, like he was remembering something. “She has a very pleasing personality, doesn’t she?”

“She does. She’d be a great asset to us.”

The moment was over, the smile gone. “Yes, well, I’m glad we had the chance to speak. Keep up with the work, and I will ensure a salary increase.”

 


 

Rey

Rey unfolded her napkin across her lap, fingers fidgeting.

“So… how was your trip?” Rose asked with one of her signature smiles plastered across her face. “You messaged me like once the entire week! Come on, spill.”

They were at one of their usual Sunday brunch spots—a French restaurant ten minutes away from the office. It was the first time Rey had been here since getting pregnant, and the smells were already upsetting her stomach slightly.

“It was quite good. I’m sorry I didn’t talk to you much.”

“How was the wedding? Yuki was the one you met online, right?”

“Right. Yeah, it was great. She was beautiful. The vows were sweet.” Rey could almost feel Ben’s lips against her ear, whispering each word of the translation softy, like he’d been saying them to her. The only two people to exist in that artificial chapel.

Rose asked further about the food, the decorations, and what she did for the rest of the week. “I hung around Tokyo. It was a nice break.”

“Pictures!”

Rey pulled out her phone and scrolled through the pictures she’d taken of the last week, flicking past the ones with Ben. She didn't have a lot—the one of them with the deer, a secret one she’d snapped of him as he hung one of the paintings in his sitting room, him cooking dinner, and finally one of them together her last night in Tokyo at the restaurant overlooking the city.

“Wait a minute,” Rose said, swiping the phone from Rey’s hand. “I saw a guy. Were you with a guy? Do you have a boyfriend?!”

Rey swallowed and tried to steal her phone back; Rose held it out of range, her mouth hanging open. “You saw the deer in Nara together?” She continued to scroll through the pictures. “He’s an artist?”

Rey forced herself to nod.

“He’s…” Rose tilted her head to the side. “Interesting looking. Not quite your type? A little long in the face.”

Rey snatched her phone back at last.

“I’m teasing,” Rose said. “He’s attractive. Why didn’t you tell me?”

“We weren’t technically dating before.”

“You didn’t even say you were talking to anyone!” She shifted in her seat. “Awkward, okay. I told Niall you were single. He’s… interested.”

Rey couldn’t fight the laugh that rose to her lips. She’d met Niall when she first began to speculate she was pregnant—Ben’s child, another man—and Niall was interested in her? She’d guessed he was—what with the way his eyes had been glued to her face all night, but she hadn’t heard from him in a month. In that month, the world had crashed down around her. All she’d thought about was Ben, Ben, Ben. Talking to him, telling him her news. Wondering if they could make this, and their baby, work.

“Why is that funny?” Rose asked. “He’s been asking about you for a month. He won’t shut up. I told him I’d talk to you for him.”

“That’s sweet of you, but…” Rey remembered Leia’s elated reaction. Rose wouldn’t have the same response—she was twenty-six, five years older than Rey, and career-minded. Babies weren’t in that equation for Finn and Rose for a long time

Rey massaged her stomach. They definitely hadn’t been for her either. And look how that turned out. “I have something to tell you, and I need to say it before we order, or I might be sick.”

Rose turned her head to the side. “Okay…”

“I’m pregnant.”

“Is this a joke?” Rose asked, turning about. “Is there a hidden camera somewhere? Am I on TV?”

“No.” Rey reached into her purse and pulled out the first sonogram photo; she’d left the newer one with Ben. “This is the baby at eight weeks.”

Rose didn’t move to take the picture; she stared at it, blinking. “Rey, you, pregnant?” Her voice was a thin whisper.

“I know it’s not a good situation, but the umm, father is being really supportive, and I know I can make it work.”

“Come on. Are you serious?”

“Yes, I just told you. I’m pregnant.”

“How far along?”

“Twelve weeks.”

“You still have time plenty of time to think it through. I went to Waterspring for mine three years ago.”

Rey’s mouth fell slack. “You mean to get an abortion.”

“Accidents happen.”

“Yes, I know, but…” That was before Ben. Maybe if she’d gotten pregnant by anyone else other than him she would’ve considered it. Hands shaking, the pill pressed to her lips. She remembered the feel of the morning after pill against her tongue, flushing the sensation out with water. She’d gone over the decision to take it so many times and ended up pregnant regardless. Sometimes Rey wondered if it was a sign that this was the path her life was supposed to take, but that sounded crazy and not something she could explain to her friends or family. The thought of an abortion, of anything happening to their child made her stomach ache.

“Is the guy in the photo the father?”

Rey fiddled with her necklace, pressing the petals on the lotus into her fingertips. “Yes. He’s wonderful. I can’t imagine being with anyone else.”

“You love him.”

Her hand fell from her neck and into her lap. “I love you too.” She’d whispered it against his lips a few days ago, but there was something deeper and more real about an outside person verbalizing it, especially it being Rose.

“I know. I was stupid, but I’ll make it work.”

“Does he live in Japan?”

“Yes.” Rey explained the situation—Alexander swiftly transferring Ben to First English’s Tokyo office, the whole problem with him being there and her being here.

Rose asked, “What are you going to do when the baby comes?”

“We haven’t discussed it yet. We only started dating officially this week.”

“You guys move fast. So, a split household? What?”

Rey wasn’t sure what to tell her; she’d tried not to think of their future together—the baby being born seemed too out of the reach of her current issues with Ben.

“We’ll figure it out eventually,” Rey said.

“So that’s why you stayed an extra week. You weren’t helping Yuki move at all.” The waiter came to check on them and take their orders, but Rose stopped him. “We’re still waiting on our friends.”

“What friends?”

“Do you remember how I said Niall was interested? I know I should’ve checked with you, but I invited him out with us today and told Finn he could come too so Niall didn’t feel like a third wheel.”

Rey slumped in her chair. Finn occasionally joined them for breakfast or lunch on Sundays, but never Niall. “Why didn’t you say something?”

“You’ve been acting really distant lately. I mean I get it now.” She looked down at Rey’s stomach. “I thought it might cheer you up a bit. I didn’t realize you were seeing someone or that you were… pregnant .” The last word was a whisper—like saying fuck around Rose’s extremely religious mother.

“But you know I’m here for you,” Rose continued, face tight, eyes soft. “Even if you decide to keep it.”

“I appreciate that, and yes, I’m keeping it.” Rey forced a half-smile and wondered what Mara’s reaction would be like. Rose didn’t seem happy, but she was controlling it. That was the best Rey could hope for. A few moments passed until the bell on the front door jingled and Rey’s eyes locked on dirty blond hair and a warm smile. Niall was as she remembered him two months ago. Finn followed in after him, immediately leaning down to kiss Rose. “Hey, babe, hey, Rey,” he said.

Niall sat down next to Rey and leaned in for a side hug. Her body tensed. “Long time no see, stranger,” he muttered with a smile.

“Yeah. How are you?”

They made polite small talk for a few moments, and Rey fought the urge to either bail from the restaurant entirely or text Ben. She hadn’t planned on anyone but Rose knowing today—not even Mara, and Mara had still given her that look this morning.

She was running out of time.

They ordered; Niall talked about his job in client services. Rey found herself staring at his soft blue eyes. They didn’t have the same harshness as Ben’s did. Perhaps the world had been kinder to him. But hadn’t the world also been unkind to her? She hardly thought about those days before—six foster homes in ten years. It was in the past. She had a family now, friends, everything she’d wanted as a child. She used to sit up at night, orange light streaming in from her window, and imagine water slipping through her fingertips, vast emptiness stretching into the distance. The ocean. Not one surrounding England’s coast, but far away, in Jamaica or Fiji, the water impossibly turquoise and clear like glass. She used to imagine what it would be like to have a best friend she could sit next to at lunch and talk about boys with. She’d had friends, of course. What child didn’t have at least one person? But they never got too close, never invited her to their cliques or birthday parties. It wasn’t until her home life settled at twelve did she have close friends.

Ben. He’d been the first person. They used to sit up late in his apartment and talk about all the things they’d do when she turned eighteen. Lofty promises of concerts and places to visit together. It had been always focused on the future, and with their recent talk of the past, Rey was starting to understand why. Maybe that was exactly it—Ben had been the first person to show her that fantasies could be reality, that she didn’t have to live in the past or let it dictate what she should do with her life. She didn’t have to be the quiet girl without friends, the girl that talked to walls or any inanimate object that would listen. She could be what she wanted and have the friends she wanted. Travel, pursue a career. It was an interesting conundrum—Ben could spend all night with her talking of the future, but when he looked away, when he paused for the briefest of seconds, his eyes told a different story.

Niall’s were different—inviting, warm. The thing Rey saw in Ben briefly, quickly fading the next moment.

Niall was saying something to her. Rey’s eyes darted away from his.

“You okay? I asked how Japan was.”

“I went for a friend’s wedding,” Rey explained. She told him about the ceremony in the artificial chapel, the reception which had served sashimi and all sorts of Japanese delicacies, but she left out Ben and her hospital visit. It would be too difficult to explain and likely cause him to worry about her.

“Did you extend your trip? Rose said you were only going on holiday for a few days, and then you ended up staying a week?”

What should she say? The Yuki excuse? Her eyes met Rose’s in masked desperation.

“I told you, silly,” Rose said. “Rey’s friend asked her to stay the rest of the week to help her move into her husband’s house. She wanted to do it before their honeymoon and needed an extra hand.”

Niall grinned—a smile so genuine it made Rey sink further into her chair. “Wow.” He laughed. “That was really kind of you.”

“Not really. I help out when I can. I had the vacation time off.”

Their food arrived. Rey had chosen something she knew wouldn’t make her sick, a light salad, but it was always a gamble regardless.

The topics shifted between work, personal life, movies, music, and restaurants. It all reminded Rey of Ben, who was on the opposite side of the world likely trying to sleep. She wanted to be there with him. He would grab her stomach and leave soft kisses across her skin. The type of kisses that instantly made frowning impossible and giggles rise to her lips.

“We should have a movie night this week,” Rose suggested. “It’s usually only Rey and me, but maybe you boys want to join?”

“As long as it’s not a chick-flick,” Finn said, popping a piece of escargot into his mouth. Rey’s stomach churned at the sight.

Rose rolled her eyes. “You’re so narrow-minded. Some chick-flicks are really good.”

“Babe, last time you made us watch one about a guy that falls in love with a sex robot.” Finn leaned in toward Rey. “You and Poe dodged that one, but me and this guy”— He gestured to Niall — “had to sit through 120 minutes of mechanical banging.”

Rose slapped him, but Finn continued anyway. “I didn’t want to have sex for days.”

Rey laughed, covering her mouth.

“It wasn’t that bad,” Niall said with his water glass pressed to his lips. “I thought some of the jokes were decent.”

“See?” Rose said incredulously to Finn. “He appreciates me.”

When they were distracted, Rey turned away and pulled out her phone, a pang rising in her chest. Ben had texted her back.

Kylo Ren

Still can’t sleep. Will you be home soon?

“What’re you smiling at?” Finn asked.

Rey locked her phone and took a bite of her salad. “Nothing.”

“There might be another person joining us soon,” Rose stated, sucking her lips in.

Rey paused, mid bite. Rose wouldn’t tell them about the baby yet, would she?

Thankfully, Finn said, “Our girl has a boyfriend? Whattttt?”

Rey shrunk back into her chair. Finn and Rose knew all about her previous boyfriend at nineteen, Marcus, the one who’d made “it’s not what it looks like” a running joke in their friend group. After him, Rey had sworn off men—taking a literal pledge over two bottles of wine and sealing it with a swear on Rose’s pinky. Ben was different and had always been. Rey smiled.

Niall. His eyes were locked on hers, lips offering a weak grin. Her face fell.

“Yeah,” Rey said, looking away. “It happened this past week. He’s one of Yuki’s friends. We’ve been talking for about a month now.” The lie flew off her tongue with an effortlessness that concerned her.

“Congratulations,” Niall muttered. “I’m happy for you.” Rey didn’t like this look of disappointment; his blue eyes had never seemed so grey. It wasn’t like she owed him anything. It’d only been a little crush, right? They hadn’t talked much, but Rose had likely hyped him up about the idea of Rey returning his affections. “Is he Japanese?”

“No, he’s American. He lives in Japan.”

“Long distance is rough. My ex-girlfriend was from America. Expensive.”

“Okay, enough you two!” Rose interjected. “Let’s have a movie night on Friday.”

Finn tore off a piece of bread. “All of us? And Poe?”

“Poe will be away in Japan. He’s visiting Amilyn. It seems you both became official this past week.”

Rey laughed. So Poe was dating Amilyn. “About time, yeah?”

“Tell me about it. Leia offered him an administrative position under Amilyn. He’s been debating it for weeks.” Rose flashed an unamused face. “It’ll be only us four. My place?”

“How about mine?” Rey suggested quickly. “Mum and Luke will be out on Friday. He’s taking her to see Heir to the Supremacy finally after begging him for months.” Heir to the Supremacy was a popular play in London based on a book of the same name, and Mara was obsessed with American Old West stories.

For Rey, the nausea was getting better every day, but the thought of being at Rose’s place and being sick? It would be harder to make an excuse with only the bathroom to escape to.

“Well finally you invite us over!” Rose rejoiced. “I’ll narrow it down to four movies for you guys to pick from, but popcorn and beer are on you.”

Finn raised his eyebrows. “You always pick the movies.”

“Because my taste is good.”

“If it were up to you,” Rey said to Finn. “We’d only watch weird space movies and people being blown to bits.”

Finn looked over at Niall with a facial expression that said come on, back me up.

Niall shook his head. “I’m with the ladies on this one, man. Sorry.”

“How about this?” Rose started, placing a kiss on Finn’s cheek. “We can each pick a movie and then narrow it down from there, but you can’t vote for your own movie. Deal?”

Rey finished off her salad. No nausea, thankfully. “She’s never this nice. I’d take the deal.”

Rose kicked Rey under the table with a smile. They erupted into giggles. She’d almost forgotten what it was like hanging out with Rose. The jokes, Rose’s obsession with being witty or creating new words. How Ben could do that to her, make her forget everyone else but him, Rey didn’t know

“I missed you, bitch,” Rose said, gasping for air. “You are not allowed to leave me like that again.”

“I missed you too,” Rey replied and didn’t mention that might be exactly what she’d have to do.

 


 

Good morning, beautiful. Video chat later?

Rey read his text message over and over, trying to make sense of it. Ben was her boyfriend. Ben was the father of her child. The past two days, it had hit her like that, a wave of unbelievability. It left her unable to breathe, her cheeks hurting from smiling so much.

Rey’s first day back at work went fine, if but extremely busy. She had speaking engagements at a few universities throughout England, her schedule packed for the next three months. In between all of that was the conference in Sapporo at the end of July, a two day ordeal that would be filled with presentations and teachers from Kyushu too, not solely Hokkaido. The Hokkaido Board of Education planned to flood its schools with native English speaking teachers, following alongside Tokyo in striving to set Japan as a bilingual society.

All of this meant that Rey’s life was about to go crazy. Pregnancy, a new relationship, her job. Could she handle it? Would… abortion be the better option? She clutched her stomach. It would be the easier route, Rose was right, but even at twelve weeks, she couldn’t imagine getting rid of what she already considered a baby. Maybe that had been her birth mother’s dilemma—young, broke, without a family, but holding on to the thing that assured her she wasn’t alone.

Mara stared at her throughout the day. Leia, however, acted like she didn’t know anything about her future grandchild. A secret between the two of them.

Email answered. Next. Rey typed as fast as she could, then raced home. 6 P.M. It was 3 A.M. in Tokyo.

“You know you could have called me in the morning,” Rey said, her heart fluttering at the sight of him. “You didn’t need to get up in the middle of the night. You really should sleep.”

“You said it was the best time.” He rubbed his face. “Can’t sleep anyway.”

Rey nodded. Mara was working late, and Luke had gone out to dinner with a friend. Rey could be as loud as she wanted. He asked her about her day; she told him about the prepping for the conference next month and how Mara seemed suspicious.

He finished listening, breathed. “Fuck, you’re beautiful.”

She slipped her dress over her head and unsnapped her bra. Intent, hungry, his eyes followed her fingers. He adjusted the camera, and soon he was pulling down his boxers, a hand gliding up and down, over and over. Desire pooled in her lower half at the sight of him—a throbbing sensation which increased as he continued. She found herself following suit with him, gingerly touching herself. What was it about him that did this to her?

“I might…” she breathed. The heat flared inside her core.

“Fuck, Rey. Will you come for me? Let me see you come. I’m gonna…”

A knock. “Rey?”

Rey froze. “Shit. She’s home early. I’ll call you back later.” She hit the end button and pulled on her dress as fast as she could.

Another knock. “Rey? Can we talk?”

“Sure, one second!” Rey raced to clean her hands with a wet wipe and moved to open the door.

“What took you so long?” Mara asked. “Your cheeks are flushed. Are you feeling okay?”

Rey nodded, probably a little too eagerly. “I thought, umm, that you were going to be working until seven?”

“I was a bit knackered tonight I think, what, with the conference next month and that teacher getting in trouble… Anyway, I wanted to talk to you before you went to bed. You’ve been going to bed quite early. Can I come in?”

“Sure,” Rey replied, letting her by.

Once they were sitting on the bed, Mara fiddled with a piece of her auburn hair. “I don’t know how to ask this.”

Keep it together, Rey, keep it together. “What is it?”

“For the past two months, you’ve left meetings early, skipped meals with me, and locked yourself in your room the second you’ve come home. Then you texted me last week saying you were in the hospital and you’d be missing work for the rest of the week. I was so worried, and you barely replied back. I thought it was quite strange that Leia didn’t fight to approve your time off. After that, on Thursday, your midwife gave the house a ring. Something about a follow up on medications? So, what is it you’re not telling me?”

Rey’s hands fidgeted in her lap, her eyes immediately filling with tears.

“Rey? What’s the matter? What’s going on?”

Why wouldn’t her lips move? She told Mara about her crushes and friends, the first time she’d had sex, her choices in universities, all the times Marcus had cheated on her. Everything.

A cool hand on her cheek. “Are you going to say something?”

Rey squeezed her eyes shut, then opened them, the tears rolling off her chin. “What do you want me to say?”

“Are you pregnant?”

“I’m sorry.” What good would it be to deny it? She had nausea no matter what medication she took and heartburn radiating through her chest. On top of it, she would be swelling up soon, unable to hide.

Mara breathed out calmly, her entire body seeming to sink into the bed. “How far along?”

“Tw-twelve weeks.”

Mara took Rey into her arms, stroking her head. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

“I wasn’t sure how to.” Rey remembered the first time Mara had comforted her as a teenager—the tremble in her hands as she patted Rey’s back. Mara wanted to make it better; Mara had always wanted to make it better, but sometimes it seemed she didn’t know how. Much like Rey now.

“Are you keeping it?”

“Yes,” Rey declared, no hesitation.

Mara pulled back and searched her face. “You’re so young. Nearly the same age your birth mum died. I didn’t realize you were dating anyone.”

“I wasn’t,” Rey admitted. “It was a one night stand that became something else.” She wanted to tell her about the elevator; it would be a story Rey knew Mara would make jokes about at every family get-together. And funnily enough, it had been Rey’s second time getting stuck in an elevator, but her first with anyone else, albeit Ben. An occurrence meant to be, dictated by the universe, some higher power? Or simply a rare coincidental event? Rey wasn’t sure. She hadn’t been sure about anything since Ben had stared at her from the top of that stage in Tokyo. His brown eyes—the softness, the hardness, a blend that had left her unable to breathe or think. Had her choices been hers at all?

“Who’s the father?”

“I don’t want to talk about that now. He’s being supportive. That’s all that matters.”

“You can tell me,” Mara encouraged, rubbing Rey’s back. “We all know how great my taste is in men. Luke can’t even put the toilet paper roll on right, damn man. Good for nothing, the lot of them.”

Rey wanted to laugh, but couldn’t. “I can’t. I want… I want to see if our relationship will work.” She also wanted to add an yeah, right to Mara’s first statement. Mara would never approve of Ben.

“Does he live in Japan?”

Rey made up a story about the father being an American foreigner in Japan—someone that worked in the recruiting business too. They’d met at the conference in Tokyo, and then again in Kyoto.

“Love, you’re so young,” Mara repeated. “Have you considered abortion? You can get one up to twenty-four weeks.”

“Yes, and I’m not doing it. I want this.”

“If he works for a rival company, it’s a breach of contract, likely on both your parts.”

“I know.”

“So one of you would have to quit.”

“I know. That’s why it’s complicated.”

Mara breathed out for the third time. “You’re at the start of your life and career. Is being a mother at twenty-two, with the relationship complicated as it is, worth it? Please think about it, okay?”

 


 

Kylo

“Thank you for coming last week,” Yuki whispered over the phone, voice warm. “Is Rey feeling better?”

It was like Yuki to call and check up on a person that couldn’t stand her. Sometimes it pissed him off—her always going out of her way to be unselfish. Kylo finished pouring himself a glass of bourbon whiskey, phone balanced between his shoulder and ear. “Yeah. She’s back in London this week.”

“How did it go?”

Tear-stained hazel eyes, body pressed to his in the bathtub. That night after the wedding, when it had all fallen apart and back together again within seven hours. The week after—feeling her stir, chest rising with each breath. Her smile on his lips, stomach underneath his fingertips.

“We figured it out. Almost. We’re a thing I guess. I don’t wanna talk about it. How was your honeymoon?”

Yuki told him about their trip to Hawaii. The surfing, the food. Hiroto liked to spend a lot of money on vacation. Kylo knew it was partly Japanese culture and partly the work hours of salary men. Already Kylo had racked up thirty hours for the week and it was Tuesday.

When she was done rubbing her vacation in his face, Kylo asked, “Is he bigger than me?”

“Oh my god, Ben, you’re so disgusting,” Yuki replied in her usual fashion. “Are you drinking? Don’t you even think about making the joke about Japanese men having small penises. It’s not true, and you know it.”

“You’re so right. Because I’ve had my fill of dick up my ass.” Despite experimenting sex first with a guy, Kylo had never gone that far.

“God, can you go one minute without cussing like a sailor?”

“Already did fifteen hours of it today. Fuck off. So, he’s bigger. Sounds like you upgraded. Congrats.”

Yuki was silent.

“What?” Kylo asked with a chuckle.

“What do you think? You always knew how to please.”

He chuckled again, took a swig of his almost forgotten drink. “I'm better. Interesting.”

“I said you knew how to please, not that you were better in anything else. You’re not husband material. Unless you’ve quit drinking and smoking and actually started paying attention.”

His chest stung. Yuki had never been that straightforward before about the subject. “Right, that’s why you were begging me to marry you.”

“I was in love with you. I always wanted to get married, and Hiroto’s a wonderful husband and person.”

“You don’t think I could?”

“Marriage is, uhh, a really unselfish thing. I don’t think you’d want to or like it. I hope Rey realizes that.”

“Always so much faith in me.”

“Have you… have you been thinking about marrying her?”

Had he? Kylo knocked back the rest of his drink. “She’s got my kid. As it stands, we work for separate companies. Alexander could fire and sue me for that alone. She’s in London. I’m here. How’s that gonna be for the kid? Having separate households?”

“You actually are.” Yuki paused. “I’m surprised.”

“It doesn’t matter. I don’t wanna talk about it.”

“That’s a cop out. You never want to talk about anything other than work.”

He scrubbed his face. “Because it’s not your fucking concern. She’s my girlfriend. It’s my kid.”

Yuki was mostly quiet after that, and Kylo changed the subject to Hiroto’s job. Was that what drew him to Rey despite their history eight years prior? Sex? His mind swam with Yuki’s question, “Have you been thinking about marrying her?” Straightforward, unlike the quiet, kind person he’d known who collected holiday cards like he went through cigarettes. In fact, since Rey had come back into his life, Yuki had been different. Like she wanted to protect Rey—from him.

“I’m glad you had a good time on your honeymoon, but I have some emails to answer,” he said. “I’ll talk to you later.”

“Call me sometime, yeah? I’d like to try to be friends. Something past the things, you know, we’ve done for the last three years, especially since I’m married and you’re living in Japan again.”

Kylo removed the phone from his ear, about to press the end button, when he heard Yuki’s voice again. “And Ben?” she said.

“Yeah?”

“I’m really happy you’re doing the right thing.”

Kylo poured himself yet another drink. “I haven’t done it yet.”

 


 

Rey

After telling Mara, the rest of the week would have passed uneventfully—if it weren’t for the call Rey made to her midwife on Wednesday when she asked about the father coming to her ultrasound at sixteen weeks.

“That’s wonderful!” the receptionist exclaimed. “He’s fine to come. I do see a note in your file that you mentioned the conflicts with your schedule around the eighteen to twenty week marks and that you inquired about an ultrasound at sixteen weeks. We do have to warn you. Not only is this against procedure and likely to not be approved, but the technician may not be able to decipher the sex at that time. Eighteen to twenty weeks would be more definite and closer to the routine procedure. It should have been included in the information we gave you?”

Eighteen weeks. Two more weeks past what she’d told Ben. She should’ve researched it more before deciding the second they’d told her they could potentially see the baby’s sex at sixteen weeks. An ultrasound at sixteen weeks was an unusual time—the standard was twenty according to her midwife unless there were complications. They'd made an exception for Rey when she was eight weeks pregnant due to the nature of telling the father and her work schedule. Not this time apparently. In one phone call, five weeks had now become seven. Rey mumbled she understood and hung up the phone. She couldn’t tell him, not yet. Telling him would speak it into reality. She wouldn’t see him for seven weeks now, not five. Seven whole weeks.

By Friday night, she still hadn’t told him. Rose, Finn, and Niall would be on her doorstep in an hour. Rey flitted around the room, wiping down counters and windows, scrubbing the powder room toilet.

She was about to pick up the scooper to clean Bee-Bee’s litter box when she remembered—pregnant, couldn’t do that anymore. Add it to the list of normal things that Mara would now have to do for her for the next twenty-five weeks or so. Raw fish, deli meat, smoked sausage, soft cheeses—couldn’t eat those anymore. Three cups of coffee or tea? Apparently that was bad too. “If you’re determined to do this, you need to stay healthy,” Mara had said, writing out a list of reminders for Rey. And she’d already put Rey on a prenatal vitamin she thought was the best. Dietary changes—everything organic with more protein (excluding the eggs) than Rey could imagine. They’d decided not to tell Luke yet, maybe next week when Rey was officially into her second trimester and mostly out of the high-risk window.

Rey flushed the toilet, slamming the scrubbing brush into its holder. It was 3 A.M. in Tokyo. The middle of the night—maybe he would be up.

“Rey?” came his sleepy, husky voice. “Something happen to the baby?”

He was in the sitting room on the couch, the lights dimmed low as always.

“Yes, everything is fine. I missed you. Are you sleeping on the couch?”

“Mm,” he mumbled, rubbing his eyes. “Must’ve fallen asleep.”

“I’m sorry I woke you.”

“It’s cool. I told you that you could call me anytime. What’s up?”

“I wanted to tell you before you booked your flight here. I talked to my midwife, and they recommended you come when I’m eighteen weeks pregnant, not sixteen. There’s a better chance of finding out the baby’s sex then. I made an appointment for July 23rd, about three days before the Sapporo convention. We could fly there together.”

Ben rubbed his eyes again. Shaking his head, he reached off screen and brought a whiskey tumbler to his lips. Why did he always have to drink? Rey determined to wait patiently until he finished his sip, but it didn’t stop there. He grabbed something else; a spark flashed in front of his face.

“Are you smoking inside?” Rey asked incredulously.

“Mm.”

“I really, truly wish you’d quit.”

He laughed, took a drag. “Yeah, I got it.”

“Is this a game to you? I’m pregnant. You said it yourself that cigarette smoke isn’t good for the baby.”

“I don’t do it around you, and if you remember, when you were here, I always went outside to smoke and changed my clothes afterward.”

“I don’t know. I just really wish you’d stop. It seeps into the walls, and won’t you have to pay a cleaning fee for cigarette smoke when you move out?”

He took a long drag this time. “Not your concern.”

“I don’t bloody care if you think it’s my concern or not.” Her eyes pricked. “Okay, look, I need to finish cleaning. Rose, Finn, and Niall will be over soon, and I still have a lot to do. I’ll call you back later.”

“Who’s Niall?”

“Not your concern,” she repeated back to him. “I have a life outside of you, you know.”

Ben scoffed. “Some guy you’re interested in?”

“Really? How could you even suggest that? I’m pregnant with your fucking child!”

“It doesn’t matter. Have a good time. We’ll talk later.”

“He’s just a—”

The screen went black. The little thumbnail with his professional picture sat there in the middle. Call ended, no goodbye.

With her hands balling into fists, Rey slammed the phone onto the bathroom vanity and stalked to the sitting room. She thought about giving him a piece of her mind, the words pounding around in her brain. Arsehole. Liar. Alcoholic.

Bee-Bee meowed at her from her perch on the windowsill. “Oh, go feed yourself, you good-for-nothing cat.”

She meowed again, jumped down, and walked out of the room, tail in air.

“Yeah, you leave too!” Rey said to her retreating bum. “Layabout.”

She went back to the bathroom, took one look at her phone, and decided. No more. She opened her bedroom door and threw it on the bed.

Rey spent the next forty-five minutes violently fluffing pillows and stomping around. Why wouldn’t he quit? Did he care about their baby? Arsehole, liar, alcoholic. Arsehole, liar, alcoholic. Arsehole, liar—

They were here.

“Hey,” Rey said, out of breath, flinging open the door.

Rose enveloped her into a hug. “Everything okay?”

Rey forced a smile, but it felt wrong. “Yes, of course. Come in.” Then she saw Niall, and her face fell completely. “I made dip,” she said, walking to the refrigerator.

“We brought Chinese food,” Finn chimed in. “Should I set it here?” He pointed to the counter.

“Yes, fine. Whatever.”

Rose smiled, showing far too many teeth. “Can we talk for a sec?” She didn’t wait for Rey to respond; she grabbed her arm and whisked her into the bathroom. “Okay, spill. What’s going on?”

“I’m fine.”

“You’re definitely not fine.”

“Why can’t you leave it alone for once?” Rey snapped. “I’m not feeling well.”

“Guy problems? Is he treating you poorly?”

“Something like that. I don’t want to talk about it, really.”

“He’s being a right bastard, isn’t he? Spill.”

“Can we eat and watch the movie? I’m sorry I’m in a sour mood. It’s been a long week.”

“Fine. After the movie I’ve picked, you won’t even remember his name. Hullooooo, Mister Tatum.”

Rey rolled her eyes and walked back into the sitting room. Finn was drinking a beer, sitting on one side of the couch. Niall was on the other, a bottle of water in hand.

“Not drinking tonight?” Rey asked him.

“To be honest, I don’t drink much. My dad was an alcoholic. It runs in the family.”

The Chinese take-out containers littered the coffee table, the smell strong but inviting. Thankfully, no stomach pain. She hadn’t eaten since a soggy grilled chicken breast sandwich at lunch time. Orange chicken, her favorite. Spotted and sniffed in all its goodness. Would that be okay for the baby? Her stomach rumbled.

Who cared? The baby wanted it. Kylo had his vices; she had hers. She picked up the container and spilled the majority of it onto a plate, not bothering to look up. Every single last bite she savored, scarfing it down as fast as she could chew.

“Woah, save some for the rest of us,” Finn remarked, holding up the mostly empty carton.

Rey snatched it from his hand and poured the rest onto her plate. “Mine.”

Niall laughed, reaching for the fried rice. “Is this yours too?”

She gave the fried rice a once-over before shaking her head and going back to her food.

Rose snorted and fell over into fits of laughter. “Mummy bear’s hungry, isn’t she?”

Rey glared at her, indicating to Niall and Finn with her eyes.

Rose laughed harder and took a sip of her wine. “My nose!”

Finn joined her in laughter. “You’re supposed to drink it, not snort it.”

Rey finished her plate of food and leaned back against the cushions, unamused. She would save this moment for the future—when Rose and Finn had their own child. Rey would swirl around the wine in her glass, raise an eyebrow, and let Rose know, Payback was definitely a bitch.

“Okay, movie time!” Rose said. “Pull up Le Neflee and hand over the telly commander!”

“To your right,” Rey muttered with a laugh. “You have issues, I swear,”

Rose fired up the telly and brought up Le Neflee. “Alright, what did you lot pick, huh?”

“You’re not going to win tonight,” Finn said. “I chose a force to be reckoned with. A movie for the ages.”

Rose scoffed. “Yeah, right.”

“No, really,” Niall said. “The movie he chose is called A Force to be Reckoned With. It’s been the top trending film of the year.”

Rose pulled up the Trending page. True to Niall’s word, it was there, spaceships and laser guns littering the movie poster.

“Not another space movie.”

Finn turned to his girlfriend. “This one’s not just a space movie, babe. It’s the top space action movie of the century. I’ve talked about it for months.”

“No, you haven’t.”

Niall sipped on his water. “Where’ve you been? He made me see it three times when it came out.”

“Okay, fine. So, Finn has this... movie . What are the choices for you and Rey?”

Niall had chosen a ‘90’s romantic comedy, She’s Everything. Finn cracked a few jokes at Niall’s expense. “Trying to appease the ladies, eh, mate?”

“Rey?” Rose called in a sing-song voice. “Your turn, bitch.”

The movie she’d previously picked wasn’t an option now because Kylo had been the one to suggest it. And he could, quite frankly, suck his own dick right now for all she cared. Rey made Rose go back to the Trending page, and her eyes fell on a movie poster four tiles to the right.

“Right there, The Rival,” Rey said, pointing.

Everyone took a minute to read through the summary before Rose went back to the search menu and sat up straighter. “My turn!” She pulled it up, a cover with two people arm in arm on a bench flashing across the screen. Like Mad the title read in cursive.

“You’re predictable.” Finn planted a kiss on Rose’s cheek. “Another romantic indie film?”

“It got nearly perfect reviews from the critics, even those not into romance.”

Rey read the summary and froze. British woman meets American man. Complications with her visa, struggles with long distance, marriage, and having a family. No way in hell would she be watching that movie.

“Voting time!” Rose clapped her hands together, and then squeezed Finn’s thigh, batting her eyelashes. “My darling, would you like another beer?”

Rey narrowed her eyes. Rose constantly did this to get her way.

“That’s bribery,” Finn said. “But since we can’t vote on our own, I guess yours. You’re still not going to win.”

“I’m for it too. Sounds interesting.” Niall held up his empty water bottle. “I could use another water and some popcorn. Get that, and you have my vote.”

Everyone looked at Rey. “I’m really not in the mood for anything romantic tonight. Finn’s movie sounds good?”

Rose flashed her a betrayed glance. “Well I pick Niall’s. So, ha, I win! Rey, popcorn help?”

“You know where the microwave is.”

Rose made and served the popcorn after another glare in Rey’s direction. Movie started, blankets on. Numbly, Rey watched, shoveling popcorn in with one hand and propping up her head with the other. It was on the list of BAD, DO NOT EAT, but she didn’t care. Niall was quiet beside her, but she noticed how his eyes would dart to her face every few minutes or so. Rey leaned back on the couch, wishing she had her phone beside her so she could check for any missed messages. But what would hurt worse—her missing his texts or him not sending any at all?

Sarah, the British woman, went to America for university and fell in love with Will, a man dedicated to building houses and establishing himself as a signature builder. But then she made the biggest mistake of her life—she overstayed her visa. They fought. They dated other people, but something kept driving them back together. Marriage, a child. They did it all from separate countries while working to get the visa ban lifted.

All to end up divorced.

They sat across from each other at a restaurant, Sarah’s face crumbling as she brought a coffee cup to her lips. The papers were signed. Will took a few deep breaths and gazed at her wedding ring.

Rey’s stomach churned, hand freezing in the popcorn bowl.

“Are you okay?” Rose asked with a pat on Rey’s back. “Do you need us to pause the movie?”

“No, I’m fine.” Rey jumped up and excused herself to the bathroom. It was like playing a shitty game of Stomachache Roulette. Was she sick from the pregnancy, the movie, or eating too much? Who knew! She sat on her knees, hunched over the toilet, but nothing came back up. Perhaps the morning sickness was starting to fade.

When she emerged from the bathroom, she walked straight into the kitchen and sipped on a bottle of water. They were all watching her.

“What?” she growled.

Finn raised his eyebrows. “You look like you could use a drink. You can have one of my beers if you want.”

“You’re right, I really could. Too bad I can’t.” She stared at each of them directly, hands on her hips. “I’m pregnant, okay? Will you all just leave me alone!”

It was like watching herself in slow motion, outside of her body. She knew she was being dramatic, that she was hormonal and upset about the movie and Ben, but she didn’t care. She retreated to her bedroom, and they didn’t bother her for the next thirty minutes.

No missed calls or texts. He hadn’t tried at all. She lay on her back, staring at the ceiling, and let the tears fall freely.

At last, a knock. “I’m okay, Rose!” she called, swiping at her eyes. “I’ll come out in a minute.”

“It’s not Rose,” came Niall’s voice. “Can I come in?”

“The door’s unlocked.”

Niall stuck his head in. “Rose and Finn decided to watch another movie. We’re only two minutes in.”

His eyes. They captured light, reflected it. Such a deep blue, so unlike Ben’s.

Rey caught sight of her phone on the pillow. “What do you want?”

“I’m not going to ask if you’re okay. It’s obvious you’re not. Do you need anything? Water? Tea?”

“No, thanks.”

“If you do, let me know. It’s 9:30. I’m going to head out soon. I’ll come back and say goodbye, but you should come and watch the movie with us if you’re feeling better.”

“Okay.”

He shut the door.

What was she doing? It was her house. Mara and Luke would likely be home in another hour. Ben hadn’t called, and one of the nicest people she’d ever met was worried about her. After she’d yelled at him and rudely holed herself up in her room. It was more than she could say for Ben. Had Mara been right about him in the end?

Cradling her stomach, she got up from her bed, walked back out to the sitting room, and took up her previous seat between Niall and Rose. They were watching Finn’s choice— A Force to be Reckoned With.

No one mentioned her outburst. Rose smiled, hand finding Rey’s and giving it a squeeze. Niall pushed a bottle of water to her section of the coffee table and tossed her a blanket and a few pillows.

Her head rested on Rose’s shoulder, Niall’s hand near her knee. The place where he’d left it after gently tucking the blanket around her lower half.

True to its cover, it was another space movie. The exact type Finn always picked. But he was right, it was good, the graphics well-done, the story engaging. It was something Rey could lose herself in for an hour or two.

And she did.

 


Kylo

Laughter surrounded Kylo. Coffee in hand, he watched from a park bench—families enjoying the early morning sun before the heat set in for the day. Everywhere he looked, his eyes fell on the faces of babies in strollers or children demanding something from their parents.

His phone sat limp in his hand. He should’ve texted her. He imagined her lying in bed, waiting for him.

He wasn’t ready to be a father or husband, nor she a wife or mother. Maybe it was all a mistake. Why hadn’t he worn a condom or suggested she get an abortion? He couldn’t quit his job or move to London. And he never wanted to see his family again. They were liars. Betrayers.

Yuki’s question, “Have you been thinking about marrying her?”

Something touched his leg. He looked down; the eyes of a small toddler stared back at him. He was so little, deep brown eyes wide, curious. Was this what his child might do one day? The look his child might give? The ultrasound photo on the fridge. Abortion—what the fuck was he thinking? It had been a stupid fight, brought on by the idea of not seeing her for almost two months and contemplating marriage to put an end to the distance. Ready or not, he would be a father. It was too late to go back now.

“Sumimasen,” a heavily pregnant woman said in Japanese, bending down to grab the boy. Excuse me.

“Daijobu,” Kylo replied, gently, reassuring her it was okay. Sometimes little kids did that to him at the park when he came to read and drink his coffee. Most were too shy, but occasionally there would be a brave sucker. Kylo imagined his child like that—a girl always smiling and unafraid of strangers, opposite to how he’d been as a toddler.

The boy clung tighter to Kylo’s leg, squealing. The mother’s face. It had changed, morphed for the briefest of seconds. Hazel eyes, wide smile, all teeth showing. She bowed and continued to apologize before finally prying the boy off. The father mirrored the woman in apologies and placed a hand on his wife’s back.

“Look, daddy! Watch this! I can go all the way across the monkey bars!” Han sitting next to Leia on a park bench, lowering his newspaper, smiling. “Good job, kid.” Leia clutching Han’s arm, her wedding ring catching the sunlight. Kylo used to admire it, the diamond simple despite their wealth. Leia had never taken it off.

Wedding ring. Family.

Kylo stood up, placed the phone to his ear. Laughter followed him the entire way home.

Chapter Text

 Rey — Six Weeks Later

 

Breathe, Rey reminded herself, picking up her phone from the restroom counter. Slowly.

 

Kylo Ren

Made it to my hotel. Going to take a shower. When will you be here?

 

Rey smoothed out the wrinkles on her maternity dress and stared at herself in the mirror. Now, at eighteen weeks, her abdomen was round and swollen, the baby almost unmistakable when she wore fitted clothes. Like today—a stretchy crimson dress that cradled her bump and made it more pronounced. Everything felt heavier, weighted down, like she’d swallowed a bowling ball whole. A bowling ball that loved to crush her bladder and make bathroom runs look like 100 meter dashes complete with hurdles. The morning sickness had faded, but the heartburn and the urge to pee every ten minutes hadn’t.

Rey typed a reply, stomach flipping. “It’s okay,” she told the baby. “We’re going to see daddy. It’s been a long time since you’ve heard his voice, hasn’t it?” She’d started talking to the baby a few weeks ago, despite knowing that it couldn’t hear anything yet. The act felt more personal and real, like a whole separate person was truly alive inside of her.

 

Rey Jackson

Be there in 20.

 

For the past seven weeks, she’d counted down the days until she saw him again—marked her appointment in red permanent marker and crossed out each day that passed.

Their fights. Rey found herself scrolling through her phone and listening to the voicemail he’d left her after their first argument all those weeks ago. “ Hey. I’m sorry I missed you,” he started. “You’re probably asleep. I’m a massive dick. I…” His voice cracked. “Love you. Do you know that?” A breath. “I’ll make it up to you. We’ll make this work. Just two more weeks, right?”

But was it, their relationship, working? Their second fight had been about Niall—he didn’t want her hanging out him. Ben always noticed how Rey would clam up when she spoke about him. And it was true; Rey had thought about being with Niall. He was supportive of her pregnancy and kind. Their relationship was easy, built on jokes and his constant inquires into how the baby was doing. “Well maybe if you weren’t so argumentative, I wouldn’t even be thinking about him!” Rey had shouted at Ben over the phone. Ben hadn’t hung up on her that time, but it’d taken them both a week to formally apologize.

Then their third fight came. About his family and their role in Rey’s pregnancy. He didn’t like his family around their child, unborn or not, didn’t like the idea of them even around Rey while she was carrying his child. By this argument, Rey had given up fighting back. He was always ridiculous and stubborn when it came to the issue of his family. She would have told him as much, but that would’ve started a separate, additional argument.

Had it been the distance making them fight? Or were they too complicated to have a healthy relationship?

Then there was abortion. Over and over, she’d thought of Mara and Rose’s suggestion. It would be much easier to take that route, but she couldn’t. It felt morally wrong—ending the existence of an eighteen-week old fetus. Developed arms and legs on the monitor at eleven weeks in Japan. To her, a full-formed baby even then. Mara and Rose didn’t agree, but Rey ignored them. It was, ultimately, her choice.

Rey took another glance at herself in the mirror. She needed to leave soon—say goodbye to Mara in her office and meet Ben at his hotel. But first she reapplied her makeup. A dash of mascara, a sweep of blush and lipstick and she was mentally wishing her reflection good luck and walking out the door to find Mara.

Mara did a double take as Rey entered her office. “Leaving now?” she asked, typing away. “Are you sure you don’t want me to go with you?”

“Yes, I’m sure. I don’t mind going alone.”

Her phone buzzed with another text message.

 

Niall O’Connor

Good luck, R. You’re amazing.

 

“Who’s that?”

“Niall. Sorry, one sec.”

 

Rey Jackson

Thank you! So nervous! :S

 

Mara smiled. “I like him. He seems like a lovely boy.”

“Yeah, he really is.” But he’s not Ben, Rey wanted to add. No matter how good of a friend he was, no matter how much Rey and Ben fought, that fact would remain true.

Niall wasn’t Ben.

Rey said goodbye to Mara and hailed a taxi, hand shaking as she stuck it in the air. Ben, Ben, Ben, Ben… it was like seeing him in Tokyo again. Rey smoothed her dress over her knees and twirled the lotus pendant. Ben. Ben. Ben.

He was there, behind the glass, in the lobby. His hair had gotten longer, damp from the shower. Jeans well-fitted, a blue button down. Standing and waiting for her with his hands in his pockets.

Rey couldn’t stop herself. The automatic doors opened, and she sprinted into his arms.

His warmth. It enveloped her, drew the tears from her eyes. He kissed her head, holding her tightly against him. His smell, the spicy soap. She wanted to bathe in it, lose herself until she couldn’t remember anything or anyone but him.

“I think there’s something more between us,” he whispered above her, the smile evident in his voice. “She’s grown a lot, hasn’t she?” His fingers found her belly, thumbs stroking it back and forth.

Rey raised her chin to look at him. “You saw how big I was. I sent you pictures.”

“Yeah, but seeing it in and a photo and being here…” He shook his head, glanced down, thumbs continuing to stroke. “Is she moving yet?”

“I’m not sure. I’ve started to feel a little flutter, but I don’t know.” She laughed, wanting to add, it could be gas. It would be the truth, but she wasn’t ready to talk about her bodily functions yet. He’d seen her puke, and she’d like his knowledge to stop there.

He was quiet, eyes darting from her stomach to her face.

“What?” she asked with another laugh.

“I don’t know. It’s real. You. This.” He ran a hand through his hair. “Are you hungry? I haven’t eaten yet. We have an hour, right?”

“Forty-five minutes, and I’m too nervous to eat. I have to drink over a liter of water before my appointment. They want me to suffer.”

His face became grave. “If they aren’t treating you right, we can find another doctor.”

Rey shook her head. She’d already changed providers at Ben’s request. He wanted to pay for her to have a private obstetrician, not a midwife, so that it would be closer to American and Japanese standards. He also didn’t like the way her midwife had treated her when she requested a sonogram at eight weeks. “Did you see the article I sent you?” he’d said. “It’s normal in the US to have one at eight weeks, and in Japan, expectant mothers have them every other week during the first trimester. The standards in the U.K. are unsafe. You’re changing to an obstetrician. Fuck the NHS.” In moments like that, Kylo Ren was fully in control—demanding, dominant, the man he’d been on their first video call. But in this instance, Rey hadn’t argued with him. He had been taking an active role in becoming a father.

“They’re treating me quite well,” she said. “I have to have a full bladder before the sonogram. Thank you for paying for everything.”

“As long as you’re monitored competently. That’s all that matters to me.” He leaned down, lips melding with hers, unguarded. But then his head snapped back up abruptly. “Dammit, you’re wearing lipstick, aren’t you?”

His lips were red—bright red. Rey giggled. “You look a little like Tim Curry.”

He glared at her, trying to wipe it off. “I hate when you wear lipstick. You don’t need it. Why are you wearing so much makeup today?”

“I don’t know. I was nervous about seeing you again.”

“There’s nothing to be nervous about. I’ve told you multiple times. I’m not going anywhere. You’ve got my kid.” He entwined their fingers, continuing to wipe off the lipstick from his mouth. “What the fuck did they put in this shit?”

“Ingredients attracted to Kylo Ren. Seriously, this lipstick never lasts on me. It must fancy you.”

“Very funny. Come on, let’s get you something to eat. I know a quick American-style restaurant around here. I called ahead to check if they were still in business.”

“You know the restaurants in this area?”

“Does Leia live near Irving Park?”

“Yes. Why?”

He ushered her out of the door and hailed a taxi. “I spent two separate years in London. My grandmother, Leia’s mother, was British, and my grandfather was half Japanese, half American. He spoke Japanese to Leia and Luke, but Leia forgot most of it. They were raised in America. Luke married Ayane and lived in Japan for fifteen or so years.”

“You never told me. Our baby has Japanese blood?”

“Very little, but yeah. Alexander has a similar story. His dad was half.”

Ben gave the driver an address and rested a hand on her belly. The restaurant was a short way—maybe three minutes.

“Would have been nice to know that before knocking me up, yeah?”

“We both didn’t want this to happen.”

Rey focused on the trees sweeping by in swift, hazy rows. “But in a way, didn’t we? You got upset with me because you’d thought I’d taken the morning after pill. You didn’t actually want me to take it in the end.”

“But you did take it.”

“I never told you. I took it after you left, late by a few hours. You left before I could talk to you about it.”

His hand tensed on her stomach. “Why didn’t you tell me sooner?”

“I didn’t think it was important. I was pregnant either way.”

“Why did you hesitate?”

“I don’t know?” She snuggled into him. “I suppose a part of me wanted this. If it meant you’d stay, and if you didn’t, at least I had something of you.”

Ben flinched and appeared to consider what she’d said. She didn’t know if he planned to reply or not because after a few moments, the taxi stopped in front of the restaurant.

“I’m not sure if I can have this,” Rey said, staring at the menu posted outside the door. Greasy burgers and chips littered the list. “It looks like a good bit of fried food.”

“They have grilled stuff. Come on.”

The restaurant was styled like an old American ‘50’s diner, the booths glittery red, vintage regalia decking the walls.

“Han used to take me here when I was a kid,” Ben said, holding up two fingers in the hostess’s direction. “Best shakes in London.”

Han. Was that a good sign?

“Oh my god, you’re making me crave naughty things.”

He leaned in, grabbed her arm. His smell made her dizzy. “Don’t I always do that to you? Make you a bad girl? Tonight” — His eyes trailed down her body — “I’m going to fuck you senseless.”

“We’re in public. And I really don’t understand how you can still find me attractive now.”

He pressed against her. Enough so that she felt it. “See what you do to me?”  

The hostess led them to a booth, their conversation momentarily paused. Ben slid in next to Rey, not across, a hand on her thigh. She shifted, trying to shake him off.

“What? Don’t want me sitting next to you?”

“I just… Is this all our relationship is really? Sexual attraction?”

Ben rolled his eyes and turned away.

“I’m not trying to start another fight.” She touched his arm; he scowled at her, displeased. “Please. We haven’t seen each other in almost two months. Don’t be upset with me. I’m worried.”

He relaxed, kissing her temple. “We talked about it before. I’m not with you for that. I love you. Why is it hard to believe?”

“You stutter when you say it.”

“It’s serious. I haven’t said it to anyone in eight years. Haven’t wanted to, haven’t felt it. And you constantly questioning our relationship pisses me off. I love you. Did I stutter then? We’re a couple. We have sex. It’s normal.”

The waiter came to take their drink orders.

“I’ll have a bottle of water,” Rey said, watching Ben’s eyes skim across the alcoholic drink menu.

He hesitated, then said, “The same.”

“Thank you,” she whispered when the waiter left.

“I told you I’d cut down for you and the baby. Stop implying I only want you for sex. It’s insane.”

She reached for a tissue from her purse, knowing the tears were coming. “I’m sorry. It’s… our relationship is crazy intense and scary and…” She sniffed. “Everything happened so fast. I feel like I have whiplash.”

He sighed deeply and drew her face to his chest. “I know. Me too.”

 


 

The lobby was packed with women, bellies all stages and sizes. Looking at them, Rey didn’t feel so massive with her eighteen-week old stomach nestled underneath Ben’s hand.

“Stop picking at your nails,” Ben said, bringing her fingers to his lips.

“I can’t. I’m nervous.”

“Is your guess still a girl?”

Rey nodded. “Mother’s intuition, perhaps? Oh, and have you seen some of the dresses we could put her in? When I was shopping for maternity clothes last week, I saw the loveliest thing. I should’ve take a photograph. Blue chiffon, pink lace, and a bow tie on the front.”

He kissed her, lingering against her lips. “You could’ve got it.”

“Oh I know, but I didn’t want to waste your money.”

“It’s your money, for the baby or anything you need.”

Every month since they’d been apart, Ben had given her 1500 pounds. She’d tried to protest—but he’d been adamant about it being intended for a private obstetrician and the general expenses of carrying his child. He felt guilty, she realized. Like he had when he gave her that money in Tokyo for a dress. But if he always felt so guilty, why couldn’t he do the right thing the first time?

“I’m very happy you flew all this way for only a day. Thank you. I’m so nervous. I hope she’s healthy and…” Rey had to stop or she’d cry again.

“She will be. You haven’t had complications so far.”

Rey leaned her head against his shoulder, mind buzzing with possibilities. Would it truly be a girl? Was she growing well? Healthy? Would she look like Ben, her, or a mix between them both? How would she—

Red hair. Blue and white polka dot business dress, glancing around the lobby. Rey rushed to her feet and walked toward her, trying to put as much distance between herself and Ben as possible in three seconds.

“There you are,” Mara said with a smile.

“Mum, what are you doing here?”

Mara pulled her discreetly to the side, voice hushed. “When you left, I had a think. I haven’t been completely supportive of you deciding to have the baby, I know. I suppose I thought you’d at least consider abortion. And when you said you were going alone to such an important appointment, it didn’t sit well with me. I mulled it over for an hour until Leia couldn’t stand my worrying anymore and ordered me to be here for you. So here I am. Doing my good motherly deed. Are you alright? You look upset.”

Rey swallowed. “No, I’m fine, really. I’m surprised to see you.”

“Did you forget your handbag at the office?”

“No, umm, mum, listen. The baby’s father, my boyfriend, is here. I lied to you. I’m sorry.”

“Oh? Where?” Mara craned her neck, eyes skimming over the lobby. “You’ve been so secretive about him.”

Rey tried to block her view—bobbing her head up and down. But Mara froze, eyes growing wide. What did Rey think she could do? Ben was sitting, but he wasn’t a small man. Not at all. His large frame and long face could be recognized by anyone that knew him.

Her gaze snapped to Rey. “What is he doing here?”

“Can I explain?”

“Is he the baby’s father?”

Everyone in the lobby seemed to be staring at them now. Rey looked over at Ben, his eyebrows furrowed, arms crossed. He eyed the door.

“Yes,” Rey stated determinedly. “I know you’re upset with me. But please be civil. He’s been extremely supportive.”

“How could you? Him? Really?” Mara pursed her lips, nostrils flaring a little. “Well, then.”

Rey could see she wanted to say more, and if they’d been alone and not in a busy waiting room, Mara would have told Rey exactly what she thought. But they weren’t. Mara breathed in and walked toward Ben, heels clicking on the tile.

With his eyes on the ground, Ben squirmed in his chair like a child caught in a lie. Rey almost released the laugh rising to her lips. Kylo Ren. A tall, broad shouldered man with the worst mouth Rey had ever heard—afraid of a slight, short woman who sewed pink frills on every curtain and decorative pillow.

“So,” Mara began, plopping into the seat next to him. “Guess you’ve never heard of wrap it before you tap it?”

“MUM!”

“Pull the plug so you don’t fill the jug?”

Ben slouched in his chair, jaw locked.

“That one doesn’t even make sense,” Rey mumbled. “And can we please not talk about water? I have to pee.”

“I’m just having a good bit of fun with him. But I suppose Kylo Ren doesn’t do fun. Apparently just my daughter. Whom he’s known since she was a child.”

“Mum, really, stop.”

“Rey Jackson?” the receptionist called.

Rey grabbed her handbag. “It’s time, and I would really like it if you both came.”

“As long as she doesn’t speak to me, everything’s fine,” Ben spat, standing up. His hand wrapped around Rey’s waist in that possessive, Kylo Ren way—fingers glued to her skin.

Mara tensed at Rey’s side, staring at their contact. “It appears you don’t need me, my love. This is a personal time for you both.”

“Please,” Rey insisted. “I want you with me too. It’s your grandchild.”

Mara considered that for a moment, continuing to stare at Ben’s hand around Rey’s waist. “Alright.”

Mara and Ben both followed her into the room, Ben’s hand still clutched protectively around her stomach.

“Have a seat,” the sonogram technician said to them, gesturing to the big chair in the center of the room.

Rey felt Mara and Ben’s eyes on her. She didn’t know if it was Mara glaring at Ben or vise-versa, but the negative feelings were undeniable. Thoughts danced around her head when she should’ve been paying attention. A part of her wanted to grasp Ben’s hand, pull him close and experience this moment together, alone, but another part wanted her mother’s hand, telling her that everything would be okay with the baby and Ben. But neither was the reality. Was this how it would always be? Stuck between wanting her mother and the man she loved? Could she handle a lifetime of rude comments and glares between them, her family? Would her child be stuck living between two countries, two systems, and two people that hated one another?

With the lukewarm goop smothered on, the ultrasound technician, who had introduced herself as Emily, rolled the probe across Rey’s stomach. “Nervous?” she asked, focusing on the screen.

“A little,” Rey replied.

Ben squeezed her hand tightly, lips offering a warm smile. Mara was on the other side, standing above her and tucking strands of Rey’s hair behind her ears.

“Don’t be. You’re a little early for an ultrasound, aren’t you?”

“Our work schedules are quite busy in August.”

“I see. What do you do for work?” Emily moved the probe across Rey’s stomach, trying to get a clear picture. The screen flashed black and white, shapes like rippling water. One moment it would take on the form of a baby and the next, it would go back to waves. “Just getting a few images of the placenta,” Emily explained.

Rey told her about her job as an ambassador for the English Resistance, the speeches she gave at universities, the conferences she attended in Japan and the U.K. “And the father wanted me to receive check-ups according to the Japanese and American standards,” Rey added with a playful glance in Ben’s direction.

“No worries,” Emily said. “She is well looked after.”

Ben’s face remained neutral, the mask of Kylo Ren. “Yes, we have a private doctor now. I don’t trust some aspects of the governmental system.”

Rey looked to her left and right. Who should she focus on? On the right, there was Ben, her child’s father. On the left, there was Mara, her mother. Every few seconds, Rey noticed how Mara would glare at Ben, her jaw ticking slightly. Ben, however, seemed to ignore her, eyes only on Rey.

Rey decided to focus on the screen. At last, the picture stabilized and took on the form of a baby.

“And there’s your baby,” Emily said.

Mara gasped. “Oh, Rey! Look at those little fingers and toes. Amazing.”

Ben brushed away tears from her cheeks. “You okay?”

Mara handed her a tissue, and Rey dabbed fruitlessly under her eyes. Emily took pictures, measured the head, and made notes while Rey stared at the screen, speechless.

“Now, do you want to know the sex?”

Rey glanced at Ben. His hand tightened around her palm.

Emily moved the probe to what appeared to be the baby’s bottom, little greyscale legs flashing across the screen. Rey squinted her eyes, heart racing. She’d affirmed over and over when thinking of this day for the past month since she’d made the appointment: she wouldn’t be disappointed as long as the baby was healthy.

Emily raised her eyebrows. “Wow, the legs are nice and spread today. Not a shy one at all.” A pause. “I think...” She did a few more passes across Rey’s stomach. Every second and brush of the probe felt like an eternity.

Mara clapped her hands once with joy. “Oh look, a dick, just like his father!”

“It does look like a boy.” Emily let out an awkward laugh. “Yes, I think we can call it. You are having a boy. Congratulations.”

The pressure on her palm was gone, hand empty. Ben. He was staring blankly ahead at the screen.  

“I could’ve sworn I was having a girl,” Rey whispered, unnerved by his reaction.

“It definitely looks like a boy. Do you see this here?” The screen focused on a slight protruding shape. “A boy.”

Rey leaned forward. “Those are his bits?”

“Yes. If it was a girl, these would be more tucked up, less out there if that makes sense.”

Rey’s eyes burned. It was supposed to be a happy moment between her and Ben, the confirmation of what she’d dreamt about for the last two months. A girl in Ben’s arms, tiny voice shouting daddy! daddy!   and laughing as he tickled her. It was all gone. The bows, the dresses. The looks Ben would give her while he cradled her tiny form.

Mara handed Rey another tissue and rubbed her back. “I know you wanted a girl, but a little boy will be fun. I’ve heard boys are usually more attached to their mothers . He will be such a sweet little thing, can’t you see it?” Mara gave Rey’s back a pat. “Oh, it’s alright, my love. Don’t cry. I was only having a go at Ben just now.”

Ben remained silent, suspended. Emily took the rest of the pictures she needed and made a few more notes.

“Is he healthy?” Rey asked once Emily removed the probe and began to wipe down her belly.

“I can’t comment on that. Your doctor will contact you within a few days, but as far as I can tell, all his measurements look great.”

“That’s wonderful!” Mara exclaimed. “That’s all that matters—a healthy baby, boy or not.”

But Ben’s emotionless expression didn’t change.

 


 

When they left the hospital, Mara asked to speak to Rey alone in her car for a few minutes.

“I’ll meet you at the hotel in about an hour,” she told Ben, standing on her toes to kiss him. His lips were loose, eyes unfocused. “I need to grab my suitcase at the house anyway.”

“Yeah, take your time.”

“Everything will be okay, right?”

“Yeah. Sure.”

His response worried her, but she didn’t show it, instead walking to Mara’s car and reminding herself to breathe after every step. The baby was healthy. Mara was right. That’s all that mattered.

When she made it into the car and shut the door, Mara turned to face her, shaking her head. “How could you? You know what he did to the company. I told you what kind of person he was. I told you to stay away from him.”

“I love him.”

“You don’t know what love really, truly is. You’re twenty-one, he’s nearly ten years older than you. He knows better.”

The tears were back. Hot, fresh, streaming down her face in thick globs. “Can you please stop? I love him. You can’t change that. He’s the father of this child. You can’t change that either. I’m not in the mood to argue with you.”

“He’s… upset about it being a boy, isn’t he?”

She choked. “Yes, and I don’t know what to do. It feels like one crisis after another, and I can’t take it anymore. You don’t want me to be with him, but you don’t understand how hard I tried to stay away. I can’t. No matter what I do. It all comes back to him. I haven’t stopped thinking about him for eight years.”

“That’s why I said he knows better. He’s so much older than you. The things he did to his ex-girlfriend, Rey…”

“I know about them. He told me.”

“He physically and emotionally abused her, and if he’s the same as he was eight years ago, he’s an alcoholic. I’m surprised he hasn’t destroyed his health yet. What with the way I know Alexander works him to the bone.”

“I love him,” Rey repeated, defiantly this time. “And Yuki still talks to him so he couldn’t have been that awful.”

“Don’t make excuses. You can’t change him.” Mara shook her head. “Please, be smart.”

“What would you like me to do? Tell him he can’t be a part of his child’s life?”

“Of course not! I’m saying you don’t have to be with him. You can choose that.”

“No.”

“No?”

“No. I’m staying with him. I love him. What don’t you understand about that?”

“You’re flying with him to Sapporo tomorrow, aren’t you?”

Rey didn’t reply.

Mara touched her hand. “Rey, be careful. Alexander Snoke is not a good man. It’s a breach of your contract to have relations with employees from other recruiting companies, but First English is notorious for having high consequences for offenders. Ben could get in a lot of trouble, and for the safety of you and the baby, be smart.”

“You think Alexander will do something?”

“Kylo Ren makes him a lot of money. Ben is bloody good at his job, one of the best representatives I’ve ever seen. His speeches are eloquent, his Japanese near-native. For everything bad that man is, he’s brilliant. Him having a baby with a representative from a rival company will not go well. I don’t know what Alexander will do, but be careful.”

 


 

 

Ben was waiting for Rey in the lobby again when she returned to the hotel, this time sitting in one of the chairs.

“Not quite yet time for dinner, is it?” Rey asked awkwardly.

“No. What do you wanna do?” He didn’t look at her as he said it, a complete shift from how he’d arrived.

“Could we have a lazy night in? I’m exhausted. I worked most of the weekend to prepare for the conference.”

She followed him to the hotel room in silence. The drive home with Mara had gone similarly after their talk. Wherever Rey turned, it seemed there was someone unhappy with her or her decisions. Ben didn’t want a boy, that was clearly etched in every glance, a look rooted in something deeper than disappointment.

The door closed. His lips collided with hers, hands cupping her neck. The change was so abrupt, Rey almost choked. He tugged down her stockings and slipped a hand underneath her bra, brushing over her swollen belly and squeezing her breasts.

“Ben, wait.”

He didn’t. He was taking off his jeans now, hardness pressing against her abdomen. Lips consumed hers, strong, demanding. “Shut up and let me fuck you.”

“Not...” A kiss. “Yet…” A breath. “Can we talk?”

He forced her gently onto the bed.

“Ben, please. Stop.”

“What the fuck is your problem?!” he exploded. We haven’t had sex in two fucking months. I’ve flown twelve goddamn hours and spent three fucking grand so I could be with you, and you’re telling me to stop? Fuck you.”

He rolled over the other side of the bed, chest heaving.

His words stung, but Rey swallowed the tears and caressed his arm. “It’s not that I don’t want to have sex. I do. But first I want to talk about what happened today, at the hospital.”

“What the fuck is there to say? I don’t wanna talk. I wanna fuck.” He snatched her hand and pressed it to the top of his hardness. Wet, ready. Her core pulsed with heat. “I thought you weren’t thirteen anymore. Is that how you want me to see you?”

“Why do you hate the idea of having a boy so much?!” she snapped. “I know it’s not what we wanted, but really, what’s the difference?! He’s healthy, Ben. We have a healthy baby boy, not many couples get that.” She snatched his hand and forced him to touch her stomach. “ Your son.”

“Yeah, that’s the problem. He’s mine.”

She let his hand fall away, stunned. “There’s nothing wrong with you.”

“Yes, there is, and you fucking know it! Don’t give me that goddamn garbage when I know you just spent the last fucking hour listening to that bitch tell you to leave me.”

“She’s worried about me! She’s my mother.”

“No, she’s worried about me around you. I know I’m fucked up, Rey. I have a flaw in my code. I’ve always known it. And you know what a boy means? Every single fucking person will look at him and wonder when he’s gonna fuck it all up. He has to, right? Because he’s my son.”

“He’s a baby! He’s innocent.”

“For now.”

“Why are you so negative? You say you have a flaw in your code, but I don’t understand. What happened to you?”

He scrubbed his face. “Nothing. Leave it.”

“You can tell me.”

“I said leave it! Fuck!”

“Stop shouting at me! It’s a question.” She cradled his face, forcing him to look at her. “Let me help you.”

He shrugged off her touch. “I don’t want your help. I haven't slept in two days. I missed you. It’s been two fucking months.” His fingers moved to her center, playing at the entrance. Lips brushed her ear; the softness made her shiver. “I missed this.” Groaning, he kissed her neck, bit the soft flesh. “You smell amazing.”

His lips trailed down her breasts, hands continuing to rub her. He was using sex to avoid talking about the issue, she realized, but her body didn’t care. It didn’t when he was near. His smell. The taste of his mouth. It was different without the whiskey, yes, but him. Ben. Why did he he have this effect on her?  That first night together, in the lift, when he’d caught her. The night she’d likely conceived their son. It had taken one night for him to leave it all behind, his family, his ex-girlfriend, her. And one night to start putting it together again.

She returned his advances, grabbing and stroking him, letting him toss her dress on the floor.

But he didn’t cup her stomach like he’d done weeks prior during sex. He avoided it, almost pretended it didn’t exist.

Between open-mouthed kisses, Rey brought his hand to feel the baby. He tensed, eyes shooting to hers. Broken, brows furrowed. He swallowed. “Rey…”

“We have a son.” She placed a messy kiss on his lips. “Despite what you think about yourself, there’s nothing wrong with you. There never was. I love you so much, and everything will be alright.”

Ben nodded, swallowing again. His fingers kneaded circles across the bare skin on her belly.

She pushed down her underwear and guided him inside, deliberate and sure. The dance started slow, him on top of her and mindful of the baby between them. “It’s strange with you like this,” he whispered.

Rey laughed, stopping him briefly to insert a pillow underneath her cramping back. “He’d be mortified if he knew we’d done this while I was pregnant with him, wouldn’t he?”

Ben responded by thrusting a little harder, teeth gritted. She let him do the positions he wanted and didn’t complain when he compelled her to turn around. He never forgot to pleasure her anyway. His fingers slipped between her legs, gentle but rough strokes that made her body clench around his. “Where did you learn to do this?” she asked, panting.

He kissed her cheek, face next to hers. “What do you mean? Pleasure you?”

“Touch me like this. Most men have no idea I think.”

“Most men are selfish in bed. I wanna make you feel good.”

She turned her head around slightly to meet his eyes. “Then why don’t you like to look at me when we have sex?”  

His gaze snapped to the sheets. “Years of hooking up? It’s also easier to get you off in this position.”

“Are there any other positions you know where you can do this?”

“I don’t wanna hurt the baby.”

She shrugged.

“Don’t look at me like that. We have a week together, right? I promise we’ll experiment.”

“You go from not caring about the baby to this? I don’t get you.”

Ben pulled out and turned her around to face him. “Of course I fucking care. I’m… I told you. This scares the shit out of me. How many times do I have to tell you? I don’t do this. I never wanted a family.”

I will not cry, I will not cry. “Then why are you still here if this is clearly not what you want?”

He pulled away to the edge of the bed and scrubbed his face. “You always misconstrue everything I say!”

“All you’ve done since I’ve fallen pregnant is tell me how much you don’t want this.”

“Fuck! I left because I thought you’d taken the pill! But that was a goddamn lie. You didn’t actually take it until after I left, yeah?” He stood up, put on his boxers. “For the record, you’re right. I was probably gonna ask you not to take it. Who the fuck knows why.”

“Where are you going?”

“I need a cigarette. I haven’t smoked since I left Tokyo. You asked me to cut back, and I have.”

Desperate, she clung to his arm. “Please don’t go. I’m sorry. It’s been a hard day. I was so worried about seeing you again and the ultrasound and...” She choked.

He answered with a shake of his head, smirking.   

“I want to have a bath,” Rey forced out, wiping her eyes. “Join me?”

“Isn’t that bad for the baby?”

“I’m not allowed to have it as hot as I’d like, but no, I’m allowed to bathe. Please just don’t go.”

“You don’t fucking get it, do you?” He took her into his arms and kissed her head. “How many times do I have to tell you that too? I’m not going anywhere.”

 


 

Rey wasn’t so sure. He told her over and over again he was with her, here for her and their son, but his eyes were far away. When she woke the next morning, he was, of course, already up, breakfast on the table.

Over buttered toast, Rey messaged Leia to tell her the baby’s sex.

 

Rey Jackson

So guess what? We’re having a boy. Congratulations, grandma. ;)

 

Leia’s response was almost instantaneous.

 

Leia Solo

I’m SO happy for you both. Boys are a lot of fun. How is Ben taking the news?

 

Rey didn’t answer her question, a sick feeling in the bottom of her stomach. Ben was across from her, staying like he’d promised, but not much else. His eyes were distant, unfocused. It continued when they changed planes in Tokyo and the rest of the way to Sapporo.

“When we land,” he began when they were three hours into their flight. “We have to keep our distance when we’re out in public, okay? I haven’t told Alexander about the baby, and I don’t want anyone finding out we’re together until the mess with the contracts has been sorted out.”

“Won’t he find out anyway? I look pregnant now.”

“Do you have anything you can put on? A sweater? A coat?”

“It’s summer, Ben, and I’m already uncomfortable enough with your kid inside of me.”

Rey had avoided the subject for the past seven weeks apart, and so had he. But the reality of their situation couldn’t be denied much longer. If they wanted to continue their relationship, one of them would have to quit. One would have to sacrifice their career for the other. It made Rey pick at her fingernails the entire flight.

They landed late into the night and went to their separate hotel rooms. Rey wanted to cry as she tried to sleep without him. He was in the same hotel, a room a floor above her, and she couldn’t be with him. Had his wish for different rooms really been to keep Alexander from finding out or to be away from her for a while? And why couldn’t he sleep with her? He could leave in the morning. She’d pointed this out to him, but he disagreed.

The distant expression didn’t change. Rey woke early and got dressed. No breakfast waiting for her. No knock. No Ben either. Her head hurt, her eyes throbbed. What were they going to do? They had two days of this conference.

“Are you alright?” Amilyn asked, sitting down next to Rey.

“Why is everyone always asking me if I’m alright?” Rey growled. “I’m fine.”

Amilyn lowered her voice. “How’s the baby?”

Rey looked at her stomach, then at Ben who was four rows down to her left. She’d tried her best to cover up the bump with a light shrug sweater, but it was noticeable if someone really peered at it. No doubt Alexander would see it and realize she was pregnant. But maybe he wouldn’t immediately suspect it was Ben’s.

“Completely healthy and a boy.” Rey was sure Leia had told Amilyn about her predicament, which would explain Amilyn’s lack of shock at seeing her pregnant.

“Should I say congratulations?”

“Yes, you can. I’m keeping him.”

Amilyn turned the conversation to business, explaining that most of the first day would be introductions into each of the companies and presenting on what they offered. Some were into both private and public markets in Hokkaido. First English itself was one, its reach spreading into eikaiwas—private English schools—too.

Kaydel and Poe arrived, coffees in hand.

“Rey!” Kaydel exclaimed, throwing her arms around Rey. “How have you been holding up? I heard your news! Congratulations.”

Rey gave her the usual run-down about the baby, the appointments, finding out it was a boy. Then she caught sight of him.

No hair. Thin, grey eyebrows. Alexander. Rey tried to continue her conversation with Kaydel, took her usual breaths, and covered her stomach with her cardigan.

But she couldn’t hide the baby when she stood up and presented. A smirk creeped onto Alexander’s shrewd face, eyes darting between her and Ben. Rey ignored him and put on the biggest smile she could without looking fake, flying through her presentation slides. Laughing at the right time. Making jokes at the right time. Each word calculated.

All the while she knew, completely knew Alexander would confront her. That moment came around 5 P.M. when Rey was leaving.

“Rey? A moment to speak?” Alexander asked, right outside of the conference room.

Rey looked around for Ben, but he wasn’t there. “I’d really rather not, thank you.”

Glancing over her shoulder, she walked as fast as she could without getting overworked and made sure he wasn’t following her. She’d already told Amilyn, Poe, and Kaydel she wouldn’t be attending the after-party tonight, and none of them protested. Looks of pity. That’s what they’d given her—their brows knitted together. And Ben? Ben hadn’t once glanced in her direction the entire day. She’d attempted to catch his eye a few times, but he’d seemed to be thinking hard, a hand pressed to his forehead.

Rey dropped onto the hotel bed and sobbed into the pillow. He didn’t come to see her that night, though he did send a text around 9 P.M. when she was drifting off.

 

Kylo Ren

Only one more day of this. Busy with work and Alexander. He knows about the baby.

 

She didn’t answer it. What could she say? Ben had been a fool to think Alexander wouldn’t figure it out. And she had this throbbing in her stomach that lingered. Something bad was going to happen. It had been there the past two days in Ben’s eyes. No matter what he said about not leaving, it was there. The distance in his gaze. The way he stared at the baby—like an unwanted, inconvenient thing.

Rey cradled her stomach. “I don’t care if your father doesn’t want you,” she told him, rubbing the skin back and forth. “I do. You’re already so loved.”

Afterward, she called Leia crying, voice raspy. “What sh-should I do? He hasn’t acknowledged me since we arrived. I feel like he’s going to tell me he wants to break up. That or drop off completely again, and I can’t take it.”

Leia whispered words of comfort, then said, “He has to be very careful. Mara told me she explained to you how much trouble he could get into with Alexander. You’re also pregnant, jet-lagged, and exhausted. You should try to sleep. Amilyn says you did amazing with the presentation today.”

Her words didn’t help when the one person’s voice she wanted to hear wasn’t picking up his phone. It went to voicemail, no answer.

 

Rey Jackson

So is that it? Are we done?

Kylo Ren

No. Can’t talk right now. Need to sort my head out. Don’t worry. Everything is fine.

Rey Jackson

I love you.

 

No response. Rey slammed her phone onto the nightstand and cried herself to sleep.

 


 

The next day, the same shit. By noon, she was in the bathroom sobbing again. This went deeper than Ben being worried about his contract. It was normal to greet a rival ambassador, normal to show them the slightest bit of attention. Everyone else did it. Not Ben. And it became clear to everyone at Rey’s table. Kaydel had made a comment about Ben not being engaged in the conference; a comment that sent Rey running to the bathroom after they breaked.

“Rey? Are you in here?” came Amilyn’s voice. “A few high school teachers will be giving presentations upstairs. We’re about to start.”

“Thank you. I’ll be done in a second.”

Amilyn was waiting for her outside the bathroom door. “Do you want to go back to the hotel? We can handle it from here. It’s only watching presentations. You aren’t needed to do anything today.”

“I’m fine. Can everyone stop worrying about me, please?”

Amilyn crossed her arms, tilted her head to the side, earrings swinging. “I know this is none of my business, but he’s the father isn’t he?”

“Why does everyone know my business?”

“I’m not trying to interfere, but you’re having a child with one of the most disliked men in our company. And we all noticed how he looked at you in Tokyo and Kyoto to now. If you want to talk, I’m here, but I think you should go back to the hotel and get some rest.”

“No, I’m fine. I can do this.”

Amilyn touched her arm. “When Leia told me you were pregnant, I advised her not to send you. The jetlag and the stress. It’s not good for you. She said you insisted.”

“It’s my job. I want to work.”

“And you’re amazing. The boards were happy with your presentation yesterday, and they’ve been enjoying hearing about the different companies and teaching style methods. Please don’t feel pressured to stay.”

“I want to. It’s a distraction from this mess.”

Amilyn conceded, and they made their way upstairs. With a pang, Rey noticed Ben wasn’t there. He was likely in another part of the conference listening in on the elementary school or junior high school presentations.

Rey trudged through the rest of the day, dazed. No sign of Ben. Would they still be going to Kyoto together? They were supposed to fly out in the morning. She didn’t attend an after party again, instead excusing herself and heading back to her hotel room where she lay on the bed, trying not to cry.

A knock. Her heart raced, brain running away with thoughts of him. She checked her appearance in the mirror, took a breath, and opened the door. “What do you want?” she demanded, looking at the blank wall behind him. Yet, she noticed the shadows underneath his eyes, the slightly sunken in cheeks—like he hadn’t been sleeping or eating.

“Hey. I’m sorry for the past few days.” He stuck his hands in his pockets, eyes locked on hers. “But can you put on something nice? We need to talk.”

 


 

Ben hailed a taxi and took her to a tempura restaurant on the other side of Sapporo. Picking at her fingernails, Rey didn’t mention how he’d ignored her the past two days or how much his distance had made her cry. What good would it do? It would start another fight.

He was probably going to break up with her now. Tell her there was someone else, that it had all been a mistake and he really didn’t want her or to be a father. And seeming to confirm that suspicion, he didn’t touch her and barely looked in her direction.

In the taxi, silence consumed them. Rey wanted to scream, cry, shout, anything to get him to notice what he was doing to her.

He didn’t. Another nice restaurant, hair and suit crisp, but they might as well have been strangers, not two people about to share a child in five months.  

It was her that finally spoke as they were waiting for the hostess. “Did you make reservations?”

“Of course. I called a month in advance.”

A month in advance, but had forgotten to mention it to her.

More silence on the way to their table. He ordered a glass of whiskey, neat, and Rey struggled to mask her disappointment. He’d promised to cut back, but here he was, tumbler pressed to his lips.

The meal passed with little said other than superficial matters. He ordered another drink, talked about business, the conference, how the next few months would be getting busier now that First English was seeking to expand more into the private eikaiwa market. All this meant more work for him. More being away from each other. He didn’t have to say it. She knew.

Rey picked at her half-eaten tempura meal, feeling sick.

“Alexander wants to focus on Sapporo and Tokyo. There are a few investors very interested in those are—”

“For fuck’s sake!” Rey blurted out in a half-whispered tone, throwing her napkin onto the table. “You wanted to talk. Get it over with.”

“I am talking to you. I have a point to all of this.”

Her eyes pricked; the tears came. “Go on, get it over with. You want to break up, I know. Just do it. Stop bloody dragging it out, and do it. Say it.”

“You think I’m going to break up with you? Rey, I told you. I’m not going anywhere.” He looked at her then, really looked at her in a way he hadn’t the past three days. Tentatively, he reached out a hand and stroked her fingers.

“You’ve ignored me the entire conference. You didn’t come to say hello. Not once. I cried all night.”

Ben massaged his eyes. “I told you not to worry. Fuck… I don’t know how to say this.”

“I don’t understand.”

He froze, gritted his teeth.

“What? You’re scaring me. Do you want me to get an abortion or something? Is there a problem with Alexander? What?”

Ben reached into his suit jacket and pulled out a red box. Rotated it in his fingers. Once, twice, a third time. He stood up and walked to her side of the table. One knee. He was bending down on one knee.

Rey couldn’t breathe, think. The tears refused to cease. They rolled and rolled down her cheeks, permanent, unyielding.

The distance, the look in his eyes when they’d found out it was a boy. It was the same expression, but softer somehow. She wasn’t ready. He wasn’t ready. What would she say? What would she d—

He presented the open box, grasped her hand, then whispered those two little words, “Marry me.”

Chapter Text

Kylo

“No.”

His heart raced. “No?”

Rey stared blankly at the ring, tears falling from her eyes.

Kylo cleared his throat. “I know things haven’t been good. I know we’ve been fighting. But I wanna make this work. Spend the rest of my life with you. With our son.” He placed a shaky hand on her belly. “I want this. Both of you.”

Her eyes snapped to his, lips unmoving. That gaze—it said everything she wouldn’t. He’d hurt her. Badly. It wasn’t the same type of pain he’d put her through eight years ago. This one had been slow and nagging, like that pressure on his shoulder, those nights waking up gasping for air. He could feel it, always digging into his flesh. But why? He’d tried to tell her not to worry, do the right thing, while his mind had raced and raced and raced. No matter what he did. He hadn’t slept. Hadn’t eaten. He’d needed time, and of course she wouldn’t understand that. He should’ve known.

“Rey?”

She looked around. Some people were staring now, expressions curious.

“I…” She choked. “I think I’m going to be sick.”

She rushed to her feet and sprinted to the bathroom.

He ran after her, knocked on the door to the private stall. “Rey?”

Silence. He tried the door. Locked. “Rey? Come on. Let’s talk at least.”

When she didn’t answer, he rubbed his eyes, twirling the ring between his fingertips. He’d picked it out a month ago at a private jeweler in Tokyo. The diamond was simple like Leia’s had been but radiant, one stone, solitaire. He’d planned the proposal out—what he would say to her. His contract, the nature of the business. Stood in front of the mirror and recited it. Alexander wants me to work more hours. If we get married, we can be together, as a family. It didn’t matter if he was ready. He’d made the restaurant reservations, had planned the proposal to be genuine. But then time began running out. He found out he was having a son. Alexander discovered he was the father…

And the things he’d told him had almost changed everything.

Contracts. Visas. A son. The old secrets, the new.

The door burst open. “Take me back to the hotel,” Rey demanded. Mascara ran down her face, nose cherry red, eyes swollen, like she’d been punched.

“If that’s what you want.”

Kylo paid the tab and hailed a taxi, placing his hand on the small of her back.

She recoiled. “Don’t fucking touch me!”

If he’d thought the silence had been bad earlier, now it was hollow, the engagement ring limp in his hand.

“Talk to me. Come on,” he said, reaching to stroke her stomach.

She slapped his hand away, stared at the back of the seat. “How dare you. Did Alexander put you up to this?”

He tried to block out that conversation, the things he knew. “I’ve been thinking about it since early June. The first week we were apart.”

“And you didn’t think to talk to me about it? To see how I felt about something like this? We haven’t discussed it at all! We’ve done nothing but fight for the past seven weeks. I thought… I thought you took me out tonight… to break up with me.” Head bowed, she sobbed, shoulders convulsing. “I was thinking… how the fuck will I tell this child one day his father didn’t want him, that he was abandoned… all because he’s a boy? How would I ex-explain that?”

“Rey…” Kylo couldn’t breathe. His eyes burned, blurry. “Why did you think I’d break up with you? I love you. Fuck. I know I’ve been distant since we found out, but you don’t know what I’ve been dealing with.”

“Distant?” She laughed bitterly. “You proposed to me, and it looked like the last thing you’d ever want to do. You’re a liar. You proposed because of your contract, didn’t you?”

“It’s not about the fucking contract! Fuck! Why is everything always a goddamn struggle with you?! I wanted it to be a surprise. I wanted to take you to a nice restaurant, have a good night. Talk about our future! I wanted you to know I was serious about us, about our son.”

“Right! That’s why you’ve ignored me the past two days! You said I wasn’t alone! But no one, no one, has ever made me feel as alone as you have! No one!”

Her words hung in the air.

Ben felt faint, sick. And after all these years, after holding it in together for so long, he couldn’t deny it any longer. The image of his son on the monitor. The hand on his shoulder. Rey’s sobs. All of it banged against his skull.

“I don’t know what to say,” he murmured.

“Then stop lying. Do what you’re good at and leave. It’s what you want.”

“No. Look at me.”

He grabbed her face, but she snapped out of his touch, disgusted.

“Rey, please.” Hand on his shoulder. The pain. The wedding ring. “Be quiet. I’ll be gentle.” Han leaving again and again and again. Waiting… waiting for what? To be left again? “Take care of your mom, kid.” Leia sobbing into her hands. “I’m so sorry, Ben.”

The ring slipped from his fingers, fell to the floor.

The divorce proceedings that never came. A cycle that started and ended, started and ended. Han back, kissing Leia. Lying awake at night, their shouts growing louder and louder. Yuki staring shocked at him, blood dripping from her hand. Alexander. “She’s not who you think she is.” The pain. The wedding ring. Fourth finger. “Shhh…”

“Ben? You’re scaring me.”

“You don’t fucking know what he did, what he did to me.” An animalistic sound resounded through the cab, a sound he had never heard before. Where was it coming from?

Him. He was sobbing, eyes crushed together.

Pressure on his shoulder. He flinched.

“Ben? We’re at the hotel. I paid the driver. Let’s go, okay?”

Her body against his, arm around his abdomen. He should push her away, tell her he was fine, but the world spun. “The ring…”

“I have it. See?” She held it up in her fingers; the diamond caught the artificial light slightly, radiant.

A blur of doors and decorations, and she was leading him to her hotel room. The softness of the bed. He closed his eyes, images swaying. “Ohayou…” Yuki’s breath in his face. His mother, tickling him. Laughter.

“Ben?”

Her face, the brown flecks in her hazel eyes. Pointed red nose, the delicate cheekbones, the shadows.

Fingers touched his skin, smoothing over wetness. “What happened?” she whispered.

He breathed in and shook his head. “I’m sorry.”

“What was that? What happened to you?”

“I’m okay,” he said, stroking her hair. “I should’ve given you more warning before tonight. Talked about it before. Not ignored you for the past two days.”

“I don’t care about the fucking proposal! What the hell was that? In the taxi?”

He didn’t respond.

“Ben? Please.”

“I’m sorry. It won’t happen again.”

Rey caressed his face, searching his eyes. Hers were soft, filled with tears.

Kylo breathed out. He knew. It was time. Time to let go. If she left too after he told her, at least it was done. Released. And he could say he tried.

He pulled her closer, stroking her belly. “Do you remember your question in Tokyo? About the worst thing that ever happened to me as a child?”

She tensed in his arms. “What about it?”

“I lied to you too. When I was a child, a family friend…” Say it, Ben. “A family friend did things to me.” The tears wouldn’t stop, but he continued anyway. Recounted everything that had happened all those years ago. How it had started at seven or eight—touching in his room when his parents weren’t around. If you say anything, if you tell anyone, you won’t like the consequences. So he didn’t talk about it. He’d tried to tell Leia, once, to ask her if it was normal for someone to demand you take your clothes off and let him do things to you. But the words—formed and died on his lips. For four years, he’d thought it was. Normal. He had told him it was. That voice, meaty fingers exploring.

Rey stared at him, mouth open, but he continued. Continued until his tears dried and his throat felt cracked. He told her after two years, when he was ten, how it had developed beyond simply touching. Take off your pants. That’s a good boy. I want to try something, okay? It might hurt a little. Be still and everything will be fine. He’d turned him around and then—

The pain. Kylo thought he’d used some type of lube, but he wasn’t sure. And the sick thing? He’d liked it. Eventually. The man, the friend, would make him get hard and come, and he liked it. But when Kylo was twelve, it stopped. Told him he was too old then. That’s when he’d experimented with men. Only once and only touching, kissing, and receiving oral sex.

“I didn’t have any romantic interest in men, but I guess I was confused,” Kylo finished. “It stopped when I had sex with a girl for the first time at fourteen. Right before they shipped me off. Got rid of me.”

Cries shook through Rey’s body, face pressed into the nape of his neck. “I-I-I had no idea. Why didn’t you say something? You could’ve told me sooner. I know what it’s like. Ben, I’m…” She sat up, thumbs stroking his cheeks, her tears falling onto his face. “So sorry. That’s why you were worried about it being a boy…”

“If anything happened to him, I’d...” He didn’t want to think of it. The rage, what he’d do if anyone touched his son. His abuser had gotten away with it, but it wouldn’t happen to his son. He’d kill him slowly, enjoy it even as he choked the breath from his lungs.

“Nothing will happen. We’ll protect him.”

“And how does that work if I’m here and you’re there? Ask him, ask Luke. He knows what happened to me. I told him. Why I didn’t want to work with that investor years ago. It was him, the man that… Luke knew. Ask them, ask Mara. She knew too. They all fucking knew. And they didn’t defend me. All those fucking years of abuse, the aftereffects, and they were fine with letting one mistake destroy my entire career and reputation in Japan. All those years of learning Japanese, wasted. Gone.”

Rey squeezed him tighter, but he wasn’t done. Not yet.

“I’m tired of all these fucking secrets.” He sat up and grabbed her hands, pulling her to his chest. “It never ends. Ask me anything. No limit.”

“I don’t know what to ask. I mean, Ben… this is fucked up. Have you seen a professional?”

“Fuck no. Why? So they can give me a pill, call it a day, and they get their fucking paycheck?”

“Maybe they can help you talk through it?”

“I don’t wanna talk through it. I’m fine.”

Rey shook her head in disbelief. “What makes you think they’d put you on medication immediately?”

“Happened to a few of my friends. I don’t need some stupid fucking pill to function, and I don’t need to talk about it. It’s bullshit. I’m telling you because I want this.” He held her stomach. “I want you, and I’m done with the lies.”

Rey considered that for a moment, eyes searching his.

And then came the question he had expected all along—

“What happened with Han?”

 


 

He came two months after Kylo had left Japan. Two months of adjusting, being able to breathe without their constant pestering. No more Yuki pushing him for marriage. No more Leia or Luke or Han. Until—

“Ben!”

Kylo closed the door to the cab and turned around, coffee cup burning his hand. “Han. What do you want?”

Han attempted to hug him, but Kylo recoiled with a glare. “What do you want?” he repeated. “I’m late for a meeting.”

“Kid, what’s going on with you? You quit the English Republic? Changed your number, your name? What the hell is up with you?”

Kylo began walking away. Han stood in his way. “Let me pass, or I’ll have security remove you,” Kylo warned.

“I’ve called your office for weeks. Talk with me for a minute.”

Kylo remembered everything. The leaving. The trips. That pain. “I don’t owe you anything,” he snapped.

“Come on. Five minutes. Tell me what’s going on.”

“No.”

But Han wasn’t so easily dissuaded. For three days, he’d caught up with Kylo when he was going to work. The final straw came when Kylo was leaving a bar with a few of his coworkers and Han was there, standing against the side of the building’s brick wall. Waiting.

Kylo lit a cigarette, let it linger between his lips. “Alright, what the fuck do you want, old man?”

“I just wanna talk.”

Kylo scoffed and took a drag. “Talk. Right.” Talking for Han didn’t mean talking at all if Kylo remembered well. The raised voices. The shattered glasses. Han sleeping on the couch once every other month. That was his parents’ relationship—two people never meant to be together.

“Listen.” Han stepped closer. “I don’t wanna argue. You’re grown now. Can make your own choices. I’m just asking for a chance. I’ll be in the bar at my hotel tonight at 10. Halsing Hotel. Wells Street. Your office is across the street. You know it? Your choice.”

Kylo took the last drag of his cigarette, letting the cherry burn down to the filter.

Han reached into his pocket and pulled out a hotel key. “If it’s late, come up. I’m in Room 216.”

Kylo stared at the key, but took it, flicking his cigarette away. Walking in the other direction, he lit another, not wanting to contemplate that conversation. Walking away was easier. His father didn’t follow him. It wasn’t his way.

Kylo went home, took a long shower. The hands, the ring, the pain. He tried not to think about it. Ordered online takeout. Knocked back drink after drink, anything to forget until another bottle of whiskey sat empty on the counter. His third that week since Han had arrived and decided to bother him. Why the fuck did it have to be now? He’d done everything he could to leave it all behind—changed his name, quit his job, shed every last piece of Ben Solo. He’d been weak like his father.

Her smile, all those teeth showing. For years, Kylo had wondered what led him to seek his father out that night. But maybe it all came back to her. If he told Han his story, told him everything that had happened, maybe she’d hear about it. Not hate him as much as he knew she did.

Or maybe it had nothing to do with her. Maybe it had been his chance to finally release it all—everything that lingered under the surface between him and Han. His abandonment, the nights alone that led to what happened to him for four years. A release to get rid of that pain. A chance to tell someone—anyone—about what he’d carried since he was a child.

Either way, he left that night and took a taxi to Halsing Hotel.

Han was there, sitting at the third table to the left of the entrance, sipping away on what Kylo had suspected was his usual—bourbon whiskey neat. Like father, like son. No matter how far Kylo ran away, there were always those little coincidences staring back at him. A comment Han would make. The alcohol of choice. The leaving and failed relationships. Han had never been a faithful husband. What, with the on and off relationship between him and Leia. Leia had always pretended the affairs didn’t exist, that the numbers in Han’s phone truly had to do with work. But whenever they fought, Kylo knew Han went back to them.

“You came,” Han said, looking up.

Kylo gestured for the waiter, ordering the same—a bourbon neat. “Talk. Let’s get this over with.”

Han waited, took a sip of his drink. “Good taste. Your mom always said we were similar.”

“I’m nothing like you.” The response was clipped and sharp, all the rage Kylo could muster channeled into it.

Han scratched at his beard, longer and grayer now. “I’m trying to understand. You left. Quit your job. Left your mom high and dry when you turned coat and went to work for First English. You didn’t say a word, give a warning. You just left. Why?”

“It’s always about the fucking company isn’t it?” Kylo let out a harsh laugh. “All about money. That’s all you ever gave a fuck about. Not everything is about business, but you wouldn’t get that, would you?”

Han shook his head. “Your ma’s worried about you. We’ve all been worried about you.”

Kylo’s drink arrived. He knocked it back in two gulps. “Bullshit.”

“It’s true. Luke says you got into some kinda trouble?”

“That’s none of your fucking business. And why the fuck would you care? You never gave a shit.”

“I know things weren’t so good between us growing up. Your mom and I. It’s never been easy. I tried.”

“You didn't fucking try.”

“I did. Never worked out though. I know we put you in the middle of that. Is that why you left? Your mom says she wanted you to get the help you needed, get your drinking under control. You know her. Always worried about that shit. Look, you know the D.U.I, we could’ve helped you get out of it. Gotten it thrown out, maybe. Leia just wanted you to get help. You know that. You’re too important to the company. A few months and we could’ve fixed it.”

“I get it now. She put you up to this.”

“She asked me to talk to you, yeah, but I came here on my own. I know I never did right by you, but.” Han’s eyes shone, teary. “I love you. You’re my only kid, my only son.”

“Fuck you.” Kylo stood up.

Han grabbed his arm. “Don’t go. Come on. Have another drink. On me.”

“You wanna know why I left? Besides mom and Luke not defending me and risking my entire goddamn career? You wanna know why, dad? All those fucking years, and you still have no fucking clue.”

“What are you talking about?”

“None of you knew anything. Too fucking busy with your own careers. Always were. Didn’t give a fuck about me. Left me alone. With him.”

Han clutched Kylo tighter. “I don’t understand.”

“Yeah? Then how about this? When you were gone, while you were on the road fucking whatever whore you wanted and mom was busy with political campaigns and parties, someone,” Kylo’s heart lurched, “ did things to the son you claim to love so much. For four years. Then you sent him away—to entire whole fucking country where he barely spoke the language. So yeah, fucking excuse me for leaving the goddamn company. Fuck me for putting it behind me and doing what the fuck was good for me. How’s that for your explanation, dad? Everything you expected it to be?”

Han froze, eyes growing wide. “Someone did things to you? What the hell are you talking about?

“It doesn’t matter.”

Han gripped his shoulders, shaking him a bit. “Are you saying you were abused?”

Kylo didn’t answer.

“Ben? What the fuck are you saying? Who did this to you?”

The name lingered on Kylo’s tongue, so familiar he could almost taste it, feel it roll off. “It doesn’t matter.”

“You’re lying.”

“I’m not fucking lying to you. Fuck!” Kylo slammed his wallet on the table. He couldn’t stop it. Twenty-three years of only Yuki, Luke, Ayane, and Mara knowing. In a rush, it all released.  “Someone raped me, stuck his dick in me, made me fucking come when I was eleven fucking years old. Four fucking years of that shit. Think I’m fucking lying to you now?”

Han’s eyes widened. “The Andersons? Jack and Donna?”

Kylo tensed at the sound of those names.

“Ben, was it him?”

Silence.

Han continued, “Your ma and me—we always made sure you were looked after by people we trusted when we were gone. Why didn’t you say anything?”

“I was eight, dad! Eight when it started! I was a child! What the fuck do you say when you’re that fucking young? He told me it was normal, our little secret. He told me he loved me, that I was perfect, while you were off in some other goddamn city fucking some other woman behind mom’s back! You didn’t give a fucking shit about me!”

Han slumped in his chair. “Kid, I had no idea—”

“Save me the bullshit.” Kylo stood up again, threw a one-hundred dollar bill on the table. “Drink’s on me. I don’t need your fucking money! Never wanted it anyway.”

“Ben!” Han shouted behind him. “Wait!”

Kylo kept walking.

 


 

“What happened after that?” Rey’s teary eyes stared back at him. “You left, and?”

“Leia kept calling my office. It wasn’t like her. When I left the English Republic, she let me go.” As much as Kylo didn’t like to admit it, his mother understood him in a way that Han never had. “But a day after my conversation with Han, she called every hour until I picked up.”

 


 

The shakiness in her voice, the desperation. “Ben, thank God. I haven’t been able to get in touch with your father. He called me two nights ago, said you had told him some things he needed to think about.”

“Calm down,” Kylo said. “What makes you think there’s something wrong?” Han liked to disappear like that, no call, no warning.

“His credit cards. There’s been no activity at all.”

“You know he uses cash predominantly.” Han had an issue with with using credit cards. Always thought the government would use them to spy.

“Please. I just have a feeling that something isn’t right. I don’t know what hotel he’s staying at. He must’ve paid in cash. I know you’re upset with me, but could you check on him? Please?”

“He’s at Halsing Hotel on Wells Street. You can call them yourself.”

“Ben! Wait!”

Kylo was about to hang up the phone when Leia said, “Han told me a little about what happened to you. I’m not sure what to say. I failed as a mother. I know.” Her voice caught, like she was crying. “I’m sorry. Please. Can you go check on him? I won’t bother you again.”

A mixture of emotions flooded through him. Betrayal. Anger. And a strange one he hadn’t felt in a while—worry. Kylo remembered the key Han had given him.

“Fine. I’ll go,” he said, hanging up the phone.

After work, Kylo got a taxi to the hotel. He knocked, waited. Nothing. He knocked again. “Han? Come on. Leia’s worried.” He stuck the key in the reader. The latch was unhooked. “Han?”

Finding Han. It was one of those moments that played like a movie. The series of coincidences, points of impact, that was his life.

But seeing his father like that, with stillness laden in his limbs, Kylo couldn’t move, speak. That point of impact, not truly a point of impact at all, but an unmoving, unspeaking one. Every memory rushing in. Han throwing him in the air. Han releasing his bicycle without training wheels. The feeling of cool spring air hitting his face. Han’s grip on his shoulder, the morning Kylo left for Japan. “You’ll be okay, kid. You’ve been studying Japanese since you were six.”

 


 

“Cardiac arrest. That’s what the coroner said. Dead for a day or two. I didn’t know he had a heart condition, but in a way, it makes sense with how much he drank throughout his life. Had his own record of DUIs. When I was growing up, my grandma, Leia’s mom, talked shit about him before she died. Said I’d turn out like him if Leia wasn’t careful.”

Rey shook her head. “And everyone believes you did it. Mara said it was the stress of the situation. That you could have been easier on him when he was already dealing with so much.”

“That’s bullshit. I didn’t fucking know anything. Hadn’t talked to him in what? Two fucking years? He wanted to know, and I told him. I finally fucking did, and he died.”

Rey pressed her face into his chest. “I don’t know what to say. I’m so sorry, Ben.”

“Mizu ni nagasu. Let it flow in the water. It’s the past.”

She glanced up at him, tears dried. Slowly, softy, her lips met his, mouth opening to him. “This. It being a boy. Marriage. Is this everything you’ve been dealing with for the past two days?” she asked, breath against his face.

“Yes,” he said, knowing it wasn’t the whole truth. It wasn’t his to truth tell.

The way she looked at him, face lighting up into a pained smile. It made his chest ache and swell. He wanted to take her now, lose himself in her body, brush her face with his thumbs.

“Did you mean it when you said you wanted to spend the rest of your life with me?”

“I don’t know. But I have to, right?” He studied her still red face, the streaked mascara lines. “For us to be a family. I wanna be there when he’s born. With you. Take him home. Our home. I can’t do that if you’re in London.”

“Then come with me. You said you lived in London for two separate years. Doesn’t that mean you have British citizenship? We wouldn’t have to get married yet. We could take our time and wait until we’re both ready.”

“I can’t go back.”

“Why not?”

“It wouldn’t work anyway. I renounced my British citizenship eight years ago.”

Rey went slack against him. “Why would you do that?”

“I had to. After Han, after what they did, I couldn’t be apart of it anymore. I never felt British anyway.”

“That’s why you were talking about First English expanding,” Rey said numbly. “You want me to quit my job.”

“One of us has to, and if I did, Alexander could still sue me since you’re pregnant with my kid. But he won’t, as long as I stay with the company. I make more money than you, you’ll have to take time off anyway for the birth, and I want, Rey, I’d like you to stay home with our son. Give him the childhood I never had. Protect him from what our parents couldn’t.”

“I don’t know… This is a lot. Why didn’t you talk to me about it before?”

“I told you. I wanted it to be a surprise. I tried to tell you about the business, lead into the proposal. I knew you were upset with me, but I told you last night when you asked. We weren’t done. I’ll never do that to you again.” He grabbed her face; she didn’t try to escape from his grip this time. “Do you understand? I know I’ve been distant. I know things have been hard. I needed time. But no matter what, I’m with you. Always. No matter if I’m ready for this or not.”

Rey shook her head. “I don’t know.”

“I’m asking you to be with me, to be a family. I’m doing everything I can, Rey. I’m trying.”

“Your eyes are so different. They’re distant when you say it.”

“Can’t help it. I’m scared.”

A lighthearted smile played on her lips. “I thought the mighty Kylo Ren wasn’t afraid of anything.” She punched his arm.

“Right. Just the rest of our goddamn lives. No big fucking deal.”

“You’re right.” Her smile fell, eyes serious. “It’s a huge deal. I suppose that’s why I don’t understand. Why don’t we try to do this separately for a few months? Really think about it?”

Kylo rubbed his face. “We’d be apart again, and we’d have to break up or you couldn’t work, so that I would be in line with my contract. I’d hardly see you or him once he’s born with all the new hours. I’m going to be managing our entire Tokyo branch in addition to being the face of the company as an ambassador.”

“Alexander is promoting you?”

“Yeah, and giving me one hell of a raise too. Which we can put in a savings account for him. If we get married now, we can apply for your dependent visa. Alexander has contacts in immigration. We could get your Certificate of Eligibility in two to three weeks which you’d take to the Japanese embassy in London in exchange for your entry visa. You could finish up your job with the English Resistance, get your things in order, and move in with me on a spouse dependent visa.”

“I know it’s not ideal, but should we really go into this if we’re this scared? We can’t even talk to each other without fighting.”

He pushed her away, disgusted. “So that’s what you want. More separation.”

“Of course not. I just…” She wrapped an arm around his abdomen. “Ben, we’ve been dating for eight weeks. Eight weeks. That’s it. We have one week together that we can use to judge how our relationship will go and seven weeks of distance where we’ve fought every other day. I just don’t know. I’m terrified.”

“We’re having a kid together. What’s scarier than that?”

“What if we get divorced and it’s ugly and he’s in the middle of it? I don’t want that.”

“And you think I do? My parents constantly fought and threatened divorce. Cops were called at least every other year for some shit. Leia had a copy of the Illinois divorce forms sitting in her office. Han would make some grand gesture, flowers and a card or new jewelry and everything went back to normal. But we aren’t my parents. We fight, yeah, but we’re stressed. The distance, a new relationship, the idea of sharing a kid. I’m being promoted, about to manage our entire Japan-based branch. I’m only trying to eliminate some of our problems. Make the pregnancy easier for us.”

Rey shook her head. “What you did, though. I know you’ve been dealing with a lot, but it was wrong, and you know it. Ignoring me for the past two days, pushing me away. I won’t put up with it.”

“I won’t do it again.”

“Yeah, that’s exactly what Marcus used to say to me.”

Kylo shrugged out of her grip. “I’m not your fucking ex-boyfriend! Rey, come on.”

“I didn’t mean to say that. I’m sorry.”

He breathed out, considered her apology or a few moments, then pulled her close again. “I’m sorry too.”

“But that’s what I mean.” She was crying again, choking on the tears. “This is what we do. You misunderstand me, I misunderstand you, and we fight. You get mad. I cry. Is that what we want for the rest of our lives?”

“So you wanna break up? Is that what you fucking want?”

“Of course not! I don’t know. I just want us to stop fighting.”

“And if we’re together, physically, we can work on it. I wanna try. Not only because of the kid. But because of you. What we have, I don’t have with anyone else. Let’s give it a chance.”

“You don’t try at being married. You do it or you don’t.”

“Then I wanna do it. Let’s do it. I went last week and got an affidavit from the American Embassy in Tokyo. It’s required before we can get married in Japan. We only need to get yours and then we can do it. I already made an appointment for you with the British Embassy in Tokyo. On Tuesday.”

“Right now? Next week?” Her eyes widened. “Oh God, you really are serious. I can’t take the week off.”

“You’re quitting anyway if we get married.”

“I can’t do it right now! I have meetings and contracts and emails and—”

He kissed her. “Put in your two weeks.”

“I have to give one month notice.”

“Then one month.”

“I have to go back to London at least for a little. I have multiple appointments in August.”

He placed more kisses on her lips, her cheeks, her eyes. She giggled despite the seriousness.

“If you told Leia you were marrying me,” Kylo began, still kissing her. “She’d give you the time off. You know it.” More kisses, more giggles from her. “Marry me.”

“You’re going to beg me again, aren’t you? Like you did last month? I can tell you, sir, I am immune to all forms of persuasion.”

“I don’t have to beg. I’m asking.”

She narrowed her eyes at him playfully. “I know your games, Ben Solo. Can you at least give me a day to think about it?”

He nodded, trying to hide his disappointment. It was a reasonable request, he knew, but it was a cautious one. And with her looking at him like that, his child underneath his fingertips, he didn’t want to be rational. Being with her. That was all he could think about for the past month. It didn’t matter what that took.

“Aren’t we going to Kyoto tomorrow?” she asked.

The spare bedroom. A plan formed, an idea. “I actually have to check on the office tomorrow," he lied. "I completely forgot. Do you mind me rerouting our trip to Tokyo for a day? We can drive to Kyoto on Saturday.”

She looked down, eyelashes fluttering in disappointment. “Okay.”

“I promise, I’ll make it up to you. Take a shower with me,” he said, kissing her neck. “Come on.”

When she didn’t answer, he lifted her into his arms, supporting her back and legs.

She laughed and snuggled into the nape of his neck, taking a breath. The sound made him smile and kiss her fervently, desperately. “You are impossible,” she whispered, a grin against his lips.

Turning on the water, he watched her undress, watched her slip out of her tights and underwear and felt himself stiffen. The baby, almost nineteen weeks. A small-sized but noticeable bump. It was hard for Kylo to imagine it was his child. Something he’d helped create. His son, no less, with her. He ran his fingers across her stomach, wondering at the feel of the once flat skin.

“What are you thinking about?”

“I don’t get how you thought I’d leave you. Like this. Pregnant with my kid.”

“Lots of men do.”

Kylo shook his head, tears blurring his vision. He blinked them away, pressed his hardness against her abdomen. “Those men are fuckheads.”

Under the warm water, he massaged her shoulders, placing kisses on her neck. “Marry me,” he found himself murmuring again, hands gripping her breasts. “Marry me.” Gently, he cleaned her with a washrag, her face, legs, underneath her arms, saving the place between her legs for last. “Marry me.”

She moaned. He rinsed her, then sank lower and lower until his tongue found what it wanted. Deeper he grazed, tasted, her hands weaving through his hair.

“How are you so good at this?” she asked with a gasp. “I’m close.”

The comment. It was suddenly too much. He stood up and pressed her against the shower wall. Entered her roughly. Thrust again and again, kissing her until his lips felt bruised.

“And how the fuck do you feel so good?” he countered, fingers finding her swollen stomach.

“Ben… slow down. The baby. That hurts a little.”

“Sorry.” He changed positions, turned her around and entered her from behind. “How’s that? Feel good?”

“Mm… But I can’t see your face.”

So he picked her up and carried her out of the shower. “Ben! Ben!” she said, laughter escaping her body. He silenced her with kisses. Dripping wet, he placed her on the bed and dried her off with a towel, mouth never leaving hers.

“I love you,” he said, breathing in the feel of her damp skin. “Do you know that? I don’t give a fuck about how much we fight. I love you.” He grabbed her stomach. “I love him.”

“Going soft, huh?” she teased. “I love you too.”

“Only with you. You wanna try a new position?”

She smiled. “You remembered.”

“Here, grab a pillow.” He brought her to the edge of the bed, placed the pillow underneath her back, and bent his knees slightly to line up with her.

“This one actually feels quite good,” Rey said after a few moments, stretching her arms above her head.

Mesmerized, he studied her long eyelashes, that intense focus. Another point of impact in slow motion. But a good one because it was her. Rey. White dress, her ring glinting against his skin, the metal warm and soothing.

She reached up to cup his face. “Can I get on top?”

He nodded, no hesitation, sinking into her touch. The warmth, the softness of it. She guided him to lay down, and he let her without argument. It was like that second night together, but different, his child underneath his fingertips, inside of her. A boy. The idea that made his head throb.

She curled into his chest, lips running across his cheek. “Ben,” she whimpered. “Ben… I love you.”

“Then marry me. Be with me.”

Their son sitting at the dining room table, she bending down to kiss him as Kylo came home from work. Her smile, the way it would feel against his lips, arms wrapped around his neck. He had spent the last two days distancing himself from the idea, but here, with her pelvis gliding against his, it was free, natural as her languid breaths. Just there. Maybe they would fight, he knew they would, but having her. His. Waking up next to her warmth every day. Wouldn’t it all be worth it? Twenty years later and having her, their son, maybe eventually a daughter. A family.

That point of impact.

Her breath hitched; her body clenched. And it felt good, so good, but he couldn’t finish. What if she said no? What if he had to watch her walk away, his son in her belly, and do this from separate countries?

Or maybe not do it at all?

He swallowed, riding her orgasm.

But he never did find his release.

 


 

The flight to Tokyo the next day was better, closer after last night. Rey sipped on ginger ale and rested her head on his shoulder, eyelids drooping.

Kylo, of course, couldn’t sleep. The ring was too heavy in his pocket. Once again, he wondered, how could she drift away like that? He thought about waking her up to talk things out again. A circle that wouldn’t end until she said yes. While she slept last night, he’d been up. Went through almost an entire pack of cigarettes downstairs in the smoking area. He hoped, when they got to Tokyo and he showed her his surprise, her doubts would end.

“We need to go by the grocery store first. I have nothing at the apartment,” he said when they made it to his car in the airport garage. “Make you something nice for dinner?”

“You always cook. I feel like a freeloader. Why don’t we cook together?”

“You do have a temporary freeloader attached to you.”

“Temporary? We have eighteen years of this. It doesn’t stop just because I’ve popped him out.”

Kylo chuckled, entwining their fingers and kissing her hand. “Alright. Together.”

He let her control the radio as always. Like on the plane, she leaned against him, and he played with her hair, hoping the intimacy was a good sign.

They stopped at the supermarket next to his apartment, the intimacy continuing. Rey clung to his arm, body turned toward him even as they walked.

“What do you want for dinner?” he asked her, picking up a shopping basket.

“I don’t know? Something fried?”

“Didn’t you say you couldn’t have fried food?”

She gestured to her stomach. “Tell your kid that.”

“Always blaming it on the kid,” he said with a chuckle. “What happens when he’s born? You gonna say he used a Jedi Mind Trick on you every time you’re craving bad food?”

“If you get between me and food after I’ve given your child the gift of life, so help me God, Ben, I will end you. And for your information, I could still have cravings while I’m breastfeeding him. So ha!”

He chuckled again and threw up a hand in surrender. “Alright, you win. What do you want for dinner and then breakfast tomorrow before we drive to Kyoto?”

Rey insisted on fish and chips, and Kylo teased her for fitting the stereotypical British cliche. He had the spices, flour, beer, and oil, but not the fish.

Fillets, sausages, yogurt, pre-packaged smoothies, a bag of candy jellies (Rey had begged for something sweet), and a trip to a kombini for something to hold them over until dinnertime, and they were back at the apartment.

Heart flipping, he opened the door, dropped the groceries off in the kitchen, and dragged their suitcases to the bedroom.

“How much did you smoke inside?” Rey asked, looking around, hands on her hips.

“Fuck, is there still a smell?”

“I told you. It seeps into the walls. One of my foster fathers loved his pipe and cigarettes. The house always smelled terrible.”

“I’ll have Yumiko do a deeper clean.”

Rey shook her head. “No need. I’ll do it.”

Did that mean…?  He pulled her close. “You don’t have to, babe. That’s what I’m paying her for.”

“Oh, it’s really not a bother. Plutt used to make me clean the house before guests came over. I find it quite soothing, actually. You never let me lift a finger. In a way, it makes me feel like I’m another guest, not your girlfriend or part of your life.”

Girlfriend.

His phone buzzed in his pocket, startling him.

Alexander Snoke. Answer. Decline.

“Didn’t you need to go to the office today?” she said against his chest, looking down at the vibrating smartphone in his hand.

“Yeah. Fuck. A work call. Why don’t you go take a nap? You look tired. I’ll wake you up when I’m back and ready to start dinner.”

“Okay. I suppose I am a bit tired. Is everything alright?”

He forced a smile. “Yeah. Go take a nap. I’ll come get you when it’s time to start making dinner.”

When Kylo made it downstairs and returned the missed call, Alexander’s voice was clipped and short. “Have you handled our situation? Will she be resigning and joining you in Tokyo?”

“Almost,” Kylo said, lighting a cigarette. “She’s here at least.”

“Did you propose last night?”

Kylo took a drag. “Yeah. She said she’d think about it.”

“Think about it, well. She does understand how much trouble you could be in?”

“Yeah, I know. I’m working on it.” It was part of the non-compete section of his contract. No personal relationships with Board of Education members or employees from rival companies.

“As long as you know the consequences.”

Kylo chuckled sardonically.

“I don’t understand how my statement is humorous,” Alexander said.

“How about I tell her what I know? How would you like those consequences?”

“Consequences? You could never prove anything in a court of law.”

Kylo could feel the smile in Alexander’s voice. He was mocking him. “A DNA test is all it would take,” Kylo said.

“And how would you do that without consent?” Alexander laughed. “Besides, you wouldn’t hurt her like that, would you?”

“You know the answer to that.”

Alexander changed the subject to work. August was a busy month. New contracts. New teachers coming in during the middle of the year to replace the ones quitting their contracts early. Kylo vaguely listened, puffing on his cigarette.

No more secrets. That’s what he’d told her.

But this was one secret he would never tell.

 


 

He found her asleep in his bed a few hours later. After the call with Alexander, he’d walked around Ginza, his head a clusterfuck. All this time, Alexander had kept that secret, knowing what Rey meant to Kylo. What were the odds? The shit he’d let happen to her. Kylo didn’t want to think about it. So he didn’t.

“Rey.” He gently nudged her shoulder, wishing he didn’t have to disturb her sleep. “Dinner’s ready.”

“What?” she replied, eyes heavily lidded. “How long have I been out?”

“A couple of hours.”

“Why did you let me sleep that long?”

“You needed it.” A lie that was technically the truth. Kylo wanted more time to process his thoughts without her accusing him of being distant again. But being pregnant, she should sleep more. “Come on, get up. You need to eat.”

When she didn’t move, he lifted her into his arms, smiling as she laughed.

“I can walk, thank you very much,” she said, greeting him with a kiss. “I’m pregnant, not crippled.”

He placed her at the table, in front of a plate of steaming fish and chips. “This looks wonderful, but I wanted to help with dinner,” she complained. “You always do everything.”

He sat down across from her, picking up his fork. “And that’s a problem?”

“No. I’ve just felt so useless since I got pregnant.”

“You know that’s not true,” he said, taking a bite.

“Mm. Perhaps. Do you have any strawberry jam?”

“In the pantry cabinet to the right of the fridge. Why?”

She shrugged and stood up to retrieve the jar. “I’m curious.”

What was she up to now? Amused, Kylo watched her sit back down and pop open the lid.

“What you starin’ at, sir?”

“You’re not gonna put that on the fucking fish, are you?”

“Piss off. I told you, if you come between me and my food, I will end you.” She poured a large helping of jam onto her plate, cut off a piece of fish, stuck it in the jam, and popped it into her mouth, staring him down with every bite. “Mmmmmm. So delicious,” she teased. “You know you want to try it.”

“Fuck no. Ruining a perfectly good piece of fish.”

She waved a bite in front of his face. “Go on. I know you want to.”

He grimaced, opening his mouth. It wasn’t bad, but wasn’t good either. “That’s…” He chewed, swallowed. “Interesting. Kid’s got strange taste.”

“He is yours.”

“Very funny. I’m guessing you’re going to blame every weird thing he does on me? Aren’t they your taste buds? Or is he nineteen weeks and already using Jedi Mind Tricks?”

She took another bite, this time with more jam slathered on. “Yup. Again, your kid.”

He chuckled. “Whenever you’re finished fucking up the dinner I slaved over, I have a surprise for you.”

“A surprise?” She stopped chewing, mid-bite. “You have a surprise for me?”

“Finish your food first.”

“Finish your food first,” she mocked in an imitated, deep American accent before switching back to her normal voice. “You are so bossy, Ben Solo, honestly. I’m curious now.”

“Curious later. Food now. You haven’t eaten much all day.”

She rolled her eyes, but finished her plate, holding it up to his face once she’d taken the last bite of fish. “How’s that, bossy pants? Good enough for you?”

“That’ll do, babe. That’ll do.”

She threw her napkin at him and stood up, collecting their plates. “Arsehole!”

“What? You’ve never seen that movie?” He followed her to the kitchen, swatting at her bottom.

“Patronizing me!” she exclaimed with a smile. “But yes, I love that movie. I was absolutely obsessed with it and pigs as a child.”

“Good thing you weren’t obsessed with Finding Nemo,” he said, nodding toward the two leftover fillets cooling on a paper towel.

“You’re horrible, you know that? You’re cheesy and your jokes aren’t funny.”

He laughed and pulled her into a kiss. “Does that mean you don’t wanna know what the surprise is?”

“Fuck you,” she said, smiling against his lips. “Now show me!”

“No, you called me an asshole.”

She stuck out her bottom lip, pouting dramatically. “I called you an arsehole. There’s a difference. But I suppose you uneducated Americans wouldn’t know that, would you?”

“Hey, you have sex with me.”

“And look at me.” She glanced down at her stomach. “Seriously regretting it.”

Kylo attacked her neck, sending giggles through her body. “Doesn’t seem like it. But I guess if you’re regretting it, you don’t wanna see your surprise then.”

“Show me.” She stuck a hand in his pants and squeezed him. “Now.”

“Woah, woah, woah, okay. Leave the balls out of this.” He removed her hand, pulling her toward the spare bedroom. “Come here and close your eyes.”

Rey glared up at him, gaze mistrustful. “I swear, if this is a trick…”

He cradled her face, kissing her. “Trust me.” Another kiss. “Please.”

She sighed, but covered her eyes and let him lead her regardless.

On edge, he unlocked and opened the door to the spare bedroom, mind racing with all of things he had left to finish. But maybe it would show her how much he’d considered the proposal, having her move in, sharing a child. Show her exactly what she meant to him, even if he didn’t feel ready.

He placed another kiss on her lips. “Okay. Open your eyes.”

Her mouth hung open, eyes sweeping the room.

He walked to the wooden crib pressed against the middle of the back wall. “It’s not finished, I know. But I got the crib done. Finished the day before I flew out to see you.”

“Yo-You made it?”

“Yeah. Told you. Don’t sleep. Have a lot of time.”

Tears rolled down her face. “Your easel. The brushes. What happened to them?”

“In the closet. I’m worried about the chemicals. Oil paints have no odor, but I don’t want anything around the baby, and turpentine is toxic when ingested. Look—” He moved to the large painting above the baby’s crib. It was a happy scene—a bright sun above rolling, low-lying mountains. The greens, the blues, they shone in the faint, dying light streaming in from the window. “Do you remember this one? I thought it would look good as a centerpiece.” He walked to the closet. “And here… I started stocking up on a few supplies. I know it’s early, but we have towels, cloth diapers. I researched it. The disposable ones have bad chemicals. I thought we could try these out? But if you wanna get the disposable ones, we can do that, you know, it’s whatever you think is best.” Rambling, he was rambling.

He walked to her, brushing the tears from her eyes. “What do you think? You haven’t said anything.”

“Yes,” she said without blinking.

“Yes, what? Do you like it? We can finish the rest together if you, you know…” He ran a hand through his hair, pacing between the crib and the closet. “Fuck, I’m sorry. I should’ve talked to you about it.”

She reached forward and grabbed his hand, stopping him mid-pace. “Yes.”

His heart flipped. “Look, you can change whatever you want. Start over. Redo the whole fucking thing if you want. Whatever you want. Money isn’t an issue.”

Teary eyes locked on his. “Yes,” she whispered. “I’ll marry you.”

Chapter Text

Rey

Scalding water slid down her shoulders, leaving goosebumps prickling in their wake. Dreams still danced behind her eyes. Divorce papers laying on a desk in front of her, waiting for a signature. Someone touching her, fingers rough, bruising skin . Saturday morning. Rey had woken up to Ben banging around in the kitchen, likely making breakfast, but she’d ignored it and darted for the shower instead. She smoothed back her hair, then stopped, frozen. There was something wrong, a bulge.

The ring on her finger. The diamond simple but exquisite. It felt heavy and unnatural. Like it wasn’t real.

She was engaged to Ben. Or was it Kylo Ren? After spending most of her life comparing him to every other man. Rey remembered that thirteen year old girl, her arm looped with his under the cherry blossoms. A dream, a fantasy. How many times had she written her name in cursive as Rey Solo when she should’ve been paying attention in class? It was hard to imagine herself as that teenage girl—in love with a man ten years older than her, someone she could never have.

To now, the present. Marrying that man on Tuesday.

In some ways, it was like she was floating above her body, looking down on her life. The decisions she’d made about her relationship with Ben. Was it all lust that had gotten them to this point? Ten years of loving him and eight years of missing him. Was that merely lust or a surface-level connection? Mara had told her it was. Or was it love? Was it in the way he’d taken her for ice cream when he visited London on holiday? When he told her about the intricacies of his beliefs—his lack of faith in a god? It was something he couldn’t share with Leia since she was Catholic and would have probably skinned him alive if she’d known he’d stopped attending mass when he went to live with Luke. Even with him living in Japan, everyone knew Ben was Rey’s. And while Mara had allowed a friendship between them, she never understood it. She’d thought it was inappropriate for a twelve-year-old girl to be friends with a man almost double her age. Rey herself couldn’t explain it. Back then, she and Ben had hardly ever fought. Not like the past month apart. Their relationship had never been as complicated as it was currently. Misunderstanding after misunderstanding. It hadn’t been like that eight years ago, but Rey also hadn’t been having sex with him or carrying his child. It scared her, not knowing what would happen. The way he made her feel was crazy, irrational, as her actions since March in the lift had shown.

Would marriage—getting rid of the physical distance—fix the fighting like Ben claimed it would? Rey worked shampoo through her hair and recalled yesterday. Waking up next to him after the drama from the night before. Closer, finally free of the secrets. It was a reason why she’d said yes after seeing the handmade crib, despite being terrified of the idea. Ultimately, Ben was right. They couldn’t have a family from separate countries, and the only way for Rey to stay would be to find a job in Japan or get married.

However, while Rey had let him put a ring on her finger, it didn’t mean she’d allow him to marry her without conditions. She’d told him last night right after she accepted—she needed a day or two to think about those terms for marriage.

And of course, there was that ever-present fear of divorce and the entire thing burning down around them with a baby trapped in the middle. The complications, the fights. Could this be the biggest mistake of her life?

A flutter, soft as a heartbeat. Rey clutched her stomach, reaching for the baby. That definitely wasn’t gas.

“Rey?” Ben called from behind the door. “Breakfast.”

“Just a second.”

Rey finished the rest of her shower, twirling the ring every so often and admiring it in the bathroom light. In Japan, the whole bathroom was designed to get wet so the lighting was never dimmed by a shower curtain. It was hard to believe this would be her home with Ben in a month. The place where she’d lay their baby down to sleep, give him baths, see him grow up.

Another little nudge. Her eyes filled with tears.

Drying her hair with a towel, she walked out of the bathroom and into the bedroom, determined to show Ben. And there on the on the bed—breakfast for two.

“What have you done now?” she asked, feeling her mouth instinctively curl into a large smile.

“Ohayou.” He stood up and kissed her. A kiss that lingered and made heat rise between her legs. “Good morning, beautiful.”

His mouth was sweet and warm, no cigarette smoke. She pulled back and guided his hand to her stomach. “Do you feel that?”

Ben paused for a few moments, waiting. “No, nothing. Has he been moving?”

Rey swiped at her eyes, a bit disappointed. “Yes, I definitely felt something. He must’ve stopped.”

“You decided to take a shower? I was hoping I could surprise you with breakfast in bed when you woke up.” He kissed her again, drawing another smile to her lips.

“I needed to think for a bit. You taste like maple syrup.”

“Sorry. Snuck a bite or two.”

“Mmm.” She deepened the kiss, savoring the feeling of his tongue on hers. “You better apologize. Feeding me bad things.”

Ben pulled her to the unmade bed and sat with her in his lap, hand resting possessively on her thigh. Breakfast passed blissfully, him feeding her bites of French toast and kissing her full mouth. After Rey had agreed to marry him yesterday, they decided to wait to go to Kyoto until the legal ceremony was completed on Tuesday.

Kiyomizu Temple. That’s where they’d go to say their vows. While Ben didn’t mind making two trips and had planned to do so, Rey wanted to wait until they were official. It would feel real then. She’d be a married woman, having been engaged for only five days.

Vows. Forever promises. The idea made Rey so nervous she thought she might be sick. Especially when she thought about calling Leia and Mara later on during the day. To distract herself, she went to the baby’s room and began organizing things while Ben pulled his office chair in and answered emails. He’d stocked the room with various baby things. Cloth diapers, a few unisex onesies, a humidifier, some blankets. When she asked why he had all of this stuff already, he shrugged and explained how it made the pregnancy a reality for him. With them being apart, it hadn’t felt like he was going to be a father. Which led to the last purchase, a newborn kimono, pink with cherry blossoms and wisteria printed across its surface. A testament to a dream that wouldn’t come true—a baby girl. When Ben saw her getting upset, he hugged her and said, “We can try again.” Trying again? Rey still had to get through their first child.

Perhaps some would call it nesting, but it stopped her hands from shaking. It was difficult to imagine. In less than five months, an infant would be sleeping here, in the crib Ben had built by hand. Her baby with Ben. She’d played with dolls as a child, secondhand, their hair frizzy. Pretended going into labor and giving birth. But now it was actually happening. With him.

Afterward, she washed the walls in the living room with a vinegar solution, remembering it from her days with Plutt. Ben tried to persuade her again not to do it, but she insisted. It was more calming time, more time to think about her conditions for marriage and put off the calls home to Leia and Mara.

But eventually, Rey knew she couldn’t procrastinate any longer. It needed to be done.

“Alright,” she said to Ben while they made dinner. “I’m going to call them and get this over with.”

He paused to rub her back and whisper words of assurance against her hair.  

Leia first. It was exactly like telling her she was pregnant all over again. Yet, in some ways, ten times worse. “So, Ben proposed,” Rey started, playing with a loose thread on the comforter in the bedroom. “And I said yes.”

“He what?! Congratulations. I never thought he’d settle down. Does this mean he’s coming home?!”

“Umm, well.” And this was where Rey had to crush her. “I’m really sorry. I’m actually moving in with him. To Japan.”

“Oh.” Leia’s voice cracked a bit. “I thought… well. That maybe he was ready. With you being in his life and the baby. I thought that he might be ready to forgive me.”

Rey reached for her stomach. “I’m sorry.” She imagined, for a moment, her child as Ben. What could she say to a woman in this position? Raising your child as best as you could only to have him hate you and renounce all ties to everything you stood for?

“Ben told me about what happened to him,” Rey said cautiously.

Leia paused. “You must think I’m a terrible mother.”

What did she think? Leia had made mistakes, but didn’t every parent? Leaving your child with someone you trusted wasn’t wrong while you pursued a career. While not ideal, it was the nature of the modern world. Ben asking Rey to be a stay-at-home mother was unusual, but not inappropriate considering what he’d gone through as a child.

“Of course not,” Rey said and meant it. “You did the best you could.” Leia couldn’t have predicted the people she trusted with her son would hurt him so deeply. And it seemed to Rey that Ben had needed more attention than other children to begin with. The way he touched her, like he craved physical intimacy, had been starved of it. Leia couldn’t have predicted she’d have a child like him.

And that was the fact that worried Rey the most—their child’s demeanor. What if Ben was right? What if their son was like him? It was one of the factors that had her saying yes to Ben when he asked her to be a stay-at-home mother. Truly, she’d never given it much thought. Work was something you just did. Lower-class workers had to until they died or made it out of their dire situations. Rey remembered her birth mother vaguely coming home from work. Images of waiting by a glass door, screaming for her.  

Leia paused again. “I appreciate that, Rey. So, this means you’re resigning, huh?”

“I have to. One of us has to. We can’t do this from separate countries. The baby needs a father.”

“I think you’re making the right decision. You’ll be a better mother than I ever was. I know it.”

Rey told her that wasn’t true. Their situations were simply different. She assured her she’d be working for another month—she only needed until Thursday off to get married and fly back to London, but Leia insisted she stay with Ben until Saturday at least and asked about the engagement ring and how he’d proposed.

That disaster of a night. Rey recounted a few of the details, but left out their huge argument. It didn’t matter now that she’d agreed to marry him. Their fights were personal, things they had to work on themselves.

Rey hung up, and it was done, easier than she’d thought it would be. But then again, it was Leia. Leia who ached for her son to come back to her and wanted to know every detail about the pregnancy. What was she eating? Was she able to sleep comfortably? Had the baby started kicking? Leia was happy with any information Rey could give her.

Mara, however, was a whole different monster.

“You’re marrying him?!” she exclaimed when Rey told her the news. “Rey! What the hell are you thinking? Giving up your job?! You’ve worked so hard! You can have a family and work! It’s not healthy that he’s asking you to give up everything you’ve worked for!”

Rey pulled the phone away from her ear and rolled her eyes. It was a good thing she was in the bedroom with the door closed. Thin Japanese walls or not, Rey doubted he could hear anything.

“It’s my choice.”

“Don’t be stupid! I raised you better than this!”

“What would you like me to do? I love him. I want my son to have a present father. Please tell me, mum, how I can do that if we’re 10,000 fucking kilometers apart?”

“How is it fair—him asking you to give up your career just like that? If you really must be with him, he can move to London and perhaps not be a complete arsehole to his mum? He destroyed her, Rey. I thought you were better than this.”

Rey rubbed her temple, keeping down the words she longed to say. “And how is it fair for me to ask him to give up his job? He’s been doing it for almost a decade! I’ve been at it for seven months. That’s it.”

Mara huffed. “I just don’t think it’s fair. You’ve worked so hard.”

“It’s my choice! Why can’t you respect that?! Why is it that you would respect my choice to kill my child but not my choice to keep him and raise him with his father?!”

“Oh, don’t tell me you’re turning into one of those pro-life nutcases, honestly!”

“Well maybe I am when it comes to my child! My body, my choice! My career, my choice! My relationship, my choice!”

“Stop being so melodramatic. Answer me honestly, did you suggest resigning from your position and being a stay-at-home mum or did he?”

“It doesn’t matter who suggested it! It’s what I want!”

Mara wouldn’t be silenced. “He suggested it, didn’t he?”

“Mum, it’s my life.”

“I know you. All you ever talked about was finishing school and being successful. It’s why you doubled up on classes the second the university allowed you. It’s why I urged Leia to hire you as the face of the company without you being fluent in Japanese. Now you want to throw it all away. On someone like him.”

Rey broke, the tears released. “Someone like him? You act like he murdered someone.”

“He might as well have!”

“You knew about what happened to him. He told me.”

“Yes, it was absolutely horrible what he went through. Luke and I encouraged him, on many occasions, to get help. He refused. His actions are his own. We all have had to face traumatic events.”

“And were you raped as a child?”

“Not me, but…” Mara took a breath. “My best friend at fourteen. At a party our mums had forbidden us to go to. Maybe not as young as he was, but regardless, it happened when she was a minor.”

The phone felt limp in Rey’s hand. “Andrea? You never said anything.”

“It’s not something you talk about with your daughter.” Mara took another breath. “We’ll discuss this more when you’re back. I’ll tell you everything. She saw a therapist for years. But my point is, bad things happen to everyone. You either let it change you or you move on and try to do better.”

Rey smiled despite their argument. “You sound like a motivational card.”

“I must be getting old. Imagine that, forty-three and you’ll have to admit me to a home.”

“You’d be the talk of the place. Watch out, world. Saucy dick jokes coming your way.”

Mara laughed. A comfortable silence followed. It reminded Rey of all the times she and Mara had gone shopping, drinking hot chocolate during Christmas, bags of warm chips cooling in their hands as they peered at dresses in store windows. Mara helping Rey with her homework, books strewn about the table. How Mara had always tried to cheer Rey up after a bad day with an, “Come on, now! It’ll be better tomorrow,” and a few of her favorite chocolates. The only true mother she’d ever had.

Rey touched her belly, finally understanding Mara’s behavior. It didn’t excuse it, like Ben’s abuse didn’t excuse his neglect either. But it explained it, made sense. Mara, despite her faults, was her mother. Why was it that Rey was only just beginning to understand her?

“Mum,” she said, lips pursing. “I know you’re worried about me. I love you. Please trust me.” Ben’s words from two days ago flashed through her mind. “I know you think I’m being stupid, but I have to try. He’s opened up to me so much these past few days. He’s not the same person he was eight years ago. I know it. He won’t continue down that path of self destruction. Mum, he built a crib for the baby, created a nursery here. I know he’ll be a good father.”

“Well… I don’t know, Rey. People rarely change. And being a good father doesn’t mean he’ll be a good husband.”

“I understand that,” Rey whispered, evenly, pulling another stray fiber from the duvet. “But I have to try.”

“Trying is one thing; marriage is another. Being a family shouldn’t mean pulling you away from the only family you’ve ever known and your dreams. That’s not what family is about.”

Rey closed her eyes, clutched the phone tighter. “If I do this, if I show him he’s not alone, that I won’t leave, I know he’ll come around. I know it.”

The earpiece crackled with Mara’s muffled cries. “I don’t want to lose you. Love, Japan is so far. I won’t be there to see you get married.” She choked. “To see him be born.”

The gravity of her choice. They cried, laughed together. Made promises of celebrating with the little time she had left in London. And then, like always, the call ended.

 


 

Kylo

When Rey emerged from the bedroom, her eyes were puffy and red, evidence of a bout of crying.

She immediately fell into his arms, breathing against his chest. He didn’t ask her how it had gone. What could he say? The sacrifices he’d asked her to make. To be together, to be a family. He had something he needed to mention to her about the legal ceremony on Tuesday, but it could wait. It needed to.

Kylo fed Rey cherry tomatoes as they cooked dinner, juices dripping from her chin. He didn’t ask about the calls. He didn’t need to. With the distance gone and her agreement to get married, things were falling back into normalcy. No more fighting or misunderstandings. Rey had mentioned a list of demands after she agreed to marry him, but needed a few days to think them through.

After dinner, they soaked in the bath together, he massaging her shoulders and relishing the way she melted into him.

“So,” he said when they lay down to sleep, bare bodies pressed together. “I wanted to talk to you about something. Is now okay?”

Rey looked up at him, eyelids heavy, but blissful. “What is it?”

“In Japan, we need two witnesses that are permanent residents for the legal ceremony. I know you won’t like this, but I asked Yuki and Yuto.”

She looked away, breathing out. “Why didn’t you tell me first?”

“As I said, I wanted the proposal to be a surprise, and I needed to tell them in advance.”

“You couldn’t have asked Yumiko-san and not Yuki? Doesn’t she live in Tokyo?”

Kylo tucked a piece of hair behind her ear. “Yokohama. I asked her, yeah. Her mother lives in Niigata and is dying of stomach cancer. I told you. She’s gone for the entire month of July.”

Rey turned her back and moved to the other side of the bed. “You always control everything.”

He put an arm around her waist, kissing her annoyed face. “I’m trying to make it easier on you. I can’t do much.”

“Right. Like asking your ex-girlfriend.”

“Babe, moving to a country where you don’t speak the native language is a big fucking deal. I did it at fourteen, and I’d been studying most of my life with private tutors. I know you don’t like her, but you’ll want every friend you can get.”

“Forgive me for not wanting to be friends with the girl you used to sleep with. The whole situation is strange.”

“She’s married. No threat.”

Rey looked at him over her shoulder, rolling her eyes. “It’s not about it being a threat. I’m not worried about that.”

“Then what is it?”

“I don’t know? It’s strange. Don’t you think so?” She turned toward him again and propped her head up with her hand. “You being friends with your ex-girlfriend, the girl I had last seen you with eight years ago. When I… Okay, don’t you dare let this go to your head, Ben Solo, but I—God, I can’t believe I’m telling you this—had the biggest crush on you. For years. I used to… Why am I telling you this?”

He chuckled, kissed her nose. “Already knew. Or had a feeling. I thought it was cute.”

“Cute for you, a pain in the arse for me. This is so embarrassing, but I found your picture on Myspace, printed it out, and would carry it with me, folded up.”

“I didn’t think you had it that bad.”

“Oh, stop looking at me like that, you cocky bastard. My point is, imagine feeling like that about someone and then watching them be with someone else. I don’t know. It’s weird having her around and you wanting us to be friends.”

“You don’t have to be friends. It was a suggestion.”

Rey sighed. “But it’s not really a suggestion, is it? You control everything. All the time. What I eat. Where we go. Who I talk to. You hate me talking to my family.”

“I don’t wanna fight with you right now.”

“I’m not starting a fight. I’m only saying. Why must you control everything? Why can’t you talk to me? We promised to talk to each other.”

Kylo thought of Rey at thirteen, relying on him to take her places, buy her meals or a CD she wanted when she was with him. Their dynamic back then. “I’ve been single for eight years,” he said. “Dunno. I’m used to being alone.”

She held up her hand with the engagement ring. “Not alone anymore, yeah?”

He brought her to his chest. “It’s weird with you like this. You were a kid. And now, you’re here. He’s here… or almost. And this.” He grabbed her hand, twirled the ring. “Fucking weird.”

“Yeah,” she agreed, melting into him with a sigh. “Alright. I’m fine with Yuki being a witness. I don’t know about friends, but a witness. You just have to stop trying to control everything.”

“On your list of ultimatums?”

“Of course. And if you don’t follow them, I will divorce you. Don’t you test me.”

He laughed, but the thought scared him. “Little hypocritical? You’re pissed at me for controlling you, but you wanna control me?”

Rey kissed him. “You need it. Someone has to teach you to behave.”

They lay in silence for a few moments, the air con humming quietly in the background. It was time to bring up part two of this conversation he’d been running through in his head for the past day. “So, bachelor parties. Japanese guys don’t usually have them, but I’m not really Japanese so… Yuto wants me to go out with a couple of the guys from work Monday night.”

“You’re going to leave me here alone?”

“If you don’t want me to go, I won’t.”

“Then, I’ll feel bad.”

He licked his dry lips, playing with a piece of her hair. “Don’t get mad. Okay?”

She nodded, eyes mistrustful.

“Yuki offered to come a day early and take you out.”

Rey slumped against him.

“You don’t have to. I’ll stay with you. But you need a dress for the wedding, yeah? She mentioned helping. And I have to work Monday.”

“It’s not really a wedding,” Rey complained. “We’re going to the court, signing legal paperwork and that’s us.”

“Don’t you wanna pick out something nice? For Kyoto?”

“I suppose, but I never thought it would be with her.”

“As I said, you don’t have to. I’ll stay in. Take you around to a few shops?”

But Rey shook her head. “Don’t you know anything about weddings? It’s bad luck to see the dress. Besides, and don’t you dare let this go to your head too, but you’re right. Moving here without friends would be hard.”

Kylo pressed his lips to hers passionately. “Thank you.”

“Mhm,” she said with a glare.


 

Rey

Yuki arrived midmorning on Monday, hair twisted into an elegant updo. Polished, smelling of rose water. Rey wanted to hate her with her nice floral dress and warm smile. Instead, she allowed herself to be swept into an awkward hug at Tokyo Station, Ben by her side.

Yuki pulled away, smiling. “Look at you! How far along are you now?”

“Nineteen weeks,” Rey answered in a clipped tone. Ben had already told her about it being a boy. One of the many conversations that he never mentioned to Rey until the other night. As usual.

“She’s already feeling the baby move.” Ben gave away more information than Rey would like again.

Rey stayed quiet, practically a statue beside him, as he and Yuki made small talk. “How was your trip?” “Thank you for coming on such short notice.” “You look great.” “You too.”

Rey smiled and nodded while Yuki fawned over Rey’s engagement ring, turning it backwards and forwards, leaving her feeling like she was an actress in the world’s most awkward play.

Ben dropped them off at the flat and kissed Rey goodbye. “Thank you for doing this,” he whispered against her hair. “I hope you both have fun. I’ll be back for a little after seven to change. Text me if you need anything.”

But did she have a choice—doing this? Who would she call? She couldn’t ask Rose, Finn, or Niall to take off work and fly across the world for a marriage Rey knew they wouldn’t approve of anyway. She could’ve asked Amilyn, but that would’ve meant her taking off of work, having another person know, and listening to her likely judgments about Rey quitting the company when she was just so young. Besides, it was as she’d told Ben on Saturday. He was right. Moving to Japan was a big deal. In all her presentations, she talked about culture shock, the alienation. She would be foolish, even more foolish than she’d been in that lift with Ben five months ago, if she pushed away a person wanting to befriend her. Ben’s ex-girlfriend or not. Rey wondered if this was a part of maturing—accepting a friendship with another girl that had slept with your soon-to-be husband. She tried to not think of it.

“Wow.” Yuki stared at the large painting hanging over the sofa. It was one of Rey’s favorites—the rolling, low mountains surrounding Kiyomizu Temple. The red pagoda standing in the distance, a woman at the forefront near the stairs, her back turned. She could have been Rey from behind. A ghost, barely a shadow, gaze lost in the beauty.

Rey came to stand by Yuki. “I chose all of the paintings in the flat.”

“He’s an amazing artist, isn’t he? I always wondered how a man with his foul mouth could paint something like this.” She laughed, the sound the same as eight years ago. “You know?”

“Yeah.” She showed Yuki around the flat, the bathroom, the nursery.

Yuki shook her head when she saw the crib. “What did you do to him?”

Rey shrugged, studied the modern white walls. What should she say? What was there to say to someone you barely knew? She longed for Rose—the quick witted comments, the laughter. Only twenty minutes into Yuki being in the flat, and Rey was thinking of ways to escape. They moved to the couch, and Rey turned on the telly, clicking through Japanese game shows and news programs until she found BBC. She imagined this was what her life would be like when she moved to Japan permanently in a few weeks. Turning on the TV and it being in gibberish. She longed for her laptop, anything remotely familiar (and not a familiar, boring news station) to drown out the silence between her and Yuki.

“Are you hungry?” Yuki finally asked after a few moments. “I know a cafe around here with great curry. Ben said that was one of your favorites.”

“I’m actually in the mood for pasta or something like that instead. Italian?”

“Sure. I know a place I think about a ten minute walk from here. Hiroto and I always go when we’re in Tokyo. It’s kind of expensive. Is that okay?”

The money. Rey moved to her purse on the kitchen table and pulled out a stack of notes and Ben’s black credit card.

She wiggled the items in the air. “Don’t you know I’m a kept woman?” Her voice was sarcastic, tone a bit clipped.

Yuki raised her eyebrows. “I know all the places we can go.”

Rey let out a laugh—the first genuine one since picking up Yuki at the station. “I figure if I can’t drink on the night before my wedding because he’s stuffed me up with a kid, we can have a little fun. Can’t we?”

Yuki’s lips curled into a smile.

How could money matter when Ben had left her with nearly 200,000 yen and his credit card? Somehow he’d slipped it into her handbag when she wasn’t looking last night, two stacks of crisp 10,000 notes to buy the dress she’d wear tomorrow. She didn’t mention it to him. What good would it do? All of it was a form of control, no matter the excuse he’d given about wanting to take care of her.

And if he was going to control her, she would at least make him pay for it.

 


 

Yuki was right; the Italian restaurant was delicious, but expensive. Rey ordered something with basil sauce, took one glance at the price, and didn’t look at any more numbers after that. It was a strange thing for her—not being concerned with money. Her entire life had been. At her foster homes, she had done any little job she could to earn pocket money for sweets or a few lollies.

The atmosphere between Yuki and Rey became lighter as the meal wore on. Yuki was still every bit of the perfect, poised person Rey had known her to be. Back straight, each piece of her in place. But there was something looser in her demeanor. They didn’t talk about Ben much—it was more Yuki asking questions about London and Rey’s life before this whole pregnancy mess. Yuki talked about Hiroto. She’d met him through Jun, her brother, and the relationship had stuck. Finally. She hadn’t dated much after Ben, and there was hurt in her eyes when she mentioned it. She’d been a ballet dancer for years, working overseas in North and South America. But she’d quit at 23 after an injury and met Ben. Talking to Yuki was almost soothing, different from the intense conversations Rey often had with Ben. Yuki would bob her head in this distinct way, slightly tilted to the side, eyes locked on Rey’s. Like she was truly listening and wanted to hear everything Rey had to say. Why hadn’t Rey noticed that at thirteen? All of her memories with Yuki were of jealousy for someone she thought she could never have. Like Mara, how was it that Rey was starting to understand, grasp the shape of the people around her without prejudice or judgments? After Ben had shared the story of his abuse, a veil seemed to have been lifted from her senses. The world was sharper, people’s actions more understandable.

Though Rey was determined to spend Ben’s money, the notes still felt heavy in her hand as she went to pay. She imagined the papers dripping with blood—Alexander working Ben to exhaustion. Teachers barely able to pay their bills. Regardless, she settled the check and paid for both Yuki and herself.

They wandered around Ginza, trying to find a dress. The numerous questions. “Have you thought about the type of dress you want?” Yes, Rey had a little. “Full-length wedding dress?” No, nothing as posh as that. Rey showed her a picture of the type she was thinking. Something perhaps tea length. Ivory lace. They went in and out of designer stores, hands empty. Rey tried on a few dresses, but they were either the wrong color, too low cut, or the incorrect length. It was also hard finding dresses that fit with a baby bump, small as it was. By the sixth place, she found herself wandering into a baby store and holding up maternity dresses and shirts against her body.

Yuki picked a purple dress from the rack. “I don’t think we’ll find the dress here.”

“I’m not certain what to do.” Rey felt like crying. “Barely anything fits.”

“I envy you.”

“What?”

“I envy you,” Yuki repeated. “Being pregnant. I’m thirty-three, and my doctor says that it might be difficult for me partly due to all the years I spent dancing.”

“I’m sorry. I had no idea.”

Yuki waved her off. “Being a mom isn’t meant for all of us. Maybe it’ll happen to me one day, but I’m happy for you.”

“I suppose I don’t know what to do. Pregnant and dress shopping. I wanted something to make Ben happy. He likes all that designer rubbish.”

“It’s your dress. Wear what you want. Don’t let him change you.” Yuki said it so assuredly, like she’d done exactly that. “It’s hard with him though. I always found it weird. He’s a man that knows exactly what he likes and wants, but doesn’t know who he is. Changing his name, ghosting me and his family. Does he complain about you calling him ‘Ben?’”

“Not really. He’d prefer if I didn’t use it, I think, but I suppose I get special treatment?”

“We started talking again about five years after he changed his name. He came into Unmei. He thought I hated him, but I didn’t. I never did.”

“He, umm, told me what happened between the two of you.”

“Did he?” Yuki thumbed through a few shirts with lace detailing. “I didn’t think he would. I thought he kept that a secret. As far as I knew, anyway. He hates talking about it. It wasn’t a good time for either of us or the right relationship. I guess I couldn’t understand him, and he couldn’t understand me. We resented each other for it. Not trying to excuse his actions, but yeah. We weren’t a good fit, and I was too stubborn to admit it. Anyway, what kind of brands do you like?”

Rey processed her words, chewing on the inside of her cheek. If someone like Yuki couldn’t make a relationship work with Ben, with her gentle tone and genuine interest in people, what made Rey think she could? Especially a marriage after only eight weeks of dating?

Rey told her she liked vintage clothes, no particular brands, but mainly older ones. Those from the decades of the 40s, 50s, or 60s.

Yuki took her to Shibuya, and before Rey noticed, they were laughing while sifting through racks.

“How do I look?” Rey stepped out of the dressing room wearing a bright orange romper she’d decided to put on for fun after finding nothing appropriate for the wedding.

Yuki laughed, hard. “You look like… what do you call it? A traffic cone?”

But they ran into the same problem. By the third store, Rey still hadn’t found anything that she liked or fit. Yuki suggested wearing a kimono or a yukata (the summer version of a kimono), but Rey thought it would feel weird. She’d always imagined wearing a white dress if she got married. Or at least an ivory one. Staring at blank walls, mind wandering, feet pressed to the drywall. Hands moving across paper. How many times had she drawn what her wedding dress might look like? Thought about who she might marry?

As they exited another shop, Rey caught sight of her engagement ring sparkling in the sunlight. How could something feel so right… and so wrong at the same time? All of it, rushed. We still have two more stores to visit, she reminded herself, but tears burned the corners of her eyes anyway. A civil wedding. Marriage for a visa. The right dress, missing.

That was until she passed by the window of the next shop. There, on the mannequin, was a lace, ivory dress. Tea length, Edwardian-style.

Yuki rubbed her back. “Are you okay?”

Rey nodded, brushing away the tears before they fell. “Look.” She pointed to it, then entered the store and stared for a few moments before asking the sales clerk to undress the mannequin.

In her hands, the delicate fabric felt soft and stretchy. It seemed newer, more likely a remake of a vintage dress. But it didn’t matter. Please let it fit. Please let it fit.

She pulled the dress over her head and—

It was perfect. The stretchy lace hugged her tiny bump in the right way, glass buttons streaming down across the chest.  

“Kawaii! So cute!” Yuki pressed a hand to her mouth. “You look beautiful. Ben will love it.”

For the first time that day, Rey’s smile was completely genuine.

Dress bought and wrapped, Yuki insisted they get their nails and hair done. She’d run her fingers through Rey’s short, light brown hair and declared marriage meant pampering. Make Ben pay for it. Live a little. The baby would be here in five months; Rey was halfway through the pregnancy now. Massages, manicures. A part of Rey missed Rose—not being able to tell her about such an important event and having Yuki in her place. But it was easy to like Yuki. Rey didn’t know how she could have hated her for so long. All for being Ben’s ex-girlfriend. How childish she’d been. Like her fights with Ben, the fact of Yuki having dated Ben seemed trivial with the upcoming marriage and the birth of their son.

Back at the flat, Rey grabbed her laptop and began answering emails, one hand in a box of chocolates she’d snuck-bought at the kombini. A new woman—hair blown out and smelling of floral hair products.

“I think we successfully adulted today.” Rey popped a chocolate in her mouth, surprised at its bitterness. It tasted strange, sort of acrid, with a slight burn.

“Do you have candy?”

Rey’s hand paused in the box, mouth full of chocolate. “Maybe.”

Yuki craned her neck to view into the plastic bag. She narrowed her eyes, looking between Rey and the stash. “How did you sneak this much? Is it okay for the baby?”

Rey grabbed another piece. “What are you going to do, tell my master?”

That earned a little laugh from Yuki before her expression suddenly hardened. “I know this is none of my business, but… are you happy with him? Is he treating you right?”

“Actually, things have been quite difficult.” Rey told her about how their relationship had started, him leaving her in the middle of the night, his drunk call, finding out she was pregnant despite taking the morning after pill, their reunion for Yuki’s wedding, their fights for the last couple of weeks. She told her how Ben’s proposal had gone horribly wrong—ignoring her for two days, letting her think he was going to break up with her. And then, the resolution, the engagement. Rey recounted everything and didn’t know why it was easy to open to her when she struggled with everyone else.

When it was over and Rey’s throat felt raw from overuse, Yuki shook her head. “He hasn’t changed much in eight years. He’s still an asshole. He never intentionally means to hurt, but he does it anyway. I think he gets lost in his head? Something must have been bothering him. He used to do that to me. Wouldn’t hear from him for a week sometimes.”

“Do you know what happened to him?”

“When he was a child? Yeah. I tried to get him to go to therapy. Though, he was pretty vague about the whole thing. I found him an English-speaking doctor, too, because I thought he would feel more comfortable communicating in his native language. He didn’t go. I guess we never worked as a couple because I couldn’t relate to him. To go through something like that?” Yuki muted the telly. “It sounds like something out of a movie.”

A movie? That reminded her. “Do you know how this whole mess started?” Rey gestured to her stomach.

Yuki tilted her head to the side, then shook it. Taking a breath, Rey told her about her first sexual encounter with Ben in the stalled lift.

“You what?!” Yuki erupted into laughter. “How drunk were you two?! So, that’s how our little Ben came to be. I never thought he would be that irresponsible. He always insisted on using protection.”

Rey’s cheeks burned. “Yes, we were foolish. I don’t know what it is about him… I stop thinking. And perhaps he does too?”

“Love. It does it to us all. You might be the only woman he’s ever loved. I see it in the way he looks at you. He never looked at me like that.”

“I’m sorry.” Rey’s mouth felt dry.

“No, it’s okay. I’m happy he’s found someone that gets him, you know? He seems to relax around you. It’s a good thing. Being with him won’t be easy. I don’t know much about your relationship, or how he is with you, but he’ll probably keep things from you and be distant at times. And Jesus, that man knows how to win an argument. Are you sure you want to marry him?”

Rey looked away, thought about it for a few seconds. “I don’t know.” It was the truth, and she hated it. “But I feel like we have to so we can be together. I can’t do seven more bloody weeks of long distance. Not while I’m pregnant. It’s too stressful not having him.”

Yuki rubbed her back. “I understand. You’ll work it out, then. Sorry he’s a dick.”

“We’ll likely be separated for four weeks while my visa processes. I think I might just miss that dick.”

Yuki smiled and patted Rey’s back. “Sometimes I do too.”

A day ago, a comment like that would have pissed Rey off, but now, it made her laugh. “Hey, now, hands off my man. You had your chance.”

“I’m kidding. He’s all yours. Good luck!” Yuki reached over and swiped a chocolate from the open box in the bag. “That’s weird. What kind are these?”

Rey pulled out the package. “I don’t know. There was no English. I thought the picture looked good.”

“Rey!” Yuki swiped the box from her hands. “These are alcoholic!”

Rey rushed to the rubbish bin and spat out the half-chewed chocolate. “Shit. I thought something was different about them.” She wanted to scream in frustration. The kid had now also ruined chocolate. Like that was possible. What would be next? Ice cream?

“It’s just a little bit of alcohol. You’ll be okay. But…”

Rey’s heart flipped. “But what?”

“No question about it. He’s definitely Ben’s.”

 


 

Kylo

“No! No!” Rey’s voice. Laughter. “You have to open your mouth wider and come closer.”

Kylo opened the door, greeted by Yuki and Rey sitting on the couch tossing things into each other’s mouths. Yuki caught whatever it was and threw her head back, laughing. As soon as she saw him, Rey jumped up and rushed to his arms, placing a passionate kiss on his lips.

“Where’s the party?” He cradled her face, heartbeat speeding up the longer he looked into her hazel eyes. “New hair?”

“And nails!” Yuki called from the couch. “Alright, stop making out you two!”

Rey ran fingers through her hair. “Just a trim.”

“Did you have fun together?” Truthfully, he was a bit surprised at seeing them bonding after Rey had made a big deal about Yuki coming. He thought they’d be able to find some kind of common ground, but nothing like this—laughing and tossing candies into each other’s mouths.

Rey nodded. “I found my dress. Don’t you be having a snoop around the baby’s room.”

“Yes, ma’am.” He turned to Yuki. “Hope she wasn’t too much of a pain.”

“I think you’re confused. You’re the biggest pain in the ass here.”

“Very funny. Alright, I’m gonna go change. Gotta meet the guys in thirty.”

He moved to the bedroom, and Rey followed him, taking the brief moment of alone time to kiss him and bury her face into the crook of his neck. “You look beautiful.” He sat down on the bed, her in his lap. “Miss me today?”

“Mm. I’m so nervous about tomorrow.”

“Me too.”

She stared up at him, solemn. “Please don’t drink too much tonight and try to come home before midnight.”

The look in her eyes. He wanted to agree immediately, but couldn’t. “I’ll do my usual.”

“That’s what worries me, Ben. You’ve got to cut back. Please. You have six or seven drinks every night. I’ve counted.”

Kylo stood up and began changing into casual clothes. He wouldn’t tell her that her numbers were a little off. “On your list of ultimatums?”

“Yes. I care about you.”

“I’m fine.”

She looked off at the wall. “Okay.”

He finished pulling up his jeans and leaned down to kiss her. “I got it. Don’t overdo it. I promise. I’ll be home by midnight.” His voice sounded unsure, a bit flippant. He knew it, but a part of him didn’t care. After last week, he needed the night out.

They moved back to the living room, Rey looking dejected and playing with her fingernails. He would’ve stayed longer to make her feel better, more confident in the fact that he wouldn’t show up hungover tomorrow, but couldn’t do it. He needed to breathe. He’d spent the whole day at work distracted, mind running back and forth over what ifs. Tomorrow he’d be doing the exact thing he’d sworn he would never do. The thing Yuki had begged him for.

What choice did he have? Their son needed stability. Something Kylo never had. Moving back and forth between countries as an infant? Seeing each other once every few months when he could get a week of time off? It wasn’t good for a kid or a relationship. Rey needed him.

Puffing on a cigarette, he walked to the bar, tried to clear his head. Think about the good. Rey with him permanently, building a family with her.

“There, he is!” Yuto said when Kylo found the booth Yuto had reserved, shoes off and stored in a box at the entrance. “Already ordered for you. Got the nomihodai.” Nomihodai, unlimited drinks for two hours.

It was a regular izakaya, the cigarette smoke prominent, air noisy. He wasn’t the last one to arrive, so he wouldn’t get shit for it from Yuto like he usually did.

Mitaka scooted across the booth to make room. “Hey, congrats.”

“Thanks,” Kylo said, sitting down. “Waiting on the others?” It was strange going out with a group; usually it was Yuto and him alone, like it had been in Kyoto the night they’d run into Rey. Over the past few weeks, with his transfer to the Tokyo office, Kylo had found that most of the guys didn’t speak with him personally or invite him out. Yuto was still the manager of the branch, but they were working to merge that role fully to Kylo. The face of the company itself and the manager of their entire business Japan-side. After ten years of shit. But the new role now meant that it was his job to invite the guys out to drink occasionally after work. It was something Kylo didn’t really want to do. He worked too much to care.

Their drinks and dinner arrived. A round of draft Kirin beers and some edamame and karaage as the first course. The rest of their small group showed up, seven people in total. Yuto bullshitted about baseball and sumo, getting a group to go out again one of these nights to a game or something. Some of the guys threw jokes Kylo’s way about getting married, inquired about Rey. However, only Yuto knew about the pregnancy. Kylo lit cigarette after cigarette, trying to lose himself in the conversation and alcohol.

He was halfway through his fourth beer when Yuto looked over at him. “Sapphire after this? I reserved us a table.”

A blinking neon sign flashed across Kylo’s vision, the blue katakana burned into his brain. サファイア, Safaia. He’d been to that particular club many times when he was in Tokyo. Not much since he’d moved, however. The drinks were good, the scantily-clad girls beautiful, dripping with jewels and glittery costumes or kimonos. One of the best rated strip clubs in Tokyo.

Kylo thought of Rey, his promise not to overdo it and come home on time. “I don’t know, man.”

“Ball and chain already?” Mike, Yuto’s assistant, took a drink of his beer.

“Something like that.”

Yuto patted him on the back. “Come on, a few hours. We’ll get you home in time.”

After another round of beers, they caught a train to Roppongi. The air of the strip club was cool as usual and nearly odorless. Different from some of the ones in Chicago that smelled like spilled beer and sweat depending on how packed the places were. Yet, odorless or not, something about being at Sapphire felt wrong. One more night, he reminded himself . He only had one more night of being legally single.

A hostess dressed in a white lingerie set greeted and guided them to their table. Kylo ordered his usual glass of whiskey, trying to lose himself in the conversation, the atmosphere. 10:39 P.M. He found himself instead thinking about Rey in their bed waiting for him. 10:45. The lights dimmed; the show started, tame at first. Two women came onto the stage dress in airline hostess uniforms, the digital background behind them showcasing 1940s style airplanes. It reminded him of Rey, leaving on Saturday, gone for an entire month. The women moved in sync, hips rolling across poles, faces frozen in a mix of pleasure and a confidence Kylo could never place. The girl on the right began taking off her shirt, slowly, one button at a time. Her skin glistened like snow under the artificial lights, breasts exposed. The flesh, taut and elastic. Nipples, pink.

Kylo looked away, finished off his drink.

“Not into it?” Yuto nudged him.

He shrugged and tried to make it through the first performance at least. Ordered another drink, pretending to look at the stage. But no matter what he did, he couldn’t stop thinking of Rey. At home, waiting for him. Probably watching the clock, worrying about how much he was drinking. He felt the same way about the show as he’d felt about Amber all those months back. How could he explain any of that to Yuto or the rest of the guys? Yuto was married, and sure, there wasn’t anything wrong with going to a strip club or watching porn every now and then. The majority of the girls at Sapphire were dedicated dancers trying to make money at what they loved. Hell, sometimes Yuto’s wife would tag along with them. But for Kylo, right now, the whole thing made his mouth dry and his stomach hurt.

“I think I’m gonna call it a night,” he said after the first performance ended. “Sorry. Have to be up early.”

“She’s got you trained.” Mike, again.

Kylo chuckled. “Yeah. She’s it for me. The one and all that bullshit. But it’s a little more complicated than that.” His son on the monitor a week ago. “She’s pregnant. I don’t want her to worry.”

“Wow. Okay.” Mike swallowed. “Congrats.”

“Yeah, thanks. It’s a boy. We’re going through a bit of shit. So, I’m gonna call it a night.” Kylo turned to Yuto. “Thanks, man, for this. I know it’s not Japanese culture or anything, so thanks. It was fun.”

The rest of the guys echoed a congrats with a few pats on the back. It blurred together, made him light-headed—the lights, the men, the girls. Like being in a glass bowl with people looking in on you through the water.

He welcomed the fresh night air.

 


 

Quietly, Kylo unlocked the door to the apartment. Dark, silent. 11:45 P.M.

“Ben?” The lamp in the living room flicked on, bathing Yuki’s face in warm light.

“Yeah. Sorry to wake you.”

“No, it’s alright. I wasn’t asleep.” Abruptly, Kylo was reminded of the times laying next to her, the nights they’d spent up late bullshitting. Those days, Rey had been the one on the single futon across the room when she spent the night. Now, it was opposite, a strange new world.

She sat up on the futon and looked at him. “You’re home early.”

“Yeah. Tired.” He leaned against the kitchen counter, balanced his shaky hands on the metal.

“That’s not like you.” Yuki got up and walked over to him, damp long black hair falling across her shoulders. “I thought you’d get trashed tonight.”

“Nah.”

“I didn’t think it was possible, but she’s changed you.”

He scoffed. “Nah. Just nervous about tomorrow. Big fucking deal, the whole thing.”

“Home early, not slurring your words. Where’s Ben and what have you done with him?” Yuki smiled.

“Dead for eight years, but you and her insist on bringing him back.”

She smiled wider, nudging his arm. “You’re so melodramatic. Changing your name. Ben Solo is dead? Really? Changing your name doesn’t change who you are.”

“Yeah.” He wished it did, wished it worked that way. It would transform everything—his past, who he was, make him the man he needed to be for Rey and his son. He wished it was a simple form he could fill out and submit to the government. Application To Change Who You Are. Approved and stamped in red ink.

But he couldn’t tell Yuki that.

“She’s a little young, but she loves you. Like really loves you. You know? She took pictures all day to show you when you got home. It’s a little out of character for you, but I’m happy you’re doing the right thing. I mean it.”

“Never thought we’d end up like this. You married to another guy. Me, with her.”

“Life’s like that, you know?”

“Yeah. I’m gonna go take a shower. Need anything?”

Yuki shook her head. “Goodnight, Ben.”

“Night.”

He moved to the shower, turned on the tap, let the water sear his skin. He wouldn’t crawl into bed with Rey yet—not until all traces of the cigarette smoke were gone. Weird how the night had turned out. Maybe Yuki was right, maybe Rey had changed him. It was a nice idea, thinking of the man he wanted to be when she was around. Not the truth, but something he liked to ponder under the burning water with her sleeping in the next room.

“Ben?” came her sleepy voice when he took her into his arms, still warm from the shower. She popped her head up, glancing at the glowing digital clock on the nightstand. “You came home on time.”

He pulled her back to bed, gently kissed her face. “I promised, didn’t I?”

Chapter Text

Rey

Rey’s leg shook underneath Ben’s hand. Up and down, up and down, at a speed that left her out of breath.

“Don’t be nervous.” Ben rubbed her shoulder. “This is the easy part. All paperwork.”

Indeed, he was right. In the manila folder on her lap contained all the documents they needed to file for a Kon’in Todoke-Sho, a marriage registration form. And underneath his hand scribbling away on the paper, was the legal document that would declare them husband and wife. It was more the fact of what it signified; it was the piece of paper that would bind them together forever.  

The hardest part itself had yet to come. Their vows. It was only eleven in the morning, and Rey was sure she’d be sick at least twice before they made it to Kyoto.

“Are you okay?” Yuki offered her a bottle of water, smiling in that concerned way—brows pinched together, mouth straight.

Rey nodded and took a sip. She needed to distract herself, count the positives. One of the hard parts had already been completed this morning. Telling Ben her ultimatums for marriage.

In bed, she had pulled out her smartphone from her handbag, sat cross-legged adjacent to him, and begun. “One, you have to talk to me. You can’t shut down whenever something is bothering you. It’s not fair. And no more controlling every situation. We’re in this together.”

Ben nodded. “Okay. You’re right. Next?”

“Two, you have to cut back on your drinking and smoking, and I'd like it if you quit smoking altogether. It’s not good for you.”

He grimaced. “Do you know why I do it?”

Rey shook her head, blinking. “I mean, you said you’ve been stressed. I understand, but you have to find healthier ways to cope.”

“Yeah. Stress. It’s a little more complicated than that.” He pulled her close. “I got mixed up in some fucked up shit when I was younger.”

“Like what?”

He paused, shook his head a bit.

“You can tell me.”

“Yeah. You know how Leia sent me away when I was fourteen? Weed, Ecstasy, and harder stuff. Coke and heroin a few times. Leia found out I was dealing, and she got rid of me.”

“What? You told me you were sent away because you were troubled, you were…”

“Yeah, troubled. But I’m clean. Been clean since then. The problem is, once you do that shit…” He shook his head. “Everything else pales next to it. You realize you’ll never be able to feel that good about anything again. When I feel like I’m gonna slip back into it ‘cause of stress or whatever else, I smoke, I drink. It’s been that way for fifteen years. I’ve tried to quit cigarettes before, but it builds up.”

Rey forced herself to look at him. “How could you keep something like this from me?” Everyone knew her birth mother had overdosed, leaving her in the hands of an unforgiving system that had stolen her childhood. Why wait until now of all times to admit he was a hard drug addict?

“I’m sorry. I didn’t want you to worry. With the baby, getting married, and moving here… I’m fine. I’ll work on cutting back. I promise. Don’t worry about me. Like I said, been clean since.”

“Okay.” She pressed her lips to his, trying to calm her pounding heart. Inside, the baby fluttered, ever so slightly, but she didn’t alert Ben. The realization, the implications of Ben’s drug history. Would she have to worry about him slipping again, regardless of his insistence that he hadn’t since he was a teenager?

“Alright. What’s three?”

Rey cupped his face, forehead against his chin. “I’d really like it if you got help for your trauma and tried to work through your issues with your family.”

“No.” His tone was quipped, sharp.

“No?”

“That’s not your concern. I don’t even like you knowing what happened.”

“But it did. You can’t keep ignoring it.”

Ben sat on the edge of the bed, head in his hands, back turned.

“Please.” She caressed his shoulder. “For the baby.”

“Everything I’ve done is for the kid. Isn’t that why we’re doing this today when we’re both not ready? For him?”

Rey was reminded of the saying: always one step forward and two steps back. She fought the heat rising to her face. Why did everything have to be a struggle? A happy day. It was supposed to be a happy day. It was only a half past seven in the morning, and he’d admitted to a prior hard drug habit and refused to get help or fix the damage with his family. A half past seven. Arguing on a day Rey had dreamed about since she was a child.

"Do it for me. Ben, please.”

His dark eyes darted to hers.

“If it’s all for the kid and you can’t take my wants and needs into consideration, why are we even together?”

He breathed out. “Fine, I’ll consider it.”

“I want you to actually consider it. Please. For us.”

“Yeah, I will. I promise. Is that all?”

Rey had nodded, pulled his mouth to hers. Maybe it hadn’t been the exact assurance she wanted from him, but it was something. A move in the right direction.

Now, at the ward office with the paperwork filled out, Rey was reminded of a chessboard. Move here. An impasse. Move there. An impasse. Why did their relationship feel so much like a game to win?

Rey looked over at the document underneath Ben’s hand and swallowed. Paper, pen, and ink. She tried to make sense of the kanji characters, like she had done at the British Embassy hours prior. Black text on a thin piece of processed wood. Was that all marriage was? A legal document sucked of every emotion, issue, and argument that had led them to this point?

Ben brought the finished document to the counter, decorated with Yuki and Yuto’s signatures. They waited, Ben holding Rey close on the firm bench. Yuto wasn’t at the court with them—apparently being physically present wasn’t needed. Rey wanted to ask Ben why Yuki was here if that were the case, but stopped herself. While it was another area Ben had decided to control, it was a smart decision, and one Rey was happy for. Especially with Yuki sitting next to her and passing over water or a grape lolly. Rey had also asked her to go with them to lunch and Kyoto after that to help Rey prepare for their vows at sunset. Strange to be so close so quick to someone she’d hated for almost a decade, brought together by loving the same man during complete opposite points in their lives.

Fifteen minutes passed. A bathroom break. Another fifteen, another bathroom break—pregnancy and anything to get off of the waiting bench for a few moments. Rey’s stomach rumbled, mind wandering to lunch. “What’s taking so long?”

Ben breathed out and pulled her close, placing kisses against her hair. “It’s okay. Should be soon. Hungry?”

She glared at him. Of course she was hungry. She was carrying a whole little human. Could he be that dense? Ten minutes later they were called. Ben spoke a few words to the clerk in Japanese, a smile spreading across his lips. Slowly, he turned to look down at her. “It’s official.”

“Official official?”

“Yeah.” His jaw ticked, eyes set on hers. As intense as they’d been that first time in Tokyo he’d stared down at her from the front of the room. As passionate as that first time in the lift with nothing between them. A mask still in some ways, yes, but more honest. Sincere. The rest of their lives—the realization of what that approved piece of paper meant.

He pressed his forehead to hers, breathing in heavily through his nostrils. “Lunch?”

 


 

Kylo

Kylo jammed money into the cigarette machine outside of the restaurant, collected his desired choice, and tore into the pack. Larks. He shuddered, breathing in. He hated Larks, but they were better than Winstons. So much for keeping his promise and cutting back. He’d tried—left the house without a pack in his pocket. But after this morning, after seeing that stamped, final document…  

Focus on the good. Focus, focus, focus. He took a drag, breathed out. He had thirty seconds, forty-five tops before Rey returned from the bathroom and found him missing from the table. He blew through the cigarette, then fruitlessly sprayed himself with light cologne.

“You know she’ll notice,” Yuki said across from him, taking a drink of her water. “She’s pregnant, and even I can smell you from here.”

“The definition of ‘addiction.’ Tell me.”

Yuki rolled her eyes. “You could’ve been honest with her at least, you know?”

“She wants me to quit. For the kid.”

“I see.” Yuki took a small bite of her chocolate cake, straightening her back. “You’re doing well. I thought you would run away this morning.”

“Thought about it.” He ran a hand through his hair. “But I can’t do that to her. Or him. Kids need their fathers.”

“Too bad I didn’t get pregnant, right?”

Kylo locked eyes with her, eyebrows furrowing. “What’re you talking about? You said you’re happy things worked out the way they did.” She couldn’t be jealous, could she? It wasn’t like her.

“I am happy. It was a joke. I think a part of me wonders, though, was it the baby that made you get married so quickly? I begged you for a year, but you didn’t hesitate today. Rey was the nervous one.”

The hurt in Yuki’s eyes. Hidden behind upright posture and painstakingly applied makeup, but there nonetheless.

“I shouldn’t have asked you to come today.”

“No, I’m happy to do it. But sometimes I wonder. Why has she been the only one to reach you? I tried for years, you know?”

“No, I don’t know. We had a normal relationship. Least I thought so.” Kylo knew he needed to think about his response carefully, but only images came. Rey at eleven, the day he’d met her. Her long, stringy brown hair. Green-brown eyes. The mistrust, the pain. Almost a mirror of Yuki’s now, but different because it had been unguarded and innocent. Rey hadn’t learned how to hide it behind a mask. How could she? She hadn’t known who she was. Was that what had drawn him to her?

Was that what drew him to her now?

A kiss on his cheek. Her warmth across his arm. “Did you smoke?”

Yuki flashed him a smug grin.

Truth or lie. Truth or lie. “Yeah, I had one. Sorry.”

“It’s okay,” Rey said sincerely, surprising him. “I know it’s going to take a while for you to quit.”

He brought his forehead to her cheek, placing soft kisses on her jaw. What could he say to that?

“Alright, you two. Save it for the honeymoon.”

Kylo kissed Rey full on the mouth, smiling against her lips. “Why not start now?”

 


 

Rey

The Shinkansen shot them down the country, through black tunnels in mountains—the world alive in brilliant green. Rey stared out of the window, willing herself not to look in the other direction. On the same row, opposite side, was Ben, pen between his teeth, a hand pressed to his forehead. Writing what she knew were his vows to her.

“The food cart is coming by,” Yuki said. “Do you want anything?”

Rey shook her head. The window went black. Another tunnel.

“You should try to sleep. We’ll have to get you ready quickly when we arrive at your hotel. They have a women’s only bath on the second floor according to the website.”

“Mm. Thank you for doing this again, really. I know this is not something you particularly wanted to do.”

Yuki squeezed her hand. “Don’t be nervous. I know you’d prefer to sit with him, but it’s good that he’s thinking seriously about it.”

Rey reached for the paper in her pocket. “I know. I thought he’d already have them finished by now. Not two hours before he’s due to say them.” The baby fluttered. “Do you see that?” Rey pointed to her stomach.

“No, sorry. Is he moving?”

“Mhm. Feels like it. It tickles a bit.” She rubbed her stomach, savoring the sensation. Rey turned back to the window, popping lolly after lolly into her mouth. Green, then grey. Trees, then concrete. The collision of modern innovation and vast, untamed nature. How could two opposing things mesh and blend so well? And humanity, Japan, at the center of it all. Amber eyes bleeding into yellow. Hands caressing, hovering across her skin. The trees, the blue gem of the ocean. Small fingers wrapped around her leg.  

A tap on her shoulder jolted her awake. “We’re here,” Yuki said.

Rey rubbed her eyes. “I’m sorry. I must’ve dozed off.”

“You needed your sleep. Big day.”

Ben had their luggage in his hands, a tight smile on his lips. Rey stepped off the train, the station humming with people. Being in Kyoto for the fourth time in her life. The buildings stretching above her, ever watchful, ever present. The hotel. Cherry smell in the lobby, fire pit roaring despite the summer heat. Rey’s eyes roamed across the wooden beams and polished floors, past the front desk with its panel façade and warm, hanging lights.

And, at the center of it all, purple and pink petals twisting together. Branches and vines. Leaves and leaves.

Nightshade and Sakura.

The silk flowers slipped through Rey’s fingertips like air. Too late when she saw the No Touching sign. Yet, a reprimand didn’t come. Ben reached the front desk across the way, Yuki trailing behind him. Rey forced her hand back, eyes continuing to fall across the large arrangement, nonexistent four months ago.

Yuki turned around. “Rey?”

“Coming!”

Rey caught up with them, adjusting her shoulder bag. The flowers, the bag, the paper in her pocket—they felt heavy like the baby underneath her fingertips, like the ring on her finger. Oversized almost, but not quite big enough.

A hotel porter took Rey’s bag, startling her. “Th-ank you. Uh… Arigatou gozaimasu.”

“I’ll meet you on the second floor powder room,” Yuki said. “Come when you’re ready.”

Rey stopped before the elevator. “You can put your bags in the room. We don’t mind.”

Yuki looked between her and Ben. “This day is for you two, not me. Enjoy it. You’re a married woman. We can double date sometime, ne? I’m going to leave after we finish.”

Married woman. Right. Vows. Temple. Rey’s stomach twisted and twisted until she sat down on the king sized bed and Ben’s hand found her cheek.

 


 

 

Kylo

“I know,” Kylo whispered, kissing her. “I know.”

“Being back here. The place where this started.” Rey looked around the room. “I’m sorry. I don’t know why I’m so nervous when it’s already official. I suppose I don’t feel like a bride. Yuki was so beautiful at her wedding, and well, look at me. Pregnant.”

He ran a thumb across her mouth, fingertips memorizing the slight, round shape. “I am looking at you. I haven’t been able to stop since Tokyo.” He leaned down and pressed his lips to her stomach. “You’re more beautiful like this. Pregnant with him.”

“You’re just saying that to make me feel better.”

“Right. Because I’m so good at that.”

Rey laughed, the sound like flowing water carrying him further and further to a different place entirely. The shrine. The vows. Was he really about to do the one thing he’d sworn he would never do? And what came after that? Hearing her laugh every day of every minute? Watching her lips curl into that signature, toothy grin?

Not yet, he reminded himself. Not yet.

He kissed her one last time and told her goodbye—for now. Once she was gone, he stepped into the warmth of the shower, let the water roll off his back, reminded himself of all the good. An ache in his bones, a constant nagging, one he had to pull himself back from every few moments. So close. There in the pocket of his suitcase. She would never know. Whatever it took to get through this day, to make her… and Alexander happy.

He dried off, chased away the urge to use again and again. Hair in place, slicked to the side, but covering his ears. Black tux, crisp. The wedding bands and the paper with his vows in the side pocket of his jacket. He reached into his pocket, rubbed the paper between his fingers. The look on her face when he read them to her. The happiness that would light up her features. Was it worth it if the vows were lies? Were they lies?

5:15. He could still run, get a train back to Tokyo and a legal separation. He didn’t have to do this. 5:19. Think of the good, think of the good.

He took one more look at himself in the mirror and left the room.

 


 

There were 819 steps from where the taxi dropped him off and the entrance to Kiyomizu Temple. Up the street, past Japanese confectionary and souvenir shops, Kylo walked, counting each instance his leather shoes collided with the pavement.

The sun in the distance was beginning to slip, the people around him talking and laughing, babies crying. Out here, in the crowd, he could get lost in heads of dark hair and sweating bodies. That was, of course, until they turned around and saw him. A foreigner. An outsider.

Even in his own country, surrounded by his own family. A foreigner. An outsider. But Rey? Rey was different. She always had been. Kylo pushed on, weaved through the crowd as fast as he could, spinning the rings in his pocket and praying without belief to deities that didn’t exist.

Up the steps, past the temple. 地主神社. Jishu-Jinja. Jishu Shrine. The grey, stone Torii gate loomed above him, up another set of steps. It was the oldest shrine in Kyoto for the gods of love. If Kylo couldn’t give Rey a big, expensive ceremony yet, he would at least give her this. So, he kept his word. He didn’t run; he waited for her to the side, at the bottom of the steps.

A few minutes, then—

Shoulder-length, brown hair. Ivory dress. Gaze turned to her feet. Rey picked her head up, orange sunlight catching her eyes. Light, natural makeup; hair twisted into waves. Yuki had done well. She was… His mouth felt dry, words leaving his tongue. The dress, obviously vintage but beautiful, clung to her curves and his growing child inside of her.

Kylo grabbed her face, searching her eyes. “You are the most beautiful woman I’ve ever seen.”

Rey blushed, laughing, forehead wrinkling slightly. “Don’t make me cry. We haven’t even started yet!”

Unknown words hung on his lips, feelings too vague to grasp the meaning. The collection of events that had led them here, to this moment with her. How much she had changed. From that fearful, eleven-year-old girl to the woman standing before him. He remembered, and the words vanished.

 


 

Rey

Mara had never taught Rey what to expect on her wedding day. But even if she had prepared her and given her the advice she’d been told throughout her life, it wouldn’t compare to the feeling as Ben entwined their hands together and led her up the steps of Jishu Shrine. Her heart thrummed, faster than that first time in Tokyo, but more sure somehow.

This is the man I’m going to marry. It was the same thought she’d had as Yuki flitted around her, sculpting her hair into soft twirls. The same thought she had as she stared into the mirror, hardly recognizing herself. Yuki said it was the “pregnancy glow,” and perhaps there was some truth to that, but Rey saw someone else entirely in the mirror. A future mother. A future wife. Roles she hadn’t thought she would play for a while, if ever.

To the right was a large sign advertising “the famous love stone.” Rey had read about it online, but couldn’t quite remember the history. She knew there were actually two love stones and that people crossed the distance hoping for their wishes to be granted. They passed a vendor selling love trinkets on strings, some metal, some paper and cloth. Bind your love tightly, more chance at love, find love, good marriage, deepen relationship. For every love concern, there was a trinket.

Ben brought her to the front of a hand water pool. “I figured if we we’re gonna do this, we might as well do it right.”

“I thought you didn’t care about religion.”

“No, but I know you do, and I wanna make you happy.”

She smiled. “If it makes you feel uncomfortable, you don’t have to do it.”

Ben shook his head, carefully showing her how to cleanse herself in order to receive a blessing from the gods. As the tradition went, he grabbed a ladle and poured water across her hands.

Rey rubbed her palms together. “What’s the story behind this shrine? I read a bit about it on the internet.”

“Wet your mouth a little.”

Rey mirrored him, cupping her hand and using a ladle to pour more water into it. Against her tongue, the water was cool and comforting, hardly any traces of the summer heat. A salve to her shaking hands.

They moved to the front of the inner shrine before a slated donation box. Ben pressed a coin into her palm. “Toss this into the box, bow your head twice, clap your hands twice, then you can make a wish. Anything you want. After, ring the bell.” He pointed to the red and white rope hanging above the box.

When it was her turn in line, Rey stepped up, tossed the money in, and completed the steps in order, unsure at first on what to wish for. She thought of her written vows, the promises of a lifetime spent at Ben’s side, and the only word that came to her mind was—

Love.

It was stupidly simple, and if she told Ben, he would probably laugh at her. Out of all the things she could have wished for—a happy home, some sort of mutual understanding to limit their fights, strength to honor and keep her vows. But love, while simple, seemed to encompass everything. Hadn’t she wished for it since she was little? A home and a family to accept her?

Together, with his hand over hers, they rang the bell.

 


 

“You wanted to know about the history?” Ben led her to one of the love stones. “The shrine location itself is older than Japan. The buildings were reconstructed during the Edo Period, the 1600s if I remember. You can fact check me with the signs around here. They’re in English. The exact founding date of the shrine isn’t known, but these are stones from the Jomon period, around 1000 B.C. About 3000 years old? This is one of the koi uranai no ishi, meaning love fortune stones. The other stone is down this way. See what direction people are walking in? If you can make it to the other stone with your eyes closed, the shrine will grant your wish. Wanna try it?”

“Do you need to ask? It sounds fun.” She’d read a little about the stones, but there was a quiet beauty about listening to Ben explain it to her and bonding over a mutually-shared interest.

“Eyes closed, no cheating,” Ben coached. “I’ll be waiting for you on the other side.”

“You aren’t going to do it with me?”

“I’ve done it before. I wanna see if you have skills. It’s crowded as fuck. Good luck. Ganbatte.”

“Watch and learn.” Rey closed her eyes, visualizing the location of the stone on the other side. One step at at a time, Rey walked, navigating through the crowded footpath. Straight, ten meters. How many people had taken these same steps, walked the same path, in the name of love? She palmed through the air, reaching, reaching, reaching—

Ben’s hands found hers, her engagement ring slipping between his fingers. “Did you cheat?”

 


 

Kylo

No more games or dragging this out. The longer he waited, the harder it would be. With her hand in his, he led her to an empty corner near the stacks of emi, wish picture plaques. “We can leave the shrine and go somewhere private if you want.”

“No. Doing it here is what we decided on.” Rey pulled out a neat piece of paper—nothing like the crumpled one in his pocket. “I’ll go first if that’s okay.”

She breathed in, and on the exhale said, “February 2018. Tokyo. I’d known I would see you since I took the position, and I dreaded it. For years, Mara told me you were horrible, that you were responsible for your father’s death. I suppose a part of me believed her, but a bigger part of me didn’t. I spent eight years loving you, hoping you’d call on every birthday. And when I finally saw you again in Tokyo, Mara seemed to be right, and I felt like a fool. I wanted to hate you; I swore I did hate you. But no matter what I did, no matter how hard I fought, it always came back to you. Those first three days together, when our son was made, I never thought we’d be here, doing this, four months later.” She looked up from the paper, eyes sure, no tears present. “And maybe we are fools for rushing this. But it always, it has always come back down to you. Every year and relationship I had, I’ve wished I was looking into… into your eyes. So…”

He wanted to hold her hand, take her into his arms. But like a sacred ritual, it almost seemed blasphemous to interrupt.

“I’m not a writer,” she murmured. “I’m not going to say this perfectly.”

“I don’t care. Say it.”

“I think I might be sick.”

“Look at me.” He cradled her face. “It’s just me. Me and you, Rey.”

“Okay…” She took a step back, crinkling the paper slightly. “I promise to hold you above all others. When you are sick, I will carry you. When we fight, I promise to always see your side, except when you’re clearly wrong.” She smiled, lips pursing. “Or when you tell me chocolate looks and tastes like dog poop.”

“You know I’m right.”

“Shut up and let me finish, please and thank you, sir.”

He chuckled.

“I promise to be your partner, your best friend always, in sickness, disagreements, with everyone and everything against us if it comes to that.” She peered deeply into his eyes, unblinking. “And lastly and most importantly, I promise to love you, fiercely, with everything I am. Your flaws, your perfection, even your stubbornness. I will love every part of you. Forever.”

Forever. No one could mean that, surely? Yet, he had written it down himself. And had anyone loved him as deeply as her? Looked at him like this? His mind wandered to Yuki; he couldn’t stop the comparison. He would have probably married her had they not had that fight. Wasn’t life like that? The dissenting paths that looked minor at first but changed everything?

She continued to search his eyes. “Rings now?”

“If you want.”

Rey took his left hand and slowly slipped the band across his fourth finger, the platinum warm from her grip. The first time in his life wearing a ring.

It was half over. His turn. Kylo grabbed her hand. “When I first saw you, you were eleven. Do you remember? When I came for dinner? You’d only been with Mara for about a week.”

 


 

Rey

Rey did. The avoidance. She’d picked at her food and didn’t meet his eyes. He was another man. Men did bad things to girls, touched them in places they had no right to.

“What’s your name?” Ben asked when he walked into the kitchen where Rey was doing her homework. He looked down at her paper. “Is your name Rey?”

Only silence. Mara answered for her. “She’s a little shy. She came from a rather horrid situation.”

Horrid situation. Those were the exact words Rey’s social worker had used when she thought Rey wasn’t listening. Suspected sexual abuse. Extreme abandonment issues. Night terrors. Has difficulty speaking. Rey could recall the shape of her mouth as she formed each syllable of each word.

Damaged. Broken. Unloveable. That’s why nobody wants to adopt you. Why don’t you just kill yourself? Those were the thoughts that banged around in her head day after day. How had she slipped through the system for so many years? Adopted out only once by her birth mother’s aunt, Danielle. But Rey had never considered her a mother. The punishments—cold showers, one meal a day (two if she were lucky), crawling across rice. After her husband had died, Danielle handed Rey back to the British foster care system at eight. A slew of foster fathers and mothers followed. First, Patrick Lutz, Plutt as his nickname. A man who would sit in his chair by the window smoking for hours, watching telly, and yelling at Rey for his chair being old or his electric bill being higher with another mouth to feed. Anything and everything was Rey’s fault. His wife was a little better; she always tried to be kind to Rey. In the end, however, it hadn’t been enough. She had never been enough for anyone.

Rey remembered walking into Mara’s home that first time and throwing her beaten up suitcase of things on what was supposed to be her new bed. Don’t get comfortable. She’ll get rid of me soon. They always do.

What Rey never expected to find was a permanent family and a best friend in Ben. It took a couple of visits spaced out over her first year with Mara and Luke, disrupted by Ben’s move to Japan and job in the company. That first silent dinner had evolved with a copy of a limited edition, signed Taylor Swift album and a few Cadbury Roses, left in Rey’s schoolbag for her to find the next morning. All wrapped in a piece of construction paper that simply said, “Happy Birthday, Rey.” It was the nicest gift she had ever received. Rey texted him to say thank you , and the conversation continued after that. When Mara asked about who she was messaging, Rey lied, blamed it on a crush or a friend. Those texts turned into ice cream dates when Ben was in London. Phone calls every few days about a new video game or album, nothing in particular. Coaching her in Japanese—the receiver crackling with each foreign syllable. Mara eventually found out that Rey was talking to Ben every day, and Rey received a lengthy talk about what was an appropriate between a twelve-year-old girl and a twenty-two-year-old man.

But it had never been that way with Ben. He was like her big brother. Rey imagined that’s how he’d seen her, as someone to protect. Neither of them had siblings, or at least none Rey knew of. Mara brought her to therapy session after therapy session, anything to get Rey to open up and come out of herself. It had been easy before the incident. Before, being quiet had been almost foreigner to her. Twelve years old. Then, thirteen. Every day, little by little, Rey emerged from the silence.

Mara attributed it to therapy sessions.

But therapy wasn’t the reason.

 


 

Kylo

Her eyes were almost the same. That first dinner, ice cream, lunch, the conference in Tokyo then Kyoto. Different only in brief moments—dimmed by lies. But who she really was and had always been with him. Focus on this. Focus on her.

“You were shy and guarded. Mara didn’t tell me what you’d gone through. Do you know how you smile? It’s like every part of you comes alive. When I look at you, I feel better. I want to be better.”

Kylo wasn’t sure what made him give her that CD and chocolate on her birthday. The CD itself hadn’t been hard to track down, just expensive. And the chocolate was a guess. He’d seen her sneak a few before dinner once or twice. When Mara and Leia questioned him about his relationship with Rey, words corrupting the innocence of it, Kylo showed them every single fucking text message he’d sent. It was weird; he knew it. Rey was a fucking child. How did you explain that to a society which thought of children as parasites? Easily disposable, nothing to contribute to society. Hadn’t Kylo been that to him? Hadn’t Rey been that to the stupid fucking teenager who abused her? People made choices, and children suffered.

Gradually, over two years, a friendship grew. Despite being unable to tell her of his abuse and despite her being a kid, it was probably the deepest friendship he’d ever had.

Her eyes. They spoke of an honesty far too innocent for this world. His Rey.

He glanced down at the wedding band wrapped around his finger and continued.

 


 

Rey

“I can’t make you a list of traditional promises. They’d be lies. I can’t promise I’ll always love you in sickness and health, for richer or for poorer. You wouldn’t believe me anyway.”

Her gaze dropped to the ground. It’s not about me believing you, she wanted to say. It was the principle, rooted in the idea of her forfeiting her life in London to be with him. He who couldn’t even give her the thing most everyone received without asking when they got married.

“But what I can promise is myself.” He reached for her hand, fingers rubbing circles across the top. “All of me. No matter how I feel, I will never stop trying.”

Rey stared directly at him.

“I know we don’t have a perfect relationship. I know I’ve hurt you more than any person that claims to love you should. But I want him.” His eyes moved to her stomach before flicking back to her face. “I want you.” He moved closer, rested his forehead against hers. “I wanna try. Try at this marriage thing with me?”

She laughed, lightly. “You would stand before me in one of the most famous shrines for love and promise only to try.”

“I had a list.” He pulled out the piece of paper from his pocket again. “I planned on saying it all. Sickness. Health. That I’d love you forever… until you kill me.”

She laughed again.

“I wanted to because I know it’d make you happy. But you know the truth. They’d be empty promises. I don’t know the future. I can’t promise you any of this.” He jerked the paper slightly in the air. “No more lies, right?”

“Right.”

“There is one other thing I can promise you.” He breathed in a few times, head down. When he looked up again, his eyes were glistening in the sunlight. “I won’t leave you. It doesn’t matter what the fuck I feel. I will never do that to you again. Let them say we’re blind, that I don’t love you. Because if this is blindness, I never want to see again.”

Light tears slipped from her eyes, but like the night she’d told him she was pregnant, the wetness felt like a cleansing, an awakening. Ben’s fingers found her face; then, his lips, her lips. It was the deepest kiss he’d ever given her. His mouth opened, tongue brushing against hers. But heat did not throb in her core. Instead, it bloomed in her chest, grew, radiated through her body. Passionate, but not lustful. Arousing, but not sexual. Rey couldn’t grasp the shape of it. Like beads of water rolling across her palms, slipping through fingertips.

When he pulled away, his eyes were soft, the amber golden in the light of the setting sun. All of her disappointment and doubt. Gone. How could one man do this to her? Make her feel the happiest emotions of her life, crush and rebuild her up over and over, and then stand before her now, vowing almost nothing and everything at the same time?

“Remember?” he whispered, slipping her wedding band across her finger. “Omae wa hitori ja nai. You will never be alone again.”

Chapter Text

Kylo

Blow jobs without a condom. That was one fucking good perk about marriage.

"Fuck. Faster.” Rey was on her knees, mouth wet and open, the pressure building in his belly with each flick of her tongue. He pulled her hair, forced her head to move quicker, his wedding band catching the bedroom light. At the sight of it, the pleasure intensified, throbbed. Faster, faster, her muffled whimpers vibrating against him. He needed to feel her, come inside her.

He pulled out of her mouth, pushed her to the bed, and buried himself in her core. Slick, warm, no resistance. The pictures on the nightstand. The first one they’d ever taken together, when she was thirteen, in Kyoto. Bodies entwined together, lost under the cherry blossoms. Next to it were newer photos. One from their wedding day on the steps leading to Kiyomizu Temple, vermilion red encasing them from behind. A black and white ultrasound of the baby at thirty-two weeks. Fully formed head and body profile. A complete human.

And that same human, beneath him now. He thrust harder, harder. Then—

He spilled into her, locking his forehead to hers. With slow, languid thrusts, he dragged out his orgasm, the pressure gradually dying.

“Can you get up, please?!"

He pulled away, looked to her face. Her eyes were filled with tears, some already rolling down her cheeks. “Did I hurt you? Did I hurt him?” He grabbed her swollen belly, feeling the baby’s jabs underneath his hands.

Rey moved to the edge of the bed, back turned. “He’s in my ribs.”

“Why didn’t you tell me to stop?”

“You were enjoying it, and all I’ve done since going into this stupid trimester is tell you no.”

It was true; they hadn’t had vaginal sex for weeks. Rey complained it was too painful. They were married now, so blow jobs were officially on the menu. He rarely agreed to them, but watching her undress this morning, after no sexual activity for a week, had him grinding into her bottom and reaching a hand into her underwear.

“It’s okay. You don’t owe me sex.”

“I know it’s an important thing for you… Shit.”

“What’s wrong?”

She cupped herself and began waddling to the bathroom. “I got a little on the bed.”

He chuckled, staring at her from behind. She had filled out over the last few months, her hips widening enough to make their doctor worry. Though, in general, Japanese doctors worried constantly about weight. Kylo hadn’t missed an appointment. The doctor probed her about what she was eating, drinking. How long she was sleeping. If she was keeping warm (keeping warm was the recommended thing in Japan for pregnant women, especially the ankles). The doctor’s English was pretty good, but occasionally Kylo would have to translate a sentence or two. It had been a scramble to find a hospital where Rey could give birth at, as the majority were booked months in advance. Most Japanese women chose their hospital as soon as they found out they were pregnant. It had taken Rey and Kylo a few months, but they eventually did it, a modern, private room and Kylo would be allowed to be with her as much as he wanted. The only problem? This clinic didn’t offer anesthesia. Pain relief during childbirth was uncommon in Japan, but Rey cried when they told her. Kylo argued their case and struck a deal without offending the doctor—they would see how she felt administer an epidural if she absolutely needed it.

He followed her to the shower, grabbing her hips from behind and kissing her damp shoulder. “You’re beautiful.”

“You always say that.”

“And you never believe me.”

“No, I believe you, but you’re blind.” She turned around and pressed her lips to his, the baby a large centerpiece between them.

Kylo traced delicate fingers across her stomach. Faint, red stretch marks lined her skin now, and no matter how much cream she slathered on, new ones appeared. He barely saw them. Every day since she moved in three months ago, he’d watched the baby grow in her belly, taking as many pictures of her as he could. He wanted to document every part of it, the wonder that was his developing child. How could any man leave something like this?

“To think, you never wanted to be a father,” she said, seeming to read his thoughts. “And you can’t keep your hands off me.”

“I didn’t wanna be a father in principle. But he’s here. He exists. I can’t change that, and I wouldn’t want to.”

“I mean, you could. You could’ve told me to get rid of him.”

Kylo bent over, tracing his lips across her stomach. “That’s fucked up.”

“Language. He can hear you.”

Rey had taken to reminding him over and over about his mouth, like the baby could understand any of that. “Practice,” she’d said. “It will help you get used to not doing it around him when he’s here.” To which Kylo reminded her about how he always turned his filter on at work. What difference did a baby make? But Rey was right about one thing—he could hear him. 

“What would you’ve done if I told you to get rid of him?” It was a question Kylo had asked before, and her answer was always the same, short, quipped, and impossibly sure: “I would have kept him.”

Today, it was a little different. “I contemplated abortion before you knew. You know that. Our relationship was a mess.”

Kylo swallowed at that word. Abortion. His son on the sonogram one minute, on a sterile tray in pieces the next. Why did it bother him so much? It was a normal procedure, women’s healthcare, legal in the majority of countries throughout the world, including Japan.

“You know I would have never… gotten rid of him. As soon as I knew I was pregnant, I knew he was my son. Fear makes you think and do things you normally wouldn’t.”

It was insights she had, like this one, which made him pause and look more closely at her. In many ways she was ten years younger than him. In other ways, not.

Rey stretched and breathed out with a groan, large belly expanding further. “I’m really not feeling so great again today.” She froze, eyes crinkling together in pain. “He’s in my bloody ribs again.”

“Language,” Kylo teased.

She glared at him. “Bloody isn’t even a curse word in your language.”

“He’s probably gonna speak your language. With you staying at home with him.”

“You’re not helping…” She tensed further, pain wrinkling her face.

“What’s the matter? Do you wanna go to the clinic?”

She rolled her eyes. “I practically live there thanks to this country’s stupid rules.”

“They’re making sure he’s healthy.”

“He is. No abnormalities. Healthy as healthy can be. And yet, I still have to pee in a cup every week. For a perfectly normal little boy.”

It was true. The baby had no abnormalities or conditions. His measurements were good, all fingers, toes, arms, and legs were fat and getting fatter. Some good from the universe.

And multiple ultrasounds had again confirmed. He was one-hundred percent a boy.

Kylo had hoped, maybe the first ultrasound was wrong. Maybe it was hard to see or unclear somehow. But after it was confirmed the second time by a completely different specialist, his stomach ached with guilt. He couldn’t tell Rey how he felt. Not when she was purchasing anything blue with car or dinosaur prints and scrolling through pages of baby boy names on the internet. 

Rey winced. “Crap that hurts. I think Lil Rib Bruiser has lived up to his name and bruised my ribs again. I want him out. When is his head going to drop?”

Kylo grabbed her belly and lowered to his knees again, kissing her skin. “Hey, kid. You’ve got a few more weeks. That’s it. Go easy on your mom.”

“Mum, thank you very much. I’m his mum. Not mom.”

“We’ll see.”

They’d had this stupid, play argument a few times since Rey moved in. The day he’d picked her up from the airport that final time. It was like everything made sense. The rings on their fingers, hands rarely not entwined together no matter where they went. Kylo never imagined he’d be that guy—the guy that couldn’t get enough of his girl, even in public. But he couldn’t stop himself. The apartment filled with her, photos she’d collected the past eight years apart. Albums, concert tickets, dresses, shoes. Everywhere he looked, she was there in her favorite mug or a note clipped to the fridge. And it didn’t stop after she moved in. Every day he would come home from work and find something she’d done. A piece of the baby’s room finished, a new dress or Japanese word she’d learned from the classes she took twice a week.

The baby slid to the right beneath his fingers, making her stomach lopsided and lumpy. “Is that his ass?”

Rey laughed. “Probably. At least he’s out of my ribs now. How hearing your voice does that to him, I don’t know.”

The confirmation made Kylo smile, and he placed another kiss on her skin. “He knows his father. Don’t you, kid?”

 


 

Rey

The smell of buttered toast and cooling miso soup on the table. Soft kisses on her cheek. Sundays. Rey loved Sundays. It was the only full day she had with Ben, as he worked most Saturdays. The one day she didn’t feel so lonely.

Over the past three months, she’d joined an expecting mother’s group for foreign women in Tokyo, but none of them were like Mara or Rose. When Ben was home, it was easier to smile and forget the language barrier and the distance, the oceans and land that separated her and London.

When Rey had returned home after marrying Ben, Mara met her with worry lining her brow. “So, you did it,” she said, studying Rey’s rings in the fluorescent airport lights. “How do you feel?”

Ben’s mouth on hers, whispering against her skin. Those first few days of waking up next to him as his wife in Kyoto. Rey hadn’t thought it would feel different, but it did. Everything did. More sacred, in place. She couldn’t explain that to Mara. So, she’d replied with a simple, “Really good, thanks.” Mara pressed her for more information, but Rey felt strange sharing those details with her and Rose. Anyone and everyone. She longed to tell them about Ben’s struggle with drugs, how much it worried her, the happiness mixed with a new anxiety. What if he relapsed, especially while she was gone for the next four weeks?

She didn’t think about it, instead distracting herself with packing, finishing up her job with the English Resistance, and training her replacement. Ben called every morning, when Mara or Luke weren’t around. Rey hid her disappointment as best as she could, praying they wouldn’t get into another fight about his family. Ben seemed to have the same thoughts churning around in his mind: Just get to Tokyo. Be together. Be a family.That’s what mattered, didn’t it? The baby growing up with his father. Even if Rey couldn’t give him a complete family with grandparents that would spoil him. Even if Ben’s job meant that he was gone most of the time. The baby would have a mother and a father. Something both of them had never fully experienced. And besides, maybe Ben would come around.

Hope. Rey would continue to hold and hold onto it no matter what. She had to.

That month in London went quicker than Rey thought it would. Mara helped her pack; Leia fawned over Rey’s baby bump and insisted on getting dinner once a week. Rose was upset Rey hadn’t told her before getting married. In a way, she felt she had been replaced with Yuki. But it was done, and Rose didn’t have time to be angry for long. Rey told Niall her news through text message, the night before they were scheduled to have breakfast together as a group. No emojis or jokes in his reply. “Congratulations. I hope it makes you happy,” was all he’d written. It was like telling him she had a boyfriend all over again. But what did she owe him? They were friends, not in a relationship. Rey expected him to ignore her, and he didn’t. There were hints of pain in his blue eyes the next day, but he didn’t treat her any different. He asked about the baby, paid for her breakfast as a “late wedding present,” and they spoke no more of it.

Days went by until they were no more. Rey was back in Ben’s arms, waking up to kisses against her stomach, cheeks, and eyes. Green faded to red and yellow. Ben took her to Shizuoka to see the turning leaves, Mt. Fuji, snow-capped and giant, looming in the distance.

Those days, Ben brought a sketchbook, charcoals gliding, etching black lines into paper. Lines that became pictures of her, the trees, the sky. Each time he drew her, Rey was struck by how he saw her. More beautiful, somehow. Not a girl filled with a baby and dealing with bad heartburn and gas. It was strange how comfortable she’d become around him. In a way, she supposed, they were forced into it. She couldn’t hide every bout of gas or stretch mark when they were spending his free moments outside of work together. Well, it had been like that at first. Before Ben had asked her to keep him company while he was in the loo. She stayed for a few moments until the smell drove her out, gagging and laughing. Shit, fluids, there wasn’t much they didn’t share after that. Was this what a relationship was supposed to be? Being comfortable, accepting the flaws with the beauty? The pain with the joy?

Trading an old family for a new one?

On Sunday, now near the end of November, with Ben reading the newspaper beside her and the baby finally resting in her womb, Rey was happy to accept anything for peace. She was thirty-seven weeks pregnant. The baby would be here in three weeks or less.

But Mara didn’t like Rey’s passive attitude. It wasn’t fair, she’d said. How could Ben ask her to give up so much? Rey reassured Mara of Ben’s promise to work out his differences with them for the baby. It placated her for the time being, but would only work if Ben followed through.

Rey finished off her hibiscus tea. “I’m going out to dinner with the girls on Thursday. And we have another doctor’s appointment on Wednesday night at six, so you’ll need to get off work early.”

“I forgot. Shit. I’ll reschedule my meeting. Thanks for reminding me.”

It was what she did every Sunday—give him the schedule for the week ahead. What made her his wife and the mother of his child. His partner, never to be alone again.

 


 

Kylo

The baby’s head dropped on Tuesday, the day before Rey’s thirty-seven week checkup. She texted him around noon, in all caps.

 

Kylo Ren

Are you sure?

 

Rey Jackson

Yes!! I passed a little blood, too. We are on the home stretch! I can breathe now, omg. Little Rib Bruiser is not bruising my ribs anymore! :D :D :D

 

It was almost time. The baby was coming. Kylo texted Alexander the news. He was probably sleeping, but would check it in the morning. He always wanted to know how Rey and the baby were doing, and Kylo wasn’t sure if it was a sick wish for something bad to happen or genuine concern.

He pulled out a mini bottle of scotch from his drawer and downed it in one gulp. To keep from doing the hard shit, the packet of white powder always in his pocket. He kept the middle drawer of his desk stocked and locked. As far as Rey knew, he’d quit drinking and smoking. Mostly. Smoking he’d had to give up considering how the smell lingered on clothes. But drinking? Mouthwash washed all evidence away. And it wasn’t like he could give it up completely with the nomikais—drinking parties—he attending with his office. He was thankful for every last one. It meant he could have as many cigarettes as he wanted without Rey being suspicious.

By quitting time, he was seven mini bottles deep in scotch. Not trashed, but well past tipsy. He locked his office and polished off another bottle, the liquid burning the back of his throat. A familiar, feel-good bite. How would it be when the baby came? Wailing at all hours, filling diaper after diaper, unable to sleep.

Rey Jackson

When will you be home? I want to talk about something.

Kylo cleared the notification, setting his phone on silent. It was strange. For the first time in a while, he realized—

He didn’t want to go home yet.

He didn’t want to go home to dinner on the table, the baby sliding around in Rey’s belly at the sound of his voice. It was a reminder that, in less than twenty-one days, he might or might not be a father. He would have to watch Rey go through labor and delivery, knowing something could grow wrong and snuff out the life in his son’s eyes, before they fluttered opened at all. The cord wrapped around his neck, infections, his shoulders stuck in the birth canal, an abruption of the placenta. All could lead to Kylo holding an infant without breath or color, mouth knowing nothing but silence.

And the things that could happen to Rey? Bleeding, an emergency c-section, a pulmonary embolism… He had done his research, looked at the situation from each angle. The baby dropping could mean one more day closer to outcomes like that. Was it normal to obsess about death?

Incredibly, astronomically rare, he reminded himself, texting Rey to tell her that he was going out with the guys for drinks. Incredibly, astronomically rare. He didn’t check for her reply. Didn’t need to. She wouldn’t approve.

Kylo spotted a cigarette vending machine and bought a pack before he could think better of it. If he was going to be sentenced to hell when he got home, he might as well walk there himself.

Bar Starlight was ahead, at the intersection, a frequent haunt of his before Rey moved in. A few more glasses, shots. Drink and go home. How could Rey ask him to quit, now, when his entire life was about to change?

 


 

 

Rey

Rey pretended he wasn’t drunk, stumbling on his words, and his breath didn’t smell like a brewery and a smokehouse had procreated. Home three hours after he said he would be.

“Sorry. The guy’s wanted to go out.”

She uncrossed her arms and turned on the tap to run a bath for him, trying not to think about the dinner she’d made, cold on the kitchen table. She’d been too mad to wrap and stick it in the fridge. It was his favorite, an early celebratory meal. Rey was sure the baby had dropped today, as were the women in her foreign mum group, with the light bleeding and the pressure moving to her pelvis. Nevertheless, the doctor would confirm it tomorrow.

“How many drinks did you have?”

Ben shuffled out of his suit and tie, tossed them on the floor. “Two or three.”

“Two or three? Really?” They’d lived together for three months, and he had never been this drunk. All of the liquor, purged from the house the second week she moved in, done by Ben himself. It made her wonder. Was he drinking at work and lying about it?

“I’m worried about him.” Ben reached for her. “And you. The whole thing.”

“Mm. You’re always worried. I’m going to bed. Enjoy your bath. Your dinner is on the table if you want it. Pop it in the microwave for a minute or two.” Rey felt the tears pool in her eyes, eager to lie in bed and snuggle with her full-body pillow, belly propped up.

“Wait.” He grabbed her arm, forcing her to turn around. “I’m sorry. I needed to unwind a little bit.”

“Yeah, sure.”

He kissed her shoulder, ground himself against her. “Join me.”

“No, thanks.”

He let her go dejectedly without another kiss, lips pulling away from her shoulder. And instead of going to the bedroom like she’d originally planned, Rey found herself turning on the light in the baby’s room. Organizing, yes. It would keep her from being upset. It didn’t matter that everything was already clean and in place. Organize and reorganize. Rey ran her hands across the dark wooden crib, the giraffe-print crib sheets. Baby Ren had everything he needed—a closet full of clothes for the first six months of his life, ointments, a bath basin, toys, a bouncy chair. Rey hadn’t missed a thing. Her son would have everything she never had. 

Rey checked the hospital bag, pulled the carefully stashed contents out. Pajamas, after-birth pads, weird knickers with buttons on the front, changes of clothes, cotton pads, a toothbrush set, shampoo… The checklist for her week-long hospital stay was memorized by now. All that was missing was a baby, dreaming away in his crib.

Going into labor and delivering their son. Rey remembered the conversation with Mara earlier today, a video call made in excitement shortly after finding the baby’s head had dropped.

“Oh, that’s lovely!” Mara exclaimed, smiling wide. “Sounds painful, but lovely! I’m so excited for you.” It had taken her a while, but eventually, Mara accepted that Rey was having this baby and staying with Ben.

“I know! I can’t wait until he’s here… it feels so unreal.” She rubbed her stomach and stood up, mirroring Mara’s smile. “Do I look any bigger this week? I feel like a puffer fish.”

They made their usual, weekly small talk. Had she gained any more weight? Yes, about three pounds, and her doctor wouldn’t be happy. Was she sleeping well? Somewhat. It was hard to find a comfortable position to fall asleep in, but the body pillow helped with that. Mara always avoided questions about Ben. According to her, as long as Rey was happy, she didn’t need to know.

“I’m glad you’re alright, love. I’ve been worried about you.”

“Why? I’ve texted you every day. I’m fine. Little Rib Bruiser and I are healthy.”

“Yes, I know. I wanted to talk to you about something. An idea.”

“What is it?”

“Luke, Leia, and I have been talking for the past couple of weeks. We’re all worried about you. Leia thinks you don’t have enough support, with Ben working so much and you being home alone most of the time. You said you were dealing with culture shock, too, so what if we came around your due date for a month or two?”

“You would take the time off? Are you serious?!” Rey had never imagined this being an option. It was understood that they would come to visit and see the baby once Ben decided to reach out to them first. If he decided to reach out to them. “You’re all coming? Who would work?”

“We’d have to reschedule a few meetings and outreach presentations, but I’m confident we can do most things remotely.”

Mara and Leia taking care of the baby. Diaper changes, rocking. With them helping her, Rey might actually get some sleep and recover from giving birth. But there was one, large problem with that idea. Ben. The last time Rey had brought up working through the issues with his family a few weeks ago, he’d blown it off with a firm, “Not yet. I’m still thinking about it.” Rey accepted it. She always did.

“Rey? So, what do you think?”

“I, well. I’m not sure Ben is ready.”

Mara pursed her lips. “You’ve been married for almost four months now. You told me he promised.”

“Yes, he promised to try, but he’s not ready.”

“I’m not asking for his permission. I’m asking for yours. The baby is just as much your child as his. Are you really going to let him control you? Dictate who you can and can’t see?”

“Not exactly. I’ll talk to him.”

“I’m disappointed in you.”

“I know. You have been since you found out I was pregnant.”

“I know you married him, but love, you can do so much better than an alcoholic who makes promises he can’t keep and treats you like an afterthought.”

“He doesn’t. He’s wonderful. He cooks breakfast nearly every morning. He never complains when I ask him to help me or go somewhere. He compliments me so much. He never puts me down.”

“And is he still drinking?”

“He’s cut back.”

‘“Is he still drinking? It’s a simple question.”

Rey sighed. “Sometimes. When he goes out to the pub for work. Other than that, no. We don’t have any alcohol in the apartment.”

“Alcoholics can’t drink in moderation. I would presume he’s drinking at work and hiding it from you.”

Feet fluttered against her stomach, bringing attention to her racing heart. “I’m not discussing this with you. I said I would talk to him, and I will. He’s my husband. I married him; I’ll deal with him.”

But Ben had come home plastered, and she was too upset to bring it up. Mara was right, as always, and Rey hated it. How hard was it to stop drinking so much? She hadn’t asked him to give it up completely. One or two drinks a day, not six or seven.

Ben found her in the room after a little while, swaying in the baby’s rocking chair, the repacked hospital bag on the floor by her feet. “What are you still doing awake?” He smoothed back her hair and kissed her head, lips warm from the bath.

And though she wanted to argue with him for coming home late and drinking well past two glasses, she let him kiss her again and lead her to bed.

 


 

 

Kylo

In the clinic waiting chair next to Kylo, Rey fiddled with her fingernails, quiet since this morning. He’d sat in his office all day with a pounding headache, knowing but not caring that he’d had too much last night. One night in two months that I wasn’t not home in time. What the fuck is her problem? What the fuck… A discussion with the Tokyo Board. A meeting with the landlord of a building First English was working to set up a private eikaiwa in. The day flew by, but the thoughts never left.

“Rei Jakuson-san?” the receptionist called. Rey took the pee cup from her and disappeared into the bathroom. Five minutes later, she came out, cup covered with a tissue, head down. Kylo knew the constant tests pissed her off, but for him? He looked forward to each doctor’s appointment; it was the confirmation that the baby was well, happy, and growing.

They were called back afterward for the usual procedures—checking Rey’s blood pressure and weight and measuring her abdomen. Questions about how she was feeling, what she was eating. Kylo translated when needed, her hand in his. The doctor, Okamura-sensei, spoke a bit of English and had a few foreign clients, but he occasionally forgot a word.

It was confirmed. The baby had officially dropped, like they suspected. Okamura-sensei held up an example picture of a positioned baby in the birth canal. Not like it was hard to tell. Her belly was lower, sagging almost. With the ultrasound probe moving across her skin, the doctor measured the baby, confirming his new head-down position. Everything, as always, was perfect. “You might go into labor before your due date,” he stated confidently. “Make preparations, yes. Any changes, call.”

Rey was quiet from the time he arrived at the clinic to the time he drove them home. Tears in her eyes last night, turning away from him in bed. His hand tightened on the steering wheel. “I get it, you’re still pissed, but can you talk to me, please?”

Her eyes were straight ahead, hands fiddling with the new ultrasound photo. “What’s there to talk about? You said you’d be home by seven. I had dinner ready. I couldn’t wait to show you how the baby had moved.”

He rested a hand on her belly, the anger fading the longer he looked at her downcast eyes. “I’m sorry.”

Her gaze shifted to the window.

“I’m trying. Didn’t I promise you that?” No answer. “Look, he’s gonna be here soon. I don’t want us fighting.”

“I don’t want to fight either.” She caressed his hand on her stomach, gripped it tightly. “I know you’re trying, but like you said, he’s going to be here soon. I’m scared.”

They locked eyes in the murky darkness, orange street light sweeping over her face. He flicked on his emergency signal and pulled the car to the side of the road. “You mean everything to me. You always have.” He couldn’t look at her. “I’m scared, too. Keep playing it over in my head. What if something happens to him or you?”

The pressure on his shoulder. The apartment, empty. No baby toys or clothes. The closet purged. Kitchen sink sterile and clean. What would life look like without them?

“You have to be here with us. Talk to me and tell me what you’re feeling. Don’t shut me out and get hammered in a pub somewhere.”

“Yeah, but it’s not that simple.”

“I know.” She blinked a few times, pressing her lips together. “Speaking of which. I wanted to talk to you about something.”

“What is it?”

“I spoke with Mara yesterday after I told you the news. Promise you won’t get mad?”

“Take your own advice. Say it.”

“She wants to come for the baby’s birth. With Leia and Luke.”

Kylo immediately tensed. “Why?” Don’t get mad, don’t get mad. Getting angry won’t do any good. Talk to her. Breathe.

“They’re worried about me being alone.”

That sent him over the edge. “You’re not fucking alone. Guess I don’t count according to them. Never have.” He pulled away from her, running a hand across his face.

“You’ll only have seven days of paternity leave, and most of that time I’ll be in the hospital because of this country’s insane ideas on babies. You’re working so much. I have barely any friends here. I’ve talked to you about this.”

I’m not good enough for you. I never have been. That’s why you want to change me, he fought back the urge to retort. It wouldn’t help anything. He needed to think rationally.

“What about the foreign mom group you’re in? Aren’t you meeting with them tomorrow?”

“I want our family, Ben. Our whole family together. Please. You said you’d talk to them and try to fix this.”

A touch on his leg. Delicate, light fingertips. “I don’t see how I can. Everything they’ve done. How they made me feel my entire life. I never fit with them or anyone. And they made sure of it.”

“You have to forgive them.”

“Have you forgiven the sick fuck that touched you? Or the shitty ass system that put you in that situation?”

“This is different.”

“Like hell it is. You don’t know my mother like I do. Everything had to be perfect in her house. She couldn’t have a son like me. I’m too much like my father. She, Luke, Mara, they always said that. And you know? It’s fucking true. Leia would have divorced Han if it hadn’t been damaging to her career. Everything she’s done is for her fucking career. And for what? She quit politics and fucked off back to England.”

“You can’t know that. Maybe she’s changed.”

“People don’t change.”

“You have.” She grabbed his hand, rubbing circles across his wedding band. “You said you’d never get married or have a family. Does this,” she guided his hand to her belly again, “not show you people can change?”

“You’re different. You’re nothing like anyone else. It’s why I married you.” He looked away. “Besides the kid.”

“You know you can be really sweet when you want to be.”

“I love you. You know that.” He grimaced, meeting her eyes again. “And if it will make you happy, okay. They can come, to be here for you.”

She threw her arms around his neck, drawing him into a deep kiss. “Thank you. You don’t know how much this means to me.”

He had a feeling, but didn’t verbalize it. Seeing her smiling again, especially after last night, made him kiss her harder. Regardless, her happiness wouldn’t be without conditions. “They can’t stay with us, and I’ll work out my problems with them as I see fit. Okay?”

Blinking, she pulled back, her smiling fading a bit. “Alright. Do you need more time?”

“Yeah, maybe.” He hugged her tighter, losing himself in the comfort of her smell. Seeing her happy. It was all worth it. Wasn’t it?

The implications of more time. How long could he keep it up before she realized more time would change nothing?

 


 

Rey

Rey groaned awake, reaching for her glass on the nightstand. Empty. 2:23 A.M. She rolled out of bed and waddled to the kitchen, filling it up with a bottle of water from the fridge.

A pain deep in her bladder lingered, present since yesterday. Like period pain, but stronger. Another week had passed with only signs of Braxton Hick’s contractions. Yesterday, however, was different. She noticed it in the morning—an aching in her lower stomach, but didn’t alert Ben. First time mothers could spend days in labor, and the pregnancy would likely go past Rey’s due date. She went about her usual routine starting with a call to Mara to work out the details of her arrival in Japan the following week. No one would be allowed in the apartment; Ben worked too much, and the added stress of a new baby and his family around would be stressful. He had agreed, nevertheless, to pay for some of their accommodation expenses.

That part Mara was not happy about. “I don’t like this. How are we going to help you care for the baby if we can’t be in the apartment?”

“I’ll take him with me to the hotel. Ben wants me back before he comes home.”

Ben was protective; it was true. But not without good reason. He was like that with anyone around Rey.

Rey drank her water, struggling to swallow. The pain had increased; it was deeper now. Dishes left in the sink from dinner. Immediately, Rey began washing them. She would call her doctor in the morning, she decided, as she scrubbed a pot with increased pressure.

Pain moved through her body like a wave, making her grimace. She breathed, turned off the water. Sit down, yes. She waddled to the sofa, catching sight of her journal on the coffee table. Before Rey left London, Mara had given her a journal, an almost exact replica of the one from Ben when she was twelve—pink petals sprinkled across the cover, the kanji for sakura, 桜, a prominent center piece.

Rey let the pages fall through her fingertips, smiling in spite of the pain. Omae wa hitori ja nai. お前は一人じゃない. You’re not alone. It was written at the top of a few pages in his neat handwriting. Romaji, Kana, and English. Her original sheet with her vows was in there, too, glued to a page, forever preserved on paper and burned into her mind. Culture shock, homesickness, she tried to document everything she could think of. How waking up next to Ben telling her she was beautiful felt, her stomach growing underneath his hands with each passing day.

She flipped to a clean page and let her pen glide across the paper, all of her fears about the birth and Ben pouring out. Before the end of the page, however, an intense urge to have a bowel movement shot through her. She waddle-sprinted to the loo, plopping down on the toilet. Should she wake up Ben? He had a big meeting tomorrow and needed his sleep.

Keep track of the contractions. She remembered that piece of advice, flushing the toilet. Surely it was too early?

Dozing on the couch with the TV on in the background for white noise, Rey managed to time them a bit. About seven minutes apart. She squeezed her legs together and clutched her stomach, images dancing behind her eyes.

Lips on her forehead. “What are you doing sleeping on the couch?”

Faint light poured in from the sitting room window. How had morning come that quickly? His meeting. She needed to lie. He would worry otherwise. “I couldn’t sleep. I was a bit uncomfortable. I’m sorry. I didn’t want to keep you up. You have trouble sleeping as it is.”

“You can wake me up for anything. I’m gonna go take a shower. Join me?”

“Alright. In a minute. Need to pee and get a drink.”

Dull pain erupted from below her breast all the way down to her bottom, like someone was holding her abdomen to a hot stove. She clutched onto the sofa, instinctively bending over. Sharper and deeper than last night.

Her previous hesitation vanished. “Ben!” She waddled to the bathroom and threw open the door. “Ben!”

“Rey?” He froze under the water, snatching his towel off the hook.  “What’s wrong?” He rushed over—soaked—and rubbed her belly like he was checking for injuries.

“I think I’m contracting.”

“How far apart?”

“I don’t know… I tried to count last night. I haven’t this morning.”

“How long have you been feeling like this?”

“I don’t know. Since yesterday around lunchtime? It hurts.”

“Why didn’t you tell me?

“I didn’t want you to worry. You have a big meeting today, and we both needed the sleep.” She focused on breathing. In. Out.

“I’m taking you to the hospital.” Ben moved to the bedroom, throwing on the first thing he found--a pair of jeans and a Metallica t-shirt. “Has your water broken?”

“No, I don’t think so.”

“You should’ve told me immediately.” His fingers found her belly, cradling it strongly but tenderly. “Get dressed. Now.”

She snatched up all of her supplies for the hospital, texting Mara as quickly as she could to tell her the baby was likely coming a week early. So much for first time mums being in labor for a week. They would have to reschedule their flights.

In the car, Ben’s hand never left hers. “Breathe,” he whispered. “We’ll be there in about five minutes. Okay?”

A rush like someone had popped a balloon inside her. Warm, wet. Had she peed herself? Shakily, she brought a hand to her loose maternity pants.

No odor. Not anything like urine.

 


 

 

Kylo

Kylo pushed the car faster, trying to focus on the road. He thought he would have more time to process all of this. The baby, his family coming and that confrontation. But it was here, regardless of his wants or expectations. He felt around in his jacket pocket for a small, plastic bag. Comfort. The powder slipped through with each squeeze, the movement soothing. Control. That’s all it was. He wouldn’t do anything but touch.

A muffled cry. Rey pulled herself up using the car safety handle, eyes squeezed tightly closed.

He reached for her hand, brought it to his lips. “It’s okay. Keep your eyes on me."

The contraction passed. Her eyes fluttered with pain. “I think my waters just broke.”

A dark spot was spreading across her lap, beads of liquid rolling onto the floor.

Kylo reached for the plastic bag again.

 


 

Rey

Pain unlike anything Rey had felt before, ripping through muscles and veins. Her island, the wind, the blue ocean and white sand. People fluttered around her in Japanese, monitoring her and the baby, confirming she was in active labor. Rest, pain, her abdomen clenched with each new wave. They admitted her, poked and prodded. Through the haze, Rey tried to remember the techniques from her birthing classes, keeping calm, breathing.

Ben never left her side, nor his hand, her hand. “Look at me. One contraction at a time, okay? Like we practiced?”

Her body flashed with heat, mouth filling with saliva. She could barely squeak out, “I’m going to be sick,” before vomit flew from her lips and into the pan beside the bed.

 


 

 

Kylo

During rest periods, they measured her dilation. Six centimeters. Seven. The vomiting stopped, but the nausea didn’t. He entertained her with music, letting it play lightly in the background, forbidden away from anything with chugging guitars. So, in reality, anything remotely good. To focus her attention away from the pain, he told stories about his life in Japan as a teenager. The mangas and animes he’d consumed to fight the alienation. If alienation could truly be fought. He didn’t want to tell her about his past or be forced to think about it. But he did. He’d started at an international private school until his Japanese was decent. It was easier to fit in there with other foreigners around. He transitioned to a public high school in Tokyo and did rather well. Everything changed when Ayane, Luke’s wife, died. Luke moved back to London, and Kylo had to make a choice. University in the U.S. or the U.K. He chose Chicago. He would have thought it would bring back memories of their abandonment, the flashes of pain that had haunted him for the last couple of years. But surprisingly, it was soothing, being alone and away from them. Easier with them in the U.K.

Her features calmed the more he spoke. He stroked her hair, waited for each contraction to pass, and spoke again. But the pain always came back, distorting her features. The doctor kept refusing to give her the epidural. “Look how great you’re doing. You don’t need it. The epidural could slow the labor down.” Kylo tried confronting him in Japanese, but Rey stopped him, insisting with desperate fingers clenched around his arm that it was okay. She was okay; she could handle the pain. There was no need to make a fuss and stress her out further.

By the third hour of angrily watching it play out in silence, Kylo had to leave the room. Found himself in a stall in the men’s bathroom. He couldn’t smoke or drink. She would notice. He pulled out the small packet, spilling out the white powder across his palm, letting it rest there, settle his breathing. A little wouldn’t hurt. One hit, low dose. He could control it. He would control it. There was nothing wrong with a little, using only when he couldn’t do it anymore.

You’re slipping again. You’ve been clean for so long. He could almost hear her soft voice in his mind. Please don’t go this way.

He sprinkled the powder back into the bag and washed his hands three times. What was he thinking? This wasn’t that hard. All he had to do was be there for her, hold her hand. He was being dramatic. Unrelatable, unjustified, dramatic. That’s what everyone always said, Leia especially. And he’d invited her to be here for Rey.

He stared at himself in the mirror, the deep shadows lining his eyes, the early formations of wrinkles around his mouth from too many cigarettes and too little sleep. Han’s features, but younger. The irony was never lost on him. If he didn’t stop this, history would repeat itself.

Kako wo shina seru. Let the past die. 

Koroseba ii... sono hitsuyoo ga areba.  Kill it if you have to.

 


  

Rey

“Where did you go?” Rey pleaded, voice shaky, hands gripping the bed rail.

“I’m sorry. Needed a minute. I hate seeing you like this.” His fingers found her hair, kneading it softly, relaxing her. Through the pain, Rey had desperately tried to alert the nurses about Ben’s disappearance, but they didn’t speak English, instead soothing her with words she didn’t understand, the urge to push becoming stronger with each contraction.

Ben pulled her close, burying his face in her neck. The doctor came in not long after that and confirmed it—ten centimeters dilated. Contractions thirty seconds apart and overlapping. Her ears rung; her muscles throbbed and screamed. Like someone was slowly crushing her and enjoying it.

Another contraction, this one mixed with the horrible sensation her bowels would fall out. Push. She knew the feeling instinctively, primally. The doctor guided her onto her back, legs apart. Another wave. Push. Breathe. She gripped the handrails, pulled herself up with clenched teeth, words leaving her tongue.

“It’s okay.” Ben’s fingers continued to glide through her sweaty hair. “It’ll be over soon.”

“Please, please,” she whispered between contractions, her head falling back onto the pillow. Her voice was foreign, weak. 

“You’re doing great,” the doctor cut in. “Again.”

Rey clamped down, teeth gritted. This is natural. Push. Billions of women have done this.

He must have told her thirty times.

Head. Rey recognized the word in English through the cloud of pain and ringing in her ears. His head was out. A little more, a little more. 

The pressure released. She looked up, and there he was. Matted brown hair covered in gore, tiny face twisted in displeasure. A few smacks on his bottom and he was crying and wiggling around on her bare chest. He continued wailing, the shrill sound drawing tears from her eyes, freely coating her cheeks. 

She clutched him to her, hands running along his messy body. “We have a son.”

And when she looked over at Ben, he was crying, too.

 


 

The baby suckled weakly on her breast, fists bawled tight. His face was red, eyes puffy from birth. It was hard to tell who he looked like more at this stage, newly born and cuddly. But his hair was darker than hers, eyes slate grey. She traced a finger across his brow and readjusted his hat, feeling the familiar prick of tears again.

She would like to say that it was love at first sight, that she knew her son immediately as he was placed on her chest, but when she looked down at him, all she felt was unease. This was supposed to be happy, like the day she got married, a reward for nine months of nausea, weight gain, and difficulty sleeping. Everything had been for him. Working it out with Ben, getting married, moving her entire life to a foreign country where she didn’t speak the language. Her real family.

Why didn’t it feel right?

She’d torn a little during birth, requiring a few stitches. Was it the pain making her feel like this? Her doctor claimed it was one of he easiest births he’d seen for a first time mother. Hyper fertile and good at birthing babies. She could put it on her resume.

 

Mum

We’re about six hours away. How are you feeling now?

 

Rey had already texted her pictures of the baby in multiple angles. Decorated collages of photos with his weight of 3.4 kilograms and full name in large text plastered across. Benjamin Ren. Japanese style, no middle name. Same as his father. Ben had argued a bit about it, but ultimately gave in. Rey wanted a middle name, too—Han, after his grandfather—but Ben didn’t like the idea. Benjamin Ren was the compromise. She worried about the rhyming scheme of Ben Ren, but not for long. It suited him. If Ben wouldn’t use his birth name any longer, a name that had meant everything to Rey when she was thirteen, at least their son would have it.

Yet, pictures and announcements did nothing to help her feel better. Mara, Leia, and Luke weren’t here. They were supposed to be here. Why couldn’t he have waited a little longer to come, like babies did for most first-time mums? It was all wrong. Wrong, wrong, wrong.

“Rey? What’s the matter? Why don’t you give him to me for a few minutes?”

She swiped at her eyes, realizing the baby was crying, toothless mouth open and fussing. Likely frustrated with learning how to breastfeed. When she didn’t move, Ben took Benjamin from her arms and softly rocked him back and forth, placing kisses on his forehead.

Ben, who had never wanted to be a father, looking at their son with an intensity Rey had witnessed in rare moments. The night she’d told him she was carrying Benjamin. Their wedding day. Mornings spent in the early light, lips against her stomach, talking and teasing, telling Benjamin about everything they would do once he was finally in their arms. Brief, evanescent snapshots.

Ben, herself, and their son. Family. And with Leia, Mara, and Luke, it would be complete.

 


 

Kylo

“Alright, kid, enough. Your mom is sleeping.”

“Mum,” Rey mumbled, head shifting across her pillow.

“Your mom also needs to learn how to speak English.” Benjamin quieted at that,  eyes wide like mini, puffy saucers, brows furrowed. He sucked briefly on his fingers, feet kicking. “Being born is hard work. Don’t worry about the breastfeeding. You’ll get the hang of it. I have. You’ll love boobs one day.”

The first night had passed smoothly. Benjamin slept for most of it, Rey waking him up a few times to try breastfeeding again. Rey herself barely slept. Kylo watched her toss through the night on the hospital bed, wishing they were at home so he could hold her properly.

Kylo brushed fingers across Benjamin's face, amazed at the softness. Purely innocent, no damage or pain. He was nothing like his father. The hurt he had yet to experience. Kids bullying him, someone touching him, hands on his shoulders, legs, wrists pinned to a wall. It all played through Kylo’s mind the moment the doctor placed Benjamin in his arms, eyes impossibly curious about the faces hovering around. Kylo had known the world was carrying on in the background, but he didn’t look up. His son was in his arms, the grey color of his eyes, a mirror of Kylo’s own as a newborn. He had worried for months about having a boy, thinking he should walk away before he fucked up his kid’s life, too.

“I will never let anything happen to you,” Kylo whispered, breathing in his newborn scent, summer warm and sweet. “Nothing. Do you know that?”

Rey stirred, rubbing her eyes and scrolling through her phone. “They’re leaving the airport and coming straight here.” Her face lit up. “I can’t wait for them to meet him.”

Kylo swallowed, continuing to stare down at Benjamin. Soothed, eyes fluttering closed. For the next forty-five minutes, Kylo took care of Rey, clearing his mind. Helped her go to the bathroom, take a shower, comb through her hair.

The peace didn’t last. They arrived, and Rey was running into Mara’s arms. Kylo stood to the side, drowned out the mindless chatter. Leia. Luke. Mara. In the same room as him again. No matter how many years passed since his D.U.I., his heart always pounded when they were near.

“Look at him!” Mara moved to the bassinet, running a finger across Benjamin’s exposed hand.

Kylo tensed, keeping his eyes on the ground. Fought the instinct to immediately jump in front of his son. He felt Leia’s eyes, but she didn’t speak or address him. She joined Mara in fawning over Benjamin and making mindless small talk with Rey.

Leia dabbed at her eyes with a tissue. “He’s beautiful, Rey. You did well. He looks just like my Ben when he was born.”

My Ben. Kylo’s jaw ticked.

Rey glanced over at Kylo in his chair, offering a weak smile. “We’ve been trying to decide who he looks like more. It’s so hard to tell with newborns, isn’t it?”

He needed to focus. Rey was smiling for nearly the first time since giving birth yesterday. That’s all that mattered.

“Yup, he looks like a little Ben. You’ve got a hell raiser on your hands.” Luke suddenly turned to Kylo. “You remember when you shot me with a BB gun? Still have the scar.”

“You’re lucky it wasn’t a real gun.”

Luke let out a full-bellied laugh and moved to pat Kylo on the shoulder. “You did good. Kid looks great.”

Rey cracked open the curtains, smiling at Benjamin in his bassinet, the dim sunlight hitting his face.

“Rey did all the work,” Mara said with a playful glare. “His job took thirty seconds.”

“Thirty minutes at least, three different times.” Kylo looked over at Rey. “Why don’t you tell her, sweetheart?”

Kylo enjoyed the glimpse of pain that flashed across Leia’s features. Considered it payback.

Rey ignored him, turning to Leia. “Do you want to hold him?”

“We’re filthy from the plane.” Leia fidgeted with her purse. “We should shower first. Oh, would you just look at him, sleeping so peacefully. Han always wanted a grandbaby.”

Yeah, right. He didn’t even want to be a father, but you sure made that choice for him anyway.

“I need to wake him up to eat soon anyway. Ben and I decided to breastfeed him. I’m not sure if I told you. If you want to hold him now, wash your hands, and I can swap out his blanket later.”

Kylo tried to disappear into the background, pretending to ignore Benjamin passed around, one at a time, like a communal doll.

 

Alexander Snoke

Please extend my warm congratulations to Rey.

 

Kylo regretted telling him the news, a moment clouded by the elation at having his son sleeping against his chest after breastfeeding. What business did Alexander have with the girl he’d treated like garbage, all in the name of protection?

Kako wo shina seru. Koroseba ii... sono hitsuyoo ga areba. Let the past die. Kill it if you have to. The words banged around in his head the longer he stared at Benjamin in their arms and the text message in his hand.

This would start and end with his son.

He only had one card left to play.

Chapter Text

Kylo

Sun-dried tomatoes, the sharp smell of garlic. Kylo rubbed his face, scanning the room. Tonight was it. The first time spending more than twenty minutes alone in the same room as his family.

He’d avoided it for as long as he could. Told Rey he wasn’t ready, let her go to their hotel with Benjamin every day when he was at work. A month had passed like that, adjusting to Benjamin in their lives. The baby Kylo had worried about having since his mistake in Kyoto, here, in their arms. Nights controlled by feedings and diaper changes. Wails and burpings. Kylo’s last card, lying in his mind, drowned out by the bruised skin under Rey’s eyes each morning he woke up to her changing Benjamin's diaper or rocking him back to sleep. Her Baby Blues had ended at that—Baby Blues, no further development. Benjamin himself had grown so much over the past month, cheeks and legs fat.

“Sorry I’m late,” he said, avoiding their gazes and adjusting his tie. He hadn’t even had time to change out of his work clothes. Benjamin was in his carry bassinet, feet and hands wiggling around freely. Kylo picked him up, avoiding their gazes.

Rey stood up to kiss him, smile lingering against his lips.“How was work?”

“The same.” He kissed her deeper, held her tighter. “I’m so in love with you,” he whispered into her ear. A red dress hugged her post-baby body. Rolls lingered in a few areas, but she had already begun to lose weight, belly shrinking more every day. “You’re beautiful.”

Wine bottles on the shelves in neat rows. Reds and whites. Sangiovese. Black cherry top notes, crisp liquid enveloping his tongue. He flagged down a waiter and ordered a glass, ignoring the way Rey’s face went stoic. It wasn’t whiskey; he kept his promise—no hard liquor tonight. This meeting was too important to Rey. “It’s just one glass,” he said against her ear, sitting down and rubbing a thumb across Benjamin’s tiny fingers. “Take the edge off.”

Rey sighed. “I know, but—”

“You look tired,” Leia said, voice guarded but soft. “Rey told us Benjamin is still not sleeping through the night. It’s common for newborns. I’m sure it will stop soon.”

“Yeah. You been good for your mom today, Lil Slice?” Kylo flipped through a menu and smoothed out the wrinkles on the onesie where Benjamin got his nickname from—a picture of a slice of pizza, cheese dripping off the edges. Kylo had the matching shirt with the full pizza and one piece missing back home. Given to him by Rey as a joke.

“It’s mum. Learn to speak English,” Rey teased. “And you are so cheesy.”

Kylo smiled briefly at the pun before his wine arrived, and he took a large sip. There was something comforting about the way the liquid slid down his throat, a slight acrid burn that made his shoulders relax.

Mara folded her hands together. “That onesie is really quite cute.”

Kylo brought Benjamin to his face, planting kisses on his cheeks and forehead. He smiled, toothless, eyes still not yet focused on anything in particular. The grey color hadn’t turned; it likely wouldn’t for a few more months, but everyone continued to comment on how much he looked like Kylo. No doubt who had fathered him, if there had been any to begin with.

“You love your daddy, don’t you, my sweet boy?” Rey cooed, running her fingers across his feather-light brown hair.

They ordered, and Rey chatted excitedly about all the things they did today. Going to the park and shopping. The cold weather, wrapping Benjamin up in his tiny blue down jacket like a little burrito baby. She’d taken so many pictures. Had he seen them? Kylo zoned out, finished off his glass of wine, and didn’t order another.

“You been working a lot, huh, kid?” Luke said next to him when the conversation moved to Rey and something about traveling.

“The same. Pretty busy.”

“Yeah, Rey says that. Working late every night.” Luke chatted mindlessly about being back in Japan. Did he remember the Tanabata festival in Asakusa? What about the year they took a trip to Fukuoka and Ayane got drunk and lost in the middle of the city? Or Gion Festival when it was nearly impossible to find one takoyaki vendor? But finally, the conversation came full circle.

“You know, this dinner meant a lot to your mom.”

“I’m aware.” Kylo felt Leia’s eyes studying him, perhaps gauging his reaction.

“You’ve done good with Rey and Little Ben. We’re proud of you.”

Kylo grimaced, glancing over at Luke. His stupid button down shirt with its Hawaiian palm tree print, the orange glow of a setting sun plastered across the fabric. “I wouldn’t have any of this if you’d had your way. It would have been a public death sentence in Japanese society.”

“You’re right. We’re sorry we didn’t defend you when you asked for it. We’ve been trying to make it right since you left.”

“I don’t want a fucking apology. I came for Rey, not you. I’d like to hold my son, have a few glasses of wine, and pretend for her for one fucking hour. Alright with you?”

Rey was still mindlessly chatting away with Mara, clueless about the tense nature the conversation had taken with Luke. Something about traveling. Their food arrived, overpriced pasta dishes and pizzas passed around on Kylo’s dime. He leaned in, trying to catch bits of their conversation. Something caught his eye—a folded up piece of paper.

“I’m not sure if Benjamin will be okay to travel then. He’ll still be so young, and three months is quite soon.”

Benjamin moved his head side to side, grunting, mouth latching on air.

“He’s hungry, I think. I’m going to nurse before he starts fussing. Be back in a few.” Rey shifted out of her chair, picking up Benjamin from his carrier. “My breasts are throbbing,” she added into Kylo’s ear as she stood up and began walking to the bathroom. He fought back a chuckle. They hadn’t had sex in over a month, and if she was trying to turn him on by mentioning her engorged breasts…

“Oh, but you have your sheet, love,” Mara called after her. “You can do it at the table. We don’t mind. Your food will be cold.”

Rey continued walking.

The paper. It was nestled in Rey’s open handbag on her chair. Kylo swiped it before anyone noticed. Confirmation of your Flight from Tokyo to London. Kylo skimmed through the wall of text, mouth dry. 2 passengers, March 26th.

“What the hell is this?” He held the paper up in the air.

Mara sipped her wine, looking in the other direction. “I want Rey and the baby to visit us in March for a few weeks.”

“Going behind my fucking back to do it? Of course you would.”

Leia put her fork down. “No, that’s not true. We had all month to give it to her. We chose tonight because you’re here. If you would like to come to London, you’re always welcome.”

Kylo chuckled, flagged down a waiter, and ordered another drink. “You think we’re good now? Because I let you spend a month with my kid?”

“Well, I mean…” Leia fiddled with her necklace—the one Han had given her for their 15th anniversary. Probably a sorry I fucked another woman apology gift. “Isn’t it time? You’re a father now. You’re married. And while it’s a little unconventional and we had concerns for Rey, we want to make it right.”

“You never fucking get it. You never have.”

“Oh, for Christ’s sake.” Mara slammed her wine glass onto the table. “It’s been almost nine years since, Ben. Whatever personal issues you have with us, I frankly don’t care. But Rey is my daughter, and Benjamin is my grandson. Like it or not, we have to get on for them, and they will be coming to London in March, with or without you.”

Kylo glared at her, jaw ticking. This was the woman who had agreed with them, wouldn’t defend him. The woman who… “Right, and Rey fucking told me that you encouraged her to kill him. Like he was a piece of trash.”

“Abortion is not murder.” Mara laughed. “And you know you’re so hypocritical. Rey told me you never wanted children. You were happy pissing away your money at bars and screwing anything that moved. Just like your father. I had very valid reasons to be concerned about her having a baby with you. Not to mention how controlling you are.”

Leia went completely rigid, hurt in her eyes, but still, still she didn’t defend him. Luke touched Mara’s arm, in a gesture to get her to calm down.

Kylo’s drink arrived; he ordered another before the waiter disappeared, then finished off his current glass in a few consecutive gulps.

“Can we have a nice dinner, please?” Leia looked between Kylo and Mara, brows furrowed. “We’re all here, that’s what matters. Rey didn’t choose that path, and Benjamin is here, too.”

Kylo didn’t move, gaze turning away. “He was never her choice. Children aren’t choices. They aren’t things you can pawn off on someone else or get rid of because it’s convenient for you.”

“I made a lot of mistakes with you, I know,” Leia choked out. “I’m sorry. I’ve been wanting to tell you in person since you left. I’m sorry I let that… that sick… him hurt you. I’m sorry that I didn’t try harder to be your mother when you needed me most. I shouldn’t have sent you away. I should have defended you.”

Kylo remained silent, relishing in the feeling of the wine going to his head. His next glass arrived. He wanted to tell her that sorry wouldn’t fix this, that nothing would, but his lips didn’t move. It would only bring more conflict.

Rey came back a few minutes after that, Benjamin’s tiny body slumped against her chest. “A bit loud in here, so I’m not sure how long he’ll sleep, but at least he’s getting a little nap.” She sat down. “Everything alright?”

Mara’s resolute expression, angular jaw hard, green eyes narrowed in disapproval. No matter what he did or how much time passed, she wouldn’t approve of him. He could be the best father and husband, and still find every one of his mistakes reflected back in her gaze. He knew it. There was nothing he could say or do. He could stack it up on the table right now in front of her. How he’d taken care of Rey and Benjamin, provided for her, always made sure she had everything she needed. How everything he’d done the past six months had been for her and his son. For protection. An offering of goodwill, and it wouldn’t mean a damn fucking thing to her. And who was she? After all she’d done. Rey had to know the truth.

Luke. Luke was looking away. He was older, now, too. Hair shorter, freshly cut. Gaze tired, but a little amused, as usual for him. Always ready to forgive and forget. As if you could say a few words and it would all be gone. Like that. Maybe it was age for him, knowing that this was it, this was his family. No kids of his own. Every picture of him. Shot with that BB gun, chasing after Kylo, smiling but mad as fuck. Camping trips, fire bleeding orange against stars and blackness. Visits to temples midsummer, under rain. He pulling Ayane into a long kiss. The perfume that lingered on her skin, the dimples in her cheeks. Drilling him in Japanese. あ、い、う、え、お。Ah, ee, oo, eh, oh. His voice on the other end, get help, get help. Like there was something wrong with Kylo. After all Luke had done.

Finally, Leia. Teary eyes, the wrinkles that hadn’t been there nine years ago, when he had last truly looked at her. She’d let her hair go—grey strands blended into the brown. But it was up, neatly plaited behind her head. His mother, the same. The smell of bacon on Sunday mornings, the one day she wasn’t working. Watching in slow motion, as you turn around and say. Take my breath away...  Leia’s hands in Han’s, swaying across the wooden kitchen floor. Laughter that faded to shouts. Leave! That’s what you’re good at! We don’t need you! Silence seeping from her dark eyes, consuming. Hands holding up a half-filled packet. Dragging him to therapist after therapist, the desperation in her eyes. White pages, black text. Social conduct disorder. Translation: your son is fucked.

“Ben?” Rey pleaded. “You’ve barely touched your food. Is everything alright?”

He nodded and reached for his fork. “Of course.”

 


 

“You’re slurring your words. Are you drinking again?”

Yuki never missed a thing.

“Again?” Kylo chuckled. “Again implies being sober.”

A few mini bottles of jack, two packs of his favorite cigarettes, phone pressed to his ear. The street was almost dead; typical for after midnight on Saturday. Starlight, however, was packed, low indie music floating from the door each time it opened. He hated to leave in the middle of it, but Rey would worry if he was gone for more than an hour.

“Rey thinks you’re trying to quit. Lying to her isn’t right and you know it.”

“I tried. I can’t stop.”

“Then, get help.”

“I don’t need it. I’m fine. I’ve been doing this for years.”

“Not this much. You have everything going for you. I don’t understand how you could…” The line crackled with a disgusted exhale. “You said you’ve been happy and that everything has been going well with the baby and Rey.”

“It has been. I am happy. Me drinking has nothing to do with being unhappy with her.”

“You told her it was stress! You told me it was stress!”

“Yes, and stress has nothing to do with happiness. She forced me to go out with them tonight.”

“I’m guessing it didn’t go well?”

“I fucking told her it wouldn’t. She doesn’t ever fucking listen to me. The kid doesn’t sleep, up and down all night. It’s a bunch of shit. She has all these expectations of what I should be doing. Fixing it with her family. Like it’s that fucking simple.” Kylo lit a cigarette. “I love my son. But being a father was never a role I wanted to play, and not like this, with them breathing down my goddamn neck.”

“Well, like it or not, you’re doing it. God, you’re so dramatic. Still, to this day. Some upstanding family man you are.”

“Yes, please preach to me, Miss Perfect. The hardest fucking thing you’ve had to deal with in your life is choosing the color of your dancing costume.”

The line went silent.

“I’m sorry,” Kylo said, taking a drag. “That was a shitty thing to say.” And an untrue one, knowing what Yuki struggled with in the past.

“It was, but it’s nothing new. You’re an ass when you’re drunk. You always have been… I’ll come to help if Rey wants me there, not you. And if you don’t tell her you’re drinking heavily again, I will. Are we clear?”

“Yeah.”

“Is the baby the only thing that’s bothering you?”

Kylo took another drag. “No. Like I told you, she wants me to work out the clusterfuck with my family. They’re here until Tuesday. She wants Benjamin to have a complete family.” He rolled his eyes, rubbed his face. “Apparently I’m not good enough for her, as usual.”

“You know damn well that’s not it. She never had a family like you did.”

“Yeah, some family I had. Leaving their kid with a man that…” Kylo shook his head, sucked back the cigarette.

“You need to come to terms with what happened,” Yuki pleaded. “Or you will never heal and never quit drinking. You could die. Do you get that?”

Kylo laughed, stuffing the cigarette into an ashtray outside the bar. “I’ve got it under control. Been the same for years. Thanks for your concern, Miss Perfect.”

“Hey, you called me. Is this a joke to you? What if you overdosed? Choked on your own vomit in the middle of the night? What if your liver shuts down? What if you fell back into doing drugs like you did when we were together?”

Kylo pushed down that memory. After the D.U.I. and Alexander bailing him out, Kylo had given up the drugs again, got clean. No slips since. That’s what Yuki, Rey, and every goddamn person who urged him to quit didn’t get—he needed to drink. It was the only thing that kept him away from that shit. Anything, anything, anything to keep him spilling that powder across his palm again or the needle from going into his arm. A slave to euphoria, the white, cloying numbness, one inhale away.

“I won’t. I’m fine. Just need a few drinks every now and then.”

“Right. You fall back into it, and then what? You get caught? Do you have any idea what the government here will do to you if you’re found with that? Or what if you overdose? Benjamin will never know you. You will never have the chance to be the husband or the father your family needs you to be.” Yuki’s voice grew softer, almost a whisper. “You’ll just be dead.”

Her words followed him all the way to a convenience store bathroom, head first in a toilet bowl.

 


 

Rey was awake when he got in, sitting on the couch, a sleeping Benjamin in her arms. “Where have you been? I tried calling you.”

Kylo rubbed his eyes, shrugged off his coat. “Went out for a little. Sorry. Thought I’d get back home before he woke up again.” He moved to the bathroom, grabbed his toothbrush, and began scrubbing away.

“You smell horrible,” Rey said, rocking Benjamin back and forth. “Are you alright?”

“Fine.”

Should he tell her now that he knew about the tickets? He studied her face in the bathroom light as he moved the toothbrush across his teeth. Smiling, but cracking in places like a china doll that had been dropped one too many times.  

She rubbed his arm. “What’s going on with you? Was the dinner too much? Did Mara say something to you?”

Kylo spit into the sink and washed his mouth out with water. He tried to move past her to the bedroom, but stumbled, clutching onto the doorframe. “Fuck… I’m dizzy.”

“Let me… let me help you. I’ll put Benjamin down. Give me a second.”

She disappeared for a moment, and when she came back, there were tears in her eyes. “Did you throw up? Your shirt smells like vomit.” She helped him pull it over his head and toss it on the floor. He fell into her, kissing her neck.

“How much did you drink?”

“Does it matter? I want you.”

“We can’t yet. I’m still healing.”

“It’s been a month. I wanna feel you.”

“Okay, alright. Just go slow. Please.” There was hesitation in her voice, a hint of sadness, but she slid her underwear down her legs anyway.  

He fumbled with his pants and took her like that—pressed against the door frame. Again and again, biting into her neck, hands cupping her face, familiar pressure building despite the alcohol.

One thrust, two. He felt her tense and quiver. The delicate, light feel of her, fully open to him. It was different than before she’d given birth. But his. She was still his. He slammed into her.

“Ben, can you stop…? That really hurts.” She cried out, a gurgling choked sound, tears slipping across his fingertips.

He pulled out, a tinge of red coating his skin. It was too soon, like she’d said. How could he have done this to her? He stumbled to the shower, washing himself under the warmth, cherry red swirling down the drain.

She was crying softly, dabbing her eyes with a glob of toilet paper. “Ben?” Entering the shower, she fell into him, letting the water slip between their bodies. Her abrupt sobs covered his shoulder.

What have I done? She wasn’t ready. She’d just given birth less than a month ago. All of the pain she’d gone through, and he did this?

“I’m a fucking asshole.” The words tumbled out through the haze of alcohol. “No good for you. Never have been. Got you pregnant and left. Fucked up the proposal. Made you think… I’m a shitty father. Never here. You deserve better.”

Her warm mouth on his—too much saliva from crying, but sweet the same. She trailed down his body, tenderly, sinking to her knees.

And when her lips closed around him, he stumbled and gripped the railing for balance. He tried to enjoy it, the warmth of her mouth as she sucked him back. He threaded his fingers through her hair and closed his eyes. A little more, a little more. Was this all their relationship was? All it had ever amounted to? Lust? Fucking until nothing mattered?

A phantom itch crawled across his skin. A reminder. He pushed her off and stumbled out of the shower, wrapping a towel around his lower half.

Rey stood up, perplexed. “Did I do something wrong?”

“You?” Kylo laughed scornfully. “No.”

“What’s so funny?”

He shook his head. He wouldn’t tell her tonight. They went to bed, her in his arms, but neither slept.

 


 

Finally, Tuesday came. Kylo took off after lunch, then drove to the airport alone, chain smoking, a Tool album on in the background. Rey had gone ahead without him on public transport, but if Kylo calculated it correctly, he’d be there around the same time.

But not to say goodbye. What if they convinced her to go with them? What if Rey and Benjamin got hurt?

Rey had pleaded with him for the last couple of days. “Why did you come home that trashed? Why were you quiet after I came back from the bathroom? Mara says you won’t speak to them. What happened? Ben, no, ugh, turn that down! Benjamin is sleeping. Yes, so are you going to answer me?”

He’d shrugged every question off, denied it or pretended to be distracted. Rey didn’t buy it, but when did she? It wasn’t the right time. He needed them far away from his wife and son, and he could think of no better distance than 10,000 kilometers, half the world apart.  

He parked and continued puffing on a cigarette. Rey would smell it on him, but he’d done it so much the past month that it seemed she’d given up or decided not to mention it for the time being.

Rey Jackson

We’re getting coffee at the shop near their gate before they leave. Leia has been asking about you. Would you at least come to say goodbye?

Kylo locked his phone without responding. It wasn’t hard to find her. He waited in a corner out of view, watching as she sipped on what was likely a hot matcha latte, no sugar. Those little things he’d learned about her since she became his wife. He continued staring; his phone continued vibrating. Then, at last, Kylo knew they couldn’t wait any longer without missing their flight. Rey embraced each of them, Benjamin in his sling attached to her chest. Leia was nodding, lips moving slowly, eyes wandering across the building, likely searching for Kylo. However, Luke and Mara looked like they didn’t give a shit, as expected.

And when they were gone, slipping past security, Kylo came out, startling Rey.

“Sorry, I’m late. Got caught up in a meeting. You okay?”

She was wiping back tears, breathing out. “Yeah, you’re always late.”

“I tried, but Tuesdays are busy.”

The walk to the car was silent, Benjamin sleeping away in his sling. And it continued until he couldn’t take it anymore halfway back to the apartment.

“You not gonna talk to me?”

“Today was really important to them… And to me. You promised to work it out with them.” She sniffed. “Did you fucking smoke in here? You know it’s not good for him. He’s only a month old for Christ’s sake.”

“And you know I’ve been stressed as fuck with them here. I promised I would quit, and I will.”

“Do you know? Mum tried to convince me to leave you for the thousandth time, and honestly, it’s getting hard to defend you.”

Kylo’s hand tightened on the steering wheel. “Doesn’t surprise me. Mara’s a fucking cunt.”

“Hey! Watch your mouth! She’s my mother.”

“Right,” Kylo said sarcastically. If only she knew the truth. “Now that they’re gone, we can have a stable family. You, me, and him.”

“Sure. Fine. Keep moving the goalpost like you always do.”

Again, he debated telling her, and again he pushed it down. Give it a few days, see how they transitioned with the help gone. Things would get better, and she would be more mentally rested.

Instead, the silence continued each day, morphing into nearly two weeks. Kylo came home on time, didn’t drink much—a glass or two during lunch, and stopped smoking completely. A nicotine patch took care of the chemical cravings. The habit itself was harder to break. Kylo found himself rolling up torn pieces of paper and putting them to his lips. Benjamin began to smile more, cooing and grunting when they changed his clothes. They were gone; Kylo could breathe. He relaxed next to Rey on the couch, watching him suckle on her breast.

“You’ve really got the hang of it,” he said, kissing Benjamin’s fingers bawled against Rey’s bare chest. “You’re an expert now, Lil Rib Bruiser.”

Rey looked away, continuing to avoid his gaze. Kylo had tried everything to get her to feel better—coming home on time or early if he could, cooking dinner, changing Benjamin’s diapers in the middle of the night despite going to work earlier in the morning. Nothing helped. A part of him was angry watching her go about her usual routine in silence, a crease in her brow. The other part was more concerned with control and Mara’s influence. What was she telling Rey when he was at work? Her silence made him stick the packet in his suit jacket each morning and clutch it tightly when his texts or calls went unanswered during the day.

Now, in the dimmed living room light, her eyes were heavy, oblivious to Benjamin wiggling on her chest. Was she thinking about leaving him?  

Kylo brushed pieces of stray hair away from her eyes. “He’s awake tonight, isn’t he?” Usually Benjamin went to sleep while feeding, eyelids drooping, sucking slowly halting. But tonight his eyes were wide and curious, like when he was born.

She was a statue under his touch. “Mm, yeah.”

“You do tummy time with him?”

“Yes, of course.”

“What about a bath? His hair is a little oily.”

“Not yet. Do you want to help?”

How could he find the right way to tell her? She was stressed enough as a new mother. Would he add more to that burden when she was doing all she could to keep up with his son’s demands? Kylo had asked her to be a stay-at-home mother, and she did it, every day, without complaining.

He needed to tell her. It would change everything. If it kept her with him and from leaving, he would do it. Not only for her sake and to know the truth, but for Benjamin’s. This would end after months of deliberation and pulling himself apart for not wanting to talk to his family.

Kylo set up the baby tub in the bathroom, testing the water against the underside of his arm. When it was ready, he took Benjamin from Rey’s arms and placed him in the tub, sprinkling water across his skin. Rey stood back against the door frame with her arms crossed.

He made faces at Benjamin, trying to ignore her. Those curious, little grey eyes, endless cries always soothed during bathtime.

Tomorrow, Kylo decided, kissing Benjamin’s fuzzy, dark head. Tomorrow morning. It was time.

 


 

He waited until early dawn. When dark turned to faint light seeping through the cracks in the curtains. Benjamin would be up soon, maybe in ten minutes or so, crying for breakfast.

Quietly, he walked to the bathroom and locked himself in. Just a pinch, a brief tap of the bag. He swirled it across his palm, a ghost against pale skin. The dark basement, the sting. Kylo remembered being thirteen, rolling up a one-hundred dollar bill, and inhaling. Showing off like the stupid punk kid he was. Back then, he had never heard of a speedball. One of the older boys, Andrew, had showed him. “Like this, Republibrat,” he spat, rolling up a bill and snorting a large line up in one go.

A soft wail, a rustling of sheets. Right on time.

It was only a little, enough to take the edge off of talking to her. He looked at himself in the mirror. Yuki didn’t know anything about control. He wouldn’t get caught; he wouldn’t overdose. This was a one time thing. He’d quit before, and he could do it again.

Kylo lined the powder up on the side of the bathroom sink, pulled out a straw, and inhaled. The sting burning through his nostrils. He threw his head back and breathed out, rolling his neck.

It took a few minutes to fully set in, but when it did, the anxiety evaporated. The euphoria was weak, but present, seeping into his bones, taking the edges off. Each imperfection on the tan walls, bright bathroom light, glassy against the wallpaper. The spots on the mirror. He breathed in and out, rubbed his nose.

He knew what he needed to do. With new vigor, he began breakfast, pulling out bread, jam, and pieces of weak Japanese bacon. It never did compare to the meat back in the States, but into the frying pan it went anyway. Rice was already cooking in the machine, put on an hour ago. He cut up strawberries and mixed it in with the one plain yogurt brand Rey liked. Everything needed to be her favorite.

Rey came out with a screaming Benjamin in her arms. “Can you be a bit quieter, please?” She fumbled with her breast. “He won’t stop crying long enough to latch this morning.”

Kylo shoved a cup of tea into her hand and planted a full kiss on her lips, leading her to sit at the kitchen table. Plates of food down, slammed onto the wood. Lightheaded, dizzy, happy. He couldn’t describe the feeling. Nothing mattered. Everything mattered. He didn’t care.

“Eat your breakfast.” Kylo snatched Benjamin from her arms and took to swaddling him on the living room floor. Tell her. Not yet. Tell her. Not yet.

“Be easier with him! Support his head!”

“Yeah, yeah. Sure, yeah.” The swaddling shut him up after a few minutes. Tell her. Not yet. He placed Benjamin back in her arms. Now, he suckled eagerly, Rey still holding her breast for better leverage.

Toast, mouth. Bacon, mouth. It tasted sweeter and saltier, better than anything he’d had in years.

Her eyes narrowed at him from across the table. “What’s the matter with you this morning? Are you feeling alright? You’re acting… jumpy. What’s wrong?”

“Huh? Yeah. Of course. Of course.” Time, time. Yes, now. “About that. We need to talk.”

Rey sat up straighter. “What do you mean?”

“Mara. Leia. Luke.”

“This again?”

“Don’t need them. You, me, and him. Family, that’s it. Time, time to let go, yeah? The hurt, the abuse, the pain.” Kylo pushed a shaky hand through his hair. “Let it all die, end with our son. Rey… you’re my wife and the mother of my child. We can be different, raise him right. Away from them. He never has to know the hurt we did.”

Rey stared at him, completely frozen. “I have tickets to see them in a few months with Benjamin. What the hell are you talking about?”

“The tickets. Didn’t fucking tell me. Been two fucking weeks.”

“I shouldn’t have to tell you. They’re his family. You promised.”

“I know what I said. Won’t keep you from them. Can’t. You can go to London, but I have an obligation to him”—Kylo gestured to Benjamin—“as his father, to protect him from people I believe would harm him.”

“They’re our family. They would never. They didn’t mean to hurt you. I know it. What happened at dinner the other night?”

“Nothing."

“Why won’t you talk to me?”

“Nothing to say.” He jerked up and threw his plate into the sink.

“Please don’t do this. He needs them. I need them.”

Kylo paced from the living room to the kitchen. “All that matters is us and him, together. The only family he needs, that can protect him.”

“You’re talking so fast. What brought this on? What did you do?”

“Why the fuck is it always my fault?”

Did she know? She couldn’t. No, no. Of course not. He’d been careful, more than careful. Hidden just in the right place. She didn’t know anything.

“I can’t…” She choked; Benjamin burst into wails. “Why would you make a demand like this? You promised me. No, absolutely not. You can go fuck yourself.”

Losing her. Tell her now. She’ll leave you. Tell her. Do it. What else could make her see the truth of the people she called family? How could he get her to see why she needed to let go?

His one card left to play. It was the only thing that remained.

Kylo swallowed and stared at her, unblinking. “You wanna know the truth about your father?”

Chapter Text

 

 

Nightshade & Sakura - Chapter 17: Flesh & Bones

 


 

 

Rey

His eyes were pleading, soft, convicted. Yet, wild. An edge Rey had never seen before.

“My father? What the fuck are you talking about?”  Benjamin’s frustrated, shrill cries filled the stillness. “Shh, it’s alright.” Rey ran a finger over his open mouth, pulling him to her breast; he latched and quieted again.

“See, I didn’t wanna believe it, either. Sounds crazy, doesn’t it? Like something from a movie.”

“There’s nothing crazy about it. There is no father on my birth certificate. You saw it yourself when we applied for the affidavit with the British Embassy to get married.”

“They’ve known for a long time, but didn’t tell you. It makes sense. Why you were placed with Mara, who helps run a teacher recruiting business. Mara, who’s the girlfriend of my uncle. It wasn’t a coincidence. Alexander used to be a family friend, when Luke worked under him.”

Rey shook her head, swallowing. “Who told you this?”

“Do I have spell it out for you?”

She studied him. The crazed expression, hands twitching at his sides. “Are you… on something?” She didn't want to think of it. He wouldn’t have slipped again, not now, because he promised. They were married, a family. They had a newborn for God’s sake. She hadn’t pushed him while his family was here, even when it meant spending Christmas in two separate places with a newborn.

“Fuck, no. Why, why would you think that? Just nervous about telling you. I don’t wanna hurt you.”

“Then, are you saying Alexander Snoke is my father? That’s insane. He’s got you so fucking manipulated, and you don’t even realize it.”

“He showed me proof. A fuck ton. Pictures of him and your mom. A copy of a fucking DNA test. You look exactly like her.”

Ben disappeared into the bedroom.

Crying in a dark room. “Mummy! I want my mummy. Take me back, take me back!” A shaved head. Pale, milky skin that glowed in the sunlight. Rey pieced it together, one image at a time. His face was vague, the curse of her four-year-old memory, but somehow… The way Alexander had always looked at her—blue eyes so familiar and knowing. He had singled her out during every conference without regard, a smug smile on his lips. He couldn’t be the man from her memory; it was too unrealistic.

A photo was nestled in Ben’s shaking hands. Alexander’s face was no longer vague, distorted, or blurry. And next to him was a woman with dark blonde hair and bright green-brown eyes, the sunlight cascading across her features. A face so familiar, smiling, looking intently at Alexander, the waves of people around them ignored. They were at a temple, it seemed, brown-sloped roof in the background.

“You know it’s the truth. You know I’m not lying to you.”

Rey hugged Benjamin close. “He doctored that; he has the resources. I’m sure of it. This is insane.”

“Your birth mom threw you away like garbage for dope. Alexander worked out the whole thing to protect his ass. The world would never know who your father was unless he said. His marriage and reputation were saved. Mara and Luke, they know. She adopted you to save herself. Alexander had proof of fraud within her company. Bribing board members. He would have destroyed her, but coincidentally, she was looking to adopt. A few payoffs and it was done.”

“Do you hear yourself right now? Bribes? Fraud? This is ridiculous.” Rey laughed, but her eyes filled with tears. “You shouldn’t believe everything that arsehole tells you.”

“I have proof, right fucking here! Don’t you fucking get that?” Ben reached further into the manila folder in his hands and threw sheets of paper onto the kitchen table. “DNA test, your birth certificate.” Another item—a dirty, pink keychain. The one that hung off of Rey’s mother’s purse in the picture. He slapped it all onto the table. “And a shit ton of picture evidence.”

“If Alexander was trying to cover up my birth, why would he willingly give you all of this?”

Ben shook his head. “He didn’t at first. He fought me for months. I planned to use it against him, somehow, I don’t know. But he gave in. I told him I was gonna end this.”

“End this?” Rey couldn’t see, couldn’t think. Tears blinded her vision. Deeper and deeper they pulled her; the island was no longer a refuge, but a prison. The lies—how far did they stretch? Mara hadn’t chosen to Rey because she wanted her. Alexander Snoke was her father. Was it true? Ben had no reason to be dishonest.

Benjamin started wailing again, the sound of his little cries mingling with her own.

Ben touched her arm; Rey jerked out of reach.

“I didn’t wanna tell you, but you needed to know. I’m sorry they threw you away... I know how it feels to be nothing, to be tossed out like shit. Look at how Mara treated you when you got pregnant with Benjamin. His right to live didn’t matter. Your choice didn’t matter. Nothing you wanted mattered. You were nothing to them. You come from nothing. Are nothing.” He paused, lips trembling. “But never to me. You have always been everything to me.”

They locked eyes. Benjamin continued to cry in her arms.

“How long have you known?” she demanded weakly.

“A couple of months. I wanted to tell you.” He ran a hand through his hair. “Rey, come on. Let me have him. He’s upset.”

Ben reached for Benjamin, but Rey jerked away again, letting the tears fall. It was like swimming up, up, up for air, the surface barely above her fingertips. “Get away from me,” she cried. Crying in a dark room, waiting, pounding on the glass. Screams. Mummy! Red hair and hot chocolate. Christmas lights and silky dresses. Wood dyed blood red. Purple and pink petals, twisting, twisting, twisting. She didn’t know how long she was underwater, didn’t care. Benjamin’s cries were far away, ringing faintly in her ears. Give me the baby.

She opened her eyes. She breathed. The island was gone.

 


 

Rey couldn’t stop staring at the new photo, from comparing it to the one of her at thirteen with Ben under the cherry blossoms resting on the nightstand. She wasn’t sure how long she lay there, moving only to attend to Benjamin’s nappy changes and feedings. Ben hadn’t protested when she floated, dazed, to the bedroom, and didn’t come to check on her.

Alexander couldn’t be her father. Ben’s revelation was a lie. Fabricated. It would’ve been easy to doctor that evidence. Mara, Luke, Leia… They wouldn’t lie to her like that. Rey didn’t want to think of it, so she didn’t. When she emerged from the bedroom, Ben was asleep on the couch. He slept for the rest of the day, complained about a headache when he woke later that night. Rey didn’t make dinner. Couldn’t. The only thing she could force herself to do was take care of Benjamin. He needed her; she was a mother now.

That Sunday morphed into another Sunday. Showers were infrequent. Mara called and texted; Rey answered briefly with one word responses. What could she say? How could she begin to confront her with Ben’s news? Ben went to work and came home, again and again, demanding to know why she barely spoke to him. What could she say? Her life revolved around shit and feedings. When she was little, Rey never imagined herself as a mother at twenty-two. She looked down at Benjamin flailing next to her on the floor in the living room. It was Tuesday; Ben was at work. All of the choices she’d made played through her mind again, like that scratched Slayer CD from Ben at thirteen. Sex without a condom. Taking the morning after pill late. Waiting to tell Ben. Changing healthcare providers at his request. Marrying him and moving to Japan, despite every reason not to. All of these had been her choices and had led to this. Was Mara right? Should she have gotten an abortion?

Benjamin’s cries brought her back to reality, big grey eyes crinkling, as if he knew the depth of what she was thinking. She snuggled next to him, shaking away the thoughts as fast as she could. “I’m sorry.” The tears came, hot and desperate. “I would have never hurt you. Never. My sweet boy. I’m so sorry.” He was innocent in all of this, and she couldn’t fathom doing that to him, unborn or not, a person or not. He didn’t ask for this. All of the choices that had brought him into the world, that had resulted in his current situation, were hers. She made a face at him, laughing through the tears. A few minutes of that and he smiled, big and toothless, eyes focusing on her. That was a new development—focusing more, on faces, toys. And cooing, so much cooing. She turned him on his belly, shaking a dinosaur toy in his face. His little sounds filled the apartment, chasing away her tears, drool dribbling down his chin.

Absentmindedly, Rey wondered if these were the same thoughts about abortion her mother had once had about her. Were they wrong? Was it wrong to wish for an out in all of this? To make the complications go away? Rey didn’t know. If it was true, if Alexander were her father, then Ben was right—they had truly thrown her away like trash. But she was here despite a mother and father that hadn’t wanted her and a family that had adopted her seemingly to hide their own mistakes. And Benjamin was here, too, because of it. Rey wouldn’t have met his father without Mara. Her Little Rib Bruiser, her sweet boy, all that he was, wouldn’t exist if they had chosen differently.

The choices that had once seemed insignificant weren’t really so insignificant after all.

Benjamin mouthed at air, grunting.

“Are you hungry, my little love?” Rey rubbed her sore nipples beneath her shirt, put Benjamin in his rocker, and moved to the kitchen to make a bottle with formula. Over the past two weeks, she had limited breastfeeding and pumping. Cracked, bleeding nipples and twenty-two year old revelations didn’t mix well. Her milk was becoming inconsistent. Bottle feeding wasn’t as intimate as feeding him directly from her body, but sleepless nights meant Rey sought the instant appeasement of the tiny human that ran her life.

Benjamin was halfway through the bottle, TV lightly playing in the background, when the front door opened. 9:37 P.M. Late again. Rey changed the channel, refusing to look in his direction. Keys clattered against the entrance-way table; glasses clinked in the kitchen. The whiskey had somehow appeared again a few days after their argument. Rey had stared at that tall, etched glass bottle and dreamed of taking it in her hands and shattering it across the tile floor, amber liquid kissing her toes. It would be so easy, so satisfying. But it would start a fight she didn’t care to have, coax the sound of his desperate, raised voice; a voice she didn’t care to hear.

“No dinner?” Ben asked, knocking back a drink.

“In the fridge. I ate hours ago. You said you’d be home by seven. At your usual?”

“Got caught up.”

She stared numbly at the TV, twisting her wedding ring. “Yeah, you always get caught up.”

He held up the formula container. “You giving him another bottle? We talked about this. Your milk’s gonna dry up if you keep doing it.”

Rey didn’t respond.

“Gonna paint a bit. Don’t wait up.” And with that, he disappeared down the hall and into Benjamin’s room. That was also a new development—painting again. About what, she could only guess. And he was sleeping more, jittery, complaining of headaches. Could he be…? No, he’d promised. It was likely all due to alcohol.

When Benjamin dozed off, she placed him in his bassinet next to her bed and lay down, waiting for the tears again. The thoughts that would set them off. She made sure her cheeks were dry by the time Ben came to bed, likely drunk.  

And in the stillness—

“I’m sorry.”

“For what?” Rey asked, staring at Benjamin.

“Coming home late. Drinking. Not helping you with Benjamin like I promised. Not taking care of you.”

That made the tears start again. She sobbed quietly into the pillow, biting the fabric to keep from crying out. “It’s okay.”

“No, it’s not. I promised.” He rolled over; his warm arms enveloped her from behind. “I love you. You know that, don’t you?” Hands roamed her face. “Are you crying?” He flipped her over, caressing her cheeks, his face obscure in the dark. “Rey, talk to me. I’ve given you space. I know it’s a lot to accept. You know I had to. I couldn’t keep something like that from you. What they did to you was fucked up. But we’re a family now. You don’t have to think about it if you don’t want to. They don’t matter. Choose us. Our family.”

Rey stared up at him, unable to speak. Would this be her forever? Him fucking up and apologizing? As if it could erase the damage that built and built? She was reminded of Christmas and New Years in two separate places, Ben refusing to see them until that dinner. The dinner that marked the beginning of this disaster. What could she have done differently? Had she pushed him too much? He refused to see anyone, a therapist or a psychiatrist, about his past abuse, and refused to get help for alcohol abuse.

His lips found hers. She tasted whiskey and drew him in deeper, open-mouthed kisses that made her thighs press together. Forget. Fingers lifted up her oversized t-shirt that had once belonged to him before she swiped it, his wet, warm mouth drawing a trail down her body.  In the dark, he wouldn’t be able to see the leftover stretch marks that marred her skin, the large bulge of her stomach. Soon, she was slipping off her underwear, grinding herself against his bare thigh. Forget. Forget.

He kissed her, face serious when he pulled away. “I don’t wanna hurt you again. Is everything… okay now?”

She guided him to her pelvis, taking him slowly in. “Yes. The doctor said I’m fine now. I’m not bleeding anymore. But please, slow.”

He obliged, sheathing himself fully inside, thrusts soft and careful, his usual ferocity in sex subdued. He pulled her closer, kissed her deeper. So tender it made tears fall from her eyes again.

A few more thrusts and she felt that familiar twinge inside, the only sounds their mutual breathing and hips meeting. Softly enough to not wake Benjamin, his breath falling on her face in large huffs. The way he closed his eyes, brows knitted together, shoulders coming undone. Flesh and bones, skin and tissue—wasn’t that all they were? Yet, somehow bonded by a force neither of them understood.

Lying against his panting chest, Rey was reminded of their first night together in Kyoto. How much she had hated him for leaving her. Birthdays without calls. Holidays without at least one Fuck off, Rey. His smile, one she could never recreate. Her throat closing up any time someone mentioned him. The feud with his family she was only beginning to understand.

Whiskey lingered on his breath. Rey inhaled deeper, heart steadying.

Cries. It was instinctual for her brain now. Baby crying. Must soothe. She moved to pick him up, but Ben stopped her, strong hands tenderly cradling their son’s head.

“I’m sorry you didn’t get to finish,” he offered. “Been a while. I’ll make it up to you later.”

That reminded her of the wetness between her legs. Rey knew she should have stopped him or made him pull out, but she hadn’t cared. It would be okay. She was breastfeeding. That made it safe. They’d discussed it a few times. They were married. Ben didn’t like condoms; he was used to sex without them. And that intimacy, the rush of him, bare, unsheathed, skin on skin…

Forget. When he was inside of her, little else mattered. Was that how it felt for Ben? How much control did he really have? She thought of her life, the hazy images of her birth mother, unveiled with the photo of her and Alexander, her struggles with addiction. Ben’s struggles with addiction. How Rey had thrown herself into textbooks—anything to prove them wrong, the people that hadn’t loved her, didn’t know how to love.

But Ben did. He always had.

Wasn’t everyone, ultimately, looking to forget? And damn anything that got in the way of that.

Ben turned on the light and began changing Benjamin’s nappy, making faces while he cried.

Rey swallowed. “I think I get it now.”

Ben didn’t respond. Perhaps he hadn’t heard her.

 


 

Yuki came on Friday while Ben was at work, immediately gasping when Rey opened the door with Benjamin in her arms.

“Hello there, little man.” She brushed his face with her fingers. “He looks a lot like Ben. Right down to the nose. It’s hard to tell when they’re babies, though, you know?”

“Yes. Well, it seems I spent nine months being his personal incubator all for him to come out looking like his father.”

Yuki set her bags down in the sitting room, and over homemade curry rice, they caught up about the last few months apart. Hiroto would be finally transferring to Tokyo in April—two months away. They were planning on trying to get pregnant after he settled into his new role.

Benjamin made his usual hungry sounds and motions in between bits of conversation, and Rey went to the kitchen to make him a bottle.

“Has breastfeeding been difficult?”

“I…” Rey shook the bottle, tested it on her wrist. “Sort of. I should be pumping more, but you know how it is.”

How could she explain her reasons for not being consistent with breastfeeding and pumping? On paper, with pros and cons listed, it didn’t make logical sense. For weeks, Rey had debated sharing Ben’s news with someone, but her lips never moved. Telling Rose, Finn, Niall, or any other acquaintance back home seemed strange. They didn’t know Ben or anything about her relationship with him. And Rey couldn’t risk Mara finding out yet that she knew. It could all, in the end, be a huge lie spun by Alexander to stoke discord.

“I haven’t been feeling well,” she finally admitted, eyes pricking. “I’m glad you came.”

Yuki stopped eating, mid-spoonful of curry rice. “I’ve been worried about you. Are you alright?”

“I’m fine. Everyone is always so worried about me, and frankly, I’m sick of it. I’m not a child.” Rey took a breath and sat back down next to Yuki. “My mum always asks me if he’s treating me right… if he’s hit me during a row, cheated on me, or called me names. I mean, we fight, but nothing like that.”

“He’s a lot of things, but I wasn’t worried about him doing any of that. New babies are hard, and I know he’s working a lot preparing for the influx of new teachers in March.”

“Yumiko takes care of me. She made the curry.” Rey always remembered the tenderness in her hands. Unable to speak English, but so kind—she always invited Rey over while Ben was working, and most days, Rey turned her down. Being home helped her feel like she wasn’t alone. It was her home because she’d made it so with pictures and paintings of her choosing. In addition to Benjamin’s toys and care essentials.

“Did Yumiko-san get you to try natto?”

Rey stuck her tongue out and smiled.

“It’s not that bad.”

“I think I’ve had it before when I came with Mara and Luke to Japan. Ben bullied me if I remember.” He had made her a Japanese-style breakfast one day. A rolled egg omelet, a cold piece of salmon, miso soup, and of course, natto. The slimy, tan-colored beans were hard to forget. Memorable like thick, yellow mucus from a bad cold, and smelly like five-day-old sweaty socks.

“He’s good at that. Hiroto loves it. It’s not enjoyable for me. Must be my American side.” Yuki laughed. “We should go out tomorrow night. You need it.”

“I don’t know.” Rey looked down at Benjamin in her arms. “I couldn’t leave him.”

“Let Kylo take care of him for once. He doesn’t work Saturday night or Sunday, right? And if we go out tomorrow night, I can look after Benjamin on Sunday so you two can go out.”

How could Rey tell her? She searched for the words, watching Benjamin feed. “I’m worried about leaving Benjamin alone with him.”

Yuki’s brows pinched together. “You know, don’t you? He called me a few weeks ago. He’s drinking heavily again. I think sometimes at work.”

“Mm.” Rey pushed down the pang of betrayal. How much had Ben told her? “That’s why I’m worried about leaving him with Benjamin. The thing is, he’s a great father when he can actually be bothered to be here.”

“He doesn’t handle stress well. When I pushed him to get married, he had the same reaction. I don’t mean to scare you, but watch him.”

Rey went rigid. “What do you mean?”

“He started using illegal drugs again back then. Not sure where he got them from since they’re pretty hard to find in Japan, but stress causes him to feel like he needs them. Be on your guard. If he’s drinking this much, he’s probably doing other things.”

“He lied.” Rey focused on the vase behind Yuki resting on the entryway table. The fake tendrils seemed to die and wilt. “He told me before we got married that he stopped using when Leia sent him to Japan.”

Yuki scrunched up her face. “I’m sorry.”

“Do you think it has something to do with his abuse?”

“I don’t know. I’m not a doctor. He needs one.”

“Badly,” Rey agreed. She felt like crying or screaming or both. But she’d done enough of that since he came back into her life. Being with him was her decision. Wouldn’t it always be?

 


 

The pub was packed. Yuki took Rey to a hole-in-the-wall, rock music blaring through the small place on the third floor. Ben agreed to watch Benjamin for a few hours while they went out to a few pubs, but Rey couldn’t stop her fingers from fidgeting at her side. He hadn’t seemed drunk when he came home from work, but Rey could never be sure.

“Stop looking at your phone,” Yuki said softly, flipping the menu closed. “He’ll be okay. Yumiko-san is with him, and you gave them a list.”

“I know. I’ve never been away from him before, though.”

Yuki was right. Because Rey had been worried, Yumiko agreed to stay the night with Ben and Benjamin. Rey played it off as simply Ben being clueless on how to take care of babies, and luckily Yumiko wasn’t busy. Ben, on the other hand, wasn’t happy about the implication of Yumiko being there.

“You don’t trust me with him?” he’d said, shaking his head.

“It’s not that,” Yuki interjected. “Rey is a new mom, and it’s scary to leave your baby for the first time.”

Now, sitting down at a booth, Yuki repeated almost the same thing: “You’re a new mom. It’s normal.” She called the waiter over, and they ordered. Three Kahlua Milk cocktails and one draft beer. Yuki had invited a cousin that lived in Tokyo and two of her old friends from university.

Rey went through the rounds of small talk, but only one, Ai, spoke enough English to have a full conversation. With the other two, Koharu and Yuna, Yuki had to translate. They asked her what types of Japanese foods she liked the best (salmon sashimi, curry udon, and curry rice) and what made her come to Japan. Rey showed them pictures of Ben and Benjamin, fiddling with her skirt, as they exclaimed how cute Benjamin was. Kawaii—cute. It was one of the most recognizable words in the Japanese language.

She had a few good photos, some from Christmas with Benjamin in her arms, Ben by her side. But one stood out—Ben looking down at Benjamin in the living room light. His face was wholly different. It was soft, painted with a rare expression, long nose against Benjamin’s tiny one. It was clear in pictures how much Ben loved their son. Why did he break his promises, then? Was that love surface-level? Or was addiction really that powerful? And what was she going to do about him pushing her to abandon her family on only his word that Mara was a liar?

Rey zoned out after showing them the pictures, flipping her mind onto autopilot and finishing of her drink. It was good, but a part of her felt guilty. This was the drug that caused Ben to come home late, that caused him to get a D.U.I., and constantly came between them. She was a hypocrite.

The speakers flipped from Led Zeppelin to Aerosmith to harder stuff like Converge, and Rey was reminded of the first time they had sex. Alcohol had helped bring them together and bring Benjamin into the world. Would it now tear them apart?

“Why did you suggest this place?” Rey asked when the three other girls were distracted talking to each other.

“Ben used to take me here when we first started dating. Brings back a lot of memories, and being with you reminds me of him, you know?”

“Do you miss him?” There was no emotion in Rey’s voice, only an aching curiosity that surprised her. It must’ve been the alcohol.

“I’ll always miss him. But if I think about what could’ve been, I won’t be happy. He’s with you. You seem to understand him in a way I never could. Or at least he believes that, and that’s what matters.”

Rey looked away. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. Him and I are quite different, and you’re nearly perfect with the way he talks about you.”

Yuki placed a hand on her jaw. “Now you sound like him. Are you sure you’re different? I’ve made a lot of mistakes. Hardly perfect.”

“Like what? You’ve traveled the world. You speak two languages. Ben says you were an amazing dancer. I don’t know why he married me and not you.”

“We can’t help who we love, and he always loved you, even when you were a kid. I used to joke with him that you would be my competition when you grew up. Little did I know.”

“I’m sorry,” Rey said, and meant it. “You’re like nicest person I know. You didn’t deserve that.”

Yuki flashed her a sad smile. “Do you want to know what my life was like when I was dancing? Wake up, weigh myself. Over the weight limit? Too bad for you. You don’t get breakfast, lunch, or dinner. Maybe a snack if you want to risk it to keep your blood sugar up. Practice six to seven hours per day, six days a week. Three pairs of pointe shoes a day. I missed my grandfather’s funeral because of dance. And don’t let me get into relationships. For the longest time, I blamed every fault I had on my boyfriend. Ben was the first nondestructive relationship I had. In the beginning, at least.”

“Is that why you forgave him?”

“—mouippai?” Koharu interjected, staring at their empty drinks.

Rey’s eyes darted to Yuki’s. “How do I tell her I can’t drink too much because I’m breastfeeding?”   

Yuki burst out into laughter, startling Koharu. “Just tell her no?”

And how simple it was. Rey laughed, too.

 


 

By 10:30, they’d said goodbye to the girls and caught the second to last train, cabin filled with hunched over salarymen and their mass-produced, brown briefcases.

“Oh, God, look,” Rey pointed to a man completely slumped to the right, almost touching the woman sitting next to him. “That one’s a goner.”

Yuki shook her head. “Salarymen. You don’t see this in America. They drink a lot here. I think they do it for stress relief. There’s always that worry of them dying from working too much. It’s a reason why I didn’t argue or stop Ben from drinking… until he got back into the illegal stuff.”

Rey recalled Ben telling her about karoshi or overwork death. He’d written the kanji for her at one point on the back of a 7-11 receipt. 過労死 . Drinking too much, alcoholism, illegal drug use, and karoshi. What didn’t she have to worry about when it came to Ben?

“Thank you for taking me out tonight.” Rey took a breath. It felt like her first real one in two months.

“It’s nothing. You needed it.” Yuki tilted her head to the side. “Sometimes I feel like a stranger in what’s supposed to be my own culture. America was my first home. English was my first language.”

“Ben said you lived in America until you were ten?”

“Yeah, my mom is half Japanese but lived in America most of her life. Her parents sent her away to Japan for a summer, and she met my dad.”

That reminded Rey of her family and their supposed deceit. Was it true? The more she sifted through the pictures in the manila folder, the more she had entertained that it could be true. Alexander Snoke could truly be her father. Whether Alexander was telling the whole truth or not, she couldn’t deny that he had known her mother, intimately, at one point. There was too much picture evidence to believe otherwise.

“At least you had a family,” Rey said.

Yuki looked at her quizzically. “Wanna talk about it?”

Rey didn’t, but found her lips moving anyway. As the train stopped in Ginza and they walked through the concrete maze of the station, uniform salarymen consuming them, Rey told her about what Ben had revealed. The identity of her father. The picture and DNA evidence. Ben’s demand that she completely cut off her family.

When she finished and the winter night air kissed their cheeks, Yuki said, “A broken elevator and a plot to cover up your birth father. You should contact 20/20. I’m sure they’d fit you right in.”

“20/20? A Japanese show?”

“No, it’s American. My grandma used to watch it every Friday night with a bottle of chardonnay and her feet propped up on a recliner.” Yuki rolled her eyes. “I’m sorry, Rey. I’m not sure what to say.”

Once again, Rey felt like crying, but didn’t. “And I’m not sure what to do. I can’t cut off my family. I don’t know if any of this is true. My mum has been asking me every day why I barely reply to her, why I don’t answer her calls, and I don’t know what to say.”

“I know.” Yuki paused. “You should talk to her. She’s your mom. She’s taken care of you for this long. She’ll understand.”

“You don’t know her like I know her. She hates Ben. She thinks I should’ve got an abortion. Of course she doesn’t say that now that Benjamin is here, but she tried to convince me to abort him until I was 24 weeks pregnant.”

“Wow. Those are some pretty strong beliefs.”

“She’s always been like that. She speaks three languages. English, French, and Japanese. She started her own company when she was my age. Being independent is all she’s known. I think that’s why she’s hard on me.”

“She wants you to be like her. My mom did, too, for me with dance. Moms.”

“Yeah, and that’s why I’m not sure what to say to her. Between caring for a newborn, Ben usually coming home drunk and late, him urging me to sever ties with my family, Alexander Snoke being my birth father… I don’t know where to begin.” It was the first time Rey had said everything, out loud, to a separate living person. A smile formed on her lips; a chill crawled up her spine.

Yuki stopped outside of the apartment building, eyes wandering up and down the structure. Rey tracked her gaze, studying the washing hanging out on balconies. The families that lived here. Were they as fucked up as hers? She always passed them in the elevator when she took Benjamin out for a walk or to run errands—men with briefcases and that perfect swoop to their hair. During the weekend, with their families, wide baby eyes peering at Rey from slings. So perfect, so beautiful on the surface. But underneath?

“You just do it,” Yuki said and walked into the building.

 


 

The next day, on Sunday, Yuki urged Rey and Ben to go out together for lunch without Benjamin.

Rey, unbeknownst to them, found herself sobbing in the shower when it came time to get ready. At the simplest thought of leaving Benjamin again for a few hours. Last night had been easier, freedom after being held under a plastic bag. Today, leaving him was that plastic bag. What would she wear? What would she do? What would Ben think? Would his eyes linger on the post-pregnancy rolls she worked hard to hide under his big t-shirts?

In the car, his hand found hers, threading their fingers together. “You’re stunning. Do you know that?”

“And you’re like a broken record, do you know that?” Rey said, but smiled. His hand trembled slightly under hers—a new development within the last few weeks. Yuki’s warning: “Be on your guard. If he’s drinking this much, he’s probably doing other things.”

He brought her palm to his lips, kissing and breathing in. Movements tender, slow. He opened and closed doors for her while refusing to withdraw his hand from hers. The cafe they decided to have lunch at was new for Rey. It seemed to be Asian-American food with a twist. Hot dogs on brioche buns, steamed and garnished vegetables, cafe au laits.

“It’s so strange without him,” Rey said, resting her mug against her teeth.

When Ben didn’t answer, she swiped a wrapped straw and blew the paper into his face. “Stop lookin’ at your work emails, sir, and pay attention to me.”

He smirked and put his phone away, into his jacket pocket. “Sorry, it was urgent. Aren’t you needy?”

Playfully, she threw a napkin at him. They talked of nothing important. No demands that she cut off her family. No Alexanders or Maras or Leias. No work. Only music, philosophy, and new Japanese kanji written on scraps of old receipts and napkins. Like dinner under the cherry blossoms in Kyoto, the sweet shop in Nara, lunch on their wedding, the months waking up to his lips against her growing belly. After all those times, how had their relationship become so complicated?

“There’s an arcade next door,” Ben said as he paid the bill. “Up for getting your ass handed to you?”

“Ha! You’re on.”

When they walked into the arcade, Ben immediately demanded they play House of the Dead: Scarlet Dawn. It was a first-person shooter game with plastic guns that you aimed at the screen to defeat a zombie infestation. It had that 90’s-trying-too-hard-to-be-edgy vibe with an enclosed, black shell decorated with drawings of eyeballs, gore, and rotting pieces of flesh.

"Of course you would want to play this game again. I beat your scores the last two times. Haven’t you learned, old man?”

“Old man?”

“You’re eleven years older than me, so that makes you an old man.”

Ben stepped into the enclosure. “Alright, Rey-Bee.”

Rey stuck her tongue out at him. “Haven’t heard that one in a while. You must be nervous.”

He’d given her the nickname, Rey-Bee, at one point when she was eleven or twelve because she used to bite his arms when he would tickle her. Rey-Bee sounded like rabies. The little shit thought he was clever.

“I’ve been playing after work at the arcade by the office.”

“Oh, so that’s what you’ve been up to.” Rey hid her hurt with a smile.

“Only sometimes. Maybe once a week. Helps calm me down.”

It had been a while since they played House of the Dead together. The last time was when Rey was around thirty-three weeks pregnant. Mara hadn’t approved. “You’re at a high risk for blood clots. Do you think horror games are a good idea?” And she’d followed up her statement with some story about a friend of a friend of a friend who almost died after watching a horror film while she was pregnant.

“Alright. He’s my offer: if I win, you will get me the Eevee I saw in the claw crane when we walked in, no matter how much money it costs or how many times it takes.”

“That’s not a challenge or a punishment.” He kissed her. “Done. And if I win, I want another baby.”

Rey blinked, wide-eyed. After all the hell they’d gone through with Benjamin and he wanted a second baby? They’d discussed how many children they would have and agreed on Benjamin being an only child. With one, they could focus all their efforts on making sure he had the best childhood possible.

“I’m fucking with you. We’re stopping at one. I won’t let you go through that shit again. If I win…” He raised his eyebrows, gaze trailing down her figure. “I wanna see you in that black lingerie set you have.”

She blushed, but did end up making him eat his words in the two chapters they played. By the third, Ben complained of a headache and a stuffy nose.

“See, this is why you’re an old man,” Rey joked, but her heart pounded. “Already falling apart.”

“You don’t know anything,” he said, no humor in his tone.

The signs were there, but Rey refused to think about them. Not today, on their first date without Benjamin. “I’m sorry. I was kidding.”

“Still want that Eevee?”

“You’re not feeling well. Let’s go home. It’s been long enough, and I want to see my baby. I’m sure Lil Rib Bruiser is ready for us to be home.”

Ben moved to the claw crane and stuffed coins into the slot. He lined the claw up with the stuffed animal and pressed the button. A failure. It dropped out on the side, too heavy. Ben didn’t quit. He tried a second time, then a third time, shoving money into the machine mindlessly. By what seemed the tenth time, he punched the glass, startling Rey.

“Ben, it’s okay. Let’s go home. It was a silly challenge.” She moved to touch his arm, but he recoiled.

“No, I got it!” He kept inserting more money until, eventually, the crane got a good grip on the animal, carrying it to the hole.

Later, after Yuki left for Kyoto and Benjamin was asleep, Ben pressed Rey against the couch and fucked her from behind, punishing thrusts that forced her mouth into the leather.

“Are you close?” she panted.

“Gonna pull out.”

“No, don’t stop.” It felt too good, much too good.

And despite all his talk about not wanting another baby, he obliged and released inside of her—thick bursts of cum that set off her orgasm, that slip into freedom. Softly, she cried out, slamming her hips into his.

When he moved off her, she stood up. Wetness leaked down the inside of her legs. Stupid. Pregnancy wasn’t something to play with. Having someone cum inside you wasn’t a joke. Hadn’t last year proven that? What the fuck were they doing?

“Why did you finish inside?” Rey asked, cupping herself. “You know I’m not on anything.”

“You told me to,” he said incredulously and put on his boxers. “You’re breastfeeding. It’s fine. Should be pretty difficult. Are you tracking your cycle?”

“I haven’t had a period yet. There’s nothing to track.”

“I’m sure you’re fine. Do you wanna get a morning after pill?”

Rey thought about Benjamin, what life would be like without him, and moved to the bathroom to clean up.

 


 

 By the end of February, her period was still missing. Ben was adamant she wouldn’t get pregnant again, but started pulling out, and they talked about him getting a vasectomy soon. Benjamin was growing—over two months now—no longer grinning because of reflexes, but because of what seemed like actual happiness. He smiled big when Rey got close to his face during tummy time and when Ben planted kisses on his cheeks. Rey captured every moment she could.

Ben tried to come home on time more, but the drinking didn’t stop, and his presence made the air heavier. He continued to have headaches, occasionally jittery or lethargic, like the night he had told her about her father. He didn’t demand an answer, not yet, but it seemed to hang over every interaction they had. Rey knew. He was waiting. How long he planned to do so, she wasn’t sure. Regardless, a part of her knew he was doing something besides drinking alcohol, but she pushed those thoughts down.

Yuki had called it compartmentalizing , and she was right. Ben’s possible drug addiction went into one box, his ultimatum into another, and Rey getting pregnant again into yet another. But they didn’t compare to Mara’s box. To entertain the idea that her treachery could be true destabilized everything else. Her calls and texts were becoming more desperate. This box needed to be sorted first.

Unfortunately, another box took precedence. Nausea, bloating, but no period. The symptoms increased as time moved on. After about a week and half, they morphed into something worse. She was out with her foreign mum group when she froze. Her mouth filled with saliva; her stomach churned. That lovely sign of what was to come next. She excused herself and barely made it to a toilet bowl before the vomiting started, Benjamin crying in his sling against her chest. She wanted to scream, but didn’t. Wanted to sob, but didn’t. Her choices were her own. She was an adult. A wife, a mother. So, she bought a pack of two pregnancy tests and hid them in the bottom of her knicker drawer, to be dealt with after she called Mara.

Getting the courage was harder than she imagined. She fed, burped, and rocked Benjamin, and he fell asleep in her arms. She put him in his bassinet, paced the apartment, did dishes, wiped down tables and counters and sinks. Ben wouldn’t be home for a few hours, if he came home on time.

Finally—

She set her phone in its holder on the sitting room table and began.

“HELLO, love! Finally, you call! Where’s my grandbaby?”

The camera flipped to Luke. “Hey, Rey. How are you?”

“We’re making breakfast.” Back to Mara. “Leia’s coming over in a bit. We’re meeting her new boyfriend… or we think it’s her new boyfriend. They’ve been out a few times.”

“That’s great. I, um, thought I could talk to you alone.”

Mara’s brows pinched together. “Are you alright? Your face looks thinner. What did Ben do this time?”

“Can we talk alone, please? No offense to Luke, but this is important.”

Mara didn’t hesitate. She settled into the antique chair in her bedroom, a concerned look on her face. “Would you please tell me what’s going on? Why haven’t you answered my calls?”

Rey took a few deep breaths, Yuki’s voice playing in her head. You just do it. She’s your mother; she’ll understand. “I’m going to tell you something, and I’m not sure how I’m going to say this, but I need you to listen. Please don’t interrupt me.”

“I don’t understand how you could—“

“Don’t interrupt me.” Rey started from the beginning, leaving out Ben’s ultimatum. She told Mara about how she had found out about her father—the pictures, the DNA test, the keyring. And at last, with no tears present, Rey said, “Why didn’t you tell me Alexander was my birth father?”

Mara stared and stared at her before—

She laughed, hard. “And you believe him?”

Rey felt hot. “This isn’t something to laugh about. You kept this secret from me my whole life. You knew. Alexander had proof of fraud within your company. I was the compromise. You got to adopt and he got to keep me close.”

Her laughter died. “Are you claiming he blackmailed me to adopt you? That’s even more ridiculous than him being your father.”

“Did he?”

“Absolutely not. Does he have proof of that, too?”

“Answer me honestly. I’m not playing around.”

“Neither am I. Do you know me at all? I’m your mother, Rey, the only one that actually cared about you. There was and is no father on your birth certificate. I adopted you because I loved you. How someone like you, as sweet and as good as you are, could end up in and out of the system for that long?” Mara shook her head, eyes glistening. “If Alexander is your birth father, this is news to me. Either he or Ben or both of them are manipulating you. I would never keep something like that from you. I know we haven’t agreed on much lately, but I love you. You’re my daughter.”

Rey felt like throwing up again. Was Mara telling the truth? She held up an index finger to the camera and covered her mouth with her other hand. “Sorry. I’ve been feeling nauseous for the past week.”

“Have you been to the doctor?”

“Not sure what they can do for me at this point.”

“Are you… pregnant again?”

“I’m not sure. I think so. It could be stress, but I’ve been feeling sick for over a week now. I feel the same as I did before with Benjamin. I bought a test today. I’m going to take it after I get off the phone with you.”

“Oh, love… What has he done to you? Another pregnancy this close after isn’t healthy. Not to mention having two children with him.”

“Can we not today?! I was terrified about talking to you. Everything I do is wrong in your eyes. I’m sorry I can’t be the perfect, little independent girl you want me to be. Maybe I don’t give a fuck about money or status or job titles. Maybe all I’ve wanted is a family. Why is it so hard for you to accept… me?”

Mara didn’t move. “I’ve always accepted you. I thought… you were driven in school. You graduated early. You loved your job. And you gave it all away.”

“I never realized it before. It’s nothing without Benjamin.” Or Ben, Rey wanted to add, but didn’t. Saying that would cause more suspicion. “He’s… everything.” Rey hadn’t thought he would be. When they first put him on her chest, all she had felt was fear. But day by day, with Ben back to his old habits, Benjamin was like the washi tape holding her together, decorated with drool and spit up, every new milestone of his telling her how much being his mother meant. To him, Rey was the world. No princes, princesses, or mustache-twirling villains. He couldn’t see anything else. Just her.

“Okay,” Mara said. “Alright. It’s your life. If you are pregnant again, I understand, but I would seriously think about the credibility of their word. Ben makes Alexander a lot of money. Having you around could mean that he, perhaps, one day leaves the company. I wouldn’t doubt his willingness to engage in blackmail or to play silly mind games like this.”

Was she telling the truth? There was nothing but conviction in her eyes. Was Ben trying to manipulate her? Was Alexander? And to what end? Because he was worried Ben would leave the company eventually? Rey compartmentalized the thoughts away until she decided on what to do about them.

That left the other boxes to deal with. And there was one in particular that Rey needed to open. While Benjamin slept, she ripped through the apartment—into the dirty washing, through Ben’s drawers. If he was using again, there would be proof. A syringe. A packet. Something.

By the time Ben’s key turned in the lock, she had a nuclear disaster of an apartment, one pinched thumb from trying to lift their bed, and a very pissed off baby. But no proof. Defeated, she soothed Benjamin and greeted Ben with a kiss.

He was on time tonight. Didn’t seem drunk. Good signs. However, it didn’t mean he hadn’t done something at some point today. He took Benjamin from her arms, and Rey threw leftover spaghetti into the microwave, tapping her fingers on the counter. Where was it? He was using again; he had to be. Jittery, complaining of headaches, stuffy nose, talking fast.

As she stirred his plate of spaghetti and placed it on the table, an idea occurred to her. His suit jacket, the navy blue fabric hanging off the wooden chair. It was the last place she had yet to look.

Stealthily, while Ben was distracted with Benjamin, Rey crept to the table and rifled through the pockets.

Plastic. Gritty like sand in a bag. She pulled it out and there it was—small and white, no more than a few grams. Easily hidden. The seal was dusted with trapped particles.

“Is it ready?”

Rey shoved the packet into the pocket of her sweatpants. “Yes, on the table.”

While Ben ate, she nursed Benjamin, trying not to cry.

“You not gonna eat anything?”

“You know I haven’t been feeling well.”

“Still? I can take time off to take you to the doctor.”

She shook her head. One baby, one likely on the way, and her husband was a drug addict. Even if she weren’t experiencing morning sickness, those ideas alone would make anyone refuse dinner.

“I think I’m pregnant again.” Rey regretted the words immediately.

Ben set his fork down, gaze intense. “Are you sure?”

She thought back to the months of struggling for Ben to come to terms with her being pregnant. Despite him never wanting any of it, they’d gotten married, had a baby, and built a life together. And that had all likely led to the half-empty bag Rey now squeezed in her pocket.

“No, no.” She smiled despite her pounding heart. “I’m worrying too much. Probably not. It’s stress.”

Flesh and bones, skin and tissue. The insignificant choices people made that changed everything.

 

Chapter Text

Rey

Rey moved around in a daze. If dinner needed to be cooked, she did it. If Benjamin cried, she soothed and fed him. When the washing machine beeped, she hung out the damp clothes on the balcony. If Ben was hungry, she made him something. Over and over and over and over again.

And in between it all, she excused herself to the bathroom and waited for the nausea to pass. Sometimes she threw up, sometimes she didn’t. Ben was suspicious, but she assured him she wasn’t pregnant.

Lying. It had become easy.

The same night she found the packet, Rey had carefully placed it back into Ben’s suit jacket pocket when he was in the bathroom and acted like nothing was wrong. She focused on keeping her stress levels down to prevent a miscarriage. He wanted sex; she feigned exhaustion. He didn’t complain and took care of her, bringing her water, rubbing her shoulders, putting Benjamin to bed, and choosing a movie with her. It was a Russian film with subtitles—something cultural they usually bonded over.

“After this placement season is over, I’ll be home on time more,” he promised. “I know me being gone has been hard on you.” He nuzzled her neck, mouth hot against her skin. “I wanna be here more with you and him.” He ran his fingertips across Benjamin’s head, his wedding band catching the light.

Was this how drug addicts acted? Tender and cautious with their babies? Husbands that loved their wives and children but couldn’t stop using? Rey didn’t know. Was Mara lying? Was Ben? Was their marriage a lie?

She snuggled into his chest, breathing in the familiar scent of his t-shirt, letting it settle her heartbeat. He was here with her. Real. Her husband. The months before this mess, before Benjamin was born, had been almost idyllic. Ben took care of her religiously—went to every doctor’s appointment, cooked, cleaned, and helped her shave her legs. If she couldn’t do it because she was too tired or sick, he did it. Why couldn’t they go back to that?

Time was fleeting. March 26th stared back at her on the calendar hanging in the kitchen. It was the day she had tickets to fly back to London with Benjamin. She focused on the logistics. Hormones meant likely throwing up. Throwing up and planes didn’t mix. She hadn’t been intensely sick yet like she’d been with Benjamin, but it could start at any time. Why did she have to be so fertile? It must have been God’s cruel plan. Drug addict husband, three month old baby, and this, starting over again.

But life was never completely bad. Benjamin was healthy and meeting all of his milestones. Rey found herself placing a hand on her flabby belly, rolls peeking out beneath her t-shirt, and smiling. Life. They had created it together. Benjamin in their arms, a new human nestled in her womb. It was what she had dreamed of as a teenager. Rey Solo. Married and pregnant. Happily ever after.

But then Ben’s keys would turn in the lock, and the anxiety started again. No matter how hard he tried to come home early or how much he made Benjamin smile, Rey knew the packet was in his pocket.

Alone with Benjamin in her arms one day, TV in the background, Rey stared at her phone screen, attempting to study for her Japanese test Friday night. But a notification popped up at the top.

 

Niall O’Connor

How are you?

 

Rey pressed the internet call option, unconcerned with the time in London.

“Hey, this is Niall,” came the lilted voice, opposite of Ben’s. “I can’t pick up the phone right now, but I’ll call you back when I get a chance.” Voicemail tone.

“I don’t why I called you. I’m sorry.” Rey hit the end button as quickly as she’d pressed the call button.

 

Niall O’Connor

Sorry, I’m getting into work. Are you okay?

 

Rey pulled up a new internet search page and typed in, high-functioning drug addict. Her screen filled with a list of articles—advocating for thoughts she had never considered before. When Rey thought of drug addicts, she thought of her mother with men over, men with unkempt clothes and hunched figures. She never imagined Ben, with his lint-free business suits, neat, shoulder-length hair, and warm brown eyes.

“Today’s high-functioning addict can be tomorrow’s nonfunctioning addict.” The quote stared back at her in bold, dark text. Nonfunctioning. The word followed her as she carried a shopping basket through the aisles of their neighborhood supermarket. She didn’t respond back to Niall. Rose texted after, and that went unanswered, too.

The days continued to slip through her fingertips. She studied Ben when he slept, ate, and took a shower—watching for any sign of overdose or hints that he was falling into the nonfunctioning category.

She had a few options: ignorance, intervention, or March 26th. She tore the calendar off the wall and threw it into the rubbish.

 


 

Kylo

Headaches dominated his days. If he didn’t use, shakes took him after several hours, and he would sit in his office chair convulsing underneath his suit jacket. He calculated each dose precisely. Too much and he wouldn’t be able to function. Enough and the shakes evaporated. It was a line to walk.

Quit. Stop. Rey’s eyes screamed at him. He avoided that gaze—her wide mouth set in a frown, eyebrows pinched. There seemed to be a change in her, too. She held him longer and protested when he got up to get a drink or use the bathroom, fingers clinging to his arm in desperation. She begged him to come home early each morning. She couldn’t know; he’d been careful. He removed the packet before she could add it to the dirty laundry. When he was out, he got more. It cost a fuck ton, but he did it. Under the haze, he could breathe.

They could stay like this forever. He didn’t need her answer.

But then he came home from work one night to find the calendar removed from the wall above their sink, leftover tape clinging to the plaster. In its absence, her face seemed to transform and grow serious. The calendar. The pained expression. They haunted him. Was she thinking about leaving? Leaving. The word obsessed him, had defined his life.

Sleep came in waves, her warmth beside him. Darker images danced behind his eyes. A woman with light, flaming hair. Meaty hands pulling her under, earth rising from vast water. Fire, a body—screaming and bloody. Rot and death. Banging against a stone door in darkness.

Kylo woke gasping for air and moved to Benjamin’s room, letting his paintbrush fall across a white canvas. Crimson reds and deep purples lulled him, deadening Benjamin’s cries and the city noise below.

When Rey asked about the painting a day later, Kylo stared out the bedroom window. “Do you remember me telling you about the myth of Izanami and Izanagi?”

Rey offered a tiny smile. “Mm. I dream about them sometimes, I think. Maybe I’ve lost my mind from sleep deprivation.” She laughed.

“I dream about them, too.”

Izanami meant woman who invites, and Izanagi meant man who invites. They were two deities joined by marriage—the creators of Japan. According to legend, Izanami gave birth to the islands of Japan, but during the birth of her last child, the fire god, Kagutsuchi, she was badly burned and died. In death, Izanami went to the underworld, Yomitsu Kuni. A distraught Izanagi descended into this land with the hope of bringing Izanami back to the living, but when he saw how rotted and deformed her once-beautiful body was, he fled. Izanami ran after him, enraged, but he trapped her in the underworld, separating them forever.

“You would paint them, Mister Dramatic,” Rey said, a hint of sadness marring her smile.

He kissed her head. “And what does that make you, as the wife of Mister Dramatic?”

“Miss Unfortunate, it seems.”

Kylo explored her post-baby curves. What used to be flat and defined was replaced with loose skin and leftover fat.

“Can you not touch my stomach? I’m a bit embarrassed.”

“Why? You’re my wife. You had my kid. I think you’re beautiful no matter what.” He didn’t choke when saying that word. Wife. His. It had taken him long enough to get here and let someone in this close.

“Men are usually very visual.” She pulled away. “I’m going to check on Benjamin.”

“Why?” Kylo pulled her back, sucking on her neck. “He’s asleep. Stay with me.”

Her body tensed and melted, seeming to be at war with itself. “That sounds awfully familiar.”

“Kyoto. When I asked you to stay.” He moved his hands lower, into her sweatpants.

“Asked? More like begged. In English and Japanese.”

“Soredemo itte ni hoshi. Didn’t have to beg you. You know I can take whatever I want.”

“And that would have landed you with kidnapping charges.”

He chuckled, but lifted her chin and brought his lips to hers. “Do you like it? It’s not done yet, but you know how it goes.” The shakiness in his voice surprised him. He realized he craved her approval. It reminded him of how his skin would crawl when he didn’t use for a couple of hours.

“It’s lovely, but a bit dark. Are you having nightmares about… you know, him?”

“Him? Sometimes,” Kylo said, fighting to keep the images at bay. Wedding band, fourth finger. Always the fucking fourth finger. He was everything, dreams and nightmares. The haze chased away the images for brief moments, but they returned, like the ache to use. “I’ve been working through it.”

“Alright. It seemed like that might be happening again. You’ve been different lately.”

“So have you.”

She shook her head and began to pull away again. “Little sleep, most likely.”

He pulled her back, closer, and kissed her harder, opening his mouth, tongue against tongue. “Don’t leave me,” he whispered, cradling her face.

The pained expression returned.

 


 

Rey

Rey couldn’t stop thinking of the story of Izanagi and Izanami. Ben must have recounted it a thousand times, but somehow staring at the painting had brought color to her blurry memories.

It was almost finished. Ben added a little more every day—a dash of blue or a hint of red. Rey wondered at his progress. How could he finish something like this, but neglect his family in the name of work?

In a few weeks, cherry blossoms would be blooming in Tokyo, covering the green world in pale pink petals. Would Ben live to see it?

Who could she call? She scrolled through her contacts, entry after entry, and wasn’t sure what to do. Call Mara? Text Yuki?

Rey found herself dialing Leia’s number when Benjamin was down for a nap.

“Hey, Rey.”

“Hi,” Rey squeaked out.

“The pictures you sent yesterday of Benjamin were adorable. Did you get the one I sent? Of Ben?”

“Yeah, thank you.”

“Ben’s little mini-me, isn’t he? I cleaned out some of the boxes of pictures Han kept lying around and thought you’d like that.”

Rey pressed the phone closer to her ear, curling her legs toward her chest. The photo Leia had sent was of Ben at four months—a month older than Benjamin. Ben’s lips were curled into a gummy, open-mouthed smile, his large ears giving it a comical tone. Benjamin had similar ears, but not as large as Ben’s. Regardless, the resemblance was uncanny, and everyone always commented on it, especially within Rey’s foreign mum group.

There were so many photos now. Her at thirteen with Ben under the cherry blossoms. The picture of Rey’s mother and Alexander—the happiness that lit up her eyes. Benjamin on Christmas morning, wrapped in a blanket.

Where did it go wrong?

“I don’t know why I called,” Rey said, shaking her head. “It was silly to bother you. I’m sure you’re at work.”

“No, of course not. You never bother me. It’s busy in March. I’m sorry for not checking in more. Mara says that you haven’t been doing very well.”

“Ben’s using again.” As always, Rey regretted saying something like that without prompting. “All of the articles say there’s nothing I can do to stop it except confront him calmly or stage an intervention. There are women on forums with multiple children talking about leaving their partners.” Her mind flipped to problem after problem, mouth unable to keep up. “I found it in his pocket. Heroin or cocaine. I’m not sure which. Heroin? Cocaine? Both? I don’t know what to do.” Inhale. Exhale. Inhale. Her breath was quick and shallow.

“Rey, calm down. It’s alright.”

“It’s not alright! What if he overdoses? What if I find him dead? What if I wake up and he’s just lying there, co-cold? I don’t know what to do. I’m pregnant again. My doctor thinks about eight or nine weeks. What if I have two children and a dead husband?”

Leia didn’t speak.

“I’m sorry, I’m sorry, I’m sorry,” Rey rambled. “I shouldn’t have said anything. I’ll go now.”

“No, wait, listen. You should talk to a professional. This is too much.” Another pause, longer this time. “Is he seriously back on that shit?

“Yes.”

“I thought with you and the baby, he’d kick the habit once and for all. I thought maybe he was missing a purpose. Even if he didn’t want to talk to me, I thought he’d healed a little.” Leia breathed out. “Has he hurt you?”

“No, no. He would never. We’ve had little issues, but he’s so good, that’s the thing. He’s a good father. Tender and patient with Benjamin. But what I do wonder… it messes with your head. I’m worried about leaving Benjamin alone with him. And it’s changed him.”

“You’re coming next week, right? With Benjamin?”

“I don’t know.”

“Ben is pressuring you to cut contact with us, isn’t he?”

“I, uh, yeah. How did you know? I didn’t tell Mara.”

“I’m his mother. He can hate me, but that fact doesn’t change. And mothers know their children. I’m guessing he knows you’re pregnant again and thinks traveling far is bad for your health?”

“Actually, he doesn’t know. I’ve hid it from him.”

More silence, then a resigned question: “Are you afraid of his reaction?”

“Maybe a little. It’s a lot. We didn’t plan on having more children.”

“And I know him. If you tell him you’re pregnant again, he’ll probably try to prevent you from going. Well, I’m not sure if should say congratulations.”

Rey found herself smiling, cheeks hurting, and she reached for her stomach. “You can. My babies are my babies, wanted or not.”

“I love that about you. I felt the same way when I was pregnant. You’re not like most people your age. I did it: had a career and a baby. Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t do both. You’ll get through this.”

The heaviness left her chest. With this baby, it was different. There would be no more thoughts of terminating, not like with Benjamin. No matter what, he or she deserved to live. Benjamin had proven that, and her problems were hers to work out.

Leia continued, “But you should talk to a professional. You can do it online now. I’ll send you a link.”

“I’ll consider it. Thank you for listening. I’ll let you get back to work. But can you not mention our conversation to Mara? Please? She already hates Ben. I don’t need to give her more reasons.”

“What conversation? I didn’t hear a thing.”

Rey smiled again. “Thank you. And congratulations to you, too, grandma.”

Leia cackled. “Fuck off. I’m proud of that grandma title. You can kiss my granny ass.”

“I knew you were the one who Ben got his dirty mouth from.”

“What? Did you think he got it from Han?”

Over the last few months, Rey had seen another side to Leia. She was freer with her tongue—like the way she behaved when she sometimes drank too much with Mara on weekends.

After hanging up, Rey started dinner, feeling more relaxed and logical. When Ben came home later that night and ate, she watched him. Benjamin was in her lap, cooing.

They had promised to communicate. He had promised to never stop trying. Rey kept a copy of their wedding vows in her journal and documented the steps that had led them to this point. Unprotected sex, the unstableness of their relationship, he finding out she was pregnant, his kisses on her belly, the botched proposal, his drinking, little sweet moments with Benjamin pressed to his face or like the other day when he showed her the painting.

Rey watched him and waited, making sure he was sober. When he started complaining of headaches or being tired, Rey had learned to take it as a cue that he was himself again.

Benjamin fell asleep; Rey put him in his bassinet. Ben sprinkled kisses across her body, and she peeled off his clothes one article at a time. Then, when they were fully undressed, flesh against flesh, he picked her up and carried her to the living room. Luckily, she wasn’t feeling nauseous.

She kissed him back, letting go. She was delaying the inevitable, but he was with her. When he was with her, he wasn’t using. He set her down on the floor, the same white rug, and attacked her neck. His mouth dusted every inch, sliding down to her center, tongue entering and swirling. Heat fell and rose in her belly.

“You haven’t gone down on me in a while,” she whispered, threading her fingers through his black hair. “Mm… A little to the left.”

He grunted against her and obliged, tongue devouring. But right before she found her release, he pulled away and kissed her full on the mouth, lips drenched and slightly acidic. He knew her cues well—the little changes her body made before she fell into euphoria.

Hold onto this feeling, Rey willed herself. The feeling as he pulled her to the ground and slipped into her, his fingers finding her center again. He fucked her with veracity, tenderness, a mixture signature to him alone.

He was every part of her. Every piece and every thought. No matter what happened, that wouldn’t change.  

They didn’t speak; they hardly did. What could be said when they were connected, one person, like this?

The rise came quickly, his fingers between her legs, him quietly entering her from behind. She tensed and tightened around him, closing her eyes. His breath was in her ear. Hot and warm and inviting.

Sticky warmth coated her back; grunts rang in her ears. Since he didn’t know she couldn’t get pregnant again, Rey didn’t stop him from pulling out. He couldn’t know yet. It wasn’t the right time, and Rey didn’t know when it would be, if at all.

Delicately, she traced fingers across his face, studying the uniqueness, the beauty. He was so beautiful. Strange looking, but beautiful. A long nose and face, full lips. She wanted to pry open his head, fingers lacing across one crack at a time, and look inside. Why did he have to use? Why was he so empty? He had her and Benjamin—people that loved him more than life itself. Wasn't that enough?

Why wasn't she enough?

He slipped from her touch and returned with a wash rag, wiping his cum off her back.

“You should go to bed,” he murmured. “You haven’t been sleeping well.” And with that, he got up again.

“Ben, wait.”

He turned around.

“Can we talk? Please?” Rey sat down on the couch and pulled up her underwear.

He followed suit, plopping down beside her and running a hand through his hair. “This is about next week, isn’t it?”

Rey reached for his hand, but he pulled away. She was determined not to have another instance today like the one with Leia. She needed to think carefully, choose her words with care. That’s what all the forums said. Firm but truthful. Truthful, but fair.

“I know you’re using again.” And there it was.

His eyes were glued to the floor, locked straight ahead.

“I found it... In your suit jacket.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about,” he said, voice strained.

She reached for him again, but he recoiled for the second time.

“You don’t have to lie. I want to help. Let me help you.”

He jumped to his feet and went directly for the liquor cabinet next to the fridge.

She ran after him, approaching with caution. “Please don’t drink. Talk to me. You’re not alone.”

He looked at her for a brief moment before pouring himself a glass and knocking it back anyway.

But when he went to get another, Rey gripped his arm tightly. “I know you’re hurting. What he did to you, no child should ever experience. I know it hurts.”

“You don’t know anything.”

“I know you feel like your family betrayed you. They should have defended you.”

He grimaced. “You don’t have any fucking idea what it’s like.”

“I’m not stupid. I know you’re hurting, and I want you to get help.”

“I don’t need it. I’ve got it under control. Bills are still being paid; he’s being taken care of. Don’t worry about me. I’ve always been fine.”

The tears came. She had promised she wouldn’t cry. That she would have strength. But looking at him, the hurt expression—over twenty-five years of pain… It broke her. “Please,” she sobbed. “Listen to me. I love you.”

“You love me? You’re a fucking liar. This is about next week, isn’t it?”

“No, this is about you.”

“You’re gonna leave me and take him with you, aren’t you?”

His eyes were sharp, venomous. She remained silent.

Glass shattered against the floor; amber liquid caressed her toes. “Fucking answer me!”

She winced. “I can’t stop talking to my family. They’re our family, Ben. I know they aren’t perfect… I know—“

He pushed past her and turned down the hallway.

“What are you doing?!” Rey called, running after him. “Benjamin is sleeping!”

“You won’t take him from me!” Frustrated cries. He snatched Benjamin from his bassinet and barreled around the room.

Rey tugged frantically at his arms. Her chest constricted. Baby. Her baby. Being tossed around like a rag doll.

“You’re hurting him! Put him down! Please!”

Clothes flew. Bags, a suitcase. Picture frames shattered. Benjamin wailed.

She clawed, scratched at his arms, sobbing. “Put him down! Now!”

It happened quickly. One moment she was standing opposite to him, clutching onto his arms, and the next, she was forced backward, body pressed to the wall.

His hand loomed above her, blocking the white light.

 


 

Kylo

“Do it,” she spat.

His mind ran and ran and ran and ran. How could she know? He’d been careful. This was his, all his. He’d been good to her. So good. So, so, so good. Leaving. She would fucking leave him. Next week. Like that. Take his son and go. Back to them. His abusers, the liars. They would corrupt and hurt his family. Heat flared in his chest, breathing heavy.

“Do it. I fucking dare you. Hit me. Prove everyone right.”

A part of her face was blocked. There was something in the corner of his vision.

His fist. It was in the air, ready to strike. Rey was below him, eyes narrowed, tears dripping off her chin. Shards of glass coated the floor. His hands were bleeding. Why were they bleeding? Black hair, endless tears. Her cries. Pushing, falling into glass.

Benjamin’s shrieks below, in his arms, brought Kylo back to reality.

What had he done?

The fear in Rey’s eyes. It was the same as Yuki’s had been.

Bastard, liar, monster.

Where was it? He needed it. To slip into numbness. He stepped away from her, put Benjamin down in the bassinet, and went through his jacket pocket resting on the bed. There was more than enough.

“Please don’t do this,” Rey sobbed quietly, hugging Benjamin to her chest, wiping away tears. “Please don’t go this way.”

But he would. He couldn’t stop it. He had hurt his son. He had almost hurt her. His wife, the mother of his child, the woman he had committed his life to. He was supposed to protect and love them—that’s what fathers did.

Kylo took the packet and locked himself in the bathroom, her cries ringing in his ears. She didn’t pound on the door, plead, or beg.

He lost track of how much he took. It could have been a line. It couldn’t have been two. He didn’t care. He breathed in, lay on the cold tile, swimming in the grey.

The only sounds that remained were the steady beating of his heart, Benjamin’s cries, and the quiet noise of Ginza three stories below.

 


 

Rey

Benjamin cried on and off for an hour. Rey tried breastfeeding him, but he wouldn’t latch. Was that normal? Was he usually this fussy? What was normal?

What came after something like this?

Mechanically, she got a taxi to the hospital, trying to calm Benjamin in his car seat, eyes locked on the road ahead. What could she tell the doctor? How did you explain something like this?

The waiting room was nearly deserted, the staff tired and distant, but they spoke enough English. That’s what mattered. Rey made up some bullshit excuse of Benjamin rolling off the bed while she was sleeping.

Ben hadn’t meant it. He wouldn’t hurt his son. He wouldn’t hurt her. But no matter how much she chanted it over and over in her head, the tears didn’t stop. There was no island to escape to. This was her life. Ben was her son’s father, and he had done this to him, intentionally or not.

Rey stared blankly as they examined Benjamin, crying. The waiting room walls were white, the coffee bitter. What if Ben overdosed while she was gone? What if she caused his death? Her children wouldn’t have a father. She’d be alone. She—

She had to calm down. Stress could trigger a miscarriage. Rey hugged her knees to her chest and rocked back and forth. Benjamin would have permanent brain damage. A disability. Something that would mark this night forever. She scrolled through pages about Shaken Baby Syndrome.

But there was no evidence of the sort. He was fine, the doctor concluded. Perhaps he had a bit of acid reflux and was jostled from the incident, but none of his bones were broken and his brain was fine. A quick, “come back in the morning if you’re still worried,” and Rey was dismissed as an over-cautious new mother around 2 A.M., eyes dry, but swollen.

The flat was as silent as she'd left it, but the bathroom was dark, the door open. Rey called for Ben, but received no answer.

Calling Yuki was never planned. Rey never pictured herself ringing her in the middle of the night to see if she’d heard from Ben, unable to get more than a few words out at a time. But perhaps, as the saying went, there was a first for everything. She didn’t explain the situation in detail, though Yuki pressed her hard for information.

After Rey had spent hours with a fussy baby and calling his cellphone every ten minutes, Ben came home around mid-morning, pushing open the door to their bedroom and falling into bed beside her. His heavy breathing filled the silence. Asleep, without a word.

He was home and safe. Rey wanted drift off next to his warmth, but the what ifs plagued her. He could have overdosed; she could miscarry. This could happen again. She did breathing exercises as she put Benjamin to her breast in bed, trying to focus her thoughts. He had woken up cooing and smiling, hungry for breakfast but content. Benjamin was okay. Ben was okay. Everything was alright.

“Look at you,” she said, holding him tighter. “Such a big, sweet boy. I love you so much. Do you know that?”

Her children would keep her grounded. The new baby was alive inside of her womb. He or she would grow into a three-month-old like Benjamin. Then, a child. A man with her smile and Ben’s dark eyes or a woman with blonde hair like the mother Rey had never known. Rey imagined it all, letting fantasies silence her thoughts. No one could touch this. Her children would live and have stable lives.

But at what cost? As Benjamin ate, Rey ran her fingers through Ben’s greasy hair. Would keeping her family together mean tearing it apart?

 


 

Kylo

Soft music and floating melodies. As usual, his head throbbed. He reached across the bed. Empty. Rey. Benjamin.

His phone was on the nightstand next to a bottle of water, two acetaminophen tablets, and his key ring without the car keys.

How much had he drank? The whispers of the city called him, glass shattering, cries. Vaguely, he remembered wandering the city, smoking, drinking, whatever it took to wash the ache away. He’d lost count of how many times he took a puff or slung back a bottle. How had he not overdosed?

He pressed the power button to his phone, skimming through the notifications. Some were from Yuki, but most were from Rey. 11:47 P.M.: I’m taking Benjamin to the hospital. Where are you? 1:31: He’s fine. No injuries. 2:26: Where are you?! 3:27: Just call me. Please. 4:07: I can’t stop crying. Come home, please.

He wanted to puke. What had he done?

He hadn’t expected the texts from Yuki. Why would she call him? Wandering the dead city had been almost freeing, like when he was a stupid, punk teenager that did too much coke to think. The empowerment, the rush. And then there was heroin, the dulling of his senses, the slip into nirvana. Mixed together, it both awakened and sang him into sleep, a drifting.

But regardless of the pain it washed away, the ache always came back threefold. He ran a hand through his hair and noticed his fingers were covered in bandages. He vaguely remembered Rey hovering over him and slathering ointment on. Could have been last night, could have been today. But when was today? Glass—it no longer painted the floor, and the only picture that remained was of him and Rey under the cherry blossoms nine years ago.

Leaving. Shouting. His memory was hazy, shadows and cries.

Cautiously, he pushed open the door, stomach rolling. Rey was in the kitchen making dinner. The record player spun in the corner of the room. Benjamin was on his play mat in the living room, feet kicking. And out of all the people he should have expected, Yuki was there, shaking a toy and making faces.

Rey said something, but Kylo didn’t hear. He sat down on the floor next to Benjamin, wondering at the softness of his toes, curling and tiny. “Looking good, kid. Got your shark onesie on, huh? Daddy picked that out for you.”

Kylo straightened out the wrinkles. Benjamin cooed, kicking more, drool rolling off his chin.

“Taken good care of, aren’t you? Never fucking had that.” Red claw marks lined Benjamin’s flesh, raised and crimson. Kylo looked down at his own arm. They matched. “What happened to his leg?”

Rey dried her hands on a towel. “Are you hungry?”

“What the fuck happened to his leg?”

“You should know." Her eyes narrowed, glistening. "You were handling him very roughly, and he was crying, and you wouldn’t let go. He’s alright. I took him to the hospital.”

It hit him, then—the remembrance of what he’d done and the significance of Rey’s text messages last night.

“It’s okay. I didn’t tell anyone. Everything is fine. I told them he fell off the bed, and I tried to catch him, which is how he got the marks.”

He removed his hand from Benjamin’s leg, noticing the watchfulness in Yuki’s brown eyes.

“You’re gonna leave me, aren’t you?”

Yuki scooped Benjamin from the floor and stood up. “I think it’s time for a walk, little man.” She turned to Rey. “Is that okay?”

Rey nodded. It felt like hours before Yuki and Benjamin left the apartment and she spoke again.

“Will you hear me out without getting angry?”

He scrubbed his face, vision blurry, and nodded, fist resting against his lips.

“I’ve thought a bit about what I would say to you. I thought about leaving last night and today more times than I can count, but we have a child together. You’re his father. You have a say, too, in what happens to him.”

Kylo couldn’t speak.

“God, I wanted to wait to do this. I wanted you to rest and feel better, but… Tomorrow I will be going with Yuki to Kyoto with Benjamin. And after that,” she took a steady, measured breath, “I’m going back to London as planned.”

White noise. He didn’t hear her after that. There was a bed sheet hanging out on the laundry pole. He could tie it to the fan and let go. It would take maybe a minute, two max. He remembered his first year in Japan. He had stared at his bed sheets for months. Or, he could inject. He had a kit somewhere around here. Quick, too. He thought of a third option—jumping from the balcony, but that would likely not bring the blissful darkness he craved.

Warmth on his leg. “You haven’t said anything. What do you think? I go to London for a bit, we see how you fare with Yuki checking in on you, and then we talk at that point?”

“Okay.”

“Okay? I mean, what do you think? I’m not asking for a… you know, a divorce. I’m not going to take Benjamin away from you. I wouldn’t do that. I’m worried about you and him, I’m having a bit of trouble and…”

She was stalling, trying to convince herself not to go. He knew about that, remembered leaving her the two times before—how much his chest had stung when he thought of her smile. He had stared at his phone when her birthday passed and when he thought of mint chocolate chip ice cream and cherry blossom flavored candies. To now, her cheeks flushed and painted with tears. The beauty he had destroyed and kept destroying. When was the last time he had seen her smile, genuinely, without prompting?

“You wanna break up,” he murmured. “Do it.”

“I mean, you hurt him, Ben. I just… want us to have a little break and—”

“Do it.” He turned away. “And don’t look back. It’ll destroy you.”

 


 

Rey

Again, Rey wondered, what came after this?

Ben didn’t touch his dinner or look any of them in the eye. When Yuki returned, he didn’t acknowledge or speak to Benjamin.

“He’ll be okay,” Yuki said, rubbing her back when Ben disappeared into Benjamin’s room to paint. “You need a break. He knows that. That’s why he’s not fighting you. It’s not forever.”

It’s not forever, Rey reminded herself. Why didn’t that feel true? The tone in his voice had sounded final, admitting what she couldn’t.

She was going away on holiday to London, right? Ben needed a break from the stress of family life. After all, that’s what had caused him to start using again. So, why did she pack photo albums and dresses she wore once a year?

Rey dreamed of snuggling into his chest and drifting off, another good memory to last them through the separation, but he didn’t come to bed. And when Benjamin woke in the middle of the night, the bathroom light was on, deep, faint sobs resounding from behind the door.

“Ben?” Rey tapped lightly on the door, trying to prevent waking Benjamin who was sleeping away in her arms. “Can you let me in?”

No answer. She slumped to the ground, back against the door. “Do you know the story of Izanami and Izanagi?”

Sniffles. “Don’t tell me you’re gonna recount it as some bullshit coping strategy. I’m not interested, and the ending is fucked anyway.”

“You caught me.” Rey laughed quietly, eyes already filling with tears. “But the ending is a little different than what you remember.”

A few moments of silence, then: “Alright. Let’s hear it.”

“As you know, Izanagi means man who invites, and Izanami means woman who invites, and yes, they were the two deities, husband and wife, that founded Japan,” Rey began. She continued, taking care to not make her retelling too sappy, which would definitely earn her a fuck off with that bullshit, Rey. Izanami did indeed give birth to the islands of Japan, each one unique and rich in beauty, seas teeming with life. And yes, she did indeed die during the birth of the fire god, Kagutsuchi, and went to live in Yomitsu Kuni. But instead of charging into the underworld to reclaim his once-beautiful wife, Izanagi waited. He let her be restored. He waited patiently, though one night turned into a one-hundred years, and one-hundred years into a thousand. He waited, and the gods finally heard his pleas and rewarded his patience. Izanami emerged from the underworld. She wasn’t the same. Burns covered her body, and she would never reside fully with the living again. Izanagi was enraged with the gods. How could they return his wife to him like this? They were traitors. As the original story went, Izanagi tried to kill Kagutsuchi for destroying Izanami. But here, a sudden storm blew in, and Kagutsuchi’s light, already weakened and unable to find shelter, was extinguished forever.

Rey cleared her throat and swiped at her damp eyes. “Izanami was enraged by Izanagi’s hasty actions, and as the rain mended her disfigured body, filling in each scar, it was then, despite over a thousand years of waiting, that Izanagi finally learned.”

Ben didn’t hesitate. “But what if the gods had already wronged him before Izanami? Would you suggest he have patience even then? And wasn’t it wrong for the gods to not tell Izanagi that the rain would heal Izanami?”

“The gods wrong us all the time, don’t you think? In the end, it shows us, umm, how human they actually are, created and wronged by their own set of gods that came before them.”

The tension held for a minute before Ben laughed shakily. “Not bad. Sappy as fuck, but you did good.”

“I learned from the master. I used to look forward to you telling me these kinds of stories. Your call was the best part of my day.”

“And calling you was the best part of mine. Funny how those calls eventually resulted in the kid.”

Rey smiled, tracing fingers across Benjamin’s puckered bottom lip. It was true—the calls had manifested into Benjamin, their baby, and the growing child inside of her, the one Rey wouldn’t tell Ben about yet, not until he was ready. “Who’s sappy as fuck now, hmm?”

“Fuck off, Rey.”

She smiled wider. “There it is.”

More silence. Rey would have suspected that he’d fallen asleep if not for the sound of his blocked breathing on the other side of the wood.

“Ben?”

“Yeah?”

“I know this is hard.” She willed herself not to cry. “But no matter what, I want you to know… you’re not alone. Okay? No matter what.”

His response, when it came, was slow and choked, veiled in sobs. “Neither are you.”

Rey held onto those words as she prepared for Kyoto a few hours later. Ben had already left for work, no goodbyes.

Yuki patted Rey’s back sympathetically. “I’m sorry. He’s selfish. Nothing has changed.”

“Yes, but I’m leaving him, and it’s not his way,” Rey said, soothing Benjamin.

But understanding Ben didn’t mean the nightmares stopped. Her last week in Japan passed by in a daze, marked by indecision. She was making a mistake. She should go back to Ben now, be a family, get him help. But Rey knew. Nothing was that simple. He wouldn’t stop while she was there. He had made no promises or vows to quit. He could overdose, yes, but he could do that if she stayed with him. If he wanted to die, he would. Still, thinking it was easier than accepting it as the truth.

Yuki helped her laugh again. She put on music and twirled her around the sitting room. At night, they watched American comedies with Japanese subtitles or weird game shows. Hiroto snored on the couch, long passed out before 9 P.M.

Eventually, the days vanished, and Yuki's flat faded into the grey walls of an airport. Rey boarded a plane back to London, looking over her shoulder, half-expecting to see Ben among the unfamiliar faces. If her life had been a romantic comedy, he would show up with a record player and a Slayer album, dancing like they were in a ballet performance. She would tell him she was pregnant again, and they would renew their vows and fly off into the land of the rising sun aided by a giant, floating sushi roll.

But this wasn’t a rom-com. It was reality. There was no record player in the middle of the airport. No ballet performances or sushi rolls. No large, familiar hands wrapped around her waist, he smiling down at her, all crooked teeth showing. Rather, she had morning-sickness, a fussy baby, and a phone with zero notifications.

Rey played with Benjamin’s feet and stared out at the vast blues, oranges, and reds—the ocean, the sky. She was reminded of Ben’s story of how he became Kylo Ren. It had been a sky like this one—free of clouds, the sun beginning to slip beneath the horizon. 

So, truly, what came after this? She imagined Ben had the same thought as he flew to America, when he assumed it was over and the pain was behind him.

That was the trouble with breaking up and leaving, wasn’t it? When someone was no longer part of your identity. Where did you go? What did you do? Who did you become?

Chapter Text

Kylo

An early September typhoon hit, sending half of Kylo’s staff home for the day. He stood at the large window in his office, rum and coke in hand, watching the wind and water crash against the skyscrapers. Most of the subways would stay operating during the weather, but it was expected to get worse in a few hours. Rey loved the rain, said it reminded her of London. Last year, two typhoons had hit, and she’d been present for one. She had clung to him at night while the wind howled through the city buildings, Benjamin kicking in her belly, underneath their fingers. He had kissed her head and whispered, “You’re not alone,” again and again until her breathing grew steady and her eyes drooped closed. 

Tomorrow was her birthday. Would he call? Should he?

A soft knock on the door—his assistant. He finished his drink and didn’t turn around. “Come in.” 

“I’m about to take my lunch break,” Emi said in Japanese, her young, mousy voice full of keigo—Japanese honorifics. Kylo had been trying to break her of the habit with him for over a year now. “Snoke-san is on the other line. He said he hasn’t been able to reach you.”

He answered in English, “Send him to my voicemail. He can wait. We’re in the middle of a fucking typhoon.” 

Watch your mouth, the voice in Kylo’s head spat—the warm notes forever belonging to her. But Kylo already knew what Alexander wanted—to issue another lecture about letting most of the staff take off today, and he was too many drinks in to care.

“Yes, Ren-san.” The switch between English and Japanese was typical, and Emi copied whatever language he had decided to use.

In April, she had unknowingly asked him why family pictures no longer populated his desk, and he’d snapped at her, told her to mind her own fucking business. It was unprofessional, but the ache in his chest wouldn’t be ignored. Days prior, he had thrown those pictures into a trash bag—picked by the garbage collectors on Tuesday. Burned and done with. 

Kylo often wondered about Emi, taking her back to his place and fucking her into the bed he and Rey had shared less than eight months ago. Would her skin taste like Rey’s? Would her waist dip in the same way—the angle just above her belly button? Would she beg him to finish inside her, voice doused in pleasure?

“Emi?” he called, still looking out the window. 

She lingered at the door. “Yes, sir?”

“Go home.”

When she left, he rubbed his eyes and poured himself another drink. Snoke kept calling; Kylo kept drinking and shaking in his suit as the familiar symptoms of withdrawal took over his body. Soon he would be puking up liquor and half of an egg salad sandwich if he let it go further. And he always did. His record was two weeks clean at one time, set when he’d last taken a vacation in July. The second and third days were the worst of it—like the flu tripled. This was the beginning. 

The hours passed. He tried to work through it, threw up his lunch as predicted, and kept replying to emails. Work through it. Fight it.

Next to his computer, his phone vibrated.

Rey Jackson

The weather looks terrible. I hope you’re safe. 

He unlocked his desk drawer and found a disguised plastic bottle. He popped two pills and waited, playing a game on his phone. Just enough to feel normal—that’s it. It wouldn’t be enough to get him high.

He switched to opioid pills when available. They were a bitch to find and expensive, too, but he could control the dosage more than inhaling or injecting. He’d avoided injecting for this long and fought to keep it that way. The high would never be as quick or as good, but at least the side effects would be less. 

He twisted his wedding band. You’re a failure. A monster. Not good enough. That’s why she left you and didn’t come back. Not good enough. He heard from her every month or so, but he rarely responded. At first, they’d spoken on the phone once or twice. She’d sent him pictures of Benjamin and acted like nothing was wrong—that she was still on vacation. She played the act well, her bullshit cop-out of “a little break.” He’d told her to go that night, to not look back, but she did, and eventually, it had become unsustainable. 

The reality was that she hadn’t come back. Benjamin would be almost ten months old now. He’d spent the majority of his life without his father. 

That was the thought that followed Kylo as he walked home with the rain beating against his face. It obsessed him, had obsessed him for seven fucking months. His son didn’t have a father. She had taken Benjamin away from him. She was a fucking cunt, a traitor, a—

He thought about pushing for a divorce and fighting for custody, but what good would it do? It was better this way. His son didn’t have a father, but he also didn’t have a father that could abuse or kill him in a fit of drug-induced insanity. 

Kylo had gone from breaking phones when she texted him to sobbing when something reminded him of her to doing whatever it took to quit. One week down. Use. Quit. Throw up. Drink until the dark room spun into color. Curse at the sky—to a god that didn’t exist. Nothing worked. He couldn’t quit on his own like he’d done two times before. Was it age? Will? 

When he was a child, he had prayed for the pain to end with each grunt and thrust. If he was a good boy, if he sat still and let him finish, he would get candy or a trip to the movies. But god had never saved him. Time had. What kind of god let that happen to a child? What kind of god let children be abused and die of war, starvation, or at the hands of their own society?

Dinner was a ham and cheese sandwich from the kombini. Cold, dry, and smothered in mayo. He washed it down with a shot of bourbon and a couple of cigarettes for dessert. Rey would be livid—he was smoking in the apartment. Thoughts like that made him laugh before the numbness took over again, and he realized he was alone, truly alone, and the smoke rolling off his lips was one of the reasons why.

In the bathroom mirror, he caught sight of his reflection. Deep shadows lingered under his eyes, cheeks sunken in. Rey and Benjamin didn’t need to see him like this. How was he still alive? The pills, the powder, the sheets, the balcony, the needles in his dresser. One wrong dose or thought and Benjamin’s life would forever be defined as the boy with the dead father. 

Rey Jackson

I know you don’t want to see him anymore, but look, this happened the other day. He’s ahead of most babies his age. 

Kylo hit play on the video above the message without thinking. It was Benjamin, barely half as tall as the couch he gripped onto, standing up. “Show daddy what a big boy you are!” came Rey’s raw voice behind the camera, shaking like she was trying not to cry. Benjamin smiled wide in her direction and let go of the couch. Shakily, he took one step away from the couch, toward the camera, before falling, bottom first, on the carpet. “Yay, Benjamin!” Rey exclaimed, clapping. “No longer daddy’s lil slice, are you? Say, ‘I’m a BIG slice, daddy!’” Benjamin broke out into giggles, clapping his hands. “Dadadadada!”

Rey Jackson

I finally got him to say it! Lol.

Kylo’s throat tightened. He hit the replay button, swallowing.

 


 

Rey

“Are you hungry, my sweet boy?” Rey put Benjamin in his high chair, making faces. “Your favorite, you strange little thing.”

Benjamin clapped his hands as Rey bent over slightly and set down his lunch. Her lower belly twitched in protest, but Benjamin dug right in, sticky rice and avocado glued to his fingers, oblivious to her discomfort. 

Another kick and more pressure on her bladder. “Yes, I know you’re hungry, too,” she said, placing a handful of cut strawberries onto Benjamin’s tray, lowering into a chair, and stroking her large, distended stomach. Sometimes the movement was the only thing that reminded her she was hungry. With Benjamin, she’d gained quite a bit of weight, mostly due to Ben’s constant worry and hovering, but with this baby, it had been the opposite. Until she could feel it move, Leia or Mara had chastised her about how much she was eating.

While Rey ate a plate of leftover pasta, she watched Benjamin. Gone was her Lil Rib Bruiser, replaced by an almost ten-month old with two bottom front teeth that occasionally loved to chew on her nipples until he drew blood. He’d graduated to Lil Nipple Chomper. 

She finished half her plate; her phone lit up on the table. 

Ben Solo

He’s getting big.

Four white chairs, four white walls, one picture of Mt. Fuji. He’s alive. He’s safe. Rey breathed deeply and counted the objects in the room, as recommended by her therapist. It was rare to receive a response from him. During the first months of separation, she had called him every few days. He responded half the time, then a quarter of the time, then not at all. Texting became the only way he would answer, and three months ago, out of the blue, he demanded that she stop sending pictures of Benjamin entirely. That had prompted hours of inconsolable crying. Leia had to take off work to watch Benjamin. 

After the sadness came the anger. She had called and called and called until he picked up his stupid phone. What kind of parent didn’t want to see pictures of their child? 

“Stop calling me,” he’d answered, no greeting, cold and indifferent. “I’m trying to work. Can we talk about this later?”

“Well, you better block my fucking number, then,” she retorted, startling Benjamin who was playing on the floor next to her feet with a toy car. She launched into a full rant, rationality long thrown out the second story window, until Benjamin wailed and gestured to be held. 

“Can he hear you?” Ben demanded, interrupting her.

“Of course he can bloody hear me.” Rey put Benjamin in his high chair while he cried. “I’m the only one taking care of him 24/7 while you run off getting trashed and screwing your way around Tokyo.”

His response was colder than his greeting. “Don’t you ever talk to me like that when he’s in the room.”

“Oh, like you fucking answer anyway! How many girls have you been with, huh? How many girls have you fucking cheated on me with? Tell me that. Give me an honest answer.” Silence. “Hello?”

She pulled the phone away from her ear. Her homescreen stared back at her, blank.

Regardless, Ben continued to deposit money in their joint account for her to use—1900 pounds—which was more than one-third of his paycheck per month and certainly more than the standard set by the U.K. government for child maintenance. So, she didn’t argue with him anymore. If he died, Benjamin would need that money at some point in his life, a shitty consolation prize for not having a present father. Rey tried not to touch it. It felt unethical, like blood money. Ben could be with Benjamin, be a family, but he had chosen drugs and his job. 

Her children didn’t have a father. Everything she had feared and tried to prevent for the past year had come true. She was alone. She was doing this—raising Benjamin, carrying their second child—alone. Rey had thought it would break her, but that was the funny thing about fears. When they came true, you realized the world hadn’t really changed at all. Rather, you hadn’t wanted to face reality. 

Benjamin cooed, a sound sort of like ooooooo, and clapped his hands. 

Rey also hadn’t made much progress on uncovering the truth of her parentage. Anyone could be lying, no matter how convicted they seemed. She tracked down and contacted her aunt, the one who had adopted her a few years, but received no response. Ultimately, it didn’t matter. She was here, her children were here, and what else mattered after that?

“All done?” Rey picked him up, placing kisses across his messy cheeks. “Who’s my big boy? Are you ready to nurse a bit? You didn’t do much this morning.” She moved to her bedroom on the other side of the house, lay down, and positioned Benjamin to latch, mindful of the new little human underneath him. 

A strong kick, as expected. She shook her head, relaxing in the sucking sensation against her nipple. The new baby didn’t like anything near Rey’s stomach. When Rey pressed fingertips to her skin or if something bumped the flesh, the baby would kick and punch her insides in protest. Perhaps it was the girl she’d dreamed of before, feisty and tomboyish, while Benjamin was sweet but rough and messy. Rey could have found out during her twenty-week ultrasound but decided against it. Healthy was what mattered, and thankfully, despite all of Rey’s worries about miscarrying, she had made it to thirty-six weeks gestation. He or she was over two and a half kilograms. 

When Benjamin fell asleep, Rey stared at Ben’s text message. Reply or ignore? Ignore? Reply? Ignore? Her eyes stung.

She picked up her laptop from the floor and answered as many emails as she could while Benjamin slept next to her on the bed. A month after arriving home, Rey had begun to work remotely for the English Resistance. Leia guaranteed she would never be unemployed, no matter if she was still married to Ben or not and non-compete contracts be damned. Thus, she’d begun assisting the representative she had trained last August, Larna Darcy. 

The door swung open; Leia’s mouth moved.

Rey took out her earphones, putting her finger to her lips in a shh motion, indicating to Benjamin. But he had begun to stir awake, rolling and rubbing his eyes. 

“Stop working,” Leia said. “It’s Friday and tomorrow’s your birthday. You’ve done enough.” She picked Benjamin up. “Hey, buddy! Did you have a good nap?”

“His teeth have been bothering him all day, but he slept a bit. You’re home early?”

“I missed my grandson, yes I did.” Leia blew raspberries on Benjamin’s tummy. He squealed, bottom teeth sticking out. “Yes, you have some more chompers coming in, don’t you? Don’t you!”

Benjamin laughed more, resting his head against Leia’s shoulder, and Leia turned to Rey again. “Just to let you know, Mara and Luke are coming over, and Brian may stop by later. He has a game, but sends his love.”

“I told mum I’d meet them for dinner tomorrow, and I told you this morning—Rose, Finn, and Niall are coming over tonight. They wanted to celebrate today because Rose has a family thing tomorrow.”

“It’ll be a full house. So, what?”

“Why didn’t you tell me?” 

Leia sometimes got this wild notion to have her house filled to the brim with people. She was never in the center of the conversation, but for some reason, people were calming to her. She said it helped distract her from Ben’s absence. 

“It was last minute. You haven’t seen her in a while, and she’s going to Tokyo next week.”

Rey had moved out of Mara’s house a few months ago. At first, Mara had kept her word about not mentioning Ben and refraining from lecturing Rey. But after Ben asked not to see photos of Benjamin anymore, the tension finally snapped.

“I am so sick of seeing you upset,” Mara said while they made dinner that same night. 

Rey chopped peppers, humming to herself. “I hate this pan. Food always sticks to it. Could you pass me the one over there?”

 “I think it’s time you thought about a legal divorce. You need to make sure child support stays consistent.”

Mara handed her a new pan; Rey chopped mindlessly. 

“He’s barely called in three months. You know I haven’t said a word since you moved back in. I’ve let you heal, but now, it’s time to be serious. In a few months, you’ll have two babies alone at twenty-three. I know you think this is temporary, but we—” she gestured to herself and Luke, who was playing with Benjamin in the living room. “—know him, yes? He’s not going to waltz in and tell you he can’t live without you, and you know it. He’s not going to change.”

“You don’t know that!” Rey abruptly whisper-screamed, slamming down her knife. “You have no idea what we went through.”

“I would if you’d talk to me like you use to!”

“I have nothing to prove to you.”

In actuality, she had everything to prove to Mara. Mara didn’t like the fact that she was pregnant again and Ben didn't know. Didn’t like the fact that Rey wouldn’t seek a divorce or that she tried to keep in contact with Ben when he didn’t reciprocate. Rey hadn’t told Mara about Ben mishandling Benjamin, only about his drug use, and not knowing the full story seemed to make Mara pushier. 

They fought back and forth for a few minutes before Mara began to walk away, saying, “It’s amazing to me how he can abandon his family and you lash out at the people picking up the pieces.”

“I’m not lashing out at you. How many times do I have to say it? It’s my relationship.”

“True, but your relationship affects others. Children are expensive. What if something happens to us?”

Rey abruptly flicked on a burner, rubbing her fingers rapidly across her small baby bump. “You promised you wouldn’t do this anymore.”

The argument bothered Rey for weeks, and the thought that Mara wasn’t telling the whole truth about Rey’s parentage made it worse. Leia offered rest. A true break. She owned a three-bedroom house not far from the office. Rey moved her whole life again—including her cat, Bee-Bee. Mara hadn’t gotten rid of her, despite Rey being unable to clean her litter box and moving to Japan. She was around the house somewhere now—usually hiding from the rowdy crawling wonder that was Benjamin Lil Rib Bruiser Ren. 

“I heard from Ben today,” Rey said, getting up. The baby pressed against her full bladder. 

“What did he say? Did he call you for your birthday?”

“Hold on, need to pee. Lil Bladder Sitter is doing what it does best. I’m going to piss my pants.”

Leia laughed as Rey waddle-sprinted past her to the bathroom. “Five more weeks!”

“Four! Don’t add a week onto this mess!”

 


 

Kylo

The rain died around 3 A.M. Kylo lay on his side, eyes wide open. 

He wanted to paint, but knew he couldn’t. Rey hadn’t responded to his text message. What was she doing now? Who was she with? Was she smiling at another man, flashing him his smile, the one she reserved for Kylo? He could call her, but what good would that do? Hearing her voice meant hearing Benjamin in the background, and hearing Benjamin would remind him of everything he didn’t want to remember—the hand, the pain, coming home to find the apartment empty and Rey’s stuff gone. Reliving it, like flashes of bright white light in his eyes after a night of drinking. 

He was selfish. He always had been. Yuki had said it—thrown it in his face during arguments. Mara believed it, and Kylo knew Rey probably did, too. What was the point of trying to get better? The pain would never end.

He’d stood for hours on the ledge of his work building one night and dared himself to jump. 

He’d walked out into oncoming traffic.

And when he got high, he always thought of pushing it just a little further. 

But none of it had been done with the true, clear intention of dying.

Coward. Alexander had said it during their last meeting, masked in another lecture about Kylo’s addictions. Hiding hadn’t worked; Alexander had found out a few months ago when he visited Japan. He knew his triggers, the symptoms, what to look for. They had sat at a cafe, Kylo barely able to keep his eyes open, and within five minutes, Alexander launched into a lecture about addiction, how it was easy to slip back into heavy usage again and that it would be best if Kylo looked for rehab centers in Chicago. Alexander would approve his time off for up to two months to get his shit together. 

You took her away from me. You wanted me to tell her what you did so she’d leave, Kylo had wanted to say, but he was too sleepy and high to care. He took the lecture, played it off as being able to quit anytime like he’d done before, and promised he would go to rehab if it started seriously affecting his ability to work. After all, that was what Alexander really cared about: losing money. 

Kylo scrolled through his phone. Another pill would bring sleep. Yuki was coming next Friday and would report to Rey, his own personal babysitter at the age of thirty-four. On good weeks, he’d try his hardest to quit. On bad ones, he ignored her text messages, showed up late or missed their meetings entirely. But Yuki always knew where to find him. Hanging out with Yuki with their respective wedding rings wrapped around their fingers was strange. She didn’t spend the night anymore. Instead, she typically stayed at a hotel or with her cousin for the weekend and saw him once or twice for dinner or lunch. He needed to look rested and put together. Organized, systematic. But why should he care? Rey wasn’t coming back. He could quit using and the problems would remain—like a finished oil painting, varnish dry, with a large gash in the canvas. Like the therapy sessions Leia took him out of school for as a kid. How he felt about any of it didn’t matter. Facts didn’t change. He couldn’t make peace with his family. The damage was permanent. He would always find hurt in Leia’s eyes, disappointment in Luke’s, and hatred in Mara’s. 

Then, where did that leave Rey?

Once the pain of her leaving dulled to numbness, he had thought about this during sleepless nights. On good weeks, she sent him long paragraphs about Benjamin and life—something new that she’d learned, something interesting that Benjamin had done. She lashed out at him twice in the seven months they’d been apart, but her angry calls were replaced by a smiling picture of Benjamin or a small update the next week. He thought of the months she’d stayed with him after Benjamin’s birth. He could destroy her, himself, and she would find a reason to involve him in her life. Maybe that was why he couldn’t take off his wedding band. He’d tried to throw it out with the rest of the photos and Benjamin’s toys in the living room, but his hand had lingered over the trash can until, finally, it fell to his side, the platinum turning to lead on his finger. 

Kylo sat up in bed, scrubbed his face, and dialed her number. 

 


 

Rey

Rey almost missed his call. She was halfway through her plate of food when Rose pointed out a faint sound. How she could hear it in the kitchen across from the sitting room with everyone talking, Rey didn’t know. 

“I think it’s mine,” she said, jumping up from the couch, mid-bite of masala. And sure enough— Ben Solo, mobile. “Hello, can you hold for a moment?”

“I need to take this.” She placed her phone against her chest and raced past them toward her bedroom. “Can you watch Benjamin for a while?” she said to Leia. “Make sure he doesn’t choke? He has a bit of trouble with the ground beef.” He’d likely start crying as soon as he noticed Rey was gone from the room, but that couldn’t be helped. 

“Can’t it wait?” Mara called. “You wanted to start the movie.”

Rey shut the door without answering her. “I’m sorry about that. It’s a bit of a full house tonight.”

“Happy birthday, Rey,” Ben whispered, voice flat.  

“You remembered. I didn’t think you’d call. I mean, technically you’re a day early, but it doesn’t matter.”

“Not a day early here.”

“Oh, right, time differences and all. Strange. Are you drinking?”

He sighed. “No. Can’t sleep.”

“Right. Umm, so Benjamin is doing well. He’s still teething, so he’s been a bit fussy this last week. He’s got his top teeth coming in and one in the back, I think. He’s meeting his milestones, eating well, sleeping well. Umm… what else? Thank you for the money you sent.”

“I didn’t call to talk about money.”

“Right. Sure.” The baby began to punch her insides, stretching. “I’m sorry. I’m rambling. I didn’t expect you to call.”

“I know. I never call.”

“Except when you’re drunk.” She smiled, cradling the phone. As much as those calls pissed her off, they were calls. From him. “What’s the matter? You sound upset. Did something happen?”

“Can we just talk?”

“Okay. Sure.” She asked about the typhoon: Was it a particularly bad one? Was there flooding? Did he close the office down? Most employers in Japan didn’t unless the trains or roads were affected, Rey knew. 

“What are you wearing?” He paused, cleared his throat, probably realizing the double-meaning in his question. “Did you pick a special dress to wear for your birthday this year?”

She laughed, then stopped. He didn’t know about the new baby squished in her belly, currently pressing against her nerve. None of her dresses fit, she was uncomfortable, and she felt bad spending money on maternity clothes when she should be using it for Benjamin. “No. It’s a sweatpants year.”

“Sweatpants?” His tone was sarcastic. “You didn’t wear sweatpants even when you were pregnant with Benjamin.”

“You made me a mum, sir. With your mutant, fertile sperm. You practically slapped these sweatpants on me.”

He chuckled. “Mutant, fertile sperm?”

“Yes, have you seen your child? He’s over nine kilograms. He eats like I starve him.”

“Leia used to call me her human trash can when I was a kid.”

“Trash can? You Americans.” Rey picked at a loose thread from her duvet. “Rubbish-bin, say it with me now.”

“Fuck off.” She could almost hear the smile in his voice. “We won the war.”

“Mhm, sureeee. Leia says you ate a lot as a baby, too. Benjamin loves avocado and sticky rice. I turn and it’s disappeared. He’s so much like you.”

“Yeah?” Silence. “I, um, I’m sorry. I don’t know what to say.”

“You don’t have to say anything. I’m really happy you called.”

“Making up for all the times I didn’t.”

“We were together last year,” Rey said, knowing she shouldn’t mention it. “I wish you were here.”

Surprisingly, he whispered, “Yeah, me too.” 

More silence passed between them, the living room sound creeping under the bedroom door. Rose’s laughter and Benjamin’s cries. He had officially noticed she was gone. “Crap, I have to go. Benjamin has separation issues.” Rey swiped at her eyes. “I can hear him.”

“Yeah. You have people over. Go be with them. Take care of the kid. I’ll send you some extra money.”

“No, that’s okay. I don’t need it. I’m just really really happy you called.”

“I like seeing you happy,” he murmured gently. “I wanna make you happy.”

When they hung up, Rey numbly walked back to the living room like she was in a trance. Benjamin was sucking on his thumb, sitting on Niall’s lap, soothed for the moment. As soon as he noticed Rey, he pushed Niall away and made grabby hands. “Mmmmmm!” 

“Looks like I can’t compete with mum,” Niall joked, straightening his t-shirt. 

Rey picked up Benjamin and moved to the kitchen to clean up from dinner, avoiding Niall’s gaze. 

“A little more time and you’ll be able to.” Mara smirked and sipped her wine. “Where are you going, love?”

Rey hadn’t seen Niall in almost two months—after he’d plainly hinted at his feelings during one movie night with Rose and Finn. How could he still fancy her? She thought his intentions would’ve changed at some point, with one infant and another on the way, but he was consistent and composed, and Benjamin adored him. And after hearing from Ben, it was too much.

From the sitting room, Mara and Rose begged her to leave the dishes for later; Leia encouraged her to finish her food. Rey ignored them, said she wasn’t hungry anymore. Cleaning up one-handed with a baby on her hip and heavily pregnant wasn’t quick, and soon enough, Mara and Rose were in the kitchen trying to get her to come back to the sitting room to have birthday cake and start the movie.

“Ben rang, didn’t he?” Mara asked, crossing her arms. 

“He called to wish me happy birthday. That’s it.”

“Then, why are you upset?”

“Pregnancy hormones.” Rey loaded a plate into the dishwasher. “I’ll be fine.”

Rose offered a sympathetic smile. “It’s getting late. Come hang out with us before you have to put Benjamin to bed.”

Mara continued, “It’s not normal to be this upset when you hear from your partner.”

Rey calmly placed the cup in her hands on the counter and faced them, cheeks wet. “It was a good call,” she said softly. “Our first normal conversation in months. I’m not upset; I’m happy. I want him here. Last year was one of the few birthdays we’ve spent actually together. We’ve been apart for a good bit of my life, and I’m tired of not having him. I know that’s his fault. Believe me, I know that better than anyone. But I’m tired of you telling me who I should love because it’s healthy for me. I have two children from him. He’s their father. I can’t change that, and I wouldn’t. I know he’s flawed and terrible and has the worst temper… I know he hasn’t seen Benjamin since I left, but I love him. I always have since I was a girl. And when he’s good, he’s so good. So, can you just give me a moment and let me cry?” 

Mara stared at her, forehead creased, dark-red mouth set in a straight line. They had fought about this before, but tonight, it seemed she had nothing further to say.

It was Rose who finally spoke. “Do you need help?”

Rey met Mara’s gaze. “No, I’m almost done.”

 


 

 Kylo

The curry restaurant was crowded next Friday night, the cluster of voices banging around in Kylo’s head. He hadn’t used in two days, hadn’t eaten anything in three. Water was hard to keep down, and he felt nauseous when he stood up. 

Yuki was thirty minutes late. Why did he need to see her, anyway? It wasn’t like they were great friends, and she was reporting back to Rey. These outings felt more like being under a microscope than meeting an old friend to eat and catch up. 

Ten more minutes passed. He rested his head in his hands, weaving fingers through his hair. 

A tap on his shoulder. It was Yuki, but she wasn’t alone. Dark crimson lipstick, bright red hair. Kylo swallowed; his stomach clenched. “What the hell is she doing here?”

“Hey,” Yuki said, sliding into the chair next to him. “Don’t be pissed. Hear us out.”

She sat down on the other side, eyes intent on him. “I know you’re not happy to see me. I was in Tokyo on business and thought we could talk.”

“I don’t wanna talk.” He stood up; the room spun. “You won. You got my wife and my kid. Isn’t that enough?”

Yuki touched his arm. “She’s traveled pretty far, and she goes back tomorrow. The least you can do is listen for five minutes.”

“You should have told me.”

“Would you have come?”

“Probably not.”

Yuki flashed him an exasperated look. “She won’t say anything bad. Come on, Ben.” 

Begrudgingly, after a few moments of a standoff, he sat back down. 

“Have you spoken with Rey recently?” Mara asked, moving in her chair. “Did she mention anything different?”

“Don’t see how that’s your business.”

“It’s not. You’re right.”

Yuki looked between them, took a breath. “Do you know?”

“Know what? What the hell are you talking about?”

“Rey’s pregnant again,” Yuki said plainly, looking uncomfortable. “She said she didn’t tell you. We wanted to make sure you didn’t find out on your own.”

“What?” His stomach flipped, eyes wide. “Who's the father?”

“Come on, Ben,” Yuki said. “Don’t do this shit again. You know she wouldn’t cheat on you, and she’s due next month.”

“I don’t believe you. She wouldn’t keep something like this from me. I’ve always supported her.”

“Do the math.”

Mara set her phone down on the table and swiped through pictures of Rey—different-sized bellies poking out underneath dresses and t-shirts, Benjamin on her hip or in a sling.

Kylo felt sick. He shoved the phone away. “What is it? A girl? Another boy?”

Mara put the phone back into her purse. “We don’t know. Rey didn’t want to know this time.”

How could she have kept something like this from him? How did he not know? He combed through his memory to those last few hazy weeks together. Nausea, lethargy, mood swings. He’d suspected it, especially when she told him she thought she was. But then she’d left, and what mattered after that?

Kylo weighed it, unblinking. “Why are you telling me this?”

“Because I want her to be happy. And unfortunately, you do that. I don’t know why, after everything you’ve done, but you do. Will you come to London next month for the baby’s birth?”

“It’s a baby to you? Did you push Rey to get an abortion with this kid, too?”

“I never push; I asked her to consider it, yes. In three weeks, she’s going to be twenty-three with two children and no father.”

“You disgust me.” 

Mara scoffed. “I’m not the addict who chose drugs over his own wife and child.”

“At least I’m not a fucking murderer. How many of your own fucking kids did you kill to keep your job?”

“Am I a murderer, too?”

Kylo froze. His eyes snapped to Yuki. “What?”

She looked at him dead in the eyes. “I had an abortion. Does that make me a murderer?”

His lips felt heavy. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

“I was nineteen, and I had a choice: dance or a baby. I chose dance.”

Yuki had never mentioned it. She was open, honest. He’d known about her eating disorder, but this? 

“It’s alright,” Mara said, patting her hand. “You did what you had to do.”

Yuki shrugged off her touch, eyes narrowed. “You think abortion is some choice that means nothing? I didn’t want it! I went through years of therapy to feel normal again.”

“Well, that’s rare, and society makes you think you should feel bad about it.”

Yuki laughed. “My mom agreed with it, and my dad paid for it. My best friend thought I was making the right decision.” She explained how she’d gotten pregnant from a drunken one-night stand and how the father had encouraged her to get an abortion. “And now I probably can’t have children. Ironic, you know? I killed the one baby I had, and I’ve been paying for it ever since.”

“You never told me,” Kylo said, unable to look at her.

“It doesn’t matter. Get it together, and be a good father. You piss me off. You have everything I want, and you throw it away.”

“She left me. You don’t know what the fuck you’re talking about.” 

Yuki stared him down. “Come on, Ben. You know she didn’t want to.”

“Yeah.” Kylo took a sip of his water, wishing it were alcohol, and turned to Mara. “What’s the catch? Doubt you’d let me stay around her and the kids for long.”

“You get sober.” Mara placed a print-out of a webpage on the table. 

Rehabilitation Centre. Kylo focused on a brown pageboy hat that one of her servers was wearing. “I am sober.”

“For now. You look like shit.”

He shook his head, laughing. “Pretty sure that’s the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me.”

Mara didn’t move, a serious expression frozen on her face. “This facility is close to Rey and the babies. Leia and I will pay for everything for as long as you need it and show improvement.”

“Why do you care? Rey can move on. Be with a guy you approve of.”

Mara held out an ultrasound photo. “Your choice.”

Hesitantly, Kylo took it, thumb frozen on the glossy head of the new baby. He looked to Yuki. “Is this true?”

Yuki nodded and told him about Rey’s pregnancy. In the photo, the baby was twenty weeks. The morning sickness hadn’t been bad, and this baby didn’t like to bury itself in Rey’s ribcage as much. Instead, it sat on Rey’s bladder and sciatic nerve more than Benjamin did. 

“She nickname this one, too?” Kylo asked. 

“Yeah. Her Lil Bladder Sitter.”  

He chuckled. “She’s ridiculous.”

They left a few minutes after that, but Kylo’s eyes didn’t waver from the picture. He walked home, clutching the glossy paper and fidgeting with his wedding band. 

The apartment was silent, as it had been since she left. All traces of her had long been erased. The walls were barren. There was no half-drained mug of tea in the sink, no photos stuck to the fridge, no baby things or toys. Kylo spilled a few pills across his palm. He stopped, caught sight of Benjamin’s door—closed, sealed, like a tomb. Tentatively, he walked forward and pried it open. Dust coated Benjamin’s toys and furniture, the crib barren, dinosaur-print sheets sticking out between the wooden slats. As if he’d never left. Or as if he’d never been there at all.

Kylo slammed the pills against the wall. He overturned the crib, the rocking chair. Wood snapped and crunched, pieces shattering against the wall.

Pale pinks and vibrant greens in a bed of shattered glass. His vision blurred. It was the picture of him and Rey—the one at Kiyomizu-dera during her first hanami, cherry-blossom viewing, when she was thirteen. Kylo picked up the photo from the glass shards, compared it to the ultrasound picture and the print-out of the rehab center. She must have set it on the changing table before she left. Her youthful face stared at him—the him from the past, at twenty-two. His ripped jeans and messy black hair. Right before he erased Ben Solo, the boy who was too weak and naive. Who experimented with men and questioned his sexual orientation as a teenager. The hand that followed him in the drinks he knocked back and the blow jobs Yuki gave. Hold still. Such a tight.. You’re a good boy. A little longer. I’m coming… Oh, God. I love you. Don’t you tell anyone, you hear me? They wouldn’t understand what we have. But when he looked at Rey, the sweetness in her hazel eyes, that deep voice fell silent. 

And he’d thrown it away to become Kylo Ren. Kylo Ren—collected, calm, dominant—everything he thought Ben Solo couldn’t be. But was Ben Solo ever truly gone? How had he spent the last nine years living a lie?

Ben put some clothes in a suitcase, grabbed his car keys, and drove through the darkness, the lights on the black hills greeting him like stars. On the dash was the ultrasound photo and the rehab print-out; in his lap, the picture of him and Rey. The colors blended together—green and pink splotches stained to his memory, as the “R” CD hummed lightly in the background. 

The low-lying mountains came into view, orange sunlight hitting the green. Kyoto. Yuki’s wedding, the night he’d found out about Benjamin, a tiny human growing inside of Rey. He’d stared at the ultrasound photo then, too—Benjamin resembling more a bean than a baby. But alive, his son. Perhaps this was the thought that had led to Yuki’s eating disorder, years spent unable to speak, throwing herself in the one thing she had chosen her baby’s life over.

Ben parked, walked the 864 steps past the shops and tourist wares, wandering to the front and back. To Jishu Jinja shrine, where he and Rey had said their wedding vows. He thought about her in the hotel room after he had learned about Benjamin in her belly, she panting against his chest, breath rising and falling, the air kissing his face. Her warmth, her wide eyes as they slipped together, bodies entwined. Eshajouri. We meet only to part. The fight they’d had about nothing. The fights they always had about nothing—miscommunications, his inability to commit. 

With those thoughts, he booked the earliest flight he could, and Japan, the land of half his ancestry, half of his life, disappeared beneath clouds and sky.

It had taken him a long time to accept Rey and Benjamin. The idea of having a wife and a boy terrified him. He remembered pacing his apartment for weeks before asking Rey to marry him, seeing her face in each pregnant woman he passed, calling her when she woke up—her laughter echoing against his ear. And for what? He’d fucked up the proposal, fucked up his vows, fucked up their marriage and family. He imagined how alone she must have felt the last few weeks they were together—finding out about what Alexander and Mara had done, knowing she was pregnant again but afraid to tell him, the man that was supposed to protect and love her. Be the father of her children.  

Let the past die. He knocked on the door and waited. Mizu ni nagasu. Let it flow in the water. He still knew the way to Leia’s house— his house—on the corner, the rose bushes in the front garden, the cherry blossom tree that bloomed each spring. His mother cooking. The scents, the lights, the simplicity. 

The door swung open. Messy, plaited brown hair. A large and protruding belly underneath a floral dress. After nine years. Rey. 

With her mouth hung open, lips quivering, she whispered, “Ben?”