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maybe we're from the same star

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From across the shop, behind her counter, she smiled at him again.

It was nauseating; the dazzling quality of her smile, and knowing gleam in her hazel eyes.

Precariously, she adjusted her cap higher on her head, more of her face visible at the new angle.

Glancing around the virtually empty bookstore to the coffeeshop set up on the other side of the room, he checked to make sure no one was looking.

The only patrons in the room were a jittery, stubborn faced man, with piles of notebooks—a student, though older than most—and a woman with bright lilac hair, skimming through a book at a leisurely pace. Regulars who’d keep their heads down with the occasional sneaking glance towards each other. They wouldn’t noticed Ben and his… co-worker .

Ben threw her the middle finger.

She stuck her tongue out.

He rolled his eyes.

Someone entered the store; Ben immediately went back to looking busy, instead of making faces at his co-worker, while the barista went back to scrubbing at nothing on the counter.

A short woman with large glasses perused the books on the shelves, picking out a few on mysticism—a genre Ben insisted Luke excavate and downsize; however his uncle had stronger opinions.

“Ben, we have a good handful of regulars who like the genre—”

The nephew huffed, squinting at the titles lining the second to last shelf. “Yeah, a handful. That is not going to help your finances in the long run.”

“We cater to the regulars and locals, not what’s hip and trendy,” Luke ended the brief argument, handing him another box of inventory to sort.

She placed her purchase on the table, Ben ringing up her items with mild pleasantries. Maz, another regular, watched him with her sharp all-seeing eyes.

“Boy, when will Skywalker bring in the newer editions?”

“They will be here on the fifteenth—like I told you last week,” Ben stated monotonously, putting her new books in a paper bag. “We will contact you when they come in, promise,” he reminded her, passing the bag down to her.

Sniffing slightly at his tone, she turned on her heel and marched straight to the barista on the other side of the store. Though he could not make out what the two women were chatting about, Ben heard the barista release a guffaw, almost a belly laugh, mid-conversation.

She smiled again. While most often annoying, her chatter with patrons distracting and her constant need to make eye contact with him from across the room, her smile seemed to light up even the grayest of days.

With some quick flourish and practiced ease, the girl served Maz her usual herbal tea. When their customer left, the girl made direct eye contact with him, catching Ben staring.

She winked.

Ben choked a bit on air.

Quickly, she ducked back to cleaning before Ben could come up with a response.

The day continued with its usual drag, locals and regulars coming in for coffee or a book to ease their souls from the weary October weather. The jittery man never introduced himself to the lilac-haired woman, as per usual. Then as by routine, the lilac-haired woman smiled gratefully at both Ben and the barista girl, and called out how she’d see them tomorrow afternoon.

The girl cleaned up her space while Ben locked up and reorganized the disordered books. Barista girl was out the door no less than an hour later, finished with her duties.

From the window, Ben watched her amble down the rainy street, her bright smile fading with every step.


 

When Ben finished grad school with a degree in 18th Century Literature and Romanticism, he wasn’t too sure what the next step would be.

His options were broad and limited; an odd mix he did not think of when he applied to programs his senior year of undergrad. He could be a professor, though he’d have to be working his way to a doctrine if that were the case. He could write literary criticism; however he had written enough criticism to last a lifetime. He could just author a book, something his advisor suggested based on Ben having his B.A. in Creative Writing.

Yet he was managing and working full time at his uncle’s small town bookstore in the middle of nowhere northwest.

His mother did not know how to process the news.

“We spent thousands upon thousands of dollars on your education, and you’re not going to do anything?” Leia asked, astonished the turn of events.

Ben shrugged, “Luke needs help, and bookstore hasn’t been the same since dad died.”

She remained silent after his rather truthful statement.

Millennium Books & Coffee—the simple and to the point name Luke and Han coined their shop in the eighties—had been a labor of love and friendship. Sitting in the center of town, the bookstore and coffeeshop became a town favorite, many locals and newcomers finding their little slice of peace in the brick building.

Ben spent many days and nights of his childhood at one of the little circular tables on the main floor and worked the register for most of his high school years. Han joked the place would become Ben’s when he was old enough, not expecting Ben to come back home once finishing his degrees.

You’re made for something more than this , his father would state as if it were as true as the time.

A freak accident with slick roads and old tires caused Ben to completely reconsider leaving his hometown to the dust.

A year and a half later, and now Ben was pretty sure he made the somewhat right decision. Millennium Books & Coffee had a basic routine—Ben showed up, unlocked, and inspected for the day. While double checking inventory and marking numbers down, the barista would barrel in thirty minute before opening. With flourished ease, she’d get the drip coffee brewing and start to turn on the machines. They’d open and then slug through the rest of the day, with their regulars coming in for their coffee, or purchasing a new book or a used books.

Throughout the day, Ben would act like he did not see the barista and become annoyed with her, while she tried with every fiber of her being to get him to notice her and wiggle herself under his skin.

The bright barista was already working at the shop before Ben decided to return home. Luke mentioned her name once in passing, though Ben forgot it immediately, his brain fogged with mourning and understanding the unorganized chaos the book portion of the shop happened to be in.

Leave it to Luke to not take inventory or actually cash out the register every night…and to fall behind on taxes.

All Ben knew was the girl had been working the coffee bar for a little over two years and happened to be Han’s favorite employee before his passing. Which wasn’t saying much considering only he and Luke manned the store with the occasional help from Chewie during the holiday season. He also knew her hours were from 7am to 7pm, the only one in working in the little sectioned off area. She was young …younger than he might even believe. However, he wasn’t too sure if she went to school. Not to mention he could not quite place her accent, sounding more British on some days while occasionally speaking with a slower drawl, similar to Northwesterners.

She was odd, yet simple.

He wasn’t too sure about much of her.


 

“Dear god, look at it pour,” Luke muttered, leaning against the counter beside Ben.

It been raining the last couple of days off and on, but it seemed the big storm the news had been preaching about had come to fruition. Rain pelted against the window violently, the curbs of the road began to flood. The grey clouds hung darkly, dimming the natural light.

Most residents were at home on the Saturday afternoon, only small shops and eateries were open at 11am. As per usual, the barista stood at her counter wiping at nothing, while the lilac-haired woman and the man read silently, sneaking peeks at each other. Nothing out of the ordinary.

Frowning out the window, Luke pushed himself off, and began to head towards the backroom. “I’m going to go get the radio; there might be a flash flood.”

As Luke disappeared behind the door, a loud clap of thunder sounded in the distance. A startled yelp escaped jittery Stubborn Face. His book clattered clumsily to the floor, Lilac-Hair finally looking up from her…copy of Zen and the Art of Happiness .

Ben refrained a grimace at the selection.

From behind the counter, the barista skimmed her phone.

“Parts of town are already flooded,” she muttered, the rest of the room giving her their attention. “Looks like we might be stuck here for a while.”

Just then the dimmed lights then brightened, Ben snapping his head up at the lights. Was the damn power going to go out too? Shaking his head, he charged off to the front door. Quickly, he flipped the sign to closed, and locked up the doors. He noticed other shops along the street following the same pattern.

From behind him, he heard the girl start shutting off the blender and other equipment, muttering about not surging if the power went out. Smart girl , Ben considered. Over his shoulder he peeked over to see her pour the remaining coffee in a large thermos and bring it over to the table between Lilac Hair and Stubborn Face.

“Since it looks like we might be here for a while, feel free to have some of the drip coffee,” she informed the other two, the woman smiling pleasantly at the offer while the man merely forced a smile.

Normally, Ben would object to the handout and complimentary coffee, but since mother nature decided to be a bitch that afternoon he’d let it go. Anyways, Luke was more invested in the coffeeshop aspect than Ben.

“Thank you, Rey,” the woman gleamed, taking up the offer.

He tried not to perk up too much at the mention of the girl’s name— Rey . Like a rey of sunshine; he suppressed the urge to roll his eyes at his own childish connection. Somehow the name fit the beaming and somewhat pleasant barista, better than any convoluted name he often dubbed her in his mind. Her hair was also more of a chestnut and her eyes a wickedly smart hazel, details Ben could never quite account for from the other side of the room.

Sensing him staring, Rey turned around with concern.

Before she could speak, Ben spun back around, embarrassed at being caught. He busied himself with lowering the blinds of the front windows, clearing his throat every two seconds.

When the hell did he become such an awkward teenager? He was twenty-seven for god-sakes; he didn’t need to be a bumbling idiot around a mildly- incredibly -attractive girl. It was stupid—he was stupid .

“Took some digging, but I found the radio!” Luke declared, entering the main shop once more. “It needs some sprucing, but it can work!”

An worn and dinged eighties pocket radio was held under his uncle’s arm while he struggled to open a new pack of AA batteries. The antenna was bent wonky and the plastic faded, Ben recalling the radio once tucked into Luke’s corner of the bookshop counter, fiddling with its wires and whatnot.

Taking the packet from Luke, Ben was able to swiftly tear open the thin cardboard back packaging.

“I could have done it,” Luke defended lightly, but continued with his little project. From the other side of Luke, Rey curiously watched him, biting on her thumbnail. Glancing at the two, Luke grumbled. “Both of you sit down and stop hovering! I got this,” he attempted to reassure with a grin.

Ben found it hard to believe, and apparently Rey agreed by the way she hesitantly sat at the next available seat. She tugged off her apron, crumpling it into a ball and took off her hat. Both were set down on the available seat on her left.

Giving his uncle the benefit of the doubt, Ben sat down beside Stubborn Face. Best to give Luke some space to work.

A flash of lightning shined out in the distance, followed by a shaking clap of thunder. Lights flickered once again, the man beside Ben tensing. Of course, they’d be stuck with someone who’d never experienced the flash floods.

Wincing as she observed the faces, Rey smiled tightly at the other occupants. She did not seem too thrilled about the turn of events either. “Um, since it seems like we might be here for a while, maybe we should all get to know one another?”

“Oo,” Luke agreed, “We can make it a little game, where you state a truth and a fact about yourself!”

Ben’s eyebrow knitted together, lips quirking at the excited suggestion. “That’s a drinking game Uncle; ‘Two Truths and a Lie’.”

Luke shook his head good naturedly, “Not at the church camps,” he countered.

“I think it’s a great idea,” Rey encouraged, “I mean, there isn’t much else to do except…” she waved to the stacks and shelves filled with books. “Well, reading, and I think we all might read quite a bit here.”

A sound of muttered agreements followed the small group. Lilac Hair’s eyes blinked widely, suddenly awake at the prospect of interacting with others…or maybe just interacting with Stubborn Face. Ben was sure the woman had been setting her sights on the man for the last couple of months, just never finding the nerve or reason to talk to him.

Leaning back, Ben crossed his arms over his chest, waiting for Rey to make her own introductions.

“I’m Rey Johnson,” she grinned lightly, “I was born in Westminster, I have a dog, and my favorite author is Agatha Christie.”

“I’m going to take a guess and say you don’t have a dog?” Stubborn Face tried first, his defeated and tried voice telling everyone exactly how he felt about their little sharing circle.

“Nope, I do have a dog. His name is Watson and he’s a rescue,” her face brightened at the mention of her dog, her love for her pet shining brightly.

Ben frowned thinking for a moment, before answering. “Your favorite author isn’t Agatha Christie.”

Her eyebrows flew up, surprised at the observation. “Oh, really?” She mirrored his stance, arms crossed. “Who is my favorite author?”

“Sir Arthur Conan Doyle,” Ben spoke simply, “Your dog’s name is Watson , and I am pretty sure I have seen you read A Study in Scarlet several times in the last month, let alone who knows how many times this year.” A battered, dog eared copy of A Study in Scarlet she’d read during down times in the shop and wasn’t interested in making faces at him. He assumed it must have been an older edition in the fraying, sixties aged binding were anything to go by. The other stories cycled in and out of her routine, however A Study in Scarlet always found its way to be her constant companion.

A part of him desired to strike up a conversation about Sherlock Holmes with her, but lost the will and ability to speak whenever she came in less than ten feet of distance.

A flush brushed her freckled cheekbones, she tucked a loose strand of hair behind her ear. “You’re right . Conan Doyle is my favorite. I, uh, didn’t know you paid attention—you always seem so busy—”

“He’s not, it’s all a façade,” Luke interrupted as he set the radio down. The device popped and crackled a moment before faint radio chatter came through the speakers. “Ben’s mostly just sitting around, reading some Jane Austen —”

“I read more than Jane Austen,” Ben interjected quickly at the pikes of interest from Stubborn Face and Lilac Hair, suddenly embarrassed at how casually Luke threw about the phrase. Apparently, a Master’s degree on the subject meant little to his uncle. Using the attention as a segway, Ben sat up. “I’m Ben Solo,” he waved awkwardly, expecting everyone to answer back ‘Hi, Ben’ like an AA meeting. They didn’t. He huffed, unable to think of truths and lies, and wishing he had more than coffee to drink. “I uh, have my Master’s in 18th Century Literature and Romanticism, I like tea, and my favorite music is classical.”

The three others seemed stumped, Ben feeling ridiculously triumphant for duping them. A sliver of him hoped Rey would answer right, but knew she would not know the right answer. She opened her mouth a few times, before shaking her head resolute. Rey did not have an inkling. Meanwhile, Stubborn Face appeared completely disinterested, switching off between staring at Lilac Hair and his closed textbook.

Lilac Hair’s face pinched, “You do have a Master’s in 18 th Century Literature and Romanticism; your mother brags about it at city hall.” Ben became stunned for a moment, not knowing a regular was familiar with his mother in a work capacity. “You don’t like tea, but you do like classical music.”

“Correct,” Ben nodded once, “I loathe tea; it’s leaf water and that’s all I can say on that matter.”

“But you like classical music?” Rey asked, chin resting in her palm, fascinated…Fascinated by him of all people. “You seem like a punk rock guy to me—or at least melancholy, sadness type sounds.”

His nose scrunched, Ben stared her down, “Do you think I am a sad human being?”

“I think you have….such qualities and your being does not support otherwise,” Rey claimed acutely, ending the mild disagreement with a subtle twitch of the lips.

Oh.

She was teasing him.

Or maybe she was flirting with him.

He wasn’t quite sure, but he’d take both options.

“I see,” he stated. And then shut his mouth; he had something witty and charming on the tip of his tongue, but it somehow upped and disappeared when he noticed Rey slyly flutter her eyelashes at him.

Static came from the radio; Luke cursed quietly.

“Just use your phone, Uncle,” Ben implored, rubbing at his eyes. “It will save you time.”

Luke waved him off, “You always need a working radio in these situations, Ben.”

“It says the storm’s going to last a couple of hours,” Rey announced, swiping through her phone. A blue glow cast over her features, highlighting the shadows and marks of sleepless night under her eyes. She shut off the screen, looking back up at Luke. “You don’t need to fuss with that.”

Head snapped back and forth between the two, “What will you do when your phone has died and the power is out, hmm ?”

“We can turn on the generator.”

“Turn on the generator.”

Rey and Ben found themselves chorusing back, their words overlapping seconds apart. They shared a glance, Ben feeling his ears burn, and fought off a smile.

Luke harrumphed, tucking the radio back under his arm. “I liked it better when you two didn’t team up on me and stayed in your own corners.”

The older man sat down, shut off his radio, and served himself a cup of coffee. Another rumble of thunder thrashed overhead, Luke rolling his eyes, “Damn pacific northwest.”

“I’m Poe Dameron,” Stubborn Face decided to announce, plastering on a well-practiced grin. Charming if one were to glance; annoying and fake if within a five feet radius.

Which they all were.

Understandably so, Ben found himself not liking the man once he opened his mouth. A common occurrence for Ben once anyone opened their mouth and their personality decided to come fully shining through. A shitty personality, or an overbearing personality, or simply a personality he wasn’t quite fond of at the time. Like Poe’s.

The only person who did not fall into the criteria was the girl. Rey seemed to be the exception to this rule.

“I was in the Air Force, my mother is Guatemalan, and I am studying Philosophy.”

Okay…Ben had to hand it to him—Poe was damn good at his game, his poker face unbreakable or failing. But Ben was better .

“You’re not studying Philosophy,” Rey guessed confidently, beating Ben to the punch. “You’ve been studying the Byzantine Empire for the last couple of weeks—you’re studying History.”

“Technically, Political Thought, but sure I’ll take ‘history’,” Poe shrugged, completely missing Rey’s annoyed eye roll.

Ben stifled his snort into his fist. Rey’s eyes gleamed mischievously to him across the way. As though begging him to agree with her through her tell-all eyes. Slightly, Ben nodded, tilting his head to the side.

“I thought you guys would have gone for the Air Force one?” Poe eyed the surrounding group curiously.

Ben frowned, toeing Poe’s bag laying haphazardly on the floor, “You have a standard issue Air Force pack— not that hard .”

Before anymore remarks could be made, Lilac Hair cleared her throat, “I’m Amilyn Holdo, I—”

Thunder bombed above them repeatedly, the rain suddenly pouring down harder becoming a symphony of it own on the roof tops.

Beside him, Poe’s face crumpled, while Rey gazed up in wonder. Luke and Amilyn, on the other hand, who were lifelong residents, were not amused.

“Honestly, it’s not going to get—”

Luke’s next thought remained unfinished as the power surged out, the group cascaded in dim darkness.

“You just had to open your mouth, didn’t you Uncle ?”


 

What appeared to be an average, everyday storm became worse as the day proceeded. Occasional thunder continued to startle Poe, and Amilyn started to get some cabin fever. Without missing her beat and pattern, she began pacing the room and bookshelves. Not to mention, Luke became adamant about fixing his radio and only turning the generator on once it became an absolute emergency. A flash flood was apparently not Luke’s standards of an ‘emergency’.

As the only one with common sense in the blasted shop, Ben went to find the first aid kit and flashlights in the back room.

Well, he thought he’d been the only one with common sense.

“I think the flashlights might be in the desk drawer,” a gentle nudging voice chimed behind him.

“Shit,” Ben breathed, holding his chest. “You scared the crap out of me. I thought I was back here alone.”

Rey stared up at him apologetically, lips worried between her teeth. “I wanted to help,” she explained, “since everyone out there is kind of…”

“Losing it?” Ben supplied.

She nodded greatly, crossing then uncrossing her arms over her chest. “Yeah, and I don’t think I can listen to the static from Luke’s radio anymore,” she shook her shoulders, uncomfortable by the sound.

“Don’t blame you,” Ben said, using the light on his cell phone to illuminate their path, “Luke can be…very grumpy and Lukeish .”

The two shuffled around the room, pulling out different unlabeled boxes. None of them housed anything they actually needed; old catalogs, cords and wires, receipt tape.

“He wasn’t always that grumpy,” Ben admitted, “I think he changed when my da— Han passed away.”

“He did,” Rey spoke up clearly, “But I think we all did—at least I am assuming with you, since I didn’t—don’t really know you.”

She winced at her wording; Ben decided it best to save her from embarrassment.

“I can accept that,” Ben shrugged, pulling out another box from the top shelf. He set it down on the desk. “Hell, this is the first time I’ve ever really spoke to you so…” Reaching up, he scratched behind his neck. Was the room getting warmer? It felt like the room was getting warmer the longer she stared at him as though he were the greatest mystery to mankind.

He really wasn’t. Han would chuckle and say ‘ Ben’s just doesn’t know how to be personable. It’s nothing serious .’ Or maybe more along the lines of ‘ Don’t worry, that’s just his face, he is not going to plot world destruction’ .

Rey chuckled, lifting the lid off the box, “Why don’t you talk to me?” she questioned bluntly, holding the lid to her chest. “We’ve worked in the same little shop for about a year…and hardly ever a word.”

“I—” All air left his lungs as she continued to blink up at him in the dark room. His cell phone flashlight was dimming the longer he left it on, no doubt the battery dying. “I—uh, we talk. I know for a fact we talk.”

“‘Hello’ and ‘goodbye’ do not count,” she remarked immediately, as though anticipating his next move, “And making faces at me is not a conversation.”

“I like to think our nonverbal communication is some of the most riveting conversation I’ve ever had,” Ben informed her, a cheeky grin forming on his lips.

She gaped for a moment, before shaking her head. The three little buns lining her scalp bounced floppily, but added a certain charm that continued to fill the silhouette of the girl his thoughts often lingered on. “I can wholeheartedly say the same,” she pursed her lips, “However, I know you have a big, stuffy brain and an intelligent and crude sense of humor.” She snorted a bit, her nose scrunching adorably as she twisted about on the spot. Nervous energy waved out of her steadily, somehow calming his own turbulent anxiety around her. “But it would be a nice change of pace, if you’d speak to me…maybe even grab something to eat and—”

“Yes,” Ben breathed, “I would…I would like all that .”

“Oh,” she nodded, gravitating relief echoing in her eyes. “Uh, great…because I was really starting to wonder what the hell I’d have to do to get your attention.”

“You always have my attention,” he inwardly cringed, yet his mouth kept yapping, “It’s less lonely here whenever I see you.”

Her lips did their little twitch, before a bright, soft smile graced her lips.

It was sweet felicity; the dazzling quality of her smile, and knowing gleam in her hazel eyes.

Chapter Text

Sitting at the booth, Rey continued to play with her straw wrapper.

She ripped the paper into tiny shreds, then stuck the shredded pieces onto the outside of her glass of water. Condensation caused the little shreds to stick and dampen, a polka dot design made by her own hand.

Her date was fifteen minutes late.

Mr. KyloKnightsofRen89 was fifteen minutes late and Rey knew the damn app was too good to be true.

Sure, ForceBond worked for her foster brother, Finn, and his wife Rose. As well as Kaydel and Poe…and maybe Jessika from accounting and Snap in Human Resources.

But that didn’t mean the dating app would work for Rey.

Sources claimed the algorithm was flawless; the success rate seemed to prove just that. Happy marriages and long lasting relationships, couples claiming the app had a way of knowing what they needed and wanted in a partner.

She gagged at the thought.

Rey wasn’t one to hop on the bandwagon, but one too many sour dates and a dash of peer pressure caused her to sign up for an account.

An hour and half long quiz and a several short essay length answers, Rey was signed up and needed to wait for her ForceBond match. The website claimed she would receive one within the next twenty-four hours. She cackled and joked when there wasn’t an immediate match like Finn and Rose’s.

Her mirth faded drastically when she found herself a month later without a match.

“Maybe…I am matchless .” Rey shrugged picking at her dinner

Finn and Rose shared a look across the dinner table.

“Honey,” Rose began, setting down her fork, “Your person is out there—”

“Rose, I am fine . I didn’t even want to sign up for this blasted thing anyway—no offense,” Rey explained hastily before shoving a fork full of past into her mouth. Chewing slowly, Rey rose her eyebrows. “Maybe…maybe I am meant to be alone . There is nothing wrong with that you know. Plenty of notable historical figures did not have a lifelong partner.”

Neither Rose or Finn decided to comment on her fleeting, forced remarks.

Imagine Rey’s surprise when three years later--without any matches to her name since signing up--she gets a notification from ForceBond .

She had a fucking match . Whoop-de-freaking-do.

Like any other sound minded person who had a practically dormant dating app on their phone, she ignored said notification. She hadn’t been on a date in years and the prospect seemed too daunting. Meeting up with a guy she hardly knew felt like a horror movie waiting to happen.

And somehow, her sleep deprived brain decided to accept her match with KyloKnightofRen89.

They messaged back and forth briefly, mostly agreeing to meet face to face since the app did not provide the actual names or photos. Apparently for anonymity’s sake if things went south, and to add a sense of mystery and thrill .

Honestly, to Rey, it made the entire process creepier than it already appeared.

He said he’d be wearing a daisy pinned to his black jacket.

She told him she’d be wearing her brown hair up in three buns.

He said he wouldn’t be difficult to miss.

However, fifteen minutes slowly turned into twenty, and then thirty. No man with a daisy on his jacket in sight. Picking up the menu and undoing the buns on her head, Rey decided the most greasiest and mouth-watering appetizers were need to soothe the disappoint gnawing at her gut.

As she glanced through the menu, eyes lingering on the onion rings, Rey heard a throat cleared above her. Tired and feeling a bit moody, she ignored the sound.

Whoever was by her table shuffled a bit, before speaking up again.

“Rey…Rey Johnson?”

She looked up at the mention of her name, her eyes connecting with a familiar set of brown eyes.

Ben ?” she uttered, the name tasting foul in her mouth.

“I thought it was you,” Ben taunted, “I’d noticed that messy mop of hair anywhere.”

She scowled deeply at him, her eyebrow quirking as she observed him.

It been at least five years since Ben Solo graced her with his presence. The two unfortunately grew up together despite the age difference, Rey one of the three foster kids Ben’s uncle Luke cared for and housed. After hopping around to different foster homes as a toddler and young child, she’d been lucky enough to stay with Luke for the majority of her childhood until her high school graduation. However, this also came with the package of the Solo-Skywalker family.

Namely, the moody and petulant Ben Solo. Three years her senior and forever lumped together, Ben and Rey grew into a state of loathing towards each other.

He claimed she’d been the daughter his parents always wanted. Meanwhile Rey found him to be an ungrateful brat, Ben receiving everything she ever wanted in a family. Easy enemies who let their hatred be known to all who crossed their path.

Her eyes trailed his form, the man before her barely resembling the slight boy she knew of her youth. His long, define face and eyes remained the same, only an older echo of a younger Ben Solo. He finally grew into his body, standing before her confidently, yet he maintained his genuine, inherent hesitance he radiated since the day they met.

“I didn’t know you came back into town,” she grunted, immediately annoyed by his awkward shuffling—a habit he never outgrew.

“Recently moved back,” Ben shrugged, stuffing his hands in his jean pockets. He rocked a bit on his feet. “Thought ‘why not go back to the place I despise to find myself again?’”

His self-decrepitating quip did not go unnoticed by Rey, “Are you doing some ‘eat, pray, love’ shit?”

He rolled his eyes, “I am if you subtract the ‘pray’ and the ‘love’ and replace them with ‘writing’ and ‘therapy’.”

Rey hoped she didn’t look too stunned at the mention of ‘therapy’. It was no secret Ben had his issues—hell, she did too—but he mostly kept his problems close to his chest. Possibly hoping he’d die with all his emotions locked up in a box.

Clearly that did not happen.

“So your day job is now ‘emotional eater’?”

“Something like that,” he huffed, discreetly pulling on his ear. His eyes roved the empty booth. “Are you eating here by yourself?”

Feeling salt on a wound, Rey sat up straighter.

“A woman can go to a semi-nice restaurant alone if she wants to,” she declared shrewdly, awaiting the next callous remark from Ben.

Instead, he nodded in agreement. “Don’t get yourself in a fuss; I’m here alone too.” He waved to the empty air beside him, as though to prove that he was indeed alone. Squinting at her, he chewed on his bottom lip, his frame almost shrinking before her. “I, uh, just wanted to say ‘hi’, I’ll leave you to your dinner.”

Nodding once, Ben began to leave.

“Wait,” Rey found herself calling out half a second later. Every fiber of her being told her to let Ben go, her mind conjuring up harsh memories of being shoved into mud and being locked out of the house, yet something in her desperate gut decided to reach out to him. “I—I can use some company, and since you’re alone too…” Trailing off, she waved to the empty side of the booth.

“You…you want me to join you?” Ben asked, taking a couple of steps forward. A confused, however nudging, smug grin grew on his lips. “Rey Johnson actually wants me to join her for a meal?”

Scoffing Rey, gave Ben the side eye. “It is a Friday, we are both pathetically alone and I think the wait staff would love us if we shared a table and free up another.” She focused back on her menu, turning to a page she already read at least five times since sitting down, “It is simple logistics, Ben. Nothing more.”

Without bothering with a rebuttal, Ben slid into the seat opposite her. Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed him take up the other menu and pursue with mild interest.

She could feel his gaze flicker to her, every few seconds.

Huffing, Rey dropped her menu back down, the laminated pages slapping against the table.

“What is it? Do I have something on my face?” Her arms splayed out on the counter, open for any verbal shot Ben would be enticed to take.

His lips quirked slightly, as though considering indulging her. He shook his head, a few dark locks untacking at the motion. “Nothing—its-its just weird seeing you. You know, after all this time.”

“Why?” Rey asked, picking up her sopping wads from her straw. She rolled all the pieces together into one solid ball. “I am the same person. Not much has changed in Reysville.”

Ben stared at her for a moment, doing his silent calculations. “No, you’re different. You’ve changed.” His gaze dropped back down to the menu, “I think I’m ready to order.”

She gaped at him, “You can’t just say someone has changed and then announce you are ready to order.”

“Yes, I can because I am making conversation,” Ben blinked down at her from across the table, “Like an adult. Unlike someone I know.”

Oh no, he was already pulling the ‘I’m older, and I know more than you’ card.

“Oh I highly doubt you know me,” she chuckled mirthlessly, “We haven’t seen each other in five years, that does not constitute as adequate time to get to know me,” she sipped her water, “Not to mention you were a hellish person to me, a practical bully —”

“Lets not be hasty now and start throwing the ‘ b’ word around here,” Ben commented dryly, waving a hand to the waiter.

She leaned back against the back of the booth, intaking his calm and collected demeanor like a hawk, “I’m not being hasty when I am speaking the truth—”

“What if I’ve changed, hmm?” Ben implored suddenly, his awkwardness from moments ago vanishing as a challenge between them arose. “What do you say to that then?”

She met his line of sight squarely, “I’d say you’d have to prove yourself.”

“Fine,” Ben nodded once, bracing his arms on the edge of the table as he leaned forward. His gaze immediately drew Rey in, she subconsciously falling into his lure. “Let see who is right—if I can prove to you I have changed over the course of this meal, you will foot the bill. And if you can prove to me I have ‘not changed,’” he rolled his eyes, hands using air quotes, “Then I will pay for dinner.”

Never one to turn down potential free food, Rey held her hand out. Ben reached over and they shook. “Deal.”

 


 

“So did you ever go to school for engineering?” Ben started once their food had been ordered. He didn’t allow for awkward silence to settle, but jumped right into the conversation. “Because I know you liked robotics and math. Those were kind of your things growing up.”

Rey felt a traitorous, bashful grin emerge. That’s a question she received often when catching up with her classmates from high school— did you become the scientist you were determined to be ? Usually there was a sense of smugness from the question, all naysayers attempting to bring the bright-eyed orphaned girl down.

However with Ben, his genuine interest shone through.

“No.” Ben’s eyebrows rose at her answer, “I did not pursue engineering. Well, I did for a semester and kind of hated my major—lots of math and not the fun kind.”

“I never knew math could be fun,” he quipped dangerously, though she decided to let the potential insult sly.

“I ended up switching to History, and then fell in love with Jedi culture and mythology—”

A bark of laughter escaped Ben, he leaning forward towards him in anticipation and disbelief, “You became a history nut ?”

A dark rosy color dusted her cheeks, Rey tucking her hair behind her ear and sitting up taller the longer Ben’s eyes excavated her. “I wouldn’t call myself a nut …”

“I’m sorry, I’m just trying to w rap my brain around how you would always make fun of me for liking history, and going to all those events—”

“I still believe historical reenactments are the most nerdiest thing ever,” she interjected quickly, Ben ambling on despite her words. “No one wants to pretend they were shot during the revolutionary war. The diseases of that time,” she shook her head in disgust.

“Yet somehow,” Ben continued, “you found yourself liking the very thing you despised.”

She wiped the condensation off her glass, not bothering to make eye contact with him. “I wouldn’t say I despised history , I more so found it annoying because you loved the topic to the point I had no other option but to hate it.”

Ben shook his head, “You must have always liked history to some degree—”

“Well, it’s difficult to like something when you are the biggest know-it-all on this planet,” Rey stressed. Leaning back, she squinted at him. “For someone who wanted to prove he has changed, you are doing a rather awful job.”

“It’s not my fault you make it nearly impossible to have a decent conversation where I am not the villain,” Ben shot back, his lips pinching together. “Can’t we try to be civil here? We are both grown-ass adults.”

Rey visibly winced, tilting her head in mocking thought, “Are we really ?”

“Do I need to see your ID? I thought you were at least in your twenties,” he smirked.

“Oh, with that baby-face I would have carded you as well,” she sneered brittlely.

“That was your best comeback? Johnson, you are out of practice.”

On that note, the waiter came back with their appetizer of mozzarella sticks, along with two smaller plates. Both Rey and Ben were all smiles and politeness as the waiter served and asked if they needed anything. However the moment he was gone, Rey’s scowl returned as well as Ben’s slight grimace.

“Okay do you want to start over? We can start over,” she agreed somewhat easily, as she chopped down on her mozzarella stick. Ben wanted to try she’d try , but that did not mean she was going to go easy on him. He was an ungrateful brat growing up, and somewhat of a bully. Those scars should have faded, yet somehow the wounds opened and festered again. “I’m Rey Johnson—I’m twenty-seven years old, I am a museum archivist at the Ahch-To Museum, for the Jedah Exhibit. My favorite color is green, and the love of my life are these mozzarella sticks.”

Tilting his head back slightly, Ben chewed on his bottom lip, considering his options.

“I’m Ben Solo—I’m thirty years old, I recently moved back and now work as a Dramaturgy because who knew theatre needed historians to be their fact checkers,” he chuckled under his breath—a nervous habit he never outgrew. “My favorite color is dark blue, and…” He gazed off, eyes momentarily becoming unfocused, overwhelmed by his own thoughts. He then smirked, however the smug-boyish charm never reached his ancient, soul baring eyes. “…and I met the love of my life and ultimately ruined it because well,” he shrugged helplessly, “I’m me.”

“That’s fucking depressing,” Rey uttered bluntly, eyes wide.

Ben snorted. His lips quirked into a half smile.

“Well I can be a depressing guy.”

“No,” Rey waved him off, “not that you moron. I choose food as the ‘love of my life’ and you had an actually thoughtful response.” She threw down her half eaten mozzarella stick back into the basket. “I’m the dickhead now.”

Squinting at her, bemused, Ben picked up a mozzarella stick. He dipped the finger food into the marinara sauce greedily. “I wouldn’t go as far and say you are a dickhead . An insensitive soul? Absolutely.”

He ate his food happily while Rey simmered down, reminding herself she was being subjected the clever ‘Solo teasing’. Not a genuine insult; as a child she wasn’t ever able to know the difference between the two. Maybe because Ben possessed malice in every word when he was younger. Now he appeared lighter, yet heavy . He looked exhausted , yet healthy.

In fact, he seemed stable —average.

Maybe Ben just needed to grow into himself; or better yet, learn who the fuck he was instead of what his parents or mentors wanted him to be.

“Okay, I lied,” Rey admitted, Ben quirking an eyebrow, “I did know you were back in town. Word travels fast in our family. Leia sent it in the family group chat.”

“We have a group chat?” Ben balked. “Why the hell wasn’t I invited in on that?”

“Because…because you haven’t really been part of the family in forever. I don’t even consider you family,” Rey commented bitingly. She picked back up her half eaten mozzarella stick.

“We really are bad at starting new,” Ben grumbled, picking up his water. He took a sip, “Too much baggage to even last ten minutes.”

“No, we are just too snarky for our own good to ever take it seriously,” Rey amended his statement.

“If it’s any consolation, I never viewed you as family either,” Ben informed her monotonously, picking at the breading on the cheese.

Oddly enough, she did not feel a pang of hurt at his words. Quite the opposite; a flare of warmth under her ribcage.

“Good, it be weird if you did,” she snipped back. She pursed her lips, deciding to just ask him before they went back to their talking roundabout ways. “I need to ask; did you really leave your old job because of Han? Or did you really have a change of heart with everything going on?”

“If by change of heart, you mean a wake up call to how miserable my job was then, yes,” he braced his arms on the edge of the table, “I didn’t know about my dad’s heart problems until I came back.”

“Oh,” Rey mumbled, dropping her gaze back down to the nearly empty basket of food. Their entrees should be there any minute. Hopefully soon, because Rey preferred to stuff her face with food than have a heart to heart with Ben.

It usually ended up with one of them crying.

She wiped away the droplets of water from her drink. “I would have thought…”

“Nope,” Ben sighed, leaning back. His hands folded and clasped together in a senseless pattern. “My supervisor was… questionable . I knew I needed to leave when he attempted to bring fake, counterfeit artifacts into the museum.”

“No shit,” she breathed, unable to fully comprehend what happened at the First Order’s National Museum in Crait. One day it was flourishing as one of spearheading programs in non-profit, then it was under investigation and Ben had apparently returned home. News outlets claimed an anonymous tip provided substantial evidence.

Anyone who knew Ben in some capacity found it easy to put two and two together.

Integrity mattered more than praise and power in his eyes. One of his redeeming qualities if Rey were to grant him any. She respected him and his actions on the matter, thought would never say so to his face. Ben would deny the entire accusation.

He didn’t like to be seen as a hero.

Even when they were younger, he refused acknowledgement. When she’d been sick with strep throat in middle school, he went out of his way to get all her notes and homework while she was stuck in bed. He even stayed to tutor and help her study (both grumbling and arguing the entire time) so she wouldn’t be behind when she returned to her classes. Or when she sprained her ankle at Homecoming, he’d been the one to drive her to urgent care, and stay with her during the examination. Ditching his own date to help her.

She’d be lying to herself if she claimed Ben was always awful to her. He did have his good moments.

“Now I have to ask,” Rey lifted her gaze back to Ben, him watching her with fond curiosity, “why were you really here tonight?”

“I was getting dinner.”

“By yourself ?” Ben implored, a knowing gleam in his eye.

She groaned, head falling to the side as she stared him down. “Why do you say it like that?”

“Because you hate being alone,” he answered without missing a beat.

Sitting up straight, Rey leaned forward, ready on the defense, “I perfectly fine being alo—”

“I didn’t say that,” he interrupted, waving a hand to stop her, “I know you are fine being alone. Hell, I am fine being alone, but that doesn’t mean that deep down we don’t hate it. We loathe it deeply and unadulteratedly so.”

“When did you become a psychologist?” Rey remarked dryly, her fingers drumming against the table.

“Oh, I only have it in ‘Rey Theory’,” Ben responded smugly, crossing his arms over his chest.

She rolled her eyes, fighting down the flushing creeping her neck. “That’s an awful line. If you were going to try and flirt with me, you could have tried a better pick-up line.”

A bold statement, but she got a thrill from his incomprehensible sputtering.

“Ugh-uh,” he ran a hand through his hair, tasseling his hair out of place. Rey’s hand suddenly itched to arrange his dark locks back into place, to fulfill some silly girlish fantasy of lazily braiding his soft hair. “Just answer the damn question.”

His grumble brought her back to reality, dark eyes sharp on her.

“I…” Going against all self-preservation, Rey answered honestly, “I was on a ForceBond date.”

She expected loud laughter, or a jabbing joke about her pathetic-ness.

Instead, Ben blinked back, silent. His lack of response, yet fully understanding, comforting eyes, urged her on.

“Finn and Rose, they kind of convinced me to sign up ages ago and nothing happened. I was fine, I was completely fine being matchless despite the absurdity of the app’s accuracy. And then,” a shaky laugh escaped her, “ and then , I got a match and I actually found myself look forward to the date because he sounded charming and witty in the messages and watched all of Downton Abbey —I mean what the fuck? Where the hell had this man been all my life?” She felt her eyes tighten and prickle. Her gaze wandered everywhere except for Ben. She fought against the feeling to bring her focus back to him…because in his own way he’d understand and it’ll feel weird like it always did…because it felt right . “And it really was too good to be true because he never showed up.”

More concerned to not break into a pitiful sob, Rey’s eyes unwillingly connected with Ben.

He looked in absolute physical pain at the sight of her. His ridiculously transparent eyes spoke volumes—pain, pity, confusion to name a few. His Adam’s apple bobbed and plush lips parted as he struggled to find words.

For once, the man with chronic foot-in-mouth disease was at a loss.

God, she wanted to go into hiding and never come back out into broad daylight.

“Rey—”

In that moment, the waiter came with their food.

Polite smiles were donned by the two, nodding and shaking their heads when asked if they needed anything else. Once they were left alone once more, Rey shoved French fries into her mouth by the handful.

“This was stupid,” she muttered between bites of food. She swallowed, eyes fixating on Ben. He hardly touched his food, the sides pushed around a bit, but his swiss and mushroom burger left alone. “I never should have accepted the date. Fuck, I should have just deleted my account when I didn’t get a match the first—”

“I was here for a date too,” Ben interjected before Rey could continue on her insistent rant.

Wha ?” She practically gagged on her mouth full of food. Quickly she swallowed, sloppily dropping her BLT down on it’s plate. “What happened?”

“Uh,” he scratched behind his ear, hesitantly lifting his eyes to hers. “I panicked. I haven’t been on a date since college, and all of those were atrocious.” He released an empty chuckle, eyes widening, as though he were reliving the memory. “I saw her …” his jaw twitched subtly, regaining his composure, “I saw her and my heart stopped because—because she was nothing , a slip of a girl yet in that moment I knew she was everything to me and I panicked.” His face hardened, fists clenching against the table top. “I left and came back about twenty minutes later and—”

“And she was gone?” Rey finished, knowing she would have done the same thing if she did not want to wallow in fried food.

Ben didn’t answer, instead he picked up his water taking a sip.

“I’m…an asshole, Rey.”

“That makes two of us.”

 


 

“Okay, favorite Beatles song?” Ben asked digging his spoon into his ice cream, catching one of the blue gummy bears Rey insisted he put as a topping.

The winter winds picked up, brushing against them as they strolled through town, yet neither minded. After all, they were the fools eating ice cream outside in the middle of winter.

After sitting in silence for half of dinner, the two somehow struck up a conversation about the awkward couple sitting a couple of booths over. They people watched together, trading commentary and elaborate backstory as they finished their meal. The unsettling tension between the two eased the longer they spoke, little pieces of information of their lives while apart surfacing.

With some goading, Rey convinced Ben to go get ice cream with her because what was wallowing in self-pity without ice cream?

He didn’t even bother to argue her on that declaration.

Rey hummed for a moment, before shrugging, “Don’t have one.”

Ben stopped walking, his eyes bugging large as he stared down at her. “What do you mean you ‘don’t have one’?”

She giggled into a snort at his melodramatic exclamation, “I don’t like The Beatles. I’m more of a Beach Boys person.”

“I only respect Animal Sounds—”

“Okay let’s not bash 60s music; it is a era that deserves to be untouched.” She shook her head, scooping more cookie dough ice cream into her mouth. A happy moan escaped her, “Ice cream makes everything better; seriously, I am brilliant for planning this.”

Ben stared thinkingly at his cup of ice cream, before his eyes alighting. “Okay then…what is your favorite song of all time?”

“Now I can’t answer that—there are too many!” Rey cried out jovially.

“Just try,” he encouraged as they rounded the corner back to where their cars were parked.

“Hmm,” she stirred her last melted bits of ice cream into a mush, tongue sticking out to the side as she considered the broad question. “I guess With or Without You by U2.”

“Strong choice,” Ben commended. “You really liked U2 growing up,” he mused quietly, “I remembered you’d lock yourself in your room sometimes and just play their music on repeat—”

“You remembered that?” Rey said, surprised at the simple memory.

“Sure,” he kicked a stray rock as they came closer to her car, “I remembered a lot of things—” His eyes pinched closed, before blinking softly down at her. “Even though I was a jerk, I think it was my way of trying to be friends with you.”

“You did a shit job, not that I was any better,” Rey muttered in agreement, “All those names I called you—god, I was awful too.”

Ben winced, knowing exactly all the little names she called him—Dumbo, Sasquatch, Monster of Darkness, Douchebag—the list went on, usually whatever she could conjure up at the moment.

“My mom would joke about our insane little rivalry, obviously when you weren’t around because you would have thrown a fit,” Ben chuckled a bit at how flustered and red a teenage Rey became when she was teased. Growing up, she did not know how to take a joke—at all. For a bright, witty girl, she lacked a strong sense of humor. Mostly unable to sense when others were merely ribbing her, and taking taunts in all seriousness. “She used to joke we were worse than her and Han—which I thought was ridiculous because did you ever see those two? Night and day.”

“I think they are sweet,” Rey shared, leaning against the trunk of her car.

“Sweet?” Ben balked, stabbing his spoon into the cup defeatedly. “I love them and everything, but their relationship isn’t— wasn’t the sweetest. Lots of yelling behind closed doors, and arguing about how to parent me—it was a shitstorm half the time,” he admitted.

Her eyebrows pinched together, a strange mix of confusion and understanding clouding over her eyes. “I think…yes, they aren’t perfect—no one is perfect—but at least at the end of the day you knew they loved each other,” she defended, “And I know they weren’t great with you, no matter how much I said you were a spoiled brat.”

Her gaze dropped to her shoes, her left leg crossing over her right as she shifted.

Ben huffed, little puffs of air visible in the cold night, “I can give them that.” Chewing on his bottom lip, Ben summoned up the courage to lean against the car beside her, their thighs lightly brushing in their close proximity.

The closest he’d ever truly been beside her in years. A quiet moment lapsed between the two, both surveying the nearly empty parking lot. A car or two lingered in the area, Ben’s located on the other side of the lot. He probably should have ended their little… reunion ages ago, but even with his transportation in sight, he could not bare to leave her.

“I…I also apologize for calling you a mute for like two years,” Ben found himself saying.

Rey snorted, clapping a hand over her mouth.

“I knew you could talk, I even heard you talk to everyone else, I—I was just upset you never talked to me or around me. It might honestly be the reason I was so terrible to you, as petty as that sounds,” Ben admitted embarrassingly, ducking his head down and allowing his hair to become a curtain between he and Rey.

“Wow,” she breathed. Her eyes bored into the side of his head, Ben knowing she was staring sharply at him. “Since we are apparently have Honesty Hour…” She cleared her throat, causing Ben to peak over at her. Smatters of red bloomed on her cheekbones. Her hands fidgeting together, digging into her cuticles. She gulped, “I was kind of scared of you—not, not in the ‘oh my god, he is creepy,’ but more in the…’I really want this person to like me because they seem cool’ kind of way.”

Ben squinted at her, “You thought I was cool ? You do realize we met when I was like twelve and I was the poster child of early 2000s nerd, right?”

She gave him a shy closed mouth smile, tucking her hair behind her ear. “Well I was like eight, and anyone who read at twelfth grade level was cool in my book.”

Scooting up to sit better on the back of car, Rey kicked her dangling legs back and forth. She lightly kicked Ben with the toe of her heeled boot, catching his attention.

“I’m sorry for shoving you out of the treehouse and saying boys were not allowed when Finn was very obviously sitting there,” she chuckled a bit, “It was technically your treehouse and I was being a little shithead, and I know you dislocated your shoulder even though you said you didn’t.”

He did dislocate his shoulder and went to urgent care with his father. Every time Han asked what happened, Ben claimed he tripped on the stairs, not wanting Rey to get into major trouble. He at least tried to have a conscious at thirteen.

Ben felt a grin blooming, nudging Rey’s leg back playfully. “I will forgive you, if you forgive me for throwing you into the lake that one summer—”

“My god, those are not the same level, Ben!” Rey argued, swatting his shoulder. A chortle fighting its way through her as she attempted to remain serious. “I could have died!”

“No, you wouldn’t have,” he shook his head, “The lake was only seven feet de—”

“Oh, only seven feet deep, that is enough to drown when thrown into a lake—fully clothed need I remind you—without warning,” she said shoving his shoulder once more for good measure.

Turning to face her, he met her annoyed gaze with genuine eyes, “You were fine, I pulled you out the moment you started freaking out.”

She rolled her eyes, “I guess…I forgive you. Still think you were stupid—”

“Rightly so.”

“But I forgive you,” she sobered up, staring at him openly “I forgave you moments later, after every little thing you did to me.”

“Why?”

“I don’t know,” she answered honestly.

Ben looked away, staring straight ahead, “I forgave you, too. Maybe not immediately, but I never hated you for all the things—”

“You never hated me?” she interrupted, scooting off the back of the car. She stood tall, facing him fully.

“No, no. I was just—” he licked his lips, staring down at her, “a kid. A moron who didn’t know how to talk to you—hell, I still don’t know how to talk to you.”

“You are doing just fine right now.”

“But I wasn’t earlier, nor have I ever.”

Rey scoffed, “Cut the self-pity, it’s not an attractive quality.”

“Oh,” he smirked a bit, hoping to steer the conversation away from himself, “you find me attractive?”

“I never said that,” Rey stated sternly.

Eyes narrowing on her, Ben stepped back, putting some space between them, “You don’t have to; your face says it all.”

Her jaw twitched, arms crossing over her chest, “Okay, I take it back. I like the self-pity Ben rather than overly-confident Ben.”

“So you like a Ben?”

“Stop twisting my words,” Rey grumbled.

“Stop twisting my emotions,” Ben shot back.

The two found themselves toe to toe.

“It was never my intention to twist your emotions,” Rey glanced at him through her lashes, breathing deeply. He could not help but let his gaze flicker to her lips, before focusing back on her bright eyes. “If anything, I should be upset with you for twisting mine.”

Ben’s face scrunched together, suddenly completely lost. “What?” He thought they were just doing some heated banter…not whatever this was.

In an instant, Rey stepped out of their little world. Ben missed her warmth and presence immediately.

“I know you’re KyloKnightsofRen89,” she declared, her once open eyes becoming dark and guarded, locking him out of their newly found bond. “I figured it out when we were at the ice cream shop.”

Biting down on the inside of his cheek, Ben withheld the outburst of frustration and anger begging to be released. “How?”

“First of all,” she rose her eyebrows, “You are not as discreet as you think you are—we discussed going out for ice cream after dinner when we were planning our date and you ended up getting the exact same ice cream you claimed as your favorite,” her eyes then drifted lower, to his side, “Not to mention, the daisy you said you’d be wearing has been peeking out of your coat pocket all night.”

The heat of embarrassment crawled across every inch of Ben’s skin, Rey’s calculating eyes connecting with his no matter how many times he tore his gaze away.

He was planning on telling her.

Honestly, Ben had every intention of telling Rey he was KyloKnightsofRen89. In some strange twist of events, Ben and Rey were matched by ForceBond and he was terrified. Bone chilling terrified because everyone, all their lives, were right. He and his annoying foster “cousin”—what could he even call her—were perfect for each other. An advanced algorithm proved it so.

Ben believed this was cruel karma if anything.

Yet, when he realized it was her —three buns and all—his heart stuttered.

And he was screwed.

“Well,” Ben breathed, “if you knew the entire fucking night, why didn’t you say anything?”

And he was screwing himself over again. Words never seemed to be on his side.

“Because I didn’t know for sure until the ice cream shop and,” she closed her eyes momentarily, composing herself poorly. Her eyes then opened wide, hands clenching at her sides, “were you seriously not going to say anything tonight?”

Ben remained silent.

A stuttered laughter of disbelief escaped Rey. Ben noticed her eyes beginning to glisten from unshed tears.

“I fucking…” she sighed loudly, shaking her head, “I’m the fucking idiot thinking you have changed, or were nice. You really are an arsehole, Ben.”

“It wasn’t as though I didn’t warn you—I told you right off the bat I am an asshole,” Ben spoke lowly, not wanting his voice to carry too far in the parking lot. “Hell, I told you how I felt when I saw you earlier, so I am not the only asshole here!”

A strong gust of wind billowed through, Rey hunching in on herself to stay warm. However the malice of her tongue did not cease. “Don’t boast that like it is something to be proud of; you deceived me—”

“I might not have told you I’m KyloKnightsofRen89, but I was honest about everything else,” Ben interjected before she could spiral into another one of her rants. “I never lied to you, Rey. Not once in my goddamn life have I ever lied to you.”

A tear streaked down her cheek; she made no move to wipe it away. Instead, she stood frightfully still, as though afraid to speak up for his sake rather than her own.

“You want to know why I didn’t say anything because I was afraid the moment you saw me you’d leave—”

She growled, “I wouldn’t do that—”

“You would because I can tell you thought about it when you saw me without knowing I was supposed to be your date tonight,” Ben spoke hurriedly, his heart rate picking up. He didn’t want her to leave, to not let him explain, or worse, damage the already fragile relationship they possessed.

“You,” she blinked furiously for a moment, sucking in a deep breath, “You don’t leave a girl alone, letting her think she was stood up.”

“But I didn’t leave you alone, Rey,” Ben stressed, stepping closer to her as though she were a beast about to lash out, “Because I came back— late —but I came back.”

Soft sniffles escaped her, Ben unable to look away from her crumpling face. Panic began to strike a rhythm in his veins, begging at him to fix this; to fix the pain he was causing, however unintentionally.

“I know—I know you don’t like to be alone, because I don’t either. It would have broken my heart if I let you be truly alone tonight because you don’t deserve it, so I stayed, but I stayed on my terms because I was scared Rey. You terrify me—you’ve always terrified me—”

Her eyes hardened, “My god, you really don’t—”

“But you terrify me in the best way,” he barreled on, afraid he’d never get the words out if he did not force himself to do so at that very moment, “You make me want to try and want be better and no one has ever done that. No one, except you.”

She hastily wiped away at her nose and eyes, her face becoming blotchy from the tears and the nippy air. His own face was wet with frustrated tears, Ben feeling his grip on the situation faltering the longer Rey watched him in her silence.

He felt his inner balance teetering in her wake.

Squeezing her eyes shut, she forced a smile.

“Why did it have to be you? Out of anyone, why you?”

Ben did not know how to respond.

Mostly because he had the very same thought as well.

Seeing Rey shiver once more, Ben shrugged off his coat. Gently, he draped the garment over her slender shoulders. His heart tugged at the sight of her with his coat, feeling flashes of what could have been in his bones.

Involuntarily, she burrowed into his coats warmth.

“You’re not an arsehole,” Rey mumbled. “You’re an idiot, but not an arsehole.”

“Uh, thank you,” Ben croaked, no longer trusting his voice.

“And KyloKnightsofRen89 seemed like a cool guy… the early 2000s nerdy cool, but cool nonetheless,” she said in an attempt of casualness, yet the airy tone creeping into her voice told him otherwise.

She was terrified too, but maybe the good kind. He hoped it was the good kind.

“I also really liked, ScavengerSunshine91, she was weird…but in a cool, kind of funny way,” Ben’s shrug morphed into a shiver. The night was growing colder, some of the grass nearby frosting at the tips of their stands.

A flash of horror washed over Rey, she crossing to him speedily, “It’s freezing! Take your coat back,” she shook the heavy piece of clothing off. She began to hand it back to Ben—

In a steak of confidence, Ben’s hand latched on to hers. Swiftly, he pulled her flush against him, his coat dropping to the ground forgotten. With little prompting, their lips met halfway, pressing together in a much overdue embrace. Ben felt lighter at the contact, all the blood rushing to his head.

Her lips were cold, but the growing friction of his caressing hers warmed them from the inside out. A soft sigh escaped her as their mouths found a dormant rhythm, waiting patiently to be explored.

This…this moment was far better than Ben could ever imagine, the fear gnawing away his chest easing into nonexistence the longer she accepted him. While teenagers, his mind did occasionally drift to fantasies of Rey; kissing her slowly in the rain or hands roaming and holding in passion, or whatever else his mind seemed to latch on to with all those rom-coms he begrudgingly watched with his mother. Though he never tried to entertain the thought long, as Rey would never like him or think of him in such a way. Feeling her hurried, needy breaths in tandem with his began to banished such ill notions.

He expected her to shove him away in moments, immediately regretting their decision, however Ben was delightfully surprised as she reached towards his waist, hands fisting the fabric of his sweater to fuse themselves closer.

Gently, his hands cradled her face. The pads of his fingers brushed briefly under her jaw, Rey shivering into his touch. Breaking away, his mouth following in her lead, she gulped. Ben felt the spurts of air against his collarbone. Licking his lips, he rested his forehead against hers.

Her bright hazel eyes blinked open, terrified, but welcomed him willing. He had no doubt in his mind his own expression mirrored hers.

“I, um—”

“Don’t talk because you might ruin the moment,” Rey interjected, her initial demure smile blossoming into coyness he’d never had the privilege to witness until now.

“Right,” he chuckled under his breath.

Her nibble fingers twiddled with the fabric of his sweater, neither removing themselves from their embrace.

“So…aren’t you going to take me home?” Rey mumbled, gazing back up at him.

Ben’s eyes widened at the prospect, “You want me to take you home?”

Rey groaned in annoyance, shaking her head slightly. “What the hell do you think that kiss was? A friendly truce peck?”

“No, no, no—I understood the kiss,” Ben defended, his hands sliding down the hold her around the waist. He dwarfed her, but no longer in an imposing way…almost comforting. “I know what kisses mean.”

“Clearly you don’t because we are still standing in a parking lot, freezing our ass off—”

Leaning forward, Ben cut her off with a brief, firm kiss.

Pulling back, he smirked down at her. Her pupils were blown wide, a girlish flush speckling her cheekbones. “I know what kisses means,” he assured her.

Grabbing his free hand, she intertwined her fingers with his. “Then let’s get out here because I think we need to make up for some lost time.”

Oddly enough, with Rey grinning cleverly up at him, and her hand clasped in his own, Ben felt at home for the first time since his returned.

She gently tugged his arm, a competitive gleam in her eye, “Last one to the car pays for the next dinner!” She dropped his hand, already jogging off toward his car on the other side of the parking lot.

Ben stood dumbly, before a bubble of laughter escaped him, “What about your car?”

“I’ll pick it up tomorrow!” She called back, coming to a stopping only a couple of feet away. “Now come on, a race is no fun alone!”

Snatching up his coat, Ben chased after her.

Shrieks of giggles and rumbling laughter filled the cold night air, all forgiven but not forgotten—and they wouldn’t have it any other way.

Chapter Text

There were three unspoken rules when it came to living in the non-magic, ehm, mortal world.

  1.      Make sure your familiar does not run off with other animals. They need to be your companion, not some mutt or strays fling.
  2.      Keep in contact with the magical world in some way, on a weekly basis if possible—even if it is through a cheesy crystal ball your mother bought you as a hundred year birthday present because those were the cool forms of communication at the time.
  3.      Never let an outsider see you perform magic.

Simple, easy, basic rules.

Simple, easy, basic rules Ben had been able to follow for the last two hundred years.

Until she moved in next door.

An average woman with a smile like the sun and sharp wit to match his own, Ben found himself falling broom over handle for the girl who lived next door. A first for him in all his centuries of living in the non-magical world.

He’d never been particular fond of humans in general—they fussed over their electronics and cried about traffic. He mainly lived in the non-magic world because of his parents.

Specifically, he lived in the mortal world to get away from his family’s legacy, amongst other matters.

No one in the mortal world knew him as the son of the great Magical Magistrate Leia Organa and the daredevil wizard Han Solo. Or the nephew of the prolific magical professor and war hero, Luke Skywalker.

Nope. He was just Ben, with his black cat Kyla, who lived in the old apartment complex in downtown Takodana. He worked at the local library and had a knack for helping lingering students with their history assignments because he was a history enthusiast.

At least that’s what he told those curious glances, instead of how he in fact lived during that time.

Nevertheless, Ben was content with his life because it was far better than anything back at home. However, his little neighbor was making him reconsider living in this realm altogether. At least back at home, he’d never be tempted by the likes of a non-magical being. Not to mention he did not enjoy her presence in the beginning.

First of all, she was loud .

.

.

.

Ben had been feeding Kyla her favorite tuna while completing a new sleeping draught. He’d been struggling with sleeping the last few days, something in the air causing a disturbance in his system. The natural solution was making the sleep draught his uncle swore would knock him out into a restful slumber.

When a sudden bang echoed from next door, Ben accidently dropped a dab of tuna on top of his familiar’s head. The cat scowled up at him, though both had the same question streaming through their conscious.

What the hell was that?

Nodding once to Kyla, Ben stood up from his crouched position. He held his hand out to summon his wand from the kitchen counter, the cedar phoenix core wand traveling to his open palm immediately. Tentatively, Ben tucked his arm behind him as he strolled out of the apartment and into the hall.

A few more series of reckless bangs and booms emitted from behind his neighbor’s door.

There…there wouldn’t be another wizard or witch in the area…right?

Ben had a contact book of all the local magical beings; only Maz, a seer, lived within a thirty mile radius. Witches and wizards weren’t fond of living amongst humans, mostly due to being forced to hide their magic. Understandable, but stupid in Ben’s not-so-humble opinion. Humans were morons, but carried more compassion than any other living creature in the galaxy and realms.

Kyla nudged his ankle, smudging a bit of tuna on the cuff of his denim trousers.

Right . He needed to see what was causing such a commotion.

As he lifted his free hand to knock, said door was swung open.

A young woman, no older than twenty, blinked bright hazel eyes back at him. A smudge of what he presumed to be oil grease —why the hell would she even have oil grease in her apartment, everything was electrical in these refurbished buildings—on her cheek.

“Hello, how may I help you?” she asked, stepping further out, closing her door to a small crack behind her.

Ben rose an eyebrow at the odd behavior, but did not comment.

“Uh,” he blanked for a moment, stunned at how…how…he wasn’t too sure what it was, but something about the girl immediately enamored him. Kyla gnawed on his left ankle— right ; they were here for a reason. “I—is everything alright, I keep hearing loud ban—”

“Everything is perfectly fine, just moving some furniture around,” the girl answered before he finished his question. Opening his mouth to contradict her speedy defense, she beat him to the punch, sticking out a hand. “I’m Rey by the way, your new neighbor.”

He stared at her hand for a moment. Realizing he was the one looking odd now, Ben took her offered hand and shook it once firmly. Astonishingly, she did not shy away from his strength, almost matching him back.

There was strangely familiar comfort in her touch.

“Eh, Ben,” he said still holding her hand. Hurriedly he let go, not wanting to keep her wrapped in his grasp for too long.

Usually handshakes were brief, not some childish handholding.

His little awkwardness did not seem to bother Rey, her grin evident as ever.

“I live next door,” he waved to closed door a few feet away from hers, “But you knew that.”

Mirthful chuckles bubbled from her, Rey nodding once in agreement. Her eyes then caught sight of his familiar.

“Is that your kitten? She’s adorable!” Rey cooed, crouching down to Kyla.

Without prompting, his familiar sauntered to the girl, purring delightfully at her touch. Stretching, the black kitten began to knead her paws on Rey’s denim clad knee.

His lips twitched in a sneer; Kyla was hardly as receiving when he claimed her as his familiar. In fact, she’d been a gift from his Uncle Luke when Ben was sixteen, the age when most wizards and witches’ magic stabilized. Seeing her get along swimmingly with Rey caused a moment of tension to spike before banishing altogether.

“Are…are you a cat person?” Ben asked, hoping to make some conversation, noticing how Rey’s eyes lit up the longer she scratched along Kyla’s jawline.

“Sort of,” she said vaguely, “I was gifted a cat from a mentor because he said everyone needs a fa—” she stuttered for a moment, tucking a stray hair behind her ear. “--a pet. Everyone needs a pet .”

As though summoned, an brown and white speckled cat popped its head out from the door. Dashing through the opening to his owner, the cat purred happily, only stopping when Kyla came in sight.

And Ben knew he’d been doomed.

The two cats began to play with each other, swatting and whacking with flying paws. Then they purred and rubbed up against each other, before Kyla tackled Rey’s cat down and began licking the top of his head.

Giggling at the two, Rey stood up, “It looks like your kitten has taken a liking to my ‘Venger—”

“’Venger’?”

“Short for Scavenger—he’s a scrappy one, but clearly your black cat is dominant.” Her eyes then widened with glee, “We should plan kitty play dates!”

Panic doused Ben, his insides freezing at Rey’s suggestion. Then her eyes fluttered ever so slightly, causing all the air to catch at his throat. He found himself unable to say no to those pretty hazel eyes and that illuminating smile.

Swallowing tightly, Ben picked up Kyla with one hand, his familiar clamping her mouth stubbornly in his palm.

“Sure. Sounds great,” he agreed.

If his mother saw him now…

He already broke the first unspoken rule and all for some girl .

Begrudgingly, he and Rey traded contact information and a weekly kitty play date was set for every Wednesday afternoon.

However, after the first day, the noises did not stop.

Every afternoon when he came to his apartment from work, he’d hear the telltale signs of Rey on the other side of the wall. The subtle bangs and bombs followed by a loud string of angry, foul curses. Not since their first encounter did Ben bring up the noise problem. Logically he opted to use a silencing charm for the evening and nights, deciding it best to merely solve the situation on his end.

Sadly, his sudden insomnia was not caused by this, unable to sleep through the night fully even after using a sleeping drought.

And apparently his neighbor noticed.

One Wednesday afternoon, three weeks into their little arrangement, the girl commented on his haggard appearance, “You look like a banshee—”

“And you know what a banshee looks like,” Ben could not help but quip grumpily.

His know-it-all tone did not go unnoticed by Rey.

She blinked for a moment, tossing the squeaky racoon plushie. The two cats pawed and gnawed at the toy the moment it was no longer in her grasp.

“No, of course not, beca—because banshees aren’t real ,” she answered, suddenly flustered. “It’s a figure of speech, I just—you look like shit.”

“That’s what everyone likes to hear, thanks,” Ben rolled his eyes, turning the page of his book on familiars bonding with non-magical beings. He didn’t want Kyla’s new found friendship with their neighbors to cause any issues with her familiar’s attributes. Cleverly, he charmed the book to a glamour of a simple old copy of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban .

Wonderful series, even if it wrote about half the wizarding world incorrectly.

“I didn’t mean it like that ,” she stressed. On the floor she sat taller with her legs criss-crossed, trying her best to make eye contact with Ben. “I just mean you seem tired and grumpy. But I think the grumpiness is more so your personality rather than due to the tiredness.”

His eyes narrowed on her.

“I have been having difficulty sleeping,” Ben informed stiltedly.

“Oh,” she uttered softly, frowning. “Have you tried anything, like melatonin or tea?”

Ben pursed his lips, considering his next little lie. He clearly could not tell this girl he had tired numerous variations of sleeping draughts. Or how each had failed drastically.

“Uh, sleeping pills,” he decided, clearing his throat a little, “I have been using different sleeping pills.”

“Those are hoaxes,” Rey waved off, though the concern in her eyes was apparent. Her hazel eyes latched tightly to him, “I know a tea recipe that can do wonders! It was passed down to me from my mentor—”

“You mention this mentor quite a bit,” Ben commented, squinting at her.

Rey stilled, “He and I were just close despite having different views…” Her eyes glazed over, lost in her own thoughts.

The light in her eyes dimmed, Ben suddenly feeling the urge to bring their bright quality back.

“Uh, this tea ?”

“Right.” Rey blinked, “Tea. It has always helped me when…when I am sleeping in a new place. I can make some for you for next week.”

“Next week?” Ben frowned, dropping his book the side. “How long does it take to make tea of all things?”

“Uh,” Rey chuckled lightly, picking at her nails, “It is made from scratch and requires some special ingredients.”

“Nothing illegal I hope,” he warned. He had been able to keep his life on the low in the non-magical world for well over a century. Some girl was not going to screw up his nearly perfect record.

“No, of course not,” she reassured him. “Just something that will take some time to gather up.”

“Fine,” Ben agreed, burying his nose back into his book.

And it was fine, he could wait. After all, the last few weeks of sleeping had been hell, what would another be?

It wasn’t until Maz brought up some valuable news that Ben began to consider maybe his sleep problems were more than a change in the air.

“A witch has moved into our neighborhood,” she declared one afternoon as Ben helped her around her café. He’d drop by every so often to lend a helping hand or to catch up on the latest news in the magical world. His newsletters and papers could only offer so much, and his conversation with his mother were sprinkled with bias politics and gossip he hardly knew what to believe.

While Maz was a seer, she preferred to live in the mortal world and not use her abilities to con the poor ignorant souls. Seers weren’t psychics contrary to popular belief, more dream readers and aura seers if anything.

“What?” He squinted at the tiny woman.

“I caught a vision of a powerful witch, she is causing a disturbance in the magical force,” Maz stated plainly before going back to making coffee.

“But the last witch or wizard who moved here was me—and that was nearly twelve years ago. This town is not really a magical magnet,” Ben reminded her.

“Oh, I know. Before you came it was just me for years,” Maz rose an eyebrow at him with a tsk.

“Why would anyone want to come here anyway? We are the farthest from all the glamoured locations, and it’s not like the wizarding community necessarily likes the mortal world.”

“Maybe she felt a pull here?” Maz supplied, shrugging, “No matter the reason, we need to find this girl and welcome her into the fold. Witches and wizards are stronger together than apart,” she heeded, her eyes smirking.

“Something tells me you have an inkling of who it may be,” Ben observed.

“Pah,” Maz shooed off, “Of course I don’t—seers don’t see everything, Benjamin.”

“But they can see enough.”

With Maz’s new information in the back of his mind, Ben found himself acting more cautiously in his everyday life.

New grocery store clerks and new waiters at the local diner were now suspects, along with any new faces at the library. He wasn’t necessarily afraid of meeting a witch; however, their lack of interaction thus far was a red flag.

While he moved out of the magical world to get away from his family, another looming reason was behind his departure.

Participating in Dark Magic was not a felony, many practicing the incantations and spells as a hobby. Using Dark Magic under the tutelage and guidance of Dark Lord Snoke on the other hand… Ben had been lucky to get away when he did. Escaping the cruel wizard’s clutches twenty years ago had been a fluke and a blessing.

On the verge of death and saved, all thanks to a strong burst of light from… a young girl.

Ordered to kill a powerful young witch of both the light and dark...Ben could not do it. He’d grown close to the girl in their short time together. She was quiet and sweet, an orphan and alone. Oh so very lonely for a child. They connected instantly, Ben seeing much of himself in the girl; too powerful at a young age, misunderstood, other’s trying to pry at her abilities.

She had thought her new home had been with him when placed under his charge. Sadly, she’d been wrong.

He’d been wrong.

The girl was captured under the pretenses to be a new student in Snoke’s legion, ultimately to be taught by Ben. Instead, she’d been brought for slaughter, Snoke snatching her away the moment Ben formed an attachment to the girl.

Compassion , as Snoke had sneered.

A fleeting part of him, now more so than ever, wondered whatever became of the girl…

At night he found his thoughts lingering on the girl— Kira had been her decreed name, however she despised it. Her snappy and sassy attitude had him jokingly calling her a ‘ray of sunshine,’ her personality anything but.  

Rey’s little tea did nothing to soothe him either.

“Take it at night, about fifteen minutes before you want to go to sleep,” she directed him, handing him the little bag of crushed leaves and herbs.

For once they were meeting outside of their usual Wednesday afternoon kitty playdates. Instead they sat at Maz’s café at one of the corner tables. Rey claimed she was on her way back from visiting her mentor’s friend and needed caffeine, Maz’s place a happy medium stop. Begrudgingly, Ben altered his route home from the library to the café, little Kyla tucked quietly in his satchel. The familiar had been slightly traumatized from their twenty-year separation opting to tag along on his outings. Risky, but not many would bat a lash with the amount of therapy pets in this century.

Cautiously, he sniffed the bag. A heavy scent of chamomile, machta, and dare he say… prunes (?) came from the package.

“What the hell is in this?”

Rey opened her mouth to responded, but then snapped her mouth shut, “You know—it might be better if you didn’t know.”

“That is so reassuring,” he bluntly remarked. “Are you sure you knew what you were doing when you mixed all this together?”

“Yes,” Rey huffed, rolling her eyes. “You trust me, right?”

Her eyes twinkled with a child-like honesty that was both refreshing and discerning.

“I trust you enough .”

Discreetly, he set the bag in his satchel, hoping Kyla would take the hint and sniff out the tea.

Rey chuckled lightly, apparently finding his disgruntled caution amusing, “Just don’t take it in large doses—”

“What would happen if I take in large doses?” Ben could not help but ask, his curious scholarly nature getting the best of him.

“Oh, you’d probably die,” she stated matter-of-factly, a little shrug in her shoulders, “peacefully in your sleep because it is sleeping tea.”

“Yeah that thing I said about trusting you,” Ben crossed his arms over his chest, watching Rey as she precariously sipped her coffee, “it is diminishing rapidly.”

“Come on, I was joking —well not really , but I was joking a little—”

“My two favorite customers!” Maz’s delightful cheer interrupted their impeding bickering, a common occurrence between the two. “Benjamin, I did not know you knew Rey.”

His eyes narrowed on the seer, the woman never up to good when she meddled into his affairs. “I didn’t know you knew her.”

“Maybe we all didn’t know that we knew each other,” Rey gasped, earning a mild glare from Ben.

She openly smiled back.

Ben hated how much he was liking her cheekiness and smiles.

“What brings you two here?” Maz asked, hand on hip while the other held coffee pot.

“Just two neighbors hanging out,” Rey answered, “Our cats are lovers.”

“I wouldn’t call them lovers . Kyla is more refined than that,” Ben corrected, stirring his cooling dark chocolate mocha.

“Well, as far as I am aware, Kyla loved spending time with Venger the two talk about how silly people are,” Rey explained not catching how Ben stared at her with wide, wild eyes. She chomped down on her croissant, “Well you know, if cats could talk to each other. I mean talking to each other, that would be insane .”

“Right,” Ben breathed, “insane.”

Humming a haunting tune to herself, “ …live long enough to see the same eyes in different people… ,” Maz poured more coffee into Rey’s mug.

Nodding to the two, she turned to tend to her other customers. “Let me know, children, if you need anything.”

“I’m not a child,” Ben commented back.

“You’ll always be a child compared to me, Solo,” Maz taunted back, “When you see your mother, tell her ‘hello’ for me.”

“I won’t be se…” Ben shook his head, Maz already off making small talk with her other patrons.

“Why did she say ‘seeing same eyes’?” Rey muttered, her gaze following the seer.

“She says a lot of things that don’t make sense,” he attempted to reassure her, “Nothing to worry about.”

“Sure,” Rey sharply turned back to her pastry and coffee, her eyes clouding over in thought. “ Sure ,” she repeated. Her sudden solemness faded away after a moment, a glimmer of fondness dancing in her gaze when they made eye contact again. “You said you work at the public library; how is that?”

“What do you mean?” Ben picked at his napkin, folding it into several squares until it was scrunched into an accordion.

“You—you’re extremely intelligent and know so much.” Her compliments rolled off the tongue as fact, Ben feeling himself flush at the genuine praise. “Why aren’t you off doing, I don’t know, archeology or something, making discoveries? You seem to truly enjoy history and human life.”

Ben bit his lips together, not quite expecting to her to ask such a question. While they interacted weekly, the two knew very little of each other. She was simply the mortal girl who brightened his day. He…he wasn’t too sure what he was to her and tried not to get his hopes up too high.

Most in this realm did not spare him more than a glance. Rey however…

Rey saw through the mask he carefully crafted through the years.

A tantalizing yet horrifying development…one he could not help but nudge along.

“I like books, and I am working on other projects,” he stated vaguely, not wanting to divulge on his documentation on living in the mortal world, to hopefully encourage more witches and wizards to live amongst the mortals.

While both the mortal and magical worlds were power hungry, mortals had a sense to maintain their morality while magic users often perpetuated circumstances. Not to mention more and more halfas were cropping up in the last few decades. Wizards and mortals were procreating together and unintentionally creating stronger magic users. Then there were… abnormalities ; cases where a magical child was born to non-magical parents. Only few, but Ben could not shake the feeling there were more who never knew because no one looked out for such children.

There needed to be a place for these witches and wizards, or at least a stronger urge to let them be acknowledged as individuals in both realms without having to choose one over the other.

“Well, if you love what you do then who can judge,” Rey murmured thoughtfully, drawing little invisible circles on the table. “I wish I knew what I wanted to do…”

“What do you do?” Ben asked, intrigued by her conflicting expressions—lost yet confident, uncomfortable but sure.

“I uh…” she cringed, tilting her head to the side. The bun holding her chestnut hair half up lopped to the side, Ben’s lips quirking when she hastily bopped the coil of hair back. “I guess you can say I’m a student.”

Guess ?” Ben phrased back, a bit to his tone. “You can’t be kind of a student—you either are or you aren’t.”

Rey leaned back, her gaze stoning, “It’s, er, a complicated situation,” she explained with little conviction, “I mean, I am student…I am just looking for a new teacher.” She clapped her hands together, nodding once to herself. “Yes, a teacher.”

She did that often, muttering to herself. Repeating her words quietly to herself. Ben wrote her mumblings off as a quirk, but it seemed she was constantly reassuring herself of her words and actions. As though she were the one on edge—for all he knew, maybe she was.

“I thought you had a mentor?” He picked up his mocha and took a thoughtful sip.

She perked up, “I did, but once you surpass a mentor, you kind of need to find a new one.”

Ben snorted, hearing his own words from ages ago echoed back to him. “I understand that.”

“I figured you would,” she exhaled, her shoulders relaxing.

Ben caught her words, “What does that mean—that you figured I would?”

“It means I figured you’d—you’d understand me,” she admitted quietly, her jovial guard lowering every so slightly. “What else could it possibly mean?”

A cool wash of shame came over his chest, “Oh, nothing,” he muttered in a half-hearted apology. “Just…me being me. Sometimes I think the world is conspiring against me.”

“It’s not. If you look close enough it might be trying to help you,” she said plainly, however her eyes had that look—the one where she knew more than she let on.

That she saw him for him .

Coughing, Ben stared back down at his drink, no longer in the mood to be sharing a meal or drink with anyone. “Well, I hope you find your teacher for whatever it is—”

“I have found him,” she said.

“Then…then that’s good,” Ben nodded, not sure what to do with this information since he knew so little and felt he’d impose if he asked for more details.

At least she seemed driven despite her unknown path. He could not always say the same for himself.

From there, conversation flowed into trivial and abstract topics, books and television, the unintentional heavy matter set aside for another day. Or never. Ben was perfectly fine with never too. They stayed until Maz kicked them out at closing, their Friday afternoon spent in comfortable company.

And that’s how Ben found himself spending every Friday afternoon with the mortal girl, instead of calling his mother at their scheduled time. He knew eventually this decision would come back to haunt him, but he remained pleased to be with Rey in some context than not at all.

She was smart, witty, honest, with wonderous hazel eyes…

Her tea making was wonderfully awful though.

No one was perfect, Rey the lowest on the list, and her tea making even farther.

Every night Ben gagged as he sipped the concoction, the smell seeping into fabrics of the living room. He needs to deep clean once his sleeping was back to its usual cycle without an aid. His familiar could care less about his predicament, not bothering to sleeping in the same room as him, opting to remain in the washroom. She even dragged her bed over to the tiny washroom, curled between the faucet and toilet.

Luckily, despite its horrendous smell, the tea did its magic. Ben was able to fall asleep and remain asleep throughout the night.

Problems only came in the form of dreams and nightmares.

Images of his family, the looming forms of his uncle and grandfather sprinkled across his psyche. Old memories washing in waves to the forefront of his mind. Struggling to fit in as a boy, being more advanced than other students his age, forced to live with Uncle for half a century…His time with Snoke and his First Wizard Order. Snippets and scenes mixed together in horrifying and somber combinations—some he could escape, others he remained trapped until his body decided to awake.

Worst of all, little Kira plagued his thoughts more than ever.

Occasionally she was in his dreams, always her young self. Sometimes he became tempted and was lucid enough to try to picture her older—to reassure himself, even falsely, she did live long enough to reach mortal adulthood.

It’d be a flicker of her figure before he was stopped by an outside force.

A flame of hope echoed in his heart—maybe, just maybe this new witch in the neighborhood was—

Ben banished the thought.

It’d be impossible.

In the chaos of dark wizards and witches screaming and attacking, he urged the girl to run off while he stayed on defense.

No one has seen the girl since.

Tucking away the harsh memories, Ben tried his best to focus on the problems of now.

Especially the reason behind this witch’s apparently shy attitude. What if this new witch was spying on him for the former Dark Lord Snoke and his followers? What if she knew of his former name and wanted to seek vengeance even though he never killed a living soul?

A loud boom from Rey’s apartment startled him from more perpetual musings.

Ben paused his kneading. He’d been making a pie for his mother’s inevitable visit, an unfortunate situation caused by his lack of calling.

Another problem cropped up from Rey. The girl had an incredible knack of asking for help or barging into his apartment when he was about take care of anything remotely magical.

Now he was forced to host his mother, the woman claiming to come visit within the next day, with little to no exact time.

Kyla jumped from her perch on the kitchen counter, head tilted to the direction of the wall.

Normal shuffling about was heard a second later, Ben releasing a breath. He’d learned to live with Rey’s clumsiness , but that did not stop the surge of concern caught in his throat every time he heard unfortunate noises.

Jumping from the counter to the floor, Kyla nudged his ankle.

Come on. Come on. Come on.

Frowning, he mentally pushed her away.

“Stop it, Kyla. We are not going to visit your boyfriend. You saw him yesterday,” Ben scolded his familiar. She nipped at the hem of his jeans—okay, she didn’t want to see Venger. But she wanted to see someone urgently ; that was one of the downfalls of their familiar bond. Due to the familiar and master bond being broken for a short time, only short phrases and feelings were translated between the two. They were each other’s nuisance. “Mom’s coming over and I don’t want a repeat of the visit of 1908.”

Kyla mewed loudly, her little fangs on display. Springing around, she made her way to the front door and began to claw at the door.

Ben huffed, shoving away his dough. Going to Kyla, Ben stared her down.

“Why have you been so antsy?” Ben hushed, crouching to her level. Curling a finger behind her ear, she butted his hand away. Okay, she was frustrated if she was rejecting pats.

Opening the door, Kyla darted out, Ben following after her to…Rey’s front door.

He rolled his eyes; in all her hundreds of years, Kyla had never been so attached to another cat.

This was becoming a problem.

“Kyla I told you, no Venger today.”

Reaching down, Ben picked up his squirmy familiar.

“Oh hey!” Rey’s cheery voice called out.

Ben looked up to see his neighbor standing in her doorway, her cat held in her arms.

“Hi, sorry,” Ben mumbled, realizing he was crouched in front of Rey’s doorstep, simply holding his… cat , “this looks weird, uh, Kyla tried to get out—”

Smiling fondly at the familiar, Rey nodded, “I understand, Venger has been missing her too.”

Biting back a correction, Ben stroked Kyla’s head. Negative thoughts radiated off the familiar—she wasn’t happy in his arms, probably thinking of ways to kill him in his sleep. Nothing out of the ordinary.

“Yup, she and Venger are too peas in a pod,” Ben chuckled awkwardly, standing back up.

“Since they clearly want to spend time together, why don’t we have an impromptu playdate, I have nothing going on right now,” Rey suggested, stepping further into the hall. “And i kind of need to talk to you about something important…”

Ben immediately thought of all the not so normal ingredients and spell books currently lingering out in his apartment. That was a hard no—Rey could not see that stuff, ever. At all. There was a reason they planned these little playdates; enough time to make everything look relatively mortal .

He stepped back, waving to her open door. “How about we do it at your place—mines’ a mess, mother is visiting soon—”

Her bright hazel eyes widened, “Uh, my place?” She repeated, clutching Venger closer to her chest.

Ben quirked an eyebrow, finding her sudden skittishness odd. “I mean you suggested the playdate—”

“We always have playdates at your apartment,” Rey countered, her grin cheeky yet stressed, “It’d be weird if we had it at mine.”

Blinking, Ben’s mouth worked for an answer—now that he thought about it, the kitty playdates were never in her apartment.

And she lived next door.

That was weird, right?

That had to be weird.

Kyla’s cold nose brushed the skin under his chin.

Yes. Yes. Yes. Yes. Y—

“Are you hiding something?” Ben blurted out.

No. No. No. No—

Ben mentally shoved Kyla away again.

“I beg your pardon?” Rey’s eyes narrowed, brows furring.

“I mean not wanting the playdates in your apartment—”

“I’m a messy person!” She interjected heatedly, “And you never asked—”

“I figured I’d never need to ask because offering is the courteous things to do,” Ben reasoned.

Rey became less offended, but merely more unimpressed, “But we have a routine —” She huffed, peering up at him, “I can ask you the same thing!”

“Excuse me?” Ben uttered, not following along with her train of thought.

“Always skittish, looking behind your shoulder—one might even say you are paranoid. Never letting me touch anything in the apartment. Like anything , as if the whole place were to collapse if I did,” Ben internally winced—he was afraid his shorthanded glamour charms would not hold up when in her presence. Energy needed to constantly be flowing to maintain a glamour, not a problem. Only Rey had a knack of consuming his every thought both mind and heart, a definite problem.

“I am private,” Ben stressed, jaw locking.

“‘Private’,” she shrugged mockingly, “Or hiding something.”

Her eyebrow twitched up, challenging him to go against her observation.

“Why would I hide something?” Ben countered, “I’m an open book.”

“That’s a fat-ass lie. Never pegged you as a liar, a fibber maybe , but not a flat-out liar,” she remarked tightly.

A distinct sharp crackle came from Ben’s apartment.

The two tensed.

Kyla mewed loudly, her claws digging into Ben’s forearms, though neither moved at her musings.

“What was tha—”

“I need to go—” The mumbled excuse fell upon deaf ears as Rey attempted to follow Ben down the hall. He rounded on her, his defensive instincts in high gear. “ What ? No, it’s—it’s probably nothing . Just let me handle it—the oven is probably ready.”

Her lips twisted in a disgruntled pout, “I’ve heard your oven—we have the same brand of oven,” Rey shook her head, the two hearing feet shuffle about on the other side of the door, “Someone is in there, but no one came in—”

“Son, I swear if you are not here, I will curse this apartment. How would you like a never ending leaky faucet? Something subtle and annoying. It can last eternity, you know,” his mother’s voice called out from inside.

Curse ?” Rey hissed, squinting up at Ben.

“She’s joking,” he lied through his teeth, dropping Kyla down. He began to drag Rey back to her apartment, however she resisted. Ducking under his arms with inherent stealth, she pushed the door open. “Rey no—”

She dashed into the room, stopping only a few steps in, Ben nearly stumbling right into her.

Sitting at the dinning table was his mother, dressed simply and looking relatively mortal, turning to the two with a frown. “Ben, I found the door unlocked and decided to let myself in. You know it is a terribly awful habit to leave your doors’ unlocked, you never know what you might stumble into,” she warned, an all familiar knowing edge to her tone.

Stiffening at his mother’s words, Rey stepped aside, closer to the door. He’d do the same if it weren’t his own apartment; Leia had a notorious ability to frighten even the least guiltiest of souls into a confession with a mere look. Only three hundred years of being her son had made Ben immune to such tactics.

Awkwardly, Ben cleared his throat, “Right,” he nodded once, glancing at Rey out of the corner of his eye, “It was fluke—I’d been talking to my neighbor,” he gestured to the mentioned girl attempting to inch back out behind him, “Mother, this is my neighbor…” Ben cringed, knowing Rey had unintentionally become a friend of sorts rather than a simple label of neighbor. But his mother could not know that.

“Rey,” she supplied, “My name’s Rey, it is wonderful to make your acquaintance. Ben, uh, speaks highly of you,” she forced a smile, “Now if you’ll excuse me, I have a cat who needs to be fed.”

She excused herself, making a short wave to Ben. Her stern gaze told him she was still suspicious—something he’d have to handle later.

Once the door closed behind her, his mother chuckled.

“A mortal? Really —this is what is keeping you?”

“Great to see you as well, mother,” Ben grumbled, locking the front door. “When was it I last saw you in person? The day after my hearing?” He marched past her into the kitchen where his unfinished pie lay forgotten. Aggressively he dumped more flour on to the dough and pounded the firm mixture with the meat of his hand. Beside him, Kyla hopped on to the counter, curling into a ball by the mixing bowl.

The click-clack of Leia’s heels followed not too soon after, “Son, you do know there is a charm for that? Plenty of cooking charm books…I swore I gifted you one last Christmas.”

Picking up the dough, he dropped it roughly back down.

Leia tsked. “You are even cooking like a mortal—”

“Well when you’ve been alive for over two hundred years, I find it best to pick up on certain skills,” Ben remarked tersely. “Cooking is one of them. I like making it this way.”

He worked to mold the dough into a mound, ignoring his mother’s disapproving gaze.

“Clearly, I have been overdue for visit—cooking like a mortal, falling in love with a mortal—”

“No one said I was in love with her,” Ben interjected over his shoulder as he scavenged for a rolling pin.

Sighing Leia picked up Kyla, petting the familiar fondly on the head. A buzzing purr emitted from the tiny creature, “You don’t need to tell me. Your eyes say it all—you’re like your father in that way.”

Ben remained silent at the mention of his father. They hadn’t spoken in years, the last time right before Ben joined Snoke. Han was alive and well, he simply preferred to jump between the two worlds with cargo for magical beings. Ironically, Ben and Han never crossed paths despite these matters.

“Dear, all I am saying is you need to be careful with those mortals,” Leia warned, cooing at Kyla. She then smirked, “I never thought I’d be having this conversation with you, especially since this isn’t your first tenure in the mortal realm.”

“I don’t think learning with Luke for those forty odd years in the mortal realm count—it was very different then.” I was very different then , Ben wanted to say however he feared his mother would not understand, “It was is was the late 1800’s, every country was a mess—”

“You can say that about every decade, Ben,” Leia rolled her eyes.

Kyla mewed in agreement. Of course his familiar would agree with her.

Ben paused mid-roll, “Wasn’t your birth mother a mortal?”

“Yes, and our family still receives scorn from that union,” his mother took a seat at one of the bar stools at the breakfast bar, “Some historians say we are cursed—”

“I mean, it would explain so much,” Ben said deadpan, “Uncle being raised mortal, eventually killing his own father--a dark magic user. Both you and uncle struggle with finding content love. It would make sense that our line is forced to be doomed to loneliness forever because of that one little fatal marriage. Me falling to the dark side for two decades should have put the nail into the coffin.”

“I don’t like it when you make light of these situations, Ben. It is not funny,” his mother said lowly.

Ben shrugged, going back to his rolling, “It is how I cope. My best defense mechanism.” As a cherry on top, he gave her a signature Solo grin.

His mother scoffed, “If you are going to be like this, I’ll wait another few years to visit—just answer my calls, that is all I ask.”

“Will due, oh Magistrate Organa,” Ben answered, acknowledging his mother’s position on the wizarding council.

On that note, she whispered a soothing tone to Kyla and left with a snap of her fingers, a sharp crackle echoing in her absence.

Ben pursed his lips, looking down at Kyla, “Why must you always take her side, hmm?”

Tilting her head, Kyla jumped off the counter, leaving Ben alone with his botched dough.

Considering his mother’s words, Maz’s information, and Rey’s quirky behavior Ben decided he needed to keep his guard up and keep a close eye on his ever secretive neighbor.

Which meant less magic, but Ben believed he could manage.

He wasn’t one of those wizards who needed to use magic twenty-four seven. He preferred to use his hands when he cooked, he preferred to turn the pages of his books with his own hands. Walks were nicer than teleporting—being mortal for a couple of weeks would not kill him.

Kyla on the other hand had little faith if her upturned nose were anything to go by.

The next Friday Ben decided to pry a little more into Rey’s life.

Mostly because he tried to google her and came upon the startling zero information. A young woman without social media was on the odder side of the spectrum, but filled in more unhelpful information on the puzzle of Rey.

If all else fails, plan B was not too bad. However, plan B would included possibly plucking a hair, capturing blood, and possibly exposing his magic.

On second thought, maybe plan B was not a great option.

“You have an accent,” Ben said as they were waiting in line to order their drinks.

Rey snorted, stepping a couple feet forward as the line progressed. “You barely noticed that, and we’ve what—known each other for three months?”

Technically, two months, three weeks and four days. But it was little details she did not need to keep account, unlike him with his subconscious paranoia.

“No, I’ve noticed, I’m just curious where you are from or where your parents were from,” he explained.

“Curiosity killed the cat,” Rey remarked dryly.

“And satisfaction brought it back,” Ben finished without missing a beat. “So are you going to answer my question?”

Humming a senseless tune, Rey gave a bobbled nod, “Sure—I was born in London and lived in several homes before I was taken to what I thought would be my forever home,” she shrugged, tucking her hands into her coat pockets.

Late October brought spine tingling chills, coats, scarfs, and hats becoming common attire. Rey followed suit; most of her clothes were in soft creams and greys, muted to blend into the corners of the room. Meanwhile her coat was a vibrant light blue, seemingly the only color in her wardrobe. Undoubtedly, the two made an odd pair, Ben with is navy blues and blacks and Rey with her polar opposite scheme, yet there was a balance to their appearance—as though they almost went together seamlessly.

“You make yourself sound like a pet with terms like ‘forever home’,” Ben said bluntly, stepping forward with the line. Only two more patrons stood in front of them, the afternoon rush at its peak.

“In a way I was,” she mumbled quickly, before continuing her brief tale once more. “Then things did not work out, and then I found my mentor. He kind of raised me, but it was purely in a way for me to be self-sufficient. There wasn’t affectionate love and care. Not that I minded—he…he wasn’t meant to be my teacher in the first place.”

She seemed to clam up on the subject, her indifferent tone contradicting her thought-out vagueness.

“So…so you stayed in London?” Ben blinked, attempting to piece together the information in his head.

“No, we lived in Ireland but the accent remained.”

They were next in line, Rey ordering then Ben. After some bickering over who bought this time around, Ben was able to pay, this time only receiving an eyeroll and singular grumble about gender roles. Unfortunately, their usual spot had been taken, the two opting for one a few tables away from the corner.

“How about you; where are you from?” Rey asked, plopping down in her seat. Ben rose an eyebrow, earning an exasperated purse of the lips from her. “What? You get to ask me, and I can’t ask you? Fair is fair, and something tells me you were not a born and raised Takadanian.”

Indulging her, Ben sat down across from her and answered her question with a well-rehearsed answer, “Connecticut, old family money and estate.”

He’d been saying Connecticut for the last twenty-years, and no one questioned it. Leave it Rey to not completely take anything for face value. Her hazel eyes narrowed, but she seemed to accept the answer after a moment of inner debate.

“Never been to Connecticut.”

“Most haven’t.”

Chewing on the inside of her cheek, she tapped out a simple pattern on the table.

A very quiet mew came from his satchel. Mentally Ben scolded Kyla, though he felt the familiar become increasingly unsettled.

“Not to be rude, but I feel like I can ask this since we are friends—”

“We’re friends?” Ben asked dryly.

“Of course we are friends!” Rey chided playfully, resting her elbows on the table. “And friends usually know each other’s birthdays and ages …”She trailed off, picking at her nailbeds, chipping away at her black nail polish.

Sensing she was performing her own interrogation of him while in tandem with his, Ben reviewed his cards. He had enough false material to appease her, but his conscious flirted with thoughts of being honest. Telling her as close to the truth as possible…because lying to Rey felt like a sin. A break of a bond, one that had been tense since their acquaintance. Half truths and careful word play had done little to eased the ache of his dishonesty.

“I’m twenty-nine,” he answered slowly, knowing that was the farthest and closest to the truth.

He was two hundred and twenty-nine year old, but wizards and witches aged slower than mortals…or simply stopped aging altogether for numerous reasons.

Sometimes because they subconsciously decide they like the age they are at, or something inside their soul is preventing them aging at the slowed pace. Ben wasn’t too sure what cause him to stop aging. His mother claimed his father had been the same way until they married and then it wasn’t until she reached his father’s physical age did they slowly age together.

“And you’ve been here for twelve years?”

“How do you know I’ve been here for twelve years?” Ben shot back, shoulders and neck tensing.

“Maz mentioned it,” Rey interjected quickly as she scooted closer to the table, her gaze locking him in, “No offense, but you sound so much older than twenty-nine—”

“How old are you then?” Ben snapped back.

“Nineteen,” Rey answered, closing a bit in on herself, as though ashamed for keeping this information away. “But—but I kind of act older than my age…”

Ben blanched—he was falling head over heels for a mortal, a nineteen year old one at that. Concern then came crashing down on his shoulders, Ben now keenly aware and confused as to how a nineteen year old was living on their own, without a visible job in sight, claiming to be a student without a teacher…a girl so determined to be his friend and finally digging into his personal life after all this time.

“But I don’t think age is that big of a deal,” Rey hastily defended, Ben only half listening to her, “Especially with our relationship, eh friendship—I just want us to know more about each other since we get along so well, it feels sometimes I’ve known you all my life—”

On the table, her hand inched closer to his. He tucked his hand into his pocket.

“…I’m curious—you can’t blame me for being curious especially since you’ve sort of became my best friend while I’ve been here…”

Her best friend—Ben didn’t do friends, let alone best friends, like Rey so claimed. He’d been so careful…

Why was he lying to himself—he’d been bare minimum careful with Rey. And now he had to deal with repercussions.

This is why Ben didn’t interact with mortals unless absolutely necessary—they became too curious for their own good—or they were easy targets for possession. Young, pretty girls were the main targets for possessions, becoming spies and informants for powerful wizards and witches without ever realizing it. Scattered, paranoid, hazed thoughts invaded Ben’s mind, the need to flee the café pumping from his veins to his heart and head.

“…Ben, are you alright—”

“I need to go,” he uttered. Swiftly he stood up, tossing his satchel over his shoulder and leaving the girl behind.

A clash of thunder echoed in the skies as he exited the building. Ruptures of rain and wind collapsed upon the two, the turbulent weather mirroring Ben’s emotions. He briefly wondered if a local witch or wizard sensed him and decided to through a little humor his way.

He marched down the sidewalk in blind determination, not hearing the pounding feet splashing behind him.

“Ben!”

He tried his best to ignore Rey calling after him, no matter the pull of her voice.

Ben !” She cried out again, her voice hoarse against the sharp sklat of water on the pavement.

He picked up his pace, Kyla’s mews becoming louder as she got wet from the seeping rain.

There was only a block left. Only a block left. Only a block—

KYLO REN !”

His heart and feet stuttered to a stop.

He hadn’t heard that name spoken in twenty years. His dark name, one Snoke bestowed upon him when Ben joined his league of witches and wizards. Few knew the name…and everyone from that night had perished. Well, except for him and possibly…

No.

No, somehow this girl found out his dark name and—

Turning on his heel, Ben came face to face with a sopping wet Rey. Hair was plastered to her face and neck, coat hanging limply on her frame. Her jaw was set—rigid, yet the red rim of her eyes spoke of the fear coursing through her body.

Fear of him? No .

Fear of…failure.

“Where did you hear that name?” He spat out lowly, in a near snarl.

Lifting her head high, she made eye contact with him, “Do—do you remember a little girl named Kira—”

“Don’t speak of her! You do not have the right to speak of her!” Ben bellowed, disregarding the lingering curious faces of the neighbors.

His skin burned at the mention of girl he failed, numbed grief of the woman she could have become. He was supposed to protect her, to find her again. Make things right and be her teacher. His trail and her disappearance made this impossible, not to mention so many believed her to be a figment of his imagination due to only Ben and Snoke knowing of the girl.

Across from him, Rey’s face crumpled, yet her gaze remained locked on his. Hazel eyes burned with determination and unbridled relief.

Swallowing, she spoke again, “Ben—I need you to listen to me,” she ordered with ferocity, stunning Ben in his place. “She’s safe. She is absolutely saf—”

“You know where she’s at,” Ben stated dazed, stepping closer to Rey.

“Yes,” she answered, still keeping her stance. “I…” she exhaled, “I know where she is at.”

Gulping, Ben threw caution out the window.

Swiftly he lifted his hand, a incantation flying through his mind. Instantly, Rey’s eyes rolled back, her body falling to the mercy of gravity. Deftly, Ben swept her up into his arms before her body could make contact with the pavement.  Easily he lifted her into his arms, her head lulling to his chest. She was lighter than he expected, her peaceful features enhancing her innocent appearance.

Hot panic flashed down his neck—he performed magic in public.

In front of mortals.

Luckily, none of them seemed to be looking their way, more concerned with getting out of the rain.

Yet the principle of the matter remained; he broke the last of his three unspoken rules. Each and everyone for the girl unconscious in his arms.

A nudge on his thigh woke him from his stupor. Out of his satchel, Kyla’s furry black head popped up. She sniffed Rey’s arm, then looked up at Ben with the most disapproving green eyes a cat-like familiar could possess.

Oh goodness, he fucked up.

Go. Go. Go. Go.

Listening to his familiar, Ben walked briskly to his building, muttering glamour charms to hide his predicament. The quiet town library carrying the an conscious new girl screamed suspicious and Ben did not need attention.

Turning the corner, he glanced around before flicking his wrist. All the necessary doors opened the moment he came near, the journey to his apartment fleeting. Upon entering his apartment, all the lights flickered on and Kyla jumped from his satchel. Nodding to the thermostat, the heat blasted on, filling the room with hot air.

Shivering at the mix of cool dampness and warmth circulating the room, Ben clung Rey closer to him for a moment, hoping he did not make one of the biggest mistakes in his life for naught. Gently, he deposited the girl on to the sofa. Rain dripped down her body into his couch cushions, but Ben could careless and he began summoning towels and tea on the stove. Crouching down beside her, he shucked her sopping wet coat off and tried his best to get her relatively dry.

He just wanted information, not have Rey catch hypothermia.

Knocking her out wasn’t his best option, but it’d be better than playing a mind game in the rain.

Perched on the end of the couch, Kyla mewed viciously at Ben, attempting to garner his attention.

“What Kyla?” He hissed through gritted teeth, wet hair flopping over his face.

She leapt off the couch and dashed to the front door. Reaching up she clawed at the door, meowing and whining.

“No—no we are not going to see Venger—,” Kyla then sprinted towards him, scratching his hand with a swat, “ What the hell Kyla ?”

She went back to the door, her cries filling the room in frantic spouts. The last time he’d seen Kyla so adamant was right before he left to join—

Kyla knew something important and she needed Ben to know too.

Standing up, Ben followed his familiar, flinging open the door. She beelined to Rey’s door, Ben having enough sense to open with a mere tilt of the head. His neighbor’s door creaked open, Kyla entering without hesitation.

Pushing the door open, Ben stepped into the studio apartment of his elusive Rey.

The lights were dimmed, except for a few antique lamps scattered throughout the apartment. Her entire apartment was akin to a greenhouse, potted plants and greenery lining the walls, little illegible signs and notes attached to each. To the left, her kitchen was a mess, several mason jars and half used mixing bowls scattered on the counter. Her living room-bedroom area was littered with books upon books, stacks on the floor and tucked under the pullout bed. On the coffee table several books were laid out, open to specific pages, a journal laid tucked beside them.

Further inspecting, Ben recognized the scribbles and diagrams. These were potions books, specifically for memories.

What was Rey…

A sharp hiss came from behind him.

Ben spun around, finding Venger and Kyla waiting behind him. His familiar walked up and nudged his ankle.

Witch. Witch. Witch—

It then clicked .

Picking up the journal, Ben left the apartment, the two familiars chasing after him. Upon entering his home, Ben waved his hand, the doors he left open closing with syncopated slams.

Laying still on the couch, Rey appeared tranquil, unaware. However, subtle shivers coursed through her body. Her lips were chapped and hair curling as it slowly air dried.

Ben winced, his hands hovering to warm her arms.

Instead, he tucked the towel tighter around her torso.

He sat down at the edge of the coffee table, the familiars flanking each side as guards—for him or Rey, Ben did not know. Clutching the journal in his left hand, Ben waved his right hand over Rey’s forehead in a sweeping clockwise motion, a simple mutter of her name fell from his lips.

Her harsh gasped silence the room.

Eyes struggling to open, she cracked open an eyelid.

Their gazes connected immediately. Heat and ice. Calm and fiery. Gentle and brutal. Opposites yet the same; an eerie reflection of the other through their eyes.

Ben gulped, jaw working to find the right words.

Licking his lips, he decided to ask his burning question now than never. “Who are you really , Rey?”

“I…” she blinked back furious tears, “You won’t believe me if I told you,” she uttered quietly.

His head bowed at the response, before lifting once again, meeting her openly.

“Then try me,” his voice broke, fearing the worst.

“I…I never flat out lied to you,” she spoke slowly and hushed, “I told the truth about where I am from, where my mentor and I lived. My forever home—” she stopped, a shuddery breath reverberating through her. She glanced away, focusing intently on the ceiling above them, “I am a student who is looking for a new teacher because my mentor could no longer teach me. He’d grown bitter and tired with age, and I surpassed him…so…so I left to find you .”

Ben felt his lungs catch in his throat, piecing together Rey’s story from what he knew beforehand with now knowing she was a witch. Undoubtedly the new witch Maz sensed.

“Why—why would you try to find me?” Ben gritted out. “I came to this non-magic, mortal world to not be found. To not be bothered—I picked the least magically populated area for a reason,” his breath became frantic at the thought of others outside his family searching for him. He was not charged of treason but that did not mean hate crimes did not exist. Snoke scorned enough influential families in his days to have them come after his followers after his torrent abuse of power. “I’m not a teacher—I don’t teach—I’ve never taught—”

But you promised !” Rey cried out, sitting up from the couch. Their knees bumped together roughly, though neither edged away from the other.

Her face pinched, fresh tears streaming freely down her round cheeks to her chin.

His hand moved to wipe them, dropping down the gesture before any contact.

They sat face to face, less than foot between the two. Ben sat frozen still, never this close anyone let alone the girl he became so enamored with.

“You promised you’d teach me magic—you promised me we’d always stick together,” she spoke faithfully, the cutting twist of pain and hope in her voice reaching to make home in his chest. “You said ‘ You’re not alone’, but—but you left me—” She swallowed her impending hiccups, clutching her hands to her chest. “I need you to keep your promise because I need someone to show me my place in all this,” Squeezing her eyes shut, her hazel blinked open a moment later, unrelenting hope, hope in him, shining in earnest, “I came all this way, it took me years to find you, Ben.”

Her words crashed through his psyche, resurrecting memories he’d been shoving aside the last few weeks. Those were the exact words he spoke to little Kira nearly twenty years ago, moments before he was ordered to slaughter her. A child too powerful and born to non-magical mortals. An abomination in the eyes Snoke. He had promised her so much; he had promised she’d never be alone. Guilt rested heavy inside him at the thought she was left alone—

Rey said she left him alone.

Ben’s eyes screwed shut— Kira appearing in his dreams, the vivid memories while he slumbered. The tea…the tea.

The tea was a memory inducing supplement. No wonder the smell was familiar, drowsiness was a mere side effect to the tea. His uncle abused it--not that the substance was addictive-- but to aid him in keep his memories straight, especially as he became older in age.

The journal felt heavier in his palm, holding the truths behind these months.

His restless nights weren’t due to new forces or bad sleeping cycles; they were due to poor memory charms and spells being performed upon him without his knowledge.

The loud noises, Rey’s apparent clumsiness--was he an idiot? Or had it been that long since he was with other witches and wizards?

Mishaps were abound for learning witches and wizards; sparks, explosions, and small earthquakes among the most common.

She needed a teacher and she came looking for him because of his promise . A bonded promise. And bond promises made between witch and wizard were never meant to be broken. He’d only ever made one with...

Kira ,” he mumbled, interrupting Rey’s tear stained ramblings.

Cracking open his eyes, he found her staring at him as though he hung the stars.

Oh .

He knew that look. It’d been years…only Kira stared at him with such unabashed wonder. Only now with pieces clicking together, did Ben realize Rey and Kira’s gazes were the same.

…Same eyes in different people…

“I don’t use that name anymore,” Rey corrected hoarsely, “I haven’t used it since I was a child. I—I changed it when I was brought to Skywalker, because,” a watery chuckle escaped her. Hastily, she wiped her face with her calloused palms. She dropped them to her lap, Ben unable to tear his eyes away from her every move. “Because I was a ‘Ray of Sunshine’—I thought the name Rey was better suited.”

“It is,” Ben breathed, “it’s perfect.”

His face scrunched up, recalling the name she mentioned earlier, “Your—your mentor was Skywalker?”

She exhaled, eyes wide in aggravation at the mention of his uncle, “Yes—”

“And you can’t actually be nineteen—you were seven when I last saw you, and you must be almost thirty now—”

“I know, I know,” her watery chuckles caused a confused yet relieved smile to grace his lips. “For some reason I stopped aging at nineteen, which is completely idiotic because I can’t even buy alcohol.”

“You do realize you can just change your fake ID right, it’s not like anyone else around here will ever know your real age,” Ben found himself teasing despite the tears building in his eyes.

“I know, but I still feel a little bad,” she admitted, ducking her gaze away from him. “I don’t like lying.”

“No one in good conscience does,” Ben remarked.

Rey hummed in agreement, though remained silent.

There was something both awkward and comforting when speaking the agonizing truth. A barrier was gone and more truths begged to spill from his mouth.

Her hands clung to each other on her lap.

His hands fidgeted, pulling at the skin around his nails.

“I didn’t like lying to you,” he said in the same between them.

She snorted, her hands flying to tuck her loose hair behind her ear. “I was a child—”

“That’s not what I meant,” Ben interrupted her false reasoning, “When I knew you as just Rey . I hated lying to you because you were this nobody—”

“Thanks, what every girl likes to hear,” Rey commented sagely, raising her eyebrows.

Ben ignored her, continuing, “Who somehow wormed their way into my life and I adored every second of it.”

“Oh,” she blinked owlishly back at him, “I…didn’t know you felt that way.”

Feel that way,” he corrected quietly, afraid to say the actual words of his feelings.

He set the journal behind him, Rey catching his wrist. Lifting his gaze, he found the fondness in her eyes he grew accustomed to over the last couple of months. Her hand traveled down to grasp his larger hand in her own.

Suddenly, the world stopped and everything felt right. Her touch brought him comfort, all he could see was her by his side—a fact he knew in heart when he went next door to complain about the noise.

Kiss. Kiss. Kiss. Kiss.

Ben’s gaze snapped to Kyla, frowning disapprovingly at the familiar. She mewed, nudging his ankle. Rey seemed to have the same problem with Venger, her familiar nipping at her elbow as he mewed and meowed. A flush dusted her cheeks, her hand gripping his firmly, never to let go.

“Rey, I—”

His next words were cut off by eager lips upon his own. Ben froze at the sudden contact, unsure of how to respond. It’d been a couple hundred years since he kissed anyone, let alone someone he found his heart beating in time for.

After a fleeting moment, Rey pulled away. Her pupils were blown wide, stunned by her own actions.

“I’m sorry. I’ve just been wanting to do that for a long time,” she admitted unabashedly, his hand still clutched in hers.

“Oh, I’d prefer if you did,” he said without thinking, embarrassment hitting him like an forgiving gust of wind.

Her joyful laughter filled the room, her hands leaving his. Tenderly, she brushed away hair from his face. Her hands coming to rest on his broad shoulders. She squeezed once and grinned before leaning back into a sweeter, comforting kiss. Easily, he melted into her, feeling at home in world that never his own.

Maybe coming to the mortal world meant finding her again, only the long way around.

.

.

.

There were three unspoken rules when it came to living in the non-magic, ehm, mortal world.

  1.      Make sure your familiar does not run off with other animals. They need to be your companion, not some mutt or strays fling.

Unless of course they find a familiar in the neighborhood to conspire with.

  1.      Keep in contact with the magical world in some way, on a weekly basis if possible—even if it is through a cheesy crystal ball your mother bought you as a hundred year birthday present because those were the cool forms of communication at the time.

Unless there is a certain witch that has become a fixture in your life, then you both can trade off on keeping tabs with the magical world. After all, not much has changed in the few decades and mom and dad like her more than you.

  1.      Never let an outsider see you perform magic.

Unless that outsider is another witch, then is it really breaking a rule?

Chapter Text

“You are insane—it would never work,” Ben declared to Rey, not even bothering to consider her suggestion for more than a second.

“Come on, Ben,” Rey groaned, slumping into her seat. “Think about how easy it would be—and it’s not like we never lived with each other before!”

Pushing up his glasses, Ben pinched the bridge of his nose, “Rey, that was college and not with two kids.”

“We lived with Poe and Finn—that’s basically two kids,” she teased with a trying grin. However, Ben did not seem to buy the comparison.

“I am single and in my late thirties; I don’t know if I can do the whole living with a roommate situation anymore,” Ben admitted, rubbing his eye from any lingering sleep. “It’s not like it is going to be some fun campy-thing—it’s living together with our kids.”

Huffing, Rey turned in her seat, the seatbelt getting caught on the safety-lock. After a frustrating couple of tries with the strap, Ben reached over and unbuckled her. Usually he’d protest at the gesture, but it wasn’t as though they were in a moving vehicle. Pathetically, they were just parked outside a Starbucks a town over, having their scheduled weekly mental breakdown.

“Look at it this way—” she began, “I already pick up the kids from school Monday through Wednesday and take Thea to dance on Tuesdays and take her shopping, which we both know you’d die of mortification if you did that.” Ben nodded, though remained silent as Rey continued to explain. “You go to Max’s soccer games on the weekend and help him with his math. We take turns dropping the kids off at school—my point is, we are already helping each other out all the time, why not just move in together to make it easier?”

Ben remained silent, staring hard out the window. Biting his lips together, he considered the option.

“Let’s say…we do this, who’s place are we living at? Because I don’t have room, and you definitely don’t have room—”

“There is three bedroom townhouse—”

“You already found a place?” Ben’s eyes widen as she pulled up the listing on her phone.

She nodded, leaning over the middle console of his car to allow him a better view of her phone. Briefly he caught a whiff of her shampoo, honey and lavender invading his nostrils. Nearly fifteen years of knowing each other, Rey still used the same scent of shampoo and conditioner religiously. She was a creature of habit and rarely enjoyed change. Considering this her suggestion of moving in together further stunned him.

“It has an office-den kind of space that can easily be converted to bedroom,” Rey explained, flipping through the available photos. “I can schedule a walk through on the tenth?”

Sighing deeply, Ben picked up his lukewarm coffee from its snug cupholder. Studying it, he took a sip. “I wish this had liquor.”

“You’re not a day drinker,” Rey commented dryly. “That’s more of your mother’s attributes. Please don’t tell me you are turning into your mother.”

While Rey loved Leia, the older woman was a spit-fire with her own vices. She was career-driven, witty, and stubborn. However, she was not always the best mother, often neglecting Ben in his younger years. Though she did try; the mother and son’s relationship had improved drastically over the last decade, along with his father. The Solos were complicated, but family. A family who welcomed Rey with open arms when Ben dragged her along for a Christmas once he learned she had nowhere else to go for the holidays.

“Never too early to start,” Ben snorted.

Frost began to line the car window despite the heater blasting. Turning the keys in the ignition, Ben decided it was time to get moving. After all, it was Friday, the one day where Ben and Rey’s schedules overlapped where they could actually talk to each other without the kids peering in nosily.

“Just think of all the benefits—we will save time, money, and gas,” Rey said as a last ditch effort, Ben’s silent ruminating not helping her anxiety. “I honestly think the kids will love it, Max loves Thea and they get along—”

“Fine, make the meeting,” he said resignedly, halting Rey’s forthcoming proposals. “But if either Thea or Max doesn’t want to do this, we call the whole thing off.”

“Yes!” She cheered, before throwing her arms awkwardly around Ben’s neck for a forced hug. The middle consul dug into their sides as he tried to hug back. “I just miss hanging out with you…” She mumbled into his shoulder, feeling Ben nod in agreement into her shoulder. “Oh my god, is that really the time? I have that meeting with the creative team at noon,” she said, releasing him from her hold. “There won’t be enough time to go back to my apartment to drive with my own car. Do you think you can get me to the office before then?”

Sighing dramatically, Ben raised an eyebrow at her.

Please?” She tried with a small teasing grin, buckling back up.

“Fine,” he said bluntly, “But you got to figure out how to get back; I don’t think I can pick you up.”

“Right, of course,” Rey readily agreed.

Yet they both knew Ben would pick her up despite his protests.

 


 

 

Bundled up in her winter coat, thirteen year old Thea Solo waited impatiently for Max Jacobs to meet her at their usual spot. School had been out for ten minutes, taking her only three to walk from her homeroom to the kindergarten corner towards the back of the school. She stood by the first tree lining the walkway across from his classroom, a perfectly acceptable spot of the five year old to find her easily.

All his other classmates already ran out to meet their guardians or siblings, leaving Thea alone. Frowning, she checked her watch again. What was taking Max so long? Did he have to use the restroom before school let out—again?

“Ah, Thea,” Max’s teacher, Ms. Paige Tico, called out from the classroom door, “We have a little situation. Come along, honey.”

Suddenly scared and little annoyed, Thea followed through the classroom and out into the closed off playground on the other side of the building.

“You see your brother—”

“He’s not my brother,” Thea corrected on instinct, her and Max often mistaken for siblings.

“Oh, I thought—,” she shook her head, the two walking across the playground woodchips in a rapid pace. “Anyways, we were having end of the day playtime and Max decided to climb to the top of the jungle gym—”

“Thea!” A small, quivering voice called out. He was sitting at the top of the metal-bar jungle gym, hunched over awkwardly to maintain some kind of balance. “I can’t get down Thea!” he continued to cry as they came to a stop by the play equipment.

His tiny hands were wrapped tightly on the bars, his eyes pinched closed. His rounded baby-chubby cheeks were rosy from the wind and threatening frustrating tears.

Thea winced.

“I have been trying to get him down, but he won’t let me touch him,” Ms. Tico explained apologetically.

Thea squinted up at Max’s spot; he seemed secure, but just too scared to come back down. “He has thing about touching. Only family can touch him.”

“Yes, your mother said—”

“Not my mother,” Thea interjected, “Rey is better than my mother.”

Ms. Tico opened her mouth, struggling to find the right words to for the situation at hand.

A strong gust of wind brushed through the playground, Max yelping.

“I want my mom!”

“Your mom’s not here, Max!” Thea shouted up at him, Ms. Tico flinching. “She’s at work, remember? My dad’s picking us up.”

“No, no, no, I want mom!” He cried out, not listening to Thea’s calls. “Get my mom!”

“Your mom is not going to come Max—come on! Just get down the same way you got up,” Thea grumbled, arms crossed over her chest.

“But that’s different!”

How?” Thea argued back, huffing.

His little face suddenly became dejected, mumbling into his coat.

“What?” she called back, stepping until she was toe to the jungle gym.

“Meanies forced me up here,” he mumbled a little louder, more tears pooling in his hazel eyes. “They told me I was a chicken if I couldn’t do it—”

“Max, are you being bullied?” Ms. Tico asked softly, “If so, you need to tell me their names—”

“So I can beat the crap out of them!” Thea declared heatedly, starting to climb the jungle gym despite wearing a skirt with her uniform—she had leggings on, she’d be fine.

Ms. Tico gave the two a stressed smile, “No, Thea, I need to know their names to write them up—”

The girl ignored the teacher, “Max, tell me their names so I can tell them why exactly they shouldn’t mess with the Solos,” she said, climbing until she was sitting beside the little boy on the bars. He shook his head furiously, his moppy chestnut curls bouncing wildly.

“No, you’ll make fun of me.”

“No, I promise I won’t—”

Max! Thea!” Ben Solo’s booming voice called out from the classroom door, causing the two children to freeze. “I have been looking for you two everywhere!”

Sensing the kids’ mild panic, Ms. Tico turned to Ben. “Mr. Jacobs—”

“It’s Solo,” Ben corrected instantly, side stepping the woman without a pause. He walked directly up to the jumble gym, taller than the playground structure. “I have been waiting in the parking lot for thirty minutes, and have called you at least five times Thea—I did not give you a phone for you to not answer it.”

Frustrated, Thea turned to her dad with brown fiery eyes, “Max is too scared to get down and he is being bullied—”

“Hey!” The boy cried out, his tears gone and replaced by anger. “I am not scared!” his head whipped to Ben, “I can get down,” he said to him a little quieter.

“How long has he been stuck up here?” Ben asked over his shoulder.

“Roughly forty minutes,” Ms. Tico supplied, “He won’t let me help him.”

“That’s what I thought,” he mumbled before turning back to the kids. “Thea, get down and go get Max’s backpack so we can go.”

“But—”

Thea,” he stressed, “Do as I asked.” The thirteen year old nodded, but grumbled the entire way down. He then looked at Ms. Tico, “Can you please give me and Max a moment?”

The teacher nodded in understanding, busying herself with cleaning up anything remaining from the playground.

“Hey buddy,” Ben dropped his voice lower, so only he and Max could hear each other. He leaned up against the jungle gym, resting his forearms on the structure. The boy’s lips quivered now that they were alone. “Do you need help getting down?” Max nodded, squeezing his eyes open and close, his glasses fogging up. Ben felt for the kid, finding himself in similar situations when he was the same age. “So how about we do this—you start to climb down and I will guide you all the way?”

“I won’t fall?” Max whispered, his hazel eye shining.

“I promise, you will not fall,” Ben said with conviction, his right hand resting securely on the boy’s back.

“Okay,” Max agreed, releasing a shaky little breath.

Slowly, he loosed his grip on the bar and reached for the next one. And then repeated the motion again with shaky confidence. His eyes were trained on each bar and step Ben’s hand’s warm weight on Max’s back encouraging him. Once he reached the bottom rung, Max jumped off the structure and immediately tucked into Ben’s awaiting arms.

Cradling the back of his head and brushing away his wild hair, Ben gently held him for a moment. Max quaked for a moment before rubbing his eyes with a clumsy fist.

“You did a great job, buddy,” Ben reassured the boy before letting him go. Standing up, he let the boy hold his hand as they crossed the playground to where Thea was waiting with Ms. Tico.

“Here,” Thea shoved Max his Porg backpack, “I also packed up your crayons.”

Smiling brightly, Max shrugged on his backpack, “Thanks, Thea.”

“Whatever,” Thea grumbled, turning on her heel to lead them back into the classroom.

As they left the playground and through the classroom, Ms. Tico stared unabashedly at Ben, who remained unaware. Instead, he watched the two kids with amusement, ruffling Thea’s hair. She swatted him away.

Ms. Tico cleared her throat, garnering Ben’s attention. “You were great with Max—”

“I would hope so, I have known him since he was a fetus,” Ben remarked, a small ‘Ew’ coming from his daughter. “Well, thank you Ms. Tico—”

“Paige,” she blinked up at him, a bashful smile on her lips, “You can call me Paige.”

“Uh—” Ben stuttered, unsure of what to do with a sudden come-on, “Thank you for sticking it out with Max, but we need to get going. Have a good rest of your day.” To make a quicker exit, Ben swiftly picked up Max, the boy giggling heartily at the motion.

Stepping a few feet to follow after, Thea then stopped and spun back around to Ms. Tico with a sickeningly sweet grin.

“I wouldn’t hold out for my dad Ms. Tico—oh, I mean Paige,” Thea said primly, Ms. Tico’s eyes widening at the sudden sharp and casual address. The girl’s jaw set and her eyes narrowed as she continued, “He’s been secretly in love with Max’s mom since forever, and nothing—I mean nothing, not even a flirty kindergarten teacher is going to change that. Ask all my former elementary school teachers, the local baristas, and the mom’s at Rebel School of Dance. Ben Solo belongs to Rey Jacobs and nothing is going to change that.” The girl then smiled brightly, “Have a wonderful day Ms. Tico!”

She skipped off to catch up with her father, leaving the teacher jaw slacked.

Sure, Thea’s father and Max’s mom weren’t dating or anything, but that didn’t mean they didn’t belong with each other. Thea clearly knew that, and she simply made sure everyone else did too.

 


 

“How about the ravioli, Max?” Rey tired perusing the menu, knowing her son would choose the spaghetti like he did when they went to Maz’s. Though it did not hurt to try to get him to order something new. “I think you’d really like the ravioli, buddy. It is little pockets of meat and cheese—like a pizza roll!”

Beside her, Ben raised an eyebrow at her crude explanation of the pasta dish.

She shrugged, a little lost on how to explain something for her picky son. Her little boy disliked everything—except spaghetti, macaroni and cheese, ham sandwiches, and Oreos. Sometimes, if she was being especially clever, she’d shred and chop up vegetables fine enough and sneak it into the spaghetti sauce. But these days, Max was beginning to catch on.

He puffed out his cheeks, “I don’t know,” he mumbled, playing with his fork. “I don’t like pizza rolls.”

Biting her lips together, Rey folded her menu closed. Today she wasn’t going to battle, no fights today. She’d let Max have this one, all things considering.

She nearly lost her head when Ben picked her up from work, explaining how Max had been stuck on the jungle gym. The boy nor Thea had said a peep of what happened earlier that day. Not even when they were talking about their day at school.

“That’s fine, you can get the spaghetti,” Rey said grabbing another bread stick from the basket. “Spaghetti is always good.” She punctuated by biting into her bread.

From across the table, Thea eyed her father and Rey suspiciously.

“You two are acting weird,” the girl said, her dark eyes focused sharply on the two. It sometimes unnerved Rey how much Thea’s eyes mimicked Ben, the two able whip out their thoughts and emotions through their eyes in a blink. “You are usually more chatty—why?”

“Excuse me?” Ben said, lowering his menu to look at his daughter. “We acting perfectly fine, it’s just been a long day Thea.”

“No, you guys are acting weird,” Max supported, though his gaze remained focus on rearranging his utensils.

“See?” Thea waved to Max. “If boy-wonder here noticed then it must be true.”

The two parents shared a glance.

Ben sighed, “Actually there is something important we’d like to discuss.”

Areyoutwodating?” Thea rushed out, no one at the table quite understanding her.

What?” Ben uttered, completely lost.

“Nothing,” Thea replied dejectedly, picking up another breadstick to munch on as her father and Rey continued with their important news.

“Anyways,” Ben cleared his throat, “Auntie Rey and I have been talking, and we have decided that it would be best if we all moved in together,” he said simply, trying to not persuade the kids to a bias.

Thea and Max remained silent.

Confused, Rey and Ben glanced at each other. They were prepared for either shrills of excitement or whines of protest. Silence, however, was not anticipated.

Needless to say, they were concerned.

“Well,” Rey spoke up, her eyes darting between the two kids, “Do you two have anything to say?”

“That’s it?” Thea asked, “Nothing else you want to tell us?”

The girl swiftly nudged Max, the boy immediately sitting at attention. “Yeah—,” he stuttered, “Anything else?”

“No,” Rey dragged out, feeling Ben tense beside her the longer the kids remained reactionless. “Did you expect something else?”

“NO!” Max practically yelped, earning a few concerned looks from the other patrons.

“No,” Thea echoed, the thirteen year old shrugging as if the news were no big deal. “When do we move?”

Stunned at her willing acceptance, Rey blinked owlishly at the girl. “Uh—”

“Over Thanksgiving break,” Ben told his daughter, eyeing her suspiciously. “That way it doesn’t bother or distract from school.”

At the information, the kids glanced at each other, a silent conversation passing between the two.

“Okay,” Thea announced, returning back to her menu. “I think I want the calzone.”

“Order half, you won’t finish a full one,” Ben remined her tersely.

“I think I want a full one,” the girl declared from behind her menu, “I think it is important to get things we want.”

“While I agree, I think it is also important for us to know our limits, and to listen to our fathers,” Ben told his daughter, not entirely sure what game she was playing, but he wasn’t entirely fond of this sharp attitude she’d been developing.

From the top of her menu, Thea openly narrowed her eyes on her dad.

“Ah, my favorite family!” Maz cooed, effectively interrupting any scolding or questioning on the tip of Ben’s tongue. “What can I get for all of you?”

“Spaghetti!” Max cheered dropping his fork down.

Maz sent a questioning glance to Rey, knowing the food battle well. The mother nodded solemnly. “Yes…spaghetti.”

 


 

Later that night, as Rey tucked Max into bed, she asked him about the move again.

“Are you sure you are okay with moving in with Uncle Ben and Thea?”

Her son nodded, snuggling deeper into his fuzzy blankets, “Yeah,” he sighed, his chubby cheeks puffing out. “I get to see Thea more. She’s cool.” Rey smiled at the sentiment, gently removing Max’s glasses from his face and setting them on the nightstand. Tiredly, he rubbed his eyes, a tiny yawn escaping him. “And I love Uncle Ben,” he mumbled, his eyes beginning to droop.

Rey released a relieved sigh; she was concerned Max wasn’t expressing how he truly felt at dinner, the boy often bottling up his emotions when out in public. The two were close, as close a mother and son could be, but in recent months he began to keep to himself more. His clinginess was apparent, but more as a peak of irrational anxiety on his part. Despite this there was less chatter about his day, reclusive when he came home. Introversion was one thing—Rey had been friends with Ben long enough to know—but self-imposed seclusion and not sharing to anyone about his feels…well that was a concerning. When she expressed her situation to her therapist, Dr. Andor had told her it was unfortunately ‘normal’ with an only child, especially one such as Max and his…quirks. He recommended the boy spend more time with those he liked and who Max felt he could express openly with in order to get him out of his shell.

Astonishingly, Ben and occasionally Thea where the only two Max would share anything to or talk excitedly with. Maybe their little move would help him and ease her worries.

Brushing away his moppy curls, Rey pressed a kiss to Max’s forehead. “Sleep tight little guy.”

 


 

“It’s three bedrooms,” Ben said as he walked through the townhouse, dropping off the first box from his car in the living room.

“Yes,” Rey called out from down the hall, over in the den. “You knew that when had the walk through, you knew that when we signed the lease—”

“But it is very real now,” Ben stated slowly, “Like I didn’t think we’d actually do this,” he mumbled to himself.

DAD!” Thea called out, her feet pounding on the stairs. “Who is getting which room, because I want the one at the end of the hall—”

“I want a room next to my mom,” Max panickily declared, taking a little longer to climb down the stairs. A stuff porg was clutched in his right hand, worn from love and use, the stuff animal his favorite as an infant.

Patting, Max’s head comfortingly, Ben turned back to the kids, “Uh, how about we finish bringing the boxes in and then we can figure everything else out—”

“I got it!” Rey called out, tearing off her baseball cap and picking up her notepad from the scarce kitchen counter. She quickly wrote down numbers on the paper, then ripped them into little squares. She dropped them into her hat. “Each room has a number—the den is one, the room at the end of the hall is two, the one next to it is three and the one across is four. Your room is the number you pick—see,” she looked at the faces around her, “Nice and fair.”

“But what about the Jack-and-Jill bathroom?” Ben reminded Rey, knowing if the kids had a bathroom all to themselves it would be chaos. Max and Thea were two very different kids. Max liked order and routine, none of his belongings touching anyone else’s. The boy liked his space and needed it. Meanwhile Thea was a messy, messy, messy person. She lived by organized chaos and somehow knew where everything was despite Ben not being able to decipher one stack of clothes from the other. He tried for years to organize her room, giving her cubbies and labels and color coded organizers only for her to disregard them two weeks into their new system.

“Whoever gets it will need to learn how to adjust—I think we can all do that.” Rey sent a warning glance to the two children then back at Ben, no one finding room for an argument. “Youngest to oldest,” she said, holding out the hat to Max.

The boy quickly plucked one out, followed by Thea who seemed to take her sweet time feeling the remaining three pieces of paper.

“Thea, pick one before I pick one for you,” Ben warned his daughter, the girl’s frown sharpening before she huffed, pulling out a paper.

Rey then picked one, Ben rolling his eyes as he took the last one. He opened it—and of course he got the den room.

“I’m not next to mom,” Max mumbled, tears beginning to pool in his eyes.

Rey held her breath waiting for the impending cries she wouldn’t be able to comfort no matter how hard she tried. She read the books, she listened to friends, she knew at five kids were supposed to be a little more independent, but Max was a special case.

“Hey, it’s okay,” Ben said, Max immediately halting his tears to look up at the older man. “You are almost across from her and if you get really scared, you can always go to Thea. She snores in her sleep, it’s really funny,” Ben winked at him, the boy giggling at the thought of the older girl snoring.

Rey exhaled, though no one noticed the waves of relief coursing through her. Maybe, with Ben’s help, she’d be able to start pushing Max towards healthy independence.

“I don’t snore!” Thea grumbled before marching off to go get her things from the car.

“She does,” Ben said conspiratorially, Max erupting into more giggles before running off upstairs.

Once seeing her son round the corner, Rey turned back to Ben. “Hey, thanks for that.”

He shrugged, staring to walk back to the front door, “No problem. After all, we said we are doing this to help each other.”

“Right,” Rey nodded, trying to find something else to work on because there was a lot to work on rather than think about Ben stopping Max’s impending meltdown expertly. “Helping each other.”

 


 

“You are doing what?”

Ben would never associate his mother and word sputter together, but there was no other way to describe her reaction to the news.

“Princess, you heard them, they’re shacking up together,” Han said with an exasperated gruff.

“No!” Ben practically wailed at the comment, while Rey ungracefully dropped her spoonful of casserole on her lap. “We are in no way ‘shacking it up’.”

“What does ‘shacking it up’ mean?” Max asked innocently, staring up at everyone at the table with wide hazel eyes. He watched them curiously as he subconsciously pushing his peas far away from his mashed potatoes and turkey. He didn’t like his food touching unless absolutely necessary, Han and Ben making sure all of the little boy’s favorite Thanksgiving dishes were able to be served by themselves.

“Yeah, does it mean owning a shack? Because it’s a townhouse,” Thea explained with a shrug, reaching over for another bread roll.

Beside her, Luke chuckled into his napkin, earning disapproving looks from both Ben and Leia. “What? It’s funny.”

Clearing her throat, Rey turned to her son who sat between she and Ben, “Max, it is a term—”

“That should not be used because it is derogatory and insulting,” Ben muttered, staring hard at Han. The older man held his hands up in defense before returning to his food, smirking.

“Bottom line don’t use it,” Rey finished, wiping up the splatter on her navy blue dress. “Never can go a Thanksgiving without staining my dress,” she mumbled, dropping the dirty napkin to the left of her plate.

“But why?” Leia continued, “Are either of you having financial troubles? If you are, please let me know—”

Ben waved his hand, setting down his utensils. This was clearly going to be a longer discussion than anticipated.  “No, no, we are not having money problems or anything. We just think it would be easier considering how much we already help each other out.”

“To move in together?” Leia stated sternly, eyebrows raised in disbelief.

Ben pressed his lips hard together, finding it difficult to continue defending when apparently everyone at the table had a distinct opinion on the matter.

“I like it!” Thea declared into the tense silence. “Rey forced dad to make Wednesday pizza nights, and I like my room. I can see the ocean from there,” she babbled happily. Leia sent her granddaughter a curious glance, the girl shoving more food into her mouth at the sight.

Leia hummed in thought, dropping the subject for now. Instead, she smiled brightly at her granddaughter, “Thea, how is dancing going? Miss Kaydel says you are one of her most talented students.”

The girl lit up, the conversation effectively switching to dancing for the duration of dinner.

It wasn’t until Leia cornered Rey and Ben while they helped clean up the kitchen and Han handled the kids in the backyard. The grandparents installed a swing set and monkey bars when Thea was younger; luckily it came in handy with Max, the older girl still playing along for the sake of the boy’s fun.

“You two are bigger idiots than I thought if you think you can move in with each other,” Leia scolded the moment the backyard door shut closed.

“Excuse me?” Ben said eyebrows furring.

“I don’t see the problem,” Rey commented lightly, knowing the tension between mother and son was a difficult one to contend. “Ben and I rely on each other for help all the time, moving in with each other kills the ridiculous amount of shuffling around we have to do with the kids,” Rey replied logically, practically rehearsed.

Rubbing her temples, Leia sighed tiredly. She dropped her hands on the counter, eyeing the two carefully.

“When was the last time either of you had sex?”

“What?”

“Uh—” Rey flushed profusely, her attempt at words sounding like toad croaks.

“That is personal, mother,” Ben squeaked, his eyes widening.

Leia put her hands on her hips, giving her son and Rey a stern, militant stare. “I am only asking because you are two grown ass adults with needs living under the same roof, helping take care of each other’s children—feelings are going to emerge. It is inevitable,” she explained matter-of-factly, noticing how still and uncomfortable Rey and Ben became at her words.

“As you said,” Ben began, a waiver in his voice, “Rey and I are grown adults—we are not horny teenagers, Mom. Plus we have been friends for years—”

“If something were to happen, it would have happened a long time ago,” Rey came in his defense, returning back to rinsing the pot she started scrubbing. “And I can honestly say Ben and I have the healthiest platonic relationship.” Leia’s lips quirked to the side at that rather stressed remark. “And we know everything about each other and our kids. I think us moving in together is brilliant.”

“See?” Ben nodded towards Rey. “She and I are in total agreement—and think about this, when you want to visit us you only need to go to one location.”

Smiling tightly and ignoring his mother’s disbelieving glare, Ben went back to drying the dishes beside Rey.

Behind them, Leia huffed, knowing when she needed to back down from a battle. The two heard her leave, joining Han and the kids outside. They worked in tandem for a fee brief moments before ben could not help himself—his mother did bring up an interesting point.

“So…when was it the last time for you?” He mumbled, keeping his eyes turned down. He felt Rey stiffen, her head whipping to him, causing stands of hair to whack his shoulder. Hesitantly, he turned to her wide hazel eyes.

“You are not seriously asking that?” She squinted at him, jaw locking stubbornly.

Picking up the next clean dish, Ben shrugged sheepishly. “Even though my mother is wrong on several levels, she brought up a good point.” He quickly dropped his towel to the side, turning to face Rey fully, “We should know the status of each other’s sex lives—”

“Non-existent,” Rey droned, throwing the sponge into the sick. She crossed her arms over her chest, staring up at him openly and transparent. “And I want to keep it that way. I don’t have time for a boyfriend or trying to get to know someone,” She balked, mocking a shiver, “I hate dating, and everything that comes with it and I don’t want to ever introduce Max to someone who will not be there forever.” She blinked hard, pursing her lips, “Max comes first, he always needs to come first.”

He understood where she came from and her unspoken fears. A little too well to be honest. Ben tried dating after Jyn, a wild spirit everyone told him would not last. Which everyone turned out to be right. A strange situation of breaking up only for Jyn to come back three days later with a positive test and flipping out because she had to cancel her Grand Canyon expedition due to being pregnant.

Getting back together wasn’t an option, and being a mother wasn’t Jyn's calling. And Ben didn’t even try to fight against her considering the only thing they seemed to agree on was yes, she was having the baby.

An amicable break-up that lead to multiple custody papers and single parent status. Jyn wanted to live life on the edge, taking risky trips and expeditions, and Ben did not want that type of heartbreak for Thea. Yearly visits and postcards seemed to work…for now.

But dating…was not easy when he was in his twenties without child, and it still wasn’t easy in his thirties with child. Was it an excuse? Possibly. But Ben was going to let Thea be his excuse until she moved out of the house and then some.

“How about you? Anyone other women in your life?” She said teasingly, though her guarded eyes spoke otherwise.

He leaned against the kitchen counter, thinking for a moment. There was one woman three years ago he attempted to hook up with during a business trip but…he panicked last second and ended up nearly breaking the hotel coffeemaker on his hasty escape. Other than that, a pretty dry few years except for a few private moments—but he didn’t need to know and she didn’t need to know –“Nope and I don’t think I want it to change; I have a feeling Thea scares them away.”

Rey snorted ungracefully, her entire body lurching as she struggled to contain it.

“Have you ever met your daughter? She can scare the daylights out of a demon; of course she scares potential women away,” she chortled, wincing apologetically a second after. “But seriously, us not being in relationships or being in relationship is not going to be a problem.”

“I know,” Ben murmured, looking out the kitchen window. His dad chased Max around the field, the boy giggling feverishly as he ducked and dodged clumsily. “Sometimes my mom just gets in my head—”

A gentle yet firm hand laid on his, Rey grasping him steadfastly.

“Hey, you are worrying about something that does not need to be worried about; stop it,” she declared, patting his hand. Ben nodded in agreement, not needing to voice his irrational concerns to Rey. She knew more than anyone and knew how to be his light of truth. “Now let’s finish the dishes so I can take a nap.”

“A nap? Never heard of those.”

She snorted again, Ben making a mental tally.

 


 

Moving went faster than either Ben or Rey expected. Sure, there were cases where they did not know where certain boxes belonged because Rey decided to not label all of hers, and trying to figure out what to do with two crockpots and two sets of sofas. After some purging and heated arguments (“No one needs two coffee tables, especially one monochromatic,” “I will not have a floral tapestry hanging on the wall—we are adults, Rey”), Ben and Rey were able to decide who got to keep what in the main living room. Understandably, Rey left Ben the kitchen, the only one out of the two of them who knew how to use all the appliances beyond a crockpot and a microwave.

Oddly enough, their kids acted as though living together was the most normal transition on the planet. A routine was set. Mornings were crazy with the two bathrooms, Rey leaning the extent of Thea’s messiness while Ben quickly realized two step stools were needed for Max since the boy had to get ready in the downstairs bathroom but liked to use the restroom in the upstairs bathroom.

But Rey was able to get the kids up and ready, while Ben forced some food into their mouths then get out the door by 7:00 and drive them to school. And actually get the kids to school on time unlike in the past when carpool became several shouting matches between Ben and Thea, along with Max crying as he was forced to say ‘goodbye’ his mom. Instead there was little shouting and crying between child parent, and more so between the children. And well, unfortunately, the adults.

Max and Thea fought, but nothing that wasn’t resolved moments later with a hug or nice gesture. Thankfully.

Meanwhile, Rey and Ben bickered, both feeling as though they were becoming worse than the kids. Mostly being away from each other for the majority of the day allowed whatever pity argument that may have transpired to blow over. Usually it was solved with muttered apologies, a bottle of wine once the kids were asleep, and complaining about their work day to each other.

Overall, everything else seemed to go over well.

Too well.

Both should have expect something to go wrong, soon.

A loud piercing screech came from the upstairs bathroom around midnight seemed to be just that.

On the couch, Rey had dozed off while they’d been watching American Horror Story, she nearly falling off the cushion if Ben didn’t catch her arm.

“That was Thea,” Rey mumbled, suddenly very awake.

He sprung up half a second later, his sleep induced brain finally piecing together what had just happened. He hurried up the stairs, Rey following half a step behind.

I’m dying!” Another agonized, melodramatic scream came from the upstairs bathroom.

They went through Thea’s room to the bathroom, Ben about to throw open the door, when the pieces finally clicked for Rey. Thea was thirteen, screaming she was apparently dying, while in the bathroom in the middle of the night.

She immediately slapped his hand away.

“Hey, what the hel—”

“I think I know what is wrong, and I don’t think you should go in there,” Rey declared, pushing past Ben to the door.

“Thea was screaming and—”

“Has Thea had her first period yet?” Rey bluntly asked.

Ben blanched, his face becoming white before becoming flustered.

Oh dear.

“I—uh—I have no idea.”

“What do you mean you have no idea?” Rey stressed, her voice dropped so neither of the kids could hear them.

“Thea and I…we don’t talk about those things,” he said, the words sounding awkward coming out of his mouth. “We haven’t had those type of discussions—”

“You haven’t had the sex talk with her yet?” she hissed exasperatedly.

Ben shifted from foot to foot, looking anywhere but Rey. “I didn’t have the sex talk until I was fifteen—”

“It’s different for girls,” she explained, “We have blood coming out of us in a weird place for an even weirder reason.”

His eyes widened at the implications, a shaky hand raking through his hair. “Okay, I don’t want to talk about blood coming out of vaginas—”

Unable to help herself, Rey snorted. “I didn’t even say ‘vagina’, now you are putting words into my mouth.”

Rubbing his face in frustration, Ben looked at Rey between his fingers. “I thought the school would explain it—”

“She goes to a private school Ben—they won’t discuss sex,” she reminded him, briefly hating she and Ben were both forking out money for their kids to go to private school—for the higher education programs— “Main point: someone needs to go in there and help her—which I can do—”

Defeatedly, Ben groaned. “I sense a ‘but’ here—”

But,” Rey uttered sternly, “You need to have the talk with her, even if it makes you uncomfortable.”

She turned to open the door, only for Ben to catch her elbow.

“Can you at least help me?” he asked pitifully, “Please?”

Biting her lips together, Rey sighed, “Fine,” before opening the door with an understanding smile, and locking it behind her.

Which then left Ben waiting, staring at the door as though it were a vortex.

His daughter was becoming a grown-up and if was fucking terrifying. He didn’t even know where the last thirteen years had gone; he suddenly blinked and he was no longer a scared-shitless twenty-four year old single father, but now a scared-shitless thirty-seven year old single father. The same, but now with a couple of more gray hairs.

Standing alone in his daughter’s bedroom, Ben could not figure out how exactly his entire life led up to this moment where Rey was the one telling him to have the talk with his thirteen year old.

They weren’t even close friends when they lived together with Finn and Poe, and not even when Jyn ended up pregnant. Friends by circumstance who’d do the occasional nice thing for the other.

Yes, he kind-of-sort-of liked Rey. She was—still is—a stubborn spitfire who was a little too reckless when she should have been cautious and vice-versa.

But somewhere along the way, she became his best friend, before she also found herself single and with a kid. Maybe it was when she offered to babysit Thea during his night classes as he finished his masters. Or when Finn and Poe moved across the country for a job opportunity Poe could not pass up, the two suddenly stuck with each other as friends, knowing too much about the other to let it die.

And now she was kind of doing the mom-thing for Thea and—

Ben scolded those thoughts away, immediately.

“Uncle Ben,” a small tired voice, called out from the doorway. He looked over to see a bleary eyed Max standing there with his porg stuffy. He yawned, still looking like a baby at the motion. “What’s wrong with Thea?”

“Uh…” Ben blinked, before coming over to crouch beside Max. “She’s not feeling too good buddy, so your mom is checking in on her.”

“Oh,” the boy mumbled, licking his lips. “I heard her scream and got scared.”

Ben frowned, resting a hand on Max’s forearm. “Well she freaked out a little, but nothing bad is happening. She’ll probably go back to bed soon.”

Max nodded, pushing up his glasses. “Can you tuck me back into bed?”

“Of course,” he said, Max holding out his arms to be picked up.

Easily, Ben picked up the boy and brought him back to his room. His galaxy nightlight still shined, throwing different constellations on the walls. Gently, he placed him back in his twin-bed. Max carefully climbed into his layers of blankets, looking up at Ben expectantly.

Unsure of what else he was supposed to do, Ben tucked the blankets around Max tighter and went to take off the kid’s glasses.

Max sank lower and shook his head.

“You need to tell me a bedtime story,” the boy insisted, “Mom always tells me a bedtime story so I can fall asleep.”

“Oh, what book does she read?” Ben asked, looking over to the bookshelf on the other side of the room.

“She doesn’t read me one, she makes one up,” he explained, holding his Porg to his chest.

“Oh,” Ben hummed, not really pegging Rey as improvising storyteller. She wrote storylines for video games and over saw the creative team, but she’d never been one to actually enjoyed creating stories beyond storyboarding. “Um, what kind of stories does she tell you?”

“Any kind,” Max shrugged.

Ben pressed his lips together, sitting on the edge of the bed. He could come up with a story for a kid, after all being a creative writing and English professor required him to read and write.

Even if he hadn’t written anything of prominence in a good six years.

He looked up at the stars decorating the ceiling and walls, an idea striking him. “In a galaxy far, far away... there lived a girl on a desert planet who was nobody—until she became the most important girl in the entire galaxy.”

Max’s hazel eyes widened behind his glasses, encouraging Ben to continue.

 


 

“Does he really have to give me the talk?” Thea groaned watching as Rey changed her sheets from the blood stained set.

“Yes.”

“But I already know how sex works,” Thea declared, curled into a ball on her desk chair.

Pausing, Rey look up at the girl. “Trust me—you don’t, and it is better to know how sex works from your parents than from some silly classmate who told everyone what s-e-x was the moment she was told or found out from the internet.”

The girl shrunk in her seat, suddenly feeling seen. “How do you know—”

“Because I was your age once too,” Rey reminded Thea, pulling the last end of the fitted sheet on the full size bed. “And I didn’t have a parent to tell me what was going on.”

Thea’s eyes widen almost comically, unable to fathom the thought of Rey alone. “You didn’t have a parent? Who did you have?”

Rey froze as she fluffed a pillow, realizing Thea in fact didn’t know. Not that she would…but the girl’s confusion brought back old memories and emotions.

“I…” Rey pressed her lips together, sitting on the bed. Thea stood up and shuffled over to be beside her. The girl plopped down, tucking her legs against her chest. “I was an orphan, Thea. I lived in a home with other kids like me, and—” She swallowed, smiling tightly. “I was mostly on my own and had to rely on some of the older, nicer kids to explain things to me.”

Her dark eyes became downcast at the news. “You didn’t have a family?”

Rey shook her head, placing the pillow back in its place. “No, and I wasn’t happy about it for a long time. It wasn’t until I was older that I found some peace about it. Not to mention I have my own family now, with Max—”

“And me and dad,” Thea said, not noticing Rey’s stunned expression.

Yeah…Ben and Thea were her family, even if she rarely acknowledged the notion. Probably had been before Max was even a thought. While Ben was no longer one of her roommates (he wanted to figure out the whole single dad thing on his own and a baby was not the best fifth roommate in the world) Rey would still visit and hang out. There was no one else who could take her remarks and quip back something just as, or even more so, aggressive. He was also the only person who knew Seinfeld just as well as her and that was friendship keeper in her book. She’d also watch Thea on night’s Ben needed to go to class, trying to finish his Masters. One could say Rey was partially to blame for Thea’s spunky attitude. Somewhere along the way, Rey was invited to the big moments (Thea’s first dance recital was one for the books) and being involved in holiday gatherings. Things changed ever so slightly with Max, whose father was… out of the picture with due reason. But they figured out a new rhythm and bizarrely enough Rey and Ben became better friends after.

Yawning, Thea curled into Rey’s side, still small enough to fit under her arm without clonking heads, and wrapped her arms around the woman’s middle.

“You’ve always been my family, Auntie Rey,” she said quietly, playing with a loose thread on her shirt, “I’m really glad you and Max are here. I think dad really likes it, too.”

“Me too,” Rey mumbled into her hair, pushing away her unruly waves. “Come on, it’s late. Time to go back to bed.”

Thea sat up, clutching on to Rey’s arm. A fleeting image of a toddler with the same eyes and mop of wavy curls invading her memory. At thirteen, Thea’s eyes held the inner child she constantly tried to hamper down, a habit she adopted from her father. “Can you please stay?”

Rey patted the girl’s arm gently in reassurance, “Let me just check on your dad and Max first, okay?”

The girl nodded, climbing into bed as Rey left the room to Max’s.

Stepping closer to room, she noticed the door open, streams of galaxy shining through the hall. The sight she found caused her heart to fill with warmth.

Slumped against the frame of the bed, Ben slept with Max partially curled on top of him. Both of their glasses were skewed on their faces in slumber.

Cautiously she stepped into the room, and over to the two. She expertly slipped off Max’s glasses, the boy notorious for falling asleep with them on if she didn’t take them off. Considering leaving Ben there for the night, Rey opted against it, knowing he’d complain about his stiff back in the morning.

She shook him once, him waking, confused.

“Rey—”

“Shhh.” She pointed to Max.

Looking down at the boy, Ben hummed in understanding. With a steady grip, he lifted the boy off him and into bed, while getting out of his grasp. Rey tucked him back in, before leaving, Ben following after her.

Walking further down the hall, Ben glanced over at Rey and then to his daughter’s room. “Crisis diverted?”

“For now, yes,” Rey confirmed, “But tomorrow? Who knows. But she’s okay, I actually need to head back over there.”

“Oh?” Ben uttered, for some reason expecting Rey to talk to him about what happened.

“I promised Thea I’d spend the night with her,” she explained apologetically. “But we can talk tomorrow.”

“Right,” Ben said in understanding, stepping back to the stairs. “Well, uh, goodnight. And thank you.”

“Goodnight,” she grinned tiredly back up at him, before heading over to Thea’s room.

Silently Ben watched her go, unable to feel as though there was something more he want to tell her. More than a thank you.

 


 

“When a man and woman love each other very much—”

“Lalalalalalalalala!” Thea shoved two fingers in her ears the moment Ben began speaking. Her panicked, loud singing echoed throughout the room, the father cringing at the obnoxious display. He did not need this on a Tuesday evening when there was dinner to finish and papers to grade. He avoided this particular talk for two days, only for Rey to force him upstairs once he started dinner.

He needed to give Thea the talk, and apparently she hated this just as much as him.

“I-can’t-hear-you!” She sang terribly off-key, Ben cringing swiveling away on Thea’s desk chair. He sat in the chair backwards, gripping the backrest for dear life as Thea’s refusal to listen reached its peak. She rocked back and forth on her bed in a fetal position, toppling more side to side than forward and back. “If I can’t hear you then you can’t talk because I won’t listen—”

Oh shit, he needed help. “REY!”

After a few moments, the woman came up, a strained smile on her face—she clearly did not want to be there. Upon seeing Rey, Thea dropped her theatrics, slumping pathetically on her bed.

“My dad is trying to give me the talk—”

“I know. I told him to,” Rey said simply, entering the room and shutting the door behind her for good measure. Max was in his room, playing with Legos; the poor innocent soul did not need to hear anything of this conversation.

“Traitor!” Thea huffed, sitting back up.

Pulling up the ottoman from the end of the bed, Rey sat down near Ben. Both adults faced Thea; in retaliation, the girl purposely stared at the ceiling. The two shared an exhausted glance, the frustration and helplessness from Ben seeping into Rey. They were going to have their hands full with this one.

“So I am just going to get right out and say it—what do you know already?” Rey asked. Beside her, Ben bowed his head, several muttering and mumblings leaving him.

“Uh,” Thea’s eyes bounced between her father and Rey, suddenly nervous. “Uh, the thingy goes into the thingy and…sometimes a baby is made, but a lot of people do it to not make a baby. I mean, how else would either Max or I be here?”

A agonizing moan left Ben, his head still bowed. “I am dying a slow death. Get me the fuck out of here.”

Thea’s eyes widen gleefully, “Dad, you curse? I never—”

His head immediately shot up, realizing his mistake, “No-no-no! I do not curse!” He defended untruthfully, “And you do not curse—”

“But everyone at school doe—”

“You do not curse,” he repeated, more for himself than for her. Until he noticed how hypocritical he sounded; he didn’t want his daughter to think he was a hypocrite. Scrubbing his face, tiredly he struggled to find the right words. “No, shit. I ghhhhh.” He sat back up facing his daughter, who blinked back astonished by the transpiring events of embarrassment. “I do not want you to think cursing is necessarily bad, because it is not, but it is not something you should be using as of right now,” Ben declared sternly.

“What a…diplomatic way to put it,” Rey quipped, wincing back to Ben. Before children and usually in private, Rey and Ben cursed like sailors and frequently, the habit difficult to break while flustered “But back to the conversation on hand,” she turned back to Thea. Rey needed to save the situation; logical and straightforward were the best ways to get through to Thea without a smartass response. “The most you need to know right now is…sex is normal for adults, it is used for precreation and for pleasure and it is only when someone loves someone else very much do they participate in those activities.”

“Don’t have sex!” Ben burst out, face burning red. “Please for the love god, don’t have sex.”

Thea’s nose scrunched up, “Ew—no. From everything I’ve heard it sounds gross and painful. No thank you.”

“Please, continue thinking that,” he said with a relieved sigh, slouching in his seat.

 


 

“Thank you,” Ben mumbled to Rey as they cleaned up the kitchen from dinner. “For earlier, with Thea. I don’t know what I would have done if you haven’t been there.”

“Of course,” Rey said with a nonchalant shrug, emptying the leftovers into tubberware. “I mean that’s why we moved in together—to help each other out.”

“Right,” Ben muttered back, putting another dish into the dishwasher. “I just want to let you know I do appreciate it.”

Suddenly feeling bashful, she turned away to put the leftovers in the refrigerator. A small, soft smile formed on her lips. “Well thanks for helping with Max the other night,” she said, facing Ben once more. “I have never been able to get him back to sleep once he’s up. You performed a miracle, sir.”

Leaning back against the kitchen counter across from her, Ben shook his head, self-conscious. “He’s a great kid, he just needs a little help sometimes.”

“You really are great with him—I can’t even fathom trying to really, truly raise him on my own,” she admitted quietly, tucking her loose hair behind her ear.

A heavy sigh from Ben brought her eyes back to him.

His hands clenched together before a lost fledgling, encouraging smile shadowed his lips.“I don’t think you quite understand how marvelous you are—”

Awkwardly, an empty chuckle emerged from the back of her throat. “Okay, now you are spewing lies.”

Ben bit his lips together, shrugging as he crossed his arms over his chest. “I’m just saying the truth. Even if you don’t want to acknowledge it.”

She was lighter but felt a new weight at his words, his voice earnest and clear in the small kitchen. Despite his occasionally cold demeanor to others, Ben Solo regarded her with reverence and intimate wit. Often struggling to find the right words, after a few fitful tries he’d finally find the words he meant. No shame in stumbling and digging to find words because he made it clear their relationship was worth it.

Across from her, his brown eyes watched her with endearment, the familiarity of his gaze not lost on her. An inexplicable pull brought her shuffling over to him until they were almost toe to toe, Ben seemingly shorter as he slouched against the kitchen counter. He watched her carefully, open to her proximity. Panic slowly trickled through her as she realized how close she actually was to him. Nothing new, or strange but his kind—affectionate words were still ringing in her ears.

After a millisecond of hesitance, she wrapped her arms around his neck and brought him in for a hug. An easy, hug. A simple hug, nothing to fret or think about as more than a friendly hug between friends.

At least that was what Rey chanted in her mind as she held him close, nose pressed into his shoulder. Yet as his comforting, all consuming arms enveloped her, she could not help but sigh contentedly. For a still moment they embraced each other, unaware of the blooming inclination towards each other.

Rey pulled away, a forced smile hiding her confusion.

Ben nodded almost shyly at her. “Well, I guess I better head off to—”

Surging forward, Rey brought him down to her, pressing her lips on his. Quick and to the point, enough for her let her thumping chest carry her for two seconds before the panic of her actions set back into her bones.

Frantically she shoved him away, his arms still holding her, as though begging for her nearness.

His eyes were gently shut, lips parted in awe encapsulating daze. A shaky, puzzled and strained chuckle stuttered out of him.

“I—uh,” he licked his lips, eyes opening wide, “what—,” he frowned, “—what was that?”

Oh, god. She fucked up.

Swallowing she stepped back from him. He stood up straighter, his arms still out from when he held her—waiting to wrapped her back up in him.

No. No. No. This was bad, this was extremely bad. She never—what the hell came over her?

Crossing her arms over her chest, Rey then took another step.

And another

“Rey, don’t—”

And she ran out of the kitchen and up the stairs, nearly slamming her bedroom door shut behind her before she remember the kids to be asleep.

Damn it. The kids.

 


 

The next few days were…awkwardly silent. They stuck to their usual schedule, but the moment Ben ever entered the room, Rey would find a way to see herself out. Teasing and banter was no longer heard in the house, replaced by brittle politeness from Rey and half pleading-half aggravated comments from Ben.

It only became obvious something happened when family dinner night rolled around and the two parents decided it best to drive in separate cars—“Because I need to stop at the store after.”

“We can all just go together,” Thea shrugged, the concept not odd. They’d done plenty of errands all together numerous times. Stopping to do some grocery shopping after dinner was done often enough.

Rey was skittish; she’d been like this all week. And Thea Solo was going to get to the bottom of it.

“Yeah, but I need to go shopping by myself,” Rey explained, shrugging on her coat.

“You hate shopping by yourself because you always end up buying more food than necessary,” Thea argued, leaning against the wall as Rey checked her purse.

“I am an adult Thea, I think I can do some shopping by myself.”

The girl frowned, crossing her arms over her chest. “Did you and Dad have a fight?”

“What!” Rey cried out, off put by the thought. “No, no, of course not—your father and I don’t fight—”

Thea scoffed, raising an eyebrow. Rey and Ben argued more than the average set of friends, but it was never out of a cruel nature. Instead it usually occurred over petty matters, such as how to properly hang a toilet paper roll. This then led to teasing after a few minutes, and then everything went back to normal.

Thea knew her father and his best friend must have argued over larger matters, but it was always behind closed doors. She’d seen a glimpse when her father and her mother divorced and when Rey almost left for a job out of state a couple of years back. These usually had a lot of yelling, but mostly clouded with sadness.

And they were fine the next day.

But this…avoiding each other, Rey talking to Ben like he were just a some ordinary person…this was weird.

Really weird.

“Okay—we do fight, occasionally,” she pulled a hair tie from her wrist and wrapped her hair up in a messy bun on the top of her head. Watching the girl, she softened, feeling the concern pour through Thea’s brown eyes. Stepping forward, she placed a warm hand on the girl’s should, squeezing firmly. “But we did not have a fight.”

“Then what happened?” she demanded, her voice dropping. Her father and Max were still home, and she didn’t want either of them to know she was being a nosy snoop. She’d be scolding and cried to if discovered. Rey, on the other hand, took the time and maintained to patience to listen. “Because you guys have been strange and…it’s noticeable.”

The older woman’s mouth twisted tightly at the remark, dropping her hand in her pocket.

“Nothing you need you worry about—just some grown up stuff—”

Thea gasped, eyes wide. “Did you two have sex?”

“THEA!”

“It was just a question!” Thea cried out, surprised how flushed Rey became at the idea. “Clearly you want it to be a thing—”

“I AM LEAVING! TEXT ME IF YOU NEED ANYTHING!” Rey announced to the rest of the condo, before marching out the door.

“THEA! What did you do?” Ben Solo’s voice called out from his bedroom down the hall.

“NOTHING!” she declared before running off to Max’s room. She needed to share her intel with him before dinner; hatching a plan would take all the time they had.

 


 

“No!” Max cried out. He threw his blue blanket over his head, going into turtle mode and hiding away from Thea. “Mommy and Uncle Ben are going to be upset!”

The girl huffed, pulling the blanket away from him. “They won’t be upset if they are happy together!” She crouched down beside him, eyeing him carefully. “Don’t you want us to really be a family?”

His little lips quirked to the side as he nodded slowly. “Yeah…” his face fell, “But I can’t lie! Mom says to always tell the truth.”

Thea stood tall with her hands on her hips, her eyes narrowing glaring at him. “Don’t you want my dad to be your dad?”

“Uh huh.”

“Then we got to do it, Max!”

The boy groaned, flopping over into his bed face first. “Fine!”

“Great, now we just need to—”

“Max! Thea! We need to get going!”

Thea and Max starred at each other, the boy momentarily panicking. Ben wasn’t supposed to be ready to go for another few minutes, enough time for Thea to hurry and call Maz before either Rey or Ben could get to the restaurant.

They needed a distraction, quickly.

Taking a deep breath, Max released a loud cry. Thea slapped her hands over her ears, surprised Max could be so loud. Thundering footsteps were heard, the boy curling into himself as though he had a stomach pain.

“Max, buddy? What’s wrong?” Ben asked in a hurry, entering the little boy’s room. His focus was solely on the younger child, barely registering Thea was still in the room.

“My tummy hurts, Uncle Ben,” the boy mumbled in false pain, twisting and withering.

Watching as her father began to tend to Max, Thea realized this was her opportunity to sneak out and commence her plan. With careful steps, she left the room, unnoticed.

 


 

Sitting in her car, Rey double checked her watch again.

7:35pm

Where were Ben and the kids? They had a standing reservation  for 7:30 every Friday, and Ben being the paranoid nub he is, would arrive at least five minutes early—not five minutes late. Tempted to call him, Rey shook off the idea.

Ben was a grown man. She didn’t need to monitor him…but the idea that something could have happened to him or the kids began to plague her mind. Maybe if she just—

A flash of familiar headlights passed by, Ben parking a couple of spots away.

Sighing, Rey steeled herself. She could have dinner with the kids and Ben. They did it all the time—but that was before she kissed him. Before she realized she liked him in more than a friendship way. Specifically in a, ‘please for the love of god, hold me and never let me go’ sort of way. A feeling she never thought she’d have for anyone, let alone Ben. Her neurotic, caring, slight asshole of a best friend. But someone who understood her like no one else could. Irreplaceable in her life.

Looking up, she saw Thea running off into Maz’s while Ben trailed along further back with Max in his arms. The boy hugged Ben’s neck, nose buried in the man’s coat. He wasn’t asleep, but caught some where in-between tiredness and anger.

Frowning, Rey grabbed her belongings and left her car, heading straight to the two.

“What happened?” she asked once a few feet away.

Turning, Ben halfway shrugged. They hadn’t spoken much in the last week despite his best efforts. Rey avoided him as best she could, their seldom interactions taking a toll on him. His clipped responses gave Rey whiplash of their college years, when they were more often viciously attacking each other with their words than some witty banter. Odd and uncomfortable to say the least, Rey unsure in her own skin in these moments.

Luckily, now his tone was softer, kinder, consumed with concern.

“I don’t know. He was crying about a stomach ache, but nearly combusted into tears when I said we could cancel dinner,” he ruffled Max’s hair, brown locks dancing around, “He was extremely adamant about coming to dinner.”

Brushing away Max’s hair from his face, Rey examined her son carefully. His checks were lightly flushed, while the rest of his face burrowed into Ben’s shoulder.

“Buddy, do you want to talk—”

A frantic shake of his head gave Rey her answer, she sharing a puzzled glance with Ben.

“Okay, you don’t have to talk, but how about we go inside?”

Max then nodded into Ben’s shoulder, trying his best to hide his face. Deciding it best to just follow through with their usual dinner, Rey led the way into the building—

Only to come to halt in the entry way once inside.

The usually small, busy Italian restaurant was practically empty. Regulars were nowhere to be seen, most of the tables not even set out with their furnishings of dishes and tablecloths. Except for one in the center of the room. A couple of candles sat lit on the table for two, along with a simple bouquet of red tulips in the center.

“What is this?” Rey asked, spinning around to Ben.

He looked just as lost as her. “I have no idea; we would have been called if the place was reserved—"

Max then squirmed out of Ben’s arm’s, the man helping the boy down. He dashed to the kitchens, Maz following out a second later.

The older woman smirked. “Hello children, I will be your server today—”

Rey marched past Maz, Ben less than half a step behind both calling after their children.

Pushing thought the swinging kitchen door, Rey and Ben found their children sitting in the back, their own little meal set out. At the sight of them, Max yelped slapping his hands over his eyes while Thea crossed her arms with a scowl.

“You two aren’t supposed to be back here!” she cried out, a distinct angry pout on her lips. “You are supposed to be enjoying a nice dinner together!”

“Thea, what is going on?” Ben ordered, stepping closer, “You have been sneaking around all evening and what are you talking about having dinner together—”

You and Mo—I mean Rey,” the girl caught herself, slumping on the barstool at the adults wide eyes.

Thea just called Rey…Mom.

A strange sense of pain and warmth fluttered in Rey’s chest at the thought, seemingly wanting the sentiment to be true.

Hesitantly, Max peaked at the three through his fingers. “We set up a date for you two.” He pointed to the door, “and Maz helped.”

Ben and Rey shared a glance at the mention of Maz—the woman was a meddler, and her willing helping to kids set up a date of things, should not have been surprising. She was one of their few family friends who’d constantly joke when the two would get hitched and just make everything legal. The two shrugged it off over the years, but now hearing such tease caused a tense sense of remorse to swell inside Rey.

“A date?” Ben echoed, eyes shifting between the two children.

“Yes,” Thea held her head high, eyes sharp on the two. “A date, because you and Rey love each other!” She declared in huff before burying her head into her arms, tired and frustrated by the events before her.

Rey pressed her lips together as heat blossomed across her cheeks and neck. Beside her, Ben was no better, his head ducked down and hands clenched at his sides. A sad sigh left him as he stepped towards his daughter, his long face becoming weary with dejection.

“Thea,” Ben began, dropping a comforting hand on the girl’s shoulder, “your…your Aunt Rey and I are not going to—“ he stopped, pinching the bridge of his nose, “—she and I—we—” he crouched down to Thea’s level, his daughter finally lifting her head to look at him. Warm brown met warm brown in a cacophony of  commissary. “She does not love me like that, kiddo.” Tiny pools of tears began to rise in the girl’s eyes. “But that does not make us any less a family because we are a family no matter what. You can’t force love between Rey and I.” Thea rolled her eyes at that statement, Ben nudging her to look back at him. “That’s not how love works; you can’t always control who you love and sometimes you can love someone but not be in love with them.”

Thea snorted, wiping her nose with the back of her hand. “There’s a difference?”

“Oh,” Ben nodded, “There is a huge difference.” He squeezed her shoulder, taking a heavy breath. “Love is unconditional and enduring, meaning sticking together through the good and the bad. It’s not about big gestures,” he glanced over at Max and then the door with a knowing look, “Like running around, setting up a surprise date, but about the little things that build up together to form a lasting love. That type of love doesn’t happen suddenly, it takes time. Building when you are not even paying attention. It is the realization that takes you by surprise, that’s the falling in love part, because you are already in love it happened when you weren’t paying attention and—”

“And it’s frightening because everything is the same, but different,” Rey found herself chiming in, her voice cracking at the weight of her words. She stepped closer to the table, her little family watching her with bubbling curiosity. “And you make stupid decisions, like ignore someone who is your best friend and your person through everything because your afraid they will break your heart when you know—logically and deep down—they never would because they already held your heart with care for years.”

Ben gapped at her, his eyes dancing between elation and shock. “Rey, I—”

He then looked over at Max and Thea, the two beaming with unbridled excitement. Clearly, this was not a conversation to have with their nosey, young audience.

Standing up, Ben held his hand out to Rey. “Join me for dinner.” His eyes were full of hope, his fear and anxieties hanging on the fringes of the warmth of joy encapsulating his gaze. “Please,” he added, quietly, sounding more like the Ben she knew—apprehensive, over thinking, thoughtful.

With great felicity, she took his hand.

 

 

Chapter Text

VII.

 

“Are you sure about this?” Ben asked once more. There was no hesitancy in his tone, confident of their decision the moment Rey offered. All his affairs were tied up, all cases passed along; he made his announcement nearly a year ago he had zero desire to run for Senate again. He’d been in office since his early twenties, practically a decade of his life dedicated to politics.

 

He worked enough with ambassadors, senators, and officials to last a lifetime—shadowing his mother in his teens made for a distaste for the vocation. Following in her footsteps was merely a matter of seeking belonging in the only world he did not feel like a complete fish out of water.

 

To follow his family’s footsteps, to live in the shadow of their legacy, felt nearly impossible.

 

Han Solo, smuggling and running around of his life seemed appealing as a child, but toxic by the time Ben understood his father preferred to be off-world than with his own family. Ben did not have the zeal for danger as his father, far too aware of variables in his life.

 

Luke Skywalker, the forever scholar of the Force, teaching the next generation of Jedi. Being a student to his uncle was the best and worst event to happen in his life. He was gifted knowledge and sensitivity to the Force, but at the loss of an uncle who believed detachment was key to fully understanding the Force.

 

Oddly enough, it was with a Jedi Ben found his placement—the connection he sought desperately.

 

Over the last couple of months, he and Rey worked diligently to dissuade any suspicion of their impending departure.

 

Naturally, he was concerned for her. She was leaving behind everything she knew, her only semblance of home.

 

Yet she was adamant—this was her choice. Not his, nor anyone else’s.

 

He just happened to be the deciding factor.

 

On the end of the Falcon’s ramp, Rey sat with her knees tucked close to her chest. Her Jedi robes were gone, packed and placed away on the ship. The only indication of her Jedi status was her lightsaber, attached securely to her belt, similar to the legacy saber on his own.

 

To anyone else, she appeared as a simple girl. Nothing.

 

To him, she was everything. His other half.

 

He knew it the moment he met her, all those years ago. But keeping distance, maintaining the secret, was their only option—until now .

 

Tilting her head up at him, she blinked serenely at him. All her concerns and troubles ebbed away, no longer wearing the ill-perfected and practiced Jedi mask, but her honest face. A lonely girl finally content.

 

“I am sure,” she said quietly, her words bouncing lightly in the open hanger. Looking out where the doors remained wide open on the base, she sighed deeply. “I am just taking a moment.”

 

Please join me— the words echoed softly in his mind.

 

Listening to her, he sat down to her left, their arms brushing and legs bumping. Instinctively, his right hand reached for her left. Following his lead, she intertwined their fingers.

 

The mark on her left wrist matched the one on his right wrist, connecting together almost seamlessly.

 

Yes, leaving was the right decision. Being with her was fated.

 


 

VI.

 

“This is idiotic—they will be monitoring everyone’s every move on that base,” Ben argued viciously to the rest of the New Republic Senate, specifically targeting the newly instated Chancellor.

 

“We are moving into war, Solo,” the Senate Chancellor, former Admiral Gael Saran, ordered. “At an expedient rate, our best mode of action is to put our senators in hiding.”

 

“To show we are cowards ?” An exasperated, mocking laugh escaped him. “That’s exactly what The First Order would want—see who has disappeared where—”

 

“It will give us time to retcon,” the chancellor continued, his eyes scanning the other members of the Senate. All ten . They did not even have time to mourn the loss of their fellow Senators after the attack. Evacuations and armies marching through amongst the chaos, led to a regroup in the bunker. This was the first time any of them could catch their breaths, but only to obtain enough air in their lungs to argue their next mode of action. To form a plan before Chandrila fell to ruins. “If you haven’t noticed we have some open seats—”

 

“Due to assassinations because nobody would listen to the Separatist Party about disappearances or potential attack—”

 

“And I believed you, Solo. Why else do you think we are in a bunker in the heart of Hanna City?” The man bellowed, yet Ben remained firm in his stance. “Anyone else in this seat would have written it off as Skywalker paranoia,” Ben could not help but bristle at the mention of his family’s legacy, “but General Organa is good woman and I am proud to say I worked under her brief tutelage as Chancellor and in the Galactic Civil War.” Of course this man worked for his mother, who hadn’t at this point? No one liked to let Ben forget who exactly he was following in politics, or how the majority of proposals and votes were often opposed to his mother’s ideology. “I took a chance and believed you—but now you must follow through with my orders. Majority of the senators will be sent off-world to bases, just be thankful I am letting you take your Jedi with you—”

 

“She is my bodyguard ,” Ben defended, anger flaring at the frivolous mention of Rey. He had not seen her since she safely directed him down to the bunker, disappearing back into the battle.

 

She was alive—Ben knew this, or else he would have felt her death.

 

That was the funny thing about soulmates and Force Bonds, you always knew the general living status of your partner, but the fear for their life never once diminished despite this.

 

Swallowing tightly, Ben quirked an eyebrow. “What about the Jedi Order—are you going to bring them into this as well?”

 

Ben knew his history. Studied until his eyes grew weak and spent restless night ruminating on all that could have been done, should have been done , to prevent the rise of Imperialists. But he also understood their methods and actions, and how deeply these were intertwined with his own family’s lineage. He could not change history, but he could take steps to prevent it from repeating itself.

 

If only his peers and colleagues took such measures.

 

“They are being contacted as we speak—we need all forces, Senator Solo, the alliance of the Jedi would immensely help the New Republic—”

 

“What New Republic? Half our council is dead !”

 

The bunker fell quiet as the Chancellor glared hard at Ben, untapped fury lighting the man’s eyes and stressing his jaw. A muffled sob sounded from the corner of the room, Ben recognizing it as one of fallen Senator’s co-chairs and wife.

 

No one spoke, as though finally remembering to take a moment silence for the dead. Blinking tiredly, Ben clenched and unclenched his fists. “Skywalker would never agree.”

 

“His council already has,” the Chancellor countered.

 

Biting his lips together and collecting his raging emotions as best he could, Ben looked back up at the Chancellor fully. “Sir, if I am to go to this base and we are to enter another galactic war, this might be the last time we see one another in the flesh.”

 

“Yes, I suppose.”

 

A smug smile formed on Ben’s  lips. “And I need to get this off my chest before our departure— I didn’t vote for you .”

 


 

As Ben was directed down the hall to his own minuscule room in the bunker, he felt the faint tap of the Force followed by the warmth of a familiar Force signature.

 

She was near.

 

Turning to the guard, he nodded once. “I think I can find my way down this corridor just fine.”

 

The guard scurried away, undoubtedly far too aware of the stories of Senator Solo’s ‘childish outbursts’ as his colleagues like to call them.

 

Rounding the corner, Ben found Rey in an instant. She was waiting by his door, on edge. Her clothes were torn and soiled from battle. A shallow cut on her forearm caught his attention, wrapped poorly in her haste. She’d always been like that—not the best at caring for her wounds, thinking upon such matters later. It was a miracle she never caught an infection.

 

Upon seeing him, she steeled herself, head held high. The ever-so-perfect Jedi.

 

“Senator Solo—”

 

Striding over to her, Ben ignored all pretenses. Once within arm’s reach, he pulled her into his embrace. Instinctively, Rey caved into him, holding him as close she possibly could. All the worry and tension inside him finally crashed in her presence, Ben folding into her.

 

His face buried into her neck, he felt tears beginning to prickle his eyes. Words tumbled out of his mouth and through their connection, sounding somewhere along the lines of ‘ thank maker you are okay’ and ‘ I was so scared’ and ‘ I love you… I love you so much’ .

 

She stilled in his arms.

 

The soothing circles she rubbed into his back stopping.

 

Inhaling, the air was caught in her throat.

 

“Did… did you mean that?”

 

Her voice sounded close, yet far away. As though she begged for the answer but feared it all the same.

 

Because they both knew what it meant if the answer was ‘yes’—

 

That this was more than simply being soulmates. More than agreeing to ignore the marks and try their best to be friends, companions of platonic unconditional love, even when they found themselves succumbing to the pull of the other. More than acknowledging their connection to each other in the Force.

 

This was acceptance of what had been lingering under the surface for so long. Since their first meeting. This was accepting a fate they attempted to ignore because she was a Jedi and he was a Senator . This was accepting choices will need to made because what they felt, what was designated by the Force, was forbidden.

 

Pressing his forehead against hers, he nodded mutely.

 

Her startled gasp filled the space between them, her hands gripping the fabric of his jacket tightly. A soft whimper came from her, salty tears freely staining her face. Shakily, Ben wiped them away with his thumb, hoping they’d be gone. But instead she continued to cry, his own face mirroring hers.

 

I love you too ,” she mouthed, the constants barely heard in her efforts to remain quiet. The bunker was large, but they did not know who could be lingering on the other side of the corridor.

Ben wanted to smile, but he could not.

 

Instead, he surveyed the room and listened—they were alone.

 

Gently, he led her into the room.

 

Plans and affections needed to be kept behind closed doors. Because Ben would always choose Rey, even in the dawn of war.

 

But the Senate did not need to know that.

 


 

V.

 

“They are going to notice you are gone,” Rey mumbled between quick kisses, Ben already reaching for her belt the moment the door was closed. “It is a ceremony , Ben.”

 

With a firm hand on his chest she pushed him a few inches away. He was slightly out of breath, rushing the two of them home under the pretenses he was under the weather and needed to rest. Not leaving anyone under the impression his usual Jedi bodyguard had returned from an impromptu mission and was finally back after months, and he want to desperately spend time with her.

 

Slowly, he backed her closer to the door, her back hitting the solid surface. Any other time she would have used this position to her leverage, but he understood she must have been tired after her long travel. “I didn’t vote for him,” Ben argued against her skin as his lips trailed from her jaw down her neck.

 

She restrained a breathless chuckle, not exactly falling into affectionate nips and nuzzles. “But you should still be there,” Rey declared, leaning just an inch out of his touch.

 

With a free hand, she tucked away his hair from his face. Her conflicted eyes bore into his, Ben suddenly realizing why she wasn’t in the mood for an intimate reunion.  Eyebrows creased sternly, a broody twitch to her lips.

 

Confused, he stood up straighter using a hand against the door as support. “Why? I missed you, I want to be with you right now, not at some ceremony—”

 

“Because you have responsibilities ! You have rules to uphold—you are a Senator, Ben and you need to take that seriously!”

 

Her words were a whiplash, falling out in a hurry and in a wicked crack. An unwelcoming tension of distrust sprouting from confusion coiled through their bond.

 

Dropping his hand, he stepped away, eyeing her dubiously. “I do take my work seriously—”

 

“Then why are you not at the ceremony—”

 

“Because I don’t want to be there—”

 

“But you should be there—”

 

“I am not contractually obligated to be there, and you are not my babysitter!”

 

“Well, it kriffing feels like it when I am questioned of your whereabouts by the entire Jedi Order!” she roared, meeting him toe to toe.

 

While lithe in body, she made up for in impassioned ferocity. Her stance far stronger and daunting than any massive being, not to mention a deceiving opponent in wits. She knew her facts and evidence well and could detect a swindler within half a second.

 

He both adored her with immense curiosity and feared her with every fiber of his being, causing this standoff to totter the balance in their relationship.

 

Openly she stared at him, frustrated tears threatening to cascade from her eyes.

 

“Master Skywalker knows .”

 

All confusion and anger faded into nothing as her words sank in.

 

And all he could do was stand there and watch her surrender to the painful dose of truth she carried for her entire journey until now.

 

“He knows, and he said if it does not end, I will be stripped of my ranking and will need to effectively leave the order.”

 

“Excommunication,” he said, not quite believing what he was hearing. He knew their relationship would be frowned upon, but foolishly thought there would be more leniency due to circumstances. Especially since they were careful— exceedingly careful . Only had there ever been a handful of instances where Ben’s actions may have caused suspicion, but nothing to tie this to Rey, the esteemed Jedi Knight as the council proposed her when Leia demanded he procure a Jedi Knight for a bodyguard.

 

He denied all of options until Leia and Luke simply chose one for him.

 

“Does he know about the mark?” Ben asked, his voice cracking.

 

“He said we chose to view it as a romantic soul-mark, therefore we can choose to view it as platonic. Master Luke said it would be in out best interest to do as such.” Swallowing, Rey held back another quaking sob, recounting the events clearly bringing about physical pain. Ben could feel the shuddering emotional wound this caused her through the Bond, unable to help but let it fester from his own agony.

 

“Ben, I tried—I tried to explain, but the council had a unanimous agreement. Romantic attachments are forbidden—”

 

He blinked furiously, pieces of him breaking as he realized she already made her decision.

She made her decision before she even boarded the ship back to him. And he never even noticed the distinct throb of heartache from her until now. “But this is more than —”

 

“I know,” she croaked, “I know, I feel it too.”

 

Please —we…we can figure something out.”

 

Casting her eyes away, she licked her lips. “I already asked for another Knight to take my place. They should be prepared and here within two weeks’ time. I suggest it best we keep our distance, Senator. At least keep our distance until we can approach our soulmate status from a platonic stand point—”

 

“I’d rather have it be indifferent than platonic,” Ben spat out, his face burning in anguish fed tears.

 

“And I’d rather have you in my life than not at all.”

 


 

IV.

 

“The marks can be platonic,” Rey mentioned one morning when Ben was finishing a draft of his latest proposal. “I have read plenty on platonic, indifferent, and romantic soulmates. You don’t need to make the conscious decision to be indifferent when for all you know it can be platonic.”

 

Gathering his materials, Ben did not openly acknowledge the statement. He hoped it deterred her desire to speak further on the topic.

 

It didn’t.

 

“One of the prime examples is Aayla Secura and Quinlan Vos. Soulmates—never romantically entangled, but had one of the greatest friendships—”

 

“They were also Jedi and romantic attachment is forbidden,” Ben reminded her with a huff, his datapad securely tucked away in his satchel. “Their ‘legend’ is taught to all padawans in the event they might have a soul-mark, which they are not even allowed to share with anyone if they do.”

 

She frowned sharply, observing him with great diligence. “Fine, then how about…” she chewed on the inside of her cheek, before following through with her example, though rather apprehensively. “Master Skywalker and General Organa—they are siblings who are soulmates, clearly no romantic attachment.”

 

Ben quirked an eyebrow. “No one’s told you?”

 

The blood drained from her face. “Told me what ?”

 

He chuckled lightly, crossing his arms over his chest. For once the little Jedi know-it-all didn’t have all the answers. How refreshing. “Sorry, I’d like to relish in this moment because apparently no one told you. An astonishing development considering how much you like to claim you know of my family.”

 

“Tell. Me. What ?”

 

Holding back a smug grin, Ben attempted to remain nonchalant. “Oh, how dear Luke and Leia did not know they were siblings when they discovered they were soulmates—”

 

“No,” Rey cried out, her jaw dropping.

 

“Oh, yes,” was all he said, leaving his study.

 

Rey followed, half a step behind.

 

She blinked dumbly, before shaking her head. “But—but—ugh!” She stopped, grabbing his arm. He turned to her, staring down at her knowingly. “Please explain before my mind jumps to conclusions.”

 

He sighed dramatically, checking the time. “I do have a Senate meeting I need to get to…”

 

“I’ll tell them there was a threat on your life and that’s why we were late,” she declared, poking him to explain once more.

 

“Jedi, abusing their powers ?” he remarked in obnoxious astonishment.

 

She rolled her eyes, unamused. “It’s more likely than you’d think,” she mumbled dryly.

 

Deciding to give in, Ben answered as diplomatically as he could. Mostly because he could not wait to see the flash of horror and confusion upon Rey. She lacked all the social skills of a well-trained politicians offspring, leaving her heart on her sleeve when she was not in the Jedi mindset. More often than not he found himself searching for her reactions during Senate meetings rather than listening to the words of his colleagues.

 

For the most part, she remained calm, cool, and collected on the outside.

 

Though he felt the cacophony of uproar and indignation in their Force Bond. For a Jedi, Rey had a numerous amount of opinions on how the New Republic should be conducted.

 

Not always correct opinions. But opinions nonetheless. He could listen to her rant all day, but he chose to present himself as aloof when she went into these compassion driven rambles. She was already inside his head half the time, lived with him—for security matters—and was with him for almost every waking moment. Keeping something to himself was necessary before she consumed and integrated into every single aspect of his life.

 

“When my uncle and mother met, they did not know they were siblings, but they found out quickly they were soulmates. My mother pressed for more, my uncle didn’t really know how to act with my mother since she was a princess and a Senator. Though she realized their connection was platonic after she kissed him—”

 

“She kissed her own brother?” Rey squeaked, eyes wide.

 

“They didn’t know they were siblings,” Ben said, feeling the need to defend his mother. “But she said she just knew after that it was meant to be platonic. Thankfully .”

 

“Oh,” Rey uttered, considering his explanation thoroughly, “You mean, she knew though the means of an romantic act that she and Luke were platonic—”

 

Ben squinted at her, not sure where she was going with this train of thought. “They were also siblings—”

 

“—but that is beside the point,” she barreled on, looking up at him with new found determination. “You believe we are platonic soulmates?”

 

“I suggested we could be platonic,” Ben corrected hastily. Despite his best efforts to make it seem as though he did not truly care of the outcome of their soulmate status, he found himself disheartened by the fact she believed that he believed they were destined for nothing more than friendship.

 

He never intended to come off that way.

 

“Point of the matter is, why don’t we do the same?”

 

“The same ?” Ben quirked an eyebrow, unsure if he was hearing what she was implying. “The same as in—”

 

“Let’s kiss and see if this is truly meant to be platonic.”

 

Ben blanched, not expecting her to be so… confident on the matter.

 

“I uh—” he did not know how to respond, gaping like a fish in search for water.

 

It also didn’t help Rey was blinking up at him prettily, as though she knew her bright hazel eyes were bait enough to reel him into her embrace.

 

Awkwardly, he stood, just staring at her.

 

A simple, virginal fool.

 

He’d only ever kissed a girl once in his life and it was a spin the bottle situation while he was at the Jedi academy. At that point, he thought he’d become a Jedi, and this was his only chance to kiss a girl without completely breaking code. It was sloppy, the girl tried tongue, and it wasn’t as fun as all his peers liked to claim.

 

Upon leaving the academy, he never found himself in sexual or romantic encounters, too busy studying politics and learning all he could. He devoured books and found himself more enamored with scholarly pursuits than the lure of a woman.

 

That was until Rey stepped back into his life and decided to complicate his feelings and goals to the extreme.

 

He never understood how men became fools at the gaze of a woman until he found himself in the presence of one at all hours of the day. Pressing for their soulmate status to be indifferent or platonic allowed him to let go of rosy and whimsical thoughts and become relaxed as he could attempt around her.

 

And maybe…just maybe he did not want to know if they were destined to platonic, and all he saw in their visions was his imagination playing tricks on him.

 

But he also did not want to doom Rey and himself to uncertainty.

 

Before him, Rey sighed tiredly, taking a step back. “I’m sorry—I shouldn’t have suggested,” she shook her head embarrassedly, tucking away a loose strand of hair behind her ear. A tint of red creeped up her neck, she scratching at it precariously, “I didn’t mean to make you uncomforta—”

 

Throwing caution out the window, Ben leaned down and captured Rey’s lips with his own, effectively shutting up her apologies. Unfortunately neither knew what to do—with their mouths, their hands, their eyes—and it became startlingly obvious to both. Sensing the dread of awkwardness building inside him, Ben quickly pulled away, their lips detaching audibly. Rey still stood close to him, which must have been a good sign, but a definite puzzled expression on her face.

 

“Can—can we just try again? Like, this one doesn’t count or anything?”

 

“Yeah, yeah—of course,” Ben found himself agreeing wholeheartedly.

 

“Um, can I try to go in first this time?” she asked quietly, her eyes searching his.

 

Not sure he’d have a voice, he nodded dumbly.

 

Reaching forward, she grasped his arm—hanging awkwardly in the air from their previous attempt—and placed it around her waist. She then repeated this action with his other arm. Placing her hands on his biceps, she smiled shyly up at him.

 

Taking a deep breath, she leaned up and gently pressed her lips to his. This time he allowed his instincts to override his overthinking brain, reciprocating to her efforts. A lithe nudge here and there from the other, until a quiescent rhythm awoke between them. A hand moving the slow path from her waist to the slope of her neck, while the other looped he closer, she following with no qualms. They moved far beyond a first kiss, or a second, Ben losing count as their lips connected and disconnected, unable to part for more than a few seconds before finding each other again. A strange yet welcoming thrill consumed Ben as he continued to get lost in her caress.

 

There was not an aching burn in response to the other’s touch, or an overwhelming surge of lustful passion in the kiss. Instead, a sense of serenity wrapped around him…

 

Leaning back, allowing barely enough room to speak, Rey kept her eyes closed. “You have a meeting—”

 

“We can just tell them there was a threat on my life.”

 

Her bubbling cackle of laughter filled the room, momentarily suspending the reality neither wanted to face.

 


 

 

III.

 

She was an odd sort of girl.

 

She wore her hair in three buns lining her scalp and thick leather wristbands, for practicality rather than for a fashion statement. Rey stuck out like a sore thumb at Senate meetings, a few feet behind his chair, dressed in beiges and browns while the rest of the politicians were dressed in rich colors or attrite representative to their world.

 

Though dressing like this was not her choice—

 

He quickly learned during one their walks to the capital she despised the beiges and browns and preferred cool toned colors of greys and blues. Vibrant blues, like the ocean or some planets’ skies. The lakes and green hills of Chandrila were a few of the reasons she accepted this position.

 

Apparently she wanted to go to every planet with water and green.

 

Being a logical person, Ben claimed it’d be virtually impossible to see every single planet with ‘water and green’ in existence since there were realistically hundreds in the systems they were aware of, though more likely thousands in undiscovered and uncolonized areas.

 

After that statement she ignored him for the rest of the day.

 

He momentarily wondered if she had ever seen the lakes of Naboo.

 

(More than likely not, since the planet had unfortunately been abandoned except for the upkeep of the Naberrie family estate. And even then, it was mostly his mother and uncle having staff maintain the lake house due to legacy and whatnot. Keeping Padme’s spirit alive. A noble thought he supported as best he could.)

 

Of course this was their pattern. Rey would randomly share something about herself, administer a bit of probing and prompting for him to share a bit about himself too. He wouldn’t . Instead, he’d question her about her own likes and desires, the girl ultimately getting flustered and ignoring him for the rest of the day.

 

But more often than not he grew curious about her in the silence.

 

Though he was surprised when she posed a question without her own little antidote.

 

“Why did you leave the Jedi Academy?”

 

Ben stumbled a step, Rey catching him by the sleeve. For someone well-versed in the Force, she often opted to do many things the practical way. Such as getting up and grabbing an item or asking, going about matters in a simpler, kinder way. As though the Force was an afterthought for her.

 

“I left because I didn’t agree with the ideology—”

 

“Of the Force?”

 

“Of the Jedi.”

 

“I…” she pursed her lips for a moment, lowering her voice as other pedestrians past by, “I understand,” was all she said before ushering him into the building.

 


 

 

“What do you mean you understand ?” The moment they were alone again, in his minuscule office in the capital he brought he conversation back up. “Do you not agree with your organization?”

 

She raised an eyebrow, not moving from her post by the door. “You make the Jedi sound as though it is some political faction—”

 

“It has been cajoled into one in the past, it’s no surprise it is following the same path in the present,” Ben commented, not entirely amused or proud of how large the Jedi Order grew after his separation for the academy. His uncle had been convinced to form a council for the new Jedi Order as their numbers increased with young Force sensitives. However his uncle did recognize not all sensitives were meant to follow the path of the Jedi, it had to be of their own choosing. Most of those in training were allowed to leave before climbing the rankings, several of those in Knight status departing instead of pursuing Master level.

 

Ben had been a test away from becoming a Master at the age of nineteen—

 

That is until his soul-mark appeared.

 

In a panic, he made a rash decision to leave but ultimately the right one. While at the academy he found himself forming his own opinions on the Force, not nearly aligning the teachings of the Jedi, but of something darker. The ancient texts spoke of dark, light, and balance as though they all intersected not consolidated areas of the Force. The more Ben studied, the more he became hostile to his peers and instructors, especially to his uncle. Prone to outbursts, barely in control of the Force as it was—years of carved out meditation time caused outward turmoil to not occur, but this did not stop the insistent currents within Ben at all moments of the day.

 

He was pretty sure they were all glad to see him leave except for—

 

“The Jedi are not an organization in my eyes,” Rey spoke up, her stance relaxing a fraction as she recalled her time there. It had been at least four months she started following him around like a shadow; she must have been homesick in some capacity. “I grew up there, if anything it is a second home.”

 

“I hated it there.”

 

She snorted into a chuckle, Ben finding the imperfect laugh amusing. “Oh, I hated it most of the time too—but it was better than Jakku.” A cloud of regret came over her, a troubled bite of her lower lip. Looking back up at him, she forced a brief smile.

 

He felt a twinge of disappoint at the sight.

 

She never seemed to genuinely smile around him, or anyone really. Always the placid pull of the lips—a diplomat in her own right.

 

“But just because it is where I grew up doesn’t mean I agree with the Jedi path—”

 

“Then you should look into a different career,” he remarked dryly, his eyes scanning the next set of files on the holographic screen.

 

“I don’t know anything else,” she stated bluntly, not pleased or dejected. A simple fact, as though she came to this conclusion long ago and merely accepted this. However her hazel eyes remained keen, a sense of childish wonder and fantasy trapped behind the Jedi façade. “All I know is the way of the Jedi. And it would be foolish to leave the path I am set on, I am only a few tests away from achieving Master status.”

 

Her words sounded hollow, trained and practiced, her instructors undoubtedly drilling the idea into her mind. Her lack of conviction was glaringly obvious. He supposed her loyalty to the Jedi was to be admired, but could not help but wonder of her capabilities if she were invested in something she believed.

 

“I highly doubt that,” he muttered. “You’ve proven yourself to be more than just a Jedi Knight.”

 

Just for a moment, he thought he noticed her lips twitch.

 


 

After that day there was a lighter air between the two.

 

Not exactly perfect, but Ben noticed Rey becoming comfortable in his presence. Not always standing at attention when it was just the two of them, but instead offered to join him for meals and allowed to sit while he was working.

 

She’d accept these with mild hesitance the first few times, until she became at ease at this development, and ate and talked to him with gusto. She listened to his complaints about the other Senators and gave her own opinion on them. After all she was a fly on the wall for most meetings and events, Rey observed everything .

 

She even figured out some scandalous affairs amongst Senators and diplomats, and once maybe Jedi mind-tricked a few people here and there if they bothered her too much.

Apparently she and him were one and the same when it came to social interaction and gatherings. Awkward and ill-equipped once beyond simple pleasantries, small talk not in their arsenal.

 

Which led to several… intimate and vulnerable discussions, Ben finding himself sharing a side of him he never exposed to anyone else. And Rey seemed to give in return.

 

He spoke of his relationship with his parents. She revealed she never knew hers, and a desperate piece of her wanted to go back to Jakku to see if they ever came for her.

Ben knew the answer, even if she did not want to acknowledge it herself. And she decided to let him keep it.

 

She mentioned how she’d run and abandon morning meditation as a child and steal books from the library when no one was looking. Translating and devouring the books eagerly to understand the Force, not once satisfied with the simple conclusion of light and dark—

 

“I sometimes feel like I still don’t understand,” she admitted one night, the fire crackling. A winter had set in Chandrila, only to last for a few weeks, the planet mostly warm and pleasant for the majority of its cycle. Yet the desert girl struggled to adapt to the quick change of weather, far too accustomed to the scorching heat after ten years being off the world. “I read every book and tried my best to listen to Force—to be one with it, but it still feels like—”

 

“There is a piece missing?” Ben supplied knowingly.

 

She nodded. “And then I look around and I realize I am alone. Complete and utterly alone, with no one to tell me my place in this. Only following the path I was ever told.”

 

He sat and listened, realizing quickly she was putting into words every misgiving he had in his life and the perpetual loneliness he combated with his thoughts on the daily.

 

“You’re not alone,” he found himself saying, offering his only words of comfort.

 

Blinking slowly, as if she was seeing for the first time she mumbled, “Neither are you.”

 


 

When his mother told him she believed there would be an attack on his life, Ben reacted as anyone who had been targeted their entire life would—

 

He continued on as usual.

 

Because yes , someone was going to try to assassinate him when he got his morning caf at the stand a few blocks from the capital.

 

Just an attack on him did not seem plausible . Sure, a strong percentage of Senators hated his guts and considered him a moody boy even at thirty, but oddly enough the people…liked him? Or at least liked his policies enough to keep him in office for every two year election. While Chandrila was well, Chandrila , the people were well aware and informed in politics. There wasn’t a distinct or loud upset from the people and if there was, it would be known.

 

Furthermore, he wasn’t a social active man, only going where he needed to be and preferred to be in the comforts of his own home. Not to mention his Force sensitivity made him constantly aware of others, to the point it was a nuisance.

 

Leia Organa had nothing to worry about.

 

When she insisted he hire a Jedi Knight as a bodyguard, he went through the motions to soothe his mother’s flurry of concern. And Rey turned out to be okay —maybe more than okay. She was his…friend. Over the last seven months she became his friend and constant companion. They spoke without ever saying a word, their glances and expressions speaking volumes to the other.

 

Sometimes he could have sworn he knew—heard—exactly what she was thinking.

 

Briefly, he wondered if this was what having best friend was like. If so, Rey of Jakku had somehow wiggled her way into being his best friend and Ben allowed her to do it with nonexistent struggle.

 

Despite Rey’s presence,  Ben still didn’t think he’d be attacked.

 

At all.

 

Until he actually was .

 

And not even in a flourish or dramatic way—which, would it be awful to say he was disappointed ?

 

It was just a guy running up and trying to stab him, of all things.

 

Rey easily shoved Ben away before any actual stabbing could happen, followed by her kicking the man in the gut and holding him down to the ground as they waited for reinforcements to come. She was able to put the man to sleep, to ease the struggle, but overall neither had to do much.

 

What did catch his attention was the burst of sudden fear in his mind at the event—fear that was clearly not his own, but Rey’s . Her emotions and thoughts flooded his senses, Ben momentarily stumbling at the mental crash.

 

And she stumbled too—no, she stopped moving completely. Zoned out , better yet, gone for half a second. As though she saw a door somewhere, entered it, and was getting lost.

 

He was starting to feel discombobulated, feeling her enter his mind. As quickly as he could, he recalled back to the simplest trick he taught himself early on in his Jedi training— blocking .

 

More like shoving. But apparently Rey had the same idea, the two crashing and then repealing in their attempts to get out of each other’s mind. He felt out of breath, finding his mental footing quicker than Rey. Once she came back, her focus remained solely on the attacker, practically ignoring Ben the best she could.

 

He attempted to speak to Rey on the matter, however the girl was preoccupied and went about ushering him home expediently.

 

And just when he was about to ask, his mother called—

 

“You could have been killed!”

 

“It was a blunt knife.”

 

“You can kill someone with anything, son!”

 

The hologram flickered, though Leia’s annoyance transmitted clearly from across the galaxy.

 

His eyes darted to Rey, who stood by the door. She watched him and his mother’s exchange with mirth, concealing snickers behind her hand.

 

He sighed, looking back at the hologram. “Rey was there and took care of everything—”

 

“That is why I wanted you to have a bodyguard. Another person to keep a close eye on you.”

 

“Alright—you’ve proved your point!” Ben argued petulantly.

 

His mother’s smug smile did not help ease him, but she soon ended the transmittance, leaving Ben alone with Rey once more.

 

“She is a very adamant woman—”

 

What happened back there ?”

 

Their words overlapped, the two freezing.

 

She stood apprehensively, clearly clueless on what he was talking about. “What—what do you mean?”

 

“You…” Ben closed his eyes, the moment playing in his mind. “You were in my head. During the attack you were in my head !”

 

“No—” She started though stopped, trying to remember the exact event. “I—I don’t remember—I was just acting on instinct! And my first thought was to make sure you were safe—I would never go through your mind without permission—” she glared fiercely. “How dare you think I would willingly—”

 

“Don’t put words into my mouth!” he argued back, standing up from his desk. “I am just laying the facts; you were in my head—”

 

“Not on purpose!” she shot back, still believing he was accusing her of some treasonous act. “It was an accident—it just sort of happened because you were there and—”

 

“I know it was an accident,” he tried to soften his voice, but his own panic had a way of being dominating without his consideration.

 

“You do?” she asked, watching him carefully.

 

“Yeah, I do,” he breathed, “I just want to know why. And how.”

 

Her hand fiddled with her left leather wristband, her little tick. One that he subconsciously noticed but never commented on. Rey had her quirks, everyone did, and she just liked to fiddle with her left wristband all the time.

 

When she stood idly, when she spoke, when she walked. Left wrist always caught by her right hand, almost a double measure of protection.

 

But something he saw in her mind—however fleeting—urged him to ask. Even when he did not know why, nor the significance of the ordinary wristband.

 

“Why do you wear those wristbands?”

 

“Why do you wear gloves?” she asked in return, not missing a beat.

 

His eyes narrowed, stepping closer to her. “Excuse me?”

 

In return she held her head high, and asked again. “Why do you wear gloves? They cover all the way up to your wrist—why?”

 

“I asked first,” he pathetically argued. “And I choose to wear them. Always have,” he answered easily, though the quake of nervousness in his voice spoke otherwise.

 

“You didn’t wear them in the academy.” Her eyes jumped from his right wrist to his face, calculating his every twitch and flinch. “I remember.”

 

“I thought you said you didn’t remember me from the academy—”

 

“Maybe I lied,” she shrugged, “because you hated me.”

 

“I didn’t hate you,” he amended, “I just found you to be a nuisance.”

 

“Like you do now?” she quipped, her jaw set. Her eyes found his and remained there, unwavering. “I wear them because I was told to—they say it is unfortunate for Jedi to have a soul-mark. Cause complications.” Her eyes watered briefly, her right hand fiddling with her left band, finding the twisted leather clasp. She blinked, the emotion in her eyes replaced with determination. “I was told most Jedi obtain one leave—”

 

“Leave the academy,” Ben finished, realizing maybe she did always remember and chose to hid it in the depths of her mind. Tried her best to forget. “Usually they leave together when it is romantic, choosing each other rather than the Jedi path. Especially if they found each other at the academy—”

 

Her wristband fell to the floor, her left wrist bare, though Ben did not dare look down. He already knew it was there. He remembered finding his and coming to a startling conclusion of who matched his own mark. He thought maybe acting as though it never happened, it being a trick of the light or perhaps the Force, would let him slide through life and never see her again.

 

“Why did you leave?” she asked again.

 

This time he’d be honest.

 

In response, he took off his right glove.

 

Their matching marks was answer enough.

 


 

II.

 

“Senators and higher politicians are disappearing, Ben,” Leia reminded him as they stood in a private entrance of the building’s hanger. “Having a bodyguard will be good for you and at the very least be someone who can keep you in line. You have too much of your father in you sometimes.”

 

Like the decent son he tried to be, Ben nodded in agreement. After some great amount of coaxing and verbal threats from his mother, her caved and agreed to take on a Jedi Knight as his bodyguard. Luke and Leia attempted to have him meet a few, to find someone he at least got along with. After all this person would be with him at all times, and both knew only few selected souls could handle Ben Solo at his worst. However Ben did not want to participate in picking his glorified babysitter, opting to let his mother and uncle take the reins. He wasn’t planning on making a new friend or be chummy-chummy with his bodyguard. There job was to protect him and be a fly on the wall; speak only when spoken to, not be an annoyance or hinderance to his every day routine.

 

In the distance, the two noticed the freighter ship come closer. Ben suppressed a groan; of course his father was flying them over, those Jedi monks probably never leaving the damn planet unless for an absolute emergency, choosing to be peaceful and detached.

 

That was a load of bantha crap.

 

Once again, Ben was glad he got out when he did.

 

Within moments the ship landed, thankfully, not crashing. The ramp comes down, his father the first one out, followed by Chewie, and of course Luke. To anyone else it appears to be a happy reunion, his family acting happy to see each other, hugs and kisses passed around.

 

No one would know this was the first time Ben was seeing Luke in the flesh for a decade or his father nearly the same amount of time. How they were acting like they had only been separated by a few weeks, not years of tense exchanges through holograms and radio transmissions.

 

But Ben let them all have their moment, he just was not in the mood to participate. He doesn’t think he’ll ever be in the mood to participate.

 

“Where is she?” Leia had the sense to ask once she has done a mental headcount.

 

“Oh, the kid?” Han jutted his thumb back to the Falcon . “She found something loose on the ship, wanted to check it out. Got a good head on her shoulders and knows her way around a ship.”

 

Ben rolled his eyes, not really caring if this Jedi Knight was ‘great around a ship.’ All that mattered was if she was able to do her job. If Luke chose her, and heavily implied she was his favorite , then of course she was ‘great with ships’, and everyone in his family liked her.

 

They were always looking to fill the hole he left in their little family.

 

The sound of footsteps hurrying came from the ship, a girl appearing on the ramp seconds later. “I fixed the compressor—”

 

He knew her .

 

Well—he sort of knew her. She’d been a child, no older than ten, when their paths first crossed. Though clearly she was older, on the cusp of adulthood. She stood tall, her frame lithe and agile as she quickly made her way off the ramp and to where the rest of the Solo and Skywalkers congregated. Chestnut locks were tied back in three buns lining her skull, dressed in a simpler version of the Jedi robes he’d seen in his childhood from other members.

 

He could not help but glance at her wrists—

 

To find them covered by thick, leather wristbands.

 

He could not help but feel disappointment at his discovery.

 

Soon she stood before him, ready and attentive.

 

“Hello, Senator Solo, it is an honor to meet you,” she said, almost scripted. “I’m Rey.”

 

Ben frowned. “ I know ,” he said sharply, glancing over to his uncle. The man remained rather stoic on the matter of introductions. “We’ve met before. We attended the academy together.”

 

Confusion settled over her, an pitying smile forming on her lip. “My apologies, but I don’t recall to have ever met you before, Senator.”

 

Behind his back, his left hand squeezed his right wrist.

 

Maybe… his conclusions had been wrong all these years.

 

The mark was a fluke. An empty scar.

 


 

I.

 

He sensed her before even opening his eyes.

 

She did this often during meditation, sneaking to join him for a moment or two, before running off to do whatever it was little girls did when they were by their lonesome selves.

 

The newest Padawan in the academy had been a quiet one. But not quiet enough to prevent Ben from plucking out her Force signature in the sea of other students on the planet. Luke claimed the girl was shy, hiding from her peers, opting to eat alone.

 

But Ben knew better.

 

Walking through the halls at night, when he was unable to sleep due to insistent voices in his head, he caught sight of the girl with bouncing three buns sneaking around. Doing his duty as an elder student, he followed her. She wouldn’t go too far, just past the entrance of the wood.

 

Carefully and with a practice hand, she would climb the tallest tree and sit happily on a branch. She’d peer up and be in awe of the constellations scattering the sky, eyes alight at the vastness before her.

 

Ben never made his presence known, but he found his nightly routine of walking the grounds turn into monitoring the girl from a distance. Making sure she didn’t lose her footing (she never did), or get lost (she was rather apt with directions), or even fall asleep (she seemed more awake at night than in the day).

 

During the day, she’d follow the other Padawans, only a couple of steps behind. Contrary to starting later than her peers, she excelled in all her classes and training. Within three weeks she became the top of her age bracket. A Padawan to keep an eye on; unfortunately, this alienated her from other students. Too young and small to be amongst the teenagers, and too advanced to compete and learn with her age group.

 

Naturally, he empathized.

 

And she noticed.

 

Because one day while he was sitting in his normal corner in the dining hall, a set of three buns bobbed across the room from their usual spot from the other corner, all the way to the seat right in front of him.

 

Neither spoke.

 

She just smiled.

 

He tried to smile back, but it was more of twitch of the lips.

 

For some reason it caused the girl to giggle.

 

And from then on, all their meals were spent together in the corner of the room. Oddly happy in their own little bubble.

 


 

Honestly, Ben should have seen the signs sooner.

 

He and the little girl were bizarrely alike yet different. Both ostracized by their peers, preferred independent study, quick learners. Stubborn to fault and with off-beat senses of humor, the two could share inside jokes without speaking a word. When he was upset, she tried to be pleasant and vice versa. They balanced each other and were happy when together.

 

In a strange way to lonely souls found their belonging with each other. Even if it was in silence and caring gestures.

 

He did not know much about her, not even recalling her name. Embarrassed, he had to ask Luke, the man telling him with a vague apprehension.

 

“It’s ‘Rey’. I’m surprised with how close you two are you don’t know.”

 

“We don’t talk much.”

 

And it was true. He could only count on one hand the amount of conversations he and Rey had beyond monosyllables.

 

She followed him everywhere, his ‘little shadow’ as some of the older students would tease. But Ben did not mind. She wasn’t too bothersome, though far more mischievous than anyone gave her credit. However she was still a creature of habit, so when she was not following him along to meditation on afternoon, he knew something was amiss.

 

He sensed her nearby, though deeper into the woods than she had ever gone before.

 

Abandoning meditation, he followed her signature, steadily ignoring the curious glances sent his way.

 

After a few minutes, he found her by the edge of the guppy pond, hiding amongst the tall grass. If he had not been following her Force signature he would have surely missed her. Sensing him, her head popped up catching his eye.

 

He paused, realizing her face was blotchy and smeared with tears. Not once had he seen her cry during her time at the academy, the sight causing his chest to ache. He didn’t move, afraid he’d scare her away.

 

Instead, she dashed toward him. Small arms wrapped around his middle, Rey burying her face into his stomach. He froze—Rey had never hugged him before, let alone touched him. Unsure of what to do, he petted her hair away from her face and hugged her as best he could back.

 

More muffled cries came from her, Ben slowly able to piece what happened.

 

Some other padawans taunting her about her family—specifically her lack of family. As if she had control over who her parents were and their whereabouts.

 

He felt a flare of anger inside him as she explained in an embarrassed blubber, the poor girl trying to be strong on her own.

 

Taking a knee, he became eye-level with her. Gently he grasped her left hand with his right, holding her firmly. His fingers brushed her wrist as his awkwardly larger palm practically consumed her tiny hand.

 

“Hey, don’t listen to them. You have a family—I can be your family, Rey.”

 

To see her bright smile was enough to hopefully make true of that promise.

 


 

He woke in the middle of night, drenched in sweat.

 

Another nightmare

 

Yet his right wrist burned in unbelievable pain.

 

Lifting is wrist to his eyes, Ben lips downturned, puzzled.

 

There on his wrist was…a mark . A dark and lovely, elegant swirl—a similar finesse to the strokes of a calligraphy pen—reaching for its other half.

 

A soul-mark.

 

Ben knew about soul-marks, almost everyone did, but they were slowly fading out of society. These days only a handful of individuals experienced such a connection and more often than not, those who did have them usually became indifferent. Attempting to fight off fate. To have someone fated for them was more of a nuisance and hinderance on their life than a blessing. This opinion became the common attitude mostly due to the downfall of many galactic governments from the hands of soulmates. The rise of Darth Vader from the death of his own soulmate was the story most commonly referred to.

 

So it should not have been a surprise the grandson of Vader were to have a mark of his own.

 

But what happened to cause this? Ben wracked his brain, finding he did not do anything absurdly different in his routine or interact with anyone new. Soul-marks appeared through touch. He was not fond of affection or touching—

 

His mind halted as startling dread consumed him from the inside out.

 

One person did touch him.

 

Rey.

 

A clever and silly child who probably had no idea what occurred between them. Who was probably waking up to her own confusion and burning mark…

 

A girl he was going to have to break his promise to in order to protect them both.

 

In a hurry, he marched out of his hut and down to his uncle’s living quarters on other side of the grounds. Without knocking, he shoved open the flimsy door.

 

His uncle awoke in concern, sitting up to face him, “Ben what—”

 

“I want to leave the academy.”

 

Yes, leaving was the right decision. If being with her was fated…

 

He wanted it to be her choice.

Chapter Text

‘Peaceful’ would be an awful way to describe her.

Better yet, she was more still and pensive, even in her unconsciousness. Her face was not stressed, or her mouth pinched in thought. Hazel eyes were trapped behind closed eyelids, eyelashes at rest, not a flutter or squint in weeks. Her usual warm, lightly sun-kissed skin was now pale, freckles less prominent from the lack of sun and the hospital’s fluorescent ceiling light. The usual strive in her essence seemed to be diminutive at the moment—Ben naturally fearing it’d become permanent.

Forever gone.

Calling her ‘peaceful’ felt like a cushion, to prevent them from hitting the hard truth.

Melancholy—maybe.

Passive—fitting.

But ‘peaceful’?

It was like their family and friends were trying to write some goddamn awful poetry about the shitty situation.

“You really are a wonderful cousin Ben,” Amilyn said with a sigh, patting his arm as she made her way to the bedside table. Removing the fading bouquet from the vase, she set another batch of lilies in its place. “I don’t know what your family would do without you.”

“She’s not my cousin,” he muttered out of instinct, the age old petulant pout emerging at the remark. “Luke adopted her.”

“Nonetheless, whatever you are, I’m sure Luke appreciates you being here. It really is a pity to see him at the school, crushed by this,” she said remorseful. Taking a seat on the opposite side of the bed, Amilyn carefully arranged the blanket on Rey again, like she’d done when she arrived ten minutes earlier. “He’s taken over her classes you know.”

“I heard,” Ben answered, allowing the older woman to pull him into the small talk. “If he’s teaching again, who’s doing the guidance counseling at your little academy?” he asked.

A hesitant smile broke through her, Ben openly frowning at the sight. “That’s actually why I came to see Rey,” she said simply. “Your mother says you have been here nearly every day since the accident…” Ben raised an eyebrow at the woman’s airy voice, a touch of hesitation in her tone. “…and that First Order University let you go last week.”

“Does my mother often air our family business to the entire faculty?” he said with a hint of condescending tone, not entirely dismissing her. Growing up, he often regarded Amilyn Holdo with respect, the woman his high school English teacher for the majority of his time at New Republic Academy. In recent years she’d been appointed as a vice principal, only teaching the senior level class at the little charter school.

However to hear her speak so… opportunistically at his apparent unemployment status, Ben could not help but keep her at arm’s length.

“No, she does not,” Amilyn answered simply.

She reached over brushed away nonexistent dust on Rey’s shoulder.

Still she did not move.

“But she told me this because she cannot hire you due to your familial relation,” she reminded him, as though he’d forgotten in the last two seconds, “But I can.”

“You want me to tell kids which college they should go to?” Ben uttered in disbelief.

She shrugged. “It’s more than that.”

“I worked as a management consultant for one of the top higher education institutions on this side of the west coast and you want me to talk about feelings?” He deadpanned. “Amilyn, I don’t know if you noticed but I am currently sitting in hospital watching over a girl I held a fifteen year grudge against—I am not the type of person to talk about feelings with.”

“Contrary, I think you are the perfect type of person kids need to hear from,” Amilyn declared. She then glanced at Rey, “And I think she’d like you to do it too.”

“Don’t speak for her,” he said sharply. “You don’t know what she would want.”

Amilyn the stood up, “No, maybe not. But you can’t stay in this room all day and wallow. You need to be doing something—like maybe helping some kids who’s favorite teacher is currently in a coma.”

On that note Amilyn picked up her purse and walked out of the room.

Chewing on his bottom lip, Ben considered her rather roundabout offer.

“I hate kids,” he announced to the room, his eyes eventually falling back on Rey. “I really hate kids. They are loud and obnoxious. Thinking the world revolves around them…”

Maybe it is the perfect match then, you big brat.

Ben pursed his lips, his hands clasped together on his lap. Knowing Rey would say something along those lines…if they were, you know , still in contact before the accident.

He watched as the respirator filled her lungs and relieved them, her chest rising and falling subtly. If he wanted to, he’d be able to guess without though how many inhales and exhales she had in a minute. Or her heart rate without even glancing at the damn machine.

Amilyn had a point. He’d couldn’t sit there forever and wallow.

Even if he completely disagreed with that assessment.

“Fuck,” he grumbled, wiping his face. He narrowed his eyes on her. “I’m doing this for you and nobody else. Don’t tell anyone.”

Sure you are…

 


 

Rey and Ben were never fond of each other.

Even when he was fifteen and she ten, their hostility towards each other appeared unwarranted but as frightening as ever.

“YOU ARE THE MEANEST BOY IN EXISTENCE!” Rey shrieked out, stomping past Ben and into the family summer cabin. “I HATE YOU!” she called over her shoulder, slamming the back door shut.

Her little scurry could be heard from outside, feet pounding up the stairs and into the bedroom they had to share. She probably claimed the bottom bunk— again —even though Ben called dibs when they arrived that morning.  

Flipping burgers and hot dogs at the grill, Han tutted at his son. “What did you do now?”

“Nothing!” Ben argued, his voice cracking. “Nothing,” he repeated, this time lower. “She was just being a brat. Wanted to run off to the lake and I told her ‘no’ because evil slugs would try to eat her flesh off.”

Han didn’t even bother to reprimand him, only giving his usual disappointed and exasperated expression.

“Would it kill you to try to get along with the kid?” Han asked tiredly. “For everyone’s sake?”

Ben wanted to answer a plain ‘no’. No, it would not kill him. No, it would probably be easy to get along with Rey because she wasn’t bad, she was just incredibly annoying. An annoying ten year old who seemed to have everyone worshiping at her little feet. His mother claiming Rey was the daughter she always wanted and Luke constantly praising her efforts in school. Han bonding with her and taking her out the garage to fix up cars and teaching her how to talk shop even at the age of freaking ten.

Meanwhile, Leia barely regarded Ben, often flustered and frustrated with him. Luke still pressed for Ben to do better when he was already trying his best in academics, and then Han seemed to simply drift into the background—almost as though he was giving up trying to see through to Ben…to maybe understand him better.

Nevertheless, the inherent anger Ben felt at the sight of Rey was more powerful than his efforts to be ‘nicer’.

“Yeah, it probably would kill me,” he said instead, heading off into the wood and back to the lake.

They’d call for him when they wanted him.

Which seemed highly unlikely.

 


 

“It looks exactly the same.”

“We had a few renovations.”

“Does it still have the off-green wallpaper?”

“Yes—”

“Then it is still exactly the same,” Ben said resolutely staring at his alma mater.

Leia huffed, but led him into the building despite her apparent judgement. “We are a non-profit Ben, we get things renovated when absolutely necessary and all proceeds go to the curriculum and for the kids’ benefit.”

“That’s what all non-profits say,” he muttered, following his mother through the familiar halls filled with young, unfamiliar faces.

From a quick glance, he could already pinpoint the problem children, the preps and jocks, and the computer geeks. Then the loners and social-able from the outsiders and needy-cliquey type groups.

Ugh. High school was the worst. Seeing this place as an adult put an ugly twist in his stomach.

Beady, curious eyes watched him as he walked to the office with his mother, most of the students falling silent at the sight of their esteemed principal. She smile graciously at the students as she pushed open the main office door, letting Ben follow after.

“We have roughly three-hundred students attending right now,” Ben eyebrows jumped at the statement, not expect the school to have grown in numbers, “but only one guidance counselor for them all. Luke has been trying to do double-duty, but he feels in his heart the need to step in for Rey.”

“Because he still remembers the color wheel?” Ben taunted, knowing his uncle to also once be an art teacher before going back to school for his Masters in Counselling.

“Because it is what Rey would have wanted,” Leia corrected.

There was that phrase again— what Rey would have wanted .

Amilyn, and now, Leia, talking as though they knew exactly what Rey would have wanted if she ended up in a ridiculous accident with her laying in a coma for over three weeks. Did people leave written testaments for those type of circumstances? Because he could guarantee Rey did not. While sentimental, Rey wasn’t one to look so far off into the future and make plans for some ill tempt of fate.

Only a pure pessimist would do that.

And Rey was not, in any life, a pessimist.

Which meant no one had room or judgement to call out ‘what Rey would have wanted’ as though her soul had already up and left her body.

“Here is your office,” Leia twisted the door open, “Luke’s books are still on the shelves, but most of his belongings have migrated to the art room for the time being.”

The small, broom closet size office instantly made Ben claustrophobic. Shelves reached the ceiling and the desk was pushed far enough away from the door to allow students to come in and sit, but that was about it. He’d be working on top of himself in the cramped space with only a meager window to give him some air.

“Great,” he mumbled, making it to his desk in one and half steps. “Give me a couple days to settle, and I think I can do this.”

“Oh no—your first student comes in fifteen minutes,” Leia announced with a knowing, conniving smile. “You can finally put that sociology degree we spent a pretty penny on to some good use.”

What ?” he called out, though his mother was walking away without another glance. “Shit,” he grumbled, dropping his leather satchel on the extra chair shoved into one corner of the room behind his desk.

Well, now was better than ever to get comfortable. Ben didn’t have much of an option at this point.

He sat down in the desk chair, his knees hitting the underside of the desk roughly. Awkwardly reaching down, Ben attempted to adjust the height. The knob was tricky, not giving into a right twist or a left twist.

“Fuck—come on.” With an aggressive pull, the lock released and Ben’s seat plunged to its lowest setting. A little too low—but hey, beggars couldn’t be choosers.

“Excuse me?” a soft voice called out followed by a knock. “Are you Mr. Solo?”

Lifting his head, Ben saw a young girl waiting by the open door. Her blonde hair combed through with bright magenta streaks stood out amongst the rather drab office setting. Paint covered her overalls, surely one of the art students on campus.

Unsure, she shifted from foot to foot, waiting for him to welcome her in.

“Yes. Uh, come in,” Ben greeted, waving to the seat opposite him.

The girl sat down, not taking off her backpack, sitting almost ramrod straight. She eyed the room sharply, her arms crossed over her chest. He felt the sentiment of her reaction—he hated going to the counsellors office in high school. He was mostly sent there due to acting out and outbursts, easier to send him away than deal with him in the classroom. However he understood the uncomfortable bubble the counsellors office could be, especially when it was just you and one other person talking about feelings and the future.

Realizing she might not talk without some prompting, Ben attempted to breach a conversation. “What bring you here…?”

“Sabine,” she answered quietly, her eyes focused on her shoes. “My name is Sabine.”

“What brings you here, Sabine?” Ben repeated, trying to make his voice lighter. He remember once being told lighter and warmer tones were comforting, the subject more likely to speak to someone with such a presence.

Apparently it wasn’t working because the girl’s face crumpled.

“Is Ms. Niima going to die?” she said with a croak before succumbing to a pitiful sob.

Ben gaped at her. More painful tears and sobs came from the girl as she began to hiccup and blubber about Rey—well, Ms. Niima .

Well, shit. He did not expect this.

 


 

“So I panicked and did what any normal, emotionally repressed male would do—I lied,” Ben told Rey’s unconscious form, “I told her you were going to be fine and that you should be waking up any day.”

She didn’t respond, as usual, but Ben could see how she’d eye roll if given the opportunity.

“She stopped crying after that,” he explained, leaning further back in the uncomfortable hospital chair.

The plastic armrests dug into his sides, yet at this point it no longer bothered him, Ben far too accustomed to the form of the chair.

Rey’s chest rose and fell. Then rose and fell again. A placid heart beat rhythm.

The same patterned he learned within the first forty-eight hours of her coma.

“I guess you can’t die now,” Ben sighed, “Have to live or else you’d make a liar out of me. And we both know I don’t like being a liar.”

You lie. All the time.

“But never to you. I never lied to you,” he said into the air.

He was not too sure if he believed the stories of how those in a coma could hear and sense other people. Part of the studies seemed truthful, while others came from more truthful thinking. Coming from a place of hope rather than a blatant spiral of doubt and regret.

“I never lied about you either. Not going to start now.”

I know. I never lied about you either.

Ben sighed deeply, feeling a pang in his chest the longer he looked at her solemn unmoving body, her raising and falling chest the only sign of life.

And I never lied to you.

“I know.”

His voice cracked, loneliness creeping into the void.

Maybe it was better if she didn’t hear him.

 


 

“You know, she is never going to grow up if you baby her all the time,” Ben insisted to his parents once Rey was out of the room.

The fourteen year old girl ran off to go collect some art supplies from her room. She’d been staying with them over the summer as Luke completed his residency for his Masters over the school break.

Naturally, Ben was opposed to the idea.

Seeing Rey once or twice a week was one thing. Seeing her every day?

Now that something entirely different. He now had to share a restroom with the girl and hear her loud music, the two sharing a wall. Then of course he had to be witness to praise she was continuously showered with on a daily basis.

Leia tsked at him and shook her head. “Ben, now that is not nice and not true. We don’t baby her, we just give her a bit more affection—”

“Affection she is pretty awful at reciprocating,” he shot back, standing up from the kitchen table.

Han shrugged. “So, she’s not physically affectionate or really verbally, but you aren’t either, Ben,” his father reminded him. “And maybe she needs some extra love because she was alone for all that time.”

Ben scoffed. “You can’t use that as an excuse forever. One day you are all going to realize you coddled her too much.”

“Maybe it was you we coddled too much, Ben,” Leia suggested, her mouth downturn sternly, at the beginning of a reprimanding. “Seeing as how it has been years and you still refuse to warm up to Rey. She is your cousin—”

“She is not my cousin.”

The term did not sting nor did it make his skin crawl—instead it caused a sharp sense of ‘no’ in the back of his mind. No . She wasn’t his cousin. No . She wasn’t his family in that sense.

“If you are going to act like this, then go to your room,” Leia ordered, not in the mood for a battle of words with her son.

Part of Ben was tempted to argue how he was technically nineteen, an adult; he didn’t need to listen to her. Yet Han’s knowing eyes dissuaded him from acting out and saying something he’d regret.

Inhaling raggedly, Ben left the kitchen in a heat of kindling fury—at his parents, at himself.

Oddly enough, not at Rey.

Rounding to rush up the stairs, Ben came to halt at the sight of Rey standing firmly at the second to bottom step. Her chin was held high and she brought herself to her full height. With the added step, she was still not as tall as him, but she towered with presence.

“I’m not a baby,” she said bluntly, “and I don’t think your parents or Luke are coddling me—I don’t ask them for help or love nor do I expect it, they just do it,” she said honestly. “And I don’t understand why you hate me because of that—”

“I don’t hate you,” he mumbled, stunned at how confrontational the situation became.

He never expected Rey to speak up, the girl quiet and keeping to herself for the most part, unless provoked by himself.

“But you do,” she said with tired acceptance. For an instant, she became a mature young lady -- a phrase he’d never tack onto Rey before this day, however she was forcing him to quickly reevaluate his opinion of her. “You always have, and I am done trying to be your friend.”

He felt his face fall at those words. “You never tried to be my friend.”

Her face hardened, brows furrowed and jaw stern. “Yes I did!”

“No, you didn’t!” he argued, feeling his lingering resentment for her fester to the brim. “You always teased me, made me feel like I was the stupid one!”

“Because you are stupid!”

“Well, you’re stupider!” He oh so cleverly shot back, earning a dissatisfied glower from Rey. She disappointed of  his verbal sparring skills and pathetic excuse of an argument. “You think you can sass your way and blink your eyes to get me to be your friend? That’s not how life works, sweetheart, sometimes people just don’t want to make the effort.”

Her anger washed away to blank confusion, his response somehow hitting a nerve.

Not contemplating her reaction for too long, especially as embarrassment crawled with aggressive force through his body, Ben shoved past her up the stairs.

He didn’t need her all-knowing hazel eyes seeing through him for a moment longer.

 


 

Glancing up from his copy of Tuesdays with Morrie , Ben frowned at his mother.

“Why are you braiding her hair?” Ben asked his mother as she parted Rey’s hair to two sides. She then parted the right into three sections and began to loop the hair into a simple braid. “She’s not going to be able to go out or do anything. If you haven’t noticed, she’s a little incapacitated.”

He was sitting in his usual spot, beside Rey’s bed. No one bothered to try and sit there for the duration of their visits, it unspoken as Ben’s.

Saturdays at the hospital were both the best and the worst…that day happened to be leaning somewhere toward the middle of the spectrum.

Ben showed up early, like he always did, and brought daisies to replace the dying ones on her bedside table. While distressed friends and friends of friends brought extravagant bouquets filled with vibrant colors and lively flora, Ben came with the simple daisies every Saturday.

Daisies are her favorite.

Only Ben and Luke appeared to know this, the older man smiling sadly at the sight of the fresh flowers.

Another week had passed without any change in her status.

Ben grew restless of the stagnant nature of waiting.

Meanwhile, Han, Leia, and Luke attempted to find a new routine.

This meant Luke bringing in artwork from her students, Han putting the television on antique car shows, and Leia speaking softly to her and braiding Rey’s chestnut locks into simple loops of beauty.

“So her hair doesn’t get matted from laying down all the time,” Leia explained as though it were obvious. “She has such lovely hair, it’d be a pity to see it become dull and tangled.”

Ben refrained a comment, finding he could not argue with the tender sentiment.

“Have any more of her friends stopped by?” Luke asked arranging and rearranging the hand-made ‘Get Well Soon’ cards on the table.

“Not really,” Ben muttered, flipping a page in his book. He recalled Finn briefly stopping by earlier in the week, but it was only to replace flowers he and Rose brought during their first visit. “They all have lives. It’s understandable they are not stopping by to check in on her every day.”

“Yeah, only you do that,” Han quipped.

Ben sunk lower in his chair, focusing intently on the text before his eyes.

Tying off one end of Rey’s hair, Leia hummed in agreement. She observed Ben from the corner of her eye, still playing with the loose strands of hair. “Honey,” she called out to Ben, “This entire… vigil you seem to be having for Rey, is it because of regret?”

Ben blanched, his books slipping from his hand. “Wha—What do you mean?”

Leia stared woefully at him, begging with her eyes for him to release and repent all the shame he bottled up.

“I mean, you weren’t always the kindest person to her,” she explained simply, reaching for the other sections off hair. “Nor have you been in contact with her in years” –okay that was subject to debate, though Ben would never bring it up now, especially with this come to Jesus moment his mother was creating through her personal family fantasies and desires–“It is natural to feel regret about how you treated her and the time you lost.”

Oh, did he know all about lost time and regret. His mother did not need to preach it to him in the sterile air and under the ill-equipped lights.

Ben pressed his lips together.

And then he shrugged.

“Maybe.”

He flipped to the next page, knowing he did not finish the one before.

“I always wanted you two to be close,” Leia admitted to the room. “You know, she’s a lot like you.”

Ben squirmed at the declaration, not quite believing the statement for how it was given. Yes, he and Rey were similar—anyone with two eyes could see based off of how they acted—but they were also different .

Fundamentally different. To the point it was practically non-negotiable…

Of course, Ben wouldn’t say that now. Hell, he was sitting in a hospital with family he hadn’t seen for a better part of a decade.

Clearly so called fundamentals changed when it is a matter of life or death.

Or maybe you always, deep down inside, had the same fundamentals as me and you just didn’t want to accept them, you nerfherder.

“Too much like you,” Luke added, sitting at the window seat bench. “She thought you were amazing, honestly looked up to you liked you were some answer to her problems. A bad answer, but an answer.” He then snorted. “I told her it was pointless to try to become your friend…but you know Rey, very adamant once she has her mind set on something.”

Ben’s eyes drifted to Rey.

Leia finished the braids. Simple, smart, loose.

Though the sight did nothing to ease Ben. Just because she looked a little normal, didn’t mean life happened to follow the same path.

 


 

“I hate Skywalker’s class,” the boy, Jacen, declared to Ben. “I get it, he knows art and wants us to push ourselves to a higher standard, but at least with Ms. Niima she didn’t care about the grade…it was about getting better and loving it.”

“That sounds like her,” Ben said without thinking, absentmindedly playing with a rubber band in his hand.

The freshman perked up. “You knew her?”

“Know her,” Ben corrected automatically. “She and I grew up together,” he said, over simplifying their relationship.

“Oh,” he muttered, silent for a moment. “Do you know how she is doing?”

Ben pressed his lips together and nodded, rocking a bit in his chair. “Sure. She’s the same as she’s been the last few weeks.”

“A coma?” Jacen said, a groan of dread coming from the back of his throat. “How long do you think it will last?”

“The doctors say any day she can wake up,” Ben found himself freely informing the boy. “She’s healing…it’s normal when someone has brain trauma.”

“Does her boyfriend know?”

“Boyfriend?” Ben echoed, eyes jumping up.

Jacen winced apologetically. “Well…we don’t know if he actually is her boyfriend, but she always talked about this guy and he’d take her out for lunches,” he said vaguely, not quite remembering all the details. “She was super cool and let some of the art kids hang out in the classroom when she was gone.” His eyes suddenly widened. “Was I not supposed to tell you that? I know it’s against the rules for students to be in the classrooms with the teachers—”

Ben held his hand up, Jacen falling silent at the gesture.

“No—I don’t care,” he waved off the kid’s worries. “If she left you in there, clearly she trusts and I don’t take her judgement lightly.”

The boy heaved a large sigh of relief, life surging back into his face. “Oh great—Uh, thanks for letting me come in and just talk, Mr. Solo,” Jacen said as he stood up. “You’re a really great listener.”

Ben smiled tightly. “So I’ve been told.”

Underneath the table, the rubber band snapped in Ben’s hand. Carelessly he let the broken piece fall to the carpeted floor.

 


 

“Mr. Solo,” a hand shook his upper arm lightly, “visiting hours have ended. I can’t let you stay the night again.”

Blinking his eyes open, Ben nodded in understanding and slowly stood up from his chair. The nurse, Jyn, went about checking on Rey’s vitals and securing her tubes and needles.

“Tell me honestly, what are the likes she’ll wake up soon?” he asked quietly.

The woman paused for a moment, turning to him with a sympathetic smile. “Like the doctor said—”

“I don’t care what the doctor says,” Ben interjected firmly. “You are the person who comes in every day and knows, really knows , how she is doing. Not some guy who glances at a sheet and continues to say she should wake any day now.”

Jyn blinked, taking a deep breath. “Honestly? She should have woken up weeks ago. This isn’t normal, but her vitals are normal. She just hasn’t woken up yet and the brain is a delicate thing where we can’t force it,” she reminded him lightly, “but if she doesn’t wake soon, she might need to be moved to a new location.”

Ben snapped fully awake at the information. “What do you mean, new location?”

“Patients who have been in a coma for an extended period of time need to be moved to a new facility, like a nursing home or care home, to free up hospital rooms.” She eyed him curiously, a flash of concern in her eyes. “Has no one told you? Aren’t you the spouse?”

“Ah, no,” Ben uttered lowly, “I’m just… Ben.”

Wow.

Just Ben?

“Her Ben.”

Her blue eyes lit up in understanding, only to be filled with a sincere condolence. “I see…” she adjusted Rey’s pillow once more, smiling gently at the sight of the loose braids. “I know many of you have been visiting… but have you tried talking to her about what she knows? Reciting memories? Usually it is a accumulation of things to get the brain to recognize maybe it’s time to wake up.”

 


 

Ben transferred colleges after his sophomore year; he did not see Rey for almost five years.

Not on purpose, life just had a funny way of never having their paths converge.

She’d been in high school at the time of his move, only in her second year. Her concerns drifted away from her mission to becoming his best friend to art, academics, and making friends however troubling it may have been for her. She simply didn’t have time to tangle herself in the unconventional trappings of their strife.

And he simply did not have the energy to see his family beyond an hour and half on holidays. So if he happened to miss her in the gatherings Han and Leia loved to throw for Christmas and New Year’s, then so be it.

He didn’t need to run into the arms of his family to feel satisfaction; if he tried hard enough, he could maybe find a kernel of it in himself, and it was enough to bide by in life.

Finishing his degree at a different institution and immediately getting hired at said institution—First Order University—he found himself to be thriving in a steady sense of the world. Not ridiculously so, but in a humbling and encouraging amount. After all, he beat a statistic in acquiring a job in his field after graduation and happened to be working in familiar territory.

He simply never expected to see Rey on said familiar territory.

Ben had been leaving the main administrative building on campus, when he saw a flash of a girl rushing into the building. She lugged a large portfolio with her, along with a satchel. Both bags weighed her down as she attempted to navigate the tangle of straps she found herself in. Her chestnut hair was piled into three messy buns on her head, glowing in radiance under the welcoming September sun. A large denim jacket partially obscured her figure, but dressed in a practical beige sundress.

She came to halt once inside and check the campus directory by the clear, glass doors.

With a loud huff, she wiped her face. “Shit—I am so late.”

Ben wasn’t sure what prompted him to go to the girl—her familiarity, her flourished entrance, or his pity for her. He got lost his first time on campus too, large buildings towering, all looking the same to an outsider.

“Uh—where are you trying to get to?” he said once he was a within a few feet.

Slowly lifting her face from her hands, he saw her—and he suddenly felt fifteen again in that moment.

It was Rey —the brat, with all too knowing hazel eyes.

Recognition shifted in her gaze. She adjusted her posture in a visceral reaction.

“I—Nowhere. I don’t need your help,” she spat with ease, reverting to the annoying ten year old before his eyes. Not some awe-inspiring, captivating woman he thought he saw moments earlier.

“Fine, good luck trying to navigate this campus,” he said nonchalantly, already turning on his heel to leave. There wasn’t a receptionist on this floor, only the directory and some promotional images. Mostly faculty and staff entered this building, and the occasionally lost student.

In other words, she didn’t have many options for help.

“Wait,” she called out half a second later, exasperated with herself, “do you know where the Regional Art Exhibition is?”

Ben turned back around, raising an eyebrow at the question. Did he look like someone who would know where an art competition was located?

Sensing his confusion, Rey continued, “Because the website and registration says in the Southwest Building, but here I am and no exhibition!”

“Because you are in the Southwest Admin Building,” Ben clarified, narrowing his eyes on her. She did not hear the difference, her frown deepening. “The Southwest Building is straight out those doors and then you take a left at the studio theatre. That’s where all the arts classes are located,” he explained easily.

“That’s…confusing.” Her brows furrowed, arms awkwardly crossed over her chest, as she still had her two bags. “Who named these buildings with that little judgement?”

“Blame the university founder, he was a utilitarian man. Not much for sentimentality,” Ben quipped, forcing himself to not smile at the curious curve of her mouth.

“And you know all this because…?” she prompted, regarding him carefully.

“Because I work here.”

“As a management consultant,” she supplied readily.

Her eyes then widened a fraction as she realized what she said.

“I mean, that’s what your mother says,” Rey explained casually, picking at a non-existent loose thread on her jacket. “Considering…well considering how we don’t talk.”

“By your choice,” he interjected before she could get another word in, “Don’t you have an ‘Art Exhibition’ to go to?” he said, dropping the conversation before it reached uncomfortable and hostile territory.

Panic surged back into her. Making her way back out the door, she left with a wave of goodbye.

Watching her leave caused an unsettling trepidation to shadow over him.

Unsure of what overcame him, Ben rushed to the glass doors pushing them open.

“Rey!” he called out.

Only a yard or two away, she spun around, facing him but still walking slowly backwards. “What?”

“Wh—what time is the art exhibition thing?” he asked, hoping he didn’t sound too desperate.

She blinked, her large then squinting as the sun hit her face. “Um, seven I think?”

He stepped further outside to hear her better. Yet one hand remained on the glass door, holding it open. “And your work is in it, right?”

A bubble of laughter left her, her entire face softening away from the mature and collected front he knew well in his teens. “Well, yeah—if I ever get there!”

“Of course,” he said, stepping back. “Um—good luck, I guess.”

Her smile fell as he retreated back into the building. Ben tried to let it stick in his mind as he went back to his office, completely forgetting about the files he’s been about to take to the Alumni department before she stepped back into his life.

(However her smile came back in tenfold when she saw him later that night.)

(Neither really knew what to say…but maybe that was better than saying anything at all.)

 


 

“And then you sent—'Peanut, just get your ass into gear and ask her already’!” Finn finished with a half hearted laugh, sitting in a plastic chair next to Rey’s bed. A soft sigh left the man as his nostalgic joy faded into the dry coolness of reality. “Rose and I probably wouldn’t be together if it wasn’t for you, Rey,” he told her form, she in the state most of their family and friends were beginning to identify as normal. “Please wake up soon, Peanut.”

With the lull in the one sided conversation, Ben cleared his throat.

Finn looked up, surprised to see Ben standing by the doorway of the room.

“Oh, hi,” Finn muttered, waving sadly at him. “You’re the cousin right?”

Sure ,” Ben said, a dryness in his tone. “And you’re the best friend?”

“I guess,” the man said with little conviction. “I don’t know really.”

Crossing to the bedside table, Ben went about replacing the daisies as he did every Saturday. He peaked at Finn from the corner of his eye. “What makes you say that?”

Finn chewed on his lower lip, eyes welling a bit, before he shook his head to the side. “Have you ever thought you knew someone, knew them so well, and then something happens where it hits you like a ton of bricks that you don’t know the slightest thing about them?”

“Existential crisis much?” Ben remarked bluntly.

Finn sat straighter, his chest puffed tighter. “I’m being serious.”

“So am I,” Ben said as he walked the dying daisies to the trash bin. “What brought on such a—how should I put this—startling thought?”

“Just sitting here, looking at her.” Both their eyes landed on Rey, completely unaware of the conversation occurring over her unconscious body. “I…I realize I know nothing about her—at least not like I thought I did.” He tired to smile, but failed, peaking shamefully over to Ben. “Rey…is the type of person to observe and know the deepest part of you within moments. She knew how to shove the right buttons to get someone to talk, to admit their flaws or feelings and help them be…better? Or maybe her harsh ways subconsciously forced us to be better.”

Ben nodded along, though he was beginning to get lost on Finn’s wobbly train of thought.

“I just…I am supposed to be her best friend,” Finn’s voice quivered under the weight of the term, “and yet, if you asked me what her favorite color was”—green—“or her favorite flowers”—daisies—“or who was her celebrity crush in high school”—eh, Liam Hemsworth—“…I can’t give you the answers.”

Ben plucked one of the daisies from its brother and sisters, holding it tenderly, his focus on the simple bloom. “Finn, those are trivial attributes—anyone can ask and know the answer,” he twisted the stem between his pointer finger and thumb, watching as the flower twirled sedately. “But that does not make you any less of her best friend, or her yours.” It was difficult to keep the bitterness out of his voice as he encouraged the young man, gave him sympathy over his lack of investment on Rey. At least on the supposed ‘knowledge’ part of friendship. “I can’t speak for her…”

If anyone could speak for me, it’d probably be you.

“But it does you no good to hold on to what you could have done to be a better friend.”

Ben wasn’t too sure if he was speaking to himself or to Finn.

The other man sighed tiredly, pressing his lips together to conceal the emotion stirring within him. “I know, I know,” he rubbed his eyes, “I feel like shit over it, and I know it’s nothing I can control.”

The men fell silent; Finn lost in his own thoughts while Ben simply watched over Rey from a distance.

“We think—Rose and I—that she was seeing someone…and I think that’s what’s really getting to me,” Finn breathed out.

By the monitors, Ben froze.

Finn continued, arms crossed over his chest and squeezing to himself. “That we kind of had to figure out in a roundabout way, never getting confirmation and it makes me wonder what we did for her to not trust us. To not trust me.”

“Rey’s always been a private person,” Ben spoke up with a strange thread of hope his words would be able to stop this conversation from getting too sentimental. After all, he did not know the man well enough for such a bond. “Even as a kid, she kept everything to herself unless she deemed someone worthy, and who the hell knows that criteria.”

God, make me sound like some frigid and antisocial bitch.

“So…don’t take it personal,” Ben assured him, his words stilted.

Taking the words carefully, Finn let his shoulders relax. A surmountable tension left the room at the movement. Ben even felt he could take a relieved breath at the gesture.

However, Finn’s focus drifted from his friend to the other man watcher her—keeping guard of her.

“Were you someone she deemed worthy?” Finn asked quietly.

Ben swallowed. “No.”

I correct what I said:

You Lie…But only about yourself.

And maybe…sometimes about us too.

But I am not completely innocent on that front either.

“Somehow I don’t believe that.”

 


 

The shift in their relationship wasn’t necessarily instant.

Something dormant then awoken to be perfectly honest. Cheesy, but honest.

Then again, it did happen all in one night.

So maybe it was instant. But he refused to consider himself a reckless human being. Especially concerning Rey.

After her art show that night, they talked.

About nothing really. At least nothing of ‘importance’.

Not really about family. Or work. Or even their past…but just talked .

He recalls the mention of a recent film she’d seen—one he could not for the life of him remember now—and somehow the conversation veered into who was the best Spiderman.

(Rey said ‘Obviously, Tom Holland’.

Ben disagreed, ‘The answer clearly is Andrew Garfield’.)

And it ended with them arguing if NASA really went to the moon during the ‘great space race’.

(Ben believes, firmly, they did not . Maybe now, yes. But in the 60s? No. Hell no.)

Rey…well, after a very compelling argument from him, she wasn’t too sure what she believed.)

She didn’t win the art competition, but she wasn’t too bothered. Exposure and experience were rewarding enough in her opinion.

Their conversations carried from the art exhibition to the fast food joint two blocks away. Ben was sure it was the first time in years he’d eaten greasy, heart-attack inducing food. Not to mention the milkshake ; to be perfectly honest he could not remember the last time he had the frothy, malty treat or if he ever had one at all before that very moment.

“You have to dip your fries in the milkshake,” she insisted, dipping her own crinkle-cuts into her chocolate milkshake.

“That sounds disgusting,” he remarked, nose scrunching in distaste.

A snort escaped her at the sight, Rey not regretting her open laughter.

“It’s delicious, and I think you are just too afraid to try it,” she argued, chopping on another fry, in utter bliss over her snack.

Just to prove her wrong, he tried it.

Salty, sweet, and odd mash-y texture melded together in his mouth. Objectively, he understood why someone would like it—the duality really, the only case.

Despite this, he didn’t like it.

However, he let her have her fun and eat her concoction happily.

“You are funny,” she said as he walked her back to her car, still parked on campus. “I never knew you had a sense of humor.”

Ben stuffs his hands into his pockets, unsure of what to do.

Some weird part of feels like this was an impromptu date —looking at art, supporting her work, eating, talking, laughing. Stolen glances—she’d had to have notice it too, right?

In any other world, it probably would be a date.

Logically, he knows this is not the case.

In reality, she is the kid Luke adopted out of premature mid-life crisis. She was the person he combated with, admittedly one-sided, over his family’s affections. He made her life difficult and in return she was bratty. Both were too immature and let their anger get the best of them.

“Well…this was,” Ben searched for the right word but only sentiment he could think of was, “nice. Very nice. Got to catch up.”

Apparently that was not the right thing to say.

“Oh,” she uttered, her eyes becoming guarded as she peered up at him. “Okay, I supposed it was…nice.”

“You’re uh—” Beautiful, clever, witty, stubborn in the most ridiculously wonderful yet frustrating way , “—different than what I remember.”

“I can say the same for you.” Her jaw subtly tightens, and Ben is committing mental acrobatics to figure out if everything he is saying is wrong, or right, or did he misread the entire night. “You used to wear guyliner and mope like some emo giant.”

An awkward laugh comes from his mouth and nose, the tension in his chest easing into his shoulders. A sense of foolishness filled him as they continue to stand face to face in the practically empty parking lot, waiting for something, anything .

“Guyliner does not bode well in the workforce,” Ben said, hoping to fill the empty space between them.

Of course the joke doesn’t land and she is still gazing up at him, with those bright hazel eyes. Waiting.

“Do you know the way back to Chandrila?” Ben asks instead, rocking on the balls of his feet. He swallowed tightly, trying to look anywhere but her. “You just need to take to 405—”

In a hasty flurry, her hands fist his suit jacket and she yanks him down to meet her.

His lips press to hers, in a hard and firm kiss, teeth nearly knocking together. It’s forceful, but welcomed. Ben’s heart goes into overdrive and his brain fizzes out, because wow she is kissing him and he never once entertained the idea until it was already set in motion.

Seconds pass before his subconscious kicks in and his hands grasp for her in need. The space between them disperses as he pulls her closer, the two connecting and holding each other in genuine honesty for the first time in their lives.

After a moment, she pulled away, taking a deep breath. An half laugh left her as she peaked up at him, her hands migrating from his chest to his shoulders, inching closer and closer to touch his hair. “Um—I don’t care about how to get on the 405—”

“I figured,” he replied hurriedly. A harsh wind then blew by, both cowering closer together. “And I really think we should leave because I work here and the winds—”

“Valid, valid,” she repeats. “Uh, your place?” Hesitation flashed in her eyes, Ben recognizing the fear of rejection.

“Uh, yeah ,” he said seriously, already pulling her along to his car.

Her chuckles filled the empty parking lot, Rey’s hand naturally intertwined with his.

So yeah…maybe it was an instant shift.

 


 

Never Let Me Go , Ben remembers the film she raved about that fateful night as he swiped through his Amazon Prime. He’d grown tired of the same reruns of Fraser and Friends on the hospital’s basic cable, opting to just stream a movie instead.

He watches the film twice, with the volume on for her to hear.

“Memories, even your most precious ones, fade surprisingly quickly. But I don’t go along with that. The memories I value most, I don’t ever see them fading.”

That’s my favorite quote.

He cried both times.

 


 

Over the last two months, Ben feared touching Rey in her coma state.

He only ever adjusted her pillow and her blankets all while avoiding direct contact. To hold her, to touch her, to feel her skin under his felt wrong . Not wrong in the sense he felt he wasn’t allowed to touch her, but in the sense nothing would feel right in the world if he did.

Intimately he knew the calluses of her hands, the soft underside of her wrist, and dryness of her elbows. He knew what life coursed through her body and this…this was not her natural state. This was not the Rey he knew and it terrified him.

And maybe it was selfish of him to keep his distance, but he didn’t know what else to do.

His mother was the one who had combed Rey’s hair or brushed the hair from her face. Leia claimed she’d feel Rey twitch under her touch. Ben believed her, Rey scoring moderately well on the Glasgow Coma Scale. She’d sometimes twitch and could partially breathe on her own. When Luke held her hand in his prayers at her bedside, she’d be able to grasp back loosely, her body on a vague autopilot.

“Ben,” Leia touched his shoulder. He barely glanced her way, briefly lost in his own haze of memories. She didn’t press on him to face instead, continuing right on. “I…I know you were against this, but Luke and I don’t know what else to do.” He felt all the blood drain from his chest to his gut as he gradually realized what news his mother was breaking. “We think it might be best to move her to a new facility. The doctors suggested it.”

“They don’t think she’ll wake up?” he asked. His lips pinched together, struggling to contain the rage and pain festering within him.

“That’s the thing… she can—she should have woken up already considering how she’d been healing,” she paused, moving so she was standing in his line of sight. Her eyes were bloodshot, tired from loss of sleep and unshed tears. “Son, they think there might be some other underlying cause for her lack of further response.”

All other sound and people faded away.

And he felt the crushing pressure of impending loneliness—this was not supposed to happen. She was supposed to be okay. They promised each other—they said they would never have to be alone and now…now she…she could be gone for longer ?

His mother made it sound far worse, almost indefinitely.

Immediately, Ben stood from his chair and marched out the door. He passed through the hall in a daze, only seeing his feet moving to the nearest outdoor exit.

Glass doors shoved open, Ben released an agonizing roar. His throat strained and his heart thumped nonsensically against his ribcage. Blindly, he kicked the patio chair and punched the concrete wall. He ignored the sickening crack his fist made on impact, too concerned with trying to catch his breath.

A string of curses fell from his lips as the sting of his broken bones brought him back to reality. Seething and shaking with hot tears, he walked back into the building. Quietly he went to the circulation desk on the floor, holding his bleeding left hand in his quivering right.

“Um,” he spoke softly, “I think I need a nurse.”

Jyn looked up and paused at the sight of the fracture. She released a tired sigh, as though expecting this. She nodded in understanding and picked up the phone to ring a doctor.

 


 

“I like your hands,” Rey declared one lazy Saturday morning.

She laid in his bed, curled on her side with all the blankets cocooning her. While Rey loved winter, she hated the cold and preferred to be wrapped in a dozen blankets for the entire day than venture into the frigid air.

Not that Ben was complaining. They’d both been up for a few hours, neither having the urge to get up from the nest they’d formed. At some point he picked up the book he’d been rereading— Leaves of Grass —and read as Rey played a crossword on her phone. Occasionally she’d nudge him to read aloud a part if she recognized the page, but otherwise they lounged in companionable silence.

“Excuse me,” Ben finally said, realizing she spoke. “You like my hands?”

“Yeah,” she shrugged, the sleeve of his sweater drooping off her shoulder, her lightly tanned skin exposed. “I don’t know what it is, but I like them. They just seem to fit you.”

“I would hope so, since they are my hands.”

She whacked him with the corner of the blanket, “Oh shut up! You know what I mean.”

He smirked at her, finding her flustered state amusing, “ Sure I do—”

“Stop it!” She whacked him again, her own chuckles emerging as he swatted the blanket away.

“What?” he said between a laugh, smiling.

“I am trying to compliment you and spread my love, and you tease me!” She cried out indignantly, “That’s it that’s the last time I compliment you about anything,” she said defiantly, though both knew the statement to be false. With a huff, she turned away from him, throwing the blanket over her head.

Setting the book aside, he crawled over to her side of the bed, and slipped into the other side of the blanket. His arms wrapped around her middle as dropped his face into the crook of her neck. His cool nose brushed against the ticklish and sensitive skin behind her ear. She squirmed at the sensation. Subconsciously, she drew him closer.

“So you like my hands…”

An aggravated groan came from her, Rey pressing her face further into the pillow.

“…because I like your hands too,” he said against her skin.

She peak over her shoulder. “Really?”

“Oh yeah, super-hot—”

“Now you are being an idiot.”

“What? No.”

“Yes,” she insisted, turning back around to face him. She tried to hide her knowing grin by being overly serious. “You are doing that thing where you know you screwed up and you are trying to overcompensate—”

“‘ Overcompensate’ ?”

“—by showering me with silly compliments.”

“What if I fully believe these so-called silly compliments?” Ben shot back, bumping his nose lightly with hers.

Her eyes narrowed, not buying it.

“Then you’ll have to convince me.”

 


 

“Mr. Solo, what happened to your hand?” Sabine asked when she came in for her weekly counselling session. Most of the art students had been stopping by his office since the switch of regime in their classroom. Some came to complain about Skywalker, like Jacen, while others came to simply talk about troubles in their lives and school, but they all seemed to discusses their love and longing for Ms. Niima.

At her question, Ben glanced down at the bandaged left hand. Luckily it wasn’t a fractured hand, only a bruised and bloody knuckle with a sprained wrist. He needed stitches and a brace but otherwise he was fine, much to his family’s delight.

“I…I punched a wall,” he said after a moment of thought.

“Oh,” she said gapping at the array of layers on his hand and wrist. “Why?”

“Because I was upset,” he pressed his lips together then forced a placid face for the girl, “Not the best thing to do a time of distress.”

She stared at him in mild disbelief. “And you’re our guidance counsellor?”

He nodded once. “Don’t worry, I question it every day too.”

Momentarily blinking at his bluntness, she sat back. Her usual sadness then set in, and Ben knew exactly who she was going to talk about. “Principal Organa came to class today,” Sabine’s eyes welled, Ben steeling himself for another sob-fest. “She said Mr. Skywalker will be taking over the art classes for the ‘foreseeable future’.” Tears began to fall and Ben, with a practiced hand, had the box of tissues at the ready. She furiously pulled from the box, blowing her nose and wiping her eyes, leaving the crumpled tissues on her lap. “Mr. Solo, you’re the only one who is ever honest with us—what’s really going on with Ms. Niima?”

Ben sat back, trying his best to remain impartial; even better, stoic. “I don’t know what you—”

Sabine rolled her eyes with a frustrated huff. “Mr. Solo, we are not idiots—we know you are related to Ms. Niima. Aren’t you Principal Organa’s son and isn’t Ms. Niima her niece?”

His mouth opened and then closed. “There—there is no blood relation. She is adopted by my uncle, Mr. Skywalker. So ‘no,’ she is not technically related to me.”

“But you know her, she’s like family, then you must really know what is going on?” Sabine insisted, blowing her nose after.

“Sabine,” Ben began, taking a deep breath. He had two options here: cushion the news and try to make it hopeful or be brutally honest. “The doctors think there may be something else going on, so she’s going to need to stay in the hospital a little longer.”

“And she still hasn’t woken up?” she asked quietly.

“No, no she hasn’t,” Ben answered, not hearing his own voice crack. “But…But it could be nothing at all as well. We just don’t know,” he said, feeling empty.

Sabine sniffles filled the tiny room, Ben unable to do anything else to comfort the girl than provide his ill words of wisdom. “I…I know it is not your job, but can you lets kids in the art class know what happens. We just…we just really miss her.”

“Of course,” Ben said, finding he wanted to keep the promise.

 


 

“I don’t get it,” Poe announced to Ben when he took a seat in his office. The eleventh grade history teacher leaned back in the chair, causing the back legs to wobble.

Part of Ben wanted to warn Poe from falling back, however the petty side of him was perfectly content to see the other man topple over. Maybe it was a childish, to play into an almost thirty year long grudge, but it’s be nice to see the golden boy from his youth fail at something every once in a while. Even if it was falling off a chair.

“Get what?” Ben prompted, double checking his schedule. He still had about twenty minutes until one of the juniors came in to discuss college options.

Poe scratched his jaw thoughtful, his eyes darting from the corner of the ceiling back to Ben. "You and Rey were never close growing up,” he mused. “I don’t have a single memory of the two of you getting along.”

“And your point?” Ben asked, putting back on his reading glasses as he went through a students file.

The chair dropped back on all fours, Poe leaning forward. Glancing over his shoulder to the cracked open door, he spoke lowly. “You have gone to visit her every day. Every single day since the accident. Not even Luke, her father , can say he has done that.” Poe tilted his head forward, inclining Ben to do so as well. “So what’s the deal? What has caused this grand change of heart?”

A series of thoughts and answers swirled around Ben’s mind. It was easier to lie, to continue the charade. No one knew about him and Rey; if they were to follow through or end things, no one in their family would be hurt.

However, it was a disservice to both of them and their relationship if he did not speak his truth.

“I care,” Ben said simply, encapsulating everything he ever felt for her. “I care about Rey. I have always cared about her, and while she and I did not have a great relationship growing up, I think we have reached a mutual… understanding in our adulthood.”

Poe squinted at him. “You shouldn’t lie, Solo. You’ve never been good at it.”

“But I’m not lying,” Ben insisted, feeling slandered by the accusation.

“Oh I know,” Poe stood up, dusting off his pants and sweater. “I can sense that much, but I can also tell you are hiding something.”

Ben didn’t argue, only glaring at the other man.

“Eventually everyone will find out what it is and it won’t be pretty, and all because you didn’t say anything.”

Whether Ben liked it or not, Dameron had a point.

 


 

A couple of days before Rey’s scheduled move, Ben came in late to the room on a Thursday. His mother and father had visited earlier, collecting their belongings. Extra blankets and card games were gone, along with his mother’s selection of rom-coms. He noticed his navy blue hoodie was gone as well, his mother probably picking it up during her clean sweep.

All that was left were the flowers, cards, and the girl herself.

He stepped farther into the room, taking each step at a slow pace until he reached the side of her bed. The soles of his shows echoed dully against the linoleum of the floor, reminding Ben of the aloneness he and Rey shared. Both the good and bad of the aloneness they detested and desired in a fitful balance.

The bundle of daisies in his hand were set the foot of her bed, Ben planning on replacing them when he was done.

Small and thin, Rey laid on the bed, still breathing but not truly living. Still trapped in her own mind. Her lips were a little chapped, Leia usually slathering some Chapstick on the girl during her visits. But of course the chore fell to the wayside as other medical matters came to light. There was still no clear justification for her lack of improvement, but they still needed to take the next steps despite the circumstances.

Carefully, Ben took a seat on the edge of the bed, facing her.

“Hey,” he started, rolling his eyes a moment later. “That was a dumb way to start, but ‘hey’ I guess. No one gives you a handbook on how to talk to a coma patient and it has been tricky these last few months. Mostly because I am used to you telling me to shut up when I say something stupid…so I have been saying a shit-ton of stupid things while you have been incapacitated, Rey. So I guess I apologize for that,” he took a moment, his eyes drifting from her face to the other tubes and needles connected to her. “I have visited you every day and have talked to you every day, and it has not made a difference which fucking sucks because you read all this shit about how you need to talk to coma patients, and tell them stories and bring up memories and it makes me wonder where the fuck I am going wrong,” he wheezed out, letting all the bottled-up thoughts and feelings emerge to the light; to emerge to her. “Because I am doing exactly that, Rey. I am doing all the right things and nothing is happening.”

He licked his lips, hoping his voice wouldn’t cave in on itself. A heat came from the back of his eyes, tears forming and sitting at bay, waiting for their opportunity to be released. With a shaky hand, he combed his fingers through his hair and took a deep breath.

“Luke and Mom want to move you, and Dad agrees…but I don’t,” Ben said shakily, “I don’t want to because if you move, this becomes too real. This will then be more than you just being in a goddamn awful accident and going through recovery, and into you being in a coma and we don’t know why.”

The tear then decided to make their entrance, Ben not bothering to acknowledge them as he struggled to find the right words—because these needed to be the right words.

“We promised each other that we would never be alone again,” Ben said softly, his eyes focusing on her closed ones, begging with every word for her to just open them. Open them and let those hazel eyes shine back at him, even if it was for a moment, just to know she was still in there somewhere. “And these last few months…I realized what my life would be like without you—”

A heavy ache in his chest formed into a broken sob. Keeling forward from the emotional pain, Ben’s hands reached for her. His hands landed on her upper arms, simply holding her as best he could.

“I—I am so lonely, Rey,” he said through his sobs, “Completely alone even when I am surrounded by all these people and it doesn’t fucking matter because none of them are you. None of them laugh like you, joke like you, shine like you, see me like you do.”

He swallowed his throat dry and the increase of tears causing him to subtly heave, his lungs searching for air only for him to expel it moments later to speak.

Leaning forward, he dropped his head down, his nose pressing into her hair as he just held her, truly touched for the first time in months. “Sweetheart, please. Please…I can’t do this on my own. Please come back to me.”

Tilting his lips down, he pressed a warm, tear stained kiss on the crown of her head.

And then he just stayed there.

He wasn’t sure how much time had passed or if visiting hours had ended yet.

After what felt like eternity, Ben began to pull away from her.

Only for a clumsy hand to grasp on to his arm.

Ben froze, leaning away far enough to see Rey—to see her eyes fluttering and moving under her eyelids.

“Rey?” Ben asked quietly and urgently, taking his seat back on the edge of the bed. “Rey? Can you hear me?” He tried again.

Her brows furrowed, lips pinching and squishing as her mouth began to move. No words came out, but her eyes were starting to open.

Blinking harder and wider, her confused and tired eyes opened fully. They were unfocused, looking everywhere and nowhere at once. Absentmindedly, she continued to hold on to his forearm, hands fiddling with the fabric of his long sleeve shirt.

Finally, her hazel eyes landed on him.

Except they were not all-knowing. Instead, the startling opposite.

Letting him go, she sat back, unsure of him and her surroundings.

Who are you ?”

And Ben knew this was true heartbreak.