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Written on the Heart

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“If that jerk slurps his coffee one more time, I’m going to dump it over his head,” Rose warned darkly, giving said guy a dirty look across the tiny campus coffee shop.

Rey bit back a snort, knowing that she always talked a big game but the second a customer walked over to the counter, she was all sunshiny smiles and perky compliance. Fierce as long as the person doesn’t actually hear her.

And sure enough, when the noisy drinker made his way up to ask for a refill, sweatpants and hoodie looking nearly as worn and tired as he did, Rose poured more coffee into his mug with a huge grin that nearly sparkled in the light.

“Asshole,” she muttered under her breath as he walked away and Rey had to disguise her laugh with a loud cough.

Rose gave her a sly smile, eyes suddenly focusing on something over her shoulder. “Oh, it’s past seven! You should have left fifteen minutes ago.”

God, she wished. Her feet were aching from her shift this morning and she hadn’t slept well the night before. Not the mention the pulsing pressure behind her eyes that promised a headache later tonight, no doubt when she was trying to fall asleep.

“I’m actually closing with you tonight. Paige is letting me pick up a few extra hours this week.”

From the frown on her face, Rose was going to give her sister a talking to later. But in her defense, Rey had to argue with her manager for twenty minutes before finally getting her to agree. Paige, though typically a gentle, soft spoken person, was surprisingly tough and unwavering when she thought she knew best.

“Are you sure that’s a good idea?” she questioned, fixing her with the famous mom stare. “You already worked this morning and I know you haven’t finished your peer review for creative writing.”

Rey hated to admit that she was right but damn it, she was right. But, this unimportant thing called rent was waiting to be paid and she’d spent her grocery money on textbooks last week.

“Yes, thank you, mother,” she teased lightly. “For your information, I’m over halfway done with my review…” Pausing to combat Rose’s stare with a pleading look, she continued, “but, I was hoping I could work on it between customers?”

Sighing in a fond sort of way, a sound Rey was getting used to hearing, Rose gestured towards the empty corner table that was closest to the counter. “Of course. It’s always dead this time of night anyway. I might join you just so I don’t die of boredom.”

Laughing, Rey washed her hands quickly and went to grab her bag.

The next two hours went by quickly and she managed to finish editing the unbearably boring paper one of her classmates submitted, almost nodding off several times. But, the coffee shop was nearly empty the whole night, only the occasional straggler stumbling in for a dose of liquid caffeine to make it through a study session, so she finished with enough time to help Rose clean up and close.

As they were locking up, her phone vibrated in her pocket and she worked it out, thinking that it might be Finn asking her to grab him something on the way home. But as her screen lit up her face in the dark doorway, she saw it was an email notification instead and her heart skipped a beat. She’d been hoping for this all week.

“What?” Rose questioned, stuffing the keys into her purse.

Rey hadn’t even realized she was grinning. “Oh, nothing.”

“Are you texting a guy?”

Nearly choking, she shook her head. “Really? You think I’d be talking to a guy and not tell you?”

Rose shrugged and together, they walked down the narrow, light lined path. “I don’t know, you’re always peeking at your phone and getting this secretive little smile. And you’re the queen of deflection every time I ask, always changing the subject or suddenly becoming incredibly busy and scurrying off.”

When Rey laughed, the sound was loud in the dark and mostly empty campus. “You’re imagining things. As much as I’d love to discuss your conspiracy theories, I’m going home. See you tomorrow!” She took a right turn, heading towards the main road that cut through the campus.

“You’re doing it again!” her friend called after her, but her tone was playful.

She loved Rose to death and knew that she meant well but there were some things that she just liked to keep to herself.

Like the fact that she had a secret online writing life.

Snorting, Rey shook her head at how over dramatic that sounded. It really wasn’t that bad or anything that needed to be kept secret. But once she told her friends that she wrote stories online, they’d all want to read them and gush over them and pressure her into trying to get published, despite the fact that her writing wasn’t all that good.

A part of her hated that she didn’t share her new hobby with her friends, that she wasn’t sure how they’d feel about it. She wished she was more confident but this was still a new and fragile thing for her. It had taken a lot of guts and internal pep talks just to get herself to post for strangers online. She didn’t have it in her right now to share with the people she knew in real life, the few people she had whose opinions actually mattered to her. Besides, that little voice in her whispered; what if they actually hated it?

No, she was better off keeping this hobby to herself, as she had for the last six months.

Exiting the campus, she hurried down the dark street, wanting nothing more than to go home and relax for the rest of the night. With her homework done, she was free to do what she liked, at least before she had to go to bed early for her next shift in the morning.

Luckily, the apartment that she shared with Finn, her best friend, was only a few blocks away from the college. Wonderfully convenient but they definitely paid for it when rent was due every month.

She hurried up the steps, jiggling her key in the sticky lock, before finally getting the front door open. Finn poked his head out of the living room at the sound of her coming in, looking slightly disheveled.

“Hey,” he called as Rey toed off her shoes and shrugged out of her jacket, sticking it on the hook by the door. “You’re home late, long day?”

“You have no idea,” she groaned, internally dying a little at the thought of having to do it all over again in the morning. Crossing the hallway to make a beeline for the kitchen, a sudden movement caught her eye as she passed the living room entrance. Finn’s boyfriend Poe, looking sheepish and red cheeked, was sprawled across the couch. That explained the rumpled clothing then.

“I’ll just grab some food and give you guys some privacy,” she told Finn, tossing a wave at his curly haired boyfriend.

He started to protest but she didn’t mind. She loved them but sometimes, after a long day, spending time with both of their loud personalities was too exhausting. Especially when she knew they were just waiting for her to go to her room so they could have some time alone.

Which, she told herself firmly, was more than fair. This was technically Finn’s place and although she paid rent, he let her live with him out of the kindness of his heart. Even knowing that she’d use up all the hot water in the mornings. That was true friendship right there, and she owed him one.

And besides, tonight she was happy to have an excuse to go hide in her room.

Grabbing a container of leftover spaghetti out of the fridge, she headed to her bedroom, not bothering to heat it up since she preferred it cold.

“Have a good night,” she called over her shoulder, hearing muffled answers as she closed her door firmly.

Sighing with relief at finally being home, Rey changed out of her clothes and into a giant, baggy shirt that had once belonged to Finn. Spaghetti in one hand, she extracted her laptop from her bag with the other, and plopped down onto her bed.

Though she was in a hurry, excited jitters dancing around in her stomach, she had to take a second and close her eyes at the overwhelming relief of being off of her aching feet.

Shifting her laptop onto her legs and booting it up, she shoved a bite of cold spaghetti into her mouth, nearly moaning as her stomach gurgled with joy. God, she had been starving. She’d forgotten her lunch today but no way was she going to pay for a meal from any of the on-campus food spots. Paying for that would be equal to half a week of food from the grocery store.

The second her laptop turned on, she was clicking the browser button and opening up her bookmarks. At the top of the list was The Darkness Between Stars , her favorite story she was currently following online.

She knew it was silly, but seeing the notification on her phone earlier of a new chapter being posted genuinely made her giddy. This story, this writing, this author, whatever it was, it spoke to her. It had burrowed its way into her heart and dug its claws in, refusing to leave.

As the new chapter opened, Rey settled back against her pillows, eyes glued on the screen as she shoved pasta into her mouth, occasionally missing and poking herself with her fork.

Twenty minutes later, she set aside the empty, sauce smeared container and fork, letting out a huge breath. That chapter… it was amazing, just as she had expected. She scrolled back up to the top, finding the author’s name, even though she knew it already.

KyloRen.

Every single word that he wrote was pure perfection. Rey had never even considered herself a fan of sci-fi works, but when she joined a writing group on a whim last month, everyone raved about it so much that she’d given it a chance. And never looked back.

Opening up the writing group Discord server, she quickly typed out a message into her group chat with two of her friends.

 

KiraofJakku

Omg did you guys read the TDBS update? 

 

She could see that her two friends were online and sure enough, their responses starting popping up a few seconds later.

 

CptnPhasma

Of course I did

What took you so long?  

 

HuxSux

It was meh.

 

CptnPhasma

Is that why you were screaming about it from across the house?

I seem to recall tears in your eyes

 

HuxSux

I hate you.

 

Rey laughed out loud. Phasma and Hux had been dating for a few years now and their dynamic was a constant source of amusement. It was clear that Phasma loved giving her poor boyfriend a hard time and it was also clear that he loved it. Speaking of which…

 

KiraofJakku

Uh, Hux… what happened to your name?  

 

HuxSux

Do you want to guess?  

I’ll give you a hint. She’s a tall, blonde terror who seems to think it’s funny to sneak on my computer while I’m at work…

 

CptnPhasma

Whoever this mystery woman is, I like her

 

In the two months that Rey had been on here, Phasma had changed his name over a dozen times, each one somehow better than the last.

 

KiraofJakku

Okay, back on topic… that chapter killed me.

 

CptnPhasma

You say that about every chapter  

I’m sorry but you’re a huge fangirl for this story

But yes, it was amazing

 

KiraofJakku

Ha! I knew you’d like it! You love anything badass and when the knight killed his master, my jaw dropped. So. Bad. Ass.

 

It was true. Her jaw had dropped wide open, spaghetti almost falling out mid bite. After over thirty chapters of the main character, a self proclaimed villain who only went by “The Knight”, doing his evil master’s bidding, he broke free of his control and killed him. It was one of the single most satisfying things that Rey had ever had the pleasure of reading.

 

HuxSux

Meh.

 

CptnPhasma

It was

I did not see that coming

Oh shut it

You freaked out just like us

You just don’t want to admit it because you don’t like KyloRen  

 

HuxSux

That is not true… I just think he’s an ass.

 

Rey shifted in surprise. Almost everyone in here knew about KyloRen, since his story was almost always leading in popularity and ratings. He was actually a member of this Discord group, though he usually only hopped in to post an update and never really talked with anyone. She’d always watched him when he did, trying to work up the courage to say something and never doing it.

But she had never realized that Hux knew him.

 

KiraofJakku

You’ve talked to him?

 

CptnPhasma

Poor Kira is going to have a heart attack

She’s been crushing on Kylo big time 

 

HuxSux

I tried to talk to him once. I offered writing advice and he ignored me. Obviously, he thought that he knew better.

 

And that explained Hux’s distaste of the author. Though he had grown on Rey over the last couple on months, there was no denying that he was a bit of a writing snob. He was the sort of person who pointed out every tiny typo or word choice issue in his comments and called it “constructive criticism”. Phasma fondly called it “insufferably dickish”.

 

KiraofJakku

First of all, I don’t have a crush. I’ve never even talked to him, I just admire his writing.

And secondly, I don’t think that makes him an ass. Maybe he just didn’t agree with your advice?  

 

CptnPhasma

Imagine that  

 

HuxSux

Well, at the very least, he could have said something. I don’t appreciate being ignored.

 

CptnPhasma

Awh, poor boo got his feelings hurt

 

HuxSux

I certainly did not. He’s the one who missed out on some valuable feedback.

 

Laughing, Rey shook her head. But, what he said was making her worry a bit. The last few chapters, she had been thinking about sending a message to KyloRen, just to tell him how much she was enjoying his story. Nothing meant more to her than hearing from the few readers she had, so it felt wrong to not say something to him. But, would it bother her if he didn’t respond? She personally always took the time to reply to every comment and loved chatting about her stories with her readers. But maybe he didn’t feel the same. Or maybe he simply got too many messages to even bother responding to them all.

She chewed on her bottom lip, considering. They had never spoken before so even if he didn’t respond or hated her message, it wouldn’t really change anything. But, there was a chance that it could mean something to an author who had given her a story that touched her heart. She owed him enough to say something.

Making up her mind, she typed out a quick goodnight to the still bickering couple, then opened up a new message to send to KyloRen. It didn’t look like he was currently online but she wanted to send it now while she was feeling brave.

Her message took only a few minutes to write, then she spent another ten scanning it for any errors and fretting over if she was being too enthusiastic or presumptuous by sharing her opinion. Before she chickened out, she pressed send, immediately tossing her laptop to side as if it burned to the touch.

It only took a few seconds of staring at the ceiling before she muttered a curse under her breath and snatched it back up, scanning desperately to see if he had responded yet.

But it was just her lonely message, taunting her.

 

KiraofJakku

Hey! I just read the latest chapter of The Darkness Between Stars, and wanted to say how much I enjoy your story. It’s been my favorite for a while and this chapter was beyond amazing. The Knight is such a meaningful character to me. His name, his ambiguity, it makes him feel like he could be any of us, and killing his master and breaking free of his control could represent anything we seek to conquer or defeat. I just find it so impressive how well you put such depth and symbolism into a story that is also an awesome sci-fi adventure. So thank you for that. And, for the record, I will always firmly view The Knight as a hero, no matter what anyone else says.

 

After staring at KyloRen’s offline status for far too long, she huffed at herself, feeling silly. For all she knew, it was three in the morning for him and he was fast asleep.

She tucked her laptop away for the night, swapping over to her phone and wiggling under her comforter.

An hour later, yawning and blinking from the bright light of her phone screen burning into her tired eyes, she gave up on trying to write this new scene. It just wasn’t coming to her, each word feeling like she was taking a solid minute to extract it from her brain, only to plop it into the paragraph gracelessly.

Tossing her phone onto her bedside table, she snuggled down into her pillows, feeling the exhaustion of the day settling on her like a heavy blanket.

Just when she closed her eyes, ready to blissfully slip into sleep, her phone booped innocently.

Her heart jolted. It was the Discord notification sound and she had all turned off except for messages. It was probably just Phasma though and she really should ignore it and go to sleep…

Rey rolled over and swiped her phone up, unlocking the screen with nervous fingers. There, beneath her message was a response from KyloRen, which she scanned quickly, her heart pounding out a furious beat in her chest.

 

KyloRen

Hello, Kira. Thank you for your kind words, I’m glad to hear that you’re enjoying the story so far. I have to admit that I’m surprised by your message, as most people view The Knight as an irredeemable villain. I’m curious as to what made you view him as a hero? Thanks again, always happy to hear good feedback.

 

Rey had to bite her lip to stop herself from shrieking in excitement. He responded. Holy hell, her inspiration and favorite author responded to her dorky message. Disbelief and excitement collided inside of her and she firmly reminded herself that he was just a normal person. Probably some dad or professor who wrote in his off time and was a huge sci-fi nerd.

 

KiraofJakku

Thank you for the response! I’ve actually gotten in several arguments with friends over whether The Knight is a villain or hero. I seem to be the only person thinking the latter but I’m okay with that. Though I do get teased that it’s just because I’m a girl with a thing for bad guys haha. I just think that he is trying really hard to be a bad guy but he’s got a good heart hiding in there. He’s lonely and sad and had a tragic life but I think that a small part of him wants something more. He just thinks that he’s doomed to be a product of evil, due to his history. But you’ve hidden a few little hints that I think point towards a redemption.

 

A huge part of her wanted to laugh at the fact that she was telling the author about his own story and knew that if she was wrong, she’d look like an idiot. But she’d read all of the published chapters multiple times and she knew in her heart that The Knight was going to be redeemed. Phasma and Hux both thought that she was crazy but it was weirdly important to her that she was right.

If a character destined for evil could make something good of his life, shouldn’t anyone be able to?

And The Knight killing his master just made her feel inspired. Ready to conquer all the obstacles in her way and break free of her own personal fears and worries. A character who evoked that sort of reaction from her surely couldn’t be a villain in the end. Could they?

He responded almost immediately, to her delight.

 

KyloRen

Hmmm, interesting. Of course, I can’t tell you if you’re wrong or right but I appreciate you fighting so hard to defend him.

 

And that was it. That was all he had to say.

Reading the message twice more, Rey felt a grin spread across her face. She was right, she was so right. The Knight was totally getting his redemption and she was going to rub it in everyone’s face.

 

KiraofJakku

Don’t worry, I won’t tell everyone that I’m right. I’ll save the gloating for later  

 

KyloRen

Hang on. I certainly did not say that you’re right.

 

KiraofJakku

You didn’t have to. I believe in you to give him the story that he deserves.

 

She waited a few minutes but he didn’t respond. Chewing her nail, she worried that she might have offended him. But honestly, that was a concern for the morning, when her brain was actually wanting to work.

So, she forced herself to set her phone back down, roll over, and close her eyes.

______________

Rey stifled a yawn behind her hand as Professor Skywalker droned on about the importance of imagery in creative writing. It wasn’t that he was boring, Creative Writing was her favorite class this semester and he was her favorite professor, but she’d been up since six this morning to squeeze in an opening shift before classes.

From the seat next to her, Rose gave her a concerned look, but she just shrugged. Truth was, she’d had a hard time falling asleep after sending that last message, worrying that she had upset Kylo with her teasing comment. He still hadn’t replied... What if she made him feel pressured?

She debated apologizing a few times but decided against potentially embarrassing herself even further. Of course, she got the opportunity to speak with her favorite author and managed to fuck it up.

“Now,” Professor Skywalker said sharply, yanking back her attention. “I’ll be handing back your peer edited papers, which were turned in this morning. I’ve looked them over and assigned my own grade, which I’ll reveal tomorrow. For now, see what was suggested and make your own changes per the feedback you’ve received.”

He straightened his brown jacket, picking up a stack of papers from his giant wooden desk and making his way around the classroom.

“Remember,” he called out, pausing to stroke his graying beard as his blue eyes scanned the room. “The goal is always improving so keep an open mind.”

When he reached Rey, he handed over her paper with an expressionless look that instantly made her nervous. They were supposed to write something that was a good demonstration of imagery and she thought that hers had been fine, but maybe her peer editor had ripped it apart.

And sure enough, her neatly typed paragraphs were covered in red slashes and messy scribbles. She skimmed them quickly, feeling herself frown at the notes left all over her paper. Critiques, words suggestions, comments on her word choice and whether her imagery was effective or not. Her peer editor had gone all out, holding nothing back.

She knew who had edited it even before she saw his name signed at the end.

Ben Solo.

Her eyes went to where he was sitting across the classroom, head slightly down as he looked over his own paper. Tall, broad shouldered, and dark haired, he was practically the golden boy of this college. Professor Skywalker's nephew, which explained the look he gave her, and his mother was a titan in the publishing industry.

Class had only been going on for over a week and the only thing that Rey had learned about Ben Solo was that he was rather quiet.

Probably because he thought he was too good to talk to anyone, she thought snidely, then instantly felt bad. It wasn’t his fault that his family was famous, but she could only imagine the entitlement that came with having everything handed to you in life. At least his uncle didn’t give him blatant favoritism in class.

“How bad is yours?” Rose asked, leaning across the aisle.

Rey pulled her eyes away from Ben, focusing on her friend instead. “Pretty bad. Ben Solo tore it apart, surprise, surprise.”

She frowned sympathetically. “At least he bothered. Mine hardly touched the thing.”

“Well, you can have Ben next time,” Rey grumbled, scowling at her paper. “See how you like it.”

She took the time to actually read over the first page, surprised at how polite most of his comments were. The red ink made them look severe at first glance but he was actually quite nice though most of them, almost tentative in his suggestions. Helpful suggestions, at that.

Not at all what she had expected.

A little tendril of shame curled in her stomach at her immediate assumption that he would be rude. She had never even spoken to him before.

Setting her paper aside, she slipped her phone from her bag, planning on pulling up the original document so she could make edits. She had a sneaking suspicion that Professor Skywalker was going to have them resubmit with changes.

But, when she checked her phone, there was a message waiting for her from KyloRen. She must have missed it on her way to class.

 

KyloRen

So, just to confirm, you think that The Knight deserves a redemption story? It doesn’t remotely concern you that you’re alone in that sentiment? Or, you know, all of the terrible things that he’s done?

 

A little thrill went through Rey at the fact that he had even bothered to respond.

 

KiraofJakku

Sure, he’s done a few terrible things but who doesn’t have regrets in their lives? And I blame most of it on his master. He was a product of his environment and just as much of a victim as the people he hurt. I can’t believe that you would go through all of the trouble of humanizing him and showing that he still has some good bits inside, if you weren’t going to redeem him.

That would just be mean 

 

“Now,” Professor Skywalker said from the front of the room, and she shoved her phone away guiltily, aware that Rose was watching her curiously. “As some of you might have guessed-”

A loud pinging noise rang across the room, cutting him off, immediately followed by another one. He slowly turned and arched an unamused eyebrow at the source of the sound.

Even from across the room, Rey could see Ben turn red, a bright flush spreading across his face as everyone looked at him.

“Sorry,” he muttered, pulling his phone out of his pocket.

His uncle watched in silence as he fiddled with his phone and tucked it away, only turning away once Ben had finished. She thought it was a little unnecessarily mean to prolong his embarrassment him like that, and felt her own face become hot on his behalf.

“As I was saying,” he continued pointedly, “I will expect a revised version of your paper by tomorrow. Since that should take you no time, we will also be starting a new project that will take up the rest of the week. Partner up and come see me for your assignment.”

The room burst into quiet chatter as people paired off, the excitement in the room palpable. Rey and Rose immediately looked at each other, grinning as their eyes met.

“Let’s go grab our project first, so we don’t have to wait in line,” she told Rose, tugging her towards the front of the room where their professor was perched on the edge of his desk.

As they made their way up, she noticed Ben was still seated at his desk, wide shoulders stiff looking. He wasn’t talking to anyone, no friend or partner in sight.

“Ms.Tico and Ms.Kenobi, why am I not surprised?” Their professor gave them a knowing smile, his blue eyes warm. “Here’s your project, let me know if you have any questions.”

Rey took the paper, hardly paying attention as she glanced over her shoulder at Ben again. “Can we have a third partner?” she blurted out.

Professor Skywalker followed her gaze and got a peculiar look on his face, an almost bitter twist to his mouth. “While your compassion is admirable, I wouldn’t bother. He probably doesn’t think he needs help with this project anyways.”

She gaped at him for a second, his comment stunning her. Part of her wanted to think that he was trying to warn her away from a bad situation, knowing his nephew obviously better than she did. But the cool, disdainful way he said it grated on her. It was completely unprofessional and a little… mean .

“Well,” she countered, just as cooly, “I couldn’t help but notice that the classroom has an uneven number. So it’s not like he has much of a choice, does he?”

He studied her, something shifting behind his blue eyes, like a shadow beneath the surface of a lake. “Of course,” he finally said. “If you’d like a third person in your group, I’ll allow it.”  

That was all she needed to hear, turning away and making her way towards Ben’s lonely figure.

“Uh, what are you doing?” Rose whispered, following right next to her. “You were just complaining about him.”

“I know, I just-“ She paused. What exactly? She felt bad for him? She wanted to make up for her unfair assumption earlier? It didn’t really matter so she just shook her head and continued forward.

Ben lifted his head as she approached and she was struck by just how dark his eyes were. Nothing like his uncle’s bright blue, they were a deep brown, set into a pale face that was surprisingly handsome in an interesting way. His features really shouldn’t look good together but they just worked.

“Hi,” she said a bit awkwardly. “We haven’t met yet. I’m Rey and this is Rose.”

Rose gave a little wave, a confused crinkle still between her eyebrows.

“We were just wondering if you wanted to join our group for the project? There are uneven numbers.”

Strangely, another flush was painting his cheekbones. Had she embarrassed him by pointing out that he didn’t have a partner?

“My uncle won’t give you a better grade just because I’m in the group,” he finally responded, his voice deep and quiet.

Rey felt her neck prickle and knew that Professor Skywalker was watching them.

“That’s not it at all,” she said firmly, crossing her arms. “We just thought you might want someone to work with.”

He studied her silently for a second, almost like he was searching for something. His eyes flicked over her shoulder briefly, mouth down turning the smallest amount.

“I’m good, thank you.” Ben looked back down at his paper in a determined sort of way.

Rose looked at Rey and shrugged. “Are you sure?” she asked tentatively.

He barely glanced back up before slowly turning to the next page of his paper. “I said no, thank you.” Though his tone was polite, irritation rose up in her. They were just being thoughtful but he was dismissing them like he couldn’t care less. He couldn’t even be bothered to look at them when he was talking.

“Fine,” Rey bit out. If he wanted to work alone, what did she care?

She marched back to her desk, pointedly not looking towards Professor Skywalker, and it was only once she sat down that she realized she had crumpled the paper in her hand into a wrinkled mess.

Chapter Text

Ben had never wanted a class to be over so badly in his life.

He was starting to notice a trend with Luke’s class; painful, awkward, and dragging on to a point where it felt like forever. If he hadn’t known it would cause such serious issues, he would have dropped out after day one.

Trying to avoid looking over to the other side of the room where the two girls, Rey and Rose, were sitting, he couldn’t help but feel a pang of guilt, which he quickly squashed. He knew that he had come across as a jerk but he’d seen the way they’d looked at him with pity in their eyes. It was just easier for him to be like that, rather than have to explain himself.

It was clear that they honestly did mean well, but it wouldn’t have been fair to them. If he was in their group, Luke would have judged their project harshly and unfairly, just to prove a point.

They didn’t deserve to unknowingly welcome a poison into their group through an act of kindness.

No, it was better that he just worked alone.

On top of that earlier disaster, his phone was burning a hole in his pocket. When he turned the volume off earlier, he’d seen a message from Kira and it was killing him not to read it.

Kira.

He’d been thinking about her all night and morning, trying to understand what was going on inside of her head.

She was the first person to ever message him saying that they thought The Knight was worthy of redemption. At first, he had been baffled by her confession, thinking over every chapter he’d posted and trying to figure out what she was possibly seeing in him. But after speaking to her, it was clear that she was adamantly set on him having a heart of gold.

The thing was, Ben honestly wasn’t sure how The Knight’s story was going to end. He knew it was crazy, but he was just kind of letting the story come to him as he wrote. He’d never been much of a planner and this method of writing had yet to fail him, but Kira saying that she, as an avid fan of his story, believed in him to give The Knight a hero’s ending, made him suddenly feel nervous that he didn’t have anything plotted out.

It was silly but she was the first person to say that she believed in him and his story. It was suddenly very important to him that he didn’t let her down.

Finally, after what felt like hours that he spent with his head down, avoiding any possible attention from Luke, class was over. There was a surge of noise as everyone stood and gathered their bags.

“Don’t forget that your revised paper is due tomorrow!” Luke called over the din. “And Ben, a word with me, please.”

He froze, in the process of packing his bag up, and his stomach sank. Great.

The room emptied quickly, though he spied the girl from earlier, Rey, lingering near the doorway with a strange look on her face. She looked almost… concerned. Their eyes met from the briefest of seconds before she vanished out the door.

Luke let out a heavy sigh as the room fell silent, a sound that Ben was becoming too used to hearing. It meant a lecture was coming or, even worse, there was some new disappointment that he was mulling over.

The silence between them was tense but he was determined not to break it, eyes fixed firmly on the floor as he came around his desk, leaning on the corner.

“I wanted to talk to you about your peer edit,” his uncle finally said, after sighing again, like talking to his nephew was a burden that he could hardly bear. “I looked over Rey’s paper after you edited and it, and I think you were unnecessarily critical.”

Ben didn’t know what to say but he was staring for him, obviously waiting for a response.

“I think I just did what you asked,” he stated bluntly. “You asked us to edit and that’s what I did.”

Luke was shaking his head before he finished speaking. “Can you try not sounding so defensive? I’m not attacking you, I just noticed that you were overdoing it with the unnecessary edits. I wanted helpful suggestions and feedback, not nitpicking. I’m not sure if it was to impress or infuriate me but it wasn’t fair to her.”

The muscle in Ben’s jaw was aching as he ground his teeth together. Typical of him, always assuming that he was trying to start something, looking for the worst in his nephew constantly. Always, he was always like this, every since Leia had announced that Ben was taking an interest in writing as a young boy.

“I was just trying to give helpful edits,” he said tiredly, wondering why he was even bothering to argue. He’d given up on trying to change his uncle’s opinion of him long ago. Nothing he ever did, even as a young kid, had been good enough for Luke.

He fixed his bright blue eyes on him steadily, that unwavering gaze of his never failing to make Ben feel small. “Rey is a good writer. She has natural talent, and I don’t want your childish grudge against me affecting her in any way. You act like I don’t know what’s going on in your head, like I don’t see what you’re trying to do.”

Something twisted sharply in his stomach and it took him a second to realize it was anger. He was so done with his uncle’s constant condescending “discussions” with him and having to bite his tongue. He knew that snapping back would only server to reinforce his opinion that he was acting like a child, but god, he was so tired of it.

So instead, he just grabbed his bag, swinging it onto his shoulder and strode out of the room. Luke didn’t say a single thing to try and stop him, and Ben slammed the door a little harder than necessary on his way out.

He left the building, not realizing he was breathing heavy until the brisk fall air burned in his lungs. Finding the first empty table he could, he sat down roughly, raking a shaking hand through his hair.

Ben didn’t know why he let his uncle get to him so much. The idea of a family who was there for you before anyone else, had never applied to him, but having to see Luke several times a week was a new form of personal torture.

Needing to distract himself, he pulled his phone out of his pocket, opening the message that was waiting for him.

 

KiraofJakku


Sure, he’s done a few terrible things but who doesn’t have regrets in their lives? And I blame most of it on his master. He was a product of his environment and just as much of a victim as the people he hurt. I can’t believe that you would go through all of the trouble of humanizing him and showing that he still has some good bits inside, if you weren’t going to redeem him.


That would just be mean  

 

He read the message twice, disbelief rising inside of him at how simple she made it sound. Like The Knight killing innocents, ravaging planets, and even murdering his own father, were just simple mistakes.

He typed out a quick reply, sending it immediately with a hard jab of his thumb.

 

KyloRen


I don’t see how you can view the things he’s done as simple regrets. You’re acting like he hasn’t been in control of his actions, like he couldn’t have stopped at any time.

 

Kira was either optimistic to the point of delusional, or she really wasn’t bothering to actually think about the absurdity of what she was saying.

His phone vibrated after just a few seconds.

 

KiraofJakku


I’d like to apologize, I feel like I’ve offended you and that wasn’t my intention. Obviously, you know his character better than anyone and I didn’t mean to come off as challenging that. I’m sure whatever end you give him will be great and again, I’m sorry.

 

Reading her message, Ben felt a hot lick of shame in his stomach.

Fuck.

He took a deep breath, trying to remind himself that this was why he didn’t talk to people when he was mad. His brain seemed to vanish, submerged under a wave of rage. Kira didn’t deserve to be spoken to like that, after she’d been nothing but kind to him. He quickly tried to rectify his mistake.

 

KyloRen


No, I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to sound harsh, I had something happen and should have calmed down before responding. Honestly, your point of view on The Knight is really fascinating to me and I think you’re making some good points.

 

He bit the inside of his cheek nervously as Discord told him that she was writing. Even if she accepted his apology, she might be less willing to give her opinion now, just as he was starting to appreciate her honesty.

 

KiraofJakku


No need to apologize. I just want you to know that there’s someone out there who believes in The Knight. Even if I’m wrong about him, it’s been a long time since I’ve felt so invested in a character.


Is everything okay? You said something happened.


Which isn’t me trying to be nosy  

 

Smiling softly at his screen, Ben realized that all the anger that had been raging in his chest like an all consuming wildfire, had vanished. Something about Kira just felt so sweet and sincere, her eagerness and honesty already so apparent after just a few messages.

And strangely, he wanted to be honest in return. A large part of him was urging him to tell her about himself, about what had happened and extend the hand of friendship. But was that weird? To share something personal with a faceless person online who he hardly knew?

He hesitated, fingers poised over his phone. He just… it felt weird to think it but he liked her.

 

KyloRen

 

Just family drama, you know how it is. Thank you for asking.

 

There. That wasn’t too much, was it? What if he came across as overly sharing or made her uncomfortable?

He made himself press send before he sat there all day.

But a few minutes passed without a response. Logically, he knew she might have set her phone down, taken a shower, headed to work… but he was still nervous, looking at his phone one more time before tucking it in his pocket and gathering his things. He had his next class in half an hour, which meant just enough time to grab a drink from the cafe.

But when he reached it, the doors were firmly closed, the cafe dark. He stood there dumbly for a second, his non-caffeinated brain struggling to comprehend that he would in fact, not be consuming a coffee.

A tall, blonde guy stopped next to him, obviously noticing the look of dismay and confusion on his face.

“There was a fire,” he offered helpfully. “They have to do a bunch of repairs now and will probably be closed for a while. It was in the student newspaper this morning.”

Ben grimaced. He never bothered to pick up one of them before.

“Great,” he grunted, shifting his bag up higher on his shoulder. This was turning out to be a shit day.

“Tell me about it,” the guy said. “At least it isn’t finals week though, right?”

He nodded absentmindedly. It seemed ridiculous that this minor thing was affecting him so much but god, he just wanted to go home and write for the rest of the evening and forget about his life for a bit.

The blonde boy was still watching him with a slightly concerned look and Ben suddenly realized he had a pained expression on his face.

“You know, there’s another cafe on the other side of campus,” the student told him tentatively. “Across from the library.”

He did some mental math, realizing that if he walked quickly and there wasn’t a huge line, he could probably make it before class. Maybe, just maybe, there was hope for the day.

Mumbling a quick thanks and giving the closed doors one last satisfyingly dirty look, he turned and made his way across campus.

It was busy this time of day, students scattered about, making their way to classes and chatting along the paths, while papers and books were spread across tables and benches. On days like this, Ben got a simple sort of peace from slipping through the crowds unnoticed, just another college student among the masses. There was a strange serenity to be a part of the organized chaos of a bustling college campus.

The campus itself was gorgeous, he had to admit. It was fall so the air was perfectly brisk and fresh feeling, swirls of burgundy and golden leaves on the walkways, like swipes of paint across the dull pavement. The brick buildings fit in perfectly with the fall aesthetic and managed to make the whole college feel cozy.

His mother always loved to gush about how unchanged the school was, how much she loved to visit it still, after all of these years, because it was like walking into the past.

Ben hated it here.

It wasn’t that he hated the college itself. The programs were great, all of the buildings updated and well maintained. But he had never wanted to go here in the first place.

His mother had decided to send him here, not listening to a word of his protest. She had graduated from here, and it was close to home unlike all of those out of state colleges he’d been looking into. She insisted that he go here so he could be where his Uncle Luke could watch over and teach him. Leia always wanted Ben to follow in his uncle’s footsteps and obviously hoped that pushing them together would ignite some family bonding.

And of course, his father had agreed with her without a second thought. Whatever Leia said, he agreed with, and she idolized Luke.

Ben’s jaw ached as he ground his teeth at the thought of his uncle. Even growing up, he had been such a big deal, everyone raving about how amazing he was. Published at a young age, best selling author, Harvard professor for years, the list went on and on. Even when he gave up his Harvard position and moved back here to be closer to family and teach at this college, people just raved about how down-to-earth and humble he was.

Since Ben had first shown interest in writing, his family had compared him to his uncle. They thought he couldn’t hear how the whispered behind his back that he was lacking the natural talent and skill that Luke had. But he’d given up on caring long ago. He never wanted to be like Luke, trying to save the world with his articles and stories on global issues and human psychology and making society a better place.

He had always thought that writing should be about passion and spontaneity. About letting the words come to you, the story being something meaningful to your inner self. He’d always loved to write sci-fi and fantasy tales, short stories and once, even delved into poetry. That had been a mistake.

But that sort of writing was what he wanted, what his heart asked him to do. Not the robotic, formulaic things that his uncle wrote to try and make a difference in the world. Ben just wanted people to enjoy the stories that he created. He wanted to write for himself, first and foremost. To escape into worlds where he could make anything happen, where he could get out of his own life and head for a bit.

And if that meant that his family thought he was lacking ambition and talent, then so be it.

He stopped in front of the new cafe, yanking open the glass door against the chilly gust of wind that ruffled his hair. Immediately, the warmth and smell of coffee greeted him, soothing his bitter thoughts.

There was no line, thankfully, and he went straight to the counter where the girl had her back to him, cleaning up a spill.

While he waited, he checked his phone again but there was still no response from Kira.

“Sorry, what can I-”

The girl’s familiar voice cut off suddenly and he glanced up, his brown eyes meeting familiar wide hazel ones.

Rey’s surprise wore off quickly, mouth flattening into a straight line. “Oh. What do you want?”

She didn’t say it rudely, not even coldly, but the lack of any emotion was a clear indication that she was still upset about their earlier interaction. And despite the fact that he was mentally cursing himself for not just going to straight to class, for just having to stop and get a coffee, he didn’t feel bad about turning her away earlier. He did her a favor, even if she didn’t realize it.

“Just a coffee,” he mumbled, suddenly unable to keep looking her in the eye. So he focused on her slender fingers splayed out across the countertop instead, nails short and blunt.

“Just a coffee?” she repeated incredulously, like there was no way that could be all he was here for.

He floundered for a second, not sure what to say. Did she want him to be mean? Did she think he had come in here, knowing she was at work, and wanted to put her down or something?

But she just sighed, a soft, barely discernible noise. “Okay, one coffee. Do you want it black?”

Nodding, Ben watched as she rang him up, turning away to make his drink as he paid. Her expression was still blank but there was this undertone of tension between them, a taut, trembling wire of something in the air. He assumed that she was feeling it too, from the tense line of her shoulders under her thin shirt.

So when she handed him his drink without a word, he took it, relieved to escape the feeling that he had done something wrong, that he just needed to say something.

He turned away, fully prepared to flee and face this another day, a day when he could actually formulate a straight thought and that little kernel of anger wasn’t still smoldering away in the pit of his stomach from Luke.

“We were just trying to be nice, you know,” Rey blurted out. She glanced away, as if embarrassed of the words that had escaped her mouth, then met his eyes defiantly. “Me and Rose. You didn’t have to be rude to us.”

He gaped at her, at a loss for words. “I- I wasn’t trying to be rude.”

“Well, you were,” she told him bluntly. “I thought maybe you came in here to apologize to me.”

Oh.

Oh. God, he was an idiot. A total idiot. Why was talking to people so hard for him?

“I am,” he said quickly and she arched an eyebrow at him. “Sorry, I mean. I am sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you.”

Rey shifted from foot to foot, crossing her arms. “You didn’t upset me. But my friend, Rose, she’s got a good heart and you hurt her feelings. She doesn’t deserve to be treated like that.”

What was he supposed to say to that? He glanced around, half expecting her friend to be standing there, waiting for an apology. But the coffee shop was empty besides a few lone students sitting around, cupping mugs to warm chilled fingers and getting their caffeine fix to make it through the rest of classes.

“Well I’m sorry to her too,” he finally said. Did she want him to go track down Rose and apologize to her? He would trek across the whole campus to find her if it meant that Rey would stop looking at him like that.

“Good,” she said softly. “You should be.”

And with that, she turned around, picking up a washcloth and wiping down the coffee machine. Ben stood there for a second, his coffee cooling in his hand, mind spinning. Was that it?

Pivoting slowly, he turned towards the door, hesitating.

Rey glanced over her shoulder. “See you in class.” Though it felt like a dismissal, he swore, he swore, he saw the tiniest hint of a smile curling at her lips.

As he left the shop, he couldn’t help but feel like he’d just been whacked over the head with a heavy object.

________________

Leaving his final class of the day, he saw that Kira had finally messaged him back.

 

KiraofJakku


I don’t actually know, no family to speak of over here, haha. But I’m sorry. We don’t know each other very well but I like to think I’m a good listener if you’d like to vent.

 

Though she added the laugh at the end, she wouldn’t have mentioned it if it wasn’t something meaningful to her. She was sharing something personal with him. Something personal and maybe, something painful.

 

KyloRen


I’m sorry, I didn’t know. Seems ungrateful to complain about my family when there are those who don’t have one.

 

She replied almost immediately, his phone vibrating rapidly in his hand before he could put it back in his pocket.

 

KiraofJakku


Oh no, please don’t apologize. I feel terrible I made you feel bad.


It’s old news, really  


Honestly, sometimes I feel thankful that I don’t have parents pressuring me or trying to control my life all the time.


I’m sorry, that sounded awful.


Did you see that? Can I delete it?  

 

Ben leaned against the hallway alcove, chuckling softly at her frantic messages. She was obviously worried but he understood what she meant, the guilt and relief at the same time.

 

KyloRen


No, I get it, honestly, I do. I don’t have a close relationship with any of my family and it’s something I struggle with. Sometimes I wish I was closer to them and tried a bit harder, but at other times, I look at them and realize why we have issues and think that they don’t deserve my effort.

 

He felt almost surreal, like he was watching his fingers type out the words from someone else’s body. Sharing like this… it was not him. But there was something about being honest with someone who didn’t know him, who didn’t know his life or his family, that was strangely freeing. Because Kira didn’t have a preconceived notion of him or even knew the real him, he felt like he could be himself.

Shaking his head, he continued down the hallway. He was probably being ridiculous, oversharing with this poor girl who had just wanted to talk with him about his story.

And maybe this said something about him, the fact that he had no real life friends so he was dumping his issues on some internet stranger.

But even then, as dumb as it sounded, he couldn’t help but feel like Kira cared at least a little bit. Enough to ask, enough to pretend if she didn’t. Which was more than he had gotten from anyone in a long time.

Leaving the building, he zipped his jacket up to combat the wind, making a beeline for the parking lot. He had parked close today, luckily snagging a spot this morning. Climbing into his car and folding his legs inside, the black leather seats creaking as he did, Ben let out a sigh of relief. There was something so decompressing about being around people and noise all day, then sitting in a space that was just yours and enjoying the quiet.

After a minute, he started his car, pulling out of the parking lot with relative ease. His apartment was only a few minutes away, a historic brick building that his mother insisted on paying for, so he didn’t have to work and could focus on his studies. Honestly though, he didn’t feel too bad since it wasn’t like they were tight on money and it meant he had more time for writing.

Once in his apartment, he kicked the door closed behind him, tossing his bag on an armchair and throwing himself down on the couch with a groan. Lifting his hips to fit his hand down his pocket, he managed to free his phone, adjusting on the couch before turning it on.

 

KiraofJakku


That sounds like a really hard thing to try and manage. Maybe you just need to find a good balance between everything.


Easier said than done, right? 


Also, sorry if I don’t respond quickly, I’m sneaky messaging you while I’m working. Oooops  

 

Ben grinned at his phone, pushing himself up slightly so he could type out a response.

 

KyloRen


Ah yes, the ever elusive balance. I’m not sure if I believe it exists anymore. And don’t worry about it, I’d hate for you to get in trouble at work. Though I admire your bravery.

 

KiraofJakku


Awh, don’t give up hope. Balance is never easy unfortunately, but that doesn’t mean that it’s impossible.


Do I sound like I know what I’m talking about? Because I’m trying but honestly, my life is a hot mess on the best of days  


And don’t be impressed, it’s easy to get away with stuff when your coworker is your best friend haha.

 

Taking a second to toe off his shoes onto the ground, Ben chuckled softly. Kira’s honesty and self-aware humor were so goddamn refreshing and she was making him laugh more in one day than he had in weeks.

 

KyloRen


What’s that saying? Fake it until you make it? I’m a little disgusted with myself that I’m actually using that in casual conversation. But, sadly, it’s fitting right now. And I revoke my earlier statement about admiring you, now I’m just appalled that you’re clearly using your poor friend. And slacking on the job.

 

He considered throwing a winky face at the end so she knew he was joking but he honestly couldn’t think of a time that he’d ever used an emoji in his life.

Even just the word made him grimace. Emoji.

The thought sent a dark bolt of loneliness right into his chest. Ben tried not to think about it much but in moments like this, it was impossible to ignore that he had no friends and no experience with texting or messaging.

It was just another thing in his life that he had never found balance in. Growing up, he had been a bit of an introvert, needing personal space and time to himself but still wanting friends. But at this college, where everyone knew who he was, he didn’t even bother trying. He kept busy enough, doing school work, writing and reading in his free time, pouring all of his extra energy into his stories. But his loneliness was like a phantom following him around. A dark, unwavering presence that he couldn’t shake.

Loneliness had somehow become the only constant companion he’d had these last few years.

 

KiraofJakku


Haha it is applicable but I’m still going to laugh at you, and probably tease you about it until the day you die. You’re welcome  


And for your information, Mr. Jumping to Conclusions, I’m still getting my work done. And make no mistake, my friend likes when I misbehave at work… it’s good blackmail material for the next time she needs something from me.

 

KyloRen


If you’d like to be in charge of my burial, I’ll let you carve it into my gravestone. I suppose there are worse things to be remembered by. And your friend sounds like a woman of opportunity, I can respect that. Does she often blackmail you?

 

Sending his message, he yawned, eyeballing the clock. It was already getting late and he’d been laying here for a while already. Really, he should probably get up and eat something, do his homework, work on writing his chapter… but relaxing here and talking with Kira was filling him with a strangely content feeling. So instead, he pulled the black, woven blanket off of the back of the couch, tucking it around himself, and flipped on the tv for background noise.

 

KiraofJakku


“Here lies KyloRen. His life motto was ‘fake it until you make it,’ until the day he couldn’t make it anymore. RIP.”


She’s a firm believer of blackmail when necessary. You know, like when she wants me to go out with her, watch a movie with her, go on a double date with her… clearly, she knows not to abuse her power  


Anyways, what are you up to?

 

As Ben typed out his response, it struck him just how long it had been since someone had just casually asked him what he was doing. That’s how making friends worked, right? You just kind of asked about the unimportant details of someone’s life and got to know them?

He felt really out of his element, awkwardly posting his message describing his boring evening on the couch. Maybe he should have lied and said that he was doing something exciting or interesting to keep the conversation going.

But Kira replied enthusiastically, lamenting the fact that she still had hours of work before she could go home and relax. She wanted to know what he was watching, what he was planning on eating for dinner, if he was going to write or not.

The more he messaged her, the more that he realized he enjoyed talking to her. This was strange and new and made him incredibly nervous, but she was funny and easy to talk to and seemed genuinely interested in him.

He just... liked her.

Chapter Text

Groaning, Rey rubbed her eyes for the tenth time in as many minutes, trying to wake herself up a little bit so she could actually focus on the words plastered across her laptop screen. It was Sunday, her first day off since she’d spent all of yesterday cleaning the apartment and catching up on homework, and she wanted to be productive. But damn it, she just couldn’t seem to focus on anything.

Weeks like this always seemed to hit her like a train by the end of them, leaving her curled up on her bed, emotionally and physically exhausted but unable to just relax. Every minute that she wasn’t working on something was a minute wasted, a minute she’d wish she had tomorrow once her schedule was full and busy again. It was a never-ending cycle.

After scheduling double shifts at the coffee shop all week, doing homework almost every night, and trying to write during every free second she had, a huge part of herself was just screaming at her to take a nap, binge watch a new show, laze around… anything to take it easy and allow her brain to shut down for a few hours.

And yet, Rey just knew that she’d hate herself at the end of the night if she didn’t accomplish something today. This whole week had been a mountain of stress and she needed to feel good about her day off, needed to put a dent in her to-do pile.

The only highlight of this week had been talking with Kylo. She had been working with Rose but trying to squeeze in her homework between customers inevitably left little room for chatting. And in classes, she was just trying to force herself to power through the exhaustion and focus so her grades didn’t slip.

But when she got home at night, she could relax for a bit, just work on her writing and talk with Kylo.

Rey never would have thought in a million years that reaching out to him would have resulted in anything more than a brief discussion, if he even responded. It still stunned her to realize that her idol was now someone who she would call a friend.

A light knock on her door broke her out of her thoughts, and Finn poked his head in.

“Hey, girl,” he said, offering her a soft smile as she sat up slightly in bed, setting her laptop aside. “Poe and I are going to get some lunch, you want to come with?”

Rey bit her lip. She wasn’t getting much done just sitting here but she didn’t know if she felt up for going out. There was no denying that she was just tired and down, two things that didn’t help when you were expected to socialize.

“I think I’ll pass,” she told him. “Thanks for the invite though.”

He didn’t say anything, just watched her for a second then sighed, opening the door wider so he could step into her room. “What’s going on? You seem sad and it’s not like you to turn down free food.”

Her brow raised. “You didn’t say anything about free food.”

Finn gave her that look, the one she internally referred to as his “don’t be an idiot” look. “We both know that if I’m taking you out, I’m buying.”

Though he didn’t say it rudely or judgmentally, she felt herself flush. Nearly all the money she made went straight into paying off her student debt so she could never really offer to buy the group food, or find the willpower to turn down Finn when he offered. It was always a struggle between her pride and her need to save money.

“Anyways,” he continued, “you’ve been holed up in here all weekend. Did something happen?”

Rey shook her head, feeling strands of her hair slipping out of her messy bun to tickle the back of her neck. “No, it’s just been a long week. Work, school, school, work… sometimes I can’t help but wonder if this is really what Maz wanted me to be doing… working myself to death to try and get a degree in something that will probably end up being worthless.”

Crossing her room, Finn sat down on the edge of her bed, the sudden dip causing her laptop to slide a few inches. He took her hand in his own, his palm dry and rough but comforting.

“Maz wanted you to pursue your dream,” he told her softly, his brown eyes warm. “She knew you could make something of yourself and she believed in you. You know what she always said-”

Rey interrupted him with a smile. “There’s no such thing as luck, just hard work and guts. I know.”

Thinking about her foster mom was hard. Maz took her in when she was fifteen and raised her for years, despite her struggle with cancer. They hadn’t been wealthy and sometimes they would blow up at each other, both too stubborn for their own good, but they had been happy. She’d been the closest thing to a mom that Rey had ever known.

When the doctors told her that she didn’t have long left, Maz had made Rey promise that she would go to college. She’d meant to go right after high school, but her foster mom’s health had gotten worse and she couldn’t bear the thought of just leaving her when she needed help.

Maz had known about her dream to write, sometimes spending the little leftover money they’d had at the end of the month to buy her a new notebook or nice pen. Always selflessly supporting her and putting her needs first. Before she died, she’d sold all of her jewelry to buy Rey a laptop for college, so she could fit in and not have to rely on the library for computer use. It was the last gift she’d given her.

“Well,” Finn continued, “she knew you had the guts. Now it’s just up to you to do the hard work part.”

She sighed, picking at her comforter. “Yeah, I’m just… so tired all the time. I know that I sound like a baby, I just wonder if it’s worth it sometimes, you know?”

Nodding, he considered her words. “I think most things worth having in life are going to take work. That being said, you’re working harder than most people I know. In the end, you’re the only one who can decide what you want and if it’s worth it for you to keep working on your degree.”

He stood, letting go of her hand, then bent down to kiss the top of her head tenderly. “No matter what though, I’m sure Maz would be proud of you. I know I am.”

A hard lump formed in her throat. “Thanks, Finn,” she croaked out around it, eyes feeling suspiciously wet.

Giving her his trademark smile, the one that made her feel like she was being wrapped in a warm blanket, he went to the door then paused. “You sure you don’t want lunch?”

Rey shook her head. “Nah, I’m good, thanks. I think I’ll just try to get some stuff done and take it easy for the rest of the day.”

Finn pursed his lips. “I’ll bring you something home.” Then he scurried out of her room, closing the door quickly behind him before she could even open her mouth to protest. He knew her too well.

She heard the front door close a minute later and let out a deep breath, chest feeling heavy with old sorrows that somehow still managed to feel fresh. Maz had been on her mind a lot as the uncertainty of school ate away at her and her mountain of debt got higher. Maybe that was what had possessed her to tell Kylo about her lack of a family.

Speaking of Kylo… she slid her laptop back over and opened up Discord, finding several messages waiting for her. She opened up the group chat with Phasma and Hux first, knowing they were probably mad she hadn’t responded last night but she’d passed out from exhaustion.

 

CptnPhasma

Hey

Hey you

You can’t just drop that bomb on us and leave  

 

PastyGingerHux

I think you might be exaggerating slightly. I wouldn’t consider that “a bomb” at all.

 

CptnPhasma

Hux

Stop talking  

She is finally chatting with the guy she’s had a crush on for months

This is, in all ways that matter, a BOMB 

 

Rey rolled her eyes at that. Phasma loved to be dramatic about everything; she was the definition of a drama queen. The fact that she was speaking with an author she liked was hardly a big deal, but when she’d told them, Phasma had sent ten gifs of various people screaming excitedly. Ten. How did she even have that many on hand?

The clicking of her keyboard was loud in the otherwise silent room as she responded.

 

KiraofJakku

I’m sorry, I fell asleep last night. Hux is totally right, this isn’t a big deal. Kylo is just a normal person, so you can all calm down  

 

They both immediately started typing. Rey could just imagine them yelling across their house at each other when her reply booped in, rushing to type out an answer first.

 

CptnPhasma

Oh so you’re calling him Kylo now?  

 

PastyGingerHux

Thank you. I am personally very tired of everyone acting like he’s such a big deal all the time. While his story is interesting, I would consider his writing style only slightly above average at best.

 

She had to resist rolling her eyes, only because Hux wouldn't be able to see. He loved to act like he didn’t enjoy Kylo’s writing but he was usually the first one out of all of them to read a new chapter as soon as it was posted. Sure, he typically found something to complain about it afterwards, but he never stopped reading.

 

KiraofJakku

Yes, Phasma, I am calling him Kylo… you know, since that’s his name  

I know you’re having fun with this but you’re reading way too much into it

And Hux, you are so full of it. You love his story and we all know it. Just because he hurt your feelings doesn’t mean you can’t like his writing

 

CptnPhasma

Damn Hux, get told  

She can smell your bullshit from there

 

PastyGingerHux

As far as I’m concerned, any writer who isn’t willing to accept help still has a lot to learn.

 

Rey didn’t want to start an argument but Hux could be so aggravating. His grudge against Kylo was just ridiculous and it annoyed her to see him talking about him like that.

As if she could sense her irritation through Discord, a message from Phasma popped up almost immediately.

 

CptnPhasma

Moving on from Hux’s hurt feelings… tell us about Kylo

What’s he like? I always imagine him as super snobby since he never talks in the group  

 

She bit her lip, considering before she typed. After only talking to Kylo for a week, she felt like she already had a good feel for his character. But describing her impression of him to her friends…

 

KiraofJakku

He honestly isn’t, I don’t even think he realizes how many people like his story

I think he might just be shy. He’s talking with me so part of him must want to get to know other writers, but I think he doesn’t feel comfortable just coming into general chat one day and saying hello

 

CptnPhasma

Hmmm I can understand that, it is a little awkward at first when you don’t really feel like you fit in

Maybe you can help him?  

Ask him to do some writing sprints with you or something

 

KiraofJakku

Oh, that’s not a bad idea actually    I don’t want to seem pushy though, maybe I’ll just mention it and see how he reacts

He might just be a bit of a loner too, not good with big groups and whatnot

 

CptnPhasma

Awh, look Hux, you guys have something in common  

 

PastyGingerHux

I’m fine with big groups, I just don’t see the point in adding to a conversation when so many people are talking. I don’t even think my messages get seen most of the time. It’s not worth going through the trouble of typing them out.

 

CptnPhasma

And this, darling, is why you haven’t made any friends in here  

 

Rey laughed out loud at that. She got where Hux was coming from and honestly, didn’t really participate in a lot of the conversations going on in their writing group. There was always this sneaking suspicion that she was intruding or unwanted. But, she’d still managed to make friends with a few of the more outgoing members, like Phasma.

Her suggestion to invite Kylo to sprint with her wasn’t a bad one but he seemed so… self focused and contained any time they’d talked about his story. Maybe writing and sharing with a group wasn’t his thing.

Hux and Phasma were still arguing over him not making any friends, so she switched over to her messages with Kylo, one unread message waiting for her.

 

KyloRen

I feel bad for not doing this earlier but I have your story open in a tab and I’ll be starting it soon.

 

Rey’s heart stopped then started up again double time, an erratic beat pounding against her ribs. Oh god. KyloRen was going to read her story.

Oh god.

Her fingers froze over her keyboard. What did she say?

Part of her was screaming in excitement, at the heady rush of triumph and exhilaration from the thought of her favorite author, who was insanely talented by the way, reading her amateur writing. It was really every writer’s dream come true. If he liked it, fuck , if he complimented anything about it… she couldn’t even think about it without feeling dizzy.

But another part of her, that snide little voice in her head, was quickly clearing away the cloud of delusion. She wasn’t blind when it came to her story, it got a modest amount of readers and comments at best. It typically didn’t bother her, since she felt lucky that anyone read something that felt more personal to her… but the thought of Kylo reading it, when she knew it really wasn’t great… fuck .

Ultimately, it would just put him in a really awkward position. She was lucky enough that Phasma and Hux were actually talented writers so she never been in that sort of position and she definitely didn’t want to put Kylo in it. Would he lie to her? Or would he be honest and give her genuine criticism?

God, she didn’t know which sounded worse.

 

KiraofJakku

Hey, sorry for missing your message earlier, I was trying to be productive for once haha

That’s really nice of you but honestly unnecessary. I’m sure you’ve got so much to do and I don’t expect you to read my story   

 

It looked like Kylo wasn’t online so she opened her latest chapter back up, trying to finish her scene. But all she could think about was whether or not he had started her story yet and if she could go through and edit every chapter before he did. Was that crazy? It sounded crazy but it was taking all of her self control to not open up her published chapters and start editing.

Half an hour later, with hardly anything new written, her discord booped at her with a message alert. She held her breath as she opened it up.

 

KyloRen

Kira, don’t be silly. Of course I’m going to take the time to read yours, it’s the least I can do. And it sounds interesting! Science fiction and fantasy are pretty much best friends.

 

Oh fuck.

The last thing that Rey wanted was to sound ungrateful, especially when she couldn’t deny that it was an amazing opportunity. Her best bet was just being honest about her story and crossing her fingers that he decided to pass on reading it.

 

KiraofJakku

Well, I should probably warn you that mine’s not really fantasy fantasy  

I mean, it’s a fantasy setting and characters but the plot is more about a personal journey

It’s not like… a dragon riding, sword fighting, magic oriented tale of a war between kingdoms or anything haha

 

That wasn’t a lie. She wasn’t really even sure what she was doing with her story but it had ended up being a slow, character driven one. Her few readers didn’t seem to mind, which was fortunate for her, but she was constantly doubting the direction she had taken.

 

KyloRen

I honestly think I’d prefer that over some big epic. You don’t have to be so humble, I’m sure it’s great. I’ll let you know once I start it.

 

Well… that backfired in her face.

She rubbed her eyes, knowing this was out of her hands now. All she could do was wait and hope that by some small miracle, he didn’t completely hate it. Anticipation and dread churned in her stomach.

Sending Kylo a quick thank you, she collapsed against her pillows, chewing the edge of her fingernail nervously. She should have known that her insistence would just make him more determined to read it. Over the last week, she’d discovered, among other things, that he had a quiet but iron strong sort of stubbornness about him.

Most of their conversations were about average, day to day stuff, but Rey found herself hungry for more information about him. She wanted to unmask the man that was Kylo and get to know the real him.

The other day, he had revealed that he was in college like her, having only graduated high school a few years ago. That meant that he was only a few years older than her.

She’d had to set her phone down and physically take a step back. When thinking about Kylo, she had always just imagined an older college professor type… his writing had such maturity to it. To find out that he was young man, closer to her age than the middle aged professor that she’d imagined, had rocked her. It had sent a strange, hot tremble through her stomach.

It annoyed her because she’d found herself wondering what he looked like since then, absentmindedly trying to put his features together. It didn’t matter, she told herself firmly, not liking the direction her brain seemed determined to go in.

Really at the end of the day, she had more important things to worry about than whether her friend was secretly a model.

Like the fact that he was going to be reading her story.

Rey groaned, kicking her feet into her bed with a frustrated huff as she eyed her laptop. She really needed to finish this new chapter and plot out the next, so the last thing she needed was to waste time going through the already published ones in a futile attempt to make them better for Kylo. It would just be a big waste of her time.

She lasted a whole thirty seconds before she snatched her laptop back up and started editing.

 

……….

 

Back in class the next day, Rey stifled a yawn behind her hand as the scratching of pens on paper filled the room. She’d stayed up late editing her story and waiting for Kylo to drop the bomb that he was starting to read. Luckily, he seemed busy with other things.

Professor Skywalker gave them a work period to put the final touches on an essay due in the morning, and while it was appreciated, she was having trouble staying awake.

Instead of giving her essay another look over, she let her gaze wander around the room, settling on the back of Ben Solo’s head.

They hadn’t spoken since he’d wandered into the cafe last week, but she caught him looking at her sometimes with a strange expression on his face. She’d always meet his gaze with a steady one of her own and he’d flush, bright red spots on his cheekbones, looking away quickly. Perhaps she had upset him with her bluntness but she wasn’t going to feel guilty for calling him out on his rudeness. If anyone should feel guilty, it was him.

Her eyes wandered over the dark glossy waves of his hair and across the wide breadth of his shoulders, the strained fabric of his black shirt. The sight of his pen, looking so tiny in his massive hand, was strangely mesmerizing as it flowed across the paper on his desk.

Ben Solo was a mystery to her, a puzzling mix of contradictions.

His edits had been unexpectedly kind and helpful, making her second guess her assumption that he was a jerk who thought he was better than everyone else. Then he dismissed her and Rose so rudely, sending her right back to that initial assumption, only for him to wander in for a coffee and become a flushed, apologetic mess when she pointed out his attitude.

He just made no sense and she hated that she wanted to know why he was so sincere and shy but so goddamn infuriating at the same time. The fact that she couldn’t pin down what kind of person he was bothered her more than she liked to admit.

Even in class, he seemed so shy and reserved, always keeping to himself and never answering any questions or contributing to the discussions. Not that Professor Skywalker ever asked him to. There was definitely some tension between them, in the pointed looks they exchanged and the way that Ben’s shoulders would curl in, like the weight of his uncle’s gaze was a physical thing.

“Attention please,” Professor Skywalker called out, snapping her free of her thoughts and she realized she’d been staring at Ben for far too long. “Before class is over, I have an important announcement to make.”

Rey watched curiously as he picked up a stack of papers from his desk, slowly pacing to the front of the room.

“There’s going to be an exciting scholarship opportunity, hosted by Leia Organa-Solo and her company, Rebel Alliance Press.”

She immediately sat up straight in her seat, her earlier exhaustion vanishing at his words. Everyone around here knew about his sister Leia, Ben’s mother, who went to school here and had several of her works published right after graduating, then opened her own successful publishing house. Rey had dreamed of having her future book published there, or when she was feeling especially optimistic, working there when she graduated.

“This will be run as a contest and you are allowed to submit one written piece. There’s more information in these packets.” He waved the stack in his hand, electric blue eyes scanning across the classroom. “I know that the thought of adding more to your workload is unappealing to most of you… so let me tell you what the winner will be receiving.”

There were several shuffling sounds as he caught the attention of more people.

Professor Skywalker lifted on of the packets to read out loud. “The grand winner will receive all current and future debt paid off, granted that it’s from this school and accrued in the pursuit of an English or writing related degree.”

Her jaw actually dropped. All of her debt paid off? How could it possibly get any more tempting than that?

But he wasn’t finished. “The winner will also have their piece published and they will be offered a paid internship at Rebel Alliance Press.”

Rose looked over at her in disbelief, eyes comically wide. This was the opportunity of a lifetime and everyone in the room knew it.

Pausing for effect, her professor held out the stack. “If you’re interested, come grab a packet.”

A flood of students made their way to the front, Rey and Rose among them. She took one from his hand, noting the small nod of approval that he gave her, and clutched it to her chest on the walk back to her desk. If she managed to win this, it could change everything. It would change everything.

Her eyes strayed over to Ben again, curious to see how he was reacting to the excitement over his mom. But to her shock, he was sitting at his desk, casually flipping through the pages of a packet.

What?

There was no way he could participate, not with his mother running it. Right?

As if he read her mind, Professor Skywalker said, “The contest will be anonymous so anyone can enter. Since this is a local scholarship and Leia has ties to the school and community, they want to assure the students that there will be no bias.”

Rey bit back a cry of outrage that bubbled up in her throat. That was so unfair. All Ben had to do was tell his mom which one was his and he’d be picked as the winner.

Why would he even bother? It wasn’t like he needed the scholarship, everyone knew his family was super wealthy, especially with Leia’s publishing empire. And the internship… all he had to do was go ask his mommy for a job and he was in.

What about the people like her, the ones who actually needed this? People who never got anything handed to them and had to work for every single dollar, only to throw it back at the school. People who would never get another opportunity like this.

This meant nothing to him and everything to her.

Anger turned her skin hot and tingly, blood thumping in her ears. This was her chance to achieve her dream and free herself from the crippling debt looming over her. It was her chance to make something of herself and it felt like a purpose, a sign when she was at a new low and doubting herself.

And it was about to be snatched away from her by that selfish, spoiled, thoughtless jerk, Ben Solo.

Chapter Text

Ben didn’t know what he was thinking. 

Since the last disastrous “talk” with his uncle, he’d promised himself that he would keep his head down in class and not give Luke any reason to approach him again.

And yet, here he was, sitting before Luke, his mom’s scholarship packet in his hands. And he had no idea what had possessed him to grab it in the first place.

Well, okay, to be honest, he’d found out that this was happening a while ago and that it would be anonymous. Since then, an idea had been nagging at him, one so absurd and ridiculous that he hadn’t been able to shake it.

Class ended but he didn’t even bother moving from his seat, knowing that he’d be asked to stay as soon as he got up.

A weird sense of deja-vu filled him as he glanced at the door and found Rey lingering, an intense look on her face. Their eyes met and her expression hardened, like a steel door slamming closed between them. Spinning sharply, she stormed through the doorway and disappeared into the hall, leaving behind a stormcloud of anger lingering in the air.

Ben felt like he’d been slapped. What the hell was that about? Had he done something to offend her again?

He went back over the last few days in his mind quickly but they hadn’t even spoken, hadn’t interacted in any way. The look she’d given though, he hadn’t imagined it.

“So,” his uncle said, tucking his hands into his brown corduroy pants as he stood in front of his desk, pulling his attention away from the now empty doorway. “I didn’t know that you were thinking about entering. You never mentioned it to me or your mother.”

Looking down at the text on the front paper rather than Luke, he responded in what he hoped was a tone that didn’t betray his annoyance at him for acting like he owed either of them an explanation. “I’m still not sure if I will. It was just an idea I was tossing around.”

“Why wouldn’t you?”

Though he asked nonchalantly, it felt like a trap, but his face gave nothing away, his blue eyes as steady as usual.

“I’m not sure,” Ben started cautiously. “I haven’t really thought about it. I don’t necessarily see the point in entering since I don’t need the scholarship or the position at mom’s company. It’s time that I could probably put towards more important things—“

“Like writing your stories?” Luke interrupted cooly, one eyebrow rising slightly. His condescending tone had Ben grinding his teeth so tightly that his jaw ached. “Why am I not surprised that you’re making excuses?”

Ben felt relieved that his uncle kept talking before he could retort; he had a feeling neither of them would have been happy with what would have come out of his mouth.

“This is your problem,” Luke said, untucking his hands to fold his arms across his chest, his gaze almost accusing, pinning Ben into place. “You never apply yourself, never try to do more than what’s required. You’re content to do the bare minimum and slack off when you can. If I’d had that mindset at your age-“

“Yeah well, you didn’t, did you?” Ben snapped. “I’m sure at my age, you were a genius, graduating college, writing important papers about boring shit and ready to conquer the world. Please, tell me all about it again, listening to you constantly talk about your achievements never gets boring.”

He could tell he struck a nerve, his uncle’s fingers flexing around where they cupped his elbows.

“At your age,” his uncle continued slowly, “I had goals and aspirations. And I worked towards them every day. You— well you just couldn’t care less. You should have graduated years ago, instead of taking that ridiculous break—”

“Don’t.” Hearing the low warning in that one word, Luke cut himself off. “Don’t bring that up like I did something wrong.” Ben swallowed, his throat dry as he remembered how that ended, his uncle yelling at him, face red and enraged when he’d realized what his nephew had done. “First of all, my time is mine to do whatever I want with. You have no say over that, no matter how much it pisses you off. And secondly, my “break” would have been worth something if you hadn’t ruined it for me.”

Luke looked like he’d bitten into a lemon, mouth a tight, tense line, muscles in his face stiff. “We are not discussing this again. It was my understanding that we had moved on from this… is this why you’ve been acting out in class?”

Acting out? He’d been trying his best to keep his head down, to fly under his uncle’s radar. He was just so determined to see Ben as a petulant child. Obviously, he was the one who hadn’t moved on.

“I’m done with this conversation.” Ben grabbed his bag and swiped the packet off of his desk, marching towards the door.

Luke’s sigh followed him there. “Will you at least give me the packet back so I can give it to someone who might actually use it? We both know you’re not going to enter.”

He ignored him, wrenching the door open, resisting the urge to slam it behind him.

Once he was free of the room and his uncle’s toxic presence, he felt like he could breathe again, think clearly again.

Luke didn’t know anything about him or what he wanted. He’d already ruined Ben’s chances at achieving a dream of his a few years ago, he wasn’t going to let his uncle goad him into missing out on this one too. If anything, he felt more motivated to do it now, to prove Luke wrong.

The thing was, after his mom told him about this competition, he’d gotten this crazy idea in his head-

What if he won?

Not for the scholarship or the position at his mom’s publishing company, but to prove to her and Luke that he could.

He could write a short story of some sort, maybe an excerpt from his online story, whatever he decided, it would be something of his. Not an essay, not some piece meant to impress the judges with his technical writing abilities and his insight into the world’s problems… no, he’d write something he wanted to. And when he won, they’d see that being a good writer wasn’t about all of that, it was about writing what you loved. About the heart, about the passion.

Maybe, maybe then, they’d accept what he was doing.

Maybe they’d be proud.

He was instantly disgusted, shoving that last thought away. He didn’t want or need their pride, especially not his uncle’s. If anything, he wanted to prove him wrong and show him that he made a terrible mistake all those years ago when he betrayed his nephew.

Filled with a sense of determination, he turned around and started heading down the hallway in the opposite direction. He needed to go somewhere to think and there was a nice corner in the library that was usually empty. 

——————-

Today just wasn’t his day, Ben thought bitterly, staring at the corner of the library, his corner, that was currently occupied by none other than Rey, hunched over a notebook.

He liked this part of the library because it was in the left back corner, far enough out of the way that students didn’t usually bother wandering back here. He could study or write in peace here, in a quiet bubble away from the bustle of the other areas.

But here was Rey of all people, three buns bobbing on the back of her head as she leaned down to pull her laptop out of her bag, freezing when she noticed him standing there, staring.

It wasn’t that he couldn’t work here too, there were several other tables and chairs scattered around the space, plenty of room for the both of them, but he wasn’t quite sure where he stood with her and she made him feel weird. A tightness in his stomach, nervousness knotting up in his throat. He wasn’t quite sure where they stood and after the dirty look she’d given him earlier, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to know.

He seemed to keep offending her and the best thing to do would be to stay out of her way.

But now she’d noticed him, hazel eyes challenging him as her mouth flattened. It was clear that he wasn’t welcome.

It wasn’t like he could just scurry off, though. This was his corner, damn it. And as far as he knew, he hadn’t done anything to deserve the look Rey was giving him. He wasn’t going to be chased away like some coward by a girl who clearly couldn’t make up her mind about him.

So, he squared his shoulders, giving her a cool look of his own before heading over to the table diagonal from the one she was seated at, setting his stuff down. Let her be pissed if she wanted, while she was fuming over there, he was going to get started on planning his submission.

Rey sat there stiffly for a minute as he got his laptop out and plugged it in. With a quiet huff that he probably wasn’t supposed to hear, she dug her phone out of her pocket, clicking away at it.

Well, it looked like she was staying.

Ben flipped open the competition packet, scanning over the rules for entering. It had the expected things, word count limit and date of submission, stating that students were allowed to enter one piece that they felt was the best example of their writing style and abilities. It didn’t have to be nonfiction or in an essay format, which didn’t surprise him in the slightest; his mother had never believed in limiting creativity. Unless you happened to be her son.

But now he needed to figure out what exactly it was that he wanted to write.

Buzzing against his thigh made him jump, startled by the sudden sensation. He glanced at Rey as he worked his phone out of his pocket, inexplicably embarrassed by his reaction, but she’d set her own down and was focused on her laptop.

It was a message from Kira and Ben immediately felt the heaviness in his chest dissipate a little at the sight.

 

KiraofJakku

Do you ever have those days where everything just kind of sucks and keeps going wrong?

 

Ben bit his lip, knowing exactly what she meant and marveling at the fact that they were both having similarly wretched days.

 

KyloRen

You know, I think I get exactly what you mean. Your day going well too, I take it?

 

Hopefully she picked up on the sarcasm, though he shouldn’t worry since Kira had this uncanny ability to read his moods when they chatted. Or maybe he was revealing more than he thought in his messages to her. The thought didn’t bother him as much as it should have.

Setting his phone down, he opened up a new blank document on his computer and started jotting down ideas. He could see Rey had picked up her phone out of the corner of his eye, smiling softly at the screen, and made himself focus back on his work.

The problem was, he wasn’t sure if he wanted to write a new piece or pull from The Darkness Between Stars, something he was more familiar and comfortable with. He just wasn’t sure if it could work and be powerful enough out of context.

Maybe he could ask Kira what her favorite parts were so far or if she had any suggestions?

On cue, his phone buzzed again, louder this time on the top of the table, and he snatched it up quickly before he gave Rey a reason to yell at him.

 

KiraofJakku

Oh yeah, it’s just been the best day ever. You know, getting constantly fucked over and my insecurities shoved in my face. Really lovely  

Sorry, I just realized how that childish that sounds. I’m good, it’s just been a frustrating day.

 

Ben frowned at his phone. She was usually so cheerful, even when she was complaining or ranting, it always had an undercurrent of humor, like she was giggling while giving the world the finger. But now she just sounded upset and defeated.

 

KyloRen

Don’t apologize, I know how frustrating it can get when it feels like the universe can’t give you a break. You can talk to me about it, if you’d like?

 

He wanted her to confide in him, to tell him what was going on so he could try to help or cheer her up. Ben knew that he wasn’t very good with words, or particularly experienced with comforting people if he was being honest, but Kira made him want to try. Knowing that she would appreciate any effort, even if it was a pathetic one, made the decision easy.

Focusing on his work while waiting for a response was nearly impossible so he didn’t bother, leaning back in his chair slightly, gaze fixed on his screen.

 

KiraofJakku

Thanks Kylo, I honestly appreciate that. I don’t want to bore you with the details, but pretty much I’m questioning being in school right now and if it’s the right path for me. And something happened today that I thought was a sign that I’m doing what I’m supposed to, but now I’m not so sure. I’m just struggling right now, caught in this whirlpool of indecision. How am I supposed to know when it’s the right time to call it quits? I don’t view myself as a quitter or someone to give up easily but isn’t there a point where you’re supposed to start making decisions for yourself and your own happiness?

Wow, I’m sorry, that was a ridiculous rant  

Please feel free to ignore me.

 

As if he would ever ignore her. She was clearly feeling lost and confused and maybe a bit hopeless right now. And she had come to him.

Her words and emotions resonated with him too. Self-doubt was a huge part of Ben’s day to day confliction and that was even with him sticking on his path with stubborn determination. The truth was, he didn’t believe that there really was any way to know if you were doing the right thing, other than just trying to go with your gut and hope that you didn’t fuck up along the way.

She probably didn’t want to hear that right now though.

As he tried to formulate a reassuring response, he suddenly got this weird tug in his stomach, followed swiftly by a thought that left him feeling shaken.

He wished she was here in person for him to comfort.

Fingers freezing over his phone, he tried to shake the thought off. What did he know about comforting someone? And besides, Kira was a faceless girl, a new and tentative friendship, not someone he should be daydreaming about having here so he could wrap his arms around her and murmur reassurances into her—

Fuck, now he felt weird.

“Stop it,” he muttered under his breath to himself, hopefully too softly for Rey to hear, though she was too busy focusing on her own phone, her expression almost like she was waiting for something. Probably texting that friend of hers, Rose, complaining about Ben Solo sitting next to her in the library.

Shoving those thoughts away, he typed out what was hopefully an acceptable message and sent it.

 

KyloRen

I think that you’ll know the right time when it comes. I know that sounds dumb but if you’re still conflicted about this and if you took something as a sign today, it means that you wanted a sign, an excuse to keep at it. And there’s nothing wrong with that, it just means that you’re still deciding or at least that some part of you thinks it’s still worth sticking with. I think you’ll know when that’s no longer the case. I’m sorry you’re struggling with this right now though, I wish I had an easy solution for you.

 

Sighing, he opened his bag and started shoving his things back into it. He felt wired, strangely jittery now and knew that there was no way he was going to get any work done, not with Kira chatting with him. Maybe he’d just take the afternoon off, go home and try to focus later.

Actually, he still needed to start Kira’s story. That seemed like a worthy way to spend the rest of his day, and maybe it would cheer her up a bit. And it might be a good idea to get his head out of his own story for a bit so he could come back and look at it critically before deciding if he wanted to use it for the competition.

So he stood, packing away his things, unable to resist glancing at Rey to see if she was watching him go. But she was still on her phone, smiling softly at something, not even looking up as he walked by her to leave.

————-

As he parked his car at home, Ben’s mom called him.

He stared at his phone, considering just letting it go to voicemail. Leia could never resist leaving one and then he could conveniently forget to call her back.

Sighing, he answered, wishing the thought of ignoring her didn’t bother him so much.

“Yeah?” he asked, holding his phone with one hand and dragging his bag out of the backseat with his other.

“I wish you wouldn’t answer the phone like that,” she sighed. “You could at least say hello, ask me how I’m doing. If you don’t come to see me, the least you can do is act like it’s not a chore to speak with me.”

“Hi, mom,” he said, resisting the urge to roll his eyes out of fear that she would sense it. “How are you today? I’m sure I have no idea why you’re calling.”

That was a blatant lie and they both knew it. Luke’s favorite past time, after trying to drive Ben crazy, was complaining about him to Leia. It wasn’t a coincidence that she was calling him now.

“Was that so difficult?” His mom always sounded so put together but he could hear an undercurrent to her words, a combination of exhaustion and stress. Genuine guilt shot through him. “I’m fine though, thank you. Your father and I were just talking about how much we miss you.”

Ben ground his teeth but didn’t say anything, a long second of silence stretching between them.

“Well,” she continued, “your uncle told me that you’re thinking about entering the writing competition? But you had an argument about it?”

He always loved that she acted like she hadn’t already gotten every single twisted detail from Luke. He probably hadn’t even five minutes after Ben left before he called her, red-faced and ranting into the phone. Old bastard.

Willing his voice to remain calm and level, he said, “I was thinking about it but I’ve changed my mind. Luke made it very clear that I’m too much of a lazy, unmotivated failure to enter and I’d hate to disrupt his opinion of me.”

Leia let out a sigh of exasperation into the phone, the bust of static buzzing in his ear. “Ben, you know— your uncle, well, he’s not very good at saying what he means. He just thinks that you’re capable of more and that’s why he pushes you. Deep down he believes that you can do great things but he doesn’t know how to show it well.”

“When are you going to stop making excuses for him?” Ben asked, but it lacked any harshness. “Why does everything have to be about him? Why can’t I just do what I think is enough? I’m already going to this school for you, taking his class for you, keeping my grades up… most families would be proud of that.”

“Of course we’re proud of you. But we want you to be happy too, not just going through the motions of what you’re supposed to be doing.”

That was rich, coming from the woman who forced him to go to this school despite his protests. She hadn’t cared what made him happy then, but now that he was doing what she wanted, she could act like his feelings mattered.

Ben bit his tongue, not wanting to get into it for the hundredth time with her.

“Is that why you called?” he asked instead, finally grabbing his bag and getting out of the car, keys jingling in his free hand.

She hesitated and he felt his stomach sink, knowing what was coming next.

“Well, I wanted to discuss that scholarship with you, which I think you entering is a great idea by the way, but I also wanted to see if you’d come to dinner tomorrow night? Your father and I feel like we haven’t seen you in forever and we’d love to catch up. I’ll be home early so I can cook your favorite—”

“I can’t,” Ben cut her off, frozen in front of the door, hand on the knob. He took a second to close his eyes, bracing himself against the guilt that washed over him. “I’ve already made plans for tomorrow night. I’m uh, doing this study group thing in the evening and it’s supposed to go until late.”

His mom didn’t even bother asking about the group as his obvious excuse settled between them. She knew, she always knew, but she never said anything.

He just couldn’t stand the thought of going home and having a sit-down dinner where they all tried to pretend like everything was fine, making awkward small talk that only served to remind him of how not fine they all were, what a shit excuse of a family his was.

Though he felt bad, he couldn’t stand the thought of sitting down at the table, across from his father who had a constant air of vague disappointment and discomfort when he tried to talk with Ben, and his mother who saw right through his lies and always had this soft concern and open care for him on her face and it was just painful .

“Okay, Ben,” she said and he shook himself free of the thoughts, finally getting the door open and letting himself into his apartment which was cold, because fuck, he forgot to turn on the heat before he left this morning and that one little thing was suddenly just too much. He leaned against the wall of the entryway, resting his head against the wall as he fought with the lump in his throat as his mother continued. “We love you. It would mean a lot if you could find time to come home soon, just for a visit.”

“I will,” he croaked out, the lie tasting of acid on his tongue.

A beep signaled that she had hung up and Ben let out a heavy breath, mustering up the energy to stumble over and turn on the heat, hearing the old thing creak to life, before crossing the living room to collapse onto the couch.

Fuck this whole day, he thought bitterly, pressing his face into the pillow until no light was coming in through his eyelids.

-------------

He woke up almost two hours later, groggy and disoriented, back aching from sleeping curled up on his couch that was definitely not made to fit someone of his size stretched out on it.

A groan escaped his lips as he sat up and stretched, grabbing his phone from where it had fallen on the floor. He’d missed a few messages from Kira and immediately felt bad for forgetting about her when they’d been discussing something important.

 

KiraofJakku 

How do you always know the perfect thing to say? I think you’re right, as much as I hate to admit it right now because I’m busy wallowing in self pity. Maybe I was looking for a reason to stick with this and I suppose that means I should keep going.

Thank you for listening and for helping. And being a good friend. And being so insightful haha just… thanks.

I’m going to say something weird but, when you say things like that, it’s hard for me to remember that you’re only a little older than me. I feel like you’re an old soul or whatever haha. I know that sounds weird but I even got that impression from your writing, like a maturity and insightfulness that I wouldn’t have associated with a guy close to my age.

I’m sorry, I hope I didn’t make you uncomfortable, I’m not sure why I even just told you that  

 

Ben couldn’t help but chuckle at her messages, she was so funny with how self-conscious and worried she got over things like this. He enjoyed her bluntness and honesty so much but she always seemed so nervous about upsetting him. Maybe he should say something?

He also was so relieved to hear that he had helped make her feel a little better about her confliction. Seeing Kira call him a good friend… he didn’t think that anyone had ever used those words to describe him before.

 

KyloRen

Don’t apologize. Maybe I haven’t said it before but I really appreciate and enjoy you being honest and just speaking your mind with me. So many people censor what they say or tell you what they think you want to hear, it’s so refreshing to talk with you and know that you’re just telling me what you really think. I promise though, I’m not secretly a middle aged dad or anything.

 

His stomach grumbled at him and he climbed to his feet with a sigh, debating if he wanted to try to search his cupboards and cook dinner or just cave and order something in. The thought of noodles and dumplings from that place down the street crossed his mind, mouth watering. Yeah, he was definitely ordering. He deserved some delicious food after his shit day.

After calling and putting in his order, he changed into some pajama pants, relieved that his apartment was finally warming up, and went back to the couch to turn on the tv and check his messages from Kira.

 

KiraofJakku

I’m laughing at you saying that you appreciate my honesty because I think you must be the only person in the world who does   And it’s probably because you don’t actually have to be around me, dealing with it in person. You get it in small doses haha.

Hmmm, I mean, you say that you’re not secretly forty and married with kids, but how can I really know?  

 

Ben chuckled as he read the first one. There was that self-deprecating humor he enjoyed so much. The second message made him pause for a second though. He knew that she was just teasing, the winking face made that clear, but he had this strange feeling in the pit of his stomach, like she was expecting something but he didn’t know what.

Struggling for a minute with how to reply, he finally typed something out, playing it off like she was joking. There was this weird apprehensive feeling settling over him though. Was she trying to hint at something? Like wanting a picture of him?

 

KyloRen

Well, is the fact that I still have a full head of hair sufficient proof for you? No middle aged balding over here. And the fact that thinking about kids makes me want to curl up in the fetal position… they’re so squishy and uncomfortable to look at.

 

The seconds ticked by and Ben could feel the tension knotting up in his shoulders as he waited for a response. What was he going to do if she asked to see him? He knew that pictures and video chatting and stuff was a part of having online friends but the thought made him anxious. It wasn’t even that he thought he was ugly, though his nose was maybe a bit big, his hair a constant mess, his eyes boring brown, and he could keep going. Okay, so maybe sending her a picture of himself did make him a little nervous.

But more than her seeing what he looked like, it was what sending a picture meant. It opened the door to more pictures and video chatting and when he was actually talking with someone, he could take minutes to try and come up with witty, intelligent responses. What if she didn’t like the way he looked or spoke?

On the flip side though, maybe he’d get a picture of her in return. He wasn’t going to lie and say that he hadn’t thought about what she looked like, hadn’t wondered if she was as beautiful as his mind was telling him she would be.

Not that it mattered, he told himself firmly. Curiosity was natural, but they were friends, this wasn’t some online hook-up or something. It wasn’t like that at all.

He was so deep in thought, waiting for her response, that he jumped when someone knocked on his front door, startling him.

It took all of his self-control to not scowl at the delivery guy, giving him a bigger tip than usual because he felt bad that he’d even thought about it. Ignoring the enticing smell of his dinner, he set it down on the table and picked his phone back up, seeing a message waiting for him.

 

KiraofJakku

Wow, you’re just a huge teddy bear when it comes to kids, I can tell  

Haha but sure, I’ll take that as sufficient proof. I’m sorry I doubted you, it must be the fact that you’re the only guy alive who’s under the age of thirty and doesn’t use emojis   That's right, I'm calling you out again.

 

Ben laughed, knowing she was never going to stop giving him a hard time about his refusal to use those damn emoji face things. He couldn’t help but grin at the thought that some time, he’d have to slip one randomly into a message just to watch her freak out.

She hadn’t asked for a picture though and they quickly moved away from the subject and on to how they were spending their evenings, Kira demanding to know exactly what he was eating.

He wasn’t sure if he was disappointed or relieved.

Chapter Text

Rey yawned widely, her jaw cracking from the stretch as she tried to hide it behind her hand.

She’d been up all night, trying to figure out what she wanted to write for her scholarship submission. Even though there was no rush, at least not yet, she’d been feeling the pressure ever since she’d heard about the prizes and grabbed the packet, a thumping in her head, quiet but constant. She needed to win this.

She’d gone home after work and started bookmarking videos and articles about what sort of essays were best received in scholarship situations. It wasn’t until she literally hadn’t been able to keep her eyes open that she’d given up and crawled into her bed for a few hours of restless sleep.

Part of her wanted to ask Kylo and see if he had any suggestions, since he was a writer that she respected and she knew that he was in college too. She wanted to know what he would write in a situation like this, but asking meant telling him that she was competing for the scholarship. The thought of explaining her financial struggles and her hungry desperation to win because of them, made her face hot. It wasn’t that she thought he wouldn’t be sympathetic, because he would be, and that was the problem.

Rose shot her a concerned look from across the counter. “You gonna make it through the day?”

Grimacing, Rey gave her a halfhearted thumbs up. Sure, she’d make it, if she chugged down a couple cups of coffee. Good thing she worked in a cafe.

The bell above the door chimed and she glanced up to see Poe and Finn stumbling in, hair windblown and, oh god, were they sharing a scarf?

“Nice look,” she smirked over the counter as they crossed the cafe. Yep, that was definitely one scarf, a colorful, striped monstrosity, wrapped around both of their necks, linking them together.

“He was cold and didn’t have one,” Poe explained, smiling in a very self-pleased sort of way. “And while I’m a kind, loving, generous boyfriend, it’s freezing outside and I didn’t want to give mine up. Obviously, there was only one solution.”

Finn just looked resigned to his fate, like the scarf and Poe’s enthusiasm over sharing it had sucked all of the resistance out of him.

“Obviously,” Rose deadpanned, eyebrow raised at the sight of them. “Humiliation and embarrassment in front of your peers, or being cold for a few minutes… I mean really, there wasn’t a choice at all.”

Rey snickered, loving when Rose got snarky.

Poe grinned though, his knit hat perched at a jaunty angle on his dark curls. “You’re just jealous that we’re so cute.” He turned and smushed the side of his face against Finn’s, who rolled his eyes playfully and didn’t bother trying to pull away.

Damn it, they did look adorable. Rey would never admit it though.

So, she just leaned over and tugged on Poe’s end on the scarf. “Yeah, yeah, I’m really jealous I’m not walking around campus like a dork. Think we can stretch it out enough that I can squeeze in there?”

He snatched it back from her fingers. “Nice try, but I’m not letting you ruin the whole ‘fall couples’ aesthetic we’re rocking here.”

Rose snorted, and Finn just looked embarrassed by his boyfriend.

“Just grab us our usual when you get a second, please,” he said, dragging Poe over to a table by the windows before he could open his mouth again.

Rey finished cleaning the espresso machine, then made their drinks and a mocha for herself, since she was off in a few minutes anyway. Carrying all the steaming mugs, she went over to their table and sat down, taking a desperate, healthy gulp of her mocha.

“You doing okay?” Finn asked, giving her a concerned look. “I got up for a glass of water last night at like, three in the morning, and you were still up.”

“Ugh.” Hearing him say it out loud just made her feel more exhausted. “I’m fine, just working on this scholarship thing. You know how I get.”

He exchanged a look with Poe that she was too tired to decipher.

“Don’t work yourself too hard,” he told her gently. “And what have you eaten today?”

She felt herself flush. “You don’t have to baby me.” Truth was, she hadn’t remembered breakfast this morning and lunchtime had come and gone without a break, and he knew it. Hell, probably even Poe knew it, from the way he narrowed his eyes at her.

Finn huffed and bent down to dig through his bag, plopping a sandwich down on the table.

“Eat.” His tone left no room for argument, but from the way her stomach seized up at the sight of it, she wouldn’t have had the strength to deny herself.

Suppressing a groan of relief, Rey scarfed the sandwich down, suspicious that it was turkey and swiss, her favorite, but too grateful to call him out on it.

“You need any help with this scholarship thing?” Poe asked, swiping some whipped cream off of his drink and licking it off of his finger. “I can be a second set of eyes if you’d like.”

“Thanks,” she said and meant it. “I haven’t even started yet, I’m still figuring out what I’m even going to do. But I’ll probably take you up on that once I do.”

There was a possibility that she was lying through her teeth, depending on what she decided to write, but she’d cross that bridge when she came to it.

“He edits my papers all the time,” Finn admitted, grinning at his boyfriend. “Saved my ass a time or two.”

Poe nudged him with his shoulder. “More like twenty, but nice try.”

She watched them tease each other, her own smile curling at her lips. They’d actually met when Finn had been heading home from the store and got hit by another car, which promptly drove off. Poe had seen the whole thing, pulling over to help. She liked to imagine him carrying Finn from his burning car, as he swooned in his arms, their eyes meeting as a pair of doves flew by. It was obviously nowhere as dramatic as that, but at the end of the day, Rey never thought that she’d be thankful for a car accident.

Finishing her sandwich and drink, she eyed the clock warily. Her calculus class was starting in half an hour and all she wanted to do was go home and sleep.

“Walk you to your class?” Finn offered, standing up to help her pick up their empty mugs, which required him doing a ridiculous little spin to unwrap his scarf before he strangled himself or Poe.

“Sure,” she laughed, taking the cups and running them back to the counter. Giving Rose a quick hug goodbye, she snagged her bag then hurried out the door with the guys.

It was a perfect fall day, the brisk wind instantly waking her up a little as they crunched through the gold and burgundy leaves. The air felt heavy and smelled like rain, and Rey hoped that it would wait until she got home to start up.

They crossed the campus fairly quickly and she kept seeing Finn looking at her from the corner of her eye. He obviously wanted to say something, so she hesitated outside the door, meeting his gaze with a questioning look, as Poe casually sauntered away to give them some space.

He sighed, worrying his bottom lip between his teeth. “I’m worried that you’re not taking care of yourself,” he admitted after a second. “I know you’re working hard but you need to sleep, you need to eat. You’re going to work yourself to death if you don’t.”

Rey felt herself immediately prickle defensively at his tone. “I’m fine, Finn. Just because I went to bed late and happened to forget breakfast this morning, doesn’t mean I’m just never going to eat or sleep again. I’m not that stupid.”

But he didn’t back down. “How many meals have you had this week? When you get home, I see you grab a granola bar for dinner, sometimes, and I know you’re not packing lunches. And if I had to guess, I’d say you’re averaging five, maybe six hours of sleep a night.”

She felt heat streak down her neck, because he was right. An angry retort rose to her lips but she held it back, reminding herself that Finn was just worried and yeah, she obviously did need some sleep if she was about to bite his head off for caring.

Sure enough, he reached between them to take her hand in his own, squeezing softly. “I’m just worried about you, that’s all. Be mad at me if you want but I care about you and I don’t like seeing you like this.”

Nodding, Rey felt shame crawl up her spine at the fact she had made him worry. It wasn’t that she was intentionally not taking care of herself, everything was just getting a bit muddled and blurry under the stress of work and school.

“I’ll try to be better,” she told him softly. “I’ll go shopping and get some stuff to pack lunches and you have my permission to yell at me if I’m up too late.”

His relieved smile only made her feel worse.

“Why don’t we do something fun this weekend?” he asked, features lighting up. “We can go out to that club Poe was telling us about, or have a two day movie marathon or something. You can relax a bit and stop thinking so much.”

Rey grimaced, hating to shoot down his idea. “I can’t this weekend, I already picked up a bunch of extra shifts and I have a calculus test on Monday that I need to study for.” Honestly though, she was a little relieved, because as nice as a weekend off with her friends sounded, that was ultimately just a lot of time that she’d be wasting, better spent on work or her scholarship essay.

“Next weekend then,” Finn said, voice firm. “I’m going to tell Rose you aren’t allowed to pick up any shifts, at least for one day so you can do something fun. Okay?”

“Okay.” She’d let him have this one. Besides, taking a day off wasn’t going to bring her life crashing down around her. And if it made him feel better, it would be worth it. “I’ve got to get to class though.”

He leaned in to give her a quick, one-armed hug. “See you at home.”

Rey watched him leave, snagging Poe from where he was waiting, the feeling of shame sticking to her skin like cobwebs.

 

--------------

 

She left her calculus class two hours later, giving a dirty look up at the darkening sky. It would be a good idea to get home before it started pouring, but she needed to start knocking out those scholarship videos and she couldn’t stand the thought of going home right now, where Finn would hover over her. So, she headed to the library instead, digging out her phone and opening Discord up as she went.

 

KiraofJakku

How’s your day going? Doing anything fun?



KyloRen

The usual… so no, not at all. Catching up on tedious schoolwork and trying to decide if I want to try and start this next chapter or not. I know I should but starting is always the hardest.

 

She read his response to her earlier message, cursing her calculus professor for not giving her a single chance to check her phone during class.

 

KiraofJakku

I totally get that, usually once I actually just sit down and get writing, I’m good. But it’s the sitting down and starting part that always takes forever  

It drives me crazy because even though I know that I’ll be good once I start, it never seems to matter. 

But yeah, you should definitely write the next chapter. Not to sound pushy or anything but I’ll probably cry if you don’t, so… 

 

She opened the door to the library, smiling to herself. Last night had been a bit weird with Kylo, when she’d decided to temporarily lose her mind and sent a pretty open invitation for him to send a picture of himself.

Even now, she had no idea what had possessed her to do that, though she was leaning towards just blaming the fact that she’d had a stressful day, and had thanked every entity she could think of that he’d not taken the hint. Because if he’d sent one, she would have been expected to do the same and that, that just wasn’t going to happen.

Thankfully, they’d gone back to normal quickly, the tension that Rey had felt probably just in her head.

Her phone buzzed and she stepped out of the main walkway, leaning against a bookshelf to respond.



KyloRen

Definitely not pushy at all. Well, I couldn’t live with myself if you shed tears over my laziness so I guess I’ll get started. Though if this next chapter is rushed and poorly written, I’m going to blame you in the author notes.



Rey huffed out a laugh under her breath, imagining the hate mail flooding her inbox from furious fans who wanted her head.



KiraofJakku

See, that would scare me, except I’m pretty positive you couldn’t manage to write a bad chapter, even if you tried   It must be hard, being so amazing all the time.



She headed to the back corner of the library again, wanting peace and quiet to work. And no one ever came back here, except for Ben Solo, because of course, he sat in her favorite part of the library.

And when she came around the shelves, there he was again, dark head bowed over his phone. She ground her teeth, debating for a second before sitting down at the nearest table, his head perking up at the sound, surprise widening his eyes when he saw her.

Rey ignored him, pulling out her laptop. He’d seemed distracted yesterday, on his phone almost the whole time he’d been here, then leaving quickly like she’d made him uncomfortable. Maybe she’d get lucky and he’d do the same today. But she wasn’t going to stop sitting in her favorite spot just because he was here.

Her phone buzzed in her pocket but she ignored it, despite wanting to see what Kylo had said. She needed to get some work done and she knew if she let herself get pulled into a conversation with him, she wouldn’t be able to concentrate.

Setting up her laptop and turning it on, she dug around in her bag until she found her headphones, tangled in a knot that thankful took only a second to undo. Determinedly ignoring the eyes she could feel on her, she plugged in her headphones and pulled up the first video she’d saved last night.

Glancing through her bookmarks, she realized that she had at least two dozen different articles and videos, internally groaning at the thought of going through all of them. The problem was, there were no prompts or specific details about what they should write for their scholarship submission and without any direction, Rey was floundering.

She squared her shoulders, pressing the play button determinedly. She’d read and watch every single one if that’s what it took to figure out what she was doing. If she ended up winning this thing, it would be a small price to pay.

An hour later and Rey was struggling to stay awake, every video somehow having the most boring voiceover and it was putting her to sleep. Ben was still here too, clicking away on his computer and scribbling things down, shoulders slightly hunched over the table that managed to look awkwardly short when he was seated at it.

Her gaze kept sliding over to him as her videos droned on and on, watching him twirl his pen between slender fingers, eyes darting back and forth as he read the text on the screen. There was a sort of precision to all of his movements that were strangely mesmerizing to watch.

Her video ended, the sudden silence jarring and shaking her free of watching Ben, cheeks flushing as she turned back to her laptop. She seriously needed sleep and it was getting late, but she still had a few more to go.

With a resigned sigh, she pulled up the next one, wanting to cry when she saw it was over half an hour long. Instead, she just started it, resting her chin on her folded arms as she tried to get more comfortable.

When you’re writing a scholarship essay, there are a few short steps you should always begin with, the video droned, this voice somehow more the most monotone one of the evening.

Rey let her eyes flutter closed briefly, waves of exhaustion crashing over her.

The first step, and arguably the most difficult one, is-

 

----------------------

 

Something touched Rey’s shoulder and she jolted upright, heart racing and mouth dry.

“Sorry, sorry,” a deep voice rumbled from her right and she turned to see Ben Solo hovering over her, hands up defensively. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

She was disoriented, trying to get her jumbled thoughts straightened out, yanking the now silent headphones free from her ears.

Ben cleared his throat, looking apologetic. “You were sleeping and the library’s closing soon.”

“What time is it?” she got out, stifling a yawn and the embarrassed heat that was crawling up her chest. She couldn’t believe she’d fallen asleep. Had she been snoring? Or, even worse, drooling?

He glanced down at his watch. “Almost eight.”

Damn. She didn’t even need to look at her phone to know there’d be worried messages waiting for her from Finn. And now she had to walk home in the dark, and probably the rain.

“Thanks,” she muttered, pushing back her chair so she could start cramming her stuff into her backpack, shrugging on her jacket and wishing she’d been smart and grabbed her umbrella this morning.

She hoisted her heavy bag onto her shoulder, turning around, surprised to see Ben was still standing there, staring.

“I, uh,” he started, uncertainty crossing his face. He wasn’t very good at hiding his emotions. “It’s raining pretty hard outside. Do you need a ride home or anything?”

She just stared at him for a long second, surprise flooding her. At his thoughtful offer, and the fact that he apparently knew that she walked home.  

Red started creeping up his neck from the collar of his sweater, like he knew what she was thinking. “I passed you walking home the other day,” he explained quickly. “Or at least, I’m assuming you were going home. Actually, now that I’m saying that out loud, I realize how dumb that sounds, you could have been going literally anywhere, I don’t know why I…” He trailed off, shaking his head.

His flustered honesty was strangely endearing, Rey found herself thinking, then shut that thought down quickly, annoyed with herself. This was Ben Solo, her enemy. She should be thinking about how to kick his ass in this scholarship competition instead of how endearing he was.

“I’m good,” she made herself say cooly. “I’m only a few blocks away.”

His dark eyebrows furrowing, little lines creasing between them, mouth open like he was about to protest, but she walked away before he could.

It felt weirdly wrong to just leave him standing there, but she did it anyway.

She’d be lying if she said she didn’t regret that decision a minute later, when she’d just made it across the parking lot and she was already soaked to the bone. Her thin jacket did little to protect her from the wet and the cold, and her teeth were chattering violently. More than anything though, she was worried about water soaking through her backpack and ruining her laptop; she couldn’t afford to get a new one.

Making it to the main road, Rey stopped under the narrow cover of the bus stop, shivering and debating. She could call Finn and see if he could come pick her up. It felt silly though, to bother him over a few blocks of walking, but felt sillier to risk ruining her laptop.

As she tried to decide, a black car drove by, sending up a spray of water, then slowed down, red brake lights illuminating the wet pavement. Her heart stuttered as it started backing up, hand sneaking back to try and wiggle into the side pocket of her backpack where she kept her pepper spray.

The passenger window rolled down and she never thought she’d be so relieved to see Ben, undisguised concern on his face.   

“Rey,” he called out the open window, struggling to be heard over the rain and the hum of his engine. “Get in the car, it’s pouring.”

She waved him on, icy water dripping down the edge of her jacket. “I’m fine, just go.”

“Stop being stubborn, I’m not leaving you out here. You’re getting soaked.”

She shook her head firmly, knowing she was being ridiculous but unwilling to move. He’d go away if she just said no enough and then she could call Finn. The last thing she wanted was to feel like she owed Ben Solo anything. Her feelings for him were already muddled and confused enough and she just really wanted him to go away so she could go back to hating him from a distance.

The engine of his car changed to a quiet purr as he put it in park, climbing out, dark hair shining in the street light. He rounded the front of the car, stepping onto the sidewalk a few feet away from Rey.

“What are you doing?” she demanded.

He crossed his arms, water droplets running down his face. “I’m not moving until you get in the car.”

She scowled at him, shaking and a mixture of emotions swirling in her gut; confusion, disbelief, embarrassment, and a little smidge of relief because as he stood there, getting poured on, jaw clenched in a firm line, she knew she was going to let him take her home.

“Fine,” she said, walking past him to the car. “Let’s go.”

He didn’t move until she opened the door and started climbing in, closing it softly behind her before making his way to the driver’s side.

His car was blissfully warm, the heater blowing directly onto her goosebumped skin, and it smelled clean, like lemons and leather. Somehow, she wasn’t surprised to see that it was spotless, devoid of the receipts and straw wrappers that decorated Finn’s.

Ben got in a second later, the tips of his ears sticking out from his wet hair. He didn’t look at her, rubbing his hands together briskly before shifting his car out of park and pulling away from the curb smoothly.

“Just go straight,” she murmured. “I’m only a few blocks down.”

Neither of them spoke after that, the rhythmic sound of the windshield wipers filling the silence. Rey focused on her backpack in her lap, but in her peripheral, she could see his fingers tapping against the steering wheel in a nervous beat. His blue sweater was plastered across his broad shoulders, the heavy fabric dripping on his leather seat.

Irrationally, she wanted to be mad at him. It would be so much easier if he just left her alone and let her hate him, but instead, he had to gently wake her up and then not so gently force her to let him drive her home. After all of the dirty looks she’d sent his way that she knew he’d seen, and god, the blatant rudeness around him, not saying hello and acting like he was invisible, he’d still treated her kindly.

Ben Solo was almost as frustrating as he was intriguing.

And now she felt confused and like the most wretched, terrible person alive.

She glanced out the dark window to hide her face, watching as another block went by. “Take a right here.”

He did as she said, turning smoothly down the street without a word. Her apartment was on the corner at the end of the street and she pointed it out to Ben, clutching at her backpack as he rolled to a stop.

“Uh, thanks,” Rey muttered, already reaching for the door. She was too tired to deal with this right now.

“You’re welcome,” he replied, so softly that she almost missed it as she opened the door, the sudden roar of the rain greeting her.

She felt like she should probably say something else but her mouth didn’t want to work, so she just climbed out of his car, closing the door carefully behind her, and ran up to the front door, backpack gripped tightly to her middle.

By the time that she reached the safety of the porch and started digging around for her keys, glancing over her shoulder, he was already gone.

Chapter Text

Ben’s wailing alarm ripped him from his sleep, and as he rolled over and turned it off with a groan, his first thought of the day was, thank fuck it’s Saturday.

It was officially the weekend, which meant he could start reading Kira’s story and hole up in his apartment, not having to leave or talk to anyone he didn’t want to for at least forty-eight hours. Two days of take out, watching all the TV he wanted, and reading what he knew was going to be a great story. After the week he’d had, that sounded like pure bliss.

Licking his lips, he tried to swallow but his mouth was bone dry. When he’d gotten home last night, he’d had a few beers before bed, needing his brain to descend into a nice, hazy buzz after the last few days. He could feel a headache pulsing in the back of his skull and managed to heave himself into a sitting position, squinting at the light streaming in through the windows.

Past him was apparently still coherent enough to have a little foresight, because there were some aspirin and a glass of water on his bedside table, which he drank down thankfully.

Taking a second before hauling himself out of bed, Ben’s mind wandered back to last night, to Rey’s face when he’d woken her up, soft and confused, then later, exasperated but grateful as she’d climbed into his car, illuminated by the yellow streetlight.

She’d avoided meeting his eyes both times, and he wondered what it was that she hadn’t wanted to see.

Getting to his feet, he stumbled into the bathroom and over to the shower, trying not to doze off as the bathroom filled with steam. The hot spray woke him up a bit though as he climbed in, and he cranked the temperature up, shivering as it cascaded down his goosebump covered skin. After getting soaked in the rain, he’d been freezing all night, unable to warm up no matter how many blankets he’d piled on top of himself.

Letting his head hang under the spray, he wondered if Rey had struggled last night too, burrowing under a mountain of blankets. The image of her head sticking out of a giant nest of fabric popped into his mind, an angry scowl on her face, eyes narrowed, and he laughed, unable to help himself.

He still hadn’t figured out what he’d done to piss her off but ultimately, he hadn’t been able to just leave her there, standing in the rain, looking half-drowned and freezing. Just like he hadn’t been able to leave her sleeping in the library, despite how peaceful she looked, not glaring at him for once, face nestled in her arms, lips parted slightly.

Ben swore he’d heard his mother’s voice scolding him both times when he considered just leaving her, and you really didn’t have any choice but to listen to Leia Organa when she told you to do something.

So even if Rey still hated him, at least his mother would have been proud.

He bit back another laugh, turning the water even hotter and slicking back his wet hair. If that wasn’t sad, he didn’t know what was.

 

—————

 

As it turned out, he didn’t need the full two days to finish Kira’s story. He’d started late Saturday morning and read almost all of it over the course of the day. The plan had been to wait to read the rest and savor it, but he’d been unable to resist the next morning. All things considered, it wasn’t a bad way to spend the first few hours of his Sunday.

He’d finished about an hour ago and took a lunch break to eat and try to get his thoughts straight before he messaged Kira.

Her story hadn’t been what he’d expected. The blunt, uncomplicated way that she wrote wasn’t a surprise and he found it so refreshing to read, just like he did talking to her. But the story itself was something subtler and more personal feeling.

When she’d said it was fantasy but not epic or grand in scale, his mind immediately went to a smaller, more intimate feeling adventure story. And there were definitely aspects of that as her protagonist, a young woman named Ven, traveled across a fantasy land and tackled adventures as she stumbled upon them. There were thrilling fights and well thought out mysteries, a collection of interesting characters all set in a unique world. As a writer and avid reader, he felt immense respect for the obvious effort that had gone into all of it.

After reading though, what really stuck with him wasn’t any of that; it was the fact that what the story was truly about was Ven’s quest to find her family and a sense of belonging.

It was there, in all of the towns she wandered through, her longing for a family and home of her own. In the scattered memories that she tried to piece together to make sense of her past and why she was abandoned. In the friends she would make, who always ended up leaving her and going their own way.

The words were saturated with loneliness and yearning, yet Ven remained hopeful throughout every chapter, forging ahead in a world where she couldn’t seem to fit in, spending her nights staring at the stars and dreaming of a different life, one where she was loved and accepted.

It was heartbreakingly sincere, and Ben had to stop a few times to struggle with how some of her feelings resonated with his own, the things it was stirring up inside of him.

And reading it, he knew that this story was more important to Kira than she had let on. The loss and confliction that Ven struggled with were too well written to be anything other than real life experience.   

He knew that Kira didn’t have any family, from what she’d mentioned before. She hadn’t spoken about it again and he definitely hadn’t asked. Reading her story made him feel like he was getting a peek into her soul and the darker parts of herself that she kept carefully hidden behind a front of optimism and humor.

He finally sat down on his couch, swiping his phone from the table and opening Discord.



KyloRen

Well, I’ve been reading since yesterday morning and I’ve finally finished your story.



Almost immediately, he could see that Kira was typing back and he smiled, happy that she was online. There was a lot churning inside of him right now, a lot that he wanted to say to her.



KiraofJakku

Oh no, I’m scared to ask. If you don’t like it, can we just agree right now to never speak about it again?  

Unless you want to lie to me. I’m definitely okay with that



He didn’t normally pay any attention to the stats of stories but he’d seen that Kira didn’t have nearly as many readers as she deserved. It wasn’t surprising that she maybe didn’t realize how good it actually was.



KyloRen

I’m honestly struggling to process all of it right now so I’m just going to brain dump a bit here, forgive me… Your writing is wonderful. As someone who usually can’t stand flowery, unnecessarily detailed writing, the simplistic yet visual way that you describe things really made reading it such a pleasure. You know when more is needed but also when restraint is just as effective, which is such a rare skill. The world, the characters, they’re all great so far. Ven, especially, is such a complex, flawed character, and it’s hard to have just one character driving the story forward but you’re doing it so well. This message is getting long so I’ll stop but really, I enjoyed it very much.

 

A minute went by, then another, and Kira still hadn’t responded or started typing. Ben skimmed over his message again, making sure he hadn’t said anything that might have accidentally upset her.

His phone didn’t chirp at him until almost ten minutes later, after he’d pulled out his laptop and started working on his next chapter, turning on the TV for background noise.



KiraofJakku

Kylo, I don’t even know what to say

If you’re lying to me because we’re friends, please don’t ever tell me   seriously though, thank you so much. You know how much I admire you as a writer, so this is possibly the greatest thing to ever happen to me. I’m definitely not hyperventilating right now  

I’m going to screenshot your message and hang it above my bed haha

Wow, I just… I’m stunned that you like it. Now I feel bad that I haven’t updated recently  



Ben huffed out a quiet laugh, feeling a little embarrassed by her reaction. And it made him sad to think that she didn’t receive as much praise for her work as she deserved. Maybe he should do a recommendation post or something like that in the server. He hardly ventured in, besides to share when he updated, so he didn’t know much about how that worked, but he was going to look into it, for her.

For now though, he just wanted to keep talking with her about it and try to gain a little insight. Curiosity had taken root in him and he couldn’t resist the opportunity to learn more about her story and more importantly, about her .

 

KyloRen

I’m not lying, I swear. And don’t feel bad, I would gladly wait weeks for a new chapter. I have to ask though, just because it’s rather unique, where did the name Ven come from?

 

KiraofJakku

Haha I’ve been asked that so many times and I always tell people to hang in there because it will be explained later in the story

But I like you so I’ll share  

So, there’s going to be a flashback scene to Ven’s owner who she escaped from, the self-proclaimed King of the Orphans, Unkar Plutt, who takes in kids with no family and makes them work for him. Most of the children didn’t know their names so he would give them one, always something to remind them of their position and how worthless they were. Worm, maggot, things like that. So Ven was only ever called scavenger. And when she finally ran away, she didn’t have any other name so she made it her own, shortened it down, and started going by Ven instead

Sorry, that was unnecessarily complicated haha

 

He hadn’t expected an explanation that fit into the story, but he was impressed with the level of detail and the insight that the backstory of her name gave to Ven’s character.

It made him feel sorry that more people weren’t reading this, that her efforts and skills weren’t be recognized on the level that they should be.

 

KyloRen

So I shouldn’t go share this with all of your readers? It’s a really thoughtful detail though, I’m sure they’ll all appreciate it when you do the reveal. I like that it’s showing that she isn’t trying to hide her past, instead just embracing it in her own way, like a show of defiance.

 

She thanked him, using the blushing smiley emoji that he couldn’t help but think was cute. He was glad that she’d shared and seemed happy that he was asking questions, because he wasn’t done yet.

There was no denying that he was nervous to ask, he could feel the jitters in the pit of his stomach, but he’d be ashamed if he didn’t bring it up.

 

KyloRen

I wanted to ask something though, and please let me know if I’m crossing any lines here. I just couldn’t help but notice that Ven seems similar to you in a few ways. I remember that you mentioned not having a family before, and I was wondering if you wrote her as a reflection of yourself?

 

Once again, it took Kira a few minutes to respond, minutes that Ben spent worrying over if he’d broken a sacred friend rule of some sort. Something along the lines of, “don’t mention it when you notice a friend writing a character to help them deal with their own struggles with loss and self-worth.”

That would be just the sort of thing to exist that he’d have no idea about.

He leaned his head back against the couch, leg shaking nervously until his phone alerted him of a new message.

 

KiraofJakku

Has anyone ever told you that you’re too insightful? Because they’re totally right

But honestly, you’re fine, you can always ask me anything. And yes, I hadn’t planned on writing Ven out like this but she needed something to drive her and finding her family ended up being that thing. I suppose that I just started writing emotions that I understood, what I was familiar with

 

Ben could understand that, he did the same thing with The Knight in his own story. Not to say that he based the character off of himself, but writing certain feelings and emotions came easier to him than others and he knew it was because he had experience with them. With the anger and the loneliness, the pressure of people pushing him to fit into a mold that they made.

There was a cathartic sort of release that came with expressing those things in words.

But Kira hadn’t just been writing about loss and longing; Ven also felt worthless and unwanted, adrift with no purpose, no meaning, no one to care for her. She felt like nothing.

 

KyloRen

That makes sense, I understand. I think a lot of writers do that and it can make characters relatable, like Ven is. But Kira, you know that there are people who care about you, right? That you are worth so much and not having a family doesn’t take that away?



KiraofJakku

I appreciate you saying that, but no offense, you don’t really know what you’re talking about. You’re speaking like you know things about my life and you don’t



He took a deep breath. She was right, his words would look like nothing but false assurance from someone who was just saying what they were supposed to.

His hands were trembling slightly from nerves as he typed out his next message.

 

KyloRen

Then tell me.



If he’d thought waiting for her previous responses were torture, he’d had no idea.



KiraofJakku

I guess I walked right into that one  

But okay, I just don’t want you to talk to me differently, this wasn’t supposed to be a pity party

My parents abandoned me when I was just a kid. I was found strapped into a stroller, abandoned in a park with a note pinned to my jacket that said they couldn’t care for me anymore, that I was too much, unplanned and unwanted.

I grew up in the system, bouncing around until my last foster mom took me in when I was fifteen. And she passed away a few years ago. So all I have now are my few friends, who I love like family, though I’m not sure they feel the same.

So, yeah, there you go, that’s my exciting life story  

 

Ben read her messages, heart sinking in his chest like a heavy stone. Though he had lots of issues with his family, his parents had never tried to get rid of him. He already struggled with knowing that they were disappointed with him, he couldn’t imagine living with knowing that they’d just given up on him completely. To know that he wasn’t worth the work of being a parent, wasn’t worth loving.

He couldn’t even fathom the weight of that, so he understood why she’d told him as much.

The fact that she’d shared this with him shook him to the core. The desire to comfort her, to reassure her that she was wonderful and deserving of everything she could ever want, rose in him so suddenly that he almost felt dizzy.

 

KyloRen

I don’t know what to say. I’m sure you’ve heard people say they’re sorry that happened to you a hundred times, but that’s all I can say. It was definitely your parent’s loss, that they didn’t get to see you grow into the amazing person that you are. They clearly didn’t deserve you if they were willing to give you up. But their decision to do that, no matter what the reason, doesn’t have anything to do with you. I’ve only been speaking to you for a short time and I already care about you and have no doubt that your friends must love you just as much, if not more, than you do them. Family isn’t just limited to blood, there’s no shame in making your own and it doesn’t make them less of one.

 

Ben sent it before he could think it through, nervousness flooding him almost immediately. It wasn’t a lie, he did care about her and think that she was amazing, but maybe he shouldn’t have said so.

 

KiraofJakku

Thank you, Kylo. I hope you know that I think you’re amazing too   I’m so thankful that you responded to my message and we started talking  

And I appreciate what you said about family. I can be logical and know that I shouldn’t care, but some days, those darker, sadder feelings like to rear their ugly head and punch me in the gut



KyloRen

I know how you feel. I mean, not exactly, obviously, but I struggle with similar feelings. My parents view me as a complete disappointment and have been trying to force me into the mold that they think I should fit. They don’t care about what I want to do or what makes me happy, they care about our family image and my purpose as a part of it. I’m not trying to make this about me, I just want to explain so you know that I mean it when I say that I understand how it feels to want to not care about your family but not always managing. Just know that you aren’t alone.

 

Ben had never told someone about his parents before. Never actually put it down in words how they felt about him, since he’d never had someone who would listen. And he had no fear of judgment from Kira, not feeling even a bit embarrassed to admit that he was the sole source of disappointment in his family.

It was simultaneously depressing and strangely freeing to acknowledge the unspoken things between him and his family. He’d kept it inside for so long that it was a weight off of his chest to let it out, but it also made it feel more real, an inescapable truth.

 

KiraofJakku

Neither are you, Kylo

There’s so much pressure all the time, to live up to other people’s expectations and follow the path they put us on. To get a good job, to make something of ourselves, to be better than our peers… personal happiness somehow became an acceptable price for those things

I just… I don’t know what I’m trying to say. I get it, I guess. And it sucks but at the end of the day, all we can do is try our best to make the right decisions

 

Ben set his phone down, feeling shaken by this whole discussion. He’d only wanted to comfort and reassure her, he hadn’t meant for it to turn into this soft, soul-baring discussion.

And that was the thing that had drawn him to Kira from day one; he felt connected to her, had somehow known that she was a kindred spirit who would understand him.

He got up from his couch, pacing across the length of his living room, attempting to work off some of the restless energy coursing through him, cold and sharp like an icy stream.

This thing with Kira was getting overwhelming and confusing, his emotions shifting all over the place in a whirlwind but always settling back on one thing; longing . He liked her, more than he should for a girl he’d been talking online with for two weeks, but he also felt more alive than he could ever remember feeling. And he wanted to know as many things about her as he could, wanted to know what she looked like, how far her lips curled when she smiled and how sweet her laugh sounded.

Ben’s hands were trembling at his sides and his heart was racing, a violent pulsing beat in his chest. He knew that this conversation with Kira was messing with his head and he should take a step back, get some space before he did something that he would regret.

The thought passed through his mind, like a leave caught in a breeze, there and gone, swept away in the jumble of longing and excitement, the foolish boldness he could feel taking over him. He went with it, snatching his phone back up from the table quickly, typing his message and hitting send in one breath.

 

KyloRen

Kira, for the second time tonight, I hope I’m not crossing a line, but it feels strange to be talking to you without a face to picture. Can I see you?

 

His dropped his phone back on the table like it had burned him. Holy shit . That was either one of the bravest or dumbest things he’d ever done.

The thought had been eating away at him for a while now, and he’d drift off sometimes, trying to put together her face in his head, like a puzzle but none of the pieces wanted to fit. He’d imagine warm brown eyes, then she’d joke, and suddenly they’d switch to mischievous blue. Red hair to fit her snappy comebacks, changing in his mind to chestnut locks spread across a white pillowcase when she’d mention she was getting into bed for the night.

It might have been too forward, too pushy of him to ask, but he needed to know.

And they were friends, right? It really wasn’t that weird of a thing to ask for an online friend… was it? A lot of people had pictures of themselves as their icon on Discord for everyone to see, so it couldn’t be that big of a deal.

That’s what he told himself as the minutes ticked by, as those minutes turned into an hour and one hour into two.

Dread settled in the pit of his stomach, twisting tighter and tighter as time passed. Her status said she was online and it was still early enough in the night that she wouldn’t have gone to bed. He wasn’t naive enough to think her absence was a coincidence.

He considered deleting it but if she was ignoring him, she’d already seen it. And he didn’t want to send her another message and potentially make things worse.

All he could do was wait for the hammer to fall and hope that she’d just fallen asleep.

After wasting hours trying and failing to write, and eventually giving up and settling on turning on some mindless show, Ben just called it quits and crawled into bed. He was hungry but had felt too nauseous to eat dinner earlier, a relentless ache gnawing away in his gut.

Laying in bed, he felt cold down to his bones. He’d made such a mistake, what had possessed him to think that was a good idea?

It hadn’t felt wrong to want to see her, to have a face in his mind that he could picture smiling or lost in thought, laughing at his bad jokes.

Apparently, it was wrong though. He’d clearly made her uncomfortable or made her think he was a pervert or something. Some sort of internet dwelling creep who had wiggled his way into her life.

Underneath the anxiety and regret though, there was an undeniable twinge of hurt, nestled just behind his ribs. Hurt that she would think something like that of him, and, as much as he hated to admit it, a small part of him had thought she might jump at the chance to see him after her comment the other day.

It stung to have his social awkwardness rubbed in his face, his obvious inexperience with friends biting him in the ass.

He rolled over, trying to get comfortable and think of anything other than his own inadequacies. Sleep was slow to come to him and when it finally dragged him down into the darkness, it was anything but restful.

And when he woke up the next morning, instantly awake and anxious, reaching for his phone with clumsy, desperate fingers, there was still no response.

Chapter Text

The damn message was still there, no matter how hard Rey glared at it and tried to will it into oblivion. Still sitting on her screen, waiting to be answered.

Can I see you?

She hated how those four simple words made her feel. All the irrational insecurities bubbling to the surface, refusing to be pushed back down, panic and nervousness making her fingers tremble and her lungs tight. The thought that if she sent Kylo a picture of herself, the first thing he’d feel was disappointment.

Talking without faces was just easier. Kylo was already causing all sorts of weird emotions, stuff she did not want to pull out and take a good look at because they were friends, damn it. And then he had to go and do this, after the great conversation they’d been having. She’d been basking in the warmth of his words, the fact that he said he cared about her.

It was just a question, a reasonable question, and one fucking picture. Yet here she was, having a crisis over something so stupid.

Just tell him no.

But how did that make her look? What would he think? Probably that she was hiding something, or cripplingly insecure, which wouldn’t necessarily be wrong. Or it would hurt his feelings, like she didn’t trust him or didn’t want him to see her.

Just tell him yes.

But then she’d actually have to follow through and the thought made her sick. First, it was a picture, then it was video calling and chatting face to face. Rey actually liked Kylo and wanted to figure out what exactly this thing was between them, not send him running once he realized how plain looking she was, how awkward she was when she tried to talk to new people.

More than that though, she knew herself and her boundaries. She wasn’t like lots of other girls who streamed online or made videos and chatted in video calls on discord groups. She wasn’t secure enough in her own skin and she’d always been okay with that, knowing her comfort zones.

She had promised herself that she’d never let herself get pressured into doing something she was uncomfortable with when she’d joined the group.

Rey rubbed at her eyes wearily, taking a drink of her mocha. She had to leave for her creative writing class in a few minutes and as much as she didn’t want to go, maybe it would be a good distraction. At the very least, it would be better than staying in the cafe, avoiding the questioning looks that Rose was shooting her over the counter.

Turning on her phone and internally wincing as Kylo’s message popped up again, she pulled up her messages with Phasma instead, typing quickly with one hand as she tried to finish her drink.

 

KiraofJakku

Hey Phas, I need you to be honest with me. Something happened last night and I don’t know if I’m being stupid or not



CptnPhasma

I’m listening  



KiraofJakku

Kylo and I were having a really nice discussion and out of nowhere, he asked if he could see me. Like, he wants me to send him a picture of myself or something   And I feel really weird about it so I haven’t… like, I haven’t even replied yet

Am I being dumb?  



Rey trusted Phas to give it to her straight and to be blunt with her. She and Hux had shared pictures of themselves before and had Rey sent them some of herself in return. But that was after knowing both of them for a while and it felt different with Kylo, more meaningful, more potentially disastrous.

 

Sending a picture meant that all he had to focus on was her face… she couldn’t distract him with her dorky stories or her unfunny jokes, or turn away when she felt him staring. There’d be no hiding.

 

CptnPhasma

You should never make yourself do something you’re uncomfortable with. If he’s being pushy, tell him to fuck off and let me at him

Guys online can be assholes, but that doesn’t mean you should let them get away with it  



Despite how shitty she felt, Rey couldn’t help but smile at Phas’ protectiveness. She knew that if she asked, she would rip into Kylo in a heartbeat.



KiraofJakku

Thanks, but he wasn’t pushy or gross or anything. He just asked and hasn’t said anything since. I just feel kind of stupid for making a big deal out of it  



CptnPhasma

Well, why is it a big deal? 

Because you like him?  

And you want him to swoon over your pretty face?  



Even though she knew no one could read her screen, Rey glanced around quickly, cheeks hot. She hunched over her phone, thumbs flying over her keyboard.



KiraofJakku

I hate you  

Listen… I don’t really have this all figured out, but I might like him a bit. He’s not what I expected but in a good way, I think

But doesn’t that mean I should send him a picture? Like, if I want to get a little more serious or see where this goes?

Ugh, I don’t really know how online things work  



CptnPhasma

Do you mean relationships? You can say it, the word won’t bite you  

It doesn’t mean anything though. You don’t have to do anything you aren’t ready for, even if it’s just sending a picture

If he cares about that, he’s a dick 



Finishing the last of her now cold mocha, Rey contemplated what she said, relief rolling through her stomach in a gentle wave.

She knew that she’d probably messaged Phas because she would support her feelings and tell her that she wasn’t in the wrong. She’d known it, deep down, but she’d needed to hear it from someone else, someone she trusted.



KiraofJakku

Thanks, you’re right



CptnPhasma

Always am  

 

 

She had ten minutes to get to class now and she gathered her things, making her way up to the counter to hand her mug over to Rose, who was trying to pull her apron over her head.

“If you wait a minute, I’ll walk with you,” she told Rey, tossing her mug into the sink and hurrying into the back room. She reemerged a few seconds later, jacket on and bag hanging off of her shoulder.

They left the warmth of the cafe and crossed the campus, dodging puddles and clusters of other students.

“You doing okay?” Rose asked kindly, skipping over a pile of soggy leaves. “You look tired.”

Rey nodded, wishing she could talk to her about all of this, but that was a dilemma for another day. “I’m okay, just didn’t sleep well, and I’m a little stressed about this scholarship essay. I tried to work on it all weekend and got nowhere.”

Her friend grimaced sympathetically. “Maybe grab Professor Skywalker after class and see if he has any suggestions, just to get you started in the right direction? He likes you, I’m sure he’d help.”

That was actually a great idea and she felt stupid for not thinking of it last week. His own sister was going to be judging, so if anyone could give her an idea of what she’d be looking for, it was him.

“Thanks, I think I’ll do that actually.”

Rose gave her a wide, sunny smile as she grabbed the door and pulled it open with a whoosh of heated air.

“Just try not to stress about it too much,” she said once they were both inside. “You’re a great writer and you’ll win for sure, I know it.”

A sudden surge of guilt flowed through Rey. She’d been so wrapped up in herself and everything happening with Kylo that she’d completely overlooked the fact that Rose was working on the same thing. “I forgot that you’ll be submitting one too. I’m so sorry, I completely blanked. Why don’t you stay after with me-“

A little laugh from Rose cut her off as she waved a hand dismissively. “I actually don’t think I’m going to enter. It’s really meant for someone who plans on majoring in something writing related and I’m leaning towards something else.”

“What?” Rey hadn’t known this and felt even worse that she was so out of the loop on her friend’s life. “What are you thinking of switching to?”

Rose shrugged nonchalantly as they made their way down the crowded hall. “I’m debating between engineering and something in computer sciences. I’m signing up for a class in each next quarter to see which I like more.”

“That’s really great,” Rey responded honestly. She was so smart and deserved to go into something that made use of her impressive skills.

Once again, Rose beamed at her, her round face lighting up.

They finally reached the classroom, making their way towards their usual seats. She’d forgotten that she’d be seeing Ben for the first time since Friday night and turned to search for his dark head. He was sitting in the same spot as always and he looked up, like he felt her gaze land on him.

There were dark smudges under his eyes that she could see from across the room, and he met hers for just a second. Rey tried to pull up an apologetic, hesitant smile, still feeling bad about everything, but he looked away just as it started to curl at the corners of her mouth.

“Are you smiling at Ben Solo?” Rose asked suspiciously, glancing between the two of them.

“No,” Rey snapped, feeling something sour in her stomach at how quickly he’d looked away. “I mean, yeah. I don’t know.” She sat down in her chair with a huff, yanking out her notebook.

Rose just waited, peering at her curiously. She was infinitely patient with things like this, just waiting and knowing that the other person would crack first.

“He gave me a ride home on Friday,” Rey muttered, feeling weirdly nervous that someone was going to overhear them. “It was raining and I didn’t have my umbrella. It was strangely nice of him.”

Her friend shrugged, looking unconcerned, but there was a curious gleam in her eye. “Last I checked, you’re the one with a grudge, not him. Maybe he’s actually just a nice guy. It’s not like he’s ever actually been rude to you.”

Rey bit her lip, intentionally not looking back over at him. “Yeah, maybe.” Honestly though, Rose’s words struck something in her. She was right, he’d never actually done anything to her. It was just everything about him; his entitlement and status because of his family, the way he never talked to anyone, then he’d turned down their invitation to the group, like the thought made him sick. All of it just rubbed her the wrong way.

Until she actually interacted with him and he’d been nothing but kind, if a little awkward.

Rose was still watching her but Rey pretended to be flipping through her notes, trying to give her the hint that she didn’t want to keep talking about it. Thankfully, Professor Skywalker walked in a few seconds later, starting class before she could say anything more.

He gave them a free work period, much to her relief. It meant that she could look over the scholarship packet again and make a list of questions she wanted to ask him after class, rather than stumbling her way through and probably forgetting half of it.

As she made her list, flipping through the pages and adding things, her gaze kept straying to Ben. He seemed unfocused, in constant movement of some sort, tapping his fingers against the edge of his desk, fiddling with his pen, jiggling his foot. As she watched him, he slipped his phone out of his pocket three times to check it.

Because she was looking towards the front, she saw the second that Professor Skywalker noticed that he had his phone out and she winced internally. Open work period meant that he expected you to use it for just that and he was notoriously good at catching students who were killing time on their phone or laptop.

Rey watched as Professor Skywalker frowned and got up, walking over to Ben. The room went extra quiet, a little prickle of awareness running through the room, most eyes on them. No one would pass up the opportunity to watch a fellow student get scolded.

But he just stopped in front of his nephew, whose face was slowly coloring, and held his hand out silently.

“Sorry,” Ben murmured, voice still carrying through the silent room. “I’ll put it away.”

“Hand it over,” Professor Skywalker said simply, hand still outstretched. “You can get it at the end of class.”

The stared at each other for a tense second and it felt like no one in the room was breathing. Rey could see on Ben’s face, the barely restrained anger, the tightness of his jaw, a storm brewing beneath his skin. She didn’t know if his uncle was intentionally singling him out, but she’d never seen him take someone’s phone before, usually just telling them to put it away in a good-natured but stern sort of way.

Finally, Ben reached out and placed his phone in Professor Skywalker’s palm, the pressure in the room vanishing so quickly that she was surprised her ears didn’t pop.

“Back to work,” their professor called, walking back to his desk and everyone’s eyes quickly went to their papers.

Something about his interactions with Ben always left a sour taste in Rey’s mouth, though she knew it wasn’t any of her business. She liked her professor but she didn’t like the look he got on his face when he spoke to his nephew.

Not my business, Rey reminded herself firmly, wondering, not for the first time, why she was so determined to stick her nose in Ben’s life.

The rest of the class passed by uneventfully, though Rey was having a hard time focusing. And as the class started clearing out once it was over, she noticed Ben making his way to the front as well. She paused, wavering between her professor’s desk and the door. The last thing she wanted was to awkwardly hover if they were going to argue and her fear won out, propelling her out into the hallway. The door only closed halfway behind her, but she didn’t want to reach out and yank on it while she was lurking beside it.

Leaning against the wall next to the open door, she couldn’t help but hear the argument taking place in the classroom and she was immensely grateful that she’d decided to leave. Really, she could just walk away and come back later but a small part of her, a guilty feeling part, was too curious to leave.

“- let so much distract you. You need to focus up or before you blink, all of your time here is going to be gone,” Professor Skywalker said, the disapproval in his voice so clear that she didn’t even need to see his face.

There was a long pause and Rey leaned closer to the door to try and hear.

“Listen,” Ben said, so quietly that she could barely make him out. “Can we please not do this today? I just want my phone back.”

There was such exhaustion in his voice, such sincerity, the weight of it making the air feel thick and heavy. Something sharp caught in Rey’s throat.

“I’m not trying to lecture you, but-“

“Then don’t,” his nephew interrupted, and she thought he must not have realized how pleading his voice was, or he wouldn’t have spoken.

There was a creak, like Professor Skywalker was get up or shifting in his seat. “Your mother asked me to keep an eye on you, to mentor you, because you clearly need help. I can’t do that if you won’t listen to me. If you won’t show me some respect.”

“That wasn’t my mother’s call to make,” Ben responded.

“Yet, here you are.”

Rey bit her lip, cringing at all the implications he piled behind those four words. At the secondhand embarrassment she was feeling for Ben, knowing that she would be shriveled in on herself if she were in his shoes.

“Please. I just- I just want to leave.” His voice made it clear just how close he was to tipping over the edge, to letting the rage loose that was simmering underneath his voice.

“I could keep your phone all day if you-“

Ben cut him off once again. “Stop speaking to me like I’m a child. I may be your nephew but I’m still an adult and you’re going to give me back my phone .”

His voice raised slightly at the end and Rey took a step back.

“Take it,” Professor Skywalker said. “But next time, I’m keeping it. This is a college, not some middle school, and I expect you to use your time wisely. You need to think more about how your actions make me look-“

Rey realized too late that there were angry footsteps coming right at her and she only managed to back up one stumbling step before Ben came crashing through the door and into her. She only caught a flash of his face, pale and tense, before he knocked her down.

It was like getting hit by a brick house and she would have fallen to the floor if a firm hand hadn’t caught her elbow, yanking her upright.

Rey froze, trying to right herself, afraid to meet Ben’s eyes and see that anger directed at her.

But his grip was surprisingly gentle around her arm, and when she finally looked up, there was nothing on his face but concern.

“Are you okay?” he asked, his free hand hovering between them hesitantly. “I’m sorry, I didn’t know you were-“

“It’s fine,” Rey rushed to assure him, heart racing from nearly being knocked down and from what she’d heard. “It was my fault.”

His fingers were still pressed against the tender flesh of her arm and he seemed to realize it at the same time, letting go of her like she’d burned him.

“Sorry,” he murmured, hand flexing at his side. “I wasn’t-“

The door creaked open and Professor Skywalker stepped out into the hall. “Miss Kenobi, is everything okay?”

Ben met her eyes again, expression closing off. Without a word, he turned and strode away, shoulders hunched slightly, head down.

“Yes, sorry, Professor,” Rey said, watching him walk away.

When she turned to face her professor, he was looking at her carefully, blue eyes considering. “Did you need something?”

She opened her mouth, then closed it, glancing down at the notebook still clutched in her hand, list of questions staring up at her. “No,” she heard herself saying. “Thank you.”

Turning around, she left before he could say anything, a cold, slimy feeling slipping down into her stomach.

The second she went around the corner, disappearing from his sight, Rey stopped, leaning against the wall and letting her bag slip off of her shoulder to land on the floor. Listening in on them had been a bad idea, and her eyes felt like they’d been opened to something she hadn’t wanted to see.

She’d respected Professor Skywalker from day one, in awe of his accomplishments. And Ben, she’d judged and assumed he was an entitled brat because of his last name.

Rey let out a deep breath, letting the unfairness of her actions settle over her.

She’d forgotten that you didn’t get to choose your family and that having one didn’t automatically mean you were happy with them. As a kid, she’d despised being judged for not having parents, and here she was, turning around and doing the same thing to Ben, except for the family he did have.

At the end of the day, she was no better than those kids who had made her cry, ridiculing her for being a dirty orphan and treating her like she was worthless because of it.

The way that Ben’s uncle had spoken to him, not even bothering to disguise his condescension, was the same way that Rey kept noticing in class, leaving a feeling of wrongness settled over her skin. She didn’t know their story or what the issues between them were and that was just it… she didn’t know.

What she did know, was that Ben had been nothing but kind and apologetic to her and she had behaved in a way that made shame curl hotly in her chest.

She couldn’t pretend to keep being ignorant anymore.

Maz had raised her better than this.

So, she heard her foster mom’s voice in her head and could practically see her peering up at her, eyes wide and knowing behind her ridiculous glasses. You broke it… now what are you going to do to fix it?

Rey reached down, shoving her notebook into her bag before swinging it back onto her shoulder. With a new purpose in her step, she went out the nearest door, heading for the library.

She needed to find Ben and apologize, to try and make amends. It was the least she could do, the only right thing to do.

But when she arrived, their corner of the library was empty, tables and chairs untouched.

Debating, Rey rocked back on her heels, chewing her lip indecisively. He might have just left and headed home for the day, or he could have gone to get a drink or to another class and would be coming here after.

It wasn’t like she had anywhere to be, and even if he didn’t show up, she could go home knowing that she’d honestly tried her best.

Mind made up, she sat at her normal table, spreading her laptop and notebooks out. She’d wait for him, even if it meant she was here for the rest of the day.

Chapter Text

Ben had to sit in his car for ten minutes before he felt calm enough to drive, his hands shaking where they were balled into fists against his thighs.

He’d lost it back there with Luke, letting himself get pulled into an argument over something as stupid as his phone. And that was exactly what Luke wanted; for him to feel stupid and childish. He’d walked right into it like an idiot, his anxieties over Kira exploding in a rage that had taken every bit of his willpower to not unleash on his uncle.

His phone was burning a hole in his pocket but he knew that Kira still hadn’t messaged him back.

Trembling with lingering echoes of anger and the relentless anxiety in his stomach, Ben drove himself home slowly, hands carefully positioned on the steering wheel. He’d meant to go to the library after class but the thought of being around people right now had been an unbearable one.

Once safely in his apartment, he paced around, running his hands through his hair in agitation. He was a mess and he knew it, letting his uncle get to him like that, and the rage that had been so swift and hot that he’d scared himself. And, he’d nearly knocked over Rey. He’d seen the fear in her face, the way she’d tensed when he’d grabbed her, like she thought he was going to hurt her.

He’d try to find her tomorrow and apologize. It felt like that was all he’d been doing to her lately, saying sorry for being rude, for being socially uncomfortable, for bothering her.

A sour taste coated his mouth but he ignored it; he’d figure out how to make things okay with Rey in the morning, but right now, he needed to do something about Kira.

Taking a deep breath, he sat down on his couch and closed his eyes, trying to calm down and put himself in her shoes. She was a young woman, someone who was clearly a little shy and struggled with feelings of self-worth. Yet, she’d still reached out to him and he’d thought their conversations had been going well. He’d thought that she’d been hinting at wanting a picture of him and that they’d been talking long enough for it to not be weird for him to ask for hers.

Clearly, he’d misread something about the situation. He’d heard girls in his classes complaining about “creepy guys online wanting nudes”, so maybe Rey thought he’d meant something like that? That his message unintentionally came across as pushy or entitled, a thinly veiled, gross demand rather than the nervous question it had actually been?

Or, he realized with a sinking feeling, he’d just made her uncomfortable by asking at all. That hadn’t been his intention but perhaps he’d made her feel pressured, like she couldn’t say no because she looked up to him.

While he wanted to see her badly, more than he dared to admit, it wasn’t worth making her feel like she was being backed into a corner. He’d been an idiot and hadn’t thought this through, how his words might come across to her.

Regret twisted in his gut. He’d told himself that he wasn’t going to message her again but he needed to make this right, hating the thought of her feeling that way because he’d decided to be spontaneous and brave and, apparently, idiotic.


KyloRen

If you don’t want to talk to me right now, I understand. I just wanted to say how sorry I am for throwing something like that at you. It was too forward of me, and I really have no excuse other than the fact that I don’t really have any friends and crossed a line without realizing. Please know, it doesn’t matter to me how you look or anything like that. I just keep trying to imagine you laughing at my dumb jokes and it felt weird to have a blank face where yours should be. I never meant to sound so pushy or like you had to do anything that you weren’t comfortable with. I hope that you can forgive me.


He read it over a few times, not sure if it was right. Twice, he deleted the part about not having friends, not wanting to sound like he was trying to defend himself. In the end though, he added it back, thinking that at least he could explain why he’d thought it was okay to ask. He’d rather she thought he was a tactless idiot than an entitled jerk.

Making his finger hit the send button was hard, but once he did, he immediately felt better. At least now, he knew that he’d tried his best to fix things.

It was still early in the afternoon so Ben pulled his laptop out, working on brainstorming ideas for the scholarship writing piece. He thought he’d struggle to focus but actually, once he started working, it was too easy to get pulled into it and forget about his shitty day and all of the things weighing heavily on his mind.

After working for an hour, he decided that he was going to try and write a short story that took place in the universe of his story. A snapshot of The Knight’s life, of sorts. It would be familiar enough that the challenge of managing to do a short story worthy of winning the contest wouldn’t be so impossible.

He was so wrapped up in the plotting that when his phone buzzed on the couch next to him, he automatically ignored it for a solid five seconds, before realizing what he was doing and snatching it up.


KiraofJakku

I should apologize for not responding to you. I’m also not trying to make excuses but I really did mean to message you earlier today and got caught up in something. So I’m sorry for that, and for taking time to get my thoughts straight with this without saying anything to you

I just want to be honest though, I don’t think I’m ready for that yet. I know that’s probably weird of me but I promised myself when I joined this discord group that I wouldn’t talk myself into doing anything I wasn’t 100% comfortable with

I don’t want you to feel bad, I understand why you asked and don’t think you came across as pushy


Relief so strong that it made him almost nauseous, swept through Ben and he inhaled deeply through his nose to steady himself. He waited for a second to make sure she wasn’t typing anything else before responding.


KyloRen

Please don’t apologize, you have nothing to be sorry for. I will happily wait until you feel ready, even if that ends up being never. It means a lot that you’re being honest with me about this, I completely understand.


He almost typed out more about how he completely respected her and her decision but he didn’t want to lay it on too thick and make her even more uncomfortable. It felt like being calm about this was key right now, playing it off like it was no big deal. Which, it really wasn’t, now that he knew that she didn’t think he was some sort of creep.


KiraofJakku

Thank you for being so understanding. I’d really like it if we could just move past this?

By which, I just mean that I don’t want anything to be awkward between us now

Here, I’ll tell you a bit about myself, like one of those character building sheets haha  

I have boring brown hair, hazel eyes, and I guess I’m average height? I’m pretty much halfway to being a complete hermit, aside from my few close friends. I don’t mind people much but I like my peace and quiet, you know? I can speak a few different languages, from growing up in different foster homes, and uh… I like food?  

 

Ben laughed softly at that last part and relief at the fact that she was making an effort to put him at ease. Kira was just… well, wonderful was the first word that came to mind.

And all things considered, this was so out of the realm of what he’d expected to happen. He soaked up every single tidbit of information she gave him about herself, mentally cataloging it away. When he read hazel eyes, he immediately got a flash earlier, of Rey’s widened in shock and fear as he barreled into her, and guilt made him grind his teeth.

Tomorrow, he told himself firmly. He’d deal with it then.


KyloRen

I can relate to the hermit part, except I’m pretty sure I’m already there. I don’t even speak to my family much or have any friends and I’m pretty sure talking with the pizza guy doesn’t count. What languages do you speak? I only know a bit of Spanish from high school. And I never would have guessed that you liked food, how unique of you…


KiraofJakku

I say, embrace the hermit life. Socializing and going out in public is overrated  

And at least you still have your family there to talk to if you need them. I mean, it’s none of my business about your relationships between them but it must be nice still just to know that they’re there

I know Spanish, German, and a bit of Vietnamese. I only lived with the Vietnamese family for a few weeks so I only know basic stuff. And shut up, all food is delicious… well, almost all food  

Your turn now   tell me some things about yourself


It took him a minute to think of anything remotely interesting to share about himself. He just really wasn’t an interesting person, but she already knew that and she was still talking to him.


KyloRen

Hmmm. Well, I have brown hair too, though mine is dark. Brown eyes too, so if we’re having a boring contest, I win for sure. I’m definitely taller than average, but thankfully don’t have to duck through doors just yet. I don’t speak any extra languages but I did travel a lot when I was younger. And I’m not terrible at baking. I also like food, which is a strange coincidence.

 

Ben sent his message then relaxed against the couch, staring at his phone thoughtfully. What she’d said about his family, it stuck in his chest like a hard, painful splinter that he couldn’t shake free. He felt… well, he was feeling a lot of things; extremely lucky and happy, relieved and still a bit shaky from everything. But he also felt strangely regretful when he looked at her message and thought about the fact that she didn’t have any family to be there for her, whether she wanted them to be or not. That choice had been taken away from her.

Clinging to that feeling, he went over into his contacts, hitting the call symbol next to his mom’s name, not giving himself time to hesitate. The splinter in his heart wiggled its way in a little deeper, a physical ache from Kira’s words.

She answered almost immediately, undisguised worry coating her voice. “Ben, is everything okay?”

He winced, realizing how this looked when he couldn’t remember the last time he’d called his mother. “Nothing, everything’s fine. Sorry.”

The silence on her end spoke volumes, full of things left unsaid between them.

Ben cleared his throat uncomfortably, words sticking to his tongue as he tried to force them out. “I was actually calling because- well, I, uh… I was wondering if you wanted to get dinner tonight?”

Another pause. “Oh, that sounds lovely,” she finally said, and though she tried to play it off, he could hear the obvious surprise in her voice. “Did your plans get canceled for the evening? I thought you had a study group.”

That’s right, the made-up study group. “Uh, yeah, we moved it to a different day and I was thinking that I haven’t had time to see you for a while…” He let his sentence trail off since they both knew whose fault that was. “I could pick you up from work, if you’re still there?”

“Thank you, Ben, that would be nice. Your father gave me a ride today, so he was going to have to pick me up anyway. Did you want me to invite him with us?”

He didn’t, not even a little bit. Kira might have made him take the step to reach out to his mom, but it was a baby step, to test the waters of sorts. Having his father come along just increased the chance that this was going to be a complete disaster.

“I think I’d like it to just be us two, if that’s okay?” he told her, trying not to sound vehemently opposed to the idea.

“Of course,” she reassured him. “I’ll let him know not to worry about picking me up. What time were you thinking?”

They talked for a minute longer, figuring out all of the details and when he finally hung up, Ben felt considerably lighter. It had been so long since he’d made a move to see anyone in his family, mostly clinging to the bitter certainty that it wasn’t his job to fix things, that they were the ones who ruined their relationship in the first place. He had a feeling that Kira would be proud of him for being the better person though.

He needed to leave in a few minutes to pick him mom up in time from the next city over, but he checked his Discord messages first.


KiraofJakku

I’ve never seen someone move so quickly to declare themselves the winner of a boring contest haha you can have it  

Where is your favorite place that you’ve traveled to? I’ve hardly gone anywhere, though I’ve always wanted to travel around. My foster mom and I had plans before she got sick

And baking, huh? I wasn’t expecting that one. Where did you learn how? It’s all so exact and requires so much patience that I never even bother trying… and I always get yelled at for eating raw dough  


Baking with his grandma Padme were some of his earliest memories, and though he couldn’t remember her face anymore, thinking about her always conjured up the scent of jasmine and the warmth of gentle hugs and soft smiles. It always made him feel closer to her when he was in the kitchen, trying to perfect her recipes and clinging to the shreds of memories of her.

He thought that Kira might understand that feeling, trying to hold onto someone who was gone in whatever ways you could. But that would have to be a discussion for another time, because Leia would scold him the whole way to the restaurant if he was late.


KyloRen

Hold all of those thoughts, I have to go to dinner with my mother, but I’ll answer when I get back. I didn’t want you to think that I was ignoring you.


She responded immediately, before he could even put his shoes on.


KiraofJakku

No worries! Good luck!  Since you don’t see your family much, I’m guessing this is a bit stressful for you… just remember, if you hang in there, you get dessert at the end  


Shaking his head with a smile, he tucked his phone away, taking a second to bask in the warmth spreading through his chest.

 

---------------

 

Halfway through his dinner with Leia, Ben realized that he was actually having an okay time, and he paused mid-bite in surprise. There was a knot of pressure between his shoulder blades from being tensed up the whole drive there, but it was loosening with each minute that passed.

They went to one of his favorite restaurants from when he’d been younger, a family-run Italian place with freshly made pasta that made you want to never eat anything else. Walking in had been like entering a time capsule back to his childhood, the nostalgia flooding over him with every breath. Despite this being his first time back in years, the owner and his wife came out to greet them, and Ben realized with a sharp little ache behind his ribs that he didn’t know if Leia had kept coming here alone.

“So,” his mother said, and Ben’s stomach sank. They’d made it this far into dinner with safe topics, like her job and the classes he was taking, both of them carefully sidestepping any mention of Luke. He should have known it wouldn’t last. “Did you decide if you’re going to enter the competition or not?”

He swallowed his bite heavily. “No, I’m not,” he lied calmly, focusing on his food. “I decided I don’t have time for it, and after reading over, I don’t think it’s for me.”

Leia hummed thoughtfully, smoothing out the napkin that she’d carefully spread across her lap, the color almost perfectly matching her cream pantsuit. “Are any of your friends going to enter?”

That almost pulled a laugh out of him. Friends. “A few of them, I think,” he said evasively, not wanting to have to make up names on the spot. “I’m sure lots of people are excited about it.”

“And, do you have anyone in mind who you think will win?” she pressed, seeming genuinely curious. “Any of them have that spark in their writing?”

He wasn’t sure why he said it. If he just wasn’t focusing and answered automatically, or if a small, subconscious part of him wanted his mother to know that yes, he did have a real life, not imaginary friend.

“Kira.” The second her name slipped through, he wanted to suck it back in as Leia’s gaze focused on him with laser-like precision.

“A girl? I don’t think I’ve heard you mention her before,” she said, tone oh so deliberately casual. But, he could already see her jumping to conclusions, a little smirking smile curling at the corner of her lips.

Ben wanted to hit himself for being so dumb. “Just a friend, so stop it.”

“Stop what?” his mom asked innocently.

“You know what.”

He stared at her until she rolled her eyes, setting her fork down. “You’re so overdramatic, just like your father. Am I not allowed to be excited that you have a girlfriend?”

A noodle tried to choke him. “She’s not my girlfriend! Jesus, mom, she’s a friend who happens to be a girl. There’s a huge difference there.” His eyes were watering and he grabbed his glass to gulp down some water, hoping it would kill the flush spreading up his face that he knew she noticed.

She just waved her hand dismissively. “I’m not going to feel bad for being happy that you’re talking to a girl. The last one I know of was Natalie Jones from your seventh-grade math class.”

He groaned out loud. “Can we just move on, please?”

“You’re the one who brought it up,” Leia pointed out, giving him a knowing look. “But fine. So, this Kira, you think she’s going to win?”

Why the hell had he mentioned her again?

“She’s not entering,” Ben told her, pushing his food away; he’d lost his appetite. “I just meant that she’s a good writer. That’s all .” He put enough emphasis on the word that his mom’s eyebrows raised, but she dropped it.

The rest of their dinner conversation moved back to safer topics and he didn’t even end up getting dessert, too annoyed with himself to feel like he deserved it.

He drove his mom home, parking next to the front door as she grabbed her purse and jacket from the backseat.

“Are you sure you don’t want to come in?” she asked softly, on the edge of pleading. It hurt but he ignored it. “Your father would love to-”

“No,” he interrupted, not looking at her or the house, or the door where he knew his father would be waiting just on the other side of. “I need to get home. I have class in the morning and homework to do.” A hollow excuse that they both knew was a lie.

She smiled sadly at him, leaning over to kiss his cheek before he could turn away. Something hot lodged itself in his throat.

“Thank you for dinner, Ben.” Leia opened the car door, giving him one last look. “I’ve missed you.” She didn’t wait for a response, probably knowing that he wouldn’t have one, getting out and closing the door.

He waited for a second to make sure she got to the front porch, then drove off before he could see his father welcoming her home.

 

----------

 

“Hey! Hey, slow down!” A girl’s voice cut through the chilly fall air, exasperated and slightly out of breath. In the early morning campus, most people were hunched down in their coats and bleary-eyed, so the sound made almost everyone pause.

Ben wasn’t an exception and he turned around to see who she was yelling at, only to see Rey coming right at him, a determined expression on her face.

“Me?” he asked dumbly.

“Yes, you,” she said, smiling hesitantly, though it looked on the verge of slipping into a grimace. “I’ve been trying to get your attention since you passed the cafe.”

She had? What for? It was actually good that she was here, he had been planning on stopping by the cafe after class to see if she was working, so he could apologize again for the day before.

But she kept going, not giving him a chance to say anything. “You didn’t come to the library yesterday.” It sounded almost like an accusation and she flushed.

“I… went home?”

Her flush got deeper and she dipped her chin into her scarf, like she was trying to hide. “Oh. Yeah, okay. Obviously. I just- I was waiting and thought-” She shook her head. “Nevermind, it doesn’t matter.”

She’d waited for him? Ben blinked in confusion, feeling like he’d completely missed something. Was she going to chew him out for bumping into her yesterday?

Rey laughed, but it had a nervous edge to it. “Sorry, I’m making no sense. I was just trying to talk to you because I wanted to apologize.”

This was about yesterday then. “No,” he hurried to say, before she could get going again. “It was my bad, I wasn’t paying attention, and I didn’t mean to run into you. I should have-”

“Not for that,” she cut him off, biting her lip and glancing away. “Okay, well, that too. But I wanted to say sorry for being a jerk to you these last few weeks. I just- I feel bad about the whole thing and was hoping we could start over.”

It took all of Ben’s self-control to not physically take a step back in surprise and put some distance between himself and the pretty green eyes that were currently gazing up at him hopefully. Sure, she’d been a bit standoffish and called him out on being rude that one time, but besides that, he had no idea what she was talking about.

“Uh- yeah, I guess.” Her expression dropped slightly and he rushed to correct himself. “I mean, of course. You don’t need to apologize, I know that I’m-” Awkward. Unapproachable. Weird. “Well, I know how I come across. So, yeah, you don’t have anything to apologize for but sure, we can start over if you want.”

He completely bumbled his way through that but she looked pleased, gifting him a small smile that he couldn’t stop staring at.

“Okay, well then, I’m Rey.” She stuck her hand out, letting out a quiet, self-conscious sounding laugh. She was wearing mittens that looked like she’d knitted them herself, mustard yellow and a little ragged. “And I swear, I’m not usually so rude. Come into the cafe sometime and your next drink’s on me.”

Playing along, he hesitantly took her hand. Hers was so small that his grip nearly engulfed it, mitten and all. “I’m uh, Ben. Thanks, I have to get to class but I’ll come by after if you’re still working?”

She let go, adjusting her bag. “I’m there until noon.”

His class was over at eleven fifteen, so that was perfect. He knew his mom would whack him upside the head if she knew that he was letting Rey buy him a coffee, but she looked so eager, he couldn’t say no.

“I’ll stop by after then?” It came out as a question and he felt ridiculous but she just smiled again, rocking back on her heels.

“See you then,” she confirmed.  

Chapter Text

“You okay?” Rose asked, placing a gentle hand on Rey’s arm. “You seem a little antsy.”

Rey nodded. “Yeah, sorry. I’m good, just distracted.”

Since her apology this morning with Ben, she’d felt jittery and nervous, and the morning was going by so quickly. She hadn’t been planning on inviting him to get a drink, and even then, she wasn’t quite sure what the plan exactly was. Was he going to show up at the end of her shift to sit and chat with her, or just grab his drink and go after his class?

She’d thought back over their conversation a hundred times at this point and she still wasn’t sure.

“Want to talk about it?” Rose wasn’t being pushy, just lending an ear if Rey wanted to talk.

Biting her lip, she debated for a second. “I invited Ben Solo in to get a drink.”

Rose’s eyes lit up with surprise, though she quickly hid it. “Really? And why would you do that? I thought you were sworn enemies.”

Ignoring the last comment, Rey picked at a piece of tape on the edge of the counter, avoiding Rose’s eyes. “I apologized to him, for being rude these last few weeks. I realized I’ve been unfair and felt bad about it. And before you say it, I know you told me so.”

“I wasn’t going to say it!” Rose said, holding her hands up defensively, but she was grinning. “Going from hating his guts to asking him out on a date, I’m impressed.”

If she could, Rey would have burned her with her glare. “It’s not a date, don’t even say that.”

Her friend laughed, a teasing glint in her eye as she bumped her with her shoulder. “Hey, I’m just saying, he’s pretty cute. If it was a date, I wouldn’t be judging you.”

Rey spluttered, feeling her face heat and Rose cackled at the sight. Ben Solo might have a few attractive qualities, there was no denying it, but it wasn’t like she was paying attention to that.

A group of students came up to the counter, saving her from having to come up with a response. She and Rose took their order and made their coffees in silence, though her friend still had that silly grin plastered across her face.

“Really though,” she said once the drinks were finished, coming over to wrap an arm around Rey. “I’m proud of you. I know you can be a bit stubborn, and I love you for it, but I’m sure apologizing wasn’t easy for you. Ben seems like he could use a friend, and I happen to know for a fact that you’re a great one.”

Blushing, Rey ducked her head in embarrassment. “Thanks, but I wouldn’t call us friends . I’m just trying to get us on speaking terms right now.”

“You’ve got this,” Rose told her without hesitation. “That poor boy is probably already halfway in love with you.”

Rey rolled her eyes, not even bothering to respond to her ridiculous joke.

The rest of her shift flew by, a rush of students flooding in as classes got out. Rey’s entire focus became making lattes and espressos, pouring coffee and steeping tea bags. Time went by so quickly that when she and Rose finished with the rush, she was surprised to see Ben standing by the counter, hands shoved in his pockets and dark hair windswept.

“Oh, hey,” she said, glancing at the clock. It was a quarter to noon, so her shift wasn’t over yet; she didn’t know if she was disappointed or relieved.

He gave her a small smile that was tinged with uncertainty. “Hi. I didn’t realize that you guys got so busy in here.”

She shrugged, leaning her hip against the counter. “Most of these students are running off of a  pure caffeine diet and they need their fix. Similar to zombies and brains.”

To her relief, he let out a soft laugh, shoulders loosening up slightly. “Hordes of sleep-deprived college students are rather terrifying. You’re lucky to be alive.”

“The secret is to appear non-threatening and get them their drink before things turn violent,” Rey joked, liking how his face opened up when he smiled.

Rose came out of the backroom, a huge grin blooming across her face when she saw Ben. “Hey, how’s it going? Has Rey started your drink yet?”

“I was getting to it,” Rey said defensively, then looked to Ben.

He didn’t even bother glancing at the board. “Just a black coffee, please. For… here?” His dark eyes darted over to Rey.

Oh. Did that mean he wanted her to sit with him? A nervous flutter went through her, quickly extinguished by the fact that her shift wasn’t over yet.

“I’ve got it,” Rose said quickly. “Rey, you’re supposed to be off early, remember? Make yourself a drink then clock out. Ben, you might want to grab a table for you both before the next rush comes in.”

She was pointedly ignoring Rey’s stare, clearly far too pleased with herself and her meddling. When Ben looked at her nervously, rocking back on his heels, she sighed internally. She was supposed to be trying, and one conversation wasn’t going to kill her.

“See if you can grab one by the window,” she told him, making herself smile even though she was currently directing a whole slew of murderous thoughts at Rose. “I’ll bring our drinks over.”

He looked relieved as he nodded and headed towards an empty table, and it was a much-needed reminder that maybe Rey wasn’t the only one feeling uncertain or nervous about this whole thing. She was trying to make amends, but he didn’t owe her anything and he still came in to see her. Taking a deep, grounding breath, she tried to shove her anxiety down and out of mind.

“Before you snap at me,” Rose said quickly, “he clearly wants you to sit and talk with him. And you’d be mad later if you didn’t, so I was doing you both a favor. And-

“It’s fine,” Rey interrupted, and she meant it. Rose was right; she would have been mad at herself later if she’d used her shift as an excuse to avoid talking to him. “But, if I catch you eavesdropping, I’m telling Finn and Poe all about your weekend at the lake last summer. Just think of the endless teasing you’ll have to endure.”

Rose paled, looking vaguely ill. She’d gone with her sister to a weekend at a friend’s lake house and made some very questionable decisions with a few questionable guys, sending Rey drunken videos and messages along the way. Since then, she couldn’t even look at tequila without gagging. And although Rey had sworn never to share the events with their other friends, she didn’t feel bad pulling it out now so Rose knew she meant business.

“Fine,” she grumbled, giving Rey some sideways stink eye action. “You’re no fun.”

“And you’re obsessed with creating scenarios that don’t exist,” Rey pointed out. “Like this being a date. Which it’s not.”

Looking over to where Ben was seated, Rose lifted her eyebrows as he fidgeted, adjusting his jacket and brushing his hair out of his face. “Does he know that?”

Rey didn’t answer; obviously he knew that. At no point in time had she implied that this was a date of any sort.

She finished making herself a cup of tea, trying to cut back on her caffeine intake so maybe her sleeping schedule could get back on track, and grabbed Ben’s mug of coffee, carrying them over to the table.

Taking his drink gratefully, he blew on it, steam rolling over the edge of the mug like mist off of a cliff.

“Let me grab my bag real quick,” she told him, setting her tea down then heading to the backroom, undoing her apron.

She took a spare second after getting her bag from her locker to straighten her buns in the mirror hanging on the door, then felt silly and frowned at herself. Rose was messing with her head. This was not a date and she had no interest in it being a date. The only guy she’d want to go out with was currently probably a thousand miles away and she was too scared to even send him a picture.

Like she’d been doing for days, she forced the thought away determinedly. That path was not one that she needed to go down.

Back at the table, Ben was sipping his coffee, fingers tapping out an unsteady beat against the battered tabletop.

“Thanks for stopping by,” Rey said as she sat down across from him. “I never see you in here so I’m guessing this isn’t your usual coffee spot?”

He looked around sheepishly. “Is it rude if I say it’s not?”

“Depends; because of the coffee or the people making it?”

Ben’s eyes widened almost comically and she had to bite back a laugh. “Neither, definitely neither,” he said, rushing to explain. “It’s just a little out of my way and I always went to the one by the library, the one where there was the fire?”

“I’m just giving you a hard time,” she reassured him, feeling a little bad that she’d made him panic.

The tips of his ears went bright red where they were poking out of his dark hair. “Oh. Sorry, I’m uh, not used to-“ He paused, gesturing between them while he searched for the word. “Joking,” he finally finished, grimacing like he knew how bad that sounded.

But Rey understood; she’d never seen him chatting with people or walking with friends. Maybe he preferred to be a loner, but the fact that he came here to see her despite being obviously nervous, made her think that he was lonely. She’d grown up lonely, that weird girl with no family and secondhand clothes, with foster parents who forgot to pack her lunches or get her supplies for class. No one wanted to be friends with a girl who didn’t know how to talk to other kids and stayed inside at recess.

She’d grown up lonely and even now, with more friends than she ever thought she’d have, she still felt it sometimes. A hollow space in her chest that she covered up and tried to forget about, but every now and then, she still stumbled and fell in.

“Well, I’m terrible at making them,” she said lightly, returning his hesitant smile.

Rey maneuvered the conversation onto safer topics, like the classes they were taking and where they lived. After a few minutes, he lost the nervous hunch to his shoulders and his whole face opened up. Smiling and laughing, brown eyes alight, she couldn’t help but think that Ben was almost stunningly handsome.

Before she knew it, she glanced at the clock and realized her next class was starting in a few minutes.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, interrupting Ben’s explanation of why he didn’t have a favorite movie. “I didn’t notice the time and my class is about to start.”

He looked surprised, like he hadn’t been keeping track of time either. “Oh, don’t apologize.” Standing, he took her empty mug from her. “Here, I’ll take these back up, I don’t want you to be late.”

“Thanks, Ben.” Grabbing her bag and slinging it over her shoulder, she lingered for a second. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Rose watching them from the counter. “This was-” Well, it had been unexpectedly fun and she was surprised to realize that she enjoyed talking to Ben. She liked how animated he was when he talked, his soft, unexpected laughs, and his expressive eyes that made her feel like she was getting a peek into his mind. “This was nice,” she finally said, and she hoped that he could hear the sincerity in her voice.

A pink flush spread across his face as he met her eyes. “It was. I guess I’ll see you in class tomorrow?”

“Yep, see you then.” Rey made it two steps towards the door before she paused, looking over her shoulder. “You know, if you want to, you can sit with me and Rose. We don’t bite and it’s easier to nap during class at the back of the room.”

The second she said it, she winced internally, not wanting to make him feel pressured. But part of her thought that he must hate being up at the front, constantly under his uncle’s gaze and scrutiny.

To her surprise, he grinned, and her heart threw itself against her ribs. “I’d like that.”

 

-----------------

 

“How did your date go?” Finn called from the living room, the second Rey walked in the door.

She kicked off her shoes and stalked over, glowering at him. He laughed, recoiling into the couch and hiding his face against the cushion.

“It wasn’t a date,” she growled. “And I’m going to murder Rose. What did she say?”

He refused to say anything until she started whacking him with one of the couch pillows, demanding he tell her.

“Okay, okay,” he cried, holding his hands up. “She might have said that you two were making heart eyes at each other and Ben looked ready to get down on one knee and propose to you. But she said it was really cute!”

Rey was grinding her teeth so hard that her jaw was screaming in protest. “Listen here,” she snapped, pointing the pillow at him. “It was not a date. You guys can’t be like this any time I talk to a boy, it’s ridiculous and embarrassing.”

“But you never talk to boys, that’s the point!”

Rey could feel her blood boiling under her skin. She knew that they were only teasing her but she was tired of being treated like the little sister of the group. This was why she didn’t tell them about certain things in her life, things she knew they’d judge her for or be overprotective about.

“You don’t know anything about who I’m talking to,” she said, just to be mean, and because she knew that he’d lose his mind if he found out she was talking to a guy online.

Finn’s eyes nearly popped out of his head. “What does that mean? Wait- who are you talking to? Do you have a secret boyfriend?”

Rey just dropped the pillow and walked to her room, ignoring Finn yelling after her, demanding she come back and explain what she meant. Served him right.

And when her phone started vibrating a few minutes later with a flurry of texts from Rose and Poe, she put it on silent and went back to writing.



------------------

 

That Friday, Rey got home and wanted to collapse in bed and not move for at least twenty-four hours. But she’d already agreed last week to go out with her friends tonight, and there was no getting out of it.

Blooping alerts from Discord filled the room as she plopped on the couch, and she groaned, digging her phone out of her pocket.



CptnPhasma

Honestly, could you be any more obvious?  

I’m almost embarrassed for you right now, except I’m sure loverboy Kylo is eating it right up



KiraofJakku

Uh, what? Did I miss something?



She waited impatiently as Phas typed her response, nervousness twisting in her gut. Had something happened with Kylo in the writing group that she’d missed? No one knew they were talking besides Phas and Hux, so she wasn’t sure why she’d be brought up in whatever it was.



CptnPhasma

Yeah, okay, play dumb but I see right through you  

Your new chapter? Ven meeting the mysterious, yet irresistibly handsome man with no name? You know, totally not added in as a projection of Kylo

COUGH COUGH



Rey nearly choked, hacking and coughing as she sat up quickly. Squinting at her screen through watering eyes, she reread her messages to make sure she’d seen that right.

Yep, that actually said what she thought it said. What the hell was Phas talking about?



KiraofJakku

You’re kidding, right? Listen, just because I added in a potential love interest, does NOT mean it has anything to do with Kylo

Am I not allowed to want Ven to finally maybe get her first kiss? Or more?  

Listen, she has more than earned it



CptnPhasma

Hey, I’m all for our girl getting laid and you finally writing out some filthy smut  

It’s just quite a coincidence that you’re writing in a mysterious hunk now that you’re thirsting over Kylo  

I mean, it says something when even Hux connects the dots

I love him but he’s can be disturbingly oblivious  



No way that Hux said anything. Phas was such a drama queen, Hux was probably just agreeing with whatever she said because he knew better than to argue with her. Rey rolled her eyes, thinking that Phas would fit right in with her real-life friends; they were all too nosy for their own good and liked to think they knew everything.



KiraofJakku

Oh shut up, he did not  

It’s not a coincidence, it just felt right to add him in now with where the story is

It’s called storytelling  



Phas was typing before Rey even finished sending her second message.



CaptPhasma

He did! He turned to me and said, “Is this guy supposed to be Kylo?”

Ask him!

I’ll video call you right now and make him tell you  



Laughing, Rey shook her head in disbelief. Okay, maybe she’d admit that she could see why they’d think that, but that didn’t make them right. It was honestly just laughable that they thought this was about Kylo.

Though, now they were making her nervous; what if he read the latest chapter and thought the same thing? There was no way he would, right?

No, she told herself firmly. Kylo wasn’t deluded like her friends, and it was too late to change it anyway. She wasn’t going to let Phas and Hux make her second-guess this decision. To be honest, she’d never even written a sex scene, since she had no experience to go off of, but part of her was excited to give it a shot.



KiraofJakku

As much as I’d love to see your beautiful face, that’s not necessary. I believe you, but you guys are both ridiculous

I have to go get ready, my friends are dragging me out tonight  



CptnPhasma

Have fun! Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do  



KiraofJakku

I don’t think there’s very much you wouldn’t do



CptnPhasma

Exactly   



Grinning fondly, Rey put her phone on the charger then headed to her room. She needed to find something decent to wear before Rose got here and picked for her, which she had a tendency to do.

Before she could even make it out of the living room, there was a knock on the door, followed immediately by a bunch more.

“Rey,” Rose called, knocking harder. “Hurry up, I only have an hour to make you decent. Come on!”

When she opened the door, Rose was practically bouncing from foot to foot, a bulging bag hanging off of either arm, a huge grin on her face.

“Ready for your makeover?” she teased, slipping past her and into the entryway, not even pausing as she beelined for Rey’s bedroom. “I’m going to plug in the curler.”

Shaking her head, Rey closed the front door and followed, knowing that resistance was futile. To be honest, though she always groaned and acted like Rose was twisting her arm, Rey actually liked when she came over and did this. Whenever Rose would do her hair, it reminded her of being younger, sitting at the kitchen table, while Maz brushed out her tangles and put her hair in buns. And Rey had never really learned how to be girly, how to do her makeup or pick out clothes that fit her right, so Rose was a bit of a blessing in disguise.

There was just something undeniably nice about feeling pretty.

 

-------------

 

An hour later, Rey stood in front of the mirror, unable to hold back her small smile.

“You like?” Rose asked, wiggling her eyebrows.

“Yeah.” Twisting, Rey made an impressed face at how good her butt looked. “Booty on point, as Poe would say.”

Giggling, Rose reached over and fixed the strap of her dress where it had slipped. “If my butt was half as perky as yours, I’d be showing it off every day.”

“Well, your boobs are bigger, so we’re even.” Rey definitely hadn’t been blessed in the chest, but she’d never had an issue with being smaller. A perfect handful, she always told herself. But Rose had forced her into a push-up bra and a low cut dress tonight and Rey had to admit, they were looking pretty damn good.

Rose saw her looking and grinned triumphantly. “You can keep that bra, it’s too small for me.”

“Wow, thanks,” Rey teased, but she wouldn’t be giving it back.

When they walked out into the living room, Poe and Finn whistled appreciatively as Rose did a little spin and Rey just rolled her eyes, always embarrassed when they did this.

The two of them were looking great too, which meant that Poe had picked out their outfits for the night. They didn’t get a chance to go out together often, with all of their crazy schedules, but they usually dragged Rey to a club the next city over. It was a pretty popular spot for college students and though the atmosphere and loud music usually made Rey anxious, they had decent drinks.

“Blue is such a good color on you,” Poe complimented, checking out Rey’s dress.

“Yeah,” Finn agreed. “You look great… hoping Ben Solo’s going to make an appearance?”

The three of them snickered like they hadn’t been making jokes all week. It had gotten old after the first day, but Rey was just getting used to ignoring them at this point.

She’d hadn’t even really seen Ben much this week. With the end of the month coming up, which meant bills and an empty bank account, Rey had picked up as many extra shifts at the cafe as she could. That meant no library time after class, so no chatting with Ben. And even though he sat with her and Rose in class now, Professor Skywalker had been working them to death, leaving no time for talk outside of essays and assignments.

Just through their time spent together in class, Rey was learning more about Ben. He had a quiet sort of intelligence about him, almost apologetic with his ideas and suggestions when he gave them, even though they were always great. And he was slowly becoming less shy, despite always shutting down when his uncle came near.

Rey experienced a vicious sort of satisfaction every time she pulled up the memory of the sour look on Professor Skywalker’s face when she greeted Ben loudly the day after their coffees together, then asked if he was going to come sit with her and Rose.

“Ha, ha,” she deadpanned. “It’s crazy, one hundred Ben jokes later and you still aren’t funny.”

Finn put a hand over his heart dramatically. “You wound me.”

“Not yet, I haven’t,” she muttered, making Poe and Rose crack up with laughter.

They made it to Finn’s car without anyone getting punched, though it was a near call after Poe announced that Rey wasn’t wondering if Ben was going to show, since she was already hiding him in her cleavage.

Safely in the backseat, Rey pulled out her phone and sent a message to Kylo.



KiraofJakku

My friends are dragging me out to a club tonight  

Wish me luck and remind me that murdering them for being idiots would not be a good start to my night



His Discord icon said he was online, and sure enough, he responded almost immediately.



KyloRen

Unless you’re confident you could get away with it, I would definitely recommend against it. Have fun though, and stay safe.



Rey was planning on drinking tonight, since it was impossible to say no to Poe, and she liked letting go every now and then. Not to mention that the alcohol helped calm her nerves when they were out. But Finn was the designated driver and she always felt safe to drink, knowing that he was watching out for her. Still, it was sweet that Kylo cared.



KiraofJakku

Will do! I’ll probably message you tomorrow sometime with a wretched hangover, so prepare yourself  

 

Rose was not so subtly trying to peek at Rey’s phone so she tucked it away, zipping her bag up.

“Not a good idea,” Rose whispered, leaning in so the boys couldn’t hear them.

Rey glanced down at her purse in confusion. “What?”

“You had a dorky grin on your face, which means you were either thinking about texting Ben or you already did,” her friend explained, like it was obvious. “I wouldn’t recommend that, not when you’re going out drinking with friends. Before you know it, you’ll be sending him grungy bathroom selfies and confessing that you daydream about touching his butt.”

“I do not daydream about his butt,” Rey hissed, glad the car was dark so no one could see her red face. And it wasn’t like she could admit that she’d been messaging a different guy. “Thanks for the advice, but I’d never do something so stupid.”

Rose didn’t look convinced, arching a slender eyebrow. “Mhmm, we’ll see.”

Chapter Text

         

 _______________________________________________________

 

Ben had just settled into bed for the night when his phone started booping at him, one notification sound after another. The only person who would be messaging him was Kira, so he rolled back over, snatching up his phone and squinting his eyes against the bright light as the screen lit up.

He was acutely aware of just how pathetic it was that excitement jolted through him every time she messaged him, he just didn’t care.

 

KiraofJakku

Hey so I might be a litttle drunjk

drumk

DRUNK

Ughh sorry  

Im messaging you for a reason I swaer

I was thinking about you

And

I just want to saay you are awesome  

 

Warm affection blossomed in Ben’s chest at her messages, even as he wanted to laugh at her terrible typing. It stunned him that she was out with her friends and thinking about him, that he was on her mind at all outside of their interactions.

It was just so…sweet.

 

KyloRen

Thank you, Kira, you’re awesome too. And also probably more than a little drunk, unless your thumbs have randomly tripled in size. If that’s the case, please have someone give you a ride to the hospital.

 

KiraofJakku

Omg dont make me laugh

I loook like a weirdo  

 

A blurry photo loaded in a second later and Ben’s heart skipped a beat in his chest, before picking back up twice as fast. They’d never sent pictures to each other, not once. He tapped the image, opening it on his screen.

It was slightly blurry, and showed a slender hand, fingers spread out across a bright white surface of some sort, maybe her table.

Her next message appeared at the top of his screen.

 

KiraofJakku

See my thumbs are fine   

 

He wanted to laugh but his chest was strangely tight. Her fingers looked so slim and elegant, her wrist so delicate, and though it was just a hand, there was something so stunningly feminine about it.

His own fingers flexed against the covers and he had a feeling that if they were to hold hands, his would engulf hers. They’d probably be soft and gentle, brushing against his skin or stroking through his hair.

A minute passed as he allowed himself to think about it, just because it was late and he was alone in the quiet darkness of his bedroom, and he could deny having such thoughts in the morning. Then he realized that she was waiting for a response and reluctantly went back to the chat page.

 

KyloRen

What a relief, I was really worried that you were suffering from a made-up medical condition. Are you having a good time?

 

KiraofJakku

I acutally am

They have this drinks and theyre soooo tasty  

And the music isnt garbage

It is

But it isnt  

 

Two more pictures followed her message and Ben’s hand were shaking with excitement, absurdly thankful that Kira had ended up going out with her friends.

The first one was of a few glasses filled with a neon blue drink, almost fluorescent looking and honestly a little terrifying. He wasn’t sure what he thought about putting something that was that shade of unnatural blue in his body.

And the second photo was blurry, even worse than the one of her hand, but it looked like a shot of the club dance floor, streaks of multicolor lights blurred across his screen and a mass of people in one clump.

Ben couldn’t help but grin at his phone, loving that she was sending him these and trying to include him in her fun night out, in her own way. He had never been to a club and hadn’t ever really wanted to; the thought of being in such a crowded place, loud and hot and cramped, made him grind his teeth. But the thought of going to one with Kira, trying alarmingly neon colored drinks and dancing together, having to lean in really close to hear her laugh over the music…he found that he didn’t hate the idea so much.

 

KyloRen

I won’t lie, I’m a little scared of those drinks. But it looks like you’re having a good time, I’m glad. Are you still with your friends?

 

He had told himself he wasn’t going to ask, but he couldn’t ignore the little twist of worry in his stomach at her being so intoxicated in a club full of people. One of her friends was probably keeping an eye on her and she wasn’t a child, but he had to make sure or he’d be up all night, waiting for her to let him know that she got home safely.

 

KiraofJakku

I think i am having a good time   

And yep

My bestie dressed me up so shes not leaving my side

She wants to see my boobs in action  

 

Ben blinked. What? Was that a typo?

Another photo loaded in and he shot up in bed, nearly dropping his phone. The sudden grip of nervousness and anticipation around his lungs left him breathless.

It was her.

Or at least, he assumed it was. He was so overwhelmed and surprised, not knowing where to look first.

Because he was only human, his eyes couldn’t help but stray to her chest, at the soft curves revealed by a low neckline. His mouth was suddenly dry, the beat of his heart almost painful against his ribs.

Her face wasn’t visible, the picture cutting off right at her chin, but he could still see the line of her jaw, and soft brown curls brushing against her throat and the edge of her delicate looking collarbone. The slender column of her neck led to bare shoulders, colored lights kissing the curve of them from the dancefloor behind her.

She was stunning, breathtakingly beautiful even without seeing her face.

It was like putting together the first few pieces of a puzzle and already knowing that by the time it was complete, it was going to be a work of art.

Ben knew that she was waiting for him to respond, but he gave himself another minute to study her picture. Part of him felt guilty that she’d clearly just sent this because she was drunk, but he couldn’t help but feel like his night had ended up unexpectedly wonderful.

Also unexpected was the curl of heat unfurling low in his stomach as he studied all of her curves and exposed skin.

Unbidden, the thought of brushing his lips along the shape of her shoulder, silky skin beneath his mouth and her hair against his cheek, rose in his mind. He shuddered in his bed, a tingle slipping its way down his spine.

He’d never been…intimate with anyone before. The desire was there, to be close to someone physically and emotionally, but he’d never had the opportunity to know someone that he wanted to share that with. Ben was a lonely creature, resigned to his fate of coming home to his empty apartment and cold bed. He told himself that there could be contentment to be found in living this way, but he had yet to make himself believe it.  

The surge of yearning that went through him, gazing at Kira’s photo, was unlike anything he’d ever felt, swift and scorching.

This. This was why he couldn’t feel happy with this solitary lifestyle, no matter how much he tried. He just knew, deep down, that there was someone out there for him. Someone who could make him feel alive.

His fingers trembled as he made himself minimize the photo, typing out a quick response to distract himself from the things he shouldn’t have been feeling.

 

KyloRen

You look very nice, and well suited for a club.

 

He sent the message then read it over, cursing at himself. Well suited? Who the hell even says that? Could he sound any more stiff and awkward?

God, he was so flustered.

Raking a hand through his hair, Ben leaned back into his pillows, trying to calm himself down. Too many things were going on right now, and he was going to make himself look like an idiot in front of Kira if he didn’t pull it together and get his brain to work. He wished he could have gotten a warning earlier that this was going to happen so he would have had time to figure out what to say.

Finally, after a minute that felt like an hour, his phone went off.

 

KiraofJakku

Thanks but its just the booobs

Trust me they made a big difference

Why isnt there a boob emoij  

Emoji

Can I ask for one

Im going to email the phone people

They have one for dicks and buttts

  

This is a discrimination   

 

A huff of laughter left Ben’s mouth, loud in the quiet of his bedroom. He had a feeling that she was not going to be pleased when she woke up tomorrow and saw their conversation.

Before he could respond, more messages appeared.

 

KiraofJakku

Ooops gotta go

Im caught  

Not supposed to be on my phone

Byee!!!

 

Oh.

Ben tried to not let himself feel disappointed, not when he’d gotten so much more than he ever could have expected tonight. Still, it settled heavily in his stomach as he stared at his phone, reluctant to put it away and call in a night.

He didn’t want to let her go just yet.

 

—————

 

Kira didn’t message him back until almost noon the next day. Not that he’d been waiting.

 

KiraofJakku

Oh my god, I don’t even know what to say

I’m just…I’m mortified beyond words 

I am so, so sorry that you had to see that. And talk to me while I was so drunk. And you were so nice to me when I was being such an idiot

Please forgive me, I can’t tell you how awful I feel

 

He wished he could tell her that he had found it cute, and how he’d stayed up late thinking about her picture and how their conversation might have continued if she hadn’t said goodbye so early.

Ben always considered himself an honest person but telling the truth was suddenly a terrifying thought.

 

KyloRen

There’s nothing to forgive, you don’t need to apologize. Getting to talk to you was a pleasant surprise for sure.

 

KiraofJakku

God, you’re being so nice even now when I definitely don’t deserve it. Thank you 

I am really sorry though, I just don’t even know what I can say to make this not awkward

And listen, I’m also sorry about uh…the picture and talking about my body like that, I can’t image how uncomfortable that was for you

I’m really scrambling for something to say right now  

Just know that I’m not like that, sending pictures of myself to strangers online and stuff

 

He knew that she didn’t mean anything of it, but the smallest twinge of hurt rattled in his chest.

Pushing aside the strangers comment, he considered how to make her feel at ease or reassure her that he wasn’t upset without making her feel uncomfortable. He knew that she struggled with seeing herself in a positive light and imagined that was the real issue here; not feeling bad about bothering him, but afraid that his opinions of her had changed.

Nothing between them had changed except for the desire that he was struggling to keep out of his mind, and she didn’t know about that. She clearly had no idea how much her picture had affected him.

 

KyloRen

Really, you don’t have to apologize. I knew that you were drinking and it didn’t bother me. Honestly, I was a little touched that you wanted to talk to me during your night out, it was sweet of you. I wasn’t lying when I said it was a pleasant surprise. As for the picture, the only thing I was uncomfortable about was knowing that you might regret sending it in the morning.

 

Nervousness made Ben clench his jaw, teeth aching under the pressure. That last line might have been too much, but it was too late to take back now.

 

KiraofJakku

Thank you, Kylo. I should have known you wouldn’t judge me for something so dumb, I just woke up in a bit of a panic  

I guess I need to remember that cleavage and shots are not a good combo for me haha

Seriously though, it might take me a bit to get over this embarrassment 

So if you wanted to mortify yourself in front of me sometime, please feel free  

 

Ben smiled, glad to see that she was making jokes. He could completely understand where she was coming from though, his brain loved to fuck with him and relive embarrassing moments all the time, stupid things that no one probably thought twice about but haunted him to this day. If he’d been in Rey’s shoes, he wasn’t sure if he’d be brave enough to even message her again.

As it was, he’d already felt strange all morning while waiting for her to reach out. The unexpected emotion he’d felt last night had woken up with him, a restless heat in his stomach. Bouncing between shame and desire had thrown him into this strange sort of limbo where he was struggling to not feel sorry for himself.

It would be just his luck that first girl he was remotely interested in would be someone he could never meet.

 

—————

 

Monday came too quickly, the weekend gone in a blur that left Ben wondering what he’d even done with his time.

He got to the college early and decided to grab a coffee and head to the library. An essay was due for Luke’s class today and though he’d finished it last night with plenty of time to spare, he wanted to give it one last look over with fresh eyes. He’d only have himself to be mad at if he gave his uncle any excuse to get on him about something.

To his surprise, Rey was in his corner of the library, laptop open and headphones in. She hadn’t been working when he’d stopped by the cafe to grab his drink, but he assumed she just had the morning off. Though he supposed there was no such thing for a college student.

He felt himself perk up a little at the sight of seeing her though. She was so easy to spend time with, conversation flowing between them in a way that he didn’t really experience with people. By some miracle, she didn’t mind that he was awkward or put his foot in his mouth, and always sidestepped potentially uncomfortable topics with ease. She hadn’t once questioned him about Luke or the rest of his relatives, and never offered any information about her own, so maybe she knew a thing or two about difficult families.

And as much as he enjoyed their conversations, silences with her were always comfortable too. They’d ended up working together in their corner of the library a few times, sharing snacks and the occasional sigh of frustration while rushing to finish up essays. Those times never made him feel pressure to fill the quiet, he just enjoyed her company and the simple companionship of working next to someone.

Ben thought that they might be friends. He wasn’t exactly sure at what point you went from being acquaintances to actual friends, but he thought that they might be there. At least, he wanted them to be.

She didn’t notice him as he came over, eyes locked on her computer screen and head bobbing slightly like she was listening to music.

Looking at her screen wasn’t intentional, but as he stopped alongside her, he couldn’t help but notice out of the corner of his eye. A familiar logo stared back at him, for the website where he posted his story. Rey jolted in her seat and quickly minimized the screen but he could feel the surprise on his face and couldn’t hide it fast enough for her to not notice.

Yanking her headphones out, she stared at him with wide hazel eyes, cheeks slowly turning pink.

“Hi,” he said, slowly going around the table and setting his bag down, taking a seat. He was trying to take a second to get his thoughts straight and not just blurt something out while she was obviously embarrassed.

“Hey.” Her voice was cautious and she tucked her hair behind her ears in a quick, nervous motion. “I was just uh, going to work on that essay due later.”

Ben nodded, pulling out his laptop to give her a chance to collect herself. “Same here.”

She didn’t respond and an awkward silence settled over them. Watching her over his screen, he debated whether to just let it go, but curiosity was eating at him. To think that Rey might share a hobby with him was strangely thrilling.

“You know,” he started, eyes fixed on the corner of his computer, “I actually write online a bit.”

He’d been so focused on Rey’s reaction that he hadn’t realized that he’d never said that out loud until the words were out of his mouth. It felt strange to tell someone, especially someone whose opinion he actually cared about.

She looked up, her turn to be surprised. “Oh, really?”

“I mean, I am in a creative writing class with you, it can’t be that big of a shock,” he joked, feeling triumphant as a small smile curled at the corners of her lips. “But yeah, just in my free time. Do you, or…?”

Rey glanced down, biting her lip. “I was just reading something.” She hesitated, still not looking at him. “I don’t think I’m a good enough writer to share online or with the people in my life.”

He was honestly shocked to hear that. There was always this subtle aura of confidence around Rey, like she had nothing to hide and would never hold back when speaking her mind or sharing things about herself. Not to mention, he’d read her writing in class before and knew just how talented she was.

“I think you’re more than good enough,” he told her honestly. “But sharing online to strangers is weirdly-“ He searched for the word, not wanting to sound pretentious. “ Vulnerable. So I can understand not feeling comfortable with that.”

Something in her expression looked sad, and Ben immediately felt guilty for bringing it up. For all he knew, this was a sensitive subject for her that he’d blundered right into.

“Sorry,” he murmured. “I didn’t mean to-“

“No, don’t apologize.” She cut him off quickly, shaking her head. “I was just thinking that it must be nice to feel confident about your writing and sharing it with others. I suppose that I’m just a little jealous.”

He laughed, thinking it was funny to sit here and realize that they were both perceiving each other as more confident than they were.

“I’m honestly not,” he said, smiling at her a little sheepishly. “You’re actually the first person I’ve told about it.”

Rey’s eyes widened and for a split second, she looked almost…guilty? He wasn’t sure what he said to upset her so he rushed to correct himself.

“But, it’s okay to be uncertain about what you’re writing. I think half of any creative process is self-doubt and uncertainty.” It was definitely true for him, one of the reasons that it took him so long to post new chapters was because he spent so much time second guessing where he was taking the story and if he was conveying things they way that he wanted. “If you ever did want to share something though, I’d always be happy to read it. If you wanted.”

Her face lit up like the sun coming out on a dreary day and something jerked in his chest. She was beautiful when she smiled.

“Thank you, Ben,” she said softly. “I might take you up on that sometime.”

Chapter Text

Rey shot upright in her seat, blinking furiously as she tried to shake off the sleepiness clinging to her brain like cobwebs and collect her scattered thoughts.

“Sorry,” Ben said sheepishly, setting his bag on the table. “I didn’t mean to startle you.”

She yawned, waving off his apology. “You’re good, I must have dozed off. I was up late working on my scholarship essay.”

The look he gave her was faintly disapproving and she knew that he’d noticed the dark circles under her eyes. She was stressing though, the essay submission date was barreling towards her and she wasn’t near finished yet. After doing lots of research on what kind of essay was expected for a scholarship, she’d finally settled on a generic topic; how she wants her writing to affect people. It was hardly the most riveting thing to write about, and though part of her really wanted to do a short story, it felt safer to do something more academic, something they’d actually want to read.

It hadn’t helped her nerves that Ben was doing the complete opposite. When she asked, he’d told her he was doing a piece from a story he posted online, and though he offered to let her read it, she’d declined. All her hopes would fly right out the window if she read his, she knew it.

Talking to him about it had been strange at first, but since she’d seen how his uncle treated him, she’d realized she knew next to nothing about his home life. Maybe he needed this scholarship just as much as she did.

“I’ll be glad when it’s over, just so I know you’ll actually get some sleep,” he muttered, rifling around through his bag. A second later, he was settling a wrapped burger down in front of her, the smell making her mouth water.

She glared at him but he just shrugged, the smallest of smiles curling at the corners of his mouth. “What? They gave me two.”

“That’s usually what happens when you buy two.” She scowled but unwrapped the burger, stomach growling loudly as she ignored the pointed look that Ben gave her.

Ever since she let it slip one afternoon last week that she’d forgotten breakfast and lunch, he’d made it his personal mission to feed her. Despite her protests and explaining that it was no big deal, that she went all the time without eating, he’d marched right out of the library and bought her a sandwich. Now, he showed up at the library every day with extra food he’d packed or the place he’d grabbed lunch from conveniently gave him extra portions.

She hated the thought of being his charity case, but he refused to back down. It turned out that Ben Solo was surprisingly stubborn.

“Thanks,” she mumbled around a mouthful of delicious food. He just smugly offered her some of his fries, pulling his laptop out of his bag with his other hand.

“Are you almost finished with your essay?” He glanced at her as he booted up his laptop, a look of satisfaction crossing his face when he saw that half of her burger was already gone.

Rey nodded, snagging another fry. “Yeah, nearly there. I think I’ll finish by the end of the week and have a bit of time to edit before I submit.”

“I doubt you’ll need it.”

When she rolled her eyes, he just arched a dark eyebrow. “What? I’m just saying, I’ve edited for you in class and I never have anything to do. You’re one of those people who just nails it on the first try.”

Flushing, she wasn’t sure how to respond. Ben was always very unrestrained with his compliments, this endearing sort of honesty in the way he said them. She found herself liking it more than she wanted to admit.

Watching him now, absentmindedly pushing his dark hair out of his face as he read something on his screen, a heavy feeling settled on her chest. Her friends had been getting to her lately with their relentless teasing about her and Ben’s friendship, messing with her head. They’d gotten close over the last few weeks and it made her feel a little strange when she was still trying to figure out her feelings for Kylo.

Ever since she’d been an idiot and sent that drunken picture, and Kylo had dropped a few hints that he hadn’t minded, things had been a bit strange between them. She felt stupid for thinking it but she swore there was some sort of tension, an undercurrent to their discussions now. And the more she tried to figure it out, the more certain she became that she actually liked him.

The problem was, she had no idea what to do with that realization.

Trying to start a relationship with him would bring nothing but pain. If she wasn’t brave enough to send a picture of herself, video chatting was off the table too. And what guy would date a girl when he had no idea what she even looked like? And that was if she was being optimistic and considering the idea that he didn’t immediately reject her and cut off their friendship.

It was clear to Rey that she and Kylo had compatibility and connection; but she still craved a physical aspect, to be held and touched, to feel desired and wanted. She could never have that in an online relationship, she knew that.

Her dreams for the last week had her waking up hot and sweating, clinging to fading images of dark hair and gentle hands, skin against skin. It was getting a bit ridiculous.

More than anything, she wished that she could talk to Rose about this. She was much more experienced than Rey, which wasn’t saying much since she’d never actually been in a relationship before, and she could help her figure out what to do.

Rey hadn’t realized she’d groaned out loud until Ben looked at her questioningly. “Everything okay?” he asked. There was concern in his eyes, a softness that somehow made her feel even worse.

“Yeah, sorry.” She bit her lip, twisting a strand of her hair around her finger in frustration. “People can just be really difficult, you know?”

He gave her a rueful smile. “Why do you think I don’t talk to anyone?”

Snorting quietly, Rey shook her head. “Going full hermit might be a bit too extreme for me. Besides,” she pointed out, “you talk to me.”

“Yeah, well-“ He looked away, suddenly interested in something on his screen. “You’re different.”

Automatically, she flinched at the word. All her life, people had called her that like it was something dirty, something to be ashamed of. Her clothes were different, her hair was different, the way she was so shy and quiet was different. She discovered at an early age that no one really liked different.

Ben must have seen something in her face because guilt immediately filled his eyes. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean-“

“It’s fine,” she cut him off, shoving back the memories of cruel children and crueler parents, telling them to avoid her because ‘there’s something different about that girl.’ Like whatever it was about her was infectious. “I know you didn’t, I was just remembering something.”

He always got this look, like he could see everything she wasn’t saying. Now was no exception, the understanding on his face never failing to make her feel a little less alone. It always made her think that she and Ben had more in common than their love of writing.

“I get it,” he said softly. “I just meant that you were kind to me when no one else was. To the awkward weirdo that no one wants anything to do with.”

She reached over and grabbed his hand before she could stop herself, his fingers warm beneath her own. “Hey, don’t talk about yourself like that. They just don’t know you. Look at Rose, and Finn and Poe, they all think you’re great. I think you’re great. And really, my opinion is the only one that matters so…”

Like she’d hoped, he laughed, though a red flush was spreading down his face, disappearing under the collar of his shirt. “Right, I forgot about that,” he murmured. “My bad.”

“I’ll give you a pass just this once,” she teased, then realized she was still holding onto his hand and let go quickly. Clearing her throat, she turned back to her food.

When she peeked back over at him a minute later, he was already looking at her. Unable to help herself, a small smile spread across her face.



—————



Later that night, Rey settled into her bed, laptop open and on her thighs. She was supposed to be sleeping since she had an early shift at the cafe in the morning, but she'd been trying to get this chapter started all day. It just wasn’t happening though, and she was getting more and more frustrated.

It was unfairly easy for some people, those writers who knew exactly what they wanted to happen and just got the words down, no problem. Meanwhile, it took Rey days to figure out what her next chapter was even going to be about and then she just sat there like an idiot, unable to make the words come.

Kylo was one of those people, and he always made it sound so simple. For him, it was all ‘visualizing what you want to happen’ and ‘letting the words come naturally’, and other assorted tips that were zero help to Rey.

Like her thoughts had summoned him, a Discord message from Kylo appeared on her screen.



Kylo Ren

Hey, you’re up kind of late. Are you working on something?



Sighing, Rey minimized the document that was still just as blank as it had been this morning. It had been a few chapters since she’d introduced Ven’s traveling companion and love interest, the nameless man, and he’d been well received so far. When Ven had asked him what she was supposed to call him, he’d told her whatever she wanted. So after much deliberation, she’d decided on ‘Prince’, partially after the crowned falcon whose feathers were the same dark shade as his eyes, but also to tease him. Since day one, she’d given him a hard time for his near perfect manners and sophisticated way of speaking.

Her readers had immediately started arguing over ship names, and Rey had grinned like an idiot for at least twenty minutes when she first saw it. She’d never made anyone invested in a relationship before.

The problem was, her new chapter was supposed to be Ven and Prince finally coming together, some “smutty goodness”, as Phas called it. But Rey couldn’t seem to make her fingers type out the words. She was completely and utterly at a loss for where to start.



KiraofJakku

Hey, yeah, I’m struggling right now. Total writer’s block for this new chapter

Blech  



KyloRen

That’s rough, you want to talk it out with me? Maybe I can help you get over whatever you’re stuck on.



Halfway through typing out her polite decline of his help, Rey paused. She was always internally moaning and feeling sorry for herself for not having anyone to bounce ideas off of and here he was offering to help.

She bit her lip, uncertain about asking him for help with this particular topic. Then again, they were both adults and friends, she shouldn’t have to feel embarrassed to talk about a sex scene with him. If he had a problem with her writing it, that was his issue; she wasn’t going to be ashamed of it. Writing was supposed to be fun and if she wanted to have two of her characters have sex, she was going to do it, damn it.




KiraofJakku

Actually, that would be great  

I’m trying to write my first smut scene and I’m not sure of how to really start, you know?

I’ve never written one before  



KyloRen

Oh, well, I’m not sure that I can help much. I’ve never written one either. Maybe just start with what feels natural. I suppose you could just pull from your own experiences.



Fingers hovering over her keyboard, Rey felt nerves twist in her stomach. Being a virgin wasn’t something that she thought Kylo would judge her for, and it wasn’t something she was necessarily embarrassed by, but for some reason, it was still hard to type out the words.



KiraofJakku

Well, that’s probably part of the problem…

I don’t have any experience to pull from  



KyloRen

I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to assume. Really, I feel terrible, that was a jerk move.



KiraofJakku

No, don’t apologize!

Honestly, it’s totally fine. Most people assume and I get it  

But as you can see, it’s a little difficult when I’m not really sure...

Well, not sure of what I like, you know?



She really wasn’t upset with him, they’d never discussed this before and his assumption that she had experience with someone was understandable. She’d kissed a boy or two growing up, but her life had just been too hectic. With Maz getting sick and then going to college and juggling work on top of her classes, she just hadn’t found the time to forge a connection with anyone.

They were just talking, but Rey’s heart was racing suddenly. That tension she’d thought she was feeling between them recently was suddenly back in full force, like they were dancing around something.



KyloRen

I get it, really. To be honest, I don’t have any experience either. So we’re in the same boat here.



She thought her jaw might have actually dropped. Now who was the jerk; making assumptions. It was just…she didn’t know what he looked like but she knew his heart and his personality and it was hard to believe that he hadn’t found someone to share that with. Or, if she was being honest, that girls weren’t fighting each other to get with him.



KiraofJakku

I guess we are…well, maybe if we combine our inexperience, we can figure this out   haha 



As soon as she sent the message, she regretted the winky face. Phas would have congratulated her on being so flirty but it was really toeing the line here. Yet, even as she regretted it, a little thrill of excitement shot through her.

It took him a minute to get back to her, a minute that she spent fidgeting and chewing on the corner of her nail.



KyloRen

I’m happy to try to help, though I make no promises. If you think you’re inexperienced, I promise that I’m even more so.



KiraofJakku

Hey, no judgment from me!

I appreciate the help though    maybe we just start at the beginning? I’m thinking they’re at their campfire for the night and have an emotional moment with Ven being shaken up over the death of that woman from the previous chapter. Prince is comforting her and kiss time  

Or is that too cheesy? 



She couldn’t believe that he’d agreed to help, almost as much as she couldn’t believe that she was messaging him about this. While she waited for his answer, she put her laptop on her bedside table, switching to her phone and leaning back against her pillows.



KyloRen

It’s definitely not too cheesy. I feel like Prince should be the one to kiss her though. As in, he’s the one who instigates.



KiraofJakku

Oh really, how come?

I don’t disagree, I’m just curious



KyloRen

I just feel like he’s been thinking about her a lot. And then just sitting next to her while they’re having a soft moment, looking at her in the firelight…he wouldn’t be able to stop himself from giving into those feelings.



Rey’s breath caught and she reread each word slowly, letting it settle in her mind. Closing her eyes briefly, it was like she could feel the heat of the fire on her face, the gentle touch of fingers against her skin, turning her face until she felt a soft breath on her lips.

A tremble slipped down her spine, tingling at the tips of her toes.



KiraofJakku

You seem like you have a good understanding of him and what he’s thinking

Ven would definitely like it if he made the first move since she’s a little shy and afraid to tell him her feelings  

How would he kiss her? Do you think he’d be soft and slow, or really passionate right away?



KyloRen

He would hold himself back at first, to make sure that she was okay with it. But once she returned the kiss, he’d let go and try to show her how much he wants her and how much he cares.



KiraofJakku

And what if Ven wants to take some control too? This is supposed to lead to smut so maybe she could flip the tables on him a little  

Maybe she straddles him or pulls him down to her bedroll…

She’d be eager and then he’d know that she wants it too



Burrowing down further into her bed, Rey’s skin felt strangely sensitive against her sheets, warmth pooling low in her stomach. She knew they were talking about her story but she couldn’t help but imagine it, how Ven would act at that moment. The surprise, then melting into his embrace, getting frenzied with the desire to feel and be touched.



KyloRen

I think he’d definitely like that. Everyone wants to feel wanted. But he’d want to take his time with her, since there’s been this tension between them, both of them wanting it for a while but not sure if it would happen. I feel like once it’s clear where they’re headed with it, he’d slow down and try to be gentle with her and show her how beautiful he finds her.



KiraofJakku

What do you have in mind?



She should have written more, played off of his ideas and give some of her own, but she couldn’t make her fingers move. The desire to see what he said was overtaking everything else in her head.

In the time it took him to respond, longer than before, it felt like she hadn’t breathed once.



KyloRen

I think he’d undress her first, kissing her in places he’d been wanting to. The inside of her wrist, the arch of her neck and the curve of her shoulder. He’d want to take it all in, how soft her skin is, the noises she’d make, the scent of her hair. And when he does finally touch her, it would be slow and deliberate, watching all of her reactions and learning what she likes or doesn’t.



Taking a deep breath, Rey tried to calm her racing heart. Her skin was a field of goosebumps, shivery yet hot. Kylo’s words, for someone who was inexperienced with sex, were surprisingly thought out and detailed.



KiraofJakku

And if she wants to return the favor?

He isn’t the only one who’s been struggling with desire. There’s no way she’d be able to hold herself back from touching and exploring him too

Maybe she wants to see if her touch affects him in the same way



KyloRen

It would. He would fall apart beneath her hands without hesitation. He could lay her down against the bedroll or pull her to him and into his lap, whichever she’d prefer so they could be close and within reach of each other.



Jesus, he had this all figured out, didn’t he?

He was over there, typing this stuff out, all confidence and cool as could be, with no idea how it was affecting her. And here she was, hardly able to get her fingers to work to type out a response, thighs clenched together so tightly that her muscles were aching.



KiraofJakku

She’d pull him down onto her bedroll for sure, spread out beneath him and let him take control



KyloRen

And then what? They’re both undressed and kissing on the bedroll and she wants him to take control. Is this supposed to go straight to the smut or is he allowed to take his time?



KiraofJakku

He can definitely take his time, she’s not going to protest

As long as he makes it worth her time



KyloRen

He would, all he’d want to do is touch and taste every inch of her. Make sure she’s ready before they come together. The most important thing to him would be that she enjoys it and understands how special she is to him. He’d want to make her feel that in every way he could.



Rey had to physically set her phone down, leaning her head back and taking a deep breath. How was this so… erotic? She’d never used that word in her life but she couldn’t think of anything else. Kylo wasn’t even being explicit or using particularly sexual language, but her body was undeniably responding to it.

And even worse, she liked it. More than liked it.

Though he was talking about her character, Kylo’s words and thoughts were still his own. He was the one who thought Prince should go slow and make Ven feel special, who was talking about passion and kissing and tasting.

On cue, her face heated, going almost as warm as the rest of her body. Did he mean…oral?

Something twisted in her stomach at the thought, making her shift in bed. When Kylo said he was inexperienced, she assumed he meant a virgin, and you could still be a virgin even if you gave someone oral, right? Or maybe it was just something he liked the thought of doing it, going down on a girl.

Abruptly, the thought of a dark-haired head between her thighs flashed through her and Rey gasped, then glanced over at her door guiltily, even though she knew it was closed.

God, what was wrong with her?

She still hadn’t responded but she was scared to pick up her phone, scared he might have sent something else, scared that she’d ask him to keep going even though she clearly needed to put the brakes on this thing.

When she finally looked, she was relieved there wasn’t another message waiting for her. With shaking fingers, she made herself type out a message.



KiraofJakku

Sorry, I’m falling asleep over here, it’s pretty late  

Thanks for your help, I’ve definitely got some stuff to go off of now  

Bedtime for me though  

Talk to you tomorrow 

 

It was abrupt but it would have to do. Once it sent, she practically threw her phone on her bedside table, not waiting to see his reply.

Burrowing down in her blankets, Rey willed her mind and body to calm, to relax and shake off the feeling currently coursing through her veins, heat and excitement. But laying there in the dark, his words were playing out in her mind. Getting laid back, arching up into a firm body, soft lips and gentle hands running down her skin. Hands parting her legs and the brush of hair against the insides of her thighs, warm breath against her-

“Fuck,” Rey groaned into her pillow, curling her knees up into her stomach. She dug her fingers into her blanket, refusing to let them go anywhere else.

She had been the one to ask him for help and he’d done just that. It wasn’t his fault that she had been a horny mess lately and she wasn’t going to be a creep and think about him right now. No way in hell.

Biting her lip, she made herself think about anything else; what she’d have for breakfast in the morning, the homework she was turning in, what Ben was going to talk about at the library.

Her brain immediately latched onto Ben, dark-haired and broad-shouldered, with the softest looking lips that would probably be so good-

No, no, no.

They were friends, damn it. Friends didn’t think about other friends like that, laying in bed and imagining all the things their mouth could be good at.

Rey opened her eyes, the bright red numbers of her alarm clock staring back at her. It was just past two in the morning.

It was going to be a long, long night.

Chapter Text

Ben thought he might actually be going insane.

He read over his conversation with Kira for what felt like the hundredth time, wishing more than anything that he could go back to the second he first messaged her last night and knock some sense into himself. What had come over him at that moment, he couldn’t say. She had just been so eager for his help and he’d gotten caught up in the moment, in thinking about how he’d act once he finally had the woman he desired in his arms.

And now he had to live with the mortification of what he’d done.

Groaning out loud, he slumped into his couch, unable to torture himself any further by reading her last message. The one where she, clearly and understandably uncomfortable, had all but fled from their conversation, leaving him flustered and uncomfortably aroused in his bed.

He’d had to resort to taking a late night ice cold shower and the temptation to take himself in hand, to revisit the fantasies he’d shared with her, had almost been too much to resist. Instead, he’d just cranked the water colder, shivering under the freezing spray.  

After his shower, he’d hardly slept, so anxious and mad at himself over the whole thing. How had he expected her to react when he’d said those things?

But she encouraged it, a quiet voice in the back of his mind chimed in. She asked you to keep going, to tell her more.

Ben swiped those thoughts away. They wouldn’t do him any good right now; they were like fog on a window, clouding his vision and keeping him from seeing things clearly.

There was no doubt that his feelings for Kira were messy right now. He was self-aware enough to realize that he desired her, in more ways than one. That the thing making his heart thump behind his ribs and his face hot when he thought about her was more than just friendship.

And somehow, that didn’t scare him as much as he expected it to. His own emotions didn’t frighten him anymore and he’d gotten good at locking them away when he had to. Not that he wanted to; he’d never been afraid of the thought of sharing his feelings with someone he cared about. What had frightened him was the thought that he’d never find a person to take that chance on, to open up to and connect with.

He knew Kira, her mind and heart, and he knew that she was special, someone he’d been searching for.  

The problem was, he didn’t know how he felt about pursuing a long distance relationship; not when there might be someone here that he already cared for.

His face flushed at the thought. He wished that there was someone he could talk to about this, but the only people he’d maybe feel comfortable with were Kira and Rey and well, that obviously wasn’t going to work. More than anything, he just needed advice.

Before he could stop and talk himself out of it, he was in his car, backing out of the driveway. There was one person he could talk to, who used to always be there for him.

 

--------

 

His father answered the door when he knocked, pure, genuine surprise lighting up across his face. “Ben, is everything okay?”

When had his father gotten so old? Had the wrinkles in the corners of his eyes been there last time Ben saw him? He couldn’t remember; it had been almost a year now. Shame curled hotly in his stomach and he shoved his hands in his jacket pockets, glancing away.

“Yeah, sorry. I was just- is mom home?”

Han nodded, stepping aside so Ben could come in. “We were just about to sit down for lunch. Have you eaten yet?”

“No,” he murmured, slipping past his father and into his childhood home. It pained him every time, the rush of good memories and, more overwhelmingly, the bad ones that coming back here brought up in him, rising in his chest like a tempestuous sea.

Han shut the door and led him through to the kitchen. “Well, are you hungry? I’m sure your mom won’t mind making you-“

“Ben!” His mother’s gasp was almost as loud as the pot she dropped, clattering across the kitchen floor. He winced as soup splatted but she paid it no mind, stepping over the mess and coming at him like she was going in for a hug, then stopped herself. “What’s wrong?”

The guilt intensified. “Nothing’s wrong, mom.”

“Then what are you doing here?” she asked, looking absolutely baffled.

“I just-“ Ben paused, floundering for a second. “I was hoping I could talk to you about something.” It sounded stupid now that he’d said it out loud and he wondered why he’d thought this was a good idea in the first place.

Leia must have seen it on his face though because she immediately hurried to say, “Of course, you just surprised me is all. What’s going on?”

He glanced over at where Han was leaning against the counter, not even trying to act like he wasn’t listening in. His mother followed his gaze, always too perceptive.

“Would you clean this up?” she told his father. “I’m going to sit down with Ben.

He gave the mess a disgruntled glare, but when Leia leveled ‘the look’ at him, he clearly had second thoughts about protesting. “Yeah, yeah, I got it,” he grumbled, rolling his eyes at Ben like they were in on some joke together.

Leaving Han in the kitchen, Leia led them through the dining room and into the living room, gesturing for Ben to sit down as she did the same. The room was straight from his memories, everything nearly identical to how it had been years ago. This couch was the same one he’d spent his nights out on, watching sci-fi movies well past his bedtime. And the side table still leaned a little bit to the left from where he’d crashed into it playing chase with Chewie, knocking one of the legs loose.

Speaking of Chewie, he was snoring next to the coffee table, new gray hairs flecked across his muzzle. Looked like his dad wasn’t the only one getting old.

“Hey bud,” Ben murmured, leaning over to give the dog a quick stroke down his side. He didn’t even stir, just grumbled quietly in his sleep, letting out a little huffing breath.

“What’s going on?” Leia asked as soon as he straightened, her face tight with worry. “Is this about Luke?”

Ben shook his head; for once, his uncle hadn’t done something. “No, I was just hoping…I just need some advice.”

His mom visibly relaxed once he said it wasn’t about Luke, a little glimmer of curiosity in her eyes. She was holding herself together well, always so poised and collected, but he could tell that his sudden appearance had shaken her. Though he supposed that he only had himself to blame for that.

Now that he was here, Ben had no idea where to start. “How did you know Han was the one?” he blurted out, then flushed at how childish his words sounded.

Leia blinked, then slowly, a knowing smile curled up at the corners of her mouth. To her credit though, she answered his question instead of bombarding him with her own, no matter how much she wanted to.

“To be honest, I don’t know that he is. I don’t know that I believe in such a thing,” she said. “Your father and I, we fell in love quickly, though neither of us wanted to admit it at first. We clashed and butted heads constantly but somehow we just worked. And then you were born and we realized that we actually had a responsibility as parents to try and build something. And it was a mess. There were times when I was certain one of us was going to walk out that door and- well, I’m sure you know.”

He did. His childhood memories were littered with screaming and slamming doors, the sound of his mother crying and his father’s stomping footsteps as he left again and again. Of nights spent laying in his bed in the dark, trying to block out their angry voices.

“The thing is,” Leia continued, watching him carefully, “relationships can’t survive off of just love. They’re equally hurt and forgiveness, joy and sadness. You have to work for it, making a life with someone, and you have to want it.”

Ben wasn’t naive, he knew that. He’d seen it with his own eyes, just how destructive loving someone could be. But how did you know if the person you were with was worth it all?

“So, you don’t believe in soulmates?” he asked, then shook his head. “I mean, not like the cheesy kind, but just meeting someone and knowing they’re the right person for you. Instant connection, I guess.”

His mother laughed softly. “I think you’re talking about attraction; try to be poetic if you want, but if you meet a girl and the word ‘soulmate’ pops into your head, it’s because she’s beautiful.”

He groaned; they both knew that wasn’t what he was talking about.

“So no,” she finished, grinning in a teasing sort of way. “I don’t believe in soulmates. And even if I did, I don’t think it matters.”

Ben felt his eyebrows shoot up in surprise. “Doesn’t matter? How can it not matter?”

She thought for a second, lips pursed. “I just think that if you care about someone, that’s enough. There’s no need to put big titles on it, like destiny or soulmates; wanting to be with them is all you should need. Love is already big and terrifying, there’s no need to make it even more so.”

He let her words sink in and they felt right, true in his heart, but did nothing to help him with his current predicament.

“Whoever you’re thinking about,” his mother said knowingly, “she’s a lucky girl.”

His flush spread across his face like wildfire. “I didn’t say anything about a girl.”

She leaned over to pat his hand. “You didn’t need to. I might be getting old but my brain still works just fine.”

Debating for a second, he decided to just go for it. “Actually, I’m stuck because…well, there’s two and-“

Leia cut him off, eyes going wide as her hand flew to her heart. “Two? You’re telling me you don’t talk to a single girl for years and now you’ve got two potential-“ She paused, eyes narrowing as she fixed him with a glare. “Benjamin Solo, you’d better not be leading these poor girls on. I know I raised you better than that.

“Jesus, mom, I’m not. It’s not like that.”

“You’d better hope it’s not,” she sniffed. “I didn’t raise my son to be some heathen who doesn’t know how to respect women. Your father might have, but I certainly didn’t.”

Ben sighed, wishing he could vanish. She’d be ranting for the next ten minutes at least, about disrespectful young men and how back in her day, being a player wasn’t cool. He’d already heard it more times that he could count and there was no way he was going to sit through it again.

“Well,” he said, climbing to his feet, “I should really get going.”

Disappointment flashed quickly across her face as she did the same. “Are you sure? I can make you some lunch. Or have something delivered if you’d prefer that instead?”

“I’m sure,” he said firmly. Coming here had already been a big step and he was emotionally drained from it and everything going on in his head.

“Han!” she called as they made their way to the front door. “Your son’s leaving.”

His father appeared out of the kitchen, a crease between his eyebrows. “Already? Did you want to stay for lunch, we can-“

“I already asked,” Leia told him, waving her hand dismissively. “I’m sure Ben’s busy. It was nice of you to come see us though, a lovely surprise.”

He ground his teeth, fighting against feeling guilty with everything he had. “Yeah, thanks uh, for the help and everything.”

She gave him a soft smile, patting his arm, then stepped aside so Han could say goodbye.

To his surprise, his father pulled him into a quick, fumbling hug. “It was good to see you,” he said roughly. His scent was the same as always, aftershave and motor oil, and it made Ben’s throat uncomfortably tight.

He just nodded, not sure what to say, then pulled away and opened the front door without looking at him, heading down the stairs. His parents' eyes were on him as he went down the walkway, he could feel it.

A few steps from the curb, he paused. There was a fierce ache in his stomach and it refused to let him take another step forward.

Coming here like this, it poked at old wounds that he’d been so determined to keep fresh. He’d been so focused on the mistakes his parents had made, all the ways they’d hurt him, that he hadn’t stopped to think if it was time to start working on forgiving them instead. To let the past die and move on.

“Hey,” he called, turning back to the porch, heart racing in his chest.

Han swung the door he’d been in the middle of closing back open, face creased in concern.

“I’ve uh,” Ben fumbled for a second, then saw his car out of the corner of his eye. “I’ve been meaning to take my car in for a tune up for a while now...maybe I could bring it over here instead? I’m free this weekend.”

Though his father looked surprised, it was a good kind, a grin blooming across his face that made him look ten years younger. “Sure thing, kiddo.”



—————



When Ben got back home, he pulled his phone out of his pocket and found a message from Kira waiting for him.



KiraofJakku

Hey, can we talk?



His stomach sank and he sat down heavily on the couch. Not that talking with his mom had particularly helped much in the first place, but it looked like it was about to become an even bigger waste of his time when Kira said she never wanted to speak to him again.



KyloRen

Of course, what’s going on?



He wasn’t ready for this. If she started saying something about not wanting to talk anymore, maybe he should risk it and tell her the truth. It would be worth the potential embarrassment to keep her in his life, on the minuscule chance that she returned his feelings, or at the very least, understood why he’d acted the way he had.



KiraofJakku

I was hoping we could maybe talk about last night?  

It was a little weird, wasn’t it?  

Like, I’m not the only one feeling the tension here, am I?



Tension . It was so vague and uncertain; did she mean good tension, like mutual desire? Or tension like, he behaved like a creep and made things uncomfortable?



KyloRen

No, I feel it too. I’m sorry that I made it weird, I obviously got carried away. Please know that it wasn’t my intention and if you’re upset, I understand.



KiraofJakku

Kylo, I’m not upset and you don’t have to apologize

Listen  

I’ve been thinking about you a lot the last few days

And I’m just going to take a chance here and be honest

I like you

As more than a friend, like romantically

It’s been really confusing for me, this whole thing between us and figuring it out in my head

Tbh, I’m a little freaked  

But I wanted to come clean



Ben stared at his phone screen for so long that his eyes started to blur. It was like she’d taken the words right out of his own head. He’d been sitting here, conflicted and afraid, with no idea that she’d felt the same.

Kira liked him. Kira, lovely, intelligent, big-hearted Kira liked him.

Though he was sitting down, there was a strange sensation of falling that was overtaking him. How did he- how was he supposed to respond? What did this mean for them?

His elation quickly plummeted as what she said really sank in. There was no doubt in his mind that he cared for Kira, but there was also Rey. He hadn’t decided what he was going to do yet and he couldn’t stand the thought of leading Kira on unintentionally.

Letting out a bitter laugh, Ben raked his hand through his hair anxiously. How had this become such a mess? Anyone who thought that being caught between two girls was a dream come true couldn’t be more wrong. There was nothing good about it, that he might have to hurt someone, or that he’d make the wrong decision. It was a wretched thought, settling on his chest like a boulder and making it hard to breathe.

She was coming clean with him, he should do the same. Honesty was the best policy, right?



KyloRen

I’m not sure what to say so I’m just going to be honest with you as well. The thought of you liking me is both baffling and stunning. I’ve been feeling the same for you for a while now but I’m obviously inexperienced with this sort of thing. I do know that I like you though, very much. You’re one of the best things in my life right now, no doubt, and our relationship means so much to me.



KiraofJakku

Now I’m the one who doesn’t know what to say

I’m just shocked and, I dunno, nervous?  

I just want to be honest, I don’t really know where we could go from here

I mean, I don’t even know what you look like or what your real name is or where you live

Those are important things, obviously  

And I’m just really uncertain about online and long distance relationships in general

I don’t expect you to have answers here, I’m just...overwhelmed



Yeah, he was too. She was right though, there was a lot that they didn’t know about each other, usually the first things that people got out of the way when first meeting. They’d skipped right over them and gone into intimate, soul-baring conversations and here they were, caught in this mess of uncertainty.

He didn’t know what to do.

It was honestly that simple. On one hand, he had Kira right here, admitting that she liked him romantically and they had a good foundation to build a relationship on, minus the fact they were lacking a few key bits of information about each other. But that could be remedied easily, with one candid conversation and a video call. However, the thought of committing to an online relationship, when he desired her as much as he did...it sounded painful and would likely end in heartbreak, brought on by distance and the inability to actually see and touch each other.

On the other hand though, he had Rey. His feelings for her were certainly newer and more uncertain, a fragile shoot just beginning to sprout from the ground, but he liked so many things about her. And she was here, she was real and within reach, someone he could take on dates and hold in his arms. He just had no idea if she felt the same about him.

Fuck. He had to be honest with Kira; he couldn’t lie to her, she deserved better than that.

His hands shook as he typed out the message, with anxiety and anger at himself for getting into this situation.



KyloRen

I’m overwhelmed too, and I wish I had an easy answer. I want to be honest with you more than anything though so I’m just going to be straightforward with how I’m feeling. Obviously, I’m thrilled and humbled that you’re even considering giving me a chance here and such a big part of me wants to just say that we go for it. But I’m still trying to figure this all out in my head, and there’s a girl here, in my real life that I care about also. We aren’t dating or anything, but I do have feelings for her that I’m trying to sort out. Please don’t think that I’m leading you on, I truly do like you.



It took a long time for her to respond; longer than it should have. He knew immediately that he’d upset her and he understood; maybe it would have been kinder to lie and just say that he needed time.



KiraofJakku

Oh, okay

I get it, I really do  

I’m sorry I said anything, it was presumptuous of me 

And obviously stupid when I never bothered to ask you if you were seeing someone  

Can we please just pretend I didn’t say anything?

I can’t stand the thought of you dragging this on out of pity  

I hope she’s lovely though, you deserve someone special



Ben’s heart sank straight through the floor as he read. She was throwing up walls, retreating back into her shell where it was safe and familiar.



KyloRen

Kira, please don’t be like that. I’m so glad you told me and I mean it when I say I feel the same about you. The only reason I brought her up is because I wanted to be honest with you about where I was at right now. You don’t deserve to have me say I want something with you while I’m thinking “what ifs” about another girl. I’m not trying to hurt you and I’m not saying that I’m choosing her over you. I honestly have no idea what I’m doing other than trying to be transparent with you because I care about you.



KiraofJakku

I’m sorry Kylo, but I don’t think you mean that. I think you brought her up because you know she’s the one you want

Why would you have felt the need to say anything otherwise?  

And that’s okay, it really is  

I think I just want to take some time, maybe we can talk tomorrow



Was she right? Maybe subconsciously he knew that he wanted to pursue Rey and that’s why he couldn’t bring himself to be happy about Kira. Maybe it was the sign he’d been looking for, some direction as to what he should do.

He had no clue, so many things spinning through his mind that he couldn’t pin down.

Still, he couldn’t let them end on this note, Kira was too important to him and he’d hurt her. He needed to make sure she was okay.



KyloRen

Wait, we should really talk about this. Please, I never wanted to upset you, you’re my best friend. I need to know that you know that.



The minutes ticked by with no response and Ben had a terrible feeling that he’d just made a huge mistake. It was just- he was many things; cowardly, awkward, stubborn, hot-headed…but the one thing he knew was that he wasn’t a liar.



KyloRen

Please Kira, I’m not trying to be pushy when you want space, just let me know that you’re honestly okay and I’ll leave you alone. I don’t want this to come between us, you mean too much to me.



Almost fifteen minutes later and there was still no response, though he could see from her Discord icon that she was still online.

So for the first time since they’d started talking, Ben sat up, straightening his shirt and patting down his hair, pushing down the nerves rising in his throat and trying to choke him, and hit the call button next to her name.

The sound of the call trying to connect filled the room.

Chapter Text

Incoming call. KyloRen.

The words had haunted Rey all night as she tried to sleep and now, exhausted and trying to focus on Professor Skywalker lecture, they were all she could see.

The desire to hear Kylo's voice and actually speak to him had surged through her and damn it, she’d almost answered. Cowardice won out in the end though, the pain of his rejection too fresh. She’d been such an idiot and she couldn’t bear to talk to him, to have to face up to what she’d done, how much she’d deluded herself into thinking he liked her back. 

She had at least a dozen unanswered messages from him but she hadn’t been able to bring herself to look at them, her phone burning a hole in her pocket. There was no doubt in her mind that they’d all say the same thing; reassurances that she was a great person followed by a list of excuses why things wouldn’t work between them. Reasons why she wasn’t good enough. She’d heard them all her life and they still hurt.

There was a sudden surge of noise and Rey jumped, realizing a second late that Professor Skywalker must have finished talking and was giving them some free work time.

“Don’t forget,” he called over the din. “Submissions for the Organa-Solo Scholarship are due by midnight tonight. Before you rush up here to ask for the website, look at the bottom of the last page in the packet, it’s listed there.”

Rey bit her lip, wondering if she should even get out her laptop and go over it again. Unable to sleep, she’d woken up early and finished it in a surge of determination, so relieved to have it off of her plate. Rose wasn’t in class today, caught up in a meeting with her counselor about changing majors, so she couldn’t look it over and Rey genuinely didn’t think she had the energy.

And it appeared that she wasn’t the only one. To her right, Ben looked about as tired as she felt, dark purple circles under his eyes, face pale. He must have been scrambling to finish his submission as well, though she’d thought he had finished a few days ago.

“You finished?” she asked. Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Professor Luke get up and start making his way around the classroom to answer questions. 

He looked confused for a second, like he didn’t know what she was talking about, before understanding lit up in his eyes. “Oh, yeah, I’m done. I just need to actually submit it but that should just take a minute.”

“Same. I figure it’s too late to change anything now anyway.”

He just nodded solemnly. “That’s true.”

Silence fell between them and Rey looked at him again, studying his exhausted appearance. “Are you okay? You look…tired.”

Ben glanced away, but not before she saw something flicker through his eyes, gone too quickly for her to make out what it was. “Just a long night.”

“You want to talk about it?” she prompted softly. She could see that he was obviously upset and wondered if it had anything to do with his family.

He looked surprised, then so conflicted, mouth opening and closing indecisively, that she reached out and touched his wrist in a way she hoped was comforting. His skin was hot beneath her fingers and an odd sort of thrill went through her. 

“You don’t have to tell me,” she reassured him. “No pressure, but I’m here if you do want to talk about it.” 

“It’s not that I don’t want to,” he said quietly, dark hair falling across his forehead as he leaned in. “It’s just that-“

Professor Skywalker’s voice cut him off mid-sentence, and Rey jumped, snatching her hand away like she’d been caught doing something wrong.

“Ms. Kenobi,” he said, having sidled up next to their desks without either of them noticing. Something about his tone was vaguely disapproving and she prickled, angry at herself for her reaction. “Have you submitted your piece for the scholarship yet?”

Out of the corner of her eye, she could see Ben’s face go flat, and he rubbed his wrist nervously. 

“Not yet,” she responded, trying to keep her tone light. “I’ll do it today sometime for sure, just want to give it another look over or two.”

“And are you feeling confident?” His blue eyes didn’t stray from her face once, obviously intentionally discluding his nephew from their conversation.

She shrugged, tension making her skin itch. “I’m confident that I’ve tried my best, which is about all I can do.”

Her professor nodded, looking satisfied with her answer. “That’s a good way of looking at it. At the end of the day, you gave it your all and you had the courage to go for it. There are lots of people who don’t bother to give their effort to things like this, who think it’s not worth their time to try.”

Ben stiffened in his seat and Rey knew that had been a jab at him. He had told her before that he wasn’t telling his uncle he was entering, so she knew she couldn’t say anything in his defense, swallowing down the words that automatically rose. 

“I try not to judge people and realize that sometimes, I don’t know them as well as I think,” she got out cooly. 

Professor Skywalker just smiled at her, but it wasn’t remotely sincere. “Yes, well, good luck with your submission.”

As he walked away, Rey couldn’t help but feel a little surge of victory, like she’d somehow managed to come out on top. Ben still looked uncomfortable and it made her mad; she couldn’t understand how his uncle could be okay treating him so unfairly.

“I promised myself I wouldn’t ask,” she said, turning to Ben. “But I’m going to…why is he like that with you? Obviously, you don’t have to tell me if it’s personal or whatever, but he’s a jerk.”

He let out a little huff of surprised laughter. “No it’s just- it’s complicated. And as much as I hate to admit it, he’s not entirely in the wrong.” Looking away, he fiddled with his pen. “We had a falling out a while ago and I made some bad decisions. He’s made sure I’ve never forgotten them.”

Rey’s curiosity was definitely piqued but she didn’t want to be too pushy. It was just hard to imagine him getting upset and doing anything bad to anyone. 

“Forgiveness is important,” she settled on. “And I’m sure whatever it was you did, it wasn’t unprovoked.” 

“It wasn’t,” he admitted, “but that didn’t make it right. I have a bit of a temper problem and-“

She couldn’t contain the laugh that burst out of her, interrupting whatever he’d been about to say. Mortified, she threw a hand up to cover her mouth and muffle the sound.

“I am so sorry, it’s just hard to believe. You’re so level headed, I can’t imagine you losing your temper over anything.”

He was smiling, so she didn’t feel too bad about laughing at him, but it had surprised her. She’d heard him get frustrated with his uncle that one time but he’d deserved it. Having a temper was one of the last things she would have said about Ben Solo. 

“It’s true,” he insisted, but there was clear humor in his voice. “I’ve just gotten good at managing it. That doesn’t mean it’s not still there though.”

“So, what you’re telling me is that you lost your temper with your uncle once in your angsty teenage years and he’s tormented you for it ever since?”

Ben paused. “I mean, I wasn’t exactly a teenager, I’d graduated high school by that point…but yeah, pretty much.”

Glancing over to where Professor Skywalker was seated back at his desk, she shook her head. There was clearly more to the story but she couldn’t help but think of all the times she’d lost her temper with Maz over the years, all of the blow out fights they’d had over the years that always ended up with them coming back and hugging it out. Maz had never been able to stay mad for more than a day, no matter what Rey did.

Class got out a minute later, and as Rey packed her bag, the hurt started creeping back in. She’d managed to get Kylo out of her mind for a few minutes but now that she was just going to go sit in the cafe and wait for her shift to start, she knew he’d be back in her brain, his words slicing into the meager self-confidence she’d managed to build up over the years.

“Hey,” she said to Ben, who was similarly packing his stuff up next to her. “Do you want to go to the library? My shift isn’t starting for a bit so I’ve got time for one last peek through of my submission and then I can send it in.”

Distract me from thinking about him, she thought, then immediately felt bad. She didn’t mean it like that, Ben just always managed to make her feel better, to pull her out of a bad mood with a good conversation or a listening ear. It just felt like she could really use that right now, a reminder that there were still people in her life who thought she was worth something.

“Yeah,” he said, and she thought that maybe he looked a little less exhausted, his posture a little lighter as he stood and towered over her. “That sounds nice.”

 

————

 

“That’s it,” Rey declared, clicking her keyboard loudly one last time then leaned back in her chair. “It’s out of my hands now.”

And she couldn't have been happier about it. She knew she was putting too much hope into this scholarship, she just didn't know what she would do if she didn't win. It had felt like such a sign when she'd really needed one. If she didn't win, she'd have to sit down and really think about whether her dreams were worth all of the stress and the struggling to just keep her head above water. She was afraid to find out the answer.

“Congratulations.” Ben had already submitted his a few minutes ago and had spent the rest of the time watching her with a peculiar expression on his face. “I’m sure it’s great, I can honestly see you winning this easily.”

It was nice to hear, even if she didn’t believe him.

If she was being honest, she knew he was probably going to win. She'd read his writing in class and it was sophisticated and polished, something the judges were probably looking for. And they'd probably appreciate his bravery in submitting a piece of his original fiction.

Rey wanted to be mad at him for it, but she had to hold out hope. And when he told her that he was keeping his submission a secret from his uncle, she realized that maybe this was more important to him than she'd thought. It wasn't her right to tell him what he could and couldn't do.

Though, she still hoped she won.

She stretched, arching her back with a sigh. “I feel like I should do something to celebrate, you know? A reward for finishing that awful thing and not once chucking my laptop out the window.”

Instead of laughing like she expected, he was quiet, eyes lowered. He’d been a little off since they’d gotten here, glancing at her a lot and opening his mouth like he was going to say something, then abruptly shutting it. Something was clearly on his mind.

Just as she was about to ask, he blurted out, “Let me take you out.”

She blinked in shock. “What?” 

“To celebrate. Can I take you out to dinner?” Somehow, he wasn’t bright red and staring at the table; he was actually meeting her eyes and that was almost worse because she knew that he was seeing all of the emotions running through her right now.

“Like, as a date?” she asked, hoping she hadn’t read the situation wrong, but also unable to keep the disbelief from her voice.

He nodded, and though he looked fairly calm, his knuckles were white as he gripped his pen. “Yes, a date. I just- I thought you might like to- not to sound presumptuous, that’s not what I’m trying to say, but I thought maybe we could-“

“Yes,” Rey said, before she could stop herself. The word just jumped right out and her heart was racing, but in a good way. “I’d like that.”

It was his turn to be surprised now, and from the look on his face, she could only assume that he’d asked, fulling believing that she would reject him. She’d never been so happy to prove someone wrong before.

“Okay,” he finally said, a smile spreading across his face that made her breath catch. “When? Where? Or am I supposed to figure that out?”

The clock caught her eye up on the wall. “Text me and we can put together a plan, but I’m going to be late.” They’d swapped numbers a few weeks ago but they’d only ever messaged about meeting in the library before. 

Rey scooped up her stuff, slinging her bag over her shoulder. “I’m sorry I have to rush out of here but Paige will murder me if I’m not on time.” Her heart was still racing and she could feel that her face was flushed and everything had happened so fast, she had no idea what to think or say. 

“Don’t worry about it,” Ben said, giving her a warm look that made the heat from her face spread down her chest. “I’ll text you later.”

“Okay.” Rey started backing away, nearly bumping into the table behind her. “Bye then.”

As she hurried from the library, she could feel his eyes following her to the door.

 

——————-

 

“I think I’ve made a terrible mistake,” Rey whispered to Rose, trying to fight down the nausea rising in her throat. 

Rose’s eyes widened and she stopped wiping the counter, turning to give her her whole attention. “What happened?”

“Ben asked me out on a date.” 

The gasp that Rose let out was so loud that several customers looked up in concern, but she just waved them off, eyes glued to Rey.

“I knew it,” she said triumphantly. “I knew he liked you, I could see it all over his face.”

“That’s not the point.” Rey felt like she was going to cry; there was just too much going on between worrying about the scholarship and Kylo, and now Ben. “I said yes.”

Rose bit her lip to stifle her squeal of excitement. “I’m so proud of you. It’s about time you met someone who really likes you and he’s such a nice guy…” She trailed off, head cocking to the side slightly. “And you’re not happy at all. What’s wrong?”

“I just-“ She didn’t even know where to start, this was all such a mess. Saying yes had been so spur of the moment, so caught up in the fact that she wanted to go out on a date with Ben that she hadn’t stopped to think if she should. 

How could she when she had just tried to start a relationship with another guy? Not only was that not fair to Ben, but she’d thought that Kylo had liked her and now, she’d probably lost one of her closest friends. Why would Ben be any different?

She liked him and that scared her. Over the last few weeks, she’d really tried hard to not think about it, to not look at the feelings that nestled in and built a Ben shaped home in her chest, but they were still there. 

Was it possible to like two boys at the same time in different ways? Kylo felt like a dream that was too good to be true sometimes, and their connection had been frightening and intense. With Ben, it was slower, softer, sneaking up on her but felt more real and possible. It was like the difference between a wildfire raging across the land and lava moving deep under the earth. Either way, she was the one who would end up getting burned. 

“I shouldn’t have said yes,” she said, then suddenly she was crying, chest aching fiercely. “It was so stupid of me.” 

Rose was on her in a second, arms wrapped around her shoulders. “Hey, hey, it’s okay. Shhh, don’t cry, you’re alright.” Her hair smelled like jasmine and it surrounded them comfortingly.

“I’m sorry.” Rey really tried to stop the tears but they refused to be held back, dripping down her face wetly, lower lip trembling. “I don’t even know why I’m crying.” 

Someone coughed awkwardly from the front counter. “Hey, can I just get a refill?”

“Can you give us a minute?” Rose snapped, stiffening against her. “God, are you even human? Can’t you see she’s upset?”

Rey lifted her head just in time to see the guy back away cautiously, hands lifted in defense. 

“You shouldn’t have said that,” she got out wetly, wiping at her face. “He might file a complaint.”

“Screw him,” Rose said without hesitation, pulling away to look Rey in the face. “You’re a million times more important than some insensitive jerk who clearly didn’t get enough hugs as a child. Now tell me what’s going on.”

To her mortification, Rey’s bottom lip started wobbling again. “I can’t, it’s a long story and we’re at work.”

Her friend’s eyes went steely and she marched off to the back room without another word. She was gone for a few minutes while Rey tried to collect herself, so embarrassed that she’d started sobbing in public like that. 

When Rose came back, Paige was with her, a concerned look on her face. 

“Hey,” she said, putting a hand on Rey’s shoulder. “I’m giving you and Rose the afternoon off. I’ve already called in someone to cover your shifts. And before you protest, I just switched your shift over to Thursday, so you’re not losing any hours.”

She was beyond ashamed that she had to leave work because she was such a mess, but also relieved. Her nerves felt frayed, like she was barely hanging on. 

“Thank you,” she said sincerely. “I’m so sorry.”

Paige shook her head, double braids swaying with the movement. “I don’t want any apologies, you’re constantly running yourself ragged. Take the day off and have a well-deserved break.” 

“C’mon,” Rose murmured, pulling her to the back room. “Let’s get out of here and you can tell me what’s going on.” 

And Rey did. She told her about her writing and meeting Kylo and their friendship, all the way up to last night when she’d ruined everything. The whole walk home, she let it all out, like she should have done weeks ago. Maybe then, Rose would have warned her against doing what she did. 

After she told her about Kylo’s rejection, Rose stopped right in the middle of the cold, windy sidewalk and hugged her fiercely. 

“I can’t believe you didn’t tell me about any of this,” she muttered. “I really need to explain the definition of best friends to you.”

Rey let out a wet laugh, wiping her eyes. “I’m sorry, I just didn’t know how to say it and I didn’t want it to be this big thing.”

“I know,” Rose reassured her. “I’m not upset. I’m just sad that you had to go through this all alone.”

They made it to the apartment, Rey fumbling with the buttons on her jacket. She felt exhausted, like she could sleep for the next three days, and the thought was a tempting one. It would just be nice to not have to think for a while.

“Hey,” Finn called from the living room. “I’ve got leftovers if you’re hungry.”

Rose looked at her, eyebrows arched in question. Not even needing to think about it, Rey just shrugged; it wasn’t a secret anymore and she was too exhausted to pretend like she was okay right now.

Her friend disappeared into the living room and Rey could hear hushed voices as she filled them in. Trying to give them time, she toed off her shoes and unwound her scarf, and when she turned around, Finn was in the hallway, eyes soft.

Getting a hug from Finn always felt so safe and warm, like coming home after a long, stressful day. Which she supposed was fitting right now.

“It’s so stupid,” she said into his chest, eyes welling up again. “I’m so stupid.”

She could feel him shaking his head, chin brushing against her hair. “No, you’re not, don’t say that. He’s the stupid one.”

Protests rose in her, just she shoved them back down. Finn didn’t know Kylo and was practically obligated as her friend to insult him right now. 

He led her into the living room, where Poe and Rose were sitting.

“Hey,” Poe said, scooting over to make room for her on the couch. “What’s this I hear about some guy Finn and I need to go have a chat with? And by chat, I mean, hope that he’s not bigger than us so we can intimate him into groveling for your forgiveness.”

She couldn’t help but laugh, already feeling a bit better to get it all off of her chest and know her friends had her back. “That is really not necessary. He didn’t do anything wrong.”

He exchanged a skeptical look with Finn but then shrugged. “Okay, okay, we don’t have to talk about him. So what’s this I hear about Solo finally finding the guts to ask you out?”

Rey resisted the urge to cover her face and crawl to her room and hide, Rose giving her an apologetic smile. 

“Nevermind, let’s go back to Kylo,” she muttered.

Finn scoffed, mumbling something about a stupid name and dodged an elbow jab from Rose. “I’m sorry,” he said defensively. “I just don’t get how you can care so much about a guy when you don’t even know his real name.”

“A name doesn’t make a person,” she said hotly, face flushed from the fact that he clearly thought she was delusional. “I can still get to know someone and care about them even if I don’t know their name.”

Holding his hands up, Finn conceded. “Okay, fair enough. I just hate seeing you upset over some guy you don’t really know.”

“I do know him. And that’s why it hurts.”

They just weren’t going to understand and that was fine; it was the reason she didn’t tell them in the first place. She knew it was a hard situation to not judge until you've experienced it yourself. But she knew that the relationship she’d grown with Kylo was real, and no one was going to convince her otherwise. 

“I’m sorry.” Finn took her hand in his, warming up her chilled fingers. “We’re all upset that you’re hurting, especially when it’s some guy we don’t know.”

Poe nodded in agreement. “And, I’m going to be mad if he ruins your date with Ben.” 

Hissing out his name, Rose leaned over and smacked his knee. “Shut up, dumbo.”

“What?” he complained, ruffling his dark curls. “We’re all thinking it!”

There was a moment of awkward silence that followed.

“It’s okay,” Rey reassured them, not surprised that they were focused on him. “It doesn’t matter anyway, I’m going to tell him I’ve changed my mind.”

“What?”

“Why would you-”

“That’s a terrible-”

She threw up her hands, quieting them all. “Listen, I know you all want another thing to tease me about but this isn’t fair to Ben. I’m into another guy that I haven’t told him about and I don’t want to risk our friendship.” She crossed her arms decisively, wishing her voice wasn’t so wobbly. “That’s my decision and I’m sticking with it.”

No one said anything and Rey’s throat was unbearably tight. The thought of telling Ben no made her chest hurt so badly, after he’d worked up the courage to ask. But she had to believe she was doing the right thing.

“Do you want to go?” Poe finally asked.

“What?”

He cocked an eyebrow. “On the date with Ben. Did you say yes to be nice or because you want to go?”

Rey wasn’t sure what he was getting at. “I wanted to go, but I hadn’t thought-“

“And do you like him?” he interrupted. “You said you like this Kylo guy, but do you like Ben too?”

Her face heated as everyone turned to look at her. “I mean, I haven’t really thought about it much.”

“She’s lying,” Rose declared, pointing at her. “Look at her face, she’s totally lying. And I see them together all the time, she likes him.”

Though she knew she should deny it, all the words dried up on her tongue as her friends watched triumphantly. 

“It’s settled then,” Poe said firmly, settling back into the couch. “You’re going on the date.”

“No, I’m not,” Rey spluttered, wondering where that leap of logic came from. “I just said-”

He waved away her protests. “I don’t care, you’re going. You like him and you want to go so you’re going.”

She looked at Finn who just shrugged helplessly. “It’s pointless to argue with him when he gets like this. Besides, I agree. You should definitely go.”

“Yeah,” Rose chimed in. “Ben’s such a nice guy and he really likes you. Plus, he’s cute.”

Why wasn’t she surprised they were all ganging up on her? It just wasn’t that simple.

“Listen,” Finn started before she could even open her mouth. “It’s way past time you did something for yourself. There’s nothing to feel bad about, you’re not dating this Kylo guy and you said it yourself, you like Ben. Go out with him and have a good time and figure it out all out after. Take a chance for once and maybe something wonderful will happen; you’d deserve it.”

No one seemed to understand how terrifying of a thought it was for her to put herself out there like that. She’d taken chances before, she just did with Kylo, and they always seemed to backfire on her. She wasn’t strong enough to lose two friends so soon if things went badly with Ben.

“I know it’s hard,” Rose said softly, like she’d read her mind. “If you could, you’d stay right where you are forever because you’re so scared of moving forward and doing things for yourself. But you can’t play it safe for the rest of your life.”

“It’s not that,” Rey mumbled, feeling a bit called out. “I’m just happy in my comfort zone. I’m okay where I’m at and maybe this is where I’m supposed to be.”

All three of her friends shook their heads without hesitation.

“It’s not.” Rose gave her a sympathetic look. “You have a very valid fear of letting people get close, because that means they can hurt you. But letting them in also means they can love you like you deserve.”

She didn’t want to admit it but their words were getting to her. Obviously, a huge part of her was tired of being lonely or she wouldn’t have taken the risk she did with Kylo. What was wrong with wanting some special in her life? And Ben…he was sweet and smart and she unexpectedly liked him. 

Thinking back to earlier in the library, and how nervous he’d been, the courage it must have taken him to get over his natural shyness and anxiety to ask her out, Rey felt her resolve crumble. If he could be brave, so could she. 

“Okay,” she sighed, “You guys win; I’ll go on a date with him.”

Chapter Text

The restaurant was just busy enough that there was a low buzz of chatter and clinking silverware filling the air. Ben was thankful for the noise because it meant that he could almost block out the sound of his heart thumping erratically in his ears as he gazed across the table at Rey.

She looked beautiful, his eyes catching on so many details of her face now that he was allowing himself to actually look. 

“I’m sorry again about Finn and Poe,” she apologized for the third time, her cheeks still tinged rosy pink. “They mean well, I swear, but they’ll be getting chewed out when I get back home.”

When Ben had pulled up at her place to pick her up, Poe and Finn had come out of the apartment, striding up to his car like they meant business. Once he’d rolled down the window, Poe launched into some clearly rehearsed speech about how they were all rooting for him, but if he messed the date up or upset Rey in any way, they wouldn’t hesitate to make sure he regretted it for the rest of his life. Finn had just stood slightly behind Poe, arms crossed and eyes narrowed menacingly. 

Thankfully, Ben had been spared from trying to conjure up an acceptable response by Rey racing out of the door, coat half on and purse swinging wildly. She’d grabbed them both and practically dragged them away from the car, muttering something angrily under her breath. Under other circumstances, he probably would have laughed at the indignant expressions of Poe and Finn’s faces, and how hard Rey had been trying to look intimidating.

But, he’d been more startled than anything, flustered when Rey had finally gotten into the car. In a way though, he ended up feeling thankful because the ordeal and her following apology meant they had skipped past the initial awkwardness of trying to find something to talk about.

“It’s really fine,” Ben reassured her again, meeting her hazel eyes. He’d talked with Finn and Poe a few times and it was clear that they loved Rey very much. “They’re just being protective, I won’t take it personally.”

She smiled, a tiny, self-conscious curl to her lips. “Good, because it’s definitely not you. It’s just the first time I’ve ever really gone on a—” Date. The word hovered between them, strangely heavy. “Well, you know,” she continued, “I just don’t go out much.”

“I have no idea what that’s like, with me being such a social butterfly,” he deadpanned, and when she giggled, something warm unfurled in his chest. 

“Yeah, I suppose I don’t have to worry about you judging me for that. Apparently, Poe used to call you ‘Antisocial Solo’ for a while.”

There were certainly worse nicknames out there. 

“Glad to know people find me so approachable,” he muttered.

Rey laughed, shrugging unapologetically. “I’m sorry, but you don’t exactly give off a warm, welcoming vibe. More of a distant, guarded one, with a touch of glowering thrown in when people finally work up the courage to approach you.”

 “It’s not my fault that my resting face isn’t a smile!” He tried to sound offended, but he was holding back a grin, and she could obviously tell. 

“I’m not saying you have to smile all the time, but you could always try not looming over people and frowning.”

Ben’s eyebrows went up. “First you criticize my face and now my height…you do realize these are things I can’t help, right?”

Her answering laughter bounced across the table as she shook her head. “You’re impossible.”

The waitress appeared a second later and set down their bowls of ramen, fragrant steam rising from the broth, never failing to remind Ben of the many late nights he’d come here to work on his writing. He and Rey were tucked in the front corner next to the window, the sky gray outside as an occasional surge of wind sent leaves tumbling across the street. 

“This looks amazing,” Rey said once the waitress left, not hesitating to dig into her ramen. 

Ben couldn’t help but watch her, always enjoying the way that she savored food, her first bites always slow and reverent, bliss and contentment smoothing out any stress on her face. He’d never met someone who got such pure, unadulterated satisfaction from food, even the cheapest of cheeseburgers from the college cafeteria. 

When she met his eyes with a questioning look, he realized he’d been caught staring and quickly busied himself with his own food. 

They ate for a few minutes, gazing out the window. Silences with Rey never felt awkward, just natural and comfortable, neither of them feeling the need to fill the space with chatter for the sake of it. It was one of the things that he’d first come to appreciate about her.

One of many, now.

As he watched Rey out of the corner of his eye, he couldn’t help but think about his conversation with his mother. Though she’d said that there was no need to make things bigger than they were when it came to relationships with people, Ben couldn’t help but feel a constant pressure around him. His whole life he’d been pressured; to succeed, to carry on the family legacy, to live up to the expectations of his parents—and now, the pressure to make the right choice with Rey.

He quickly shoved that thought away, hating that it was even in his head. Before he’d left today, he’d told himself that he wasn’t going to think about Kira or how asking Rey out might have been an insane, spur of the moment decision. 

For once, he just wanted to let go of all the worrying that was constantly picking holes in things that made him happy, all of the fretting over the mistakes he was making or could make. He just wanted to focus on Rey, the one person who looked at him and saw someone worth spending time with, despite those things. 

“So,” she said, interrupting his thoughts, “is this a favorite place of yours?”

He glanced around the restaurant, the decorations and battered tables familiar enough that they felt like old friends at this point. “Yeah, I’ve been here a hundred times. It’s close enough to the college that I can walk and they’re open late, which is a plus. Nothing hits the spot for a late-night snack quite like ramen.”

“I’ll take your word for it,” she laughed, tucking her hair behind her ear. “How did you find this place? I never knew it was here.”

Ben hesitated, just for a second. “When I moved to my apartment, I ran into a bit of a dilemma...I wasn’t really on speaking terms with my family at the time, and the only restaurants in the city that I knew were ones where they went. The fear of running into them while going for lunch meant that I didn’t eat out for a month. Eventually, I decided I’d just have to find new places and started walking around after classes to see what I could stumble across.” He shrugged, hoping his face wasn’t red. “I came here last winter after that bad snowstorm and found the best ramen in the city.”

The look in Rey’s eyes was understanding, almost soft. “It’s not the same, but I can relate to that a bit.” She took a deep breath and Ben had this feeling that she was about to share something important. “When I was a kid, I was in the foster system and when the family or guardian that I got put with decided they didn’t want me, I’d get taken away and put with someone else. And those first few weeks with the new family, every time I’d go out, I had this irrational fear that I’d run into them somewhere. I tried so hard to avoid anywhere I knew there was a tiny chance they might be just because I was so nervous I’d see them.” Her gaze dropped down to the table. “Afraid that they’d see me and come over to say something. Or, afraid that I’d see them, with a new kid and happy, like a perfect family.”

She was clearly finished, but Ben had no idea what to say. In their time together, she’d never mentioned anything about her childhood, other than the occasional comment about Maz, who she’d talked about like she was her mother. 

“Maz was my foster mom,” Rey said, obviously guessing where his thoughts were going. “I lost her to cancer.”

“I’m sorry,” he muttered, heart heavy like a stone in his chest. “I didn’t know.”

But she smiled, like she always did. “Of course you didn’t. I’m not trying to be a downer, I just want you to know that I’m the last person who would judge you for having family issues. I mean, I’ve got no family to speak of, but I understand.”

No family to speak of. 

A message from Kira flashed in front of his eyes, from months ago when they’d first started talking and she’d said the exact same thing. 

“Ben?” Rey asked hesitantly. “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to upset you. I wasn’t—”

“No, sorry.” He pushed the thought away, just a random coincidence that had distracted him for a second, and focused back on her. “I’m not upset at all, I appreciate that. People always assume that I’m really lucky just because of my last name, but—” 

This wasn’t how he’d planned their date to go, burdening her with his problems. 

“Go ahead,” she said though, head tilted slightly as she listened. “If you want.”

He did want, that was the problem. All his brain felt filled with lately was wanting. 

“I just think,” Ben started slowly, “that a lot of times, people don’t stop to think about how different someone can be from the appearance they put up for others. Like Luke—everyone reveres him and the work he’s done, and they assume he’s this thoughtful man striving to make the world a better place. But to me, he’s just my uncle who I’m a constant disappointment to, and someone he enjoys controlling and pushing his ego onto. And my mother, I look at her and see someone who put their job above their kid and doesn’t understand why that hurts because what she’s doing is important.”

“And your dad?” Rey prompted quietly. 

His throat hurt as he swallowed heavily. “My father...he was the person I expected to have my back the most.”

He could see that Rey understood what he was saying. When she reached across the table to gently take his hand, he wasn’t surprised, but his breath still caught in his chest. 

She didn’t say anything, just held his hand for a minute, her skin hot against his. When she eventually pulled away, he had to fight the urge to ask her to put it back. 

“Well…” He cleared his throat quietly, glancing outside. The gray clouds looked ominous, but it hadn’t started raining yet. “How do you feel about an after-lunch walk? I have somewhere I wanted to show you.” 

Intrigue lit up in her eyes and she nodded quickly. “Let’s do it.”

He paid for their lunch and outside, helped Rey with the top button of her jacket that she’d missed. She flushed in embarrassment but didn’t say anything as he did it for her with fumbling fingers. 

It wasn’t a long walk but it was chilly out, the wind twisting Rey’s hair around her shoulders and turning the tip of her nose pink, so Ben stopped at a streetside vendor and got them hot drinks. When she tried her cinnamon apple cider, she let out a hum of approval, grinning at him over the top of her cup. He didn’t notice the cold much after that. 

As they walked, he asked her a few questions and discovered that her favorite color was blue (but she was also fond of purple), her favorite flower was a daisy (not the artificially colored ones), and once as a kid, she convinced everyone that Rey was short for Desiree (she’d been picked on for having a boy’s name).

 “I’ll admit,” Ben said after she finished telling the story about her name, “Rey with an ‘e’ is a first for me. But I like it; it’s unique.”

“It’s okay, you can say it’s weird,” she teased, stepping around a puddle. “When I was found was a toddler, it was written in marker on my jacket tag, so…” She shrugged, nose wrinkling. “It’s probably not actually my name, I’d bet money the jacket was from a thrift store or something, but that’s what they wrote down on my paperwork, so I’m stuck with it.”

“Well, if it makes you feel better, my name is short for Benedict.”

Rey spun to face him, mouth gaping in disbelief. “No way, that’s not your full name...is it?”

Though he tried, Ben couldn’t keep a straight face. “I’m sorry,” he said, shaking his head and struggling not to chuckle. “It’s not, it’s just Ben. But, I bet you felt better there for a second.”

Her answering laugh was so loud that a couple down the street turned to look at them. 

“I did,” she admitted once she could catch her breath, her green eyes bright with amusement. “I would have felt really sorry for you and your old man name.”

“I’m sure there’s a Benedict out there who would take serious offense to that.”

She smirked but didn’t say anything as Ben guided her to a narrow path that cut between buildings, clearly curious as she glanced around. The path led all the way through to an open space filled with trees, a little hidden away park in the middle of the city. 

“Wow, I never knew this was here.” Rey looked to the right where the tree-lined path led, craning her head. “How far down does this go?”

“Just a few blocks. It was part of an art project that most people seemed to have forgotten about.” Ben led her over to where a metal structure perched between two trees, like an abstract bridge. “They made this little sanctuary between the buildings and filled it with plants and art, for people to get a break from the bustling city. Except there’s hardly ever anyone else here. I stumbled upon it by accident and now I come here pretty often.” Mostly when he was feeling especially lonely or wanted some space to think, but she didn’t need to know that. 

She reached out to trace the metal with careful fingers. “It’s a shame this place is forgotten,” she murmured. “It’s lovely.”

A surge of pride went through Ben at her words. “I thought you might like it. There’s more to see if you want to keep going?”

There wasn’t a second of hesitation before she took his arm and let him lead her down the path.

By the end of the walk, Rey was practically begging for them to go back through one more time. They saw a fountain with mosaic tiles, blown glass orbs in dozens of colors set on iron rods, and a tree hung with bronze planets. With each new discovery, Rey’s grin got brighter and brighter. 

“This place might be magical,” she told him in a hushed whisper as they went back through and she caught sight of a metal owl peering at them from a branch.

His face hurt from smiling as he watched her. 

“I’ve never brought someone else here before,” he told her. “I’m glad you like it.”

“I do. Thank you.” There was a long pause as she studied him, and he knew she had something else to say. “Have you ever been in a relationship?” she finally blurted out, then bit her lip. “I’m sorry, that’s rude to ask and definitely didn’t come out like I wanted it to. I was just wondering because you always talk about keeping to yourself, but you’re really good at this.”

“Good at what?”

She gestured around them. “This. Date stuff. I don’t know, being charming and thoughtful and bringing me somewhere amazing.”

His brain felt fuzzy—she thought he was charming and thoughtful. Did that mean she was enjoying herself? It certainly seemed like it. 

“Definitely a fluke,” he told her, and he meant it. “And no, to answer your question; I’ve never been a relationship.”

Rey squinted up at him, confusion creasing between her slender eyebrows. “Can I ask why not?”

“You mean besides the obvious social awkwardness and crippling anxiety, and the fact that people judge me for my family the second they meet me?” Ben sighed, wishing he was better at lying and could come up with something cool to say. “I just...I want to make sure that when I find someone I want to be with, that it’s real and I can give them the effort they deserve. People who are important to you need to be worth it, worth the time and attention, or you don’t deserve them. When I find the person I want to be with, I want to make sure they know that, and that I’m in a place where I can move past my fears for them. I don’t want to be holding myself back and affecting someone I care about.”

His face and ears were burning by the time he was done massively oversharing, and he wished he could take the words back.

What he should have said was something sensitive and romantic about waiting for his soulmate or the perfect girl or something. But that wasn’t the truth; while he certainly hadn’t found someone over the years who he’d wanted to date, it was more that he’d needed to focus on himself first. To get past the expectations and disappointment of others that had crippled his confidence and self-worth, and learn to care about himself before he could care for someone else. 

He’d needed that, the time to work on his temper and bottled up feelings, to understand that some things really weren’t his fault…to be able to look in the mirror and meet his own eyes. 

Rey nodded, something flashing across her face that he couldn’t quite put his finger on. “I know what you mean,” she said softly.

He thought that she really did. 

Their gazes met for a long second and there was something so vulnerable and open about the way she was looking at him, something so knowing. Like she was getting a peek inside at the real him, and wasn’t looking away.

When she leaned in, bracing herself on his arm lightly as she reached up on her tiptoes, he froze, not daring to breathe. Her lips pressed warmly against his cheek and he felt her tremble slightly against him. Her scent, something subtly sweet and light, made his head spin almost as much as her soft kiss. 

As she pulled away, sinking back down on her heels, desire tore through him so quickly that he clenched his jaw, teeth aching in protest. It suddenly felt like it would be so easy to be brave and bold, to pull her against him and kiss her on her pink lips. He wanted to taste the cinnamon apple on her tongue and feel her satisfied sounds against his mouth. 

“Thank you for today.” She met his gaze, sincerity practically radiating from her. “I’ve had the best time.”

“You’re welcome,” he responded hoarsely, trying to focus on her words instead of the fact that it was taking all of his self-control to not kiss her. “Would you like to do this again? Another date, I mean?”

“Yes and no.” Her expression was playful when she saw his concern at her answer. “I’d love to go on another date, but this time, I get to take you out.”

He probably agreed too quickly, nearly tripping over his words in his haste to get them out, but he couldn’t be mad at himself—not when Rey reached down and took his hand in response. 

Chapter Text

Rey couldn’t stop thinking about what Ben had said in the park a few days ago, about giving someone who was special to you the effort they deserved. 

She hadn’t spoken to Kylo since she’d ignored his call, and she missed him like a physical ache in her chest. It was more than that though—she’d been so angry with him at first, angry and hurt to her core, but as time went on, she realized that what she felt most was guilt. For ignoring him, for her reaction to him being honest, and now, after what Ben had said, for realizing that she really hadn’t been fair to him. That she’d let her insecurities take over.

The whole time they’d been speaking, she’d held part of herself back because of fear. Fear of judgment, of rejection, of having a real connection with someone. She hadn’t given Kylo her all, the effort he’d deserved.

And here she was, punishing him.

She wanted to make amends and apologize, but part of her felt like she needed to let Kylo go to move forward with Ben. The thought made her sick, a churning, twisted feeling in her stomach, and she knew she wasn’t that sort of person—even if she and Kylo weren’t meant to be together, his friendship meant so much to her.

Being able to go to Rose for advice had been such a relief, if not particularly helpful. She’d told Rey to follow her heart—the problem was, her heart was trying to lead her in two different directions.

Sighing, Rey laid back on the couch, giving up on trying to work on her next chapter. Her head was jumping between too many things for her to focus right now. 

Finn was out with Poe, so she had the apartment to herself, but it just felt lonely. She briefly toyed with the idea of texting Ben to see if he wanted to come over for a movie or something, then dismissed it. Putting him on the spot was the last thing she wanted to do, and she wasn’t good company right now.

She hadn’t told him about Kylo—she didn’t know how to bring it up, how to explain, and what there even really was to explain. They had another date planned for tomorrow and while she didn’t want to rock the boat by bringing up another guy, Kylo wasn’t something she could ignore forever. 

She wanted to give Ben a chance, and she was going to. She liked him, really liked him . But there was no denying that Kylo was present in her mind too, a weight she couldn’t shake. She had wanted him, and part of her still did, but she wasn’t willing to risk her budding relationship with Ben over an online connection. Perhaps she just needed to make peace with being friends with Kylo, and understand that her desire for him might have just been the result of needing someone in her life then who was more.

Soul searching was exhausting.

A notification popped up on her phone, an unread email in her inbox. Seeing it was from the school, Rey opened it, scanning the message quickly. 

Congratulations on submitting your piece for the 2019 Organa-Solo Scholarship opportunity. You’ve taken a big step towards securing your future, towards achieving your dreams. We believe that hard work and bravery should be rewarded—

Rey’s gaze caught on that line, lingering. Bravery. She had been brave, hadn’t she? Going for something she wanted, something life-changing and nearly impossible, something she didn’t really expect would happen. She’d still done it though. 

Maz would be proud.

The thought came out of nowhere, but it felt right and true. Rey teared up, throat getting tight—she couldn’t remember the last time she’d thought that her foster mom would be proud of something she’d done. That last time she’d felt this close to her. 

Maybe this was life's way of telling her to take chances, to be brave and put herself out there and go for the things she wanted. She’d known going into this that the chance of her winning the scholarship was slim to none—but she could rest easy at the end of the day knowing that she’d tried anyway. That Maz would be proud of her, no matter what the outcome was.

Effort and guts—those were the two things Maz believed in and had taught Rey the value of.

She opened up Discord, clicking on Kylo’s name. The missed call of his from days ago was the last message logged. 

 

KiraofJakku 

Hey Kylo, I want to apologize for not getting back to you, and just generally being a huge jerk. I’ve been thinking a lot about how I reacted, and how I’ve been acting, and I’m honestly so sorry. You’re one of the best friends I’ve ever had and that means more to me than my hurt feelings or my embarrassment or pride or whatever. I just miss you and hope we can start talking again. 

 

She made herself press send without even rereading for typos, knowing if she gave herself a chance, she’d find a reason to chicken out. 

Kylo would have every right not to forgive her, but she didn’t think he was that type of person—she had to believe their friendship was important to him too. 

Making herself set down her phone, Rey went into the kitchen and put together a sandwich. She took her time, carefully slicing the tomatoes and spreading her mustard with precision, trying to act like she wasn’t listening intently for the buzz of her phone. 

By the time she sat back down, there was a message waiting for her.



KyloRen

It’s so nice to hear from you. I’ve missed you too, and I can’t say how sorry I am for how things went before. Please believe me, I never meant to hurt you. It’s been tearing me up how we left things, and I want to know how I can make it better. 



Though Rey had never really believed that he would turn her away, relief still knocked the air from her lungs. They were going to be okay, she could feel it.



KiraofJakku

You don’t have to do anything, I just want you back in my life. I was the one who was out of line, not you. I’m guilty of one massive overreaction and I give you permission to tease me about it for the rest of my life



KyloRen

I really don’t think that will be necessary, I’d personally be happy to just forget about this and move on. You have no idea how much I’ve hated myself these past few days for being such an idiot. To be honest, I was nervous you’d never speak to me again.



The guilt she had already been feeling intensified. She was a terrible, awful, rotten friend, and the thought of him blaming himself made her feel sick. But, it also just reminded her of what a good person he was, why she cared about him so much. Why his absence left such a hole in her life these last few days.



KiraofJakku

I’m sorrier than I could ever say for making you think that. I think once I calmed down, I just needed some space to think about everything and figure out where my head is at, you know?

And I think I realized something

Something I wanted to talk to you about

I’ve just… I’ve been thinking a lot lately, about people who are important to me, about us and what this thing is between us



Rey paused for a second, taking a deep breath. Her fingers were trembling and she felt silly for being so anxious when she knew that this was the right thing to do. Clearing the air between her and Kylo, and being honest about the effort she wanted to give him was long overdue. 



I’m not going to pretend like I don’t have feelings for you. Admittedly, they’re confusing feelings but that doesn’t mean they aren’t real, and it also doesn’t mean that I don’t want to be friends. To be honest, I’m kind of seeing someone right now and he’s great and I’m not going to ruin that. That’s not the point of this

The point is, even as friends, you deserve more from me. We’ve been building this connection between us but I’ve been holding back. And I don’t want to anymore, I want to give our friendship a full chance and know that I’m giving you the effort you deserve. Because you’re an amazing person and I want to share everything about myself with you and have you do the same with me



She could see that Kylo had started typing, but she kept going, knowing she had to finish. She felt strangely calm now, strangely at peace with her decision because at least she was doing something. 

It felt good—it felt right.



Anyway, don’t feel pressured to do the same or anything, that’s not my intent. I just want you to know that I’m serious about our friendship and what I said

So… hi  

My real name isn’t Kira, it’s Rey. Rey Kenobi

And you asked for a picture a long time ago, I think it’s time to pay up. This is me  



Rey snapped a quick picture of herself and sent it, wishing she’d decided to do this after she’d showered and done her hair. Though Kylo would probably appreciate her self conscious grimace of a smile, the fact that she hadn’t tried to hide how awkward she was feeling. This was strange and they both knew it, there was no pretending otherwise.

She waited, nervous but mostly curious to see if he would respond with the same. So many nights she’d wondered what he actually looked like—it was crazy to think that she could find out at any time. 

A minute went by with no response. She checked their chat but it didn’t say that he was typing anymore. 

Rey pulled up the picture she’d sent, trying to make sure there was nothing wrong with it—sure, she didn’t look like a model, but there wasn’t a piece of food in her teeth or anything. Something settled heavily in her stomach though, a terrible feeling that she’d made a mistake. What reason could he have for not responding? 

Maybe he dropped his phone in shock at how gorgeous she was and broke it. She laughed at the thought, though it came out anxious and high-pitched sounding.

Ten minutes, then twenty went by, and still no response from him. She could see that he was online, and she checked Discord’s twitter to see if the servers were down, but there was nothing. There had to be a logical explanation though.

The front door opened suddenly, startling her and she squeaked, nearly dropping her phone.

“Woah, sorry.” Finn gave her a concerned look, shutting the door carefully behind him. “You okay? What’s going on, you look kind of freaked.”

“Nothing,” Rey muttered, not wanting to explain. He’d probably just lecture her more about the dangers of strangers on the internet. “You just surprised me. How was your date?”

Finn grinned, shrugging off his jacket and heading into the kitchen. “It was great; that ramen place you recommended was delicious, Poe says he’s going to eat there a few times a week now. And our movie was good, though I’m not sure you’d like it. We’ll probably watch it again when it comes out, if you’re interested in seeing it.”

She couldn’t even remember what he’d said they were going to see this morning. “Sure, thanks, that would be nice,” she finally said. Her phone was heavy on her leg, the compulsion to pick it up and check her messages tingling at the tips of her fingers. She made herself focus on Finn. “What are your plans for the rest of the night, then? If you’re free, we could—”

A loud pounding at the door cut her off. 

Finn stuck his head out of the kitchen with a confused expression. She shrugged, tucking her phone into her pocket and hauling herself off of the couch as the insistent knocking continued and heading to the door. It was probably one of their neighbors who locked themselves out again; it would be the third time this month.

But when she swung the door open, Ben was standing there, his hand freezing mid-knock, face pale.

“Ben!” she said in surprise, taking in his frazzled appearance. His jacket was half-zipped and his hair looked like someone had stuck their hands in it and ruffled it around. One of his shoes was untied, the laces hanging limply off the side of it. “What happened?”

He just stared at her, his eyes wide. There was something in them, something that looked almost like shock or maybe fear, and Rey felt her pulse pick up in response. 

“Ben, are you okay?” she asked slowly, then stepped back to open the door wider. “Why don’t you come in and tell me what’s going on?”

He didn’t move, and just as she was about to call Finn for help, he finally spoke.

“Kira.”

Rey felt like she’d been sucker-punched in the stomach, all of the air leaving her body in one big breath. “What?”

“Kira,” he repeated hoarsely. “KiraofJakku, that’s you, right?”

What—what was going on? Had he found her writing somehow? Why was he saying her username like that? 

Her grip tightened around the knob of the door. “What are you talking about?

His throat bobbed as he swallowed heavily, eyes so wide. “You said—you said your name was Rey Kenobi and you sent me a picture and it was you. I—I had to come—I had to see you.”

Something was ringing in the distance, a high pitched noise in her ears as she put together what he was saying, and suddenly the doorknob was the only thing keeping her upright. Ben was staring at her, and the look on his face was too much. 

She swung the door closed between them, locking it quickly with shaking hands. Ben was knocking and calling her name, but she just backed away, trying to get some air into her rapidly shrinking lungs.

“Rey? What are you doing? Is that Ben?” Finn was asking her questions, his hand tight on her shoulder, voice filled with alarm. “Why did you lock the door?”

No. There was no way this was real. This had to be a joke, a mean prank or something. But how would Ben know—

Oh god.

If he was Kylo, that meant everything she’d said, all of the secrets she’d told him, the late nights spent together messaging about silly dreams and embarrassing stories—the time he’d helped her with writing her first sex scene...that was all Ben. It had been him the whole time.

Her throat burned, something solid and hot stuck in it, and her vision went blurry with tears. Had he known this whole time? Was this some manipulation on his part, some sort of sick game to him? Making her fall for him online and in real life? 

“Make him go away,” she managed to get out. “Please, get him out of here.”

“Did he hurt you? Rey, what’s going on?”

A wet choking sound made its way out of her chest. “Please, Finn, please just make him leave. I can’t see him.”

Her mind was spinning, trying to put the pieces together, to remember if there had been a time she’d shared something with Kylo and Ben had known. If he’d used their online relationship to his advantage, to play her and twist her into falling for him. 

Finn was at the door, speaking roughly through the small cracked he’d opened it. She couldn’t help but look over, her eyes meeting Ben’s over Finn’s shoulder.

“Rey, please,” he pleaded, “just talk to me. We need to talk about this.”

He sounded so sincere, so surprised and genuinely desperate—maybe he hadn’t known. Maybe this was just a cruel twist of fate.

She didn’t know what to believe, what to even think.

“I’m sorry, man,” Finn said firmly, shifting so he was blocked Ben from her view. “You need to leave right now. I don’t know what’s going on, but she doesn’t want to see you.”

He shut the door decisively before Ben could get out another word, then turned to Rey, but she was already fleeing to her room. She couldn’t face his questions right now, not when she didn’t even know what was happening. 

She slammed the door closed and sat with her back to it, head on her knees. Hysterical wheezes were shaking through her, her whole body trembling. She knew that she needed to calm down, take a deep breath and think this through, but she couldn’t stop. 

Something was buzzing in her pocket and it took her a second to remember she’d shoved her phone in it just a minute ago. It just kept going and going until she finally pulled it out. Her screen showed two missed Discord calls from KyloRen and several unread text messages from Ben Solo. 

As she stared at it, it vibrated in her hand. Incoming call, Ben Solo.

She threw her phone across the room, watching it hit the wall and bounced onto the carpet. It kept buzzing, the sound impossibly loud.

What was she supposed to do now?